One by one he turns the pages of the book. The paper rustles against his dry fingers and I swallow in anticipation.
He reads the words and his face cracks into a cruel grin.
As I hear the final paragraph, my heart drops at the horror of the words. I cower, but I am too late, and I scream as he commits the atrocity.
Sobbing then silence.
He clears his throat “Now on to chapter 12”
Frobisher’s second-hand bookstore has been worshipped by Edinburgh school children for decades. They love the quaint bell that jangles above the door when you go in, the rows and rows of dark bookshelves towering to the ceiling full of pre-loved, faded covered mysteries and delights to be uncovered.
Smiling Mr. Frobisher has greeted the bookstore patrons since the store first opened in the 1960s. His quiet, studious son, who graduated from the Edinburgh University Arts Faculty, has now joined his aging father in the business.
On Thursday afternoon – I am curled up behind a curtain at the back of the shop. I am Harry Potter, I am Hermione Grainger, I am lost in the maze, I am fighting dragons. Absorbed by chapter after chapter of nerve tingling adventure, I lose track of time and without realising I am squinting at the writing in the book in the semi-darkness. I almost shout when the drape is pulled to the side.
“Well, who have we here?” says the soft lilting voice of the man towering above me. I squint, but I can’t see him properly against the bright light.
“I’m Connie” I say “I’m 12 years old. I live in Merchiston”
“What are you reading?” he asks.
“Harry Potter” I squeak. Embarrassed at being caught hiding. “Ah’m sorry for hiding sir, I truly am”.
“Well Connie” he says “I’ve got a book that we can read together. It’s written especially for adventurous little girls like you”.
I scramble to stand, but he pushes me down. I hear the front doorbell of the book-store tinkle and breathe a sigh of relief. He laughs, spittle droplets hitting my face as he does so. He points to the door and I see it being pushed fruitlessly against a large padlock. A reedy voice sounds “Timothy, are you in there? Timothy?”. The door rattles again and the bell sounds insistently. The padlock stands firm and eventually the person goes away. “That’s my father” he sneers. “Useless old Mr. Frobisher”
He crouches down so his face is next to mine. “The door is locked Connie” he croons “You and I are alone for story time”
Chapter 12. His voice drones on and I lie on the cold, linoleum floor. Bare. Bruised, Beaten. My eyes are closed, and I feel as though I am dozing then waking and then fading out. He pushes me roughly with his foot and I wince with the pain.
“Listen Connie, we’re getting close to the best bit”
Then a bang. Deafening. The door bursts open and the old bell heralds triumphantly. I open my mouth and all I can hear now is my own scream reverberating in my head.
I see a flash and watch as the books in the lofty shelves cascade on top of Timothy, the quiet studious son. My torturer. There is smoke and blood. Lots of blood.
Old Mr. Frobisher’s face appears through the confusion. He is grinning and brandishing an ancient musket. He throws the broken padlock on the floor.
I smile a grateful smile and hold out my arms to be saved. He slaps me hard across the face.
“Stay where you are little girl” he says,
“Chapter 13 is mine to read”