Featuring the Suggestions of Libby Reese.
an abandoned castle in Scotland
A bloodstained shirt
Scarlet Jones shifted the messenger bag slung over her shoulder as she prepared to cross the street. The wind bit through her corduroy jacket as sporadic raindrops pattered against the pavement. Just a minute more...
At last, the red hand showed, and Scarlet brushed errant locks of her long, deep-red hair (which everyone assumed inspired her name) out of her hazel eyes and trudged across the street. She pushed open the heavy wooden door of the Lybrairee and sighed with relief at the warmth rushing all around her.
True, it was an unconventional spelling--but Scarlet always felt that there could be no other name for such an unconventional building for a bookstore.
It was built in a castle. No other term could describe the large stone structure with its many alcoves and hallways and steep, winding staircases. The castle took up an entire city block after its renovation, and the current owners had filled every niche with bookshelves and cases. Some spaces were wide enough for large, overstuffed velvet armchairs.
Scarlet milled about the nave now, headed for the staircase that would take her to her favorite reading spot: the old bell-tower, a tall, wide turret that had been reinforced and designated as another private reading nook. She scanned the shelves on her way, running her finger over the gilt embossed titles on the linen covers, waiting for one to catch her eye.
A Knight of Kirkwood. There! Scarlet seized the novel off the shelf. The first few sentences were promising and tantalizing. She felt a small shiver race down her spine as she held the book tight and made for the bell-tower. Once there, Scarlet curled up on the pile of giant suede beanbags to inspect her find.
The book proved gripping enough. A young man of the Georgian era, forced into a life of poverty by a trusted but unscrupulous friend, must then make his way in the world by sheer willpower and a never-ending supply of good luck and charm.
Scarlet found herself unable to tear away from the words. The text became living pictures of vivid color in her mind. She smiled at the noble characters and scowled at the unscrupulous ones. She felt the sea air (because a voyage on a ship is always necessary for a lad who's just lost a fortune) and heard the tolling bells of the church tower. She felt the rain on her face--
An angry yell brought Scarlet back to her senses. She had fallen asleep at some point; the tower was dark and the beanbags were suspiciously missing. Scarlet looked around in the dim grey light of the rainy afternoon to find the book she'd been reading. If she'd fallen asleep with it in her hands, logic followed that it should be somewhere nearby, at least.
There was no sign of A Knight of Kirkwood. Scarlet knew she should return to the checkout counter and let the clerk know that the book went missing, lest she be suspected of stealing it. A wet feeling on her head caused her to look to the ceiling. Scarlet frowned; did the owners know that one could see daylight through the "reinforced" roof of the bell tower? the rain fell through fist-sized holes in the conical roof. Scarlet stood; the floor creaked under her weight as it never had before. A rhythmic clanging sound distracted her momentarily from wondering about the changes in her surroundings; she heard more yelling and the scrape of metal-on-metal. Scarlet crept slowly to the opening at the edge of the floor. Instead of a staircase, there was only a ladder--and a crude wooden one at that. What was going on?
The yelling got louder, the crashing more frantic as Scarlet neared the bottom rung. She looked around her and gasped.
The bookstore was gone. It wasn't just disheveled, she wasn't struck blind; it was as if the books and the shelves and the store and the antique lamps and the bustle of the people had never existed. The castle was no longer warm and cheery; the dark emptiness and the wind whooshing through crumbling windows made the whole atmosphere cold and foreboding. Scarlet's mind was working so hard to try and make sense of her surroundings--the grass-strewn dirt floor and the mossy stones in the wall--that she was beginning to develop a headache. Scarlet heard one last agonizing cry, then the crashing stopped. She ran toward an opening--until she saw something that made her stop and squeeze herself against the stones, mossy though they were.
Whoever it was outside, he was holding something very long and very sharp and made of steel! She'd seen it glint in the light. Was that what the crashing had been? Scarlet waited against that wall till she heard the snuffling of a horse, heard the man climb onto it and give a command, and heard it ride away. Only then did she dare set foot outside the former library.
The sky was much darker now than it had been when she entered. Outside, there was no city streets--there weren't even any other buildings, just tall grass and trees. It was every bit as blustery, only without the promise of indoor heating and electric lighting, Scarlet felt more forlorn and vulnerable.
She surveyed the ground around the entrance, where she had seen the other man standing. It was trampled and muddy, and she saw dark blotches scattered over the grass. Something white attracted her attention. She ran over and picked up the sodden bundle. Her heart skipped a beat. It was a shirt--one that looked like it'd been left over from a Jane Austen film set--slashed open and spattered with blood!
The shiver that ran down her spine stopped short at the prick of a blade between her shoulders. Scarlet Jones felt giddy with fear--so much as a quiver and she could end up bleeding.
"'Ere noo," said a gruff voice, "what's a wee lass doin' in Kirkwood Castle? I dinna ken ennaboddy w's near." The steel tip pressed closer, and Scarlet could feel the threads of her jacket giving way under it. The voice dropped lower. "Were ye spyin' on me? Answer quick, lass, or it'll be worse for ye!"
The 2013 Suggestion Box Series:
#1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9 #10 #11 #12 #13