The Bookshop Witch

bookshop shelves - illustration for fantasy flash fiction story The Bookshop Witch

Bobby’s dad was in the den, beer in his hand, staring out the window. The trash cans in the front yard had been knocked over and garbage had spilled into the grass. “That damn raccoon is back again,” he muttered. “I need a trap or some poison, maybe a damn shotgun.” Apparently he didn’t remember stumbling into them when he’d come home drunk the night before.

“Dad,” Bobby said, “what are you doing for Mother’s Day?”

He grunted, not bothering to turn around. “Not a damn thing, boy. Your grandma’s dead, remember? The devil’s probably got a pitchfork in her right now.”

“But I’m just about broke and Mom said she was hoping for —”

He laughed. “She ain’t my mamma, now is she? You figure it out, dumb ass.”

Bobby sighed and trudged back to his room. “Just as helpful as ever,” he thought. “Guess Mom’s not getting a new pet.”

His mother wanted a dog, but the purebred ones like on the TV dog shows were too expensive. Even the mutts at the pet store were more than his monthly allowance. He decided to find her a book instead. Books were cheaper, and he wouldn’t have to clean up after them. Hopefully it would be a nice enough gift to distract her from his semester of bad grades and cheating. He had nearly failed his English Lit exam for saying his favorite thing about Romeo and Juliet was the cinematography.

Bobby put on his sneakers and a hoodie featuring his favorite punk band, Antacid Trip. He walked downtown to Black Goat Books. It was a small shop wedged between the record store and the arcade. A bell jingled as he opened the door. He passed the displays of crystals and incense and tarot cards, heading to the tall shelves of used books. He explored the dusty volumes, running his fingers along the spines and examining interesting covers. There were so many to choose from.

As he searched, the bookshop’s black cat appeared, darting between his legs. He reached down to pet it, but the cat rushed away, disappearing behind a display of dictionaries. “I thought bookshop cats were supposed to be friendly,” he thought. “What’s the point of an antisocial store mascot?” Maybe the thing was just there to catch mice.

He thought back to his friends’ stories about the creepy shopkeeper. “Maybe it’s her cat, and she really is a witch. What do they call that? A familiar?” He glanced back at the crystals and laughed. “Stop being stupid. She’s just a goth. She probably tells people she’s a witch so she can trick them into buying those stupid rocks.”

He examined a pile of cookbooks on a sale table, each one with the face of a famous TV chef on the cover. The chef had recently died from a heart attack. Suddenly, his books on deep fried pork pies were no longer selling.

“Cookbooks are pointless,” Bobby thought. “The only time Mom ever steps in the kitchen is when Dad makes her get him another beer.” His parents ordered takeout so much, he was pretty sure the oven was full of cobwebs. He had gotten out the eggs at breakfast once, and they thought he was going to bake a cake.

He made his way to the romance novel section, but immediately regretted it. Romance novels all had shirtless guys on the covers. Half-naked cowboys, werewolves, pirates, and what looked like a shirtless Arctic explorer. Even the billionaire hunks apparently couldn’t afford clothes. “Buying Mom one of these would just be weird. It would be like getting Dad one of his gross magazines. No thanks.”

While he was still in the romance section, the shopkeeper appeared. Her flowing purple dress and dramatic makeup made her look like a sorceress from the cover of a fantasy novel. “Can I help you find anything? Do you have a favorite author?”

His face turned red. “I don’t like… it’s not for me. Gift for my mom.”

She shrugged. “I don’t judge. If you don’t want a romance, how about a mystery?” She showed him to the detective novels and disappeared down another aisle.

Bobby skimmed the blurbs on the back covers but decided mysteries were also no good. He didn’t want Mom reading books about women murdering their husbands and getting bad ideas. She and Dad argued a lot. “Not that I would miss the old bastard,” he thought. “But Mom would get caught, and I’d probably have to move in with Uncle Cleveland. His whole trailer smells weird. Not sure if it’s him or the ferrets.”

He settled on a floral stationary set. Whenever Mom brought him pens and paper, he felt like he was being given homework, but she seemed to enjoy it. Adults were weird that way. Besides, it was ninety percent off.

He placed the stationary set on the counter and rang the brass bell. The cat hopped up, the star-shaped tag on its collar jingling. He reached out to pet it, but saw that its name was “Bastard.” The cat hissed and swiped at him. He jerked his hand back before it could rip off one of his fingers.

He furrowed his brow. “That’s interesting,” he thought. “I never see the cat and that shopkeeper at the same time. Maybe it’s not her familiar. Maybe she can transform…”

The door to the back room opened and the shopkeeper stepped out. Bastard was still on the counter. Clearly, she hadn’t just returned to her human form. “Find everything okay?”

“Yeah,” he said, “everything’s fine.” He sighed. Of course those silly rumors weren’t true. His friends were always lying. The school’s fourth floor bathroom probably wasn’t haunted, either.

She picked up a broom and shooed the cat away. “Down, Bastard! Bad boy!” She watched Bastard run for the safety of the periodicals section. Nobody ever went back there.

“I took over years ago,” she grumbled, “but Dad still keeps trying to scare off the customers and ruin the business. I should have turned him into a goldfish!” She picked up the stationary. “Sorry. Was this all for you?”

“Actually,” he said, grinning, “I think I want to buy something else. How much to turn my dad into a poodle?”

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