O’Malley’s Books

Flash Fiction Challenge 100 – Day 56

Photo by Jingming Pan on UNSPLASH

It surprised everyone in my hometown when my eighth-grade football coach and PE teacher, the always affable James “Coach” O’Malley, took early retirement and opened a bookstore.

All his friends and family warned him it was a fool’s plan, destined to fail. No one in this little town read; they repeatedly pointed out to him. Besides, this was 2019 books were passe. Everyone, kids and adults alike, was addicted to their phones. Reading couldn’t compete with social media for spiking one’s dopamine or serotonin levels. That is the very foundation of all addictions.

But Coach was not about to be swayed. He retired after teaching PE and coaching football for over 37 years. Within six months of his retiring, O’Malley’s Books was opening its doors to a skeptical township.

‘I fell in love with the small shop the instant I set foot in it.’

Like every other responsible business owner, Coach shut down his little shop during the pandemic. It was painful to do; he’d only been open a little over a year when the coronavirus arrived and insisted upon altering everyone’s life.

As the time for reopening approached, Coach foresaw that the future for all businesses would rest somewhat on the ability to change how they did business. They had to include the ‘outdoors.’ No longer did folks feel secure breathing the same air from indoor establishments for extended periods.

The future had arrived. The outdoors was the next frontier for the wise entrepreneur to conquer.

So, in the final three months of his closure, James returned to his bookstore every day. He purchased the lot next door, had the ancient little building that sat on the lot demolished. Then, Coach poured some sidewalks and a bit of pavement. He had erected a covered pavilion. The roof was a heavy-duty bit of canvas he’d bought from a defunct circus in Indiana. In inclement weather, Coach planned to take the canvas down as southern Illinois was known for tornadoes and high winds.

He set up several small picnic tables and comfy chairs under the pavilion and wrapped the entire area with a white picket fence.

Even the skeptics agreed; Coach was creating a very inviting area in which to skim or read.

Photo by freddie marriage on UNSPLASH

To satisfy the younger shoppers he hoped to attract, Coach O’Malley added an outdoor coffee bar. Equipment had to be locked down tight at night, but that was a straightforward thing to manage.

When he shut his eyes at night, Coach would congratulate himself on another day of realizing his dreams. He could see it; folks would come. They would peruse his shelves of new and used books. They would select a couple of titles to skim. Then they would exit the store, sit in the well-ventilated shade of the tarp-covered pavilion. They might order a caffeinated drink while they skimmed their selections.

It was a large space, and he told himself he would chase no one away for loitering. The only guideline he would enforce is that people conduct themselves with decorum and honor the silence so that the other readers could enjoy the space, the books, the coffee, and the fresh air.

Inside the shop, Coach would ask shoppers to mask up or get out. But outdoors, he imagined people happily complying with the commonsensical social distancing guidelines.

I was never overly fond of my hometown. To me, it never seemed to change. Every time I crossed the rickety old bridge from Missouri into Illinois, I prayed that one, the bridge wouldn’t choose this moment to collapse into the Mississippi, and two, the town had changed, at least a little. It’s not natural to never change.

Of course, things had changed. But most of the changes had been internal. Outwardly, the place still looks to me as it did in 1979 when I put the town in my rearview mirror.

But I was returning home. Sadly, it was for a friend’s funeral.

And since I’ve always been a book-lover, I was more than a little surprised to discover one had opened in my tiny hometown.

I’ve also had an insanely passionate love of NOT dying from covid, so the forward-thinking of Coach impressed me.

I knew that every spare moment I had, I would try to spend in this space reading, drinking, and enjoying the cool fall temperatures.

I fell in love with the small shop the instant I set foot in it. From the outside, it looked tiny, but once inside, it seemed a lot bigger.

And there was an impressive selection of books. All the genres of fiction and nonfiction I preferred were there. Titles I had idly searched for years for, many of them were there, in this unlikely store.

I had only planned on staying through the funeral, then head back to Texas. But I enjoyed reuniting with my family members and exploring this new business that I called my boss and told her I would stay an extra three days.

In the SELF-HELP section, I had found a book on lucid dreaming. I had read a similar title years ago, but I could never develop the knack for it. Thinking it might be time to try again, I re-shelved the three mysteries I had selected for my afternoon visit. I took the selection out to the pavilion, ordered a large latte, and made myself comfortable in one of the oversized Adirondack chairs.

I read.

Not only did the content make sense, but I was also confident that I could master lucid dreaming quickly. The author had made it so clear.

In the second chapter, the author outlined a self-guided meditation to help induce the shift into a lucid dreaming state. I carefully read over the three paragraphs of instruction, marked my progress in the book with a dollar bill, shut my eyes, and began.

I jerk awake.

I must have fallen asleep; I scan around the pavilion. I’m the only one here. The coffee bar looks empty. Did they shut down while I slept? The espresso machine is gone.

I stand up and stretch.

The gate out of the fenced-in area is open.

That’s strange. Usually, the gate is kept shut to encourage people to exit through the shop. Coach trusts that people won’t open the gate and leave without paying for their selections.

I’m feeling a little anxious about all of this.

The book I’d been reading slips off the arm of the chair and ends leaning against my right foot.

I stoop down to pick it up. As I stand, my senses heighten.

This isn’t a book on lucid dreaming. It is ‘The Contortionist’s Handbook‘ by Craig Clevenger.

‘What the hell?’ I whisper to the empty pavilion.

I carry the book inside the shop. I want the book on Lucid Dreaming. But I also want the novel someone stuck on the arm of my chair. I read and owned it years ago, but at some point, I’d lost it.

When I open the door, the little brass bell rings, announcing my entrance, but the store is as empty as the pavilion. There is no one in here.

Then things take a weird turn.

All the bookshelves are empty of books now. Instead, I see rows upon rows of gleaming gold bars.

O’Malley’s Books has turned into Fort Knox now?

I want this gold! I want all of it. I want a bar. I want to steal it. I could live comfortably on one bar for several years.

I laugh as the obvious hits me.

I am dreaming. And how many times have I dreamt of money? Money or watches or diamonds. In those dreams, despite at some level knowing I was dreaming, I still tried to shove the dream money into my dream pockets, convinced I could wrest it from the unreal to the real world.

I return the gold bar I’m holding to the shelf. I no longer want to steal this gold; it exists only in my brain.

I look at the novel again. It’s changed once more. Now it’s House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski. I place it down next to the gold bar.

If I’m lucid dreaming now, then the thing I most want to do now has nothing to do with gold or books.

What I always want to do in my dreams is the one thing I can never do in waking life.

I want to fly.

I want to soar over this town, over the river, under the rickety bridge.

I want to fly.

I step outside the shop. The pavilion is gone.

I raise my hands slowly, squat just a bit, push off with my feet. My motions feel like I’m moving through water at first, but then I’m leaning forward, and I’m flying; it’s as glorious as I remember.

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