Fiction Fantastic 2024 Winning Story: “Gold Dust Books” by L. Stepp

The story below is a winner from our Fiction Fantastic Young Writers Contest, open to all youth in Lane County. For more information on this contest, including how to enter, visit here. Support this program with a donation.

You can purchase this story in the 2024 Winners Anthology, Realm of Forgotten Dreams.

“Gold Dust Books” by L. Stepp, Creswell High School

Honorable Mention, High School Level, 2024

Gold Dust Books

by L. Stepp

Creswell High School

This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. This wasn’t how life was supposed to go. I wasn’t supposed to spend my life sitting in the office of a job I didn’t even want. I was meant to be doing something better. Something that had meaning and made me feel like I led a fulfilling and rewarding life.

My mother had raised me on fairy tales and stories. Stories that had been told to her when she was young. Stories that she could create on the spot, that were filled with adventure. We were kissing frogs, dancing until midnight, fighting evil witches, and becoming apprentices to eccentric wizards. We were making friends with knights and ninjas, fighting to save whoever needed saving.

I grew to believe that anything could happen. We could be the ones to tame dragons. We could be the ones to save a kingdom. We could be the ones to do anything. Someday, something would happen that would change our lives for the better, we just had to wait a little longer. As the years passed, nothing as amazing as what happened in the stories occurred. I was getting older, growing up faster and faster. My mother and I were still reading the same stories that we had when I was little. They still held the same amount of magic and adventure as ever.

My mother was getting older, too, and I started reading on my own. I read and dreamed up my own adventures. I climbed up castle walls, I got into brawls in taverns, and was thrown through windows. I met forest spirits and wonderful creatures that couldn’t be found outside of the pages of books. I fell in love time and time again and my heart was broken just as many times.

Those that I had grown to care for died in front of me over and over. I lost count of the ones I had lost. But I always remembered them. I knew their names, their thoughts, and their opinions. I knew them, and I cried for them.

I cried for them in the darkness of the night as the memories of all they had been through and accomplished throughout their book swirled through my mind.

But I still hoped; hoped that something would change and I would find myself flying through the night sky on the back of a dragon beside those I had lost.

I spent the following years alone for the most part. I decided to quit my job and go back to school. I looked for a part-time job close to campus. It was while I was looking that I discovered a small bookshop.

The shop was a hidden gem in the bustling downtown of my city. Most people didn’t realize that it was even there. The brickwork of the building stood out from the pristine glass walls of its neighbors, and yet, most who wandered by didn’t care to find out what was inside. One would think that the building would be easily noticed due to how different it was from the rest of the street.

That’s what I thought anyway, as that was what had drawn my attention in the first place.

The large blue “Closing Sale!” sign in the window stood out starkly against the warm browns of the aged brick.

“I’m getting old, dear. I can’t take care of this place like I used to,” the old woman who owned the shop sighed. “This place used to be bursting with people. Quiet Sunday teas and extravagant late afternoon parties.”

Her eyes were distant, watching the memories replay in her mind, and I was watching with her.

The tall walls filled from top to bottom with books. The winding staircase in the back corner led to two balconies of different heights that circled the room above my head. There was light streaming in through the windows near the ceiling, natural spotlights shining on the floor where the golden ghosts swayed to softly playing music.

Plush couches framed the room and well-dressed men and women were lounging as the Grand Opening Party of The Book Nook continued to progress.

The room felt almost like a forest: potted plants with long winding vines that reached towards the floor and lower balcony were scattered along the windowsills; wood furniture and bookcases with accents of different shades of green surrounded the room, while the smell of pine drifted by on the breeze of a dancing couple.

The woman turned back to me with a soft smile and a sad look in her eyes.

“If only you could have been there. Felt what it was like,” she sighed.

Around me, the dancing couples and lounging ladies faded out. Nothing but the faint smell of pine was left as the woman’s memory faded.

I stood there for a few minutes, soaking in the fading sights. I returned every day after that and spent a few hours looking through the amazing collection of books the room held.

Over time I started helping the old woman. I dusted the shelves, swept the floors, watered the plants, and every single moment I was happy. I felt at peace for the first time in a long time.

I started reading the stories that my mother had told me again. I could feel these stories come to life within the walls of the shop. There seemed to be a shift in the atmosphere, the building felt more free, more alive.

I stayed longer every time I visited.

The blue “Closing Sale’” sign stayed in the window, slowly fading in color and collecting dust. But the shop had never once been closed when I passed by and I would often find myself sitting in one of the many armchairs with a book in my hand.

I wasn’t always reading. Sometimes I would sit and listen to the memories that filled the place. The golden shadows of men and women in beautiful coats and dresses with the characteristics of the Belle Époque were laughing across the room, gossiping about the latest party they had attended. There was always something happening in this place. So many memories.

Memories from the Grand Opening Party of The Book Nook. Memories from when the old woman’s husband bought the shop from an even older widow. Memories from before, when The Book Nook had been Rose Family Books. Memories that only a few could see and hear in the golden light cast through the windows high above.

There was peace here. Calm. I felt like I could spend the rest of my life in this place.

It was two years before I found that I could spend the rest of my life here if I wished. The old woman passed and gifted me the shop as well as a small fortune to keep the doors open for those who stumbled by. I spent my life running the shop without ever having to worry about closing down or needing to find other work. I surrounded myself with the wonders and faded memories that filled the building.

I invited my mother to come live with me in the small apartment behind the shop. We lived there for a few more years before my mother followed the old woman and passed as well.

Though in that time we had together, we created more memories to add to the gold shadows. A grand re-opening party was thrown in celebration of a new name and new management. Sunday teas were set and book clubs met. Birthdays and game nights were had. I met my first love and suffered many break-ups. My wedding was celebrated within the walls of the newly named Gold Dust Books.

They weren’t just our memories. Our family grew. Regulars in the shop became friends and family over the years. People we shared our stories and ideas with. Customers who found themselves unexpectedly walking through the doors on a rainy day looking for something magical.

It took time but eventually, golden shadows came out of hiding, mesmerizing those able to see them. Children and adults alike watched history unfold from within the brickwork of the building. Imprints from those who had walked before us and with us.

My time would come in the end, as it has now. I find you wandering through the door with a faded blue “Closing Sale” sign in its window. You tell me about the stories your mother told you when you were younger. How you wanted to be a superhero or a pirate who sailed the seas looking for gold.

I whisper, “You have.”

You turn your head as a sparkle of gold catches your attention from the corner of your eye, and you watch as the memories unfold in front of you, waiting for you to make your own.