A girl finds a long lost book with the power to change the world.
The sweet, musty aroma of old books filled the familiar sanctuary like a cloud of knowledge. Sara breathed it in, slowly, closing her eyes. Shoppers, scanning the titles lined up on table after table, walked around her.
The used book sale at Clearwater Mall was a grand tradition. Every year the wide corridors would be spread with old, repainted, scratched, and painted again, rickety folding tables, teeming with books of every shape, size, colour, and genre imaginable.
Sara ran her hand over the long row of previously-cracked spines, wishing she could know the secrets of each one. Her mother, laden with bags of books they had already purchased, stood on the other side of the table, flipping through the pages of a worn romance novel.
Sara had inherited her love of stories from her grandfather. He had been taking her to this sale every year since she could walk. It was the first time that she had gone without him, and it felt different - wrong - like she had made a wrong turn and was in the wrong place. This time Grandpa was chained to his bed by wires and tubes and pills, but he had given her thirty dollars to spend on books that she could read to him.
It was hard to be sure which books her Grandpa might like, but Sara had found a few promising covers. He liked a little of everything - mystery, suspense, love, science fiction, fantasy, old classics, modern series - even children's books. And so she had searched the whole mall at least five times, picking out books from every section.
"Honey, are you almost finished? It's almost five o'clock and we promised Grandpa we would stop by on our way home."
Sara looked up at her mom, her wide blue eyes dancing. "Just one more. I have to find the perfect one."
Sara's mom rolled her eyes. "Two minutes."
Sara scanned the titles with a new urgency. She turned around to face the next table, stacked with teen drama novels. She bypassed those and stopped in front of a table of mysteries, picking up the first cover that jumped at her. Trouble Rising. She read the back cover in haste, and decided it sounded interesting.
She brought it to the far table and handed the volunteer her last five dollars, then hurried back to her mom, whose sparkling blue eyes matched her daughter's.
Sara relieved her mother of one of the bags and dug through it as they entered the parkling lot. She found the one she wanted and read the back cover again, consumed by delicious anticipation. In her hands was a key. A key to other worlds, other realities, other lives. A key to being whichever character she wanted, to stories that just don't happen in real life. Not to normal people. The odds are just too low. The circumstances too dramatic. The story just too fabricated.
Once upon a time meant a time that could never have been.