I began browsing the sci-fi section, looking for trashy stuff mostly, like Harry Harrison. Having exhausted the obvious stuff I noticed a sign saying “more sci-fi in the back!” so I obeyed the call and found big piles of sci-fi to trawl. Heaven!
I should highlight at this point that this bookshop was described by my sister as “the one that plays loud music out onto the street” and indeed it was blasting out jazz this evening - a pleasant and quite endearing habit of theirs, but one that turned out to be my downfall.
I continued to browse the books and amassed infinitely more in my I’ll-probably-buy-this-stuff pile than I had expected (i.e. my expectation was for zero since I already have plenty of unread books to plough through!) There’s some great stuff there; from Harry Harrison to Heinlein to LeGuin, and even a Star Trek book which I’m pretty dubious about, but hey it’s about Romulans so it’s gotta be good, right?!
I eventually decided that the pile was big enough and that I should probably get out before I bought half the shop.
I looked around. Nobody. Called “HELLO?!” a few times. Nothing. I analysed the situation; the music was still on, as were the lights, there was an uneaten salad of some variety prepped and ready to dig into. Cool. They must be around somewhere.
I tried a couple of doors; one went downstairs and one up. It felt rather like a mixture of a horror film and one of those old text-based adventures:
You reach the stairwell: do you want to go [U]p or [D]own?
I opted for Down: Up looked dark :(
In the basement there were a few things; a broken ladder, a couple of locked toilets, and then more stuff, detritus mostly. Not worth listing in a text-adventure.
Ok, so there’s nobody here. I’ll leave the hard-won pile of books near the till and come back tomorrow. No big deal!
Oh shit. The door is locked. I’m stuck in someone else’s shop and I’m alone and I have no food except someone else’s salad and when did I last use the toilet and will I survive the night?!?! Perhaps panicking wasn’t going to be so helpful: deep breath.
More investigation of the situation was needed: surely I was being a simpleton and there was actually a way to open this locked door. Nope. Sealed. Not a yale lock. Well then - let’s think logically about this - there must be spare keys?
Found precisely one that looked promising. Didn’t fit. My heart sank.
Ok, phone numbers then - there must be a mobile scribbled down somewhere! Rescue is a phone call away! Nope. Ok, think laterally. Visit their website in search of a number… nope, only a landline for the shop… try it anyway in the vain hope that it’s forwarding.
Ok, that didn’t work. Tricky.
Around this time, and noting the security camera I decided it might be prudent to call the police, hopefully demonstrating that I wasn’t involved in the heist of a bookshop. I quickly got through, apologised in an extremely English manner for wasting everyone’s time, and explained the situation, at which point I must have been allocated the very lowest priority possible and stuck in a phone queue being repeatedly informed that more important emergencies were going on and to stop being a big baby. Well, that’s what I read into it anyway.
Exploration was the way forward, it seemed, with no official attention (but holding on for the police to pick up) I ventured forth. Up I went. More shouting: “HELLO?! ANYONE THERE?!” thinking <I’m going to die>. Seems overly dramatic, but read on! Coulda happened!
Floors of books, and knick-knacks, and less books as I went up: top floor was largely empty - another ladder, not so broken looking, and jackpot! FIRE EXIT!
Unfortunately the damn thing wouldn’t open - the push-bar thing was stuck and I couldn’t urge it open, so I gave it a sharp kick and smelt the fresh air! I felt like Mel Gibson leading the charge against the melodramatically-and-largely-misrepresented English in Braveheart. FREEDOM!
Turns out it was open about 2 inches and now it was stuck. Really stuck. I booted it a couple more times for good measure but it didn’t shift and I was worried about breaking stuff. I decided to use the old lift-and-apply-pressure technique. Cue sound of rotten wood giving way. Oops. Broke the top hinge. On the plus side I could now get out, which I did, and then nipped back in and down to the till to write a letter of apology.
You locked me in your shop! I tried calling you but couldn’t find your mobile.
I searched for a spare key to no avail.
I found a fire escape door at the top floor and pushed hard to open it, but the wood was rotten and the top hinge broke! I’m sorry!
I’ve been trying to call the police for 20mins but they put my on hold so I’ll try the fire escape.
I’ll pop in tomorrow to buy the books! [arrow drawn here to the treasure-trove of discovered books - my main concern at this point was genuinely that they might re-file my treasure-trove!]
Back up I went, out onto the fire escape which I discovered was really rusty and a lot higher up than I’d hoped… I don’t really like heights! At this point the police picked up and I apologised profusely and gave a short summary of events culminating in my position at the top of a dodgy fire-escape, the door for which I left ajar just in case I needed it - possibly the most sensible thing I’ve ever done!
The nice bloke on the end of the line suggested that if I felt safe I should try using the fire escape, and I didn’t want to seem too pathetic, having already been locked in a shop by mistake, and gave it a whirl. The first step was solid and I gained enough confidence to stride onto the next - which immediately loosened and gave way on one side. This was a sobering moment indeed. Shit was definitely real.
Not willing to let such trivialities as death-by-fall-and-impaling get in the way of a good escape I proceeded carefully down until I got to the first floor which had had its escape ladder chained up and padlocked. The padlock looked stronger than the entire set of stairs put together. I considered a heroic jump to the floor but the nice man on the line suggested that this was perhaps not the best idea.
He left me alone at that point for us both to regroup: he had to try to contact the owners, and I had to re-climb the steps-of-little-integrity and wait for rescue in the shop. It was out of my hands now - kinda reassuring in a pathetic sort of way. I welcomed opportunity to use two hands now that I wasn’t holding my phone and ascended, breaking bits off here and there and trying to retain my sanity whilst considering my ridiculous death. Thankfully the door was still open when I reached the top - I had already resigned to the inevitability that it would’ve swung shut in the minimal wind so this was a positive development.
I resolved to wait, and have a read whilst I was there - may as well make use of the perks available, right? After a few pages I got fed up waiting and called the police back with my incident number and had a good laugh about my situation with the very nice lady on the line - one should always appreciate one’s ridiculous misfortunes.
They had the foresight to enquire as to how much battery I had remaining: 33% but I pointed out that I was manning the phones in the bookshop this evening so if they needed me I was pretty available!
They had had no luck contacting the owner and were sending someone over. Confused at what this someone might be able to achieve, and not welcoming the spectacle of a fire-engine rescue, I went back to reading.
The police turned up and suggested that I could get back down the fire-escape and they could bring a ladder, but by this point I’d decided a couple of things:
We began discussing the fire brigade again and my heart sank. I could picture a fireman triumphantly carrying me over his manly shoulder - the pathetic wretch he supported not even able to escape a mere bookshop.
Hey, this is my shop!
God finally got bored of torturing me for cheap laughs. The owner was back! One-and-a-half hours after leaving me to my doom. He’d gone for a coffee, and this was the one time in 30 years running the shop that he hadn’t shouted “FIRE DRILL! EVERYONE OUT!” before locking up. I was just relieved that not too much fuss had been made, and was of course very apologetic about the door.
I’ll be back tomorrow to buy that pile of books - they don’t take card, as it turns out.