In December 2021, we created an advent calendar of daily writing prompts and set you the challenge of using them to create a story. The only rules were to weave in the prompt each day that you worked on the story, and to have fun!

Below are a selection of the stories that you wrote as part of the challenge. This is joyful, rule-free creative writing at its best. Enjoy!

L’Île Inaperçue
Jeremiah Vincent

It all started on a small, inconspicuous island, with a tiny library and a resident population of curious sea turtles.

I’d only been there a month, and this was the first time I’d seen the sea turtles. I stared out the library window at them. There was indeed something very curious about the way they were lined up on the beach, gazing towards the library. Surely sea turtles should be frantically digging nest holes, laying eggs and heading back into the sea? And didn’t they do this at night? I wondered if there was a book about them in the library.

Something bumped against my shin, and I looked down. “Oh, sorry Winston,” I said. “I’ll get right on it.” Winston was technically the librarian here, but as he didn’t have opposable thumbs (being a cat), he had hired me to do the mundane tasks, such as shelving, mending books, maintaining the catalogue et cetera. Although he understood quite a bit of French, he didn’t actually speak any (again, being a cat), so I found that I was expected to deal with the clientele as well.

Right now, there was a trolley-full of books to put away, and here I was staring out the window at the sea turtles. No wonder Winston was nudging my leg!

No-one could have predicted what happened next, least of all Winston – who was in fact partly to blame. I was about halfway through the trolley of books when I felt it first. A thud against the side of the library. I stopped, glancing nervously at the towering shelves in front of me, a copy of Of Mice and Men in my hand. Another soft but insistent thud. Dust sifted down from the green-shaded light which hung from the ceiling above me. I felt another thud, then another, and suddenly the library was shaking under sustained ramming from outside.

I thrust the book into a random gap on the shelf and, abandoning the trolley, made my way quickly to the front desk. “Um, Winston?” I called shakily. He was nowhere to be seen. “Winston!” The lights were all swinging crazily by this time. I clung to the desk, which was trying to edge away from the front door and into the wobbling shelves.

I heard a book fall, then another, then, with a groan, the entire shelving unit behind the desk tipped backwards and crashed into the one behind it. A thunderous domino effect followed, as every shelf stack toppled the next. With a terrified glance over my shoulder, I ran down the left-hand aisle to the back door, which was swinging open. “Winston!” I yelled, as I fled the besieged building.

Over at the docks, a gleaming yacht bobbed on the waves, with no sign of any crew on board – but every available surface was stacked high with books.

What? I thought. I turned to look at the library. The whole building was shaking now, and the occasional slate fell from the roof to bounce on the springy grass surrounding it. The turtles had disappeared from the beach, and I realised where they had gone; they must be attacking the library. But why? I hurried towards the docks, thinking I might find some answers there.

There was no name on the yacht’s stern, simply a row of what looked like paw-prints. “Hello?” I called. “Er, ship ahoy? Meow?”

A bewhiskered face appeared briefly at one of the portholes, and shortly, Winston emerged from behind one of the stacks of books on the deck. “Permission to come aboard sir?” I asked. He glared at me, moved across to the gangplank and shoved it off the side with his head. It splashed into the water below.

I tried again. “Er, Winston, the turtles. They seem to be trying to knock the library down…” But he had disappeared below again.

An elaborate sandcastle, decorated with colourful pebbles and unusual shells, had appeared on the beach overnight. It hadn’t been visible from the library, but I came upon it as I wandered disconsolately away from the yacht. I stopped and stared at it. Could this, too, be the work of the turtles? What was going on on this island? Winston seemed to be leaving, and if the turtles knocked the library down, what would happen to my job?

I suddenly realised that the thudding had stopped. Stepping away from the sandcastle, I peered around the bushes at the library. It seemed to be still standing, and the turtles were now returning to the beach. In fact, they were heading straight for me!

“Where’s the watermelon-flavoured lip balm when you need it?” I swung around. Approaching me along the beach was a man holding the hand of a small girl, and it was she who had spoken.

“Oh, thank God! Humans!” I hurried towards them. “The turtles are trying to knock the library down!” I exclaimed. “Do you have a way off this island? My boss won’t let me on board his yacht.”

‹‹Je n’suis qu’un œuf,›› the man said, smiling beatifically at me.

“What? What do you mean, you’re only an egg?”

“He means he’s only an egg,” the little girl explained, as if to an idiot. “And he doesn’t even know where the watermelon-flavoured lip balm is. I gave it to him yesterday morning, but you know how it is.” She rolled her eyes theatrically.

I stared at her in disbelief.

“Do you like to build sandcastles?” she asked, plumping herself down on the sand. She began to scrape a pile together.

“Sandcastles? Did you build that one?”

“Oh no, that would be the turtles,” she replied, still piling up loose sand.

The man smiled down at her. ‹‹On a besoin des œufs,›› he announced.

‹‹On a besoin du baume à lèvres,›› she corrected him sternly. ‹‹À la pastèque.››

“Why do you need watermelon-flavoured lip balm?”

“Because it’s my favourite. And he’s lost it.” She paused long enough to glare up at him, then turned back to her sandcastle. I looked down at it and gaped. How had she finished it so quickly?

It was the quaintest little treehouse anyone could imagine, complete with wooden shutters in the windows and a rope ladder.

“How did you do that?” I gasped.

“It’s quite easy,” she said. “You just pat it into shape, scoop out the windows, find bits to decorate it… It’s really easy.”

“But… but a moment ago all you had was dry sand! And you haven’t been off looking for the bits to make the shutters or the tree, or anything!”

“What are you talking about? I’ve been working on this for ages. And the turtles brought me the bits. They’re really very helpful.”

“Did they make the rope ladder too?”

“No, silly, I made that. They just brought me the string and the twigs.”

I glanced up at the sun, wondering just how much time had passed. No, it seemed to be mid-morning still.

“This island is doing my head in,” I decided.

‹‹Peut-être que vous aussi êtes un œuf?›› suggested the man gently.

“Perhaps I am,” I muttered. “I’m certainly feeling less and less human. Who knows? I might be an egg after all.”

I headed back to the library. The turtles had completely disappeared, but I kept a wary eye out for a glimpse of a stray flipper as I walked. The place was a complete mess, only a few shelves still standing, and I sighed as I began to pick books up off the floor

Suddenly, there was a loud crash as a bookshelf toppled over, covering the entire floor in an avalanche of non-fiction. I groaned and dropped my head into my hands. How was I ever going to put this back in order? Even if Winston weren’t (apparently) skipping out, he’d be no help. Perhaps I could ask the little girl and her… father? egg? He could at least help me stand the shelves up again.

It didn’t often happen, but when it did, Winston – and perhaps the turtles, too – wanted to know all about it. The floor in the library was a bit uneven, so Winston had given me to understand (I couldn’t really say he’d told me, as such) that shelves falling over was a notifiable event. I realised that, besides clearing up the mess, I had a report to file. I wondered if Winston’s yacht was still in port. Perhaps if I filled out the report form, took it over to the docks and waved it at him, he’d let me on board. Or at least come ashore and take it from me. Maybe I should make a carbon copy for the turtles too.

I picked my way through piles of fallen books to the library office. There was a bookshelf leaning against the door. In fact, the entire row of shelves was, in effect, blocking the office door. Oh well, we had pen and paper on the front desk. I’d just make out an informal report now, and use an official form once the library was set back to rights.

“Should we travel to South America?” I jumped and turned around. It was the little girl and the man who thought he was an egg again.


“You wanted to leave the island. Should we travel to South America?”

“And just how do you propose we do that?”

“We have a boat.”

“You want to sail around the Cape of Good Hope and clear across the Atlantic, just the three of us? Can you sail a boat? Can he?” I indicated her companion, who was gazing about the calamity that was the library, smiling inanely. “I certainly can’t.”

“It’s a motor-boat. We can take it across to the mainland. They have planes there.”

I sighed and looked at the mess. “Thanks, but I really need to get this library back in order. I mean, Winston may be leaving, but I do still have a job. I think.”

“Oh well, the offer’s open, if you want it.”

“Thanks,” I said again. “I don’t suppose you two could give me a hand here, could you? I’ll need some extra muscle to get the shelves stood up again.”

“What’s it worth?”

I blinked. Mercenary little… “How about a couple of sticks of watermelon-flavoured lip balm?” I asked.

“Done,” she replied. ‹‹Allez, assistons,›› she added to the man.

“We’ll need to pick up all the books first,” I said. ‹‹Il faut d’abord ramasser tous les livres.›› I stooped and began picking up books, stacking them in the aisle.

It was already shaping up to be one of those days that everyone laughs about afterwards. I actually couldn’t wait for ‘afterwards’, to be honest. Every time I thought we had all the books out from under the dominoed shelves, I found another one. But we finally had the floor cleared, and were able to start standing the shelves up again. The man turned out to be incredibly strong, and I only had to show him once what I needed him to do. We quickly had all the shelves back in their proper places – it was a very small library after all – and I dusted off my hands and turned to the little girl.

“Right,” I said. “Let’s head into the village and get you that lip balm.”

“Oh, they don’t sell it here,” she said blithely. “We’ll have to go across to the mainland.”

My shoulders dropped, along with my heart. When I’d come here, it had taken two hours to cross the strait.

“Well, I guess I can close the library for the rest of the day. It’s not like Winston is here to tell me off…”

“Excellent,” she said, clapping her hands. “Let’s go then.” She took the man’s hand in her right hand and mine in her left, and started dragging us to the door.

“Wait,” I said. “I have to make a sign for the door.”

The beach was deserted, except for a bunch of balloons tied to a tree and a snow shovel propped up against the trunk.

“Ooh!” said the little girl. “Look what the turtles have left me!” She ran to the tree and grabbed the shovel. “I shall be able to make a whole fortified town with this!”

“Wait, didn’t you want to go across to the mainland for some lip balm?” I asked.

“Oh yes, later will do,” she replied absently, already shovelling sand into a huge pile. I still didn’t understand how she made sandcastles out of dry sand, but based on her earlier effort, ‘later’ might not be too much later.

“I’ve lost my shoes again.” I glanced down. She was standing barefoot in the middle of a complex but half-formed city of sand.

“Your shoes? But you weren’t wearing any.”

“Yes, because I’ve lost them.”

“Well, where did you see them last?”

“On my feet.”

I sighed and sat down on the sand. “Does having no shoes on matter? I mean, it’s pretty warm, and the island’s mostly grass and sand. Most kids would want to go barefoot here.”

“You’re wearing shoes,” she pointed out.

“Yes, I’m supposed to in the library.”

“Winston doesn’t.”

“Yes, he’s a cat. Cats don’t usually wear shoes.”

“Aren’t you a cat too?”

“No. At least, I don’t think so.” Cats, turtles, eggs, wizard-children… What was this island?

The sun was so hot that my ice cream instantly melted into a sticky, hokey-pokey flavoured gloop. The little girl having finished her sand… fortress, we’d decided to escape from the heat and try to find her lip balm in the village after all. No luck, as she’d predicted, but the ice cream shop had beckoned invitingly. Now I was wishing we’d stayed inside it to eat. Glad I’d bought a tub instead of a cone, I tipped it up and drank the gloop. The little girl was happily licking her mysteriously still-frozen cone of watermelon flavoured ice cream, and the man smacked his lips as he spooned up his orange choc-chip tub.

“Almost as good as lip balm?” I asked.

“Almost,” she agreed.

“How about I buy you a voucher for more? Would that do? I mean, I should really get back to the library. I still need to put the books back on the shelves, and write my report for Winston.”

“A week’s worth of ice cream,” she demanded.

“Fine,” I said. “I can do that.” Returning to the shop, I bought the requisite vouchers, and handed them to the girl. She in turn gave them to the man.

‹‹Ne les perdez pas,›› she instructed him. “I hope he doesn’t lose these too,” she confided to me.

The only thing that could save the day now was a giant chocolate milkshake, a box of doughnuts and some pretzels. Pretzels always calmed me down, made me ready to tackle the toughest of tasks. And reshelving every book in the library was certainly a tough task. I checked my bank balance. Oh well, pay-day tomorrow. Probably. I headed down the street to the convenience store as the little girl and her smiling companion disappeared towards the beach again.

Back at the library, I cast a cautious look around for evidence of turtles, before sitting down on the front steps to finish my lunch – no eating or drinking in the library applied to me too.

No-one had ever found out where the penguins had come from – they simply appeared one day. To be honest, they were less alarming to me than the turtles. I’d had longer to get used to them, I suppose. Three of them turned up as I was wiping my hands in preparation for getting back to work.

“Sorry guys, the library’s closed at the moment. We’ve had a small incident, and I’ve got to get everything cleared up before we can start lending again.”

The smallest one of the three looked a bit crest-fallen. It had a book under one flipper, and looked at me beseechingly.

“Why don’t you read it again?” I suggested. “You can come back tomorrow for a new one. No late fees,” I added hastily to the parents.

One of them patted the chick on the head as they turned to go, and I watched them waddle off towards the village. Right, no more putting it off. I had clients waiting on me; I had to get the library back in order as soon as possible.

I pulled out a beautiful notepad with sky-blue pages and little rainbows on the cover. It was Winston’s Incident Report Register, kept in one of the drawers of the front desk. The entries were in so many different hands that I wondered how long library assistants lasted here. I turned to the first blank page, and hastily scribbled a brief account of the turtles’ assault on the library. Then I began the long task of sorting through the books we’d piled in the aisles so I could re-shelve them. Luckily, they were more or less in the right locations. When I’ve got them all put away, I thought, I’ll get a proper report written up.

An old cargo ship sat in the dock, waiting to be loaded with crates of books – carefully watched by what looked suspiciously like a penguin. I’d finally finished shelving the books in the library, and was now bringing the incident report over to Winston’s yacht. I’d left a copy pinned to the tree where the turtles had left the balloons and shovel, just in case they wanted to read it. Funny, I hadn’t noticed that there were fewer books than there should be in the library. Where were these books from? Perhaps Winston was getting rid of the islanders’ own books, in an effort to increase library patronage? Then again, perhaps I was merely an egg, with no understanding of how the world worked.

Everyone agreed it was time for a barbeque, a couple of drinks and a good story or two. I could hear them from a couple of hundred metres away; the penguins slapping each other on the back, the turtles bumping heads the way humans do fists, even Winston, yawning and yowling at the same time, the way satisfied cats do.

“Oh, er, Winston, I’ve got an incident report here for you,” I said, as I approached the crowd.

“Mmh,” he said, inclining his head towards the gangplank of the yacht, which someone seemed to have retrieved from the harbour.

“I’ll just… put it in the salon, then…” But he’d turned away, tapping me good-naturedly with his tail. I hurried up the gangplank, and deposited the report on the table in the main salon. The books appeared to have been stowed below somewhere; at least, the deck was clear again.

As I emerged back into the sunlight, I smelt the delicious aroma of frying steak and onions. The little girl and the man were standing at the barbeque, wearing chefs’ hats and chatting to the penguins.

As far as Winston and the turtles were concerned, this was just a game – but they couldn’t have been more wrong. As the egg/man happily shoved the food around on the barbeque hot-plate, I saw the little girl sprinkle something into the fruit salad. Watermelon featured heavily, I noticed, but what did one normally add to fruit salad? Just fruit, I would have thought. The penguins were congregated around the food too, milling about as if they were trying to hide some activity. I pushed my way through the throng, but as soon as I reached the barbeque, the penguins deserted it en masse, gathering instead around Winston.

“Will you have some fruit salad?” asked the little girl.

“I might leave that for afters actually, thanks. That steak smells good though.”

“Oh, it won’t be ready for a while yet. Have some fruit salad while you’re waiting.”

“Thanks, not just at the moment.” I edged away towards Winston.

“Winston,” I hissed. “I need to talk to you.”

A penguin thrust a bottle of beer into my hand and chinked his own against it.

‹‹Euh, santé,›› I said, taking a swig. Next minute I wished I hadn’t, as the world swung crazily around me. What was in that beer?

Without a parachute and some snowshoes, this was looking more and more like an impossible task.


I looked at the beer bottle in my hand. It seemed to be flickering; one moment an ordinary beer bottle, the next a wooden kuksa filled with steaming soup. The world flickered too. Interspersed with views of the barbeque gathering on the tropical island were ones of an icy clifftop. Only the penguins were constant.

I shivered, wrapping my hands around my drink. The soup smelled fishy, but I took a big gulp anyway. I peered over the edge of the cliff. A parachute would definitely be helpful. The ledge on which I stood was very narrow, and the only way forward was down.

Wait, where was I supposed to be going? A penguin tapped me on the leg and pointed ahead, to where a boat was moored at the edge of the ice shelf below. Or was it Winston’s yacht, tied up at the island’s dock?

Time was running out, and although everyone – including Winston – secretly knew it, they pretended it wasn’t the case. I put my drink down, turned around, knelt down, and backed carefully over the edge of the ice cliff. I felt a bit foolish when it turned out I was still on the island after all. A penguin patted me kindly on the shoulder and handed me my beer.

“Thanks,” I said, “but I think I’ve had enough for the time being. It’s been a hot day; perhaps I should have some water instead.” I got hastily to my feet and headed for Winston again.

“Boss, what’s going on? Where are we sending all those books?”

He started towards the jetty, looking back over his shoulder to make sure I was following him. The crates had been loaded onto the cargo ship, a few lashed to the deck. I could just make out a label on one of them. There was a picture of Santa’s face, and the words ‘To St Joseph’s School’ underneath.

“Oh! Christmas presents!” I exclaimed. “But… but the turtles. And the penguins. What are they up to?”

It could have been mistaken for macaroni cheese, but it was definitely stickier and somewhat less tasty. I gazed at the plate the little girl had handed me. She was finally dishing up food from the barbeque to the queue of penguins and turtles. The steak and onions looked good, but the side dish… well… I carefully scraped it to the side of the plate and found a place to sit on the grass.

So, Winston – and presumably the turtles – was sending books to a school on the mainland for Christmas, and the penguins seemed to be providing the transport. Perhaps the little girl was one of the pupils. I still didn’t know what role the man was playing in all this, nor what the beer had been laced with, but the food was sure good. Most of it. The penguins were digging into the not-macaroni cheese with relish, so maybe putting it on my plate had been a genuine mistake. But I couldn’t help feeling I was missing the big picture.

“Surely we must be getting close to Christmas?” The little girl had sat down beside me, with her own plate of food, and a bowl of fruit salad.

“Yes, fairly close. Today’s the… um, it’s about the twenty-second or twenty-third or something. Actually, do you know, I haven’t a clue what the date is.”

There was no point asking Winston, who had long since lost the plot. I didn’t know cats actually liked beer, but he seemed to be knocking it back like it was water. I wondered if he was seeing Antarctica, as I had.

One of the penguins had produced a bag full of Santa hats and was handing them around. I supposed it didn’t really matter what the exact date was; it was Christmas-time. Time to forget arbitrary measures of duration, and focus on fellowship.

As I ate, I gazed contentedly around at the gathering. No artificial snow, holly boughs or blazing Yule log here on this island in the Indian Ocean. The Christmas atmosphere was much as I knew Christmas at home, though I did miss the pōhutukawa, flowering bright red at this time of year. The turtles must have been giving Winston the hurry-up, I thought. Time and tide wait for no-one, they say. And indeed, the cargo ship and Winston’s yacht were moving out into the roadstead, sailing for St Joseph’s School on the mainland. I hoped the children enjoyed their books. Merry Christmas everyone, Joyeux Noël à tout le monde!

The Price of the Path
Josephine Draper

It all started on a small, inconspicuous island, with a tiny library and a resident population of curious sea turtles.

At first, Drekker didn’t think anything was wrong. He went about his daily business, sweeping the decks, buying his daily bread, carefully stepping over the sea turtles who seemed to follow him around.

No-one could have predicted what happened next, least of all the librarian – who was in fact partly to blame.

It was when Drekker had stepped over the seventeenth turtle of the morning as he was picking a pumpkin from the garden that he noticed something strange. There was nothing beyond the garden gate. Where the path used to wind down the side of the cliff  through the sea-thrift and buttercups to the cove below, was nothing.

Over at the docks, a gleaming yacht bobbed on the waves, with no sign of any crew onboard – but every available surface was stacked high with books.

Tomes of every size and shape were stacked from bow to stern, from port to starboard. Some even teetered and toppled off the gunwales. From where Drekker watched, currents swirling around the yacht dragged a trail of lost copies shorewards.  Peering over the garden wall, he could see a lonely paperback brushing up against a rock where sand had been before.

An elaborate sandcastle, decorated with colourful pebbles and unusual shells, had appeared on the beach overnight.

“What?” asked Drekker to himself. “The beach wasn’t there before, was it? It was down there, at the bottom of the path. Not over by the harbour. Except there’s no path now.” He scratched his head. Was he going mad?  Turning around, he nearly tripped over another turtle who had wandered over to munch on some spinach. “I wonder if anyone else has noticed anything strange, or if I’m imagining things. Perhaps I just had too much wine with lunch.”

“Where’s the watermelon-flavoured lip balm when you need it?” muttered Claire, shop assistant in the island’s gift shop. “It was here, I’m sure it was. And now there’s mango lip gloss instead. I never ordered that.”

“Hi Claire,” Drekker said, poking his head round the door. “I just popped in to ask you if you’d noticed anything strange going on, but I guess that’s my answer. ” ‘

“Well, I mean, if you consider me not remembering ordering something strange, then yes. I probably did some ordering one evening after I’d been down the beach bar. No wonder I can’t remember.” Claire said, with a slight frown.

“Ok…” Drekker paused, picked up a plastic toy dog. It was holding a banana in its mouth. “How about this? Remember ordering this?”

Claire’s frown deepened. “That’s… not something I would order. And surely Angela wouldn’t order it either?”

“That’s what I thought,” Drekker said. “There’s something funny going on.”

It was the quaintest little treehouse anyone could imagine, complete with wooden shutters in the windows and a rope ladder.  It was also where Drekker lived. The house was built in a giant silkwood tree, suspended over expansive decks below with loungers for enjoying evening sun. From his kitchen window he had a view over the garden and down to the sea. His bathroom was hidden away down in the garden, and he had to sweep fallen leaves off the deck each day, but he didn’t mind these minor issues. He still felt like a little boy each time he climbed the rope ladder to go to bed. A little inconvenience was nothing if he got to relive the feeling of possibility of youth every day. But when he went back to the house to consider what to do next, there was a problem. The rope ladder was tucked up in the treehouse. No way for him to climb up.

Suddenly, there was a loud crash as a bookshelf toppled over, covering the entire floor in an avalanche of non-fiction.

Drekker knew what it was immediately. There was nothing else to fall in the tiny treehouse. Someone was up there.  Someone who didn’t care about the furniture. The good news was, all he had to do was wait to see who came down, then confront them. The bad news was, he hated confrontations. How was he going to manage this? And he had a horrible feeling he knew why someone was up there.

He sat down in a shady corner of the deck and waited, back propped against the central tree. From here, he had an excellent view of where whoever was in the treehouse would come down the rope ladder eventually, but they wouldn’t be able to see him until they were half-way down. It was a warm afternoon. Butterflies hovered around flowers nearby. Bees hummed gently. Before he knew it, he’d nodded off.

He was woken again by the sound of boots hitting the deck. Jumping up, he caught sight of a distinctive mane of red hair disappearing up the garden path and vaulting the gate into the lane, scroll in hand. Jackson Planck. At least he knew how to find the thief.

It didn’t often happen, but when it did –  the librarian, and perhaps the turtles too – wanted to know all about it.

Luckily for Philip the curious librarian, latest residency records were stored at the library, so Drekker had to go there to track down Jackson’s last known address. And of course, the two of them ended up discussing one of the very rare crimes that occurred on the island. “And you actually saw him run off?” asked Philip. “Do you know why he was up there at all?”

Drekker looked sheepish. He was a terrible liar and hadn’t prepared a story. Truth it was then. “I had a treasure scroll that showed the Peacock Path.”


“Should we travel to South America?” Jackson asked the hooded figure.

“Patience. I am not sure that is what this scroll is showing. The legend says the path can be accessed from wherever the owner of the scroll is. And you do not want to make a mistake with the way of the Path.”

A hooked finger indicated the swath of the Peacock Path, the ancient route to untold riches. Legend said that those who trod the path returned rich, but changed. Sometimes skills were acquired. Sometimes abilities were lost. According to lore, one sailor returned with a boatload of gold, but deaf as a post. Another traveller returned with the keys to an ancient kingdom, but speaking a different language entirely. Following the path was a risky decision.

The scroll did indeed seem to point the way to South America. But why? Something in the scroll provided the clue. Jackson waited for instruction. He knew his place, and it was a follower to the person in the hood.


It was already shaping up to be one of those days that everyone laughs about afterwards.

First the beach, then the shop. Even the turtles were behaving strangely, promenading down the high street in an extended conga line. Drekker was distinctly uncomfortable, regretting his choice of a long-sleeved shirt on this warm day. The library was too close for comfort.

“How exactly did you come by the scroll?” Philip asked him. Drekker squirmed in his seat.

“You know, it was just, er…” he looked away and down at his hands.

“Because you know those scrolls are considered treasure trove. You’re required to report them if you find them.

“Ye-es… I mean, I was going to…”

“And you know, we had one in the library here, until about a year ago. it mysteriously went missing. I don’t suppose you know anything about that?”

“We-ell, you know, I would never steal from the library, I swear. I didn’t. It’s just, I kind of found it one day, you know, in a bottle, washed up on the shore. I know I should have reported it… but I just wanted to read it. I don’t know how Jackson found out I had it.”

“Perhaps you mentioned it after a few too many beers?” Philip murmured.

“I know, I made a mistake. But we have to get it back.”

“I couldn’t agree more. That scroll in the wrong hands is exceedingly dangerous.”

The beach was deserted, except for a bunch of balloons tied to a tree and a snow shovel propped up against the trunk.

“This is Jackson’s last known address? You’ve got to be kidding me.” Drekker said. ”Looks like a kids’ party ended in a murder.”

“Not his last address. But the only access to the house he lives in is up there.” Philip pointed up the garden path, accessible above the high tide line. “Come on, unless you’re chicken?”

The two of them walked up toward the house, well set back from the beach in a grove of trees. It was a two-storey villa with an uncared-for look. They rang the bell and waited. And waited. There was no reply.

“No-one in. I guess we’ll have to go then,” Drekker said, turning around.
“Not so fast. This is the perfect time to investigate,” Philip replied.

“So, you’re talking about breaking and entering, the very crime which Jackson is accused of?”


“I’ve lost my shoes again.” Claire was tossing a barrage of shoes away from the pile.

“Hey. You can stop. They’re here.” Angela passed her a pair of trainers. “You put them down behind the statue, remember?”

“Not really.” Claire sat down on the step and bowed her head onto her folded arms. Angela sat down next to her, placed an arm around her shoulder.

“I know you think this helps, but I don’t see the value. I just sit there trying to think of solutions.”

“Trust me, I think about that too,” Angela said. “But it can’t hurt to try prayer, right?”

“I only do it for you,” Claire said. “I don’t believe prayer can solve cancer. You heard what Mum’s doctor said.”

“That’s the medical diagnosis. I believe in the power of prayer. We have to believe that something will save her.”

“Well, I’m happy to go along with it, if it makes you feel better. But I won’t stop trying to find another solution.”


The sun was so hot that the librarian’s ice cream instantly melted into a sticky, hokey-pokey flavoured gloop.

The two of them were pondering their options with refreshments back at the beach cafe. After Philip had found an unlatched window and Drekker had crawled inside, then let Philip in, they’d explored the abandoned house. It was a large wooden house with gabled windows set amongst overgrown gardens, trees tapping on the upstairs windows. Inside, the rooms were dingy, dark, and dusty.

The whole place had the feeling of a squat, with uncared for living spaces and bedrooms a mess of drinks cans and pizza boxes. By a process of elimination they identified what must be where Jackson slept – you could tell by the Meatloaf posters. There wasn’t much to see, and certainly no scroll, because his room had nowhere to hide anything. There was a bedroll on the floor, a rail of hanging clothes, and a chest of drawers, full of t shirts and boxers. Some shelves housed cricket trophies.

“Not here,” said Philip, sadly. Drekker was looking at a pinboard on the wall though. A small piece of paper held a clue. At the top, it said ‘DB’- Drekker’s initials. Then 2-3.30 – the hours he usually did chores around town – and a good time for someone to case his treehouse. And finally, a phone number, and the initials PPS. “Peacock Path Scroll,” said Drekker. “It must be a clue.” He noted down the number carefully. They escaped as quickly as they could, deciding they’d already pushed their luck.

At the cafe, they were discussing how and when to call the number….

Finally, they agreed Philip would do it. He called and said “I have information about the Peacock Path Scroll that I know you want. Meet me at midnight at the old tree,” and hung up.


The only thing that could save the day now was a chocolate milkshake, a box of doughnuts and some pretzels. At least, that was how Drekker usually stopped himself from panicking. It was why he was ever-so-slightly pudgy. Very uncomfortable in a hot climate. Right now he was speed-eating a packet of biscuits and wondering what on earth they were going to say to whoever showed up at midnight.

“We don’t actually have any information,” he argued with Philip. “What if they turn nasty?”

“Ah, but we do. Just wait and see. I’ve been a scholar of the Peacock Path for years. And I know what that scroll shows and the key to using it.”

“You do? Then why haven’t you?”

“Well, when I say I know the key, I mean, I have a pretty good idea. The answer’s definitely somewhere on the boatload of books.”

“You mean the boatload of books that was overspilling into the ocean?”

“Absolutely. Now, are you going to help me find what we need?”


No-one ever found out where the penguins had come from – they simply appeared one day.

Now they appeared to have colonised the boat of books, hopping up the rope ladder, diving off the bow, making messes on precious books.

“Shoo!” Philip and Drekker rowed out to the boat. Whole waddles of penguins dove off into the water, while others remained clustered, sheltering under the deck rail and hiding behind piles of books.

“How do you know what you need is here?” asked Drekker.

“Well, you see, all of this is kind of my fault,” said Philip as they tied up alongside, swatting away a penguin that tried to jump into their boat.

“A couple of years ago, I found that scroll in a chest, addressed to my predecessor. She had retired, but must have ordered this chest before she left.  I should have told her about it, but I was curious. It was such a beautiful old chest, made of walnut, with brass buckles, and it just unlocked when I touched it. I couldn’t resist taking a look inside. Well, when I found the scroll I knew I couldn’t tell her about it. It just… called to me. Do you know what I mean?”

“I do,” said Drekker, thinking of how it had always seemed like distant piano music was playing when the scroll was in his treehouse.

“Well, I knew what the scroll was, of course, and I knew a little about it. There’s a restricted book in the library that has some interviews with people who’ve trodden the path. They talk of the symbology on the map sending messages.  Eventually I realised that some of the writing on the scroll relates to the symbology. Well, when I figured that out, I decided to try the keywords on the scroll relating to boats. It worked – but not how I expected. This boat appeared, and as you can see it’s absolutely full of books. I came out here one day just over a year ago to see if I could find more answers. I brought the scroll in a bottle to keep it dry, but somehow it slipped overboard. I guess that’s when you found it.”

The librarian pulled out a beautiful notepad with sky-blue pages and little rainbows on the cover.

“This is it! It must be!”

Drekker looked up from the pile of books he was sifting through.

“The rainbows. You’re right, they’re the same as the ones on the scroll. What’s inside?”

Philip leafed through the notebook. All the pages were blank.

“This can’t be right….” he murmured. “There must be a clue here somewhere.”

“What’s that?” said Drekker. “There – do you see it?”

“See what?”

“There, on the page, see that faint shape, like a watermark? It’s a letter. I think the notepad is spelling out a message… ”

An old cargo ship sat in the dock, waiting to be loaded with crates of books – carefully watched by what looked suspiciously like a penguin.

“I guess someone got fed up of this boat being here,” said Philip. “We were only just in time. I’ve looked through the books so many times, but never found it, until today. I must claim these books for the library, we could do with some new stock. And technically it is mine.”

“Hmmmm,” Drekker said. “That’s strange, it wasn’t until we came to the boat together that you found it.”

“There are a lot of old legends about the scroll, you know. All about it only working for the right person, and so on. Perhaps we were meant to use it together?”

“Perhaps. How are you getting on with the code?”

“I think it’s a poem. It’s something to do with South America. Perhaps that’s where the path is leading?”

“It was on the scroll, so maybe. I do know the scroll leads where it wants. Until we can get near enough to try it though, we won’t know.”

Everyone agreed it was time for a barbeque, a couple of drinks and a good story or two. After all Drekker and Philip had had a tough day. They’d had shifting sands, a crime, a scroll lost and found and now they had some time to kill. Drekker called up Claire and Angela, a few other friends and invited them round for drinks and BBQ on his deck with Philip.

As far as the librarian and the turtles were concerned, this was just a game – but they couldn’t have been more wrong.

Things had got a bit out of hand at the BBQ. After drinking for a while, they’d started betting on turtle races. Daubing numbers on the turtles in washable paint, they were lined up behind a piece of string and released to race for the finish. It was a bit like watching a baby race. Some of the turtles had absolutely no interest in racing whatsoever. Some walked around in circles. Some raced off, then stopped and reversed. What was clear though was that the longer the race went on, the drunker everyone was getting. ‘Drink while you cheer’ was the rule Philip had made up, and things were getting messy quickly. Drekker was taken up with the excitement of cheering for his turtle, no. 7, Lucy (though he had no idea how to gender turtles, so he’d just guessed she was a girl) and drinking away merrily, that he suddenly noticed it was approaching midnight.

“Philip!” he hissed. “We’ve got to go,”

But Philip was too tied up in the race to care about the scroll. That left Drekker to go and meet whoever was on the end of the phone number at the Old Tree. He crept away from the race while the others were still drinking.

At the tree, though it was 1 minute to midnight, no-one was there. But as he waited, there was a movement in the shadows. Jackson, and a Hooded Figure.

“Hello,” said Drekker rashly, suddenly unsure what the plan was. Did he even have one? This was all Philip’s idea, and without Philip and in his drunken state he couldn’t remember what he was supposed to say. He decided on the direct approach, since that was all his brain would let him process.  “I believe you have my scroll,” he stated, as boldly as his level of drunkenness permitted. “And I have some information you might find useful.”

The hooded figure stepped forward, scroll in hand. “Is that so?” A familiar voice asked.

“Yes!” And before he knew it, he was reciting the words on the notebook. He didn’t know why, but something made him say it out loud. As he finished, he heard a whooshing in his ears as he, Jackson and the hooded figure were sucked into a vortex that left them on a mountain peak.

Without a parachute and some snow shoes, this was looking more and more like an impossible task.

The vortex was closing behind them, leaving choices extremely limited. Could they climb down? Just as they were looking around at each other, wondering what next, in the last gasp of the vortex, Philip suddenly appeared, the door closing behind him.

“Now what?” asked Drekker out loud. They were on a sheer peak, who knows where. The ground was covered in snow and the four of them were dressed variously in shorts and t shirt, with the exception of the hooded figure who wore a dark flowing cape from head to toe. Drekker was wearing sandshoes, Philip and Jackson slightly more sensible trainers. But all of them (with the possible exception of the hooded figure – who might be wearing a parka underneath the cloak for all they knew) – were woefully underdressed and in danger of becoming frostbitten and hypothermic very quickly.

“I know this,” said Philip, suddenly sober. “It’s a test. We’re in the gateway to the Peacock Path. If we pass the test, we proceed to walk the path.”

“And if we fail?” asked Jackson.

“Best not to think about that,” said Philip. “Now, we need to find the door, and quickly”

A snicker came from the direction of the hooded one. “A door? On a mountainside? This is not Lord of the Rings. Don’t be ridiculous. We need to get down.”

“No, we need to find the door,” said Drekker. “We can’t climb down, unless you have climbing equipment under that cloak. It doesn’t matter what you think or believe, though I would have thought you understood this was real, since you stole the scroll.”

“Enough,” said Philip. “This is not helping. We all need to work together to find the door. Now, according to the legend, there should be a clue on the scroll. Who has it?”

A strangely familiar hand emerged from beneath the hood, handing the scroll to Philip.

“Yes!” said Philip after a short while. “Look! This symbol has appeared underneath the South America symbol. It means ‘four corners’ in the ancient language. We need to form a square, with each of us on the corners, and the scroll in the middle. When all four of our minds are in sync, focusing on moving onto the Path, we will pass through the door to the Peacock Path. That’s if we are worthy.

Drekker looked doubtful. Jackson was starting to shiver. But the four of them knew it was their only option and moved to form a square on a flattish section of mountainside. The sun was high in the sky but even so, wind whistled through their thin clothing.

“Now, concentrate,” said Philip. “We all want this. We’ve all touched the scroll. I know what that does to you. Can you hear the music?”

The four of them looked at the scroll, and tried to focus their minds.

Time was running out and though everyone – including the librarian – secretly knew it, they pretended it wasn’t the case.

Though the four of them had been silently focussing on the scroll for some time, nothing had been happening. Drekker tried to clear his mind. The sound of music eluded him. He knew that it was there. But he could no longer feel his feet and it was increasingly difficult to focus on the outcome he needed. His mind started to wander. The shifting sands. The disappearing lip balm. The boatful of books. So many books! Some of them being spoiled in the sun. The penguins ruining them. What a waste. How useful those books would be. He almost forgot to think about the Peacock Path as he started to hear piano music again. Yes! this must be the answer. Instead of focussing on the Path, he thought about the books. How useful they would be, and such a shame they’d been left there to rot.

As he reflected to himself, the sun seemed to become warmer and the wind started to rise again. He felt a familiar whooshing in his ears. It was working!

He felt a rocking underfoot. He felt it! He could feel his feet again! Opening his eyes, he saw something surprising where the scroll had been.

It could easily have been mistaken for macaroni cheese, but it was definitely stickier and somewhat less tasty.

Yes, it was penguin poo. All four of them were back on the deck of the boat of books. Full daytime. No scroll in sight.

“Is this it?” asked Jackson warily.

Philip opened his eyes. “No. The scroll travels with the traveller. We’ve been found unworthy. We cannot have been focussed enough on the Peacock Path. Instead we’re back here. It requires every person in the square to focus at the same moment.”

“But I heard the music!” said Drekker.

“Me too,” said Jackson.

“And I,” said Philip. “Can I ask, what were you thinking of?”

Drekker averted his eyes. “I was thinking about this boat. And all the books on it, and the penguins,” he admitted.

“I was thinking about how warm it is here, and how I wished I wasn’t on a mountain, and instead was on a boat,” said Jackson.

“And I was thinking about what an interesting book I had noticed on the boat the other day. I think we have our answer. Our minds must have been in sync, but not for the path.” He turned to look at the fourth figure.

The hooded figure had collapsed in a heap, sobbing. The hood slipped back revealing Claire.

“I need to walk the path!” she sobbed. “I must have it!”

Drekker walked over to comfort her.

“The legends say only the rightful owner can walk the path,” said Philip. “But perhaps we have had a lucky escape. I’ve never heard of anyone escaping from the gateway before. You either perish there or walk the path.”

“But where is the scroll?” wailed Claire.

“Surely we must be getting close to Christmas?” asked Claire. She wasn’t making much sense.

“Erm….,” Drekker started, unsure how to reply. “I mean, another 12 hours has passed since we went to the mountain, and it’s October, so kind of?”

“I thought, I thought,” sniffed Claire, “If I had the scroll, we’d walk out at Christmas and everything would be OK. Mum would be cured of cancer, and we could carry on our lives together. But it’s still October, and we’re still on this silly boat.” She buried her head in her hands.

“Not so silly,” replied Philip. “There’s all these books.” He’d just fought off a penguin for one particularly hefty looking tome and was leafing through it eagerly. “I didn’t think to actually read any of these before, but you know what, this is a treasure chest!”

“Well, I’m happy to be back home,” said Drekker. “From what I hear we had a lucky escape. And I would have missed my treehouse.”

“I’m just happy to be able to feel my feet again,” contributed Jackson. “I do not like snow. Sorry I stole your scroll, Drekker,” he added. “Claire was so set on having it, and I thought I’d just sneak in and borrow it while you were out. I knew you’d deny having it, or I would have asked.”

“No worries,” replied Drekker. “It wasn’t really any of ours anyway. I found it after Philip lost it, and he found it in a chest addressed to the previous librarian.”

Claire suddenly looked up. “To Marjorie Banner?” she asked “My mother?” She looked at Drekker and Drekker looked at her. He said “there’s a legend that the scroll finds its rightful owner. I wonder if perhaps Marjorie has the scroll now?”

The four of them hopped into the rowing boat and hot-footed it over to the island’s hospice. There, they found Marjorie with her other daughter, Angela, and next to her bed, the scroll had appeared.

“What now?” asked Claire. There was no point asking the librarian, who had long since lost the plot. He was completely absorbed in the book he’d taken off the boat. It was up to Drekker to save the day.

“Let me take a look at the scroll,” he said. “I was quite familiar with it, I should know if it looks different.”

Sure enough, the very shape of the scroll had changed. Now a simple message said only ‘To the rightful owner, the path appears in front of you.’

Marjorie couldn’t walk well any more, but there was nothing wrong with her eyesight. “I can see it,” she said, focussing on a blank point in the hospice wall. “Let me have the scroll, and help me into my wheelchair. I want to go.”

There was nothing to lose with a terminal cancer patient, and Marjorie clearly knew the legend of the scroll. Wheeling forward, scroll on her lap, she simply disappeared… and then reappeared moments later, walking through into the other side of the room through the wall.

“How long was I gone?” she asked. “It’s been six months for me. I’m cured!”

Claire rushed over to hug her. “Moments, Mum!”

“What happened?” asked Philip, suddenly looking up from the book he was engrossed in.

“It’s a happy ending!” said Drekker. “Looks like a party is called for, everyone, how about an early Christmas BBQ round mine?”

“Marjorie,” said Philip, “Now you’re better, fancy spending some of your retirement time looking through the books on my boat?”

“About that,” said Marjorie, shooing a turtle out of the doorway. “I’m afraid I can’t. You see, the price of my cure was my ability to read. I just can’t read anything at all now. It’s all Greek to me.”

“Ah well,” said Philip. “Sorting through books is pretty much a dream job for me. But first, a BBQ.”

Our Dream World
Nicky Humphris

It all started on a small, inconspicuous island, with a tiny library, a few reclusive people and a resident population of curious sea turtles.  The library was near the seaside where a door welcomed you in and then out into the great outdoors.  The librarian, Miss Fancy Pants; ushered Timmy, my brother and I through the space to a never ending view of a magical world filled with natural beauties.  There were colourful butterflies and creepy crawlies of all colours and descriptions.  The librarians eyes sparkled as she showed us around and pointed to the little sea turtles making their way towards us.  Timmy said “Wow, what a place!  Tinkerbell, where are we and what is this place?”  Our eyes were out on storks, and our mouths wide open.

No-one could have predicted what happened next, least of all the librarian, who was in fact partly to blame.  As Timmy bent and patted the curious sea turtles holograms of information about sea turtles started to scroll in the air around them.  The hologram quietly narrated the information.  “My goodness” I said, “What an amazing place.  How is this possible?”  I reached out and touched one of the rock pools and the creatures within it, and as I did the information was again narrated and visible just as it was for Timmy and his sea turtle friends.

Timmy had never been interested in libraries or books but he was curious and fascinated with the world around him.  He was stunned at all the information seeping into his mind without any effort. We spent the afternoon in a dreamlike trance absorbing this amazing world until we suddenly looked out the window and over towards the docks where we saw a gleaming ghost ship that bobbed on the waves. There was no sign of any crew onboard, but every available surface was stacked high with books that looked like they were part of the construction of the ship.  Looking more closely they could see the words and whispers as the stories seeped out.  What a magical site.

We ran from the fantastic library toward the docks and on the way we saw an elaborate sandcastle, decorated with colourful pebbles and unusual shells with the sand around it looking like books that held the structure intact.  It must have appeared on the beach overnight as there was no sign of it previously.  When we arrived at the docks we could see what appeared to be the ghost of a pirate although we could touch him; he was very ‘real’.  He appeared in a wisp of mist that trailed back to the boat while he floated in the air just above it.  His eyes were kind and he had words swirling around him in the mist.  Miss Fancy Pants who also appeared at the docks explained to us that the ship came whenever it could to help increase the nature knowledge banks in the library.  She also said that only kids who could curious about the natural world were given access to the library and they were chosen as they have the ability to receive large amounts of knowledge just like a thirsty sponge.

The pirate invited them onto the ship and said his name was Wigglebottom. He lowered the gangplank and ushered them aboard.  The books were everywhere and were jiggling about as the words seeped out from underneath and around them.

During the tour of the ship they were shown inside the huge hull and could not believe the sight of a treehouse which, even though it was inside the boat, appeared as if it was part of another world.  It was the most elaborate treehouse anyone could imagine, complete with wooden shutters in the windows, a rope ladder and a covering of soft green moss in what appeared to be a lush green clearing.  Books lay all around and the landscape appeared to be made with them.

Suddenly, there was a loud crash as a ‘bookshelf’ cliff toppled over, covering the entire floor in an avalanche of books.  The words from these books stopped seeping out and the books when they hit the floor appeared to quickly shrivel up and die.  As they were dying they faded away and disappeared.  “Oops” said Wigglebottom, “I try to share so much information that  I make a mess of things sometimes and end up with less when the books collapse.  One day I will learn to be more careful he said with a wink”.  This kind of thing didn’t often happen, but when it did, Miss Fancy Pants and the turtles, too; wanted to know all about it as they had been wondering where some groups of books suddenly disappeared to!

I asked “Can we travel to any natural landscape in the world?”  Wigglebottom smiled with a huge toothy grin.   He winked and spoke softly to the children.  “Should we travel to South America?”  “Yes”, said Timmy with his eyes as big as saucers.  “I want to learn all I can about Lemurs, Chinchillas and so many other things.”  “How about we go there later as for now there is so much to see here” I suggested.  “Can I go into the treehouse and play on the swing?”  Wigglebottom laughed.  “Of course you can, experience as much as you dare.”  Timmy was crawling along behind a line of ants around the bottom of the treehouse.  They were carrying pieces of a leaf and marching towards their nest.  Timmy looked like one of them with a piece of leaf resting on his head and the stalk in his mouth.  All the while he was him mumbling in the language of ‘ant’ which he was learning as he was marching along with them. “Haha” I said, “you have found your place at last!” It was shaping up to be one of those days that everyone laughs about afterwards.

From the top of the treehouse I saw a cloud of dandelions burst open and head toward me.  When the dandelions came close I could see a couple of very cute daredevil mice floating down using the dandelions like a parachute.  Without even thinking I grabbed hold of the next dandelion going by and started to float down, down, down.  Unfortunately I was a bit heavier than the mice so I descended much more quickly.  Wigglebottom was laughing as he watched me but I was getting worried.  The ground was coming up quickly and just when I thought I was going to hit the ground with a ‘bang’ there was suddenly a big ‘poof’ and I landed right in the middle of a huge puff ball which exploded and sent a big cloud of yellow spores into the air.  Wigglebottom was giggling and laughing so much that he could not stand up.  Looking around I could still see so many words and information dancing in the air with the puff ball spores.  The words seemed to be singing and enjoying being shared.

While I was enjoying my adventure with the daredevil mice Timmy had gone with Miss Fancy Pants to see the turtles again.  With the water tepid and the weather stunning he swam with the turtles who showed him their neighbourhood.  They took him into some rock pools and somehow managed to shrink him down in size so he could fit in the home of a hermit crab.  The crab welcomed him in although Timmy was a little nervous of the large claws that he had.  Once inside he squeezed past the crabs funny shaped body and explored what looked like a water slide spiral at the top of the shell.  When he reached the tip he couldn’t help himself and slid all the way back down bumping into the crab at the bottom and knocking him over.  That shook both of them up but was an experience worth its weight in gold.  Before he left the crabs home he was amazed to find that he now knew all about the structure of the shells that hermit crabs lived in and much more information about his life in the sea and those that seek to eat him.  Miss Fancy Pants while waiting for Timmy had a huge ice-cream but the sun was so hot that her ice-cream instantly melted into a sticky, hokey-pokey flavoured gloop.

By now it was getting late and Timmy and I were very tired.  We spotted a large bed sized daisy with a huge soft looking centre.  We climbed up the stalk and into the daisy and once we laid down with our eyes slowly closing the daisy petals began to fold over us like blankets to keep us warm.  Miss Fancy Pants and Wigglebottom said goodnight and we settled into a wonderful dreamy sleep reliving all of the fun and learning that occurred over the day.

When we woke, the wonderful world had disappeared and we were back in our own beds and in our own room.  We were still surrounded by books, mostly our own but some appeared new and did seem to be jiggling around a little or was that just our imagination?

The Newest Trick in the Books

It all started on a small, inconspicuous island, with a tiny library and a resident population of curious sea turtles. Johndy arrived there on a yacht with her husband Bill on Christmas a year earlier, but when their arguments became unbearable she sent him away on his own and decided to stay on the island. The library attracted her from the start. Instead of hopelessly trying to cultivate her difficult marriage, she would put all her energy in making the little library a treasure, something worth pursuing for boaties like herself, eager for a decent dose of culture after months and months on the ocean. Her extensive contacts around the world would help her resource many books. good books. Rare books.

No-one could have predicted what happened next, least of all the librarian – who was in fact partly to blame. If it was not for her obsession with books..

Over at the docks, a gleaming yacht bobbed on the waves, with no sign of any crew onboard – but every available surface was stacked high with books. There was no doubt the boat was there for a reason, it definitely had a very specific destination, but the people were absent. No one saw any human beings, except for the usual residents, on the island. After a few debates, everyone agreed there must have been two boats coming together, and one had immediately left back, with the double crew, right after the mission was done.

Someone must have wanted to stay an anonymous donor, residents explained to each other. But then…

An elaborate sandcastle, decorated with colourful pebbles and unusual shells, had appeared on the beach overnight. Those objects were never seen on the island before. This was far too puzzling. The island had no hiding place, it was too small not to notice strangers roaming around. Navigation instruments saw no movement in the area, none of the fishermen had noticed any boats in the waters.

Johndy took a few of the unusual shells to the library to examine them and see if she could find reference to where they originated from.

She was sitting at the desk, browsing sites that could shed a light on the unique shells, but  could not find anything like that through her searches. Just as she attempted to lick one pointed shell, to see if the taste of it might suggest an inkling, Greg peeped out the library’s window. The shell left a salty, slimy flavour in her mouth. “Where’s the watermelon-flavoured lip balm when you need it?” she hecticly poked and gropped around in her purse, trying to get rid of the ugly sensation before he came in, especially if he was in the mood for kissing,

But he wasn’t. “Close the place quickly and come with me! You must see this!” Greg pushed her from the computer towards the door and rushed her out to the grove. About ten of the island’s residents were gathered around the big banyan tree, looking up. Johndy opened her mouth and stayed frozen.

It was the quaintest, little treehouse anyone could imagine, complete with wooden shutters in the windows and a rope ladder. No one could tell how it got there. It popped as if it was there all along since the beginning of time.

Little John, the sixteen year old who came to the library four times a week and borrowed more books than anyone else in the island, appeared from the treehouse door and called “Johndy, come up quickly, you are the only one who can understand!”

Greg helped to push her up the wobbly ladder, where Little John, who was called this way to differentiate him from Big John but was, in fact, a massive young boy, stretched his arm to lift her to the little treehouse deck. Scared that the little house won’t hold with two big bodies inside, she went in on her own.

The place was surrounded with shelves, all laden with books. Johndy recognized right away they were the same books she saw earlier on the boat. As far as she knew, no one from the island residents took any of those boxes out of the boat. They were waiting for the police from the mainland to come over and investigate. How come they are all here, arranged in sections and in alphabetical order so tidily on the shelves, just like in her library?

Suddenly, there was a loud crash as a bookshelf toppled over, covering the entire floor in an avalanche of non-fiction. Little John rushed inside, worried that something happened to Johndy, just to find her leaning over a big coloured book. The heavy volume fell over open right on the page where a big photo of the bizarre shells earlier found on the beach decorating the sandcastle, those same shells she unsuccessfully tried to google, were vividly displayed on a double spread.

“This is a message,” Johndy mumbled. “I remember something like this happening before, but never like that… . We have been sent an ecological warning, something is threatening our turtle population.”

From time to time the librarian got official letters telling her about the situation of the sea pollution. It didn’t often happen, but when it did, the librarian – and perhaps the turtles, too – wanted to know all about it. This, however, was a different kind of message. It felt as if it came from another planet, and required serious attention.

The two leaned frowning over the enlarged photograph. The book was written in a language Little John had no clue about. “Can you understand what it says on those shells?” He asked Johndy.

“I can’t understand what’s written, but I can recognize the language is Portuguese. I think those books come from Brazil, or somewhere around that area. Maybe this is where the boat came from. But how did they build a treehouse and bring all the books here without us noticing? There must be a logical explanation. Someone is trying to shake us, tell us something…. something about the sea ecology they are warning us about.”

“Should we travel to South America”? John asked with shiny eyes. He was a very pragmatic young guy and saw the whole thing as a call for adventures.

It was already shaping out to be one of those days that everyone laughs about afterwards. But for now, the mystery was more annoying than entertaining. Little John’s enthusiasm pissed Johndy off.

“Yeah, right. I will send you as the head of an expedition, for sure”, she said. “Can you help me go down from here so I can start arranging your trip?”

She took the book with her down the ladder. “Books, nothing but books,” she told everyone gathered around the tree. “I will see how to get them to the library. They are very good reads.”

When she was alone with Greg, she told him how the book opened exactly on the page and showed him the shell.

“Magician’s tricks”, he smirked, “Someone arranged it so the shelf would collapse and the book would fall down and open at this page. Let’s head to the sandcastle,” he put the heavy book under his arm and, his other arm around her shoulder, pushed her towards the beach. “I am sure the answer to all of this would be there.”

But when they arrived, the sandcastle was gone. The tide was still low, yet there was not a sign of any sandcastle ever being there.

The beach was deserted, except for a bunch of balloons tied to a tree and a snow shovel propped up against the truck – that wrecked lorry that was left there years ago as a signpost.

“There are strangers out there on our island,” Greg grimaced, “playing with our minds.” He looked at the horizon, pondering. “They must be mooring somewhere around here. They know our ins and outs perfectly. Whatever they are up to, I have to admire them – it’s so very well planned.” He went quiet for a while, introspecting. “Who would want to do something like this?”

“I’ve lost my shoes again!” Brenda was suddenly running on the sand towards them.”Did you see my beige moccasins?”

Brutal-Brunette-Brenda never gave up on wanting Greg back in her life. Johndy wouldn’t have minded, she was over the affair with Greg, he was nothing like her brilliant husband that she sent away, she missed his knowledge,  their conversations.. But Greg was clinging to her and it made Brenda jealous. Johndy wouldn’t have been surprised if she was stalking them all along. Did she know anything? could she have had something to do with it all?

“Nope,” they answered in a choir.

But Brutal-Brunette-Brenda was not the only one pestering them. Within a few minutes half of the island was on the beach. Everyone was chatting, speculating, then started interrogating Johndy. They thought the Librarian was hiding something. Johndy sat on a driftwood trying to block the flood of questions, justifying herself from a crime of sorts that she had no idea about. She was sweating buckets, baffled how it came to that and why she was the one accused for causing the mystery.

Greg, who was watching the scene from a few meters away, disappeared for a few minutes and returned with two cones of ice cream from the nearby dairy. “That will refresh you,” he said, handing one to Johndy. “I think this massive attack is not really helping you to think clearly.”

Devastated from the whole incident she took the cone and held it in front of her mouth like a statue. The Sun was so hot that the librarian’s ice cream instantly melted into a sticky, hokey-pokey flavoured gloop. Worried that the book might get damaged, Johndy wrapped it with the edge of her sorrong and placed it on the driftwood by her side. That gesture gave some of the boys, who did not notice the book before, an idea. They snatched the book out of the driftwood and ran away with it to the mangroves on the other side of the beach, where they started flipping roughly through the pages in spite of Johndy shouting at them “Careful, it’s a precious rare book!”

When the boys spotted Greg, who ran after them to seize the book and bring it back, they started to run on the beach throwing the book to each other as if it was a basketball. Greg chased them in a zigzag, calling them to stop immediately and telling them off with commands that only made the naughty youth throw the book higher and harder, till one of the boys threw it far into the thorny bushes.

A few of the people that were gathered on the beach rushed quickly behind the mangroves. After a few long moments one of the men came with the dirty, torn book in hand. Johndy grabbed it and turned the pages frantically looking for the picture of the special shell. The page was half ripped off and what was left of it was so stained with mud that she was not able to read the text. The letters beneath the photo were all blurred.

At that point, Johndy started to cry. All her hopes to be able to decode the riddle by taking the book back to the library and studying the scientific name of that unusual shell went, literally, down the drain.

Embarrassed that a group of small kids tricked him so much that he failed Johndy, Greg shot back to the dairy and came back with some goodies for her. She gave him a sarcastic look. As if the only thing that could save the day now was a chocolate milkshake, a box of doughnuts and some fretzels. Was she the only one who realized the gravity of it, who understood what was on stake? Someone was sending an alarm note. She would have been the only one on the island capable of decoding it. That’s gone now. She was crippled, her expertise no more useful for anything without the written script under the photograph, which was supposed to be the clue.

She tried to recall the other times a weird thing happened on the island. It was one week after she sent her husband back to sea. One of the boys discovered  four little penguins nesting on the beach. That was the first time penguins were recorded in this place. No-one ever found out where the penguins had come from. They symply appeared one day. Everyone was astonished, and Jhonda, who just opened the library, tried to research the ins and outs of those penguins. She wrote it in her notebook, she recalled. Maybe there is something in those notes!

With nothing more she could do on the beach, she decided to return to the library, which was only a five minutes walk, to search the drawers for her old diary.

The librarian pulled out a beautiful notepad with sky-blue pages and little rainbows on the cover. The notes about the penguins were the first thing she wrote. After that, there were more things happening. But nothing topped up what had happened just now.

Johndy sat down at the desk and started reading.She gazed at the notepad, something there… with the penguins… that first bizarre incident… Something there felt meaningful.

Out of the blue a memory flashed out. It was just before she arrived on the island. She was staying with her husband in the mainland, and they were having dinner in their yacht that was mooring near the dock when she noticed some movement and took the binoculars to see what it was all about.

An old cargo ship sat in the dock, waiting to be loaded with crates of books – carefully watched by what looked suspiciously as a penguin. She remembered laughing at the surreal scene, pointing out the little penguin to Bill, who looked quite interested and gave her a lecture about the little birds and how they build their habitats along the rocky, sandy beaches.

Maybe there is a connection here – she thought. But what can it be?.She rushed back to the beach to look for Greg, just to find it empty again. She hurried up to the park, assuming everyone would be there. Just as she thought, all the residents were gathered around the big outdoor grill. Greg approached her with a beer.

“Here, have a beer,” he handed her the bottle, “we all decided to come here and chill out cause we could not make sense of anything anymore, so everyone agreed it was time for a barbecue, a couple of drinks, and a good story or two.”

Johndy wanted to share her thoughts with him, but he was already tipsy and wouldn’t be able to follow anyway. So she took the beer off his hand and joined the feast.

An hour later, the merry tipsy bunch swayed their way to the forest. Rambling and straying away they raided the treehouse, grabbed some books and headed to the beach singing aloud “let’s get those turtles educated!” Off they went to the turtle colony, Johndy and Greg following with a laugh.

As far as the librarian and the turtles were concerned, this was just a game – but they couldn’t have been more wrong.

The festivity stepped up a notch when everyone gathered at the sand dunes and stacked up the books into a big pile just in front of the sea turtles. The librarian clutched Greg’s hand in a panic. “We need to save the books!” She whispered in his ear. It was looking more and more as if they were planning a bonfire. “Those are extremely rare books, And besides,” she shuddered, “someone is trying to tell us something, we can’t ignore it and let the mob demolish such a valuable source of information!”

Greg tried to think of a way to chase the guys on the beach away. He was very drunk, and started to mumble a plan to come down from the dunes looking dressed like an alien with his shiny silvery ski overall. That will chase them away – he smirked, pleased with himself.

Johndy stared at him. “Have you lost it completely?”

Well, why not? I can impersonate an alien, can’t I”?

In spite of the alcohol in his head he noted her dismissive expression, and laughed in embarrassment. “Of course it is not a real plan”, he confessed. “You did not really believe I would do it, did you? Without a parachute and some snowshoes, this was looking more and more like an impossible task, Surrrr…ly you didn’t buy into it – right?  I HEREBY ADMIT! I had a stupid idea!….  Nonnnnn…senssse…..” And with this, he fell wasted on the sand.

Johndy was close to losing her temper. A drunk moron by her side can’t really help her to do anything. She decided to get serious.

“Stop it, stop what you are doing! There is an important message in those books, I need them if I am to sort out the puzzle of what is happening now on our island, if you do something to the books I won’t be able to decipher anything!”

The people waved her off. “Nothing is happening, all is fine.” Yet she could feel they are not going to burn the book. Somehow, they got it: Time was running out. And although everyone – including the librarian – secretly knew it, they pretended it wasn’t the case. No one was going to get too serious. No one wanted to change the mood for fear of some unconceivable danger.

The librarian watched them as they formed a circle around the books, and hoped they would just go back soon and leave her to it.

Suddenly, one of the girls spotted a big baking dish sitting on the stone fence. They all came to check it out, and Johndy followed them. There was some kind of pudding in it, which the guys thought looked very suspicious.

“Could it be poisoned?” The girl asked. The rest just shrugged.

But something about it looked very familiar to Johndy. She dipped her finger in the pudding and put a little bit in her mouth. It could easily have been mistaken for macaroni cheese, but it was definitely stickier and somewhat less tasty.

“There is only one person I know who makes this dish,” she mumbled to herself, “only one person, and only once a year. Surely we must be getting close to Christmas?”

The mischievous guys on the beach swapped their gaze back and forth between the mystery dish and their librarian who was talking to herself. Suddenly she started running. Where, why? They had no idea but were so bored that they started to run after her without questions, thinking there was no point asking the librarian, who had long since lost the plot. She kept running on the sand until she arrived at the deserted red-brick-house called the mudhouse. To their surprise, a tall well-built man ran towards the librarian.

“I should have guessed it was you all along!” She fell into his open arms, “Oh, Bill… who else in the whole wild world can pull my leg in such a clever way? And your awful Christmas dish! You guessed right, indeed it was the biggest clue to lead me here to our mudhouse -, ‘our place’!” She wiped her tears with her sorong, while he lovingly stroked her hair. “Of course,” she continued, aware of all the astonished kids gathered around them, “that’s where you have hidden all your tools, aye? The South American shells, the books, the shelves, the ladder, the ‘ballooned’ snow shovel…  And those penguins last year just after you left – you were the one who brought them here! Oh well, you had a whole year to prepare for this Christmas prank. You smartass…. Good to see you, husband!! I missed you more than you know! Now tell me where are Mel and Chris who dropped you here in their boat and took away your boat to hide it… I am sure it was them… are they still around? Call them on the system, let’s celebrate the best Christmas ever!”

The Librarian’s Magical Island Birthday with Chocolate Cheesecake

It all started on a small, inconspicuous island, with a tiny library and a resident population of curious sea turtles. The reason why the library was tiny, and the reason why the island was small enough to be inconspicuous but still have room for a library, was that it was a mouse-sized library. It was run by a mouse who loved good books – like Fifty Shades of Brie, for example – but wasn’t so keen on sharing her books. It was rather convenient that the sea turtles weren’t avid readers – their curiosity didn’t extend much beyond finding out what the librarian mouse was having for her afternoon tea.

No-one could have predicted what happened next, least of all the librarian – who was in fact partly to blame. She had packed a basket of teacakes and a thermos of tea, and taken it down to the jetty, when she realised that she’d left her book behind. She was in the middle of reading Fifty Shades Cheesier and had really been looking forward to the next chapter. She left her basket of teacakes on the jetty and returned to the library to fetch her book.

When she came back, someone – or something – had eaten all the marshmallowy stuff from inside the teacakes! The biscuit bases were untouched, and the chocolate had been carefully peeled back and lay around the teacakes in neat slivers.

“Did you do this?” The librarian pointed at the destroyed teacakes and frowned at a small group of turtles basking in the sun.

The turtles looked curiously at the librarian’s teacakes and shook their heads.

“I need to find out who the culprit is,” the librarian muttered as she tidied up the mess.

Over at the docs, a gleaming yacht bobbed on the waves, with no sign of any crew onboard – but every available surface was stacked high with books. The librarian spotted it as she was walking back towards the library, and of course she couldn’t resist. She called out a friendly ‘hello’, and when no-one answered, she carefully tiptoed over to the yacht and peeked at the topmost book in one of the piles.

It was about cheese. The librarian’s eyes lit up.

She picked her way through the books, reading the titles as she did so. There were cheese cookbooks, cheesemaking instruction manuals, cheese stories, and travel guides to the best cheese destinations of the world.

“This is incredible!” the librarian squeaked. “A treasure trove of books!”

She picked up a book on the best fondue recipes, her mouth watering, but when she happened to glance at the title of the book underneath it, she stopped still.

It was called ‘How to Steal Teacakes and Not Get Caught’.

An elaborate sandcastle, decorated with colourful pebbles and unusual shells, had appeared on the beach overnight. This was the second sign of unusual activity on the librarian’s little island, which didn’t often get visitors.

The librarian noticed the sandcastle after she had left the yacht. While she was carefully examining the sandcastle and admiring the arrangement of the pebbles around the turrets, a very quiet and sneaky someone – or something? – snuck past behind her and crept into the library, heading straight for the librarian’s secret stash of spare teacakes.

“Where’s the watermelon-flavoured lipbalm when you need it?” it muttered as it went.

“Who said that?” the librarian squeaked. She was suddenly very worried – she didn’t have any watermelon-flavoured lipbalm (the curious turtles had once mistaken it for a snack and eaten it) and nowadays she usually bought raspberry-flavoured lipbalm, which for some reason the turtles couldn’t stand.

The place where she kept her raspberry-flavoured lipbalm was right next to her secret teacake stash.

It was the quaintest little treehouse anyone could imagine, complete with wooden shutters in the windows and a rope ladder.

Yes – the librarian had indeed built an entire treehouse to keep her teacake stash in, because it was quite an extensive stash.

An unexpected benefit of storing her teacakes in a treehouse was that the curious turtles never ate her teacakes, because they couldn’t climb the rope ladder.

Now, however, someone had clearly climbed the rope ladder, and they had done it very recently, because the librarian could see that the ladder was still swaying. Cautiously, she crept closer. Last time this had happened, the culprit had turned out to be a stowaway skunk who had ended up on the island entirely by accident. The librarian sniffed the air, but the only scents she could detect were freshly baked pizza from the sea turtles’ pizza oven, and pineapple daiquiris. Nothing unusual there.

She started climbing the rope ladder.

Suddenly, there was a loud crash as a bookshelf toppled over, covering the entire floor in an avalanche of non-fiction. The librarian didn’t notice, because she’d just reached the wobbliest rung and was concentrating hard, but a couple of turtles looked up from where they were making pizza, wondering what the noise was.

The last of the books slid to a halt and jammed the library door closed. It happened to be a book that the librarian had never particularly liked, and had on many occasions considered losing accidentally on purpose. It was a heavy tome entitled ‘Lose Weight with a Cheese-Free Diet’. The librarian was a body-positive mouse who didn’t approve of social pressure to lose weight, and she especially didn’t approve of anyone suggesting cutting cheese our of your meals. She had no idea where the book had originally come from. The main reason she’d never got around to throwing it away was that it was a handy size for using as a step to reach the cheese recipe books on the top shelf.

It didn’t often happen, but when it did, the librarian – and perhaps the turtles, too – wanted to know all about it. Toppling bookshelves, that is. The librarian knew that her tiny island was prone to earthquakes, but they never bothered her – or the turtles – much. Of course it was annoying if they happened to be in the middle of a game of Jenga, but apart from that the earthquakes were never much trouble. The turtles quite enjoyed it when their daiquiris were shaken by underground tremors, because mixing drinks with flippers was tricky enough.

Anyway, the librarian would surely have wanted to know that a bookshelf of self-help books (she REALLY needed to move that silly non-cheese diet book to another section, at the very least) had toppled in her library and blocked the front door, but she was so very busy just then worrying about her secret teacake stash and the mysterious someone who might be after her lipbalm, too.

She pulled herself up onto the topmost rung of the rope ladder and peered into the treehouse.

“Should we travel to South America?”

The librarian looked down. One of the turtles had crawled up to the treehouse and was staring up at her.

“No,” the librarian said. “A mysterious someone has appeared on the island, with a yacht full of books, and they may be trying to steal my teac– I mean my lip balm. My raspberry-flavoured lip balm. And you think we should travel to South America?”

The turtle shrugged, as much as a turtle can shrug. Or at least the librarian thought it looked like it was trying to shrug.

“It was only a suggestion.”

That was when the librarian realised it wasn’t the turtle at all who was talking. Its beak wasn’t even moving.

The voice was coming from inside the treehouse.

The librarian shook her head. “Goodness me,” she muttered. “Thinking that the turtles have started talking. I must be going crazy. That’s what you get for living alone on a desert island with just a bunch of pizza- and daiquiri-making turtles for company.”

It was already shaping up to be one of those days that everyone laughs about afterwards. When the librarian came face-to-face with a possum in a sombrero, her first thought was that the two of them could potentially become good friends and have a good laugh over how they’d met, in the treehouse with her suspecting him of teacake theft.

Then the remembered that he did indeed have a teacake-stealing manual on his yacht.

“What are you doing here?” she demanded to know. “And who are you?”

The possum stood up straight, trying to look big and official. Even so, he only came up to the librarian’s shoulders.

“I am from the Small Animals’ Library Association,” the possum announced. “And it has come to my attention that there is a book on this island that needs to be destroyed.”

“Destroyed?” squeaked the librarian, horrified. “What do you mean?” Then she remembered. “You’re talking about the cheese-free diet book, right?”

“That’s correct.” The possum nodded. “I am here on a mission to find it and exterminate it.”

“Oh, I quite agree with you,” the librarian said. “If you come with me, I’ll show you where it is.”

They clambered down the rope ladder together and set off towards the library.

“Are they all confiscated books on your yacht?” the librarian asked as they walked.

“Oh, no,” the possum said. “I also deliver books to libraries. I’ve got a big delivery of cheese books to make tomorrow, as it happens.”

The librarian nodded, wondering how she might politely ask whether the teacake-stealing manual was part of the delivery, a confiscated book, or – could it be? – the possum’s own.

The beach was deserted, except for a bunch of balloons tied to a tree and a snow shovel propped up against the trunk. The librarian stopped when she saw the shovel.

“What’s wrong?” the possum asked.

“Well, the turtles often blow up balloons for their beach parties, but I’ve never seen a snow shovel here before,” the librarian explained. “Something strange is going on.”

“Oh, that’ll be my snow shovel,” the possum said, picking it up. “I just got back from delivering some books to a penguin colony in Alaska. I’d better put this back.”

The possum set off towards the yacht, while the librarian stared after him. Something wasn’t adding up, but she couldn’t quite put her paw on what it was. A penguin colony in Alaska…

Instead of following the possum to the yacht, the librarian sprinted for the library. She needed to check something in a reference book in the ‘natural world’ section.

“I’ve lost my shoes again.”

The librarian was always losing her shoes. She kept taking beach walks and then paddling barefoot in the surf and forgetting to bring her shoes home with her. Then the high tide swept them away. Luckily, she always knew exactly where to find them. Due to a quirk in the ocean currents, her left shoe was always carried to a small beach to the south of the island, and her right shoe was always carried to a little outcrop of rocks on the north-eastern side of the island, near the small lighthouse.

The librarian wasn’t sure why she suddenly remembered her missing shoes. Or why she felt the need to announce it out loud. After all, no-one was listening – the possum had returned to the yacht and the turtles were busy having a siesta after their pizza lunch.

The librarian shook her head and continued on her way to the library.

The sun was so hot that the librarian’s ice cream instantly melted into a sticky, hokey-pokey flavoured gloop. She hadn’t wanted an ice cream, she was in a rush to get to the library and look up exactly where penguins really lived, but one of the turtles wasn’t in the mood for a siesta and was wandering about offering home-made ice cream to everyone he could find. Which wasn’t many creatures – all the other turtles were having a nap, and the possum was on his yacht, so that left the librarian, who found herself unable to turn down the ice cream, out of pure politeness. She wasn’t even that keen on hokey-pokey – she preferred mascarpone or dulce de leche, but she couldn’t say that to the friendly turtle who’d gone to so much trouble making the honeycomb from scratch.

So there she was, on the doorstep of the library, a melted ice cream in her paw, trying to push the door open – but it was jammed. Something was in the way.

“Oh, bother,” said the librarian, and tried to wipe her whiskers, but only succeeded in smearing more melted ice cream everywhere.

The only thing that could save the day now was a giant chocolate milkshake, a box of doughnuts and some pretzels. What the librarian really needed to do, after her strange morning, her encounter with the possum, and now the melted ice cream, was to sit down for an afternoon tea party with the turtles, stuff her sticky face with treats, and stop worrying about strange possums and penguins in the Arctic.

Luckily, she had all the ingredients at the library. She just needed to get in. But the door was still jammed.

The librarian was a smart mouse, though. She found the nearest window and climbed in. As soon as she’d squeezed through, she could see what the problem was. An earthquake must have rattled the building and knocked over a shelf of books. She picked up the culprit that was blocking the door.

“Nothing but trouble, this book,” she muttered as she packed the cheese-free diet book in her picnic basket, together with the doughnuts and pretzels. She made the milkshake and set off to invite the turtles for a picnic.

But she’d forgotten to check her reference book to find out about the global distribution of penguin species.

No-one ever found out where the penguins had come from – they simply appeared one day. That was how the librarian understood it, anyway. Perhaps, if she’d read some books on evolution, she would have had a different understanding. Unfortunately the books on evolution were located two shelves past the ‘history of cheese’ section, which was always so fascinating and distracting that the librarian never made it past them. The shelf in between contained books on DIY, and for the same reason the librarian was utterly hopeless at any repairs that needed doing around the library.

No-one knew why the history of cheese, DIY and evolution should be arranged in that order. The librarian’s filing system clearly needed some work. But on a desert island, populated only by turtles that didn’t read much (because it’s hard to turn pages with flippers) and where the last time that anyone applied for a library card was 1987 (and that had been the librarian herself), reorganising the library’s filing system wasn’t exactly an urgent priority.

“This tea party, on the other hand, is a very urgent priority,” muttered the librarian as she hurried towards the yacht to invite the possum along.

The librarian pulled out a beautiful notepad with sky-blue pages and little rainbows on the cover. She decided to write a note to the possum.

“You are cordially invited to a tea party on the Northern Beach, at 2pm today. RSVP to the library.”

She dropped the note at the yacht and then ran to round up the sleepy turtles, who all perked up when they saw the box of doughnuts. They headed off to the Northern Beach, spread out their picnic blankets and started mixing Mojitos.

An old cargo ship sat in the dock, waiting to be loaded with crates of books – carefully watched by what looked suspiciously like a penguin.

“What are you doing here?” the possum hissed at the penguin in sunglasses. “Do you want to be spotted by a sea turtle? No-one suspects anything yet, don’t blow our cover.”

The penguin shrugged and waddled back towards the cargo ship. The possum shook his head. It had of course been necessary to bring the penguins along, but not only were they far from masters of disguise, they did not understand the meaning of the word ‘discreet’. Just look at that cargo ship! The possum rolled his eyes. Could the penguins not have found something smaller and less eye-catching to travel in? A nice little hot air balloon, for example. There weren’t that many of them, why on earth did they need a massive cargo ship?

Everyone agreed it was time for a barbeque, a couple of drinks and a good story or two. The librarian’s little afternoon tea was turning into a much bigger party than she’d anticipated, and it was threatening to go on late into the night. She knew very well that once those turtles started mixing daquiris and telling stories, they could go on for hours.

“If you can’t beat them, join them,” she said to herself, shrugging, and helped herself to a Malibu and Coke. “I hope that lovely possum will be able to join the party. I bet he knows some good stories,” she mused. It would be lovely to hear some new stories. She knew most of the turtles’ stories off by heart by this point.

As far as the librarian and the turtles were concerned, this was just a game – but they couldn’t have been more wrong. The turtles were in on it – the possum had already told them all about his plan, and they couldn’t wait to surprise the lovely librarian whom they all liked very much – even if she always smelled of cheese.

The librarian, of course, suspected nothing. She was enjoying her third daquiri, dozing happily in the sunshine and listening to one of the turtles re-tell a story about lemurs, trampolines and seven packets of prawn cocktail crisps, for the umpteenth time.

Without a parachute and some snowshoes, this was looking more and more like an impossible task. The possum and the penguins were trying to offload a giant cake from the cargo ship, but it threatened to crash down into the beach and send whipped cream scattering everywhere, before sinking into the sand as it was an extremely dense chocolate cheesecake. It had been ordered for the librarian’s birthday by her best friend – another librarian mouse from a neighbouring desert island – who wanted to surprise her.

“We need to float it down to the beach with a parachute, and then transport it across the sand with snowshoes,” the possum tried to explain to a confused-looking penguin who couldn’t understand what they needed a parachute and snowshoes for.

The possum sighed and picked up the cake. “I’ll do it myself,” he muttered. “Life would be a lot easier if it wasn’t for librarian mice who have eccentric tastes in cheesecakes.”

Time was running out, and although everyone – including the librarian – secretly knew it, they pretended it wasn’t the case.

The librarian had known all along. Her friend – the other librarian mouse from the nearby desert island – was terrible at keeping secrets, and the last three times they’d spoken on the phone she had dropped so many hints that the telephone line curled in horror. Every one of the friend’s social media posts also hinted at something, and the librarian rolled her eyes each time that she read one of her friend’s updates.

As the possum and the penguins slowly inched the giant chocolate cheesecake along the sandy beach towards where the librarian and the turtles were picnicking, a little wooden rowing boat landed on a nearby beach, and another mouse jumped out of it, carrying a small bouquet of flowers and a book about the best cheeses in the world, all wrapped up in pretty yellow paper and with a giant bow around it.

It could easily have been mistaken for macaroni cheese, but it was definitely stickier and somewhat less tasty. The reason it was sticky was that the librarians friend had been eating cream doughnuts while wrapping up the book.

“Happy birthday!” the mouse squeaked, running up to the librarian with the present just as the possum and the penguins managed to bring the birthday cake to the picnic.

“For me?” the librarian squeaked in delight, pretending as best she could to be surprised, because she didn’t want to upset her friend.

“Yes, for you,” her friend squeaked. “I even ordered your favourite chocolate cheesecake from this marvellous bakery in Alaska, and told them not to let on. Now we can have a party!”

“Surely we must be getting close to Christmas?”

The librarian’s friend stared at the turtle who had spoken. “Well, yes, but it’s also the librarian’s birthday.”

“Oh, of course,” the turtle said. “I’d quite forgotten.”

“I sent you a Facebook message about it yesterday.”

“Don’t worry,” the librarian whispered to her friend. “These turtles have a terrible memory.”

“Time for birthday cake!” said the possum.

“You’re not really doing book deliveries?” the librarian said.

“Nope, I’m an undercover baker,” the possum replied.

There was no point asking the librarian, who had long since lost the plot. She had also lost her shoes – again – and mislaid her strawberry daquiri. Anyway, there was no point asking her where that wretched copy of the cheese-free diet book had gone. She’d brought it out so they could all have a good laugh at it, but now it was nowhere to be seen. She thought the tide might have carried it away, but she wasn’t quite sure.

There wasn’t much point asking the librarian about anything else, either. She’d had at least seven strawberry daquiris, a large quattro formaggio pizza, two slices of the most delicious cheesecake ever, and then possibly a couple more daquiris as the sun was setting over the ocean. Now she was dancing in the surf with her best friend, a couple of turtles, her new friend the mysterious possum, and the odd penguin or two. The campfire lit up the night, sending little sparks up towards the stars. One of the turtles had brought out a ukulele and they were singing Bob Marley songs out-of-tune. Everyone was having a great time, and it was the best birthday party the librarian had ever had.

“Imagination is like a muscle. I found out that the more I wrote, the bigger it got.”

Philip José Farmer