All right. It's been a while since I posted anything novel-length, so here we go again. This is already written and just needs to be edited, so a chapter should be posted about every week.
The basic premise is this - what would our characters be like in a world without magic? The characters are still similar to the characters we know in the series, although with some differences caused by the change in environment. This isn't a rewrite of AoS - there will be characters from throughout the trilogy, although the emphasis will be on AoS.
And I've said enough. I'm done. Pinky swear.
Disclaimer: I don't own the Bartimaeus Trilogy or any characters in the trilogy, etc, etc. Hooray for Stroud.
The hustle and bustle of downtown London easily compared to the rush hour of any other European city. Prague? Not much going on there, really – the entire city seemed like it was stuck in a solemn funeral march. Paris? Perhaps, but somehow the lazy blur of French city life couldn't compare to the absolute chaos that was downtown London. Rome? A mixture of Paris and Prague, really – still quite hectic, but unable to disentangle itself from its lengthy history.
Me? Not too big on the city life, to tell the truth. I'm more of a country boy. (Well, I'm not really a boy by any stretch of the imagination, but you get the point.) Not that I've ever lived in the country. It just seems nice. Quaint. Quiet. And all those other alliterative words with similar connotations.
Naturally, given my distaste for modern life in downtown London, I lived right near the area. At the time this story began I was the owner of a small book store right across from Druid's, a popular coffeehouse. Of course, I've since moved on to bigger and better things, but it's always nice to remember where you came from. It keeps you humble. Of course, I have no problems with modesty, but still. You get the picture.
I kept five employees on staff besides myself – Anne Stephens, a fairly kind lady (although not always to me) who knew the contents of the store (and English labor law) better than I did; Jenkins (whose first name I have resolved never to use), an annoying young man who I only kept around because he made damn good coffee; George Ffoukes, a rather lazy man that I often caught dozing off on the job who I only kept around because he annoyed Jenkins; Eva, a young girl who came in after school and in the days during the summer to work the desk and often got into arguments with Jenkins (offering Ffoukes an opportunity to irritate him even more), and thus making herself invaluable to the shop; and Timothy, a quiet youngster that usually kept to himself.
Unfortunately, Timothy fell ill and was forced to quit, leaving me with an open spot. Normally, being the cheapskate that I am, I wouldn't have replaced him, but Eva was unable to pick up any of Timothy's work hours due to her school schedule, Ffoukes just didn't want to, I didn't want Jenkins to, and Anne already worked the same hours as Timothy (and more).
So reluctantly I began searching for someone to work in Timothy's place. The first two applicants were real doozies – one of them a lady with pointed glasses who wouldn't shut up about the poor state of Britain's public libraries, the other one a girl who in fact wasn't even looking for a job and was instead wondering if I would like to donate to some charitable organization so she could beef up her résumé
After several other candidates that were just as highly qualified and distinguished as the first two, I was ready to accept just about anybody. Which is how the kid ended up getting the job, as you'll see.
He walked into the shop with a priceless expression on his face – awe, greed, and ambition all rolled up in one package. You might wonder how I could read that off of a kid coming into a bookstore. Let's just say I've had practice.
"Hullo," I said dully from my seat behind the desk, reciting the standard greeting to paying customers that no one on staff ever bothered to say. "Welcome to Alexandria Books. How can I help you?"
"I'm here for the job interview," he said, walking right up to the counter.
"Joy." I could barely contain my excitement. "Sit down, I guess."
"There's not a chair."
"Never mind, then."
The kid didn't seem put off by my less-than-enthusiastic demeanor. Instead he seemed ready to wet himself at the prospect of working at the store, actually. His enthusiasm scared me slightly, but he was vastly saner than most of the other people I'd interviewed, and only half as annoying. That's not saying much, but he was better than nothing.
"Well, then," I said ten minutes later, cutting off a long narrative that I'm sure would've been quite entertaining, "that's it. You're hired."
"Really?" He could barely contain his glee. At this I reconsidered the thought of hiring him, but I soon remembered the other interviewees and nodded.
"Yep. You'll start tomorrow, if you can."
"Yeah." I paused. "Wait. I never got your name."
"Oh." He blinked. "It's Nathaniel."
"Very well. It's a pleasure to have you on staff, Nathaniel." This was a blatant lie. "I'm Bartimaeus. Jenkins is in the back somewhere right now, but trust me, you don't want to meet him."
He gave me an odd look but said nothing. "Okay, I guess. I'll be here tomorrow, then, at ten o'clock."
"I look forward to it."
I cut off the conversation there, as I was quickly becoming a habitual liar. The kid nodded at me and left, leaving me alone with Jenkins. I sat and silently waited for three o'clock to come and for Eva's shift to start.
Three hours had never seemed so long in my entire life. Usually I avoided the store at all costs when Jenkins was working, unless Ffoukes was working as well. Today, though, Ffoukes was sick (allegedly, anyways), so I was left with cheery Mr. Sunshine for the early afternoon.
"The price tags on these books are coming off," Jenkins griped to me just after lunch.
"Put on new ones," I said simply. I didn't look up from my rather immersing game of solitaire on the computer. Quite an exciting life, mine was.
"Yes, but I have to take these off first," he replied in his irritatingly nasal voice. "And they'll leave grime, which I'll have to wipe off with a paper towel, and that'll take at least thirty minutes."
"Oh no." With every fiber of my being I hoped that it would take longer. "Just put the new tags over the old ones."
He looked at me, an incredulous expression on his face. "That's ridiculous! We can't lower our quality standards like that and expect to compete with the corporate stores!"
I resisted the temptation to throw the computer at him, but only barely. It was an expensive computer, after all. Luckily he went off into the back room muttering to himself, and I didn't see him for forty-five minutes or so. I silently hoped that he would just not come back – it's not like many customers came in before three or so, and the ones that did always kept to themselves.
Unfortunately he returned. It was at this time I made myself available around the store and let Jenkins handle the counter. The advantages to this were extremely obvious: he was stuck in one place, while I could go anywhere I pleased to avoid him. Unfortunately this meant that I actually had to answer questions and talk to the customers, but as I said, they didn't talk much, and even if they did they were preferable to Jenkins. And besides, I could always hide from them. Eventually I decided to just leave altogether. There's only so much of Jenkins a sane person can take.
I had just avoided another customer on my way out of the store when Eva entered the store.
"Bartimaeus," she said, "I was wondering if –"
"No time to talk, Eva, gotta run!" I breathed as I blew past her.
I stopped at the door and took a peek at Jenkins – he was busy with a customer. "Listen," I said, "I've really got to go. Is this that important?"
She hadn't been expecting that. "Um…"
"Right. If something bad happens, call me. If Jenkins is crushed under a bookcase, call me and we'll celebrate. Besides that, I'm leaving. Goodbye!"
I didn't give her another chance to say anything. It's a good tactic to use when debating or arguing, actually. However, it can also be kind of pointless, as leaving midway through an argument kind of kills the discussion. On this occasion, though, it worked perfectly. I was already across the street at Druid's before she had even realized that I was gone.
Druid's was a fairly nice place – nothing too flashy, but not too shabby, either. Usually I'd sit outside with a paper, but unfortunately I had forgotten said paper in my haste to evacuate the store. Oh well.
I approached the hostess outside the front door.
"Outside table, please," I said.
She chewed her bubble gum in a rather bored fashion and led me to a nearby table. Not a bad view, either – I could see through the window of the store, just in case Jenkins annoyed Eva enough to make her punch (or slap or kick or any other form of assault) him.
"We'll have someone with you shortly," she stated. I turned to thank her, being the gentleman that I am, but she'd already left. Druid's wasn't exactly known for its service quality.
I sat and waited for a waiter to pass near. It was a quite serene scene, really, even with all the activity around. Everyone was so immersed in their own lives and problems that they didn't take a single glance at the world around them. I could've gotten up on my table and done back flips and I doubt anyone would've noticed.
Finally a waitress walked by and I was able to flag her down. She was a pretty girl, maybe eighteen or nineteen, with dark hair and a feisty complexion. Let's just say I wouldn't want to meet her in a dark alley. (Or maybe I would. Just kidding. I'm not that kind of creepy old guy.) She looked like a university student, or perhaps someone who'd bunked off from university altogether. It was hard to tell. Listen, you'll find out all about her later. There's a reason I'm describing her so much. It's called foreshadowing. It's what good writers (i.e. me) do.
"Yes?" Her tone wasn't outwardly hostile, but I could tell she was fairly bored, just as the hostess had been.
"I'd like a large coffee," I said. I thought for a moment; her foot tapped against the ground impatiently. "Um… and an éclair. Yeah. An éclair."
"All right. I'll be back in a few seconds."
This was a load of bull, of course. I sincerely doubted she'd be back within fifteen minutes. A large group had just walked in, and I could see them waving to her frantically as they hooted and hollered. I've gotta admit, though, the look on her face was priceless. Kind of like a mixture between sheer loathing and pure terror.
Fourteen minutes later she returned with my coffee and éclair. She set them down on the table forcefully, and I looked to the other group. Still hooting. I was impressed she'd even made it back with my order without socking them in the face.
"Sorry." Her face was unapologetic.
"No problem," I said kindly. Unfortunately, my benevolence was lost on her, and her expression didn't change a bit.
"Check," she grunted, tossing it down on the table. I looked up to thank her but she was already hurrying back into the coffeehouse.
I sat there and sipped my coffee and ate my éclair for a while. She hadn't returned in thirty minutes, and although she did have such a sparkling personality, I knew it was probably better that I got back to the store. Eva might have killed Jenkins by now. I decided that I should be there when the police came by.
Unfortunately Jenkins was still alive and well when I entered the store. He was currently regaling Eva with a long story that had something to do with a computer game involving dragons. Fascinating stuff, I'm sure, but Eva didn't look too interested. In fact, she didn't seem to be paying attention at all. Smart girl.
"You see, he didn't realize that I was right there the entire time," Jenkins was saying. I brushed past him and took my place next to Eva behind the counter.
"Compelling, Jenkins," I said, "but we need to sort that new shipment."
He shrugged. "Already did while you were out."
"And the extras?"
"I put them in the back like you told me." As much as I hated to admit it, Jenkins was a good worker, which is exactly why I was forced to keep him around. That, and the previously mentioned coffee. You wouldn't believe how great it was to come into the store at ten o'clock in the morning, have one of Jenkins's savory cups of coffee, and then proceed to tune him out for the rest of the day.
"Good," I replied. I checked the register. "How's business been?"
"Normal." Eva examined her cuticles dully.
"Good," I repeated.
The rest of the day passed without much incident. At eight o'clock I let Eva and Jenkins go home – they were arguing over something or another and didn't notice until I nearly shouted it at them – and then locked the store and hailed a cab. Most days I walked home, actually, as I only lived a few minutes away, but it had rained that morning, and I wasn't really keen on getting drenched.
I arrived at my flat shortly, and as soon as I had entered it plopped down on the couch and turned on the telly. It was my normal Friday night ritual. (Rereading that it looks quite pathetic – I got out some of the time, you know. I wasn't not that pitiful.) I fell asleep in the middle of an A Bit of Fry and Laurie rerun, and before I even knew it, I was awake and walking back to the store.
The weather had cleared up a bit, thankfully. While still overcast, the ground was only slightly damp, and the temperature was just perfect. The town still seemed a bit groggy, as it always was on weekend mornings; I think the entire area had one collective hangover. Slightly heartened by the change in weather, yet still a bit tired myself, I arrived at the store in good time. The door was open; Anne had gotten there before me, it seemed, and opened the doors.
When I entered I found the kid waiting by the register. I groaned inwardly, having forgotten that he was starting that day. This meant I would actually have to teach him what he was supposed to do and all. No doubt he'd ask a bunch of questions, too, being one of those eager types.
"Hello," he greeted me cheerfully.
"Hullo," I responded, slightly less chipper than he. "I assume you've met Anne, then."
"Yes. She's turning on the lights in the back."
"Good. When she gets back we'll show you exactly what you're supposed to do."
A minute later she returned. We spent a while showing him the ropes: what to organize, how to ring things up on the register. All of it very exciting stuff, but I'll spare you the details, no matter how exhilarating they may be.
Although he asked far too many questions (as I had predicted), he was a quick learner. By the time we opened the store I felt relatively confident that he would only make several idiotic errors his first day, which was much less than Ffoukes had (remind me to tell you about it later – that's an interesting story). Anne and I took turns supervising him as the first few customers trickled in. Things didn't pick up on Saturdays until noon or so, and hopefully by then he'd have some clue what he was doing.
As I just mentioned, around noon something interesting happened. The pretty waitress from Druid's entered the store, and I could feel the kid's eyes gravitate to her as soon as she walked in the door. She perused the titles for a while, and his eyes followed her the entire time. Even when she went behind a bookshelf he stared straight at it, as if he had x-ray vision. I mean, it was probably the first time he'd ever seen a girl, so I don't really blame him for staring. But the slackened jaw and excessive amount of drool was really unnecessary, if not unsanitary.
Of course, when she approached the counter it got very entertaining. She handed him her books and he kind of looked at them for a second and then back to her as if unsure what to do.
She blinked. "Here. My books."
"Right!" he said suddenly, nodding so much he looked rather like a Pez dispenser. He stared at the register for a moment as if he'd completely forgotten everything I'd told him that morning.
"Scan the books!" I whispered loudly from behind him. He shot me a timid glare before obliging. She looked slightly amused.
After scanning the books he looked to the register. I almost told him what to do next, but he recovered from his stupor and rang the purchase up. He bagged the books and handed them to her, and she began walking out the door.
At this point I just sat back and watched with unabashed giddiness. Just as she reached the door he leapt upwards, hoisting a thin slip of paper high above his head like a sword.
"Wait! Your receipt!" he cried.
She glanced at the receipt. "Oh," she said. She took it from him. "Thanks."
Receipt in hand, she walked out of the store. He craned his neck to follow her for a while longer.
"Stop that," I said, still grinning. "You'll fall over the counter if you lean over any more."
He shot back upwards and gave me a dirty look. Taking his seat once more, he began attending to the next customers.
The next hour or so was quite busy, as was the norm on Saturdays. People were always in the area around lunch, eating, shopping – all that good stuff that I neither have the time nor inclination to do. However, thirty minutes past one things slowed down, which again was the norm. It'd be four until things picked up again, and from then to closing time the shop would be packed.
At two, finally having tired of alphabetizing the nonfiction shelf, I returned to the front desk. The kid was sitting with his head cradled in his hands, obviously bored to tears. I was about to say something snarky when a large, flashy car outside Druid's caught my eyes. I stared at it for a moment, and a thought suddenly came upon me.
"Hey! Nat!" He glanced in my direction, and I didn't bother to see if the nickname had annoyed him. "You want a break?"
"What? My shift's not over."
"I know. That's why it's called a break." Not the brightest kid, but as I've told you, his competition for the job was not exactly stellar. "You ever been to Druid's?"
"No," he replied. I smiled.
"Really? It's a good coffeehouse, not half-bad. Nice place to relax." I waved at him, ushering him out of his seat. "C'mon. Let's go get a muffin or something."
"But the counter –"
"Ah. I'd nearly forgotten." I turned towards the back room. "Anne! I'm taking Nat here to go deliver a special order. Will you handle the counter for us?"
"Fine," came her voice from behind the labyrinth of shelves. "Just don't take too long, you know it's going to get busy soon."
"I know, I know." I grabbed the kid by the shoulder and nearly dragged him out of the door. "C'mon, let's go."
He said nothing, looking rather appalled at the idea of missing work, even if on his boss's orders. He was still quite jerky, really, and still looked a bit nervous, too. I smiled.
I wondered if the girl would be working at Druid's on two o'clock on a Saturday.