Disclaimer: The muses of ice and of fire

Are attendant on Stephenie Meyer.

We disclaim to infringe on her talents and rights

We only intend to admire.

For Whom The Bell Tolls

John Donne

No man is an island,

Entire of itself.

Each is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manner of thine own

Or of thine friend's were.

Each man's death diminishes me,

For I am involved in mankind.

Therefore, send not to know

For whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee.

"Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee."

The small sign hung inside the front door of the bookstore, the first thing that patrons saw when they entered. Some smiled, some rolled their eyes at the cheeky reference to that ever-present bell that was struck whenever the door opened or closed. Only the proprietor knew that there were deeper meanings for the quote.

The shop was shoehorned into the middle of a block of row houses on Market Street, between two equally tall and narrow shops of comparable shabbiness. To those familiar with its stacks – who were few – it was known as a vendor of a considerable variety of out of print books, foreign periodicals, brittle old 45 recordings of pieces like Grand Canyon Suite and Der Ring des Nebelungen, and shrewd advice for those seeking recommendations. The proprietor and sole employee of the bookstore had an encyclopedic knowledge of literature and music, and an uncanny memory of his available stock. Whether the item in question was on the third shelf from the back, two shelves down, or in the rare book section on the second floor, up the steep wooden staircase with open laths that resembled a ladder more than anything else, he would always pull it out on the first try.

The sign over the deep porch in the shop's façade read simply "Books." When the odd customer used their Visa card for a purchase – it's everywhere you want to be – their credit card statement would simply read "Scrubb, Etc., Market Street." Only those in a position to know or care were aware that the official name of the establishment was The Dragon's Plunder.

The shop appeared deserted when the diminutive bell tolled late on a Thursday evening in October. Its hours were often erratic – it was just as likely to be open at two in the morning in the middle of the week as on a Saturday afternoon during tourist season. Anyone who took the time to observe would notice that it was more likely to be closed on a fine morning, when the sun had battled back the indomitable fog and clouds that hovered over the Pacific Northwest. On such mornings, when the sun was low in the sky and shadows had yet to creep high enough to cover the building's southern exposure, a few motes of dusty sunlight would break through the pervasive gloom of the shop and fall near the platform where the cash register sat tucked into an alcove.

On this particular Thursday evening, the sun had long since set and the shop was lit with small pendulum lamps hung from the exposed rafters. The lone patron paused just inside the door and read the little plaque. "Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee."

Eyebrows raised, she took a few wandering steps inside. There didn't seem to be anyone else in the store, not even a clerk. Even so, she had the immediate impression that she wasn't alone.

Author's Note: Alert readers will notice that the store's corporate name "Scrubb, Etc." refers to the character Eustace Clarence Scrubb from C.S. Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, who fell asleep on a pile of dragon gold and was transformed into a dragon himself. The Dragon's Plunder is based on my memories of a real bookstore of the same name in my hometown. I remember that the store seemed to have a nearly exhaustive selection of weird and wonderful books, and had an air of shabbiness and mystery. I found out when I was older that the store was suspected to be a front for drugs…I guess that explains that smell.