library of orphaned hearts




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The Library of Orphaned Hearts

Copyright © 2015 by Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Cover and Layout copyright © 2015 Thunder Valley Press

Cover design by Thunder Valley Press

Cover art copyright © shooarts/


This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.







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Gretta found a heart on Mission.

Red and beating and lonely, tucked into the narrow breezeway between two boarded up buildings, the heart lay on the filthy concrete next to the remains of a shattered six string.

She picked up the heart and tucked it inside herself, safe next to her own beating heart, and its sweet melody filled her head and lightened the weight of the backpack on her shoulders.

She bent to adjust the straps of her sandals, old friends comfortably molded to the shape of her feet by the long miles and years they had walked together. The sounds of the city, people and cars and seagulls chasing each other inland from the bay, harmonized with the heart’s timid song and energized her old bones. She straightened her spine and let her feet carry her toward Haight and the library nestled in its eclectic midst.

She side-stepped the boisterous patrons of an open-air sports bar on Duboce, the celebration of their team’s victory spilling over like strong whiskey to the sidewalk and adding fuel to the trash can fires at the curb. She kept the tender heart safe from the crowds on Market, so intent on their destinations they failed to notice her fragile cargo. She walked past the meat markets and the taquerias on Haight, and the colorful murals that camouflaged buildings long past their prime with joyous art celebrating life and death and rebirth, and all the time she felt the heart she sheltered growing stronger.

Her sandaled feet came to rest at the base of a staircase, the cracked concrete steps leading up to a wooden door warped by damp air and nighttime fog. Gilded letters on door’s windowpane, faded over time, looked as new and fresh to her as the day she’d painted them.

She climbed the stairs, her joints creaking, and produced an old-fashioned iron key from her backpack. Bent, arthritic fingers slid the key slid in an equally old-fashioned lock.

“We’re home,” she whispered to the heart, and it trembled as all hearts did when faced with the unknown.

The old wooden door protested the intrusion as she nudged it open, taking her time. Hearts and doors and all things battered by the world deserved gentle treatment, and Gretta was in no great hurry.

She breathed in the welcoming smell of well-used books, rows upon rows of them packed on narrow shelves, and her own heart smiled. Dust motes floated in the air like notes freed from the constraints of staff and clef and beat, performing for a cherished audience of one. Gretta rewarded them by humming a tune she’d learned from the timid heart inside her.

“It’s time,” she murmured to the new heart inside herself. It fluttered, but Gretta soothed it as she would a frightened kitten facing an uncertain future. She turned the little sign in the door’s window to “Open” and gave herself and her precious charge over to the comforting world of her library.








Gretta had come to the city in her youth, a wild child drawn, like all wild children of her time, by the promise of love and joy and freedom.

She had music of her own then. Vibrant, living music that filled her head and flowed from her fingertips to whatever instrument she had at hand, and there had instruments too numerous to count.

Exotic instruments, like sitars and tambura and dilruba, baglama and kemence and ud. Guitars that spoke of a heritage of fine craftsmanship and loving creation when she touched them, and violins whose weeping strings made her cry.

She’d let her own heart soar free to sail over the whitecaps on the bay and past the Golden Gate and out to the vast ocean beyond. In the evening it always came back to her, riding on the fog that blanketed the city, and it shared with her all that it had seen and heard and experienced.

She slept with others like herself in parks and along sharply slanted streets where shopkeepers appreciated the crowds drawn by the music, and she ate rich food steeped in the ethnicity of the city’s culinary artisans. She imagined that life on Olympus in the days of myth and legend could not have been quite so perfect, and her wild heart celebrated each dawn and dusk as a new adventure.

But adventures, like days made of perfection, eventually end.

A new hardness settled over the city. Gretta felt it in her bones, and her fingers twisted and faltered on the strings. Other street musicians felt it, and they took their fine instruments and their fragile hearts and turned away in search of a place more welcoming of their songs. The culinary artisans felt it as well, no longer sharing their creations freely, and the food lost its richness and unique flavor.

Gretta stayed even as the city changed around her. She sang the songs her fingers could no longer play, but her voice had never been her finest instrument. Her heart grew despondent and weary, and one night when she sent it soaring out over the bay to the vast ocean beyond, it failed to ride the fog back home to her.

Bereft, she wandered the streets looking for that part of herself she feared she would never see again. She slept in strange doorways and ate scraps of leftovers that had no taste and little aroma. Her body aged and her hair grew unkempt and gray, and even though she sang the songs she knew well, the melodies grew rough and unfocused without her heart’s influence.

She thought herself lost forever until one night a stranger placed an old-fashioned iron key in her upturned hat next to the quarter she had placed there herself.

“What’s this for?” she asked.

The stranger, who looked less like a man and more like a piece of air made of shadows upon shadows, held out a book, battered and worn, the dust jacket ripped and faded.

Gretta took the book with crooked, trembling fingers, unable to read the language of the words on the spine.

Turning the book over, she expected to see more unreadable words describing a story she could never know. Instead, a plain back greeted her. The words “The Library” had been written in a spidery hand in the middle of all that blank plainness, and below an address on Haight.

The book pulsed beneath her fingertips, and she felt a familiar longing for strings and hollow wood and the whitecaps on the bay.

Could it be?

“Is it mine?” she asked.

“No,” the stranger said, voice neither male nor female but kind. “It’s only a loan.”

Trembling for a different reason, Gretta felt like holding her breath, but she asked a question that became more familiar to her over the years than her own name.

“How long?”

The stranger smiled a smile she didn’t need to see in order to know it existed.

“As long as you need.”








The library door squealed in protest, the old wood complaining, as a new patron entered the library.

Thin and blonde and dwarfed by the guitar case strapped on her back, the girl’s shoulders hunched as if the weight of the world rested on her fragile bones. Her age was hard to judge. Gretta would have thought her young, but the ashy emptiness she brought in with her like winter fog made her seem ancient.

Ancient and lost, as lost as Gretta herself had been.

“I don’t know why I’m here,” the girl said in greeting. “I’ve never been in this part of the city, and I...”

She shrugged, the gesture expressing a feeling Gretta knew well but hadn’t been able to put words herself when she’d first been handed a book from the library.

Gretta hadn’t meant to take responsibility for the library, hadn’t meant to become the guardian of the well-used books and their precious cargo. She’d only meant to return the book she’d been given, but the iron key implied otherwise. When she’d unlocked the protesting wooden door and stepped into the shadowy depths between the shelves for the first time, the books had welcomed her with an unabashed enthusiasm that made her own heart swell, and she knew her new purpose in life.

“Perhaps you’d like a book,” Gretta said.

The girl shrugged again. “I don’t read much.” Her eyes wandered the dusty shelves. “I really don’t know why I’m here.”

The girl’s hand fluttered in frustration, and Gretta saw the calluses on the tips of her fingers, new ridges carved deep into old scars, and she knew the girl still chased the songs known only to her absent heart.

It was the reason her wandering feet had found the library. Her heart wasn’t broken or discarded like the heart Gretta had found on Mission. This girl’s heart only needed a little help to find its way home. If the girl hadn’t found her way here, in time Gretta would have found her on the street that same way the man made of shadows had found Gretta so many years ago.

“Let me make a suggestion,” Gretta said.

She turned toward the shelves, asking the same silent question she always asked the books when a new patron entered the library:
Which one of you will help her?

Gretta’s hands traced along the broken spines and tattered dust jackets until she received a timid answer, and she smiled in return.

She held out the book and the heart it contained, the heart Gretta had sheltered inside herself, to the girl. “This one,” she said, still smiling.

The book had been written in a language Gretta didn’t understand, and the girl looked dubious.

And frightened.

Gretta’s heart sank, its hopeful song tinged now with the mournful tones of a chance abandoned.

Not all those who came to the library took one of Gretta’s books. Only a rare few were brave enough to welcome a heart not their own, even for a little while.

The girl’s thin lips narrowed and her mouth set in a firm line of determination, and she took the book from Gretta with a nod to herself.

Gretta felt the happiness of the hearts in her library warm her back like a sudden ray of sunshine.

The girl’s eyes grew wide, and Gretta knew she’d sensed the song of the timid heart within. The girl’s fingertips formed the chords of a song she’d never played before, and she laughed, a sound of absolute joy.

“Is it mine?” the girl asked, hugging to the book to her chest like a long-lost lover. “Can I keep it?”

“It is only a loan.”

The girl’s smile dimmed, as the smiles of all patrons dimmed when they learned their new joy was fleeting. Gretta wanted to tell them greater happiness awaited, that they would no longer need the books when their own hearts returned, richer and fuller for the time spent away, but each patron needed to discover that on their own.

Just like she had.

Fingertips still sketching chords on the plain back cover of the book, the girl asked the question Gretta knew she would.

“For how long?”

Still smiling, Gretta thought of the timid heart she had found on Mission leaving the library for the first time in the care of someone who appreciated its music, who would play and sing the songs the little heart knew as a way to help her own weary heart find its way home. A journey like that could not be quantified in time but only in terms of accomplishment, a good deed done well.

“As long as you need,” Gretta said. “Take as long as you need.”








Gretta found a joyful heart in a music club on Mission.

She paid no entrance fee at the door, her purpose known well to the musician who collected the money, his own mended heart having found its way home after the loan of a book from Gretta’s library. Instead he gave her a hug and handed her an empty book in a language she might have known once in her youth.

“In case you need it,” he said.

She always needed books for the hearts she collected, a sad fact of life in a city still hard on fragile hearts, and she thanked him for the new addition.

She shrugged off her backpack and slipped the empty book inside next to the rest of the books she carried when she walked the streets of the city. Veteran hearts beat within their pages. Strong, capable hearts that had made many journeys since Gretta had found them hurt and lonely and in need of the comfort offered by the heart beating within Gretta’s own chest.

“Thank you,” she said to the musician whose eyes didn’t quite focus on her face, and she wondered if he saw a wizened old woman in well-worn sandals, or shadows upon shadows in the vague shape of a woman who smiled on him from time to time.

No matter. She had not come here for him, but to give her own heart the reward it so richly deserved.

A young woman stood in the spotlight on a stage barely large enough to hold her and her band. A tall man who played bass like his fingers were part of the strings crowded next to the drummer, an exuberant man of indeterminate age with fuzzy hair as dark as a coal black dandelion. On the other side of the drummer a dark-haired boy no more than eighteen with handsome, striking features played guitar, and his heart was so strong it made Gretta’s leap for joy in her chest.

But that wasn’t the only source of her joy.

The young woman on center stage, blonde and thin and dwarfed by the acoustic guitar she played, sang with a radiant smile on her face, her fingers coaxing soaring melodies from the strings like seabirds racing sailboats across the bay.

She’d returned the book and its borrowed heart to Gretta’s library the day before, shyly inviting her to come to the show.

“I owe it all to you,” she’d said, but Gretta knew that wasn’t true.

The precious hearts she found, the orphans she nurtured within herself until they gained strength enough to coax other wounded hearts to return to their homes, they deserved the praise. Gretta was merely their guardian, a grateful recipient of the kind of magic the cold, hard world refused to believe existed.

Gretta had always believed magic existed. Magic had drawn her to the city and given her the ability to play instruments she’d never seen before like she’d been born for no other purpose. When her heart had fled, she’d believed the magic was gone for good, but the stranger with the old-fashioned iron key and a tattered library book had changed all that.

Just like Gretta and the books had changed it for the musician who manned the door.

And the girl on center stage.

Gretta stayed until the girl and her band finished playing. She stayed while the audience filed out, their own hearts briefly lifted by the joy and energy and music flowing from the stage.

She stayed until she felt a familiar tug at her own heart, and realized that her sandals had led her here for another purpose as well.

In a dark corner of the club, in a spot as far from the stage as possible, a young man sat at a deserted table, his eyes downcast and his arms folded around himself as if he could fix the empty space in his chest just by holding himself tight.

Gretta approached him, and he raised his dull eyes upwards, not looking at her but at the spot at center stage where the young woman had stood. A tattoo graced the dark skin at the corner of one eye, not a teardrop but a single musical note unfettered by staff or clef or beat.

Gretta held out a book from her library. “I think you need this,” she said.

He shook his head, still not looking at her. “Books aren’t my thing.”


He looked at her then, and she knew he saw a wizened old woman, not shadows upon shadows. “I said no.”

The musician from the door came over to stand next to Gretta. “Dude, take it,” he said. “She doesn’t give them to just anybody, fool.”

The young man with the vacant space where his heart had been took the book from Gretta’s hand with a rough, resentful motion, and then his eyes widened. His fingers started tapping out a beat on the spine, and Gretta realized he hadn’t been watching the young girl as she sang but the drummer with the black dandelion fluff hair behind her.

“What the...” He gathered the book to his chest as if he could press it inside himself, and his eyes turned shiny bright. “How?”

Gretta only smiled in response.

“You givin’ me this?” he asked.

“It’s only a loan.”

He looked at the musician from the door and then back to Gretta, but his gaze didn’t stay on her face. She had become shadows upon shadows to him, as it should be.

He asked the same question all the patrons of her library asked, the question Gretta herself had asked when she’d been given a book and a second chance.

“How long?”

Gretta gave the answer she always did, the one that kept the magic alive.

“As long as you need,” she said. “Take as long as you need.”









Award-winning author
Annie Reed
describes herself as a desert rat who longs to live by the ocean. Since she hasn’t yet convinced her family to relocate to a nice chunk of beachfront property, she’s done the next best thing—written a series of stories set in a contemporary Pacific Northwest city where magic and reality go hand in hand. Private investigators Diz and Dee populate Annie’s more lighthearted stories, while denizens of a much rougher neighborhood lurk in her
Tales From the Shadows

A talented and versatile writer whose fantasy, science fiction, and mystery stories have sold to a wide variety of publications, Annie is also the author of the Abby Maxon mystery novels
Pretty Little Horses
Bullets, as well as
A Death in Cumberland.
Annie’s short stories also appear on a regular basis in the
Fiction River

For more information about Annie, go to





The Library of Orphaned Hearts
is part of the innovative
Uncollected Anthology

Every three months, the talented group of UA authors picks a theme and writes a short story for that theme. But instead of bundling the stories together, each author sells their own. No muss, no fuss—you can buy one story or you can buy them all. (We’ll be honest; we hope you buy them all!)

This time around we’re thrilled to feature a story by
USA Today
bestselling guest author Dean Wesley Smith!

If you’d like to keep reading more fine stories with this issue’s theme—Magical Libraries—click on the following links:





Dean Wesley Smith

featured guest author


Poker Boy specializes in asking stupid questions. But sometimes even stupid questions need answers.

To save the fabric of all things from unraveling, whatever that means, Poker Boy must go to the Library of Atlantis and do something that no one ever accomplished before.

Poker Boy saves all things. Again!

“[The Poker Boy] series is unlike anything else out there. It’s quirky and a lot of fun.”

—Amazing Stories.





Dayle A. Dermatis


Madeleine works at a secret library beneath the New York Public Library, serving her final magical-juvie sentence. If she keeps her head down and does her time, she’ll finally be free. But when the most prized—and most dangerous books—are stolen, the ancient ones affixed with chains, all eyes turn on her.

Because her girlfriend—the girl she thought was her girlfriend—clearly had her fingers all over the job.

The Magical Council tells Madeleine to sit tight; they’ll handle it. Madeleine, however, isn’t any good at waiting for someone else to solve a problem. She has to get involved, even if she ends up being found guilty for doing the wrong thing for the right reasons…yet again.





Michele Lang


When you lose a Library Cat, the late fees are murder...

Corrie the Cat Librarian leads an orderly life in the strange little town of New Castle, Connecticut. As Keeper of Feline Deities, Corrie lends her cats out to magicworkers who need a familiar to complete their spells.

A safe and rather boring existence...

But when Idris, a minor Egyptian deity, goes missing, Corrie and the formidable litigomancer Elizabeth Royall must battle an evil, medieval necromancer bent on capturing death itself. And in the process, Corrie discovers the deadly power of a quiet magic.

“Lang is a writer to watch.” — Booklist





Kristine Kathryn Rusch


Mary Beth Wilkins knows she made a mistake the moment she sees her beloved library burn. She also knows what she must do next to protect herself and her secret. And although she failed to save this library, she has a more important purpose to fulfill—a magical purpose. If she acts fast.

“Rusch is a great storyteller.”

—RT Book Reviews





Leslie Claire Walker


When Chris Garcia reads the magical morning Metro section of the newspaper, one and only one article stands out: a girl named Alice must find something precious she’s lost before nightfall or go to Hell. Chris figures his newfound magical skill of finding the lost will save her. Instead, he walks straight into a trap. If he fails to find a way out before the sun sets, he dooms Alice—and himself—forever.

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