The Mysterious Chest

It had been a journey that took the better part of two years. At first, it didn’t seem that dreadful. With the map at the ready, I boarded a ship to take me to an island off the western coast of Africa. Once I disembarked, prearranged transportation took me to the campsite. Since they had employed most of that town, it shouldn’t be an issue to find it. Right?

Wrong. I got to the ship and got to the port. OK. No trouble. The instructions I received didn’t mention which village or town, and because there was more than one, it took the better part of three days to find it. At last, yes, the town lay right ahead of me. “Yay ha!” Went out when I saw it. The happiest declaration I ever had in my twenty-five years of life.

Anyway, I wasn’t expecting a McDonald’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken. I’m not that naive. The preparation for a meal that comprised of insects I couldn’t…bleck. I never ate so much fish as I did during that time.

My stomach did the topsy-turvy thing for the rest of the journey, but was able to survive on bits of food here and there. No relief existed so I had to grit my teeth and bare it. It reminded me every time the thought of food entered my brain.

Exhaustion won out though as we located the Soul of Greed. A remarkable treasure chest filled with precious metals and jewels. No key would open it. Instead, a chant and a series of pushes and pulls had to be done in the right order before the lid would open. It needed to be chanted in the original language and done by a woman.

The woman part wasn’t the bad part, because hello, I am a woman. The original language part was the difficult one. A complete set of interpretations for the language didn’t exist. What we had, none of us were sure was correct. We couldn’t find an expert on the language either. The best we could do was sit there and stare at it.

If any hardware tool was used to break the chest that would’ve been a catastrophe. Burning it would’ve been worse. The lock was such that nothing could get between the lid and latch to open it either.

So there it sat in the main room of the lab. Waiting to be opened, and yes, we tried to do the magic genie thing out of desperation. No, that didn’t work.

It’s a pretty chest to look at though.

Baxter

I suppose I should have expected it. Baxter hadn’t been himself for a while. He didn’t greet me at the door like he used to or find the ball so we could play fetch at the park. I’d like to think the squirrels missed him too. About the only thing he did was eat and sleep. The final decision was done out of love.

When I bought the house, the furniture went in first but it still needed something. I got a dog and he fit in perfect. The house was complete. 

Since his death though, no familiar pair of brown eyes when I peered down the hallway or the noise he made while he slept. My once warm bed turned cold. The house felt incomplete again.

I complained every morning I had to wake up early to be sure he got his daily walk in. It felt funny to sleep in and it still did. I went back to the old schedule and became a member to a gym instead of sleeping the extra hour. Funny how it worked out.

I had two weeks coming, and that’s what I did. Grandpa had a cabin up in the woods and I took advantage of his offer. He warned me though that come Halloween; I had to be wary of the Nightmare Hound. An evil dog that if seen, would kill anyone and take away their soul to his master. Even though the story was hard to believe, I gave Grandpa a big smile. “Okey dokey.”

He laughed and gave me the keys.

I smiled when I imagined Baxter running around chasing all the squirrels up into the trees. He would have loved this cabin.

Grandpa never mentioned wolves in the area, so when I heard howling, I wondered. Could have been the Nightmare Hound, but he spoke of no noise the hound would have made. I went back to sleep with that thought in mind.

Between the hiking and the fishing, I kept busy during the day. Made a trip down the hill to the local town. Scarecrows, Jack O’Lanterns, and decorated shops spoke of the coming holiday.

The cafe had a Halloween special. Mummy meatloaf, spooky scalloped potatoes, and ghostly green beans. I couldn’t stop laughing and only hoped that it tasted better than it sounded. The waitress told me I had better be careful because the cook was looking for brains. She pointed him out and he poked his head out. No mask but he had enough makeup on for me to believe he turned into a zombie.

The dessert sounded perfect, Goblin Berry Pie. The goblin berry was a mixed berry filling but delicious with a scoop of ice cream. A little too much to devour, and may have to pay for it by waddling, but it was all good. Baxter would have inhaled the potatoes and the green beans with a modified recipe of course. That mixed up mutt would have had it, anyhow.

All that food in my stomach I had to do some serious hiking the next day to work it off. About half way there, that howling came again. It sounded louder which made me think it came closer. Could it be after me?

I turned on my flashlight and quickened my step a little to beat that beast back home. I got in and secured the door. It might not have made a difference but it made me feel better.

A dog barked from somewhere. “Hold on a minute buddy boy your—” What did I say? Baxter died so how could that have been him plus it was lower in pitch. Maybe I needed sleep.

Changed my clothes and cleaned up a bit, I climbed into bed with thoughts of sleep so I must’ve been tired. Something woke me up. I couldn’t quite place the noise. Something in between a hiss and a growl. I opened my eyes to see to bright red eyes boring into me. It was dark but the strange thing was that I could tell a dog stared at me. I never thought it was possible for something to be darker than dark.

No, it couldn’t be. An old story from an old man. That’s all. Get to sleep and it’ll go away. Yeah, and if I told myself that enough times, I might’ve believed it.

I could tell it was going to be an excellent day with the birds singing and sun shining. A new day lay ahead. Whatever happened last night must’ve been something created from my loss of Baxter. 

Another day spent hiking up into the woods. A shame nobody around. I thought it would’ve been perfect to get a fire going and roast some marshmallows with someone. “Hey Bax—” I had to stop. Sixteen and half years of doing the same thing. I wasn’t sure if it was a good habit or bad.

After reality reminded me, I put away the marshmallows and went into the cabin. After the fire came alive in the fireplace, I couldn’t help but see Baxter as he would beg and yelp for a marshmallow. Well, time to call it a night.

No supper but I didn’t think I was hungry either. Maybe I ate too much the night before. On the other hand, eating wasn’t so much fun anymore without my partner.

I had to shake him. Maybe that’s not right. How about trying to let him go? That would be better. Otherwise, I would’ve sounded like a cruel human.

Close my eyes and think good thoughts. The trees, the birds that seemed to find me and snatch whatever food I might’ve brought with me, and the atmosphere. Clean and clear with a good breeze that blew across my face.

Where did that stench come from? Beyond description sort of smell. The need to see over rode the need for sleep and those same red eyes bore into me again. Except it wasn’t from a distance. Its nose touched mine. Back up and crawl out of bed as fast as possible and be sure to keep it in your sights or else it might strike.

I forgot all about  the floor. After a hard drop I somehow stood up and ran. It snarled as it chased after me. The bark it had told me it meant business. So any thoughts of throwing anything to distract it wouldn’t work.

Behind the couch would’ve been a good place to hide, but that thing weighed a ton. The bare cupboards in the kitchen was the only place left. I crouched under the sink and waited. It got cold, and I knew it wasn’t because of my hiding place. It had to be that monster.

It waited right outside. That growl and those eyes were clear even with the door closed. I didn’t know what to do.

I wish you were here Baxter. I loved you buddy boy.

I heard a dog bark. Not that evil thing but a dog. It had to be Baxter. I’d know that noise anywhere.

The door opened enough for me to look and that thing turned around as well. At last, my chance to get out and run back to the room.

With the door secured, I breathed. Sounded silly but I had no idea if I did at all. That thing found me and it broke through.

I somehow broke away and climbed on top of the bed. I watched as Baxter bit the dog’s leg. The dog turned around and went after Baxter.

Baxter jumped high in the air at the same time that demon dog did. He got a hold of that demon’s throat. I screamed his name. I didn’t want him to die. Not like that.

The demon dog howled and a black substance escaped its throat. A bright light flashed and the two disappeared.

I know what happened and that Baxter saved me. The problem was how to explain without sounding like I lost my mind.

I sat on the bed and cried. “Oh Baxter. Buddy boy. You saved me. Thank you and I do love you.” 

The pillow felt so good under my head. Maybe at last, I could get some sleep.

It wasn’t time to go home yet, but it didn’t feel right staying there. The events lingered in my head as it tried to sort out the events while my heart screamed and cried. Life had to go on and so did I. Some things couldn’t be forgotten and this event would never be forgotten.

I made it back home and got around to cleaning everything and throwing away Baxter’s things. Since I didn’t have a dog, there was no sense in keeping it. I could always get new stuff when I got a new dog. That would only be right.

Oh, what was I thinking. The laundry had to be done, Baxter’s old bowls and bed needed to be thrown out and all of his hair needed to vacuumed up.

Before I could start though, someone rang my doorbell. I opened the door. “Oh, Grandpa. I was honestly going to drop by tomorrow. I wanted to get some cleaning done before then. Come in.” I waved him in.

“Well, I’m not alone.” I didn’t notice before he brought my attention to it, but he had a dog in his arms. “I brought this little one with me. She’s a year and a half, potty trained, loves liver, and a bit of a snuggler. If it’s too soon, I understand and I’ll keep her for you. Oh and her name’s Biscuit ‘cause she’s biscuit colored.” He smiled.

Oh Baxter. You had a sister and you didn’t tell me. “Tell you what. I have to get some cleaning done. So how about if I come to pick her up on Sunday morning. It’s Friday, so by then I should have everything cleaned and all of the supplies I would need. How’s that?”

“That perfect. See ya then.”

“Bye, Grandpa.” I closed the door. Then that night flashed in my head. I didn’t need to bring it up with him. He might think I went bonkers. That night was between me, God, and Baxter. More cleaning to get done if I was going to make it by Sunday.

* * *

Grandpa closed the door behind him. “Biscose, do you promise to protect my granddaughter for all that you are worth? If not, I will find another to take your position. That demon will not take my family.”

Biscuit transformed into a woman. “Yes. I do. I will protect her from the demons that linger. That is my duty.”

“Good. Sunday, your duty will begin. I suggest you rest until then.”

Biscose nodded and laid on the couch.

Grandpa poured himself a brandy while he looked into the fire. “No demon will dare take away the only thing that I hold dear. I would sacrifice myself before that happened. He must find another way to satisfy his greed.” He drank his brandy and stared into the fire.

Do Things My Way

“Liftoff in five, four, three, two—”

I rushed into the office when I overheard. “No, wait. It can’t take off. Not with the threat of exploding.” What did I say? This was not my time period.

“You’re getting your dates confused,” Commander Atterwack said.

That’s always been a probability, but after getting yanked into the room by John, we double checked everything. He went into hiding while I had to discover a means to make things right. Why did he even work here?

She smiled. “No one had been appointed for a time fix during this segment.”

“But Commander, it ended in failure. History was changed and this launch never took place because of an explosion. That blast made trips to outer space an impossibility.” Strange what one remembers during a dispute over coffee.

She raised an eyebrow. She strolled to the viewscreen and remained there for a minute before turning around again. “If what you say is correct, then someone must set matters right. I need a report within the hour.”

“Within the hour? Ma’am, you’re talking about three days worth of analysis and this is not something that could be accomplished wham-bam fashion.” John should feel lucky I’m here and not him. It would take me three days to persuade him to work on it. “Time must be taken to carefully—”

“All right. One day and no further argument. My decision is final. Dismissed.” She waved me out.

I stepped out into the corridor and leaned against the wall. Strange how a white shiny wall turns colors when stared at. Eyes closed, I stayed there a moment before opening my eyes and continuing back to my office. Work had to be done.

Proper history recorded Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong landed on the moon on July 20, 1969. Something happened, and the rocket launched a day early with only Buzz Aldrin.

I did French Neoclassical Period not the Cultural Decade. She needed me to come up with a report. Orders were orders though and needed to be followed without question.

I opened with a short enough video of each occurrence, long enough to demonstrate the events. Then an analysis of proper history, though with this crowd, that wouldn’t be necessary but I did it anyway. I forwarded a copy to John out of courtesy.

A full day to accomplish and evaluate the report before submission. Not enough time, but I believed I hit all the crucial points. I hoped she would only tell me my imagination got the best of me and not tell me to write a report about it. Teach me to open my big fat mouth. I got to remember to bring skin glue the next time my mouth decided to work without brain function.

I sent it to her, via robomessenger, in the hopes she wouldn’t blast my door open and behead me. Maybe I panicked over nothing and she would laugh and be done with it.

Instead of pacing, I worked on that case that involved Marie Antoinette. History wanted to change to make her a peasant instead. Something about how the peasants stole her fortune. That needed more research before going out into the field.

About to ask for a meal, Commander Atterwack walked into my room. Straight lips and narrow eyes were never a good sign with her. It meant she was confused and no one wanted a confused commander. “I see your point. After review, I have no choice but to send a team to investigate. That action alone may mean that this agency could never exist. We can’t have that. What are you working on now?”

“The Marie Antoinette case.”

“That’s not relevant. What is more relevant is this.” She pointed at it as my report showed up. “Something happened. As in all matters, if this doesn’t get fixed then history will be altered. We can’t have that. Find as many holes as you can and plugin actual facts so the squad can better get the historical events as they were supposed to happen.”

“Yes, Commander.” I bowed my head.

I watched until my door closed before I vidcommed John.

“Yeah, Cat. What?”

He answered. I’m amused. The name’s Caitlin not Cat by the way. “John, since this is your time span you should be the one to present any updates to Commander Atterwack.”

“Yeah, but, I’m busy.”

I heard a video game. “Sure you are. I have better things to do than to cover your ass before it gets blown up to smithereens. You know that’s what she would do to you so my suggestion would be for you to get to work.”

“Yeah but, I’m almost at—”

“If you wish to lose your job, go ahead. Keep playing that game like a five-year-old and don’t pay any attention to me. After all, it’s not like I’m your mother. The commander.” Take the hint.

Something hit the wall.“All right. Fine. I’ll get to it. Anything else?”

“No. Not a thing.” I hung up.

How he got that position I’ll never know. I doubted if he would ever get to it.

We talked to each other through the rest of the day. I did my report, and he worked on his. Both of us reported to Commander Atterwack, and she laughed, surprised her son worked. She would have rather I did it, but after I explained to her that I didn’t want to make any unnecessary assumptions, she nodded and accepted the report.

“I’m going to bed,” John said.

He had plans to go to bed. If it was me, I would be scrambling to be sure all points were covered before tomorrow. He had ideas about sleep.

I nodded, smiled, and walked in the direction of the food room. I needed something to eat, but what, I had no idea. None of the pictures looked appetizing. I opted for a cup of stew and hoped for the best.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I switched side to side until I got up and started thinking. I must’ve missed something. You don’t defy orders. He had the responsibility to find out what took place. How could you accomplish that sleeping?

I walked to the central computer. “Alpha Omega 3-5-3. Show me—” No. That wouldn’t be right. I turned it off and walked away. If he wanted me to know what happened, he would tell me.

The next morning, about four pots of a caffeine boost went into my body. Shocked that dents didn’t appear in the walls, the thought of walking around came to mind. With my luck, I’d get lost.

I turned on my computer in the hopes of getting something done. Not being on the central system, allowed me room to make a lot of mistakes and theories without being looked at. I opened the To Be Refined file when John walked in.

“I don’t know. I just don’t. You. Her. The both of you got something up your stinkin’ ass that I don’t know anything about. I’m done. You realize, I studied to become a designer of virtual worlds. All of this was her idea. Not mine.” He walked out.

Before anything could be suggested he left. Commander Atterwack should have been notified, but I didn’t. What was she going to do? Thoughts about what he yelled ran through my mind.

It could’ve been exhaustion, but it only took a couple minutes before nothing made sense. That was my cue to get some slumber.

Something kept bothering me so sleep didn’t come. Didn’t Ol’ Mr. Sandman want to return from vacation? Of course not. Stupid question.

John yelled that he studied to create virtual worlds. That took a lot of study under a collection of different categories.  Maybe he worked on the report the wrong way. Quick fix to this problem, work on it from his perspective.

Not sure how long it would be before I collapsed on the floor sleeping, I vidcommed him. He answered on the fifth ring. “What?”

“Hello to you too,” I said, as I tried to listen to what that background noise was. “I’m going to make this short. Maybe—”

My door opened, and he walked in. “What?”

I didn’t ask. “Maybe you’re going about this from the wrong perspective.”

“What other perspective? There is no other perspective. If she didn’t—”

“Hold on before you talk about a murder plot out loud. Sit and listen.”

What did he do? He sat on the floor with his legs crossed and looked up at me. Wouldn’t a reasonable adult find a chair? He could have the chair to the right him instead of sitting on the floor.

“Anyway, you mentioned you wanted to produce virtual worlds. With that education, you can identify holes and come up with a feasible plan to help solve that issue. All the information you require is inside the central computer. That will give you all the info you need to build a world that this history is all about and create a world that possible solution could help fix. With a lot of work and creativity, you can do this. You’re twenty-five years old. Be an adult and do your work dammit.”

He stood up and left the room. No bye, no thanks, he up and left. Before my mind packed a bag and left my brain, I went back to bed. Sleep or no sleep.

The next thing I knew, someone patted my shoulder. “Hey, wake up. Will you wake up? Cat!”

I sat up. “John? Why are you waking me up in the middle of the night?”

“It’s thirteen-thirty. Anyway, I did it. I turned them in and she loved them. She told me she was proud. We did it.”

Huh? Wait… “Oh. Congratulations. See, you could do it. Why don’t you go and get what’s his name and celebrate?”

“I’m going now.” He waved me towards the door.

“I’ve got a few things to do.” One of which will cause me to do something I hadn’t done since I was five.

“Oh. I’ll wait.” He sat on the floor.

He and that floor. I swear, there had to be a story about that. I didn’t have time to figure that out and walked as fast as possible to the wet room.

Sure enough, he still sat there when I emerged. “I didn’t know you would be here.”

“Hey, why don’t we go to the Third Tower? They’re supposed to have that new place. Can’t wait to try it. And she said, I could create my own team. Oh man, I can’t believe this really happened. I’m so excited right now.”

He had the biggest smile on his face, not that he didn’t earn it. It had to be good if he got that kind of praise from her. Well, maybe a little while wouldn’t hurt anything. Everybody needed a chance to have fun. I’ll work later.

Work later? Did I  think that? Oh no. maybe if I bribed the health center director he would give me a stay awake shot or something similar to help me get that report done.

He walked ministeps in place. “Well, Cat?”

“Well what?”

“Are we going?”

“I guess. And the name’s Caitlin.”

“Right.” He grabbed my hand and pulled me behind him as we went out to celebrate. I’ll make an entry later about the experience.

Case File #79267

Certain factors in life needed to be explored. This time, it involved a familiar myth about a local swampy area. Something about finding your destiny’s path.

 

This case needed further investigation due to the large number of unexplained disappearances. The swamp gas turned hallucinogenic or the local wildlife attacked the people had been theorized but not proven. Hence the need to explore the area.

 

I arrived at the swamp, got out of my Jeep, and went towards the dock. I had the urge to sing row row row your boat when I got in. If only I remembered to use bug spray. They had a feast.

 

Ripples in the water did not come from my boat or anything that swam. That was my first clue. The residents knew about the gators in here. They somehow had an extended life span whenever they started to live in this swamp. Ask anyone and an alligator named Ol’ Gold Tooth had to be about a hundred and ten years old.

 

No report had been able to prove that because people vanished without a trace, and because of the huge population of alligators, no body ever showed up anywhere.

 

Cattails and barnyard grass grew thick on either side. Muskrats ran in between them. I could only guess they noticed me and thought of me as a predator. Mud hens swam on the side of me.

 

Bald cypress branches provided cover from the sun making that only visible if I looked straight ahead. Moss hung from the branches, which might be where the local insect population flourished.

 

Dragonflies and darning needles flew around me. One even hovered in front of my eyes as if to guide me down this watery trail.

 

An environment all its own. Every flora and fauna seemed to have a set of rules to follow. This area could very well survive on its own and may have.

 

It got darker as I went further down this watery trail. As much as I enjoyed observing, there was a job to do. If there was only a way to gain more information than what I did when I arrived here in town. People shied away when I asked them questions. One old man warned me to never come for fear the swamp would swallow me whole.

 

The story told of a spirit that arose from the trees to point the way to either the end of the watery trail or to your doom. The old folks suggested nothing but a story. Some stated they had no idea such a tale existed. One old man told me something somebody came up with to lure everyone away from the gold at the end of the rainbow.

 

A lone tree in the middle provided the perfect place for me to turn around so I could get back. Some cases required time and a lot of patience. I had more time than I did patience, and since nothing happened, there was no need to stay.

 

Jolene

I stopped rowing. What? Nobody knew my real name. People around me always called me Jo. I didn’t want to be associated with Dolly Parton’s song. Nice song but still….

 

Jolene

 

There it was again. My intention was to observe and write a report of my conclusions to be turned in for further research if required later. I couldn’t go on with this voice calling me.

 

I blocked out the call to concentrate better. The trees thinned as I went along. The wildlife became sparse. Even the mosquitoes up and vanished.

 

Jolene. You know the way.

 

No. No. There had to be a good logical scientific justification. Past cases mentioned stories about haunted buildings and land. Often those stories proved to be genuine while a few had been a product of a wild tale.

 

I kept going. “Gramma, is that you?” She would be only one who called me that. Then again, she died last year due to a heart attack.

 

Jolene. Remember. Once around the tree and twice around the sun. Three times to board. The fourth to lead the way.

 

I stopped and thought about the message. It did sound familiar. Everybody knew the one to four riddle but no one in town had been able to decipher it.

 

There had to be meaning to that riddle as was often the fact. It could mean nothing but something deep inside of me screamed at me not to ignore it. Not that I could, there was no way to know what it meant.

 

A bird squawked and circled above me. Not knowing what else to do, I followed it to wherever it led me.

 

I followed the bird to a grassy area. No sign of swamp gas either. I went for it and got out of that boat. Not sure if the swamp did get to me, I lost my mind, or all of the above as I walked straight up the hill.

 

Nothing there. I turned back around to get back in the boat and it disappeared. As in vanished, as in no longer in existence so how the hell was I going to get home.

 

The house up ahead looked brand new. The windows still unbroken, the front porch didn’t have any big holes in it, and the building itself didn’t need any repairs. Experience told me to be cautious. The neat and elegant house meant nothing.

 

I knocked on the door and a tall women, compared to my four foot ten stature, with straight and shiny black hair answered. Those gorgeous eyes drew me in. No description could fit other than they drew me in. Did I say drew me in twice? My mind left me.

 

She grabbed my hand and brought me in. Could that happen? I had no idea what went on or if I had any mental capabilities.

 

Something hypnotized me. She not only hypnotized me but an unseen hand pushed me inside. I had no life here, so there had to be another explanation for this. 

 

“Jolene,” she said. “You arrived.”

 

I shook my head. “I came to investigate—”

 

“Shh. No time for that. I am Kay. You have arrived to fulfill your destiny.” She kissed my hand.

 

 

 

The Red Rose

Good grief, that red light always took half a century. Wasn’t somebody assigned to manage these things? God, I hated this.  Change already. I had to go downtown to pick up something Grisham Graham sent me.

It’s about damn time it changed. Aliens could have invaded the planet and I still would have been waiting for that light to turn green. A space opened up right in front of the post office. I couldn’t get any luckier. I took care of the parking meter with enough time to pick up that mysterious package

I had to wait in line of course. I never even heard of a Grisham Graham. I had no idea if he existed, turned out to be a prince from another country, or even a two headed alien. Mom and Dad didn’t mention anyone by that name not even any uncles or grandfathers. None of the five cousins went by that name. Mom traveled to every major city in the universe. She had at least ten stories for every place she visited and made sure I learned them all. Not one of them mentioned anyone named Grisham Graham.

I made it up front and gave a man that pink slip they left in my mailbox. The postman at the front counter came back with a box with my name and address on it. How? OK, stupid question, but I never met whoever this person is or was.

I got home and changed clothes. “Alexa, play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.”

It started and I had a chance to look at it. Old writing, it had to be calligraphy. Not a problem with a computer. I doubted it was by hand. Who still did that?

The brown paper wrapping came off with a pair of sharp scissors. I used a knife to cut the box open. Two big scrolls in it and nothing else. No letter, computer, box, mis-sent snake, or anything.

The more I opened one scroll, the more a map showed itself. Nothing like I ever saw before with counted steps and sun direction. An address that couldn’t have been real: 133/4 Main and B Sharp Street. No such address existed in this city and I’ve been here since I finished grad school fifteen years ago. I put that aside.

“Alexa, go to Grub Hub and order a pastrami sandwich with Swiss cheese and deli mustard on marble rye.”

I needed the extra fuel to help give me energy to figure it out. I opened the other scroll and it was one long ass letter. I didn’t know how else to think of it. From the very top to bottom, from the left edge to the right edge was covered. I started to rethink my original thought of how it was written. No printer I knew would be able to fit paper that thick or that long. I stood five foot five and it reached from my head to my feet, as thick as lasagna pasta.

I started thinking about food. I needed my food.

Saved by the bell. I got up and got my sandwich. It never tasted so good. Mom would tell me I ate like a pig and should eat like a little lady. Sorry Mom, you got me instead. A lady? No. A female human? Yes.

The sun still shone through the window when I started reading it. It was about to set when I finished and oh my God. Granted, whoever this was, could have lied to me but if this was indeed hand written that was an awful lot of trouble to go through for a scam. Yeah, I might’ve been naive for that thought but something about it… I don’t know. It seemed too real to be phony.

My day off and I had to be at work the next day. I didn’t have time to travel to Palm Beach to talk to Mom and back. I fluttered my lips. The only other option was to Skype. That way I saw her face as I read her the letter.

“Alexa, Skype Mom.” I waited.

She appeared on screen. “Hi, Baby. Ready to vacay in Palm Beach? Us women need to spend as much time as possible together. We haven’t done anything this month. I’m wait—”

“Mom, I gotta work.” I held up the letter in front of me. “Who is Grisham Graham?”

She turned and glanced over her shoulder. “I think your dad needs my attention. We’ll chat again.” She disconnected me.

Sugar, I got voicemail when I tried to call her on my tablet. Something happened, and it spooked her. I decided to talk to her about that later.

I spent the rest of the night studying that map until I turned cross eyed and went to bed. 

The letter lay on my desk for safekeeping to focus on later. I reviewed the map and followed the instructions.

After further review, a stop into a little toy store I never realized existed. An adorable place filled with dolls and trains. The guy at the front counter would lead the way. I chuckled at the memory of the description of a man with a shiny head that stood six heads high. I cleared my throat. “The road is not golden for it is well traveled. Every sun shines on each of the step stones.” I used the better part of the morning memorizing that passage.

“For every step stone is a path to the knowledge we all seek.” He walked out from behind the counter and grabbed my hand. I wasn’t a kid so my hand didn’t need to be held. Since I didn’t know where to go, if he showed me the way I would’ve followed.

He led me through a storage room all the way to the back wall. The coffee shop sized store had a large enough storage room to fit a Brownstone.

We stopped in front of another door. “It is through this door another journey begins as the path we sought has now been found.” He didn’t use a key, but a series of buttons and levers to be done in a particular order. The door opened. “That is 133/4 Main and B Sharp Street.”

I stepped through to look but he closed the door behind me. It vanished as in it didn’t exist anymore. Shiny black stones led the way to a door.

The grains in the dark wood had separated. Something coated it to make it shine but not only on the surface, deep enough to coat every grain down to the core of that dark wood. What caught my eye was the giant red rose on the door.

I looked at the map again. “The Red Rose Archives. Where all things have answers.”

I rolled it up, and as I hit against my leg for being dumb about not bringing a backpack, the doors opened. Wall, upon wall, upon wall of books and scrolls. I wore my Nikes, but they sounded like I wore heals instead. It sounded weird, but I looked down and they changed to boots.

My t-shirt and jeans changed to a white long sleeve blouse, brown pants, and a hooded cape.  I wanted to run out of there but no where to go and no one to show me the way home. Things got too weird. That interest in finding what this was all about vanished.

A circle of tables appeared out of nowhere around me. To say this got freaky was an understatement. “Will somebody please stop with the parlor tricks?”

“Hattie Marigold Matthews. Yes?” a woman asked.

I turned around and a little old lady from Pasadena stared right at me. “Yes?” I hated my name and vowed to one day change it to anything else.

“Oh, come now. Surely you expected this. We will discuss that at a later time because first there is one important question you have to answer. Who sent you here?”

“Uh…Grisham. Uhm…Grisham Graham.” I felt like one of my kids who got caught with their cellphone on.

She nodded and wrote something down. It seemed to take a moment for her to finish. I expected a ticking clock but it never did. Somewhere a cuckoo clock cuckooed nine times.

“I am Sally.” She rolled up the paper and stood from the table. “If we need more questions clarified, we will let you know. In the interim, make yourself comfortable. This is the information ward. The second floor is the important information ward. The third floor is the critical information ward. The fourth floor is the Keepers’ ward. Basement levels one and two hold top secret information only accessible to certain people.” Sally held out another scroll. I wondered if they had computers. “This is your detailed list of items you require, supplies already in store for you, your daily schedule, and your assigned quarters.”

I took the scroll from her. As soon as I grabbed it, she vanished. “Yeah but what if I have a question? Who is this asshole Grisham Graham, anyway?”

I bit my tongue and dropped my head. A fine teacher you are. “I’m sorry. I’m frustrated and confused.”

I turned around intending to find a window. Instead, a hand scrambled across the floor.

“Grisham Graham. Grisham Graham.” It stopped in the middle of the floor tapping its fingers. “Yes. Yes. Yes.” It hopped in the air. “Male. In hiding. Mysterious affairs.” It disappeared into parts unknown after that.

I found that window. Lush green grass went on forever outside the building. What did I get myself into? How do I explain this to everyone? OK, only Mom but I did not understand what any of this was or even how I ended up with all these scrolls.

Maybe that red light started all of this and that’s how it got its pleasure. A computer would have made this a lot easier. Again with the big and long scrolls.

“I don’t suppose you have coffee. I didn’t see it listed.” I took a quick look around and didn’t notice any pots.

“Would you prefer a little cream with a little sweetness?” a male asked.

That was new. I put down the scroll and stared into the green eyes of a man that held a yellow mug with steam rising. The aroma of coffee arose.

“Oh. Thank you.” I grabbed it with my stainless steel hands and blew on it before I took a sip. “Black is fine. Thank you. Who are you?”

“Hmm. Perhaps I should have expected this. I am Grisham Graham.” He bowed.

Something dropped and broke that caused my foot to get warm. “So… So much for the alien idea.”