I thought she was my whole world, but I was wrong. She was my universe, and when she left, she took it all with her. Stars, planets, moons, rainbows… they’ve disappeared. I watched her depart with everything as if it meant nothing. She held it all as lightly as balloons on a string, with her blue summer dress floating around her pale skin like a cloud. I sit in the dark now, cloaked with the heaviness of loss, and people come and go with endless casseroles. I don’t speak for fear of blurting out my secret; it grows relentlessly larger and will soon consume me. On that day I shall emerge from this cave and join her, and we will share the universe again.
It was a night like this, when the mist rolled in so thick you couldn’t even see a fist right in front of your face. Everything was grey as the grave. All my plans fizzled as drizzle began and I saw the flash of silver in your hand. I knew you meant to say goodbye where no one could hear me cry and you could disappear without a trace. Though I accepted my fate, I didn’t mean to slip on the slick stones and push you into the river. It still gives me the shivers all these years later when I visit this place. Darling, I miss you every day, but it seems you got your wish after all, in a roundabout way.
I may have had some wine, perhaps a cordial or three, at the neighborhood block party. As a very religious boy, I was raised without the taste of alcohol (aka “devil’s juice”) in my parents’ home, and I was not used to the effects. In my hazy state of mind, it occurred to me I needed to do my laundry, since I was leaving early tomorrow for orientation week at the university. After lugging my clothes bag across the street to the laundromat, I noticed a new bulletin board with colorful notes, advertising things for sale.
Available immediately ~ ancient model, purrs like a kitten, still in great shape, low mileage, minimal wear and tear. Call for details.
I needed a new car something fierce. If I could grab this one tonight, perhaps I wouldn’t have to carpool with the other students. They would smoke, which I hated. I called the number. A woman answered.
“Hello,” I said. “I would like to hear more details about what you have for sale. Is it really as great as you describe on the ad at the laundromat.”
“Even better,” she answered in a strange husky tone. “Why don’t you come over right now and I’ll show you?”
She gave me the address and I walked over. It was only a few blocks. When she opened the door, she was wearing a filmy robe and I tried not to look below the neck. I didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable.
“Aren’t you adorable?” she said. “Come on in.”
I went inside and she closed the door. “Where’s the car?” I asked her.
“You’re looking at it,” she said and dropped the robe.
Needless to say, I didn’t make it to the school the next day. Luckily, though, my laundry was intact. I brought it back to her place and stayed for three years. She was stunning and taught me about the ways of the world. I will always be grateful tomy first love. And someday, I’ll get my degree and be more than an assistant manager in a donut shop.
“Interesting,” he said, gazing at my sketch. “You chose to portray her as bereft, suggesting abandonment and grief.”
I shrugged. “It’s the feeling I got from her pose, is all.”
He lifted his coffee mug and his gold wedding band gleamed in the bright light. “No one else drew her this way. The white gauzy covers and drapes seem to suggest a happier mood. Perhaps you’re projecting yourself into the work.”
Stung by his implied criticism, I stared at my canvas, ignoring him. As he walked off to chat with other students, I glanced at the sketches to the right and left of me. He was correct. They’d both portrayed her as soft and dreamy, her face suffused with love and hope. Perhaps she’d spent the night with a new man and was imagining their future together.
I watched the teacher smile at a student, the blonde who’d joined our class late. He even picked up her pencil and added a few touches to her work. He’d done that to mine too, in the beginning.
This place was unfamiliar, though pretty in an odd way, and he struggled to remember how he got here. His mind was completely blank. He took a few tentative steps along the cliff path, trying to process the smooth boulders and brassy water below him, all gleaming under the afternoon sun. Evening would fall soon, and he still had no idea where he was.
He tripped and looked down at his shoes. They were untied and covered in splotches of mud. No wait… it was blood! Suddenly, his memories came rushing back in an unstoppableflood. His heart shatteredand he sank to the ground, moaning in despair.
A man a few hundred yards away lowered his binoculars. “Shoot him now,” he said to his female companion. “He’s no longer any benefitto us.”
“Will do,” she said. She pointed her weapon at the man with the binoculars.
She caught a glimpse of him slipping indoors, and she followed, suspecting he was evading her. Barefoot, she padded softly across the cool floor in the dimly lit room. It smelled of oranges in here. Soon there was light again, coming from the top of a staircase. There was also a darker set of stairs. Which was the right way to go? Her instincts told her to head for the light, but she began to worry that it wasn’t the path he’d choose. As soon as she reached the bright staircase, she impetuously turned and headed into the deeper darkness.
Deep within the castle’s empty halls and silent rooms, its furnishings long ago sold for coin, was a solid oak door, locked from the inside. At the bottom of a rickety staircase was a second door, also locked, but without an obvious place for a key. Simon chanted the arcane words he had learned long ago from his grandmother, and the door slid open into the wall.
“Welcome to my shop!” Simon said to Mandy, the reporter who was blackmailing him. She had threatened to expose his past, linking him to a recent murder, unless he gave her a chunk of his inheritance.
Mandy’s eyes grew wide at the vistaspread before her. This was a home within a home, complete with bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and what appeared to be a chem lab. “Wow! What’s going on in here?”
“I’m searching for the formula to remove the curse from the treasure,” Simon said. “Without it, the gems are useless except for perpetuating evil, as Belinda was doing.”
Mandy nodded. “The police were closing in on her for the killings of those children. I received a tip about it, but then she was found in the river.”
“I couldn’t convince Grandmama to give me the counterspell, so I stopped Belinda another way.” Simon’s mouth twisted at the memory of dumping her body. “It had to be done. She was too far down the devil’s path to change. I didn’t know the police were onto her.”
Mandy rolled her eyes. “That’s the problem with vigilantism. What’s that smell though?”
“Cookies!” he announced. “You mentioned you love peanut butter, so I baked some.”
Mandy reached for a thick, golden brown cookie from the plethoraon the plate Simon presented. She bit into the sweet and salty treat with pleasure. After her second one, she said, “You didn’t put anything weird in these, did you?”