Oscar Harlequin kept very still, waiting until the book store closed. It was a store warehouse with three levels, the top being an attic with a skylight that had never been dusted. Few book lovers went up there, and he had stashed the backpack with his books near the old-fashioned radiator.
He was in the second-floor men’s room when the lights blinked off and on. The most heart-arresting moment was when a clerk opened the door and announced, “Store closed in fifteen minutes.” For some reason, the clerk came into the room, walked around casually. Had he detected something? Was he naturally suspicious? The flushing of a urinal gave Oscar the answer.
Fifteen minutes later, the room went totally black. Oscar pulled out his iPhone and turned on the light. (He dismissed bringing a flashlight, that would raise suspicions.) For some reason the stall door squeaked. Had it squeaked when he first opened it? Was the blackness magnifying the sound? Or was he just jittery?
After several deep breaths, Oscar ventured into the book aisles. In the darkness he felt like a shadowy, meek Godzilla plodding through a city of ghostly book buildings and trying not to break anything.
Not sure whether the elevator worked, he took the spiral iron stairway to the attic. As he gripped the railing, he was overwhelmed with the sense of his own stupidity. Had he even thought about where to put the books? They had an imitation romance cover -- his wife trying to smile in a red summer dress with a big straw hat -- but how convincing was it?
Once in the attic, he threw the light from his iPhone in the direction of the radiator, but he didn’t see the backpack. He was about to rush forward in a desperate search when a figure emerged from the shadows. He immediately thought of the nun in the tower at the end of Hitchcock’s "Vertigo." But it wasn’t her.
“You don’t need to go through all this, you know,” the woman said in a stern but amused voice.
“It couldn’t be time yet, it couldn’t.” Kargil screamed over and over in his mind as he ran through the dense overgrowth. The thorns cut his skin and he felt the blood run from the stinging cuts. He did not stop.
The clearing came fast, and he tripped and fell to the sandy ground carried by the momentum of his push through the brush. Before him he saw the bare feet of his wife. He looked up from his kneeling position to see her knees, dress, long red hair, and finally her face. She was overcome with fear, sweat covered her visage, and she was breathing heavily. A huge taloned hand rested below her chin.
“Why do you pursue us,” came the gritty and powerful voice from behind her. “She made the deal; the deal is done.”
“She did it for me!” Kargil cried. “I was not worthy of her gift, take me instead.”
The laugh sounded like hundreds of teeth in a blender being shaken. “You are of no value to me. The deal was I save your life and she was granted 5 years to spend with you. Has it not been five years, have you not had this time?”
“I made the deal,” Karen pleaded, “I knew, let me go.”
“You see?” The voice boomed. “She has accepted her fate, you should do the same.” A second taloned hand reached out and a deep mist formed behind them. “She is mine now and will serve my needs for dozens of years.”
“No,” Kargil screamed and launched towards her, grabbing her hand. “I love her!”
Two more arms reached around Karen instantly and grabbed Kargil by the shoulders. The grip was impenetrable. “You task me human. Do not do so again or I will take your spawn for my pleasure as well.”
Kargil thought of their daughter as he was thrown to the sand. He did not move as the 8-armed monolith stood and leapt into the mists with his wife.
As he felt the tears run down his face a shrill cry echoed in the mist.
“Who are you?”
“You don’t remember me?”
“You were a friend of my fathers?”
“I was a friend of your family, for a very long time, but…”
“Do you remember the Clydewell house?”
“Yes. Vaguely. Why?”
“Do you remember what happened there?”
“You’re referring to the accident? What happened to my sister?”
“I know that what happened at Clydewell house was not an accident. ”
“What do you mean wasn’t an accident? What do you know about how my sister died?
“You’re asking the wrong questions.”
“what question should I be asking then?”
“Where is she, and what was your father covering up?
“Are you telling me that my father lied?”
“No, I am saying that he only told you half the truth.”
“And my sister? She’s alive?”
“Yes, but I can only tell you this for certain, your sister knew something, something your father had to keep hidden.”
“What did he have to keep hidden?”
“Men of wealth and power have many enemies and many more secrets.”
“How do I find her?”
“Figure out what your father was trying to hide, that is the key to this riddle. I also believe that it cost me my life.”
“What I saw of your sister, I should not have I think and your father well…you know your father.”
“How could it have cost you your life, you’re sitting here, on this train with me now and you’re telling me my sister is alive?”
“What was your father trying to cover up? That is the only way you will find her.”
“No, wait, don’t leave.”
“Would you care for a drink sir?”
“That man, who was he?”
“Excuse me sir I do not know of whom you speak.”
“Surely you passed him just now, in the hall. He was old, scared face, with a pipe.”
“No sir there were no others except you. Can I get you anything?”
“Very good sir.”
As I searched, moments were frantic, the world around me blurring as I rushed about my cluttered bedroom. The clock clicked in an annoying reminder that Noelle was due to be knocking on my front door sooner rather than later.
“You forget something?” Mike, my roommate with the consistently worst timing, was leaning against my door frame, smirking at me.
I brushed my hair flat again, my reflection showing a messy appearance rather than the handsome Prince Charming I was hoping for. “Come on, bro...you know what this means to me!”
Mike rolled his eyes. “Dude, it’s Noelle. We’ve been friends with her for three years now, I don’t know what has you such a mess.”
A tried to control the heat creeping up my neck. “Yeah, but this is our first real date and I want her to see me as more than a friend.” I could see Mike’s fighting a grin, his blue eyes twinkling with mirth.
My curt dig was cut off before it could begin by a light knock to our front door. It was her. I took a deep breath, Mike was right...date or no, this was Noelle, one of my best friends and just about the prettiest girl I’ve ever met.
“What do you think?” I asked my roommate.
His eyes roved me up and down, “Well, she’ll definitely be looking at you differently!”
After answering the door, Noelle’s eyes brightened and she giggled. “Where did you say we were going?”
“That barbeque joint in town? Figured something casual would be ok. I mean, if that’s what you want?”
“Oh, casual is fine...it’s just...I think they still might require pants.” Noelle vaguely gestured to my lower half. With a blush, I looked down to see my Batman boxers winking back at me.
I ran my hand back through my hair, feeling the locks spring into their usual messy cowlick as my face burned a bright red. “Right. I’ll be right back…”
Mike was wiping tears as he gasped through his laughter, “Well dude, at least she can check out your butt!”
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