Wake-Up Call, Chapter 3

Dear Mallory,
I must confess that I was nervous about your proposal when you wrote to me, but Trent turned out to be a very nice person. A bit odd around the edges, and he looks like he’s always sore, walking with a bent back, but really, he’s one of the nicest people in the city. Has to be. You don’t meet too many people in this city, let alone interesting ones who have stories to tell.

Such stories! Counting grass in the park, mythical boxes, hundreds of books. He talks about his old friends, calls them Followers, like he’s some kind of cult leader. My brother was in a cult, once, and had only nice things to say about it. I would never join one, I’d hope you don’t either. Think for yourself, Mallory.

The lack of rain today turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I met Trent just where you told me I should go, and he ushered me closer to the small pond in the park. He didn’t say a word until we got to the edge of the water and we started to feed the ducks.

“How did you know to contact me?” He skipped a stone across the pond, and it flew like a feather to the other side, bouncing only four times.

“Mallory sent me the clipping, told me what I needed to do to find you.”

“You know Mallory?”

“She’s my niece. She writes to me almost every day, tells me about her mother, her school. She’s mentioned you once or twice, but never with something this urgent.”

“Urgent?” He turned towards me, and I saw a couple of small bruises around his eyes. They looked purple and sore, like he hadn’t slept — or someone kept him from sleeping.

“She said she found your note, and the mention of the two-headed-duck. That’s how she knew where to find you.”

“But she sent you instead.”

“Well, she’s only a little girl.” (Mallory, you’re not a little girl. you’re a strong young woman. But at this point in speaking with Trent, things had become a little tense, so I downplayed it all a bit. Hope you understand. I’m doing the best I can to be honest with you.)

“I’ve seen things involving Mallory, no little girl should have to deal with. And her mother —“

“So tell me,” I cut him off with a wave of my hand. He was about to say some nasty things, about my sister, your mother, and that just wouldn’t do. Not if he was in trouble. “How do you think Mallory decoded your clue in the paper?”

“I’d rather like to know how she knew to look for it.”

“She’s adventurous.”

“And a snoop. It’s obvious she went into my apartment, had a look around, and found my log book. But it’s been four days since my last entry.”

“You can’t blame her for being curious. And you did write that note so that someone should find it. Mallory gets, well, bored. A lot. And when her mother’s not home —”

“I don’t blame the girl. She has the same curiosities I used to have. Even today. I’m always finding things that spark an investigation, or a study that leads to larger things, broader reasonings. I’m beyond caring how Mallory figured it out. I’d rather know how she wrangled you into all of this.”

“When Mallory calls…”

He looked at me for a long while, and I could tell he was holding his breath. Do you remember, Mallory, when I told you about my cat Bumbles? How he used to mock me, and sit near me when I would eat, and lick his paws when I would shower? Bumbles would also sit close to my face, at night, when I slept. I’d wake up and he’d be there, staring at me wide-eyed. I’d gasp and not be able to breathe for a few seconds, and Bumbles wouldn’t breathe, either. He’d hold his breath, as if to mirror me completely. Maybe he thought I couldn’t see him when he did that.

In any case, that’s what this instance with Trent felt like. He took a breath, and wouldn’t let it out, so I did the same. I could feel him staring into me, searching for a reason not to trust me. But then, why would he have posted that signal in the paper if he were not in trouble?

“So,” he blurted out, scaring me so I released a small yell, “Mallory read about the symbol, saw it in the paper, and knew to send her Aunt Pam to meet me here. How, do you suppose, she knew where to send you?”

I pointed at the pond, where a stream of two-headed ducks were floating by. “Only place in the country you can find a two-headed duck.”

“I thought people’d forgotten about this place.”

“Not if you can read a text book or have grandparents who were around for the bombing. Tell me, Trent, what kind of trouble are you in?” I must’ve looked scared, because he shined me the biggest smile I’ve ever seen at that point, and put his arm around me.

“My dear, I haven’t the slightest idea what we’re in for, but the adventure we’re about to take, I can’t do it alone.” And with that, Trent leapt up into the air and flew to the top of the highest tree. And I sat right beside him, comfortable and in my element, as you remember.

“So,” I said, “tell me what was in this box.”

Mallory, I don’t know if you’re old enough to hear his answer, but I’ll include it in my next letter to give you the choice. If you’re ready…you can open it. I trust you know yourself enough to know if you’re ready.

Talk soon. Love,

Aunt Pam

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Wake-Up Call – Chapter 1

It’s four AM and the faint sound of rainwater slapping the sidewalk is doing little to calm me back to sleep. In fact, it’s all I can do to avoid rising out of the warmth of the covers and run to the bathroom to drain my bladder, full as it is. Instead, I’ve grabbed my notebook, and as I drift back and forth to a surface level dreamland, I think of Mallory and her mother, always so sweet and kind, and how they had avoided my eyes when I came home last night.

I always see Mallory, or her mother, in the hallway between our apartments. They live at the top of the stairs; it’s difficult to miss them. Mallory spends time in the hallway because it’s cooler out there. She colors in her books, or sits with her cat in her lap, stroking its furry back while the animal purrs with content. I’m envious of the cat’s existence, an easy life with pure joy at every corner, and very little stress.

Mallory’s mother, though sweet to the degree that she’ll say hello rather than turn away when I walk past, always does so with her guard up. Her shoulders fling back and she clenches her fist every time I walk by. Not out of fear, I hope, but rather because she’s nervous at how I’ll respond. I rather think she has a crush on me, or maybe that’s my ego. I don’t think so, though. I catch her staring after me when I reach my door, and more than once I’ve caught her about to knock on my door when I’m leaving for work.

The peephole jumps from shadow to light in the second before I open the door, and her footsteps dashing down the hall are almost like feathers grazing the floor, such is the speed at which she flees. I’ve asked her about this on more than one occasion, why she’ll only knock and never wait for me to open my door. She flusters, turns and runs inside, or down the stairs and away. I’ve never heard her speak, and even Mallory rarely says more than a ‘hello’ or goodbye in the mornings.

And then there was that night, last night. When I reached the top of the stairs, Mallory and her mother were standing there, holding hands, both white as ghosts. They glared at me for a moment, and in that moment I saw sadness, and pity. And then they turned away and both went inside, the cat shortly after. I did not ask why were standing there like that, nor did I offer any greeting in return.

I reached my door, and didn’t have to insert the key or turn the knob. The door was open more than a little. They must’ve seen, from the hallway — what if they went inside?

I searched quickly, finding my box and testing the lid — it was loose. I peeled off the cover, and there was nothing inside — it had escaped, it was loose — and I might never find it again…

…To be continued

Heddy Bought a Cake – Version B

I wanted to experiment with two versions of a story.

This is version B, version A came two weeks ago and you can read it HERE.

Yes, Heddy bought a cake.

She chose the finest looking cake that she could see in the window.

The frosting held a thick, smooth matte finish.

Three layers, was the cake, each a cylindrical piece that fit, one on one top of another, in three filled sections.

The lowest layer was her favorite. With filling of hard brown chocolate fudge, the frosting on the bottom layer was blue, the color of the sky in her childhood memories when she would hide under the deck in her parents’ back yard in the summertime.

The next, second layer, was covered in a dark, ugly yellow frosting, the kind of yellow that penetrated one’s eyes with its absurd, burnt, egg-yolk shade. Worse still, the filling was a powdery vanilla cake, which Heddy knew about because she’d requested this specific.

On top of the yellow layer, which was itself on top of the sky blue layer, was the brightest white that could be pasted on frosting. This top layer was unique in that it was all frosting. Six inches high, a diameter of 4 inches, the frosting was packed tight yet ready to crumble at the first prick of a knife.

The cake had to be kept in a cool room with a temperature of not more than 65 degrees, nor lower than 45 degrees. Fahrenheit.

Heddy picked up the cake in the middle of the night, the manager of the bakery quietly standing by the back door while she entered and carried the box by herself. The box was two feet high and a foot wide, just big enough to hold the cake. She didn’t ask for help, but the manager offered anyway. He liked her, thought she had a “fun” smile and a happy disposition. Quite the opposite of his own. 

But that was the effect Heddy seemed to have on everyone, especially at this late hour.

The bus driver picked her up because she saw Heddy walking down the street, smiling and bopping. More dancing than walking, actually.

The Super of Heddy’s building agreed to make her an extra copy of her keys, despite it being against policy, because Heddy smiled and baked him a cookie.

Carrying the cake home, Heddy looked forward to staying awake until dawn. Dawn was the best time of day, to her, as she would slowly drift to sleep in the morning after a long night of planning.

She was a planner, always had been. She planned everything from her route to work to her meticulous shopping lists, from how she’d tackle homework in school, as a child, to how her wedding day would play out. Soon, she hoped, wondering just how much dust her “wedding plans” notebook had collected over the last two years.

Tonight, though, she carefully carried the cake up her building’s staircase. She opened the door and quietly unwrapped the cake, set it on her kitchen counter. The layers were perfect, the colors superb, and in this light,t he cake looked like a work of art, but one of true genius.

She stayed awake, watching the cake as her apartment warmed in the night. When she finally fell asleep, at that great dawn hour, the cake had melted to half its original height and puddled in the large bowl that was its setting. By mid-day, Heddy woke to the entire bowl nearly full.

She smiled, removed her dentures, and sipped the puddled cake until it was gone completely. She burped out her joy, then walked to work, smiling with her dentures shining brightly in the sun of summer. Today was another good day, because at the office they’d baked her a cake for her birthday, so she had a second helping of cake — only one piece, this time.

For birthday, as she did every year, Heddy ate a cake. This year, she ate two.