Thursday, August 25, 2016

New Short Story -- The First Storm of Spring (Part 1)


Here is Part 1 of my new short story, The First Storm of Spring...

Subee lived in a tiny house on the edge of the swamp.
Although she was young—probably no older than nineteen—she lived alone, and everybody wondered why.
She’d moved in about a year before, and although she went to the local grocery store every week and stopped in at the gas station and the diner, just like everyone else, no one knew anything about her except her first and last name: Subee Cantor.
Subee wasn’t very friendly, and she rebuffed most attempts at conversation.
“She’s running from something,” Lacey Witt said when the topic of Subee came up at the beauty parlor as it did from time to time. “Nobody knows nothing about her. The only reason we even know her last name is because Ellen down at the post office told everybody. She’s running from something. Mark my words.”
The younger citizens of Brown Sugar Basin had been known to gossip about Subee, too, and the under-twelve set—as well as some of their older teenaged brethren—had breathlessly recounted to each other, more than once, that the living room of Subee’s house was decorated with snakeskins she had nailed to the wall. Conventional wisdom held that Subee had killed the snakes herself, thus earning her the appellation ‘Snake Lady.’
An eleven-year-old named Roger had added a great deal of luster to his reputation by regaling his peers with the tale of how he, personally, had seen Subee out by the swamp one night killing snakes. He further said that it was under a full moon—though some thought that that was added just for effect. But the essential details of his story were not doubted by anyone.
And when a man was unfortunate enough to lose a leg to an alligator in the swamp, Snake Lady was transformed by some strange alchemy into ‘Gator Lady’ for a time. Tortuous logic conjured up the argument that the woman who killed snakes had some kind of affinity for all things reptilian and had sent the gator after the hapless man.
The furor over the Gator Lady eventually died down, however, and Subee became Snake Lady once again.
But whether Subee was Gator Lady or Snake Lady, the children of the town were afraid of her, and they dared one another to go near her house.
But Subee and the town’s other favorite topics for gossip were completely forgotten on the first day of June, when an even bigger news item dominated all conversations: Brown Sugar Basin was in the path of a hurricane.
Hurricanes and tropical storms were an annual occurrence in Brown Sugar Basin, and such events, though very destructive, often carried a peculiar excitement with them, driving all other topics of conversation away. Long-time residents would recall the worst storms that they had personally seen and weathered, and all would discuss how the latest storm would stack up against past storms. And the latest hurricane was not going to disappoint: experts had predicted that the hurricane would be one of the biggest to ever hit the area, and the governor had ordered that the entire region be evacuated.
The citizens of Brown Sugar Basin complied in a hurry—for the most part—and it was up to Sheriff Walt and his deputy to round up any stragglers.
By noon on Wednesday, the town was all but deserted, and the sky was darkening ominously.
“I’m going to check on old Mr. Brooks,” Sheriff Walt said to his deputy, “and make sure he’s actually left. I’d like you to go check on Miss Subee Cantor. You know her, right?”
“Yeah, I know her,” the deputy said. “I’ve seen her before—she’s not like other folks.”
“Well, just make sure she’s out of her house.”
The deputy rubbed the back of his neck. “You know, I’ve got a feeling about her. I think that she’ll still be there. What if she hasn’t left?”
“Then request politely that she come with you,” Sheriff Walt said. “You’re a handsome young fella. I’m sure there’s a little charm in there somewhere.”
The deputy did not respond, but something suspiciously like a blush stole up under his tan.
“Once you’re done out there,” Sheriff Walt said, “get yourself out of here, too. Radio me once you’re on your way out of town.”
“Will do,” the deputy said.
Sheriff Walt got in his squad car and drove off. The deputy did the same.
A twenty-minute drive brought the deputy to Subee’s tiny house. The waters of the swamp were visible not too far off, and though the wind had not started yet, the air was heavy with the feeling of anticipation that accompanied a big storm.
The deputy got out of the car and walked up to the house.
He sincerely hoped Subee wasn’t at home.
The deputy knocked on the door and waited what seemed to him an acceptable time. There was no answer, and no one seemed to be stirring inside.
After a moment, he knocked again. As before, there was only silence.
The deputy turned away, but he felt his conscience prickling. He turned back and knocked once more.
This time, the door flew open, and the deputy was confronted by a young woman with red-gold hair and eyes like a stormy sky. She said nothing and simply stared at him.
The deputy moved to take off his campaign hat and then realized he wasn’t wearing it.
“Good afternoon, miss—ma’am,” he said. “I’m Deputy Garrett Durand. I’m here to check on you.”
He paused, expecting her to say something, but the girl remained mute and continued to stare at him.
“You see, ma’am,” Deputy Durand said, “a hurricane is heading this way. You may not be aware of this, but the governor has ordered an evacuation. Everyone has to leave.”
“I know,” the girl said flatly.
Feeling a little out of his depth, Garrett decided to reset.
“Are you Miss Subee Cantor?” he asked.
“Yes,” the girl said.
“Well, ma’am, may I come in for a moment? I have a matter to discuss with you.”
Subee stood aside wordlessly and allowed the deputy to step into the house.
As he did so, a brief exclamation escaped his lips.
“Oh!”
Deputy Durand found himself standing in a small living room with a couch, a table—and walls that were covered with snakeskins. Each snakeskin was affixed to the wall with a nail.
The deputy turned to find Subee watching him with a glittering eye.
“So it’s true?” he said.
A small smile quirked at the corner of Subee’s mouth.
“Yes, Deputy, I am the Snake Lady. Just like they all say.”
The deputy grinned sheepishly. “You read my mind. And please call me Garrett.”
“As you wish,” Subee said. “What do you want?”
Garrett suddenly felt himself on surer footing. He had questioned reluctant witnesses and suspects before—not that Subee was a suspect. He knew what he was doing. Friendly persuasion was what it took.
“Well, ma’am,” he said. “Since you already know about the evacuation order, I would like to inquire what your plans are in reference to said order.”
Subee stared at him for a moment. “Do you mean, am I leaving?”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Deputy—”
“Just Garrett, ma’am.”
“Garrett,” Subee said. “I’m not leaving.”
“Not at all?” Garrett said.
“Not at all.”
“Ma’am, are you aware that the storm headed this way is classified as Category Four? That means your roof could be torn off, your walls could collapse, and trees could be uprooted and thrown through the air. This storm is a significant threat to your health and safety.”
“Thank you for outlining everything so clearly.”
“Ma’am—”
“Subee. If I’m going to call you Garrett, you should call me Subee.”
“Subee, this is a serious matter,” Garrett said. “Staying here puts your life at risk.”
“I know the dangers only too well,” Subee said. “In fact, I know them far better than you do.”
“So you’re just going to ride out the storm?”
“Not exactly,” Subee said. “But I am staying here.”
“I see,” Garrett said.
He glanced around the tiny living room that opened on an equally tiny dining room. Garrett went over to the little table with two chairs and sat down.
“What are you doing?” Subee asked.
“Well, ma’am—Subee. I’m not leaving either. If you’re going to ride out the storm, then so am I.”
“What does that mean?” Subee asked.
“It means that until you leave this house, I’m going to sit right here at this table.”
“You can’t do that,” Subee said. “You can’t stay here. You’ll die.”
“I figure my chances are just as good as yours are,” Garrett said.
“You really don’t understand,” Subee replied. “There’s a lot more going on here than just a storm.”
“Just a storm is enough for me. I don’t need to worry about anything else.”
“So, until I start packing to go,” Subee said, “you’re going to sit right there?”
“That’s right.”
Subee moved to her tiny kitchen, and Garret could see her opening the cupboard next to the sink.
Garrett sat up in his chair. “Ma’am—Subee, I wouldn’t worry about packing up the dishes. Right now you should just worry about the essentials.”
Subee turned around quickly, and her hand flashed out. A moment later, something struck Garrett in the chest, and a strong, acid vapor, a bit like vinegar, assaulted his senses and made his eyes tear up.
He stood and lurched away from the table. Then everything went black.
-------------------------------------------

Thanks very much for reading! I'll post Part 2 next week.

     You can check out my books here.

     And stop by some time and hi on Facebook. :)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Winter Trifle, Part 4 (New Short Story)

Here is Part 4 of my slightly ghostly mystery, Winter Trifle. If you haven't read Part 3 yet, you can find it here.
And if you're ready to go, Part 4 starts now…
Winter Trifle
By Catherine Mesick
Swift footsteps rushed into the kitchen as Hannah ducked behind the counter.
Another shot rang out.
“Just give me the money, and I’ll let you go!” Lisa shouted to the darkness.
“Yeah, I don’t think she means that,” Hannah whispered.
“What are we going to do?” Alex whispered.
“I’ve got an idea,” Hannah whispered back.
She tapped Alex on the shoulder, and by the light of the microwave clock she motioned him to follow her to the stove.
“I can hear you moving around,” Lisa said. “This is your last chance.”
“Grab on to the towel on the stove,” Hannah whispered to Alex.
“What are we going to do with a kitchen towel?” he whispered back.
“It’s not a kitchen towel,” Hannah whispered. “Just grab it.”
Alex reached out for the beach towel that hung from the front of Mrs. Mumford’s oven.
“Oh,” he said softly.
The two of them pulled the towel off the stove as quietly as they could. In the dim light they could see Lisa coming toward them.
“Together?” Alex whispered.
“Together,” Hannah replied.
As Lisa’s shadowy form walked around the corner, Hannah and Alex gripped the beach towel tightly and then launched themselves at Lisa in one swift movement.
They wrapped the towel around her as the gun went off once more.
“Are you okay?” Alex asked.
“Yes,” Hannah said. “Are you?”
“Yeah.”
“You won’t be in a minute,” Lisa shouted.
The gun went off again.
“I think I’ve got it,” Alex said. “Let go of the towel.”
Hannah released her grip on the towel, and Alex wrenched it and the gun out of Lisa’s hands.
Then he ran for the door.
“Get after him!” Lisa screamed at her brother.
Hannah heard a few scuffed footsteps in the darkness. Then a heavy body rushed past her and pounded after Alex.
Alex reached the front door and wrenched it open. Then he ran outside into the snowy night.
A moment later, Hannah could see Jonah rushing out after him. She started toward the door herself.
She had only taken a few steps when a hand grabbed her coat collar and wrenched her backwards. Then her feet were kicked out from under her.
“Give me my money!” Lisa shouted.
Hannah saw Lisa’s dark shape looming above her, holding what looked like a lamp.
Hannah had just enough time to put her arms in front of her face before the lamp came crashing down. The impact was heavy, and shivers of pain ran up both Hannah’s arms. Then the lamp slid off her arms and shattered on the floor.
Hannah rolled away from the broken shards and then scrambled to get up.
Moments after she reached her feet, another object came hurtling toward her. It struck her on the shoulder and then shattered on the ground.
Considering the weight of the object, Hannah had a feeling it was Mrs. Mumford’s prized Waterford vase.
A moment later, yet another heavy object smashed near her feet.
Hannah turned and ran as fast as she could for the door.
She made it outside just in time to hear sirens and see a whirl of lights as three police cars pulled up in front of the house.

“What a night,” Alex said, sitting back in his plastic chair. “Are you ready to go home?”
“Yeah,” Hannah said.
They’d both been to the hospital and then to the police station, where they were still sitting. The two had been cleared to go some time ago.
“Thanks for calling the police,” Hannah said, standing up.
“I texted them, actually,” Alex said, standing, too. “When I first hid behind the counter. I’m just glad we actually made it out of there. And I’m glad you thought of the towel thing.”
“Thanks,” Hannah said.
The two of them walked toward the door and out into the night.
“What do you suppose Mrs. Mumford did with the money?” Alex asked. “Offshore account?”
Hannah couldn’t help but smile.
“I think it was something simpler than that,” she said. “Mrs. Mumford liked things she could understand. Like auctions and the town bank. Stuff she could see every day.”
“Well, at least she didn’t have to see her niece and nephew go to jail,” Alex said. “All that fuss, and they didn’t even get the money.”
“Even if they had found it, it wouldn’t have gone to them anyway,” Hannah said. “Not legally at least.”
“So then after they shot up the house, they would’ve had to go on the run if they did find it,” Alex said. “I’m sure that would’ve gone well.”
“Yeah,” Hannah said. “Not a great plan.”
“And now they get jail time, and the library gets a house with bullets in the walls.”
“Yeah,” Hannah said. Her voice trailed off.
She stopped walking and began to search in her bag.
“I can’t find it,” she mumbled. “It must be on the floor in the house. I don’t think Lisa took it with her.”
She began to walk toward her car quickly.
“Wait,” Alex said. “Where are you going?”
“I have to go back to Mrs. Mumford’s house,” Hannah said.
“What? Now?”
Hannah stopped and looked at Alex. “You’ve had a really long night. You should go home. I’ve got to do this tonight, though. Considering what happened earlier, I don’t think this will wait.”
“Fine, I’m coming with you,” Alex said. “But you know the house is like a crime scene or something now.”
“I know,” Hannah said.
“What are we—”
“I’ll tell you when we get there.”
Hannah drove through the snow to Mrs. Mumford’s house. By the light of the headlights, she could see that a line of yellow police tape now cordoned off the front yard.
“I told you,” Alex said.
Hannah got out of the car and hurried up to the front door. Alex quickly followed her.
The key was once again under the frog where it had been earlier in the evening. She unlocked the door and went in.
Alex followed, switching on the lights.
“I see they got the power back on,” he commented.
Hannah shut the door and then rushed over to pick up a piece of paper that was lying on the floor. She read it over quickly.
“Now that we’re here, you mind telling me what’s going on?” Alex asked.
Hannah turned as Alex came up beside her.
“I was right,” she said.
“About?” Alex said.
“The recipe,” Hannah said excitedly. “The answer is right here. Mrs. Mumford literally spelled it out.”
She pushed the recipe into Alex’s hands, and he glanced over it.
“I don’t get it,” he said.
“Read out the first letter of each line,” Hannah said.
Alex looked down at the recipe again.
“‘W,’” he said, “‘A,’‘L,’‘L.’”
He looked up at Hannah. “Wall?”
“Yes, ‘wall,’” Hannah said excitedly. “And then Mrs. Mumford tried to send the message again through the last fortune cookie.”
Alex frowned. “She sent you a message about a wall?”
“Not so much the wall,” Hannah continued. “But the wallpaper. It’s snowflakes. And it’s new. Mrs. Mumford put it up just before she died. Here, I’ll show you.”
Hannah grabbed Alex by the arm and pulled him into the kitchen. She switched on the light.
Alex squinted at the wallpaper. “It’s new? It’s kind of lumpy, isn’t it?’
“Yes, exactly,” Hannah said.
“I’m not following.”
“The last fortune cookie message said ‘when the snow comes,’ and I thought that was referring to actual snow,” Hannah said. “But it wasn’t. Or actually it may have been both. But the really important snow is right here on the wall.”
“You mean the snowflake pattern on the wallpaper?” Alex said.
“Yes,” Hannah replied.
“And how is it important?”
“Because it’s a covering,” Hannah said. “I realized how important it was when you said the bullets were in the wall.”
“Still not following.”
“The bullets are in the wall,” Hannah said. “And so is the money. It’s behind the wallpaper. She did it herself.”
“Let me get this straight,” Alex said. “You’re saying Mrs. Mumford put four million dollars in the wall and then covered it over with wallpaper?”
“Yes,” Hannah said. “And that’s why it’s lumpy. And that’s also why she was so proud of herself when she was telling me about it the last day I was here. I knew it was something simple.”
“So what do we do?”
“We get the wallpaper off,” Hannah said, heading for the kitchen counter.
“And how do we do that?” Alex asked.
“With a knife,” Hannah said, opening a drawer.
“Wait,” Alex said. “Why don’t you just tell your theory to the police or whoever and let them take care of it. We shouldn’t be here as it is—you don’t want to go tearing up the house, too.”
Hannah approached the wall with a small serrated steak knife.
“I don’t think we can wait.”
“Why not?”
“Because Lisa and Jonah were just here with a gun looking for the money.”
“You think they’re going to escape and come back here?” Alex asked.
“No,” Hannah said. “It’s just that they knew about the money, and if they knew about it, then some other people might know about it and come looking for it, too. The sooner the money’s in safe hands, the better.”
“And that’s an excuse for vandalism?”
“We’ll be forgiven if we find the money,” Hannah said. “I’m going to start where the wallpaper is lumpiest.”
She ran a hand over the wall and then got to work.
As Alex watched, Hannah scored the wallpaper several times with the knife and began ripping off large swaths of the snowflake-printed paper.
“This can’t be good,” Alex mumbled into his hand.
“What was that?” Hannah asked.
“Nothing,” Alex said.
After a moment, a larger-than-usual section of wallpaper gave way and with it came a cascade of little objects.
One of the objects bounced on the floor and rolled to a stop at Alex’s feet. He stooped to pick it up.
Hannah paused in her work. “What is it?”
“It’s money, all right,” Alex said. “It’s a whole penny. And it’s none too shiny at that.”
He bent down to pick up the other coins that had fallen.
“It’s a collection of pennies and nickels,” Alex said.
“But it can’t be,” Hannah said.
“There isn’t even so much as a quarter here,” Alex replied. “See for yourself.”
He held out one of the coins, and Hannah took it.
In her hands she held a nickel with a ‘V’ on the back. On the front was a woman surrounded by stars. On her head was a crown that read ‘liberty’ and beneath her was a date.
“It says 1913,” Hannah said.
“So it’s a really old coin,” Alex said surveying the ripped up wallpaper. “Are we done here?”
“I think we are,” Hannah said.

On Sunday, both of Hannah’s parents returned home, and they were understandably appalled by what had happened in their absence.
On Monday, Hannah stopped by Mr. Schaal’s office and gave him the handful of coins she had collected from Mrs. Mumford’s house.
On Tuesday, he gave her a call.
“Thanks for stopping by my office yesterday,” Mr. Schaal said.
“You’re welcome,” Hannah replied.
“It’s a funny thing about old coins,” Mr. Schaal said. “Sometimes they can go for a lot of money at auctions. If I can believe what I’ve read online, pennies like the ones you gave me have been sold at auction for as much as eighty thousand dollars.”
“Wow,” Hannah said.
“But the real prize here could be one of the nickels. There’s one with a woman on the face wearing a crown that says ‘liberty.’ The date on it is 1913.”
“I remember seeing that one,” Hannah said.
“Well, it turns out that this is very likely to be a 1913 Liberty Head V Nickel. There are only five known to exist in the world. One of these sold at auction for a little over four million dollars.”
“Wow,” Hannah said again. “Mrs. Mumford did like her auctions.”
“Of course, such a thing would need to be authenticated and appraised. And of course it’s not actually worth anything until it sells.”
“That makes sense,” Hannah said.
“Ordinarily, something like this would have to go through probate. And that would make it eligible to be named in a lawsuit if Lisa and Jonah find themselves in a position to sue. After all, we don’t know how Lisa and Jonah’s current legal troubles will play out.”
“Oh,” Hannah said.
“But, seeing as this is just a handful of coins at the moment, and seeing as the house and all its effects go to the library, I don’t see why I can’t just give them the coins right now. You did say you found them in the wall, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” Hannah said.
“Well, then, in that case, I propose that I turn the coins over to the library immediately, and they can then sell them—or not, as they see fit. What do you think? I wanted to check with you before I did anything.”
Hannah thought she could hear a smile in Mr. Schaal’s voice. “I think that’s a wonderful idea.”
“I thought you might,” Mr. Schaal said. “In that case, I will take these over to the library tonight. I’ll make sure the director gets them. Thanks, Hannah. Goodbye.”
“Goodbye, Mr. Schaal.”

Several weeks passed, and Hannah eventually forgot about the coins.
Then she received a phone call one Saturday.
“Hello, Hannah,” said the voice on the other end. “This is James Whittaker. I’m the director of the Hollyhock Public Library.”
“Hello,” Hannah said.
“I understand that we have you to thank for our receiving the 1913 Liberty Head V Nickel.”
“Mrs. Mumford’s really the one who gave you the nickel,” Hannah said. “I just found it. And my friend Alex helped a lot.”
“Quite so, quite so,” Mr. Whittaker said. “But we’re grateful all the same. And because of this, we thought you might like to see what we’re planning to do.”
“Sure, I’d love to,” Hannah said.
“Excellent,” Mr. Whittaker said. “Would you be free to stop by the library tomorrow at two o’clock? And please bring your friend along if he’s available.”
“Yeah, sure,” Hannah said. “Okay.”
“We’ll see you then. And thanks again.”

Sunday afternoon found Hannah and Alex climbing up the three short steps to the Hollyhock Public Library, and a few moments later, they were greeted by Mr. Whittaker, who’d been waiting for them in the lobby.
“Thank you very much for coming, Hannah, Alex,” Mr. Whittaker said, shaking hands with each of them in turn. “Please come this way.”
He led them to a display case that was about waist high and covered with a purple cloth.
Mr. Whittaker cleared his throat. “We’re not big on ceremony here at HPL, but in light of what the two of you have done for us—recovering valuable property that was left to us by our late esteemed patron, Mrs. Mumford—we would like you to have these certificates.”
From a folder in his hands, Mr. Whittaker produced two pieces of paper bordered with laurel leaves. He gave one to Hannah and one to Alex.
Hannah looked hers over. It had her name, and then underneath it said ‘for valuable services rendered to the library and the community.’
“We’ve had the items appraised,” Mr. Whittaker said. “And they are indeed as valuable as Mrs. Mumford’s attorney believed. Or, at least, they will be if they are sold at auction. The items should bring in nearly five million dollars.”
“So what will you do with the money?” Alex asked. “I bet you could build a really nice library with that.”
“Well, that’s just the thing,” Mr. Whittaker said. “We’ve got a generous community here. And our patrons, including Mrs. Mumford, who will be sorely missed, have always supported us well above and beyond anything we could wish for. There really isn’t anything we need at this time.”
“So then what will you do?” Hannah asked.
“It seems to me,” Mr. Whittaker said, “that what Mrs. Mumford gave us is a valuable thing—a special thing. All of the coins are rare. But that one in particular—the Liberty Head Nickel—is especially rare. There are only five of them in the whole world. It would be a shame to trade away something as special as that—it’s something few people get to see.”
Mr. Whittaker was quiet for a moment and then glanced at the two of them.
“So what we’ve decided to do is to keep the coins here on display for the entire community—sort of here in trust. That way they can be enjoyed by everybody. And then of course, if there are darker times ahead when we lose funding and we need to sell the coins, well then, we’ll have them.”
Mr. Whittaker pulled off the purple cloth to reveal a glass case with all the coins from Mrs. Mumford’s house neatly arranged on a black background. Underneath each coin was a little placard describing the coin, its origin, and its rarity. And at the bottom of the case was a sign with gold letters:

Anna P. Mumford Memorial Fund
In case of emergency, break glass.

The End.

-------------------------------------------

Thanks very much for reading!

      You can check out my books here.

      And stop by some time and hi on Facebook. :)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Winter Trifle, Part 3 (New Short Story)


Here is Part 3 of my slightly ghostly mystery, Winter Trifle. If you haven't read Part 2 yet, you can find it here.
And if you're ready to go, Part 3 starts now…
Winter Trifle
By Catherine Mesick
When Hannah awoke in the morning, the world outside was coated in a blanket of white, and light flakes were still falling. Hannah had been turning something over in her mind the night before, and as her day began, she was still meditating on the same idea.
She glanced over at the box that contained Mrs. Mumford’s recipes, which she’d left on the kitchen table, and she went to the refrigerator to pour herself a glass of orange juice.
But the carton of juice was empty, and Hannah absent-mindedly grabbed her bag and pulled on her coat. Then she went out and drove to the grocery store.
At the grocery store, Hannah found herself wandering the aisles without much direction. Eventually, she found her way over to the juice aisle, and as she stood in line waiting to pay for her selection, Hannah opened her bag and searched until she found the recipe for Winter Trifle. She pulled it out and read it over, and she continued to look the recipe over as she paid for her juice and went out to her car.
As Hannah unlocked her car door, she seemed to notice the snow for the first time. There was about an inch of snow under foot, and tiny little flakes were falling all around her. The snow wasn’t heavy enough to interfere with driving, and it was still clean and largely untouched. Hannah put the recipe back in her bag and drove home.
When she arrived home, Hannah went up to the door with her bag and her juice, and as she fumbled with her keys, she realized that the door was open just a crack.
Hannah rushed inside and threw her bag down on the kitchen table. She ran through the house, expecting to find ransacked rooms and smashed furniture. But everything in the house appeared to be just as she’d left it, and there was no sign at all of anything having been taken.
Hannah returned to the kitchen and looked around once more. Nothing was out of place, and she figured she must have left the door open accidentally. But as she continued to look around she had a strange feeling that something was wrong.
Then she looked down at the juice that she was still cradling in the crook of her arm. Hannah saw on the carton not an orange but a grapefruit.
Something was wrong. She’d purchased the wrong kind of juice.
Hannah put the juice down and then went back and firmly locked the door.
The day passed, and the snow stopped falling. Hannah tried to get a few things done, but she kept finding herself taking out the little scrap of a fortune and the recipe and reading them both over and over again.
Night fell quickly, and it was fully dark by the time Hannah began making herself dinner. As she ate, the uncertainty that had plagued her for most of the day came back full force, and before long she pushed her plate away—the food on it largely untouched. Instead, she got up and walked to the window. When Hannah saw that the snow had started up again, she made up her mind. She grabbed her coat and her bag and ran out the door.
About four inches of snow had piled up on the ground from the earlier snowfall, and Hannah stood for a moment as new flakes fell around her, looking at the snow-covered road. She figured the snow would be fine to drive in, especially since she wasn’t going very far.
Hannah got in the car and drove the short distance to Mrs. Mumford’s house. She found the spare key still in its usual resting place under a stone frog in the garden, and fumbling just a little with the key, she unlocked the door and rushed inside. Then she closed and locked the door behind her.
Hannah stood for a moment in the dark front room, wondering now why she’d been in such a hurry to get to the house. She walked through the gloom to the nearest lamp and switched it on.
The light revealed the same room she had seen thousands of times. Hannah had hoped that being back in Mrs. Mumford’s house would show her what she was looking for—but if the house knew any secrets it was keeping quiet. The only real difference in the room was that Mrs. Mumford would never return to it.
Hannah walked further into the house and on into the kitchen hoping that something would jump out at her and reveal to her why she had come out.
But the house remained resolutely silent.
“I’m here, Mrs. Mumford,” Hannah whispered. “Show me what you want me to know.”
Hannah walked through all the rooms on the first floor and then returned to the kitchen where she stood for several minutes staring at the empty shelves that had once held Mrs. Mumford’s prized cookbooks and at the wallpaper that Mrs. Mumford had put up herself shortly before she died.
“She was so proud of that wallpaper,” Hannah said to herself.
Just as Hannah was drawing out a chair to sit down at the kitchen table, she thought she heard a sound from the floor above, and she froze.
“Mrs. Mumford?” Hannah whispered.
A moment later, there was a knock on the front door, and Hannah jumped, startled.
A few moments later the knock was repeated, and Hannah crept toward the door silently and peered out through the peephole.
Though the evening was dark, there was enough light for her to see who was standing at the door—it was Alex.
Hannah sighed in relief. Then she unlocked the door and let him in.
“What are you doing here?” Hannah asked.
“I might ask you the same thing,” Alex replied. “I happened to be in the neighborhood, and when I saw the light on in Mrs. Mumford’s house, I figured it might be you looking around.”
“You happened to be in the neighborhood,” Hannah said. “Are you sure you weren’t purposefully checking up on me?”
“So what if I was?”
“How many times have you driven around the block hoping to catch me?” Hannah asked.
“Doesn’t matter,” Alex replied. “Entirely irrelevant. Besides, you’re not supposed to be here, you know.”
“I know.”
“From what you’ve told me the house is now the property of the library.”
“I’m sure they won’t mind if I look around a little,” Hannah said. “I’m trying to help.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m trying to help Mrs. Mumford.”
“By breaking into her house?”
“No,” Hannah said, “by finding her money and giving it to the library—just like she wanted.”
“How can you do that?” Alex asked. “I though you didn’t even know about it.”
“I didn’t,” Hannah said. “It’s just that—”
“What?”
“I think Mrs. Mumford’s been trying to communicate with me.”
“Communicate with you?”
“Yes.”
“How?” Alex asked.
“Through fortune cookies,” Hannah said.
“Wow,” Alex said. “Just—wow.”
“Wait. Just hear me out,” Hannah said.
She steered him toward the kitchen and sat down at the table. Alex reluctantly sat down opposite her.
“Okay. So, I’ve been thinking about it,” Hannah said. “Do you remember the night I got the empty fortune cookie?”
“Yes,” Alex said.
“Well, that was the first one,” Hannah said.
“The first one of what?”
“The first one of the messages. The fortune cookie was empty that night. And it was also the same night Mrs. Mumford died. The fortune cookie was empty because Mrs. Mumford was telling me that she had moved on.”
“Or maybe it was empty because someone forgot to put a fortune in that one,” Alex said.
“Maybe,” Hannah said. “But that doesn’t explain the second one. In the second one, the fortune said a stumble would bring sweetness. And then I tripped and sent mints flying everywhere. That was Mrs. Mumford showing me that she was now ready to communicate with me in real time.”
Alex shrugged. “A coincidence. Or seeing the fortune subconsciously made you a little clumsier—it planted a suggestion in your mind.”
“But that’s just it,” Hannah said. “I didn’t see the fortune until after I spilled the mints. The fortune came true without my seeing it.”
“A coincidence then, like I said.”
Hannah persisted. “And then there was the third one. It’s the fortune cookie from Friday night—the one I didn’t show you.”
“What did it say?” Alex asked.
“It said, ‘when the snow comes.’”
“Is that all?”
“The paper was torn in half,” Hannah said. “I didn’t get the rest of the fortune. And then it started snowing.”
“I don’t know, Hannah,” Alex said. “That’s not a lot to go on. Three fortunes—or actually—one-and-a-half fortunes and a little bit of snow in winter. That doesn’t exactly sound like a message from the great beyond.”
“But she made a point of giving me her recipes,” Hannah said, digging into her bag. “And she wanted me to have this recipe in particular.”
Hannah pulled the recipe for Winter Trifle out of her bag and held it out.
“This recipe specifically calls for—”
She paused and looked at the table in front of them.
“The kitchen table is empty,” Hannah said suddenly.
Alex looked around. “Uh, yeah, it is.”
“That’s just it,” Hannah said. “The kitchen table was empty.”
“Uh, what?” Alex said. “What does that have to do with the recipe?”
“The recipe has fortune cookies,” Hannah said quickly. “Mrs. Mumford wanted to point out to me that fortune cookies were important. But the table is something else. I thought something was wrong earlier today back at my house, and now I know what it was. I went out and came back and the door was open, and I thought somebody broke in.”
“Wait. Somebody broke into your house?” Alex said, frowning.
“That’s what I thought at first,” Hannah said. “But then I thought I’d just been absent-minded and left it open myself, because nothing was missing. But now I see that something was missing—the box of recipes that was on the kitchen table. Someone broke in and took it.”
“Why would someone steal those recipes?” Alex asked.
There was a sound from overhead, and Hannah glanced upward.
“Because those recipes could be worth four million dollars,” Hannah said. “We’d better get out of here now.”
“What? Why?” Alex said.
"No time to talk." Hannah grabbed Alex by the arm and began to pull him toward the door.
But before they reached it, a small figure ran down the stairs and blocked the way. The small figure was quickly followed by a much larger one.
“Give me that recipe!” cried a shrill voice.
“You were listening to us the whole time, weren’t you?” Hannah said.
“Give it to me!” Lisa darted forward and grabbed Hannah’s bag. She searched through it until she found a piece of paper, which she pulled out eagerly.
“It won’t help you,” Hannah said.
“Hannah,” Alex said. “Who are these people?”
Lisa snorted. “Who are we? We’re the rightful heirs. Who are you?”
“This is Lisa McDonough,” Hannah said to Alex. “And I’m going to guess this is her brother, Jonah.”
The tall boy behind Lisa nodded his head. “Yeah, I’m Jonah. How’s it going?”
“Shut up,” Lisa said.
She quickly read over the paper in her hands and then looked up.
“What is this?” she demanded.
“It’s a recipe for a dessert,” Hannah said.
“I can see that,” Lisa said. “What it really is is nonsense.”
“I told you it wouldn’t help you,” Hannah said.
“But will it help you?” Lisa said. “Tell me where the money is!”
“I don’t know where it is,” Hannah said.
“But I thought you said my aunt’s ghost was sending you messages. So, go ahead. Share with us what she told you.”
“It’s not as simple as that.”
“I’m sure it’s all very deep and mysterious,” Lisa said. “Just tell me where the money is, or you and your boyfriend are going to be sorry.”
Hannah and Alex looked at each other.
“Oh no—” Hannah said.
“We’re not—” Alex said.
“We’re really just friends,” Hannah said.
“Shut up!” Lisa snapped. “I really don’t care.”
Then she turned to her brother.
“Jonah!” she said sharply.
He glanced around at her. “What?”
“Take care of these two.”
“What? How?”
“The gun, Jonah. Get out the gun.”
“Oh right,” he said.
He produced a gun from his jacket pocket.
“Oh, no, no, no,” Alex said.
Both Hannah and Alex began to back up.
“Take it easy, big guy,” Alex said. “You don’t want to get in any more trouble than you’re already in.”
“How are we in any trouble?” Lisa asked scornfully. “This is my aunt’s house. You two are trespassing. We’re just protecting her home.”
“The house belongs to the library now,” Hannah said as she began edging backwards. “You’re trespassing, too.”
“Shut up!” Lisa said. “Just tell me where the money is!”
“I already told you I don’t know where it is,” Hannah said.
Lisa turned to her brother. “Just shoot them.”
Jonah blinked. “What?”
“Give me the gun,” Lisa said, wrenching it from his grasp.
Hannah gave Alex a shove.
“Run! To the kitchen!”
They ran, and the loud report of a firearm followed them. They reached the kitchen, and Hannah ran to a box on the wall.
“Get behind the counter,” Hannah said.
Alex hurried to comply.
“What are you doing?” he hissed.
“It’ll be harder for her to shoot us if she can’t see us,” Hannah whispered back.
She flipped several switches at once, and the house was plunged into darkness.

***Click here for Part 4***

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