Okay... here we go! Part Two of the story-telling! I have chosen Mark Gardner's work to continue on with. Now, how I've done this is: Mark's work is in purple, mine is in green... okay? Okay... now, read on and enjoy.
I sat in the booth pouring sugar into my coffee cup. The pawnshop across the street should’ve opened twenty minutes ago, but the open sign hung in the window dark. I reached into my pocket and felt it, knowing today could be the last time it touch the antique. I hated to part with such a treasure, but these were hard times.
A figure staggered down the sidewalk barely awake. The figure, not the sidewalk. A tendril of light smoke wafted from the cigarette pinched between his lips. Even from across the street, I could see the red cherry get brighter as he breathed. Orange-red brilliance, followed by a compounding of the tendril; twin exhausts rushed from his nostrils before lazily dying in the still morning. He staggered up to the door of the pawnshop, inserted a key and walked inside, the door hanging open at an unwelcome angle.
Although the neon sign welcoming patrons remained off, I signaled to my waiter, knowing what must be done.
“Anything else, miss?”
I cleared my throat, fearing he would charge me extra, but I suspect this part of my plan was integral. “Can I get a cup to go?” I asked sheepishly.
He smiled. “Sure thing,” he smiled, “let me get you one.” He paced the bill facedown on the table and walked away.
I placed the crumbled bank notes on the bill along with the rest of the change from my pocket. I knew the sad pile of currency covered my coffee and the hour I sat across the street from the pawnshop. I knew the tip wasn’t spectacular, but I now had no money to my name. This plan better work, I thought as I stood and met the cheery waiter with my steaming cup. I remember thinking how cheerful he was – I don’t trust people who’re that happy.
I murmured thanks for the cup and walked out the door. Perhaps if I’d known the magnitude of the events to follow, I’d’ve savored the moment. Perhaps said a few words to the universe to honor the occasion. I don’t know. Adventures such as this are rarely what they seem in the beginning.
* * *
“We’re not open yet.”
I removed my hand from the reinforced steel door. The bell that signaled my closing the door seemed comical – such a small sound, barely echoing in a cavernous room filled with trinkets and electronics.
I raised the still-steaming cup as a peace offering. “I’m in no hurry, but it looks as if you could use this.”
The aged man smiled and motioned me towards the counter with an excited wave. “I’ve been waiting for you,” he replied in a gravely voice. No doubt due to the cigarette habit.
I placed the cup on the glass counter as my brain processed what he said. “Waiting for me?” I stammered, fear rising.
He smiled, lines forming on his sun-damaged face. The greying whiskers seemed like a field of tree stumps after a recent logging expedition. “Not you, dear,” he said with desire, “but the coffee you bear.”
He seized the cup and drank greedily. Perhaps, I thought, perhaps his gravely voice isn’t from cigarettes. After a moment, his eyes rolled back into his head. I detected a slight shudder and the skin of of tree stumps transformed to a shade of red – making the grey contrast all the more against his skin. “That’s terrible,” he exhaled. “But, oh so welcome.” He set the cup on the counter. “What can I do for you this fine morning?”
I reached into my pocket and pulled out my last remaining possession. I laid the hunk of silver on the counter, next to the coffee cup. The man nodded, and the silver was lost in his large hand. He ran his thumb along the edge of the watch. “Timekeeper one-seven-two,” he whispered.
I knew I had him where I wanted him. At the time I was only interested in a handful of banknotes to get me through the week. In retrospect, it was he who had me… but, I’m getting ahead of myself.
He placed the silver down with a tenderness I mistook for a love of antiques. “I want to show you something,” he declared, and reached into his own pocket. He pulled out his own silver, dangling from a silver chain. He placed it next to mine and my eyes grew wide.
There sat an identical watch. His was shiny and well cared for. Mine was dented and tarnished. I could see his watch shiver slightly with the tick of the second hand, as mine lie there silent and sad. I began to think I had overvalued my piece, and my confidence wilt, but then my eyes were drawn to the final difference between our timekeepers: the number etched into the side.
“Ah,” he breathed coffee breath across the counter, “you see it.”
Where mine features a fading one-seven-two, his shiny etching proclaimed his to be more than a hundred newer. I reached out to feel the etching of his watch against my fingers, but a static discharge repelled my reach.
“Be careful there,” he whispered, “time is a fickle thing.”
I felt compelled to respond. The words didn’t seem to be my own. When I tried to hold them back, my head began to ache. “But,” I blurted, “it forever heeds its will to the timekeeper.”
The man nodded and withdrew a steel box. He unlocked it with a key and withdrew several banknotes. He laid five of them on the counter. “You have a decision to make,” he declared.
I reached towards the counter, confident of the payday the currency represented, but my hand seemed drawn towards my timekeeper of its own volition.
“Be certain,” he said, “adventure awaits with either decision.”
I closed my eyes and made my decision. A decision I know now was predestined. A decision at sometimes I regret, but mostly, I cherish. A decision that resulted in sudden life.
Before I opened my eyes, I caught a whiff of flowers, of the sharp sea air… of… home. They snapped open and I found myself standing outside my father’s bakery in the seaside town I had been born in.
Exactly how did I come to be here?
The place looked as though it had come from a dream I had just after my father died. It had that hazy appearance of ghosts gone in another life, in another time where I couldn’t possible have … then I saw him, my father, serving Mrs. Wilson from down the road. She was a lovely old dear who died just weeks before my father did. So, this must have been a dream!
The wind died down for a moment and I could hear a ticking sound. It was gentle and I almost missed it, until I looked down and found that my left hand was closed over something and I was holding it against my stomach. On opening it, I found the time piece all fixed up, prettily ticking away and looking as though it was brand new. I gawped at it for a good minute as the second hand went around and made the hour hand moved very slowly towards the twelve.
It was almost 4pm.
I smiled. Then, I refocused my eyes on the tiny face of the time piece and realised I may have moved back in time, but physically, I had stayed exactly the same.
Looking up, I stared back at the bakery again. If I were to go inside there, I’d be a stranger to the man serving at the counter. Just as I was beginning to wonder what I was doing here in the time of my teenaged years, my stomached grumbled loudly that it was time for food. Looking both ways, I crossed the empty street, ducking under the awning just as the first drops of rain began to fall and thunder drummed around the surrounding mountains.
Pushing the door open of the store, I heard the bell ring to announce me. The man looked up and smiled as I approached the counter. I never saw this side of my father – ever. This was the side everyone else saw. I saw the strict, disciplinarian who would make me eat all my vegetables, forced me to study over my weekends while it was sunny outside and kept me from the best parties over the bay in Bestian’s Bay County. Kids at my high school thought I was either stupid or very boring; but it was my father who kept me from having a cool social life. I wondered just how he kept these two personalities in check the whole time… I mean, was this man really my father? Or was all the controlling just for show?
Then, a woman walked in from out the back with a long apron on, a woman I knew well. She worked here and I knew she did wonders for this bakery because she had come from France. It was Celine… a brilliant pastry chef who could turn any bag of flour into the most delicious-tasting bread, lightest sponge cakes, sweetest cookies… yes, it was her. She had her dark curls up in a hair net, but it was her. She walked in humming a tune as she carried a tray of freshly baked, sliced and wrapped bread out and shimmied them into the trays behind the counter.
My father walked up to her grinning, “How many more to go?”
“This is it for today, then, I have the cake for Mr. Jones to finish icing.” She replied, sounding like a backwards playing record to my ears, but perfectly fine to him.
“Good, good.” He patted her well-curved behind, kissed her on the back of the neck, and moved past her a little too close to get to the counter I was standing in front of. It took all of my strength not to say anything to him as he turned and smiled, “Yes? How can I help you today?”
“Um… do you have more pies left please?” I looked over at the warmer and found it was half-full.
“We have chicken, steak and kidney, steak and mushroom and vegetarian.” He said, “The last are new for the weird people who don’t like meat.” Yep, it was my father alright.
Walking to the warmer, I looked in on the pies. They were fresh, delicious and wonderful, and I knew it, “The steak and mushroom, please.”
“Want peas with that?” he asked grabbing a plate off the shelf, “And you better eat here, just look at that rain out there.”
I turned and looked as the rain overflowed the gutters and swelled in the streets, “Wow… it’s really coming down.”
“Here ya go.” He smiled, “That’ll be $3.50.”
I pulled out my purse and pulled out a $5.00 and handed it over, got my change and walked to a nearby table. As I sat down, with my meal, I noticed he went out the back of the bakery, where the sounds of work suddenly turned very quiet. I tried to ignore the fact I was the only person sitting in the place eating and watched the time tick slowly by, wishing I knew what was going on, but the more I wanted to spy on the two out the back, less I wanted to know… was he kissing her? Was he having sex with her? Was he…? I dug my fork into the steaming hot pie.
It wasn’t my business.
The door opened quickly and a woman walked in, slamming it against the wind. Shaking her umbrella, she dumped it in the holder, didn’t remove her jacket and let herself behind the counter. Allowing herself out the back, I then heard what I suspected:
“How dare you! With that French slut! How could you?” she raced back out again.
I tried to look anywhere but where the noise came from, but failed. Instead, I stood, leaving my meal behind and went outside and wished I had never come here. The dampness of the wind refreshed me and chilled me at the same time as I pulled the pocket watch out of my pocket, held it close and closed my eyes, wishing I was anywhere else but here…