NOTE: Link to Part 2 has been added.
Thursday, March 10, 2016
Flash Fiction Friday, Week 28: Chosen
The prompt this week was as follows:
It’s Saturday afternoon, and a beautiful sunny day. The newspaper is full of garage sale listings, and you’ve found some great items browsing through those. A small notice under Sales however, catches your eye. A used book store at the North end of town is having a sidewalk sale. All their books are marked down to $1 for today only. Forget garage sales. This is so much more exciting. Who knows what classics or first editions you might be able to pick up there.
You purchase several books and hurry home so you can pick out what will be your first read. The ones you bought were all mysteries since those are your favorite. You decide to flip through the pages of all of your new books to make sure they are intact. It is so annoying when you’re right in the middle of a who-done-it and one or two of the pages are torn or missing. Then again, how picky can you be? After all, they were only $1 each. Still…
While you’re fanning the pages of one of your new found treasures, a note falls out, and…
Prompt: The rest of the story is now in YOUR hands. Go!
Mine comes in at 1,482 words, and there’s a bit of a surprise at the end. I hope you enjoy.
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When I woke up that Saturday, I was looking forward to my usual weekend activity, which is visiting every garage sale in the county. I love all the little knick-knacks I’ve found over the years, and display them proudly on a mirrored shelving unit I ordered from a catalog. I treat myself to lunch at a restaurant and make a day of it. How could I have known that an ad for a book sale would change my life forever…
I was looking through garage and yard sale ads, when I noticed one for the used book store at the North end of town. They were having a sidewalk sale from 10 to 10 that day only, and all the books on display outside the store would be priced at $1.00. That place used to be Betsy’s Boutique of Books; the name having changed to simply Books after Betsy passed away years ago. The sign was left to fade, and the script lettering spelling out ‘Betsy’s Boutique’ had all but disappeared. The word ‘Books’ was all that was left, and that was barely there.
It turns out Betsy had an older sister, Hermione, who lived in another state, who most of her family avoided like the Black Plague. Once she arrived here and took over the store, it was easy to see why. Most folks in town went way out of their way to avoid her too, considering her nasty disposition and ominous appearance. Her hair was completely gray, and pulled back tightly in a small bun, which gave her a severe, evil stepmother countenance. I never saw her in anything but a long dark grey skirt, dark grey blouse, and tattered grey shawl. Parents held their children’s hands tightly when crossing the entrance to her store. It was as if they pictured a large oven in the back that Hermione would put the kiddies in after lightly salting and peppering them.
It was difficult to understand why she chose to continue to keep Betsy’s store open. It was obvious she despised books of all types, considering the callous way she handled them. Books have always been one of the great loves of my life – friends even, and I would no more toss a book down on the ground or pick one up by one of its pages than push a dear friend unclothed out into a blizzard. Hermione, however, would step on books that had fallen off shelves or kick them out of her way. Perhaps they weren’t first editions or worth a fortune, but they were treasures still, and she was cruel in her treatment of them.
At the time, word around town was that the reason she relocated and decided to run the business was that she had been evicted from her prior residence due to complaints about her adult son. Betsy had lived above the store in a tidy little one bedroom flat with a small kitchen, so Hermione inherited a free place to live in addition to income from the store. The ladies of the Church Auxiliary expressed concern about having her adult son live with her in such close quarters, but rumor had it that he was an adult in size and age only, and functioned with the mental capacity of a ten year old child. Neither I nor anyone I knew had ever seen him, and we figured she kept him up in that apartment 24/7. It sounds cruel, but since none of us knew if he was a danger to himself or others, we were grateful for her discretion.
Mystery lover that I am, I arrived at the sale a few minutes before 10 so I could have first choice. Hermione was finishing up filling the tables and fortunately for me, had sorted the books by genre. There was a table devoted to science fiction, one for poetry collections, and to my delight, one contained nothing but mysteries. I selected ten, paid for them and hurried away. Being an avid reader, I enjoy browsing through books, but at this shop, it has always been a most unpleasant experience – one to complete as quickly as possible. Today was no exception. Hermione pulled the money from my hand, shoved it in her pocket, gave me one of her typical go-to-Hell stares, and walked away to rudely grab another customer’s cash.
I hoped none of the books I bought had been damaged by Hermione’s big feet or claw-like hands, but if any had been, at $1.00 each, I couldn’t complain. Still, they were mysteries and I hoped none of the pages would be torn or missing. Fanning through them one by one, I noticed other than a few smudges, they were in terrific shape. I was halfway through the last one, when a folded piece of paper fell out. I envisioned a Dear John/Joan letter, received long ago, hidden within this book, a mystery within a mystery, while the recipient wasted away in grief and despair, and no one knew the tru… Yeah, right. I had to laugh. It was most likely somebody’s shopping list they used as a bookmark. Still, always hopeful of finding a real-life mystery, I opened the note, and it read:
If they take me, someone, please save me. Elyssa
It was printed, and looked as if the writer was a child. A chill ran through me. I had no idea if this was a genuine plea for help or someone’s idea of a joke, but I had to find out. I decided to start by finding out where Hermione obtained this batch of books. There were so many she was selling so cheaply, I wondered if she had picked them up at an estate sale at a bulk price, and decided to resell them for a small profit. I went to our local newspaper office and asked Thomas, who ran the paper. If anything newsworthy happened in ours, or any neighboring county, Thomas had the scoop. He confirmed my assumption.
“Cassie, remember that bad business from a few years ago at the Sumner house?” Thomas reminded me of the incident that frightened every parent in our community.
“Unfortunately, I do,” I responded. “That little girl was never found, was she? I mean, to this day, no one knows if she’s dead or alive.”
“The case was never solved,” Thomas continued. “An eight year old girl, taken from her bed on the second floor in the middle of the night while her father slept downstairs in the study. He told the police he tucked his daughter in, went to read a bit and fell asleep in the chair. He awoke the next morning and found her window open and the child gone. There was no sign of a struggle and no blood, so all assumed it was a kidnapping. He waited for a ransom demand, but none was ever received.
“There was a massive search for the girl’s remains in case she had been murdered, but not even the slightest clue to her whereabouts was ever found. Her poor father literally wasted away and died a few months after her disappearance. The house sat empty for years, until recently when the house and its contents were sold at auction, since no living relatives could be located. You remember, don’t you? Bill Jasper bought the building and the land, had the house demolished and since the property adjoined his, he put fences up and added an extra pasture for his cattle.”
“That’s where all those books at the sidewalk sale came from, I’ll bet,” I said. “That Hermione woman has tons of them out on tables and she’s selling them for $1.00 each.”
“Probably got the whole batch for a couple of bucks,” Thomas said. “The bank wanted to get rid of everything as quickly as possible so the house would come down. Ugly business, that was. Every parent in the county slept with one eye closed and the other on their kids for a long time after the girl was taken. Elyssa was her name, I think.”
“What did you say?” The chill hit me again.
“I said, I think the little girl’s name was Elyssa. Elyssa Sumner. She was the only child of Herbert. The mother had died shortly after the girl was born and that’s why the loss of the child hit him extra hard. She was all he had.”
“Thanks, Thomas,” I said, and hurried home to map out a plan. Now I did have a real-life mystery on my hands and I was going to do whatever I had to do to solve it. Elyssa would be young woman by now, almost ten years after she was abducted. I can’t explain it, but I knew she was still alive. I also knew she still needed to be saved. But, where was she, and who took her? Who were ‘they’?
* * * * * * * * * *
Let me explain. This prompt set off some sparks in my head, and as I was writing, the story went its own way. I got close to the word limit and there was still so much story left to tell. This part will stand as this week’s tale for F3, but next Thursday, I will post the next installment. That may end up being Part 2, or it may be the end. I’m going to let my characters decide.
I won’t post the continuation on F3; I will post it here on my blog. There will be a link on my Facebook page, and I will also add the link at the end of this story where it says ‘Continued’.
Hope to see you back here next Thursday for Part 2!
NOTE: Link to Part 2 has been added.
NOTE: Link to Part 2 has been added.