The Book of Gateways (Installment 13)

We step out the door of “Milo’s Book Store San Diego”. Lannah locks the front door with a familiar “click.” We walk down a block or two on the sidewalk while cars zip back and forth and horns blare. I see large palm trees and Indie coffee shops. The smells of a different place all overwhelming me. I have never been to California before. It’s so different. My gaze gradually locks on the ground. I feel anxiety start to wash over me. My fingertips are going numb. I can’t seem to do anything but watch the three sets of feet walk ahead of me. Before I realize it we’re sitting down in a café booth. Sounds are starting to dull as if I’m being held under the water. I feel my foot tap to shake off the anxiety. I still can’t believe we’re here.

“Cesar.” I feel my shoulder being shaken.

“Hmm? Ah I just need a- I need to go outside.” I jump up and race to the back exit near the bathrooms. I spring through the exit that opens into a back parking lot. I sit down against the building. I’m starting to hyperventilate as a loud high pitched noise starts to ring in my ears. I clamp my hands to my head to muffle the noise. It doesn’t help. Then I feel warmth on my hands and I see Piers. Everything but the squealing noise is still muffled. He pulls my hands away from my ears.

“What are you doing?” He’s crouched in front of me. His voice is still far away. I shake my head. “Are you feeling sick?” I nod yes, but I don’t know why. I was fine not too long ago.

“I know all of this is weird, ok?” He looks at me sincerely. I nod again. He starts to rub my shoulder. I still feel tremors running down my spine. I look into his eyes and they’re strong and confident, but an excitement is being held at bay. I feel my hair stand on end. He’s enjoying all of this. I feel the nausea come back.

“I think I’m gunna- oh no!” I shove Piers back and heave to my right. A nasty mix of bile and remaining food presents itself on the asphalt floor. I pull myself onto all fours and continue to spew what’s left inside my stomach. I can’t do this. I wipe the crap from my lips with the back of my hand and plop back down on my butt and spit out the sour saliva in my mouth.  I see Piers’ face quickly go from disgusted to neutral again. Great.

“I can’t do this Piers. I can’t go through a black hole or whatever it is! Maybe Milo could live like that but I can’t! I’m not going to either! It sounds great in the books and everything but portals are terrible.” I choke out the last bit and feel the anxiety start spreading through me again. I was not made for adventures like this clearly.

“Do you have five hundred dollars for a plane ticket home?” He grabs my shoulders again to bring me back to attention.

“So you mean you want to go home through the book?” My mouth is suspended open.

“I told you my Uncle had something going on. Something secret, and I want to know how and what he was doing. I’m determined. There has to be a way to use the book easier without the sickness and uneasiness.” I’m in shock.

“This isn’t like the movies Piers. You can’t just go and figure things out! This book could kill us! Now we know why Milo was murdered. They wanted the book and once they know we have it they will come and find us and kill us.” I grab Piers’ wrist.

“It’ll work out. No one will know and we will avoid getting killed. There has to be a way to easily navigate that book.” I’m sick of his logical reasoning. “Besides you and I both can’t afford plane tickets home. For now we have to take a deep breath and have breakfast.” I now he’s right. I feel my stomach growl, now emptied from its earlier discharge. I suck in a few deep breaths and stand up. Piers helps steady me as my legs shake from my vomiting ordeal. I hate throwing up. Piers nods to me, I nod in response and we both enter the café.

The Book of Gateways (Installment 12)

Chapter 4

I wake up in the office again collapsed on the floor. I realize Piers is underneath me, his hands still clamped on the book. He’s breathing is shallow and his eyes are closed.

“That was weird.” I still feel like the world is spinning. I lay myself back down, using Piers as a pillow. Oh, I do not feel good. I look over and see Piers’ eyes flutter open.

“Ugh, what just happened?” He releases one hand from the book and rubs his temple. “I have a serious migraine.”

“I have no idea.” I say sitting up fighting the bile coming up my throat. My head is pounding. I check my phone: eight am. Well that can’t be right. I look at the door and see it closed unlike before, but on the closed door is a horrible calendar, bright pink and filled with flowers and kittens frolicking about. One of the kittens have “x’s” scrawled on its eyes. How pleasant.

“I don’t remember that calendar being there.” I say pointing to the door. Piers’ mouth drops open.

“This is impossible!” A madness creeps into his eyes. “This is freaking impossible!” He scrambles to his feet and opens the book frantically to the page we were looking at before all the weirdness. “San Diego Office Book Store” is written at the top.

“This is insane!” Piers says tightening the strap on the book.

“Piers… Where are we?” I say grabbing his wrist.

“I think we’re in California.” He locks eyes with me. He tucks the book into the back of his pants and pulls his shirt over it to conceal it. Not exactly a great hiding place but it’s all we got. My stomach is still sloshing about and I’m still not quite sure what just happened.

“Should we check to make sure?” I nod towards the door. Piers still shaking nods back. I go to the door and open it just a fraction so I can see out. It looks clear. I poke my head out and as I do I lock eyes with a girl rounding the corner. Of course we both scream at the top of our lungs and Piers yanks me out of the way switching positions with me. The girl calms down a bit still clutching her heart.

“Rileson Piers! What is wrong with you?” I hear her high pitched voice squeak. I see the tension release from his shoulders a bit and he smiles quickly.

“Hey Lannah, I thought we agreed you wouldn’t mess my name up anymore.” He says as he walks forward and gives her a hug. I feel nauseated again.

“What are you doing here?” She says smoothing her hair back. I poke my head out to enter into the conversation.

“Oh… you know… We kinda just popped in.” Piers laughs nervously.

“Usually you don’t just ‘pop in’ to a book store across the country.” Lannah says with a weird expression on her face. Piers laughs nervously again. “When did you guys get in?”

“Oh… this morning.” Piers manages to recover. He’s so not good under pressure.

“Hi, I’m Cesar. Piers’, friend.” I say not too sure about what the last part was about. Are we friends? Or are we more than that? Like best friends. I think we’re best friends. I smile at myself.

“Hi! I’m Lannah! I’m one of the staff members here. I know you’re… Milo’s girl from Maryland. We’ve heard a lot about you and that location.” She says smiling and giving me an awkward hug. They feel the pain of loss too.

“So what’s the reason for your visit?” She says back to her peppy self.

“Oh we thought we would travel over and see how you guys are doing over here. It’s been kinda tough for us so I figured I would drop in. Cesar just came along for the ride.” He smiles, his charm coming back slowly. Lannah nods suspiciously.

“Ya, it’s been tough. We tried to stay open a bit but we cut our hours a lot when… Well you know. Anyways you’re getting as bad Milo, suddenly appearing in his office and what not. He was a stealthy gentleman that one. Piers and I shiver knowing how he made it to and from his locations.

“A family trait I guess.” Piers laughs again.

“I guess so, anyways let me take you guys to the front. Desimae is here.” Lannah walks down a hallway that seems to open up into a big room. Lannah has long brown straight hair that reaches to her lower back, a plain and simple haircut with no bangs or layers. She has soft features and long eyelashes that seem to perfectly frame her stunning blue eyes. A pear shaped body and long arms. Her smile is sweet, and her personality seems to be the optimistic type. She’s probably a doormat.

Anyways we follow her down the hallway where it opens up into a large room. There are rows and rows of bookshelves to the left, there’s even a large section for comics and graphic novels. I shake my head, how nerdy. Who am I kidding? I want to go over there and start reading them. To the right is a large complete circle desk with a little swinging door to let you inside of it. Two rolling chairs are stationed on either side each with a computer. I see a girl about my age sitting on the counter top,  short curvy African-American girl doodling on herself with a pen.

“Hi ya!” She hops off the counter and thug walks over to Piers.

“What it do home skillet?” Piers throws his hand up in a “what?” gesture.

“I’m quite lovely.” She suddenly switches into a British accent and hugs Piers. They both start laughing. Very odd but enjoyable. Then I notice her shirt. A purple sleeved baseball shirt with a large gray koala with a mustache and eye monocle and a speech bubble that said: “Excuse me my good sir!”

“I like your shirt.” I say smiling.

“I like it too.” She smiles wryly.

“I’m Cesar, nice to meet you.”

“Desimae.” Her British accent is gone now.

“Interesting name.” I say watching Piers leave to talk to Lannah.

“Ya, my parents are mad ghetto.” I can’t help but laugh but then I realize she’s serious. She smiles. I try to change the subject.

“Nice calendar you guys have in the office.” I nod back towards the hallway.

“Ya, it’s hideous. Lannah likes it though… I added the “x’s”. She smiles. I pinch my lips together to keep from laughing. I’m so overly tired. By this time Piers and Lannah appear again.

“So, who wants to go to breakfast?” Piers grins from ear to ear. His favorite meal of the day.

The Book of Gateways (Installment 11)

Don’t forget to leave me a comment! 😉

“Ok, are you ready?” He squeezes my hand. I nod in response. He looks towards the safe and I look over his shoulder. The door is slightly opened all that’s left to do is see what’s inside. He grabs the door and slowly opens it. My heart is pounding so bad I feel like I’m going to throw up.

“Milo’s books!” I shout in excitement and probably too close to Piers’ ears. He gingerly grabs the little contact book and planner. The little Post-it notes still poking out of all the sides. Without words we pour through the contact book. Every page is filled neatly and cleanly with any and every name you could possibly imagine. As we flip through more and more pages, we realize that there are far more pages than there should be. We continue to flip through the meaningless English names, addresses, and phone numbers that turn into more foreign names, addresses, and phone numbers. There are so many foreign names it’s surprising.

“Did you know your uncle knew so many people?” I ask Piers. He shakes his head no. After we flip through the whole contact book we just sit there. Milo had a secret life. A secret life that didn’t make sense or even reveal any hints of existence. I knew Milo had business trips to China and South America, and really all over the place now that I think about it. I just didn’t realize he had so many connections. Piers puts the contact book back in the safe and exchanges it for Milo’s planner.

 “We should send a memorial card for Milo to all of his business contacts. I’m sure they would like to know.”

“Ya, we should. They would probably appreciate it.” Piers smiles. I can tell that these books comfort both of us. Finally we have our prizes. Piers gestures to the planner and I nod. He opens it to the month before Milo’s murder, but when he does I gasp. Throughout the whole planner on each day there are at least three or four entries. I knew Milo was a busy man, but this is just insanity. Monday June fourth: “8am-10am San Diego California book store location, 10:30am-12pm Beijing China Mr.Tao, 12:30pm-2pm lunch with Cesar and nap time, 3pm-4pm Houston Texas book store location.”

“This is craziness!” I exclaim, what in the world could this possibly mean? It is humanly impossible to make it to all of these places in such a short time! Was Milo going insane?

“I don’t know what this means.” Piers sits there flip through all of the pages. Every day is similar to another. Each entry has several different places in several different countries in just a matter of hours. It doesn’t make sense. I’m exasperated at the masses of different countries and times. Finally Piers flips to the month of Milo’s death: August. It’s hard to believe it’s the middle of November. My eyes scan the page for the day of his death. August third: “8am-1pm Toronto Café  w/ Mr. Lange, 2pm-3pm lunch with Chicago bookstore staff, 4pm-5pm London meeting with Mr. Furth, 6pm-7pm Surprise Cesar and the boy with dinner.” I feel sad. His last day was supposed to end with me and Piers. My eyes start to well up and I can feel Piers take a deep breath to suppress his tears. I do the same.

“It’s amazing he spent so much time with us.” I say quietly. Piers nods.

“Ya, he loved us a lot.” His voice cracks on the word “loved”. Piers puts the book down gently in the safe and pulls out a third book. A book I’m not familiar with. It’s a thicker, worn smooth, leather bound book. An emblem of a circle deeply imprinted on the front. The circle looked like it swirled continuously like a ball of energy flowing around trapped forever. Its only outlets were four sections where a stream of the energy flows out creating a wispy looking point. Almost like a throwing star made of heavy fog. The beautiful emblem in its silvery-blue color that was mesmerizing. Piers unties the leather cord that keeps the book shut and opens the first page. The first page is written in an odd and unreadable language. A language I have never seen before.

“Is it just me or can you not read this either?” Piers says turning his head towards me. I shake my head no, staring at it more. “Well it’s pointless to just sit here looking at it when we obviously don’t know what it is.” He says flipping the next page. The next page is a drawing of a meadow. The meadow is green and lush with various flowers of all shapes and sizes that would surely be bobbing in the wind had there been any. In the back of the meadow are tall stoic mountains with snowcaps and clouds shrouding your view from seeing the top of the peak. It’s a beautiful sight and very realistic. I am amazed by the intricacy and details of every little thing. On the top of the page in very nice script it says: “Montana, near Butte.”.

“How bizarre.” I say running my fingers on the page. Around the drawing of the scenery there is a boarder of the same strange writing. It makes a square boarder, meets in the bottom right corner and forms an oval.

“Ya, very weird.” Piers chimes in. He flips another page and it shows another picture. A quiet street corner in front of what looks like a pub and an alleyway, an airport sign just in the corner of the viewpoint. The header reads: “Ireland near main airport.” It looks like it’s very early in the morning. The same boarder and little oval adorn this picture as well. We flip through a few more pages, some more alleys near airports, or even airport bathrooms. Gradually the pages go from one picture per page to double sided, and as we progress the style of pictures change. Finally we get to one that shows an office room with a bookshelf, a table, and a pretty windowsill. In fact, it looked similar to the office we’re standing in. I reach over Piers’ shoulder again and run my fingers over the boarder. For some reason I feel drawn to stare at the page and run my hands over it. I finally I get to the oval and leave my pointer finger over it. The oval is slightly too big for my little finger, but it feels comfortable. Then I feel the paper start to warm up under my finger.

“Piers, I think this paper is warming up. It’s starting to feel hot.” It starts to get hotter.

“What do you mean?” He says touching the paper. “It feels normal to me.” From the oval I feel the warmth spread to the other edges of the paper.

“Oh, I’m starting to feel it now.” Piers says pushing his hand over the page. On the excess of the oval I see it glowing to the silver blue color like the emblem on the front. The shining color spreading with the heat causing the whole page to glow. My heart starts pounding in my chest and I start to go into a cold sweat.

“Piers what’s happening?” I sound panicky.

“I don’t know, take your hand off the page!” He says quickly, but not quick enough. Suddenly the room seems to spiral and I feel the air being crushed out of me. I gulp for air but I start to double over. I see Piers’ hands latch onto the book in reaction to the sudden change. My vision starts to go black and I feel like I’m going to pass out. And then I do.

The Book of Gateways (Installment 10)

Go, go, go. I spur myself on and throw my long obnoxious hair into a bun and jump into my car. I blitz over to the book store and clumsily stumble through the door like a baby deer on ice. I almost forget to turn off the new alarm system (a precaution since the incident). I fling the door of the office and pull out the chair from the table and sit in front of the ugly flower painting.

            “God, I beg You. Let me open this safe.” A weird prayer, I know. But I’m sure He’s gotten a lot weirder. I take of the painting and there it is. The silver vault of secrets. I type in the numbers: six, three, nine, five. Red light. I slouch in my chair… Well maybe it’s a different combination. I reason with myself. Don’t give up hope! I encourage myself and continue to punch in random combinations of the four digits. Red light, red light, red light. How frustrating. Why can’t this be like the movies where I try two times and on the third the little lock clicks and I get the contents inside? I huff and try another combination. Maybe I should write the wrongs ones down so I don’t screw this up more. I grab a piece of paper and begin writing down my entries. I punch in a few more combinations, my eyes glued to the little keypad determined to taste success.

 

Several hours must pass because before I know it I see Piers in the door way of the office.

            “What, in the world, are you doing?” His speech is drawn out. His eyebrows are cinched together.

            “Hmm? Oh well I had this dream! And I- well! This! I got numbers! Combinations!” I start laughing. He just stares at me.

            “Do you want to explain why you are here? And why you’re in yesterday’s clothes and look like a crazy hermit lady hooked on reefer who found a nice box to live in but thinks it’s a castle?” He smiles clearly cracking himself up. I laugh again. Ah, yes maybe I am a bit overly tired. I pull out my cell phone to see the time. Eleven am. I came to the store at three-thirty am last night. My eyes widen. I went non-stop through the night. I see I went through several sheets of paper. The numbers are at first methodical and planned out and neatly written in straight lines and columns eventually progress into crazy scrawled barely legible chicken scratch all of the paper. I look like a serial killer. I laugh some more and I notice Piers flinches a little. Ooh I should stop before I traumatize the poor kid. I pinch my cheeks a little and rub my eyes to gain some sense back. I manage to tell Piers about the old card on Milo’s desk and my dream. His eyebrows raise and he just sits there analyzing the situation. I punch in a few more combinations while he thinks and scratch them down. All red lights. Piers disappears from the room and comes back again. I see he’s holding the old card in his hand. Scrutinizing every detail of the stem and flower. After a while he asks me to point out where the numbers are and which ones are what and so on and so forth. They’re really hidden quite well. Ten he looks through all of my papers, neat and crazy both and sits there longer. While he does all of this I punch in more numbers like the obsessed weirdo I am and forget writing the combos down. Now I’m really frustrated and push myself away from the safe. I’m huffing and puffing. I see Piers get up and stand in front of the safe. He punches in the numbers and I hear the door click against the lock. No success. A few more minutes go by and still no success. We’ll never get it open. But then suddenly I hear the click of the safe. My heart leaps and Piers turns his head towards me. My eyes water and I hug him from behind.

“You did it! You did it! How did you do it?” I leap up and down jostling him back and forth.

“I figured they were dates.” He says plainly, but I can hear the lilt of success.

“Wait, what?”

“Well the numbers correlated with nineteen fifty-nine from the card, and you surmised it was a hint to his day of becoming a citizen. So I just started on an algorithm that matched with the last two numbers of ‘fifty-nine’. It was a long shot but it was better than what you were doing. You looked like a serial killer.” He says flicking the hair out of my face. My bun slides down the side of my head. I just sit there shaking my head.

“You are unbelievable! You are just! Gah! I can’t even!” I kick my chair over.

“Are we going to look inside or not?” He grabs my nose really tight.

“Ow!” My nasal-y voice cries out. He lets go.

“Let’s just look inside, ok?”

“Fine.” He breathes out a heavy sigh. “Aren’t you even a little excited?” I feel the adrenaline pumping through my body.

“Well ya.” I see his hands shaking. “I just opened a freaking safe!” I can’t help but bust out laughing. The laughing finally stops after a bit longer than it probably should have lasted, but hey, the safe was open and I was extremely over tired.

The Book of Gateways (Installment 9)

“Someone has got to put his hat to good use. It would be a shame to put it on a shelf somewhere.” I say grabbing his arm with a reassuring squeeze. He nods and manages a smile. “It would be a shame huh?” I nod. We continue to rummage around the bag and pull out a few receipts and his wallet. Piers opens the smooth leather wallet and inspects the contents. There are a few bank cards, a driver’s license, and some cash which seems odd because there was no reason for Milo to be murdered. He was well liked and not exactly wealthy. He didn’t have any enemies, in fact he had a lot of friends and connections. And now there wasn’t anything missing from his persons. Nothing was taken at all. Then I realize, his contact book and calendar are missing.

            “Where are his books?” I look at Piers.

            “I don’t know.” He looks glum still so I don’t ask more questions. It bothers me though and it makes me fidget.

            After we sit there in silence a bit longer we package his things back up excluding the fedora and put it in the office. Neither of us are sure what to do with it. On one hand I think we would both like to put them away in some dusty cabinet out of sight and out of mind. On the other hand it seems like a shame to hide his things away…We’ll figure it out eventually I hope.

            I gingerly sit in Milo’s desk chair and swivel back and forth a little. It’s bittersweet. All of this papers and newspapers are messily laid on his desk and for once I don’t have the urge to tidy everything. I leaf through a couple papers and reminisce with every little piece of paper. Not like I did this before, but now I appreciate all of his habits, his little things that drove me crazy. I feel an aching creep to my throat as I remember him holding my face in his hands like he would when he would encourage me or tell me how much he cared about me. I swallow hard and start looking at other things. A little card catches my eye. A once cream colored greeting card that has yellowed sits propped against Milo’s stationary computer and I can’t help but pick it up. On the front is a beautiful orange peony with very specific shading and a dark swirling stem with various shades of dark green. It’s interesting because the little swirls almost form characters but I can’t quite tell what. Oh well, I’m sure it’s just the intricacy. It’s a very detailed piece for a card. In the right bottom corner in elegant calligraphy it’s marked: “Est.1959”.  I know I’m prying but I open the card and begin reading the messy English writing inside. Then I realize it’s Milo’s writing. “Miloslav Grigorevich Ananyev, do not forget to help others make their own beginnings. Remember the card maker you met today on the day of your beginning.”

I smile at his thoughtfulness even so many years ago. Then the wheels begin to turn in my head and I start to put two and two together. “The day of your beginning” must mean his day in America! His new start in the world! I leap up and rush into the office. I pull the flower portrait off the wall to reveal the silver box and type in the numbers “1959”. It feels like forever before the box registers the numbers only to meet my excitement with the red blinking light of death. The numbers are rejected and I feel all of my hope drained out. I’m cranky for the rest of the day, but Piers and I don’t talk about it. In fact, Piers doesn’t talk at all. I let it slide because I know how much sadness he’s feeling. Or at least I know what kind of sadness happens. Usually we’ve been timed out where he’s in the dumps and I cheer him up or I’m in the dumps and he cheers me up. We haven’t both been dreary since…Well you know since the start of everything…

 

The day passed on and I can’t wait to get into my warm snuggly bed. I drudge into my room and plop on my bed. The down-feather blanket envelopes me and I don’t stop it. To wash my face and brush my teeth? Or not to wash my face and brush my teeth? I know disgusting. But there are just some days that you just don’t want to be hygienic. Before I make a decision I manage to “accidentally” drift into sleep.

 

Swirls of orange and pale yellows cascade about me in this euphoric place, it’s making me dizzy and I fall over. The dizziness gets so bad I lay back to stop myself from falling over again. I feel like I’m watching an orange and banana smoothie being made as the colors collide and separate. Suddenly a large drop of green paint-like liquid splashes to the bottom of my IMAX movie theatre perspective and splashes up into a stem of a flower. The green paint begins to spread out, swirling into complex shapes and abstract designs. My eyes leap back and forth between each new leaf and vein and fiber of the plant. I start to see the weird characters in it as well. One that looks like a six, and another that looks like a three! I blink and I’m whisked away to see a wide view of the picture. The orange peony in full bloom reminds me of a sunset. I’m dumbfounded; this weird place is constantly shifting and changing. I look at the glowing flower closer and I see the characters start to glow. Six, three, nine, and five. I shoot out of bed.

            “I have to get to that safe!” I shout to myself.

The Book of Gateways (Installment 8)

“Can I have you look up the date Miloslav Grigorevich Ananyev became an American citizen? He’s my uncle.” Piers says looking up at me. We have been on the phone all day being switched from person to person to find out when exactly Milo became a citizen. I give Piers an encouraging smile.

            “Oh, well no, I’ve already been transferred four times. No, well can you find it our not? Well I want to know the date because he passed away a few months ago. Oh, oh I see. No I don’t know what it could possibly be. Yes, yes thank you. Have a good day.” Piers says as he hangs up his phone. I grimace because he doesn’t look happy.

            “Well they said they couldn’t give us the info because we don’t have a pass code. Apparently Uncle paid a hefty sum in order to keep his date hidden unless we have a password, which we don’t have.” He says rubbing the back of his neck.

            “Oh.” Is the only thing I can say. Is that even possible to pay the government to do that? Usually the family of the deceased would have accessibility to their information, but I guess not.

            “I’m supposed to pick Milo’s things up today…If you want to go.” Piers says quietly. “In fact I’d really like it if you came…” His voice gently trails off. Milo’s death is always a tender subject between us. It’s amazing that we can even stand to be in the shop, but I feel like Milo would want us to still love this place even though he’s gone.

            “Has it already been four months?” I say quietly to myself. “It doesn’t get easier does it?” I say looking at Piers.

            “No.” He softly answers me back and pulls me in for a hug. It feels like it gets harder. I think to myself and gently pull away from his embrace and give him a slight smile.

            “Let’s go get this done.” I say and hook my arm around his and lead us towards the front of his house. He locks his front door and we head down the driveway.

            “Let’s take the bike today.” Piers says sitting on top of his black Suzuki GSX-R1000.  The bike of my dreams.

            “Ok, Riley.” I say before I can realize I let it slip out. He smiles. Well at least I’m making him feel better… I guess. He hands me his helmet and I plop it on and I hear him say something about me having a big head since I can fit in a guy’s helmet no problem. Regardless I give him a good jab to the side and he laughs in reply. I need to work out I think to myself, and then we were on our way.

 

We get to the police station which is really more of a trailer in my mind and walk to the open window. A little shriveled up old man in a black uniform sits quietly in his chair, his low set white eyebrows like curtains half covering his eyes. Piers is the first to speak.

            “Hello, sir… I’m Riley Pierson… I’m here to pick up Miloslav Ananyev’s things…” It seems our audience of one is asleep. “Sir?” Piers says a little louder causing the man to sputter to life. “Eh, hm? What’s that?” He says somewhat alert as I’m doing my best to conceal a smile. My mouth is twitching in response.

            “I’m here to pick up Miloslav Ananyev’s personal items.” Riley repeats again a little bit louder with his eyebrows up when he finds a situation interesting.

            “Well you ain’t gotta yell about it.” The old man mutters under his breath and I can’t help but let out a short burst of laughter. The old man looks confused, but then disappears into another room.

            “Well if we’re ever in dire need of a vigilante police officer we know who to call now don’t we?” I say freely smiling. He just shakes his head at me and smirks like he does when I make a bad joke. At least I get a sympathy response.

            Finally after more than fifteen minutes the old officer comes back with a clear bag of Milo’s personal effects. Then he asks Piers for his ID and his signature and hands over the items.

            “Have a lovely day today sir.” I smile at him and receive a “hmphing” kind of noise in return. Well then…

Instead of going back to Piers’ house we decide to go to the shop. I see Piers stuff Milo’s things into his black backpack he always carries and we make our way to his motorcycle. I slip on my man-helmet and climb on, wrapping my arms around his waist.  

The wind feels so good whipping through my shirt, stealing the warmth from my body, and flitting away. I feel like if I let it, the wind would steal my problem-riddled mind, and for a second I’m tempted to let it.

The ride ends quickly and before I know it and we are standing in front of Milo’s Book Store.

            “Well… it’s time to open this puppy up…” I try to sound upbeat.

            “Ya.” Piers barely responds. We unlock the door and sit on some comfortable chairs on the first floor with a little brown chipped coffee table between us. Piers looks at me and pulls out the evidence bag from his backpack. We both let out a suppressed sigh. In all honesty we go in waves. Sometimes we are perfectly fine and then some days it just is so apparent that Milo is missing from our lives. It’s like a constant weather change. When someone is suddenly missing from your everyday routine, it becomes hard to function without them. We are making due. Piers unzips the clear plastic bag and pulls out his clothes, his once blue shirt still stained with blood, semi-casual black dress pants, and gray fedora with the long black feather. I realize I’m holding my breath and make myself exhale. The fedora is bent out of form and the once glossy black feather is now dull and ruffled. It’s a shame. Piers balls up his fist and pushes the fedora back into form. He looks at it and I can tell sadness is tunneling through his brain. I take the hat from his hand and plop it on his head. He sighs a little.

The Book of Gateways (Installment 7)

Returning to Milo’s Shop was just a trial run. The times after weren’t as bad. Sometimes a pang of sadness or a few tears, but overall a genuine comfortableness started returning itself. I guess Milo left us some of his magic.There are only a few people I would think could leave their joyfulness once they left.

            We didn’t enter the shop again for another two months, but you would be amazed how quickly dust accumulates in just a total of three months. Piers and I decided to take a full day to just clean up Milo’s Shop in order to re-open it. Milo was gone but it didn’t mean his shop was gone too.

We are both armed with Swifter dusters and plenty of those little sticks with the feathers on them. Feather dusters I think… How very creatively named. It takes about three or four hours but between the both of us we manage to get both floors nice and clean and dust free. Every couple of minutes Piers has a sneeze attack.

            “You ok up there?” I call up to the second floor.

            “I’m fine… can we stop now? Pleeeaasse?” Piers whines.

            “Fine, you’re such a baby!” I say tossing my feather stick on a nearby couch. Dust goes flying everywhere upon impact. I hear Piers bounding down the stairs and jumps from the third step and lands with a big “ta-da” pose.

            “Very impressive gold medal gymnast.” I give him a mock clap. He still accepts it by rotating in his ta-da pose to each direction and takes a final bow to his invisible crowd. I can only shake my head.

            “You are such a ham!”

            “I like ham.” Piers smiles sauntering over to a nearby couch and plops down on it. I pick up some papers and start moving them to my desk and spy a spongy green ball. I nonchalantly set down the papers and throw a super speed ball of hellish oblivion towards Piers, which of course he catches and I begin running for my life. Piers is immediately up and after me and I am suddenly regretting the idea of pegging him with a ball. This “game” then consisted of me running around like a madwoman ducking, diving, and rolling behind anything possible and every time I would try to pick up the ball he’d get too close and I’d retreat. Now I’m hiding in an aisle near the back room, the science section I think… I’m breathing heavily and still trying to conceal my hiding place. I may be skinny but dang, I need to work out for endurance sakes! I creep closer to the end of the aisle that points to the front of the store.

            “BOO!” Piers pops out from behind the corner. I scream at the top of my lungs scramble backwards and zip straight to the backroom. And then I realize that I am such a genius because I have cornered myself… Strategically… Ok so on accident but non-the-less I am cornered. I whip around only to see that my attacker Piers has entered and pulls his arm back to pelt me with the little green spongy ball. I see him start to catapult it towards me and I pivot to the right and duck under the table. Then I hear a crash and the sound of glass shattering all over the table I’m hiding under.

            “Oops.” I hear Piers quietly let out. I peek my head out to see his face contorted into a worried face like I’m about to scold him. I crawl out and see that the picture that hung above the table was the victim of the little green ball and shattered on the table. The ugly little painting of a bizarre flower in a hideous vase that Milo had pointed to moments before his death. Suddenly all the images and memories start flooding back into my mind and I’m trying to shut them out but then that becomes relatively easy when my eyes lock on a silver box implanted into the wall with a dimly glowing keypad making everything even stranger. I look to Piers and he seems just as shocked as I am. We sit there for a moment in a stupor without a word. I’m pretty sure a good five minutes before we even move and Piers’ mouth is hanging wide open in shock.

            “That’s a safe.” Piers manages to spit out.

            “Is this even possible? Milo wasn’t exactly wealthy enough to need a special hidden safe.” I say quietly. Or maybe he did. Thoughts are swirling around my brain. Pieces start trying to fit themselves into a reasonable story so I can make a sense of everything. I can’t come up with anything and I suddenly see Piers make his way towards the safe. He yanks down on the handle of the safe to hear a click of resistance. He looks back at me.

            “There’s no hurt in trying right?”

            “Ya, I suppose but we both knew it wasn’t gunna open.” I say scratching my head. What could it possibly be?

            “There’s a key slot here too.” Piers says putting his finger on the slot.

            “Yes, but if Milo had it on him then the attacker would’ve gotten it.”

            “Why would an attacker want a random key?”

            “I don’t know? Because it opens stuff?” I say agitated.

            “Maybe we should get a safe cracker?” Piers says to himself.

            “We don’t have the money for that. We haven’t even found Milo’s will which is most likely in this safe. Which is inconveniently and mysteriously sitting there without a way to open it… Milo better not have pulled some Indiana Jones crap and hid secret hints all over the place.” I huff looking up towards the sky just in case Milo can hear me.

            “You see that Uncle? You’re not even around and she’s still giving you a hard time!” Piers laughs to himself and I laugh with him. Then Piers starts to put the picture back over the safe and I give him a questioning look.

            “There’s no sense in staring at it any longer. It’s not going to open if we just stare at it. Maybe Uncle did pull an Indiana Jones… He was a crafty devil you know.” He cracks a smile and we both know that Milo would want us to be happy. At least he was in Heaven.

          “It’s true.” I smile back “I can only imagine where the combination is… Or what it could possibly be.” I think out loud. The rest of the day goes on and every second is filled with thoughts of the mysterious safe. What in the world could it possibly be? I’m continuously frustrated by the possible combinations. Finally a few days pass and I forget about the little silver box.

I’m sitting at my desk in the book shop. Ever since Milo passed we’ve gotten more business than ever. I suppose a lot of people have sympathy for me and Piers. Or maybe a lot of people loved Milo. Suddenly I’m jerked out of my thoughts when I hear the front door’s bell.

            “Hi again.” I hear the British accent and I look up to see Matt walking in. He’s wearing a blue v-neck and some skinny jeans that are probably hard to breathe in.

            “Oh hi.” I say nonchalantly. “Back to return the books?” I say looking at the books he rented.

            “Ya, they’re a bit late though sorry about that. I’m sorry to hear about Milo. That’s a great tragedy.” He says the last bit quietly.

            “Thanks, it’s been tough without him but things are slowly getting better. Oh it’s ok I won’t charge you a late fee since we’ve been closed so long.” I say at the end to change the subject. He catches on and continues on the rabbit trail for my sake.

            “Oh nonsense! Charge me the late fees! And to make up for it, how about I take you to dinner?” He says smiling.

            “Aw that’s cute, did you look up on the internet good excuses to ask a girl out.” I spit out before I have time to filter it. My own mouth drops open in surprise. Thankfully he starts laughing.

            “Touché, they always told me American girls were easy. You know they fall prey to the accent.” He laughs to himself “Fair enough, not dinner than how about lunch? I won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.” He says smiling even wider. I hate that phrase.

            “Well sadly I think you’re going to have to take ‘no’ as my answer. Sorry.” I say finishing up the last processes of the returned books.

            “Why? Do you have a boyfriend? That fellow that was here before maybe?”

            “Maybe once you’re here for a bit longer you’ll find another girl.” I say avoiding the subject completely.

            “Ah so he is your boyfriend! Well I’ve been here over six months and I have yet to find someone as interesting as you. In fact I’m a citizen. Isn’t that exciting?” He jokes.

            “He’s not my boyfriend.” I say back defiantly but then suddenly I have a reappearance of a memory. It’s vaguely appearing like a reflection in a murky pond. “It was the happiest day of his life!” I exclaim.

            “What?” Blondie gives me a puzzled look.

            “What? Oh never mind!” I say smiling like a fool.

            “So… still a no?” He says waiting for an answer.

            “No thanks not today.” I say trying to be sympathetic.

            “Well, I’ll be back! You’ll have dinner with me one day.” He smiles as he leaves. Coincidentally as he’s leaving Piers walks into the shop and they exchange killer glances at each other while they pass.

            “Why was he here?” Piers mutters.

            “To return books. But anyways that’s beside the point! I think I figured it out! Piers! The code is the date Milo became an American citizen!” I say excitedly.

            “What code?” Piers says dumbfounded.

            “Are you kidding me?” I asked as equally dumbfounded. He starts laughing. “I hate you.”

            “You love me.” He smirks. I roll my eyes.

            “Anyways! It’s worth a shot! So when did Milo become a citizen? He said it was the happiest day of his life! You should know!” I say excited as I see Piers’ eyebrows bunch up in thought.

            “I don’t know. That’s one of the few things that Uncle never mentioned. I guess that would make sense if he used it as his combination to his most precious treasure.” Suddenly my happiness is deflated.

            “Well then we will just call government records and ask! Surely they would know! Sure it might take some time but we will find it eventually! Or maybe they’re in a folder somewhere!” I say trying to be positive still.