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Saranagti

Saranaughty

Saranagti’s Writings

The Store

Part One

Gina stared at the little girl. The little girl stared right back without breaking eye contact. She even stuck a hand on her hip.

Do not look away, do not look away, Gina chanted in her head. It’s a sign of weakness if you look away.

            “Graaaaaaaaaaaace!” the lady at the back of the boutique screeched.

Grace? GRACE?! This kid should be named Cruella or something.

Grace was off in a stomping run, reaching out and knocking into a pile of scarves onto the floor. Gina forced a smile and slowly walked out from behind the register counter to pick up the scarves for the second time. She could hear the lady in the back.

“What do you think of this?”

Grace will tell you it looks good on you even though she knows it makes you look like a walrus.

Gina sat back down behind the counter, trying to drown out the voice of the woman talking to her child like she was an adult.

The neighborhood was full of strollers and cute babies. Every time a little terror like Grace came into the boutique, it erased all memories of the cute babies from Gina’s mind. Not that Gina was planning on having a kid anytime soon. That would require a man. And, as far as Gina was concerned, she wasn’t even sure she could find a man she’d want to spend time with, much less have a kid with. All her previous boyfriends had turned out to be quite, how does one put it lightly… insane? Commitment phobes? “Special”? All of the above?

“Gina?”

Gina looked up, startled out of her thoughts. Mariana stood near the counter. The boutique owner looked even more frazzled than usual if that was possible. Her greying hair was unkempt and her clothing wrinkled.

“Hey, Mariana. Everything okay?”

“Yeah, I guess. I just wanted to stop in and see how everything is going.”

“Uh, fine. I organized the stock room this morning and…”

Mariana interrupted her.

“Did the mail come yet?”

Gina was startled by her unusual abruptness.

“Uh, no… Not that I know of. If Darren came by before we opened, he’ll swing around again by 3 o’clock.” She glanced at the clock. It was 2 PM.

“Okay… Well, I have a bunch of stuff to do so I gotta run. Keep an eye out for Darren. We’re getting some stuff in today.”

“Will do.”

Mariana glanced curiously at the back of the store, where Grace was now shrieking.

“Um. Don’t worry about, Mariana. I’ve got in under control.” Gina gave her what she hoped was a convincing smile.

Of course, Cruella and her mother left the store without buying anything.

Darren stopped by around three, as expected. He wheeled in a cart with three boxes.

“Want me to put them in the back?” he asked.

God bless you, thought Gina. Two of the boxes looked like they weighed more than she did.

The boutique was a little quiet that day. Gina spent her time in the back opening the two big boxes and organizing and cataloguing the clothing that had come in. She tried a couple sweaters on and mentally made note of what she wanted to buy with her next paycheck. Mariana didn’t give her a huge discount, but it was nice that she even did. She went back out into the boutique a couple times when customers stepped in and then back to the stock room to continue organizing.

The smaller box contained about eight or so funky tee-shirts. Perfect. Gina loved when Mariana ordered non-granny clothing… not that there was anything wrong with that. But there definitely was a younger crowd in the neighborhood to appeal to as well.

She went back out to check their tee-shirt selection. They were definitely running low. Gina went back and started pricing the shirts, noticing one in particular that she liked: black with little red X’s splashed across it. She felt it. Handmade! Sweet. Mariana is really getting into some interesting things, she thought. She put that aside for herself and priced a couple more tees with a tagging gun, swearing silently when she jabbed her finger with the needle.

Gina heard the front door chime.

“Be right with you!” she called, pricing the last couple of shirts quickly. Walking out with the shirts, she hung them up, smiling at the young lady who had walked in.

“Let me know if I can help you with anything,” she said, as she wandered back around to the register and settled on the stool.

The day went by a lot slower than Gina would have liked. She kept herself busy by throwing the boxes into the dumpster out back, straightening clothing, putting away items left in the dressing room and cleaning the silver jewelry.

Later in the afternoon, her friend Elizabeth walked in.

“Yay!” said Gina, walking over to give her a hug. “What a great surprise!”

“Thought I’d bring you some caffeine, you coffee fiend.” Elizabeth handed her an iced coffee.

“Fantastic. This should help speed up the day.”

“Slow one?” asked Elizabeth.

“Yup. But staying busy, I guess.”

“Anything new?”

“Well,” replied Gina, “We got some pretty neat shirts in. Definitely your style. Go check ‘em out.” She gestured to the tee-shirt section.

The phone rang. Elizabeth waved at her to take her time and headed over to look at the tee-shirts.

“Thanks for calling Calico Boutique. Gina speaking. How can I help you?” An automated voice responded. Gina hung up the phone.

“Oooooooooo!” squealed Elizabeth from the back of the boutique.

“I knew you’d like them!” yelled Gina.

Elizabeth came up to the front with a tee-shirt in hand and put it down on the counter.

“I’ll give you my discount, E. Mariana won’t mind.”

Gina picked up the tee to fold it and then stopped. She was looking at a face on the front of the shirt. It was Mariana’s face, right down to the frizzy hair… with a big X across it in red paint.

End of Part One

 

Fireworks

Last week, on a severely hot day, Mr. Fatwater had stormed over to the Morgans’ home. Dan, jumping on the trampoline out in the backyard, had seen Mr. Fatwater’s black pick-up truck racing towards the house, a wide streak of dust chasing the vehicle. Dan had quietly run inside and hid under his bed.

Mrs. Morgan, who had been baking in the kitchen, whisked t the door in a flowery apron upon hearing the doorbell. In the study, Mr. Morgan set down his newspaper, put food in the cat bowl (the cat was named “Mouse”) and joined his wife at the door just before she opened it.

Mr. Fatwater stood on the porch, his hand raised in an angry fist to begin knocking again. His hunched frame looked especially tiny in the doorway and he glared up at the Morgans from beneath bushy, grey brows.

“I thought I told you,” he croaked. Dan, from his hiding spot, could hear every word.

“I’m sorry, but told us what?” said Mrs. Morgan politely.

“Last year, on this exact day, I told you.”

Dan fidgeted under the bed. After a second of confused silence, Mr. Morgan spoke.

“Last July 4th?”

Mr. Fatwater turned to him.

“Don’t light those doggone fireworks. They spook my horses and no one can ride ‘em for days. They throw everyone off. I have to wait a week ‘til they can get back on the trails and I lose customers!”

Dan slid further back under his bed.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Fatwater,” said his mother slowly. “It won’t happen again. I guess we… forgot.”

Out on the porch, Mr. Fatwater wiped the sweat dripping off his bald head and looked to Mr. Morgan for his apology.

“Er, yes, of course. No more fireworks,” said Mr. Morgan, shifting from one foot to another.

Mr. Fatwater spat off the side of the porch, slowly turned, and left without another word.

Dan heard the door shut. He could hear the shuffling of his parents’ feet and then his mother’s voice.

“Daniel!”

He didn’t respond. He was to busy trying to figure out if he would be in trouble for lighting those fireworks the night before.

“Daniel Morgan! I know you’re under the bed! Lunch in the kitchen! Now!”

Dan slowly scooted out on his tummy from beneath the bed and walked into the kitchen where his mother and father were already seated. His blonde hair hung in

his face as he sat down and piled mashed potatoes on his plate, avoiding eye contact with his parents. His father swiftly said Grace and then his mother immediately began talking.

“So, Dan, when did you light the fireworks?”

Dan mumbled something through a mouthful of potatoes, his eyes on his plate.

“What was that?” Dan swallowed hard.

“Um, when you and dad went into town for groceries last night.” His mother frowned at him.

“I see.” She turned to Mr. Morgan. “Well. Do you have anything to say to your son?”

Mr. Morgan, who had been reading the back of the milk carton, looked up guiltily. “Well, son. Uh, you should always make sure an adult is around when using fire to light something.” He looked back to the milk carton.

“And?” demanded his wife. She gave a sigh of frustration before addressing Dan again. “Mr. Fatwater complained about you lighting fireworks last year. Yet you still lit some again yesterday although I know you remember him scolding you last year, because you asked me the meaning of… never mind. Anyway, you must respect your elders even if they are a little-“

“Grouchy?” said Dan.

“Yes, older and therefore grouchy,” agreed his mother.

“And creepy?” said Dan again.

“Ok, that’s it,” his mother replied, scowling. “You’re grounded for a few days. I’ll let you know when your time is up.”

“But… but, July 4th is on Friday!” Dan protested.

“And you already lit your fireworks. This wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t. I specifically remember you promising with all your heart that it wouldn’t happen because we didn’t want to upset our new neighbors. Remember? Who gave them to you anyway?”

“Tim,” said a subdued Dan.

“I’ll have a talk with his mother. I swear, that child is such a little rascal. Gets everyone into trouble. Well, finish up and go do your homework.”

Dan did as he was told, closing his door sharply behind him to express all his thoughts he didn’t dare say.

After he had gone, Mr. Morgan turned to his wife who had begun to clear the table.

“I don’t get it,” he said.

“Hm?” responded his wife vaguely, bustling about. “Oh don’t worry, Richard. I won’t really ground him for that long. Just tomorrow. I want him to learn some respect is all.”

“Oh, not that. That’s not what I meant,” said Mr. Morgan.

“Well, what did you mean?”

“I’m wondering why Mr. Fatwater complains about our fireworks.”

“I’m not exactly sure,” Mrs. Morgan replied. She began to load the dishwasher. Mr. Morgan walked over to help her.

“His ranch is next to the Bonds’, right?”

“Yes.”

“But that’s all the way on the other side of town, isn’t it?”

“I know. We just have to put up with his senility, dear.” And with that, Mrs. Morgan snapped the dishwasher shut.

(To be continued)

***********

The Macon County Mystery

Chapter 1: The Fair

The Macon County Fair took place every fall, just before Halloween. Everyone in the county generally showed up, which isn’t saying much since Macon was a very small town. Brett and Vanessa Terrence, also known as “the Terrence twins”, had arrived there early on the chilly Sunday morning to say hello to the townspeople taking part in the fair. It seemed that half of the Macon population was involved in running the fair and Brett and Vanessa knew every one of them.

Calling out hello’s left and right, first to the librarian, Mrs. Fording, who let them in for free and lastly to Mr. Reynolds at the carousel, Brett and Vanessa found themselves at the psychics’ lair. Upon entering the brightly colored tent, they were pleasantly surprised to find Ms. Moss in an outrageous turban and an ugly chartreuse dress.

“Why hello, dears!” cried Ms. Moss. Then, putting on a mock severe voice, she said, “I hope you two have your work ready for tomorrow. That project is a big part of your grade.”

Ms. Moss was the English teacher at Macon County High and by far the nicest teacher there. All her students loved her, even the ones that received low grades through no fault but their own.

“Aaaand hello to you too,” said a smiling Brett. “I have my project almost ready. I’ve just gotta put the finishing touches on it and then it’s all done.”

“I just have to, not ‘gotta’,” corrected Ms. Moss, before she could catch herself. “Oops, sorry! These corrections slip out. Don’t worry, I’ll try to save them for the classroom.”

Brett scowled.

Ms. Moss turned to Vanessa. “I’m sure you’re finished with your project.” Before Vanessa could state otherwise, Ms. Moss continued, “Oh forget it. We aren’t in school today. There’s plenty of time for that tomorrow. Tarot reading, anyone?”

And so, Brett and Vanessa found their morning pleasantly engaged with Ms. Moss and an earful of make-believe kids and wealth. Apparently, Vanessa would stumble upon a vast fortune, but only after she renounced her worldly possessions and moved into the woods.

(”But I thought she was renounced!” said Brett. “Jealous,” muttered Vanessa.) Brett would supposedly be married five times and twice to the same girl.

(”That sounds reasonable. Who could stand to live with him?” she joked as Brett stuck his tongue out at her.)

An hour flew by until Brett and Vanessa stood up, thanking Ms. Moss for her wonderfully entertaining readings.

“My pleasure!” she said with a smile. “Be sure to stop by again before the day is over and make sure I’m still alive.”

They assured her they would do just that… after Brett had muttered under his breath “Wouldn’t she know when her end was coming?” and Vanessa elbowed him hard in the ribs.

When they stepped out into the sunlight, Brett and Vanessa were amazed to see how many people had arrived in the last hour. Screaming kids swarmed the fairgrounds, pulling on their charges’ hands. Groups of teens, just as rowdy, lined up for rides and games. It seemed as if the whole town had congregated at the fairgrounds. As they weaved through the crowd, they heard many shouts of greeting and returned all of them. With Halloween just around the corner, everyone was in a festive mood.

“Over there!” Vanessa pulled on Brett’s arm. “Let’s take a look at the pumpkins. Dad told me yesterday that we should pick one out and bring it home.”

“But I wanted to… ride on the carousel,” Brett finished lamely.

“HOW old are you again? We need to get a good pumpkin before they’re all gone!”

“Why? Where are we going to put it while we go on the rides?”

“I’m sure Ms. Moss will let us leave it in the psychic’s tent,” replied Vanessa. “You know, it’ll add to her whole ‘mysterious’ tarot theme.”

“Fine, fine. But we have to go on each ride before we leave. And YOU can carry the pumpkin.”

“Okay, I will. But you’re holding my purse then.” She shoved her purse into Brett’s hands.

“Your money might accidentally go missing!” he said, as she walked away.

“And I know where you live!” she called over her shoulder.

The pumpkin patch was at the far corner of the fairgrounds. It was actually a decent size thanks to Mr. Andrews, who had the best green thumb in Macon County. A big tent stood to one side of the patch, packed with parents and kids taking out their artistic abilities on their chosen pumpkins. Mr. Andrews sat watching, pride written all over his kind features. Brett and Vanessa waved to him before stepping into the orange-dotted lawn.

Vanessa immediately spotted the biggest pumpkin and made her way toward it. She squatted next to it and inspected it closely, looking for any bug holes or bites. It was perfect. She was just about to stand up and call Brett over when a grating voice sounded close to her ear.

“Good choice, dearie.” Vanessa gasped and jumped up, startled. She turned and found herself looking into Mr. Vanderwort’s eyes.

Mr. Vanderwort was, without doubt, the creepiest man in the county. He lived alone at the top of Billing’s Hill and only left his home on very rare occasions. Rumors circulated within the town about his past; that he was in one too many wars, that he was a drug-smuggler back in the day, that he was a retired sailor who had witnessed his crew drown. But they were all rumors. No one knew for sure how old he was or what his past was and for sure nobody would ask him. It was said that once a man jokingly asked him what he did for a living and Mr. Vanderwort had just stared at him, his cold eyes glaring out from beneath his scraggly hair. The next day, all of that mans’ cattle were found dead in the field. Everyone knew it was better to steer clear of Mr. Vanderwort.

Vanessa took a deep breath and silently willed her heart to stop racing. “Hello, Mr. Vanderwort. It’s a nice day to be out.” Mr. Vanderwort stared at her. Then he stared at the sky.

“Yep. They’re here,” he said, still staring hard at the blue sky. Vanessa glanced around. Brett was on the other side of the patch with his back to her, chatting with a group of his high school buddies. So much for a rescue. She told herself she was being silly and turned back to Mr. Vanderwort, who was still looking skywards.

“Um. Who’s here?”

He jerked his eyes back to her.

“You know what I’m talking about,” he growled. “Don’t play dumb.”

“I d…don’t, really,” Vanessa stammered, slowly edging away.

“The underground. The underground. They come from under the ground. From the underground.”

“Everything okay, Vanessa?” Mr. Andrews had walked over and he now put his hand on her shoulder. Mr. Vanderwort glared at him.

“Let’s hope it doesn’t rain,” he spat. Then he loped off towards the main section of the fair, his hunched figure clearing a wide path from the other visitors.

Mr. Andrews glanced upwards. “It sure doesn’t look like rain,” he laughed. Then he said more seriously to Vanessa, “Mr. Vanderwort is harmless. Still, stay away from him. Some people have been through more than we can ever comprehend.” He gave her shoulder a pat and headed over to help an indecisive family choose a pumpkin.

Vanessa stood quietly for a second. Underground? What did Mr. Vanderwort mean? Then she decided she was just being silly. I must be dumb if I’m going to listen to his crazy talk, she thought. She picked up the big pumpkin (it was heavier than it looked) and walked over to the tent to find Brett and pay for it.

Later that evening, on their fifth carousel ride, Vanessa told Brett what happened in the pumpkin patch. Brett laughed.

“He’s crazy!”

“I KNOW that,” said Vanessa, feeling slightly stupid, “but it kind of weirded me out.”

“Nah, don’t worry about it. Mr. Vanderwort has a couple of screws loose. Underground? Haha! Does he believe in vampires or something?”

They stayed to help clean up the fairgrounds after the crowd had left. Brett and Vanessa’s parents weren’t expecting them home at a specific time so, when asked to help out by a harried-looking Mr. Crosby (who had organized the fair), they happily agreed. They were quickly supplied with gloves and trash bags and set to picking up litter in the dimly lit fairgrounds.

“What I don’t get,” said Vanessa, “is why someone had to dump this can on the ground two inches away from the garbage can.” She picked the can up and dropped it into her bag.

“Hey kids!”

A tired Ms. Moss walked toward them. She looked like a mess. Her turban was skewed and falling off. Her makeup was smudged and she had a big ketchup stain on her robe.

“Wow, what happened to you?” asked Vanessa.

Ms. Moss glanced down at the ketchup stain with a small grin. “I told a little boy that he should stop eating so much if he wanted health in his future. He didn’t like that very much.”

“Well,” said Vanessa, suppressing a giggle, “I guess some people don’t know a good fortune-teller when they see one.”

“Thank you, honey. Your pumpkin is still in the tent. Amazingly enough, it doesn’t have ketchup on it.” Ms. Moss massaged her forehead. “My last prediction for the night: I will be sleeping for a decade.” They laughed and she said good-bye.

An hour later, they had almost all of the trash off the ground. Most of the adults had done their share and sleepily headed home. Mr. Crosby thanked Brett and Vanessa and told them to leave whenever they wanted. They decided to stay ten more minutes and then head home.

“Watch this!” Brett grabbed a half-eaten pretzel from the ground and launched it at a nearby trashcan. It bounced off the side with a “thud”.

“Haha! Great aim, Brett. You should join the NBA,” said Vanessa sarcastically. She walked over to pick up the pretzel and put it in the trashcan. Something glittery caught her eye. She reached in and pulled a long chain out. Dangling on the end was a big key.

Brett jogged over. “Hey cool! Isn’t that one of those old keys?”

Vanessa held the key up to get a better look at it. “Yeah, they’re called skeleton keys. I wonder why this was in the trash can.”

“Well, someone’s loss and your gain. It’s neat. Keep it.”

“Yeah, it is.” Vanessa tucked the key and chain into her jacket pocket. “I think we’ve picked up most of the garbage. Head home?”

After piling the trash bags near the port-o-potties and shedding their gloves, they found their pumpkin and began their walk home. It was a twenty-minute walk to the town square and ten-minutes past the square was their home. They didn’t mind the walk at all. In fact, Mr. Crosby had asked them if they wanted a ride. But it was such a beautiful night that they decided to enjoy it. Chatting animatedly about the day and the people they had seen, they cut through an old cow field and walked by the abandoned barns.

“They’re creepy at night,” said Vanessa, looking up at the looming outline.

“They’re creepy in the day and they still smell like cows,” muttered Brett. “Jeez, it’s getting chilly out here.” He stopped to get a better grip on the pumpkin. “I still can’t believe you talked me into carrying this thing.”

“Would you rather make a girl carry it while you watched? That’s not very gentleman-like,” said Vanessa sweetly.

“You don’t count. You’re my sister,” replied Brett, but he didn’t try to give her the pumpkin.

They continued walking.

“I love it out here,” said Vanessa, breathing in deeply. “It smells like autumn. Oh, watch out for the old well.”

“Yeah, yeah. I know this place like the back of my hand.”

And then, without warning, it happened.

Vanessa felt a tug on her purse and whirled around. “Wha-?!”

Someone was trying to pull her purse off her shoulder.

Vanessa screamed and pulled away. She crashed into Brett behind her, who dropped the pumpkin. The person stumbled back out of the barn shadow and, in the moonlight, they got a clear view of him. The first thing they noticed was that he was extremely white, almost luminescently so and… completely bald. No eyebrows and not a hair on his head. He looked to be about four feet tall and was only wearing a long, black shirt. The second thing that stood out about him was that his nose was abnormally long and pointy.

“Ow! He scratched me!” said Vanessa, examining her arm.

“Good grief,” gasped Brett. “That is one ugly little kid.”

For a few seconds, they stood there looking at him. He stared back with small, squinted eyes.

And then he hissed.

“What?! He just-.” Vanessa didn’t have a chance to finish her sentence. The kid lunged at her purse again and she screamed.

Brett jumped forward. “Get off my sister!” he yelled and grabbed the boy from behind. Brett dragged him off Vanessa and shoved him hard.

The kid staggered back, tripped over a piece of wood and fell straight into the well, all without a sound.

Vanessa and Brett froze, too shocked to say anything.

Vanessa found her voice first. “Oh my God, I think you killed him.” They ran over to the well and peered into it. It was pitch black.

“Hello?” Brett shouted into the well. “Can you hear me? Hello!”

His voice echoed back at them.

And then silence.

They waited for a noise, anything to let them know that the boy was okay.

Nothing.

“We need to get to the police now!” breathed Vanessa.

Brett was still staring into the well. “I didn’t mean to. God, I didn’t mean to-.”

“I know you didn’t mean to!” shouted Vanessa. She took a deep breath and said, in a soothing voice, “It’s alright. It was an accident. Now we need to get someone to help, okay?” Brett looked at her and nodded.

They turned away from the well and ran as fast as they could towards the town square, the pumpkin forgotten on the ground.

Chapter 2: The Book

The next day was the longest school day Vanessa had ever endured. She had gotten very little sleep the night before, due to their odd encounter, and now she couldn’t focus in class. She attempted to pass the time by doodling and reading under her desk, but she couldn’t focus on either one. Somehow she survived through English, history, art, science, and was now waiting for her last class to end. Glancing at the clock every two seconds, she waited for what seemed like eternity. As soon as the bell rang, she jumped up and was the first out the door.

Brett was waiting for her at her locker.

“Any news?” she asked him eagerly.

“Principal Watts pulled me out of math and said we should go to his office after school was over. Let’s go.”

They quickly walked down the school halls, navigating their way through the students.

“I hope the kid’s okay,” said Brett.

“I’m sure he is. The well is empty and probably piled with leaves.”

“Yeah, I guess so. Why was he trying to grab your purse? I don’t get it. We don’t have pick-pockets in this town. All of that happens in the city.”

“I don’t know. I thought we knew everyone in Macon. Anyone move here recently?”

“Not that I know of. But if they did, I’m sure we’ll find out soon.”

They arrived at Principal Watts’s office and knocked on the door. The portly principal opened the door and said in a booming voice, “Come on in!”

He ushered them in and told them to take a seat. “I’m sure you know the Sheriff?” he said, gesturing to a uniformed man occupying the third seat.

“It’s okay, Morris. I talked to the kids last night at the office,” said the sheriff.

Brett blurted out, “Sheriff, we really need to know if that boy is okay.”

The sheriff took off his hat and rubbed his balding head. “Well, now. It’s the funniest thing.”

Vanessa and Brett held their breath.

“We didn’t find anyone in that well,” said the sheriff.

“What?!” said the twins in unison.

“He fell in there. We both saw it!” exclaimed Vanessa.

“A boy, wearing black, looked about ten,” said Brett. “Maybe he climbed out?”

The sheriff laughed. “No, son. Someone falls in that well, they’re gonna stay in that well. It’s too deep to climb. Are you sure you saw the boy fall in? Could he have tripped and ran away?”

The twins exchanged looks.

“Sheriff, I’m positive,” said Vanessa, “That boy fell into the well. Brett saw it too.” Brett nodded.

“Well now, it was dark and it had been a long day. Your mind can sure play some funny tricks on you when you’re tired.”

“But he scratched me when he tried to grab my purse!” exclaimed Vanessa, “I still have the marks on my arm!” She rolled up her sleeve and showed the sheriff the red scratches.

“Now, now,” boomed the sheriff, “that could have come from anything while you were taking the shortcut. I’m sure there were lots of trees and shrubs along the way.”

Brett and Vanessa didn’t know what to say. The sheriff stood up. “It’s a good thing it didn’t happen though. We don’t have to worry about what a boy’s parent might say about an empty well in the middle of a dark field.” He laughed loudly and then shook hands with Principal Watts. “Good-bye, Morris.” He turned to Brett and Vanessa, who also stood. “Kids, stay away from dangerous places in the dark. Your health is more important than a shortcut.” He smiled. “But you’re smart and I’m sure you know that.”

Brett and Vanessa thanked him and said good-bye to the principal.

“Okay. Now I don’t know what to think,” said Vanessa, as they walked home. “I know we weren’t BOTH hallucinating.”

“Are you kidding me? Vanessa, I didn’t sleep last night because I was so scared I could have killed a boy. We did not imagine that. There is no way. I can’t believe they thought we were making it up.”

Vanessa was quiet for a few minutes. Then she said, “We should go back.”

“What?” Brett exclaimed, “Why?”

“I don’t know,” Vanessa shrugged, “Maybe the police missed something. Maybe the kid dropped something and we can then prove that we’re sane. Maybe a wallet or something. ID.”

Brett smiled wryly. “Fine. I doubt we’ll find a wallet or anything, but it wouldn’t hurt to look around. Let’s change out of our school uniforms first.”

“Duh. Mom would kill me if I got this uniform dirty again for the millionth time.”

They talked about various things as they walked through the falling leaves, determined to keep the subject off last night’s incident.

An hour later, they found themselves nearing the abandoned barns. They had changed, gobbled down dinner, and said a quick good-bye to Mrs. Terrence before bolting out of the house. “Kids,” Mrs. Terrence sighed, clearing the dishes from the table.

The barns looked even more daunting in sunset. They went straight to the well and looked in. Despite the failing light, they could see the bottom of the deep well.

“Yep, empty. Just like the sheriff said,” commented Brett.

“Well,” said Vanessa, “I was right. There are a bunch of leaves down there. Someone could easily survive the fall. Maybe he somehow got out while we were running to the station.”

“Yeah, maybe you’re right,” said Brett, sounding doubtful. They were both thinking the same thing: the walls were much to smooth to climb.

The twins searched the surrounding area but didn’t find anything besides the pumpkin, which was a little bruised but otherwise fine. They even took a quick look in the barns, but only found a couple of rusty watering cans.

It soon grew too dark to continue the search, so they decided to head back home. After ten minutes of walking in silence, Brett suddenly had a thought.

“Vanessa! What was in your purse yesterday?”

Vanessa glanced at him. “Nothing important. Why?”

“Well, I just figured that since he was trying to steal your purse, maybe there was something in there that he wanted.”

“Like money?” laughed Vanessa. “Isn’t that what all purse-snatchers are after? I had a few dollars, some makeup, candy. That’s about it. Definitely nothing worth falling into a well for.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” said Brett.

They were quiet the rest of the way home, each lost in their own thoughts.

The next few days passed without event. The twins were busy with school and the upcoming Halloween and didn’t have much time to think about anything else. They hung out with their friends near the town square fountain and helped their mother with chores in the evening. Vanessa and Brett also liked to spend time in the library. Both were big readers since their parents opted not to raise their children with a TV in the house. Especially on rainy days, they would take trips to the Macon County Library and spend hours curled up on the big, old couches, their noses buried in books.

One such rainy afternoon, Vanessa came across an oversized, dilapidated book, full of ink drawings of fabled creatures. A big-time fantasy and fiction fan, she was immediately intrigued and began to browse through the pages, one at a time. Oddly enough, there were no words, just drawings on the pages. One picture suddenly caught her eye and she gasped.

Brett looked up from his book. “What?”

“Oh my God, I don’t believe it!” exclaimed Vanessa, still looking at the book.

“What? What? Jeez, lemme see!” He leaned over from his couch and looked over her shoulder. They both stared at the picture.

A bald creature with a long, pointy nose stared back up at them.

“Ohhhhhh no. No, no, no. Not good,” whispered Brett. He grabbed the book from Vanessa’s lap.

“Hey!” she protested, as he studied the picture more closely.

It was, without a doubt, the Thing they had encountered by the barns. It was dressed in black clothes and sketched behind it was a big bonfire. The Thing did not look friendly at all. He had a sneer on his face and small, pointed fingernails. A small “G.B.” was initialed at the bottom of the page.

“Where’d you find this?”

“I just found it in sale section and grabbed it ‘cause it looked interesting.”

“Interesting with no title?” said Brett, one eyebrow raised.

“That’s exactly why. And anyway, that’s beside the point! Why in the world is that… that thing in it?”

Brett examined the front and back of the book. No title on the front. A neon green sticker on the back read $1. The first page was a picture drawing of medusa. There was no title, author, or any publishing information visible anywhere.

“Weird,” Brett muttered. He looked through the pages. “Vanessa?”

“Yeah?”

“Notice what these drawings have in common?”

“No… What?”

“None of these creatures are good.”

It was true. The whole book was composed of dragons, vampires, and other such evil-looking beings.

Vanessa immediately rolled up her sleeve and looked at the faded scratch marks on her arm.

“Oh man,” she whispered.

“Uh, yeah. I would put something on that if I were you,” said Brett with a grimace. “Maybe like Holy Water.”

They looked through the book together, cover to cover. Each picture had the initial “G.B.” under it.

“Well, what do we do now? I don’t think this is enough proof for the sheriff,” said Brett with a small laugh. “It would be more proof for him that we’re going nuts.”

“We’re definitely not showing this to the sheriff… Or anyone else for that matter. Don’t you dare tell any of your friends.”

“Of course not! They wouldn’t believe me anyway. Think I want them to start avoiding me?”

“Well then,” said Vanessa, “let’s ask Mrs. Fording if she knows where this book came from.”

“Good idea.”

Mrs. Fording, sitting behind the front desk, had no idea where the book came from.

“You found it on the sale shelf, right dearie?” she asked in a chirpy voice. “I’m sorry, but most of those books are donated. In fact, we have a donation box near the front. Most of the time I don’t even see who puts books in there.”

She handed the book back and peered at them over her square glasses. “Good luck with your search though. Macon County is small so just try asking around.”

“Mrs. Fording, do you know of anyone who donates here regularly?” asked Vanessa, putting the book carefully into her backpack. “I mean, you must see some of the people who drop off books.”

“Hmmm. Let me think for a minute.”

Mrs. Fording placed her fingertips together and closed her eyes, silent for a few moments. Brett looked at Vanessa and rolled his eyes.

“Well now,” said Mrs. Fording, her eyes popping open. “I have noticed Mrs. Ferguson putting books in there. You know, the baker’s wife? Oh and also Mr. Dante, that handsome Spanish man who moved into town recently,” she said, dreamily.

Brett turned a snigger quickly into a cough as Vanessa stepped on his foot.

“Thank you so much for your help, Mrs. Fording. We’ll ask around,” she said, placing a crumpled dollar bill on the desk.

“Enjoy the book!” Mrs. Fording chirped as they walked toward the entrance.

“Well, we know one thing for sure,” said Brett, as they stood on the library porch and watched the rain drizzle down.

“And what’s that?”

“Neither Mrs. Ferguson or ‘handsome’ Mr. Dante is the author of the book. The initials are ‘G.B.’ and their last names don’t start with a ‘B’.”

“True,” replied Vanessa. “But it’s possible that Mrs. Ferguson’s last name started with a ‘B’ before she married Mr. Ferguson.”

“I guess so,” said Brett, slowly. “But a baker’s wife? Aren’t they supposed to be all round and jolly? And somehow I can’t imagine a woman drawing those pictures though.”

“What! Why not?”

“Well, they just seem to be more of a guy-type thing to draw. I mean, how many girls do you know that sketch Medusa’s and dragons in class?”

“I think it could be very possible that a woman drew those,” said Vanessa, somewhat miffed. “Not only boys have good imaginations.”

Brett quietly replied, “Unfortunately, this has nothing to do with imagination.”

They stood side-by-side and quietly waited for the rain to cease.

Chapter 3: The Search

Mrs. Ferguson, in fact, was round and wearing the typical dusty apron. But she was most definitely not jolly, at least not when Vanessa and Brett stopped by the bakery the day before Halloween. Her assistant baker, who she had been training to run the bakery in the future, had left to the city for a better job offer. Mrs. Ferguson was in a terrible mood and bustled around, swatting at the construction paper bats hanging from the ceiling. She placed two slices of rhubarb pie in front of the twins and ranted and raved about her ex-assistant, how she had practically raised him, taught him all her recipe secrets, etc. Brett and Vanessa listened politely and ate their pie, glad they obviously weren’t expected to respond to this outrage.

When Mrs. Ferguson stopped to catch her breathe, Brett quickly threw in, “Well, this sure is the best pie I have ever tasted and I’m sure there will be plenty of people knocking down your door to work with you.”

At this, Mrs. Ferguson completely changed.

“Oh you sweet, sweet boy,” she said, her eyes tearing up. “That was just what I needed to hear right now. You see what happens when children are raised well by their parents? They turn out to be polite and helpful and cheerful and… and… well, like you wonderful children.” She clasped her hands and gazed lovingly at them.

Brett glanced uneasily at Vanessa.

“Um, Mrs. Ferguson?” ventured Brett. “We were wondering if you could help us with something.”

“I sure will try, darling. What do you need help with? Are you baking a cake for someone? Maybe a girl?”

“Oh no,” said Brett, with a slightly terrified look. “I don’t bake cakes. I actually don’t bake at all… ever.” He sat back in his chair.

“Well then, what can I help you children with? Aside from baking, I’m not quite sure what else you might need me for…”

Brett, from the look on his face, was obviously still picturing himself with oven mitts and a flowery apron, so Vanessa took over.

“Mrs. Ferguson,” she said, “you donate books to the library, right? Mrs. Fording, the librarian, told us that she’s seen you put books in the box a few times.”

“Oh yes, that’s right. I donate the books I buy at the used bookstore. I do love those romance novels! Did you know that Mona Donaldson started writing her novels again? You do know who she is, right? Of course you do! Every girl your age does.”

Vanessa exchanged looks with Brett. They were both thinking the same thing: romance novels?

“Of course I’ve heard of Mona Donaldson,” she lied to Mrs. Ferguson, “and I’m happy to hear she’s writing again. Um, do you read anything besides romance or is that basically it?”

“No, darling, that’s pretty much it. I usually- Oh, one minute. Be right back.”

A couple had stepped into the bakery and Mrs. Ferguson moved over to the counter to assist them.

Brett leaned over to Vanessa and whispered, “Do I look like I bake?”

“No!” she said fiercely, “Don’t be stupid! Since she only reads romance, I guess all we can ask her is if she knows anyone else who donates books to the library.”

Mrs. Ferguson actually did know of a few other people who donated books to the library.

“The used bookstore, you know the one next to Weeber’s Candy Shop, is such a great place to talk to people. I’ve gotten to know a few of the bookstore regulars well since I run into them all the time there. Let’s see, there’s Ms. Smith, such a common name is it not? She’s a quiet one, donates lots of books. Big reader. You can find her working in Weeber’s Candy Shop on the weekdays. Mr. Dante is always at the bookstore too and he told me, in the stunning Latin accent of his, that he takes his books to the library. Oh, and Old Gertrude. Poor lady, about to go any second, if you know what I mean. And I think that’s about it.”

She paused for a breath and Vanessa jumped up.

“Thank you so much for your help, Mrs. Ferguson,” she said. “You have done more than enough, you really have.” Mrs. Ferguson beamed.

Brett stood up and thanked her also.

“Oh you darlings. I wish more people had manners like you two. If they did, they wouldn’t leave you behind at a moment’s notice and run off to the city to work with some big-shot baker.” A dark, distant look crossed Mrs. Ferguson’s face.

Vanessa and Brett muttered a few more “thanks” and escaped quickly.

“Oh my good Lord,” said Brett, as they walked toward home, “I think my ears are about to fall off.”

“I know, I know. Me too,” replied Vanessa, “but she was pretty helpful. I mean, she definitely wouldn’t have been able to tell us anything about that book but she did tell us about a few more book donors.”

“Yeah. And everything else about them.”

“The last person with this book shouldn’t be too hard to track down. I mean, there’s not that many books that get donated to the library. I always look at the sale shelf and there aren’t too often new books.”

“Yeah, but what are we going to do when we find the last person who had the book? I doubt that person is the author or artist and isn’t it most likely that it came from the used bookstore anyway? Why don’t we just ask there?”

“We’ll ask there,” said Vanessa, “but I doubt they’ll know where the book came from. There are so many books there. Probably better to trace it to a particular person. Besides, this is not the kind of book you would find in a used bookstore. Who would buy it? They could just look at the pictures in the store and put it back on the shelf.”

“You bought it,” pointed out Brett.

“Very funny, Brett,” said Vanessa, sarcastically. Then, in a more serious tone, “If you think about it, this is the kind of book someone would have had given to them. Or passed down in a family or something like that.”

“You’re probably right. I’m just tired of constantly thinking about this book,” Brett grumbled

“Yeah, I know. And it’s the day before Halloween. Should we just start looking again after Halloween?”

“That would be awesome. Let’s not utter a word about the book or the ugly kid until afterwards, ok? Let’s just enjoy Halloween like normal kids do. Promise?” Brett stuck out his pinky.

Vanessa hooked pinkies with him. “Promise.”

Everyone at Macon County High was giddy with anticipation for the holiday and for the fact that it was a Friday. Orange and black streamers hung in the halls of the school and most of the students were wearing costumes. The school staff allowed the students to wear costumes every year on Halloween instead of the usual school uniforms. In fact, many of the staff themselves wore costumes.

Brett had decided to wear his football uniform. Halfway through his first class, he began to realize that it wasn’t the most comfortable costume. Of course, his practical sister had decided to wear regular clothes and throw on a glittery, pink mask. He figured he should have done the same, minus the glitter and the pink.

“Pssssssssst! Brett!”

Brett glanced up from doodling in his notebook. Pete Wagner was signaling to him. He looked at Mrs. Howard. Her back was towards them as she scribbled math equations on the blackboard.

“What’s up, Pete?” Brett whispered.

“Are you going trick-or-treating tonight?” Pete whispered back.

“Yeah. Definitely.”

“Okay. Well, me, Jason, and Kat are going together if you want to join our group.”

“Sounds good. I’ll just run it by Vanessa. I’m sure she’ll be up for it though.”

As soon as math class ended, Brett made his way to Vanessa’s locker and waited for her to arrive. She appeared a few minutes later, breathless with excitement.

“Oh my God,” she exclaimed, grabbing his arm. “You’ll never guess what I figured out during history class!”

“Um. Ow.” Brett pulled his arm away from her. “What did you-?”

“This!”

Vanessa reached into her jacket and pulled out the chain with the skeleton key.

“What about it?” asked Brett.

“This is the jacket I was wearing when that thing attacked me,” said Vanessa, triumphantly. “I realized the key was in my pocket during history class.”

Brett looked skeptical.

“You don’t know for sure that it was after the key.”

“No, you’re right. I don’t. Not for sure anyway. But I have a strong feeling it wasn’t going for my purse either.”

————————————————————————————

************

Travels With Shara

Prologue

My mind slowly brings to focus the faint chirruping of what seems to be a cricket. Opening my eyes into darkness, I sit up quickly, a momentary flicker of panic until I remember where I am: my Uncle Dave’s house in Plymouth, Michigan. I’m lying on an air mattress at the foot of two beds, now occupied by my mother and father who are snoring peacefully despite the continued chirruping. I lie back down, realizing that the electronic chirps are emanating from a cell phone somewhere near my parents’ heads. I make a sweeping gesture with my hand and find my own cell phone. It’s 4:00 AM. I snuggle back under the red-printed reindeer blanket and wait for one of them to wake up. They continue to sleep, however, and the alarm begins to get on my nerves, too faint to wake them up and too loud to let me sleep. Damn cricket, I think. Sighing, I pull myself back into a sitting position and peer at my mother’s small form on the bed.

“Mata,” I whisper loudly. No answer. “Mata!” Louder. I hear her stir.

“Hm?” she says sleepily.

“Are we supposed to get up now?”

“Huh?”

“Your cell phone alarm.”

“Oh.” She finds it and turns it off.

“Are we supposed to get up?” I ask again. Now my father’s voice joins in.

“What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” I say. “I was wondering if it was time.”

“Well, what time is it?” He sounds annoyed. Like I wanted to be up at four in the morning either.

“It’s four.”

“My alarm is set for four forty-five.”

“Forty-five more minutes?” My mom is snoring again, leaving me on my own to figure out why an alarm went off at 4 AM.

“Yes,” says my dad. “Go back to sleep.”

“Oh. Well, Mata’s alarm was set to four.”

“Okay.”

I lie back down, confused. Forty-five more minutes, forty-five more minutes…

I open my eyes what feels like a minute later. My parents are up and about, my dad with a towel wrapped around his waist and my mom gathering up her stuff to go to the bathroom. I groan and roll over, but it’s too late. My dad has seen that I’m awake.

“Time to get up.”

I don’t respond and lie stationary, like a rabbit crouching in plain sight with its body rigid and heart pounding.

“Shara.”

(I’m invisible, I’m invisible…)

“Shara, get up.” This time I hear something in his tone indicating that it would be a very unwise idea to disobey.

“I’m up,” I grumble and slowly get out of bed.

My mother rushes off to the bathroom and returns three minutes later, showered and refreshed. I glare at her like it’s her fault for not giving me more time. I’ve barely located my toothbrush.

About forty minutes later, we’re packed and ready to go. Dave is up with his cup of coffee and waits patiently while we pile our luggage into the trunk of his car. We have all packed lightly for our trip: my dad and I a duffel bag each and my mother a suitcase almost as small. Dave informs us “mornings are not for me” and we set out to the airport with my uncle behind the wheel. We’re all extremely tired and therefore very giddy. Dave asks me if it’s true that I’ve met Jon Bon Jovi. I say no and ask him who told him that.

“Your mother,” he replies. I turn to glare at her for a second time that morning.

“You told me you met him at a dinner!” she cries.

“What? Jon Bon Jovi? I don’t even know what Jon Bon Jovi looks like!”

“Well I never even heard of him before you met him and told me his name!”

We argue for a few more minutes in this manner. When we’re done, my mother is left unconvinced and I’m left questioning my memory.

“However,” I tell Dave, not to be outdone, “I have met a lot of celebrities, my favorite being Jay-Z.”

“And she’s good friends with Lance Bass,” pipes up my mother. “He calls her with his relationship problems, you know, with his boyfriends.”

“Who’s Jay-Z?” says Dave to my dad.

“I don’t know. Some rap artist, I think.” I roll my eyes in the backseat.

“A rapper, huh?” says Dave. There’s a moment of silence. Then my dad attempts to sound out what he thinks is rap music.

“Boom-boom-BOOM-BOOM,” he says, trying to sound like the bass beat. Dave, of course, joins right in and starts making up rap lyrics.

“Yo’ momma don’t like me,” he begins.

“’Cause I have gender issues,” finishes my dad. They dissolve into laughter while I shake my head in the back seat and try to hold back a smile. Still little boys at heart.

We thank Dave at the airport and say good-bye to him, promising to see him in eight days.

“Be careful of the big monkeys,” he warns, before taking off in the bright red car.

Inside, my parents and I find the Delta check-in line. While we wait in the short maze of black ribbon, my father and I entertain ourselves by reciting lines from “Nacho Libre” and I tell him about the plot of “Blue Streak”. I proudly realize that we are the loudest family at the check-in counters.

Day One: Cuernavaca

 

Our flights to Mexico went by without too much of a problem. We did not miss our planes or any such drastic thing. However, there are always those few minute events that have to happen in order for flights to not be perfect. (If they were perfect, ticket prices would be even higher!) These events always seem to involve me.

First of all, my mother gave my first name as “Sharanagati” when she booked the tickets. She seemed vaguely surprised to find out that she and my father actually gave me the name “Saranagati” at birth, without the letter “H” as my nickname suggests. Thankfully, that was dealt with efficiently by a Delta representative at the check-in desk and resolved within a matter of minutes.

The next thing was getting through security. Although I had been complaining about the two ladies in front of us who seemed to have a never-ending amount of hidden metal on their persons, justice was served as my purse was run through the screening machine three times. The culprit was a big torch lighter (one of those re-fill ones), which the security personnel finally found in one of my many zippered purse pockets. I had forgotten it was in there. This one elicited a particularly nasty look from my mother when it was held up and then confiscated.

“Mata! It was a gift!”

Nasty look, accusatory.

“Like I would actually buy a torch lighter with the Playboy logo on it?”

Lastly, after my father and I took a nap on our stopover in Atlanta, Georgia, I left my four-hundred dollar Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses there in my tired rush to board the plane. I remembered too late and was not allowed to leave the plane to get them. I was an angry mess when I finally fell asleep on our way to Mexico City, but I only had myself to blame.

I had an aisle seat when we landed, but my mother and I craned our necks to see whatever we could out the window. What we saw was a smorgasbord of brightly-colored buildings, all very much the same height. It reminded me of a busy and brilliant rug with no particular pattern to it.

Our landing was smooth aside from a few stomach-raising swoops due to the windy weather. We arrived at 2:05 PM under a brilliant blue sky and the sun beating down on the backs of scattered soldiers standing around on the tarmac. My father was closer to the plane exit than my mother and I and he attempted to take a picture of me as I was walking off the plane. However, an airport employee jumped in the way and he realized, from her rapid Spanish and head-shaking, that photos were not permitted in the airport.

After clearing customs without a problem, collecting our luggage and speaking to someone who spoke English well, we decided to head straight to Taxco. To do this, we found out that we would need to take a bus to the town of Cuernavaca and then take another bus from there to Taxco. We bought our tickets (about $13 each) and waited at the bus spot labeled “Cuernavaca”. We were all excited from the exhilaration of being in a new country and I almost felt as if I was the first one to discover Mexico. We took pictures of each other in pairs, one in which my father is smiling and my mother is laughing with her face in her hands. It’s a beautiful picture. There’s another one taken by my father of the three of us, all smiling, my mother’s face drowning in the bottom of the picture due to her height of four feet, eleven inches. We all agreed that one was a classic. My mother and I attempted to purchase some snacks for the road and, although we couldn’t understand the ingredients, we ended up with chili chips, jalapeno chips, Pringles, guava juice and mango juice. The bus arrived twenty minutes later and, after stowing our luggage underneath, we found ourselves in a comfortable vehicle. My seat was next to the window, my father on my right, and my mother across the aisle from him. Two television screens showed “Premonition”, a suspense film starring Sandra Bullock. We got a kick out of the Spanish-dubbed movie and made weak guesses as to the plot since none of us had seen it. A hostess passed our drinks (we had figured out guava juice was already the tastiest) and a honey and peanut type cracker.

As the bus inched along the busy streets, I was able to view Mexico for the first time. The buildings were squat and square, many a lovely mustard color but also many bright blues, greens, reds and yellows. The Mexicans must love colors because, even aside from the buildings, every available space was painted on. Buses were covered in graffiti-like graphics and even the playgrounds were decorated to resemble rainbows. I was thoroughly reminded of India by the colors, the noisy vehicles, crowded streets and vendors on the sides of the roads.

I watched Mexico City roll by, the foggy silhouette of looming mountains in the background. As the bus found its way out of the city limits, the colors began to flash by. Soon enough, my eyelids drooped close and I was lulled to sleep by the purr of the engine and the low murmur from the Spanish TV…

We arrived in Cuernavaca about an hour after leaving Mexico City. At the bus stop, we inquired about a bus to Taxco, our original destination. There were no more buses to Taxco, however. The last bus had left at six o’clock and it was now a little past. We enquired about the closest hotel and set off down the narrow streets of Cuernavaca.

The Hotel Espana was a bright yellow building. Its entrance was barely discernible against the many other doorways on the street. If one helpful Mexican hadn’t told us “yellow”, I doubt we would have found it.

Our room was gorgeous, one wall painted a brighter yellow than the others. The bedspreads and pillow covers were a splash of pastels and double doors opened up onto a tiny balcony overlooking the road.

After finding the English channels on the TV and relaxing for a few minutes, my mother and I decided we wanted to explore a little bit. We first found a bank (“el banco”) and exchanged our American dollars for the Mexican pesos. Then, on my father’s request, we wandered around looking for an adaptor for his laptop. (Mexican outlets are slightly different from American ones.) On our second attempt, we found someone who managed to tell us where to find one. Now, contrary to popular belief, most Mexicans do not speak English. In fact, it seems the only place to find an English-speaking Mexican are tourist hotels and attractions. So for now, they had to put up with my very broken and most likely incorrect Spanish as I racked my brains for those language lessons years ago. “Cuantos minutos” (“how many minutes”) and “cuantos pesos” (“how many pesos”) seemed to work… accompanied by much hand-gesturing and word-guessing. Apparently, Office Max was not far and, after the nice salesman wrote down the address and told us that it was a ten-minute and twenty peso taxi-ride away, we headed back to the hotel to report to my dad. On the way, we bought some corn (“maiz”) in a cup with chili powder and lime squeezed on top from a vendor on the street. It was some of the best corn I ever had.

My mother and father took a trip to Office Max while I showered and wrote in my journal. They returned triumphant and my computer-geek and technologically-reliant dad immediately disappeared into the depths of his computer. As soon as my mother and I stated that we were going to find food, however, he resurfaced and ordered us (in a very patriarchical voice) to bring him back some dinner. We rolled our eyes and set out once more.

We found a beautiful little café about two blocks and a corner from the Hotel Espana. It had quaint tables and chairs under umbrellas outside and the indoors was more of a veranda with big open windows and no doors or shutters. I was immediately reminded of Rome, with the café sitting on the narrow, winding cobblestone street. We sat inside, right in front of a big window, and gazed past the umbrella tops to the wonderful cathedral across the street. When the waitress arrived with our menus, we looked them over awkwardly, trying to figure out what everything meant. Although I could understand a few words such as “guacamole” (avocado dip), “queso” (cheese), and “frutas” (fruits), I was more than relieved when a waiter recognized us as American and brought over the same menus but in English. He spoke English perfectly and even knew slang terms. When I asked him how he spoke so well, he told us that he had studied in London for a year. He was very helpful with pointing out everything vegetarian and soon we were eating hearts-of-palm salads, tortilla chips with guacamole, and sipping on mango smoothies.

As we ate, the sky slowly turned to nightfall. We had just ordered lasagna and salad to take to my dad, when we heard thunder in the darkness. The customers who had been sitting at candle-lit tables outside warily brought their plates inside or paid the check and left. Sure enough, rain started coming down in torrents before we even realized it and my mother and I were left wondering how we might try and make it back to the hotel. We watched the rain for a little, watched the umbrellas begin to move with the wind, and watched the waiters run outside to pull them down, their t-shirts soaking in the downpour. Then we gathered up the boxes of food, paid the bill, and started running towards the hotel, ducking beneath every awning along the way. Water gushed down the hilly cobble-stoned roads and my mother and I squealed happily every time we ran through a mini-stream. Cars drove by, splashing up water, their lights beaming through the darkness. A few minutes later, we arrived at the hotel safe and sound and just a tad bit wet.

**********************************************************************

Day Two: Taxco

We woke up late the next morning. All of us were still catching up on sleep from the night before and we had been extremely pleased to find out the day before that the check-out time was 1:00 PM. “Vive Mexico,” my dad said.

My mother and father decided to look for some breakfast and check out the beautiful cathedral that my mother and I had seen the evening before when we were sitting at the café. I stayed behind in the room to shower, pack, and catch up on some writing.

My parents returned soon enough, my mother bearing two gifts for me. One was a big package of sliced mango with chili and lime and the other a pocket-size Spanish- English dictionary with a few helpful phrases in the back. I gobbled up the mango and studied the dictionary, hoping to put together a few helpful phrases and not sound like a complete idiot when I had to speak to the Mexicans.

We gathered our belongings, checked out, and headed back to the bus station whence we had came from the day before. It was only a few blocks away and we made it there quickly, despite a few struggles with the luggage. (My mother had insisted I put my duffel bag on her rolling suitcase and it kept sliding off as we were trying to cross the busy roads.)

At the bus station, we left my mother to guard our stuff in the waiting area while my father and I went up to the ticket counters. We waited in line for ten minutes and I quickly looked up a few Spanish words in my dictionary. When it was our turn, I said, “Tres billetes de autobus para Taxco, por favor.” (“Three tickets by bus for Taxco, please.”) The lady jabbered something back and pointed to the next line. We had been standing in the wrong line. We moved over and waited again. I said the same thing when we spoke to the next station attendant and she immediately understood what I had said. (It actually worked! I was so proud of myself just then.) She had me enter our names into the computer so she could print them out on the ticket and told us the next bus left for Taxco at 3:05 PM. We had a bit of difficulty paying the one hundred and seventy-one pesos since the change was confusing us, but we managed to get it right and thanked the lady.

It was only two o’clock. My mother and I bought some bread right outside the station (me once again using my newfound language skills to ask if there were any “huevos” or eggs in it) and then decided to take a walk. We left my dad watching the luggage and set out for the square that my mom and dad had visited the day before. Fifteen minutes later and after my mother had to forcibly drag me out of a bead store, we found ourselves in a crowded little square packed with vendors and people relaxing on benches. My mother and I found the cups of corn again (“no queso”- “no cheese” and “chili y limon si”- “chili and lemon yes”). We bought one for each of us and a third to take back to my father. My mother also spotted roasted pumpkin seeds and, when I asked how much (“cuanto”), the vendor lady said, “Dies y viente.” This confused me for a full minute until I realized she was saying “ten and twenty”. Basically, I could buy the amount for ten pesos or the bigger amount for twenty. We told her “viente, por favor” and walked away with a small bag of pumpkin seeds.

We boarded the bus to Taxco at three o’clock and it departed the bus station soon after. The bus was very comfortable, with a slanted leg rest and cushioned seats that leaned all the way back. This time the television screen was showing “The Da Vinci Code” in Spanish and I could follow along since I had seen it before. But once again I was lulled to sleep in the comfort of the big bus.

I awoke about forty-five minutes later to an amazing view outside my window. We were heading up the side of a mountain, the valleys lush with greenery. As we climbed higher and higher, we could see cities and towns way below, tucked neatly into the sides of mountains or resting peacefully on the valley floors. Every turn in the road brought a new view and my parents and I “ooh”-ed and “ah”-ed each time, also grimacing at the steep cliff drop at the side of our bus. The journey continued this way for quite some time and, just when I thought we couldn’t climb any higher on the mountain, we rounded a corner and a fantastic scene came to sight: Taxco.

The city of Taxco reclined on the side of a mountain, lazily weaving its way over hills and crevices, showing off its beauty with its many colors set against the green background. As we entered the gate into the city, we could see that everything was well taken care of. Flowers bloomed everywhere in beautiful clay pots and white walls guarded residencies. The buildings were made of stucco and painted with great care. Although everything was a chaotic blend of color and textures, not one thing seemed out of place.

From the bus station, we took a taxi to the Santa Anita Hotel, one of the few hotels my father had previously looked up on the internet when researching Taxco. It was so close to the bus station that we probably could have walked, but we did not realize the location until we got there. It was a very pretty building, white with orange shutters and many potted plants surrounding it. My parents conversed with the lady in the small gatehouse as to prices of rooms while I petted a very docile dog. My mother then watched the luggage in front while my father and I followed the lady to view different rooms. We were not too impressed. Although they were decent and comfortable, we expected more. My mother and I were insistent on a room with a great view and decided that, since we were only here for six days, we were going to get our money’s worth. So we all jumped in another cab and told the taxi to take us to Hotel Agua Escondida.

Taxco is very hilly and our cab climbed its way through the tiny streets. At a few points during extremely steep slopes, my mother and I clutched hands and giggled nervously and whispering, “Oh God, keep going! Keep going!” We had the feeling that if the taxi stopped, it would start to roll backwards…

We did make it to our destination in one piece. The Hotel Agua Escondida was located in the very heart of Taxco, to the side of a busy town square (which I later found out is named Zocalo o Playa Principal). A massive cathedral with two intricately carved stone steeples dominated the area. We unloaded our duffel bags and suitcase and stepped into the cool lobby of the hotel. The receptionist spoke English well and told us there were two different rooms to accommodate us at the price of 630 pesos (approximately 63 dollars). We took a look at both. The first had three beds and a TV but was very dark. The second room we saw was on the second floor veranda, with an amazing view of the mountains and surrounding towns. This room had two beds (a single and double), no TV, and a big door and window.

“This is it!” I said excitedly.

“There’s no TV though,” replied my father. I gave him a withering look.

“Like we need TV with this view?” He looked over the mountains.

“That’s true…” But I could still hear the hesitation in his voice. “Are you sure?”

“Yes!” exclaimed my mother and I at the same time.

Room #79 at the Hotel Agua Escondida it was and my mother and I were overjoyed about it.

After we had settled in, my father said, “I’m glad we picked this room.”

“Seriously,” I replied. “We wouldn’t have understood any of the TV channels anyway.”

I asked my father for his digital camera and started taking pictures from our veranda. I took pictures of the far-off mountains and towns tucked into them, the beautiful stucco and stone buildings with their orange clay-tiled roofs and colorful flowerpots, and the twin steeples of the cathedral peeking out over the top of adjacent buildings. I was immediately inseparable from the camera upon discovering my fascination of unique shots.

My parents decided to go to a silver jewelry provider located right outside the town and I agreed to go with them. We were put into a cab by a hotel employee, who told the driver where to go and us how much the ride should cost.

The jewelry building, called Zenfiel (or something of that sort), was situated high on a cliff overlooking Taxco. While my parents went inside to speak business, I walked around outside and took pictures of the scenery. I was so caught up with taking as many interesting shots as possible that I hardly noticed when my parents emerged almost an hour later. As we stood on the road waiting for the taxis return, I told them to sit on a low brick wall for a picture. Behind them was a vast expanse of valleys and mountains beyond that. It is one of the best pictures of them, aside from the one of them laughing at the bus station.

We decided to eat when we got back to the hotel. We walked for about a minute when I pointed to a cute little café on the second story overlooking the square and the cathedral.

“Come! You come to my café!” said an older Mexican, walking toward us. His double-chin wobbled when he spoke and tufts of white hair popped out of the top of his shirt. He made me think of a Mexican Santa Claus.

“You have anything vegetarian?” asked my father. It was already hopeless though. Mexican Santa had see

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