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The Red Rose
By Calliope Njo
Good grief, that red light always took half a century. Wasn’t somebody assigned to manage these things? God, I hated this. Change already. I had to go downtown to pick up something Grisham Graham sent me.
It’s about damn time it changed. Aliens could have invaded the planet and I still would have been waiting for that light to turn green. A space opened up right in front of the post office. I couldn’t get any luckier. I took care of the parking meter with enough time to pick up that mysterious package.
I had to wait in line of course. I never even heard of a Grisham Graham. I had no idea if he existed, turned out to be a prince from another country or even a two-headed alien. Mom and Dad didn’t mention anyone by that name, not even any uncles or grandfathers. None of the five cousins went by that name. Mom traveled to every major city in the universe. She had at least ten stories for every place she visited and made sure I learned them all. Not one of them mentioned anyone named Grisham Graham.
I made it up front and gave a man that pink slip they left in my mailbox. The postman at the front counter came back with a box with my name and address on it. How? OK, stupid question, but I never met whoever this person is or was.
I got home and changed clothes. “Alexa, play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.”
It started and I had a chance to look at it. Old writing, it had to be calligraphy. Not a problem with a computer. I doubted it was by hand. Who still did that?
The brown paper wrapping came off with a pair of sharp scissors. I used a knife to cut the box open. Two big scrolls in it and nothing else. No letter, computer, box, mis-sent snake, or anything.
The more I opened one scroll, the more a map showed itself. Nothing like I ever saw before with counted steps and sun direction. An address that couldn’t have been real: 133/4 Main and B Sharp Street. No such address existed in this city and I’ve been here since I finished grad school fifteen years ago. I put that aside.
“Alexa, go to Grub Hub and order a pastrami sandwich with Swiss cheese and deli mustard on marble rye.”
I needed the extra fuel to help give me energy to figure it out. I opened the other scroll and it was one long-ass letter. I didn’t know how else to think of it. From the very top to bottom, from the left edge to the right edge was covered. I started to rethink my original thought of how it was written. No printer I knew would be able to fit paper that thick or that long. I stood five foot five and it reached from my head to my feet, as thick as lasagna pasta.
I started thinking about food. I needed my food.
Saved by the bell. I got up and got my sandwich. It never tasted so good. Mom would tell me I ate like a pig and should eat like a little lady. Sorry, Mom, you got me instead. A lady? No. A female human? Yes.
The sun still shone through the window when I started reading it. It was about to set when I finished and oh my God. Granted, whoever this was, could have lied to me but if this was indeed handwritten, that was an awful lot of trouble to go through for a scam. Yeah, I might’ve been naive for that thought but something about it… I don’t know. It seemed too real to be phony.
My day off and I had to be at work the next day. I didn’t have time to travel to Palm Beach to talk to Mom and back. I fluttered my lips. The only other option was to Skype. That way I saw her face as I read her the letter.
“Alexa, Skype Mom.” I waited.
She appeared on the screen. “Hi, Baby. Ready to vacay in Palm Beach? Us women need to spend as much time as possible together. We haven’t done anything this month. I’m wait—”
“Mom, I gotta work.” I held up the letter in front of me. “Who is Grisham Graham?”
She turned and glanced over her shoulder. “I think your dad needs my attention. We’ll chat again.” She disconnected me.
Sugar, I got voicemail when I tried to call her on my tablet. Something happened, and it spooked her. I decided to talk to her about that later.
I spent the rest of the night studying that map until I turned cross-eyed and went to bed.
The letter lay on my desk for safekeeping to focus on later. I reviewed the map and followed the instructions.
After further review, a stop into a little toy store I never realized existed. An adorable place filled with dolls and trains. The guy at the front counter would lead the way. I chuckled at the memory of the description of a man with a shiny head that stood six heads high. I cleared my throat. “The road is not golden for it is well traveled. Every sun shines on each of the stepstones.” I used the better part of the morning memorizing that passage.
“For every stepstone is a path to the knowledge we all seek.” He walked out from behind the counter and grabbed my hand. I wasn’t a kid so my hand didn’t need to be held. Since I didn’t know where to go, if he showed me the way I would’ve followed.
He led me through a storage room all the way to the back wall. The coffee-shop-sized store had a large enough storage room to fit a Brownstone.
We stopped in front of another door. “It is through this door another journey begins as the path we sought has now been found.” He didn’t use a key, but a series of buttons and levers to be done in a particular order. The door opened. “That is 133/4 Main and B Sharp Street.”
I stepped through to look but he closed the door behind me. It vanished as in it didn’t exist anymore. Shiny black stones led the way to a door.
The grains in the dark wood had separated. Something coated it to make it shine but not only on the surface, deep enough to coat every grain down to the core of that dark wood. What caught my eye was the giant red rose on the door.
I looked at the map again. “The Red Rose Archives. Where all things have answers.”
I rolled it up, and as I hit against my leg for being dumb about not bringing a backpack, the doors opened. Wall, upon wall, upon wall of books and scrolls. I wore my Nikes, but they sounded like I wore heels instead. It sounded weird, but I looked down and they changed to boots.
My t-shirt and jeans changed to a white long-sleeved blouse, brown pants, and a hooded cape. I wanted to run out of there but nowhere to go and no one to show me the way home. Things got too weird. That interest in finding what this was all about vanished.
A circle of tables appeared out of nowhere around me. To say this got freaky was an understatement. “Will somebody please stop with the parlor tricks?”
“Hattie Marigold Matthews. Yes?” a woman asked.
I turned around and a little old lady from Pasadena stared right at me. “Yes?” I hated my name and vowed to one day change it to anything else.
“Oh, come now. Surely you expected this. We will discuss that at a later time because first there is one important question you have to answer. Who sent you here?”
“Uh…Grisham. Uhm…Grisham Graham.” I felt like one of my kids who got caught with their cell phones on.
She nodded and wrote something down. It seemed to take a moment for her to finish. I expected a ticking clock but it never did. Somewhere a cuckoo clock cuckooed nine times.
“I am Sally.” She rolled up the paper and stood from the table. “If we need more questions clarified, we will let you know. In the interim, make yourself comfortable. This is the information ward. The second floor is the important information ward. The third floor is the critical information ward. The fourth floor is the Keepers’ ward. Basement levels one and two hold top secret information only accessible to certain people.” Sally held out another scroll. I wondered if they had computers. “This is your detailed list of items you require, supplies already in store for you, your daily schedule, and your assigned quarters.”
I took the scroll from her. As soon as I grabbed it, she vanished. “Yeah but what if I have a question? Who is this asshole Grisham Graham, anyway?”
I bit my tongue and dropped my head. A fine teacher you are. “I’m sorry. I’m frustrated and confused.”
I turned around intending to find a window. Instead, a hand scrambled across the floor.
“Grisham Graham. Grisham Graham.” It stopped in the middle of the floor tapping its fingers. “Yes. Yes. Yes.” It hopped in the air. “Male. In hiding. Mysterious affairs.” It disappeared into parts unknown after that.
I found that window. Lush green grass went on forever outside the building. What did I get myself into? How do I explain this to everyone? OK, only Mom, but I did not understand what any of this was or even how I ended up with all these scrolls.
Maybe that red light started all of this and that’s how it got its pleasure. A computer would have made this a lot easier. Again with the big and long scrolls.
“I don’t suppose you have coffee. I didn’t see it listed.” I took a quick look around and didn’t notice any pots.
“Would you prefer a little cream with a little sweetness?” a male asked.
It was new. I put down the scroll and stared into the green eyes of a man that held a yellow mug with steam rising. The aroma of coffee arose.
“Oh. Thank you.” I grabbed it with my stainless steel hands and blew on it before I took a sip. “Black is fine. Thank you. Who are you?”
“Hmm. Perhaps I should have expected this. I am Grisham Graham.” He bowed.
Something dropped and broke that caused my foot to get warm. “So… So much for the alien idea.”
Please visit Calliope’s blog: https://calliopenjosstories.home.blog