I Spy a Getaway

Duncan! Slow down! We’re far from the building and safe!

No, we’re not out of the woods yet. Stella is clever. I thought I knew everything about her, but I was wrong. Jesus, was I wrong.

I freak out, but only a little, and I say,

But wait! Explain why she wants to kill me. What is all this about? She’s the mole, isn’t she? I knew she was up to no good! She was a scheming shithead when we were in school together.

Duncan says,

I’ve always known she’s a bit devious, but people like her always do well in these kinds of espionage jobs. But Stella’s a little too underhanded and forgot whose side she’s on.

You mean, she “forgot”?

Okay. Yes, she “forgot”.

Duncan takes his hands off the wheel to imitate my air quotes. I really need to stop doing that. I even get irritated with me now. But this does make him slow down once he puts his hands back on the steering wheel.

I say, okay, Dunc. Let’s both slow down, breathe deeply and talk normally. So, what’s the deal?

We’re really close to Joan Lake. We’ll settle in, you can get Kristina and her stuff inside and we’ll have a martini or two. Then I’ll explain all.

You know, Duncan, I’ve lived in and around Portland my whole life, and I’ve never heard of Joan Lake. You say we’re almost there, and we’ve only been on the road for fifteen minutes. What the … ?

You’ve never heard of it because, it’s, well… it’s in another world, so to speak.

I say nothing. I take out my phone and try to Google “Joan Lake.” Nothing. In fact, my screen goes blank.

He says,

You won’t find it there anyway. There are no bars here, and your phone won’t work. Well, there are sort of bars, but we call them saloons.

I look at him like he’s out of his mind, and he says, I’m serious, Gretchen. Type the word, universe, all in little letters, an en dash, then the numbers, 59653. Then you’ll have service.

I do this. The numbers show up in green across my screen, and bingo! At the very top, I see four tiny brown old American west style saloons. I roll my eyes, because, well, this is ridiculous, and I look up from my phone to realize Duncan has parked in a circular drive in front of a palatial house. I’m speechless. Almost.

Ah, so Joan Lake is the name of this house? This place is something; definitely not a cabin! Is it some kind of a retirement home for spies like us?

First, we’re nowhere near retirement, and no, this is a safehouse of sorts. No one from Portland can get near us here.

But what about people from San Diego, Fargo, St. Paul, Boston, …?

You know what I mean. No one from the other side.

No, Duncan. I don’t know what you mean. I want that drink, and I want you to tell me everything. Understand? I want to know it all.

All right. I hear you. Let’s go in.

I take Kristina in her carrier out of the back seat along with my purse and backpack. Duncan retrieves his few things, and we go to the door. He doesn’t take out a key, but places his right palm below the brass door knocker and says the words, “hot Seckcee oysters and honey.”

I laugh so hard tears begin to roll. I did not sign up for this ludicrousness. He’s playing some kind of a joke. It has to be a joke. I mean, it does, right? Then I say it,

Duncan, what the everloving hell!?

Just be patient, Gretchen.

The door opens, and we walk in. The foyer is smaller than I expected, but beautiful. A housekeeper enters from a room to the right, and says,

Welcome, Duncan, Ms. Foss, and Kristina.

Duncan says, Gretchen, meet our housekeeper, Anna.

Anna smiles at me, but I feel wary. She reminds me of the housekeeper in North By Northwest, and I shiver slightly.

She says, Come with me Ms. Foss. I’ll show you to your suite, and your closets.

Duncan excuses himself and says, I’ll be in the library for awhile, and then I’ll meet you in the sitting room, Gretchen. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you everything then.

We smile at each other, and I feel at least some relief. I let Kristina out of her carrier, and she and I follow Anna up the stairs on the left. I think, Anna said she’d show me my “suite and closets”. Then I remember I only packed enough for two days, also that I left Kristina’s stuff out in the car.

We reach the top the stairs and take a right, and go into the second room on the left.

Anna says, this is the wisteria room, and I feel like I have to touch the walls. Yep. It’s just wall paper, but it’s like trompe l’oeil. Like I can feel the petals. Like the vines and blooms are coming out of the walls. She asks if I like it, and says that Duncan’s grandmother made and painted the paper.

Then, she says the room is all mine for the length of my stay, and the three closets full of clothes are mine.

I want to say, so you knew I was coming, and for longer than a couple of days, but I don’t get the chance. She goes to exit, but turns and says, Duncan will be across the hall when you’re ready.

I say, well, Kristina, let’s have a look. I realize she’s already hopped up on the bed and made herself at home. I go to look in the closest closet. Are all these clothes really my size? I think back over the last twenty four hours, and it’s all a blur. I feel I’ve lost all sense of time going by. Is it tomorrow yet? It should be late at night. Dunc and I left town right before the potluck was supposed to start. But, I look out the big side window and see full sun like it’s noon, and I have a big headache. No time to nap, though. I need to go see Duncan and find out what this place is and what’s really going on.

I open the door to head across the hall, and decide I’ll take Kristina with me. I think of the potluck and what’s happening or happened there?

The sitting room door is wide open. Duncan is on his phone. I hear him say his sister, Veronica’s name. He says, so sis, what do we do about Stella?

I sink into a deep blue velvet chair, and Kristina leaps up to my lap.

Duncan says to Veronica, do we have any choice but to kill her?

**********

Meanwhile, back at the potluck..

To Be Continued..

Escape the Potluck

I drink my matcha. I need to be well caffeinated for this assignment. It’s not every day I’m asked to do something like this; only once every four months or so.

My Maine Coon, Kristina circles my legs, purrs and talks. I tell her cats don’t drink tea, that she doesn’t want any, but she doesn’t believe me. Ever the skeptic.

My phone chimes with a text from my friend, Stella. She says, don’t forget to bring your little red journal. We have to report everything. We’re in this thing together.

I text back, of course not. But I think to myself. I need to “forget” to bring it anyway. I keep it under lock and key all the time. There’s no reason for me to take it. She’s only up to no good. I wish we hadn’t been partnered on this case, but Duncan de Seckcee insisted.

Oh yes, I should tell you a little about my sort of boss. I met him at a birthday party for my ex, Mathias. (Mathias and I , though exes, are close friends, and get along better now than when we were married.) Anyway, Duncan walked up to me, smiled, held out his hand and said, “Seckcee.” Before he could say anything else, I laughed out loud. Then he said it again, “Seckcee.” Then, “Duncan de Seckcee.” I shook his hand, and we proceeded to discuss gardening and our favorite kinds of cheese. It was a weird conversation. The first of many we’ve had in the six years since.

You see, Duncan is kind of a spy; well, as much of a spy as one can be when many people know that one is kind of a spy. I take occasional assignments from him. Lucrative assignments. Assignments that enabled me to quit my boring job as a boring insurance customer service rep. And these things I do for him are legal, though sometimes they have a nefarious feel to them. I love that nefarious feel. It’s like I’m Agent 99. But I must say that Duncan is a lot smarter than Maxwell Smart. He’s hotter too, but that’s beside the point. We’ve never had a thing, but if the opportunity arose, it wouldn’t be a negative.

This evening, Stella and I are attending a potluck together. We don’t have far to go. It’s happening in an apartment three floors up from mine. Stella lives two floors down from me. I call her my friend, but she’s really not. She was in a few of my classes at Portland State twenty five years ago. We were more acquaintances than friends. Two years ago, I ran into her at the mailboxes here, and we learned we’re apartment building neighbors. Six months later I found out she also works for the de Seckcee family, but usually for Duncan’s sister, Veronica.

**********

I’ve about a half hour to go until the potluck. I don’t want to be the first one there. My special carrot cake is ready to go. I always bring some kind of a dessert to these things. That’s all I’m taking. I’ll lock my bag in my safe with the little red journal that Stella wants so badly for me to bring, and a twenty page dossier on Agent 123-January. I know this dossier by heart, but I can’t afford to have it stolen. One twenty three is the reason for this potluck, though she doesn’t know it. She thinks it’s in celebration of Agent 267-Garth’s 40th birthday. I hope she shows up. But even if she doesn’t the plan should go over fine.

I need more caffeine and fix another cup of matcha. I might be out very late. I wear my favorite chartreuse chiffon dress. It’s vintage, 1973. If tonight goes well, this isn’t an average potluck, after all, I’ll have reason to celebrate. Why not dress up? A reapplication of my hibiscus pink lipstick, and I’m ready. I go to pocket my phone. This dress has one convenient, hidden pocket, and it chimes with another text. My heart sinks to my lime green Mary Jane pumps. It’s from Duncan. He says,

“Don’t go to potluck! Stella is planning to kill you. Get out of your apartment! Pack backpack with enough for two days. Bring Kristina, her necessaries, and the red journal. Will pick you up in 15 minutes in front of PO.”

Well, this is a surprise. Not the last second change of plan, that’s usual for Duncan, but the news of Stella’s mission. I mean, I said we’re not really friends, but this is insane. But I must pack. I reread the text. Dunc isn’t known for short ones.

I go to put Kristina in her carrier, usually difficult, but she breezes right in. Odd. I have to take a small suitcase because I can’t fit all she needs and two days worth of my my own necessities in my backpack. The post office is across the street. I don’t think I’ve ever changed so fast. From my dress to jeans, a Technically Dead book club T-shirt and my blue sneakers in less than a minute. I retrieve the red journal from my safe, lock the compartment back up tight, and replace my fake Degas Pink Dancers. I tell Kristina everything will be fine, but it’s as if she knows it, and we’re off. I take the elevator twelve floors down to the lobby, jog to the front doors, and make a beeline for Duncan waiting in his black VW Beetle across the street. He waves to rush me to get in. I say, where to, Dunc? And he says, to my sister, Myrna’s Joan Lake cabin. I’ll explain on the way…

To Be Continued..

Can I Even Think of a Title?

I can’t seem to write for the life of me

What will i do, omgeeee!?

Whatever i write i delete right away

What the hell is my problem i just can’t say

Maybe a writer i’m not meant to be

Penning romance doesn’t work out at all

It’s the same kind of butt pain as going to the mall

Surrealism is my favorite kind of thing

To that kind of tale my imagination i bring

But here we are almost to winter from fall

I’m working on a mystery tale

But my red herrings bug me, like old bread they’re stale

Maybe i’ll put a body under the bed

Or how about a corpse in a bookcase instead

Maybe the vic should die from poisoned mushrooms and kale

Perhaps the culprit should be from Mars

And he’s hiding on Venus and haunting all the bars

Should the location be a super big city

Or a town on the seaside that’s pretty itty bitty

Should people drive hybrids or cool vintage cars

Maybe i need assignments like i had in school

But then i always rebel against a rule

I want to include a murder of crows

But humans sink to much deeper lows

And i tire of local police in mysteries who seem to act like fools

Or perhaps i’ll not write suspense at all

To write fabulism is always a ball

One thing is certain there’ll be at least one dog or cat

If i want to be spooky several rats or a bat

Or the thing i find most creepy an old bald doll

……

An Unusual Flight

I awaken in a garden. I’m surrounded by sunflowers seven feet tall. There must be hundreds of them. I’m in a pink velvet wingback chair. Did i fly here to wherever i am?

I look up. The sky is clear blue, not a wisp of white. It’s cool like mid autumn. I bend my head back to feel the warmth of the sun on my face for a minute. I’m sleepy. Maybe i’m still asleep?

I hear music. I think it’s something by Liszt. It’s coming from my left. I look in that direction, and see a path through the garden. It’s so long i can’t see where it starts, but it ends where i sit; in the center of a sunflowerless circle, about ten feet around. It’s like a crop circle.

I look straight ahead. I stand, but feel dizzy. I stretch then feel better, but i’m tired. I notice how beautiful it is here. Maybe if i rest awhile, and relax, i’ll wake from this dream and be in my own bed.

The sun is shining, but it’s not too hot. The chair is comfortable, and i adore sunflowers. They appear in my dreams often. Yes, that’s it. I’ll sit down again and drift away. If only i had a cocktail. A dirty martini with three olives would be perfect.

I sit in the soft chair and close my eyes. I hear Liszt again, but i can’t name the piece.

Is the music coming from the sunflowers themselves? It’s a little louder this time.

I close my eyes and prepare to dream, but before a minute passes, i hear a voice on my left..

I hope i’m not disturbing you, Miss Eugenia. But here is the martini you asked for to drink before your flight.

I play along, because why not?

It’s the dirty martini i just thought of. I say, thank you. And you are?

Why, you know me, Miss Eugenia. I’m the Inn’s night bartender, Forrest Crowne.

It’s only now that i notice that Forrest is a Jaguar.

I smile and say, thank you again, Forrest. This is my favorite as you know. I take the drink from the tray and realize an end table has appeared next to my chair. I think what next?

But of course. I look straight ahead and see, five feet across from me, another wingback chair, but this one is purple velvet, and in it sits a gorgeous and regal tuxedo cat.

I laugh out loud. I can’t help myself.

Kitty says, with perfect grammar, Eugenia, at what do you laugh?

Oh, i’m not laughing at you. I’m laughing and intrigued because this is the most bizarre dream i’ve had in ages. I’m enjoying it.

Ah, you think this is a dream?

Well, isn’t it? Maybe i should know this already, but what is your name and how long have we known each other?

Kitty looks puzzled and says, my name is Annette, and you and i have known each other since i was three hundred and you were five.

I don’t laugh this time. This is only a dream. I’ll wake up soon. This is just like that whole season of Dallas, the TV show. Pam has a dream. That crappy season is just a dream. She wakes up and finds Bobby in the shower or whatever. Yeah. That’s it. Maybe i’ll wake up in my own shower, or in my own bed or on my couch.

Annette watches me.

What are you thinking, Eugenia? If you don’t remember, you must have questions.

Forrest clears his throat. I’d forgotten he was there.

He says, if neither of you would like anything else, i should get back behind the bar.

I say, nope nothing for me. Annette purrs, showing she’s content and wants nothing else. Forrest heads back down the sunflower path.

I should have requested another martini. I have the urge to check my texts. I look around for my purse.

Annette says, it’s stowed under your chair, Eugenia, just like it is when you fly on a regular plane.

I want to laugh again, but i’m too freaked out. Where’s Forrest? I need a second martini.

Then i think, wait. I don’t have to sit here. I can get up and walk away. I can walk down the path like Forrest!

Annette says, it’s too late now, Eugenia. We leave in three minutes. You must stay.

I say, what? You can read minds, Annette?

No, but i can tell you’re afraid. You have no reason to be.

I sit back again and try to relax. What can happen? I’m sure i’ll wake up soon, hopefully within the next three minutes.

I gulp the rest of my martini. I’m not calm. Annette watches me with her sharp, cagey feline eyes.

Then, of all things, the sunflowers start to hum. I reach under my chair for my purse and pull out my phone.

Annette says, Eugenia, type fast. Only a minute and a half.

I text my friend, Camille. When the flowers started to sing, it dawned on me where i am. A year ago, Cam made a trip to this same place. It’s called Six Rubies. The innkeeper here recruited her to find Time. She found him with the help of a private investigator. Now i’m here, but how i got here and why i’m here, but about to fly off somewhere, i’ve no idea.

I text,

Camille. I’m in Six Rubies but about to leave. Come if you can. No idea how i got here. What the hell?

Okay, Eugenia. It’s time, says Annette. Your chair is in the upright position. Turn off your phone, and stow your bag under your chair.

I think, god, why didn’t i have another drink or three?

Annette says, close your eyes, and listen to the sunflowers. Focus on the flowers.

I hear them. They hum and then begin a chant. Lost time – find the hidden gems. Lost time – find the hidden gems.

I want to open my eyes, but i don’t dare.

Annette says, keep your eyes closed. Focus only on the sound.

The sunflowers’ chant is hypnotic. I feel like i’m floating. Am i? Or am i flying? The chanting grows fainter. I strain to hear, but now it’s too far away. All is quiet.

Okay, Eugenia. Open your eyes, but sit still.

I open my eyes, and Annette and i are indeed floating in our chairs. It’s nighttime, and the stars are bright, but they glow lavender. I’m relaxed. My legs tingle a little.

Annette looks supremely pleased with herself.

She says, look around. Isn’t it beautiful? We’ve been up here for two hours, but it doesn’t feel like it does it?

I try to look in all directions at once. I see Leo. He winks at me and waves a paw. There’s Aquarius. He flashes me the peace sign, and i send one back. And there’s Venus in a pink negligee walking her little Scottie.

I want to order another cocktail, and just as i think it, Forrest appears to my left…

Mary Raynes

A Cat and Sunflowers and an Assignment

I read the letter postmarked from Six Rubies while the calico cat watches me. I’m exhausted from my trip, but at the same time, i wonder if i really took a trip. Everything in my apartment looks like it did when i left, that is, if i left, except for the kitty.

Did i dream it? The two days in Six Rubies at Madeleine’s Six Rubies Inn. The humidity felt real. I feel i need a shower, still. The chartreuse moon with my grandmother’s loving face and smile. The sunflowers in the Inn’s garden humming their dreams. What was the story i missed? For some reason, i was sent back here; home to Portland before it started.

I live on stories. Metaphorically, i mean. I read them. I write them. I stop along the way when i walk or jog, to take photos and make up stories about them. I take time to eat in between, but even while i eat, i dream up more stories. I load the dishwasher, and dream up tales. I do the laundry, and i come up with just the right word or the perfect sentence. I cook, and do the same. I imagine what the ingredients might want to be. Maybe the linguine wants to be marsala and not marinara, or the chicken noodle soup wants to be beef barley instead.

I have a job, just so you know. I’m a freelance writer. Surprised? I don’t make much money, but i make enough. I have a trust fund, established by my grandmother. I know what you’re thinking. That i’m spoiled. You know, i’ll bet she never had to work a day in her life, but you’re wrong. I had many jobs before. I’ve done many things. That’s how i came to love stories so much; all my experiences. Probably the worst job i had was when i worked on a farm in Gilsop Plains, moving shit from one place to another. Cow shit, horse shit, sheep shit. You name it, and i’ve moved its shit.

Then three years ago, when my Gran’s estate was settled, i inherited five million dollars from her. I never knew she had that kind of money. She was a farmer’s wife for fifty three years. When my grandfather died, he left nothing but debt. Maybe she had the money hidden for years.

My father left my mother and i when i was five. I haven’t seen him since then. Don’t know if he’s alive or dead. My mother died when i was eleven. My only aunt and uncle raised me. They don’t speak to me now because they’re angry about the money. I don’t care.

Enough about that. I need to figure out what this letter means, and whose cat is sitting beside me on my couch watching me.

The letter is from Stella M. Sunflower. She’s the one who began the story last night before i fell asleep and was sent home. I remember i was exhausted, and the heat was too much, even with the breeze. I remember the moon’s smile, and the raven soaring by.

I look at calico kitty again. I say, little sweetie, do you know what this means? Stella says she’s sorry, but it’s too dangerous to be at the Inn right now. Kitty only stares.

Stella goes on to say, and here’s where the cat question is answered, that she sent the Innkeeper’s kitty back to help me investigate. Her name is Angela.

And i think, investigate what? Wait, here it is..

She says, Time is missing from Six Rubies. No one is sure what day, month, or year it is. As far as they knew, i arrived at the Inn August 14th, 2058, and that’s what i thought also. Turns out, that’s not true, but when was it, really? And what is today?

I check the postmark on Stella’s letter. It says July 7, 2025, but the date she wrote at the top of the page says, October 13, 2016.

The letter continues and says, dear Camille, i know you can help Innkeeper and the other residents of Six Rubies find Time, but you’ll have to do it from where you are. I believe i sent you back to 2020, but i can’t be certain. It won’t be easy to find him. Time is mischievous, tricky, and easily lost. And he could be kidnapped. Time after time, humans have laid the cleverest booby traps for the rake, but he always puts his own spin on them.

I look at Angela and roll my eyes. I don’t even consider turning down the assignment. Who would? What an adventure!

I finish the letter.

PS. I’ve sent along Angela’s special food bowl and a good supply of her favorite food. You two will get along well, i know it. Innkeeper will miss her, but he knows this is best, and she’ll be safer with you.

Also, i’ve sent along a name and address of someone you can contact to help with your detective work.

Her name is Rosalie Kane, PI, 5534 SE Piscataquis Ave in Portland. #55996 – 332205.

Grandmother Moon sends her love —

Stella

I say, well, Angela! So that’s that! Where do we begin? We don’t have much to go on. But that will be part of the fun.

Kitty jumps off the couch, and leaps up on to the fireplace mantel.

Fireplace mantel? My apartment doesn’t have a fireplace. My heart pounds fast again. I look around. Everything looks exactly like it looks in my apartment except for the ornate fireplace. I see three photos displayed in copper frames on the mantel. Do i dare take a closer look? And right in the center is a large celadon vase with a bouquet of brown eyed susans and purple coneflower.

I get up off the couch and move snail’s pace across the room. I’m a little wary. Who wouldn’t be? Angela watches with a smile on her face. Or at least she looks like i picture a cat would look if she could smile. I didn’t see it a minute ago, but there’s a cream envelope leaning against the vase. I rip it open. The note inside says,

Hello, Camille.. Welcome to Portland, 2023. Enjoy your stay,

Rosalie Kane, PI

And what i do is i laugh..

Mary Raynes

Home To 2020

Stella is silent. I struggle to stay awake. Oh, so tired. The cool breeze has stopped. I feel the humidity. My skin is slick, and the sheet under me is damp. I’m tempted to turn on the fans, there are three in the room, but then i won’t be able to hear Stella’s story.

I wonder why she’s quiet. It’s seven after midnight. She whispered my name twice. Camille.. Camille. I made the mistake of asking questions out loud. I should have kept quiet.

I roll over on to my left side. I can see the full moon through the east window. It’s gorgeous, and it makes me happy despite the heat.

Then i hear, Camille, are you ready?

I answer yes, and leave it at that.

Stella Sunflower says, good. Tonight we’re going to try something different. You’ll be the first guest at Madeleine’s Inn to hear the story this way.

I think, this isn’t how i heard it would be. When my grandmother came here in 1946, the sunflowers narrated the stories. But Stella did day this is the first time. And this is 2058, not 1946. Things change.

Yes. I’m listening.

Good, come to the east window, and look at the moon. Don’t look down into the sunflower garden. You’ll awaken the other flowers. I’m the only one up.

I get up and put on my robe. I’d rather not because i could slice the humidity like french bread, but i won’t stand nude in front of a window.

Stella says, now, Camille, close your eyes.

I look up, then close my eyes. I hear more sunflower whispers. I thought they were asleep.

Camille? Are you listening? You need to focus. The other flowers dream out loud. I don’t want you to get the tales confused. That’s dangerous.

The sunflowers’ dreams are a low hum, like bees talking in a hive. I try to block it out. It’s a sleepy sound. I want to rock slowly back and forth. If i’m not careful, i’ll go into a trance.

Open your eyes, Camille, but take care not to look into the garden.

I open my eyes to see that the moon has turned chartreuse, and it’s smiling at me. It’s a loving smile. The sunflowers below hum louder, their dreams more vivid.

Wait! I know that smile. It’s my grandmother’s!

I think this, but don’t say it out loud. Stella knows, and says,

You recognize her, don’t you, Camille. When she passed away, she left your world and came to ours. She has lived happily here for forty two years.

I say, but that’s longer than i’ve been alive.

Then i remember i’m supposed to listen, not talk, then it dawns again that this is 2058 not 2020. Gran died in 2016. Time travel is fun, but tricky.

It’s hard not to ask to talk to her, but i don’t dare. I have to follow the rules.

Stella says,

Your grandmother has a gift for you, Camille. It’s only for you.

The sunflowers continue to hum their dreams. I feel a cool, silky breeze. A raven soars upside down past my grandmother moon. I begin to sway to the hum. I close my eyes again and feel a drop of rain fall on my cheek.

I sit in the rocker by the window. I let the drowsiness take over. As i drift away, my grandmother moon says goodnight. Stella Sunflower says, sleep well, Camille. You need your rest. Your journey will be long. You can dream your story.

Even as i drift, i think, wait, this isn’t what i wanted. It’s not what i came thirty eight years into the future for. And my grandmother is here, and i need to sleep. Maybe in the morning…

*****

I awaken in the rocking chair by the window in my room. Not my room at Madeleine’s in Six Rubies, but in my own bedroom in Portland, Oregon. How did i get here? I know i didn’t dream the sunflowers. I was there. I saw my Gran in the sky. She was the chartreuse moon. She never told me the sunflowers dream out loud, but they do. It’s the most beautiful sound. It put me to sleep, and i missed the story i went to the inn to hear.

I look around. This room looks the same as it did when i left 2020 day before yesterday. There are three dresses laid across the bed that i was going to pack before i decided against taking them. My bed is perfectly made. The book on my nightstand, Hocus Pocus, by Kurt Vonnegut, is still turned over, i check, yes, open to page fifty three.

I open my bedroom door and walk down the hall to my living room. The TV is on. I thought i turned it off before i left, but it’s still playing Russian Doll. I put a hand to my forehead. Nope. No fever. My curtains are wide open. I always close them before i leave if i’ll be gone more than a day.

I notice the cat first. She’s sitting on the coffee table looking at me like i’m the world’s biggest fool. But then don’t cats always look at us humans like that? Funny thing is, i don’t have a cat. She’s gorgeous. A calico with striking green eyes.

I say, where did you come from, little kitty? Again, that look. You’re kidding me, right? Then i swear she rolls her eyes at me.

Then i notice a pile of mail sitting on the center couch cushion.

I freeze, and my heart pounds. Is this really my apartment?

Yes, i decide. Yes it is. But another human has definitely been in here and left me a cat and my mail. A lot more mail than two days’ worth.

Kitty jumps on to the couch, sits next to the mail pile, and places her right front paw on the top piece. Then she looks at me like, come on.. you know what to do.

I walk over to the couch and take the top envelope. It’s old fashioned light blue stationery with pink tulips painted on the closed flap. And on the back, an address label with a sunflower on it.

I gulp, and my heart pounds faster. It’s postmarked from Six Rubies, with a date.. August 20, 2025…

Mary Raynes

Sunflower Stories

I lie in bed, and i listen and wait. I turned off the fans, and i have all three windows open wide. The moon is full, and it’s hot. The crickets must be too tired and hot to sing. There’s only the fitted sheet on the bed, and i lie on top. No sheet or blanket over me. I don’t want to melt into a sweat puddle. No distractions unless i count the humidity, which i will myself to ignore. I want to hear the story when it begins.

The Innkeeper says it happens at midnight Friday morning. That doesn’t seem like the appropriate time for an event like this, but i have no say in it. It seems like it should be a weekend thing. You know, a Saturday thing.

There are three hundred sunflowers in the Inn’s garden. They bloom in July and August, again in November and December, and again in March and April. During the months in between, they sleep. They need the rest after so many late nights telling tales tall and not. Innkeeper says they’re immortal. Slumber for them, but no death. Time and Fate made sure of that centuries ago. The golden and brown beauties have been here longer than the Inn. They drink in rain when it comes. Their nourishment is stories, mostly those they tell, but they also listen carefully to the guests and goddesses

I’m here to listen and learn. My grandmother told me about the sunflowers when i was seven. From then on, i couldn’t get enough. Every time i visited, i wanted more about them, and more and more. I think Gran worried about me for awhile. She worried i was obsessed. But she enjoyed talking about them as much as i loved hearing their stories. She said each flower has a name and her own personality. Even Eris, the Goddess of Discord, loves them, and would never cause trouble for one.

I asked Gran if they’re always as nice as they are beautiful, and she said they are, but sometimes they tell sad or scary stories.

I’m here at Madeleine Six Rubies Inn to see and hear for myself. It’s quarter to midnight Thursday night, August 15th 2058. I came through time, and checked in here yesterday. I’m in Room 42. It’s the same room my Gran stayed in when she was here in August of 1946. I tried to make it here in 2016, but i didn’t make it. My flight was cancelled. You only get one shot every five years, and that’s if you have the right connections, both in flights, and people you know. I have no say in that either. It’s Fate. I’ll get to that later.

It’s midnight, and i hear a raven’s call. No sunflower whispers yet. I close my eyes to concentrate better. Still so hot. I sit up to down a glass of cool water. I have a full glass pitcher on my nightstand. I could get up and sit in the rocker right next to the east window, but i’m so tired. My trip from Portland was long. Two plane rides, four hours on a train, then a boat trip up the Sebasticook River. So no, i’ll stay on the bed, and listen from here. I must stay awake.

Now, something. I feel a lovely breeze through the east window. What a relief. A whisper rides the coolness. I hear, Camille.. Camille..

It’s addressing me, personally? I wasn’t expecting that. This Inn is usually full during August, but Innkeeper said last night that there are only guests in six of the rooms out of fifty. But then day before yesterday, i was in 2020, so who knows how things are nowadays.

Camille.. Camille! It’s time for our mid August mystery tale. This one is just for you. We’ve waited thirty eight years for you to hear your story.

My story? I say.

Then i wonder if they can hear me.

I say, i tried to get here, but every time, something or someone got in my way. My grandmother came here years ago. Which flower are you? What is your name? Gran told me about so many of you..

Then i remember that guests aren’t allowed to ask questions. It’s our job to listen. I zip my lip, and let the one who says she’s Stella M. continue….

Mary Raynes

PS. This is to be a serial tale in, i think, twelve parts. Then again, i love neverending stories, so one never knows. This is my first post here. It has been hard for me to write this year, but think i finally have my groove back. I waited a long time to be sure, so i wouldn’t start something and then just disappear. 🙂