Authors: Alexes Razevich
Razor Street Publishing
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, and all incidents are drawn solely from the author’s imagination and are used fictitiously.
© 2016 by Alexes Razevich
All rights reserved.
Also by Alexes Razevich
(Book one of the Ahsenthe Cycle)
Ashes and Rain
(Book two of The Ahsenthe Cycle)
Gama and Hest
(A companion story. Book three of The Ahsenthe Cycle)
Maddie Bresslin called them
even though it made her friend Trish roll her eyes and mutter, “Sweaters,” under her breath. Out loud she’d say, “I’m so lucky to have a world-class shopper for a best friend.” Malls, online, high-end department stores, budget big boxes, thrift and charity shops—somehow Maddie managed to find that One Great Item everyone else had overlooked—and find it on sale.
The day Maddie found the jumper she and Trish were in a hole-in-the-wall shop of an in-town charity that gave its profits back to the local dog-rescue community. Maddie liked to shop there because the goods tended to come from the wealthy neighborhoods up the hill and be of good quality. The store was clean, well lit, everything hung neatly on hangers. Volunteers roamed around putting back items that had slipped, or been returned to the wrong rack or wrong size area. Maddie
the place and spent much too much of her meager salary as a barista in it.
“What about this?” Trish asked, holding up a leather handbag with a well-known designer name stamped on a discreet, but not too discreet, silvery metal circle on the front.
Maddie took the bag, cocked her head and appraised it. “Little scuffed on the bottom—woman probably put it down on the floor a lot—but not a reason to skip it.” She opened the catch and looked inside. “Needs new lining.”
Trish took it back and set it on the table where she’d gotten it. “Too bad I don’t sew.” She looked hopefully at Maddie, who did sew, but Maddie glanced away.
No, she had decided. No more of that. Trish seemed to think Maddie should sew, knit, or crochet any little thing Trish fancied and thank her with nothing more than an air kiss and a “You’re the best.”
She turned her back on Trish and resumed sorting through the clothes on the round rack. She thought maybe she’d been too harsh; she could redo the lining on that purse for Trish—they were, after all, best friends—when her eye was caught by the glow of luminous peacock blue yarn. She pulled the jumper off the rack and held it at arm’s length, to see it whole.
The jumper was breathtaking. First of all, the color—a fabulous peacock blue that was her favorite and that everyone (well, Trish) said worked really well with her chestnut hair and hazel eyes. The yarn was medium weight, her fav, and as soft as kitten fur. The double seed stitch gave it a nice texture. The weather had turned cold three days back and the jumper called out to her to be wrapped in its warmth. She checked the tag inside. Hand washable. Perfect.
She turned abruptly to Trish. “I’m done. Buy the purse. I’ll fix the lining for you.”
Trish let out a little squeal of joy, grabbed the purse and hugged it to her chest as she skipped toward the cashier. Maddie followed more slowly, the jumper slung over her arm, its hanger weighing down one side.
“I’m going to wear it,” she told the cashier as she paid and slipped the jumper over her blouse.
The cashier, an early twenty-something, like Maddie and Trish, wore an oversized sweatshirt with a smiling pit bull on the front.
“Have a good one,” the cashier said, handing Maddie her change, and then, “Oh. Wait. You have a loose thread.”
Maddie looked at her chest, arms, and then the hem of her new jumper. The yarn was unraveling a bit at the bottom. She hadn’t noticed that before she bought it. An easy fix, she thought, as the cashier clipped off the tiny, dangling bit.
At home, Maddie pulled off her new jumper, got out a needle and thread and bound the fraying edge. The thread was a close color match for the yarn. No one would notice a thing, she thought. Finished, she put the thread back into the box. She frowned, then dug around inside, pushing spools of thread around, looking for her favorite antique silver thimble. It always sat in the far back corner. She put it back in the same place every time, but now it wasn’t there.
She heaved a sigh when she found it sitting plum in the middle of her cloth measuring tape. She picked it up to put back where it belonged, but it was odd. Useful thimbles were all basically the same with dimpled tops and bodies, the variations coming half to a third of the way down where some might be decorative. Maddie remembered hers as plain, was sure it was plain. She saw now that it was etched with carousel animals circling the bottom third: a horse, a tiger, a swan, and a fox, delicately and perfectly drawn, a post through the center of each.
The jumper hadn’t looked that dirty in the store but the water she’d soaked it in had turned an ugly brown color. Maddie decided rubber gloves were in order, even though it was likely only dust and dirt blowing around the store that was coming off now, the water looking darker and nastier than it was for being concentrated in the minute bathroom sink of her tiny one-bedroom apartment. When the final rinse was done and she felt certain all the Downey was rinsed away, she laid the jumper on the mesh-topped drying rack. No hangers for this wet beauty. No stretching on the arms or the lovely double seed stitch pattern.
She looked closer, frowned, and shook her head. She’d done a good strong whipstitch to tie up the loose end at the hem but it’d come undone. Nothing she could do about it until the sweater dried.
In her bedroom, Maddie put on a freshly ironed white shirt and black slacks. If she couldn’t wear her beautiful blue jumper until tomorrow, then today she’d go for stark contrast. She slipped on black leather flats, ran a brush through her hair, and headed to work.
The news was on the radio when she walked into Clemenso’s Coffee Bar.
“Nico doesn’t like it when you play the news in here. He wants that Pandora station.”
Her co-worker, Brendon, looked up from his phone and pointedly swung his gaze around the empty store. Maddie rolled her eyes. She had the 2pm to 10pm shift today. The place was always dead in the late afternoon. Business would pick up when the kids got out from school, and get really busy around seven when the laptoppers started coming in.
“I like news,” Brendon said, running one hand over his sparse beard. “It’s good to know what’s going on in the world.”
“It’s depressing, usually,” she said. “Customers don’t come here to get depressed.” She drew herself up and listened. “What is this—the Onion station? Fake weird news?”
“NPR,” Brendon muttered, cocked his head and listened. His eyes grew wide and he shrugged. A small town in Nebraska had disappeared. Not fallen into a sinkhole. Not been knocked down in an earthquake. It and all fifty-three people in it had simply vanished.
Maddie reached over and tapped a different channel. Soft jazz filtered from the small black speakers placed discreetly around the store. She wasn’t a big fan of soft jazz either, but at least they wouldn’t get in trouble now if Nico decided to make one of his surprise visits.
She’d made good tips that night and was in a splendid mood when she got home.
“Right,” she said to the now dry sweater in the bathroom, “let’s get you fixed up proper.”
She stood back and glared at the garment. “What’s this?” More yarn had unraveled, maybe eight inches, and hung limply over the side of the drying rack.
Maddie sighed, gathered up the sweater and carried it into her small living room, stopping on the way to grab her sewing box. She sat on the threadbare couch her parents had given her when they’d bought a new one for themselves, the same couch she’d sat on all her life, and switched on the standing lamp next to it. The lamp had a flexible neck. She pulled on the metal shade and brought the bulb down low, to give her good light to work by. She got out a largish tapestry needle, threaded the yarn through, and began weaving the errant yarn back into the hem—slowly, carefully.
When she was done, the area where she’d woven in the yarn looked shoddy. It wouldn’t do. The jumper was too nice to have eight inches of mess in the hem. She slowly unwove it all. She hated to cut off more yarn, but there really wasn’t anything else to do. The scissors snip-snapped loudly as the blades did their work.
The yarn was too nice to throw away, she decided. Not that eight inches would make anything, but maybe she could knit a small afghan, incorporating the peacock blue in with other end bits of yarn she had lying around. She threaded a small needle with blue thread and once again bound off the end.
Brendon called her in the morning. All the employees had each other’s numbers, but she was surprised to see his name come up on her phone screen. He never called except for one reason.
“He better not want me to cover his shift,” she muttered before swiping her phone into life.
“Maddie,” Brendon said, his voice breathless and low. “I’m at work. In the gents. I had to tell you.”
“Okay,” she said, drawing the word out, “Oooh kay.”
“That story we heard on the radio yesterday, it’s true. That town in Nebraska is gone, poof, vanished off the face of the earth. It’s all anyone can talk about in the store this morning. People here thinks it’s aliens for sure. And Maddie, guess what else?”
Her hand tightened around the phone. Brendon wasn’t the type to joke like this. Crocket, who sometimes worked weekends, he was a jokester, but not Brendon. Brendon was the kind who took advantage of people with kind natures. Maddie’s mind spun wondering how it was possible for an entire town, even a teensy tiny one with only fifty-three inhabitants, to just disappear.
“I can’t guess what else,” she said. “Tell me.”
“One of Pluto’s moons is gone.”
Her hand relaxed. Now she knew he was having her on.
“No, really. Nix it’s called. The moon. NASA announced it this morning.”
“Nix,” she said, not at all sorry for the sarcasm in her voice. “Listen, I’m not coming in early or covering your shift today because one of Pluto’s moons has vanished, so don’t ask me.”
“I wasn’t going to ask,” he whispered furiously. “I just wanted you to know. See you at two.” He paused. “Don’t forget that you did promise to cover my shift tomorrow.”
He hung up. Maddie thought for a moment, turned on her computer and clicked through for news.
She couldn’t stop thinking about it—the disappearances. If the thought left for a moment, a customer was sure to bring it back. Brendon had been right—it was all anyone was talking about. She made lattes and mochas and cappuccinos, served up slices of banana bread and chocolate muffins, all the while wondering how the vanishings were possible, were they over, was she safe? Were any of them?
“You’re hanging loose,” Brendon whispered as he slid by her, a double whipped cream hot chocolate in his hand. He glanced at the hem of her sweater.
“Damn,” she muttered.
Nico let them dress however they wanted in the store, but he was adamant that clothes be clean, shirts pressed, shoes not scuffed, hair freshly washed, beards kept short and neat, no facial tattoos. “Think like this is your house,” Nico had said at orientation. “You’re giving a party. These people are your friends who’ve come by. You wouldn’t be sloppy.”
She was sloppy now—eighteen inches of peacock blue yarn dangling down beside her leg. Maddie rushed into the employee lounge—such as it was, little more than a big closet really—pulled off the jumper and stuffed it into the oversized houndstooth fabric purse she’d found at a swap meet.
The night air had bite in it as Maddie walked toward the bus stop, and the moon was so full it looked like moon babies would pop out of it any second. Brendon had offered her a ride home, but she didn’t like to accept favors. People always seemed to think you owed them after. Besides, she had her jumper on again and was snug inside its embrace. She’d tucked up the loose end with paperclips she’d found in Nico’s office. She didn’t think he’d miss them, but she’d return them tomorrow anyway, sorry now that she’d agreed to cover Brendon’s next shift. Her feet were killing her and she was dead-dog tired. And she couldn’t rest tomorrow because she’d promised Brendon.
Why couldn’t she just say ‘No’ when he asked? Good old Maddie, covering shifts and relining purses when she didn’t really want to do any of it. She looked down the street and saw the bus was coming. At least she wouldn’t have to stand long in the dark where who knew what might happen.
At home, she carefully removed the paperclips, so as not to snag the yarn, and then pulled off the jumper. She’d decided during the bus ride that it was hopeless to try to keep the thing from unraveling so she’d completely unravel it herself and use the beautiful yarn to make something new. Something that would stay whole. She settled herself on the couch and started working. It was slow, repetitious, mostly mindless work, but she did have to pay some attention since the fibers had meshed in places and had to be carefully teased apart so the yarn wouldn’t break. The amount of attention needed was perfect, she decided. Just enough for her not to think about anything else but not so much that she actually need to strain her brain much. She hummed a little made-up tune as she worked.
Her eyes stung and her eyelids felt heavy by the time she finished the unraveling and had wound the yarn into balls. Happy with a job well done, she added them to her stash in one of the many see-through plastic containers stacked in the living room that she’d already stuffed with yarn.