Authors: Emigh Cannaday
Sometimes she wrote a few lines of lyrics or music in her journal. Sometimes she scribbled random streams of conscious thought, and sometimes she lay in bed until late in the morning, just relishing her freedom. Nothing made her happier than walking in the sunshine with only fresh air, trees, and the occasional stream entering her view. But even though she was on an extended vacation, she began to grow restless without having regular band practice. She had a few pages of new material, but she hadn’t thought to bring any recording equipment.
“Why don’t you go into the city by yourself tomorrow? There must be someplace you can find what you need,” her uncle suggested one evening as they reviewed field notes together.
“But Vince, I don’t speak Bulgarian,” she reminded him. He took off his reading glasses and looked at her skeptically.
, but you speak Macedonian just fine. The languages are very similar.”
Annika knew he was right. She’d been to Sofia with him often enough to feel comfortable taking a bus into the city by herself, and the next afternoon was spent shopping and drinking coffee in an outdoor café, soaking up the sun.
Having waitressed for a while, Annika had become quite a people watcher. She could always tell who was on their first date, who was going to leave a crummy tip, and who were the ladies who lunched. Reading people quickly had become second nature to her, so when she noticed a strange looking couple in their mid-twenties come down the sidewalk, she noticed. It wasn’t that they were her own age that got her attention. They just looked different…they even moved differently from everyone else on the street. The petite, slender girl with long, pale blonde hair walked alongside an incredibly tall, handsome young man with a red baseball cap over his shaggy black hair and long sideburns. The girl wore a pair of dark sunglasses that were way too large for her heart-shaped face, and there was at least a foot and a half difference in their height. Annika followed them with her eyes, careful not to stare, but there was something captivating about them. They walked leisurely arm in arm like they had known each other forever. Although the man was very tall, he moved with feline grace as he weaved between the people on the sidewalk. As they passed Annika, he turned her way just long enough for her to catch his glance. Her stomach jumped into her throat before he turned away with a smile. Even if he had a girlfriend, it didn’t hurt to look at the local eye candy. She watched them disappear into a nearby used bookstore and felt a sudden urge to follow them. After leaving a few bills under her coffee cup she headed down the sidewalk, unsure as to the reason why.
The place was exactly what an old eastern European bookstore might be expected to look like. The walls were paneled in dark wood, and there were only two windows to let in the minimum amount of light required for browsing. It was warm, stuffy, and in dire need of a good dusting. Annika stood on the opposite side of the shelf from the strange couple. She picked up a thick book without looking at the title and pretended to read, noticing the girl’s exotic feather earrings instead, observing from between the rows of books. The blonde had a sheer white peasant-style blouse on, belted with a long, narrow green sash. The sleeves were pushed up past her forearms, and held in place with a long leather cord looped and tied around her biceps. She wore a few beaded bracelets on her wrists, a fringed skirt that buckled over her hips, and brown boots that laced up to her knees. It seemed to Annika that her clothing must have been hand-made. She’d never seen anyone dressed in such a way before. The blonde had her nose crammed in one of the books, trying to read through her huge dark sunglasses. The young man reached over and gently tilted her chin upwards, removing them carefully with an air of affection.
“Why didn’t I think of that?” his girlfriend asked him with a goofy grin.
Because you’re a stupid blonde airhead,
was Annika’s catty but silent response. The man didn’t reply, but instead tucked the glasses into the torn pocket of a dark brown velvet dinner jacket that had been stitched, and had clearly seen better days. His pants were made of black suede, but they were so broken in that they seemed less fashionable and more functional. His calf-length black leather boots were fastened with tarnished silver buckles running up the outsides, and appeared just as worn as his pants. He had taken his cap off and was running his fingers through his black mane. It stuck out in every direction with a mind of its own and looked every bit as ornery as he did.
The blonde hissed at him, looking annoyed, and tried to snatch the ball cap away from him. He made a game of it, holding it high above her head as she was just as short as Annika. He hissed back to the blonde in a language she didn’t recognize, but it seemed that his girlfriend was annoyed that he’d taken off the hat, and he was annoyed that he should bother wearing it. The girl grabbed another nearby book and the young man stuffed his hat into her purse and sauntered away.
The door to the shop opened again, and another short young woman with long, light brown hair walked in. Dressed almost identically as the blonde, her hair looked like she’d spent the past hour riding on the back of a motorcycle. Annika swore she saw a few twigs stuck in the honey-brown snarls. The blonde motioned for her friend to come over, and they spoke in hushed voices in the strange language.
Annika’s curiosity wandered to their male companion, who had disappeared. She walked to the end of the aisle and peeked around the corner, but he wasn’t there. As she whirled around, Annika ran right smack into one of the customers, dropping her book with a loud
to the floor. The man behind the counter gave them a stern look, and went back to reading his novel.
“I’m so sorry!” Annika sputtered, feeling thoroughly embarrassed as she realized she was staring at two black boots fastened with dusty silver buckles. She forced herself to look up and into the face of the guy she’d been stalking, and was pleasantly surprised to find him even better looking from scarcely a foot away. She felt her insides constrict as he studied her with a curious expression. There were subtle changes in his eyes as if he were hearing her thoughts and speaking to her without words. She caught a whiff of late summer air laced with honeysuckle as he leaned down to retrieve the book for her, but the windows weren’t open.
“What have you here?” he asked her, flipping through the pages of the book. She recognized an English accent. His brow raised and he gave her an odd look as the corner of his mouth curled upward. “Interesting.” He thumbed quickly from cover to cover. His mouth was pressed shut in a peculiar way, like he was trying hard not to laugh. “
interesting. I cannot picture a girl like you finding this subject very fascinating, but I’ll let you get back to your reading,” he told her as he held out the book. Annika looked closer at the cover, which wobbled slightly from the silent laughter that shook him. It was a history of artificial bovine insemination. Her eyes grew wide in horror and she felt uncomfortably warm.
“I must have misread the title! I thought it was about…I didn’t…I thought…”
“I thought you would have noticed what you were reading by
” he said in a soft, smooth voice while flashing a smug grin. “You’ve certainly been clutching that book long enough.”
Annika was mortified that he’d caught her spying on him. She wanted to drop the book and run, but her feet were like lead. She expected him to walk back over to his girlfriend, but he simply ran his fingers through his hair, watching her with a curious twinkle in his eyes. She’d never seen ones like his; they were outlined in deep green with bright blue surrounding those infinite irises. There was something else odd about him but she couldn’t pinpoint it; there were just too many odd things to count.
“Where are you from?” he asked. “Your accent is completely different than the locals.” At first Annika was surprised.
was asking her?
was the one with the English accent.
“I’ve lived all around the world, but mostly in the States.”
“The states of what, madness?”
“The United States of America.” Annika tried not to grin at his joke. His eyebrows rose slightly as he made the connection.
“Ah yes…I’ve heard rumors about American girls.” An amused grin played on his lips and he gave the tiniest nod of approval. “You’ll have to tell me if they’re true.” He tilted his head to one side, letting his eyes wander over her curves. “Although I have to say…I’d rather you show me.”
She wrinkled her forehead at this reply, uncertain if he was mocking her or not.
from that you think it’s okay to talk to strangers that way? One of the caves up north? You don’t seem like you go out in public very often,” she retorted, eyeing his mended velvet jacket.
“You are quite a saucy girl, aren’t you,” he remarked with an amused grin. “I hoped you would be.”
She saw an image flash in front of her eyes, like a memory surfacing, but there was no way this fleeting sight had happened before. She could see herself crushed against his chest with his hand cradling the back of her neck, about to be kissed. She shook her head, wondering where this vision had come from. It certainly wasn’t one of hers.
“I’m from Derbedrossivic, not that far away. It’s those lovely creatures over there who live in a cave,” he said with a straight face as he pointed over his shoulder at the blonde and her friend. Usually Annika could play it so cool with men. Usually she could just laugh at whatever lines they told her or walk away from whatever smooth moves they made, so why was this one affecting her composure? She tried, but she couldn’t budge. It was as if he were holding her there with invisible rope. The young man stepped even closer to her in his catlike way of moving, emphasizing how much he towered over her. The scent of spices and honeysuckle returned, but that window was still shut tight.
“Here’s a volume I think you might fancy…” he noted as a different book caught his eye. He reached seductively up over her head, selecting another older book with a tattered green cover before passing it to her. She could see that it was a history not of bovine insemination, but of stringed instruments, particularly guitars. She eyed him suspiciously.
“Why did you choose this one?” Annika asked, completely unnerved. She’d never seen this person before in her life, yet he somehow knew that she had a passion for music. “What makes you think that I’m interested in this kind of thing?”
“It was just a guess,” he said and pressed it into her hands. “Am I correct?”
Annika couldn’t get over the way he was looking at her, like he’d just discovered a rare work of art or a map leading to treasure. She found herself nodding her head at his question, trying not to lose herself in his gaze.
“It wasn’t merely a guess. I noticed the callouses on your fingers and how short you keep your nails,” he said, looking very impressed with himself. “I play guitar as well. I have this very text at home.”
Before Annika could respond she heard the shopkeeper grumbling to a customer up at the cash register.
“Don’t you have any bills smaller than these?” the irritated man complained in broken English. “I cannot make change for you. You will have to buy something else or give me a smaller bill.”
“I’m sorry, this is all I have,” said the messy-haired girl as she dumped the contents of her leather bag onto the counter. Coins bounced to the floor and notes fluttered on top of the small stack of books. The bookseller had been irritated with her before, but now his expression changed to one of sheer frustration as she began laying out each bill like she barely knew how to use money.
“I can never figure this out. Let’s see…” She started counting out bills and added them up to the correct number. “Is that right?”
The man nodded, muttering something incomprehensible. Satisfied, the young woman stuffed the rest of the money in her bag while he put the books in a paper sack.
“Magda?” Annika heard from nearby. The voice came from the blonde who was now standing next to the handsome man in the odd outfit. “Is that you?” She squinted her dark brown eyes until they were two dark slits in her face.
“Sorry, but I’m afraid you’ve mistaken me for someone else,” said Annika. The girl looked obsessed with her, and Annika found herself glancing around for the nearest exit. Then to make things worse, her friend joined them, lugging the heavy bag.
“Look, Hilda! It’s Magda, I swear!” Hilda leaned her face so close to Annika that she backed up against the bookshelf.
“My name isn’t Magda. It’s Annika Brisby. I’m not from here and I don’t know anyone named Magda.” She was quickly losing her patience with these people who had no regard for personal space.
“Runa, love, it’s not her,” the young man said gently, putting a hand on the blonde’s shoulder.
“How would you know?” she snapped at him with a scowl before turning back to Annika. “Oh, it has to be you! Your hair is different, but you have her face and her eyes!” Annika tried to leave, but she was blocked by the three strangers. The blonde girl reached out her hands and grabbed Annika’s t-shirt, lifting it up to expose her waist. At this, Annika instinctively jumped back, and knocked over a small bookshelf. Then the smaller bookshelf fell into a larger one and knocked it down. And the larger bookshelf knocked down another, and another, like dominoes. Annika scrambled to her feet, leapt over the mess, and out the door as the shopkeeper turned an unnatural shade of purple and bellowed at them in Bulgarian. Annika was pretty sure he was threatening to call the police, as she had done a remarkable job of vandalizing his store.