Readers, you voted, and here is the result of October Story Time. I’ve left you with another cliffhanger, but I hope you’ll forgive me. Here is Ever After, continued. Enjoy.
The old man studied the tired looking young woman and her daughter as they entered his shop. “Don’t wander, Cindy,” the woman sighed.
“Can I help you, Miss?” he asked.
The woman spun around. “I’m just looking.”
“That’s what they all say.”
“Interesting name for a secondhand shop,” she commented, changing the subject.
The old man smiled. “Ever After is for anyone looking for an end to their story – or a new beginning.”
The woman fingered an iron-wrought skeleton key. “Just like that?”
“Of course.” He glanced at Cindy, playing with a China doll in the corner. “For a price.”
It took Marion exactly thirty minutes to realize she had made the worst mistake of her life. Thirty minutes to drive home and see Cindy’s empty bed in the corner of their one bedroom apartment and accept the full reality of what she had done. The terrible shame came seconds later when she found the envelope lying inside the door under the mail slot – the letter that was her ticket out of poverty and a dead end job.
But seeing the remains of the cereal Cindy had eaten for breakfast sitting by the sink and the crudely drawn picture of her and her daughter done in bright crayons taped to the fridge was like a knife to her heart. A sob escape her and she crushed the letter in her fist before tearing out of the apartment and racing back to Second Street, her eyes frantically searching for the faded gold letters of the Ever After Secondhand Shop.
She did not become alarmed until after the second time she drove down the street. The shop was nowhere to be found, yet Marion was certain the cluttered little store had been sandwiched between the bakery and the bookstore. She parked her car and ran frantically between the two buildings, looking in every nook and cranny but seeing nothing. Desperately she went inside the bakery and asked the man working the counter where on this street Ever After was, but he just looked at her blankly and told her there was no shop with that name on Second Street.
Barely holding back tears, Marion proceeded to ask all the shop owners on the street the same question. Every time she received the same blank stare and negative answer. After hearing it again from the man at the Post Office, Marion lost it. “I just visited the shop thirty minutes ago! Of course it was on this street! How can you not know where the shop is? You’re the Post Office! Look it up!” she screamed.
“Calm down Miss,” the postal man said. He typed something into his computer and shook his head. “It doesn’t exist Ma’am. I’m sorry. Maybe it went out of business.”
Marion shook her head. “No,” she choked out. “No! Entire buildings do not disappear into thin air. It was here. I know it!”
“I’m sorry. But I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” He looked around the front room, where Marion was attracting a crowd. “You’re disturbing the other customers.”
“Listen to the good man, won’t you, dear? Shouting won’t solve anything.” Marion whirled about at the sound of a familiar voice. The old man from the shop was standing unobtrusively by the Post Office doors. Her face contorted and she opened her mouth, but no words came out. The old man sneered and stepped outside. Marion followed.
“You!” she hissed once they were outside. She marched up to him. “Where is Cindy? Where is my daughter?”
The old man held up a hand. “She’s safe dear, don’t fret. And she will be fine. As should you. Didn’t I give you what you wanted?”
Marion held up the crumpled letter in her fist. “I don’t want it. I changed my mind. I want my daughter back.”
The old man smiled mockingly and shook his finger. “Ah, ah, ah, dear, we had a deal. I don’t break deals.”
“You need to break this one. I don’t want your money or deals. I want my daughter back.” She threw the letter in his face, and it drifted to the ground.
He bent to pick it up and smoothed out the crinkles. “You don’t have a choice. What’s done is done.” He held the letter out to her.
Marion didn’t take it. “No. That can’t be it. Make a new deal then. I want my daughter back.”
“I’m afraid,” he said with a sneer, “that I’m no longer in the mood to make deals.” He stepped forward and pushed the letter into her hands, and started to walk away.
“You cheat!” she screamed after him. He spun around.
“Don’t accuse me of foul play, girl,” he growled, suddenly seeming menacing. Marion nearly took a step back in surprise. “I gave you want you wished for. Don’t blame me if it wasn’t what you wanted.” He straightened up and the menacing look faded from his face. “Now I suggest that you take that envelope and use it to live the life you asked for. Because it’s all you’re going to get.”
Marion gasped. For a moment her shoulders slumped in defeat and her tears threatened to overtake her again. But taking a sharp breath, she drew herself up to full height and called after him. “I will get my daughter back, old man. Just you wait.” She watched as he paused for a moment, as if he was contemplating turning back, but then continued on. “I’m coming for you Cindy,” she whispered under her breath. “I promise I will not rest until I find you.”
And before the old man could disappear around the street corner, Marion ran after him. She wasn’t going to take no for an answer, no matter how long it took.
Behind her, the crumpled letter lay abandoned in the street.