NanoPoblano Blog Hop Story 2015
November 24, 2015 by Charles
I’ve been tagged in the NanoPoblano Blog Hop Story, which means it’s my turn to add on to a story that some of the other Peppers have already added to and I have to choose one person to carry on the story.
First, The Rules:
- Wait until you are tagged, then add a new post on your blog with these rules, the story so far, and who’s been tagged.
- Title and tag the post as Nano Poblano Blog Hop Story 2015.
- Add at least one sentence to the story.
- Pick another Pepper from the blogroll to tag (preferably one who hasn’t already been tagged).
- Add a link to your chosen Pepper’s about page (so they get a notification that they’ve been tagged) to the tagged list below.
- Pass the story along within two days of getting tagged.
And here’s The Story So Far:
Eli stumbled into the compartment, flush and out of breath, and took the only available seat next to an old woman and a child. After months of planning, he suddenly had a bad feeling about this and stood right back up again, but at the same time, the train started moving.
There was no going back. As if to accentuate the point, the jerk of the train starting thrust Eli into his seat. Was he doing the right thing? Was he doing the wrong thing for the right reasons? Eli didn’t really know. What he did know was that the old lady had fake teeth that hadn’t been cleaned in a while, and the child reminded him of all the scary movies he’d seen about children. But that was besides the point. Eli was on a mission. Kind of.
He cringed, wishing he had planned this trip differently. The train ride lasted a full hour, plenty of time for things to go wrong when split-second timing was needed.
A droplet of sweat beaded at the end of Eli’s reddened face as he tried to catch his breath. Luckily, the old woman seemed to be busy telling the child a long and rambling fairy story. She hadn’t even noticed her fellow passenger.
Eli meant to keep it that way.
The child Eli had noticed was Rory, who was on a “real-life Thomas the Train trip” with his Gramma. Eli was right to note that Rory looked a little scary. The poor child did look a lot like Chucky from the classic horror movie Child’s Play…but then maybe that could be said of any three-year-old with red hair and freckles.
Rory, normally the sweetest of all kids despite his devilish appearance, loved his Gramma. Today though, her lack of a smart phone and insistence that “banana you glad” was the punchline to that knock-knock joke about fruit didn’t play well with his preschool-aged attention span. Especially on this long trip. Instead, he turned his attention elsewhere…
“GRAMMA, WHO’S DAT MAN?” Rory exclaimed, using his “outside voice”, pointing directly at Eli.
THAT MAN RIGHT THERE GRAMMA! SEE? SEE THAT MAN?!
DAT MAN DARE, GRAMMA! SEE? SEE DAT MAN?!
That man was the conductor of the train and he had an announcement to make. The passengers gave him the solemnity and respect fairly due to any person wearing such an official uniform.
He coughed sternly and spoke rapidly: “There has been a minor delay and we’re going to disembark a little early while necessary repairs are made. We apologize for the inconvenience. Accommodations have been made for all passengers in the nearest town. We think you’ll find the quaint, quiet rhythm of Bubbleville to be your liking. The town is rich with, well– let’s call it history.”
Eli jumped when the conductor started to speak right behind him. At first he thought the kid had been pointing at him, which made him sweat, but the kid instead had pointed at the conductor.
The passengers started to leave the train, Eli followed reluctantly. He had no choice. He had heard of Bubbleville and its ‘rich history’. It was supposedly haunted with the ghosts of its founder Mr. Bubbles, a mean and miserly man and some of the people Mr. Bubbles had done wrong. Eli wondered if the legend was true. He hoped not. What he needed was a new plan, as his was not panning out.
Eli followed the rest of the passengers into the only hotel in Bubbleville. A dark, brooding place that looked more suited for nightmares than restful slumber.
A giant chandelier crashed into a thousand tiny pieces, sparkling with fire and mischief, and Eli, along with his fellow travelers, jumped and cried out in fear. It hadn’t landed on any one but had come close to squishing the little boy he had shared train compartments with. The child, for his part, had weathered the proximity of the disaster better than the rest.
Laughing, a rotund man dressed in a too-tight suit came forward from an alcove behind the reception desk. “Forgive our little pranks. Our guests, you see, often come with such trepidation that Mr. Bubbles is haunting around that we decided to play into their fears a bit. Just a bit of fun. See, look, feel, your tension is already easing, and now you’ll be able to relax more thoroughly than you would have otherwise.”
Eli was not more relaxed. He was, however, considering all of his potential exits from Bubbleville that might afford him the opportunity to play a trick on the manager before making his full departure. A rueful smile played across his face as he was shown to his room.
His smile vanished as the door to his room opened and a small ghost swooped down from the ceiling. It was too much. The train’s stop had completely ruined his plan, even if he were to rush out of town now he’d be too late. Here he was, worse off than before and in a fake haunted hotel to boot! Eli sighed and stomped off toward the shower. So long as he had a complimentary room he might as well make the most of it.
By the time he was ready for bed, a giant spider had been found in the bathroom, (sitting on top of the pink soap with the frighteningly cheerful face), growls echoed out from under the bed and he noticed a strange green glow outside his window. Eli collapsed on top of the bedspread (black, of course) as the events of the last days caught up to him. He lay too exhausted to even give an appropriate eye roll when the ghost floated down to sit on the bed next to him.
Eli thought of his ruined plans and groaned.
The ghost waved.
He tried to come up with a way forward and flung a pillow over his face.
The ghost moved closer.
“Now what?” He asked the room at large, and though it was muffled from the pillow on his face he heard someone say, “Eli?”
He flung the pillow off of his face and found the ghost staring at him.
The ghost smiled and gave him a thumbs up.
The ghost smiled again and said, “Can I help?”
Eli blinked. When the ghost failed to disappear, he blinked again, but slower this time.
Nope, still there. Apparently his day wasn’t planning on getting any easier as the hours rolled by.
The ghost on his part seemed quite unperturbed by the strangely blinking man before him and gave Eli an encouraging smile, like a patient teacher trying to coax a socially awkward preschooler into joining in on his first day of school.
“They sent me to help you,” the ghost offered helpfully after Eli failed to respond to his initial query. “They said you might need someone with my, um, special abilities to carry out your plan.”
“How thoughtful of them,” Eli managed to mumble before collapsing in a dead faint.
“Oh, thank goodness. It’s so much easier to maintain this form in here.”
“Hmmm? What? In where?” Eli muttered.
“In your mind, your subconscious, your dream-state…whatever you’d like to call it, of course. You passed out, and you’ve not yet returned to consciousness. Let’s take advantage of this time, shall we?”
Eli’s thoughts, obscured by thick veils of slow confusion, were struggling to untangle, but it seemed to him that the ghost had solidified into a more human-like configuration. After dragging his hand across his eyes in an attempt to clear his muddled vision, Eli peered at the ghost again. Curves and shadows collided, creating features that definitely belonged to a human face. Recognition crawled into Eli’s thoughts.
Eli blinked his eyes several times and shook his head in disbelief. “Surely it’s not…” he murmured. “Clay, is that you?” Eli asked, reaching out towards his army buddy.
“It’s me, Eli.”
“But you…how did you…I can’t believe this…” Eli said in a voice so quiet that he could barely hear it himself. He felt a tear slide down his cheek. “After all this time. And all you did. How?”
Clay held up a hand to quiet Eli. “Now’s not the time for reminiscing, old friend. There’ll be plenty of time for that soon enough. What I need you to do now is listen very carefully, as I’ll only be able to tell you this once.”
Eli tried to force away the dozens of thoughts flooding his brain so he could process what Clay was telling him. He pushed away thoughts of their training together, thoughts of holding Clay’s baby girl, thoughts of Clay pushing him out of enemy fire only to take three shots to his chest in the process.
“I know you think that this stop has ruined your plan–it hasn’t. This was necessary,” Clay said. “You’ll still make it in time, but that alone won’t be enough to carry it out. When you wake up, you’ll find what you need in a box under your bed. You’ll understand what to do with it when the time is right.”
Eli opened his mouth. “But what–”
Clay shook his head. “Take it and make your way to Rockford. If you get there before the week’s end, you just might be able to stop this. You’re the only one who can give them a chance.”
Eli watched as his friend’s face began contorting back to that of the ghost’s. With a jerk, he sat up on the bed, wide-eyed.
Immediately, of course, he thought of the box that Clay had mentioned. Still unsure whether what he’d seen was dream or fantasy, a distraction from the Others or a Helping Hand, he climbed out of the four-poster bed and knelt on the ground. He took a deep breath before pulling back the bed-skirt.
There was not just one box underneath the bed—there were three. The thought crossed his mind again that Clay’s appearance might be just a distraction, a Nightmare in disguise. But somehow he didn’t think so—and that meant he had to decide which of the boxes Clay meant for him to take.
On the outside, all the boxes were the same—about the size of a small notebook, and though they were covered with a thick layer of dust he could tell that they were ornately carved. As he dusted off the tops and sides, he realized the carvings were runes, crowded close together and marked with inlays of gold.
The only thing to do would be to open them up.
But which should he open first? The runes, if he remembered the symbols accurately, spelled out “Then” on one box, “Now” on another and the last one spelled out “Clay.” Which was he supposed to open first? He decided to open the one marked “Now” first. Maybe that would help him decide which box to open next.
He gently picked up the box, surprised by the almost weightlessness of the contents. He held his breath as he pulled the top off the box.
Eli knelt staring at the contents, unsure what to make of it. Black dots appeared in his vision. He let out an explosive breath and that broke the spell.
He reached for the night stand to steady himself and felt the newspaper he had bought in the lobby in case he got bored. With his other hand he grasped the three and a half by five inch index card and raised it to the light. It wasn’t like any index card he had ever seen. There were holes in the card; thirty or forty of them perforated the sturdy stock. Some were squares, others rectangles. At the top, written in poor hand writing was the number ‘336’. He had no idea what the card was for or how it would help him. Laying the card on top of the newspaper on the small night stand, his eyes shifted to the other two boxes under the bed.
“Then” seemed to be the next logical choice. His hands took up the box and opened it. Again, he was puzzled. It too contained a single item; an old photograph of a young lady. She was standing on the stairs of a building dressed in a cap and gown. It appeared that this was an impromptu graduation photo snapped by a friend or family member.
A memory of one of his mother’s habits struck him and he turned the picture over. Written in elegant handwriting was the word “Esther” and below that, “June 6, 1953”.
Eli didn’t know anyone named Esther. He had no idea how a card with holes punched in it or an old photograph of someone he didn’t know would help him. At a loss he laid the picture next to the card.
There was one more box. His eyes found the runes and guilt swamped him. He had survived and his friend was gone. A little girl grew up without her father all because this good man had saved his life at the expense of his own. Clay had saved him then and was apparently saving him now.
With a gentle touch, Eli lifted the remaining box and place it on the bed. He gathered his courage and pulled the cover free. There in the cloth lined box sat an envelope. The white face was clean except for the word “Eli” written in handwriting he recognized, but couldn’t make his brain accept.
With trembling fingers he picked the envelope up. When he turned it over, he saw it had been sealed. The seal of the United States Army was printed just below the glued flap. That symbol brought back memories of honor, duty, camaraderie and friendship. He was torn. Part of him wanted to know what was inside and part was frightened to know.
Eli screwed his courage to the sticking place and tore a small section from the end of the envelope. A quick glance inside showed a single folded paper. With clumsy fingers he pulled it free. He unfolded the page and stared at the writing. “This isn’t possible,” he mumbled. He began to read.
Hi My Friend, January 2, 1991
If you’re reading this, then you must be at the hotel. I know you didn’t put much stock in my dreams, but as you know by now, what I told you was right. I didn’t make it back. You got angry when I told you I wouldn’t, but don’t feel bad. What I didn’t tell you is I had a dream that you would be right where you are now. I knew you would need to be around to accomplish something important. I knew I would have to save you.
If you’re reading this, you’ve opened the boxes. Take what you’ve found and go find the woman and The Book. They will help you accomplish your goal. Go find THEM, my friend. Go find THEM.
Your friend always,
Eli stared at the date on the page. It was impossible. And yet he held the paper in his hands. The date was ten days before Clay had saved his life. That was more than ten years ago. Eli sat for a long time lost in memories.
It took some time, but he got control of himself. “What book?” he asked aloud. “And how am I going to find this woman?” He sat on the bed trying to figure things out. This time when he picked up the picture, he scrutinized it. Above the girl’s head embossed in stone were the letters “rding Hig”. That was something. A lead of sorts.
He laid the picture down and reached for the index card, but his hand never made it. Through the holes he saw letters from the newspaper. The letters themselves were nonsense, but he saw what the card was now; It was a cipher. When the card was laid over the right page of the right book, it would reveal something. What, he had no idea, but it was important enough for Clay to leave it for him.
How he would find the book was a mystery. The woman was an easier task. He had part of a name of a high school. In the morning he would have to start there.
Now, here are The Contributors So Far:
And I choose Echoshadow to carry on. Have fun with this!