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“Happy New Year!” Yuki greets merrily from the lab.
Her assistant is trying to find his way through the room with the novelty NYE sunglasses (and has absolutely not had a sip of the bubbly poured for all the other of-age guests).
The doctor raises her glass and makes a toast. “For getting through yet another challenging year…there seems to be a lot of them lately. And for being able to squeeze in one more trip before the celebrations begin!”
The assistant chimes in. “We’ve had another excursion similar to this one…I think so anyways.”
Yuki adds, “An older gentleman notices a boy dressed in a particular manner and finds it odd. The details come back to possibly help him…but in a way you probably don’t see coming.”
“Entirely too many,” Jeremiah Llambi muttered to himself as he watched the youngster lazily drift down the sidewalk on his skateboard. He supposed he wouldn’t have paid the kid any mind whatsoever if he hadn’t noticed his getup (and he would say so later to the police when they were taking his statement). The red and black plaid material rustled behind the boy and fanned out a little as a breeze kicked up. The long sleeves snaked around his waist and were tied in a bulbous knot in the front. They hung down over his faded blue jeans (Wrangler or Levis, Jeremiah couldn’t tell from his vantage point…not that he’d been studying the boy, but he apologized to the officers anyway, in case that detail would have been helpful), one knee had worn away enough that the white threads were barely keeping it together and the other had torn completely. One of his black Chuck Taylors occasionally dropped to the concrete to give him an extra boost. The weirdest part of the ensemble, at least to Jeremiah, was that he had on a green t-shirt with that white and black circle thing he’d seen on everything lately…you know the one, with the two smaller circles in the upper and lower half (a Yin-Yang the cop had called it, even scribbled one real quick to make sure he got the correct info)…and a long-sleeved shirt under that! Damnedest thing: three shirts being worn on a seventy degree morning and it was promising to be even hotter. Jeremiah obviously couldn’t tell what was on that shirt, but the sleeves, concealing all but the tips of his fingers, were a stark white. And because Jeremiah took so long for the details of the clothing to fully process, he didn’t get a good look at the boy’s face. Pale skin, probably shoulder-length hair, maybe it was brown or dirty-blonde; it was hard to tell in the shade of the elm trees and the harsh flashes of light shining through the leaves.
The kid was heading south down La Monte Avenue. Couldn’t’ve told you where he was going—the comic book store or the park, Lord knows he saw enough teenagers loitering around those places on the weekends. And just as soon as the kid came into view, he was gone. That was the last time he ever saw that boy…his skateboard, now that was an entirely different story.
At the time Jeremiah noticed the skateboarder with too many shirts, he was leaving his home to go to the stores. Now, he hadn’t driven a car since 1987 and as he was a widower and had no local family, Jeremiah either walked or took the bus. He didn’t trust his reflexes any more, especially with the kids farting up and down the streets in their rice rockets. That morning he decided to take the bus to town from the other street over and he’d walk back. It wasn’t a worry to him, nothing on his list would spoil out in the heat.
Two filled canvas bags later, Jeremiah was on his way home with a bit extra pep in his step. A nasty stomach bug kept him housebound the previous week. Unless he had perishables, he always walked to and from town. He wasn’t at 100% yet, but he was on the way. Jeremiah surmised he’d be on roundtrip walks by the end of next week. A bit of a gift to himself for getting better, he decided to go on a bit of a wander and take an indirect way home. It was a normal walk where he engaged in both people- and bird-watching. When he stopped to get a closer look at a blue jay perched on a lower branch, that’s the moment he spotted the skateboard. As a matter of fact, he nearly tripped over the goddamned thing! It was discarded in some thick underbrush precisely where he needed to stand to get a better look at his feathered friend.
The board was splintered almost down the center with two large cracks over each set of wheels, not completely severed, but near enough. Now, Jeremiah wasn’t an expert on skateboards and couldn’t tell you the difference between one or the other. And the area was far off the beaten track from his own place that he never had a second thought about it being the one that belonged to the kid with too many shirts. To him, either some bigger kids had their way with a smaller, weaker one as it had been in his day and probably would be ‘til the end of time or some poor boy had busted it and threw it away, fearful of the parents’ reaction—also a common occurrence throughout the ages.
While he puzzled over the discovery, the plump blue bird flew off into the early afternoon. Jeremiah looked up at the empty branch and sighed and continued on his way. It was getting much too hot.
The first thing Jeremiah did when he got home was put on the air conditioner. In quick succession, he then dropped his shopping bags on the kitchen counter and fetched a glass from the cabinet and filled it with cold water from the tap. He took a swig. Jeremiah studied the countertop, taking in the slight chips in the surface near the edges and the ever so subtle scratches where knives had accidentally made contact over the years. He often toyed with the idea of sprucing up the old place, but inevitably he came to the same conclusion: to what end? There was no one to entertain. Besides, the place was full of memories; keeping it the same made it easier for him to remember, to keep them alive.
He took his glass into the living room and switched on the old RCA FM radio and sat back in his chair and promptly fell asleep.
Jeremiah woke up some time later in the middle of the five day forecast, mumbling angrily at the raised temperatures compared to yesterday’s broadcast. Sleep threatened to take over again when local news headlines started—
“—Zachary Richardson was taken in broad daylight this morning—” consciousness faded and he missed some words here and there, “—no witnesses were able to provide details of the kidnapper. His last known location was at Bicentennial Park near—” Jeremiah nodded off again and came back, “—mother told us that he was supposed to meet up with friends on La Monte Avenue—”
This next part Jeremiah would omit from his conversation with the police.
At the sound of his street’s name, his eyes shot open and a painful sinking feeling started in his gut. His old bones crackled as he got out of his chair and he shuffled back into the kitchen. He went to the back of the room and stopped short of the basement door. Dark crimson splotches covered the tile.
“Oh Miriam,” he whispered and sighed. Jeremiah pulled a key from his pocket and was about to put it to the keyhole, but on a hunch turned the knob before inserting it.
He cursed himself for slipping up and flipped on the basement light and carefully proceeded down the old wooden steps.
A gasping and growling sound started up.
Jeremiah turned toward he middle of the room and heaved a sigh. His dearly departed Miriam greeted him. Blood-stained cheeks and lips went from a snarl to something that resembled a smile. Her milky white eyes softened in his presence.
Sometimes Jeremiah regretted finding that book—regretted bringing her back. But every time he saw her face all seemed to go back to the way it used to be. And hiccups along the way aside, that was fine for him. In a panic, he decided to go to the police station and give them a statement, hopefully to redirect any suspicion (whether that was real or imagined, was yet to be determined).
“Well, that’s it for another year,” Yuki says. “Thank you all so much for joining us. For the past year and a bit, barring one week, we’ve been able to take you to different worlds with varying degrees of horror and the fantastic.
“We’re going to try something a little different in the coming year. Instead of little fortnightly excursions, we’re going to try quarterly. This way we’ll be able to provide you with a better over-all experience.”
Her assistant speaks up, “We will still drop in fortnightly and provide updates…and other stuff. That’s still to be determined.”
Yuki nods. “So for our next excursion, we’ll see you here on the 25th of March!”