Chapter 2: Taking Stock

‘Please let this be a nightmare,’ I implored.

It felt far too real, however, so I figured I should take stock of my situation in case I didn’t awake any time soon. I started by checking myself. In one pocket I found some crumpled paper, in the other a small, shiny object.

The paper had numbers on it like the silver coins Papa used to buy the things we needed to keep the estate in order. I added all the numbers and found that I had 300 worth of these paper coins. I folded them neatly and returned them to my pocket not knowing if this was a fortune or a pittance. I’d soon find out.

I turned my attention to the small, hard, rectangular item in my other pocket. It was black as night and shiny. There were strange marks and buttons on it. I pressed one tentatively and nearly dropped this…thing…when it came to life, lit from within. I turned it over in my hands looking for candles or another source of illumination but there was none to be found.

Growing up my tutors called me a clever girl with a keen and logical mind. I took pride in their compliments. Perhaps if they saw me now they would think differently.

Before I could explore further I noticed a gentleman and several ladies approaching. They greeted me warmly and said they were the ‘welcome wagon’. They were certainly welcoming but there was no sign of a wagon. I smiled and made idle chat with them hoping for some clue to where I was.

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‘I brought you something to welcome you to the neighborhood,’ said one of the ladies. ‘No one makes fruitcake like I do,’ she beamed. ‘Everyone looks forward to it at the holidays.’

‘Everyone looks forward to using it as a doorstop,’ another commented. There were gales of laughter except from the one holding the cake. She seemed a bit vexed by the jest at her expense.

‘Where did you move from?’ the gentleman asked.

The ladies peppered me with more questions…

‘When did you get here?’

‘When are the movers coming with the rest of your things?’

‘Do you have a family?’

‘What do you do for work?’

‘Oh you poor dear,’ one of the ladies finally said. ‘You must think us horribly nosy.’   (I did)

‘You must be exhausted,’ said another. (I was)

The third handed me the fruitcake and told me to ‘call’ her if I needed anything before my ‘stuff’ arrived.

By the time they left I was famished so I turned my attention to the dense, moist cake in my hands. I broke off a piece and ate it greedily.

Once I had eaten my fill I decided to explore some more. I saw a park nearby and headed in that direction. Adults relaxed in the shade of the tall trees while children ran and played. The delicious smell of meat roasting over a fire made my mouth water. ‘Roast meat would have been most welcome instead of choking down fruitcake,’ I mumbled.

As I walked I noticed patches of wild mushrooms and onions scattered among the plants at the edges of the park. I looked around for someone to ask if I might have some. Everyone was quite busy with their leisure, so I gently picked a few of the plump, ripe vegetables and wrapped them in the shirt tied at my waist. ‘Some to eat and some to plant,’ I thought. I didn’t want to rely on the kindness of fruitcake-toting neighbors for my next meal.

There were other treasures waiting to be found…a few pieces of golden metal and a sparkling crystal. Perhaps they would be worth something if I needed more paper coins. I tucked them in with my cache of food and headed back ‘home’.

The sun was setting as I planted mushrooms and onions, along with some flowers I found. I placed the rest in what my neighbors told me was a ‘cooler’ next to my ‘tent.’   It was only after I finished making my little garden that I noticed the rather pungent odor afflicting my home. With dawning horror I realized that I was the source of the stench.

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After some experimentation I found that I could change the temperature of the water in the glass cabinet. I slipped out of my clothes and stepped inside. The hot water soothed my aching muscles and washed the grime from my body. Tears streamed down my face and mingled with the water as I stood there and contemplated the gravity of my situation.

‘Please let this be a nightmare…’

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