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My head exploded with pain, my eyes blurring.
I reached up and rubbed at my face, closing my eyes and rubbing the eyelids.
I could hear a chanting. The sound reverberated within my skull.
The sensation of plummeting overtook me. Falling, falling in void.
The chorus of noises was painful and blissful at the same moment, leaving my thoughts trying to reform before being dashed again with each guttural word.
Voices becoming accusatory, angry, taking on a bite that left cuts through my very being.
I could sense it before I saw it. A shift in atmosphere, something denser, something solid yet permeable slamming directly against my body.
Something forming around me… solid. More real than anything I’d ever felt. More concrete. It wound its way around, caressing my falling form.
The voices amplified.
The hold grew rough, jostling, growing taught. Squeezing me to the core. Worming under the skin, through muscle, bone.
I fought, flailing.
The ground rushed up to meet me, the snare dragging me down faster and faster.
I reached up and pried the ring from my finger.
My whole body convulsed as I did my best to drop the ring onto the coffee table, my hand jerking away at the last moment making me fling the small band onto the carpet.
I could still hear the chanting, but it was growing softer, the effect less pronounced. As I willed myself to blink, the cracks across my field of view faded and were gone.
My hands were still shaking as I pulled myself into a sitting position. With some effort I was able to stand and stagger into the bathroom, where I promptly collapsed again.
My last ounce of strength was invested in avoiding the toilet as I fell.
I awoke to a steady buzz in my left pocket.
When I rolled over, it was onto the cold tiles of the bathroom floor. My motions were jerky as I slid the phone from my pocket just as it made a loud beep.
I was squinting to make out the number on the missed call when the phone started to vibrate again. I nearly dropped it.
Still groggy, I tested my voice out before tapping the button to answer.
“Hello?” I repeated, this time to a listening ear.
“Allan, why didn’t you pick up?” said the woman. Her voice was in no way soft.
“I was still asleep?” I made the statement into the question. Mistake number one.
“Don’t you take that tone with me!”
I cut her off before she could say more, “Sorry, sorry. I’ll be sure to pick up the first time. Why are you calling at,” I moved the phone from my ear to the front of my face so that I could read the time off the screen. I groaned.
“Did you miss your appointment already?” I could hear her scoff and what might have been my father giving input. That or it was an angry dog growling in the background. If it were up to me I’d go with the dog.
“No Mother,” I pushed myself into a sitting position, grunting from effort. “The meeting isn’t for an hour. I just overslept.”
“We should have sent Linda. She wouldn’t have been sleeping in or, or not answering her phone for her own mother,” In the background there was a gruff voice mumbling something in tune with what my mother had just said.
“Linda has an important seminar this week, you know that. She should be in school studying so that she can hopefully pass her exams this year.” I regretted the words almost immediately. Mistake number two.
“Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare! At least she can last that long! Maybe if you hadn’t had your ‘episode’ she wouldn’t have been so distracted.”
I’d hit a nerve. I knew it. I’d known it when I’d made the statement. That didn’t soften the blow of being told that I was responsible for my sister’s shortcomings. Not that it was a new accusation.
“That was one time. You and I both know that the problem isn’t me.”
I let that settle.
The silence was almost worse than the talking.
There was an aggravated sigh from the other line. A male voice said, “We’re talking to a lawyer tomorrow about seizing you deadbeat Uncle’s assets. Get to the meeting and make sure this goes smoothly. Are you actually at his apartment now?”
I took a moment to digest that. I recalled the train ride, the taxi, maybe entering the front door, but from there on out it was foggy. I could remember some sort of dream, but it was fading fast. I couldn’t remember getting to the bathroom.
“I… Yeah I’m here. I should go get ready and all.” The time to think had pacified me.
I didn’t realize for a second that my father had hung up, and had to look at the screen after the moments of silence to confirm the fact.
I set the phone on the closed toilet and stood.
My leg had fallen asleep from the position I’d been sleeping in.
I retrieved my phone, slid it in my pocket and went about readying myself.
Once I’d splashed water in my face and brushed my teeth, I limped out into the main room. It was a small apartment, mostly clean but for a few bags of recycling that needed to be taken out.
I stumbled over to my bag and let myself collapse onto the couch. I fished through the pockets to find my wallet.
I set to emptying the foodstuffs that I’d brought with me out onto the coffee table, surprised to find that I’d run through most of it on the trip. I was down to three granola bars, a small bag of trail mix, and one of those small boxes of cereal that you find sold in bundles of other kinds. My wallet contained about seventy dollars, cash, and a credit card.
I checked my phone.
No time to waste.
I snatched up a granola bar and my backpack, shoveling the rest of the food into the open pouch and made my way to the door.
What stopped me was the small velvet covered box that sat in the middle of the floor.
I looked around the room.
There was a large window overlooking the street, a couch in the middle of the room with an old looking coffee table in front. Most of the rest of the room was covered in bookshelves. With the window to my back, the kitchen was directly in front of me, bathroom to the right and bedroom the left. Directly past the kitchen space was the entryway.
The box was sitting on the floor right in the middle of the hallway that led to the door.
I bent down and picked it up, realizing that it was one of those clichéd ring boxes you always see in movies.
The velvet was coarse and soft at the same time and dyed a shade of deep brown. I clicked it open and found that the inside was done in red silk, or some imitation of such.
Set into the center was a bronze colored ring. Plain enough. Looking along the band, I could see what looked like an etching of a vine curling around the surface.
I closed the box.
Probably shouldn’t be touching all of Walter’s things. The fact that it was in a box like this means that it was probably a gift.
I set the velvet container down on the counter as I passed the kitchen.
Pulling my shoes on, I stepped out the door and locked up.
Granite Point billed itself on being a “quaint seaside getaway” which, all things considered, was somewhat of a stretch. There was still a body of water, just no where to really “get away.”
Warehouses and the harbor took up much of the city’s coastline, with only two or three notable beaches open to the public. Even then I’d have picked a swimming pool over the ocean water.
I passed a few sites of interest on my way to the college; the old Common Park, the site that was once the public school, now surrounded by chain link fences telling trespassers to leave, and Warner Memorial.
Warner Memorial had been one of my favorite spots as a kid. It included a seven foot long bronze sculpture of a battleship. It was supposed to represent all of the soldiers that joined the Navy from Granite Point, though the meaning had somewhat become an urban legend.
Some said that it was specifically commemorating the Second World War, others that it was a general “thumbs up” to all the sailors that came to the city.
I’d never really paid attention to the meaning; the ship was fun to climb on.
I took a bite out of my granola bar as I hurried past.
The crowd was larger than I’d remembered, especially for eleven in the morning. I’d heard that they’d been trying to expand their business sector. I hadn’t expected the number of suits that I saw.
I watched the glazed looks that they all had. How little they knew. What was the lesson that my uncle had taught me? You can tell who knew by where their eyes went. Someone who knew would look over your head, not directly at your eyes. When I was younger I used to fantasize if I was passing anyone important when I walked these streets.
My phone buzzed again, pulling me from my thoughts. This time I chose to ignore it.
I could guess who was calling.
I jogged onto the campus of the college, blending in with my backpack and general demeanor.
My eyes searched the crowd of students that I might recognize. Unsurprisingly no one caught my attention.
How long had it been? Approaching a year now? Three or four if you ignored the year in college, like I wanted to.
I’d grown up here. I still considered it to be my hometown. We’d moved half the continent away at the drop of a hat. My parents had begun to think that being so close to Walter was a bad thing.
I’d returned, but not for as long as I’d originally hoped.
I made my way around the campus, straight into the administration building.
One the second floor I hade to push my way through a small crowd of prospective students leaving an office.
I double checked the number on the door of the recently vacated office and knocked.
“Come in.” Came a jovial voice.
I stepped inside.
Large desk, large chair, large man.
Dr. Henrys was by no means a small man; his large stomach extended to the point where it was resting against the desk even though he was leaning as far back into his seat as it would go. He was balding, had a faint line of scruff above his lip, and a constant smile plastered onto his face.
The smile was, in fact, infectious. I found myself cheerfully greeting him as I made my way up to shake his hand.
“I’m Allan Barrows, we spoke over the phone about my Uncle.”
He took my hand without standing, but his grip was quite firm.
“Hello Allan! I’m so glad that you could make it, especially on such short notice.”
“I’m just surprised that you contacted me first.” I took as seat across the desk from him as he waved me in that direction.
“Professor Barrows always spoke highly of his nephews. I confess that you were still in our database. I had a little help.” He smiled knowingly.
Not that he truly knew.
He continued, “I was very sorry to hear about your leaving us last year. Were you able to find a school that better suited you?”
I feigned a half smile. “No, not really. Parents wanted me too close to home, I wanted to be farther away, and we never compromised. I’ve been doing some working in the meantime. I might be back next year.”
Not that I had any plans to actually return. I doubt that anyone would feel comfortable with my coming back, least of all me. You don’t have a five-star freak out on campus and have it just be swept under the rug.
“Call up the admissions department when you’re ready and we can put you with someone to help plan.” He looked at his watch. “Back on schedule though, you’ll have to excuse me, I have a meeting in about half an hour so I need to be fast.”
He reached into a stack of papers and pulled out a folder.
“Walter was one of our best professors, I’m sad to hear that he’s retiring. We all are.” He flashed a smile and handed me the folder. “We’re all even sorrier that he left so soon. But he got all the paperwork in order here. All you need to do is deliver a few things to him when you get the chance. We’d send it, but he never seems to open his mail. He just needs to approve a few minor details, no rush. We also need someone to clean out his office.”
I tossed the last book into the box and hefted it out the door. I paused to take one more look around to make sure that everything was in order before closing the door.
The sun was beginning to set and I was on my last trip.
I was incredibly thankful that Walter had moved so close to the campus. It made carrying his possession back to the apartment much easier, especially when the only means of transportation were an old paper box.
The campus was deserted, but for a few students clustered in groups here and there. Most of them didn’t spare a glance as I moved by.
Overhead a flock of crows took to the sky cawing loudly. They soon came to a rest, sitting ominously on fire escapes and balconies.
Four blocks to the apartment.
Past the Memorial, now deserted.
The crows took flight again, landing this time a few blocks ahead on me. Their calls echoed through the street.
I was past the halfway mark when the sun dipped behind the tall buildings. The streetlights flickered on a few minutes later, bathing the sidewalk in orange. A few people hurried along their way, ducking into subway stations or outpacing me as I carried my Uncle’s possessions.
“Hey you there, spare some change?”
I nearly tripped over the man curled up under an awning as he extended a cup my way.
“Sorry, nothing to spare.” I wasn’t lying.
“C’mon buddy, where’s your charitable spirit?” He was pulling himself up as I stopped at the corner and looked back.
I decided to ignore him and crossed the street.
“Asshole! What’s in that box, huh? Can’t spare just a little? I’ll take anything.” Pinpointing his voice, it sounded like he was following behind. “Hell, if ya got any books or anything, those would probably do. What you say?”
I didn’t glance back. The best option was to make it back to the apartment. Don’t pay attention to the crazy man.
I found myself unable to not pay attention when a greasy looking man dressed in rags stepped out of an alleyway.
“Didn’t you hear me?” He said, adjusting a dirty red baseball cap. Anything to spare?”
I watched in horror as his toothless mouth opened wide, impossibly wide. His cheeks ripped open as the head of a large bird poked its way out.
“Where’s your charitable spirit?” It clucked.
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