"What is Life, but soft desires,
and that Soul, that is not made
To entertain what love inspires."
Lauren Fischer slammed the door to her mother’s book shop. Not because the old, paint-chipped frame was too small for the door to properly fit in. Nope. She could have been easier on the poor hunk of dead nature. But what the hell, right? It is not like the actual owner would be by any time soon to notice any damage. Oh yeah, Lauren can take care of the dusty old books, she can huddle away in the dim lit room day after day, waiting for the customers who so rarely visited anymore because they’ve all kept up with the twenty first century by buying Kindles. It’s not like Lauren has a life or anything. Of course she would love to spend her entire summer here. She flipped through the keys on her frayed ‘I love Chicago’ keychain impatiently until she found the silver little devil. After flicking it in the lock and double-checking the doorknob, she added a kick for good measure, sticking her tongue out at the complaining bells glistening from the dim store. Finally, she set off from the place she’d spent the last eight hours in, and thanks to her mother’s new love life, she’d be working another eight hours at the A Thousand Words Bookstore tomorrow.
Due to a day full of rain that did nothing but contribute to her mood, the wet sidewalk glistened in the setting sun and as she walked, Lauren tried looking up at it, but her efforts were blinded by the tinted windows of Chicago skyscrapers that conquered the clouds, so instead she stared at her red Chuck Taylors, dirt-smudged and ripped, flapping against the concrete. Deliberately, she stomped through a lingering puddle, soaking her shoes to the socks and sprinkling her bare legs so they itched. A woman in a business suit with a blackberry glued to her ear made a sound of disgust as a drop landed on her leather pumps, so Lauren smirked right back and fastened her hold on her favorite eco-friendly tote. The silver charm necklace dangling on her collarbone bounced with each step she took in an annoying, unnecessary change-left-in-pocket kind of way. She breathed deep sighs of the diluted city air, infused with the sounds of horns and wheels whirring by.
She soon joined a crowd of fellow pedestrians, taking step after squishy step with a majority of them ten blocks uptown until she reached the street of her home. It was a slightly ancient, two-story house split into two apartments. The shutters and trim were dark brown, and the siding was a worn down cream color. To say the least, the house may not have been the eyesore of the neighborhood, but it held no curb appeal. She unhooked the latch on the rusted iron gate that separated her two yard wide strip of dying grass from the sidewalk and marched to the door. She tested the doorknob before even reaching for her keys, an old habit leftover from the days when her mother was single and home every day baking cookies or an early dinner when Lauren came home from school, and therefore the door was always unlocked and she had no need to carry that stupid ring of keys.
To her surprise, the knob turned under her palm and the door creaked open. A burst of hope caused her to push it agape fully and stumble inside. The foyer was dark, and she whiffed dust and stale coffee left over from this morning, not fresh out of the oven chocolate chip cookies. Her shoulders sagged with disappointment which made her bag thud to the floor and she reached out to flip the light switch. The first thing she noticed was the long mirror that once hung on the wall opposite the stairs. Its frame, unattached in one corner, lay in a pile of broken glass. She gasped, looked up and noticed all that she had missed when the lights were off. A path of destruction went throughout the house.
Using the wall for support, she carefully stepped over the shards and, with trembling legs, walked into the living room. Long slashes were patterned along the cushions of her couch and the white cotton stuffing was scattered everywhere. The TV was gone. The glass coffee table, the entertainment center, the Persian vase in the corner: all broken. She looked over the island and around the kitchen. They had taken the microwave as well, and one of the doors to the refrigerator hung crookedly of the hinges. A pile of sticks and two leather cushions was the remains of their stools. The same stools that Lauren had grown up sitting on for breakfast.
She took one step forward and glass cracked under her shoe. She looked down and spotted her mother’s face, half-hidden by her toe. Kneeling, she pinched an end of the photograph and shook off the splinters of glass. It was taken when Lauren was seven and her grandmother was still alive. She and her mom used to go visit Grandma Roselyn every weekend. The three of them were huddled on the old Victorian-style porch, sprinkled on by an unexpected thunderstorm, genuine laughs frozen on their faces. Her heart warmed a bit and she folded the picture in half to slip into her pocket just as a thud sounded from above followed by the sound of scrambling. Her stomach dropped about ten miles beneath her feet and she froze. Her lungs went haywire; she couldn’t breathe, she wasn’t sure if she even had lungs anymore. Her chest felt empty with all but a cold grip of terror and regret. The criminal was probably still in the house. How could she have been so stupid? Why hadn’t she just called the police right away?
Lauren grasped her pockets for her cell phone, but her dread worsened when she realized it was in her bag, which was still by the door where she’d dropped it. She gasped at another sound from above and the fight or flight instinct took hold of her. She chose the latter, scrambling over the debris and sprinting to the front door where she snatched up the tote. There was a pause in her actions as she peeked up the stairway. She couldn’t spot any bulky figures in ski masks thundering toward her from the hallway, but that didn’t mean they weren’t hiding in one of the rooms. Her bedroom was up there, as was her mother’s. Oh please, let them not be in my room, she thought as she ducked out of the door and dashed to the street. She found her phone and punched in the emergency numbers.
Two hours later, Lauren stood with two police officers in front of her house. It was nearly after dusk, and the temperature had dropped. Still only wearing shorts and a tank-top, Lauren kept her arms hugged tightly around her torso. She’d just finished giving her report to the cops. It turned out that the sound she’d heard had just been a squirrel that had intruded from a broken window. The burglar was long gone; however, she was still a little too nerve wrecked to go back inside.
A sleek black mustang pulled up to the curb and a slender woman adorned in a short leopard print dress and balanced on black stilettos approached them. She stopped about a foot away, frowned, and flipped a curtain of long dark brunette hair over her shoulder. “What happened?” She asked in a curt, accusing voice.
“Mom!” Lauren gasped. “Mom, I’ve been trying to call you all afternoon! Why wouldn’t you pick up?”
“My phone died.” She turned to the uniforms. “Officers, whatever she did, I apologize on her behalf and you can trust that she’ll be punished however it is deemed necessary.”
“Mom,” Lauren almost whined, exasperated. “I didn’t do anything!”
“Ma’am, I am sorry to inform you of this, but your house was broken into. Some things seem to have been taken,” the officer nearest to her said. He had lean but built figure beneath the blue shirt, and he was about half a foot taller than Louretta Fischer. Her mother gave him a once over, and a familiar spark ignited in her eyes, a spark Lauren had seen way too many times. She closed her eyes and tried inhaling deep, diaphragmatic breaths. This day was too much for her to handle, and it just seemed to get worse as it progressed.
“Oh no, that’s awful!” Her mother crooned. “What did they steal?”
He handed her the list of things Lauren had reported. “Ma’am, do you have any ideas of who might have done this? Anyone who might have held a grudge, or maybe just knew an easy way to access your home? We think this might be a personal crime since no other houses in this neighborhood have reported burglaries, and the lock on your door wasn’t broken, but your daughter said it was open when she got home. There was a window broken on the second story, but it’s too high for someone to access from the outside.”
Louretta cursed and then sighed. “Stephen.”
“He’s my ex. When we broke up, he threatened to destroy everything I owned and valued, but I didn’t take him seriously of course. Even though there was one day where I opened the door with the spare key in front of him, and he must have seen the hiding place. Oh, I can’t believe this.” She swooned and placed a hand on her forehead. The officer looked alarmed and placed a hand on her shoulder to steady her. She smiled up at him.
Lauren, outraged, lost control. “So this was your fault? I can’t believe you, mom, how could you be so stupid?” She was almost yelling.
“Hey, don’t yell at your mother. Everyone makes mistakes,” the cop said with his hand still on her shoulder.
“She can’t afford to make mistakes! Did you see what was taken, mom? Our TV, the microwave…we can’t replace that stuff with the money we make at the bookstore. What do you expect we’re going to do?”
“Calm down,” the other officer, a woman more intimidating than the man with her sharp cheekbones and dark hair pulled back into a tight bun, commanded.
“I’ll take care of it, Lauren. We’ll be just fine,” her mom said without even glancing toward her daughter.
Lauren snorted, “Yeah, whatever. You just do that. I’ll be back later.” She turned on her heel and stormed away. No one even bothered to ask her where she was going. “Typical,” she muttered.
She didn’t stop walking for what felt like miles. The sky was black now, but the city was bright. Dense traffic barely inched by, and people crowded around her at crosswalks. She was in the thick of downtown Chicago on a Saturday night. Open clubs shook the pavement as she treaded by. Her head hurt and she was running on more than five hours without food. She wished she could go back home, and lie warm and safe in her bed, if only her house could be considered safe anymore.
She went into a Subway restaurant, grabbed bottled water from the fridge and a bag of chips and joined the shockingly short line. She was almost tempted to buy a sandwich, but decided to save the rest of her money for a cab back home. Her feet ached from walking so far and she did not want to repeat the distance. Then she walked just a few more blocks until she was on the Field Museum campus, where she plopped down on the wet grass and had a sort of picnic, gazing out at the sparkling Lake Michigan. The city’s soundtrack seemed a million miles behind her as a breeze rustled locks of her hair.
Something out of place in the view caught her eye. She almost passed it off as a strange light effect or sculpture, but she had never before seen it and curiosity prodded her. Lauren tucked her unfinished “meal” in her bag and inched toward an emanating glow in the distance. It was even closer than she’d estimated; in fact she almost stepped on it when its light suddenly went out. She knelt down and realized it was still glowing, but it was muffled by something…leaves?
She began picking off the pile of soggy, decaying leaves and could not stop the string of thoughts that ran through the back of her head about the oddness of this. It was probably just a cell phone somebody dropped, why should she care so much? How did it get covered with so many leaves that quickly? She had just seen the light at its full strength just moments before; it was impossible to understand. Where did the leaves even come from? It was the middle of summer, for crying out loud. Although, as she got closer to the bottom, she ruled out the possibility of a cell phone: this was not an electronic glow. It pulsed and shimmered and changed color, and it was wide. It looked like a puddle leftover from some magical unnoticed portion of the rain earlier. She picked off the last leaf and leaned in, peering with wonder. Hazy hues swirled lazily in the sparkling water, or whatever this liquid was. If it were truly water it would be translucent, she should have been able to see the asphalt beneath and it definitely shouldn’t light up. That lack of logic made it seem very deep, like Lauren could jump right in and it would be far over her head.
“Weird,” she whispered, reaching out a hand to touch it.
When her fingers made contact, a jolt of pure electricity pierced her bones and stole her breath. Gasping, she tried to look up, but the colors of the puddle floated up and enveloped her. All she could see was the glowing swirls. Blindly, the hand supporting her weight slipped from its placing and air whooshed by her ears as she fell forward, but instead of face-planting on the ground like she had expected, Lauren’s body kept going. All sense of gravity and reality disappeared as she continued to fall.
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