My Serial Novella: The Judgment Store, Part 3

I’ll be releasing my novella, The Judgment Store, which is an urban fantasy piece, in ten parts, illustrating each part with some appropriate images.  Hope you enjoy.  Comments are welcome!  Enjoy!

~Thanks!

The Judgment Store

After her father’s death, Uriel gets a job at a store that is much more than it seems.

Part 3:

 

After checking out zero customers, watering a hundred potted plants and an explosion of seedlings, trimming lilies, and shoving buckets of long stemmed roses – gently – out of the way of the counter area, I slink to the stool and slump in exhaustion.

The greenhouse door opens with a cold blast of air.  In walks Gabby.  “Hey,” she says softly.

“Hey,” I watch her open Mom’s glass-fronted cooler doors and sniff every single bouquet.

“I love how it smells in here,” she says.

“I don’t smell it anymore,” I say.

She looks at me in surprise.  “You must be immune.”

“Must be.”

             “So, I may have cancer,” she says without any lead up at all.

It’s not a surprise, but her blunt statement nearly knocks me off my stool.  “I’m . . . sorry.  I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be, you’ve been through enough of that lately.”  She leans against the counter, idly fingering the tendrils of a hanging spider plant.  “I’m having a liver biopsy done tomorrow.  I don’t really know how long I’ll be out,” her face is matter-of-fact.  “I hate missing school.”

“I’d say missing school is the upside to it,” I say.

“Not me.”

“Well, you’re a nerd,” I tell her.

“Yep,” she agrees.

 “So, I heard Sam Wiseman is going to the homecoming dance with Ella Maloney,” she says, looking cautiously at me as if to gauge my reaction.

“Yeah, I figured.”  I’d rather talk about cancer.

“Why don’t you tell him?” she asks.

“Tell him what?”

“That you like him; he’d drop her in a second if you did.”  One side of Gabby’s mouth turns up in a friendly smirk, as if it would make her whole year if I did just that.

“I doubt that.  It’s not as if he asked me to the dance,” I remind her.

“It’s not as if he asked her, either,” she points out.

“Whatever.”

She frowns in disappointment.  “Look, I gotta go.  I’m tired.  I’ll see you in a few days.”

“Call me,” I tell her.

“Sure.  Sorry again about not coming to the funeral.  Funerals are important, you know.”

***

            “I didn’t even ask your name yesterday,” I tell the man Tuesday afternoon.  “And, is it okay if I change here?  I didn’t want to wear this to school,” I hold up my garment bag.

            “Of course you may, and my name is Robert Ianus,” he pronounces it ee-Ah-nus, emphasis on the “ah.”

            “Mr. Ianus?” I say as I make my way back to the dressing room.  “How did you know my name yesterday?”

            “You told me,” he answers in a flat voice with his back to me, as I shut the door to the dressing room.  But I hadn’t; but I don’t think it’s a good idea to argue with my new boss.

            I emerge, not sure who I am, dressed in silky knit black pants, a royal blue tunic top, and strappy sandals that actually fit my feet.  “Ready,” I tell him.  He turns to me, and for the briefest of moments, it looks like his head blurs – like I’m seeing it through a long-exposure camera – like he almost has two faces.  I shake my head slightly, trying to shake the image away.

            “Hmm.  Something’s missing, Uriel.”  He squints at me for a moment, then pulls out the tray, still covered with the jewelry that blonde Moira ran her creepy fingernail through during my “interview” yesterday.  He selects a simple white gold chain necklace with a pale blue stone pendant – expensive no doubt – beckoning me forward to take it.  My eyes see the necklace, but my mind flashes back to a decomposing intestine, and I hesitate.  “Nothing too showy; that wouldn’t be you, would it?” he says.  He moves his finger in a circle, directing me to turn, and then fastens the thing around my neck.  He doesn’t so much as brush his fingers against my skin, but I am chilled nonetheless, as if he has caressed me with ice.  But the chain warms quickly against my skin.

            “All of the merchandise at The R&P is one-of-a-kind.  Some brand new; some are estate pieces.  In our other stores, we’ve actually had a fair number of customers who have acquired from us and then had their items returned upon their deaths.”

            Okay, that’s not creepy at all.

            “Kind of like they were only renting,” he chuckles.

            I stroll around the store, beginning a thorough inventory in my mind. “Why are there no price tags?”  I ask him.

Mr. Ianus turns his head again, and there’s that brief blur of two-facedness, like I’m drunk and can’t focus on him.  “I think it’s uncouth to have price tags,” he says. “I keep a digital inventory of all our items here.  Just look them up.”  He gestures at a tablet computer on a sterling silver stand.  “And when they check out, you just slide their card over the screen.”

“What about cash?”

“I only accept credit.”

Wow.  Mom’s got a beat-up old money sack with a broken zipper, and an antique register with a stuck dollar key and no card scanner.

“Your job is to sell merchandise, but not in the traditional way.  See, first, you must understand the rules of clerking here at The R&P.”

            “The rules?”

            “Yes.  Firstly, you are to be polite and friendly at all times, to every customer, regardless of who they are or how they behave.  Do you understand?”

            This sounded a little too much like the rules of the greenhouse for my taste; my mom wouldn’t have half the business troubles she had right now if she wasn’t always so big-hearted, letting her few customers run all over her; but I nod.

            “Secondly, always give them what they ask for.”

“What if we don’t have what they ask for?” I reason.

            “Oh, we always have what they ask for, Uriel,” he says enigmatically.

            “But . . .”

            He raises one finger to shush me.  “Thirdly, and finally, no returns or exchanges once the item leaves the store.”

             “But you just said . . .”

            “Well, no returns until after the customer has died, of course.”

            I am Alice in Wonderland, fallen down a retail rabbit hole: curiouser and curiouser.

            “Where are the Moiras?” I ask.

            “They’ve gone on.”  I watch him as he sets out a lazy Susan with several bottles of men’s cologne and ladies’ perfume mingled aesthetically together.  “Oh, would you go hang this from the door?” He hands me a tinkling chain of silver bells, the kind that announce when customers arrive.  I walk it over to the door and drape it over the door handle.  I no sooner head back around and walk behind the u-shaped counter than I hear the bells chime.

            Ugh.  It’s Ella Maloney.  “Uriel,” she says, in between blowing, popping, and sucking back in a gigantic gum bubble. “Glad I found you.  I lost your cell phone number.”  Probably because I never gave it to you.  “I went by your mom’s greenhouse, and she told me that you were working here.”  Ella looks around critically, halting her obnoxious gum chewing, as if searching for a reason to disapprove of the store.

“Did you need something?” I ask her.  Mr. Ianus shoots a glare at me, and almost faster than I can process it I hear his voice ringing in my head; it sounds like the chime of the silver door bells, “Polite and friendly at all times, Uriel.” 

            Having bells talk inside your brain is not only painful, it’s disturbing.  I look at Mr. Ianus’ lips; they do not move, but I swear I hear him talking: “Now, serve your customer.”

            “Uh . . . I’m sorry, Ella.  May I help you?”

            She looks from me to Mr. Ianus and resumes chomping her gum.  “I guess I need help with my Faust paper.”

            “Faust paper?”  Mr. Ianus interrupts.  “Do tell?”

            She looks dismissively at him before turning back to me.  “Yeah, I gotta do a rewrite.  Can I give it to you to read over, and maybe give me some suggestions?”

            I reach out to take it from her, glancing at the large red F on the cover.  I stash it in my bag.  “When do you want it back?”

            “Tomorrow?”

            Great.  On top of my own homework, my new job, and mom probably wanting me to water all fifty million of her damn plants, I have to revise this bitch’s paper tonight.  Mr. Ianus looks warningly at me.  “Sure,” I say, pasting on my sweetest smile.

            “Better, but it looks artificial.  Work on that,” says Mr. Ianus’ bell-voice in my mind.

            “Thanks,” she turns to go.

            “Oh, and Ella?  Please have a look around,” I say, acting the best clerk I can be.

            She shrugs but then lingers by the gowns, probably looking for a homecoming dress.  “How much is this one?” she asks, pointing out a bright green one.  I have to admit that it would be fitting for her.  As I get up close, I can see that it sets off the flecks of greed in her eyes.

            “Why don’t you go try it on while I look it up?” I ask.  It occurs to me that if she falls in love with it, it may not matter how much it costs.  I feel Mr. Ianus’ approval from across the room.

            There’s something familiar about that dress, though.  I struggle to remember where I’ve seen it.  It seems as though I’ve seen it before on Ella, but I don’t think that could be.

            In the end, I sell her the dress, along with coordinating earrings and a pair of sling-backs, and actually have the rest of the afternoon customer-free to make edits to her heinous paper.

***

Wednesday afternoon: the door chimes, and in walks Mr. Frank.  What is this?  The shopping place for my least favorite people?  “Mr. Frank,” I greet him, “Welcome.  Can I help you?”

“May you help me, not can you help me; ‘Can I’ is a colloquialism,” he lectures.

I feel Mr. Ianus’ eyes boring into the side of my face, but his silver chimed voice stays out of my head.  “Sorry.  May I help you?”

            “Just looking.”  He saunters around a bit aimlessly at first, before paying rapt attention to our largest jewelry display.  I let him browse for a bit before sliding behind the counter facing him.

            He’s looking at rings.  Men’s rings.  “What size do you need?”  I ask him.

            He looks up, seemingly surprised I’m still there.  I kind of wonder if he even knows who I am out of the context of his classroom.  “Never mind,” he says, “Just looking,” he repeats, but I can tell he really likes one of the rings in the cabinet.

            “Are you sure?” I use my most helpful voice, ducking my head to meet his eyes, which have gone downcast.  I see a blush rising above his collar and up his face.

            “I . . . um . . .well, sure.  I like this one.”  He points to a simple platinum band, thick, but with no blinged-out inlaid Polished-Stainless-Steel-Ring-P13974425diamonds.

            “Size?” I ask again.

            He shakes his head.  “I’m not sure.  Big.”  Must not be for him, then, if he doesn’t actually know the size.  I unlock the counter from behind and slide my hand in to grasp the band which is cut for a small man’s finger, unfortunately.  But as I pull it out and cradle it in my palm, I swear it grows.  It must be a trick of the ultra-shiny lights in here; the only ring I’ve ever seen change size was Lord Sauron’s.  By the time I hand it over to Mr. Frank, this ring is huge, massive, cut for a freaking body-builder.  The lights from overhead make it twinkle, and it shines in Mr. Frank’s eyes.

            He is nodding.  Smiling.  “It’s perfect,” he says, in a weird tone of awe – like Gollum.  And for the briefest shining moment, I glimpse pure happiness on his face.  It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.  This is not my English teacher, not by a long shot.  This is a man in love: not in love with the ring, I sense, but with the person he plans on giving it to.

            But then the expression is completely replaced by pale fear and his watery gray eyes dash quickly from gazing at the ring to looking full on into mine.  I actually see faint beads of sweat break out on his forehead.  “It’s okay, Mr. Frank,” I assure him.  “It’s nobody’s business but your own.”

            He looks down again and says, almost too quietly to be heard, “It’s not that I’m ashamed. . . but I’m a private person, and . . .”

            “It’s okay,” I reassure him again.  “No one will hear it from me.”

            “You know,” Mr. Ianus calls from across the store, “We offer engraving?”

            We do?  “Sure.  Would you like it engraved?” I ask Mr. Frank, who gives the question due consideration.  “Free of charge,” I tell him, and see Mr. Ianus raise an eyebrow at that.

            “Well, yes, then,” he says. “Please put ‘My Living Soul’ along the inside of the band.”

            “From Faust,” I remark.

            I daresay he looks smug – as smug as I feel.  “That’s correct, Uriel.”

***

            I oversleep, and mom doesn’t get me up on Thursday.  She’s nowhere in the house.  I look in the greenhouse.  She’s seated, sprawled on the floor, amongst a bunch of broken pots and vases, scattered baby’s breath, smashed blooms and petals, and spilled puddles of water everywhere, seeping into her jeans.

            “What the . . . ?” and then I see that the front glass panels of the greenhouse, the side facing the street is smashed in, and a brick lies at the edge of the carnage.  Mom’s greenhouse is at least half demolished.

            But Mom looks . . . well, Mom looks fully demolished.

            “Mom?”  She doesn’t look at me.  She doesn’t move.   “Do I need to call the police?  Mom?”

            “You’re very late for school.”

            “Well, that’s nothing new.” I bend over and start gathering things, pieces of crockery.  I look behind the counter for trash bags.  I get the broom and begin sweeping.

            Mom still hasn’t moved.  “Did you call the police?”  I ask as I sweep.  “Did they steal anything?”  But I don’t think so.  There doesn’t seem to be anything taken, just vandalized, and I know the cash register didn’t have much in it last night.  It never does.  The tinkling of the glass as I sweep it into the dinged up old dust pan sounds just like the silver chimes at The R&P, just like Mr. Ianus’ voice chastising me in my head.

            “I’ll clean up,” Mom says. “Go to school, Uriel.”  She rises to her feet and relieves me of broom, dust pan and trash bag, but her face is vacant, her eyes dead.  “Go now!” she shouts, and I stumble back, into the house, to grab my backpack and get away from her.

I remember my dad’s eyes the instant he died, before Mom closed them.

            They were just the same.

***

About rebeccaoftomorrow

Rebecca Lane Beittel, Novelist aka: Rebecca Of Tomorrow

Posted on March 2, 2014, in Science Fiction & Fantasy, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Looking forward to it! Melinda Tripp

    Sent from my iPad

  2. Naureen Mohamed

    Ok, I need the rest of the story…Now!!!

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