Authors: Chris Fabry,Chris Fabry
Tags: #JUVENILE FICTION / Religious / Christian, #JUVENILE FICTION / Religious / Christian
“I'd better come back another time,” Owen said softly to Clara.
Though Gordan looked twice Owen's size, two others joined him and blocked the front door.
A bell rang in the kitchen, and Clara grabbed Owen's hand and pulled him behind the counter. “Could you help me with something?”
“You can't come in here!” the cook yelled.
“The back door is that way,” Clara whispered.
Gordan burst in just as Owen escaped.
When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for a frightened young man to slip the surly bonds of danger and touch the face of freedom, please note that the back door of a restaurant is not always the best exit. It may help one escape three hulking figures at the front door, but it does little else to aid the escapee when the street is blocked by construction equipment.
Owen couldn't go back inside, because Gordan was on his way out.
If you've ever been scared, you understand why Owen felt as if his heart would beat out of his chest. He couldn't breathe. His legs felt tired even before he began running. And his mind raced with what would happen if Gordan or his friends caught him.
Owen tore down a dark alley, dodging trash and whatever animals scurried among the cans. When Owen finally made it to the street, Gordan was close behind, and the two who had blocked the front door were coming around the corner. Owen turned right and kept running.
Unfortunately, Owen realized he was running the opposite direction from his home, the used-book store his father owned called Tattered Treasures. His father was strict about when Owen could go out (almost never) and when he had to be back (soon). Owen had read enough books about children whose parents were hard-nosed to believe that his father wanted only to protect him from the harshness of the world and the cruelty of his peers (like now).
Owen felt sorry for his father, because Owen's mother had died when he was born, and the man seemed desperately unhappy. Owen tried not to create more trouble for him. Plus, Owen enjoyed the bookstore and the chance to peruse the many shelves.
But all that would end if he was torn to pieces by these boys. To make matters worse, night had fallen heavily. No moon or stars lit the jet-black sky. It was as if someone had turned off the world's light.
“We're gonna get you, Reeder!” Gordan shouted.
If Owen had any inkling how his life was about to change, the things he would soon experience, the foes he would face, the friends he would make, and how even at this point there were things going on he couldn't see or even imagine, perhaps he would have seen this run through the streets in a different light. Instead, his heart raced, his eyes stung, and his gimpy right foot ached.
In the inky darkness, Owen noticed the smallest glow of a candle in a second-floor window across the street. He darted across, ducking low-hanging tree limbs.
“There he goes!” someone yelled.
Owen tripped over the curb but regained his balance and limped past the building into another alley, this one even darker.
* * *
As Owen's footsteps echoed off the walls of the alley, Gordan grabbed his friends by their shirts.
“What are you doing?” one said. “He's getting away!”
Gordan smiled. “We don't have to worry about him anymore.”
“Why? What do you mean?”
Gordan laughed, and they made their way back to the restaurant.
* * *
Owen could think of only one thing in those terrible moments. The speech he was to give the next day was forgotten, as was Clara, the beautiful girl at the restaurant he had noticed his first day of high school. He thought only of escape.
He stumbled over small stones and slid in mud. Strange. A car passed the alley and illuminated the street for an instant.
A tiny modicum of hope sprang within him that he might actually make it home alive, but he kept running, desperate to put as much distance between himself and those three as he could.
There are moments that define a life. A third strike with the bases loaded. An offhand suggestion to go swimming in the quarry. A dare to “jump from there.” Such moments, upon reflection, tell us the road of life has taken a turn that will forever change us.
Such was the fate of Owen Reeder, for as he took his last step of what could be called a normal life, something caught him at his waist. A steel beam? A wooden plank? Someone's arm? Whatever it was, he felt like a cartoon character who had just hit a railing. His feet and arms flew forward along with his head; then he snapped back.
Laughter echoed in the distance. A dog barked. But Owen was suspended in midair.
He hung, straining, struggling. That's when he heard the whisper that called every hair on his body to attention.
At that moment Owen would not have been able to tell you if this was something he actually heard or the product of his terrified imagination. But something had wished courage on his life, had spoken courage to the marrow of his bones and the center of his soul.
Owen felt he was being shifted by something mechanical back onto mud and bricks again, solid ground. He heard a whoosh, as if something had left him, and for the first time that night the sky shone lightâbeautiful, illuminating light. Owen couldn't take his eyes from it, and later in his bed, he wished he hadn't looked downâbecause what he saw would stay with him for the rest of his life. A hole in the street easily twenty feet deep. At the bottom jagged concrete.
Something had stopped him. Something had saved him from certain death.
Something or someone.
Owen limped home in a daze, trying to make sense of what had happened at the Briarwood CafÃ© and over the hole in the ground. He steered clear of the restaurant and listened carefully for any more whispers, but all he heard were crows and a few stray geese.
Yes, Owen had written an article about a recent wrestling tournament for the school newspaper, but he remembered nothing critical of or disparaging about Gordan. True, Owen didn't particularly like Gordan. The very way the big boy carried himself and the gaggle of rowdy friends he attracted made Owen avoid him.
Owen reached the corner near his house and looked both ways. He wondered if Gordan knew about the hole. Was that why he'd stopped chasing him? He and his friends would practice surprised looks and stunned stares for the next day when pressed about Owen's “accident.”
Owen scurried across the street and a half block down to his father's bookstore next to the Blackstone Tavern. The Blackstone looked like it had been there since dinosaurs roamed the earth. Owen thought they should serve meals in wooden bowls. On the other side of the bookstoreâwhat was it this week? A music store? No, the strange man with gnarled hands who gave violin lessons to seemingly anyoneâthat's how bad the noise wasâhad moved on. This week it was a travel office advertising exotic cruises and tropical vacations.
Down the street a dark figure shifted under a streetlamp and moaned. It was Karl, a man who pestered Owen's father. He smelled like a gutter. There was the clink of a bottle.
Through the front window of the bookstore, Owen saw a light shining at the desk. When he inserted his key to turn the heavy lock, nothing happened. No familiar
of the bolt disengaging or
of the lock. Owen removed the key and turned the knob. The door was unlocked.
If you found the front door of your home unlocked, you might think nothing of it. You might assume someone in your family had left it open for you. But Owen is not you or me, and that is partly why we are telling his story. For when Owen Reeder came home to an unlocked bookstore, a thousand scenarios flashed through his mind: Three high school wrestlers hiding behind the front desk, waiting to pounce. Robbers in the back room trying to unlock the safe. (Never mind that it had less money than the tip jar at the Blackstone Tavern.) Or perhaps a book his father recently purchased had the middle cut out and a stash of jewels inside or gold coins or a detonation device for a nuclear warhead speeding toward an unknown destination.
The bell above him tinkled (which is to say it jingled, not that it went to the bathroom), and he quickly closed and locked the door and pulled the shade. His heart thudded.
Now to get the full picture of Owen's existence, you must pause to take in his daily surroundings. The window next to the door, the one he had just looked through to see the light on the desk, took up the entire wall and displayed the newest used books and the best sellers to the street. Anyone could see inside through this monstrous window, but still Owen felt compelled to pull the shade on the tiny one on the door.
“Dad?” Owen called. “I'm back.”
Through the side hall, near fiction and fantasy, came the strains of classical music his father sometimes played in the mornings when patrons sat by the stone fireplace in worn but comfortable chairs and perused their favorite authors. But his father never played music in the evening when the shop was closed.
No one was pressured to buy in Tattered Treasures. Owen's father seemed to have little business sense; he would sell used books for nearly the same price he bought them. With this approach you would think buyers would flock to the store, but Owen's father's demeanor kept all but the die-hard readers away. His scowl induced children to implant themselves in the backs of their parents' legs. He often said, “Hold their hands” when a family entered. And he snarled when he rang up customers on the cash register, refusing large bills and credit cards.
Owen switched off the music and stood before the fireplace, listening, scanning the dark recesses of the store. Tattered Treasures had two levels. The first consisted of the front room, which held the desk, cash register, displays, and a few shelves. The room carried popular nonfiction books, audiobooks, and a case full of how-to titles like
How to Write a Best Seller
How to Train Your Hamster
How to Make the Perfect Egg-Salad Sandwich
The large room with the fireplace and fiction titles ran the length of the store all the way to the restrooms, storage room, and rear exit. On the other side of the store, in an alcove that split from the main section, were history and war titles. You could also find cookbooks in that section as well as art books filled with paintings and photographs of places Owen knew he would never visit.
A stairwell opposite the front desk led to the second floor and children's books of all kinds. There were board books for the tiny ones (Owen called them “bored” books) and the classic adventures of Huck Finn, Robinson Crusoe, Alice in Wonderland, and the like.
To the left, a steep stairway above the fiction titles led to where Owen and his father lived. The small living room led to the tiny kitchen, which led to Mr. Reeder's bedroom. At the back was a bathroom (no shower, just a yellow-ringed tub) and a minuscule room Owen called his own. It was filled with a bed, a desk, a dresser, and a shining goldfish bowl with a solitary friend Owen had named Herbert for no particular reason.
On the other side of the second floor in a room rarely opened lay unsold books. As used books were not returnable to publishers, these would eventually be thrown out or used as kindling by the local Boy Scouts. At the back of this room, under a dusty cover, was the religion section. Owen had found it while stacking unsold books and had stayed there reading until the shop closed and his father came looking for him.
“Why are these books hidden back here, Father?” Owen had said.
His father pressed his lips together. “There's little interest in this kind of stuff.”
His father scowled. “Because people aren't looking for whatÂ isn't. They're looking for what is. And what you see isÂ all there is.”
Now, puzzled and jumpy in the echoing, seemingly empty old store, Owen could have done a hundred things. He could have watched television. He could have secreted himself in his room with one of the four books he was reading. He could have found some dessert and gone to bed. Instead, he grabbed a poker from the fireplace and tiptoed through every inch of the store, looking for his father or whoever had left the door unlocked. His heart skipped when he heard something in the restrooms, which he was required to clean every few days. Owen found the toilet running and jiggled the handle until it stopped.
He searched every room, upstairs and down, finally returning to the fireplace to replace the poker. Here he felt a draft, unusual because for as long as he had lived in the bookstoreâwhich had been as long as he could rememberâthe fireplace had not been used. He felt inside the chimney, but the flue was closed.
And this is when Owen's curiosity made things worse. If he had gone to sleep or listened to music or talked on the phone or done his homework or any one of the things people find to do at night, he would not have heard the voices. So faint, so distant, but they wafted through a crack in a stone.
Owen bent close. There were more than two; that was sure. One was high-pitched, another so deep it seemed to rattle the stone. And another was his father's.