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Stone Stories II:
Carnelian: The Queen
Hello, and welcome to St. Sinjin, where I we talk about writing, making your mark, and combatting Writer’s Block. One segment I have on this page is called the Stone Series, where I write a story based off a gemstone, which I have purchase and collected from Sublime Souls, a metaphysical shop located in La Plata, MD!
For the second edition of this collection, this story will be based off of the stone, Carnelian, a gem that symbolizes creativity and courage, which we will see with Aty, who must use these skills to complete her goal in the story, The Queen.
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Did you hear about the Queen? The untidy words on the note stared at me. I looked to my right, where John Steer was sitting. His eyes were bright, and they kept darting from me to the letter. I think he was running out of air. His cheeks were shifting to a soft pink. Breathe, John, breathe. I shook my head at him. He gestured for me to write my answer down on the slip - as if I would forget all this excitement about "the Queen."
The Queen of England? I doodle a crown over the Q to emphasize how lost I was. I look at the clank of chalk against the board as Mr. Sturgess erases a number, contemplating the equation. I pass the note back to John.
Red Rover, Red Rover. John sends the note back over.
Meet us at Grover's at 9, it instructed.
Us? I wrote underneath. I eyed John; he pretended to contemplate the board's math problem.
I stared at him. Us. Who was us? John and I were together. We didn't have another "us" to know, and it was only "us" on the weekends, at lunch, at movies. Who in the hell is this other "us"?
It wasn't hard to find Grover's. In our town, Arcat, we had a lot of "ones." One police station, one grocery store, one restaurant, one dentist, one school, one doctor, and one antique store, Grover's. It is abandoned now. Mr. and Mrs. Grover passed away within a month of each other last year. Town Hall is trying to figure out what to do with the building. A rumor spread that they might make it into a museum since the Grovers had been such a big part of Arcat's history.
I am tucked away in the alley across the street from Grover's. It had only been a year, but it looked untouched for ages. There was quiet there. The candles they had positioned on the windowpanes were doused by shadows that vacated the store now. I pressed myself against the wall. My stomach knotted, bunny-eared style. The air was abundant with the symphony of crickets droning their song. I looked down at my watch. 9:15 pm flashed at me.
"Okay," I sighed, looking back to Grover's.
What could be so important about this place?
Ivy was starting to infect the storefront. I can make out broken windows in the lamplight of the main street. Why are we out here?
"Psst…Aty," a voice whispers.
I freeze. My breath catches in my chest. I turn to see three frames standing shoulder to shoulder in the darkness. My feet seal to the ground, and my muscles lock into place. I can feel their eyes on me.
I reply, "John?"
The most petite body of the three takes a step forward.
Wire-rimmed glasses flash in the light.
I hiss, "John Steer, you scared me half to death!"
He laughs, amused. His eyes are shining. He grins from ear to ear.
"Apologies, Athena, didn't mean to scare you there," he says.
The other two bodies snicker in the shadows. I squint and see the broad shoulders of football players - football players? John Steer doesn't know any athletes - he’s a desk jockey, for god's sake.
I ask, "What are Moose and Hunter Gross doing here?"
"To show you the Queen, of course, they are the ones who found her; it would only be logical for them to show you," John says. The two jocks slip past me to Main Street. They look around, taking turns to check behind their counterpart. Luckily, Arcat and the shops close at 7 pm, the only people who would be out were us. I look over my shoulder at John. He is watching the football players with a grin. His eyes sharp, glinting, like broken glass.
"Come on, Aty," John says.
He nudges my shoulder as he crosses the road. He falls in line behind Moose and Hunter, who are looking for the entry point. He looks around and then waves me to follow.
"Men," I say before padding after them.
I guess football makes your hands numb because Moose and Hunter easily peel away low-hanging shards of glass from a window. The plucked pieces wink at us, then shatter at our shoes.
Both boys turned to look at John Steer once they were done clearing the way for me, like dogs waiting on praise.
"After you," he says, gesturing with an extended hand and bow for added flair.
The air is cold in Grover's. Broken plates of china patch the floor. Bookshelves that were once full of classics and photo albums were now skeletons.
I whisper under my breath, "Did you guys do this?"
I glare at the back of Moose's head, which shakes in reply.
"No, it was like this when we found her," says Hunter.
"Probably middle schoolers with something to prove," John says; he knows this; he conducted a social experiment on the behavior of tweens last year.
I push a straying book back on its shelf as we move onward.
Mom would take me here to browse after we went to the Farmer's Market every Saturday. We would be transported from decade to decade as we wound our way through the store. The Grovers never charged us for that, and they loved our conversations on nothing. What would they think about this?
A voice crackles in the air and says, "Who goes there?"
I look around. There is only dimness and mess. We were in an aisle of empty shelves, and Moose was looking ahead at the end of it.
"That's the Queen," Hunter says.
John's hand lands on my lower back. He pushes me forward so I can see.
She sits facing us on a long-backed velvet chair; silver light wraps her and some fur coat. She is looking down on us - on me.
"Oh my god, John, "I breathe.
We stroll towards her, like Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Lion about to meet Oz.
If I only had a brain, I would go home.
She raises her head as we get closer. It is as if she is trying to intimidate us like a small creature.
She has the skin of crinkled tissue paper, and the light emphasizes the wrinkles. Her wiry white hair ignited by the Moon.
Her voice creaks, "Who goes there?".
John walks around me. I watch him. He clears his throat and bows. The Queen studies him and nods.
"Your Highness, it is I, John of Steer," he announces.
The Queen smiles. Her beady eyes squint.
The Queen says, "Ah, John Steer, it has been a while. How are you?"
I can't see his face, but I know John is amused when he straightens his posture.
"I am well, milady," Milady? Oh my god, John. "I have brought squires to visit you and your esteemed kingdom."
The Queen perks up in her furs.
She coos, "Oh? Bring them forth, John of Steer,"
John bows once again and nods.
"Of course, my Queen. Here is Hunter of House Gross," he says.
Hunter steps forward and does the same familiarities with the bow and nods. Moose does the same thing as well when he is introduced. John catches my eye by flicking his right hand down quickly.
"My Queen, we have a new squire in our party," John says.
The Queen furrows her eyebrows at him. Her skinny hands grip the chair's arms.
She asks, "Who is that?"
John flicks his right hand harder now. The Queen shifts in her "throne," scowling. She doesn't like that I am here; no, another woman comes to take her throne.
"Bow," John whispers.
He doesn't look at me. He focuses on the Queen, who is watching me with her coldness.
Submit, he means.
I bow. I look up.
She stares at me.
I sink toward the floor.
"Your Majesty, "I say. The phrase is gross in my mouth, old, expired.
The Queen smiles and sits back in her chair, "Who are you, dear?"
"I am Athena, milady," I reply.
She stiffens. Everyone does.
The Queen leans in. The boys take a step back.
"Athena ... that is a witch's name," the Queen hisses between her teeth. Her thin lips pull back in a snarl. Her eyes are shining like a hungry dog about to bite. Or a sick dog that has a rabid brain.
I ask, "Milady, how long have you ruled this kingdom?"
Was she a homeless person squatting here?
The Queen ignores me and looks at John.
"Before you were even thought of," she replies.
She squints at me as if trying to decipher an image after waking up.
She asks, "Who are you?"
Her voice is kind, confused. She frets at the fur coat that is drooping from her shoulders.
I catch my breath. Oh my god. I take a step back and then another. I see this whole picture. This isn't abstract or surrealism, and there is no Queen. This was an older woman who had lost herself within the crevices of her mind.
"John, she's not homeless," I say.
"I never said she was," he corrects me.
I turn to him, and he looks at the old woman. His eyes are shining, always too bright.
There was a news story last night. It was of this old woman in her 80's, with heavy wrinkles, wiry white hair, and beady eyes.
John meets my gaze now. A smirk curls on his face.
I hear myself say, "Lorraine Cessair?"
She cocks her head and says, "Yes, do you need me, honey?"
Lorraine Cessair has been missing for a month.
I remember - her face on the tv. It was a cute picture. She was sitting at a kitchen table, smiling at the camera with her wrinkles almost swallowing her shining eyes. In it, she wore a red sweater with a hummingbird pin flying over her heart. It made you think of your grandparent, the picture.
"Oh," Mom had gasped at the news. She had leaned in, perching her elbows onto her knees and squinting her eyes as if to see any hidden clues about her disappearance. She clicked her tongue, shaking her head, and said, "I am going to pray for her."
I looked back at the screen, at Lorraine's smiling face. My chest was tight, and I constantly swallowed to try to shed it. But that wrinkled face, somewhere out there wandering in the world, sunk me.
Now she is, on a makeshift throne, in a ragged and cold antique store.
"If you are about to ask me how long, the first day. I heard glass shatter, went to inspect and saw good old Lorraine here, sitting on the chair like she is now, calling herself a Queen," John says. He folds his hands behind his back in a thoughtful way.
I ask, "What about Moose and Hunter?”
Hunter is standing at John's right shoulder. His arms crossed, and he is watching me. Moose has now struck up a conversation with Lorraine while she is still Lorraine.
John nods at my question, "I found them looking into Grover's one day. I didn't want anyone to interrupt the study, so I employed them. They give her food and water when I can't," he says. He raises his chest in pride.
"She's not a guinea pig. Why are you studying here? Do you know how sick that is?!"
My chest is burning. My nails are burrowing into the palms of my hands.
"That woman needs to be quiet in the library," Lorraine says. Moose chuckles.
John's eyes dim.
John Steer asks, "What are you going to do, Atty?"
Hunter steps to the side of John blocking the path to the doorway. Hunter won't look at me.
I take a step back. Lorraine Cessair whispers something to Moose, but he doesn't react.
I look from John to Hunter. I can't hear anything but my pulse banging in my ears.
I say, "John?"
My eyes are on Hunter. He shifts under my gaze and still won't look at me. Is that an order too?
John says, "Call the cops? Is that what you want to do?"
"Yes -yes, John, that's what I want -"
"They might think that you are an accessory just trying to look good," he notes. John looks me up and down. He's like a vulture, preening its feathers. His black hair has a shine to it in the moonlight - greasy strands fall on his forehead. I can make out dark crescents that burrow into his eye sockets, and I can see the angle of their cheekbone cut into his face.
"You don't look good, John," I say.
"A woman should never tear down a man. I think he's handsome," corrects Lorraine. She clicks her tongue three times, and John twitches with each one.
John says, "So you decide to call the cops, and then you roast me?"
He chuckles, cracking his neck as he draws in a deep inhale.
"John," I whisper. I unfurl my fists and knit my hands together. I can feel his eyes staring into my head, trying to read my thoughts. But I just look down at the cement floor.
John's breathing picks up, churning in a pant passing through his teeth, "Well, are you going to do it or not, Athena?"
I cringe. His voice echoes off the walls. My fingers brush and rub against each other. In the middle of it all is prayer, and I am going to pray for him.
"Athena," John says.
I glare at him, grind my teeth, cut them on the prayer for him, and imagine that I spit it at his feet.
I take a step toward him and say, "She hasn't had her medication in a month, John. Her family has been worried about her - don't you see what you are doing? You are watching someone deteriorate for your selfish gain!"
My words are out. They slam against the walls, and my yelling has probably shattered more glass. I feel like lava is foaming around my mouth. The tears running down my cheeks can't cool me down.
Lorraine asks Moose questions, but he distracts her. Hunter is still watching me, his arms folded. John Steer meets my gaze for a moment.
I say, "Don't you see why I have to do it, John?"
John nods, "That's why I brought you today," he says. He bows his head and exhales, "Just wanted to be sure that you would do it."
"John," I say. He looks up at me.
I swallow, but whatever is in my throat won't go down, "Why did you do this?" I ask.
John shows mercy on the weakness, "My grandpa has Alzheimer's. I just wanted to see - what it was like," he says. He digs one hand into his front left pocket and throws a notebook at my sneakers. "I didn't like what I learned, but I just couldn't stop."
I say, "But why would you have me be the one to report it?"
Tears roll down my face, and I can taste the salt on my lips. I picked up the composition book, thick with notes and different coloring pages.
"You balance me out, Athena," John avoids my eyes, "I knew you would be the one to do the right thing."
Each page has a timestamp of John's visits with Lorraine. It had corresponding comments on Lorraine's meals and the shifts in her memory. The most recent input from yesterday had the most changes documented.
"John," I say quietly. He meets my gaze when I look at him, "I've got to report this."
"It would be irresponsible not to," he says, raising a hand to stop me before I leave. Hunter's eyes fixate on John's back.
"The guys asked me to report her, and I didn't. I threatened that I would blackmail them if they did. They didn't do anything wrong. They helped me take care of her while I conducted my studies. Go outside to call the police. We will stay here to distract Mrs. Cessair. Once you are done, Moose and Hunter, you are free to go," John Steer says.
Hunter nods. Moose hesitates before telling Lorraine a joke.
"I am ready for my next study," John Steer says as I walk out of the room, his notes in my hand.
I imagine what his face must have looked like as I left Grover's. A slight grin, and his eyes are shining a little too bright.
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