Over the Distant Hills

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“When was it written?” I asked Julia-47, my thirty year old assistant.

“1969,” she answered. “That makes it eighty years old. You must have just been a kid, back then,” she smiled.

“Right,” I replied.

She held up the paperback so I could get a good look at it, I recognized the blue lettering on the cover, but had I forgotten the $1.25 price tag.

*

I am 57 and I am in the thrift business, I operate a large store in Central City and I do fine. I get the bulk of my inventory from buying up the contents of abandoned rental concerns, whether apartments or freestanding houses or storage units. I bid on the treasures at auction alongside other people in the same business and we most often make our bids sight unseen. Sometimes you win and find all manner of collectibles among the items you have secured with a successful bid. Other times, you get boxes of musty clothes, piles of magazines, and/or worthless electronic devices. A week ago Tuesday, was a no win day. Let me tell you about it.

Julia-47, my assistant, enjoyed her job, but not the pay and she reminded me of that whenever I would listen, which was never. The truth is, I did not shower her with money, but she got enough to get by and I bought her lunch at least three days a week, not a a bad deal, really. However, because I didn’t pay her much, I was suspicious, suspicious that she may come upon something of real value in the bins and boxes we carried back to my back office to sort through. If she had found something of value, she might have palmed it and then I’d have been out a diamond ring, or a priceless old nickel, or a piano – okay, not a piano – but a ring or a nickel. To guard against any problems of that type, I watched her closely and she knew that and I wanted her to know that and she did.

It was a Tuesday, as I said before, we stopped at Auntie Della’s Self Storage, did Julia-47 and I. We picked up seven plastic bins that were housed in Unit 51 and we spent a good part of the afternoon, in my office, searching through the old handbags, photographs, recipes, clothes and stuffed toys.

“What did you pay for this garbage, Bert?” asked Julia-47.

“Never mind,” I replied, “it pains me to think of it.”

It was then that she found the novel, the Michael Crichton novel, from 1969. I recognized it immediately as one of the torchables.

“What is an Adromeda Strain?” asked Julia-47.

“If you had read the novel, you’d know the answer.”

“Have you read it?” she asked

“I read it in two days.”

“Goody for you.”

“Get rid of it.” I told her.

“How?”

“Burn it.” I half-commanded.

“No, I want to read it.”

“It is not allowed.” I warned.

“What are you afraid of?”

“Spiders – and owning one of the torchables – and you should be, too.”

“Why did this book make the list?” she asked.

“Crichton was a denier of global warming.”

“What about it?”

“Our leaders do not like deniers of their tenets,” I promised.

She took up the novel in her hands. “I am reading this.”

“Read what you want,” I relented. “It’s your life, anyway, I could replace you by Friday, given the need.”

*

Government inspectors are in my shop every two weeks, but I didn’t recognize either of the black-suited thugs that showed up on a rainy Friday, after Juia-47 disappeared. The inspectors I had dealt with in the past would come by to check my sales floor, just to be sure I wasn’t peddling anything illegal, but not those two. They were after something else.

Thug 1 approached after he walked the floor for about ten minutes, he, like the his counterpart, was a pale, white guy, six foot, two, anyway, dark glasses, and the fellow’s face was most comfortable in a scowl.

“Everything looks fine, Mr. Kaye,” he said, “we won’t trouble you any longer.”

“Thanks.”

“One more thing, though, do you employ a young woman, a Julia-47?”

“Yes,” I answered, “I do, or I did, she hasn’t shown up for work in three days – she can be flighty.”

Thug 2 approached the counter as I answered. He handed me a card. “Have her call us when she comes back to work,” he said.

*

Julia-47 called me just before I woke up and isn’t that always the way.

“Where are you?” I asked her.

“The turn of the century,” she replied.

“I’ve never heard of it, is it a club? Where is it?”

“It’s not a where, it’s a when.”

“How did you get there?” I inquired.

“My boyfriend, Roy-11, he knows all about metaphysics and time and space and whichever.”

“Hard to believe, the time-jumping, I mean.”

“Do you know of any quantum events that are easy to believe?” she asked.

“Well said. Did Roy-11 go with you?”

“No, he had to stay behind, his sister is having a birthday or a baby shower or a tooth implanted or something.”

“Why did you leave?” I asked.

“Had to, the government is after me. They were watching me. I got rid of the book, but it was too late. I won’t be back, you know.”

“I know.” I said.

“Will you miss me?”

“Sometimes. Where are you staying?”

“With my grandma,” Julia-47 replied, “she’s cute, and younger than me.”

“That’s how that works.”

“Her name is Lacy,” promised Julia-47, “Lacy, with no number after it, like you.”

“Yes, exactly like me.” I replied. “What’s on for tonight?”

“Book store, Mr. Crichton is signing copies of Timeline. Can you believe it?”

“I can believe anything.”

The End

About the Author: 
Biographical Notes: Edward Palumbo is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island (1982). His fiction, poems, shorts, and journalism have appeared in numerous periodicals, journals, e-journals and anthologies including Rough Places Plain, Flush Fiction, Tertulia Magazine, and Epiphany.