by B.K. Bilicki

Copyright (c) 1998-99


"What do you have for me today, Jake?" Amy called out from the back room as the electronic chime heralded the opening of the shop's front door.

Jake appeared in the back doorway moments later, holding a large cardboard box and wearing an annoyed expression upon his young face. "How the hell do you do that?" he asked.

"Do what?"

"Know exactly who's coming through the door at any given moment." He turned and tried to peer past the neatly-stacked aisles of ancient treasures that filled the antique shop. "You can't even see the door from here."

"It's 12:30 Saturday afternoon," she stated matter-of-factly. "You always come in around now. Doesn't take a genius."

He turned back to face her. "But I've seen you do it with other people too. Don't tell me everyone who comes in here has a set schedule."

She grinned at him devilishly. "Maybe I'm psychic."

He laughed. "That would explain the weird look on your face when you're going over some of this stuff. It's almost like you're trying to read an aura."

She raised a slender eyebrow at him. "Where did you come up with that idea? They teaching the occult in the high schools now?"

"Don't I wish! I got it from a dungeon game I've been playing."

"That stuff will rot your brain," she said with a smile as she quickly cleared the small table she sat behind. "So, what do you have for me today?"

Jake carefully placed the box on the table. "Estate sale. Not too much. Got a few pictures and some glassware. Found some mint-condition WWII weapons, but they wouldn't sell 'em to a kid," he said with an obvious snort of derision. "Here's the address, if you're interested. They said they were gonna be there until four, so you might get lucky." He pulled a piece of paper from his coat pocket and gave it to her.

Amy took the scrap and glanced at the neatly-written address. "You really have nice penmanship, Jake," she commented.

"You sound like my mom."

"Oh, ick," she laughed. "Can't have that now. How much do I owe you?"


"You're kidding me," she nearly gasped as she glanced again at the box. "For all this? You take it at gunpoint or something?"

He shook his head. "Hey, they got their asking price for all of it!" he countered, then he smiled craftily. "Well, most of it anyway. Talked 'em down on maybe one or two of those china cups."

"You didn't take advantage of 'em, did you?" she asked, her tone suddenly serious.

"No way," he replied quickly, knowing well of her distaste for playing on the emotions of people who most likely had just lost loved ones. "They wanted rid of the stuff, so I obliged."

Her look of surprise gave way to a smile of admiration. "You old bandit. How do you do it?"

He shrugged. "I learned from the master."

Pulling three twenties out of her purse, she handed them to him. "Another fifty if you tell me where you picked up that silver tongue!" she joked as she paid her unofficial partner.

Smiling warmly in appreciation at her generous tip, he pocketed the money and shook his head. "No deal. I'll need it in peak form tonight."

"Uh-oh. Date not go well last night?"

"Let's just say the silver tongue was more than a little tarnished," he admitted with a blush.

Amy stood and gave his shoulder a playful nudge. "Well get outta here and get polishing. Have fun tonight. See you next week?"

"As always," he replied before turning and setting off for the door.

A weathered mirror atop a far shelf, strategically pointed to catch the reflection from a gleaming brass fire extinguisher positioned on the opposite wall, allowed Amy to track Jake's every move through the shop. As he reached for the door's handle, she called out, "See ya!" then watched as he shook his head in wonder and laughed again before leaving.

That'll keep him guessing, she thought to herself with a grin as she sat back down to look over her new acquisitions. Carefully removing each item from the box, she silently appraised each piece before placing them on one of the back room's many shelves for later perusal. China cups and plates, all incredibly preserved, were followed by items made of milkglass and pewter. She worked swiftly but with the utmost care as she shuttled the rediscovered treasures from the box to the shelves.

The last item rested on its side against the inside of the box and she reached for what she thought was the thick black binding of a book. She picked it up and was quickly surprised by both its weight and its odd smoothness. A flash of reflected light burst off the object's near side before fading to reveal a photograph trapped beneath a pane of dusty glass. The black she had seen was part of the picture's frame, a solid piece of jet black marble judging by its weight. Holding the frame up with both hands, she studied the picture within.

A man in a white short-sleeved shirt and dark pants smiled back at her from behind the filmy glass. She carefully set the frame's lower edge on the table, then ran a hand across the glass. Dust gathered beneath the heel of her hand, forming a thin gray strand of ancient lint which was easily shaken loose. Her eyes returned to the picture. Shades of gray melded together, forming the image of a man standing before a wall of silvery foliage. Above him, the sky was a uniform sheet of ash, showing neither cloud nor sun. Amy suddenly recalled an odd notion she had had in her youth, back when she had first shown an interest in her grandfather's antique shop which was now her own, that weather was simply non-existent until the advent of colour photography. It just seemed so impossible at the time that the brightest sunlight could fade to nothingness and the fiercest storm could calm to a dull thrum through only the absence of colour.

A streak of light flashed across the picture again, causing Amy's eyes to nearly close from the glare. When they focused again, they stared directly into the man's eyes. Instead of dull slate, she was faced with a deep placid blue that she did not see but felt, a calm sea of being which touched on the very deepest part of her soul. Her breathing quickened on its own and her fingers gripped the marble frame tighter as the waves emanating from his silent eyes lapped against her essence. She wanted to know this man. No, she already knew him, had known him for years. No, she was about to know him, or perhaps...

The electronic chime sounded, breaking the eerie silence. A voice like three marbles in a tin can called out, "Amy?"

The sounds hit Amy like a hard slap in the face. Her grip on the frame loosened and the muscles in her arms jerked as she protectively snatched the picture off the table and clutched it to her chest. Blinking hard, as if awakening from a deep sleep, she struggled to regain her bearings. "What?" she said, though to whom she had no idea, for she had not heard the rattling voice call out her name through the pounding of her heart in her ears.

A throaty wheeze followed by a hacking cough was heard, followed by another call, this time in a much clearer voice. "Amy?"

Looking into her all-seeing mirror, Amy caught sight of a tottering bundle of brightly-flowered cloth topped with a silvery beehive of hair trundling slowly up one aisle. "Coming, Mrs. Cziakowski!" she called out as calmly as she could, despite her rapid pulse. Her hands pulled the photograph away from her chest and carefully laid it upon the table. The man smiled back at her and she considered his cheerful gaze cautiously, as if he were a snake about to strike, but he remained still in his world of leaden hues. Taking a deep breath, she frowned at herself. Working too hard again, she thought as she stood up and stretched her back a little. Suddenly the trace of a sweet scent embraced her, one which she could not immediately place but knew that she had experienced before. Shaking this ghost-essence from her mind, she hastily dismissed it as another figment of her overworked imagination and rushed off to help her customer.

* * *

Amy's mind was a whirl of thought as she drove back to the shop from the address Jake had given her. A carefully-packed box in the back seat contained her latest purchases, the rifles and bayonets which Jake had spoken of earlier. She didn't think of these, however, as the man in the photograph continually resurfaced to overtake her mind.

It had been the same ever since she left the shop nearly two hours earlier. Who was he? she kept asking herself and from some unknown part of her imagination, answers would appear. Although she had only seen his eyes clearly, details of the photograph leapt out at her, telling her things which she felt she had no way of knowing.

A tall man. Long-limbed and strong for his size. Close-cropped brown hair. Sun-bronzed skin. And those eyes of blue which seemed to see into her soul.

What troubled her the most was learning that her imagination had been amazingly accurate so far. The grand-daughter of the man in the photograph was the one running the estate sale and she and Amy had chatted while Amy looked over the few items which remained. Amy inquired almost immediately about the photo, eager to quiet her churning mind. Nadine, the man's grand-daughter, told her of how her grandfather Dan had been killed in Korea, but not before unknowingly leaving her grandmother May pregnant with her mother and uncle.

Before she knew it, Amy found herself listening intently to a quick summary of May and Dan's lives. Each of the things that she had imagined of the man in the photo were correct and every new confirmation made her heart skip a beat. She had hoped to busy her mind with thoughts of haggling over the few remaining antique items she saw, but Nadine let her have them for next to nothing. She and her husband were eager to dispense with whatever they could so that they could wrap up the pending sale of her recently-deceased grandmother's house.

Amy struggled to calm herself as she parked outside her shop. How could I have known all those things about that man? I only caught a glimpse of him in that photograph. Suddenly she wondered why her mind had never played this game with the hundreds of other photos that had passed through her shop. They had held only faces, never names or lives. Just dull gray faces from days long past, back when weather didn't exist.

Her worrying continued as she quickly ushered her new purchases into the shop and locked the door behind her. "I must be going crazy," she muttered to herself as she walked through the aisles. Looking up at her all-seeing mirror, she frowned at the fearful expression she saw on her face. "There are no ghosts here, you dope," she called out to her reflection as she passed. "It's all your imagination."

Reaching the back room, she placed the box upon a shelf. The sweet scent that had surrounded her earlier returned, wafting up from nowhere and trickling into her being. The small hairs of the nape of her neck raised, but a memory quickly calmed them. "Maybells," she said to herself with a smile. Nadine's grandmother had hundreds of the tiny white bell-shaped flowers in her yard. According to Nadine, May had dug up every last one of them right after Daniel's death, though Nadine never knew why. They had reappeared unexpectedly this year and were spreading like weeds, filling the yard with their perpetual lilting sweetness. Jake probably picked up their scent on his clothes, Amy thought. That's why I could smell them before. Same thing probably happened to me.

She sniffed deeply and the fragrance seemed to blossom anew. Another memory surfaced and Amy found herself suddenly wrapped in it. May, shortly before her death, had told Nadine that her beloved Daniel would be coming back to her soon, just as the maybells had. Nadine figured it was only the onset of senility, but May's romantic notion warmed Amy's heart. She stood there and continued to breathe the intoxicating scent, drinking it in as her hands unconsciously reached for the photograph of Daniel that she had left on her work table.

Sitting down, she looked at the photo again. His smile greeted her as before, but her eyes were drawn downward to the many plants around his feet. Suddenly ash and slate gave way to green and white. One by one, tiny white flowers seemed to leap out to proudly announce their presence. Maybells, she thought to herself as she slipped deeper into the unfolding scene. Slowly her eyes lifted up to Dan's hand. It was close to his side, but she could now see that he was holding something - a thin pale green stalk which led to a cluster of five perfectly formed tiny white flowers, each seemingly carved from purest snow. Suddenly they jostled in his hand and she nearly thought she could hear a merry tinkling issue from each minute bell.

"Maybells," she whispered. Instantly her world faded away, becoming lifeless and ashen as her mind was pulled into the now-vibrant colours of the world held inside the photograph.

* * *

"I will be back for you."

The words brought Amy's senses back to life. Her eyes focused and she saw a young couple sitting together in a beautiful garden. Daisies and marigolds frolicked with pansies and bachelor's buttons, creating a wave of colour which took her breath away. Reds and yellows and deep greens swept through her mind while scents both strong and faint combined to intoxicate her senses.

"But why do you have to go? And why should I wait for you?"

Amy shifted her attention from the beauty of the garden to focus on the young couple. A man in a white shirt sat behind a dark-haired woman in a light sundress on a carpet of neatly-mowed grass. His arms encircled her waist and his chin rested on her bare right shoulder. "You know why I have to go," he whispered in her ear. Despite his quiet tone, Amy could hear each word as clearly as if he had spoken them directly to her. "And you'll wait for me because you love me and I love you."

The woman he spoke to crossed her arms in front of herself, hugging his arms tightly. "I do love you," she replied with a sigh. "But I thought-"

"Shh," he urged, pressing a kiss to her cheek. "I want a family as much as you do, May. I promise we'll do just that when I return."

May nuzzled into his kiss and stroked his arms gently. "Do we have to wait?" she asked.

A muffled laugh answered her as his kisses started to trickle down her neck to her shoulder. "You are an impatient one, May," he said before nipping at her earlobe playfully. An inspiration struck him and he whispered, "Close your eyes."

May turned to him with an accusing stare. "Dan, if you tickle me, I swear I'll-"

"Shh," he said, turning her face forward again with his hand. "I won't. I promise. Now close your eyes." May did as he asked, though a visible shiver of anticipation ran through her which Amy felt too. Dan reached his right hand beside where he and May sat to pluck a small frond of flowers from a patch of wide green leaves. He lifted the cluster before May's face and whispered, "Breathe." May inhaled, then let her breath out with a pleased sigh before drinking the sweet fragrance in again.

The same scent filled Amy's senses and she whispered, "Maybells."

Dan lifted his eyes to Amy and smiled knowingly. Instead of feeling embarrassed or intrusive, Amy felt warmed by the gesture. He lifted the small bundle of flowers, letting them barely skim over May's nose and between her closed eyes to her forehead. "Think," he breathed in her ear, his voice low and sensual while his eyes continued to stare into Amy's. "What do I have here?"

"Maybells," May replied with a pleased smile.

He moved the flowers across her forehead, tracing them down to her temple, around the shell of her ear and down the side of her neck. "That's right," he said. "And what do you know about maybells?"

May gasped as the flowers traced along her bare shoulder. "They're sweet," she replied breathlessly.

"Just like you," he added as he slowly stroked the flowers against her pale skin. "And their scent lingers?" he asked, as the tiny bells tickled across May's collarbone. She forced herself to nod in mute reply. He smiled at her rapture and dragged the frond to the center of her chest. "It lasts forever, just as our love will," he said as the flowers trickled down between her breasts.

"Dan!" she breathed urgently, though without opening her eyes. "What if someone-?"

"No one will see," he said quickly, punctuating his words with a soft, wet kiss below her ear. She shivered and he lifted his head and smiled at Amy with a hint of deviltry in his blue eyes.

Amy fought to keep her eyes open, for every sensation which trickled through May thundered through her own body. The feel of the delicate bells dancing against her skin and Dan's lips kissing her neck dazzled her senses. Her hidden watching, which she no longer tried to understand, continued as she felt his left hand gently cup May's breast.

May pursed her lips and drew in a sharp breath as he stroked the flowers across the top of the creamy swell of flesh. "And when the wind blows, they almost seem to chime," he breathed into her ear. His hand slipped the thin fabric down, exposing her breast, and he tickled the tiny bells against her nipple. She moaned softly in anticipation as her nipple stiffened and tingled as each flower licked over it. "Their chimes remind me of your voice calling to me."

May whimpered as he continued to tease her breast with the flowers, running them around her nipple in tiny circles, then sweeping across the top of her breast and around the sensitive underside. Need blossomed within her and her hands fell to her lap, pulling at the thin fabric of her skirt. "Please, Dan," she pleaded in a strained whisper as she exposed her bare legs. "Oh please."

Amy and May gasped as one as five tiny flutters landed upon their inner right thighs. He dragged the flowers with agonizingly slowness up her leg as his fingers took over stroking her breast. "One last thing about maybells, my sweet," he breathed into her ear.

"Y-yes?" she stammered, her body enveloped in sensation.

The petals skimmed her quivering thigh up to the cotton-clad junction between her legs and then danced upon her covered wetness. "They always come back," he whispered. "Remember that, my lovely Maybell. They always come back. Say it."

"Always come back," she repeated, panting each word. The flowers moved away, only to be replaced by his questing hand a heartbeat later. His fingers found her center and caressed it gently and she fell back against his chest and moaned in time with Amy, who also felt his fingers' gentle mastery of her flesh.

Dan turned his eyes to Amy and smiled warmly as he saw her body responding to his touch. "I will always come back for you, my darling Maybell," he whispered into May's ear. The scene started to fade from Amy's vision then, dulling into a sheet of dead grayness to hide their loving, but his blue eyes shone brightly amidst the draining colours. Soon the entire world had ceased to exist, save for twin points of placid blue. Amy felt May's release despite the surrounding nothingness and one word rose up above the shattering climax which ripped through her being.


* * *

The electronic chime on the shop's door sounded, but Amy did not hear it. The world had returned to her, its colours back from wherever they had fled, but her senses were still struggling to cope with her tremendous climax. Her eyes had somehow left the photograph she held and were now aimed at her all-seeing mirror. An elderly woman in a refined but simple dress made her way slowly up one aisle as she walked towards the back room. Amy's mind struggled to identify her, but the haze still gripped her tightly.

After a few moments, the old woman stood before her with an amused look painting her creased features. She studied Amy's frozen face, then smiled at her knowingly. "He's very naughty, isn't he?" she asked. Amy was barely able to nod her agreement. The old woman sighed dreamily and nodded herself, adding, "But true to his word. He said he would come back. I just needed to remember what he said about the maybells."

With this, she reached for the photograph Amy held in her numbed fingers. Picking it up, the old woman looked at the picture for only a second, then turned it so it faced Amy. She struggled a bit with the frame as she removed its backing plate, then she replaced it and laid the frame back on the table. Amy's eyes swept slowly from the image of the smiling man to the small object the old woman had just removed from inside the frame. From her gnarled hand hung a cluster of five tiny white bells, still looking as fresh and alive as they had so long ago.

Amy's eyes met those of the old woman as a sweet fragrance surrounded them both. The old woman's eyes closed and she breathed in the intoxicating scent. She opened her eyes again, but now they blazed with the fire of youth. "He's waiting for me," she announced in a lively voice. She looked back down at Amy and breathed, "I have to go, but not before saying thank you. Thank you for seeing what the others couldn't. Thank you for believing." With this, she turned and hobbled back towards the front of the store.

Each of the old woman's steps was carefully followed by Amy, thanks to her mirror. As Amy watched, the old woman's hair seemed to get darker with every new step. Her steps became surer, her back a little less stooped. The dress she wore changed as well, becoming a light sundress whose skirt flowed around each of her now skipping steps. Amy saw that someone now stood at the shop's door, a young man with short brown hair and stunning blue eyes which met hers in the mirror. He winked at her playfully, then turned his attention to the young woman in the sundress.

"You forgot these," she said, her voice now young and sweet, and she held out the small cluster of flowers to him.

"But you didn't," he noted with a bright smile. He took the flowers from her and stroked them once across her cheek, a butterfly's kiss which drew a pleased sigh from her that Amy echoed in the back room. He looked back to the mirror and smiled again, then lifted the flowers to her and said, "Thank you." The pair hugged once, then turned and walked through the door without opening it, passing through the glass as if it wasn't there. The electronic chime sounded once, then all was silent.

Suddenly the fog which clouded Amy's senses was swept away and she came alive with a start. She leaped to her feet and raced to the front door. Grabbing the handle, she tugged at it several times to no avail. "Locked," she gasped in shock. Immediately she ran back to the back room and looked at the photograph. Behind a dusty pane of glass, a man in a white short-sleeved shirt stood beside a woman in a light sundress. They were holding hands and smiling back at her warmly. A small cluster of bell-shaped flowers hung from their joined hands which seemed to sway in an unseen breeze. Amy reached out one trembling hand to brush the dust from them. As they were uncovered, a sweet scent embraced her which calmed her fears and made her smile brightly. A small golden plaque now decorating the lower edge of the frame caught her attention and she brushed the dust from it, revealing one intricately-carved word.


• Story inspired by the song 'Uncertain Weather' by Genesis (Calling All Stations - Atlantic 83037-2)



Maybells is copyright (c) 1998-99 B.K. Bilicki. This story may not be distributed without the author's permission. Comments welcomed or visit the author.


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