The There-It-Is Store
By Adam Gaylord
The bell over the door jingled and Claire hastily tucked her book under the counter. It was one of her favorites and she’d just gotten to the best part. She didn’t want a customer to come in and claim it.
An older man, probably twice Claire’s age, entered the store. Actually, he really more danced his way in. The man turned this way and that, his eyes trained on the ground, all the while patting his pants, alternating front pockets and then back. Claire suppressed a giggle at the sight of his search dance – as it was fittingly known in the trade. The man gave up the floor and scanned the shelves by the door, muttering to himself while patting his breast pockets. “I swear I just had ’em. I was walking out the door…” He passed over boxes of buttons, jars full of jewelry, several large sacks stuffed with socks, and a pail packed with pocket watches before stopping in front of a particularly large crate nearly overflowing with keys. He gave a low whistle, eyeing the huge box with trepidation.
“Good morning Mr. Crowhurst,” Clair interrupted his search.
“Hm? Oh, yes. Hello.” Mr. Crowhurst wandered up to the counter, still patting. “I really hope you can help me. Do you happen to know where…” He trailed off, his eyes drifting to the shelves behind her. Claire felt the tingle of the there-it-is magic and the man’s patting finally stopped, his face lighting up. “There they are!”
She retrieved the keys to his steam car, third shelf on the right, just like last time, and he passed her a few coins with a “Thank you”. Claire eagerly reached for her story as the man made his way out of the shop, now muttering to himself about something else. But as his voice faded away it was the lack of another sound that made her stop. She cocked her head but still there was silence.
Peering around a wire rack stacked with wallets, she found a petite young woman in a ruffled dress frozen in the entryway, her small frame keeping the door from hitting the bell. The girl glanced back and forth, into and out of the shop, as if contemplating leaving a well-worn forest path to enter the foreboding undergrowth.
“Come on in. It’s ok,” Claire prompted.
She entered the store, her wide eyes taking in the rainbow of kites and kerchiefs draped from the ceiling. She ran a gentle hand over a glass case of spectacles and gloves and shied away from a cabinet of dentures, hair pieces, and false eyes.
She made it to the counter and waited, her face mostly hidden by long curly blonde locks.
“Can I help you?” Claire asked.
“I’m not sure.” She hesitated. “I-I think I’ve lost something.”
“What have you lost?”
“I’m not sure. But I know it’s gone. I can feel it. Something important.” She shuttered slightly, her hands pulling her ruffled skirt tight around her. “If, if something’s taken from you, it’s like you lost it, right?” She looked up with such pain in her eyes, yet such hope, that Claire’s voice caught in her throat. It was a mix of emotions that she recognized from her own troubled youth.
This was the hard part of the job. Adults mostly lost things: material possessions they misplaced or forgot. But children, and young women especially, has so much more to lose, parts of themselves that couldn’t be replaced at the corner store.
“Some things that are lost can be found again,” she chose her words carefully, “if you look in the right place. And for many things, this happens to be one of those places.”
The girl perked up a little.
“But some things, once lost, can never be found.”
Her eyes returned to the ground. “How do I know the difference?”
“When the time comes, you’ll know.”
“But what do I do until then?”
Claire looked around the store that had become her home, smelled the musk of old leather and dust, felt the touch of the there-it-is magic. She hadn’t been much older than this girl the first time she’d wandered through the front door, lost and scared. Her old master had shown her the ways of this place. Over the years she’d found many things here: confidence, direction, a sense of self. But lately, rather than wonder it was boredom and monotony that more often found their way into her day. Maybe it was time for her to find a different path, a different place.
“Tell you what,” she said, “I’ve been looking for some help around this place. Why don’t you come by a few hours every week? If you like it, then maybe there’s a place for you here.”
The girl hesitated, her eyes flitting back toward the door.
“Plus, it will let you keep an eye out for whatever it is you lost.”
The girl thought for a moment and then nodded, giving a pretty little smile. She promised to come back the next day, bright and early. Clair told her to wear pants and to be ready to get her hands dirty. And as Raleigh left, for that was the girl’s name, Claire found that it was she who had found something that day; something she didn’t even know she’d been missing.
And the there-it-is magic tingled.
When the Planets Left
By J. J. Litke
Saturn was the first to leave.
Like most people, I didn’t recognize the planets well enough to miss it, and I’m pretty sure Chris was only bragging when he insisted later he’d thought something was off about the night sky. Astronomers noticed, of course, but it took them days to agree that it was literally gone. Headlines blared the news: “Saturn disappears from the solar system!” and “Scientists baffled.”
Speculation abounded. It hadn’t exploded—no remains were there in its former orbital path. Chris favored a group who claimed a black hole had swallowed it, but I never believed that. A few people suggested that it was actually never there to begin with, and even the black hole conspiracists couldn’t take them seriously. Most of us couldn’t settle on a cause. I just felt confused.
Mercury was next. The suggestion that it had been pulled into the sun would have been easier to believe if it hadn’t been for Saturn’s disappearing act. The alien interference theory was far-fetched, but it made more sense to me than black holes. Most scientists dismissed that, even though they didn’t have much else to offer.
A prominent spirituality author posed a different reasoning. “They’ve left us,” he said in a widely-televised interview. “And the rest of the planets will probably follow their lead.”
“How do you know that?” the interviewer asked. “Why would they leave? How could they leave?”
Chris and I watched while sitting on opposite ends of the couch.
“He’s not answering the questions,” I said.
“He’s after publicity,” Chris said. “Just an attention whore trying to boost his book sales.”
That was harsh, but I thought Chris was probably right. Until Venus went missing.
Neptune wasn’t far behind. At some point it was noted that poor Pluto was gone as well, which restarted debate over its planetary status. Ceres and a large number of other asteroids vanished from the asteroid belt. Somehow Chris and I got into a fight over it.
“It’s not right!” Chris shouted. He banged his fist on the kitchen counter, rattling the dishes. “How can they leave like this?”
“You think screaming about it will help?” I shouted back, gripping my hands to stop them from shaking. “They can go if they want!” I stormed out without admitting that I didn’t want the planets to leave, either. It was too terrifying.
Uranus and Jupiter seemed to leave together, and by now we were not surprised. Only Mars remained as the last planet accompanying Earth around the sun. A cooperative effort began as people begged Mars not to leave us, too. This plan wasn’t approved by everyone—a group of geologists got testy about it when questioned on the best way to communicate with a planet, reminding us in no uncertain terms that planets were not sentient. Nevertheless, we attempted communication using a variety of systems: reflectors using Morse code, ultraviolet lasers, and electromagnetic waves in every frequency up to Ka-band microwaves. Chris joined a ham radio club. I used a mirror and sent my own messages.
Mars stayed through a month’s worth of our efforts. Then, it too, vanished.
We had to face the cold possibility that even the Moon might decide to go. The idea was not new; it had been suggested early on, and some had reserved their communication attentions for the Moon rather than waste them on the fickle Mars. Now a wave of near hysteria erupted. We directed our radios, microwave transmitters, lasers, and reflectors at the Moon, and we pleaded with the Moon to stay. The spirituality author who first said the planets were leaving gave an impassioned speech via S-band-transmitted Morse code that ended with a simple request: please don’t leave us.
For the next two and a half weeks, we waited. Chris found me out in the yard one young evening with my mirror. He put his arm around me, and we stood there for a long time, just staring up into the sky.
Finally, a response came.
People debated long afterward if that was really a true response. Just a few blips that could have been mere noise. But the Moon stayed. Chris and I danced in the kitchen, laughing like fools.
Astronomers searched for our lost planets, trying to detect signals indicating the collection of them in other parts of the galaxy, but they found no conclusive evidence. We were abandoned without even being told why. That may have been the most painful part for most of us, just not knowing why.
We questioned ourselves repeatedly—what did we do wrong? Or didn’t do that we should have? Did they find a better solar system somewhere else? Maybe we really weren’t good enough for them. We were too dull, or not intelligent enough. Maybe the lack was in them, and some day they’d grow bored and leave their new system, too. It could be any of those, all of them together, or something else entirely.
We never found out for sure. I told Chris we shouldn’t blame ourselves, and the fact that the planets didn’t even give us the courtesy of an explanation or even a simple goodbye proved that they were the real problem, not us. He smiled back at me without pointing out how unsatisfying we both knew that was.
But the Moon, the lovely, constant Moon, stuck by Earth.
Every year on the anniversary of The Message, we express our appreciation with a variety of tributes, love songs, and entertainments directed at the Moon via S-band. Chris wrote a poem, and I transmitted it with my interpretive Morse code. He swears the Moon shone a little brighter then.
We also share a lot of love with the Sun. Just in case.
Chris and I go out to gaze at the Moon almost every evening now, and say hello to the Sun in the mornings. It’s a much smaller solar system now.
But I wouldn’t trade our little system for the whole universe.
About the Authors
Adam Gaylord lives with his wife and daughter in Loveland, Colorado where he’s rarely more than ten feet from either cake or craft beer. His recently released gladiatorial fantasy novel Sol of the Coliseum is all about hope (as in, he hopes you’ll read it).
J. J. Litke lives in Austin, Texas, where she writes SFF and moonlights as a graphic design instructor. She can tell you more than you want to know about GREP styles and WordPress development. Her work has also appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine and Farstrider Magazine.
About the Narrators
Dani Daly is a former assistant editor of Cast of Wonders, and narrating stories is just one of the things she loves to do. She’s a retired roller derby player and current small batch soap maker, for instance. Soaps and balms from StoryTime Soap Company are crafted while listening to audio fiction of all sorts. She rants on twitter as @danooli_dani, if that’s your thing. Or you can visit the EA forums, where she moderates the Cast of Wonders boards.
Katherine Inskip is the editor for Cast of Wonders. She teaches astrophysics for a living and spends her spare time populating the universe with worlds of her own. You can find more of her stories and poems at Motherboard, the Dunesteef, Luna Station Quarterly, Abyss & Apex and Polu Texni.