Short Story
                            Cherry Season
                                                 By Lindsey Baker

 The air from the passing train was cold on his back.  It flew up his coat and
tickled his short brown hair against his neck, an embrace from a long lost
lover.  He cleared his throat and walked on.

 The man knew who he was looking for.  The letter had told him specifically
that if he drew any attention to himself, the deal would be called off.  So he
sat at one of the cafes in the station, patiently anxious, his eyes as wide as
fishbowls.  They would shuffle a stack of yellow parchment, tap it against the
table three times and he was to cross his legs.  Then they would approach
his table and hand him the envelope.  Business would continue as usual;
trains would depart, feet would land on ground, throats would clear, papers
would shuffle.  But none of that would be left for him.

 Minutes ticked by, cruel claws that cut open his skin to reveal long hours
wired underneath.  Aha, I’m a mask! thought the man.  A young couple at the
table next to him shot him a mean glance.  He must have chuckled aloud.  He
didn’t notice.  His eyes were filtering out all other light except for the yellows.  
The yellow of crisp clean parchment paper.  He thought he could feel hair
growing on his eyeballs.

 The man thought of the woman.  Her long figure, her sharp shoulders.  He
always told her that she could carve a block of ice with them.  She would
retort how it was funny that she couldn’t seem to carve him.  He sighed.  He
blinked once, twice—a flash of yellow!— but it was just the hem of a young
girl’s skirt, flirting with her knees as she skipped next to her mother.  The girl
seemed to be looking right at him, as if she knew what he was doing here at
this particular train station at this particular time.  He supposed that maybe
she did.

 Sleep knocked on his mind’s back door, and he felt his sleepless nights
finally starting to pester him.  A small coffee, please.  The attendant brought
him out a large cup of coffee and a pack of (yellow!) sugar.  Coffee wasn’t
part of the particular plan, but it was warm and comforting and it made his
eyes feel like they could fit into the holes they were filed into.
 He thought of the woman’s cat, how it always seemed to be everywhere at
once; in the kitchen, on the love seat, in bed when they were in the act of
such love, on top of the icebox.  They had named it Shadow.  Shadow,
thankfully, was still alive.

 All of his money had been given away to orphanages and shelters alike.  
The men wouldn’t  take his mortal money.  They took something more
powerful—his time.  He was to give up his current world for another leaner
world, a world that existed on another plane of time in another axis of the
spinning earth.  It would be exactly the same, only everything would be subtly
different; with one particular difference.  They couldn’t promise positive
results.  The man was hopeful.

 She had told him she was picking cherries for a pie, to celebrate the
anniversary of a country that couldn’t mean much to him now.  He found her
arched feet swaying under the elm, her dress ruffling in the breeze, her face
a cherry red.  He took a sip of his coffee and grimaced.  No sugar in it, as he
couldn’t muster up the courage to open the yellow packet, afraid of what he
might find.

 There was a stir in the air.  He looked up and found two men in hats sitting
at a table five feet away from him.  The first man was tall, with a black suit and
an orange fedora.  The other man was almost comically shorter and had a
dark black bowler hat on his slim head.  The man had not seen these two
come into the café.  He had felt a pop of air being pushed out of the way, had
sensed a movement and here they were.  The first man pulled a stack of
papers out of his briefcase—yellow papers.

 The papers had sloppy hand on them, gibberish written by toddlers doing
their taxes.  The other man took the papers, shuffled them easily in his
hands.  He tapped the pile once, twice.  The man waited eagerly for the third
tap, his bitter coffee soaring through his veins.  There was a satisfying tap,
and his two jittery legs crossed themselves.

 The men got up from their chairs, scraping them back effortlessly.  The first
man led the way, his orange hat a lighthouse for lost sailors.  The other man’
s hat was a dark abyss; the great end of which all true sailors meet if they
stay in the business long enough.  He slipped his hand into his pocket and
pulled out a pale blue envelope containing whole other worlds.  His pants
whispered between his legs as he walked.

 Time was of the essence, but yet it wasn’t.  The man would soon have all of
time within his grasp, yet he couldn’t be more impatient.  His crossed legs
jumped.  Five feet felt like a fleeting canyon, but the men did manage to make
it.  The orange man paused in front of the man’s table, lacing his fingers and
dangling them like a pocket watch.

 Sir, he said.  Do you know why we brought you here?  The man said yes,
cautiously.  This wasn’t in the plan.  On his neck, that same ghost lover was
whispering her cruel game, prickling his skin between her fingers.  He thought
of the woman and shivered.

 The bowler man spoke.  You’re in a lot of trouble, sir.  I’m afraid we can’t let
you leave.  His eyes shifted briefly to the orange man’s, a tiny spark of doubt
dancing in his gaze.  The man felt his heart plummet to his stomach.  They
were tricking him, that was it—they had cold feet about sharing their secrets
with him.  Not that anyone else would know.  He would be in his own layer of
the world with the woman by his side again.  Trouble?

 Suddenly the world was filled with color; orange, yellow, red.  The colors of
fire, of warmth, spring.  The man blinked, and the colors didn’t go away.  You
killed your wife, sir.  The woman, he was talking about the woman!  And how
her cold shoulders carved the man, and how her cat was named Shadow and
how her cherry red face…—the man couldn’t remember.  He saw the little girl
with the yellow skirt skip by again, only this time she carried a small golden
clock.  On top of the clock was a bright red santa cap.

 There’s been some sort of mistake, I’m meeting men who will change
everything—they’ll make it all go away!  The man bristled at his own panicked
voice.  The little girl with the clock smiled at him.  The orange man removed
his hat.  We can make it better, but we can’t make it go away.  Sir, you have
to come with us.  The hat went onto the table and the first man removed a
pair of handcuffs from his back pocket.  My wife killed herself.  Picking
cherries.  The man swallowed hard.

 He could smell fruit in the air.  You slit her throat in the kitchen of your
apartment.  She’s dead, and you did it.  The bowler man had his hand
perched at his hip as he said these words in tones of grey and distance.  The
world was overwhelmingly colorful now, full of a brightness the man had
always searched for.

 The car was parked outside of the station.  All three men padded lightly
through the crowd, drawing no attention as though they were really just
shadows on the wall.  They were objects made of air, a fly you could swat
away.  The man could feel the cool handcuffs against his wrists.

 A door was opened for him, and he slid himself unto the cool, smooth
leather of the backseat.  The man asked them something with a furrowed
brow.  They looked to each other and laughed.  There was something on the
bowler man’s face that hadn’t been there before—a touch of red on his
cheeks.  He bent down, slowly.  We never promised positive results.
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About Lindsey Baker

Lindsey Baker is an
English student at
Georgia State University
and an avid fan of