The Non-Adventures of Francine

I start my day by loading my purse.  Of course, I always carry my notebook with the various notes I’ve made about the local story hooks.

Avoid the Third Street Coffee shop on the second Tuesday of odd months – spys use it as a drop location – High chance of being given top seceret documents – shred reciepts as well.

Avoid getting into elevators on the sixth and eighteenth floors of all buildings North of Franklin Street – high probability of encountering a ghost – take the stairs if more than three high school to college age young adults are also present.

The first aid kit is good to toss at good Samaritans.  Keeps me from getting involved while not looking completely heartless to injured people.

My wallet of course is always in my purse.  I check it’s pockets and find a business card I’ve never seen before.  I crumple it without reading it, carry it into the bathroom and flush it.

Do I need the pepper spray?  Its misuse could lead into a comedy or meet-cute.  I check my notebook.  Based on past trends, I’m due a physical attack (mugging, kidnapping attempt, random angry man).  The pepper spray goes in my purse.

The electrical tape, paper clips, and rubber bands go in a side pocket.

***

When I was a teenager, Margaret, my best friend, and I had “adventures”.  We debunked some hauntings, found lost items, discovered hidden Last Will and Testaments, even broke up a moonshine smuggling ring once.  For five year years, we had an adventure roughly once a month.  Some times they were three weeks apart, some times six, but in the end it averaged out.

Then something changed.  For most of our senior year in high school we just went to school.  We applied to colleges.  We went to Prom.  We didn’t have any “adventures”.

***

I’m collecting my coffee from the counter when the man bumps into me.  His hand slips under my jacket.  My hand clamps around the intruding hand and I dig my thumb nail into the underside of his wrist.  He yelps in pain and a folded manila envolope with a slight bluge, probably a thumb drive, falls to ground between us.  I release my grip and take a look at the guy.

Not much older than me, grey hoodie over a polo shirt and tan slacks, hood up, and sunglasses on an overcast day.  He glances at the envelope on the floor and then back to me.  I pick up my coffee and walk away and sit at a table.  I should just leave but the story hook is out in the open.  The man is still standing in the middle of the coffee shop looking outside, probably looking for whoever is after him.  “They” don’t seem to be hot on his trail.  His survival chances might be fairly high.

Let’s see.  Thumb drive passed to random person.  Random person checks thumb drive and investigates … whatever is being covered up.  Or the guy tracks the person down later to retrive the thumb drive and the person becomes involved when “they” catch up with him at the same time.  Cue chase sence and hiding out together.  Classic thiller slash romance story hook.

After another minute, he leaves without picking up the envolope.  I remain in my seat looking over the section of the newspaper that had been left behind at the table.  Weather section.  Clear skys for a couple days then light showers followed by eighty percent thunderstorms.

No one else has noticed the envolope.  At least no one has made a move to pick it up.  The temtation to pick it up just to see what is inside is almost too great for me.

***

A few weeks before graduation, Margaret found one last adventure for us.  Corrupt  politicians, a big corporation trying to force out the local businesses, and a bank manager at the center of it all.   We broke into the bank manager’s office to find the evidence and that’s when things started to go wrong.  The police caught us of course, it was one of our go-to moves.  Break into “bad guy’s” place, find evidence of wrong doing, get caught by police, reveal evidence, get let go with a warning, and the real criminals go to jail.

This time the police didn’t want to see our evidence.  The Chief of Police had retired along with most of the old beat cops, who had been willing to let us go “this one time”.  So, we were arrested and charged with breaking and entering.  Luckily, we were just breaking into the bank manager’s home office and not his office at the bank.  We pulled a favor from a judge, whom we had helped find his grandfather’s silver teeth, and got community service and a suspended sentence.

And we watched a part of our neighborhood get demolished and turned into a big box store and parking lot.

***

I don’t have time to watch the envelope all day.  Something has to be done.  The morning rush in the coffee store has mostly cleared leaving a couple at a table in the far corner, three people standing around waiting for their orders, the three baristas behind the counter, and myself.  These things usually resolve themselves, if I foul up the start of the hook … unless, keeping an eye on the envelope counts as engaging with it.  New plan, I need to get rid of the envelope without connecting myself to it.

Throwing it a away might lead “them” to me if they come looking for the envelope or its contents.  Better to leave it where “they” can find it, if “they” want to find it.  I walk over to it with the newspaper and scoop it up.

“Hey James,” I call to one of the baristas, “Someone dropped an envelope.”  I hold the manila envelope out to him in the newspaper.  It looks like an odd way to hand something over but it keeps my fingerprints off the envelope.  He pulls the envelope out from the newspaper.

“Huh,” he squeezes the envelope,”Feels like there’s a usb drive in it.”

“Probably someone’s power-point presentation,” I offer, hoping he doesn’t decide to see what’s on it.

“Probably.  I’ll put it behind the counter in case they come back.”  He tucks it someplace out of sight.

“Ok, thanks.  I gotta get going, see to tomorrow,” I say.  I pick up my drink from the table and the newspaper I had been looking at.  Never leave anything that “they” can use to track you if you can help it.

***

After high school, Margaret and I drifted apart.  We moved to different cities went to different colleges and just kind of lost touch.  I made new friends who were highly skeptical about most of the stories I told about our “adventures”.  I started to edit them out of my life’s story.  Sometimes I pulled out a “Nancy Drew” story at a party but mostly I forgot they had happened.

It was during my second year of college that my life changed again.  Suddenly strangers needed my help and accidents happened right in front of me and I began overhearing conversations that I shouldn’t have heard.  It felt like “adventures” were all around me just waiting for me to get involved but I had no interest in going on them.  Margaret had always been the one to drag me along on our “adventures”.

I might have continued to just ignore these calls to adventure but they started to get insistent.  I ended up helping a lawyer expose her boss for … something, it wasn’t clear at the time.  Then I found myself running from men in suits, because of a deal I had seen go down in an alley.  It took talking with the FBI to end that “adventure”.  I adapted.  I learned to see the signs that “adventure” was afoot and how to avoid it.  Life returned to a new normal until the wizards, ghosts, and portals to other worlds started appearing.

The first time I saw magic being wielded, it was like something out of a fantasy book.  I did the only sensible thing I could think of to do; I ran.  Once home I found myself plagued by a ghost calling my name from across the street.  I thought I had finally lost my grip on reality.  The next few days were a crash course in magic and the supernatural as I began to encounter them along with the regular calls to “adventure”.

At the same time, I began to develop two theories about what was happening to me.  One: I was completely delusional and had been since childhood.  Or two: I was a self aware character in a story.  I couldn’t decide which scared me more.  Eventually, I was able to gather enough evidence and bystander testimonials to prove, to myself at least, that I wasn’t delusional.

So, I was a character in a story or multiple stories that just wanted a normal life.  I could have that life if the universe or god or “the author” would stop trying to hook me into the story they wanted me to play out.  I could have given in and returned to a life of “adventures” instead I decided to fight my fate.

***

In the evening, I spill my purse out on the coffee table.  Coins, random keys, my wallet, my actual key ring, a silver ring, pepper spray, bottle opener, electrical tape, paper clips, rubber bands, travel size first aid kit, and my notebook cover the table.

I pick up the silver ring, check for an inscription.  It’s a strange script I can’t read. The last ring that had mysteriously appeared in my purse had been gold and felt warm.  This one is cold as ice.  Better safe than sorry.  I chuck it out the window toward the park across the street.  One of the coins has the same script and a multi-headed snake imprint and it has as a slight glow.  I chuck it out the window toward the park as well.

My keyring looks a little fuller so I count the keys.  House key, car key, gym locker key, storage key, safe key, and two keys I’ve never seen before.  I pull them off the keyring.  One looks like a safety deposit box key and the other like a bike lock key.  I drop them in the coffee can labeled “keys” along with the other random loose keys from my purse.  I’ll leave them with the apartment office tomorrow.

With the story hooks defused or neutralized for now, I sat down and added a note about the envelope in the coffee shop.

Story hook persisted after stopping hand off.  Possible escalation?

Not all story hooks disappeared if I avoided them.  Some hooks have more staying power like the ghostly woman in the park who wails my name at night.  There’s a witch on the first floor who says she can take care of the ghost but that just sounds like another hook.  I’m probably just going to have to live with it.

***

Author note: So, the basic idea behind this story was a woman who knew she was in a story but didn’t want to go along with the plot.  For a while I couldn’t get a handle on the character but then I came up with the idea that she had been the sidekick to a “Nancy Drew” in her childhood and it started to fall into place.  I have vauge plans to revisit this character and her “non” adventures.

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