The Slip of Paper

Hazel

A typical London day included a cloud-filled sky, with the occasional streaks of the sunlight penetrating layer after layer of haze and fog, accumulated the previous night. The air was damped and moist, the dew drops rolling off the grass and leaves like round pearls. Activity in Fleet Street didn’t start until noon time. More often than not, Hazel enjoyed a quiet morning stroll around the park. The farthest she had ever walked was the Blackfriar’s Bridge, above the Thames River, a very historical and appealing river in her opinion. She adored her solitary walks; it made her ponder about her future and the things she wanted to accomplish in life. One of them was definitely move out of London to the distant lands of the Americas. It had always been her dream to cross the Atlantic and explore the new lands waiting on the other side of the ocean. She was more of an explorer, an adventurer, if you may, than a historian.

The gas lamps lined the streets, row after row, bearing at its top songbirds, chirping the morning away. She thought of how Peter would react when she tells him her feelings about being a historian, he would surely be dismayed. Thinking of Peter brought immediately to what she witnessed yesterday. Peter was talking to that stranger. The stranger gave her the creeps, a historian shouldn’t be mingling with those kinds of people. Hazel had recognized him immediately; his ammoniac and sulfuric smell gave him away. He wasn’t a man that tampered with life and living off adrenaline, he was much more than that, a pioneer in a science so dark it was unconceivable that Peter would be hanging around with those kinds of people.

Alchemy was a very dangerous and popular subject among people with power and never-do-wells. She had never seen alchemy being used, however she had read about tragic and unexplainable deaths of former politicians and even historians, about inhaling a substance that made their hearts stopped. Some thought it was a conspiracy theory; opium was becoming very popular as well, while others, more conservative, banned any beliefs of alchemy. She shuddered at the thought of it.

“It’s starting to grow cold,” she said to herself. “I better return to the shop.” She hastened her step back home. There was a feeling of creeping trepidation she couldn’t explain, as if somebody was watching her. That feeling didn’t leave her when she entered the shop, instead it increased. Something was wrong, the door stood ajar, swinging on its hinges; piles of books and papers were scattered on the floor, broken china and artifacts from the previous century were shattered remains. Her heart hammered on her chest as she crossed the threshold, gaping at the disaster. She turned her head, expecting to find someone that would aid her, some signs of the burglar, but she found none. Whoever was in here left, but, what had he or she taken?

“Father?” she called tentatively, praying to heaven that he wasn’t here when this disaster occurred. “Father, are you here?” She heard some stirring in the back storage room and tensed. Quickly, she clutched an Egyptian rose pot and lifted it over her head, walking slowly toward the back of the room. She peered in the sliver of a hole and saw the broad back of a man, shifting through some papers on the desk. Hazel bit her lips; she was unsure how to react. She could easily have turned around and fled to the police. However she remained fixed, she was an adventurer, she mustn’t be afraid.

She gathered courage and kicked the door fully open. The stranger turned around as Hazel, with her eyes closed, hurled the rose pot at him. He quickly stepped away from the desk as the pot crashed against the edge, sending pieces of jagged broken pieces flying around the room. Hazel saw him still standing and ran out to grab another pot.

Strong, iron-clad arms held her waist and pushed her down, pinning her against the floor. She screamed and shouted. “Let me go, let me go!”

“Be quiet or I’ll seriously hurt you,” the voice warned.

Hazel stopped fighting and screaming, the voice wasn’t British, it was American. “Who are you and what do you want?”

“None of your business,” he spat. “I’m here to take you somewhere safe.”

“What?” Hazel said, astounded. “Get off me, first.” The weight over her was lifted and she was pulled to her feet swiftly. She regarded the stranger with curious eyes. He was young and arrogant, with coal black hair and eyes with pale skin. “What rubbish are you talking about? Protect me against whom or what?”

“I cannot say,” he answered. “I was just sent to retrieve you and your father and take you away to safety.” He shrugged. “I reckon we should leave now.”

Hazel had read enough mystery and suspense novel to know that something was going on behind the words uttered by the stranger who wildly claimed he came here with the sole purpose of protecting her. “Who are you working for?”

He snorted. “You’re in no disposition to ask questions.”

“You’re in no disposition to demand me to leave my store,” Hazel challenged. “Why would I trust you anyway? You come here uninvited and start rummaging through our stuff…and wait. What were you doing in the storage room, what were you looking for?”

He shrugged, “that’s not your business either. We gotta get moving.”

Gotta get moving? Hazel thought with distaste. American slangs.

“If we’re in danger and we need to leave, where are you taking us?” She asked, interested.

“I was ordered to take you to the Palace,” he said simply. “I’m working for the London’s Royal Historian, if you’re so keen to know. Many acclaimed historians have been receiving anonymous death notes, knowing the Rosehall’s reputation, I’m sure your father got one, and perhaps your brother.”

Peter! That’s why he was here? Hazel thought. “Is Peter safe?”

“I think he got to the Palace last night,” the American said. “Listen, we don’t have much time. I’ll send someone for your father. We have to get going now.”

Hazel’s head was spinning with confusion. She didn’t know what to make out of this situation. “Okay,” she said finally. “Let’s go.” They exited the store and she locked the door behind her. She hurriedly followed the American down the street.

In the crosswalk, a man fell on the sidewalk and was struggling to stand up. The American ignored him and walked past him, however Hazel stooped down to help him. She gasped when she saw who it was; it was the man from yesterday! She wanted to back away immediately, but the man stared at her intently and begged her to be quiet. There was warning in his eyes as he slipped a paper in her hand. Then stood up and left.

Hazel slowly stood up; the American didn’t know he had left her behind. She slowly unfolded the piece of paper. It was Peter’s handwriting scrawled over it, bearing these words:

"Hazel, we’re in danger. Take Dad to uncle and stay there.
I’ll go to you when it’s safe.

Beware of any Americans!"

“What’s going on?!” the American shouted. He was looking back at her impatiently. She quickly hid the paper and made her way to him. It was too late; she couldn’t make a run, not here. She had to get away from him and look for her father and brother. Questions spun in her mind. What kind of danger did her brother referred to? Why was the American lying? And most importantly, how was she going to get away?

The End

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