It wasn't raining the following morning, but there was a thick layer of fog that had settled close to the ground, crawling along on wispy tendrils, like a multitudinous mass of ghostly snakes.
"Marie, would you do me a favor and walk to the store? We have no butter."
Though she protested, it was a relief to get out of the musty old house, littered with cardboard boxes. Her coat was warm, and her mother's money jingled cheerfully in her pocket with every step along the muddy road.
Still, she couldn't quite shake the feeling that someone--or something--was watching her. Something concealed in the fog. Something in the Orchard.
A pair of bells chimed overhead as she pushed open the door.
Ollie, the storekeeper, looked up at her from the newspaper he had spread upon the counter. “Mornin’, Marie.”
“How do you know my name?” she demanded.
“Your mother,” he replied, as if that explained everything. And it did. Of course her mother would have told him. “You’re here alone?”
Right, so this was starting to get a bit creepy.
“No,” she lied. “My dad’s outside. Why?”
He folded the newspaper and tucked it away under the counter. “That’s good. Funny things tend to happen to people in the Orchard. ’Specially to children, walking alone. The butter,” he said suddenly, pointing, “is in the ice chest along the back wall. Please make sure the door is all the way shut when you’re done with it.”
Obediently, she made her way to the back of the store and found the refrigerated section. Only as she was reaching in for a box of Grade AA salted did she wonder how Ollie knew what she had been sent for. She hadn’t mentioned butter to him. Not once.
Tentatively, she returned to the front of the store and placed the butter on the counter. “How did you know…?”
“Everybody needs butter,” he responded, unperturbed. “That’ll be fifty-nine cents.”