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The Third Circle

An Online Novel by Alex Brumbaugh

© 2003 by Stillpoint Press

Dedicated in Loving Memory to Laurie Brumbaugh, 1953-2003

(for information or comments, contact

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3



Part I

The Genie


Chapter 1


The Genie appeared in Claire and John Redmond's living room on a Saturday morning in August.

Neither of them were surprised. They were so much in love - after all the years of unhappy marriages and broken-hearted relationships - that life had become enchanted again. Their love made them giddy, made them believe in magic, made such things as genies not only possible but likely.

Earlier that morning, they had made one of their rare weekend trips into town to go to the farmers' market. On their way back they had stopped to look at things in a small antique store. They had found an old fashioned clock that they decided they wanted to buy. They already had an antique table in the living room that the clock would match. Claire knew something about antiques, and thought that the price of $350 was a bargain. They charged it on one of their Visa cards that still had a little credit left, feeling guilty about adding to their bills, but also feeling that since they worked so hard for their money, they deserved a treat.

They got the clock home and took it in the living room, and Claire began cleaning it with a cloth. That's when the Genie came.

Even though his coming wasn't all that shocking, the Genie himself was sort of a surprise. He didn't conform to any of the stereotypes they had about Genies. He wasn't translucent, for example, nor did he arrive in a cloud of smoke.

He just sort of stumbled out of nowhere, not even out of the clock, exactly, and into their living room. He was rumpled and dusty, and he wore a wool suit and dark shirt. He looked more like Walter Matthau than he did the Arabian Sheik they might have expected (though as for that, the clock was Early American, not Arabian).

He didn't float in the air either, as Genies are expected to do. Instead, he stood with both feet on the floor. He brushed himself off and looked around the room.

"Jesus it's hot!" he said.

He was right. It was one of those rare August days in the coast mountain range when the temperature was going to three digits. "Got anything to drink?" he asked.

While John went in the kitchen to get him some iced tea, the Genie sat in the big easy chair in the corner by the stereo and started browsing through the CD collection. He asked Claire what the CD's were, found a Mozart album, and asked her to play it.

"Nice house," he said admiringly after John brought the iced tea.

"Thanks," John said.

"So, where are we?"

"Pardon?" said Claire.

"Southern California coast range," said John. "USA." John's training in science made him rather precise, which he felt the Genie might appreciate. "August, 1995."

"Hmm." The Genie tasted the tea. "Do you have anything alcoholic?"

"Sorry," said Claire, turning Mozart down a little. "We don't drink."

"Jesus. Prohibition's not back again, I hope."

"No," said John. "We just don't drink."

In fact, John had not had a drink since 1983, Claire since 1990. Both had drunk enough alcohol and done enough drugs that, if life were fair, they would both be dead, which was another reason that they believed in miracles.

"Too bad," said the Genie. "I can always use a shot when I get out of that damned thing." He waved at the clock.

"So, where do you come from?" John asked.

"Well, I was last out in the Caicos Islands, 1934."

"I mean originally?"

"Oh, I see." The Genie smiled. "A philosopher, eh? Well, there is a lot more going on than what you see here. I suppose you knew that."

Claire and John both nodded.

"You want some explanation. Everybody always wants an explanation. Well, you can call it what you will - cosmic bleed-through, whatever. We just sort of drop in and out every now and then. Guess your number was up, so to speak. So, what's the wish?"

"We get a wish," John confirmed.

"How many?" asked Claire.

"One," he said. "I know. Everyone always expects three." He brushed some dust off his pants. "People only get three wishes in story books. That's just a literary device. This is the real world. You only get one. What the hell is that?" he asked, pointing at the television set in the corner.

"Uh, a radio with pictures," said John.

"I'll be damned," the Genie said.

"We don't get any stations, though," Claire said.

There wasn't very good reception because they were down in the furrow of the mountains, and there was no cable this far from town. They had thought about getting a satellite dish when they had moved into this rustic mountain home a few months before, but kept putting it off because they didn't want to waste what little free time they had watching television. They both worked very hard at their jobs, and coveted their evenings and weekends together.

"It's a waste of time, anyway," said John. "We watch movies on it once in awhile." They liked watching old movies because they were both very nostalgic about earlier times.

"I saw one of those once," the Genie said.

"Can we get you something to eat?" John asked.

"Well, that's very nice of you to offer. Sure. A sandwich or something is fine. It's been awhile since I ate."

"1934?" asked John.

The Genie gulped the rest of his ice tea and belched and handed the empty glass to John. "Yeah, you don't get that hungry, though. It's the air that gives you an appetite. Speaking of air, it's sure as hell hot in here." He stood up and took off his suit coat, then began unbuttoning his shirt. It looked like he was intending to get undressed.

"I know," said Claire, getting up to go in the kitchen. "I wish..." She was going to say, I wish there weren't so many bugs outside, but she caught herself. She didn't like the bugs, but definitely didn't want to waste their one wish destroying them. "There are too many bugs to open the French doors," she said.

They were nice French doors, leading out to a patio, but Claire and John had found neither the doors nor the patio of much use, because when it was warm enough to have the doors open, or to be out on the patio, the bugs were everywhere. They didn't have an air conditioner because - except for a few days in August and September - the coastal climate didn't warrant one. They didn't have screen doors either. There were some stored in the shed, but they had never found the time to put them on. Most of the bugs went away in the winter, but even so, though it seldom snowed, it was usually too cold in those months to be outside on the patio, or to open the French doors.

"I wonder where all the bugs go for the winter," John was often fond of asking. As a scientist, he had some passing knowledge about the dormancy cycles of insects, but he liked asking the question anyway.

"Probably Florida," Claire would respond.

John excused himself and followed Claire into the kitchen with the Genie's empty glass.

"Wow!!" Claire whispered when they were alone.

"I know!" John whispered back.

"So, what should we wish for? Money?"

Money was certainly high up on the wish list. They both had good jobs, but they were demanding and complicated jobs. Claire was an editor and an occasion illustrator for the children's division of a book publishing company, and John worked for a company that developed medical technology. The jobs took all of the time and energy that the two of them had, so there was never anything left for themselves. And while they made quite a lot of money, there was only enough to cover their basic expenses after they paid all their monthly bills. They had moved into this nice but reasonably priced rental house soon after they had met. It was secluded and rustic, and rents were cheaper on the top of the mountain than in the town below. But they didn't get to spend very much time in the house because their outside lives were consuming them so much. Early each morning they would drive their cars down the secondary road that ran along the mountain top across Walker Creek to the two-lane mountain pass road that took them to the town below. And each night they would return home, exhausted. The evenings flew by. The weekends flew by, too, even on the rare occasions when one of them didn't have to work on Saturday.

So, they had been fantasizing about a windfall. Claire entered all of the magazine sweepstakes that came to their house, and they joked about the "prize patrol" coming any day, or about winning the super lotto, or about at least winning the progressive slot machine jackpot at the Indian Casino up the road so they could pay off their bills. They had each brought to their new marriage pretty big credit card and automobile debts. All their credit lines were right at the limit, and there was no surplus at the end of the month to get them from where they were to somewhere else.

Like many of the people they knew, they felt stuck. If they had the time and money, they would go on long trips. They loved to travel. They especially liked old roads. They were both nostalgic about earlier times, and one of the things they fantasized about was driving across the country on old roads. Claire loved taking photographs, and they wanted to take pictures of broken down farm equipment rusting in fields. They were afraid that the day might come when there wouldn't be any more broken farm equipment rusting in fields, and so they wanted to get the pictures taken while it was still there, and maybe turn the photos into a nice coffee table book so the next generations could see what that looked like.

"Or, we could wish for our beach house," said John, reaching into the freezer for ice.

Even though they loved their mountain home, they had fantasized about having another house at the seashore. They wanted their own house, not a rented one, and one with fewer bugs. Their bedroom would overlook the sea, and they would make love and sleep with the windows open wide, listening to the waves. Claire would plant flowers. The mountain soil was rocky and unforgiving, and yielded little but the native oak, manzanita, and chaparral.

"No," Claire said, staring into the refrigerator. "Money is best. Let's wish for a couple million dollars. Then we can stop working and build the beach house."

"Let's wish for ten million," said John.

"After taxes, that's only six. Let's wish for twenty."

"You have to pay taxes on money from Genies? How could he report it?"

"I don't know. Maybe he can advise us."

"He's not an accountant. He's a Genie."

"Don't get smart," she giggled. "This is serious."

"I know." John poured more iced tea. "We probably shouldn't be selfish with this, anyway. We should wish for something for the kids."

Both Claire and John had children from former marriages. John's were grown up, but Claire's fourteen-year-old daughter, Marie, lived with them during the week and spent weekends in the town below with her father. John had gotten a vasectomy right after they met. They had each already decided that they had had all of the babies they were going to have. They were, however, having lots of what they called spirit babies. That was because their lovemaking was so spectacular, extraordinary, and, for both of them, absolutely unprecedented.

"No, you're right," said Claire. "We shouldn't be selfish about this. Maybe we should wish for world peace or something. I've got to get his sandwich. There's some tuna fish." She reached for a bowl in the refrigerator.

"How about an end to terrorism," said John. "Or poverty?"

"Or incurable diseases."

"Or talk radio, or phone solicitors?"

"I think we need some time to figure this out."

"Well, he doesn't seem to be in a hurry." John walked over to her and kissed and hugged her. "This is really exciting!"

"I know!" She giggled and kissed him back.

She put a tuna sandwich and a pickle on a plate, and they went back into the living room. John brought the iced tea. The Genie had taken off his shirt and tie. They were in a clump on the floor beside his suit coat. He was still wearing an old fashioned sleeveless undershirt. Claire handed him the sandwich, and John put the iced tea next to him on the stereo table.

"So, we would like some time to think this over," said Claire.

"Good idea," said the Genie, taking a bite of the sandwich. "Give it some thought."

"Are their any limitations or anything?"

"Nope. Sky's the limit. Say, that's not a bad sandwich," he said with his mouth full, pointing at it.

"Thanks," said Claire. "Why don't you just make yourself at home, help yourself to anything in the refrigerator. We'll just go off for a little while if that's okay."

"Don't mind if I do," said the Genie. He drank some iced tea. "But look here, you two sit down a minute first. I want to tell you something. Just a little tip."

They sat obediently on the couch across from him. "You're a nice couple," he said. "Good people. I can see that." He set the sandwich aside and leaned forward in the chair with his elbows on his knees. He held the pickle, and waved it around as he talked. "Now, you're going to go off and start feeling guilty unless you wish for world peace or an end to poverty or something like that. I just want to tell you, don't be too noble about this thing. This is your day in the sun, so to speak. World peace and so on ... that's a different department, in a way. It's not that you can't be responsible, or shouldn't be, for the big picture, but I just want you to know, as I said, there's a lot more going on than what you see here, if you get my drift. There are other forces at work. This is your deal. Give it some thought." He leaned back, ate the pickle, and grabbed the other half of the sandwich. "Is this chicken or tuna fish?"

"Tuna," said Claire.

"Hmm," he said, taking a bite. "Hard to tell the difference sometimes. You kids run along." He waved at them. "I'll just make myself at home."


Chapter 2


They took Claire's Nissan and drove down the mountain and then thirty miles up the coast to the bluff where they had written their wedding ceremony a year before. It was the place where they felt most in touch with things, most in touch with each other. They walked, holding hands, through the pine and eucalyptus trees to their special spot overlooking the ocean, and sat quietly for a while.

Claire finally broke the long silence. "I don't want to feel stuck anymore."

"We work so hard," John said. "It seems like we never get ahead."

"We keep talking about that. It's like we keep falling behind no matter what we do. There's never enough time."

"So, we wish for a lot of money."

"Time is money. But it's more than that. I mean, that's a big part of it."

"There's so much commercialism," John said. He had no idea what that had to do with figuring out a wish, but he just felt like pointing it out.

"Everything is so commercial. There's so much cynicism and negativity in the world."

"Things are so mean. I feel like we need some fresh air or something. Do you know what I'm talking about?"

"I do. We've talked about that before."

"I get really tired sometimes."

They were quiet for a few moments.

"Here's a thought," said Claire. "Remember on our honeymoon when we stopped and spent the morning in that old ghost town?"


"Yeah. Remember how we tried to imagine exactly what it must have been like back then, with real people living there, not just Park Rangers?"


"I want to wish for that."

"You want to wish for a trip?"

"Yeah, but a big trip. I mean I want to go back there. Other places, too. Other times."

John made a low whistle.

"Plus, things were cheaper in the old days," she said. "We can invest. Property, or stocks, or gold. The Genie said there weren't any limitations. All we need to be able to do is move back and forth a little bit. We can take a bunch of information with us."

"Move back and forth in time. We can make a fortune and then come home to it."

"Why not?"

"And gambling! We can gamble. We'll know how everything comes out! I saw that in a movie once."

"It would be a great vacation, besides. We haven't had a vacation since our honeymoon."

"I could sure use a vacation," John said.

"Me, too."

They sat in silence for a few more minutes, watching the birds, listening to the waves.

"Well," said John "it sounds right to me. A little scary, maybe, but certainly a very cool wish."

"Are you sure?"

"It gets better the more I think about it. We get to see the good old days, have a vacation, and get lots of money at the same time. Not a bad wish. Three wishes in one, actually. Four, if you add the fresh air. We can go back to when there was no smog."

Claire tossed a smooth stone over the cliff into the sea. "Let's do it," she said.

John smiled, looked out to the horizon, and nodded. Several seagulls followed Claire's stone down to the sea, thinking it was something to eat.

(click here to visit Claire and John's Special Place)

When they got back to their house, the Genie was sitting at the dining table in the kitchen playing solitaire. He was wearing only his shorts. All the doors in the house were wide open. He was still drinking iced tea. Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks blared in the living room. To Claire and John's amazement, their cat Poppy, who was normally so antisocial that she would disappear beneath Claire and John's bed when strangers came, sat on the table purring and watching him. Their other cat, Thomas - a young stray who had moved in through the cat door while they were away on their honeymoon - sat outside on the patio. He was watching Gus, Marie's new puppy, digging holes in what had been an unsuccessful flower garden.

Claire started closing doors. "The bugs..."

"I got rid of them," the Genie interrupted.

"You wished them away?" asked John.

"No, I found some bug spray in the cupboard."

It was John's bug spray. Claire did not like bug spray. Her father had been a farmer and had died of cancer, and it was Claire's theory that he had been killed by seasons of bug spray from the crop dusters. She quickly closed the doors.

They sat down at the table and told the Genie they had figured out their wish.

"Are you sure?" he asked.

"Yes," they said in unison.

"Well, let's hear it."

"We want to go back in time," Claire said.

"Hop around," John added. "Invest, make a fortune, come back home."

"Jesus Christ," said the genie. "That's a terrible wish."

"Really?" Claire asked, surprised. "We thought it was a perfect wish."

"Well, it's terrible. It's what we call a real pain-in-the-ass wish. Very complicated. I'll have to go get some help."

"Help?" asked John. "From where?"

"Oh, we got a board of Genies, you might call it. I got to call in some assistance."

"Why is it so complicated?" Claire asked.

"Why? Because it is, that's why. Time is complicated. Life is complicated. Destiny. History. Fate. There's
the web, you know?"

"The mosaic," Claire affirmed.

"Besides that, there's a sort of material integrity about things. You have to be very careful moving stuff around." He shuffled the cards a few times. "There are a few different ways to do this," he reflected. "You won't be able to take anything back there with you, though. That's for sure. You can count on that. Where'd I leave my pants?" He got up and started for the living room. "I'll be back in the morning some time," he said on his way out of the kitchen.

Claire and John stared at each other for a moment and then got up and followed the genie into the living room, but he had disappeared.

"Wow. I hope he comes back," said Claire.

"So do I! This wasn't a dream, was it?"

"I don't think so. I think we better go down to the library and do some research. He said we can't take anything back with us. We'll have to memorize everything."

"I'm glad you have such a great memory," said John. "We only have a couple of hours. It's late."

"I know. Where did the day go?" she asked.

It was one of their favorite questions.

They drove back down to the town and stayed in the library until it closed, browsing through old newspapers on microfilm. Claire did memory tricks she had learned when studying for graduate school.

The next morning they sat with the Genie around the kitchen table. John had fixed iced cappuccinos.

"The Italians invented this?" the Genie asked, tasting the coffee, pointing at the glass.

"I think so," said John.

The Genie nodded appreciatively. "Well, so here's what it looks like. First, like I said, you can't take anything back there with you. Except these." He handed them each what looked like cheap wrist watches. "These are special. Don't lose them. One's for backup. You can get home with one, but if you lose them both, you're stuck. The twelve numbers are months. You set the day and year by pushing these buttons on the side." He took one to show them. "These things aren't calibrated real close, so you can't set hours."

"Why not?" John asked. His work gave him a special appreciation for calibration.

"Technical problems you wouldn't understand," the Genie said.

"Try me," said John.

The Genie gave him an exasperated look. "Solar variants," he said. "How's that? Latitudinal and longitudinal deviations, okay? It's a seasonal deal. The earth spins and moves around the sun. Get it?" He turned his attention to Claire as the more reasonable of the two. "The way it works, you'll end up at about the same time of day you leave. Give or take."

"Mmm," Claire nodded. John nodded too, but he was brooding, trying to solve complex problems in his head.

"Now, see," the Genie continued, "if you adjust this little thing on the side here like this, and then adjust this button here, and then press the lever, that's home. That brings you back. Once you're back, it's over. Your wish. These gismos will disintegrate. Understand?"

They nodded again.

"Now, first you set this like I told you, then you turn this little red lever on the side. See it? That does it. Hold hands, and you're out of here. Always hold hands so your energy is connected. And remember, one of these is for back up. Don't ever try to use both of them at the same time to go someplace. You might get separated. That could be tricky."

"That's pretty impressive technology," John conceded. "So, we can go backwards or forwards?"

"Back there, yeah, but you can't go forwards from here. That's a different wish. You don't want to see the future anyway, believe me."

"Hmm," said John.

"Now," said the Genie, "there are going to be some other restrictions."

"I'm sorry," said John, "but you said yesterday there weren't any restrictions. 'The sky's the limit,' you said."

"Look, kid," said the Genie, "don't be a smart ass. There aren't any restrictions on the wish. These restrictions are in the wish. Get it?"

"Hmm," John said again.

"Like I say, you can't move stuff around with these gismos. They'll only move you. They're set up to make minor altitude adjustments, but I don't recommend transporting yourselves from more than one story in the air. The building you leave might not be there when you arrive."

They nodded respectfully.

"So, the money we make," said Claire. "How do we get it back here?"

"That's your problem," said the Genie.

"He's not an accountant," John smiled.

She smirked at him.

"So, when we come back," said John, "we come back right here? From wherever we are?"


"Right here, right now?" asked Claire.

"Right here, right now," the Genie said. "That's it. That's the deal." He handed them the other time watch and stood up. "Thanks for the hospitality. You folks have a nice trip."

Before their eyes, he disappeared.

Chapter 3


Claire and John left their kitchen that Sunday morning in August at 11:30, Claire with her head full of information she had memorized. They set one of the time watches for a Monday, the 19th of August, 1946. They picked 1946 because it was the year John had been born, and also because World War II had ended the year before, and they wanted to be around happy people.

They held hands very tightly. John pushed the little red lever as the Genie had instructed. They didn't know if they were supposed to hold their breaths, but they did. They couldn't help it.

The sensation of time travel, using the Genie's watch, was a brief instant of deep and total darkness, like a momentary loss of consciousness, and a feeling that all of their cells were shifting, sort of a tingling ripple like a huge case of the butterflies.

The darkness passed quickly, and then they were outside, standing in the furrow where their house had been, or, rather, one day would be. There were none of the plum, apple, cedar, or pine trees that had been planted by the original owners - people who happened to have been botanists and could figure out what would grow in the unforgiving soil; there was only oak and manzanita and dense chaparral.

The Genie had been serious about not transporting things besides themselves. That included clothes. They were naked. The only things on their bodies were the two time watches the Genie had given them. Even their wedding rings were gone.

"Jesus," Claire whispered.

John gave a low whistle. "You can say that again."

They began making their way through the brush toward the secondary road. They could see how the hill had been excavated and cut back to build their house. The brush scratched and tore at their naked bodies, and the bugs were all around them, especially little gnats swarming and zooming in hungrily at their faces, biting everywhere. The hot, rocky soil and fallen oak leaves hurt their feet.

They made it down to where the road would have been, but there was no road, only a trail. At least the walking was easier here. John broke manzanita branches, and they fanned each other to try to keep the bugs off. The trail, like the road that would later replace it, switched back and forth down to Walker Creek at the bottom of a gully. All of the houses they had driven past every day on their way down to the highway were gone.

As they approached the creek, they heard the sound of a motor turning over again and again. Someone was trying to start a car, and the engine wouldn't fire. As they drew nearer, they realized that the sound was coming from the driveway of the Dos Perros Ranch. The DOS Perros Ranch wasn't really a ranch. It was just a house on a small patch of rocky land behind a wooden gate in the narrow ravine formed by Walker Creek. Claire and John were used to seeing a big handmade sign on the gate saying "DOS Perros Ranch." They had been very amused by the sign, because in Spanish it meant "Two Dog Ranch." Having a cat, Claire and John had wanted to make a sign for their own driveway that read "Uno Gato Ranch," but that was among the many things they had never found the time to do.

As they crept through the bushes, they saw that what would later be the DOS Perros Ranch wasn't there yet. Instead, there was an old, weathered, board-and-bat cabin. There was the familiar road leading out to the highway, but now it was only a dirt road, not paved, and it ended at the cabin.

Junk was everywhere around the cabin - bed springs, car parts, buggy parts, wooden boxes filled with empty bottles and cans. At least two dozen chickens pecked around and through the junk. Junk was also piled high in the paneled bed of a dilapidated black Model A Ford pickup, and an old man in overalls and a hat sat in the driver's seat with the door open, puffing on a pipe, trying to start the truck. He was losing the battery. Claire and John peeked through the bushes as the old man got out, lifted the side of the engine hood and propped it up. He pulled a pair of pliers from somewhere in his overalls and started tinkering with the engine. Then he started banging on the engine with the pliers. He pulled a hammer out of somewhere else in the overalls and hit the engine with that. He finally threw the pliers and the hammer at the engine and started walking around the truck, kicking it. He took his pipe out of his mouth and cursed loudly, and then took off his hat and beat his side with it while he kicked the tires, the running boards, the fenders, the doors. This was awkward for him since he had quite a severe limp, and kicking the truck required that he lean against it. Still cursing, he started limping out toward the highway, waving his hat around.

"I wonder if that's Mr. Walker," said John, as the man disappeared around the bend in the road.

"The Mr. Walker of Walker Creek?"

"And Walker Road. Look. There isn't any Walker Road yet."

They had sometimes driven up Walker Road along the creek at the bottom of the ravine, taken walks up past the several mountain cabins that lay along it, but none of that was there yet.

"Wonder if he lives alone," said Claire.

"Hmm," said John. "This may be a clothes stop."

"Let's check it out."

Slapping bugs, they crept self-consciously out of the bushes to the cabin, tiptoeing to avoid chicken droppings. They peered in through a screen door. No one seemed to be there. The door was unlocked. Claire opened it gingerly and they stepped into the cabin.

It was like stepping into a movie set, or even into a dream. They stood silently in the middle of the large main room, absorbing the smells, the atmosphere, the texture. For all the junk that was outside, the cabin inside was relatively neat and orderly. There was a wood cook stove, a nice wooden table and two chairs, open cupboards and a sink, an armoire, a chest of drawers, a little ice box, and a cot in the corner.

"Nice antiques," whispered Claire. "What is that smell? It's like …"

"Wood smoke, pipe smoke?"

"Something else. It's so familiar. I can't place it."

"Ancient and familiar. Something from childhood."

"I think it's just what places like this always used to smell like. Check out the stove." She walked to the unembellished, cast iron cook stove and ran her fingers over raised letters on the back indicating it had been manufactured in St. Louis. "Let's go to St. Louis," she said.

"Sounds good to me," said John. "You are so cute naked, but I want to find some clothes. That looks like a bedroom over there."

There was a partially closed door to another room. They creaked it open and walked into a bedroom that smelled musty and close. The two windows in the room were shuttered, and it was dark. A cord hung from a light bulb in the ceiling. Claire pulled it, and the musty room was filled with dim light. There was a sudden shrieking howl from the bed. Claire grabbed John and screamed, nearly knocking him over. John gasped as they watched a large gray cat bolt from the bed and disappear into the front room.

"Jesus," Claire whispered.

"That cat doesn't like strangers either," John said. "Maybe one of Poppy's ancestors."

The double bed had iron rails, and beside it was a large, handmade, mahogany chest of drawers. There was a closet behind a curtain where both a man's and woman's clothes hung. John found gabardine suit pants and a long-sleeved striped dress shirt, and Claire found a cotton dress. The clothes they put on were a little short and baggy for them, but adequate. John found suspenders to hold up the pants. They also found shoes, a bit snug, but better than no shoes until they could get to town and figure out a way to get some that fit.

"I hope Mr. Walker doesn't come back and catch us," said Claire. "I have a feeling that his wife died in here, and these are her clothes. I'll bet he would be pretty upset."

"Right," said John. "Well, I think he'll be gone for awhile. It's ten miles to town, and he needs a part for that truck."

"Maybe he went to some neighbor's house nearby. I'm feeling creepy. Let's get out of here."

"Wait a minute," said John. He walked to the dresser and began rummaging. "We need some capital. A stake."

"Do we have to steal?"

"We'll pay him back."

They looked through the drawers for money. There wasn't any, but Claire found a box in the back of the bottom drawer. It was made of some kind of hard wood, very old, and hand carved. The lid had been fashioned in the odd shape of an elephant's head, with its trunk tucked flush around the rim of the box. Claire lifted the lid. It was a music box, and the sudden sound of an unfamiliar melody startled them. The things inside the box weren't very valuable, except for a beautiful ruby ring. "Wow," she whispered, taking it out.

"Is that an expensive ring?" John asked.

"It's a really nice stone. Big, too."

"Well, let's borrow it."

She handed it to John and he put it in his pants pocket. Claire carefully replaced the box, and they turned out the light and left the cabin.

They walked along the dirt road toward the highway, staying close to the side so they could hide in the bushes in case they ran into Mr. Walker coming back.

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