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[Fiction] Carver - Pocket Full Of Stories


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The streets of Chicago were as clean as they ever got. There was a mist in the air as half a block away, one of the city's trucks hosed down the gutters. Cars honked and people chattered, and with her hood wrapped around her head, she made her way past it all.

Of course, she was breaking her own rule. No more than once a month. That was a promise from herself to herself. Just once a month and no more.

But the foundation had run into money problems that had needed a forensic accountant to determine who stole what, and she'd said something that had Amped pissed at her, and the tabloids had just printed a story linking her romantically to some porn star she'd never even heard of, and you had to treat yourself at times like these.

She turned a corner, and tugged on her hood a little as the wind slapped her in the face. At the end of the block, she could see her destination, a shop with a sign hanging down from two chains that read 'Knights Past.' There were other shops on the street, with bright neon letters on placards telling her about deals and savings and sales, but this shop had no such thing. You were either the type who'd shop there or you weren't.

She reached the door and pushed it open, the chime ringing throughout the shop. Old movie posters lined the walls - Megaforce, From Russia With Love, Errol Flynn as Robin Hood. Dozens of glass counters hosted hundreds of things, small and large. A pennant from a 1928 Cubs game. An old transistor radio. Major Matt Mason, mint in the box. A first pressing of the Beatles' White Album.

She inhaled deeply, the smell of old and wonderful things. A voice rang out from the back. "Be right there!"

"Take your time," she called back, as she walked around the junk shop. She stared at the young Sean Connery, pure sex in a tuxedo, and her fingers brushed the frame...

It spoke of beng unravelled and slipped behind glass, the ink still wet in spots. It spoke of the anticipation that hung in the air like mist after rainfall. It spoke of opening night, where people lined up, chatted, held hands and ate hot popped corn. They filed past the poster, and the poster was sad, because it was always on the inside, looking out...

She pulled her hand away, and the memories left her. She turned around, and saw an old comic on the opposite wall, where the fighter pilots known as the Blackhawks threatened to win the Second World War all by themselves. It was in a solid bag, and she brushed the merest tip...

There was confusion for a second as the bag spoke of how it was carved out of base chemicals, but she pushed past. It spoke of love - not the messy, complicated love found later in life, but the earnest love of a seven year old boy, who sometimes had to read the bigger words twice. It spoke of a hushed pact beneath sheet covers, the boy turning the pages with one hand, holding a flashlight with the other. Eventually it was sealed away, and from then on, only looked at, a book forever judged by its cover...

She pulled her hand back as the shop's owner came out from the back. She smiled as she pulled down her hood. "Hi, Jack."

"Carver! You're here early. I usually only see you on the first of the month."

"I know, I'm a bit early. Just that... it's been that kind of month."

"I hear that." Jack hopped up on his stool - he was a wiry man with dark hair, in his early thirties. He was wearing a white T-shirt which showed off a couple of his tattoos, and he drummed his fingers a couple of times on the counter. "Just browsing today?"

"Well... there was something I was looking for, as a matter of fact."


"I heard that you got a box full of stuff from one of your last crawls in New York?"

Jack smiled at her. "I just can not keep secrets in this business, can I? Yeah, there's a story in that."

"I bet." She smiled despite herself. Sometimes Jack's stories could be annoying, though they were doubtlessly fascinating to other collectors. She wasn't into all of this for the same reasons they were - they were into it for the imagined stories they evoked and she was here for the real ones. But Jack was always in a better mood once he'd told his stories, and she could usually get a better deal out of it.

"Okay - sometimes I go crawling through Army surplus, because people turn in old footlockers and forget to clean them out and they always have a little junk basket for those things, right? Well, someone turned in something from World War One vintage - said they found it in their grandfather's attic after he'd passed on - and the footlocker's got all the standard stuff for an airman, except for these."

He pulled out a small metal box and lifted the lid. Carver looked at the contents, frowning. "Goggles?"

"Not just normal goggles. These have been modified. Here -" He pulled them out of the case and flipped them over, pointing out the wiring underneath. "On these type of goggles, there was extra space inside for the skin to breathe. They've been filled up with all this wiring and... these." He pointed to a small clawed socket on the left and another one on the right.

"What goes in those?"

"I'm not sure. It could be a battery socket, except that there weren't batteries that size back in WW1 so they might have been modified later on. Anyways, since it's been modified the guy couldn't sell it and he let me have it."

"Can I...?"

"Oh, sure. They're sturdy."

Carver hesitantly reached towards the goggles. One time she'd tried Army surplus on a lark and the stories the leftover tools of war had to tell had put her on edge for days. But if these were from an old man's attic, well... obviously he lived through the war...

She touched them, and they spoke of glories - high up in the air, in the clouds and endless sky, crisscrossed with the trails of aerial combatants. They spoke of what they saw as they were strapped to their owner's face, whose gaze was steely and sure, wh aimed for the engines but never the pilots. And for a time, it was good.

Then during one such skirmish, his gaze faltered for just a second, and he didn't notice his comrade, dodging and straining to evade, an enemy ace on his tail. And the tail acquired its own tail, as the three of them flew through the air, guns blazing, engines roaring, and the tail went down and so did the dog, the cockpits of both full of flame... and the goggles could not look away, and neither could their owner.

After that, for a time, there was no more sky.

Then, they were taken out of the case again, and strapped on, to the same face in a different place. The goggles spoke of magnificent men in their flying machines, called the Air Circus, performing daredevil stunts to sold-out crowds, each maneuver practiced to precision, with no enemies in their path.

But, said the goggles, there were always enemies, and on one such eve a new one made itself known. The goggles were filled with wires and crystals, made to make their owner see better, because he would need ever advantage he could get against their new foe.

Then the goggles spoke of when they were worn again, and the man flew free once more, as the view from through their lenses was stronger, sharper. The goggles spoke of the threat, some kind of zeppelin with small things buzzing around it, and then the plane shook as one of those things crashed through the wing. They spoke of how the plane had tilted and the view had whipped around as the cockpit was left behind, and one gloved hand lashed out and grabbed a support rope for the zeppelin, with death buzzing around and infinity looming below...

She forced herself to pull her hands away. She looked at Jack, blinking and slightly out of breath.

"How much?"

* * *

Ten minutes later she exited the shop, and pulled her hood back over her head.

He'd sweet-talked her into some old coins and currency from the 1960s, which she could never really say no to - coins passed through so many hands in their twenty years of average life.

As she walked, she remembered a few of the conversations she'd had with him in the past. After getting over his celebrity shock the first time they'd met, they'd settled into... not really friendship, because he could be annoying and a bit snooty, but more a good relationship between shopkeep and customer. She didn't push too hard and neither did he.

One time, in mid-rant about the printing quality of DC Comics in the 1970s, she'd stopped him and asked him why he was so passionate about all these old, half-forgotten things. He'd gotten a look - not an annoyed look, just a look that spoke of how he didn't get asked that question very often. He'd said, 'because its like buried treasure. Just buried under culture instead of sand. The rest of the world forgets but I don't want to.'

She couldn't fault him for that.

She tapped her coat pocket to reassure herself they were still all in there, the goggles, the coins, the old Canadian dollar bill with the devil's face in the Queen's hair. Her little mineral veins of memory.

Her pocket full of stories.

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