Written by Cynthia L. Sperko
Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a fiction serial, set in Marietta. Chapters will appear first in the print edition of The Marietta Traveler, with the full story (as available) on the Traveler website.
Chapter One – The First Clue
Kurt is laying on his bed in his bedroom with his hands clasped behind his head. A vision of a past memory entered his mind. Almost a year to the day Kurt was deciding on what baseball team he could visualize himself playing on. Kurt wanted to play baseball and was on the varsity team at school until he tore his ACL for the third time. Baseball was a spectator sport for him now. At least he could help manage his school team, though. That is, if he could pull his history grade up.
“Kurt, can you come down here please?”
His dad yelled out up the staircase. He sighed out loud because Kurt knew what his dad wanted to talk to him about. His history exam that he had failed. Getting up, he opened his bedroom door and took his time going downstairs. Entering the kitchen, which was a small, white painted room with an out of date fridge, gas stove, and porcelain sink which had seen better days, he sat in a wooden chair across from his dad.
“Dad, I know what you’re going to say. I suck at history. I don’t know why I have to know all of these facts of what took place thousands of years ago.” Said Kurt.
“Son, history is a part of all of us. Each day is history in the making and it’s so important.”
“To you, maybe. I couldn’t care less about it” answered Kurt, getting up from his chair and exiting the room. He needed some fresh air.
Kurt’s dad heard the front door slam shut. Reaching for his cell phone, he made a call.
“Hi. It’s Russell. Can we talk? It’s really important.”
The tantalizing smell of apple pancakes awakened Sylvia. She yawned and stretched her arms and legs, knocking her cat, Migi, off the bed by accident.
“Oh Migi, I’m so sorry” said Sylvia getting up out of bed and reaching for her cat who was sitting on the floor. Picking her up, Sylvia hugged her tuxedo long haired cat. A noise from outside made her turn her attention to the window. Putting Migi down, Sylvia peeked through the white curtains just enough to see what the noise was all about. Across the street was a boy sitting on the steps of the Susquehanna Stage Company. She saw him look in her direction and quickly stepped away from the window.
Looking around the bedroom that she shared with her sister Clair, there were cardboard boxes piled up on one side of the room, and suitcases on the other side. Her sister’s bed was made up. Sylvia missed Clair and wished she was home. Clair was finishing spring semester at a well-known boarding school in New York City. It made perfect sense to her parents to let Clair finish the year, but not to Sylvia. Although they were two years apart in age, Clair acted like a high school junior and not ninth grader she was. Clair was a whiz at math and science. Where Clair excelled, Sylvia didn’t, and vice versa.
Sylvia was the creative one in the family. She had no idea where she got it from, either, as neither one of her parents were artistic in any way. Well, except for her mom’s cooking.
“Pancakes first, exploring this old town next, and boxes later.”
Quickly getting dressed and putting her long, brown hair in a ponytail, she grabbed her camera and went downstairs.
“Good morning, honey. How did you sleep?” asked her mom.
“Good morning, Mom. Great, actually. This town is so quiet compared to Manhattan.”
Sylvia took a seat as her mother placed a plate of apple pancakes in front of her.
Noticing the camera, her mom asked: “I thought we were going to unpack some of your things today. It seems you have other plans?”
“I haven’t had a chance to explore the town with my camera. I still don’t know why I had to stay here when Clair got to finish her schooling in New York.”
Her mother sat across from Sylvia. Looking at her she began “We already discussed this honey. You were already here on spring break and Clair was visiting her friends near her school.”
“I know mom. Starting a new school sucks this late in the year.”
Changing the subject Sylvia asked “Did I get any mail from Dana?”
Dana was Sylvia’s best friend. They have been friends since they were in kindergarten. Now, they were apart for the first time since that time and it made Sylvia feel sad. Her mom got up and grabbed a piece of mail that was in a brown envelope and handed it to her daughter. Sylvia reached out both hands to receive it. Smiling, she looked at her mother.
“Thanks mom. I’ve been waiting for this.” She placed the envelope on the table and finished eating her pancakes.
Although the two friends exchanged emails and texts every day, they wrote letters to each other quite often. Unlike Sylvia who wanted to be on Broadway, her best friend Dana planned to be a fashion designer. Dana had already designed several different styled party dresses that got the attention of Parsons School of Fashion. Dana, who was a straight-A student, convinced her parents to let her enroll via early admission to the school of her dreams.
“Honey, when you’re finished, can you drop this off at the Susquehanna Stage Company?” Asked her mom, holding a brown paper bag.
“Sure mom. No problem, but won’t the food be too cold?” Asked Sylvia.
“No. The bag contains garden salads. No need to collect payment. I’ll put it on their tab.”
Sylvia’s mom was the owner of Marietta Pizza. After her parent’s divorce, she used the money from a settlement to own and operate the pizzeria. Though owner for a short period of time, Marietta Pizza was the teen hang out and the place to have pizza, of course, and other Italian food. In the past, the building was a home for a candy store for about forty years. Since then, the building housed several different eateries.
With her camera around her neck, and the brown paper bag in her free hand, Sylvia walked across the street and entered the historic church through the opened door. Although the lights were on, there was no one in the front office so she walked in the room where the stage was. Looking around the room and back to the stage, she put the bag down and quickly walked up the stairs to the stage. Once on center stage she observed the view. Sylvia didn’t notice Kurt standing at the doorway.
“What are you doing here?” he asked the young lady.
Stunned, Sylvia looked in his direction and quickly walked off the stage and towards him. “Sorry. You scared me” she said.
Sylvia picked up the brown bag, handed it to Kurt, and ran out of the building. He followed her out.
“Wait a minute. Stop!’ Sylvia did what she was told and turned to Kurt’s direction.
“What?” she asked.
Walking toward her, he said.
“I’m sorry, too. I’m Kurt” he said, extending his hand to hers.
“Sylvia. My mom owns the pizza place. I was doing her a favor. I should go.” She walked back across the street and entered the pizza shop while Kurt watched her from where he was standing.
Just then, his phone beeped.
He had a text that read “Do you want to play a game? Text ‘yes’ to start.” He didn’t recognize the number.
“What the heck?” Kurt said looking at his phone. “Edwin must be up to the same tricks. Fine Edwin. I’ll play your game.”
Edwin was a junior in high school and the school brainiac. He was also tutoring Kurt in history, which so far, wasn’t working out too well, so another tactic of his was in the making. Just wait until tomorrow at school. Kurt would confront him about all of this game business.
Just then, another text appeared and it read- “Roses are red, violets are blue, unscramble these words to find your first clue. SIMFEYTL.”
With her arms full of books, Sylvia walked down the school hallway to her locker. Placing the books on the floor, she opened the locker and began placing some of the books inside the small space.
Reaching in to her back jeans pocket, she pulled out her schedule. Before she had a chance to read it, a male student approached her and introduced himself.
“Hi. You must be Sylvia. I’m Edwin.”
Sylvia looked at the teenager. He was about her height of 5 feet 7 inches, dark hair, eyeglasses, and was wearing black jeans and a buttoned down royal blue shirt. Like her, he was wearing sneakers.
“Hi. How did you know my name?” Sylvia asked.
“Uh… I work in the school office. You also look new” replied Edwin.
“Is it that obvious? I suppose this schedule and pile of books gave it away.”
“Uh… I suppose” Edwin said self-consciously.
Just then, Kurt approached both Edwin and Sylvia, and he looked upset. Kurt managed to pull Edwin around so they were facing each other before he spoke.
“Just the person I want to talk to. Edwin, tell me the truth. Did you send me this text?” Kurt asked, showing Edwin his phone.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. What text?” asked Edwin.
“Let me refresh your memory. The one about the game with certain clues?” replied Kurt.
“I don’t know what you are talking about, Kurt. I didn’t send you any text.”
At this point Sylvia stood between the two boys facing Kurt. “For your information, this is my first day of school and I would really like to get through the day without being suspended or worse, expelled. Edwin told you he doesn’t know anything about your stupid text. Leave him alone and please don’t cause any more of a scene than you already are.”
Some of the students started to gather around the three of them. Just then the bell rang.
“If you don’t mind, I also don’t want to be late for my first class” Sylvia said, looking at her schedule. With that, she closed her locker and walked down the hallway, leaving both Kurt and Edwin to fend for themselves.
Sylvia found a table that no one was sitting at and sat her lunch tray and herself down. “Lunch time, finally.”
Her lunch consisted of a slice of cheese pizza, a small garden salad, and a bottle of water. Edwin approached her from across the table.
“May I sit here?” he asked. Sylvia motioned Edwin to sit down.
“I want to apologize for earlier. I’ve been tutoring Kurt in history and he thought I sent him a game via text, but I didn’t, I swear.”
“I believe you, Edwin. Why was Kurt so upset? What was the text about?” Sylvia asked.
“Apparently, Kurt was sent a text from an unknown source. Whoever is sending it wants him to play a game. The first clue is unscrambling “SIMFEYTL”.
“SIMFEYTL? Do you have any idea what the word is?” Sylvia asked Edwin.
“Not yet, but something tells me it’s history-related and it could be a place.”
Sylvia liked playing word games, but unscrambling words was another story. “There’s something familiar about that word to me, but I don’t know why. Should we help him with the clue? I know he wasn’t very nice to you earlier, but maybe we should help him. It sounds like fun, too.”
“I suppose we could help him. Is it true that you live across the street from him? Kurt told me about your encounter yesterday.”
“Yes, my mom owns Marietta Pizza. This is not pizza, though” she said putting the slice of the cafeteria pizza back on her plate. “I have an idea. Give me your phone number, and if I figure out the word, I’ll text it to you.”
On the bus ride home from school, Sylvia took out her camera and viewed the images she captured the day before. When an image of a storefront appeared, she took a closer look. The store was a clock repair shop called “Time Flys”. Sylvia thought about the scrambled word from Kurt’s text. SIMFEYTL had the same letters. She quickly took out her smartphone and texted Edwin.
Time Flys was the word, but now they had to figure out the actual clue to solve a piece of the puzzle. It was late afternoon. Both Kurt and Edwin were waiting for Sylvia in front of “Time Flys Clock Repair”. Sylvia approached them while holding a vintage pocket watch.
“This heirloom belonged to my grandfather. It was handed down to my dad and it stopped working years ago. I figure that I could use this as our reason for being here. While I talk to the owner, maybe both of you can look around the place for the clue?” she asked.
“Okay. Sounds like a plan” replied Kurt.
“I really appreciate both of you helping me with this. I’m also sorry about earlier today” he said looking at Edwin. “Do you accept my apology Edwin?”
“Of course. I think we should go inside, though.”
The three ventured inside the small clock repair shop. A Frenchmen came out from the back of the shop and asked how he could help the three out. Sylvia gave him the pocket watch to look at.
“Do you think you can get it working again? I want to give it to my dad for his birthday.” Sylvia engaged the older gentleman in conversation while her two friends looked around the shop in search of a clue.
“So, what exactly are we looking for Kurt?” asked Edwin.
“I actually haven’t a clue” he answered.
“I mean it’s not like it’s going to appear out of thin air or be in an envelope with my name on it.”
“Or maybe it will” started Edwin, pointing to a shelf.
The two boys walked towards it while Sylvia and the shop owner walked to the back of the place. Behind a mantle clock was an envelope with Kurt’s name on it. He quickly opened it up and pulled out a note from the inside of it. Then he showed it to Edwin and sighed as he did. Another clue was at hand for the three new sleuths.
“Lord through this hour/ Be thou our guide/ So by thy power/ No foot shall slide.”
To be continued in the next issue of the Marietta Traveler.