Effective December 26, 2020: All branches are closed to the public, except for library returns and Library Takeout for contactless holds pickup. Learn More

Damaged Goods

By Taneeta Doma

With every glimpse of sunlight, there was always a hint of shadow.

It certainly seemed so in Arcane, a small village rich in farmland, plentiful crops, and friendly townspeople. Visitors would imagine life there to be almost idyllic. Birds, with their colourful feathers, seemed to chirp louder than others. Even at night, the little town was much the same as in the beautiful daylight, but its inhabitants were unaware that one of their own was hiding a deep and fearful secret.

Catherine Robinson, one of the villagers, was chatting animatedly with the resident gossip, Annie McPherson. The two women stood at the produce stand, surveying the fresh corn lined up neatly for them to buy.

"Did you hear, Catherine, about Old Man John's prized ribbon going missing?" Annie told the other woman, eyes wide.

"You mean the Purple Heart he was awarded in the Second World War?" Catherine said, surprised. She picked up an ear of corn, studying the leaves surrounding it. "Why would someone do such a thing?"

"Who knows what this world is coming to," Annie said, seeming to already accept the inevitable fact.

"Do you know who stole it?" Catherine asked.

"The town hall has narrowed the suspect list down to two people: George 'the Hermit', and Alexander James." Alexander was well-known for his string of previous crimes: burglary and breaking and entering, for starters, and both men kept mostly to themselves, and were not very sociable.

"I hope they find the bandit who stole them," Catherine said.

"He's not the only one who's had something stolen. Why, old Doris McDougal had her entire china teacup set stolen! The cups, the saucers, even the little teaspoons!" Annie cried.

"Well. Whoever we're dealing with certainly has some skill in the area of theft," Catherine replied, raising her eyebrows in surprise.

"It would seem so. That's why everyone thinks it was Alexander. He's younger, more agile, and he has the background. The boy's a born crook."

"Well, I'll see you tomorrow, Annie, bright and early. The church picnic is at nine-thirty, right?"

"Yes," Annie said, taken aback, "but aren't you going to the town meeting tonight?"

"No," Catherine replied. "I'm going elsewhere."

With her final statement, she left, taking two ears of the fresh corn and paying the shopkeeper the adequate amount of money. As the younger woman made her way through the groups of people crowding the market, Annie wondered where she was going.

"Probably meeting Thomas again," she finally said to herself, turning back to the corn.

Catherine hurried back to her home, a dilapidated one-storey structure which desperately required maintenance. She couldn't be bothered to fix it – she rather liked the setting. It was isolated and lonely; the way she had been when she first came here.

Although Catherine had been living in the barn house for years, she still couldn't remember how she had gotten there in the first place. In her dreams, all she remembered from them was running from something. The rest was a blur.

Working quickly, she put the two ears of corn in a pot to boil. Then, she set the table, smoothing the tablecloth almost neurotically. The tea was already made, but she decided to wait until her guest arrived to pour it. While the corn softened, she changed into an old dress, one that had been sitting in her wardrobe for some time, without being worn. Catherine didn't realize it was there until seeing it that morning.

It wasn't until she had finished her chores did she realize her guest was over an hour late.

"Where is he?" she asked herself, annoyed. She began to wonder if he would ever show up. Her head began pounding, a sure sign that she was becoming stressed.

There was a sudden knock at the door, and she looked up, her headache forgotten. Silently, she walked to the door, fiddling with the diamond ring on her finger.

When she opened it, a young man stood there, holding a bouquet of wild peonies in his arms. She smiled, greeted him and took the flowers.

"How do you do, Catherine?" he asked.

"Fine, Thomas. And you?" she replied demurely.

"Never been better," he answered, grinning at her.

"The flowers are beautiful, Thomas. Thank you," Catherine said as she led him into the house. Thomas followed her, gazing at the familiar mismatched furniture and the ever-present layer of dust on each surface. Today, however, he saw a strange purple ribbon lying on the coffee table that seemed strangely familiar but from where he could not remember.

As Catherine poured the tea into cups, Thomas chattered with her about his family's blooming wheat fields and his schooling. Over plates of the fresh corn, he discussed the thefts going on in town and provided his own opinion on the identity of the culprits.

"I think that rat Alexander did it. Just last week, I caught him stealing the logs from my wood pile!" Thomas declared.

Catherine, however, seemed thoughtful. "Maybe it was someone else. Maybe… someone you least expect," she said. Thomas looked confused.

"There is no one else I know who would do such a thing, Catherine," he replied. As Catherine washed the dishes his eyes fell on the china teacup, still half-full, and noticed an intricate signature etched into the handle of the cup. His eyes widened as he read the name: Doris McDougal.

He realized Catherine was the thief. What else could this woman be hiding?

"How are your parents?" Catherine asked him as she sat down with her tea. Thomas tried to be nonchalant as he considered his response. Catherine did not look threatening but he did not want to arouse her suspicions.

"Busy as usual. They're preparing for the harvest." Thomas paused for a moment to take a sip of the stale tea. "Why don't you join them?"

"You know why, Thomas. I'm afraid of what they'll think of someone like me. I don't have the wealth they have."

"Catherine," Thomas said gently. "As much as you'd like to think, they're not like that. They genuinely care about each other. If you got to know them, they'd feel the same way about you."

"Nevertheless…" Catherine fiddled with the napkin next to her tea saucer. "I am much happier with people I know."

Thomas laid a hand on Catherine's arm. She tensed up, recalling a similar touch many years ago that had turned in something more sinister, and the way she handled it.

Appearances are often deceiving, she reminded herself. I must protect myself.

"Get away from her!" a new voice roared in the house. Thomas recoiled, shocked. His teacup fell to the ground and broke into pieces that went scattering all over the floor.

"Can't you see you're scaring the girl?!" the voice continued.

Thomas stood up and slowly backed away from the woman. "What is wrong with you?" he asked, alarmed.

"Get away from here! Get out, or Brandie will come after you!" The woman approached menacingly and Thomas backed away, scared, confused, and bewildered. What happened? Who was Brandie?

"I have got to get out of here!" he thought dazedly, but as he turned the door opened.

"What the devil is going on in here?" a gravelly voice called. Thomas's heart beat faster as he recognized the voice of Old Man John. He looked back to the woman in front of him, but she had stopped speaking. The room was silent except the footsteps of John as he approached.

"Thomas? Who was that woman?" John's face turned confused as he looked back and forth between Thomas and Catherine.

Catherine's eyes flicked to the table, where a china cup sat. Then, her gaze landed on the Purple Heart sitting on the coffee table. John's eyes fell to the broken teacup on the floor, then to his supposedly missing award. A smile grew on Catherine's face, as if she hadn't been caught red-handed.

"John! What a pleasant surprise!" she said. "You may not have heard of me, but I am Brooklyn. I've just moved in from New York." She raised her hand to shake his, but John didn't lift his. He only stepped back, a look of shock on his face. This was not Catherine's voice, but it was Catherine in front of him.

Thomas wore an identical appearance, mixed with confusion. Their eyes rested on her lifted hand, still poised for a handshake. Her smile didn't falter, even as they backed away.

"Who are you?" they both asked Catherine.

Did You Know

TumbleBookCloud is an online collection of read-along chapter books for students in late elementary to high school. In addition to the same content previously found in TumbleReadables, TumbleBookCloud includes videos from National Geographic, new Audio Books, and 44 additional chapter book titles. TumbleBookCloud?