The story so far: On the walk to Herald Rock, Aadi and Happy find themselves well ahead of the rest of the group. They have reached the outskirts of town.
POV: Aadi and Happy
Lead in story: I wish you the best
As they reached the edge of Herald Rock, cats came out to greet Aadi. The first cat was a gray tabby, who eyed Aadi and gave the briefest dip of the head in acknowledgment. The tabby had bright yellow eyes and a piece taken out of the left ear. Soon there were two more cats that came and brushed against Aadi’s legs.
Happy was not greeted. The cats ignored him entirely, even though he walked just an arm’s length away. Happy decided that if they wished to ignore him, he was happy to ignore them as well. He focused instead on the first house on the overgrown street they were walking along. The house was small, perhaps just a single bedroom, a kitchen, and the barest bit of a living room. It was beige and made of sump block. It looked mostly intact, although the windows were cracked and the wooden door appeared to be peeling away.
“That was somebody’s home once,” Happy said. “Somebody lived a life there. I wonder what kind of life it was. They probably had a straightforward job, cleaning or maybe working construction. Did they feel poor and mean or were they happy to have a home of their own?”
Aadi stared at the house a moment and said, “There was a garden on the side. There are carrots and turnips growing there now. Not in rows though. They like to wander when people don’t force them into rows.”
“I know how they feel,” Happy said.
“Which direction?” Aadi asked a few steps later. For a moment Happy thought they were talking to him, but the question was aimed at a calico who was walking along with Aadi. Aadi then told Happy, “The blue house, the one with the coins, is over there.” They pointed to their forward left.
Happy smiled. “Wealth and riches here we come,” he said with just a hint of amusement.
Aadi shrugged. “They could be pennies. Cats don’t see things as we do. They care more about how something moves than how it just sits there.”
“An object in motion tends to be more interesting,” Happy said.
As the two walked further into Herald Rock, they passed a burned-out house, one that had fallen over, and another dull-looking slump-block house that looked even less weathered than the last one. They turned on a cross street and headed into the next block. The houses here on the edge of town were spread apart. The roads had some weeds and ruts but were mostly easy to walk. What had been the yards, however, were wild with a variety of grasses and other plants. As Happy had predicted, wildflowers were blooming everywhere, especially baby blue eyes and fairy lanterns. Swallowtail butterflies were fluttering around in abundance.
Several cats were following them now. Happy had grown used to this in the short time that Aadi had been living on his property. There were always two or three cats roaming around, and the number of field mice he encountered had dropped dramatically. The cats rarely paid any attention to him, although there was a black shorthair that should sometimes come and sit near him when he was at his picnic table.
They walked about a quarter-mile further and moved down one more street. There stood the blue house. It was almost exactly as Aadi had drawn it. The house was blue with gray trim. It was two stories and leaned a bit to the south. The windows were busted out of it, and but the door still hung.
“Upstairs or downstairs?” Happy asked.
“Up the stairs,” Aadi answered. The two of them went through the door. The house had a very strong odor of cat excrement. There was a rotting red sofa with a white flower pattern. Three cats were sitting on it. They started up the stairs, but after two steps, Happy heard a crack as a piece of wood snapped under his feet.
“That’s a little unnerving,” Happy said. He lifted his foot back up and backed down the stairs slowly.”
“I’m sure it can hold me,” Aadi said. Aadi was less than half of Happy’s weight, and light on their feet, so Happy agreed. He watched as Aadi walked up the stairs slowly, avoiding the middle of the stairway in favor of staying close to the wall. After about half a minute Aadi was up the stairs and had turned down the hallway.
Aadi took careful steps down the hallway, adjusting for the slight tilt of the floor. They checked the first room. It was a mass of boxes, most of them were water damaged from several leaks in the ceiling. Aadi checked each box, but most of it was mail, newspapers, notebook paper, and files for a person named Adelaide Friedman. Aadi didn’t bother to read most of the papers. Aadi was no historian. They preferred the present.
Aadi checked the upstairs bathroom next. There were mushrooms growing in the toilet. Aadi smiled and moved to the other bedroom. There were several cats in there, sleeping on top of a rotted bed. Aadi consulted the cats, then looked below the bed. Sitting under the bed was a clear glass jar filled with coins. Aadi pulled it out and looked it over. There were coins, most definitely, but nothing Aadi recognized. They rolled the jar in their hands, looking at the unfamiliar faces. “You are a gathering of royalty, banished under a bed,” Aadi said. “Now I have rescued you. Let’s be free together.”
As Aadi looked for treasure upstairs, Happy checked the first floor. The kitchen had some blue and white Pyrex bowls that looked to be from the 1950s or 1960s. Happy checked his phone to see if there was signal. It wasn’t super strong, but enough for a beach of eBay to confirm that these particular bowls were being offered at between $50 and $150 apiece. Happy briefly considered taking them, but didn’t really want too much all that weight down a mountain with a strong possibility of them breaking. Happy settled for taking a few pictures.
There was a chest of drawers in the ground floor bedroom. Happy opened each drawer. Several were empty. One seemed to be a junk drawer of sorts, and fishing around in it, he found a 1960s era Swiss army knife and an envelope with eight five-dollar bills in it. The bills were unused, printed in 1974. Happy put the bills back in the envelope and placed the envelope in the pages of Woody Guthrie’s Bound for Glory, which he had brought with him in case he had any spare time to read.
Aadi came back down and showed the jar of coins to Happy. He took a few out and examined them. They were small denomination coins from various countries. He couldn’t identify all of them off the top of his head, but he was pretty sure one was from Korea and another from Japan, a third appeared to be from Spain. He put the coins back. “A nice find,” he said. “My father was in the Navy and he had a collection like that, a few coins from wherever he visited. If you want, I’ll help you check them for rare coins.”
Aadi shook their head. “I’m going to set them free. They’ve been trapped for too long.”
Happy chose not to comment. The two of them left the house and headed toward the heart of Herald Rock.