Psy (Alien Castaways #3) - Cara Bristol Page 0,1

made of iron—lavender mason jars, and an equestrian picture fell into that category. Vintage meant the object hailed from an earlier generation, like the brass swivel-arm lamp, the art deco clock, the transistor radio, the black rotary-dial telephone, and a manual typewriter. As she examined the latter two items, an office-setting tableau took shape in her mind. She could pull from existing inventory to complete the scene.

The other cart held an assortment of popular kitchen items—vintage casserole dishes, discontinued Fiestaware, two crystal liquor decanters, and a kitschy ceramic cookie jar in the shape of a bear.

She picked up the jar carefully so the hat, which served as the lid, didn’t fall off. Her heart raced, and she broke out in a cold sweat as a wave of dizziness swept over her. She saw the cookie jar sitting on a white-tiled kitchen counter under an oak cabinet. Squeezing her eyelids tight, she tried to hold onto the image, but the mirage evaporated like they all did.

She never had the same hallucination twice. A tree. A brief clip of a TV show she’d never seen. A headrest viewed from the back seat of a car. A stuffed animal with a missing ear. The mundane visions were never anything disturbing or scary—with one exception.

Once, as a child, she and her mother had been in a grocery store when a shopper’s perfume had caused a surge of sadness so strong and sudden, she had burst into tears.

“Honey, what’s wrong?” Her mystified mother had tried to comfort her.

Too young to write yet, she’d been unable to explain—could only shake her head and cry. On occasion, when she passed a department store fragrance counter, she would sniff the samples in search of the scent, although she doubted she’d recognize it after all those years.

The elusive nature of her visions drove her crazy. Why did she have them? What did they mean? Until today, she’d never had an actual physical item of something she’d seen.

Clutching the cookie jar to her chest, she returned to the sales floor.

A customer looked up from the vintage jewelry case. “Hello, how are you?” she shouted.

“She’s not deaf! She can hear just fine!” Verna snapped.

“Sorry. How are you?” the customer repeated in a lower volume.

This wasn’t the first time she’d been treated like she was hard of hearing. People sometimes spoke too loudly, too slowly, or both. It got annoying, but what could she do? She pasted on a smile.

The customer wandered off to browse, and Cassie set the cookie jar on the counter. She jotted, I would like to buy this.

Verna waved at her. “You don’t need to buy it—take it. A bonus for your hard work.”

She eyed the $59 price tag. Are you sure? It’s expensive.

Verna glanced at the customer, now at the opposite end of the store, before whispering, “I got a good deal. I didn’t pay anything close to that. Take it.”

She grinned. All right. Thank you.

After stowing her treasure in her locker, she began arranging the new inventory.

Emboldened by Verna’s earlier praise of her merchandising skills, she made an executive decision to swap out the dining scene in the window overlooking Main Street. After removing the china, crystal, silver, and candelabra, she turned the claw-footed oak table into a desk by adding the swivel-arm lap, black rotary-dial telephone, and the typewriter. She loaded a cherry sliding book rack with old hardbacks, including yellowed copies of the Gregg Shorthand Manual and the Complete Secretary’s Handbook.

Verna rang up the customer’s purchase, a set of silver-plated flatware.

“Bye, Cassie!” the woman shouted as she left the store.

Verna rolled her eyes and muttered, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

Cassie laughed and dragged an antique shelving unit to the front then stocked it with miscellaneous eye-catching bric-a-brac. A vintage standing globe completed the office scene.

“Looks good!” Her boss flashed thumbs-up.

How it looks from the outside is what matters, she wanted to say, but of course, she couldn’t. Casual moments like these frustrated her the most—to communicate, she’d have to stop working to write a note. Saying nothing was easier but left her feeling disconnected, disabled, and showed, no matter how hard she tried, she wasn’t normal. She was something other.

She envied free-and-easy communication. People could toss a comment over their shoulder, yell from another room, call on the telephone, and whisper a comment at the movies. She couldn’t do any of those things and had no choice but to accept her condition and live with it.

Shaking off the bout of self-pity,