After writing the story for this year’s summer contest, I realised that I had left quite a few loose ends at the end of the story. I decided to write a short story that sort of collected these strands. But as is often the case, the short text grew longer and longer. I figured I would release the story in multiple short parts every couple of days over the next two weeks and hopefully have the whole thing finished by New Year’s Eve. Feedback, tips and corrections are, as always, welcome. Also, I’m not entirely happy with the title of this story, so that may change.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Maggie looked up at the man in an expensive-looking suit and tie standing next to her table. He looked awkwardly out of place among the casually dressed students in the university cafeteria.
“Your name is Maggie, is it not?” the stranger repeated.
The man sighed. “Look, this is a bit odd, but this is you, isn’t it?” He pulled out a folded piece of paper from his jacket, unfolded it and put it down on the table next to Maggie’s half-finished sandwich. It was a pencil sketch of her.
“Damn, that’s you,” Christopher said. He was sitting across the table from Maggie.
Maggie had to admit that the sketch looked remarkably like her. “OK,” she said, “that’s me. And if you have a modelling offer or something like that, take a hike.”
Christopher was still looking at the sketch. “This is really good,” he said. “When did you pose for it?”
“She didn’t,” the stranger said dryly. “This sketch is more than twenty years old.”
“Okay,” Maggie said cautiously, “I’m interested. Keep going.”
The stranger sat down. “I suppose introductions are in order. My name is Rhett Moreau and I work for the law firm of Mathers & Mayhew.”
“So you’re a lawyer?” Mr Moreau nodded. “And…?” Maggie made a beckoning gesture.
“Our firm mostly handle estate law. And, if you pass certain tests, you may be the heir to the remaining estate of Dr Charlie Stefanova.”
“But what has that got to do with a twenty year old sketch of me?”
Mr Moreau adjusted his tie before continuing. “Dr Stefanova’s will included strict instructions that we were to wait until this year before trying to find you. All we had to work with was this sketch and your first name. Well, that and the control questions.”
Maggie was confused. “I don’t know anybody called Charlie Stefanova. I’ve never even heard of the guy.”
“Dr. Stefanova was a woman. She insisted on Charlie although her given name was Charlotte.”
“Charlotte?!?” Maggie’s head snapped up. “Do you have a picture of her?” she asked urgently.
“Certainly,” Mr Moreau said. He fiddled with his phone for a few moments before handing it to Maggie. On the screen was a picture of a woman in her late sixties. Her grey hair would have made Albert Einstein’s hair look neat.
“Do you have a picture of her when she was younger? Like in her twenties or thirties?”
“Sorry, no,” Mr Moreau said.
“No worries,” Christopher said, his phone already out. “Stefanova with an f or a ph?”
“Google to the rescue,” he announced and showed Maggie. The woman in the picture was without a doubt the same Charlotte Maggie had met only a couple of weeks earlier, albeit dressed quite differently. She was wearing a white lab coat and seemed to be giving some kind of lecture.
“It worked,” Maggie whispered. “You made it.”
“Excuse me?” Mr Moreau looked at her.
“Oh, nothing,” Maggie said. “You said something about additional tests?”
“Well, they’re more like control questions given to us by Dr Stefanova. Bear in mind that she was quite eccentric and the questions don’t really make any sense, but her will states quite clearly that unless you answer them correctly you get nothing.”
“So no pressure then,” Maggie quipped. Mr Moreau just stared at her with a blank expression. “Never mind. What are the questions?”
“Like I said, these questions doesn’t really make any sense.” Mr Moreau tapped his phone a few times. “OK, Dr Stefanova’s first question is: What colour was the dress I wore when you last saw me?”
“Pale yellow,” Maggie said quickly.
Mr Moreau raised an eyebrow, but continued. “Number two: Which flower will I never draw again?”
Maggie had a mental flash of the stack of Charlotte’s drawings she had found. She shook her head to clear it. “Bluebells.”
“Interesting,” Mr Moreau said cryptically. “And last: Who did we leave behind?”
Maggie swallowed. “Maria and Jacob,” she said quietly. Leaving them behind when Charlotte, Tommy and herself had weighed heavily on her.
Mr Moreau rose and put away his phone. “I have to check your answers with the sealed documents we have from Dr Stefanova, but if they’re correct, you’ll be hearing from us.” He turned and left before Maggie had a chance to say anything.
“Well that was weird,” Christopher said when Mr Moreau was gone. “So how do you know her?”
“I don’t. Not really anyway. Look, it’s complicated.” Maggie didn’t really want to tell Christopher about how she had met Charlotte. Partly because it had led her to need diapers at night for almost a week, but also because saying it out loud would make it sound even more insane than it already seemed in her mind.
“So what did you find out about her?” Maggie pointed to Christopher’s phone.
“Let’s see,” he said and he scrolled down. “Born in 1947. Three Ph.D’s: Physics, biomechanical engineering and computer engineering. She was one of those annoying child prodigies who is good at almost everything. Finished high school at eleven. Apparently she had some kind of mental breakdown at Woodstock in '69 when she was 22. It says something about severe mental regression due to a bad acid trip. Apparently it took her years to recover. After that, she worked mostly on some of the more out-there things.”
“What do you mean ‘out-there’?”
“Science-fictioney, quantum physics stuff like parallel universes, time travel and artificial intelligence. Obviously she didn’t make any front-page advances.”
“When did she die?” Maggie felt a strange mix of feelings. Relief that Charlotte and probably also Tommy got back to their place in time, but also guilt and shame at having left Maria and Jacob behind when they escaped.
“It doesn’t say. She just disappeared in 2010.”
“That’s what it says here.” Christopher pointed to the screen of his phone. “I guess she must have been declared dead. I mean, if they’re looking up people in her will.”
“I guess,” Maggie said absent-mindedly.
“So how did you end up in her will? No way it’s some kind of scholarship. Not with your grades.”
“Look who’s talking. Your grades are even worse than mine.”
“Yeah, and that’s why you love me,” he said with a grin. “But seriously, why would you be in the will of a mad scientist”
Maggie sighed. “It’s kinda-”
“Complicated. Yeah you keep saying that.”
“Look, can’t this wait until I actually know if I inherit anything. The guy said he had to check to see if the answers were right.”
“Oh come on, you didn’t sound like you were guessing. You knew the answers.”
“I said I didn’t want to talk about it,” Maggie snapped, suddenly feeling very annoyed with Christopher’s curiosity.
“Fine, fine.” Christopher held up his hands. “Jeez, I was just curious.”
The rest of the lunch passed in an awkward silence.