Last time on ACE ARCHER: Caryn Alexander just might be the granddaughter of Ace Archer’s love and adventuring companion, Anne Stevens. Determined to find out the truth, she braved her sister’s house, dog, and scorn… only to discover a note in her grandmother’s copy of The Old Man and the Sea from Ace Archer himself!
“Either someone was really messed up in the head or there’s something going on here,” Caryn muttered, looking at the inscription. A flip of the page confirmed that it was a September 1952 first printing.
“Is everything all right up there?” came a shout from Pam downstairs. Caryn parsed the question as “You aren’t making a mess up there, are you?” but yelled down, “Yup, great!”
The final box had a more eclectic selection of hardbacks, mostly detective fiction. There were no more inscriptions in any of the books. Caryn put all the Ace Archer books in one box and topped it off with the Hemingway. After further consideration, she took The Old Man and the Sea and tucked it lower in the pile, hidden under several of the Ace Archer volumes. The last thing she wanted was Pammy accusing her of stealing a valuable first edition.
The shoebox was full of letters, though none of the return addresses indicated that they might come from fictional space pioneers. Most of them seemed to be correspondence with Caryn’s mom and Uncle Pete. Beneath the letters, though, was part of a magazine clipping from Rona Barrett’s Hollywood, September 1974.
(continued from p. 33) strange twist in the Ace Archer story was the 1950s furor over the idea that Allen “Ace” Archer was a real astronaut. In fact, a man claiming to be Ace Archer himself was arrested in Chicago on September 11, 1956 for disrupting the peace as he incited citizens to riot. He was later identified as film actor Harold Brakura (AVALON BADLANDS, SGT. WING OF PHOENIX SQUAD.) His defense was that he was trying to warn the people of Earth of an actual deadly threat from the stars. Public opinion was strangely divided over this case, with a strong public “Believe In Ace” movement and the trial garnered national attention. That all ended in 1958 when it was determined that Brakura was suffering from a mental breakdown. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and remanded to public psychiatric care. The scandal of Chicago v. Archer–combined with the rising public interest in the Space Race and the non-fictional Mercury Project–is commonly believed to be what dealt the deathblow to the popularity of the Ace Archer franchise.”
Caryn had no idea how this strange incident fit into the larger picture she was painting in her mind, but she put the shoebox on top of the overflowing box of books and turned her attentions to the wooden jewelry box.
It was locked. The latch didn’t seem to have a keyhole, nor was there any sort of switch or button to release it. Caryn gently put a manicured nail underneath to try to pry it open, but it didn’t open to the amount of force that would keep her nail from breaking. Caryn picked up the box, holding it at eye level and slowly turned it around, side to side, then top to bottom. The wood was light, but stained with an auburn tint. The box itself wasn’t carved or decorated, but the latch, the hinges and the corners of the box were all intricate silver. Caryn ran her fingers over the argent patterns, half hoping that it would read her DNA and open or something. No such luck.
She placed the jewelry box on top of the shoebox and, after fastidiously replacing the three cardboard boxes of books exactly where they had been stacked, lifted the overflowing fourth box and clamped down the jewelry box on top with her chin. Carefully she walked over to the stairs.
Carrying the box with such a large stack of books was awkward, but she took it step by step and made it down to the upstairs hall without dropping anything. Just as she gave herself a mental pat on the back, there was a scream from downstairs.
“Grover, no!” Pammy shouted.
Caryn’s heart started skipping beats at random and she turned to step to the side of the hall. It was too late, though, and a hundred and fifty pounds of Great Dane came barreling up the stairs racing straight at Caryn’s legs.
Panic got her out of the way in time, but it also cost her her footing. Reflexively she grabbed for the wall with one hand, losing the box of books which fell to the hallway floor with a clamorous clatter. Surprisingly, the books in the box stayed mostly in a stack, as it had landed flat on its bottom. The jewelry box, however, didn’t fare as well. It hit the wood floor on its corner (“My new hard wood floor! That left a gash!” Caryn’s inner Pammy screamed) and bounced twice before coming to a rest near a bedroom door.
“What in God’s name is going on up there?” Pammy demanded, stomping up the stairs. Caryn knew the dog was not going to get any blame for this.
“Your, uh, Grover knocked me over and I dropped the box I was carrying down.”
Pam’s eyes looked at the floor.
“My new hard wood floor!” she gasped. “That box gashed my floor!”
Caryn congratulated herself on a prediction well done.
“I’ll take it out to my car. I’ll make two trips,” Caryn offered, grabbing the jewelry box before her sister could object to its removal. She grabbed the shoe box as well and just-short-of-ran downstairs and out to her car.
As she placed the two boxes on the passenger seat of her grey Jetta, she noticed that the impact had apparently popped the latch on the jewelry box, which was now slightly open. Caryn lifted the lid and looked inside. There was a smaller wooden tray with red velvet lining inside. Several pairs of earrings were hooked to each other, and there was a thin gold chain with a heart charm on it. Caryn lifted the tray to look underneath.
In the bottom of the box was a… Caryn had no idea.
It was about the length of a lipstick, but one end had some kind of rounded button made out of mother-of-pearl, if mother-of-pearl was green. Below that were three rings of slightly luminous crystal, and past those, there were a series of grooves with tiny studs in each. At the bottom of it was a small black ribbed rubber tube.
“Dear Lord, please let this not be my grandmother’s space dildo,” Caryn whispered as she lifted the… whatever it was… from the box.
She looked inside the rubber tube and found that there were colored wires inside with strange, o-shaped tips. Curiouser and weirder. The studs in the grooves seemed to move around as well. It may not be–Caryn deleted the thought–but it was something space-y. She put it back before she disintegrated her head.
She was about to close the box when she noticed something almost as strange as the space lipstick. The latch hadn’t come open… there was no latch. The fancy metal sigil she had assumed was a latch was cracked in two, a rough pocked metal surface where the crack ran. There was obviously no mechanism… the box had been sealed.
“Are you coming to get this other box?” Pammy demanded from her front doorway. Her hands were on her hips just the way Caryn remembered her mother yelling into the back yard.
“Yes, Pammy,” Caryn sing-songed, and she headed inside to get the books.
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.