The Ministry of Lost Buttons

“The Ministry of Lost Buttons”
by Sarina Dorie

 

Celeste admired the fluffy, cotton ball clouds drifting lazily in the cerulean sky. It was the perfect day for taking a walk on Hawthorne Boulevard. Apparently 50,000 other residents of the SE Portland neighborhood thought so too. The sidewalk was packed with pedestrians. Even with the recent rash of people mysteriously disappearing, it wasn’t any less crowded than any other Saturday.

“Would you like to sign a petition to legalize cocaine?” asked a young woman in 1950’s apparel with facial piercings.

Celeste smiled politely, shook her head and kept walking toward Starbucks. Every time she stepped onto Hawthorne, she felt as if she’d been transported into a magical world, a place where anything could happen. So many subcultures crammed into the community of Southeast Portland. A man dressed as a pirate walked past her. A woman on a tall bicycle with giant wheels wove through the cars on the street. An old man with a bagpipe played on the corner. She wondered where she fit into this group with her Birkenstocks, thrift store jeans and the gray speckled sweater Grandma had made her. She smoothed her fingers over the large button that fastened the collar above her left breast. Grandma had called it “the button of buttons.” Celeste had laughed at the time.

Grandma had muttered under her breath. “One button to rule them all, one button to find them. One button to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”

Grandma had been so eccentric. Celeste had always loved the sweater because it reminded her of Grandma, but suddenly she didn’t feel fashionable enough to live in Portland. She felt out of place in this crowd.

A hand groped her breast and tugged at the front of her sweater. Celeste let out a shriek and raised her hand to smack the culprit. A little balding man in a brown jacket cackled as he pushed through the crowd and dodged around the corner.

“Pervert!” said a woman in Goth attire.

Celeste touched her hand to the collar and found the sweater hanging open to reveal her tank top underneath. Grandma’s special button was gone. She pushed around the Goth woman and chased the man into a small side street, ready to give him a piece of her mind—or her fist. That button was special. She wanted it back.

The street was narrow, with dirty brick buildings and no sidewalk. Her attacker was nowhere in sight. She looked in the windows of a pizzeria for him, but it was closed. She peeked in an antique shop and a boutique with even more eccentric clothes than she’d seen people wearing that day. No button thief.

The street came to a dead-end at a quaint-looking sewing shop called The Ministry of Lost Buttons. Celeste didn’t remember seeing a dead-end sign when she’d first started down the street, but she had been distracted. She didn’t even know there were any dead-ends off of Hawthorne. Then again, she’d only moved from the boonies of Beavercreek a month ago.

She glanced at her cell phone display. 11:35 a.m. Twenty-five minutes was still plenty of time to get a coffee and walk to the library for her shift at noon.

Disappointed she hadn’t caught the thief, she turned around, but she didn’t see Hawthorne in front of her. She glanced at the window display in the bookstore, the antique store and then the pizza shop. She stopped abruptly in front of the Ministry of Lost Buttons again. An unsettling feeling washed over her.

Celeste tapped the map app on her cell phone. There was no signal. She turned around one more time. She walked straight ahead toward the end of the alley. She didn’t see any other streets, just the little shop. It was The Ministry of Lost Buttons.
What the hell was going on? Portland was strange, but not this strange.

She touched her sweater where her button should have been. Like it or not, she’d lost Grandma’s button. And like it or not, she couldn’t go anywhere but this button shop. Maybe she was meant to find a new button. But if that was the case, why did goosebumps rise on her arms and a creeping sensation steal over her?

She pushed open the heavy wood door of The Ministry of Lost Buttons and stepped inside. A pink sign with a border of bunnies and cute, blocky writing hung on the inside of the door. It said, “Cell phone and electronic devices are NOT permitted beyond this point.”

She stepped forward and almost walked into a parrot sitting on a wooden perch. “Intruder alert,” it squawked. It snapped its beak at her.

Celeste scooted away. She passed a display of sewing machines and a mountain of bobbins, thread and needles. She could ask one of the employees how to get back onto Hawthorne and maybe she would buy a new button in the shop.

At the register, an old woman with a purple tint to her silver hair and a hot pink feather boa paid the cashier. The cashier’s black hair was laced with red streaks and spiked in every direction from her messy bun. She glanced at Celeste over her horn-rimmed glasses and tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. Was it Celeste’s imagination or did that ear look slightly pointed? The name tag on her black apron said, “You don’t fucking want to know my name.”

“What does this button do again?” the old woman asked, holding up a gaudy gold and red button that looked like something Celeste’s grandma would have liked.

“It has the power to destroy a small country. Try not to sit on it accidentally. Next!” The cashier picked up a sandwich and took a bite. Drooping out of the side hung something slimy and green that resembled limp lettuce. Or it did, until it wiggled and tried to escape the slices of bread. The salesclerk poked the green stuff back between the bread with a claw-like fingernail.

“Excuse me, um, could you tell me where. . . ?” Celeste stammered, her eyes transfixed on the sandwich.

A man in an expensive suit elbowed in front of Celeste and slammed his fist on the counter. “I haven’t time for this paperwork. I ask a simple question and you give me forms.” He tore the papers in half and threw them in the air. He had a slight accent Celeste couldn’t place.

You-Don’t-Want-to-Know-My-Name leaned her head into her hands as if bored. “There’s a ten dollar penalty for providing new forms.”

“I don’t want new forms. I want my button. It was under a life-time warranty. That button had the power to align planets. My dragon-skin suit is worthless without it.”

Celeste cleared her throat. “Dragon skin? Like a komodo dragon? Isn’t that an endangered species?”

He glanced over his shoulder. The irises of his eyes were red and rimmed with black. She’d seen some crazy contacts in this neighborhood, but nothing quite like this.

He lifted his chin. “Of course it isn’t a komodo dragon. I work for the city.” He turned back to the cashier and continued to rant.

Maybe there was someone else in the store she could ask for directions. She left the register and wandered past an old-fashioned spinning wheel that Sleeping Beauty might have pricked her finger on.

At the entrance of an adjoining room, two ancient Asian women sat at a table playing a board game in a wooden box that looked vaguely like mancala, only they were playing with buttons instead of stones. They wore matching red Chinese dresses with a gold dragon pattern. The masses of hair elaborately piled on top of their heads was such an unnatural shade of dyed black that it contrasted sharply with their pale, powdered faces.

Celeste glanced at the clock on her cell phone. It was only 11:35 a.m. She’d checked her phone a few minutes ago and the time hadn’t changed. A chill settled in her gut. She had a feeling she wasn’t in the Hawthorne neighborhood anymore.
One of the ladies cleared her throat and gave Celeste a meaningful look.

Above the ladies was a sign that said, “Don’t even think about it. We eat cell phones for breakfast.”

Celeste pocketed her phone. “Excuse me. Can you give me directions to—”

The woman closest to Celeste growled. The other lady licked her lips. Celeste inched away.

Past the old women, the back of the shop was filled with what looked like the bulk food bins at a health food store. A man stood at a back counter. Celeste walked down an aisle. Each bin was filled with a different hue of assorted red buttons.

Wow, this really was a button shop. Grandma would have loved it here.

The man from the adjoining room shouted at the salesclerk, “Do you know who I am? I am the city’s fifth most important planner for the Institutional Guild of Organized Racketeers.”

Celeste snickered. Was that a real position?

“Ooooo! The city’s fifth most important I.G.O.R,” the salesclerk said in a tone dripping with sarcasm. “In that case, let me escort you to the back counter where I’ll get you two more forms and only charge you ten dollars.”

Celeste wandered past a bin of dark red buttons and one of lighter tints. On the other aisles she could see other hues of red. Oddly, there were only red buttons. It would make much more sense for the store to be named the Red Button Shop or something along those lines if they were only going to have red buttons.

The man was still shouting in the other room. “I ask for you to perform a simple task and you can’t manage that. I don’t know why Mercutio hired you. Where is Mercutio?”

“He’s out.”

Celeste stopped next to a man filling out a form on a clipboard in the corner. He held a tray with two buttons in it. He wore torn jeans and a plaid polo shirt. The front was unbuttoned enough that she could see a black t-shirt underneath that said, “Even Orcs Recycle.” The man was about her age, maybe twenty-two, and handsome, in a goofy, hipster sort of way with his big black glasses.

He flashed a dimpled smile as she approached.

“Excuse me—” Celeste began.

His smile faded. “You’re not from around these parts, are you?”

Celeste shook her head.

“How’d you know?”

He shrugged.

“I just moved to the Hawthorne-Belmont area,” she said. “Maybe you could help me with something. . . .” She snuck her cellphone out of her purse. It still said it was 11:35 am. She shivered.

The man went on. “I live a couple blocks off Hawthorne. It’s a nice neighborhood, but the commute to work is a pain, isn’t it?”

Not for her. Her apartment was only six blocks from the library, but she wasn’t about to tell some stranger in this weird shop that.

Celeste cleared her throat. “You must know this neighborhood pretty well. Can you tell me how to get to—?”

He laughed like she’d made a joke. “No, I don’t live in this neighborhood. I live between Hawthorne and Belmont.”

“Huh?” This was the Hawthorne-Belmont neighborhood. Hadn’t he just said he lived in the neighborhood? Maybe she didn’t know the neighborhood division system. She was about to ask him for directions back to Hawthorne again, when his cell phone vibrated in his back pocket.

He took out the cell phone and whispered into it. “I’m in the button shop. I can’t talk.” He glanced over his shoulder.

One of the old women stood up and growled. She pointed to a sign above the man’s head that said, “This is an electronic-free zone.”

Celeste glanced out the room’s door. The city’s fifth most important I.G.O.R. was still there. His arms were crossed and a thick stack of bills sat on the counter. That looked like a lot of money for a replacement button. The employee took a bite of a sandwich and said something Celeste couldn’t understand. Celeste ran her hand through a jar of buttons. A sign above them said, “Half-off: we make no guarantees of effectiveness.”

One of the Asian women growled. Celeste stopped running her hand through the jar. Maybe that wasn’t allowed.The man with the glasses extended his hand. “My name is Patrick, by the way.”

Reluctantly, Celeste shook his hand. There was something strange about him. He looked normal enough, but she had a feeling she might not want to talk to anyone here longer than necessary.

“And your name?” he asked.

She smiled and used the usual reply she gave when transients on the bus asked her personal information. “Sorry. I don’t give my name to strangers.”

He chuckled. “Ah, yes, the power of a name. Very reasonable of you. I’ll just have to think of a way to earn your trust in the next three minutes, so you won’t think I’m going to steal all your magic powers.”

Celeste rolled her eyes and snorted.

The store clerk strode swiftly toward Celeste. “Here’s your tray and your checklist.”

The young woman pushed a tray into Celeste’s hands. On it was a form, a pencil and the half-eaten sandwich. The clerk removed her sandwich from the tray and took a bite. It made a squishy, wet noise as she bit into it. The lettuce-like plant quivered. Celeste stared in fixated horror.

“Well?” the lady asked.

Celeste handed the tray back to the clerk. “Thanks, but I don’t need this. I just came in here to—”

“What is it with you customers today? I usually just get polite villain types who keep to themselves, and little old ladies trying to take over the world. Do you think you’re better than everyone else and you don’t have to fill out paperwork, too?”

Celeste shook her head. “No, I was just hoping you could you tell me how to find—”

The clerk sighed in exasperation and took out a pen from her apron pocket. “What color was it?”

“What?”

“What color was the button? Did it match the fabric?” The woman nodded toward Celeste’s chest. Celeste glanced down at her gray sweater.

“Um, well, actually, I wasn’t in here because of . . .” But Celeste was here now. She might as well find a replacement. “It wasn’t gray like the jacket. It was a different kind of gray. A cool gray with tiny white and black speckles.”

Patrick flashed a dazzling smile at her. “Like licorice ice cream? The kind that stains your tongue black. I swear they make it from squid ink.”

Celeste grinned. “Yeah. I haven’t seen gray ice cream since I was a kid.” It was hard to look away from his eyes. They were hypnotic. She found herself smiling.

“Licorice ice cream? Disgusting,” said the shop employee. She took a bite of her sandwich. There were only a couple bites left but it convulsed.

“If you’re free after you find your button, we could take a walk over to Ben and Jerry’s and get some licorice ice cream?” His smile was so charming, Celeste couldn’t help blushing.

She didn’t want to like some strange man she’d met in this strange shop, but there was something about him that made her think about taking off his clothes and kissing him all over. He toyed with the buttons on his shirt.

“Ahem,” said the salesclerk. “Do you want me to help you locate a replacement button or do you love birds want to keep flirting?”

Celeste’s face grew hot. “It was a licorice-ice-cream-gray button.”

Patrick turned back to his form.

The clerk checked something off on the clipboard. “Size and dimension.”

“Um, it’s kind of big. About two inches across, maybe a quarter of an inch thick.”

“Shit, that’s a giganotosaurus of a button! What dimension is it from?”

“Huh?” Celeste asked.

“The Huh Dimension. Whatever.” The young woman checked something off on the list. “Any magical properties? Special functions?”

Celeste laughed. “Like aligning planets or destroying small countries? Yeah, right.”

She checked something else off. “Do you know the maker? The year it was produced?”

Celeste ran her hand over the worn fuzz of the sweater. “My grandma made the sweater about six years ago.” Just before she’d lost her battle with cancer.

The store clerk rolled her eyes. “Not the maker of the jacket, the creator of the button. Duh! What dimension are you from?”

Celeste certainly felt like she was in another dimension right now. Patrick gave her an embarrassed smile.

“It doesn’t matter what button I buy to replace it,” Celeste said. “My button didn’t match the sweater. I think it was just something Grandma found somewhere and sewed on when I lost the first one.”

The first button had fallen off a week after Grandma had made it for her. Grandma had said, “This button will bring you riches and power beyond your imagining. Use it wisely.” When Celeste had lost it, Grandma had muttered under her breath about the carelessness of youth. She’d sewn the second one on extra well.

The sales girl tapped her pencil against her chin. “Mmm. Twice lost. Twice as valuable. We’d better get you something in the same category.”

She pulled a cord on the wall. A wooden door slid down from the ceiling to the floor so that the wall of red button was obscured. She lifted it again. The red buttons were gone. Gray buttons filled the bins.

“Intruder alert!” squawked the parrot. The clerk shoved the tray at Celeste and ran back to the front counter.

Celeste looked at the cord and wall, trying to figure out the mechanics behind it. She pulled on the cord and watched it roll down, then she pulled it up again. The buttons were still gray. As far as she could tell, there weren’t any mechanisms. It was . . . magic.

Patrick set his form on the counter, studying her thoughtfully. She glanced at the old women. The fabric of their dresses was gray with silver dragons embroidered on the silk. Celeste blinked. They had been wearing red, hadn’t they? A thrill rushed through her. Her grandma would have loved this shop! Maybe she had gotten the other buttons here. She no longer doubted the first button would have brought her riches beyond all her imaginings.

She looked to Patrick, but he was turned away from her, texting on his cell phone. He eyed the two Asian women and snuck into an aisle of gray buttons where they couldn’t see him.

Celeste blinked. All the buttons in the aisles were now gray, not just those along the wall. She stared in awe.

“Did you get all of these from this Portland or the other Portland?” the shop clerk asked someone.

“Does it matter? Mercutio doesn’t ask questions. Why do you ask questions?” The voice was thin and nasally, maybe an old man’s.

“They’re all plastic manufactured crap. Empty vessels. They don’t have enough charge in them to make a rock band break up.”

Celeste peeked in at them. The man who had come in was short and hunched over. He wore a brown jacket she thought she recognized earlier that day.

The old man laughed. “Yeah, that was a pretty good one Mercutio bought from me. You remember how it introduced Yoko Ono to the Beatles?”

Celeste shook her head. Every moment here got weirder and weirder.

The shop girl pushed the buttons away. “Yeah, well, these are all worthless. They don’t even cause flatulence to the wearer or make soufflés deflate.”

There was a crash behind Celeste. Bits of plastic and metal lay scattered across the back counter. One of the Asian ladies stood next to Patrick with a mallet in her hand. He stood with his mouth ajar, hands outstretched toward what had once been his cell phone.

Wow, and Celeste had thought the library was strict.

The old man glanced over his shoulders with the paranoia of someone who smoked too much pot. Celeste exited the button room and ventured closer. He looked like the button thief.

“Look at this.” His nasally voice rose. “It is a replica of a—”

“Do you think I want a replica of a magic button? Give me one that calls somewhere when you push it. Or at least gives me a dial tone.”

“Well, I do have one more. I was saving it for last. . . .” He reached into his pocket and held up a gray button.
Actually it was a gray button with tiny flecks of black and white. It was the one from Celeste’s jacket!

She rushed toward the counter. “You stole that from my sweater!”

The old man turned, horror filling his eyes. His thin gray hair was combed over his bald head. His long, hooked nose was goblin-like. “No. I found it. I found it on the ground.”

He was that pervey old man. “Copping a feel wasn’t enough for you? You stole my button too!”

“No, that wasn’t me! It was um, a different short man with a bad comb-over.”

“Surprise, surprise. You’re trying to sell us stolen buttons.” The shop clerk picked up the last bit of her sandwich again and shoved it into her mouth. She licked her fingers.

The old man scooted closer to the shopkeeper, holding it up. “Look at this beauty. Do you know what it has the power to do when you push it? And it was just sitting there on the bosom of that mortal.”

The salesclerk said around a mouthful, “She isn’t a mortal. She entered this shop of her own free will.”
Portland just kept getting weirder.

The salesclerk strummed her black nails against the counter. “And look how short she is. She obviously isn’t human.”

Celeste crossed her arms. How insulting. What did they think she was, an elf? A fairy? Then again, maybe she was some kind of magical creature. Maybe there had been more to Grandma than an eccentric old woman who knitted and collected . . . buttons.

Celeste glanced at Patrick. He turned away, examining something along the wall.

The clerk leaned toward the old man. “If it isn’t lost, we can’t buy it. I should report you for illegal buttons dealing. That’s a Type 4 infraction.” She reached under the counter and set a new sandwich on a stack of forms. Something with glowing eyes stared out from between the slices of bread.

“Here, I’ll give it back to her. No harm done. No need to call Buttons and Vice on me.” The little man held the button out to Celeste.

She snatched it from his grimy fingers and wiped it on her jeans, glaring at him all the while. She wished she had hand sanitizer with her.

“Do you want me to sew it on your jacket?” asked the clerk. “We don’t charge much for that, just your firstborn child.”

“No, thank you. I can wait until I get home and do it myself.” She shoved it into her pocket.

“Are you sure? Look at him over there, drooling, planning how he’s going to get it out of your pocket and into his hands.”

He was a rather creepy little man. The more Celeste looked at him, the more he resembled a goblin.

“Actually, if you just tell me how to get back onto Hawthorne, I’ll be okay. I got lost and wandered in here to get directions—”

“Did you say lost?” asked a deep voice. The curtains decorating the wall behind the counter were thrown back and a tall, spindly man emerged. He wore a top hat and a purple cape. Celeste wondered what it was about Portlanders and their interesting fashion choices.

The clerk quickly covered her sandwich with a form. “Oh, Mr. Mercutio, I didn’t hear you come in.” All traces of insolence left her tone.

He ignored her. “When you say ‘lost,’ do you mean you had difficulty finding your way? And you had a feeling you didn’t know where you belonged any longer?”

Celeste tugged at her collar. “Um, I guess you could say that.”

The little goblin-like man clapped his hands together and snickered. “Hear that? She’s lost. That means her button is lost, too. And since I was the one to bring you the button—”

Mercutio’s eyes narrowed. “The store is now closed. Everyone out. You-Don’t-Fucking-Want-to-Know-My-Name, see the customers to the door.”

Celeste turned toward the door. She was glad to get out of this freak show.

Mercutio held out his cane in front of Celeste and barred her exit. “Except for you, my dear. You are lost and we have a special place for the lost.”

She stared up into his gleaming black eyes. “Um . . . is that in front of a map of Portland?”

The man cackled. He grabbed her by the elbow and pushed her toward the back of the shop. Celeste ground her Birkenstock clad heels into the floor. “I think I just remembered my way. Yes, yes, I remember how to get to Hawthorne now.”

He shoved her into the back room. Celeste screamed, ran around a display, and threw a pin cushion at him. She wasn’t about to become another missing person in Portland.

“Don’t push my buttons,” he said.

That actually sounded like a good plan. Celeste grabbed a handful of gray buttons from a jar labelled “Minor charms: $2 each” and threw those at him. They sparked and sounded like popcorn going off. He leapt to the side. She snatched up an abalone button and pushed on it. Mercutio’s shoelaces became untied and he stumbled. She threw that one down and pushed another. A gust of wind blew, knocking them both to the floor.

“Stop it! Buttons are not toys!” He crawled toward her and managed to grab hold of her ankle. He shouted toward the other room. “Yuki! Suki! Get in here.”

Celeste kicked him in the face and scrambled to another bin. The wind died down and she was able to stand. She pushed a gray and green button. Nothing happened. She twisted it. A banana split appeared in her hands. She threw that at him.

Two growls came from behind her. Before she could grab another button, the two elderly Asian women closed in.
Mercutio righted himself and straightened his cape. He waved a gloved hand at her. “Take her to the back. We have another lost item to add to our inventory.”

Celeste had a pretty good idea what happened to all those missing people in Portland—and she didn’t want to become another. “You can have my button if that’s what this is about,” she said.

Mercutio shook his head. “We specialize in buttons, but I’m always open to trading in more valuable inventory.”

The old women tugged her backwards. Celeste tried to tear herself free, but they were stronger than the average old lady.

She screamed, “Help! Someone help me! These crazy people are going to do something to me!”

They dragged her past the aisles of gray buttons and toward an emergency exit. Mercutio opened the door.
Celeste was desperate by this point. She managed to elbow one of the ladies, which she did feel guilty about since her parents had taught her to be respectful to her elders. She dug out her gray button from her pocket.

She held it up. “Do you know what this button does? Let me go or I’ll press it.”

The old ladies stepped back. Mercutio froze. The nearest buttons rattled in their bins. Celeste edged around her attackers and backed out of the room. She kept her eyes on them the entire time. Buttons floated up from their bins and rose into the air. With each step she took, more hovered. Buttons bobbed into the air toward her, floating around her in a swarm.
Celeste had a bad feeling about this. More and more clustered and danced around her.

The salesclerk stared at Celeste in wide-eyed horror. “One button to rule them all,” the clerk muttered.

Celeste managed to make it almost to the front door when the parrot lunged at her. It beat her with its wings and pecked at her arm. She dropped the licorice-ice-cream-gray button. All the buttons in the air fell to the floor. Hers was lost among them.

Mercutio laughed manically and dove toward her. He skidded on buttons and crashed into a display, sending even more buttons across the floor. Celeste dove for the door. She would have made it, but it burst open with a crash, sending her stumbling back. She tripped on a scattering of buttons and fell into a display of fabrics.

A wave of men in black suits, opaque sunglasses, and what looked like ray guns swarmed into the store. They scrambled over the buttons and fell over each other.

“What the—” Mercutio froze. “Blast it! Buttons and Vice!”

“Hands on your head! Everyone on the ground,” someone shouted.

Celeste did as she was told. Mercutio scrambled on his hands and knees toward the backroom. A ray of blue lightning shot out of a gun and zapped the storeowner in the chest. He crumpled to the floor.

The two old ladies exchanged annoyed glances, growled, then dropped to their knees, their hands on their heads. Soon, the buttons were being swept up by the men in suits. Mercutio and the old ladies were handcuffed and hauled out.

Patrick helped her to her feet. “Are you all right?”

Celeste nodded.

“It looks like we got here just in time. We thought we were going to catch an illegal button dealer today, a simple Type 4 Violation of illegal button collection, but they’re going to get charged with a Type 1. That’s illegal collection of a human being.” He nodded at the emergency exit, which was ajar. “And I bet we’re gonna find a whole lot more in the back room.”
Another agent closed the door.

“Also they destroyed your cell phone,” Celeste added.

“Actually, that was perfectly legal. They had signs posted.”

One of the agents walking past them carried Celeste’s button on a tray.

“Hey, that’s mine!” She snatched it up.

The agent dropped the tray with a clatter and drew his ray gun. Celeste raised the button in front of herself protectively like a shield. The buttons in the bins and on the floors vibrated.

In an instant, Patrick was between them. “Whoa! No need to make a fuss. This button was stolen and has rightfully been returned to the owner. It’s no longer classified lost and therefore not in our jurisdiction.” He eyed it enviously.

“I’m going to have a word with the chief about this.” The agent lowered the gun, but scowled like he had wanted to use it on someone that day and was disappointed he’d been denied the privilege. He stalked off.

Celeste clutched her button to her chest. She needed to sew the button back on her sweater right now. She headed straight to a display with spools of thread and needles.

Patrick leaned against a counter. “Good idea. We don’t want you to lose it again. Wouldn’t want it to fall into the wrong hands.”

Celeste poked a blue thread through the eye of the needle. “Yeah, and what would the wrong hands do with it?”

“In your world? Nothing, it’s just a button. In this world, well. . . .” He played with the buttons on the front of his shirt.

“What is this world? What are you?” She stared into his blue-gray eyes. It was hard to resist falling into the depths.

“You really don’t know?”

She squeezed her button. It was easier to concentrate. “I think my grandma did. She must have gotten my button here. She’s the whole reason I moved here, actually. Years ago she told me I would like living in the Hawthorne neighborhood.”
She took off her sweater and sewed the button into place. She crisscrossed the stitches and made sure it was on good. Then she looped the needle through a few extra times to be safe.

A burly man with a white, Salvador Dali style mustache strode over. He eyed Celeste with a stern frown. “You’re the civilian in this mess?”

“Civilian?”
“Yes, you’re a human, aren’t you?”

“Maybe,” Celeste said with a smile. She was more unique than she’d thought. More than that, for the first time in a long time she felt powerful. She tied a knot on the underside of the sweater.

“Did you see what was in the back room?” the chief asked.

“No. What was in there?”

“Some lost items. That’s all you need to know. Now, we can’t just have anyone wandering into our dimension. This is for your own good, Miss.” The chief held up a copper button with a pearly-white center. He pressed it. “You will forget all you’ve seen.”

No way! This was the kind of day she wanted to remember.

Celeste pressed her thumb on her button. “No, you’ll forget all you’ve seen.”

The man’s brow crinkled and he blinked. He glanced around in confusion. “Um, what was I saying?” he asked.
Celeste smiled.

Patrick laughed. “Well done!” He leaned in closer. “I don’t want you to forget today. If you did, you would forget me, and you wouldn’t let me treat you to a cone of licorice ice cream.” He did that thing that made her stomach fluttery again, staring into her eyes. Her heart quickened and she realized he stood so close she could smell his mint breath.
He rubbed at the buttons on his collar. Warmth flushed to her face. By now she was pretty sure magic existed, and he was using it on her.

Her words came out in a breathy rush. “You’re trying to hypnotize me with your powers, aren’t you? You’re using buttons on me.”

“That’s a joke, right?” He chuckled. “If I had the ability to hypnotize women, I’d probably have a girlfriend about now.”

“So what’s that feeling in the pit of my stomach, that fluttery longing?” Celeste blushed, realizing how cheesy she sounded.
“Probably just hunger. We were talking about ice cream, weren’t we?” He winked at her.

He continued rubbing at the buttons at his collar. It took all of Celeste’s willpower not to throw her arms around him and kiss him. She raised her hand to the button on her sweater and grabbed it. His hypnotism died away.

“You should be ashamed of yourself!” she said. “Trying to seduce me with button magic. You’re going to tell me how to get back to Hawthorne Boulevard—in my dimension. Right now.”

He toed the floor with a sneaker. “Um, right. Make a right out the door and head toward the dead end. About halfway down the street is a boutique on the right. Just after the boutique make a right between the two buildings. That will take you to your dimension.”

Celeste put on her sweater and turned to go.

“Wait, that’s it? Aren’t you going to ask me what your button does?” he asked.

“Thanks anyway, but I have a pretty good guess.” One button to rule them all and all that jazz.

Celeste followed the directions. At the entrance to Hawthorne, she glanced at her cell phone clock. It was 11:36 am. That was better.

A man with a Mohawk peddling a cart full of art behind his bicycle rode by. Three teens dressed as dinosaurs passed Celeste. Oddly, she felt like she belonged to Hawthorne now. She took a stray stone from the sidewalk and made a little mark on the brick building where she exited from the other world.

She might like to go back some day and find out more about her roots. And when she did, she’d be sure to wear the sweater Grandma had made.
_______________

Sarina Dorie has sold over 100 stories to markets like Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, IGMS, Sword and Laser, Cosmos, Perihelion, Bards and Sages, New Myths, Flagship, Neo-Opsis, and Crossed Genres.

 

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