Fargo, North Dakota
My name is Charlotte and I’m a Keeper.
I think that’s a good thing.
I mean I’m not exactly sure what a Keeper does so I can’t be sure it’s totally a good thing.
But I can tell you something I am completely sure about; I should’ve figured it out way before now. It’s embarrassing, really, considering that figuring stuff out is what I do best!
I’ve read a ton of detective novels and comics. I’ve watched every episode of every crime show, every whodunnit series, every Inspector, Chief Inspector, Detective, and Priest turned Inspector show! I mean I’m really good at figuring things out. Everybody knows that! Lost your keys? I’ll find them. Don’t remember where the car is? I’ll find it. Missing a sock? I can reunite it with its partner.
But for some reason I didn’t see this Keeper thing coming. I mean, like, how many clues have there been and how long have I been missing them? Days? Weeks? Years?
When I mentioned this to my mom, she told me I was being too hard on myself because sometimes the most obvious clues don’t become obvious until we look at them from a different perspective.
That’s great advice, but you can only look at a clue from a different perspective if you already know that what you’re looking at is a clue! Right?
Unfortunately, my sister had to chime in with her two cents. She said I lack “situational awareness” and if I were to get my head out of all those books and turn my computer off maybe then I’ll notice what’s going on around me.
What does she know? She’s eleven and I’m thirteen. I’m a teenager for goodness’ sake! I mean, all she ever does is spend all her time in the kitchen baking. What does she know about “situational awareness” when she’s always situated in front of an oven!
But darn it, she turned out to be right.
I needed to refocus.
I glanced through my favorite Lauren Child book, Rubie Redfort Look Into My Eyes then knew what I needed to do; pull myself together and get into detective mode! I needed to find those clues that I never saw then look at them from another point of view so I would see them as the true clues they were!
I decided to look back at what I’d done so far today to see if I could find anything that stood out. I got out my journal, opened to a fresh page, put on some music, and got down to thinking.
After about ten minutes I had listed two possible clues, a clue that was so obvious I didn’t think it was a real clue, and a clue that finally led me to an answer.
Here they are.
Clue number one; the fawn.
I was walking down the driveway to get the mail. I do this about every day and every day, in the same spot in the big field next to the driveway, is a young fawn. It’s always standing there on the other side of the fence, watching me. It’s almost like it knows when I’m about to come out the house because I never see it walk out of the woods, it’s always already there. It doesn’t run away when I get close instead it follows me all the way to the mailbox then follows me back then stops in the same spot. The look on its face reminds me of the way a puppy looks when it wants to play. Come to think about it, I remember how it sometimes used to jump and run around in circles after I’d walk past her on my way back to the house.
Looking back, you’d think that sort of clue would jump out at me, but it didn’t until now. It’s strange to consider this as a clue because it felt perfectly natural to have a baby deer want to play with me. But hm, how many kids do have baby deer want to play with them? None of my friends have ever mentioned anything about finishing dinner then going outside to play tag with a deer or romp through the woods with a couple of bucks. Maybe that is strange? Maybe I’m strange?
Clue number two; Howard.
Howard’s a spider that lives in the mailbox. He’s huge! And brown. And huge! His body is covered in fur, and he has eight big unblinking eyes that stare at you when you look at him.
I see him every time I open the door to the mailbox. Every day, he watches my hand slide in, grab the mail and slide back out. He never tries to bite or even move out of the way. It’s like he knows I’m okay. If I were him and I saw this big ole hand come into my house every day, I’d probably be all over it, biting it everywhere! But he doesn’t. Maybe he knows I’m okay.
Note: The deer was more obvious, but I think Howard is a clue as well. Again, it’s just a feeling I have.
The obvious clue; the package.
Usually, the packages we get delivered come in a white plastic envelope that’s sealed shut. The one I found today was wrapped in brown paper and tied with a string. It looked about the size of a thick paperback book. As soon as I pulled it out, I knew there was something different about it. It felt, I don’t know, old and important.
I was surprised to see that it was addressed to me! I didn’t remember ordering anything and I certainly didn’t recognize the name or the return address. It was from a Mrs. P in Fargo, North Dakota. No street address or zip code. Finding the package made me feel a lot better because this was definitely something out of the ordinary. This sort of mystery was right up my alley!
I ran past the dancing deer and up to my room and went straight to my desk. I laid the mystery down and looked it over closely to see if I could find anything strange. There were no loose hairs with incriminating DNA or greasy fingerprints ready to run through the Interpol criminal data base. Darn.
I picked it up and flipped it over front to back and side to side searching for anything that might reveal who this Mrs. P from Fargo North Dakota might be. Still nothing.
I placed it back on the desk and took a closer look at the string. I noticed it wasn’t technically a piece of string, it was twine. The type gardeners use to tie tomato plants to a stake. I knew this because I’ve tied plenty of tomatoes to plenty of stakes in my grandmother’s garden.
Note: Ah ha! Maybe Mrs. P is a gardener! (Or my grandmother!)
I took out a magnifying glass and looked closer at the knot holding it together. I recognized it right away as a square knot which, by the way, had been pulled very tight. Did this mean Mrs. P wanted to make sure it didn’t open or perhaps she didn’t know her own strength!
Note: Perhaps Mrs. P was a two-time world champion arm wrestler and a gardener! Just sayin’.
I didn’t think I could get the knot undone with my fingers, so I tried tapping it with the eraser part of a number 2 pencil, (I read somewhere that the vibration can sometimes loosen the knot) but that didn’t work either. Left with no other option, I pulled out a pair of scissors and cut the twine and pulled it from around the package then laid it in a small heap on the desk.
The brown paper wrapper was secured to itself by a single piece of clear tape. I carefully slid my finger under the wrapper and pried the tape up. I almost got it off cleanly, but a few strands of the brown paper had managed to hang on tightly. Unwrapping it was like opening a special gift, so I did slowly, savoring the feeling of excitement and wonder.
Note: I was right, it was a book. A thick one.
I laid it down carefully and gave it a quick once over. The book was about an inch thick and bound in super soft, tan colored leather. It was held closed by a leather strap, also tan, that went all the way around. Two leather hoops kept the strap in place.
I lifted it to my nose and gave it a whiff.
Note: It smelled like saddle soap.
It looked like someone had taken very good care of it but there were still traces of dark colored stains along the edges and the strap looked like it had been opened and closed a lot. I undid it and found the words The Birshtein Family stamped into the leather. They had been carefully tooled and filled with gold leaf. Each letter stood out clearly.
I had that feeling again that it was important, so I gently lifted open the front cover.
I found a piece of paper folded over.
I picked it up.
Note: It smelled lightly of vanilla.
I unfolded it.
This is what was it said.
My name is Mrs. Privet. Today you will find out you’re a Keeper.
I look forward to meeting you.
Note: I have to say, this was probably the most straight forward clue I’d seen so far, no doubt. I mean, it told me that the “P” in Mrs. P stood for Privet. It doesn’t get any easier than that!
But what’s a Keeper? Is that good or bad? And how does she know that I’m one of them?
I slid the note back into the book then flipped through the pages looking for more answers. I read a few pages, but it didn’t make much sense.
I think it was a bunch of stories.
I closed the book and laid it back down. Who is Mrs. Privet? How did she know I was a Keeper? What the heck is a Keeper? Is there such a thing? Why would I be one and not know it? This couldn’t be real it had to be some kind of joke.
I felt deflated. The package, the book, the note! It all had to be fake, and then it all made sense. I knew exactly who would do such a diabolical thing.
My sister Elizabeth.
I bet she must have sent the book and wrote the letter to get back at me for daring her to jump off the roof of the shed into an old pile of straw. I mean, how was I supposed to know there was a family of skunks living in there?
But I turned out to be wrong.
Here’s how I knew.
The last clue; Lizzy’s convincing excuse.
I confronted her in the kitchen. She was at the counter stirring something in a bowl with a wooden spoon while glancing at a recipe she had opened up on her tablet.
I barged in and started accusing. “You sent me this book and the wrote the letter! Didn’t you MRS. P!”
Elizabeth put the wooden spoon down and ran her finger down the recipe. “What?”
I showed her the book. “You heard me! This book, it was you!”
She turned to look at me.
I gave her a I-know-it-was-you look and shook the book in the air for extra effect.
She turned back to the bowl to continue stirring then said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’ve never seen that book before.”
I went and stood next to her. “Oh, really. So, you’re telling me that you didn’t create a bunch of stories then bind them in leather then stamp The Birshtein Family in gold lettering then write a letter telling me that I’m a Keeper then sign it using the name Mrs. Privet then wrap it in brown paper and mail it to me just to get back at me for making you jump into the skunk family?”
Elizabeth calmy placed the spoon onto the counter. I remember the click sound it made. She looked at me with her are-you-serious face and said, “Do you hear yourself talking? Do you really think I would waste all that time to do all that just to get back at you?” She put her hands on her hips.
She had a point. And besides, everything did sound pretty crazy after saying it out loud. But I didn’t want to admit that, so I said, “Oh, yeah?”
She tilted her head to the side and said, “Yeah.”
We stared at each other for a couple of seconds then I asked her, “Where’s mom?”
I remember seeing a hint of victory flicker in her eyes. She turned back to her bowl and replied confidently, “Down at the barn.”
Later on, she told me I had mumbled something derogatory about situational awareness, but I don’t remember that part.
Note: The last clue; the barn, my mom’s job and the answer to it all.
I made my way down to our barn. It’s where my mom spent most of her time. Not because she was wrapped up in herself but because that was her job, her passion.
She’s a veterinarian.
First, let me tell you something about the animals my mom looks after. She used to be the vet for a small nearby zoo. It went out of business which made her worried that the animals would be sold off one by one. She didn’t want that to happen, so she bought them all and brought them here.
Before you even say anything, no, we don’t have lions, tigers, bears and alligators roaming the property. The zoo was more of a rescue place than a zoo zoo. The animals we have are mostly small mammals and birds. I don’t spend a lot of time down here so I can’t tell you exactly what it is we have. I have seen a couple of horses as well but there’s something strange about them. They look like horses but don’t look like horses. Kind of like a real old car looks like a car but not like the ones we have today.
When I got close to the barn, I heard a voice coming from inside.
I didn’t recognize who it belonged to.
I pushed open the door and saw my mom talking to a man wearing a hat with the word Arcadia embroidered on the front.
I still didn’t know who he was.
They both looked at me as I came in. My mom had a concerned look on her face which quickly changed to a smile when she saw me. “Ah, there you are, we were just talking about you. I’d like to introduce you to someone. His name is Qbit.”
He took off his hat and his hair sprung out all over the place. “Hello Charlotte.” He extended his hand.
I shook his hand and said, “Qbit. That’s a name I haven’t heard before.”
“It’s an old family name.” Without pausing he added, “I see you’ve got the book.” He looked at it in my hand.
The statement caught me off guard. I looked at the book in my hand as if just noticing it. “Oh…yeah.”
I looked at my mom.
She said, “Oh my goodness, it’s here, already? Can I see?”
I handed it to her and said, “How did you know about it? How did either of you know, I just got it out of the mailbox.”
“Honey, why don’t you sit down, and we’ll explain.”
I went over to one of the old animal crates. Just as I was about to sit, something about what was written on it caught my eye. Fargo, North Dakota was stamped on it. There was something else I noticed. Charlie, the Lemur, was sitting on a crate across from me eating Swedish Fish. That in itself isn’t strange because he absolutely loves those things, it was what was stamped on the crate- Fargo, North Dakota. I looked at the other crates and noticed that all of them had Fargo, North Dakota stamped on them.
“Why do all the crates have Fargo, North Dakota stamped on them?”
“That’s where the animals come from.”
I looked at her. “I thought the animals came from the zoo you used to work at?”
“The original animals did; the other animals came in those crates.”
I was perplexed. “Other animals? What other animals?”
I noticed the look of confusion on her face. “What do you mean what other animals? She spread her arms and looked around.
I looked to where she was looking and for the first time, noticed there were animals everywhere. I mean EVERYWHERE! Standing, sitting, perched and laying! Two legs, four legs and one with four legs and wings.
It was a horse.
And it was black.
And it had wings.
My sister’s words: situational awareness rang in my head.
Then, from somewhere inside my head, like I was thinking it, I heard a voice say, I really love the red ones.
Somehow, I knew that Charlie had just said that. I turned to look at him. In fact, everyone and everything turned to look at him.
When he noticed everyone staring at him, the red Swedish Fish in his hand halted about midway from the bag to his mouth. I heard him say What?
Someone or something coughed.
He looked at me.
My mouth was hanging open.
He said, Ohhh, riiight. We weren’t supposed to say anything to you until after Qbit said it was okay. My bad.
He brought the candy to his mouth and chewed it.
Everyone’s head swung towards me.
My mom recovered first. She put her hands up in front of her. “Charlotte, Honey, don’t freak out. It’s okay.”
I closed my mouth, then suddenly, like water out of a hose, everything came rushing into my head.
The leather-bound book.
Mrs. Privet’s letter.
Her written words; You’re a Keeper.
The crates with Fargo, North Dakota stamped on them.
The animals that looked a little different.
Charlie talking in my head.
Mom’s a veterinarian.
Then I understood. It was crystal clear. It all made sense.
My mom’s a Keeper.
I’m a Keeper.
I was finally able to close my mouth.
Lucky licked his fingers and said, See, I told you she’d figure it out.
Qbit came over to me and asked, “You okay?”
“I just heard Charlie talk in my head, right?”
My mom came over and put her arm around my shoulder. “Yes, you did. We all did.”
“Then I think I’m okay.”
Just then the door flew open. Elizbeth walked in with a platter full of cookies. “Who wants cookies!”
Everyone looked at her.
She stopped short. “Okay, that’s weird. What did I miss?”
Lucky hopped over to her and grabbed a cookie. Charlotte heard me talk in her head.
She said, She did? How’d that work out?
Look for yourself. He pointed at me with the cookie.
I stared at her in disbelief. “You can hear him!”
“Uh, hello, we all can.” She reached into her back pocket and pulled out a book that was about an inch thick and bound in brown leather.
So, here I sit, back at my desk with the book, one of Elizabeth’s cookies, and a tall glass of milk.
This time I know that I ‘m a Keeper.
And it’s a good thing.
I also know what I need to do next.
Qbit explained to me that the book I have is a copy of a section from a much bigger book. The larger book contains the stories of all the Keepers from all over the universe. It details family information, the animals they cared for, what planets they were on, and other information deemed important. Each family wrote about their own history any way they wanted to. Some created lists of events, some created colorful timelines, and put the information down in the form of elaborate stories.
A long time ago, someone tried to steal the book, so in order to keep it safe, it was hidden away. To this day, very few people know of its whereabouts.
However, the Keepers thought it was very important that the book and all the information it contained, should not be forgotten. So, they decided to copy all that information into hundreds of smaller books. These books contain the individual stories of each family, that’s why their names are printed on the front.
The real genius part about all this is instead of sending them to that family, they were sent to different families so that they would be able to learn and remember each other’s stories. These copies, to this day are still being circulated. And of course, the original book is still updated so new books about new family stories are always being created and sent out. This way. In case the original book falls into the wrong hands and destroyed, the stories would not be forgotten.
My job is to read the book and learn as much as I can from it. I had asked Qbit what is it that I should remember. He told me that I was good at figuring things out, so I’ll know when I see it.
He also told me that I’d see him again.
I grabbed the cookie, took a big bite when my mouth suddenly caught on fire. The cookie was full of chunks of hot pepper! I gulped down a big swig of milk as my tongue went numb. I noticed a slip of paper on the plate.
I grabbed it.
On it was written…
Now we’re even. Liz.
So now I sit here at my desk, again, after I was finally able to get feeling back in lips, ready to start my new adventure as a Keeper.
I opened the book and started to read….