It stood amidst the war torn hamlet. It was December of 1944, the snow mixed with smoke and ashes, the cold wind biting and cruel. A little shop, mostly ignored by the opposing soldiers mistaking it for a regular second hand shop of odds and ends. Like most of the buildings in the area, the little shop was worse for wear, unlike its neighbors, the only thing indicating that it was in the middle of war, were its broken windows. The shop sign barely hanging, cut in half. The word Lost, written in what once was bright blue ink on a backdrop of cherry wood, its other half; & Found, on the ground and covered in ash and snow. The shop, otherwise, is in good condition, walls still stood, a mysterious feat considering the bombing, evidenced by the rubble around it.
A troop of soldiers were walking on the street where the shop stood. Easy on their march as the ground they covered were now safe zones. The boys, merely within the ages of eighteen and twenty five, barely out of their youth were covered in grime, their eyes are hollow by what they have seen and yet all is not lost, despite the sadness and trauma, some kept their innocence. All are innocent at some point, some may assume their innocence are gone, but not really; it is merely waiting in the deepest recesses of the soul, if one is brave enough to go back, to see the world in color again, to have some little bit of light and hope left, then all is not lost. Innocence is just a curiosity away.
A boy in particular, not quite a man yet. This young soldier, Private Gregory Hutchins, grew up in a farm, surrounded by cows and chickens in their little town, he was not a worldly boy; but what he lacked in experience he made up in curiosity. It was curiosity that led him to walk away from his troop and enter the mysteriously intact shop. Side-stepping the few rubble covering the crooked doorway, he drank in the interior of the strange shop, the small space held rows and rows of shelves taller than him, housing random things, from a set of conspicuous looking keys to advanced looking technology. Private Hutchins picked up a very small rectangular glass thing with three buttons on the side, on its back is an image of an apple with a bite on it. He was about to press one of its buttons when he heard a very polite: 'Ahem'.
Hutchins turned fast and aimed his rifle at the sound (forgive him, force of habit and training). The old man raised his hands in surrender, calm despite having a rifle pointed at him. Hutchins, although suspicious of strangers (again, training) could not feel any danger from the old man, his gut feeling and quick appraisal was enough to appease his wary mind. Describing the old man as 'old' would be an understatement he looked ancient, his wispy, white hair anchored on a head peppered with liver spots could be counted (around twenty five persistent buggers); his back was so hunched that it wouldn't spill a cup of water if placed on top of it; his skin was leathery brown, crinkled and sagged on crooked corners. But despite his appearance, the old man was perfectly healthy and energetic, in fact after seeing Hutchins, he smiled wide, his gold tooth (one of his remaining ones) shone even with the weak light filtering through the shop's broken windows.
"I see you have found an item of interest!" The old man shuffled towards Hutchins who lowered then shouldered his rifle.
"Oh. What is it anyway?"
"I'm not sure. It's not its time yet. And it's not for you." With amazing speed, the old man snatched the item away from Hutchins and placed it somewhere else on the shelf. It was Hutchins turn to raise his hands in casual surrender,
"Sorry, uhm... sir. Also, I'm sorry for aiming my gun at you. Force of habit."
The old man waved his hand in dismissal,
"It's nothing. I understand why you are wary. War is difficult and we all have lost a lot during this time."
Both men stared at each other, a pair of bright green eyes belonging to a man (not quite) on the cusp of youth, a pair of faded blue eyes, shrouded with cataracts, belonging to a man seemingly on the cusp of death. One brimming with curiosity and one deep with experience. One thing these eyes have in common: adventure. The youth seeking his out, the old itching to share his. The owners of these eyes stood there with full understanding that despite their differences they couldn't be more alike.
"You have a strange store sir. Do you get a lot of buyers for these.... things." Hutchins said, waving his arm at object-filled expanse of the shelf.
"That is where you're wrong my boy. This is a place where you can find things you have lost."
Hutchins raised an eyebrow. Clearly the old man is senile. But one must respect his elders and ask more logical questions, such as:
"Well sir, putting that aside, I'd like to know why you are here. Although this is now a safe ground, we are told the civillians were moved to the upper villages and are not allowed to return here without a warning from the government."
The old man crossed his hands behind his back,
"I am aware of that. I will only be here briefly. You see I am the caretaker and protector of this shop, even if it's probably more powerful than me. But my job is to keep the objects inside unless the owner is ready to claim it, and that includes shooing away curious young soldiers."
"If that is the case sir, did you not shoo away any enemy soldiers by any chance?"
Huffing in disgust, the old man leered,
"Those boys don't have enough courage to set foot in this hallowed ground. They are not meant to find what they have lost because they do not deserve to find it anyway."
"But I'm here. Does that mean I will find something I lost?" Hutchins said. It was the weirdest conversation he's ever had. He can't even keep up with himself.
"Ah. Young Hutchins. You are simply too early."
The old man walked passed and gave Hutchins' shoulder a sympathetic squeeze.
"Don't worry. You will return. And on that day, you will be just in time. See you soon Gregory Hutchins. Now go back to your troop and don't touch anything on your way out."
When Hutchins turned to look at the old man, he was already gone. What a strange place. Scratching his head, he went back out the crooked doorway whence he came from.
The war would end within a year. But Hutchins will be out of it a few months early. On the next little town where they were to forage for supplies or rescue civillians or subdue hostiles, his weary troops were caught by surprise, Hutchins coould only remember a few things, a loud bang, a bright light, he was only awake enough to feel the excruciating pain on his left eye and the persistent ringing in his ears. He awoke on a hospital bed, with the sight missing from his left eye, a silence on his left ear and a scars marring his whole body (mostly on the left). He found out that two of his friends died, he kept Brooks alive by covering him during the explosion, hence the injury to the left side of his body, for that they gave him an award and told him he can go home.
Hutchins stood at the gate of their farm house. His mother saw him and she dropped the basket of fertilizers running to her only son, she screamed for her husband who also came running out of the stables. Seeing what his wife was screaming about he too, ran as fast as he could until the three of them were at the gate hugging and crying, as if they were at sea and the only thing that will keep them afloat are each other.
The parents were so happy and thanked the Lord that they get to keep their son, although a little rough and damaged around the edges but nothing not a little loving and rest won't fix. They were very lucky that they did not lose their son.
As for Hutchins, his recovery and integration back to civil society was enough distraction that the strange store he once visited sank deep in the recesses of his mind. The store was lost inside his head, but not forgotten, oh no, not quite. Departed only until Hutchins returns, on the right time.
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