The Disappearing Names

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If Sam could just go back in time one week, she could retrieve the key and her dad wouldn’t have to leave. What could go wrong?
First 10 Pages

Chapter 1

The OPU Tour

Monday. Sam’s least favorite day of the week, and this one made her head pound. If she could only quit replaying her parents’ fight over and over—

He’d been gone a week, ever since Mom found that key, and Mom had been in a trance ever since. It was like she never woke up and Sam had become invisible to her.

She shuddered. She needed to get Dad back. That was all she wanted, her life back, and yet here she was on her way to the Old Pioneer’s Underground Tour.

The bus joggled over the bricks in Pioneer Square, while Dad’s voice mingled with Mom’s in her brain. Mom shouting about the key, and the lavender scent on his clothes, and Dad mumbling about disappearing names, bricks, and the family Bible. Was he talking about Aunt Eli’s Bible?

“OPU, OPU,” Nicole chanted.

Derrick picked up the chant, and the bus erupted in chaos. Sam grinned. Nicole’s antics kept Sam sane. The summer program had three field trip choices, Pike Place

Market, Seattle Center or OPU, and each class got to choose. Sam could not have cared less, but Nicole wanted the underground tour. Dad had said no. He didn’t want her going underground, but he didn’t have a reason, or he wouldn’t say what it was. So, that decided it. Of course, she had to go.

Why didn’t he want her to go, though? At least she wasn’t headed to the stuffy classroom. The bus hit a pothole, and she bumped her head against the window.

Perfect, a lump on her forehead, that was all she needed.

Disappearing names, he must be talking about the ones in Aunt Eli’s tattered, old Bible. It was falling apart, and the print faded, right? But Mom was crying, and Dad said names were disappearing—not fading. He’d cracked open her door, as if she hadn’t heard them fighting. His eyes were red as he sat on the edge of her bed. “Go to the Space Needle or Pike Place Market, just not underground.”

He frowned, and she glared, then he rushed out, dropping a little black key tied to a purple leather cord. She bent down and lifted it from the floor, the scent of

lavender filling the room. She opened her mouth to tell him, but he was gone.

A girl at the back of the bus screamed, and Mrs. Phelps jumped from her seat behind the bus driver and marched down the aisle. Sam gazed out the school bus window at a deep blue sky. Sam leaned her head against the window. Lavender. Maybe a couple of rain clouds would appear and cheer her up. She pressed her fingers to her temple. If only she’d interrupted them, screamed, done something, anything, maybe Dad would have stayed.

Mrs. Phelps moved back down the aisle, checking homework. Sam slumped back in the seat waiting her turn. She pulled the key from her pocket. It was short and

stubby with a funny tab at the end of a hollow tube, but what was it for? A fresh burst of lavender tickled her nose as she held the key by the leather cord. It was part of whatever was going on between Mom and Dad. Could it bring him back?

“Homework?” Mrs. Phelps held out her hand.

Sam pulled a sheet from her bag. How did she end up in summer school anyway? Ah, yes, Baxter of the dreamy gray eyes and dark hair curling over his forehead. She’d wasted a whole semester laughing at his horrible jokes and helping him with his homework and not turning in her own. Heat rose to her cheeks. They hadn’t even kissed, and now he was on his way to Texas A&M, and she was stuck on this bus. Mrs. Phelps

marked her paper and handed it back, moving to the next row.

She sighed and slipped the paper back into her bag. Happy birthday, Sam. Wasn’t sixteen supposed to be special? How could it be with Mom in a trance and Dad gone? She’d missed his chocolate chip birthday waffles.

The key, disappearing names, lavender, they all meant something, but what? She sighed, her thumb caressing the key. If she had enough time to figure this out, would Dad come back? She gazed at the brick buildings as the bus passed by. There was never enough time.

The brakes squealed as the bus jerked to a stop in front of the Pergola. Mrs. Phelps stood and waited outside counting heads as students piled off the bus. Sam

shook her head. She had to focus, or she’d fail summer school too.

“The Pergola is one of Seattle’s most famous structures. It used to be a streetcar stop in the early 1900s.” Ivan grinned.

She rolled her eyes at Ivan and shuffled after Nicole.

“This way people. Stick together.” Mrs. Phelps led them to a door and stood guard as students shuffled through. Why did they have to listen to another lecture? Mrs. Phelps had done enough of that. Couldn’t they just start the tour already? It would be dark underground. She could blend with the shadows and work on her plan to

get Dad back. What if she could just go back in time and hide the key before mom ever found it? Then there wouldn’t be a fight, and Dad would never leave. How would she do that? Time travel? Right. She ran her fingers over the key stuffed deep in her pocket as sun dappled through the trees in Pioneer Park. A clock chimed 10:00, and the clank and rustle of shop owners opening shutters and doors began. Laughter tinkled through the air as tourists in front of the totem pole took “selfies,” and the aroma of hamburgers and fries floated on the breeze, but she had no appetite. Dad’s last words still confused her.

“The names are disappearing,” he’d said. “All the Greats.”

The disappearing part made no sense, but “the Greats” were her ancestors, the great grandparents, family who had come from the old country, but how were the names disappearing, and what did it mean? Somehow it was all connected. Sam stared into space.

“Sam, this way.” Mrs. Phelps frowned.

Sam shook her head. Mrs. Phelps’s field trip notes were fifty percent of the grade for today. She had to focus.

She filed into Doc Maynard’s Public House and settled on a bench next to Nicole, whose frizzy hair swarmed around her head like a nest. Nicole pushed up her glasses and grinned at her. A woman in an “I Heart Seattle” t-shirt, coffee stains covering the heart, crushed into the seat next to Sam. The bench creaked, and Sam

scooted closer to Nicole.

Sam gazed into the darkness of the ceiling where the carved wood of the antique bar disappeared. She counted twenty-six people reflected in the bar mirror, and fifteen

of them were her classmates. A young man with striking amber eyes and red hair sauntered into the room.

“Welcome to the Old Pioneers’ Underground Tour, ladies and gentlemen.” He wore a black t-shirt with Underground printed in white letters on the front and Old Pioneers on the back. He had on old fashioned plaid slacks that bagged at the knees. They exposed his gray socks and scuffed brown leather loafers.

Sam pulled out a tablet and pen and crossed her legs. At least he was on time.

“I’m Archibald, and I’ll be your guide today. You can call me Archie.” He paused. “Before we begin, I’d like to set the scene with some history of Old Seattle.”

Sam’s eyes grew heavy as Archie’s speech droned like a hive of bees. “After Seattle’s Great Fire in 1889, the city fathers wanted to rebuild Seattle—raised the sidewalks to the second story of the buildings—first floors still exist below the sidewalks—those rooms are what we are going to explore today.”

When would he get to the ghost stories? She jotted down a few names and dates that Mrs. Phelps would want to see in her notes. She always said, “You will learn more history through the stories of the Underground, and doing the research will help you retain them.”

Phelps-y was right. Sam got sucked into those ghost stories of murderers, disappearances, and robberies.

Nicole nudged her, and Sam dropped her pen.

“What?” Sam glanced at her then at the clock on the wall. It had been fifteen minutes already?

“Watch him. This guy is weird.” Nicole frowned at Archie.

“Weird?” Sam stretched her neck to see over Ivan.

Archie’s amber eyes didn’t blink or make eye contact with anyone. Then he glanced at her, and the hair on her arms stood on end. Was he staring at her? He tucked his red hair behind his ears and pointed to the old photographs on a back wall. Where was Mrs. Phelps?

“Did he just wink at you?” Nicole clung to Sam’s arm.


Archie strolled to a door and swung it open. “This way ladies and gentlemen.” He led the group to the top of a wooden staircase.

She crossed her arms, plodding along with the group. Nicole put her arm through Sam’s. “You only cross your arms when you’re angry. What’s up?”

“Nothing’s up.” Sam dropped her arms and gave Nicole a fake smile. Should she tell Nicole about the key, her parents’ fight, or her plan? Sam didn’t even have a

plan yet.

Archie counted heads. “Twenty-six. We are all here, so let’s head underground, ladies and gentlemen. Watch your steps.”

Nicole clutched Sam’s hoodie as they descended a dark staircase that led to a dimly lit hall. Light filtered through the purple stones in the sidewalk above them, giving Nicole’s face a pale cast. They were below street level, and age-old dust filled her nostrils like the dry wood and dust of Grandma Stewart’s cellar. Grossie.

Archie stood at the far end of a wide hallway. One bare bulb hung from the ceiling. She ducked around a steel girder that reinforced the timber beams to support

the building above them. Ivan and James took turns leaping to slap the beams overhead, releasing dust and spider webs.

“Eww. It’s in my hair.” Nicole bent over and brushed her fingers through her hair.

Sam brushed at her hair. Spiders didn’t bother her, but those two better watch it. Mrs. Phelps called Ivan, but it was too late. A fine powder filled the air, and Sam sneezed and flicked grit from her shoulders.

Archie leaned against a door frame, a layer of dust covering the wooden walls and the light bulbs. Sam tripped over a patch of uneven cement in the packed earth as the group pressed around Archie, raising a cloud.

“This is the Pioneer building which held the Seattle branch of the Portland Trust and Savings, and the vaults were right here.” He pointed to a corner, and Sam stood

on tiptoes to get a better view.

“The year 1901, as many of you know, was the time of the Alaskan Gold Rush, and many gold mining companies had offices and vaults here too.” Archie glanced over people’s heads. “How many of you have heard the story of ‘The Bank Robbery that Never

Happened’ or ‘The Murder with No Bodies’?”

“I’ve heard of them.” Ivan raised his hand. James slugged him in the arm, and some of the tourists laughed.

“What a suck-up.” Sam rolled her eyes.

“Two very famous legends, for sure.” Archie stuck his hand in his pockets. “They went something like this: In 1901, Big Jim and Red McClusky, two Portland residents, charged into the Trust and Savings in Seattle, their guns drawn.” Archie mimicked drawing pistols from holsters. He pointed his fingers, like gun barrels atthe crowd, and the crowd took a step back. A woman stepped on Sam’s toe.


Mrs. Phelps shot her a frown and tilted her head. Sam bit her lip.

“They must have known that Mr. Charles Stickel Esq., manager of the Seattle and Portland offices, was in town that day. A guard tried to stop the gunmen, but he failed, and Big Jim and Red broke into Mr. Stickel’s office. Shots were heard.” Archie motioned with his fingers as if shooting. “When the dust settled, the guard searched for Mr. Stickel, but he was gone. Poof. But so were Big Jim and Red.” He blew the tips of his fingers.

“That was over the top.” Nicole raised an eyebrow at Sam.

Sam rubbed the key in her pocket. She’d read this story, but still it gave her goose bumps. Where did they go?

Archie cleared his throat. “Yet, all of the gold was still in the open safe. The Bank offered a reward, and William Meredith, Police Chief at that time, organized a search, but neither Mr. Stickel nor the robbers were ever found.”

Mrs. Phelps pulled Ivan and James to the far side of the room.

“I wasn’t whispering.” Ivan tugged, but Mrs. Phelps held tight hissing in his ear.

Archie waited for silence. “All three were presumed dead, but a week later, witnesses reported seeing Big Jim and Red in this very building.” Archie paused then lowered his voice. “Or maybe it was their ghosts.”

Silence hung in the underground space, and Nicole slipped her hand into Sam’s. Archie scanned the room, his gaze landing on Sam. Footsteps echoed in the dark

hall behind her.

“What was that?” Nicole clung to her.

Sam peered down the hallway. “It’s a trick, Nicole.” She swallowed and turned toward Archie, whose gaze remained focused on Sam’s face.

“What the—?” Sam stared into Archie’s amber eyes.

Archie cleared his throat and turned to the wall. He pointed at two bricks, longer and narrower than the rest. “Around this same time, another legend started about

these bricks, referred to as the Roman Bricks. They are a shade of pink, not red like the rest, and it takes two stacked one on the other to make them the same height as the others.”

A lighter-colored mortar filled the space around them, as though to patch a hole. If Archie had not pointed them out, Sam wouldn’t have noticed them.

“Roman Bricks? Hmm.” She shuffled to get closer. Dad had mentioned bricks.

“Bricks?” Nicole crossed her arms. “Pft.”

Sam nudged Nicole. “Pay attention, or Mrs. Phelps—”

Nicole shook her head, but her frown remained.

Sam had to get closer to those bricks, but a stack of wood and an old door with Koko Hair Tonic painted across the top leaned against the wall. Yellow “caution” tape cordoned off the area around the wall. How could she examine them with all that junk in the way?

“So, what’s that legend about?” a gray-haired man asked.

Had he read her mind? She tensed, waiting for the answer.

“I thought you’d never ask.” Archie rubbed his hands together. “Legend has it that they came from Romania when the Romans dominated Europe. Experts say the mica dust in them gives them their glow, but it’s rumored that magic is stamped right into the clay.”

A tingle ran from the back of Sam’s head down her spine. Some of her Greats came from Romania, right?

Laughter filtered through the dim underground. Archie ignored the scoffs. “Each year on the anniversary of the robbery, the Roman Bricks come alive, and ladies

and gentlemen, that happens to be this very day, July 7th.”

“My birthday?” She clamped a hand over her mouth and glanced at Mrs. Phelps who kept her attention on Ivan and James.

What had Dad said about bricks? Oh, yeah, the Greats had brought bricks from the old country along with the Bible. Did the bricks have something to do with the names disappearing? She put her hand to her head. That was too crazy to be true.

“How do they work?” Chuck would get points for that question.

She bit her lip and leaned forward to catch every word.

“No one knows for sure. People have disappeared since the time of Mr. Stickel, though, and there are rumors that time travel is the reason.” Archie’s eyes narrowed and his smile disappeared.

Her heart began to race. Time travel? This was what she needed for her plan to work.

“Time travel, my butt.” Nicole snorted, breaking Sam’s spell.

Others were murmuring in the closeness of the hallway. They didn’t believe the story. Maybe they didn’t want to. Did Archie sense that she wanted to

believe? She met his steady, green-eyed gaze.

“A girl about your age,” Archie pointed at Nicole, “disappeared in 1961.”

Nicole took a step back.

Archie pointed to a framed newspaper article. A photo captured the image of a girl with a heart-shaped face and a dimple in her chin, her dark hair short and


“A reporter traced the ‘Roman’ Bricks to a pioneer family in Portland. It turned out the bricks were relics from the old country, but how could they make people

disappear? The reporter never found out. Perhaps the family had a secret to keep.”

A secret? About time travel? Sam had to know the secret of the Roman Bricks. Maybe she could use them to go back and hide the key from Mom before she ever found it? A whiff of lavender escaped from her pocket as she gripped the key.

“The fronts are smooth from being touched,” Nicole whispered.

So, others had tried. The caution tape enticed rather than deterred people from touching them. Was this a ploy by the OPU to attract people to their tours? Maybe, but Sam itched to test her theory.