Norbert shrugged, then shuffled through the stack of envelopes, verifying they all had stamps and proper addresses. The letters were destined to go everywhere from Maine to California, from France to South Africa. Japan. China. Mexico. They were headed all over the world. And by the looks of it, the man had estimated the required postage to perfection.
“Well, I’ll have to weigh each one and type the location into the computer, but they look all right to me on first glance. You wantin’ to stick around while I check them all?”
Master George slipped a fat wallet out of his jacket pocket. “Oh, I assure you the necessary postage is there, but I must be certain. Here.” He pulled out several hundred-dollar bills and placed them on the counter. “If you find that additional postage is required, this should be more than sufficient to pay in full. Consider the rest as a tip for your valuable service.”
Norbert swallowed the huge lump in his throat. “Uh, sir, I can tell you right now it won’t take nearly that much. Not even close.”
“Well, then, I will return home feeling very satisfied indeed.” He squinted at Norbert’s name tag before tipping his head in a formal bow. “I bid you farewell, Norbert, and wish you the very best.”
And with that, Master George slipped back out into the frigid air.
Norbert had a sneaking suspicion he’d never see the man again.
Norbert had just placed the box of odd letters on a shelf under the front desk when an even stranger character than the finely appareled English gentleman stepped into the quiet post office. When the woman walked in the door, Norbert’s mouth dropped open.
She wore nothing but yellow—her floor-length dress, her heavy overcoat, her pointy-toed shoes, her tightly fitted gloves. She pushed back the hood of her coat, revealing a bald head that shone as bright as a chrome ball, a pair of horn-rimmed glasses perched on her steep ridge of a nose, and eyes the color of burning emeralds.
She looked like a lemon that had been turned into an evil sorceress; Norbert surprised himself when he chuckled out loud before she said a word. By the way her eyes narrowed into green laser points, Norbert figured that wasn’t the smartest thing he’d done in a while.
“Something funny, mailman?” she asked, her voice soft and seductive, yet somehow filled with a subtle hint of warning. Unlike Master George, she had no accent Norbert recognized—she could’ve been from any city in Alaska. Well, except for the fact that she looked like a walking banana.
After a long moment with no response, she continued, “You’ll find that Mistress Jane doesn’t react kindly to those who mock her.”
“Um,” Norbert stuttered. “Uh, who . . . who is Mistress Jane?” As soon as he said it, he knew he must sound like an idiot.
“Me, you blubbering fool. Are you daft?”
“No, ma’am, I can hear just fine.”
“Not deaf, you moronic stack of soiled snow, daft—daft. Oh, never mind.” She took a step closer, placing her gloved hands on the counter right in front of Norbert. Her eyes seemed to have tracking beams focused on his own, pulling his gaze into a trance. “Now listen to me, mailman, and listen to me well. Understand?”
Norbert tried to utter agreement, but managed only a small squeak. He nodded instead.
“Good.” She straightened and folded her arms. “I’m looking for a little stuff-bucket of a man—red-faced, ugly, more annoying than a ravenous mouse in a cheese factory. I know he came here just minutes ago, but I don’t know if I’m in the correct Reality. Have you seen him?”
Norbert called upon every ounce of willpower in his feeble little body to hold his face still, hiding all expression. He forced his eyes to focus on the Lemon Lady’s bald head and to not let them wander to the box of letters on the shelf at his feet. He didn’t have a single clue what was going on with these two strangers, but every instinct told him Master George equaled good, Mistress Jane equaled bald—he blinked—uh, bad.
What does she mean about being in the correct reality, anyway? Norbert marveled that two such interesting people could enter his tiny post office within a half hour of each other.
“Polar bear got your tongue—?” Mistress Jane asked with a sneer, glancing down at his name badge. “Norbie? Anybody in there?”
Norbert ignored his racing heart and simply said, “No.”
“No what?” the yellow woman snapped. “No, you’re not in there, or no, the man I’m looking for didn’t come here?”
“Ma’am, you’re my first customer of the day, and no, I’ve a-never seen any such person as you described in my life.”
Mistress Jane frowned, held a finger up to her chin. “Do you know what Mistress Jane does with liars, Norbie?”
“I’m not a-lying, ma’am,” Norbert answered, trying his best to look calm. He didn’t like fibbing to such a scary woman—and crossing his fingers under the counter wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans if she found out—but somehow he just knew that if this evil lady wanted to stop Master George from doing whatever he was trying to do, then those letters needed to get in the mail, no matter what. And it was all up to Norbert Johnson.
The lady looked away as if lost in deep thought over what she should do next. “I know he’s up to something,” she whispered, barely audible and not really speaking to Norbert anymore. “But which Reality . . . I don’t have time to look in them all . . .”
“Miss Jane?” Norbert asked. “May I—”
“It’s Mistress Jane, you Alaskan ice head.”
“Oh, uh, I’m awfully sorry—I just wanted to know if there’s any postal service you’ll be a-needing today.”
The nasty woman looked at him for a long time, saying nothing. Finally, “If you’re lying to me, I’ll find out and I’ll come back for you, Norbie.” She reached into the pocket of her overcoat, fidgeting with something hidden and heavy. “And you won’t like the consequences, I can promise you that.”
“No, ma’am, I’m sure—”
Before he could finish his sentence, though, the last and by far most bizarre thing of the day occurred.
Mistress Jane disappeared.
She vanished—into thin air, as they say. Poof, like a magic trick. One second there, the next second gone.