A Locked Shop, A Tardy Shopkeeper and Trinkets.
Awarded Third Place ~ April 2020 ~ "Paranormal Romance Short Story Contest"
The lithe black cat blinked back at me from behind the glass, hazel eyes holding a look of self-satisfied defiance. The Shop's door remained locked, no matter how hard I rapped my knuckles on the worn wooden frame. Irrational as it might seem, the cat's attitude of indifference angered me. Well after two already, the shopkeeper had agreed to meet me precisely at 1:45, now more than fifteen minutes late. Glancing at my watch one more time, I shook my sore knuckles at the cat in annoyance, as if the shopkeeper's tardiness was the felines fault.
Reaching into my pocket once more to finger the small gold trinket, I contemplated how this trip might have been little more than a fool's errand. Had the shop keeper decided not to buy my offering, hiding from me until I went away? Pulling my hand from the pocket holding the trinket, the charm snagged, falling to the ground. Clinking and sparkling brightly, catching the cat’s eye, the first real reaction I'd seen from the cat.
Reaction or not, enough was enough, twenty minutes past our meeting time, and still no sign that the shopkeeper was anywhere near. I picked up the trinket and turned to leave, the Devil with this --
"Meow", as clear as day through the shops locked door, the cat was staring, it’s eyes locked on the trinket. A small paw now rested on the glass of the door, almost as if asking me to stay.
Turning, I walked back, to stand in front of the door again, drawn by the cat’s interest. Tabby eyed me once more before turning, and arching its back gracefully. Tail held high it raced light-footed to the back of the shop, disappearing into the gloomy interior and out of sight. Fascinated and perplexed, I stood transfixed, wanting to end this farce, yet wondering where the cat had hurried off to so suddenly.
Waiting paid off, out of the gloom a person appeared, moving with agile grace through the maze from the back of the cluttered little shop. The slight lady coming waved a greeting, heralding her approach to the door. She opened the creaky lock with a key hanging nearby, letting me in without apology. Slim and on the short side, a head shorter than my own five foot nine, the surrounding air around her filled with the scent of herbs and spices.
Surprising me, she turned to face me as she reached the counter. "On the phone, you said you had something to sell?"
Before answering I studied her, short black hair framed a pixie-like face, her eyes bore into me, willing me to answer, "yes," producing the small charm, "this is what I called about."
Those hazel eyes widened; her mouth formed a small silent O before she spoke. "May I hold it?" Her tone almost reverent.
As I placed the charm in her tiny palm, it twinkled even brighter. The lighting playing tricks? "These have been in my family for a long time, since I was a child. I am moving soon and need to downsize--"
“Yes,” answering quickly, “there are twelve …”
She interrupted me again, this time all business. "So, you wish to sell them all, are they all like this one?"
"Well ... yes, err no.", Slightly taken aback by her whiplash changes in mood. "Yes, I want to sell them and no, all twelve are different, that is why I ..."
"And what would you expect me to pay?"
"They’re all gold, I had this one assayed, and the jeweler said it was 24 karat gold."
A flash of impatient anger filled in her hazel eyes, "that means little to me, name your price."
I redid the math in my head, the price the jeweler offered, all twelve pieces and thinking to bargain I doubled it...roughly. "$15,000," hoping my opening gambit didn't scare her off.
Triumph brimming from her eyes told me I had underbid myself, "and you can bring them all to me tonight?"
I needed to stall, perhaps I could find another buyer and rethink my price. "Tonight? That might be difficult, I do live quite a distance away and I don't know how fast I could ..."
"Of course," her voice apologetic, "how foolish of me." She placed her hand on my arm, her touch was warm and enticing, for the first time I realized how attractive she was. Perhaps tomorrow then?"
"Umm, ye ... yes," stumbling a bit, her touch was disconcerting, when she touched me, I couldn't think clearly.
"Oh, how rude I've been," her eyes dancing now, "let me make us some tea ..."
I tried to refuse, needing desperately to regain my senses, but she leaned closer and caressed my cheek. A complete loss of will, I found myself lost in her eyes, needing to stay, to serve at her beck and call. She led me deeper into the shop, into a backroom that appeared to serve as both a small workshop and a kitchen.
"Now you rest right here." Sitting me at a small table. "And I'll make us a nice pot of tea."
I started to protest again, "no really, I should be going, I have to pack the charms for tomorrow."
A quick electric touch to my shoulder settled me into the chair. Fascinated as she fussed with pots, boiling water for our tea. She loaded a small metal ball; with tea she took from an unmarked canister on the shelf above the counter. “This will only take a few moments to brew.” The air filled with the aroma of the tea as she poured the piping hot water into the teapot.
Taking a small sip of the tea, unsure of what to expect, it was delicious, a blend of herbs and spices I had never tasted before. “This is quite tasty. May I ask what it is, do you sell it in the shop?”
She smiled as she refilled my cup. “I’m glad you like it, please have some more, this is an extremely special blend,” touching my hand gently. “I save it for only – Special Friends.”
As I sipped, now my third cup of the wonderful tea, I found myself pulled deeper into her eyes, as if I were falling into her thrall. All thought of leaving or finding another buyer for more profit was lost. I wanted only to stay with her, listening to her hushed, dulcet tones, craving that gentle, electric touch.
Pouring the last drops of tea into my cup, I vaguely realized she had drunk none of the steaming liquor. Her voice, barely a whisper now, leaning close, her aura was intoxicating. “You should leave now.” Smiling at my look of disappointment at being sent away, “if you are to make it back to me before Moon Rise. You did say you were quite far away?”
Happy to know I was meant to return – tonight. I was also happy to confess, “well, I’m really not that far away …”
“Splendid!” She guided me gently to the door. “I’ll wait here for you, hurry back.”
I heard the door lock behind me as I stepped out into the late afternoon chill, I was surprised when I turned back to wave and my temptress was gone – only the black cat blinked back at me through the door's glass.
Still filled with the calm the tea had brought me, I don’t remember the drive to my home, a scant fifteen minutes away. I remember only the urgency to return to her, her quiet, calming voice, and the need to bring her the trinkets my family had saved for years.
Mother had passed the trinkets to me on her deathbed, her fever fueled mumbling about my father, our family’s powers, and the need to find familiar things, were lost in my grief at losing the last member of my family. I packed them away, only resurrecting them when I retired and planned to move to a smaller home.
Still blinking behind the locked door, the cat waited for my return. Greeted by a curt mew when it spotted me, it sped off to the back of the shop, all grace and agility. I waited, patiently this time, for her return.
“Come.” Leading me through the shop, just as graceful as the cat had been before her, “I have everything in place and ready. The Moon Rise is upon us.” This time she led me through the kitchen, out into a small enclosed courtyard. An ancient-looking sundial at its center, surrounded by plantings of herbs and flowers that I couldn’t identify. Another pot of tea awaited me, a more bitter drink, my protest was met with a strict command. “You must drink this brew.”
Reluctantly, I obeyed, “this doesn’t taste good at all …”
“No matter the flavor,” as she studied the sundial. “You’ll finish that cup and two more, drink quickly, it’s almost time. Give me the trinkets”
Still meek, enthralled by her charms, and the first tea, I passed the bag holding them to her, I drank the bitter brew, pouring the next cup myself. “Why the hurry, we’ve all night now…”
“You must be ready for Moon Rise.” While she spoke, she poured the trinkets onto a small red velvet cloth, arranging them in order. She spoke in a hushed, reverent voice, “they’re all here, each of the powers…”
Pouring the last cup from the pot, I felt queasy, a bit intoxicated, “this stuff is disgusting, horrible – powers did you say, what …”
“Drink,” she commanded.
So, I drank, as she opened an ornate metal box, strangely, it was decorated with designs based on the trinkets, forming a continuous filigree around it, overlapping, covering all sides but the flat velvet bottom.
Her voice, no longer a whisper, began a slow, steady chant. I recognized few words, some Latin, some Gaelic, but most unintelligible, the words were musty with age, resurrected from some ancient, forgotten tongue.
As she chanted, she slowly placed each trinket into a separate partition in the open box. My body grew strange to me, as if I were watching from afar. As each trinket was placed in the box, the feeling grew more intense. The Moon peaked at its zenith; her chanting grew louder. The last trinket found its compartment in the box, a final solemn benediction, she slammed the lid shut.
I shuddered, my body, mind, and soul split in two, only to be rejoined as one. Watching in wonder as the small woman transformed into a black cat. Laughing at the lunacy, I passed out.
I stretched slowly, not wanting to awaken the sleeping black cat in my lap, she had labored mightily, and was deserving of her rest. Her soft purrs of contentment filled the darkness that surrounded us, broken only by the moon, fast setting. I stroked her fur gently, her purring growing louder in appreciation.
I knew my name now, after all these years of forgetting. Firmly in my place now, in a world that had forgotten me. Mourning the past, the losses, the many versions of Camelot that had come, only to fall away into the ruins of history.
Now I understood my Mother’s fevered murmurings. My Father and the powers he had passed onto me through the Trinkets. Mother hadn’t spoken of familiar things, as my grief besotted mind had remembered, rather of my Familiar. My Familiar rested in my lap now, Nimue’s task had taxed her. She rested in the comfort of my lap, soon she’d be ready to serve me once again.
Once again, Myrddin walked upon the World of Man. Once again, the quest for Mankind’s Better Nature would begin.
Word Count ~ 1947