Into The Shadows

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Chapter Twenty

Phoenix and I stood outside a shop just off the hectic high street. There were cars and vans speeding by along the road to the side of us, horns honking loudly at one another. There were hundreds of shoppers bustling busily along the pavement pushing past one another. I could smell gas fumes and cigarette smoke strong in my nostrils, despite us being next to a bakery and I had expected rich scents of bread and freshly made cakes.

I looked warily at Phoenix, she was peering through the window and into the shop to see if there was anybody inside. The store-front display was an array of flower bunches with petals and leaves of every imaginable colour. The door looked tired, the moss green paint was chipping with age and the golden handle had worn over time. There was a wooden sign above the door, swinging in the wind, depicting a mortar and pestle.

“Come on,” She eventually said and we walked through the threshold.

The smell of lavender was so strong I could taste it in my mouth. The rafters were high but hidden by a thin layer of smoke, incense and sage sticks were burning everywhere. There was a cast iron pot bubbling over a fire and when the remedy spilled over the side the fire sizzled as the liquid ran over the hot embers. Shelves upon shelves lined the right hand side of the shop from floor to ceiling, they held millions of labelled glass jars packed full of different seeds and oils and herbs.

There was a woman at the counter with her back to us. She was wearing an apron and had her sleeves rolled back to her elbows as she crushed ingredients. I could hear the papery rasp of herbs being ground in a mortar with a pestle, potions and pots surround her as she worked.

Phoenix cleared her throat, “Excuse me?”

The woman turned. I couldn’t place her age. She wasn’t young like us, but she didn’t look as old as my mother. She had crow’s feet in the corners of her wise eyes but her skin was smooth and youthful. Her hair was black but boarder lining to grey. Her nails looked more like malicious talons than nails as they were long and yellowed, sharpened into points.

“Merry meet,” Her voice was soft, welcoming, “What can I do for you two girls?”

“I have a list,” Phoenix rummaged in her pockets.

The woman smiled. “Please, take a seat both of you.” She gestured to a pair of rickety stools adjacent to the counter, “I’ll be right with you.”

I scraped one of the stools back and settled myself upon it.

The woman quickly, but carefully, packed away her things from the counter whilst we patiently waited for her to finish. She picked up a broom from behind the work bench and dragged it across the wooden floor to sweep up the mess she’d made.

“Here,” She said, setting the broom against the wall, “Let me take your coats.”

I shrugged hastily out of my coat and handed it over to her, Phoenix did the same. “Thank you,” I blushed, it had been weeks since somebody had shown us such courtesy.

The shop keeper walked over to a row of cloak hooks by the door, “No problem.” She mused as she hung our coats up on the rack. “Now,” She turned, wiping her hands down her apron to smooth out the crinkles, “Can I see this list of yours?” Her face was warm and kind, she had deep smile-lines that indicated a lifetime of laughter.

Phoenix handed it over to her, “It’s for a spell of good luck.” She explained.

“Ah,” The lady smiled, “I see. Tyche always seems to be booming in business these days.”

I frowned, “Tyche?”

“Tyche is the Goddess of good fortune. Her name means ‘luck’ in Greek.” Phoenix answered before the shop owner could speak.

“Well, well,” She beamed, “Somebody knows their history.”

Phoenix’s face bloomed pink, “I’ve done my share of research.”

The woman laughed, “Haven’t we all? But one so young…” She trailed off and let her attention turn to the list of ingredients Phoenix had given her. She then got up and reached up to a shelf that simply contained books – ragged books, bound in red and green and brown leather. She picked one from the bunch and laid it down between us and her. “This is a ‘recipe book’,” She flipped the book open to the first page and the paper swished.

“What’s wrong with my list?” Phoenix asked grudgingly.

The herbalist met Phoenix’s flaring purple eyes with her easy grey ones, “Nothing my child, I want to show you something.” She continued to turn the pages, filled with hand-written remedies and notes in the margins, intricate drawings with more hand-written labels.

“Is this your ’Book of Shadows’?” Phoenix asked, ever so politely.

I bit down hard on my lip. No book ever named ‘Shadows’ could possibly be a good thing. I shuddered and shook my head, berating myself for being so absurd.

“Yes,” The lady nodded, “I’m a witch, like yourself.” Her hands stopped flicking and she bent down closer to the book, reading the words scrawled across the page. “This is my version of a lucky charm.”

Interested, I bent my head over the book and so did Phoenix. We carefully studied the spell together, although I didn’t understand much of what was being said. Phoenix made sounds of agreement or nodded her head at certain points in the script but other than that the shop was completely silent.

The shop keeper went over to a small table to the corner filled with candles of every colour and picked out a green one, she walked back over to Phoenix and placed the candle in her hand. “Can you tell me what this is for?”

“A green candle,” Phoenix exhaled, “Commonly used for abundance, success, balance and good luck.”

The Wiccan behind the counter smiled broadly, her eyes alight, “And this?” She gave Phoenix a small, wooden stick.

“Amber incense,” Phoenix turned the stick over in her hand, “It can represent knowledge and is good for meditating when requiring information.”

The woman clapped her hands together, she turned to me “I could have found myself a little shop assistant in this one.” She laughed, it sounded like a wind chime, and then she looked once more at Phoenix, “You can have those, as a token of my thanks. I haven’t come across another witch who actually knows what she’s talking about for a long, long time.”

Phoenix smiled in thanks and the other woman went round her store picking up jars, I saw ’Mint Oil’ and ’Bay Leaves’ written on a couple of them, and putting them into a brown paper bag.

I paid for the ingredients, wished the lady a good day and headed for the door.

“Merry meet and merry part young witch, until we meet again.” The woman held out her hand and Phoenix shook it. At the touch of Phoenix’s hand the witch’s eyes glowed white, her voice became rasping and unfamiliar, “The curse of Pandora’s box is upon you.” She wailed.

Phoenix tugged to try and release the other woman’s grip, “Let go of me!” She shouted.

I ran over to separate the pair but as my fingers touched their skin I was blown back by an unseen force, the wind knocked out of me. I sat up immediately, ready to spring into action again if Phoenix was in danger.

“Let me help you,” The witch said, her eyes blazing bright, “Let me lift this curse from you.”

“No!” Phoenix cried in terror, “No! I don’t want your help!” She continued to squirm under the other woman’s grip, “Let me go!” She screeched again.

The shop keeper let go.

I stared at her. She stared at Phoenix and Phoenix stared back.

“I’m sorry,” She said simply, “I’m so sorry, I–”

“Don’t bother,” Phoenix backed away from her slowly, “We have everything we need. Thank you.” With that she walked out the door I had held open for her.

The lady looked up at me through her tears.

“I don’t think she’ll be interested in your job offer any more.” I retorted curtly then stalked out of the door, closing it behind me.

In the time before man, there were two brothers named Epimetheus and Prometheus. Epimetheus was the God of afterthought and Prometheus was the God of forethought. They were both Titan Gods. They were both good Gods. They had good hearts and they were good friends.

One day, Zeus tasked the brothers in populating the earth with animals and men. Epimetheus chose to populate the earth with animals whilst Prometheus was to create mankind. Epimetheus gave all his animals weapons, such as giant claws or sharp teeth or venom in their mouths but Prometheus realized that even though his creation of mankind were perfect, they were completely helpless.

Prometheus was forced to steal fire from heaven to arm them. Zeus was outraged. He specifically declared that man did not deserve fire and Prometheus had deliberately disobeyed him. Zeus was furious that his orders had been ignored and, as a punishment, Zeus chained Prometheus to a rock for many years. Prometheus spent every day tied to this rock and Zeus had ordered an eagle to eat his liver every day whilst he was awake under a hot sun, Prometheus’ liver regenerated overnight due to his immortality so the eagle could feast again the next day.

However, Zeus still felt like this was not enough punishment. Whilst Prometheus was tied to the rock, Zeus went after his kind-hearted brother Epimetheus, although he did not chain Epimetheus to a rock. Instead, Zeus created himself a new daughter out of clay and brought her to life. He named her Pandora. Zeus knew that Epimetheus was lonely, and his punishment on Prometheus left Epimetheus without the company of his brother, so he gave Pandora to him as a gift.

Epimetheus fell in love with Pandora at first sight, she was young, beautiful and clever, and he married her. As a wedding gift, Zeus gave the couple a box. A locked box. It came with a note warning the couple not to open this box, but with the box came a key.

Epimetheus insisted that his wife obey the letter of the label. Time passed and neither Epimetheus nor Pandora opened the box. Unfortunately, one day Pandora’s curiosity got the better of her, Epimetheus had left her side and would be gone for a few hours. Pandora seized this chance and used the key to open the box. A quick look inside wouldn’t hurt anybody, surely. She looked around to make sure that nobody was watching she opened the box Zeus had given her and as she raised the lid ghostly forms gushed out from the box and into the world. Pandora had unleashed all the evil known to man today – greed, sickness, labor, poverty, hate, war, jealousy, death. Pandora slammed the lid shut but it was too late.

Zeus had now punished both brothers and with all things evil free in the world of man, he ordered the hero Hercules to release Prometheus from his rock by killing the eagle. Zeus then showed the Titan what he had done. Prometheus’ creation of man now contained evil within them, this would last until they destroyed one another and nothing was left.

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