Tess inhaled the sweet floral smell of the snapdragons in the rust colored clay pot. It filled her senses momentarily and she smiled before putting it down. She glanced at the name of the shop that she could see painted in an arching script on the outside of the window. Reading it backwards as she was currently inside the store, her smile widened at reading the familiar name The Arcane Arsenal. A descriptive name, always bringing to her mind Disney witches with green faces, cackling as they stirred potions in a cauldron. The name also perfectly conveyed what was to be found inside. Magic.
Thoroughly enjoying the atmosphere of her favorite magic supply store, she returned to searching for the item that had brought her out on this sunny but chilly spring day. Adjusting her purse strap on her shoulder, she flipped her long, thick curly brown hair out of her face and behind her back. Tess moved with purpose towards a section of the store she knew well. ‘Candles and candle making components’ was straight ahead but she paused a moment, abruptly awash in a sense of uneasiness.
Her smile withered to a slight frown of confusion and her nose wrinkled at the hint of a strange smell. At the same time a warm flush started in her stomach and rushed to her cheeks. This is new and unpleasant she thought. ‘What the…?’ she breathed. She looked around the store. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary at all in the familiar shop. Rays of sunlight poured in from the front window and faint music played in the background. She absently appreciated the irony as she realized the song was the 80s hit 'Spirits in the Material World' by The Police.
Tess had encountered spirits a few times in her life, and she couldn't help but come to the conclusion now that there must be one nearby. They didn’t normally affect her this way, though, and the heat she was feeling had never accompanied her brief brushes with them.
Most of the time, spirits did have a very faint scent but it was a particular one, similar to the smell of fresh earth. They also...usually...had no desire to venture outside of a few places. Previous homes or the resting places of the dead were their ‘haunting’ areas. Tess couldn’t think of why she would be sensing one here, in the middle of the day in a magic shop of all places. She continued walking slowly, looking around warily.
To someone with normal senses, there still wasn’t anything out of the ordinary happening…but Tess’s senses screamed that something was close. If it wasn’t a spirit she had no idea what else it could be. Early menopause? That unpleasant thought flashed briefly through her mind as she continued through the store, trying to settle herself. There seemed to be nothing supernatural here. Maybe she was getting a cold and her sense of smell was going a little haywire? That would explain the flushing as well…she could be fighting off a fever. The goosebumps popping up on her arms had to be because it was a little breezy, right? Just chill the F out she told herself. Why the heck was her body freaking out?
She spotted what she came here for and grabbed it then stopped instantly. Her hand held the candle in midair halfway between her and the shelf, but she couldn’t move. She was frozen, not quite believing what she had just seen. The moment she had picked up the candle, something that had been crouching behind them had zipped past her. Something that had been about a foot tall. Red. With tiny horns on the head and wings that had allowed it to fly quickly past her and around the corner of the aisle she was currently in.
She had found the source of the strange smell and her uneasiness. Her mind reeled as it processed what she had just seen and what it might be. Tiny horns...did she really see those? Could she have imagined that? What the holy hell just flew past her?!? She ran scenarios through her mind, trying to find a logical one that would explain the creature. She couldn't fit reality into any sort of explanation that could make her say 'yea...that's what it must have been,' although she stubbornly kept trying.
All thoughts of checking out the herbs and dried flower section for new spell components was now gone. Freaked out and wanting to leave, Tess was definitely ready for some fresh air. She started moving quickly now, definitely not eager to see it again and hoping there were no more lurking around her. The flushing and strange odor had already left her but the creepy feeling that she had just seen something supernatural now filled her.
Tess’s first spell book had been purchased here and she had never once seen anything strange or crazy like that creature. She had always loved this store. Every failed attempt her BFF Sara and she had made at spell-casting had started right here in these aisles. It was disconcerting now to think that creepy and unnatural things lurked behind items and around corners.
“How’s it going?” asked the clerk a little tentatively as he eyed Tess sideways. Her skittishness was obviously evident to him even though she tried to chill herself out and put on a pleasant expression. It had always been hard for Tess to hide her emotions...she had always hated that she had no poker face at all. What she tried to show as chill calm was probably more like tight anxiety. She could feel heat rise in her cheeks and tried to smile.
“Um all right, how’s it going for you?” Tess answered quickly, wanting to hurry the transaction along and get out.
“Good, good, thanks for asking.” With a last sideways glance, change was dumped into her palm and the bag handed to her outstretched hand. The register drawer thumped firmly shut.
Tess turned on her heel quickly to exit and “Oof…oh my gosh I’m sorry!” she said quickly, backing up as much as possible before bumping into the counter behind her. She had literally chest-bumped a customer standing way too close behind her. How could she have missed him standing right behind her? And…how could she have missed HIM? Although he was close enough to still be in her personal space, and tall enough to have to look upward to see his eyes, the stranger's presence immediately gave her a sense of safety rather than unease.
Tess had felt the muscles and warmth in the broad chest occupying the space directly in front of her. Now that he was so extremely close she also detected a not-unpleasant grassy smell layered with the slight tang of sun-warmed pine needles. His warm brown eyes crinkled with amusement as he looked down. “I’m sorry too, I should have given you a bit more space,” he said in a deep rumbling voice. He had full lips, and a wide mouth that lifted at both sides in a smile. He put his arms out slightly as if to steady her as she just stood there stupidly looking at him. His eyes had captivated her. They were like the tiger’s-eye gems Tess had always loved to hold over in the gem section of this store. Brown eyes lightened to caramel in the middle, and when the sun hit them just so there were yellow glimmers like gold.
Tess shook her head slightly “No worries, I’m fine” she said quickly again, scooting sideways so that he could move forward and pay. As she walked quickly away, she stopped herself from looking back. She could almost feel him watching her and made herself step more slowly hmmm ok a little weird but…he sure is tasty.
She had only been in the store a short time but as she left, it felt to her like something had tweaked in her life. Looking around outside, things felt different. Normal blue sky and cars driving by now felt a little off. A slight sense of unease remained inside her even as she basked in the slight glow of pleasure she had felt in the nearness of the stranger. She sternly reminded herself that she was 33 years old and so over crushing on total strangers…even as she realized that the smell of him lingered in her senses.
She had loved the smell of warm pine needles ever since the summer she had spent a week at a lake in Fresno with her best friend’s family. It had been excessively warm that summer, and the needles had been everywhere. There had literally been a red and brown colored carpet under the tall trees. Fallen pine-cones and fragrant needles had given off a delicious smell that rose up in the heat of the sun.
Tess jumped as a car drove by and pumped its horn at another car going too slow in front of it. Trying to shake it all off and return to reality, she opened the door to her car. Admiring it as she always did when she really looked at it she thought to herself, I love my car!
Glossy black with a shiny grill that reminded her of a Lexus, the much more reasonably priced Camry might be too practical for some people, but Tess loved it. It had been the first brand new car she had actually wanted. When she had bought it a few years ago at the age of 29 she had been so proud that she could finally afford it. And the gas mileage!! In these days of jacked up gas prices Tess was even happier to have the practical beauty.
“Hey girl, did you get it?” her best friend asked anxiously as Tess pulled the driver’s door shut behind her. She handed the bag over and Sara grabbed it, opening the brown paper and inhaling deeply of the scented candle. “Yay!! We’re totally making a love spell tonight for me tonight!! You should get in on this too, Tess” she babbled happily “I mean, neither of us is getting any younger you know.”
Sara could say that ONLY because she a 31 year old who looked like she was going on 21. Blond hair, blue eyes, smooth bright skin and a body that could sport a bikini at a moment’s notice with no anxiety whatsoever. Tess was slightly jealous of her California girl beauty but tried to deny it - even to herself. Those times she couldn't suppress it and that feeling reared up, she firmly pushed it back down.
“No thank you but you know I’ll totally help you. Not that you need that kind of help though, Sara and you know it!” she smiled as she said it…this was mostly for entertainment anyway and should be fun for the both of them. Neither of them really believed it would work but just wanted something fun to fill an hour or so of their Friday night.
“Oh my God look at that…he is HOT right?!?” Sara whisper screamed as she gazed longingly at something down the street. Tess turned in her seat and looked back at the door to the magic shop, already knowing what she would see. Sure enough the huge guy she had just bumped into was leaving the store and turning to walk in their direction. His gorgeous brown and gold eyes locked instantly on hers and Tess only distantly noted again that he was tall and broad, with naturally tanned skin and short, slightly wavy brown hair. The gold in his eyes flashed and she hastily looked away, not wanting to be seen staring. A feeling stirred in her and she wasn’t sure if it was uneasiness or excitement...or something else.
“Yea, he’s hot I totally agree. He smells awesome too…I just bumped into him when I was in there…it was so embarrassing!”
Giving her a look that plainly said “and why would you be smelling him?” Sara turned back in her seat to face forward saying only “Oh really now, so he smelled good, hmmm?” and smiling. Tess’s cheeks grew warm and she knew they had turned pink again as she ignored both Sara and the gorgeous man now walking past her car.
She couldn’t help herself though…as he strode past them, her eyes glanced sideways at him one last time. She caught a last whiff of warm pine needles…and also caught the wink and broad smile he gave her. Then he was turning the corner and striding out of sight. Tess's stomach flipped and a rush of giddiness filled her as she smiled to herself.
“Who was he? You have any idea? I haven’t seen him around here before” Sara said as she settled in for the short ride back to their apartment.
“I don’t know but it was weird…at first I thought I sensed a spirit in the store. I was feeling really weird, and then I saw something fly right past me. I still have no idea what it was. Then I literally bumped right into him and he smelled damn good. Like walking in a forest of pine tress on a warm day.” Sara glanced at her as she babbled, eyebrows rising.
“What does a spirit smell like? I’ve never seen or smelled one…” she had a slightly distressed look on her face now and Tess knew it was a sensitive subject. She herself had always been able to see, smell and sense spirits. When she was a little girl this was not always a good thing. More than once Tess had crawled into bed with her Mom for comfort.
In the past few weeks, something else had begun to accompany this unusual ability. In high school Sara and Tess had always dabbled and played at being witches for fun. Both of them had been fully aware that everyone believed there was nothing real about witchcraft and magic. They had enjoyed going through the motions of casting spells and mixing potions though. The two girls had always secretly hoped that the next time would be different. The next time it would work.
Sara had even talked about joining a coven. She thought that maybe if they had the help of ‘real’ witches they could learn how to make the magic come to life.
Tess hadn't told Sara but...spells that they had failed at together now seemed to work when Tess tried them alone.
Sensitive to her best friend’s disappointment at not being able to do what Tess could do, she downplayed the subject at hand. “Oh I don’t know…pretty much what you would imagine they should smell like. Dirt, mostly. But this guy smelled good reallllyyy good. Anyway, he’s gone now...so, let’s get our spellcasting on, baby!” she ended on a high note, trying to put the fun back into their night.
Tess stepped on the gas of the Camry and yelled out the window, letting her curls blow in the wind. "Woooohooo!" All thoughts of the magic shop and gorgeous winking man left her head as they drove along the coast and turned sharply into their beachfront apartment complex. There was a bottle of wine with their names on it and a love spell to cast.