The Soothsayer

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Chapter 2 : Trinkets and Troubles

Colin ran down the sea walk until his lungs ached. He finally slumped against the railings that overlooked the docks and floating vessels below and let the tears roll down his face. The moon was shrouded by clouds and fog had crept around the darkened shops and patios that lined the marina. A foghorn echoed in the distance.

Just once, just once couldn’t things be right for us? If Dad were here, Mom would’ve never started smoking. We wouldn’t be stuck here. It’d all be different.

“I’d b-be different,” he whispered. He hurled the stone in his hand back towards the shops that hid behind the curtain of mist. The stone skipped and jumped until it disappeared through the gloom.

SMASH! The sound of breaking glass.

“Oh gr-great,” Colin sighed. He stood and looked around. The fog moved in to surround him as he moved ahead towards the storefronts. All of them were closed. When the tourists arrived in a month, they’d be open till nine and bustling, but in the offseason, the marina was a ghost town. At the end of a long line of Spanish adobe shops and terracotta overhangs, a little apart from the others, stood a quaint New England style shop, one he had never noticed before. Potter’s Curios was printed on a hanging sign in the shape of a fish. The nine-pane window display badly needed cleaning, and on the bottom right, he saw the damage his stone had done. The pane was shattered.

He approached and glanced around the sidewalk, but the stone was nowhere to be seen. Probably got my prints all over it. A vision of having to pay an ungodly fine and picking up trash along the highway flashed in his mind. He peered closer through the fractured glass.

Across an old velvet, table were seashell-covered music boxes, Precious Moments figurines, and whittled wooden beer steins with pirate faces.

No wonder this place is closed, how cheeseball can you get? Colin shook his head.

A store light from within blinked on. He stumbled back.

“Is somebody there?” a rough voice called out.

Colin turned and ran. He didn’t need this kind of trouble tonight. The fog became thicker as he hurried passed bushes and benches, and bumped into a parked van before stumbling across the old dirt trail that led to the tide pools. Again, the distant foghorn called, but this time it was answered by a second horn, lower in pitch and less powerful.

He looked around. He had covered more ground in a couple of minutes than he expected but it was impossible to tell which direction he should turn. The world was covered in gray. He listened for any sound of the shopkeeper giving chase but heard none. Again, the first horn echoed in the night, again a softer response.

Why would they need a second foghorn? He wondered as he moved towards the sound. It’ll just confuse the ships. The crash of the waves on the rocks was louder now, and he saw ahead of him the old cracked concrete steps that led down to the sand and the waterline.

Okay, I’m definitely going the wrong way. He turned back. There, not fifty feet behind him in the mist was a gnarled figure of a man in a patched cardigan and brown pants that seemed to barely hang from his gaunt frame. His thick head of white hair was only matched by his shaggy beard. He held an old square glass lantern, lit by a meager candle.

“I see you there! You, son, you need to come with me!” The man’s gruff call was unmistakable. It was the shopkeeper.

“G-G-Got to be kidding.” Colin shook his head and ran back towards the steps. He raced down them two at a time. He had counted them hundreds of times climbing up them as a child. The beachhead was thin here, and the waterline always came close to the concrete stairway with barnacled boulders standing sentinel beside them. The rock jetty was no more than six feet high. With five more steps he’d be on the sand, but the steps weren’t there.

What the hell? He fell headfirst into the fog and into the icy foam of seawater. It was as if the waves had devoured any remnant of the beach and now waited on the edge of sight, ready to pounce on any prey that dared to cross the man-made concrete threshold. A wave broke over Colin’s head and sucked him back into darkness. His fingers clawed the bottom stair for a grip. Nothing. The black waves tossed and smashed him against the nearby rocks. A thousand crusted barnacles ripped into his back like icy knives. Colin screamed as the fiery saltwater flooded his wounds. Another wave sucked him under again. He grabbed hold of the rocks and refused to let go. Colin’s face broke the surface of the water. His lungs ached for breath. The wave pulled back past him, but he held on tight. As the waves receded, he climbed over the rock on his hands and knees and coughed up seawater. Some kind of freak wave.

As if answering his thoughts, the shopkeeper called out, “No, my boy, it’s the coming of the lawless ones, with all power, false signs, and wonders. Take my hand.”

Colin looked up. At the edge of the broken steps, still holding his lantern, the shopkeeper stood. The candlelight flickered across his wrinkled face.

Colin’s knees were weak and he sensed something great and terrible in the old man’s eyes. The old man looked past Colin to the dark wash behind him. In a louder voice, he called out at the sea, “Back with you! You don’t belong here! Get back into the night!”

Colin turned to see three shadowy forms move in the wash less than twenty feet from him, just beyond the breaking waves. They glided through the darkness and drifted across the water, larger than a man, black as night, with eyes that glowed a murky yellow. He felt a cold shiver race down his neck as they stared at him, and somehow, he knew that only the old man’s authority kept them at bay.

“Come with me boy. Take my hand,” the shopkeeper said again as he lowered to one knee and reached out his hand. Colin backed towards him, his eyes still locked on the creatures. A long slow hiss echoed above the crash of the waves before their bodies melted back into the water.

“Focus on me, boy,” the shop keeper’s voice softened.

“You might need some help,” Colin said and pictured the fiasco of pulling the geezer down on top of him.

In one motion the shopkeeper pulled Colin up to the steps as if he weighed nothing.

“How?” Colin started.

“Now is not the time, my light’s growing dim,” the old man replied.

“Who?” Colin whispered as he looked at the aged face.

“I’m Mr. Potter. Now follow me back to my shop. There are dark things in the wind, and we have much to discuss.” Potter turned and led the way as if the mist was nonexistent.

Colin, dumbstruck, followed the light through the gloom.

* * * *

Colin looked away from the paned window, afraid of what he might see again in the shadows. He sat on a wicker chair that hadn’t seen a dusting in ten years. It groaned slightly as he shifted his weight and leaned back. I’m resting on a museum piece, he thought and looked around the cluttered little shop. The tchotchkes lining the display window now seemed a ruse to dissuade anyone from looking farther in. All around him were artifacts of varying age, a chipped goblet here, a medieval tapestry there, a suit of armor that looked to have seen battle, a Roman-style gladius, that when Colin picked it up, he realized was much older than him, or perhaps even his grandfather.

Mr. Potter rustled and rumbled in the back room, kicking and pushing past old boxes and crates, until he returned with a blanket and a steaming mug. “Here you go, dry off.” He handed Colin the blanket. “You wanted a drink?”

“Coke, please,” Colin responded.

“Earl Grey, it’s better for you.” He handed Colin the mug. The warm cup of tea didn’t burn his hand as he’d expected, but the heat from it crept up his arm and stilled his shivering. The slight taste of citrus was a welcome surprise from the dark tea, and as he drank it, his head cleared. Mr. Potter seemed frailer now, smaller in stature than he was in the darkness.

That all-encompassing darkness, the terrible wave, and the creatures he saw somehow seemed less real now as if Colin had awakened from a bad dream and its last images were sliding away.

“Those things, were those real?” Colin asked.

Potter nodded, “I’m afraid so.”

“What are they?”

“They were scavengers, not meant to be seen, trying to trespass on my property,” Mr. Potter said and pulled out a pair of wire bifocals that he placed haphazardly on his nose. “Now then, let me get a look at you.” Mr. Potter gazed intently at him.

The old man’s gaze was piercing as if he was looking past Colin’s eyes to the deepest reaches of his thoughts. Colin felt both comforted and terrified by the old man’s stare and glanced away.

What the hell am I doing here? Colin thought as an image of the shopkeeper snatching kids grew in his mind. Maybe he kept them locked up in a basement somewhere, killed them, and mounted their heads in the back.

But Mr. Potter’s eyes brightened. “No, my boy, you’ve nothing to worry from me, as long as you pay your debt.”

Did he just read my thoughts? Colin wondered. “Wait, you said ‘your property’. Did you mean the tide pools? The steps? The harbor?”

“Uh-huh, that’s right.” Mr. Potter leaned back and smiled.

“I’ve never seen you before.”

“Oh, I’m always around. I’m not always here, but I’m always present.” Mr. Potter folded his hands as if he was expecting this line of questioning. “What’s your name?”

“Colin. Just Colin.” Colin gulped down the last of the tea, hoping the man wouldn’t ask beyond that. He already felt vulnerable, like some part of him had been laid bare.

Potter tilted his head, studying the boy’s face. “No, no that won’t do at all. You’re much more than just a Colin. Perhaps you’ll find it.”

He’s senile, completely bonkers. The excuse flashed in Colin’s thoughts, but he knew there was more to it. He shook his head, “Look, Mr. Potter, I don’t know what you want, but. . .”

Potter frowned and stood up. “Perhaps not. Now, you owe me a debt. You broke my window, and I can’t allow you to leave until something is given.”

“I, uh,” Colin searched his pockets and pulled out his wallet. He retrieved a wet and crumpled five-dollar bill. “This is all I’ve got on me.”

“Afraid it’s not enough.” Potter turned his back without even looking at the money.

“I can have my mom stop by after her shift and pay it off,” Colin said.

“Then she’d be paying your debt. No. Each man must answer for his own actions in this life.”

Colin stood up, tossing the blanket to the side, and setting his mug down, “Then I’ve got nothing for you. I have to go. I’m sorry.”

Potter spun around, his voice commanding. “Sit down!”

Colin immediately sat and the chair groaned in protest.

“Sorry is a sorry excuse. What I want, Just your name.” Potter’s eyes gleamed. “I’ll hold it for you until you find a better one.”

“Uh, Okay? It’s Colin Deveroux. Take it, whatever.” Colin looked around, his mind echoed the line from Forrest Gump, ’stupid is as stupid does.’ Except this old codger is crazy. Colin slowly stood again, “So...can I go now? Mr. Potter?” Colin eyed the doorway and wondered what would happen if he just made a run for it.

Potter’s face softened, as he glanced about the store. “You’ve paid your debt, but no one leaves my shop without something in hand. A souvenir if you like.” Potter looked about haphazardly, “I seem to be out of those little calendars, so go find something to take with you.”

“Really, it’s okay, Mr. Potter. I’ve been enough trouble.” Colin said.

“No, I insist, peruse.” He nodded at the wares surrounding them.

Colin sighed as he ran his hands across the different dusty shelves. At first, he resigned himself to finding some random bit of tourist junk he could toss the minute he stepped outside, but as his gaze shifted from item to item, he imagined himself using each of them. An old original photo of the Sutro Baths he could possibly sell on eBay. Too much effort. His eyes shifted to the gladius he had touched.

“Belonged to many a soldier, but I’m afraid it’s seen too many battles to serve you,” Potter called out.

Colin’s eyes roamed to a glass bauble, with a rattlesnake’s head preserved within, fangs out, ready to strike. The eyes of the serpent seemed to watch him, and Colin shivered when he realized they were the same color as the eyes of the creatures he had witnessed in the shadows of the shoals.

“That would be too heavy for you to carry I think,” Potter said as he watched the boy.

His finger next came to a small wooden box, with a strange symbol carved onto the top. Colin didn’t quite recognize it, though it resembled a skewed letter “A”.

“Now that’s an interesting choice,” Potter said.

Colin took it from the shelf and ran his finger around its six-inch diameter. There were no hinges, clasps, or locks. “How do you open it?”

“It’s a puzzle box, said to have been owned by Captain Dana himself as he sailed on The Pilgrim. Opening it is up to you.”

“Cool.” Colin studied it. It looked to be made of ashen driftwood and yet felt heavier as if something was inside.

“Then we’re in agreement. The debt is paid.” Potter smiled and opened the front door of the shop.

“Thanks, I appreciate it,” Colin said as he moved past Potter and out the doorway onto the still foggy sea walk.

“Turn left boy, be wary of the mist. And boy--”

Colin turned to look at the old man.

“Remember, you’ll have everything you need, once you open the box. Never doubt that.”

Colin looked down at the puzzle box in his hand. “What are you talking about?” He glanced up.

Potter was gone. The store was closed and dark as if the whole exchange had been a dream.

“Hello? Mr. Potter?” Colin called out and tried the handle. It was firmly locked. “How the hell?” Colin asked and stared at the window display. The glass pane he had smashed was fully intact, not a scratch on it. He took a step back, amazed. He turned left and began moving through the fog back towards the Jolly Roger, replaying the entire conversation with Potter in his mind. Then it struck him . . . he hadn’t stuttered once.

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