Gateway to Aethera | Wynonna Grimm Book 1

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Chapter 1

The small bell attached to the entrance of the swamped coffee shop rang, as an indication that yet another customer had arrived. Out of all the coffee shops in small-town Salem Massachusetts, it was a wonder how popular the shop was despite how rundown and shabby it looked from the outside. With rusted brick walls and a tattered old sign that looked as if it hadn’t been touched up in the last thirty years, Barnaby’s Café looked as if it’d gone through World War Two and yet somehow still managed to remain standing.

A short middle-aged woman dressed pristinely in strict business attire made her way towards the register, with her dark brown eyes practically glued to her phone screen as they adjusted to the yellow lighting of the interior of the coffee shop.

“I’ll have a matcha green tea crème frappuccino, nonfat and light on the whipped crème,” she ordered lazily, not bothering to look up at the girl behind the counter. Moments passed and she was met with silence.

On that note, she finally looked up from her phone and gave her full attention to the young woman who had yet to take her order.

“Sorry Miss, unfortunately that drink is not a part of our menu here at this establishment. But we do offer a wide variety of espressos and brews,” the girl offered with a stiff smile.

The businesswoman fell silent as she proceeded to take in the new information that presented itself before her. She wasn’t the type of woman to ever take no as an answer, so the moment that things didn’t go the way she wanted them to, she had a tendency of not being able to take things well― as shown by her expression which only took a turn for the worst.

“So, what you’re saying is that a coffee shop doesn’t sell frappuccinos?” the haughty woman huffed in disbelief, giving the girl a once over with close scrutiny.

To be fair the girl didn’t really have all that much going for her as her appearance usually didn’t leave people with a good impression of her. Skin too pale that she looked half-dead if not already. Straight black hair that lay flat and oily which she currently held tied back, and a pair of heterochromic eyes―that often gave people the creeps―shadowed by dark bags. She definitely wasn’t the type of character who would stand out in a crowd for being the prettiest, to say the least. It didn’t help that she looked to be quite haggard for such a young age at that.

“Well ma’am, this isn’t Starbucks―”

“But Betty’s Bagels provides them also,” the woman interjected sharply, before adding, “I want the order I gave you.”

“That may be so, but unfortunately Barnaby’s Café does not. However, there is a Starbucks a few blocks down that I’d be happy to direct you towards, if you so choose not to purchase from our shop,” the counter girl grit her teeth, now struggling to maintain a level of civility with the incessant arrogance of the older female. A flash of irritation crossed the woman’s face as she huffed in annoyance.

Don’t say it. Don’t you dare break my record you rotten hag, the girl cursed at the woman internally. Behind the register, she offered a tight-lipped smile at the now disgruntled customer, her palms secreting sweat from behind the register.

“Is that so? Hmmm... In any case, I don’t appreciate your tone. I think I’d like to speak with your manager right about now if you don’t mind,” the woman drawled airily, not bothering to withhold her smug expression, as she folded her arms across her chest, with a wicked look in her eyes.

Oh, you bitch.

Hours later, the girl sighed as she wiped down the tables after having been thoroughly scolded by the owner of the shop. Of course, he was fully aware of the fact that she wasn’t really at fault, but still did so as a means to appease the customer. The owner could not be blamed either, for he was an old man who still strongly held onto the belief that the customer is always right.

As she attempted to brew a new batch of coffee, the espresso machine began to emit a strange beeping sound. The part-timer looked at it dubiously, unsure of what to do next and began to press a whole bunch of random buttons frantically in an attempt to silence it.

“No wait, don’t touch it!” A raspy elderly male voice called out to the girl too late it seemed as the machine suddenly made a loud screeching sound and began to cloud the kitchen with black smoke. The counter girl herself was currently frozen in shock with one finger still poised over the machine.

“Wynn,” the owner sat down before the downcast girl after things had calmed down and he’d managed to control the situation, “I’m not angry with you. But we’ve gone over this a million times. Stay away from the equipment. That’s the third one you’ve broken this month.

“I know, but to be fair I’m one of the few employees you have left, and all I ever get to do is man the damn register,” she finally looked up at the old man whose expression softened at her words. The slightly guilty look on her face was as clear as daylight.

Barnaby Jenson― aka Old Man Jenson―was well known throughout Salem for having one of the most difficult personalities that one might encounter in one of the elder generations. Therefore, when people discovered that he’d found a kindred spirit in Wynonna, they weren’t all that surprised, because Wynonna Grimm was just as bad, or perhaps even a thousand times worse than he was.

With weak social skills and the inability to express herself in a courteous fashion, Wynonna had made quite a name for herself as one of the most insociable young women to ever grace Salem.

“I understand that you want to help out, but for goodness sake child! You might just end up running me out of business at this rate or worse burn the whole building structure to the ground!” the poor man exhaled loudly through his nose.

“Wynonna, I know that you have good intentions but let’s face it, you’re a walking train wreck. If chaos and misfortune ever had a child together, that child would be you,” he pointed out without a shred of delicacy.

“Wow, you really do know how to make people feel so much better about themselves,” she deadpanned.

“I hate to break it to you, girlie ,but that fact’s never going to change. But thankfully there is one thing you can still work on and it’s that, ‘I don’t give a damn,’ no good attitude of yours. You were doing so well today. Not a single complaint. I thought you were finally going to beat your record. So, what in the heck happened this time?”

“I mean I was. And I almost did too, until that blonde bimbo started bitchin’.”

“Wynonna!” he chastised her, frowning at her horrible use of language.

“Well it’s true!” she exclaimed to which he could not counter.

“Wynn, you’re a twenty-four-year-old young lady now, it’s about time you start getting a grip on that horrible personality of yours. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but just about half of the people in town are terrified of you,” Mr. Jenson tried to reason with the stubborn girl.

“Mr. Jenson you do realize that the same can be said about you right?” she frowned.

“Oh, for the love of― Kid I’m old! Whether I’m a cantankerous old fart or not is irrelevant. I can at least blame it on the hormone imbalance that comes with old age. But you? What excuse do you have? Your closest thing to a friend is an old dinosaur like me? Do you even realize how sad that is? People your age are all about the media, but you’re the only person I know who doesn’t even own a cellphone,” he continued to berate her mercilessly.

“That’s because those things are just a waste of money. Besides, I have a landline,” she shrugged impassively.

“And another thing! How can you be so darn stingy with money? You’re not even that old yet to be acting like such a penny pincher.”

“How rude! I prefer the term minimalist if anything,” she shot right back at him.

Mr. Jenson stared at her for a full minute before he shook his head in defeat, “Sometimes I really can’t help but wonder who’s the sixty-seven year old man between the two of us.”

“What’s so wrong about being a realist? I just like to be practical about things. It’s better to be prepared for the worst than to regret it later on.”

“Are you sure you’re only twenty-four? Because right about now you’re starting to sound like an eighty-five-year-old woman!” he stared at her incredulously.

Wynonna simply rolled her eyes at his antics.

“Wynonna you’re going to hate me for this, seeing as how you’ve probably heard this so many times, but you really are the ‘Grimmest’ person I know.”

“Hardy, har-har,” she faked a laugh, aiming a dry look in his direction, “Oh come on old man, why do you always have to nag so much? It’s not like I’m living like this because I want to. I just can’t afford the luxury of throwing my money around like it’s nobody’s business.”

“Come out with it already kid,” he sighed, “How many part-time jobs are you really doing?”

“Does it matter?”

“Yes, it does, now quit dodging the question already! From what I’ve heard, people have even started referring to you as a ‘part time-addict’ because apparently it seems like you work just about everywhere in this town.”

“Goddamn old cronies always sticking their noses where―” she muttered under breath.


What? I was just saying,” she defended herself, huffing as she crossed her arms over her chest.

“Look Wynn, I’m saying this because I worry about you. But you’re not getting any younger,” he snapped at her, “So for crying out loud, get a hold of yourself already! You have a bachelor’s in philosophy and yet you dropped out of law school for what? Part-timing? You even gave up on your scholarship and moved back home. Your dream was to become a prosecutor! And now you’re what? Waiting tables and picking up after other people’s garbage? Now tell me, does that make any sense to you? Because frankly I find it quite baffling.”

Wynonna averted his gaze as she looked out the window for a brief moment before she turned to look at him once more.

“Mr. Jenson, I know you mean well but could we please just drop this? That’s in the past and it has nothing to do with me anymore, which is why we shouldn’t bring this up ever again. Anyhow once you’ve made a decision, you shouldn’t ever have to regret it because it’s not like you can turn back time and change the past anyhow. I did what I had to do, and now I have no right to regret my own choices. What’s done is done,” with that said, she excused herself and made her way to the counter once more.

Wynonna pushed back a few strands of hair that came loose as she placed her tattered old baseball cap on her head. She adjusted her grip on the shoulder strap of her bag once more before stepping outside the cafe and into the stifling heat that came with the beginnings of summer. Why anyone would want to come to a cafe in this weather was just unfathomable. She shook her head and made her way towards the next crossing. A mother and her four-year-old son stood beside her. The young boy held a large pink bouncy ball pressed to his cheek, while waiting for the light to change.

Yet another person glued to her phone, Wynonna sighed as she peered over at the young mom who was tapping away furiously at her phone screen.

Wynonna’s generation seemed to have a rather distasteful addiction to modern electronics. Admittedly, they can be quite useful, but the extent of the obsession with which people had with their cellular devices was mind-boggling.

She unwrapped the cherry flavored lollipop she took out of her pocket and popped it in her mouth.

Prosecutor huh, she squinted her eyes as she looked up at the sky, I wonder how that would have worked out?

She glanced down at the child and looked back at his mother once again with utter disdain.

If you’re going to have kids, the least you can do is keep an eye on them.

She shook her head and adjusted her cap, the light had yet to change. She couldn’t help but wonder if this was all that life had to offer her. Lots of misfortune and debt. And speaking of debt, it seemed like these days the debt that her parents had left behind only kept increasing more and more.

“Damn accruing interest,” she grumbled under her breath.

She certainly wasn’t the richest growing up. Rather than having been blessed with either money or good looks, the universe instead thought it’d be a real kick in the ass to bless her with the most irresponsible parents ever known to man and a boatload of rotten luck to top it all off with.

Old bastards, she chuckled out loud, if they had the gall to party and gamble their lives away so carelessly, then they should have at least lived well until the very end.

It’s the least they could have done. Instead they kicked the bucket, leaving their only daughter behind with lots and lots of debt.

Beside her, as she let her mind wander off, something shiny caught the little boy’s eye. As he reached down to pick up the curious object, the child lost his grip on his ball which began to bounce out onto the street. The child’s head shot back up and he immediately ran after the ball onto the oncoming traffic.

Wynonna’s heart just about stopped and before she even realized what she was doing, her legs began to move on their own. She dropped her lollipop and threw her bag aside as she ran into the middle of the road, almost as if she’d been possessed. She threw her arms in front of her and pushed the kid out of harm’s way and before she knew it a hard metal object had already slammed right into her. She heard the sound of her own bones cracking upon impact before her body was sent flying several feet into the air.

For a brief moment it felt as if time had stopped. Blackness consumed her and everything went silent. Her head pounded as she slowly picked herself back off the gravel, swaying from the dizziness that clouded her vision. She looked around her and saw that a small crowd had gathered around someone lying on the ground a few feet away from her.

“Excuse me, have you seen a black duffle bag around here somewhere?” she asked a person standing nearby her, who simply ignored her presence and went about his way. She stared open-mouthed after the person who so rudely walked away from her.

“That’s weird,” she grouched, affronted at the fact that the man hadn’t even bothered to acknowledge her presence at all.

Damn, at this rate I’m going to be late for my next shift. Wynonna rubbed at her temples and looked over to the crowd of people. She caught sight of the black bag lying on the ground, in the midst of the circle of people that had gathered around. She slowly wove through the crowd, taking care not to bump into anyone and crouched down to grab hold of her bag with one hand extended outwards.

Her fingers slipped through the strap. Wynonna looked down at her fingers blankly for a moment before slowly looking up at the person lying in the center of all the commotion.

It was a girl―clearly dead at that too.

Curiosity got the best of her as she edged closer to the dead body.

Wynonna craned her neck to get a better look at the unfortunate girl who lost her life at such a young age.

Her face was a bloodied mess to say the least and her body was sprawled out on the gravel at awkward angles. The woman looked to be in her early twenties at most. As her eyes roamed over the woman’s body, she paused for a brief second as she noticed something quite unusual about the dead girl. She seemed to be wearing almost the exact same clothing Wynnona currently had on at the moment. Down to the very shoes on her feet.

Wynonna shakily took in several deep breaths as she painstakingly took a closer look at the girl’s face once more.

The dead woman’s lifeless eyes were peeled wide open for the whole world to see.

Heterochromia iridum. One brown, one grey.

Wynonna took a step back and fell backwards in shock. She crawled away from the body frantically and looked at the people surrounding her as she began to lose grasp on reality. She slammed her eyes shut and clutched her head in confusion.

Dead? No that’s not right, I must be dreaming. There’s no way I’m dead right? I’m right here so how the hell is there someone who looks just like me lying right there? Her nails clawed at the ground as she attempted to get a grip on herself, releasing a nervous laugh as she tried to keep calm.

Unbeknownst to Wynonna, someone had been observing her reactions. The black hooded figure glided through the mass of humans surrounding the dead body, stopping right in front of the corpse before quickly reverting its attention back to the owner of the dead body.

Wynonna looked up at the figure standing before her in fright. A twelve-year-old boy wearing a long black cloak, stood frozen in horror at a mere two feet away from her, clutching a long golden scythe tightly against his chest.

Moments passed and neither moved from their positions. Soon enough the child was the first to break the silence.

“Well this is awkward...Ha-ha well I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but uh h-how do I say this nicely? Congratulations! You’re… dead? Or wait― in this case would it not be my condolences?”

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