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Barnett's, Madame Giselle's and Gryder's Cove...


“Um, hi. Barnett James?”

“That’d be me, ma’am. Ain’t you that Stevens lady that came up here not too long ago? Gail, right?”

Gail was flattered that he remembered her voice and her name, no longer than they had interacted.

“Yeah, it is, actually. I really hate to bother you, but I was told by Rev. Swafford down here in Derby Cross that I should consult with you on the matter of Elsie Gryder. More to the point, getting rid of Elsie Gryder. Do you think I could maybe come back up and talk to you sometime?”

Today, please say today.....

“Get rid of her? That’s a fairly bold statement, if y’ don’t mind my sayin’ so. Can’t say as I recall anyone ever tryin’ that. Most folks are content to just let her be and hope she stays wherever it is lost souls go.”

There was a sound like a heavy sigh, then he spoke again.

“Tell ya what, come on up this afternoon, say, around three or so. We’ll talk about it then, how’s ’at sound?”

“That would be great, and thank you. We’ll be there. I really appreciate you taking time out for me again.”

“We’ll see ya, ma’am. Take care now.”

“You too, Barnett.”

Gail put her phone away and sat down on her motel room bed. Now that the call had been made, she had to inform Sheriff Whaley so he could accompany her and Olivia to Barnett’s house at 3:00. The sheriff had gone back to the station to make sure Officer Judy had things under control in his absence. He was getting deeper and deeper into this, and it wasn’t sitting well with him, but he was sworn to protect the people of Derby Cross and of Corden County, so he was determined to see it through. After a big, smiley speech from Officer Judy about how things had been just fine, that Deputy Hicks hadn’t done so much as write a parking ticket all day, and how quiet it always is in Derby Cross, she managed to reassure the sheriff that things were well in hand and that he could go take care of whatever it was he needed to do. It was just about then that Gail called to confirm the trip to Barnett’s house.

“I talked to Barnett. He said about 3:00, if you still wanna come with us.”

“I’ll come by the motel ’round 2:30, then. That’ll give us plenty of time to get up there. Well, I say that, but I barely remember how to get up there. Most of the times I’ve seen Barnett, he’s been down here pickin’ up groceries or somethin’ like that, an’ I never have t’ go up there on any official business, so to be honest, I’m kinda hopin’ you remember how to get back there.”

“I still have the directions Barnett gave me. Oh, and you may wanna come a little earlier than that, Sheriff. I left here around noon the first time I went up there, and it was, like, 1:20 or so when I pulled up in his driveway. At least, I think that was a driveway. The road just kinda seemed to end in front of his house. Anyway, yeah, so around 1:30, ok?”

Sheriff Whaley looked at his watch. Plenty of time until then to psych himself up to follow through with this fucking insanity.

“Alrighty then, Ms. Stevens. See y’all at the motel.”

Sheriff Whaley sighed heavily as he folded up his phone and tucked it into its case on his belt, right next to the taser he hadn’t taken out since he got them for everyone on the force six years ago. Come to think of it, the damned thing was probably dead, so a recharge was in order, if he could remember where he put the charger. He went back to his office and began searching through his desk for it. This provided an excellent distraction from the reality of what was going on, and what the days ahead might hold in store. All the stories he had heard as a child, the things he himself had experienced growing up (but kept in check with denial that it could ever happen again) were all coming into sharp focus.

Over at the motel, Gail was snoring loudly, face-down and precariously balanced on the edge her bed, phone in hand, in pretty much the same position she was in while talking to Sheriff Whaley. Olivia had been eating a chocolate snack cake with some milk when she finally succumbed to sleep, head on the table, still holding the glass of milk in one hand and the cake in the other. Every breath blew off a few more of the crumbs on her lips and the table. This is how they slept the entire time they waited on Sheriff Whaley’s arrival. They were rudely aroused by a loud banging sound, causing Gail to snap awake and slip off the edge of the bed, landing on her knees. She barked a short but solid stream of obscenities when the sharp pains shot through her legs, which actually woke Olivia, who threw her hands outward when she jerked her head off the table, slinging milk and cake in opposite directions.

“Ms. Stevens? Ms. Scott? Y’all alright in there?”

Sheriff Whaley was knocking incessantly for fear that perhaps an ill fate had befallen the pair. Gail managed to pull it together enough to stumble to the door and open it. The sunlight assaulted her eyes like a glaring blast of atomic energy. She turned her face away and squinted, opening up just enough to get a glance of their visitor.

“C’mon in, sheriff. Quickly,” she moaned, retreating back to the asylum just inside the dimly lit motel room, “We were just umm...y’know, catching up on some sleep.”

“Sorry about all the bangin’ on the door, ladies. Just with all this goin’ on lately, I thought maybe...well, y’know...y’just never know, so I wasn’t takin’ chances.”

“It’s alright, Sheriff. We should’ve been up anyway,” Gail mumbled, patting his chest as she shut the door and shuffled back over to her bed to sit down, yawning all the way. Sheriff Whaley didn’t know what to make of it, but decided to forget it and get to the business at hand.

“So you two ready to get goin’, or do y’ need a few minutes, maybe?” he asked, adjusting his hat.

“We should probably...well, no, y’know what, let’s get going,” yawned Olivia, looking over at Gail to see her teetering on the edge of the bed, “I don’t think this can wait much longer.”

When one is exhausted and in pain, a few minutes can seem like eternity. So it was for Gail as she waited for her medication to kick in on the way to Barnett’s house. At least Sheriff Whaley was taking it easy as they traversed the sorry excuse for a road that wound upward toward their destination. 3:00 was approaching fast, and the trip seemed to be going slowly, Gail calling out the directions to Barnett’s house as they passed the landmarks and roads she had written down. There wasn’t much conversation other than that. All anyone could think about was how much deeper into this they would be after this meeting was over. Talking to Barnett James meant that this was real, and whatever he said to do would have to be done, and by them, regardless of how dangerous, insane or downright stupid it may be.

“That’s it, right up there,” said Gail, pointing to the old house at what did indeed seem like the end of the road they were traveling. Sheriff Whaley pulled up to the edge of the grass and shut the engine off. As they all got out and shut the doors, Barnett stood up from behind the motorcycle on his porch, watching them walk toward his front steps, wiping the grease from a ratchet he had just been using.

“Afternoon, Gail,” he drawled in that beguiling voice, smiling as he put the tool aside, “Who’s your friend there?”

“Hi, Barnett. This is Olivia Scott. She’s my case photographer and my best friend.”

Sheriff Whaley had stepped up onto the porch and was extending his hand to Barnett, who smiled and slapped the sheriff on his shoulder with his free hand as they shook hands.

“Howdy, Herbert. Ain’t seen you in a long-ass time. How y’ been?”

“Alright, I reckon. No reason to gripe, but I don’t that stop me.”

Both men laughed as Barnett stepped out from behind the bike.

“Reckon we’d best get on with it, am I right? Elsie ain’t gonna go away on her own now that she’s been roused up, now is she?” asked Barnett, looking at his three guests in turn, “We should pro’ly go inside. I think better when I’m takin’ a smoke.”

He winked at Gail and opened the door, gesturing everyone inside.

Olivia and the sheriff entered the house, looking around just as Gail did on her first visit, taking in the massive collection of books, papers and files. Gail wandered over to a bookshelf she didn’t have the opportunity to examine on her previous visit and went down the length of it reading titles. Barnett invited his guests to sit while Gail pulled a random book from a shelf and opened it up. The pages she had opened listed the ways in which one could become a werewolf, and promised to explain each in detail. She skipped ahead a few pages, and her eyes fell upon a passage that read:

‘Remember always, it is the human essence that makes the werewolf a murderous savage’.

I can easily believe that.....

She closed the book and put it back, joining the others on the couch as Barnett was finishing a story about something his sister had done back in ’78 and rolling a cigarette on that familiar blue plate. Whatever it was, Sheriff Whaley was saying he remembered having to keep her overnight in a cell because she was in no shape to drive and was having a good laugh with Barnett over the whole thing. He looked over to Gail as she sat, and his expression was suddenly serious.

“I s’pose there’s no need to beat around the bush here. What is it y’all need to know that I didn’t already tell ya?”

Gail was apprehensive about telling him the truth, and Barnett could sense it. He lit his cigarette and leaned back in his recliner.

“Just say it. Best to just get it out there,” he said, his voice soothing and calm.

“OK. used the board, and there was a, more like a presence, in it, connected to it, something like that.”

Gail picked up on how hard Barnett was struggling to stay cool and refrain from breaking into a lecture and just listen, but continued on.

“He told me how to get rid of Elsie. Not just send her back to wherever it is she goes, but to eliminate her permanently. I have some anointing oil to consecrate her remains, but I need a ritual also. After that, we burn her. That’s the only way the board can be destroyed, if someone makes sure she isn’t around to protect it. He says he’ll help, because it’s the only way he can be set free.”

Barnett took all this in as deeply as the smoke from his cigarette. After a few long draws, he sat it aside in an ashtray, got up and walked to a bookshelf on the wall behind his chair. Without even searching, he fingered the book he needed and took it down, blowing the thin layer of collected dust from its cover as he returned to his seat.

“Who’s got a smartphone on ’em?” he asked, and was answered by Gail and Olivia handing theirs over simultaneously. He took Gail’s and opened the book, flipping through several pages before coming to rest on a page with an illustration of what looked to be a woman being burned alive. Barnett snapped pictures of the drawing and the text on the pages before and after it, then returned Gail’s phone.

“That’s ev’rything, in detail. Gotta love modern technology, although it does make things like this a li’l bit anticlimactic. Tell ya what, just to keep things nice an’ dramatic, y’know, just in case someday your story gets made into a movie or somethin’, I’ll tell ya this; this magic you’re monkeyin’ with, it’s ancient magic, real dark shit, from a time when good and evil were a little more subjective, an’ it’s not to be taken lightly. You read through those pages, do ev’rything exactly as it says. Some o’ those pronunciations are tricky, and you gotta get it right for it to work. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t do what needs doin’. The wrong word in the wrong place could do damage you never dreamed of. Put a few drops o’ that oil y’got on her forehead, then over her heart, an’ on her hands an’ feet, then do what those pages tell ya. Now promise me you’ll be careful with this, and come an’ see me when it’s done. I ain’t gonna be able to sleep well at all until this shit’s over with an’ I know y’all are alright.”

“I will, Barnett,” Gail said sincerely, “and thank you for helping us again. We’ll be in touch, I promise. We should probably go and, y’know, get this underway.”

Sound brave, nobody will know you’re scared out of your wits....

Gail’s fingers were trembling a little bit and her heartbeat was beginning to quicken, especially when Barnett stood and took her hand into his.

“It’s gonna be alright,” he said gently, looking right into her eyes, “You’re the one, nobody else. That’s what’s gonna protect ya, help ya finish this.”

Gail could only nod slowly, fighting tears. She released Barnett’s hand and looked around to Olivia.

“Come on. We should get moving.”

Olivia and Sheriff Whaley stood up, each thanking Barnett for his time, shaking his hand and heading for the door. The sheriff invited him down to Derby Cross for dinner at his house, any time he felt like it, and in an eternity of silent seconds, the three were headed back to town.

The first stop was the police station, where Gail used the office printer to print out the pages Barnett had given her. Officer Judy came over, offering coffee and sweet rolls while craning her neck and absolutely not trying to see what it was Gail was printing. Olivia couldn’t help but laugh to herself, hand over her mouth, as the tiny woman stood on tiptoe, eyebrows raised and eyes squinted as she tried to peer over Gail’s shoulder, which was at least a foot higher than Officer Judy’s line of sight. She grumbled something about ′the wrong dad-burn shoes′ and toddled back behind the counter, sitting down at her desk and begrudgingly returning attention to her typing. Three pages, three copies of each, and now it was time to lay out a plan. Sheriff Whaley suggested his office, to which they immediately adjourned, each looking over their respective copies. It seemed simple enough; the first page outlined how to set up the ritual, when to say each part of the chant, and what to do when you say it. The second page was an illustration of how things should look once properly placed, as well as the burning body Gail had noticed at Barnett’s house, and the last page translated and gave a pronunciation guide for the words in the ritual. Quiet study of each page continued for about an hour, then all three broke the silence at once with simultaneous statements and questions, which caused them break out in much-needed laughs of relief.

“So when are we doing this?” asked Olivia, her eyes scanning back over her copies.

“Tomorrow night. Elsie never shows herself in the daytime, so it’ll have to be after dark. I hate putting this off one more day, but we don’t have time to get everything together and find the case tonight.”

“We’ll need some heavy-duty hand-held lighting to find that case-thing if the sun sets on us. I don’t think that house ever had electricity, sure as shit don’t nowadays,” said Sheriff Whaley, laying his pages on his desk.

“Right. Yeah, OK, we should get up there early enough to look for that thing, but we’ll take the lighting just in case. At least we’re safe while it’s light. We have to find it before dark, though, or we’ll have to deal with Elsie and the Howlers while we try to do this.”

Sheriff Whaley rubbed his graying mustache, looking thoughtful, then said, “Gets dusky around 5:30 or so these days, so maybe we head up there about, saaaay, 3:00? Th’ house ain’t that big, small attic and no cellar, shouldn’t take too long, I’d like to think.”

“I’d like to think, too,” said Olivia, “but all I can really do is feel sick at my stomach.”

Gail picked up Olivia’s hand and held it tightly, looking right into her eyes.

“Yeah, me too. We’re gonna do this, and we’re gonna come out on top. We just have to.”

Olivia squeezed Gail’s hand back and nodded, taking her hand back to point out something on the illustration of the ritual set-up.

“Where are we gonna get this stuff? If Barnett had it, he would’ve offered it, and I seriously doubt the preacher has anything even remotely like this at his place.”

“Yikes,” said Gail, looking at her own copy, “Didn’t think about that.”

Everyone was silent for a moment, mulling over the best place to acquire occult items in such a small, out-of-touch community. Suddenly, like a ray of sunlight slipping through a rift in a thick blanket of black clouds, it dawned on Gail that Elise Gryder was, after all, a witch, and she probably had things like this all over her house. This made for some tasty irony that she would surely relish later when things weren’t so...for lack of a better word, hectic.

For an event like the upcoming battle with evil supernatural forces, the outcome of which was neither known nor predictable, a night’s sound, restful sleep is exactly what one needs to prepare. It’s just too bad that, in another delectable twist of irony, this is the very sort of event that weighs so heavily upon the mind that the very last thing one can do is sleep. Gail had even resorted to the ‘Bible under the pillow’ thing, thinking that perhaps her brain refused to shut down for fear of another encounter with the spirit realm on some level. There was also the fact that it was only 6:41 in the evening, and Olivia was on her bed tapping away on her laptop.


“Aren’t you tired at all?” asked Gail, trying not to sound annoyed at the fact that Olivia seemed to refuse to try and sleep, even though nothing at all had been discussed about going to bed early.

“Nnnno,” said Olivia, almost questioningly, “was I...supposed to be? It’s barely 7:00. We haven’t even talked about your idea of going up to that house before the time we agreed on with the sheriff to look for the stuff we need for the ritual.”


“Oh, um..yeah, that did slip my mind. OK, so, do we or not?”

“Probably best so we aren’t trying to scrape all that stuff up at the last minute. Then again, I don’t wanna be up there without the sheriff to back us up. I dunno, what do you think?”

“I dunno either. We can’t screw around too long with this tomorrow, especially not knowing if anything we need is even up there,” said Gail, adding with a note of sarcasm, “unless you wanna drive to Crow’s Rest tonight and try that old shop on East Coram St. and see what’s there.”

“You mean Madame Giselle’s? God, I LOVE that place! Yeah, let’s go! C’mon!”

Gail looked at Olivia as if she were literally leaking stupidity.

“Bitch, you can’t be serious. I was just being...look, we have to plan, then we have to sleep, at least I do because of my condition. Besides, will she still be open by the time we get there? Not only that, but all this is wrecking my nerves and it’s making my pain worse.”

“We can talk on the way there and back. I’ll drive, and we aren’t going up to Gryder’s Cove until the early afternoon. We can sleep later tonight and then all morning if you want. As far as her place being open, if I remember correctly, she doesn’t even open ’til, like, 4:00 in the afternoon. Pleeeease? I’ll love you forever!” Olivia pouted. Gail tried not to smile.

“You were gonna do that anyway,” she said matter-of-factly, “ but OK, fine, we’ll go, but if I fall asleep on the way back, you let me, deal?”

“Done,” said Olivia, not even attempting to contain her delight, “this is gonna be fun, I promise. We could use a little of that, the way things have been going lately. I mean, honestly, witches and werewolf ghosts? What are the frickin’ odds of that happening in real life?”

“In Derby Cross? Pretty good, I’d say,” said Gail without a trace of mirth, “Remind me to pass on the next case that pops up here. Anywhere in Corden County, for that matter.”

“No sweat. Now come on, let’s get on the road. I just loaded a ton of good stuff onto my mp3 player, and it needs a test run.”

A change of clothes later, the two were on there way to Crow’s Rest, listening to what turned out to be the best playlist Olivia had compiled yet. Gail began the conversation about how to do what needed to be done the next day by taking out her copies of the pages that outlined the ritual they had to perform and pointing out some of the words in the pronunciation guide.

“See, like these two: hetnu and henun. The sound the U makes is different even though these words are almost the same. Geez, what did we get into here?”

Olivia was tapping the steering wheel nervously with her index fingers, wondering the same thing.

“It’d be nice if we could just turn it off and go home, huh? Just forget we ever came here or heard anything about it,” said Olivia with a weak laugh.

“Yeah, I’ve been entertaining that notion since last week,” Gail replied, still reading her pages, “Look at this, right here at the top, is that a human skull or some kind of animal? It’s kinda....i mean, it’s a little elongated to be human, but too round to be an animal. Is it just part of the illustration or a part of the ritual? Damn it! We need someone to consult on this.”

“Maybe Madame Giselle can help,” Olivia offered hopefully.

“Brilliant! Ha! I knew there was a reason I hang out with you.”

They laughed as Gail leafed through the pages again, then pointed out several other things that bothered her about the whole deal and what she thought might be a good solution. Finally they worked out a plan of action that involved literally tearing the house apart if necessary to find the Blasphemer’s skin-case and get the board in it ASAP, with Sheriff Whaley providing the tools to do so.

They planned to burn the whole house down anyway, so pulling up some floors and tearing out some walls was really not a problem. Once the case was found and the board safely stashed away, Sheriff Whaley and Gail would set up the items needed for the ritual while Olivia poured kerosene all through the house, starting under and around Elsie’s bed and ending at the front door. Then they would all three perform the ritual with their respective parts and then pour a trail of kerosene across the porch, down the steps and into the yard, setting it alight once they were a safe distance away. By this time, night should be falling, and Elsie would surely realize that her mortal body is no more and make her appearance at the blazing spectacle that was once her house. Gail and Olivia would have the board back out and Darc-Oros would be there to avenge himself and Gail’s cause before Elsie could do them any harm, then she and the Howlers would be history, Darc-Oros would be free, and this nightmare would finally come to a close. Once that happens, Gail and Olivia could get back to doing normal stuff, like investigating bobcats knocking over trash cans or bears eating hikers. Gail felt tired and a little achy here and there, but was holding up alright when they rolled up to the front of Madame Giselle’s Emporium of Enlightenment only two hours after leaving Derby Cross. Noticing the time on her phone, Gail looked over at Olivia suspiciously.

“ fast were you driving anyway?”

“The...speed..limit?” Olivia grinned playfully, “I think the important thing here is that we worked out our plan, and we got here way before the place closes, right?”

Olivia pointed to the sign on the door that listed the hours of business:

Mon-Fri 3:00 p.m. – Midnight

Sat 3:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.

Gail looked unimpressed, as well as a touch skeptical. Olivia tried her ‘cute smile’. Gail sighed. Olivia hopped out of the car and quick-stepped over to the door.

“Shall we?”

Trying not to look forgiving, Gail walked over to the door and took the knob in her hand. Somehow being here made everything that much more real, as if everything else that had the same effect thus far had been minor indicators, at best. She turned the knob and pushed the door open. Small bells tinkled as a thousand scents wafted across their senses all at once; hundreds of candles, thousands of pieces of incense, and the distinct pulse of positive energy that washed through their cores. As it slowly closed, the bells on the door jingled out a melody that made them both feel welcome and at ease, almost elated. Without another second of hesitation, they walked deeper inside. It was almost overwhelming. The entire store, every inch of it, was filled with the sound of Celtic music and merchandise, every shelf against every wall and every section of every glass case and counter. There were wind chimes tinkling all along the far left wall, kept in perpetual motion by the soft breeze from the heater vents. To the right were loaded bookshelves, glass cases filled with jewelry and other trinkets, and from the front door to the back wall were racks of clothing in earthy colors, purples, reds and of course, black. All the space in between was filled with so many different things, one could never list them in one breath. The candles and incense that greeted them at the door with their evocative aromas were stacked, stocked, laid out and shelved all around and under the counter where the old cash register sat. Gail and Olivia were so lost in it all, they had no idea that a voluptuous, dark-skinned woman with a giant mop of springy-curled, golden-brown hair was standing right behind them, smiling and watching them look around from the spot where they stopped walking and started staring. It was the same every time they came in, never failing to be fascinated and delighted by the veritable treasure trove stashed away in this tiny building just inside Crow’s Rest western city limit. It always seemed like everything was the same, but somehow brand new. Just then a very sultry, very Southern voice broke the trance and made Gail and Olivia both jump.

“Welcome back, ladies. Help y’all with somethin’ this ev’nin’?”

Madame Giselle was smiling at them, hands clasped in front of her as she bounced on her toes now and again, as was her custom when she was excited to have customers she knew, making the tiny bells on her thin braided leather anklet jingle happily. She was a veritable beacon of positive energy, her inner glow almost visible through her skin as she stood barefoot in a sheer flowing black silk robe with a huge detailed full moon printed on the back, slightly offset from the center, and hundreds of different sizes of stars everywhere else. It was also her custom, being such a free spirit and a little wild, to wear nothing under it. Her tangled waterfall of spiraling curls was not only huge, but hung well past her waist, and it was adorned all over with realistic butterfly barrettes, raven feathers, and a thick black elastic band laced with tiny silver bells gathered the tips in the back. She was barely 22 years old, but laden with ancient and powerful knowledge of all things occult.

“Been a while, girls. Glad t’ see y’ back! Anything in partic’lar y’all need? I got a bunch o’ new stuff last week. Maybe y’ wanna”

Her expression slowly shifted from happy and helpful to focused and concerned as her voice trailed off and she approached Gail, looking deeply into her eyes. She placed her hand on Gail’s shoulder, her tone as solemn as her expression.

“Dark day comin’. You need somethin’ more ‘n strength for what’s headed yer way, girl. I see whatcha need t’ do. Whatcha need to do it?”

Gail was completely dumbfounded. She had always thought the stories about Giselle being psychic were just to boost her business, yet here she stood, somehow knowing Gail was in a tight spot with the supernatural. She took her pages from her back pocket, separating the illustration from the other two and handing it to Giselle, who inspected it carefully, her expression more dire the longer she studied it.

“I have some o’ this stuff, but not all of it. What I don’t have I wouldn’t want near me or my customers. What I do have is right back there, in the Black Room.”

Giselle gestured to a heavy wooden door at the back of the store, barely visible in the shadows of everything else. Once they began moving closer, they could see it was a distressed black with a dark purple peeking through all around the edges and the doorknob plate where the black paint seemed to have worn off. The closer they got, the more the bright aura that hung everywhere in the store began to fade and slip away, retreating away from the door by which the three women now stood. Olivia’s skin began to crawl a little now, something that never happened when she had been here before.

“Giselle, I dunno about this. I’m a little more than freaked out here.”

“You’re safe ’long as I’m here, don’t worry. ‘Sides, nothin’ in here can hurt ya without someone usin’ it with ill intent. All the same, might be a good idea not t’ handle anything unless y’ ask, ’K?”

Olivia nodded agreement as Giselle took the doorknob in hand and turned it with an oddly heavy clack. The door hinges protested as she slowly swung it open and reached inside, finding the light switch. Light fluttered against the walls from several small fluorescent lamps sitting on small tables here and there, then became a steady, soft blanket of illumination, revealing a small room with walls painted like the night sky, the phases of the moon spanning the starry ceiling. Strings of purple Christmas lights lined the edges of the ceiling and were draped behind the shelves as well. The stars in the zodiac constellations were slightly larger than the others, making them stand out quite visibly. Here and there were skulls of different sizes, some used as bookends, some on top of stacks of books, some with candles on top, and every other cliché use for a skull from any old horror movie was represented. This fact made it no less intimidating for Olivia, who was keeping a sharp eye out for anything that might be lurking beyond the lamplight in wait to pounce on her.

“Well, this is....fucking scary,” said Olivia, looking around the room again and feeling no better about it all. This room was like an entirely different zip code than the main part of the store, and that warm, fuzzy feeling she had when they first arrived felt even further removed.

“Over here,” said Giselle, her voice still set in that sedate tone she had adopted outside the room, “I have the skull candles on this back shelf. One black, one white, right?” She sat them down onto the table beside the shelf in the one small space that wasn’t crowded with multiple corked colored bottles containing God-knows-what.

“Step over t’ that far wall, second shelf up, right about th’ middle, get the jar of rat teeth and put three of ‘em in this,” said Giselle, handing Gail one of the colored bottles, “but don’t spill none o’ that stuff outta the bottle.”

“I....probably don’t wanna know what’s in here, right?” Gail asked, already knowing the answer, which Giselle confirmed by closing her eyes and slowly shaking her head. She did as instructed, trying to stifle her ick! every time she reached into the blue-tinted jar and took out a nasty, yellowed little tooth, each one encrusted at the root with some kind of brown crud. Meanwhile, Olivia had been asked to climb up a ladder and retrieve a bejeweled box that contained several vials of what looked like dried herbs while Giselle had gone across the room to get a mortar and pestle. She sorted through the vials in the box Olivia had brought down and took a little from this one, a little from that one, adding them all together in the mortar. She then ground them all together, added something from another of the bottles on the table. The scent it created was at first putrid, but the more she tapped the liquid into the herbs, the more pleasantly aromatic it became. Soon the scent filled the room, almost dispelling the intense negativity that had been pressing into everyone’s noesis since they came in. Giselle scraped the mixture out of the bottom of the mortar with a small spoon from the table, put it in a small plastic zipper bag and tied a black ribbon around it.

“Don’t take th’ ribbon off ‘til yer ready t’ use this, ’K?” she said to Olivia, her large amber eyes easily conveying that Olivia should take her advice seriously. Next came a seven-inch long dagger, which Giselle referred to as an ‘athame’. It had a black blade engraved with symbols neither Gail nor Olivia recognized, the hilt was wrapped tightly in black leather, and the pommel looked like an eagle’s foot with long, slender talons gripping a rounded black stone.

“Most times,” Giselle began, motioning Gail to return the athame to her, “ya don’t wanna use one o’ these for anythin’ but castin’ circles and so on. Never cut anythin’ with it or use it for any kind of violence, right? This case, though, I think yer ritual calls for jus’ the opposite. ’K then, last thing. Now where on earth would I have put that....ah, yeah, there it is!”

Giselle moved a three-step ladder over to yet another shelf and climbed up to the top step, reaching way up and taking down another box, this one obviously wooden and made like a pirate’s treasure chest from a movie. Upon her feet returning to the floor, she sat it down and opened it slowly. A soft blue light slid up her chest and onto her face as she did, fading away when she had the box fully open. Olivia looked to Gail inquisitively to find Gail looking at her the same way. From the box Giselle took a small ceramic vase, ancient-looking, a leather thong tied around its neck. Giselle went back to the table with all the multicolored bottles and picked up a dark red one, pulling the cork with her teeth. She tipped the vase to the neck of the bottle until the openings touched and tapped the vase, which caused a tiny bit of powder to fall into the red bottle. The mixture made an audible fizzing sound that subsided quickly and left only minuscule bubbles floating around in....

Could that be? Am I seeing that? a definite pattern, as if along little invisible pathways inside the bottle.

“Now this bottle is exceptionally fragile, ladies.”

She handed it to Gail, who reached for it just as Giselle pulled it out of her reach and looked it over, puzzling, shifting her mouth from side to side.

“I’ll bubble-wrap it, how’s ’at?” she said, holding it gingerly in both hands, then opening a drawer in the nearest table and taking out some bubble wrap in order to do just that, taping it on securely before handing it over to Gail and suggesting they gather everything and take it out into the main part of the store. She seemed a little uneasy, even paranoid, looking all around at everything.

“Let’s get on outta here, girls. I don’t even know why mama put this room in, t’ tell th’ truth.”

With a shove from Giselle’s bare foot, a heavy creak and a quick click, the door to the Black Room was again locked up and that blissful ambiance began to seep in again. They carried all the items to the counter in the middle of the store and laid everything beside the register.

This is the part where she makes a little speech about using these things wisely, wishes us luck, and we pick up everything and rush out, and she doesn’t even charge us for it.....

clackclackclacketyclackclackety rrrrrrppp!

“$132.47, ladies. Cash or charge?”

Another daydream down the shitter. Gail swiped her debit card, Giselle put the items in one large black plastic bag, then thanked the girls with a big smile and walked with them to the front door.

“That stuff there, if there’s any left, bring it back here. It ain’t nothin’ ya wanna leave layin’ around or try to use for somethin’ else, trust me. I’ll buy it back, just don’t give it to anyone or let anyone outside whoever’s helpin’ ya know ya got it. You have one more, a man, right? Yeah, from what I can see of ‘im, don’t uh..don’t let him fool with anythin’ he doesn’t have to.”

“Thank you, Giselle, you have no idea...well, maybe you do have some idea what a tremendous help you’ve been. We’ll be back, promise.”

“See you then,” Giselle said with an encouraging smile, “You have the power, only you. Just dig deep and find the faith to see it through.”

Giselle hugged them both and disappeared somewhere amongst her merchandise.

With that, the two were back in the car and headed back for Derby Cross and the uncertainty of what lie before them. Gail wondered what time it was as she reclined her seat to try and sleep, then decided time really didn’t matter, and wouldn’t matter until this was all over and she was safe at home.

Safe.....home.....if I ever will be again.....

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