The Emporium of cursed things
There is a town, old and worn by years of steadily declining business, nestled between the city and the ocean. As far as old towns go, that one is as set in its ways as can be. Everybody knew one another; no secret was hidden from the prying ears of little old ladies and their ancient terriers, no unexpected news could be kept from the local papers.
In that town, your business was everyone’s business.
The town was for lack of a better word, strange. Not strange in the quirky way that can be associated with some small towns, the ones with the gimmicks or folklore. No, the town was strange in the: “Was that Bigfoot or a bear?” kind of way. Anyone born there either had no idea how strange the place was, or the strangeness was the norm to them.
We’d moved there a few months ago, my mother’s work had removed us from the city and dropped us in the bustling nothingness of the countryside. The air that had once smelled like petrol and greasy burger joints became an aroma of cows, corn, and damp. For every mile of endless crop fields and wild-flower meadows, there were forests and woodlands. In the day the trees were vast and vibrant, settling in clusters at the mouth of the town, at night they looked like gnarled hands stretching out to pluck unsuspecting cars from the road.
It had been night when we had arrived; the branches of the trees were tinted gold with firelight. I remember seeing a gathering of people dancing around a fire from my window, but before I could get a better look, my brother had shoved his dinosaur toy in my face and exclaimed that he was hungry.
I had never heard of the town before arriving. There had been no signs leading to it, no maps, not even a webpage that listed zany slogans that showcased the towns many fun places to visit during summer. It was bizarre, coming to a place without knowing what was waiting for us.
The new house was lovingly named Vine Farm, though there was no farm attached to it, nor were there any vines or signs vines had ever been there. It had a sort of old charm to it I suppose, like if you were looking at an old photograph and felt a prickle of nostalgia. Vine house seemed to be stuck in the late Victorian era; it was pointy in ways that modern houses no longer were, with large triangular windows on the second floor and a high, sloping roof. The front door was guarded by a weed eaten wrap around porch, so worn by the years of it being uninhabited that the grass had risen to claim it. The whole building was painted a sickly green that looked like someone had accidentally spilt the green paint into the cream and tried to cover it up by mixing it.
From my room, I had the glorious view of the woods and cow fields. Because of that, at night, I would lie awake thinking about the things that could potentially live in said woods, and in the day, the livestock symphony played their bellowing songs so loudly that finding a moments silence was a rarity.
Even with its faults, the house had one thing going for it. On the way up the spiralling staircase, in-between the two taxidermized pheasants, there was a window ledge big enough to fit a person. The window is arched and tall and has a beautiful stain glass mural of a thistle in the centre. That was my favourite spot; my reading window. I could sit there for hours and just lose myself in the pages of a good book.
We’d been here for a couple of months, not long enough to have explored every inch of the town, but long enough for the locals to start speaking to us. All the kids at the school would ask: “What’s the city like, Megaera?” I would correct them by saying: “It’s Meg,” before answering the question. People weren’t my best subject; I’d only really been exposed to my brothers, and they were quiet for the most part.
In short, I was yet to make a single lasting friend in my sixteen years of life.
Today was the first day of the last week at school before the summer holidays. I wouldn’t really call this a final week at school as everyone had either already finished with their exams or were sitting through lessons that consisted of watching films and films only. I had finished my exams early, even with the sudden change to my curricula halfway through the year, school was impossibly easy. I blame my mum; She was a firm believer in home-schooling her children until high-school age. My brothers and I spent our early lives following her around as she took us to historical sites; she let us unearth things that your average child wouldn’t ever see in person.
So to conclude, it was her fault that I had no struggle with school.
That and this town...it’s not exactly normal.
My reaction to my timetable on the first day of school was confusion. Normal schools had maths, English, science and a language as a base for their lessons and everything else came in-between. This schools rota consisted of:
· Break (09:00am-09:30am)
· Art (09:30am-10:30am)
· Animal care (10:30am-11:30am)
· Lunch break (11:30am-12:45pm)
· Town history (12:45pm-13:35pm)
· Town music (13:35pm-14:35pm)
· English (14:35pm-15:15pm)
That was how it was for every day, nothing more nothing less, just the same five lessons.
I know every school was different, but this one... unfairly easy.
I tapped my pencil against the paper, English was usually my favourite lesson, but today we’re watching a movie, Twilight, I think. Not that the kids were watching it, most of them were goofing off on their phones and ds’s; I’m pretty sure someone was smoking at the back. I was happily scribbling a badly drawn eye at the corner of my paper, one earbud in, blocking out the chaos around me. I wasn’t expecting someone to lean across my desk and nab the doodle paper from under me.
“Huh, I thought it would be better than that...”
I turned my head to the robber and scowled. The person in front of me was a prime example of why high-school girls are the worst species. She claimed to be the most beautiful girl in the school, and apparently, according to her, all the boys wanted to date her. She has long blonde hair that fell in ringlets around her face and back, blue eyes that were hidden under a thick layer of mascara, and fake eyelashes. Her eyebrows looked like someone had stuck slugs to her face. She had the look of someone who was two years shy of getting plastic surgery.
“You thought wrong, goodbye.” I snatched my paper back as Rammstein began screaming in my ear.
“Megaera, isn’t your dad a famous artist?” The girl, what was her name? I couldn’t for the life of me remember it, asked.
“More famous than you’ll ever be. Goodbye.” I said again with more urgency. I didn’t know how to form a conversation with her; my words jumbled in my brain, the logical part of it wanted to string the most optimal words at her, like “Yes, My dad is famous, I just don’t share his talent.” Topped off with a laugh. My other side was feral and snarling and yelling at me to stick my other earphone in to keep the girl at bay. Regardless of my inner-turmoil, the girl screeched her chair next to mine.
“So, we’re having a party at the end of the week; a kinda, end of school party, since of lot of us aren’t coming back for sixth form. I think you’d enjoy it, oooh! You can bring your brother too!”
She smelled like fancy tea and fresh flowers; it tickled my nose as she pressed herself against me.
“Haha...Which one? Hadrian has to be in bed by eight, so I doubt he’s able to make it.” I joked.
She gave me a critical look, and I tried my best to remember her name, was it Lexi? Libby?
“Mr, Tall, Dark, and Handsome.” She replied, fluttering her eyelashes. I made a mental note that joking about my baby brother wasn’t funny.
“You’d have to ask Nero yourself since parties aren’t my thing.” I paused for a moment, where would they even have a party in a town like this?
“Surely you wouldn’t throw a party in one of the old run-down barns, right?”
The girl gave me a sad smile and patted my arm.
“How much of South Leici have you seen, Megaera?”
“Enough for me not to want to see anymore, this town is weird. It’s Meg by the way.”
“Cool cool, well if you go past the freaky antique store at the edge of the woods, you’ll get to the Rose Estate, those houses are new builds with central heating and pools. My house is there.”
I looked at the old plasma tv in the middle of the room; then to the teacher who was asleep at his desk, his long black hair had fallen free from his pony-tail. He was stern but kinda cool as far as teachers go, I had even spied tattoos peeking out from under his sleeves.
“Why ask me to come?” I yawned, vaguely watching the Vampires fight on the screen.
“Because, Megaera, You don’t talk to any of us and I think it will be nice to get to know some of the other girls around here. Plus I love your hair, and I want to style it so badly.” I ducked out of the way before she could grasp the split ends of my untamed hair.
“I’m okay, thanks.” The clock on the wall was moving slower than ever. I glanced at the teacher again; he was still asleep; there was no chance he’d let us go early.
“Mmm, well let me know before Friday.” She picked up my free earbud and inspected it. “What kind of music do yo-AHHH!”
I seized it back just as she fell out of her seat.
“Oh my God, Megaera! What...What is that?”
I tried not to laugh; I really did...
“It...its so violent.”
The teacher had not stirred by her scream, and we now had an audience of curious teenagers gaping at the girl on the ground.
I looked at the clock again, 15:14.
“I...um... it’s actually a love song.”
The bell blurted before I got a response and I was out of the door before it had finished.
I had only made it to the locker room before the girl had caught up to me. Unusually she didn’t have her heard of lesser girls with her; they almost always flocked together outside of classes. I knew why she was here, though, and it wasn’t just for my presence, it was for the boy leaning against the lockers. He was tall and broad, with short dark hair, it was styled in a way that suggested he’d just woken up. Like the smile he wore, his uniform was loose and open, showing a small strip of skin from his neck to the top of his sternum. This close you couldn’t mistake us for anything other than siblings; in fact, we shared so many features that people often mistook us for twins.
“There’s my favourite sibling!” Nero beamed, his dark eyes catching my own.
“Library, now.” I grabbed his arm, but before I could drag him out, he flicked his gaze to the girl.
“Megooo, you brought a friend!” He poked my cheek until I let go and sauntered over to the girl.
“She’s not m...” It was pointless trying to explain myself to him, Nero had selective hearing, especially around pretty girls.
“Hey, I always see you here after school, Meg isn’t very bright when it comes to people, so she probably ignores you.” There was his charming smile, the smile that could cause girls to go weak in the knees. As far as smile genetics go, Nero got all of them while I was stuck with an almost permanent scowl.
“I don’t igno-”
“Oh no, don’t worry about it, I was actually following, Megaera back so I could apologise for freaking out about her music.” The girl winced a smile at me. “Sorry, Megaera, I didn’t mean to embarrass you like that.”
I had words in my throat, but the feral side of my brain refused to speak them, so instead, I muttered a quiet: “It’s fine.” And grabbed Nero’s wrist.
“Please can we go now? The library closes at four, and I need to get at least one more book read this month.”
Nero nodded before offering his hand to the girl.
“Nero Jones. Filling in as friend due to my sister’s lack of social skills, what should I call you?”
The girl seemed shocked by this and from under her layers of make-up, I could have sworn I saw a blush tint the bridge of her nose.
Huh, I was confused by that, I’d always thought her name started with an L.
“Well Rihanna,” Nero started, snaking his arm around my shoulders before I could escape without him. “Megoo and I are hitting up the library. Wanna tag along?”
I started to protest, but he put me in a headlock and pulled my bobble out, causing my hair to spring loose.
“I’m meeting the girls at six for party planning, but...I’m sure I could come for a little bit.”
The library was one of the few places in town that was still somewhat functional. It had outdated computers that had the running capacity of a potato, those weird chairs that had soft-looking cushioning on them but were deceitfully solid, and terrible primary coloured abstract paintings that hung sadly on the walls. It smelled of old books and strong coffee and was probably the smallest library I’ve ever seen. There were about three main isles of books; the rest were shelves with comics and manga. The walls had been painted a hideous grey colour that looked like a particularly sad raincloud, not only that, but there were some rather curious stains on the ceiling and carpet. The librarian was an older woman with curled grey hair and steel-coloured eyes hidden under extensive wireframes. She had a rattish face and always gives me a strange look whenever I come by.
Today’s look was distaste as it was not only me invading the library, but my loud brother and equally as loud Rihanna. I forced out the best attempt at a smile I could muster and made my way to the folklore section. It was surprising how much folklore this town had, though it all seemed to revolve around a mysterious well.
I took my time running my fingers over the spines of ageing books, I had read most of them already, but I was sure I could find something I could sink my teeth into.
“Get it, Leo!” A girls voice cut into my book selecting and the shelf I was stood in front of, suddenly rocked, spilling books across the floor. I held in my yell of surprise and whipped my head to the librarian. I swear her eyes glowed as she observed the mess before me. I offered a small wave and turned back to the shelf.
“You could help, this one’s a slippery fecker!” The second voice was heavily accented.
I stared at the mess, then at the gap in the shelf that revealed two people. One was a girl with bright blue hair; it was spiky and messy; she was wearing the brightest shade of eyeshadow I’d ever seen. Next to her was an extremely tall boy with long curly brown hair and light blue eyes, he had a guitar strapped across his back and a strange-looking jar in his hands, he was pushing it against the bookshelf, causing it to rattle.
“Oh god, Magnus is gonna be so pissed. I can’t believe you sold it.” The girl yelled.
“I wouldn’t ave if you dint leave me at the counter. I’m Security, not sales...How was I menna know it wasn’t for sale?” The boy replied.
I took a deep breath and plucked the remaining book from the shelf, it was titled: ‘The Well & its secrets.’ I then turned away from them.
It wasn’t my problem.
I settled at the table across from my brother, who was entertaining Rihanna with his card tricks. Nero was always good with fake magic, his sleight of hand was so great that if it weren’t for me spending years helping him with his tricks, I wouldn’t know how he did it without having actual magic.
“Wow, Nero!” Rihanna cried; she was practically on his lap.
“Cool right? Me and Meg used to practice all the time, but Meg’s too cool to do it any more.” Nero winked at me.
“Really?” Rihanna gasped.
I made a face and pawed open my book. Like all the other folklore books, this one had a picture of the mysterious well on the front page. Part of me wanted to go and find it. It was something directly out of a fantasy novel with its moss-covered lever, and tree roots pushing through its worn grey stone. What secrets could be hidden in the depths of it? Was the forest it lived in enchanted? It could also just be a story, but according to all the books, it used to be full of raw magic.
“Woahhh!.” Rihanna’s shrew voice yowled, breaking my concentration. I glared at her and my brother over the top of my book; I would have glared some more if it wasn’t for my eyes catching sight of spiky blue hair. She danced her way past the librarian while the boy followed behind, shaking the strange jar in his hands; They both chanted something as they went by.
“Ugh.” Rihanna yapped. “Jane Cargress.”
“Not a fan of hers?” Nero asked.
“That girl is the weirdest. I heard she works at the antique store, her and that boy she goes around with; they are always doing crazy stuff, we all think they are part of a cult. Last year they both got caught summoning something in the woods behind the antique store. Nobody knows what it was they summoned.”
I frowned and turned to see the strange pair waltz out the door, the jar raised above their heads.
“She doesn’t seem so bad,” I grumbled.
“My sister was in her year at school. Apparently, she used to keep things like frogs and bugs in her desk. She was always with that boy too; it’s like they’re joined at the hip. I don’t think anyone actually knows his name.” Rihanna stared at the doorway where the two had escaped from.
“I have a pet spider.” I shrugged, “she could be the coolest person you’ll ever meet, and you’ll never know.”
“Maybe, but she’s just not my kind of person.”
I suppose I couldn’t fault her; I was also prone to judging people I didn’t know.
“The library is closing, pack up and get out.” The librarian yelled from her desk.
I looked at Nero and offered him a small smile.
“You coming straight home or are you going out?”
“Uhh, Dads cooking tonight so dinner might actually be nice... Yeah, I’ll come, d’ya mind giving me a few though, I’m just gonna use the bathroom, the walk home is so long.”
I didn’t want to stand awkwardly with Rihanna until Nero was finished, so I carefully said goodbye to her and left the library before she suggested walking home with us.
The night air was cool and sweet, the sun wasn’t set yet, and everything was covered in an orange glow. As I began my march down the street, towards the woods that surrounded my house, I caught sight of a man on the corner of the road. He was unnaturally tall, dressed in a long black cloak that covered everything. If it weren’t for his pale face and hand peeking out from under it, I would have thought he was merely a shadow. I stood there for a moment, contemplating whether I should wait for Nero or not, but before I could make a decision, the man/creature turned and waved to me.
Its face wasn’t as human as I initially thought, more like an imitation of one, like it was wearing a pale white mask. I shivered and then stuck my middle finger up at it before storming back towards my brother.
I’d much rather walk home with Nero and Rihanna than deal with whatever that was.