I grabbed up the press sheet from the front porch as soon as I heard it land. The delivery boy was riding his bike down the street singing and pointing his finger at each house as he passed. The bound sheets would fly from the bags attached to the back of his bike and land just one foot from the front door without fail. Jeremy Blagh…or Bloghu or something like that lived a few streets over and made a little pocket money from his route. I left him a tip every month, and cookies for the holidays.
I pulled the sheets close to me as I wound past the stairs through my plaster walled house and crossed wooden floors marred by the scratches and faded spots left from the people who lived here before me. Unpacked boxes were piled in each room creating the maze from the front door to the kitchen through an unlivable living room, and a box filled dining room. My black half skirt rustled lace against the boxes, and my black lace up boots clomped heartily across the floors as I walked. White frilly blouse, purple corset, and a black laced short jacket completed my outfit. I’d pinned a small black top hat with a small violet flower to my swept-up hairstyle.
Once in the kitchen, I ripped open the ribbon and spread the front sheet across my kitchen table. I didn’t find it on the first one and began turning each sheet and scanning for the announcement. There were photos of a diverted robbery of spells from the Incantations Bank, and a close-up photo of Mayor Belinda Wells, official tall hat perched fetchingly over perfect curls, cutting the ribbon to a new cauldron factory west of town that had been the subject of tense discussions as to scope, location, and hiring practices within the community. Work had begun weeks ago widening the roads leading to and from the factory before it opened this week.
There were lists of sports and music and magic competitions and performances. Classified ads, comic drawings, and jobs available were next to properties and houses for sale. I couldn’t find it though, and went through the whole set of sheets again, shaking each one as I turned it as if I could make it appear through agitation.
No one would know if they don’t publish it, I thought. Maybe Jonie Templor hadn’t gotten the date right. With that thought the office drawer flew open, and out came the correspondence we had exchanged via intercellular mail. I skimmed it and checked the date she’d given me with today’s date, and they matched. They matched, and there was no announcement.
I sat down in a kitchen chair stretching my feet out in front of me. I missed Melvin, the orange cat with a swirled tabby pattern, who had been with me all through my transformation, the witchification process, until he disappeared about a month ago. No finding spell had located him, and I’d had to post fliers all around town asking for information as if I weren’t the least bit witchified. Heartbroken, worried, and feeling abandoned, I’d had to finish the preparations for opening day without him.
Opening day for the shop wouldn’t have the promised coverage in the sheets. I felt disappointed and a little bit of panic. There’d been plenty of lead time, and an interview, a photo session of me and the shop, a tour for the journalist and photographer, and I served them tea and scones in the den space allotted to snacks and drinks. Jonie had said that if it didn’t make in today’s sheets it wasn’t going to make it into the sheets. She said that if it were a slow press cycle then I could count on it being there, but it might have to be cut if there weren’t space, and would I care to arrange an advertisement just in case?
Only I couldn’t really afford an advertisement. I spent most of what I had prepaying rent on the location for the year and filling the shop with the specialized expensive inventory that would give the shop the niche I was trying to fill.
Gathering my things together for the day, missing Melvin, I blinked twice and cut the lights, walked out the door which opened for me and closed behind me as I approached and went through it. I put the planner, and maps, and accounting notebooks into the baskets on the back of my bicycle and headed off to the shop.
I stopped at Bristol Books and Beckonings, where I used to work, on the way to my shop. I spelled my bike to the stand out front, and pushed through the wood and glass door setting the chimes to chiming. Mr. Gaier came out from the back room to look at me over his reading glasses. He set down the clipboard and opened his arms to give me a brief hug.
“Ready for today then?” he asked heading around to get me my morning coffee. The months I had spent working part-time for him had been joyous. I would miss being surrounded by the old books and Tawny, Mr. Gaier’s cat who came up to me and began winding her long creamy furred body around my legs. I bent down to scratch behind her ears and give her the long petting she required before I could do anything else.
“Almost ready,” I told him.
“There was no announcement in today’s sheets.” I told him as leaned on the wooden counter and began playing with the business cards and bookmarks by the register.
The coffee behind him began steaming, but he glanced at me quite sternly before turning back to his contraption, part magic and part machine.
“Did you sign up for that magic workshop I told you about last week?”
“I forgot because I also didn’t have time,” I sighed. What good would it have done, I wondered, taking the hot ceramic mug he handed to me, just more money gone. I set the coffee down carefully on a little carpet and snapped my fingers to pull money for the tip and for the coffee from my bags and set the coins down on the counter.
“Cesily, if you can snap money like that without even an incantation, you can sky magic an announcement and find Melvin, if you wanted to find him.” That look again.
I sighed even more. I was feeling attacked and disgruntled. I had to open the shop today, didn’t really know much about using my magic, and Melvin was gone. My house still isn’t unpacked, the work had been put off so much as I was getting the shop ready for customers, and protecting the inventory, and making sure none of it would spoil. Melvin up and disappeared without a by-your-leave, and today the shop was opening. My mind was in a spiral of everything that was going wrong. I felt like I had very little left to give, and I needed to make some sales today, so I needed customers, but I didn’t want Mr. Gaier to know how rough the past month had been, or how I’d put myself on scant food rations to save money in the lead up to the opening.
“The magic workshop would have done you a world of good. Here,” Mr. Gaier handed me a heavy book leather bound with gilt letters called ‘Thriving Spellification’ by Witmer James.
“Make the sky charm announcement. Then read through this while you’re waiting for your first customers.
“You do want customers, don’t you?”
I only nodded to him as I took the book. My throat had closed tight, and I attempted to swallow to clear my voice, but coughed a bit instead. Mr. Gaier had been a huge help throughout the witchification process, the shop planning, and the teaching me about handling retail through the experiences in the bookstore.
Mr. Gaier believed my witchification had come so late to me because of the ‘particulars of my upbringing,’ and the ‘struggle to find myself amongst the deceptions’ as he often said. He thought that workshops, witchy friends, and spell books would help me ‘unfasten the locks on my spirit.’
I jingled out through the door finally finding enough voice to call out a thank you over my shoulder followed by ‘See you later.’
I crossed the street half a block up Bleaker Street and crossed to the other side. There was my shop, third one on Delvin Place from the corner. The entry way was arched and sunken in where the door opened into the shop. The window was large and clear with Herborium Works in large letters arranged in a slight curve and in smaller letters under that it said Rare Spells and Incantation Supplies. I thought this town would be a good market for a specialty shop like this.
Cavendeshlem, a small hamlet built on slow hilled fertile fields, bustled this time of morning. Bicycle bells ringing out from two wheelers, three wheelers, and four wheelers. All of the motorized vehicles were a mixture of pedaling and magic. Little pedal cars, and bigger trucks all biked on the cobblestone streets in the fair weather. Cavendeshlem had a dry season and a rainy season, but never got extended heat or extended cold, and today the weather was bright, sunny, and cool with a chance of rain as we were coming up on the wet season.
The street was lined with short, plump trees with flowers of purple, red, and yellow. Their canopies cast dappled light onto the streets and buildings, and the leaves were small and many resembling feathers as much as anything. Pedestrians chatted, nodded, and pushed their way past each other carrying baskets, umbrellas, and piles of books as they navigated the sidewalks. Some of the ladies were in their renaissance half dresses, others in puffy slacks cuffed midcalf, and some in sleek business wear, while the gentlemen were a mix of tails and tall hats, smoking jackets and sweater vests, or flannels and denim.
I weaved and ducked through the others on foot having left my bike parked on the rack in front of Mr. Gaier’s bookstore. At the door, I balanced my bag of books and notebooks, and my coffee, and pointed my two left fingers at the latch to unlock it. The lock sprang, the door opened, and inside I went as the lights lit and the curtains opened. The space in front of me held a small couch and two armchairs around a little coffee table. There partially on an oval forest green rug that was placed on the hardwood floors.
The couch faced the front windows where cheery plants were hung and flowering in downward cascades above a deep blue cushioned window seat. A half table along the wall as I entered received my coffee and bag of books and materials while I tried to summon up the enthusiasm for this day.
Herborium Works: Rare Spells and Incantations Supplies would open in an hour. The shelves along the side wall opposite me were full of herbs, scrolls, inks, and papers for sale all of which were some of the most potent, and expensive, materials for use by spell casters. I had imported candles of rare waxes, and wicks of even more unusual sources like duck nest, unicorn fiber, and molted goose. Tucked in amongst the candles were spell specific cauldrons, incense, and hard to find tarot decks. A small collection of apothecary supplies and large variety of herbs lined the shelves behind the counter where the register sat waiting for the first customers.
I took the gilt lettered book from the satchel and put it on the coffee table with my coffee. I hung the satchel underneath the counter and grabbed a photo of Melvin that I’d magicked when he first found me on my way back to the couch.
I took the crystal pendant from around my neck and held it over the photo of Melvin. Using yes and no questions I found that Melvin was still alive, which was a great relief, and that he had managed to get himself to an alternate world, and that he couldn’t get back on his own. Luckily, now that I knew roughly where he had gone, oop…
“Meow…?” He didn’t even look sorry, and he didn’t seem to be holding a grudge that it had taken me so long to find him. I got him a bowl of cat food and put it under the counter with some fresh water.
I owed Mr. Gaier for that one, for sure. Now, the grand opening announcement in the sky. I thought and thought about the logo design and store emblem and, well, that should do it.
I stepped out of the front door and looked up to see an enormous rotating logo and emblem circled by an ‘Opening today at 11 AM,’ and the address ‘343 W Delvin Pl’ circling very close overhead. I raised it higher and higher, set an internal timer for three hours, and went back inside to finish my coffee.
Melvin finished his breakfast and sat with me on the couch, or rather he crawled onto my legs purring and kneading in such a way that it was almost pleasant, but as soon as I relaxed a little bit, one or more claws would dig into my skin just enough to be uncomfortable. Images of his travels flitted in and out of my mind, a world full of canals with long narrow boats and fresh fish, and white cats with lavender eyes with manes not quite like tigers but who were larger than Mrs. Barker’s dog, Leon who was a St. Bernard, and a sausage like food made from exotic meats and spices. I listened to his memories of chiming music, and wind flutes resonating both deeper and higher than our music with their unusual cadences, when the front door opened suddenly, scaring Melvin right off of my lap and causing me to leap to my feet spilling my coffee onto the lace tights on my right knee, down my right calf, and onto my right boot.
I looked up appalled at the man who stood in the doorway. He chuckled, and his long brown beard quivered with humor. He wore a black top hat, and black tails with silvery grey trim at the edges. The jacket came down in front a little longer than the trending style and was buttoned over a shirt so darkly black it made the black hat and jacket appear more like charcoal. I looked up at his eyes, which were a startling green, and smiled.
“Welcome!” I told him. Snapping a cloth into my hand, I began wiping up the coffee I spilled bending over to get at my boot, and dabbing up my leg, until I heard him clear his voice. I looked up again.
“How can I help you today, sir?” I asked looking back down at my leg and dabbing a little more. That just about did it.
Melvin watched us both intently from the counter, and I caught him throwing a glimpse of a lavender eyed beauty from the alternative world at me with what I thought was a knowing chuckle. I straightened with a growing flush to my face and snapped my fingers again, and the rag disappeared. The man had taken one step into the store once more clearing his voice. My nerves jangled and I looked at him and waited for him to speak.
“Are you the, uhm, witch who has placed the, er, the advertisement up in the clouds this morning?”
“I’d never done one before. Do you think it came out all right?” I asked picking up my coffee and books off of the low table in front of the couch. I began to move behind the counter, and he took a few more steps towards me as I moved away from both the door and the seating.
“It’s just that…” he looked at me then at his shoes, beautiful black boots of scrolled leather and pointy toes, then back up at me.
I shrugged a shoulder and raised an eyebrow.
“It’s just that what?”
“Well, madam witch,” he paused briefly as if he wanted my name then as if he changed his mind and the rest of his words rushed out in a flood, “todoapublicworkinglikethatyouneedacitypermit. Do you have a copy of your permit nearby?”
My eyes had squinted trying to follow what he was saying than went wide as I shook my head and leaned back.
“How much for a permit?” I asked.
“Well, madam, the permit is 200 lukas, and the fine will be another 80 lukas.” By now the madam this and madam that had started to annoy me, and the amount of the cost of the permit appalled me.
Right away the cheap and frugal part of me went to battle with the obey-the-rules part of me. That conflict was quickly followed by the anti-authoritarian part of me jumping into the fray which woke up survival me, and I’m afraid I stood there scowling at him while this raging argument tumbled furniture and broke things in my mind.
“What if I took it down right now? Would I still owe anything? I didn’t know about needing a permit.” Find-the-loophole-me saunter into the situation carelessly throwing down the obvious easiest possible solution, while dodging the metaphorical plates and chairs the others were still slinging around in my mind. Find-the-loophole-me tried to come up with other exits against the background tussle while I blinked, somewhat fetchingly I thought, at the government man.
He came over to the counter where I had set down my coffee. I piled my books onto a shelf under the counter and straightened back up to see him pulling on his beard. There were crinkles around his eyes which seemed to dance merrily in his face, and he had a crooked bit of a smile which made me feel awfully strange in a nice way when he turned it my direction, like he was doing while I stood there fiddling with my coffee and waiting for his answer.
I smiled back at him. He shook his head and his smile dropped away, which was disappointing. He cleared his throat again and shook his head some more.
“I’m afraid not, there’s already been a complaint, and I’m afraid you’ll have to settle up with me or come down to the office.”
My eyes lit up and I smiled again leaning forward over the counter towards him, glancing swiftly left and right, and whispering loudly, “What happens if I go down to the office with you?”
He took a step back and cocked his head to one side. His eyes glanced at the ceiling, and he stroked his beard, and he said, “Uhm, honestly, this is my second week on the job since my training ended, and I have no idea. Hold on up while I find out.”
He pulled out a pocket mirror communicator and flipped it opened, typed in something quickly by just pointing his finger here and there in front of it and waited, looking around the shop at things on the shelves to the side, behind me, at everything it seemed except me. I’d posed rather attractively while he looked around the shop, so he could have at least seen me standing there. I moved abruptly to examine the spells around the register, too impatient and careless to hold an attractive pose for an uninterested government man, no matter cute his eyes and beard and smile were.
A gentle beep sounded, and he looked back down at the mirror again nodding. “Okaaay. Right. Okay. Suuure. Right. Will do. Thanks.” He snapped it shut.
“Uh, you just pay the fine there, and they warn you not to do that again.”
“What if I can’t pay it?” I whispered even more loudly. Exaggerating my voice to give all the parts of me a chance to calm down and figure something out that could fix this. I didn’t quite have the amount of lucas on me that would pay for the permit and the fine.
The door jangled again, and a couple walked into the store. I gave the government man a stern look with a questioning brow, and he nodded and wandered over towards the shelves while I greeted the couple with a hearty hello.
She was tall and elegant with silvery hair swooped up under a maroon hat trimmed in cream lace. Her corset matched the hat, and the low-heeled shoes while the skirt flared down in cascading ruffled tiers which were modestly gathered up to the knee on her right side. She carried a smart looking walking cane of smooth dark wood which she tapped out a rhythm on the floor as she walked. She smiled and looked around the shop with bright eyes and glanced over her shoulders at the man who came in behind her.
“Darling Charles, do look, would you, at the selections on the wall?” She strode over to where the government man was doing his best to look interested in the merchandise. Darling Charles, who was a tall thin man clad sedately in grey trousers with a grey blazer, leaned on his black cane with both hands and peered straight at me over the top of his glasses.
“How can I help you today?” I asked remembering my shop manners from having worked at Mr. Gaier’s bookstore.
The man nodded, picked up his cane in one hand and sort of waltz-walked over behind the lady who gave me the answer.
“I can’t help wondering, my dear, if you’d have any Lividum Astreus? Sometimes known as…”
“Yes, I do. It’s also known as David’s Blue Ear. I have it by powder, or by dried ear. But if you need a tincture or decoction made from it, I offer that service as well.” I had turned to locate the item on the shelf behind me, so I heard and felt rather than saw a shift in the room before I turned all the way back around to face them.
The couple had moved up to the counter, and the government man stood over by the front window, but all three were staring at me mouths sort of round with wonder. As I floated down to the ground, I realized that maybe not that many people could levitate up to the higher shelves like that. I flushed and felt flustered and almost dropped the items I’d taken from the shelves.
The lady and gentleman exchanged looks. I held a ceramic container of powder and a larger tin of the dried ears out towards them a little then set them on the counter.
“Would you like to inspect the dried ears or test the powder?” I felt fidgety which meant my feet weren’t always in contact with the ground, and this seemed like a bad time to lose control of gravity. I pointed at my feet and stuck them to the floor with my emergency shoe gum that I’d developed for situations like this.
The lady gave a small smile to the gentleman and approached the counter. I opened the tin and slid it towards her. She peered into it keeping her hands behind her back as she looked. From under the counter, I pulled a small pair of tongs, a small porcelain bowl, and a small wooden spoon and laid them on the counter next to the ceramic jar.
“May I?” She asked gesturing at the tongs.
“Of course,” I said, handing her the tongs handle first. I glanced at the government man to see if he meant to drag me off to jail or demand my fees and fines, but he had moved from the window and had picked up the second edition copy of Smerg’s Medicinal Incantors, which I had spent 3 years tracking down. Its worth was about an eighth of my entire inventory, and he was casually leafing through it. I rather hoped he wasn’t a thief. I knew the government jobs didn’t pay too well until year five and resolved to keep a firm eye on him.
The gentleman had approached the lady and they murmured quietly head-to-head while she turned over the one ear, then the next, and the two towards the bottom of the tin with the tongs I had provided.
“Very nice, young lady,” said the gentleman. His voice boomed into the silence that had settled on the shop and seemed to linger in the air with a resonance which made the volume seem louder than it might.
“Quite,” said the lady, “Would you prepare the test, please?” She looked directly at me then. I was pinned to the spot in her grey eyes. I felt a delving begin and closed-the-blinds-blinked and reached for the wooden spoon as if nothing had happened. The couple exchanged another look.
I spooned a bit of the powder into the bowl and slid the bowl towards the lady. I met her glance and could feel my chin jut up and out a bit, daring her to try to delve me again without my permission, which was very bad form for knowledgeable and classy witches and warlocks such as they appeared to be.
When she giggled, I felt myself begin to flush and tremor. I couldn’t ask them to leave because I needed the sale to pay the government man, if he was who he said he was. I sent a message to Mr. Gaier with Melvin who left and returned swiftly. The response surprised me, and I disintegrated the note he’d sent back to me.
A sparkle of smoke rose up from the bowl. A curling stream of stardust, periwinkle blue, ascended in tiny, long curls, which began to widen and shorten. The lady and gentleman gasp and stood back as the sparkles grew brighter and cast flecks of light out of the smoke in all directions. I think one landed in my hair and I was grateful they weren’t hot as well as bright.
The government man snapped the book shut and placed it back on the shelf striding over to the counter in small, determined steps.
“Yes. A pinch of the powder, my dear. Can you seal it into a container I provide?” The lady sounded triumphant and nodded sharply to the gentleman.
“Yes, ma’am. I can do that.” I told her. The gentleman provided me a small container, and I blinked the amount into the small envelope that seemed to be made out of a kind of bark and covered with a small, thatched rug with very thin pile. The design on the rug seemed to be slowly drifting across the surface. I showed them inside the container where I had put the product, then sealed it generically so that anyone could open it, but it would not dampen nor spoil.
“My name is Agathatte Barnslow, and this is Major Charles Drunnin Barnslow. My dear, you’ve made us very happy today. What do we owe you, and pray tell, what do we call you?” The lady smiled at me.
I sealed up the product on the counter and whisked it back onto the shelves without looking. I tapped into my register, then made a single tally, then another for the sealing spell, tradition dictates that most customers will seal their own containers, so I had to charge for that as well.
“That will be 800 lucas,” I said. A feeling began to lift me off of my stuck shoes, so I jabbed my finger at the ground again increasing the weight of my shoes and brought me back into contact with the floor. They counted out the lucas onto the counter, some from a small bag tied to her waist, and some from a pocket inside of his jacket.
I waved my hand over the lucas, and two of them turned to dust, so there was a pause while they reached into another small pouch she had at her wrist and placed them on the counter. I waved my hand over them, and they remained as they were, but then I pointed quickly at the whole pile with my pinky finger and another one turned to dust.
The lady tsk-tsked while she tapped her cane on her shoe and place a final one, double the other lucas which were hundred-weight lucas, on the counter in front of me. I waved over it, then pointed, then called Melvin who appeared on the counter and sniffed in the direction of the coins. He jumped down satisfied his dinners would continue, and I scooped up the coins and placed them in my coin drawer.
“My name is Cesily Franklindt. A pleasure doing business with you.”
I was pleased that they had thought so highly of me as to test my magic and try to cheat me several times. I couldn’t wait to tell Mr. Gaier about them! I had not forgotten the delving attempt and resolved to ask him about that as well.
“Good afternoon, Cesily,” the gentleman said and touched the brim of his hat before turning to the door.
“We do look forward to visiting again. A charming place you have, my dear. See you soon.” The lady winked at me and smiled broadly as she fairly danced out of the door.
The government man watched them go, inhaled long and deeply, and approached the counter. He fidgeted with his jacket and cleared his throat.
“About the fees and fine, madam…?” He would not meet my eyes, but now I knew why.
“If you could just show me some identification that would confirm your position with the government, then I would be happy to oblige you, mister…?” I pointed at my feet quickly to lighten my shoes and get rid of the gum sticking to the floor, because in front of me was a government imposter and I’d alerted the proper authorities who were on there way to my shop just now.
“Douglan Tradoner, the third, madam.” He said meeting my eyes at last. I saw some sorrow there but steeled myself in case he tried something dastardly. The door chimed open and three FineSetters arrived in their beige uniforms. One blew a whistle, shrill and unending.
I clapped my hands over my ears, and the blonde with big ears said turned to me mouth open and shouted, “Leave off the whistle, man, she can hear it!” And the others all stared at me and continued to mutter to each other.
“No, I never met anyone who could.”
“Well, did she cancel the spell, do you think?”
Then they turned to Douglan, who stood stock still near the counter and seemed a little frozen with just his eyes moving from me and back to the FineSetters. They crowded around him sort of jostling each other, and asking me about fines and fees, and what was his name, and I told them everything. They nodded to me and prodded him about the back and shoulders.
“If he needed money,” I asked, “What good does it do to set him a fee then?”
“Oh, well when he can’t pay it, he goes to work for the government.”
“But he’s a thief.”
They all just laughed and laughed at that, and I didn’t understand why. They took Douglan and left, just sort of surrounded him, chanted, and then they all four disappeared right out of my shop. I had a few more sales that day and closed up the shop feeling satisfied and able to pay my bills. Maybe this shop would work out for me. Maybe I could get my debts paid down eventually.
I stopped in quick to see Mr. Gaier and tell him about my day. He said the Barnslows were the very best of witches and warlocks and seemed pleased that they tested me so strongly. Although he did seem puzzled about the attempted delving. They should know better, he told me.
He laughed when I told him about levitating, and again when I told him Douglan would end up working for the government even though he’s a rotten thief.
“Cesily, it sounds like your shop is going to do very well here. Get yourself some dinner, and get some rest, and I’ll see you tomorrow. Oh, and it was good to see Melvin again, where had he gone off to?”
“Oh, I found him in another place, sort of like ours but not quite. The cats there are the size of Leon, Mrs Barker’s dog. See you tomorrow, Mr. Gaier! Thank you for everything.” I got on my bike and peddled home.