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Wild Ghost Chase

Moonstone and Milkweed was a very bright store, with everything painted in soft pastels and lit with track lighting. There were comfortable (non-Megan-sized) chairs and low bookshelves in the middle of the store, and the walls were lined with built-in shelves. All the shelves were genteely lined with books whose spines were in bright pastel tones. There was a square cashier's island in the middle of the store, and the island walls were made of jewelry cases. The cases were, of course, filled with crystal necklaces, earrings, bracelets, wands, goblets, tiaras, and less recognizable objects.

"I don't have a good feeling about this one," Megan said out of the corner of her mouth.

"We shall see," Watson said. "Remember, one can get information in the least likely places."

They drifted apart in the silence that was occasionally punctuated by the sound of raindrops, the trill of an Andean flute, or a soft drumbeat. Megan wandered over to a neat announcement board that looked heavily policed, given the orderly way the cards and notices were attached. There were no advertisements with tearaway phone number strips at the bottom, as they'd seen in Holy Moly. Instead, there were neat little business card holders made of copper wire and beads, and the business cards bore logos that resembled chakra designs, mandalas, or dreamcatchers. Megan gravely perused advertisements for past life skills coaching, macrobiotic catering, kundalini yoga, and global awareness activist daycare.

"Can I help you?" a thin, blonde, white woman said, emerging from the beaded curtain to the back of the store. She gave Megan a wary glance and turned a tentative smile on Watson.

"I'm looking for some help with something," Watson said, leaning on a jewelry case that held crystal birthstone guardian angel pins.

The woman gave her elbow a disapproving look and said, in an ever-so-slightly less serene tone, "What sort of help?"

"A friend of ours," Watson said, "has encountered a negative entity that is influencing her to make poor life decisions. We were hoping to find someone to help her with a cleansing."

The woman pursed her mouth. "We don't have anyone who does cleansings any more. The owner feels that people call these negative entities to themselves, and they have to learn the lessons that these entities bring them. Then the entities leave them to go on with their lives."

Megan snorted, causing a set of rainbow spinners near her to twirl and the woman to start in alarm. Megan could practically feel all the hidden cameras in the room focusing on her brown self.

Watson leaned another elbow on the jewelry case, directly over the chakra-toned jewelry set in 14 karat gold, and said, "If one were to want to, say, enter into a conversation with the entity, to clarify those lessons, where would you suggest we ask?"

The woman made a helpless little gesture with one hand, nearly knocking over a shelf of glittery angel statues. "We don't do that sort of thing. If I were you, I'd ask at the Egyptian Tea Room."

"And where would that be?" Megan said, watching with something like vindictive glee as the woman twitched again.

"Staybird," the woman said, and made a gesture that actually knocked one of the smallest statues off the shelf. She squeaked in alarm, and the fuss she made over cleaning it up effectively ended the conversation.

Watson collected Megan with a glance and they met at the door. "Staybird," Watson repeated. "It's not that big. We can probably find it."

Megan said sadly, "I bet G knows where it is."

The last Megan saw of the woman was a glimpse of her through the glass door of the shop. She was standing behind the counter, holding a bundle of sage -- wrapped in red thread -- in one hand and an incongruous purple lighter in the other, trying to get the lighter to work with the desperate air of a chain smoker in need of a nicotine fix.

They caught a cab -- one of the Wonder Cabs, built for people taller than Megan, more buses really -- and were let off a mere 30 minutes later on the Victorian main grind of Staybird.

The Egyptian Tea Room did not have a bulletin board.

What it did have was five small booths of carved wood, canopied in purple velvet hangings. Megan was quite sure that at least one of them was an actual confessional that had been transported from some Roman Catholic church or other. The curtains were drawn back from the two booths closest to the entrance, and Megan saw with astonishment that they were each furnished with a round Victorian end table and three antique chairs upholstered in purple brocade. On each table was an old-style candlestick telephone neatly placed on a lace doily. What for? she wondered. In case the dearly departed wanted to ring up with next week's lottery numbers?

This store had no background music. It was full of a muffled silence, enhanced by the fake Turkish carpets on the floor. One glass case held Tarot card sets, and behind the counter were displayed several varieties of Ouija boards. A hand-calligraphed sign read, "Please ask about our artist-made Ouija boards," and a smaller sign said, "Catalog of select antique Ouija boards available." Next to an old brass cash register was an ornate silver candelabra with three white candles in it, all lit. The store was already well-illumined with indirect lighting, so Megan had to assume this was just for mood.

The woman behind this counter was brunette and white, wearing a white blouse whose collar reached her chin and a long black skirt. Her dark hair was pulled back into a severe bun. She looked up from the book she was reading and gave them a small smile. "How can we help you today?" she inquired.

Watson, as usual, moved to engage. "We're trying to find someone who can help a friend of ours."

The woman put her head to one side, very slightly, and looked interested. "Is this friend among the living?"

This may have caught Watson by surprise, because Megan was sure there was a moment's hesitation before Watson said, "Oh, yes, yes, she is. But she's having a problem with someone who's not."

At this point, Megan turned to explore the rest of the shop. There was a high shelf -- just eye level for her, actually -- lined with rather good reproductions of Egyptian gods of various types. She inspected one particularly striking Anubis, a Bast statuette that the Metropolitan Museum had made famous, and the usual multi-colored, winged Isis. At the end of the row of statues was a golden goddess, arms outstretched to the sides, with a scorpion on her head. Megan thought she remembered it from a book about the Tutankhamun exhibit she'd read as a child.

The woman behind the counter said, "That sounds like a fairly serious difficulty. If you like, you can browse our list of people who offer services."

When Megan glanced over, she saw the woman pull a book from under the counter. It was an ornate leather-bound album with an elaborately tooled and gilded cover that read, "Photographs," in an unmistakably Victorian script. She set it gently on the counter, and opened it facing Watson.

For the next ten minutes, Megan peered over Watson's shoulder as the older woman pored through the listings that were fastened into the album (in lieu of photographs). Finally, bored of the Madame Berengerias and gypsy mediums, Megan drifted away. She sidled over to one of the open booths and picked up the receiver of the phone, idly curious to see if it was wired in. A distant, tinny man's voice said, "Come here, Watson, I want you."

Bemused, Megan held the phone out and said, "Watson, it's for you."

Watson looked at her with raised eyebrows. "What?" she said.

The woman behind the counter stared at her with round eyes. Then she laughed, covering her mouth with her fingers. "It's a recording," she explained. "You know, the words that Mr. Bell is supposed to have said when he invented the telephone."

Watson chuckled and closed the album. "I noticed a small listing for a shop called 'Sator's' that mentioned ghost removal. Can you tell me anything about them?"

"Oh, they're not far from here, just around the corner," the woman said. "I've never heard of anyone actually going there, though." She frowned slightly and said, "'Ghost removal' sounds a little... modern. We prefer to work with the dearly departed."

"I see," Watson said genially. "Well, thank you for your time."

"We're always here," the woman said, "and seances every Thursday night."

Megan eyed another high shelf behind the counter. It was filled with tambourines, trumpets, and other odd objects. She wondered vaguely what they had to do with the business.

They found Sator's without too much difficulty. It was down a narrow alleyway between an Irish bar and a former bank, and had a plain sign in Roman lettering. The door was locked and the grate pulled down over the front window.

"Damn," said Megan, attempting to peer through the glass of the front door. All she could see was an overstuffed bookcase, which at least looked hopeful.

"I have the phone number," Watson said. "I guess we'll have to make an appointment. Let's go. It's almost time for us to meet with Madame Destiny."

---

From the Author:
I managed to post the second post during the week! I'm sorry for the tardiness; it's been a fairly awful week. I hope you enjoy this episode, despite the late hour.

I have to thank my wife for her help with this, and her cheerful willingness to take a daytrip to Salem, MA, to research magic, new age, and related shops. None of the shops depicted here are modeled directly on any real shop in Salem. Aspects of many Salem shops, as well as shops I knew years ago in other cities, are integrated into these fictional shops.

Wonder City Stories has been nominated for the Rose & Bay Award! Monday is the last day for voting on the Patron category, and on the first wave of the Fiction category. Check out all the nominees in all the categories here. I'd love for you to vote for WCS. And please do consider voting for Dave or Lucid (I mean aerynvale or badfaun!) in the Patron category.

I'm posting twice weekly during February. Thank you for all your comments! I love them!


Vote for us at Top Web Fiction! We fell down the listing some! Help! Sinking!






*laugh*

Date: 2011-02-27 08:05 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
Oh, the scene with the lighter as they left the store! <3

Re: *laugh*

Date: 2011-02-27 05:52 pm (UTC)
kyleri: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kyleri
THIS.

I have been in that shop (haven't we all?).

Re: *laugh*

Date: 2011-02-27 06:18 pm (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
... briefly. They're not likely to stock the kind of practical metaphysical books I like, and the stones will be 10 or 30 times overpriced.

Re: *laugh*

Date: 2011-02-27 06:19 pm (UTC)
kyleri: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kyleri
Yeah, I used to flee them pretty fast, too. These days, I'll usually linger long enough to convince myself they won't carry what I make, and _then_ flee.

Re: *laugh*

Date: 2011-02-28 07:51 pm (UTC)
kyleri: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kyleri
*cackle* OMG.

OMG.

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