This is going be a story and a half. I thought all of the things until now were unbelievable, but we’re nowhere near the pinnacle of strange yet. It’s been a few days since Madam Norna told me the truth about mostly everything. I took a few days away just to, you know, take it all in, and I think I’m fine with it now. Destiny, fate, a shop full of horrors just waiting to turn unsuspecting customer’s lives upside down – I’m all caught up. Still feels like there’s more than a few things missing in this puzzle, but doesn’t look like I’ll be getting more answers for a while yet, so I’ll have to make do.
Anyway, I went back to the shop this morning, and on entering was greeted by Chronos, lounging on the counter like an emperor on his elevated throne. He glanced at me lethargically as I came in, as if to say “what took you so long to get here?”. I informed him I was early, then checked myself. Why the fuck am I still talking to that wee shite? He never says anything back.
The Madam was nowhere to be seen, which is no unusual thing, but this time I didn’t search her out. After our last conversation I didn’t think she had anything more to tell me, and it seemed a bit weird just looking for her to have a chat. I also didn’t know if she was alone, I mean her and Fionn might be up there, and I didn’t want to see that. Equally likely was a customer and if I wasn’t there for the beginning then there was no point in interrupting.
I resigned myself to looking busy, attempting to familiarise myself with the items in the shop, as far as that’s possible. I must’ve sorted one display or another at least a hundred times since I started but it never even makes a dent in the rest of the mess. I do have a habit of climbing under the tables and drawers to see what’s hidden there. One time I found this wicker basket full of old cigarette cards. I admit I had to Google what they were. From the Victorian era to WWII cigarette companies used to put these tiny wee cards into packets of *fags in order to stiffen them. These were collectible and featured famous actors and actresses, sports players, even new fashions. I’ve found a few of these albums filled to bursting with these cards. Dusty, worn old books, some falling apart at the seams, with famous 30s starlets faces’ slotted into the pages.
I keep finding these albums recently, ever since the first one it’s been a flood of them. I can’t tell you what fascinates me so much about them, the owner probably died of lung cancer they must’ve smoked so many fags. I think it’s the condition. Some of the albums may be battered, but the cards themselves look like they could’ve been manufactured yesterday. Such care gone into something so…I don’t know…normal.
I was rummaging through yet another basket filled with these albums when I heard a door somewhere slam open. It didn’t just cut through the silence of the shop, it completely obliterated it. There was no sound of the bell, so it must be the private door up to the madam’s rooms.
I’d got such a fright I’d smacked ma head on the table, again. I’ll give myself a concussion one of these days. I didn’t want to come out. Under the table was safe, whoever it was couldn’t have seen me, and fuck knows who the Madam had pissed off now with her mind reading. It could be a serial killer for all I knew.
“I know you’re here”, a deep, gruff burr resounded around the shop, no making me any more eager to leave ma hiding place.
It wasn’t looking good. I couldn’t get to the door from where I was without him seeing me. I was more afraid than I’d like to admit. What if he’d done something to the Madam? I’d even left Chronos on the counter, if I was lucky maybe he’d get it first.
When the Madam’s velvety tones swirled around the shop, reassuring me that whoever it was meant no harm, I emerged from my hiding place. As soon as I came into sight, this broad-shouldered lad with dark hair and eyes that screamed murder came charging for me like a bull after red. I honestly thought he was going to bulldoze me out the way, but he stopped barely an arm’s length away, glowering as though I’d nicked his wallet. I never knew how much I liked my personal space until that moment.
He was eyeing me as much as I was him. He then demanded gruffly that I help him. There was no further explanation, no more detail, just that. As always, I seemed to be the only one in the room missing something. The madam informed the stranger, because fuck if I was getting an introduction, that he couldn’t force me to help him and that I had to choose to do so.
I had two words to say to him and neither were polite, or best said in front of my boss. The lad whirled to the madam and huffed angrily that she’d said I would. My boss corrected him and said I could, only if I wanted to. He turned his irritated gaze back on me but before he could say anything I interupted.
“Who are you?”
It wasn’t said politely but at least I hadn’t sworn. The lad didn’t answer, Madam Norna did, introducing this brazen stranger as Reid. She told me that he’d made a mistake and that he needed some help.
“Can you not speak for yourself?” I snapped.
He’d pissed me off. I may not be swearing but that didn’t mean I had to be civil. Turns out I was right because he refused to answer my question or give me any more details on what he wanted my help with or what the trouble was. Again, the Madam stepped in, telling me this lad, Reid, wished to become my familiar.
I laughed, more of a snort really. Isn’t a familiar a weird word for pet? Like in those fantasy novels you get about witches and warlocks. Come to think about it, I’m not sure I’ve fully accepted my life is turning into one of those novels. I blurted this to the Madam and Reid, which only caused his frown to deepen and the loathing in his eyes grow claws before he snarled that he wasn’t a pet.
That was hardly the way to speak to someone he wanted a favour from, I reminded him smugly. I then point blank refused to help someone I didn’t know out of no one knows how much trouble. He could be embroiled in some crazy shite, and I have coursework to hand in.
This Reid character doesn’t seem to like answering questions, only snapping at people. Yet again Madam Norna filled in the blanks. This trouble involved a gang, although she didn’t elaborate, and only by becoming my familiar could he save himself.
The last few months haven’t made me soft in the head just yet. There was no way I was helping a *rando from a gang. And let’s not forget, he’d come to the shop to see the Madam, not me. He wanted her help, so what was I even doing in this conversation? I said as much to my boss, with a nicer tone than that.
She gave me a bullshit answer if ever I heard one. It would be “more beneficial” for me to help him. I could see the relish sparking in her eyes like the gems and jewels beneath the counter and hear a hint of an agenda in her softy spoken reply.
I started to think, really take a few seconds. How could this human lad become my familiar? Weren’t they pets, like owls and cats? How could a person be a familiar to another person? Wasn’t that more like slavery…or marriage.
“Where’s the catch?” I questioned.
None, according to her. This Reid lad would be my familiar and do anything I commanded. She was telling me that I could, somehow, degrade this bad-tempered, rude lump into my personal servant? I should’ve felt bad, disgusted at this arrangement, but I hesitate to admit I didn’t feel those things. I was so bewildered and frustrated that any way at getting back at this stranger was good enough for me.
I didn’t know how being attached to me was going to save him from a gang, and to be quite frank I probably should’ve asked. But you know me, I’m a headfirst kind of lassie. I also don’t seem to be making a habit of long-term thinking. All I wanted to do at the time was embarrass this lad, teach him what manners were. He obviously wasn’t happy about being my familiar instead of the madams and seeing how irritated that made him was addictively satisfying. I’ve never taken such a quick dislike to someone, especially with hardly any provocation. I mean he was a prick, but I’ve been spoken to worse down the pub on a Saturday.
It’s probably best not dwelt on. I made the decision and we both have to live with it now. I agreed to this arrangement of master and familiar, whatever that means. The Madam conjured a small ring from her pocket, as if she bloody knew what my answer would be. Maybe it’s not just the front room where her powers of telepathy work.
She handed it to Reid, and without ceremony or grace he slid it onto my pinky, and that’s where it’s been for the last few days. It’s not an ugly ring, it is strange though. I think it’s probably gold, I’d check for a hallmark if it’d come off my bloody finger. I’m getting unwelcome flashbacks to that lassie with the snake ring. I get why she was so worked up now.
I’ve tried everything; fat, oil, soap, even cutting it off, but it won’t budge. And every time I fail, the wee beady eyes of the fox’s face glimmer triumphantly.
*fags – British slang, not to be confused for the offensive word that starts with the same three letters, and can be shortened to this. Another word for a cigarette.
*rando – Scottish slang, short for randomer. A stranger, a random person.