"I am so, so sorry I'm late, Mrs Owens." I said as I burst into the small manager's office. "The bus was running behind, and then I ran into this obnoxious idiot who knocked me to the ground and then - and get this - had the audacity to blame me even though it was totally, not -"
"What are you talking about, child?" the elderly lady replied, cutting me off her voice with its usual rasp from years of smoking when she was younger - or at least she said it was from when she was younger. I was certain I'd caught her in the alleyway behind the store once or twice.
"Oh. Well, I... uh. You see, I was rushing to get here and then this guy ran into -"
"No, no. Not that, silly girl," she laughed. "I understood that part of the story very well. I meant why do you think you are late?"
My brows furrowed in confusion.
"My shift started at eight. I'm thirty minutes late - well, thirty two if you want to be precise."
"Carter, your shift doesn't start until tomorrow. You took the day off." she said, laughing slightly, the corners of her eyes creasing as she did.
"I did? When?"
"A couple of months ago; I can't believe you forgot. It's not like you get that much time off, dear."
I sighed, defeated. Now that she mentioned it, I did seem to remember taking time off. I had no idea why though; as far as I knew I didn't have any plans.
"Oh. Well, you don't happen to need a pair of extra hands, do you?" I asked, a slightly hopeful tone infiltrating my voice, "I mean I'm here now, so I may as well."
"You're in luck. Steven took the day off. Something about vomiting I think. If you could cover his shift on the tills, that'd be brilliant. You'd actually be doing me a favour as the only other person open to work today was Alistair."
I winced slightly. Alistair was Mrs Owens’ grandson. Whilst he was a nice enough boy, he was at the core a sixteen year old lad who had been sent to work for his grandmother in order to pay off the curtains he tore when he came home drunk. Like other sixteen year olds he was rowdy and wasn’t overly keen on working in a ‘boring bookstore’, and the job was not overly keen on him. Needless to say he wasn’t a great worker and generally only called in as a last resort.
"Thanks Mrs Owens." I beamed, happy to be getting the extra pay. Lord knows I needed it.
"How many times have I told you?" she yelled, good naturedly as I walked out of the office, "Call me Jean!"
Chuckling slightly, I took my place behind one of the three run down registers, blowing off the dust that tended to collect on the top overnight and pulled out a battered notebook from under the desk before I started to sketch. I wasn't the best artist, but it occupied time that would otherwise be spent looking gormless at my post. The boss preferred us to look as though we were doing something work related though, so reading was out of the question.
The store was nothing special. An old door at the front of the shop with a bell that hung above it was the entrance to the main room and the office was hidden behind a bookshelf that had been mounted on door - something I felt was a flawed design as something always fell from it whenever someone entered or exited the small space. Every wall you could see was lined with shelves that were stacked to the brim with books; old books, new books, books that no one had ever heard of before, all haphazardly strewn across their wooden resting place.
At one point there had been some semblance of order, but now everything was strewn everywhere and dust sat atop the books upon the highest shelves. The whole store smelt like a mixture of old paper and coffee - courtesy of the small kettle kept in the office, and the windows scattered throughout kept the atmosphere bright and warm. I much preferred working here to the café.
Time ticked away slowly, the occasional customer coming in and browsing through the store, more often than not purchasing an item or two and most sparing five minutes to chat with me or Mrs Owens, which was pleasant. Every now and then Mrs Owe- Jean, would replenish my coffee sitting on the desk and I made sure to thank here every time.
All was peaceful and completely ordinary until late in my shift when the sun was beginning to set.
The door swung open wildly, the bell tingling and the handle smacking into the wall.
"Oh there you are! I have been searching everywhere for you, considering you were supposed to be at the park downtown. I guess the Mist doesn't work on you properly, though in hindsight I should have seen that coming."
My head shot to see a woman in her mid-twenties looking down at me expectantly. With a sunny American accent, dark brown hair, bright red lips and a dress that looked like it came from a different era she most definitely stood out. She had spoken to me as though we were best friends, but I was sure I had no recollection of her and I feel as though I would have remembered the walking embodiment of the fifties.
"The what doesn't work on me?" I asked completely lost.
"The Mist. You know the thing that - oh. But you don't know do you. I am such a doofus sometimes." she said in her voice, a slight accent coming through, before giggling slightly to herself.
"Look, I'm sorry but I have no clue what you're talking about. In fact, I don't even know who you are."
"Well of course you don't! We've just met, silly. If you knew who I was that'd take all of the fun away later."
I waited for her to elaborate, to give some explanation as to what she was talking about but nothing came. She just remained there looking at me, her gaze roaming over my face as if committing every aspect of my appearance to memory. I cleared my throat and shifted in my seat slightly, my eyes flickering to the shelves behind her, feeling entirely uncomfortable under her scrutiny.
"So this is what Zeus has to play with..." she muttered under her breath so quietly that I almost didn't hear her. However, I was certain that I didn't hear her correctly. If I did, I must've been going insane.
Instead of bringing the topic up, and mostly likely looking thoroughly deranged in the process – after all this woman clearly was not talking about some ancient deity, I switched subjects.
"Uh. Well is there anything I may be able to help you with? Finding something perhaps?" I asked slightly nervous.
"Oh, yes. You can most definitely help me find something. But not quite yet." she said a strange glint taking light in her eyes.
Despite her overall sweet and bubbly persona there was something in her eyes that was so cold and aged. It was the strangest thing.
"Okay?" my intonation turning what was supposed to be a statement into a question. "Well... is there anything I can help you with right now?"
"That amulet is very pretty," she said, ignoring my previous question all together, "May i ask where you got it from."
"Oh, this?" I replied slightly bemused, realising I had been pulling the locket around the long chain out of habit, "I'm not all that sure, really. My father gave it to me when I was very little."
“May I see it?” she asked, holding out a hand.
“Okay?” I replied placing the large lump of metal in her upturned palm.
“It’s very beautiful, it just it seems very… familiar to me. Are you very sure it was a gift from your father?"
"Of course I'm sure." I replied, slightly agitated, my short temper sparking slightly at this strangers ridiculous question.
I was certain my father had given it to me, hell, I could remember him doing so. The memory was faded but most definitely there. He told me to always have it on me as I’d never know when I’d need the luck it would bring me.
Though, come to think of it, I hadn’t worn it in a while, having only found it again last week. A look of confusion must have crossed my face because the woman laughed gently.
"I guess you aren't so certain after all." she whispered, her hushed tone sending chills down my spine.
"No, I am. It was a present from my Dad, I have no doubt whatsoever, I just realised I hadn’t seen it in a while is all." I replied. Just because the amulet had turned up relatively out of the blue doesn’t make my memory of who gifted it to me any less true. The fact that it was slightly faded and blurred with time meant nothing. My father was far back in my past and it was perfectly normal for memories to become less clear after months, let alone years.
“You have no idea who you are do you, Carter Francis?”
My fury sparked instantly at her words.
I knew who I was. I was Carter Francis, the girl who had dealt with more shit in her life that anyone else. The girl who was ridiculed by an entire town on a daily basis and refused to move from sheer stubbornness, not wanting to let these people win. I was strong willed and hot tempered. But more than anything else, I was not one to let others scare me. And this woman was no exception
“I’m pretty sure I know who I am. You seem to as well considering you just said my name, lady. Or are you losing it?” I snapped, the side of my personality that had no filters coming out into the open. Whilst the comeback was not as impressive as my usual quick-witted one liners, I could already feel whatever hold this stranger had over me fading away.
“Hmm… That temper of yours will be sure to get you in trouble on day, sweetie.” She said in a cheerful voice, my sharp tone seeming to have not bothered her in the slightest. “I think I’m starting to see why he picked you. Sure you may not seem like much at first glance, but you have a bit of a backbone don’t you? Though, why he gave you the amulet so early, I don’t know. You don’t even know what it is yet…”
“Look, I don’t mean to be rude,” Lie, “But are you high right now?”
“Hush child,” she hissed, the older style of speech suiting the aged American accent she had. She seemed even more like an old movie star now than she did before.
“You know what, I don’t think I will.” I retorted, attempting to pull my amulet from her, but despite the fact she seemed to be clasping it relatively loosely, I couldn’t free it from her grip.
“Do stop moving. It’s incredibly annoying. Now,” she said, one finger trailing lightly over the engravings on the surface of the silver metal, “I could take this from you now. After all, you are completely ignorant of everything… But where’s the fun in that? No, no, no. I think I’ll let you keep it, at least for now. It’ll be far more fun prying it from your fingers as you beg for mercy.”
“You’re insane. There is literally no other explanation. I was thinking you were tripping on acid, but nope. You’re just insane. What mental hospital did you escape from and is there a number I can ring to get you back?” I had completely lost all tolerance for this woman, who appeared to be certifiably mad. At least she did to me.
“Tut-tut, dearie. Jumping to such conclusions only leads to trouble now. Besides, if you think I’m insane know…. Well. Just you wait.”
The locket hit the counter with a thud and her hand was on my wrist faster than I could say crazy.
The second her hand came in contact with my skin, everything froze.
The fly that had been buzzing around the store for the past hour was suspended in between the bookshelves, the cars on the road outside had fallen still and silent, pedestrians stopped mid-step. Time had stopped and filled the world with silence.
My mind wanted to argue the ridiculous notion of time ceasing all of a sudden, but even that seemed to want to float away. MY entire being seemed to be tethered to the world via her grip.
Her grip that burned my skin.
“Carter Francis” she spoke and my eyes instantly moved up. The American accent was gone, replaced with a strange lilt I couldn’t identify, and a gravelly tone had taken over the bubble-gum sweet one she had previously, “I mark thee. Let none that follow my regime rest until you are dead. Let you forever be hunted by those who are under my authority. Let all who see this mark know that you are my enemy. That you must be terminated. Let this mark last now until you have either joined me or until I am dead.”
Wind was whirling through the store, tearing her hair from its fifties style and whipping it around her face in dark tendrils. It wasn’t merely here hair that formed a dark presence; whips of pure black surrounded her being, caressing her gently in contrast to the wild storm that was causing paper to fly everywhere and books to be whisked from the shelves and tossed into the air.
But it was her eyes, those cold, aged eyes I had noticed when I first spoke to her, that truly completed the picture of evil.
Black. Nothing but black; her irises gone and the whites of her eyes engulfed entirely by the inky blackness.
“Carter Francis. You have been damned.”
With those words her hand burned red hot and a cry of pain was torn from my lips as my vision blacked out for what felt like hours but was merely a second or two.
When I came to my senses, the wrist she had a hold of clutched in my other hand, eight arrows that were splayed from one centre point in order to form a circle now burnt into my skin.
“Toodles, Carter Francis.” Her voice drew my eyes upwards as she made her way out of the store, which had look exactly the same as it had before she touched me, towards the door and now moving street. “I’ll see you around – probably. Who knows these things anymore? After all we may all have a target on our heads. Or wrists.”
With those final words, she exited the little bookshop, the bell dinging as she did.