Mercedes and I drove into the city on a hunt for any information on the plant in the library, and what we could do about it. She decided to drive us, which meant we parked on the edge of the shopping district to avoid any traffic nightmares.
“Where do we start?”
The tall buildings around us reached their material fingers up to the sky above, while the street seemed underground, cast in the buildings’ dark shadows. I couldn’t help but look around in awe as we walked along the storefronts, each advertising something unique or found only there. All the interior lights dazzled me, and the constant sound of the daily bustle filled my ears.
“Diantha? You in there?” Mercedes spoke again, waking me from my daze.
“Where do you want to start our search? I saw a bookstore just around the corner when I mapped our way here.”
“Oh,” It always felt weird to go to bookstores different than the one I work at, but who knows, this one might have a whole section devoted to the removal of evil spirits. “Let’s start there.”
The doors to the shop had enormous handles, each looking like a brass book with the pages opened to anyone who visits. The front window had a large display of books, some stacked in perfectly balanced piles and others on stands for passersby to admire. A large orange cat lay sprawled out on the windowsill, catching everybody’s attention more than the books themselves. Mercedes pushed one of the doors open and pulled me through, where the undeniable smell of coffee and old books hit me like a pillow at a slumber party. It instantly felt like home, despite being uncharted bookstore territory.
“Hello dears! Can I help you find anything?” A young lady with vibrant purple hair and big silver rimmed glasses came around a bookcase, carrying huge stacks of novels, and judging by the sizes, they looked like fantasy. What a powerful woman.
Mercedes smiled at the absolute goddess in front of us. “Hi! We were wondering if you had any books on magical spirits? Fiction or nonfiction will do.”
The lady set down the stacks (which didn’t shift even a little) and set off into the shelves. “Let’s see what I’ve got!”
Mercedes and the lady disappeared among the shelves, making casual small talk as they went deeper into the store. I went to follow them when a small meow distracted me. I looked down and saw the big orange cat seated at my feet, staring up at me with a curious sparkle in its eyes.
“Hello sweet dear,” I knelt down to pet the cat, noticing a forest green collar with a silver tag nestled into the orange fur. I turned the tag over in my fingers, the cat sitting calmly before me. “Your name’s Persimmon, yeah?” Persimmon meowed in response and shook her head. She walked slowly around me, her little feet making no sound on the carpet. I felt her long fur brush against my lower back as she worked her way around, inspecting me carefully. She stopped in front of my knees and reached up a paw, pulling herself up into my lap. I was immediately awestruck.
“I never knew I wanted a cat,” I said to myself as Persimmon sat on me, her little front paws on my knees. “I guess we learn new things about ourselves every day huh.”
Persimmon nuzzled my hands as I pet her unbelievably soft fur, making me feel like I’d left this world behind and gone on to the best place there is. There’s something truly magical about bookstore cats, be it their calm yet sociable nature or softness complementary to that of the pages of a new book. Mercedes and the unprecedented danger on the horizon faded from my thoughts, my mind filled only with the warm sentiments of a sweet bookstore cat. I could stay here forever, buried in the carpet with Persimmon sitting on my legs. Yep, this is the future I seek, I don’t think I’ll ever move again-
“Diantha?” Mercedes and the lady were standing over me and Persimmon, who hopped off me as my cozy daydreams shattered. She went over to the lady and jumped on the counter, and onto her shoulders, balanced perfectly next to her purple hair.
“Sorry, uh,” I would have much rather gone back to petting Persimmon. “Did you find anything?”
“Not anything that fits your needs, sadly,” the lady said with a shrug, and Persimmon didn’t even slip with the movement. “You two are looking for something a little less story and a little more magic.”
“What do you mean?”
The lady smiled, her glasses shifting on her nose as she did. “I sell mostly books marketed to those of us outside the world of magic, so I doubt we’d find anything here, even if we searched the entire shop. I can send you to a friend of mine if you’d like. Him and his husband work more in the sale of spellbooks and magical records, most of which I’m not even allowed to stock here,” She laughed a warm laugh. “Let me get you his address and send you on your way.”
Persimmon rode out on the lady’s shoulders and I watched her go. Mercedes looked at me and whispered “Did you just have an intimate experience with that cat?”
“I think I’m a cat person,” I said without thinking.
“Here we are!” The lady returned and handed Mercedes a piece of floral stationary with an address scrawled on it in green ink. “Come back and let me know if he gives you any trouble alright?”
“We will!” Mercedes replied as we pulled the door open.
“Have a nice day girls!” Her purple hair and Persimmon’s orange fur were the last things I saw through the doors as Mercedes dragged me away from the shop.
On our way to the magic shop Mercedes spotted a quaint coffee shop on one of the corners, so we made our way in. She ordered two peppermint teas for the both of us, mine with honey and hers with sugar. Our search continued a couple more blocks deeper into a city, finally ending at a narrow alley between a pizzeria and boutique. The pavement of the alley was battered and crumbling, creating an uneven surface sure to throw even the strongest gymnasts off balance. It lead back to a sunken stairwell and a broken neon sign that lit up as we approached, flashing the word “books” in unnatural colors. It grew brighter when we began to descend the stairwell, spells readied to defend ourselves from anything behind the door. Mercedes double checked the address she had to the one scribbled on the door, and pushed it open.
The inside was not the sketchy dwelling we expected it to be. Rather we found a grand cellar filled to the brim with floor to ceiling bookcases and eclectic electric lamps sat on shelves every so often to provide just enough light to see by. A winding path marked with duct tape lead back to a counter, where a man with turquoise curls and a floral print sweater greeted us.
“Welcome ladies,” He spoke with such a proud tone, as if this spooky cellar was his pride and joy, or the result of decades of TLC. Turns out, it was. “Can I help y’all find anything?” I was deeply confused by the sudden “y’all”, as there was no hint of a southern accent in the man’s voice. He smiled brightly at us, waiting to hear of our search.
“Yes, actually, we’re looking for anything on powerful magic spirits, specifically evil ones?” Mercedes put a casual questioning tone into her voice, making me beyond glad to have brought her with me on this quest.
The man smiled and hopped over the counter. “I think I have just what you’re looking for.”
I scanned the store in search of any conveniently distracting bookstore cats, but found none, so I followed Mercedes into the tangled maze of bookshelves. After a left, two rights, another left, and a right, we arrived at the shelf the man was looking for. “Here we go!” He ran his fingers across the spines, stopping on one made of torn and resewn leather. “This is more a historical account than a spellbook, but it might provide some insight.”
I took the book in my hands as gently as an archeologist with a long forgotten artifact would. The edges of the pages were singed, and the back cover looked like a bite was taken out of it. I opened it to find a great number of pages, most being empty, minus a few here and there that held ornate script and ink that still shone in the dim light.
“How much for it?” I said, finding a page with what looked like a recipe on it. Upon closer inspection, it had all sorts of information on magic spirits worked into the instructions. Clever.
“Not much, I’ve had it a long time, and nobody’s ever come in looking for something like it. Well, until you two sauntered in.”
The man led us out of the maze, which I had forgotten all the turns to shortly after arriving at the bookshelf, and to the counter in the back. We paid for the book, which cost no more than most fantasy novels, and turned to leave when the man called us back to the counter.
“You two need be careful out there,” Before I had taken a breath to ask why, he continued. “We’ve been seeing some nasty stuff up on the street, mostly magic we haven’t seen in decades.”
“What kind of magic?” Mercedes asked.
The man leaned closer to us, as if he was about to divulge a confidential secret. “Magic I’ve never seen before, outside of history books that is. Really powerful magic with far too much potential to end the lives of civilians on accident or on purpose.”
A chill went up my spine. That magic’s been outlawed for nearly a century, and no matter how hard people tried, they couldn’t even draw upon those spells. Until now it seems.
“When did you start hearing about this magic?” Mercedes cut in, connecting more dots than I even thought about.
“Not long ago, maybe a couple weeks, a month tops.”
It lined up almost perfectly with Salem’s timeline.
Mercedes and I left the shop in a daze of fear and wonder, walking quickly back to her car with horror painted on our faces. She locked the doors as soon as we got into her car, and my impulse nearly told her to drive, as if we had just robbed a jewelry store or something. No, I was far too unsettled to make the joke, though I wanted to get out of here immediately. I held the leather bound book in my lap, all the way back to our side of town, my warm fingertips leaving anxious dents in the cover.