Pool of Crimson
Author:Suzanne M. Sabol

chapter 2

Two days, seven shops, and one annoyed vampire hunter later, I walked into a darkened shop in Westerville that reeked of Patchouli and incense. I pressed open the door and the wave of thick-scented air bombarded my senses. I instinctively pulled back. It wasn’t the smell that stopped me; it was the taste of the air and the push of magic that seemed to shove me out. Something didn’t want me there.

Finally, the right place!

I forced myself past the magical ward at the door and strode down the center aisle like I belonged there. The shop looked like a cheery Hallmark shop, bright with the light from the early afternoon filling the place from the wide front window. The shelves were orderly and filled with herbs, oils in cute little bottles with tidy ribbons, and shimmering stones in crafty little wooden bins. There were canisters of feathers and jars filled with dried things that I didn’t want to know the name of.

The easy, nonthreatening new-age crystals and incense were in the front of the store with cute stuffed bunnies on display at every end cap. As I continued down the aisle, I noted that the shelves became filled with more potent things; rare power stones, jewel-encrusted daggers behind glass, animals that had been stuffed and posed for effect with sharp teeth and snarling jowls, and unidentifiable jars filled with what smelled of formaldehyde.

Voices from a back room behind the counter were muffled, and I couldn’t make out a word as I approached. If it hadn’t been for the bottom row of pig fetuses in tightly sealed jars and the ward at the door, I’d have misjudged this sunny Suzy-homemaker shop for new-age nonsense. The deceptiveness set me on guard.

A woman stood at the counter as I turned the corner. She looked out of place, like she belonged more in Chanel than in a store filled with pig fetuses. She was shorter than me at about 5’5” with long, rich, dark chocolate brown hair layered in waves down her back. She was dressed like a fashion plate with skinny jeans tucked into her knee-high brown leather riding boots and an eggplant cashmere open cardigan. She had a bright, lime green leather Marc Jacobs bag slung over her shoulder as her right hand clutched the handles.

The woman’s dark-bronzed skin, browned from tanning, shimmered against her light green eyes. Those eyes seemed out of place on someone so dark but they made her heart-shaped face shift from simply pretty to exotic. The smile she gave me was pure sex kitten. Her lips curved up in a sultry Gina Gershon tease. I had the feeling no matter what she said, it would seem dirty coming from that mouth. She turned back toward the counter as another woman pushed the navy blue velvet curtain aside without looking up at us.

“Jade, here it is. I knew I saw your name on an order this morning,” an older woman said in a bright, cheerful tone, finally looking up. The woman was in her fifties but the silvery gray hair hanging loosely down past her shoulders made her look much older. She was heavy, too; heavy enough that she walked in more of a waddle instead of a stride. She was dressed in jeans that looked like the waist came right up under her bosom and tapered down her leg until the fat of her calf and ankle pressed tightly against the denim. She wore a sweater with little ghosts and pumpkins stitched on it, reminding me of my high school algebra teacher. As the older woman’s dull brown eyes met mine, I took a step back.

My blood stilled in my veins as if I were prey caught in her trap. The air around me tingled and sparked. She was powerful, and she scared me.

“Thanks, Oz,” the brunette said in a sultry alto as she handed her credit card over. She shoved the small brown box in her bag and slung it back over her shoulder.

The older woman behind the counter ran her credit card and smiled at me with a forced expression that only customer service people can produce. Her eyes grew wary as she spoke. “Can I help you?”

Something about her made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end, but I needed her help. “I was wondering if you could help me,” I said as I pulled the Ziploc bag I’d sealed Smarmy’s whatchamacallit in from my handbag. “My name’s Dahlia Sabin. I was hoping you could tell me what this is.” I laid the object down on the counter. I stared up at the gray-haired woman and watched. She took a step back, eyes wide and fists clenched at her sides.

The brunette still standing at the counter looked at the woman she’d addressed as “Oz” with a narrowed, suspicious glare, then down at the Ziploc bag on the counter. The only sound was the credit card machine printing a receipt.

The older woman’s eyes focused on the item on the counter. She lightly brushed the outside of the plastic bag with her fingertips and nudged it back toward me as if it was dirty. She tore the receipt from the roll then handed it and a pen to the other woman as her eyes met mine.

“I’m sorry, I can’t help you,” she bit out as she rubbed the hand that had touched the plastic Ziploc bag on her jeans.

I’d been carrying that thing around with me for two whole days, and this woman wouldn’t even touch it. That was probably a bad sign.

“Are you sure?” I asked with some hesitation. She obviously knew what it was but wasn’t talking, which sent my blood pressure pounding through my veins.

“Quite sure,” she snipped out as she slipped the signed receipt in the cash drawer and stormed back into the stockroom.

“Wow,” the woman at my side chirped.

“Yeah,” I agreed softly as I picked up the plastic bag and shoved it back in my purse. I was surer than ever that whatever that thing was, it was dangerous. I turned to leave, but she caught my arm in an unsure grip.

“Can I see that?” she asked softly as her green eyes darted from me to the navy blue curtain separating us from Oz.

“Sure,” I said with a smile. “Do you mind if we go outside? This patchouli’s killing me.”

The smell took me straight back to college, sophomore year. My roommate burned it like it was going out of style. Now, the mere hint of Patchouli in the air gave me a headache.

We stepped out into the early afternoon sun and the brisk breeze of early autumn filled my nose, clearing the patchouli scent away. I could breathe again. She slipped a pair of oversized sunglasses on her face, hiding her eyes from me.

“Okay, let’s take a look at that,” she said confidently. She stood tall, with her shoulders back and her hand out, expectant at 5’5”. I fished the baggie from my purse and plopped it in her hand without ceremony.

“I’m Jade by the way,” the woman said as she brought the object in the bag closer to her face.

“Dahlia,” I replied.

Her face raised, and I could only see the faintest outline of her eyes behind the tinted glasses. “As in the Black Dahlia?” she asked with amazement and a hint of a teasing smile.

I nodded.

“Wow, I thought I got shit about my name. You know Jade and the eyes. Sorry,” she said, shaking her head, with real disbelief in her voice.

“Most people don’t even know who that is anymore,” I said, shrugging my shoulders.

She lowered her gaze again and focused on the object in the bag. “Do you mind if I open it?” she asked with a small inquisitive grin.

“Not at all,” I said.

She pulled the baggie open and stuck her nose down into the plastic. As she breathed in, the plastic collapsed with her intake of air.

She slid her sunglasses to the top of her head, pushing her hair away from her face. “Okay, so what you’ve got here is a nifty little amulet. The dried twigs are actually dried caraway plants. Do you smell that faint licorice scent? ” she asked as she held the bag out to me.

I sniffed, then nodded as I pulled my nose away. I hadn’t noticed that the object had smelled before.

“Then there’s the dried strips of cayenne pepper intertwined with the caraway,” she said. “The Caraway,” she said as she squinted her eyes in thought, “serves as protection against spirits who mean someone harm, especially Lilith,” she said as if reciting from a textbook.

“Who?” I asked, furrowing my brow.

“Lilith, Adam’s first wife before Eve and the mother of all demons,” she said quickly. “The dried cayenne is used to break hexes,” she said, continuing with the lesson.

“What’s the onyx for?” I asked as I pointed to the smooth, black stone with the white speckles in the center.

“Oh, that’s not onyx. That’s obsidian. Snowflake obsidian to be exact. It’s used primarily to protect against negativity and clear confusion. That stone in particular is expensive and hard to find. Where did you get this?” she asked as she handed the piece back to me.

“An alley down in the Short North. What’s so special about the obsidian?” I answered quickly.

“Well, the obsidian,” she said as she pulled her glasses back down on her face, hiding her eyes again. “It pulls the power of the other two together and makes it a much more potent charm. Whatever this thing was meant for, it was supposed to be powerful.” There was a hush of awe in her voice that made me look down at the little thing in the palm of my hand. It seemed so delicate, as if it would crumble at any moment. I almost couldn’t accept that it was powerful, but the tingle of magic that coursed up my arm each time I touched it made me a believer.

I sealed the bag back up and put it back in my purse. “Thanks,” I said with a grateful smile. I gave her a really good look before I said, “You don’t really look like the Wiccan type,” my skepticism evident in my tone.

“I’m not,” she said as she lugged her oversized bag back up on her shoulder. “I’m really good at research and this stuff pisses my dad off.” She pulled a card from her bag and handed it to me. “Let me know if you need anything else,” she said with a genuine smile, then headed over to a BMW parked in the lot.

I read her card. Jade Markowitz, Independent Computer Programmer. I got out my wallet and slid the card inside. She seemed like she’d be handy to know.