Hello everyone! As part of Short Story Saturday, I have posted another short story, this one entitled Veiled Intentions. Please enjoy.
My wife and I found the place on an unassuming four-way corner in University Place after visiting family. I wanted to drive on but my wife insisted we pull over and if you knew my wife, you’d know it is often best to do what she wants. The name was what appealed to her. “Magick Sanctuary.” She has always been fascinated with that kind of stuff. Melinda can never resist the lure of the so-called forbidden arts. I’m certain that she really believes in magic though she denies it whenever I ask her. It is childish to even suggest she’d believe such silly notions as spells and curses, she always claims. Her eyes always betray her, though. Whenever she speaks of mysticism, her eyes always light up with the kind of brightness you’d only get from someone who truly believes. Not to mention all those times she’s really been fooled.
A man donning a black cloak greeted us when we arrived. He gave us a bearded smile. “Welcome to the ‘Magick Sanctuary’. I am your host, Mystic Trevor.”
Internally I sneered but I decided to remain mum. I noticed a tray of chocolate truffles on a small black table near the entrance so I pointed to the confectionaries. “Are those magical?”
He grimaced. “No, those are just something nice for you to eat.”
“I do have something of a sweet tooth,” I admitted as I picked up a piece and placed it in my mouth.
“You do realize those are three dollars.”
“Three dollars per tray?” I asked incredulously as I chewed my food. “That’s outrageous.”
“Three dollars per piece.”
I spit the chocolate out immediately and hastily placed it back on the tray. This produced a grimace from the shopkeeper and I felt the sting of four fingers across my shoulder courtesy of my wife.
“What?” I protested. “Three dollars for a tiny piece of chocolate is highway robbery.”
“That doesn’t mean you should spit it out!”
The shopkeeper raised his nose in the air as he picked up the chewed piece with his index finger and thumb and discarded it into a nearby garbage can. “I’ll have you know, sir, that each truffle is created with painstaking care and is a unique work of art. Its smooth texture, look, and taste is something only a handmade product can provide.”
“Art or not, a small piece of chocolate isn’t worth three dollars.”
“Please forgive my husband. He can be very stubborn at times especially when he doesn’t want to be somewhere. He doesn’t believe in magic but that hardly excuses his attitude.” She paused to glare at me for a moment before continuing, “Don’t worry. We’ll pay for the chocolate.”
“Melinda!” I scolded but was ignored.
The letch smiled as he swayed toward my wife. “Perfectly all right, my dear. A charming woman like you should never have to apologize for what her lout of a husband does. How may I help you today?”
“We’re just browsing. The name of your store fascinated me. I must ask. Do you sell real magical artifacts?”
“Of course he doesn’t, Melinda. None of these wares contain magic. They’re just pieces of decoration. Nothing more.”
The charlatan stepped in front of me. “Don’t listen to him, my dear. Everything I sell contains magic. Take these for instance.” He led us to a collection of necklaces attached to purple gems. “These are amethysts infused with magical properties to help with physical ailments and emotional issues. In fact, I can show you how powerful it is now.”
He showed my wife his thumb causing her to cringe upon the sight. It appeared to be bleeding albeit slightly, though something seemed a little off.
“I cut myself this morning opening some packages that were recently delivered,” Trevor explained. “I did not have a chance to repair the wound quite yet. Now is the perfect opportunity.”
He pulled a cloth from underneath the counter near the back wall of the shop, covered his thumb, and rubbed an amethyst over it. He shook the cloth off dramatically as he removed it and revealed that his thumb was cured. My wife clapped excitedly. Trevor placed a necklace around my wife’s neck. She blushed.
“The healing properties of an amethyst work best with those that are most in tune with the arcane. Do not fret if it takes longer for you to heal than I for it will take some time for your body to get in tune with the spiritual world.”
“That’s a good spin,” I sneered. “Obviously, it was a fake thumb, or maybe you put a thin piece of film or plastic over your real thumb and that made it look like a real wound. You removed whatever you had on when you removed the cloth.”
“If that’s true, what do you say about this?” He tossed me the cloth which I caught out of reflex. I looked at it quizzically unsure of his point. As if he recognized my confusion, he asked, “Where is my fake thumb?”
“Yeah, where’s the fake thumb?” my wife concurred.
“Just because he hid it well doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.”
“Whatever,” my wife sighed. “Wait a second, what’s this?” My wife pointed to a disc that had a pentagram inscribed. It hung on a chain behind the store’s main counter.
“That is a pentacle which is a talisman used for magical evocation. It represents the element of earth and blesses the items you place on top of it.”
“It looks like a coaster,” I muttered. “I wonder whether it’d bless my beer.”
The conman handed my wife a glass of a clear liquid. He asked her to take a sip. She did as she was told.
“What’s in the glass?” he asked.
She shrugged. “Water.”
“Place the glass on the pentacle.”
Melinda did. The glass shook and boiled. Trevor covered the glass with what appeared to be a black box with a gold pentagram drawn on the side. He quickly removed it. The glass was still there but the color of its liquid had changed to magenta.
“Please take another sip, my dear.”
Melinda did so. “Oh my God! It’s wine.”
I rolled my eyes. “Turning water into wine, I wonder where I have heard that before. Besides, I know you pulled up the original glass and replaced it with a new one when you covered it with that box.”
“That glass was only covered for a second at most,” my wife said. “He didn’t have the time! Oh, and what’s that?” Melinda pointed to a large goblet.
The faker picked up the item carefully and placed it on the counter. “This is a Goddess’s chalice. It is a symbol of a Goddess’s womb. Watch this.”
He filled the grail with water then placed the same box as before over it. A second later, he removed it and a dove flew from the chalice out a nearby window.
“Birth from water,” the smug idiot said. “That is the power of the Goddess.”
My wife’s raucous applause and cheers echoed through the room. “Amazing! Simply incredible! Wait a second.” My wife’s eyes darted toward a glass case on the counter. “You guys sell knives?”
Our senseless shopkeeper pulled a black-handled weapon from the case. “Not just knives, my dear, athames. These are not weapons but tools. In fact, it must be destroyed should it ever be used to draw blood. It is instead supposed to be used to direct the energy of magic circles and control spirits though I have heard it being used for other ritualistic purposes.”
He handed her the handle and instructed her to hold it in both hands, though as he did he gently covered hers with his. “You make motions like this.”
The philanderer moved the hands of the giggling Melinda and had her mimic the shape of a pentagram. Once complete, fire sprung from the tip of the blade, narrowly avoiding the sales jerk much to my chagrin. Melinda found this entertaining to no end.
“Obviously he pressed a button on the side of the blade or something,” I said. “That thing is a glorified lighter.”
“Really?” the lecherous bastard said. He took the knife from my wife’s hands and offered it to me. “Show me where the button is, then. It shouldn’t be too hard.”
I scrutinized the blade, examining everything from the butt of the handle to the tip of the blade. If anything was askew, I surely would have noticed.
“There doesn’t appear to be a switch or a lever or any mechanism to that would cause a flame to appear,” I admitted. “But just because I can’t figure out the trick doesn’t mean that you’re using magic.”
“And your lack of faith doesn’t mean that magic isn’t real.”
“I couldn’t have said it better myself,” Melinda concurred. “Trevor, is there anything else you can show me?”
“Of course, my dear, you merely have to point.”
Melinda did as she was instructed. The swindler was all too eager to display his wares and gather them on the table as he continued to spin tales of wonder and illusion. My wife ate it all up. I’m sure at some level she knew that these were all mere tricks and fantasies but something inside her wanted to believe to the point that she managed to trick herself into thinking that the so-called Mystic Trevor was an actual wizard. To be fair to the fraud, it was mostly harmless except for the bill. Oh, how I dreaded the bill.
“Perhaps I could interest you in a very fascinating old book,” the cretin said after he finished showing Melinda some of the more expensive glorified paperweights.
“My husband loves collecting books!”
The wretch sneered. “Does he now?”
I shrugged. “I do have quite an eclectic collection but the books I have are rare with great historical value.”
“I assure you this one has great historical value as well.” The clod pulled a dusty leather volume from one of his shelves. “It is a grimoire that dates back to the Salem Witch Trials.”
“Salem Witch Trials?” I repeated incredulously. “Most if not all of those people weren’t witches in any sense of the word so I doubt any of them had a grimoire. They were just innocent people put to death. The trial was a farce.”
“Witches have done an excellent job of convincing the world of an alternate history through an exhaustive public relations campaign but believe me when I say their magical ability were and are quite real. However, I admit that practicing the so-called dark arts shouldn’t be a crime.” He grinned. “Obviously.”
“So you’re actually claiming that the people executed at the Salem Witch Trials were actual witches and you’re basing that, on what, exactly? That grimoire? How come nobody else managed to find it or any other books like it?”
“That’s because they were hidden too well.”
I snatched the book from the twit’s hands and took a long, critical look at the cover. “Who are you trying to fool? I can still see the scuffs from the sandpaper you used.” I waved my hand over my nose. “And I can still smell the heavy amount of rubbing alcohol you applied. This is pretty cheap leather as well. This book is a couple of years old at most.”
“Lies!” the liar protested. “I assure you this is an ancient grimoire that was found at Salem!”
My wife jumped in. “It does remind me of that book you collected recently, the Al something or the other.”
I thumbed through the pages. “Just a cursory glance tells me this book is worthless, Melinda. It certainly wasn’t written by someone in the seventeenth century or earlier. Someone much more modern wrote this, say, Raymond Buckland.”
I looked at our lecherous salesman cockeyed. “You claim to know about the arcane and witchcraft but you don’t know who Buckland is?” I gave him a contemptuous smile as I shook my head.
“It doesn’t matter who wrote it,” the jackass insisted. “There is a lot of useful information in that grimoire, far more than your cynical mind could ever hope to comprehend. There are spells related to protection, love, and even-”
He paused to move closer to my wife so that his lips were practically in her ear. “Even sex.”
My wife giggled uncontrollably upon hearing this. I was not nearly as amused as I started to breathe heavily through gritted teeth as a pressure built in my chest and moved toward my head. My eyes started to blur and the world suddenly was tinted with the color red.
“I think my husband is wrong, Mystic Trevor. This grimoire sounds amazing. Everything sounds amazing. We’ll take it. All of it, I mean!”
“Excellent, my dear.” The fraud calculated the price which was high enough to almost make me faint. Despite my protests, my wife gave the man the money, which he eagerly took. He bagged her goods in two large dark plastic bags with the name of his shop emblazoned in silver on the side. I’m surprised he didn’t charge us extra for them.
“Melinda, don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind you buying these items if you find them to be nice decorative art or perhaps good conversation pieces but to think these trinkets hold any more power than a paperweight is foolhardy at best.”
“Sir, your cynicism is not appreciated by neither me nor your wife. I must insist that you cease your derisive comments at once.”
“Yeah, honey, believe in something for once in your life. Are you not impressed by all the magic he performed?”
“Magic?” I snickered. “He performed some parlor tricks. If you’re generous, you might even call them illusions. I admit that he’s better with the sleight-of-hand than most amateur store magicians but that doesn’t mean he has any mystical powers, Melinda.”
“I’ve seen a lot of tricks and illusions in my life. I know when I’ve seen something I’ve never seen before so believe me when I say what he’s doing is actual magic, not tricks.”
“It seems like you are a true believer, my dear,” the imbecile said as he caressed my wife’s hand. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
My wife’s eyes sparkled as she stared longingly into his. “There is one thing. I’ve heard of magical items that allow you to talk to those in the great beyond.”
I was aghast. “Honey, please don’t do this to yourself.”
The snake smirked. “Whom do you wish to speak with?”
A look of apprehensive excitement burned in Melinda’s eyes. “My mother Martha… she…died suddenly…a year ago… she was hit by… a… drunk driver… his truck… leaped over the median… they had to… use the jaws…” She paused to wipe away a tear. “I would do anything to speak with her again.”
“I’m sorry for your loss, my dear. I regret to inform you that no artifact no matter how mystical has such power.”
I breathed a temporary sigh of relief.
“Oh,” my wife said as a dejected grimace washed across her face. “I just heard before that, well, I suppose it doesn’t matter. Thank you anyway.”
A depraved smile curled upon the man’s lips and the depraved monster kissed her hand. “Do not misunderstand. Perhaps you cannot speak to the dead and no magical artifact can provide you with this ability but fret not. It does not mean it is impossible. It just means you must have ‘the gift’, which, fortunately, I do. Through me, you can speak with your mother one more time.”
His words cut through me like a blade. My hand curled into a ball and I stepped forward as I envisioned my fist going through the predator’s skull.
“You can?” my wife asked with the excitement of a schoolgirl.
“Perhaps you would be interested in a divination.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“I should have known a simple mind like yours would not know such basic mystical terms. I am referring to the art of speaking with the dead.”
I growled. “I know what a divination is. I just cannot believe the audacity. To claim you have the power to do something like that is utter nonsense.”
“Ah, I see. I know that such a concept is lost on a skeptic such as yourself but my father was a shaman and I inherited his ability.”
My wife’s voice broke as she spoke. “So I… c-can really s-speak with m-my mother o-one more t-time?”
The slimeball gave her another smug smile as he caressed her hand. “Of course and for a true believer like you I won’t even charge the full price.”
I pointed my wife toward the door. “Get out.”
“What?” Melinda screamed. “You do not tell me what to do!”
I repeated my command. “I said, get out.”
Melinda glared fully prepared to deliver a harsh verbal reprimand. Suddenly, her eyes widened and her expression turned from anger to concern and maybe a bit of fear as she read the look on my face. She slunk out of the shop with the bags in her hand. She paused at the door and turned toward me. I could see that her eyes were once again full of rage. “We’ll talk about this when we get home.”
I said nothing. My anger was not directed at her.
“How dare you prey on the vulnerable like that?”
“You doubt my powers. Oh, ye of little faith.”
I glared. “All right, cut the crap. My wife isn’t here right now. I know this is a scam.”
“What makes you say that?”
“It’s one thing to perform some basic magic tricks and fool some infantile minds, er, except my wife, of course, into thinking your trinkets have mystical properties. It’s a scam, an expensive scam I might add, but it’s mostly harmless. A fool and his money and that sort of thing. Er, except for my wife, of course. However, the people who you deceive when you convince them you can talk to the dead are desperate. They are blinded by the desire to speak with their loved ones one last time. You are taking advantage of them. I ask you kindly to stop.”
He smirked. “How can you be so sure? Perhaps I do have the power. As the bard once said, there is more to this world than what is accepted in your philosophy.”
“I’m warning you one last time. Believe me, I have a way to convince you but I’m refraining for now as I’d rather not use it. Instead, I am beseeching you to stop. This is the closest I’ll ever get to begging.”
The buffoon crossed his arms with a pompous flair. “I refuse. The divination is by far the most lucrative part of my business. It would be financial suicide to quit.” He paused. “Not to mention it would be a crime to refuse the world my gift.”
I sighed and shook my head. “It is no gift. Believe me, if you had the power to speak to the dead, if what you said was true, you wouldn’t call it a gift. I didn’t want to do this but I’m afraid you have left me with little choice. A conman like you deserves no better.”
I moved my hands and arms. They flapped and flailed awkwardly as if the bones and joints were removed. It was apparently a comical scene judging by the smirk that curled on the arrogant man’s which eventually gave way to an insufferable, nasally laugh. Such contempt will never be forgotten even if it did not last for very long.
Day suddenly turned to night as a black fog surrounded the building and covered the windows. At the same time, clouds of white smoke emerged from below and caused the temperature to fall rapidly. A rancid smell of rotting flesh wafted in the air. There was a feeling of ascension as if the building was lifted or more accurately, pulled from its foundation.
The asshole remarked how it was odd that the weather turned so suddenly. He also speculated on what could have caused the smell. He further commented it certainly was quite powerful as it made his legs wobble and his stomach churn. He felt as though he had just gotten off a rollercoaster.
I encouraged the man to open the door to get a better view, even going so far to suggest that perhaps a prankster had left him a present in the form of a burning bag of excrement. The supposedly magical mountebank did as he was instructed.
Immediately, he fell backward. He crawled as quickly as he could on his back with his heels and elbows until he bumped into my shins. I looked down and saw the pitiful creature. His skin had turned pallid. His eyes were wide and bloodshot. His mouth was agape unable to close. His voice was dry and raspy. He muttered noises that sounded like an attempt to express confusion over what was happening but came out as meek and gravelly rasps and groans as he struggled to breathe.
Outside the door, there was nothing but a black void with white apparitions drifting erratically as if they were mad. Noises emerged from them. Moans are the closest analog any language would be able to describe these sounds but they were unlike anything that had ever been heard by human ears. Yet somehow they conveyed emotions so lucid that a child could understand.
They were tormented. They were anguished. They were angry. They were in pain.
“What is this place?” the poor fool finally managed to gasp.
“We are nowhere that you can comprehend. You will learn what it truly means to speak with the dead.”
I chanted in an arcane language completely incomprehensible to those who never studied from the ancient texts. They were blasphemous librettos unlike any dialect of this world. My eyes rolled to the back of my head. My arms, legs, and back arched as I floated a few inches off the ground. My body went limp. Outside the spirits turned. They did so with the ferocity of a storm as they swirled into a vortex. What appeared to be lightning and thunder clasped outside as the spirits spun and churned out of control. The noise was so loud and painful that the man had to cover his head with his arms as he slammed his forehead against the ground in a vain effort to dampen the sound. There was a raucous clamor that echoed as the building shook. It was as if the walls were going to collapse. No, more than that, it was as if the fabric of the universe was breaking apart. A bolt of lightning struck me. A woman’s voice escaped my lips. The words were disjointed. Every syllable was a struggle.
Her initial excitement quickly dampened to sorrow. “No, I have not. He’s merely allowing me to speak through him. I’d like to see my daughter. Where is she?”
The man looked at me with stunned consternation as he knelt with his hands on his knees. “What’s going on?”
“Who are you?”
“My name is Trevor. Who are you?”
“My name is Rachel. Do you know my daughter Melinda?”
“You’re Melinda’s mother?”
“You know my daughter?”
“I think so. We only just met. She told me her mother died a year ago.”
“I thought death was the end but it was only the beginning.”
“Are you a spirit?”
“I do not know quite what I am.”
“That must mean there’s an afterlife. Tell me, what happens after we die? Do we go to Heaven? Do we go to Hell? Where do we go?”
“There is no Heaven. There is no Hell. There is only the veil. It is all that awaits us after death.”
“What’s the veil?”
“It is darkness. It is pain and sorrow. It is constant suffocation though we do not breathe. It is constant cold though we do not shiver. It is loneliness though there are more here than we can count. It is an endless prison. We search in vain trying for a way to an end to our torment but cannot escape. That is not the worst of it.”
Trevor stammered. “It gets worse?”
“A horrid creature torments us. It has no eyes. It has large meat-like hands. It has a mouth and teeth. Oh the teeth, large, horrid, rotted, jagged, and broken. It grinds when it catches us. The pain is indescribable and ceaseless. It is ten times worse than anything that can be imagined. No hundreds. No thousands. We wish for anything to end the pain. We wish to disappear but we cannot. We wish to not exist. There is nothing but pain. It feels like we suffer for an eternity until he decides to let us go.”
“What? Why would he ever let you go?”
“So we fear his return.”
My limbs started to shake uncontrollably as my tongue curled. It was as if my body was having a seizure in the air. I felt the spirit’s panic. She let out an agonized shriek that shook the foundations of the room. Trevor did his best to protect his ears as trickles of blood poured down his cheek.
“It is here! It is here! I sense it approaching! It has come for me! It has come for all of us! Do not let it get me! I do not wish to suffer any longer!”
A shadow appeared and loomed over the building though such a thing should have been impossible in the darkness. Its many eyes peered inside. Its teeth glistened as if saliva was dripping from its fangs. Its meaty hands reached inside. Trevor let out a hysterical laugh. His hands tore clumps of hair from his head then he began to claw at his eyes.
I chanted once more. The spirit expelled from my body as if she were shot from a cannon. My body flung against the wall opposite the door as she flew toward the void. The spirit narrowly avoided the creature’s claws. I could only hope and pray she managed to escape.
Slowly, the fog disappeared and the smoke dissipated. The building returned to its original location as if it had gently floated down. Outside, it was bright, sunny, and cheerful. Birds were singing. It was an idyllic scene.
The man remained on the ground. His once cropped mane now contained ugly bald spots. He sported several large cuts around his eyes though thankfully he was no longer trying to gouge them out. Instead, he preferred to cover them as he wept. He was no longer laughing. The “mystic” would need quite a spell to return to his once elegant form.
“Now do you see why I was so certain you could not communicate with the dead? A man like you could never control those spirits nor could you handle what awaits us all on the other side.”
I paused for a moment and looked upward as I let out a deep, melancholy sigh. “This is a secret I even keep from my wife, the only secret I have. Do you know how much it kills me whenever she says she would give anything to speak with her mother once more knowing that I could theoretically grant her this wish? I will never reveal this to her, though. I would never subject someone I love to the horrors of the veil. You understand, right?”
The man said nothing and continued to sob.
I shrugged and looked around the shop. On the same black table as before, there was an untouched tray of truffles. They were made from dark chocolate, the kind my wife enjoyed the most.
“You don’t mind if I take these, do you?” I said those words more like a command than a question. The shopkeeper was too busy blubbering and whimpering to respond.
Just before I left, my hand was literally on the door, the pathetic man called to me. I turned around. His lips quivered and it took a few attempts but eventually, he managed to stammer out, “Those images were just illusions to punish me, yes?” A torrent of tears streamed down his cheeks as he continued, “That can’t be all that awaits us after death, can it? Tell me, ease my pain! Tell me that just isn’t true!”
I knew the answer but I did not respond. I left without saying another word.
“How dare you command me to leave?” Melinda shouted as I met her at the car. “You don’t tell me what to do!”
“I apologize. I know how you get when it comes to magic yet I had a feeling that Trevor was trying to con you, though I concede that I could have handled it much better than I did.”
She crossed her arms. “Yes, you certainly could have!”
“Once again, I’m sorry. However, my conversation with him was hardly fruitless. He confessed that he wasn’t a mystic or a wizard or a sorcerer or what have you and he cannot speak with the deceased.”
My wife’s expression turned to genuine disappointment. “Really?”
“Look into my eyes, honey. I have never been more sincere in anything in my life, except, of course, when I express my love for you.”
She studied my eyes. After a few moments, she sighed and uncrossed her arms. “Okay, I know you’re telling the truth. I guess ‘Mystic Trevor’ was just another fraud. Still, it’s disappointing. I hoped, for a moment, that I would be able to speak with my mother one more time. I guess that’s why he was able to fool me.” She stared off into the distance. I decided to give her some space.
“He seemed like a nice guy, too. I can’t believe he’s conning people like that.”
“The best con artists seem nice. That’s how they’re able to fool people.”
She gazed at the items resting in the backseat. “Should we return these trinkets?”
I paused. “No, let’s keep them. You seem to like them. They’re good conversation pieces if nothing else. Besides, Trevor’s not all bad.” I displayed the tray of confectionaries. “He did give me these as an apology for his indiscretions.”
“Of course. Do you think I’d spend $18 on chocolate truffles?”
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