Underworld

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Underworld was on the basement floor. Those who went there often said that as the night drew down and the cars cleared out on the streets, you could feel the bass through your feet standing on the sidewalk. That was what she needed right now. If Pansy was going to scream until her throat was raw and listen to something so loud that it echoed in her ears for hours later, it sure as hell wasn’t going to be at home with her mother. She’d never been to this particular club before, but something about it called to her. So, she had pulled on her favorite denim jacket with the each and every patch across the back stitched on by her own hand. Now there was just the bouncer between her and a night of sheer bliss.

Hayden was bored. Sure, the beat was good, but he couldn’t exactly dance. He was working. He drummed his fingers on the outside of his thigh, trying not to bounce to the rhythm of the music downstairs. He had to look professional and stay focused on the job. Especially since a girl was walking towards him now, and if she was old enough to be here, then he was a cow.
“Hey there.”
She grinned at him, pale green eyes dancing. Her mostly-brown hair was pulled back in a messy ponytail and he could see at least 3 different colors of streaks in it. She was a pretty thing, especially giving him that smile.
“Hi. I don’t suppose I could see some ID before you head in?”
She reached into a pocket and pulled out a battered leather wallet. Out of it, she produced a card that she held out for him to examine. She was older than she looked, apparently. Which, he reflected, made him a cow. With a little smile, half in amusement at his own folly, he handed her back her ID.
“Welcome to Underworld. Have a nice night, Miss.”

Home

The night air had a chill, just enough to promise that the seasons continued to turn. It was her favorite time of year because of that promise, and because of what that promise meant for her. The young woman smiled, gazing up at the stars over the bus stop. The country was so quiet at night and she would miss her mother some, but the city called to her heart and her soul just as it did every year. She shouldered her bag and watched two children run and play under their mother’s watchful gaze. They’d noticed the chill now, their breath fogging in the air. He would be here soon to take her home. She brushed her fingers through her hair, checking to be certain the brightly red flower she’d left was still there. They always brought each other something small, just a token of the life they led when the other wasn’t around.
The black car pulled up to the curb and the woman smiled brightly, love shining in her eyes as he stepped around to open the door for her. Her bag on the seat, he pulled her into his arms. She leaned against him, taking in his scent of lilies and orchids. He kissed her forehead gently.
“Welcome home.”

Buddy

The little boy was staring up at me and it was really starting to get unnerving. So, I tried to ignore him and focus on stacking terracotta pots. I had finished that and moved on to the stack of lobster traps and old wooden buoys when I heard the determined voice behind me from above 3-feet above the floor.
“Where’s your boss?”
Turning, I looked down at him. He was a scrawny thing with fierce eyes that seemed to dominate his small face. Clutching something tight to his chest, he glared up at me.
“She’s not in. Can I help you?”
He looked me over, frown deepening.
“No. No, you can’t.” He leaned in, speaking in that over-loud whisper that children have. “I know what this place is, you know, and I want your boss. She’s the only one that can help me.”
Well, that set me back on my heels. I gave him another look over and nodded.
“Tell me what you need. I’m her apprentice.”
He held out something brightly red with what looked like a dog bone hanging from it. It took me a moment to realize what I was looking at. It was an absolutely tiny dog collar.
“I want Buddy back. I know she took him and I want him back.”

Girls’ Night

The third Wednesday of every month, at least during the summer, was girls night. That’s what my boss said when she left the shop in my care. So, I was expecting to be alone in the old barn surrounded by odds and ends until closing time. I wasn’t expecting a teenage girl in a Day-Glo blue archery camp t-shirt and a woman a few years older than me in a neat blouse and flowered skirt to come walking in through the door within short order of each other. The younger girl spoke first.
“The Huntress says you know.”
The other woman relaxed visibly.
“Oh thank the gods, I was starting to think I’d taken a wrong turn. When my boss said to come to the home of the forgotten things, I never pictured a junk shop. Even if she did give me an address.”
I looked between the two of them, relaxing the grip on the chunk of stygian iron in my pocket.
“Well then… I wish my Lady had told me I’d have company tonight.”
Unceremoniously, I shifted a box of records to the floor and sat at the now-cleared off patio table. With an airy gesture, I motioned for the other two to sit. Names weren’t exchanged, but that was to be expected. The lawyer took a seat but the young archer didn’t, she paced. After a long silence, the lawyer spoke. I was starting to suspect she didn’t like silence.
“Do either of you know why we’re supposed to meet?”
I stayed silent. The archer didn’t. She was dynamic and mobile in a way that the overcrowded barn did not tolerate and it was starting to get on my nerves.
“I would guess,” she started, “that they don’t want us to be alone. We know who they are and that sets us apart. But that makes us kind of like a little group.”
I expected the lawyer to object, even sparing a moment for a mental laugh at the image the thought conjured. But she nodded.
“That makes sense. We’ve seen things that are…hard to explain. Or impossible.”
The archer stopped dead in her tracks, her expressive face closing.
“She…she turned a man into a stag. We ate him. I killed him. I…I didn’t mind. The gun was aimed at my face! And I like venison a lot. He was going to hurt the kids, I think…and…”
She was shaking and I stood, grabbing her by the shoulders.
“Tell it from the beginning.”
My voice sounded like hers for a moment, like my Lady’s. That clear and calm tone that radiated confidence. The girl’s shoulders slumped and she nodded. Slowly, the story came out of her and I nodded.
“He’s been judged and found Punishment. You did the right thing.”
The easy smiles were back on her face now.
“I know, she told me. But I needed to…to talk to someone else, I think. You know?”
The lawyer spoke softly then.
“How did you do that?”
It took me a second to realize she meant me. I knew I was just staring at her like an idiot.
“You pulled the ghost of the memory out of her.”
“I did what?”
Then I looked at my hands and saw the shadows there. With a quiet curse, I pulled it together into a ball and cast it down into the Underworld.
“I…have no idea. But it’s good to know I can.”
I looked back and forth between them for a moment and then sighed.
“I’ll go grab some sodas and a deck of cards. We can all talk and sort this out, alright?”

Another Day, Another Deity

There was something about the man leaning on the counter that inherently bothered me. At first, I wasn’t sure what it was. He was probably just another tourist, or maybe one of the souls trying to argue their fate with my Lady.
“Can I help you, Sir? We’re having a special today on clay pots and carnival glass if you’re interested.”
He chuckled and gave me a grin.
“Actually, I was hoping your boss was in.”
That caught my attention and I stood straighter, trying to identify him. He was tall and thin, but in that muscular way, with a crop of bright red hair that didn’t seem to know what gravity was. His eyes were hard to describe, but something in them reminded me of open flames. He had spiraling tattoos going up both arms that looked almost like some kind of snake, but the style was pretty distinct. Not exactly tribal, a little more… Then it hit me. They were Norse. He wasn’t an Olympian. He was something else entirely.
My comprehension must have shown on my face as he started laughing again, calling my attention to the scars on his face. They were around his mouth…like someone had sewn his mouth shut.
“So, is the flower child in?”
“I think she’s out back, World Breaker.”
He flipped a coin into the fountain as he strode out the back door of the shop. It wasn’t until he passed through the door and I heard him greeting my Lady that I relaxed again, slumping against the counter. My momentary peace was shattered utterly by two sets of giggling voices and I looked up again, eyes huge. Children. There were two little boys running around now, in and among the various items in the shop. Suddenly one of them poked his head over the side of my counter, blue eyes huge in his small face.
“Where did Dad go?”
Then the second one appeared at his side, slightly taller but built nearly the same.
“Who are you?”
“Do you have any candy?”
“Will you play with us?”
I pointed towards the back, hand shaking slightly.
“He went that way. I work here. I don’t have candy. I’m working.”
They both nodded, clearly happy with my answers. Then they scampered off towards the back. Closing my eyes, I silently prayed that I wouldn’t hear crashing or shattering.

The White Elephant

The problem with working at the white elephant is that you never really know what’s going to come through the door. When that white elephant is on the seashore at the convergence of two ley lines, it gets worse. Or at least more exciting. Really depends on your outlook on life. I was the summer help that year, hired largely to deal with the sudden influx of tourists poking through the labyrinthine barn that was the store. Make sure they didn’t got lost amid the knick-knacks and statues, keep the fountain in the center running, cover the register if it looked like someone might actually want to buy that lobster trap they found under a pile of sea glass and clay pots. Things like that.

Mostly the store was run by my boss and her daughter Mel. It wasn’t a serious job for them, but then they didn’t need it to be. Not when her husband wore perfectly tailored suits and drove a car that I’d have to work for the rest of my life to even consider affording. The front of the shop had two pillars holding up the overhang, dressed up to look like old Greek columns. The first time Mom dropped me off, she laughed and said it looked like I was working in a mausoleum. It was funny then, I suppose.

It was a work day like any other. Mel was out for a bit to walk Spots the Great Dane and my boss was on the front step watering the flowers. I was rearranging the collection of questionably acquired street signs. How the couple got in past her to end up in my sphere of responsibility, I will never know. But then, I’ve also never seen tourists this lost. The woman was sure they’d taken a wrong turn, the man laughed, somehow certain they were in the right place.

“If you need help with anything, just give a shout.”
They didn’t seem to hear me, their argument becoming less and less clear to understand. For a moment, I thought they’d switched languages. Finally, she hissed at him, baring her teeth and he chittered back. I set down the stop sign I’d been working on positioning and turned. Taking a step towards them, I held up my hands defensively.

“Excuse me? Sir? Ma’am? Are you alright?”

They both turned towards me and I nearly fell backwards. Their faces were gone. He leaned in, chittering loudly at me. Before the scream could issue from my lips, my boss was there. Her hand was on my shoulder, her eyes on them. When she spoke, it wasn’t that distant and distracted tone she normally had.

“You’re being rude.” She wasn’t speaking to me. “Are you here to appeal the decision of the Judges?”

Both of them nodded and she sighed.

“Fine. But I would say it’s fairly clear that Asphodel is already calling you. If you wanted Elysium, maybe you should have lived your lives. Now, get out of my store.”

They turned into shadows at her command and vanished through the cracks between the floorboards. I knew I must look like someone had just slapped me with a fish. That would have made more sense.

“Sorry about that. Sometimes people just don’t like harsh truths.” She pulled a cloth out of her pocket and held it out to me. “Wipe your face, you’ve got some dirt. We’ve got a box coming in this afternoon. Can you take it?”

“O-of course.”

Her eyes focused on me again, pure and direct.

“Very good. And don’t worry, I’ll teach you to deal with them properly when we’ve the time. You’ll need to learn if you’re going to be in my service.”

The problem with working in the white elephant is that you never know what’s going to come through the door. But with the stygian iron in my pocket and the words in my mind, I know I can face just about anything. But that’s what you get when you end up in service here.