Up at the front, James Kaur eyed a befuddled old man who came in. Stooped and bookish, he was the last person one might expect in this establishment unless . . .
“Can I help you find anything, sir?” James asked.
There were several other clusters of young ladies in the shop. They did not notice the old man. A further testament to his uniqueness.
“Hello there,” he replied, still staring at walls of merchandise. “I read somewhere about a specific product that might interest me but, now that I’m here, I wonder if there was a mistake.”
Taking a box of perfume from a rack - its case: a picture of a young woman, barely visible in black and white lighting, pressed against the wall while a distinctly masculine hand held a gun to her head, its logo “the red spray of excitement”. James asked the old man what he saw.
“I’m not sure what’s in it honestly,” said the man, “but there’s a picture of a turtle.”
James put the case back. “Right this way please,” he said, summoning the old man to follow him down the hall.
“You’ll forgive me,” the old man said, “if I appear hesitant to descend these dimly lit stairs to what appears to be a dungeon.”
James was about to gently goad the old man with some reassurances but then Brock’s large form clomped up the first few steps and rounded the corner. He stopped at the sight of the two of them blocking the door.
“Thought I heard something,” said Brock. “Who’s he?”
James gestured. This is?
“Oh, uh, Irving Adwell, is my name. I read something. Not really sure how to describe it. It sounds silly actually . . .”
“A bit of charred paper,” said Brock. “Left beside a tree?”
Irving came to life. “Yes that’s it! It’s the tree in my front yard. I thought it had been left by pranksters so I waited a few days, but it was appealing . . .”
“You’re right on time,” said Brock. “Come on down.”
A line at the front counter needed James attention but Brock called back up, “You see anything about the Green Lady?”
Clenching his teeth and putting on his best patience voice, James asked, “Which one?”
“Not one of your customer recommendations,” said Brock. “The bl-, I mean, she has a braid. You know. White braid?”
“Julie is not usually about at this time of day,” said James, “now I’ve got to help these people.”
Professor Adwell was entranced at the sight of the basement. Every medievalist’s dream. Potions in beakers, wooden walls (however did they get underground?) Old books with handwritten ledgers and recipes. Complete with the witch in the cape and her oafish friend. Not really oafish, the professor scolded himself, just, if one were to think of a dwarf and then make that dwarf an average grown man size, that’s what he looked like.
The witch turned to him and introduced herself. “So you’ve never met Julie?” she asked. “She was the one who left the paper at your tree. Long braid? Green eyes?”
“Doesn’t ring a bell I’m afraid,” said Adwell. “I’ve always been an early-to-bed, early-to-rise type.”
Most of the boxes were emptied and the professor helped with the few that were left. Some had bottles like the ones he’d seen on the shelf, others had piles of what seemed like thin strips of leathered animal skin along with bonelike pens. Also, tiny bags of aromatic powders. Olivia lamented the packing of these small bags, all jammed together. Hopefully the packer had made sure all the sacs were pulled tight. Spilled merchandise is worthless. “This must be Julie’s,” she said when there was only one box left.
Brock pried it open. The smell of dirt pervaded. Professor Adwell then noticed the absence of dirt on the floor. They were standing on smooth stone.
“That’s hers all right,” said Brock. He set the box in a corner.
Night. Suburbia. An entire neighborhood of English majors reading 60s pamphlets in an overstuffed chairs by warm lamplight. The only thing missing is a pipe. Some even put on a beret. Their reading hat. Oh, what their students would think of them now. Stuffy professor by day, ideological anarchist by night. For the sake of their own children they should have moved to a gated community by a private school when prices were low. They told themselves they couldn’t affrord it then but they could’ve. Certainly not now. Ah the luxury of past mistakes and the ability to look down on others who didn’t make them as privileged.
The green mist is indistinguishable from the treetops. She moves through them, a feathered serpent. The vibrant interior life of leaves warming her as she passes, carrying a message to her forbidden. She does not recognize him at night. He would hide what he reads from his wife. Not because she’s afraid of his old counterculture ways influencing their children who had never seen it and moved out long ago, but because she wouldn’t care and she indulges his regretful reminiscing as a consequence of someone getting older. The mist-girl knows better. His mask is stone, but not immobile.