The echo of Laina’s steps grew louder as she ventured farther into the alley. The chill intensified, as did smells of urine mingled with traces of cheap rum. She pulled her scarf over the lower half of her face. Layered graffiti webbed the building walls to her right and left with an odd blend of symbols, curses, and obscene figures. Some of the scrawlings appeared to declare gang territory, while others looked more like ancient runes marking something more sinister.
She paused to study a windowless steel door to her right. Lacking a knob, it seemed more like a back door at first glance. No signs or awnings identified it as a shop, but the entire surface of the door was embossed with a pattern of bizarre symbols. Laina scanned the depths of the alley, straining her eyes against the shadows. No awnings. No signs. Not even another knobless exit. Strange, for an alley to host only one access.
The door creaked ajar. Laina gripped the jamb with a trembling hand and squinted into the dim interior. A gaunt, ivory face shone in the glow of a black, three-wick candle.
He extended a bony arm, his curved pinky nail jutting an additional digit’s length. As he curled his hand toward his chest, British overtones sharpened the edges of his baritone voice. “Linger not on the threshold. Come in. Come all the way in. I have just what you are looking for.”
Her moist fingers squeaked against the jamb as she pulled her grip loose. She stepped into the tangible cloud of patchouli and coughed. The door clicked shut behind her. A three foot landing poised her above the shop’s cobblestone floor.
“I am Simmy.” He sprinkled dust into the candle, causing its flames to shoot up in a kaleidoscope of colors. Rings jingled at the rim of his ear, while a ceramic eye swung in its stretched lobe as he nodded to the stairs. “Mind your step.”
Laina descended into the earthy-scented maze of oak shelves. She cleared her throat. “I’m Jayme Roibelle’s cousin. My name is–”
“I know who you are, Laina.” He flashed his jade eyes at her. “I’ve been expecting you.”
She picked her way across the uneven stones, hesitating near an ash-filled pit. “Did my cousin call you?”
He half-stifled a chuckle, then raised his black brows. “Would that make you feel more comfortable?”
“Implying you’re psychic.” She tilted her head.
Simmy plucked a dusty red decanter from the shelf beside him and proceeded to the next aisle. “Interesting aura of suspicion over that term. Humankind hunts and consumes knowledge from all manner of places. I prefer more . . . unorthodox sources.”
Laina stepped aside from the bone-littered pit. “I’m here to research an article on the presence of spirits–”
“Yes, I can tell you all about the violent rage of your poltergeist. She imbibed envy, feasting upon fury until exacting violence on two. The spirit lurks dormant until someone wakens it. Like the wealthy murderess in 1924. And the editor in chief who murdered the Chinese elevator attendant in 1974, a story few ever heard. The poltergeist rises when a soul invites it. My book explains all you need to know for that editorial.” He nodded to a stack of hardcover books bearing the symbols embossed on his shop door.
She picked up a copy and turned it over. No author bio. No back cover description. “Thank you. Does this include your experience with the occult? If not, could I trouble you for an interview?”
“Few who would believe my story could sleep nights after hearing its dark wonders. What an unstretched mind could handle lies in those pages. You have enough to sate that pompous editor woman’s curiosity. But you aren’t finished here, my dear. You have an interest far more personal than journalism.” He gathered two tins and a corked vial, then glanced over his shoulder at her. “Otherwise you wouldn’t have mucked about with that amulet.”
The metal setting burned against her skin. She clutched at the medallion through the layers of knit and broadcloth into which she’d tucked it this morning. The emerald glow permeated her shirts. Simmy reached for the amulet, its glint flashing in his eyes.
“Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, ‘This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.’” (Acts 8:9-10).