As the last member of the writers’ group Lost in the Words exited The Local Coffee Shoppe after their meeting, Crawford frowned at me. “You know, you’ve made a powerful enemy in Arthur. He doesn’t like anyone standing up to him or making him look small, especially in front of his peers.”
I scoffed. “So, what’s he going to do? Name a character after me and then kill off that character in the most horrible way imaginable?” I laughed.
Crawford raised an eyebrow at me. “Have you ever edited a character out of a manuscript?”
My eyes flew wide, and I shuddered, remembering. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/08/06/unforeseen-consequences/
Crawford looked at my expression and nodded. “Then you understand what could happen if Arthur wrote you into a story, then edited you out.”
I made a metal note to come to the next meeting of Lost in the Words and be especially complimentary to Arthur.
Crawford led Dragon and me to a quiet table in a remote corner, as Griff went up to the counter to get us another round of beverages. The bistro was not quite as busy right now as it had been upon our arrival, but Crawford and Griff had some sensitive information to share with Dragon and me that we did not want overheard by anyone else.
“I’m so glad you came today . . . in spite of the fact you may have stirred up a peck of trouble with Arthur!” Crawford smiled and took his seat as Griff set a steaming cup of hot chocolate in front of me. “And I’m glad you brought your Dra . . . er, your friend, Dray.”
Griff placed an aromatic cup of spiced tea in front of Dragon, moved his chair closer to hers and sat, a huge smile on his face. “I’m glad Dray came, too. It seems we have much in common.”
The two of them exchanged a knowing glance, and Dragon turned to me and said in a quiet undertone, “Griff is a . . . visitor . . . to this area, much like me. And he and I can communicate in the old way.”
I understood this to mean Griff had probably arrived in this world much the same as Dragon and my other characters. Perhaps he had fallen out of the pages of one of Crawford’s manuscripts. I also understood Dragon and Griff could communicate telepathically, as was the custom of dragons . . . and griffins, too, evidently – at least this particular griffin. I smiled at them, but they were already deep in silent communication, staring intently into each other’s eyes like a couple of besotted teenagers.
With no further preamble, Crawford drew me back to the problem at hand. “So, you have . . . a character . . . you can’t quite figure out?”
I nodded. “And Drag . . . er, Dray and I thought someone with a unique friend like Griff may have encountered someone like . . . my character . . . and might be able to share some information about her powers.”
“Well, as Griff and I told you when you presented this problem to the writers at the meeting, neither of us have ever encountered anyone who has magic power, but is not any conventional form of magician.”
My shoulders slumped and I heaved a big sigh.
“But I have friends,” Crawford continued, lowering his voice. He took a sip of his mochachino while covertly looking around the café. Apparently deciding no one was eavesdropping, he continued. “One friend in particular has been a wealth of information for me in my writing. She is my go-to person for anything involving magic that does not follow the accepted norms.”
I brightened at this information. “Do you think she would help me?”
Crawford frowned and rubbed his chin. “Well, I don’t know for certain that she will have any useful information or insights into your character’s powers, but I do believe she will talk with you. Just tell her I sent you.”
I nodded. “How do I contact her?”
Crawford reached into his wallet for a business card and handed it to me. “She and her partner run a New Age store, Chris-Tal Clear. The address and shop hours are on the card. It’s just an hour or so drive, southwest of here. When you go, be sure to talk to Talia. Christine is a nice girl, but she’s pretty clueless about real magic.”
* * *
It was two days before I had time to go to the New Age store, Chris-Tal Clear. Dragon went with me, trying to avoid another encounter with Marisol. The child had visited again the day before, and Dragon was near exhaustion by the time the little girl left. “We must determine with what we are dealing! I can not continue expending such stores of energy trying to keep my true self hidden from her!” Dragon was in her guise of an elf maiden, but I could almost see smoke drifting from her flared nostrils.
“Is it important at this point to continue hiding your true nature from Marisol? After all, she has seen you already. She knows what you are.”
Dragon disagreed vehemently. “Yes, she knows, but I do not think we want the rest of the world to know. What happens if someone else enters the yard while she is there, and I am revealed? Already Mace and Gloria saw me. The two deputies saw me as well, and only their innate skepticism prevented them from believing their own eyes.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/08/04/it-was-a-nightmare/
Dragon shuddered and shook her head again. “No, I must continue keeping my true nature hidden from everyone, starting with Marisol.”
I drove down the main street of the quaint little town where Crawford’s friend operated a New Age store. I had never been there before and was having trouble finding the shop. Finally, I pulled into a parking lot cattycorner from a strip of sturdy brick buildings that looked like they dated back to the early days of the Old West, when this community had been a boomtown. “Let’s look over there.”
Dragon and I walked across the street and entered an old-fashioned hardware store. “Maybe we can get directions here.”
No one there had ever heard of Chris-Tal Clear, nor were they familiar with the street where it was located. Neither was anyone in the next three stores we checked. Finally, the desk clerk at a restored nineteenth century hotel directed us to a place about five blocks away, on the other side of the railroad tracks.
Once we crossed the tracks, the condition of the buildings changed considerably. The historic district we left, now years past its sesquicentennial, had meticulously restored buildings, clean and inviting. On this side of the tracks, the buildings were newer, but none looked as if they had ever been cared for. I doubted many had seen as much as a broom or a paintbrush in many years.
Checking the street signs at each intersection, we wandered around some back alleys before stumbling onto a street whose name matched the one on the business card. As we approached the middle of the block of derelict businesses, we finally saw what we were looking for – Chris-Tal Clear Metaphysical Store.
Dragon lifted a delicate eyebrow as she surveyed the small, dilapidated storefront, with its dirty windows and peeling paint. “Are we sure about this?”
I scoffed. “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
“This is not a book.” Dragon wrinkled her nose. “Can someone who operates such a humble shop hold the answers we seek?”
“Well, the only way to find out is to go in and talk to Talia.” I reached for the doorknob, which promptly fell off in my hand.
“That is not a good omen.” Dragon frowned.
The door slowly swung open, and our jaws dropped.
Inside the dirty little storefront was a clean, bright, retail business with well-designed displays and more merchandise than could have possibly fit in the space defined by the exterior dimensions. Chris-Tal Clear had everything and anything connected to New Age, mysticism, or spiritualism. There were teas and essential oils, wands and crystal balls, potions and cauldrons, runes, stone art, jewelry, geodes, crystals, candles, incense, books, figurines, pentagrams. There was way too much to take in at a glance.
A diminutive woman, who appeared barely out of her teens, stood near the doorway. Her white hair matched the gown she wore, an outfit that looked more appropriate for a special ritual, an important ceremony, or a fancy costume party than for working in a store. She reached out and took the doorknob from my hand. “Sorry. Happens all the time.” Her voice was as small as she was, with a reedy, ethereal quality that raised the hair on the back of my neck.
I cleared my throat. “Hello. You must be Talia.”
A deeper voice laughed a throaty laugh. The sound came from the other side of the store, from a dark-haired woman in business casual attire. “No, that’s Christine, the Chris in Chris-Tal. I’m the second half of the team. I’m Talia.”
Dragon and I gaped at the two women, who couldn’t have been more different.
I started to walk toward Talia, then took another look at Christine, in her long, Medieval gown. Looking back at the older woman in her super-short skirt, white silk blouse and dark blazer, I shook my head, trying to clear the cobwebs. “You’re Talia?”
Dragon murmured, “Do not judge a book by its cover.”
Why did Crawford tell me to speak with Talia and not Christine? Is Talia really the magic expert? Will she be able to shed any light on Marisol’s powers and their origin? Be sure to come back next week and find out. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.