Prologue to The Curio Shop
Michelle got much more than she bargained for when she visited the Pacific Northwest for the first time. There's absolutely something magical here!
Michelle rubbed her shoulders briskly, trying in vain to get her circulation flowing. It wasn't working! She started walking in place but her legs were stuck frozen. Blinking rapidly, she peered past the blinding sun reflection on the frost encrusted landscape before her. There was nothing but snow and ice. She didn’t remember taking one step into snow and somehow she was surrounded on all sides and her feet were now lost, covered in snow. "Where am I?" She asked the air in desperation. “Oh, I just wish I was back home. So much for my grand solo adventure,” she whimpered, shuddering in the cold.
"How quaint. You don’t even know how blessed you are," She heard a deep male voice say.
"Who said that? I need help!" She whipped her head around, looking for the source of the voice.
"You should watch what you touch, human. Luckily, you ran into me." A slight curl of amusement seemed to emanate from the words.
"But... I don’t... What is happening!? Who are you! I need to get out of here before I freeze to death!" Micha still couldn’t see the speaker in any direction past the couple of inches of visibility the glistening ice allowed. Taking a step to look in the snow was impossible. Her legs were frozen in place but also shivering enough to shake the crusted ice covering her lower legs into a haunting, tinkling melody.
“Do not exaggerate so. I assure you, you will not freeze to death.” the voice snorted.
“How..how..how..how do you know...know?” She forced out through teeth that refused to stop chattering.
“Very well. The cold appears to be detrimental to your ability to converse and I do so miss conversation. I deem it safe enough for the moment.” the deep voice replied. When she focused, the voice seemed to come from far above her as it sighed with long suffering patience.
She gasped as the sky turned to bright white and she could see nothing, but she could feel and hear the changes going on around her. She felt the air heating up with a hot breeze that slid along her back. She heard the ice and snow crack as it melted in moments. Then she felt the crunchy, snowy terrain change to spongy sand, freeing her legs. She gasped louder yet as the white light faded to transparency. She was on an island beach with four shiny, white fleshed palm trees.
"Thank you! Thank you so much!" She looked everywhere but still could not see who had spoken. With the blinding snow gone, she could see that she was now on a very small island with blue all around her. The sky was a light baby blue with not a cloud to be seen and the water, a deep ocean blue stretching forever on all sides. The only oddity, besides being somehow on a deserted island, was that the ocean appeared to curve at a shimmering invisible wall. This shimmering wall could only be seen with peripheral vision. When she moved her to head to look at it straight on, it moved just out her line of sight. She shook her head in frustration. “Who are you and where am I?”
"Up here, human. Look up" the voice chuckled.
“I have a name you know, it’s Mi...” She cut off as she looked up and screamed at the sight. The palm trees were not trees but rather legs that towered above her to meet in a body that appeared larger than the whole island. Attached to the body was a long sinuous neck that stretched down to the most monstrous head she had ever seen. The mouth was larger than her body two times over and she could not tear her gaze away from the razor sharp teeth prominently displayed there. One piercing blue eye swiveled and locked her gaze as she fell to her hands and knees stunned.
"Do get up. While I appreciate the obeisance towards my magnificent self for warming up your environment, we are still trapped in here. The snow does not bother me, especially as I was able to fuse myself to the ridge of this globe and gain some power over it's magic but you have no such aptitude."
"What… what do you mean?" Michelle asked as she stood up and craned her neck back to try to fathom the enormity of the creature in above her.
"Well, I imagine I can only leave this pleasant paradise for a few moments before the proprietor - our captor - recognizes something is amiss."
"I don't understand. Our captor? Who would that be?"
"I wish I had the luck to be stuck with a more intelligent being, but it appears not.” The voice sighed again. “Human, what do you remember before you were in what used to be a frozen wasteland?"
"I... I was in a tourist, ya know, curio shop. I wanted to get a nice souvenir to memorialize my first foray into the Pacific Northwest and everything looked standard but not remarkable until... OH MY GOD!" She broke off remembering the shop. It had all the expected knickknacks – magnets, t-shirts, coffee mugs and shot glasses. Sure, some of them were cute or funny, like the mood mustaches, and some were just plain odd. Why would anyone wear a carpet pattern t-shirt? Regardless, there was nothing she wanted to spend twenty dollars on. She was just getting ready to leave when the man behind the counter suggested she check out the snow globes on a far wall which she hadn’t seen before.
"Yes, you must have remembered them now. The snow globes. They are certainly remarkable, wouldn't you say?"
"They were truly... special. Without the globes being shaken, every single one of them was showing falling snow. They looked so very fragile, both the globe itself and the material inside. In precise detail, they held people and animals which were even fashioned to look like they were shivering."
"That's just it, they ARE shivering. From what I can tell of the enchantment on my own cage, they are designed to set the captive in a permanent stasis. They constantly force the prisoner to feel as if they will die of hypothermia at any moment, but it never actually happens. It is a permanent hell; unknown how hellish it truly is to those suffering it. Oh dear. I’m sorry, but I must bring back the snow. You should close your eyes.”
“No! No please don’t!” her cries were ignored as the world turned white and blinding again and the soft sand was replaced by harsh snow and ice.
“I’m sorry you have to suffer through this, but I can’t let him know I’m here. I don’t understand why he hasn’t found me yet. I never thought I’d stay unnoticed as long as I have. I was just flying over my domain, surveying the land for problems as I like, er, liked, to do. I saw a tear in my sky and I flew over to check on it. When I got closer to it, I could see it wasn’t an accident; someone had torn through my land’s shield walls with force and created an entry. There were evil creatures in my land, plundering my snow and magic!” His burst of anger sent freezing snow down on her huddling form below.
“In anger, I flew right up to one of wretches, ready to snap him in half with one bite, when one of the other scoundrels passed a globe to the first and hit me in passing. I am ashamed to be caught so easily,” he sighed and more frosty pellets dribbled down her back as she shrieked at the cold.
“The only saving grace is that they did not realize I had been captured nor did they think to look for the land’s guardian. In any event, I have been shipped out and transferred to innumerable captors and I do not know how much time has passed since that fateful day. But you, you are first who has joined me in my prison. I do not know why you felt the need to touch this globe, but I truly am glad you did. It might be my first chance at freedom! Now, he’s closed up shop for the day it seems, so please close your eyes again. I promise it’s not so disorienting if your eyes are closed.”
“Ah… thank you. So you are a guardian? Of a land of snow?” She listened this time and closed her eyes. Relaxing into the warm sand and breeze as the snow was removed.
“Yes. Well… I may have been replaced by now but I was a guardian. The snow, you see, is what allows the enchantments on the globes. Are you good then? Can we try to get out of here?” he asked impatiently.
“But why were these globes created? I mean, this all sounds insane, but there must be a reason right? To capture you or others like you? Why me? I have no magic, this world doesn't have magic... Did I get transported to another world? How does magic work anyway? Is this shop's owner going to use my soul to power spells? Is that why he told me to look at the snow globes?” she ended her questions and lay down on the warm sand.
“I do not know. I have only seen humans like you and a few dogs being captured but my globe hasn't always been out on display. Most of my years were spent in boxes with hundreds of unoccupied globes. And, leave the magic to the professionals. I plan to find out the why as soon as I get out so all I need from you is some shaking. Now, stop wasting time and knock this globe off the shelf!”
“What?” she sat up in confusion. “You are so much larger than me and you have magic. Why can’t you knock the globe down?”
“Must everything be questioned? My goodness, humans are annoying!” He took a deep breath and calmed himself. “My feet are stuck in the base and my back, as an unfortunate side effect of taking over the magic of this globe, is welded to the top. I cannot move enough even to rock the thing. Please. Please, try pushing on the side!”
“Okay, but where is the side?” She got up, walked to the edge of the island and flailed the air.
He sighed heavily and said “There. I’ve completely removed the ocean. Just walk in one direction until you reach an edge.”
She took some tentative steps forward on what used to be water, but her confidence grew when the sand continued to hold up. She couldn’t tell where the end actually was because it still appeared to go on forever. So she started jogging until “OW” she ran into the edge and then fell over as the globe toppled.
“Excellent!” he chuckled. “Your head is good for something, finally. You knocked us over, now we just need to go off the ledge. Start rolling!”
"Wait. What happens when we fall off this ledge? Running into the edge hurt! Is this going to be the equivalent of falling down 20 stories? Am I going to be Humpty Dumpty splattered on the floor?”
“I do not know of this humpty dumpty, but no, you will not be splattered. We only need a crack in the globe large enough for a single flake to fall out in order to break the enchantment and return us to our forms outside of the globe. So, please roll. In case you didn’t notice, time runs faster in here and I see the dawn horizon. I suggest you hurry it up or I might have to bring the snow back.”
“Jerk. Not like there are any choices here, you don’t have to threaten me.” She got on her hands and knees and starting rolling like a hamster in a wheel. The globe gained speed. She screamed and was suddenly shoved backwards against the other end as the globe fell. It hit the floor with a loud crash and Michelle was standing again in the shop.
“Very good job, human. I suppose I owe you a favor now.” She turned tentatively toward the voice and was pleasantly surprised to see a handsome man smiling at her.
“Oh! You are… but you said you were were flying and not a human. And your legs and mouth and TEETH in the globe…” she blushed looking anywhere but at him.
“I can choose my form to match the available forms nearby. I don't... have a natural form that I've found.” He looked slightly embarrassed at this before waving it away
"Regardless, I was patrolling as an ice creature when I was captured and lost the ability to change while in the globe. However, I am restored now and I chose this form for questioning our captor. He should be in soon. I can hardly wait.” He smiled wickedly at her.
“What about this?” she pointed at the cracked globe. “It is safe to touch?”
"It is safe. The enchantment is broken as evidenced by our release. I hear him! Let me do the talking.”
She strained her ears and finally picked up the sounds of keys jingling. She looked back down at the broken globe and decided to take it. Scooping it up, she hid behind a tall display case holding various postcards and pamphlets for nearby attractions and waited.
The door opened ringing the bell and she heard the guardian’s voice “Hello, I’m hoping you can help me. You see, I was locked in here overnight and I need to get my bearings straight.”
“What?” a gruff raspy voice asked. “Who are you and what are you doing in here? I know there was no one in here when I left last night!”
“I beg to differ. There were quite a few someones in here when you left last night and you actively increase that number every day. Why?”
“I have no idea what you are talking about. Get out of my store before I call the police! No! What are you doing?”
“I’m prompting your memory. I've discovered that fear with a dash of pain helps a great deal with memory issues.” Even though the words were not directed at her, Michelle shuddered.
“No! Stop! Let me go! Ack!!”
She peered around the display case to see the guardian was standing calmly holding a man by the throat who was thrashing around and clawing at the guardian's hand.
“Oh hello. Did you want a turn? He’s not being open with me.” He frowned at the choking shop owner.
“Can you stop that? It looks… well, it’s disturbing. And how do you expect him to speak if you are choking him?” She stood up, her cover blown.
The guardian snorted in derision and dropped the shopkeeper. She waited until he had stopped thrashing and gasping and was lying on the floor panting. She walked up to his prone body and leaned over his face.
"Remember me? You should. I was here yesterday. You told me I should look at the snow globes. Like this one.” She held the broken globe, wrapped in a pamphlet, an inch away from his face, the cracked part hidden.
“NOOOOOOOOO!” he croaked and flailed violently. “Get it away!!! I’ll tell you everything! Who are you people? I’ve never even seen him before. No one has ever gotten out. No one!”
“We are apparently karma made flesh. So, why? Why are you doing this?”
“And how much do you know about these snow globes?” the guardian added, walking up to stand next to her.
“Some guy was selling them and seeing as how I was the purchaser for this awful dump, this pigsty of tourist crap. I contacted the guy. The price was really high for the boxes of them but he told me that they fix problems. I said something like ‘with a price that high; I expect them to fix my problem boss!’” He smiled pathetically at her, trying to get a laugh, but his attempt fell flat.
“Uh. Well, he told me to take one of them for a grand. I should leave it in its box and give it to my boss. If it didn’t fix the problem, I could give it back to him for a full refund. So I did it. Heh, what did I have to lose, ya see? Making minimum wage at forty, it’s pathetic.” He blubbered out smiling again, trying and failing to get some kind of pity or rapport going.
“Anywho… what’d’ya know? The globe fixed my problem. Boss gone. New boss: me. So I bought the rest of them and set them up in the store. It was not the brightest idea. A disappeared customer is not a paying customer, but I love looking at them and watching my old bastard of a boss especially. I get so much joy out of seeing his fat, shrew face freezing, his jowls bouncing.” His pleasant expression and happy smile in reminiscence flinched away in the face of her glare.
“So I just moved them to the back. And then one time, this annoying mother comes in the store with her bratty kids. The mom is just yakking away on her cell and paying no attention to her little monsters as they start throwing things around the store. I asked her nicely, I swear I did, to please control her children and she just scoffed at me. So, then I told her that she and her kids needed to see these really cool snow globes that I have in the back. Fixes problems, right?” again with the smile amid the sniveling for pity.
“Like those little grubby snot stains wouldn’t touch the globes. I knew they would be gone; I just hoped that the mom would touch them too. She did! And, I dunno, I got addicted to using the globes. I hate tourists. The adults who are know-it-all’s spewing out totally wrong information. The young parents who don’t know how or are too panty-waisted to discipline their own children. The teenagers breaking things just for the fun of it. I was sick of all of them and I told them to check out the globes. I was doing a good job! The locals are happy to see fewer tourists! There are too many people on this planet anyway and it’s not like I killed anyone!” his spittle increased in volume at every sentence. Trying to prove his reasoning, or at least that he believed it wholeheartedly, by a show of force.
“I’m not any of those types. Why me?” she asked still holding the globe.
“Look in the mirror, lady. You are a tourist and you deserved to be in that globe!”
“Enough.” The guardian pulled the shop keeper off the floor and threw him toward the back wall with the globes. His scream was abruptly silenced as he disappeared on touching one of them. “Lady, I thank you for saving me from a continued non-existence in the globe and I do owe you one favor. I’ll sense when you want to call it in. I’m going back to my domain to see what happened while I was gone and get answers. I suggest you take advantage of this situation and take over this... establishment. However, do not use the globes. Hold them for me for when I get back.”
“Um, he was kinda right, I am a tourist. I don’t live here and I don’t know anything about being a shopkeeper,” She added anxiously.
“Then you better relocate and learn. I will return once I know more and I expect you to be here. Again, do not attempt to break the globes or trap anyone else. Until I know why and for what reason the globes were created, there could be any manner of creatures inside, not all as benevolent as I. I am sure you do not want to unleash a terror on your realm, a terror I may not be able to handle,” he bowed to her and disappeared.