I had a call recently from Bonerella. "Hey, Wanna! Just thought I'd let you know that my friend Emeralda Ebullius has opened her SecondSpell shop to select members of the general public, and I immediately thought of you."
"Secondspell? What is that?
"Oh, it's kind of like a consignment shop, the type you see along Alameda or Doniphan, except it's intended for people who are either new to the field of magic and need something to prime the pump, so to speak, or - and I hesitate to say this to just anybody - those who are past their prime. It's an opportunity to purchase some already-used stuff, or see the results of spells that others have already done, and anyone can afford her prices. I guess you could call it a Re-Spell Store!"
"Of course I would like to visit a place like that," I responded, "... although I have no personal talents in that area, other than my natural curiosity. Thanks for thinking of me, Bonerella!"
"Oh, you'll fit right in, I assure you!" she replied. "Get a notepad and I'll give you the address."
It was one of those little places that, you wouldn't know it was there if you didn't know it was there, you know what I mean? Tucked in between a pawn shop and a nails and spa place, it had a faded green door with a fancy doorhandle that reminded me vaguely of something from one of my childhood storybooks. "Emeralda's," in faded gold lettering, arced across the rather dusty glass in the upper half of the door, and underneath it was:
Jinxes and Hexes, Potions and Notions
Gently Used and Custom-Made
for Witches, Warlocks and Seekers of Exotica
I stood there, bemused. That's odd, I thought, the lettering is faded and the window is already dusty? Well, maybe the dust wasn't so odd; this is El Paso, after all, but you would think a new shop would have a clean window and new lettering. And then I remembered - Bonerella had said her friend was opening it to some members of the general public! Aha! That explains the dust and the fading; it's probably been here who knows how long - for those "Witches, Warlocks and Seekers of Exotica!"
See, that's one thing people don't realize about El Paso. We have a very diverse community, which is why I love living here.
As I entered the shop, a bell jangled overhead, sounding almost like the first notes of Ode to Joy! I stood for a moment in the dimness, almost blinded after the brightness outside. The first thing I noticed was noises - pattering, shuttering, clattering, creaking, opening and closing, even whispering - and the second was a distinctive smell, sort of like an overlay of peppermint, vinegar, over-ripe apples, dirty feet, and wet leaves.
And then it all came into focus as my eyes adjusted. Oh my gosh. Talk about a lot of stuff crammed into a small space! I felt something brush my cheek and hurriedly batted it away, looking fearfully up to see all kinds of things hanging from the beams above. I was reminded of the hanging snake skins and herb bunches in the old Cuahetemoc Market that I visited in the good old days when I used to travel to Mexico.
"Hello! Anybody here?" I called out, then glanced down as something skittered across my feet. I did a quick two-step, then thought, I will count to ten, and if nobody answers I am OUT of here!
"Yoohoo! I'm coming; I'm coming," a voice tootled. And there she was - glowing like some kind of jewel box in the dimness - greens and purples and golds, oh my! She was wearing the striking hat that Bonerella had shown me in her shop, and now I saw that it suited her perfectly, especially against the wealth of red hair framing her smiling face.
"You must be Wanna! Bonerella has spoken so fondly of you, and you look just like I expected. Well, a wee bit plumper, perhaps, but that's neither here nor there," she said, gesturing to her own ample bosom. "I'm one to talk, right?" And she tootled again merrily, the tip of her green hat tossing as she laughed. "Are you a devotee of the Arts, my dear?"
I wasn't sure how to answer that. "Well, no, not really, although I am an appreciator of those who can paint or compose, or, ..." and then I realized the Arts she was referring to were not painting or composing, per se!
"Oh, no, not really. I don't know anything about YOUR Arts. I mean, other than what I have read and heard about locally from my friends Bonerella and Ghouliana. Of course, I have also met some interesting practioners when I have visited Mother Goose in FairyLand, now that I think about it."
"Ah, but you ARE a Seeker of Exotica, yes? I see it in your eyes. "
"Er, well, I have always been curious, but basically, I'm just a storyteller and miniaturist; nothing very exotic."
"Well, it takes one to know one," she opined, showing a dimple as she smiled. "And I knew you right away!"
She swept her hand around the tiny shop. "Feel free to look around, Wanna. I have learned that customers usually don't like the owner to hover, so unless there is something specific you are after, I'm going to step into the back room for a few minutes. We're having the weekly meeting here in my workroom this afternoon and I do need to clear off some room on the table. You know the old saying, 'Things expand to fill the available space!'"
I looked around and nodded, thinking of my workroom. "Yes, that is so true, and thanks. I am not looking for anything in particular, just sort of browsing. Bonerella said I would enjoy seeing your stock."
"Just holler if you have any questions; I shouldn't be long," and she scurried behind the curtained doorway at the rear of the tiny shop.
So I browsed,
trying carefully not to get in the way of drawers and lids that kept opening and closing, and creatures moving in and out of my view. I figured Bonerella would never send me some place where I would truly be harmed, at least not intentionally, and Emeralda seemed like a lovely person, but I was wary. Who wouldn't be, in a place where strange faces glimmered and smirked and smiled and whistled and groaned?
And potions stirred,
... and pestles mortared, or whatever pestles do,
... and wishes were granted?
...where plants stuck their tongues out,
... and disembodied skeletal hands moved over the pages.
Hmm; looks like a couple of wands sticking out of that drawer.
And along with some Spells materials I spotted a crystal ball and some tarot cards.
A bony hand reached out, presumably for whatever is in that bottle. Or was it the copper pitcher it wanted?
Oh, lordy, yes, it is attached to something, er, uh somebody?
But no; instead it was reaching for a broom, of all things.
And a rather high-pitched voice said from the trunk, "Doesn't anyone ever CLEAN around here? Am I the only one who can't stand the dust? "
Well, somebody does something with brooms, I thought. There's another one with a cat behind it. Wonder why he seems to be hiding?
At that point, a gigantic red pod or head or something emerged from the trunk and began opening its mouth ...
And two gigantic flies came rushing out. Guess it had indigestion or something.
"Now you see why I keep this shield with me?" The fat black cat asked.
"Oh yes!" I cried, moving away hurriedly, as another pod pushed its way out of the back of the trunk.
"Hey, hey!" A smiling fellow holding a packet of papers flopped out of the turnk, apparently either oblivious or unafraid of his fly-eating companions. "Looky here," he cried. "Testimonials from satisfied customers! BOGO Today! Buy One, Get One Free! Or maybe I should say BOOGO! hehhehheh!"
Disconcerted, I backed further away and bumped into the table. "How 'bout some pumpkin juice?" I heard a voice.
"Or a slice of Unforgettable Pie?"
"Let me get my knife and I'll CUT YOU A SLICE!"
"Oh, grow up, Sam!" The black cat said, rolling its eyes, while a smaller cat standing atop the trunk hissed in agreement. "Just because you have fangs doesn't mean you're entitled to scare customers!"
"Don't pay any attention to him, Wanna. Screaming Sam's bark is worse than his bite, so to speak!"
"Yesss, it issss!" came another voice, as a rather flamboyant snake coiled up - you are not going to believe this - RIGHT OUT OF AN OLD DOCUMENT ON THE FLOOR!
"I am HE WHO MUST BE FEARED!" Sam hollered.
"And I'm The Stupendous Super Serpent! Neener, neener, neener!" the snake said, weaving back and forth. "Come and get me, why don't you, if you are such hot stuff!"
"Well, I would, if I weren't stuck in this pod because some idiot lost page 2 of my Spell!"
"Oh good GRIEF! It gets quite tiresome being down here listening to you all argue. If I weren't separated from my body I would leave this INSTANT!
"Oh, how I would love to race my purple shoes OUT OF HERE! But I can't even put my golden HAT on!"
A sudden throat-clearing came from the other side of the trunk. "Cut it out, Mr. Blue-Green Man; this is getting kind of old." A small black bird rustled its wings and blinked sleepily. "Can't a body get a nap around here? And people say that WE squawk!"
"Oh, you're a fine one to talk, always flapping those wings in our faces!"
"Why, I've a good mind to give you my bird-hypnotizing stare!"
At that point, I noticed a strange thick vine that suddenly erupted into one gigantic bloom!
... quite startling my friend the yellow cat, who hissed nervously as it wove back and forth in front of him.
"Bleeaah, bleeaah," it cried.
"Omigod!" I said, clapping my hands. "It's a Tongue-Tied Plant! My friend Ghouliana has been wanting one of these for her garden for AGES!"
The yellow cat smiled. "Hey, we won't mind seeing that thing go. All those little tongues up and down that vine keep making all kinds of ugly slurping sounds and disrespectful grimaces. Why don't you ask Emeralda if you can take it?"
"Well, I don't know about that," I said hurriedly. "Uh, I am not really prepared to take a living plant with me today - but I definitely will tell my friend that it is here."
And that's when I heard a clinking, rattling sound. I looked over and there was a chain moving on the top of the trunk. I leaned over to see where it was going.
It was attached to a spider almost as large as Bonerella's friend, Harriett, but slightly more benign - if any arachnid that big can be called benign!
At that point a bat fluttered under the edge of the table. "Hey Spidy. Ready to share some of your flies?"
"You've got to be kidding," the spider said in a strange sort of whistling voice.
"That stupid plant in the trunk has been getting all of the best ones while you slept."
I swear it looked like one of those danged pods was smiling and licking its lips in agreement!
"Well, it's a good thing I'm not too picky. In this place, I keep finding all kinds of snacks flitting and flopping around. In fact, after Wanna leaves I'm on my way to check out that hat, to pay my respects to Spidey's ancestors, so to speak. "
I moved on around the trunk quickly.
"Er, what do you mean?" I asked, keeping a safe distance, as I spotted a pointy topped hat lying atop a sweater. (Did you know witches wore sweaters? Actually, I wasn't as surprised as you might think, since my friend Ghouliana likes to do her gardening in a sweater.)
"The hat he refers to is made of tarantula fur; gives me the shivers, I don't mind telling you," Spidy said, with a shudder.
"I am not sure where Emeralda got it. My long-term memory is going, I hate to say, but I think it was probably some witch in Romania who created it, long ago. They're like that over there, rather bloodthirsty. Or used to be, anyway. Since the Berlin Wall fell, I understand they're trying to be all politically correct and all. Mostly for financial purposes with the European and world bankers, would be my guess."
"Oh my goodness!" I said, backing away further. "I used to tell my students that the black furry hat I wore each Halloween was made of tarantula fur, and I think some of them halfway believed me, but I had no idea that there actually WAS such a hat! I am sorry now that I was unknowingly insensitive," I said.
The bird spoke up again from atop its perch on a shifting pile of books. "Hey, you want insensitive?"
"You should see the collection of dessicated bugs that Spidy has hidden in that trunk!"
"Well, one has to eat, doesn't one?" the spider answered indignantly. "And why shouldn't I keep their skeletal remains? Humans have shadowboxes with butterflies, and museums have drawers full of skeletons," it said, retreating into the trunk, its chain clinking behind it.
At that point, the room quieted, and in the stillness I observed another plant curling up out of the back of Screaming Sam's pod.
"Hey, those apples look suspiciously like some wonderful fruit that my husband and I got in the New Mexico mountains." I tapped my lip with my finger for a moment, then nodded, smiling. "Ah yes, I recall now! Adalberta was her name. Interesting old lady in a strange old apple orchard. Do you know her?"
"Oh yes," Mr. Blue-Green Man spoke up from below. "She has broadened her product lines, I think. Hey, Sam, isn't that little market basket over there hers?"
"You know, the one with the Yum-Yum fruit?"
"Oh, YES! Love those things. Put hair on one's chest, they're so luscious," Sam hollered.
And then I noticed something else creeping out of the back of Sam's pod. I leaned down to Mr. Blue-Green Man. "Are you aware that something else may be in there with Sam?" I whispered, as Sam suddenly retreated inside.
"It's kind of a symbiotic relationship," he whispered back. "IT comes out once in a while and retrieves things for him, just like my shoes sometimes tiptoe off and get things for me."
"Hey, don't forget how helpful I can be," the snake said. "Didn't I ssslither out for icssssse cream the other day?"
"I am quite intrigued, " I addressed the snake. "Didn't I just see you come up out of that page when I first came in? Do you live inside it, or something?"
"Yesss; I don't come out as often these daysss. Even ssserpents get old, you know, and I've been around a long, long time." He moved his head back and forth. "This cossstume is just ssso I fit in more with the younger generation, you underssstand."
"Oh, sure," I said, nodding, although frankly I wasn't too sure which generation of what he was talking about.
At that moment, another cat appeared out of nowhere, landing with a leap right in front of me.
"Ha, ha! Gotcha," it cried, as a weird little mouse with glowing red eyes peeked out from the base of the writhing wood of a table.
"Oh, you think so, Cat? Well, why don't you follow me into the table and see who's got who, eh?"
And he quickly backed up, disappearing within the slowly moving wood.
As the mouse disappeared within the table, the bat suddenly flapped its wings and left its hanging-down perch. "Hey, I'm heading up to the ceiling beams. A body can't get any rest at all down here, with all these cats everywhere, and tables eating people up. "
At this point, the cat yawned, pretending he wasn't really interested, after all, and backed away from the writhing table to go curl up for a nap.
There was a quick cry from the other cat who had been silently observing all this since my arrival. "Hey, Buddy Bat; you need to learn not to generalize. I am content to mind my own business since I lost my 7th life. Two To Go gives one pause (or paws, so to speak hehheh), and these days my motto is Let Bygones Be Bygones.
"Long as I get my saucer of milk and an occasional bit of kibble, I'm happy," he told me. And with that he retreated further under his broom and curled up for a nap.
That's when I noticed the book. Poison Herbs? I hoped it was only identifying the herbs so people wouldn't get them by mistake! Hmm; wonder what's in that jug?
I started leaning down to look at the open pages but was diverted once again ...
Another broom went swishing past, as our silent friend from within the trunk cleared away the last of the dust.
"ACCCKKK!!! Caw! Caw!" The black bird was so indignant that he flew up for an inch or two before he alighted and scolded. "When you use a broom, sweep the dust to the side, not up in the air! Idiot!
"Well, la-te-da! Listen to you! You're a fine one to complain about dust!
"I don't see you doing anything to clean up around here. You don't mind contributing to the mess, do you? Sppppllllltttt!"
Wow! Another plant sticking its tongue out!"
I was ready to leave by this time, with or without seeing Emeralda again, when, to top it all off, a shrill barking erupted at my feet.
Some ... some THING ... had begun easing out of the bottom drawer! And the most peculiar little dog was having a FIT!
From the rear of the store, the curtains flapped open and Emeralda came storming in. "Stop that barking this minute! Do you want to wake the DEAD?"
What a relief!
"Emeralda, I think I need to go ...."
The dog was jumping around at my feet, no longer barking, but making little snuffling noises, stiaying just out of reach of the long-fingered Something.
"Stay, Hueso de Perro!" She pointed her finger at the dog. "And that goes for the rest of you, as well," and all the other occupants of the room fell silent, too. It was quite unnerving, all that sudden quiet after such a cacaphony.
She turned back to me, smiling. "He's one of those Resurrected Pets that Bertha Besom specializes in and gets a bit hysterical every time that drawer opens."
She looked around. "I wonder where all the cats have gone. They are usually quite curious when customers arrive. They were supposedly specially trained by Tansy Toad-Flax."
Then she shook her head, "Oh, honey! I am so sorry that I have left you alone this long. I got distracted as I prepared for our Witches' Weekly this afternoon. My friends will be here shortly and I know I should've done this all earlier ....
"Oh, don't apologize," I said, backing carefully toward the doorway, cautious about where I stepped. "I should've called you in advance, and I've really ... uh ... enjoyed my time with your ... uh ... companions."
"Wanna, you just come back any time. I would love for you to meet my friends. We get together every Thursday afternoon, or when there is an emergency."
"Thanks, Emeralda; I appreciate that. I have heard so much about all of you from Bonerella and would love to sit in on one of your meetings, if that would be all right."
"Of course! I shall discuss it with the others and get back with you." She looked around. "There is so much more that you haven't seen, and I really would love to explain to you what I offer in my little shop. Bonerella tells me you are a bit more tolerant than a lot of people who stumble into this place."
I smiled, pleased at the compliment. "Well, I do enjoy learning and have always had an active curiosity." I looked around the store, now quite clean after all that furious sweeping.( It was just AMAZING how long that fellow's broom arm reached!) "There is something about little out-of-the-way shops and eating places that definitely appeals to me. And I am quite curious to know how all your, uh, Spell friends, came to be, and why."
She clapped her hands together, calling, "We must mind our manners, mustn't we," and a chorus of voices from throughout the dim room hollered, "Bye, Wanna."
"Goodbye," I answered. "It was a pleasure meeting all of you," I said, as she ushered me to the door, her long sleeves swinging.
"Speaking of eating places, Wanna, why don't you stop in at Mr. Apostolides' grocery next time you are in the neighborhood. He has a small deli with wonderful ethnic foods, and he can tell you about all kinds of shops and their owners, since he caters for parties."
"Oh I will, Emeralda, and thanks for permitting me to visit."
"De nada," she said, and with a hug, waved me out and hurried to finish her preparations for the Witches' Weekly. And as the door closed behind me, I heard several voices clamoring for her attention. "One at a time, boys and girls, one at a time ...."
Well, that was interesting, I thought, as I walked to my car. I have a doctor's appointment next week and since I always reward myself with lunch and a shopping trip afterward, I think I will visit Mr. Apostolides and his store ....
NOTES: Click here to see how I made Emeralda's.