He resembled a cruel, tired turtle now. Jowls that swung from the fragile jawline and watery, pensive eyes that once blazed with arrogance. His hair hung either side of his face in thick, clumpy curtains.
I closed my book and looked up.
‘Good afternoon, sir, how may I help you?’
He lifted the bag and set it onto the counter.
‘I want to see what I can get for this?’
I cocked my head to one side and smiled at him.
‘Nothing. You brought it from here.’
I tapped the sign taped to the front of the register.
His eyes welled with tears and he sunk his teeth into his bottom lip.
‘Please, just take it back.’
A well of sympathy burst within me. I offered him a cup of tea and his eyes went to the bag on the counter. I laughed and shook my head.
‘No, the worst you’ll have to fear is my slightly obsessive collection of Breaking Bad mugs and a pack of cookies. Peanut butter ones. You’re not allergic, are you?’
He shook his head and followed me through to the back of the shop.
The most effective magic is elegant. You don’t know how your smart phone works but you use it to do any number of things. Elegant.
Like the tea set you returned.
You were so sure of yourself that it made you quite attractive. You made these little jokes when you thought I couldn’t hear. Which was your first strike.
The tea set is a particularly elegant piece of magic, utilising the magnificent power of play to enable the user to do any number of things. Now when I asked you if you were going to use a child in the ritual, you looked me straight in the eye and lied to me, didn’t you?
That was your second strike.
When your friend knocked over the clock of long shadows, I didn’t mind it so much, but when he denied it and refused to apologise, well, young man, that was it for me. I pride myself on my customer service, and in this field, the likes of you and your friends test that pride to capacity. I was more upset at the lengths I had gone to in order to get it into the country. You would think something that old would handle the odd knock or two, but no.
So your punishment was not a specific piece of information or action but I managed to doom you all by simply withholding something.
Why you should not use a child in the ritual.
Children play with such intensity and when you use a child, it can be a source of terrible power. It charges up the sigils embedded into the cups and saucers, almost overloads it.
What tea did you use?
Oh you silly little boy.
So you used an overpowered battery and a shitty spirit filter with the tea set and you expected to get away unscathed?
We define innocence in such bland terms. Children are capable of such terrible acts, and all of it sourced in innocence.
There are things outside our reality cursed to remain in such a state forever. You and your friends must have given one of them a lot to play with.
What’s the best possible outcome from this?
There isn’t one.
It will come for you, as it did for your friends, bound by the terms that you dictated as part of the ritual. It will come in the body of the child you used. I recommend adults to new users. Yes they are stronger and have more mass, but they are still dulled by time and culture. A child is a source of infinite and terrible potential.
They play with such intensity as I said.
They like to break bones. I saw one slap both her palms against the side of a man’s head and crush it between them. It was the sound that got me, a dull crunch and then they just shudder as their bodies shut down.
No really, that’s quite unusual.
Claws and teeth?
Poor thing. When it gives her back, she will need surgery afterwards.
Yes it will once it has completed the terms of the ritual then it will return home. That girl is going to be in quite a mess, and it’s all your fault.
That’s a good question, young man, why can’t you move?
I am sorry about your friends. They would have died in agony, picked or torn apart, made to suffer and all of it done from a place of blithe amusement. You were so arrogant about it, and I knew that even if I had warned you, you would have gone ahead and disregarded my advice. You would have seen my caution for cowardice, and when it comes to magic, caution is everything.
She will be relentless because you compelled her to be.
Well not any more, obviously.
You can still breathe and the solution I have used will numb some of the pain that’s coming.
There has to be some pain, I am afraid.
Then she will be in a position to be treated for what has happened to her.
I am sorry for what’s happened.
That will be her now.
I will leave you two alone.
You have a lot to catch up on.