From the outside, it didn’t look like much. A yellow awning that used to be bright but was now fading and streaked with soot and pigeon-shit framed the dirty glass storefront, proclaiming this “Mama’s Botanica Santeria”. The window was crammed full of candles, dried herbs and flowers, animal bones, figurines of saints, and other detritus. None of it looked like it had been touched in months. All of it needed a good dusting.
Inside, Mama Milagros did enough business selling Santeria paraphernalia and offering consultas to her neighbors that no one questioned her ability to make rent, or wondered what she sold in her back room.
The small bell over the door rang tinnily as as stepped over the threshold, and I flinched at the sound. It’s not just any old bell that we use for an exorcism — well, it can be, but it’s a question of channeling willpower. If your bell is ritually prepared (“spelled”, as some insist on calling it) that makes things easier.
Mama’s shop bell was definitely spelled.
Probably a good thing, since it didn’t seem to be working toward its other purpose. I stepped farther into the shop, but no one came out to see to the customer. I was about to call out when something prickled at the edges of my awareness.
I froze, trying to identify where the feeling was coming from. Ahead of me, a little to the right…I turned my head toward it and blinked. There was a bookcase against the wall, stuffed with books, jars, and figurines in a seemingly haphazard arrangement. I drifted closer.
The feeling grew stronger. It was cold, the cold I associated with the spirit world. But it was also…sinister. Dark. I could feel it trying to draw me in. For what purpose I couldn’t say, but I doubted it was anything I’d like. So of course I moved closer.
With every step it –whatever it was — grew larger in my awareness, until I was shivering from the psychic cold of it. My stomach roiled, nausea rising in my throat until I gagged. The center of the feeling was coming from a shelf at eye level, behind a statuette of the Virgin Mary with her arms outstretched and an irritatingly beatific expression on her porcelain face. I had to resist the sudden urge to dash it to the floor — that would show her, the little —
Whoa. Easy there, Lizzie. Ghosts are creatures of emotion. They might have trouble interacting with the physical world, but projecting emotions is something even the weakest spirit can do. In fact, you don’t even have to have a fully manifested spirit. All you need is an object that was significant to the person’s life or death.
I carefully shifted the porcelain figure aside to reveal a jar of old coins. I took the jar down with one hand, my other reaching unerringly for a nondescript-looking penny. To my eyes it looked the same as all the others; to my spiritual senses it practically screamed haunted object.
The second my fingers touched the coin it felt as if all the air had been driven from my lungs. I swayed, unsteady, my vision going entirely black; my hands relaxed and the jar dropped to the floor, shattering and spilling its contents everywhere. The haunted coin rolled away under a shelf, where I could sense it menacing.
I panted, trying to catch my breath, and hugging myself with shaking arms and hands. What the hell was that?
The sound of glass shattering had managed to get someone’s attention, at least. I heard the floorboards creak and then Milagros herself appeared in the doorway. Short, fat, with her wiry grey hair tied back with a floral bandanna, Mama Milagros brooked no nonsense from anyone. True to form, her features were arranged in a ferocious scowl — even before her gaze traveled away from my face to take in the mess on the floor. She looked back up at me.
“What are you doing in my shop?”