The Key of Chaos

Dark forces are awakening, and all the myths are about to become harsh reality. Altars hidden in plain sight, maps to only be found through the grace of a God, and a lost key that holds the knowledge to make or break everything the ever was or will be. Chaos is coming and Carter is the one who has to get in its way.

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4. Chapter Two

Once I was inside the small bookstore, I quickly made my way to the small cafeteria area that was made up of a kettle, microwave, small table with two mismatched chairs and the rickety lockers that lined the small amount of available wall.

 

Ironically enough, the lockers didn’t actually lock. I’m sure they did once upon a time, but they had already passed through a few pairs of hands when Mrs Owens (the owner) bought them. Second-hand was a generous term at this point in their life. Regardless, I shoved my bag into one of the lock-less lockers and quickly scurried back to the front of the store, situating myself behind the till and doing my best to look busy, as though I hadn’t been a good twenty minutes late.

 

The second I had logged into the computer we used for sales, Mrs Owens emerged from the stockroom, and almost did a double take when she saw me.

 

“Carter?” she said.

 

“Oh hey, Mrs Owens. I figured I’d just get started this morning since you seemed busy back there,” I replied calmly, hoping to whatever god was listening that my lie was convincing.

 

“What are you talking about, Carter?”

 

I was busted. At this point I had two options; either admit I was late or keep going with my lie in some hope that I could twist it in my favour.

 

As I opened my mouth to commit to the latter, Mrs Owens spoke.

 

“You aren’t even supposed to be here. Didn’t you take the day off?”

 

“Did I?” I said, thoroughly confused. I hadn’t remembered taking the day off when I woke up, nor had it been in my phone, but now that she mentioned it I did have a vague recollection of asking for a day off a little while ago.

 

“Yes, I’m pretty certain you did. You asked me about a month ago. It’s in the books so I can show you if need be,” she replied a slight smile on her face, clearly amused at my obvious confusion.

 

“That’s fine - I believe you, I just can’t believe I didn’t remember,” I sighed, thinking wistfully about the lie in I could’ve had this morning if it weren’t for my own stupidity.  “Oh well. You don’t happen to need an extra pair of hands, do you?”

 

“As luck would have it, I do. I was actually just coming to phone you when I saw you sitting here. Steven has called in sick again.”

 

“He has?”

 

“Yes, he mentioned a sickness bug, I believe,” she replied, a twinkle in her eyes. We both knew that it was far more likely for Steven be too hung-over to come into work that it was for him to have some kind of bug. “You would actually be doing me a huge favour, Carter. The only other option I had was Alistair, and I’m sure you understand why I would be hesitant to call him in.”

 

I nodded- Alistair was Mrs Owens sixteen-year-old nephew who had been sent to work here in order to pay his parents back for damages after a party he threw had gotten particularly out of hand. Needless to say he was less than happy to be here, and in all honesty, we were all less than happy when he was.

 

“I mean, I’m here anyway, so I would hardly call it a favour, Mrs Owens,”

 

“Perfect, thank you Carter! You’ll just be on the tills, but the shelf inventory needs to be done at some point today. Other than that just tidy up when you can. Oh and one more thing!”

 

“Yes?” I responded thinking that she was going to call me out on being late after all.

“How many times have I told you to call me Jean?” she fake-scolded, humour creeping into her tone, before she walked back into the stock room presumably to continue organising new stick.

 

Chuckling slightly, I grabbed the machine we used for stock control from underneath the desk and got to work. The shop was fairly quiet – we usually got busier later on in the day – and Mrs Owens had already stick checked the back room so all I had to do was a count on the items actually on display.

 

The store wasn’t overly large but due to the long, narrow layout of our one floor and the almost overwhelming amount of books we had on display it took a special kind of skill to be able to move around at a decent pace.

 

Despite that I loved working here. Hidden amongst the books was a feeling of peace and tranquillity that you couldn’t experience anywhere else other than a bookstore. Somehow, Mrs Owe-Jean had managed to keep a vintage feel to the entire place, with the mismatched bookshelves, exposed wooden beams and the solid oak desk that served as our till, which had chips and cracks in the wood and almost faded ink stains from years ago that only added to the charm.

 

It didn’t take me long to finish the inventory, tidying as I went, and pretty soon I was back behind the till, doodling on the back of discarded receipts and browsing through the books that were behind the till ready to go out on the shelves.

 

Time ticked away slowly, something that was more than okay with me. I would much rather spend my time here than back in my almost bare flat.

 

The occasional customer came in and browsed through the store, more often than not purchasing a thing or two and almost always stopping for a five-minute chat with either me or Mrs Owens whenever she popped out of the store room. Usually she came with a new mug of coffee for me and, if the customer was a regular, for them too.

 

My favourite part of my shift could only be experienced in the winter, when the sun set early and lit up the shop with a cosy orange light that filtered through the mottled glass windows.

 

Just as I had finished organising a new display Mrs Owens had ask me to help with and sat back at the till, the door swung open wildly, the bell above it ringing and the handle smacking into the wall.

 

“Oh, there you are, darling! I have been waiting for you all day. Where on earth have you been? Well here, of course, that was a silly question. I suppose the better question is why on earth you weren’t where you should’ve been?”

 

My head whipped around to face the door to see a woman in her mid twenties looking me dead in the eyes, an expectant look on her face. The first thing that stood out to me was her American accent. It was the second time today that I had spoken to someone with a foreign accent, which was almost unheard of since I lived a place that was the opposite of a tourist attraction. The second thing I noticed was the way she dressed. She had dark brown hair that was twisted into and elegant up-do, bright red lipstick that seemed to make her teeth extra white and a dress that not only matched but looked like it had been pulled straight out of the fifties.

 

I looked around too see if there was anyone else she was talking to but we were the only ones in the store, so she had obviously been addressing me. The only issue was she was acting like we were best friends but I was certain I had never met this woman in my life.

 

“Don’t bother answering then, darling,” she laughed.

 

“Oh. I,  uh-“

 

“No, no. Seriously don’t bother answering. Just from looking at you I can already tell that clouding doesn’t work on you. In that case, it was my fault you didn’t show up. I should’ve been far more direct.

 

“I’m sorry, what doesn’t work on me.”

 

“Clouding. Oh, but of course you don’t know what that is yet. No worries, dear, you’ll find out soon!” she chirped, giggling slightly to herself as she did.

 

“Look, I’m sorry but I have no clue what you’re talking about. Do I know you at all?” I asked, incredibly confused at this point.

 

“Well of course you don’t! We’ve just met silly. If you knew who I was then I wouldn’t be having nearly as much fun as I am!”

 

I waited for her to elaborate or at least say something else because I definitely didn’t have anything to say. Instead, she just stood there looking at me, her gaze roaming over my ace as though committing ever aspect of my appearance to memory. I cleared my throat and shifted in my seat slightly, my eyes flickering to the shelves behind her in an attempt to avoid eye contact, feeling entirely uncomfortable under her scrutiny.

 

 "So this is what Zeus has to play with..." she muttered under her breath so quietly that I almost didn't hear her. The fact that I did made me question her sanity a little and if not hers, then mine because I must’ve been losing it to imagine that.

 

Choosing to ignore what I heard, or at least what I thought I heard, I switched subjects.

 

"Uh. Well is there anything I may be able to help you with? Finding something perhaps?" I asked slightly nervous.

 

"Oh, yes. You can most definitely help me find something. But not quite yet." she said, a strange glint in her eyes.

 

I didn’t trust her; there was something about her mannerisms – the way she spoke, held herself, even the way her eyes could focus on something – that seemed so overly realistic that they almost felt practiced. As though she had more lifetimes than I could fathom to practice the role she was playing now.

 

As quickly as that thought came, I dismissed it.

 

This is real life, Carter, I told myself, stop making it into something more than that.

 

“Right. Okay. Is there anything I can help you with now, then?” I asked, no longer nervous, but now slightly irritated. This woman, whoever she was, was clearly trying to mess with me and all I wanted was to have a little peace and quiet and do my job.

 

“That amulet is very pretty,” she said, ignoring my question altogether, and pointing at me, “May I ask where you got it from?”

 

My hand went up to loosely grasp onto the locket, out of habit more than anything else. I rarely took it off and was so accustomed to the weight around my neck I sometimes even forgot I was wearing it.

 

“Um, I’m not all that sure really. My father gave it to me when I was little and I don’t know where he got it from.”

 

“It’s very beautiful. Almost vintage feeling,” she said, staring intently at it. “It seems very familiar actually. You said your father gave it you?”

 

Her eyes flicked back up to me as she asked the question; slightly curious, but mostly they seemed to accuse me of something, as though I was guilty of a crime I didn’t know I had committed.

“Yeah. Why? Were you interested in getting on?”

 

“Maybe,” she continued looking at me. “I can’t quite wrap my head around you, Carter Francis. It’s been a while since I’ve met someone quite so… complex.”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“Although, it entirely possible that you are actually completely mundane. Perhaps you’re just crazy like your dear old mother,” she laughed.

 

Her words hit me like a freight train; the air in my lungs felt as though it has left my body so quick it had created a vacuum inside of me and my heart felt as though it had stopped altogether.

 

How did this total stranger know anything about me or my mum? I moved. Far enough away that there was no chance in hell that my past could follow me – that she could follow me.

 

“How - ?”

 

“Poor little Carter. She blamed you for him leaving you know. She blamed you for a lot of things actually, but that was the thing that kept the hatred alive in her heart.”

 

“Get. Out,” my voice was barely audible, reduced to something less than a whisper, but now she had ignited the anger that sat deep inside of me. “Get out!”

 

“Hmm… That temper of yours will be sure to get you in trouble on day, sweetie.” She said in a cheerful voice, my sharp tone seeming to have not bothered her in the slightest.  “I think I’m starting to see why he picked you. Sure you may not seem like much at first glance, but you have a bit of a backbone don’t you? How you got that amulet, though… That is a problem I am more that happy to solve.”

 

“If you don’t leave right now, I am calling the police,” I heard myself say.

 

“Hush child,” she snapped, anger creeping through her facial feature. “I’m thinking. Now, I could take this from you now. After all, you are completely ignorant of everything… But where’s the fun in that? No, no, no. I think I’ll let you keep it, at least for now. It’ll be far more fun prying it from your fingers as you beg for mercy.”

 

“You’re insane. You’re actually a crazy person,”

 

I moved to grab my phone from beside the till, but her hand clamped around my wrist before I even noticed she had moved.

 

“Tut-tut, dearie. Jumping to such conclusions only leads to trouble now. Besides, if you think I’m insane know…. Well. Just you wait.”

 

And then silence engulfed me.

 

The fly that had been buzzing around the store for the past hour was suspended in between the bookshelves, the cars on the road outside had fallen still and silent, pedestrians stopped mid-step. Time had stopped around me and I found myself floating in the nothingness that she had created.

 

My mind wanted to argue against the idea that time ceasing all of a sudden was not only ridiculous but absolutely impossible, but even that fight seemed to want to float away. My entire being was to be tethered to the world via her grip.

 

Her grip that was so cold it felt as though it were burning.

 

“Carter Francis” she spoke and my eyes shot towards her. Her American accent was gone, replaced with a strange lilt I couldn’t identify, and a gravelly tone now intertwined with the overly sweet voice she had been speaking in. “I mark thee. Let none that follow my regime rest until you are dead. Let you forever be hunted by those who are under my authority. Let all who see this mark know that you are my enemy. That you must be terminated. Let this mark last now until you have either joined me or until my soul is damaged to where it cannot be fixed.”

 

Wind was now whirling through the store with her, tearing her hair from its fifties style and whipping it around her face in dark tendrils. Her hair intertwined with strands of pure black that seemed like nothingness itself which surrounded her being, caressing her softly despite the wild storm that was causing paper to fly everywhere and books to be ripped from the shelves and flung into the air.

 

Her eyes were solid black.

 

I felt like I was looking at a demon.

 

With those words her hand burned red hot and a cry of pain was torn from my lips as my vision blacked out.

 

When I came to my senses, time was passing again and the wrist she had previously had a vice-like grip on was now clutched in my other hand.

 

“Toodles, Carter Francis.” Her voice drew my eyes upwards as she made her way out of the store, which now looked the same as it had beforehand, and towards the. “I’ll see you around. Probably. Who knows these things anymore? After all, its entirely possible we have a target on our heads. Or wrists.”

 

With a flourish, she exited the little bookshop, the bell dinging as she did.

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