St. Paul Grimoire: September, Part 1/4

CeceliaIsaac_StPaulGrimoire

SPG is a weekly serial that updates on Mondays. Each month will cover a self-contained story told over four parts.
It will not be overly edited, and character arcs and plotlines could be adjusted with your feedback! PLEASE let me know what you think!

“Dakotah. Come walk with me, man.”

Dakotah turned to see the 11th grade behavior specialist, Mr. Shakes, standing behind him.

Dakotah glanced between his two options, the pissed-off Vice Principal Anders, and the chill behavior specialist. If he spent another second with Anders, he’d be spending the second week of junior year suspended. He followed Mr. Shakes.

“Thanks, good choice.” Mr. Shakes’ walkie crackled and he clicked the volume down. He was a short, stocky black man with dreads going all the way down his back. Even though he worked with 11th graders, he, like most of the school’s behavior specialists, had known Dakotah since Dakotah had entered Central High School in ninth grade.

“So what’s going on?” Passing time was over, and the halls were mostly empty.

“He tried to take my…” Dakotah paused, rolled his eyes. “My rocks.”

“Your what now?” Shakes said with a quirked smile.

Dakotah produced them—three small stones worn smooth by the Mississippi.

“What’re you doing with those?”

“I’m not doing anything. My friend gave them to me.”

“What friend? Phin?”

“No,” Dakotah sighed. “My friend Ike. He…died. Last week.”

“I’m sorry man, that’s hard. Did he go to Central?”

“Nah, he was like, 60 years old. I worked at his antique shop, helped him move shit and clean. Chilled there all summer when Phin was in Mexico.”

Shakes’ walkie crackled again, calling his name. He stopped and put a hand on Dakotah’s shoulder. “I gotta run but listen, I’ll let Mr. Anders know about the stones. If you feel upset again you can come on down to my office, okay? You can talk it out with me. I know what it’s like to lose somebody.”

Dakotah nodded, letting his long black hair swing in front of his face. Shakes scribbled him a pass and headed off.

Dakotah spent the rest of the day slumped in seats at the back of his classes.

~*~

It was just like Ike. A letter came in the mail, sending Dakotah three smooth river stones, and oh-by-the-way making him the owner and proprietor of Ike’s antique shop.

“Can sixteen-year-olds even inherit businesses?” Phin’s mom, Violeta, asked.

Dakotah’s mom, November, spread her arms in a hopeless gesture. “I told him we can sell it to cover funeral costs. The man had no family, I guess.”

“Sad,” said Vio.

Dakotah hated how they talked about it like there was no other option. “We’re not selling it,” he snapped.

November barely glanced at him. “We already talked about this, D. Funerals cost thousands of dollars. And you can barely keep up with school. What, are you going to run his business as well? Have you even taken economics?”

“In ninth grade,” Dakotah muttered.

“He probably flunked it.” The new voice was Valene’s. She swept into the kitchen ahead of Phin and Pete.

“Shut up,” said Dakotah. Valene laughed and flipped her thin black hair over a shoulder. She’d clearly spent a long time in the morning trying to get her Hmong hair to hold a curl. Dark eyeliner and mascara had been liberally applied as well.

Dakotah found it strange she was friends with Pete. Phin’s younger sister Pete was super school-focused (like Phin) and sporty (unlike Phin). Valene was self-absorbed and had failed just as many classes as he had.

Pete came in next, adjusting her ponytail. She’d clearly just come from track practice and wore a long-sleeved shirt emblazoned with last year’s Nordic ski team slogan. Phin followed. The brother and sister looked just like each other. They both had wiry builds and dark eyes. Phin’s hair was cut into a faux-hawk.

“Sorry I’m late,” Phin said, slinging his backpack down. “Let’s go.”

“Where’re you going?” Valene asked, but they both ignored her.

September in Minnesota was still hot. Phin and Dakotah stepped into late afternoon sunlight into the backyard.

Violeta Abe owned the landscaping company, and November was one of only a few employees. Part of their promotional material was landscaping their two backyards—the Abes’ backyard rolled into the backyard of November’s duplex’s backyard. Small pathways wound in between the plants, benches, fountains, statues tucked underneath sprays of flowers. Framed by the Victorian mansions of St. Paul’s Summit Avenue neighborhood, the effect was enchanting.

Phin and Dakotah crossed through without looking around.

They sat on the duplex veranda. Phin flipped through a chemistry textbook, making notes on the first chapter. Dakotah didn’t even have a backpack. It was only the first week. Last year Phin had helped him pass with just enough to avoid summer school, the first time that had ever happened. Still, no need to start this early.

~*~

Phin organized his binders. He had five AP classes this year, plus band. If he wanted to get his Ph.D in chemistry he really needed to stay focused this year and get into a good school. Beside him, Dakotah sat with a book open in front of him, scrolling through his phone.

“What did your mom say? About Ike’s shop?”

Dakotah shrugged. “Same thing as before.” He imitated her voice. “‘Funerals cost money, Dakotah. Do you even know how to run a business?'”

“Well, I mean…” Phin started to point out that Dakotah didn’t know how to to run a business, but thought better of it at Dakotah’s look. He reassessed. “So, the first hurdle is money. Your mom wants to sell the shop for the funeral, so if we had enough money, she wouldn’t have an immediate reason to sell it. How much do funerals cost?”

Dakotah Googled it. “About $7,000,” he read off his phone.

Shit, thought Phin. He wished Dakotah’s family had more money. Even if he and Pete pooled their money and asked to borrow from their parents, that was a ton of money.

“And Ike didn’t leave anything?”

“I told you he didn’t.”

“Maybe that was his point. He left you the shop knowing you’d sell it and pay for his funeral and keep the leftover money.”

Phin watched Dakotah consider. Like a lot of stores in the Summit neighborhood, the shop was actually inside of an old Victorian mansion. A normal pawn shop—antique shop, Phin corrected himself—might not be worth much, but the mansion was easily worth upwards of half a million dollars.

“I don’t think so,” Dakotah said. “Ike, like, loved that place. I bet he wouldn’t want me selling it.”

Phin nodded. Then he frowned. “He left you the keys, right?”

“Yeah?” A whole ring of keys sat on Dakotah’s dresser.

“Is one of them maybe to a safe?”

Dakotah sat up. That idea had traction.

“I’ve never seen Ike use a safe. Just the cash register. But it has to be around there somewhere, right?”

“Let’s check tonight.”

~*~

After dinner Dakotah slipped outside. November wasn’t that great at keeping tabs on him. He used to sneak out and smoke on the roof of the house all the time. He’d run with a different crowd then.

Phin met him at the corner. Pete and Valene followed him.

“They wanted to help,” Phin explained.

“Whatever,” said Dakotah with an eyeroll. Pete probably wanted to get out of the house and away from the baby. Valene was probably being nosy. But he wouldn’t say no to more people searching. Ike’s shop was kind of a mess.

“So where is the shop?” Valene asked.

“Down on Portland,” Phin said. “It’s blocked by trees a little but it’s cool once you see it.”

The foursome walked the rest of the way in the low September light. Everyone still wore shorts and t-shirts, but knowing he had school tomorrow changed the feel of the night. No more long summer nights staying up until 3AM. No more helping his mom working odd jobs or landscaping. No more hanging out with Ike, listening to the man tell meandering stories, most of which were lies. The time Ike saw a goddess. The time Ike saved a whole town but lost his lucky hat. The time Ike dreamed he was a king, but not a good one, no sir, he wasn’t cut out for that.

Dakotah sighed.

“Almost walked by it,” Phin said, stopping abruptly.

The shop had that quality. Despite being a big, old house built of heavy red limestone, it sometimes faded into the background. Three tall pines shaded the left side of the deep-set porch and two floors of bay windows. That side of the roof came to a triangular finish over the third floor but the right side was a tower, also at least three floors tall. Hostas lined the path to the front door (three steps from the sidewalk, a long walkway, then three steps to the porch). A wrought iron fence, overrun with the lilac bushes growing alongside it, further obscured the entrance.

Dakotah, however, could never miss it.

The others let him go first, which meant they all saw him reach down and pet the cat statues on either side of the gate. One cat leaped, the other sat calmly, but Dakotah always greeted them both with a pat on the head.

At the door in the shadowed porch, Dakotah pulled out his ring of keys. An indeterminate number swung from the ring, but he pulled up the one for the front door without hesitation.

~*~

Pete was the last to step through the door. After a short entry and hallway, the shop bloomed before them. The register and checkout counter were to her left. The shades were drawn, making the rest of the interior dim at best, and dark in the farthest corners. In the small rooms of the house—some divided only by the alcoved walls—were rows and rows of stuff.

Her brother and Dakotah went to the register but she and Val kept walking, into the rows.

“This place is so creeeepy!” Val said, picking up a stuffed mouse. “Does a fake mouse count as an antique?”

“Is it fake?” asked Pete, and Val squealed and dropped it. They walked down parallel rows, deeper into the dark shop.

“I found Dracula’s man ring!” called Val. “It looks kinda good on me.”

Pete giggled and kept going into the darkness.

Creepy doesn’t cover it, she thought. The shelves were put into no order she could figure out. Dusty stained glass windows sat next to doll heads and Chinese-patterned wallets. She picked up a rose and put it down quickly when she saw the thorns were made of jagged glass.

“You guys used to hang out here?” asked Val. She sounded far away. It wasn’t possible. These old Victorian houses had tiny rooms. She remembered going to the Wedding Shoppe on Grand Avenue when her cousin got married and that store had to buy a whole second house next door just to hold everything.

Something moved in the dark.

Pete started, dropping the leather journal she’d been holding. “Val?”

It was too dark to see. Had she imagined it?

No—another shuffling step out of the shadows, revealing the dim outline of someone huge filling the space between the row of shelves.

“Icarus,” he said in a great deep voice.

Pete screamed.

The others came running, pulling up short when they saw the shape of the giant man. He stumbled, catching the top of a shelf to steady himself.

“Icarus,” he said again. Not angry or anything, Pete realized, but maybe a little urgent.

“Ike’s not here,” Dakotah answered, pretty bravely, Pete thought.

Phin grabbed her arm and pulled her back next to the others.

“Where?” asked the hulking man.

“He…died,” said Dakotah. “A few days ago.”

The giant man paused. “Then,” he said in a strained tone, “I need Dakotah.”

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