SPG: September, Part 3/4

CeceliaIsaac_StPaulGrimoire

St. Paul Grimoire 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 pounded up the stairs. Something rattled the windows. He heard screeching and barking and cold laughter. It sounded far away, but not like it was outside, more like it floated around him in space. When he burst into his room he gasped when he saw the three smooth river stones sitting on his dresser. He had been certain for one moment they would not be there.

He stuffed them into his pocket. He took the back staircase down, and left by the back door. Now he could hear nothing. The night was perfectly quiet and way, way too dark.

Dakotah circled the house but no one was on the street. Every house was dark but now the street lights were on. They illuminated almost nothing, though, and their light was a smoky orb of mist, from which barely any light could escape.

He had the strange feeling he’d left Saint Paul entirely. This place looked like St. Paul but also—wasn’t.

Dakotah walked slowly in the middle of the street. He doubted he’d see a car. Other St. Paul was a perfectly empty replica of his city.

He flipped the stones around in his pocket. That bastard.

He’d never thought that about Ike before. Ike had been a pretty serious guy. He asked Dakotah to do things and explained why and included him in the shop. He told stories in a friendly way, but never personal ones. Why hadn’t he asked?

Dakotah realized he’d thought he knew the boring basics—an old black man runs an antique shop in St. Paul. Where was his family? Who cared—even he only had his mom. Where were all the customers? Some came. Dakotah figured more came when he was gone. He hadn’t been there every second, anyway. He just tried to help out.

Why had Ike left him the shop? Why the three stones? What did he expect Dakotah to do about the goddamn monsters?

Dakotah’s steps slowed, then stopped.

He hadn’t felt scared since he entered Other St. Paul, but now something pulled at him. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end and he realized he was being followed. He stood very still, exposed on the street. Something else was there.

Fear doused him, his senses stood on end as he peered into the gloomy darkness. It was on the edges of his senses, the edge of his vision, but he was certain something was stalking him. Waiting.

He felt the haunting presence weigh him, decide if Dakotah would put up much of a fight at all, if the boy was even worth the time it would take to kill him.

Dakotah took a step forward. Then stopped.

“Come out!” he shouted.

All of a sudden the street blazed with bright light. Dakotah covered his eyes with he arms and lost his balance. He hit the street as a voice said, Follow.

It said it not in his ears but inside of his head and all around him. It wasn’t one voice but many voices.

Whatever dark presence had been watching him had been banished by the blaze of light. As the blaze faded, Dakotah lowered his arms and saw a pathway lined with small bright lights stretching out in front of him.

He took one backward glance and then ran up the path.

As he followed the path, Other St. Paul faded away. He didn’t feel like he was walking upward, but the houses and features of the neighborhood faded as if into clouds. No other features came into view.

“Where am I going?” he asked, projecting his voice into the gray void.

Immediately, the voice-with-many-voices answered, To secure the House.

Obviously, Dakotah thought sarcastically.

He tried another angle: “Where am I?”

The voices said, On the Lighted Way.

Dakotah rolled his eyes. “Why do I need to secure the House?”

To prevent the darkness from corrupting it.

Now the big one: “Why me?”

He thought maybe the many-voices-voice hesitated, but then it replied as dispassionately as ever, Icarus thought you worthy. But it does not have to be you.

It doesn’t? He did not know what to think of that.

The path rose and fell in gentle progression. Once, he looked down and realized he wasn’t really on a path at all, just walking on a gray space between the lights of the path.

Then, finally, he touched down again onto real dirt and grass, which within a few feet became sand, and then a lake. Around him, the lights faded.

“Wait, now what!” he called.

Cross, answered the voices, and he knew they would not answer again.

He swiveled his head. The lake faded into the distance, and the beach stretched on either side before fading away into a similar gray twilight.

“Like, swim?” he asked himself.

Even as he said it, he blinked, and there appeared a boat he was certain had not been there before. It was like a raft, flat-bottomed with low sides, and a pole to move it.

Dakotah signed. “A motorboat would’ve been better,” he said to the gray. “Something to work on for next time, guys.”

Then he got on the raft. It rocked and let in water, but soon enough he had balanced himself and taken up the pole and begun to ferry himself across the lake.

Part of him desperately wanted to hug the shore, but another part knew with certainty that that was no way to get anywhere. Grimly, he tried not to think about what would happen if he fell in.

Soon, the pole could no longer reach the bottom, and Dakotah found a paddle strapped to the side of the craft. The ferry moved with all the delicacy of an elephant but Dakotah supposed that since he wasn’t sure where he was going, a little veering side to side wouldn’t matter.

He paddled on.

He was wondering what the treasure room of Ike’s shop would look like. Would he know where to place the stones? How would he lock down the House?

Something began to take shape in the distance. He tried to paddle faster but it wasn’t much use with the ferry. As he pulled closer, he realized he was looking at an exposed room. The basement of Ike’s shop, enclosed by three walls—and the fourth left open to the lake.

The ferry glided the last few feet and bumped gently against the raised floor of the basement. Dakotah dropped the paddle and stepped up into dry land.

“Ha!” he said triumphantly.

He made to secure the ferry, but when he turned he was faced abruptly with the fourth wall of the basement, with no lake in sight.

Considering all that he had seen that night, Dakotah decided to shrug it off.

Behind the stairs, a raised pedestal sat before the cobwebbed wall. It had three impressions in it and Dakotah took out his stones and laid them one by one into the corresponding depression.

When the third was laid, he heard a click. The outline of door in the wall lit up, and then swung inward.

Inside was treasure.

 

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Interlude

Yes, I did look up moon phases for September to make sure I had the right description in Part 2…fantasy writers need to do their research, too!

SPG: September, Part 2/4

CeceliaIsaac_StPaulGrimoire

St. Paul Grimoire 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!

Valene wasn’t sure if the silence was because everyone was shocked or because everyone was considering whether or not to give Dakotah up.

“I’m Dakotah,” he said, pretty stupidly, she thought.

“You are Icarus’s Heir Apparent?” the man said. “He has given you the keys?”

“…Yeah. He did.”

Dakotah sounded uncertain, which was probably a normal reaction. There was something strange about the man. Val couldn’t get a fix on his looks. He didn’t look black or white or Hmong. His skin looked sometimes tan and sometimes gray. His head was shaved but then she blinked and it was covered in short dark curls. She blinked again and saw the outline of gargoyle wings behind him. Val shook her head.

“Then we have bigger problems than what I came here to tell you.”

He’s in pain, Phin thought. The man—or whatever—breathed heavily and leaned on the shelf.

“What are you talking about?” Dakotah asked. Phin’s question exactly.

“We must go to the treasure room and lock down the House until you Ascend and can protect it properly.”

A pause.

“Uh, what?” asked Dakotah.

The man ignored the question. “Do you have the key?”

Dakotah held up his key ring, limply.

“Not those,” said the man. “The one to unlock the treasure room. The three stones.”

Phin saw in Dakotah’s face that he did not have the three stones.

“I left them in my room. So I wouldn’t lose them.”

He sounded almost apologetic and Phin realized the man’s urgent tone was getting to all of them. But they didn’t even know who he was or what his deal was.

“How did you even get in here?” he demanded.

The man’s gray eyes met Phin’s. “The House allows all who need it to enter. It will also keep out the darkness. But not now that Icarus has passed.” He turned to Dakotah. “I am the gargoyle Michael. I will protect you while you retrieve the stones. But we must go tonight.”

Dakotah stood quietly for a minute. He seemed to be considering. Phin wondered what he had seen to make him believe, but whatever it was worked.

“Let’s go,” said Dakotah.

~*~

Michael led the way.

He’s not a gargoyle, he’s not a gargoyle, he’s not a gargoyle, Dakotah kept saying to himself. You hang out with Ike too much, he’s in your head.

Then why follow Michael? Are you going to lead him straight to your home?

Night had fallen and with only half a moon in the sky the block felt dark. They walked down the front steps and crossed to the gate. The two cat statues watched Dakotah leave with alert looks.

No, they didn’t, Dakotah thought.

A cat yowled a warning not a moment too soon.

As soon as they crossed through the gate a winged beast swooped at them, screeching a terrible sound. Everyone yelled and scattered except for Michael, who swung his arms and met the beast with an inhuman growl. Dakotah stumbled back into the street. Michael didn’t have a weapon but he didn’t seem to need one. “Run!” he called, and Dakotah was the first to get his head together.

“Run!” he said, pushing Phin and grabbing Valene’s arm. “RUN!”

A second beast flew at them and he was forced to let Valene go so they could avoid it. It screeched, swinging low so its taloned feet could latch onto Valene’s arm. Dakotah could barely get a good look at the thing. It was some cross between a vulture and a—a what? Like Michael, he couldn’t really get a fix on its appearance.

Michael was there, wrenching it off Valene’s arm and lunging for the beast. She staggered away. Michael winced and grabbed his side and the beast took the chance to tear at him with its talons.

“I can handle it, go!” Michael shouted at Dakotah. “Get the stones!”

“Come on,” Valene said shrilly.

Dakotah turned, and then they were all running down the block, faster than they’d ever run before.

They had barely left the sounds of the screeching harpies when new shapes melted from the shadows on the sides of the street.

Where are the streetlights? thought Phin, as the shadows took human form. He saw them with a strange double vision, as human adults with leering smiles, and as shadowy human forms whose mouths stretched from ear to ear and were filled with gnashing teeth.

One ghoul swung a club at his ribs. He leaped aside and kept running. Sharp, cackling laughter followed him as the ghouls hopped from shadow to shadow, keeping pace.

Valene and Dakotah were flagging, they weren’t runners like him and Pete. He shouted encouragement, falling back to keep them going while Pete took the lead. The ghouls lurched in again, their clubs scattering the kids. Phin ran for the sidewalk, using the row of trees and garbage cans and dark streetlights as a barrier.

Dakotah went to the sidewalk across the street. The club-wielding things screamed battle cries. Where’s Michael? he thought desperately.

He looked back as he ran and almost fell flat as his shoe caught a broken edge of sidewalk. He stumbled and caught himself and then whirled at the sound of a low growl.

A dog with the strong square face of a pit bull and the wings of an eagle barked its warning. Dakotah didn’t have double vision now, he saw the monster clearly.

The dog jumped for him—and Pete came out of nowhere and brained it with a wooden spar.

Dakotah gaped as the dog monster dropped like a stone. “Pete!”

“They’re after you,” she said. Her breath came fast. “Not us. You.”

“Who cares?” he half-gasped. “We’re all screwed if—f”

Another bark cut him off. They turned, seeing two more dog monsters close in. Pete raised her spar but Dakotah knew she couldn’t be fast enough.

The screech warned them of the impending harpy and he and Pete ducked—and the harpy flew right over and went for the dogs.

The monsters barked and screamed at each other as they fought.

“What—?” asked Dakotah, but Pete was already taking his arm and pulling him up the berm and into someone’s backyard.

The shadows fell even darker there and they could slow their pace and creep around corners.

Dakotah struggled to control his breathing. “They—they fought each other.”

Pete carried her wooden beam awkwardly in two hands. Her ponytail had been wrenched to the side so that her black hair fell loose on the side of her face. “They must not want to share you.”

Dakotah shuddered at her certainty.

It was probably only five minutes, but it felt like a lifetime by the time they reached Dakotah’s house. Pete put up her hand before Dakotah tried to cross the street, searching the sky and the sidewalks for any movement.

She almost jumped out of her skin when Phin and Valene appeared and beckoned to them.

They ran across the street, up the steps, and into the duplex foyer.

Pete threw her arms around her brother.

“I’m good,” he said. “You good?”

She released him and nodded.

“Phin figured out how to confuse the ghouls!” Val half-shouted. Her wild eyes roved the foyer.

“Shh!” said Dakotah. “Just…wait here. Everyone. I’ll get the stones.”

Pete’s knuckles were white as she clenched her beam. “We still have to get back, don’t we?”

“I’m sure Michael will come,” Val said uncertainly.

Phin pointed out, “Michael said bringing the stones back would make the shop a safe zone.”

“Once we get there.”

Pete took a breath. “We’ll split up again.”

“Fuck that,” said Dakotah.

“Seriously! We’ll make another distraction while you get back to the shop.”

“I don’t even know what to do when I do get back to the shop!”

“Well, we’ll just…” Pete faltered. “Figure that out. Ike can’t have just thrown you into this, can he? There must be…be instructions, or something.”

“I had no clue this was going to happen, if that’s what you mean. Ike never mentioned fucking trolls, or monsters, or basically anything about me dying.”

Shouts outside pulled all of their gazes back to the door. Val started in fear.

“Get the stones,” Pete ordered. She threw the door open.

“Hey!” yelled Phin as she went out, and he followed without hesitation.

Valene took a deep breath, meeting Dakotah’s eyes. “I guess…we’ll distract them. Go.”

 

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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.”

St. Paul Grimoire Preview!

CeceliaIsaac_StPaulGrimoire
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.
“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.”

~*~

Dakotah thought he was inheriting an antique shop. Instead, he is chosen to be a Guardian—the keeper of a sanctuary where magic and magical beings congregate. Together, Dakotah and his friends struggle to learn the secrets of this new world—but they must do it quickly, for a dark force is rising to challenge them.

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