HE BLACKNESS SWALLOWED her soul and mind. The pores of her skin burned as though a hot coal seared her flesh. Her eyes unblinking, her hair frozen in the wind, she suddenly landed and her feet touched the earth. Her eyes softened and her arms hung at her sides. She knew no hunger or thirst, yet a desire grew as she turned to see a man, naked and hard. Walking slowly yet steadily, her body never feeling the dampness of the night, she placed herself against this man and accepted his searching kiss and allowed him to enter her. She cried out with a mixture of wonder and pain.
Sarette reached out to stop her alarm clock that had droned on for at least ten minutes.
The dreams never changed. They were always about him. The night faded and Sarette faced the other world again, the world that embraced rules and offered safe travel.
She got out of bed and avoided looking in the dresser mirror, afraid of what her dark eyes would reveal, even more afraid to place her hand on the inside of her thighs to feel what she knew would be there. She let the hot water wash away the pleasure and pain of the night, and slowly soaped her tired limbs. Dreading another workday at a job that no longer challenged her, she was in no hurry to start the usual routine.
At lunch she thought a long walk would help her ease the boredom. She glanced in store windows, holding a cup of French Vanilla and munching a cold bagel, and paused at a store that she had not noticed earlier on previous walks. There were advertisements on the window for herbs for staying young, losing weight and boosting the body's immune system. She almost kept walking, but the smell of lavender and rose potpourri poured through the air, enticing her to stop.
The man behind the counter returned her smile with a welcoming nod, then continued to read his book.
Sarette browsed through the shop, reading labels on vitamin containers, unscrewing the lids of jars that held fragrant herbs and scanning book titles on gardening. She dipped a ladle into a barrel of dried rose petals, lavender, and clover, perfumed with cinnamon stick and vanilla oil, and placed the mixture into a small brown bag.
"Are you sure that's all for you today?" There was a tone in his question that made Sarette look up from her purse into his waiting eyes.
"I think so, but I did have a question about the amulet necklaces at the front of your store. What exactly are they used for?" She followed him as he walked to the display and watched him place a necklace in the palm of her hand, his fingertips touching her hand as though a pact had suddenly been made between two strangers.
His words were soft like a summer night's breeze. "This particular necklace bears the red symbol of the planet Mars and will keep your enemies at a distance, at least for a while, but you need something stronger, don't you?" She continued to focus on the necklace, avoiding looking into his eyes. "People don't open my door unless they are in trouble and need stronger magic. All I wish from you is to know why you decided to experiment with magic."
"What?" This time she met his glance and felt the intensity of warm, curious eyes that hid behind a pair of thin-framed glasses. It was a first impression but something didn't quite seem right about the glasses he wore, as though he had put them on by mistake.
"I don't know what you're talking about. I'm not in any trouble, and even if I were, why would I tell you? I haven't done anything wrong." She quickly set the necklace back on the counter.
"Wrong? No, I wouldn't call it that. You just let your curiosity lead you into something that has gotten out of control." He sat down, opened his book to an earmarked page and quietly said, " I'll be here tomorrow if you change your mind. You must be looking forward to another night with your dreams. I imagine he likes your long blond hair." She barely heard his last words. "Oh, don't forget your potpourri. Lavender suits you well."
"I…I have to go. Thank you." Her fingers found the door handle, and she closed the door behind her. Aware that she was pressing her long fingernails into the palm of her hand, she released her fingers and almost looked forward to getting back to the office.
That night, sipping Chamomile tea and eating a chocolate-dipped biscotti, she opened the bag of potpourri, only to discover the necklace at the bottom of the bag. She lifted it carefully from the bag as if it were a precious jewel, rubbing her thumb against the smoothness of the stone, trying to recall his words. To keep my enemies at a distance. Why would he give her the necklace? It bothered her to realize that he knew so much and wanted to help her.
Finding it hard to relax and harder to push away the image of the strange man from the afternoon, Sarette fingered the necklace as she thought about the time when she had decided to try the craft, half believing, half doubting that the ointment would work. The herbs she used for prevention were mild in comparison to the ointment she prepared. When she rubbed the mixture of dittany, poplar leaves, silver cinquefoil, and soot onto her skin, she expected little to happen. She wanted to denounce the others whose stories she had read in books of witchcraft and astral projection and prove that their experiences were only hallucinations or drug-induced dreams at best.
But what she had discovered replaced any skepticism. Any descriptions of the flight that spanned continents, the lovemaking that lasted for hours matched what she experienced, yet for some reason she could not free herself from her lover. He did like her long blond hair. In fact, he liked every inch of her body. And he visited her every night in her dreams; in her waking moments, he was still there by her side.
With the pleasure came the reality that there was no escape. Before she fell asleep, she thought again about the conversation with the man at the shop.
The night was like all the other nights. When Sarette awoke alone in her bed to the early morning sun, a time when long awaited sleep gave rest to her body, a sudden fear of not being able to find the shop where the man hid behind his glasses forced her to get ready for the day.
"You were right. I do need more powerful herbs than I am able to grow and find on my own. Will you help me?" This time she met the man's warm brown eyes and held them until he looked away. She couldn't bring herself to ask him why he was doing all of this for her.
"Yes, that's why I'm here. I will teach you the sayings and give you the necessary herbs, but there is a charge for all of this."
"And what will that be?" She admitted to herself that she was enjoying talking to this man.
"Your first born, especially if it's a girl with blond hair, a replica of her mother."
Sarette paled at the words he spoke.
''I'm only kidding. But I used to exact more of a payment until it became a game to try to outsmart the demons of the night. I only hope you realize what the stakes are. When you travel to the other side and partake in its life, the demands are high. You never quite escape no matter how strong the magic is.
" She wet her lips and smiled, "All right… I don't seem to have any other offers . But before we start, I'd like to at least call you by your name." For a moment he appeared to be embarrassed before he answered.
He took off his glasses and wiped them carefully before he said, "I'm Amos. It's kind of an old fashioned name, something you don't hear very often. It was my grandfather's name, and I got stuck with it. Enough about me, Sarette. We better get started if you want to protect yourself tonight from his advances."
Early in the evening she walked upstairs, carrying the stone and rehearsed the words that Amos had given her. She fingered the smooth stone that bore a hole in its center and hesitated only a moment, almost regretting that her demon lover who fulfilled every physical desire was not a real man. The moment passed, and she hung the stone above her bed, chanting the ancient words. Each time she said them, her voice grew louder and stronger like a tempest blowing in from the north. She made the sign of the cross and sprinkled holy water on the bed when she repeated the chant for the third time. She remembered the necklace he had given her and clasped it close to her heart.
Exhausted, she fell onto the sheets, clasping a cross in her hand. Sarette closed her eyes and waited.
It had been almost a week since she had been left alone in her bed. There had been no contact, not even a dream that lingered in the morning. She had thanked Amos at the time and was surprised to hear him say that he did not want her to return to the shop. She remembered his gentle touch and voice when he had placed the stone in her hand, making her repeat and memorize the words that he knew by heart. She wanted to thank him again and decided to visit his shop in the morning. Before she left, she rubbed the stone and put it in a drawer. It had worked its magic and she would replace it with some protective herbs under her pillow tonight.
There was a different aroma when she walked into the herbal shop, more of a medicinal and sterile smell than what she remembered. A woman with patches of grey taking over dark brown hair greeted her with a half smile.
"Amos? You want to see Amos? But he's been gone for over ten years."
"I…I don't understand. I spoke with him last week at this shop. What do you mean by gone?"
The woman answered as though she were talking to a child who needed everything repeated. "He owned the shop many years ago, taking it over from his grandfather, but one day, he never showed up and no one has seen or heard from him, though," her eyes went distant, "every once in a while someone stops by and asks for him. Are you sure you didn't talk to someone else? My clerk who fills in for me is in the back room. I'll see if he can help you."
She went through the door behind the counter, and moments later, a man approached her. She had to bite her cheek to keep from calling out his name. "I'm sorry for bothering you, but did you sell me some lavender potpourri about a week ago? I'm trying to …"
He interrupted her before she finished, "I don't necessarily remember you, ma'am. When was it you came in?" No recognition filled his eyes when he looked at her, the voice deeper, the warm brown eyes, those that had teased her behind a pair of glasses, were distant, yet the person who stood in front of her was Amos.
A numbness set in. Somehow she drove herself home.
Just before midnight, she walked up the stairs, turned off the hallway light, and slipped into a silky light mauve nightgown, the one with the long slit in the front, the one that she had never worn. There was no reason to turn on the light in the bedroom. She knew exactly where she had placed the nightgown. There was no need to scatter protective herbs on her bed sheets and pillow. It was too late. The sheets were already pulled back from the pillow and a scent of lavender filled the air.
She breathed deeply, shook her long blond hair so that it fell across her shoulders, sweeping against the straps of the gown. She could sense his warm, curious eyes taking in every inch of her body and felt his hand touch her hair.
With no hesitation, she grabbed his hand and wrapped it around the necklace half hidden by her hair, feeling a warmth in the stone as it burned his flesh. She held it there and told him firmly, "It's all a game. To see who will outsmart the demons of the night. Isn't that what you said? Only I'd like to play, too, Amos." He didn't shrink away into the night or disappear in a wisp of smoke. The same warm brown eyes searched Sarette's face for an answer, almost like a scolded child asking for forgiveness.
"If you want to share my bed it will be on my terms." She held her breath, pulled the sheets over her silky mauve nightgown and wondered how hard playing the game was going to be..
© 2001 Mary Musselman, all rights reserved
Imbolc 2002 Issue, Updated February 15, 2002
BLOOD ROSE is Copyright © M. W. Worthen.
"A Charm in the Night"