Place of No Name: Gretchen
The store did not have a sign above, advertising a name. The woman in charge no longer believed in names for inanimate objects. It did not matter that much, whether it had one or not. Anyone passing could see through parts of the window what was offered. The objects were simple enough and only those who understood would know what they were walking into. If they wanted it, they would enter then. That is what she believed.
Magic was subconscious. She didn't want someone there who was not serious.
Clothed head to toe, her eyes, the only things visible, darted across the screen beneath the counter, not even bothering to look up when someone entered. Things tended to happen there, as it usually always seemed to happen around her.
Just none of it happened to her.
It had to be fate. Ill-fated to be turned from so often. She tried harder to be noticed, actually tried to speak with him, but was passed aside by his usual routine. It couldn't have been coincidence, coincidence never happened so often. But whatever it was, she was sick of it, absolutely sick of it.
And she was going to do something about it.
Gretchen was not obsessed. In fact, a lot of the time, she could have thought less about it. In skool it was a big deal, for in a class of thirty students he was one of them and if she did anything there was a chance he could have noticed her. Back then she was too shy to try much. But as she got older, gained confidence, tried more, she realized that something was always there to prevent him from noticing her. As outspoken as she was with anyone else, whenever she tried it with him, something happened. It was almost as if something was trying to keep her from even being noticed by her angel. By the person whom she admired for never giving up.
It was why she had never given up, after all.
Gretchen kept her mouth closed this way by habit. Braces had done its physical job along with the more noticeable mental torture and humiliation. It was one of the reasons that out of all of the girls in the classroom, she was the only one who did not get in trouble for gossiping too loud. In a sad, annoyed, bossy, prissy string, the other girls who had clumped themselves in the back were sent out of the room as the teacher stared at the last straw he had pulled out of the cup and muttered fiercely about retirement. Gretchen ignored the girls just as much as they ignored her and went back to her science homework. She reached to her left for her ruler—
And it was gone. Gretchen frowned as she looked for it. She wasn't having a very good day, but as she had been stretched so long she never did feel close to snapping like any of the other students. She took her example from him. He obviously always had a lot more on his mind, but it never seemed to affect him in the slightest. As all the other students had gotten moody and even more irresponsible with their hormone fluxes he had stayed the same, albeit only more mature. She could never help but smile with a closed mouth thinking of how much better he was then all of those other stupid girl's boyfriends, who all would smoke or drink and all did have a tally of parking or speeding tickets. And her father asked why she liked him.
Thinking about him made her eyes drift to where he was sitting, only two empty spaces between them because the girls occupying those spaces were gone. He seemed about asleep on his desk, book, paper, calculator, and ruler. He didn't really need to pay attention in this class, his father was Professor Membrane. Gretchen would have been surprised if he needed any extra time out of class to do that homework, it only took him a few minutes to finish. That also meant that he didn't need that ruler.
Gretchen steeled herself and stood up, reaching to tap him on the shoulder. To talk to him...!
"Ow!" Dib came up with a jerk as a pencil hit him point first on the forehead. Gretchen's attention was quickly diverted by Zim, who leered at Dib before pretending to be doing something else. Gretchen felt her eyebrow twitch. He hadn't grown up since he had gotten here! Still the same... immature...
Only too late did she realize that Dib was gone, gone to the other side of the room to get back at Zim. Gretchen sat down, finding her ruler under her open science book.
Every time... that is just it. I am either cursed or extremely unfortunate.
Gretchen started as she realized there was a simple cure for both of those situations.
The bell rang and Gretchen gathered everything together in order to go to that small, lonely store at the corner of Neilat street that she had often seen in passing.
To see whether it would have any good ideas for a spell.
Gretchen was not a big magic believer. Often, the idea of something from nothing scared her because she always found her grip with science. Adding and dividing formulas was simple enough and it always had a reason why it so was possible. But this was life, and the rules were everything goes.
Outside of the store was not spectacular. In fact, there were no identifying marks or anything on the outside to let people know anything about what it contained. It was just a small, plain looking store that had some aura of creepiness surrounding it that no one really understood. Despite this, it seemed that everyone in town knew what was in there. Or at least, an overall description that it was magic. What the magic was however, no one could ever say for sure.
But it was on her way home, so Gretchen stopped by. She opened the door, the silence of it creeping her out. There was no music inside, no types of sound at all and Gretchen wondered whether it was a magic store or if there were a lot of thugs waiting for unsuspecting victims like her to walk in. It was also dark, the merchandise hard to see with the only light coming from the front counter, where the woman manning the cashier was sitting, covered head to toe in a deep violet.
Gretchen realized that there was a noise coming from beneath the counter, a sort of musical beeping, but as she slowly strode nearer it seemed to get farther away, until she stood in front of the counter and could not hear it anymore. The woman's gloved hand came up to her face and pulled the cloth over her mouth up to cover her deep brown eyes. Her small mouth stayed shut as her head turned in Gretchen's direction, but stayed silent.
"E-excuse me," Gretchen was suddenly feeling nervous from the feeling she was getting from the other girl. Mysteriousness usually did not get to Gretchen, so she did not know what it was that was bothering her.
The woman did not move, continuing to just sit with her head facing her.
"I'm here... for a spell?" Gretchen continued, wondering how anyone expected to receive business when the person manning the store was not very friendly. Nearly making Gretchen jump, the girl snorted.
"Why else would you be here?" her mouth twitched into a delicate smirk. Gretchen just stared at her. The woman did not move, so Gretchen took it upon herself to continue to try and start an conversation.
"You see..." she trailed off, trying to think of just how to explain it, "I have been having a lot of bad luck. And not just for everything," she added quickly, not wanting to sound as if she were complaining about her entire life, "Just for this one thing. I was wondering whether you could help me."
Gretchen was not fully aware of when the smirk left the other's face, but in a unintended and simple flourish of her robes she stood up. "What?" she said in a condescending tone. "Just because things aren't going your way? Leave, I don't have time to waste on you."
Gretchen felt a flash of anger go through her. "I wouldn't be here if it were that!" she exclaimed. "Don't you dare belittle me!" Gretchen's fists were clenched at either side of her, a glare fixed upon the other. None of this seemed to affect her though, as her facial expression did not change. Bitting back a bit of her own anger, Gretchen continued. "Everything is fine, except the one thing I have been trying to do for years. And I am trying! Something always happens, and it is not my fault! You tell me that's coincidence!"
Her arms slipped within the folds of her robes. "And?"
Gretchen paused, the impatience of the other causing a stir in her memory. "I..." she thought her words over carefully. "I want to know if I am... cursed."
"You aren't cursed," the woman said irately, as if it should be obvious to everyone.
"You can see curses?" Gretchen questioned, unsure whether or not to believe that.
"One doesn't see curses," she snorted. "But whether or not you believe that is your deal, and I have a hard time thinking that you don't take what I say as possible, as you would not be here trying to get a spell otherwise."
"Then is there something here to help me?" Gretchen finally asked in exasperation. "Or am I just wasting my time?"
"It depends what you think you are going to get out of this." It was the most honest answer Gretchen had ever heard, and it surprised her. Despite that, she found the words to come to her lips easily.
"I want the chance I know I deserve."
The other nodded, in either compliance or acceptance, but Gretchen could not tell since the girl's head lowered and she could not see the look of what was visible of the other's face.
"Fine then," she sat back down on her stool, "Come back tomorrow; midnight."
"What?" Gretchen could only stare. Tomorrow? That was a school night! And midnight? Curfew was then!
"Tomorrow. Midnight," she repeated. "You will be ready then."
Yeah, thought Gretchen, leaving the store before the woman decided not to help her, But ready for what? She went home, trying to decide what she had gotten herself into. Should she go?
She thought about Dib and knew the answer to be yes. She just wanted a chance. A chance to be known by him. He was all she ever wished to know and be. He did whatever he wanted, no matter what anyone said. He spoke out what he believed in—and then continued to do so, no matter what anyone else said. She wished that she had that kind of courage. If that were the case, she would not have been that silent back in skool when he was all alone. She would have helped him.
"-and anyone with any information on his whereabouts is asked to call the police immediately-"
Gretchen's eyes scanned over the television again, just an excuse to look away from her homework that she knew she would have to finish in order to be out tonight. She had heard about the constant pestering of people who dressed up as mascots, but this would have to be the first time she knew that one was killed for it. Apparently this guy had a fetish for killing 'the Fang'. She shook her head and tried to concentrate again. As if a cereal mascot was real. That was the paranormal she knew to be false.
When she was done with her homework, she went and called Sasha, as she had told her parents that they were going to do some studying for a test tonight.
"Sasha? It's Gretchen."
"Ah. What's up?"
Gretchen looked to make sure no one was around to hear what she was going to say next.
"I need to ask a favour. Would your parents okay it if I came over tonight? For studying purposes?"
"I'm pretty sure. Study what?"
"That's the thing; I won't be actually be over until after midnight, but you need to say I'm there."
"What? What do you mean?"
"I'm—going to be somewhere, but I could only come after curfew, so..."
"Where are you going?"
"You won't laugh?"
"If it's about a boy I will. Oh my gosh! Are you finally with Dib?"
Gretchen bit her lip, wishing that she had not told Sasha about that.
"No. I'm not going to see Dib."
"Oh, sorry. Then what are you doing? 'Cause I'll want all the details when you actually show up."
"Alright. I'm going to that weird magic place. The one with no name?"
"What? Are you crazy?"
"No, listen. I wanted something from there, but she said I couldn't do it until midnight, so..."
"Are you doing a spell? Does it have anything to do with sacrificing, or blood? Can I come?"
Gretchen started to wonder if that woman was going to sacrifice her or something like that.
"Yes, no, and no. If you come, where will I have my alibi?"
A sigh came from the other end of the phone. "Good point. So, when will you actually get here?"
"Maybe... one or so. At the earliest."
"Alright. The back door will be open. I'll keep an eye out for you.
"No problem. Remember, details. And be careful for psychos."
Gretchen hung up the phone and wondered again if she had really thought it through enough.
Saying goodbye to her family though, bag in tow and heading out into the world, she felt the thrill of doing something that one is not allowed to. Which was probably the major reason she kept with the idea in the first place. Doing a magic spell under the cover of midnight, unknown by the (majority of) the rest of the world. Sounded like an adventure if Gretchen ever had one. And in the end, there would be Dib...
At last, feeling relaxed, she bumped into someone while turning the corner block.
"My apologies," he said smoothly. She was about to say the same when she looked up and saw who he was.
Her first thought was that he looked like a CIA agent from a movie. Maybe even the Men in Black; the whole getup with those sunglasses. The second was that she realized that he looked familiar, and that was not related to the previous thought. Her final thought was that she realized she had just seen him today. A picture of him on the television.
A murderer who killed someone dressed as a cereal mascot.
She screamed, swinging her bag around to catch him at the side. Then, hoping that he was maybe still shocked by that, she turned and ran for her life. Only after she had gotten several blocks away with no signs that he had followed her, did she think how stupidly she had acted. A murderer always had a weapon, so assaulting them was probably the last thing someone would want to do. She caught her breath against a light post. She found her eyes searching for a phone that she could use to call the police.
Wait, if I call the police, Mom and Dad will find out that I wasn't going straight to Sasha's house like I promised them.
Then she wondered how on earth she could compare getting killed by a madman at all with getting in trouble with her parents. Measuring the outcomes side-by-side, she found that they were near equal in bad. Only if that guy killed her, she wouldn't have to reflect on the rest of her life being grounded. So, checking her surroundings one last time, she ran to take the long way to her destination.
It took her longer to get there then originally intended, but she was still early. Still a bit freaked out by her earlier encounter, she carefully scanned in all directions hoping that the murderer had not found out where she had gone before shutting the door. Turning around, she found that the woman was not the only person in the room. Another heavily clothed person, with his cloak in tatters was whispering something to her, while she looked like she was paying him no mind. Gretchen cleared her throat, but she was ignored by both.
Finally the woman nodded her head. "You owe me," her mouth was scowling, and her hand waved him away from her. Gretchen saw the slightest curve on his lip, but then the small bell rang as the door closed. She blinked and he was gone.
"Um, I'm here," she told her, though the blatant obviousness of it hurt her mind, and even the darkness of the place did not hide the feeling that the cashier was glaring at her with disgust for it.
"Go in the back," jerking her head back, some purple hair poked forth from under the hood, but then was covered again with the motion of going forward. "Touch things at your own risk." Gretchen felt as if she had just said, 'Don't jump in with the lions.'
Gretchen nodded and headed back, pausing with a thought. "Do you have a phone?"
"No. Now go. You have an hour to waste before midnight."
Gretchen stared. "An hour?" The woman did not reply and Gretchen continued. "Can't you-"
"I said midnight," she bared her teeth, which for a person was oddly frightening. Not wanting to seem scared, Gretchen hardened her own eyes, pulled her bag closer to her chest, and walked into the back room.
There was not much in the back room, or at least, not much that Gretchen could see. There were many cardboard and wooden boxes stacked on top of each other, but with all of them sealed shut Gretchen was not about to check them out. At random places in the room there were objects placed that Gretchen guessed had a reason or did something, but she could not decide what they did. On the floor at the clearest area of space on the ground was a circle drawn in white chalk with a single candle of white wax in a silver holder right in the center of it. With a sigh, Gretchen dropped her bag near the circle and sat on the outside of it, pulling out a book. She could not concentrate on a word. She felt as though she were being watched.
The hour went by slowly, but finally the woman came in. Gretchen kept stiff, to keep the other from realizing her relief. She took off both gloves, showing nails painted black, and then pulled something out of her pocket which she tossed at Gretchen. Gretchen barely caught it, having to lean forward to snatch it out of the air.
"Light the candle," she ordered, as Gretchen found what she had caught to be a dark purple cigarette lighter. She carefully lit the candle as the other lights were turned off. The woman sat down on the other side of the candle.
"So, why do the lights have to be off?" Gretchen felt her curiosity get the best of her. It was always like this in the shows.
"So you don't see how I do it."
That was not the type of things Gretchen was hoping for, but during her small introduction with the woman, she figured she should have expected that type of an answer. It was then that she pulled the cloth down from her eyes and covered her lower face again, showing off those dark orbs in the small candle light. Gretchen felt familiarity stir in her.
"Let me discover if Fate is winding around you."
"What?" Gretchen asked, trying to sort out her thoughts. If there was a fate, it would be what happened to people, as in everyone. So winding about someone? Just one person? The woman appeared to catch what Gretchen was pondering.
"Don't be selfish," her eyes flashed with her reoccurring irritation, "Fate only picks certain people out." Her eyes then appeared to cloud over, as she stood up.
"What-?" Gretchen started, but cut herself off as the woman's head cocked a bit.
"There is nothing to draw off of you, I can't help you."
Gretchen stood up, just then realizing that she was taller then the other. "What?"
She appeared to be checking Gretchen over. "We need someone else to help balance the spell so I can draw off of you. Luckily for you, I am expecting someone. Just a moment." She then turned on her heel and left Gretchen alone in the room again, this time with anger building up in her. Calming herself down with a few breaths, she sat down again, thinking. Slowly, it dawned on her.
I guess I do not have any magic myself... I wonder if magic would have helped him notice me.
It was just then that the woman walked in again, leading the murderer behind her.
Gretchen could not help the small shriek that came from her closed mouth as she backed into the wall. The man just ignored her and watched the woman as she knelt down to the candle and removed the drips down the sides with her bare fingers. Gretchen finally managed to find her voice.
"What is he doing here?" She had to admit, she would have sounded a bit more demanding if her voice was not shaking so much, or if it did not spike up in a squeak in the middle of it. He looked at her again, causing Gretchen to shiver. He only blinked, his brown eyes not as cold as she would have imagined from a murderer, and looked back at the woman.
"What am I doing here?" he asked her. Gretchen could not help but stare at him. The world seemed to be spinning and she was trying to pin his attitude to be just like a cold-blooded killer. Needless to say, she was not being very successful. The man coughed as she ignored him. How she could ignore him was beyond Gretchen, but then again she invited him in here.
"He will be the one to help balance the spell," she said to Gretchen, only to turn her sights up to the man. "Sit." The woman then pointed at part of the circle, for him to join them. Gretchen was to shocked even to feel sick.
"But- but he's a murderer!" Gretchen gasped, almost unable to think.
"Gretchen, you know Bill..." the woman introduced as if it could have been anyone, "Bill, this is Gretchen. Does that make things easier for you? Or do you need him to slice your skin off first?"
"How can you say that?" she nearly shrieked, trying her best to not anger Bill more then she might have already. "He is a killer!"
"Hey," the man, Bill, cut in, seeming annoyed. "That was an accident."
"Accident! How is killing someone an accident?" Gretchen could barely believe what he was saying. An accident?
"Who kills someone on purpose?" Bill almost seemed as if it were obvious. "Or at least, on purpose in front of a crowd in broad daylight?"
"An insane murderer?" Gretchen suggested.
"An idiot," the woman still did not seem bothered at all with the fact of who the man was.
"I disagree with both of your answers," Bill folded his arms across his chest. "Well, not that those people wouldn't do that, because they would, just their usage in relation to me. Because I don't believe they agree with me."
Gretchen just stared at him through wide eyes. The woman just seemed to ignore her discomfort and gestured for they both to sit down. Gretchen did so, as the only door that promoted any escape was beyond where Bill was now sitting. She would have to play it safe, that was it. Safe and careful to keep alive. Though she had to admit that his actions made him seem more confused and weirded out then murderous, or even insane. But she figured she would not know how to measure insanity and so ignored his seemingly nonthreatening behavior.
"Should I bleed you dry?" the other asked. Gretchen was about to ask why on Earth she would do that, when she realized that she was not the object of the question. Bill had pulled his hands close to his stomach, giving the woman a look that Gretchen was not sure encompassed utter fear or respect.
That was it. She should have stayed home. It was too late to change her mind now though.
"How, uh... long will this take?" Bill asked the woman. It was a question Gretchen was curious of too, but decided not to mention that fact at the look on her face.
"Longer the more you keep interrupting me," her patience seemed to finally be wearing out for the older man. And probably for her as well, but Gretchen did not fancy that she gave the girl as much trouble as Bill had. Who knew what had occurred in that front room to convince him to come back here, or even how she knew he was going to be coming in here.
Right then, the light was blown out, and everything fell into darkness.
Gretchen stayed absolutely silent, though her heart had to be near bursting. In the dark, with some crazy woman and an insane murderer. What had she been thinking?
It was just then that the above light was turned on. Gretchen blinked a few times, not expecting it to be that soon and had not heard anyone moving towards the wall where the light switch was. Regardless of that, there the woman was, standing there with her painted fingernails scraping in a downward motion on the wall. Her eyes were covered again, though how she could have done all that in the few seconds that the light had been gone was beyond Gretchen.
"Don't you move," she said to Bill, turning and leaving the room. Gretchen stood up slowly, pretty sure that the order did not include her. She could not resist looking down at the adult, his face blank of emotions, but his eyes swimming in confusion.
"What?" he asked her, as if she could give him an answer. Gretchen shrugged and followed the other out. Her brain felt overloaded with too much stuff that was not making sense. She was not going to add that guy's problems on top of that. That could not have been the spell, could it? If it was, it was rather anti-climatic. Nothing had happened.
"Well?" she asked her, stopping behind the other. The woman was faced towards a shelf, though what she was handling Gretchen could not see.
"I could give you one of those luck stones," she sounded bored, as if she did not care anymore. "Or even Amazonite for the positive influences for sociality or Amber for luck and to improve those horrible eyes of yours," she shook her head. "But here."
At that, she handed back a stone, which Gretchen gingerly took from her. She recognized this from Science class, all though learning about stones was several years ago. Lapis lazuli. Gretchen stared at the rock, almost feeling dead.
"To protect you from evil. And to invoke mystery," she turned, arms folded across her chest. "Believe me when I say this will do you the best."
"But—it's just a rock! It can't really do those things... can it?"
This silence bothered Gretchen more then the one in the back room did. Probably because everything now boiled down to this. She was not sure what she had expected, but it definitely had not been—
"The sentiment behind it is all that really matters though, isn't it?"
Gretchen paused, open mouthed at what she had said. It all clicked in. This entire thing was a sham. There was no point in coming that night. No spell had occurred. She had just been brought here to see whether or not she was worth the words of wisdom the girl decided to give out, as if she knew more about the situation then Gretchen had told her. His sister walked away to the counter, ignoring her as if Gretchen was not there.
"Gaz-" she finally spat out, wanting more then just advice. The other stopped and turned around to face her.
"When'd you realize that?" the only visible part of her face, her mouth, smiled to show off her small and pointed teeth. Gretchen realized that she did not know when she discovered that, but for some reason it seemed so obvious. She did not know what exactly she wanted to tell Gaz though.
"The name fit you," she mentioned, leaving it at that. Gaz did not wait for more, she just nodded. Gretchen finally realized the point to it. One did not have to know everything. They just had to know the reactions to their actions. Life was not that complicated. She smiled back at Gaz, understanding.
The people who wanted to know everything could be fascinated, interested, or frightened easily by those who only appeared to know. Just because things were not that complicated.
"Thanks Gaz," Gretchen decided that was the best thing to say.
"Hmph," Gaz appeared to be doing something with the counter and only gave her a curt nod. But her smile was still slightly there.
And Gretchen left.
"-I'll find out how you did it Zim! Just wait for it!" Dib appeared as if he had a sleepless night, but as always that had never stopped him from giving it his all at school. Especially when that other one was involved.
"I'm waiting Dib-stink," Zim's green lips stretched across his sharp teeth. "I've been waiting for a-"
He stopped with a sharp exclamation of pain as Gretchen dropped her binder on his head.
"Would you stop blocking the hallway?" Gretchen asked Zim with exasperation, grabbing her binder back. "For such a small person, you sure take up a lot of space." Zim scowled, but did not seem to want to get into a fight with anyone else, as he shuffled off with muffled curses. Gretchen finally forced her eyes to Dib. After everything she had gone through the previous night, she knew something had to be different. She was finally ready to involve herself in his fight. Where he belonged. It was a different plane then the one everyone else existed on, but she was ready to step onto it.
He was looking at her with a bit of shock, as if he had no idea what to say. Gretchen thought of everything she planned to say to Dib. Everything she had thought would be perfect to say to him when he finally noticed her. She realized all of it was obsolete.
So she just smiled at him, opening her lips to flash off the smile that had been fixed by her years of humiliation into something worthwhile.
Then she left him staring after her in the hallway, with a slight shout back:
"You're going to be late for class!"
Her smile did not diminish as she heard him running after her.
The woman stared over the Lovecraft Celtic layout on top of the counter. She sighed, eyes turning down away from the tarot's meaning and toward her game beneath the counter. The room was silent as it had been before the night's start. Her actions went on as if never interrupted.
What a night...
I apologize! Do not eat my brains! I need them!
All right, I know that no amount of explanations will do, I have often been sad/irritated/angry/whatever when a writer I love to read of does not update for a long time. I could say my laptop died and I nearly lost everything, and then family issues, but I doubt anyone wants to hear it, let alone I do not want to say it. The second part (or first, I am not really picky as to which who reads first) is up as well (or at least soon, I think) so the last of my one-shots will have been finished! I hope that they are worth the wait (all though I am a bit worried about some parts of it... would appreciate feedback)!