A small pink teddy bear, resplendent in top hat and tails, tap-danced along the counter twirling an ebony cane. The bear's footwear, which looked more like coal miner's pit boots than tap shoes, set up a staccato tap-tap-tap that made Simeon cringe, each step echoing like a kettle drum inside his head. Only when the bear began bashing the tip of its cane against his forehead and shouting, 'Are you in there?' in a soft but insistent Irish brogue, did it begin to dawn on Simeon that he may, just possibly, be dreaming.
Jerking awake, Simeon was afforded the luxury of a few seconds grace before the full horror of his predicament hit him like a runaway train and he only just managed to lean over before he vomited into the waste paper bin behind the shop counter. The shell, he'd lost the fairy's walnut shell. The knocking persisted while Simeon dry-heaved, two empty whisky bottles mocking him from the bottom of the bin.
'Are you in there? Simeon!'
'Shit.' Simeon dragged himself upright and made his way along the edge of the counter, hand over hand, gingerly towards the front door of the shop. His head throbbed and he still felt queasy, stomach acid burning his throat and leathery tongue as he tried to fathom who could be at the door at this ungodly hour. Risking a glance at his watch, Simeon revised his estimate of ungodly, it was 11.36am. He wondered why his right foot was cold.
The knocking continued.
'Alright, alright, I'm coming,' Simeon croaked as he shuffled nearer the door. 'Just stop that god-awful racket. I'll be there in a minute.'
The knocking stopped as Simeon finally reached the door.
Drawing the bolts sounded like rifle shots inside his head, and when he bent down to undo the bottom one, Simeon was hit with a wave of dizziness and was only able to keep his balance by hanging onto the bookcase by the door. He noticed one of his bunny slippers was missing, that explained the cold foot. Eased the door open to the limit of the security chain Simeon peered into sunlit street beyond. He wished he hadn't.
'Uncle Simeon, are you okay?'
Forcing his eyes to focus, and shading them with his free hand, Simeon squinted at the young woman standing on the doorstep. He took in the black leather biker jacket, the jeans and heavy square-toed biker boots before his aching brain could process the word “uncle.” As he squinted past the mane of curly brown hair to the woman's face realisation dawned, confirmed when she spoke.
'Uncle Simeon, it's me, Aveena. Moira and Connor's daughter. So, are you going to let me in, or what?'
Simeon shut the door, wondering as he fumbled with the chain whether this was going to be a good idea or not. Dragging the door open again, he winced as the bottom edge caught on the metal sill, squeaking like fingernails on a blackboard. Aveena squeezed past him, her enormous rucksack almost catching Simeon full in the face as she navigated through the piles of books just inside the door, her white stick beating out a gentle rhythm against the linoleum floor tiles. Simeon closed and carefully locked the door behind her.
'You do know there's a rat sitting on the counter over there, don't you, Uncle Simeon?'
'Eh? Oh, err...yeah,' Simeon muttered. 'Don't worry about him, that's only Crowley.' He paused. 'Hang on, how do you know...'
'I can see his aura.'
'Oh. Is he reading?'
'Yes. It looks like...,' Aveena's sightless eyes narrowed, '...Practical Ceremonial Magic, a Beginner's Gui...'
'Bloody rat,' Simeon interrupted as he pushed gently past Aveena, snatched the book up from in front of Crowley and slammed it shut. Simeon winced.
'What have I told you?' Simeon growled at the rat. 'Just because you got yourself reincarnated as a rat doesn't mean...' Simeon paused as sweat broke out across his forehead. His legs felt rubbery and he only just made it onto the stool behind the counter before they gave way.
Aveena dumped her rucksack next to the counter, and headed for the kitchen, calling out over her shoulder, 'I'm after putting the kettle on. I'm parched, so I am. Tea, Uncle Simeon?' As she filled the kettle, Aveena could still hear Simeon berating the rat in the other room.
A mug of strong tea and a handful of paracetamol later and Simeon was beginning to feel a little more human. Aveena had even managed to locate his missing slipper, which she found on top of the bookcase behind the counter. In response to Simeon's question, Aveena explained that all things have an aura and it was by these auras that she was able to navigate. Living things and books, especially old and esoteric books, had the strongest auras, she said, which was why she had no trouble finding her way around the shop.
'So,' began Simeon, 'What brings you all the way over here? You didn't make the trip just to visit your old uncle Simeon, surely? I haven't seen you since you were, let me think...'
Aveena looked suddenly serious, 'Six, Uncle Simeon. I was six last time I saw you. And you're not that old.'
She contemplated the dregs of tea swirling round the bottom of her mug. 'I did mean to come and see you, but you're right, this isn't just a social call.'
A single tear ran down Aveena's cheek.
'Something's wrong, isn't it?'
'It's Mam,' Aveena sniffled. 'She's...she's...dead. Da too.'
'Murdered.' Aveena threw her arms around his neck and sobbed on his shoulder.
It took Simeon a moment or two to return the hug, awkwardly rubbing Aveena's back and trying to make the right soothing noises, while reeling from the news his only sister and her husband were dead, and the thought that Aveena was leaving a trail of snot on the shoulder of his best work jacket.
Thanks for stopping by to read my #FridayFlash. "Early Morning Call" is the twelfth instalment of my flash fiction serial "The UCF Stories." If you'd like to read the serial from the beginning, the first instalment is here.
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