A Chat At the Door

Mason stepped through the doorway of the bookstore called ‘the Door’. He was not amused.

“We’re closing in five minutes,” called a voice from the back.

He walked, running a hand down the wooden counter that ran the full length of the room, halfway he stopped. Shelves lined every wall. A grandfather clock showed two minutes to nine. Books and vials, crystals and stones were stacked here and there. A shelf filled with small colored jars brought a shadow of unwanted memories from his youth. But it was the smell of incense, not sulfur, that lingered throughout.

Behind the counter a bead screen hung in the doorway. A life pulsed behind those beads, a woman. His hunger beat in time to her heart.

Eyes roving the shelves, he remembered a time when books were a rare privilege. The room was bright and well lit, too well lit. His hand drifted off the end of the counter as he took a look around. Through the doorway, through the beads, her life beckoned.

“Can I help you?”

Mason spun, eyes narrowing. An older woman was standing behind the counter, a pile of books in her arms. They thumped as she dropped them onto the wooden surface. She began sorting them, placing them onto the bookshelf behind her.

“Do you need some help finding anything? We’re closing in a few minutes but if you’re looking for something specific?” She asked, looking up, into his gray eyes.

Mason opened his mouth but no words came out. He knew her. But where? From when?

“Well?” she asked, as she worked.

He’d kept his eye on the store for several weeks now. It was always handy to have a place on the short list. Yet, he didn’t recognize her, the woman in back should have been alone.

“Are you one of the owners?” Mason asked. He stepped forward. She smelled of roses. The kind that Father Gregory had grown in the courtyard…

“You could call me that,” she replied.

Mason leaned over the counter as the woman put the last volume away. She turned looking up at his lean form.

“I’m here for…”

“Advice? A lot of people come here for advice,” she smiled.

Mason blinked, he hadn’t seen where she gotten the bottle of furniture oil or the cloth. He hadn’t taken his eyes off her. There simply was no way she could have moved that fast.

“Are you a witch? A real one?” Mason asked. He’d never met a real witch before.

“Are you?” The woman asked.

“No, I am not.” Mason replied. Where had he seen her? “I am…something else.”

“Of course you are.” Her smile remained as she wiped the counter. He watched her hand with the cloth. In ever-larger circles she wiped the wood to a shiny gloss. He’d never met a person so…precise.

“What’s your question?”

“I don’t have a question,” Mason snapped, his eyes kept drifting back to the cloth. It moved smoothly over the counter, a growing spiral. His hunger forgotten, he looked at her.

“If you didn’t have a question, you wouldn’t be here.” The hand stopped.

He looked into her green eyes.

“I don’t,” Mason said. Father Gregory’s voice echoed the woman’s, ‘Now, now, Mason, ask thy question…’

“Why?” Mason asked.

“You don’t start with the small ones, do you,” she smiled and he saw the beauty she’d had in her youth.

“Can you be more specific?” she was suddenly a mother, the mother he’d never known. He could see the pulse at her throat, calling. Beat, beat, so slow, too slow. His question came back to him.

“Why evil? Why must it exist?” Mason had believed Father Gregory, but he’d been a child then. After six hundred years, he’d begun to doubt.

“Evil, well now that’s a relative question.” She slid a display of cards along the counter.

“Relative! What’s relative about it? Why the devil, the battle between good and evil?”

“Now, Mason, you’re a little old for such stories, aren’t you?” She raised an eyebrow.

“But evil exists,” Mason said. He gripped the wooden edge of the counter. “I know it does.”

“What do you know child? That a person’s heart can be a foul thing? Or that it can contain all the potential of what we call good?”

“I, yes, but…” Mason didn’t remember telling her his name.

“Good and evil, wrong and right, and let’s not forget the righteous. All because of what? A Persian prince wanting to be justified in war? Taking what wasn’t his? How many since then? Before then?”

“I don’t know…”

“But you do, don’t you, Mason?” She smiled sadly now. Drip. Drip. Oil onto cloth. Cloth onto the counter.

“Mason, we can rationalize anything, given time, a bit of twisted reason, a play on semantics, you should know that better than anyone.”

“That’s not what I asked,” Mason felt his anger rise. “You didn’t answer my question. Why does good and evil exist?”

“We both know it doesn’t. There are just the choices we make to help or to cause pain. It has always been and always will be our choice. Evil only exists with sentience; it is not a thing, but a concept. It only exists where it can be created. It only survives where it can be maintained. The falseness of power over others; of gain through pain, or coercion, or fear.”

Her hands went back to the counter. Move a display. Drip, drip, wipe.

“You’re wrong,” Mason whispered. “What about the soul? It exists, and you can lose it.”

“Really?”

“You can become a monster, a demon of darkness,” Mason said to the counter. He felt the anger, the pain, the shame, building inside of him. He struggled to breath, to hold onto himself.

“How can you loose what you are? Who you are? You can only, for a time forget.”

“You don’t understand, the soul…my soul is gone.” Father Gregory’s words cut across the centuries ‘In the name of God! Be gone foul Demon!’

“Do you eat?”

“Yes,” Mason hissed, his face hard.

“Do you feel?”

Mason looked down at his hands. He didn’t want to. He pushed it down, the anger and the shame.

“Do you breathe?” she asked. Her hand touched his. He felt its warmth. Surely she must know.

“No,” Mason felt the air leave his lungs.

“Then how do you speak?” She was smiling at him.

Mason shook his head. He wasn’t here for this.

“I’m a monster,” said Mason. He stared into her eyes, dared her to really see him. She did. He looked away.

“That’s your choice. The choice we all have. Each day we choose our path, we seed the future by our actions,” she said as she moved toward the other end of the counter.

“But…” Lord Taylor’s words drifted through his mind, ‘my young priest, character determines destiny, always has, always will…’

“I need to eat…” Mason whispered. The counter was suddenly so very long. She was getting farther and farther away.

“We all need to eat. Even the lions, the deer, the bears,” she smiled. She was nearly done.

“I choose…”

“Yes, you do.” She stopped at the end of the counter.

“Can I help you?”

Mason turned as a middle-aged woman came out of the back, the beads swaying behind her.

“We’re closing now, but if you know what you want I can help you find it. Or perhaps you could come back tomorrow?”

“I…” Mason turned but they were alone in the store. Behind her the grandfather clock began to chime nine o’clock.

“No, sorry,” Mason said.

Out on the street the wind was brisk. He turned up his collar and walked away. If only he could remember where he’d seen the other woman.

Mason’s stomach reminded him that he still needed to eat. As in days of old, there were always less seemly places to sate his appetite. He walked into the shadows and stopped.

He remembered her now. He remembered the smell of her burning flesh. Her screams drowned out by the crowd. The witch hunter smiling at him, his pockets fat with his fee.

Mason had tried to save her, to save her soul. He’d been so young, so angry that the Fathers had not stopped it. Enraged he’d spoken out when the bishop had come to claim her home and lands. For punishment, Father Gregory had sent him to tend the dying. And there the Devil had found him.

Distant sirens accompanied the sound of traffic. Mason looked up at the moon, its face as unchanging as his. There’d been so much darkness between then and now. Perhaps it was time to forgive…


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