It was sunny when you left home, so you didn’t take an umbrella. An hour later, you’re caught in a torrential downpour. You run into the first store you can find — it happens to be a dark, slightly shabby antique store, full of old artifacts, books, and dust. The shop’s ancient proprietor walks out of the back room to greet you. Tell us what happens next!
Hang on a sec… didn’t that happen in The Never Ending Story…??
Standing there in my wet clothes, I take a look around, being cautious not to get water on anything within my immediate vicinity. I suddenly hear a shaky voice calling out from behind some of the bookshelves. With a quizzical expression, I try to look through the gaps between books, and a small frail old lady comes waddling out from the shadows asking if she’s able to help me with anything.
Feeling bad for the thought of lying to such a sweet old lady, I was up front and told her that I just wanted to get out of the rain. It was so heavy, and I was already so wet, I just wanted to wait until it eased. I was happy to just stand there by the door, but the old woman wouldn’t have it. She told me to take my shoes and socks off, and ushered me down through a rabbit warren of book cases to a small, narrow doorway at the back of the shop.
I opened the door and stepped into a very small room. There were two small arm chairs sitting either side of a small old cast-iron fireplace. Each of the chairs were covered in crocheted blankets. She pushed past me mumbling something, and as I queried, she repeated herself, asking if I would like a pot of tea. I politely declined, but again, she ignored me, asking whether I wanted one sugar or two. I stood there amongst her small cluttered room, taking a closer look at some of the framed photographs hung lop-sided on her wall. As I wondered momentarily who these people were, the door swung open, and the old lady waddled in carrying a bucket of steaming water, she sat the bucket down in front of one of the armchairs by the fire, and handed me a an old pair of brown corduroy pants and a large flannelette shirt and pointed towards the door she walked out from.
I walked through the door and found myself standing in the kitchen. There were no other doors leading off from this room, so I assume that I was expected to change out of my wet clothes in here. I looked around nervously, wondering if there was at least something I could stand behind, just in case she walked in, but there wasn’t. I took a deep breath and within seconds, had changed out of my wet clothes and into these musty-smelling old clothes, and then walked back into the lounge room. She took the wet clothes from my hands and placed them over the clothes rack near the fire. She grabbed my hand and ushered me back to the armchair with the bucket in front of it. As I sat down, she bent down to grab my ankles, almost tipping me off balance. She rolled up the legs of my pants and gently placed my feet into the bucket of hot water.
As the soft, fleshy pads of my toes touched the skin, I recoiled in caution. I then lowered my toes back into the water, and the searing heat from the water enveloped my foot, the smell of lavender and eucalyptus swirled upwards, filling the air and wafting into my nostrils. As I took a big whiff, I leant back into the chair, closed my eyes, almost completely forgetting my bizarre surroundings. I opened them to find the old woman standing in front of my with a giant mug right in front of my face. I don’t even know if I could call it a mug, it was more like a small bowl with a handle, it was massive. I saw the steam rising from the top of it, and grabbed the sides of the mug with both hands, lowering it down in front of my face so I could smell it. It was a strange concotion of something, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I could smell chamomile and jasmine, but there were a few other scents that I wasn’t entirely sure of.
The uncertainty made me quite cautious. Suddenly my mind began swirling with images of a horror movie. I had visions of drinking this tea, and then waking up in a basement or abandoned warehouse, with flickering dim lights, and being strapped to a table or a chair and bleeding from having some kind of underground-style butchered surgery – missing a kidney or a couple of fingers etc. The visions, whilst being completely fictitious, were also rapid and horrific, and the shock of them jolted me back to sitting in the armchair with my feet in the bucket of hot water.
I opened my eyes and the old woman was sitting in the chair across from me, holding her own giant mug, and staring into the embers of the fire in front of her. In order to break the awkward silence, I opened my mouth, but just as I went to say something, she muttered something. I wasn’t sure what she had said, and she repeated herself, louder and slower, telling me that I was welcome, and that she can’t remember the last time she had a visitor in need. How did she do that? It was like she read my mind…! Just as I went to thank her for her hospitality, she spoke again, saying that she was a caring person, and that she knew I would end up getting sick if she didn’t welcome me in and look after me straight away.
By now I was starting to feel a tad uncomfortable – she was answering questions, before I had even asked them and it was quite strange. Suddenly, my vision started to get a bit blurry, and just as I was asking myself what was happening, I looked at her and heard her voice… but her lips weren’t moving. Her voice was in my head. I didn’t understand it and was feeling rather scared, but she told me to relax, and explained that I was having an accelerated reaction to the ‘tea’ she had served me. As I looked back down to the bowl-mug in my hands, in my lap, everything went dark.
**TO BE CONTINUED**