So, I’m walking home the night before the coldest Halloween on record — nine below. Well, don’t I hit some black ice and pull a leg-sprawling Laurel and Hardy — crack the cement with my… What did the physio-gal call it? Right — my Coccyx. Whack my walnut real good, too.
I look up and isn’t there a storefront window all lit up — check my watch. Midnight.
Just a thin door between my throbbing tailbone and heat. I tug the handle. High pitched jingling peals into the night to wake the dead. I cringe.
“Hello?” Warm air washes over me.
A long dark counter stretches along my right, barricading shelves lined with row over row of cylindrical glass vials full of clouded liquid. A curtained doorway’s tucked in the back corner. One round table, a glass on top, stands to my left, a chair under it.
I brace myself on the chair and gingerly lower my moaning tailbone. Faded gold lettering decorates the counter front — Apothecary.
I hadn’t whispered the five syllables before this lanky guy with a black leather apron slips around the curtain. He’s polishing a bottle with a bar towel.
“I slipped on some ice,” I say. “Just looking for a little heat therapy. Is this a Café?”
I drop my gaze. The glass on the table is brimming with steaming liquid. A quick sniff promises a hot toddy. Was it full when I came in?
“First customer,” says the proprietor.
“Thanks,” I say, and steal a sip. I cough. “Whoo-ee! Packs a punch.”
“You would know.”
I blink through the warm light. The stuff tastes passable, so I tip it back.
“Somethin’ old’n somethin’ new.”
“What’s in the bottles? Alternative medicine?
The bar towel squelches inside the spotless glass. “The bottles?” He sets the glass on the counter. A long grin creases his cheeks. “It’s a repository, Bob — of your dastardly deeds.”
Shadows momentarily swirl in every one of the jars.
I swipe my forehead. Cold. The back of my hand’s glistening wet. Dastardly deeds? This guy’s a cuckoo berry. And how did he get my name? — Time to go.
Waxy lids on two murky glass jars pop and tilt. Slimy, tentacled creatures slip over the rim onto the shelves, and crawl down the wall.
“Ah!” cries the apothecary. “Twins! Looking to join their sibling.”
The two squid-like organisms slide onto the counter, sling their tentacles over the rim of polished glass and tangle inside like a ball of writhing snakes. The glass brims with steaming liquid.
“Best taken at their prime,” he says. “All Hallows’ Eve, offspring one and all shall reunite with the souls that gave them birth.”
The apothecary cups his suspended hand as if raising a toast.
“Foul deeds will rise! — Hamlet,” he says, “Act I, Scene II.”
He winks at me!
The hideously filled cup appears clutched in my hand. The apothecary raises his invisible glass. Like a puppet I raise mine. He tosses back his imaginary brew. I growl through the gurgling slime running down my throat.
— I black out.
My sprawled fingers meet cold ice. The storefront? Dark as pitch.
I limp home and collapse on my couch. All night one thought worms through my head. This salesman, years ago now, let me shadow him to learn the ropes. On the sly I cozied up to his customers — took half of them with me to another company. Didn’t bother me at the time.
Halloween night’s worse. That apothecary must have unleashed a horde — betrayals, lies, worse things. A hundred nightmares crawl into my head. I can’t sleep — can’t eat. Sink into a real mess. People start talking. Customers pull orders.
Just about ended up at the hospital. Don’t be quick to judge. The Midnight Apothecary said souls, plural, didn’t he? I will say this: This pastor comes along, tells me some old stories that hit home and… well, I’m still here.
Turns out the apothecary shop’s an empty lane beside 170 King West. Go figure.