Welcome to Part 2 of Till You Die. So far, you’ve been introduced to Joanna and her husband, Craig. Now you can see what happens when Joanna decides to peruse the strange shop without her disinterested spouse…
If you haven’t had a chance to read Part 1 yet, you can find it here.
Happy reading! 😊
Joanna pushed open the door, alone. It was how she had felt much of the time in the last few months – ever since she had dragged Craig away from shooting at strange little critters on his phone by literally snatching it from his hand, to shouts of, ‘Oi! I was nearly on the next level, then! And that’s my phone.’ She’d sat him down with a steak and a bottle of wine, waited until the food dragged him out of his huff, then told him she was pregnant.
A huge bell clanged over her head as she walked into the shop. Very, very different to the silence which had met her over that steak and wine. The baby kicked and Joanna held onto her chest, to prevent her heart pummelling its way out through her ribs. She breathed hard, gathering her composure, but also unsure which was actually worse – this sudden clang or that lingering silence.
She had to blink a few times to accommodate the dimness inside the poky room. As her eyes began to get used to the dark corners and equally dark walls, shelves and floor, slowly, exotic-looking figurines came into view: a shelf of incense and josticks; candle holders in shapes of something resembling gargoyles; books with black leather bindings; other objects she had no clue about. Flickering candles perched, arranged in a line along the ash-wood counter, their glazed candle holders emitting an intense glow which cast green shadows around the walls. As Joanna did a full, slow 360-degree spin, the glow caught on the dangling glass ornaments hanging from cords all around her. ‘Hmm, magic green,’ she muttered to herself.
The place would certainly have given Craig the creeps, and she was pleased, now, that he hadn’t come in after all. But something about the place with its eery colours and claustrophobic arrangement intrigued her, and she wanted to stay, just for a while.
‘Do you like green? It is supposed to be a witch’s colour.’
The words came suddenly out of the corner of the counter. Joanna jumped and held her chest while she caught her breath, her eyes flitting around, seeking the voice’s origin…
‘Oh, I am sorry. I did not mean to frighten you.’ A little man with a walnut-crinkled face grabbed Joanna by the hand. Joanna hated being grabbed, spooked, and she stifled a squeal and began to pull away. But she froze as the green glow shone on his face and on the baldness of his tiny, shrunken head.
‘You called it magic green, did you not?’ He smiled with his thin, dry lips, and Joanna thought how strangely he spoke. ‘What are you seeking, my dear?’ The walnut face frowned. Now it looked like a dead person’s brain. ‘Protection?’
Joanna smirked as she stroked her belly. A little late for that, she thought. ‘I was… well, actually, I was looking for some sort of ornament for my new house.’
The man held out a sparkling gold and glass angel in the palm of his hand.
‘A guardian angel. See how she sparkles?’
All Joanna could see was how the green glow reflected on the glass. It was starting to make her feel a little bit queasy.
‘She will protect you.’
‘I don’t want a guardian. I don’t need protecting.’ Joanna took a step back.
‘Are you sure?’
The old man’s intent stare left her shifting from foot to foot. ‘I have my husband to do that.’
Joanna jumped again, as she heard a rap on the window. She spun round to see Craig’s face peering through. As she did so, her eyes alighted on several baubles hanging around the window on thick, golden cord. She motioned to Craig to wait another few minutes, as she moved in to hold the closest of the baubles. Resting it between her finger and thumb, she noticed that, what little light from the window there was, shone right into the glass. Inside were the strangest of threads – strands really – which lit up the ball in an array of stunning colours.
‘Unhook it, please do,’ the old man said. Joanna smiled and did precisely that, bringing it to her face for a closer look. She touched the glass, fascinated, trying to trace the threads. And, as she watched, the ball began to give off the faintest of light.
Joanna sensed the old man was standing right behind her, watching. ‘What is this? It’s beautiful.’ Joanna rolled it in her fingers as the strands continued to captivate her. The man didn’t speak. Joanna turned to face him, her face filling to the brim with beaming delight, and thinking he hadn’t heard properly. But, even through the green shadows, she couldn’t help noticing the colour drain from that walnut face.
‘It is a watch ball. Some have called it a witch ball in centuries past.’ He took the ball from her hand and the baby kicked hard.
A tap rattled against the window once more. Craig stuck his face to the glass, poking at the face of his watch. Through the tiny panes of glass, she heard the muffled, ‘Hurry up, Joanna. I’m getting leg-ache out here.’
The ball emitted a low glow as the baby continued to wriggle inside her. Joanna’s discomfort multiplied, inside and out.
Joanna felt strange; her head began to whir, and she grasped at the counter to the sound of the walnut head murmuring, ‘You must breathe. Breathe. It will pass.’ At least, she thought the old man was speaking. Maybe she was imagining it. She knew that she’d been worked up lately. The last few months had been filled with chaos. The scans of the baby had terrified her each time, just in case they had discovered anything wrong. By the time they had offered her the amniocentesis, Craig had made it quite clear that he didn’t want to know – buried his head in the sand. Even his mum, each time she rang after every scan, couldn’t get anything out of him. She didn’t help matters much, though, by constantly saying, ‘As long as it’s healthy, that’s all that matters. A perfect little baby for a perfect little family.’ Joanna wished that she wouldn’t ring quite so often.
It had been at about this time that Joanna had begun to notice the mobile calls. She’d answered Craig’s phone a couple of times when it had been charging in the kitchen. It had gone dead quickly. The other week she had plucked up the courage to ring the number, and, as her baby kicked and jostled inside her, she had heard a woman’s voice answer. She’d hung up too quickly to notice if she’s even recognised the voice.
The squeeze of her hand reminded her of where she was. The little man offered up the ball that she had admired so much.
‘Do not worry about the payment, my child.’ His face was deadly serious. ‘When the ball glows, it means there is trouble. You may come to harm.’ Joanna watched him glance towards the window. He put his hand on her bump and she flinched. ‘He will try to hurt you. Be careful, my dear. He will harm you. Take the ball. Watch it. If it glows, find someone you can trust.’
Joanna held the ball. It was beautiful, fascinating, secretive. The threads glinted as the old man pushed it down into the palm of her hand. ‘Be careful. Protect yourself.’
Joanna left the shop, clutching the glass ball. Her eyes blinked rapidly against the sunlight and it was only then that she could see just how stunning the threads really were. A watch ball. Or a witch ball?
There was Craig, leaning up the railings opposite her, talking on his mobile. She watched as he laughed and talked. She was too far away to hear. The shop bell clanged behind as the door closed and she jumped. So did he, she noticed.
‘Call you later,’ she heard him say. He smiled as he hung up and strode over to her. She put the ball in her bag, out of sight. She didn’t want any trouble, not just now.
‘There you are. What kept you? Did you find anything?’
Joanna forced a smile.
‘There wasn’t much inside that we would both have liked,’ she replied. ‘I just got a small thing – a glass ball. It’s pretty.’
Craig grunted. ‘Told you it was a waste of time. Do you still have cravings for cheeseburgers, or can we go home now?’
‘Craig,’ Joanna blurted, before she could stop herself, ‘do you love me?’
She waited for the irritated sigh or the roll of his eyes. But instead, he turned to her and looked her right in her face, his magic eyes staring straight into hers. ‘I’ve told you before, I love you, more than I’ve ever loved anyone. I’ll love you till you die.’
Joanna wanted to laugh and say that he’d have to put up with her for a lot longer yet, like she normally would. But she didn’t. Craig began to walk away, back to the car, and she followed on behind.
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