Hannah Simpson’s planning her latest wedding – number 7 to be exact. The prospective bridegroom, Bernie, thinks he’s #3. Since she’s having a Medieval themed wedding, Hannah has certain things she needs, like beeswax candles and incense.
She finds a shop that she thinks will have what she wants. Just as she puts her hands on the beeswax candles, something unexpected happens.
“May I help you?” A woman’s voice came from behind her. It was a shrill, old voice.
Hannah spun around, candles in hand, smiling broadly. From the voice, she had expected an old crone, but the woman was tall, spare of build and elegantly dressed in a stylized Manchurian dress the color of venous blood. Despite her attire, she didn’t look Oriental, she looked like a gypsy.
“Hello,” Hannah smiled winsomely, successfully concealing her astonishment.
“May I help you?” The woman repeated slowly. She sounded like she was talking to a slow witted child.
She held out a long fingered hand, her talon like red nails glittering evilly in the waning sunlight. The box suddenly felt awkward and heavy. It almost fell from Hannah’s grasp. She dropped it into the woman’s palm without a word.
“Thank you.” Her accent was thick and sounded Central European. It was, to Hannah’s ears, like an over played Dracula film.
“I came in to find a few things for my wedding,” Hannah explained.
“We sell nothing for the weddings,” the woman answered. “Please to speak to someone else than me.”
“But you have exactly what I want,” Hannah answered, feeling a little stronger now that she no longer held the candles. “I need candles like those, a small brazier and some incense.”
The woman did not speak right away, only raised an eyebrow. “You do? What scent do you wish? I have many.”
She led Hannah to a cabinet near the back of the shop. The shelves were covered with different types of incense.
“My fiancé wanted frangipani, but I am not sure. It’s a bit sweet for my tastes. Perhaps you could suggest something?”
The woman looked slyly from the corner of her eye. “It is for love? I have just the thing.” She opened a little door in the cabinet and extracted a light rose colored package covered in strange gold writing. It gave off a heady, dizzying scent that made Hannah’s nose tingle.
“Oh, that’s just the thing!” She reached for the packet.
The old lady jerked it away, holding up one cautioning finger. “It is most powerful. I sell only a small amount to you. This whole package it is very dear—expensive. I sell you part.”
She led the way to a scale by the cash register and placed a tiny weight on one side. Setting the package aside, she took a piece of fine grained rice paper and laid it on the scale. Carefully, she tapped a small amount of incense onto the paper and holding her breath, folded it into a triangle which she moistened delicately with the tip of her tongue.
“What else you needed?”
“Beeswax candles and a small brazier for the incense.”
The woman nodded. “Those candles up there, you no want for a wedding. We get something better. Follow me.”
She led Hannah into a back room that was dimly lit by a single bulb covered in a dark green shade. It cast odd shadows around the room, making Hannah want to jump and turn around to look at them. The woman led her to a closet that was lined floor to ceiling with boxes of candles in various colors and scents.
“These,” she said, reaching for a long white box. Opening it with a flourish, she waved it under Hannah’s nose. “They are best for weddings. Coated in pure silver. Here, touch it.”
She shoved the candles under Hannah’s nose. Hannah recoiled as if the box would bite her. A small scream escaped her lips.
“Please, get that away!”
“What? Is only candles. It will not hurt you. I insist you take a look.” The box loomed nearer.