By S. C. Gregory
Grant’s fingers pinched the edge of the paper packet clamped in the grip of the man looming over the other side of the wooden counter of the cramped spice shop.
Henry wasn’t about to let go of the prize so easily. Not without that rheumy-eyed glare he used like a warrior might use a battered, old sword that’d lost its edge decades ago.
‘You sure?’ Henry asked. His wheezing filled the shop with the overwhelming odour of stale tobacco and whiskey.
Grant swallowed the urge to gag and nodded. ‘Course I’m sure.’ He snatched the packet from Henry’s yellow stained fingers and shoved the paper in his trouser pocket.
Stepping back, Henry narrowed his eyes. Even the whites were discoloured by whatever disease was slowly eating him alive. ‘Phoenix feather and peacock in that mix.’
Moving towards the door, Grant fumbled for the handle. ‘Good. Need all the help I can get.’ He cackled a laugh, but clamped his mouth shut when Henry fixed him with a dark look. ‘Anyway, I needed it, ok. Folks out there don’t like weaklings, we’re just easy targets.’
Henry planted his hands on the counter and the wood creaked under the man’s weight. ‘That powder is a potent mix. Not to be taken lightly or by fools looking for a quick fix.’
Finding the door handle, Grant pushed down and stumbled outside. His breath steaming in the frigid air. He lost whatever other warnings Henry wanted to impart as he hurried down the street, hunched down into his jacket, the collar brushing against his cheeks.
He’d been truthful with Henry, insofar that he needed the special powder the old shopkeeper could conjure out of ingredients like rare phoenix feather and crushed cobalt.
Turning a sharp left, Grant stumbled and almost fell into the hulking shadow waiting for him. Falling back against the wall of the alley, Grant eyed the two men glaring back at him. The matching blue eyes of the twins were cold and empty and Justin was brandishing a jagged steel blade, his brother, James shrugged, a slight, thin smile that said, ‘What can I do?’
Grant stuttered, tore the paper packet from his pocket and ripped it open with his teeth. He poured the powder onto his tongue, grimacing at the bitter ashen taste coating his mouth. He swallowed, coughing on the dry flavour, almost puking at the aftertaste of grit.
Justin walked close and tilted his head. ‘Been to see Henry?’ he asked, grinning as he turned to his brother, probably so they could share a joke.
Grant swiped out a hand, intending to make the first blow. Get in there quick and make a run for it and hide out until Henry’s powder took effect.
Justin’s smile died as a red line opened up across his neck. He turned, frowning as if he wanted to ask a serious question, but all that came out his mouth was a gush of blood.
‘What the Hell have you done?’ James’ stoic expression darkened and his eyes narrowed.
‘You’ll pay for this-’ He took a step toward Grant and stopped mid-stride. James choked as his knees buckled, and dark blood soaked through his crisp, white shirt, melting through the gashes in the fabric.
Grant sucked in a sharp breath. Hands shaking…Except, they were no longer his hands, but rather the sharp talons of a bird, dripping gore from the two men he’d just killed.
He hadn’t even felt the change happen, but the elation of finally standing up to the bullies faded as cramps knotted his stomach and he gagged on the vomit touching the back of his throat. The tang of blood had filled the alley and the sight of the twisted corpses was too much for his delicate sensibilities. Turning, Grant retched, but nothing came up.
Clutching at his middle, Grant groaned and collapsed as the cramps worsened and he fell over on his side, not really thinking about where the wetness soaking through his clothes was coming from. The pain took over. A dark haze that clouding his vision and thoughts…
The dull sound of two voices sliced through his agony. ‘Seems another muppet has been sampling Henry’s magic powder,’ said a gruff masculine tone.
A softer, but still male voice answered, ‘You say these things like I should know what you’re talking about.’
‘Frank,’ replied the first voice with a distinct pained edge. ‘Why must you always put a dampener on my enthusiasm?’
The one called Frank snorted. ‘Well, Bob, I really can’t think why I’m such a pessimist.’
Grant gaped as a pair of giant-sized hands reached down and scooped him up off the ground. Twisting his head, Grant opened his mouth, but all that came out was a squawk of distress. He struggled, but the figure holding stroked his back and made odd soothing noises.
‘Poor thing, probably hasn’t realised the real cost of doing business with an amateur sorcerer.’
‘Yeah,’ the familiar voice of Frank said, ‘I still haven’t counted the price of hanging around with you.’
‘Funny,’ Bob said, placing Grant under his arm. ‘At least you got that pet bird you always wanted.’
‘What? Is this supposed to replace my twenty-year old parrot, you flung into that void to seal it?’
‘It was closest to hand.’
‘And he is quite pretty.’ Bob pointed out.
He’s a blue phoenix,’ Frank snapped. ‘Not like I’ll be letting anyone catch a look.’
‘Yes, appears Henry put in a little peacock feather. He’s still handsome, though.’ ‘I suppose.’ Frank said. ‘We’d better keep him safe from over-zealous taxidermists.’
‘That’s the spirit.’ Bob said.
Sheltered in the crook of Bob’s arm, Grant’s eyes slid shut as the warmth of the man’s body soothed his mind. It wasn’t so bad being a bird…If he didn’t end up like the other one…And maybe, just maybe this was the meaning behind Henry’s Famous Rebirth Powder?