The yellowed contents of blocky jars stared out from their shelves. Literally stared, Corvid noted the shriveled little eyes set inside wrinkled sockets. He leaned one way and then the other, his narrow boots creaking on the old floorboards as he dared the thing’s gaze to follow him.
The preserved creatures were the strangest things he’d found on the shelves of the trading post, but far from the only oddity. Amidst the rations and travel supplies Corvid had picked through bundles of dried thorns, strings of bone beads, and small wooden statuettes carved with delicate walking sticks and furled travel cloaks. However, the yellow jars had drawn his focus the moment he’d arrived in the backwater town and its small and only store.
“These for sale?” He twisted towards the front of the shop, not entirely willing to turn his back on the unknown taxonomies floating in their sickly golden liquid.
The woman there frowned at him. Her name was Myrtis, or so said the other travellers that had informed him of this crossroads way station. The bow-backed woman had not introduced herself when Corvid had stumbled through her front door, the night and growing storm on his heels.
Her wrinkled knuckles twisted around the broom she was using to sweep away the bits of said storm Corvid has ushered in with him. “Personal collection.” She said. The odd response sharpened Corvid’s curiosity like a whetstone.
“Impressive.” He said, for lack of a diplomatic adjective. “You … pickled them yourself?”
Two faded blue eyes met his evenly. “Yes.” She went back to sweeping, the broom’s bristles leaving lines of mud across the already damp floor. Corvid could smell the rot of the place now, musty and almost sweet. Though, he thought glancing back towards the yellow jars, it could have been them.
“Tonight is supposed to bring the worst of the storm. Can I pay for a room?” Corvid asked, feeling a shiver pick its way up his spine as he asked to stay. This was a bad idea, he knew it, but the little store reeked of a hidden thing.
Myrtis’s blinked and once again the broom paused. “I have supplies, food and skins, and some horse tack. No rooms.” Corvid felt the rheumy stare bore into him again, he suspected Myrtis did not receive many requests like his. Outside the night wind threw itself against windows in the first of many onslaughts.
“Well, perhaps a for a few coin I’ll bunk down here. No need to bother you anymore than I already have.” He produced two large coins, the silver glinted pale yellow in the latern light of the waystation.
One long moment passed before the woman nodded, agreeing that yes, he’d already bothered her and that he should stop. Still she took the coin, tucking the money into the overlarge military coat that hung like a tent about her bowed shoulders.
She locked the front door while Corvid ignored the tremor of anxiety the lock’s click elicited. Once the woman slept he’d have free reign to explore the place without her rotting gaze following him around.
Myrtis bent to retrieve the cash box. Corvid busied himself with his own pack, ignoring the shadowed look she sent his way. He’d never been above thievery, but he suspected the damp walls around him hid better spoils than the take of a crossroads waystation.
The woman sniffed and jerked her head towards the hearth. “You can kip there, by the fire. Don’t wander.”
Corvid nodded, facetious words held back behind the slightest smile. “Thank you for your hospitality.” He’d just paid triple what he would have for an inn’s bath, meal, and bed but was able to mouth the words into something resembling sincerity.
The storekeeper shuffled behind the counter before Corvid could ask exactly where he should not wander to. Myrtis nodded to him once before she disappeared into the back, the door shutting with the grate of wood on wood.
Corvid was left alone with the yellowed jars and their contents. Outside the storm pulled at the windows, walls, and roof while the wind yowled. Corvid sighed, justifying his appraisal of the door the storekeeper had disappeared into. There was nowhere to go, and sleep was impossible next to Myrtis’ personal collection, he might as well look around.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a big fan of scoundrels and general thievery. This piece was a result of Kate Kearney‘s challenge to take the general store of a town on the edge of nowhere and make something from it. Check out her original and the rest of the thieves at the Legal Theft Project.