Hannah Anne Ennis rode her ancient bicycle along the curb, swerving around the parked cars, enjoying the warmth of the newly risen sun on her face. The small town of Harper’s Grove, New Hampshire was waking up and Hannah winced every time her left leg pumped down and the bicycle squeaked. She tried to hum an old song that Aunt June used to sing, tried to ignore the squeaky gear, but it was no use.
The bike screeched horribly and so did Hannah as she turned a hard left to avoid a dog that jumped out at her from behind a parked car, nearly tumbling her into the street. When she saw that it was just Jack, the old mortician’s dog, she stopped the bike in another screech as the brakes grabbed. I really need to fix this thing, she thought ruefully, it makes enough noise to wake the dead.
Hannah kicked the stand down and swung off the old Schwinn. Jack stood by, half-heartedly wagging his tail, watching with his rheumy eyes. The dog looked much like his master: old, thin and dried out. Clumps of hair were missing here and there and he smelled of an ammonia-formaldehyde cocktail.
Straightening her denim skirt, Hannah reached out a hand to scratch Jack’s ear when a voice like dried leather said behind her, “Hrm, he bites.”
“Jack doesn’t bite and you know it, Mr. Lux,” Hannah said to the voice behind her amiably.
“Well, hrm,” a skeletal hand the color of death grabbed Jack’s collar. “That may be, hrm, Miss Ennis, but Jack doesn’t like people.” The hand jerked and Jack was pulled away from Hannah.
Turning, Hannah confronted the mortician. Nearly a foot and a half taller than she, Mr. Lux was a personification of Death. Tall and thin, his joints showed as points through his black suit. A weak scruff of white hair wrapped his head from ear to ear, carefully combed back with Brill Creem. He bared his teeth at Hannah, which she knew to be his attempt at a smile.
“I think it’s Jack’s master who doesn’t like people,” Hannah told him firmly.
Mr. Lux’s grin grew wider, revealing an impossible amount of teeth. “The dead, hrm,” he jerked on Jack’s collar once again, though the dog hadn’t moved, “The dead have more interesting things to talk about.” He placed a hand over his breast and sketched a brief bow. “Good day, Miss Ennis.”
“Good morning, Mr. Lux,” Hannah smiled as friendly as she could. The mortician always made her skin crawl.
“Hrm, come Jack,” Mr. Lux jerked the collar once more, turned, and led the dog back the way Hannah had come.
Hannah watched the pair as they walked away, climbing back onto her bicycle. Rumors said that Mr. Lux could talk to the dead and that he was saving the stories they had to tell. Stories that revealed secrets about the inhabitants of Harper’s Grove. Hannah did not know how true the rumors were, but she did know that what seemed impossible, probably wasn’t.
She kicked off and began the squeaky ride once again. Various Harper’s Grovers were about the beginnings of their morning business and Hannah greeted them all with a smile. The morning was just too glorious to let her encounter with the mortician bother her.
Hannah’s morning bike ride to her shop was a staple of Harper’s Grove. Other shop owners looked for the short, plump woman with the mousey brown hair streaming behind her as she peddled her way up Main Street. Hannah usually stopped and visited each, asking after their health and making small talk, collecting hot tea, a bagel or croissant, the morning paper and maybe an apple or two. Hannah put everything in the wicker basket she had made that hung from the handlebars. She wouldn’t trade small town life for any other place in the world.
Harper’s Grove was in the Monadnock Region of New Hampshire, south of Keene and just east of Brattleboro, Vermont and was a postcard vision of a New England town. The town was kept clean, buildings painted regularly, lawns mowed and trees trimmed. It was the home of one fire department garage, which housed a thirty-five year old engine; a sheriff’s office, which was almost always closed as Sheriff Burns was also the town barber and held court at the barbershop; a general store that also doubled as a farmer’s market in summer and early fall, which had a post office counter in the back that ancient Mrs. Jones stood behind all day, even on Sundays though no one knew why and a town hall building whose upper floor had been converted into a library in 1929 when old Clarence Brown died and donated all his books to the town. Above the town, on a slight rise, stood the Episcopal church, built in 1701, which still rang its bell at six in the morning, noon and six at night.
The small town was also the home to Seven of Cups, Herbs and Sundry, Hannah’s small shop that she co-owned with her sister, Deborah. Hannah inherited the small shop when her aunt June passed away almost a decade ago. Hannah immediately offered a co-ownership to her sister. Deborah had hedged for a few days, but had agreed. Deborah had wanted to leave Harper’s Grove for New York. She hated small town life and always dreamed of something bigger for herself, but Hannah was sure there was a man involved. There always seemed to be a man in Deborah’s life.
Hannah hopped the bike up the curb and coasted to a stop in front of the shop. She swung off and balanced the old Schwinn on her hip as she dug for her keys in a voluminous skirt pocket. Finding them, she slotted the key, grunted until the tumblers fell and pushed the thick wood and glass door open.
The shop was dark and smelled of scented candles, herbs and patchouli. Hannah wheeled the bicycle inside, shut the door and opened the blind to the window that was most of the door. Large planks of wood, worn by nearly a hundred years of walking feet, squeaked as Hannah expertly wove her way to the back of the shop in the faint light from the door window. Shelves of books on a variety of subjects lined one wall, all in keeping with the theme of Seven of Cups: herbology, witchcraft, new age self help, Wicca, biblical studies, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Shinto, numerology, astrology, and many others. It was an extensive library dedicated to religious and ceremonial studies of all kinds and was Hannah’s pride and joy.
Throughout the center of the shop were a number of free standing shelving units. Dried herbs were on one unit, candles of all sizes, shapes and colors on another, athames, chalices, and jewelery decorated with pentacles, suns or moons were on a third.
Harper’s Grove seemed a strange place for such a shop since the town had a long history of Protestant worshipers, but Hannah, and her aunt June before her, were well liked by many and the store prospered.
Hannah flipped the light switch to the back room office, wheeled her bike into a corner and brought her tea and blueberry muffin to her desk. She sighed when she saw there was no space for her breakfast on the desk. Deborah had left it a mess again after closing last night. She nudged a few papers aside, set the tea down and began gathering up papers with one hand while she bit from the muffin in her other. The paperwork would be filled out correctly, of that she had no doubt, and barely glanced at it.
Once space was clear and the papers put away, Hannah glanced at the clock. Five minutes until she had to open. Once again she sighed. No time for me, she thought. I hope whatever you did last night was worth it, Deb.