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Even from a young age, Jakob helped his parents work in the Oddities Emporium. Twenty years ago, the place was very different and more kitschy than borderline reality. Among the obviously fake taxidermy animals, you could find antique kitschy kitchen accessories like the Lefton Bluebirds and the tacky oil rain lamps from the 1970s with the triple goddess statue. Jakob was raised to treat each item with respect because of its past and its current value. His father, Abraham, prided himself on being able to find pristine antiques and unique curiosities for the store.


It was his mother, however, who introduced him to the gallery, and the items kept in the vault behind the main counter. He knew the area was off limits and understood that the items inside were of a higher value than the rest. He’d contented himself knowing that one day he would be allowed into the vault.


At the age of twelve, while dusting a set of Russian Matryoshka dolls, Jakob’s mother, Pearl yelped in the front of the store. Jakob rushed to her side. She held her hand on her hip and hunched over the front counter.


“Mom, what’s wrong?” he asked in a panicked tone.


She waved him off. “Oh, Jakob, I’m fine. It’s just a touch of Elfshot.”


He’d never heard the term used before and being the curious boy that he was, he asked, “What is Elfshot?”


His mother chuckled. “You’ve never heard that?” she asked. She straightened up and seemed to recover from whatever had pained her.


“No, ma’am,” he replied.


She sat down in a Queen Anne chair that occupied the front room like a throne. He walked over to stand next to her. She smiled and explained. “Back when medicine and doctor were just starting to figure things out about the human body, they still relied on some old superstitions to explain ailments. For things such as random pains from arthritis or cramps, they called the ailment, Elfshot. They believed these invisible pains were caused by invisible and naughty elves who would shoot their invisible arrows at people while working in the fields or in their homes.”


“That’s a lot of invisible,” Jakob said, emphasizing the fact that he was a logical creature and rarely believed in the invisible or supernatural. His mother recognized this in him and decided it was time that he knew the truth of the world. At least as much as she could prove to him.


“Well, in my case, it is just a touch of arthritis, but Elfshot isn’t completely a fairy tale,” she said.


He cocked his head to the side and his thick brown hair shifted on his head. He touched his glasses as if they were sliding off his nose even though they weren’t. A nervous tick that he’d had since he’d gotten the glasses when he was six. His eyesight hadn’t been bad enough for immediate action, and the eye doctor suggested that he wait until his teens to get the glasses, but Jakob had insisted on getting them anyway, which surprised his parents. It shouldn’t have because Jakob had always been a bit on the peculiar side as a child. He was a product of parents who made their life on the odd and curious. Jakob had grown up to be much like the items in their shop. A little different.


“It’s not?” Jakob questioned.


“Come with me,” she said, as she stood. She moved toward the forbidden area that he’d never been allowed to enter, nor had he ever dared. She unlocked the antique lock on the door with the key that hung around her neck and stepped inside the dark room. Jakob stood at the threshold, waiting for a second invitation. “Jakob Harrison Mercer, do you need to be told twice?” Her tone wasn’t harsh, but playful.


Jakob stepped into the once prohibited room with trepidation. The florescent lights flickered to life, illuminating the room. Around the outer walls of the room, shelves holding glass cases lined side by side except for a large metal cabinet which his mother opened with another key from her neck. Inside, smaller glass cases sat along with a collection of keys hanging from individual pegs on a board hanging from the interior doors of the cabinet.


Pearl Mercer removed a small case and a key from the door and sat them in front of Jakob. “Open it,” she ordered. She gave him an encouraging smile.


He did as he was told and took the small key in his hand. The key wasn’t the normal kind they used for the front door or the door of their home. The double bit on the end of the barrel slid into the lock smoothly, and with a whoosh, the seal around the class case opened. Sitting inside on a black velvet bed, a gleaming obsidian arrowhead attached to a brass chain sat.


“This arrowhead came from Scotland. It is true, Elfshot. If you touch it, a searing pain will shoot through your body. Go ahead. Give it a try,” his mother said.


“Why would I do that?” Jakob asked without hesitation.


“Because you are curious. Because you won’t believe me until you’ve experienced it yourself. This is the most harmless object in this room that I can use to teach you this lesson,” his mother said.


He shook his head. “I don’t want to.”


His mother recognized his fear. It wasn’t a fear of being in pain. He feared the loss of innocence. Once he touched that arrowhead, he would know that the supernatural existed. This would be proof that the items that came through their shop weren’t always so innocent or harmless as the antique nesting dolls he’d just been dusting.


She put a loving hand on his shoulder. “The pain will only last for a second.”


Instead of focusing on the arrowhead, Jakob’s eyes wandered around the room to the glass cases on the shelves. Each one held an item locked away for safe keeping. Some items he could name. A horseshoe, a red string, a jar of sand, sea glass, and a broken crystal ball among other things. There were other items that he’d never seen or weren’t common.


His eyes rested back on the arrowhead. He reached inside the glass and touched it with his right hand. The pain shot through him, warm and quick. He jerked away but did not scream or cry. Forcing air out of his nose, he stepped away from the case. The key fell from his hand and hit the floor.


“This room is full…”


“Jakob, it’s okay. Yes, this room is full of real items that have powers like the Elfshot Amulet. Some fairy tales are real. Some old wives’ tales are true. Some artifacts contain deadly power. It has been the Mercer’s job over the years to protect these items. One day, you will become their protector,” his mother explained.


He stood at the door and scanned the room again. As Pearl had suspected, Jakob lifted his chin and nodded. “I will do it,” he said with confidence.


“That’s my young man.” She ruffled his hair. “But it isn’t time. Your father and I will introduce you to the items in the room. A few at a time. I believe you understand their power without me warning you, but as a good mother should, I’m warning you. This room is not for playing. These objects can kill you or others. Do you understand?”


“Of course, Mom,” Jakob groaned, showing a bit of a typical pre-teen.


Pearl smiled at her son. In her heart, she knew he’d be the one to take these items and use them as opposed to only protecting them. In some ways, she feared the day Jakob would take over the Oddities Emporium, but she knew that whatever happened she couldn’t stop it. Jakob had a mind of his own. A bright, curious, and thoughtful mind. But he was also logical and reserved. She was proud of him now, and proud of the man she knew he’d become. She just hoped that one day he’d find the happiness she’d found with his father. They were a well-matched pair. Jakob had exhibited loner qualities from the start of his school years, and he’d never grown out of it.


She watched as he picked up the key from the floor, locked the box, and returned it to the cabinet. He hung the key on the correct peg and shut the doors. Without looking back to her, he returned to his dusting duties. She shook her head and smiled at her peculiar child.

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