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|The Curiosity Shoppe
|Cajun Zebadiah LaCroy is a long way from home. Infected
with a bad case of wanderlust, Zeb’s been working on an
intergalactic merchant ship. He’s seen all manner of
strange worlds and stranger beings. When his ship docks
at Station Janus, Zeb searches for a gift for his sister back
home and finds more than he bargained for. Come and
see, a female voice calls telepathically to him. Never one to
be able to deny his innate curiosity, Zeb can’t resist. He’s
caught in her spell.
When he finally sees her, hears her say his name, Zeb
knows Semele is telling him the truth. They are bonding
exclusively to each other. For the bonding to be complete,
they must mate. The only thing is, she’s not quite human.
His curiosity always got the better of him. Zeb took a deep breath, turned around, and starting walking
down the long, dark hall. A shadow darted past him. Instinctively he reached for his stinger only to
remember a split second later he didn’t have a permit to carry it on Station Janus.
Besides, you couldn’t shoot a shadow. Usually. He had the distinct impression he'd have hit something
solid had he fired on that particular moving dark spot.
The door to the shop at the end of the corridor cracked open. A long sliver of golden light streaked
across the deck and ended at his feet. Someone was certainly determined that he stay on course.
“All right, I get the picture. When I get there, no more games.” He heard the soft feminine laughter again.
As you wish, Zebadiah.
He stopped short. “How do you know my name?”
I know, and that is all.
“You mean that’s all you’re going to tell me.”
No. I just know. Come.
He could’ve no more turned away than he could fly to Jupiter in nothing but a propulsion suit. Whoever
she was, whatever her game was, she had his full attention. Zeb squared his shoulders and strode
purposely for the shop, his long legs taking him there faster than his better sense said was necessary. He
stopped outside the door and considered what he was doing.
Up close, the shop appeared empty, the windows darkened. No light shone from within. Somebody was
playing with him and he intended to get to the bottom of it. He pushed open the door and stood staring,
gawking actually, at the contents of the little shop.
It was full of red, green, silver and gold. Twinkling lights and sparkling crystal shone in every corner. It
smelled of fresh greenery, of pine, of wood smoke. It was Christmas.
Or at least Christmas the way some people decorated for it. His own traditions were a little different. He
looked closer at the greenery. Sure enough, the wreaths and swags contained the broad waxy leaves
from magnolia trees. The scent of oranges drifted to him.
This was bizarre.
You do not like it.
Her sad tone made his stomach drop. And just how did she know, anyway?
“It’s not that I don’t like it. I’m not sure how this can be real.”
You seek a gift to be given at the time of midwinter. Is this not how your world prepares for Dark Night?
“Well, you know, some folks of my world decorate like this.” He looked around. “Whoever you are, come
out so I can see you. Tell me how it is that you know my name.”
Would that please you?
“Yes, it would. I’m… uncomfortable talking to voices in my head.”
That was an understatement.
The lights dimmed. The decorations faded and in their place appeared the most peculiar of curiosity
shops. Shelves filled with alien oddities lined the walls. Tables laden with a wide assortment of goods,
animal, mineral and vegetable, filled the spaces between. All that remained of the ghost of Christmas was
the fruity scent of citrus.
A movement caught his eye and he turned. The shadows moved in the darkest corner of the room. A
woman stood there. He stepped toward her and she backed away. He tried to sound reassuring. It wasn't
easy considering he still saw flight as an option. Imprudence with aliens could get a man killed.
“I won’t hurt you. I just want to see you.”
It could be unwise. There is a risk.
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