DescriptionA character background for a game I'm playing. An apothecary and his memories of learning a mystical family secret. I'd appreciate all the critiques you have!
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The small flame flickered within the kerosene lamp, casting shadows like dark specters in a tireless dance along the wooden walls of the apothecary shop. Lorenzo Castillo stood behind the counter and squinted as he tried to read the obscure script on the jars lining the back counter, arranging them to begin the preparations of the simple sleeping aid Mrs. Whitaker had requested. His large, oafish hands began to work in the familiar routine he had learned as a child, pinching small amounts of herbs and, with a delicate touch, placing them into the small quartz mortar. Though he felt the remedy was unnecessary--especially for a woman of her age--he agreed to concoct the simple tea blend if only to cease her incessant shouting as she tried to understand his broken English. That was usually the way most of his projects started, a client frustrated with his limited speech and him accepting the request with a simple nod. Though annoyed by the whole ordeal, he knew the job was a job, and a job meant money. The people of Crawly, though hesitant at first, had accepted Lorenzo within their small community. His initial arrival caused a stir, no doubt from his homely and foreign appearance, but also from his trade and the medicinals he displayed in the window of his shop. Whispers of his oddities and exotic looks became commonplace, but over time found new marks as the knowledge of his struggling business surfaced. It seemed that the utility of an herbalist proved to be distrusted within the West, and six months of grinding herbs and other flora had barely kept him floating over bankruptcy. To make ends meet, he accepted every client that entered his shop, regardless of how ludicrous or tedious the request. His lips creased with a slight smile as the small fragrant mound within the mortar tinged with nostalgia. Grabbing the matching pestle, he began to make the slow, deliberate circles he had performed since his childhood. The etching and grinding of the stone steered his thoughts to Monforte, the town he had abandoned years before, and the petite woman that gave him the keepsake. With every crest of the languid movement, the memory of his abuelita deepened. He had first learned of the simple uses of herbs and flowers as he sat at his abuelita’s kitchen table. Her wrinkled hands would pluck an herb from the table, give a firm press, releasing its fragrance, and with a deep inhale she would whisper its name, like a soft embrace. He had adored that about his grandmother. Her intellect and wit were insurmountable, but her genuine love for all things made her the formidable woman that latched to his memory. Her knowledge of botanicals was always impressive considering she had lived in Monforte her entire life. In their lessons, she would hint that the knowledge was a tradition within the family, that it ran within the blood and would find its way into each generation. Though he was not inherently superstitious, he spent hours contemplating those ominous words and what they suggested. Though loving and kind, being under her tutelage was relentless. Blisters would form along his palms as he practiced, and perfected, the circular grinding of the stone, transforming dried leaves into fine powders. Her instruction would vary on the remedy, some days were arduous, others reposeful, but her fervor always flared with one particular powder. He had no knowledge of the use of the powder, only the complex ratios and ingredients needed to produce the concoction. There were innumerable times where would he finish the pink tinted powder only for her to deem it useless and toss it over the porch. When he finally asked her for the reason for her scrutinization, she froze and her face darkened. With a stoic face and lifeless voice, she breathed, “Mijo, there are terrors within the dark that do not like to be seen. This powder, the tradition of our line, your line, will stop those terrors. We have not had to use it, dios bendiga, but we will be ready. We will always be ready.” That same night, she had made him walk to the porch and look out into tall grasses that surrounded their home. Within her arms rested a clay jar filled with the pink tinted powder he had attempted to create since his first lesson at her table. In her solemn voice she had told him, “Tonight you will see what we train for, mijo.” She dipped her finger into the jar and motioned for him to open his mouth. Though hesitant, he obliged to her unspoken demand, and feeling her calloused finger spread the powder on his tongue. The world thumped like a heartbeat, colors dulled and then brightened, overexposed, and for a moment all vision had blurred together. Head throbbing from the impact, he released a quiet whimper as his arms reached out, bracing himself against a porch beam until colors shifted to their proper hues. He looked at his abuelita’s knowing gaze, wondering why the powder had such an effect until a slight shiver ran down his spine as he heard rustling in grass within the fields surrounding the house. A wave of panic quickened his breath as columns of shifting grass lurked their way toward the house. Low guttural moans filled the silence of the night and tapered off as they reached the field’s edge. Silence fell, and the world seemed infinitely quiet and still. Lorenzo was unsure of what he had witnessed. Had he imagined the whole thing? A small hallucination from the powder was probable. Maybe. With his eyes still fixed to the edge of the field he had softly asked, “Abuelita?” A cacophony of shrieks shattered the silence as figures erupted from the field line, lunging forward and racing toward the porch. Rotted bodies, slack jawed and grey skinned, ran toward Lorenzo with wild intensity, growling as they approached. Lorenzo fell backwards with a terror-stricken scream, skittering his legs across the wooden planks of the porch and pushed himself to the stone wall of the house. One of the grotesque beasts leapt onto the porch, crouching as it kept its lidless eyes on Lorenzo while thick ichor dripped from its open mouth. Torn flesh, covered in flies, draped from the creature's bones, and the putrid aura emanating from it caused Lorenzo to choke on its stench. The rotted body kept its gaze on Lorenzo as it stood upright, ribs cracked as they splayed out, as it threw its head back and released a chilling howl into the night sky. Half-decayed and deflated eyes glared at Lorenzo’s terrified face before it lunged. Lorenzo opened his eyes as the beast squealed in horror and pain, parts of its rotten flesh covered in a thin dusting of the mysterious pink powder causing it to bubble and fizz. His abuelita, standing sentinel over the dissolving body, flicked her wrist and sprayed the oncoming figures with powder, an uprising chorus of anguished screeches filling the night. Lorenzo watched as the horror that moments before could have ended his life liquified on the wooden planks of his abuelita’s porch. The pestle etched past the rim of its counterpart and slammed into the counter, leaving a small depression in the wood. Placing the pestle on the counter, Lorenzo noticed his trembling hands. He took a ragged breath and bared his weight into the countertop, his large hands sweating from anxiety of the reflections of his family’s secret and duty. Since that night, he had been afraid of the dead, unsure if they would wake from their endless slumber and gorge themselves on the living. His abuelita had shown him a dark mystery of the world that night, but had also gifted him with a promise of survival with the powder, encouraging him to keep small amounts with him at all times. Even now, he kept a small vial of the mystical powder in the inside pocket of his jacket. He glanced at the sleeping aid for Mrs. Whitaker, a tea turned into powder during his ruminations. With a disconcerted sigh, he carried the mortar across the shop, opened the front door, and chucked the powder into the street, watching as the light evening breeze drifted it away from his shop.