by Eric R. Lowther
Originally published in Blood, Blade and Thruster e-zine, now defunct, 2007
This is what happened when the Author mixed a 24 hour Twilight Zone marathon with far too much coffee... Author
The ancient brass bell clanged noisily against the battered wooden door as Bob walked into the store. Charlie’s Antiquities, the sign had read. All manner of junk hung from the walls and tables overflowing with wares looking both decrepit and exotic crowded the single aisle that ran from the door to the counter. A small Chinese man, equally as ancient if not more so than the tarnished bell stood behind the counter smoking a long, thin pipe. Bob tried to look nonchalant as he fingered a few of the items clustered on the tables, but the exceedingly dim light of the shop made squinting and staring a necessity.
“I can help you.” the old man said softly in thickly–accented English. Bob strolled easily to the counter, running his fingers along old toys and milk cans as he went.
“Can you?” Bob asked with a smile.
“Yes.” the old man answered through the blue–tinged haze gathering under a hanging bulb over the counter, the only strong light to be had in the store. “Are you looking for something special?”
“Well, I don’t know exactly. Just browsing. Christmas is just a week away, you know?” he said conversationally.
“Is it?” the old man asked. His intonation almost made Bob believe this was new information to him.
“Uh, yeah. It is.” Bob shot him a look then scanned the wall behind the shopkeeper. All sorts of bizarre items stared back at him, some with actual eyes. “My wife and daughter are a bit eclectic.”
“I am sorry. Perhaps the proper medicines would help?” the old man asked, concerned.
“What? Oh… no.” Bob said, trying to hide his laugh. “Eclectic, not epileptic. They like unusual things, odd things.”
“Then you have arrived at the proper place at the proper time.” he said simply.
“Have I? Hmm.” He looked around. “You certainly have quite the collection of the unusual and odd, don’t you? Charlie, is it?”
Bob cocked an eyebrow at him, unsure if the same answer was for both questions. “Well, since it seems your shop was not designed for the casual browser, perhaps you can show me a few things you think they might like?”
Charlie smiled beneath his thin yet trailing moustache and sucked on his pipe thoughtfully. He reached behind him without looking and pulled an odd, blackened lump from a peg on the wall and set it on the counter for Bob’s inspection.
“It looks like a mummified… hand?” Bob asked.
“It is a paw.” Charlie answered. Bob put a tentative finger to the desiccated flesh and immediately recoiled.
“Hey… wait a minute. This isn’t one of those monkey’s paw things is it?”
“It is a monkey’s paw, yes.” Charlie answered.
“The type that grants you three wishes, but when you get the wishes you get really horrible things along with them, right?”
Charlie looked up at him from bushy white eyebrows and nodded slowly. “You are an informed consumer.”
“I try to be.” Bob said easily. “Little too exotic for my tastes. What else do you have?”
Charlie put the paw back on its peg then rummaged under the counter a moment before coming up with a large, ornate camera. “A very old and valuable camera. A collector’s item.” Bob hefted the old camera and looked it over from every angle.
“This would go great in the den. Just one thing though. Can you guarantee me this camera isn’t the type that steals the souls of the people you photograph with it? I also have a young son that’s very precocious, you see, and that type of thing would really be bad when my daughter has her slumber parties.” Charlie eyed Bob suspiciously and put the camera back to its place.
“I cannot make such assurances.”
“Thanks for your honesty. I can’t keep a gun in the house because the little man just gets into everything. I thought for a minute there you were trying to pawn off a cursed object on me. What else do you have?” Charlie put his pipe down and shuffled to a spot on the wall. He came back with a finely–crafted porcelain doll, obviously very old and obviously very valuable to a collector. “Now that’s more like it.” Bob said. “They both collect dolls. They’ll fight over this beauty.” He gently took it from Charlie’s age–palsied hands and held it up to the light. The doll’s eyes rolled in her head as if in slumber when he tipped her back then popped open again when righted. Charlie squinted at those eyes for a minute then looked back to the shop keep. “Uh, wait a sec’. This isn’t one that comes alive and tries to kill people, is it?”
“Of course not.” Charlie answered almost indignantly.
“Oh… well, good. I think… oh… wait… it doesn’t try to convince children to kill for them, does it?” Again Charlie frowned, this time accompanied by a long sigh as he took the doll from him and roughly tossed it back on the shelf. He bent so low to the floor behind the counter that he disappeared from view for a few moments before coming back up with a beautifully carved ivory hand mirror. Bob whistled in appreciation and gently received it. “Wow. Real ivory, huh?” Charlie nodded at him warily. “You can’t get this stuff anymore, you know?”
“Yes. I know.” Charlie answered. His demeanor seemed a bit agitated now. Bob checked his reflection in the mirror and fingered a small nick he’d got while shaving that morning.
“Now, just tell me this thing doesn’t sap the beauty and youth from someone when they stare into it and you can wrap it up for me.”
Charlie raised his head slowly and stared at the ceiling for a moment, his lips moving without sound before he grabbed the mirror from him and simply dropped it back into the box on the floor. “You seem to have a great deal of knowledge about antiquities.” Charlie said, softly with just a hint of menace.
“Thank you.” Bob answered honestly. “I watch Road Show every Sunday.”
“I hate that show.” Charlie mumbled under his breath. He came out from behind the counter and went to another wall. Pulling a finely–carved box from a shelf, he blew the dust from the top and walked it back to Bob. “Your daughter will enjoy this, I think.”
Bob took the delicate box and slowly lifted the lid. A tiny porcelain ballerina popped up and started to spin to the hauntingly beautiful music coming from within. Bob smiled and watched the twirling figure for a moment before looking into the box. He hefted it experimentally, then put it to his ear and shook it gently. “Hmm. Pretty light for a music box. Like there’s nothing in it to make the music. I suppose you have a warranty against the tune driving the listener into madness, right?”
Exasperated, Charlie plucked the box from his hands and threw it onto a nearby table, knocking an unidentifiable pile of wares to the floor. Bob looked at the nine-inch tall Zuni fetish doll with the grotesque head and exceptionally tiny though sharp spear that had fallen to the floor then back to Charlie. The old shopkeeper turned away from him with a hand up, warning him away from comment as he got back behind the counter. Bob shrugged and waited for Charlie’s attentions to come back to him. He peered on the wall just above Charlie’s head and pointed. “What’s that?”
Charlie brightened just a bit and took the small statue from the shelf and handed it to Bob. “This looks just like the cursed idol from that episode of the Brady…” Charlie took it and immediately put it back on the shelf. “Charlie? You ok? Your face is awfully red…”
“I am… fine.” he said slowly and breathing deeply. “Ah. I know.” He rummaged under the counter once more and came up with a short ventriloquist’s dummy done up to look like Howdy–Doody, though not him for obvious intellectual property reasons.
“Hey, it’s Howdy–Doody time!” Bob cheered. “Now that would go great in my son’s room. Unless of course it comes alive and tries to posses people…” Charlie simply let the dummy fall heavily to the floor. “Well, I told you he was precocious. The last thing I need to do is to give him an excuse to misbehave.”
“Yes. We wouldn’t want him to do you any harm, would we?” Charlie said dreamily. Obviously his mind was elsewhere.
“Oh! You must have children.” Bob said cheerily. “You know how they can be. Give ‘em an inch and all.”
“Yes.” Charlie answered tightly.
“You know, I really appreciate your being honest with me about these things. I mean, if I didn’t ask I could walk out of here with a cursed item or something.”
“Yes. Yes you could.” he said, even more tightly.
“Look, you have a lot of really interesting stuff here. But I have to ask you… is everything in this shop cursed?”
Charlie sighed, though this time it was the utter embodiment of defeat. “Not everything.” Charlie answered. “Well, almost everything.”
“So… why exactly do you try to sell cursed things to people? I mean, are you, like, a vengeful spirit or some sort of demon or something?”
“No. I sell people things that will hurt them, kill them, drive them mad because, quite simply I am… how would you say it in your tongue… an ass-hole.”
“No other motivation, huh? Not trying to teach a moral lesson or steal souls or anything like that? You just do it to be a dick?”
“Hmm. Well again, I appreciate your candor. In fact, I find it refreshing.” He looked around the room again, this time settling his eyes on a soft, red glow from a corner. “Hey, what do we have here?” He walked towards it and found an old Coke machine. It was in perfect condition but had to be from at least the fifties. “Oh, man! This would go fantastic in the garage. I just restored a ’57 Chevy and I decorated my garage with all kinds of tintypes, old pin–up calendars and stuff. This thing would fit in perfectly. Does it still work?”
“Yes.” Charlie said, his voice still full of defeat.
Bob ran his hand over it and opened it. Of course, it was empty. But it was icy cold inside. “And it’s not going to fill with blood or anything, right?”
“No.” Charlie answered slowly with cautious enthusiasm.
“Like, a dead body isn’t going to appear in it or anything, right?”
“No.” Charlie repeated, his chin coming up off his chest.
Bob’s smile beamed. “I’ll take it!”
Bob whistled a bright tune as he ran an appreciative hand over the fender of his prized Chevy then went to the Coke machine. He opened it, pulled a frosty bottle from inside and used the bottle opener even though Coke had long ago gone to twist–offs on its glass bottles. You couldn’t get the tall glass bottles anymore, but you could still find the short ones in the traditional style.
He sat down on the shop stool, held his drink up in salute to the classic sitting in his garage then took a long, deep pull from the bottle. He swallowed, frowned then looked down inside the neck of the bottle. He took another experimental sip and swished it around in his mouth for good measure. Still frowning, he went back to the cooler and pulled another bottle. He opened it and took a sip, set it down and pulled another, then another. They were all flat as a board.
Copyright Eric R. Lowther