George’s Curiosity Shoppe, Part I

Jake liked the bricks in this part of town. Not the ones on the buildings, although those were probably fine, too. No, he liked the ancient-looking bricks that made up the sidewalk.

He imagined at one time they probably looked nice and neat, arranged in a sort of pattern – you could detect a semblance of order every now and then – but it had been a long time since most of these pavers had been snuggled neatly up against one other. Time had taken a beautiful toll.

At first, he had simply liked the way the sidewalk seemed affected by its surroundings. It would bulge over persistent tree roots, or depress beneath a dangling gutter; but occasionally he would spy something stamped into a brick.

This in itself wasn’t uncommon. He knew people could get their names on bricks when they donated to something; or he’d seen city names to show where a certain brick was made. A simple symbol, however… that was new to him.

Some appeared well-worn and barely visible; others were as clear as if they’d been painted, their lines darkened by years of dirt and grime. Whether worn or clear, all showed a round tear drop with a dot in the fattest part of it, and four wavy lines coming out of the top. He’d seen it several times and now he decided he was hunting it.

“Where are you taking us, exactly?”

Jake tried not to sigh and slowed down to wait for his companion.

“I mean, the chicks are probably that way.”

Both of their families had been vacationing here since before they were born, and Brad still didn’t realize that Monroy didn’t have chicks. Monroy was a quiet, isolated coastal town in Maine; when they showed up for their annual two-week holiday, the two of them probably brought the average age of the entire town down by twenty years.

They weren’t exactly friends. Years ago, their parents had randomly met each other while on vacation here – they got along so well and liked the town so much, they met there every year.

The parents continued to be great friends, but their sons couldn’t have grown up to be more different. Jake was tall, lanky, with brown hair that fell in his eyes and freckles. Brad was technically brunette, too, but highlighted his hair so fiercely that Jake thought it might glow in the dark. Currently, Jake wore chucks, jeans and a T-shirt – Brad wore a pink, popped, polo.

“Dammit!” Brad exclaimed as he stumbled over the uneven walkway. “What the hell is up with this sidewalk?”

Jake shrugged. “Did you notice anything on the bricks? There’s some kind of weird symbol on them.” He spotted one and pointed. “See?”

Brad wasn’t paying attention; he was looking at the buildings around them. “You think this is a bad part of town?” This was the first time they’d been permitted to go out and roam around Monroy as they pleased, and they’d never been to this part of the town.

Jake snorted. “I don’t think a place with a population of 300 has a ‘bad part of town.’”

However, as he stood and surveyed something other than the sidewalk, he could see why Brad might ask. There weren’t any people around. There was usually someone out on the sidewalk, sweeping their stoop, walking a dog or running an errand. There weren’t any flowers, and any paint on the buildings seemed faded. The only movement on the street was the breeze that fluttered through the tree leaves. Jake could feel the dark windows in the buildings around them staring down.

“It’s kind of creepy,” Brad decided. Then, seconds later: “Oh, a flyer!”

One of the doors closest to them had a yellow paper folded into the door handle.

“What are you doing?” Jake asked. “That’s probably for them.”

Brad snatched it out of the handle and unfolded it. “I’ll be damned,” he said, looking elated. “This place has a pizza shop.”

“We’ve eaten there before.”

“If you say so. Hey, you wanna go check it out?”

Jake glanced again at the door handle. He could see something in the faded paint of the shop door. He tried to wipe off what he guessed was probably years of grime, but it didn’t make any difference. He traced a curving line with his finger.

“Is this place open?” he asked.

Brad peered into the large window beside the door. “I don’t know. I see… a creepy carousel horse and some broken chairs in the window, I think; I can’t really see anything.”

This close the door, Jake could see through the tiny window at its top. Somewhere, deep inside, was a small neon sign that read “OPEN”.

He tried the handle and pushed – the door slid easily away from him.

There was a soft “ding” as he stepped inside. It took a long moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim light – the filthy window didn’t help much, and the bulbs that hung from the ceiling were so weak he wasn’t even sure they were on.

“Woah, my mom would love this place,” Brad said. “Look at all this junk.”

There was stuff everywhere – furniture, artwork, pieces of cars and various parts of buildings. From where he stood there were at least two dummies wearing what looked like very old clothing, and a pile of doors leaning against the wall. There were gas lamps, vials and jars with mysterious contents, rolled up paper that might be maps or posters, books. Jake thought the place might have one of everything. And most of it looked a hundred years old.

There was noise in one far corner of the shop, and it sounded like something might have fallen.

“Oh, shoot!” came a girl’s voice.

Jake and Brad looked at each other.

“Hello?” Jake asked.

The store immediately fell silent again. They waited, but there was nothing.

“Hello?” he called again.

The noise returned – it sounded like a pile of something that had fallen over and was being put upright again – then footsteps quickly swept across the floor.

In the bookcase in front of him, Jake saw a pair of round bright green eyes watching them from the shadows within. They lingered on him, unblinking, then gave a soft ‘meow’ and disappeared.

A teenage girl emerged from a forest of quilts and ladders. She stopped, startled.

“Hi?” she asked.

Okay, Jake admitted he was wrong – Monroy had one chick.

She was around their age, with wild black hair that was trying desperately to free itself from what might have originally been a braid. She had a pouty mouth set in a round, pale face, and her big hazel eyes were currently looking confused and annoyed, and trained squarely on the two of them.

“Oh, hi,” Brad asked, and Jake stared. The boy was speaking much deeper than his normal speaking voice. “We, uh, just saw your store from outside. It looked, uh, interesting.”

“You’re… customers?” she wondered, unconvinced. “We didn’t have any appointments for today.”

“Oh,” Jake realized suddenly. “You’re closed? I’m sorry.”

“No, no,” – she scratched her head – “we’re open… technically. You just don’t look like our normal… buyers.”

Brad laughed a much lower laugh than Jake had ever heard. What was he doing? “Collectors and old couples antiquing, probably, amiright?”

She was not amused, and when Jake spoke again, he didn’t like that her sour expression slid over and settled on him.

“I noticed some bricks outside… they matched the symbol on your door. Do you know what it means?”

Her face softened a little. “Sure. That’s so our customers can find us.”

Brad smiled widely. “Do you guys have a website? My dad’s company designs websites if you think that’s something the owners might want to invest in. I could get you guys a good price if you wanted.” He trailed off, wilting a little under the weight of her gaze. “I mean, if you want people to find you, it’s a good thing to have.”

She smiled coldly. “We have our bricks, thanks.” Jake was delighted when her look thawed again upon looking at him. “Well, have a look around, I guess. Let me know if you have any questions.”

“Sure, thanks.”

She gave them both a little nod, and turned away to return to her portion of the shop.

Before she got too far, however, Brad, who couldn’t let the only female within fifty miles walk away without a fight, quickly called her back. When she turned back, he searched desperately for something he could ask her about.

“Where did these come from?” He pointed to a shelf lined with a dozen shrunken heads.

“Those are tsantsas, shrunken heads acquired from an old Peruvian… friend.”

“They’re not real heads, though?”

She raised an eyebrow.

“Er, what about this vase? My mom would like something like this.”

“That’s a canopic jar. It has the liver of a minor Egyptian pharaoh inside it and has been blessed by a current priest of Aten. It costs more than your future college education. You can put it down now.”

Brad swallowed, nearly defeated, and gestured toward a chair to their left.

“And this… fine piece of carpentry?” It was an ancient pink monstrosity – faded and worn, with a high curved back and a seat that drooped sadly half-way to the floor.

“That,” she explained very slowly, “is the chair that the famed 19th century medium Cora Scott Hatch used to conduct all of her séances. She took it everywhere with her.”

Brad’s voice had returned back to normal now. “It must have been comfortable, then.”

Her expression was blank, but her voice was white-hot danger. “Do not, under any circumstances, sit on that chair.”

Jake heard the cat meow again, unseen but close by.

She waited a long moment, but Brad had nothing left. He could delay her no longer. The girl gave Jake a polite nod and disappeared among the random detritus that surrounded them.

Jake turned to Brad, thinking he would need to console him after that exchange. Brad was biting his lip, staring at the chair.

“That was pretty brutal,” Jake told him, grimacing. Nothing he didn’t deserve, Jake thought to himself, but…

Brad glanced sideways at him. “Dude. What will you give me if I sit in that chair?”

“What?” he asked. “She just said – “

“I know what she said. But it’s just a chair.”

“What if you break it?” Jake rushed to ask. “What if it costs a million dollars?”

He kneeled down and inspected the joints, like he had any idea what he was doing. “No chair cost a million dollars. And it looks sturdy enough, I don’t see what the big deal is, I mean – “

“DO NOT SIT IN THAT CHAIR!” came a booming voice from the other side of the store.

They looked at each other with wide eyes.

“Pizza?” Brad asked, already up and sprinting for the door.

“Pizza sounds great,” Jake agreed, right behind him.

When he turned to pull the door shut behind him, however, the girl stood with an armful of books, watching them go. He paused and she gave him a small smile. He smiled back, totally confused, and went after Brad.

(continue to part 2)


One Response to George’s Curiosity Shoppe, Part I

  1. Pingback: George’s Curiosity Shoppe, Part II «

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