George’s Curiosity Shoppe, Part II

(continued from part 1)

“Hm.”

Jake looked up from pouring a glass of orange juice and exchanged a smirk with his mom. His father’s face was currently obscured by the front of the Monroy Daily.

“Hm,” the man repeated. This was the sound they heard every Sunday morning, and his dad’s indication that he’d read something he’d love to share. They both knew you asked at your own risk.

Jake’s mom had suddenly become very interested getting the cream and sugar ratio in her coffee just right.

Brad’s mom, an enthusiastic early riser named Shirley, thankfully took the bait.

“What are you reading, Dan?” she asked.

“What’s that?” he asked, peeking around the paper.

“You must be reading something interesting.”

“Oh! Yes! It looks like there’s a disease running through the town and outlying areas.”

Shirley wrinkled her nose. “Disease?”

“Sheep, cows, dogs, cats – it’s killing them. Sounds pretty nasty.”

Shirley, who was a vegetarian except for bacon, made a sympathetic face. “Oh, the poor things. Is it treatable?”

“No, I don’t think so. They can’t identify what it is. They just find the animals the next day,” he craned his head forward, hunting for a quote. “ ‘…the bodies are generally swollen to twice their size, with blood and foam running from the eyes and mouth.”

Everyone looked suspiciously at the bacon and scrambled eggs on the table, both of which were local.

“Well, thank god I didn’t bring Obi, then,” Shirley declared. Obiwan was the family’s dog, a small white poofball with a bad temper and a love affair with Jake’s left leg. The creature had indeed joined them in previous trips, and Jake was delighted that he’d been left behind this year.

“What are we doing today?” Jake wondered.

Shirley set some toast on the table. “I think your mom was hoping to go antiquing today.”

“That sounds… fun,” he managed to say.

“…and I think Dan and Mark were thinking about heading out to the golf course.”

“There’s a golf course?”

“It might be an hour away, I’m not sure.”

“It’s in Fairfield,” his dad said distractedly, his nose once again in the paper.

“When do you think we’ll do that?” Jake wondered.

“Not before 11 am, I expect. The boys were up until 2am playing poker last night. I bet neither one of them will be up for an hour yet.”

However, even as she spoke, they could hear movement in the room above their heads.

Jake thought for a moment, then stood and pulled on his hoodie. “I think I’ll take a walk.”

“There won’t be much open,” his mother told him. “Not on a Sunday morning.”

“I can yell up and see if that’s Brad moving around,” Shirley offered.

Jake laughed. “No, he needs his beauty sleep. You tell him that, too. I’m just going out for some air.” He took a handful of bacon. “I’ll be back.”

Once outside, Jake took a deep breath, stuffed his hands in his pockets against the chill, and headed away from the water.

He’d thought about the bizarre shop from the day before long into the early morning hours last night, and had decided before he dropped off to sleep that he had to go back.

It wasn’t the girl. He could hear Brad’s voice in his head brushing her off as a weird townie. Jake had thought she was normal enough; but everything else about the shop didn’t sit right for some reason.

He glanced up at the corner, and turned right down Maple Street.

Does every town in the U.S. have a ‘Maple Street’? he wondered

He hadn’t seen a name on the shop, at least not one that was visible from the outside. The “OPEN” sign was located over the counter inside the store. And if the background the girl told them about the merchandise was even half true… what the heck kind of store was it?

He stopped, nearly to Vinemont Street.

It could be a front for something, he realized. Like the mafia or a drug cartel. Maybe a black market? That happened sometimes, right?

Jake shook his head and continued on. He couldn’t imagine the girl being wrapped up in anything like that. And besides, he believed her about the shrunken heads.

This was the street they’d stumbled upon yesterday, and he began to look at the storefronts. All were dark, dusty, worn. It wasn’t a long street, and he found it branch off into an alley a few blocks later.

He must have missed it.

Jake turned around, walking slowly and deliberately, surveying each storefront carefully. They did all seem to blend into one another, but he was able to pick it out yesterday. It shouldn’t be too hard.

But again, he found himself at the opposite end of the street and he still hadn’t seen it.

It was on Vinemont, he was sure of it.

Just as he turned to walk down the street for the third time, one of the symbols from yesterday caught his eye. It had been on the bricks in the street and on the shop’s front door. Now it was on a brick at the corner of the adjacent street.

He looked up at the street sign. Jake could admit he wasn’t much good with maps, but he knew they hadn’t been on Merchant Avenue the day before. He frowned.

“We have our bricks,” the girl had said when Brad suggested a website.  And “…that’s how our customers find us.”

But bricks would lead you to the same place every time, right? And they’d led him here yesterday.

So why can’t I find the damn place?

He must be turned around. With a sigh, he decided to let the bricks guide him again. They seemed to know what was going on better than he did.

*                    *                    *                    *                    *

Brad was irritated that Jake had gone out without him.

They were kind of friends, right?

Jake was a nice kid. Boring, maybe a little naïve. He hardly watched any TV, his music taste was horrible and he didn’t own any polos. But even so, they were all each other had on these trips.

Well, there was Timmy, but… just no. Tim was more annoying than their parents were, and little brothers were really only good for making life harder. Jake couldn’t just bail on Brad – they were partners in this podunk little town, and he wasn’t getting left behind.

The morning’s rain had dwindled to a drizzle, and Brad wished he hadn’t accepted his dad’s golf umbrella. Even closed, it was an unwieldy monster of wire and lime green. He had really only wanted it for his hair, anyway. What a waste.

Up ahead, Brad finally saw Jake crossing the street.

“Hey! Jake!” he called, but the other boy didn’t respond.  His head was bent forward, looking at the ground. He disappeared around the corner again seconds later.

Brad shook his head and jogged up to the street corner.

Jake was already a block away, standing hunched over as he surveyed the sidewalk.

Brad frowned. Jake got weirder every year. What the heck was so interesting on the ground?

Brad had opened his mouth to yell “They’re bricks, stupid” at him across the street when Jake’s head lifted and he seemed to start, surprised.

Brad followed his gaze, and understanding dawned.

It was that weirdo shop.

“No way,” Brad whispered. He had dibs! He’d been the first one to talk to that girl. Sure, she hadn’t seem very charmed at first, but he felt confident he could wear her resistance down eventually.

And now Jake had stranded Brad with his family so he could sneak out and see her? This was in direct violation of Bro Code.

Jake stood at the door, seeming to think for a long moment – his guilty conscious getting the better of him, Brad assumed – then pushed the door open and disappeared inside. Brad bounded across the street, catching the door before it latched again and quietly slid in after him.

*                    *                    *                    *                    *

The girl was up on a ladder behind the counter, arranging some worn-looking books on a top shelf. An oversize army jacket fell over a long flowing skirt, and her curly hair was extra poofy from the rain.  She didn’t seem to hear the door’s chime as he entered.

“I don’t care what you think,” she declared.

Jake didn’t see anyone else in the shop. Was she talking to him? He opened his mouth to assure her he wasn’t thinking anything, but she spoke again.

“Look,” she announced, “there’s no historical evidence that supports Lincoln – or any of the other presidents, for that matter – was a vampire hunter. I mean, I loved the guy, but it’s kind of a specialized field, you know?”

Jake blinked. What?

A long second passed and then she bit off, “What?” and glanced over her shoulder to see Jake; several books flew in the air and she nearly fell off of the ladder.

“Hello, again!” she cried, catching herself. Her voice was friendly enough, but he got the impression she was looking irritably at the air around him.

“Hi,” he responded weakly.

“Er. Do you have a better idea of what you’re looking for today?” she asked.

He shook his head. “I think I’m just… looking?”

“Oh,” she frowned. “We really don’t get a lot of window shoppers.”

“Was this shop… I don’t even know how to ask this. Was it somewhere… else yesterday?”

Her face was blank. “Somewhere else?”

Jake closed his eyes, feeling stupid. “Nevermind. What’s this place called, anyway?”

“George’s Curiosity Shoppe. Although, to be honest I’ve never met a George since I’ve been here. I think it just… fits.”

He stared at the front end of an ancient model car that was leaning against a giant stone block wrapped in Christmas lights. “It’s certainly… curious,” he admitted.

“I’m Shannon, by the way.”

“Jake.”

“Nice to meet you, Jake.” She frowned suddenly, then sighed at his raised eyebrows. “I am beginning to feel like I might have lost something.”

“In here?” They both looked at the piles of junk around them. “Good luck finding it.”

“There’s actually a very sophisticated filing system at work here, thank you very much.”

“Really?”

“No.”

“What are you looking for? Maybe I can help you hunt.”

She looked doubtful, then nodded. “His name’s Percy. He’s kind of like… a cat.”

“How is something ‘like’ a cat?”

The blank look returned. “Whoops. He’s a cat. Percy is a cat.”

He blinked.

“He’s 100% cat,” she insisted.

“Alright… What color is he?”

“Oh,” she said, “black, usually.”

He sighed, surveying the dim room around them. “Of course he is.”

*                    *                    *                    *                    *

Percy the cat was indeed black, and was currently hunkered behind a giant hour glass watching a strange boy try to peer through some open shelving. Shannon and the boy – he’d called himself Jake – were chatting just beyond it.

Percy the cat padded silently over to this other boy, who had currently climbed onto Madame Cora’s favorite chair to get a better look.

“Seriously,” the boy whispered to himself, “he’s got no game at all.”

Percy the cat sat down in front of the chair and meowed quietly.

The boy did not react. Percy meowed again more loudly.

Now the boy turned around, and waved his hand trying to shoo Percy away. Instead, Percy the cat rolled his eyes, and rubbed his body against the boy’s shin. Humans loved that move.

It worked, and the boy turned, plopping his bottom into the seat where Madame Cora’s had sat so many years ago. He started to say something to the cat – or to himself again, who knows – but Percy the cat simply meowed his thanks, and promptly jumped onto the surprised boy’s lap.

*                    *                    *                    *                    *

CRACK.

Jake froze, unsure of what had just happened. The meager lights dimmed and brightened, struggling for a moment against the store’s dark interior before finally giving up. Jake stood among piles and piles of stuff, afraid to move on the chance he might hurt himself – he’d just passed a sword, after all.

“Shit.”

Shannon’s irritated voice came from several feet away, from the other side of what might be a giant wardrobe.

“A breaker, maybe?” Jake wondered.

“It had better be…” she muttered. “Don’t move for a sec.”

There were bumps and curses and crashes as she navigated from one side of the dark store to the back counter. After a long minute, he heard the squeak of a little metal door and the sound of switches.

The lights came back on and movement caught his eye – a white cat dashed from one aisle to the next.

“Hey! Here’s a cat!” Jake bounded after him, trying his best not to knock anything over as he ran. The cat was fast, but he eventually got it cornered under a large empty birdcage with a massive bird skeleton swinging inside. He could hear the animal meowing desperately from beneath it.

“Oh, the poor guy,” Jake sounded. Shannon came up behind him.

“Where is the little bugger?”

“Under here. I thought you said he was black, though.”

She frowned. “I did.”

Shannon got down on her belly and carefully crawled under the cage. There were some soft cooing sounds, and moments later, she inched her way out, grasping the white cat by the scruff of its neck. The animal was terrified – two wide grey eyes dashed around the room, his hackles were up, and he wouldn’t stop meowing.

“Aw, man,” Jake said, “he is really scared.”

Shannon had brought the shaking creature close and was looking carefully at his face.

“What’s got him so worked up?”

She didn’t answer. Instead, she looked squarely at the cat and boomed “Percy Francis Merriweather, I command you to stop this noise.”

The cat meowed even more frantically.

Jake glanced between her and the cat. “Does that usually work?”

Still holding the cat, she walked over to a pile of thick, dirty drapes and kicked it. Nothing happened.

She then took off down another aisle. Jake had little choice but to follow. They stopped in front of a large pair of men’s trousers hanging neatly from a hanger. She checked the pockets and pulled out a gold pocketwatch. She opened it, shook her head, and put it back.

She sighed, then stomped around a large suit of armor, the poor cat still dangling from her iron grasp. Jake stumbled after her.

“Didn’t you have a friend with you yesterday?” she asked.

“Brad?”

“Did he come with you this morning?”

“No, I left before he was up.”

She stopped near the front of the shop, where they had stood talking yesterday. “Are you sure about that?”

Jake couldn’t say anything. Sitting before them, looking very pleased with himself, was Brad. The cat hissed loudly and furiously worked his limbs.

Shannon glared at Brad for a long moment; he grinned back.

Then, without warning, she launched the animal at Brad. The cat screamed, mid-air, and Brad leapt from the chair and into the floor, laughing. It was a strange laugh, one that Jake had never heard before.

The surprised cat landed delicately on the chair, breathing hard. He dashed to Jake, who quickly picked him up so Shannon wouldn’t throw him again. From his place on the floor, Brad grinned madly at Shannon.

“You little jerk,” she spat out. “What did I tell you?”

“You told him not to sit in the chair,” Brad answered gleefully. “And he should have listened to you.”

Jake frowned – it was Brad’s voice, but the way he spoke wasn’t quite right. The words had a twang that was unfamiliar to him.

“Percy, you get back in that cat right this minute,” Shannon demanded.

Brad laughed again. “Oh no, I am never going back in there again. You’ve kept me trapped in there for long enough.”

“Trapped? You’re the one that wanted a body!” she argued. She pointed at the cat. “I got you a body!”

Jake and the cat looked at one another. The cat gave a worried little meow.

Brad harrumphed. “I’d like to eat something other than mice and kibble, thank you very much.”

“You’re dead!” she cried. “You’re lucky you’re eating anything!”

“Um?” Jake interrupted.

Shannon started, turning around and looking surprised. “Oh crap, I kind of forgot you were here.”

“Oh, yes!” Brad cried, standing up. “It is my good friend, Jake. My good, kind friend Jake. Let us leave this poor girl to her madness, and we’ll go get ourselves an ice cream.”

“Not in a million years,” Shannon warned, blocking the door.

“And you’re… lactose intolerant,” Jake stuttered.

“What?” Brad cried, his smile gone. “What does that mean? Is it curable?”

“It is a horrible disease,” Shannon interjected. “Miserable and terminal; so you may as well get back in the cat.”

“It means you can’t have any dairy,” Jake told him quietly. “What the heck is going on? Did he hit his head or something?”

“Yes, I hit my head,” Brad exclaimed, as if it was a good idea. “But I’m feeling much better! Let’s go home!”

Shannon seemed to struggle with herself for a moment. Finally, her shoulders hunched forward, defeated. She closed her eyes.

“Percy was a cat that was possessed by a cranky old ghost,” she began.

“Hmph,” said Brad. “I’m not cranky.”

“ – a horrible, cranky old ghost named Percy,” Shannon continued irritably. “When your buddy Brad sat in Cora’s séance chair, it opened a gateway that allowed that ghost to change hosts. Which he did, at the first chance he got, because he’s a toad of a man.”

“Ribbit.”

Jake studied the boy across from him. “So… you’re not Brad?”

“No, my boy. I’m afraid not.”

“So then… where’s Brad?”

The cat meowed sadly, and when Jake looked down at the cat cradled in his arms, he recognized the eyes of the boy he’d been spending summers with his entire life.

Jake couldn’t help it, he yelped and dropped the cat.

“Sorry, sorry!” he exclaimed, but the cat had already darted back into the store. Shannon and Jake both dashed after him, but he was too fast. He had already disappeared from view.

“He’ll come out eventually,” she told Jake. “He’s just scared.”

“Him and me both,” Jake muttered. “What the heck kind of a place is this?”

Before she could answer, however, a soft ding filled the air. They exchanged a look before sprinting back to the front of the store . The door latched with a loud click.

Brad – or Percy, whoever he was – was gone.

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One Response to George’s Curiosity Shoppe, Part II

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

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