Wyld FLASH July 2nd 2021
The bell dinged as the door swept open. A couple this time. He was in a baseball cap and a dingy red coat, and sported an unsuccessful beard; she had artificially curled brown hair, a Christmas sweater, and an oversize purse. Both overweight, both loud breathers. Customers, anyway.
“Hey,” the man told Anton. “Getting cold out there.” The man rubbed his hands together.
“That time of year,” Anton said. “Help you find anything in particular?”
“No, no. Just looking around. Christmas, you know. We figured a pawnshop might have some, you know. Interesting stuff.”
“Sure. Plenty of interesting stuff here. Just let me know if you have any questions about anything.”
“OK.” The couple started looking over the shelves, and Anton went back to his magazine. A Good Housekeeping from 1982. A decent issue.
“Look at this old camera, Elliot,” the woman said. She picked it up and turned it over and over in her hands, as if hidden jewels might just cascade out the back.
“Huh,” the man – Elliot – said. “Guess you don’t sell many of these anymore,” he said to Anton. “People all got cameras in their phones now.”
Anton turned a page. “That’s an unusual camera.”
The woman rolled her eyes and put the camera back down on the shelf.
“How so?” Elliot was playing along.
“You take a picture of someone, and you get it developed. There’s a few places still do film. In the background of every picture you’ll find the image of a deceased person. Sometimes their arms are wrapped around the person in the picture. I saw one picture they were just leering at the person in the photo. Saw one picture they were making those bunny ears above the person’s head.”
“Huh. Well, I guess that’s unusual, all right. What do you think, Dee?”
“Like we haven’t got enough pictures of dead people already,” Dee said. “You still got those pictures of your grandmom, and that cousin that died in the car accident, up on the wall next to the stairs. And with our luck, we’d get pictures of Aunt Sissy or Grandpa Jay. No thank you.”
Elliot had wandered over to the wall and was examining the sports equipment hanging there. “Maybe some games?” Elliot said. “Get the kids outside to play? Here’s a croquet set, a baseball glove, a tennis racket.”
“Maybe the tennis racket. We still got a badminton net, but one of the rackets broke,” Dee said. “We could use that rubber ball for a tennis ball. How much?”
“Five dollars,” Anton said.
“I guess we’ll take it,” Elliot said. “The kids should like that.”
“You plan to play with your kids? And are any of them boys?” Anton asked.
“Two boys. Sure, I’ll play with them.”
“Then you may not want that particular racket. No one knows why, but any ball hit with that racket will smack right into the crotch of your opponent. Real hard, too.”
“Nope. Testicular trauma, haematocele is what they call it, is usually the result. Requires surgery, sometimes, to correct it.”
“Man, I got to get this for myself, then. Dee! Next time Eileen’s husband comes over, invite him to play – oh, man!”
“You boys!” Dee said.
Elliot put the racket on the counter. “Can I just leave it here until we’re done?”
“Look at this lava lamp,” Dee said. “It’s kinda pretty. Look at the purple swirling light.”
“Yeah. Don’t see these around so much anymore. What is that swirling purple stuff made of, anyway?” Elliot asked. “Something toxic? We don’t want anything toxic in the boys’ room.”
Behind the counter, at Anton’s feet, there was a box of stuff that he hadn’t put on the shelves yet. Something in that box began hissing angrily. Anton nudged the box and the hisses died down.
“The blobs in your usual lava lamp are just paraffin wax and some carbon tetrachloride,” Anton said. “But not in that one. That one has the tormented and trapped soul of a child, forever and fruitlessly seeking release from its horrifying prison. Twenty bucks.”
“I guess it would make a nice nightlight for the kids’ room,” Elliot said.
“I don’t know,” Dee said. “Twenty bucks?”
Elliot held up the lava lamp’s cord. Which was not plugged into any socket. “Well, look. You don’t even have to plug it in. We’d actually save money, in the long run.”
“I don’t know. You know the kids. They’d fight over who gets it,” Dee said. “Hey, do you have two of these? Maybe with different colors?”
“Only one with the soul of a child trapped inside. Do have another lava lamp, over here. Bought it from a serial killer. The red blobs inside it aren’t made of the usual stuff, either. He told me – and this made me vomit — that they are actually–”
“One’s purple, one’s red,” Dee said. “And that one doesn’t need to get plugged in, either? Perfect! How about thirty-five bucks for the pair?”
Elliot put the lamps with the racket, and eventually drifted over to the guns displayed under their glass, as guys in a pawnshop generally do.
Dee looked up at him from the jewelry counter and rolled her eyes. “Hey, you don’t need another gun,” she said.
“I’m just looking,” Elliot said. He pointed to the wall above Anton’s head. “What’s that old rifle? Some kind of antique?”
“That’s Chekov’s gun,” Anton said.
“Is it special?”
Anton glanced up at it. “It goes off expectedly.”
Elliot nodded, his face screwed up. Then something under the glass counter caught his eye. “Hey, that’s a sweet little thing there. What is that – a Baretta or a Glock or what?”
Anton said, “That particular weapon, my friend, is a gun with a mind of its own, a quick temper, and an insatiable thirst for death. Want to hold it?”
Anton placed the gun in Elliot’s hand.
“It’s not loaded, right?” Elliot asked.
“Doesn’t have to be.”
“Cool. But it kind of squirms, doesn’t it? Feels like some kind of a cold, heavy toad in your hand.”
“It does do that.”
Elliot reluctantly handed the gun back to Anton. “I don’t much like the part where it has a mind of its own, I suppose.” Anton placed the gun back under the glass.
Dee bumped against a shelf, and Anton held his breath. The damn hourglass had almost tipped over. He reminded himself to move it to someplace more secure, or maybe stick it to the shelf with a little superglue. The sand was still running through it, so it was OK.
Then Dee was looking at the musical instruments hanging on the wall. “Hey, Elliot. Manny likes music, right? He’s into that old time rock and roll.”
Elliot joined her. “At least it’s not that rap stuff,” he said. “Think he’d like a guitar? I like that red one.” He brought it down off the wall. “This thing in good shape?” he asked Anton.
“Excellent shape,” Anton said. “The only reason I am letting it go so cheap is that it is an instrument possessed by a devil, or some malignant force, anyway. You strum it a few times, and before you know it you can play like the dickens. Sound like Eric Clapton, play like Jimi Hendrix. Then, bit by bit, it takes over your life. It sucks out all the light and joy and hope in your heart. Finally it just out and kills you.”
“Play like Hendrix? Yeah, Manny would love that,” Elliot said.
“But if the darn thing kills him–” Dee said.
“Oh, he’s just kidding,” Anton said. He turned to Anton. “It doesn’t really kill him, right?”
“Not immediately, no.”
He looked back at Dee. “See?” He hugged the guitar to his chest. “We’re really picking up some good finds. Lucky thing we came in here. It’s like Black Friday.”
“The blackest,” Anton agreed.
“But today is Tuesday,” Dee said.
“In here, it’s always a black Friday.”
“Cool,” Elliot said, nodding. “But it’s a wonder you can stay in business, prices like these.”
“You’d be surprised, the things that come through here. I don’t guess you’d be interested in buying the shop?” Anton asked. “I can let you have it for a good price.”
“Well, gee, that sure is tempting! Say, Dee, what do you–”
Dee slapped him. “We’re not buying any shop today,” she said. “Just getting some presents.”
“I guess not,” Elliot told Anton.
Dee reached for the Civil War etching in the cheap wooden frame.
“Don’t touch that!” Anton said, jerking to his feet.
She yanked her hand away. “Huh?”
Anton got his breath under control. “It’s sold, is all,” he said.
“Still here on the wall.”
“It’s sold, though. It’s always sold.”
“OK.” Dee rolled her eyes and lifted her hands in surrender, turning away.
Weak, Anton sat down. It took a while for his heart to slow down.
“I don’t know what else,” Elliot said.
“I guess we can get your mom that towel we saw in J. C. Penney’s,” Dee said.
“Oh – just let me look at these video games first,” Elliot said. “My brother’s got an Xbox.”
“I wouldn’t give him a thing! Remember last year he gave you that gym membership,” Dee said.
“Yeah, but these are cheap. Look, here’s that one where you can shoot Syrians. Supposed to be real good. And I can play it when I go visit him.”
“I don’t think you would be happy with that game,” Anton said.
“What’s wrong with it?”
“Well, no matter how well you play, and how long you play, you can never advance to the next level. It’s always the same. No progress, no change.”
“Oh, God!” Elliot said, dropping it like he’d discovered it was a rabid tarantula. “That really would be hell! Hey, Dee, do we hate anyone enough to give them a thing like that? I don’t think so! Man, that’s not even funny, do that to a person. Why would you even keep a thing like that around? Why would you offer to sell it to anyone? Who’d buy it?”
“You’ve met the type. Some people are happy to never advance to the next level, face new troubles. They’re happy where they are, just circling the drain, getting enough excitement just seeing who comes through the door on any given day.”
“You got to be joking. Then what’s the point? I don’t want a game like that!”
“Leave it alone, then,” Dee said, holding her purse close. “Let’s pay for this junk and get to J. C. Penney’s.”
After they paid and left, Anton surveyed the shop, now relatively quiet again. “Gotta love the holidays,” he muttered. “At least they didn’t try to sell me anything.”
Then he noticed the bare spot on the wall. The Civil War etching – it was gone. So Dee was a shoplifter. Well, when she – or what was left of her – tried to bring it back, he could point to the “No Returns” sign.
Author Bio: Tim McDaniel teaches English as a Second Language at Green River College, not far from Seattle. His short stories, mostly comedic, have appeared in a number of SF/F magazines, including F&SF, Analog, and Asimov’s. He lives with his wife, dog, and cat, and his collection of plastic dinosaurs is the envy of all who encounter it. His author page at Amazon.com is https://www.amazon.com/author/tim-mcdaniel and many of his stories are available at CuriousFictions.com.
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