If I remember right, the sign mentioned in this story was my inspiration for the story. Or at least a version of it that you see in everyday life. And who among us hasn’t visited a store not unlike the one mentioned here…a tiny, packed antique shop…with a forgotten corner inside it…crowded with all kinds of neat, old stuff…from the ends of the world…each with their own lives…their own stories to tell….
This story I do kinda remember writing. Not the specifics, not the ending (which I modified for this release)…but the overall effort.
This story has never been published.
© F. P. Dorchak, 1991
“CJ, come over here and take a look at this!” Allison Bundle shouted.
CJ looked up from the pile of ancient Turkish rugs he’d been examining, annoyed at the mere sound of his wife’s voice.
“Come here, look at what I found. Look at this.”
He came over and found her holding up an old oil lamp into the light.
“It’s just an oil lamp—”
“No, not the lamp—the shelves. Look.” Allison directed CJ’s attention to the corner in front of them. It was an altogether normal enough looking setup of plain boards covered with odd knickknacks, and attached to the setup was a scribbled message, barely legible. The sign hung from one of the upper shelves and had a ragged bottom edge.
“What do you think it means?” she asked.
“Well, Allison,” CJ said, barely able to mask his annoyance, “I think it’s rather simple enough, don’t you? I mean it says ‘Don’t Buy.'”
She could be so dense sometimes.
He began to wander off, wondering why he even let her take him into these places. Why he even stayed married to her. One day, just one day, he’d love to lose her in one of these places and walk out the door…and just keep walking. Forever, How their marriage had gone sour, he couldn’t recall, didn’t care, it just had. He guessed he’d always seen the ‘bitch-streak’ in her from the beginning and had just chosen to ignore it. Because of the sex. Yup. That had been his first mistake. The second was in staying with her. Yes, he’d been nothing more than an ape when he’d married her, an ape wanting sex…but he’d since evolved…she hadn’t.
“Yeah, but why have all these things here, then put up a sign that tells you not to buy them? And you can barely read the damn thing,” she said tapping the sign.
“Well maybe they belong to the owner and are just there for display,” he said, finding himself drawn back to the shelves. “There aren’t even prices on most of these things up—”
“I don’t think so,” she said. CJ had found that her disagreeing with him was usually more of a reflex action than of legitimate discussion. She always loved to (immediately) counter anything he had to say.
CJ examined the shelves. The sign and its accompanying display case were clearly showing its age, and the objects themselves, like the rest of the curio-slash-antique-slash-rip-off shop were all eclectic and queer-looking. Unable to discern anything more about the shelves or their construction, CJ turned away…when he was overcome by an acute feeling of dread. He didn’t know where the feeling was coming form, but it suddenly changed his entire perspective on the subject.
“I don’t know, Alli, but all of a sudden I’m getting a very funny feeling about all this. Let’s just put it back and find something else, okay?”
“Oh, give me a break, dearest, it’s probably just a joke. I’m going to take this,” she said, and again hefted and examined the oil lamp.
“No,” CJ insisted, perhaps just a bit more sharply than was his norm, but he did notice it stopped Allison in mid-action. She looked at him, surprised, and he discovered he liked that look. It was the first time he could remember where she actually looked frightened.
“Look, Alli, I really don’t think we should. Okay?”
“Why are you acting so weird? I like it, so I’m going to buy it. That’s that.”
“I don’t like it. There’s something off about it…and this whole place as a matter of fact…that just gives me the creeps—and it’s giving it to me good. How about this instead—we put this back,” he said, and took the lamp away from her, setting it back up on the shelves, “and we look around a little more. If you still want it, fine, you can come back and get it, but let’s at least ask the owner about it before we buy it. Deal?”
Allison looked strained. More than annoyed. Mega-pissed.
“Okay, but I think you’re being very stupid about this. It’s only a dumb old genie lamp and I want it.”
CJ remained silent, almost embarrassed. He couldn’t believe his behavior. He could believe his wife’s…just not his. He really needed to leave her. And one day, one daaay—
“I am coming back after we have a look at the rest of this stuff,” Allison said, defiantly, and strut off down the aisle. She bumped into something in the narrow aisle, which fell, but she never looked back.
CJ watched her as she stormed off. He knew how much Allison hated being told what to do. He also knew how she usually ended up finagling her own way later on, anyway, but nonetheless he felt uncharacteristically relieved.
This is stupid—what’s the matter with me?
He followed her on down the cluttered row…picking up what she’d knocked off the display and replaced it back to where it had been.
The corner shelves
Browsing through the antique shop took longer than anticipated, and CJ quietly hoped that Allison had forgotten all about that stupid genie thing. But his mind, however, was still very much on the matter. All through his browsing he had stolen glances back at that corner. It was more than mere apprehension that now gripped him…it was more like some irresistible force was carefully…subtly…funneling him in deeper, pulling him back….
He didn’t know what it was he saw…or thought he saw just now…but something had suddenly flashed in his peripheral vision…something he had only been barely able to catch. He rubbed his eyes and blinked. He was probably kidding himself, but he thought he had seen a person within that flash. A flash of…red?
CJ looked back to Allison and saw she was busily dickering with a lady about something, as she was usually want to do, and he turned back to the bookcase. He decided to have another look. He was sure he had seen someone standing there by that case only moments ago…then…nothing.
Something wasn’t right.
He wove with intent up the aisles toward the bookcase. One more shot, then he’d washed his hands of this entire matter and Allison could buy whatever the hell she wanted.
There was dust on the floor before the shelves (and it had been recently disturbed)—but he already knew that. Somebody had been here. His eyes immediately went to where he had earlier placed the lamp and he saw that it was still there all right. But he also saw something else he hadn’t seen there before…a watch…a woman’s watch. Then, upon closer examination, he noticed an interesting, if somewhat hallucinatory effect about the wood. He couldn’t be sure if it was a trick of the light, or a trick of his own mind, but he could swear he saw tiny fibers, cilia, moving along the wood. Like seaweed tossing about in an ocean current.
CJ leaned closer and carefully brought a hand up to it, finger extended. He felt sweaty and warm.
This is stupid, they’re only shelves—
CJ was suddenly thrown off his balance. He’d been hit from behind and his entire body had been thrown into the wooden bookcase.
“Oh, I’m sorry!”
CJ regained his balance and lifted a hand to his forehead. Sore. Tender. Stars. He shook his head and looked up.
“Goddammit,” he said without looking up.
When he did look up, his eyes focused in from their confused, star-studded grayness…and he found himself looking into the eyes of an attractive woman in her twenties or early thirties. She stood before him…mouth open…her arms still wrapped around one end of a large, rolled up Turkish rug, which stretched out behind her. She stared back at him, startled. CJ thought he was looking into the large, warm eyes of an angel.
“I’m so sorry—I was trying to move this thing and I guess I…I kinda slipped!” The woman said. She noticed him rubbing his forehead. “Oh, you’re hurt! I’m so, so sorry!” She dropped her end of the rug and rushed to him.
“It’s nothing, I-I’ll be all right, really. Do you need some help with that or something?” he asked, almost angrily.
“I guess I’m not as strong as I thought I was. I’m so sorry. Yes, I could use a hand.”
CJ forgot about his injury and grabbed the rolled up end, pulling it free from the rest of the pile.
“Couldn’t you have picked something just a little less difficult?” he asked. He turned back to the woman, who was now quite embarrassed. He saw the affect his words and attitude had had on her.
“Look, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way, I was just … oh, never mind. Here you go, I didn’t mean to jump on you.” CJ set the rug down on what little floor space there was, and brushed himself off. “My name’s CJ.” He extended a hand.
“I’m Cheryl. Pleased—and embarrassed—to meet you. And thanks for helping me with this. There doesn’t seem to be much room here, does there—”
“—it depends on what you have a mind to use it for,” came the sharp, distinctly enunciated words from behind them.
“Allison, meet Cheryl—she just knocked me up against the bookcase with this rug.”
“I’ll bet. Nice to meet you, Cheryl,” Allison said, and over graciously shook her hand—with her left hand, exposing the wedding ring.
“You’re married,” Cheryl made a point of saying.
“Yes,” Allison said, and gave CJ a strained look. “Well, honey, I think I’m through here, and I do want that little ol’ oil lamp we talked about earlier.”
CJ suddenly remembered what had brought him back here.
“Alli, I wish you’d reconsider. I really don’t feel good about this. I came over here because…well, because I thought I saw something.”
“Yeah, and I think I know what it was you saw, too, my darling.”
“Well, it certainly was a pleasure meeting you both,” Cheryl said, “and thank you, again, CJ, for helping me with the rug,” Cheryl said.
“Sure, no problem,” CJ said.
“I think I’m going to take this lamp. Now let’s go, shall we?” Allison said.
CJ went to say something when his throat constricted and his breathing suddenly became labored. He grasped at his collar and cast a troubled glance to Cheryl, who made a most splendid sight as she bent over to once more attack the rug. But she, too, had stopped, and he noticed how uncomfortable she also appeared. She felt it, too. She stood back up without the rug and also began to loosen her blouse about her. CJ watched as she turned around to look straight at him.
Something isn’t right, he thought, something’s going to happen….
Before he knew what he was doing, CJ began backing away from his wife and the display case. He held Cheryl’s gaze and saw her rub her arms. No doubt feeling the same prickly sensation I’m feeling.
Allison felt nothing.
In some distant corner of his mind CJ vaguely recognized Allison’s voice as she continued to ramble on about the lamp and her right to buy it. CJ was now completely behind Allison, standing next to Cheryl.
The two watched Allison as she turned slightly away from the bookcase, remained totally focused on her little trinket, and continued on her right-to-buy tirade.
Watched as the display case began to shimmer and…
Come to life.
Watched as the entire store seemed to darken and take a back seat to the wooden shelves and become all but nonexistent.
Out from the middle of the case, like a nightmare, extended out what looked like a stretched-out leg-hold trap…jaws wide and deadly. There were sharp, jagged objects projecting outward from the ring, or whatever it was…teeth. The image extended forward as Allison continued to talk. She finally took a breath and looked up.
The thing from the shelves morphed into definite shape…huge jagged teeth.
Allison brought her hands up before her…
But it was too late.
The circular orifice had already come down and encompassed her head, shoulders, and arms…and clamped down around her waist. The powerful jaws neatly separated her at her narrow waist. There was a spray of red that was immediately sucked up by the creature. The remains of Allison’s beautiful body fell to the floor.
As the teeth came together Cheryl and CJ saw the face that was behind it, stretched out from the wooden bookcase that was its body. It was indeed made of wood—and there was an unimaginable rancor that emanated from it, as mold spores flaked off everywhere around them like dust. CJ and Cheryl covered their mouths and noses. The remainder of their attention was then diverted to the crunching and grinding sounds of the creature’s jaws. Allison’s skirt hung loosely from the creature’s mouth as it consumed its first mouthful. It then shot forward and consumed the rest of Allison’s body.
Then it grinned…an open, hideous smirk that creaked and snapped…and withdrew back into the shelves.
Wooden claws then shot out from underneath the case and retrieved what was left of Allison, withdrawing her spoils into the base of the bookcase.
All that remained at their feet was one slightly battered and orphaned oil lamp. They both looked to it. Both backed away from the corner.
Again that small, ominous sign.
CJ had a hard time breathing at first, and Cheryl had to hit him on his back a couple times. When he finally caught his breath, he crouched down to look at the base of the book shelves. A little ways off to the left of that damned oil lamp he spotted what looked like the bottom half to that torn
sign on the shelves. He leaned quickly snatched it. Wiped off the dust from it. He held it up before him and Cheryl, toward the one on the shelves. This was the bottom half to that sign. The words on the torn-off part of the sign caused CJ to visibly shiver, and he threw it away from him.
Cheryl began shivering. CJ threw his arms around her and brought her in to himself, as he looked around the store.
Really? Had no one but them seen what had just happened?
Cheryl stared blankly down to the floor before her, eyes unblinking. Trembling.
“Cheryl. Look at me,” CJ said, and took hold of her shoulders. He turned her around to face him. He looked at her. Himself. Neither of them had any blood or gore on them. “Look at me,” he commanded.
She looked up.
“I—I don’t know what happened here. I can’t even attempt to explain it…but look around. Look.”
“What do you see?” he asked.
Nothing. She saw nothing.
She saw people looking at rugs and clocks. People looking at paintings. Even saw one look up to her and smile. But nobody fainted. Nobody screamed. No one called the cops. Nothing appeared to have changed.
Except that there was no longer an Allison Bundle.
“Cheryl, I can’t even begin to understand what happened, or why no one could see what we saw—but it’s over. Do you hear me?
“Yes. Now I think it would be in our best interests…if we got the hell out of here—”
“Forget about her. She was not a good person. I was going to leave her, anyway.”
CJ pulled off his wedding ring. Held it up for Cheryl to see…then tossed it over his shoulder. It landed at the base of the very same bookcase.
“Come on,” he said, “we’d better go—I don’t know if this thing is going to, you know—activate again.” Cheryl didn’t move.
“Are you with me?” he asked Cheryl, taking hold of her shoulders and looking her firmly in the eyes.
Cheryl again looked around. No one seemed to have noticed a thing, not a goddamned thing. It was like nothing had ever happened. CJ nervously followed her gaze around the interior, edgy to be gone…out of this place.
Nobody’ll miss her, he thought. I just hope that damned thing doesn’t get heartburn and spit her back out.
Cheryl couldn’t believe what it was she was seeing, reached a hand up and out to CJ.
“Come on, then,” CJ said, and took her hand and pulled her away from the shelves. Took her to the front doors…then out beyond them and forever away from the building.
Together they disappeared into the sunlit and sane world outside….
CJ’s wedding band lay up against the base of the display case, resting in a leaning, vertical position.
The baseboard of the bookcase bulged and squeaked…formed itself into another, smaller, wooden claw, and wrapped itself around the ring. Another claw also formed and grabbed the oil lamp. The claws then placed the ring and lamp up on the shelves…then quickly withdrew…only to again shoot out and grab and withdraw with the fragment of the sign CJ had dropped.
“Don’t Buy. Not responsible for shelf life,” the torn-off sign fragment had read.
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