April 10, 2012 § Leave a comment
Unfinished short story, feedback welcomed!
Queenie and I have twenty minutes left on the clock before we’re supposed to flip the sign on the pawn shop door from OPEN to CLOSED and take our lunch break. I long to close early. Nobody’s gonna show up in this sweltering heat anyway, and Mr. Jenkins isn’t around to calculate exactly how much money we’d be wasting. In fact, I’m getting up to do it, when in shuffles this hulking bear of a guy with an eyepatch and a bum leg that he drags behind him like a log. His shoes are crusted with something that I don’t care to investigate further, and his grin says he might be here to eat someone. He points it at me and heads straight to the counter, like he’s been here a thousand times.
Queenie says, “What the fuck? You take this creep. I’m doing inventory.” She disappears into the back. The little bells at the end of her dreadlocks tinkle cheerfully, and I curse each bossy one of them.
“How can I help you, sir?”
Up close, I decide that he is definitely a homeless person. He smells like a summer dumpster and there’s yellow crap like egg yolk all over the front of his flannel shirt. He leers at me with his good eye, an improbable glittering green. The eye of a witch-king. I shiver even though our air conditioning is broken and it’s about five million degrees in the store today.
“Hey sonny, I’ve got here something real nice for you to buy!”
His voice is a complete contrast to the rest of him, the polished bass of a sports announcer. I start to explain how I’m not technically supposed to buy anything, but he cuts me off with an expansive, filthy wave.
“Everyone in the world wants this thing, and I’m sellin’ it to you!”
“What is it?” I ask, steeling my gag reflex against his unique stench. I wonder if he’s drunk — aren’t most hobos usually drunk? — and what the protocol might be for a situation like this. It’s far too horrible to consider fifteen minutes before lunch, and I vow for the hundredth time to stop letting Queenie push me around.
The homeless man smacks his palm flat on the glass counter and lifts it away. Revealed is a grungy, feather-shaped trinket. It looks like something from a charm bracelet, but worn smooth with age and far dirtier.
“Thisyere controls the weather,” the homeless man announces. I stare blankly at him. He’s lying, or crazy. Probably a mixture of both.
The mountainous man beams. His eye sparkles with a special madness, like a trained Grizzly turned feral once more after the circus went bankrupt. He could snap me like a Popsicle stick. I puff out my chest absurdly.
“How much you want for it?” I ask in my best Rick Harrison voice.
“Worth millions,” he says, “but I’d sell ya for, oh, two thousand seven hundred fifty seven or so.” He gives me a shifty look.
I stare at the dull golden feather. There’s no way in hell I’m about to drop two thousand dollars on that dumb little thing — Queenie would skin me alive, and then Mr. Jenkins would burn my remains when he got back from Butler. I’m already on probation for poor purchase choices, namely that goddamn broken Thundercats pinball machine. I have to just kick this crazy guy out before things get worse.
Instead, I ask, “How does it work?”
“Ah,” says the homeless guy, and winks. He picks up the feather and presses it between his sausage-like thumbs. “Watch the sky,” he instructs, and we both look through the front window at the heavy sunlight and the sluggish street, deserted except for some Goth kids smoking cigarettes by the drug store.
The homeless guy makes a weird avian noise caught between a hum and a whistling whine. In his fingers, the feather seems to glow. I catch my breath; the skin around my eyes tightens. It’s probably my imagination, but what if it isn’t? What if this disgusting man really can control the weather? And why should he get to do that, anyway?
Then the strange humming ends and he slaps the feather back on the counter. It isn’t glowing anymore, and probably never was in the first place. Regardless, I can’t tear my eyes away. He was right about one thing, at least – I do want to buy it. In fact, I need to buy it.
“Two thousand seems a little high,” I say. “But I can give you, mm, thirty bucks.”
“No can do,” he answers with a brown spongy-toothed grin, like he was expecting me to say that. “We got us here a bonafide magic feather, one of a kind, all the way from Brazil. Made by shamans a thousand years ago. You wanna hear the shit I went through getting this? Naw, you don’t wanna hear, sonny. You seem the type that likes to sleep at night, right?”
“You don’t wanna hear how I got it, but oh, you wanna buy it! I can see it in your blue little eyes, sonny!”
He bellows laughter. An open sore on his neck begins oozing foul golden pus. I swallow sharp disgust and keep my gaze on the trinket. A syrupy anger bubbles up from some sharp little place in my gut. This guy doesn’t deserve something like that. He doesn’t even deserve to imagine it works. I feel a creeping kinship with the feather trinket. It should be mine.
“You swindling bum,” I snap before I even think it. “That thing isn’t worth three cents. You probably stole it, anyway! You should be begging me to give you five dollars for that piece of crap.”
The homeless man is visibly affronted. Much to my suddenly renewed dismay, he starts yelling at me. “Do you know who I am?” he screams, “Do you know what I went through to get this?”
The sun continues to shine oppressively outside. “Your stupid feather doesn’t even work, anyway!” I say, and jump skittishly back as he takes a mad swipe at me. I knock over a tower of radios in my flight and the whole ruckus has Queenie shooting back up front like a rocket.
“Who do you think you are?” she shrieks back at the homeless guy, who by now is ranting about the various trials he underwent in the jungle to achieve the weather-control talisman, and how he’s going to curse me with some terrible plague. “Get the fuck out of here, go back to that gutter you crawled out from, before I call the cops on your ass!”
Queenie’s voice is louder and more commanding than a pissed-off FBI agent. The homeless man grabs his trinket and invites us both to engage in something anatomically impossible and extremely obscene before limping angrily out.
“What a psycho!” Queenie says wonderingly. I stare at her eyebrow ring, adrenaline coursing through my veins. I feel like I could jump a mile in the air. “Oh well would you just look at the time! I’m going on lunch break,” says Queenie, “can you finish up the inventory shit?”
I say nothing, because it’s not actually a question. Obviously I will be finishing up the inventory shit. Outside, a light drizzle begins misting the hot asphalt. Raindrops hit the front window, one, two.
Copyright 2012 Katherine Luketich. All rights reserved.