The Goblin Market (Beauty in the Negative Contest Entry)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
"We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?"

Submitted: September 18, 2009

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Submitted: September 18, 2009

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When a fire started burning down the buildings of Bourbon Row in 1900, the residents of the bars and brothels simply picked up their drinks, walked across the street to the courthouse square, and watched them burn. The occupants of the Palace Saloon even took the bar and back-bar with them.

When the Row was rebuilt, the city elders of Bradshaw decided that it would prudent to use brick this time around, and so many handsome brick and stone edifices rose, copying the styles of popular buildings Back East. While rebuilding, they decided it would also be prudent to close off the network of tunnels and cellars beneath Bourbon Row. They said it was to put an end to gambling dens and smuggling, but they use thick iron in their gates and hung holly across the thresholds. They had a priest bless the gates, and then forgot about them.

Anne had come to Bradshaw, Arizona, on a hunt for true tales of the Old West. She'd heard that many of the buildings downtown had been preserved by the people, and she wasn't disappointed. Hundreds of old Victorian houses remained, protected by the National Register of Historic Places and maintained by those who enjoyed their elegance. She visited the old church on the corner of Willard and Marry Anne, though it was closed to the public, and marveled at its Gothic charm. She saw the Ivy House, off Mt. Virgil, and thought about entering through the window in the back, though she decided against it.

The last stop on her tour was historic Bourbon Row. She wandered among the crowds of the square, entranced at the old storefronts now converted into boutiques and restaurants. Many were still bars—Jack's Saloon, with the cow skull hanging above the door; Jersey Lily's, which had at one time been a brothel; Montezuma's, a trendy bar catering to a younger crowd, playing alternative rock instead of the country all the others boasted. And then she came to The Palace.

The Palace still had its famous bar and back bar, but no longer served alcohol. It was now a museum of the old west. Paintings of cowboys on horses adorned the walls, while replica sixguns and Winchester rifles hung on saddles, each with a price tag for those who wanted to own a piece of history. Anne spoke with the grizzled curator at length about the bar's history, and had her picture taken in the back, renting some of the period clothes they carried for the shot. The curator told her it would take an hour or so to develop the shots, so, rather than sit around, she decided to take a walk. She didn't have to return the gorgeous red frilled dress yet, anyway, and she wanted to look fabulous as she delved into the town's history.

That's when Anne noticed the locked gate, on a slope leading down beneath the street of the square. She examined the rusty gate, curious. Hesitantly, she tried the bars, rattling them to see if it truly was locked. The bars held, and her only reward for her efforts was a loud clunk that brought the curator out of the back room.

“Where does this lead?” She asked him.

“Oh? That ol' thing? Nowhere special. Jest some tunnels the city done closed down, round about the time o' the fire.” he wheezed.

“Tunnels? To where?”

“Well, missy, there were some mighty tough customers passin' through these parts in them days. Outlaws and banditos, using them tunnels to hide from the law, move Chinese whores, smuggle in all sorts of illegal goods and plunder from honest raiders. Some say there was a whole market down there at one time. The city got plumb sick o' it after a spell, especially after that fire burned half o' Bradshaw to the ground. So they locked it all off. Ain't nothing there now but rats and ghosts.”

“Ooo! Sounds exciting! Do you have a key, sir? Can I take a peek?”

“Well, I don't know about, missy. Them tunnels ain't exactly safe...”

“Please? Just a quick look? I can pay you for your time.”

“I really don't think that's such a good idea. It ain't about money...What if you got hurt, and the city officials found out I was the one what let you down there? What if you get lost, and can't find your way back out again? No, missy, it's too much trouble for me.”

“Don't you think I can take care of myself? I'm a big girl, sir. I'll be all right. Please, just a quick look. I won't me more than a minute.”

The old man seemed to deflate. “Well, that's done it. You all had to go and ask me three times, didn't you? Fine. Let me get my key.” He returned to the building, and was gone for quite some time. She was beginning to think he wouldn't return. Then he popped his head out of the door, his arms filled with things.

“Here. I got my key, and some other stuff for you besides. I got this here flashlight. And here, take this bottle of water, in case you get thirsty. You don't want to be drinking anything that's down there, that's for sure. Oh, and I got these protein bars for ya, too. Don't want you getting hungry down there, no sir. Might wind up eating moss or some other fool thing. Your cellphone won't be much good down there...here's some chalk to mark your way. Oh, and take this sprig o' holly, for good luck.”

Anne giggled at the fuss the old man was making. “You know, I'm only going to be gone for a few minutes. I don't need all this.”

“You never know, missy,” He said. “Them warrens are like a maze, and the wrong turn'll send you who knows where, 'till you can't tell up from down almost. You can give me whatever ya don't use back. Now, if you're gone fer more than an hour, I'll call the police and have them look for you, and they might just arrest you for trespassing on private property, so don't be out to long, ok? Please tell me you'll get back here before that.”

“Sure. I'll be back. You make it sound like this is some grand labyrinth.”

“Well, now, it jest might be. Promise me!”

“I'll be back, don't worry.” She was beginning to get irritated with the old man's insistence.

“No longer than an hour? You promise?”

She sighed, exasperated. “Yes, I will not stay down there longer than an hour. Can you unlock the gate now?”

He looked at her. “That's three times you promised.” he said earnestly, then bent down to the gate. The lock creaked and rattled, and there was a long, low shriek as the rusty gate opened. Anne flicked on her flashlight, and walked into the gloom.

“Good luck,” The curator called after her, “and may God protect you.”

She wandered through the tunnels. They didn't seem so worrying, just stone and brick, wandering away into the gloom. Her flashlight glowed strongly, and she was in no hurry. She hiked up her dress—didn't want it to get ruined by grime. She heard the rumble of traffic on the road above.

After fifteen minutes of wandering the tunnels (which didn't seem so special after all), she was ready to turn back. But then she heard a sound, like voice. It echoed down the tunnel. But weren't these tunnels closed? She moved closer to the sounds. Her watch beeped impatiently. She was late for another tour she had wanted to go on. But that didn't matter to her as she crept further into the tunnels. Her curiosity was aroused.

She noticed an odd strand of barbed wire lining the top of the tunnel, running alongside it like a vine poking through the cobblestones of the tunnel walls. She marveled at these. What possible purpose could they serve? She tugged at one gingerly, and was rewarded with a small scratch on her hand from the barbs. The wire was rooted into the wall, almost as if it had grown there. Puzzled, she wandered further into the darkness.

Her watch beeped again. She'd now been down here twenty minutes. If she turned back now, she'd have just enough time to reach the Palace before the curator called the police to go looking for her. But she heard more voices now, calling things like “Dreams for sale!” and “Fresh tears from an angel! Get 'em while they last!” and “Nightmares! Three for a penny!”

Just a quick peek. That's all she'd need. Then she'd return to the surface.

She crept along the hall of barbed vines, her flashlight beginning to dim and fail. She knocked it a couple of times against the bricks of the wall, but that never seemed to help for long.

Eventually she came to a wide chamber, and saw lights, and moving figures. Dozens of creatures, moving from makeshift stall to makeshift stall, staring with eyes and nudging wares with fingers, hooves, cilia, or claws. Stick men and round men and troll men and goblin men and creatures not like men at all wandered, bartered, argued, and bargained, while hobgoblins hawked wares from another world.

“Love! Sadness! Terror! Get your passions from my one stop shop!”

“Snips, snails, puppy dog tails...everything you need to make the perfect little boys!”

“Snark bait! Hunting the snark has never been so easy! Boojum jelly! Bandersnatch steak!”

“A trisect, a casket, a grean-and-yellow basket! Step right up! Don't be shy!”

Anne wandered closer to the bazaar, but a huge mountain of a troll stepped in her way. It glared at her through red pig eyes, and rubbed one of it's tusks threateningly. It stood a while, redgarding her, scrapping its claws across its warty green backside before speaking.

“Your kind don't belong here, girl. You ain't welcome at the market.”

“Oh, please,” Anne said, trying not to panic as the troll promised murder with its glare. “I just want to see what's on sale. I won't be a bother.”

“Hrmph. You deaf? Piss off, or I'll tear yer arms off and sell them to the limb picker. Then eat the rest of you. You look like you gots some nice cuts of meat on that frame.”

“If you're hungry, why not have this?” Anne gulped, and presented the protein bar to the troll.

He sniffed it cautiously, then plucked it from her hands and peeled the wrapper with a swift jerk of his claw. Finally, he decided to nibble on it. “Say. That's not half-bad.” he began chowing down on the bar in earnest, though his tusks made chewing it difficult. “*Slmup*. 'K. Fine. You go in. You don't cause no trouble, now, or you'll wish I HAD munched you. Got it?”

“Indeed!”

The troll rested on claw on Anne's hand. She jumped. “Got to mark you.” He said. “So they don't think I'm not doing my job.” He carved a shallow 'X' into the back of her hand. Anne winced. Blood pooled into the wound, but could not escape it, and within moments it had scabbed over. “Go on.”

She wandered the marketplace, enjoying the sights. A tree woman argued with a horse-faced dwarf over the dwarf's choice of wares, claiming they were “immoral” and he should be banned for selling axes, matchsticks, and weedkiller. She passed an ogre in a stall proclaiming “Extra hands for sale!”, shivering at the dazzling variety of left hands hanging from chains and hooks, only a few of which were human. She passed a stall where there were a variety of crystal flowers growing from geodes, and another that had several filthy, frightened elf children cowering behind a fence, bound to the stall by delicate silver chains. She gazed at a game table where contestants wagered on who could guess the correct age of three tiny pixies with butterfly wings, identical in every respect, with guesses ranging from 23 days to 75 centuries. She was offered a hundred pleasant dreams for three drops of blood and all her memories of her first three years of life.

Anne wasn't sure what to make of all this. She drifted, wondering if she'd laid down for a nap somewhere and was now dreaming.

“”Ello there!” beamed a hog-faced man, intruding upon her reverie and making her jump. “Would the lady like to buy a cordial? Some nice cool drink to soothe the palate while she shops?”

“Er...thanks, but I have water,” she mumbled, but the juice-seller's wares looked much more appetizing than the bottle of Arrowhead the curator had pushed into her hands. She pulled the bottle out and shook it. “See?”

“Ooo, indeed! Water from an arrowhead! What a strange and delightful drink! How do you milk an arrow for water, I wonder?” He looked at her kindly. “Madam. I know my wares are not humble enough to compare to such finery, but if you are willing, I would be glad to trade some of my drinks for yours. I have strawberry, and blueberry, and silkberry, and vimeberry...a selection of delicate flavors to choose from!”

She giggled. “Well, when you put it that way, I would be glad to make a trade. I'll have...hmm, I think cherry will do, if you have it.”

He poured some cherry cordial into a fine silver cup for her, and she handed over her water bottle. She sipped it. The drink was sweet, and filling, and went down like a dream...she felt curious. A drowsiness swept over her. She blinked...

...and she found herself groggily looking at a crowd, a silver chain wrapped around her wrists, while the pig-faced man announced bids.

“Do I hear thirty pieces of silver? Thirty? Anyone? Thank you, Mr. Snappingbone! Thirty on the lovely wench. Anyone care to make it thirty-five? Ah! Old Man River! An excellent eye, that one! Let's keep rolling along! Do I hear...”

She snapped fully awake and struggled at her bonds. No, no this wasn't happening...she was a guest of the market! How could they do this? She started thrashing at the chain, but it was far, far stronger than it looked.

The prices went higher. “Seventy-five! And what's that? A dozen and one dalmatians? Well, they'll make good eating, I suppose. Ha! Eighty and a thimbleful full of twilight!”

“What are you doing?” She shrieked, horrified. “You can't do this! I'm a person!”

“Yeah, think we got that.” The pig-faced man chortled. “That's why you're such a prize. Hasn't been a human here in over a decade, not since the last idiot broke through the gates keeping the worlds apart. Now who'll give me eighty-five? Ah! There! And a saucer full of secrets? Can anyone top that, then? Going...going...sold! To the gentleman with thistle-down hair, for eighty-five silver and a saucer full of secrets!”

He untied the chain from his booth, and dragged her to the elf who had purchased her. It paid off the merchant, then smiled at her and bowed. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance, girl. My castle has been without a maid for some time.”

It clasped the silver chain and began to pull her away, towards the halls and out of the market. Anne began to cry. “Please...let me go...”

“Whyever would I do that? You'd run away, and then I'd have to chase you. If I had to chase you, then I'd be cross and then I'd have to punish you. You don't want me to punish you.” It replied. It was no longer smiling.

Anne continued to cry as it lead her away from the market, and deep, deep into the tunnels.

Back at the museum, the curator looked at the clock, and sighed. It had been an hour and a half since the girl had gone. He hadn't called the cops. It wouldn't do any good—they wouldn't go past the gate, and she would never be found in any case. He remembered his son, who'd found his key a decade ago...He wept. Then he closed up the museum, and walked home.


© Copyright 2017 Anson Brehmer. All rights reserved.