"Do you require assistance, or are you happy to browse?"
When I dispatch him he returns to his seat and resumes his work. As I enter the bowels of the shop, I notice that he keeps watching me, his eyes always intent on what I am doing. As I walk this way and that, his grey head pivots toward me, then pivots away. His vigilance is so complete that even when he turns away, I feel him watching me through the bones of his head.
Every so often he drifts away, then reappears at his desk, quick as a shadow, all accomplished in the most complete silence. There is not a footfall or the slightest swish of clothing to announce his departure or his return, as if he existed in two places at once.
As my thoughts leave the antiques dealer I gradually become aware of the sound of a ticking clock. The sound gets louder until I hear the cog start to whir inside the oak casing. The clock holds its breath for an instant, then it gasps out the hour. The sound splits my skull and reverberates around the stone vault of the basement shop. Then the clock falls silent and a hush falls over the shop. The effect is unaccountably disturbing.
I move through the rooms until I enter a dark part of the shop. Some of the lightbulbs are missing and as I move forward the blackness starts to envelop me. At the end of a large cupboard with griffins twisting around its pillars, there is a blind corner. The dealer! There he is! He is standing right in front of me, inches away, his gray head forming a ghastly silhouette. I wince, expecting a blow to my head and when I open my eyes he is gone. I compose myself, but the image of his grey head and bloodless face remains imprinted on my soul.
With some difficulty, due to the objects intervening, I position myself to gain a view the dealer's desk: he is writing and his cheek is resting on his hand. Then his hand slips, and he makes the plunging start of a man who catches himself before falling asleep. When I look again he has disappeared. The seat cushion, bereft of his weight, slowly rises.
A sense of unease takes a grip of me. I begin to develop a bizarre sensation that something is terribly wrong. I roll my neck across my shoulders and I suddenly feel dizzy. The vertigo takes hold and I swoon helplessly. The shop has gotten hot and the air is heavy with the scent of ether or some type of solvent — something used for the furniture, perhaps.
I stand in front of a huge cupboard and run my finger down the door. The ancient glass has turned wavy and as I shift to and fro. The effect is hypnotic. As I navigate its waves, my mind starts to wander. My focus deepens from the surface to its reflection. The dealer! He is standing right behind me. I turn on my heel and brace myself. Nothing!
Suddenly and unaccountably, the air turns bitterly cold and my breath leaves a tail of mist on the glass. Inexplicably, the cold disappears, replaced by an oppressive heat — a change of circumstances which no rational mind can explain. The sudden change is sinister, but I think about it no more.
With some effort, due to the lack of concealing objects in this part of the shop, I contrive to place myself out of view of the dealer, determined to inspect the bookshelf which I have come to see.
The tall, narrow etagere reaches to the vaulted stone ceiling. It fits my space perfectly and will hold all of the books, even leaving space for more. It is perfect. But something — I find myself at a loss to say what — is amiss. Antique furniture should creak, or make some worthy show of time. I stand behind a pillar, hidden from sight, hidden from him, and give the shelf a mighty heave. Silence! The thing is rooted to the ground like a tree.
Behind me I feel the rasping of breath. I turn quickly. The dealer!
"Are you quite all right, sir? You seem unwell. Perhaps you would care to sit down?"
His composure is ruffled and his clothes seem just settled after a start. His hand, which he has lowered rapidly, is holding something behind his back. I know this defies logic, but I think that he was going to stab me with it.
Just as I start to gather my thoughts, another strange event takes place. I hear a swish. A man, carrying an iron ball in the crook of his left shoulder, emerges from a hidden panel. I hear the scuff of his shoes as he runs up the steps. Though the footfalls are quick, one foot is heavier, as if he suffered from some deformity. Suddenly, I hear him fall. There is a terrible groan. The cannon ball, which he has just dropped, bashes its way down the stairs. The shop falls silent. I hear something being dragged, the swish of a panel, and a sound like a melon being split open. I look on the ground expecting to see a crumpled man lying there but there is no-one to be seen.
There is a feint sound of metal, almost like a chain striking something. I hear another moan, one altogether different from the first. With some difficulty, I try to order my thoughts among the stench of ether, which has thickened into cloud which has begun to dull my senses.
Minutes before, I distinctly recall the presence of another customer in the shop but suddenly his footfalls died out. Yet I never heard the bell on the door, so he must still be in the shop.
I look again at the bookshelf and make a troubling discovery. The nicks of time, which on an antique would be random, seem like suspiciously fabrications, as if they were made by a giant who beating the bookshelf with a length of chain. This is an old trick of the trade. The piece is a reproduction. I turn over the tag. 'Regency Style Bookshelf'.
My strong desire to leave is overcome by dizziness.
An irrisistible object hangs suspended in the air: a waisted wooden pillar, with staring brass handles like two eyes. The spectacular piece holds me like a magnet. I must have it! I turn over the tag. SOLD TO MR CHANG.
"I'm afraid it sold yesterday, sir."
That voice! It is so changed. He traverses the room in a blur. Pellets of livid sweat run down his face. He raises his arm with inhuman speed and something flashes in his hand.
My face burns and the blood beats through my head. I turn to run out of the shop. I run up the stone steps in pairs, trip, lose my footing and tumble backward to the bottom of the stairs and as my consciousness begins to fade I feel a pair of bony hands close around my ankles while another pair of hands smothers something against my face. The smell sears my nostrils like a hot knife. Chloroform! I see white points of light and darkness fall around me.
Suddenly I wake into a half-conscious state. I am dimly aware that the wall panel is open. A huge figure, stripped to the waist, sways to and fro, breaking the light. Behind him, rows upon rows of gibbeted human forms writhe and struggle against the walls and utter unearthly moans.
Miraculously, I break free, propel myself up the stairs and run out into the cold, pure air of the street. I run through clots of people and in front of protesting cars — until I am far from that sinister place of death.
© Copyright 2017 brinsley. All rights reserved.
Paste the link to picture in the entry below:
Paste the link to Youtube video in the following entry:
Cannot annotate a non-flat selection. Make sure your selection starts and ends within the same node.
An annotation cannot contain another annotation.
There was an error uploading your file.