No Exit Without a Purchase

This morning’s Daily Prompt give me opportunity to craft a fiction bite. “It was sunny when you left home, so you didn’t take an umbrella. An hour later, you’re caught in a torrential downpour. You run into the first store you can find — it happens to be a dark, slightly shabby antique store, full of old artifacts, books, and dust. The shop’s ancient proprietor walks out of the back room to greet you. Tell us what happens next!”

Here it is:

Was that a rain drop? Naw, there’s not a cloud in the sky. It’s darker all of a sudden though. Yep, that was a rain drop. Okay, I’ll look up. Oh! That’s coming up fast. I can’t believe it. A rain storm snuck up on me. Here it comes. I guess those first few drops were just warning shots. This is a deluge. I’ll duck in here a moment. Or a lot of moments. It doesn’t look like it’s going to let up any time soon.

I may as well look around. Huhn. Interesting place. An antique store? Kind of. Some of the furniture looks right. Some of the other stuff too. I wouldn’t know if these bottles or scissors or spoons are worth anything or not. Then again, some of them don’t even look old. They just look like they’ve see a lot of use and a lot of dust. The place looks clean enough. It’s just some of the things for sale have a bit of dust on them. Is that on purpose. I hope so. The more I look around this place, the more it looks like I’ve stepped into some cliché. “The more I look around here, the more I think I’ll find something unnatural.”

“That’s possible, sir.”

“Oh, hello.” I didn’t hear him come close. God, he’s old! His skin has to be at least ten different shades of a color I don’t know the word for. I think those glasses he’s wearing have a different prescription for each lens.

“Can I help you find anything, sir?”

“Thanks, but I already have what I was looking for.”

“Oh?”

“Uh, a roof. I was just getting  in out of the rain.”

“Ah. Well, we do have a good roof, but it’s not for sale.”

“Hah. That’s good.” Is he as old as I thought? He’s kind of like the things in the place. He looks old and used up, but he moves like a younger man. That’s not make up he’s wearing or anything. There’s not a sign of age to him apart from his immediate appearance though. It suits him well. He seems charming enough. Usually only a little kid can smile quite like that.

“I’m glad you appreciate the humor, sir, but did you notice the sign on the door?”

“The rain made me temporarily illiterate. I don’t even know the name of your shop.”

He can laugh the same way he can smile. I’d like to like him right away, but there’s something about him. I can’t tell what it is.

“The sign you missed, sir, it explains that you’re required to make a purchase if you enter. No exit without a purchase.”

“Oh. Uh, I don’t mean to be a jerk, but does apply even in a sudden rainstorm? Never mind. I tell you what, if I can find anything interesting in my price range, I won’t argue.”

“Oh, I’m quite certain you can do that.”

Did I think he was charming a moment ago? Because that was creepy as hell. I may as well look around. I’ll take my time though. What do we have? Old nick nacks. A glass case full of jewelry that might or might not be real. Here’s some tools. Here’s a box of old records. A case of butterflies with pins in them. That butterfly costs twenty five dollars! Who’s going to pay twenty five for a dead bug?

Here we go, books. Maybe I can find something here. Some of these I’m not familiar with. Others don’t look so good. I don’t like James Joyce. I don’t like Salinger. This one is… ‘Den of Civilization’ by Oscar Wilde. Must be a play? No, this looks like a novel, but I thought he only wrote the one novel. Lee Harper, ‘The Long Goodbye’. Can that be right? And here we have ‘Juneteenth’. Here’s ‘The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights’. Let me flip through it. It looks like it’s all there. Did anyone finish it for him? Maybe put it together from old notes and pages?

A lot of these books can’t be real. It’s like I’m looking at a shelf full of works that could have been. Should I ask the old man about these? There he is. He’s sure watching me. No, I don’t think I’m going to ask anything just yet. Let me look at a few authors here that I’ve never heard of. George Hellebee, ‘Can’t Play this Trumpet’. Doesn’t sound that good. How about Brenda Alpine? ‘How to Find the Door’. Sounds funny enough. Dwayne Bright, ‘Silver Years’. This is my name. ‘Edge of the World’ and here’s ‘Porcelain Society’. No. Oh god, the entire thing is in each of them. In hardback! Looking like they’ve been sitting here ten years!

Where is that old guy? He was just here. “Excuse me? Hello? Hey! Where did you go?” Let me look behind the counter. No he’s not there. He must have stepped in back. “Hello? Hello?”

“Did you find anything?”

“Aaah! You startled me. Don’t sneak up on me like that.”

“Sorry, sir. The rain has stopped.”

“It has? It has. Good. Look, uh, I don’t… What does that mean? The books? My books? The only things there were things that people can’t read.”

“Can’t read?”

“I mean… Never mind. You get it. I can see it in your eyes. Who are you?”

“Just a humble shop keeper.”

“Do people really say things like that? You’re like a character from a book.”

“Not one of yours.”

“No, not one of mine. Look, I don’t have the right question at the front of my mind. Where am I? Is this real?”

“The store is closing, sir.”

“What?”

“I’m afraid I have to close.”

“You’re serious. You can’t just… You can’t just…”

“I can’t what?”

“I don’t know! You can’t just have a table full of books that don’t exist.”

“I would have thought you’d be a bit more open minded, sir.”

“Why are my books there?”

“Would you like one?”

“No.”

“Sir, I’m afraid I have to close.”

“I haven’t picked anything out yet.”

“Sir?”

“You said I have to purchase something.”

“I believe you already have.”

That last part was not quite threatening. I have no idea what’s happening or why. Is this some kind of learning experience? Is it a warning? Then again, does it have to have a purpose at all? The only thing I know for certain right now is that I’m not going to look back to see the name of this place. I would be so disappointed if it was still here when I looked for it again. I should have bought something though. I should have left there with something tangible.

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6 comments

    1. I’m not at all certain. Then again, if I knew, I probably wouldn’t tell. Perhaps there was some moral lesson learned or hidden fear revealed. In either case, the question of what was purchased is not quite as interesting to me was what the payment was. A purchase is not a gift. Obviously something was given in return. What did the shopkeeper get?

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