Writer's Block, страница 1
Copyright 2013 Mark Campbell
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“Desperation is the raw material of drastic change. Only those who can leave behind everything they have ever believed in can hope to escape.”
I couldn’t remember where I had read that quote, though I knew it was from William S. Burroughs. Even still, the words seemed to hang in the air around me, reminding me of why I was here, standing on an aged sidewalk riddled with tufts of grass and weeds growing unabated through the cracks in the uneven concrete slabs.
It was a lonely little side street, somehow feeling like it was in its own little world, rather than just being tucked away in a forgotten part of town. I could still hear the buzz of traffic and other random city noises, but they seemed muffled, as if from a great distance. The feeling of isolation was compounded by the fact that I didn’t see another living soul. The neighborhood felt abandoned. There were no sounds of kids playing or people talking—not even a dog barking. There were no cars either, the narrow, pot-holed street empty before seemingly vacant buildings.
The tiny shop before me barely seemed occupied either, its white-washed wood siding rough with peeling paint. The six-paneled front door—its paint faded and wood splintered—looked tired and thin, like an aged guardsman too long at his post. The dull pink coloring might once have been a cheerful red, but years of rain, wind, and neglect had worn down the door along with the rest of the façade. The windows were so covered in dust and grime that the store’s interior was completely obscured from the casual passerby. Not that it mattered; I doubted this desolate part of town saw many window-shoppers or pedestrians. Even so, the narrow storefront was the only building on the block whose windows were not boarded over or otherwise abandoned.
Above the worn door a simple, hand-painted sign read “Whipkey’s Curiosities.” The sign, like the rest of the tiny storefront was unkempt, its faded letters barely legible.
I double checked the piece of paper in my hand. It was the right name and according to small, tarnished numbers hanging crookedly beside the weathered door, this was the right address. It hardly seemed promising, but I reminded myself that I was here after all because I was desperate.
With a sigh of resignation, I climbed the crumbling concrete steps and reached for the tarnished brass handle. The door seemed stuck momentarily, as if it hadn’t been opened in ages, but then it relented, swinging open smoothly without even a squeak from the discolored hinges. For some reason I found the lack of the expected noise unsettling. I swallowed down sudden trepidation, and then—feeling quite foolish for letting some old shop unease me—walked inside.
The room was unlit and at first I could see little, the transition from the sunny sidewalk into stygian darkness leaving me straining to peer through the haze of unsettled dust. I slid my hand along the wall beside the door searching for a light switch, but didn’t find one. Slowly my eyes adjusted to the gloom and between the sunlight from the open doorway and the dim light coming from the opaque windows, I could make out the décor.
Every wall in the small room was lined with shelves, even above and below the dingy windows. The shelves were crammed with an eclectic collection of what were obviously second-hand items. From what I could tell it seemed that the little business was a pawnshop of sorts, though unlike any I had seen before.
There were musical instruments, not the typical guitars and such, but a motley assortment of odd looking horns, hand drums well past their prime, dented harmonicas, and an ancient (and broken, by the looks of it) concertina. There were books everywhere, not just on the shelves, but in uneven stacks on the floor as well. They were not grouped in any kind of display upon the shelves, but apparently shoved wherever they would fit. Though it was hard to be sure from the faded, barely legible spines, they seemed to be mostly old text books or obscure novels written by authors no one had ever heard of; not rare antiquarian pieces, just old. The vast majority of the shelves were populated with what could be described as knickknacks (if one was kind), but what my Grandmother would have called “useless junk.” There were statuettes and figurines, but none of any aesthetic appeal, save for a few random pieces, all of which were chipped or otherwise damaged. There were gaudy colored stones, strangely shaped pieces of glass, and even lumps of metal. I supposed these could serve as paperweights, but I couldn’t see any other use for them.
Dust covered everything. From all appearances, no one had been in this place for months or maybe years.
I tentatively walked over to the closest shelf, picked up a book with a colorful looking cover and read the title: 1930 Census of Hamilton County, Iowa. I shook my head and flipped through the pages, many of which were water damaged. The true “curiosity” to Whipkey’s store, it seemed to me, was why anyone would want to purchase anything in it.
“Are you interested in books?” a wheezy voice asked from behind me.
Startled, I spun around, dropping the book. It hit the floor with what seemed like an unreasonably loud thud.
An old man stood in the middle of the room, staring up at me through glasses so thick that they made his eyes appear enormous. He was short, not much over five feet tall and extremely thin; his plain white shirt and faded gray vest hung on him like a diminutive scarecrow. His bald head was covered with liver spots and framed with a wild shock of wispy white hair that nicely matched the tufts protruding from his large ears. Yet, despite his obvious age, the man stood straight, unbent by his years.
“Excuse me,” I said, quickly retrieving the fallen book, “you startled me.” I replaced the book on the shelf, trying not to upset any of the surrounding junk, er…merchandise.
“I’m sorry,” the old man said in a tone that implied that he really wasn’t. “So are you looking for something or are you just lost?”
“Well, that depends; are you Mr. Whipkey?”
“I am,” the old man said, his eyes unblinking behind those thick lenses.
Creepy. I ran my hand quickly through my hair; I already felt foolish for coming here, now this old man was weirding me out. “Well, a friend of mine recommended you. Said you might be able to help me with a…a little problem.”
Mr. Whipkey seemed to relax slightly. He didn’t smile exactly, but his scowl did soften a bit. “A problem, is it? Well, solutions to problems do sometimes show up among my curiosities; if you’ll follow me.” He motioned toward the doorway he had (I assumed) come through at the back of the cluttered room.
In for a penny… I thought and forced myself to take a step. As I did so, the shop door slammed suddenly behind me. I spun around, my heart leaping to my throat as the room was once again plunged into near-darkness.
“Are you coming or not?” said the old man, his gravelly voice emerging from the gloom. I swallowed my heart back down to its proper position and groped my way toward where I thought the doorway was. Feeling my way through, I could just make out Mr. Whipkey walking down a short hallway toward another doorway, from which emanated soft reddish light. I followed him through into a room straight out of a Gothic romance.
A large Persian rug covered a hardwood floor, its once colorful pattern somewhat diminished with age. The walls were divided, with a dark wood wainscoting around the lower half and scarlet paisley wallpaper above. On the far wall there was a small stone hearth, the fire within nearly glutted, mostly just glowi
Between the desk and the door was a curtain of deep red velvet that hung nearly from ceiling to floor, like the display of a carnival attraction waiting to be unveiled. As odd as this was, somehow it seemed perfectly at home in this room.
Mr. Whipkey strode over to the oversized chair and, despite its bulk, effortlessly swung it around to face the curtain covered wall. The older man gestured for me to sit down and went to stand before it, his hands clasped impatiently behind him.
I swallowed hard, my mouth suddenly dry with apprehension.