Full Price

Fed Starving

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"Absolutely no discounts, refunds, reductions, trade-ins, bartering, financing, split-payments, holdings or alternative means of payments are accepted. You must pay precisely the tag value of your purchase. Cash preferred, no credit or debit. Written check is alright with two forms of identification so long as you have a long-standing account with us, a year membership required with more than $4000.00 in purchases before I can accept checks with your account, should you want one." I said to the young woman in a red skirt and pink-white blouse.

She leaned closer on the counter, sliding her leather purse to the side and looked into my eyes. I swallowed nervously, trying not to appear weakened with her attraction. Frilly lace on her bra barely showed on the top arch of her breasts through the low cut of her blouse.

I was standing sideways with my right elbow and forearm on the counter. The doorbell jangled out a short melody. A customer entered the walkway to the door. The young woman's greedy hold on my attention was interrupted when I stood up straight and looked at the customer as he opened the door. I said, "Thank you for visiting. Please come again." The customer didn't reply as he left.

A man and a woman, presumably married, were intently checking out a medieval Czech trunk. The woman was inserting the primitive key into the padlock that was set beside the trunk on a cloth. I returned my attention to the young woman at the counter with me.

She was probably in her mid-twenties, not much younger than I at thirty. She wore no ring and appeared with the way she dressed fully available.

The item in question was a very well preserved unused sketchbook made in the 1910s. Seventy pages of thick paper bound in a threaded shellac glazed thin cardboard cover. A solo nick on the sketchbooks' spine and a cup stain left behind when a coaster apparently couldn’t be found, the item was in near-perfect condition. The sketchbook was rare possibly the oldest unused sketchbook left. The pages were immaculate with no creases. You could very well use the sketchbook as if you bought it recently and not discern that it was actually over a century old.

The young woman lifted the sketchbook in her hands. We both looked down at it. She guided my attention to the gold leaf lettering along the bottom edge of the cover with her dainty finger, saying, "What does KT21 mean?"

I replied, "Well, the lettering wasn't added during the manufacturing process. My guess is a number of these sketchbooks were bought in bulk then the owner had them serial marked. Perhaps there's another six of these sketchbooks. If there were, then they were likely used and then this one sold because there wasn’t a need to keep it. What KT21 means I wouldn't say for sure but it might be the initials of the artist who owned it or the codename of what project the artist was working on at the time. It could've been used in a business venture of some sort where sketch artists are required.

I smoothly retrieved the sketchbook out of her hands into my own. I tilted the sketchbook into the light and ran my finger along the gold leaf lettering, saying, "As you can see, the lettering was pressed deep enough that it has made an obvious relief in the cover. You can feel it right away. At least a millimeter deep."

The young woman touched the relief as I showed her. Our fingers both briefly brushed alongside each other and a jolt of surprise crackled my nerves. The sexual tension nearly overwhelmed my professionality. She seemed amused and well aware of my tension.

"$770.00 seems steep for a sketchbook. Your Shakespeare volume is $400.00 and it's a hundred years older than this skinny thing." The young woman said. "You would think Shakespeare would out-price an empty book. Certainly since the Shakespeare was hand-crafted and this sketchbook was made on a production line."

"Well, you see," I answered her, handing her the sketchbook. She lowered it slowly onto the counter, straightened herself up, placing her hand on the leather purse. "This sketchbook is much rarer than that Shakespeare volume, and historically, being an early relic of the industrial revolution, it's quite possibly the only one left of it's kind. The condition of being so well preserved and the quality of it's manufacture also factor into the steep price."

She slid her purse strap onto her shoulder, saying, "Okay, I will return shortly with the cash. I will need to go to an ATM. Could you hold this sketchbook for me while I go retrieve the money? I won't be away long."

I answered, "Yes. I will prepare the item while you retrieve your funds. Would you like a box or a bag?"

She replied, "A box would be fine."

She looked at her watch.

I asked her, "Might I ask your name, miss?"

"Gisela. Gisela Heetisch" She said enthusiastically. "And you?"

"Wentworth Geldeson." I answered. "Gisela is a beautiful name, a name that serves your attraction well."

She smiled at the compliment and said, "Thank you Wentworth, I will return shortly. Hold on to my sketchbook."

"Of course." I said.

She casually made her way to the door then left. The doorbell jangled out it's short melody once again.

I set myself upon the task of preparing the item for sale. The man and woman who were checking out the Czechen trunk were now slowly walking the aisles of the small items section where random interests of value were shelved on display.

I owned the building and controlled 100% of my business all alone. I alone saw every transaction through that ever occurred there. I approved all the merchandise personally and I alone stocked the floor. Item appraisal was a task that I outsourced to an auction house that also on occasion sold off some of my items when I thought they wouldn't sell individually. I preferred to maintain a steady circulation of merchandise, unlike other businesses who would let items sit on the shelves years at a time. Return customers who frequented my business would tell me that they liked that I made so many new items available so often.

When preparing the sketchbook for sale in it's box was nearly done a hunchbacked old man came thumping through the door. His hair was long and stringy grey, appearing as if he combed it but it got messy on his way there. His thick wool overcoat hung off his figure like a drab blanket. The top button was missing. He hobbled his way to the counter, his cane tapping dully on the tile floor.

I turned my head as I fastened the lid onto the box, saying, "What can I do for you, sir?"

The old hunchback got flustered and pointed his cane at me. He spat his words as though a hot coal was alight in his belly. I was anticipating smoke to seep from his ears. "Absolutely no C! C is for grabbing, sneaky, needy, lazy dum-dums whose hands, if permitted to remain attached, would put us all out of business for a cheap cash-in. Sell us out for a muffin and dirty wine they would. Don't C a thing! Do you understand me? No C!"

I put the box on a table behind the counter. I cleared my throat, surprised at the crazy old hunchback, not knowing how to respond to him.

"Sir, I don't understand what you could be alluding to. If you need medical attention I will swiftly request an ambulance for you." I said to him calmly.

"You fool!" The old hunchback shouted, "I don't need an ambulance! Don't you know who I am?!"

The old hunchback put his cane to the floor once more and lowered his voice. He said, "I am Relmbao Tojolirr." He puffed out his chest with pride.

I was silent.

He seemed quick with irritation. "You fool! Does my name not inspire you? Don't you care who I am? You should be impressed that I graced your pithy business with my ostensible charm."

I raised an eyebrow and replied, "No sir, your name does not precede you here. Would you care to enlighten me?"

"What year is it?" He asked with a sudden worry in his voice.

"2016." I answered. "You look dressed for a play. I would say you look like an actor who got incorrect directions. Would you like assistance finding an item you've been searching for? As you can see I sell a wide variety of merchandise. For a finder's fee I can usually acquire special items not in stock."

The old hunchback shook his head vigorously then said loudly, "What?! 2016!? You don't say."

The man and woman who were browsing my merchandise walked up to the counter past the old hunchback who fell silent. The old hunchback wandered off in thought.

The man said, "We would like to purchase that trunk on display. Could you tell us about it?"

I replied, "Ah, yes. Quite the item, that trunk. Made in the Czech Republic in 1674, it once contained the clothing and effects of a noblewoman who brought it with her to America. The trunk became a family heirloom that was passed through the centuries until it was sold to a museum before the turn of the 20th century. The museum, spring cleaning it's inventory, decided to let it go and I acquired it at auction three months ago. The trunk was restored in the care of the museum. The padlock and key are the original set that were purchased for the trunk in 1674. In fair condition, it has been used far beyond the number of years intended when it was assembled. Trunks like this one were common through medieval times as a majority of house owners considered them mandatory. Usually covered with blankets or some other cloth item, they would double as a chair during the daytime. The sturdiness of their construction kept many of these trunks preserved through the centuries. They are quite collectible and are a frequently sought item."

The woman asked, "Are there matching items of the same lot, maybe furniture or utensils? Anything that the same smith built, or was that trunk part of a set?"

I answered, "Not that I know of. That trunk is unique. A brand with the builder's mark is burned into the bottom, reading R.T. 1674."

The man retrieved his wallet and said, "We want it."

"Good for you, sir." I said to him. "That really is a nice trunk. I sold others like it before and I personally own one built in 1700s New York."

The man and woman both smiled.

I said, "Would you like it covered or do you have space inside your vehicle for it?"

"No cover." Said the woman. "We have our own blankets we can use."

I wrote out a sales receipt for the trunk then counted the cash that the man handed to me. "$2240.00" I said. "And what is your name, sir?" I asked.

"You can write the receipt out to Benjamin & Stacy Christian." He said.

I asked them to sign the sales receipt then I tore off their portion of it. I put the payment in the safe.

"Alright." I said, "Thank you very much for your business. Would you like me to dolly the trunk out to your vehicle for you?"

Benjamin answered, "Yes. That would be fine."

I loaded the dolly up with the trunk and then accompanied them to their car, Benjamin holding the shop door while I wheeled the dolly through. I said loudly as we neared the door and the doorbell jangled, "I will return shortly Mr. Tojolirr!" The old hunchback didn't seem to notice. He was standing at a window while he stared blankly out at the traffic, deep in thought.

Several minutes passed before I returned, wheeling the dolly behind the counter. The old hunchback hadn't flinched.

"Sir, if you aren't here in the interest of business I will have to ask you kindly to leave." I told the old hunchback firmly.

"Don't you use that short tone with me boy!" The old hunchback detonated, pointing his cane at me again.

He said, "What is K?! K is for Kick! And T?! T isn't a word, T is an idea!" He took short steps towards me, holding his cane up with a shaky hand. "Don't you know?!" He blurted out hastily.

"Sir, I know that you are not well and I will ask you kindly again to leave before intensified measures are required to do so."

"Letters aren't merely symbols for the eyes!" His voice was now higher and less certain than before. "Letters have secondary meanings! If you learn them like I learned them, you will become as I!"

I nearly laughed at his nonsensical chatter, saying, "I'm sure I would. Pardon me for not getting my advice from a Scrabble board, but your banter is suited for the nuthouse, not a business of esteemed repute. Are you going to leave?"

The old hunchback quit coming closer. The doorbell jangled as Ms. Heetisch entered. The old hunchback turned his head to see her, his cane trembling in his hand. Ms. Heetisch halted when she saw him. She looked at him then me then him again, not sure what to make of what she saw.

She said, "What have we here?"

I replied, "He's not well in the head and I'm preparing to have him taken away."

The old hunchback said abruptly, "What is R?! R is for Right! L is for Left!"

Ms. Heetisch shrank a little at the old hunchback's disturbance. "Acronyms." She said plainly in a concerned tone. She furthered herself away from the old hunchback, freeing up the space to the door.

The old hunchback pointed his cane at her, "Don't you get clever with me, lady!" He shouted. "A is number 1, first, priority, the alpha! B is A's leech, always in the way, always confusing things! B is for Beside, A is for All!" The sneer in his throat was turning vile.

Ms. Heetisch furthered her distance to the old hunchback and closer to me.

"Alright." I said loudly, "This has gone far enough."

I took a step out onto the floor with a taser in my left hand. I pressed the taser button and it made a daring zap sound. The old hunchback lowered his cane.

"That's right." I said calmly. "Now leave, peacefully."

I pressed the taser button again. The zap made the old hunchback jump. He made his way to the door. He didn't say another word. The doorbell jangled and he was soon gone.

"I'm sorry for the disturbance, Gisela. That sort of interruption hasn't happened before."

She instantly warmed up to me and came to the counter. She said, "Odd look about him, were those clothes something else or what?!"

"Yes. He was certainly out there." I said.

There was a short interval of silence. We looked at each other without a word. It was eternity adrift in her eyes. I drummed my fingers on the counter and broke the silence.

"Well." I said. "Your sketchbook is boxed and ready for you."

She started trembling, catching us both off keynote. I felt a bewildering turn deep in my stomach and it felt as if my nerves were being soaked with a thick frequency. I likened it to the gelatin-like wobbliness of magnets repelling each other. I raised an eyebrow. She shrugged.

"You ever get the heeby-jeebies like you're suddenly in the twilight zone?" Ms. Heetisch asked.

"You know what." I answered. "I was born for the twilight zone. I swear not a week goes without some mysterious off-kilter odd occurrence. It does though, like you said, it does seem one of those off-moments."

I retrieved Ms. Heetisch's purchase and set it before her on the counter. I said, "I can gift wrap it if you'd like. If that's what you're getting it for."

"No. I like it the way it is. I bought it for me." She said.

She gave me the money and I wrote her out a receipt. She turned to leave then froze paralyzed in her tracks. She said, "It's somewhat early to be so dark outside, isn't it?"

"No. I didn't notice." I replied. "It can't be dark yet. It was only 10:00AM a few minutes ago."

The wall clock displayed 10:53AM and the seconds hand wasn't ticking along.

Gisela turned to face me again and set her box on the counter. She said, "I'm dreaming. I know I'm dreaming. Pinch me." She held out her hand palm up. "Do it." She said. "Pinch my wrist."

I lightly pinched her wrist, careful to not leave a blemish. Her skin was soft and tender. I let go then said, "We're still here." I winked with a smirk at her cheeky request.

The ethereal current that oozed through my nerves was ever prevalent. I felt like I moved through invisible sludge, although I wasn't really slowed in any physical sense. It was all sensory.

"What should we do Wentworth?" Said Gisela.

"Good question." I answered.

The premature darkness outside was interrupted with a flash of white light that flooded through the windows with a split-second of glowing haze.

Obviously a very close lightning strike, Gisela made a jump for me in her fright but the counter was in her way. I raised my eyebrows high as I reached under the counter and said, "I will go ahead and lock the door."

Gisela was visibly getting wrought up. I said, "Hold a minute while I check it out then we will go sit and get our nerves off the burner."

I walked past her and the doorbell jangled out it's short melody as I neared the door.

"What the?!" I said loudly then hastily locked the door. I turned the heavy deadbolt over not a second too soon.

The old hunchback smacked right into the glass of the door with his arms spread wide like he was ready to hug me. His cane tight in his left hand clinked on the glass. The old hunchback grimaced, baring his pearly whites. His eyes were alight with a greenish-blue swirl. Intense was the ethereal current seemingly passing through me, I could only surmise the old hunchback was the source.

Gisela said sharply, "Where's the taser?!"

"Behind the counter, go ahead and get it." I replied quickly, holding my attention squarely on the old hunchback who appeared to be haunted, brainless and vacant.

"The city is gone!" I shouted. All there was was countryside wild-grass and tall unkempt trees. The moon shone with a clear prominence, half sitting on the edge of glowing clouds over the distant hilltops, being the only light to see with. It was a harsh departure from the barely visible skies I was use to seeing over the city. Now the stars shone with a clarity and an abundance I'd never seen before.

I heard the crackle of the taser. "The city is gone." Gisela echoed my words with a faded tone of disbelief.

"Let me in!" The muffled voice of the old hunchback was softly heard through the thick door glass. His cane was tapping the window as he slid his arms around.

I laughed quietly at the thought then said firmly, "Yeah, I'm gonna do that right away." Gisela was soon at my side with the taser. She was surprise at the countryside scenery. She said, "Oh my, what's that light coming this way? Look, at the hills, do you see?"

"Yes." I replied.

The old hunchback looked over his shoulder to see what we were looking at. He did a 180 degree flip. "No! They're here!" He shouted. "Hurry!" He shouted as he hobbled away on his cane. "Hurry!" He said again.

Gisela and I continued to watch the lights get bolder as whomever it was neared us. They appeared around a half mile away. I presumed that the light descending off the hilltop was heavy duty flashlights because of their unwavering intensity.

"Shut off all the lights!" Urged Gisela, who instantly sprinted off to the light switch near the door. We were suddenly cloaked in darkness, reflections on the glass disappeared. We could now easily see across the countryside. A sizeable group they were. The old hunchback was getting distant himself, in the other direction. I could feel Gisela's presence at my side again though I hadn't heard her. I intuitively took her arm with a tug and guided her to a less obvious window that was large enough for only our heads. We both watched as the lights veered in the old hunchback's direction. The old hunchback was barely visible as a dark shape in the dark green countryside.

I could feel Gisela’s heart thump although we weren’t touching. I felt like she was much closer than we actually were and never had I felt like that before. I attributed the sensation being connected to the ethereal wrench in my chest. My nerves were ultra sensitive. That had to be what it was. But what was causing it was what I really wanted to know.

"They're going to get him." She whispered. I didn't reply. Only watched.

Minutes passed as the shapes got nearer the old hunchback. A beam of light was focused on him. He quit his run and turned to face them, raising his arm in defense. Another bright laser-like light was aimed at him and his whole body as well as his clothing brightened intensely an orange-red. He glowed brighter and brighter for a few seconds before detonating into millions of glowing spheres that looked like mach speed fireflies. He was vaporized.

"I never saw anything like that." I said to Gisela. "Some sort of laser beam."

We sat silently for another minute as the lights searched around in the area where the old hunchback saw his end.

I said, "Let's go to the roof, Gisela. I can lock the hatch. They'll never get us without a ladder." I took her hand in mine and we carefully tip-toed through the darkness quietly. She got out a lighter while we climbed the stairwell, revealing the lonesome emptiness made increasingly haunting with our creaky footsteps in pure silence.

I was channeling another dimension. I could feel it but I said nothing to Gisela about it. I didn't want to add tension to her nervous uncertainty.

There were only two floors. Roof access was limited to a fire escape in the utility room. I locked the utility room door behind us and climbed the ladder. I went through the hatch then guided her up the ladder. I locked the hatch shut from the outside. The roof was a standard flat roof with a chest high wall along the perimeter.

We quickly went to see what was going on out on the grassy plains with the lights. We ducked out of view as soon as we saw how close they were. We sat on our butts with our backs pressed into the wall. Our legs out before us I was somewhat disenchanted at our situation. Outnumbered and unprepared in another universe, all we could do was hide.

We listened in silence but there were no sounds, no voices, no indication of what our new friends were doing. We waited for what seemed like an eternity but was actually around thirty minutes before I broke the silence.

I whispered, "I'm going to check and see if they're out there."

Gisela didn't answer. She was asleep. I considered waking her then decided to let her continue sleeping. The shock of the unreal events of our time together really took a lot out of her. I was getting low on power myself. I would get sleepy if we sat there much longer.

I slowly got on my feet and looked around at the wild grassland below us. I didn't see anything. No lights. No people. Not a single thing. That sludge-like ethereal sensation was gone. I felt free of any such constraints. I was my normal self again. The chirp of crickets was reassuring for me. If the crickets were fine then we probably had no worries. Crickets will fall silent when there is a disruptive presence.

I kept my lookout as Gisela slept for a quarter of an hour. I found nothing to be alarmed about. She awoke on her own and we silently watched the sun rise together and as the sun rolled into the sky we could see a structure not far away on the grasslands.

Gisela said, "They left, didn't they?"

I replied, "Yes. I didn't see them. I didn't see anyone."

"What do you suppose that is?" She asked of the structure curiously.

"I don't know but I want to go check it out." I replied, "I think we'll be safe. Let's go see what that is. If those people come again I think there'll be plenty of time to get inside. What do you say about that Gisela?"

Gisela had her purse tightly under an armpit with her free arm horizontal, hand locked onto her upper arm. She seemed somewhat uneasy in her skirt and revealing blouse now but I couldn't turn my eyes away. She really was an eyefull.

She hadn't seemed to like the idea of visiting the structure out on the grassland. She gave my plan a long thought then said, "Okay, but I need some time to get ready."

I replied, "If that helps you feel good, then be my guest. Shall we?" I held my hand towards the sky hatch. She walked over to the hatch and waited for me.

Once inside again I showed her to the bathroom. I went out onto the main floor and sat watch near the windows on the lookout for anything at all. I didn't see anything. Nothing appeared altered. That didn't mean though that the lightbeam people weren't close, perhaps within sight if we knew where to look. The tall grass could easily hide anyone lying on the ground. They could be right there. I assumed that they weren't. They were probably long gone.

Gisela took a long time and when she was done in the bathroom she asked about clothes. I didn't have much in the way of personal attire since nearly everything was made before 1920. She got a girl's overcoat made in 1800s Asia that wasn't really all that soft due to the age of the fiber. The antique coat kept her warm though.

I made sure the taser was fully charged and we took a step out the door at what I guessed was around 10 or 11 AM. All my clocks and watches were paused at 10:53PM. The sky was partly cloudy with patches of sunshine beaming through. The air wasn't too cold but also we weren't all that warm either.

The structure was somewhat like Stonehenge in that it wasn't a building, yet rather several free-standing mason-formed artworks. The structure was a sight to behold. Although there wasn't an "entrance" per se, there was a wall and a pillar connected with a single arch, made with artificial stone materials that seemed light and frail but were strong, feeling somewhat like plastic.

A relief in the wall showed humanoid shapes without faces but they were life-like in size. Gisela and I were standing near the archway looking through at another free standing structure made of a different type of stone.

The head of one of the relief figures glowed a dull and sparkly mixture of pink and blue. There was a telepathic message that we both heard, saying into our minds, "Purity, element in our source. We are divine."

The stone appeared alive yet I couldn't actually see what the liveliness was with my eyes but I could tell that the stone had somehow come to life.

"My name is Wentworth and my partner's name is Gisela. We kindly ask you for your mercy, for your help. Dire our needs." I said firmly to the wall relief.

"Go with caution," Answered the wall relief, this time we actually heard the words with our ears. "go with wonder. Go with awe. But dare you not touch the treasure."

Gisela and I looked one another in the eyes. I took her hand and we walked through the archway. On the other side of the archway we stood in the center of the structures. A simple square stone was in the ground, a bowl full of treasure lying there like an offering, tempting anyone who would see.

Gisela kept close to me as we walked around the bowl on the stone tile, looking at the several structures. Each one was different. I was eager to see another relief talk to us but all seemed very silent.

A yellow golden light shone above us and a thundering voice quit us in our tracks. "You can return to where you were." Said the light. Gisela and I had to look away because it was too bright to look into.

I held Gisela in my arms and we both said not a word in reply to the thunder. The thundering voice said, "Gisela. Wentworth. You will return to your lives but there is a toll. If you cannot pay then you will not return, for all eternity here you will live. Consent to my terms of full price and walk into my light. If you do not consent to my terms of full price then turn away and leave. I offer this once. Make your decision now."

Gisela and I held each other closely and without hesitation walked into the light.
 

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