by Rick Kennett
Other Stories by Rick Kennett on Tall Tale TV
Amid a blaze of red and blue constellations, only two of the planet’s three moons stood in the sky the night the woman with the sliding face entered Emmindap’s curio shop
The door opened with a dull clack of its bell, and Emmindap unbent himself from his corner behind the counter. His whiskers twitched and his triangular eyes gleamed with avarice as he watched the man and the woman step from the dark of the alley and into the half light of the shop. He had seen the man on a previous visit some days before, remembered his cape of subdued hues and the finely combed dark fur of his face and hands, bespeaking money. He had called himself Obre, Son of Bredjid of the Southern Islands, and had said he was searching the shops and bazaars to the east of the Yundu Expanse for curious artifacts on behalf of people he did not specify.
The woman was new to Emmindap. Unusually short – little more than half Obre’s height – her tawny fur was wrong somehow: perhaps an unnatural hue, perhaps lifeless and lacking the lustre which should have matched her full-length cloak of azure. It was evident she was an outlander. She had the mannerisms and quick, nervous movements of a foreigner in a foreign land. Her hands were always mobile, and in the brief moment after entering were raised twice to her face as if trying to keep it from sliding off; and once she prodded at her left eye in a way that made Emmindap wince.
Without a word, without a glance at the shopkeeper, exhibiting the rudeness and ignorance Emmindap had come to expect of outlanders, she moved to the glass-topped cabinets in the body of the shop and examined their contents – their small dark bottles, their boxes of light, the objects of parcelled shapes and colours, some seething slightly, some making faint gurgles and ticks; dead animals and live machinery, worked flecks of sunshine, delicate sculptures of wood and twists of sand.
Obre, Son of Bredjid of the Southern Islands, stepped up face to furry face with the proprietor and said with perfect business formality, “What have you today, Emmindap?”
“What do I not, Obre,” he replied in likewise tone, forgetting the ill manners of the woman and bearing his fangs in an ingratiating smile. “The glowing jewel? It has been some days. I thought you were not returning.”
“The lady had far to travel. Is it still here?”
“It is still here if you are still interested.”
“The lady is interested.”
Emmindap glanced over Obre’s lowered head to where the woman was pacing along the row of cabinets, stepping deeper into the gloom of the shop. Even from that distance and with her fluttering hands constantly adjusting her face, it was plain she was browsing with a purpose.
“Of particular interest,” Obre continued, raising his head abruptly, “is how it sometimes shines with a pale, soft light, and is sometimes warm in the hand. You said the jewel is of unknown origins, but you must have some inkling. Traders such as yourself are too shrewd to buy blind.”
Emmindap hesitated, then said, “The one who sold me the jewel told of its finding in the depths of the Yundu Expanse, surrounded by other artifacts scattered widely about. Why should I disbelieve? Things like that glowing jewel – things that should not be – have been turning up in recent years: pieces of unknown metals and substances, mechanisms and bits of mechanisms whose purpose our most learned scholars and savants cannot ponder.”
“Where are they found? Here in the east?”
“In many places: lying along sea beaches, embedded in the dead heart of the Yundu Expanse, wedged high up in jungle trees. The first were found, so it is said, in city streets and on roof tops, and that they were hot to the touch. I have heard of a chair of metal and ragged upholstery seen upright and driven deep into the sand in a ghoul-infested desert to the west, and that there was an uncouth and dwarfish corpse strapped into it. It was without fur over most of its body and the eyes were ovoid in shape.”
Obre’s triangular eyes widened. “What became of this corpse?”
Emmindap smiled coldly. “I did say it was a ghoul-infested desert.” He shrugged and added, “Perhaps the chair is yet there, hammered deep into the sand.”
Obre glanced over his shoulder at the woman down among the cabinets. She had stopped her prowling and was studying the contents of one particular glass case, having shown no reaction to the bizarre revelations of desert chair, ghouls and corpse. Emmindap, also watching her, decided she either did not regard their conversation or she did not know the language of Eastern Yundu..
“These artifacts,” said Obre, turning back, shifting slightly and blocking Emmindap’s view of the woman, “are said to be often unlucky to those who possess them.”
Emmindap’s pointed ears twitched. “Unlucky?”
“They are reputed to bring fire and sickness, madness and death.”
“You know my price, Obre. I will not lower it. If you do not wish to buy it others will, and for the same money, or perchance more.”
“I was not haggling, merely repeating what I have heard.”
“But it is true, is it not, that for all their mystery – or perhaps because of it – these fabulous items generate fear.”
“Some – the superstitious and the foolish – say they bring bad luck, and others believe that they attract the attention of . . .” Emmindap paused, looking for the right word, “entities wishing to retrieve –.”
A sharp intake of breath from the back of the shop interrupted him. He looked up in surprise and alarm. The woman was leaning far over the cabinet, her short stature causing her to almost climb onto it with her face against the glass, the pale glow of the jewel within pulsing on her oddly hued fur.
For a moment she hung thus. Then, pushing back, straightening up and clamping a hand to her left eye too late to prevent a triangular marble to fall glittering to the floor, she tapped the glass top of the cabinet insistently and voiced a stream of words alien to the ears of Emmindap the shopkeeper – alien in timbre and tone and vocalization. Alien to that entire world, and muffled as if coming from behind a mask.
Emmindap blinked. Had he glimpsed bare skin under her upraised hand, beneath her sliding face? And within the open eye socket an orb ovoid in shape?
The woman scooped up her fallen eye and raced from the shop, a blue blur into the dark of the alley and gone, the clack of the bell drowned by the slam of the door.
Emmindap looked at Obre. Obre looked at Emmindap, impassive. Coin was passed across the counter.
When Emmindap handed him the glowing jewel from the cabinet, Obre took it gently, carefully, as one who handles something that might explode at any moment.
The deal was concluded by the customary stroking of each other’s face fur, then Obre hurriedly followed his companion out into the night.
Rick Kennett has five books on Amazon – two novels: The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and Presumed Dead. A novella: In Quinn’s Paddock. And two collections: The Dark and What It Said and Thirty Minutes for New Hell.
He will also have a brand new anthology coming out in about two weeks time! “War of the Worlds, Battleground Australia” is set to launch on June 10th!
In addition, he recently had his story ‘Presumed Dead’ serialized by the podcast ‘Cast of Wonders’ which is free to listen to on their website.
Links in the description