We went in because we like visiting thrift stores; so we were a little disappointed once we were inside.
It looked more like a cross between a pawn shop and a curio store; on the wall shelves were what looked like toys. They were actually barely noticeable.
I wasn’t the only patron. There were five or six others. I don’t know if they had walked in right before me or had been there for a while. They seemed as confused or unimpressed as I was.
In the middle of the floor was a roped-off oblong-shaped block. It was clay or stone. I didn’t care and didn’t look close enough to know. It was too big to lift, but with enough effort could probably be rolled. Even this wasn’t really significant. The dark-colored ropes, only about three-feet high and attached to black post that were no more than a foot higher, weren’t necessary. We walked around it without paying it any attention. Everyone did.
There was a counter at the back of the store. There was an old man who looked like a foreigner behind it when I first walked in, but he disappeared into another room at some point. I don’t know when. Other than to nod a greeting, I had paid him no attention.
On the end of the counter was a box with a crank. It reminded me of a jack-in-the box. I turned it -- slowly, at first, and it clicked in a way that made me think of a child’s toy.
Then a little faster, and the clicking was replaced with a buzz. As I turned, something happened to the rock – it moved; it ululated. I was watching it, and the faster I turned, the faster it moved.
It took forms. First, they were inanimate objects. A chair; I turned the crank faster and structures of wood, stone, metal; a model of a skyscraper rose.
It never occurred to me to stop. I should have, but I wanted to see what next.
When I turned counterclockwise, whatever there was dissolved and a smaller image developed.
I went back to clockwise; even faster and the buzz became angry, and now it turned into animated objects – a suit of armor with a man in it; a man in a suit.
Faster and faster until the crank whined. A woman. She was light brown, slender built with long hair; she was exotic and from a different time, if not place. And she moved. She ran around the room with what looked like a flint knife. She didn’t seem like she wanted to stab anyone, but jabbed at everyone with the knife – seemingly more like she wanted to just touch than harm. Everyone kowtowed and scampered away from her. She rushed behind the counter. I told myself I wouldn’t, but I did the same when she came toward me. I backed away. Innately, I feared her touch. We all did. We feared she might take something from us (maybe our soul), or turn us into what she had been – or was.
The old man returned from some backroom and now, and she just stood and stared at me; only me.
He pushed us out of the store, though he tried to disguise it as shooing.
Behind him was his wife, just as foreign looking and probably from the same place, watching it all with a contended grin on her face.
Outside, I looked at the now dark storefront. The lights had been turned out that fast. Had I made it up? Had we all? That was it -- maybe it was a mass hallucination. There was no one left to ask questions or discuss it with. They had all scurried away. If there was anything else to be seen they didn’t want it to be by them.
I joined the others in disappearing into the shadows of evening.
It all frightened me. She haunted me. I wanted to see her again. I wanted to understand what I had seen and know who she was. Had I created her? Had I summoned her? Was he mine? A part of me?
Or was it all just a strange, weird dream?
I went back a few days later. Another man was there and the crap was still on the walls, but the block was gone from the center of the floor; he told me the owners were gone on vacation. It sounded like the word vacation was in air quotes. They were gone, and they weren’t coming back.
I walked to a nearby store. I didn’t want to say too much. I didn’t want to appear mentally ill. I was the only one in the store at the time, but I still didn’t want to be thought crazy. I asked them if they knew anything about the merchants from that shop. I didn’t want to be too specific, but I knew my real question was understood.
“Knowing his wife, it won’t be around very long,” the woman said from behind her counter. And that was it.
I didn’t know what she met by what she said about the wife. All I could wonder was did that mean she was going to break the box? Or kill her?
Nothing more was said, or would be said about it. She asked me if I wanted to buy something, as if I had just walked in and no other words had been exchanged.
I walked out into a blinding sunlight and into a world that was neither brave nor new, nor the same. It was all strange to me now.
Jamie C. Ruff is a former reporter, native of Greensboro, NC, and author of three e-books, the western “Colby Black: from Slave to Cowboy,” the contemporary tale of camaraderie and personal conflict “Reinventing the Uninvented Me,” and the coming-of-age story “The Peculiar Friendship.” All are available for download at Amazon.com.