Episode 017 The Shop

Episode 017 The Shop

June 1920

Barry Mullein opened his occult shop on Westfield avenue just after the war. He started it as a traditional pharmacy, intent on providing  common helpful goods and services to the people of Amon Heights.

In time, Barry's little store started to receive requests from members of the immigrant communities for unusual powders, blessed candles, and other folk remedies.

In response to the increasing demand for occult and spiritual items, Barry decided to expand his inventory. He began carrying specially formulated sachets, incense, and blends of occult oils, all intended to enhance contentment, happiness, and prosperity. These products became popular among the locals, and the store gained a reputation as a source of spiritual and mystical supplies.

One crisp October day, a new customer entered Barry’s Occult Shop, accompanied by the jingle of the shopkeeper bell above the door. The little man wore a charcoal gray suit with matching bowler hat and carried a gleaming black satchel. Thick black eyebrows contrasted with his paper-white face that somehow didn’t seem to match his head, almost like a mask. Every step as the man entered the store seemed almost too exact and correct, as if he were performing the act of walking rather than merely doing so. The stranger walked up to the counter and read aloud the aluminum sign directly above Barry’s head.

“We’re here to help.” said the man. 

“Yessir!” said Barry, “That’s my motto. Our entire mission statement. Barry’s Occult Shop, ‘We’re here to help!’  What can I do for you, mister?”

“Your motto? So I am safe to assume that you are the eponymous Mr. Barry?” 

“Right again, friend. So what seems to be the trouble? If your suntan needs work, I’ve got all kinds of ointments and unguents to assist in that endeavor.”

“A joke? Haha.” said the man in a tone that did not seem amused. “My employer is a lover of all forms of levity and frivolity. I think your shop will suit his needs quite nicely.”

“Oh. I see. You’re here on behalf of another then? Well, tell me pal, who’s your boss and what’s he need?”

“Well,” started the man as he picked up from the counter a small figurine with grotesque features formed from clay and painted with horizontal black stripes , “Mr. Chino, my employer, is a man of singular taste. He has in his collection many unique items that perhaps you would consider displaying in your little emporium.”

“Oh, I see,” said Barry, “You’re not fixin’ to buy, you’re lookin’ to sell.”

“Oh no sir.” said the stranger, “I don’t mean to give you the impression that Mr. Chino is a mere peddler. He is a connoisseur of the unusual. But he would wish to share his acquisitions with others who may be in need. As your sign says, he too would like to help.”

“Hold on a minute, sir. Are you implying that Mr. Chino is looking to give stuff away? Just like that? That doesn’t sound ordinary to me, sir.”

“Oh Mr. Barry. There is nothing ordinary about it at all. I assure you. However, my employer is quite insistent that your shop is the perfect place for his collection. And he understands that you are a businessman. Therefore you are not expected to allow him to take up space in your store without compensation. Please sir, feel free to charge whatever price you deem reasonable to your patrons.”

“Ok. Alright...Mister...”


“Mister Contragust,” continued Barry, “You’re saying that your boss doesn’t wish for me to compensate him in any way other than to distribute his goods to my paying customers and that he expects me to just TAKE the profits all for myself?”

“Yes.” mister Contragust said, “But, may I indulge myself one teensy bit? Should you agree to the deal?”

“In what way?”

“This.” Contragust said, holding up the tiny figurine, “It amuses me so.”

“You’re offering me free products to sell at one hundred percent profit and all you want is that Hopi sacred clown kachina doll?”

“I believe it is Zuni, not Hopi, but yes sir.”

“Then you got yourself a deal, Mister Contragust!” smiled Barry, “Where do I sign up!”

A contract was produced from the strange man’s bag and signed swiftly before Mr. Contragust went on his way.

The next day Mr. Chino’s new products started pouring in. Box after box delivered in a plain white truck by men in plain white overalls with the name “BALATRON” printed on the back. 

It was an odd assortment of items indeed. Barry found himself at a loss of how to categorize, display, and present most of these enigmatic products to his customers. As he unpacked the strange trinkets, ancient relics, and various objects that exuded an aura of mystery and mysticism, his employee, Millie entered the store.

“What the heck is all this junk?” she asked him.

“Now, Millie,” said Barry, “This isn’t junk. These are...umm...curios.”

“Well, I’m pretty curios about how you intend to stock it all. It takes up half the shop!”

“I’m working on it. I think I need to move the counter back a few feet and that will leave room for a grand display. I can stack a few crates and drape them with a few old sheets. When I’m done it will actually look quite nice I suspect.”

“When did you order all this stuff? It don’t look nothin’ like our usual crap.”

“Our silent benefactor donated them!” beamed Barry. 

“Silent what-a-factor?” asked Millie.

“Certain Mr. Chino.” Barry said. “He’s providing his gimcracks, gewgaws, and baubles for our clientele to ooh and ahh at. Between you and me, I can’t say I expect this merchandise to move, but never look a gift horse in the mouth. That’s what I say. If nothing else, we should have a nice window display to draw ‘em in!”

“Draw who in?”

“Why, our customers, of course.”

“But they already come in. For the services we provide them”. Millie said.

“Yes, but maybe we can lure a few new folks into the old shop! If not, no harm done. That’s what I always say.”

“And this Mr. Chino, you sure you trust him?”

“Why wouldn’t I trust him?” asked Barry, “What’s he stand to gain by giving me products to sell pro bono?”

“What’s he stand to gain?” gasped Millie, “Oh I dunno. Maybe he’s fixin’ to unload his stolen goods? You ever think of that?”

Barry was truly taken aback. He’d never considered the notion.

“But,” he began, “but that don’t make sense. If he’s lookin’ for a fence then certainly he’d want his piece of the pie. But I tell you, this guy doesn’t want a dime!”

“Well, that’s even more suspicious!” said an exasperated Millie, “He’s probably a smuggler!”

“A smuggler? Come now!”

“Think about it, boss. He gets you to hold onto his ill-gotten gains until he can pass it off to the real buyer. They pay you and then...”

“And then what? How’s he supposed to get his cut? There’s no logical way for that to happen. I tell you Millie, this fella is simply an eccentric altruist.”

“I don’t know what an owl truthist is, but he sure sounds eccentric.”

Millie crossed her arms and shook her head, skeptical about this whole arrangement. "I just don't trust it, boss. There's something fishy about all of this."

Barry, always the optimist, shrugged off Millie's concerns. "Well, we won't know until we give it a try. Besides, if it turns out to be legit, we stand to make quite a profit from Mr. Chino's unique items. And if not, we can always return them or report any suspicious activities to the authorities. But let's not jump to conclusions just yet."

Over the following days, Barry and Millie worked diligently to reorganize the store, creating a dedicated section for Mr. Chino's enigmatic wares. They carefully displayed the bizarre figurines, ancient manuscripts, and otherworldly relics in a way that piqued the curiosity of passersby. The new display quickly became a focal point of the shop, drawing in a stream of intrigued customers.

As weeks passed, the items from Mr. Chino's collection began to sell, much to Barry's surprise. People from all walks of life were captivated by the peculiar items.

Customers often had questions about the items, but Barry could provide almost no info regarding them. Each curio came with a handwritten tag, but the labels offered little in the way of illumination. In most cases the tags had two or three words on them such as “Sadness Bowl” or “Box of Rectification”. Nevertheless, nearly every article that a customer asked about was sold immediately. It was as if merely touching one of these strange artifacts was enough to encourage a sale. On the other hand, as Barry preferred to believe- the customers were drawn to the object that best suited their needs.

The donated objects didn’t exactly fly off the shelves, but Barry noticed an uptick in sales in general as his reputation as the man to go to when you have a seemingly unsolvable problem increased. 

Mr. Granahan came in one day looking for something that would stop his wife’s snoring. Before Barry could offer him a tonic which he’d stocked for just such a problem, the man picked up an old pillowcase that lay folded on the display. Barry hadn’t even noticed it before. Of course, that was often the case with these items. There were so many that Barry couldn’t keep track of them. Still, he was certain that some of these objects just seemed to appear just as they were needed.

“This is it.” said Mr. Granahan. “Just the thing! I don’t know how you do it, Barry.” 

He purchased the pillowcase and left. Barry wasn’t entirely sure how it was supposed to help Mr. Granahan’s problem, but he’d not had a single complaint about the new products so far.

Sometimes weeks went by without any of the items moving, but sooner or later someone or other would come in looking for the solution to a problem. Inevitably they’d pick up the “Satchel of Coveting” or “Laughing Dog Figurine”, declare it was exactly what they were looking for and then leave happy.

Barry almost felt guilty charging for the things since they’d cost him nothing at all, but Mr. Contragust had insisted. There had been a contract and everything.

One day Millie came in with a gentleman. 

“This is Rodney.” she said, introducing the man, “He’s a...friend of mine. I told him about the new products we’ve been selling and he’s really interested.”

“Interested in what?” asked Barry.

“Interested in making you a wealthy man!” said Rodney. “You seem to be sitting on a gold mine here.”

“Well, business is doing just fine. I don’t think I need-”

“Don’t need more money?” Rodney interrupted. “Come now, Barry. Everyone could use more cash. Am I right?”

“Well, sure, but-”

“Let me tell you what I can do for you! You’ve got a good line of products! But you need to expand! This little rinky-dink shop isn’t gonna get you where you need to be! I got a buddy in the real-estate biz. He can set you up with a bigger place in the city! That’s where the money’s at.”

“Well, friend, I’m not sure-”

“You should listen to Rodney.” said Millie. “He’s got an MBA...from Wharton.”

“What the heck is an MBA?” asked Barry.

“It’s a certificate that says I know what I’m talking about!” said Rodney. “You listen to me and the sky’s the limit!” 

“Look,” said Barry, “I’m not against expanding my business, but hold your horses there mister. I got into this line of work first and foremost to help people. That’s what I do.”

“Well,” said Rodney, “Think of all the people you can help with a bigger store. Two stores! Ten! You could have a line of Barry’s Emporiums all across the country! You could be the next Woolworths! The next Sears!”

“That sounds a bit much.” said Barry.

“Look. Barry.” said Rodney as he picked up a small glass globe. “You got the goods, right? People love ‘em. But say you take this here-what’s the tag say? This here ‘Orb of Courage’ - good one!  You take this Orb of Courage and you mass-produce it!”

“Mass produce it? These are all one-of-a-kind.” Barry protested.

“That’s the problem, Bar - you think too small! We could easily make a million of these babies! What do you sell one of these for?”

“Oh, that one’s three dollars!” said Barry.

“So, are you the kind of man to say no to three MILLION dollars?” asked Rodney.

“Now, don’t be ridiculous,” said Barry. “People come here with a need and I help them fulfill it. I’m not trying to sell them cheap...crap. There I said it. Crap!”

“Barry, you’re not getting it.” said Rodney as he flourished the little ball in his hand. “It wouldn’t be crap. It would be high quality replicas of all your best sellers!”

“But each thing I sell is unique!”

Rodney tossed the glass globe in the air as if juggling it.

“Hey,” said Barry, “Be careful. That’s my merchandise!”

Rodney caught the globe and held it out to Barry, presenting it between his thumb and forefinger. 

“Here you go pal.” said Rodney, “I don’t want to run afoul of any ‘you-break-it you-buy-it policy’!”

Barry snatched the glass ball from Rodney, but in his haste, he dropped it and it fell to the floor, shattering.

“Oh butterfingers, Barry.” said Rodney in a tone that was more mocking than sympathetic. 

“I-I told you not to mess around with it!” said Barry. “You don’t understand. These aren’t mere knick-knacks.”

“I’m sorry, pal.” said Rodney, as he pulled out his wallet. “Here. Lemee make it up to you. Here’s a fiver. Keep the change.”

“Get out of my store!” barked Barry.

“Oh c’mon boss.” said Millie. “He’s only trying to help. He didn’t mean to drop the glass. And he’s payin’ for it.”

“Get out! You have zero respect, Rodney. And I won’t listen to another second of your chicanery!”

Rodney set the five dollar bill on the counter and turned to leave. 

“Your loss, mister.” he said.  Just as he got to the door, Rodney turned and held out his business card and added “In case you come to your sense-”  but the words cut off as Rodney found himself standing face-to-face with a hulking, shadowy figure.

“What the hell?” Rodney managed to gasp before the inky-black being in the vague shape of a man grabbed him by the throat.

Millie looked on in shock as Barry held his own hand out in the same position as the shadow that stood in front of him.

“Get out and take your card with you!” sneered Barry. “I won’t be needing your services!”

The shadow stepped forward, pushing Rodney by his tensed neck, dropping him onto the pavement outside. 

“And stay out!” snapped Barry as the shadowy figure dissipated like smoke.

“What the FUCK was that?” spat Millie. “Barry. What the hell? What?” she started sobbing, and backed away from him.

“Millie. I’m sorry.” said Barry, “I didn’t mean to lose my temper like that. That Rodney fella, he just got under my skin. I shouldn’t have snapped like that.”

“You...” she began to say but lost her breath.

“I what?”

“You...DEMON!” she ran out of the shop and continued down Westfield Avenue.

Barry swept up the broken glass and placed it in the dustbin. Then he sat down at his usual spot behind the counter and read the paper.

After a while the shopkeeper bell rang once more and in walked Mr. Contragust.

“Mr. Barry.” began the little man in the charcoal gray suit.

“It’s Mr. Mullein, sir.” corrected Barry.

“Of course. No disrespect intended.” 

“So, what brings you into my shop today?”

“Mr. Mullein,” said Mr. Contragust, “It has come to my attention that a portion of our wares has been used by you.”

“Oh,” said Barry, “The Orb of Courage, yeah. It was a little accident. The fella responsible paid up for it, though.”

“Yes, very well.” Mr. Contragust continued, “But that leaves one thing.”

Barry could sense a change in Mr. Contragust's demeanor, and it felt like  a serpent made of ice slithering down the back of his shirt. 

"Mr. Mullein, in the contract, it explicitly states that you are not to use any of the items for your own benefit," Mr. Contragust declared, his voice cutting through the room. "The items from Mr. Chino's collection are meant to serve others, not you."

Barry tried to explain, "It was just an accident, Mr. Contragust. Rodney, that man who was in here a while ago, he was pressuring me to mass-produce the items, and he dropped the Orb of Courage. I didn't mean to use it for myself."

Mr. Contragust's dark lips curled into a cold smile. "Accidents, Mr. Mullein, have consequences."

Barry looked on as Mr. Contragust opened his gleaming black satchel and produced a small, intricate wooden box, adorned with symbols that seemed to writhe and shift as if they were alive.

"This, Mr. Mullein, is a Punishment Box," Mr. Contragust explained. "It contains the means to restore balance when one has deviated from their agreed obligations."

Barry started to panic. "You can't be serious. I didn't do it on purpose, and the damage has been paid for."

Mr. Contragust's voice remained unyielding. "The rules must be followed, Mr. Mullein. You used an item for your own benefit, breaking the agreement. And now, you must face the consequences."

Barry watched in horror as Mr. Contragust opened the Punishment Box, revealing an array of tiny, malevolent-looking figurines. Each one was unique, and all of them exuded an aura of darkness and foreboding. He couldn't help but notice the tag on the box: "Figurines of Retribution."

Mr. Contragust selected one of the figurines, a grotesque and nightmarish creature with jagged teeth and hollow eyes. "This will serve as a reminder, Mr. Mullein."

Mr. Contragust placed the figurine on the counter. 

"What... what's going to happen?" Barry stammered, his voice quivering.

Mr. Contragust's tone remained as cold and emotionless as ever. "This figurine will exact retribution for your transgression. It will take something from you in return for the misuse of the Orb."

Before Barry could protest or plead for mercy, the figurine leapt from the counter and latched onto Barry's hand, sinking its jagged teeth into his flesh. He cried out in pain as dark energy surged through him.

The figurine fed on his fear and regret, absorbing his very essence. As it drained him, a patch of Barry's hair turned shock white, and deep lines etched into his face. He felt weaker and frailer with each passing moment.

When the figurine finally released its grip, Barry slumped against the counter, gasping for breath. 

Mr. Contragust collected the Figurine of Retribution and returned it to the Punishment Box. "Remember, Mr. Mullein, the items in Mr. Chino's collection are not to be used for personal gain. If you break this rule again, the consequences will be far more severe."

Barry, still reeling from the ordeal, nodded weakly. "I understand, Mr. Contragust. I won't make that mistake again."

Millie did not return to work the next day, nor the day after that. Barry continued to run his occult shop single-handedly until the day he died.

No comments: