The Incense Salesman
The Keeper’s Finds (Part 2)
The guy can’t be a day over nineteen years old, and he probably weighs about that in pounds. His hair is black and scraggly, and patches of his pale white scalp shine out like moonbeams through gaps in the clouds on a dark and stormy night. His mouth is mostly toothless, his eyes point in different directions, and his arms and legs are wider at the joints than they are where the muscles would be – should be – if he had any to flex with. He looks like he hasn’t slept in days and smells about the same, and Cyrus isn’t sure if the wet stain in his pants is from urine or if it’s just sweat that leaked down from his soaked shirt. In his bony, skeletal excuse for a right hand, he grips a stack of incense boards.
They stand off like duelists for a moment, then Cyrus decides to be sociable.
“Well hello there, son,” he ventures nervously. “You must be Smells.”
“Yeahp,” the kid exhales, his voice the sound of tearing paper. “They calls me Scotty Mells. I have yer free samples.” He raises the boards up. As he does, his arm begins to tremble as if it’s not in his control, as if the weight of the boards was too much for him to bear. “Wheres you wan’em?”
‘Scotty Mells… S. Mells, Smells. Very clever.’ Maintaining the distance between them, Cyrus says, “You can just leave ‘em next to the other two burners. There, by the register.”
Scotty Mells, his smile crooked and gummy, looks over at the burners on the front table. The boards fall to the floor like pick up sticks, or better yet, like his dusty bottom jaw. His vision begins to go blurry, and though Smells can’t feel it happening, his torso begins to convulse as if he was about to heave.
“You all right, Scotty?” Cyrus asks, taking a couple of steps towards this obvious result of flagrant parental neglect and child abuse. “Do you need hel–”
“Bathroom,” Scotty coughs, snapping his neck back towards Cyrus. “You havva bathroom?”
“Uh, yeah,” Cyrus says slowly, turning to point towards the back-back. “It’s through there. Go down the stairs and it’ll be right on your left when you pass the glass display case.”
Smells hobbles rapidly through The Keeper’s Finds, his arms flailing behind him like paper streamers in the wind. When the boy’s out of his line of sight, Cyrus lets go of a heavy sigh and takes a long drink of his coffee. The he goes into the back, not to keep tabs on the kid through the doorway but to look at himself in the mirror.
“You really ain’t had it that bad, Cyrus,” he says to himself under his breath. “If you did, you’d’a wound up just like that little bag’a’bones, nothin’ to do and nowhere to go, with only the hope of death to keep you goin’. Good lord, the Doc’ was right. I am the problem.”
Cyrus then turns to delve into the back-back and knock on the bathroom door to make sure the kid Scotty Mells didn’t throw up too much blood, but apparently, Scotty never made it there. He’s on the floor in front of the “cursed” display case, kneeling there with his whole face pressed firmly into the glass. Not sure whether to feel fright or excitement, Cyrus ambles swiftly down the steps and approaches Smells from behind.
“You all right, Scotty?” Cyrus asks, laying a tentative hand on Scotty’s jagged right shoulder. “You… you still breathing?”
“Breathin’,” Scotty wheezes, his voice creaking like Cyrus’s computer chair at home. “Breathin’, yes, you hear’ih’too? You hear’ih talkin’?”
Cyrus’s brows furrow and his lips curl into a befuddled scowl. “You said what now?!”
“The pipe,” says the rusty sawblade as it cuts through the dry log. “That green pipe with all the angles. It’s speakin’ t’me.”
‘Holy shit,’ Cyrus thinks to himself as befuddlement becomes surprised joy, ‘I totally called it.’ Even so, this kid looks about one crisscross away from cha cha sliding with the devil straight into the pale moonlight. “Ah, I see what you’re gettin’ at. Here, why don’t you stand up for me and I’ll unlock the case so you can get a better look.”
Scotty Mells stands up without using his hands and then leaps back two feet like a gymnast, and Cyrus doesn’t let his face reveal what he’s beginning to assume about this strange bony boy who came into his shop past closing with gifts bared. He reaches into his back pocket and pulls out the keys, then unlocks the cursed display case from behind. Carefully reaching between the nasty old monkey’s paw and the shot glass shaped like a laughing skull, Cyrus grabs the jadeite pipe and removes it from its dust-defined space. ‘Sheesh, I guess I need to clean this thing soon.’ In hopes of instilling a certain implication, Cyrus locks the case back up, then hands over the pipe. Scotty holds it like a baby kitten and begins to salivate.
“Ah, like that, do ya? Yeah, it’s a nice piece, made of jadeite if I’m not mistaken. Came along with the whole case, believe it or not – guy who brought it here said all the stu–”
Cyrus drops his train of thought. “Herbs?”
“Th’herbs in th’bowl?” he croaks like a roadkilled frog.
Cyrus looks into the bowl – the empty bowl, the bowl so clean (aside from the dust) it appears as though it’s never been packed, let alone smoked – and sees no herbs. “What, uh… what are you talkin’ about, bud?”
Scotty brings the jadeite bowl close to his mouth and licks up the mouthpiece, coating his already gray tongue in fine, powdery dust that’s probably just as cursed as the rest of the junk in that old display case. He then looks up to Cyrus with wide eyes, then back to the bowl, then back to Cyrus. Then, he turns around and sprints out of the back-back like a bat out of Hell.
“Oh fuck no, I fuckin’ called it again!” Cyrus shouts, reaching for the wall of firearms. Over the course of his life, Cyrus has been bullied, talked down to, made to feel inferior while standing next to a pile of fresh horse shit; but if there’s one thing his backwoods Treeburg upbringing and the parents that came along with it taught Cyrus, it’s to never, ever let someone take advantage of you, no matter who they are. He pulls down the black decommissioned Vietnam-era M16 and slams the stock into his shoulder, pulling back the bolt and letting it fly. Then, he storms up the stairs and begins to fire upon the general direction in which Smells took off with the stolen twenty-dollar cursed smoking pipe.
“You get back here, you fuckin’ scoundrel!”
DUH’DUH’DOO and three decorative swords are shattered like the cheap pieces of shit they are.
“I ain’t agree to no trade, you ain’t gonna steal from Cyrus Morgan!”
DUH’DUH’DOO and a fully stocked mint-condition G.I. Joe transport vehicle is reduced to smoldering scraps of cheap plastic.
“Fuck yOU MOM, GIVE ME BACK MY FUCKIN’ ICING PACKET!! YOU KNOW THE TOASTER STRUDEL DON’T TASTE AS GOOD WITHOUT IT!”
DUH’DOO’click and the glass of the shop’s front door comes down like Cyrus’s foot as he stomps the ground in rage.
“How are you gonna fuckin’ jam up now, you fuckin’ piece’a shit? You served in the Goddamned fuckin’ rice fields but you can’t stop a burglar?!” He punches the side of the gun three times and then levels the barrel towards the register area and pulls the trigger with all his might. A single shot goes off. The bullet beams through the screen of Cyrus’s laptop then through the side window behind it.
Scotty, who got into the woods before Cyrus even climbed back up the stairs, ducked low to the ground as soon as the first burst went off. He hears that last bullet zoom over his head and pees himself a little bit, giving his sweaty pants a hint of ammonia for good measure. When ten seconds pass without the firing off of expletives nor bullets, Smells takes off in the direction the voice in the pipe commands him to, leading him along the path of the power lines straight towards the Monksville Reservoir.
But Cyrus doesn’t know that. At this stage of the game, Cyrus has completely forgotten about the scraggly boy who came in and stole some merchandise that’s never been so much as looked at by a potential customer. He’s standing there silently in his shop – his ransacked, bullet-ravaged shop – just looking around at the ruined display swords, the decimated front door, the G.I. Joe toy lookin’ like it rolled over an IED. He looks at the smashed side window, the broken laptop, the pile of shitty incense boards laying scattered on the floor beneath bits of broken glass.
“This is going to cost me hundreds to get fixed,” he admits to himself quietly as he drags his feet over to the register table and bends down to pick up an incense board. It’s very light, damn near weightless, and the groove is lined by inlaid gold tone stars and little circles, then butted with a crescent moon. In other words, it’s generic, it’s a low-end piece of garbage that Cyrus won’t be able to sell to someone even as firewood. He lets it clatter back to the floor. “Maybe even thousands…”
Cyrus walks around the register table, clears the broken glass off his seat, and then plops himself down to look at his reflection in the laptop screen. He doesn’t see his face though, as the screen is spiderwebbed and ruined; all Cyrus sees is a view of his shop through the bullet hole in the screen he made himself.
“What… what the hell am I even doing? All I do is sit on this computer and try to talk to strangers while hoping for, for what? For random folk to come through here and give me their money for this random shit I’ve hoarded together? This don’t even make any fuckin’ sense.”
And he’s right, it don’t. Humans are not likely to give up their hard-earned dough in this world, especially not to random sleazy guys who own resale shops. These places are scams half the time, congregation zones for counterfeit goods and rip-offs waiting to happen. But plenty of resellers make money running secondhand shops, and you know what? Half of them don’t boast nearly as interesting an inventory as The Keeper’s Finds… plus, Cyrus does great with his online auctions, they pay for the rent on this place and all the bills back home, and then some! There’s a disconnect though, there must be – why can Cyrus be so successful an online auctioneer but so unsuccessful a salesman?
He looks at his laptop again. He’s not going to get it fixed, he can’t. The last thing he was doing was chatting on Omingle; were the screen to get replaced, that’d be the first thing to pop up when the laptop turned on. If the laptop repairman sees that Cyrus is an Omingler, well… that would be embarrassing. That would prove that Cyrus is just a creepy, gross individual who resides among the scum of the Earth… but Cyrus isn’t like that. Cyrus is a true success story, Cyrus overcame adversity and beat his upbringing and still found a way to own a home and his own business, and so what that he doesn’t have many friends? That doesn’t make Cyrus a bad guy, that just means his story isn’t over yet. That just means there are more chapters to be read.
And in order to proceed to the next chapter, one must first turn the page and leave the old one behind.
Cyrus lines up the little wheeled garbage can he has tucked under the register table with the back of the laptop, then, with one finger, the finger he always uses to send all the messages he sends, he pushes the broken old laptop over the table and into the garbage can.
“I am never going on fuckin’ Omingle again.”
Hello Commons, this has been the last subchapter of the tenth story from Convenient Incidents, an anthology of fifteen interconnected short stories which revolve around a man by the name of Hilter Odolf Williamson.
Convenient Incidents is part of the Third Spiral, an anthology of sorts called The Here and Now which is comprised of stories told from the various planes of Existence.
Convenient Incidents is available to read for free in its entirety on my website. Click here to check it out.
I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.
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Be well Commons~