Sunday 30 January 2011

The Manager

Brian was in the middle of training the new boy, Tim, when the shop door crashed open violently. The normally timid bell dinged with a single note of such solid, bright clarity that Brian thought he was having a religious experience; he briefly wondered what it was about the pricing structure of reptilian eyeballs that had finally elevated his consciousness.

The thumping footsteps on the wooden steps down to the basement brought him back to reality. If he hadn’t renewed the wards this morning he might have worried about some mis-summoned creature, a Hathoid after the candle wax; a Patterkiller demon looking for a magically intense place to pupate; one of the eleven secret rhino gods of Kent, maybe.

But it was just a man. A young man, an overweight man, an out-of-breath man, but a man nonetheless. He wasn’t even possessed, not in the supernatural sense; although he did look quite ill-tempered. It would have been hard to tell from his eyes – bloodshot, baggy, narrowed – whether he was angry or upset or just tired. Brian thought a bit of all three. His clenched jaw definitely favoured anger above all else.

“Is this the Basement Emporium?”

Brian looked around. It would be better to humour this one, to calm him down and act respectfully. He never had been too good at that. He pointedly looked around at the ramshackle shelves, crammed with mystical whatnots, doodads and sundry other paraphernalia. Beneath a shelf filled with assorted knots was a shelf of what appeared to be brightly coloured novelty snails and shrivelled left hands (possibly monkeys’, possibly children’s). There was no apparent system and no space. Emporium was both the most appropriate and least fitting name. Brian looked at the stairs down which the stranger had stomped, and then upwards to where street level would be.

The man fumed.

“Yes?” Brian answered. In a way that asked what else it could be, and why was this man asking when he clearly already knew the answer or else why would he be here. It was quite an emotive ‘yes?’.

“I demand to see the manager.”

Tim looked mildly scared. If the boy couldn’t handle angry humans he just might not work out. Still, Aunt Henrietta would be worse to deal with if Brian didn’t at least give him a chance.

“Ah, and what would this be about? He doesn’t like to be disturbed.”

Tim looked at Brian with wide eyes, a little confused. Inevitably he would have had to tell him about the manager, but this was probably a little soon; after all, Tim had already balked at the dismembering process with the tree frogs.

“My girlfriend bought some stuff from you.”

Ah, that explained why he didn’t recognise the man. Although, to be honest, the long black hair (died, often in a pony tail), random piercings, long black jacket, black boots (Doc Martins or, increasingly, Nu Rocks) and clear lack of regular exercise (and personal hygiene) all began to look the same after a while. He was probably wearing a Cradle of Filth t-shirt under the jacket.

“Black candles? Rune set? Imp-bone chalk stick? Sacrificial dagger? I do always point out those are ornamental only.”

“What? Shut the fuck up, man. She was doing a sex rite,” (they always were) “from the Crimson Scrolls,” (oh shit) “and she bought everything from you, man.”

“Well we don’t sell the Crimson Scrolls. There’s a reason for that. But listen, come this way.”

He ushered the man towards the back of the shop, to a curtained doorway behind the till.

“After you.” He gestured, holding the heavy velvet curtain open just a little.

The room on the other side was mostly empty but for a large desk with an antique but comfortable looking wooden chair behind it. On the desk was an old typewriter, a sheaf of blank papers and the skeleton of a raven. After shop-hours Brian had been using the skeleton (so far unsuccessfully) to attempt to channel the spirit of Edgar Allen Poe. There was no one else in the room except Brian and, in front of him, the confused customer.


The Manager rested in a rack on the wall just to the right of the curtain; anybody walking straight into the room wouldn’t see it there unless they turned and looked behind them. With practiced ease Brian lifted it off the rack and drew the Manager in one quick, smooth motion. Economy of movement was the key, was what had drawn him to Iaido; measured violence; controlled explosions. Not unlike magic itself. He found the clear ringing tone of a good draw calming, too. He struck before the customer could turn and as he held his final position he closed his eyes. He waited for the body to crumple and the head to finish rolling before he opened them again.

Brian straightened up and smiled. In one movement he shook the blade free of blood and re-sheathed the manager, reverently placing it onto the wall rack once more, just below the ‘student discount’ wakizashi.

He thought he had best explain to Tim how the customer was not always right (hardly ever was, in fact) and about the true nature of the Crimson Scrolls and anyone who was exposed to them unprotected. He looked around the office. The boy probably wasn’t quite ready for the clean-up job though.

Recommended reading: Sum by David Eagleman
(So this is slightly cheating... it's a published book, but (in the UK) it's a very successful collection of outstanding micro-fiction by a single author. Which should be an inspiration to any aspiring writer of micro (or flash) fiction.)

Managing the Basics: a Flash Fiction Primer by John Xero

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