Ye Olde Curiousity Shoppe

The gang were all there, in their usual spot behind the maintenance block at the south end of the school grounds. They were talking about good ways to commit suicide and Tom said injecting air into your veins cos that gives you a heart attack, and that's how Bruce Lee died but they never found out who did it though.

Then Piggy said eating yourself to death, like in that movie where they ate and ate and ate and the one dude got sick and starting farting until they forced him to eat mashed potatoes and then they all screwed these hot young babes with ice cream and chocolate sauce dripping all over them.

The younger boys, JJ, Nose and Weasel all said things like "Wicked!" and "Fully sick!" Nose got his name from the size of his nose. None of them could remember how Weasel got his name.

Just then the boys noticed Tom's step-sister Suzie approaching. She had pale skin, freckles and frizzy ginger hair, and wore glasses with thick lenses for her bad eyes, which were a deep, emerald green. She had just turned seven and in her hair she wore one of the cute little bunny hairclips that daddy had bought her on her birthday.

Suzie had a nice daddy but a nasty mommy, step-mommy to be precise, who was always yelling and screaming, and telling Suzie how stupid she was, and hitting her with a wooden spoon---usually on her arms and legs, but sometimes on her fingers, neck or face. Mom was also always yelling and screaming at Dad, about what a loser he was. She never yelled at Tom. He was her favourite. He was her real son, her real child, her blood-child, as she never tired of pointing out to Suzie.

Anyway, Suzie was walking past the boys, on her way to the library. They saw her coming but she didn't see them. Though she should have known they would be there, behind the maintenance block: that was their usual hangout. But that afternoon she was in a hurry to return some books before the library closed. And so she didn't take her normal route, which was the long way round but avoided the maintenance block.

Tom grinned at the others, and whispered, "scare or dare?"

"Scare!" they whispered in response. Then Tom leapt out from behind the corner and shrieked as loud as he could, holding his arms high in the air as if to claw her face. It was a good scare, a great scare. Suzie returned Tom's shriek with one of her own, dropped the books she'd been carrying, and jumped backward, ending up in a tangled heap on the ground.

The boys came out from behind the corner giving each other high fives and laughing their heads off.

"Wet herself," said Piggy with delight, pointing to the spreading damp patch on Suzie's jeans.

Tom was starting to feel a bit uneasy about the whole thing. "Scared her own shadow," he said in a gleeful tone that was a little forced.

Suzie started to cry. She felt humiliated and ashamed. But then something extraordinary happened. Years of bullying and victim-hood finally pushed her to a place where she could make a stand. She picked up her books, got to her feet, looked directly at Tom through her thick lenses and said in a shaky voice, "Scare or Dare, huh! You so brave. I dare you a dare! Dare you go in the Chinaman Shop!"

"Aint scared a no Chinaman," said Tom.

"So when ya goin', huh?" Suzie taunted, "when ya goin?"

"Jus cos you say don't mean shit," replied Tom, his bravado evaporating rapidly. "Run away, pissypants, run back to daddie…"

"Scaredy cat, stole a rat," said Suzie, "Dare you dare me. An you won't an I will…"

And so it was that Suzie the next day with all the eyes of the boys upon her walked down Spite Lane, a narrow winding shadowy passage leading from the back alley behind the second hand book store.

At the end of Spite Lane, hanging above the entrance to Suzie's destination was a battered old sign with hand-painted calligraphic lettering that read "Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe".

* * *

All of the neighbourhood kids knew of the Shop, but none had ever been game enough to enter.

Suzie had first heard about the Shop at age five from Missus Em, a woman who provided a babysitting service to several families in the neighbourhood. No-one knew her real name; everyone called her Missus M. Her skin was as black as night. She was in her late fifties, she wore her frizzy grey hair in a tight bun, and her stern face said to the world that she would take no nonsense from anyone, least of all any snotty nosed brats entrusted to her care (more like under her command!).

It was rumoured she had been a voodoo priestess in Haiti, and that she had a selection of dolls with pins stuck into them.

One evening, when Suzie's parents had gone out together (unusually) for a meal and a movie, Missus Em had told Suzie and Tom a scary bedtime story about the Shop and the horrors lurking inside.

"People dey go in," Missus Em had said, "but dey don't come out! Dey get turned into stone statues but their eyes still follow you aroun', and dey cry 'Wooo-woooo… wooo-wooo…' jus' like ghosts!"

Both Suzie and Tom had whimpered in fear, but Missus Em had taken no notice and continued relentlessly "and dere's lotsa strange tings inside, like bear foetuses, and tiger penises, and shark's fin soup and bird's nest soup, and little kiddies' eyeballs all in glass jars, and other 'orrible tings to make dark witchcraft spells!"

* * *

Standing outside the entrance to the Shop, with much anxiety if not fearfulness Suzie remembered Missus Em's story about the statues with eyes and the ghostly wailing and she desperately wanted to turn around and run all the way home. There was no way she was going to go inside. But then she reminded herself about the scare or dare, and realised that the teasing and bullying would only intensify if she failed to carry out the dare.

Taking a deep breath she cautiously pushed the door open and stepped inside. It was dark and gloomy, and had a musty herbal smell that made her feel a little sick. Her heart was pounding with a mixture of fear and excitement. She felt dizzy. Her thoughts swirled and whirled around in her brain.

From floor to ceiling there were shelves on the left and shelves on the right. On the shelves was an assortment of old-looking stuff---silver spoons, fob watches, belt buckles, packs of tarot cards, rotary dial telephones, zippo cigarette lighters, antique jewellery and various oddments and implements the nature and purpose of which Suzie could not even begin to imagine or guess at. There was a lot of old furniture too---chairs and tables and cupboards and cabinets--many with intricate and elaborate carvings, all covered with a thick layer of dust.

And, horror of horrors, on some of the shelves there were glass jars with things inside them that to Suzie looked like bear foetuses and tiger penises. But to Suzie's great relief, there was no sign of any stone statues that had once been people, no eyes following her, and no ghostly wails of the 'Wooo-woooo… wooo-wooo' variety. The Shop was as quiet as a tomb. A deep thick ancient silence filled the air.

Strangest of all, though, was the fact that lengthways the Shop seemed bigger on the inside than the outside, just like the Tardis in Doctor Who. At the far end was a dark crimson curtain hanging from floor to ceiling.

Suzie was suddenly startled out of her reverie by the sound of a soft and whispery voice.

"A good day, Missie. How may be of helping you?"

From behind the crimson curtain emerged the owner of the voice: a little old man with yellow skin and long, grey moustaches that hung down to his chest like ropes. He wore a multi-coloured robe on which the signs of the zodiac had been embroidered. His black eyes glittered. His skin was wrinkled and spotted. He seemed not to have hands, or at least, they were hidden in the voluminous sleeves of his robe. He seemed to glide not walk as he approached her from the darkness at the back of the shop.

Suzie tried but failed to reply. She was too scared and too overawed by all the strange things around her, including and most especially the strange little man himself.

"Please… to write name. So know you be here," he said with an enigmatic, inscrutable smile.

Lying open on the counter was an old book, bound in leather, thick and heavy. The paper was yellow with age, and flecked here and there with tiny fragments of pink and purple, as if it had been made of flowers.

With a shaky hand, Suzie wrote her name in the book.

"Not to have fear, girlchild, Master Ho he be not for harming," said the little man, referring to himself in the third person. "You lookee see, finding most best thing for you," he said, nodding.

Suzie was by no means convinced that Master Ho he be not for harming. In fact, her instincts screamed at her to run out of the Shop as fast as her legs could carry her. She had fulfilled the dare--no reason to hang around. But as she turned to face the doorway, something caught her eye. She felt compelled to have a closer look. Ignoring the alarm bells of fear reverberating in her mind, she walked nervously over to the shelf on which the object lay gleaming darkly in the gloomy darkness of the Shop.

At the end of a loop of leather, carved in the shape of an animal was a piece of stone about the size of a baby's fist. The stone was as red as a ruby, but it wasn't a ruby. It was more like a piece of ancient red jade if there were such a thing as red jade. The animal wasn't any animal known to Suzie: "creature" seemed a more appropriate word. It had large, lidless, cat-like eyes. Its thick sensual lips were twisted into a leering sneer, revealing a mouth full of long sharp fangs. Bat-wings sprouted from its hunched back; cloven hooves from its goatish legs; claws from its vulture-like hands.

Repulsion, revulsion and panic rose in every cell in Suzie body; fear and loathing patterns rippled frantically through her brain as if the neurons themselves were rebelling against sovereignty no longer fit to govern. But she couldn't help herself, couldn't fight the compulsion forcing her to take and hold the stone in the sweaty palm of her hand.

It felt unpleasantly warm to the touch, but still she felt unable to put it down and walk away.

Finding her voice with some difficulty she asked Master Ho, "Please Sir, what is this? Where does it come from?"

"Ah, yes Missie," he replied, a knowing smile creeping over his face, "Is a luck charm. Very good, very strong. For you keeping be safe…"

"How much does it cost, Sir?"

"Ah, you friend Master Ho, Missie. You speak nice. You takee now. Cash later."

* * *

And as it is written, so shall it be. And thus it was that blinking in the sudden sunlight Suzie emerged from the Shop, a confused expression on her face, an amulet of reddish colour hanging on a loop of leather around her neck.

Tom and the gang weren't there: they had gotten bored with waiting and had taken themselves off to the Mall to watch the skateboarders whiz up and down the ramp to the parking garage. Then, on the edge of late afternoon and twilight they started making their way to their respective homes, each feeling a vague sense of disquiet at having abandoned Suzie to her fate, so vague as to be very far from qualifying as guilt.

Tom got home a few minutes before Suzie, and dutifully submitted to a motherly hug and kiss, turning up his nose at the reek of alcohol on her breath. Then he went up to his room and flicked through his comic book collection.

Suzie's homecoming was to a rather less welcoming reception.

"Where ya been? Should'a been home long before!"

The hostility in her stepmother's slurred voice told Suzie all she needed to know. The unfolding of the pattern was predictable and inevitable. She made no reply, kept her eyes fixed upon the ground, resigned to unpleasantness, but hoping against hope to keep it to a halfway tolerable minimum.

"Whassat 'roun ya neck? Givett 'ere! Doan deserve it. Prolly stole it!" Mom lurched toward her, hand reaching out toward the Amulet.

Outside the house, if anyone had been there to hear it, a rustling sound came from the unkempt bushes and flowerbeds. Scurrying through the undergrowth was a little cruel thing of unspeakable evil. It was on a mission. It was answering a summons: the summons of the Amulet of Cthulhu.

Inside the house, some very strange things began to happen. The Amulet seemed to pulse and throb against Suzie's breastbone like a thing alive. There was a weird sound, like painful broken music. A shadow flickered lightning fast across mom's face and then was gone. The arm reaching out to grasp the Amulet fell back. The eyes glittering with pain and hate went dead and dull. A confused frown spread across her face. Mom just stood there, saying nothing, doing nothing.

Likewise, Suzie stood there, saying nothing, doing nothing. She didn't know what to say or do. Eventually she plucked up the courage to look into the vacancy that was her stepmother's face and said, "Mom? Are you OK?"

"O… K…" was the slow, toneless response.

"Mom? Are you feeling OK? Do you want to lie down?"

"Lie… down…" said mom.

At that moment, Dad came home from work. And Tom came down the stairs to see what was going on.

Needless to say, both Dad and Tom were more than a little surprised.

"Lorna, what's wrong?" asked Dad a number of times, each time getting the same response.

"What …is …wrong," said Mom.

After a while it occurred to Dad to ask the kids what had happened. Both of them---for slightly different reasons but fundamentally to do with guilt---lied and said they had come straight home from school, and that until then they had not noticed anything different or unusual about mom or anything else.

Dad called Doctor Bronstein's mobile, apologised for the lateness of the hour then asked if he could come over immediately.

Twenty minutes later Doctor Bronstein arrived carrying his battered black bag and after a brief conversation with Dad to establish the facts, examined mom this way and that way and every way in between. Doctor Bronstein shone lights into mom's eyes, tapped her knees with a rubber mallet, pricked her hands with a silver needle, listened to her heartbeat, looked into her ears and down her throat, measured her pulse and her blood pressure, tried talking to her---all to no avail.

In the end Doctor Bronstein had to confess he really didn't know what was wrong with mom or how to help her. Well, he didn't actually come right out and say he didn't know what was wrong, not in so many words, not as such. What he did say was a whole lot of stuff including "…pernicious catatonia …persistent vegetative state …brain stem autonomic functions …appalic syndrome …catecholaminergic agonists" and a whole bunch of other grand-sounding words that not even Dad could make head or tail of.

Then Doctor Bronstein and Dad managed between them to walk mom to the bedroom and lay her down upon the bed. Doctor Bronstein injected mom with a sedative, and said he would return the following afternoon.


The next morning, after a restless night's sleep disturbed by a troubled conscience, Suzie decided to tell Dad the truth. Of course, he didn't believe a word of it. And in fact got quite cross with Suzie for telling what he thought were lies. Eventually, after Tom had slowly and reluctantly backed up part of her story---the part about her going into the Shop---and after Suzie had shown Dad the Amulet, he still didn't believe her but said they would all go to the Shop and speak to Master Ho.

Tom said he would stay with Mom and call Dad on the mobile if there was any change. Dad said fine and off he and Suzie went.

Entering the Shop, clutching Dad's hand tightly, Suzie looked around fearfully, half-expecting to see the stone statues that had once been people and their eyes that moved. But thankfully there was no sign or sound of them, no ghostly wailing, just the deep dark silence filling the air, as before.

"Helloo! Anyone here?" shouted Dad.

From behind the crimson curtain at the far end, Master Ho emerged. He was wearing the same multi-coloured robe embroidered with the signs of the zodiac. His black eyes glittered. A smile played upon his face. He seemed to glide not walk as he approached them from the darkness at the back of the shop.

"A good day, Gentlesir," he said to Dad in a soft and whispery voice, like the sound of a nest of serpents.

"Yes, yes," replied Dad angrily, "Now, about this Amulet…"

"Ah, so… Missie come pay Master Ho…"

"No!" said Dad sternly, "We don't want it, and I'm not paying for it!"

He removed the Amulet from Suzie's neck and thrust it into Master Ho's waiting hand, not even trying to hide a grimace of revulsion at the four-inch long fingernails at the end of long spidery fingers.

"No plobrem Sir," said the little man, smiling inscrutably as he lifted the leather loop and placed it around his neck. Gleaming redly, the Amulet lay between the grey ropes of his moustaches.

"Now listen here Ho, or whatever your name is…" said Dad, "I'll not have you… uh… you damn well… um… my wife is… ah…"

Dad struggled to articulate the nature of his complaint, becoming increasingly flustered at his failure to do so.

Master Ho clasped his hands together in the voluminous sleeves of his robe. He cocked his head toward Dad as if listening with utmost respectful attentiveness. Then when Dad paused to take breath, the little man adopted a solicitous expression and said, "Master Ho so solly gentle-wife she be sick. Not be good. Master Ho helping. You come. You be come now." He turned and glided toward the crimson curtain, then stopped and waited for Dad and Suzie to catch up.

"Yes, yes, you be come now," he said, standing by the curtain, an almost imperceptible tone of excitement rising in his dry and whispery voice.

"What's this all about," said Dad impatiently pushing the curtain aside and stepping behind it, followed quickly by Suzie who absolutely didn't want to be left alone with Master Ho.


Nothing and no-one could have prepared Suzie for what she saw behind the crimson curtain. Although (it should be noted) two years previously someone---Missus Em---had tried, in vain.

Speechless with shock and fear, Suzie stared at the Statues and at their tormented living eyes that stared right back at her. Then, knowing what was next to come, she clapped her hands over her ears but failed to stop the soft and mournful wailing of the lost souls trapped within delusion. "…Wooo-woooo …wooo-wooo," cried the frozen people, among them Suzie's stepmother, her eyes tracking her husband's movements as he suddenly shook himself out of the stunned paralysis into which he had fallen and strode menacingly toward Master Ho.

The little man smiled imperturbably. The Amulet seemed to pulse and throb against his breastbone like a thing alive. There was a weird sound, like painful broken music. A shadow flickered lightning fast across Dad's face and then was gone. Dad's raised arm and closed fist poised to strike Master Ho fell back. Dad's eyes went dead and dull. A confused frown spread across his face. Then he just stood there, saying nothing, doing nothing. And alongside him, a new statue took shape, seemingly crystallizing out of the air.

Master Ho smiled with glee, then chuckled softly, maliciously. Then burst into unrestrained high-pitched giggling.

Suzie screamed in terror, turned and ran as fast as she could go, the crimson curtain billowing behind her as she headed for the doorway, looking over her shoulder in dread. Failing to see the unexpected visitor entering the Shop, Suzie ran headlong into the large and ample figure of Missus Em, frizzy grey hair tied in a tight bun, stern face announcing to the world that she would take no nonsense from anyone, least of all any evil sorcerers with four inch fingernails.

Missus Em held Suzie tightly in her warm, plump arms. "Hush now, chile," she murmured comfortingly, "everyting gonna be alrigh'. Doan chew worry. Dis time he go too far."

Then she gently released herself from the clutches of the hysterical child, and strode purposefully toward the crimson curtain. In her hand she held a small, rough mannequin, pins stuck into its head and heart and groin.


Copyright © S R Schwarz 2007. All rights reserved.

wicked and sick (refresh/home)