by Matthew X. Gomez
photo by arieneforeveryoung
“Come in, come in,” a voice like wind chimes beckoned, drifting through the door with the thin wisps of pungent smoke. “Help us, save us.”
I wandered through the door, still feeling a buzz from drinks earlier consumed. I couldn’t remember if it was four or five pints downed, plus the shot with the bartender.
I passed under a set of wind chimes, and the smoke made me sneeze, and I heard the chiming voices say, “Bless you.” I looked around, but there was no one present.
The shop was dim and cluttered, knick-knacks and tchotchkes of every variety scattered on shelves packed tightly together. T-shirts hung from racks up to the ceiling, books were stacked precariously, and a smorgasbord of marital aids lined my path to the checkout counter.
“Hello?” I called out, not seeing any sign of a proprietor.
Not receiving an answer, and not seeing anyone who might have been calling me, I steadied myself on the counter, pushing against it as I made my way further into the back. This was a bad idea, but the alcohol was making me braver than I had any right to be, and my curiosity was piqued.
The back room was stranger than the main shop. Instead of souvenirs and apparel strategically designed to be as offensive as possible, it was greenhouses and UV lights and orchids. Rows, upon rows of orchids. Orchids in blues and red and pinks and purples. Multi-hued orchids, striped orchids, and orchids that glowed in the weird light.
A little old man was on a step stool, watering the plants from a copper can shaped like a frog, verdigris gathering around its gaping mouth.
“Were you calling me?” I asked.
“Not likely,” the little man laughed, climbing down from the stool. He peered up at me through glasses the thickness of Coke bottles. They made his eyes look as big as saucers. “Why? Were you listening? Were you waiting to come in?”
I stared at him, rubbed my bleary eyes. “I was on my way home. I heard someone calling. Are you by yourself?”
The man smiled, his eyes crinkling. “Just me and my thoughts,” he said. “I have wind-chimes out front that people often claim to hear speaking, but they only make noise I’m afraid.”
“What kind of shop is this anyway?” I asked, curiosity piqued
“Why, a curio shop,” the old man said. As he pushed past me, I swore I saw the frog wink at me.
I shook my head. “But you sell flowers?”
“Why not?” he replied, hefting the can onto the shop counter next to a register that wouldn’t have looked out of place in 1935. “I sell curiosities. Those orchids are curious, though not the most curious thing I sell.” He settled himself on the stool, took off his glasses, polished them on a handkerchief produced from a shirt pocket, put them back on his face, and stared at me. “What can I do you for?”
“Look here, old man-“
“My name is Dylan. It’s Welsh.”
“Fine, Dylan, whatever. I don’t know why I came in here. I’m on my way home from the bar when this voice starts calling to me-“
“From in the shop?”
“Yeah from inside the shop. Maybe I was hearing things. Your wind-chimes maybe. Will you stop interrupting me?”
“My apologies. Do continue.”
“Anyway, this voice was calling me, and I thought it was someone inside the shop. I think they wanted me to help them.”
“How very astute of you,” the old man said. He seemed bigger somehow, but that wasn’t right. I was drunk. Very drunk. Yeah.
“So if it wasn’t you, then who was it?” I started to sway, caught myself on the counter. Good thing for me it was there.
“Do you know the name of the shop you are in?” he asked.
I shook my head. The shop spun around and around. I stopped shaking my head, stared at the ground, and wished the world would quit spinning quite so much.
“Now, please don’t be sick on my floor. It would be terribly rude if you were. This is the Gothic Orchid. A bit of a melodramatic name to be sure, but it fits the place like a corset.” He reached into a pocket of vest and produced a pipe. He tapped some tobacco into it from a pouch, lit it with a gold plated lighter.
I blinked. The ‘little’ old man was definitely bigger now. “A corset?”
He smiled at me, his teeth long and sharp in his mouth. Smoke curled out of his nose and up toward the ceiling. Gold eyes flecked with green stared out from behind his glasses. “The name gives shape and support to the place, much like a corset helps shape and support a woman. You are familiar with corsets, aren’t you?”
“Only in the abstract,” I confessed.
His scaled tail twitched behind him as he now towered over me. His body radiated heat, and twin horns sprouted from his brow, curling back down his crocodilan skull. “I was sorry when they went out of popular fashion, though I do carry a selection for the discerning customer who appreciates a bit of the old ways.”
“Who are you?” I asked, stumbling backward, nearly tripping over an antique cavalry sabre. Civil War era. I would have been more surprised if it wasn’t a replica.
The monster smiled at me, rows upon rows of gleaming teeth, each as long as my forearm. Flames snorted from its nostrils as it loomed over me, its body swelled to filling the small shop. “I am the dragon,” it said, its voice a deep bass roar more felt than heard. “This is my lair, and you have trespassed uninvited.”
I stepped back and bowed. “I do so most humbly apologize, my good dragon. The error was wholly mine, and I do beg your forgiveness. If you will excuse me, I shall return home, pass out, and kindly forget this entire experience.” I paused, gazing up at the draconic majesty of the beast. “Please don’t eat me.”
“Oh.” The dragon was gone, replaced again by the small old man. “We all make mistakes. Be on your way then.”
I did make my way home. I did go to sleep. I have not forgotten.
Matthew was born and raised in the suburbs of New York City, though he inexplicably finds himself much further south than he ever anticipated. Now he lives in Columbia, Maryland, with his wife, two children, and two cats. He has been writing for forever, getting his real start writing for a number of student run publications in high school and college. He has been previously published by Death Throes and Dark Futures, and his work can frequently be encountered at writerscarnival.ca. He possesses a number of esoteric skills, not the least being fencing and historic swordplay, which, if he weren’t a writer, would be pretty useless. Matthew hopes to have an anthology of his own short stories out in 2014.