Is It Real?

Entry by: Tauren

20th July 2017
As Paul stepped out of the elevator, Miss Merryweather paused in the act of putting a silver framed photograph into the cardboard carton on her nearly bare desk, “You can go right in he`s expecting you.”

Paul gave her a surprised look, “Are you leaving?”

“What? oh yes, it`s my last day, retirement beckons,” she managed a half smile as she spoke, “Go on,” she chided him, “he hasn’t much time.”

Paul knocked on the double-doors, pushing them open when he heard a muffled call of, “Come in.”
Alan Henderson, the companies CEO was sitting, slumped forward behind his desk, his pained face a sheen of sweat, startled Paul darted forward, “Are you okay sir? Miss Merryweather, Miss Merryweather!” he looked back to the open door, there was no sign of the P.A.

Henderson waved a hand, “I`m alright,” he said, in direct contradiction to his appearance.

“Well if you don’t mind me saying so sir you don’t look alright, in fact you look unwell, perhaps I should….” He reached for the phone on the desk.

“I`m not ill,” the CEO snapped, “I`m dying, and quite soon; I`ve called you here because I need you to run an errand for me…” He pushed a long ebony box across the desk to Paul, “I need you to deliver this to Prendergast`s shop on Chaucer`s lane, he deals in knick-knacks. Make sure you put it in his hands.. and only his hands.” He groaned as if the effort of delivering this message had proven too much for him.

“But.. But,” Paul stuttered, “There are no shops on Chaucers, it`s just an alley between Henry Street and Cooper`s Avenue, there`s nothing on it at all.”

Henderson looked up at him, “It`ll be there; now go..go,” he flapped a hand, dismissing him.

Paul lifted the box, surprised at the weight of it, Christ, he thought, what`s he got in here, gold? The box was a foot long, four inches wide and two deep, with the image of a feather etched into the lid.
He tucked it into the crook of his right elbow, pausing at the door to look back; the old man had collapsed back into his seat, his face ashen, Henderson managed another feeble, go-on wave at him and Paul turned away to the elevator.

Miss Merryweather was straddling the lifts entrance, one foot in one, foot out, holding it for him, “Come on, come on,” she urged, “Haven`t all day, and this bloody things heavy.”

When he entered the elevator she put the box down and pressed the ground floor and the basement car-park buttons, “Shouldn’t we get help?” he asked.

“No point,” she said, “He`ll be dead in…” she twisted her left hand, she was one of those people who wore their watches with the face on the inside of their wrists, “less than ten minutes.”

Paul gaped at her, “And you`re not going to do anything?”

“Nothing to do; he`s not ill exactly, just old, it`s his time, happens to us all eventually.”
Her nonchalance astounded him; as far as he knew she`d been the old man`s secretary since he founded the company.

“You think I`m heartless don’t you?” and without waiting for an answer changed tack.
“Do you know why he chose you?” Paul risked a shake of the head. “Because you have nothing he wants, nothing he can trade with, just make sure you get that to Prendergast quick as possible, okay?” the lift had stopped and to his surprise she physically pushed him out of the car. “And don’t dawdle,” she called through the closing doors, “Time is fugiting all over the place.”

He stumbled out of the building in a daze, turning right as he did, trying to make sense of the last few minutes. It`s some kind of practical joke, he thought, though the old man wasn’t renowned for his sense of humour. Yeah that`s it, some kind of hazing ritual, like when painters send new apprentices out for speckled paint, that had to be it, make fun of the new guy. Only he wasn’t the only new trainee accountant, three of them had joined the company last month, and what had she meant when she said, he had “nothing he can trade with,” who exactly was he?

Paul was so engrossed in his thoughts that he walked right past the shop half way down the lane. He stopped, frowned, his conscious mind interrupting his unconscious, alerting him to his error. He turned, and slowly retraced his steps, his disbelieving eyes never straying from the shop front he`d have sworn hadn’t been there the previous week.

It wasn’t the sort of shop you`d forget seeing either, it wasn’t just out of place, it was out of time. It reminded him of those Dickensian storefronts in the old movies, with its sturdy door flanked by a pair of small paned bay windows, glass so cloudy it was impossible to make out the interior, though he could see the dull glow of lights within. Above the entrance in gold lettering on a black background were the words.

J. J. Prendergast esq.
Purveyor of odd things

He frowned at the sign, Purveyor of odd things, what the hell does that mean? He shrugged, I`m here to do a job, he thought, better get it over with, and pushed the door open.

The bell over the door tinkled, announcing him, he took a half step then paused, his foot resting on the edge of the entrance; a sense of unease gripping him, his stomach knotting, some primal part of his brain whispered, careful, there`s danger ahead.

The interior was surprisingly well lit; in front of him, three racks of free standing shelving led to a long glass fronted counter, the place was whisper quiet, as if it was deserted. “Hello,” he called; “Hello.. Mr Prendergast?” there was no reply as he stepped all the way in, the door tinkling shut behind him.

As he walked up the centre aisle he studied the shelves to his left, mid-way down at eye level was a row of glass bell jars filled with an opaque viscous substance, unfamiliar creatures hung suspended in them. He recognised nothing until the last jar, an eyeball at least four times the size of a mans stared unblinkingly out at him, he stopped to examine it, but the sensation that it was watching him, watching it, overwhelmed him and with a shiver he moved on. As he did he thought he sensed movement from the eye, his head snapped back, had it followed him? He stepped back, swayed left then right, the eyeball apparently tracking his movements. A trick of the light, he decided, the curvature of the glass giving the impression of movement, nothing more; but it drew a shudder from him anyway.

It soon became apparent that the shop sold antiques of a sort, though who would want such battered goods he couldn’t imagine. There were swords and shields, cloaks and other assorted clothing, there were typewriters and various oddments of furniture, everything mis-matched. These weren’t just second hand, but third and fourth.

He had picked up what an old brass cup, or perhaps it was a chalice, when someone cleared his throat and said, “How may I help you?”

Startled, Paul almost dropped the cup, juggling it for a moment before setting it back where he`d found it. A short man stood behind the glass case, watching him, no not watching him, scrutinising him.

The man couldn’t be an inch over five feet, mostly bald, except for a tuft of white hair in the centre of the crown of his head and two more framing each ear. He was round faced and round bodied, with half spectacles perched on the end of a long nose, but it was the eyes that grabbed Paul`s attention, the right was a pale electric blue, the left dark brown. The man smiled, at least the left side of his mouth did, the right remained fixed, “I`m Mr Prendergast,” he said, “How may I be of assistance?”

“Oh yeah hi,” Paul laid the ebony box on the counter, clasps facing the other man, “I was asked to deliver this to you.”

The man smiled again, this time it was the right that curled, the left remaining still, “Ah now let me see,” he said, “And what have you brought me....Hhmm?” he unsnapped the case, opening the lid fully until both sides lay flat on the glass.

Paul was disappointed to see a tattered old quill lying on a bed of crimson satin, and surprised by the little man`s response.
“Oh my,” Prendergast said, “My oh my, welcome home old friend,” and he lifted the quill from it case with almost reverential care. He looked at Paul, “Do you know what this is?”

Paul shook his head.

“This is the quill that King John signed the Magna Carta with, this belonged to kings and Popes, Caesar used this to...” he looked up at Paul, eyes glistening, “It can trace its roots back to Ramses the Great himself,” his face clouded, “what do you want for it?”

Paul frowned, “No you don’t understand, it`s not mine, I`m just delivering it for someone else. I was told to give it to you and now….” He shrugged.

Prendergast smiled, “But it is you who does not understand,” he said, taking a watch from a waistcoat pocket, clicking it open. “Mr Henderson expired one hundred and eighty three seconds ago. You were in possession of it at the time, which makes it yours, so what can I give you in exchange?”

“Look I don’t want anything, it`s just a worthless old feather; keep it, do what…” he stopped when the little man held up a hand to silence him.

He was smiling with both sides of his mouth now, “Worthless old feather, worthless; this? You have no idea what this is do you?” he shook his head in dismay. “Watch,” he said, running the thumb and forefinger of his right hand quickly along the feathers spine, pale blue flames igniting in their wake until the whole thing was ablaze.

“It`s alright,” he said when he saw Pauls horrified face, “It`s quite safe, look,” he ran his hand over the flame, showing him his unburnt palm. He held the feather out, “here, you try.”

Paul reached for it, then snatched his hand back, he hadn’t felt heat from the burning feather, but biting cold.

The little man laughed, “It`s a phoenix feather, watch.” He shook the quill once, the old colourless hairs falling to the counter, new ones, dazzling in their colours, springing from the spine to replace them. Paul gaped at it, there were colours glittering in those hairs he`d never seen before; slowly Prendergast replaced it in its case, shutting it with a remorseful sigh, “So,” he said, “What will you take in trade?”

Paul looked around him, trade, he thought, nothing in this junk shop could match what he`d just seen, he turned to tell the little man that he wanted the quill back, but Prendergast was already piling things on the counter.

“How about these?” he said holding up a pair of winged sandals, “Are you the sporty type, guaranteed you`ll win any race.”

“No?” He held up a dagger, but Paul wasn’t looking at him, his eyes drifting to a shelf behind the little man, settling on a small copper vessel, it looked like a gravy boat with a lid, and he knew exactly what he wanted.

Prendergast`s gaze followed Pauls; “Aaahh yes,” he said. Smiling, he lifted the object down, holding it out for inspection, “the perfect choice,” he purred, “and always such a popular item.”

Paul took it, it was badly tarnished, “So all I`ve got to….” He looked up; Prendergast and the shop had disappeared, he was alone in the alley.
From somewhere he heard a chuckle…..And there was malice in that sound.
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