Fun Stuff

Little Agnes and the Shopkeeper Sham

The hand-lettered wooden sign above the glittering mirrored glass storefront creaked slightly as it swung in the gentle early morning breeze. The sign read:
MR. BEGUM’S Dr. Crowley’s
HOUSE OF ODDITY AND CURIOS OF DUBIOUS ORIGIN Really Dangerous Stuff
GRAND OPENING TODAY A different day
NOWT OPEN
COME IN Go away
“Brilliant! They’re open!” I strode forward and yanked enthusiastically on the polished brass doorknob. A bell tinkled over my head as I stepped inside the small shop. It was crammed from wall to ceiling with scintillating brass domes, clocks, copper wires, and interesting gadgets with dials, gears, gauges, wheels and parts that whirred, spun, moved up and down did really, really brilliant things.
Sunlight filtered in through the mirrored shop-front window. It glinted off the dazzling brass and glass shelves and cast rainbow starbursts across the gleaming wooden floor. The shop was quiet. I was the only customer of the day. I pressed my hands to my cheeks in delight and spun in a circle. I rushed forward towards a glass case which housed collection of shiny goggles of gold, copper, brass and silver with dazzlingly polished multi-coloured lenses. I pressed my face to the shining, flawless glass.
“What are you doing in here? You’re getting the glass all smudgy!”
I shot to my feet and spun around. A little girl was glaring at me from behind the till. Her head barely reached the top of the long, wooden sales counter. She wore a long, white lab coat that was stained with glowing blue and red spots that smoked slightly. Long, copper-coloured pigtails poked out from under a scuffed, brown leather hat. The top part of her face was covered by thick, blue-lens goggles. I could tell she was glaring at me without seeing her eyes.
“Do you run this shop?” I asked enthusiastically.
She stared at me silently for several moments. “Oh, ah…oh. Yes. Of course I do. Why else would I be here?”
“Are you Mr. Begum?”
“What?”
“Oh. No, of course you aren’t. You must be Mrs. Begum.”
The little girl frowned at me. “I’m Little Agnes Crowley. You saw the sign outside.”
“Right. Yes.”
“We’re closed.”
“Your sign said you’re open.”
“No, it didn’t. It said we’re not open.”
“I think I know how to read a sign.”
“I am very busy right now. I can’t help customers.”
“Do you mind if I just look around on my own, then?”
Little Agnes scowled at me. “Why?”
“This is brilliant stuff! Have you seen this–this right here?” I held up a leather glove with large, glowing white orbs on the wrists and claws protruding from the tips of the fingers. “Do you know what this does?”
“It’s a gauntlet. I think it rends people from limb to limb then irradiates theirs internal organs.”
“See! Brilliant!”
“Yeah, yeah. Okay. Just–get on with it and leave me alone.”
“Agnes, not back there,” a low, moaning voice said.
We turned towards the shambling man who emerged from a back room of the shop. I watched him in interest. He seemed to be grinning, but I realised it was merely that half of his lip had rotten away to reveal the crumbling yellow teeth. One of his eyes protruded from the socket as though it might suddenly pop out and roll across the floor. His skin was a mottled grey and hung loosely from his bones. He wore a very classy black suit and top hat. He moved slowly and jerkily. He emitted soft, gentle whirring noises with each step, as though his joints were connected with tiny wheels and gears.
“What’s wrong with him?” I demanded.
“Who?”
“Him.”
Little Agnes glanced at the strange-looking man. “Oh, him. That’s just Vic.”
“What’s wrong with him?”
“Nothing. He’s fine. I just oiled his works this morning.”
“Is he a zombie?”
She looked mortally offended. “A zombie? Did you hear that, Vic?”
His grinning expression did not change. “Very rude, young lady.”
“He’s an animated clockwork cadaver,” Little Agnes told me scornfully.
“That seems a little improbable.”
“Do you know anything about reanimating corpses?”
“No.”
“Well, then what do you know about how improbable it is? I assure you, there are very few methods of mobilising his joints that did not ultimately result in breakage and require the limbs be sewn back on every few days.”
“Hate needles,” Vic told me earnestly.
“Right. Well, I’m just going to have a look around then, yeah?”
“Oh, whatever. Just don’t bother me.” Agnes waved her hand impatiently at me.
I picked up glowing red pincers with a carved ivory handle. I couldn’t identify the metal out of which it was made, but I expected it to be hot to the touch. Instead, it was as smooth as glass and icy cool. I held it up and turned towards Little Agnes. She wasn’t paying attention to me; she was tossing long, rubber tubes and bits of metal over her shoulder as she dug through a large, beaten leather trunk on the floor.
“Little Agnes?”
She ignored me. “Vic, did you look in the chest by the Begums?”
“No Cannon.”
“Damn. Papa is going to kill me when he finds out I stole the Mutable Impetus Cannon from his lab and mixed it up with all the old faulty gadgets we sold these gulpy Begums.”
“Little Agnes!”
She started. She bumped her head on the lid of the trunk and fell backwards onto her backside. She looked up at me with a glare. “What?”
I held up the pincers. “What does this do?”
“It’s a…Scalp Extrapolator.”
“What does it do?”
“It’s very complicated. It jumps to conclusions.”
“Ah. Very good.” I held up what looked like a tiny copper wire helmet with retractable spikes. “How about this?”
“A…Chinchilla Trepanator.”
“That sounds a little weird.”
“It’s not pleasant.”
“Oooh. Little Agnes, what is this?” It appeared to be a soundless, copper-plated accordion with large, wooden keys on one end and a series of tiny, glass balls on the other.
She sighed in frustration. “It’s the….Quixotic…Percolating…Cranium…Dingus.”
“Does it play music?”
Little Agnes stared at me a long moment. “Why would it play music?”
“It looks like it should play music.”
“So does Vic, but he doesn’t and neither does that thing.”
I sighed in disappointment. “How about this?”
“Oh, that’s just a death ray.”
“Does it work?”
I pulled the trigger. For a moment, nothing happened, and then the small, bulbous, glass-barrelled pistol hummed and jerked as a beam of charged particles shot towards the shelf of glass beakers and bottles of strangely-coloured liquids. Little Agnes ducked, but the glass and toxic liquids showered Vic, who stood beneath them. He sighed.
“I think you’re zombie’s ear’s come off.”
“He isn’t a zombie!” Little Agnes bent to pick up the gnarled grey ear. She sighed and slipped it into the pocket of her lab coat. “Sorry, Vic. We’ll have to sew that on when we get home.”
“Hate needles.”
“Well, the epoxy obviously didn’t work. This is the third time this week. You can’t very well go around your ear off. I suppose we could try to weld it on.”
“I don’t think I like the death ray,” I said, dropping it with a clatter onto the counter. “It’s a bit dodgy–hey, what’s that?”
I stood on my tiptoes to lean over the counter. On the floor at Vic’s feet, a fat, bespectacled man and a thin woman with long, steely grey hair sat back to back on the floor, tied together with thick, metal chains. Their hands were wrapped with rope. The man looked up at me with large, supplicating eyes. A kerchief around his mouth stifled his terrified squeaks. The woman struggled feebly behind him as though attempting to get my attention.
Little Agnes grinned hugely. “Oh, those are some clockwork dummies!”
I stared at them. The man shook his head desperately and held his arms out to me. “They’re really life-like.”
“I know!” she squealed.
“How much for them?”
“What?”
“The dummies. How much do you want for them? They’re brilliant!”
“Oh. Er…They aren’t for sale.”
“Display only,” Vic added.
I sighed in disappointment and turned away from them. In the centre of the room on a large, intricately carved platform, was a sleek, hammered steel gun with two long, wide barrels and a lever on the top rather than a trigger. It lay upon a kerchief of rich red silk and glinted in the sunlight that illuminated the gleaming room. My eyes widened. I reached for it. “What’s this, Little Agnes?”
“Cor, you are the most annoying customer I have ever–blimey!”
I stepped towards the gun, but before I could reach it, Little Agnes raced forward and knocked me off my feet. I landed in a heap on the floor. “Little Agnes, that was very rude!”
“It’s the Mutable Impetus Cannon!” Little Agnes declared. She wrapped her arms around it and cuddled it to her chest. “Vic, we’ve found it!”
“I think I’d like to purchase the Chinchilla Trepanator–”
“Take whatever you want, dreg!”
I watched her in amazement as she spun on her heel and raced out of the shop. The bell tinkled over the door as she darted out into the cobblestone street. Several moments later, Vic lumbered out the door behind her. He lifted his hand in an obscene gesture. For a moment, I sat in stunned silence. Then I leaped to my feet and scooped up every brilliant thing I could reach.
“This is the best grand opening ever!”

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