by John Haas
“Let the buyer beware,” a hoarse voice croaked from behind.
Richie spun, searching for the source. “H…hello?”
He’d entered this shop—which he’d never noticed before even though he passed this way at least twice a week—on a whim. It was called Wizard’s Cloak and that was enough to pull Richie through the thick wooden door. Dungeons & Dragons was his passion, and when he played, he did so as a wizard. Maybe his imagination wasn’t quite even with his friends—his current wizard was named Wizbin, for god’s sake—so he looked for ways to even things up.
Now that he was inside the shop Richie was thinking he’d made a mistake. The place was a mix of creepy odds and ends, but nothing to do with magic: The paw of a monkey under glass, a jar of what looked like beans, one of those ram’s horns you blow into. The whole shop was full of kitchy stuff like that, packed in tight, difficult to move without bumping some object with his backpack.
Behind the counter he could see a crystal ball, but no shopkeeper.
“What’cha looking fer, kid?” the same voice said.
“Wh… where are you?”
“Aw, for…” then in a lower grumble. “Another observant genius.”
A grunt, then a shuffling sound came from behind the counter as a chair moved on its own. A moment later a small man came into view, no more than three feet in height, with a huge nose and leathery skin. He stood arms crossed, scowling at Richie, unlit cigar dangling from one corner of his mouth.
“Now,” he grumped, “what’cha looking fer, kid?”
Richie stammered several words, all incoherent, babbling. He realized the man would take it as being because he was a midget… short person? Oh, God, he didn’t even know the correct term. Richie rushed for the door, thinking discretion was the better part of something and collided face first into a wooden cigar store Indian.
As he collapsed to the floor he corrected himself. Wooden cigar store native.
When he opened his eyes again the proprietor was peering over him. “You okay, kid?”
Richie groaned and the man took this as an answer.
“By the way, I like to be called Zoltar.”
Richie blinked. “Zoltar?”
“Yeah. You were wonderin’ what to call me.”
“You read my mind?”
The man chuckled. “Nah. Most people have yer reaction when I first meet ‘em. Must be somethin’ to do with the purple robe.”
Richie nodded. Zoltar was indeed wearing a purple robe. Funny he hadn’t noticed before.
“Let me guess,” Zoltar continued, waving a hand. “You saw the store and decided to come in ‘cause you like magic… No, wait… you play Dungeons and Dragons.”
Richie nodded again, sure that the man could read his mind after all.
“No, I can’t,” Zoltar said.
Richie’s mind was babbling again and he wondered if he could get out the door.
“Probably,” Zoltar agreed. “But wouldn’t ya like ta take somethin’ with ya? Somethin’ that’ll wow yer D&D group?”
Oh, he would love to impress them, especially that jackass Keith, who made fun of him all the time. Richie found himself nodding. “What have you got?”
“What haven’t I got?” Zoltar laughed and gestured around him.
“I don’t know.”
“Naw, see, that was more a rhetorical question. I was makin’ it fer effect.”
“Oh, I see.”
“Let’s move on,” Zoltar crossed the room and examined the monkey’s paw, glanced at Richie and shook his head. Next he picked up a lamp straight from Aladdin. Richie could almost believe a genie lived inside it, again Zoltar shook his head and placed it back down. Finally he selected a ring, blood red gem and runic carvings flashing in the dim lighting.
“Oh, hey. Now, this item’s special.”
“Oh, yeah. This’ll transport ya to a land where ya can play yer games fer real.”
Zoltar laughed too, but it didn’t feel like they were laughing at the same thing. The little man examined the ring again and tipped Richie a wink. “Well…not really, but the ring influences the imagination center so ya believe yer in another land.”
Even if it didn’t work it was wickedly, awesome cool, like a real wizard’s ring. It sounded perfect.
It also sounded expensive.
Richie was aware of the five bucks in his pocket, the last of his allowance. Another two sat in his backpack, but that was to get bread on the way home. His mother would skin him if he spent that.
“How much do ya have?” Zoltar asked.
“Only five dollars.”
“Aw, too bad. I couldn’t let this go fer less than seven.”
Richie gurgled a response, hesitated a brief moment, then fumbled the money from his pocket and backpack, placing it all in Zoltar’s hands.
“Hmm, yeah, that’ll do fine,” Zoltar said and plunked the ring into Richie’s open palm.
“How do I use it?”
“Well, don’t put it on ‘til yer ready, but once ya do, just imagine the world where ya wanna be. Then you’ll all be transported.”
Richie looked at the ring, dubious.
“Even Keith,” Zoltar added.
Richie was sure he was being made fun of, but the man appeared sincere.
And again, if the ring did nothing it was still super cool. He would wear it for D&D tonight. Oh, Keith would be so jealous. He loved this kind of stuff.
Richie smiled, thanked Zoltar and exited the store without another word or, miraculously, impacting any items.
“Have fun, Richie,” Zoltar said, going to the crystal ball behind the counter. He touched it with one finger and colors swirled inside.
“Speak brother,” a rumbling voice came.
“Another group shall be visiting tonight for you to play with.” Zoltar said, any trace of broken English gone.
“Excellent. Where do you find them?”
“Easier than you think. They come to me.”
The voice chuckled and Zoltar joined in.
“Let the buyer beware,” the voice said.
John Haas is a Canadian author, born and raised in Montreal before moving to Calgary where he lived for twelve wonderful years. Now he lives in Canada’s capital, Ottawa, but still misses seeing those Rocky Mountains in the distance.
John has been writing for most of his life but only became serious about being published in the last decade or so. In that time he has had twenty short stories published in various excellent publications, including taking third place in the 4th quarter of Writers of the Future for 2018. He has also seen his first two novels published, The Reluctant Barbarian (released 2017) and The Wayward Spider (published 2019) both by Renaissance Press. The final book in the trilogy, The Unavoidable Quests, will be published in 2020.
His goal is to become a full time writer (rich and famous would be nice too but not the main goal).
He lives with his two wonderful sons who give him lots of motivation.