Don’t touch anything: II

An Espresso Tale

By

Accipiter G. Goshawk

Here we go! Welcome to another story featuring Mr. Thaddeus Tix and his peculiar shop, the Empty Emporium.

If you want to read another of Mr. Tix’s stories, please follow this LINK, where you will find him dealing with a temperamental alarm clock named Chronoclax.

A.G.G

A gentle rain had accompanied the grey dawn. The constant dripping had prompted Mr. Tix to select a pair of dark velvet gloves and a long navy overcoat.

He was, as always, the first to open shop. His long fingers danced from keys to door, to shutters to electrical switches, to cash register; always following the rhythm of a soundless waltz. When all was ready, he put on a kettle and settled into the comfortable armchair behind the counter. He spent his morning sipping tea and reading a battered copy of Alice in Wonderland.

His first customer sauntered through the door very late in the day (he blamed the weather). She was an old acquaintance: a countess who enjoyed the company of animated porcelain dogs. She was the only reason he even bothered to stock the horrifying glass-eyed things.

“Dear Countess. Tell me: what has caught your eye today?” he asked in his reedy voice. He glanced hopefully at the porcelain French poodle.

“Darling! I was just strolling by in this ghastly weather, when I happened to notice that stunning Sphynx in your window! I simply must have it!”

Mr. Tix cringed as he thought of the sculpture in question: a bright pink creation that had been crafted to look like a smooth-skinned, open-mouthed, yellow-eyed Sphinx cat.

He was more than happy to be rid of it. Unfortunately, he was weighed down by a conscience.

“Ah, a truly unique piece, Countess. But I’m afraid that it wouldn’t really be happy living with the other…fifteen creatures in your care. If they were to become agitated, it could break.”

“Nonsense! My darlings are all very well behaved. Your usual fee then?”

He stared at her as she left, her thin parchment-textured arms carrying the squirming fiend through the rain.

He guiltily plunged back into his book.

He’d almost gotten to the part about croquet, when the bell above the door sprang to life.

“Customer dear!” she sang shrilly.

“Thank you Dore,” he muttered quietly, slipping a bookmark into place.

Although he was a successful business owner, an achievement which required no end of social grace, Thaddeus cared absolutely nothing for people. He had never been in a relationship, kissed another living being, nor expressed feelings of attraction towards anyone.

It was because of this usually love-free existence, that the emotions evoked by the appearance of his new client both intrigued and worried him.

She was perfect.

Every single facet of her being was a paragon of what every other human aspired to be. Or desired. Sensual curves graced a simple white dress with their fullness, while golden curls cascaded on to a swan’s neck set on shoulders that would have driven Michelangelo mad. Grey eyes peered out at Thaddeus from beneath a wide-brimmed cream-coloured hat, while impeccable hands clutched an ivory purse.

She was perfect, he realized, the thought sending a chill down his spine. He glanced at her milky skin: it could have been mistaken for marble.

“Welcome to the Empty Emporium, madam. How can I be of assistance?” he asked, annoyed at the tremor that had crept into his voice.

She smiled and then motioned behind her. Two burly men quickly entered, carrying a large crate.

“Good evening. I was hoping you could…animate this object for me,” she said, in a voice like the murmur of the sea. The two brutes set to work, ripping away wooden boards until finally, the contents of the crate were revealed.

Thaddeus sighed heavily.

“I’m sorry madam, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to help you. You see, I have a set of very strict rules.”

He pointed at the large sign hanging behind the cash register.

In a business such as his, it was important to keep a watchful eye on the dangers of the supernatural. Years of trial and error had helped him find the right balance between otherworldly and hazardous; a balance he now sternly protected.

The sign – which he had painted himself – read:

“To prevent both physical and psychological injuries to the client and Mr. Tix, the following rules will be enforced:

  1. Mr. Tix will never animate any object that could potentially cause harm, such as: weapons, explosives etcetera.
  2. Mr. Tix will never animate remains, be they animal or human. Mr. Tix will never engage in any kind of necromancy.
  3. Mr. Tix will never animate any effigy or representation of a loved one or unknown third party.

We thank you for your understanding and for your continued patronage.”

The lady stared at the sign for a moment, then her gaze fell to the floor.

“Is there…no way you could make an exception?”

Thaddeus looked past her at the large sculpture that had emerged from the crate. He could tell that it had been carved out of marble, and that it was the work of a peerless artist. The stone had been fashioned into the likeness of a small girl. She was wearing jeans, a raincoat and boots. The artist had even gone so far as to carve a small umbrella resting by her side.

“I take it that this is your daughter?” he asked softly.

The woman nodded.

“I’m truly sorry…but I do not stray from the rules. I’m really sorry; I cannot bring your daughter back to you.”

“Back to me?” she asked, looking at him strangely. “I think you misunderstand, sir. That is my daughter. I’m…I’m not mourning a loss. I simply long for companionship.” She paused. “It has been so long.”

A bell went off in Thaddeus’ head.

“I’m sorry madam, I never inquired as to your name…?”

Grey eyes met his, as pale lips answered: “Galatea.”

The tension left his shoulders. He breathed in deeply, as understanding washed over him. He bowed.

“Forgive me my lady. It appears I have grossly misunderstood the situation. Due to the nature of your own –ahem– person, I think that in this case I may disregard the rules.”

She smiled.

*          *          *

The bell rang again, then they were gone.

He looked out the window, gazing distractedly at the reflection of two perfect statues walking hand in hand. One carried a small yellow umbrella.-

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