The Shoppe

“… And that brings your total to… $300.00!” The gray haired woman said, after hitting a

series of buttons on the cash register. “Congratulations, you made your last payment! Now go get

engaged!”

The young college student standing opposite the counter gazed down at the band holding the

almost paper white gem. Visions of his wedding day, future children, and grandchildren filled his

mind with each sparkle of the ring. “This is amazing. Thank you so very much! I just have one

question… What kind of gem is it? It’s so different from all the others!”

The woman smiled, flattered that the young man was so curious to know the proper name for

the stone responsible for her success. “Well,” the woman began. “Some may say it’s a rarity, but

to be honest, I’ve found the Pearl Stone to be an untapped gold mine that’s hiding just under your

nose.”

Wonderment and confusion flooded the eyes of the young man. “So, where exactly do you

find them? I mean, my girlfriend has been head over heels for a ring just like this ever since she

saw your store in American Craft-” He was interrupted by the chime of the doorbell. A middle

aged couple entered and were immediately taken aback by the atmosphere of the shoppe. It was

small, yet quaint, like a cabin in the woods that only a few knew about.

“I’m so sorry. I hate to cut this short, but I sense another engagement in the air.” The gray

haired woman took the young man by the arm and led him to the door.

“Alfred!” She called to one of her employees. A man dressed in a business suit with a dark

goatee that met the patches of hair on either side of his head perfectly appeared. “Would you

please see to our guests while I show Mr. Williams out?”

Alfred nodded, and quickly did as he was told.

“Thanks again for all your help. There’s no way she’ll say no when she sees this!” The young

college student said, as he and the gray haired woman stood on the sidewalk.

The woman smiled. “You are very welcome. I hope you two have a happy life together!”

Giving one last wave to the elderly shoppe owner, the college student turned and walked

down the street to his car. A crisp, salt water breeze travelled from the marina behind the shoppe.

The gray haired woman pulled her shawl tight around her shoulders to shield herself from the

cool spring air as she watched her customer disappear down the road. She took a deep breath and

closed her eyes. She realized her busy season was upon her once again. With a swift turn of the

heel, the gray haired woman ascended the shoppe stairs, anxious to help the next guest on their

jewelry hunt. She was proud of the empire she built, even if her empire was still rather small

compared to other outlets in the jewelry market. In her old age, the gray haired woman made a

name for herself in the seaside town. Her knack for salvaging antique pieces from local garage

sales and restoring them brought back a sense of charm that Salem nearly lost. The shoppe was a

testament that the past was truly something to be treasured and passed down, and that if you

searched long enough, you may even find something new – like the Pearl Stone rings, necklaces,

and earrings that sent crowds swarming to the shoppe from all over the east coast.

“Could I ask you a question, sir?” The gray haired woman heard a guest ask, as she walked

back into the shoppe.

Alfred hesitated. It was as if he was a school boy again, struggling for the correct answer to a

difficult math problem.

The elderly shoppe owner gave a friendly smile. “I’ll take it from here, Alfred. Why don’t you

go to the back and see to the new shipment that just arrived.” The look on her employee’s face

confirmed she had returned just in time, then suddenly a loud rapping noise echoed its way

through the shoppe. “…And check on the radiator while you’re at it!”

Alfred graciously bowed and walked away.

The gray haired woman turned to her guests. “You’ll have to excuse him. He’s a man of few

words.”

“Is he deaf?” The man asked, his arm affectionately around his fiancée.

“Something like that…” The gray haired woman said, reaching into her pocket for a set of

keys to the display case. She placed a pair of red spectacles on her nose. “Hard worker though…

He’s been a very valuable asset to the shoppe.”

The aged couple smiled, and soon chatter of ring sizes and wedding venues filled the room.

Shortly thereafter, Alfred’s presence was replaced by a middle aged woman who took on his

usual afternoon task of polishing the pocket watches hanging in the window. She paid no

attention to the cheerful wedding talk across the store. Part of her was bitter; she felt resentment

towards the happy people who walked through each day. She, too, once had a soulmate, someone

who loved her and wanted to give her the world. But, that was a different time. Life hadn’t been

kind to her. As her boss often reminded her, though, there were worse places she could be. So she

resolved to polishing, and polishing, and polishing, until the bottle ran dry. After that, she found

other ways to busy her afternoon with – sweeping, window washing, and straightening the items

in the display case so that each prized Pearl Stone shown brightly.

Before long, the sky grew dark, and the Grandfather clock sitting caddy corner in the back of

the store let out its seventh chime. The middle aged woman walked to the shoppe’s entrance,

flipped the sign on the door, and turned the deadbolt. The shoppe was now closed.

“Just a second, Beatrice!” The gray haired woman called. “I’m still finishing up with these

fine folks. Why don’t you go straighten up the back?”

The middle aged woman nodded, but in an instant, she froze. The sharp rapping noise echoed

through the shoppe again, like a giant woodpecker hunting for his next meal. She looked back at

the guests. Their cheerful expressions were erased with alarm and confusion. Her boss, however,

showed no sign of concern. Instead, she looked rather annoyed.

“…Not again.” The gray haired woman rolled her eyes. She chuckled, and the guests were set

at ease. “That damned radiator has been acting up for months now. Would you believe the

restaurant owner down the street called the cops on me last year because it was so bad?”

The guests laughed, relieved to know the source of the noise.

“Tell you what,” the gray haired woman said. “Since you two are by far my favorite couple

this season, I’ll cut the price in half!”

The middle aged woman stood silently by the door. Her breaths coming in intermittent spurts

as her eyes remained glued to the floor.

“… Beatrice?” The gray haired woman began, as her employee scurried to the store room.

She turned her attention back to her guests. “Now remember, if you have any problems, just

bring it back, and I’ll fix it. No charge. It’s the Pearl Stone promise!”

The happy couple graciously thanked her and stepped out into the night air. The gray haired

woman paused before embarking on her evening routine. She couldn’t believe what nearly

happened tonight. She hastily drew the shoppe curtains, and didn’t even bother with her usual

habit of dusting. Instead, she trudged into the shoppe’s store room and yanked back a scarlet

period piece rug that lay behind her favorite cedar chest. A trap door, with a single iron ring was

now visible. The gray haired woman pulled it open, dust multiplying by the thousands into the

room. She descended the stairs into a musty, grimy cellar, which was spacious nonetheless. A

single light bulb hanging down from the ceiling by a rusted chain gave sight to the countless

dingy and dirty mattresses strewn throughout, and two leather couches with multiple rips and

strings of cotton threatening to escape. Perhaps the most absurd sight in the room was the dentist

chair which sat directly underneath the room’s light source.

The gray haired woman looked around. An older man, wearing a surgical mask, sat cowering

on one of the leather couches. His eyes avoided hers as he cradled his head in his hands. The

gray haired woman grunted. All around were other horrified faces – two of which belonged to

Alfred and Beatrice. Each were watching silently while sitting atop the old mattresses as the

elderly shoppe owner took inventory. She took a few steps towards the dentist chair and spotted

the five gallon bucket that sat beside it. She scoffed at what it held. A grimace appeared on her

face, and she stepped closer to the man on the couch.

“What happened?”

“…”

“I said, what happened?”

“…”

The gray haired woman placed both hands upon her hips and chuckled. She placed a hand

under his chin and removed the mask. “Open your mouth.”

He did as he was told.

“How many teeth do you have?”

“…”

The elderly shoppe owner laughed as though she was once again a school girl. Her hysteria

pierced the walls of an otherwise silent room. “Do you see these people?” she asked the older

man, after regaining her composure.

The older man nodded.

“… They look a lot like you, don’t they?”

Again, he nodded.

“But, there’s a big difference between you and them, isn’t there?”

His eyes dropped to the ground.

“They have something that you don’t… Don’t they?”

He shook his head in agreement.

The room fell silent. With each passing second, the tension grew stronger.

“… Do you remember what happened to my last extractor?” The gray haired woman asked.

The older man quivered.

The gray haired woman snapped. “Answer me!”

Closing his eyes, the older man gulped and prepared his response. He opened his mouth to

speak, but what came out was garbled, inaudible, and came across unintelligible due to the

absence of teeth.

The gray haired woman smacked him across the face. “Oh, please! You sound pathetic!”

A few moments later, her demeanor changed. A motherly air was now about her as she

gingerly placed both hands on the older man’s shoulders, his eyes still on the floor. “Look at

me!”

His bright blue eyes were now level with hers.

“… If my extractor can’t do his job… He will be extracted

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