“What have you got for me, Annie?” asked Mr. Pascuzzi.
Annie carefully handed the teapot to the old man, who gingerly took the ceramic piece of history in order to inspect it.
“Ah, yes,” said the old shopkeep. “This is from the late ’20s. There are some things that have tipped me off on its age, but for the layperson, you can tell by the art deco design. It’s in very good condition. Where did you get it?”
“I…I told you, Mr. P.,” stammered Annie. “My brother bids for storage units. I get to keep some things for helping him out.”
“Well, I suppose there are worse ways to come across antiques,” said the old man. “It’s not as valuable as I would like, but I’ll take it. I’ll just put it in the back until I have time to thoroughly inspect it.”
“Oh,” said Annie in disappointment.
She could not help but feel the burn on this one. She had been hoping the teapot would net her some more comics, but it was swiftly looking like she was only going to get a small amount of cash for it.
Mr. Pascuzzi, however, picked up on her crestfallen demeanor right away. Annie could tell as much by the sympathetic look drawn all over his weathered face.
“Oh, come now,” he snorted. “Don’t droop like a sad sack. I know what you want, and I have it right here.”
“You do?” asked Annie in surprise.
He turned, shuffled past a number of shelves filled with old antiques of this and that, and picked up a small stack of three comics from his wooden purchase counter, the articles carefully placed within their protective plastic sheathes.
He shuffled back to her and handed her the valuable magazines.
“There you are,” he said happily. “Those should keep you satisfied.”
She looked through the three issues and practically drooled over them. All three of them were from the ’60s, right after the great comic purge of the ’50s. It was a time when horror comics were just starting to be rereleased, so these were valuable through sentiment alone, let alone what they were actually worth in a monetary sense.
“I…I can’t afford these,” said Annie unhappily.
“Consider them an even exchange for the pot,” smiled Mr. Pascuzzi.
Her heart leapt in her chest, a leaping of unbridled joy over such a boon.
“Are you sure!” she gasped.
“Those are meant to be read and enjoyed,” nodded the old shopkeep. “I’ve yet to meet another youngin’ that likes these, especially an older teen girl like yourself, not one that collects the classics like you do. Most older teen girls come in looking for vintage dolls or teapots like this one.”
Annie stared down with starry eyes at the picture of the werewolf fighting a vampire on the cover of the top magazine. She’d already read this one online at the library, but to hold an actual copy of it in her hands…?
“There’s nothing like the classics,” sighed Mr. Pascuzzi. “These vintage rags stayed true to the old ways of horror, and they’ve endured the test of time. I loved watching Lugosi, Chaney, and Karloff, and these old comics were built off them…Who’s your favorite, huh? Which old actor do you—”
“Chaney,” spurted out Annie. “I’ve seen The Wolf Man fourteen times. There’s something about the transformation scenes I love.”
“Ah, Lon Chaney Jr.,” said the old man. “Did you know he had to sit for hours for those makeup effects? That kind of meticulous detail was revolutionary back in the ’40s.”
“Yeah,” grinned Annie. “I love those practical effects. Everything today is always CGI. It looks so fake.”
“Practical effects?” snorted Mr. Pascuzzi. “We just called them ‘effects’ back in my day…but I do agree with you. All of this new technology has sucked the soul right out of the movies…But you didn’t come here to listen to an old man jabber on. You want to go home and read your comics, right?”
“Yeah,” said Annie as she continued to stare down at her latest catch.
“You let me know if you come across anything else you want to trade,” smiled the old man.
“Oh…about that,” frowned Annie.
She couldn’t help but feel her spirits sink quite low, because due to extenuating circumstances, she doubted she would be coming back here again.
“My brother and I move around a lot,” she said unhappily. “This may be the last time I’m in here. I think we may be leaving by the end of the month.”
“Well, that is a shame,” said the old shopkeep with an unhappiness to rival her own. “You have an old soul, Annie…You have an old soul with a vintage name…Have you ever read the Little Orphan Annie strips?”
“Y…Yeah,” said Annie nervously. “I have brown hair, though, not red. It’s short and straight and cut like a boy’s, not all poofed out and curly. Besides, I think my mom named me after Annie Oakley, if you really want to know.”
“There’s nothing wrong with that,” nodded the old man. “You’re still an old soul. Only old souls appreciate the classics. It happens all throughout history. Why, if it weren’t for old souls, the classics would have died out altogether. You’re doing a good thing by keeping them alive.”
“I guess,” said Annie nervously.
This was getting awkward. It was probably time to say her goodbyes.
“Well, I should get go—” she started to say.
“Now, hold your horses there, young lady,” said Mr. Pascuzzi. “Since you’ve been such a good customer, I want to show you something.”
“Oh?” asked Annie.
“Right this way,” said the old shopkeep. “I’ll show you the prize of my collection. No one else has gotten to see it, but I’m getting too old to even get around in here, so there’s no sense in me keeping it all to myself anymore.”
He shuffled to the back of the shop, shuffling past yet more antiques of this and that, shuffling along until he reached a locked door just beyond the stairs to the second floor.
“In this room is where I keep my most valuable acquisitions,” he said in an eager tone. “You’ll be the first person to see my most prized possession since my wife passed away. She’ll always be my number one love, but this is my number two.”
He unlocked the door via a brass key he pulled up from a keyring on his belt, and then he waved both hands in a gesture to usher her in.
“You know, I’d better go in first to show you the way,” said Mr. Pascuzzi. “I know it’s rude to enter before a lady, but it’s safer this way. I can’t afford any accidents in here. These antiques are too valuable.”
Annie had never really thought of herself as a lady—she wasn’t exactly refined—but the old shopkeep was from a different generation, cut from a different cloth, so she didn’t correct him.
She followed him in after that, but not without a moment’s hesitation…It occurred to her that the old man could be dangerous, but she decided rather quickly that her hesitation was silly…It wasn’t like he was a psycho or anything. She seriously doubted he could defend himself, even if someone as little as her attacked him.
The small room they walked through had a collection of porcelain dolls, old clocks, metal crosses, antique dinner plates, a couple of very old firearms, some swords, etc.…It was a little much to take in.
“Here we are,” said Mr. Pascuzzi as he waved both hands toward a small wooden cabinet. “I am pleased to show you the one…the only…Mercutio’s Cabinet.”
The cabinet in question was little more than a small, square, black box with gold filigree along the edges. Sadly, it did not look “antique” so much as it looked “plain.” If it weren’t for the filigree and the small gold latch and turnkey on the right side of it, Annie would have passed it by altogether. In fact, it was barely more than a square foot in size.
“What’s Mercutio’s Cabinet?” she asked.
“This belonged to Harry Houdini,” said Mr. Pascuzzi with an eager nod. “Now, Houdini is probably the most famous stage magician that’s ever lived, but there were rumors that his magic was real, and I believe it. I know, because this cabinet was one of his creations, and it works.”
“Oh?” asked Annie. “What’s it do?”
“I was hoping you’d ask that,” said the old man.
He looked around for a brief second before picking up a pair of scissors he’d left next to some plain brown wrapping paper.
“I just need a small lock of your hair…” he said as he reached up for her hair.
Annie decided to humor him, but in her own way. He was a sweet old man, but she knew better than to let anyone else mess with her hair outside of a salon. She had her dark-brown hair in a pixie cut, short on top and buzzed around the bottom, just as she preferred it. Messing with that was…whuff…not good.
With her blue jeans, retro jean-jacket and the plain white T-shirts she always wore, she looked like a boy most of the time, but that was also the way she preferred it. Greg liked it that way anyway, and she didn’t want to make him mad again by changing it.
“I’ll…take that,” she said as she gently pried the scissors from Mr. Pascuzzi’s trembling fingers.
She took a tiny snip of her hair from the top of her head and handed both the scissors and her hair snipping to the old man.
He set the scissors down and stared at the tiny bit of hair she had given him.
“This should do,” he said, his tone one of audible happiness.
He opened the small cabinet via the latch and turnkey, but the interior was just as plain as the outside. Inside the box was nothing more than empty space…It was just a small empty cabinet.
“Now, I just place your hair in here…” he said.
He gingerly set the tiny cutting of her hair in the cabinet and then fished around in the right pocket of his grey tweed pants for something. He pulled forth a penny a second later, held up the zinc and copper coin, and then placed it inside the cabinet. He then shut the cabinet door, locked it with the latch and turnkey, turned his old head to stare directly at Annie, and gave her a wide grin.
“You see, I don’t even think Houdini knew what he was doing when he made this one,” smiled Mr. Pascuzzi. “Yes, yes, Houdini made a serious effort to debunk spiritualists and psychics, but I believe this was a cover to convince people that magic and the afterlife weren’t real. I think he did this to hide his own knowledge of the occult.
“He made several magical artifacts, most of which are lost to time, but this one is not. You see, I came across this piece of wonder back when I was barely out of my teens. I was given this cabinet from an old woman whom I helped a long time ago. Inside it were instructions to its use, those instructions written by Houdini himself.
“I’m successful today because of this cabinet. You see, the old woman—whose name escapes me—didn’t know about the properties of this cabinet, and she’s long since passed away, so no one but me has known about Mercutio’s Cabinet all this time…Now that I’ve shown it to you, you know about it, too.”
Annie’s curiosity was definitely piqued, but the old shopkeep had yet to fill her in on the details.
“You still haven’t told me what it does, Mr. P.,” she said.
The old man raised one wrinkly finger, his right index finger, and nodded a couple of times for emphasis.
“It’s different for any object you put in it,” said Mr. Pascuzzi. “The effects can be harmless or beneficial, or they can even be profitable; it depends. I don’t use this cabinet on a regular basis because the outcome can be really dangerous, but I’m only using a penny for this demonstration, because I already know the effects of that.”
“Uh, huh,” said Annie in slight confusion. “So, are you saying this is real magic?”
“Without a doubt,” nodded the old man. “Now, the person who wants to use the cabinet has to put in a piece of themselves…a lock of hair, a fingernail clipping…something like that, and then they put in the object they wish to connect to…or vice versa…that part doesn’t really matter…Wait?…Where was I?…Oh, yes…
“You see, Houdini believed that all objects were connected in spirit and could thus be connected to the human spirit, or the human soul could be tied to the object, you see. When tied together, the object lends its power to the human soul.”
“Uh, huh,” said Annie in growing doubt. “If that’s true, then what will a penny do for me?”
“You’ll see,” winked the old man.
“It’s not going to kill me or anything, will it?” frowned Annie.
“No, no,” snorted Mr. Pascuzzi. “Just think of it as a little gift from me to you. A…A going away present, as it were. Besides, I’ll take out the lock of your hair and the penny in a few hours. That should give you more than enough time to see how the magic works.
“Houdini believed the cabinet used two things to make the magic work. He had the focus and the fetter. The focus is the object you want to bind to. The fetter is the piece of yourself the magic seeks out. The magic of the cabinet is the glue that holds them together.
“The penny/hair combination is a really harmless example, because like I said, using this cabinet is dangerous. If the cabinet were to have something sinister in it as a focus, or if you used a more powerful fetter, such as blood, then trust me when I say…you don’t want that. That’s why we’re just using a penny and some hair, and I’ll be taking them out tonight anyway. I’ll leave them in just long enough for you to see how the cabinet works.”
None of this sounded legit, because everyone knew magic wasn’t real, but Annie decided to humor the old man. There was no harm in that.
“Whatever you say, Mr. P.,” she shrugged. “I think the cabinet is really neat, but I’ve got to go. My brother is waiting for me back home.”
“You shoo then,” said the old man. “If you’re ever back in town, you stop by here, okay?”
“Absolutely,” nodded Annie. “It’ll be my first stop.”
“Now, you get on home and enjoy those comics,” urged the old shopkeep.
“Will do,” smiled Annie.
She took her leave after that. She left the old man in his private collection room and departed the shop, the prize of her collectable horror comics still gently clutched within her eager hands.
She was definitely happy about the exchange, but the truth was, she needed to hide this from Greg. He was probably not going to be happy with her anyway, because he was never happy with her about anything. She had enough bruises to prove that.
Annie made her way up the wooden steps to Greg’s apartment. She cringed every time she had to return, because there was no telling what mood he was going to be in. Considering his old white van was parked outside, she already knew he was here, but how long he had been here, she did not know.
Greg was barely taller than her and average in the face, but he had good muscle tone from lifting furniture for a lot of years, so he was attractive in his own way. Nevertheless, he had a mean streak the size of Kansas, so ticking him off was not on the schedule.
She unlocked the door to the apartment and walked in. The place was a mess, of course, but that was due to the clutter, the clutter of various items Greg had “liberated” from different storage units, “liberated” being used in the most liberal way possible.
Annie walked around a small dresser and narrowly avoided knocking over old lamps stacked on cardboard boxes filled with dated magazines. She wanted to get her comics to her room in this little two bedroom before she ran into Greg.
She had just reached her room and had turned the doorknob when Greg’s voice cut into her from behind.
“Where in the hell have you been!” he barked.
She winced at that tone. It was always the same with him. He never let her do anything.
“I was just out awhile,” said Annie.
“Oh, really?” asked Greg. “Then what’s that you’ve got there?…Have you been stealing from me again!”
His accusation was nothing new. Because he was a thief, he automatically accused her of being one every time. It was a psychological thing. She had taken the teapot, of course, but considering he controlled any money that came their way, she had no other way of getting anything for herself.
Right now, though, she needed to lie, because Greg was not the forgiving type.
“It’s j…just some comics I picked up,” she stammered. “I traded some of my old things for them…You won’t let me have anything…I don’t even have a phone…You never give me any money…”
“So you can waste it on this crap?” snorted Greg. “And you don’t need a phone. You don’t have any friends anyway…Put that trash away and come help me with this haul.”
She did as he commanded, but not because she wanted to. She simply wanted him to simmer down.
She walked into her room and stuffed her comics in her dresser drawer. There would be time to read them later.
Greg was waiting for her when she walked out, but he did not look happy. Of course, he never looked happy, so this was no surprise.
“Where did you get those comics from?” he asked.
“I…I traded some of my stuff for them at this antique shop,” said Annie. “It’s that one a few blocks away.”
“Haven’t been there,” frowned Greg. “They let you trade for stuff there?…Wait…What did you say? Did you say something stupid? You’d better not have told them anything.”
“No,” said Annie. “No, I didn’t say anything. I lied and told him I had to get back to my brother, just like you told me to. I lied like you said.”
“You told who?” asked Greg.
“The old man that runs the place,” said Annie. “He’s a nice old man.”
“Hmmph,” snorted Greg. “Don’t hide things from me. From now on, you tell me when you’re going out and where you’re going. I don’t want the police coming down on us.”
“The police aren’t going to—” she started.
“Don’t argue with me!” yelled Greg as he raised the back of his right hand up toward her face.
Annie flinched in natural response. She did not want to get hit again. Greg didn’t know his own strength, and she’d been seriously hurt by him before…She did not want that to happen again. It had taken months for her ribs to heal the last time.
“You’re lucky I don’t throw you back out on the street where I found you!” hissed Greg. “You’re lazy and worthless most of the time…You’re also lucky you’re such a good lay, or I’d just find myself another girl.”
“Don’t say that…” whined Annie.
She couldn’t help but whine. He reminded her quite often how worthless she was.
“Who else are you going to find that can pick locks without a bump key?” she asked.
Sometimes, she needed to do some reminding of her own. Picking locks the traditional way was a talent she had picked up before she’d run away from home, and it was the talent (other than her skill in bed) that Greg prized her for.
“Yeah, yeah,” he scowled. “Get your head out of your little butt and start searching through this crap. I can already tell most of it’s junk. Even so, we might find something valuable. We need some serious cash before we ditch this burg. I want to put some miles behind us before anyone catches on.”
He grabbed her by her left arm with his right hand, but his grip hurt, and she had to protest his manhandling.
“Ow! OW!” she cried. “That hurts!”
“Stop whining and get started on that dresser!” he growled. “I didn’t haul it up here by myself so you could be lazy! You wanted to keep that piece of crap, so it’s your responsibility to clean out any dead bugs or mouse turds…Don’t look at me like an idiot! It’s your frickin’ dresser, so it’s your responsibility! Get moving!…I should have thrown out that piece of trash.”
She wondered if the trash in question was her or the dresser, but that thought was irrelevant, because it was cut short by the sudden pain that followed.
He let her go, and “SMACK!” went his hand to her bottom. It was a windup strike, a pulling back of the hand for maximum damage. The sound of his palm striking her butt echoed around the small apartment, causing her to jump and shriek at the same time.
She had to take a moment to rub her stinging butt cheek…That was going to leave a mark.
She wiped a small tear from her right eye as she knelt down to inspect the small children’s dresser Greg had lugged up here for her. She had indeed wanted it for some reason that escaped her at the moment, but picking through it was going to be a nightmare, because a lot of the storage units they raided were owned by old people who stored things for years, and some of those units had some horrors in them…She’d once found a dead cat in a cardboard box. The thing was so old it had mummified.
She was afraid that one day she was going to open some furniture or a box and find a dead baby, a body part, or something like that, but Greg did not seem to share her fears. No, he was only in it for the money.
Their routine was simple. They’d scout out a unit, Annie would pick the lock, usually a basic padlock, and then they’d raid the unit. Yeah, there were cameras in some places, and there were security guards, but if you just wore a hoodie and acted like you owned the place, you could rob them blind. You raided the unit and locked it back up. It really was that simple. The owners never seemed to check their units often enough anyway.
Aside from that, she was still wary about opening anything.
She peeled off the masking tape that was keeping the drawers shut. Annie then opened the bottom drawer of the dresser and pulled out its only occupant, a large plastic freezer bag full of pennies. She held up the bag and shook it a bit, and considering how many pennies were in it, it was quite heavy.
“Huh,” she said to herself as she sniffed and wiped at her eyes one more time.
She opened up the next drawer and pulled out two more plastic freezer bags full of pennies. Both of them were just as heavy and as stuffed as the first, and their discovery left her wondering.
There were four drawers in all within this children’s dresser, and she was going bottom up, so she opened the third drawer and discovered three more bags of pennies in that one.
“What the hell?” she asked herself.
She stood, opened up the top drawer, and discovered four small plastic lunch bags full of pennies. She pulled those out and set them next to the other six larger bags.
“Greg!” she called out. “Greg!”
“What!” he called back in a hostile tone.
He stomped over to her, his face a burning glare of irritation.
She ignored that look and waved toward the pile of pennies.
“Look what I found in the dresser!” she said happily.
“What the hell?” he said uncertainly as he stared down at the bags of coins.
“That’s what I said!” she replied in excitement.
“This is good,” he said as he nodded his head. “Take those bags aside and start sorting those pennies by date. There might be some valuable ones in them. All of the worthless ones I’ll take to a bank and convert to bills. I doubt there’s actually a lot of money there, but money’s money, so I’ll take it.”
“There’s not a lot here?” asked Annie.
“Eh,” shrugged Greg. “They’re pennies Ann. You have to have thousands of them to make any real cash, but…eh, whatever. We might get ten, twenty bucks off that.”
“Can we order out?” asked Annie hopefully.
‘Yeah, I guess,” shrugged Greg.
“I want pizza!” grinned Annie.
“Yeah, why not,” sighed Greg.
“Yay!” she squealed as she jumped up and down.
She hugged him around the waist, and he returned the gesture by squeezing her bruised bottom. It hurt a little, but she was willing to ignore that pain. It was better than the alternative, because the alternative was Mean Greg, and she did not want to deal with Mean Greg.
As it stood, this day was turning out better than she had anticipated. She was going to eat a decent meal, take a hot shower, and then read her comics. Those pennies still had to be sorted and counted, but that was nothing she couldn’t handle.
Annie pulled open the front door to Mr. Pascuzzi’s shop, her new trade offer clutched within her eager hands.
She had an old, slender, and fine-looking knife in her possession, a needle-pointed thing that had to have some value. She was hoping to get some kind of trade for it. Honestly, it looked like an old letter opener with some fake gems on it, so it wasn’t like Greg was going to miss it.
Her thoughts wandered over the night before, and that night had been a good one, last night’s good time leaving her with a good-time high, hence why she wanted to trade in one last thing before leaving this town.
Last night had been a banger, literally. They had ordered a couple of pizzas, and then Greg had taken her to his room and had his way with her, but she hadn’t minded that. That was a celebration of sorts.
It had started because Greg had been wrong about the pennies. There had been way more than twenty bucks in pennies in those bags; it was actually about a hundred and ten, so that was more money for Greg, money Annie was never going to see, but that was why she was trading in something anyway. What Greg didn’t know only benefitted her, but she had to be careful about what she took, or he would certainly beat the crap out of her…again.
Even so, Greg had “rewarded” her with pizza, the crust stuffed with cheese, and then he rewarded her with…well…a stuffing of another sort, but she’d take what she could get. It was better than Mean Greg. It was a night that stood out because it had been good, and that’s all that mattered in the end.
She let those thoughts slide as she was greeted by Mr. Pascuzzi.
“Come in! Come in!” called out Mr. Pascuzzi. “We have…Oh, it’s you, Annie…I thought you were leaving town. Do you have something for me?”
“I do,” smiled Annie. “My brother and I won a big auction, so here’s what I have.”
She gingerly handed him the knife, and Mr. Pascuzzi received it, but he stared at it with wide eyes before saying anything at all. She could tell something was wrong, but what that something was, she had no idea.
“Oh, Annie, where did you get this?” he asked quietly.
“I…I told you,” she stammered. “It was in a storage unit. We won it in an auction.”
That was a lie, of course, but she had been lying to him from day one anyway. Everything Greg had was stolen, and she definitely wasn’t Greg’s sister, but Mr. Pascuzzi didn’t need to know any of that. Handing over this stuff was a boon for the old man…At least, that’s what she kept telling herself.
In truth, Annie didn’t want to steal, but she didn’t have a choice. Greg wouldn’t let her work, and he wasn’t giving her any money, so what else was she supposed to do?…She didn’t even have a phone.
Besides, the stuff she took was stuff he’d stolen anyway. It wasn’t like he was going to miss any of it. She’d said that before, but she had to repeat it in her own mind for her own mental wellbeing. Greg could—and would—seriously injure her if he found out she had taken anything.
Right now, though, she needed to figure out what was going on with Mr. Pascuzzi. The old shopkeep looked a little out of sorts, and she needed to know why.
“What’s wrong, Mr. Pascuzzi?” she asked.
She used his name on purpose. Greg had taught her that. When in doubt about someone’s intentions, good or bad, it made her look more legit and less like a lying thief.
She didn’t want to get in trouble. As bad as life could be with Greg, she did not want to end up in jail or prison. The thought of that scared her on a deep level.
“Well, this was my late brother’s,” said Mr. Pascuzzi.
There was a hint of sadness in his voice, but more importantly, what he’d just said spiked Annie’s adrenaline and nearly caused her to panic.
However, she did not panic. Greg had taught her to act concerned in moments like this in order to deflect blame. She couldn’t sweat or act nervous, because those were tells. She had to go with it in order to come up with a plausible lie, or she was screwed.
“It is?” she asked. “What do you mean?”
“This was stolen from my brother nearly thirty years ago,” sighed the old man. “We’d never thought we’d see it again. Who would have thought it would have been squirreled away in someone’s storage unit right under our noses? I can’t believe it’s returned to me.
“I think my brother can rest easy now…over this anyway. He had a good life, so it’s not like this was a major loose end, but I am grateful you’ve brought it to me, Annie, and if my brother were here with us today, he’d be grateful, too. It would have meant a lot to him. It means a lot to me; I know that.”
Annie felt her thoroughly-wired muscles melt back into her body. The danger of being caught was averted for now, and that was a good thing, though she was still on edge. Nevertheless, this was a boon for her as much as it was for Mr. Pascuzzi, because if the knife had sentimental value, the old man might reward her with some of the good stuff.
“I didn’t know this was so special,” she said honestly.
That she didn’t have to lie about.
“This is a genuine, early-sixteenth-century, Italian bejeweled stiletto, Annie,” replied the old man.
There was a softness to his voice as he studied the piece in his hands, his weathered lips turning upwards in a gentle smile.
“You can see the rubies along the hilt,” he continued. “Those are real rubies, by the way. This knife is actually worth a lot of money, and it belongs to my family. Guiseppe inherited this from our father, but he never did tell me how he’d lost it. He’d always said it was stolen, but I suspect he’d lost it gambling. He had a bad habit with that…I am glad it’s returned, though…I take it that whoever owned the storage unit passed away?”
“Yeah,” said Annie. “Huh…Well, if it belongs to your family, I guess that means it’s all yours, Mr. P.”
She thought about this, but the conclusion was a dry one. Now that she was thinking about it, this “stiletto” was already his property, so it didn’t look like she was going to score anything today. That was okay, though. She kind of felt like Robin Hood for stealing the thing back for him. It made her feel warm inside.
“I guess I’m out of luck today,” she shrugged. “This is yours anyway.”
“Nonsense, nonsense!” grinned the old man. “You deserve something, Annie!”
“I do?” asked Annie in surprise.
She was kind of taken aback. She had not expected to get anything after Mr. Pascuzzi’s heartfelt story.
The old man lifted his right index finger and shook it up and down a couple of times.
“I know just the thing!” he said excitedly.
He motioned toward the back of the shop, and then he trundled in that direction, his old legs moving as fast as they could without the help of a cane.
“Follow me!” he said eagerly. “I’m taking this back to the valuables room. You remember the valuables room, right? There’s something in there I want you to have.”
Her heart jumped for a split second…Something from the valuables room?
She followed the old man back to the “valuables” room.
Mr. Pascuzzi unlocked the door with a brass key and ushered her inside. He shut the door and then nodded toward the back of the room. His gaze landed upon the small, black, wooden cabinet that he’d shown her just the day before.
“Mercutio’s Cabinet,” grinned the old man. “I want you to have it.”
Not exactly ideal. Annie would have preferred more comics…What was she going to do with a dusty old cabinet?
“Oh, that’s okay, Mr. P.,” she said nervously. “You don’t have to do—”
“Didn’t it work?” he asked in a hushed voice. “I put the penny and your hair in it yesterday. Tell me it didn’t work, Annie. Tell me it didn’t work, and I’ll let it go.”
Annie felt like a thunderbolt had struck her right through the brain, lighting up all of her neurons at once. It was her own shortsighted stupidity that had played against her on this one, because she had completely forgotten about the penny and the hair, but all of that weird supernatural “magic” stuff Mr. Pascuzzi had told her about the cabinet suddenly came flooding back…She’d found all those pennies…
She turned pale as she thought about this.
“I…I think it did work,” she said in a shaky voice. “I found all these bags of pennies in an old dresser last night. My brother and I counted them out. There was over a hundred dollars in pennies in those bags…I forgot all about the penny and the hair.”
“Ah, ha!” exclaimed Mr. Pascuzzi in visible excitement. “I told you!…Now, I’m getting too old to keep something like this around, so I want you to have it…Here’s the thing, though, Annie. You have to keep it secret…This is real magic were talking about here, and if it fell into the wrong hands…”
“Real magic…” trailed off Annie.
The possibilities were endless. Heck, with this thing, she could make money hand over fist…She didn’t even need Greg anymore…Not that he’d let her go, but that was beside the point. She could hide the cabinet’s magic from him. He certainly didn’t need to know about that.
“Annie, are you listening?” asked Mr. Pascuzzi.
The old shopkeep waved his hands in front of her face.
“Oh, sorry, Mr. P.,” replied Annie. “I just got excited there for a moment.”
“Well, don’t get too excited and lose your head,” said the old man. “Remember what I said about real magic? It’s dangerous. You need to keep your wits about you when you use this thing.
“Mercutio’s Cabinet is made from real magic, and real magic comes from an outside source, a…a divine source or an infernal one, like an angel or a demon. Considering the rumors swirling about some of Houdini’s artifacts, I’d say this thing was made by a dark force. I’d be careful using it.”
A demon? She didn’t believe in de…Of course, the cabinet had actually worked, so…No, no, she could risk it. She wasn’t stupid. She could make it work without getting fried…
It was worth a shot for financial independence. She could make money on the side with it, and Greg never needed to find out. He could pay all the bills and stuff, and she could live comfortably with the money she made off the cabinet…She could even get a phone…It was a win-win.
Of course, it could all just be coincidence…The old man could just be eccentric about this piece of Houdini history.
“I don’t know, Mr. P.,” said Annie. “I’d just be happy with some comics.”
“You see, that’s what I love about you, Annie!” grinned the old shopkeep. “You have a real love for the classics! Why don’t I give you some comics for your trouble, and you can take the cabinet, too. It’s my thanks for what you’ve done.”
“Sounds good to me,” smiled Annie. “I can’t turn that down.”
She could test out the cabinet tonight, and Greg would never know about it.
“Now, remember,” said Mr. Pascuzzi. “This is dangerous, so only use safe items like that penny, and don’t use anything of yourself but a lock of hair or a fingernail clipping. This is real magic, and I don’t even think Houdini understood how it worked…
“There’s no telling what might happen if you break those rules. I don’t want to see a fine young lady such as yourself get hurt…or worse…
“Remember what I told you about the focus and the fetter? Don’t put in anything nasty as a focus, or it could warp you, possess you…and don’t use anything but some hair or a fingernail clipping. The fetter is kind of like a sacrifice, so the more of you you put in the cabinet, the more powerful the effect will be, and you don’t want that. There’s no telling what could happen if you spilled blood in it…”
He shuddered and shook his head as if to chase off some gruesome thought.
“You just promise me you won’t do anything rash, okay?” said the old man.
“You got it, Mr. P.,” said Annie. “I’ll be careful.”
If what he was saying was true, then it would be prudent to follow his directions. Maybe finding the pennies was a coincidence or maybe it wasn’t, but she wasn’t going to screw around and find out the hard way.
“Okay,” said the old shopkeep. “You take that cabinet, and I’ll give you some comics, too.”
“Sure thing,” grinned Annie.
Real magic or not, life was looking pretty good right now.
Annie walked into the apartment and set down her new cabinet. She opened the cabinet, took out her stack of newly obtained vintage comics, shut the cabinet, and then turned to go put them away in her room. Unfortunately, she never made it there.
Greg appeared out of nowhere. He grabbed her by her right wrist with his own left hand and yanked her forward.
She dropped her comics as she shrieked in both pain and surprise. His grip was like a vice, and it hurt her to the point where she thought the slender bones within that grip were going to break.
“Where is it!” he yelled.
“What are you talk—” she started to say.
His fist buried itself within her solar plexus, and she immediately felt the air leave her lungs. She doubled over from that vicious blow, her eyes wide, her mouth agape in shock and surprise.
His rough hands wrapped around her waist, her vision whirled in a crazy dance as the room spun, and then she was on her back, slammed to the floor without mercy. Her comics were now beneath her, scattered about the one empty space of flooring within this cluttered two-bedroom apartment.
Annie tried to cry out as a bruising pain erupted around her bladder, the cause of that pain a swift kick from the pointed toe of Greg’s right boot. She had no breath in her to scream, so all she could do was squeeze her eyes shut, the tears flowing, her mouth wide with nothing but silence.
If Greg was anything, he was an expert on leaving bruises where no one else could see.
“You lying little thief!” screeched Greg. “I know you’ve been stealing from me, but I’ve let it slide because you only took the cheap stuff!…But this time, Ann…this time, you…are…done! Do you hear me! You took the one valuable item we had! That was our paycheck, you little skank!”
Annie curled up into a fetal position and desperately sucked in some breath. She cried out in a pathetic whimper, and she wanted to break down and bawl, but she couldn’t even do that.
“Look at this cheap crap you traded it for!” yelled Greg. “What is this garbage!…A black box? Some cheap comic rags? What the hell is wrong with you!”
“The box…is magic…” wheezed Annie. “It’s…real magic…It’s real…”
She had no idea why she’d said that. Greg was going to have a field day with that one.
And he did.
He choked out a sarcastic laugh as he ground his right boot into her inner right thigh. She knew he was aiming for her crotch, but thankfully, he was off a bit. Still, it hurt to the point where she cried out from that brutal, twisting pain.
Greg lifted his boot and stamped it down upon the floor.
“Magic!” he exclaimed. “Magic!…This isn’t a fairytale, you moron!…I swear, Annie, you have two frickin’ braincells and one of them is permanently switched off! No one smarter than a bottle of aspirin would fall for that Jack and the Beanstalk crap!…There’s no such thing as magic, you idiot!
“That knife you took had real rubies in it! It was a genuine antique worth a small fortune!…That was a verified bejeweled renaissance stiletto, you brainless meat sack!…Did you think I wouldn’t notice it was gone? I had a buyer already tagged for it!”
Annie curled in on herself and squeezed her eyes shut even harder. She was genuinely scared now, because she didn’t want Greg to hit her anymore, but he was furious, so she knew more pain was coming, and he was not going to hold back, not this time.
Still, there was always begging.
“I’m sorry!” she choked out. “I’m sorry! You never give me any mon—”
“Shut up!” he yelled.
She listened to the sound of his boots stomp off toward her bedroom. She heard him fling open her bedroom door, stomp in, and then stomp out a few seconds later. She did nothing during this time but weep and fold in on herself, but that was all she could do. She felt helpless and broken, and that’s all there was to it.
“I should have done this a long time ago,” he said in a deathly-quiet tone. “You’ve had this coming, because it’s clear to me you’re not going to learn…Get up!”
She screeched again as he yanked her up by her right arm. She opened her blurry, tearful eyes and tried not to sob in front him. She wanted to, but she was afraid to, because Greg wasn’t the merciful type, and seeing her break down was only going to enrage him further.
“Look at me, Annie,” said Greg. “Look what I have.”
His voice was menacing, commanding. She was really in for it now.
He held up one of her seven-inch, plastic, movie-monster figures she loved so much. He must have taken it off her shelf above her bed.
She wiped her eyes so she could see more clearly…The figure he was holding was her classic werewolf figure. The classic horror movies were her favorite films, that figure was her most prized possession, and Greg knew both of those things.
“You like this crappy old movie, huh?” he asked. “You love this stupid thing, don’t you?”
He was going to break it. She just knew he was going to break it.
“Please, don’t!” she choked out. “Please, give it back to me!”
“You’ve brought this on yourself, Ann,” scowled Greg.
He picked up Mercutio’s Cabinet and thrust it at her. She took the priceless artifact and held it closely to her as he opened up the cabinet’s door and tossed in her werewolf figure. He shut the cabinet door and turned the gold latch to keep the door from swinging open.
“You’ve brought this on yourself, Ann,” he said again. “Get your butt down to the van.”
Annie wiped at her eyes and cheeks and tried to stop the inane sounds of weeping coming out of her mouth. She really didn’t like crying, but she was scared, so ending her weeping was taking up most of her concentration.
“Where are we going?” she choked out.
“Get moving!” yelled Greg.
Annie jumped as he shoved her toward the apartment door. It appeared they were taking a trip.
She tried to set down her cabinet, but Greg stopped her.
“No, you don’t!” he barked. “You’re taking that with us!”
“Greg!” she whined.
He was going to do something terrible to her stuff. She’d just gotten this cabinet, and if it really was magic, Greg was just going to smash it…or burn it, or whatever…not to mention her werewolf figure. That figure was the first thing she’d bought after she’d escaped her parents. It was her comfort, her anchor to a better life, and now Greg was going to destroy that, too…
He was no better than her parents. If she had known that, she would have never hooked up with him in the first place.
She knew there was nothing she could say to make him believe her, so this time she really did sob. She cried out in loud wails as her tears started flowing all over again.
“Shut up!” yelled Greg. “Shut that crap down before one of the neighbors hears us!…Do you hear me! You brought this on yourself, so quit your bawling!”
He pushed her forward as she clutched her most prized possessions to her chest, and they left the apartment. They walked down the stairs and out to Greg’s van, and during that time, Annie did her best to stifle her weeping, but it was difficult.
Annie reluctantly strapped herself into the front passenger’s seat of Greg’s old white junker, Greg strapped himself into the driver’s seat, and they were off.
They drove west out toward the city limits, and during that time, Greg said nothing. Annie took that opportunity to compose herself, but it was difficult. She mostly wiped at her eyes and clutched her cabinet to herself for some small comfort, but that was really all she could do.
They drove out of town, and they drove for what seemed like an eternity, but to where, Annie did not know. The sun went down on the horizon, darkness fell, and the light of the full moon shone down upon them.
Annie didn’t dare say anything during the drive. She was not stupid.
It wasn’t until they had driven several miles upon a lonely stretch of gravel road through thick trees did Greg pull over and shut off the engine.
“Get out,” he said gruffly.
“Greg…” she whined.
“Get out!” he barked.
Annie undid her seatbelt and quickly exited the vehicle. Whatever was going on was not going to be good, but she didn’t want to get hit again, so she complied.
She stepped out into soft and pale moonlight.
The road they were on showed no visible signs of human habitation. There were only the thick, leafless trees of late winter/early spring surrounding them, the calls of various insects waking from winter slumber chirping in the distance.
Greg exited the van, walked around to the back, opened up the double doors to the back of the van, and pulled out a shovel and flashlight. He flipped on the flashlight, slammed the doors shut, walked up to Annie, and grabbed her by her right arm, only to shove her forward.
“Get moving,” he ordered.
“Greg, I’m sorry…” whined Annie.
“I don’t care,” said Greg coldly. “Get moving before I break one of your bones…I mean it, Annie…Move!”
She stumbled forward into the warm glow of the flashlight as she was forced through the trees.
“We’re going to bury that box, Ann,” he growled. “We’re going to bury that box where no one will ever frickin’ find it.”
She felt her tears flow again. She couldn’t help it.
“Greg, I’m sorry,” she choked out. “Please, don’t do this! These things mean everything to me; you know that!”
“Yeah, well, you should have thought about that before you stole from me,” said Greg in a cold tone. “Losing that stiletto has set me back a fortune.”
“Greg…” whined Annie.
“Move!” yelled Greg.
They walked a little farther until they came to a small empty patch of dirt and leaves surrounded by trees.
“Stop,” commanded Greg. “This is good. There’s some soft ground here where I don’t have to worry about roots…I’d have you dig, but that would take us all night, so it looks like I’m going to have to do it…You just set that box right there.”
Annie sobbed as she set the box down into the leaves and dirt of the small, open copse they had stopped in.
“It’s a full moon tonight,” huffed Greg. “That’s frickin’ ironic, considering what’s in that box…Fitting is what it is.”
Annie sobbed into her hands for a few seconds before wiping at her eyes. She did not know where they were, so there was no chance she was ever going to find this place to dig up the cabinet. It was like looking for one particular needle in a haystack made of needles.
“Stop crying, Ann,” said Greg. “You’ve had this coming for a while now. Honestly, I should have done this a long time ago, but one thing or another made me hesitate…No more. Tonight’s the night to take out the trash.”
“Greg, please, I’ll never do it ag—” she began.
She looked up as she was speaking, and she saw the bright muzzle flash as the ringing “BANG!” went off in a deafening thunder. She jerked backwards as a tremendous blow struck her in the stomach. She was on her back a second later, plunging into soft dirt and twigs and leaves, but her first instinct after realizing she was on the ground was to touch where she had been struck, though she felt no pain.
Her hands were covered in a sticky wetness, but she had fallen, so she must have landed in something. She brought her hands up to her face to inspect what she had fallen in, the ring of Greg’s light fell upon her, and her eyes widened in horror as she stared at the scarlet liquid that was smeared all over the slender fingers of both her hands.
She felt a searing, lancing pain after that, a pain so terrible that all she could do was open her mouth and let forth a weak moan of shock and despair.
“You love this stupid crap, don’t you?” came Greg’s voice, though it sounded distant, muddled. “Well, I’m not heartless, you know. You may think I am, but I’m not. That’s why I’m going to bury you with your ‘magic box’ and that stupid werewolf figure. If you love this crap so much…well…wherever you’re going, you can take it with you.”
Betrayal…Horror… Realization…Terror…These things flooded Annie’s mind as she struggled against the savage pain that was quickly and brutally killing her. It had honestly never occurred to her that Greg would do something like this. He had always been abusive, true, and he had always been a paranoid thief, true, but a killer?…She had never even considered that a possibility.
She was going to die. What had happened had finally registered, and she was going to die. Where Greg had gotten a gun, or how he’d hidden it from her, she did not know, but one thing was clear…She was going to die.
Everything she’d ever done up to this moment had been for nothing. Enduring the failure and bullying of school had been for nothing. Escaping her draconian parents had been for nothing. Suffering out on the street had been for nothing. Suffering through Greg had been for nothing. None of it had mattered, not one bit of it.
Greg was right in some respect. She had brought this upon herself, but only because she had hooked up with him. That’s where she had gone wrong. She hadn’t done anything to deserve this…not this…
If only there was some real magic in the world, she’d make him pay. She’d make him pay, and then she’d be free…
But there was real magic in the world, wasn’t there? At least, that’s what Mr. Pascucci had told her.
A thought occurred to her, one last gasp to go out on. She was dying, fading out and in severe pain, but if there was a chance…
Annie choked out blood-soaked spittle as she turned and reached for Mercutio’s Cabinet. The pain was so terrible that she nearly passed out right then, but something inside her, some will that she dredged up from deep within her soul, bubbled to the surface and allowed her to turn the latch-key on the cabinet.
“You don’t steal from me, Ann,” she heard Greg’s distant, fading voice. “Nobody steals from me. I decide what belongs to me…When you have a pet that bites your hand and craps all over the carpet, you take that pet out back and put it down. I should have done this a while back.”
Annie opened the cabinet door, reached inside, and smeared her life’s blood across the interior cabinet bottom. Her fingers briefly touched her prized werewolf figure, a comforting moment, but she retracted those fingers and closed the cabinet door. It took everything she had left to reach up and turn the latch-key, but she managed it.
She could hear the sounds of Greg’s digging. The scumbag hadn’t even waited for her to die.
“Yeah, you were a good lay, but I can find another woman,” he said. “What’s between your legs ain’t special…Still, you could pick locks without a bump key. I guess I’ll just have to figure out how to pick locks myself from now on. I’m not putting up with another disobedient pet…Nobody steals from me, Ann. You’re damn straight I’ll make sure that never happens again.”
Annie closed her eyes and breathed in the dank air of the forest. She slowly exhaled as she felt the soft light of the full moon upon her skin, a strange blanket of pale warmth that tingled and touched her in forbidden places.
It started as a heat at first, a whisper of wilderness at the back of her mind, and then it came flooding in, a rage, a concentration of animosity that boiled up from out of the abyss of her own psyche.
Annie sat up and then slowly stood upon two unsteady legs. She was angry now, truly angry, angry for once in her life and not afraid, and that made all of the difference in the world.
She could feel it coming, the rush, but it wasn’t quite there yet. What she could not feel anymore was pain, and that was a good thing.
“What the fu…” trailed Greg in momentary surprise. “You’re actually still alive?…Oh, well. I was hoping to save on ammo, but whatever.”
There were three bright muzzle flares, three flares in the moonlit darkness accompanied by three loud “BANGS!,” and Annie, slender and small as she was, jerked back three times but did not fall.
Annie felt the bullets spit from the bloody wounds in her chest and abdomen. The metal slugs ejected from her body to fall to the dirt and leaves below.
“Th…That’s impossible!” stammered Greg.
There was real fear in his voice now, and that fear, that audible tremble, was the onset for the rush in Annie’s blood.
Greg was a bully, an abusive sleazebag with no real guts, and he only picked on those who could not defend themselves, so it was no surprise he would fold at this moment, a moment that was beyond his abusive control.
“Why aren’t you dead!” cried Greg. “No one can survive that! Why aren’t you dead!”
He fired twice more, the bullets slammed into Annie, and then he pulled the trigger over and over as the gun clicked again and again, the chambers empty.
The fresh bullet wounds in Annie’s chest spit forth their metal slugs as the wounds themselves healed within seconds, healing as if there had never been any wounds at all.
The rush ran through her like an orgasmic venom, enraging her further, exciting her to new heights, giving her a toxic ecstasy like no other.
“Why aren’t I dead?” asked Annie. “It’s pretty simple, Greg.”
Her voice lowered an octave as the moon shone its pale light down upon her.
“It’s a full moon,” she growled. “It’s a full moon, Greg, and those bullets aren’t silver.”
She let the change overtake her, the rage and the fury, and she reveled in that sensation.
She grinned as her teeth turned into fangs, and she shook and trembled in strange ecstasy as thick brown fur sprouted from her skin. On some level, this was what she had always wanted, to live out her favorite movie, and now she was getting to do just that.
Mr. Pascuzzi had been right. There was real magic in the world.
There was no pain, only rage. There was only rage and hunger, and she let those primal urges complete her. She could hear everything now, see everything now, and most of all, smell everything now…Her new snouted, dog-like nose could smell Greg’s fear, and that delectable scent was all it took to rush him.
He trilled out a rather unmanly high-pitched scream as her new fangs tore into his throat, the hot blood spraying, the taste of salt and chunks of carotid in her mouth.
There’s Nothing Like the Classics Copyright © 2023 bloodytwine.com Matthew L. Marlott