|This was written for a contest with a requirement
that it had to either start or end with the
sentence: "Please, come in."
by Xander Riley
"Please, come in."
I turned toward the voice, not expecting to see anything but a wall and maybe a homeless person. I had walked this same block every day for the past two
years on my shortcut to my favorite restaurant for lunch. There was nothing here but an empty warehouse that was completely boarded up. Because I was
the only one on the street at that moment, the sound of a voice took me by surprise. Nobody used this street anymore, not since Central Avenue had been
renovated only one block east of here. The only pedestrians I ever encountered were the occasional bum or wino - always asking for a handout. But there
was a quality to the voice that suggested to me that this was not a transient.
A storefront, which I had never noticed, advertised a shop named Timeless Treasures. An elderly woman was standing in the doorway to what appeared to
be a small novelty shop. She was dressed in a blue skirt with a white poodle on it that made her look like a throwback to the fifties. Her long gray hair draped
loosely over her shoulders, reaching nearly to her knees. But her eyes were a brilliant, clear blue - the eyes of a young woman. She smiled at me and her
eyes lit up even brighter.
I was intrigued, both by her unusual style and by the surprising existence of the shop. She seemed so frail and totally harmless - no threat at all to a man of
my size - so I stepped forward and greeted her.
"Please, sir, come in and have a look around. I am sure that you will discover something to your liking!"
Something about her voice drew me inside. When she spoke, it was musical - almost a song. Stepping backward into the shop and extending her arm in
invitation, she made way for me to enter. I didn't have to be back to work for an hour, so I went inside.
I crossed the threshold and gasped. The temperature dropped from a sweltering 95 degrees outside to a chilly 70 as I entered the shop. It took a couple of
minutes for my eyes to adjust to the dim light. There were glass display cases along each wall containing a variety of knick-knacks. A rack of postcards stood
by the front door and there were rugs hanging on hooks from the ceiling throughout the room. An antique table in the middle of the room displayed clocks
from many time periods - from sundials to digital alarm clocks.
I was even more intrigued now. "What sort of shop is this? You have a pretty interesting assortment of items here."
Receiving no response, I turned back to look at the old woman. She was gone. So was the front door. There was a solid wall with another glass case in front
of me. Confused, I spun around, looking for another exit. Claustrophobia was never a problem for me, but I did not enjoy being trapped against my will.
Especially in a situation that could not possibly be happening! Could I have lost my mind?
The case where the door used to be was filled with memorabilia from the fifties - bumper stickers, foxtails, campaign buttons, photographs of celebrities, and
an old high-school yearbook. I looked around the room at the other displays. Each one was from a different historical era. The Roaring Twenties, the Civil
War, Woodstock, the California Gold Rush. In the center of each display was a framed photograph of a person from that time period.
Returning to the fifties display, I took a closer look at the picture and recognized the shop owner - when she was much, much younger. I leaned forward to get
a closer look at the photograph. Her dark hair was tied in a ponytail that hung to her waist. She was wearing the same poodle skirt - or at least one just like it
(after all, the picture was in black and white). Her signature was scrawled across the bottom, the last name a nearly illegible loop: Carrie A.
The display cases were not locked, so I reached inside and pulled out the yearbook. I found her without any problem. Her picture was on nearly every page -
she was the homecoming queen, the head cheerleader, and the class valedictorian. Introducing Miss Popularity, Carrie Atherton. Voted Most Likely To
Succeed. I scanned through the various pictures of her as a cheerleader, giving a speech to her classmates, and even volunteering in an old folk’s home.
Her class picture was more subdued, with glasses and a buttoned-up collar, but that wasn't what caught my attention. Her class photo was right next to Susie
Atkinson - my grandmother!
Before my mind could register any reason for the connection, I heard a door open behind me. Impossible! There were no other doors in the room when I
searched for one. But now there was a middle-aged man walking towards me. Not quite as old as Carrie, but dressed just as strangely. He wore a tie-dyed t-
shirt and psychedelic sunglasses perched on the top of his head. A long, scraggly beard covered most of his face.
He took one glance at me, then turned and walked back through the wall without saying a word. Well, it wasn't exactly a wall - it was more like a double
exposure of a doorway and a wall. Almost like a hologram. I intended to follow him through the portal to wherever he was going, but stopped abruptly when I
noticed that Carrie's display case had changed while my back was turned.
The yearbook and photos were no longer there. Instead, the case was filled with i-pods, a PDA, a laptop computer, and a different yearbook. From my high
school. And the center photograph was of me! Now my mind was really reeling! This was the Twilight Zone! Or an X-File. Carrie was now gone and her
display case had vanished with her. I was now here and a display case had appeared to showcase both me and the era I lived in.
Apparently, Carrie had finally been allowed to leave once she had brought me here in her place. Or was my imagination going into overdrive? In a matter of
minutes, I had begun to see this as a sort of temporal prison that collected humans from every era. Or possibly a zoo. But if it was a zoo, then where were
the people (or aliens) that viewed the exhibit? Even though my brain argued that it was impossible, my gut was telling me that it was true. That I could never
leave until I brought back someone to take my place.
I walked over to the wall where the bearded man had vanished and searched for the opening. It was there, but well disguised. I could not see the door at all,
but my arm went right through when I tried to touch it. Without a second thought, I stepped through the wall and was immediately shoved back into the shop
as someone came through from the other side. Mr. Tie-Dye had returned.
He glanced at his wristwatch as he rushed over to where the front door used to be. The wall shimmered and the door reappeared - this time it was an old-
fashioned log doorway. I could see a wooden walkway outside and a dirt road beyond the walk. Across the street was a saloon straight out of an old western
movie. Dust billowed into the shop as a stagecoach drove past.
Mr. Tie-Dye opened the door and stood, waiting for someone to walk by. I ran over to wait with him - to make my escape, even if it was not my decade. I
would rather live free in the old west than as a prisoner in a tiny shop. In my haste, my foot caught on the leg of the table and I stumbled forward. Completely
off-balance, I fell into Mr. Tie-Dye who, in turn, fell forward through the open door.
Another question in the back of my mind had been answered - one that I hadn't consciously asked myself yet. What happens if you try to leave by yourself
without someone taking your place? You turn to dust, that’s what. Mr. Tie-Dye turned into a very colorful cloud of dust. A cloud of dust that attracted much
attention on the street outside.
A crowd gathered around the storefront, but no one would come close. Even the children hovered at a safe distance. The few that tried to move closer were
quickly pulled back by their parents. A couple of wild dogs bared their teeth and growled under their breath. They gawked at the store as if it were the
doorway to Hell itself. For all I knew, they may be right.
It occurred to me that a store appearing out of thin air would be a much bigger deal to people of the old west. In my century, we had become so accustomed
to change that nothing surprised us - we simply assumed that the construction happened while attention was elsewhere in our daily lives. Here, however, a
new store would have been the talk of the town for months. To have one suddenly appear out of thin air would cause quite a stir.
I stepped up to the doorway and flashed my biggest smile - the one I save for the tourists that walk into my bookstore back in my own time. The smile
worked! One of the ladies cautiously moved away from the crowd and took a few steps towards me. Actually, the term 'lady' was not entirely true - she was
one of the saloon girls. A prostitute. But she would do just fine for my purposes. All I had to do was convince her to look around my store.
I continued smiling broadly as I stepped backward and gestured with my arm to show off my shop.
"Please, come in!"
© Copyright 2008 Xander Riley