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Fiction Mystery Thriller

Ryan Perkins is a gentle and quiet thirty-one-year-old office worker who likes collecting antiques. He lives in New York City and is well acquainted with the antique shops there. However, this afternoon while walking to the convenience store, he looks down an alley. He notices an old-fashioned symbol of three gold balls hanging over a door signifying a pawnshop. He hadn’t seen that particular sign in years and, with caution and curiosity, enters the alley to have a look.

           The alley is a narrow, dirty dead end with all the trash cans so packed that it looks as if they haven’t been emptied in a long time.  Ryan startles a cat that yowls loudly at being disturbed.  Then, careful of where he is stepping, he moves toward the recessed door and stops.  A dim light shines through the grime on the door’s glass window, just enough to read the lettering, “Pawn and Loans-proprietor G.Schmit.” Try as he might, Ryan can’t see clearly enough through the grime to tell what is inside the store. He looks back toward the entrance, thinking of leaving, when he realizes that he has turned the doorknob and pushed the door open enough to cause a small bell above it to announce his arrival.

           Stepping inside, Ryan makes a quick observation and concludes that this pawnshop is very old indeed. Four old fashion lights hang down from the tin embossed ceiling. The walls are painted a dark tan with rich deep walnut wainscoting halfway up. Ryan notices that all the display cabinets and counters are full of antiques, most extremely old and in excellent condition.  He looks around the shop slack-jawed, wishing he had enough money to buy its entire contents, when he hears a voice with a slight German accent call.

           “May I help you?”

           Startled, Ryan turns and sees someone standing inside the broker’s cage that he hadn’t noticed before.  Approaching the counter, Ryan sees that the broker is a small old grey-haired man wearing a green visor and arm garters while smoking a vintage Hubertu pipe. Ryan finds the smoke from the pipe intoxicating as he apologizes to the keeper, “I’m so sorry.  Please accept my apologies.  I didn’t see you standing there.” The broker merely slowly blinks his sad Bassett hound eyes and smiles slightly.

           “I am so surprised to have discovered your shop!”  Ryan exclaims excitedly. “I thought I knew every antique store in the city. Have you been here long?” 

           The little man takes a long pull on his pipe, causing it to crackle loudly.  Then, as he exhales, he responds, “Since 1903.” Ryan is surprised by the date but now understands why there are so many antique items in the store.

           “The alley out front used to be a throughway from Broadway to West 236th street until the city built dat large post office over there, cutting the street down to the dead-end alley it is today. Consequently, not many people know I’m here.” The pawnbroker returns his pipe to his mouth for another drag.

           Ryan tells the pawnbroker that he is an antique collector and is quite impressed by the many exquisite items and jewelry he sees here.

           “Ya,” he responds. We’ve been in business for a long time but have not traded in too much modern stuff.  So please take your time and look around. If you see anything you are interested in, just ask, and I’ll do mine best to tell you about it.”

           Ryan thanks him and begins looking around at the treasure trove before him. He studies the jewelry with so many items looking like they were made in the early nineteen hundreds.  So many gems are huge diamonds set in what has to be fourteen karat gold. He browses among the steamer trunks, some with clothing still inside, and is amazed at the travel stickers because they looked as though they were just placed there yesterday. Ryan’s eyes grow large when he sees an old bellows-type camera on a shelf with other old Brownies. It reminds him of a late eighteen ninety-six Marion and Company camera. When he lifts it from the counter, he is amazed to discover that a thick metal box has been attached. Turning it over in his hands, he can’t see the manufacturer’s name and turns to the old man for help.

           “Mr. Schmit, pardon me, but what can you tell me about this camera?  Unfortunately, I don’t see a name or patent number on it.”

           Schmit smiles from one corner of his mouth, his pipe hanging from the other.

           “You have an excellent eye, mine friend, for dat is a very rare piece indeed. One of a kind, actually. It was invented by a man named Hollenberg in the late nineteen hundreds. The box on the bottom is supposed to develop the picture right on the spot. No need to take it to a photography studio.”

           “You mean like a Polaroid?”

           “Err, sure. And it worked too. The problem was that no one believed him.  They all thought he was mad or dat the camera was some sort of trick camera like a magician would use, so no one was interested in it.  Having spent his life savings building the camera, creating the right chemicals to develop the photo, and transferring it to the proper paper, he ended up penniless. He brought the camera to me, and I gave him one hundred dollars for it. It was the least I could do.”

           Puzzled, Ryan asked, “Did you say you gave him one hundred dollars?”

           Flustered, Schmit exclaimed, “What? Did I say dat?  Oh no, no, no. It was mine grandfather who did dat.  You’ll have to forgive me, you see.  I’ve been here so long and know all the stories about every item dat it seems like I was the one to make the transaction, you see?”

           Ryan nods in acknowledgment and asks, How much do you want for it?”

           The old broker puffs on his pipe a few times while considering a price and finally replies, “Seeing as it is a rare one of a kind piece, I think twelve hundred dollars would be a fair price, ya?”   

           Ryan turns the camera around in his hands a few times and, glancing up, asks, “You say you have all the pieces that go with it and that it still works, yes?”

           “Ya, ya it stills works.”

           “Then I’ll take it!” exclaims Ryan and removes a credit card from his wallet. Upon seeing the piece of plastic, the broker seems confused and says he only takes cash or maybe a check if Ryan has one. Ryan just so happens to have his checkbook with him and writes out a check for Mr. Schmit. Schmit disappears into the back room and soon returns with all the accessories for the camera in a box.

           “It has been a pleasure doing business with you, “er, “ Schmit stops to scan the check for Ryan’s name, “Mr. Perkins.”

           “Oh no, the pleasure is all mine, Mr.Schmit, and I promise to be back soon to buy more!” Then, as Ryan opens the door to leave, Schmit calls out to him.

           “I almost forgot to tell you that all sales are final. I hope you understand.” Ryan nods and leaves.

           Schmit hears the bell above his door tinkle wildly as Perkins bursts in two days later.

            “I’m sorry, Mr. Perkins, but I did say all sales are final, ya?”

           “Yes, yes. But that’s not why I’m here! This camera, there’s something wrong with it.” Perkins pauses to catch his breath and puts the camera on the counter. “Mr. Schmit, every time I take a picture, the picture that develops is not the same one I’ve taken!  For example, I took a picture of the apartment building across from me, which was fine, but the picture I got back showed it on fire! It clearly was not, for I was looking right at it. I then went downstairs and shot a picture of the intersection at the corner. The traffic was flowing smoothly, but the resulting photo showed a five-car accident with one dead body lying in the street!”

           Schmit raises his hand to stop Perkins, “Dat was the problem Hollenberg was having trying to get buyers to believe him. He called it the camera of tomorrow because it only took pictures of things that hadn’t happened yet but would in the future.  So that’s why no one would believe him or thought he was trying to hoodwink them for a fast buck.” Perkins’s color pales as he reaches into his inside jacket pocket and removes a photo to hand it to Schmit.

           “Then, Mr. Schmit, can you kindly explain this?”

           Schmit looks at the picture and says, “Hmm.” Then he walks to the front door and locks it. Upon returning, he tells Perkins that he had better sit down. Schmit goes behind the counter and comes back with a bent and creased photo, the same as Perkins but older. Both pictures show Ryan Perkins lying on the pawnshop floor with a bullet hole in his forehead and a pool of blood behind him.

           Perkins cries out, “What does it mean!”

           “I’ll tell you what it means. Back in nineteen o five, when I pawned the camera for Mr. Hollenberg, I took a picture of mine shop to see how it worked. What I got was this picture of you, Mr. Perkins. As I’ve already explained earlier, picture rendering always comes true. You just don’t know when. It could be in a couple of hours or days or even years.” Schmit’s demeanor changed from calm to rage in a manner of seconds.

           “DAT MEANS I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR YOU TO WALK THROUGH DAT DOOR FOR A HUNDRED AND SEVENTEEN YEARS!  I have been trapped in the time by the camera so it can complete its forecasted future event. You and I are going to end this hellish nightmare right now! Schmit points a small pistol at Perkins, who covers his face, sobbing.

           Schmit has genuine compassion for Perins and explains that he tried to take his own life in the past and failed. He then placed the gun barrel to his temple and pulled the trigger three times, click, click, click. Then to prove his point, he fires a single shot into the pawnshop ceiling with a loud bang. Finally, as dust and dirt drift down, Schmit says through tears, “See? I don’t want to, but I have no choice. I am so sorry. You see, Mr. Perkins, it can’t be changed once the photograph is developed. It WON’T be changed! The course is set and will not be completed until everything is as in the picture.” Schmit points the gun at Ryan and pulls the trigger.

            Perkins falls from the stool he is sitting on and lands on the black and white checked floor as a pool of blood forms around his head.

           Almost immediately, the whole pawnshop starts to change and crumble, catching up to the present time.

           A few weeks later, the convenience store owner phones the police to complain about a terrible stench that seems to be coming from the alleyway. Upon investigation, they discover in an old store the remains of Ryan Perkins, seemingly an apparent victim of a robbery gone wrong. One of the coroner’s assistants comments on how the old store looks as if it had been a pawnshop at one time and picks up a curious-looking camera.

           “Hey, Charlie, look at this. I collect old cameras, but I’ve never seen one like this before. Do you think anyone would notice if I took it?

           Charlie says, “Nay, but if it still works will you take my picture with it?  I’d like to see how I would have looked in a tintype.” Both men laugh and place the camera on the stretcher along with Mr. Perkins.

June 06, 2022 13:09

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8 comments

Chris Morris
07:44 Jun 12, 2022

Hi Ralph, I enjoyed the idea of this story. Just a couple of things to point out - be careful with your tenses as you occasionally slipped into past tense while your story as a whole is in present tense. For example: "Schmit has genuine compassion for Perins and explains that he tried to take his own life in the past and failed. He then placed the gun barrel to his temple and pulled the trigger three times, click, click, click. Then to prove his point, he fires a single shot into the pawnshop ceiling with a loud bang." Also there didn't ap...

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Ralph Aldrich
17:20 Jun 20, 2022

Thank you for your helpful comments Ralph

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R W Mack
18:26 Jun 16, 2022

This was suggested in Reedy's Critique Community e-mail. I'm big on cutting words, especially easy picks like "the, ever, just, that" and my personal favorite: Very. Very ANYTHING can always be replaced with a single stronger word. Very sad? Depressed. Very hot? Scalding. Very sexy? Luscious. Cutting words would help slim some sentences down. Pacing didn't seem too bad in comparison to some I've read lately, but I think that's more instinct than purposeful. That's not bad, but an overall trim of your sentences would help things flow. I w...

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Ralph Aldrich
17:21 Jun 20, 2022

Thank you for your helful comments I will definately take them seriously Ralph

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Michał Przywara
20:44 Jun 13, 2022

I really like the idea of the camera. These kinds of cursed items can lead to some fun stories, and now I'm wondering what actually happened to Hollenberg. I suspect he must have taken at least one photo of himself, and who knows what might have been on it. I also like the ending here, with the camera making it out unscathed. Lots more chaos to cause :)

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Ralph Aldrich
17:22 Jun 20, 2022

I'm glad you enjoyed it Ralph

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Eliza H
17:00 Jun 13, 2022

amazing! one of the best stories I've read in a while! I loved the concept. I was on the edge of my seat.

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Ralph Aldrich
17:22 Jun 20, 2022

Oh thank you for the kind reply Ralph

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