Mr. Chan's Novelty Shoppe

by Steve Carr


This is not a Toy Store

The cold, early morning fog shrouded the narrow alleyway lined with small shops. Rainfall during the night had left small puddles on the alley’s cobblestone street. Stooped over from a humped back, Mr. Chan walked with a cane tipped with a long metal point. He wore a black bowler hat and an oversized raincoat that accommodated his hump. The alley smelled of urine and was littered with garbage blown by the wind from overflowing dumpsters. Large gray rats climbed out of the sewer and scurried along the base of the walls and searched for food scraps caught between the cobblestones.

Mr. Chan stopped at the display window to his shop. He peered through the condensation on the inside of the glass at the arrangement of Halloween costume pieces and novelties: masks of Freddie Kreuger, Michael Myers, the clown face from “It,’’ along with plastic vampire teeth, Wolverine’s claws, rubber snakes, glassy eyeballs and shrunken heads. As he stood there a rat ran across the tips of his shoes. In an instant, Mr. Chan speared the rat in its back with the tip of his cane. He raised the bleeding rat and watched it squirm as it emitted a barrage of shrill squeaks.

“That’ll teach you,’’ he said to it, and then he bit its head off. He rolled the head around in his mouth for a moment and then spat it out. He pulled the rat’s body from the cane and tossed it in the middle of the alley. A half dozen other rats quickly converged on the carcass and devoured it.

Mr. Chan fumbled around in his coat pocket for his keys for a moment and then pulled out a key ring with two keys and a tiny brass devil’s horned head on it. He opened the door. The small bell above the door tinkled. The faint scent of sulfur wafted out. He stepped into the shop and flipped on the light switches by the door. Fluorescent lights hanging above the rows of shelves stacked with merchandise flickered and then came on. The air in the shop was balmy. He closed the door and hung his hat and coat on a coat rack by the door. He put his keys in his pants pocket, raised the shade on the door, and turned the sign on the door to the “open’’ side. He then crossed to the sales counter. For a moment he watched a centipede crawl across the counter and then he smashed it with his hand. He licked the dead insect from the palm of his hand, swirled it around in his mouth, and then spat it into a waste basket.

“Oh my, I almost forgot,’’ he said aloud.

He grabbed his cane, left the counter, and walked down the middle aisle. On one side of the aisle the shelves were lined with jars filled with venomous bugs, snakes or spiders floating in viscous fluids. On the other side the shelves contained old, mostly leather bound books, each with an embossed pentagram on their binding. A costume of a witches’ cape, hat and broom hung from a nail on the shelves with the books. He stepped out of the aisle into an open room in the back of the shop.

There was a sign on one wall that read, “Instruments of Torture.’’ Hanging from hooks on the walls were thumbscrews, tongue tearers, breast rippers, eye gougers, bone vices, and a dozen other implements. In the middle of the room was a small guillotine.

An iron maiden stood in a corner, its hinged front open, revealing the spikes affixed to several places inside the iron cabinet. The space at the top of the cabinet was shaped like a human head.  

At the side of the room was a metal door. He took out his keys and unlocked it. It opened automatically, as if pushed from the other side. A blast of hot, fetid air escaped through the open doorway. Mr. Chan turned on the light and walked in. It was a combination laboratory and kitchen. There were several cabinets, a metal dissection table along one wall, a large sink, stove, refrigerator, a walk-in freezer, and several small tables with various knives, scalpels, saws and forceps laid out on them. The shelves on one wall were cluttered with pots, stacked rolls of twine, clear rubber tubing and empty jars. An iron door that opened to an incinerator was on one wall.

The blades of a fan in the middle of the ceiling circulated the foul smelling air.

A naked young man tied in a chair in the middle of the room turned his empty eye sockets in Mr. Chan’s direction. The movement of his head made the jagged metal spikes of the ring fastened around the base of his neck puncture his skin, opening the thin scabs that had formed, renewing the flow of blood from the wounds.