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Chapter 6: A Disillusioned Host

My fingers dug into my scalp, trying to lessen the dull throbbing pounding through my skull. The sheer amount of information I’ve been given had left my brain as tired as my body. If I hadn’t already gotten a few hours of rest, I might have passed out on the spot.

How large is this blasted shop? I feel like we’ve been walking for miles…

Walking steadily, the two of us found our way back to the central hub of the bazaar, and Trezzlepeg reclaimed his position behind the counter. He leaned on his elbows to finally make his sales pitch, “Let’s face it, Face. Now that we have pinpointed the source of the problem, it’s time we did something to fix it.”

A conniving grin crawled across his pudgy face, like a detective about to crack open a murder mystery, “But, first, we must discuss the matter of payment.”

I don’t get this guy. One minute he’s preaching to me about “danger this” and “risks and that” and now since he can’t talk me out it, he wants my wallet. I don’t think he’s really concerned about my safety…

Correct me if I’m wrong,” I said, “but I don’t suppose you take Visa, MasterCard, personal checks, or these little slips of green paper with dead presidents on the front do you? It would be almost a shame if you did, because I left them all in my other pajamas.”

Trezzlepeg let out a thunderous laugh, “You are a witty one, Face, and for one of your species, remarkably observant. You’re right. The objects in my shop cannot be bought with your kind of money.”

“What else could I give you?”

The blue salesman stroked his chin understandingly, “Here we work on the barter system. If you want something from my shop, you simply give me something that I need. Since my shop deals in such a wide variety of things that could include almost anything: a rare artifact, an exotic beast, or an especially poignant memory to add to my collection. And of course, you could always work as my errand boy to replenish my supply of essences.”

My heart sank. I couldn’t imagine in my wildest dreams that I could ever come up with anything on that list.

Sensing my despair, Trezzlepeg hoisted himself over the counter and back over the side, “Why so glum? It’s really not as bad as you are imagining. Most of the relics that I acquire appear to be only ordinary objects with little or no significance. But somehow, certain things are different, changed in a fundamental way to make them unique from all the other junk we sift through in our lives. Most of the time, its environment and the circumstances in which it has been used in change the object. I have a pair of shoes that were worn by a man who possessed great empathy. Over the years, his feelings, his attitude, his very personality became encased in those shoes. When a person wears those shoes, he gains the power to empathize with anyone. You probably have things in your home that contain unimaginable powers.”

“No. I can’t imagine that anything I have would possibly…”

I thrust my hands into the pockets of my blue, striped pajamas, and realized that I still had my brother’s locket stashed away there. For no reason at all, I decided to take it out to show Trezzlepeg. “Unless this does me any good,” I huffed as I dangled the locket out in front of me.

Much to my bewilderment, Trezzlepeg’s eyes grew wider than I had ever seen them and his jaw contorted in a shocked grimace. Reacting with the speed of a leopard pouncing on its prey, he lunged towards me and snatched the locket from my outstretched hands.

“Where did you get this?” Trezzlepeg thundered in disbelief, “Do you realize what this is? The power contained within it? The very power to alter what lives and dies at your very fingertips?”

Shocked, I vigorously nodded in disbelief, “You must be mistaken, old timer. My brother got that locket from some secret admirer of his. It’s an ordinary piece of jewelry that should have belonged to him.”

Trezzlepeg shook his head, even more vigorously, “I almost certain that I’m not mistaken. I’d gladly give my right leg and left wing for it. That…”

He stopped short, as if another intriguing thought had entered his mind. He brought himself down on the counter and propped up his chin in one hand. “That is,” he continued, “if you had the other one too.”

The other one?

I didn’t know there was another one. I don’t even know who gave Fred this one. It’s only got a few words inside, and they don’t make a huge amount of sense to me.”

I approached the counter and popped open the locket so that Trezzlepeg could read the incorruption. He only needed a few moments to confirm his suspicions.

“Yes, I’m sure of it now. This locket is part of a two-part set. Alone, they are nearly powerless, but together, they are unimaginably powerful. Doubtless, the person who gave this to your brother was unaware of their potential. Even though you’ve only got one, I’d give you a handsome price for it.”

I shook my head, “No. This locket is one of the only things I have left in connection with my brother. At least before I give it to you, I want to find out who gave it to him and why.”

Trezzlepeg’s eyes narrowed in frustration, “Face!” he blurted, “you really have no way of figuring that out! If those lockets fall into the hands of an evil person, the capacity for destruction and pain is enormous! What if someone else has the other half and is now searching for this one? You could be in grave danger!”

“Then, I think I’ll conduct a little search of my own. If they are as important as you say they are, I will hand them both over in time, but not before I understand why my brother ended up with one. I guess it would be in your best interests to cooperate.”

It feels good to be the one with the bargaining chip.

“I guess the customer is always right. So which harebrained quest do you wish to embark on first? Do you want to search for the locket, or would you rather rescue your brother? Either way, I’ll supply the necessary goods, but you must also supply me with a small down payment.”

“I think,” I replied, “that the jewelry hunt can wait. Fred has been lying six feet under for far too long, and as for the down payment, what did you have in mind?”

Trezzlepeg rubbed his hands together, “Oh, nothing much. My supply off fear essence is running terribly low these days. If you could stock me back up, we could get you on your way.”

My eyes rolled to the back of my head, “Is that all? I thought maybe that I’d have to catch the Loch Ness Monster or something. Remember, I still don’t have a great idea how all this stuff works.”

“You do have a point, but you’ll find that this task can be absurdly simple when you put your mind to it. And by the way, we already have the Loch Ness Monster. Try scouting the Himalayas for the Abominable Snowman. “

I crossed my arms and cocked my head to the side, “So, how do I start. Do I get a crash course or something?”

Trezzlepeg nodded, “I guess you could say ‘or something’.”

Trezzlepeg disappeared behind the counter and reappeared a moment later with an object in each hand. In his right, he held a perfectly normal looking wristwatch, while the other grasped a pristine, transparent crystal ball. Deftly, he swung his arms around and gently placed both objects on the table in front of him. I took a minute step closer so that I could examine them better. At a closer glance, I found that watch was not a customary timepiece, but instead appeared to be a regulator like the one Trezzlepeg had shown me before with different multi-colored displays on its face. A few words appeared at bottom of the display: Essence of Fear-0%.

“It’s pretty self explanatory,” Trezzlepeg began, ”The lining of the sphere is calibrated to collect fear when exposed to it. In turn, the watch regulates the level of fear in the ball. All I need you to do is fill the crystal ball.”

I picked up the ball and handled it in my hands, and gave me surprisingly low resistance. Then, I picked up the watch and fastened it to my wrist.

Merlin meets James Bond. Very classy.

“Well,” I said, shrugging my shoulders, “when do I start? How do I start? I can’t just hide in dark alleyways shouting “boo” as passersby can I?”

Trezzlepeg wagged his head disapprovingly, “You have so little imagination. You always just ask the questions and hope that someone can spot you with the answer! Think! What makes the people who you are closest to afraid?”

I paused for a moment to reflect.

“The people at work are pretty high strung. I guess I could play some sort of prank on them.”

Trezzlepeg appeared to take to the idea. “Something doesn’t have to be real to be frightening. I could give you an illusion. I might have something like that in my pranks section…”

With a flick of his wrist, an intricately knitted rug in the middle of the room, “Step on it, if you will, and we’ll get there much faster.”

Incredulously, I gazed at the rug at my feet, “Don’t tell me you’ve chartered a magic carpet?”

He chuckled, “not quite. It’s even better. It’s a teleporter. With it, I can leap to any corner of my shop instantly.”

My jaw clenched, “You mean we could have been using this thing the entire time, and you made us walk?”

Trezzlepeg haughtily shot his nose to the air, “Walking is a much more scenic route. Come on, step on the rug.”

I stepped forward onto the rug, and found myself in a room alive with motion and dizzy with color. Instead of decorative tapestries adorning the walls, vividly styled masks of distorted faces hung there. Random bursts of laughter echoed from every direction accompanied by colorful flying sparks that shot every which way like malfunctioning fireworks. As I walked in, I had to duck to avoid sparks flying for me.

“Don’t waste your energy, Face,” Trezzlepeg scolded, “they’re harmless.”

A bright blue spark zoomed past me, painfully singeing the hair on my arms. I held up my arm, “You call that harmless? It nearly took my arm off, and it hurt like crazy!”

“That’s because you are letting it. Don’t think of them as dangerous. The whole mind over matter spiel.”

I followed Trezzlepeg like his shadow down the aisles, still jumping at every little glimmer of light. He chuckled every time, but otherwise remained silent until about seven or eight rows down where he abruptly spun around and snagged a daisy from a bouquet resting on a table with only two legs. With all the flair of a master magician, he twirled around and deposited it in the chest pocket of my pajamas.

“It’s just your color,” he quipped, “try it out sometime, they really are entertaining.”

I thought he might give me instructions; however, instead he sauntered off down the aisle. As I pursued, I took the time to study the zany contents of the shelves around me. Each of the objects bore a flashy label, which announced the entertaining effects of the articles.

One shelf boasted a smorgasbord of smells bottled up in clear flasks, while another shelve flaunted a collection of sounds, ranging from dragon roars to train whistles pent up in boxes.

Eventually, we reached the other wall and Trezzlepeg came to a halt. I realized that the entire time, the flying sparks must have been slamming into me, and I hadn’t noticed. The thought brought with a small swelling of pride in my chest.

I took my place next to Trezzlepeg and cast my eyes over the contents of our current isle. Compared to the other isles, the wares on this one appeared rather bland: only dull colored robes, simple wooden masks, and ordinary looking walking sticks of various sizes.

“I see that you think that we have come to the wrong aisle, but I promise you that you are mistaken,” he leaned in closer and whispered, one hand cupping his mouth. “Illusion provides for some of the best pranks. Allow me to demonstrate.”

In an instant, Trezzlepeg snatched up the brown staff nearest him with a flourish and gave it a twirl. The air in front of him shimmered like the surface of a lake and became hazy for a few seconds, until, instantaneously, the haze disappeared and was replaced by the massive figure of a ferocious lion that roared and bore his terrible fangs.

My joints froze and my muscles locked in terror as the lion bounded towards me, ready to tear me in two. I had only enough time to raise my hands in feeble defense before the lion pounced on me. Desperately, I clamped my eyes shut and braced myself for the impact, but the impact never came. The king of beasts soared right through me as if I had been no more than a ghost, and continued on prancing down the hallway until TP twirled his staff again and banished the monster back into oblivion.

I collapsed to the floor shaking uncontrollably, “W…w…wow.”

“Like it? I guess I could set you up with one of those with the image of your choosing.”

Still breathing heavily, I arose and brushed myself off. “Can you make it so that I can change my own appearance? That would be perfect to fool the guys at the office.”

“Watch closely, if you will, as I demonstrate the ultimate masquerade.”

This time he retrieved both a dull colored cloak and a wooden mask for the wall, and displayed them in his arms. “These two little oddities I affectionately call a ‘body bag’ and a ‘face lift’. You simply don the gear, picture a person in your head, and you become them, at least in the visual sense. If you wanted to impersonate a body builder, you’d better have the muscles to back it up, because though you may look like you have perfect pectorals and bulging biceps, you’ll only actually be as strong as what lies beneath. Like so…”

The salesman quickly slipped on the robe and mask, which instantaneously melted seamlessly into his face and figure. The boundaries of his frame blurred for a moment, and the next snapped back into perfect clarity. The squat, turbaned salesperson I knew disappeared and in his place stood a hulking blond haired Goliath clad in a green tunic. Dark stubble coated his checks and wild strands of hair flew from his scalp in random directions. With every breath, a low growl pursed his lips.

I felt my pulse quicken, but I suppressed it, reassuring myself that the giant in front of me was really a short, fat bald dude that I could take down with a well-placed backhand.

The giant Trezzlepeg raised one hand and spoke, “Come on. Take me down.”

The voice, however, did not match anything close to what I had expected. The bodybuilder still sounded exactly like Trezzlepeg. I had half expected the man to tell me “I’ll be back” in a thick, Austrian accent. The Trezzlepeg/Goliath shrugged and blushed sheepishly, “Oh, I forgot. It’s a three part gig,” said Trezzlepeg.

And with that he maneuvered his beefy hands through the articles on the shelves and plucked out a small trinket that looked like a football mouth guard. With a single, enormous bite, he threw the object in the air and chomped down on it hard, catching it between his pearly whites. Then, he straightened back up with a grin and swiveled around to face me again while assuming a fighting stance. “I’d say that that completes the ensemble.”

The voice came out much more appropriately this time, deep and imposing. The giant cocked his head to one side and beckoned me with a few fingers, “Come on. Give it all you got. Remember, I’m all in your head.”

Semi-confidently, I drew air in deeply and then exhaled in a slow, steady stream. I focused my eyes on my target and then lowered my head, ready to dash. Suddenly, I leapt forward with a resounding mock war cry, kicking my heels as fast as my weary feet would let me and dove straight into the belly of the beast.

To my complete satisfaction, the towering oaf crumpled like a pile of dead leaves under my blow, however, the momentum of the impact sent us both spiraling out of control and into the shelves behind us. Wooden masks and robes rained down on our heads. We remained still until the avalanche ceased, and I helped the regular-looking Trezzlepeg.

Trezzlepeg beamed, “See, you are fearless, boy! That was amazing! The few other times I’ve tried that, the participants took a much different approach: They ran right back to the lobby.”

I glanced around nervously at the piles of fallen merchandise, hoping that this accident would not come off my tab, “Will this be alright? I mean, I hope we didn’t break too much.”

Once again the little man shrugged it off. “Don’t worry about it. It’s easily replaced. This stuff is pretty resilient, and if not, I can always purchase more from some of the planets that have figured out how to construct such stuff. That little display of yours was worth it. The look on your face, Face…”

I nodded in silence as Trezzlepeg fell to the ground in a hysterical fit of laughter.

Once he recovered, he rummaged through the pile and tossed me a robe, mask, and mouthpiece. “You are letting me have all of this?” I inquired.

“Uh-huh. I’m sure that you will agree that it will probably come in handy when trying to scare people. Just go around and show up as someone who nobody would expect. The directions are attached if you’re still sketchy on how they function.”

Hm, I’ll just show up at my dad’s house as Fred stopping by for a cup of sugar. Yeah, that would be a hoot.

Like a contented puppy, Trezzlepeg stretched his arms and legs and then placed his hands and his hips, “Ready to go? I think you have what you need. If you can’t scare people with that stuff, I’d quit your day job and join the circus.”

With a short blast on his pan pipes that reminded me remarkably of how my mother used to whistle to call us for dinner, the rug that served as our transport rocketed along the floor from out of nowhere to come to rest beneath our feet. With a short skip and a hop, we both landed on the rug and instantly found ourselves back in the main lobby.

With an enormous yawn, I stretched my arms out as far as they would go. Sensing my fatigue, Trezzlepeg, rushed up to me and placed a pudgy hand on my elbow.

“I’ll give you a bag for your stuff and you’ll probably want to start back. Sound like a feasible plan?”

I nodded, “Sounds good. After confronting a giant, killer sparks, an alien warrior, Abraham Lincoln, a lion, and my tormented feelings all in one sitting, the trip back doesn’t seem that daunting.”

“That’s the ticket,” cried Trezzlepeg as he produced a small satchel and began tossing my newly acquired merchandise into it. Amazingly, all of the articles made their way in, and the bag didn’t appear the slightest bit full. As Trezzlepeg handed the bag over, I glanced at the tag hanging from one of its drawstrings, and everything came into perfect focus.

Trezzlepeg’s Amazing Never-ending Other-space pouches. Unlimited cargo space all within a neat streamlined package. Thought recognition provides for effortless object retrieval. Model 272-A

I ought to get one of these for the garbage and one of these for the laundry.

Defiantly, I turned and faced the darkness, ready to embark on the homeward journey, when a thought raced across my mind. “How exactly do I get out? I don’t see any glowing exit signs.”

Trezzlepeg scratched his head and took his time in replying,

“Use this. It’s a communicator. Whenever you wish to come back, speak into it and I’ll open up a gate somewhere close by. But remember this: I was only able to lock on to you and bring you here so easily in the first place because you had that locket on. A powerful object like that is easy to trace. If for some reason you don’t have it on, it could become difficult for me to follow you. I don’t usually get customers from Earth and so I’m not very good at getting people from there here.”

He tossed me the sleek metal object that slightly resembled the walkie-talkies that I had received on my twelfth birthday. However, it only contained one large speaker and one bright red button.

Satisfied, I nodded in thanks and waved farewell to the strange little man.

I held my breath and pressed the red button on the communicator. As before, a strange force swept me from my feet and flung me like a cosmic Frisbee across the heavens. The planets whirred by me once again so quickly that most of them I only perceived as blurs of color. At last the great blue sphere that I recognized as home loomed into view.

Man, it’s good to see you.

As I awoke I realized that the blinding speed had ceased and that I stood back in the darkness of my bedroom, my hand still extended in the now darkened sock drawer. Suddenly, my cheeks flushed, and I felt utterly foolish.

Wow. I must have had a worse fall than I thought back there in the canyon. That was the most amazing dream I’ve had in my entire life. It’d make a great topic for the Sci-Fi Channel.

As I swaggered back to my bed, I tried to rationalize the night’s events away in my mind, and I might have done it too, had not a single thing pulled out the foundation of doubt from under me. I tripped over something in the darkness and landed to the floor with a grunt. I reached over to examine it, and realized I’d tripped over a bag tied closed with two drawstrings.

Hesitantly, I reached into the bag, still desperately wanting to write off the whole experience as an elaborate hallucination, and found the proof I needed: a crystal ball, a dull smiling mask, a small plastic mouth guard, and a dull brown robe.

Frantically, I stuffed the contents back in the back and practically leaped back under the covers.

Maybe, I’m still dreaming and I’ll really wake up in the morning. And if not, I guess I know what I have to do.

I sighed wearily as I stared at the ceiling for answers before I let sleep claim me again.

Either way, I’ll finally get a good night’s sleep.

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