Longer Tales Short Stories

Cash and Prizes

THWAP

You kick in the door to ‘Uncle’ Bobo’s Gift Depot, trying your best not to pay attention to the hissing of what you assume is stale air escaping from the forsaken warehouse. You’re not alone, being joined by two masked fellows from the Ministry of the Occult. Honestly though, you could probably have handled taking notes by yourself. Having to take these two bumbling idiots along just complicates matters.

No reason to suspect any occult happenings, either. You must have read the case notes a hundred times by now, never getting any wiser on why exactly you’re going after an ancient salve emporium.  By this point, you’re fairly sure this is all a really lame prank, played on you by a superior you must have accidentally slighted during an office party. You’ve been to the meatpacking plant, for pete’s sake. By now, you’re plenty seasoned to take on things more worthwhile than babysitting these two chumps.

See, there we go. One of them just caught a whiff of stale air, and is already retching inside his mask. You give him a quick, half-hearted pat on the shoulder. There, there. You’re starting to suspect these guys are just sent along to make sure they don’t screw up any office tasks. 

You turn on the flashlight on your vest, and move in. An ornate secretary’s desk lights up in front of you, flanked by a ticket machine and a rather grody coffee dispenser. The air smells of mildew, and you hear the rattling hum of an ancient ventilation system kicking in, apparently having detected your presence. Great, that’s not creepy at all. The Ministry agents are gawking at the dilapidated wallpaper, peeling off the asbestos-filled walls. Brown stains dot the matted carpet, a testament to the many cups of coffee that have been spilled here. You motion for them to press on, opening a door marked ‘OFFICES’.

You’re not sure what you expected. A bunch of desks, typewriters, scattered paperwork, more spilled coffee, and the smell of burnt human hair. Odd. You rummage through a couple of desks, hoping to find a souvenir or two. Instead, you find half-finished packs of cigarettes. You’d try to light one up, if you weren’t afraid of the possibility of the pipes leaking a flammable gas. One typewriter has a half-typed draft for a newspaper ad, advertising the company’s salve-mongering scheme. Kids request a pallet, sell it off, then get a number of prizes as a reward. These all sucked. Some of the advertising was blatantly false. The REAL LIFE TANK is probably a soapbox fitted with cardboard plating, and… Wait, no. That actually does sound kind of awesome. You make a mental note to look closely for the REAL LIFE TANK once you’re in the warehouse proper.

The fellows from the Ministry are too busy pocketing various pens and bottles of ink to pay attention to the frankly amazing things you’re reading. By the looks of it, they don’t get issued new pens often, once they lose them. You’re starting to pity them. Wait no, the one with the shaggy black hair just snuck a sip from the ink. Are… are they trying to get drunk off it? Good god, let’s just move on.

A revolting smell wafts from the corridor you enter, once again causing your accomplices to gag. You irritatedly tell them to perhaps request some actual rebreathers rather than those creepy white masks they have to wear. The female (you think they’re female, judging by their frame) mumbles something about having to protect their identity. You tell her to wait outside, if she needs some air. She shrugs, and the two of them finally start following you down the corridor. You pass a couple of supply closets, lavatories and other rooms you haven’t any business in, to the considerable disappointment of your companions.

Finally, you breach the door to the warehouse proper. Dust-covered crates litter the halls, massive pallets stacking on eachother to form dreadful towers of detritus. The layer of dust on the floor is thick enough that you and your entourage leave footprints. Normally, you’d encounter some graffiti or condom wrappers or other signs of people exploring the place on a dare, but the warehouse floor is unnerving in that it is completely pristine, save for the ravages of time. The paint on the walls is peeling off, presumably still filled with lead. You can see scratches on the metal holding up the massive shelves. All is as it should be.

Time to ruin it.

The shaggy-haired ministry agent pushes a large crate labelled “PRODUCT” towards you, and you ready your pry-bar. A minute of grunting and a large amount of force later, the top is forced off, revealing the bounty inside.

Salve. What else. You take one of the jars out, and inspect it. It is labelled “Uncle Bobo’s Authentic Peanut Salve”, with a picture of a grinning bearded man, missing a few teeth. Ingredients: Peanuts. Did people back then seriously rub peanut butter on their aching joints, in the hopes of curing what ails them? Probably not. You’re fairly sure even back in the fifties, people were smart enough to recognize snake oil salesmen. On closer inspection, almost half the depot is filled with crates labelled PRODUCT.

The female, who you now notice is shivering, walks off to one of the smaller boxes, bringing it over to you. She motions at you to open it, and you hesistate for a moment when you read the label: “LIVE APE”. A limp, dull thumping can be heard when you shake the box. You decide to let this one stay closed.

Instead, you pry open a crate labelled “MOUSE”. A small idol is revealed within, in the recognizeable shape of Mickey Mouse. Something seems off about the cartoon rodent though. Perhaps it’s the lack of eyelids combined with the eroding of the paint on the face, resulting in a gaunt, manic look. Maybe it’s the inscription on the base, reading “All Hail” in capital letters. Possibly, the rattling heard when you shake it. Definitely the hissing as some sort of vapour escapes from it when you clumsily drop it. You thank the stars that you recently replaced the filter on your rebreather, and motion to your companions to stand back and hold their breath. Luckily, the massive size of the depot combined with the fact that none of you have bothered to close any doors causes the hissing to quickly subside, seemingly having diluted whatever gas was bottled up in the rat artefact.

You grab a few chunks of it and shove them into your evidence bag, tossing in a jar of salve for good measure. Perhaps the lab could analyze this to see if it’s got morphine in it or something.

A tap on your shoulder alerts you to the shaggy-haired agent, puffing as they push a large pallet your way. At least they’re making themselves useful. The female agent has settled down against a wall, frantically scribbling something in her leatherbound notebook.

The two of you open up several of the crates, each one more bizarre than the last. A bag of knives. A fully-working pistol. Used tissue paper. A ten-pound bag of Psilocybe Tampanensis. An assembly kit, claiming to construct into a fully working tank. You shove that last one into your bag. It’s evidence.

You decide to open up one last crate, the one labelled “LOYALTY”. Shoving your pry-bar underneath the lid, you give a fierce smack, revealing the contents within.

The crate was a lot larger than it’s contents. It appears to be a jar of some sorts, filled with a murky, yellow-green liquid, and a little silk bag with a red string tightly wrapping it together. Carefully picking up the jar, you shake it around gently, in the hopes of catching a glimpse of its contents. Instead, the contents catch a glimpse of you, as revealed when you come face to face with a preserved human head, eyes wide and staring right at you. You nearly drop the jar in shock, but luckily your shaggy-haired assistant is there to catch it.

It’s dead. Of course it is. It’d be insane to expect otherwise, wouldn’t it? Still, it gave you quite a scare. Who the hell would sell preserved human heads to children across the continent? The skin on the poor sod’s face is drawn taut by its pickling process, with the mouth permanently formed in a sadistic mockery of a grin. It has a magnificent beard, though.

You tell the Agents to take the jar with them, if they want. They politely decline, and you decide to just leave it in a corner and pretend you all never saw it. On to the little satchet, then. Your hands tremble as you release the string.

Teeth. Human teeth. It’s full of human teeth. You unwrapped a baggie of human molars. You are holding a solid handful of real human teeth, stained a dark yellow by either a smoking habit or exposure. You can’t use this. Not now. Not today. The last thing you see before you pass out is the ministry agents, panicking as you fall onto the pallet, breaking a crate full of something soft and mushy.

You wake up slumped against the foyer’s desk, the female agent desperately waving at your face, presumably to get you oxygen. Or she’s just trying to get your attention. It’s hard to tell with them. Your eyes adjust to the light of dawn shining through the stained windows. Oh god, has it been a full night, then? Of course it has. They reassure you. The three of you had entered at three AM, so it’s not actually been that long. Still, you were out for quite a bit.

Questions follow. Did they find anything else? The female agent shakes her head no. After seeing you fall on top of that crate of organ meat, they decided that getting the hell out was the best option available to them. Ah, alright. Did she just say “Crate of organ meat”? Yes she did. It was labelled “DREAMS”, if that makes it any better. You inform her it doesn’t.

The shaggy-haired agent thanks you for your help escorting them, saying they managed to get a massive amount of data on the place. He taps his very own leather-bound notebook. Wait, he has been taking notes too? You never noticed. These guys are good. You brush a chunk of viscera off your pants, and head outside. Something is screaming, in the back of your mind.

You’re going to have to ask for a couple of days off.

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