I wrote “Flee Markets” just to play around with the unoriginal notion of a transitory shop, but it became a story about escapes. Samantha wants to escape from a humdrum summer – she’s mostly thinking in terms of escaping into fantasy literature, but encounters Phineas – a renegade shop-owner who has more to offer than she could have imagined. In the end, Phineas escapes from the authorities, and Samantha has material to help write escapes for others.
Here’s the blurb:
Small town summer doldrums can leave your imagination wanting to flee away with you, taking you to far-away places – or maybe even bringing them to you for a time. Samantha Sanger has a chance encounter with a slightly disreputable merchant and learns that the limits to what you can be sold go beyond cold hard cash. Purveyors of controlled artifacts must choose their customers carefully – or else they’ll have to… Nope, no more free info; buy “Flee Markets” to find out.
And here’s the excerpt:
Most sane people thought summer was too hot a time to shop the bazaar, but that didn’t stop Samantha Sanger. She twisted one of her red pigtails as she walked up to old Mr. Wyatt’s booth on the edge furthest from town, where the field petered out into the surrounding cedar woods.
“I figured I’d be seeing you today,” he said, looking at her over the tops of his horn-rimmed glasses. “I take it you have something for me?”
“Sure do!” Sam said as she dug the bills out of her cutoffs and held them up. “Three dollars!”
She wiped the beads of sweat from her forehead before they had a chance to gather into a trickle between the freckles on her nose. Mr. Wyatt reached under the counter for the two Piers Anthony Xanth paperbacks he’d set aside when she didn’t have the cash last week. With the school library closed for the summer, she needed those books to escape the Kennis doldrums. She could only spend so much time in her own imagination. Thank goodness for the Leonards, and the fact that no one else could handle babysitting the twins like Sam could.
“Thanks, Mr. Wyatt.”
Sam reached the bills toward him, but then froze. Over his shoulder, where there was normally just an empty grass border where the field stopped and the cedars began, there was a new shop. Unlike the open sided canvas canopies normal for this time of year, this one was a full-fledged tent, completely enclosed in layers of heavy oriental carpet that seemed to shimmer like a mirage in the heat of the day.
Mr. Wyatt had tried to take the money from her hand, but when she didn’t let go, he turned his head and followed her eyes to the new shop. They both stood with their hands joined by Sam’s money as they watched a rug unroll onto the grass from the tent’s mouth like a long, red tongue. A slight man wearing grey striped suit pants, a shiny black vest, and a black bowler emerged, grabbed hold of a pole at each side of the entrance, and walked them to the end of the rug, unfurling a matching red awning that shaded the rug by the time he planted the poles in the ground at its end. He then teetered at the edge of the grass, gave them a quick tip of his hat, and ducked back inside.
“Peculiar,” Mr. Wyatt said, squinting. “I don’t remember seeing him earlier. Course, my eyes aren’t what they used to be.”
“Where’s he from?” Sam asked.
“Don’t rightly know,” he said. He resumed tugging, and succeeded in wrestling the money from her. “A group came in from Thompson last night; maybe he’s one of them.”
“I don’t know about that,“ she said, still staring. “He looks like he’s from further away.”
Thompson was in the next county, and sellers from there would show up at the bazaar every other month or so; Sam had seen plenty of them, but none of them looked like this one.
“Well, smarty britches, where do you think he’s from?”
“I don’t know; London? Hong Kong? Shanghai?”
“You really think someone would come all the way across the world to sell their goods in Kennis?” Mr. Wyatt laughed and pointed at her books. “Just as likely he’s come from your Xanth, there.”
Sam was used to being accused of having an overactive imagination for a fourteen-year-old; Mrs. Barnaby, her English teacher, said it wouldn’t serve her very well if she really wanted to be a writer. Sam didn’t know if she’d ever be creative enough to write something as good as Xanth was, but figured if Mr. Anthony could use his imagination like that, then Mrs. Barnaby’s admonition for her to ‘write what you know’ didn’t really mean anything.
“How do you know he isn’t from Xanth?” she asked.
“I guess I’ll know once you’ve asked him,” Mr. Wyatt said. “I have things to do, so off with you, now.”
He waved her away, then sat back in his chair and closed his eyes, which was his time-tested way of getting through the slow summers. Sam took the heavy hint, walked out from under his canopy, and headed for the newcomer’s tent.
As she got closer, the mirage effect seemed to intensify, and became a glare that made it hard to look at the tent, so she focused instead on the red rug. As she stepped onto it and into the shade of the awning, her eyes adjusted and she was able to see more clearly, although now she had to squint to look out of its shade at the rest of the bazaar; it was so brilliant out there it gave her a headache to look too long.
She walked into the coolness of the tent. That was unexpected; the other shops were open-sided to allow what little breeze there was to pass through the booths and keep the discomfort level down to a mere sweltering. Even this early in the day, a closed tent like the newcomer’s should have already felt like a cedar enhanced sauna, but instead the cedar scent vanished and Sam felt a pleasant shiver slide over her shoulders as she crossed the threshold, like when she and Brian would sneak into the cooler at the 7-Eleven.
Her eyes adjusted to the yellow light cast from the single crystal and brass chandelier hanging in the center of the tent’s ceiling. Sam looked around at the four interior walls, all made of ornate rugs hanging in overlapping layers. There were no tables, display cases or cabinets, no merchandise; just a neon sign secured at the top of the opposite wall. It was obviously on the fritz – its bluish tubed letters proclaimed “PLEASE WAIT – NOW SERVING PFGJIN KRNSTLWTH” in erratic flashes.
Serving him where? There was no sign of the seller, or PFGJIN KRNSTLWTH, for that matter.
“Hello?” Sam called out, but there was no response.
Thinking he must have exited the tent from another opening, she started feeling around the walls to her left. Everything was pretty well secured until she was able to force her arm between two carpets that overlapped beneath the sputtering sign. She used both arms to push them apart.
Sam stared at a large circular room with ornately molded wooden walls and no windows. There were hangings draped in at least three other locations around the room, which she supposed might cover other doorways.
The shop-keeper was standing with his back to her at a counter in the center of the room, pushing buttons on an elaborate looking brass cash register as he rang up the purchase of the seven-foot tall, bulbous-headed, bug-eyed, white-furred creature who Sam supposed could have been PFGJIN KRNSTLWTH. He reminded her of a costumed trekkie in an Associated Press photo The Kennis Sentinel had run once; she didn’t realize there was anyone in Kennis who’d actually dress up that way, and wondered who it might be.
PFGJIN KRNSTLWTH’s head jerked, and he made a sort of gargling sound from where the costume’s mouth must have been, and there went Sam’s chance to take in the scene more closely. The shop-keeper, who turned at PFGJIN’s reaction, quickly crossed the distance to her holding his bowler up in front of her face with his leather-gloved hand so that he was able to block her view despite being easily six inches shorter than her. She had just enough time to notice how odd he appeared wearing that brass eyepiece on his left, and that he had what looked like a brass hearing-aid on the same side. He pointed above her head at the fritzing sign.
“Can’t you read? It says ‘Please…’” he shouted as he managed to grab the edges of both carpets and pull them shut.
He may have said the ‘Wait’, too, but as soon as the rugs met they had cut off any sound from the other side. Sam tried to separate them again, but despite all her pressing, she couldn’t find an opening; he had effectively secured them to each other.
She stepped back and thought about what she’d seen: a large shop that couldn’t have been on the other side because she would have seen it as she walked to the tent. Shelves around the room with an odd assortment of merchandise. Strange plants that didn’t look like what you’d normally find in Kennis. Rocks and minerals in exotic colors. Unusual gadgets with odd buttons and protuberances she wanted a closer look at. It was all so unique and intriguing; she didn’t think she’d have enough money for any of it. She looked at the books she had just bought and wondered if Mr. Wyatt would refund her three dollars.
What kind of bargain will Samantha have to make to get a bargain? “Flee Markets” is a speculative fiction short story, and is available at several online retailers, including, but not limited to:
“Flee Markets” is also included in the collection Still Even More Things I Could Get OUT OF MY MIND:
Which is itself included in the mega-collection The Next Three ‘Things I Could Get OUT OF MY MIND’
William Mangieri’s writing – including his most recent release “Reining Cats and Dogs” – can be found in many places, including:
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