The Whalebone Cane

Posted: April 1, 2014 in Fantasy, Fiction
Tags: , , , , ,

This week’s Chuck Wendig challenge: Five Little Words. I went with hermit, topaz, djinn, whalebone, and orphan. More an urban fantasy piece, and surprisingly, not the first time I’ve used a curio shop as a setting. Slightly over the word count of 1k, but only just.


“What is this, whalebone?” the woman asked, holding up a bone-white cane. She held the object with her gloved hands as she considered the topaz handle in the dim light filtered through the dust-caked windows.

“Mmm?” I asked, looking up from the counter, peering at her over the top of my glasses. “Bring it here.”

She stepped through the shop, careful not to brush against any of the precarious stacks of tchotchkes strewn throughout the shop. All of the pieces were what could be considered antiques, or at least vintage. Each an orphan of their time, displaced into the future and unmoored from their original purpose.

“You really must do something about this place,” she huffed. “How do you expect customers to find anything in here?”

I shrugged, as committed an answer as she was to get from me. The truth was, my uncle left me the shop in his will, and, having no any other source of income or employment, I hadn’t divested myself of it yet. I liked the quiet of it. I maybe saw a customer come in every other day. It gave me time to myself. Granted, the nice sum of money I’d also received meant I wasn’t stressing over sales.  I had been surprised he’d even remembered me. The old man, my mother’s brother, was always something of a recluse, having little to do with the rest of the family. My father was always dismissive of him, calling him a crazy old hermit. He’d often bemoan the fact that his only son, being me, was going to end up just like my uncle, childless and alone, if I didn’t change my ways. Huh. Maybe I had more in common with the old man than I thought. Maybe that’s why he’d left me the place.

I took the cane from her, turned it in my hands. The cane was smooth, with just the head of it capped with the topaz inlay. I held the cane under the light, traced my finger over the initials carved there.

I tapped a few keys on the laptop I had at the desk with me. For all of the apparent confusion inherent in the shop, my uncle had been forward thinking enough to create a digital log of his inventory.

“Yes, here it is. Eighteenth century whalebone cane, topaz handle. Not a particularly rare piece, to be sure,” I said. “A sailor’s keepsake, the kind they don’t make anymore.”

The woman wrinkled her nose, tapped the cane against her hand. “It is for sale though?”

“Everything in the shop except for the fixtures is for sale,” I replied.

“I’ll offer you fifty for it.”

I raised an eyebrow at her, and she had the good graces to blush.

“One hundred?” she asked.

I smiled. “I accept Visa, MasterCard, American Express-“

“I prefer to pay in cash,” she said, interrupting my usual spiel. She opened her clutch, produced a crisp one hundred dollar bill and slid it across the counter to me.

“Would you like it wrapped?” I asked.

“I don’t think that will be necessary,” she replied.  She took the cane in her hands, paused. She twisted her mouth slightly, then pressed down on a section of the handle. It opened, sliding to one side.

“You didn’t mention anything about a compartment,” she said.

Looking back at the laptop, I double checked the listing. “It doesn’t mention one.”

Using her thumb and forefinger, she lifted a ring, heavy with gold and set with sardonyx.  “What an interesting ring,” she said, slipping it onto her finger.

Without warning, her eyes rolled up into the back of her head, her neck snapped back,  and her hands clutched the countertop. I worried she was having a seizure, and was fumbling with my phone when a voice spoke.

“That won’t be necessary,” it said. I looked up, and the woman was staring at me. Her eyes were blazing with an internal fire, her hair in disarray, and her clothes disheveled. She let go of the counter, leaving behind the scorched imprint of her hands.


The woman rolled her neck. “Ahh. So long imprisoned. Tell me, what year is this?” The woman’s voice possessed a smoky, sultry air that most assuredly had not been present before.

“Twenty fourteen?”  I replied.

She wrinkled her nose at me.  “You use the Christian calendar?” she asked. “Then I have been trapped in that ring for over a hundred years.” Her fingers curled into claws and smoke rose up from the collar of her blouse. “Damn that wizard! He’s probably dead now. He laughed on his deathbed at the way he tricked me! Me! A djinn of the fourth order. Pathetic.”

“Excuse me?” I tested the weight of the cane in my hand, wishing I had taken my dad’s advice and bought the gun he recommended. I wasn’t planning on this much crazy.

The woman smiled at me, then paused. With a languid grace, she ran her hand over body, down her breasts and then down between her legs. Her eyes widened, and her mouth opened in a surprised “O.”

“A woman? I’m a woman?” she asked.

“Uh-huh,” I said, reaching into my pocket for my cell phone. Evidently, she was having some sort of psychotic break. I wondered if I’d be able to dial 911 without looking.

She snapped her head to look at me, eyes squinting. There was a sharp pop, and I snatched my fingers out of my pocket, shaking them from the nasty shock I’d just received. She sighed then, an expression of utmost resignation. “A hundred years imprisoned and now in a woman’s body. I suppose matters could be worse. I could still be working for Solomon, that slave driver.”

She paused, tapping her finger against her chin. “I can trust you will tell no one of this?” she asked.

I nodded, perhaps too quickly. But then, who was I to tell?

Smiling, the woman left the shop. As the door chime jingled, marking her exit, I heard her say, “Now, where am I going to find a kabob? You’d think this woman never ate.”

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