The Pipe

The curious bobbles littering the shelves of the small sea side shop formed a first class menagerie of junk. Shark teeth, small cephalopod models, uncountable shells and dried up sea life—it was all extraordinarily quaint. The atmosphere was just right, though. One felt as if he had stepped into some hidden pirate cove: It was dark, the wood weathered, and the distant sounds of the ocean played in one’s mind. The cashier portrayed the part of a buccaneer, a tired expression, however, rested behind every smile he cast.

I had been wandering among the shelves, killing time, when turning a corner discovered myself in a solitary section of the store. This happened very suddenly, and I found a sort of thrill grow inside my person: One moment a crowded shop, the next a hidden cove all to myself. I had bounded myself with oaths not to buy any of the overpriced knickknacks before entering the well trafficked store with my friends, and yet I was captivated by the thought that I should discover something precious, or even magical, in this place, this little, hidden corner in which I had stumbled.

There was, it must be said, very little. A portrait of a rather unsettling man whose furious frown, I am sure, would have unsettled any painter was hung against the wall. It must have been done in starts, as the young artist would have had to snatch quick glances at his subject, turning away before his own blood curdled at the intense expression, quickly dabbing at the canvas, recreating what he could recall. Just think of the unpleasant point when not one but two snarling pirates—for I was growing more and more convinced of the man’s vocation—stared back at that artist. It would have been an unpleasant shock. I disliked the portrait, though the artistic merit was unquestioned. What else was there? Some old pistols. Interesting, but I’m no collector.

I was losing hope in my magical daydream when I finally found it: A roughly carved bit of ivory. It was shaped like a whale, and had once been a pipe. It was, as soon as I had touched this, that I was back in the shop, or once again in the hustle of the tourists. I do not know how I had left the quiet corner, but I still held the whale, and making my way toward the counter, was surprised to find myself so willing to buy the thing. I had entertained the fancy, that was true, but to actually part with money over some trinket? And yet I presented the little ivory piece to the man in the pirate costume.

He looked at me, looked at it, and picking it up, tutted, set the item down upon the glass countertop and asked, “Are you sure? All sales are final.” I was, and sighing, he said, “Well take the old thing and get out.” This was odd, and when I offered him money, he shook his head, picked up the whale, pressed it into my hand, and pointed toward the door.

With furtive glances back toward him, I walked to the door. Outside, in the light of the sun, I examined the strange thing, and it examined me.

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