WADE CHECKED HIS WATCH, the cheap thing, and scowled. With his cube directly across from The Witch, he’d risk a write-up for for a long lunch. Her lead-up to discipline was usually an olive branch of, “So, you want to use PTO or make up the time?” Neither, thank you very much!
If he ran he’d risk doing permanent damage to his knees thanks to his cheap imitation leather shoes. Despite the shine they held, they were no better than walking with plywood tied to his feet. The crowd ahead slowed down, and his temper wore thin. The mob shambled forth in fits and starts, driving Wade nuts. He slid from side to side trying to get around the throng of mindless humanity and down the two blocks to the office. A group of young men with gelled hair and square jaws meandered slowly with a gray-haired, bejeweled executive. Women dressed in high-powered suits texted furiously on cell-phones and gabbed with their friends about meeting at an upscale restaurant for dinner, brunch, or both.
Through his maneuvers Wade glimpsed the cause of the bottleneck.
Ahead stood a street vendor with a red and white striped hat and three yellow teeth. The man had scavenged clothes with no pretense of grace or style, but, ironically, sported some pretty nice looking shoes; designers, for sure.
Stolen! The word burst to Wade’s mind, surprising him. But he agreed with the conclusion.
He elbowed and shoved his way through the crowd, disparaging them as he went for their cattle-like herding around this pathetic peddler. The man hollered like a carnival barker and an alarming number of people stopped and peered into his tattered puppet theater.
Wade wished he could cross the street and go the long way around, but on that side stood a man on a wooden crate, bellowing out the Ten Commandments.
He remained stoic as he walked closer to the merchant. He figured if he kept his eyes straight ahead the huckster would ignore him as a mark.
“You, son,” the man declared in a surprisingly smooth and persuasive voice. “You could buy something magnificent! I got exactly what you need!”
Wade doubted that a man like this was selling anything magnificent, and much less anything he needed. He lowered his head and shook it nervously hoping that would be the end of it. As he passed the booth, however, something caught his eye. He tried to walk on, but the dealor had seen the flick of his eyes and the hesitation in his stride.
“Yes, son,” the salesman exclaimed joyously, spittle flying from his decaying mouth, “that one’s for you!”
Wade stopped and turned toward the charismatic vendor. The man’s smile had become soft, not the grimace it was. The merchant regarded Wade warmly with baby blue eyes. Wade cursed himself for being a stupid mark like all the others on the sidewalk. Shaking his head he turned away and locked eyes with the street preacher.
That repulsed him in quite a different way.
Turning back to the sidewalk seller, Wade noticed the man’s clothes weren’t as tattered as he’d initially thought.
“It’s just for you, son,” the peddler restated. “It’s the happiness you’ve always wanted.”
Wade, stunned by how pleasing the man’s sales pitch sounded, drew closer to the puppet theater and out of people’s way. The man probably just wanted some spare change and Wade could get on to his office.
“Okay, what is it you’re selling?” he asked though he had no idea why he even cared. Yet something inside pulled him to this purveyor, curiosity brimming.
“It’s everything you want the most,” the man replied. “Look into the booth.”
Wade knew better, but curiosity had gripped of him. Sticking his head into the opening, he saw what appeared to be a shadow of a woman. He pulled his head back out, blood rushing to his neck and face.
“Real funny!” Wade said, fearful that others might have seen him peering into the man’s little booth. He backed toward the street intending to cross to the other side. He could hear the street preacher declare, “Thou shalt not covet!”
“It can be yours for the right price,” the street vendor said.
“Sorry, pal.” Wade said, looking around to be sure there weren’t police who might have seen him.
“I think you misunderstand what I sell,” the seller said, dropping his head shamefully, the red and white striped had bobbing innocently. “I don’t offer anything that you’d want to hide in shame. Rather, it would give you confidence and pride.”
Wade wanted to get back to his cube. He’d leave this street man to con others. But something else flickered in the booth. Without prompting he moved back to the opening and peered inside. He saw an outline of himself at a large desk, a secretary bringing him coffee. Silhouettes of awards and flashes of money came to him, filling him with intoxicating thrills.
Wade paused and looked at the vendor who now had a full mouth of clean, white teeth. The silly hat was gone.
“All this is for sale,” the dealer said.
Wade continued to watch and saw a form of a large home and a shadow of a sports car, with him in the driver’s seat. He saw an outline of a large boat on a lake, a beach party with friends, everyone happy, smiling. The more he watched the faster the images came. They pleased him so much that he didn’t stop to think how they might be created or contained within this simple booth. He wasn’t concerned about the time he spent watching these images or about his supervisor at work. She’d be working for him soon. As time passed, however, he felt a chill. He looked back at the retailer who now wore designer clothes.
“For sale at a price,” the man said. “But you deserve it.”
The image of the woman appeared again. She stood next to his silhouette. The pool, the car, the money, the entourage of friends all flashed before his eyes again. He felt his palms sweat, excitement building. Cheering roared in his ears.
“For you,” The salesman said. “They’re cheering you!” He put his hand on Wade’s shoulder. “People will look up to you. You’ll never have to take orders again.”
Wade pulled his dizzied head from the booth and regarded the shopkeeper. The man had shed his street huckster look in favor of the glitz of a rich celebrity, cool and detached, worthy of envy.
“Don’t you want it, Wade?” the man asked. “It’s your future, your choice. And no one can stop you. It’s your right.”
Wade heard something inside warning him that it was too good to be true. But having looked at the shadows for so long, he couldn’t leave without them. He couldn’t bear the thought of no longer having the woman, the car, the fame … He had to have those things or he’d feel empty, meaningless.
“They’re all yours, Wade.”
“How much?” he said. The words seemed distant and unimportant.
“You can just give me whatever you have and I’ll let you have it all.”
Wade fumbled with his wallet, and pulled out all his cash, which wasn’t much. He then ripped his watch off his wrist and dropped that at the merchant’s feet. He gave until he stood with nothing, naked, cold.
He heard the preacher behind him saying something about gaining the whole world and losing one’s soul.
Like a sudden change in pressure, Wade sensed the gaze of those around him, judging him. Though they couldn’t know what he was buying from this vendor, guilt stabbed his heart, releasing bitterness. Hatred followed, then fear. He hurried into the booth to the things he had been promised, the things he’d given everything to have. Inside, complete darkness greeted him, no fame, no fortune, no shadows for there was no light. Terror sunk its talons into his heart and he tried to turn back to the door, but it was no longer there. Then he heard a voice.
“Shadows for sale,” the scalper exclaimed, “You can own them all …for a price.”