The young man heaved the blanketed cage onto the counter.
“I’m hoping for two-hundred,” he said. “Can you help me?”
The pawnbroker glanced at the cage and shook his head.
“Son, we don’t take live animals.”
“Just look and see if there’s anything you can do for me,” said the young man. “I’m behind on rent and my landlord’s not a patient man.”
“I’m sure you’re in a bind,” he said, “but you understand if the animal dies I don’t have any collateral.”
“Yeah, I get it,” said the young man. “Just take a look anyway.”
The pawnbroker sighed and lifted the blanket off the cage.
His eyes widened.
“I… ” His words got lost in his mouth. “Is this…a prank?” He reached out and slid his finger down one of the thin brass tines.
“Careful,” said the young man. “It bites. My cousin almost lost his finger. Got a real bad infection.”
The pawnbroker pulled his hand back and folded his arms.
“It talks too. It’s real hard to understand but if you listen closely you can make out a few words.”
“How…how long have you had it?”
“It was my grandad’s. He had it since he was a kid.”
“Oh yeah. Real old. Grandad said he got it at one of those old-timey carnivals when he was young. Templo, I think. Templo, Nevada.”
“He won this at a carnival?” A crease formed in the pawnbroker’s forehead.
“No, he was there with a girl. On a date, you know? Well, I guess they were on the Ferris wheel when something crazy happened. The operator ran off and they hung in the air all night and watched. Said it was the craziest thing he ever saw.”
“Well, grandad told it best.” He glanced at the cage and tried to put it together in his mind. “I guess they were going around and around when they saw people running out of the freak show tent, screaming and yelling. This one guy, he had blood all over his shirt. He was grabbing people and pulling them down on the ground and biting them all over–their necks, their face, whatever. Thing is, once they got bit like that, they got up and started chasing the other people too.”
The pawnbroker grimaced. He took a pen from his pocket and raked it across the brass tines of the cage.
“I wouldn’t do that mister. You just gotta lift it from the handle is all.”
“Okay, fine. Go on.”
“So anyway, soon it’s just crazy. Kids, old people, everybody is getting thrown to the ground and bitten all over. And grandad is watching the whole thing from his car up in the Ferris wheel with his girlfriend. I guess the cops came in too, but it’s a small town and there wasn’t many of them to help. Besides, they just kept shooting and it didn’t do anything, you know. Bullets just went right through. By then, they were coming like two or or three at a time.”
The pawnbroker shook his head. He didn’t want to believe it. Yet there it was.
“But your grandad got away. How?”
“Well after a while this guy shows up with one of those, uh…” The young man scanned the pawn shop from left to right. “One of those,” he said, pointing up over the pawnbrokers head.
“Yeah. And he’s swinging that thing and, you know he’s the only one who seems to have it figured it out.” The young man stopped talking and dragged his index finger across his neck real slow and straight. “He never got tired, either. Heads were rolling this way and that–and just before morning, the carnival was quiet again. My grandad, you know, he was a real brave guy. He asked his girlfriend to stay put and then slid down the arms of the Ferris wheel and ran out to meet him as he walked away.”
“Who did he say he was?”
“He didn’t at first, just kept walking. But my grandad was persistent. Finally the guy turned around. Real strange man with pale skin and dead-looking eyes. Dressed like those old gunslingers you read about. Said his name was Elijah. You don’t hear many people with that name anymore, you know? Real old-timey.”
“Okay. But this.” The pawnbroker pointed to the cage. “What is it?”
“Well, as he told it, he gets the Ferris wheel spinning again and his girlfriend climbs out. Bodies everywhere. And he just grabs one of the heads by the hair and carries it home. See, most of them were just lying there dead, but this one…”
The thing in the cage clicked its teeth and rolled its dry, yellow eyes.
“This one must have been cut real low so it still has its brain stem or something. I don’t know. Grandad kept it under his bed for a few years before he found this cage. He named it Elijah, after the man he saw that night.”
The pawnbroker covered his mouth and sighed. Then he opened the register and gave the man a credit agreement and two hundred-dollar bills.
“You got thirty days,” said the pawnbroker.
The young man nodded, signed the paperwork and took the cash.
“I’ll be honest with you sir, I don’t know if I’ll be back. My girlfriend doesn’t like it. Sometimes at night it whispers in the dark. You know, stories from the olden days.”
“That’s fine, son. It’s all in the contract.”
The young man stuffed the money into his pocket and turned to the door.
“Thank you, mister,” he said, then waved at the head in the cage. “Goodbye Elijah.”
The pawnbroker leaned in close and studied the leathery face. And as the door shut behind the young man, the head choked out three raspy words:
Goodbye, Danny boy.
C.W. Blackwell writes speculative fiction in the vein of horror and western, and he enjoys combining the two genres. He lives in Santa Cruz, California with his wife and two sons. He can be found on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/cwalkerblackwell
Betty Rocksteady is a Canadian author and illustrator. Learn more at www.bettyrocksteady.com.