I know it's been a fair amount of time since I posted up a fiction piece. I decided to do some revisions to The Useless Cleric and, in the process, began to realize that there are some weaknesses in my writing that I wanted to remedy. I've spent a bit of time working on a few practice pieces. This is one of those.
This is inspired by my older daughter literally saying "someday I want to run a magical thrift store!" I had originally intended to potentially submit this as a piece of flash fiction to a few online publications, but it ultimately got a bit too long. It also just felt like it was missing something. I really like the idea of it still though, and might consider expanding it into something longer! I feel like there's a good novella in this concept. In the meantime, I thought you guys might like to read a bit of what I've been up to on the fiction front. Hope you enjoy it!
“So, I’m just supposed to give you my stuff,” the adventurer said with a frown, “And I don’t get nothing for it?”
That was the gist of it, honestly, but Fletch tried to think of what Gran would say. “It’s not about getting. It’s about giving something back.”
The man’s face scrunched. “What the hells does that mean?”
“Well . . .” Fletch drew in a breath. “Think about when you were first starting out. Weren’t those early days hard?”
The man snorted. “You better believe it. This one time I—”
Fletch moved quickly to cut off his ramble. “Wouldn’t it have been better if you’d had a helping hand?” He gestured to the shop’s chaotically stocked shelves. “That’s what I offer. I take in bits and pieces adventurers like you don’t want and pass them on to new folk. People like what you used to be when you were just starting out.”
Fletch left out any mention of money, of course. Good intentions tended to look less noble when you added “for a small fee” at the end. The customer, unfortunately, seemed to come to that conclusion on their own.
“Sounds like horse dung, if you ask me.”
He left without another word. Fletch shrugged and went back to sorting the latest batch of intake. There were a few like that every week.
The day wore on and Fletch couldn’t help but wonder if Gran would have gotten the man to stay. She’d always had an air of sincerity that had a way of winning over the grumps and skeptics. Probably because she’d actually been sincere.
Before she opened the shop, Gran had been a full-fledged adventurer, too. A halfling swordswoman of no small renown, in fact! And it had all started with a hand-me-down sword a kind stranger had given her on a whim.
“That rusty old blade set me on the path to great things,” she would say wistfully, whenever the subject arose. “Things I never would have seen or known if I’d just stayed home and married that nice baker down the lane. I wanted to give other people that same chance.”
So that’s what she did. When her adventuring career ended, she took her loot and opened her “Emporium of Used Goods for the Thrifty Adventurer.” Starting with donations from friends and acquaintances, she built up a stock of weapons, armor, potions, and relics. None of it was top-shelf. Most were worth so little that Gran’s friends gave them to her just to avoid the hassle of selling them.
“One legend’s junk is another amateur’s treasure!” Had been another one of her sayings.
Gran had raised up a family too while she raised up the shop. She took Fletch in after his parents, her son included, died of a fever when he was still just a child.
The adventurer’s spark had never caught in Fletch as it had in her. The only reason he worked in the shop was because he’d wanted to help Gran. The only reason he owned it now was because she’d left it to him when she passed.
He liked to think he’d done a good job with it. He’d expanded the business in ways she’d never thought to—connecting with the local inns and taverns to collect any items left behind by their patrons.
The shop was making more money than it ever had with Gran at the helm. There was still something missing though.
Even in her last months, Gran never lost her love for helping people find that “just right” special something they needed. Fletch could remember days when she would spend hours sifting through the packed shelves, helping one single customer find the perfect sword, a proportioned shield, or a comfortable pair of boots from her collection of cast-offs.
He wished sometimes he had more of her in him. He wished he was doing more than just running a business.
“Um . . . do you think you could help me . . . sir?”
Fletch had been so lost in his thoughts that he hadn’t noticed the customer come in. He glanced up from the oddments he’d been toiling with and found himself face to tree-trunk-torso with an orc. The barrel-chested warrior was wearing an animal pelt loincloth and a pair of battered shoulder pauldrons that looked as though they might have matched once. His tusked face was heavy with anxious worry.
Fletch put on his most welcoming smile. “I can most certainly try! Are you looking for something in particular?”
The orc reached up to scratch the back of his head and pushed out a long, sad sigh.
“Well, you see,” he started, his voice like gravel. “I have this ax. Or I had it anyways, up until a few days ago.”
“Are you looking for a replacement? I have a selection of affordable weapons that you—”
“I was actually hoping you might have my ax here.” The orc cut in.
Fletch paused. “I see.”
“It’s my own fault I lost it,” the orc said. “I got into a brawl a few days back. Got knocked out cold and my ax was gone when I woke up.” His face sagged as he told the story. “I’ve been looking for it all over Old Mill. Someone said I should check in here.” The Orc’s lip quivered. “You’re my last chance.”
Fletch swallowed. “This ax means a lot to you?”
The orc nodded. “It’s been in my family for generations.” He spread his arms out wide in front of him. “It’s about this big and forged of black steel. There’s three claw marks across the blade on one side—from when a griffin tried to maul me.”
Fletch frowned. “I’m sorry . . . but I honestly don’t think I have anything like that here.”
The orc’s tusked face sagged. “Could I take a look around the shop, at least?”
“Yeah, of course,” Fletch replied. “Look as long as you want.”
The orc headed into the maze of the shop’s shelves and Fletch turned back to his sorting. He heard the shop’s door open and close a few minutes later as the orc left empty-handed.
I hope he finds it, he thought.
Fletch continued with his toil and the orc quickly fell from his thoughts. A few of the local tavern keepers stopped in to drop off some new items that Fletch directed to the back room for later.
A handful of other customers came in as the day followed its course. There was a half-elf looking for “a good backstabbing dagger” and a crotchety wizard looking for a ring of “world-ending doom.”
Fletch directed the first to the Weapons aisle and the second to the Relics & Potions section. The half-elf left with a long knife and an off-putting smile. The wizard didn’t find his ring, but he did drop a handful of silvers on a half-used Potion of Duck Shape.
Evening finally arrived and Fletch was ready to go home. Stifling a yawn, he trudged into the back room to fetch his cloak. He immediately did a double take. Resting against the corner of a wall, next to a sack of other odds and ends, was a huge black-steel ax with three claw marks slashed into its blade.
Fletch ran a hand through his hair. There was no doubt about it. This was the ax the orc had been looking for earlier. It must have come in with the tavern drop-offs.
He couldn’t believe the orc’s bad luck. If he’d visited the shop just a little bit later, he might have been there when it was brought in! Fletch would have let him have it right there—free of charge. And now . . . ?
His first thought was that he would find the orc in the morning. It would probably mean missing a bit of the workday, but he wouldn’t feel right not trying, at least.
The more Fletch considered it though, the more he started to worry. The orc had already been looking for days by the time he’d come to the shop. Fletch had been a last resort. What if the orc was gone by the time Fletch hoisted himself out of bed on the morrow?
He could already be gone now, his reasonable side countered. His eyes were already drooping from the weight of his working hours. He wanted nothing better than to retire to his house, light a fire in his hearth, have a meal, and maybe read a chapter or two while sipping some tea.
He didn’t know where the orc was staying, or even what his name was! He could spend the whole night searching and never find him.
Rising above all of that logic, however, was a single question that trumped everything else. What would Gran do?
Fletch remembered the quiet desperation on the orc’s sullen green face. Gran wouldn’t have stopped until she’d found the poor fellow and reunited him with his heirloom. She would have interrogated every barkeep in town and then asked them again.
She would have done everything she could to help. And as weary as Fletch was, he realized that he couldn’t stomach doing nothing.
He drew his cloak about his shoulders and slipped out of the shop into the night’s cool air, starting up the street toward the nearest inn. In the back of his mind, he heard Gran’s voice chirping with another one of her silly witticisms. “The halfling doesn’t roll far from the cottage, eh?”
“Maybe not,” Fletch answered into the darkness. “Maybe not.”