The new kiosk opened in the mall last month, between my booth and the one full of phone cases. Retailers rent the spaces every holiday season. Most of them have a whiff of desperation: unlucky people selling mediocre doodads.
This guy’s different. He’s sitting cool as a corpse surrounded by unadorned posters sporting the simple phrase. Tell me what you need. He’s pale: a pallid man in colorless shirt and ashen pants.
I wonder what his schtick is as I sell jewelry, temporary tattoos, and other bling to mostly teens, mostly girls. When people pause at his spot, there’s a posture of disbelief: crossed arms, shaking heads, shuffling feet. Most of them leave. But once an hour, maybe twice, somebody forks over their credit card or some cash.
I think about going over, telling him what I want is money, maybe a winning lottery ticket. Not that he’d be able to deliver.
The next week, he’s got a line. It’s not even Thanksgiving yet, and his store looks like Black Friday. Now there’s not so much disbelief; I see a lot of the same people.
I pull the curtain over my wares and go over. The line’s long. I’m not going to ask for anything, just see what the hell is so enticing. When I’m standing in front of him, he says, “What do you need?”
At the words, my curiosity evaporates. I focus on what I crave. Money? No. Sex? No. Alcohol? Drugs? No. Then I remember my youth. Going to church, believing in God.
He sees, and a wry smile lifts one corner of his mouth. “Popular choice. That’ll be $20,” he says. “Introductory rate. Next month it’ll cost more.”
I dig in my pocket, hand over the money. As quick as that childlike wonder and faith rush back. I step away, already considering what I’ll need to sell in a month, two months, three.
Edd Vick, the son of a pirate, is a recovering Texan now living in Seattle. He is a bookseller whose library is a stuffed three-car garage. His stories have appeared in Analog, Asimov’s, Year’s Best SF, and about thirty other magazines and anthologies.