After his daily run, Charlie showered, shaved, got dressed, and hurried out to door to work. He knew who would be expecting him at the office, dreaded it, and therefore wanted to get a head start to prepare.
On the way to work, he noticed the sky was clouding up. He’d forgotten his umbrella. It didn’t look like rain anyway.
Charlie’s office was on the third floor. He passed by the receptionist.
“Hi, Suzette, any messages for me?”
Suzette looked more of the classic school lunch lady then a receptionist: portly, mid-fifties, thick glasses, perm. Today she seemed very glad to seem her boss.
“There’s someone by name of Owlman here to see you,” she said as she handed her boss a cup of fresh coffee.
Charlie was already expecting him. “Thank you. I’ll handle it from here.”
Upon opening the door to his office, Charlie found a tall man of refined features, sharp angles on the cheekbones, chin and nose, and sharply dressed in an Armani suit and oiled hair. Francisco Owlman sat in a chair across from Charlie’s desk. A large bulky guy in a suit stood next to Owlman with hands folded in front of him.
“Good morning, Mr. Vandyrzash,” said Owlman. “I’m sure you know why we’re here.”
“Uh, yes, look, if you are here for counseling, fine, but don’t come in here trying to sell your creepy lamps.”
Owlman immediately feigned weakness and put his hands up.
“Creepy?! No way, no how. I’m an honest businessman, and my wholesaler is a professional antiques dealer. But, I get what you’re saying. My product does have that unsavory rumor.”
“Your product has caused more grief than help!”
“But you must admit, it is good for business is it not? How many people have you heard talk about some weird little man scrambling about in their room? In the kitchen? Or even under the bed?”
“They all speak about how they, or a loved one brought home this beautifully crafted sterling silver lantern, said to be over a hundred years old, and not to open the lid—”
“–Lest they let out the ‘Dyrnak’ or the ‘Ptyphyoth’ or even the ‘Ahmn’ that may or may not live inside it, or was trapped there by powerful wizards in another dimension, or whatever they want to believe. And it isn’t silver, it’s ceramic. I mean, c’mon, seriously, do you believe this stuff? It can’t open, if it doesn’t have a lid!”
“Mr. Owlman, whatever is causing stable people to suddenly become unstable and need my services is not something I welcome.”
“C’mon, look, see?”
He showed a ceramic lamp base that looked like an urn. The whole piece from top to bottom was glazed to mimic smooth silver. It was indeed beautiful to look at, like an exaggerated hourglass.
“Does it have a lid, or secret compartment? No. There’s nothing there that suggests anything. How do these people think that there’s a way to get inside it?”
“They break it,” said Charlie.
‘There must be an opening, it’s a lamp base,” said Charlie. “They break it, get hold of some narcotic or whatever is inside, which causes those horrific hallucinations from which they never recover. Rather simple, very maddening. And illegal. Which is why I want you to stop selling them.”
“Ok, tell you what, I’ll have Brewkin here break one and we’ll show you the product is not the culprit, ok?”
The big guy took one of the lamp bases from a carrying case and smashed it on the ground.
“There’s nothing in the center here. Only cobwebs and dust.”
Brewkin blew into the hollow part of the broken lamp base causing dust to fly out the other side.
“See?” said Owlman, “There’s nothing inside—-!”
Suddenly the doors closed shut by themselves, followed by screaming on the other side of them. Poor Suzette.
“Aaw! Get off my back! Get off my back!” came the secretary’s panicked voice.
“Quick, open the doors!” said Charlie.
All three men tried to open the doors but they would not budge. From behind them it felt like someone had opened a window, but there were no windows in Charlie’s office.
“Free at last,” came a sudden creaky voice. “Now to awaken my children.”
The other lamp bases started to break on their own, followed by their own “Free at last” comments.
“Now, let us depart, my children, away, to reclaim our beloved home—”
Owlman suddenly found the source of the voice, a tiny, hideously pompous little man clinging to the wall, and squashed it with his shoe.
“Well, that’s one down,” he said. ‘About thirty to go!”
Excerpt from “What’s Trapped in Ceramic Lamps” from the book of short stories, I am lettuce, who are you?