The Soul Auction
The soul auction was held once a month, in a room above The Three Bells. Just over the way from a fishmonger, and a wool shop – both of which were closed on this Sunday night. Lottie killed a few minutes staring in their windows …
…At the vacant white slabs, still marked by little handwritten cards…BREADED SCAMPI TAILS….DRESSED LOBSTER. Now what did a lobster wear when it was dead, that was the question
…At the dusty looking baskets stuffed with faded wool balls, and papier mâché kittens, frozen in their play poses. They looked worn and over it. Lottie huffed a breath out of her nose. She knew the feeling. But not for long! It was nearly Easter, and she had a bullet journal full of plans. Plans for resurrecting her near dead-end life.
Yes, so far this gap-year before Uni had been…an undesirable kind of gap. More like the kind of gap underneath the sofa that fills with fluff and dirt, than a bright gap of time filled with sunshine and backpacking. She still hadn’t saved up the money for that. But hey, it was only April. She had six whole months before Uni started to make herself new. To raise herself from the living dead of working five days a week at Sammy’s Sandwiches. And sleeping off the carb coma for the other two.
Lottie checked her phone. Ten minutes to seven. Ten minutes until kick off. Bid off. Whatever.
She thumped breathlessly up the back stairs of the pub and ducked through the low doorway of the upstairs room. She squinted, eyes adjusting to the dimly lit space, set out with chairs in two sections, a narrow aisle set up in the middle. She made herself stride right up the aisle, as though none of the other bidders existed, and plopped herself down in the front row, onto a chewed up, red velvet covered seat.
Lottie crossed her arms over her oversized army jacket, fixed the auctioneer with a purposeful stare. He was a neat little man, with a thin ginger moustache, and a coat with tails, like a fancy concert pianist might wear. He returned her stare and then shuffled his papers. Lottie returned his paper shuffling with some rootling in her backpack. Then the removal of her coat. Jeez it was hot in here. Stuffy. Like being in a sauna where they’d poured beer over the coals. It was not a good smell.
The auctioneer cleared his throat and Lottie jumped.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we will be starting in five minutes.”
Lottie stuffed her bag and coat under her seat, and then arranged her knees and her hands and her back into a professional, concentrating stance. Then she couldn’t help but turn her neck enough to take in a few of her competitors. The front row on the right-hand side was empty, but in the row behind was a chic lady, her blonde hair twisted artfully into some kind of pleat. She likely had money? Yes. And behind her was a group of three dudes, who also looked wealthy, in a ballcap, yacht-top kind of way.
Lottie did not have much money, but she did have a plan, thanks to eavesdropping on one of the sandwich shop regulars. Mr Tuna-Sweetcorn. From what she’d gleaned he was a trader. A magical mobster. He was the reason that she even knew this auction existed.
“Then let us begin,” said the auctioneer. He sounded like a spry priest. The room was wound tight with silence. Lottie heard someone swallow behind her. She followed suit. Then the auctioneer tapped his hammer, and they were off, like he’d shot a starting pistol into the air.
The next ten minutes were a stress blur as Lottie tried to catch up to the practical mechanics. How was this working? This twitching, nodding, finger flicking kind of dance. She’d gleaned all she could from the website, but it was a confusing abomination of black and orange graphics, the actual lots hidden amongst the fake stock for a joke shop. It had taken Lottie hours to pore through and find the one lot that she wanted.
“Lot 19,” said the auctioneer.
“MINE!” Lottie said, leaping to her feet.
The auctioneer blinked at her with his pale grey eyes. “Commencing the bidding for Lot 19 at £50.”
“I’LL TAKE IT!” Jeez it was like her mouth had turned into a nail gun, shooting out words at a rate and volume she had not planned.
Lottie put her hands on her hips and pivoted in place, eyeing the ballcap dudes, and the artful hair lady, and…a man with a twisted grey beard…who slid down in his seat, like melted cheese. Good. They should fear her.
“Young lady!” said the auctioneer. “Kindly be seated.”
Lottie sat down as slowly as she could manage, shoulders squared, head held high, knees shaking.
“Who’ll give me £55?”
A drop of sweat ran down from under Lottie’s bra strap, tracing the ridge of her spine, and tickling her hot skin.
The silence stretched on like a very deep cave.
“No takers? Ok. Lot 19 goes to the young lady in the front row, for £50.”
Lottie sat in a glucose-crashing shock for the remainder of the auction. She’d got it. Now she just had to deal with the small matter of payment. And getting the soul home. Would it come in a jar? A box? A tin? She had no-one to ask about such things.
She was still sat in her seat, shoulder blades pressed against the wobbly chair back, when the auctioneer finally came and positioned himself in her eyeline. The rest of the room had cleared. All retreated away, clutching their paper collection tabs.
“Do you know what you’re doing?” he said in a voice so low that it brushed the beer sticky carpet.
“Do you have payment plans?” Lottie said, chin jutted up at him. She stood. She was pleasingly taller than him, but her knees still shook like thin bamboo in a stressful wind.
“A payment plan. For £50?!”
Most of the lots had gone for over £300 that day. But so? She was on a budget.
“Unless you want to take £40?” Lottie said.
The auctioneer stifled a cough and his moustache twitched.
“£10 a week for the next four weeks?”
“That makes forty.”
Lottie nodded. “I should make you give it to me for free. You know that soul is stolen.” She tried a wink, but settled for a grimace. This could be thin ice, but it was worth the skate?
“Aren’t they all?” he said, retreating to his little wooden lectern…with the paperwork, and the hammer, and now the envelopes of cash.
“Or I could give you a 10% discount on sandwiches for the next four weeks.”
He rubbed his left eye. “And pray do tell me, what happens after four weeks?”
Lottie shrugged. “Can’t promise anything after that. I’ll be gone.”
The auctioneer returned and handed Lottie a small piece of paper that said Lot 19.
“Do you know where you’re going?”
He spluttered and dabbed his shirt cuff to his mouth.
“Do you know where you’re going to collect your lot?”
Lottie turned over the paper in her hand, hoping there’d be some helpful instructions. An address. Nothing. She fed herself into her oversized coat, hitched her backpack onto one shoulder. Then shook her head.
“Ok young lady. Well far be it from me to patronise you…” he said, in a voice that was plenty patronising…But maybe I should escort you to the collection point?”
Lottie nodded. “And just so you know, I’ll have the police on speed dial.”
“The police?” he choked out. “You want to bring…the police into this?” His moustache twitched again. That had to get annoying. Like having a rogue caterpillar tickling your nose day and night.
“Only if I have to,” Lottie said. “You need a minute to pack up your stuff? Your hammer?”
He blinked rapidly, like she’d thrown half a pint of sprite in his face.
While he packed his stuff into a slim black briefcase, Lottie let her shoulders drop. She’d done it. She’d managed the first step in her masterplan. She’d bought a woefully under-priced soul. The soul of an octopus. But not just any octopus. Jim…Jim, the octopus who’d correctly predicted 90% of football matches, before he died…. At the hands of Mr Tuna-Sweetcorn. A heartless and bungled kidnap. And now she was going to work with Jim (God rest his soul, soon) to win the money for her trip. Sure you could call it gambling. But you could also call it charity. She was going to free Jim’s soul in the seas of Spain. Win-win.
“Are you ready?”
“What?” Lottie startled. “Yes. Are you?”
“Now isn’t that the question?” the auctioneer said.
I have been to exactly one auction. It was held above a pub. And it was VERY STRESSFUL!
There was also an octopus (called Paul I believe) who had a run of successfully predicting football World Cup wins.
So there we are…