... but the feeling that crept over me as I wandered into the wax museum struck me, oddly, as if I were entering one. Not that there was anything butcher-shop-like about the place, but there was something in the air... something that didn't seem quite as still as a collection of wax statues should be.
Turning, I faced the old fellow at the front counter, dropped two dollars into his open palm, and took the ticket he presented to me as I pushed through the entrance turnstile. He smiled a geriatric grin, bereft of his two front teeth. I nodded and proceeded forward, something in his demeanour causing me to squirm a little in my suit. The frequent sales trips I took rarely afforded me time to meander around the quaint little towns I visited. Of course, the sightseeing opportunities were slim to none when I actually found myself with an hour to kill. Ah, well. Better make the best of it.
A brief glance back over my shoulder at the pony that had attracted my attention to this place revealed a beast so lifelike that I could almost hear it whinnying as its mane flitted through the breeze. My breath caught in my throat for a moment as I wondered if perhaps, in some other time or place, the creature could have jumped out of the store window and ridden off into the sunset. Its unnervingly real countenance seemed out of place with the rest of what I saw in here.
I panned from right to left, the narrow aisles around me in the dusty gallery spoke of better days long past. Selecting the left-hand path of what appeared to be a circular route through the museum, I took in the pallid statues lining the walkway to either side of me. They inspired nothing more than a profoundly misplaced sense of loss; I wondered who some of these diverse people and animals were, many of their nameplates tarnished and partially worn off adorning the pedestals they rested on.
I continued down the walkway, pausing briefly in front of the effigy of a man wearing a top hat and tails. I wondered if a single statue in the place had been created in the previous forty years; most seemed to date back to the turn of the century, men and women adorned in the garments of another time, animals appearing to have belonged to some extravagant African safari. Squatting, I brushed the dust from the man's nameplate with my right hand, revealing the intricately engraved name Samuel T. Payne, Esquire. I wondered what this man had done to merit his facsimile being permanently enshrined in this little corner of the world. A lawyer, I surmised. Maybe a rich and famous local that no one outside of the hamlet had heard of.
A gravelly voice penetrated the silence from behind me. "Samuel here was one of the city elders back when the town 'as founded. Want'd to be immortalized for all the town to remember 'im."
"Thanks, sir. Didn't mean to disturb you from watching the entrance," I mumbled, still mildly shaken from having been crept up upon so silently by a man who was easily forty years my elder.
"Not a problem, sonny. Not much traffic in these parts, right now. If ya be needin' anythin' else, just holler."
"I'll do that."
I turned back to the barrister's silent gaze, noticing the amazingly realistic detail of the ridges on his face, the hair making up his grizzled beard, the glitter of the rings he sported on three fingers. Staring long enough into those glassy eyes seemed almost enough to glimpse the man's soul.
I shook my head, wondering where these thoughts were coming from, and continued meandering down the path, stopping in front of what appeared to be a mountain lion, fangs beared, forever frozen in a predatory pose. Again, the fur lining its shoulders seemed completely authentic. Such spectacular use of wax, I considered. The artist who rendered these works should be proud.
Checking my watch, I saw that more time had elapsed than I had realized; the purchasers I was meeting with would be expecting me shortly. Turning back towards the door, I made my way past the dozens of figures surrounding the path out, light shining in from outside the entrance. The elderly gentleman from the door was no longer there, I noted with mild surprise. Who was manning the gates? Couldn't be that busy of a day, my subconscious countered. He'd probably just gone for lunch.
My stomach rumbled in agreement. Right — my purchasers awaited.
I paused briefly upon reaching the turnstyle, glancing once more at the pony. Its brown eyes shone, seemingly so bright and full of life, its gaze so momentarily captivating that I never noticed the hand coming to rest briefly on my shoulder. Followed immediately by a single, needling pain in my side. Surprise registered in my expression as my muscles froze me in place, so quickly that I had no time to blink, let alone react.
It struck me, briefly, as the paralytic agent acted on my muscles, that my last memory would be of a solitary tear rolling down the muzzle of the pony at the door. Wax statues can't cry, can they?
An absurd, ridiculous notion.
But suddenly, butcher shop made perfect sense.