I Really Think the Goat Skull is Worth at Least Seven Dollars

Nick Martens eavesdrops on a tough negotiation at a pawn shop.


Illustration by Hallie Bateman.

You don’t feel that? Alright, well slip this one on then. I know it works; I enchanted it myself.

Oh. Um… sure.

It radiates twin auras that enhance clear-thinking and fertility.


Oh yeah. Six months after I made it, my cousin’s wife got pregnant.

Wow. That’s, that’s… and how much did you want for this?

I think about forty would be fair.

Forty… dollars?

I’m willing to hear a counter-offer.

Well, that just seems a bit high, y’know, for a plain metal ring.

Hey, that’s not some low-rent voodoo. Only a couple guys in the county can enchant at that level. In fact, this whole collection is filled with rare and powerful artifa-

Y’know what, why don’t you just slide that whole box over here and I’ll look it all over before I give you a number?

Alright, but be careful. Some of this is delicate.

Okay, let’s see what we’ve got here— doesn’t smell too good, does it?

Yeah, that’s probably the squirrel totem.

The squir— the what?

Most people think squirrels are just cute fluffy rats, but they’re actually wise animals who can teach us much about dealing with the disruptive energy of city life. They seamlessly adapt to any place that even vaguely resembles their natural habitat, and like the Boy Scouts, squirrels plan ahead and are always prepared. By keeping a squirrel totem in your house, you open a dialogue between its spirit and your unconscious mind, and you will feel at peace with the chaotic modernized world.

Right, okay. So this was a live squirrel then?

Yup, caught him myself.

And you got him stuffed?

Ha, that’s rich. Taxidermy is a violation of the animal’s hermetic vessel. I preserved him using a respectful form of ritual mummification.

He seems, uh, he seems a bit rotted.

Yeah, I may have missed some stuff.

Um, so let’s, uh, see what else… Say, why sell this junk if you’ve put so much effort into it?

It’s a bit of a long story.

And isn’t there anyone else around who might specialize in these sorts of things?

Ah, but that’s my conundrum. I have made certain… enemies in my time practicing the arts, and I am ashamed to admit that one of them recently got the better of me. If I were to manipulate any of these items now, I would attract the ire of certain malevolent entities. And it would be similarly disastrous if one of my foes were to gain possession of my work, so I must keep my collection away from the merchants we frequent. That is why I have brought it to you.

Sure, that sounds… fine. But you understand that people who shop here might not be quite as attuned to the… unique qualities of these items?

Just because they’re closed-minded doesn—

Now, let’s just see what you’ve got here that my customers might be interested in. Okay, these are some nice candles…

The wick is a braid of Mongolian horse hai—

And here’s some chalk; kids love that…

It’s made of crushed lambs bones for summoning spir—

These herbs smell pretty fresh…

…imbued with healing properties by…

Oh! Now this looks like something special.

Ah yes, the crown jewel of my decades-long journey into the wild, mystical world referred to so callously by outsiders as “the occult.” That knife combines legendary materials and magicks from fabled societies around the globe and throughout history. At its base sits a raw chunk of lapis lazuli, a radiant blue stone known from Cleopatra’s Egypt to the Qing dynasty as a powerful ward against death. The handle was carved by a shaman deep in the jungles of the Amazon, from a wood so durable it was once called “Quetzalcoatl’s skin.” The grip, made of the hide of the elusive Gobi Camel, was treated by a group of nomadic monks during a pilgrimage from the desert to the Himalayas.

I’ve never seen a blade like this.

Indeed. During my travels to Syria, I was drawn by a power beyond my ken to a rickety yellow door leading to a small room below a cheap bar. Inside, I saw two sturdy men with long hammers pounding on a white-hot bar of metal. An old man, whose unrelenting Arabian eyes seemed to pierce time itself, instructed their blows.

He had recovered the technique to create Damascus Steel, the strongest, sharpest alloy ever known to man. Historians have long believed that the method was lost to history, but they did not know, as this man did, that voices from the past echo forever in the minds of all humanity. The wisdom of your ancestors is in your head right now, waiting to be heard, but it takes a lifetime to learn how to listen. This man had learned, and he listened.

Then, for half a decade, with this great sage guiding my incantations as surely as he guided the blacksmiths’ hammers, I fused each of these elements together using ancient spells I still do not fully understand.

Wow. That’s quite a tale.

Thank you.

I could go as high as eighty.

I won’t listen to anything below one-twenty.

Nick Martens is a founding editor of The Bygone Bureau. You can email him, if you like.