The Little Pawnshop of Horrors

thUDZN1MVJEstuardo Zacapa, late of Guatemala, bought a little pawn shop in Oakland, California, for a price he couldn’t refuse.

His cousin and lawyer said not to talk about what a great deal he got with anyone.

The prior owner was killed by a crackhead who carried a shotgun into the store to sell. When told he wasn’t interested in buying it, the crackhead fired both barrels into the owner’s body!

Estuardo did not know this when he bought the business. Even if he did know it, chances were he would have bought it anyway. It was a chance to come to America. The land of his dreams.

It took him twenty years to save up a nest egg big enough to realize his dream of leaving Guatemala. His cousin, Adolfo Benitez, moved to Oakland fifteen years ago, and had his own little restaurant that brought in enough to support his big family of eight children.

It was he who kept an eye out for business opportunities for Estuardo. It was he that talked Estuardo into learning how to speak English ten years ago. So when he called one day about buying a pawn shop in Oakland, Estuardo eagerly agreed to.

Adolfo set him up with a passport, work visa, and information on how to apply for citizenship.

A week later, Estuardo was living in a small apartment in downtown Oakland. He was alone in the world, and his needs were simple. He put all of his trust in his cousin’s advise and bought the store.

He lived in the apartment for a month as the sale went through escrow. During that time he read everything he could get his hands on about pawn shops. Trade magazines, and books, that gave him the basics he needed. He hoped.

When he finally got the key to the store he moved his meager belongings into the smallest of the two rear rooms. There was a bed frame, but no box springs or mattress in it. A three-legged night table stood next to the maple headboard.

He didn’t hold a grand opening because he couldn’t afford advertising. He needed what he had left to eat, pay his water and electric bills, and a small cushion for emergencies. So he just hung an Open sign on the front display window one day.

He was surprised when a dozen customers showed up. Seven of them pawned items for money. The other three bought items he had for sale. One of the sales was a wizen monkey head that looked alarmingly like a human shrunken head.

It came with a piece of paper certifying that it wasn’t a human head, and was harvested 100 years ago when there were no restrictions against such souvenirs. The other two sales were a watch, and a faux gold necklace with colored stones.

Some of the items pawned were a Japanese Katana sword, a high-end coffee machine, a nearly new set of socket wrenches, a 1975 String Ray bicycle, a set of naked manikins, and a Black and Decker skill saw still in the box.

When Estuardo decided to renovate the two back rooms he tore the carpeting out and the old dry wall. During that process he discovered two badly decomposed bodies standing up behind his bedroom wall.

They were so old they looked like mummies. He called the police and they came and recovered the bodies and left. It shook him up, but he managed to finish the room makeovers a week later.

He never heard back from the police and didn’t particulary want to walk into the police station and ask about the two dead people that were in his room. His curiousity was aroused and he went to the public library.

He went through reams of past issues of the daily newspaper the East Bay Express, all the way back to it’s inception in 1978. The Express, known for investigative news and feature stories would have what he was looking for according to the libarian; any information about his pawn store.

It did. The pawn store building dated back to 1911. It started out as a general store but transformed over the generations into a pawn store around 1931. The building was the site of countless murders over the decades.

The more he read he got a feeling of dread. Since the first murder happened in 1914, not a year passed where a murder wasn’t committed! Some years there were as many as six murders!

It wasn’t always an owner who was murdered every year. Some owners ran the business for ten years and more before being killed themselves. But, in the end they all died violently. By the time Estuardo was done reading about the building’s history he knew he had to do something.

The building, the store, demanded a human sacrifice every year. It became apparent to paranoid Estuardo that as long as he owned the building someone had to die. He thought about the dark Mayan gods of his heritage and their demand for blood.

He decided he’d rather be the priest than a victim and fed the building a month later by shooting a customer in the head while he was bent over a glass case looking at a Katana. Afterward, he told the police that he was attacked.

As It Stands, I know there must be a cursed old store building genre out there in the hinterlands that I’ve tapped into.

Author: Dave Stancliff

Retired newspaper editor/publisher, Vietnam veteran, freelance writer, blogger, married 43 years with three sons and five grandchildren.

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