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A Travelling Salesman

Keith Beard | Mike S. Young

“Gather ‘round! Gather ‘round!”

The horde of country folk huddled together as the salesman circled them. He goaded them with outstretched arms and flashed a smile that exposed missing teeth though one had been filled with gold. He wore a faded linen suit that was a filthy contrast to his stark white top hat.

“Git ta wheres you can see me, now. Gather ‘round, please don’t intrude upon others, ma’am. Let ‘em see,” he said.

The potential buyers clutched their purses and gripped their wilted hats as they wobbled up to the wagon. On the wagon were numerous vials with labels of foreign symbols. Some of the vials were filled with blue liquid.

“Let me introduce you to the latest in scientific discovery,” the salesman said as he climbed atop the wagon. “My fella business partners have released a new concoction that guarantees that yer youthful spirit shall be maintained for all the rest of yer years, yessir.”

A murmur broke through the crowd. The men furrowed their brows and passed skeptical looks. The women flashed toothless smiles and nodded their heads fervently.

“Yessir, these potionianic drinks have been known to turn women into girls and mules into stallions. One swig of this cocktail will lighten yer face so bright the sun’ll shine til midnight. Do I have a volunteer in the congregation?”

A lady of sixty years with wrinkled leather skin and a blue linen prairie skirt stepped forward. Her grey hair was tied in pigtails, and she clutched one of them with her hands.

“I’ll try it,” she said. Excitement reverberated throughout the group and more heads nodded with more toothless smiles.

“Yes, ma’am! Yes, ma’am! Impressed by yer courage, but courage isn’t even needed! This is such a guarantee, first swig’s on me, and then you takes one after!” he said.

He filled a shot glass and held it high in the air. He smiled real big and nodded his head.

“Here’s to ya!” he said, and he tipped the glass into his mouth. He shook his head and nickered and broke into a dance. The audience clapped and cheered.

The old lady stepped forward, and the salesman poured a shot for her. She held it up but hesitated. The crowd gasped lightly, but she was merely stalling to put on her own show. She curtsied with one arm and held the glass high in the air.

Then she tipped it back and gulped it down.

She sucked her lips into her mouth and jittered on her tip toes as the cloyingly sweet and sour drink sang on her taste buds. Then she smacked open her mouth and yelled out a “yippee!”

The crowd cheered, fists shaking in the air. Men were heard shouting, “How much fer two?” Someone yelled, “What’ll this do for my sex life?” The crowd bellowed laughter and bent over their stomachs and slapped their knees.

“That’s the beauty of it,” the salesman said. “It’s as cheap as a coupla coins!”

“Just a couple?”

“Just a couple!”

But some of the men and women scratched their heads and quelled their celebration. Some of them grimaced and frowned, and some of them went from jubilation to despondence faster than a blink of an eye.

“Now, here’s the thing for some of ya’s,” the salesman began. His tone of voice was serious, and his eyes were piercing. “Here’s the deal. Those who can pay get first choice.”

A low murmur broke in the crowd. Half of them nodded their heads. Half of them stood solemnly.

“Those who can’t can barter.”

“Barter?” one man said.

“Barter. You bring me something valuable. I’ll give you a vial,” the salesman said.

“That’s a deal!” one man exclaimed.

“That’s a deal!” the salesman echoed, and the celebration was revamped.

It took two hours for the country folk to get to their homes and back. The salesman thanked each one and hugged most of the ladies. He shook hands with most of the men, and he was introduced to most of their children.

Once they were gone back to their homes and out of sight, he scratched his head and frowned. The table he set out was much more full of people’s belongings than money. It would be a lot more work selling it all, but the more pressing issue was that he didn’t have room in the wagon to take it all back with him.

He opened up the wagon and let the sunlight shine in. Large sacks labelled “white sugar” were piled next to multiple tubes of blue food coloring. To the side of the food coloring were multiple sacks of tamarinds.

“Guess I won’t be comin’ back here none too soon,” he said.

He unloaded a few sacks of sugar and looked back at the road before him to make sure no one was watching. Then he unloaded some of the tamarind.

“I sure hope their stuff’s worth somethin’,” he said.

He placed the people’s valuables into the wagon. A hammer, a pistol, some jewelry, a jewelry box. He opened the box and pulled out a set of pearls. He smiled real big and clutched them in his palm. He held onto the pearls as he added more to the wagon. A small mirror. A letter opener. A hunter’s knife. A bible.

The salesman held up the bible. King James version. He flipped through some of the pages. They were annotated with chicken scratch that made little sense. He wasn’t sure if the owner could write. He wondered if the owner could even read.

He perused a few sections. The book of Joshua. The book of Job. The gospel according to John. Then he tossed the bible onto the dirt at his feet.

He loaded up the rest of the valuables and climbed into the driver’s seat. He grasped the reins and swatted the horse. The salesman rode off into the sunset whistling a dixie tune.

About Keith Beard

Keith Beard studied English at Auburn University and taught high school English for six years. He lives in Alabaster, AL with his wife Maria, his newborn son Jackson, and his dog Holly, and he is currently focusing on playing music and writing fiction.

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