It was the dead of winter, and Samuel was on his way home. His car had been towed while he was at work. He'd misplaced his wallet. On top of all that, it had just started snowing. So he trudged along, wishing he'd brought his earmuffs and a warmer coat. It wasn't long before the storm started picking up, and he decided it would be best to wait it out in one of the nearby shops. Choosing one that seemed warm, he ducked inside right as the wind started howling.
He spun around to find a man smiling at him.
“It's always good to see a new face here. What can I assist you with?”
Samuel looked around the store and sighed inwardly. It was a glasses shop. “I'm sorry,” he said. “I was just coming in to get out of the snow. I had intended to buy something out of respect, but I don't need any glasses. And... I just remembered that I don't have my wallet on me.”
The man nodded knowingly. “That's quite all right. Why don't you have a look around anyway? You may find something you like, and we can always work out the payment later.”
“Really, my eyes are perfect. There's nothing here I could use.”
“That's what everyone says,” the man replied, “but everyone seems to find something here. After all, this shop can only be found by fate.” He winked. “I'll be in the back if you need anything.”
Samuel watched him walk away, then turned to the shop and sighed. The glasses were set out on small cushions and lined up on shelves throughout the room. It almost reminded him of a bookstore more than a glasses shop. He supposed he should browse a little, if only to be polite. The glasses were all a bit flashy for his tastes, but he found a plain silver set of frames, with no patterns or imbedded gemstones, and put them on. He looked around the room. Everything looked a little brighter, but he figured that was just his imagination. These were only frames, with no prescription. He glanced around and found a mirror on the wall, but when he looked at himself, he stepped back and gasped. He looked mostly the same, but in his reflections chest was hovering a pulsing white flame.
“That's a simple pair, but quite lovely all the same.”
Samuel spun around to see the man standing behind him. A white flame hovered in his chest as well. Samuel pulled the glasses off and stared at them, his mouth hanging open. “What... What are these? There's not even any glass in these. How can they make that sort of illusion?”
“It's not an illusion,” the man explained. “These glasses show the truth, as do all of my other glasses. Each pair is a bit different, but valuable in its own way.”
“If... If these are the simple ones, then... What do the others do?”
“Feel free to try them on and see for yourself,” he beamed.
Samuel slowly walked to another shelf and took a pair of solid gold frames, with small rubies lined along the edges. He put them on, but had to close his eyes immediately. The whole room had become like a palace, filled with fancy furniture and crystal chandeliers. Slowly he opened his eyes and took it all in. The basic shape was the same, enough that he could find the shelves and the mirror, but other than that, the room was unrecognizable.
“Quite a superior form for my shop, if I do say so myself. Why don't you look in the mirror?” The man continued smiling and gestured towards the reflection. When Samuel looked, he found himself wearing a golden crown and velvet robes, with a scepter in his right hand that he didn't remember picking up. The same white flame as before was still floating in his chest. He looked at the shopkeeper and also saw the white flame in him. Overwhelmed, he took off the glasses.
“It's one of our fancier pairs, but some people really go for it. Maybe not quite your style, but keep looking. Remember, it's fate that you came here. Everyone finds something that will fit them just right.”
Samuel nodded slowly. “What's the flame?” he asked.
“The flame is your soul. The white shows that your soul is good and pure.”
Samuel nodded again. Over the next few hours, he tried on as many glasses as he could. Some of them he tried on multiple times, because they seemed similar to a previous pair, but he always found a difference somewhere. The only thing that was entirely consistent, staying exactly the same between each pair of glasses, was the pure white flame hovering in his chest and the shopkeeper's chest. As he worked his way across the shelves, he noticed a box sitting apart from the rest of the shop, resting on a small pedestal on the back counter. When he inquired about it, he saw the shopkeeper's smile fade for the first time.
“It's a dangerous pair of glasses,” the shopkeeper said. “That's the one pair in the store that I won't let you try on.”
Samuel was confused, but decided to let it be. He continued working his way through the shelves, and the shopkeeper seemed pleased. Finally, he had tried every pair he could see, but none quite seemed to fit him just right. The shopkeeper had said that they showed the truth, but each pair was different... “Are these all the glasses you have?” He asked.
“No, of course not,” the shopkeeper winked. “These are just the more popular ones. I have many more stored in the back. I can bring some out for you if you like.”
Samuel agreed, and the shopkeeper disappeared through the back door. A few minutes later, he returned with his arms full of frames.
“So many beautiful pairs to choose from, I wasn't sure which ones to bring. But there are plenty more where these came from if they don't work for you.”
They tried each pair, but found nothing that was any better. The shopkeeper returned the tested frames to the storeroom and hurried back with a fresh set. They repeated this process over and over, and with each pair of frames, Samuel grew worried that he would never find the right pair. More and more, he found himself drawn to the box on the back counter, but he continued trying on more frames.
“What if I never find the right pair?” He finally asked.
The shopkeeper didn't seem at all put off by the question. “It's not possible,” he replied. “We have something for everyone. If you don't find just the right match today, you can take a simple temporary pair home with you, and return again at your own convenience. Many people choose this option, but everyone eventually finds something for them.”
Samuel considered his words, then nodded. “One more round. If I don't find it there, then... I guess I'll just take the silver ones for now.”
The shopkeeper beamed wider and rushed back to the storeroom one final time. But as he was gone, Samuel couldn't stop thinking about the box on the back counter. It wasn't as though it was guarded in any way, so it must be safe to at least look... Finally, he decided to do just that. He stood and walked to the box, and opened it. Inside was a simple pair of frames that appeared to be wooden. Samuel removed them from the box with a confused look. They weren't ugly or damaged in any way, but they were... Plain. The exact opposite of all the other frames he'd seen. They looked sturdier than the rest, and not as flashy, or with any useless accessories. His hands trembled, but he put them on. He saw an immediate difference in the room. It was darker, and filled with decay. Cobwebs covered the shelves, and dust was all throughout the room. But the glasses... All the flashy glasses from before looked different. Twisted and useless, almost ready to snap into pieces if they weren't handled just right.
“You shouldn't have done that.”
Samuel spun to see the shopkeeper staring at him. Blood dribbled from his mouth, and his soul was black as pitch. Samuel's vision began fading, and he passed out.
When he woke up, he was back at his house. At first, he considered that it was probably a dream, but when he felt his face, the wooden glasses were still there.
“You ought to avoid that shop from now on.”
A strange man was standing by Samuel's bed. He also was wearing wooden glasses. His soul was white.
“You're being protected, but places like that are still dangerous.”
“Who are you?” Samuel asked.
“That part isn't important yet, but there is much that you need to know.”