Among the Ancient

This day, just as every day, was a quiet day in the antique shop at the corner of 5th and Ross Street. Marielle Wyatt stood behind the counter as she always did and moved her finger over the maze of whorls in the old wood. Outside, the weather was putrid. Or at least that was the opinion expressed by Ms. Thatch as she browsed through the chipped German beer steins and eyeballed an incredibly well-done painting of rotten fruit. You could tell she did not approve by the curious appearance of wrinkles gathering upon her wrinkles. It was like a great big Wrinkle Convention around her nose and mouth. Suddenly little lines and crevices appeared in her skin that you wouldn’t have known existed if she’d simply smiled at you. Ms. Thatch rarely smiled though, so Marielle dropped the train of thought and began to reorganize the counter for the sixth time that day.

As she was straightening the mints and gum in their display near the cash register, Marielle felt a rush of humid air and heard the bells at the door jingle. She smelled summer on the wafts of warm floating over the air conditioning; the heat blushing sultry in a way she’d never experienced and just beginning to smell like barbeque at five on a Friday evening.

“Mari?” called Ms. Thatch in her wild un-tuned piano voice, “How much is this bureau?”

“The little mahogany one or the bigger dark one with the carved inlay?”

“The big one.”

“I believe that one is…” Marielle murmured to herself as she slipped from behind the counter and went to find her customer amongst the treasures of Mr. Lorie’s antique store. Ms. Thatch was stroking her pudgy fingers along the side of the sturdy chest of drawers.

“$1500,” Marielle answered, looking at the large ruby on Ms. Thatch’s right pinky finger. “Anglo Indian Rosewood,” she added, “Made in 1914.”

Ms. Thatch mhmmed. Twisting the fabric of her skirt in her fingers, Marielle tried to decide whether this was positive or negative, and shivered a little in the cold back room. But time took pity on her and Ms. Thatch announced that she would have her son come and pick it up in the next week. The two women walked back to the counter and took their places. Marielle punched the numbers into the register and slid a credit card along its edge. She looked up to give Ms. Thatch the receipt and plastic back when she noticed a man looking very comfortable in a red Victorian armchair just fifteen feet from them. Ms. Thatch looked behind her curiously, saw the man, and winked at Marielle, stealing the store clerk’s attention from him.

Marielle glanced nervously at the stranger and then wished the plump old lady a good day. Pulling her sweater tightly around her, she cleared her throat. The man in the armchair continued taking in his surroundings, oblivious. She tried again, louder this time. Nothing.

“Excuse me sir,” she said, but the man was closely inspecting the arm of the chair now and paid her no mind. “Excuse me,” she said again, “Mr. Lorie asks that shoppers refrain from lounging on the furniture until they’ve paid for it.”

“Don’t you have anything better to do?” he asked. Marielle felt her cheeks redden. She stuttered.

“Look, babe, it wasn’t an insult. Just an honest question,” the man continued. His hair was a sooty black, she noticed, many shades darker than her own light brown curls. Neither one said anything for a moment. That is, until the armchair lounger decided to answer the question for her, “The answer is ‘yes.’”

Still stunned, Marielle asked, “What?”

“You have something better to do than waste away in this Podunk Midwest town with its population of three. You can’t possibly be content to work in a junk store for the rest of your life.”

“These are antiques!” she blurted.

“Ancient junk. Even better,” her mysterious opponent sneered. Her slack, gaping jaw snapped shut and she seemed to be a tiny bit angry. The man in the chair looked pleased.

“What’s your name?” she asked with an attempt at sounding authoritative.

He stood slowly, stretched, and took a step forwards, uncertain but uncaring if he looked like a threat.

“Oooh, going to report me to the sheriff, are you? Would you like to write it down, sweetheart?” he mocked, “Or should I give you something to remember me by?”

The man took another step closer.

“No.” It was a tiny squeak which issued from Marielle’s mouth. It barely counted as resistance.

He had backed her against the counter and held her there with his eyes only, their bodies still completely separate. She was forced to take in the vein at his temple and the pulsing of blood through it that she could almost feel as his ink-dark irises swallowed up the rest of his eyes.

“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” he whispered, “My name is Enoch Blackburn.”

The End

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