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“The Visitor” by Ava C.

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Posted on 10/31/2020

“The Visitor”

 Ava C. (small image)

By Ava C., 17, of Kentucky, U.S.A.

 

Mr. Easton polished one of the dusty cuckoo clocks with a cloth, setting his silver keys on the counter.

“Now, if there are any emergencies,” he said, “my telephone number is on the desk in my office. I trust you will keep my store nice and tidy.”

My stomach churned with discomfort as I imagined every possible sequence of unlucky events that could occur while he was away—reckless burglars, rodent invasions, shelves toppling  over like a chain of dominoes.

With a swallow, I replied, “Yes, sir.”

He smiled and closed the creaky wooden door behind him, leaving me alone to watch his antique shop for the first time.

I had begun working as a clerk in the quaint store a couple of weeks prior, but never before had I realized how blood-curdling it appeared at nighttime. The only light in the room derived from rustic oil lanterns and a row of flickering candles, giving the other antiques an eerie orange glow. Without an old busybody like Easton dusting the shelves and sweeping the floors, the ticking of the clocks struck me as nearly thunderous.

Soon, though, I became lost in my thoughts about the peculiar conversation I had with Mr. Easton a few days ago.

 

“You must have terminated the person who originally had my job,” I laughed. “You really take pride in the cleanliness of your store.”

He frowned. “No, he was an excellent worker. He reminded me of you, actually.”

With a tilt of my head, I asked, “Then why did he leave? Did he quit?”

Mr. Easton’s eyes grew dark as he fiddled with the quill he held in his hands. “No, George, he didn’t quit. He was murdered.”

My face became hot as my back stiffened. “I am so sorry, sir,” I said, not knowing how to apologize for introducing such a tragic topic.

“Don’t be.” Easton waved a hand. “It was an anomalous incident. No one could have prepared for what occurred that night. It won’t happen again… or, at least, I hope not.”  

He eyed the glass case of antique daggers directly above my head.

 

My body jolted when the rhythm of the clocks was interrupted by a woman entering through the door, synchronous with the seven chimes of the grandfather clock telling the time.

“Good evening, madam,” I said. “Welcome to Easton’s Fine Antiques. May I assist you with anything?”

The woman, frail and dressed in a voluminous skirt and corset, appeared to be a typical antique shop customer, judging from my experience with the very few people who I’d seen enter and exit. Her cane dragged the floor, but it did not make a sound. I touched my ear just to ensure it was working properly.

“No, thank you,” she said when she approached the counter. “My name is Agatha Easton—Edgar’s wife.”

I tipped my hat to her and extended my hand to shake hers. “The pleasure is mine.”

I sheepishly lowered my hand after she did not accept the handshake. Perhaps, I figured, it would have been too progressive for an old-fashioned woman like her. To compensate, I found her a chair and pulled it out for her so she could sit. I sat next to her.

Pouring myself a cup of tea, I asked, “Would you like a drink?”

Mrs. Easton flinched slightly. “No, thank you, dear.”

I scratched my beard and glanced in the other direction as blood rushed to my ears. I suppose I’ve always been a bit socially inept, but this woman made my skin crawl just by sitting across from me. What was I to say now that she was not occupied by the tea?

Just when I thought my intimidation would finally climb into panic, Mrs. Easton loosened up and conversed with me. My tense shoulders softened as she reminisced about the opening of the store.

“It’s been nearly twenty years now since this place was established,” she said, shaking her head. “Edgar has always been a collector, ever since I’ve known him. When we first married, he had a stash of watches and jewelry under his mattress. It seemed as if he loved gold even more than he loved me.”

Her last sentence indicated to me that she was not as fond of the shop as she seemed when she began.

I sipped my tea. “What did he do for a living before this?”

“He was a traveling salesman,” Mrs. Easton said. “Always left me for London or Liverpool while I stayed home and raised the children. It was difficult sometimes, of course. I hated being alone, very much so…”

Mrs. Easton’s emotional interlude faded into white noise as I became immersed in her wire-rimmed spectacles. They were gold-toned, perhaps ten-karat, and magnified her cloudy blue eyes. However, the lenses did not reflect my face in the slightest, and I could not help but notice.

“How long have you been working here?” Mrs. Easton asked me, snapping me out of the trance.

“Around two weeks,” I responded.

She chuckled. “I’m sure you’re well aware by now that my husband is a nasty stickler for tidiness?” Her words began as light and playful, but when she uttered the word “nasty,” I couldn't help but wonder if she actually meant it.

I shook my head. “Before he left, he told me to keep this place neat. I actually began to picture the look on his face if something had happened while he was gone. Needless to say, it terrified me.”

Mrs. Easton leaned closer to me. “You didn’t hear this from me,” she whispered, “but my husband frequently knocks over fragile objects. He once ruined a dozen antiques in a matter of days.”

I snickered, and she rose to her feet and began to glimpse at the store’s merchandise. Her walk was not wobbly or feeble; rather, she glided across the wooden floors without so much as a creak. This lack of noise stood out to me, as the floor usually growled when I made my way across the shop. After turning it over in my head for a few minutes, I dismissed the peculiarity as common sense. Mrs. Easton was probably short of forty-five kilograms. I was nearly double.

“I hate this place and everything to do with it,” she said suddenly.

I turned in my chair to face her. “Why?”

Mrs. Easton bit her lip. “Edgar has forgotten about me. He pays no attention to me because he only cares about his antiques. He ignores me while he goes about his business, just like he did when he was a stupid young salesman.”

I was taken aback by her brazenness. “I am sure that isn’t true,” I said. “He seems to be a caring man.”

She glared at me with beady eyes, causing me to sink in my seat. “He is not caring to people. Only objects.”

Pondering the notion, I watched her as she peered at the wall of daggers and remembered how Mr. Easton had looked at them earlier. A cold ripple hit my stomach as I realized that maybe it was not a coincidence.

One of the grandfather clocks suddenly cut through the calm night air with an ominous chime, and then another, and six more.

“Good heavens,” Mrs. Easton said, stiff with alarm. “I had best be going before Edgar returns.”

I called out goodbye, but she rushed out the door in a hurry. Her shiny shoes seemed to slide across the floor with ease despite her short stride. When she skittered past the mirrors hanging on the wall, I did not perceive even a hint of her reflection. I didn’t think much of it—perhaps I simply couldn’t see it from the angle in which I was standing. I was more preoccupied with wondering why she did not wish to see her own husband.

The store returned to its unsettling demeanor once again, and I wondered if being alone was what made it so. Without someone with whom to speak, I noticed the time passing on the hands of the clocks, the porcelain dolls’ lifelike eyes glaring, the inferno of the candlelight flaring.

Not long after I began washing the windows in the chilly breeze, Mr. Easton came strolling down the sidewalk with his hands in his coat pockets.

“Hello, George,” he told me.

I turned to face him, still scrubbing the glass. “Hello. I was just closing up shop.”

Mr. Easton peered through one of the clean windows and frowned. “It doesn’t seem we received many visitors tonight.”

I rubbed my neck. “Just one, sir. Agatha, your wife.”

He squinted at me. “I’m sorry?”

“Your wife,” I said again. “She stayed for a while and talked to me, but she left in a hurry.”

Mr. Easton suddenly looked pale, as if he were about to be sick. I was swept with a wave of nausea, stuck with the feeling that Agatha’s visit was anything but normal.

When he opened his mouth, I expected him to say that his wife was ill. She looked old and frail, and her sour anger led me to believe that she did not feel well.

Instead of speaking, Mr. Easton fell to one knee and slumped back against the brick wall.

“Sir, are you okay?” I asked, attempting to wave my hands and awaken his dull eyes. “Edgar!”

“I can’t believe this,” he choked. “It must be true. She must have told you her name. It was the only way you could have known about her.”

His eyes bulged, and I dropped to my knees to shake him by the shoulders.

“Sir, what do you mean?” I cried.

Mr. Easton sat there for a moment, staring into a void. Then he threw his head back and gave a jolly belly laugh. I stood and watched him, unsure what to do.

“Mr. Easton?” I whimpered when the laughter subsided.

“Agatha’s dead,” he blurted.

My head spun. I sat down next to him and felt prickling hot adrenaline spread through my veins like a wildfire blazing through the trees.

What?” I said.

“She’s been dead for twenty-seven years,” Mr. Easton said, “and the last time she came for a visit, she took your predecessor with her.”  

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