Months ago Ken Broad came up with the idea of a group of writers getting together and writing stories for Halloween all linked to one photo of an Edwardian girl who owns a an antique shop and all featuring haunted items purchased through her shop. It was then that this more gentle and kind ghost story came to me. More recently a scarier story began to surface. So I am posting this one today and the other tomorrow.
Fall Foliage Drive
Every year for the past twenty five years my wife and I have ventured out in the car on the third Saturday of October to make the 200 mile round trip through the Helderbergs into the Catskills and back again. The fall foliage is spectacular at that time of year. Many people may find a fall foliage drive an odd way to spend a first date but my wife was a native of southern California and had never had the experience before that first drive. Back in those days, I wanted nothing more than to spend as much time with her alone as I could and several hours in a car seemed the perfect way. More recently with the kids away at college it felt as though we spent too much time together but we keep up the tradition in hopes of rekindle the lost romance.
Just as we had done the first time, we stopped at a small apple orchard along the way and purchased a few apples some apple cider and some delectable cider doughnuts to enjoy with the sandwiches I usually make myself. I took the opportunity to sneak off for a moment and make a quick phone call to confirm that my plans for Monday were sorted out. “I love you.” I said as went to hang up the phone.
My wife came around the corner just then and replied, “I love you too.”
I tried not to smile nervously but she had noticed the gift shop so anything my face was doing went unseen.
Our next stop was at a little roadside stand setup to sell pumpkins. It always amazes me that the farmer still trusts people to be honest and put the correct amount in the little wooden box that is left for such a purpose. We decided on just the one small pumpkin this year.
Around lunchtime, we pulled off the road and enjoyed our picnic at a scenic overlook that has breath-taking views of one of the valleys below. Then we carried on through the small blink and you will miss them villages that are dotted along the country roads. One such village had always been our particular favourite. The once lavish Victorian houses still stand tall and proud on both sides of the road. The town has a small set of waterfalls and is in the shade of a small mountain. As we made our way through the town, we sat in silence neither having much to say to the other. Long ago, we used to dream that someday we would retire to such a sleepy little place. Both my wife and I had obligations that kept us in the city. We rounded a bend and passed the final stretch of lovely painted ladies when we saw one house neither of us had noticed before. It was set back from the main road and not in line with the other homes we had just passed. It seemed to be framed by the hill behind it in a way that made it appear to almost hover above the ground. A small wooden sign over the gingerbread-trimmed veranda read, Shoppe of Earthbound Souls, all welcome, open all hours as long as somebody is in.
“Turn the car around. I want to go have a look around that shop.” My wife said.
“Are you sure dear? What if nobody is in?” I asked because we had never done anything different on our little foliage trip in twenty-five years. I knew the answer though and began to slow the car down.
As we pulled up the drive, a lace curtain parted slightly in the front window. “Well somebody is obviously in.” My wife said.
Over the door was a little bell that chimed as we opened it. The smell of oak and dust instantly hit me as we made our way in. The walls, floors, ceilings and even the furniture was all of the same period as the house. The gentle voice of a woman called out from somewhere in the depths, “please go ahead and have a look around, I will be with you shortly.”
My wife and I explored the various rooms both downstairs and up. It was more like a museum than a shop. Each room was set up as if it would have been when a family would have lived in it over a hundred years ago. As we came down the back stairs and made our way through the parlour, we finally caught sight of the proprietor. She was a beauty. Her long dark hair hung in loose curls. She wore an elegant long white lace gown that gathered at the waist and flowed down to the ground. She appeared to float rather than walk as she made her way across the room to where my wife and I stood.
“I hope you are enjoying your visit to my shop. I am Sarahann. Please sit and have a cup of tea.”
Neither my wife nor I could resist her charm so after praising the quality of the items in the shop, we sat down at the table and allowed our host to pour us each a cup of tea. I must admit it was the nicest cup of tea I have ever had.
“May I ask what has led you to my shop this afternoon?” She asked cutting off slices of sponge cake for both my wife and I.
After my wife had explained all about our little anniversary tradition Sarahann said, “I have just the item for you.” Then she got up and left the room. She returned with a small jewellery box and opened it up. It held several items of jewellery. My wife scooped up the largest and most gaudy piece in the box. The ring featured a large lapis set in an ornate white gold setting. She slid the ring on her finger and the room grew still. The air felt thick and heavy. Sounds slowed and muffled. I felt warmth spread through my body. I wondered if there was something in the tea.
Sarahann’s voice was in my head saying, “Your wife has chosen well. I think it is just the item you need. It belonged to a couple who were faithful to each other until their tragic death. All that you see here once was theirs.”
I felt confused and sluggish. I looked to my wife who had fallen asleep in the seat next to me she was still just as beautiful as the day we met. Her eyes blinked open. The sandwich wrappers still lay on our laps. “Well we must be getting old Maria. We never took a nap on our anniversary excursion before.” I joked.
She sat up and smiled. The sun lit her hair from behind and I once again remembered why I was in love with her. I watched her as she took the garbage to a nearby can. She still moved with such grace. Then my phone rang. It was my secretary. “Jenny, I have to tell you something. I won’t be able to go away with you on Monday.” As I hung up the phone. The sound of Jenny asking why rang through my ears. The answer was because I love my wife.
As we drove through our favourite sleepy little town, my wife put one hand on my knee. “Where did you get that ring dear?” I asked.
“I honestly don’t remember. It must have been one of those little antique shops.”
We then rounded a bend and noticed a lovely Victorian home framed perfectly by the hill behind it. It had a for sale sign out front. “Remember how we used to talk of retiring to this little town?”