Have you ever been driving around in a deeply rural area of the country? Ever gone by one of these yard or barn sales? Ever wonder what you might find? This is a tale about a man who just wanted to check out what kind of “things” might be for sale at just such a place. Enjoy!
Things for Sale
by James R. Colbert, Jr.
Carl absent-mindedly reached for the volume control of his car’s stereo system and turned down the music. The exit was just a little bit further ahead. Carl Geddes had been traveling toward his boyhood home for two days now. It was the end of October, Halloween, a chill had really started to take hold and in this area of the country, once old Jack Frost came to visit he definitely overstayed his welcome, at least as far as Carl was concerned. Fortunately, it had not yet snowed. The cold and snow were just two of the many reasons Carl had moved away, almost twelve years ago already. At the time, he had no intention of ever coming back. He had left the day after his twenty-first birthday and had hoped to keep this place back in his distant memories, the more distant, the better. He never could understand why his family still lived in the area and after all the years of badgering, he’d finally been talked into coming up north for a visit. Halloween had always been a huge event at the Geddes home with much pomp and ceremony, led mostly by his grandparents. In fact, his surviving grandmother insisted he makes it this year. She seemed especially adamant this time, that it was very important to her that he be there. She told Carl that she had a special secret that only he was to know and that he just had to be there in person this Halloween so, he agreed. He had always been quite fond of her and his grandfather. He glanced at his hand gripping the wheel and saw the ring his grandpa Tom had given him the day he’d left to seek his fortune.
“Wear this ring, Carl. It has been passed down in our family and I want you to have it now. This ring will bring you good fortune and keep evil away, wear it always.” That’s what Grandpa Tom had told him then. Carl took the ring, but never really followed that advice until the day he got the call about his grandfather’s passing. His mother had called a few weeks before that telling him that his Grandpa Tom was really quite ill and that he should get back home to see him as soon as he could, but Carl could not manage to find the time away from his business. Ever since that day, he’d worn the ring, partially as a tribute to his grandfather and partly to relieve his guilt for not seeing him one last time. So, here he was, just in case something else like that was about to happen. His grandmother was getting to be very old now and probably realized her time was running out. She may want to have Carl organize and place a value on her and his grandfather’s vast collection of things. Carl had seen one of the rooms where these treasures were hoarded when he was a young boy and he found it fascinating. That was the day that directed his career path as a highly sought after antique dealer. After that day, Carl seemed able to soak up knowledge about all things that were old and valuable. He learned all about the little town and region he grew up in, right from its origins and often perused the many so-called antique shops that dotted the region, always looking to find a deal to his advantage.
His mind suddenly snapped back to the task at hand and found himself starting to cross into the other lane. He quickly made the needed correction. Once things were back to how they should be and he was safely on the off ramp, he glanced around to scan the surrounding landscape. He’d managed to miss the explosion of color that the autumn season brought when the leaves turned, one of the few things he did miss since he moved to a warmer climate. As he approached the oversized stop sign he noticed a hand-painted sign someone had placed directly across from the intersection. It had been leaned up against the guardrail. “Things for Sale,” it read. Underneath the red letters was a crude arrow-like symbol indicating that one should turn left to find the sale. Carl chuckled to himself at the wording of the sign, yet he felt a sudden and unexpected urge to find out just what kind of things the seller might have to offer. He hadn’t graced an amateur yard sale with his presence since leaving the area, but for some reason, this strange little sign advertising “Things for Sale” seemed incredibly tempting. His destination, the sleepy little town of Belmont, New York, lay to his right and he’d already gotten over into the far right side of the exit ramp in order to turn that direction. He glanced quickly around to see if there were any vehicles coming his way. There were none. A decision was reached. Carl pushed the lever to indicate a left turn and proceeded to head away from Belmont on a quest to find what “things” were for sale.
As he traveled down the road he kept a lookout for another sign that might indicate he was on the right track. After driving for a couple of miles, he spotted a similarly hand painted sign with the “Things for Sale” wording and a second harder to read line stating that a turn was ahead one-half mile away. Carl began scanning for the turn and as the sign stated, a road, Upper Ridge Road, was coming up on his right that led away from the main route. A sign painted just like the others, containing the now familiar words, told Carl that he was still moving toward the right location. The roadway soon turned from reasonably decent pavement to less well-maintained pavement to dirt and gravel. The road also narrowed as he drove along, a common occurrence in the region. Carl did not care for this situation. His vehicle, a perfectly restored 1959 Cadillac Coupe de Ville, was one of his favorites and he did not want anything to happen to its finish. He began to question his compulsive decision to find this foolish sale and started to look for a spot that would accommodate a way to get turned around. Just as he was starting to think he may have to back up for a rather long way, Carl saw another one of the “sale” signs that stated a second turn was up ahead. His interest was suddenly renewed in finding the sale location, even though he didn’t really know why. As he approached the intersection, Carl hesitated and stopped the car. An ancient, almost illegible road sign, one actually made from a wooden plank, informed Carl he was about to head down a road named “Lost Valley Road.” It looked like it would live up to its name. Although at first glance it appeared that no one had been down the road (which really looked more like a path that horse-drawn wagons had once used) for many, many years. He exited the car to look more carefully. He discovered there was another sign, partially hidden by overgrown brush, that continued to direct Carl ahead to the great sale. As he looked at the sorry excuse for a road, it seemed to change, slowly becoming more of a street than first appearances indicated. Carl lit a cigarette and paced around his ‘Caddy. By the time he’d finished his smoke, the road seemed to be in much better, passable condition and he decided that he’d gone this far, so he might as well see it through. He slipped back behind the wheel and started down “Lost Valley Road.”
Very quickly, the road began to descend into what Carl assumed was “Lost Valley.” Although he did not recall ever hearing of this area. Though he’d been gone for some time, Carl had researched and explored the region quite extensively when he lived there and simply had never heard of any spot known as “Lost Valley.” He noticed that the trees and brush grew especially thick along the road, so much so that even though the day had been one of a bright and full fall sun with nothing more than wisps of clouds in the sky, the road and surrounding area were actually quite dark. Carl even began thinking about turning on his headlights for a moment or two as the growing gloom seemed to quickly envelope any light that managed to seep through. The road seemed to go on for endless miles, in a constant downward descent that was, in some areas, frighteningly steep and more than once Carl tried to look for a spot with ample room to maneuver the big car so he could abandon this fiasco and get to his real destination. The search proved fruitless though and he felt he had no recourse other than to continue on.
The road eventually seemed to level off somewhat and widen out a bit. Carl rounded a sharp curve and the thick, suffocating woods gave way to a clearing. Carl stopped at the sight that appeared before him. There were several barn-like buildings and a large, cobbled together, multi-floored structure he supposed was, or at least, used to be the residence at the far end of the clearing. Carl saw immediately that two of the buildings had collapsed at some point, though not recently. An ancient, weathered, barely legible sign mounted on a massive, old, half-dead, oak tree indicated that this was the place he’d find things for sale. Carl paused a bit before continuing on. He was miles away from anywhere in a place he’d never been, or heard of. He’d read several “true crime” stories that involved just such a scenario and those stories never turned out well. He popped open the caddy’s glove box and felt for the reassuring shape of his 38 Special, snub nose revolver. His finger touched the familiar object and he found himself letting out a sigh of relief. He placed the small gun next to him, just in case something bad happened. Carl then nudged the big car forward at a cautious pace. As he neared the home he could see that many, many years had passed since any type of maintenance had been performed on the structure. It appeared decayed, covered in places with thick, greenish-gray moss. Several windows had been boarded up and a few just had cracked or broken panes of glass still in place. A massive porch surrounded the entire front of the home and on it sat a figure in a rocking chair. Carl had, by now, pulled his car up near the front of the house and stopped. He waved gingerly at the figure and smiled. The person simply nodded an acknowledgment of greeting. Carl again hesitated, then remembering the revolver, he placed the gun in his front pocket, turned the ignition off and exited the car.
“Hello! I hope this is the right place. Is this where the sale is at?” Carl spoke in a voice he’d hoped was loud enough, but not overly loud. He held out his hand as to shake the old-timer’s.
The figure, clearly an ancient, wizened man, rose from the chair looked Carl over and responded in a wheezing raspy voice. He made no move to respond to Carl’s handshake gesture. “Don’t take ta’ shakin’ hands, friend, arthritis. Been a long time since we had anybody come a-lookin’. Name’s Zebulon Habsucht, what might be of interest to ye?”
Carl nodded and put his hand down. He didn’t have a ready answer to the man’s question. He hadn’t really given much thought about what he wanted. “Well, I suppose I’d like to just look and see what you have, I guess. See if something catches my eye.”
“Are ye from these parts?” The old man asked.
“I moved away quite a few years ago, but my family still lives in the area. I haven’t been back for about twelve years now. You are really far off the beaten path here. I used to know the area pretty well, but I sure don’t remember your road at all. It seems yours is the only place on it.”
“We like it that way. Where be yer kin’s homestead?”
Carl chuckled as he wondered about the way the old man spoke. Like a stereotype backwoods hayseed. “Oh, they don’t have a homestead, just a house in town, Belmont. My relatives did own a farm a long time ago, but they lost that during the Depression. It was over near the old, abandoned quarry that all the kids used to swim in back when I was a lad. They’ve lived in town ever since. My mother still lives in the house her parents had. That’s where I grew up. It’s the house her own grandfather and father built together after they lost the farm. It has been in the family ever since.”
“Belmont. Belmont…that’s the village next to the river, yes, I always thought it ’twas a nice little town. Oh, it’s been many a year since we made it into town, many a year. Old gravel pit ya’ say? Think I ‘member the place, Hamilton’s I recall.”
Carl was rapidly losing interest in the conversation. “Yeah…so, where are the things you have for sale?”
“Some be in the barn yonder, some ‘round back of it. Got some old cars too, if that be somethin’ ya’ might fancy. Start to lookin’. My father, Eylam is about and I’ll be round in a bit if ya’ see a piece you have a desire for. Always ready to dicker the price, or mayhap make a trade, if ya’ be willin’.”
“Okay, thanks,” Carl replied as he simultaneously turned away from the old geezer and started to head toward the larger barn. He reached the sliding door and pushed it open to a sight he did not expect.
The barn was absolutely filled to bursting with, well…things. All types of things. Hand tools, household goods, pots and pans, jewelry, and just about anything else he could imagine. A narrow walkway meandered through the stacks and piles of things so one could still get to everything. He noticed a small item to his left and picked it up with great care. It was an honest-to-God, gold, mechanical pocket watch. A Patek Philippe. He’d wanted one like it for years. It was very old, probably made, at least, a century before Carl was born. It was also in absolutely perfect condition. As though he’d gone back in a time machine and was holding a brand new one that had just been made. Its value was certainly well over a million dollars.
“Incredible.” Carl thought to himself. He set it back down carefully. Carl continued to look around and could not believe what he was seeing. Each time he focused on something and inspected the item closer he found it to be in perfect, flawless condition. All the things he’d ever longed for seemed to be there; very rare, very expensive items. For all practical purposes everything he noticed also seemed to be brand new. Making his way through the barn his mind raced at the thought that he’d found a treasure trove and wondered how much the old man knew about the value of some of these things he had. Not only could he acquire many of the items he’d long coveted, but also make a sizable fortune in the antique marketplace as well. He’d have to feel the old timer out to see how much of an advantage he’d have when talking price. He exited the end of the barn and walked outside once again.
Behind the barn, he noticed a rather large, overgrown open area that was filled with cars. As he began to approach the lot, Carl noticed that these were not just more of the commonly seen pieces of rusted junk that permeated the region, but a car aficionado’s dream come true. Virtually every era of car manufacturing was represented; a better than museum quality 1909 Model “T,” a stunning 1957 two-door Chevy Nomad wagon in absolutely bone stock, showroom condition, (both were cars Carl had wanted to acquire for years) and, at least, a hundred other older classic and not-so-classic vehicles. Everyone that Carl made a point to inspect closer turned out to be in ideal, perfect, flawless condition. Amazingly, each vehicle that he looked closely at was one he’d always coveted.
He was almost too excited to notice that there was really no way this old timer would have such a world-class collection of cars just sitting around outside in an overgrown field, not to mention the stunning number of hundreds, even thousands of pristine, virtually new, antiques; museum pieces really, laying in some decaying barn located in the middle of nowhere. Almost. Something didn’t add up and that made Carl nervous. He had a sudden feeling of being watched and glanced back toward the barn. A bent, relic of a man slowly made his way toward Carl.
At first, he thought it was the old man who’d spoken to him when he arrived, but it was a different person. This must be the man’s father, Eylam, thought Carl.
“Hello, there,” Carl called out. The man shuffled along at an agonizingly slow pace and weakly waved. It took the man, at least, a full minute to cover the fifty or so feet to reach Carl’s position. He spoke a greeting to Carl. His voice was whispery and produced a hissing sound.
“Zeb tells me ‘ya got family ‘bout these parts. In old Phillipsville. What be yer family name? Know just ‘bout every family round hea’, likely to know yer kin as well.”
Carl was amazed about a few things regarding the man. If it was possible, this man appeared even older than the ancient fossil who’d greeted him initially. His skin was sickly pale, almost translucent. One eye was obviously sightless, it was a pale milky color that seemed to gaze out at an angle away from where the aged man was facing. He also referred to Belmont as Phillipsville, an archaic name that hadn’t been used since 1870. Carl had never run into anyone who even knew about that part of the sleepy, little village’s history. Things were getting stranger and more than a little spooky now. The disheveled appearance and smell of the old man didn’t help matters. A musty, old smell of things long forgotten about. The man’s teeth revealed a lifetime of neglect, many were missing and stained a dark rusty brown color. Carl also could not help but notice that the man’s canines almost seemed… fang-like; which, of course, only added to the creepiness factor. The air around Carl suddenly seemed to drop in temperature by several degrees and he shivered involuntarily. Though the man moved quite slow, Carl had a feeling that it was mostly an act. He was more glad than ever that he’d thought to put the gun in his pocket.
“Well, my name is Geddes, Carl Geddes.”
The decrepit man thoughtfully rubbed his chin and smiled. “Geddes…yes, yes, I think my Zeb was right, the old Hamilton place, that’s it. Your grandmother got herself married to one of them Geddes boys, back in, oh, let’s see now, musta’ been back ‘bout ’23 ‘er so, after the Great War, Thomas it was. I remember now.”
Carl was dumbfounded and momentarily speechless. The other old man did mention the Hamilton name, but he didn’t make the connection then. How could it be that these ancient, backwoods hicks would have ever heard of his family? The old guy was right, though. He spoke as though he was at the wedding. Although, given the appearance of the man…maybe he was!
“Ah, well, that is correct, sir. My grandparents were married in 1923. That is pretty amazing that you would know that. What is your name? How do you know that?”
“Oh, we’ve been here for a long, long time. Know lots of folks families. Done lots ‘o trade with folks over the years. See anything ya’ want? Anything ya’ might want ta’ buy or…trade?” The man’s one good eye lit up as he said this.
Carl, of course, saw many things he wanted. He’d never seen so many things he wanted in one place before. He was also starting to pay more attention to a warning voice telling him something was very wrong here.
“Yes, I do see several items of interest, but I really must ask how you know so much about my family? Not to be rude, but I’ve never heard of this place and I knew the area pretty well and I would think I would have at least heard something about a place like this, I mean with what you have here… damn, everyone should know about it! How long have you been doing this?”
The ancient man smiled in a sly way. He seemed to grow just a bit more sturdy than moments ago, a bit more agile and moved just a little closer to Carl. His voice was just a little clearer too.
“Oh Zeb and me know all ‘bout your family, just like we know ‘bout all the families ‘round hea.’ Lots of folks have stopped by o’re the years. That’s how we came to have all of this.” The man gestured sweepingly at the area. “We think it best to keep the sale quiet, just for folks who…desire things.”
Carl could see the man was now within arms reach and felt a sudden compulsion to get away, yet he could not move. At that moment, he heard a voice coming from the barn.
“That’s enough, Father! That’s enough!”
The man in front of Carl seemed to fade just a bit at this admonishment. The first man Carl had seen now walked toward him. He moved with purpose and strength. He didn’t seem quite so old anymore.
“But, Zebulon, he came of his own free will. That means he’s ours. Just like the others before.” The man licked his lips hungrily.
“No, no, not like the others. Look, he wears the cursed black ring! Do you not see?”
Carl glanced at his hand and saw the ring “Zeb” was referring to. The black onyx and silver ring his grandfather had given him all those years ago. That must be the real reason Zeb didn’t shake his hand earlier, the ring. He placed his hand in his pocket, the one that held the revolver.
The man called Zeb spoke again. “You won’t be needin’ that peashooter, won’t help ya’ none no how. We been here since the beginnin’ and we’ll be here long afta’ ya’ turn to dust, Carl Geddes. You chose wise to be a wearin’ the ring, curse those who forged it! Before that, we ruled all. We was free to trade at will then, before yer kind drove us here, forced to stay in shadows, only doing trade with the chosen few. Only once before has one been allowed to leave, no trade could be done with that one neither.
Carl found himself holding his breath in fear. He gulped air and stammered out, “W-What does that mean, only one was allowed to leave? What, what did you do with the others? H-How many have not left?”
Zeb and his father smiled. This time, the “father” spoke. “The numbers are beyond counting now.” A crooked smile formed on the ancient thing’s mouth. The red-rusty-brown teeth were clearly visible as were the fang-like canines. “They stay to give us life. We give them their desire and they give us life. That is the business we do here. A simple trade. There must be something you would trade for, Carl. The only condition is that you must choose of your own will, otherwise, we cannot do business with you, Carl Geddes. Look around you, is there nothing you desire? You have to only give up the ring and we will give you that which you covet most. Otherwise, you must go, now. There will be others come by soon enough, there always is, always will be.”
The two men then seemed to change, morph into something else, something that conjured images in Carl’s mind of a world still in its primordial state, something that would strike paralyzing fear into the most savage of predators. Then the whole area began to change appearance as well. Weeds and brush seemed to engulf the field of old automobiles that now all seemed to be in a high state of decay. Carl ran back through the barn and noticed that all of the treasures now seemed to resemble large heaps of rusted and decaying junk. He made it to his ‘Caddy, got behind the wheel, fired up the big car’s V8 engine, and tore out of the yard like a madman; careening up the long, narrow excuse for a road.
The road wasn’t nearly as smooth as Carl remembered it being just a little while ago. It was really dark now and he turned on his headlights. He drove much too fast for such a poor road and pushed the ‘Caddy’s suspension to the limit. He finally topped the seemingly endless grade and almost drove directly into a ditch, but was able to regain control and sped down the next road that led him away from the accursed “Lost Valley.” He made it to the blacktop and things started to look a bit more familiar. He turned and headed directly to Belmont. He managed to time it so that he had to stop at one of the little town’s three signal lights and waited at the empty intersection. The streets and sidewalks were void of both vehicles and people and after the light failed to turn back to green Carl decided to drive on through. He continued on to his family’s home, parked the car and sat quietly contemplating what had happened. After a few minutes, the porch light came on and his Grandmother stepped out and started toward him. Carl got out of the car to greet her and could feel that a cold chill had begun to settle in for the evening.
“Hello, Gramma! See, I made it!”
Carl’s grandmother, ever the worrier, replied. “Carl, what are you doing out here in the dark, I’ve been worried sick about you.”
Carl attempted a playful grin. “You worry too much, Gram. I got a little lost is all.” Carl hesitated for a moment. “Hey…have, have you ever heard of Lost Valley Road?”
His grandmothers face turned serious. “Yes, and that is exactly what I was worried about, my dear Grandson. I’m so glad you found your way back home.” She smiled slightly, clearly relieved of a long pent-up burden. “You have proven your Grampa’s choice was right. The ring has accepted you as the new guardian. Now, let’s get in out of this chill and we can catch up. It’s been so long, I have so much to tell you.”
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