The Exchange Part 1

The cool autumn breeze hung in the air, tugging at the multi-hued leaves on the trees. A dark Victorian mansion lay down a long, winding road lined with twisted pines. The front door swung freely in the wind, slapping the doorframe with a rhythm all its own. The shutters, stained and rotted, shivered from the cold breeze as the dirty, cracked windows stared disconsolately across the garden – a tangled mass of briars and brambles. The sun flitted behind the clouds as if shielding itself from having to look down upon the house.

Jonathan Spenser trudged up the pathway from the road to the front door. Slung over his shoulder was a bedroll, and under his arm, he carried a satchel with his worldly possessions – a toothbrush, a bar of soap, a can opener, and a Bible. As his foot settled on the porch, the floorboards let loose an ominous groan. He tested his next step carefully before trusting it with his full weight. Derelict houses could be tricky, especially when alone. Falling through the floor with no hope of rescue meant focused self-reliance. Time to sit and dream of a better life and circumstances, and this old house fits the bill nicely. Big, imposing, and protected by rumors of unexplained fear. The sort of thing that kept people away and made it possible for vagrants like himself to take up residence without being roused up in the middle of the night by the local sheriff. He caught the door as it swung towards him and, with a tug, pulled it shut – fastening the crossbar to prevent it from coming open again.

Fading sunlight refracted through the window panes wrestled with the shadows behind dust-covered chairs and tables, and sheets of cobwebs canopied the interior from ceiling to floor. A large chandelier lurked above his head, shrouded in darkness. He stepped forward cautiously, and a metallic thunk greeted him as his foot struck a candle lamp laying on its side. He picked it up, inspected the wick, and, seeing it still in reasonable condition, fished out his cigarette lighter and lit it. The light pushed back dark boundaries and glinted off lint-coated photo frames lining the mantelpiece and a clock showing 12:03.

Jonathan glanced at the pictures, brushing off a frame. An attractive young woman stared at him, her face fixed in the emotionally stilted Gilded Age style. “Hello, beautiful,” he said. A crash came from upstairs. He made his way over to the stairs, choosing his steps carefully. As he stepped into the hallway, another bang greeted his ears. It appeared to be coming from behind a closed door to his right. He slowly pushed through and looked into a large bedroom filled with covered furniture, including a huge canopied bed. Drapes billowed into the room as a nerve-jangling “bam” erupted from an open window. Closures drifted in the breeze. Moving quickly, he set the lamp down, secured the shutters, and lowered the sash. Through the dirty glass, he spied the yard, a wild riot of climbing vines and boxwoods. In the center was a stone statue, the form of an angel, her back to the house, arms upraised. A faded path led down to a tall, hoary old willow tree at the far end. Hanging from one of the limbs, a swing moved disconsolately in the wind. Just beyond lay a leaf-smothered pond.

Despite the apparent neglect, Jonathan had to be impressed; the mansion and grounds must have been impressive in its Victorian heyday. But now, it sat ignored and unwanted, a pile of rotting wood and cobwebs. For the evening, however, it should suffice to keep the rain off his head. Growling interrupted his thoughts as his stomach reminded him of the other reason for seeking shelter. Food. Grabbing the lamp, he moved into the hallway and back down the stairs but paused at a picture on the wall. An old man with large mutton-chop whiskers glared at him. The cold, forbidding eyes perused his ragged clothes and unkempt hair. Jonathan retreated involuntarily. Nasty old tyrant. Pushing on, he reached the dining room. The light from the late afternoon sun still slanted through the windows, relieving him of the need for the lamp. He set it down on the table, extinguishing the wick to save it. After passing through the double doors into the kitchen, he scanned the corners and quickly located the pantry. Sometimes abandoned homes had a stray morsel left to eat. He searched the shelves and smiled. Cans lurked on the periphery, nearly submerged in dusty cobwebs, but still, there might be something edible. He grabbed a can and blew a cloud of grit off the label. “Peaches,” he said aloud, quite pleased.

As he stood, a glint caught his eye. On a top shelf, a dark glass bottle lay on its side, its label facing away. He pulled it down. Dom Perignon 1869. He knew a little about wines, and the name and vintage struck a chord. With satisfaction, he noted it was unopened. Ah, yes, my sweet. Tis’ time to celebrate and live the good life. But when he stepped back into the kitchen, he stopped short. Nuts, I don’t have a corkscrew! His eyes fell upon something sitting on the counter. An opener sat upright near the edge. As his hand closed around it, he could not help but wonder. How did I not see this when I came in, and why is it free of dust and cobwebs? Perhaps, I overlooked it in my haste to find some food. Satisfied with his explanation, he made his way into the dining room. But as the doors swung shut, he again froze. A single glass sat next to the lamp on the table. Light from the candle pushed against the shadows cast by the approaching sunset. He rubbed his eyes, trying to puzzle out the mystery; neither the lamp had been lit, nor the glass had been there, he was sure of that. Was he losing his mind? He stared at the wine bottle. Well, if I am going crazy, at least I’ll be able to enjoy it. He placed the container on the table and inserted the corkscrew into it. Might as well toast to my good fortune.

End of Part 1

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