The Collector

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I was in the middle of a bad break up and a friend of mine invited me to store my things in the basement of the building in which she lived. She had offered for me to stay with her but I declined. More friendships had been dissolved or destroyed by moving in other people’s spaces. I had lost my man; I certainly didn’t want to lose one of my best friends. But I was happy for the space to store my things until I could find a place of my own.

The building had no basement to speak of; that is unless you considered a collection of storage cubicles and cages warehoused in an area that looked like a closed off concrete garage, a basement. There were a total of fourteen sections of cages, one for each floor of the building, and six additional cubicles with three sides made of concrete and gates for the closure. I didn’t give it a second thought as I pulled my car into the gated area marked with my friend’s apartment number to unload the bulk of my belongings. I didn’t plan on being here long. Despite being well lit and fairly open, the space was casually creepy: almost as if it had been intentionally designed that way.

I had other things to tend to. I did not have time to spend agonizing about the feelings elicited from my intended storage space, but something piqued my curiosity.  This was not the time to suddenly be experiencing symptoms of the Sci-Fi investigation gene; for one thing I had seen how on multiple occasions it led to unhappy endings in both sci-fi movies and horror films.

But as I stood looking at the space parallel to mine I saw an old roadster, what would have been considered a sports car in its day. It was clean as if it had been washed and polished recently. The remaining contents of the cage, however, were covered with dust so thick you could germinate seeds. If that wasn’t enough to raise some questions, the fact that the floor seemed to be free of dust and dirt as well, more than bothered me.

Beyond curiosity now I wanted to see what the other cages held. In the cubicle next to me, there were no boxes or containers, but it held a large ebony wood carriage, like the kind that drove the wealthy before cars were invented. It must have been the pride of whoever owned it. It had neither scratch nor scar. It would have been valuable and though obviously quite old it was as clean as if it had never been used. Even the wheels looked as if they had never touched ground. The space around it had neither dirt nor dust, the same as the floor where the roadster was held.

Curious I called my friend.

“Who owns all these antiques that are down here?” I asked when she answered the phone.

“I don’t know. I have never stored anything down there. The space is mine but I don’t have a vehicle and I don’t have many belongings to need extra storage facilities. I was offered the space if I needed it in the future, but I have never used it. In fact I have only been down there once and I never paid any attention to what else was there. The place made me feel uneasy.” She replied

I knew what she meant, but now I wanted to see each cubicle from the beginning. Some sections had small closet like cages only large enough for personal belongings. But in each I noticed some antique item that had been preserved immaculately, despite being surrounded by dust-covered crates, containers, and boxes. Every floor surface was cleaned and polished.

I wondered how they managed to keep the floor, the cars, and other items so clean while the rest of the cage was covered with dust.

The fourteenth floor’s cages, where my friend’s storage space was housed, were closer to the entry gate and seemed to be cleaner and contain more recent treasures. Elaborate sport or luxury cars, art work, motorcycles,   and even jewelry.

I supposed the items were safe enough. Nobody seemed to come in or out at the time I was there. I imaged, like my friend, that nobody even knew or paid attention to what was down there.

I was startled when a handsome older gentleman approached me. He was casually but expensively dressed.

“You seem very interested in my collection,” he said, “might I show you around?”

“How nice of you to offer, do you live in the building?” I asked.

“No, I own the building, and though I have never lived here, I have had many friends who have. Each of these spaces contains a treasure or memento left to me by my friends.” He said and looked nostalgic.

I didn’t feel radars going off so I accepted his offer to tour the facility. In his conversation I learned that he had bought the building as a youth and that money, very old money, from family long ago had allowed him to collect and preserve some of the most interesting things. He seemed to favor cars and such, but admired art and jewelry as well.

He spoke as if he had known the owners of each cage or cubicle personally, and seemed to cherish the memory of each meeting. His list of friends read like a who’s who throughout the centuries, and I was beginning to get the feeling that there was more to him than just a wealthy landlord.

From the twelfth floor cages he showed me a race car owned by a famous driver from the very first Indie 500, from the sixth floor we saw the jewelry of a famous movie star, he had manuscripts and parchments from ancient authors from the third floor, and in the first floor cages he showed me his pride and joy; A golden chariot and sarcophagus, and a selection of gold artifacts.

I was stunned and amazed. In this room there was not a speck of dust or dirt despite all of its surroundings.

“Who are you?” I asked, “It’s is impossible to have known all of these people from living in this building.”

“You are correct. Many did not live here, some lived before the building even existed, but I have collected and stored their things here just the same.  I have sorted and packed the things that had meaning to them, and displayed for my own pleasure the things that were most valuable to me.  As to who I am, well let’s say I walked among the pharaohs and were counted worthy among those who lived back then. Those things are counted the most precious of my belongings.  When the building is too old to house them any longer, my collection and I will move on.

“But how can you outlive the building? That’s impossible!” I said.

“On the contrary, I have already outlived several structures, and some I have simply outgrown. I have had many wives and children, friends and family, all whose treasures I maintain. Though I do not open often those who have no personal connection to me, always I display their most valuable treasure. I have lived many lives of men, and I shall live many more.”

I was not afraid, but suddenly I began to feel as if I did not belong here.

“Will I be doing your collection a disservice to leave my things here?  I have no place to put them presently, and I am not certain how long it will be before they have a home of their own.”

“No, you may leave them here as long as you need. The residents seldom use this space for very long; many move on after a few years, some have left their things behind and never returned for them.”

“Is that why some of the cages are so dusty?”

“Yes, even for them I display their most valuable treasure, but I do not disturb their belongings.  Like the roadster, which belonged to a young aristocrat, he left one day and never came back, no one knew what happened to him. I have managed his belongings for a century but he never returned. His car seemed to be his most favorite belonging. I have preserved it as it was when he purchased it.”

“That seems like such a sad life to have forever, maintaining things from the pasts of others.” I said.

“No, I have had a life of tears and joys, loves and losses. It is my lot. If you wish I will share it with you. A woman like you seems like a valuable asset. You seem like a life of treasure would suit you. You will never want for anything, and in the end though I will lose you, I will maintain the memory of you forever.”

I was flattered. Here was a man who did not know me, offering to care for me and cherish my memory forever, without knowing a thing about me.  I had never known a person like him.

After a year of getting to know him, I removed my car from the storage and gave it to my friend. As he had said, she too got married and moved away. My belongings stayed in the storage which belonged to her apartment, but I no longer needed many of the things I had stored there.  He had begun to fill my life with replacement treasures and only the things given to me by my loved ones mattered anymore. I had a garage sale and sold most of what was stored there, packed the remaining items in strong wooden crates, and pushed them over to the wall. I did not value cars or jewelry, and though I loved art, it was not likely that I would ever own any that was worth anything. I wondered when I was gone, what would be the thing that was of value that he would display.  It would take my lifetime to know.

The Collector, © DJuna Blackmon 2015, All Rights Reserved

Charley Miller’s Bar

CMB

Charley Miller’s Bar was an exercise in contradictions. It combined a variety of old world looks and new world technology to create an atmosphere that had become the talk of the town. The floor in the center of the bar was nearly always covered with ice which kept it cool even when the weather was hottest, and no one ever seemed to question why the ice never melted.

It was a custom whenever a patron made a toast, cheered an event, congratulated a constituent, or consoled a friend for the entire bar to throw their emptied ice filled mugs to the floor in the center of the bar. The broken ones were disposed of and the whole ones recovered and washed for reuse. In addition to this practice, the bar boasted several menu items that had been favorites of the town for nearly a century.

It had been opened near the water in a small Port near St. George for more than seventy years. At least that was as far as records could count or locals could recollect. Aunk Miller’s family had owned it since they had traveled from Cairo in the early 1700’s. Mystery and intrigue had come with them to the states as well as a great deal of British wealth, and industry. As the town grew so did the notoriety of the iterations of the bar.

It had been Miller’s Saloon in 1712, and was run by Bahman, the 29 year old son of Charley’s great great grandfather. It was renamed The Watering Hole in 1755 and passed in ownership to Aunk’s father Frederick, it then became Aunk’s and was renamed The Egyptian Tavern since 1912, and now in 2012 it was known as Charley Miller’s Bar.

Its current fame was due to a reality TV show known as Bar Fight, a food station show where local bar establishments squared off to determine which had the best fare, drinks, and ambiance. The Bar had been featured as number one for several weeks, and tourists as well as locals poured in to partake of the bars offerings.

Aunk was a very old man now, it was his grandson, Charles Miller who had taken over and renamed the bar. The twenty seven year old owner had been in and out of the bar most of his life and knew well many of the patrons and also the history of the bar and its owner, though he did not share much information about his family.

What was well known was that Aunk was the owner with the greatest longevity, and that the Egyptian Tavern had been a widely recognized and respected establishment long before Charley was old enough to have learned to walk. Aunk Miller had been the owner for more than 75 years at least that’s what had been recorded. But that wasn’t his real name, and no one knew what his real name was or why his family had given him that nickname. They had been calling him that since he was a little boy. There was one tattooed elaborately on his left shoulder. His grandma had told him the left was the sinister hand and Aunk had just laughed and said to his grandma, “Don’t worry grandma, I can handle the sinister one.”

It was said that Charley’s great great grandmother had married a man from Egypt. No matter what the social implications may have been of her marrying a foreigner, no one ever outwardly displayed anything but respect for her husband or his family. He lived a long time and was almost one hundred years old when the bar was given to Aunk’s grandfather Fredrick and renamed. Fred had been twenty six at the time.

Charley wanted the bar to be known worldwide, and that meant exposure. Aunk had no objections to that kind of notoriety. There were other reasons why people would want to come to the bar. Notoriety was a useful thing when it was certain you needed to be found.

Midway through the bars Battle of Onion Rings, as the show’s current episode was called, the phone rang. Charley was in the middle of an explanation of how his great great grandmother’s hand ground Egyptian spices and daily made batter created an onion ring that was a delicacy, when one of his barmaids pulled on his apron and he had to excuse himself. When he returned his face was pale.

Eunice Baker, a local woman had been crying on the other end of the phone. She sounded delirious, and it took several minutes for Charley to calm her down so he could ask her what was wrong. All he could get out of her was that she was looking for Aunk, that she was in trouble and didn’t know what to do. Charley promised to call his grandfather as soon as they finished the show, but he was shaken and it took several minutes before he could get back into the swing of his earlier enthusiasm. After another few hours of filming, chicken strips and shrimp dishes, the film crew packed up and Charley called his dad to locate his grandfather.

Charley’s father was an importer, and brought Egyptian goods to the States. He sometimes also arranged tours for people interested in travel to Egypt. He did not seem alarmed. He attempted to calm Charley and promised to contact Eunice Baker soon.

***

Eunice Baker was married to a man named Tom. Tom Baker had been what you might call a tempered man since he was a young adult. He had not been good in situations of adversity. In addition to this he seemed to lack a tolerance to alcohol. His coworkers liked on occasions to bate him to drink in order to be entertained by his bad behavior. It had sometimes ended in charges for destruction of property, and occasional assault charges, but Tom had never seriously hurt anyone.

Eunice worked for a local fishery, and many of the people she worked with knew and liked her husband, at least when he was sober and happy. But their current financial state had been cause for Tom to spend more frequent nights hanging at the bar with his coworkers. Several rounds had found their way to the floor in sympathy for his current distress mirrored by his friends. The barmaid had signaled closing and turned off the tap. Tom had gotten angry but his friends grabbed him by the arm and ushered him home.

Since he had not been allowed to let off his steam at the barmaid, he took his anger out on Eunice. At first she had tried to be understanding but he took this as being patronizing, then she tried to comfort him but he did not want to be pacified.

“You’re hopeless,” She had said and stood to walk away. But Tom grabbed her arm and swung her around. The slap that grazed her cheek stung but did not have its intended impact due to the momentum of her spin. She did not stop, but continued to spin until she was facing the other direction and could run away. She headed for the kitchen, and grabbed the first thing she could get her hands on. She did not intend to hit him as hard as she had, but he came up unexpectedly fast behind her and the large crescent wrench which had until recently been the means by which she shut off her water, hit him across the temple. As his body fell to the floor she held in a scream. Blood oozed from a deep gash and Eunice stood frozen in shock, gasping and staring in horror.

It’s possible that she fainted. When she revived she was sitting slumped near her husband’s body. She didn’t know what to do so she put his body in a large sheet and used a wheel barrel to dump him in the compost bin on the side of the building. Next to it were several blocks of baled hay, and chopped fire wood. She went back into the house. She wasn’t certain what to do and she was still quite shaken.

She picked up the phone and called Charley Miller’s Bar. When Charley didn’t answer she broke into tears and the barmaid asked her to hold on. When Charley came to the phone she burst into tears again and began shrieking.

“I don’t know what came over me, I’m in trouble and I need to speak with your grandfather.” she said breathlessly.

“I don’t know where he is….” was all he could get out before she trailed off into another series of unintelligible babbling.

“Calm down, don’t worry I’ll find him, what happened?”

“I can’t explain over the phone, just please have your grandfather call me as soon as possible.” she answered and cradled the phone.

Now all she could do was wait.

When Aunk arrived he was driving a garbage bin, a truck with a long rectangular vessel at the back. It was used to collect tree trimmings, compost able items, and large recyclable items. Aunk stepped from the truck and approached the house. When he got to the door Eunice came to the screen with her finger to her mouth.

“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of everything,” he said.

Eunice nodded as if she understood. “If you need anything there’s plenty of stuff in the compost heap.” she said.

“Fine then, why don’t you run your errands and when you come back this evening I’ll have everything taken care of.”

Eunice gathered her things and left the house. When she was gone Aunk first cleaned the blood stained kitchen. He used clean gauze linens he had brought with him, which he placed in a bag, he would need them later. He waited until it had gotten dark and then he went to retrieve Tom from the compost. He placed him in the back of his truck on a bed of hay and placed the bag with the bloody rags beneath his head.

He knew that Tom had not done well in his life, but like many men he might not have deserved to die.

When Eunice returned, her house was restored to normal. She put down her bags and walked into the kitchen. The faucet had been repaired and the wrench had been removed from the counter. Everything was clean. She was sad but she was still feeling a little overwhelmed. She could not bear to look into the compost container; she would save that for the early morning light. So she sat in her kitchen chair and had a glass of tea then she went to bed.

In the middle of the night she thought she faintly heard the whistle of a train and the sounds of a locomotive steam engine, but there had not been such a train in this area for years. She had returned to sleep peacefully, but when she woke she rose with trepidation and went to look into the compost container. When she got outside she was stunned to find what seemed to be a large copper and gold toned sarcophagus. Though it looked like it had been combined with the parts of some steam type machine, it could only have been that. It was not locked or sealed and the top opened with ease. Eunice opened the lid and was startled to find inside a newly wrapped mummy. She released the hood and backed up. She didn’t understand what was happening.

Inside the sarcophagus was the newly wrapped body of her husband Tom. From the looks he had been covered with wrappings that had been covered with his own blood. Eunice was horrified and paced the floor trying to think of what to do. She had just about decided to go to the police and make up some crazy story, when the bell rang. When she answered the door, Tom stood there alive and fully healed.

“The least you could do is let me in out of the morning air, or am I to catch my death of cold into the bargain. You’d think after last night that I had been through quite enough.” he said. “One day I shall have to endure the ‘til death do us part, but let’s not do it again this way shall we.”

Eunice did not know what to say, so she opened the door and let him in. She followed him to the bathroom and ran him a steaming tub of water.

“Not too hot, I don’t think I’ll want a bath that warm ever again. Seems I can remember feeling the steam surging through my blood. But maybe that was all a dream.”

“You ain’t mad at me are you, Tom?” Eunice asked as she cooled the water in the tub.

“I don’t think I could be even if I wanted to. All night all I could think of was how wrong I had been to hit you and what I could have done for things to go differently. What happened was my own fault.”

Eunice looked at him. Something was definitely different. He looked like himself, but it was not the Tom she knew.

In the dark of night Aunk had taken him to the chilly caverns below the bar and laid his body on a table etched with hieroglyphs, and as he dealt with the preparation of Tom’s body he laughed and talked to himself.

“Grandma was afraid of the devil, but he ain’t got nothing on the power of Osiris.” He laughed again. He wrapped the body in oils using the blood stained gauze he had used in Tom’s own home. He filled the sarcophagus with items gathered from Tom house and lined the bottom with straw collected from the side of his house. Inside he placed a drop of Tom’s blood, and laid the body in the nest of things gathered there. He poured a mug of beer and set it at Tom’s feet. When all was done he would return to Eunice.

***

Aunk had been the caretaker of this artifact for more than two centuries, though none knew and any time death would approach he would lie in the sarcophagus and Osiris would spirit death away and leave its essence in the caverns below the bar. The stone walls themselves were as cold as death and no mortal could stand to linger there for any duration. Aunk, once reviving himself, would take a new wife, have a son, and train a new custodian for the family business. The bar must always exist for the caverns to go unnoticed. His family was large and prosperous, and his sons and his son’s sons offered redemption to mankind.

In the beginning, they had not known the power or the purpose of the sarcophagus. They had attempted to bring back lost loved ones but had discovered that good people who had lived well and were loved no matter how short had no reason to return and usually ended up ill tempered, or evil in nature. After this discovery they only brought back those who needed to change their Karma, redeem themselves, or improve their lives and the relationships with the people in their lives.

Aunk had been the caretaker of the Sarcophagus of Osiris, as it had been named, though the body of Osiris had never lain inside, since 1810 after the death of his great grandfather who had held caretaker-ship for more than a century himself. Though he could have easily continued, he had begun to feel the weight of the evil and inconsistency of mankind. His son, though he had thought immortality a fine trait, had decided that to protect the aged container and it’ caretaker was just as noble a calling. His great grandfather had enjoyed more than 115 years of living well, and he had helped thousands of individuals change their lives for the better. He sat and tried to remember what the old man who had given him the caretaker-ship had said.

On his 30th birthday, Aunk and his great grandfather had gone for a walk. There was no need for him to explain where they were going or what they were going to do. Aunk knew it was time and he was prepared. He hugged his great grandfather and thanked him for being good to his family. They sat in the bar and made a toast together, tossing their ice filled glasses to the floor in respect for the dead. He knew it was the last time he would see him alive. He sat and recollected the story of how the sarcophagus had come into their lives.

***

Bahman, his grandfather, had been a boy of twelve in 1695, at the time of its discovery and he had been the thirty-seven year old foreman of the dig. It had been discovered by a team of European archaeologists and in the beginning no one had ever explained why it had been given that name.

When it had first been found all the crew was buzzing hoping to find riches and the mummy of some ancient king. The sarcophagus looked more like a steam operated machine fashioned to look like a replica of an ancient burial container rather than an authentic artifact. They were disappointed to discover it was empty.

On the first night after they dug into the chamber, an old man approached him and bid him wrap his aged body in blood covered linen wraps and place his body into the sarcophagus. At first he thought him mad and struggled with the old man as he attempted to bleed himself. In the process he was stabbed and lay dying near the old man, who asked him as he lay bleeding, “If you will take my place, you will live the lives of many men, but take care, besides the caretaker only those seeking redemption may be entered into the box.”

He did not understand. A proud and educated man, he did not want to die and leave his son to live alone. So he agreed to take the old man’s place. The old man stabbed him again and collected his blood in a gold and copper vessel at the base of the tablet upon which the sarcophagus was placed. He soaked the wraps and bid the terrified lad who had been with him to assist him with wrapping his father’s body. Despite his fear he did as the old man said. As they wrapped him the old man explained many things.

“A drop of their own blood will bring them back as they are but better, a drop of a youth’s blood will take away their age but the formula for how far is not known though always an adult, a drop of the caretaker’s blood will pass the responsibility on to the next. It must be a deliberate act to activate the transfer. It will not occur from a cut or an injury, but must intentionally be place into the container by the individual to whom it belongs.”

When his father had taken his last breath, Bahman and the old man lifted him and placed him into the sarcophagus. The old man dripped his own blood into the container and placed at the base of his feet a chalice of wine. “In celebration of life, from now until the end.” he said and closed the lid.

He sat with the boy in silence for a time. When several hours had past, he bid the boy help him up.

“I do not have long. I shall not see the morning. Bid your father bathe, drink the wine, and thank Osiris for the second chance. Be he a better father to you, and live a life that helps mankind and he shall pass on unto your family the opportunity to offer the same to others. Do not forget the things I have told you.”

“Are you the devil?” young Bahman had asked.

“No sir, nor will your father nor any caretaker ever be. And they need not fear him. The only evil that any need be concerned about is that within mankind itself.

Bahman struggled to hear the old man. His voice was getting raspy and week. “Let the good pass on.” he kept repeating but Bahman did not understand.

He had walked with the old man the entire night and left him near a tavern. He would not see him again. He returned to the dig site before sunrise. When he went inside his father sat at the edge of the basin of water. Bahman relayed the old man’s instructions and information and after his father had followed them to the letter, he apologized to his son and promised until it was his time to pass on the caretaker-ship he would not leave him again.

He sold everything he owned in Egypt, married the daughter of a wealthy archaeologist, and moved to the New World. Convinced the sarcophagus was a fraud his father-in-law gave it to Bahman’s father as a wedding present. When they reached what would later be the port of St George, Bahman’s Father began construction of their home as well as laid the foundation for their business. Everyone thought he was crazy to build on top of the stone shelf. They delved with dynamite for weeks and built the structure right on top of the stone itself. No one knew the caverns directly below would become home to the sarcophagus.

As time passed and his family prospered, his father bought all the land surrounding the business, including the beach property, the dock, and the land on which the shelf rested. It was secure and people did not approach. It had grown eerie and dangerous looking.

Bahman’s Father had been a member of the community for thirty years before he had cause to venture to use the ‘box’ as they lovingly called it. A young girl had fallen from one of the cliffs and drowned. Her mother was in anguish, and his wife bade him help if he could. She knew little of the box, but knew that Bahman’s father had helped others.

The girl was a rebellious youth, troubled and unruly but her mother loved her. Aunk’s father put her in the wagon and took her away. The girl showed up on her mother’s doorstep, the next morning. She was tired, pale, and ever so sorry to have caused her mother to worry. She assured her she had only passed out, that her breathing was shallow but she had not died. She was able to convince her mother, and no one else knew.

***

Eunice sat in sheer disbelief. She had assumed that Aunk would dispose of Tom’s body, not resurrect him. This was certainly better but how was it possible. When Tom was done with his bath, he collected the ice cold mug of beer and made a toast, “In celebration of life from now until the end, and thank you Osiris for giving me a second chance.” He then downed the entire mug of beer.

He looked at Eunice earnestly then said, “We are never to speak of this. Aside from being considered as having lost our minds, it would be a disservice to Aunk and his family. He must have risked a great deal to be able to accomplish this. We must be certain we are never the reason that he comes to any harm. ”

“But what we do about the sarcophagus?” asked Eunice.

The two sat in silence and thought for a moment. The morning was passing rapidly and it wouldn’t be long before people were out and about and someone was sure to notice an ancient sarcophagus sitting on the side of their house.

Tom threw on a robe, and Eunice followed him outside. When they got to the side of the house they were surprised to find the sarcophagus had been removed. Tom shrugged his shoulders and looked at his wife.

“I guess they thought of everything.” Tom said and escorted Eunice into the house.

From then on Tom was a model citizen, a devoted husband, and a credit to mankind. Most of his coworkers and friends found it remarkable that he was no longer affected by alcohol. When they sat in Charlie’s and made a toast, Tom would raise his glass, smile and nod his respect to Charlie and turn his mug upon his napkin. He no longer drank iced drinks, and when he had finished his toast he would stand and bid his comrades good evening and go home to Eunice.

Charley Miller’s Bar © DJuna Blackmon 2014, All Rights