This is really long guys. So I had to make two parts. Hope you like it!!!!!
Substitutions for Life
I collected things. Usually antiques like furniture, jewelry, vintage clothing, things of this nature. I even hoped to open my own antique store one day...but then, I had hoped to do many things in life. I spent so much time collecting things that I didn't really have much time for friends. I was always out and looking for the next thing to put into a collection, or the next thing to start a collection of. Perhaps it was a coping mechanism. I had a hard working father, and a distant mother, no siblings. I was alone...alone with the things in my room. My parents were relatively wealthy, so my belongings were of a more upscale quality. From everything to the grade of silk that my hair ribbons consisted of, to the quality of my dresses to my pajamas, to most of my toys, were special edition, or limited edition, and of the utmost finest, and if I had to guess, I think this may have been where it all started. If I had just had the notion to get up and go outside, and take advantage of blue skies and sunshine, or summer rain, or a bird's song, maybe, just maybe, it wouldn't seem like it was all in vain. So final and futile.
Most of my life I ignored life itself. I don't really know what I was trying to accomplish. The thought of my own antique shop was amongst my thoughts, but what drove me so fiercely to collect things I cannot identify. Could it have been destiny?
Fifteen years ago today, I was out on a collecting spree. I had visited some rummage sales, stopped by some thrift stores, and even other antique stores to see if there was anything there that I wanted to add to my own collection. I remember now that the sun was brilliant in the middle of the day, but I hadn't stopped to admire it. I also remember that there were wondrous smells as I drove around town. The smell of lavender, fresh cut grass, and the coming approach of possible rain, but I hadn't bothered to noticed any of that either. I remember, now, that as I walked up and down the busy sidewalks of town, that there were delicious smells from the bakery, the dinners, and the restaurants that lined the street, but I didn't have the sense to go in and try something new, or to even sit down and feed myself...I was just simply too busy. There were sounds of laughter, wind, cars and dogs, but I had made myself deaf to the sounds of my world, numb to all its stimulants. All in the name of my ever present need to enlarge my cache.
I believe a part of me existed to pretend that if I collected only the things that were interesting to me, I could recreate where I existed as I saw fit. Even now, as irreverent and arrogant as that may seem, that is the only explanation that I can find for my obsession.
My crusade took me down a sidewalk in town that I had been down numerous times. With a large oversized paper shopping back at my side, I walked briskly trying to find just one more thing I might need. I had only found two items in my excursion that were of any worth, and it just wasn't enough. The location I where I was walking that day was a business block, and as I passed the shops, I only turned my head to observe the window displays of the stores and boutiques that sold things I was interested in. When I walked past a dark and desolate shop that I had never noticed before, it stirred something in me that I had never experienced before. Curiosity. To me, there were only two things. Definite, or Absolutely not. To wonder, to ponder, to take interest in something for no other reason than to be curious was foreign to me. And if curiosity had ever been present in me, it had to have been when I was a child, and I couldn't remember much of my childhood, except for what I described. Added to that, I never tried to remember much from my childhood.
I stood, transfixed by the dark and dusty windows, my mind racing with the effort to recollect what had been here before, and if it had been a loss to me or not. As I neared the window, I shielded my face from the sun to get a better look inside. I saw nothing but a few shelves with nothing on them, lots of debris, and dirt strewn about the floor, paper, wrappings, and then I noticed, to the far right, against the wall, was a neatly preserved assortment of bottles. My mouth dropped open, and I eyed the bottles like a drug addict. But they were not regular bottles! They were beautiful! There was an array of colors! And they were decorated with jewels and garlands and flourishes, and garnishments! It looked like the designer Faberge himself had secretly made a limited edition of collector bottles while he populated the world with his lovely Faberge Eggs. I pressed my face to that filthy glass until my face was smudged with dirt, unable to contain my excitement, and anxiety for the ownership of just one of those bottles! I had to have one! I had to collect them all!
I quickly looked around to see if anyone was watching me. The well-populated street held not one person that was the least bit interested in what I was doing. It seemed the world was just as busy ignoring me as I was of ignoring it, and all the people that lived in it. I nearly skipped to the entrance of the store to try the handle. I quickly decided that if the door was open, I would take only one bottle, and leave a few bucks...no...I would take three and leave a twenty dollar bill. I felt my heart beat. If this door was open, I could actually take them all and no one would be the wiser! Yes! That's what I would do. I would take them all, and if someone reported them missing, I would just return them...most of them...three...or one of them...I would lie!
My hand closed around the rusty doorknob, and my heart raced. I closed my eyes, and let a shiver wash over me, and gave the doorknob a twist, and gently pushed my weight against the door. To my utter joy, the door gave, and the old bell that was still hung above the door jam gave a dense chime. IT WAS OPEN!
Hastily, I made my way to the shelf, and couldn't help myself but to stop in amazement of the collection of pretty bottles. They were even more beautiful when I looked at them without the obstacle of the dirty store window, and I trembled with exhilaration. To add to my unfathomable thrill, I realized that each bottle was on a small display stand, with a date, and a small index card sized certificate of authenticity. I had hit the jackpot! Moving quickly and carefully, I managed to pack some thirty-two three ounce sized bottles into my shopping bag. I was so immersed in what I was doing; I didn't even look to see if I was being watched. I was ignoring the world, and fortunately, it was ignoring me, as usual. Once every last one had been collected, I snatched up my shopping, and vanished into the hustle and bustle of the day.
Once at home, I quickly shut and locked the door to my spacious apartment, and sat the shopping bag on my cherry wood dinning table. The table was an antique. The large oval piece had made my heart pound just as the bottles I had stolen once, but it never made me shake and want to chatter and giggle like the little bottles did. I spent the entire day polishing, and cleaning each and every little nook and cranny of the bottles. Once they had been cleaned and mounted, I looked over my collection. It was then that I noticed the certificates. Squinting at the Old English script that was on each card, I read one aloud.
"Matilda Baxter-collected 7/2/1784-actress- collects vanity"
I frowned at the card, but felt the twang of greed when I saw the date. The foreign feeling of curiosity compelled me to read another card.
"Alexander Slate-collected 1/22/1899-accountant-collects murders"
I read more.
"Tabetha Grisby-collected 4/14/1724-baker-collects gossip"
"Sherman Schpeily-collected 9/27/1832-preacher-collects assets"
"Henrietta Mooney-collected 2/17/1921-prostitute-collects scandals"
"Martin Vanderwhal-collected 6/5/1914-politician-collects hatred"
"Sarah Miller-collected 3/29/1958-elemtary school teacher-collects humiliation"
I read the remaining twenty-five in shock, and amazement. Not one positive thing was listed for any of the people who had had bottles made for them. There were things that ranged from the outrageously petty, like a man that collected women's underwear, to a savage who maniacal collection was human eyes! Once I had read them all, I had a growing feeling of nausea and over all discomfort throughout my body. I backed away from my dinning table and gave a mournful look at the thirty-two bottles. Just how much of a treasure had I really acquired?
The next morning, I woke up, showered, ate at the counter in my kitchen, dressed, and just as soon as I walked in my dining room, and passed my dinning table, I felt an instant need. Suddenly everything I had collected and filled my apartment with, seemed to be staring at me, pressing in on me, and mocking me from every display stand, rack, shelf, glass display case, wall hanging, and placement, and my need became so evident, and desperately urgent, that I actually said it aloud.
"I need to get out of here."
I thought that it must be guilt that was welling up inside me, so I went back to the business block in town where I had found the deserted store. I parked my car half a block away, and walked down to where the empty place stood. But when I arrived, I got the shock of my life. There, where I had just stolen thirty-two bottles from a empty store the day before, was a stark white building, with a new shiney doorknob that gleamed in the sun, and an immaculate store front window. I was literally beside myself with astonishment! I could see inside, and noted the glass display shelves, and display cases, the white tile floor that shone it the undisturbed water, and the wares that were for sale...they were...they were... They were antiques! I went right in.
A new, bright and shiney bell announced my presence when I came through the door. I walked through the narrow aisle of the store, mesmerized by the jewelry pieces, the tea sets, the china, the toys, the magazines, the vanity sets, the endless amount of things that I had to search long and hard for, were right there at my disposal.
"Find what you are looking for?" came a voice. I whirled around, shocked at the sudden sound of someone behind me.
"Uh...yes!" I smiled, a little too broadly. When I noted the owner of the voice, I was taken aback. If Morticia Addams of the Addams Family ever had a brother, this man must have certainly been that very one. He was about six foot one or two, but looked like he was much taller because of his slight stature. He was a waif of a man, with large, thin bones, and a sullen face. He was ghastly pale, had ebony hair that was stark straight, and cut like a Dutch boy. His eyes looked dark, and purplish around his eyelids, and beneath. His thin lips were, and had a blue-gray tint to them, and his cheekbones were so sharp, they looked like they were capable of cutting flesh. My examination of his appearance was evident enough to make him smile a very sly smile, and his pale green eyes took on a sleepy, hypnotic sort of look.
"Just what is it exactly, that you are looking for?" he asked. The expression was pleasant enough, I suppose, but when coupled with the strange sense of lax coolness this man's face seemed to possess, it appeared to be cruel.
"I think I'm just going to look around, actually." I answered. He nodded to me quickly, turned on his heel, which made his hair fan out like the strings on a mop, and walked away. It was only when I was alone again that I realized that my heart was racing. When I tried to look for him, just to have a notion of where he might be, in the store, I couldn't find a trace of him, anywhere. Suddenly I couldn't think. I couldn't even look at the items in the store and think if I needed them or not. I went completely blank. I had to think of something, and ultimately decided to leave. This resulted in me finding myself right back at home, staring at the bottles.
To be in their presence now that they were mine left me with a weight on my shoulders that was so overwhelming, that I couldn't bear to look at them at times...despite their undeniable beauty. Each one was shaped different, had a different color, or theme. The bottles had seemed like the most valuable thing in my collection just a day ago. What had changed? For a week I was held hostage in my apartment. I could not leave, move, nor did I desire to search for my beloved additions to my collections. All I could do was stare at those bottles. I had no idea my conscience was so powerful. Then at the same time, I knew it wasn't my conscience that was hindering me. My mind wondered. A very normal thing that most people take for granted, but right at that moment, it was like nothing I had ever experience before, and something I refused to do. I remembered things like clean linen sheets hung outside on the clothes lines, and how I used to run through them, smelling the soft scent of laundry detergent, and feeling the glorious breeze of the Spring. I remembered my mother's hair, and how the overall brown was set of by the brilliance of blond tendrils that laced through locks of hair around her face and the nape of her neck. I remembered my father's embrace, and how he loved me. I remembered a prism I had hanging in my room, and how the sun caught it, and blessed my room with rainbows no matter what season it was. I remembered the sound of the whippoorwills at night when all was quiet, and the sound of the maid singing songs from her native island as she worked in the kitchen. I remembered jam, and freshly backed bread...I remembered life, and not ignoring it.
Exhausted, I retired for that night, and went to bed. The next morning when I awoke, I was so rested, and peaceful, that I cooked a large breakfast for myself, humming a song that our maid used to sing as she went about her duties. I was actually smiling as I went about my day. And when I entered the dinning room, and saw the bottles. I knew what I had to do.
Thirty minutes later I was at the new antique store that had sprung up magically over night. I carefully unloaded the bottles, and brought them to the tall, thin man that owned the store. When I placed them on the counter, he looked at me with a blank expression.
"I don't need these, and I was wondering if you would be interested in them." I said.
"Well now, let's have a look." He said, and rose to a standing position from where he had been sitting on a stool. After a long examination of the bottles, he took a deep breath, and looked very hard at me.
"Do you have any idea what you are parting with?" he asked.
"Um...I have a good estimate. But I think I can do without them." I answered.
"A collection like this could more than easily have you set for life, Tina." He said.
"Yes, I'm sure, but..." I stopped in the middle of my sentence and tried to keep from letting the store owner see my instantaneous fear. He only smiled at me in reply.
"H-h-how did you know m-m-my name?" I stuttered. The storeowner leaned closer to me and whispered.
"Does it matter?"
I left the antique store so fast that I don't even remember walking out of there. I was so shaken and terrified by interaction that I couldn't get a hold of myself. To keep myself from losing it all together, I went shopping for antiques the entire day. When I got home, I had managed to fill four large, oversized paper shopping bags with antiques, and odds and ends of things I had accumulated from all over the town, and two other neighboring towns. As I unloaded my car, I made a shocking discovery. In the backseat of my car beneath one of the shopping bags, sat the box I had taken out of my house that morning, which contained thirty-two decorative bottles.
That night, as I lay staring at the ceiling, I could get the image of those bottles, or the storeowner face out of my mind. I thought I was drifting off to sleep when I saw the mist. It was a pale orange, like the color of a ripe cantaloupe. As it swirled and made a helix about me, it blocked out all the things in my room. I sat up after a while, and looked at the spellbinding antics of the mist. Then, as the lulling effect was just about to send me into a sleep, from the midst of it came the storeowner.
"Tina." He said softly. I was penetrated with a stabbing fear that seized my heart.
"Who are you! What do you want!" I demanded.
"You, of course." He said. I began to cry, as if they words he had said were the cruelest words anyone had ever said to me.
"What do you want with me?" I asked in resignation.
"For my collection." He answered.
"Who are you!" I demanded again.
"I have had many names though the ages, and I am ancient. None of this is important now though, Tina. It is time to go." He said.
"Go where?" I cried.
"To take your place with the others."
"I won't go with you." I said defiantly.
"You have already given yourself to me." He said.
"I have done no such thing." I answered, staring at him bitterly though my tears.
"But you have. You aligned yourself with me when you chose your collection."
"I don't understand! What crime is there in collecting things." I shouted.
"There is no crime in collecting things, but all people have a collection, in a matter of terms." He said, walking closer to me, and standing by my bedside.
"You're talking in riddles!" I shouted.
"It's quite simple really." He said.
"Then explain it!" I cried.
"You'll see, Tina. It's time to go...it's time to go...it's time to go..."
His words echoed over and over, and I began to feel dizzy, and suddenly everything went black.
When I awoke, I was laying on a hard, cool floor, and still in my pajamas. When I sat up, I looked around me and frowned at my surroundings. The entire room was an pale orange, like that of a ripe cantaloupe. I stood up quickly, and shouted for help, but it only echoed. There were no doors, no windows, seemingly no way out. I looked over my head and saw that the room I was in was domed, and sloped upward. There, high above my head was a round, smooth circle, that looked like a way out, even though it was covered. Trying to climb up to this exit would be impossible, because the walls, and the floor were smooth and slick like...glass. GLASS! Suddenly it all made sense! I went to the wall in front of me, and placed my hands around my face. It was glass, and I could see out! What I saw shattered my sanity.
The storeowner was now an enormous giant, and he was sitting at the front desk with a pen quill in his hand, and ink well at his elbow. He was printing out a brand new certificate of authenticity card. I screamed out at him as he wrote with fluid graceful movement in Old English Calligraphy. No matter how much I screamed, I knew I would never be heard. Crying, I slumped to the smooth glass floor...my prison...a beautiful, decorative, pale orange, three-ounce bottle. The storeowner got up, and left the desk momentarily, and as he did, I peered out of the bottle from where I sat on the bottom of the bottle. In beautifully handwritten script, I read:
"Christina Tilton-collected 5/30/2003-antique buyer-collects substitutions for life"
The storeowner returned with a little stand for me and my bottle, and sat me on the shelf among all the other bottles. Once I had been placed, I looked around and realized I saw not just the bottles, but the people that had been collected. Men and women alike, from different eras and times, spanning years upon years of a collection that had become the storeowners passion. He stood there for a moment, admiring his now thirty-three bottle collection and with a look of satisfaction, he sighed.
"We all have collections.... I collect what the world doesn't need."
With that, he turned away, and vanished. The newness of the store vanished with him, and faded back into the dirty, messing, dusty, desolate store where I had found the bottles, that day, now fifteen years ago.
Need your feedback ghostplace buddies. Tell me what you think! Thanks for reading!!!!!!