Frank Fritz watched as the sun rose over the coast of southern Maine, shining just enough light into his eyes to keep him from falling asleep. The drive had been long and tiresome and the sunrise was a welcoming sight. Over the course of the last few hours, Frank had driven the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van he co-owned with his partner Mike nearly 300 miles from Montpelier, Vermont. He’d gotten used to the long drives over the years and actually somewhat enjoyed being behind the wheel – but this particular trip had been different.
Mike Wolfe woke in the passenger seat and let out a lengthy yawn. He looked out his window and watched the sunrise.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” he asked. Frank said nothing. Mike rolled his eyes. “Enough with the silent treatment.” Mike pleaded. “It’s just childish.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Frank lied.
“Oh, c’mon man. Enough.” Mike said. “If you’re pissed at me, just say it!”
“I’m not mad!” Frank declared. “I’m just….I don’t like the way you talked to me back there. It was uncalled for.”
“That’s ridiculous.” Mike told him. “You’re just mad because you couldn’t find anything in that shed and I walked out with all the cool stuff.”
Frank rolled his eyes. What Mike had said was partially true – Frank had been frustrated with their latest scout. The shed Mike referred to belonged to a retired airline pilot and was filled with all sorts of exotic antiques from around the world. Mike had been able to convince the guy to let go of a few Japanese motorcycle parts and some other small foreign gadgets. Frank, however, had walked away with nothing.
“The only reason I wasn’t able to find anything is because you and that asshole pilot wouldn’t stop making fun of me!” Frank cried. “I know it’s all fun and games but I get tired of it. We’re supposed to be friends but you treat me like some kind of idiot brother!”
“Fine.” Mike said. “I’m sorry. I got a little carried away.”
“You’ve been getting carried away a lot lately.” Frank replied. “I don’t know how much more of it I can take.”
“So what now you’re gonna threaten to quit the show?” Mike asked.
“Not just the show.” Frank said. “I meant picking altogether. It’s just not fun for me anymore.” Frank’s stomach turned as the words left his mouth as if his body were unable to accept the truth that his mind had been wrestling with for months.
A silence settled between them as Mike struggled to find the words. His cell-phone began to buzz in his pocket before he could.
“Ah, shit.” He said. “It’s Danielle. Look, I’m sorry. Can we talk about this later?”
Frank shrugged. Mike could tell that this conversation was far from over but duty called and he wasn’t about to sacrifice a hot lead because of partner’s ridiculous insecurities. He clicked the answer button and put Danielle on speaker.
“Hey Danielle!” Mike greeted her. “What do you got for us?”
“Am I on speaker-phone right now?” came Danielle’s voice from the other end. “Can you take me off, Mike? I need to talk to you.”
“Oh…” Mike said, struggling to keep his tone of voice from giving away the nervousness now pulsing through him. He took the phone off speaker and put it to his ear. “What’s up?”
Frank kept his eyes on the road and listened as Mike “Yeah”-d and “Mhm”-d his way through a mysterious conversation with Danielle. Frank had known for years that there was something going on between the two of them but had always been too police to ask about it. He liked Danielle. She was fun, quirky, sweet, and Frank found that she had a warming effect on him. Part of him wondered if maybe the reason he’d never asked Mike about it was that he was jealous; that he was afraid to know the truth because it might disappoint him.
“Alright.” Mike said. “Thanks. Talk later.” He ended the call and slipped the phone back into his pocket.
“What’d she have to say?” Frank asked. “Any leads?”
“Uh yeah.” Mike said. “Something about husband and wife collectors that keep all their shit in an old barn or something.”
“Did you get an address?” Frank asked.
“Westmore Street or something like that.” Mike said. “I’m sure we can find it.”
“That’s not the point, Mike.” Frank said, annoyed. “I need to know where I’m going.”
Mike rolled his eyes. Had it not been for the emotionally taxing phone call he had just finished he might’ve really let Frank have it. He might’ve told him just how much all of his petty little grievances had driven him insane over the years and how unbelievably frustrating it had been for Mike to go to pick-site after pick-site just to watch Frank go for the stupid fucking vintage cans. He might’ve let him know that Frank was one of the most talentless pickers Mike had ever known. But Frank was fragile and despite being an almost constant source of annoyance, he was Mike’s friend. And right now they had a job to do.
“Just shut up and drive.” He said.
* * *
The first thing to catch Frank’s eye as they pulled up to the massive farmland property was the giant statue of Cornelius “Corny” Rooster, the decades old mascot of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes cereal. He figured it had to have been at least ten feet tall and judging by the Corny’s design he approximated that it was roughly forty years old. He also noticed neon tubes lining the perimeter that Frank thought must light up at night – if they still worked, that was. All in all he approximated a value upwards of a thousand bucks.
“Yup.” Mike said as he looked upon the statue. “This is definitely the place.”
Frank continued to pilot the van up the winding driveway, passing other various vintage memorabilia lining the path on either side. Cutouts of cartoon characters from long ago combined with original advertising materials for classic movies and attractions to create a strange sort of tunnel through time. The more Frank saw, the more he felt as if he was being sucked into it, as if some cosmic God of time was swallowing him whole.
Eventually they came upon a three-story farmhouse nestled at the end of the driveway. However, it wasn’t the house that caught their attention but instead the massive barn looming several hundred feet behind it.
“Pay dirt.” Mike said, his eyes lit up like dinner plates. “Who knows what kind of cool shit is in there.”
“If they’re willing to sell…” Frank said morbidly. Mike rolled his eyes.
Frank pulled the van up to the house and put it in park. He looked somberly to Mike.
“So when we go in there…” he began.
“Don’t worry,” Mike said, interrupting him. “I’ll leave you alone. Let’s just get in there and check it out already.”
Frank nodded. Easy enough. He shut off the engine and the two men exited the van. They made their up to the farmhouse’s front porch where Mike rang the doorbell. A few moments passed before the door opened to reveal a thin, middle-aged woman with vibrant blonde hair and piercing blue eyes.
“Can I help you?” the woman asked. Frank just stared, captivated by the woman in a way he couldn’t understand.
“Well my name is Mike and this here’s my friend Frank.” Mike began. “We saw-“
“I know who you are.” The woman said with a wry smile. “We’ve been waiting for you. Please, come in.”
Without another word she turned and disappeared back inside the house. Mike and Frank looked to one another as if to confirm that both felt strangely about the situation. Mike shrugged and followed anyways. Frank trailed behind.
The home was beautiful on the inside. Neither of the men were specialists when it came to real estate but based on the furniture, Mike figured the house could be anywhere up to one hundred fifty years old.
“My name is Gloria, by the way.” The woman said as she led the men into the living room. “Gloria Constantine. I live here with my husband, Edmund. He’ll be down in a moment.”
The words seemed to slide over the heads of both Mike and Frank as they stared in awe at the items displayed in The Constantines’ home. Vintage posters, post cards, memorabilia and knick-knacks galore. Every wall, every shelf, every small piece of furniture proudly displayed some sort of treasured relic of the American past.
“This place is incredible…” Frank said, completely dumbstruck.
“I have to admit, it’s quite the collection.” Mike chimed in.
“Just wait until you see the barn!” came a booming voice from the next room. The two men snapped out of their trance and looked up to see Edward “Eddie” Constantine walk into living room. The man, Mike thought, seemed well-built for his age and healthy though couldn’t help but notice that his taste in fashion seemed a tad outdated with his oversized trousers and pin-striped shirt.
“Mike Wolfe.” Mike said, extending his hand.
“Eddie Constantine.” The man said as he shook Mike’s hand. “And you must be Frank Fritz.”
“Yes sir.” Frank said.
“Well thank you both so much for coming.” Eddie said. “Gloria and I are big fans.”
“Thank you very much.” Mike replied. “Your collection is remarkable.”
“You haven’t even seen the half of it.” Gloria said.
“It’s a family collection actually,” Eddie explained. “Passed down from generation to generation starting with my great-grandfather.”
“Is this him here?” Mike asked, pointing to a framed portrait of a man styled in turn-of-the-century era fashion. “He looks exactly like you.”
“Strong genes, I suppose.” Eddie answered. “But yes, that’s him. Edmund Constantine.”
“Your family really has a thing for Eds.” Mike quipped. Frank rolled his eyes. He knew that once Mike started in with the jokes there was no stopping him. Especially when they got a laugh.
“I suppose so!” Ed said with a hearty chuckle. “Why don’t I show you boys the barn?”
“Lead the way.” Mike said.
* * *
They knew before walking in that the barn was massive yet both of the Pickers felt their jaws dropped as Eddie opened the side door and lead them inside. He flicked on a light-switch and his collection came to life.
“Welcome gentleman…” he said. “To La Musee de Constantín.”
Millions upon millions of dollars worth of antiques of all different kinds sat before them organized into a meticulous display based on size and age. In all their years as Pickers, neither Mike nor Frank had ever seen a collection like this before. How they could’ve gone so long without discovering this place, neither could understand. But their shared feeling of childlike glee left no time to ask those kinds of questions. Like kids in a candy store, they immediately set out for the hunt.
“There’s a lot of space to cover.” Frank said. “Maybe it’s better if we split up.”
“Fine.” Mike replied. He was really starting to get sick of the saddened little puppy routine and this particular move stung. But if Frank needed his space then that was exactly what Mike would give him. He’d had plenty of experiencing dealing with upset women before. He made his way towards a collection of vintage photography equipment and left Frank to go play with his cans or whatever the fuck he’d find.
Immediately Mike found himself drawn towards a 1950’s era press-camera sitting atop a polished-oak tripod of the same era. Mike marveled at how beautifully the camera had been kept, wearing all of the desired markings that come with age while still maintaining some of it’s original gloss.
“That was my father’s.” Eddie said, appearing behind Mike as if plucked out of thin air. “He was an amateur photographer. Had a pretty good eye if I do say so myself.”
“Does it work?” Mike asked.
“It might.” Eddie said. “It’s been a few years since I ran out of flash bulbs but I bet you get her tuned up a little bit and she’ll work just fine. Pictures might be shit though.”
Mike was about to take a closer look when he glimpsed a Polaroid Highlander sitting just a few feet behind it. Like an eager child, he snatched at it without thought.
“Hey Eddie, smile!” Mike said as he raised the camera to his eyes. He snapped the shot and the camera flashed a piercing white light.
“Gaaah!” Eddie screamed as he moved to cover his face. Mike’s face flushed pink, a mixture of white with fear and red from embarrassment. He set the camera down and went to his host.
“I’m so sorry,” he apologized. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“Ah, don’t worry about it.” He said. “My eyes are just a little sensitive to light is all. You didn’t know any better.”
“Well maybe I can make it up to you by taking this little beauty of your hands?” Mike suggested. He flashed Eddie a devilish grin, already starting to negotiate with his eyes.
“What can you give me for it?” Eddie asked. But Mike was in no mood to play games.
“What do you want for it?”
“Hmm…” Eddie pondered, stroking his chin. “How about eighty?”
Mike ran through the math in his head at hyper speed. With his clout and with a little bit of maintenance, he figured he could find a buyer for upwards of a hundred. It’d be an easy twenty-some dollars but Mike was feeling hungry.
“Fifty.” He countered.
“Excellent.” Eddie replied. “If you’re a fan of photography, you oughta check out my Dad’s old vintage photo collection back that way. Lotta cool stuff in there.”
“That sounds great.” Mike said. “I’d love to check it out.”
“It’s just over yonder,” Eddie said pointing to a distant stretch of the barn. “Why don’t you go have a look and I’ll see what your friend’s gotten himself into?”
“Sure thing.” Mike replied.
Eddie nodded and went off to find Frank. Mike took one last look at his new purchase and grinned. Despite the personal hell he had managed to create for himself both on the road and at home, he genuinely felt that today might actually be a win.
* * *
Frank stared in awe at the 1952 Roadmaster Bicycle that sat before him. It was a shame, he thought. The bicycle was intended for children and Frank had none of his own. He knew it’d be a great addition to his collection but doubted that he’d be able to afford it. Besides it was hard enough finding a woman already with his protruding gut and receding hairline – having a creepy old kid’s bike in his garage certainly wasn’t going to help things.
“Looks a little young for you.” Eddie said as he crept up behind him. “But that don’t mean I won’t sell it to you!”
“It’s a beautiful bike but I don’t think I’m interested.” Frank said. “Not today, anyways.”
“That’s all right.” Eddie said. “I want you to come with me anyways, I got something to show you.”
Frank followed Eddie as he led him to a darkened corner in the back of the barn. He reached for a light switch cord dangling from the ceiling and yanked on it. The light flickered on and Frank’s eyes practically popped out of skull.
An entire wall lined with layers upon layers of vintage cans. Beer cans featuring the labels of long-forgotten brand once enjoyed by the mid 20th century working class. Motor oil cans hand-painted and lettered with 50’s and 60’s era cartoon brand mascots. Entire quarts of canned ground coffee that looked as if it may have once been enjoyed by a 1920’s farmer. It was like something plucked out of a dream that Frank was no longer imaginative enough to dream up on his own. Despite the many jokes Mike had made in their time together, Frank’s steaming hot passion for vintage can collection was an undeniable love affair. From his first days as a Picker, Frank had developed a fondness for these particular pieces of American history and it was in them that he found the passion to preserve it.
“It’s really something, huh?” Eddie asked him. Frank said nothing for he could not hear him. He was in own world entirely, consumed by this new discovery. This was a trance from which Frank was unsure he would ever wake.
“If you can find something you like.” He began. “I’d be happy to sell it to you.”
The tragedy of it all, Frank thought to himself, was that he’d be unable to afford them all. The decision he was about to be forced into making would be perhaps one of the most difficult he had ever faced. He had no idea how he could possibly choose which of the cans would fit best into his collection when each of them exhibited such remarkable beauty.
“I know what you’re thinking…” Eddie said. “How do I pick? They’re all so pretty! Am I right?”
“Well…” Eddie began again. “What’s your offer?”
“For the whole lot?” Frank asked, stunned. “I appreciate you willing to sell to me, Mister Constantine, but there’s no way I could afford all of this.”
“Call me Eddie.” He said. “What do you think it’s worth? Rough estimate.”
Frank looked the collection down, taking the individual prices of each can into careful consideration.
“What would you pay for it?” Eddie asked. Frank considered.
“Truth be told…” Frank said. “I’d just about sell you my soul for this lot.”
Eddie grinned from ear to ear.
“We might be able to arrange that… ”
* * *
The first thing that Mike had noticed about Eddie’s father’s collection of photographs was that each of them was hung in beautiful, ornate frames. The pictures were nice enough but Mike found some of the older ones to be a little disturbing. He had read once about how Victorian families would hire photographers to take pictures of their loved ones after they had died in order to preserve their memory. It was usually difficult to be sure whether or not the subject of the photo was dead but Mike found the possibility alone to be unnerving.
The photographs ranged all over the place in terms of content and date taken, from early 1900’s family pictures to depressing scenes of destruction in post-WWII era Germany. The subjects consisted of everything from humans to landscapes and everywhere in between. It was a seemingly ordinary late 20’s wedding photo, however, that Mike caught his attention.
The picture showed a man and a woman standing in front of an old brick building with the man in a tuxedo and the woman in a long white gown. The woman held a bouquet of flowers and the man stood just behind her with his hands behind his back. He didn’t see anything particularly remarkable at first until he took a closer look at their faces.
“Holy shit…” he uttered to himself in disbelief.
Despite a few differences in the way they wore their hair, the man and the woman in the wedding photo looked exactly like Eddie and Gloria. Right down to the tiny mole on Gloria’s chin and the scar on Eddie’s neck. Mike couldn’t believe his eyes.
His first thought was that perhaps the photo was faked, like a souvenir photo taken at some kind of historical theme park. But Mike had never seen one that appeared this authentic before. Every single detail lead Mike to believe that the photo was real, right down to the patterns in the grain of the film.
Mike then thought of the portrait of Edmund Constantín and his striking similarity to his grandson. Eddie had claimed that the family had strong genes but then how could that possibly explain the woman that appeared to be Gloria?
“Ils te consumeront.”
The voice sent a chill up Mike’s spine. He turned, expecting to see someone standing behind him but he could see no one. Was the voice real? Had he imagined it? Or…
“tu es tombé dans un piège.”
The voice seemed to be coming from nowhere and everywhere at once, like a whisper being played in Mike’s ear at full volume. He could hear no defining characteristics, nothing from which he could infer the speaker’s identity. It sounded both old and young, both male and female, as if it were being spoken by several different people at once. He figured the language to be Italian or maybe French, neither of which he knew a word of.
“Hello?” he said aloud.
“Le miroir” came the voice once again.
Mike still had no idea what was being said to him but he suddenly found himself overwhelmingly drawn to a nearby antique mirror. As if he was no longer able to control the movement of his own body, he began to walk towards it.
The mirror was roughly as tall as Mike and similar to the picture frames in that it was incredibly ornate. Based on the woodwork and the curvature of the edges he approximated that it had been produced sometime in the early 1800’s. A thin layer of dust had settled over the glass but Mike could still see himself clearly.
Mike did as the voice commanded him and stepped closer to the mirror, his breath now beginning to fog the glass. It was then that he felt something grab him.
“Pars Maintenant!” the voice wailed as a white-skinned little girl with pale eyes leapt out from the mirror and tackled Mike to the ground. As he pulled himself to his feet he saw that no one was there…except for the elderly man now standing in the mirror.
“Cours!” the man said, shaking his fist. “Cours vite!”
Mike could see no one standing behind him but when he looked back to the mirror, there the man stood. Like the girl, he too vanished only to be replaced with another man who appeared to be bleeding profusely from his eyes.
“La morte est imminente!” the bleeding man screamed. Mike found it difficult to believe what he was seeing but he believed it enough to know that he needed to get the hell out of there as soon as he possibly could.
He just hoped it wasn’t too late to save Frank.
* * *
“It’s a beautiful day.” Eddie said as he helped Frank load the three boxes of cans into the back of the truck. Frank looked up for a moment to gaze up at the sun shining down upon them and to feel the breeze against his face.
“You’re right.” Frank replied. “It is a beautiful day.”
Frank lifted the last box of cans into the truck and began to close the trunk doors when Mike came bursting out of the barn in a panic.
“Put it back, Frank.” Mike said as he charged towards the van. “Whatever the fuck is in that van, take it out and give it back.”
“What the hell is your problem, man?” Frank asked.
Mike stormed past him and peered into the back of the van. He spied the cans and immediately rolled his eyes. This was going to be difficult.
“Look, I’ll explain later.” Mike said. “Please, just fucking trust me. Put. Them. Back.”
“Fuck you.” Frank said. “This is exactly the shit I’m talking about. I…”
“FRANK!” Mike said, practically screaming in his face. “I am NOT fucking around here.” Frank froze. Mike had pissed him off before but this was getting scary.
“Something the matter, fellas?” Eddie asked. Mike turned to face him, his face burning bright red.
“I don’t know what the fuck is going on but something is not right here.” Mike growled. “You’ve been a great host Eddie but neither me or my friend are going to purchase any of your spooky, haunted, demon-possessed old shit, okay? So give my friend his money back. Or don’t. But those cans are not staying in my van.”
Eddie just starred at him in disbelief.
“I don’t know what in the hell you’re talkin’ about but all sales are final.” He declared. “I ain’t takin’ ‘em back.”
“Then we’ll dump ‘em.” Mike said as he slammed the truck doors shut. “Frank, give me the keys. We’re tossin’ ‘em.”
Frank as if the wind had been knocked out of him. The only response he could come up with was to do exactly as Mike asked and hand over the keys. He hobbled into the passenger seat and buckled his seatbelt as Mike started the van.
“You bought those beautiful cans fair and square, Mr. Fritz!” Eddie hollered as the van started down the driveway. “You deserve to keep ‘em!” Mike rolled down the window and flipped him the bird.
“Go fuck yourself!”
* * *
As Frank stood in the shower of his and Mike’s shared motel bedroom that night, he considered Mike’s little ghost story. As he single handedly hurled each individual can as deep into the dump as he could, Mike had explained to Frank what he claimed to have seen in the Constantines’ garage. In the several decades that they’d known each other, Frank had always found Mike to be a skeptic about these sorts of things but the look in his eyes suggested otherwise. He considered maybe that it was some sort of cruel joke, a way to accelerate the collapse of their partnership. But he’d never seen Mike this so worked up before.
It took him nearly thirty minutes to clean the filth of the dump from his body but even as Frank stepped out of the shower he still felt dirty. He dried himself off and took a look at himself in the mirror, trying to ignore the extra weight he’d started to gain in his gut. He grabbed his robe from the towel rack and quickly wrapped it around himself.
When he emerged from the bathroom, Frank noticed that Mike was nowhere to be seen. He decided to change into his pajamas, an original pair of Knight Rider pajamas from show’s the very first merchandising run. He’d paid 300 dollars for his jammies the year before at an auction in Stillwater and ever since he’d worn them whenever he felt he needed to relax.
Frank had crawled into bed and made it through a few hours of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives by the time Mike eventually returned to the room.
“Where were you?” Frank asked.
“I had to make a phone call.” Mike replied coldly.
“Since when do you have to leave the room to make secret phone calls?” Franked asked.
“For fuck’s sake, Frank.” Mike said. “Will you please lay off for two fucking seconds.”?
“You’re acting really strangely, man!” Frank said. “I don’t know what the fuck is going on with you and you’re not telling me shit!”
“I told you what I saw, Frank.” Mike replied. “I don’t know what the fuck I have to do to convince you that I’m not lying but I’m not fucking lying.”
“Tell me the truth!” Frank demanded. “Like where the hell you were just now or where these strange visions are coming from or why Danielle asked to be taken off speaker this morning.”
“It’s personal Frank.” Mike said, starting to heat up. “Who I choose to speak with over the phone and the manner in which I choose to speak with them is none of your business. After everything I’ve done for you, will you please just trust me on this one?”
“Everything you’ve done for me?” Frank asked. “What exactly are you talking about?”
“Christ, Frank, are you serious?” Mike asked. “I created this whole fucking thing. Your fame, your success. This was all because of my idea. I saw a way to really enhance my own life and I chose to bring you along with me. You have more money than you’ve ever dreamed of and it’s all because of me. Fucking face it man, you’d be nothing without me. So please, will you please just let it slide this once?”
“Is that what you tell Jodi?” said Frank.
“You mother-“ Before the words could leave Mike’s lips he found his body moving, his jaw clenching, his fingers curling into his fist, his arm pummeling directly into Frank’s nose. The force of the blow knocked Frank to the ground and he stood he could feel blood oozing forth from his nostrils.
Mike stared at his hurt friend in horror.
“Fuck, Frank, I-” He stammered.
“Fuck you.” Frank growled as he pulled himself to his feet.
“Buddy, I’m sorry.” Mike continued. “I didn’t mean to-“
Frank stormed past him to their shared closet and grabbed a t-shirt and jeans from his suitcase.
“What are you doing?” Mike asked.
Frank walked into the bathroom and closed the door behind him. It took him a few minutes to stop the bleeding and wash the blood from his face though there was no telling the way his nose would bruise over time. He tossed the last blood-soaked tissue into the trash and began to change.
He emerged a few minutes later, fully dressed. Mike sat on the edge of his bed, waiting for him.
“Frank, let’s talk about this.” Mike pleaded. “Please. Don’t do anything stupid.”
Frank said nothing as he slipped on his shoes and slipped into an old sweater. He grabbed the keys of the van, refusing to even look at Mike as he stormed out of the room.
As he started towards the parking lot of the motel, he could hear the door to their room opening behind him.
“Frank!” Mike shouted. “Don’t do this!”
But his words had fallen on deaf ears. Tonight he was a man on a mission and nothing was going to stop him from getting what he wanted.
* * *
“Can I get you anything else?” asked the pig-tailed blonde waitress of the 24/7 diner down the street from Frank’s motel. He looked down at the crumbs of the massive meal he had just consumed and stifled back a burp.
“Just the check, darlin’.” He said, his words slightly slurred. He had been sneaking shots of jack from a flask in his pocket into his coffee and had just finished his fifth cup.
The waitress returned a few moments later with the check and Frank paid with cash, making sure to leave a plentiful tip. He downed the rest of his coffee and stumbled into the parking lot, praying that no one would stop him from getting behind the wheel of the van. They didn’t.
Frank had been a bit of partier in his younger years and was surprised to find that his skill for drunk driving hadn’t faded over time. He’d rolled the windows down in hopes that the night breeze might sober him up. Frank found few things more soothing than a late night drive and the air felt cool and refreshing against his skin. He felt so at peace that he drove right past the motel without a second look. He realized his mistake a few moments later but at that point it didn’t matter. He knew exactly where he was going.
Within an hour, Frank was once again covered in the muck and filth of the dump. He’d been searching for nearly forty-five minutes before he found the first of the discarded cans – an oil canister bearing the face of a cartoonish Native American chieftain with a bright red face. Frank grinned. He knew that these sort of things got flack from the PC crowd every now and then but he knew that this can belonged in his collection.
“Need some help there, friend?” came a voice from somewhere in the distance. Frank jerked to attention, searching for its owner.
“Hello?” Frank asked.
As if emerging from the shadows themselves, Eddie Constantine appeared before him. He’d changed his clothes since Frank had seen him last, opting for a darker look – a leather jacket pulled over a sweater with black denim jeans. In the moonlight, Frank thought, Eddie’s eyes almost looked red.
“Eddie…” Frank said, confused. “What are you doing here?”
“Well I figured this might be where those cans ended up.” Eddie said. “I actually came here to take ‘em back but if they belong to you. Why don’t I help you look?”
“Oh thanks, Eddie.” Frank began. “But really, I don’t-“
“I’ll help too.” Said Gloria as she sidled up behind Frank, seeming too to have appeared out of thin air.
“Gloria, I…” As Frank spun around to look at her he noticed that she was also dressed in all black. And this time there was no mistaking it – her eyes were bright red.
“What the hell is going on here?” Frank stammered.
“Relax.” Eddie said with a grin. Frank stood frozen with the can in his hand as Gloria hovered towards him and wrapped her arm around his waist. She leaned in close to his neck and whispered into his ear.
“Ce sera rapide.” She purred. Whatever spell she had cast had worked as Frank found himself completely incapable of moving. Even as Gloria flashed her gleaming yellow fangs and sank them into his throat, Frank was unable to scream.
* * *
Mike watched the sunrise from within the decrepit phone booth in the motel parking lot and thought it was a shame that his wife’s shrill voice prevented him from enjoying it.
“I don’t know what else you want me to say.” He confessed.
“I just want you to tell me the truth, Mike,” Came the voice of Jodi Faeth, Mike’s wife of the last seven years. “That’s all I’ve ever asked of you. For Christ’s sake, why is that so hard for you to understand?”
“I love you. You and you alone. That is the absolute truth.” Mike declared.
“Is that what you told her?” Jodie asked coldly.
“Jodi…” Mike said weakly. “Please.”
“Maybe you can ask Danielle to find you an apartment in Le Claire,” she began. “Because I’ll be having your stuff boxed up on the front lawn by Sunday morning.”
“Jesus Christ, Jo-“
But it was too late. The line had hone dead. Mike hung the phone back on the receiver. He stood there a moment, alone, quiet, struggling to put himself together. Doing everything he could do to remain a man and keep himself from collapsing to the floor and sobbing like a child.
Instead he walked briskly out of the phone booth and made his way up to the room. It was upon opening the door and seeing the two empty beds that it dawned on him – Frank still hadn’t returned. He checked the time – 6:45 a.m. It had been nearly eight hours since he’d been gone.
“For fuck’s sake.” Mike muttered under his breath.
He grabbed the phone sitting on the bedside table and rang for management.
“Hi, Mike Wolfe, room 308.” He began. “I’m going to need you to call me a taxi.”
The newly risen sun shown brightly upon Mike’s face as the teenaged Mexican boy driving his taxi pulled onto Westmore Avenue. He caught sight of the street sign and jerked to attention, scaring his driver half to death.
“You sure this is the place?” the kid asked.
“Keep driving.” Mike demanded.
Mike searched desperately for anything he might recognize from their trip the day before. He had been half asleep then and hadn’t been paying much attention to the road.
“Wait…” he said, noticing something looming further down the road. “What the fuck is that?”
“That?” the kid asked, pointing to the rotting farmhouse sitting at the edge of it’s abandoned farm. “This is the place you’re looking for?”
The kid did as he was told and got the car as close to the house as he could, the driveway having long since been overgrown with grass and weeds.
“Mister, are you sure y-“
“Keep the car running.” Mike said as he handed the kid a twenty-dollar bill. “I’ll only be a minute.”
He slipped out of the backseat and made his way through the brush.
“Frank!?” he hollered. No response came. He carefully stepped towards the farmhouse, searching desperately for any sign of life inside.
The sound of the voice sent a chill up Mike’s spine. Similar in so many ways to the voice of the mirror ghosts he had heard before but yet it was unmistakably Frank’s.
“Frank!” Mike cried out. “Where are you!?”
“Come closer Mike….”
Mike looked once to the rotting home standing before him and once to the taxi still running on the side of the road. He took a deep breath, swallowed, and made his way inside.
“I’m coming for ya, buddy.”
To be continued….
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