Authors: curious goods clerk

Hosted by

1: All that glitters...

The cold air whipped her hair into her face as she plodded along the icy trail towards the well-lit cave. With each step Rebecca could hear the snow crunching loudly beneath her snowshoes. And she was thankful to have them.

She clutched the small jar close to her body, making certain that not a drop of the precious liquid spilled.

As she neared the gaping mouth of the cave a grin spread across her face. She could hardly wait to see what this newest batch would fetch. The last one had been several thousand dollars worth, and he was just a simple ice fisherman who had done a few good deeds in his life.

But this one...He was a true altruist. Would give anyone the shirt off his back.

She chuckled to herself. A sound that was drowned out by the whir of the generator that kept this place lit. True, only snow was needed, but this place, so desolate and in the middle of nowhere, had proved itself to be the perfect spot.

And with the near constant snow and icy bodies of water, hiding the bodies was a breeze.

Rebecca pushed back the fur-lined hood of her coat, and dropped to her knees, ignoring the stinging sensation that shot up her frozen legs. Her mind was on one thing.

With numb fingers, she pulled off her snowshoes and placed them, crisscrossed, onto the snowy surface below. Her trembling hands twisted at the bottle until the cap finally popped off.

Steadying her hands against the shivers, Rebecca leaned forward and poured the rich, red liquid carefully across the snowshoes, watching as it drained through. The snow stained pink beneath the mesh, darkening to a red as more liquid met the ground.

The bottle was now drained and Rebecca leaned back, watching intently. The ground began to take on a soft glow, and before she knew it, the entire cave was vibrant with a soft red light. A warmth had spread through the cave, and Rebecca was now on the verge of sweating under the heavy coat she wore.

The light seemed to be brighter than the last time and gained more vibrancy with each passing second. Eventually the red neon hue pulsated and overtook the cave, creating a blinding, super-nova-like effect that forced Rebecca's eyes closed.

After several more seconds, the light began to fade, the warmth ceased, and Rebecca's eyes shot open.

She grinned, tossing the snowshoes out of the way, and scooping up a large handful of the glimmering rubies.

2: "wish we could be chasing cursed surfboards."

Ryan leaned forward and gave Micki a peck on the lips, inhaling the sweet, floral fragrance of her perfume.

He would miss that intoxicating scent while they were away. He would miss Micki even more.

"Cursed snowshoes," Ryan started bitterly as he loaded up with more gear and headed towards the door, "wish we could be chasing cursed surfboards."

"Ryan, what about that cue stick that you are after?" Jack asked as he headed towards the door.

"I haven't heard anything about it yet, but that kid I met..."

"Yeah, Johnny..." Jack echoed back.

Ryan nodded, "Yeah, I'm having him check out all the pool halls and he said he'd call me if he heard anything. That reminds me, Micki..."

Micki turned on her way up the steps and smiled; a smile that lit up the room and made Ryan thankful to be at the shop for a few more minutes before his trip to find the snowshoes with Jack.

Ryan smiled back at her, "If you hear from a guy named Johnny, give us a call, will ya?"

Truthfully, Ryan knew that Micki could handle things at the shop, but he was eager to hear from her while they were away, and the Johnny thing seemed like the perfect excuse for a phone call.

Micki nodded, still smiling in a way that made it nearly impossible for Ryan to look away.

"Yeah," Micki answered, "Stay warm! And be careful!"

Ryan fought to shift his gaze from Micki's beautiful face as Jack opened the front door to the shop and headed for the taxi that waited outside.

3: A nice warm diner

Ryan and Jack trudged along the snow covered street. They were headed towards the only diner in the tiny town, and they were starved.

Cold air swirled in around them as they entered through the heavy wooden doors, and felt the warm air inside surround them, chasing the chill away.

The waitress looked up from behind the register, and gave a cursory smile, "Welcome, fellas, take any seat you want, I'll be with you in a minute."

Ryan nodded, noting the old-fashioned register, much like the one back at Curious Goods. Jack beat him to a response, "Thanks."

They took a seat in the back of the room, at a small booth. The diner was moderately full, evidence that they had beat the dinner rush, although how much of a rush there would be remained to be seen.

The waitress took their orders about five minutes later, and delivered their hot coffees only moments after that, "We don't get many strangers in this town. What are you fellas doing out here?"

"We're antique dealers, looking for things to stock our shop with. You'd be surprised where you find the best pieces," Ryan said in his usual, hesitating manner.

She smiled, "Well, I might know a few folks who wouldn't mind the extra money, and getting rid of some stuff. Why don't you stop in tomorrow morning, after ten, and I'll tell you who they are, and where they live."

Ryan and Jack smiled at the unexpected courtesy. "Thanks a lot," Ryan said, taking a swig of the warm coffee in front of him.

As the waitress left Jack gave Ryan a cheerful look, "Well that was certainly helpful, now all we need to do is figure out how much money we can come up with for the things."

Ryan leaned forward so as not to offend anyone with his next statement, "C'mon, Jack, look around. I don't think we need to be too worried about coming up with a small fortune for a couple of ratty old snowshoes."

Jack held up a finger and gave Ryan a knowing look, "Don't be too sure, my boy. You'd be surprised what secrets these small towns can hide."

4: Rebecca's house

Rebecca jumped when she heard the knock on her door. She hadn't been expecting anyone this morning, and suspicion quickly rose within her.

Rebecca stuffed the last of the rubies hastily into the sack in the closet and took a deep breath. She needed to regain her composure so that no one suspected anything. The last thing she needed was for all of her hard work to be stolen out from under her.

With one more quick look around, Rebecca opened the door. She was surprised to see two strangers, one old and one young, standing on her porch.

"Good morning. Is there anything I can help you two with?"

Jack took off his hat, always the gentleman, and began to speak, "Good morning, Ma'am, we're terribly sorry to bother you, but we are antique dealers doing some traveling, and we were hoping to pick up a few unique items for our shop back home."

Ryan spoke up, "We got your name from Margie, the friendly woman back at the diner. She said you may have some things you might be willing to sell."

Rebecca forced a smile, "Did she now? Well, why don't you two come in from the cold. I was just about to have some tea and there's more than enough for three."

"We wouldn't want to put you to any trouble, Miss..." Jack baited.

"Please, call me Rebecca. It's no trouble at all. Come on in."

Ryan and Jack stepped inside and took off their damp, heavy coats as Rebecca appeared with a small pot of tea and three cups and saucers.

"So, what is it exactly you two are searching for?" Rebecca asked as she set the tray down on the table and poured the steaming liquid into the cups.

"Well," Ryan started, "We've been looking around for vintage sporting goods. You know skis, skates...snowshoes..."

Rebecca stopped what she was doing for a few seconds. Long enough to arouse the suspicions of the two travelers. "You wouldn't happen to have anything like that, would you?"

Rebecca chuckled, a throaty noise that sounded ever so slightly strained, "Well, I do have a pair of old skates, but they are pretty busted up and I doubt you could get much for them. One of the blades is missing. Beyond that...I haven't a thing in that category, I'm sorry."

Jack continued to make conversation for the next few minutes, using a technique he had been honing in an effort to get information out of someone, without him or her really knowing it. Meanwhile Ryan asked Rebecca if she would mind if he looked at some of the "beautiful things" she had laying out...trinkets and such. Of course she was all too happy to oblige as she chatted away with Jack.

Ryan got up and surveyed the trinkets that lay out on various flat surfaces. A few porcelain figurines, some gorgeous artwork, and a small group of family photos. Curiously, Rebecca was not in any of them.

Just as Ryan turned to head back to the sofa, though, something caught his eye. A red glimmer on the floor beside his foot. He looked back, noting that Rebecca was still engaged in conversation, and he quickly leaned down to pick it up.

It was a ruby. And not a small ruby, like the kind that might fall out of a ring, but a large ruby, about 5 centimeters in diameter. Ryan shoved the stone into his pocket and made his way back to the living room, taking his seat on the sofa. "See anything you like?" Rebecca asked.

Ryan smiled graciously, "You have some beautiful artwork on the walls. I only wish we were in the market for some of those."

Jack glanced down at his watch, "Oh, would you look at the time. Rebecca, we've kept up long enough, I'm sure you have other things to do today, and we need to get back on the road. But thank you for the hospitality."

Rebecca smiled, standing up with the two men, "It's been my pleasure, it's not too often I get company around here."

They headed for the door, said their good-byes, and walked back out to the rented car. "So, what do you think?" Ryan asked once they were in the safe confines of the vehicle.

Jack started up the cold engine, and drove away, "Well, she seems nice enough, and she didn't actually say anything strange, but...I don't know, Ryan, I just have this funny feeling. What did you find out?"

"Well, it's really weird; she isn't in any of those family photos. I mean, she could just be camera shy, but it seems weird. And then, when I was looking around, I found this on the floor," Ryan dug out the gem from his pocket. The light bounced off of the large stone and Jack looked surprised. " She didn't seem like she had enough money that she could have one of these laying around."

"Exactly," Ryan nodded. "I think we need to head back over there later after Rebecca heads out for the day. Margie said she goes ice fishing in the afternoons, maybe we should go check it out then." Jack nodded, "We'll grab an early lunch and stake out the place."

5: Planning for the future

Rebecca lay out her riches, handfuls of beautiful rubies, on the small kitchen table.

She wanted to sell them, and now she needed to decide where to sell them, and for what price.

They were gorgeous, and she hated to part with them.

Rebecca really did need the money, but they were so beautiful. She sipped her coffee, enjoying the hot liquid as she carefully considered what to do.

Those two men who had been at her house earlier suddenly popped into her mind.

They had been asking questions that made her uncomfortable. Questions that were too pointed to be coincidence.

Something had to be done about them. She considered - they were staying in town, and there was only one motel in the area.

Rebecca leaned back in her chair and took another sip of coffee as she planned her next series of actions.

She needed more rubies, that was a certainty. And she couldn't stand to part with the beautiful gems unless she had more to keep with her.

Her thoughts shifted back to the strange travelers.

The old man had looked especially kindly, a wonderful person...he would be perfect.

A smile touched her lips as she thought of all the beautiful rubies she could get from him.

6: "What happened to her husband?"

Ryan looked up from his sketching as Jack emerged from the bathroom of their cozy room - they had, as they often did, opted to save money, and share a room with two beds. "I'm glad we have a good heater in here."

Jack nodded, drying his hair with a towel, "Me, too. It's freezing out there." He looked at Ryan for a moment, "What are you working on?"

"Rebecca. It bothers me about the way she wasn't in any of those pictures. Something's wrong..."

"I think we know she has the snowshoes, Ryan, of course there's something wrong."

"But there's something more. I don't know, something seems really wrong..." Ryan held up his sketch-pad, "I drew a couple of the people in the pictures, from memory, and she has no family resemblance to any of them."

"Maybe she married into the family."

Ryan considered, "That's reasonable. But what happened to her husband?"

Jack walked over to the room's thermostat and turned the heat higher, "I think you've got a winning question. Who do we ask to get the answer?"

"Rebecca's husband?" Margie shook her head, "That's a bad story. He was killed by a wolf, down by the lake. Rebecca found him, shot the wolf, but she couldn't save him in time. He died in her arms, right there by the water's edge. She hasn't been the same since then."

"When was that?" Ryan asked.

"About...a year ago, now, I guess. She took it pretty hard, like I said, and we don't see as much of her as we used to."

"That's awful. Well, I'm sorry I asked. Thanks, Margie." Ryan paid the bill, and met Jack outside. They started down the street, to their motel, "He died last year, supposedly a wolf-attack, up by the lake."

"By the lake, again? She spends a lot of time up there."

"She does. Hopefully, we can grab the snowshoes tomorrow, in the morning, while she's out."

"Hopefully so. We have no idea what they do, or how many people have died because of them, but it likely has something to do with that ruby you found. And probably to do with her husband, too."

"I think so, too." Jack yawned, "It's been a long day, and I've got some reading to do. I'm going to go to the lobby to get a cup of coffee. Do you want one?"

Ryan looked up, and shook his head, "No, thanks."

7: Rebecca's lair

Ryan awoke, freezing cold. Something was wrong, and he stifled a moan as his mind worked to understand where he was.

There had been a strange odor in the room, and he had gotten up to try to figure out what it was.

He faintly remembered falling, hitting his head on the nightstand table, and nothing more.

That explained why his head hurt, but it didn't explain the freezing cold sensation that made him shiver.

Ryan clenched his teeth to keep them from chattering, and opened his eyes, just a tiny bit, to look around. All he could see was whiteness, the color of cold.

He looked around a bit more, and saw more whiteness. As Ryan's eyes adjusted, he was able to distinguish patterns in the white world that surrounded him. He was facing a cave wall, about 6 feet away.

Hearing nothing, he risked a glance around. There was nothing here, except an old generator, a couple cans of gasoline, and nothing more.

Ryan was about to get to his feet when he heard a sound outside the small cavern. Feeling dizzy, he decided to hold still, and pretend to be unconscious.

Watching through barely open eyes, he saw Rebecca drag Jack's body through the mouth of the cavern, and knew this might be his only chance, while her back was to him.

Ryan jumped to his feet, but fell back immediately, dizziness overtook him. Not willing to risk Jack's life, he struggled to his feet and charged Rebecca.

Having heard him fall over, she was ready, but not as ready as she thought. They struggled, and Ryan, fiercely determined to protect Jack, knocked her over, and together, they tumbled out of the cave.

Rebecca was the first to regain her feet, and she glared evilly at Ryan, "You're supposed to be dying of exposure, not fighting with me."

"So you can use me, just like you did your husband?" Ryan shot back, stepping away from her defensively.

She laughed, "My husband? I used him, all right. I used him to pay my gambling debts. But he was such a jerk, he wasn't really worth much. I bet you and your friend are worth much, much more."

Rebecca backed away from Ryan, toward her sled, and pulled a baseball bat. Ryan was a little surprised, stepping back into the cave. He dragged Jack further into the cave, looking desperately around for something to defend himself with as he did.

Rebecca was pacing just outside the entrance, and Ryan worried what she was doing. He propped Jack up against one of the walls, to help keep him warmer, and cast his eyes on the generator that whirred away in the back corner. He looked behind the generator, seeing that there was enough room, and dragged Jack back there, so he would be more protected, and warmer.

Ryan's teeth were chattering, by now his flannel pajamas were wet with the snow, and the wool socks he had been wearing were soaked through. He warmed his hands by the generator, watching the entrance to the cavern the whole time.

Looking for a weapon, his eyes fell to one of the gas cans by the generator - it was a cheap plastic thing, but it would have to do. It would, however, be better if he could get something to truly defend himself with.

Time passed, and nothing happened. Rebecca had them at a true disadvantage - Ryan had taken to the shelter of the cave, but they couldn't get out, and he was getting really cold, despite the heat of the generator.

Time continued to drag on, and Jack stirred. Ryan glanced down at him, but he hadn't woken yet. Ryan felt really cold, and he knew that this kind of exposure couldn't be good for him.

If Rebecca waited long enough, he would just freeze to death. But he was pretty sure she couldn't use him for whatever the snowshoes wanted if she did that.

Ryan stamped his feet, trying to make sure there was still circulation in them, and was relieved to see that Jack was coming around. Ryan crouched by the generator's side, watching the entrance, and spoke quietly, "Are you okay, Jack?"

Jack struggled to sit up, "I guess so, but what happened? Where are we?"

"Some sort of cave. Rebecca...she's got the snowshoes, I saw them on her sled. She's outside, but I don't know how long she will be."

Jack struggled to his feet, "I'm freezing! How long have I been out?"

"Half an hour, maybe more."

Jack rubbed his hands together, trying to warm himself by the generator's heat, "Do we have a plan?"

Ryan nodded, a sly smile spreading across his face, "We do."

8: The final struggle

Rebecca heard the shudder of the generator motor as it started to die, having run out of gas.

She looked in, and saw the younger man standing by the generator, looking concerned. The old man must still be unconscious.

Now was her chance, as the generator died. She charged him, letting her momentum carry her through the flickering light toward him. But she tripped on something, and landed prone in the snow.

Both men ran past her, and as she struggled to her feet, she heard them, already at her snowmobile, "I've got them, Jack, let's get going!" the younger one exclaimed.

They were about 30 yards from the cave when she caught up with them. She wrenched the snowshoes from Ryan and shoved him into the freezing bank of snow beside the snowmobile.

He hit the ground with a thud and by the time he scrambled back to his feet, Jack was wrestling Rebecca for the snowshoes.

"Give them to me, you bastard!" Rebecca shrieked.

They teetered back and forth, dangerously unaware that they had stumbled onto a frozen patch of ice that was cracking beneath their feet.

"Jack! Jack, look out, the ice is cracking!" Ryan shouted, inching forward cautiously.

He didn't want to get too close to the delicate layer of ice, but he couldn't leave Jack alone to fight the psychotic older woman.

Jack finally managed to tear one of the snowshoes away from Rebecca and hurled it over to Ryan who caught it in mid-air.

Rebecca spun and leveled a glare at Ryan, knowing that she needed both shoes to gain her treasures, "Give it back to me!"

She started towards him when her foot caught in the ice, causing her to fall forward and lose her grip on the other snowshoe. It slid towards the edge of the ice and tumbled into the cold river below.

Ryan followed the current of the water and picked the snowshoe out of the river as it rushed past him.

"NO!" she shrieked as she scrambled forward to reclaim it from the icy water. Her steps were unsteady as she struggled forward to grab the shoes.

She made it to her feet and lunged forward, grabbing one of the shoes and, again, losing her footing on the slick surface. This time, as she fell, her head hit a nearby rock with a thud.

Blood trickled from the wound and ran in a steady stream across the wood frame and mesh centre of the snowshoe. When Rebecca saw the rubies forming beneath the shoe she began to laugh, thrilled at the sight of the newly budding treasures.

But when she realized how the rubies were forming, from her own blood, she let out a scream.

Jack and Ryan stepped back from the sight, unsure of what to do. As they watched, Rebecca shrieked and writhed as her body was pulled through the mesh of the shoe and her blood poured out as brilliantly shimmering rubies.

After several disturbing seconds, Rebecca's body disappeared, leaving behind a surprisingly small pile of rubies.

Ryan stepped forward, plucking the snowshoe from the snow and looked at Jack, "Let's get out of here."

Jack nodded, and they made the long trek back to the motel.

9: Home sweet home

Jack and Ryan had returned home late the next day, and were surprised when Micki had strolled in with Johnny at her side.

In her hand, the pool cue they had been tracking down for weeks.

After finding out that Johnny wanted to go on helping them relocate the accursed items, they all talked for a few hours over dinner.

Finally when Johnny had gone back home, and Jack was asleep in his room downstairs, Ryan walked over to where Micki stood in the kitchen.

She smiled, wrapping her arms around him, "I'm so happy you're home...that you two made it back safely."

Ryan smiled, "Nice to be home...still thawing out, though, from all that snow."

Micki laughed softly and pushed a stray piece of hair from Ryan's eye as she stepped back.

"Micki..." Ryan's face grew serious and Micki noticed for the first time that Ryan was starting to look less like a boy and more like a grown man.

She smiled, "Yes, Ryan?"

He looked down for a minute, then looked up, "You and Johnny...I aren't really planning on going out with him, are you?"

Micki's smile widened, amused that Ryan still seemed jealous. He had seemed a bit tense when Johnny had asked her about dinner, but she thought it had been her imagination.

"Jealous?" she asked playfully, raising an eyebrow.

Ryan chuckled, running his hands through his hair. Micki could swear she saw a light blush take over his face, "That obvious, huh?"

Micki laughed and nodded, "Yeah...but sweet. It's nice to have you home, Ryan."

Ryan grinned and gave Micki a light kiss on the lips, "There's nowhere else I'd rather be."