Family and Friends

Authors: curious goods clerk

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1: Arrival

Claire opened the door as the figure on the other side raised its hand to knock again, and smiled, "What can I help you folks with?"

The redhead gave a sweet smile, "Claire Suffolk?" Claire nodded. "I'm Micki, and this is Ryan. We're from Curious Goods. You answered our mailer?"

Claire smiled, "Of course, Sugar. Why don't you two come in - it's unseasonably cold."

Claire led them into the living room, "Can I interest you in a cup of hot coffee before we go back outside to the barn?"

The young man and woman exchanged glances, "Some coffee would be wonderful," Ryan answered finally.

"Cream and sugar for you both?"

"Just cream," the two answered, almost in unison.

Claire left to get their coffees, leaving them in the cozy living room. Claire lived in a country farmhouse, out of which she ran a mail-order business making crafts, and every room in the house kept some of her supplies - yarns, felts, fabrics, and miscellany.

When Claire returned with a tray of three coffees, Claire saw that the two had sat on the sofa together. She set the tray down on the coffee table, and sat in the single chair, "You two didn't make the trip out here just to see little old me, did you?"

Micki smiled, taking one of the coffees, and wrapping her cold hands around its warmth, "No...well, kind of. While we're here, we're going to be doing some buying from local antique stores, thrift shops, and anyone else who has something to sell."

"Well, feel free to ask about anything else in the barn, most of it's junk from my dad's farm."

Ryan sipped his coffee, "Thank you so much, Claire. We really appreciate your willingness to sell the milk can back to us."

"Well, I bought it for my dad, before he passed away, and I don't have any use for it."

"I'm so sorry to hear about your dad," Ryan said sympathetically.

Claire smiled, "Thanks, but it's been almost two years, now, and it's not so hard any more."

"How did he pass away, if you don't mind my asking?" Micki spoke softly.

"He died of a heart attack while he was out in the fields, trying to fix a busted fence. He was supposed to be careful, he knew he had a bad heart, but he was a stubborn old goat."

"I'm so sorry," Micki repeated.

"Thank you, Sugar."

15 minutes later, Claire swung open the barn door, and led them inside. It was a clean barn, with stuff piled up around the edges, antique farm equipment and other junk. Ryan rubbed his hands together, "So, where is it?"

Claire pointed upward, over the door. There were 10 shelves, and the first 8 held milk cans. The last two were empty. Claire frowned, "That's weird, it's supposed to be right there."

"Are you sure it's not one of the others?" Micki asked.

"No, it's not. I bought it, and another replacement, for my dad. The one you wanted was in the number 9 spot. They each represented one of the original 10 cows that made this farm a success. He put them on the wall, and that's where they stayed."

"When's the last time you saw it?"

"When I got your mailer, I came out to see if it was here, and it was. That was three months ago, now."

Micki and Ryan seemed perturbed, "Who would have taken it?"

"Who would want an old milk can? Nobody uses them any more - they're anachronisms. I'm so sorry, I don't know what happened to it. Are you going to be around for a while?"

"A couple of days, maybe a week," Ryan said slowly.

"Check back with me before you leave - I'm going to see if I can't find out who took those two cans. It was probably some high school kids out for a good time."

Micki smiled, "Well, thank you, Claire. We really appreciate it."

"You're welcome, Sugar."

2: Backup

Claire served coffee at the kitchen table, and sat across from her friend, "I don't know who would have been interested."

Lisa sat up straight in her chair and shook her head, "Well, it was an antique. But I don't think anyone in this town knows enough about them to steal it. How much was it worth?"

"I bought it for $50, and they're going to buy it back from me for $100."

"Not bad, but not enough to tempt in some stranger. Tell you what, let's go out into the barn and look around. Maybe it just got misplaced."

"It belongs on the shelf."

"Yes, but Claire, maybe your brother put it somewhere it didn't belong."

"Well, Josh never was one for cleaning up. Okay, let's go see what we can find in the barn."

The barn was cold, and dusk was coming, but the two long-time friend made their way into the second level of the barn, poking through the pile of junk. While they worked, they talked, and drank their coffees. It was well after dark when the two women went back inside, and sat in front of the fire to warm themselves.

"Well, looks like Josh didn't leave it up there. Maybe he put it in the attic," Lisa said after a few quiet minutes.

Claire sighed, "I suppose he might have. I'll check it out tomorrow, I guess."

"Why are you so interested in finding it? Do you need the hundred bucks?"

"No, Lisa, but I feel bad. These two nice young people came all the way out here for it."

"You always did have an over-developed sense of guilt."

Claire sighed, "I know, but I feel bad anyway. So, what time should I expect you over tomorrow?"

Lisa smiled, "I'll help you search the attic if you make lunch."

"Noon it is."

3: Junk

"You've got a lot of junk up here, Claire."

"I know, I know. I can't get rid of anything, you know that, Lisa. Let's get some more light in here." Claire walked carefully to the far end of the attic, and pulled up on the latch to open the wooden shutters that served as an attic window. "This house was the original barn on the property, you know? Daddy converted it after the house burned down in '53."

"Really? Is that why this house is built so strangely?" And it was. The attic had 4 compartments. The main section was the shape of the original barn, and the other 3 sections branched off, turning as they followed additions to the house.

"It is. There was an addition to the barn, so that they could use the upper part of the barn to toss down bales of hay. The other additions were part of the conversion to a house."

They were in the second addition, poking around under the white sheets that covered the piles of junk.

"So, how's the mail order business going?"

"Good, thanks. Business is good, and I even have a little bit of money left over at the end of the month. How about your farm? Are you still having trouble with that farm-hand you hired to help out?"

"No, we worked out our differences. He's working out just fine."

"Good! He seemed like a nice enough young man."

"He is. Oh, what's this?"

Claire looked over to see Lisa holding up a photo album, "Oh, that was my mother's. Set that aside, I want to take it downstairs with me."

Claire opened the door, and smiled, "Well, I didn't expect you back so soon. I'm sorry to say that I've had no luck locating that milk can, but rest assured, I am still looking. But, I did find some fine antiques that have been in my family for a good long time. Come in, have some coffee, and I'll show you what I found."

Claire and Lisa were in the first attic addition, and Claire had opened the original loft door to let in light and fresh air, "It's getting dark. I really appreciate your help looking up here for the last three days, Lisa, but it's just not here. Someone probably stole it."

"You never know, Claire. Maybe someone wanted to see it used, instead of sitting on a shelf in a barn."

Claire shook her head, "No one would use something that old for milk, Lisa - it's not up to snuff for today's hygienic standards."

"Maybe it wasn't used for milk - it still holds liquid..."

Claire paused in her hunting through a crate, tilting her head to the side, "Lisa, darlin', are you the one who took that old thing? What are you keeping in it, rainwater?"

The hair on the back of Claire's neck stood up on end at the sound of Lisa's giggle, "Rainwater? No, Claire, I use it for something so very much better."

Claire turned her head to look at her friend, just in time to see her raise a cane over her head. Claire stood quickly, raising up her arm in front of her face to protect herself.

Lisa grinned evilly, "You've always been there for me, Claire. Be there for me, Claire. Just one more time."

Claire stepped back, "Lisa, what are you talking about?"

"You'll find out, Claire. I promise."

"But Lisa..."

Lisa stepped toward her, and Claire took another step back. Her foot slipped, and she fell backwards. She landed squarely on her back, and as she lay gasping for breath, she saw Lisa step forward to the loft door, looking down at her.

4: Reaping

Claire woke, every muscle in her body aching. She opened her eyes, and saw stars overhead - it was a crisp, beautiful night. She was shivering with the cold, and knew she must have been here a long time - it had been light out when...

The vision of Lisa, about to attack her, came back quickly. She turned her head to get an idea of where she was - she was near Lisa's barn. She was tied down, and she tried to remember what it was she could be tied to out here, but couldn't think of anything. Whatever it was, it was cold. Her hands were tied together, over her head, and her body was tied down. Even her legs were secured to the cold surface below her.

She shifted, trying to loosen her bonds, but they were tight. She struggled, wearing herself out, and lay there, breathing heavily, watching a cloud pass between herself and the clouds.

Finally, she heard a sound, and turned her head. It was Lisa's farmhand. "Travis!" she called out.

He stopped in his passage across the yard, and turned to look at her. He came over, walking quickly. As he got closer, she wished she hadn't called to him - he was dressed in black, close-fitting pants and shirt. He looked down at her and smiled, "Awake so soon? Miss Lisa will be happy. I'll go let her know."

And he walked back to the house, leaving Claire to struggle desperately against the bonds that held her, wondering what was going on.

"Now, Claire, you stop that. It's not your time yet."

Claire looked up at Lisa, and felt her blood run cold. Her friend was dressed in a hooded black robe, and her eyes seemed cold and empty. "Lisa, what are you doing? What is all this about?"

"About? My dear friend, this is about my farm finally making a profit. We're going to feed the soil, and this harvest will be the best this town has ever seen."

"What are you going to do, Lisa? Why don't you let me go, and we can talk this through over a nice cup of coffee?"

Lisa laughed, "Not this time, Claire. The moon will be rising, soon, and you will be the last one I need to fill that milk can you've been so worried about."

"Fill? What are you talking about, Lisa?"

"Here it is, Miss Lisa," Travis' voice said flatly.

"Very good, Travis. Set it there, right next to her, and open it up. We need to get her set up."

Claire watched Travis wheel the dolly next to her, and pulled off the lid - the rich smell of blood reached her seconds later. She turned her head the other way, and closed her eyes, "Lisa, what have you done?"

"I've been working for this harvest for a long time, Claire. I didn't really want you to get involved, but after all, you are the original owner of this thing. It's the way it has to be."

"Lisa, don't do that...this won't really help the harvest..."

"Oh, it will. I know it will. I have the right ceremony for the reaping, and I have the right ceremony for the sowing. It will be magnificent. Travis!"

"Yes, Miss Lisa?"

"Let's go inside until the moon rises. It's freezing out here."

5: Wasted

Claire lay shivering, staring up at the sky. She couldn't believe Lisa had turned to this. She knew this area - there was no one around for miles, except her own home.

She heard the screen door slam, and looked over to see Lisa and Travis walking over. Both were now dressed in hooded black robes. Lisa stopped at her side, Travis went around to her other side, "The moon is up, Miss Lisa, and it is full."

"Yes, Travis, it is time. Are you sure she's ready?"

"Yes, Miss Lisa, she's ready."

"Good." Lisa pulled a kitchen-knife from her robe, and it glinted in the moonlight.

Claire shrank into herself, "Lisa, please don't do this...I'm your friend."

"And you always will be."

Claire felt the blade of the knife slash into her left wrist, and screamed in pain. Lisa clucked her tongue, "Now, now, no one will hear you. There will be no more pain for you, anyway."

Claire could already feel blood on the surface beneath her, warm beneath her hands rested on the cold surface, "Lisa, please, don't kill me..."

Lisa ignored her, "Travis, prop up the feet another few inches - we don't want to waste all this blood under her clothes."

"Yes, Miss Lisa."

Claire felt the cold surface shift, and now her head was much lower than her feet. At the same time, she heard a trickling sound - her blood running into the milk can.

She started crying, unable to keep brave any longer, "Lisa! Lisa, stop this!"

Lisa ignored her still, "Come, now, Travis...we have to start the ceremony."

Claire watched as Lisa led the farm-hand to a picnic table nearby, and pulled open her black robe, revealed her naked body beneath.

Travis started kissing her neck, and Claire looked away as Lisa helped him out of his pants, unable to believe this. Of all the unbelievable parts of this situation, she was most shocked at this - Travis was 30 years Lisa's younger, maybe more.

The sounds of their love-making added to her torment as she began to feel light-headed, and knew she was bleeding to death. She felt despair for the first time in her life, and a great sadness, not only for her own death, but the loss of her friendship, and her friend's soul, surely lost in this selfish act of greed.

Her eyes closed, and she began to pray.

It felt as though a band was wrapped around her wrist, her pain lessened as though her bonds had been loosened, and she knew her time was coming soon. But the screech of sheer rage brought her back to consciousness, and her eyes fluttered open. She saw the young lady with the flame-red hair standing by her side.

Lisa came running at her, "Stop! Stop! You're ruining my sacrifice!"

The redhead was untying Claire, but she had to stop to deal with Lisa, who came flying at them. Claire's eyes roved, and she saw that the young man who had arrived with the redhead was fighting with Travis.

Travis shoved him backward, and he fell against Claire. Whatever the surface was she was on, it started to tip, teetering, and fell onto its side.

Her head lolled to the side, unconsciousness threatening, and she heard Lisa scream, "You wasted it! You wasted my precious sacrifice! You wasted it!"

She opened her eyes just in time to see Lisa trying to right the milk can, while trying to stop the blood flowing forth. Her hand slipped into the mouth of the can, and Claire's eyes widened as she watched her friend's arm as it seemed to melt into blood.

The last thing Claire heard before she passed out was Lisa's shrill scream.

6: Good-Byes

Claire awoke to see bright lights overhead. I've died and gone to heaven, she thought.

"Claire? Claire, can you hear me?"

She turned her head to see the redhead there, "Micki?" she asked weakly.

The girl smiled, "Good. Let me go call the doctor."

"Wait! What...what happened to Lisa?"

Micki licked her lips nervously, "Lisa..."

"I heard her scream. What happened?"

"We don't really know..."

"I saw her...she started to melt...into blood, nothing but blood, and then the could that happen?"

Micki shook her head, "I don't know, but we told everyone that Lisa ran off. We don't know how to explain what happened."

Claire looked thoughtful for a few moments, a sad, yet relieved look spreading across her face, " you think she's dead?"

Micki looked down, then her eyes met Claire's and she nodded slightly, "We don't know for sure. She just kind of vanished. I'm really sorry, Claire."

Micki smiled sympathetically and took Claire's hand as Ryan walked in holding two cups of coffee. He grinned when he saw that Claire was awake, "Claire, hey, nice to see you awake. We were getting worried about you."

Claire smiled, "You two waited here this whole time, just for little ol' me to wake up?"

Micki and Ryan nodded in unison at the old woman and she smiled at the two young antique dealers.

By now Claire's eyes were wet with tears as she thought about what had happened, "Thank you. Thank you both for coming all the way out to save me from that evil. I don't know how to thank you two."

Ryan handed Micki a cup of coffee, "We should be thanking you, Claire. Thanks to you, that old milk can will be locked away for good and won't have the chance to ever hurt anyone again."

"Is that why you two were looking for it? Is it evil all by its lonesome?"

Ryan smiled slightly, "It is. I'm just sorry your friend was drawn in by its allure."

Claire shook her head, "So am I. Thank you so much for stopping her. For saving me..." she was about to say more, but a nurse stuck her head in the door, "Claire, you've come around at last! I'll go get Dr. Evans, and he can check you over. You lost a lot of blood on that butchering table...sorry about Lisa."

Claire shook her head, "I don't think anyone is as sorry about Lisa as I am, Cindy."

Cindy went to find the doctor, and Claire looked at Micki, then Ryan, "Thank you again. I would have died on a butchering table if you two hadn't been there. What...what happened to Travis?"

"Arrested, on charges of attempted murder. He pretty much went crazy after what he saw the milk can do," Ryan answered.

Claire shook her head, "I can't thank you two enough."

Micki took her hand, "We're just glad to help."

She looked up as the doctor came in, "We'll check in with you again before we leave, Claire."

Claire watched her two saviors leave, and smiled slightly to herself - at least the harvest would be good this year.