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Trifles and folly, p.1

Trifles and Folly, page 1

 

Trifles and Folly
 



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Trifles and Folly


  TRIFLES & FOLLY

  A Deadly Curiosities Collection

  Gail Z. Martin

  The right of the author to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owners.

  This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead), locales and incidents are either coincidental or used fictitiously.

  Trifles and Folly © 2016

  Table of Contents

  Trifles & Folly Copyright Page

  Introduction

  Buttons

  The Restless Dead

  Retribution

  Coffin Box

  Wicked Dreams

  Collector

  Bad Memories

  Shadow Garden

  Spook House

  Excerpt from: Vendetta: A Deadly Curiosities Novel

  Note from the Author

  Other Books from the Author

  About the Author

  Introduction

  Welcome to my world. This collection of short stories is from the Deadly Curiosities’ universe, and as odd as it sounds it began with real life. Authors take inspiration from many places and for me, life events took me down a dark and mysterious road. It all began with Buttons, I was asked to participate in the Solaris anthology Magic: The Esoteric and Arcane and had to come up with a new story. I’d written several involving Sorren set in earlier times but I wanted a fresh take and a modern setting, and Cassidy was born.

  At the time I was dealing with the recent death of my father and my husband and I were settling his estate, dealing with auctions and appraisers and sorting through a life-long collection of stuff. Not ordinary stuff, but the kinds of things that provided fodder for ghost stories. Though obviously I took some creative liberties, some everyday items do have unusual providence, and oh, the things they’ve seen!

  Over the course of the short stories and novels, the characters grow and change, as you’d expect if they were real people. When we first meet Cassidy in Buttons and in Deadly Curiosities, she is very new in using her gift of psychometry, and the visions often throw her for a loop. As time goes on, she gains more skill—both in controlling her magic and in using it defensively. Teag also grows in his magical abilities, and Sorren proves that continued growth and change are part of a successful long existence.

  I hope you enjoy these stories and if so, there are more available and more to come, including the full length novels: Deadly Curiosities and Vendetta.

  Buttons

  “MORE BUTTONS, CASSIDY? I swear, you read those things like a steamy novel.” Teag Logan sailed into the shop and never even slowed his pace.

  Some people read novels. I read objects, especially buttons. I can glimpse the dizzying highs and shadowed lows of a stranger’s life in a single, beautiful button.

  I’m Cassidy Kinkaide, and I own Trifles and Folly, an estate auction and antiques shop in beautiful, historic, haunted Charleston, South Carolina. Truth be told, we were also a high-end pawn shop on the side. I inherited the shop, which has been in the family since Charleston was founded back in 1670. We deal in antiques, valuable oddities, and very discreetly, in supernatural curios. It’s a perfect job for a history geek, and even more perfect for a psychometric. My special type of clairvoyance gives me the ability to ‘read’ objects and pick up strong emotions, sometimes even fragments of images, voices, and memories.

  “Shipment from the weekend auction just came in,” I called to Teag. “I love Mondays.”

  “Let me know if you find any ‘sparklers’ or ‘spookies’,” Teag answered. “I’ll get the ‘mundanes’ out on display.” In our time together, Teag and I developed our own private language. ‘Mundanes’ are items that are lovely but lack any psychic residue whatsoever. ‘Sparklers’ resonate with the psychic imprints of their former owners. I’ll set those aside until I can go through them. ‘Spookies’ reek of malevolence. They go into the back room, until Sorren, my silent partner and patron, can safely dispose of them.

  Most people think Trifles and Folly has stayed in business for over three hundred years because we’re geniuses at offering an amazing selection of antiques and unique collectibles. There is that, but it’s only part of the story, a small part. It’s the back room that keeps us in business. We exist to find the dangerous magical items that make their way onto the market and remove them before anyone gets hurt. Most of the time, we succeed, but there have been a few notable exceptions, like that quake back in 1886 that leveled most of the city. Oops.

  “This is all from the Allendale house south of Broad Street, isn’t it?” Teag asked, coming back in with a steaming hot cup of coffee.

  “The house itself was impressive,” I answered, “but it was packed to the gills. Old man Allendale was a collector and a hoarder.”

  “Bad for the family; good for our business,” Teag replied. “It’s not often we need four full-day auctions to clean a place out, and that was after the family took what they wanted and got rid of the trash.”

  “The crowds came for the Civil War relics,” Teag pointed out, brushing a strand of hair out of his eyes. He’s in his mid twenties, tall and skinny, with a skater-boy mop of dark hair, and a wicked sense of humor. He looks more like a starving artist than an aspiring art history Ph.D. candidate, but he’s ABD (All But Dissertation) at the University of Charleston. Blame Trifles and Folly for derailing his ambitions. One summer’s part-time job working with the amazing antiques and oddities that come through this store, and academia lost its attractiveness. Now he’s my full-time assistant store manager, as well as assistant auctioneer, archivist, and occasional bodyguard.

  “The guy spent a lifetime wandering around battlefields, since he was a kid in the Twenties,” I replied. “If you think the pieces we got for auction were good, imagine what the museum took. They got first pick, for the new Edward Allendale Memorial Exhibit.” I glanced at the pile I was sorting. Mostly small stuff, like musket balls, belt buckles, old postcards, and buttons. A big glass jar of buttons.

  I shifted in my chair, trying to get more of the draft from the air conditioning. Summer in Charleston was brutal between the heat and the humidity, and my strawberry blonde hair was more frizzy than usual. I tucked a lock behind one ear because it refused to stay in a pony tail. One look at me and you could guess my ancestors’ Scots-Irish background, with the green eyes and pale skin that had a tendency to burn the instant I stepped out into the hot South Carolina sun.

  “Be careful, Teag. We’ve got at least one ‘spooky’ in the pile that came today. I can feel it. I’m getting a very strong sense of something… evil. I just haven’t found the damned thing.”

  Teag looked at me and raised an eyebrow. “Dangerous?”

  I frowned. “Dark. Consider it dangerous until proven otherwise.”

  Teag leaned against the doorframe. “Didn’t Sorren say there were stories about old man Allendale? About the house?”

  I nodded. “Yeah, but there are stories about most of the old homes south of Broad, and most involve ghosts. Sorren wanted us to take this auction because he was certain there was more to these particular stories.”

  “Grumpy old man with no close family, hoarder, has a heart attack and dies,” Teag recapped. “Happens every day, somewhere.”

  I tried to split my focus between my inner sense and paying attention to Teag. “Not quite like this. Neighbors complain about a shadow watching from an upstairs window. Reports of strange noises. People say their dogs
don’t like to walk near the house.” I let my hands hover a few inches above the large boxes yet to be unpacked.

  “There’s a… residue that clings to everything, like old cigarette smoke, but it’s not physical, it’s spectral. I can feel it. Everything’s tainted.”

  Teag looked at me over his trendy eyeglasses. “If it’s so dark, how come we let it go to auction?”

  “Sorren and I went down to the auction site while you were busy dealing with the rest of the event details. We tagged everything he and I thought had a powerful enough resonance to warrant a second look, and had it taken out of the auction until we could go through it.”

  “So what you’re saying is, we’ve got a whole shipment of ‘spookies’, or at least ‘sparklers’,” he replied dryly. “Wonderful.”

  “Sorren says he’ll be here after sundown to help us go through everything,” I said. “All we need to do is catalog what came in, and let him know if anything in particular gives off a strong vibe.”

  “If anything gives off a vibe strong enough for me to feel it,” Teag replied, “it would probably knock you flat on your behind. You might want to let me open the boxes and have a first look.”

  “Fine by me. I’m going to start on the buttons.” Buttons speak to me more often than most objects. I’ve always thought it was because they were worn for long periods of time, day in and day out, often close to the skin.

  I reached for the large tray I use to sort buttons, and picked up the jar to dump it out. I felt a tingle in my hand, and I knew that I’d be picking up strong images from some of these buttons. Strong… but nothing felt evil. I promised myself I would be careful.

  I watched as a river of old buttons spilled out onto the tray. Mid-Twentieth Century and older, I guessed, watching the array of colors and shapes waterfall out of the jar. Some, made of metal, wood and bone, looked much older.

  I picked up a pencil and used the eraser end to poke the pile of buttons. Using the pencil insulated me from the full strength of the impressions, but didn’t block them altogether. That was helpful when I wanted to keep my wits about me.

  Images flashed through my mind on many of the buttons. The echo of a child’s laugher sounded in the distance when I touched a plastic, heart-shaped button. A round ivory disk yielded a woman’s voice, humming to herself and an image of rolling out dough in a kitchen. My pencil flicked among the buttons, and in my mind I saw the blackboard in a long-ago school room from a shirt button, memories of a heavy winter storm from a coat’s fastener, and the distant strains of an orchestra from a dainty pearl ball. It went on like that for a few minutes, glimpsing fragments of long-ago lives, until my pencil hovered above one particular button.

  An image came to me so clear and strong that it transported me beyond the back room of my shop.

  Tall grass, dry from the summer heat, slapped at my legs. The air smelled of sweet honeysuckle, mixed with the acrid stench of gunpowder. Not far away, I could hear the thunder of cannons. My heart was pounding and my palms were sweaty. I gripped my rifle more tightly, comforted by the smooth wood of the grip, and the cool metal of the barrel. Hoof beats pounded closer, not just a few men on horseback, but a cavalry unit on the move. Men would die today. The fear that I might be among them seemed to freeze my blood.

  “Cassidy! Come on Cassidy! Snap out of it!” Gradually, Teag’s urgent voice intruded and the vision receded. I shook my head, and came to myself. Teag stood over me, worried but not surprised. He’d seen me ‘trance out’ enough times to know what to do.

  “I’m okay,” I said, still reorienting. Teag’s glare meant he knew damn well that I wasn’t all right.

  “Do you know which button sent you day trippin’?” He made an effort to sound flippant, but I could hear genuine concern beneath his words.

  “That’s the one,” I murmured. “I’m certain most of the resonance is coming from this button.”

  Teag frowned as he bent over the tray, then picked up the button and held it between thumb and forefinger. “It’s old. Looks military. Might even be Civil War.”

  “I’m almost certain it’s Civil War,” I replied, remembering the images I had seen. “The question is, why are the impressions from this button so much stronger?”

  Teag sat on the edge of my desk. “Did you pick up on anything when we were at the house? Get any visions?”

  I shook my head. “I never went inside, remember? I was working the Oliver estate, and I left the Allendale house in your hands. Other than a peek in the front door, I never got close.”

  “The crew was uncomfortable working there, particularly after dark,” Teag replied. “The lower floors weren’t a problem, but they really didn’t like the attic.” He paused. “A couple of times, when the men were loading the truck, they said they felt like someone was watching them from an upstairs window, even though no one was in the house. And Jorge, one of my best workers, called off sick the last day. He never gets sick, but the day before, he swore he’d been chased by a shadow. I don’t think he wanted to go back in there.”

  “I don’t think this button is a full ‘spooky’,” I said, daring to let the pencil hover a bit nearer to the worn metal button. ‘Spookies’ were malevolent items or objects with a dark magical history. I knew better than to touch ‘spookies’. I turned them right over to Sorren, and he locked them up, neutralized their magic, or sent them off for further study. Sorren had been at this for a lot longer; I was happy to leave those details to him. “Maybe just a strong ‘sparkler’. He doesn’t feel angry just… terribly sad.”

  “Wandering around for more than one hundred and fifty years without being able to rest would make anyone sad, and a mite cranky, too.” Teag looked around the back room and through the door to the loading dock. “Get readings from anything else we brought back?”

  I got up and began to wander among the boxes, letting my hand trail along their sides. I felt the residue of daily life, hopes, fears, hunger, and exhaustion, but one box made me stop and examine my impressions. “What’s in here?”

  Teag bent to look at the label, since only he could read his scribbled writing. “Antique baby items. Very good condition.”

  “That’s because they were never used,” I said quietly. “There was a christening gown, embroidered linen with eyelet lace?”

  Teag nodded, his eyes widening. “Yes. Very pretty.”

  “Set it aside for Sorren. The child died right after the baptism. I’d hate to think someone might purchase that and carry the resonance forward to a new baby.”

  Teag moved the box away from the others. “Consider it done. How about anything to go with that button?”

  I had moved among all the new boxes, and none drew me in or offered up impressions that matched those of the button. It’s hard to explain, but when I pick up on ‘residue’ from an object, it’s as if that impression has its own special frequency. Nothing else was on the button’s frequency.

  I shook my head. “Nothing.” I paused, thinking. “Of course, I don’t know what I would have picked up from what the museum took. Maybe that button came from a uniform that was in the boxes for the exhibit.”

  “I am not taking you in the museum again. No how, no way,” Teag said, holding up his hands. “Do you remember what happened when we accidentally ended up in the Plagues and Pestilence exhibit?”

  I shuddered. Yellow fever, small pox, malaria, diphtheria, and cholera all wrote their own bloody lines of the city’s history. The impressions from that display were so overwhelming that I passed out and didn’t regain consciousness for a full day. Even then, it had taken some of Sorren’s arcane know-how to bring me out of it. I was happy to donate money to the museum, but there was no way in hell I’d step foot inside again.

  “I remember,” I muttered. “But maybe a family member could provide some details.”

  “Not much family to speak of,” Teag said, consulting the file he accessed on his smart phone. “There’s a niece who drew the short straw, so to speak, on having to c
lean up after him. No other living relatives.”

  “Got an address?”

  Teag looked at his watch. “What’s it going to be for the rest of the afternoon, until Sorren gets here? Unpack boxes or play button, button, who’s got the button?”

  “Button hunting,” I decided. “I don’t think the resonance is dangerous, but I’d hate to be wrong about that.” I’d learned the hard way to play it cautious after an unfortunate incident with a trunk full of antique porcelain dolls. I shuddered. That was going to show up in my nightmares for a long, long time.

  “Okay then,” Teag said, mustering good spirits for the hunt. He put the button into a plastic box, and he put the box into his pocket. “It’s a pretty day. Let’s head out to see the niece. My notes said she works nights, so if we head over right away, odds are good we’ll find her at home.”

  Teag’s phone had all the contact information, so he handed it over while he drove. It was a glorious day, though hot and humid, something that comes with living in Charleston. If you didn’t grow up here, you either loved the weather, adapted quickly, or packed up and left.

  I called Sullivan Michaels, Mr. Allendale’s niece. She was surprised to hear from me, but agreed to see us, especially when I hinted that we had found something of particular interest among the ‘junk’ she had been happy to sell at auction.

  Teag made a few turns, and pulled into the driveway of a modest, one-story ranch house. Sullivan Michaels’ house dated from the 1950s rather than the 1850s, but it looked neat and well-maintained, a far cry from the run-down state of her elderly uncle’s home. Teag and I walked up to the door and knocked.

  Sullivan Michaels was a plump woman in her middle years. She looked as if she was just getting ready for work, and judging by her clothing, I was guessing something in the hospitality business, maybe the night manager at a hotel or restaurant. She had a broad, intelligent face, but there was no spark that suggested passionate curiosity. “You made good time,” she said, welcoming us into her home. “I set out some sweet tea and cheese straws if you’d like a bite.”

 
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