The cool breeze of autumn hung in the air, tugging at the multihued leaves on the trees. Down a long winding road, lined with twisted trees lay a dark Victorian mansion, the front door swung freely in the breeze slapping the doorframe a rhythm all its own. The shutters, stained and rotted, shivered from the cold air as the dirty, cracked windows stared disconsolately across the garden – a tangled mass of briars and brambles. The sun flitted behind the clouds, as if shielding itself from having to look down upon the house. And for twenty years the house remained empty, unwanted and unloved, but for one night, it would have a visitor who would never forget what happened there.
Jonathan Spenser, of no fixed address, trotted up the pathway from the road to the front door. Slung over his shoulder was a bedroll, and under his arm, he carried a satchel with his worldly possessions – a toothbrush, a bar of soap, a can opener, and a Bible. As his foot settled on the porch, the floorboards let loose an ominous groan. He tested his next step carefully before trusting it with his full weight. These old houses can be tricky, he thought. It would do no good to fall through a floor in one of these old homes – he knew better than to expect help. No, he was alone – just the way he preferred it. Alone with his thoughts, where he could sit and dream of a better life and circumstances. But for now, solitude was the desire – and this old house fit the bill nicely. Big imposing and protected by rumors and unexplained fear. Just the sort of thing that kept people away and made it possible for vagrants like himself to take up residence without fear of being roused up in the middle of the night. He caught the door as it swung towards him and with a tug, pulled it shut – fastening the crossbar to prevent it from coming open again.
The fading light of day gloaming in the windows, wrestled with the shadows behind dust-covered chairs and tables, sheets of cobwebs canopied the interior, from ceiling to floor. A large chandelier lurked above his head shrouded in darkness. He stepped forward cautiously, a metallic thunk greeted him as his foot struck an old candle lamp laying on its side. He picked it up and inspected the wick, and seeing it still in reasonable condition, fished out his cigarette lighter and lit it. The lamp light pushed into the shadows, glinting off dust coated photo-frames lining the mantelpiece, and a clock showing 12:03.
Jonathan glanced at the photos, brushing off a frame, a beautiful young woman glared out at him, her face fixed in its timely emotionally stilted style. “Hello beautiful,” he said. A crash echoed from upstairs. He made his way over to the stairs, choosing his steps carefully. As he stepped into the upstairs hallway, another crash greeted his ears. It appeared to be coming from behind a closed-door to his right. He slowly eased open the door, and found himself looking into a large bedroom, filled with covered furniture, including a large canopied bed. Drapes billowed into the room as another nerve jangling “bam” erupted from an open window. Through the window, he saw the outside shutters drifting in the breeze. Moving quickly, he reached through the open window, pulled the shutters closed, and lowered the sash. His eyes stared through the dirty window into the back yard, a tangled mass of briars and brambles. In the center was a stone statue, the form of a woman, her back to the house, arms upraised. At the far end of the yard, a faded path led down to a tall, hoary old willow tree. Hanging from one of the tree limbs, a swing moved disconsolately in the breeze. Just beyond the tree lay a leaf-covered pond.
Despite the obvious neglect, Jonathan had to be impressed; the house and grounds must have been impressive in its Victorian heyday. But now, it lay ignored and unwanted, a pile of rotting wood and cobwebs. At least it will keep the rain off my head, he thought. Growling interrupted his thoughts, as his stomach reminded him of the other reason for seeking shelter. Let’s see what is in the kitchen. He moved into the hallway and back down the stairs. At paused at a picture above the stairs. An older man with large mutton-chop whiskers stared at him. The cold forbidding eyes perused his ragged clothes and unkempt hair. Jonathan stepped back involuntarily. Nasty old tyrant, he thought. Pushing on he reached the dining room. The light from the late afternoon sun still slanted through the windows, relieving him of the need for the lamp. He set it down on the table, extinguishing the wick to save it. As he passed through the double doors into the kitchen, as his eyes scanned the corners, and quickly located the pantry. Perhaps something was left. He scanned the shelves and smiled. Some cans stood in the corners, nearly submerged in dust and cobwebs, but still there might be something edible. He grabbed a can and blew a cloud of dust off the label. “Peaches,” he said aloud, quite pleased.
As he stood up, something glinting caught his eye. He stood on his toes. A dark glass bottle lay on its side, its label faced away from his view. He reached up and pulled it down. Dom Peirgnon 1869. Jonathan knew something about wines, and the name and vintage perked his mind. With satisfaction, he noted it was unopened. Ah yes, my sweet, he thought. Tis’ time to celebrate and live the good life. But when he stepped back into the kitchen, he stopped short. Nuts, I don’t have a bottle opener! His eyes fell upon something sitting on the counter. A bottle opener sat upright near the edge. As his hand closed upon it, he could not help wonder. How did I not see this when I came in, and why is it free of dust and cobwebs? Perhaps, he reasoned, I overlooked it in my haste to find some food. Satisfied with his explanation, he made his way back into the dining room. But as the doors swung shut, he again stopped in his tracks. A single glass sat on the table next to the lamp he had left there. Light from the lamp pushed against the approaching shadows cast by the approaching sunset. Jonathan rubbed his eyes, he must not be thinking clearly, neither the lamp had been lit, nor the glass was there previously, he was sure of it. Had he lost his mind? He eyes drifted to the wine bottle. Well, if I am going crazy, at least I’ll be able to enjoy it. He sat the wine bottle on the table, next to the glass and inserted the corkscrew into it. Might as well toast to my good fortune. The irony of his statement was quite lost on him.
End of Part 1