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I wandered through town that afternoon in search of something to kill my boredom. It was 2:46. School had been let out less than ten minutes ago and all my friends who usually explored our small city with me had either stayed behind for some scholarly reason or gone home. It was a crisp, fall day. The leave were brown and fluttered to the floor as I walked. The world seemed calm.
Where I live, there isn't a ton to do. Don't get me wrong, it's not the middle of nowhere where you have miles of nothing between you and a neighbor, but it isn't so crammed with people that the only space you get is your 400 square foot studio apartment that costs you nearly half your salary. So, finding someplace new is kinda hard. It seems like everywhere you go, you've already been there at least once.
But that place...
I still don't know where it came from. It popped up in an outlet center that I don't even remember being there when I was a kid. It was pushed in the corner with dark windows. Vague figures stood still, almost like they were watching you from afar, waiting for you. The only thing you could see clearly was the wooden sign hanging on the outside of the door. "Open."
In hindsight, it definitely looked like a "Horror Movie 101" moment, but I hadn't got super into those yet and it was the most interesting thing for miles. A schoolgirl, fresh out of class and looking for trouble was the perfect victim for such a place.
The bell jingled as I stepped into the shop. A hello would've been nice, but no one sat at the register. The place seemed completely abandoned. Hundreds of antiques hid in each cluster that I passed. It felt... overwhelming—like the place felt stuffy and restricting. Even though everything was everywhere, everything also seemed to have a place. Each trinket was oddly... neat. The meticulousness of everything almost drove me to leave, but I wasn't about to let myself give up that easy. I went further in.
Giant grandfather clocks stood in one corner. Vintage suitcases sat in the next. It seemed like every nook and cranny was filled with junk. Small trinkets lay hidden in drawers of dressers and under the cover of old jewelry boxes. A chandelier hung from the ceiling with what seemed like lines of dusty pearls dripping from the golden rods. If everything didn't look like it hadn't been touched in five decades, it probably would've been dazzling.
There was one thing that caught my attention in particular.
An emerald ring glistened behind the veil of dust. It seemed so perfect. The gem was cut into the shape of a square and was encased in gold. The band clung to it like a claw hanging onto the past. I don't know what came over me. I was always the first one to tell off my bonehead friends for touching things that weren't theirs, but my hand just... slipped.
An icy hand gripped my wrist. I looked up to see a man-like figure with glistening eyes. "No touching."
"I'msosorry!" I rushed, tugging away from his grip. Every time I resisted, he tightened his bony fingers. It was so dark in there, I could only see the outline of his figure and the shine of his eyes. "I-I didn't mean to. It just..."
"It just... called to me."
He loosened his grip and seemed to blink in surprise. I yanked away, soothing my sore wrist but still keeping an eye on him.
"That's an odd thing for a girl in your age to say."
In my...? "Uh—maybe, but that's just what it felt like."
He considered something for a moment and picked up the ring. The dust fell off and revealed an even more brilliant green. I felt hypnotized by its beauty.
"Buy it, then. If it calls to you."
"Oh, sir, I don't have any money."
"This is not that kind of store."
I looked at him, confused. "What kind of store is it, then?"
"I collect things from different ages. I travel a lot to places unexpected to find things forgotten. People come in here and trade many things. You trade me something of yours, and I will give you this," he explained, motioning to the ring.
"I don't think I have anything that valuable."
"All things are valuable, child. It can even be the first thing in your pocket."
I tried to think about what I did have in my pocket. I didn't just want to give him a piece of gum and call it a day. If he was willing to give this ring to me, I at least wanted to make sure what I gave was somewhat valuable. Or at least held value with me.
"Oh!" I exclaimed. He blinked again in surprise as I dug in the left pocket of my blazer, passed my packet of gum and numerous papers of phone numbers I'd forgotten to throw out. I pulled my favorite pencil and presented it to him.
"Ah, a... writing tool?"
"It's a mechanical pencil," I explained. "But it's not just any pencil. It's my drawing pencil. I've had it for a few years now and it's the best one I've ever owned. It's seen me through my anime phase, and gotten me through plenty of art classes."
"Ah," he nodded. "An artists' beloved pencil. Are you sure you could part with such a token?"
"Well, it's gonna be hard, but I don't have anything actually valuable. So this is the next best thing."
He nodded in satisfaction and traded me the ring. It was only when he held up the pencil to the light that I got a glimpse at his face. His skin had this grey hue and his lips were cracked. The look struck fear in me.
"This is a wonderful trade," he said. "It's the most interesting one I've had in..." he trailed off.
"...Well, thank you, sir, but I think I must be going now. It's getting late."
"Ah, yes. Carry on, child. Safe travels. I will take very good care of your trinket."
"And I'll do the same."
So that I did. I've had the ring for years now, but never saw the shop or the man again. I tried to take my friends there the next day, but in true horror-story fashion, it vanished along with all its vintage treasures. Since graduating, I moved to the city in search of a stable job and the typical American dream. Most days are the same office, same train, same shops.
The other day, though, I thought I spotted a familiar sign.