“I heard he was a Russian warlock who was being hunted down by the Germans during World War II and that he escaped to the U.S. so that the Nazis couldn’t use his powers to take over the world.”
“Don’t be a moron. He was part of that cult that summoned a demon over in Siberia. What’s that place called? T-something?”
“Yeah, that’s it. Where all the trees were blown up and shit!”
“Would you two idiots shut up? People are starting to stare at us.”
David picked up another of the alchemical-looking apparatuses, this one with a ceramic basin and curved, cloudy, glass outflow pipe. It lay on the folding table among various plates, cups, and normal, though old, kitchen implements.
“Maybe he was just a chemist or made meth,” he said tossing the item back on the table.
“No, no, I know that this old guy was into some weird shit,” Tommy insisted. “We just gotta keep looking.”
The day was grey and the air smelled of dead leaves and fall rain. David peered around the yard in front of the brooding gothic mansion. The estate sale of the dead man sprawled out in front of the place and gave the impression that the house had disgorged its contents through the huge iron doors. A sparse mixture of curious neighbors, and intrepid bargain hunters wound their way back and forth between the tables, furniture, and piles of miscellaneous items that were vaguely sorted according to room. He, Tommy, and James didn’t blend in well with their ripped jeans, black, death metal shirts, and various piercings. They had already been searching for something cool and occult for a half-hour, and though keen at the start David’s interest had waned over time. Most of what they had seen so far was just junk, old junk, but still junk, and David really just wanted to go buy a six-pack and get hammered.
He wandered away from James and Tommy who were examining some old bottles and found a chair between a wardrobe and an ancient refrigerator that hid him from their view. He flopped down into the chair which creaked angrily at his invasion. David leaned back in the chair and was about to close his eyes when the carved designs on the side of the dark wooden wardrobe caught his eye. They were actually quite gruesome with depictions of soldiers fighting terrible monsters of varying descriptions while a large dispassionate entity, presumably some sort of god, loomed overhead. The soldiers were obviously at the losing end of the deal with most being dismembered, eaten, or burned alive by the hoard of beasts.
Finally something interesting, thought David. He rose from the chair and sauntered over to get a better look. The wood was so dark that it was nearly black and it seemed extremely thick as well. It was large enough that several people could probably fit inside of it, but old enough that such a stunt might cause it to collapse. As David followed the carvings around to the front, he found more of a sedate scene with the soldiers preparing for battle and bidding farewell to the women and children. Most of the faces were serene, but now and then David could pick out a look of terror or sadness, and one of the children’s faces was frozen in a creepy grin like she knew what was about to happen to the soldiers just around the corner. The doors had large tarnished handles and were locked by an ornate and impressive key that protruded from an oddly-shaped keyhole.
David scanned around and saw no one paying attention to him, so he turned the key and felt the locking mechanism doing its work before hearing an audible click. The door didn’t open, so David tried one of the knobs and then swung the heavy door open. Inside the wardrobe seemed dark and stolid and a musty odor wafted from the interior that smelt of old clothing and wood. The door held a full length mirror on the inner side, but the silver was so badly tarnished that David couldn’t really see his reflection in it. He was a little disappointed to see that the interior appeared empty, but as his eyes adjusted to the dimness he spotted drawers lining the back wall. Again, he glanced around to make sure no one was watching him, then David stepped up and inside the wardrobe and shuffled his way to the back. His body blocked some of the gloomy exterior light, but he could see well enough when he began opening drawers, to see that they were all empty.
“Damnit!” he breathed, standing, and slamming the last drawer shut. When he did, he heard a small metallic noise. David bent down and opened the drawer again, but still saw nothing inside, so he pulled the drawer completely out and spied a key at the back of the shaft. He reached back and palmed it then looked at the back of the drawer. There were brittle pieces of old masking tape which must have secured the hidden key to the drawer. David slid the drawer back into place and then appraised the key. It looked similar to the massive key for the wardrobe’s outer door, but only in miniature. David was really excited now. He scrutinized the inside of the wardrobe looking for a keyhole but found nothing, so he jumped outside and began examining the outside.
Just as he was getting frustrated and thinking that the stupid little key could open anything anywhere in the entire estate sale from a jewelry box to a diary, David noticed a tiny keyhole on the back corner of the right side of the wardrobe. It was very hard to notice against the dark wood because it was right at the crook of a soldier’s neck. He’d been very lucky to spot it, and desperately wanted to jam the key in and see what was inside, but at that moment a lady in a dark grey suit walked over to him. She looked him over more closely and the smile that she’d had affixed to her face drooped slightly. She noticed the open door of the wardrobe and her eyes became even less friendly. She cleared her throat.
“I see that you’re admiring the antique wardrobe. The estate is willing to entertain any offer above twenty-five hundred for this piece.”
David considered his options: he could just split and try to come back later when she wasn’t watching to open the secret compartment, he could go get James or Tommie and give them the key, then try to distract her so that they could open it, or he could try a little sweet talking. He smiled confidently.
“It is a really awesome piece, but obviously too rich for my blood.”
The woman nodded and stood her ground.
“Buuuuut, if I show you something that could up the price for the estate, will you give me a discount on what’s inside?”
The woman hesitated.
“There isn’t anything inside. It’s empty.”
David shrugged slowly.
“Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. I’d love to show you, but I need a little something in return.”
The woman’s eyes raked the side of the wardrobe, but since she didn’t know exactly what she was looking for, she didn’t see the tiny keyhole. David could sense her curiosity piquing. He pegged her as probably some kind of antiques appraiser.
“O.K. Show me and I promise to give you a discount.”
It was a very vague promise, but David had a knack for knowing when people were bullshitting, and this lady wasn’t. Also, this was probably the only way of doing this that wouldn’t get him in more trouble with the law. He held out his hand to her.
“Shake on it then?”
The woman reached out a manicured hand and shook David’s once. He had the key palmed and dropped it into her hand.
“Oh!” She gazed down at the key in her hand. “Where did you find this?”
“It was taped to the back of one of the drawers inside.”
“And you know what it opens?”
David pointed at the side of the carved soldier’s neck with his index finger.
“I think so.”
The woman’s eyes sparkled as she fit the key into the small hole and turned it gently with her thumb and index finger. They both heard it when something near the bottom of the wardrobe released, and David squatted more quickly since he was wearing jeans instead of a skirt. A little drawer had opened at the bottom edge of the wardrobe and he pulled it gently out while the woman was bending down. The drawer was just big enough for the book inside. It was some kind of old journal with a carved wooden animal head on the front. A wolf head.