by Steven F. Boettcher

John Brandon was a collector. He was not a collector of fine art or coins or even stamps. Nor was he a collector of baseball cards or comic books. His passion was for the odd and the sublime. He had spent many hours combing back roads of Upstate New York looking for antique dealers, and in New York, there are antique dealers everywhere.

As John was driving along, what he thought was a deserted road in the heart of the Catskill Mountains, he spotted an old rotted wooden sign that said simply, "Antiques." John was familiar with these signs, but this one seemed to him to be especially old.

John quickly slowed down until he found a small dirt driveway that wound deep into the forest. He saw no sign of a house, but that wasn't unusual. It was the middle of July and the forest was dense with green leaves and underbrush. "Besides," he thought, "this must be the kind of place that must have some really unusual items."

"I remember once," he thought to himself, bringing back fond memories of some of his past finds. "It was in Connecticut, yeah, that's it! I was driving for days and I didn't find anything I liked at those antique shops. They just didn't have anything I fancied. But then, on Cobblestone Lane, I found this antique shop that had the petrified remains of a bear's testicles. I knew that I had to get a pair. I remember that old lady who sold them to me. Boy was she a character. We talked for hours about all the strange stuff she had, but all I really was fascinated by was those testicles. I probably could have found some other neat stuff there, but those balls really blew my mind."

John never realized that he didn't have much of a life. Yes, he was a loner, since he could never find anybody who was remotely interested in his hobby or in him, for that matter. He often talked to himself, to relieve his loneliness, especially on his trips, though you could find him talking to himself almost anywhere. Rarely did he ever turn on the radio. He hated most kinds of music and never did a radio station play the music he did like. He also hated talk radio and felt the speakers were all phonies, who never gave out any useful information. At least, he felt it was useless.

Now he started to drive up the dirt driveway. Slowly in deeper, he went. There were no fresh tire tracks in the driveway and John began to feel that maybe the antique shop wasn't there anymore, but he kept on. The driveway wound left, then right, then left again. John began to worry. He could no longer back out of the driveway. It curved too much. He could only go forward and would have to wait to the end of the driveway before he could turn around. He hoped. Still the driveway curved this way and that. John could see no end. He couldn't even see much into the forest. It was too dense.

Finally, after what seemed to be miles, but in fact only a quarter of a mile, the road straightened out and John could see that it widened up considerably ahead. In fact, he could see a house to the right of the road, where the trees were less dense. As he slowly drove to the house, he noticed how big it was. He also noticed that it was quite old and weather worn. The house looked to be well over a hundred years old. It had a grand front porch with a swinging bench on it's left side. The house was painted white with green highlights all around its borders, though he could see that the paint was peeling all over the house. As he got nearer, he noticed an antique sign in the window, just right of the front door.

That was when he first noticed the front door. It was huge: maybe nine feet high and four feet wide. "Holy shit!" he gasped. "That's one humongous door," he said to himself. "I've never ever seen anything like that in a country home, before. I wonder if anyone is home?"

Hesitantly, he opened his car door and slammed it behind him, just to make sure that anybody in the house would hear him. After taking a deep breath, he walked up the porch steps and went straight to the door. There was no bell, but there was a door knocker. The knocker was heavy and old, but not rusted. John lifted the knocker and let it drop. It hit the door with a dull thud. He tried it three more times, since he didn't think the first knock was heard.

John waited a few moments and then tried it again. After his second knock, he heard a raspy voice call out, "Enough already! I heard ya. I heard ya."

Slowly the huge door creaked open. It only opened a little, just enough so John could see the little face of an old woman peeking from behind the door. Then John felt at ease and said, "Hi ma'am, are you open?"

"Open? Open for what?" said the old woman.

"Well, I saw your sign, back on the road, and that sign in your window, right there," he pointed to the sign that read "ANTIQUES."

"Oh that," she said, "I forgot they were still up. I must get someone to take them down."

"Does that mean, your not open?"

"Oh, I'm an old woman, I don't think I can handle a customer anymore," she groaned.

"But, but I drove down that long driveway. Besides, I have a lot of money." John reached into his front pants pocket and took open his wallet. He opened it so that the old woman could see all of the money he had.

She opened the door a little more, so that she could see the money better, but still she said, "look sonny, I am an old woman and I really don't have much use for money anymore."

"Oh please ma'am," begged John. "Just let me look around the house. If I don't see anything that catches my eye in five minutes, then I will leave and never bother you again."

The old woman paused for a long while, until she finally gave in to John and opened the door. John eagerly stepped into the house.

The house was dark, only the light from a lamp illuminating from a room down the hall, was visible. A silhouette of a staircase going up was all John could see. Then he looked at the woman. She was small and slightly hunched over. Her skeleton thin right hand clutched firmly to a little cane. John noticed that the handle on the cane was carved into what seemed to be a demon. For a second, John thought of asking the old woman if she'd sell her cane, but John gave up on that thought when he realized how much she leaned on it. "Oh well," he sighed to himself.

The old woman slowly disappeared through a doorway on John's left. A few seconds later, a flicker of light began to glow from that room. John followed the light. John stepped into the room and stopped short.

The room was filled from wall to wall with all sorts of furniture and a variety of small trinkets on the many tables and shelves. The old woman sat herself on an old green lounge chair. At first, John felt disappointed at seeing the usual antique items. He looked around carefully for a minute before he turned to the old woman.

"Ah ma'am, do you have any unusual items? I don't want to sound unappreciative, but I've been looking for unusual items. Do you have any?"

"Unusual items?" she asked.

"Yeah, you know, one of a kind object that nobody else would want. Maybe something really ugly or just plain strange."

"You're a weird one," she laughed out loud and then she looked at him slyly. "I really don't have anything like that, except that all this stuff is one of a kind, as far as I know."

"I realize that, ma'am," John began, "but this furniture seems pretty ordinary. Don't you have anything unordinary?"

" Oh let me think," the old woman said as she leaned forward on her cane. "It's been so long since I thought about my stuff. You know, you're my first customer in nearly twenty years."

"That long," he gasped. "How ever do you get by?"

"Never you mind, "she said with a sly grin. "I get by just fine and let's leave it at that."

"Sure, no problem."

"Anyway, young man, what is your name."

"Uh, oh yeah, John...John Brandon," he said slowly.

"You can call me Martha," she said politely.

"Sure Martha, anything you say."

"Look, John, I can't think of anything yet, but maybe if I had some tea, I could think of something. I'll go to the kitchen and cook some up. Would you like some? Yes? Good. I'll go now and make some. I'll call you when it's finished. Okay? Good." Martha slowly got out of her chair and walked out of the room.

John's eyes followed her out the door. When she left, he continued searching through the many antiques. After fifteen minutes, he began to give up, but then Martha called him to the kitchen. He walked into the hall and looked to the room that was emitting light. He walked past the staircase, but quickly took a peek upstairs. He saw nothing. As he walked into the kitchen, he noticed the old wood burning stove. To his astonishment, it looked pretty new. In fact, the whole kitchen was clean and spotless as if it were never used and kept sealed, since it were built.

"This is a very impressive kitchen, Martha," he said with a smile.

"Thank you so much," she replied. "Come sit down and talk a while with me."

John sat at the table. He was facing Martha and he poured the tea for the both of them. He started to take a sip of the tea. It was then that John first saw Martha's eyes. He almost gagged on his tea when he saw those bright green eyes. They were eerily beautiful. For a moment, John's eyes were mesmerized by hers. When he finally snapped out of it, he said, "My gosh, you have the most beautiful eyes. "I've never seen anything like them. They almost look like jewels."

Martha's pale skin blushed a little at John's remarks. "Oh John, you're such a polite boy."

"No, I mean it," he began. "Your eyes are the most astonishing color I've ever seen. I can't even see the white part of your eyes. In fact, I can't even see your pupils. Those eyes are incredible. They can't be real, can they?"

"Yes, John, they are real. I can see you just fine with them."

"That's just so incredible," John said while shaking his head in wonderment. "How did you ever get them?"

"Now that's a long story, John," she said. "If you don't think it will be boring, I guess I can tell you, since I feel I can trust you."

"Go ahead, it'll be my pleasure to hear this story."

"Okay," she said. "It was over a hundred years ago. I'm not totally sure, but I think it was just after the Civil War, when my husband, Jake, was out hunting deer when he came across a tribe of Indians up in the mountains. Usually Jake stayed away from the Indians, since they were such odd folk. But that day, they were being extremely odd. Jake said he snuck behind a nearby rock and watched them for a long while. As far as Jake could tell, them Indians were performing some ceremony or ritual. Anyway, they were standing in a circle, `maybe twenty of them,' he said, with a medicine man and a young white girl in the middle. At first Jake wanted to stop the ritual because he was afraid for the girl. It was strange for a young white girl to be with Indians unless she was kidnapped. But Jake was alone and he knew he couldn't over power twenty Indians. So he just watched them.

"Jake said the girl seemed to be in a trance and that she did whatever the medicine man wanted her to do. Apparently, the medicine man told the girl to take a knife which he held out to her and poke out her eyes with it. This she did. I know because Jake came running back here and told me the story."

John was absorbing every word Martha said while he continued to stare at her eyes. Martha paused a moment to sip some tea. It moisten her lips so that she could continue her story. "Jake was a nervous wreck for almost three days, when a knock came from the door. Jake went to open the door and saw the Indians standing on our porch. But before he could close the door again, two Indians grabbed him and took him away. I was left all alone. I didn't see or hear from Jake for over two years. It seems that during the ritual, one of the Indians saw Jake leave and he followed him here. He then went back to his tribe and they went after Jake when the whole ritual was over. I almost went crazy. It took me over a week before I found the sheriff. You see, we were just as isolated then as now. The sheriff sent out search parties, but there was no sign of Jake or the Indians.

"Then two years later, on almost the same day, Jake came home." Martha's voice became soft. "But he was different. He was now over eight feet tall and almost as hairy as a bear. At first I thought he was a bear, until he spoke."

"What happened to him?" John asked with great interest.

"When he came home, he didn't want to talk about it, nor did he want anybody to see him. Then one day, he told me what had happened to him. Between the time he came home and the day he told his story, he had been hiding a small pouch. In that pouch were these emerald eyes. That day he showed me the pouch and the eyes and he gave them to me for my birthday. Anyway, he began to tell me the story.

"The Indians dragged my poor Jake to a nearby cavern. The cavern was unknown to everybody but the Indians and that was where they lived. The first few days, the Indians tortured Jake. They put snakes on him and let rodents knaw at him, but he didn't die. This amazed the Indians and they finally stopped the torture. But they didn't let him go. In the cavern, Jake met that young white girl. Her name was Beth and she was now blind. But she wasn't regretful because she was almost two hundred years old. She told Jake that she was possessed by those eyes which made her cease to age as long as she wore them. She said to Jake that she liked being a young girl forever, but after a while her family died off and she was alone. Her villagers thought that she was a witch, so she fled to the mountains. Eventually she came across the Indians and they thought that she was a goddess of some sort. But after a while she convinced them that she was cursed and they agreed to help her get rid of those eyes.

"That was when Jake spotted the Indians." Again she paused to sip from her tea cup. John was extremely caught up in her story. Then she began again.

"After a few days," she said, now looking straight at John, "the medicine man began to experiment on Jake. He made Jake drink different kinds of potions at different rituals. Many times during full moons and with different costumes on. After a long time, Jake had no idea how long, he began to change. One day he woke up in the cave and his head almost reached the ceiling. First he thought the Indians had moved him to a smaller cave, but then he saw a couple of Indians and they were small. From that day on, they were afraid of Jake, but Jake wasn't a spiteful man. He didn't hurt them, in fact he had grown to like them, in a way. But he knew he could not stay with them any longer. He now had the strength to leave without them trying to stop him. So that night he left the Indians but not before the medicine man had a long talk with Jake.

"Jake told me that the medicine man was quite concerned with Jake. He was afraid that Jake would come back with more white men and punish the Indians for what they have done. Jake said he looked at the medicine man and gave him a big smile. Then the medicine man knew that he didn't need to worry about Jake. So Jake turned around to leave, but the medicine man grabbed his arm and said, 'he who is like a bear, is like a god.' Jake wasn't sure what the old Indian meant by that, but the Indian continued, 'a god is like the wind, it blows on forever. Sometimes, the wind disappears only to appear from behind a bush or a rock or from nowhere. A god is strong and wise and sometimes a god is angry. A god knows when to pick some berries or kill a deer. You are like a bear, which is like a god, which is like the wind.' With that, the medicine man gave Jake a small pouch. In that pouch were two emerald eyes. So Jake left the Indians."

Martha stared at John for many minutes without saying a word. John was too scared to say anything, he was just so entrenched by the old woman's story. Finally she said, "What do you think the old Indian was saying to my husband when he said 'you are like a bear, which is like a god, which is like the wind?'"

John was quick with a meek reply, "I don't know."

"Well, neither did Jake, at first," she said. "Jake roamed around the mountains for a few days when he figured out what the medicine man was trying to say. Jake thought that the medicine man compared him to a bear because he was big and hairy, but a bear is no god. But the old Indian compared the bear to a god who was strong and wise. So, Jake figured that he had become a smart strong bear, who was like the wind. And like the wind, it never truly dies. It may disappear every once in a while, but it always comes back. It was then that Jake realized what the medicine man really meant. Jake was going to live forever, but not continuously. Then he realized why the Indian gave him the eyes. The medicine man didn't what Jake to be lonely and he knew Jake would be wise and decide how best to use these eyes. From this realization, Jake sprinted home to me, but he didn't know if I would still love him. When he finally came home, he was so excited that as he was knocking on the door, he punched a hole right through it. At first, I was terrified. I just closed my eyes and prayed to my heavenly father. Then, like an angel, I heard Jake's voice. It was different, more raspy than I remembered, but it was his voice nonetheless. I started to cry like I hadn't cried in my life. I didn't care that Jake had changed in appearance. I could tell, just from his voice that he was still the same man that I loved.

"For the next few days he told me everything about what happened except for the emerald eyes that the medicine man had given to him. Jake was still unsure that I really loved him, but finally, on my birthday, Jake gave me the eyes and I have been wearing them ever since. Though I couldn't take them out, even if I wanted to, but I don't."

"So where is your husband now?" said John curiously. "Is he upstairs sleeping?"

A touch of sadness filled the old woman's face. This sadness continued into her voice when she said, "I really don't know where he is right now. You see, a little over twenty years ago, Jake came to me and said that he had to go now. He wouldn't say where he was going, or when he would be back exactly, but he did say that like the wind, he must go now and disappear, but like the wind, he will come back stronger than before. So I've been alone now for over twenty years, but I know that soon Jake will come back and we will be happy again." Her voice trailed off and John could no longer hear her voice.

John sat their just looking at the old woman as she sipped some tea. He felt sorry for her, but he felt good inside. Somehow Martha's story produced a warm feeling within him. Though he knew that he might never know the ending, but that gave him an idea. He said in a soft voice, "Martha, your story has really touched my soul and my curiosity and I would like to meet Jake if I could, when he finally comes back. So if you don't mind, I would like to visit you again every few months, so this way you'd have some company and wouldn't have to wait alone anymore."

Martha's emerald eyes sparkled like they haven't sparkled in years. She was delighted to finally have a new friend who would come to visit. Just that thought eased some of her anxiety over waiting for Jake's return. For once, in a very long time, she smiled a true smile and John found an item that was the most unusual he ever found, a friend.

The End.


Copyright 2001 by Steven F. Boettcher