Loretta fanned herself with
her entrance tickets to the Antiques Across America Extravaganza.
The morning sun baked the long, snaking line to enter the
county fairgrounds exhibit hall where the show would film.
Her scalp itched terribly, but she couldn’t scratch through
her thick mat of
To pass the
time, she eyed the antiquities around her. She prided herself
on her good eye. About ten feet ahead, a man toted a chair
with hairy bear-claw carved feet. Another woman carried a
stained cardboard box with a palm-shaded Tiffany lamp rattling
back and forth. Every time the woman took a step, Loretta
husband Samuel carried their artifact of choice: a Georgian
card table with clean, straight lines. She knew it originated
in the Philadelphia area around 1800.
to the hall was flanked by carved wooden pillars. Runes circled
the smooth surface. Enchantment detectors. She expected as
much after the fuss on a show last season. A dim-witted appraiser
read aloud microscopic print on the underside of a Victorian
brazier, triggering a fire spell that torched the table,
the appraiser’s pants, and caused an evacuation stampede.
Several lawsuits were still pending, but the show’s cable
audience had quadrupled. The incident had certainly caught
A gust of conditioned
air welcomed them inside the hall. A suited man with a tablet
computer smiled at their approach. “Welcome to Antiques Across
America!” he said. “Tickets, please?”
them over. The man clucked his tongue and nodded. “You can
head towards the furniture area, back by the yellow flags.”
They wove through
the thick crowds, Samuel’s steps heavy in her shadow. The
only woman ahead in this new line carried a folk pinewood
bench that was obviously a modern reproduction. Loretta wrinkled
the other people. A few familiar faces had blended with the
crowd, but no one met her eye. The man with the hairy bear-claw
table stood in the middle of the hall not far from the illuminated
stage. His item had been found worthy of the camera crew,
but that was no guarantee of authenticity. Each broadcast
included a few suckers.
there.” Their appraiser was an older woman with a body like
a chest of drawers, stout thickness from scalp to ankles.
Her tight silver perm radiated hairspray within a three-foot
radius. “You are…?”
and this is my husband, Samuel.”
Smith, of Smith Antiquities.”
recognized her from the television show. This woman was an
efficient and scrutinizing appraiser, just as Loretta needed.
Samuel set the table atop a larger table, and Mrs. Smith
began her examination.
“My goodness,” she
murmured. “This is a beauty. A semi-circular Georgian table.
Nice, tapered legs. Are you aware of what this was used for?”
“It’s a card
table,” said Loretta.
is. Can you help me flip it over?”
forward and flipped the table upside-down with a single twist
of a meaty arm. Loretta bit her lip. This was where things
would get interesting. She met Samuel’s steady gaze and then
glanced at the crowd beyond.
“Oh my.” There
was a long pause. “I think this table would be phenomenal
on our broadcast. Would you mind waiting around a while more?”
her disappointment with a nod and smile. Waiting longer wouldn’t
be that bad, and standing in the center of the hall would
make it easier to observe more fascinating items as they
They were guided
towards the stage. Filming was wrapping up for the hairy
“…and I estimate
the value to be around $100,000,” said the appraiser.
owner, with his pear-shaped gut and faded t-shirt, play-acted
a heart attack. “Are you serious? Oh, gosh.”
It was their
turn next. Loretta stood on stage. Samuel paced off set near
the previous guest, who seemed immobile in shock. The producer
signaled the cameraman.
went through the usual background information for the ignorant:
that card tables were popular in the 18th and 19th century,
and Loretta had brought a fine example. Then she asked to
turn the table over.
“But this is
very unusual here,” said Mrs. Smith. “It looks to be a drawer
built into the base.”
feigned surprise, a hand to her chest.
“If I just
pull a little here—oh.” Mrs. Smith tugged the cigarette
box-sized drawer loose, and then the ghosts poured out.
were benign. These were not.
of a slender man shrieked in Mrs. Smith’s face, his hands
reaching for her throat. The appraiser cried and stumbled
backward as his translucent hands seared red welts across
her neck. Screams echoed in the hall around them as people
fled for the exits.
patiently as she had all morning. It had taken months to
gather the spirits of twelve deranged murderers, and shoving
them in that little drawer only strengthened their rage.
The wards on the hall wouldn’t detect spirits, after all.
“Move it,” she
said to Samuel. He hauled up their table. Loretta motioned
to the rest of their crew as they emerged from the chaos. “You,
grab that bear-claw chair. That painting—yes. You,
to the linens. You know what to look for.”
people cowered on the ground as ghosts howled around them,
feeding on their fear. Loretta swatted a female specter away
like a fly. They had all drugged themselves to stay cool
and passive so as not to attract the ghosts. Loretta scooped
the Tiffany lamp from its box and flung a Navajo blanket
over her shoulder.
She cast one
final glance over the place as she walked towards an emergency
door. Next season they’d undoubtedly add mediums at the entrance
along with their ward pillars, if the show still existed
at all. Sweat itching beneath her wig, Loretta nodded approval
at her people’s finds. Like her, the entire heist crew had
an excellent eye.