The Wooden Chest

This story has a few episodes in it already, it sort of took off when I wasn’t looking and I have a weird situation where I wasn’t sure which scene to post first. I’ve gone with this one as it’s the first one I wrote and has the prompt that kicked the whole thing off, although it’s heading a totally unexpected direction (in fact, it started doing so before I even finished writing this piece).

So, here it is and I’ll probably post up the ‘prequels’ in the next few weeks, so it’ll be in some sort of chronological order, other than this.

Prompt: You buy a large antique chest at a car boot sale. When you arrive home, you store some things in it. The next time you open the box, your items are gone and in their place is a note that reads ‘Very intriguing, please send something else’.

Ally had just been looking for something to add a bit of character to her new home. The notice board outside the library was advertising a car boot sale that weekend, it was a perfect chance to pick up one or two things to counter the Scandinavian minimalist aesthetic, otherwise known as Ikea, that currently dominated.

She locked up the cottage, hopped in her own car – boot empty – and headed off in search of treasure.

The sale was being held in a field next to the local primary school and she stopped off at the school’s cake stall for scotch tablet, the likes of which can never be found in shops.

The trash and treasure clothing area yielded some possible gems in the form of Indian silk skirts, rather the worse for wear, that could possibly be made up into vibrant, luxurious patchwork cushion covers. The rest of the areas were less inspiring. She continued to wander toward the far end of the field.

A farm truck stood at the end of the line, with an odd collection of old furniture and ornaments, and some truly lovely new wooden chairs and tables. Most of it was well out of her price range, they really were beautiful pieces, but a slightly battered old wooden chest, caught her eye. It was in quite good condition and very well priced, to the point she wondered what was wrong with it. As she was considering the chest, the stall holder finished up the sale he’d been in the middle of when she arrived and came over.

“Oh, yeah, that’d be great-grandfather’s old sea chest. He was one of those who went to sea to make his fortune and supposedly brought it back in that. It’s been locked most of my life, that’s why it’s so cheap, whoever buys it will need to work out how to get it open.”

Ally turned as the stall holder was speaking and blushed slightly as she realised he was quite a lot taller, an awful lot younger than she’d assumed from a distance and all up, rather disconcertingly handsome.

“It may be a good challenge for me, and if it stays closed, I could always upholster the top and use it as a bench.”

The stallholder looked at her properly for the first time, “I never thought of that. Although I’m not sure I’d trust my abilities with a needle. Woodworking is all well and good but fabric is a touch too flimsy for my comfort.”

“Did you make all the furniture here?”

“Made or restored, yes. Great grandad’s chest is the odd one out and I’ll likely catch hell from grandma for bringing it here today but it’s just taking up room and seems to deliberately jump out and bite toes if you’re not paying attention around it. I think it needs to be put to some use to make it behave again.”

“Do you treat all items of furniture as if they’re alive?”

He flushed, “Um, not really, but sort of?”

“I like it”, she smiled, “It shows a craftsman who’s properly in touch with his creations.”

His grin made her heart skip a little.

“So, would you like to rescue this sadly neglected chest slash bench?”

“You know, I think I would.”

She handed over the money for the chest and then realised it was probably a bit too large and heavy for her to carry back to the car. Thankfully her hunky stallholder also proved to be a bit of a mind reader.

“Would you like a hand getting that back to your car, you’ve got your hands a bit full there and it’s not exactly the smallest piece to tote about.”

She smiled gratefully but stopped on a sudden concern as he bent to pick up the chest, “but what about your stall, don’t you need to stay here to keep an eye on things and serve customers?”

“That’s no problem at all. Hey Timon,” he called over to the jovial-looking retiree in the bay across the walkway, “I need to make a delivery, can you keep an eye on things here?”

Timon waved in acknowledgement and encouraged them both to take their time and enjoy the occasion.

That easy-going camaraderie and community connection was a key reason she had run from her high energy life in the city and found her new place in this pretty village. She hoped she’d be able to earn her way into the fabric of the community in a year or so.

She’d heard stories from city friends of people who’d tried to make the lifestyle change never being accepted in their new homes, but, having met some on their return to city life, she wondered how hard they’d actually tried.

Her stallholder, (she really needed to get his name, he wasn’t ‘hers’ but try telling that to a certain, mushy section of her brain) was greeted with waves and smiles from the people around them the whole way to her car.

Once there, he helped her push down the back seats to better fit the chest and her other purchases. Once everything was safely stowed, he looked at her assessingly, “I’m  guessing you’re the one who’s moved into the Johnson’s old place, Willow Cottage?”

“Yes, how did you know?”

“I recognise the car from driving by most days, how’re you settling in?”

“Very well thank you, people have been so kind.”

“Have you managed to get the attic door open yet?”

Dear lord, the man WAS a mind reader, that door had been stubbornly stuck closed since the day she arrived.

He grimaced at her shock, “It’s just that Mrs J used to get me down around this time every year otherwise it’d be stuck closed all summer and half of autumn.”

“Ah, so you’re a door doctor then. Yes it’s stuck, I haven’t been able to open it since I moved in and everything that’s meant to be up there is currently creating a major shipping hazard in the sitting room.”

“If you’d like, I can drop by tomorrow and take a look. If it’s not inconvenient, I mean I don’t want to intrude on your weekend and home space.”

“It would be a huge help, please do.””Right-o, would 2ish suit? I need to deliver a commission in the morning and can drop by on the way home.”

“That sounds fine. I’ll see you then. My name’s Ally by the way.”

“Oh, sorry, it’s Chris, Chris Whittaker. I live up on Somers Hill Farm.”

He nodded a little awkwardly and turned way with a half wave. Ally hopped into the car and grinned all the way home.

The chest proved something of a challenge to get out and into the sitting room, she ended up edging it onto an old blanket and used that to drag it into place. She then settled down in front of it to examine the lock. The whole thing reminded her of an Indian puzzle box she had picked up on a business trip to Bangalore a few years before, just on a much larger scale.

Sure enough, after a bit of nudging and coaxing on one of the upper panels it slid to one side and let her push up the lid. The inside was surprisingly fresh and clean given the number of years it had apparently been closed. Ally wondered if Chris’s Grandma had used the secret lock to keep inquisitive youngsters out of clean linens, Christmas presents and suchlike.

It was starting to get late, and she needed to log on and deal with some work issues before the Sydney office came online for Monday morning, so she contented herself with dropping that evening’s purchases into the chest and closing it up before spinning into the workstation that should have been in the attic, but was currently dominating her downtime area. That door couldn’t open soon enough.

The next morning, after checking in on work progress and setting up the next stage of projects for India and the US, she had lunch, then tidied her work area, ready for its move upstairs and realised she was clock-watching.

Chris was admirably punctual and had the attic door open within minutes.

Unfortunately it looked like the office move would not be taking place that day. The supposedly empty attic was full of boxes and old furniture.

Ally looked at the hoard in dismay. What was she supposed to do with all this? The previous owners had sold her the cottage and moved to New Zealand to be nearer their daughter and grandchildren and had told her that anything remaining in the house when she moved in was hers. Chris whistled in appreciation, “That’s some beautiful woodwork you’ve got there! Where did you find it?”

“I found it sitting in my attic when you opened the door.”

He turned to look at her in astonishment, “The Johnsons left all this and didn’t say anything?”

“Yup, they told me anything in the house was now mine. I’m not sure if this is them thinking they’re doing me a favour or some weird revenge.”

“I’d go with favour knowing those two.”

“I feel better knowing that but it doesn’t solve the issue of where I’m going to put my home office.”

“I was thinking your sitting room was looking a mite crowded.”

He paused, then went on a little diffidently, “I don’t want you to think I’d be taking advantage or anything but, as I said, there’s some nice work here. I could see what I could take off your hands if you’re interested, for a fair price of course.”

“That would be a huge help! I’d be happy to hand over the lot but I probably should go through and see if there’s anything I could use downstairs. It’s likely to look better, and more in line with the whole cottage thing than the Ikea stuff I have at the moment.”

“Do you want to make a start now?”

“I can’t, I’ve got a conference call in twenty minutes – I work for a tech firm and because I deal with all our international offices, I’m able to work from home, but I do very odd hours. Would you be able to spare any time later in the week?”

“Well, I don’t work to the same type of meetings and deadlines as you, so might be easiest to work in with whatever you have happening.”

“In that case I’m fine any day this week, it’s only really Mondays that are silly with meetings.”

“So Tuesday then? Same time?”

“That would be great. Oh, and I managed to get that chest open”

Chris’ jaw dropped, “You did? I got a rare hiding from grandma on the phone last night when I mentioned I’d passed it to a new owner, she was making no sense at all.”

“It’s like an Indian puzzle box I own, come and take a look.”

She led the way down to the corner of the sitting room where the chest now sat and pushed the panel across, satisfied with the exclamation behind her when the lid popped free of its catch. Pushing it up, she revealed, a chest empty of the things she’d put in the night before.

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