Today’s challenge was to use the sentence “the townfolk heaved a collective sigh of relief when the antiques dealer packed up and moved away” somewhere in my story. Seeing as I was feeling singularly unimaginative, I decided to use it at the beginning! (If anyone’s interested, this was mostly written in the Durham University Debating Chamber, while waiting to hear David Milliband speak. The talk was free, but I did have to sit on the floor for two hours for the privilege!)
The townfolk heaved a collective sigh of relief when the antiques dealer packed up and moved away. It was a shame really, for had things turned out differently he could have been a valuable addition to the community. Grey-haired, and with a twinkle in his eye, he appeared at first glance to be a kindly sort, like the grandfather who hoists you onto his lap and tells you stories of his war days. Conversation with him inevitably revolved around the subject of antiques, but that was fine, because this was a rich town, and the inhabitants loved to boast of their treasures. There was no greater pleasure for them than to invite him back to their homes, to allow him to run his wrinkled hands over the fine grain of a mahogany cabinet, the pile of a Persian rug, or the glass of a Tiffany lampshade, and to be told how lucky they were to possess such treasures. He helped them acquire more too, and there were certainly no complaints on this front either. It was only when he invited them to see his treasures that the problems started.
It seemed that the whole county had turned out to his rented property, a small farmhouse on the outskirts of the town, practically hopping with excitement at the thought of what riches might lay inside. Their chequebooks lay inconspicuously in their pockets, and each and every one of them was entertaining the thought of cajoling him into offering them a good price after the inevitable brandy had been passed round. But once they had seen the interior of the house, all thoughts of making a purchase were quickly forgotten.
For it turned out that he was not only an antiques dealer but also a collector of curiosities, most of which were items which had once been alive. ‘Once’, however, was an indicator of some time in the distant past, as they were now stuffed, pickled, or nailed to planks of wood, and displayed all over the antiques dealer’s living room. The townfolk were horrified by this, although of course they were far too polite to say, and a smile remained firmly on the antiques dealer’s face throughout the afternoon. It was only one lady, advancing in years and generally regarded as mad, who noticed the sinister glint which had replaced the sparkle in his eyes.
It was not long after that their pets began to disappear. Anything and everything that was not kept inside, and even some that were. No-one knew how he was doing it, but they knew that he was the culprit. And then, one day, not long after a rumour had been spread that the police were going to be involved, he was gone. Again, there was no indication that he was going to leave, no indication of where he had gone. He had just gone. And the townfolk heaved a sigh of relief, and prayed that he would never return.