Aurora Spenser rode silently. She was familiar with the trip and all of Cliff's favorite back roads, short-cuts, and detours between Saratoga Springs and their apartment in New York City. The pair were polar opposites both in appearance and disposition. Cliff was blonde and hazel-eyed and years of working a thoroughbred ranch had made him muscular and bronze. He was impatient and serious and had little time for foolishness. Aurora was thin and lithe; her brown hair hung long and silky framing her pink face. A successful artist, she was full of energy, curious about everything around her and had a passion for life, especially scrounging in antique shops, searching for her next great find. But after three years of making the trip to Saratoga countless times every racing season, she preferred to let her mind wander to other things – like her next art exhibit, or a pending dinner with friends. This time her mind was on tomorrow's expedition to the junk shops in the Village with her sister Lida. The sky was grey, threatening a storm and she blinked her eyes slowly, laying her head against the headrest, absently scanning a brass historical marker along the road…
"Stop!" she yelled, fully alert, slapping a hand on Cliff's arm.
He slammed on the brakes and the car skidded to a halt in the middle of the road.
"What? What's wrong?" he wanted to know.
"There. Pull in there."
"What is it?"
He peered through the trees to where she indicated. At first he saw nothing but overgrown vegetation and an old dirt road, barely more than a path. Then he saw the battered wooden sign hanging from a rope between two trees:
ANTIQUES ~ COLLECTIBLES ~ JUNK
EPHRAIM MCCLELLAN, PROP.
Past the sign, a rough-hewn wooden cabin began to take shape, camouflaged by the trees. He sighed and shook his head but, in the end, he turned down the road and made his way to the junk store. His Mercedes had barely pulled into the open space in front of the small building before Aurora was out and running toward the door. At the foot of the steps was a large, flat stone. She stopped to scrutinize the words chiseled into it, worn down by weather and time - "Oct. 1814". A much newer, wooden plaque mounted on a porch rail nearby bore a more lengthy legacy:
"Built in 1814 as an outpost supply station for the battlements of Sackets Harbor including Fort Kentucky, Fort Virginia, Fort Chauncey, Fort Stark, and Fort Pike, the Saratoga Station saw limited service during the War of 1812. The Treaty of Ghent, signed on Christmas Eve, 1814 effectively ended the station's military service with the end of the war the following year. After limited service as a General Mercantile, it was decommissioned in 1827. Pressed into service in 1861 as a supply house for Union Troops during the Civil War, it continued as a general store until 1888 when it was abandoned for the last time."
Aurora studied the sign before taking in the building itself. The porch was made of wood and ages of footsteps and weather had smoothed it to a soft patina. The porch roof did not look to have aged so well. The rafters above looked ragged and worn and the wooden shingles showed several spots of lighter wooden squares where the shakes had been replaced. The building looked like the little houses her brother would make from Lincoln Logs when he was little, the corners carefully notched and interlocked tightly against one another. Wooden shutters covered the little store's two front windows. There were no windows in the door.
"Okay," Cliff huffed. "You've seen it. Now can we go?"
Ignoring his complaint, she bypassed the three short steps and bounded to the porch in one leap.
"Hey! Be careful. That thing doesn't look all that safe," he warned, but she was already opening the door. It opened with little sound and, as she slipped inside, he tried to call her back.
"You're going to get us in trouble," he said reluctantly following.
The shop appeared to be open for business. Tables were laden with what looked like century-old clothing, tools, dishware, and assorted odds and ends. Once inside the ragged little junk shop, Cliff leaned against the door frame, arms crossed over his chest, his attention shifting between the rain clouds rolling in outside and Aurora rummaging through the rows of antiquity for sale inside.
A band of grey twilight washed through the doorway. Oil lamps hanging on nails throughout the room, their chimneys blackened by coal oil smoke, offered the only other illumination. At the far end, a counter stretched half the breadth of the room and, at one end sat an old-fashioned cash register of polished wood and carved metal with ornate scrolls, vines, and flowers embellishing every surface. A small brass sign mounted to the top of the machine bore the advisory, "This Registers The Amount of Your Purchase." Three metal tabs in a window at the top, $1.00, 20¢, and 09¢ registered the amount of the last purchase as $1.29. An old man crouched on a stool behind the counter, an oil lamp nearby, poring over a yellowed one-page newspaper that looked to be as old as the place itself. He looked up as the couple entered.
"Good afternoon," he greeted. "Ephraim McClellan at your service, Miss."
"Good afternoon," Aurora replied.
"Is there anything in particular you'd be interested in?" McClellan asked. He had a surprisingly full head of hair, more ashy than white. His baggy, dun colored trousers were held up by leather suspenders. Underneath, he wore a plain woven shirt and, on his feet, clunky leather shoes. Aurora thought he looked costumed to fit right in among his antiques and collectibles.
"No. I saw your store for the first time today and just had to come in. It's such a wonderful old place. It's like you can feel the spirits of people who passed through here generations ago."
McClellan nodded, scanning the structure. "Thank you for noticing."
Aurora moved over to where the old man sat. She took a moment to run a hand across the counter. "Just think of all the people who stopped here through the ages. The presidents who may have walked across these floors, Madison and Monroe, Jackson, Van Buren, Abraham Lincoln!"
"Well, maybe Grover Cleveland," McClellan suggested with a bit of a grin, but his eyes seemed to burn with a deep fire as he focused on her.
"Exactly!" she said. "Just think of the history sleeping within these walls. Wouldn't you just like to wake it up and talk to people who saw it firsthand?"
"So you're a history buff?"
"Not really. I'm just fascinated by old things. I love to collect things from other places and times in history. And the more interesting they are, the more interested I am. I want to know about them and the history around them." She chuckled. "Sometimes I wonder if I was born in the wrong century. You know?"
Again, McClellan nodded his agreement. "I think I do. I've learned that …"
Just then Cliff interrupted from across the room. "Then you should be really interested in me. I'm getting older by the minute."