The House of Lost Things
The directions I got from the Real Urban Legends website only got me to the village of Fenton. But, when it comes to finding a place, locals are as good as a map. I spotted a man sitting on his porch, scratching the head of his geriatric terrier and staring into space.
“Excuse me, sir,” I said, rolling down the window, “I’m looking for a special house in the area. What I mean is—”
He was already nodding, with a smug little twitch of the lips, as if to say, Ah, you’re one of those people.
“Yeah, I know where it is,” he said. “It’s not in town though. Go down Main and hang a left on Perdue. I doubt he’ll let you in though. He’s gotten kinda squirrely lately. So they say.”
Better than a map, I thought as I thanked him and drove on. Maps didn’t come with commentary. Following his directions, I turned onto Perdue Street. The street followed a gradient of pavement to cracked pavement to dirt and by the time I had gone half a mile, it was full-on abandoned forest track with a hint of horror movie set.
The trees opened up to a rusty iron fence surrounding a house that embodied an odd mixture of Victorian grandeur and big box store utilitarianism. It had originally been a mansion and the original façade retained that gothic feel of a haunted house. But to either side, someone had built on high windowless concrete boxes that overshadowed the original house and completely ruined the aesthetic. However, considering the Amazonian state of the lawn, the owner probably didn’t think much of aesthetic.
I rang the doorbell several times before anyone answered. When they did, it was through a cobwebbed speaker above the button.
“Are you Mr. Haster?” I asked.
“You a reporter?”
“No,” I said, trying to talk into the mic by the speaker but not get too close to the cobwebs. “I lost my wallet. I thought you might have it.”
The man started to laugh. It was the sort of strung out, slightly crazed laugh you might get if you went up a firefighter who’d been battling a forest fire for a week and asked him for a light.
The laughter continued until the door suddenly opened and a man, presumably Devon Haster, stood in front of me. He stood staring at me with mad fascination in his dark-rimmed eyes.
“You want some coffee?” he asked. “I just made some.”
I did not want coffee, but I did want to get into the house, so I nodded. Mr. Haster stepped aside to let me in. The house had a musty smell with a minty undertone. He shut the front door, and I followed him down a wide hallway to a large kitchen with a bed, sofa and TV in it.
“This is the only room of the house I use now,” he said. “The only one I have left.”
He poured the coffee and handed me a cup. It had a cracked handle and said Expo ’86 on the side. He gestured to the table and we sat down.
“Thanks for letting me in,” I said. “The folks downtown thought you wouldn’t.”
“They’ve never liked me,” Mr. Haster said. “You must have had a lot of money in your wallet if you came all this way to get it.”
“Not really,” I said, “but it was a gift from my father before he died. I have some pictures in it too that I like.”
“Where did you lose it?” he asked conversationally.
“I have no idea.” He only nodded and took a sip.
“Is it true?” I asked. “Do you really have every lost thing in the whole world.”
“Dear God, no!” he said and gave a few titters in his half-mad laugh. “I think I’d shoot myself. No, it’s just all things lost in this region. That’s enough, that’s enough for me.
“You want to know the story?” he asked, taking a large sip and sloshing the coffee onto his shirt. “Lots of reporters have come here to ask. I told them to get lost.” He snorted and made a gasping half-sob. “I used to think it was this big secret I had to protect, but now I just don’t care anymore.”
“Go ahead,” I said, not sure if I should take notes or get out while I still could.
“It was a wishing well,” he said. “A wishing well and a brand-new pen. This wasn’t any cheapo Bic you get in a ten-pack. This was a Montblanc Classique, a pen you take care of and hand on to your children, if you’re so lucky. I came across the wishing well one evening just as the sun was hitting the far hills and burning all the sky around it to gold and crimson. My grandmother always told me there was power at that time of day, so I fished out a nickel and was just bending over the well to think of a good wish when my Montblanc Classique slipped out of my shirt pocket. I heard the sad little plop sound as it hit the water far below. What made it worse was the week before, I had lost my favorite jackknife and my watch two months before. I was fed up and I flung the nickel down after it. ‘You know what I wish,’ I said. ‘I wish I could find everything that was lost.’”
“And you started getting all the lost things in the area?” I asked. “How big an area is that?” The coffee was atrocious. My eyes flicked to the counter to see if I saw any open containers of motor oil.
“It’s about 14 states, from the IDs I’ve seen come through” he said. “Also, Thunder Bay, Ontario, for some reason.”
“So do you have like a box of wallets I could rummage through to see if mine’s in there?” I asked.
“A box?” he shouted, slamming the coffee cup so hard that it split neatly in half. The pieces clattered onto the table, and black liquid poured out over them and dripped onto the floor. “I have eight rooms crammed full of wallets, three with purses. Nineteen damned rooms with nothing but single socks. I just burn most of the new arrivals now because I’ve run out of room. I could heat the house with butane, if I could figure out how to easily get it out of the lighters. You should see the room I have for loose change. It’s like Scrooge McDuck’s money bin if he didn’t have anything bigger than a quarter.”
“I just lost it two days ago,” I said. “It should be on top of the pile, right? Do you remember seeing it come through?”
Mr. Haster left the broken mug and coffee puddle and stood up. “Let me show you,” he said.
He led me upstairs and through a strong door at the back of the house. As soon as it opened, I heard the loud clank of machinery that continued on as constant as an assembly line. In front of us was what looked like a metal spider. Conveyor belts extended out from the main body of the machine-like arms and above it, the bulbous abdomen of the thing, a huge hopper.
“That’s where it all appears,” Haster said. “It was burying me in stuff until I realized that it all appears next to the nickel, the same nickel I threw in to make the wish in the first place, which is weird since I never lost that. I threw it away. But that makes as much sense as Thunder Bay, Ontario. The machine sorts the things automatically. It cost me a lot but it was worth it; I couldn’t keep up it myself. Of course, the company was pretty mad when I sent them 418 bags of small change.”
Haster turned to me with a haunted look. “I pay for most things in small change.”
He brought me to the first of the wallet rooms and I quickly despaired of every finding that one picture of my girlfriend wearing that hat I bought her at the county fair. The room had about fifty thousand wallets in it.
“This is the small room,” Haster said morosely.
I picked up one of the wallets and opened it. “Hey, there’s about two hundred bucks in here,” I said, “plus 3 or 4 credit cards. You’ve got all the money you’d ever need.”
“Do you want to sort through all these every day?” Haster said as if I suggested digging up earthworms and licking them clean to sell. “Plus, I feel guilty spending this money. It’s actually worth something, unlike the loose change.”
“You know, you’ve got a great business possibility here,” I said. “You could set up a website, hire a few sorters and the owners could pay you to send back their stuff.” From his blank look, I couldn’t tell if he was horrified by the idea or if he didn’t know what a website was.
“Do you want the nickel?” he asked. It was so sudden, I didn’t know what to say. “The nickel that started all this,” he said. “I’m pretty sure if you had it, you would start getting all the lost stuff. You could do that business idea.”
“What would you want for it?” I asked after a minute.
He gave a high-pitched giggle. “The last thing I want is more of anything.”
He made me climb up and pluck the nickel out of the housing of the machine. Immediately, the jingle of falling objects stopped.
“It’s broken!” I cried.
“It’s not broken,” Haster said. “When you move it, it stops. It takes about twenty minutes of being at rest for the cosmos to realign or something. As long as you’re driving, you’ll be okay.”
I said good-bye to Mr. Haster and left with the key to my fortune safely in my pocket. I drove joyously, going way over the speed limit and acting like the rich idiot I finally was.
When I got home, I couldn’t find the nickel. I turned the car inside out. I turned on the news and horror hit me like an iceberg, cold and slow-moving but no less deadly.
Chaos! the lower third banner read. Toll booth explodes. Lip balm and reading glasses everywhere!
The toll was 55 cents. I had two quarters and then . . . .
No!!! Just like that, my dreams of wealth burst like an exploding toll booth. Now some bank would get all my unearned profits.
After an hour of sulking, I went on the Real Urban Legends website. After some searching, I found a woman who claimed to be able to read dog’s thoughts. There must be a way to make money off that. Maybe I’d go visit her.