Winos by Peter Clark
“This place is usually busier. Where is everybody? I’m used to seeing more drunk people walk around this town at this time of morning. And when are we going to get out of here?” moaned Richard to his wife as he flipped through another dusty book in the old bookshop.
“Just five more minutes,” Caroline responded from the other side of the bookshelf.
Richard moved the books in front of him so he could see his wife’s head through the shelf. He rested his chin down on it and made an odd face, crossing his eyes and sticking his tongue out.
She snorted a fake laugh and rolled her eyes, placing the book she was reading back on the shelf in order to block his face.
“Come on!” Richard complained. “So when do your parents come back from their trip?”
“I already told you. They should be coming home tomorrow. Although I can’t seem to get a hold of them; there must be bad reception.”
“That or they overdid it on the alcohol. Speaking of, it irks me that they gave you the key to the house but didn’t give you a key to the cellar. How are we supposed to sneak a bottle of your Dad’s wine if we can’t get in there?”
“We’ll just have to pick up some boxed wine on the way back.”
“I’d rather drink grape juice than boxed wine,” said Richard. He looked down the hall of books to his left to see an old man struggling to reach a book. He jogged over to him and asked, “Can I help you reach that sir?”
The old man turned his head slowly and opened his eyes to take a look at Richard. “Why yes, that would be very kind of you, young man.”
“Young?” Richard guffawed as he stretched his arm up to reach the old red book with gold lettering. “I’m forty-five.” He snagged the book down from the shelf and handed it to the old man.
He chuckled, “Forty-five huh? You’re half my age.”
Richard stood for a second pondering the numbers. He wasn’t so great at math. “You’re ninety years old?”
“And counting,” the old man chuckled. “You don’t sound like you’re from around here.”
“Is it that obvious? Yeah, I’m American. My wife’s English so we’re in town visiting her parents for the week.”
“Do you like it here in the countryside? I’m sure it’s quite different from what you’re used to.”
“We live in Seattle but I like it better out here. It’s calmer and quieter.”
“I couldn’t help overhear your little predicament,” said the old man. “Locked out of the wine cabinet are we?”
“Her Dad’s kind of a hard-ass. He probably forgot to give us the key on purpose so we can’t drink any of his precious vino.”
“You know I live just up the hill. You could come over to my place tonight. My family has owned its own vineyard for generations. I could show you and your wife around the grounds and then we can settle in with some drinks.”
“Um,” Richard hesitated. “That’s very kind of you to offer. Can I converse with my wife and get back to you?”
“Be my guest.”
Richard bounded away from the old man and found Caroline in the corner of the bookstore. “Hey, that guy over there just offered to show us his vineyard.”
Caroline looked over at him and asked, “Who is that?”
“I don’t know,” said Richard.
“And he invited you to his vineyard?”
“Yeah. We should go right?” Caroline thought for a moment. “Oh my god. Do you think he’s talking about Pitt Vineyards with the giant mansion just up the hill? Those people are loaded.”
“I think we should go, right?”
“Why not,” said Caroline, shrugging. “It could be fun.”
Richard ran back over to the old man and noted, “She’d love to.”
“Wonderful, the name’s Charles by the way, Charles Pitt.” Charles put out his hand.
Richard shook Charles’ hand and responded, “It’s nice to meet you, Charles. I’m Richard and my wife over there is Caroline.”
Charles nodded, “So I’ll see you tonight then?”
“Yes, that would be wonderful,” said Richard, smiling.
“Come around seven. My house is up on Juniper Tree Drive, you can’t miss it.”
Richard’s mouth was agape as they walked through the gates to Pitt Mansion on Juniper Tree Drive. “This place isn’t a mansion! It’s a castle!”
Caroline smirked, “Pretty cool, right? I can’t believe we’re actually going to be able to go inside of it. And for free. My friends and I would jump the fence all the time and run around the yard.”
“I don’t think it was a good idea to bring this,” said Richard, holding the box of wine. “This dude is rich. The last thing he is going to want is a cheap box of wine.”
“Well, we had to bring something,” said Caroline.
They walked up the circular stone cobbled driveway that led up to the front of the mansion.
Richard looked up at the massive building. “Holy shit. This place is huge!”
She nodded, “Absolutely gargantuan.”
Richard leaned over and whispered to her, “Can you believe one old man lives here all by himself?”
“I know, right? Must be nice,” she whispered back.
Richard handed her the boxed wine. “Hey, can you shove this in your pocketbook? I don’t want to hold it all night.”
“Okay,” said Caroline, trying to jam the box into her bag.
They got up the front steps and Richard knocked on the giant wooden front door which echoed throughout the grounds.
Charles jubilantly opened the door, “Welcome! Welcome!” Please, come in, come on!”
After getting an extensive tour of every room in the mansion and exploring the many fields and flowers covering the grounds outside, they finally settled back in the dining room where Richard and Caroline sat smiling at one another.
“This place is amazing!” Caroline whispered loudly.
“I know, right?!” Richard responded. “This is crazy.”
Charles waltzed into the dining room to join them. He was holding a bottle of wine and a silver bottle opener which he set down on the table. “Now I heard through the grapevine that you two are somewhat of wine connoisseurs. Am I correct?”
“I wouldn’t say connoisseur but we certainly enjoy our wine,” said Caroline.
“Well, you two are in for a treat because tonight you are going to taste things that you’ve never tasted in your wildest dreams.”
Richard and Caroline clapped; they couldn’t wait for what was in store.
Charles popped open the bottle in his hands with the bottle opener then slid it down the table to Richard. “A memento.”
Richard held the weighty silver bottle opener in his hand and read the inscription on the side: The Pitt Company – 2018. “Wow. Thanks for this,” said Richard. “I love shiny things.”
“You might want to put that in your pocket for safe keeping,” said Charles. “That’s real silver.”
Richard slid the silver object into his pocket. “Thanks.”
“Don’t thank me yet,” said Charles. “Wait till you taste this.” He started filling up their glasses.
First, there was the white wine, vintage but not too vintage. They blew through five bottles. Then it was time for the red, which was even older than the white. They blew through six more bottles.
Charles held up his glass, “A toast to new friends and… to life.”
Richard and Caroline whisked their glasses up as well to join him.
“I’ve lived a long life,” huffed Charles, sitting back down at the table. “Ninety years is nothing to scoff at. I’ve had plenty of adventures, too many to count, and also plenty of lovers.”
Caroline raised her eyebrows, “Charles! Were you a player back in the day?”
“Some would say that I was a player. I played the game of life. And now I sit here in these empty rooms, waiting for my time to come.”
“Don’t be ageist against yourself,” Richard added, taking another sip of his wine, “You’ve still got plenty of stuff to live for.”
“I’m afraid that I have come to quite the opposite conclusion. The most exciting thing that’s happened all year is you two showing up in that ruddy old bookshop.”
Caroline smiled, her breath fogging up the wine glass, “That’s daft. You can’t be serious?”
“Oh, but I am. I’m afraid that if you’ve lived not necessarily as long as I have but as much as I have that anything else in comparison falls short. When I finally croak, my only wish is that they bulldoze this awful place and plant a garden where it once stood. Sunflowers covered this hill before they built the damn thing, to begin with. But let’s not dwell on the past; I’ll go grab us another bottle.”
About twenty glasses after their twelfth bottle of wine Richard finally put his hands up. His cheeks red and shiny like an apple, “It’s been wonderful Charles, really. But we should probably start walking back before we pass out from being so drunk.”
As Caroline knocked back the rest of her glass, she nodded, “Yeah, we’d hate to be a burden on you.”
“Burden?” said Charles. All of that wine didn’t seem to have affected him as much as it had affected the others. “Nonsense. But I understand if you’re getting tired.” As Richard started to get up, Charles uttered, “What about just one more?”
Caroline looked over at Richard who had sat back down. “One more? I don’t know if I can do it.”
“How about I sweeten the pot?” said Charles, adjusting his robe. “Tonight you’ve probably drunk wines older than you ever thought imaginable. But what if I told you that I have a cask of wine from 1726? It’s probably one of the oldest drinkable wines in existence, older than even me, I’m afraid, all the way back from when my family first started this bloody business generations ago. Now, why not indulge an old man and have one more glass, hmm?”
Richard and Caroline were both red and smiling. They looked at each other for confirmation then looked back at Charles with wide eyes.
“Sounds great,” said Richard, “One more glass and then we’ll be out of here.”
“Wonderful,” Charles muttered. “Wonderful.”
Charles came back holding three glasses on a tray. In each glass was a small amount of purplish red wine. He glided the glasses down toward them.
Caroline swirled the liquid around and gave it a sniff. “Wow. That’s potent.”
“Are you sure it’s safe to drink this?” asked Richard. “It’s from the 1700’s right?”
“That is correct sir and not only would I say it’s safe, but also it’s quite delicious.” Just as they had the tip of the glasses in their mouths, Charles said, “But be warned, there’s an interesting and somewhat disturbing tale attached to this wine.”
Before taking a sip they both paused.
“Do tell,” said Richard.
Charles held the glass of wine up to the light from the chandelier and admired it from afar. “A story has been passed down from generation to generation. A wise tale of sorts. The cask this wine comes from is labeled Dead Man’s Red. And supposedly,” Charles carried the glass across the bottom of his nostrils and breathed it in, “My great, great, great grandfather Alastair Pitt had started the vineyard with his brother Angus Pitt. Their plan was to run a winery business together. That is, of course, until Alastair became greedy. The tale goes that he murdered his brother Angus in cold blood with a shard of broken glass and had his body ground up into the wine to hide the crime. I bet it was on a night just like this when it happened. It may have even happened in this very room. I am a direct descendant of Alastair, so in hindsight, if the story is true, that would mean I’m the direct descendant of a murderer. Without him, I wouldn’t exist. Ah yes, one moment can make all the difference.”
Richard nervously looked at Caroline who seemed to not be taking the story as seriously as him. “But it’s just a story right?”
“Oh will you relax,” said Caroline. “You’ll have to excuse my husband. Spooky stories make him nervous,” she laughed.
Charles’s eyes were still and straight like fresh cut glass. He dumped the dark glass down his throat and let his tongue rummage around his lips. “I don’t think a dead man would taste so sweet.” He smiled and let out a hearty chuckle, joining Caroline in her laughter.
Richard and Caroline both laughed along as they drunkenly guzzled the near three hundred-year-old wine down their gullets. And with that last swallow, everything started to get hazier and hazier before each of them closed their eyes and the room went black.
Richard slowly opened his eyes to find he was surrounded by darkness. He stood up from the table and shook Caroline awake.
“Five more minutes,” mumbled Caroline, her head nodding off.
“Get up!” whispered Richard. “Look around!”
Caroline opened her eyes. “What happened to the lights?”
“I don’t know. Maybe we fell asleep and Charles turned them off and left us here.”
“That’s kind of creepy.” She looked down at the table. “Wow.”
“This looks new.”
Richard was looking around the corner. “What looks new?”
“The table,” Caroline yawned. “Before we fell asleep it was gnarled and scratched. Now it looks shellacked.”
“We don’t have time to talk about tables! Let’s get out of this place!” yelled Richard.
They made their way down the hall and to the front door.
Richard tried opened it up, but it wouldn’t budge. “Oh come on.”
Caroline looked out the window, “Where’s the street?”
“What do you mean?” Richard joined her.
“The paved road. It’s gone.”
“Uhhhh…” Richard stammered. “What the hell is going on?”
A creak came from up the stairs.
Richard and Caroline hid behind the wall as they heard someone walk down the stairs.
“Hello? Is anyone there?” the person called out. “Alastair, if that’s you again, I’ve warned you enough times to never come back here. You’re not welcome. Alastair?” He walked into the next room, holding a lit candle in his hand.
Caroline took her phone out, “There’s no reception here.”
“Will you be quiet?” said Richard, accidentally knocking over an old broom with his foot.
Caroline bit her tongue by accident, “Ow!” Then she dropped her phone which made a loud bang against the floor. “Damn it!”
“Shhhh!” Richard muttered.
The shadow marched over in their direction and shoved the candle toward them, lighting them up. “Intruders!”
Richard and Caroline screamed as they saw a man’s face lit up in the dark.
“Explain yourselves!” asked the man. “Why are you in my home at this ungodly hour?”
“Are you related to Charles?” asked Caroline.
“Charles? No, I am not related to a Charles. My name is Angus. Did my brother send you here to scare me? Because I’ve had just about enough of his antics.”
Richard and Caroline looked at each other confused.
“I’m sorry, did you say your name was Angus?” asked Caroline.
“Yes, yes it is. Angus Pitt. Do you not have the least regard to learn a man’s name before breaking into his house?” He looked down at the shining silver object in Richard’s pocket. “Is that a weapon I see?”
“No, it’s a…” but before Richard could answer, Angus had taken it out of his pocket.
“Is this a bottle opener of some sort?” He read the information on the side of it, “Model number 2018, I presume?”
Richard nodded, “Yep. That’s what that means.”
Another noise came from the kitchen.
“Now what could it be?” Just as Angus was about to check what made the noise, he was stabbed by another shadow in the darkness. He looked at the face of his attacker and was shocked. “Brother! How could you?”
Alastair twisted a shard of glass into his brother’s heart. “You tried to take this house away from me; this business. But it’s mine. It always has been mine!”
Angus felt the bottle opener in his hand and swiftly plunged it into Alastair’s neck.
The two brothers stumbled backward from each other and collapsed without another word. The candle rolled out of Angus’ hand and underneath the table where it started to catch fire on the tablecloth.
“Fire! Fire alert!” yelled Caroline. “Find some water or something!”
Richard held his head and closed his eyes to think. “What is going on? Was that real? Do you think this is some kind of weird joke?”
Richard and Caroline watched as Alastair took his last breath and with that final gasp before Caroline could find something to put out the fire, they fell through the floorboards outside onto a bed of sunflowers and into bright daylight. The boxed wine fell out of Caroline’s bag and hit Richard on the head which poured down his face.
Caroline looked around the wide empty field and then at the road which seemingly appeared back into existence. “Where are we?” she asked, rubbing her head. “And did any of that actually happen?”
Richard shrugged. He got up, picking pieces of sunflower off his sleeves. “You know what? I don’t know.” He held his hand over his eyes to block out the sun. “Should we maybe go?”
Caroline nodded, “Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.” As she took a step forward she tried to avoiding stepping on a sunflower.
Together, they walked off the lawn and back down Juniper Tree Drive, leaving the previous night behind them along with their boxed wine which sat spurting its last gasps of liquid onto the sunflowers, staining them like blood on a bright yellow carpet. The mansion was gone and so was its owner. Charles Pitt finally got his wish, he ceased to exist.