Dustin Franchise was an elderly gentleman when he was viciously murdered one morning by all of his things.
The owner of a successful snowplow company, Franchise lived an active life; even as a child his motto had always been “stay busy.” On each of his nearly eleven-hundred fifty snowplows was his label: the face of a gold grandfather clock in a red and blue circle pointing to 5 o’clock. Underneath were written the words: “We come early!” And truer words were never spoken; the man himself had been up before sunrise everyday of the week for eleven years (and then he had stayed in bed late only once, because his wife, in an attempt to help him recover more quickly from the flu, had dosed him heavily with sedatives). During the day he was constantly on the phone, or hunched over his desk, pen in hand, scribbling endless notes on legal pads. He was a hard working man and a regular exemplar of the American Dream--a pulled-himself-up-by-the-bootlaces kinda man, except that in this case it had been by the worn out tongue of laceless, second hand sneakers (a pair of shoes he had kept and, after making his first million, preserved in gold plating).
His accommodations reflected his success. He lived in a large house in the so-called ‘bush’ with his family; he had three daughters, a wife, and a hunting dog. He loved to hunt, his wife loved to skin and cook his kills (a regular American herself), and his children loved to eat her cooking. He and his wife shared the top floor of the three storied house. Their children each had separate rooms on the second floor, and the ground floor housed the kitchen, a large living room equipped with all the modern extravagancies, three separate toilets (the bedrooms also had their own toilets and showers), a dining room with enough space for thirty, Franchise’s study, and a large walk-in closet that served as a coatroom for guests. Franchise and his wife loved to entertain; in addition to their master bedroom, they reserved two fully stocked, en suite guestrooms on the third floor, both with the highest quality queen-sized mattresses and chic beddings.
This love of the finer things extended beyond the home; Franchise was an experienced world-traveler. And he had the collection to prove it. On every wall, in every room, on pedestals in corners, hanging from the ceilings, across the floors, stood Persian rugs, French chandeliers, busts and statues of European kings and emperors, Greek warriors in marble, Egyptian figurines, Gothic and Romanian tapestries, 14th century paintings, and a fine selection of Picassos, Caspar Friedrichs, Renoirs and the like. He displayed some of the finest Chinese and English China in large cabinets placed conspicuously around the dining room. His wife had an extensive collection of German glass.
Everything in his house, excepting his wife’s glass--which had been purchased mostly from E-bay--had been bought (or won) by him on-site. (In addition to artifacts, he had a prodigious hoard of hunting trophies--even the head of an elephant. He mounted these--to the perpetually renewed horror of his slightly demented wife--anywhere he happened to please, sometimes changing their locations twice or even three times in a day. He never moved the elephant’s head, however--it was far too cumbersome, and he was in any case very proud of its location: resolutely standing guard over his marriage bed.)
Franchise’s favorite room was undoubtedly his study, located where the middle of the east-side wall of the ground floor careened out from the house at an unusually eccentric angle. It was a bright place, if too orderly to be considered cheery, and it contained the most exceptional pieces from his collection. His most prized was the head of an albino Guyanan Tiger Cat, mounted just across from his sitting chair to be in easy view, which he had killed himself in the deadly jungles of Guyana. There he also displayed his personal collection of lamps (his favorite category of furniture), one in each corner of the room, and one on a stand by his sitting chair. His least favorite of these was a gaudy Victorian piece depicting Minerva and a cherub in silver, whose high price tag had nevertheless earned it a position in his exclusive collection. In the opposite, and far more accessible corner of his study he exhibited a wonderful Art Deco pedestal lamp, about seven feet tall, showing a scantily dressed Mayan or Egyptian princess in a sexy Statue of Liberty pose holding aloft the light and reclining against some kind of Aztec skyscraper, whose texture and strange geometric designs gave it the look and feel of some kind of cyber-adobe ziggurat. But it was always to the base of this pedestal lamp that Franchise drew the attention of whichever new guest-become-impromptu-audience he had managed to pull away for a few moments. He would invite this company to appraise the protruding carved half of an old woman, who was sitting and playing with a puppy on the steps at the base of the sharply sloping tower; with well practiced, exaggerated gestures, he would entreat them to contemplate the down-turned face of this woman, her sad expression, the pain she must feel in her weary lower back, how she had positioned herself, bent slightly forward, arms straight, hands resting on her knees, in order to sit a little more comfortably in her old age, and above all how little she concerned herself with the allegory of progress under which she sat. Indeed, Franchise would muse, she is probably employed as a cleaning lady within, her invalid condition the consequence of years of sweeping, what must be, countless staircases.
Franchise was in the habit of smoking a Cuban cigar (bought, of course, in Cuba) in his office every morning as the sun rose. He especially enjoyed the reflection and the scattering of the sunlight off his crystal chess board, on top of which he had neatly arranged a confusion of regional chess pieces, no two of which belonging to the same set, and all of masterful craftsmanship. He had medieval gargoyles, Chinese terracotta warriors, both Indian and African elephants, American civil war statuettes, Arabian queens, a miniature Taj Mahal, various knights, samurais and crossbowmen, some made of glass, others of gold, and quite a few encrusted with precious or semi-precious gems, which would invariably catch the very first sunlight, throwing the study into a magnificent, prismatic, if only momentary, disarray.
He sat there, on the morning of his death, happily puffing on a cigar, head slightly titled back, staring down his nose--on whose very tip he customarily set his glasses--towards the horizon. He had set himself to contemplating the success of his snowplow business--a daily ritual--when suddenly all of his things came to life, grew legs if they had none, tore off sharp pieces of themselves if they were unarmed, and advanced on the understandably surprised Franchise. It began with the chess pieces, just before the sun was up. He was eyeing them in anticipation, tracing their designs, picking out the most delightful, vibrant gems on them, deciding where to fix his gaze for the sunrise, when all the pieces, as if literally commanded, began jumping off the board and making their way to Franchise. “This must be magic!” came the thought, unbidden. When they had reached his feet they stopped, circled up, and began arguing, or at least the gesticulations made it appear so, as they made no sound. The sunlight began creeping across his room and, glancing up, he noticed that strange things were happening to all of his objects. His vinyl collection, for example, was tossing itself one by one off the shelves; they’d land, flop about like fish until the record had freed itself completely from the sleeve, and then spin and dance wildly, ostensibly enjoying their nakedness.
Was it paranoia or premonition? He had the immediate sense that his things meant to do him harm; there was something despicable about them. Initially, he thought he was going insane. He was old, he knew that, and figured his mind had just finally given up--he was even momentarily excited to spend the rest of his life in madness with his living collection of things to keep him company. “What better friends could you ask for?” Yet, there was something undeniably threatening about them, some sort of murderous joy informing even their simplest movements.
He wasn’t exactly frightened until they began to stab him. Having found some rope the chess pieces were ascending his torso. A few had leapt into his shirt pocket, and others were clinging onto his buttons. They began to stab him with their little weapons, and he tore at them, trying to save himself from their sting, but they held fast, their tiny arms already secured deep underneath his skin. He stood up, throwing himself around frantically, he could feel their little blades cutting into him. Now panic took control of him. They were crawling inside him through the wounds they had made. Something heavy hit him and he fell whirling to the ground. Turning on his back he was assaulted by a metal Mayan or Egyptian princess, now straddling him, who proceeded to choke the life out of him, and then fall over sideways, dead again herself.