My first book is up and ready for readin! I hope you all enjoy it. :)
No posts for the next couple days, taking a break. :) Be back on Friday!
The miniature leather saddle was the perfect size for a child’s imagination. I crouched in the booth of the flea market, putting myself on eye level with the saddle. Nestled between an antique brooch and the crystal chandelier of a dollhouse, it sat awkwardly without a horse to form it, missing its purpose.
Someone had put time and effort into it. The tiny stitches lined up perfectly around the pommel and down to the stirrups. The leather had been worn to make it easy to put on toy horses, used over years of play.
And now it was here, in a flea market, in a generation where toys were rapidly being moved to virtual environments. Part of me wanted to smile fondly and move on. What would my niece do with it, anyway? It didn’t have a USB port or wifi.
But there was something about it that stuck with me, reminding me of her. Maybe it was because we played horsie when she was younger, though that seemed too pat for the déjà vu that rocked me back on my heels.
Reaching out, I touched it. The world twisted and wavered.
I blinked, on my back, with the world warped. Everything stretched far away from me; the ceiling reached impossibly high. I tried to get up, but my legs wouldn’t respond. I fell, landing next to the saddle that was now big enough for me to ride.
Immense footsteps beat against the floor like an earthquake, a voice sounded like the roll of thunder. I looked up to see a man reach down for me. His immense smile stretched across his face as he picked me up. His words, when I deciphered them, chilled me. “One more for the collection.”
“What’s in the box?” Susan asked, rubbing her arms and looking around the empty basement. James pulled the sole, small battered cardboard box from the otherwise bereft shelves.
“I…well, it’s hard to explain.” James looked down at the box, refusing to meet her eyes. “I just…”
“Is this one of those things like in the movies? Do you have a collection of human thumbs in there?”
“What? No. Gross.” He wrinkled his nose. “What’s wrong with you?”
“You’re the one being all mysterious with the box.”
“Do you remember when we first met?” James sat on the stairs and put the box next to him.
“We should get back upstairs.” She looked back toward the basement door and the party she could only vaguely hear. “We don’t want Simon thinking I’ve run off with you, do you?”
“Do you remember?” He opened the worn cardboard flaps.
“Of course I remember.” Susan folded and unfolded her arms. The cold moldy smell of the basement made the back of her throat ache.
“It was January.” He reached into the box, then paused to look at her. “You had snowflakes caught on your eyelashes.”
“I said I remembered.” She rubbed her arms. Simon would come down the stairs any moment now to see what they were up to. Usually he refused to let her out of his sight. “Is this some sort of game?”
“No, it’s very serious.” He pulled another box out of the cardboard box. Paua shell inlaid the teak panels of the second box, shining under the bare light bulb. He cast aside the cardboard box and faced her, holding out the teak box like an offering. “Here, take this.”
“Why ever for?” Susan folded her hands behind her back. The box glimmered slimily in his hands. If she touched it, she knew it would stick to her hands. Her skin crawled.
“Because I asked you to.” He looked at her, “Are you all right? You’re acting weird today.”
“I’m acting weird? You’re the one who dragged me down into the basement, away from the party, to look at a box.”
“My grandfather brought this box back from the north pole.” James said, sliding the top of the box to the side. Frost rimmed his eyelashes, glittering behind his glasses. He put the top to the side as fog poured forth from it. It had to be dry ice.
His eyes reflected the colors of the box, the hues swirling in his icy blue gaze. She backed up toward the stairs, averting her eyes from the light. The basement’s increasing cold shivered down her spine. This had to be a joke, some sort of un-funny post-Halloween thing.
Singing came from somewhere, high pitched hums and guttural rumbles. Susan put her hand to her throat; the sound was coming from her.
Panicked, her lizard brain left her consciousness behind like a useless tail. She took the stairs two at a time. Run fast, run far, run away, run away, run run run.
Grasping the doorknob, she tried to turn it. When had he locked it? How had she not noticed? She rattled the knob, her heart thumping through her palms to the stoic brass. The beat reverberated through the door, through the walls. Dizzy, she braced herself between the door and the rail.
Holding the box like an offering, James ascended the stairs. Strange shapes moved in the box and it was suddenly too small for whatever it held. Her throat sang again, and she understood the words. Oh Frozen One, oh Majestic One, oh Mighty One. Her soul recognized them, reverberated with them. She refused to accept them.
James bowed before her. “Awaken, oh Majestic One. Awaken and rule your servants.”
The door behind her opened and Simon stood there. Susan turned to him, her eyes pleading, not trusting her voice. He bowed as well. “Oh Frozen One. Bless your servants with your visage.”
The fog roiled around her feet, freezing her with its touch. She knew she would have to look in the box. Any moment now she would look and when she looked she would be lost. This thing in her soul, this thing in her throat, would take over.
“What’s in the box?” Susan whispered.
The itch grew unbearable as he paced back and forth between the armchair and the window. He needed to check on it. He knew he should, for his sanity, to make sure they hadn’t found it yet.
He sat down in the armchair his hands on his knees, forcibly holding himself in the chair to keep from standing up and checking the window again. He’d seen the shows, he knew that they would be watching him, waiting for him to lead them to the evidence. All he had to do now was to sit and do nothing, to wait them out, then he would get the money. Then he would be free to do as he pleased.
It was an accident, at first. But as he had struck again and again, his determination had solidified. He would be free of the incessant nagging, the sullen looks, the sheer onus of it all. He would be free to do as he pleased, to meet whomever he pleased, to do whomever he pleased.
He told her he wasn’t able to have children, but he had gotten a vasectomy a year into their marriage. He had known even then that he didn’t want to be tied to her any more than he already was. There was being legally tied, and then there was genetically tied.
It had been a relief, a bloodletting like the ancients had once used to get rid of the vile humors. He had freed himself of the vile woman and none were the wiser.
But he had to check, he had to be sure.
He stood again and paced. The police would know. He knew that he shouldn’t. But what if they had found her?
It was one of those ideas that seemed like a good idea at first, but devolved rapidly into something quite unlike the original plan. Or at least, sweltering in this little tunnel, with a face full of Helen’s posterior, it had gone terribly, terribly wrong.
“I think I’m stuck.” The cascade of sand between us muffled her voice as she wiggled backward. Frantically, I scuttled back as well. We were close, but not that close.
I made it back five feet before the claustrophobia hit again. It had been off and on all morning, coming in waves as we dug our way under the city streets. It had been an infallible plan, the sort of inspiration that comes after a night at the bar, the two am brilliance of a plan not very well thought out.
Our grand plan had been to try to tunnel under a bank and see if we could get us some of that money we had heard so much about. We figured that no one had done it in so long that the banks wouldn’t be prepared for it. It was incredibly clever of us.
The problem lay in the fact that we had no idea how to dig a tunnel. Our initial effort collapsed on us, leaving us dirty and dejected. But we had committed to it and neither one of us was going to flinch first.
But I definitely felt like flinching now. I felt like curling up in a ball and waiting for the police to find us. I felt like trying to turn around and crawling back home with nothing to show for my day but a scraped elbow and dirt in my hair.
As I caught my breath, Helen had extricated herself and was industriously digging again. Her shovel thumped into something hard. “I think we’re here.”
“We are?” I inched forward to look past her.
“I think we are.” Breathless with excitement, I could barely hear her. Maybe it would be worth it after all.
“How do we get through the concrete?” She asked.
My enthusiasm deflated. We didn’t think of it that far. I curled up and waited for the police to arrive.
Anxiety twisted in his esophagus, draining down into his stomach with an almost palpable drip drip drip. He sat in his living room, nestled as deep as he could get in his comfiest armchair. It was easier to sit here, to not think about it.
They’d found the orbs in the basement of an ancient temple, and so of course he had to take one home. He had smuggled it in his luggage, and none of the border patrol had been the wiser. They had been looking too hard for drugs.
And now here he was, with it. It sat on the coffee table in the center of the room, on one of his grandmother’s antique plates. He had inherited it, and at the time it had seemed like a good place to put the orb.
But now he couldn’t get away from it.
It had started singing the minute he had taken it from the satchel where he had stuffed it. It wasn’t a loud noise, but it was persistent. He had been listening to it for a day now, unable to sleep.
The orb glowed now, with a pulsing light that strobed in his eyes when he closed them. The song haunted him; he knew it would follow him even when he went to work. Especially when he went to work. His coworkers would see the guilt in his eyes, would know that he had stolen a priceless archaeological artifact.
He could say that he had done it to study it. To do research on his own. They would understand that, they could forgive that. But the truth was that he had had to have it out of sheer avarice.
He shouldn’t have, he knew. But now, now he would find out what had killed the ancient people, what had driven them from their homes. It was the orb, driving him from his home.
It was driving him crazy.
I saw him between the aisles, a flicker of motion out of the corner of my eye that brought the same old anxiety. Was it him? Had I finally found him?
The day is still burnt into the back of my retinas. I see it every time I close my eyes. I see the man drag Jason into his van. I feel the helpless rage of chasing after the man who stole my son, of losing him. I hadn’t seen the license plate, and the van was like any other van in the city. The police had shook their heads and said it was a shame, but there was really nothing they could do with so little information.
I glanced at the man again as I paced the aisles. I imagined myself as a hunter. A hunter who sought the evil, the malicious, the perverted. I was righteousness to their sickness.
The torn photograph in my wallet itched in my memory. If I looked at it, I would know it was him Or I would be disappointed again.
Passing the toy aisle, I saw a partially deflated basketball. It was a sign. There had been one there that day too. I had tripped over it, my feet crushing its floppy resistance. I had fallen, chipping a tooth, losing sight of the van.
This was my chance for redemption.
I turned my cart across the space between the aisles, running it into his. “Sorry.”
I met his eye and saw no flicker of recognition, no sign of guilt. He extricated his cart from mine with a shrug. “No worries.”
As he walked off, the question died on my lips. What have you done with my son? It wasn’t him. It never had been.
I sighed and my shoulders slumped. What did I think I was? I was just a tired old man, looking for ghosts.
I glanced up and saw that he had looked back at me. I had seen that expression before. It was him.
I pushed my cart after him, as fast as I could go.
Her stolen horse broke down after half a day’s terrified flight through the desert. It collapsed and she threw herself from the saddle before the horse could roll and trap her. Landing rough, she gasped as her leg twisted. For a moment, she thought she had hurt herself, but the sensation passed with the resurgence of fear that jolted through her. She had to keep going. They were following her.
Or rather, it was following her. The curse. The thing that had plagued her existence ever since finding that lost gold mine deep in the mountains.
The men that left the dust plume in the distance were just the byproduct of that curse. It wasn’t their fault, she understood that. Even so, as she scrambled to a height at the top of the canyon, she drew her guns and readied herself to do what was necessary.
They came into sight as the sun rose toward noon. There were six of them, dressed in their outlaw finery. Their horses, lathered and panting, were nevertheless better off than her poor horse had been. They knew they had her trapped; there was no reason to hurry.
She crouched behind a rock and watched them coming. Once they saw her, there would be no more hiding, not with the sun as high as it was. It glimmered off her skin, shining where the gold had stuck. If she hadn’t fallen down that mine shaft, if she hadn’t been cursed, none of this would be her problem.
But no, now bandits chased her, wanting her for the fortune she had been transformed into. She tightened her grip on the pulley rig she had devised. They wouldn’t win this time, maybe never. She had been cursed, which didn’t mean she was helpless. And if it meant one less bandit in the world… well then that wasn’t too bad at all.
The deafening odor of sulfur cascaded from the hot springs. She wasn’t sure if it was worse or better than the stench of the body that floated face-down in the boiling water. The fifteen minutes she had spent at the crime scene had done nothing to dull her senses. Every inhalation was a fresh burst of eggy foulness.
As the coroner arrived, she stepped back from her contemplation of the corpse. She knew better than to move anything, but still she had been able to see the few small clues that remained to the visible eye. The corpse’s fist was clenched around something that floated slightly above the fist in the bubbling water. With the steam, it was hard to discern, but she hoped it would turn out to be forensically interesting, as her colleagues called it. She called it a clue, but she was old fashioned like that.
The other clue was the clothes the person was wearing. Old fashioned clothing, the sort of clothing reenactors wore. But this clothing was worn, used, nothing like the pristine costumes of the dilettante moderns. Either this person was a very true reenactor, or the impossible had happened.
Half of her almost hoped that the impossible had happened, after all. In all her years on the force, she had never had one strange thing happen to her, one inexplicable incident. All of the other officers and detectives described the eerie and the strange, the things that bumped them in the night and left them questioning. Her career had been banal, boring, even, in comparison, despite the murders and the mayhem of normal mundane crime.
“Well, he’s cooked, now isn’t he?” The coroner asked companionably.
“I would certainly think so, being in there like that.” She said, then sighed. It was going to be a normal case, with a normal explanation after all. The coroner wouldn’t joke if it was going to be special in any way.
She put on her latex gloves and got to work.
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