Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Amulet: Homecoming

We sat shivering in the basement of the old, burned-out American National bank. A few cans of unlabeled vegetables and beans sat opened and half-eaten near our small fire. We'd managed to find what used to be a pretty good sized wok in a dumpster across the street where the Joy Fong had once stood, and now the saute pan served as a portable stove of sorts. Burning it it now was a bunch of warped chop sticks, also procured from the derelict Chinese food eatery. They seemed to burn longer after we soaked them for a bit in a soured tub of old cooking oil. Danny sat with his back against the vault wall and sighed; something he had done often after a day of scrounging and pack-ratting everything and anything we could find of value. For a boy of twelve, he had tremendous reserve and a will that nearly never quit. But it did, right around the same time every evening. And that was fine, because my forty-year old tenacity wasn't as limitless as it once was.

Danny and I met about a month earlier. I had lost my family a few years ago, to the horrors you see, and I was traveling as best I could on my own. I was lonely, of that fact there was no doubt, but I never tried too hard to find anyone else, because most of the remaining human race had either gone completely insane -thanks in part to the Fixers (I'll tell you about that another time)- or had been devoured by the horrors; the creations brought on by the Scourge of the Amulet. So, there were very few of us left. But I found Danny... or should I say Danny found me. I was kneeling, lost in thought, over a dead deer carving off good meat with a sharpened comb handle. Most of the carcass had gone off, but a bot, near the head, was still okay... provided I cooked the hell out of it. Which I'd planned to do anyway. And it seemed Danny was just as hungry as I was. He'd found the decaying animal, too. But Danny had a gun. A gun, it turned out, that wasn't loaded. But it scared me just the same.

I wanted no part of a bullet, so I dropped my tool and the meat, and Danny just scrambled up to the carved pile and began shoveling it into his mouth; no cooking necessary. I calmly told him that were he not to char the dickens out of that meat he was going to be puking up his shoes by the end of the night. I offered to build a fire and make us dinner. Danny glanced at me with fresh juice dribbling down his chin, looked at his gun that was now a few feet away (I kicked it just to be safe) and not only did he nod, but he burst into tears. I don't think he'd seen a person in a very long time. Especially a person who wasn't under the influence of The Fixers. He ran to me, clung hard, and wept into my filthy sweater. That was all it took; friends for life, we were, after that.

Danny and I had found the bank vault a few days ago. I had to chase a lady who was just lousy with The Fixers; gibbering and swollen, fistulas and pustules oozing grey liquid, her left eye dangling, forgotten, from its socket... she was a sorry mess, and wasn't long for the world. I finished her misery with a jab to the back of the head. A quick search of her meager possessions only provided a small tack hammer and a rusty bucket. But the vault was a fine place to hold up, and so Danny and I brought in much of our findings before the Scourers began their nightly hunt, and we felt relatively safe.

Danny sighed deeply again, and rubbed his eyes. I sat down beside him and rubbed his filthy hair. He smiled; his eyes deep with sorrow, regret, and an aching sadness that threatened to bring tears to my own eyes. I smiled back, and offered him a piece of a Dolly Madison snack cake we'd found a few days before. He shook his head, and mimicked opening a book with his hands. I shook my head, momentarily not quite understanding... until he did it again, this time mouthing, "story". My face lit up with recognition: Danny wanted a story! Hey, I could do that for the kid. Besides, I had quite a few. Especially since I had seen The Amulet just before it destroyed everything.

The Tale

Eight years ago, I was married to an amazing beauty named Selah with twin daughters named Joy and Faith. Yes, we were Christians and very involved in our local Church. Our friends were there, our love was there, and our lives were there. But the hand of darkness wasn't far off. But we didn't heed the warnings. We believed we were as safe as we needed to be. Even our Pastor -Paul Easton; a wonderful, if naive, man- refused to acknowledge that trouble was simmering just on the horizon. Of course, this particular trouble wasn't Biblical... it just was.

The time had come to move. Our house was just too small, and with to growing daughters and the distinct probability of more children to come, it made sense to find larger dwellings. But before the packing, it was time to part with as much of our unneeded sundries as possible, so we had a garage sale. My job was cleaning out the attic; a feat that was made all the more difficult by the fact that it hadn't been done the entire time we lived there. Eleven years of boxes just shoved up there willy-nilly. So, needless to say, I had a full weekend ahead of me. As I went through stuff, Selah would take what she deemed sale-worthy, and set it aside. The rest got thrown out. Things were going along swimmingly; we found old China, baby toys, decent clothes, shoes, books, VHS tapes, and oodles of things we no longer used. But then I found it. Deep within the recesses of the musty attic, in a box that held nothing but a moth-eaten drop cloth; it was metallic, the color of pewter, with runes strewn about the surface. I had, as far as I knew, never seen it before in my life... and I wish right now that I'd never laid eyes on it then.

-- To Be Continued --