Saturday, September 7, 2013

Tales of the Amulet (Back Stories Volume III)

The Meeting

Steve felt pretty good about himself. He stopped on the front porch of Karen Chase's home (her home she pretended to live in happily with her daughter, Meg, and her frequently absent husband, Shawn) and took a deep, steadying breath, staring out across the lawn he'd now come to know every Thursday afternoon. Steve Parker was a salesman from Payne's Home Improvement in charge of hocking windows and gutter covers to anyone and everyone city-wide. It was a crummy job all around, especially since very few people in this economy were improving their homes in any meaningful way. In fact, many were just outright selling and moving on to more fertile grounds. But were it not for Steve's position in said crummy job, he'd never have met Mrs. Chase one lonely, steamy Thursday in August when, given the circumstances, she'd likely have purchased anything from windows to the Polar Ice Cap. Steve was decked out in his typical Polo shirt emblazoned with the Payne's logo, hair combed slightly askew and tousled, and splash of musk just for its hint of crisp, acrid scent. Mrs. Chase was putty. She's invited him in -obviously bored and probably even a little ready for some sense of danger- and offered him coffee. He accepted, smiled at her politely, and watched in admiration at the swish of her butt as she led him into the dining area. She bought two windows, signed the requisite paperwork, and sat staring, like a coy animal, into Steve's eyes as both decided, wordlessly, to move things into the bedroom. And hour later, Karen became his Thursday stop. It was at this thought that Steve breathed deeply the day and stepped down the concrete steps to walk the block to where he parked his Buick.

The Buick had other ideas than Steve's of leaving. The starter chugged, but it wouldn't catch. It had happened before, and typically it just took a half-hour or so for it to calm down and fire up. Steve sighed, and smacked the steering wheel. Though he was parked a block away and around a corner, he still felt a certain sting of worry and apprehension. One never knew who might have seen him go into the Chase home and leave seventy minutes later. One never knew who had large eyes and loud mouths. Steve sat motionless and stared out of the windshield into the nosy world beyond. And it was just then he saw the reflection.

His heart nearly stopped as it jumped into his throat. One wandering glance was all it took for Steve to catch a view of the man sitting in the back seat. Steve froze with what might have been a yell catching ineffectually in his larynx. The man sat stolid; a derby sat straight and crisp on his head, the shadow from the brim obscuring half of the man's face. He wore a full-length trench coat that covered him to nearly the ankles, and proper loafers finished the ensemble. Other than that -the mostly unassuming outfit- the man only held one other thing, and it was in his lap: a medallion the shape and size of a compact disk. 

"Wh-who are you?" Steve managed to stammer in a forced whisper.

The man sat motionless for a beat. "Someone who knows, Steve. Someone who knows."

Though Steve knew exactly what this man was talking about, he decided to play as dumb as possible. "What? What do you know?"

Steve was, as he sat trembling and facing facts, scared to death. Somewhere in the cellar of his thoughts he supposed he knew he'd be caught at some point. However he was always sure it would be Karen's husband who'd do the catching. Steve saw his picture all over the house, since Karen apparently didn't believe in the time-honored tradition of cheating wives turning down images of their spouses for fear of them somehow knowing from afar. In this case, Karen's husband was kind of a mousy guy with weaselly features and slicked-back, 60's hair. All told, he looked a bit like Squiggy from the old Laverne and Shirley show. The man that currently sat cucumber-cool in the back seat was absolutely not Mr. Chase. Of this, Steve was nearly one-hundred percent certain.

"I know of the indiscretions, Steve. I know of the ruination you insist in perpetuating, Steve... the sanctity of marriage.... That's what I know."

Steve blinked. He turned his head to the back seat rather than talk to the rear-view mirror and stared at the man in the black coat and hat. The man looked like he hadn't flinched; statuesque and frozen in time. Steve gave him a look of disdain and glared at him for a time. 

"I'm sorry but I'm not going to sit here and take any crap from someone who obviously has no clue what he's talking about. So please... get out of my car."

The man only sat; still and unnerved. The disk on his lap began to shine a little oddly and Steve chalked it up to glare from the sun through the glass or something. Until it pulsated.

Red tints of undulating hue snaked across the surface highlighting the etchings that Steve just then noticed. The face of the disk looked mottled with runes and glyphs. The scarlet pulses danced across the disk like tiny flashes of bloody lightning. Steve was momentarily mesmerized.

"The Amulet knows all, my friend; good, bad, and indifferent... it sees everything. And though it feeds from the endless trough that is human unkindness and ineptitude, it also seeks those floating in the mire of damnation and... well... inhumanity. It seeks them, and shows them the errors of their actions."

Steve stared dumbfounded at the man in black. His mouth hung open and a throaty sigh escaped him. The only movement that passed between them were the thin, gnarled fingers of the man as he played them slowly over the carved surface of the amulet.

It was then Steve's mind filled with the torturous overture of the nightmares he might have inadvertently caused with his thoughtless acts. His head was thrown back, his neck arched with a snap and his spine followed. His mouth yawned open in a rictus of terror and a bark of pain escaped his throat. Thoughts paraded through his brain, each more painful and agonizing than the last; the past was shown proving that maybe Karen's husband knew after all and his subsequent plans for suicide, and the present played on as well where Karen herself began spreading the rift between her and her husband causing ripples in their child's life. And then there was the future -the worst part- slicing into his psyche like a hot dagger. Years not yet existing delivered images of a grave plot, a mourning woman, and a distant silhouette hiding in the shadows. The atmosphere was dull grey and heavy with emotion. Though Steve couldn't see it was dreadfully apparent that the cemetery stone had the name of Karen's husband, and the silhouette was their child. It was all too much... just too much.

Then the red that surged across the disk's surface suddenly ceased. The angrily dancing lights suddenly stopped, and a deafening silence slammed into the car. Steve was curled into a fetal position in the front seat, a runnel of drool stringing into a pool at his cheek. The man in the black coat and hat slowly slide out from the backseat, he took one cursory glance at Steve, smiled wanly, and left the vehicle. The amulet glowed one final time; a pulse for good measure.

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