Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Tales of the Amulet (Back Stories Volume II)

I haven't thought about Jimmy and Wil for a few years now... probably more like a decade or two, honestly. But it's time I shared the tale of the one moment that -not to put too fine a point on it- changed my life forever. In fact, it changed it in a way that would scar me in the deepest and most profound way possible.

It was 1981. My best friends in the world were Jimmy Davidson and Wil McMahon, and during that summer break from fifth grade we were inseparable. We attended Bible Camp together, we stayed over at one another's houses and back yards, and we spent as many hours in each other's company as physically possible. Life was great and during that vacation of '81, nothing could have been better, and yet what the three of us were soon to discover, nothing could be worse.

Over the week of July 4th, I had to spend six days away from my pals on a family vacation to Niagara Falls. It was great, but three days in and I was pining for the companionship of my buddies. And by the time we rolled into the driveway at the end of the week, I was in full-blown withdrawal. Within the following fifteen minutes, Jimmy and Wil were sitting next to me in the yard bombarding me with questions and throwing six days worth of new information at me about what I'd missed. It was wonderful to be back home.

But then Jimmy dropped the bomb. He looked at Wil and they both nodded. I looked quizzically at them as the readied themselves; it was clear that what they had to share was pretty damn important. I waited patiently for Jimmy to begin, both excited and a little frightened. He finally asked if I remembered the trail that led out to the old barn we called the Chicken Shack. It sat about fifty yards beyond the cul de sac on which our houses sat. I said of course I did, what about it?

Jimmy continued with an air of hesitation. He said he and Wil were out catching fireflies a few nights ago when something shiny and very red captured their attention. It was sticking out of the dry weeds next to the trail. The sun had nearly set, but it wasn't its glow that reflected of the object's surface; the ominous deep vermilion hew was glowing all on its own. I nodded and shrugged not yet really getting the full weight of what I was being told.

Now it was Wil's turn and he began by looking around to make sure no one else was listening. He glanced at Jimmy and continued the story. The thing they found was not only just emitting a sickly red light, but the closer they got they could make out a deep, reverberating hum that seemed to hit them right in their gut. It was a low thrumming that was almost painful. He and Jimmy got as close as they dared and stared at it. There was no doubt that it was metal; it had a rough, unpolished surface that looked almost ancient. But the most bizarre part were the etchings that encompassed the face of it. The closer they got, the more the ache of the vibration stung and burned. They got within ten feet before the nose bleeds. Jimmy said he felt a pop in his face and a trickle of blood oozed from his right nostril. Wil said he heard a weird echoing sound and his nose sprung its own leak. That was as far as they dared go, and they turned, abandoning their bug jars, and ran home.

I sat with the two of them in silence. It was apparent just by their curious faces that each wanted to go back to it, but each wanted to wait for me. A bloody nose? I could deal with that. I nodded and wordlessly the three of us agreed to go the following night. I wanted to go then -dark was a mere hour or so away- but my parents had already confined me to yard and house for the night. Besides, I was tired and, truth be told, maybe a bit scared.

I spent an hour that night staring at my ceiling pondering just what it could have been Jimmy and Wil discovered out there, and if I really wanted any part of it. I wish now that I'd chickened out, because little did I know that in 24 hours I'd never, ever be the same.

It was Saturday night. The three of us had spent the day in a kind of distant haze. We dragged sticks around, kicked ay rocks, and generally just wasted the day. We went to Wil's for burgers and dogs on the grill and gathered jars for our cover of collecting lightning bugs. Our parents all knew where we were going; we'd been staying out late nearly all of Summer vacation. They knew we were safe and besides, I was having both over to my house over night. Our bases were as covered as they were going to get. And as the sun ducked behind the tree line and the little pops of yellow dotted the muggy evening, we set out.

Mid-way down the trail I was the first to notice the ruby incandescence. It came from just off the trail the very same way Jimmy and Wil described. In a few steps it became uncomfortably apparent that the dull hum could be felt in the bottom of my chest. We stopped. No one said anything and neither of us knew just what to do next. But I knew if I waited too much longer, I'd have likely turned around. I took another tentative step, feeling that horrible drone deep in my gut. Jimmy and Wil followed suit, but somehow neither looked as though the sonorous buzz was bothering them at all. As I looked them over, wry grins danced across their mouths. It was then I felt the death-grips of their hands ad they grasped my upper arms.

I remember shouting at them to let go, but neither even seemed to hear me. Soon my ears began to sting as the tremors grew in intensity. That's when I felt the jab behind my eyes and the rivulet of blood ran down my lip. I tried to fight my way free, hoping it was all a joke, but knowing it wasn't. We inched ever closer to what now looked like some kind of disc poking from the dirt. As I struggled I looked at my friends. Their eyes had rolled up and I could see only whites. They glared dead-faced and slack-jawed, trickles of foamy drool ran down their chins. We were feet from the object and I wanted nothing more than to be in my house and hiding in my mom's arms. I tripped a half-step and saw a pretty big rock. I fell on purpose and that quick move loosened Wil's grip just enough. I yanked my right arm free and grabbed the fist-sized rock. The blood was running freely now and I could feel my chest about to burst from the violent drumming that continued to get worse and worse. I stood and swung; the rock collided with Jimmy's eye socket and he wailed in agony releasing his hold. I looked back at Wil who was reaching toward me. I stepped back and whipped the rock, connecting with and subsequently breaking his nose at the bridge. He, too yowled in pain and dropped to his knees. My head felt like it was stuffed with angry bees and I knew I had to get away. But how could I leave my friends?

I heard the voices. Way back, somewhere in the cavernous depths of my brain, I heard them. They spoke in hisses and chittering clacks. They called to me with their gibbering growls and guttural tones. They told me I'd won. They told me to kill. I stood above my fallen friends with a mind not my own, and I obeyed. I kicked and kicked until I felt crunching and mush.

For a few years my new home was a Juvenile Detention Center and the occasional hospital hooked up to brain machines in hopes of answering "Why?" Eventually, as I'd remained silent for six years, I was given to the State and its cells and rooms. As I sit now... unsure of the time or the day or the year... I look around at the padded walls and wonder just how much of what I've told is just voices in my head.