Ageless, A Serial Novel Ch. 9

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Ageless
By James R. Colbert, Jr. and David R. Smith

Book One: Lazarus
Chapter 9

The wagon let her off at the edge of town, near a small ramshackle port in what used to be one of Rochester’s finest hamlets. As Lucy slid free of the cart and shimmied past the remaining passengers a few disinterested porters moved about, stacking cargo, or resting from the heat of the noonday sun.

Casually, she crossed the dock and headed toward an area heaped with large boxes and crates of wilting produce, studying the people around her as she went. They were ordinary people, workmen, traders, women with dirty children running about. Once a proud metropolis, the city now existed as little more than a haven for the hopeless and poor. Lucy felt almost sickened by it.

She moved with ease through the bustling crowd and went straight out to the water’s edge. So this was the place where Darin West was headed, Lucy thought. Perhaps, if she had used her instinct correctly it was. Losing West in the market was bad business, but as luck would have it a local farmer informed her that he usually ended up here since few other shipyards existed nowadays. Still, Lucy was certain West would be there, or she wouldn’t have chanced Dr. Stewart’s trail going cold days prior to coming and find out.

A faint plan was beginning to form in the back of her mind, vague and nebulous. As she thought she began to walk, placing her hands in her pockets, looking around and taking in the scenery. The port was mostly a disarray decrepit shops, wooden carts, and tattered tents, with crowds of people attempted to sell their wares or package goods for shipment.

The crowds thinned out the further she walked, leaving behind much of the noise and commotion that accompanied it. In the sky above thick rain clouds began to lumber in, carrying with them a cool wet breeze. This was a seemingly insignificant shipyard; one of many Lucy had visited throughout her career – just right for those wishing to come and go without notice. Here, the good doctor’s legacy would be lost, considered wholly unimportant to most whose primary concerns centered on procuring tomorrow’s sustenance and much-needed supplies. And, it was a place far removed from the regime’s prying eyes.

Lucy walked back and entered a tent at the far end of the docks that doubled as a lunchroom. As she sat down an elderly woman with glasses came over and quietly washed the battered card table, before wiping her hands on her white apron.

“Coffee, please,” Lucy said.

The woman brought back the cup and smiled as she handed it to her. There were only a few people in the makeshift cafe. Outside farmers and traders moved leisurely about.

“Say,” Lucy said, stirring her coffee with the tip of one finger. “Where could a girl get some work around these parts? Do you know?”

“What kind of work, misses?” The old woman replied, again wiping her hands on her apron.

“Electrical. I’m an electrician. The gov’s trying to restore the grid.” Lucy sipped her coffee.
“That sort of stuff.”

“Why don’t you try the industrial areas? Buffalo. Albany. Saratoga Springs.”

Lucy shook her head. “They got enough people out those ways. I’m looking more towards the southern tier region.”

Lucy paused for a moment.

“Of course, I would need transport. I figure I could work for my fare, maybe repair some electronics for the right person in need.” She shifted a little in her seat. “Oh, but that person would have to be trustworthy. The road’s a dangerous place for a girl all on her own.”

The old woman laughed. “That is true. A lot of people here would be glad to have extra help.” She wrinkled her brow. “So, you’re an electrician?”

“Do you know of any people in need of electrical service? Engine repair or the like?”

“None that I can think of. But I’ll keep an open ear.” The old woman went off to wait on some men that had come in. Had she made a mistake? Maybe West already came and left on one of the many freighters at the docks. Maybe she had been wrong about where he’d be headed. Nevertheless, Lucy’s instincts still felt right.

The old woman came back. “DW,” she said.

Lucy replied with a puzzled face.

The old woman smiled. “Darin West. He’s a good sort and known to fiddle around with those electronics of your’s. He might be interested in a trade.”

Lucy heart nearly stopped. She could hardly suppress her excitement. “Is he here?”

The old woman scratched the top of her head. “Well, that I don’t rightly know. He comes and goes so often.” She looked about the tent. “If he were I’d wager you find him loadin’ up at the docks.”

Lucy reached out and patted the top of the old woman’s hand in appreciation. She then paid for her coffee. “Thank you.”

“Once in a while the men go up the road and trade. There’s some sort of Government station out that way.”

Lucy nodded and waved goodbye. She pushed through the canvas flap opening and stepped out onto the hot pavement. For a time she walked aimlessly, deep in thought, turning her nebulous plan over and over again inside her mind. It was a good plan; it would solve everything, and with it the government would finally secure Dr. Stewart. But right now that all hinged on one thing: finding Darin West. He was the key and she only had the faintest of clues to his whereabouts, if it was really a clue. She dipped inside her jacket pocket and touched her ID card, folded and neatly creased. With that and a little faith she hoped she knew what she was doing.

A Government station. Lucy paused, looking around. Across the lot, there was a horse and buggy used as a taxi service, and a couple of cabbies sitting on the bed, smoking and gabbing amongst themselves. It was worth a try. Besides, there wasn’t much else she could do. West would be worth finding out, even if he was only Dr. Stewart’s contact on the surface. And, if the Government was trading illegally with the townsfolk no one would ask her any unwanted questions. They would be all too accustomed to remembering the punishment for ‘failure to comply’ with the rules.

She went over to the cabbie. “Hey, mister,” she said, “can you tell me something?”

The cabbie exhaled a great puff of smoke and looked up. “What do you want to know?”

“They tell me there might be a man by the name of Darin West out at the Government station. Is that right?”

The cabbie studied Lucy intently for a moment and then nodded. “Yeah, DW’s out there. Why you askin’?”

“I’m hoping he might need some hired help.”

“That I don’t know. Old West kind of keeps to hisself.”

“Can you take me there?” Lucy brushed her hair behind one ear in a vain attempt to project an image of insecurity.

“Sure, if you’re willing to pay.” The cabbie lifted his cigarette to his lips and took a deep inhale.

“I can pay.”

Lucy rummaged in her pockets and retrieved a small amount of currency. The cabbie took it from her.

“Can’t say he’ll do any hiring, though. West don’t take many folks on.” The cabbie squeezed in one last drag and then threw what was left of the cigarette in a smoldering lump to the ground.

“All right.”

The second cabbie hopped out of the bed. “If West ain’t interested the guys at the station might be, but they’re real choosy. They don’t hardly let anybody in. Some kind of war work, I think.”

Lucy’s ears pricked. “I’ve never heard about a war?”

“They come into town and pick up a load of workers every couple of days. Maybe a truck full. Like I said, they’re real careful who they pick.”

“Is that right?”

“Work going on day and night. But nobody knows why. After the last war, you’d think there’d be no one left to fight.”

The other cabbie poked the man’s shoulder and gave him a solemn glare instructing him to shut up. “Enough talk. We best be going now.”

Lucy stared at the men bewildered. Considering the level of her rank she had no idea why she has not heard of such talks of war.

“Hop in, little lady,” the cabbie said. “It’ll take some time, but we’ll get you out there.” He then stepped around Lucy and climbed in the front of the cart.

Lucy gently dropped her bags on the bed and slid in the back. She had plenty to do, now that the first step of her mission was over. Darin West was in Rochester after all, and apparently she was going to speak with him very soon. But could the next step be done alone? For some unknown reason, the Agency disavowed all involvement in her mission, at least for the time being. Perhaps this had to do with all the talk of war. Still, that didn’t explain why? During the trip out to the government station, Lucy pondered all these things deeply. There was only one person who might have the answer, even if it was a long shot. Now more than ever she needed to find Dr. Stewart. If Darin West was here then Stewart might not be so hard to find. . .

 

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Things for Sale

Have you ever been driving around in a deeply rural area of the country? Ever gone by one of these yard or barn sales? Ever wonder what you might find? This is a tale about a man who just wanted to check out what kind of “things” might be for sale at just such a place. Enjoy!

 

Things for Sale

by James R. Colbert, Jr.

 
Carl absent-mindedly reached for the volume control of his car’s stereo system and turned down the music. The exit was just a little bit further ahead. Carl Geddes had been traveling toward his boyhood home for two days now. It was the end of October, Halloween, a chill had really started to take hold and in this area of the country, once old Jack Frost came to visit he definitely overstayed his welcome, at least as far as Carl was concerned. Fortunately, it had not yet snowed. The cold and snow were just two of the many reasons Carl had moved away, almost twelve years ago already. At the time, he had no intention of ever coming back. He had left the day after his twenty-first birthday and had hoped to keep this place back in his distant memories, the more distant, the better. He never could understand why his family still lived in the area and after all the years of badgering, he’d finally been talked into coming up north for a visit. Halloween had always been a huge event at the Geddes home with much pomp and ceremony, led mostly by his grandparents. In fact, his surviving grandmother insisted he makes it this year. She seemed especially adamant this time, that it was very important to her that he be there. She told Carl that she had a special secret that only he was to know and that he just had to be there in person this Halloween so, he agreed. He had always been quite fond of her and his grandfather. He glanced at his hand gripping the wheel and saw the ring his grandpa Tom had given him the day he’d left to seek his fortune.

“Wear this ring, Carl. It has been passed down in our family and I want you to have it now. This ring will bring you good fortune and keep evil away, wear it always.” That’s what Grandpa Tom had told him then. Carl took the ring, but never really followed that advice until the day he got the call about his grandfather’s passing. His mother had called a few weeks before that telling him that his Grandpa Tom was really quite ill and that he should get back home to see him as soon as he could, but Carl could not manage to find the time away from his business. Ever since that day, he’d worn the ring, partially as a tribute to his grandfather and partly to relieve his guilt for not seeing him one last time. So, here he was, just in case something else like that was about to happen. His grandmother was getting to be very old now and probably realized her time was running out. She may want to have Carl organize and place a value on her and his grandfather’s vast collection of things. Carl had seen one of the rooms where these treasures were hoarded when he was a young boy and he found it fascinating. That was the day that directed his career path as a highly sought after antique dealer. After that day, Carl seemed able to soak up knowledge about all things that were old and valuable. He learned all about the little town and region he grew up in, right from its origins and often perused the many so-called antique shops that dotted the region, always looking to find a deal to his advantage.

His mind suddenly snapped back to the task at hand and found himself starting to cross into the other lane. He quickly made the needed correction. Once things were back to how they should be and he was safely on the off ramp, he glanced around to scan the surrounding landscape. He’d managed to miss the explosion of color that the autumn season brought when the leaves turned, one of the few things he did miss since he moved to a warmer climate. As he approached the oversized stop sign he noticed a hand-painted sign someone had placed directly across from the intersection. It had been leaned up against the guardrail. “Things for Sale,” it read. Underneath the red letters was a crude arrow-like symbol indicating that one should turn left to find the sale. Carl chuckled to himself at the wording of the sign, yet he felt a sudden and unexpected urge to find out just what kind of things the seller might have to offer. He hadn’t graced an amateur yard sale with his presence since leaving the area, but for some reason, this strange little sign advertising “Things for Sale” seemed incredibly tempting. His destination, the sleepy little town of Belmont, New York, lay to his right and he’d already gotten over into the far right side of the exit ramp in order to turn that direction. He glanced quickly around to see if there were any vehicles coming his way. There were none. A decision was reached. Carl pushed the lever to indicate a left turn and proceeded to head away from Belmont on a quest to find what “things” were for sale.

As he traveled down the road he kept a lookout for another sign that might indicate he was on the right track. After driving for a couple of miles, he spotted a similarly hand painted sign with the “Things for Sale” wording and a second harder to read line stating that a turn was ahead one-half mile away. Carl began scanning for the turn and as the sign stated, a road, Upper Ridge Road, was coming up on his right that led away from the main route. A sign painted just like the others, containing the now familiar words, told Carl that he was still moving toward the right location. The roadway soon turned from reasonably decent pavement to less well-maintained pavement to dirt and gravel. The road also narrowed as he drove along, a common occurrence in the region. Carl did not care for this situation. His vehicle, a perfectly restored 1959 Cadillac Coupe de Ville, was one of his favorites and he did not want anything to happen to its finish. He began to question his compulsive decision to find this foolish sale and started to look for a spot that would accommodate a way to get turned around. Just as he was starting to think he may have to back up for a rather long way, Carl saw another one of the “sale” signs that stated a second turn was up ahead. His interest was suddenly renewed in finding the sale location, even though he didn’t really know why. As he approached the intersection, Carl hesitated and stopped the car. An ancient, almost illegible road sign, one actually made from a wooden plank, informed Carl he was about to head down a road named “Lost Valley Road.” It looked like it would live up to its name. Although at first glance it appeared that no one had been down the road (which really looked more like a path that horse-drawn wagons had once used) for many, many years. He exited the car to look more carefully. He discovered there was another sign, partially hidden by overgrown brush, that continued to direct Carl ahead to the great sale. As he looked at the sorry excuse for a road, it seemed to change, slowly becoming more of a street than first appearances indicated. Carl lit a cigarette and paced around his ‘Caddy. By the time he’d finished his smoke, the road seemed to be in much better, passable condition and he decided that he’d gone this far, so he might as well see it through. He slipped back behind the wheel and started down “Lost Valley Road.”

Very quickly, the road began to descend into what Carl assumed was “Lost Valley.” Although he did not recall ever hearing of this area. Though he’d been gone for some time, Carl had researched and explored the region quite extensively when he lived there and simply had never heard of any spot known as “Lost Valley.” He noticed that the trees and brush grew especially thick along the road, so much so that even though the day had been one of a bright and full fall sun with nothing more than wisps of clouds in the sky, the road and surrounding area were actually quite dark. Carl even began thinking about turning on his headlights for a moment or two as the growing gloom seemed to quickly envelope any light that managed to seep through. The road seemed to go on for endless miles, in a constant downward descent that was, in some areas, frighteningly steep and more than once Carl tried to look for a spot with ample room to maneuver the big car so he could abandon this fiasco and get to his real destination. The search proved fruitless though and he felt he had no recourse other than to continue on.

The road eventually seemed to level off somewhat and widen out a bit. Carl rounded a sharp curve and the thick, suffocating woods gave way to a clearing. Carl stopped at the sight that appeared before him. There were several barn-like buildings and a large, cobbled together, multi-floored structure he supposed was, or at least, used to be the residence at the far end of the clearing. Carl saw immediately that two of the buildings had collapsed at some point, though not recently. An ancient, weathered, barely legible sign mounted on a massive, old, half-dead, oak tree indicated that this was the place he’d find things for sale. Carl paused a bit before continuing on. He was miles away from anywhere in a place he’d never been, or heard of. He’d read several “true crime” stories that involved just such a scenario and those stories never turned out well. He popped open the caddy’s glove box and felt for the reassuring shape of his 38 Special, snub nose revolver. His finger touched the familiar object and he found himself letting out a sigh of relief. He placed the small gun next to him, just in case something bad happened. Carl then nudged the big car forward at a cautious pace. As he neared the home he could see that many, many years had passed since any type of maintenance had been performed on the structure. It appeared decayed, covered in places with thick, greenish-gray moss. Several windows had been boarded up and a few just had cracked or broken panes of glass still in place. A massive porch surrounded the entire front of the home and on it sat a figure in a rocking chair. Carl had, by now, pulled his car up near the front of the house and stopped. He waved gingerly at the figure and smiled. The person simply nodded an acknowledgment of greeting. Carl again hesitated, then remembering the revolver, he placed the gun in his front pocket, turned the ignition off and exited the car.

“Hello! I hope this is the right place. Is this where the sale is at?” Carl spoke in a voice he’d hoped was loud enough, but not overly loud. He held out his hand as to shake the old-timer’s.

The figure, clearly an ancient, wizened man, rose from the chair looked Carl over and responded in a wheezing raspy voice. He made no move to respond to Carl’s handshake gesture. “Don’t take ta’ shakin’ hands, friend, arthritis. Been a long time since we had anybody come a-lookin’. Name’s Zebulon Habsucht, what might be of interest to ye?”

Carl nodded and put his hand down. He didn’t have a ready answer to the man’s question. He hadn’t really given much thought about what he wanted. “Well, I suppose I’d like to just look and see what you have, I guess. See if something catches my eye.”

“Are ye from these parts?” The old man asked.

“I moved away quite a few years ago, but my family still lives in the area. I haven’t been back for about twelve years now. You are really far off the beaten path here. I used to know the area pretty well, but I sure don’t remember your road at all. It seems yours is the only place on it.”

“We like it that way. Where be yer kin’s homestead?”

Carl chuckled as he wondered about the way the old man spoke. Like a stereotype backwoods hayseed. “Oh, they don’t have a homestead, just a house in town, Belmont. My relatives did own a farm a long time ago, but they lost that during the Depression. It was over near the old, abandoned quarry that all the kids used to swim in back when I was a lad. They’ve lived in town ever since. My mother still lives in the house her parents had. That’s where I grew up. It’s the house her own grandfather and father built together after they lost the farm. It has been in the family ever since.”

“Belmont. Belmont…that’s the village next to the river, yes, I always thought it ’twas a nice little town. Oh, it’s been many a year since we made it into town, many a year. Old gravel pit ya’ say? Think I ‘member the place, Hamilton’s I recall.”

Carl was rapidly losing interest in the conversation. “Yeah…so, where are the things you have for sale?”

“Some be in the barn yonder, some ‘round back of it. Got some old cars too, if that be somethin’ ya’ might fancy. Start to lookin’. My father, Eylam is about and I’ll be round in a bit if ya’ see a piece you have a desire for. Always ready to dicker the price, or mayhap make a trade, if ya’ be willin’.”

“Okay, thanks,” Carl replied as he simultaneously turned away from the old geezer and started to head toward the larger barn. He reached the sliding door and pushed it open to a sight he did not expect.

The barn was absolutely filled to bursting with, well…things. All types of things. Hand tools, household goods, pots and pans, jewelry, and just about anything else he could imagine. A narrow walkway meandered through the stacks and piles of things so one could still get to everything. He noticed a small item to his left and picked it up with great care. It was an honest-to-God, gold, mechanical pocket watch. A Patek Philippe. He’d wanted one like it for years. It was very old, probably made, at least, a century before Carl was born. It was also in absolutely perfect condition. As though he’d gone back in a time machine and was holding a brand new one that had just been made. Its value was certainly well over a million dollars.

“Incredible.” Carl thought to himself. He set it back down carefully. Carl continued to look around and could not believe what he was seeing. Each time he focused on something and inspected the item closer he found it to be in perfect, flawless condition. All the things he’d ever longed for seemed to be there; very rare, very expensive items. For all practical purposes everything he noticed also seemed to be brand new. Making his way through the barn his mind raced at the thought that he’d found a treasure trove and wondered how much the old man knew about the value of some of these things he had. Not only could he acquire many of the items he’d long coveted, but also make a sizable fortune in the antique marketplace as well. He’d have to feel the old timer out to see how much of an advantage he’d have when talking price. He exited the end of the barn and walked outside once again.

Behind the barn, he noticed a rather large, overgrown open area that was filled with cars. As he began to approach the lot, Carl noticed that these were not just more of the commonly seen pieces of rusted junk that permeated the region, but a car aficionado’s dream come true. Virtually every era of car manufacturing was represented; a better than museum quality 1909 Model “T,” a stunning 1957 two-door Chevy Nomad wagon in absolutely bone stock, showroom condition, (both were cars Carl had wanted to acquire for years) and, at least, a hundred other older classic and not-so-classic vehicles. Everyone that Carl made a point to inspect closer turned out to be in ideal, perfect, flawless condition. Amazingly, each vehicle that he looked closely at was one he’d always coveted.

He was almost too excited to notice that there was really no way this old timer would have such a world-class collection of cars just sitting around outside in an overgrown field, not to mention the stunning number of hundreds, even thousands of pristine, virtually new, antiques; museum pieces really, laying in some decaying barn located in the middle of nowhere. Almost. Something didn’t add up and that made Carl nervous. He had a sudden feeling of being watched and glanced back toward the barn. A bent, relic of a man slowly made his way toward Carl.

At first, he thought it was the old man who’d spoken to him when he arrived, but it was a different person. This must be the man’s father, Eylam, thought Carl.

“Hello, there,” Carl called out. The man shuffled along at an agonizingly slow pace and weakly waved. It took the man, at least, a full minute to cover the fifty or so feet to reach Carl’s position. He spoke a greeting to Carl. His voice was whispery and produced a hissing sound.

“Zeb tells me ‘ya got family ‘bout these parts. In old Phillipsville. What be yer family name? Know just ‘bout every family round hea’, likely to know yer kin as well.”

Carl was amazed about a few things regarding the man. If it was possible, this man appeared even older than the ancient fossil who’d greeted him initially. His skin was sickly pale, almost translucent. One eye was obviously sightless, it was a pale milky color that seemed to gaze out at an angle away from where the aged man was facing. He also referred to Belmont as Phillipsville, an archaic name that hadn’t been used since 1870. Carl had never run into anyone who even knew about that part of the sleepy, little village’s history. Things were getting stranger and more than a little spooky now. The disheveled appearance and smell of the old man didn’t help matters. A musty, old smell of things long forgotten about. The man’s teeth revealed a lifetime of neglect, many were missing and stained a dark rusty brown color. Carl also could not help but notice that the man’s canines almost seemed… fang-like; which, of course, only added to the creepiness factor. The air around Carl suddenly seemed to drop in temperature by several degrees and he shivered involuntarily. Though the man moved quite slow, Carl had a feeling that it was mostly an act. He was more glad than ever that he’d thought to put the gun in his pocket.

“Well, my name is Geddes, Carl Geddes.”

The decrepit man thoughtfully rubbed his chin and smiled. “Geddes…yes, yes, I think my Zeb was right, the old Hamilton place, that’s it. Your grandmother got herself married to one of them Geddes boys, back in, oh, let’s see now, musta’ been back ‘bout ’23 ‘er so, after the Great War, Thomas it was. I remember now.”

Carl was dumbfounded and momentarily speechless. The other old man did mention the Hamilton name, but he didn’t make the connection then. How could it be that these ancient, backwoods hicks would have ever heard of his family? The old guy was right, though. He spoke as though he was at the wedding. Although, given the appearance of the man…maybe he was!

“Ah, well, that is correct, sir. My grandparents were married in 1923. That is pretty amazing that you would know that. What is your name? How do you know that?”

“Oh, we’ve been here for a long, long time. Know lots of folks families. Done lots ‘o trade with folks over the years. See anything ya’ want? Anything ya’ might want ta’ buy or…trade?” The man’s one good eye lit up as he said this.

Carl, of course, saw many things he wanted. He’d never seen so many things he wanted in one place before. He was also starting to pay more attention to a warning voice telling him something was very wrong here.

“Yes, I do see several items of interest, but I really must ask how you know so much about my family? Not to be rude, but I’ve never heard of this place and I knew the area pretty well and I would think I would have at least heard something about a place like this, I mean with what you have here… damn, everyone should know about it! How long have you been doing this?”

The ancient man smiled in a sly way. He seemed to grow just a bit more sturdy than moments ago, a bit more agile and moved just a little closer to Carl. His voice was just a little clearer too.

“Oh Zeb and me know all ‘bout your family, just like we know ‘bout all the families ‘round hea.’ Lots of folks have stopped by o’re the years. That’s how we came to have all of this.” The man gestured sweepingly at the area. “We think it best to keep the sale quiet, just for folks who…desire things.”

Carl could see the man was now within arms reach and felt a sudden compulsion to get away, yet he could not move. At that moment, he heard a voice coming from the barn.

“That’s enough, Father! That’s enough!”

The man in front of Carl seemed to fade just a bit at this admonishment. The first man Carl had seen now walked toward him. He moved with purpose and strength. He didn’t seem quite so old anymore.

“But, Zebulon, he came of his own free will. That means he’s ours. Just like the others before.” The man licked his lips hungrily.

“No, no, not like the others. Look, he wears the cursed black ring! Do you not see?”

Carl glanced at his hand and saw the ring “Zeb” was referring to. The black onyx and silver ring his grandfather had given him all those years ago. That must be the real reason Zeb didn’t shake his hand earlier, the ring. He placed his hand in his pocket, the one that held the revolver.

The man called Zeb spoke again. “You won’t be needin’ that peashooter, won’t help ya’ none no how. We been here since the beginnin’ and we’ll be here long afta’ ya’ turn to dust, Carl Geddes. You chose wise to be a wearin’ the ring, curse those who forged it! Before that, we ruled all. We was free to trade at will then, before yer kind drove us here, forced to stay in shadows, only doing trade with the chosen few. Only once before has one been allowed to leave, no trade could be done with that one neither.

Carl found himself holding his breath in fear. He gulped air and stammered out, “W-What does that mean, only one was allowed to leave? What, what did you do with the others? H-How many have not left?”

Zeb and his father smiled. This time, the “father” spoke. “The numbers are beyond counting now.” A crooked smile formed on the ancient thing’s mouth. The red-rusty-brown teeth were clearly visible as were the fang-like canines. “They stay to give us life. We give them their desire and they give us life. That is the business we do here. A simple trade. There must be something you would trade for, Carl. The only condition is that you must choose of your own will, otherwise, we cannot do business with you, Carl Geddes. Look around you, is there nothing you desire? You have to only give up the ring and we will give you that which you covet most. Otherwise, you must go, now. There will be others come by soon enough, there always is, always will be.”

The two men then seemed to change, morph into something else, something that conjured images in Carl’s mind of a world still in its primordial state, something that would strike paralyzing fear into the most savage of predators. Then the whole area began to change appearance as well. Weeds and brush seemed to engulf the field of old automobiles that now all seemed to be in a high state of decay. Carl ran back through the barn and noticed that all of the treasures now seemed to resemble large heaps of rusted and decaying junk. He made it to his ‘Caddy, got behind the wheel, fired up the big car’s V8 engine, and tore out of the yard like a madman; careening up the long, narrow excuse for a road.
The road wasn’t nearly as smooth as Carl remembered it being just a little while ago. It was really dark now and he turned on his headlights. He drove much too fast for such a poor road and pushed the ‘Caddy’s suspension to the limit. He finally topped the seemingly endless grade and almost drove directly into a ditch, but was able to regain control and sped down the next road that led him away from the accursed “Lost Valley.” He made it to the blacktop and things started to look a bit more familiar. He turned and headed directly to Belmont. He managed to time it so that he had to stop at one of the little town’s three signal lights and waited at the empty intersection. The streets and sidewalks were void of both vehicles and people and after the light failed to turn back to green Carl decided to drive on through. He continued on to his family’s home, parked the car and sat quietly contemplating what had happened. After a few minutes, the porch light came on and his Grandmother stepped out and started toward him. Carl got out of the car to greet her and could feel that a cold chill had begun to settle in for the evening.

“Hello, Gramma! See, I made it!”

Carl’s grandmother, ever the worrier, replied. “Carl, what are you doing out here in the dark, I’ve been worried sick about you.”

Carl attempted a playful grin. “You worry too much, Gram. I got a little lost is all.” Carl hesitated for a moment. “Hey…have, have you ever heard of Lost Valley Road?”
His grandmothers face turned serious. “Yes, and that is exactly what I was worried about, my dear Grandson. I’m so glad you found your way back home.” She smiled slightly, clearly relieved of a long pent-up burden. “You have proven your Grampa’s choice was right. The ring has accepted you as the new guardian. Now, let’s get in out of this chill and we can catch up. It’s been so long, I have so much to tell you.”
THE END

 

Copyright 2016, House of Darkness Publishing, All Rights Reserved

 

The Third Wish

Here we bring you another short story about a man who thought he’d found a real treasure but found out otherwise. Please enjoy this dark treat!

 

The Third Wish

by James R. Colbert, Jr.

 
Marty Dobbs has a confession to make.

The time is Halloween night, just a few years from today. Somehow a doorway to a nightmare world, an alternate existence, has been opened and allowed some very bad things to enter our own world. One man knows what happened and may be able to close the door if he finds the courage. Yes, Marty Dobbs has a confession to make.

Marty is a veteran of the Middle East debacle and while out on patrol one night he stumbled upon something. Just a small, plain looking vessel, much like a bottle with a stopper, a flask, except it was made all of gold. He figured it would be quite valuable and took it for his own. Like virtually everyone, Marty had heard about the Jinn, also called a Genie. And, like virtually everyone, dismissed the story as a myth. Except it’s not. Marty took his find to one of the local merchants who operated a stall at the bizarre located near his unit’s base in Iraq. Someone he could trust. As soon as Marty revealed what he’d found, the old man told him he had discovered one of the magic vessels that held one of the Jinn and that he should never tamper with it, but of course, he did…
How was I supposed to know this would happen? I thought I was getting three wishes, that’s all. No one would have thought any different, how could they? I tried to be careful, I really did. If I had known that damn thing would have led to this, well believe me I would have never opened it. That’s what lets it out you know. Not rubbing it, God knows I tried that first! I swear to all of you I’ll make it right, tonight. Let me fill y’all in on a few things I learned about Genies. I suppose I might as well start from the beginning.

It was October 2010 when I found it. Some crummy little village in Iraq, and no I can’t remember the name of it. My unit was on patrol in the area when we stopped for some reason, nothing of consequence, when I found the thing. Just a little container no bigger than a pocket flask, in fact, I thought that’s what it was at first, but it was a lot more weighty that most of the ones I’d handled before. It was nighttime so I couldn’t look at it real close, it had no wires, no indication it was an IED, so it seemed safe enough (little did I know we’d all be better off if it was a bomb), but I figured I’d look it over in the daylight later, so in the cargo pocket it went. I can tell you that right from the start I felt drawn somehow to the thing. It was a bit strange at first but after an hour or so that feeling passed. We rolled back into base around five AM, ate chow and hit the rack for a couple of hours. I couldn’t sleep and kept checking out my find. It looked like it was made of gold and I was convinced it was worth some real money. One of the locals I’d gotten to know pretty well, Umar, ran a stall in the marketplace near the base. We were allowed to go to the market twice a week and that day it happened to be one of my days, so I thought I would see if he would buy it from me, or maybe he knew of another who would. We couldn’t leave until after ten in the morning and had to be back by four in the afternoon so I had plenty of time to clean up and change into clean BDU’s. I caught the first shuttle going to the market and went directly to Umar’s shop. His reaction to my little treasure was not what I expected. He recoiled at the little flask and begged me to put it away. He told me I should get rid of it right away. He seemed genuinely afraid of the thing. He then proceeded to tell me it was a thing of foul magic, that a Jinn had been imprisoned within. He demanded that I leave and dispose of the thing, put it back where I’d found it. I laughed and that really got him upset. He began to throw a royal fit and I decided that that would be a quick way to lose my down time privileges so I beat feet out of there.

Of course, I kept the thing, how do you think what is happening, happened? Now what Umar had said seemed ridiculous at first, but as the days wore on it seemed to make more and more sense. I began having dreams when I was able to sleep. Dreams of an exotic looking woman, (I called her my “Dream Girl”) and dreams of money and power. I must have had Umar’s warning in the back of my mind though because for a long time I rarely looked at the thing, but every so often I’d take it out of it’s hiding place and stare at it for hours. That is when the dreams were the strongest, seemed to be the most realistic. Finally, my tour was up and I was headed home, back to the States. Somehow my little treasure never got discovered. The night before I left, Dream Girl told me to make sure I kept the flask on my person, that she would make sure everything went smooth. I did what I was told and you know what? Everything went perfectly. No problems, no searches, no questions all the way home. Wild, right? I became more convinced than ever that Umar had been right about having a real Genie in my possession!

I went through the process of getting discharged over the next couple of weeks and began to really think about my little secret more and more. The first night I was free of the Army, I rented a car and decided to head back to Hammondsport, NY where I grew up. My mother still lived there and was happy to have me stay for a while. That first night home I took out the golden flask and thought about what to do with it next. Even though I was not sleeping my dream girl was there, whispering in her strange way, deep inside my thoughts. She said she wanted to serve me, that I only had to release her from her prison and she would fulfill my desires. I didn’t know the first thing about Genies, but I remembered something about rubbing a lamp, or something like that. I can tell you, that doesn’t work. I rubbed that thing every way I could think of and nothing happened. She must have been angry with me because she did not come into my thoughts for two days after that. I borrowed Mom’s car and drove around trying to remember the surroundings, clear my thoughts a bit. I took in the familiar sights, all the wonderful wineries, the Harvest and Artists Market, the village square, all that seemed to lessen the influence of the flask and Dream Girl. But that was not to last. The third night she came back. At first she seemed really angry, then suddenly changed direction and became subdued, subservient. She told me to open the flask and she would then be able to grant me my desires. I jokingly mentioned three wishes and was only mildly surprised when she told me that was exactly how many wishes she would fulfill. She told me to speak three words after I opened the vessel and then she could serve me. The words sounded strange, not in any language I was familiar with, but I was sure I could say them easily enough. It had been just over six years to the day since I’d found it and decided to open it on the upcoming Halloween night, just two days away.

That actually went pretty well, a little scary maybe…well a lot scary. I opened the thing and at first, nothing seemed to happen. Then I remembered I had to say the three words Dream Girl had taught me. “Daeron, Kalabish, Azkog.” Those were the words. Well, within a few moments the room got noticeably cooler, a misty, smoky substance flowed out of the flask and something began to take form in front of me. Over the period of a minute or two, my Dream Girl became more and more real recognizable until she stood in front of me exactly as I had seen her in my mind so many times before. She didn’t really speak aloud, more like a telepathic communication thing. She looked both gorgeous and scary as hell at the same time. Like a demonic, drop-dead swimsuit model. Intoxicating beauty and clearly big trouble if you screwed up. I could hear her clearly in my mind. She asked me what my first desire would be, money, power or love.

Now, when I mentioned earlier that I tried to be careful I meant it. I asked for money. I figured that would be the safest bet. Power can be really dangerous and as for love…I think you’d agree that is probably the most dangerous thing of all. So, I asked for money. How much trouble could that cause? A lot more than you think.

She smiled at my request and told me I’d see my desire very soon, then reminded me I had two more wishes. She told me that I could only have my three desires fulfilled one time a year on the same day at the same time as the first wish. After that she would be free from her bondage. Then the whole process reversed itself and I found myself once again alone in the room. I felt ill and faint and within a few minutes found I could not keep my eyes open another second. I slept like a log the rest of the night. No dreams at all. I woke up late in the morning and stumbled downstairs, still not quite sure if what I experienced was real or not. My mother was not in her usual chair that morning and I called out to her. No answer. Odd, I thought to myself. I snooped around a bit then headed to her bedroom, although I really didn’t expect to find her there. She was usually up before me and if she was still in bed at this hour then the world had had gone mad indeed. I found her in bed, but she was not asleep. I tried to revive her to no avail. I called 911 and all the official vehicles arrived within twenty minutes, but it was far too late. She was gone. Now I didn’t realize it at first, but that is how I came into money. Mom had a life insurance policy that named me as the sole beneficiary, two-hundred and fifty thousand dollars worth of life insurance to be exact. Hell of a way to get a wish fulfilled, right? See what I mean, lots of trouble.

I stewed over my predicament for few days after the funeral and after some serious consultation with two longtime friends, Jack Daniels, and Jim Beam, I decided to call Dream Girl forth once more. I again opened the flask and spoke the words and, as before, my little demoness appeared before me. She seemed much less subservient this time, annoyed that I summoned her. In my drunken state, I raged at her over my mom’s death. That was the last thing I wanted to happen, I told her. Her demeanor turned icy as she told me the first desire had been fulfilled and that I should be more careful next time if I didn’t like the results. She then stated that the proper amount of time had not yet passed for my next desire. As it turned out, I was only her “master” during the time I made my wishes. Otherwise, I was not to disturb her again until the appointed time, and believe me she made this quite clear. Her eyes burned with fiery intensity and her “voice” rumbled with barely contained anger. She began to fade back into the smoky stage of her transition and soon I was alone.

At this point I planned to rid myself of the flask before anything else happened, I really did, after all it was my wish that caused my own mother’s death! But something would not allow me to dispose of the thing. I took it down to the lake and tried to throw it into the water, but within my mind a powerful presence stayed my hand. I even tried to bury it out back at the far corner of the property and actually did get it in the hole and covered up, but within two days Mom’s old lab, Smoke, had dug the damn thing up and brought it back to the porch. I ended up putting it into an old shoebox and as the weeks and months passed, I looked at the flask less and less and Dream Girl did not communicate with me either. By the following October I’d nearly forgotten about the flask and her when suddenly, as I was watching a news program, the picture seemed to go offline for a few moments and an announcement stated that important breaking news story would be interrupting the program momentarily. The TV screen then went totally black except for a small dot of light at the center. The light grew and an image began to take shape. It was Dream Girl. She spoke to me in her usual manner via my thoughts. She told me that soon the time would come again that I could summon her and use my next wish. I then turned off the power to the set, but her image remained, now crystal clear. Dream Girl laughed at my failed attempt to shut her down, then told me more details about what I was involved with. I was now pretty freaked out, as you might expect. Then, just as fast as it had happened she was gone and the news program was back on.

So, did I then finally get rid of the damn thing, seal it up in cement and sink it to the bottom of the lake? No, of course, I didn’t. I thought I could get one more thing, a safe thing, a really good thing, then get rid of it before the last wish. I’ll get into that in a bit. I had a week before Halloween and I thought long and hard about what to wish for. Finally, the day arrived and I really figured it would all work out fine. I summoned Dream Girl as I did before and she once again materialized and asked what my desire was. What I wished for was that the people of the world would find common ground that would unite us all, that a wondrous event would inspire awe and serve to bring us together. She grinned and told me to expect something to begin very soon and stated that I had one desire left. Then, as before, she retreated to her flask to wait for my next and final wish.

Now, doesn’t that seem reasonable to you? Pretty much I wished for world peace, isn’t that what we all want? I was a fool. My wish has caused the gate between her elemental world of Chaos and our own world to be opened. That was the “wondrous” event she provided. Now all of our collective, worst nightmares have entered our world and have united us: in fear, despair and hopelessness and I am so, so sorry for that. The corrosive infestations of hate, violence and vengeance have begun to spread all over the world unchecked and as long as the gate remains open and unsecured, then this and much worse will worm its way into our world until all life ends. Tonight, though, I will fix all of it, the third Halloween wish. As they say, the third time’s the charm.

So, have you ever wondered what happens after the third wish? The story I’d always heard went like this; release the Genie, request three wishes, free Genie from its bondage. Wrong! Like most things in this life, it ain’t that easy. One little detail that’s missing is the fact that you, as the wisher must forfeit your life in order to release them. That’s right, you give up your life and soul to send them back to their world. I’ve been trying to prepare myself all year for tonight and I think I’m ready. I thought about wishing that I’d never found the flask to begin with, but instead, I’m going to wish for her to reverse my last wish, to restore the world back to the way it was and force her to seal the gate shut once again. Otherwise, someone else might find the flask and I cannot allow that to happen. That’s the least I can do. Right?

 

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