Short Story Series 2: Down by the River – Part 5

[…continued from Part 4]

On the way to the Paketka Asylum, I passed a few patrol cars from the Sheriff’s Department, no doubt going back to town from Billy’s house. At the asylum no one was expecting me and I wasn’t sure that I would get to see Julia. The lady at the front desk told me that visiting patients was arranged by appointment only. When I said that Billy Kegan was supposed to have called and was planning to bring me with him, she told me they did not receive his phone call. However, because Julia happened to be sedated in the common area at that time, I was allowed to visit with her in a more or less public place. An orderly escorted me to the common area assuring me that she wouldn’t say much and, when she did, I wouldn’t understand her. But, I had to try. There were only about a dozen patients who provided no safety threats and were permitted to access the common area where there were two orderlies and a nurse regularly stationed. I was told there was about twice that number of patients, all permanent residents.

“That’s her at the window looking at the river. She’s been happy there almost every day for years. Good luck,” said the orderly.

She looked old for her age. Her hair appeared half gray and she was only around 36 or 37, a few years older than I.  Walking over to her, I leaned in from the side so as not to frighten her. She was muttering something under her breath and I couldn’t make it out. I looked out the window as well ; it was a nice view of the river, with a plain on the other side, and multicolored foliage painted on a deciduous forest in the distance. Pastoral, it was good for the patients here I surmised.

“Beautiful view,” I said softly as I gazed forward.

Then she turned her eyes torward me and continued muttering.

“Hi, Julia. I’m a friend of Billy Kegan’s.” I dared not to tell her about his death having just discovered his body this morning and my not knowing anything official for certain. It would only upset her.

To her muttering, I asked, “I’m sorry, did you say something, Julia?

Then she increased her volume ever so slightly. I could begin to make out syllables, but her voice was very hoarse. Whatever she was saying, she was repeating with an occasionally recognizable word.

After several repetitions I made an amazing discovery: I heard words that sounded just like Latin and Hebrew. I spoke neither language, but recognized several words because of my ancient world studies. What I could hear distinctly was “KHOHshehkh {unintelligible sounds} anima, chant {unintelligible sounds}, darkness {unintelligible sounds} EHven, YAKtah stone {unintelligible sounds} MAHyeem, {unintelligible sounds} TENebri {unintelligible sounds} water.”

I suspected EHven, KHOHshehkh, and MAHyeem to be the Hebrew words, for stone, darkness, and water, respectively. YAKtah (properly spelled iacta) is the Latin imperative for throw and TENebri (tenebrae) is Latin for darkness. Putting together just the words I could hear distinctly, I understood:

Darkness mind, chant, darkness stone, throw stone water, darkness water.

Dammit if that didn’t make perfect sense to me. I immediately grabbed my cell phone and discretely recorded everything she was saying.

I asked, “Julia, where is the book? Where can I find the book?”

Her answer really sounded like gibberish, and she only said it once before returning to her repeating pattern in a quiet mutter. If she were speaking words arbitrarily or in a predictable pattern using only English, Latin and Hebrew, Joseph, my linguist colleague in the city could translate it.  It’s no wonder people thought she was incoherent. And as I don’t think there’s been one Jewish family in this town during my whole life, it’s no wonder that her Hebrew went unrecognized. Incoherent my ass!

After thanking Julia – gosh, I then felt even more sorry for her – I went home. I needed to call my colleague and attempt to play the recording over the phone to him. By the time I actually made contact with him, it was later in the evening. With no doubt after a few minutes, Jospeh was able to decipher three distinct phrases: “buried the book, under the willow, nearest the river.” My task was clear: find the willow tree nearest the river between the quarry and the church, and dig. Of course, it was dark by then and so I was determined to set out at daybreak.

I didn’t want to look conspicuous at all, so I walked with a backpack that carried a folding army shovel. I was concerned, too, that I might not be able to identify the correct tree, especially if there were more than one close to the river’s edge. Fortune was smiling on me, though, as there was only one tree about halfway between the old quarry and the church. There didn’t appear to be anyone around to see me, but I couldn’t be sure so I had to dig quickly. At first, I dug through a few inches of dirt all around the tree approximately two feet from the trunk. That much only took a few minutes. There were raised roots on one side of the tree, so that limited my ability to go deeply to the side of the tree facing the river. Lo and behold, that is where I found the book about a foot deep. It was a black leather-bound journal wrapped well in nylon cloth, a bit aged and dirty, but not too fragile. I took a quick peak to see if it contained anything about the magic stones. It must have – it had Latin and Hebrew script as well as some sketches and symbols not familiar to me. I had to show this to Joseph. I rewrapped the book, dropped it in my backpack, and began to fill in some of the dirt around the tree. Afterwards I looked around to see if anyone was watching and thought to myself, “If anyone asks, I was looking for mushrooms!”

Having returned home, I called Joseph and begged him to come and look at the book. He said he would oblige, but he couldn’t get there before the evening. He had work to do and the city was an hour-long drive away in the best traffic. I had to settle for whatever he could offer. I also had to settle my nerves because, by that point, I was shaking. I wanted to talk to someone, someone besides Sarah as I didn’t want to alarm her any more than I needed to, and I also wanted to protect her from knowing too much; it may have put her in more jeopardy than she and Corey were in already because they are my family and my meddling was getting serious. Needing to let someone else in on what I was doing, I had no choice but to talk with Barbara at the diner. So, off I went for brunch.

The booth in the corner nearest the front window of the diner was my new spot. Barbara was serving that morning. “Where’s Carla,” I asked?

“Her day off! I have to give my own daughter a break once in a while,” she smiled.

“Yes, please,” was my answer to the silent question of Barbara raising the coffee pot and her eyelids as her head tilted toward the table and coffee cup.

“Can you sit just for a minute?”

“We are kind of busy – can I stand so the customers don’t think I’m goofing off?”

“Yeah, of course. Listen,” I got a little quieter, “I need to let you know about some developments regarding the kids, the magic stones, and the church.”

“Oh, I heard about Billy, poor thing.”

“It wasn’t suicide, Barbara.”

“I don’t want to hear about it, Blake.”

“OK. For now just know this: Billy’s original story was true, he found evidence to corroborate his story and I now have the book the kids were using regarding the magic stones. I’m going to get to the bottom of it now with the help of a friend.”

“You have evidence?”

“I don’t have Billy’s evidence, no. I have the journal that Julie used when the kids had their tragic experiences.”

I really don’t know what it is you’re getting into – and I don’t want to know any more, Blake.  You best watch your back. And I would not trust the Sheriff or anyone on good terms with him.”

At that moment, Charlie, the owner of the hardware store who lied to my face, walked into the diner.  He briefly scanned the room, took notice of Barbara and me, and kept scanning. Then he took a seat at a two-person table across the room. Both Barbara and I watched him come in. Then, Barbara turned to me and said, “Watch your back!” With that she walked away, grabbed a menu for Charlie and proceeded to his table.

It was an awkward brunch having him there and, so, I was determined to get out at soon as possible. I ordered a slice of pecan pie to go with my coffee, ate it, and ran. On my way out of the diner, I heard “Mornin’, Blake, or is it afternoon by now?” It came from Charlie’s table. I turned my head toward him but kept my forward momentum to the door as I replied, “Good afternoon, Charlie.” I was smiling, but I was thinking that there’s a place in hell for him only he doesn’t know it yet.

Nervous and not knowing what to do with myself, I didn’t want to pace around the house until the evening. Surely that would make Sarah and Corey nervous, too. So, I went to the library to see if I couldn’t rediscover what Billy did from an 1880 newspaper article. I asked Tricia, the librarian, to help with the microfiche. When I asked for the year 1880, she came back from storage with a troubled look on her face.

“It’s odd, Mr. Harding, but the microfiche of the newspaper from that year is missing.”

“Would another library have a copy,” I asked?

“I doubt it. It’s a local paper. You can always try the office of the Paketka Tribune. It’s more likely than anyone else that they have their old editions on microfiche.”

I arose excitedly, “Thank you, Tricia. You’re a doll!”

In small towns, even wild goose chases are quick. Minutes later I found myself talking with the publisher of the Peketka Tribune a few blocks away. I had never met him before. An older gentleman of class, he had very helpful manners.

“Let’s see, Mr. Harding. This cabinet has all the microfiche going all the way back to 1865 when the paper was first started after the Civil War. Now…that’s strange. Maybe more than a coincidence, but…our copy of that year is missing as well.”

“Is there any evidence that your office had a break-in during the last few days,” I asked?

“No sir. But, not to worry Mr. Harding.” He motioned me to follow him. “I understand you are a historian?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I’ve always been an amateur historian and that interest and the integrity of documenting it correctly is why I am in the newspaper business today. I happen to have a personal collection of the Tribune on my computer. The library hasn’t digitally scanned all of its microfiche yet, but for me it was a personal priority. Let’s go into my office.”

“That is amazing! Thank you!”

Minutes later, I had every Paketka Tribune edition from the year 1880 on a thumb drive dangling from my key chain as I drove home.

Once home, I scoured the images for hours. The text of the articles was not searchable as I only had images of  individual pages. So, I had to determine when the rector of the church died and I started reviewing the daily papers from there.  Finally, I found the article Billy was talking about. It revealed that the rector’s body was found in the river trapped between two boulders in the middle of the stream of rapids. It also mentioned a man with the surname Brackman who was found dead at his home days before the rector. The rector was questioned by authorities because the two had been seen arguing in public. Brackman’s journal with his name in it, a book mostly about the magic stones, was found in his basement after several searches of his home. However, shortly afterwards it went missing. As I continued to study the article, the doorbell rang. It was Joseph. I welcomed him in, offered him a drink and got right to business.

“Here’s the book. Having been buried for 20 years, it’s in remarkable shape.”

“OK. I’m seeing but not believing. It’s very much fantasy – a magic tome scribbled in Latin, Hebrew, and some English. There are a lot of sigils and glyphs here I don’t understand. But for the most part it’s an instructional book,” Joseph said straightforwardly.

“What kind of instructions?”

“Well, let’s start here. This first section, mostly in Hebrew, is an origin story about a red sandstone cave; it’s associated in this book with Gehhinom, a purgatory of sorts in Judaism, cleansing fires…not hell…but like hell. This book says ancient people who, having believed that Gehhinom existed in some spiritual plane, established a cave to specifically absorb the the sins of ancient peoples while they were alive. The sandstone comes from this cave…hmm…interesting. Fantastical, but interesting nonetheless.”

“What is?”

“Well, it says this stone has the property to not just absorb the darkness of sinners which is what the cave was supposedly used for, but it can…and I’ll translate loosely here…’absorb all darkness catapulting the soul of a man to the heights of ecstasy.’ ” He paused a moment and then continued, “Woah! It also says here that if not done precisely according to the ‘instructional commandments,’ the darkness already in the stone from millennia of absorption, will be directed back to the person using the stone. “

“That make sense now!”

“It does,” Joseph asked confounded?

“Joseph, kids using this book 20 years ago created a tragic circumstance. They believed these special stones they found would remove their negative thoughts and leave them feeling high, even in a state of godlike potency. That’s what they believed! They tried to follow the instructions in the book even though they were aware that incorrect disposal of the stone would mean a backdraft of darkness many times in magnitude. That much is the rumor that has circulated over the years…in small circles, mind you.”

“You believe this, Blake?”

“I’ve met the two surviving kids, now adults. Their damage was limited, psychological and physiological. You’ve heard the recording of how the girl, Julia, speaks now. Another kid killed his friend and then died himself in a senseless suicidal act. I now have proof here in this article that it happened just as the legend says, despite the townspeople keeping it quiet. The Sheriff back then – still Sheriff today – covered it up.”

“You really think so,” Joseph asked?

“On the night Billy – the boy who survived – called me to tell me about this article of evidence supporting his original story, he supposedly committed suicide. The microfiche at the library and the newspaper disappeared overnight. Look…Joseph, I have a lot of other details I just can’t share because I have to act on this right now. I need to get this story to the State Police and the FBI, I’m not taking any chances.”

“Blake, the fact that you cannot read this…and you somehow know what it says…implies it’s true!  Do you know what this means?”

“What?”

“In the hands of kids, this book was a serious danger. But, to someone who can read it…there is a whole lot of power here besides a feeling of perfectly high ecstasy. The stones can be wielded as weapons against ones enemy.”

“What the hell are you talking about, Joseph?”

“Look at this next section, mostly in Latin. The symbols are starting to make since to me. There are magnetic compass directions, astrological factors. Now, I see. The kids probably misunderstood the symbols which outline precisely when and where the stones needed to be discarded. There’s a drawing here of boulders in the river, on either side of a very deep crevice. It says here that the crevice is 25 deep and at the bottom is another type of stone that the text calls a ‘base stone’ It also says ‘like lodestone, but not lodestone.’ It says it has a ‘field of energy, but not electromagnetic’, that absorbs – no, the word here now on this page is vescitur – it ‘eats’ , or more apt, ‘devours dark energy’ when the red sandstone comes into close enough proximity to it…and there are some esoteric geometry symbols here. Blake, the important thing to take from this is that one should not simply toss the stones in a crevice, but instead ensure that they contact the base stone. Do you see what those kids did wrong?”

“No, Joseph.”

“This is incredible. We must go there tomorrow at sunset. “

“NO, Joseph. Give me the book back!”

I saw his arm move towards me and the next thing I remember was waking up about a half hour later with the worst headache I’ve ever had. Sarah was standing above me with a cold wash cloth. I noticed Barbara was also in the room because, although Sarah wanted to seek help, she was smart enough not to alert the Sheriff about what had happened. Joseph, in his greed and lust for supernatural power, knocked me out and fled with the book about the magic stones. The disturbance had woken Sarah who had gone to bed earlier in the evening. Fortunately Corey was staying overnight at a friend’s house. I needed a few conscious moments to get my wits about me.

To be continued…

© 2018 Michael Armenia

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