Short Story Series 2: Down by the River – Part 6

[…continued from Part 5]

Recovering from my head injury at close to midnight, I recited some facts out loud.

“The Sheriff’s covering up something about the church and the stones. Charlie is somehow involved. Billy was most likely murdered to prevent his evidence, which I now possess, from coming to light. A dangerous book behind it all, the reason for all of this intrigue is, in the hands of probably the only person in town who understands it enough to not end up dead. Yet, the thought of powerful weapons in the hands of someone with so much lust is a danger in itself. I can only imagine he’ll be down at the river at sunset tomorrow. Chances are the others – the Sheriff, Charlie, the priests – will be looking for him, too. I don’t imagine he has a scheme to avoid getting caught unless there is more to using the stones as weapons. Only Joseph knows the procedures for activated the process. The book. Dammit.”

“It stands to reason,” Sarah interjected, “that since the books inception, no one other than Brackman has succeeded in using it, if even he succeeded.”

“How do you figure,” I asked?

“Well, the Rector likely died, from what the news article said, from attempting what the boy, Taggart attempted – trying to dive into the crevice. He likely killed Brackman because his attempt at using the stones failed. He wanted the book and was prepared to kill for it. Tommy probably tried to stop Taggart when Taggart killed him.”

“She’s right,” Barbara said. “That was Billy’s original story that he was silenced for.”

“So, maybe all these years the priests – if they are priests – were trying to find the book with the help of the Sheriff and Charlie,” Sarah added. “And all this time it lay buried by Julia.”

“Let’s not wait until dawn. Let’s go to the church and find a place alongside the river to stake out the boulders,” Sarah said.

“Wait!” I shouted. “What if Joseph said ‘sunset’ to delay us? The base stone is 25 feet under water and will probably not care whether it’s daylight or not. I’m willing to gamble that Joseph was throwing us off his trail before I will accept that the stone is particularly light sensitive.”

“Come to think of it, the kids – whatever ritual they did – they did at dusk. Perhaps darkness is required for the base stone. And, 25 feet under is darker at night than at dawn.”

“Let’s go. Now,” I said.

Barbara drove Sarah and I down to the old quarry at around 1AM. We walked along the river expecting to find Joseph at the boulders or thereabouts, either preparing to dive or already in the process. The river was noisy as usual and it was hard to hear a person splashing around, so, we had aimed to move slowly and deliberately, stopping every few paces to look and listen. We came to the boulders and so nothing. There was no commotion, but I did see a jacket and shoes by shore and I recognized them as belonging to Joseph.

“It’s Joseph,” I said. I’m going in.”

“Blake you, can’t. You’re head injury. You don’t have the strength.”

“Sarah, I’ve the strength for it. It’s only 25 feet and, in case you forgot, I was the 50 meter freestyle champion, senior year in college.”

“Fine, you’ve got one minute and if you don’t resurface before that, I’m diving in.”

“Watch yourself in those currents,” Barbara said. “And watch your back…Joseph is in there.”

I waded into the river to be quiet. It was loud but a person jumping could still be distinguished from the clamor of the white water. There would be no true diving in these rocks, but the fact that I could hold my breath under water for a few minutes meant that I could swim down to the bottom and possible see the so-called base stone. The boulders in the middle of the river were probably three or four meters apart. On the outside of the boulders the river was only 5-10 feet deep depending where along the river you were. As I swam down to about 12 feet between them, I still couldn’t see the bottom with a flashlight. But, it was at that point the crevice began to sharply narrow and I began to see the sides of it in the light. There were actually small holes along the wall of the crevice making it quite easy to navigate downward; they were surprisingly easy to grab. It was a haunting feeling as once I started to descend there was little current in the crevice. The water wasn’t stagnant, but it was like designed a slow-filtration aquarium down there. I thought I was near the bottom when the rocks changed, but what I came across was a huge dam of small boulders on either side of me. For fear of dislodging them or getting stuck, I decided to swim down a little more without touching the crevice and could swear I saw a light source in the bottom. I couldn’t tell if it was a flashlight or some natural luminescence. I really didn’t know what kind of rock I was looking for. It had been about a minute, and I was afraid Sarah would jump in and attempt to find me. Just as I decided to resurface, I felt something swipe my arm. It was Joseph. He was trying to grab me and pull me down. Then I realized he had gotten his feet caught behind a few of the smaller boulders damning up the sides several feet below me. I wanted to save him, but he kept trying to pull me down. I was running out of air. The only thing I could do was to kick in his direction and try swimming away. Without thinking I was also pulling at the dam of small boulders and soon the entirety of the side walls collapsed, burying Joseph and what I believe was the base stone under all of that rubble. As soon as they began to fall on him, he released me and up I went barely squeezing through the collapsing mass of rocks before it all settled. Having also dropped my flashlight in the scuffle, I surfaced in the dark and found my way to the edge of the river gasping for air. The hand that offered to help me out of the river belonged to the Sheriff.

“Hello, Blake,” said the old bastard with a badge. “Don’t try anything or these lovely ladies will drown right here in the river with you.”

The two monks I had seen in the church talking with Charlie had grabbed Sarah and Barbara.

“You son of a…,” I began to yell.

Charlie who was standing to the side with a handgun drawn on the ladies, chambered a bullet.

“Now, hold it right there son. I know you’ve been seeking the book that went missing with those kids 20 years ago. You see, we’ve been looking it for it, too. We’re all going to go over Charlie’s hardware store now and have a talk. You are going to tell me everything you know about the church and the magic stones. If I feel you are holding out, we’ll have a problem to solve. If I believe you, then we’ll talk about how this could go down such that you all may see another sunrise. So, put on your shoes and jacket.”

With his hand, the sheriff was indicating the shoes and jacket which belonged to Joseph. I quickly surmised that they weren’t onto Joseph’s involvement and they didn’t know that I already found the book. Could it be that Joseph left the book in his jacket pocket on the shore before getting into the river? Oh, I hoped as much and my heart began beating faster.

I said, “yes, sir,” then threw the jacket over my shoulders and put those size 11 shoes on my size 12 feet without grimacing. With Charlie guarding me, I walked ahead of the pack. The monks and ladies followed with the Sheriff behind them. I surreptitiously padded the jacket to reveal the book was indeed inside. Why didn’t they check it first? Morons! I felt I had a bargaining chip but I needed to figure out how and when to play it. I also noticed that the Sheriff didn’t have any deputies with him and that gave me a little hope that none of the deputies were corrupted…by him anyway.

To be continued…

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

Short Story Series 2: Down by the River – Part 4

[…continued from Part 3]

“While details are still sketchy on the history for the last century, there was an article in 1880 that mentioned mystery around the church and it cited the mysterious death of the rector at that time. There was no mention of what what was to become of the church in the future. But the article cited a journal kept by someone who regularly visited the rector. This man wrote of ‘magic stones’, small chips of sandstone with exotic powers that came from the quarry near the church. The man and the book disappeared just before the rector’s death. Finally! Another source than can prove what I knew. So I will tell you what I do know – mostly about the danger of the stones.

“We were young and gullible – stupid  high school students. Julia was the only girl in our group of friends and the brightest. She’s the one who uncovered some information about the stones and told us of their powers. So, we went looking for them. We followed her to the old quarry which was overgrown with bushes and trees and started walking along the river toward the church looking for fragments of red sandstone.  On the whole walk we came upon three stones and wondered what was so special about them. They didn’t seem out of the ordinary – just plain red sandstone. Julia pulled out an old book which was written in Latin and a whole mess of symbols. She was a top student in every class including Latin from an elementary age, so she translated for us with no trouble. The sandstone in this area was unusual – it didn’t come from the region. The book said it was from a netherworld or infernal some such – I don’t remember the exact description.  It said that under certain conditions the stones would absorbed dark energy. It told how to infuse the stones, or to impart one’s own negative energy promising a god-like feeling as a result. Certain conditions had to be met – chanting vibrations, geological proximity, and proper discard method. The book described a place along the river that was prepared centuries ago, supposedly by the builders of the church. Only they could tell you more about that. But, we followed the directions in the book and three of us tried infusing the stones with our negative energy. Julie, Taggart and I.”

“Who’s Taggart,” I asked?

“Taggart was the one who smashed Tommy’s head with a rock before diving into the river; he was going to look for the target zone deep below the river’s surface where the infused stones were meant to be discarded according to the book. I believe he thought that if he could recover his misplaced stone, he could cleanse himself of the darkness that was tormenting him after he threw it and missed. He never resurfaced and was presumed drowned. They never found his body.”

“What happened to you and Julia,” I inquired?

“We both missed the zone as well. My stone was the size of a pebble, smaller than a dime. I’ve dealt with a migraine every day since. Julie’s was the size of a quarter. Taggart’s was the size of a silver dollar. He always thought of himself the macho man of the group, but he was just a bully. He took the biggest piece for himself. I guess that backfired on him. Tommy didn’t even get to try, but he met a horrible fate anyway.”

“And Julia?”

“She didn’t fare so well. She kind of lost her mind. She was instantly paranoid and mostly incoherent. She was seen by psychiatrists for months and then put in an asylum by her family. They couldn’t even communicate with her. I’ve visited her over the years. Whenever she sees me, she quiets down, and mumbles. I do think she feels in danger most of the time, but I seem to give her comfort. So, to keep her calm she is drugged most of the time. I visit her once a month.”

“So this is all true after all? And the Sheriff’s covering this up?”

“The priests told me not to talk. Then the Sheriff told me, ‘This was an accident. Tommy and Taggart fell. Julie just went crazy from witnessing all of it.’ I was to change my story if I knew what was good for me. He spoke all of this in the presence of Charles O’Brien who, after the Sheriff walked away, threatened to kill me back then if I told anyone the details.”

“Charlie? The hardware store owner,” I asked?

“That’s him.”

“I’ve got to go. I think I hear someone in the building. Come meet me tomorrow morning, 9AM, at the school. I’ll take you to see Julia. If I get her calm enough, maybe we can find out what happened to the book she was holding when this all went down.”

Before I could get in another word, Billy hung up.

My wife, Sarah, overheard the phone call and was a bit concerned. At this point, I thought it wise to share with her what was going on. My interactions with people were starting to make me nervous. I had skepticism about Billy, but a great deal of mistrust about Charlie, especially since he lied directly to my face. I explained everything to her. I started with Barbara’s version, my visit to the Church grounds and what I saw, Billy’s version, and then Charlie’s story and boldface lie.

“Blake, do you really need to pursue this,” Sarah asked?

“Honey, our boy walks by the church on the way to school.”

“We could drive him.”

“Sure at first. But, we can’t live in fear. We need to uproot this darkness. What if there is a cover-up? That stinks up the community and I don’t want to be a part of it. The mystery needs solving. And, if there is a danger, people need to be aware of it. We must do something.”

“All right. Be careful, Blake. I’ll drive Corey to school this week.”

“I’m meeting Billy in the morning at the high school. We’re going to visit the asylum.”

“If you don’t come straight home after, please call me.”

“Will do.”

In the morning my wife drove Corey as planned. I drove out to the high school which was only a few blocks from the elementary. I waited at the entrance for one hour. There was no sign of Billy. I went in to ask Principal Hillsdale, Bob, if he or anyone else had seen Billy. No such luck. But, knowing me fairly well, Bob did offer Billy’s home address and I drove the three miles to the opposite side of town. He lived in a small house set on a more rural road where residences were few and far between. He was reclusive after all. There was a car in his driveway. Not knowing whether or not he was married, I presumed it was his. I climbed the two steps of his front porch and knocked on the screen door first, calling out, “Billy?” as the door boards clattered. There was no sound of movement inside, so I opened the screen door and knocked on the inside door, again repeating, “Billy?” The door opened slightly with my knock. It did not appear to have been forced open. Yet, it was open, unlocked and there were scratches around the keyhole on the doorknob. I then swung the door open and walked in, calling out again only louder, “Billy! It’s Blake. I came over because you didn’t show at the school. Billy?”

I started looking around for a clue as to what might have happened. The place look relatively clean, objects neatly placed in order. But, looking along the narrow hallway into the kitchen, I noticed there was an overturned chair on the floor which seemed out of place with the rest of the house.  So, I proceeded into the kitchen and that’s where I stood frozen in horror to find Billy’s body hanging from a rafter. He wasn’t swinging and his body was cold and pale. In all appearance it looks as though he hung himself last night. Using Billy’s living room telephone, I called the Sheriff’s department immediately.

Upon the arrival of the Sheriff and his deputies,  I received the third degree from the Sheriff himself.

“What were you doing on the premises, Mr. …?”

“Harding. Blake Harding, sir,” I replied. “I had come looking for Billy when he didn’t show up for a scheduled appointment.”

“And what business did you have with Billy Kegan?”

“With all due respect, sir, what business is that of yours?”

“Son, this is a crime scene on which you happened to be located. For all I know, you were the last one to see Billy alive. Is this really how you want to play it – we could talk more at the station?”

If the Sheriff is involved in the cover-up of a previous crime, I couldn’t give too much information to him, although I did feel the need to speak frankly.

“Look,” I said, “I had just made an appointment to meet with Billy to talk about the town’s history. I’m a historian – it’s my profession. Billy was an amateur, but he had more knowledge about the town than I did, having just recently moved back here.”

“Well, Mr. Harding, this is a clear case of suicide, cut and dry, and I don’t think you had anything to do with it. So, you should be on your way. But, Mr. Harding,” he paused and looked me in the eye tipping his hat upward, “some history is just that – history. Best leave it where it lies. You have a good day now!” He pulled his hat down a bit and turned around heading for the kitchen.

And with that I took my leave. As excited as Billy was last night, there is no way he took his own life. He was quite paranoid the other night when I met him – looking outside the classroom windows as if he were being watched. From this moment on, I had to be extremely careful in my every move for my own safety…for my family’s safety.

Unfortunately I could not have a closer look in Billy’s house for the evidence he had possessed to corroborate his story. He had the 19th century news article with reference to the book on magic stones. I was now faced with finding Julia on my own. Would she talk with me? If she did, would I understand her or would she be incoherent?

I went back home immediately to tell Sarah what I knew so far. Already upset with the present mystery, she did not take the news of Billy’s death well. It was not setting easily with me either. When he was younger – he was in fact threatened, by the Sheriff indirectly and by Charlie directly. Foul play was a most plausible assumption. After briefly speaking with Sarah and calming her down a bit, I set out again – this time for the asylum which was only a little farther out of town than Billy’s house. Sarah wanted to go with me, but I wouldn’t have it. I convinced her that she needed to pick up Corey from school and I would probably not be back until late afternoon.

To be continued…

© 2018 Michael Armenia

Short Story Series 2: Down by the River – Part 3

[…continued from Part 2]

Later in the day I phoned the high school. Robert Hillsdale, the current principal, happens to be a colleague of mine from college, both of us having majored in history. Bob told me exactly where to find Mr. Kegan who goes by Billy to the staff at the school. He works Monday thru Friday, 6pm to midnight, so I would have no problem finding him. Bob told me to just enter the school through the back door to the gymnasium.

Around 9 pm, after dinner with my wife and son, I headed over to the high school. It wasn’t difficult to find him. The soft swish of the stringy mop against the floor was regularly interrupted by the clatter of the broom against the water bucket. I found him in the western wing inside the science lab. Apparently there was an accident that day of broken beakers and flasks, with spills that needed serious attention.

“Hello! Billy?”

“Yeah,” he said.

“My name is Blake and I’m a friend of Principal Hillsdale. He told me I could find you here tonight. “

“That you did. What can I do for you,” he asked?

“ I know it may be a sensitive topic for you, but I really would like to know the history of the church by the bridge.”

“Sorry. I don’t know anything.”

“Townsfolk say otherwise, Billy. And the stories I’ve heard now have me a little concerned. I used to walk by that church every day as a kid wondering. Now my son walks by it on the way to elementary school and…”

“You’d do best to keep your son away from that church and the river. It’s a dangerous place. I wouldn’t want to see no other kids get hurt.”

“So, kids did get hurt there, Billy?”

He was silent for a minute.

“Billy, if there really is a danger, don’t you think the best way to avoid it is to understand it?”

He was silent again. I began thinking that if there is some truth to the stories that the priests at that church might have threatened him somehow. Was it a physical threat of pain or death? Was it spiritual – that he might go to hell if he believed in a hell? And then he spoke.

“I wouldn’t want to see your son getting hurt. Just keep him away from the church and the river. That’s all. Now, I gotta work. Sloppy kids couldn’t even transfer liquids in chemistry class today. I’ve gotta clean. Good night, Mr. …”

“Call me, Blake.”

“Watch your son, Blake.” He looked at each of the windows in the room before plunging his mop into his bucket making quite a huge splash. He seemed really bothered, but not by me – by something else, someone else.

Not wanting to press him, I nodded a ‘thank you’ and made a quiet exit.

This was turning into a real mystery. Before I go off on too many tangents, it occurred to me that I should just go to the source. I should just approach the church, look for a priest and inquire there. Of course, it was so simple. Why was I getting sucked into intrigue?

The next morning I again walked with my son to school. I told him I needed the exercise and might stop by the church on the way back to talk with a priest about its history. But, just to be cautious – not to heed Billy’s warning in earnest – I told my son not to visit the grounds of the church without me. I told him that not only is it trespassing, but the river itself was dangerous, with white water rapids around the church bend.

“But, I never saw a ‘no trespassing’ sign, Dad.”

“Come to think of it, I never did either. But, son, that doesn’t matter. If a person does not have business visiting a property, one should not just casually trespass. It’s not right. People in a small town need to respect each other’s space. Kind people will make in invitation if you’re welcome. “

“Won’t you be trespassing, Dad?”

“No. My business has purpose – to inquire about the history of the church, a building in this town, my home town. It’s like selling Girl Scout cookies, selling newspapers, or needing to borrow a telephone. There is clear and virtuous intention. Anyway, I’ll try to find out more by talking with the priests, and if we are invited to come back, I’ll bring you. OK, champ?

“Sounds fine, Dad.”

It was a relatively nice day. The river was flowing as usually and the grounds looked quite beautiful. Out of the corner of my eye I saw someone disappear behind the church. I believe there was a vestry entrance in the back. I decided to walk back there and see if I could look inside. There were no windows at the rear of the church, but looking through the stain glass windows on the side I could see two monks in robes and one person I didn’t recognize in plain street clothes. I went to the vestry door and knocked. I waited for a minute and knocked again. There was no answer. I went back to the side windows and the three men I had seen just a few moments prior were now gone. I began to circle the church once looking around the grounds and then realized something for the first time – there were no outbuildings; there was no garage, no cars. In fact, besides a footpath to the front of the church there was no driveway or vehicle access. That perplexed me to no end. I supposed it had always been that way. Well, I decided to go back to the diner and talk to Barbara again. Besides, I was hungry.

Once again, upon entering I headed straight for a booth. Carla came right over with the coffee pot and before she could ask, I exclaimed, “Yes! Please! Thank you!”

“Menu, Blake?”

“Today, yes, please. Could you send your mom out at her earliest convenience? I need to talk with her.”

“Sure thing.”

Carla walked away and I opened my menu, although I knew what I wanted. I was craving a BLT and pea soup – I’d no reason why. It came to me and sounded necessary. Soon Barbara came out of the kitchen and directly took a seat.

“Hey, Blake. What’s on your mind?”

“Forget about the magic stones and the kids. I won’t bug you more. Tell me what you know about the church and what kind of clergy is affiliated with it. I went there this morning, saw several people inside, but couldn’t get their attention. Two of them in robes were talking with someone in plain clothes. They didn’t answer the door and disappeared right under my nose while I was walking around outside the church.”

“They consider everyone ‘outsiders’, Blake. They talk to people on their own terms.”

“Why aren’t there ‘no trespassing’ signs all over the place?”

“That’s advertisement they don’t need. They did have them once, but it only encouraged visitors and vandals. So, they took them all down.”

“Yeah, well, it’s not very neighborly to exist in a town such as this, so exposed to the community, and refrain from communication with the locals. What about the Sheriff’s Department?”

“She laughed. The Sheriff has been in office for 30 years, Blake. You know he’s always pulled the strings in this town. He gets the mayors and city council elected and, frankly, he’s the only one I’ve seen talk to the clergy. Except…wait a minute! Charlie something or other, the owner of the hardware store across the road from the church – I’ve seen him cross the street and disappear on the church grounds a few times. Maybe he’s had contact. ”

“That’s something. OK, thanks Barbara. You better go. Last time you talked to me, I think you pissed your husband off. “

“He doesn’t want me talking about what happened to those kids – so few people remember anyway. Can I get your order started for you,” she asked.

“Please. BLT and pea soup. Thanks!”

“You got it!”

As she walked away I was already envisioning an encounter with Charlie, the owner of the hardware store. As soon as I finished eating, I was committed to paying him a visit.

An hour later, I found myself walking near the church again it was on the walk home. I stopped to look at the church to see if I could find anyone walking the grounds, but it was peaceful and nobody was around. So, I looked at the hardware store and crossed the street. As I entered, there was a woman at the counter waiting. Seconds later, from an aisle behind the counter, came a man identical to the one I saw talking to the monks. He had dark black, salt & pepper haircut with a beard, and was wearing the same blue plaid, long-sleeved shirt and blue jeans.

“That should be the right fitting this time, Marge. Maybe next time you should leave the plumbing to Howard,” he said.

“If I did that, it would never get done, Charlie. Thanks a bunch!” She left and I was next.

“Hi. You must be Charlie,” I said. “My name is Blake. I used to live in town and just moved back.”

“Yeah, I recognize you. I remember you were in elementary school when I graduated from the high school. I knew your parents; they were friends of my parents.”

“It’s all blank to me, Charlie. So, I was hoping you could help me out a bit. I’m a historian and am trying to find out about the history behind this beautiful sandstone church across the street. Do you know anything about it?”

“Well, I know about as much as anyone else in town. A few hundred years ago, a few monks built it as a cloistered abbey. I think they intended for it to be a monastery or something with several buildings. Something happened with the funding, I believe, or maybe the rector – I forget – and when the church was finished, they stopped building. They had pews put in, but it was never used as far as I know.”

Secretly knowing I had seen him inside, I asked, “Have you ever been inside?”

“No. They don’t care for visitors,” he said. I asked once myself years ago, and a monk outside said they were a very private sect. They kindly asked the Sheriff to see that they weren’t bothered or harassed by visitors. Word traveled throughout the town and people have just left them alone.”

Now I thought I’d try to stir up the hornet’s nest with a potentially controversial inquiry.

“What do you know about the tragic story of those kids about 20 years ago,” I asked?

He laughed a little. “Oh that exaggerated misunderstood drama! There have been some rumors, but it was nothing more than some kids getting drunk…falling on the rocks…one kid hit his head and another drowned. There’s no story there.”

“What about Billy Kegan,” I asked as his smile disappeared and his face began to redden. “Billy warned me to keep my family away from the church and river. Now, why would he do that, Charlie?”

“Listen,” he said as he found some calm and his smile came back, “that river is mighty dangerous. Just listen to the rapids. You can hear them from in here. And it’s never safe to trespass. Listen! Can I help you with any hardware,” he asked more sternly, “because I have some parts to stock?”

“Not today, Charlie. Thanks for your help.”

He had been helpful although I doubt he knew how. His body language definitely exuded a cover-up here. But, more importantly, he lied about talking to the priests and being inside the church.

That evening at home, I received a phone call from Billy Kegan, who as boy told the tale of what happened only to deny it days later.

“Blake, its Billy Kegan, the janitor at the high school,” he said excitedly.

“Hi Billy, what’s up?”

“Listen, I didn’t tell you everything about the tragedy at the river. They told me never to speak of it and I…I never had evidence until today. Now, I will talk to you. I’ve been spending lots of time over the years studying at the library – studying the history of this town, the geology of the area, and origin of the church which was quite a public affair when it was erected centuries ago. I had to go back to journals and letters of the 19th century because everything afterwards was nonexistent or destroyed.”

“Go on. What did you find,” I asked?

To be continued…

© 2018 Michael Armenia

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

[…continued from Part 1]

I didn’t have to wait long before Barbara, Carla’s mom, came out to greet me.

“Hi Blake. Welcome back!”

“Good morning, Barbara. Thanks.”

“I’m sorry to hear about your mother’s passing six months ago,” she said. “I know she would have rather seen you move back here when she was around – she always talked about your family.”

“Yes, I do think she was lonely since my dad passed away several years ago. I just couldn’t move back here yet.”

“Carla said you had a question for me?”

“Yeah…what can you tell me about the history of the church by the bridge at the edge of town,” I asked?

“Why do you ask?”3

“The property hasn’t changed a bit in over 15 years. It’s well maintained, never seems to be active as a church should be, doesn’t get visitors. For some reason, I was afraid to ask as a kid or maybe I did and never got an answer. Now, frankly, I’d want to know more about it. And what’s this about magic stones nearby?”

“I see my daughter’s been talking to you,” Barbara said with a tad of disappointment.

“The place has been quiet for several decades. There were some rumors about magic rocks, but after what happened back then with those kids, everyone in town has just become silent.”

“What kids? OK, Barbara. Tell me, what happened,” I said with a polite yet, slightly demanding tone.

Barbara looked around at the other tables, then at the door, and finally at the kitchen glancing at her husband working in the back. Then she sat down across from me placing both of her arms on the table.

“Look, Blake, I’ll tell you what I know, but you need to stay away from the church and keep your family away from the property if you don’t want trouble.”

“What trouble?”

“There were rumors that started even when I was a kid, that if you looked long enough along the river’s edge, you might find a small piece of red sandstone, like the large blocks the church was built with. They were supposedly very special rocks. Now, I never saw any of those rocks and no one I knew back then did either. But, about 20 years ago, there were a few groups of kids who went in search of them and it resulted in tragedy. A few of them went mad. One of them went to an asylum and, as far as I know, she is still there as an adult. One young man killed someone and then jumped in the river and was never found.”

“I don’t remember that.”

“That’s because the priests or clergy associated with the church spoke to the authorities and it just went away – like it never happened.”

“What does that have to do with the stones? Do you honestly believe the stones caused the tragedies,” I asked?

Barbara took another survey of the diner and then leaned in a little closer, and spoke a little softer.

“The rocks were reported to have the ability of taking away all of your negative feelings, leaving you…well, the kids called it a ‘high’, like a drug one could get addicted to. You were supposed to take one of the special red sandstone rocks, hold it in your hands, and mutter some mumbo jumbo. Supposedly the rock and the person holding it went into some kind of resonance. Afterwards, the person was supposed to throw the resonating rock into a very specific part of the river. If the rock went in the right place, the river would take the negative energy away, leaving the person…well…feeling great, peaceful and, some say, powerful.”

“Ha! Well, if you believe in that sort of thing, what’s wrong with that,” I asked? “It’s seems harmless enough.”

“Maybe. However… it is said that if the rock doesn’t go into the river in exactly the right place, the negative energy it absorbed rebounds back to the person who threw it, having multiplied the dark energy many times. Depending on the size of the rock, the dark forces could drive someone irritable, angry, mad – I mean crazy! And, even larger rocks could cause death.”

“Barbara, I’m sorry, but that’s a little farfetched.”

“Most people think so. There have been no reports of rocks being found since then. The only testimony given to the police was from one of the kids who survived only to suffer a permanent headache. Days after the tragedy when he talked to the police, he was seen talking to one of the clergy from the church. He then retracted his story about the rocks and insisted in was made up. He never spoke of his ordeal again.”

“This kid – this man – where is he today,” I asked?

“His name is William Kegan. He’s a night janitor at the high school. He keeps to himself, talks very little, and the only place in town I’ve ever seen him is at the library. I don’t think he’ll talk if you’re thinking about visiting him.”

“Well, I’ve got nothing to lose. I think I’ll pay him a visit tonight.”

Just as I spoke, Barbara’s husband walked in with my order. He set it down on the table and silently gave Barbara a stern and reprimanding glare. At that point, she looked at me and smiled. She lightly slapped the table with both of her hands as she stood up and said, “Good talking with you, Blake. Again… welcome back!”

With that she walked away. I had a breakfast – more like brunch – to eat. And, I believe I had made intriguing plans for the evening.

To be continued…

© 2018 Michael Armenia

Short Story Series 2: Down by the River – Part 1

Short Story Series 2 : Down by the River – Part 1

I don’t know how many times I crossed the Paketka River walking to school in my youth. There was a sandstone bridge far above the raging waters descending from some natural falls not far away. I enjoyed looking at the marvelous church that stood off to the side and set back toward the river bend. It was made of the same red sandstone only with larger blocks, not a single one of which could be carried by one man alone. It was quite majestic. Daily my head would turn toward the manmade monolith as my stride continued forward. Only occasionally did my toe stumble a bit from the distraction. And even when the winds voiced themselves loudly through the willow trees on the grounds, you could still hear the river’s rapids distinctly. I always imagined they were having a conversation.

The church was not very old, 18th or 19th century, and all the years I grew up there, I never knew it to have a mass or service of any kind. I figured it was a cloistered abbey of some sort. There were always one or two monks around the grounds or in the church, but their order was never clear. The doors were never open and I don’t think visiting was allowed, although a tall person could peak at the nave through the windows which were stained glass in appearance. Oddly, every pane was amber in color. They depicted no imagery or symbolism whatsoever. There were pews visible inside and cast iron chandeliers, but no ornamentation to speak of.

This much was from my childhood perspective.

As time passed, I returned to the village to live with my family and my son traced the very steps I did when I was his age. In the heart of fall, shortly after the school year began, my son asked me to walk with him to school just for the company and I was astonished at how the appearance of everything had not changed – it was just as I remembered. The trees seemed the same, the gardens, and even the sound of the river. It was beautiful. As an adult now, I was curious and a bit less shy. So, I thought that an investigation into the history of the church was long overdue.

After leaving my son at his school, I strolled into town to eat at the local diner which served food all day, every day, since my grandparents first moved to the village. The food was quite excellent and the staff fairly talkative because not many visitors come that way. I strolled in and, finding only a few customers, had my choice in seating. I chose a booth preferring that to a table.

“Coffee, Blake” the waitress asked as she gently placed a menu before me?

“Yes, thank you, Carla. I don’t need the menu though. I’d like three eggs over-easy, toast, and hash browns, please.”

Carla, who was a sophomore at a nearby college, smiled and walked away back to the kitchen to where her father was cooking. Her parents owned the place. When she came back with the coffee pot, I decided to ask her what she knew about the church.

“Carla, do you know the history of the church by the bridge?”

“Not really. Why?

“Well, I grew up here and remember it well, looking just like it does today. But, I never saw services there in my youth or any people visiting. So, I’m wondering if it’s a monastery or cloister of some kind and I’m curious as to who has maintained it so pristinely all these years?”

“All I know is a little about the magic stones down by the river. The church is a mystery to me. But, my mom knows a lot more, I think.”

“What’s this about magic stones,” I asked?

“Well, there is a local legend that the hand-hewn stones the church was made from were cut from a quarry near the river’s edge, about a half mile from the church. Although that old quarry is mostly overgrown now, every once in a while you may find small red sandstone bits along the riverbank.”

“And what is so magical about them?”

“Honestly, I have no experience with this – I’ve never found one – but…. plenty of people have, and they claim that a person can put all of his negative thoughts into the stone and throw it in the river. The river feeds on the negative thoughts and the person, feeling instantly better, finds inner peace, at least for a while. It’s said to be a respite from life’s harshest trials.”

“Can you tell me more,” I asked?

“Let me get my mom. She made me promise to never look too much into the church – that there was some danger there. I’ve always listened to her and have been quite happy to just admire it from the bridge like everyone else. Mom will probably tell you more than you want to know.”

To be continued…

© 2018 Michael Armenia

Short Story Series 1 – Part 6 (SSS1-6 Conclusion)

[…continued from Part 5]

A month passed and I received my first letter from Lydia. She had immediately begun to write me on the flight to Paris the day after we parted. She had so much to say, but wanted to assure me that she would send me photographs of her work, particularly the zodiac sculptures which she sold to Adrian. She told me about her shared studio space in Boulder where she kept her belongings with her friend from the university. And she explained how I should expect a package of photographs from her friend on her behalf, because the negatives were in Boulder and it only made sense to have her friend make copies and post them to me. Upon reading Lydia’s letter, I immediately wrote her in return. I told her how I accepted Adrian’s contract to design his massive lair in Mykonos, Greece and would begin drawings later in the year. I also wrote about how I gleaned more about her from taking her Aunt Kathleen out to lunch a few times.

After a few weeks, I received the envelope from Lydia’s friend in Boulder. The photographs of the sculptures were phenomenal despite Lydia saying that they wouldn’t do them justice. The details of the bronze finish were so exquisite although exactly what the texture was like I couldn’t say without actually seeing them. There was a mixture of patches of muted patina and patches of polished bronze with markings. I knew somehow that I would see them one day; I only wondered when.

I could not help wondering when I may see Lydia again. She wrote a few more times about a month apart with little news about her commission. I also received one postcard from a day when she took a break to visit the great Gothic cathedral of Chartres. But in the fifth month of her stay, a heartbreaking letter arrived. Lydia had met someone, Pierre, a French philanthropist who fell in love with her art immediately and, in no time at all, with her. I don’t blame him. How could anyone not fall in love with Lydia? And, as sad as I was for our now unlikely future together, I couldn’t blame Lydia either. “You should live in the present and follow your heart,” she would say. At this news, I wanted to cease corresponding, at least for now, because I was hurting and still trying to reconcile my heart’s desire and my intellectual decision to not follow her to Paris.

Lydia’s last letter from Paris that year came just after her commission ended. She was engaged to be married in France. Suffice it to say, I was not invited to the wedding nor could I have attended for emotional reasons. It was a small private affair at Pierre’s family estate in the south of France, a small coastal village near Nice.

I did actually get to see Lydia again. It was at the Adrian’s housewarming, a soft opening and private showing of her zodiac sculptures two years later in Mykonos. I had flown in just for the event as did Lydia and Pierre who I then met for the first time. And I must say, Pierre was quite a fine gentleman. He made Lydia happy – that is what truly matters.

Adrian wanted us both there because he wanted to show his friends the faces, the heart and souls, behind the design of the house, particularly the foyer, and the artwork on display. But, he didn’t see it merely as art on display. Neither did Lydia. It was a vision, an alchemy experiment, realized within his home that resulted in something larger…something beyond the material. The room was a symphony for the senses: the sculptures not only pleased the eyes, but they vibrated with warm and cold sensations to the gentlest caress by hand – and Adrian, encouraged the tactile experience. One could hear music playing; and not sensing the origin for the varied direction of the sounds, some people thought the sculptures were singing. Adrian’s designer selected some fragrant live plants that harmonized in the most intriguing way with the lingering metallic scents from the copper and weathering steel water fountains. That experience – that sensational ecstasy – was the moment that I ironically ceased being a professional architect.

From then on, I needed more to feel happy than anything architecture alone could provide.  I was, however, convinced that devotion to the fine arts, specifically painting, was the most efficacious path for my expression – my transformation – of life’s experiences into something productive, something new, something…more than the sum of the parts. And, now the contractor must be my soul, not the pursuit of money. I would no doubt survive. At that moment, a few years too late for Lydia, I had confidence in my ability to thrive on integrity of the heart.

Before I left Adrian’s house, Lydia approached me. We hugged tightly. I wished her and her new husband well.

It has been 40 years since I first met Lydia. In that time I never married, although I had several relationships.  A few sporadic letters came over the years expressing how much she valued our friendship and had an eternally burning ember for me within her infinite heart and boundless unconditional love. I, too, had an eternally burning ember for her. That was never a question.

The last letter I received from Lydia was two weeks ago. At the age of 67, she had become a widow with no children. Pierre had died of cancer over six months ago. With all of her family, including Kathleen, having passed on, she was all alone. Sharing all of her feelings about her love for Pierre and her love for me, she made it clear that she did not despair. She felt totally blessed in her life. Her last paragraph had the potency to once again change my life. It read as follows:

Patrick, I fell in love with you when I met you. I never fell out of love with you. I also fell in love with Pierre. He was a loving and faithful husband. My only regret in life so far is not having children. It just wasn’t meant to be. Some things are ‘meant to be’, though. I always knew you and I were ‘meant to be’ together even though the timing and circumstances may not have seemed to synchronize as we expected. Patrick, I believe Pierre and I were meant to live together; but, I think you and I were meant to die together – that is to say, pass our end days in the comfort of each other’s company. I want you in my life…for the rest of my life. I beg you to consider coming to France and living with me. I left Pierre’s family estate behind. It was too big for me. But, I purchased a charming house as large as my Aunt Kathleen’s house, if you can remember. The only thing that can make me happy now is you. Please come play chess with me – I promise to let you win!

I hesitated at first having such an important decision to make.  I could either, drop everything and leave for France that night, or I could get a good night’s rest and leave tomorrow. Either way, I was determined to join Lydia and that I did!  I began writing this story on the eve of my flight and I’m ending it now from her balcony, overlooking the Côte d’Azur after a sweet breakfast with both the love of my life and the one that got away!

THE END


© 2018 Michael Armenia

Short Story Series 1 – Part 5 (SSS1-5)

[…continued from Part 4]

“Earl Grey would be wonderful. Thank you,” I answered. “I love your imaginative analysis and it sounds like it would be satisfying. But, how am I to earn money? As an artist, I would never have afforded my house next door, at least not at the age of 30 when I built it five years ago.”

“Is that house really important to you,” she asked? “Or, do you simply need a domain to call home?”

“Well, I did design it, but I am not attached. My point is that money is necessary for survival.”

“No, Patrick. Granted, it makes life easier, but an easy life doesn’t imply a life of purity, virtue and soul-satisfying integrity, let alone happiness. Anyone – and I mean anyone – who applies themselves to a deliberate choice wholeheartedly and steadfastly, will prevail. The money will come. It has no choice because the opportunities will come. The universe will manifest your true intentions. You will learn in time to be open to those opportunities. And, as long as you never sacrifice your values, you will encounter that elevating release you spoke about, a catharsis in every work. Being alive is easy. Thriving takes work, but with your cauldron you can transform work into play. A person should labor, but labor with love. Love is everything. Love.”

“Lydia, you have this all figured out at 27, don’t you? We could debate…but for what? I know you are exactly right! I haven’t been truly happy as an architect since my first assignment. But, I can tell you that Adrian’s lodge was something extraordinary. I did take that to heart. My mind was never on money during that project. No other client has ever let me be so original in my work. For that experiment, I think Adrian was my Philosopher’s Stone.”

“I KNEW you understood alchemy better than you let on,” Lydia quipped.

“I’ve quite the interest in alchemy and the spiritual alchemists of the Renaissance and Enlightenment. I just never thought of taking the concept outside of the laboratory or a spiritual path. I can’t believe, Lydia, how much you have just opened my heart and have blown me away! Thank you!”

By then she had returned to the sectional and, again sitting beside me, took a slow sip of tea while looking me in the eye.

“You know something I really like about you, Patrick?”

“What’s that?”

“You let me pierce your soul. You let me look into your eyes without yours darting away. Most people can’t do that for long. You give me time to swim in that sea of your brilliance.” She paused for a moment, and then, “ I, too, am enamored with you. Are you…are you seeing anybody right now?”

My heart raced and I said, “Well, no!”

“OK. This may sound absolutely crazy, but I want you to consider it. After a short pause, she burst out with this: “Come with me to Paris! If not tomorrow, shortly after. Take six months to consider a change from the construction of buildings to the exploration and expansion of your heart and soul. You can stay with me. I want to know you as much as you want to know me, I assure you.”

“Oh my God, Lydia. That…that sounds fantastic! But…I…can’t just leave my active projects behind. If I had no work, I would go in a heartbeat! I have two buildings under construction and drawings on a third due in one month, with meetings every week. I could not do that from Paris. I can’t just walk away from that. It would destroy my reputation and future work.”

“I’m not going to try to convince you, Patrick. I love your integrity. You see, that is precisely what would ensure that you will succeed in true happiness. However, one does have to make a leap of faith from one path, financial security, to the roller coaster instability of life as an artist. It is this risk and the discomfort of the risk which often prevents people from seizing opportunities. Sadly, they never know how truly happy they can be.”

“I wish I could. I really do.” I was feeling quite dejected. She lifted my chin up slightly, quickly kissed me and said, “Now, how about that game of chess?”

We played three games until nearly midnight. I won the first game. She won the second. We tied the third. Clearly she was an expert as well. I wasn’t distracted that much even though the butterflies in my stomach were fluttering the whole time. I knew I would not walk away from my active business deals. It’s not who I was. But, at the same time, I knew this woman was meant to be in my life. I wanted to live together with her, to face life’s obstacles with her just as much as to enjoy the pleasures. I felt like I was making a stupid decision. My heart said it was wrong, but I followed my brain. For me at that time, integrity was an intellectual virtue. I did not yet understand integrity of the heart.

After the chess, I thought I should leave, even without saying goodnight to Kathleen; there was no sign of her all evening. Lydia could bid farewell for me. She had a morning plane to catch and I didn’t know that earlier, or I wouldn’t have kept her up so late. We had an emotional kiss on the front porch before I walked away.

Lydia said, “I will write you. I will send you those photographs. You will write me. I’ll keep you updated on my commission and maybe we can see each other in six months.”

The moment seemed so cliché, but there was always…always a light of hope that never extinguished.

To be continued…

Is this the end? Will Lydia and Patrick ever meet again?
Stay tuned for the conclusion!


© 2018 Michael Armenia

Short Story Series 1 – Part 4 (SSS1-4)

[…continued from Part 3]

Lydia continued, “So, you mentioned the word magical and, frankly, I did start each work with a little sympathetic magic. And I played on my own symbolic and emotional attachment to the constellation as well as my own personal traits and incorporated that into the process. It’s all perhaps a bit complicated and boring…”

“No,” I interrupted, “please go on.”

“Well, I began with the obvious position of the stars and the familiar constellation shape as we in the west now see Pisces. I took, as seeds, not the symbol of two fish entangled, but the pattern of the major stars as seen from earth. Considering their mass and relative sizes, I began sculpting clay spheres to represent the stars, concentrating in my mind on each one as they were made. I attached them to a wire frame. In my mind, my intentions were to represent Pisces and at that time it was indeed Pisces to me. I began this at a time when the sun was in Pisces, in the middle of the stretch at the beginning of March. I also worked on it only at night when the constellation was visible. From this point on, the sculpture would be transformed and likely no longer resembled anything like a constellation.

“The next phase involved an enormous amount of intuition and papier-mâché. I took my time familiarizing my hands with the clay stars, their size and positions and I did this for about an hour with my eyes closed, meditating on Pisces and the space that was created by the constituent elements. Then I applied the paste-laden paper to the balls in a very organic way and let the overall bridging shapes between them take form on their own. When I liked what I felt and finally saw, I moved on and continued this way until I had a solid abstract form with a single contiguous surface. When the paper was dry and firm, I covered the entire sculpture with a one-sixteenth inch thick layer of clay. Surfacing the clay with textures, patterns and symbols was a very important and personal process.

“From that point, I made a mould and I used the lost-wax process to create bronze sculptures which would finally be mounted. That is the abstract sculpture the viewers at the gallery surveyed.”

“Lydia, that is so brilliant – what a loving way to create a piece of art.”

“The only way,” she added. “This process imbued them with something quite magical, I think”

“And you did all of the other zodiac signs that way?”

“Absolutely. Each one took about a full week to model and cast. Three months of work stretched over an entire year, of course, to take advantage astrologically. You know, Adrian, loved the idea so much that he bought them and has commissioned a chess set. Normally, I would have rejected such an assignment, but I adore chess. Do you play?”

“At an expert level,” I replied.

“Can we play,” she asked?

“Maybe later. I need you to tell me why you called me a skilled alchemist, why you showed me the gorgeous sky tonight, and told me of your sculpture series which I can only imagine is breathtaking. I’m holding you to your promise to send pictures!”

“It makes me feel so good that you like my technique and want to see them.”

“To be honest, Lydia, I have to share something with you. I’m a little overwhelmed – in a wonderful way, mind you.”

“By what?”

“By you! I said, as she smiled. “You know when you opened the door to Kathleen’s house this evening, I – I had such an unbelievable sense of – I can’t explain it – everything about you is so magnetic that I am drawn to you.”

Smiling, visibly delighted, she put on her index finger on my lips to shush me for a few seconds. When she withdrew it, in a movement quicker than the eye, she  kissed me, but ever so gently with her eyes closed, as if trying to intuit something with only her heart and her lips. Then she pulled back a little, saying, “Was that OK?”

Instead of an answer, I put both of my hands firmly on her cheeks, pulled her face back toward mine, and kissed her for about a minute, though my recollection of the experience seems like it was an eternity.

“It’s cold. Let’s go inside and have a tea while you tell me about alchemy,” I suggested.

Lydia looked me dead in the eye and smiled. She stood on the tips of her toes, said, “OK,” and collapsed back on her heels before leading the way with my left hand in hers.

“Please have a seat on the sectional,” she said as she walked me right near it, “and I’ll put water on for tea.”

Kathleen’s living room was very large as was her fireplace. The sofa and chair where we were sitting before is closer to the fire; and the sectional couch is closer to the middle of the room with a more direct view outside as well as Kathleen’s entertainment console. An array of independently dimmable pendant lights hung from the apex of the ceiling, each at different lengths casting shadows which could be interesting or distracting, depending on how the area was lit.

Lydia put on water and immediately came back to sit next to me at one corner of the sectional.

“Tell me, Patrick, why I felt dazzled by the wood inside Adrian’s lodge, particularly the exposed beams and rafters so exquisitely finished.”

“OK, I have to admit I am proud of that. I didn’t merely design the space and specify the layout of the wood, but I actually insisted that I, myself, select the pieces of wood to be used for each building member from the mill . It was the only way I could be sure of the patterns in the wood – the flow and size of the grain, if and where knots could be located, and so on.”

“And those patterns were part of the design, essential to the layout of everything else, as in synergy,” she presumed.

“Absolutely,” I stated.

“So, you were blending elements together to make something, more than just the sum of the parts, in order to leave an impression – visible and/or emotional – on the people who would be exposed to this construction.”

“Yes, isn’t that what architects do,” I asked?

“Not all. But, great artists, yes.”

“You think I am a great artist,” I asked?

“Yes!”

“But, you called me an alchemist?”

“Patrick, it takes a skilled alchemist to be a great artist. Think of the origin of the word alchemy or in Arabic, alkīmiyā, which means “the chemistry.” A lot of our science has its origins in early Arab world and alchemy was indeed the beginning of chemistry. Certainly the aim in the middle ages may have been the prospect of turning lead to gold, but in essence, alchemy is about transformation whether you look at it materially or spiritually.

“Such as the transformation of water to steam, which is what your kettle is doing over at the bar?”

We both burst out in laughter.

As she got up to get the tea, she continued, “The Vail Lodge is a spectacular work of art, Patrick. You should be proud.”

“Well, truly, it is the only design I’ve ever done in which I not only enjoyed every aspect of it, but I also had such a cathartic release that was elevating.”

“An ascension of your spirit,” she added.

“YES!”

“That’s my motivation, Patrick. If there is no ascension, no expansion, then there is contraction or stagnancy. And still waters breed mosquitos.”

I chuckled.

“When the process itself is transformative, you will have that feeling.”

“I’ve never had it in any other design,” I admitted.

“You can find it in any activity, Patrick. But, each of us has the propensity to serve better in some arenas than others. Forgive me for saying this, but…I think you would make a fantastic artist, and by that, I do not mean a mere artisan, someone who works for money. You have the heart of a pure artist, someone who needs to satisfy the soul. The spirit moves you to produce and you follow it: your productivity is birthed from inward reflection. It’s hard for an architect to do that, but of course it is done – Frank Lloyd Wright, Van der Mies, Corbusier. Their clients didn’t hire them to design buildings; their clients said, ‘Please give me a Corbusier and I will pay you’ or ‘I want a Frank Lloiyd Wright, please and thank you!’ You will do well as an artist, producing…no…transforming the world around you inside your cauldron; and you will be much happier. …Earl Grey alright?”

To be continued…

© 2018 Michael Armenia

Short Story Series 1 – Part 3 (SSS1-3)

[…continued from Part 2]

“And while I’ve just had the pleasure of meeting you today, Patrick,” she continued, “I have to say that I have met your soul through your work already and didn’t even know it.”

“Excuse me?”

“Yes. Shortly after Adrian bought my sculptures, he invited me to his lodge in Vail to discuss a commissioned work. I was blown away by his amazing house. That was you! I can’t believe it,” she said with open mouth.

“Thanks, well, his interior designer is the truly amazing talent.”

“No,” she interrupted. “The architect of that house knows form and flow. It’s truly alive even when empty. Marvelous!”

She stopped talking. Her mouth left curiously open, not agape, not shut. But, she didn’t know what to say. I felt a transfer of energy from her eyes. I wanted to just stare, but that would have been awkward so I interjected.

“Tell me something what you learned from Mies, one of the 20th century’s greatest modern architects.”

“Oh my,” she sat back and grabbed her martini, taking a tiny sip before continuing. “OK. Naturally, Mies is known for his own work. But, the spirit of his ilk – the likes of and especially Frank Lloyd Wright and Corbusier…yes, Corbusier – that spirit brings life to the industrial look. I mean, it may sound silly, but when I look at a Corbusier, I may say to myself, ‘how will it comb its hair today?’  You can just move one of his chair designs a little askew and it takes on a new personality…as if it has style itself.”

She erupted in a charming laughter then took another sip of that martini. I, too, admit that was funny. And I knew exactly what she meant, although I don’t know how to explain it. Then she continued, “Look, a lot of people find Brutalism cold and sterile, but I don’t see it that way and you could say that Mies helped me to find the warmth. And, frankly, the most important factor with warming Brutalism is lighting design.”

“Oh, I agree. Listen, Lydia, you have me quite disadvantaged. I would like to know about your own artwork. Are you showing anywhere?”

“Not at the moment. For the last year, I’ve only done commissions. I’d be happy to mail you some photographs though.”

“That would be great. I’d love to see them.” I wanted to change the subject to find out more about her personal life. “Where are you visiting from, Lydia?”

“I was guest lecturing at the University of Colorado in Boulder for a friend of mine on the faculty. Now, I am on my way to Paris for a commission, a six-month-long installation integral with a building that is being constructed. I decided to spend a few days with my Aunt before flying from Denver tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow! Wow!” My heart sunk almost like I lost a loved one.

Such emptiness consumed me at that moment. There was no time to really get to know her. Yet, I thought to myself, “I am already in love. But, I don’t believe that love at first sight can be true love. I need to know how and what she thinks. Is she religious? A zealot? Is she political? An activist? What is her ultimate goal in life, personally and professionally? Does she want kids?” So many voices in my head were yammering at that moment and I had to shut them up somehow. The least I could do is get her contact info…

She blurted one step ahead of me, “Can I get your contact information, Patrick? I suppose I won’t see you again before I go. And, I don’t want to lose touch with you.”

“Of course,” I answered trying to cover my desperation.

“I’m sorry about that,” Kathleen’s voice echoed as she returned to the living room with a never-ending ceiling. “Listen. I must make several phone calls to stop our number-one fundraising event from being cancelled. Will you two be OK talking among yourselves for a while?”

We both smiled and said nearly simultaneously, “No problem!”

I didn’t really know what Kathleen did, but she was a social butterfly.

I used the energy of the interruption to shift the conversation. “What motivates you, Lydia? Surely money is not a driving force, but I imagine you do fairly well.”

“I do. I’ve done well at networking despite being a private person. I guess I’m lucky. A commission always seems to arise just before I need the work. Only it’s not really ‘work’ after all. I only choose to be retained if I feel I am being paid to play. Besides, I don’t have many expenses. I don’t have a home and I’m free to travel. But, the force that drives me? I just have to feed my soul. I must be productive…creative. But, I always follow my heart. There’s a cauldron inside me. I have to make something out of the experiences I have or else that cauldron overheats.”

“What will you make out of our encounter this evening,” I asked?

“Something amazing I am sure! I know you are the same, Patrick. I’ve seen the house in Vail you did for Adrian. You gave him the number of rooms he wanted, but I know he gave you freedom and you did something amazing yourself. You…are a skilled alchemist!”

“I am?”

“Sure,” she said as she took my hand and put it in hers filling me with ecstasy. My heart pounded as I melted. “Come,” she said as she stood up. With both hands she pulled me up, taking a few steps back in her bare feet, then leading me to the sliding door of the deck. It must have been unlocked because she opened it quickly with one hand, then with both hands again she took mine and we walked up to the railing. Then she let go and pointed to the stars.

It was already dark when I arrived at Kathleen’s house. Oddly, I didn’t notice the sky on my walk over and that’s saying something. Out there in the mountains, there was no light pollution and the Milky Way was a spectacular site on an average day.

“That is Taurus. You’re a Cancer, aren’t you,” she asked?

“Yes,” I smiled.

“I knew it. I’m a Taurus. It happens that the twelve sculptures I sold to Adrian were depictions of the zodiac.”

“The Pleiades are so distinct this evening,” I said.

Her jaw dropped. She then took my right arm between her left and her body and hugged it, saying “You know your astronomy!

“Well,” I said, “I dabble!”

“So, before I met Adrian, I had something stirring in me, something that had to come out. An artist will tell you that if you’ve got the itch, you have to scratch it. With my heart open to better understanding astrological influences, I felt I needed to explore the sky unlike other artists have previously. “

“What do you mean,” I asked?

“Well, since the first landscapes appeared, lunar or stellar for that matter, artists have painted the phases of the moon, or a constellation of stars, or they may have depicted Taurus as a bull – these are too representative, imitative of nature even if done with a distinguishing style. I felt the need to be more symbolic, personal and powerful, and with the right influence. When an observer looks at my sculpture, she may not necessarily know what she is looking at intellectually; she may find it abstract. However, it is imbued with a magic such that she will ‘feel’ what it is in her heart and soul.”

She paused briefly, taking a deep breath from her building excitement, and then continued, “At a public showing I did an informal research survey shortly after my first work, Pisces, was finished. I asked ten seemingly unrelated questions to the myriads of people who attended. One was, ‘if this sculpture were a month, which month would it be?’ Others were, ‘if this sculpture were an animal, what animal would it be’ and ‘if it were a flower, what flower would it be? The important question was, ‘if this sculpture were a zodiac sign, what sign would it be?”

“And the results,” I asked?

“Several questions had a fixed number of possible answers – twelve months, twelve zodiac signs, 13 playing cards – that’s right I did playing cards…oh…and the 6 chess pieces as well! The other questions had no fixed number of answers leaving the person to be creative. The fact is that the answers had a broad distribution with no strongly favored results except one: the zodiac question. 37 out of 60 people taking the survey selected ‘Pisces’ for that question. Patrick, that is better than 50% of the people.”

“Wow. That’s an amazingly narrow bell curve.”

She was so excited to tell me this; she had grabbed both of my forearms with her hands ever so gently and looked me in the eye as if she had more to reveal. I could not have been more attracted to her than I was at that moment. But, I wanted her to continue.

“That’s nothing short of magical – how did you manage to create such a sculpture? Did you create the rest of the zodiac the same way? And poll viewers of those works? Wait! It’s chilly out here and you are bare foot.”

“I’m fine,” she said assuredly. “As to your questions…”

To be continued…


© 2018 Michael Armenia