Short Story Series 2: Down by the River – Part 7 – Conclusion

[…continued from Part 6]

It was around 3am and only a five-minute walk to the hardware store from the part of the river where we were accosted by the Sheriff and his posse. We entered through the front and were forced to the back office behind the counter. I wasn’t surprised, but then again I wasn’t suspecting the store had a basement, which it did. We were forced down the stairs which were made of the same red sandstone as the church. Once at basement level, we walked right past a tremendously long corridor. If my sense of directions was correct, the corridor went under the road and deep into the property of the church grounds. It suddenly became clear to me why anyone was rarely seen going into and out of the church. We approached a small room in which there was a table and chairs and some barrels of small stones.  I assumed they were the magic stones. The monks manhandled the women onto the chairs and began tying them up as the Sheriff began to talk.

“Sit down,” he said to me sternly. Then he pulled a fourth chair from the table, spun it around and sat on it facing the back of the chair, as if trying to intimidate me. While at first I thought he was going to grill me with questions like he said earlier, it seemed more likely to me now that he was going to get rid of us one way or another once he got what he wanted.

That was confirmed when Barbara burst out with, “Don’t tell him anything about the book, Blake,” and Charlie fired a round from his pistol into her lower leg. I didn’t think he was going to torture and release.

“It’s only a flesh wound,” Barbara said with an excruciating grimace, followed by some moaning.

“Shut up,” said Charlie!

The Sheriff started a monologue.

“Mr. Harding, I’ve been looking for that book since those kids found it and meddled with something that wasn’t meant for them. My great-grandfather wrote that book. Yes, his name was Brackman, but he was my mother’s granfather. He worked for the rector of the church back then in the late 1800s. The church was built for the soul purpose of recreating an ancient cave that could harness and redirect energy based on the design of the building and the makeup of the stone. Someone who knew what they were doing could drive a man mad or kill another, all mysteriously, while giving its chief operator a god-like feeling. Now, Mr. Harding, that is just something to good for any man with wits about him to pass up.”

“And I suppose you need the book because you don’t know how this supernatural machine works,” I said.

“I know how it works, Mr. Harding. Well, except for one thing – how to achieve resonance with the stones. These monks have descended from an order that built the original cave thousands of year ago, as did the rector who killed himself in 1880. The problem is that the original instructions for using the stones were passed down orally, and the rector inherited his title before he received the transmission from his then dead superior. These monks are educated theologians who speak numerous languages and they will be able to translate the book, I think, just fine. For all these years, all they could do was keep the hope alive that they would rediscover their buried secrets. At the same time, they also served to guard the church so no curious crackpot would get the idea of chipping pieces of the stones that comprised the building. There’s a lot of potential power in that sandstone. So, Mr. Harding, do you know where the book is?”

“It’s in my desk drawer at home.” Of course it wasn’t. But, it was the most believable lie I could tell.  And with Corey at his friend’s house that night, there was no real risk.

“Well, I guess we are going to have to go check that out,” said the Sheriff.

By then, the ladies were all tied up and the monks had gone back presumably to the church. Feeling he made his point, Charlie had tucked his pistol in the front of his pants.

“Get as comfortable as you can ladies,” said the Sheriff as he looked at Sarah and Barbara.” Your future depends on my getting that book. We won’t be long.”

While he was saying that, I had pulled out the book and to keep the Sheriff occupied for a few seconds, I said, “No need to go to my house; here it is!” And I tossed it in his direction higher than his head so that he and Charlie would look upward, throwing each off the integrity of his balance. Once the book left my fingers, I hit Charlie in the face as hard as I could with a right hook. I grabbed his gun and in a scuffle it went off into his stomach. The Sheriff had also drawn his gun by then but was not quick enough to dodge the bullets I was discharging in his direction.

After untying the ladies, Sarah helped Barbara upstairs. We called the State Police and FBI as I had planned. The monks, hearing the shots, must have fled, for they were never found in the church or elsewhere. The book and the Paketka Tribune article from 1880 corroborated Billy’s original story, although there was no one around to indict. Charlie and the Sheriff had died from their wounds.

As for the book, it had to be destroyed as it was more dangerous than ever. With the base stone under all of that collapsed rubble, using the magic stones guaranteed tragic results. Of course, someone with resources could recover and possible resurface the base stone. But, no. The FBI stated in their report that the book would be destroyed rendering the church and quarry fragments harmless. So, the story of the magic stones will only survive as small town gossip…or will it?

THE END


© 2018 Michael Armenia

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 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