Copyright (c) 2018 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
By R. Peterson
The milk-truck chugged to a stop in front of the mansion on the corner of Main and Galbraith Streets. It was a little after seven AM and still dim on the tree-lined streets of Cloverdale. The garage door had been left open and Joseph Callahan’s 1934 Buick Victoria was gone; they were at church. “It’ll be best if you go in alone,” Lavar Hicks looked in all four directions as he spoke from the passenger seat. He grinned at Tommy Lee and dangled the length of braided hair that he had cut from the Chinaman’s head from his hand. “What you’re looking for, looks like an old carved recipe-box, so it’s probably somewhere in the kitchen. Inside the box you’ll find a bunch of very old Tarot cards with pictures on one side. Bring me the card with the picture of the tornado and the words THE WIND printed on the front … leave the rest. Put everything else back just the way it was. Maybe that witch won’t even notice the card is missing.”
“I do as you tell. You give back queue … and no more ask for steal?” Tommy Lee hung his head–too ashamed to look up when he spoke.
“Sure I will,” Hicks laughed. “I may be a lot of things … but I ain’t no welcher!”
Tommy Lee opened his door slowly. Hicks handed him the wire basket that held a gallon of milk, two jars of crème and a pound of wrapped butter. “Don’t forget their order! And remember no funny business. You try to call the cops or anyone else and this hair rope goes up in flames.” Hicks flicked open a butane lighter enjoying the stricken look on Lee’s face as he dangled the hair piece over the flame … and then lit a cigar instead. “Now get in there and bring me back that card … we ain’t got all day!”
With his head still downcast, Tommy Lee carried the crème and butter toward the house.
The Reverend John White smiled as he looked over the congregation. Almost every seat in the pews was filled. Some were standing at the back … unusual for an early morning service. Numerous people were turning to gape toward the back row where Melania Descombey sat with the strange Momett woman.
Melania thought the whispers and rustle of hymn books opening sounded like leaves falling from trees. The seasons were changing. Mrs. Dern played the piano while everyone sang the opening song Bringing in the Sheaves. Dorothy’s voice was not loud but Melania noticed she had perfect pitch.
John White tried to appear non-judgmental as he sorted through his sermon papers but it was hard when a person of another religion visited his church wearing a cloth bag over her head … the woman sitting beside Melania looked like a scarecrow! “Good morning,” he spoke as he walked to the podium adjusting his glasses. “Today I would like to talk to you about keeping parts of ourselves hidden.” The Reverend stared directly at Melania and Dorothy before he went on. “Jesus said Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven …”
Tommy Lee opened the side door to Joseph Callahan’s with his key the same way he had dozens of times before. Why did this time feel like he was a thief? Probably because if he took something that didn’t belong to him … then he was. The woman who lived here now trusted him the same way the man had before her. Tommy’s own honor no longer mattered to him. He had given his word to a bad man and was thus shamed by his actions. All he could do now was restore the respect for his ancestors by retrieving and wearing his sacred queue. Tommy decided to take the dairy products to the basement first and then look for the special card upstairs.
The underground part of the mansion was vast, with almost as many dim chambers as the lighted upper levels. Floor to ceiling shelves held carefully labeled containers filled with rare and often poisonous herbs, fungi, exotic extracts, spiders and other even darker things. Wooden casks held liquids in various stages of aging and fermentation. The strange mixture of uncontainable vapors and seeping mists were almost always fragrant. Today he was drowning. It was best to do your business and get out quickly … today the getting out was very slow.
He was hiking a narrow and dangerous path through the clouds atop Qomolangma although he’d only been to the famous Mount Everest in his dreams. A Panda bear peeked between two crates of Mangosteen as he splashed through a rice paddy. A smiling Xiu was busy scrubbing clothes by a river but when he looked again his mother was gone … only the barrel of hot water and the steam remained along with her whispered words. “A crisis is opportunity … riding a dangerous wind!” Both his parents had been dead for over thirty years.
Tommy placed the milk cream and butter on a shelf in the ice room. The temperature felt like January just before dawn as he closed the heavy metal door behind him. A female lion lay at the foot of the stairs he must climb to reach the kitchen licking her lips. Tommy stepped over the creature without fear … he was already dead … an empty shell looking to save the face of his ancestors.
His head cleared slightly when he closed the basement door behind him. The kitchen was clean and in good order. The first rays of morning light were seeping between half-open yellow curtains. A Felix the Cat Clock mounted on the wall kept musical time with its eyes and tail as he staggered past a round glass table and his shadow danced to the silent music. The bad man Hicks had told him to look for a small wooden box with Ombré carved on the front. Tommy didn’t see anything on the shelf above the sink and was turning to leave with what felt like welcome relief when a cabinet door behind him slowly creaked open. A box of Arm &Hammer baking soda and a bag of Redpath sugar moved to the side seemingly by their own power and the carved box appeared glowing like a dark flame behind them.
Tommy placed the box on the table and taking a deep breath prepared to open it. His mother’s hand suddenly was on his. She was sitting in a chair across from him so close he could see a tiny bit of tea leaf stuck to her teeth. “Run good husband third child! Fast !” she screamed. Tommy turned and bolted toward the door but his next breath found him climbing a staircase instead. He willed himself to stop but his legs no longer obeyed him. At the end of a long hall he found another stair … this time narrow and dusty leading to the attic. The sound of his mother’s voice came to him again … this time from above. “There is no air in this box. Ajudi'm fill meu! The attic was filled with boxes crates and other things but Tommy was drawn like a magnet to the back. Dust rose from a large banded chest as something inside bumped the sides this time with force. “Ajudi'm fill meu!” Something was wrong. He was never her son always good husband third son. Whatever was locked in the box … was not his mother.
The iron clasp was closed with a large heavy lock. Tommy didn’t have to look for the key. It was there nestled between stacks of maroon velvet curtains when his head was twisted violently in that direction. He was scared … more scared than the night wolves had killed and eaten his parents in the mountains of Idaho. Tommy was no longer controlling what he did. Time stopped … and after an endless age started again. His mother’s voice came again … this time her own words … riding the wind … as he placed the key in the lock. “Labors without honor are at first annoying cobwebs … later they become chains.”
Melania was fascinated by Reverend White’s sermon. Most of the people inside the church professed a strong and unyielding believe in God … yet none of them believed in the powers of the mystic. Not a few in the congregation spent hours studying ancient texts but none tried to actually bring that special kind of magic to light. The words of Jesus were not unlike the directions on the back of her late mother’s Ombré cards. Each gave specific instructions to achieve the desired results. The man had been raving for more than an hour. When she closed her eyes it was easy to hear her mother’s voice replacing those of God’s self-proclaimed servant on Earth and giving Melania her own Sunday morning sermons.
“Belief, is the most powerful part of the universe. If your God is real … then this is where he dwells. Truth is the highway to belief. A lie or a bump in the road may knock you off your purpose for a bit … but the direction remains the same. We are all travelers in a made-up reality. To say you have no time … is to laugh in the face of eternity. What will be will be … even if it takes a million times forever. You did every wrong and every right … why blame others when we are one? Learn to see things with your hands … and your eyes will find them! Thoughts are like arrows … flying but never reaching targets. Wanting and wishing are candles lit only by imagination or luck. Work is joy … given a bad name. Every force has an opposite pulling in perfect balance … choose your side. Those who don’t knock wonder why the door did not open. Silence will wake you faster … than any clap of thunder …”
When Melania opened her eyes the room was quiet. Dorothy looked on the verge of panic. Most of the congregation was turned … staring. Reverend White cleared his throat as he shuffled his pages humbly averting his eyes. “Perhaps if some in the flock feel the pull of sleep interspersing and herding my words … I should try to bleat a little louder …”
Lavar Hicks grew tired of waiting; three cars and a truck had already driven past him. He looked up and down both streets before he banged into the kitchen. “Never trust a chink!” The carved recipe box lay on a glass table … unopened. Hicks grabbed it and dumped out the contents. The Tarot cards were very old; several corner pieces broke away while he ruffled through the pile. Several rusty coins rolled off the glass. “Not even worth copper!” He picked them up and dropped them back in the box. THE WIND lay at the very bottom of the cards as if hiding. “I’ll have what I want when I want it!” Hicks jammed the special card in his coat pocket and then crammed the rest back in the box. He was walking toward the door when Tommy Lee came bounding down the stairs. Lavar didn’t like it. The chink looked too happy. “What the hell have you been doing?” Lavar sounded like an angry bear woke too early from a winter’s long hibernation.
“Making plans.” Tommy Lee’s smile made Lavar trip on one of his own boots. It was too confident … menacing. “Making such marvelous plans!”
As the milk truck pulled away from the mansion Hicks was beginning to think that things would be a lot better when he was far away from the Chinaman. The truck was doing over ninety when they flew across the Townsend Street Bridge. Hicks took the braided length of hair from his coat pocket and offered it without being asked. He had planned to tease the chink for at least an hour and enjoy the begging. Now something had him scared. “Here, the deal is done,” he stammered.
Lavar gasped when the chink unrolled his window and tossed out the sacred rope. “The deal is done when I say!” Tommy Lee’s smile belonged on a crocodile and Lavar was in a swamp up to his neck. Jagged teeth gleamed from a too-wide mouth. All Hicks could do was nod his head … and the murky water was rising.
Brian put on slippers when he heard the milk truck drive away. He walked from his basement bedroom to the ice-room. His head still felt hot to the touch. Melania said it was a special fever – Momett growing pains - straw turning into living flesh. A cold glass of fresh milk would taste good with his cereal. He saw the Ombré on the table and wondered why it had been left out. He took a bowl from the cabinet and put the recipe box back where it belonged. He was pouring milk on his Wheaties when he heard a thumping noise coming from the attic.
It was annoying hearing the sound over and over. Must be the wind moving something … but in the attic? The entire house was strange stacked on strange including him. He left a tiny trail of straw dust as he climbed the two flights of stairs.
A puppet with strings attached to head, arms and legs swung from the rafters. Wooden eyes painted red followed Brian as he crossed the room. “Where did you come from?” Brian gasped. A hinged mouth opened and then closed slowly at first and then quicker as if speaking for the first time. The oriental accent sounded familiar. “No give back queue … that dimoni take hair … take milk truck!”
TO BE CONTINUEED …