This Weeks Prompt:64. Identity—reconstruction of personality—man makes duplicate of himself.
The Prior Research:It’s Alive!
The day after Orem was hung, there was a collective sigh of relief. I sipped tea as I read the report in the paper. A fraudster, who baited men and women into a world of drugs and prostitution, Orem’s sentence came down in the courts after he stole a well of woman’s gold chain for a spell of his. The chain he returned that was ‘enchanted’ a week later was a forgery of iron with gold plating.
It was, in all honesty, not the most impressive theft of his. He had made off with more in a month before. But the daring had roused enough attention that at last, I had the pleasure of laying hands on him and seeing him brought before learned judges. I had not seen the hanging, but like many things in life, once a sufficient mass of witnesses and reports emerge, the matter can be considered settled.
My office was lined with paraphenelia of the case, even a year later. A small set of ring-circuits were beneath my name-plate, little jeweled metal rings that reflected the electirc light directly overhead. When the mood struck me, I’d examine the small quartz stones, with carefully painted cracks. Orem was no madman, no distant lunatic who had lost touch with reality. Such exquiste and elaborate lies require a certain mindset and planning to be made real. One that I had assumed was unique to Orem.
So, imagine my suprise, when a new edition to my collection was brought to me by a nervous widow. She had found it in her floor board, she explained quietly. Years ago, she had been one of the women to bring testimony regarding Orem’s activites to the jurists.
“Is it…one of his?” She asked hesitantly, as I examined the small circlet under a glass. “I thought, once, I saw him in a crowd. Or someone like him once, with his eyes.”
“The ring is similair in make…but do not worry, miss. It’s fairly well documented what became of Orem. If this was planted at your home, its the work of a copycat. Someone trying to intimidate you.” I said, looking over the engravings on the rings. Thin painted lines on the small coppr ring, and a carefuly polished black stone—not actual onyx, but a forgery style that was familiar.
“Are you certain? A sorcerer such as him, maybe he sent a ghost from beyond the grave.” The widow said shifting. “Ah, I knew it, I knew talking about it was a mistake.”
“Orem’s forgeries are just that—forgeries. He was a showman, an actor, and a swindler. Not a sorcerer.” I said as reassuringly as possible. “I will look into whoever planted this—emotional terror is a tool of cowards.”
I had put that aside,when another report drifted in. Someone had seen Orem, near a graveyard outside town. He had a shovel and his old ragged jacket and scarf with charms sewn into it. Another woman came in, with pictures of her ceiling covered in markings that only Orem had made. At last, I set out from the office to the graveyard to investigate for myself. Once a certain numbr of witnesses reliable report an event, it comes dangerously close to true.
The graves rippled out from larger mauselums, with broken stones and crumbled remains poking out of the dust. Between the graves were those praying for fortune or paying respects. My eyes scanned the dirt for footsteps as clouds gathered over head.
“No, I didn’t see him exactly. Just someone out in the graveyard…it could have been a jinn for all I know.”
The first man I’d asked had found the notion of Orem’s return as unlikely as I did. But he had seen someone out in the yard, he couldn’t deny that someone had been out there in the morning mist, moving among the stones. Searching, maybe, for some buried talisman that Orem had used on them long ago. I pressed him to who had reported, before finding near the gates one of the witnesses.
“I couldn’t look away. Someone had driven nails into my feet, and filled my mouth with cotton. It was his eyes in the night that did it.”
His eyes were wide, he whispered fearfully to describe the strange presence. A shadow on the moonlight. After the first, the second came unbidden.
“It was him! I saw his scarf in the night winds, blowing back. And he walked with a limp—Orem had a limp, of course you remember. And he had that laugh, that laugh like a hyena.”
She was certain and frantic. The shape in the night had been Orem, and she would not enter the graveyard until an exorcist came. I was less patient, and went ahead. He had been seen in the western part of the cemetery. He had been seen where he was buried. My hand felt the small silver ring in my pock, its smooth onyx top.
Orem had received a proper burial. He had been given a good set of stones, at his feet and head, with his name written beautifully in swirling calligraphy. I walked around the body, looking carefully. If the new con man was stirring up fears, he would have left tracks. If he intended to dig up the old master, then there would be markings on the grave…and sure enough there are.
The soil’s been disturbed, recently too. The surface was slightly darker, and the marks of being packed by shovel were still visible despite the wind. Faded over the body were footsteps, boots that had left an imprint. There was, covered in some dirt, a small drop of wax. A candlit grave robbery. Not exactly what I had expected…but it confirmed that someone was rummaging in the rubble of Orem. And I knew where they’d go next.
Orem’s place of buisness was not far from the graveyard. From the outside, the building was unassuming. It was bare, even. The sort of thing you’d pass on the street and wonder if it was for rent. It was also therefore hard to find, hard to find again after you’d visited, especially if you went home in a daze of drugs.
The door had a knocker, but I didn’t bother. On the sides of the frame, visible only from within the doorway, were strips of paper with blue ink scrawling down them. They’d decayed with the lack of inhabitant, curling and warping slightly with the weather so that the script was no longer legible. I pushed the door aside to find the workshop within.
The front room was clearer now then when we first took Orem. The incense was no longer burning. There was no chanting playing through speakers. The maps of the body, with each of its paths outlined carefully, still hung from the wall. An elaborate serpent wound its way along the wall facing the the door, its curves and curls highlighting eyes.
Around the room were various tools of Orem’s trade. Metal bars with sets of dice for geomancy, an apparatus of crystal and metal that he used to “speak with the jinn”, by focusing the energies of the invisible. A brass horn was abandoned, one of many gathering dust that glimmered in the sunlight. It was a more convenient way to “hear” those unseen spirits. But the true horrors were not in the front, were business was conducted.
Parting the beads, I went into the back room…or rooms. The wall seperating the sections had been smashed apart, leaving bits haging from the ceiling. Looking down I saw the chalked scribbles on the floor that I took pains to step over, my flash light shining across for hazards or signs of entry. There were metal cans of dirt, with the skulls of rats and burns nailed down to hold them in place, sewing needles out of their eyes. Small chimes dangled in front of the only window, dust settling gradually over the entire place.
In the center of the rooms was a large pot, one of those industrial pots for feeding hundres of people. Dolls of woven cloth and plant matter hung from it’s rim by piano wire, crests burnt into them and more than one having a cigarreete butt for a head. Walking around it, I saw the cauldron was also full of…well, dirt. It wasn’t quite dirt. It was, but there was a deep crevass carved down it’s center, and stains that were still almost viscous and bright red marred it. Wine, rotted from within, somehow bursting out. The smell of rotting eggs hunger over the wound, my light catching the tattered remains of an elaborate paper cover. Metal bolts were driven into the earth, catching the light ever slightly. Striations and veins marred it, carved after this mass had hardened into something stable.
The wind came in, and the chimes caught my attention back upward, away from the broken metal skull. There was the shelf, smashed open, shards of glass scattered on the floor. Inside were trinkets, books with pages sealed by honey and oil in order to maintain their secrets, and ensure the curses he’d bound inside never escaped. Photos of the shelf had helpedin the trial, but the books and strange bugs covered in careful paint had been left behind. They were too heavy, I remember. Not worth the trouble.
Someone stealing the books was expected. Orem wasn’t the only charlatan out there…and true beleivers would want a taste of that power. Being able to brandish the tools of an old terror was in it of itself worth it. Carefully counting the books, I noted sure enough a few missing. As I leaned down to examine the breach, I heard a rustle of the beads parting. My heart racing, I went back behind the shelf and clicked the light off.
In the twilight of the room all was still and silent for the next eternity. I hoped it was just the wind and nerves. A shadow slinked along th wall, with a small flickering light. The face was turned away from my hiding spot, a hand running along the walls and gently tapping it for something. His hand stretched to the ceiling, searching idly, before rolling his form around.
His face was full illumined as he examined the cauldron. His face, it’s lower half covered by a surgeon’s mask, was stained ever so slightly. The eyes searched the room slowly, reflective like a cats eyes. Yellowed, familiar eyes. Eyes that did not meet mine, as they again turned away, examining one of the dolls hanging from the pot. But eyes that still haunted me as my breath stopped for, that floated there without body in the air, small yellow flames flickering.
I took a step forward, unsure if I should bolt for the door or take my chances and strike him hard in the head. Strike good and hard and send the ghoul back to his grave. Strike, and send this cunning ruse back into the night. Strike, and be done with it. I rushed, and swung away, I heard the crunch of metal on the back of a soft head.
I never mentioned that visit to anyone. I don’t know which thought worries me more at night, when I look at those old rings. The nagging worry that maybe, maybe it wasn’t him. It was some looter, or a homeless man, and I’d killed them or knocked them out in cold blood out of supersitous fear. Or…if Orem had returned.
Adding this to the list of ones I think could be meaningfully extended. Honestly, I had scheduling problems this week, with finals coming up, and so am a little disappointed I couldn’t give this more attention. I tried to capture the uncanny sense that can exist around the dead and, in ethnographic and biographic accounts, around the sorcerer.Next week, we stalk the graves again with stranger creatures–fearsome undertakers await!
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