by M.D Schultz
Make sure to be on time, curses aren't easy to diagnose or cure.
|Previous "A Raven's Touch"
Alice traveled halfway across the globe to reach the city of Solvitor quaestio, home to the Fifth Chapter’s famous order, an order advertised as private investigators that sought the supernatural, traveled to the beyond, and stopped unimaginable horrors. Alice imagined a place of sweeping halls, grand chambers, and men and women of the highest class of bravery and honor from the stories. However, when she turned the corner onto the street of prodigium, Alice found a run-down office with crooked windows and a hound to old to even lift its head or announce her arrival. When she opened the door, the screen nearly fell off its hinges, and she heard pieces of glass fall from one of the upper windows.
The building lurched from stacked, dusty books poorly cataloged and a single desk near the back with a few neglected chairs. There, Manning the desk, was a girl who’s head just peaked over the tabletop and who swayed her feet like she was swinging humming a strange toon.
“Hello,” Alice said, carefully closing the door behind her.
The girl nearly fell out of the chair at the sound of her voice but quickly corrected herself dusting off her skirt’s folds and clearing her throat. “Welcome to the Fifth Chapter, ma’am. My name is Anna. How can I help you today?” She said, pushing up her glasses, which kept sliding down her nose.
“Yes, sweety, is your dad home?” She asked with a big smile.
Anna squinted her eyes and puffed her cheeks. “He’s not my dad, do you have an appointment to see Mr. Gill today?”
“Umm, yes, I was told you would expect my coming.
“One moment, please.” The girl hopped down from her seat and used a stack of old books to reach the top of a crooked shelf where she pulled a tome nearly half her size.
“Do you need help, sweety?” She asked.
Again the girl puffed her cheeks. “I’ve got it, stay where you are.” Anna wobbled as she came down, dropping the book with a thud on the desk and moving her leather-bound stool to climb back into her chair. “Name please.” She asked, readjusting the bow in her hair.
“Alice, uh, Alice Lindel.” She said, her mouth hanging open as the girl flipped the book open and leafed through the pages, pinky finger carefully scanning for dates and letters. “How old are you?”
“Old enough,” Anna said, waving her hands. “There you are.” her fingers paused as she dipped a quill in ink and scratched a few notes. “I’ve got you down, Mr. Gill should be back soon.” Anna pointed to one of the chairs in the corner. “You can have a seat over there.
“Okay, thank you.” Alice took her seat, and the girl returned to her humming as if nobody was in the room. Soon enough, however, she heard the roar of an engine down the city block. It was the sound of a vehicle from the old world, ancient technology that, at one time, was said to be used by almost everyone.
Detective Gill road into town on the back of a metal steed with the wheels of a wagon and chains of an old mill, and attached to the side was a cart, and something moved inside, like a cat or dog, but Alice couldn’t make it out through the grime covering the windows.
Mr. Gill kicked in the door, causing a painting on the sidewall to collapse. He marched in with a flowing coat, a wide-brimmed hat, and a smoke trail following him from the fancy pipe clenched between his teeth. “Another case solved, Ms. Knott.” He called out as the girl bounced from the desk and rushed to meet him, dancing at his feet.
“Oooh, tell me everything; it was a monster, right?” Anna wore a grin from ear to ear. “What kind of monster, oh come on, tell me.”
Mr. Gill walked over to the desk, stumbling over the stool of books before collapsing into the office chair. “Oh, it was a monster, all right.” Anna climbed into his lap, tugging at the collar of his shirt.
“Did it have claws? Oooh, how about teeth? Were they sharp? Were they huge? Did you die?”
“Oh, it had claws alright, claws bigger than my hands, and eyes that glowed in the night. No doubt it could’ve killed me in a flash” The girl squealed like a lovestruck puppy.
“How did you slay it?” She asked, eyes as big as saucers.
“Yeah, you know, how did you kill it.” She paused. “Or was it immortal, was it unkillable?”
The door suddenly opened to the sound of a bell, and in slid a translucent oily creature with a single claw twice the size of its body and eyes positioned at the ends of stalks that bent like branches in the wind. Alice caught a scream in her throat, turning as white as bedsheets as it rolled across the floor, downed a cup of refreshment near the entrance, and rolled back out, waving its claw at Alice with a wink.
“Your welcome, Laurence, see you around.” Mr. Gill called out as every eye in the room moved from the creature to the door, and back to him.
“What, the hell, was that?” Anna asked, brow furrowed.
“Come on, Anna, it just wanted a ride. You think vehicles are common on the other plains?”
"So let me get this straight." She pushed her glasses to the base of her nose. "You solved a case involving two heart attacks, a stroke, and a really, really scared twelve-year-old boy, by going on a joyride?"
"For heaven's sake, It's not my fault people are so damn jittery. All he wanted was to experience the open road and feel the wind. It wasn't a big deal." He finally turned his attention towards Alice. “But, who is this young woman?”
As if only now realizing how childish she looked, Anna jumped off his lap, face velvet red. “This is Alice Lindel, your twelve-thirty.”
“Oh right, Ms. Lindel, I’m sorry for the wait. You’re the…” He snapped his fingers. “The woman who’s cursed, right?”
Alice jumped to her feet with a yip at the sound of her name. “Yeye, yes, that’s me.” Her teeth chattered.
“Are you okay, my dear.” He rubbed his unshaven chin and raised a single eyebrow. “Anna, get some tea, please.”
The girl skipped off, returning with a steaming cup that warmed her. “Thank you, that helps.”
“Have you never seen the Gnatu before?” He asked. “They look threatening but are quite harmless, I assure you.”
“I think you popped her cherry.” Anna giggled.
“Anna! Who’s been teaching you such foul language, was it, Jeromy?”
“Do you want me to smack him?” She asked.
“Yes, go upstairs and smack him.” He turned back to Alice. “Now, I apologize about that, once you’re settled, tell me about your problem.” Mr. Gill leaned back in his chair, refreshing his pipe.
“I don’t quite know where to begin.” She dabbed at her forehead as a short scream came from the upper loft.
Anna came rushing back downstairs, dragging a seat towards the desk and propping herself up on several pillows. “I would start at the beginning, personally.” She said, resting her chin in her hands.
“Well, um, people always seem to die around me.” Alice stuttered, avoiding their daunting gaze.
“Really?” Mr. Gill leaned forward.
“How exciting.” Anna sighed.
“I just, I know it’s me. I’m cursed, ever since I was a little girl. People just keep dying.”
“No, kidding.” The detective puffed on his pipe. “You don’t suppose, telekinesis?”
“Or, or, or, magic?” Anna pushed.
“What?! No, I don’t know magic and what is teleki... What?”
“Maybe she made a deal with an Ouroboros.” He muttered under his breath.
“Or its an item; items can do that, right?” Anna asked as the two continued without her.
“Are you two for real?” Alice looked on, no longer a part of their growing discussion.
“Either way, we need proof.” Mr. Gill suddenly stood, cupping his hands over his mouth. “Jeromy! Get your butt down here!”
Within a few seconds, Alice heard a scratching noise coming down the stairs. “What do you want?” Came a squeaking voice.
Anna leaned over and scooped a tiny rodent into her hands before setting it on the desk.
“How do you do, madam.” The rodent nodded slightly.
“You have a talking gerbil?” Alice asked, feeling a little dizzy.
“Surely, I can’t be the strangest thing you’ve seen today. How can I be of service?” The little creature asked.
“Now, Alice,” Mr. Gill leaned forward, tapping the gerbil on the head. “I want you to kill Jeromy here.” The rodents head shot up, glaring at him with the intensity of an open furnace.
“You want me to what! No!” She waved her hands. “I don’t want to kill anything. Besides, it doesn’t work that way.”
“Well, how does it work?” The three of them asked in unison.
“I, I have to be threatened in some way, or maybe sometimes people do things that seem threatening, and then, well, they die.” Alice croaked as the gerbil, the girl, and the detective nodded.
“Well, there you go. Jeromy, threaten her.” He pointed, pushing the rodent forward.
“What do you want me to do, you daft prick? Piss on her? I’m A, Gerbil.”
“No, You’re a phoenix, and I am offering you the opportunity to come back as something better than what you are.” Mr. Gill sighed. “But, no matter, we will find another way.”
“The two of you need to work on your observation skills.” Jeromy skittered over towards Alice sniffing the air. “This isn’t a curse, or magic, or whatever you two have dreamed up. She’s possessed.”
“Really?” Again the detective leaned forward.
“I, I’m possessed?” Alice asked, looking over her shoulders and wrapping her arms around her chest.
“Yes, you’re possessed,” Jeromy took a deep breath. “And, by the scent, I would say it’s one of those ravens from babel tower.”
The whole room went silent for several moments.
“Shit…” Mr. Gill sighed, leaning back in his chair. “I’m afraid there is no undoing this one miss.”
“What?” A line of sweat formed across Alice’s brow.
“Tell me, have you ever been at death’s door only to find yourself at the foot of Babel tower?”
“I was in an accident as a child, yes.” She started. “They say I was dead for two minutes, but it felt like an eternity in that place. I clung to life, but those things offered to take me home.”
“In exchange for the life, you held so dearly.” Mr. Gill said, blowing another puff of smoke. “I’m guessing you were resuscitated before the ravens could grant your wish.”
“Well, a bargain was struck Alice, and the ravens will follow you until they complete their end of the bargain, to take you home.”
“So, you’re saying they will leave if I just go home?” Alice looked back at the door.
“No, you must never do that. If the bargain is complete, your life is forfeit. Remember the terms of your deal.” Jeromy squeaked as Alice gasped, tears in her eyes.
“Listen close, Alice, this is very important.” The detective stood walking over to her and putting his hands on her shoulders. “The ravens of babel tower are not inherently evil like so many things in this world. You entered into a bargain for your life, not your soul. The distinction is crucial.” he waved his right hand. “They will follow and protect you as they see it until either your life or the bargain is complete.”
“Is there nothing I can do?” Alice asked, wiping her tears.
Mr. Gill smiled. “Yes, I will help you manipulate these creatures.”
“Oh yes, but your life as a normal woman ends today, and I can’t have you wandering off with your troupe of murder ravens until I’m certain you’re in control.” He looked over at Anna. “After all, I think our little girl could use an assistant.”
“Excuse me, you pig! I’m quite capable by myself, thank you very much.” Anna puffed her cheeks and crossed her arms.
“You seriously want to take me in? Even with this curse?” Alice shook her head. “I could kill you, I, I don’t want to harm anyone else.”
All three members of the Fifth Chapter turned towards one another and started to laugh, the little rodent tumbling off the desk with hands over his belly.
“Not to worry, my dear.” Mr. Gill chuckled. “Your ravens won’t harm us, I promise you.” He held out his hand. “I, Alexander Gill, welcome you to the Fifth Chapter.”
Alice took his hand with a smile, wiping the last of her tears away.
“Now, with the formalities out of the way, we have a party to celebrate.” He pointed to Anna, who started jumping up and down and clapping her hands.
“Jeromy,” He said. “Break open the kegs; our little girl is turning twenty-one.”
Next "The Praetorian"