Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Clay Tuesday: Bad Standard

Bad Standard (The Case of the Death Chair)
A Clay Tuesday Short
            And so the story went, continuing on to the next resident of the creepy little house: Adam. Adam Moomaw rarely took on cases by himself. In fact, he rather hated leaving the house altogether but once in a while he was forced to inspect something due to Rachel’s absence and Kristjan’s working on something else. This was one such occasion.
            The legend of the death chair was one of those stories well known in only one area, though it had plenty of evidence to back up its reality, and thus remained an obscure tale. The real tales of its horrors from ‘back in the day’ had been told so many times through unintentional games of telephone that the actual facts had become so muddled and altered that all believability soon became lost. The chair, originating from the late 19th century, now resided in a museum as part of a set piece for something or other. Adam had quit paying attention by that point when researching the chair before coming. That was about as far as Sebastian Doegh got as well.
            Sebastian worked for what would be considered one of those ridiculous supernatural magazines, though how ridiculous it truly was, was debatable. Often times Sebastian had witnessed and written about supernatural events and ghostly encounters, and his experiences had made him into a believer.
They, they being The Horrorscope, the magazine that employed Sebastian, assigned him to travel around the eastern coast of the States and report on local legends. He had first covered the Jersey Devil, blue hole, Mothman, and finally he came to the death chair, the least exciting, he thought, of them all. He wasn’t particularly thrilled, hating all of the travel. Money was money, though, and so he dealt with it.
            Brushing his shaggy black hair out of his way, Sebastian stared unenthusiastically at the chair wondering whether or not he should snap a picture of it with the Polaroid camera that dangled around his neck (he had learned using Polaroid snapshots made the photos look that much scarier for the articles). Next to him stood Adam, who was slightly shorter than the slightly taller than average Sebastian. Adam had no need to brush his close cropped dirty blond hair out of his face nor was he curious if he should snap a photo to see if he could catch a ghost in the shot or not, something his sister Rachel and their father had been known to do. He was actually very hungry and wondered what kind of groceries he should pick up for the next few days to feed Kristjan and himself while Rachel was off giving lectures. Kristjan was a surprisingly picky eater with refined, code for expensive, tastes. Adam was convinced Kristjan didn’t even need to eat but he had to put up with it anyway, because he always got stuck with cleaning the house and preparing the meals. Aside from thoughts of groceries, Adam did wonder if he should touch the chair or not- if the chair really was haunted, it would be the quickest way to end the case.
            “Have you heard the story of the chair right there?” Sebastian inquired of Adam, trying to make polite conversation. Adam responded with a ‘huh.’ Sebastian was starved enough for attention that he ignored Adam’s ‘I don’t care’ remark and continued anyway. “Apparently whoever sits on that chair dies within a few days. I personally don’t believe it, but I get paid to write about crap like this.”
            There was the briefest moment of silence before Adam responded with the gem “Are you hitting on me?”
            “Not interested.”
            Sebastian, for the first time since the tenth grade when his then girlfriend had broken up with him, was at a loss for words. He resorted to taking action, snapping a quick picture of the chair, shoving his camera into Adam’s chest, and crossing the rope to sit in the chair. “Take my picture.”
            “What? You idiot, why would you- if you’ve heard the legends, then- are you- did you get a lobotomy?” Adam’s southern accent, something he tried very desperately to hide, slipped out with his shock and anger. He ran towards the chair but froze with his hand inches from Sebastian’s. His eyes were frozen, blue eyes dilated. His gaze was caught above the chair.
            “Just take the picture before a worker comes back. What’re you even staring at?”
A dingy skeleton floated above Sebastian like an aged buzzard draped in ragged clothing, looming, its hands reaching for the reporter’s head. Adam yanked Sebastian out of the chair then grabbed it with both hands. The skeleton vanished. Adam would have smiled had he not discovered that his touch had no effect on the chair. Nothing was growing on it; the skeleton had no reason to vanish. So why had it, if Adam didn’t cause it to? “What was that?”
            Adam looked back at the bewildered Sebastian, a Sebastian that looked like he was about to be sick all over the floor. Adam responded, “The reason you shouldn’t have sat in the chair. Now shut up.”

After checking the chair for magical symbols, Adam found one. This was satisfactory enough as it gave him something to work with, but disappointing because Sebastian wanted to know everything about it and Adam, forcing an introduction out of him. For the first time in ten years Adam spoke with his natural accent for more than three sentences.
“I’ll buy you chocolate or whatever if you’ll be quiet and leave me alone.” Adam walked out of the museum, Sebastian tailing closely behind.
“Why would I want chocolate?” Sebastian followed Adam through quick turns; he was obviously bad at losing people in crowds. So instead Adam decided to stop at a shop and finish some errands praying that this would bore Sebastian so badly he would leave of his own free will.
“I don’t freaking know, just take it.” Adam thoughtlessly thanked the thinning cashier, a charming old woman, for her compliment of his southern drawl. She called it adorable and Adam blushed, taking the items he purchased and tossing two of them, a catholic medallion and a chocolate bar, at Sebastian. “Put on the medallion.”
“Um, thanks. Now explain to me what’s going on.”
“You’re cursed and I need to break it before you die.”
“Thank you?” Sebastian tried asking more questions. Adam tried ignoring him. Neither plan worked very well. Both were a little miserable and Sebastian only spoke again when they started ascending a creepy little hill towards a creepy little house. In front of that creepy little house was a creepy little tree with a creaky little swing. “How long has this place been here?”
“Two days.” Adam opened the front door, entering with Sebastian.

Multiple aged books lay open on the floor in front of Adam as his research for the magical circle he found on the chair. Sebastian was having a hay-day examining all the old texts that covered the house.
“You have… thirty three grimoires at least, and I haven’t even heard of half of them. Like this one, the Lunar Grimoire. How did you find these things?”
“Stop touching them, that’s not polite. Especially the lunar one, Wellington might need that one again.” Adam was referring to a young man and his friends Adam and the other house residents had helped half a year prior when the house had taken them elsewhere in the country. Adam ground his teeth while flipping through pages, about the only two things he was good at doing at the same time. “They belong to my sister, Rachel.”
Sebastian made the connection in his head. Rachel. Rachel Moomaw, Ph.D, had degrees in folklore studies, ancient mythology and the like, and was often a guest speaker or teacher at universities. Other reporters from the website had interviewed and consulted her for stories as well. Before Sebastian could ask yet another question, Adam spoke in his sweet southern tongue.
“The magic circle bound the maker’s soul to the chair. The reason me touching the chair didn’t do anything is because when somebody sits in the chair the soul attaches itself to the person and haunts them until they die. Show me your chest, I’ll prove it.”
“Excuse you?” Sebastian was taken aback. Adam got up and forcefully lifted up Sebastian’s shirt. A magic circle was burned into his chest.
“Yeah, cursed.”
Sebastian could only make strange noises in response, freaking out even more when Adam touched the burn. Small blossoms started popping up, covering the mark then dying and falling off just as quickly as they had appeared. The mark was still there. Sebastian managed to mutter a “What?”
“Green thumb. The magic circle on your chest’s a curse. It transferred the ghost from the chair to you. It’s too powerful for me to get rid of myself.”
“So what you’re telling me is I’m haunted.”
Adam answered quickly and sharply, “Yes, I already said that!”
“How haunted?” Sebastian was starting to feel a little awkward.
“More haunted than an abandoned mansion and less haunted than the state of Florida.”
“Oh, you don’t say? Now would you mind letting go of my shirt?” Sebastian gave Adam a tight lipped smile. Adam, shrugging, let go. “What’s the next step?”
“Wait for it to try and kill you.” There was silence, then Sebastian let Adam know he was not okay with the plan. Adam heaved a sigh, slipping once again into his southern accent. “Listen, it’s a basic ghost- okay, maybe more of a poltergeist since it’ll probably move things to try and kill you- but it’s still simple enough. I either need to touch it or bind it with some sutras.”
“Sutras?” Sebastian was massaging his temples out of frustration. Adam was doing the same.
“Chants. They’re ancient… and stuff. My sister says they’re words that hold things together like the world. Words are important, you know. That’s why you should never tell somebody your full name. It gives them power over you.” Sebastian then pointed out he knew Adam’s full name because of the forced introduction earlier. Adam waved him away with his hand. “That’s not the point, you were being flippant. Hush and follow me.” Sebastian, before leaving, grabbed one of the books Adam had been looking at and brought it along.

Not so far and away, down in a perky playground Sebastian sat somewhat frightened on top of a jungle gym, playing with his dark skinny tie. Adam was hiding inside of a slide. Sebastian decided right then and there during his moping that if he died he would haunt Adam.
The plan was to wait for the ghost to find the perfect opportunity to kill Sebastian. Sebastian had no idea why Adam chose a playground for this to happen, but it was. At first, nothing happened, and Sebastian began getting annoyed. He glanced up, seeing the raggedy clothed, dingy skeleton. It reached out a thin, darkened hand, a gust of wind pushing Sebastian off the jungle gym and the hand caught him mid-air by his tie, choking Sebastian to death.
From the slide emerged one Adam Moomaw, leaping up to the rescue. In a booming voice he began chanting. Glowing Sanskrit letters faded into existence around the ghastly apparition, binding it in place. Its hold on Sebastian was broken, and he crashed to the ground, getting the wind knocked out of him. He hacked and coughed, trying to get back his breath and reaching for the book that had fallen out of his hands when the ghost appeared. Adam’s focused gaze did not break. The ghost could only move its jaw. A smog oozed out of the skeleton’s open mouth, dripping down its chin. It coughed like Sebastian, then gurgled, trying to make a noise. The sounds at first were incomprehensible, but quickly they began making sense. “A… dam…,” it started, “Adam… James… Moomaw.”
Adam’s name was followed by a long slur of unintelligible words, a spell. As long as the skeleton ghost had been around it must have picked up something or created its own sort of magical spell because the letters floating around the skeleton shattered in a magnificent burst of fluorescent, breaking the spell simply by the call of Adam’s true name. He was now for a short time unable to use any magic spell, his energy being repressed by the skeleton.
The specter descended to Sebastian’s level, reaching out its dusty hand. Sebastian, who had regained some breath, held open the book and shouted a phrase. A Sanskrit letter blocked the ghost’s hand but the ghost pushed through the floating symbol, shattering it like the other ones, and for the first time directly touched Sebastian. It would be the first thing the ghost would regret touching. A crackling energy surged through the spirit, pushing it back into the second thing it would regret touching- Adam’s hands. Vines grew across the ghost’s body and those vines grew silky, scarlet spider lilies. Once those lilies bloomed, other flowers emerged, engulfing the ghost skeleton. This was Adam’s natural ability, not a spell; it was the one thing that could not be broken by reciting his name with a spell.
 Energy wafted up like steam and vanished seconds later. The flowers fell down, shriveled and dead, the ghost having fed them until it vanished and they could feed no more. What looked like a few fireflies flew away.
Sebastian took out the still glowing medallion from underneath his shirt and watched it twirl round and round on its chain, mesmerized by the effect it had had on the cursed spirit that haunted him. The glow grew softer and softer before fading altogether.
“Francis de Sales, patron saint of Journalists. Now lift up your shirt.” Adam tried forcing up Sebastian’s shirt but he smacked away Adam’s hand, lifting up his shirt himself. The curse mark was gone. “Good, let’s keep it that way.”
“What were those things that showed up a second ago?” Sebastian asked, letting the medallion plop softly against the cloth of his tie.
“Those firefly things guide lost souls to the afterlife once they let go of this world, either willingly for forcefully.”
“There’re other spirits that come and take demonized human souls like that one to the afterlife sometimes.” Adam plopped down on the cool grains of sand, sifting his hand through them. He held his breath and drank in the moment; the setting sun, the finished case and someone new sitting beside him. Pins and needles went down his spine and involuntarily he shivered. He hadn’t felt this good since the case with Wallace Moorcroft and P. Darwin Yeates two years earlier. Who knew, he thought. Maybe one day he would get used to Sebastian like he had Kristjan and even consider him a friend.

Sebastian walked Adam to the front steps of the creepy little house. He glanced down at the dying grass, browning like the death chair, a half smile crawling across his face. “We should do this again sometime.” Sebastian said, handing the book back to Adam. Adam received the book, his handsome face as dull, drowsy and dreary as always. Adam shrugged, knowing the house probably wouldn’t be there in the morning. “Just stop trying to undress me, alright?”

“Cool.” Adam, unsure of what to do, nodded, glanced around and did a half turn. Sebastian did something similar and held out his hand. Neither one could agree on a handshake, fist bump or man hug so Adam ended the awkwardness by walking into the house and shutting the door on the journalist. Sebastian laughed and descended the creepy little hill, passing by the creepy tree and creaky old swing while on the other side of the door Adam allowed himself to smile.

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