“Why the hell did you buy that thing?” |
“I don’t know. It just sort of caught my eye.” The conversation was not over. He had been married to Julie for 32 years, and he knew by the way she had her shoulders set, she was not done, not by a long shot.
“It is the most...awful looking thing I have ever seen!” She had set her feet now, like a bull ready to charge. “What the hell is it?”
The “it” in question was about nine inches tall, cylindrical, and wider at the bottom than at the top. The top was capped with a lid, perhaps corked in place. All around the outside of the container were great winged humans gorging and maiming lesser humans. The winged creatures were larger than the humans they were easily killing. They all had horns protruding from their heads and long claws on their fingers. Their wings were leathery in texture. There were 12 of these beastly things in all and an equal number of humans. In truth, he didn’t know what it was. He just knew he wanted it.
“It’s just a display of the god’s power over us. Hand carved from solid oak.” He didn’t know if this was true. He didn’t know oak from cow shit. This was the line the shop owner gave him, perhaps trying to push a sale that was already carved in stone. The sales pitch wasn’t working on her, though. Her brow dropped and showed her want line on her forehead.
“I don’t want that thing in my house.” She was nearing hysterics, and any other time he would have let her have her way.
His mother told him shortly after their wedding, “The secret to a happy marriage is to let her have her way.” He believed this was as good a way as any to make his marriage work. It worked for his parents for over 50 years, until his father died of cancer two years ago.
But this time, he would not back down. He walked to into the Family Room and over to the mantle over the fireplace. He moved a vase of flowers to the left, his daughter’s graduation photo to the right, and placed his new purchase in the middle. He knew this would not be the final arrangement, but he had to start the negotiations somewhere.
“I was thinking that I would just make some space here for it. Okay, Honey?” He tried to sound as pleasant as he could. The negotiations were just underway after all, but there was a tone to his voice he was unaware of.
Julie must have picked up on it as well. Her voice had lost the hysterical tone and she seemed to be back to her usual self. “Mike, do you think you could find a place for it in the rec room?”
The negotiations were going as planned. The rec room was Mike’s recluse; the only room he was allowed to decorate without any interference from his wife. It was a vast, manly room, banked by a twelve-foot bar, and a 60-gallon aquarium stocked with various vicious fish. Dark wood paneling adorned the walls. This would be an excellent addition to his collection of tribal masks from Australia and Africa.
“Well,” Mike said, trying to ambush his enthusiasm with his hidden victory. “I guess if it will make you happy, I could find a spot down there for it.”
She smiled and walked over to him. She embraced him and said, “Thank-you,” but something in her voice made him think it still wasn’t over, not by a long shot.
Mikes collection of masks encompassed three shelves in the basement. The top shelf had three masks from Australia. The other five were from Africa. On the middle shelf he placed the African Mask of Death on the left; on the right he placed the African Mask of Vengeance. The centrepiece became his new purchase, which he realized he still had no idea what it was called. This was one of the things that would haunt him later on.
He stood back and looked at his shelf. It looked right now, somehow complete. He turned to leave the room when something caught his eye. One of the winged humans had changed. It looked as though its wing was obscuring its face. Thinking about it made him nervous. He could have sworn he could see all their faces before, but it is possible to make mistakes.
He turned and walked to the stairs. At the top he turned the light off. He then stopped, turned the light back on and went back downstairs. He stood in front of the display again, reached up and turned the carving around, so the creature was against the wall. He stood back and looked at the display again. He smiled contently and walked back upstairs, turning off the light at the top of the stairs and closing the door. He thought he’d grab a beer, talk to his wife to make sure she was okay, then sleep like a bear.
He woke with a start a short time after he went to sleep, the remains of a dream still stirring in his head. All he could remember of it now was heat, and the smell of fire and screaming. He looked at Julie suddenly; sure the screaming he remembered had been his own. She was sleeping soundly on her side of the bed; her breathing was regular and slightly nasal. He learned early on not to call it snoring.
It was only in his head then. He laid back down when a disturbing thought came to him. He had no idea what was in the carving he had bought. It never seemed to cross his mind, but now that it had, he needed to know.
He silently slunk out of bed and went to his purchase in the rec room. He took it off the shelf and opened the lid. The lid came off as though it was not really on and he was surprised it had not simply fallen off sooner.
He looked into the hollowed out inside, and saw what looked like kernels of corn, some brown with age and decay, some yellow, some had apparently turned to dust. He poured some of them into his hand and walked to the lamp by the bar. He put the container down and used his now free hand to turn the lamp on.
Sudden revulsion almost caused him to spill the contents of his cupped hand onto the table. In his hand he held a half a dozen teeth – human teeth in various stages of decay!
Fighting the bile rising in his throat, he dumped the teeth back into the container, slammed the lid back on and ran to the upstairs bathroom. He leaned over the toilette and stayed there until he felt we would be okay. He rose to his feet and washed his hands for about ten minutes; yet, they never seemed so dirty.
He walked out of the bathroom and stared at the open door to the basement. The light spilled out of the doorway and across the hall to his feet. “A little light will be okay, tonight,” he muttered, walking to the door and closing it. He went upstairs and returned to his side of the bed. Sleep took a long time to come, but eventually it did.
The morning sun crept across the bed at 9:30 a.m. and awoke him. The smell of coffee and bacon cooking in the kitchen drove him from his bed immediately. He walked to the bathroom and began his morning routine. He put toothpaste on his brush and brushed his teeth. He pulled some mint floss out of the plastic pack and began to floss.
He was in his early sixties, but he still had his teeth – well, except that one molar. Now, when did I lose that? Mike thought. But it didn’t matter. He suddenly realized he had no idea what was inside the carving he bought the other day.
“I’ll have to have a look!” Mike exclaimed to the man in the mirror. “Right after breakfast!”