Danger Below the East Rim
Jeffery Scott Sims
This way began an unusual adventure. My secretary Angie interrupted my languid perusal of yellowed documents related to a minor business angle by sauntering into my shabby office, swinging her full hips beneath that gaudy, dwindling skirt without deliberate invitation, leaning over my desk with her two prized possessions straining against her sheer, open-necked blouse—this, perhaps, with some subtle intent—tilted her pretty face and announced with an air of studied boredom from her lovely lips, “Mr. Schaeger to see you.” As I started to balk vociferously she added with a sniff, “As per appointment, you dope.”
Scrambling for the relevant paperwork I waived her out, snapping a curt command to send him in. She scooted, mumbled something in her equally cramped, if considerably neater, outer office. At first glance he didn’t come across a fair trade. When he appeared I sat back in my swivel chair, offered him a seat, commented on the hot weather, brutal even by Phoenix standards this time of year.
He plopped down, commenced speaking without reference to my words. “I am Amordius Schaeger, student of arcane matters. You are Sterk Fontaine, dealer in and procurer of arcane artifacts. I have acquainted myself with former clients of yours. You have the reputation for seeking the main chance, for charging high prices and asking no questions. I desire a certain item. I wish you to obtain it for me. I ask no questions as to your methods. I want the item by this weekend. Upon delivery, this check belongs to you.” He squirmed in his chair, produced that from his thin leather wallet, flashed it before my eyes. The scribbled figure made me hungry.
Amordius Schaeger had done his homework, understood me well, which I appreciated, as it furthered business, but at first sight I liked nothing else about him. He was a large, lopsided, greasily corpulent fellow with a bald-domed head, laid back ears, icy eyes and flattened features screwed into a permanent sneer. He gargled monotoned gravel when he talked, and his entire demeanor suggested haughty disdain of the lowly world and present company. I replied with brittle courtesy, “I deal only in cash. Also, I expect a sensible retainer while I operate.” He shrugged, forked over a scattering of bills which flew loose onto my littered desk. There weren’t many of them, but they were big bills. I collected them.
“To it,” he declared. “Mr. Fontaine, you are to take possession of the object, deliver it to me immediately upon acquisition. That, followed by your receipt of my generous final payment, shall conclude our association.”
“What is it?”
“A medallion of sorts, an oblong circle of beaten copper, embossed with curious symbols, with inner spokes connecting to a central ring of gold. That ring contains a polished stone; not a gem, rather a shaped structure of rare metal in the form of a mythic beast. That description should serve.”
“Who has it?”
“No one has it. It lies where it can be found, for the taking.”
“Why don’t you get it yourself?”
“One question too many,” he muttered warmly. “I expected none. I provide the knowledge you need. I possess means of determining the location. The item is prehistoric, located on Federal land, not legally collectible. It resides in a small cave, currently lightly sealed, below the East Rim of the Grand Canyon. I have here—” he pushed toward me a folded sheet of paper—“the exact geographical coordinates, complete with map. You see, in return for little effort you gain a great deal. Are you satisfied, Mr. Fontaine?”
“Absolutely,” I lied. Then, with utter honesty, “I accept your offer, Mr. Schaeger. Where may I reach you to hand over the wares?”
“I shall appear here at your office Saturday morning, nine o’clock, to finalize the transaction. That will be all. Good day, Mr. Fontaine.” He hoisted himself to his feet, departed heavily without a backward glance or further word. When he was well and gone Angie slunk in, slipped into the vacated chair, snatched my lighter to fire her cigarette, looked at me and rolled her eyes.
“An odd fish, that one, and rotten to the core. What’s he want, Sterk?”
“I don’t know,” I thoughtfully replied. “Too many imponderables as of yet. He knows me, apparently knows some people I’ve worked for, so he’s aware I’m inclined to trade in mighty weird stuff. I presume what he seeks is more of the same. I can’t figure why he doesn’t save some bucks and fetch the thing himself.” I contemplated my sparse data for a quiet moment. “Angie, get me all you can find on this Schaeger guy, and anything weird related to the Grand Canyon’s East Rim. I need it by tonight.”
Here’s what’s important to grasp, in order to understand me and my business. I discovered a long time ago that we live in a strange world, stranger by far than most folks are willing to allow. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes, or has done in times past, that would astound or terrify the average citizen if he ever learned anything about that stuff. There are powers in play, forces at work, that exist in spheres beyond the conventional, that intrude into our affairs at chancy times and places. Call these supernatural, call them supernormal, magical, God awful weird. Well, I learned, almost despite myself, often the hard way, how to turn my knowledge to profit.
Although I did lousy in school, I’ve a sharp mind, trained myself to identify the olden tomes of special relevance to special collectors, compiled data on historic trinkets of value linked to genuine outbursts or episodes of the bizarre. Value counted, because I’m in it for the money. I have to know plenty, in order to practice my trade, but I don’t indulge in freaky shenanigans myself. I leave that to others, those others who are willing to pay in order to get their hands on what they crave.
There are many odd people mixed among our ranks—call them occultists, bearing in mind I mean the real deals, not the sideshow phonies—who I make sure hear about me and my services. They seek the wisdom of the ages (the more peculiar the better), I seek cash. They want something, they can’t get it, or dare not take the risk; they come to me. I procure. That’s all I do. I’m a middle man, delivering goods… no questions asked. The latter, at least, is my norm.
Schaeger wanted “it”. He knew where “it” was, could lift it anytime he pleased, yet he’d hand over a living wage for me to do his footwork for him. Why?
That evening I sprawled on the sofa in the den of my cushy Scottsdale apartment, flipping idly through less than helpful reference books. Don’t judge me by my office; that hole offers me a business front below the radar screen, where I can meet anyone without attracting attention. Home is where I’m myself. I live well. This job pays big, so long as I’m careful. I wouldn’t do it otherwise.
Angie, of the ripe figure and perfect dewy eyes, popped in at eight, dressed to entertain, as ever. Call that a condition of employment. She was a good kid, who knew how to keep me cheery, a little light upstairs some might assume, but along with her obvious charms she possessed one further attribute: the ability to fondle all that library paperwork I detest. Actually, as with most of her assets, her best abilities came in pairs, as she also boasted a remarkably photographic memory. She’d spent a busy day, judging from the contents of the satchel she hauled in with her.
Our drinks at hand and snuggled close, she said, “It’s all here for starters. Amordius Schaeger, international merchant and amateur nut case, very highly regarded among his very narrow circle. He’s into all the highbrow creepy stuff, actually belonged to a demonic coven before they gave him the boot. They kicked him out, I gather, because he took it too seriously. His fetish is power over earth, heaven, and hell, not necessarily in that order. I collected lots of rumors about him. Mark this, boy: if half of them are true, he’s blood on his hands.”
“I didn’t tag him as a choir boy,” I replied. “Still, I’ve heard this sort of junk before. Okay, he’s a freak, believes all kinds of malarkey. Maybe there’s something to it, maybe not. How do I fit in? What’s the Grand Canyon got to do with it?”
“I guess he isn’t keen on soiling himself. How should I know why anybody would stoop to fooling with you?” I gave her a forward squeeze. She squirmed with a giggle.
“Silly man. About the canyon I can tell you. I nailed it down to the Dalrymple homestead.”
“That won’t earn your keep. I read about Dalrymple’s place right here, in this pioneer history of the Kaibab Plateau. A hick farmer, I figure, built himself a spread; the ruins, I noted, are located just above the spot marked on Schaeger’s map. There’s a connection?”
Angie laughed. “So much for tourist trash, Sterkie. How many times have you told me, look behind the obvious? There’s more to Dalrymple than exists in your philosophy, or however that saying goes, or in your paperback guidebook. In his day they told stories about him, wild ones.
“I read a bunch, got copies in here. Here’s the deal. Mordecai Dalrymple moved in up there with his family in 1892. It’s empty territory now, but back then plenty of settlers tried their hand at hacking a living out of the forest, so he had neighbors. Their later tales are my sources, put into a book of local legends published in 1926, then forgotten.
“A self taught man, of narrow education, Mordecai was a mystic, became attracted to Red Indian lore. A few natives still hung around then, who he hired as laborers, and from them he picked up stories of Indian medicine men, goofy stuff about wacky gods and mysterious magic and bloody ceremonies. Dalrymple ate it up, believed it all, let on that he wanted to learn more.”
Angie craned toward the selection of her papers stacked on the coffee table, fished out a sheet, thrust it in my face. “There’s one example, an accusation provided by a
Mr. Smithers, passing resident of the East Rim. He says Dalrymple made a deal with the devil—read, the redskins—paid them in bucks and booze for their secrets. It all came down to a particular gizmo, a heap big medicine thing called an—” Here she stumbled over the word, but I puzzled the meaning from her clumsy attempt.
“Amulet, dumbo,” I finished for her. “That’s it. We’re talking about Schaeger’s medallion.”
“If you say so, wise guy. So, Dalrymple eventually paid off in gold for that one, got his paws on the real thing. Then he put it to work.”
“With what result?”
“If you take this goop seriously, power over others. Dalrymple wanted more land. He started driving away his neighbors, beginning with ugly threats. When that didn’t serve, things happened to people. They got sick, or ran away scared, or they died. I have in this pile a complete autopsy report, prepared in Flagstaff in 1895, concerning a possible multiple murder. ‘Person or persons unknown’—Dalrymple, by this time a shunned recluse, deserted by his wife and kids, made a rare appearance in public at the precise hour of the death—but somebody or something tore his nearest neighbor family to shreds. Dalrymple got the land.
“After that everybody kept clear of him. He dropped out of sight, turning up at long intervals to brag of his new found powers, boasting of unseen friends, warning of greater events to come. Then he vanished. It wasn’t until ’98 that somebody looked into his place, discovered it falling down, an abandoned pig sty. Nobody ever saw him again, nor located the much discussed amulet.” She enunciated that word carefully.
I pondered a while. Then, as Angie grew active by increments, I pushed her off me, briskly rose. “Thanks, babe, that’s enough for now. No time for a frolic. I need my sleep. I’m getting an early start in the morning, taking a break from the routine, going camping up on the East Rim. Give me a few days. Now, get yourself home. I’ll call if I need you.”
“You’re a stinker.”
I suppose I am, but it’s way too late to do anything about it. I truly intended to take my rest, make that start well before dawn, get up there to the site with time for a full day’s investigation, only it didn’t happen like that. Complications intruded. By which I mean, I had a dream. A doozy of a dream, one that royally screwed up my night, and I never dream, see, that’s not part of me, my slumbering mind is usually as quiet and easy as that of a saint, but not this time. Let me describe this whopper.
I seemed to come awake, in bed, in my room, everything normal, shrouded in darkness save for street light leakage through my window curtains. I knew something had wakened me, felt an instinctive tensing, an inner sense of unease. Then I threw off the sheets and crouched motionless. I saw a hint of movement there—and there—and there. I reached for my bed lamp, missed it. The curtains rustled oddly, releasing a stream of light into the room. Now I saw better. Dread and disgust hissed through my clenched teeth.
Worms crawled in heaving batches, heaps and mounds of squirming, glistening filth. Their sickening, pallid forms inched and oozed over my belongings, leaving oily trails; they dropped and dripped from the walls; they crept toward me. I meant to react—I made to act—I couldn’t move, scarcely breathe. Small, hideous shapes appeared at the foot of my bed, overflowing onto the sheet, frightfully near my toes.
Then, as if a private tornado howled into the room, the worms in their hundreds or thousands were swept up in a frenzied gust, whirling round and round into an ever more compact mass. A cylinder of worms spun before me. They coalesced into a solid shape, sprouting discrete arms and legs, a lump of head. This vomitous image further solidified, assumed a semblance of uncanny detail. Suddenly, the transformation complete, Amordius Schaeger stood by my bed, gazing down upon me with a cold and malicious smile.
He said, quietly, evenly, “Mr. Fontaine, do not betray me. Think not to enrich yourself at my expense. Your cleverness counts for nothing between us, save that you use it to serve my ends. Where ever you are, I can track you, reach out to you, mete punishment. Did my show chill your blood? My pets were the merest taste of what I shall send you, should you err in upholding your interests over mine. Treat this as a friendly warning. Deliver unto me the medallion. Be satisfied with the generous gratuity I offer.”
I cried, “Why don’t you get the thing yourself? You know more about it than I do.”
“Indeed. That is my strength. My weapons you may deduce. Therefore, obey. I act as I see fit. You must act as I see fit, until the termination of our arrangement. Otherwise, my visitations shall compound in horror. A dabbler like you can not stand against me. Accept that. Get me that medallion!”
And Schaeger was gone in a blink, and I was clearly wide awake, and I sprang up flicking on lights as fast as I could, and there wasn’t the slightest trace remaining of that nocturnal occurrence. In another minute I belted a stiff one, spent another couple of hours brooding about recent events. Funny thing: not for a moment did I believe I’d experienced a simple dream.
I did get back to sleep, finally, slept late, felt less than refreshed, spent too long loading my gear into the pickup before I made a start hours behind schedule. Rather preoccupied, I drove north up the interstate to Flagstaff, then hopped onto the lesser highways up and around through the Navajo reservation, across the great bridge over the Colorado, past the Vermilion Cliffs and on into the high, forested country north of Grand Canyon Nation Park. All the way I wondered what I’d gotten myself into this time. Logic told me to bow out; curiosity, anger, a touch of fear pushed me on. What exactly was that medallion or amulet? Why did Schaeger want it so? Why must I claim it for him? I had no answers yet, only formless suspicions born of long experience in dealing with weird matters and twisted characters.
Mention the Grand Canyon, and most folks think immediately of the South Rim, that stunning desert landscape with the incredible views where go 95% of the tourists.
There’s another Grand Canyon, the North Rim, a lot harder to reach, much less popular, but cooler, greener, with the same astounding views. This I approached, yet was destined not even for that, but rather an adjacent region, seldom visited by anyone except stray hunters and campers. Heading south now, evidence of civilization dwindling, frequently consulting my atlas, I spied a nondescript dirt road snaking off into the dense wall of conifers to my left. This forest road was my turn-off. Tires crunched on loose gravel as I put pavement behind, shortly leaving behind the modern world altogether. I bumped and jarred east on a road that once conveyed covered wagons in the good old days.
From asphalt I ventured four miles into the dank, pressing woods, into the past, just once encountering other travelers, they heading out this late afternoon. My atlas conked out on me; I switched to Schaeger’s map, which provided precise coordinates. Never traveling fast on that God forsaken lane, I slowed to a crawl as it narrowed and I approached the designated spot. Already my tricky odometer cautioned me to stop, but educated in its behavior I prowled a bit farther, until an anonymous pull-out appeared to the right. There I pulled in, killed the motor. I had, more or less, arrived.
Now came, before anything else, chores and housekeeping. I established base camp. Sweeping the tarp from the truck bed revealed everything I needed, for an extended stay if circumstances required. A quick reconnoiter identified a delightful camping area, a flat, bare expanse just off the road shielded on all sides by pines sprinkled with clumps of pretty aspen. There I stretched out my small ground tarp, then unrolled the contents of my tent bag. I laid out the canvas, unfolded and snapped together the poles, fitted them into the tent sleeves, and with a heave pulled the whole thing up into proper tent shape. Last minute fussing with attachments and moving in my important gear, and I had my temporary home.
After heating a can of soup on my butane burner, which I ate with a glass of milk, and washing up pot and cup and utensils, I didn’t have much time remaining this day for productive action, but the drooping sun still gleamed brightly through the crowding foliage, so I popped open a bottle of beer and sallied forth under the trees. I would scout the area, take my bearings, be ready for serious investigation on the morrow.
An obviously unfrequented hiker’s path took off from the pull-out, proceeding south. This I followed, pleasantly sauntering, sipping at whiles. In a quarter of a mile the old growth gave onto a striking meadow, a natural Eden of lovely assorted flowers and luscious green grass suitable for a picture postcard. The trail fizzled, but with the drawing back of the forest I quickly spotted my immediate destination, pressed on the few more strides to where the East Rim suddenly yawned beneath me.
I stood at the edge of the gulf, the canyon plunging sharply to the south and east, in the latter direction exposing a hundred mile vista. Deepening gloom already shrouded the gorge below. It wasn’t the breathtaking beauty which lured the tourists in droves to the national park, but it sufficiently impressed. Anywhere else in the world, this would be the main attraction.
I needed to get my bearings, not a difficult matter, for the existence of the fairyland meadow wrapped in dense woods clued me in, and a brief examination proved me right. I discovered the lichenous stump of an ancient stone chimney smothered in a patch of red, tubular blossoms, all that survived of the Dalrymple homestead. I had come to the place, where whatever happened had happened, close by where whatever could be found would be found. Of course this dashed my hopes for searching the ruins for information. There wasn’t anything significant left topside. Pay dirt, if any, lay down there somewhere, below the rim, where night had already fallen.
Coming it was fast up top. Those cursory glimpses must hold me until morning. I hauled out, regained camp before darkness fought me. I stayed up a while longer, a couple of hours, relaxing in my camp chair, snacking on nuts and opening another bottle, relishing the solitude. I tried to call Angie on my cell phone; not a chance. I studied a wad of papers she’d packed for me.
Only now, in the reading, did I begin to grasp at what Schaeger might be aiming. Amidst this discordant material (some of it, though by no means all, related to Mordecai Dalrymple) I learned of the Yotapai Indians, their lore, their retention or discovery of a primordial magic that for a time made them masters over other tribes, and if legend spoke truly gave the white man a shocking and blood-drenched run for his money when he first barged in. The red men couldn’t sustain the mystical fight—they’d never known or didn’t remember enough from the grand old days of their artful ancestors—in time they and their beliefs were squashed, and it wasn’t until Dalrymple came along that a keenly evil mind began to piece together the shreds and patches of a concept promising terrible, unearthly power.
Soon after the creation of the world, claimed these long dead Indian informants, the great gods of the starry universe, in particular their big chief Xenophor, out of malicious glee at troubling their land-crawling charges, fashioned from fragments of their will a thing of beauty containing the slightest whiff of their unimaginable strength, and this thing, the Amulet of Xenophor, they cast down among men, who were granted the dubious boon of pondering, revering, tinkering with and utilizing it as they chose. What they chose often delighted or amazed them without, if I absorbed the gist rightly, ever entirely benefiting them in the end. The moral of each tale, often disturbingly supported by fiendishly cruel anecdote, seemed to say that the favors of the gods, while wonderful to behold and contemplate, were best left alone by we weak mortals. The amulet did confer power—theoretically unlimited—but that power corrupted, here primitive thinkers agreeing with the most civilized of scholars.
Eventually the Yotapai rejected the thing, cast it away or hid it from their sight, until their fading generation peddled it to a stupid white man. Dalrymple, then, made use of it, to his fleeting joy, but what price in the end?
This Schaeger craved, as an egotistical cultist might, but why? I meant, why did he, especially, need the thing to carry out whatever skullduggery gave him a tingle down his leg? Based on the last night’s occurrence, I suspected him of a certain disturbing prowess in the black arts as it was. What did he gain from possession of the amulet? More of the same? It could be as simple as that.
When I slept, I experienced another dreamy visitation. Soft radiance welled up outside my tent, focused to a dazzling beam. A terrific howl, ripped from a throat beyond bestiality, rent the unique silence of wilderness, and then claws like daggers plunged through fabric, pulled down one flimsy wall. A grotesque monster, a frenzied compound of bristling fur, foam-flecked fangs and glaring red eyes, thrust at me before I could move. In a blink dear Amordius squatted there, rocking on his flabby haunches, thin lips pulled back in an emotionless grin. He said, “So far, Mr. Fontaine, so good. You have arrived. You know, I take it, how you will proceed with the dawn. I can feel that you approach our goal. The prize is there, safely below ground in the cavity perceived by my telepsychological abilities. Take chances, accept risks.
The reward is great. Keep faith with me. Fill your purse, not your ambitions. That way lies health and well being. Otherwise, torment and death await you. I beg you, sir, to calculate the odds intelligently.”
By morning I’d decided that Schaeger wasn’t meant to be my buddy. I’d thought about him a lot, the type of man he was, what he was capable of doing to me.
Telepsychological, eh? I reached provisional conclusions. Also, I went down for the amulet.
At the rim, once the sun had risen to banish night from the depths, I perused the map one last time, wadded it up and tossed it into space. Directly below me, surely not too far, lay a cave of some kind, an opening in the canyon wall, not obvious to passersby above, apparently not recorded by history. Schaeger, however, perceived it. I took him at his word on that one.
Down I went, dressed in heavy duty duds, oilcloth hat slapped around my ears, carrying a knife, a coil of rope, a bag of climber’s spikes, a hammer and spade, a miniature electric lantern, a small canteen. Not sheer, that slope of a thousand or two feet, but plenty steep, and crumbly, with loose rocks that slid underfoot and scraggly shrubs that pulled up from the weight of my fingers. A fat man like Schaeger couldn’t have made it. I took it easy going down. No sense in hurrying; the fastest course was often the worst.
I’ll hand it to him, Schaeger excelled in geography. Sixty, seventy feet below the East Rim, slithering pressed to dry earth like a clumsy snake, I spotted the evidence of an opening not ten feet to my right. I hooked a boot onto a ledge that spanned the distance, advanced in fits until I stood, relatively secure, with the bottom of the gap, an oblong crevice clogged with fallen soil and upended roots, at my waist. Producing the spade, I scraped for a while, just a few minutes, until the loose earth fully gave way and the opening gaped wide. I placed my lantern on the rocky sill, hauled myself over and in.
I gave myself light. Past the entrance the ceiling rose, allowing standing room. I crawled in, stood. The bulge of my hat brushed rock, so I watched myself. I delved deeper. The rugged, irregular walls of bedrock fell away, exposing a broad chamber seemingly natural in its construction, its long axis extending away from me. These items I noted in that room: much yellowish rock, dirt and dust silted by the inch, corroded metal implements of the sort disgracing many a cheap roadside museum, a crude wooden door in back, and one more object in between. That was a crudely fabricated dais, slabs of rough lumber atop a stone outcrop, with something particularly noteworthy lying on the boards.
One glance, and I absolutely understood what I saw. Tempted to say, “Please to meet you, Mr. Dalrymple, how’s tricks?” I refrained, because his current appearance suggested a lack of interest in contemporary earthly affairs. There are, maybe, degrees of dead, but in this case the degree apparently approximated infinity. Necessarily
Mordecai was a corpse, by well over a century I reckoned, only he didn’t have to be so blatant about it. Naked, leathery flesh, stained and darkened, parted here and there by dull, protruding bones; blackened, rotten teeth, probably awful in life, wholly reprehensible now because I saw too much of them; shrunken, dried up grape eyes, sunk in bony hollows surrounded by thin, taught parchment; oh yes, Mordecai Dalrymple was a mess.
How did I know, from our brief meeting, that this was he? Elementary, Watson, I deduced it from the thing he clutched to his exposed ribcage in one moldering paw.
Those remains clasped the Amulet of Xenophor, which had vanished with its possessor way back when. There it lay, beauty amidst loathsomeness, a shiny apple ripe for plucking. Therefore, I reached for it.
Complications ensued. One free, semi-skeletal hand clutched my wrist. Okay, I screamed, I thrashed like a fish on the hook, but shocked numbness quickly overcame frantic terror. I had time to realize at last the cause of Schaeger’s reluctance: this moment he dreaded. That dry, scabby lump of head creaked upward from the table, bearing that hideous death mask of a face a little too near my own. Withered lips commenced inappropriate motions. Mordecai Dalrymple, his voice uncouth, wheezy, and airless, said to me:
“Watch out, boy, if you git it, it gits you. I learned the hard way. Them Injuns told true, but they didn’t tell everything. No wonder they was willing to dump it. Sold it to me for a song, promised it’d make me a big chief among my kind. But Xenophor don’t give nothing away. He takes, He gets the best of the deal, always. Power of a king I bought, but there was less of me every year. Eternal life if I wanted it; well, I asked for it, received in full, so long as I held on to this gewgaw, only it ain’t much of a life, is it, sonny? Instead of living, I linger. Still, better this than Xenophor’s dark hell. Why don’t you be on your way, friend, leave me be with my problems. There’s nothing here you need.”
I disagreed, politely said so, yanked my wrist away. Three papier-mâché fingers came away with a dry snap. Dalrymple groaned, hissed despairingly when I jerked the amulet from him. His body sagged, crumbled away more even as I watched. I stopped watching. Amulet tucked into a pocket, I examined the back door, thinking it once offered egress to the old house, might still communicate with the surface. Sure enough, the door juddered open, revealing a cramped, earthen passage propped by desiccated lumber. The far side of the door, I noted, bore a hacked image of an eye, a rather repulsive one. I climbed a lengthy flight of uneven flagstones, came to a wooden trap door. I heaved—dirt and mold rained in my face—I spat, pushed harder, emerged among charming flowers near the stump of chimney. Mission accomplished.
I could have cleared out right then, but there wasn’t any hurry, and I admit an interest in determining the extent of Schaeger’s arcane fact-gathering skills before I confronted him in the flesh. That being the case I tarried there on the East Rim, went for a long, bracing walk through the ancient forest, pausing contentedly at whiles when vistas showed themselves. The amulet stayed in camp, well hidden. I didn’t want it with me more than necessary, didn’t care to look at it too long. Those designs traced in copper resembled inhuman, staring eyes, spider eyes, and that shape in the center of the thing—“mythic beast” he’d styled it—so repelled me that I regretted the single occasion when I touched that oddly colored, striated stone, which I deemed meteoric. It felt alive, or otherwise animate, beneath my fingertips.
Amidst my nightly rest Schaeger came to me, as predicted, this time heralded by a swarm of tormenting bats that insinuated themselves into my tent. When the cloud of flapping wings and irritating squeaks had subsided he declared, “You have it. Play straight a little longer, Sterk Fontaine. Once we complete our transaction I go my way, leaving you with riches. Acquiesce to our arrangements, and you have your happiness. That is the simple solution.”
Saturday morning I awaited him, washed and shaved. I’d made good time returning to civilization, called Angie to my place when I arrived, brought her in to confer over her heap of notes concerning the Amulet of Xenophor. She fumed when I refused to show it to her. “Aw, come on, one itty peek,” she whined.
“It’s dynamite, honey,” I replied. “You told me that yourself. I’ve confirmed your findings.”
“What are you going to do with it?”
“Get rid of it, as soon as possible.”
In the morning I left her, sped down to the office alone. I didn’t want Angie, or any witness, around when the crunch came. Amordius Schaeger waddled in precisely at nine. He did not sit. He spotted the wrapped burlap bundle on the desk, unceremoniously reached for it. I scooped it up, rolled back in my chair. “The money,” I said.
He dumped a beefy handful of large denominations, strapped with a rubber band. It disappeared into my pocket.
“Give it to me,” he demanded, emphasizing his words through clenched teeth, each word a threat.
I smiled. “You want the Amulet of Xenophor? Why don’t you take it from me, Schaeger?”
He blinked rapidly his piggy eyes. “There is no need for this,” he snarled. “Conform, immediately, to your obligation, or else.”
“You can’t, can you?” I chuckled, essayed a fey laugh. “I guessed as much. That I figured out. Oh, you can see into the darkness of the earth, and you can pour filth into my dreams—you’re good enough for that, but you can’t assail my waking mind, and you don’t yet possess the magic to break anyone physically. You require the amulet for that. That’s why you want it, the same reason Mordecai Dalrymple did.”
Schaeger sneered, “I know he told you that much, before you left him to rot in peace.”
“Sure,” I agreed, “you know that about me. Let’s find out what I can learn about you.” I unwrapped the amulet, gripped it in a suddenly sweaty palm, stroked it with my other hand. I shuddered, for I could swear it moved. “What’s in your mind, Schaeger?” I asked, not of him, but of the thing I held.
And it answered. Not in words—there could be no speech, certainly nothing prosaically comprehensible, from the cosmic force crouching behind or within that magical relic—but it showed me pictures, images of the inside of Schaeger’s mind. I plumbed dark tunnels, corridors of entity, figurative caverns of his brain, cobwebbed and mildewed, chambers of spongy flesh oozing venom and festering with malice. I read his mind, his thoughts, goals, dreams laid bare. In those rancid burrows I saw myself as he saw me. I saw myself dead, cruelly, messily dead, the first item on his agenda once he got the goods.
“No surprises there,” I muttered thickly. “I’d say you disappoint me, Schaeger, only I expected no less. You wouldn’t allow a living link to tell tales. I guessed it was you or me.” I clutched the amulet in both hands, squeezed. “So it’s you.”
He backed away, stumbling, arms flailing. “Not that! Mercy!”
I willed him down. With the amulet, thought was father to the deed. I commanded him to die—nothing complicated or fancy, the basics would suffice—and he slapped meaty hands to his breast, gulped like a fish, and toppled forward on his fat face. He hit the floor with a sloppy thud, didn’t even twitch.
I’d bet the moon no one knew he was there; no records, no connection. I’d dispose of the body, leave it to the desert, one more back page item, soon forgotten. The amulet? I’d peddle it to a dealer, maybe, perhaps an ignorant collector who’d stick it in a glass case next to the painted ceramic pot. That, or something other, I’d get rid of it, get it out of my hands and out of my life. I wouldn’t keep the beautifully crafted monstrosity a second longer than it took to unload it.
I cast it away, the thing clattering on the desk top. Here out I’d handle it with tongs. “God help me,” I cried aloud. “Don’t let this one taste of its power corrupt me. I ought to be safe. I don’t want what Mordecai Dalrymple wanted, and I don’t want to become what he became.”
Jeffery Scott Sims an author devoted to fantastic literature, living in Arizona, which forms the background for many of his stories. His recent publications include a volume of weird tales, _Eerie Arizona_; and the short stories “The Russian Temple,” “The Vault of Phalos,” “The Idol of Zita,” “Klinghofer’s Folly,” “A Sojourn in Crost,” and “Klinghofer’s Preview.”