Crystal Throne

                                                                                 By Bert McKenzie 

                                                                                  Copyright 2010

 

Disclaimer: This story is a work of fiction.  Any resemblance to any real
person alive or dead is coincidental and unintentional.

CHAPTER I

"Ghosts?!"  Clearly, Jennifer did not believe him.  She was his best
friend, and had been for the past ten years.  They had met, been close
friends, shared secrets, fought, made up, cried on each other's shoulder,
but always, they had trusted and believed each other.  That was why it came
as such a blow.

"I'm sorry I said anything," Scott replied quickly, a bit too quickly.

"Now I've hurt your feelings.  Scott, I'm sorry."  The words only made her
doubt sting all the more.  For some unknown reason, Scott really needed to
feel that someone believed him.  It seemed vitally important, and yet it
all sounded so outlandish that he wasn't even sure if he believed it
himself.  "Let's go through it all again, and let me see if I can
understand it."  How did it all begin?

At age 30, Scott Quartermain, a distant nephew of a famous African
explorer, was a bit of a loner.  His modest good looks, a handsome face,
strong chin, and broad shoulders topping his five foot ten inch frame, he
had inherited from his father, a service man who died in the Vietnam War.
He came by his thick brown hair and grey eyes from his mother.  Never much
of a motherly type, she had left him in the care of his Aunt Nell, a
grandmotherly, older spinster.  Scott's mother came into money and had
actually been rather well off, but he had never benefitted from any of her
wealth until after she had passed on.  Of course the government received a
generous share of her estate in taxes, and there had been a number of
outstanding debts to take care of, but when all was said and done, he still
had enough to buy an old, three story Victorian mansion.

Scott had always dreamed of living in a mansion.  The old Victorian house
he had purchased was probably as close to one as he would ever get.  It had
lots of antiquated character and charm, yet had been restored and
modernized by a previous owner.  The house was firmly grounded in an older
section of town adjacent to the river, surrounded by similar houses and
buildings.  An iron fence traced the parameter of the yard, front and back,
with a quaint carriage house behind the main building.  The carriage house
was really no more than a small garage with storage above, but it added to
the look and feel of a bygone era.

Moving into the three story home was simple enough.  He had always lived in
apartments, and consequently had very few furnishings, but with what little
money was left over, Scott managed to redecorate and fix up the ground
floor.  On the second floor, the only rooms he finished were his own
bedroom and the bath.  The other four rooms on that level, and the story
above, were left empty and closed off, for future use.

Scott had lived a solitary life ever since graduating from college.  Having
earned a business degree, he worked for a time as an assistant manager at a
branch of a big department store chain until deciding to go into business
for himself.  He had recently opened a small, storefront curio shop that
sold all manner of odd collectibles.  Unfortunately, many of his unsold
objects de'art found temporary quarters in his apartment.  At least now he
had ample room to showcase (store) such things in his new home.

Unfortunately, only about a month after moving in, the strange occurrences
began.  At first it was nothing more than doors that were shut and locked
had managed to be open.  Then leaving for work and returning home at the
end of the day, he would find small objects or pieces of furniture
rearranged.  It was as if someone had been in the house looking for
something.  It wasn't a ransacked mess like burglars searching for hidden
money, more like someone examining everything and putting it all carefully
back, only back in not quite the same places.

Of late, he began to get the feeling that he was being watched.  It came on
in the early evenings, especially around dusk.  The feeling would last for
hours, until he would eventually fall into a fitful sleep.  In the morning
he awakened, not much refreshed, and found that once again, small items had
been rearranged.  The thought of calling the police had crossed his mind,
but what could he tell them?  He had no proof that it wasn't all an
overactive imagination.

It was only a few days earlier that Scott first saw the apparition.  He was
sitting at his bedroom window.  The view of the setting sun over the old
city skyline was spectacular, the silhouetted buildings looked like
discarded blocks in a giant child's playroom.  Just as the darkness was
beginning to deepen, he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye.
Looking down on the back yard he could make out a shape in the dim
twilight, perhaps of a man, or woman.  It was vague and indistinct.  Then,
just as he was able to really focus on it, it was gone.  Was it just a
trick of the dusk and an already overworked imagination?  Or perhaps there
really was someone out there, watching the house, waiting for an
opportunity to rob him.  But the way the figure vanished without a trace,
like it was never really there

. . . maybe it was a ghost.

Jennifer only shrugged her shoulders.  "Maybe you should talk to someone
else about this.  You know, get some serious 'professional' help."

"What are you saying?  That I'm crazy?"  Scott had never felt so betrayed.

"You've been working hard and then the house, the move, your mom's death.
Everything came so suddenly.  I just think you ought to get a different
perspective on things.  Just talk to a counselor or something."

"I know what I saw."

"Fine, then call the police.  Tell them an invisible ghost has been
rearranging your furniture, and now appeared in your back yard at sunset."
She was clearly losing her patience with his moodiness.  Of course,
Jennifer Sloan was never the most patient individual at the best of times.
When being tactful, Scott referred to her as dynamic.  Her five feet eight
inches coupled with her big frame made her appear larger than life.
Although she was slightly overweight, the heaviness wasn't excessive enough
to detract from her looks.  She would never be considered beautiful, but
she did have a pretty face, surrounded by thick, auburn curls topping her
attractively curved figure.  She was the type of woman that would be called
attractive and maybe even striking, or on a less generous day handsome, but
never really beautiful.

"Look, I'm sorry," Scott apologized.  "Let's go get some dinner or
something."  He tried his best to placate her and change the subject.  They
went to a small Italian cafe, her favorite, and Scott was as charming and
entertaining as he could force himself to be.  But there was still
something wrong . . . a slight discord in the air between them.  Jennifer
had to work in the morning, so they called it an early evening, and he went
home to his gloomy, empty house.

The sun had been down for two hours, and the lights shining from the
windows looked inviting.  This was home, even if it wasn't always
comfortable.

Slowly, Scott went through the ritual of locking doors and turning out
lights.  He fixed himself a rum and coke and then padded upstairs to bed.
The curtains on his bedroom window were floating slowly in the warm breeze.
With just a little imagination they came to life as shrouded arms reaching
out for him.  "Maybe I am going crazy," he thought, and placed his drink on
the window seat while undressing for bed.

Dropping his clothes in a pile on a chair in the corner, and not bothering
to light any lamps, he picked up his drink and sat on the window seat to
enjoy the warm breeze.  The hard wood bench was cold, sending a chill
through his bare flesh.  Scott leaned out against the window sill and
watched the almost full moon gleaming brightly.

Feeling the skin crawl and the hairs stand up at the base of his scalp,
Scott first thought it was a reaction of his nakedness to the chill of the
hard wood and the breeze, but then he sensed it again.  He was being
watched.  Looking down into the back yard, he again thought he saw
something.  Gazing intently into the dark shadows near the carriage house,
he spotted it.

It was there.  A lighter patch in the darkness.  It might have been a
person, or just a shape formed in the gloom.  Barely holding his breath in
a strange excitement, he continued to peer into the gathering dark.  The
lighter patch moved!  It slowly began to inch its way along the side of the
carriage house, moving toward the back porch.  As it moved into a patch of
moonlight, he finally had a good view of it.  It was a person!  It looked
like maybe a young, extremely thin boy.  Scott let out an involuntary gasp.

The boy froze.  Slowly the head tilted to look up toward the window.  And
just as suddenly as before, the figure was gone.  He had blinked his eyes
and it was gone.  Had it just vanished, or had it managed to fade into the
shadows and run off in the instant he had blinked?  At any rate, he felt
sure it would not be back again that night.

                                 * * *

The bright sunlight awakened him, shining in Scott's eyes as it reflected
off of windows from a house across the alley.  He was stiff and cramped,
every bone in his body aching.  He had evidently fallen asleep at the
window and now woke stretched across the hard surface of the wooden seat,
his face against the side molding of the opening.  Slowly, lifting his
stiff body up, he stood.  Scott shrugged his shoulders and rolled his head
in circles to relieve the cramps in his upper back.  The pain gradually
subsided as joints snapped and popped like breakfast cereal.

He called in to work to tell his assistant that he wasn't feeling very well
and wouldn't be in.  The truth was, Scott needed some time to himself, just
to sort things out and determine what course of action to take.  He was
still gripped with the strange excitement from the previous night, seeing
his fears of being watched confirmed.  He wanted to take some action, but
wasn't sure what that was to be.  All he knew was that he could not go on
night after night experiencing that strange dread, waiting for someone to
come.  He began by investigating the back yard.

The morning dew was all but gone, leaving just the slightest trace of
moisture on the overly long grass.  Scott really needed to get someone to
mow his yard, or to purchase a lawn mower and do it himself.  As he walked
back to the carriage house, he noticed a slight shimmer.  Everything
smelled so fresh and clean, like the air itself had been freshly scrubbed.

The tall grass along the side of the structure was standing as if it had
never been touched.  This seemed odd, since Scott could turn and see
clearly where he had stepped, mashing down the blades with his body weight.
And yet, there was no sign that anyone had been in the yard other than he.
There was no telltale indication that someone had lurked there the night
before, or sneaked along the side of the building; not even a broken blade
of grass to indicate anything had been amiss.  Maybe there had been enough
time for the grass to spring back and cover the interloper's tracks.

As he returned to the house, Scott noticed something odd about the grass
beneath the big oak tree standing to one side of his yard.  He walked over
to get a closer look.  There, beneath the shading limbs was a circle of
mushrooms.  They were a delicate, eggshell white, and for the most part,
perfectly formed.  But the oddest thing about them was the perfectly
circular arrangement in which they were growing.  They formed a ring
approximately four feet in diameter.

Back inside, Scott wrestled with himself for quite a time.  Finally coming
to a decision, he walked over, picked up the phone and punched in the
non-emergency number for the police department.  An hour later when the
investigating officer arrived, Scott began to have second thoughts.  He
told of his spotting a person in his back yard, and of thinking it was a
prowler, but that was it.  No mention of the rearranged furniture, or of
the feeling of being watched.  And definitely no mention of ghosts.

The policeman went with him to the back yard.  Together they examined the
grass around the carriage house.  The officer concurred that there was no
evidence, which was unlikely given the condition of the long grass.  He
then mentioned the local ordinances concerning mowing and weed control.
Scott was humiliated.  As they walked back toward the house, the policeman
noticed the circle of mushrooms.

"Hey, you got a fairy ring."

"What?" Scott stammered, somewhat taken aback.

The policeman pointed to the white circle under the tree.  "That's a fairy
ring.  That's what my grandma used to call 'em anyway.  Toadstools growing
in a circle.  My grandma said they marked the spot where fairies danced at
night."  He winked and nudged Scott in the ribs.  "Seen any fairies in the
neighborhood?"

Scott could feel the heat of embarrassment creep up his neck and spread
into his face and across his cheeks.  The officer's joke, in questionable
taste, struck a nerve with Scott's sexual orientation.

"Hey," the cop said, noticing his blush, "Don't worry.  The fags don't
usually dance in respectable neighborhoods like this one."  He then let out
a deep belly laugh.

The blush of embarrassment quickly turned to a flush of anger.  "If you
have nothing else useful to contribute, I can do without the bigoted
comments," Scott retorted.

The policeman's face fell as quickly as his laughter.  His expression
turned instantly sour as he made a snap judgement. "Sorry, didn't mean
nothin' by it," he grumbled, and turned to head toward the front yard.

"So what about my prowler?" Scott asked as he hurried to catch up with the
officer, making fast tracks to his squad car.

"If I were you," the cop said as he opened the car door and tossed his
clipboard in, "I'd ask my friends to go dance somewhere else."  Scott stood
dumbfounded as the car pulled away, so angry he couldn't even think of what
to do next.

As the sun began to set that evening, Scott was stationed in his bedroom
window.  He was prepared for his nocturnal visitor.  He had pulled the
phone over so he could call the police if need be.  The window seat was
padded with an old comforter and some throw pillows in case it was a long
vigil.  He also had his pair of binoculars standing close by.  This time if
the prowler did show up he was ready to keep him well under surveillance
while calling the cops.

It was a perfectly clear evening, with only a hint of a breeze in the air.
The not quite full moon would be rising in the east any time now.  The sun
had gone down in a blaze of color, reds and golds shooting through the sky.
The tiny twinkle of city lights could almost be seen on the dark buildings
of the skyline as they stood out in the lingering afterglow of the
magnificent sunset.

The sounds of the spring evening, crickets and cicadas, all but lulled
Scott into a hypnotic sleep when he again started at the feeling on his
scalp.  The same feeling he had felt twice before when seeing the
apparition again came over him.  He slowly reached for the binoculars and
raised them to his eyes, barely daring to breathe.  At first he could see
nothing as he scanned the backyard, not really even knowing what to look
for.  Then a white gleam swept by his field of vision.  He quickly moved
the glasses back in the opposite direction and soon trained them on a
bright curve.  Adjusting the focus, he watched the bluish white curve jump
into relief . . . it was only a part of the mushroom fairy ring, gleaming
brightly against the dark grass.  He almost laughed as his tension eased a
bit.

He again, slowly panned toward the carriage house.  Again a light shape
swept past his field of view.  Quickly backing up, he trained his
binoculars on the lighter area.  His heart raced as he realized he was
looking at a man's torso.  It might have been a marble statue placed on his
lawn, it was so white and still.  Panning down he saw it wore ragged, white
shorts.  Two thin but muscular legs descended from the frayed bottoms of
the shorts to disappear at the ankles in the thick grass.  Scott slowly
raised the glasses up again, up the legs, the white shorts, the thin
stomach and naked chest.  Revealed to him were broad shoulders and long,
thin arms as he kept scanning.  Finally, the face came into view.  It, too,
looked like a statue, blank white with expressionless features carved in
marble, the deep set eyes hidden in shadow could reveal no sign of life.
The hair on top of the head was fairly long and curly, with the same white,
stone carved look, as if he were looking down from overhead on a copy of
Michelangelo's David.

As he watched the stone came to life.  The statue was very slowly moving
toward the back porch.  It was creeping so slowly that he almost overlooked
the movement, until he saw one of the legs take a step, raising one bare
foot out of the grass and moving it slowly back down.

Scott's mind raced.  His thoughts of calling the police seemed useless.
The statue-man would be in his house before they could ever get there.  He
quietly slid off the window seat and onto the floor.  As quickly and
quietly as he could, Scott raced to the bedroom door, out into the hall and
down the stairs.  He rushed to the kitchen and slowly peeked out the
window.  There, just a few yards from the porch stood the statue, still
gleaming palely in the light of the newly risen moon.

Scott reached for the switch beside the door that would turn on the back
porch light.  This would clearly illuminate the bizarre scene in his back
yard.  Keeping his eyes glued to the slowly moving figure, he stretched out
his hand and felt around.  Nothing.  He knew the switch had to be there,
but only the flat wall greeted his finger tips.  Turning his head just for
an instant to spot the switch, he grabbed it, turned back and flooded the
empty back yard with light.  There, where the statue had stood, was
nothing.  He looked all around.  It couldn't have moved that quickly,
nothing could!

Reaching for the knob, Scott yanked the door open, and bounded out onto the
porch.  Only after he was outside did he think that it might be hiding
beside the door and right behind him.  He whirled around quickly.  Nothing.
Scott cautiously stepped off the porch and out into the yard.  Looking all
around, he saw only the familiar sights of his back yard, the long grass,
the carriage house, the oak tree with its fairy ring beneath.  As quickly
as he had bounded out, he raced back for the safety of his house.  Inside
he threw the deadbolt and ran for the phone.  Dialing 911, he told the
operator there was a prowler trying to get into his house.

Three agonizingly long minutes passed until he heard the wail of the siren.
Two police cars raced up the street and pulled to a rapid halt in front of
his walk.  Four policemen got out, two with drawn guns and flash lights
headed for the back yard, the other two split up, one going around the
other side of the house opposite from the first two, and one coming to the
front door.  Scott let the officer in and began to explain what he had
seen.

"A statue?!"  The cop was obviously skeptical.

"It only looked like a statue, all white.  Maybe he was wearing some kind
of makeup as a disguise or something."

"Prowlers generally dress in dark clothes so as not to be seen," the cop
replied, making a note on his clipboard.  Just then one of the other three
officers came in the open front door.

"There's nothing out there now.  Jacobs and Wilson are still checking the
area.  There's no sign that anyone has ever been there, no footprints in
the grass or anything."  Clearly, the police did not believe the story.
They both eyed Scott with open skepticism.

A blast of loud static followed by unrecognizable numbers came from a
speaker in one of the two cars parked out in front.  This seemed to catch
the attention of the two officers who quickly started to wrap up their
notes and leave.  In no time at all Scott stood on the front porch watching
the two squad cars pull away.  He was left with a gentle reminder from one
of the cops to mow his yard before he got a citation.

                                 * * *

"Well what did you expect them to say, or find?"  Jennifer was eyeing him
over her coffee.  He had asked her to breakfast to get a little sympathy,
but had obviously made a big mistake.  "A statue that came to life in your
back yard, and then disappeared when you turned on the light.  Really
Scott, it sounds pretty far fetched."

"I know what it sounds like.  It's what I saw."  He got up to refresh their
coffee.  "You don't believe me, do you?"

"Of course I believe you.  At least I believe that you believe what you
thought you saw was real."  She was hedging.  "Scott, I don't want to upset
you, but you really ought to talk to a friend of mine.  He might be able to
get a better grasp of this than I could."

"A shrink, right?" he asked bitterly.

"Now, Scott.  Don't take it that way."

"Well, maybe you're right.  Leave the number and I'll call him."

"You're sure?  You really will call him."

"I said I would," he replied.

She got up to give him a hug.  "Okay, now show me this fairy ring you spoke
of."  They walked out into the back yard.  "It's really quite impressive,"
she said, bending down and looking closely at the delicately shaped
mushrooms.  "There was probably an old well or cistern buried here which
accounts for the perfect shape.  But I must say, it does strike me as quite
appropriate that you would have fairies in the back yard."

"Now don't you start," he grinned.  "I got enough of that from the cop
yesterday."  They both were able to laugh at the irony now in the light of
day.

As they started back to the house Scott asked quietly, "Jen, what's your
doctor friend's name?"  She gave his hand a reassuring squeeze.

That evening Scott was prepared.  He had his doors and windows all locked
and bolted.  The phone was beside him and he again was stationed on the
window seat with his binoculars.  As the darkness descended he began
surveying his yard, looking for the apparition.  He could easily make out
the carriage house, the old oak, the white circle of mushrooms.  He thought
how odd they had stayed for so long.  Whenever he had seen mushrooms or
toadstools growing wild in the past they seemed to spring up and disappear
in a day.

As he was musing on the subject, a movement caught his attention.  Swinging
the glasses up, he again saw the statue-man.  This time it was moving much
more rapidly and again heading for his back porch.  Scott jumped up and
raced out of the room.  He quickly bounded down the stairs, through the
drawing room and out into the kitchen.  Peeking out the window he saw the
statue-man climbing the three steps up onto the porch.  He reached for the
light switch and threw it!  Nothing.  It had worked fine yesterday, but now
nothing happened.  What a time for a bulb to burn out.

The knob rattled.  Not daring to breathe, Scott flattened himself beside
the door.  At least he knew it was tightly locked and bolted.  He heard a
soft click, followed by a musical plunk.  The knob turned and the door
began to open.  Trying to flatten himself even further against the wall, he
hid in the shadows behind the slowly opening door.

Reaching out, his hand made contact with cold metal.  It was the cast iron
skillet he had hung on the wall as decoration.  Scott silently lifted it
off its hook and held it ready to strike.  The thought of what use the cast
iron could possibly be against the white marble echoed in his mind.

The white statue-man slowly stepped into the kitchen, not making a sound.
He reached back to close the door behind himself.  It shut with a quiet
click.  He stood looking toward the rest of the house.  Scott stepped
forward and swung the skillet, aiming at the back of the white mass of
curls.  Expecting a solid contact and loud ring as the metal struck stone,
Scott was surprised by the dull, resounding thunk.  The pale intruder
toppled forward, felled by the blow.

 

 

 

 

 

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