An object (not) at rest

Ó Karl Suhr, 1998

On a particularly damp and unpleasant Wednesday, the kind of November day too far past Halloween and not close enough to Christmas, I received a phone call from an old friend. We had not seen each other in many years, and as he was in town on business wished to pay a visit so that we might get re-acquainted. With it being such a gloomy day, I was glad for the opportunity for some company, and set about making arrangements for my guest.

My friend was occupied with his business until early evening and did not stop by until nearly seven oíclock. I had ordered out for supper and wine and dispensed with electric lighting in favor of more cheerful candlelight and a crackling fire. When he did arrive we greeted each other fondly then fell to eating, as we both had a healthy appetite; he from his business and I from my preparations and anticipation of company. We conversed easily over the meal and afterward over more wine and cigars that my friend produced from his briefcase. Our conversation passed from catching up with each other to reminiscing over times spent together in the past. At one point, as the evening grew late, my guest cast an eye about the room, taking in the sparse furniture and overall monastic characteristics of my home. With a friendly look of concern he inquired about my present state of affairs.

"Ah, that." I replied "Donít overly concern yourself about my condition. I have plenty tucked away to see me well into doddering old age and beyond, I dare say. My current state of austerity is not due to poverty or even to religious notions of a Godly, simple life."

"Well" replied my friend "What, might I inquire, inspires you to a life of such admirable, if unwonted simplicity? I distinctly remember you as a fellow enamored of certain creature comforts."

"Let us just say that a singular occurrence took place in my life that prompted me to do away with as many extraneous possessions as is possible. I generally eat out except on such happy occasions as this. I do my reading at the library and keep a simple guitar to while away lonely evenings" My friend betrayed a growing curiosity in his look and fixing me with a keen but congenial gaze, asked for my confidence in relating what epiphany I had experienced. I was hesitant, but my friend was so frankly concerned and I knew him to be a very even fellow; not given to unkind judgment or narrowness of thought. So, after re-filling both of our glasses and replenishing the waning fire, I began my tale:

"Some time after our undergraduate days of companionship, I undertook post-baccalaureate study in this townís University. In the course of my studies, I met and befriended a fellow student by the name of Spenster. We had similar tastes in literature, and spent many hours in pubs and coffeehouses exchanging opinions, ideas, and, on certain evenings when we had a few more pints than usual, some particularly bad poetry. You know me as a person that keeps a few close friends rather than many casual acquaintances, so according to my habits, Spenster and I became very close even though we socialized with few others.

As our friendship grew, I became aware that my friend had an avid interest in the occult. Now you and I spent some hours prowling bookstores for the proverbial Ďtomes of forgotten loreí, but young imaginative men such as you and I would have some natural curiosity about things that are definitely unnatural. However, Spensterís curiosity went beyond the thrill seeking of youth. He had money and had traveled extensively in pursuit of his dark hobby; consulting ancient libraries in Europe and exploring some of the more unseemly neighborhoods of New Orleans and Port au Prince.

His interest was such that it began to consume much of his time, and we spent less and less time together. When we did speak, he seemed furtive, and hinted around his current activities. Eventually we hardly ever saw each other at all. I didnít think much of it at the time, as he was always polite to me even if he seemed a bit aloof or distracted. I chalked matters up to the diverging interests of graduate students finding their separate interests and specialties.

One evening an event occurred that caused some concern over the well being and mental condition of my friend. I was returning to my apartment one evening at the tail end of dusk. I had just passed the cemetery and saw Spenster heading my way in the descending gloom. I greeted him cordially as we drew close, but got no reply other than an almost imperceptible quickening of pace on his part. He was clutching some sort of satchel or sack and as he scooted by me, I thought I saw the parcel move as if something within were alive. At the time, I thought it a mere trick of the dwindling light, and did not seek to detain or distract my friend.

Over the next few months, I saw Spenster with increasing rarity and only at a distance. He seemed chronically anxious and had lost weight. There were dark circles under his eyes and he was always casting his gaze suspiciously about at inanimate objects nearby; sticks, acorns, a passing crow. I made a resolution to visit him and try to determine what was troubling him. However, my studies were reaching their peak, and I was obliged to travel to do research for my impending thesis.

Several weeks into my travels, a mutual friend of Spenster and mine contacted me by phone. She indicated that Spenster had fallen ill and had requested to see me. Our friend indicated that the situation was serious and there was considerable doubt that he would survive. I took the next train back to town and called on Spenster immediately.

Spenster seemed very glad to see me. I was quite shocked to see his condition. He was thin and deadly pale. His hand trembled when he raised it to greet me and his eyes never seemed to rest; darting from one object to the other in his apartment filled with books and bric a brac. When he spoke, his voice was uneven and desperate.

"Friend" he began "I have a most serious favor to ask of you"

"Iím at your service" I replied "But, please, how have you come to such a desperate situation?" His answer puzzled me.

"Was that fork there just now?" He pointed at a utensil balanced on the table. "Throw it out the windowÖplease!" I was perplexed, but he seemed so anxious to be rid of the mundane object that I humored him and dropped it out the window, making a mental note to properly dispose of it later. "Now shut and lock the window, please!" he demanded. I did as he asked, then turned and fixed him with a questioning look. He then smiled, a trifle embarrassed, and spoke again. "Iím sorry, my behavior must seem mysterious, but my actions just now turn neatly upon the favor I beg of you." Sensing a story, I pulled a stool up to his bedside and indicated my readiness to listen. He took a deep, shuddering breath and began.

"As you know, I have dabbled in the black arts. Dabbled even more than befits the morbid curiosity of most students of a romantic turn of imagination. Indeed, I have gone so far as to secure my own destruction, if not damnation. The night you saw me with the sack (yes I saw you, though I feigned otherwise) I perpetrated a very black deed the thought of which chills me now to the bone. I am too ashamed to relay the particulars, but suffice it to say that it involved the most heinous cruelties in the interest of summoning ...unnatural forces. Forces that I sought, and ultimately failed, to control. The creatures, demons, that I summoned were too powerful for my dabblerís knowledge and slipped from my control. They now seek my soul to drag back with them into the abyss. I have been able to fend them off for now, but my power is weakening and they have begun the final stalking. These demons are not of the grotesque forms of legend, but are usually invisible. They take on the form of mundane objects and so infiltrate the home and test the sanity of those they wish to torment. Imagine seeing an unlighted candle on the windowsill, only to see in the next instant the same candle sitting on the mantle aflame and the flame is in the form of a hideous, mocking face! So many such objects have appeared and disappeared in my house as my power to keep the demons at bay has abated. This explains my singular fear of the fork; itís tines were pointed at my heart and I feared that if you left me it might have launched at me and ended my life. The only protection that I have now is this crucifix that I clutch. It has been blessed and it guards my soul.

Now here is the favor that I ask of you and it involves some peril for you. Your soul is not in direct danger, as you did not summon the hellspawn, but if the demons find out that you have assisted in attempting to deprive them of me, their soul prey, one demon may stay behind to afflict you; it will seek to fray your sanity and lead you astray into your own perdition. As I have said, this cross is my sole protection. When I die, which I shall do presently, you must have the cross firmly affixed to my tombstone. It is a simple cross that no one would wish to pry loose and steal, but it will guard me from a fate worse than the one that awaits me without itís protection. Do you promise to do what I ask?"

My friendís eyes burned with a feverish desperation as he made this plea. Over the course of his uncanny tale it became my opinion that he had taken leave of his senses; that some mere physical ailment assailed him and this was a tale born of the madness of fever. However, I was loath to deprive him of the comfort that this favor would afford him and so solemnly promised to fulfill this final request. How could it hurt now? When I had made my vow to do his bidding, he gave a sweet smile of relief and thanked me profusely. As we both knew what was imminent, we then made our good-byes for the evening and forever. A certain degree of our former intimacy had been re-established and I could tell in his eyes that this meeting would be our last. I glanced at him once more as I left the room, and the measure of peace that had come over his previously agitated features assured me that what I had promised to do was most favorable for the comfort of my unfortunate friend.

It was only two days hence when word came of my friendís death. I followed through on my promise and had the simple cross firmly affixed to the tombstone. It could not be removed without destroying it or rendering it unrecognizable. He was then laid to rest.

"But," my guest interjected "surely you donít believe the poor fellowís ravings about a demon that would stay behind to torment you? You seemed sure of your friendís delusion. How does this tale relate to your present state of austerity?"

"Yes, well. Let me just say I wish to be sure that all my possessions are mine and are where they are meant to be. One week after the funeral I had a most dreadful dream. My deceased friend was calling out to me from his grave in a voice of terrified despair that was underpinned with warning. I woke up more frightened than usual at a mere dream and decided to take a walk to gather my thoughts. It was a fine, mild night with a full moon and I decided against my more rational judgment to pay a visit to the grave of my poor friend, just to put my mind at ease. As I drew near to the grave the moonlight revealed a small tunnel about a handspan wide, drilling itís way down through the dirt of the fresh grave. With a growing horror, I perceived a trail leading from this unnatural hole to the headstone. The mind can sometimes put together seemingly unrelated circumstances to deduce even fanciful possibilities in an instant, which mine did now. Almost unwillingly I raised my eyes to the headstone, where the moonlight shone coldly on a blank space where the crucifix had recently been!