by Bill Bowler
part 6 of 6
“It stinks in here,” Straker muttered to himself under his breath.
“That is the fragrance of incense, a blend of aromatic, some might say magical herbs.” Von Holzing sniffed the air. “Yes, Asafoetida, Orris root, a dash of Wormwood. They serve to strengthen feminine healing, provide protection, ward off evil, summon the spirits, if one gives credence to that sort of thing.”
“Hello, Yanosh,” spoke a scarcely audible female voice.
Straker turned and gazed intently. A woman had come into the room and filled it with her presence. She wore a black cloak covered with silver stars. Her skin was creamy smooth and long waves of silver hair fell to her shoulders. Her dark eyes flashed in Straker’s direction. The professor and Tricia watched, the professor as if studying an interesting phenomenon, Tricia as if hypnotized. Straker spoke,
“How do you know my name?”
“I knew you as a child, Yanosh, in Targoviste. I knew your parents and grandparents. I remember when...”
“Who are you?”
“I’m a simple old woman.”
Straker stared intently at her. “Sonya!”
The woman smiled.
“Where’s the boy?”
“Where the chain of events has led him.”
“What have you done with him?”
“What is to be done? The boy is no more, and no less. He’s not what he was nor what you thought he was.”
“You can’t hide him. We’ll find him.”
“Yes, you will. In fact, you can not escape him. Just continue along the path and it will lead you to him. Even if you turned and fled, your path would circle back to him, and his to you.”
“My dear woman,” said von Holzing, “we are merely trying to help the boy.”
“I know what you’re trying to do.”
“Then you won’t help us?” asked von Holzing gently.
“Perhaps it depends on how you look at it. Help. Harm. Seek. Avoid. Does what we do or think we do matter, anyway? Perhaps, like the devil, we seek good and accomplish evil. Or is it the other way around? Or maybe it’s all the same?”
“Let’s go, Professor. This witch won’t tell us anything. She’s speaking in riddles. She’s put her black curse on the boy and now there’s only one way to set things straight.”
“You may be right, Yanosh, but let us not jump to hasty conclusions. Madame Sonya, please believe me when I say I am pleased to have made your acquaintance. The time may come when we have cause to speak further of these rather confused but most interesting matters.” The professor turned to Tricia. “Come, my dear. We’ve no further business here at the moment.”
With a hate-filled parting glance at Tamara, Tricia turned to go. Von Holzing took her by the arm and led her from the room as Straker followed.
After they had gone, the rear curtain parted and Nikko entered the parlor, his wild red hair standing on end, his eyes sadder than ever. Tamara sat in the guest chair and covered her face with her hands. Madame Sonya sat behind the table and looked long and deeply into the ball, her smooth face lit by the rose glow from the transparent globe. Each lost in his own thoughts, no one spoke. A sense of gloom pervaded the parlor.
“It’s the hunter, isn’t it?” said Nikko. It was more of a statement than a question.
“Yes, Nikko,” said Madame Sonya. “He’s found us.”
“I won’t let him touch Josey. I’ll die first.”
Madame Sonya turned to her grand-daughter. “Bring him here.”
* * *
“He hates us, child, because he hates himself and hunts us down to escape himself. He fears us because he fears to gaze into the face of his own desires. He doesn’t understand who or what he is. We are dead to him but it is his soul that has shriveled, his path that has veered into the pit of self-death. He has fallen to the depths, hit bottom, and now he seeks to purge, to cleanse others, but wallows in the muck and filth himself. He hunts and slays the innocent, seeing them as monstrous reflections of his own image. Now, he takes what he is powerless to give. By killing us, he hopes to save himself but only destroys his own soul, piece by piece. He was Upwyr but he has forsaken his own flesh, blood and spirit. He has been transformed by his own self-hate and rage. He has become Netopwyr.”
“I’m sorry, Madame Sonya, but I don’t understand,” said Josey.
“When you first came to me, to have your fortune read, I recognized your soul. It is an ancient one; it has travelled through the eons. It has lived many lifetimes before this one. And yet, it has remained pure and untarnished. In no manifestation has it ever succumbed to the many temptations that worldly illusions cast in our way. It has never faltered or wavered. But this lifetime has brought the convergence of two paths at the edge of a dark chasm, past which I can not see, as if the outcome has not yet been decided. I do what I can to protect and strengthen you. You’ve felt the effects of my enchantments. The spells are merely catalysts that unlock your own hidden strength. But Straker, the hunter, also senses your being, even through the cloak of enchantment. He will never stop and never rest until he tracks you down and puts an end to the cycle of your existences.”
“This is crazy.”
“From certain points of view, it must seem so.”
“Grandmother!” Tamara cried out. “What should we do?”
“Continue forward and not look back. But we must hurry now.”
* * *
By 10:00 pm, the final performance had ended. The crowd had filed out and the crew was breaking down the grandstands and trapeze, loading out the equipment and gear, preparing to bring down the great poles and collapse the main tent. They would load the line of trucks, waiting at the curb, and the crew and cargo would leave before daybreak. The troupe would board coaches and follow later in the morning.
Josey was packing his few things. He was leaving with the circus, with Tamara and Sonya. He was leaving his past life behind, forgotten. Almost. He thought of Tricia and wrestled with the guilt. He had tried to blot her out and keep her from his thoughts but her image kept intruding. He couldn’t just walk out on her and leave without explaining, without even saying good-bye. It was late, but he called her.
“Josey! I’m so glad to hear your voice! Where are you?”
“I’m leaving, Trish, but I wanted to say good-bye.”
“It’s true. Too much has happened. I have to go.”
“Josey, that’s crazy! You can’t just run away from trouble.”
“You may be right.”
“Josey, I have to see you.”
“I want to see you, too, Trish. But it’s to say good-bye. Come down to Lincoln Center. I’ll meet you by the fountain.”
* * *
Josey finished packing, left his suitcase on the bed, and went out thru the curtain into the parlor. He stopped short. Madame Sonya was seated at the table, gazing into the globe, murmuring quietly in low tones under her breath. Josey walked up to her and began to speak,
“Madame Sonya, I...” He broke off. She seemed to be in a trance. The room was full of smoky incense, the globe was glowing and sparkling, and Madame Sonya was muttering incantations and seemed unaware of his presence.
Josey slipped out to the arcade, past the workmen breaking down the booths and exhibits, and went out to the plaza. The night air was brisk. The philharmonic hall was dark already but the Metropolitan Opera performance had just concluded and the crowd of well dressed patrons was streaming out of the opera house.
Josey tossed a coin into the fountain, wished for good luck, and sat on the low wall that circled the pool. He pulled his jacket tight around him. It was just midnight. The waxing moon was rising in the east, just showing its face above the towers.
It wasn’t long before Josey heard Trish call his name and saw her running up the steps across the plaza to him.
She took him in her arms. “Oh, Josey! It’s you!”
He hugged her, then gently pushed away and disengaged himself.
“What’s happened to you? Why did you just disappear like that? I’ve been calling you, looking for you, worried out of my mind. Are you in some kind of trouble?”
“You wouldn’t understand, Trish. It’s complicated.”
“It’s that bitch, isn’t it!?” Tricia flared up at the thought of Tamara. “You’re dumping me for HER?”
Josey didn’t reply. He looked down, struggling with himself, searching for the words. Maybe that was it? Maybe Trish was right? Everything was just swirling madly and his brain was short circuiting.
He felt suddenly cold. A chill gripped his heart and made him tremble. Darkness seemed to gather around him. He looked up. A cloud had covered the face of the moon. From the corner of his eye, Josey sensed rapid movement. Straker was running across Broadway towards the plaza.
Josey jumped up, terrified.
“I love you, Trish. But I have to go.”
He turned and ran.
“Josey!” Tricia shouted out. “Come back!”
But he was disappearing around the side of the opera house, running back across the circus site, out to the avenue behind. Straker, moving fast, brushed past Tricia, heading in Josey’s direction.
Josey’s heart was pumping as he reached the avenue and paused. Which way? In one jump, he leapt across five lanes of traffic on Amsterdam, over the tops of the moving cars, and came down on the far side. He hit the ground in full stride and turned north, feeling a strange mix of terror and joy, taking great leaps and bounds, almost flying through the air. Behind him, Straker came.
Josey sailed over an iron gate, ran through a parking lot down to West End, and headed towards the river. He fled like a swift deer, lightly, bounding swiftly through the moonlight. He tumbled down the slope to the bike path, hesitated a moment, and ran out onto the pier. Straker was coming down the slope behind him. Straker crouched and took aim.
Josey heard “poof, poof, poof.” He saw the bullets and dove left, but the third shot caught him, and he felt the ripping pain of a silver bullet drill into his right leg. He stumbled and fell to the concrete surface. He saw Straker, gun drawn, coming towards him from the foot of the pier. Josey struggled to his feet. Another “poof” and he went down again, bleeding badly now.
Straker was almost upon him.
“Not moving so fast now, are you, punk?”
“It’s not much, but there’ll be one less stinking vermin in this city. And your circus friends, they’re next, the whole stinking, rotten pack of them.”
Straker leveled his pistol at Josey. A faint voice whispered to Yanosh from inside his own skull, insistent, pleading, but he could not make out the words. He felt his guts constrict in the clammy grip of an unseen presence. Under the moon, an owl screeched and circled above them. A deep, hoarse, mad barking suddenly filled Josey’s ears. Straker lurched forward and slammed face down on the concrete pier. An immense hound with droopy eyes and long mangy red fur sticking out in all directions, barking madly, was on top of Straker. The huge dog chomped down and sunk its teeth into Straker’s right arm. He dropped the pistol and screamed in pain.
The hound had locked its jaws on Straker’s arm. Straker struck and thrashed but could not loosen the dog’s grip. He reached down towards his ankle and drew the knife. The two struggling bodies rolled off the edge of the pier and splashed down into the frigid river. They thrashed a moment on the surface. A pool of blood was spreading in the water. The strong, fast running current grabbed them and pulled them away from the wharf and then down, under the surface, with the owl skimming after them and screeching.
Josey watched the water and waited. The minutes passed. The current runs deep and swift. Nothing broke the surface downstream. The two were gone.
The owl returned and fluttered to Josey where he lay. He heard a screech. A mist congealed around him. Through the mist, he saw something, and heard Madame Sonya’s voice.
“Lie still, Josey. We are powerless against silver. Your wounds are painful to the flesh, but they will heal.”
“Is he dead?”
“No. Just swept aside for now. But the tangled web has been rent asunder. The path has forked again. Your way lies elsewhere.”
“What will happen to us?”
“There are many questions I cannot answer.”
Sonya knelt and bound Josey’s leg with her silken scarf.
“I’m too old and weak to lift you.” She turned and spoke over her shoulder. “Come, my child. Help him up.”
Josey looked past Madame Sonya. In the moonlight, he saw a vision of Tamara floating towards him like a ghost...
* * *
To be continued...
Copyright © 2008 by Bill Bowler