The Stone of Concord
by Jack Bragen
Most viewers either ignored it or dismissed it as nonsense — the Channel 7 news piece about the end of the universe as we know it. A man in Concord claimed that the world was ending due to the malpractices of extraterrestrials on the other side of the universe.
Newscaster Mike Dougall interviewed the man in his home, a unit in the low-income projects that were annoyingly situated in a good part of Concord. The sound and lighting assistant, the cameraman, and Dougall could all barely fit in the small living room of the squalid apartment.
Dougall faced the camera. “This is, ah, Mr. Louie. He is a well-known, award-winning psychic who apparently can communicate with inanimate objects. We’re giving him a little airtime because he says he has an important announcement. Mr. Louie, go ahead.” Dougall put the microphone up to an aging man. Whacked, Dougall thought.
Mr. Louie was shriveled and hunched like a twenty-year heroin addict. “See this?” In the palm of his hand there was a small pebble that seemed to shimmer in the bright lighting.
“What is the significance of that?” asked Dougall.
“I’ve dubbed this the Rosal Stone. Its origin is outside of our universe. I will sell it for eighty thousand. Its possessor will have limitless power.” Mr. Louie smiled to reveal a set of half-rotted teeth.
“I’m sorry, I’m not following you,” said Dougall, not wanting to appear to the news audience that he believed the delusions of a crazy person. Dougall paused. “So you’re saying this pebble is like a super-duper magic charm?”
“Soon, everyone will have magic, and soon after, the end.” He looked straight at the camera lens, his eyes bloodshot and wide. “Eighty thousand for this stone. Remember.”
“Let me get this straight: The world is ending and you’re trying to raise money. What good is money if the world is coming to an end?” The newscaster believed he had outmaneuvered the old stray.
“There is nothing anyone can do. I intend to have a good time for the month or two that remains,” replied the old man.
I’ve been checkmated, thought Dougall. This fool’s delusional world is consistent with itself.
* * *
Vex Mckinney was the half-brother of the psychic, Mr. Louie, who had appeared on television. Vex had watched the newscast. Vex phoned Mr. Louie. “I want the stone,” Vex said.
Louie replied, “You are the one person to whom I will not give it, sell it or loan it. You will not have this power.”
Perhaps it was a case of sibling rivalry. In his twenties, Vex McKinney had been a lonesome floor polisher. He had made good investments with the same amount of money that his coworkers spent on Jack-In-The-Box and on marijuana. By age forty-five he was living on the dividends, but he still couldn’t get a date. On weekends, he would go to estate sales looking for bargains that he could resell on the Internet.
Vex was now a short, stout, gray-haired, gray-bearded man. If it weren’t for the disagreeable leer that constantly twisted his face, the absence of rosy cheeks, and the complete absence of benevolence, he might have been mistaken for Santa Claus.
Vex drove to the bank with the thought of withdrawing the eighty thousand dollars to buy the stone from his brother. He parked in one of the three available parking spots and stepped out of his vehicle. Abruptly, Vex discovered he could fly.
Vex had experienced a fleeting fantasy of hovering in mid-air above the roof of his bank building. Now in real life, Vex’s feet left the sidewalk, and he floated alongside some power lines, thirty feet up.
Two other people nearby were also flying, and one of them almost impacted against a power transformer.
Vex said aloud, “Down.” He gently lost altitude. Is this what my brother had spoken of?
The bank customers were oblivious to persons flying just outside. Vex withdrew the eighty thousand. Mr. Louie didn’t know that Vex intended to resell the stone at a hefty profit.
Vex began to climb the rickety wooden staircase that led to Mr. Louie’s apartment, and then remembered his flight at the bank. “Up!” he uttered.
Upon floating to Mr. Louie’s front porch, Vex rang the doorbell three times in a row.
The two half-brothers were now face to face.
“You will have to pay me and fight me for the stone.”
Two squirrels floated in the air nearby and ate walnuts. Apparently now the power of flight had been given to non-humans.
Vex cocked back his right arm, readying to strike his brother. Mr. Louie was quick and put out his fingers. Little lightning bolts emanated from his fingertips that zapped Vex in the chest. Wisps of smoke rose from where the electricity seared Vex’s shirt. Vex smelled of burnt chest hair.
Shocked but stalwart, Vex refreshed his effort at punching his brother. His blow met empty air. Mr. Louie had easily dodged ir.
“I owe you,” growled Vex.
“We don’t have to be enemies,” said Mr. Louie.
Vex threw a series of punches, none of which could connect upon the very agile Mr. Louie. Mr. Louie deftly got behind Vex’s back, and got him into a headlock, while grabbing an arm and twisting it behind Vex.
“Damn you!” cried Vex. “Why can’t you ever fight like a man?”
“Surrender. Give me the eighty thousand for nothing, and I won’t break your arm.”
“Bargains ended on the day you took Annie.” Vex bent his knees and stepped backward, surprising Mr. Louie. Then Vex bent forward, flipping Mr. Louie over the shoulder.
Mr. Louie slammed into the wood railing while in an upside-down position. He collapsed in a human heap on his wooden porch.
Vex stood over Mr. Louie as Mr. Louie sobbed. Then Mr. Louie stopped sobbing and reached into a pocket. His hand came out holding the Rosal Stone.
“Fix. Refresh,” Mr. Louie said, apparently addressing the stone in his hand. The shriveled, hunched man seemed to grow instantly straighter and more robust. He quickly rose to his feet and sent a flurry of karate chops at Vex’s neck. Mr. Louie paused to catch his breath.
Vex wasn’t done. He pretended he was about to collapse from the pain, and then he roughly grabbed his weaker brother, lifted him, and held him over the rail of the wooden staircase, above a fifteen-foot drop.
“You have passed the test,” cried Mr. Louie. “I will sell you the Rosal Stone. Don’t drop me!”
Overcome by old anger from childhood, Vex released his brother, expecting him to drop. Mr. Louie remained motionless in midair. Vex grabbed his brother again and set him down on the wooden porch.
“Seventy thousand, not eighty,” said Vex.
Vex sat on the sofa of Mr. Louie’s squalid apartment. Mr. Louie produced a cup of iced coffee, while Vex prepared to count out the seventy thousand dollars.
Mr. Louie pointed a finger at the television, and it came on to show a news bulletin. Vex and Mr. Louie watched the news as the fabric of the universe unraveled. The power of the Rosal Stone enabled the brothers to remain seated rather than involuntarily defy gravity, as was now happening to almost everyone, including animals.
Copyright © 2013 by Jack Bragen