by Maggie Fry
All rights reserved.
This is a story that was commissioned by Alexian to be released in episodes as a “quest” to introduce a new song. Now that the quest is over, I’m releasing it in its entirety (without clues) on my blog. You can hear a sample of the song here: https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/alexian6
1922 – Egypt
Clarence Parkman had no patience for delays. He had discovered Queen Nefshepsut’s tomb and removed and cataloged the items in the outer chamber, yet here they sat, waiting. Each delay left the site vulnerable to thieves.
“I don’t think it can be helped,” his foreman said, “We have to wait for that load of lumber to reinforce the tunnel. It’s too dangerous otherwise.” Clyde Haldeman was the opposite of his employer in almost every way: cautious, meticulous, a follower of rules. Parkman kept the man on because he was good at his job. The workers respected him and he was a wizard with a budget, but Parkman wanted to grab him by the collar and shake him sometimes. He wanted to say, For once in your life, take a risk. Do something grandiose and foolhardy that you can tell your grandchildren about when you are old and in a rocking chair.
“Really, Mr. Parkman, Mr. Haldeman is right. We need to be sure the excavation is safe before venturing any further.”
“I know, I know,” Parkman growled. He hated it when Sylvia argued against him. A secretary’s job was to support their employer, not argue. He would discuss this with her later. “I will wait one more day, but if that lumber shipment isn’t here tomorrow, I’m going in anyway.” The lumber did not arrive.
That night as she was getting ready for bed, Parkman came to Sylvia’s tent. “I understand most of the crew went home and won’t be back until the shipment comes in,” he said. “Let’s go have a look.”
“But it’s unstable. It’s dangerous.”
“I’ll watch for signs of shifting. We’ll leave if we see anything,” Parkman promised. “I’ve waited so long, I just can’t wait any longer.”
Sylvia carried a lantern and Parkman brought a shovel and a pry bar as they made their way to the entrance of the excavation. Parkman pulled away the wood door covering the opening.
“Shouldn’t we tell someone where we are going?” Sylvia said. “Shouldn’t we tell Mr. Haldeman?”
“Clyde is a coward. He doesn’t understand the need for risk.” Sylvia looked back over her shoulder but then followed Parkman into the tunnel. Soon they were in the now bare chamber. When they opened it several weeks ago, the room full of jars and baskets. Some of it had been food that was placed there thousands of years ago. Some of it was clothing and jewelry. Everything the queen would need in the after-life.
Across the empty room there was a brightly painted door covered in hieroglyphics. “Come over here with that lantern,” Parkman said. Sylvia walked over to give him light while he worked. Soon the seal on the door was broken loose and Parkman dragged it open.
This was clearly the burial chamber. Just inside the room stood a bust on a stand. It was the head of a beautiful woman and she was wearing a golden headdress with a large, tear-drop shaped stone in it. Behind the bust, against the wall was the sarcophagus, with an image of the same beautiful face.
Parkman reached up and took the headdress off of the bust and put it in his pocket.
“What are you doing?” Sylvia said. “We have to catalog and photograph everything before it can be removed.”
“I’m keeping this piece for myself. The stone alone will clear all of my debts, and leave enough to fund my next venture.”
“But I thought you were going back to teaching after this?”
“I can’t stand being stuck in a classroom. I need the thrill of the hunt.” Sylvia took a deep breath. She had to tell him and it had to be soon.
“Clarence, there is something I have to tell you.”
“Hmm?” He was examining the sarcophagus and wasn’t really paying attention.
“I’m… I’m carrying your child.” Parkman froze and then looked at her.
“I’m a married man.”
“This can’t happen.”
“I’ll go to a sanitarium until it’s born. We can tell people it’s an orphaned niece or nephew.”
“You must know no one will believe that. There will be a scandal.”
“But it’s a chance we’ll have to take.” Just then a trickle of dust fell through the beam of the lantern, and then they heard a faint rumbling. Parkman looked at the ceiling and then at Sylvia.
“I’m sorry, my dear, but it isn’t.” Parkman shoved her hard against the back wall and turned and ran out of the room as the ceiling collapsed. He grabbed the bust on his way out.
How long has it been, Sylvia wondered. They have to come soon. They will come soon. He couldn’t just leave me here. Sylvia knew from the pain that one of her legs was broken and whenever she tried to move, there was a sharp pain in her chest. She had no choice but to lie there and wait.
He isn’t coming. He’s going to leave me to die. Sylvia couldn’t draw a deep breath. Her chest felt as if it were full of dust and the pain in her leg was excruciating. But the worst was the pain of knowing that the man she loved was leaving her to die because she had become an inconvenience.
“I curse you, Clarence Parkman, you and your family for generations to come. May your avarice and selfishness consume you from the inside out. May you become a hated thing. The thrill of the hunt, indeed. May you become the hunted!” Sylvia thought she could hear a clear note like a bell ringing in the ruined chamber. Then she gave herself to the blackness and thought no more.
The dark water of the Allegheny River churned around the bridge pilings the same way Jordan’s stomach was roiling. Cold rain fell in nearly horizontal sheets, soaking their hoodie and making it difficult to hang onto the metal railing. Just let go and it will all be over, Jordan thought, but they gripped the cold, slippery metal harder.
It’s not like there is anyone who will care or even notice if I jump off of this bridge. And I can’t let it happen, I can’t. The curse will die with me anyway because I sure as hell am never having kids, but I can’t go through that. I can’t become that. It’s all so bloody fucking unfair. All I’ve got to do is let go.
Sean turned his collar up against the wind and adjusted his umbrella. He was glad for the umpteenth time that year that he had bought one of those ones that are designed nor to break if they turned inside out. You get a little wet, but at least you don’t have to buy a new umbrella. He also wished for the umpteenth time in the last fifteen minutes that he had driven to work today instead of walking. But the morning had been so beautiful—a perfect fall day with a clear blue sky, sunshine and the leaves in their full autumn glory. I guess this is the twenty percent chance of rain in the weather forecast.
Sean quickened his pace. He didn’t want to be late for game night and he certainly didn’t want to spend any more time on this bridge than he had to. What an ignominious way to go; taken out by a car on your way to game night in the rain. They really need to improve the lighting on this thing.
As if he had asked for it, a flash of lightning illuminated the span. Sean stopped. He thought he saw something about halfway across the bridge. It looked like a person but it couldn’t be, could it? What kind of an idiot would be standing on a bridge in a slashing rainstorm? Oh, wait a minute. Oh God. What side of the railing were they standing on?
Sean began to jog. This was not easy for him, jogging not being one of his regular activities, but he had to get to the person on the bridge before they did anything rash. As he got closer, Sean could see the outline. Yes, there was someone there and they were on the wrong side of the railing. He drew breath to call out but thought better of it. I don’t want to scare them and make them fall.
Jordan thought they heard footsteps coming toward them. Oh shit. I don’t need an audience right now.
The footsteps came closer and then slowed. Jordan turned to look at the intruder on their painstakingly planned death scene. “Go away. I don’t need help. I know exactly what I am doing. Go away.”
Sean stopped, breathing a bit heavily and feeling distinctly nettled. “Really? You look kind of stuck. I could give you a push if you like.” Oh God! Why did I say that out loud? Why am I such an asshole?
Jordan felt as if a hand had smacked them across the face, and then the absurdity overwhelmed them and they started to laugh, shaking at first and then building to an actual guffaw. It was the funniest thing they’d heard in months.
Sean rushed forward and took hold of Jordan’s upper arm. “I’m so sorry! I don’t mean to be a jerk, it just comes out that way sometimes.” Jordan turned to look at the man who was gripping them and an unexpected warmth seeped through the soggy hoodie. They knew that they weren’t going to jump tonight.
Sean loosened his grip on Jordan’s arm slightly and reached for their hand, then steadied them as they climbed over the railing onto the metal grid walkway. “Come on,” Sean said, dropping Jordan’s hand, “You’re soaked and it’s freezing. Let’s get you warmed up.”
They walked across the rest of the bridge to the other side of the river where there was a neighborhood of shops lining the road. Sean would have turned left to get to the game store, but he turned right instead. They walked a few doors down from the corner and Sean turned into a bar. Thankfully, the place was mostly empty, so there was a table open next to the fireplace in which a gas fire that almost looked like real logs was blazing away.
“Would you like a drink?” Sean asked.
“Sure,” Jordan said. When the server arrived, Sean ordered an Irish coffee with whipped cream. Jordan thought for a moment and said, “Balvenie, neat,”
“You’re soaked. You should take that hoodie off.” Sean said. “Here. You can wear my coat and we can hang yours by the fire.” Jordan smiled, tilted their head, and looked at Sean. What’s your deal, my man? Are you after something? Jordan looked at the man sitting across the table from them, the man who had just ruined their plan, or saved their life, depending upon how you looked at it. No, you feel genuine. Jordan stood up, unzipped the wet, black hoodie, and hung it over the back of the chair nearest the fire. They thought about refusing the offer of the coat, but their T shirt and jeans were wet, too, and if they weren’t going to die right away, there was no sense in getting pneumonia.
Sean helped slip the jacket over Jordan’s arms. It was a hooded rain jacket with a flannel lining and numerous pockets in a bright, royal blue. It was a very practical garment, not the kind of thing that Jordan had ever owned. “Thanks,” they said.
“Oh, no problem.” So what do I say now? “What do you do for a living?” hardly makes sense. I mean, how do you break the ice with someone who was trying to kill themselves ten minutes ago?
“So, what do you do for a living?” Shit. I’m so stupid! Why can’t I learn to control my mouth? “I work at the Carnegie Library. I’m a librarian. A research librarian.” Jordan smiled, raised their glass and took a drink.
“I’m kind of an artist, but I guess you could say I’m a trust fund baby.”
“Must be nice,” Shit, shit, shit! What is wrong with you? “I mean, that would give you a lot of options.”
“Money can’t solve everything.”
Sean took a drink of the warm spiked coffee and remembered at the last moment to wipe the whipped cream off of his mustache. “I’m sure that’s true. It can open some doors that can be hard to get through, otherwise.” Sean shifted in his seat and cleared his throat. “I mean, I’m one of six kids and we’ve all ended up with some pretty hefty student loans.” Change the subject, doofus. “So what kind of art do you make?”
“I guess you could call it multi-media. I had a show at the Torn gallery last year.”
“Oh, I know that place! It’s on the South Side. I don’t go there that often, but I do know where it is.” Sean lifted the tall cup to his lips and watched the person sitting across from him. They had their face turned toward the fire, and the light played across prominent cheekbones, a long straight nose, and amazingly long eyelashes. Their hair was still wet and hung down into their eyes, but Sean could tell it was coal-black, probably dyed. Then Jordan turned and looked at him and Sean felt like he had jumped off that bridge and the dark, churning water of the river was closing over his head. Those eyes. I’ve never seen eyes that green. They are like a cat’s.
“Why were you trying to kill yourself?” Sean asked.
“Because I’m cursed,” Jordan replied.
“What do you mean you’re cursed?” Sean asked. Jordan took a drink and then looked at Sean. I don’t owe this guy anything. I didn’t ask for him to pull me off of that bridge. Why should I tell him anything? But Jordan felt an undeniable tug, as if something were pulling them toward the big, kind, goofy guy sitting across from them. What the fuck. He’ll just think I’m nuts anyway.
Jordan sat back in the chair and turned to watch the flames. “It’s a long story. I think I’m going to need another drink.” Sean signaled the server.
“There seems to be a curse on my family,” Jordan began. “On my father’s family, actually. I just found out about it, so it is pretty raw and you are going to think I’m crazy.”
“Let me make up my own mind.” Jordan gave a weary smile. We’ll see about that.
“So, I grew up with just my mom, just the two of us. She would never tell me who my father was, only that he left before I was born. That leaves you with a hole in your life, you know? I knew plenty of kids who lived with single mothers, but they at least knew who their dad was. I was pretty hard on her about it, but she never caved. She literally took her secret to her grave.”
“Your mom’s dead? I’m sorry.”
“Thanks. Yeah, she died of cancer about a year ago. Once she was gone, I started to look for him. I got my first clue when her lawyer called me into his office to read the will. I was her only living relative, so there wasn’t anyone else there. She was an artist and she never made much money. She had always told me that she had a trust fund from her grandfather, and that was mostly what we lived on.
“But the lawyer told me that it wasn’t a trust fund so much as a monthly payment and that now that my mother was gone, it was going to come to me. And it wasn’t from her grandfather. It was from somewhere called the Parkman Foundation. I asked the attorney why things were set up this way, but he said he didn’t know.
“Of course, as soon as I left the office, I pulled out my phone and Googled the Parkman Foundation, but there wasn’t much there.
“So, I started looking for my father. Of course, my birth records were sealed. The Internet turned up nothing, but about a month ago I got a letter. It was from a woman who said she was my aunt and that she knew my mother had died. She had agreed to respect Mom’s wishes and keep the family secret, but now this woman felt it was important for me to know the truth.”
“So you found your dad?” Sean asked. “Yeah,” Jordan said, “I found him and I almost wish I hadn’t.”
“The woman, my aunt, insisted I fly to Minneapolis to meet her. It was sketchy as hell, but I thought it’s my only lead, so why not? She booked a room for me at one of the hotels at the airport, and we met there for dinner.“ Jordan remembered how incongruent it felt to be in a hotel dining room, surrounded by white linen and gleaming crystal when they heard their father’s story.
They were sitting in the dining room at a table in the corner, as the woman had requested. Jordan was too nervous to even look at their phone. They picked a black cat hair off of their sleeve. Thanks, Bast.
When his aunt entered the restaurant, Jordan knew immediately it was her. It was almost like one of those aging apps and they were looking at themselves as they would look in thirty years. She walked to the table.
She pulled out a chair and sat across from Jordan. They went through the motions of ordering food to cover the awkwardness, but then there was no escape.
“Thank you for coming,” Caroline said. “I’m sorry about your mother’s passing. She was a wonderful woman and I know you must miss her.”
“You knew my mother?”
“Oh yes. Jason, that’s my brother, your father, introduced us shortly after they started dating. After he broke off contact with everyone, I stayed in touch with her. It doesn’t surprise me she never told you. I don’t think she ever believed in the family curse. She thought it was a string of weird coincidences.” Caroline’s hand shook as she stirred cream into the coffee the server had just poured for her.
“Family curse?” Jordan asked. Oh great! This woman is a nut job. No wonder Mom kept her away from me. “So, is my father still alive?”
“Yes,” Caroline said, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly.
“Do you have contact information for him? Can I see him?” Jordan was getting annoyed. What does this woman want? Money?
“He’s in a hospital. We can go and see him tomorrow if you still want to.”
“Why wouldn’t I want to? I flew all the way out here and I have waited almost thirty years to even find out his name. Why is he in a hospital? Is he sick?”
“To the world, he looks sick, insane, but I know he is cursed.”
“And how, precisely, do you know this?
“Because it has affected the firstborn in every generation of our family since 1922. Look, I know you don’t believe me, but please just listen.”
“So where is my father exactly and why is he there?”
“He’s in a hospital for the criminally insane. He’s been there for over twenty years. It’s the same hospital my father was in and my grandfather.”
“It sounds like some kind of genetic condition.”
“I suppose it is, but it only affects the firstborn in each generation.”
“What are the symptoms?”
“Well, the doctors say it is a type of psychosis, a break with reality, but that’s all they know. They don’t know what causes it and they don’t know how to cure it.”
“Okay, but why is he hospitalized? Is he dangerous?”
At that moment, their food arrived and Caroline spent a few moments placing her napkin in her lap and arranging her silverware. Jordan kept their jade green eyes on this woman who had eyes of exactly the same shade. Finally, she looked up.
“He…he committed a murder. Not just a murder, a massacre. He broke into this family’s home and killed all of them.”
Jordan felt cold seep into their belly. My father is a literal homicidal maniac? Keep calm, who even knows if she is telling you the truth. She could be trying to extort money from you. There are a lot of weird, messed up people in this world.
“And that’s not all. He mutilated their corpses. He…he ate their brains.”
“Wait a minute. Are you trying to tell me my father is some kind of brain-eating zombie? What kind of bullshit is this? Honestly, they should probably lock you up, too.” Jordan rose to leave the table, but Caroline put a hand on their arm.
“Please, just listen. It’s very important for you to hear this.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a thick, manila envelope and place it on the table in front of Jordan.
“These are his medical records and my father’s. My grandfather’s records were lost in a fire, but I’m sure they would say something similar.”
They’re fakes, Jordan thought. They have to be. But they sat down again.
“Are you seriously trying to tell me that my father is a brain-eating zombie?”
“Yes,” Caroline said, “and you will become one, too, on your thirtieth birthday.”
“Hang on a second. Did you say zombie?” Sean asked.
“Yeah,” Jordan replied. They took another sip of whiskey. “It’s the closest description anyone has come up with for it. No one has been able to figure out what it is. Maybe it’s a genetic malformation in the brain that is trigged somehow or a virus that lies dormant.”
“But the thirtieth birthday part is pretty specific. How do you know she was telling the truth?”
“I made her take me to see him.”
The building itself looked unremarkable. Just a squat, brick structure set back from the road behind a screen of trees. What was noteworthy was the fence, eight feet tall and topped with razor wire. They stopped at the gate made of thick, close-set metal bars and Caroline got out. She walked up to a black box mounted next to the gate and put her face close to the surface. Jordan couldn’t see what was happening but thought that it was probably an optic scanner. They hadn’t been too comfortable about the visit in the first place, but now they had the distinct impression that they were going in the wrong direction.
Caroline got back into the car and drove into the parking area next to the building. She turned off the engine and looked at Jordan. “There is nothing I can say to prepare you for this, so let’s just go.”
Jordan wasn’t sure what they had been expecting, but it wasn’t the sterile emptiness that they saw upon entering the building. Of course, there were multiple layers of security, scanners and enormous locks and armed guards, but there were no clues as to what kind of place it was.
A woman was waiting for them in a room to the right of the entrance doors. She looked to be about forty with short, no-nonsense blonde hair and the same uniform as the guard standing next to her. The only difference was that she wasn’t carrying a rifle. “Hello, Ms. Parkman,” she said. She smiled and extended a hand toward Jordan who shook it.
“This is Jordan. Jordan, this is Dr. Thompkins. She’s the lead psychiatrist here.”
The guard led Caroline, Jordan and Dr. Thompkins through a heavy door a to an elevator where they got in and rode down several floors. The doors opened onto a guard station with a bank of hundreds of monitor screens where Jordan could see tiny images of a person in each one.
The guard led them down yet another corridor. Jordan was beginning to worry about finding their way out again. The guard stopped in front of a door that looked just like all the rest and held a card up to a reader. There was the sound of a heavy lock moving and Dr. Thompkins opened the door and walked in. Caroline and Jordan followed her into a small vestibule in front of another door that had a glass window in it. Through the window, they could see a figure slumped in a chair and staring at the wall. It was a very thin man with a shaved head, sunken eyes and a mouth slack and hanging open.
“So, there hasn’t been any change?” Caroline asked.
“No,” Dr. Thompkins replied. “We’ve learned that if we get in and out of his cell quickly, we usually have time to do what we need to do before he reacts. We can clean him up and get him into bed. Injecting his feeding tube is tricky. It takes a while. We sometimes have to stop and let him calm down. If we don’t, it’s a disaster.”
Almost as if on cue, the man in the chair turned his head and looked at them. Then he rose from the chair and began to shamble toward the door. The guard pointed his rifle and the rest of the group backed up. As the man’s face filled the window, Jordan could see eyes the color of moss, just like theirs, and their stomach clenched.
“Come on,” Dr. Thompkins said. “We need to go before he gets stirred up. This isn’t good.” As the group turned to leave the vestibule, Jordan looked at the man, his father, one last time. They thought they saw a trail of dampness glisten on one cheek.
“Isn’t there anything that will help him?” Jordan asked Dr. Thompkins as they rode back up in the elevator.
“Nothing that we’ve found,” she said. “He is completely docile most of the time, almost catatonic. But he seems to respond to human presence, and the longer someone is there or the more people are present, the stronger the response. You don’t want to get caught in there alone when he wakes up.”
Back in the car, Caroline sat for a moment staring through the windshield, striking an eerie resemblance to her brother. Then she reached into her bag and pulled out a box.
“There is one more thing I have to tell you,” she said. Handing the box to Jordan. The box looked very old. It was made of wood covered in leather that was cracked and peeling off.
Jordan opened the box and inside was a piece of stained and tattered silk. Inside that was a milky white crystal shaped in the form of a large, frozen tear drop.
“That was found among my great grandfather’s things after he died,” Caroline said. “There were other things, too, and a paper, but that fell apart long ago. The writing was copied down, though, and this is what it said.” She handed Jordan an envelope and they opened it and drew out a piece of paper.
“This stone was found among the artifacts of Queen Nefshupset’s tomb. I am sorry, my son. I’ve done something terrible for which I must pay. I hope someday you can forgive me, but I fear not, for the magick has opened the Gates of Hell, and we are doomed.”
Jordan reached into the leather satchel they carried and drew out a box and set it on the table.
“Is that it?” Sean asked.
“Yes,” Jordan replied. They opened the lid, drew out the fabric-wrapped bundle and carefully opened it, revealing the milky stone inside. Blue flames seemed to dance inside it.
“Wow!” Sean reached a hand toward the crystal and then drew back. “Sorry. May I touch it?”
“Sure.” Sean picked up the stone, a tear-drop shape about three inches long from point to rounded bottom. He turned it in his hand and as the light fell on it, it sparkled with blue flashes.
“It’s a moonstone.”
“I think my great-great grandfather stole it from someone.”
“Hence the curse.”
Sean lifted his glass and took a long drink. It was beginning to cool towards lukewarm and Sean didn’t like cold coffee. He set his glass down and looked at Jordan.
“And this is why you were going to kill yourself?” Jordan looked at Sean with those amazingly green eyes rimmed with long, dark lashes.
“There isn’t any cure for whatever this is, a virus, a genetic mutation, whatever. It might as well be a curse, because it has hit the oldest member of each generation on their thirtieth birthday and I am the only member of my generation.”
“When will you be thirty?”
Sean had to restrain himself from saying Cool birthday! “You know, medical science has made many strides in the past thirty years. Maybe there is something available now that wasn’t discovered when you father was your age.”
“I have a feeling that if there were, my aunt would have found it by now.”
“But you don’t know. Maybe I can find something. I’m a research librarian.”
Jordan looked at the earnest, innocent and probably naive man sitting across from them and realized that they felt somewhat better. The icy dread in the pit of their stomach felt just a bit lighter, just a bit warmer. Maybe it was telling the story to someone else that made them feel that way. Maybe.
“That would be very kind of you.”
Sean ordered a car and paid the bill. When the car came, he opened the door for Jordan to climb into the back, and then went around and got in the other side. They drove through the wet streets of Pittsburgh; the lights from passing cars reflected on the pavement. Neither one spoke. Jordan gave their address and then sat back against the seat and looked out the window.
When the car pulled up outside their apartment building, Jordan turned to Sean and said, “Thank you doesn’t seem like enough, but that’s all I can say. Thank you for being there. Thank you for listening.”
“May I call you?”
MAY I call you, not CAN I call you. This one is different. “Sure,” Jordan said with a slight smile. They reached into the bag, drew out a card and handed it to Sean, before sliding out of the back seat, closing the door and walking into the building.
Sean got out after the car pulled up in front of the house where he lived. He went up the walk, climbed the porch stairs and unlocked the heavy wooden front door. He turned and looked back at the tree-lined street with houses and cars all in a line. Curses. I don’t know.
He took off his damp jacket and hung it from a peg in the vestibule, then he remembered the card and reached into one of the coat pockets. Jordan Parkman it read. Sean frowned. That name sounds familiar, but I can’t place it.
The next morning dawned as clear and bright as the previous one had been, so Sean walked to work again. He couldn’t stop thinking about Jordan: the strange events of the night before, the weird story, and those amazing green eyes. As he entered the building, Sean saw a floor to ceiling poster advertising a coming exhibit. The picture was of a bust of a woman that looked Egyptian.
Sean stopped off at the staff kitchen on his way to his office, got a handful of ice cubes out of the freezer and put them in a coffee cup. He walked to his office and hung his coat up behind the door, then walked to the window to place three ice cubes in each pot of a row of orchids in pots on the sill. Then he moved the mouse on his computer and the monitor came on to a password screen. After logging in, the library’s home page came up. There was another photo like the one on the poster downstairs. “Queen of Night,” the exhibit was called. It was scheduled to open in a few days. It was this year’s Halloween draw because the artifacts were rumored to be cursed.
“A collection of items on public display for the first time on loan from the Parkman Foundation.” Parkman? Wait a minute. He read further. “The artifacts are part of a group excavated by Clarence Parkman in 1922. Some people believe that the items taken from the tomb of Queen Nefshupset are cursed. Almost from the beginning, the expedition had bad luck. Excavations collapsed, workers fled and during the final stages of the dig, Parkman’s secretary, Sylvia Clark, was killed in a cave in. Parkman himself died shortly after returning to the States with the items.”
Sean reached for his phone and pulled Jordan’s card out of his pocket. Could I see you today? He typed. I need to tell you something.
Jordan poured a cup of coffee and sat down at the kitchen table. A black cat hopped immediately into their lap and they began to stroke it.
“Good morning, Bast.” The phone on the table gave a quick buzz and Jordan picked it up. It was a text from Sean.
Could I see you today?
I need to tell you something
Jordan studied the phone for a moment. I could ignore it, and things would progress the way they had been going ever since I came back from Minneapolis. He would eventually go away and I would become no more than a strange memory, a story he tells people about the night he “saved” someone from killing themselves…Or you could answer and then who knows what might happen?
On the steps by Phipps?
Jordan looked at the phone for a few more seconds and then laid it down and picked up the coffee cup. This is probably a mistake. I shouldn’t get this poor, sweet man involved in my mess of a life. But what if he’s found something? What if there’s…hope?
By 1:00 the crowd on the steps in front of the Phipps Conservatory had begun to thin out. It was a popular place to grab something from a food truck and eat lunch. Sean stood at the base of the steps, scanning the crowd with a sinking feeling. What if I don’t recognize them? It was dark last night.
Then he caught sight of someone walking toward him. Tall and slim with long legs, they were wearing a black tunic and leggings. Their black hair was casually spiked and they wore heavy black eyeliner and lipstick the color of the deepest burgundy. Sean’s breath caught and then he smiled. Yep, that’s Jordan.
“Hello.” They looked away from each other.
“Well, aren’t we the brilliant conversationalists?” Jordan said. Sean smiled.
“Maybe we’re all talked out from last night,” he said.
“Maybe we are just getting started.”
“So my great-great grandfather did something in Egypt that brought on the family curse?” Jordan reached out and ran a finger along a large, shiny, multicolored leaf hanging over the path. The fall exhibit in the conservatory blazed with autumn glory.
“That’s the legend. There are documented incidents of deaths and strange happenings around the artifacts. It’s one of the reasons the Parkman Foundation hasn’t allowed them to be displayed very often.”
“I wonder why they changed their minds? Or should I say her mind. I suspect Caroline is in charge of the foundation.”
“In any case, the exhibit opens next week. There will be a reception. Would you like to go?”
That night Sean and Jordan met for dinner and went to see a movie. The next day they took a walk in the park. During the day, Sean spent every moment he could researching Jordan’s story. He searched medical journals for mention of brain diseases that caused people to become catatonic and then violent. He read the background materials on the Queen Nefshepsut exhibit. Nothing seemed to provide a clue.
Sean stood by the entrance waiting for Jordan. For the occasion he had chosen his Harris tweed jacket and brown slacks. More professorial than dressy, Sean wasn’t really into clothes, but the colors of the Highland moors did do nice things for his rusty red hair and pale complexion.
Jordan stepped through the heavy glass doors behind a couple with two teen-aged children, so Sean didn’t get the full effect of their outfit at first. They were wearing slim-fitting, black trousers of a shiny material and a black, scoop-necked top with an amazing coat over it. It was a shiny, silver fabric with hieroglyphics all over it.
“That’s an amazing jacket!”
“I figured if we can’t stop the curse, I’ll be dead before the credit card bill comes.” Sean couldn’t help but chuckle.
“The food and drinks are this way.” They made their way through the crowd to tables laden with little bites: skewers with cherry tomatoes, small balls of fresh mozzarella, and basil drizzled with balsamic vinegar; mini bruschetta with finely chopped tomatoes and herbs; bowls of hummus surrounded by fresh vegetables; and a warming tray with spinach artichoke dip. On another table there were bowls of fresh fruit, platters of tiny cupcakes, and several trays of cookies. Sean and Jordan picked up glasses of white wine and plates and made their selections, then they walked to the outskirts of the crowd and found a place to set their glasses.
Several people said, “Hello,” as they walked past, giving Sean quizzical looks. He just smiled and waved.
“Umhhm. I wasn’t sure if you wanted to be introduced.” Jordan thought a moment.
“Let’s see the exhibit first.”
The first thing they saw upon entering the exhibit hall was a glass case with the bust of Queen in the center of the room. Arranged at the base of the bust was an assortment of jewelry: bracelets, necklaces, circlets and rings of jewel-studded gold. They made their way around the room looking at the artifacts.
“So, my great-great grandfather dug all this up and carted it back to America from Egypt?”
“Apparently. Do you feel drawn to anything?”
“I’m not having any woo woo feelings, if that’s what you mean. But I am wondering if Caroline would let me be buried in that amazing necklace.” Sean smiled and shook his head.
“Do you always make jokes about uncomfortable subjects?”
“As far back as I can remember.” Sean put his arms around Jordan. They stiffened in momentary surprise and then relaxed and returned the hug.
Sean stepped back a little, his hands sliding down to Jordan’s upper arms. “I think I’m falling in love with you.”
Jordan could feel their eyes starting to fill with tears. “I think I’m falling in love with you too, and it scares the shit out of me.”
Sean nodded. “I know. The timing is beyond crappy, but if there is an answer out there, we are going to find it.”
“Sean,” Jordan began, “I want you to do something for me. I need you to promise.”
“What is it?”
“If you can’t find any answer, if the disease or curse or whatever it is takes effect at the end of the month, I want you to kill me. I want you to shoot me. Please. Promise me you’ll kill me before I have a chance to hurt anyone.”
Sean took both of Jordan’s hands in his and looked them in the eyes. “I promise.”
Sean opened yet another article from yet another medical journal. None of the symptoms, bizarre as they may be, sounded like what Jordan described from his aunt’s description of his father’s behavior. There were descriptions of tumors or illnesses or injuries that made people unresponsive, and there were the same which made people violent, but not both. He decided to turn down a new track and typed “Parkman family” into the search bar.
Pages of entries popped up. It appeared to be a popular item. It had all the pieces to spark the prurient imagination: Egypt, ancient tombs, people dying under mysterious circumstances, rich men having shitty luck. But no mention of zombies. Nothing about Jordan’s father, grandfather and great grandfather. Wait a minute! There was a mention in a newspaper from the late 1930s of their great grandfather, Calvin Parkman, dying in a fire in an asylum outside of Minneapolis. Well, that checks out. A search of the archive of the local newspaper turned up a couple of articles about a grizzly murder at about that time that was never solved.
In the 1950s the Parkman Foundation was started by Theodore, Jordan’s grandfather. Then he was replaced in 1964 by his wife, Madeline. She was chair until her death in 1984 when Caroline took over. Sean found birth announcements for Caroline and Jason and a death certificate for Theodore in 1975.
In 1992, Jason Parkman was arrested for the murder of the Idalino family in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. According to the newspaper article, all five members of the family–father, mother, two kids, and grandma—had had their necks broken and their skulls smashed in. And—oh God—their brains removed. Sean needed a break after that one.
He got up, walked down to the staff kitchen, and made a cup of coffee. As he waited for the machine to finish its cycle, he looked at a copy of the exhibit program that was lying on the table. He had been through it dozens of times, but nothing jumped out at him, just the photos of the artifacts and the jewelry, and the bust of Queen Nefshepsut, but she wasn’t talking.
Sean took his coffee back to his desk. He stared at the screen for a few minutes, typed in “Parkman curse” and hit enter. Someone had written a book on the subject. Sean checked, and yes! It was in their collection. He ran down the two flights of stairs to the floor below to retrieve the book, took it back to his office and started to read.
“Foreman Clyde Haldeman’s diary suggests that Parkman was having an affair with Sylvia Collins, who was serving as his secretary on the expedition. After she died in the tomb collapse, Parkman tried to find her body, but it was never discovered. There was conjecture that Parkman may have caused the collapse on purpose and killed Collins, but no evidence or motive has ever been found.”
Sean leaned back in his office chair and stared vacantly at the computer screen. A curse? But there is no such thing as curses. But that thirtieth birthday connection. All of Jordan’s relatives who got “the curse” were hospitalized right around the time they turned thirty. I don’t know.
Sean felt his body jerk. He didn’t even realize he’d been asleep. What time was it anyway? He looked out the window and could see a faint golden glow in the sky. No sense in going home now.
As he turned back to his monitor, Sean bumped the keyboard and the search engine suggested “curse breakers.” What could it hurt? He clicked on the search bar and the name of a woman came up at the top of the list. Sean clicked on her website and saw that she lived in Pittsburgh. “Rosemary Randall, Psychic, Tarot Reader and Witch. Spells, Talismans and Curse Breaking.”
Sean typed the number into his phone. He was ready to try anything.
Jordan and Sean got out of the car and looked around at the houses in the neighborhood. It looked so normal. Trees, late model cars, kids riding bikes. Not like a place where a witch would live.
“Are you sure this is the right place?” Jordan asked.
“This is Raspberry Street,” Sean said. “Look, there’s 238.” Sean started walking toward a two-story, Tudor-style brick house. As they walked up the three stairs to the circular brick stoop, they saw a plaque hanging on the door. “The witch is in” it said. “I guess we are in the right place,” Sean said as he pressed the doorbell.
A plump, middle-aged woman with long, graying, curly hair answered the door with a smile. “Come in,” she said, “I’m Rosemary,” standing back and motioning Sean and Jordan through the door. She took their coats and hung them on a wooden coat tree and then led them into a room with a couple of couches, a fireplace, and a lot of books. “Make yourselves comfortable. Would you like some tea?” They both said, “Yes, thanks,” and the woman left the room. They could hear noises of water running, cupboards opening and closing, and dishes being set on counters. Jordan sat on the sofa, but Sean perused the books.
Rosemary came back into the room with a green ceramic teapot with oak leaves and acorns on it and three matching mugs. A ceramic plate held a stack of shortbread cookies. “That will need to steep a bit,” she said, as she set the tray on the table between the two sofas and sat down opposite Jordan. “So, what can I do for you? I think you mentioned curse breaking on the phone?”
Sean turned and sat down next to Jordan on the sofa. “Yes,” he began. “Jordan appears to be under a curse and we were wondering if you could break it?”
“Most of the time when people think they are under a curse, that’s not really what’s going on.” Rosemary smiled as she began to pour the tea. “Often, people have backed themselves into a corner. They feel guilty for something they did or are in denial or are grieving and can’t let go.” She handed a mug to Jordan who took it, and set it down on the table.
“Well, this one is almost a hundred years old and has taken three members of my family,” they said.
Rosemary looked unphased. “Explain.”
Jordan recounted the story of their childhood, their mother’s death, and the visit to Caroline. Sean described the research he’d done into unusual neurological symptoms, Clarence Parkman and the exhibit at the library. Neither of them mentioned the night on the bridge.
“Holy shit!” Rosemary said. “Let me get the cards.” She walked to one of the book cases and got down a worn box, then she retrieved a small table from a corner. She set it up to the left of the coffee table, spread a silky purple cloth over it and motioned to Jordan to slide over in front of the table. She opened the box and took out another piece of silky fabric, this time wrapped around a deck of tarot cards.
“Here. Shuffle these,” she said, handing the cards to Jordan. They took them, divided the deck in two and then shuffled. “Do that until you feel it is time to stop.” Jordan shuffled two more times and then handed the cards back to Rosemary. “Should I cut them?” Jordan thought for a moment.
She laid a card down in the center of the little table, and then laid another lengthwise across it. The she laid one above, one below, one to the left, and one to the right. Then she laid four cards to the right in a line going up.
She turned over the card in the center. “This is you, the Page of Cups, reversed. That can mean pain from a family situation.” She turned over the second card. It was a picture of a woman on a throne holding a sword. “This is your obstacle, the Queen of Swords. She can be a hefty opponent.”
Rosemary turned over the card above. “This is what crowns you, what you know objectively.” It was an upside down picture of a man looking at seven cups. “The reversed seven of cups can mean confusion or inability to make a decision.” Jordan turned with raised eyebrows to look at Sean.
The next card was what lies beneath the situation and is unseen. “The Seven of Swords. Sometimes called the Thief Card.”
Card number five was the Empress, representing mother energy and influence passing away. Card six was two people standing hand in hand, the Lovers. “This is before you and is coming into being.”
“This next card describes your current state of mind,” Rosemary said, as she turned over the Nine of Swords. “This represents anxiety and sleepless nights. The next card represents the people around you.” Rosemary turned over the Knight of Wands. “This can be good news or it can be someone loyal and trustworthy.”
As Rosemary turned over the next card, she said, “This card represents your hopes and fears.” The image of a tower in flames appeared with two people falling or jumping off of it. “Oh dear.”
“Is there anything we can do?”
Rosemary turned over the last card, the Ten of Swords. She looked at Jordan with sympathy in her eyes. “I’m sorry, sweetie. You’re fucked.”
“I’m sorry. It looks like this is not going to end well.” Rosemary sat back against the sofa. Her face was pale with bright pink splotches on her cheeks. She closed her eyes.
“Most of the people who come to me have brought their problems on themselves. They want to blame outside forces or something sinister, but it is usually within them and they have to change in order to shift the balance. That is not the case with you.” Rosemary sighed and gathered up the cards. Then she got up from the couch and walked over to one of the book cases where she drew a board off of a shelf and picked up another box. She set the board down on the small table and opened the box. It contained a lovely, cut-crystal wine glass, which she placed in the center of the board.
“Is that a Ouija board?” Sean asked. Really? A Ouija board? But then it was my idea to contact a witch.
“No,” Jordan replied, keeping their eyes on Rosemary. “It’s a spirit board, a wine glass board. Ouija boards are mass produced. This was hand-made by someone.” Rosemary smiled.
“My great-great grandmother,” she replied. “Let’s see if my great-great can tell me anything about yours.”
“Place your fingers gently against the wine glass. Don’t push. Just let it move where it wants to.” Jordan complied. At first the glass simply sat there, but just when Jordan was about to give up, it shuddered briefly and began to slide across the board from side to side.
“Elanor, is that you?” Rosemary asked. The glass swung rapidly in wide circles, eventually coming to rest at “yes.” “Is there someone there who wants to talk to Jordan?” More circles and then “Yes.” “Is it his great-great grandfather?”
“Is it a man?”
“Is it a woman?”
“What is her name?” The glass circled several times and began to spell a word: S_Y_L_V_I_A
“Do you know anyone named Sylvia?” Rosemary asked Jordan. They shook their head, but Sean said, “Yes.”
Rosemary and Jordan both turned and look at him. “Don’t take your hands off of the glass! Who is Sylvia?”
“Let’s just see what she has to say,” Sean replied.
“Okay. Do you have a message for us, Sylvia?” The glass began to move wildly around the board and then started to spell out words.
SORRY. SO SORRY. NEVER MEANT TO HARM. ANGRY. BETRAYED.
“Who betrayed you?” Rosemary asked.
CP… “Who is CP?”
“Clarence Parkman? My great-great grandfather?” Jordan asked.
YES. SORRY. SO SORRY
“What are you sorry for, Sylvia?” Jordan asked. “What did you do?” The glass whipped wildly about the board.
“She’s really upset,” Rosemary said. “Elanor, can you get her to calm down?” The glass slowed and began to move in wide circles again and then began to spell.
FEELS GUILTY. CURSED CP. IN TROUBLE. BETRAYED. ANGRY. SORRY.
“Sylvia cursed Clarence Parkman?” Sean asked.
“And she got in trouble for it? What does that mean?” Jordan was struggling to make sense of the message.
“No,” Rosemary said. “I think it means she was in trouble and Parkman betrayed her, so she cursed him and his family, apparently.”
“What kind of trouble?” Jordan asked. The glass remained stubbornly still, but Rosemary smiled.
“I think my great-great grandmother is too Victorian to say she was pregnant.” The glass moved slowly to YES.
“So, Parkman got his secretary pregnant and killed her to keep it quiet?” Sean asked. The glass made a slow sweep of the board and came back to rest on YES.
The three looked at each other in silence. The glass moved to the middle of the board and sat still.
“So what now?” Jordan asked. “Is there anything we can do? Is there any way to break the curse?” The glass moved to YES.
“Who is this?” Rosemary asked. SYLVIA
“What stone?” Rosemary asked, looking at Jordan and Sean.
“Do you mean the stone, the crystal, my aunt gave me?”
“How do we do that?”
RETURN STONE. SACRIFICE. LOVE.
“Sacrifice love? What does that mean?” Jordan felt that they really didn’t want to know. The glass began to move in smooth, wide arcs again. Grandma.
RETURN WHAT SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN TAKEN.
ONLY LOVE CAN BREAK CURSE.
“Way to be cryptic, Grandma.” Jordan grumbled.
“Shhh! She’ll hear you!” Sean hissed.
“She’ll hear you, too. She’s dead, remember?”
“She can hear you both, now stop. I’m trying to get a clarification here.” Jordan and Sean kept silent. “Elanor says that something was taken at the time of Sylvia’s death. Maybe if it is returned, that will break the curse.”
“Does she say what it was that was taken? And what is this about betrayal and love?” Sean asked.
“That’s all that she can tell me. There are rules in the after-life.”
“Really? That’s disappointing,” Jordan said. “I was looking forward to eternal anarchy.”
“So many things were taken out of the tomb. How will we ever figure out which of the artifacts she is referring to?” Sean asked.
“Maybe it is something that was never entered in any logs with the other artifacts. Maybe that is why it was in its own box.” Jordan reached into their bag, pulled out the box and opened it. They lifted out the stone wrapped in silk and opened it. Rosemary gasped.
“That’s beautiful! Where did you get it?”
“From my great-great grandfather.” Jordan said. “I suspect this is the thing that wasn’t supposed to be taken. But the other artifacts were taken as well. Why would there be a problem with just this one?”
“And how would we put it back?” Sean wondered.
“I don’t know,” Rosemary said, “But Grandma says you are on the right track.”
An hour later, Jordan and Sean stood in front of the display case with the bust of Queen Nefshepsut. Surrounded by her treasures, she gazed on them in serene silence.
“There is nothing here that looks like anything is missing,” Sean said, running his hand through his hair in frustration.
Jordan’s face lit up. “Are you sure everything is here?”
“What do you mean?”
“Maybe there are items that they didn’t put on display.”
Sean led the way out of the exhibit into the lobby where he pulled out his phone and dialed. “Hi, Sam. It’s Sean. I was wondering if you could do me a big favor.”
Sam Carrol opened the door to an air-tight, climate-controlled space where fragile pieces were stored. “So Clarence Parkman was your great-great grandfather? It’s too bad we didn’t know earlier. We would have put you in the opening program.”
“That’s okay,” Jordan said. “I’m not much of a public speaker.”
She stopped in front of a metal case, which she unlocked. Then she pulled out a drawer with a case inside. She pulled the case out, set it down on the table in the center of the room, and put on gloves. Then she opened the box and gently lifted out what looked like random hunks of metal. She arranged them on the table into the shape of a headdress.
“This piece, as you can see, is heavily damaged,” Sam said. “I was kind of surprised the Parkman Foundation included it in the shipment.” She stepped aside to allow Jordan and Sean to move in for a closer look. “This is believed to be Nefshepsut’s crown or headdress, although some think it might have belonged to her high priest, who was one of the people sacrificed during her funeral. Legend has it that it was heavily damaged when the roof of the tomb caved in and Parkman put it in his pocket as a memento of his secretary who was killed in the accident.”
Jordan leaned over the table. “Could you move the pieces close to see if they fit together?”
“Well, I don’t want to damage them, but I could move them a bit closer.” Sam moved the sections of the shattered headdress so that they were almost touching. There was definitely a tear drop-shaped depression in the center of the crown. Jordan and Sean looked at each other.
“If we get caught, I am going to lose my job,” Sean said. He peered around a corner and then jumped when Jordan put their hand on his back. “I can’t believe you stole the keys.”
“If this works, it will be worth it.” Jordan said. “Let’s go.” They entered the storage area and took out the headdress, laying the pieces on the table so that the empty heart-shaped spot was clearly visible. Jordan drew out the box with the crystal, opened it and unwrapped it. They very gently placed the stone into the space that was made for it, and then stepped back.
“Well?” Sean asked. Jordan turned to them with tears in their eyes.
“How do you feel?” Sean asked. Jordan shook their head.
“I don’t feel anything.”
“Well, maybe you wouldn’t feel anything, but it still worked.”
“I was hoping there would be some kind of sign, a flash of light or something.” Sean took Jordan into his arms for several moments.
“We need to get out of here before the security guard comes by.” Jordan nodded. They carefully placed the pieces of the headdress back in the box along with the stone that belonged there and returned the box to the cabinet.
Halloween dawned bright and clear and chilly. Most of the leaves were gone from the trees and the bare branches of the tree outside the kitchen window reminded Jordan of skeleton hands as they sat drinking a cup of coffee and watching Bast fawn all over Sean. I can’t help feeling a little jealous, but if I die tonight, she’ll need someone to take care of her, so it’s good that she likes him.
Sean petted the back of the sleek, black cat as she rubbed her face against him. He had always thought of himself as a dog person, but the cat seemed taken with him. Oh! Claws! Ouch!
“That’s enough,” Jordan said, picking the cat up off of Sean’s lap and holding her against their shoulder. “He’s not your pin cushion.”
“So what would you like to do today?” Sean asked, trying very hard to keep his voice calm.
“You mean on my last day on Earth?” Sean looked down at his hands spread on the table.
“I’m sorry. I have always had a morbid personality, and knowing that death is imminent only makes it worse.” Jordan looked out the window. “What would I like to do on my last day on Earth? I’d like to go on an enormous shopping spree, since I won’t have to pay the bill.”
“I thought you did that already,” Sean said, smiling.
“Hush you!” Jordan said playfully. “I want to go to the shelter and pet all of the cats. I want to go on a picnic in a cemetery. I want to ride to the top of Mount Washington and look at the lights at night.”
They did all of that and more. They ended the day back at Jordan’s apartment with a bottle of wine. As midnight approached, they made final preparations for the walk to the bridge.
“Do you have the gun?” Jordan asked.
“Yes,” Sean answered quietly.
“If I transform, I don’t want to hurt you and I don’t want to live like my father. I don’t want to do the kind of things he did.”
“I know,” Sean said, patting his coat pocket. “I promise.”
They walked to the bridge hand in hand. As they got to the middle of the span, they heard church bells begin to toll the hour in the distance. They looked up to see the full moon shining down on them. On the tenth peal, Jordan climbed over the railing and then turned to Sean. Without saying a word, Sean took Jordan’s face in his hands and kissed them, long and hard, until the bells fell silent. Then an electric shock like a bolt of lightning surged through Jordan and Sean staggered back.
Jordan’s body convulsed and Sean reached toward them to keep them from falling into the water. He realized in that moment that he couldn’t kill Jordan, this person whom he loved. He knew he had promised, but he couldn’t do it. Tears welled in his eyes. And then he heard a growl.
Jordan was climbing over the railing and moving toward him, but it wasn’t the Jordan he had known before. It was Jordan the zombie.
“She only wants you for your brain,” his roommate said. “You’re her only hope of passing that coding course.” Sean knew he was probably right, but he didn’t care. It was an old refrain that he had heard for most of his life. He had always been the last one picked for team sports but the first chosen for spelling bees, math contests, and trivia games. Tonight it didn’t matter because he was heading out for his first date since starting college two months ago.
“If it gets me laid, I don’t care,” Sean called over his shoulder on his way out of the room.
When he got to the student union building, he wasn’t sure what to do. Marley had said she would meet him here, but he didn’t know if he should wait outside or go in and get in line. He pulled his phone out of his pocket, flipped it open and dialed her number.
“Hi, Marley. It’s Sean.”
“Oh, Hi Sean.”
“So, do you want to meet outside the union or should I get in line for the movie. There are a lot of people here.”
“Oh! I forgot about that. Steve asked me to a party at the TKE house, so I can’t go to the movies tonight.”
“But I’ll see you for our study session tomorrow.”
“Yep, bye.” Sigh. Well, I’m here. Might as well see the movie.
Sean got in line behind a guy who was reading a book. Sean couldn’t help himself; he peeked around to see the title.
“The Serpent and the Rainbow. That’s a fantastic book!”
“Yeah, it is. I’m reading it for my ethnobotany class.”
“That must be fascinating.”
“It is. My name’s Michael, by the way but don’t call me Mike.”
“I’m Sean. What if I call you Mickey?”
“I could maybe get used to that.”
Sean enjoyed feeling the wind in his hair as he rode his bike along the residential street on his way to his first class of the morning. And then…he opened his eyes and shut them again when a wave of pain and nausea crashed over him.
“Oh, you’re awake.”
“Where am I? What happened?”
A person in a white coat was making a note in a chart at the foot of the bed.
“What do you remember?”
“Not much. I remember taking a shower, maybe it was earlier today. After that it’s kind of blurry.”
“You were in an accident. Someone opened a car door in front of you when you were riding your bike.”
Sean didn’t even try to remember. Even thinking seemed to hurt.
Later in the afternoon, he was beginning to feel a bit less nauseous. There was a perfunctory knock on the door and it opened. His boss walked in carrying a bag.
“You are really lucky to get through this with just a concussion.”
“Is that what I have?”
His boss set the bag down on the bed and reached inside. He pulled out a blue bicycle helmet.
“Start wearing this from now on. I have big plans for you, but you are no good to me without your brain.”
Sean threw the gun into the dark water of the Allegheny River far below. Jordan advanced, growling.
“I can’t kill you. I love you,” Sean said. “I’m sorry.”
Jordan ran at him and sank their teeth into Sean’s shoulder. Burning pain shot through his body and he screamed. The sound seemed to throb in Sean’s ears and then he realized that it wasn’t him screaming any longer. It seemed to be coming from the air around them.
Jordan began to shake and Sean realized they were crying. He put his arms around them and said, “It’s okay. I know you can’t help it. I love you.” The screaming stopped and the two heard what sounded like the tone of a faint bell followed by a woman’s voice. It said, “The sacrifice of love.”
At that moment, huge rain drops began to fall, splattering against the pair as they stood locked in an embrace. As the water ran down his face and shoulders, Sean felt as if it were washing him clean, as if all of the mistakes, bad choices, and insecurities of his life were flowing away with the water. Jordan took a deep breath and looked at Sean, tears indistinguishable from the rain. “I could have killed you. You were supposed to shoot me.”
“I know, but I couldn’t. I love you and I’d rather die than kill you. But what happened? I feel like something changed.”
“Yeah, it did. It’s gone. I don’t know how or why, but it’s gone.”
“Well, whatever happened,” Sean said, “I’m getting soaked. It doesn’t make much sense to be saved from an ancient curse and then die of pneumonia.”
“Right,” said Jordan. “Hades’ Parlor it is!” The two ran off arm in arm to the other side of the bridge. When they were almost to the end, a bolt of lightning struck a heavy light pole in front of them and it began to fall toward them. Without thinking about it, Jordan reached up, caught it with one hand and then laid it slowly down. Sean stared at them wide-eyed.
“How did you do that?” Sean said.
“I don’t know,” Jordan replied. “Maybe it isn’t over after all, but at least I don’t want to kill you anymore.”
“Now I really need that drink.”
Jordan’s phone rang. They picked it up and looked at the screen. “It’s Caroline.” Sean looked up from the skillet of eggs he was scrambling.
“Jordan? You’re still you?”
“Well, that’s debatable. Let’s say I survived.” Caroline drew a ragged breath.
“Your father died last night.”
“I’m not. The most amazing thing happened. He woke up. I mean he was himself again. I can’t explain it.”
“I think I understand.”
“Anyway, he said he wanted you to know that he loves you and he’s sorry you have to carry the curse.”
“How did he die?”
“Well, he had been restless all day. Dr. Thompkins called me and I went over. He had been refusing food for a couple of days, so he was pretty weak. They had him in restraints and he was thrashing around. About midnight, he stopped moving and lay very still. Then he opened his eyes and looked at me through the window. He said my name.” Caroline couldn’t hold the tears off any longer.
“He recognized me. Dr. Thompkins didn’t want to let me into his cell, but I insisted. I sat by his bed and held his hand. He told me that the day we came to see him, the day he saw you, something started to change in him. He became aware again, and he was tormented. He kept reliving the things he had done…the murders. But now he was at peace. He asked me to tell you that he loved you and that he was sorry he had passed on the curse, but that he thought it would be okay now. Is it…okay?” “Yes, I think it will be.” Caroline dissolved into sobs.
The memorial service for Jason Parkman was a small affair attended by Caroline, Jordan, Sean and Dr. Thompkins. It was held in a small chapel on the Parkman estate, and after the service, the group gathered in one of the parlors in the house for coffee and sandwiches.
“I don’t know any tactful way to say this, so I’m just going to come out and ask,” Dr. Thompkins said. “I’d like to run some tests on you. I was never able to do any scans on your father, but I’d like to have a look at you.”
“That makes sense,” Jordan replied. “Let me know when and I will make arrangements to come back.”
“I guess that brings us to another topic of discussion,” Caroline said. “You don’t have to leave unless you want to. You were my brother’s only heir, and everything belongs to the Parkman Foundation. I am turning that over to you.”
Jordan stood, frozen, and then turned to look at Sean, who was also standing with his eyes wide and his mouth open. Jordan took a breath.
“Wow. I don’t know what to say. Honestly, I hadn’t even thought of that.”
“Well, it sounds like you have some things to sort out, so I will get going,” Dr. Thompkins said. “Call me when you get settled.” Jordan assured her they would.
“I know this is a lot to take in,” Caroline said. “We can sort out the details later.”
“Thanks,” Jordan said. “It is pretty overwhelming.” Jordan looked at Sean who had removed himself from the family conversation.
“You’re part of this, too,” they said.
“Are you sure?”
“Of course! You are the only reason I’m standing here. Without your courage and sacrifice, I would have torn into the first person I came across and ended up dead or locked up like my father. Besides, I have no idea what the Parkman Foundation is into, but I’ll bet there’s a place for you.”
“You only want me for my brain,” Sean said with a smile.“No, dear. I want you for your heart.”