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Ice House: Asetma


By:
Brian Mark Weber
And
Robert 'Admiral' Coeyman

Chapter 5:

The Love of Tommy Queensman

Morning came quickly and I walked away from Obsille after an entire day away from the place that had held me captive for so long.  It felt good to be free for even a short period, though knowing that I had to return seemed to remove some of the peace.  I lived in a vacuum, safely beyond the grasp of reality.  In no place would I be free from that part of Asetma that lived within me.

A voice, at once mine and Elder's, told me that I could never escape myself.  The words struck such a deep chord within me that they stung the part of me which still had feeling.  It was Th'Estate that I was fleeing and not from myself.  But the voice neither heard me nor cared.

When I walked away from Obsille, I was walking away from Orsa.  She was still living, according to all reports, somewhere in the thinning population of Obsille.  Nobody, least of all me, knew how long that would last.  For her sake I wished her well when she finally slipped free from the shadow of Th'Estate.  My fate, however, would be much different even if that day came for Orsa.

It only took about five minutes to leave the town limits and enter the beautiful countryside.  The forest was thick on both sides so that there was not any way a man could decide to go for a walk through the woods.  There was only one pathway leading through the trees up ahead.  I decided that before returning to the single bastion of the underworld to which I had been condemned, I would enjoy a short walk alone.

Even Th'Estate could not deny me all pleasure in life.  Asetma would have found no pleasure in torturing me through this winter and the winters past if I had no hope to cling to.  Orsa was a promise that even I could not believe in.  My walks in the Imperial Forest were all that Asetma's curse could hold me with.

I came upon the pathway which was to my right.  A cool breeze was blowing the tall trees above my head.  Autumn was near and soon the green foliage would turn to gold and then fall to the ground.  That would have been the best time of the year for my walk.

Something within me could not help thinking how odd it must have been for such a path to have been cut into the Imperial Forest in close proximity to Asetma.  As children, we used to give and take dares on who would get the closest to Asetma's walls.  Few if any of us even dared set foot more than a few miles up the road leading past civilization.  Why was there a path to a place that nobody ever went?

The foliage was beautiful and the brush healthier than any crop that Obsille had known since the fall of Asetma and the rise of its curse.  I thought that I would have to return in my off time to walk the path when God decorated the Imperial Forest for its last fling before the long winter's nap.  My feet were not comfortable on the path but my mind was too busy to notice such trivialities.  Given another life, I might have been a forest ranger, protecting the wild treasures that I was now enjoying.

My cursed and current life was not much changed from my desired life save to say that I was now guarding a treasure that people actually wanted to see.  In my dream life, I protected what I cared about.  Wildlife did not fear me as the people of Obsille had come to.  To the animal kingdom, I was not a monster.

What wildlife had not fled the falling of the curse crossed my path without care.  Rabbits and squirrels did not hide from my approach through the brush.  Even a woodchuck that I found in the middle of the path did not react to my approach.  He stood his ground, clearing the walkway in his own time.

In the Imperial Forest, it was difficult to tell one tree from another.  Ahead I could see one tree that stood out from those around it.  The wooden sentinel which appeared to be some type of oak seemed to draw me closer.  I knew what oak trees looked like because they were all over Th'Estate.  Growing more tired I decided to sit down next to the tree, removing a small bottle from my backpack and sipping the cool water from within as the wind blew my hair as though picking leaves from my hair.

It would have been a good time to write in my journal, except that words were a poor substitute for the images before my eyes.  Stan was better with a pencil than I was.  He could record the beauty of the world around him without even meaning to.  My skill with mere words could not match his skill with paints.

As a boy, Stan had created landscapes that rivaled any painting on the walls of Th'Estate.  He captured the spirit of oak and willow as well as he recorder their appearance.  I would almost say that the trees posed for him.  They never looked the same for me.

When Stan first took up residence, he had tried to hang the last three of his paintings on the walls of Th'Estate.  The first was caught by the Sheriff's eye and moved into Stan's private quarters.  His second portrait was admired even by the ghosts who saw to its protection from Sheriff and goblins alike.  It vanished at the same time as Stan did.

Stan's third work was the most interesting.  It was the last portrait that he had created before our father had died.  He tried to keep that painting, the last hope that Stan had known in childhood, in his own room, yet the spirits forbade it.  That work never spent two nights on the same wall.

Stan had grown old and bitter since our father's death and, toward his life's ending, he saw little beauty in the world around him.  His eyes wore out under the burden of his tears.  Skill with words, such as mine, could not reach his hardened heart.  He came to blame God for his loss.

Unbelieving in his rage, Stan chose to burn the third painting when he could not keep it from moving.  It is said that the trees of Asetma wept for the loss.  Stan scattered the ashes in the river where Tommy and I were fishing.  He chose not to see us there.

No good autumn day should be wasted on unhappy memories if there is anything to be had for it.  Though not quite autumn as the trees would tell me, it was close enough.  I expelled the additional demons of my unhappy memories to Th'Estate where I was sure that they would meet up with me again in their own time.  Dark recollections are vengeful as they are deep.

I tried to absorb the peaceful moment for I knew that such a time would not come again for many days.  My eyelids became heavy and the soft cover of moss became my bed.  No thought could penetrate the depth of my restful mood.  There was only silence.  In the silence I found rest which had been hiding from me until it tired of the game.

The wind became more furious and small branches and twigs snapped from the trees and were thrown to the ground with disgust.  Although the sky did not indicate a storm one must have been near.  My eyes were drawn away and I looked up to the large oak beside me to see the large branches were bending as though made of flesh.  I quickly jumped to my feet and moved back away from the tree since I didn't want any branches coming down onto my head.

Lightning would have completed the picture, although none was forthcoming.  Not a flash or a boom pierced the wall of wind.  I was lost under so much foliage that there was no place for me to hide.  My feet came to rest in the largest clearing I could find in such a rush.

"Do not be afraid, my son," said a deep dark voice.  I looked all around but saw no one.  Again I heard the voice.  "I am only a tree.  I cannot move for my roots are deep into this ground."

Deep and dark, the voice was not harsh enough to pass for an Asetma voice.  It was not the Sheriff's voice, although it was close.  I knew the voice from somewhere.  Obsille is a small place and there are very few people brave enough to venture this close to Th'Estate to play a prank on me.  None would have been a good guess, yet there had to be at least one.

I looked around again trying to locate where the voice was coming from.  Once fierce, the wind had subsided and now there was total silence throughout the woods.  The large oak began to sway slightly before I heard the voice again, though I could hardly believe what was happening.  Asetma's grasp was long enough to reach into and cursed the town of Obsille, but the Imperial Forest knew real life.

"Come here my son.  I must speak with you.  Time is not on your side.  I have been alive for four hundred years and will live for several more centuries.  You may have only days to live before the end.  Come here as I have commanded."

This was too strange to be true.  I had seen a great many unusual and unbelievable things at the mansion, but this topped everything.  No Asetma in all of recorded history had been known to enchant the Imperial Forest itself.  "A talking tree?"  I thought," Well I had better respond to the wooden man." 

Aloud, I replied, "I don't understand."

"There is nothing for you to understand at this time.  Listen to me and remember.  Then you will understand another day and all will come to be true.  Come over here now."

Caution was not strong enough to restrain my curiosity.  I slowly approached the tree and thought of something to say.  It was not a wise move, even to approach the sprite, but I had to believe that I was in control at some level.  "Look tree, I came out here to relax and get away from that palace of darkness.  Leave me alone, please."

I turned away, beginning to walk along the path on which I had traveled from the road.  The fallen foliage had obscured the path and it was not as easy to find the second time.  It seemed as though the curse of Asetma wanted me to stay the course and befriend the old tree.  Without the path, my feet were as lost as my head.

"Do not leave or death will come to you."  Suddenly a large branch fell in front of me and smashed into pieces.  The tree continued with his commanding voice.  "This is your last chance to resolve all that has taken place at Asetma."

How did he, with roots deep in the soft, mossy earth, know about Asetma?  "How could you know anything about what has happened there?  You are out here in the middle of nowhere, far away from my life.  You cannot possibly know what I have been going through."

My eyes scanned the branches overhead, with great care not to let my action be seen.  I knew that it was unwise to walk under any branch belonging to the old tree.  He had thrown one branch at me and was far from out of branches.  One impact would have driven me deeper into the mossy ground than the old tree's roots.

"I know about the girl with the green eyes." 

I had to listen then since, if he actually knew anything at all that could help me, I had to know it too.  Knowing was almost worth the risk to my life.  It was not like I had a choice.  The tree held all the cards.

"Alright.  Tell me what you know but make it quick.  I have to get back before sunset which leaves you about five minutes around here."

There are places in the world where time has meaning and all moments are the same length.  Asetma, and the word under its influence, was not amongst them.  I half expected to arrive back at Th'Estate before I left it each time that I did walk away.  Real is a word for other places in other times.

Even as such, the five minute estimate was not even an attempt at accuracy.  I was balanced between wanting to flee and wanting to know what the old tree knew.  My only consideration was over which of these two goals was worth giving my life for.  It was an illusion that I had a choice in the matter, although it was my illusion and I was unwilling to give it up.

"Mark, your life has been one of unusual circumstances and some of the tragedies that have come upon your innocent soul are not as a result of your shortcomings.  You happened to be in the wrong place at the right time.  If it hadn't been you, it would have been someone else.  Try to remember the friends of your youth.  Recall some circumstances from that time.  That is all for now.  Return tomorrow, my son.  Be careful and do not delay."

If the old tree had believed that I intended to return, then he would not have been wise enough to help me.  There was another game in play with the tree.  I just did not know what it was.  It only mattered that he was letting me go for the moment.

Wind.  The wind was so strong.  It got much colder.  Awake.  I was sweating.  I was tired.  I stood up and looked around and there were no voices and no wind.  The twilight had changed my surroundings.  The oak tree did not move and did not speak. 

Cursing the illusionary wind, I demanded understanding.  "What could have happened?" 

I know it was a dream since it must have been a dream, though it was very realistic.  The mind doesn't care what is real and what is unreal when it holds to an idea.  Lost in my tangled thoughts, my walk back to Asetma was dark but uneventful.  Time again lost its uniform nature. 

Darkness is universal, thus I had a difficult time determining how long I had been in the land of the phantom, talking tree.  It could have been the twilight of sunrise or the coming darkness of night.  Time itself became a lost concept to me on the trail of blooded tears to Asetma.  The void beyond moments was warm and soothing.

Almost in the same moment that I forced the hulking gates apart, I remembered my appointment with young Tommy.  Should more time have passed than the few minutes that I had chosen to rest, than I would have let down what could have been my only friend.  Tommy was more than my friend, so failing him hurt more.  I crushed the thoughts that I could have been late for that single appointment.

 Tommy was the youth that Asetma had stolen from me.  He was my curiosity.  I gave the parts of myself to Tommy that Asetma would not let me keep for myself.  It was like having a son.

Then, as the sun crested over the ghostly Asetma manor, I realized that the day had just begun.  I searched the courtyard surrounding the house for little Tommy, though he was not there.  A simple clock within my living quarters alerted me to the fact that I had arrived home almost before I had left the Wheelwright's Inn.  Something real had happened with the talking Oak.

My will relaxed, victorious.  I wanted to make the appointment with Tommy so bad that I would have folded time on my own to make it come to pass.  Part of me wanted to have that power more than it wanted to make the meeting.  When next we met, I knew that I would have to ask Elder about that feeling.

Oletta had provided breakfast for me, as she had a mind to do sometimes.  She was not around to be seen, yet she wanted me to know that she was not gone.  Like Miriam, she had a haunting quality that drove me to question my sanity whenever I came to like her.  And, like the green eyes girl, she was gone the moment that my eyes left her.

It occurred to me that I may have arrived at the Estate after having slept with the Oak for a full day.  The Estate held no trace of anyone else having been there to search for me, thus I do not believe that I had been missing for more than a few moments.  Tommy must simply have been late.  Even the prison bus arrived before he did.

If I had been away for a full day, then the driver on the prison bus would have made mention of it.  The Sheriff would have been waiting for me to arrive, sending his deputies out to look for me.  Nobody said anything to me about the affair, so I knew that Tommy had to be late.  At least I was not late for my appointment.

Matters became difficult when Tommy finally arrived, since I had been forced to handle a few tourist groups do to the end of season rush common to that time of year.  I had to slip Tommy past the ticket counter and into the group of sightseers which I was to guide before one of the guards noticed anything.  Personally, I felt that I should have had the right to slip Tommy, or anyone else, into my groups anytime which I wanted.  The Old Men barely paid me to watch over the place and, not at all to guide the tours.

Tommy blended easily into the first group that I was to guide through the unholy landscape which bore the Asetma name.  It was also the same group into which the green eyed girl had been assigned.   Oddly, she had always been assigned to the group to which I was to be the administrator.  Even the policemen who sold her the tickets didn't seem to remember her, although she was never placed into a group that I was not also assigned to lead.  Unless, that is, I was not called upon to lead any group.

There was a problem with Tommy's presence in that I had led him to believe that I would give him a private tour.  Tommy was not a tourist and his interest in the place was not a stranger's interest.  Tourists wanted myths and legends.  Young Tommy wanted truth as any of us could know it.

My interest in the green eyed girl was not unnoticed.  She looked me over with her piercing eyes every time I looked her way.  But, I also noticed her interest in Tommy Queensman.  They may have been, in biological growth, about the same age.  I had no doubts that the green eyed girl was many times Tommy's chronological age.  There was no need to guess that she was even older than me by many times my age.

Bumping against her silk gown, Tommy decided to stay close to her.  He looked into her phosphorescent eyes, deeper than the Atlantic Ocean, and he was determined not to leave her side.  Asetma, which had been of infinite interest to Tommy when I promised to give him this tour, had become as meaningless as the blank void of a starless night.  He even tried to hold her hand, convincing me that she was really there and not an image from some forgotten nightmare.

To Tommy, she was not a nightmare, but a pleasant dream.  The memory was fading within me, but I still recalled how it felt the first time that I had met Orsa.  I was older at the time than Tommy was when he met the green eyed girl.  Tommy had about as much chance with his first love as I did with mine. 

I was certain that she noticed him, as she allowed him to link his arm to hers, refusing to allow him to touch the bare skin of her hands.  It became clear to me that nobody ever touched the skin of our mysterious visitor.  Her perfection of form had been intriguing to me, although not to the degree that poor Tommy had fallen for her.  Even now I wish I knew how she felt towards him in that tender moment of Tommy's first true love.

And I allowed him the illusion that she could really be his, not truly sure that she could not.  She was to Tommy what Orsa was to me and I could not take that from him.  I had been condemned to isolation not unlike that of the spectral host of Asetma.  Tommy was to have a real life.

While her attention was turned toward my youthful friend, I slipped myself closer to her.  When it was all over, I had decided to speak to Tommy about anything that he could learn from his love, though I was certain that he could not see her as clearly as I could.  The eyes of love had blinded him, therefore, I took a closer look with my own eyes.  That was my job.

She had an odd, sandy, sea salt smell about her.  I did not know what a poltergeist was supposed to smell like, yet I assumed her scent to be it.  Her form was completely physical and she even had a shadow.  The dark clothing that she wore hid nearly all of her skin from both the sun and prying eyes.  Which did she fear more?

Whenever Tommy chose to look into her face, her eyes were upon me.  She knew in advance when Tommy would look at her so that he never caught her looking at him.  The moment Tommy's eyes passed from gazing at her, she looked back to see him.  There was something in the air between them.

Tommy never looked away to see that she was looking at me.  My movements were erratic enough to keep her secret from Tommy's guessing.  To him, the green eyed girl was his girlfriend.  He never had to know that she was taking any kind of an interest in me.

I would have to be careful in questioning Tommy.  It could never appear to him that I had any type of interest in the green eyed girl.  He could easily take my inquiry as more than it was and I never wanted to hurt Tommy.  The task of this mystery was mine alone.  Young Tommy had a life of his own to live and I was determined to see that he kept that life.

My tour group was rather small, comprising only of six people.  In addition to Tommy and myself there was the green-eyed girl, two men who were obviously tourists as they walked with cameras around their necks, and an older lady of about sixty who was heavily covered with a layer of makeup that seemed to be thicker than the walls of Asetma.  None of the others looked out of place to me.  Maybe Tommy and I were the only true strangers in the group.

What Tommy and I saw in the green eyed girl was unique between us.  Tommy saw with eyes of love what I saw through puzzled eyes.  She was what the tourists had come to see and they did not notice her for what she was.  I could not help but find the thought amusing.

The first part of the tour was in a small dining room just to the west of the main entrance.  That room had not been occupied for entertaining in many years, but the luxurious chandeliers remained hanging high above the large wooden table surrounded by tall velvet chairs that just happened to be outlined in gold.  The table was dusty but no one seemed to mind.  Haunted houses were not supposed to be clean. If Oletta had done her job, then she would have ruined the illusion that the tourists had come to see.

Each tourist was captivated by the large oil paintings around the room.  The favorite painting of the tourists was the one portraying a king.  To this day I haven't been able to read the language written beneath the painting.  Nobody known to me could.

Tommy bowed slightly, allowing the green eyed girl to enter the room ahead of him.  Given a finer suit of clothes, he would have been a perfect suitor for her and she nearly spoke a word of thanks to him.  I waited to hear a single word from the green eyed girl herself, but none came.  It was enough for Tommy that she noticed him.

As we were about to leave the room I turned back toward the guests to make sure they were all there and that no one had taken any items from the room.  When you lead a tour through this place, it is best to count your guests at every turn.  The older lady was there admiring the lighting fixtures, and the two tourists were hoping to take some photographs, however, such activity was not permitted on Asetma grounds.  It was the rule of the ghosts, not mine.  Officially, you can take all the photographs that your camera will hold.

If there had been a way to bribe the ghosts, then we would have offered photographs and cards at the gift shop.  Since none could be taken, we would have had a booming business.  However, the ghosts were beyond temptation to anything possessed by the living so we could not get our way with them.  All we could offer were reproductions of paintings done by artists from Obsille.

We had taken to removing the silverware from the once set table to minimize temptation to our visitors.  Guides still had to guard both the paintings and the rugs from uncaring damage done by some of our less respectful customers.  I made a motion that we had no smoking in the house itself just in case I was right about one of the gentlemen present.  He took the hint and kept his pipe beneath his overcoat.

A spider kept the old lady from touching the silver candle holders on the table.  I was not as worried about her stealing the fifteen pound items as I was about her disturbing the ghosts.  The ghosts did not wait for me to intervene and provided incentive to keep the guests at a distance from their treasures.  When the insect vanished, I smiled where the tourists could not see my face.

When my tired eyes thought to look, the girl with the green eyes was gone.  That was not unusual, after having seen her do the same worn out parlor trick every time that she visited my humble, albeit cannibalistic, abode.  The point which I found to be most out of order was the disappearance of Tommy!  My green eyed fiend had never taken prisoners before then.  Had Tommy found the mysterious visitor's door?

Immediately, I whipped out my three channel CB-talkie and called for backup.  Backup came swiftly in the absence of the Sheriff, whose lumbering form had not backed me up, although he was the only witness to Asetma's evil, save myself.  We searched the ancient manor for hours, to no avail, trying hard not to alert the tourists to our plight.  I tore the house apart after they all left.

I do not mean to imply that I physically damaged the place held in such high regard by the bloodthirsty ghosts of Asetma.  If it would have recovered Tommy, then I would have destroyed the place.  However, I did not want to make that kind of waves.  Upset, the ghosts would have made the search harder than it already was.

The search was a failure, though I knew that Tommy must be somewhere in Asetma.  There was only one alternative known to me and it was unpleasant enough to escape consideration.  I cannot figure out why he would disappear like this.  This was his first visit to this place, and no boy of thirteen years would ever wander away in Asetma.  But Tommy was not an ordinary boy; and maybe I don't know him as well as I thought. 

I remembered the good times just a few long years earlier when I would take Tommy fishing down at Bear Lake and I often imagined what it would be like to have a son of my own.  It was after all in the last year of my freedom and I did not know that the Asetma curse was soon to come upon me.  It was kind of like when Stan used to take me fishing, though Stan would usually toss me in the water.  I didn't mind it much on a hot summer day but the lake water in October had a slight chill.  We were getting along better in those days.

Stan's war with God had not yet begun in that time of our lives.  Our father worked a great deal so it was just Stan and I on the lake most of the time.  It might have been easier on Stan if our father had been with us more.  The loss was greater this way for the regrets of times that we never had.

Tommy could not stand to skewer the helpless worm, and so I would have to help him every time.  I remembered what that was like, having felt the same way when I was a boy.  Eventually we changed our bait to an oddball concoction that we termed 'doughball'.  He didn't need it as much then, but Tommy still had me bait his hook more often than not. 

Miss McMerty lived by the lake and she would bake cookies every Saturday morning, making us hungrier than the fish as the scent floated across the surface of the water.  She would supply us with enough cookie dough to catch every fish in the lake.  That was easy since there were no fish in Obsille, under the curse of Asetma.  Fishing is an exercise in character more than in sport.

On the last day that Tommy and I went fishing, we started to wrestle as boys do sometimes, and before I knew what had happened, Tommy was in the water and I realized for the first time that he could swim!  Of course, he didn't like that and quickly had me in the water using a trick that he never revealed to me.  I soon discovered that I could not swim very well, and climbed immediately back into the canoe.  Tommy stayed in the water, splashing away his childhood.

It would have hurt more if I had then known that I was never to have a family of my own.  Orsa was still fresh in my mind as we had met only months before that.  She still knew me and family was more of a possibility than it was now.  Now the time has passed and all I have are the memories of a boy splashing around in the lake.

When I finally pulled him back into the boat, which was more of my idea than his, I found from the number of fish in his clothes.  Tommy was the best bait of all.  That now strikes me as odd because the effect of Asetma had been driving every living thing from Obsille for a great many centuries.  His innocence must have overpowered the evil in the water.  Maybe that is what Th'Estate wanted from him.  It could have been what the green eyed girl had seen in him.

Lost in the trance of timeless memories I had walked the distance to and into a great house bearing the cursed Asetma name where I started a fire in the fireplace half in a dream state.  I rested back on a decrepit wooden chair that creaked and it made me feel as though the old men in bad suits were not winning anymore, because I was sitting in one of their sacred antique chairs.  Something beneath the atmosphere of Asetma felt like home to me.  In the shadows of my mind, I felt that I had come home.

Home was often a word to me and rarely a feeling.  I had come to know that I was never to have Orsa by my side, children playing on the floor before us.  These were the things of real men in real places far from Th'Estate.  Rare times let me feel that I was home when I was still in Asetma.

In the room around me, I could almost see an elegant ball with hundreds of well connected and well dressed guests.  Gentlemen stood at attention while ornately clad ladies passed by.  Ladies danced in flowing gowns across the dark, warm hardwood floors of the Asetma manor house.  They moved swiftly and gently as ghosts.

The shadows played out their memories for my weary eyes.  It was another place, a grand party of another time, which I could watch and not be a part of.  This was the fun of important people and I was not invited.  I wanted to belong somewhere, anywhere, just to know home as more than a word.

Then I was in another place, culled from my youth.  I did not belong amongst the titled nobility of Obsille and even my dreams knew that.  The happiness of the Asetma abode, before the evils even of Adrian, was too good for me.  Condemned to the latter day, modern curse of Asetma, I was cast out into the woodland.

There were trees everywhere.  A warm wind was bending the branches and the leaves were rustling.  I was moving slowly down a narrow path.  Ahead there was a lake and a cabin to the left.  I didn't want to go near the cabin, it was very dark there, and it scared me to look at the dark windows. 

I looked away from the cabin and slowly I came upon the water. The sound of rushing water was calming and homey.  Out on the lake there was a small boat and it appeared to be tipping over, throwing its helpless passenger into the murky depths of something that I did not know, but feared. 

My heart compelled me to help whoever was in the water, but the cabin was there and I could not pass it.  In the emptiness of my mind, my thoughts echoed their choreographed line.  "I must not go near the cabin!"  Something pulled me toward one of the dark windows.  All of my strength was barely enough to avoid being smashed against the window.

All that I could hear were screams coming from the water but I could not move.  Fighting the force seemed impossible.  I could no longer feel my feet, and then my knees, and then my whole body.  I was pulled up to the window and my head was pulled against the glass and I screamed out as I looked inside the dark room where green eyes were peering at me.

Screams, my own but not from me, brought me back to reality.  I screamed as a mad zealot prepared to take on the devil himself with my own bare hands.  It was not the devil I had to take on.  Miriam was enough of a demon for me to face.  Her strength with the dark arts exceeded my defenses.

If only I could draw strength from my sense of purpose.  The mission was all that I had left.  With Miriam free and Tommy gone because of my failings, hope had fled from me.  Orsa was less even than a dream to me as I woke from my nightmare.

The dream state of Asetma was an estate all its own.  With the odd disappearance of Tommy, I figured that it was time for Elder to give me some great-grandfatherly advice, though I failed to summon him myself.  The power which lived within me lacked the power to call him since I did not have his name.  Or was it that he had given me his name and I had to seek it myself to make use of it.

Moments into my restless sleep, my mind went blank enough for me to panic.  I felt the heat rise as my breathing ceased to provide me with oxygen.  A calming influence, not unlike death itself, came over me until I relaxed.  I do not know if I had started to breathe or not, but I no longer thought about it.

"Curse you to the bottomless pit, Miriam," my mind screamed!  "If the power was mine, I'd send you there myself."

"Thank's for the offer, yet issue your venom on one more worthy than am I."

"Elder," I called back.  "Have you decided to come at last?"

"Quit with the incessant wining, Job.  My place here is your welfare and education--Not your personal comfort."

"But the talking tree was a bit much, don't you think?"

"You now live in a world where such things are not to be considered out of the ordinary.  A tree always speaks.  It is you that has learned to listen."

"My ears were never broken, but I think my mind now is."

Elder brought the reality surrounding me into sharp focus from the blurry void which had preceded it.  We were in a cellar room of Asetma, too much like every cellar room of the ancient structure to be recognized as a specific place.  The walls were of a cold stone which was so white it appeared to glow in the dimness of the shadowy room.  Everything in the room was luminescent white.  All but the ominous presence of the nearly imperceptible shadows beyond the room.

A stone table had been built into the floor of the room, extending to an altitude of no more than three feet.  Elder materialized on the far side of the room, with the door behind me.  I didn't have to look to know where the door was, thus I don't know what the door looked like; and it didn't seem to matter.  My materialization came last with Elder hoping that I would do it myself.  As he had done me no favors, I did none for him.

"Now we shall make the symbols of your power on the foundation stone.  As the seal of your being and power is completed, so shall your training and power become complete."  He spoke clearly, though not loudly.  I considered it odd that a ghost would whisper to avoid being overheard.  If that was even his reasoning.

"What About Tommy?  Will this ritual help me to find him?"

Elder lifted his eyes from the table to look directly at me.  "Miriam has him now, though she doesn't know it.  Your power must be uninjured if you are to open the doorway to where he now resides and allow his return.  That is all that you can do, Job."

"Then this ritual will give me the power to free Tommy?"

"Tommy alone has the power to free Tommy.  Open the door and he will come back because he feels that he must.  Do you not know this?"

"You're the teacher, Elder.  I only know what you teach me."

"That must change, but first with the rite.  Time is short for us both."

"Does that mean..."

"Quiet, Job.  Now is not the time for talk."

Elder cleared the wall behind him to prepare it to write on.  He did not issue verbal instructions, showing me in thought that the symbols I used had to come from within me.  It had to be the power that I already had.  He pointed to two distinct places on the wall and I drew the first images which came into my mind with my index finger.  The images formed on the stone canvas in the red color of blood.  But I was not permitted to ask anything about it, either from myself or from Elder.

Then he pointed out a six sided diamond shape on the wall and I drew it with my finger.  I almost crossed one of the original symbols in drawing the diamond, yet Elder blocked my hand.  He looked me sternly in the eye, without a word, and I knew that the symbols must never be crossed.  Once sealed, a shape must never be opened, or a line crossed, otherwise my power will be injured.

After the diamond was finished, which took me what I considered to be minutes because of my having to take great care, Elder pulled me back to admire my work.  I had drawn a crucifix, crossed by a figure eight and another symbol which I must never tell and therefore cannot record here.  All three symbols lost their color in the darkness they possessed in contrast to the brightness of the room.  My mind could feel the other drawings on the walls around me, but could not see them.

There were many symbols that I could feel in the room.  Some of them spanned back centuries and others were more recent.  The walls of the room felt soon to be filled beyond having space for even one more symbol.  These are things that I knew in the blank silence of my mind.

"The seal is the part that is really glowing.  You perceive it otherwise because you see the world in an earthly way.  In the end you will see it in another way."

"I will see it the way that you do then?"

"The way is not important and is an individual matter.  You must learn to see things the way that they are when it is easier to see them the way you think they are."

"Now Tommy can come back?  Is there something that I can do to bring him back or do I have to keep looking?"

Elder sighed.  "Tommy holds himself in the place where he is and doesn't even know where he is or that he's gone.  The time will come to you and you must call to him then.  Not before and not later than the correct time or all is lost."

"Why doesn't Miriam know that she's got him?"

"When your seal is finished, I will draw the seal of the black scabbard into it.  Then you will have inherited all of my power and I will be free to pass into the next domain and rest.  Fate will be in your hands, Job.  Do better than I did."

"But why doesn't Miriam know she's got Tommy?"

"That would be telling and I cannot do that.  You do want to play by the rules, don't you?"

Before I could answer, Elder was gone from the dream plane and it felt that he had left Asetma in the way I most wanted to.  I was jealous of Elder in the way that he was free to go.  Soon, by my action, I was to set him free of his bondage in the world between life and death by assuming his place in life.  Eventually, I too would face the imprisonment that Elder was close to escaping.

I could not blame Miriam for wanting to get free of the undeath that she was trapped in.  It would be closer to say that we were kindred in our search for life when others had taken it from us.  And that is as far as my fraternity with Miriam went.  Going even that far had made me feel bad.  We are all fallen.

The next morning came all too early, for me, although all mornings came much too soon for me.  In the winter, when I could sleep later, the ghosts of the wretched palace which Asetma would have been without Miriam, would force the mornings to still come to me.  If I had the choice, I would never reawaken.  Even though my dreams were as haunted as my prison, they were where I would have chosen to make a life.

Elder had left me carrying the landmine with Tommy.  What little news I had, if I had the mind for any of it to be real, would never be accepted by the local authorities of Obsille.  The Sheriff knew that something was going on though he assumed that I was behind it.  I could only continue the search from the previous day.  My being sane would mean that Tommy would not be found.

"I hope I am insane," I told myself.  "And that all of this is just a dream."

Asetma duty kept me from searching for the largest part of the day, although I had hoped that it would bring the green eyed girl out to answer a few questions.  It was the first day that she'd missed since her first appearance.  The crowd was customarily large so I assumed, without precedent or logical recourse, that she had been in another group that I had not taken on tour.  She never had been before then.  However, she also had never missed a day or taken prisoners either.

Tommy's father was not pleased with me for having allowed Tommy to go on one of the tours which led to gossip in Obsille that I had killed poor Tommy and hidden the body in the vast estate.  Other rumors had it that Tommy's father had killed him by accident while trying to prevent him from going near me.  Asetma's own legends were the only safe refuge because nobody in Obsille ever spoke aloud against Miriam.  Only the prisoners of Asetma were suspect.

And I was one of the prisoners.  No part in the black void of Obsille was free of the dark chill which ran outward from the vacant blood under Asetma's foundations.  I considered it an omen when, on the following day, the sunset broke through the ancient veil of mystical mist which had sealed the estate since the time of the last kind Asetma.  It almost appeared that the sun had split open the sky and was climbing under the cloudy blanket of night to sleep in the same bed as the weary Earth.

I saw the orange light of the dying sun form a river through the valley of the clouds over my head.  In the center of the river, the luminescent blood of our companion star turned a dark red to signify the depth with its lack of clarity.  Toward the edges, the fluid faded into a pink tint along the underside of the clouds.  Only the mountains in the sky were immune to immersion.

My legs nearly fell out from beneath me when my mind, convinced that I had been suspended above the Earth instead of upon its surface, felt the pull of illusionary gravity toward the falling night above me.  The landscape above me then held all the detail of the unseen world beneath and around me.  In my mind, neither place was more real than I made it.  I was out, high in my delusion, for a time before my hitting the ground awoke me once again. 

In the forward chamber of the Asetma Estate, there once had been loud, happy parties that were only talked about on the rest of the continent of Aluatia and, arguably, the rest of the world.  It was a place that I wish I had been granted access to in its better days.  Now I was the keeper of its disgraced, rotting corpse.  That was the room in which I landed, upon being forcibly returned to the unforgiving ground.

I was not placed in the room, exactly.  That would have been above my station as a lowly servant of the great and noble house.  Even the ghosts of the long ago humiliated family of Asetma, the cursed spirits who had themselves caused the disgrace from which the Asetma family was never to emerge, denied me the honor they saw in their presence.  They placed me in the doorway, leading into the room.  Given their choice, they would have placed a serving platter in my hands as a sign of my subservience.

There was a restless chair in the room.  In that chair, sat nothing which had the will of something.  I could see her shadowy form in the gloomy candlelight.  Her eyes were green enough to light that particular part of the darkness.  The remainder of her form might as well have been dense air, bending the candle light, slightly, as it passed through that space.

If the younger of the forms was not Miriam, then this older form must have been hers.  She was as dark as I would have imagined, yet her presence lacked the customary Asetma malice.  I did not feel the musty coldness of death while standing close to her presence.  But then again, she had not seen me.

There was a great temptation to use whatever power Elder found in me to interrogate Miriam.  If it was great enough to return her to the other side of the cursed curtain of death, then I should have had within me the power to get Tommy's location from her.  Evil was her domain and she should have known it at least well enough to guide me.  Where her void sat, I saw a key to the mystery of Asetma.

What stopped me was Elder's words.  Elder had stated that Miriam did not know that she had young Tommy.  Eventually, she would find out.  Before she did find out where innocent Tommy was, I had to have him safely back in our world and far from her icy grasp.

I watched the phantom sitting in the chair for a long time.  The whole room was steady as a painting and as eerie as a dream seen by waking eyes.  It was a game with no winning move.  My only choice was to sit in the darkness and watch the darkness sit in a chair.  Given a chance, I would have convinced myself that the glaring green eyes were little more than a reflection of a more reasonable light positioned just where I could not see it directly.

Asetma had seen me grow from a child of blank denial into a man who could see a ghost sitting in the darkness without closing his eyes to the sight.  We told many a story in Obsille, but the one thing that few of us did was to admit that Asetma was real.  Nobody went twice from Obsille to Asetma and nobody admitted that the place was more than a black mark on the history of our town.  Talk of ghosts was for children.

Except for the man, with no choice of his own, who sat in the darkness watching a ghost that he long ago would have found it amusing to tease others about believing in.  Denial is easy even when your eyes are open to the reality that you so detest that you would have it blotted out of the world you shared with a billion strangers.  To do otherwise is to admit to being wrong.  Humility, the greatest teacher, was the only teacher who would venture often past Asetma's gates to tutor me.  Even Elder came rarely to me.

A talking tree was easy to forgive when he never came to call.  People that I had known since childhood had feet, bikes and cars which they never used to show me the kindness of a few moments shared.  Ghosts who could not, as far as I know, move past the walls of the great house, had the least excuse to show me no pity.  I was out of sight and mind for as long as I was in my cell.

Was it stupid of me to pity Miriam?  I shared her prison with the endless isolation that she must have endured in life.  She was not the first blemish on the Asetma name; nor was she even the darkest that it was to know.  Miriam was the last bruise known to Obsille by the Asetma surname.  Obsille feared her, and to say otherwise would have been an understatement well past the level of an untruth.  By the end of her time, Miriam was not feared enough to keep the Avenging Angels out of her lair.  They condemned her in the battlements of her own fortress.

By that time, in the present, I had worked myself up enough courage to approach Miriam.  I could say nothing of Tommy for fear that his life would be the price of imprudence.  Elder's requirement that I put her back where I had called her from was also off the table for discussion.  But, sitting there in the darkness, I could approach the heart of the Asetma beast in search of truth.

Then those green eyes turned, looking so deep into me that my blood froze and my breath failed.  It is hard to recall the evil of a monster in such a pleasant, friendly form.  Evil does not slay from rage but for the love of killing.  Miriam's stare alone left me crawling for my life.

When the last of my breath failed, I lost consciousness.  I lay on the hard, dark wood floor at the bottom of the main stair wondering who would find my body when the sun again chased the shadows from their haunts.  Would I be the subject of another mystery, like Stan had become?  Was Orsa now condemned to share my fate?

 

 

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