This Week’s Prompt: 84. Hideous cracked discords of bass musick from (ruin’d) organ in (abandon’d) abbey or cathedral.
The Prior Research: Peacock and Serpent
Carol was dusting off the counter a bit, to make the place look nice, when the woman walked in. Bright blue skirt and sea foam green top, capped with a cyan scarf and hat. A pair of silver sea shells were around her ears, as she walked between shelves of turquoise jewelry and miniature mountains. She tapped a dull maroon umbrella—Carol wondered where she’d been to need it—on one of the displays.
“These pearls.” She said. “Are they genuine?”
“Well, of course.” Carol said, stepping out to make sure the display did in fact have real pearls along the mermaids finny tail. “Real pearl, torquis, and silver by a local artist. He also did the bird over there, with the emerald eyes.”
“And the pearls. Are they local?” The woman asked. Carol laughed a bit, but trailed off nervously when the woman kept eye contact.
“Uh, I don’t know? I think he gets them from a freshwater pearl producer?” Carol said, frowning. She didn’t ever really bother Dave about his art. The woman nodded.
“I see. Produced not procured. Well, thank you for your time. If you happen to meet the gentleman who made these, my card.” The woman said, producing a small blue business card, with white letters across the top. A bunch of triangles ran along the edges.
Mariam Thompson—Collector of the Fine and Exotic.
There were three unlabeled numbers, and what Carol took to be a phone number. Mariam left, the bell jingling as she walked out, before Carol could ask another word. Carol frowned and placed the card on the desk. Dave might know what was going on.
A little while, after a few of polo shirted khaki tourists and the occasional teenager looking for some new age enlightment, Carol was convinced that the strange woman was the worst for the day. Then two more visitors arrived. One was an older man, dressed in his business suit with, with a scruffy gray beard and big red cheeks. Three bands were on his hand—a green one, a gold one, and a silver one. There was some writing on one of them, but Carol didn’t get a good look at it. With his shades and earrings, he looked like if Santa had gotten into a rock band and then cleaned up to become a middle manager. Spent most of his time looking at postcards. Eventually, he came up to Carol with a sweet smile.
“Lots of nice jewelry you’ve got at this place—must cost a fortune.” He said, gesturing at a diamond of silver worked with designs Dave said were native. “I think I’ll take that one.”
When Carol returned, the man looked at the silver carefully, bending it to catch the light.
“Yes, nice work this is. They don’t make quality like this often—heh, well I suppose I shouldn’t be so sweet when buying it. Might change the price.” The man said, taking out two twenties and a ten. “I noticed your artist knows his way around pearls…does he work with any bigger ones?”
Carol raised an eyebrow as she rang him up.
“Pearls? No, think Dave mostly works with the smaller ones. Don’t know if his supplier has big ones.”
“Ah, that is a pity. I know a guy, if he wants to get in touch, who can supply him with some bigger materials if he likes.” the man said. “My card—give me a call, I’m in town for a week or so.”
The card was white, with a green, gold, and silver swirl along the edges.
Leonard Mell—Acquisitions, Supplies, and the Finer Things in life.
He’d printed his hotel number on it. For some reason.
The other visitor was…weird. Not as weird as the blue woman, not as monochromatic. He was wearing a heavy coat—and even in the mountains, the desert sun was too harsh for that to be reasonable. Blue jeans, and dull grey gloves. Construction gloves. He had a scarf on too. Tattoo on the bit of his neck that Carol could see—seemed to move for a moment.
Her eyes tracked him carefully—that much bulk was for hiding something, probably to grab something. She watched as he passed the jewelry and looked at the mermaid figurine—gave her out reached hand a high five with his finger. He smiled, placed it back after turning it over. He looked at some white bead necklaces for a bit…and she frowned as he slipped something beneath one of the novelty cactus mugs.
Taking it, she frowned. A…business card.
Albert Alphonso Adum—Experimental Pottery
There was a lion on the front, holding a snake in it’s mouth. No number, no address.
Carol was looking over her collection of strange cards that night, when there was a knock at the door. A man in a button up and sports jacket.
“Stores closed.” She said, tapping the sign.
The man sighed and held up a badge.
“Michael Lett.” He said through the glass. “I’d like to ask you a few questions.”
Michael had been out getting coffee when he got the call. The exchange had been brief—a package, at a train station, had gone missing in the last twenty-four hours. The person who had contacted the department had set the estimate of it’s worth—it was one of those numbers that Micahel was pretty sure was fake. However, they had provided a description.
A pearl, weighing one hundred pounds, in a specialized locked case. The client was supposed to purchase the pearl from someone—they weren’t co-operating on who, but had insisted that locating the pearl was of the utmost importance.
Train footage hadn’t been very helpful—yes, it was clear someone had taken the pearl, but they’d definitely cased the place before. He had gone into a crowd, hat and coat on, and then slipped beneath the blind spots in the camera. Michael had managed to get a bit of a better bead—a regular at the coffee shop had seen the stranger get in a taxi. The taxi driver had taken him to another cafe, and the barista there after some…green reminders, told Michael the guy got on a bus out of town.
The chain had run cold at times, but Michael had managed with a map and some thought, to get to Carol’s souvenir shop in the Rocky Mountains. Well. To be fair, as he explained to Carol, she was the third person he had talked to recently.
“But the first young man was a Mormon, and the second wouldn’t let me in.” Michael said, hanging up his coat.
“Well, a strange man walking around saying he’s with the authorities isn’t exactly comforting.” Carol muttered. “Third one today asking about pearls.”
Carol handed the business cards to Michael, which he flipped through. The felt…strange. Textured. Mariam’s felt smooth and grooved like sea shells, and Leonard’s was too smooth for paper. Albert’s had a faint feather print. Weird for someone so disheveled.
“Where does Dave do his work?” Michael said, looking over the cards. They were looking for the pearl—sounded like they expected Carol to get something. “At home, at a studio?”
“I think at his house, sometimes he does it down stairs.” Carol said. “I was going to get him the cards next time he came in—do you think their looking for this pearl with him?”
Michael stared at the business cards again, frowning as he flipped through them.
“I think they don’t know yet, either.” Michael said, frowning. “I might be back later, hopefully we get this sorted. Thank you for your time.”
It was dark out already—the mountains made the sunset a bit more sudden as shadows of giants fell on the town. The motel Micahel was at was one of those drive in ones, with conical rooms painted to look like tepees. As tempting as sleep was, Michael instead decided to take some time to get to know one of the witnesses.
“Coming coming. By God, who in the wide world want’s me at–” Leonard said, opening the door a jar to see Michael holding the badge up quietly. “Ah. Of course. The authorities would be so rude.”
Leonard opened the door in striped pajamas, rings still on. Without his suit, the small necklace around his neck of silver and brass links was more visible, ending with a small bronze plate. The plate had a…thing on it, Michael noticed. A weird bunch of circles and dots, and some liquid in a tiny bottle beneath it.
“Well, what is it at this hour? I’ve been in town not even a day, surely nothing terrible has–”
“Mr. Mell, I’m here to talk to you about pearls.” Michael said, gesturing for Leonard to sit…which Leonard did, slowly.
“Pearls? Strange thing to talk about in desert mountains.” Leonard said, frowning.
“You’d be surprised what can be found in freshwater—although the Colorado hasn’t made many big ones, there are some truly large river pearls.” Michael said, sitting on the hotel desk chair. “I’ve heard there’s been interest in pearls from the valley lately.”
“They have something of a strange color.” Leonard said, nodding knowingly. “A bit, ah, a bit yellow you might say.”
“I admit, perhaps I lack the professional inclination.” Michael said, nodding.
“Well, it isn’t a hard business to enter, if law enforcement isn’t your fancy anymore.” Leonard said. “I know a numb–”
Glass cracks. Michael turns, as the window caves in. There’s a flash of light. Car alarms go off. And then it’s gone.
Turning around, Michael stood up in shock. Leonard was gone—clothes and all. Well, not all. There’s a shadow on the wall, moving still. Explaining as it goes through the motions, before slowly fading away.
Mariam Thompson’s hotel room was a quick drive. Leonard took stock of what he’d learned while he drove over. There had been a circle—about a foot in diameter. Salt along the edges, almost perfect—one crack. The cars weren’t damaged—well, one was. Next to the circle—a long depression on the top. Alright. No signs of Leonard. The phone number on the business card didn’t go anywhere. The address for his home office was an abandoned building in New York, which didn’t bode well for the rest of his business.
It was half past eleven. Ten minutes after meeting Carol and then poof goes the suspect.The hotel Mariam was at was one of those towering ones, with a nice front for being dropped off by a taxi. Michael parked quickly, and slammed the door, looking around for anything unusual. His ears pricked up on something—a dull throbbing bass line coming from the road. Probably some late night party he was too old for.
Finding her room was easy, and the front desk was co-operative when Micahel mentioned he was here about a missing persons case and presented her business card. Over the phone, when they called her up, Michael was sure to make mentions of the pearls. That got things moving smoothly.
Mariam Thompson was still in all blue, although she’d taken off her jewlery. There was a bottle of wine on the table, and a glass half full. Michael’s eyes darted around. The room was plain, no suitcases insight. Mariam took a seat in a recliner, wrapping one leg beneath the other for comfort.
“Well Officer, what’s the prob–”
“Detective.” Michael said. He didn’t bother to sit. “Ms. Thompson, I’ve been informed you’ve come to town recently looking to purchase a pearl.”
“Straight to business aren’t we?” Mariam said, topping her glass. “Are you sure you don’t want anything to drink?”
“Ms. Thompson, did you or did you not intend to purchase a pearl from one Carol Yotes this morning?”
“I did, yes. She didn’t have any worth my trouble, I’m afraid.” Mariam said, taking another sip.
“Did you know three other individuals arrived and expressed similar interests?” Michael asked, twitching somewhat—the headlights of a passing car in the window. Nothing wrong.
“I did not. Seems rather odd, but not worth the involvement of law enforcement. Surely there are stranger purchases for you to be investigating?”
“Ms. Mariam, thirty hours ago, a world record sized pearl went missing from the station—less then twelve hours ago, it was reported to be nearby. Less than two hours ago, one of the other suspected buyers went missing.” Michael said, keeping his calm. “For your safety and mine, I suggest you co-operate.”
Mariam paused, tapping her glass twice and then placing it on the mantle. She stood up, opened a drawer and removed one of her earrings, looking at it closely.
“Which one went missing?” She asked, roating the earring.
“Which of the two other buyers went missing, detective?” She said, emphasizing the last word. “I would assume you hadn’t forgotten already.”
“Not his name. No one uses their real names here. Not now.” Mariam said. “What did he wear? Grey robes? Arachnid headress? Silk robes?”
“Rings.” Micahel said, holding up his hand and touching his ring finger three times.
There was a flash. A crack. Outside, Micahel saw it more clearly this time—it was farther away. A bright, pearl white sphere unraveling into the air—encompassing a whole building not far away. Midnight.
“And then that, that happened.” Micahel said, pointing with his index and ring finger out the window. “Care to explain that?”
“…No, I do not care to.” Mariam said, staring out the window. “Detective, I’m afraid you have misjudged the situation, and your fellows at the station or pinkerton house or where ever you call home, have misjudged the timing. You are not hunting a pearl. You are hunting an egg. And it’s started to hatch.”
“…what lays an egg that looks like a pearl?” Michael asked slowly.
“Oh, many things. I am afraid we will have to cut this short. For your safety, detective, I suggest you let this case sort itself out. It is, how do you say it these days, above your pay grade.”
Michael was ready to take her advice—a missing witness, flashes of light, and cryptic nonsense was too much for him. Eventually, there was a point where normal police work had to at least find experts or help. Real help.
However, Micahel did want to inform Carol of what had happened—especially since her friend, the pearl guy, was probably caught up in this nonsense. What was his name again? Dave something. Her shop was on the way out of town anyway, and Michael wanted to get far away from her.
That’s where her shop was. Michael the cars outside caved in, the windows shattered, the door torn off it’s hinges. The cracks in the wall shimmered in the headlights as Michael turned them off, glittering like opals. At the front of the door, there was a circle. Exactly two feet across—three cracks in the edges.
Michael swallowed his dread and crossed into the building. The lights were still on, and excpet the broken glass all over the floor, nothing had been moved—although, he noticed, there wasn’t a single pearl in the old display. Just the mermaid, her entire body looking like cast coral without the stones.
He didn’t bother calling out for Carol.
The door in the back was missing—going down the steps, he found Dave’s workshop. Unfinished sculptures were lying on the floor. A small pile of pearls, and a pedestal. Michael walked slowly around until he spotted something more unusual—a dent in the wall, one foot across. The edges had that same opalescent quality to them—the same rainbow, multicolored sheen. It seemed to be moving—spreading almost.
Touching it, he felt a dim vibration. Whatever was making these, this was a recent one…but it was a smaller shape then upstairs. Two maybe? Or maybe…it started here, and went upstairs next. Feeling along the edge, he felt one…then two subtle shifts in the wall. Just two cracks. There was a clock above it, trapped in a thin finish, glittering pearls growing off of it’s cracks. It’s stuck at the eleventh hour. It’d happened during his interview with Carol—whatever it was.
Michael weighed his options. He could go after Alberto—that was the last lead. The last shot at finding out what happened. Or he could run, forget this whole thing. Forget the weird colors and lights. Probably sleep a bit easier not knowing.
Michael pulled out Alberto’s business card and dialed into the cellphone. He didn’t really need sleep, right?
Alberto was more co-operative. Especially when Michael said the last three had gone missing. Michael was past caring. The pearl wasn’t going to show up by poking around gently.
Alberto looked about as presentable as expected for a late night meeting in a parking lot, not far from an abandoned church. Apparently the road party hadn’t stopped—there was still thrumming bass music not far off. Almost sounded like it was coming from the church, but no one was in side the abandoned building.
“Wow, this is…you’ve got to know this is sketchy right?” Alberto said, walking down the road from his own parked car.
“I saw a man go missing in a flash of light, and another flash of light dissappear a bunch of pearls—I figure being shot in the dark on the road is too mundane to happen today.” Michael said, holding a box of cigarettes out to Alberto.
“Ah, no thanks.” Alberto said, waving his hand. “So….you already know about the other two?”
“Sure.” Micahel said, lighting his first. “Mariam talked in circles. Leo went missing before I could ask. So. It’s an egg?”
“…yeah, its an egg I guess.” Alberto said, breathing slowly. “Kind of anyway.”
“And it’s hatching, right?” Michael said, looking up at the sky. “It’s cracking, that’s hatching right?”
“Sure, close close.” Alberto said, nodding. “You’ve got the gist of it.”
“Right, so. What’s it doing? What’s with the flashes?”
“Its a baby. A big one. You wander around, and realize a things are going missing near a kid–”
“Eating them, got it.” Michael said, nodding again. “So, why you guys? Why not random folks? Why try and grab this thing?”
“…It’s a baby.” Alberto repeated, shaking his head. “Kid’s need parents. Especially cosmic kids, big kids. We’ve been waiting for…well, for a while for this kid. Had to make sure we got it right.”
Michael made a hum and exhaled, looking off in the distance towards the church. The bass sound was getting louder. Faster, vibrating his fingertips.
“So that’s it? Just a question and–” Alberto began.
“It recognizes you.” Michael said suddenly. “Somehow, you’ve seen it…and it’s seen you. So it goes looking for you, to make cracks.”
“I mean, that’s a thought.”
Michael looked at his watch.
“So how long until it comes for you?” Michael asked. Alberto froze. Michael stared at his watch—there was a flash, right at one o’clock. Which meant one for Mariam. Looking up, Michael saw it. Floating there, a great pearl with six cracks running along the edges. He could see faces in that pearl—places, even, forests and seas. It was swelling too—six feet wide, as big as a person, reflecting him perfectly.
Michael walked up to the pearl, as the cracks began to spiderweb. Out it burst,sending shards flying away—one nicked Michael’s cheek, living a long thin scar he’d explain for years.
Sitting at the epicenter of the explosion was a child—glowing faintly like the moon. It looked so helpless. So confused. Michael looked either way on the street, crossed over, and offered a hand to the five year old, and a coat. They got into the car.
The car drove off.
I think this story was strongest at the start–the scene at the shop was not only delightful to write, but reading it over for editing, it felt the best. As the story moved along further, the constraints of time and space became more of a problem–this turned into a mystery story, and I frankly only have so much space for a supernatural mystery. I think it’s enjoyable, and certainly a bit strange, but not finished by a long shot. The ending might lead into other stories.
Next week, we’ll be going to another specific time and place: The Rebirth of Italy, the magics there in, the artistry. I hope to see you then!
If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.