By Court Young
Eyes watched each move Elizabeth made. The thought left an eerie emptiness in the lonesome apartment. She was certain no one was around but felt a strange sensation while the distant sound of Serenade Lyrique echoed from the bedroom. The classical music catapulted Elizabeth’s imagination to another century. She often let her thoughts get the best of her. The colors of the trees caught her attention as she passed the window. The hues were magnificent; such deep reds and bright yellows. Elizabeth was in a daze as she watched the crisp leaves fall gracefully from the tips of the branches. They looked as if they were dancing as they drifted to the ground. Each happy memory she experienced led up to her life as it was now, uncertain. She could not help but relive the exultant moments of her life before her grandfather passed away. “What a birthday present,” Elizabeth whispered. She refused to glance at the claw-footed music box that rested on the counter. Her grandfather planned for her to receive the box on her twentieth birthday. This was his final request.
Elizabeth fell deeper into her memories as she stared through the window. She missed Mac, her grandfather. Mac was a master watchmaker and found great joy in collecting antique trinkets and eighteenth century art. He knew several people throughout all corners of the world from travelling as a teenager. At a charity auction two years ago, Mac introduced Elizabeth to Professor Linderman who was a fellow collector. The professor was an expert in a variety of fields including art and artifacts but history was his main area of expertise. Although Linderman never taught, people called him Professor due to his extensive knowledge of history. Elizabeth continued to reminisce in a different memory that often revisited her thoughts. She once eavesdropped on a private meeting between the professor and her grandfather. She learned the two were essential members in an underground group called the Paranormal Secret Society. She overheard muffled pieces of a conversation that entailed monsters and magic. The thought of mysterious creatures and a secret society created a burning sensation inside of Elizabeth’s core. She was eager to learn more. That day she vowed to think more critically about her surroundings. She no longer took the world at face value.
The day was fading into night quicker than expected. The dark wisps of clouds bellowed above the treetops as a hint of lightening flashed a silver brightness on the horizon. The smell of fresh rain whipped through her windows. She closed each one before the downpour started. The terrifying visions began when she touched the antique on her twentieth birthday. Elizabeth witnessed threats and murders. The details flashed before her eyes seconds at a time like quick snippets of a film. Elizabeth never saw the faces of those who completed the horrible tasks but she hated them. Whoever these power hungry strangers were, they would search until they found the object they most desired. The visions frightened Elizabeth. She wished her grandfather were alive so he could comfort and explain to her what was happening.
Elizabeth glanced at the antique. The box was marble black with silver plated edges and claw feet; each foot resembled a dragon’s face. The superfluous visions the box caused were beginning to overcome Elizabeth and control her emotions. Although breathtaking, it was negatively affecting her relationship with Gabriel, her best friend since childhood. Elizabeth knew he was worried by the way he looked at her when she would say things out of the norm. She knew that particular look, for it was not a stranger to her. Gabriel use to dart his blue eyes towards her the same way when they were younger. She wished he could see an inkling of the horror she envisioned but the box only affected her. Elizabeth could not free herself from the sensation that radiated from its edges. For that reason, she would carry the burden of this antique for life.
Three loud knocks echoed through the living room. The last knock harder than the previous two, Elizabeth rushed to the door. A hooded figure stood outside. Elizabeth could only make out the bottom half of the stranger’s face. “Who is it?” Elizabeth hoped this person was a figment of her imagination because the situation was quite odd. There was no answer back. Elizabeth opened the door and peeked at each corner of the porch. Relieved, she ducked back into the apartment and locked the door. As Elizabeth turned, a woman stood close behind her. A high pitch yelp escaped from Elizabeth as the silver haired woman removed the hood that had previously covered her face. Elizabeth could not help but notice the golden dragon clasp with gleaming ruby eyes that secured the flowing hunter green cloak upon the woman’s shoulders. Her nose was petite and lips defined but her skin was as wrinkled as a crumpled piece of parchment. Elizabeth questioned the woman’s motives. The old woman placed a hand on her shoulder, “I am not here to harm you. I was sent to protect you. They are coming.” A warm calmness fell over Elizabeth’s body. She somehow knew the lady was telling the truth but found that a little hard to believe.
The old woman’s tone was familiar, one Elizabeth had recognized from her Grandmother. Elizabeth thought she misunderstood the frail older woman. “You? Protect me? And may I ask who they are?” Elizabeth hammered for answers but did not know how much information the old woman was willing to convey. The circumstance was entertaining. An old brittle lady had come to protect her from the unknown. The woman looked as if she could barely walk ten feet without needing a breather or breaking a bone.
“I sense you do not trust me. I can explain more but first I must place a sacred enchantment upon your dwelling.” The old woman hobbled around the living room whispering a language Elizabeth had never heard. The old woman pulled a wooden stick from inside of her robe and waved the wand in small circles as she cast the enchantments around the room. Small purple swirls whisked from the wand’s tip until the room filled with a light-purple smoke. The smoke smelled like homemade blueberry pie. Elizabeth swooshed the floating swirls of smoke from her face and followed close behind the old woman. Elizabeth was stunned by what she witnessed and wondered if the woman was an odd figment of her imagination.
“My dear, I am a witch. A tootin’ good one if I do not say so myself but please don’t be afraid. You can think of me as your fairy godmother if you wish. Also, I think it would be safe for you to know I knew your grandfather.” Gertrude worked with Elizabeth’s grandfather on several cases regarding the Society. Gertrude and Mac successfully completed dozens of classified missions throughout the years of knowing one another. This was Elizabeth’s first hand experience with an entity that was not ordinary. Gertrude watched Elizabeth’s every move for the past week and knew the box was making the girl mentally and physically unstable. The witch promised her life that if anything happened to Mac than she would protect Elizabeth with all of her being. She sealed this promise with a magical incantation that only death could break. The moment the box opened, Gertrude knew the time had arrived for her to fulfill her lifelong duty.
The old woman whispered a final enchantment and returned her wand inside of the cloak, the purple smoke and smell of pie vanished. “Sorry dear, I am Gertrude the Gifted. It is nice to meet you. We will have time to get to know one another but that time is not now. Someone is coming.” Gertrude disappeared and Elizabeth heard another knock. The knock grew louder until it was an obnoxious pounding at the door. Elizabeth hurried to see Gabriel standing soaking wet with a broken umbrella in his hand. “It’s me! Open up!” he yelled. Elizabeth hesitated but unlocked the door. Gabriel rushed in. “It started pouring down just a couple of miles away. I had to change a stupid tire in the rain.”
“Look what the cat drug in,” Elizabeth said as she tried not to notice his defined stomach muscles through his dripping wet t-shirt. She moved to the bathroom and grabbed a towel for Gabe. She expected him to visit after work. He recently took a position assisting the Professor with his artifact studies. The job paid well and Gabe learned fascinating facts about other societies and cultures. The professor had many theories on lost cities and sacred temples. Gabe also knew details about the Society and shared information with her. She had insight on the tasks the group set out to complete. The Society became more active after her grandfather passed away. She knew they were up to something. Elizabeth asked Gabriel to question the Professor about the antique music box. If anyone was to know its history, he would.
“I rushed over as soon as I could to let you know what Professor Linderman said. I was instructed to tell you in person because he is overly paranoid again.” Gabe was talking fast while moving close to Elizabeth. Gabe seemed a bit shaken up. “Linderman spoke to the Society. You are having a reaction to what is inside of the box, not the box itself. Whatever is in there, must stay locked away. Then, Linderman said, if the evil is unleashed it could be bad. Really bad!” Elizabeth’s mind wandered. She had seen the contents of the box; it had opened for her once.
“Gabe. I know what is in the box but…I did not want to tell you or the Professor.” He gave her one of those familiar looks. She continued. “It contains a crimson ruby necklace. I tried to open it last week. I fell to the ground and the box fell as hard as I did on the tile. Its powers were overwhelming. My body lay frozen to the floor. I tried to move. A light reflected from the silver edges and almost blinded me. Then the box opened.” Elizabeth refused to make eye contact with Gabriel. He was blind sided by this information. She had kept this from him for days. He was thankful she was not injured but was hurt she did not tell him.
“I think Professor Linderman should know.”
“Gabe, please. He does not need to know anything. The Society is up to no good.”
“Liz. Listen to yourself. It is as if you are trying to protect this stupid box. We need information.”
“NO!” Her tone was unfamiliar to herself.
“I won’t tell him exactly what is inside. No details. I promise.”
Gabe gave Elizabeth a bear hug and squeezed her tight. She did not want him to leave. She enjoyed the closeness and faint smell of his cologne. Elizabeth had a feeling Gabe knew more but did not want to pry. If he were keeping a secret, it was to protect her. Gabe released Elizabeth and rushed to his jeep. He would go back to the Professor’s house tonight. The old woman rematerialized. Her instant reappearance startled Elizabeth.
“He is gone now. We can talk if you would like,” Elizabeth announced.
“You know, you have your grandfather’s stubbornness,” the woman said with a smile on her face. Elizabeth did not want Gertrude to explain any further. Elizabeth had a certain kind of love for Gabriel, but smirked instead of going into detail. The two stood in silence but shared a moment. To change the subject Elizabeth asked Gertrude her age. She could not help but focus on the dangling wrinkles. Elizabeth found them a bit comical but knew how rude it was to laugh at someone’s appearance.
“I am 435; my birthday is next month but before you ask, my kind usually lives three times as long.” Elizabeth could not comprehend living thousands of years. Gertrude looked great for being 435. The old woman pulled her wand from her cloak and twirled it between her fingers. “Talgonadunta,” Gertrude shouted and the wrinkles fell from her face onto the floor and then vanished. The grey hairs transformed into jet blackness. Her hair scrunched into tight curls. Gertrude’s emerald eyes stood out beyond all of her perfect features.
“You are…beautiful.” Elizabeth said, stunned by her beauty.
“Thank you dear. I usually go for this look. Reminds me of the good ole days.”
“But…why didn’t –”
“I did not present myself to you this way because I have learned younger people, like yourself, tend to trust old wrinkled grandmas more.”
Gertrude was right; she surely would not have trusted a youthful beautiful witch. Elizabeth barely believed the older woman façade. Gertrude pulled a pocket watch from her robe and stared at it intensely. Elizabeth caught a glimpse. The watch did not have numbers like most watches, but instead had flowers and a small moon and sun where the twelve would have been.
“We have time.” Gertrude said more to herself. “I must tell you these things before I go but you may not ask any additional questions. You must listen closely.” Gertrude cupped her hands around her mouth like a megaphone and spoke in a soft tone. Elizabeth moved close to the woman. “As long as you are home, no one can get in, unless you allow it. Do not be fooled by mimics, and always ask questions. You will go to the lake at the end of the woods tomorrow at daybreak. You must go alone and deal with your own demons. Understand?” Elizabeth shook her head yes. “You must be cautious. Please.” Elizabeth did not quite understand the instructions but listened carefully,
“Do you know what will happen when I reach the lake?”
“Yes. I know the outcome, if all goes as planned, for the rest of your life. This is why you must follow each instruction. If anything goes off plan… all things may change. Do as I say.”
“My grandfather. Aren’t you going to tell me more?”
“In due time, my sweet child. That time is not now…but we will meet again.”
Gertrude winked at Elizabeth and then was gone as quick as she appeared. Elizabeth sat in silence, staring at the imprints on the couch where the woman previously sat. She moved her hand over the area. She had no reason to believe Gertrude was there to harm her. Elizabeth was worried about what Gabe would think of her walking through the woods alone. She was concerned with what her Grandmother would say if she knew or what the professor’s input would be.
The apartment was now safe and Elizabeth felt protected from whatever was coming for her. The unknown was what she feared the most. She packed a small bag for her short journey. She pulled her grandfather’s pocketknife and a flashlight from a small drawer in her bedroom. She was unsure of how long the visit at the lake would be and hoped it would only take a few hours. The day had been long and somewhat stressful. Although the sun was setting on the horizon, Elizabeth would sleep until she heard from Gabe.
Gabriel drove directly to the professor’s house where the majority of the Paranormal Secret Society (P.S.S.) members were staying. He felt like the members judged him for being uneducated in their field. From the driveway, he could make out the silhouette of a strange man standing outside of the mansion door.
“State your name, boy.” The man said with a thick cockney accent.
“Gabriel. Professor Linderman is expecting me,” he answered back.
The older man studied Gabriel from head to toe. He had stringy grease-filled grey hair and wore an off-white sweater. He was not the kind of character a person would want to cross in an alleyway. “Go on then.” He nudged Gabriel hard. The angry tone in his voice startled him. Strategically placed in front of the entrance to ward off any unwanted visitors, the man looked for trouble. He did not look afraid to kill. The man watched Gabriel enter until he disappeared from sight. He walked through the main hallway until he reached the dining area. Professor Linderman sat at the head of a long table with a burgundy robe wrapped tightly around his figure. The other members of the society sat around the table. Gabriel was uncomfortable. All eyes darted toward him when he entered. He felt like he was performing brain surgery in front of a panel. Their faces gleamed with interest.
He cleared his throat, “I spoke with Liz. There’s a necklace in the box.” All movement ceased within the room and their eyes darted back and forth. The questions about the necklace were inevitable. The Professor hammered for specific answers but Gabe refused to give any detailed information. He kept his promise to Elizabeth. The Professor pulled an old dust-covered book from the nearest bookshelf and flipped through the pages. All the members stood to watch the frail pages flop one over another. The professor stopped as he reached the pages of hand drawn necklaces. He studied a page that displayed a large red ruby-like stone with encrusted diamonds. The necklace had spikes of barbwire on the chain. The professor darted his eyes towards Gabriel. Gabriel shuffled in his seat feeling more uncomfortable than before. He was the only one in the room still sitting. Gabriel kept a straight face but could not hide his interest in the drawing.
“This necklace, my boy, is the cerise ruby. It holds an ancient dark magic, the darkest of the dark. The legends states that whoever possesses this stone could rule the world if wanted. Unfortunately, those who have worn the necklace became greedy with power. The necklace is utter evil. But.”
There was a long pause.
“It has been lost for centuries, since the late 1700′s. Oh, don’t let that discourage you; the hunt has never ceased. Secret societies across the world have searched every continent since its disappearance. Wishful thinking to believe its here, locked up in a silly little antique in the hands of a silly little girl.” Gabe had the urge to sigh in relief. The society would want the box eventually to see the contents for themselves. Greed gleamed from each of the member’s eyes, but not one of them could be trusted.
“Sir, I believe she said it was a chain.” He hoped his lie would fool them.
“Yes. That is the most common necklace that curses are placed upon.” The professor said with a disappointed look on his face. “Gabe, I need you to find out precise details about this necklace. Specifics could help us solve this curse and understand the history of this object.” Gabe agreed and found it was time to leave. “Oh one last thing, please relay a message to Miss Elizabeth for me.” He paused and looked at the members of his society who now sat around the table. “Eventually, the box will be opened and she will not have to worry with it much longer.”
Gabe did not know how to take the message for it sounded like an odd threat. He gave a simple head nod and was on his way back to Elizabeth’s house. Something did not settle right about the Professor. What if he read Gabriel’s expressions or knew he was lying? Could the Professor be more dangerous than helpful? Gabe put his thoughts beside him and started the jeep. He drove down the dark country road to Elizabeth’s apartment.
Gabe pulled into Elizabeth’s driveway and rushed up the stairs, tripping over the last few steps. He fell onto his palms but hopped back up. He knocked on Elizabeth’s door but there was no answer and the apartment was dark from the outside. He used the key she had given him months ago after his girlfriend broke up with him. Elizabeth was never the type of girl to be sentimental but wanted him to have a key. The apartment was dark inside. “Elizabeth. Liz,” he whispered but she did not answer. He heard rustling in the bedroom. Elizabeth slept in her bed soundly. He reached his hand to wake her but before he touched her shoulder, she awoke suddenly.
“What? You scared me. How did you get in?” She said in a panic. She never liked being startled.
“With this key,” he said as he dangled his keys.
She remembered the enchantment placed upon the apartment and was a bit confused how he was able to enter. She knew in her heart, Gabe would always be welcome.
“I have to tell you what I found out over at Professor Linderman’s house but first I must tell you that you were right about not trusting them. The look in their eyes is unsettling, like they are looking deep within my soul.”
“That’s it?” She lay back down on the pillow.
“No. There is more. The professor had an old book. Inside were hand drawings of necklaces. He showed me a picture of a heart shaped ruby necklace.. The chain resembled –”
“Like it is made of barbed wire with a ruby about this big?”
She cupped her hands to show the size. Elizabeth was in more danger than they imagined. If the society knew the antique jewelry box contained the lost necklace, they would be there within a blink.
“Elizabeth. You must not tell anyone about this. Keep it to yourself.”
“Gabriel. You’re scaring me.” His eyes filled with worry. Elizabeth was not used to him acting this way.
“You have to promise not to freak out. Ok?” Elizabeth was hesitant but promised.
“If you have the necklace that has been lost for over three hundred years…this is not good. For centuries, people have searched for it. That necklace possesses evil, harbors greed, and if anyone finds out you have it…” He thought of the worst. “They will use deadly force to get it. It is very important no one knows. No one. Elizabeth, look at me. No one can know. You’re already in enough danger.” This solidified Elizabeth’s feelings; Gertrude was genuine. She would continue with the witch’s instructions.
“Gabe. Tomorrow I am leaving. I have to get away from here before the Society comes snooping. It’s very important that I go alone, completely alone. This is going to sound insane and you may not believe me but an old lady visited me earlier before you arrived. She was different. Almost unbelievable. If what you tell me is true about the necklace then I have no other choice. She gave me simple instructions: go to lake in the woods and be careful. I’m going to take a chance and go with it.” Gabriel moved uneasily in his seat. He did not want her to go alone but respected her choice. “I am taking the box with me,” Elizabeth added. She threw the blanket from her legs and wandered to the kitchen, refusing to make eye contact. Although Gabe was worried for Elizabeth’s safety, he respected her decision. Elizabeth leaned on the counter. “Little change of plans. I’m leaving tonight.”
Gabriel did not know what to say. “It’s dark outside.” How stupid, he thought. She grabbed the extra flashlight from the counter and shone it in his face. The anxiety of waiting until sunrise was overcoming her. She changed shoes and grabbed the backpack. She forced Gabriel to place the music box into her bag and swung it over one shoulder. With the slightest touch of the box her mind would be bombarded with horrible visions that weakened her physically and mentally. Gabriel did not say a word. Once Elizabeth had made her mind, there was no use arguing.
She took one last look at him and walked through the door, refusing to glance back. She stood on the porch and looked out into the dark woods. Above the treetops was a hint of a full moon. She imagined if today were her last day on earth and could not help but think of all the regrets in her life. She rushed back into her apartment and glanced at Gabe standing in the kitchen. She pushed him onto the bar stool and looked into his blue eyes. “Just in case I don’t make it back. I wanted to give you something.” She grabbed his face and leaned in close to his lips. He moved in towards her and their lips interlocked like two puzzle pieces, perfectly fitting together. Butterflies rushed through Elizabeth’s body and goose bumps covered her arms. They stood, still slowly kissing and nibbled on each other’s lips. She pulled away, “I cannot believe I did that.”
Elizabeth was embarrassed. She had dreamed about kissing him but never had the courage to do so. She did not want her life to end with any remorse, especially with danger looming around the corner. He pulled her in closer and tasted her sweet lips one last time. Elizabeth did not know what the darkness held but after kissing Gabe she had the courage to conquer whatever was out there. The old witch instructed her to go in the morning but if she were to die, she wanted to get it over with soon. Gabe begged her to stay. Elizabeth refused to listen. Their friendship was instantly confusing. He hoped Elizabeth stayed safe during her journey. He could not live with himself if something bad happened to her.
Elizabeth ran through the woods as fast she could, branches scrapped her legs leaving stings and aches along her shins and calves. The bottom of her dress had ripped and the lace trimming had come unsewn. She could taste the salty sweat dripping down her face while the wind blew against her cheeks. A chill drifted up her spine. This encouraged her to run harder. The slight whistles of the wind echoed lightly through the top of the tall pines. She could hear the tree branches dancing up above, swaying back and forth. She imagined the trees were dancing to Canon in D minor and smiled. Although the storm had passed, the streaks of lightning flashed in the distance through the opening in the trees.