While the airconditioner moved the air around inside the car trying to convince him it was actually cooling it down, Gabriel turned on the radio. The sight of those bugs outside made his skin crawl. Some music would be nice. Something quiet to soothe his tired head. Instead a news reporter's dry voice caught his attention.
"...after killing five and seriously injuring eight innocent shoppers this afternoon, the madman subsequently leapt from the roof of the mall. He was pronounced dead on the spot by the paramedics..."
"Interesting." Gabriel turned up the sound to drown out the noise from the bugs attacking his car, but the news flash was over, and he got treated to a dose of Snoop Dogg or someone who sounded very much like him. He swore and hit "Off".
"Hmmm... Okay. I think need to look into that. Tomorrow. Now I need to find a motel. Bug free!"
Gabriel peered through the windshield, trying to assess the size of the bug swarm.
"Damn... They are everywhere!" He swore under his breath. Bugs were landing on the car, crashing against the windows like little kamikaze planes, crawling around the windshield wipers making him want to switch them on and dislocate them. He decided against it, though, as it would most probably just result in squashed bugs being smeared across the windshield.
The streets were deserted - a rare enough occurrence in these parts - and Gabriel had a strong feeling that the flying cockroaches had a lot to do with that. This was no natural phenomenon.
He put the car in gear and moved it away from the kerb. The bugs trailed after him as he made his way towards the nearest intersection. They kept following him for five or six minutes, but then they left him to buzz busily around a streetlamp for a few seconds before taking off down a narrow road to his right. Gabriel halted the car and looked down the road. It was dark. Not many streetlamps that way down, but somewhere in the distance warm light spilled from the windows of what looked to be a large house.
Gabriel rolled down the window and listened. The way the house was illuminated he expected to hear merry music being blown about by the nightly breeze, but the night was dead quiet. The only sound came from the gravel under the tires as he slowly turned down the road and drove towards the house.
It turned out to be a large house, probably part of a larger estate at one point, but now reduced to the one house, sitting close to the road, backed by a large, overgrown garden. In the dark the cracked paint and the broken windowframes didn't show as clearly, but the general air of death and decay was almost palpable. The many big and expensive cars parked in the road and in the driveway accentuated the dilapidated state of the once great mansion. Gabriel drove past the house and parked under some large trees and spent a few moment putting the crystal into its slot in the briefcase. There was no telling what he'd encounter so he might as well be prepared as best he could.
When he got out of the car he heard odd clicking noises, and it took him a few seconds to discover that it was the sound of cockroaches landing on his car. On his car, in the trees, and on the ground around him.
"Damn!" he said softly. The bugs shuffled out from under his feet as he slowly walked towards the house. Why had he come here? He had no idea. But it had seemed like the right thing to do. Someone or something had wanted him to come, he was sure of that much. Someone who seemed to be able to command bugs in great quantities. "Lord of the Flies" kept popping up in his mind, but he tried to shrug it off. That was not a happy thought.
Walking up to the large front porch Gabriel could hear the sound of many voices talking softly inside the house. Through a window he saw people dressed in black sitting or standing around a parlour, glasses in hand and solemn expressions on their faces. Nobody stopped him as he entered through one of the open glass doors, but a few of the assembled glanced at him and nodded as if they were not surprised to see him. Gabriel felt uncomfortably out of place in his everyday clothes.
"This way, sir."
A maid lead him through a hallway towards a room at the back of the house, where, as he had already begun to suspect, a casket stood alone in a pool of warm light. He had arrived at a wake.
"Well...", he thought. "This is odd. I wonder if I should call Bastiaan and ask..."
Then he thought: "No need for that. I'll explain."
Gabriel stopped dead in his tracks. "Oh, don't be silly," his thoughts continued, with a distinct female flavour to them. "Come forward and sit down and I'll explain!"
Gabriel walked to the front of the rows of chairs facing the open casket. But instead of sitting down he went forward and looked.
"That's Miss Roberta Summersville," his thoughts told him. "Incidentally I'm in there. I need you to get me out."
Sitting at a chair in the front row Gabriel got the story. And it wasn't a story he necessarily liked, for a number of reasons.
"I am trapped in here. In her. A very powerful... enchanter took a disliking to me and bound me to this body. She was his friend and she wanted eternal youth, or, failing that, eternal life. Turns out it didn't work. Neither did."
Gabriel looked at the hooked nose and very pale, very wrinkled face of the late Miss Roberta Summersville, and nodded.
"Mind you she is almost 167. She was in her forties when I got put here so I did extend her life quite a bit. Most of it she spent confined to her rooms, though, harrassing the maids. And now she is dead. And I am trapped."
"This very powerful enchanter..." said Gabriel under his breath. "What is his name?"
"I can't tell you that."
"If you won't tell me I can't help you."
"You misunderstand. I am not able to say his name. I am not without powers myself, and being able to pronounce his name would also enable me to break free from this prison. So he made sure of that."
Gabriel nodded to himself and sat still for a while. This had to be him, the one whose name kept eluding him. And he had had this lady friend here, a mere ten minutes drive from Bastiaan's house... There was no way Bastiaan hadn't known. So odd. And how did this... spirit know about him, Gabriel? Did this mean he had caught the eye of the Big Guy? That was not a comforting thought at all.
"What's in this for me?" he said finally. "I'm not running a charity after all."
"I'll make it worth your while," said the spirit. "Trust me on this. I have already seen to it."
Gabriel sighed. "You say you have some powers. I am searching for a certain person. Or a soul, rather.."
"That I cannot help you with." The answer came promptly and had a very final ring to it. He sighed again.
"Okay. I'll help you."
"I know," said the spirit, and the tone in his mind suggested it was laughing. "You were already here."
Gabriel took out his phone and called Bastiaan. He had to call twice before getting a sleepy answer, but once he did he didn't beat around the bush.
"I need you to send me back. I am at the house of Miss Roberta Summersville, and I seem to have a job to do."
"Ah... yes. The old lady up and died now. I saw. What she wanting from you?"
"There's a spirit here wanting to get out. I bet you knew. But let's not go into that now. Bring me back to yesterday. Please. And don't fall asleep before I need to go forward again!"
"But yesterday she was already dead, mon. What you be wanting there?"
"She said she'd tell me then. I am in no danger, I think. Time travelling always confuses me, but if I did come to harm yesterday I wouldn't be here now. So..."
Bastiaan chuckled. "You may be right. Well... Ready then?"
Gabriel looked down at the briefcase sitting between his feet, and sighed. "Yes. I am ready."
The room was bustling with people in the process of setting up the lit de parade, arranging chairs and flowers, hanging huge dark drapes in front of the windows. Gabriel looked around. The casket was not yet there, but he felt the sound of the spirit's voice in the air. After a few seconds it seemed to find him, and manifested itself in his mind as before.
"Ah. Mr. Gabriel. Come with me."
Without a second warning he felt his mental image dissolve into tiny little specks that immediately got sucked through the vastness of time and space. He felt himself screaming, but no sound was heard. It was like exploding into a bloom of intense light - and maybe pain, he wasn't sure. All he knew, when he reassembled eons or seconds later, was that he never, ever wished to go through that again.
He found himself staggering to a halt in a dark room, beside a large bed. His one flailing arm tried to find a bedpost to hold on to, but until he calmed down and concentrated that wasn't going to happen. He forced himself to breathe deeply and slowly, and eventually his heart stopped racing madly, slowing to a mere purr.
"Good evening, young man."
From the bed, propped up on numerous large pillows, an old, wrinkled, deadly pale woman looked at him. She looked like the epitome of a Lady, and she looked like she wasn't so much alive as embalmed and resurrected. Gabriel recalled that she was close to 167.
"You can see me?" he said, dumbly. The voice in his head laughed. "Yes she can see you.
The old lady echoed the voice: "Yes, I can see you. And who might you be? Did my Rapunzel bring you here as a last desperate bid for freedom?"
"She calls me Rapunzel," said the voice. "She calls herself my Ivory Tower."
"Ah, yes," said Miss Roberta. "I am weak now, so she roams. Trying to find a way out. Well I'm not letting you go, Rapunzel. Not while I still breathe. You know this."
Gabriel decided to get a word in. "But when you stop breathing, Miss Summersville. Then what?"
Miss Roberta laughed a wheezing, unhealthy laughter. "He promised me you'd keep me alive, Rapunzel. So chances are I never stop."
Gabriel looked at her with disbelief. She was so obviously at death's door that he almost laughed at her.
"Well," he said. "Wouldn't you dying set Rapunzel free anyway?"
"No. She needs to be freed with a spell. And it's written down in my notebook in my chest of drawers in the study. And it's protected with a spell too, so noone can touch it while I am alive. And also... oh..." Her voice trailed off, and she stared at him.
"And also," Rapunzel's voice in his mind said, "she had made sure I couldn't tell anyone how to free me. Thank you, Gabriel. Now you know what to do. Now you go back!"
Once more Gabriel exploded, and arrived, screaming, back in the busy parlour where they were still getting ready for the wake.
"FUCK!" he yelled. "Don't DO that! Ever. Again."
"Well, you are in my world more than in your own now. I can do a lot of interesting things with you. Nice things too..."
"Don't even think about it! Or I am not helping you."
Rapunzel laughed. "Oh well. Anyway: this is her study. And the chest of drawers is the one over there between the windows. Her notebook is in the second drawer from the top, left side. Go back to your time, and do what you need to do."
The voice - and the feeling of not being alone in his head - disappeared. He felt oddly empty and deserted for a few seconds, and made ready to call out to Bastiaan. But before he got that far he felt the tug of Bastiaan's magic, and soon he was back in his body in the dark and quiet room by the casket. His phone was ringing in his pocket.
"I thought I lost you, mon!" Bastiaan was genuinely upset, something that didn't happen very often. "I lost your touch. And then I felt it and bring you back. Where was you taken?"
"Further back in time. And I am not doing that again!" snapped Gabriel. "Ah, never mind. I'll call you later. And... thank you," he added, as he hung up. Bastiaan had been worried, and he hadn't been able to trace him. He had effectively been lost in time and at the mercy of Rapunzel. He shivered, and looked down at his trembling hands.
"Are you there, Rapunzel? That was a pretty dirty trick you pulled."
No reply, though he did sense a tone in the air, like a faint voice giggling. He rose and looked around. The study was still empty apart from himself and the late Miss Roberta, so he walked quickly to the chest of drawers by the windows. Second from the top on his left. A notebook, bound in leather so old and worn it was as brittle and shiny as thin glass. It crackled as he opened it and leafed through the pages. Bits of corners dissolved into dust but it held together at the spine. He brought it with him to the casket, using Miss Roberta's wake-light to read by.
Most of the pages were covered with notes about people, snippets of poems, here and there a recipe for punch or drinks, or the names of flowers. But at the last page, surrounded by odd, curly signs - probably signs of warding - were three words. Gabriel stared at them.
"Say the words..." The voice was a mere whisper on a non existant breeze. Gabriel shrugged and, a bit reluctantly said the words. Nothing happened at first, but then the wrinkled old body in the casket seemed to deflate a little, and before Gabriel's eyes it started to disintegrate, slowly but inexorably. He took a step back.
"She should have died long ago," said Rapunzel's voice behind him. Gabriel's eyes went to the briefcase on the floor by the chairs as he turned around, and he cursed under his breath. Rapunzel laughed softly. She was a shimmering form in the air, only vaguely recognisable as a woman.
"The crystal won't do you any good. On the other hand I won't do you any harm either. I owe you one. Now I suggest you leave before the mourning friends see what you have done to Miss Roberta. Good bye, Gabriel."
With that she just disappeared. Gabriel swore. He had thousands of questions he wanted answers to. And only Bastiaan to ask.
He took one last look into the casket and wished he hadn't. Clutching the notebook he walked quickly from the dark room out into the hall, aiming for the large front doors. A maid stood ready to open them for him.
"Mr. Gabriel?" she said. He stopped, almost tripping over his own legs. "Yes..."
The maid handed him an envelope. It had his name on it, written in spindly, perfectly formed flowing script. "Miss Roberta said to give you this today, Mr. Gabriel. Good evening Mr. Gabriel."
He didn't open the envelope until he had left the house behind, driving in a daze through the night and finding himself near a motel on the outskirts of town. He pulled in to the parking lot and stopped the engine. The envelope weighed in his hand when he took it from the passenger's seat. On opening it he found 20 100 dollar bills, a small piece of leather, folded and stitched shut, and a letter, written in the same spidery hand.
"Dear Mr. Gabriel," it said. "If all went well I am free now, and you have made one friend and one enemy. I am the friend. I am writing this while she is dozing. She knows I am up to something but she doesn't know what. Sad to say she is not very bright, but she had other things to offer men in her youth. Hence her powerful friends. One last word for you: keep the little charm with you. It'll do you some good, I promise."
The letter was signed with a name that looked like "Ishmianthe", but Gabriel was not sure. He found his telephone and called Bastiaan. The shaman picked up almost immediately, and Gabriel gave him an account of the evening in detail. Now and then Bastiaan made a sound of encouragement.
"But the most stupid about the whole thing is the spell words that I needed to say!"
"What were they?" asked Bastiaan, and Gabriel told him. But instead of laughing Bastiaan just sounded very serious.
"That just means that he is no fool, him. He knows things. He put that spell long before it was made."
Gabriel nodded to himself. "True. He must have done."
"Get some sleep now, mon, and let's talk in the morning. Good night and take care."
Gabriel put down the phone, and found the notebook under the envelope where he had dropped it. Tilting it towards the sheen from the cabin light, the words "Klaatu barada nikto" mocked him from the withered old paper, put there maybe some 120 years ago by an enchanter with a weird sense of humour.
To be continued
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Briefcase Full of Souls - Part II will be coming shortly to a node in your neighbourhood. Stay tuned for your favourite Friday entertainment.
Base Concept: artman2003
Title idea: Dejamorgana
Contributors (so far): artman2003, Uberbanana, Dejamorgana, jessicaj, Junkill, Dimview
Plot Developed by: Above-mentioned contributors, with some suggestions by non-contributing members of e2collaborators
Directed by: artman2003