The Fallowing – The Second, Part IV

by Steppen Sawicki

Novel: Occult adventure

Well when I finally saw the shop, all that giddiness from heading there fell away into a black hole of ennui. You have no idea how anti-climatic it was. It was like opening a ten-year-old time capsule addressed directly to you only to find a handwritten note reading “Just kidding.” Not even empty, because that would be symbolic of something, of some emotion communicated over to you. No, this was disappointment of the highest order.

It looked like an antique shop. Green sign announcing “Antique Shop,” embossed metal and a relic itself. Teacups and spoons and baskets and lamps and ceramic angels clustered in the windows. I sneered at it through my binoculars from out a third-story window across and down the street.

“Is it in there?” I asked.

“Probably,” Sam said. “Is that killing you?”

I put the binoculars down and gave him my best I’m-not-stupid look. “I know we can’t rush in there and take it down, but you’ll have to tell me why exactly.”

“Aside from this whole thing being a trap?” He wrung his gloved hands, whether from nervousness or the cold I couldn’t tell. “You saw the things he collects from people.”

“Right. You said it… transforms the stuff somehow.”

“Yes. But he doesn’t have to hold the item. He only has to see it and then it’s his. It’s in his hands, and he owns it.”

“Ah. So you don’t want it to see the knife.”

“He can’t see the knife. It’s our only weapon against him. The only way to kill him. If he obtains it, it’s all over.”

“So we need to get it in the back.”

He peered anxiously down the street at the shop. “And I can’t miss. If he even feels it, it’ll be his.”

He was nervous, all furrowed brow and lips set thin.

“Just how good are you with knives?” I asked.

He leaned out the window, squinting his eyes to see something. “Is that…?”

“Don’t change the subject.”

“I’m serious. Give me the binoculars.” He snatched at them but I pulled away and put them to my eyes.

I saw the torn rags of a beggar making their way down the street, heading in the direction of the shop. They were clutching a pack to their chest as if it held something important. Seeing the lines crossing his face coupled with a fresh bruise over one eye, I recognized Marx, the old thief from Ravens.

“What’s he doing here?” I said.

“It is Marx, isn’t it? I figured someone of his sort would drop in, but I didn’t think it would be him exactly.”

Marx shuffled to the shop, stood in front of it for a moment, breath puffing heavily in the cold air. It was like he was preparing himself or psyching himself up for something. Then he opened the door and disappeared inside, the tinkle of the door’s bell drifting down Cotter Street to me and Sam.

Again I was conflicted. I shouldn’t bother with what happens to this thief. But he was also an old man who couldn’t possibly know whose lair he was entering.

Sam saw me grinding my teeth as I watched expectantly through the binoculars. “Don’t worry. He’s been in there before. Many times.” He stood and left the window. “Come on, we’re going downstairs.”

We knelt in the entrance of the building we had been scouting from, keeping just out of sight. We didn’t have to wait long; soon Marx stepped out through the shop’s doors, still clutching that pack to his chest. He stopped in the snow and stroked it as if it held something more precious than what he had carried in. Then he walked the way he had come down the street.

Sam went off after him, ducking into an alleyway to circle far from the shop and loop back to where Marx was heading.

“Why are we following him?” I asked.

“I’m not sure yet. But I think we can use him.”

“So you have no plan?”

He only shushed me again. His way of saying no.

We followed Marx at an excruciating pace. The old man seemed giddy with a spring in his step, and was speeding along, but speeding for him was a snail’s pace. That did, however, make him more than easy to follow, even with him occasionally looking around as if someone would come up and steal his pack away.

The journey took us about three miles – the guy probably didn’t want to live too far from the shop – into an increasingly decrepit area where frayed men and women roamed the streets and peered from broken windows covered with sheets of plastic. Thankfully none of them were interested in letting Marx know he was being trailed by a man and woman ducking under cover here and there. He seemed to be repelled by most of them anyway, jerking away and mumbling to himself whenever one came close. The others acted the same, stepping out of his way, oftentimes clutching their own goods to their own chest.

He sped up when he came in view of what was his townhouse. He slithered into it and edged the door closed silently as if trying to be sneaky. Sam and I came out of hiding and looked it over. The opening where windows used to be weren’t even covered, through a few had been boarded up partially as if the project had been forgotten halfway through. The place didn’t even have a chance of keeping out the cold.

Sam walked up to the door.

“Won’t he run?” I said.

“He won’t leave his things.” He opened the door without knocking. It wasn’t locked.

The door met resistance, and I could see why right away. There was a thick carpet of garbage covering the floor – old bottles and cans, dissolving boxes and magazines, clothes, empty food packages. We squeezed through the gap the door gave us and picked our way over the debris, our steps crackling and rustling.

“Who’s there?” Marx’s gravel voice came from another room.

I took my gun out just in case, but Sam only frowned and kicked at the filth at his feet.

Marx appeared in the doorway to the next room. His eyes were wide and wild, and he waved his hands at us as if he were shooing off a cat. “Get out!” he shouted hoarsely. “This is mine!”

“We don’t want your things,” Sam said. He looked at Marx with an unreadable expression that was not quite pity, not quite disgust. “But we have something to give you.”

Marx stopped waving at us, head cocked warily. “What is it?”

“It’s nothing you’d be interested in. But Silas will be happy to see it.”

“Mr. Gehazi?” He shook his head. It wobbled back and forth as if it might fall off. “No, no, he takes junk. He wants trash. Is it trash?”

“Is that why you have all this garbage?” I asked.

“Garbage?!” he squeaked. “Garbage!” He rustled around the room in a semi-circle, grabbing a torn powercord here, a ripped towel there. He held them to him. “Garbage…” he muttered angrily, then stopped and looked at Sam as if suddenly remembering we were there. “What is it?”

Sam took a step back. He had been watching the old man with a mixture of shock and horror that didn’t quite fit the situation. I questioned him with a look and, noticing, he tried to wash the expression from his face. Swallowing hard, he reached into his coat and brought out his knife, but it was his regular knife that he used to skin rabbits and chop onions. He held it out to Marx, hilt first.

“This,” he said. “And…Faye, your watch.”

“My what?” I ejaculated, but looked at the watch on my wrist. “What for?”

“For Marx to give to Mr. Gehazi,” he explained slowly, as if I were a child.

I was understanding none of this. “But it’s my watch.”

“I’ll get you another one.”

“Where? At the clock shop on every corner?”

He gazed into my eyes intently, and it seemed as if it were those deep gray eyes that spoke as he said “Do you want the watch or do you want to hunt?”

I was momentarily taken aback, not by his words but by his eyes. It had seemed like the gray had shifted in them, like clouds gathering. I blinked the thought away and unfastened my watch. I held it out to Marx. I wasn’t happy. I didn’t have any memories associated with the thing but it was in perfect working order.

Marx’s eyes flicked between us and the items, and he shuffled forward cautiously as if we might suddenly draw them back or attack him with them. He snatched them from our hands and retreated back to the doorway. He turned them over, studying them.

“Yes, trash.” His eyes flicked back to us again. “You don’t want them, right? You don’t want them. I’ll take them. You can’t have my things. It’s not a fair exchange. These are trash.”

“We don’t want your…things.” Sam sneered at the litter covering the floor. “I only want you to take those to Mr. Gehazi. Tell him I visited you in your home.”

It dawned on me then. “His things… Does he mean all this garbage?” I waved at the stuff around us.

“Garbage!” Marx spat again, turning and leaving the room, mumbling all the way.

Sam sighed. “It’s not garbage to him. This is what Silas gives him.”

I was shocked. I followed Marx into the next room, though Sam protested, feeling our work here was done. That room was once a kitchen, and the cabinets had lost their doors and the wood was rotten, but old plastic packaging and shards of colored glass and bent and broken odds and ends filled them. The floor was the same as the room I had left.

“Garbage,” Marx reached up and plucked something from the shelves. He turned and held it out to me. A pale chicken bone lay in his palm.

“Is this garbage?” he asked, accusing.

“He gave you that?” I said.

“Oh yes, he gives me such wonderful things. And he only asks that I bring him trash. This here…” He picked up a piece of twist-tie from the corner of the counter. “This he gave me today. It’s lovely, isn’t it?” He gazed at it in wonder, eyes glassy.

“You bring him trash, like that knife and that watch.”

“Well who else would want those things? But he takes them and gives me all this.”

I looked at the twist-tie again, feeling sick. And I looked at it too long, because he snatched it out of my sight, scowling.

“You can’t have it,” he growled.

Sam pulled at my arm. “Come on,” he said, almost pleading.

“Is that part of his powers too?” I asked outside. The streets were caked in dirt-churned snow. “Convincing him that all that is…” I couldn’t finish.

Sam shoved his hands in his pockets and peered back at the house. He looked as if being in it had tired him. “It’s not a power specific to him, like his power to change things. But he does have a persuasion. And he’s honed it with Marx over the years, until he only has to give the man a chicken bone and he believes it’s a diamond.”

“And that’s how he lost his fortune. He traded it all to acquire bones.”

“Not just him.” He started walking back the way we had come creeping to the place, through the streets filled with the poor and derelict.

I forgot to ask him about the watch.