When my friend’s pale face appeared on the choppy skype screen I said “Hey Alice in
Wonderland,” before giving off another sneeze.
She smiled and waved at me through the darkened screen.
“Hi friend-o,” she said. “Are you coming down with something, Big Ben?” she said patronizingly.
“WAAA-CHOO,” I replied, ”No, why do you ask?”
She laughed. “What’s on your mind?”
“Well, the Smithsonian is closed right now, so I decided to call in the second most knowledgeable source.”
She laughed graciously. “You’re flattering me, don’t.” she warned. “Just- what’s the quandary for today?”
I grabbed the box and rotated it around the camera, yammering about how I found it.
She put up her hand and said, “I know what it is. Or what it was, anyway.”
I tapped the sides of the box, waiting.
“Judging from the artwork it was the holder a for a ship captains’s ledger, probably of Spanish extraction operating out of what we now call the Ithsmian Principalities. Judging from the fact that it’s been done over at least three times it serves some other purpose now,” she said matter-of – factly.
“Wonder what Pogs was doing with it,” I said, setting the box down.
“Wait, you got that from Pogs?” she asked, “I mean, did you get it from him before he, you know–”
“Went crazy, no. I was doing some uh, cleaning for Chery while she was out delivering.”
“She let you into her house? I find that hard to believe.”
“It was really Louie that did the convincing,” I admitted.
“Ah! That would make sense,” she gloated.
“Anyways, I just happened upon it when I was-.”
“–it hit you in the head while you were–“
“—cleaning the closet.” I rubbed my head. “Hey, how’d you know that?”
“Little bit of esp goes a long way,” she said.
“Yeah right,” I said. “Look, let’s not go down that road again.”
“That makes two of us,” she said. An odd smile formed on her lips.
“Riiight… so, what should I do with this ole thing?” I asked.
“Well there’s two schools of thought. One is you hand it over to the “experts. You get your cut, they get yet another little prize, and you and the Smithsonian part ways, probably for life,” she said, yawning.
“What’s my other option?” I asked.
“Open the sucker!” she said, wiggling her fingers mirthfully.
I sneezed again, and said, “You know what, I’m gonna mull it over.”
“Aw shucks,” she said, “I wanted to see.”
I brushed my hand by the box. A wind blew through the keyhole that began as a sigh and turned into a sharp whistle until, frightened and impatient, I knocked my fist against the box. It issued a protracted hiss as my arms flailed in dismay. Alice covered her mouth.
I raised my eyebrow. “You know more than you’re letting on, don’t you.”
“Well, now that I think of it, it might not be a good idea to open that,” said
“Why? You knew Pogs. Is this an elaborate prank he set up to prevent people from going through his stuff? Is it booby trapped? What do I have here?” I asked pointedly.
“Something that doesn’t like to be found,” said Alice.
I sat down on the grimy barstool, sneezing again, wearing the most flat expression I could muster.
“Explain,” I implored.
“It’s where Pogs kept his grimoire.”
“Are you telling me he was some kind of wizard?”
“Sorcerer, precisely. He deceived people,” she said, and paused. “Maybe the best term is a waloch.”
“A wet lock?” I said over the static as thunder broke up our transmission.
“Yeah sorry, A better pronounciation is the modern “warlock,” She said.
“What does that mean exactly?” I asked, “Was he into woo-woo stuff like you?”
I crossed my eyes and whirled my finger near my temple.
“Very funny, lame brain,” Alice said. “No, he was worse–” she managed before the computer spammed a battery warning, dimmed and went dark. I shook the monitor. Pounded the keyboard.
Hectically jounced the mouse back and forth. Nothing.
“Damn HP laptop,” I muttered. “Knew I shoulda’ gone with Apple.”
The keyhole whispered again until it became the shrill shriek of a dozen stove kettles, and that abominable hiss- I yelped and tossed the box for all it was worth. It went end over end and hit the hard edge of the countertop, and before I could catch it, it crashed onto the kitchen floor. Immediately the lights flickered and blew, along with the kitchen sink window. When I came to, I stepped over the mess and grabbed around the kitchen cupboard for the electric lantern (the led one that should last the rest of the night if need be).
After being hit with the mop, several brooms, and the vacuum, I grabbed the lantern, flipped it on, and at least grabbed the broom with the dishpan in case of the worst, putting the others back in their place(s) and shutting the cabinet.
I sat down on the stool again and decompressed before going for the ruined box (with the dishpan of course) and dumped the contents unceremoniously onto the work table. My heart pounded as the door sounded. Who would come all this way in the pouring rain?
“HellOOOooo,” Alice said through the door. I felt elated as I opened it, but nearly threw up at the sight of Louie standing there with a pizza box.
“God, the thought of eating anything that passed through your mitts,” I drawled, putting my hands in my pockets and fishing around for a bill and some change.
She shrugged as she sipped an oversized beverage.
“Your welcome. Don’t you remember our agreement?”
“OH.’ I said, scratching my head. Whoever found the most evidence in Pogs’s place was owed, by the other, a single large pizza pie.
“Thank you, Louie,” I said, quite embarrassed, and placed it on the fridge for later.
I hadn’t but turned around when Louis was slipping off his galoshes and Alice had grabbed the lantern and was poking around on the work table.
“What on Earth are you doing?” I asked Alice, carefully creeping up to her. She brandished a piece of wood and waved it clockwise and counterclockwise over the broken box.
She looked up smilingly and replied, “Just a bit of abjuration, dear. Go eat some pizza with your friend.”
I looked over at Louie, who gave me a knowing look while sweeping the scant glass left in the apartment into one of the industrial size bags with a tiny brush.
I scratched my chin at him, but nothing more.
“I don’t want you to go out like Pogs did,” I said.
“You’re being overprotective. It’s in your nature.” she said.
I shuddered in pent up rage. “Just…argh. Please tell me what we have here.”
“There’s a strong series of wards… traps, in a magickal sense, on what used to be this lovely little box. The last one is so strong, I can’t believe you’re still alive after manhandling it. You must have some innate magickal resistance somewhere down the road,” she rambled.
“Ok,” I said. “You expect me to believe that crap?”
“You can believe whatever you want, Ben, your friend Pogs sure did. But it didn’t go so well for him. Let me work, please,” she said.
Feeling a bit defeated. I exhaled and stepped back a little. in doing so bumping into Louie who was chomping on a piece of pepperoni pizza.
“What? I eat when I’m nervous.”
“You also buy food for other people and eat it like it’s yours.”
The argument never got any farther than that.
“Code Red!” Alice said. Her voice turned dramatic as she began chanting in a language neither I nor Louie could understand. Her fingers strained as if she were wrestling with someone or something we couldn’t see. At length they bent backward overtaken, and the wand slipped from her hand. It spun madly above the box, and plunged itself into the decorative eye with a shower of sparks, the wood of the wand falling away and revealing a core of something hairy and bony. A rabbits paw clutching a marble, and some herbs.
I helped her off of the floor.
“No creo en brujas, pero hay,” I said, dumbstruck.
“What?” she said, pushing my hand away.
“It’s a saying from the old country: I don’t believe in witches, but they exist. Well that’s one believer for life,” I said.
“Make that two,” Louie said between another bite of pizza.
“Louie, you’re my assistant. Of course you know what I do,” Alice said.
“Oh, right. Du-huh-huh.” He said, mimicking my accent.
I grabbed the piece of pizza from his hand and tossed it in the rollout trash beneath the sink.
“No take-back giving.” I said to Louie.
“And no getting so angry,” Said Alice.
“What’s Code Red?” I asked Louie.
“Means I pull her out of it.” Louie said.
“Why didn’t you?” Alice asked.
“In all my time spotting for Alice, I never saw anything like that,” Louie said. “Look it freaked me out yo,” he complained.
“I understand,” Alice said. “Just remember I don’t say that unless there’s a life at stake.”
He nodded reproachfully.
“So, er, we should be able to handle the goods?” I asked.
“Sure thing, chili bean,” She joked.
I took a look at the now charred eye design and flipped it over gingerly. There on the other side of the box top was a back of wood of some sort, cut very thin. Affixed to it were teeth of different species, including a human molar, in a vertical row. On the right there was what looked like a signature, except more sinister. The more he looked at it the more his eyes panged.
“What’s that say?” I asked with some trepidation.
“That’s a spirit’s sigil,” she said with all the gravity of reading someone’s cell phone number,
“From the looks of it a pretty badass one.”
“I’ve heard something about those. Their like calling cards for spirits,” I tried.
“Inhuman ones, yes,” she said carefully.
“So, um, less Casper the friendly ghost…” I started.
“…and more of a diy dybbuk box,” she finished.
“What’s that?” I said, blithely pointed to a velvet bag inside the damaged box.
“Probably throwing runes,” she said, “But because of the negative juju on all of this I’m not sure
I want to open it before I attune a new wand.”
“You sure know your stuff,” I said.
“I guess.” she said.
“Y’all go around decursinating houses and shit and ‘you guess’ you know your stuff,” said Louie.
I rolled my eyes. Alice laughed again.
“What’s this?” I said, ignoring Alice’s talk of “juju” and taking a piece of the wand that hummed with a weird energy . With it, I moved the bag, revealing a blackened ledger with another, more simplistic eye symbol in the center of the cover.
“Don’t touch that, not even with the wand,” she said, gripping my hand like a vice and redirecting it.
“What is that, the grimoire?” I asked.
The lights flickered and turned on again.
“Precisely,” she said.
Later, as the lights continued to do their thing, the three of us demolished the pizza by the light of the lantern, which we found out was totally unaffected by the curse.
“Where do we go from here?” I asked.
“I… wouldn’t ordinarily do this,” said Alice, grazing my face where a broom shaft had hit, “but seeing as your apartment is blowing chunks, we phone the only doctor who knew the cure.”
“You don’t mean…” Louie started.
“We have to call up Pogs.”
We sat there for a good long time.
“But Pogs is dead,” I said, breaking the silence.
“Exactly,” Alice continued. “And because of how he died, his soul attached itself to one of the powerful entities he was working with. He wanted deification, but something went very wrong. Which is lucky for us because it means we can talk to him easily.”
“You know what I’m saying. Pogs may be a head case but only he can solve this,” finished Alice.
“Yeah well, he was a head case in life. I’m not sure I’m one to deal with a dead Pogs-“ I began.
As I went past the sink, my pants brushed the garbage disposal switch. I jangled in shock. The strings from my hoodie somehow got caught in the mouth of the unit and yanked my face closer and closer to the kitchen sink. I tried to yank myself free but every time I choked my air off seeing as both strings were caught. There was a feral hiss just beneath the monstrous whirr of the disposal.
I called on everyone– my parish priest, the Virgin Mary, even the cosmic power of my mother, before suddenly and unexpectedly, the machine stopped. Louie had switched it off.
I stumbled to my feet and looked the two of them over, all embarrassment.
“Alright. I’ll let you help me,” I said.
“For the nominal fee, of course,” said Alice.
“Whatever it is just… Louie, take this ten and get some cheesy puffs. You know, the hipster kind.”
He took the money and flipped me off behind his back.
“And some kombucha!” said Alice.
Louie shrugged and slammed the door.
“What happens now?” I asked.
“We set up a space on the floor, and get this show on the road.”
Some primal part of me worried that this was all a very bad idea. Another worried that if I didn’t try something, I’d be run out of my apartment. This and my accursed hospitality got the better of me.
“Alright,” I said, “let’s get popping.” I grimaced at how stupid my words sounded.
“Although I will help you, never say popping that way in a sentence again.” Alice said.
“Agreed,” I said, feeling deflated.
Louie came back from the corner shop, drenched, and before I could say anything, shook himself off, water getting all over the tv monitor. He handed the frosty kombucha to Alice and handed an undersized bag of Moustache Critters to me.
“What is this, Louie?” I asked.
Meanwhile, Alice chugged some of her drink and belched quietly but long in duration. She shrugged and put the stuff on the counter, then folded up my couch and pulled out a Ouija board made of what looked like distressed oak. That thing gave me the chills. There was something anachronistic and yet unnatural about it, another haunted relic from a haunted era.
For now, there was a more pressing matter to settle.
“It’s your expensive assed junk food, Ben.” Louie said, unscrewing an oddly shaped water bottle.
“What do you call that seltzer?” I asked. “Oh yeah. E-X-P-E-N-S-I-V-“
Alice made an echoing roar in her throat that seized both of us, it sounded like a dying animal and one or two other things even less savory. To this day, I’m not sure if it was theatrical or some dire “juju” at her command, caught in her throat. But I can promise you both Louie and I shut up.
“Gesundheit,” I said.
“Can we please move along with this?” asked Alice, her voice returning to normal, for all that was worth.
We exchanged looks and nodded, taking a seat pretzel style near the board.
“I hope you know what you’re doing,” I muttered.
“Trust me, I’m an expert,” she said.
“Just do what the lady says, Ben,” said Louie.
“Ok Louie Armstrong.” I said.
“I WILL get you to respect me, Ben,” he muttered.
“Right.” Said Alice. “On the count of three, we will join hands at the reader.”
“Allright,” said Louie.
“Here goes,” I said.
“Three!” said Alice.
We joined hands and the lens cracked. Something changed. Time seemed to slow down and the air was somehow rareified, in the manner of a dense forest rather than a small apartment. My collection of vinyl dolls pivoted toward us and sweated thin beads of ectoplasmic sheen that pooled near their feet and became a luminescent fog. My light rack above the kitchen began to alternate. What’s more, there were loud thumps on the ceiling that grew closer and closer, as with the end of a staff adorned with grisly trinkets, and the eerie chants of inhuman parishioners at some unholy gathering.
“Alice something is wrong,” I said.