Chapter 2 Continued:
More of Chapter 2 for the Easter weekend.
Hope you enjoy!
Stirling backed the van into his spot in the driveway. He rented the bottom floor of a two story house that had been built in the first half of the last century. He’d lived there since he was a student, and hadn’t found the motivation to move again since he graduated from university five years before.
A small cement stairwell on the front of the house led down to his door which opened into a tiny foyer. His furniture choices were largely based on what was here when he’d moved in, what he could afford as a student, and what he’s found on Craigslist to replace it with when that had eventually worn out.
A floor to ceiling pole with swivelling light shades from the 70s stood in a corner next to his well broken-in Ikea couch from the 2010s. A varnished walnut bureau from the 1950s he’d found online held a desktop computer and occupied the wall next to a large flat screen television and current generation gaming console.
He didn’t bother turning on any lights, but grabbed a pear from his fridge—a still-functioning relic from the time when Baby Boomers were actually babies, and exited up a flight of steps that led off the kitchen and into the back yard.
A gravelled path led to a shed that hunkered in the corner of the darkened lot. The shed was about the same size as a large one car garage, and he’d been told it was the original homestead that had been put on the lot back in nineteen hundred something. Where its windows had been, heavy half inch sheets of plywood were now screwed into the window frames.
Stirling held the pear in his teeth and fished in his jacket for his keys. He stepped up to the shed and undid both a heavy deadbolt before swinging the heavy door open. On the inside of the door a piece of printer paper had been duct taped to the surface and read, “Check ALL of Your Pockets!” He stepped in, keyed in his code on the beeping alarm pad, and turned to lock the door securely behind him. The steel bolt slid home with a heavy and satisfying clunk.
The air in the little shop wasn’t exactly warm, but it was a lot warmer than the air outside. There were things in here that wouldn’t react well to being frozen, and he kept a small ceramic heater running all throughout the winter months. He stripped off his heavy jacket, and hung a paint-stained leather apron around his neck.
A stained plywood worktable ran the length of the room against one wall, above which were wooden shelves containing a long row of black notebooks with numbers on their spines. Next to the notebooks were three boxes, with, “Bullshit,” “Maybe,” and “Yes,” written in black magic marker on their sides.
The "Bullshit" box looked like it held all the swept up detritus from the floor of a new age shop after an earthquake, and was by far the most full. It contained dozens of jars filled with bones, crystals, geodes, dried mushrooms, carved runes, and other similar oddments. There were wands, silver rings, and abalone shells. There were decks of Tarot cards, books, and candles overflowing its sides. Though every item had been sealed tight in a jar, inexplicably there still came from it the faintest scent of lavender and sandalwood.
The "Maybe" box, by contrast, contained an old briar pipe and a dead spider. The spider hadn’t been put there by Stirling, but had volunteered itself when it had fallen dead from the ceiling in the autumn.
The "Yes" Box contained nothing at all, not even a spider.
A propane camp stove sat on the workbench next to a rack of test tubes, which in turn sat next to a full set of carving chisels, paints and carving burrs. As he moved through the room he flicked on a number of desk lamps, toning down the harsh bank of overhead fluorescent lights with their warmer yellow glow.
At the far end of the space bolted to the cement floor was a black metal gun safe. Stirling gave the cold metal handle a familiar jiggle before clicking on a two cup coffee maker. The safe was about as secure as it was possible to get without being a bank vault. Some things you just couldn’t be too careful with.
His latest project lay in a scattering of wood dust in front of him. It was a half-finished wooden duck. He sat down in an office chair that had seen a number of better decades, clicked on a work light, and got to work. It was another two hours of detail work and sanding before a life-sized, unpainted duck decoy sat in front of him. He took a few minutes to look it over, giving it a few swipes of sandpaper where he’d missed a rough spot. After this there would be no going back. It had to be right the first time.
Now came the hard part.
He leaned down and turned up the thermostat on the ceramic heater under his desk, unlocked his phone, put in his earbuds, and queued up Gloomy Sunday by László Jávor.
He took a deep breath and hit play.
As soon as the first notes hit his eardrums he could immediately feel the dead weight of the melody settle on his chest like the lead apron you wore at the dentist when you needed an x-ray. He gave it a few second to build, then he looked down at the duck in his hands and began to focus.
He built the shape of what he wanted in his mind, and as he did he could feel a frozen pressure forming behind his eyes.
Coldness began to stream off of his body, and his forehead furrowed in concentration. His hands moved over the wooden duck as though drawing out invisible threads through the long grain of the wood. The wood was cold now, much colder than the air in the room, and it only got colder. As the last bars of the song began to trickle into his ears, the motion of his hands changed, pushing into the wood. The flesh under his fingernails were beginning to turn a pale purple. He could feel the cold sinking into his chest, but he was nearly finished. Just a few more bars. The duck began to smoke, the moisture in the air sublimating off of its surface in a heavy frozen mist.
At last the song finished, and with it, his work. He collapsed back in his chair and drew a freezing hand across his eyelids. He’d paint the duck tomorrow, for now he was just going to rest his eyes. A shiver ran up his spine. He positioned his leg so that the air from the heater could travel up his pant leg.
He reached out his senses, he could feel the duck even with his eyes closed. It was a small thing next to the pulsing presence of the safe, just a little pool of cold shadow. He could sense it, like he could sense all the others he’d made and then sold from his website. Each decoy was a discreet little package of cold, each of them a message in a bottle just waiting for someone to notice.