The Curiosity by Michael Carter

They may want what you have more than you do.

While I slept, they slithered.

Red-eyed, they clambered, silently, over my breathing carcass and throughout my home, spitting, salivating, leaving their bodily fluids behind, a genetic code that no scientist could ever decipher. In quietude, they moved as one, dozens of squamous limbs working in unison, staring coldly at my somniatic form as I flailed and sweated from internal imaginings several hues lighter than what was occurring around me. It is just as well that I never actually set eyes upon those creatures that so subtly assaulted me; their residue with the morning light was quite enough. On waking I saw how they had infiltrated my privacy, how they had cleverly gained entry, how they had ransacked my belongings with a sly and slow manner so as to keep me sleeping.

My unusual house guests were searching for something which they were certain I possessed and which, had I been aware of its nature and potential, would have brought their sorry race tumbling to scarcity. They were hunting through my bureaux, enveloping themselves within my documents, perusing my lifestyle and all the time cautiously evading my person.

They were looking for my innocence and they found it in a tinder box.

I had allocated the item -- a small, slightly baroque bracelet adorned with cabalistic characters and imprints of fish that walked through the air -- in a severely austere curiosity shop on the outskirts of a developing but mouldy-flavoured town. My tastes had very nearly settled on a replica Mayan blade, a sacrificial ersatzity, fashioned not from the natural obsidian but from silver-plated brass. The whiskery fellow behind the counter was already reaching for a large sheet of wrapping, when the reflection of the sun from a passing car struck gold on a small piece of jewelry behind the old man's desk. My interest piqued by this highly unusual find, I inquired as to its origins and cost.

The latter was very agreeable, but with the former I found few clues. The man in the bazaar had purchased the item only two days before from a highly-pruned executive in a business suit, who likewise had offered little as to its past. When I walked out of that shop -- and that town -- with the broad ringlet in my possession I knew only that it was believed to be one of many small components put to use in an unknown ceremony on an unspecified Pacific isle.

Tomorrow, I reasoned at the time, I would research my latest purchase, dredging through weathered tomes of arcana in the British Museum and perhaps delivering a glance to my patriarchal associate in New York. Tomorrow, I thought, I would solve its mystery.

But unknown to myself and -- perhaps -- the man from whom I procured it, when flimsy British money changed hands so too did an overdue visit by members of whichever esoteric order originally sculpted and performed with the decidedly ugly -- but so enigmatically appealing -- curiosity. I never had the chance to analyse the history of the piece, for as the night came so did the exhibit's previous owners. How they had lost it in the first place is a great mystery to me, almost more so than the application and design of the thing. Somehow they had tracked it down, and I feel deeply humbled that when they scourged my home and retrieved their artifact on that cold October night, they allowed me to slumber on unaware, and did not take my life.

From the icthyic stench that filled my home on the morning after, I felt by some preternatural means quite certain that my buy had returned to the island where its use did not need to be ascertained and where it could mingle in eldritch glory with its kith, kin and wielders. That nauseating odour of the sea -- intensified beyond belief -- also informed me that my item would arrive home through darkly subaqueous means.

I have avoided that particular curiosity shop ever since.

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© 1998 Edward P. Berglund
"The Curiosity": © 1999 Michael Carter. All rights reserved.
Graphics © 1999 Erebus Graphic Design. All rights reserved. Email to: James V. Kracht.

Created: March 12, 1999; Updated: August 9, 2004