Chapter 13: Hits and Misses
Detective Hernandez retrieved a brown paper evidence bag from his car and slipped the grimoire inside, under the baleful glare of auction house proprietor Paul Schauman. Hernandez steeled himself for vehement protests and threats which never came. Instead, there was only resigned acceptance from Paul. His shoulders slowly sagged as the fight drained out of him.
“I hate to admit it, but I’m actually relieved to get the damn thing out of my auction house. They say it’s cursed, and I believe it.”
“Why do you say that?”
“You’ll think I’m crazy, but I swear strange things started happening around here after that book was delivered.”
“Well, shortly after I put the grimoire up on a shelf, a water pipe in the wall behind it burst overnight. By morning, the water had flooded the airtight room. A lot of valuables were damaged or destroyed. Somehow, the grimoire stayed dry. Then, I put it on a steel table full of ancient Roman pottery, left the room and the table collapsed. I don’t even want to say how much that little mishap cost me! The owner of the pottery is threatening to sue me. I tried moving the book into different storage room. Two hours later, the sprinklers suddenly went off and a very expensive painting was ruined. As if all that wasn’t bad enough, some of my employees got a little too curious about that damned grimoire. For some of them, passing curiosity grew into a morbid fascination with it. More than once, I caught folks leafing through the grimoire, looking for spells. Frankly, I don’t see how they could stand reading through it. I made the mistake of skimming over a few pages and had nightmares for a week.”
Hernandez smirked, giving Paul a long searching look. He was taken aback to see the man wasn’t joking. Personally, Hernandez did not believe a book could be cursed. He concluded that most likely, the mishaps that Paul described could be chalked up to the fact that the auction house was an old building in a state of disrepair. But because Paul was suggestible, he attributed coincidences to evidence of a curse.
Hernandez peeled off the cloth gloves and handed them back to Paul. Picking up the grimoire with only the paper evidence bag between it and his hands, Hernandez felt a slight shock; like a little jolt of static electricity. The book was heavy and just big enough to make it awkward to carry. He handed Paul a receipt for the tome and took his leave, refusing to make any promises as to how soon it would be returned.
Hernandez walked out of the front door and paused in the shadowed entrance, surveying both sides of the street. An economic downturn, precipitated by the recession. had hit the neighborhood hard. Several shops had gone out of business. Many of the houses were empty, due to recent foreclosures. In the cheerful light of day, the vacant buildings and homes looked neglected but relatively harmless, peeking out from behind the stately trees lining the street. It was only at night that the emptiness took on an abandoned slightly sinister look. Illicit activity often took place under cover of darkness.
By degrees Hernandez became aware of a curious vibration emanating from the book, growing more pronounced, until the grimoire seemed to pulsate. Squinting down at it in the dark, he had a sudden impression that it was inhabited by a life force which had awakened. Unnerved, he felt a sudden crawling sensation on the back of his neck. Unbidden images from the grimoire’s pages invaded his mind. During his examination of it, more than once, shock had caused him to pause for a closer look at the demonic images. If Paul had not been breathing down his neck, Hernandez would have lingered on those pages.
He realized with dismay that despite the brevity of his exposure to them, the disturbing images were seared into his memory. Hernandez struggled to force them to the back of his mind and ward off the dark thoughts they evoked. A sudden cool breeze made him shiver. Hernandez felt, the sooner he signed the book into the precinct evidence room the better. Just handling the thing made him feel…unclean.
He stepped onto the sidewalk and headed for his car, which seemed far away. The streetlights created pools of illumination in the gathering gloom. The sound of footsteps behind him made Hernandez turn around, expecting to find Paul approaching with one last question or request. Seeing nothing but shifting shadows cast by trees blowing in the wind, Hernandez shrugged and began walking.
Again, the footsteps echoed against the sidewalk behind him, so close that he stopped abruptly and looked over his shoulder. After a few tense moments staring into the shadows, Hernandez told himself that no one was behind him. Realizing that he was holding his breath, Hernandez let it out with a sigh of relief. He chuckled, admitting to himself that Paul’s paranoia had infected him. Being afraid of the dark was childish.
There were no evil beings out on the street human or otherworldly. Still, he quickened his pace. Hernandez was stepping off the curb, when his hands suddenly felt hot. He looked down and saw the grimoire glowing red through the evidence bag, like a burning ember. Hernandez stared at it transfixed, finding it difficult to believe his eyes. He started to unseal the evidence bag and stopped himself. He was being ridiculous. The book was not on fire. It wasn’t possessed by some evil spirit either.
It was just a book. So, why did he still feel the almost overwhelming urge to take it out and look through it again? He realized that deep down inside, he wanted to pour over the tainted pages of the grimoire. The idea of taking it home and reading it was both repulsive and exciting to him. There had always been dark places in him, a dangerous, reckless, side which he sometimes struggled to rein in. Hernandez had done nefarious things in his youth, about which he never spoke. He often struggled to bear the regret and guilt those memories evoked. The realization that those experiences were part of what made him a good cop and an even better detective, helped him cope with it.
A blaring horn startled him out of his daze. He looked up into the blinding glare of high beams, as a truck barreled towards him. Hernandez had a split second to jump backwards out of the driver’s path. He avoided the grill, but the large sideview mirror struck a glancing blow to his left arm. He let out a startled bark of pain and he nearly dropped the grimoire. Hernandez barely registered the obscenities shouted at him as the truck sped past. It roared to the end of the block and whipped around the left corner with a squeal of tires.
Hernandez was stunned by the realization that he had been standing in the middle of street. How did that happen? The last thing he recalled was stepping off of the curb. It was as if he had been in a trance. After waiting a few moments for his galloping heart to slow down, Hernandez got into his car. He sat the grimoire on the seat without looking at it and checked his rear and sideview mirrors.
The street had gone quiet again. No cars were coming from either direction. Hernandez pulled away from the curb and was nearly sideswiped by a battered minivan. A second ago, the lane had been clear. He was sure of it. The crawling sensation came again and the hairs on the back of his neck stood at attention. He cast a nervous glance at the grimoire and then shook his head dismissively. He was being paranoid again. A book could not be cause bad things to happen…could it?
Back at the station, Hernandez signed the grimoire into the evidence room. He felt more relieved than he was willing to admit to himself, to hand it off to someone else. Hernandez started to leave, then decided to stop by his desk to answer a few emails and check his messages. He dropped heavily into his seat, suddenly feeling drained. He sat listlessly staring into space for a few moments, attempting to make sense of everything that happened. Detective Graves glanced over at him and did a double take.
“What’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I didn’t see a ghost, but I almost became one bringing that damned grimoire back to the precinct. First, some asshole almost ran me over and then some idiot nearly side swiped my car.”
“Wait a minute. Did you say that you transported a grimoire in your car,” blurted Graves incredulously.
“Yeah…why are you looking at me like that? What’s the problem?”
“What’s the problem? You just told me you narrowly avoided two accidents, while that thing was in your car! That’s why you should never transport occult tools in your car.”
“Yeah…you know, objects used in occult practices, rituals or spell casting.”
“I don’t get it. What’s the big deal?”
“What’s the big deal, says the man who had two near death experiences in one night! It’s bad juju. If I were you, I would get that car cleansed.”
“Why it’s not dirty?”
“Didn’t they teach you anything in orientation? Let me guess, you didn’t read the handbook they gave you. I’m talking about spiritual cleansing. Don’t give me that look. You’ve never had anything cleansed with holy water or a smudge stick? Look, if you’re going to be transporting occult objects, then you’ve got to do it in order to make sure no spirits have attached themselves to you and no negative energy infects the vehicle. I would do it sooner rather than later dude. For your own safety.”