Roused from the Slumber
A Charlie Hyde Adventure
by R.D. Kenney
Chapter 2: Wendel
I don’t think Hyssop is big enough to call itself a city. It bloats up in the summertime though. Folks come in from the city, lots of nice lakes and parks around. But it’s a rotten little burg despite all the quaint brick-a-brack and knick-knack shops along Main Street. Down those alley ways and out in the woods you’ll find stuff that will make your blood run cold. This pretty main drag is just a monument to how a little paint can hide a lot of rotten wood.
The store I was headed to used to be called “Wormwood Emporium of the Arcane and Black Arts,” but because of pressure from the tourist board and the owner’s recognition that 90% of its trade was in essential oils, incense, and scented body rubs, the name had been changed about 3 years ago to “Gaia’s Mystic Center for Holistic Peace and Healing.”
I was taken aback when I walked into the store and almost did a turn-around and retreat. A glass counter stood fifty paces ahead of me, small Buddhas and Mexican fetishes neatly arranged beside wooden display stands containing corked vials and green wrapped soaps. The bubbling of more than a dozen electric fountains assaulted the ears almost as viciously as the scents of sandalwood and cedar attacked the nostrils. And everywhere were erected gallows of all sizes to hang necklaces, bracelets, and dreamcatchers. I felt out of place, and instinctively took off my fedora as though I was in church, nodding cautiously at the young couple that looked up from their browsing to regard me. This was not the place I was looking for, and I was just turning to leave when I heard a familiar voice shout out. “Chuckle, you old herodian, get in here.” Same old Wendell. At least he hadn’t changed, still looking like a hippie Rasputin with his austere frock and tacky accoutrements.
Integrity. Staying true to your principles. It’s a funny thing. Our gut reaction is to say it’s a good quality to have. We love it when we agree with the principles. Heroes have it, but so do monsters, and idiots too. Wendell Margrave was an ex-priest who’d been defrocked for repeating the confession of one of his parishioners in court. He says that he could not in good conscious keep silent after hearing what the criminal had done, and his testimony had helped with a conviction. There’s a certain nobility in his decision. I only wish he would have waited until someone had confessed to a murder instead using up his one excommunication on a petty theft charge. Since it was a minor, the judge was lenient. The state gained a hundred dollar fine and fifty hours of free labor that day, and the Church lost an employee; I’d say the Church got the better of the deal.
“Well, well, this place sure got classy.” I said, putting a finger on the breast of a faux-bronze statue of a scantily clad, over-endowed Amazon woman that stood beside the register. “But that’s always been your fault, hasn’t it? Too damn classy.”
“Like it?” he asked, “I can give you an old friend discount.”
“Tempting, but I’ve got no use for it. I went through puberty a long time ago.” I leaned in and lowered my voice, “I’ve got something I need you to look at.”
Wendell glanced around the store. Noticing the other two customers, his eyes lit up like a fox’s that just found the key to the henhouse. Raising his voice, he said “No kidding, huh? A big accident right down the road! Whew, I bet that’s a sight.”
We didn’t have to wait more than a few seconds before the young couple had headed out looking for a good gawk. Wendell went over, turned the sign and locked the door. “Come down to the basement; it’s where I keep all the real stuff.”
We walked through the amysteth beaded excuse for a door and headed down the basement stair. “Mind the head,” Wendell said as he flicked on the light revealing a cluttered tomb of occult paraphernalia. Now, I’m not one for spirits; once rigamortis sets in, I figure the danger has passed. But you’d have a hard time getting me to spend a night down in this little cavern. The place looked like a crypt, with vaulted stone ceilings and corridors that looked more like burrows leading off in all directions. Between these openings were shelves, with every type of weird curio that you could think of from shrunken heads to stuffed hedgehogs. In the middle of the somewhat circular room, was a large table, which Wendell quickly cleared of ancient scrolls and empty Chinese take-away boxes. Despite seeming like a sellout, he was really a true-blue weirdo, and the prospect of examining something strange made him act like a kid on Christmas.
After his fall from grace, he’d taken to the wandering preacher trade, traveling from state to state and living out of his ‘62 LeSabre. Problem was, on the street corners between Sacramento to Savannah, most of the people interested in salvation were already spoken for, and the types that stopped to listen to a fella like himself wanted a bit of polished bit of pageantry. Needless to say, his lectures on Thomas Aquinas were seldom received well.
Two years of that nearly killed him body and soul when he found himself standing on park bench in New Orleans spouting on about salvation, when a woman approached him, handkerchief in hand, looking for an exorcist for her daughter and thinking Wendel looked crazy enough to do it. And he was. At that time a skeptic, he still remembered some of the basics from seminary, and well, I guess he just had a gift for getting rid of demons or delusions, depending on how you look at it. Word got out and he started making money doing it; spent another year and a half working his way back and forth along the southeastern rim of the Appalachians until he did one exorcism too many, wound up half-mad, half-naked, jabbering to himself in the swamp outside Boca Raton, with over hundred thousand dollars in his pockets. That’s where I first found him. He won’t talk about it, and I don’t ask. It’s all voodoo nonsense to me. I mention it only because people find the strangest paths to happiness in life. Wendel had a strange road, but ended up where he belongs, in an absurd fantasy shop, collecting cursed objects, demonology books and studying things most people are too scared to examine, or too sensible, depending on how you look at it..
“Whatcha got for me, Chuckle?”
I took out the evidence bag with the small piece of wood. Wendell studied it and took out his magnifying glass.
“Strange little critter…. ” Wendell muttered, running a finger along the piece, trying to feel it through the plastic. When he started to open the bag, I had to check him. “It’s not been fingerprinted yet, so unless you wanna spend your next 20 to life in the bighouse, I would leave it be.”
Weldel’s eyes lit up. “Is it from a murder?”
“Yep, and a weird one too.”
With a new reverence, he placed the object down and then sprinted across the room and started rummaging through stacks of books.
“So, you know what it is?” I asked.
He finished reading the spines of a stack before answering. “Well, yes and no. That is to say, I mean, it looks like a mahjong piece, but the symbol isn’t from mahjong.” Walking over to a bookshelf, he continued, “The central image is a symbol from…oh wait! What am I doing?” Without explaining he ran up the stairs and back into the new age section of the shop.
In a few minutes he came running back down so hastily that he bashed his head on the low door. Rubbing his forehead, he placed a new book on the table next to the piece. It was a flashy publication that looked like its target market was teenagers called Tarot Cards: The Wizard Within. “Here we go.” He said, opening it up. “Pretty standard stuff, really. Any guide to the cards will have this one. Let’s see. Ah, here we go.” On the page was an illustration similar to that carved into the piece, an arm reaching out from a cloud holding a club. Beside the illustration was a legend reading:
The Ace of Wands: Fire & Root of Power
Meanings: Seed of life, energy, birth, creation, formative development, early stage of life, initiation, primitive stage…blah, blah, blah
There was more written, but I didn’t have time for this. “So, what does it mean, Wendel?”
“You see, there is an art to reading the cards that…” but I interrupted him. “I don’t want the guy’s fortune read; I already know it. I want to know where this piece comes from.”
“But that’s just it.” Wendel said, shrugging his shoulders, “I’ve only ever seen this on cards. I don’t know what this thing is.”
“And the symbols, they’re not on this picture,” I said studying the page.
“Now, those I don’t know off the top of my head.”
“OK, well, draw yourself a little picture that you can work with, and then I gotta get this back to the station.”
“I’ll just take a picture.” Wendel said, taking out his phone.
“No you won’t. It would be a hard thing to explain why you had a picture of something that was in lockup, and I can’t take that chance.”
“Always looking out for me.”
“That ain’t it. It would just be a record that evidence was tampered with, and I can’t have that. Quick, make your drawing.”
As Wendel was sitting down to his task, I got a phone call. They’d found her.
“Hurry up, Wendel.” I said over my shoulder, “I got a date with a hooker.”