by Alaric DeArment
A thud at the door meant the paperboy was late again. I opened it and picked up the rolled-up copy of The Seattle Times, sliding the rubber band off and unfurling it on the coffee table as Amadeo leaned forward to glance at the headline. The front page was a story about the upcoming 1996 presidential election.
“So fascinating, this way your leaders come to power, by people voting for them,” he sighed and chuckled, rolling his eyes. “I still don’t understand it.”
He paused to read – or pretend to – the front page.
“Is that how you learned English?” I interrupted.
“No, but I improve in your world,” he leaned back. “It is an important language where I come from too, but not as important as here.”
He wasn’t going to let the paper delivery or my attempt to change the subject distract us from his suggestion.
“They make more executions these days in Stagno. The day before I come over, they burn 10 people in Ragusa, said they had secret de Proculo blood, but is just because they complain about something,” he groaned, taking another sip of his whiskey and looking me right in the eye. “The people are angry, and the military is too. The current Rector needs to be removed so there can be a leader to gather, or, uh, bring the people together.”
He repeated his suggestion that I go with him.
I suspect it was the Jameson that calmed my nerves enough for me to agree.
But journalism’s ethical concerns about reporters getting involved aside, the whole reason I had gotten into this business was to effect change, to make the world safe for democracy, and now I had the chance to do it for real. The more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t wait to leave.
Amadeo reached into the inside pocket of his jacket, pulling out a small vial with black pellets about the size of peas – identical to the ones Dr. Washington had in the box of Tuone Darsa’s personal effects – along with a gold fountain pen. I had the lighter, candles, pocket knife, first aid kit, small bowl, larger metal bowl and sheet of paper he requested, but I needed to find two roughly identical objects, durable yet small enough to carry on my person at all times. I settled on two Spanish eight reales coins from my father’s collection, popularly known as pieces of eight. I brought the objects into the living room and lay them on the coffee table.
He laid the sheet of paper in front of him and lit the candles on either side of it. I winced as he used the knife to cut the palm of his hand and bleed into the small bowl, immediately bandaging the wound after a decent quantity of blood had flowed out.
Taking the fountain pen and drawing the blood into it, he began muttering to himself in some language that sounded vaguely German. The symbols he drew on the paper looked similar to the ones painted onto the pages of the book of Tuone’s that Dr. Washington had – angular, intersecting lines terminating with tiny circles and triangles, looking almost like some kind of extraterrestrial pictograms, portraits of objects that existed only within the imagination. I noticed that two of the symbols – one in the upper right and one in the lower left-hand corners – were identical, with three chevrons flanked by S-shaped lines.
He then set the pen down and took the cork out of the vial, tilting it to allow two of the pellets to fall into the palm of his uninjured hand.
“Swallow this,” he commanded, handing one to me. “We have to do at the same time.”
I swallowed mine, and he his.
He took the two pieces of eight and placed them over the two identical symbols before hovering his right hand, palm facing down, over the sheet of paper, his left hand held up in front of him, palm facing outward, as he began muttering again, his eyes darting between the candle flames.
“Close your eyes and give me your right hand,” he pronounced in monotone, still staring down.
I yelped as I felt the sting the knife cutting across my palm. I wanted to end it right there or at least yell at him, but something stopped me. He pulled me forward, pressing my bleeding palm down on each of the two coins and dragging it across the paper. He then placed the coin on the right on the coffee table and instructed me not to touch it, while handing me the coin on the left and telling me to press it against my forehead and open my eyes.
As I wrapped the bandage around my hand, Amadeo folded the paper into three sections horizontally and three more vertically. He then placed it in the metal bowl and poured the remaining blood from the small bowl onto it before placing the two candles in with it and watching it go up in flames.
“When the fire dies, the process is complete,” he told me in a monotone voice, still staring into the flames.