“The Magic Crystal” by Joe Vadalma

Dancing Flame, by Steve Cartwright
Illustration: “Dancing Flame” by Steve Cartwright (c) 2005

Five black candles were set on the points of a pentagram, in the center of which stood a lonely, desperate young man obsessed by the occult and the black arts. In his mind, necromancy seemed the only way to obtain that which he desired: friends who respected him, an attractive woman who would love him, power, and his own money to spend. As Craig said the words of summoning, a mystical darkness, evil and strange, surrounded him. He shivered in terror. There was real danger. If he was successful, an awful power would threaten his very being, his soul, his aura. If he lost control of that power, he would be sucked into the vortex to be lost and damned forever, to suffer excruciating torture for eternity. In order to prevent the demon that would appear from touching him or tricking him in any way, he needed to concentrate mightily. Nonetheless, if he succeeded, he would have the stupendous power of a dark angel at his beck and call.

In a loud and sonorous voice he called out the names of power and repeated the incantation that he had memorized from an ancient book. A loud clap of thunder sounded like the clap of doom, the room suddenly brightened from a flash of lightning, a torrential rain beat against the walls, and a howling wind tore at the ancient Victorian mansion where Craig had lived alone for years. The old house creaked and groaned.

Nothing else happened. He had failed. The ceremony in the book that he had paid a hundred dollars for did not work. It was likely that the entire book contained nothing but lies and nonsense. Craig placed his face in his hands and wept. The world became even gloomier and more wearisome to him. He would remain forever in that great empty house, alone, friendless, loveless, living on the petty allowance doled out in dribs and drabs by his deceased mother’s lawyer. He contemplated suicide. But the act was beyond his power. He was afraid that he would botch the job and cripple himself some way, making his life even more miserable than it was. In a fit of anger he kicked over the candleholders, stomped on the genuine human skull he paid a pretty penny for, and ripped his sorcerer’s robe, allowing the torn cloth to drop to the floor.

* * *

The next day he searched through his library for a clue as to how he could really summon a demon. He owned hundreds of books on the occult, by such authors as Dr. John Dee, Trithemius, Agrippa, Paracelsus, Nostradamus, Robert Fludd, Gerard Encausse, Madam Blavatsky, Mesmer, Aleister Crowley, and several modern writers of the occult. A whole section of his library was devoted to horror, dark fantasy, and the macabre by Poe, Stephen King, Anne Rice, Mary Shelley, Ray Bradbury, Brom Stoker, Dean Koontz, August Derleth, Ambrose Bierce, and a host of others. His absolute favorite, nevertheless, was H.P. Lovecraft. Whenever Craig felt down, he would pick up an anthology of Lovecraft’s works, of which he had several, and be chillingly cheered by Lovecraft’s eldritch prose.

As he read them that day, the characters, scenes, and stories seemed so real that he wondered whether Lovecraft had really been writing fiction. It occurred to him that the Necronomicon, the Cthulhu Mythos, Dagon, and Shoggoths were all real. If that was true, it was the answer he was looking for. Surely, there would be information in the Necronomicon that would allow him to raise an entity out of the void and make it his slave. But how in the world could he locate a copy of that forbidden book? The only one who could help him was Lovecraft himself, but he was long dead. Of course… there were ways of interrogating the dead.

His hand trembled with excitement as phoned Harshvardhan Singh, the psychic his lawyer had recommended, for an appointment.

* * *

Five people were present at the seance: Harshvardhan Singh; Craig; Melody Trent, an attractive woman who recently lost her husband in an awful car crash; Alex Zemark, a man with a feminine manner; and Rob Carlos, a quiet youth. Each had his or her own reason for wishing to contact the dead. The room where the seance was held was musty and close, with heavily draped windows, an Oriental carpet on the floor, and enormous drooping plants in the corners.

Singh placed a lighted candle in the center of a small, round table and switched off the electric lights. The psychic and other participants took chairs. Singh said, “We must all hold hands to complete a circle. This circle must not be broken during the seance. Otherwise, contact with the dead will also be broken. First I will attempt to open the gate to the land of the dead. Once the gatekeeper tells you that the gate is open, you may each in turn ask to speak to the person you wish to contact, starting with Mr. Zemark and proceeding clockwise around the table. It’s difficult for the spirits to sustain a conversation with the living, so consider carefully what you wish to say, for the departed will reply with only a few words. Is all that understood?”

The people around the table either nodded or said, “Yes.”

Singh closed his eyes and put his head back so that he was facing the ceiling. “Gatekeeper of the land of the dead, hear my plea. These people wish to contact their dearly departed. They have important messages for them. Please open the gate. Allow us to speak to the spirits.” He repeated this several times until he went into a trance. A weird voice unlike anything human came from his mouth. “The gate is open. Who wishes to speak to one who has passed its portal?”

Zemark said, “George, tell me what to do. A young man pursues me, but I weep for you every night.”

A masculine voice with a feminine lilt came from Singh. “Alex, do not grieve further. I am happy where I am. Get on with your life. We’ll meet in the Hereafter.”

“Oh George, you were always so generous. Thank you.”

The beautiful widow, Mrs. Trent, said, “Steve, are you there? I miss you.”

The voice from Singh changed in timbre to a baritone with a note of urgency. “Melody. Be careful my love. Danger is near.”

The widow did not seem to know what to make of the warning. She asked in a frightened voice, “What do you mean, Steve?” but received no reply.

The youth spoke to his departed mother in muttered words. Her reply was stringent. “Stay away from bad companions. Be a good boy.”

Craig was the last in the circle to talk to the spirits. He said, “I wish to speak to the one who was known in life as Howard Phillips Lovecraft.”

“I am here. I was an obscure writer of pulp fiction. How do you know me?”

“You have become world-famous. There are many cults and fan clubs devoted to you.”

Singh sighed. “I’m glad to hear that. What do you want from me?”

“I want to know where I might find a copy of the Necronomicon.”

“By Abdul Alhazred?”

“Yes.”

“You’re a fool.”

“I know that use of the book is dangerous, but I’ll take precautions.”

A chuckle came out of Singh. “Double fool. In providence you will find what you seek.”

Singh burst out in loud laughter. A moment later, he came out of his trance.

Craig pondered the information that he had received from the spirit of the author. He was well aware that Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, Rhode Island, was where Lovecraft was buried. It occurred to him that the author had taken the forbidden book with him to the grave.

* * *

Before driving to Rhode Island, Craig had to beg for the money to travel there from his mother’s lawyer, Martin Elliot, a sour, middle-aged man with a pinched face and manner, although Craig noticed that he had an eye for the ladies. Craig likened him to an unreformed Scrooge. As Elliot reluctantly handed Craig the money, he gave him a long lecture on wasteful spending. Craig swore that some day, if he obtained the sorcery information that he sought, he would place a curse on the lawyer that would cause him to die slowly and painfully. Or better yet, have him audited by the IRS. Chances are he had totally underreported his income. Craig suspected that he was embezzling from Craig’s trust fund and that’s why he was so reluctant to dole out money from it.

Next Craig purchased a pick, shovel, and pry bar, which he placed in the trunk of his mother’s ancient Bentley. The drive to Providence was sunny and pleasant. Craig felt good; he hadn’t been away from the decaying mansion in months, except for short errands for necessities and books. After asking a Providence native for directions, he had no trouble finding the cemetery. Swan Point was enormous and beautiful with well-kept lawns, large monuments, trees, and gardens. At first he drove through its curved roads at random, simply taking in its beauty. Finally, he found a caretaker, who showed him Lovecraft’s grave. At the site was a large monument with a tall obelisk. The inscription read, “Their son, Howard P. Lovecraft, 1886 – 1937.” Below this, carved on the edge, perhaps by a fan was, “That not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange even death may die. H.P. Lovecraft.”

A smaller stone inscribed with his name and the dates of his birth and death marked his actual burial spot. Craig said a prayer to Dagon and left the cemetery.

* * *

At midnight, Craig parked his car a block away from the cemetery entrance. It was a night of the new moon. Broken formations of dark clouds crawled across the night sky. After tossing his tools on the other side, he scrambled over the fence. As he stealthily made his way over the soft and muddy ground which sucked at his feet, an owl hooted, making him start. The cemetery was as black as the inside of a crypt. The only light being the small circle produced by his flashlight. The utter gloom and creepiness of the graveyard was like a cold finger in Craig’s gut. His emotions were a jumble of terror, shame at his fright, ghoulishness, and awe of the unknown. He stumbled around, seeking landmarks to lead him to the right plot. Everything was different at night. The stone angels became winged demons — the obelisks, Celtic crosses, and other monuments, awful beasts or birds of prey waiting to pounce.

After hours of wandering around, feeling hopelessly lost, he found Lovecraft’s grave. He peered to the right and left to make sure no one was about, and began to dig. Although in his mind it was an unimaginable sacrilege to open the coffin of a man whom he had admired so ardently, he pried up the lid. He turned away in indescribable horror. Lovecraft’s skeleton stared up at him, grinning at his folly. Although his stomach churned and his hand trembled, he searched the coffin thoroughly, flinching each time he touched the corpse, but found no book buried with the author. The only thing he discovered was a strange crystal about the size of a baseball. He stuffed it into his coat pocket, closed the coffin lid and hurriedly shoveled dirt back into the grave. A wind picked up with a sound like the moaning of the dead, complaining about having their sleep disturbed. It sent an awful chill down Craig’s spine. He hid the tools behind a monument and ran as fast as possible toward the fence, stumbling several times. By the time he reached his car, his heart was pumping like a steam engine. He drove at a high rate of speed back to Rheinbeck, New York, where he lived.

* * *

The next day Craig slept very late. It was early evening before he had the energy to get out of bed. As he showered, he thought, What a wasted trip. Another disappointment. No wonder Lovecraft’s ghost laughed at me. That was quite a joke he pulled. He threw on old jeans and a T-shirt and brewed a pot of coffee.

As the java cleared his head, he recalled the crystal that was in the coffin and wondered what it could be. Probably a useless hunk of glass. A keepsake, likely. Something that he had received as a gift and treasured for sentimental reasons. Nonetheless, it nagged at Craig’s mind that the crystal might be more than it seemed. He removed the odd-shaped object from his jacket pocket and put it into the kitchen sink to scrub off its coating of dirt and mold. Once the crud was off, he noted that it was not really globular, but had many, many tiny facets in the shape of pentagons. He turned it over and over, wondering what it could be used for other than a paperweight.

He waited until the house grew dark and turned off all lights, except for a single candle on the kitchen table. As the strange object caught the rays of the flickering candlelight, each facet turned a different hue. A glow seemed to emanate from within rather than being simply a reflection of candlelight. As he stared at one of the facets, he became spellbound. It seemed to draw his eyes toward it, so that he couldn’t turn away or blink, as though it were hypnotizing him.

After a few moments he began to see tiny people moving about behind the glass. He bent his head closer for a better look. The scene cleared until it seemed to be actually inside the crystal. It showed a formal garden outside a great castle. People in medieval costumes were having a party or celebration. Suddenly, he was no longer seeing through the crystal, but was there — in the garden.

He stood by a fountain whose water sprayed high in the air, causing a rainbow. The sky was gray and full of roiling clouds. The garden beds, which contained many different species and hues of flowers, were laid out in intricate patterns. Between them were grassy paths and hedges. The castle in the background was constructed of an ebony stone, so that it’s many towers, mullions, roofs, and walls were pitch black. Several people were milling about in a grassy field directly in front of the castle’s main entrance. Tables were set up for a feast, and musicians played on harps, flutes, and tambourines. At least a hundred people in Medieval costumes danced, chatted, and drank from goblets so large they had to hold them with two hands. Servants filled the goblets from great barrels such as those at a winery and passed them out to the partygoers. A few couples were embracing ardently. It was a lovely scene, like an illustration from a book of fairy tales or one that a fantasy artist might paint.

As he approached, he noticed a man in an early Twentieth Century suit looking his way. The man waved and beckoned him to join the party. When Craig drew nearer, there was something familiar about the man’s features. All at once he knew whom he was seeing and could hardly believe his eyes. It was the master himself. It was H.P. Lovecraft, looking as he did in several illustrations that Craig had seen. The man had the same narrow face, sunken eyes, and elven ears. Craig knew he could not be mistaken. He was too familiar with the author not to recognize him. He hurried, anxious to meet his hero. On the other hand, he wondered what sort of place this was that a man long deceased was present. Had he crossed over to the dimension of the dead?

Lovecraft whispered to a young woman who stood at the near edge of the field. She peered at Craig and smiled broadly. Her mouth opened, and she pointed at him, calling out something to her friends. At the same time Craig’s hero, Lovecraft, walked away. The woman gestured for Craig to come and join them. As he approached, others came forward, but Lovecraft was no longer in sight. The others smiled and laughed, as though they were happy to see him. The woman in whose ear Lovecraft had whispered was extremely beautiful, with long flowing hair. She was buxom, and her low-cut gown showed deep cleavage. She was the essence of what Craig found most attractive in women. As she put her hand out for him to kiss, she said, “Welcome, Craig.”

“You know me?”

“Of course. We’ve been waiting for you. Someone you admire told us that you were coming. My name is Desirable, by the way.”

“Desirable? It suits you.”

She giggled behind a fan. “And Craig suits you. You’re sort of craggy. Come.” She took his arm and led him around, introducing him to various people. They all had names with meanings like hers. Manly, Delicious, Ardent, and Lusty were a few.

A servant handed Craig one of the large cups. The dark, red wine within was sweet and strong, with a hint of saltiness. “This is delicious,” he said. “What do you call it?”

“Blood wine,” Desirable said. “Sip it slowly. It’s very intoxicating.”

Craig halted a moment to see an amazing sight, a bed of black roses. “I’ve never seen any like these before.”

“Let me pick one for you.” She snapped off one of the ebony flowers and pricked herself with a large thorn. She held her injured hand close to his face. “Kiss it. I’m sure your lips will take the pain away.”

He did, getting her blood on his tongue. It tasted exactly like the blood wine. To his amazement, the wound healed completely. This is a magical place, he thought.

Desirable led him toward the castle door, clutching his arm tightly.

“Where are you taking me?” Craig asked.

“To meet the master, silly.”

Craig wondered whether she meant Lovecraft.

As they strolled into an enormous anteroom, whose walls were covered with tapestries depicting scenes of hunting, war, and woodland debauchery by naked fauns and nymphs, Craig asked, “Who is the master?”

“Nybras.”

Nybras is the demon in charge of the pleasures of Hell, Craig thought. Am I in Hell? Or has this person taken that name for reasons of his own?

“And how am I to address Nybras? I don’t wish to offend your master.”

Desirable chuckled. “Just call him Nybras. He’s not a formal person.” She led him through an archway into a room that reminded Craig of The Sistine Chapel in design, with amazing art on the ceiling, a large dome, many marble pillars, nude statues in various poses, and arches of dark wood that crisscrossed each other. At the far end was a dais upon which was a massive throne. On the throne was a blood-red, naked demon, with deer-like antlers, a long sinewy tail, and grossly large equipage.
Craig bowed.

Nybras chuckled. “Greetings, Craig. Welcome to my pleasure palace. Here all your desires will be fulfilled. Do you like Desirable?”

“Very much.”

“She’s yours. She will do anything you wish.”

Craig grinned happily. “But, isn’t this… Hell? I thought that I would receive eternal punishment for the crime of sorcery.”

Nybras held his belly as he roared with laughter. Finally, he said, “Someone has been telling you lies, boy. Now, go join the party or take Desirable to one of the bedrooms in my palace. Would you like a second beautiful woman to join you?”

Craig decided to savor everything this place of pleasure had to offer. He filled his goblet with more wine and took Desirable and Delicious into the bedroom Nybras had provided. As he entered it, he noticed manacles and chains attached to the stone walls. Were the women into something kinky? he wondered. His excitement mounted in anticipation of what he thought would surely follow.

* * *

The doctor held a stethoscope to the comatose young man’s breast and nodded his head. He heard a strong, young heart pumping. Except for the lad’s unconscious state, he seemed to be in excellent health. He read the young man’s chart. The CAT scan and MRI of his brain had shown nothing unusual, although a CT examination showed a lot of activity in the pain/pleasure center. At that moment, an elderly man in a shabby suit entered the hospital room. The doctor looked up. “Are you a family member?” he asked.

“Not exactly, but I’m as close to being family for poor Craig as you’ll find. I’ve known the boy all his life. My name is Martin Elliot. I’ve been the family lawyer for many years and administer his trust fund. What’s wrong with him?”

“We’re not exactly sure. He seems to be in a self-induced hypnotic trance, which we cannot bring him out of. His housekeeper found him this way. He was staring at an unusual crystal. Can you tell me why he would be doing that?”

“Yes. He had an obsession with the paranormal and magic and such. Perhaps he was trying to read the future like a fortune teller. He visited psychics all the time and had many books on the subject. Some are quite expensive — first editions, antiques, and such.” Elliot licked his lips.

“I see,” the doctor said, folding his arms. “I suppose he put himself into a self-induced trance. Perhaps a psychiatrist may be able to help. If he doesn’t come out of it soon, though, there’s a possibility he may slip into a permanently comatose state.”

Elliot gazed at Craig. The youth seemed composed, although a strange, disturbing expression flickered across his face for a moment. “I wonder what he’s dreaming about?” Elliot said, smiling. If Craig stayed in a coma forever, his substantial trust fund would provide for Elliot’s own fantasies, such as wooing that beautiful young widow, Melody Trent, who Harshvardhan Singh had introduced him to recently. He also wondered about the crystal that Craig had been staring at when he went into his trance. It looked well crafted, perhaps carved by a glass maker with an artistic bent. Perhaps it was valuable. Besides, there was something fascinating about it. He vowed to examine it more closely at his leisure. *

About the Author: Joe Vadalma is a retired technical writer who used to work for a major computer company. He’s a voracious reader of all kinds of books, but is especially fond of science fiction and fantasy. He’s had the following short stories published in internet e-zines: “Absolute Creation,” The Fifth Dimension, June 2002; “Androids in Pax,” Dark Moon Rising, October 2003; “Apartment in Clam City,” EOTU, August 2002; “Archeologist and the Physicist,” SFF World, June 2003; “Automatia,” Aphelion, July 2002; “Conspiracy in Time,” Dark Moon Rising, February 2003; “Cosmoergy,” Martian Wave, March 2002; “Count Poperazi,” Swords Edge, January 2003; “Empty Planet,” Aphelion, February 2002; “Gunther,” Dark Moon Rising, October 2002; “Immortal Homecoming,” Aphelion, June 2003; “The Key,” Dark Moon Rising, April 2002 issue; “Mind Odyssey,” Planet Magazine, March 2003; “Mist and Shadow,” Alternate Realities, March 2003; “Nothing but a Coward,” Writer’s Hood, March 2003; “Pop-Art Nightmare,” Nocturne Horizons, January 2002; “Psychic Pop-Up,” Planet Magazine, September 2003; “Sands of Time,” Dark Moon Rising, January 2001; “Shadow in the Sky,” Aphelion, April 2002; “Strange Artifact,” Planet Magazine, June 2003; “Vampire Trial,” Aphelion, October 2003; “Widget Factory,” Aorfe’s Kiss, March 2003. Joe has written several novels that are yet to be published.
(c) 2005 Joe Vadalma papavad@juno.com
The Fantastic World of Papa Joe http://www.geocities.com/papajoev

About the Artist: Steve Cartwright says it’s well known that an artist becomes more popular by dying, so he typed this with one hand while pummeling his head with a frozen mackerel with the other. He has been staff writer and artist for two local newspapers, the Atlanta Suburban Reporter and the Fulton County News-Daily. Steve does art and graphic design in Adobe Photoshop (please view some at his web site). The other mediums he uses are: charcoal (messy, but strongly sets a mood, usually brooding); colored pencils (loves the way the colors blend); colored pens; and pen-and-ink. The subjects he draws are eclectic, everything from pristine rural scenes to unsettling surrealism. Steve is a staff member of Skyline magazine in New York. His art has been published in magazines such as Georgia Journal; Potpourri; Georgia State Review; the Clay Tablet; Poets, Artists & Madmen; New Writer’s; Talebones; Indigenous Fiction; Liquid Ohio; Contraband; In the Spirit of the Buffalo; Starblade; Medicinal Purposes; Skylark; The MacGuffin; RescueCats; Good Dog; Fantasy, Folklore & Fairytales; Clark Atlanta University; Country Folk; The Legions of Light Magazine; Tropical Fish Hobbyist; Urban Spaghetti; Heist; Spellbound; Atlanta Buckhead; Appalachian Heritage; Iconoclast; Outer Darkness; Skyline; and others. His art work has appeared in Seeing Through Symbols, a literary anthology published by Chrysalis Books. He’s been a contributing artist for Creative Loafing, an Atlanta weekly with a circulation of 300,000; and Shroder Publishing’s three monthlies in Atlanta, with a combined circulation of 28,000. He does art for the Red Cross in Atlanta, Meals On Wheels, and the City of Atlanta. Part of these assignments is to (usually quickly) illustrate a short story or article. Steve’s art also has appeared on several commercial web sites, such as Wee Ones and Ron’s Marbles & Things. He did computer animation for the Matrix board at the Atlanta Stadium, depicting the Braves and the Falcons. Please hurry with your response – that mackerel’s killin’ him!
Contact: Steve Cartwright; 2333 Ben Hill Rd., East Point, GA., USA, 30344. 404-767-1576.
(c) 2005 Steve Cartwright http://www.angelfire.com/sc2/cartoonsbycartwright

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