The Iron Writer Challenge #41
A Voodoo Witch Doctor
The Doctor of Naperville
I didn’t think they existed, these men of magic and menace. At least, not here. And he’s not what I expected.
He arrives in a trench coat, gray and damp from December’s drizzle. His collar is turned up and he stands near the door – my door – a less than imposing figure, looking more like an imitation Sherlock than a voodoo witch doctor.
Spying from the kitchen counter, I stir cream in my coffee, slowly. His narrow frame is not tall. Hair trimmed close, the color of ash. He removes his coat with precision, revealing an argyle sweater and black slacks hemmed an inch too long. He turns my way and I drop the spoon nervously into the sink, the ting of metal on metal an embarrassed echo in the empty house.
“Sorry,” I stammer, “Coffee?”
“Thank you,” he says, making his way towards the kitchen. He stops to look at a painting in the hallway. “You paint,” he offers.
“Hmm?” I am caught off guard, once more. “Oh, yes, just a little. How did you know?”
“Your name,” he points to the lower right-hand corner. “Alan Miller, in the water’s reflection.”
“Oh, yes. Of course,” I fill his mug, place sugar on a tray. “Shall we sit in here?” I point him towards the den adjacent to the kitchen where twin leather chairs sit in an angled face-off.
I’ve forgotten to put out coasters, placing my mug emblazoned with a red “DAD” on a National Geographic instead. A photograph of the Antikythera Mechanism is framed in the iconic yellow border, a centennial celebration of its discovery. It is the time for uncovering buried secrets, I suppose.
The mug in one hand, he pulls at the knee of his slacks with the other, sitting, unveiling well-worn houndstooth shoes. This is not what I expected, I say again to myself.
“I know,” he scoops a teaspoon of sugar before I realize, ashamed, those words were spoken aloud. The granules sink in his mug; a shiny speck or two escape and land on his shoes, glowing against the squiggly black lines.
“Where did you come from?” Exhausted, I lean into the cushion of the leather, ready for this to all be over.
“Naperville,” he says, as if any of this is normal. “Do you want to discuss why you contacted me?”
“They met at an art show.” I start slowly, relieved to tell someone. The story spills from my lips. “It was her gift to me, opening night. But his paintings…” I stop, suddenly cognizant of my own inadequacy, “He is no amateur.”
“What would you like me to do?” his voice a steady tone, his eyes on me. “What do you know about him? What is his weakness, his kryptonite?”
“Besides her?” I am angry again, raising my voice against the bitter taste in my mouth. “No, no, she is off limits. I don’t want to hurt her… only him.”
“Of course,” he nods.
“His work, his art,” I return his ashen stare. “Start with his hands.”
“Of course,” he says, again. “That is where I’ll start.”
Timey Wimey Blues
L. M. Bilger
“They dug it out of the ocean, man; it’s not gonna work.” Voodoo’s voice held a small measure of disdain as he passed the pack of cigarettes to me. His words were lost in the haze of smoke that trailed from his lips as I waved him off, staring down at the schematic spread out across my lap.
For as long as I could remember, I’ve had a dream. Voodoo— we called him that because his grandpa was a real witch doctor down in New Orleans— had always been my unwilling accomplice. Usually he kept me from reaching too hard but things were different now. Times had changed, and they’d dragged us along for the ride. I wasn’t that dreamy-eyed kid that hopped at every scotch to reach for the stars anymore. I was wizened. This time I knew I was right.
He tapped the paper with his index finger, leaving a smear of Dorito-orange in its wake. “Lookit, Marv, all these blueprints are different. You said nobody really knows how this thing works—”
“They don’t,” I corrected him patiently, “but I do. It all makes perfect sense. It’s not some glorified astronomical calendar!”
We’d been working this night security gig at the museum for more than a year and I never told him why I’d even applied here. I’d figured out years ago that all the secrets of the universe were hidden between these walls. Unravelling mysteries had always been my kryptonite.
“Do you honestly think—”
“Don’t think,” I cut him off, folding the paper back up and cramming it into the back pocket of my pants. “I know. And in a few minutes, you will too.”
“It ain’t a time machine,” he muttered as he flicked his cigarette away.
I watched the ashes drift down, blending into the houndstooth pattern on my sneakers. “They didn’t dig this one out of the ocean,” I finally replied to his original statement, “it’s the most accurate replica of the Antikythera Mechanism they’ve made since finding the original in 1900. And it’s here, Doo; that means something.”
I stood and walked back inside, making a beeline for the display case. I’ve wanted to be a Time Lord since I was a child. Every week I bought the Weekly World News and scoured it for the truth. Tonight, if all went well, I’d be making my own headline.
The hand-crank was cold against my palm, offering no resistance as I turned it. I’d already made sure the dials were aligned. Voodoo whispered a prayer under his breath, staying by the door. Slowly, I reached out and grabbed the second handle, turning it counter to the first. I felt the vibrations in my hands first, then the floor.
The room rippled. It shimmered and then all I saw were stars. It really was—
A disembodied voice said, “that’s one small step for a man…”
—an astronomical time machine! I was witnessing the moon landing! They’ll never believe—
The Price of Power
Matthew E. Morgan
“Absolutely fascinating, Ms. Darcour,” the old man said, turning the rag-wrapped artifact over in his mottled hands, transfixed by worn etched designs around the perimeter of the solitary gear. “I hesitate to even ask how you found it. “
“Hesitation is good, Mr. Navarre. Some secrets are better left unsaid.” The corners of the woman’s mouth barely betrayed a smile. Her cool voice cut through drunken conversation and a wailing blues guitar. She crossed her legs, the smooth and narrow span between her mid-length white dress and her black and white houndstooth shoes held no sway over the man easily twice her age. “I’m paid for my results – not my methods.”
“A hundred thousand dollars worth of results,” Navarre said with a wry twist of his lips. “Is it worth it?”
“I should ask you the same question,” Darcour answered, tapping a well-manicured nail on the grungy wooden table. “Your antique is just a piece of rusted metal to me. My commodity is information – available to the highest bidder.”
The man chuckled and coughed an emphysemic wheeze. “You young people are always looking for the quick fix. This ‘rusted metal’ is the key to some of the greatest treasure in the world. It’s a piece of the Antikythera mechanism – a computer centuries ahead of its time. It’s a cipher – a missing link to the device’s purpose. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to settle my debt. People would pay a good deal more than I did for this if they knew what it was.”
The musician ended his song to scattered applause. With a tip of his white top hat, he slid his guitar case closer to the un-moving audience. He smoothed his white suit – a stark contrast with his dark skin, as well as the yellow and green hues of the drunken patrons. “Merci, ladies and gentlemen,” he said in a low Creole baritone. “I’m Andre Decoudreau – known ’round here as ‘The Voodoo Witch Doctor.’ This next song was taken from me and I have taken it back. This is ‘Kryptonite.'”
Darcour brushed her jet black hair back over where an ear should have been; it fell back in place without enough mass to hold it. “I know. Let’s settle the debt in back.”
As they crossed in front of the stage towards a nearly-hidden door, the man yelled over the wailing guitar, “Odd choice of song. Superman?”
“No, sir. This song is about how the object we seek to gain power actually has power over us.”
Just before the door closed behind them, shadows leapt from the perimeter of the room and surrounded the old man.
A few moments later, Ms. Valcour reappeared with a blood-spattered rag. She dropped it into the guitar case with a heavy metallic thump. With a wide smile towards the musician, she picked up a folded check from the case. He returned a gold-toothed grin.
Adventures In Vogue
The rain, pouring off my bright yellow rain hat, ran down over my chic houndstooth rain boots. It was colder on adventure than I had expected. I pulled my yellow raincoat around me. Yellow is the in color this year, and adventure and intrigue are no excuse not to look ones best. Packed in my bag were my houndstooth heals. Houndstooth shoes were my Kryptonite. I could never pass a pair without having to make them mine.
As the rain poured over me, I began to regret listening to Joanna. “Come on! It’ll be fun,” she’d said. “Please!”
I could still hear the whine in her voice as she pleaded with me to go on this crazy quest of hers. But I had never been able to resist a plea from Joanna. Even when we were little girls in elementary school, she’d been able to get me to follow her whims.
But this whim had taken the cake. Here I sat, half way around the world. Greece of all places. Were we here to check out the fall fashions from Athens? No! To study the great art of the masters? Of course not! To sample Greek cuisine? Ok, we did do some of that. But Joanna was convinced that the Antikythera mechanism that is currently housed in the National Archeological Museum in Athens was a fake, the original having been stolen.
Who would want to steal an Antikythera mechanism (and what the heck that even was) was beyond me. Joanna is the archeologist. What do I know about old things? I’m the fashion editor for our town’s local paper! So there I stood. Wet. Cute. Fashionable. And staring at three smelly, dirty men with guns who I can assure you don’t know their ascots from a hole in the ground.
The men were chattering loudly and very angrily at each other and yelling at me, waving the guns like flags at the Memorial Day parade in my hometown. They kept screaming at me, though what they were saying was Greek to me.
Finally, the biggest, ugliest one in ripped jeans and last year’s jacket realized the problem and began barking at me in broken English.
“Your friend is where? She have something very important to me!”
“I, I don’t know. She left me here to wait. She didn’t tell me where she was going.”
“You lie! Tell me where friend is!” smelly barked again. His crude manner and attire made him nearly as unpleasant as the Glock he insisted on wielding so carelessly. Before I could open my mouth again to repeat my denial, smelly reached into his bag and pulled out – my houndstooth heals!
Oh the humanity! Firing off rapid threats in Greek, he twirled my shoes carelessly like a voodoo witch doctor waving a shrunken head, motioning toward the dumpster containing the recent deposit from the sea food restaurant I smelled.
My mind raced, my thoughts swirling about me. My shoes! Joanna! A cup of peppermint mocha latte! Would I ever see them again?