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The Reliquary of Professor Jinn

The Reliquary of Professor Jinn
by R. Y. Brockway

Mertz’s breath caught in his throat when Violet crossed in front of the second-story window of their rented room. For an instant, the flickering blue light of the approaching storm washed across her face, and Mertz could’ve sworn her features contorted, the angles shifting to reveal a countenance he found vaguely familiar. He sat up, the bedsprings creaking beneath him, and began to pay her more attention.

Earlier, in the bar, Mertz had inquired about her. The barkeep had offered up her name, adding that it had been given to her, due to the fact that she shrank from attention. “Shy Violet,” he had said, and that was the extent of what anybody knew of her. But when Mertz scrutinized her now, he didn’t find her shy. If anything, she was aloof. Her demeanor reminded him of the city girls he used to chase; perhaps that was what triggered his recollection.

Satisfied with this explanation, he drained his wineglass and set it on the bedside table.

Violet drifted over to the bureau and removed the shade of the lamp set there. Gears ticked as she cranked the handle to charge the mechanism within. The whir of iron filament brushing against copper mingled with the tooting notes of the calliope rising through the floorboards from the bar below.

The bulb’s filament began to glow, revealing the true shabbiness of the room for the first time. Mertz sneered at the stained wallpaper, the tarnish creeping up the bedposts revealed in the harsh light. He’d shelled out good money for the best room in the house, and he was beginning to think he’d been swindled. Then he remembered where he was. This probably was the best room—the best room for miles.

Sighing, he reached into his waistcoat pocket and withdrew the trinket held there. He gazed upon the pendant with fondness as it dangled from its chain. The faceted jewels on its surfaces sparkled, burning with an internal fire that fed off the artificial light. The effect was almost hypnotic.

“Pretty, ain’t it? A kaleidoscope of dancing colors.” He pried his attention away and held the necklace up for Violet to see. There was a brief spark in her eyes before she turned and fetched the decanter.

“Come now.” He smirked as she refilled his glass. “I know you want to look. I saw you eyeing it earlier when I laid it on the card table.” He scratched his bare chest. “Not that I blame you. Couldn’t stop staring first time I laid eyes on it either.”

When she set the decanter on the bedside table, Mertz moved the pendant closer, hoping to tempt her. Again, he caught a spark in her eye. She leaned forward, reaching for the necklace, and when she was close, Mertz pulled it back. With his free hand, he grasped hold of her robe, and drew her down to the mattress beside him. “Not just yet,” he whispered in her ear. “But if you’re sweet, I may let you wear it later. Been a long time since I’ve seen it round a pretty girl’s neck.”

Violet’s back stiffened at his touch, but he continued to make his way along the folded silk of her robe, searching for an opening. Violet’s gaze turned back to the window. She mumbled and the rumble of distant thunder rolled over her words.

Mertz stopped caressing her stomach. “What’s that, you say?”

Violet’s head snapped back around, and for a second time, Mertz was put off by the sense he knew her. She smiled and shifted her weight, allowing the leg closest to him to fall to the side. His hesitation melted.

“I’d like to know how you got it.” She pointed her chin at the necklace. “I bet it comes from someplace far-off. There’s always a good story when things come from far away.”

He bit his lower lip as he considered her request. “Nah, you wouldn’t want to hear about that. Sometimes it’s best to just admire a pretty thing without asking questions.”

Violet rose, and Mertz licked his lips as she moved back toward the lamp.

“All right, have it your way, then. But come closer, my dear. Don’t make me shout over the honky-tonk below.”

Violet smiled, returned to the bed, and handed him his glass.

* * *

You may be right: that pretty bauble may have come from far away, but I can’t really say for sure, only that when I found it, I knew it was special.

It wasn’t long ago, five, maybe six years. I was working in the big city at the time, unloading the barges that drifted down the muddy waters of the Grand Miss to sell their wares along the lower boardwalk.

The job didn’t pay much, and it was dirty work. The worst part was having to deal with the rats, the biggest and ugliest being the dockmaster himself. But I had my evenings free and the winnings I took home from playing cards in the back rooms kept me in modest comfort.

Now it’s hard to say for sure when events began to unfold, but I guess you could say that the story of how I came to find that necklace started with a visit from the dockmaster. It was on a night I was playing stud, of all things. I was winning too.

Halfway through the game, the dockmaster barged in. At first I thought he was there for a taste of the pot, but then I noticed he had his crew of thugs with him.

They went at it with the business ends of their billy clubs, dispatching the other players and half the furniture in no time, sending my comrades scurrying into the night. I thought my turn had come, but instead of laying a blow to my head, the dockmaster stuck two fingers in his mouth and let out a shrill whistle.

Next thing I knew, the dock boys filed out, leaving their boss behind to take the empty seat across from me.

“You’ve been doing well on my turf.” He placed his club on the table and picked up a stack of bills from the interrupted game. “Funny how we’ve never been formally introduced.”

I held my tongue as he gave the money a quick count.

“You know how to keep your head down, I’ll give you that.” He said, setting the bills back down. “So happens I’m in need of someone with such expertise. Even if they may or may not have a reputation in other parts of town under a different name.”

He smiled at me, all sweet-like, and I knew he had my number: how I used to work for the whiskey barons, the money I owed them. Why I had to settle for playing cards in the back rooms of the docks when there were bigger stakes to be had uptown.

“Maybe we can come to an arrangement.” He rolled his club between his thumb and forefinger. “Something to our mutual benefit?”

Now you might’ve thought I’d done anything to please the dockmaster just then. But if he wanted to shake me down, he could’ve sent one of his crew. No, this was something else, and I needed to make sure I played my cards right so I wouldn’t find myself on the short end of the bargain he was offering.

“I’m assuming this is a paying proposal?” As soon as I said it, the dockmaster’s fingers coiled around his club, and I noticed the dents where it’d met with less fortunate men’s skulls. “But considering we’ve had a good working relationship up to now, I’m sure I could manage a discount,” I added as quick as I could.

He laughed and let go of the club. I sat on edge while he fished with two fat fingers in his vest pocket. It wasn’t until he withdrew a square of paper and chucked it over at me that my nerves eased.

I took my time unfolding the sheet, keeping one eye on the club as I did. The paper was damp with sweat, the ink smeared, but I knew what it was the moment I saw it: a handbill for a show, the kind the pleasure cruises put on.

A magic routine, judging by the picture on the page; you see, there was a man with a neat little beard and top hat, and floating above him, a sleeping dame.

Or so I reckoned. But there was something peculiar about her legs. They appeared to be covered in gears, long pistons in place of her muscles. An automaton, I thought, or something like it. Not a bad gimmick, though I doubted it was real.

“I suppose you want me to knock over the box office?” I set the paper down.

The dockmaster sneered. “It’s the magician I care about, not the money. Jinn and I have some unfinished business.”

I looked back at the handbill and wondered what kind of business it might be. Knowing the dockmaster, I didn’t fancy the direction this deal was headed.

“Maybe one of your boys might be a better choice for a job like this.”

“I’m not asking you to kill him.” The dockmaster was smiling again. “Just fetch him to me. You know that part of town, how to blend in with all them fancy folks. My boys, they tend to stand out.”

He didn’t need to go on. Everyone knew what had happened the last time a dock boy got caught working the whiskey barons’ turf. The river had run red for a week.

“Look, it’s all arranged. Tomorrow night, after his show, Jinn’ll be alone. I’ve even made sure the bird he travels with will be out.”

“Ah, so it is a fake, then? Some sort of costume?”

The dockmaster glared at me. “You just worry about Jinn. He’s slick. He’ll try to trick you.”

I shrugged. “And after I deliver him?”

“You let me and my boys worry about that. Just take care of it like I says, when the girl’s out. Dressed-up trollop or not, neither of us needs the attention that comes when a woman gets hurt.”

“No, no, we don’t.”

“Then we’re agreed?”

I nodded.

He stood and gathered up half the money on the table as he gave me the details. He made me repeat them back to him twice, and when I was done, he patted my cheek, nodded toward the rest of the cash, and left.

I waited until I no longer heard his heavy boots on the stairs outside before stuffing my pockets with the remaining bills and beating it out the back door.

I looked over my shoulder a dozen times on my way home, and once I’d made it inside my room, I threw the double bolt on the door. Collapsing into my bed, I clutched my chest until the pounding inside subsided, but once my pulse began to still, my churning thoughts took over.

It was just fetching a man, I told myself. Not much wrong with that. What worried me more was the next request the dockmaster would have now that he felt free to darken my door. What he would do if I didn’t honor his request, and would it be worse than what he had planned for Jinn?

Sleep evaded me, and I gave up all hope of rest when the dawn’s gray light crept in my window. I rose and began to pace my room.

I’d amassed a small collection of furniture and bric-a-brac in more prosperous times. Not grand things, mind you, but all were of fine quality. Normally, I drew comfort when I looked upon them; they reminded me how well I’d done. But now when I saw them, my resentment and anger grew.

I’d almost lost it all once before; I didn’t fancy the thought of losing it all again.

I went over to the mahogany tallboy and ran my hand along its tight-grained surface before crouching and removing the bottom drawer.

My kit and the cigar box with my stash were right where I left them, hidden in the vacant space. I withdrew the cigar box first and added to it the money from my pockets. There was a good pile, enough for a train ticket with a enough left over to set up someplace new, though the thought gave me little solace.

I shut the lid and moved on to my kit, unknotting the string that held it together and unrolling the canvas bundle. My lock picks lay neatly in their pockets, ready for my nimble fingers. I passed them over and turned my attention to the sealed pouch at the end of the roll.

My old pocket revolver had seen better days, but as I held it in my hand, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to bring a little extra persuasion when I went to see Jinn. I waited until dusk before I left, making my way to the strand and the upper boardwalk where the grand hotels rose above the city. I’d changed into my better suit and was grateful for the diminishing sunlight, as it hid the bulge where I’d tucked away my kit and revolver.

The name of the hotel the dockmaster had given me was the Jardin, one of the newer establishments built after I had my falling out with the whiskey barons. When I saw it, my heart ached. I was reminded of the pleasures I’d been missing since I’d been away.

The place was glorious, as big as a city block, its candy-striped awnings lit from above by the sign on the roof, where the hotel’s name was studded in electric lights. I stood there, gawking, as I imagined the opulence within. It was a moment before I noticed the poster in the marquee beside the front doors.

It was the exact same image as the handbill the dockmaster had given me, but much larger and in full color. I’d leaned in to examine the finer detail of the girl’s machine-driven legs, when I heard someone call out from my left.

“Here to see the Professor and his mechanical girl?”

I turned to find a doorman waiting for a smart-dressed couple to make their exit.

“Is it for real? The girl, I mean, a true automaton?”

The doorman gave a wry smile. “As real as Professor Jinn’s magic. But you can make your mind up yourself. Show starts in ten minutes.”

I’d planned to stake the place out, to lie in wait until the time the dockmaster told me Jinn would be alone. But glancing back at the poster, I thought maybe it wouldn’t hurt to see the man in person before I confronted him. Plus, the dockmaster warned me Jinn could be tricky. It might be worthwhile to see what kind of scam he was pulling with all this mechanical flimflam.

“Why not?” I said. “The night is young.”

The doorman pointed me toward the box office.

* * *

The organist was already playing when I entered the theater, and I found my seat just as the houselights dimmed. The curtain went up to present a bare stage, except for a single table at its center and a drab backdrop painted to look like the Egyptian desert.

Nothing happened and a confused disappointment began to rustle through the audience. Then the organ music slowed, and a girl emerged from the shadows of the wings.

Her costume was austere, covering every inch of skin from her chin down to the flouncy little skirt that brushed her knees. Even her hands were gloved, and in her covered arms she carried an elaborate jeweled chest, not much bigger than a milk crate.

She moved with an awkward jerking motion as she headed toward the table in the center of the stage. Each step she took was accompanied by a whir and a ka-chink as she planted her foot.

Her legs shone as much, if not more than the chest she carried as she neared the footlights, the movement of flywheels and gears catching the light and reflecting it back at us.

After setting down her load, she turned and gave the audience a demure, almost sad little grin. Then, one item at a time, she began to remove her clothes. I was transfixed, surprised that a place as fancy as the Jardin would employ such a show. But my excitement at the prospect of seeing some skin turned to amazement when she was down to just her corset and pettiskirt. The true marvel of the illusion was revealed then: if not for her legs, you’d never imagine she was anything other than a normal girl.

Now, I have to admit, her little striptease had been quite the distraction, and I’d forgotten all about the box she had carried in earlier and set atop the table. The rest of the audience must have too, because it took someone shouting, “Look,” for us to turn our attention.

Somehow the chest’s lid had opened on its own, releasing a beam of emerald-green light. A hum, which at first barely registered over the organ music, began to fill the theater. It grew, along with the intensity of the radiation from within the box until even the painted backdrop was cast in its eerie luminescence.

Above me, the crystal chandeliers began to rattle, trembling in the wake of the increasing noise. I threw up my hands to protect my ears. There seemed no end to the crescendo. Around me, spectators half rose from their seats, their eyes growing wild with fear. But not a single one turned their gaze from the stage. Just when I thought the roar couldn’t go on any longer, a deafening pop ripped through the air, and the light exploded in one last blinding burst. My vision blurred at its surge.

When my eyes recovered, Jinn stood atop the table, his feet inside the jeweled chest. The audience burst into applause, and Jinn bowed low, doffing his top hat in a gesture of appreciation.

“Thank you, but please—the show has only just begun.” He chortled, stepping out of the box, and leaping nimbly down to the stage. His accent was strange; I couldn’t place it, except to say it was distinctly foreign. Too foreign, like it had been invented—the mark of a true charlatan. I frowned as he offered a hand to the half-mechanical girl.

“But before we go on, a round of applause for my assistant, Anabelle. She’s enchanting, no?” He beamed from ear to ear as the audience clapped. “My greatest accomplishment. Come, let’s show them what you can do, my darling.”

He led Anabelle to the front of the stage where everyone could get a good look at her as the duo performed their next series of tricks. The girl’s legs gleamed in the glow of the footlights. A distraction, I soon realized, as Jinn wasn’t nearly half the magician his opening act had led us to believe.

I watched him botch three—no, four—moves before I let out my first groan. But I was quickly hushed by a woman to my right. I turned my attention to the audience. They were engrossed. They didn’t see it! Not even when Jinn dropped one of the silver balls he was juggling. All eyes were on the girl and her uncanny legs.

“See, there’s nothing she can’t do that a real girl can. Trust me. I know.” Jinn gave a cheeky wink. “But Anabelle insists I’ve slacked in my work. I tell her, ‘You’re famous. Everyone wants to see the mechanical girl. What good would real legs do you?’”

He turned, looking upon Anabelle’s face, which was twisted upward in the most heartbreaking, plaintive expression.

“Ah, but she says fame is a hollow pleasure.” Jinn shrugged and faced the crowd. “What do you say, my fine audience? Should I finish the job tonight?”

There was a smattering of applause as Jinn led the girl to the table and helped her up. After two awkward, heavy steps, she was standing inside the box.

Jinn raised his arms and brandished them about, mumbling in a foreign tongue. Again, light began to seep upward from the chest, catching Anabelle and casting obscene shadows across her face. The girl began to spin about—a pirouette, whose rotation increased with the ferocity of Jinn’s words. She became a whir of blurred color, when the unearthly hum returned, drowning out Jinn’s shouting.

I was prepared for the flash of light this time, the resounding pop, and I closed my eyes. Just for a second. When I opened them, there was Anabelle with the prettiest little legs you ever did see, the skin as flawless as a china doll’s.

I stared, dumbstruck, wondering how Jinn had pulled it off when he couldn’t even manage juggling a couple of balls! Then I put my hands together, clapping along with the audience. I may’ve even whistled too.

What a finale!

The audience departed, murmuring with delight, and when I exited to the lobby, I saw a good crowd had formed at the stage door, waiting to congratulate the magician.

I took a seat at the bar, where I could keep an eye on everything, and mused over Jinn’s admirers as I ordered a glass of Pimm’s. The magician took his sweet time coming out, but when he did, the crowd rushed forward to bestow their accolades.

They were so easily taken in. One amazing trick and Jinn had them eating out of the palm of his hand. It was genius, really, and I considered that perhaps I was in the wrong business. I’d a few tricks of my own, a little sleight of hand with a deck of cards.

But as Jinn departed up the marble stairs to the private rooms above, Anabelle following with the jeweled chest, I wondered again what it was the dockmaster had going with him.

Then it dawned on me. That trick, the one that elevated him above the hacks on the strip, couldn’t have come cheap. There had to be some sort of newfangled technology inside the chest to produce the light show, more than the standard mirrors and an electric bulb or two.

Whatever it was had to have cost a pretty penny, that on top of what he’d paid to create the illusion of the girl’s mechanical legs. A costume, most likely—something she could shimmy out of when we were distracted by the flashing light. But the detail of it! My mind boggled at the expertise it would take to manufacture such a garment.

I found it hard to believe that Jinn had the talent to make it himself or to raise the funds to pay for such marvels. He had to have borrowed it. Well, I thought, that made two of us dumb enough to return to a town where we still owed money.

The brass clock over the front desk chimed the hour, and as if on cue, the girl appeared at the head of the stairs, almost unrecognizable in a modest frock of gray taffeta. But I got a good look at her face as she swept past me on the way to the front door, and I knew it was her. She hadn’t washed off the makeup from the show.

That was it, then. Everything was in place. Time for me to play my part. I left a coin on the side table along with my empty cup and proceeded upstairs.

I reached Jinn’s door in a matter of moments. The warbling notes of a Victrola came from inside, and I checked over my shoulder before leaning my head against the wall to get a better listen. It was a popular tune, with an upbeat tempo. But that wasn’t all I heard. There was definite movement coming from inside—the creaking of floorboards as something heavy was dragged across the floor.

I waited until this scuttling ceased. And when the music became muffled by the sound of banging pipes and gushing water, I brought out my kit and slipped the first pick into the lock.

The bolt gave quick, and I cracked the door to peek inside. The main room was empty, but there was another door—from behind which came the music and the sound of someone in the bath. I exchanged my picks for the revolver as I slid past the threshold, tiptoeing my way toward the bathroom.

When I passed the bed, my blood suddenly chilled. I swung around, finger on the trigger, but lowered my gun when I saw the jeweled chest from the show propped up against the pillows.

Seeing it onstage, I’d assumed its surface had been decorated with cut glass and gold paint, but now that I was close, my expert eye knew it was the genuine thing. Jinn had spent more on his show than I’d originally thought. I wiped my mouth as I calculated the price just one of the jewels set on its surface might fetch.

It was foolish, I know, to stand there staring at the thing when its owner and my soon-to-be victim was just a few steps away. But the more I looked at the box, the more puzzled I became about the magician’s trick. Why invest in such a treasure for some camp magic show when a knockoff would do?

I ran my hand along the jeweled surface, searching for the latch to open the box and look inside. I wanted to see if I was right about the mechanism within. How something so complicated could fit inside such a small space. It was really nagging me now, but there didn’t seem to be any means by which to open the box—no hasp, no bolts, not even a lock to pick.

The only thing out of place was a circular indentation in the gold-work on the front of the lid—a hollow that appeared to be missing its jewel. I ran a finger around its grooved circumference, trying to figure it out. As I did, the Victrola in the bathroom fell silent.

Startled, I drew back against the wall, cursing myself for delaying. The shock of almost being caught focused me back to the task at hand. I eased along the silk wallpaper to the bathroom door, cocking the gun’s hammer as I crept.

I kicked down the door and shouted for Jinn to put his hands up.

The high-pitched scream took me off guard. I stumbled backward, tripping over the splintered door frame as I recoiled from the sound. My fingers tightened on reflex, the sudden crack of the gunshot putting an end to the girl’s screams.

When the smoke cleared, it was too late.

She lay in the tub in the final shudders of death as blood pumped from a gaping wound in her chest and spread in a pink cloud around her.

I would’ve turned away at the sight, but I was too confused. It was the assistant from the show; there was no mistaking it. Her costume lay on a stool beside her along with an oilcan, and her legs hung over the edge of the tub, the gears and flywheels winding down until they came to a stop.

I knelt down beside the bath. How was it possible—a machine after all? But machines didn’t bleed. They didn’t scream. And if the girl was here, where in the hell was Jinn?

I leaned over the tub, and brushed back her wet hair with my free hand to look at her face. That’s when I saw it: that pretty little bauble hanging round her neck. I couldn’t pry my gaze away from it.

I’m not sure why I did what I did next. Maybe I figured I’d nothing left to lose now that I’d done the one thing the dockmaster warned me not to. Or maybe I thought the necklace was too fine a treasure to be left behind. But I reached around the back of her neck and unfastened the clasp.

The necklace fell into my cupped hand as if it belonged there, still warm from the touch of her skin. I wrapped it in my handkerchief and when it was tucked safe in my pocket, I took off at a run.

Minutes later, the cops were after me and I barely made it back to my room in time to grab my stash and catch the last train out of the city. I didn’t know where it was headed; I just hoped it would be far enough that the police and the dockmaster would never find me.

* * *

There was silence in the rented room for a moment as Mertz considered the necklace. “You tell me.” He handed the chain to Violet. “Now that you’ve heard the tale, do you still fancy the thing?”

“You haven’t been back to the city since?” She rubbed a thumb over the center jewel.

“Not for years. The dockmaster, I’m sure, is still itching to get his hands on me.”

“So you haven’t heard?” The women leaned over and slid open the drawer of the nightstand.

“Heard what?” Mertz sat up on his elbow.

Outside a bolt of lightning struck close, and a glaring light filled the room. Mertz didn’t see where the gun had come from, but he heard the click of the cylinder revolving into place as the roll of thunder died.

“He’s dead.” Violet aimed the pistol at Mertz’s head and, with the hand clutching the necklace, pointed to the spot just above her breast. “Shot in the heart, just like my sister.”

Confused, Mertz stared at Violet. But bewilderment turned into shock when he recognized the now aged face of the magician’s assistant. “You! But it can’t be. I watched you die!”

The woman climbed from the bed, keeping the gun trained on him as she stooped to reach below the footboard. A scraping sound filled the air as she dragged something heavy to the center of the room. When the lightning flashed again, Mertz saw what it was: the magician’s chest.

He licked his lips. “Maybe we can work something out?”

The woman glared at him, and then turned her attention to the box. Gripping the necklace by its center jewel, she ripped the chain away and pressed the pendant into the empty indentation on the chest’s front. The pendant clicked into place, and she spun it like a dial. When it stopped turning, she stood back, and the lid popped open.

Instantly, the humming began, vibrating the air like an approaching freight train.

“Professor,” Violet called over the roar, “I’m ready to make my final wish.”

A shadowy hand emerged from within and gripped the chest’s side, and soon after another joined it. Violet kept her pistol leveled on Mertz, who couldn’t believe his eyes as a beam of green light shot from the box and the figure of the magician rose from inside.

Jinn towered over Violet as he shouted down at her. “Six years in the shadow realm!” His clothes were rumpled, his hair long and disheveled. “You promised never to keep me locked up for so long.”

“Promised.” Violet met the magician with a heated stare. “Like you promised to give us whatever we asked? Fame, as long as you were the star! Working legs for my sister, just not human ones!”

Jinn scowled. “So be it. Tell me your heart’s desire, and we can be done with each other.”

“The reason you’ve been locked away”—Violet’s voice took on an icy control— “had nothing to do with me. This man killed my sister and stole the key.”

The magician’s head snapped around. His gaze landed on Mertz, sprawled across the mattress, and his pupils glowed red.

In desperation Mertz tried to escape the bed linens, but they ensnared his limbs, trapping him as Jinn leaped over the footboard. Mertz flailed as he tried to bite, scratch, and kick his way free. But the magician was too quick, his reach too long. His fingers wound their way around Mertz’s throat, and slammed his head back against the headboard with brutal force.

Panic and pain tore through Mertz’s head as Jinn bore down. His vision blurred, the edges of the room fading to black as he choked on his last breath. Jinn’s seething face eclipsed all other vision. Loathing radiated from those eyes—palpable hate that rippled the air around them, penetrating Mertz’s skull like a white-hot poker impaling his psyche.

“Stop!” Violet’s voice rang out over the pain in Mertz’s head.

Jinn reeled, his teeth bared. Mertz wheezed as the tension eased from around his throat.

“Don’t kill him.” Violet’s voice was cool. “Not just yet.” She came up beside the bed and placed a hand on the panting Jinn’s shoulder. “I think you should show him what’s in your box first. He’s been dying to know your secret, Professor.”

“Oh, has he?” A cruel smile crept across Jinn’s lips as he pulled Mertz from the bed and threw him down beside the chest like a rag doll.

Violet came from behind and pressed the barrel of her gun to Mertz’s temple. “Well, go on, then. Have a look.”

Mertz leaned forward and peered inside.

Nothing. There was nothing in the box, only an inky blackness. Mertz leaned closer, and the box, as if sensing his presence, began to tremble. A sucking wind whistled from within its depths, a hungry force that drew in the light from the surrounding room and devoured it.

Jinn spoke, but Mertz could barely hear him. The gale unleashed around him, whipping about Mertz’s head, tearing at his hair and clothing. It grabbed hold of him and yanked him inward.

“No!” Mertz’s scream ripped from his lungs as darkness and shadow enveloped him.

He plummeted, and as he fell, he heard the chest’s lid snap shut above him with an ominous finality.

* * *
R.Y. Brockway writes short stories with the intent to entertain and thrill her readers. A lover of both the mundane and the macabre, she explores aspects of both in her writing, if not necessarily at the same time. She lives with her husband in Virginia. You can find more of her work in Acidic Fiction’s Best of 2015 anthology, on the Fiction Vortex, and on Every Day Fiction.

What do you think is the attraction of the fantasy genre?

I don’t always read speculative fiction, but when I do it’s most likely fantasy. It’s not just my reading habits either. When I sit down to write, the worlds and characters that come to me out of the ether are often of the stranger ilk. But why? Why do I and so many others find ourselves seduced by white rabbits with pocket watches, creatures cloaked in the night, and doorways into other worlds? I think it’s because fantasy, unlike all other genres, is truly boundless.

What other realm is there where authors are allowed to pick and choose which laws of reality they want to play with, if they want to play with any of them at all? Science, politics, geography, and even history, are all fair game; waiting to be manipulated into something other than that which we already know.

That’s why I love fantasy, and relish the thrill that comes every time I crack the spine or click the link of a new story that I know is about to sweep me off into a place where anything can happen. I go willingly, knowing that when I’m through, I may, just like Alice, no longer be the same shape or size as when I entered. What could be more exciting than that?