You might as well make stuff up about the things you find. That way, the truth won’t be quite so startling.
by P. Orin Zack
Jerry rose, ashen, when he saw what he’d unearthed. The shovel slipped from his hand. He stared uneasily down into the hole, and gaped at the root fragment left from whatever had grown in his backyard before the grassed-in dwarf plum he was clearing a bed for. It was as if he’d fallen into one of the surreal worlds that hung, framed, on the walls of his house, because the root insisted on looking back, peering unblinkingly up at him through the inexplicable agency of a chipped glass eyeball.
“Something wrong, Jerry?” his neighbor Sam called as he approached the rail fence, his chocolate retriever, Mousse a few steps behind.
“Yeah.” He nodded, gesturing earthward.
Sam straddled the fence and joined him by the hole. “Bizarre. How do you suppose that got there?”
“I’m not sure I want to know.” He bent to grab the shovel, rose, and drove the blade into the pile of freshly dug soil. “In fact, I don’t think I really want to finish opening this bed any more.”
“Because of this?” His neighbor knelt beside the hole, wrestled the root fragment free, and aimed the trapped glass sphere up at him like it was some kind of flashlight. “Come on, Jerry. Your plum needs better irrigation more than your yard needs a buried eyeball.” He pivoted as he rose, whistled for his dog, and tossed the root to the far corner of his own yard. Mousse tore off after it. “There. Consider it taken care of.”
Mousse died about a week later. Jerry found him in late afternoon. Sam hadn’t yet returned from work, and his wife, who does contract editing through the Internet, was off on an errand somewhere with their daughter, so Jerry was the first to spot him, inert, on the back porch. The eyeball was a few feet away, staring at the late chocolate lab from under a bush. Jerry might not have noticed it, except that when he knelt to examine the dog, he absently followed Mousse’s glazed stare.
The eye somehow looked pleased with itself.
* * *
When the phone started ringing again, Jerry just turned up the stereo and poured himself another drink. The reprieve gave him a chance to fade back into the surrealistic alcohol haze he’d been husbanding ever since he’d staggered back from Sam’s yard, until the banging on his back door started, anyway.
“I know you’re home!” Sam yelled during a break in the noise. “You dropped your mail on my back deck, so I know you’ve seen my dog. What are you hiding from?”
Jerry opened the door and inched warily past his neighbor. He turned towards Sam’s deck and pointed at the bush where the eyeball lay. “That thing I found. I think it may have killed your dog.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. It’s just a hunk of glass. Besides, Mousse made a pretty sloppy mess of the thing –.” He stopped himself, and looked Jerry in the eye. “Look. Do you know what happened to him? He was fine when I left this morning.”
“All I know is that they were staring at each other when I found them. Staring at each other from beyond the grave.”
“That’s a bit melodramatic, don’t you think?”
Jerry grabbed his wrist. “You know what it is, don’t you! I remember what you said.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Oh come on. The only thing you found strange about it was that the eyeball was in my yard. Like you knew it was supposed to be somewhere else. So spill it. What aren’t you telling me?”
He bit his lip. “I think I’ll have to show you.”
“Show me?” Jerry thundered. “Just what the hell kind of secrets have you been keeping, anyway?”
Sam didn’t say anything further until they’d reached his basement. But when he did, he made Jerry promise not to reveal what he was about to see. While leading his neighbor to a stand with a cut-open burlap sack over it, he made small talk about the paintings in Jerry’s house, and asked about the auction house where he had bought them. He didn’t interrupt, waiting for Jerry to finish his answer before grabbing the edge of the burlap.
“I bought this piece a few years before you moved in,” he said quietly, “at an auction house in New York that specializes in a rather peculiar kind of artifact.” With that, he raised the cloth, revealing the stylized head and trunk of a person. The head was built on a framework that Sam explained was a carved cocoanut. It’s right arm, which was made from the woven branches and roots of several kinds of tree, was held in front, with the open palm facing up. The hand held a sizeable uncut emerald. It’s left arm, however, was missing.
“And the missing left arm?” Jerry prompted, his fingers a hair’s-breadth from the place where it had been broken off.
Sam nodded. “Yes. Well, you’ve already seen that.”
“The tree root I dug up?”
“So the glass eye was originally part of the sculpture?”
“It was. And you can imagine my surprise when it finally turned up under your new plum bed.”
“Well, yeah. So what happened to it? Did Mousse break it off and bury it when he was a puppy?”
“That’s my guess, especially considering where you found it.”
Jerry pointed at the stone in the thing’s right hand. “Okay. So if it had a natural emerald in one hand, and a glass eye attached to the other, then I’ve gotta ask you what they were for. What kind of a statue was this, anyway, and what did that auction house specialize in?”
“That’s, um… that’s the part I need you to keep quiet about, Jerry. The auction house is on the up-and-up, of course, but it handles this sort of thing off the books, you might say.”
Jerry inched back. “Why? Is it stolen? Is it illegal for you to even have this thing? And one other thing: if that root I found was part of this expensive piece of art you bought, why’d you toss it to your dog, rather than bringing it back in and re-attaching it?”
Sam raised his hands in protest. “Oh, no. That would definitely not be a good idea, not if I’m right about what happened after Mousse ripped that arm off of it.”
“Why? What happened?”
“The PNAC lost control of our reality.”
What?” Jerry shook the cobwebs out of his ears. “What did you just say?”
“I don’t expect you to believe me. I didn’t believe it myself at first. But if there was something to what they told me when I picked it up, I wasn’t about to risk them regaining control of it again. Not now. Not after the presidential election. Not after their house of financial cards finally collapsed.”
“Hold it. Hold it!” Jerry said forcefully. “Are you telling me that this thing has some magical connection to world events?”
“Well, indirectly. But I can’t think of any other reason for Cheney to be acting like he’s been since Obama took office. Hell, I never even thought he’d agree to leave office, not after he declared himself to be above the law.”
“Back up a minute. That root – this thing’s left arm, had a glass eye embedded in it. If this is some sort of magical totem, what was the eye all about? What was it supposed to be? What was it supposed to do?”
Sam tapped the emerald. “I’m not certain, but I think this rock was supposed to anchor the magic to the version of Earth that they were taking for a joyride. The other arm had originally been held out in front, palm forward, so the eye could see where they were taking us. It was also magically connected to the collected minds of the people behind that evil we all just escaped from.”
Jerry squeezed his eyes shut. “You’re kidding, right? They actually made an evil eye?”
“Yeah. Kinda. So anyway, I’m not too keen on putting it back together, just on the chance that they’d regain their power, whatever it was.”
“I’m with you on that,” Jerry said. “But one thing still eludes me.”
“Yeah. What happened to Mousse? How did it kill him, and why were they looking at one another afterwards?”
“Oh, that,” Sam said, shrugging. “I figure when Mousse managed to finally chew the thing out of the root it had been embedded in, whatever connection it still had to the cabal we all just escaped from grounded itself through his brain. I guess he spit the thing out after that, and it rolled under that bush. But if Cheney and his people got a final jolt when that happened, all they’d see was the last few minutes of the dog that had done them in.”
“The one that buried them, so to speak.”
“Uh-huh. Thank dog.”
Copyright 2009 by P. Orin Zack