Saturday, February 25, 2012

Dr. Gotham Steps Out - Introduction


The old man was at the back of his shop, late that night, with only his assistant, Henry Swanson, there to help on overseeing things. He had hired young Henry, barely past 20, to ensure that during these troubled times there was someone to meet customers during the early evening hours. The old man had not run his shop on any normal schedule, and it was rare that it was open before noon and even that had been more to ensure some trade and business than for any real urgency. Before the Crash he had little need to worry about hours or custom, as the ready money sought outlets in the trinkets and oddities his shop provided. After the Crash his long-term savings, of which anyone knew very little, meant that he could continue his prior hours as the customers were rare.

Rare, yes. But more urgent given the times they were in. He did not need to actually run a shop, but it provided a place for him to be in contact with living Gotham by its residents. He had changed his shop many times over the decades, from street to street, neighborhood to neighborhood when they had come about as neighborhoods. There had been rises and falls in the economy, just as the tide does do daily so the affairs of man does on a longer basis, but this one was bad. He was not immune to the needs of the welfare of Gotham, although there was little he could do to ease such pain. Its transience, to him, meant that it would pass, but the ache that was Gotham needed him to do just a little more. Thus he hired young Henry, who was fresh out of a job as one of the major companies running the south docks folded up shop for lack of commerce. He had been picky about who he needed to run the daytime part of the shop, or at least more daytime part of it, and the young man was glad for the work, even if it meant little more than running errands and sitting for long hours in a shop of things old and odd.

In the back of the shop was the old man's workshop, or at least that place he did work. He was no mechanic, no carpenter, although some of those smaller tools, used for minute work, had migrated into his realm. Old jewelry needed to be scrutinized, checked over and adjusted for any of the ravages of time. So, too, did the various glues, vellum and parchment point to literary antiquities that were nearly coming apart that needed some addressing and restoration. Vials of liquids and dusts, labeled in a small and undecipherable script, contained many things from ordinary sea water to reddish dust that looked like blood, but was merely a powdered rock, those all sat in a cabinet, usually left open, with its fold-down desk. In going with the esoteric look were astrolabes, star charts, charts and maps of many lands, small balls of crystal not made of any blown glass, and a small telescope that he could pick up and take to the roof for stargazing from the city.

The piece in the jaws of a small vice was a teardrop amulet, on fine gold chain and hasp. He had one of his older books open on the small workbench, as well as two candles to augment the somewhat more modern electric lamp. With a magnifying glass he looked at the dark text on the parchment and then to the appointments on the red teardrop that was garnet, not ruby red. Taking a fine pick he worked to pick off dark encrustations that were in no way gold nor stone, but more as dirt or ancient dried mud. As he did so the small face with two holes through it to let the light of the stone emerge was finally discerned. Nodding he took the amulet from the vice and placed it in a small wooden box that was velvet lined with small cushions on it.

Closing the rosewood box and sealing the hasp he pushed back from the bench and stood up gathering up his overcoat to go over his suit coat which looked merely a decade or two out of step with then current styles. He closed his books, snuffed the candles and put his materials away then went to the switch by the hatstand to switch off the lamp. With the addition of an old beaver skin top hat and his walking cane, ebony with steel caps, he put the closed box inside his inner jacket pocket and walked forward to the shop, proper.

As he came in he saw Henry looked up from the daily record, such that it was, and ensure that the books balanced.

Henry stood up, "Do you have a delivery for me to do before I leave for the evening, doctor?"

The old man nodded in the negative.

"This is a personal delivery for me, Henry. Do close up for the night when you leave."

"Oh! Is it that amulet that woman brought in this week? The one with the stories?"

He nodded as he walked by the display cases and smiled at Henry.

"Yes, she of the stories of seeing a great winged beast soar through the day and into the night. She had been in Conclave Cove on a day outing with friends when she had found the amulet. Later she saw the beast. I agreed to look it over, clean it up and tell her what I found."

Henry smiled and nodded.

"That's good! What is it, anyway? I know it took you some days to clean it."

As he reached the door and turned the knob he looked back at Henry.

"A relic of a bygone age, dear Henry. I bid you good night and keep safe until we meet again."

"Thank you, doctor! I'll close up in a few minutes and see you on Monday. Good bye and safe travels, doctor."

The old man walked out into the dark night, with some houses shedding light onto the streets. By the sidewalks he passed a car or two, parked now for the night, and heard some murmurs and shouts and the sound of a radio show that echoed from some of those houses. In a turn at the corner to his right, he crossed the street and headed to the Norwalk subway station. At the turnstiles he dropped a token into the machine and passed through, tipping his hat to the station keeper in his glassed in booth at the other side of the station. He used the escalator to descend to the station level and inhaled the faint smell of seawater mixed with the other fumes of the underworld. This would be one of the last trains for the night, he knew, but that did not deter him from such a late venture.

With the screech of metal and a hint of light down the tunnel, he saw the train approach he stepped just next to one of the metal beams supporting the roof to wait. Behind him the sound of another train coming in for the south trek could be heard and he waited stolidly for the north bound train to arrive. It was, as he had hoped, going the north route via the Mill District, as that was where his destination was to see a Martha Culligan about her find that was wedged in amongst the rocks.

With a roar the train pulled to a stop and the wind blew around the old man, who placed a hand on his hat to remove it so it would not blow away. His gray hair moved only slightly with the transient train breeze and that then fell into place as the train screeched to a stop. Within the lighted cars he could only see a few people, dock workers, a maid, a family with a toddler and somewhat older child, all dressed warmly for the chilly night. As none were leaving he stepped aboard and decided that for his hours sitting he could stand. He grabbed a hand-hold, dangling from above and looked out the windows as the conductor warned of doors closing, and they then did so. Within moments the subway train had moved onwards.

A couple of stations later at Gotham Central, an influx of people from that district area came on the train, although not many as it was getting late at night and these were the few shops and businesses with early night hours that could afford to be open now closing for the night. The train went down a siding to the Mill District and took on few more as it went from station to station. It was as the train neared the last land-side station that he felt a chill coming from the box and saw red light seep across his vision. No one else was aware of this and the sense that something was wrong, desperately wrong, came over him.

The darkness of the subway walls went red black and then deep red, and then deeper still.

He had been moved to warn Martha Culligan about this amulet, and to ward her from it, as that winged beast was nothing of this age, this era, this time. As she had described the amulet being encrusted in the rock he had thought she was mistaken, but said nothing when she told him how she found it, dangling with just a small course of chain just beyond the surface of the ancient mudstone. He thought, perhaps, a hoax or trick or something else was at work. He agreed to clean and research it as only those needing what he could find always found their way to him.

The thing had been in rock, this he finally knew, but not embedded but packed in by the hand of man. What was hidden was meant to be found by whoever placed it, but that was most likely a century or more ago. Time had worn the packing and the loose mudstone rock to the point where a young woman on a day adventure and keen eye could find it. She had said she hadn't worn it, because of its condition, and was hoping that he could restore it and tell her what it was.

Light caustics, acids and gentle picking at the amulet had revealed its nature.

As it was not his, there was nothing he could do with it for that would only come back to him many fold, many times.

Now the ages reached out through the talisman on the amulet and he felt their power. He felt things slow and himself being cut off from the world as was the subway train he was on. He started to mouth words that might halt what was happening, but he didn't know exactly what this power was. Even as light slowed to blackness his mouth worked, but he knew it would take time.

"Ya'ai geb'yar wgah'n Gothamaglnyth..."

His time had just run out.

No comments: