Shuddersome Shorts

Tales of Eerie Terror

#10



The God-Word

(part 2)


By Talbot Pratt



That night, Nigel was jolted awake by the ringing of the phone beside his bed. He was an important man, and often had to take calls at ungodly hours, so he didn't think anything of it. Only half awake, his thoughts foggy with the clinging veils of sleep, he picked up the receiver.

"Hello?" he yawned.

The line crackled, a poor connection, and a man's voice spoke as if through a long tunnel. "Mr. Pellew? Is this Mr. Nigel Pellew of Universal Glassware?"

"Of course it is. Do you have any idea what time it is?"

"I'm sorry, Mr. Pellew. I can barely hear you. We must have a bad connection. I'm phoning from Japan. There's been a change in plans concerning the symposium next week. It's been moved to Tuesday at seven P.M. Have you got that? Tuesday at seven P.M."

"Yes, yes. I've got that. Couldn't this have waited until morning?"

The caller didn't appear to notice the question. "Also, the location has been changed. It's to be held at the Osaka Hotel, room 323. Have you got that? If you have any questions, you can contact me at 555-3545, area code --"

"Just a minute! I can't remember all that!"

Nigel kept a box of scrap paper and a pencil beside the telephone on the bed table. Still bleary-eyed with sleep, he found the pencil, then reached into the box and groped up the first slip of paper he found.

"All right," he snarled. "Now what was that again. The Osaka Hotel -- ahh!"

He stared aghast at the slip of paper he had chosen. The room seemed to spin around him. He could barely breathe. The paper was folded in half and it exactly matched the witch doctor's paper, as well as the traffic ticket. He had just been about to unfold it, to write down the information. Now he snatched back his hand, as if scorched by a flame.

Another one? It couldn't be.

Into the phone, he shouted, "Who is this? Hello? Hello?"

But the line had been disconnected. Instantly, conjecture crowded on frightening conjecture. Had the call been part of a plan? he wondered. A trick to catch him while he was tired, to lure him into unfolding the paper without thinking? But then he thought: the line was bad, anyway. We could have been disconnected by accident. We could have been.

That's how people get killed...

This was crazy. He was allowing his imagination to run away with him. He had been so shaken by the expression on Dr. Nicholson's dead face, it was no wonder he was seeing things. No wonder, at all.

But then a voice inside came back with: Yeah, but what if you're right? What if someone really is trying kill you? What if they really are leaving notes around with the God-word written on them?

Nigel stared at the folded slip of paper and felt the blood drain from his face. What did Nicholson see when he read that word? he wondered. What would I see if I unfolded this paper now?

Quickly, he carried the slip of paper downstairs and burned it in the fireplace. This time, though, he didn't feel any better. If he was right, he had had two close calls already, two very close calls. If someone really were trying to kill him, they could just keep on trying. And, sooner or later, when he wasn't expecting it, when he was tired, or in a hurry, he would find himself unfolding a seemingly innocuous slip of paper and glancing at it and then...

Nigel shivered, feeling queasy at the thought. Remembering the expression on Nicholson's face. Wondering what the man saw in his final moment of life.

Then he made a decision. The witch doctor was the key. If someone had hired that son-of-a-bitch to kill him, Nigel was sure going to find out. And then there was going to be hell to pay...

***
He found the third slip of paper first thing in the morning. It was held on the fridge by a magnet, precisely where he kept his grocery list. But he was sure he had never written a list on that type of paper. Again, he had almost glanced at it without thinking, absently intending to add milk to the list. Now, there was no longer any doubt in his mind. Someone was trying to kill him. Someone very clever. But who? And why?

This time he didn't burn the note. Carefully, he pulled the folded paper off the fridge and slipped it into his jacket pocket. Then, he went out to the car and drove across town to the voodoo witch doctor's "clinic".

It began to rain as soon as he set out. Just the short walk from the car to the front door left him soaked. Inside, he found the witch doctor seated at his desk, just as he had last seem the man, surrounded by a wild profusion of talismans, skulls and wax dolls.

Nigel didn't waste any time. He came on like a whirlwind. "All right, you. I know someone hired you to kill me."

The witch doctor's brows arched in mild surprise. "To kill you? What are you talking about?"

"You know damn well what. Someone has been leaving notes around for me to find, notes with your damned God-word written on them." He jerked the slip of paper out of his pocket and slapped it on the desk. The witch doctor eyed it doubtfully. "Recognize that? That's the same type of paper you gave me. Do you deny it?"

The witch doctor's voice was steady. "Naturally I deny it, Mr. Pellew. No one has hired me to kill you. You're imagining things."

"Imagining things, am I?" Nigel's features twisted cunningly. "All right then. Open that paper. Read it yourself. Prove I'm imagining things."

The witch doctor regarded the paper a moment in silence. Then, softly he said, "You're just being ridiculous. This is just a slip of paper."

But there was something in his voice. To Nigel, it sounded a little like... fear. I have the bastard now, he thought exultantly.

"Then read it, damn you! Go on, and read it!"

For a long space the silence stretched on and on. Then, finally, without a word, the witch doctor picked up the slip of paper. He held it in his hands a moment, contemplating it, his features pensive. Slowly, he unfolded the paper and regarded it.

He didn't speak. He didn't move. But he didn't die, either.

Finally, he folded the paper again and passed it back across the desk. His voice shook with barely contained fury. "Mr. Pellew, I do not appreciate your sense of humour at all."

"But...but..." Nigel sputtered, confused.

"This is a grocery list. A grocery list! Nothing more than that. Now, I don't know what pleasure you took in frightening me like that, but, if it gives you any satisfaction, I was frightened. The God-word is very powerful magic. It is not a game. Now, please take your list and go."

Speechless, Nigel took up the slip of paper and left. Outside, he paused on the front steps. The rain poured on his unprotected head. He pulled his jacket close, hunching miserably. Dismally he regarded the slip of paper in his hand, once more folded so he could not see what was written on it. Am I really imagining things? he asked himself. I was so certain. So sure.

That's how people get killed...

There was only one way to know for certain. He knew there was. Only one way to be absolutely positive. And, in the end, anything was better than this. Anything was better than not knowing.

Grimly, he unfolded the paper and looked at it...

***
Constable Bryce shook the rain from his slicker and nervously eyed the weird collection of dolls and skulls. His partner, Constable Pullman, stepped closer to the desk, behind which the witch doctor was seated.

"You say he'd just come to buy an aphrodisiac?" Pullman asked, merely repeating what had already been established.

"That's right, officer. Unfortunately, I didn't have any in stock just now. Am I to take it that I am some sort of suspect?"

Bryce quickly shook his head. "There was no evidence of foul play. It's just...well, the look on his face..." He shivered at the memory. "Funny thing is, we had another guy looked just like that only a few days ago -- a guy named Nicholson. The coroner said it was the result of a heart attack, but I'll tell you, it gave me the willies. Like that fellow had looked into the mouth of Hell itself."

He shivered again. Then, as if as an afterthought, Bryce took a slip of paper from his pocket and set it on the desk. "Oh, by the way, we found this clutched in his hands -- Pellew, I mean, not Nicholson. The rain had smudged the writing so we couldn't make it out. I wondered if you might know what it said."

The witch doctor didn't even glance at the paper. He shrugged apologetically. "I'm afraid I can't help you. You see, I worked for a company called Universal Glassware until last year. They had very shoddy safety practices. I was badly scalded with steam. In a way, it's ironic, I suppose." He lifted a white cane from behind the desk and carefully tapped first one eye, then the other.

"Now I have two glass eyes..."

The End.

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The God-Word is copyright 1999, by Jeffrey Blair Latta. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)