Chapter 24: Talking to the dead
I just wanted to look at it for curiosity’s sake but if I start reading this…
Do I want to talk to Stegarius?
Obviously, more than anything in the whole world. He could instruct me, he’d know what to do.
I pick up the book and flip it open. On the first page I’m greeted by the usual sales pitch thanking me for attending the ‘blissful marriage between mysticism and science’ and all that.
I skip ahead until I find what I’m looking for.
Read all the instructions carefully before starting, thorough understanding of the machine is required in order to-
I skip ahead some more.
Write down the name of the person who you wish to contact on a piece of paper and burn it inside the chalice. Wait until the flame goes from yellow to green. Once it’s green you know the spirit has arrived.
I carefully tear a blank page from Tungsten’s notebook, somewhere near the end but not quite so it should take him a long while to find it’s missing. Then write down ‘Stegarius’ wondering if the machine is prepared for just one name? Do the souls of dolls even become ghosts? Or do they work differently from humans’?”
Despite my question I lay the name down in the chalice, push a match into the cinderbox and then drop it into the chalice.
The fire flares up in a massive ball of green flames, I jump back just in time to keep my eyebrows yet as quickly as the fireball came it disappeared again and in its place there’s a soft gentle green flame sitting at the bottom of the chalice.
I take a moment to breath, look at the ceiling to verify it’s not on fire and then I look at the flame again.
It didn’t go from yellow to green, it was green from the start?
Is it broken? Or does that mean he was with me already?
Like he never left.
“Stegarius?” I ask gingerly.
The fire flickers gently but I don’t know what’s supposed to happen next. Should I hear a voice or something? Are there letters on it or dials I can follow?
I flip ahead in the book again.
Oh it’s the colours! So…green is present, purple is happy, blue is unhappy, red is angry.
Is that all this thing can do!?
“Guess that shows me about skipping the instructions” I chuckle disheartened. “I’m sorry Stegarius, I wanted to talk to you and Tungsten has this machine, I don’t know where he got it but…well I guess you can at least listen. I’m sorry to be such a disappointment but I just keep on failing over and over again.
Prishtoli thinks I killed you, and well… I mean I did but that I did it out of malice. She says it makes no sense that you’d want to make a school because you disliked alchemy to begin with. The stupid thing is that she’s right, it took me a while to remember but when I first took you underground you called alchemy twisted and wrong. And I can’t believe I forgot that! It makes me wonder why you helped me in the first place. Did you do it just because I asked? Did I drag you down into my foolish obsessions without even considering your feelings?” I wrap my arms around myself “I did, didn’t I? I’m so sorry that was extremely selfish of me.”
I wish the flame would change colour, show me a response, even if it’s anger or unhappiness, just something beyond this apathetic green.
“You were right, the alchemists don’t give a damn about doing the right thing unless there’s something in it for them, but I brought your heart to Bar-B. I didn’t know what else to do, I panicked, but they don’t want to give it to the alchemists like you told me to do. And now everyone hates me and we don’t even have any leverage! I wish you could talk to me, guide me, even having you scolding me right now would be a dream come true.”
The flame keeps on glowing green, it pisses me off. “Hello!? Will you just feel something!? Please.” Isn’t he at least unhappy like I am? Or angry that he died for nothing!? Look I’m desperate okay? Can’t you just be mad at me?”
Maybe the problem is that disappointment doesn’t get a colour. I sigh “I just wish I could go back in time and finish university and just make you proud of me instead of being such an idiot, stealing books and running off into the underground. I’d take over the factory, be bored out of my mind, marry a girl I don’t even like and father kids I can’t look in the eye without wondering what it’s even for. What’s the use of going off the path is that gives you more misery than just going along with the parents’ plan.” I chuckle listlessly “You know I could even have hired you to be my children’s teacher and we could reminisce about the good old days. That doesn’t sound too bad.” Tears spill from my eyes and still that stupid flame remains green.
“You’re not here at all are you?” I sob. Either the machine is broken or dolls work differently than humans or it’s just a giant scam that was never supposed to work in the first place and I fell for it!
I want to scream.
I want to pick up this stupid waste of space and throw it to pieces!
I douse the fire and even though I know it’s fake watching it go makes my chest feel hopeless and hollow.
I consider tossing it to the cupboard right now but I can feel the heat radiating off the chalice still. I don’t think Tungsen would thank me for burning down his den.
My shoulders jump at the sound of footsteps coming down the tunnels.
Speak of the devil-
I check my watch. It’s midnight already!?
How the hell did time more so fast!?
I look at the chalice then at the door. Maybe he goes to bed straight away? If so I can clear it all away once it cooled down without him noticing.
But then I hear the footsteps approaching the door and I know I’m in trouble.
Without a better plan nor time to come up with one I stand in front of the machine. I dry my eyes on my sleeve and tell myself to look natural.
My heart skips a beat as the door opens and the alchemist drags himself in pulling a large leather satchel behind him.
I try to say ‘hi’ and fail miserably, letting out a strangled sob instead.
“What the hell are you still doing up!?” he exclaims gripping his chest in shock.
I shrug, try to find a way to get him out of here without seeing the contraption but Tungsten cuts in before I have the chance “Regardless, I need the lab so go to bed.”
“What?” He sounds impatient, tired and close to lashing out. “Have you been burning stuff? It smells like fire in here.”
I step aside, expecting rage and accusations. ‘How dare I snoop’ and all that jazz.
His eyes crash onto the device. His face pulls into a pained grimace. “Please tell me you didn’t”
I shrug noncommittally but what use would denying it be at this point. The tears I’ve been pushing back force their way through and just like that I feel like a small child unsure what to do.”
“Okay, hold on.” He grabs my shoulders with gloves that smell like chemicals then pushes me out the lab shaking and trembling. “Wait here.” He instructs before closing the door in my face. Beyond the door I can hear him wash his hands in a bucket.
I slide down the side of the wall, exhausted and miserable, I wrap my arms around my knees and wait for Tungsten to come back.
A faint whiff of blood creeps demurely into the room, I wonder what’s in that sack he brought.
More death probably…
Then the big man slams the door open and needs a second to figure out I’m on the floor.
He kneels down holding a vial of a dark blue liquid and a spoon. “Look, that machine is bogus, I should have thrown it out years ago but…let’s say it’s got some sentimental value for me. I didn’t think you’d go snooping around the place-”
“I bet you are. Now we’re both too tired to deal with any of this. You should have a good night of sleep-”
I groan “I can’t my head is spinning.”
“That’s why-” He pulls the cork out of the bottle with his teeth and pours a small amount of the liquid into the spoon “you’re going to take this and we’ll talk in the morning okay?”
“What is it?”
He shows me the vial, there’s an artfully crafted label on the front calling it the ‘calming sleeping draught’.
I take the spoon, I’m surprised to see the liquid looks violet now.
“Huh, that’s odd.” “Will this kill me?”
“If you drink the whole bottle yes, but a spoonful just knocks you out for a few hours. His eyes then squeeze together, snatching the bottle from my hands “So just keep to one spoonful.”
I don’t have a death wish.
But I guess I get where he’s coming from.
I put the spoon in my mouth. The liquid is viscous and incredibly sweet to the point of being kind of nauseating.
I feel my head become fuzzy, set down the bottle just in time.
The room spins for a bit.
Then everything just kind of blinks out.