There were empty soda cans and potato chip bags all over the creek bank. It was hot, though, and fishing was a long boring process that could certainly work up an appetite in two young boys.
The blue sky turned coppery as the morning turned to afternoon and the temperature continued upwards. Odd weather for February, but that was Mississippi for you. The leafless deciduous trees weren’t fooled for a moment; they knew it was still winter.
One of the boys, Eric, the older of the two, knew that if they got caught there would be a couple of places hotter than that, particularly on their personal beings.
This wasn’t the first time he and Paul, his three-years-younger friend, had skipped school to go fishing in this old many-named creek. And after all the skips and whippings received for getting caught they still did it anyway and still never caught anything. There was nothing to catch,
Eric would rather have stayed home and played sick or something. Fishing wasn’t his favorite sport but Paul enjoyed it. He and Paul knew they’d have to start back soon if they didn’t want to get caught. Eric thought it was strange that they’d probably no sooner get home than they’d go back because his mother would be cooking and she didn’t like people in her kitchen when she was cooking.
“Hey, Paul, we better go,” said Eric, looking at his watch.
“Now?” asked Paul who was thinking it was too early.
“Yeah, unless you want to go through the cemetery.”
“Let’s go,” said Paul, hurrying to get up and get his line in.
Neither of them treasured the idea of going through the cemetery so they had always gone around it.
Every boy and girl ever born in Beauregard, Mississippi knew that Franklin Chapel Cemetery was haunted and avoided it at all cost except on the usual dares from the older group who knew better.
Eric was fifteen; old enough to know the cemetery wasn’t haunted. Paul was twelve and still believed in ghosts and goblins and what have you so they went two miles out of the way around the cemetery to get to the creek.
Eric considered himself Paul’s bodyguard. The older boys picked on anyone smaller than themselves and seemed very fond of the short wiry Paul because he was a little slow on his feet.
They stashed their fishing gear under a thick clump of bushes and left for home. They followed the worn tree-lined path from Floody Creek to the edge of a high cyclone fence, up which all kinds fo vines and creepers grew and wove. And not even ten yards beyond was the first row of headstones.
The fence had several holes, cut out by the teasers of small children. Paul knew they were there and simply avoided the issue that it would have been shorter to go through the cemetery. But he wouldn’t do it, Eric or no Eric.
Every child got dared and teased about the Mystic, a creature buried centuries ago and how on a certain day a certain person would bring it back.
“Look! Oh, my God! There it is! You’re the one!”
The words haunted Paul as they turned the corner. He’d been dared two years before and still had nightmares.
Eric had tried to tell him there was no Mystic but there were times when he wasn’t quite so sure himself. Around the time of his birthday and in late March, he felt odd; somehow mentally stronger as a body builder would feel physically stronger. And his birthday was in two days. Eric felt very strong.
They hurried past Franklin Chapel Cemetery and past the old ruined church - Franklin Chapel Baptist - burned by the pastor for the insurance. They hurried out of the woods and to the little unmarked peagravel road. Home was half an hour away.
“Just have to walk back,” said Eric.
“You said you couldn’t wait to get home and I said ‘just have to walk back’.”
“I didn’t say anything,” said Paul, his blue eyes clouding.
“Yes you did. I heard you plain as day.”
“Eric, I swear, I didn’t open my mouth.”
“Now wait a minute,” he said, losing patience. “I know I’m not losing my mind.”
“Eric, I swear, I only thought it.”
“I must have read your mind or something then, ’cause I could have sworn I heard you.”
He shook his head and went on.
“I’m not mad at you,” Erci said apologetically. “I’m sorry I yelled, all right?”
“I didn’t say anything,” said Paul, stopping again. He looked at Eric plaintively.
“Here we go again.”
“Eric,” Paul started.
“Forget it. This is too weird.”
They continued their trek home. Paul’s was closest and Eric stayed just for a moment before going on to his own house, just up the road.
Paul claimed not to have said anything. Yet Eric was so sure he’d heard him. But Paul had sounded muffled. And Eric didn’t remember seeing his mouth move.
“And who notices that?” he asked himself.
He walked into the living room of his small house. The Petersons were a small family. Mom, Dad, Eric, and Susan, Eric’s sister.
Susan was Paul’s age and at one time had a crush on him. Paul, when he found out, thought he would die from embarrasment. “How could this happen to a nice guy like me,” he wondered.
That was over in about two week’s time. “Thank God,” Paul had said, ready to pull his dark blonde hair out. He regretted it now, wishing he’d taken more interest in Susan. Susan wouldn’t have anything to do with him now that she had “grown up.” “Twelve going on twenty,” her mom had said.
Eric and Susan didn’t look like brother and sister, not even cousins. Eric had dark hair; Susan, light. Eric had brown eyes; Susan, blue. Eric was tall and thick set; Susan, small and dainty. And personalities soo far apart they had to love each other.
Eric put the radio in his room with his books and went to find his mom, knowing she was in the kitchen.
“What’s for supper?” he asked from just inside the doorway of the kitchen.
The short, petite, dark-haired, dark-skinned woman dressed in light blue slacks, a pink blouse and flats, without turning around, said: “Get out of my kitchen.”
Eric stepped out, just beyond the doorway.
“Steak and potatoes,” she said. “That good with you?” She looked over-worked. The job she’d taken at the beauty parlor wasn’t agreeing with her at all. “What do you want for your birthday dinner?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
“Better hurry up and decide,” she said, mashing potatoes with an old fashioned potato masher. She disliked the instand kind.
His birthday came soon enough and he had burgers and fries along with cake and ice cream and all the usual trimmings.
Eric received a few gifts from his family and friends. One gift puzzled him. His grandfather sent it to him through the mail. It was a small silver coin about the size of a silver dollar on a necklace. One side of the coin depicted a flaming sun with the common short symbols of the zodiac, their names and dates. The other side depicted a man kneeling with a large jug. He was pouring two jagged lines, supposed;y water. Along the edge, around the figure was the word “Aquarius” in large letters. Eric’s birth sign.
It meant nothing to him in that he didn’t really know what to think of it. The only thing he knew for certain was the moment he pu the necklace around his neck, he felt stronger. Much stronger.
As March approached and life returned with the coming of spring the strange incident that happened with Paul occured more frequently and with more clarity.
“So you really think you can read minds?” Paul asked one dark, cool day in late March at Russell Creek.
“I’m sure of it. How else would you explain how I knew what you were thinking?”
“I don’t know,” said Paul. “Can you do anything like move rocks or something?”
“I don’t know. I’ve been afraid to try.”
“Now’s as good a time as any to find out. Try it.”
Eric stood up and found a small boulder about a hundred yards away from them. He concentrated on the boulder, willing it to move. Paul’s eyes widened in disbelief and he clumsily stepped backward from Eric.
Eric stopped and looked at Paul. “What? What is it?”
“That thing,” he said, pointing to the Aquarius coin, which never left Eric’s neck. “It was glowing.”
Eric just shook his head. “Great, what’s next? It’s okay, Paul.” Eric turned his attention back to the boulder. As he focused his will at the rock, the coin began to glow. A fierce aura surrounded it then spread around Eric.
Eric suddenly “pushed” with his will. The boulder flew across the creek where is hit the far bank and rolled into the creek. Eric stopped pushing. He felt weak, dizzy. Then he fell down, dazed.
“Eric, Eric, are you okay?” Paul was frantically trying to splash water on him from the creek.
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“You did it, Eric! You got it!” Paul was ecstatic.
Eric didn’t want “it.” But it didn’t seem like he had any choice in the matter.
“What time is it?” Eric asked.
“Five-thirty,” Paul said. “We need to go.”
They had gone to school that day and had gone straight to Russell Creek. Now it had gotten late on them. Or was it cloudy? That was it. They were in for a storm.
They started their trek home. They almost made it.
As they rounded the fence, they were met by a company of three boys Eric’s age. Eric and Paul knew them.
“Look at what we got here,” said a tall wiry boy with curly blonde hair. “It’s the traitor.”
“Yeah, traitor,” said one of the other two. This one was tall but husky with dark hair,
“Get ‘em,” said the third, a short fat kid with dark hair. He and the others wore blue jeans, imitation leather vests, and Dingo boots. The bad bunch.
“Stay back, Paul,” Eric said quietly. “What do you want, Tony?” Eric asked the blonde-haired boy.
“We’re gonna kick your butt, traitor,” said Tony.
“I doubt it,” said Eric, not feeling the confidence he was trying to bluff, But he knew what he could do to them and without even touching them.
“Yeah?” said the fat kid.
“Yeah, Scott. Yours first. Knock off that blubber.”
“Why I oughtta . . .” he started, stepping menacingly toward Eric and Paul. Tony stopped him.
“Wait a minute,” Tony said to Eric. “I’ll nake a deal with you. If Paul goes into the cemetary, we’ll let you go.”
“No!” Paul screamed, shaking his head.
“What if I go with you?” Eric said. “It’s okay.”
“I’m not going in there, Eric. No way. Uh-uh, Forget it.”
“Okay, Tony. You come with us,” Eric said.
“Sure,” he smirked. “No problem.”
He’s scared, Eric thought, knew.
“That okay, Paul?”
“Uh-uh. Forget it.”
“You’ll have to catch me first,” said Paul who took off like a rabbit.
“Get him!” yelled Tony.
The bad bunch took off after Paul, Eric on their heels.
Paul ran frantically into the woods, going deeper within, the three bullies not far behind, Eric still on their heels.
In his flight from the three bullies, Paul had his head turned toward them, not watching where he was going. His flight ended when he ran smack into the fence. The force knocked him to the ground. The trio caught up with Paul who was getting up, leaning on the fence.
“Leave me alone!” he cried, out of breath. “What did I ever do to you?”
The three boys surrounded him. In the light of the full moon, Paul saw his only escape was a small opening in the fence.
The cemetary. The three boys or Franklin Chapel Cemetary. Paul ducked through the opening and sprinted into the cemetary. The three bigger boys had a harder time of it because of their size.
Eric caught up in time to see Scott trying to squeeze through. He grabbed Scott by the collar and without realizing the thought had crossed his mind, hurled the boy ten feet through the air.
Eric went into the cemetary after Tony and Zack.
They had cornered Paul in a hardly used part of the cemetary against a monolith headstone. Eric found them soon enough. And the second he entered the area, the medallion began to glow and he felt stronger than Atlas.
At the top of the cylindrical headstone a small sphere began to glow. Tony and Zack backed away from Paul who couldn’t see the sphere. He could see Eric’s necklace. The aura surrounded Eric and the ground began to shake.
The aura surrounded the headstone and the ground shook harder. The boys lost their balance and fell to the ground.
Then suddenly the ground stopped shaking and there appeared a giant.
“OH MY GOD! THERE IT IS! YOU’RE THE ONE!”
The words played over and over in Eric’s mind.
The beast was about eight feet tall and looked very much like a cat standing on its hind legs only with much more assurance. And it looked more humanoid, with arms instead of forelegs that were attached by broad shoulders to a massive chest. Atop those shoulders was the cat-like head. Its entire body was covered in fur and it was clothed in leather battle gear.
“Why do you torture this poor wretch so?” it asked.
Tony and Zack couldn’t speak, only look in wide-eyed, open-mouthed horror.
“I didn’t think you knew.” The beast lifted its head and looked at Eric. “You came to save him?”
“Yes,” Eric said, almost inaudibly.
“I will never understand why people must condemn what is different from them. That is why you torture the younger boy. That is why I was condemned to this life. I am the Mystic your legend speaks of. My name is Ke-Tara.”
He looked at Eric. “You possess the medallion. Please, give it to me.”
“Why?” It had been a gift from his grandfather, maybe one of the last. His grandfather wasn’t getting any younger.
“In it are the souls of the ones who imprisoned me to undeath for so long. I must have the medallion to die after thirty-five hundred years.”
“Why were you imprisoned?” Eric asked.
“People condemn what they do not understand. I was different from them. I was not one of them, an outcast. Very much like your friend. You have the power to destroy these boys. But why don’t you? Because you have the power to forgive. That is why I must have the medallion.
“The sorcerer, Krau, imprisoned their souls in the medallion in hopes that in time I would forgive them and they would learn to accept me. They too must be allowed to die at last. I forgave them a long time ago. I only had to wait until the right person with the medallion came. Please, Eric, let me and them die.”
Tony and Zack then decided it was time to go and took off like scalded dogs, leaving Paul and Eric behind.
“What about them?” Paul asked.
“Do you forgive them?” and the Mystic.
“Yes,” knowing he was angry with them for what they had tried to do.
“Then their souls, and yours, are safe. They will forget all this after I am gone.”
He turned back to Eric. “The medallion?”
“No, for you are the ones whom the lesson of the Mystic was intended. The lesson of forgiving. Now, may I please have the medallion?”
“How did my grandfather get the medallion?” Eric asked.
“It was passed down from generation to generation,” said the Mysic. “You are a descendant of those who imprisoned me.”
Eric was quiet for a moment. “I’m sorry,” he said.
“It’s not your fault.”
Eric took the medallion from around his neck and held it out in front of him. He focused his will on it. He levitated the necklace to Ke-Tara.
“Eric, you will not forget this, but you will lose your power. But I don’t think you’ll mind, will you?”
Eric shook his head as Ke-Tara took the necklace. He was more than happy to get rid of it.
The aura disappeared from Eric and brightened around the Mystic. Then Ke-Tara faded away and the aura around the headstone disappeared. His voice came hauntingly back to them.
“People will always condemn what they do not understand. It is to us forgive them.” And he was gone.
Credit: Mystic, by Van Turner, 1990
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