Philosophus Stone and the Island of the Damned!
A Weird Tale by Kyle Hale
Sometimes the occult can be painfully dull.
I sat in the back of a darkened room while my employer, the eminent professor Philosophus Stone, carefully deconstructed several dusty slides from our recent journeys to the jungles of Mozambique. I blithely noted he failed to produce any slides from our subsequent confrontation with the dark god Narumbo, or our escape from his legions of bat-men.
"Here you can plainly see the connection between the Wutto tribe's mythology surrounding the creation of fire and the more modern Coptic Christian tales that evolved out of Upper Egypt. Note the similarities between these hieroglyphics here and here," he went on, flipping back and forth between two pictures.
While he blathered on about the etymology of "Satan," I decided to go back to the professor's office and tidy up a bit. Jetsetting leaves very little time for cleanliness, I had learned.
I began arranging his books on the shelves, when one caught my eye that I had failed to read in my many years in the Comparative Occultism program at the university: The Curses And Rituals of Pre-Charlemagne Gaul. I sat down and began peering through its contents absentmindedly, when I was suddenly startled by Professor Stone.
"Ahh, I see you have found that old tome, Sam. A highly enlightening book indeed. It reminds me of the time that I was imprisoned on Devil's Island -"
"You? Imprisoned? I can hardly believe it."
"Yet it is 100% true. Of course, you haven't heard the whole story yet ..."
"Some time ago while I was on a traveling lecture tour through the south of France, I was introduced to a distinguished doctor of medicine, Dr. Benoit. The good doctor was kind enough to accommodate me for several nights of the trip in his home. There we stayed up many a night discussing the history of France, a passion Benoit had picked up in his youth.
Then one morning I woke up to a shrill cry emanating from somewhere in the house. I arose and investigated. And what do you suppose I found?"
I ventured a haphazard guess. "A vampire?"
"Don't be silly, sam. The only vampire I've come across was in the heart of Transylvania - they don't much care for the coast. No, it was the strangest thing: I found nothing at all!"
"That's right. The entire house appeared to be in order, and no one else seemed to have heard the cry. I looked around for nearly an hour before giving up and returning to bed.
The next morning, as I came down the stairs, I found policemen swarming the house! I asked what was the matter, and received a most distressing response: Dr. Benoit was missing. Naturally I informed the chief inspector about my unexpected arousal the night before. I returned to my room and, deciding that nothing more could be done at the moment, began to pack my bags for the lecture that day.
As I headed down the stairs, however, the chief inspector stopped me and asked to look in my right coat pocket. I acquiesced, and amazingly he reached his hand inside and pulled out a rather large knife, covered in blood! Needless to say, I was more shocked than he was, and even more so as he informed me that one of the housemaids had witnessed me entering the physician's room and exiting it as well, placing the telltale knife in my pocket as I did so.
Now I knew right away this was a lie, primarily because I had not committed the crime in question, but also because I am left-handed, and no one puts away a knife in the pocket opposite their dominant hand. I mentioned this to the inspector, but to no avail. I was whisked away to the local prison to await my fate."
"How dreadful, Professor!"
"Indeed. I called what few friends I had made on the tour thus far, and they arranged an attorney for me. I explained the facts, and he clucked sadly. 'Here in our country, I am sure you know, you are presumed guilty until proven innocent. There is a distressing lack of evidence supporting that proposition.' I could only nod in total bewilderment at this sham about to be performed. One week later, the jury returned with their verdict: guilty! And as punishment for my most heinous crime, I was sentenced to life without parole on the dreaded Devil's Island.
After a grueling trip across the Atlantic in a most unaccommodating vessel, I arrived along with 50 other prisoners to the penal colony. A rugged jail cell awaited me. All the while, I pondered long and hard about what fate had brought me here - and also as to the disappearance of the good doctor. Needless to say, it was a time of great turmoil for myself. After about a week, I had been ravaged of my senses. I sat in my cell in dark contemplation when I heard a noise in the hall outside.
Suddenly the noises ceased, and my natural curiosity piqued, I leaned my head against the iron bars of my door. Suddenly a very small colored man - no more than three feet tall - appearad in front of me, and carrying the jailer's keys! Within a minute, I was free of my chains and we were running out into the inky night of the Southern Hemisphere.
"I can hardly believe it!"
"Well, you simply must, for it is true. So as we raced through the island foilage, I was once again thrust into an unknown situation, forced to think on my feet and my wits. Finally we arrived at a small cave which appeared to lead underground. My diminutive friend gestured that I should enter, and I did, with great pains. Upon entering, I was rewarded with the most magnificent sight in my already fairly spectacular adventuring career: an entire temple underground.
It was mostly made of clay, with small fountains made of silver and gold leafing. It was very intricate, and still in excellent condition considering it must have been at least five hundred years old. My guide continued prodding me towards its entrance, and I made my way up its numerous stairs and inside the hallowed grounds.
Inside was a large room with a fire burning on the left and right. Torches lit the way up a well-beaten path to a center platform. And on that platform was a throne. Occupied by none other than Dr. Benoit!
"I would have said the same thing if I had not seen him there in the flesh. Dr. Benoit stood up upon my arrival and, sensing my speechlessness, interjected a rather debonair, 'Hello, Dr. Stone. I see you have met my friend, Petit.' I nodded dully, my worst suspicions confirmed.
Over a short course of time, Dr. Benoit explained that in his youth he had been on a solitary expedition in South America and had come down with yellow fever. The pygmy tribe at this very temple had nursed him back to health, and treated him as a god. They had also shared with him legends of their people, including one about a sacred statue called Kuma's Eye. It would give its bearer the power of omniscience. The past, present, and future, all with a single glance.
"The all-seeing eye!"
"Yes. Dr. Benoit had become obsessed with this myth, so much so that he had set me up for his murder to put me here on this island. 'Help me find the Eye, Dr. Stone, and I will let you live,' as he so eloquently put it. I had no choice but to agree, and so Dr. Benoit, Petit, and I made my way into the jungle, aided only by Petit's memory of the legends and my trusty walking staff. And Dr. Benoit's snub-nosed .38.
Soon we came to a small clearing filled with mounds of dirt piled three feet high. Anthills, I thought, but Petit seemed much more concerned with them than I would have expected. Nevertheless, he also seemed to use the hills as a guidepoint, emphatically pointing due south of our location. Dr. Benoit informed me he would wait here while Petit and I continued onwards. He seemed nervous.
About a hundred yards away was another small cave. First I stepped in, followed by Petit. He clung closely to my shirttails as I crept slowly further and further into the cave. When it became too dark to see, I pulled out a lighter and used it as best I could. A bat whistled past us on its way to dinner plans, and Petit emitted a high-pitched squeak.
"It sounds like Petit and I would get along very well."
"Indeed, Sam, indeed. Finally the small path gave way to a dusty room. I tripped on something as I entered, and I placed my lighter low to the ground. It was a skeleton! And what's more, it was missing its head. I shuddered, and Petit seemed ready to faint. Luckily, at that moment I came across a torch on the wall, still reeking of some ancient combust. I placed my lighter to it, and we were rewarded with light that filled the whole cavernous room! Petit loosened up a bit, and now pointed up a set of stairs. I followed his miniscule finger, and saw with amazement a statue of an eye. As I began making my way up the staircase, Petit grabbed at my shirt. He was clearly afraid for me, but I expressed in no uncertain terms that it was the eye or my life, and he relented. Closer and closer I crept until I was right in front of the eye. It was a sphere of perhaps four inches, a stone of the brightest blue, with an eye carved in relief into its center. A strange language adorned the pedestal, of which I only recognized two words: "until daylight." But I, being no heeder of ancient warnings, snatched the eye and made my way down the stairs and out of the chamber, Petit in hot pursuit. The strangest thing happened, too: as we crossed back onto the pathway, I accidentally kicked the body of my former fellow adventurer, and for a second, I thought I heard it moan!
'Ah, Excellent! You have returned. Do you have the Eye?' I nodded, and handed over the trophy. 'But - there was a warning -,' I semi-bluffed. Benoit paid me no mind; instead he put the eye up to his own, closing his right eye. He seemed to be staring very intently, willing it work. Finally, he brought it down, and I saw his eyes were filled with anger.
'What's wrong? It won't work! I don't see anything! How do you make it work?' He snatched at Petit's arm. 'Make it work!' he cried, thrusting the orb at the little man. Petit seemed unsure what was being asked of him, and he gently pushed the Eye back towards Benoit, a gift of worship and wonder. Benoit struck out with a vengeance, sending Petit flying back, landing with a sickening thud. I looked down at my newfound friend lying motionless on the jungle floor and my eyes filled with hate. Benoit stared at me with contempt. 'You incompetent little -'
He stopped suddenly. The anthills were rumbling, seething with life. Now my studies in entomology came to my aid; I recalled that carpenter ants slept during the night. Thus, these simply couldn't be anthills. So if they weren't anthills, what were they? I asked myself this, and then I was given an abrupt answer. A hand of bone erupted through one of the hills. They weren't anthills, they were graves!
"It seemed so. After a quick resolve never to leave an ancient warning unread again, I used the moment's shock to deliver a swift right hook to Benoit and make my way back to the Eye's cave. I ran through a parade of skeletons who ignored me in their quest for the Eye, and as I ran, I stopped for a moment to snatch up Petit.
"As we took cover inside the cave, I saw Benoit standing before us, Eye in hand, a manic look on his face. I saw that the Eye had begun to glow, coming to life now on that torrid August night. Benoit saw this, too, and his manic look became a manic smile. He held the Eye up now, and looked into it. The zombie skeletons were closing in on him now, still in search of their stolen prize. Benoit's face slowly paled, and I heard him mutter a single word: 'Hurricane?'
As if by magic or prophesy, a roaring wind swept across us. A torrential rain seemed to appear almost out of thin air, drenching all of us. Petit awoke with a low moan, and I quickly grabbed him and pulled him closer to me. Slowly I dragged him and myself back into the cave, a respite from the harsh winds outside. There I sat and watched as one by one the skeletons were scooped up by the gale-force gusts, thrown out into the unknown of the island. Benoit stood for a moment in total calm as the disaster unfolded around him. Then he was lifted up, spinning around and around as the hurricane dragged him away, kicking and screaming, to his doom.
"Yes, Sam, and what's more, a spot of luck came my way. The hurricane's own eye came upon us at that moment - and I spotted Kuma's Eye, lying in the dirt just outside the temple. I lunged out, snatched it, and returned to my safety spot, just as the eye passed us over and the battering winds resumed their natural course. Almost as quickly as it had come, the hurricane vanished, dwindling into a light sprinkle. I thought to myself about how I would get rid of this cursed object. Suddenly, I heard a noise behind us. It was the skeleton I had tripped over earlier! It came closer to us, but was noticeably deterred by its lack of a head. Even in its blindness though it came dangerously closer to us, its arms reaching out for the Eye it knew to be there.
Petit now coughed, and I covered his mouth in fear - before realizing the poor zombie was not only blind, but deaf as well. I helped to comfort Petit as best I could, and he smiled a cryptic smile. He muttered a few words in his native tongue, and then reached over and touched the Eye. The skeleton was right in front of us, and I prepared to make a dash for the exit - and then the Eye began to glow. Petit mumbled a few more words, and the Eye gave off a blinding flash of light. When I finally regained my vision, I saw the skeleton, now just a heap of bones on the floor of the cave once more. The curse had been lifted!
"Yes, it would seem the curse was that only the rightful owners of the Eye could possess it, and Petit was a direct descendant of the last rightful owner. He passed it on to me with his words, and the Eye's curse obeyed its new master. Anyway, we made it back to Petit's people, and they promised to take good care of him. I borrowed one of their boats and my way for the Venezuelan coast, where I met up with a commercial steamer bound for Panama and eventually San Diego. It was there that the French authorities informed me they had learned of Benoit's plot (in a slightly modified form, of course) and I had been pardoned. And I'm sure by now you've figured out the true secret of Kuma's Eye."
"I believe I have. It couldn't see the future - it could just see the future weather. Bet that left the poor doctor under the weather. Well, that was a very excellent story, Professor Stone, but I don't buy it one bit. Murder? Pygmies? Zombies? It's ridiculous. I'm sure it's a hit at parties, though."
"I suppose, Sam. Would you mind fetching my umbrella?"
I looked outside. It was a scorching autumn day in Las Vegas. "Umbrella?"
I opened his closet and found his umbrella, handing it to him. He obliged me by handing me his now-legendary walking staff to put in the closet. And as I did, I noticed - perhaps for the very first time - the head of the staff. It was a bright blue orb, maybe four inches around, with an eye carved in relief into its side. As I looked up again at the professor, I saw out of the corner of my eye a few drops of rain spatter against the still very sunny window.
"A sunshower," I muttered in disbelief.
"I believe in some parts of the world, they say that is the devil beating his wife," Professor Stone corrected, and he began to whistle "Singin' In The Rain" as he made his way to his dinner appointment.
Truly, that man was more than meets the eye.