A clandestine pseudoreligious order offered me a substantial sum of money and hinted at information leading to the recovery of a mysterious puce-colored jewel, if in exchange I would courier a certain black hardcover book to a contact in Atlanta, GA.
Two connecting flights and a long walk later I arrived at the Emory campus during a lot of rallies. Perhaps it was homecoming. I was supposed to meet my clandestine contact in the bleachers of an auxiliary gym, but they’d warned me I only had a fifteen minute window. I was early. The gym was empty, though a crowd of marching revelers was making all kinds of noise as they trooped past the door. I waited around a couple minutes, but still no show. The fifteen minutes were up, so I took my book and went home.
For security purposes the trip home involved another plane flight, then a ride on a cruise ship. Sitting in the airport waiting for my flight, however, I started to wonder about this book I was carrying, and to doubt my clandestine contacts’ repeated warnings not to open it. Were they playing me? Maybe the answer was right in these pages: the location of the legendary puce jewel. I took out the book and ran a hand across the glossy black cover. Ostensibly it was a copy of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, but contained inside was the vivid, sordid legend of the Jewel. It had changed hands many times. Mystery and doom surrounded its owners.
In the middle of this chronicle, however, the narrative shifted gears without warning. Instead of the jewel, it began to follow the history of a certain sarcophagus of ghastly blue teak, more appropriate to a bowling alley lounge than a museum of antiquity. I read the transition over and over, and grew firm in the conviction that its abruptness was deliberate, that this sarcophagus and the puce jewel were somehow one. And the book revealed exactly where this sarcophagus could be found: right where I’d begun, at hte private collection in Boston where I had first encountered the representatives of the clandestine organization.
It was with firm conviction and determination that I boarded a vessel bound for Boston. En route, however, I realized I’d been discovered. The ship swarmed with representatives of the organization. For a time I eluded them, but at last they forced a confrontation. Several of them were drowned; I lost the book, but it made no difference now. I’d already read it–and reading it had apparently supplied me with more advantage than time. Somehow I had attained a new relationship with time–an unnatural capacity to remold the rules of motion, the demands of Newton’s Laws. On two occasions I withdrew revolvers from men’s hands before they could pull the trigger. I flipped people over guardrails as though they were made of straw.
By the time I had arrived in Massachusetts Bay I had acquired the gait and bearing one most often associates with cultured fiends, with Jack the Ripper, Professor Moriarty.
Outside the private gallery in question a low, wrought-iron fence lined the sidewalk, with a well-kept, if yellowed lawn beyond. I vaulted this fence, but was seen. Three men and two attack dogs met me on the sickened grass. They said nothing, but attacked. The gentleman in the lead carried a long, mahogany staff with a forked head. I wrested this from his grip with minimal effort, and swinging it with preternatural brutality and speed, left all five of my opponents lying unconscious.
I then proceeded upstairs to the sarcophagus. With the staff I smashed apart the face of the tasteless thing, whereupon within, protected by a membrane of transparent mucus, I found a large, periwinkle-blue brain, which I grasped in my hands and ripped apart. The Puce Jewel was buried between the two lobes. It was large enough to fit comfortably in my palm, diamond-cut, its edges bound in delicate silver filigree, somewhat tarnished. I took it and left.
Out on the lawn I paused, studying the jewel in some confusion. Now that I had it, I wasn’t sure what I’d expected or planned to do with it. I couldn’t very well sell it, given the horrors I knew it had wrought. I didn’t want to sell it, come to that. I wanted to keep it. It was so lovely. Just like a giant piece of pink rock-candy. The richest, most expensive piece of rock candy anyone had ever seen.
Overcome by giddy humor, I popped it jokingly into my mouth, sticky though it was with mucus and the slime from the surface of that hideous blue brain. I sucked at it, finding it flavorless, yet somehow satisfying. This is silly, I told myself. Spit it out.
Then the Puce Jewel began to dissolve…