Familiar Haunts

A conman works in the bar of a nice hotel. A wealthy old man who lives in the hotel comes for a drink every night. The conman decides he can befriend the man and then steal from him. In conversation, the conman mentions how bored he is with his bar job and how he wishes he could help people more. The old man mentions that he is having trouble getting around, and would like an assistant to help him throughout his day. The old man asks the conman if he would like to work for him, and the conman says yes.

The conman sees that the old man's luxurious apartment is filled with beautiful old trinkets, paintings, and ancient-looking books. With his smartphone he surreptitiously takes photos of some of the trinkets and books and investigates them on the internet in his spare time. Many of the books are rare and valuable. Some of them there is no record of. Most of them have to do with occultism. The trinkets are similar.

The conman wants to sell some of these items but believes the old man will notice. He talks with a craftsman who is renowned for creating wonderful jewelry on demand. He asks if the jeweler could create a replica of trinkets if he brought the original to him, but had to take it back within an hour or so. The jeweler said he could.

The conman brought the jeweler a trinket, a small geometrical piece of jewelry with rubies encrusted in it, made of gold. The jeweler examined it, took many photos, notes, and in a matter of an hour, said he had enough information to produce an identical copy. The conman then returned the trinket to the old man's apartment. This had been done late at night so the old man was asleep and didn’t notice.

The jeweler produced an identical copy in a matter of a week. The conman paid him and took the copy to the apartment where he replaced the original with it. He then took the original and brought it to various dealers in exotic merchandise. The trinket was apparently thousands of years old and had been used in Zoroastrian ritual magic. The trinket was exceedingly rare and would fetch a million dollars on the legitimate market, but given its origin, the trinket would have to be sold on the black market, and would fetch only about 100,000 dollars. The conman accepted this. The dealer paid the conman 50,000 dollars and would pay him the remainder, approximately 50,000 give or take depending on the market, when the trinket sold.

Later that week the old man asked the conman to make him a drink. He asked for an elaborate concoction mixed from various strange bottles in his personal bar. He then asked the conman to fix himself a drink—insisting he have some of the fine scotch he reserved for people who were important to him. They sat and the conman drank from the glass.

He awoke on a stone altar.

People in black hoods stood around him. He was naked. The room was lit by flickering orange light. The figures chanted. His body was paralyzed. A knife flickered in the hand of one of the figures. The knife dove down near the conman's belly. The conman could feel nothing below his neck. He could not make noise with his voice. The chanting increased, murmurs in strange languages.

Then all went silent and the flame went out. A voice, a laughing boy’s voice, sounded. "What’s this? That won’t do." Screams erupted from the room. Orange light exploded throughout the room for a moment. Then darkness again, and dripping sounds. The conman lied there listening, paralyzed. He closed his eyes and prayed for the first time in his life. At some point he must have passed out.

He awoke in the darkness. He felt sensation in his body. He moved. He groped in the darkness, looking for clothing. His hand touched something wet and cold. He recoiled. He felt around the altar. Clothing was at its edge. It seemed to be his clothes. He put them on in darkness. He turned on his smartphone, which was in his pants' pocket and used the flashlight function to see where he was.

A horrific scene lay before him. He would never be able to express the horrors of what he saw. He did see the much contorted visage of the old man, and in his mouth melted golden metal with fractured red glass. It was the melted counterfeit trinket the conman had produced.

He found a door, which lead to a large basement in the hotel. He took a freight elevator to a loading dock around back and ran off. The conman told the dealer to keep the remainder of his proceeds—he did not want money from the party who bought the trinket. He made some incomprehensible remark to the dealer: "The trinket helps them find treasure, and other things."

No mention was ever made in the news media of the horrific scene in the basement of the hotel. The conman was in no mood to inquire. An anonymous donation of 50,000 dollars was given to a church near the hotel, and the conman was no longer seen around, with his normal circle of friends, or haunting his old familiar haunts.