Prompt Day #231: Have a character wonder: “What does that stranger keep fiddling with in his pocket?”
I see him coming from a mile away. You can always tell the ones with an ulterior motive. I’ve been the day shift security guard at the museum for thirty-five years now and I’ve seen just about everything. So when this guy, probably in his mid to late thirties comes up the steps alone, hand in his pocket, looking around all nervous like, I take notice. I zero in on him and watch him as he gets in line.
I can’t tell quite what he has in his pocket, but I don’t think it’s a gun. I watch as he stands in line; that hand never stops moving. It’s almost like a whole ‘nother being in there. Whatever it is, he’s worrying the thing to death. I stroll around the lobby, inching my way closer to him. I have to be prepared for the worst. For all I know he’s got a bomb strapped to his body under that hoodie and the detonator is in his pocket. It’s suspicious, that much I know.
It’s his turn now at the Info Desk. He’ll have to pull that hand out now if he’s gonna pay. I’m edging closer, all nonchalantly-like. I notice the movement in his pocket becomes more frenzied as he speaks to Kim at the desk. I can hear her talking but can’t quite make out the words. She’s showing him a map and drawing on it. Then she gives him the wait a second finger and picks up the phone. He does the oddest thing: without taking his hand out of the pocket, he reaches over with the other hand and scratches through the pocket material. I ponder the idea of pulling him aside right now.
Kim hangs up and smiles. She gives him the map and points towards the stairs. He nods, takes it with his left hand and heads in that direction. I hustle over to Kim.
“Hey there, Beautiful” She laughs at me and swats my arm. Kim’s been working the Info Desk since before my time. She gets a kick out of my flirting.
“Back off, Arnie, I’m married.” She holds up her left hand and wiggles her finger.
“Seriously, though, what was that guy’s problem?” I ask.
“Oh, he wanted to talk to Dr. Pendleton, asked if he was in. He said he had something to show him. I called Herb and he said send him up. You know Herb, up there with all those dead bugs all day, probably dying to talk to just about anyone.”
“Hmm.” I say. “Think I’ll just mosey up there myself.” I slap the desk a few times as a goodbye and head to the same stairs pocket guy just climbed.
I make it to the third floor in time to see the pocket guy knock on the door to Pendleton’s office. His hand is still in his pocket and still working at his secret treasure. If he plans to do anything to Pendleton, now’s my chance to stop him.
“Hey there, Friend.” I say. He turns his head to me and back to the door. He knocks again, harder this time. The door opens and Pendleton peeks out. The man introduces himself as Ted Nichols and asks if they can speak.
“Now, just a minute boys.” I say, “I don’t mean to be nebby, but Teddy, here, he’s been acting a little strange and I can’t let him go in your office in good conscious.”
“You can come in, I have no problems with it.” Herb Pendleton says and looks at Ted.
“Yeah, yeah, that’s fine. I just don’t want everyone staring, you know?” He looks around as if checking to see if anyone’s following him. I nod and follow him in to Pendleton’s office.
“So what can I do for you?” Pendleton asks once we’re all comfortably seated with coffees in hand. Ted still has his right hand in his pocket. He sits up a little straighter and situates himself in his wicker outdoor chair that Pendleton is using as office furniture.
“Six months ago, my wife and I went to Belize for our tenth anniversary. We stayed in this hut in the rainforest—we’re big hikers—anyways, this huge black moth kept coming in the hut every night. It would swoop around from corner to corner and then settle down on the mosquito net over the bed. Always on my side. After about five days of this, I’d had enough. I caught it and crushed it in my hand…my right hand. The next night, things were peaceful. No more moth. But then about midnight, we heard another one, its wings flapping about and its body hitting the ceiling and then again the net. I was just about to grab it when somehow the thing just fell through the net and flew right into my face. I couldn’t see it as much as I could feel it. Its wings sounded like whispers, it was whispering something to me and then it sort of disintegrated, or just dissolved. I don’t know.”
“A huge black moth, in Belize, you say?” Pendleton was thinking. He is obviously fascinated with the man’s story, but I’m too focused on his hand which now seems to be clenching and unclenching. Ted nods and goes on.
“I told the story to the man who was renting us the hut. I never even got to the part of the ghost moth when he began to cross himself and step away from me. He kept saying Bruja Negra, you were visited by the Bruja Negra. You must go. He made us leave that day. We had another week yet so we drove to the coast and rented a beachside cabana. This cabana was made for tourists unlike the little hut in the jungle, it had four walls, a ceiling, a door and actual windows. There was no need for mosquito nets. But that night and every night the Bruja Negra came, it flapped around the room and then came down to my face, whispered, and disintegrated.”
“Bruja Negra, The Black Witch, Ascalapha Odorata.” Pendleton says. He gets up and grabs a book off his shelf. “Go on” He says to Ted and flips through the book.
“So the next night, I left a bedside lamp on all night and waited. It came, right at midnight, a monstrous flapping shadow that flitted around the ceiling and then came down to my face. I looked at it, this strange black moth-shaped mist. It had a human face, like a witch’s face, old and gnarled and mean. It was whispering, the words sounded ancient, like Latin or something. It scared me, I reached up and waved the mist away.”
Finally, he pulls his hand out of his pocket. I’ve got mine on the can of mace, ready to do what I have to, although the guy’s story has creeped me out and I find myself pitying the poor chap. Pendleton has his book open to an illustrated page of moths but puts the book down when he sees the man’s hand.
The hand, how do I describe it? It’s wrinkled up and dry like a mummy’s. But at the same time; oozing a sort of black aura that whirls around it. He wiggles the fingers, stretches them out and makes a fist. When he makes a fist, his sleeve rides up and I see the black goes further up his arm.
“The next morning, my finger-tips looked like this. By the time we got back to the states, it covered my whole hand. The spread seems to have slowed since we got back. It’s maddeningly itchy at first and then, you lose all sensation. I’ve been moving it to try to keep the circulation going. That’s when the black air that comes out of it, swirls around like some kind of contamination zone. I think if any of you were to touch it, even just the air of it, you might get this same…affliction? I guess, I was hoping you’d know about this witch moth, maybe know how I can undo this.” He puts his hand back in his pocket. Turns out there is nothing else in it after all. The hand itself is the bomb he came here to drop.
“There are a lot of myths about the Bruja Negra. But the most common and the one you seem to have become a part of, says she brings death.” Pendleton says. Ted nods; I think he already knows that.
“Can it be stopped if I…get rid of the arm?” Ted asks.
“I don’t know” Pendleton answers “This, I think, goes far beyond etymology”
“Is your wife showing any signs?” I ask. He nods.
“Yes, on her stomach, the stretch marks turned black first, but now…” he trails off.
“She’s pregnant?” Pendleton almost yells
“Six Months, yeah.” Ted says. “So, that’s why we have to take the arm first, you understand?”
We all sigh, blowing all our air out. We’re in this together now. The museum closes at 6. We plan to start the experiment at 8. That gives me time to run home and gather supplies, while Ted gets good and liquored up. I look down at the Black Witch Moth in Pendleton’s book; she seems to be watching, daring us to cross her.
I take out my keys and go to lock up for the last time.