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Brandon's Darkroom

(c) 2013 Daniel Black

The object upon my desk was a strange one. It appeared to be a device in the vauge shape of a pistol, but with the barrel replaced by a large whitish-blue crystal. On the part of the device that appeared to be the handle, there were strange letters. Whatever it was, it was my job to investigate it. The thing had been discovered by the sheriff, in a filthy alley near a local pharmacy. As the sheriff's deputy, unfortunately, the task of examining it fell to me.

Under the microscope I looked it over for fingerprints, but could find nothing, save for a few marks that seemed to be comprised of three circles. I next tried to examine the body of the "gun" under fluorecense, but to no avail, as it appeared merely as a ordinary crystal of quartz.

I considered the possibility that it was a child's toy or a theatre prop, but a visit from a chemist friend revealed that the lettering was indeed real gold, thus ruling out the former, and the manner and location it was found ruled out the second. Frustrated, I set about going to bed. But nothing could have prepared me for the series of surprises that would arrive with the morning.

I awoke with a slight headache, set the teapot to boil, and went about contemplating the device, when I saw that a package had arrived for me.

FROM: BRANDON'S DARKROOM

I opened the package, expecting nothing more than the prints of the photos I took on a trip to France that I had only recently sent to have developed, but instead, attached to the pictures, I saw this note:

Dear Sir:
We apologize to inform you that several of your photographs were developed with strange markings.
We are conducting a review of our equipment to prevent this ever happening again.
Because of this, a full refund has been issued to your account.
We hope you will understand.

I then opened the envelope contain the prints, mentally preparing my letter of complaints, when I saw that only one of the photographs had been affected. I examined it closer: It bore the same strange lettering, albeit blurred, as the gun! Was this some kind of joke? If so, I thought, I want nothing to do with this. Immediately I got up, resolved to make my complaint directly to the sheriff.

I walked the four miles to the station and stormed in the door, seething with anger. I found my boss at his desk, searching a drawer.
"What in the hell is going on here?" I said to him. "I have no idea what you are talking about", he replied, finding a cigar in the drawer, lighting it, and bringing it to his lips. "What in the world has you so upset?" he said.

"You know perfectly well what I am talking about. You put the markings from that damned gun on my photographs!" I said, producing the evidence.

"Mr. Greene", he said, "Do you really believe that I, sheriff of this county, the only thing between the people and the likes of The Red Striker, the reason for the drastic reduction in crime, and the only reason you survived the Wilson case, would waste either of our time on a ridiculous prank!? I want you to go home, return to the investigation, and find out where that gun came from, right now. Now get! Outta my office!"

With that, I left. If this was a prank, he certainly was committed. Maybe this was a performance review? It certainly was a strange and useless investigation. Who on earth would care where a fake gun game from? It was probably from some quack physician, or the patient thereof, who threw the thing away when it failed to rid them of intestinal worms in any timely manner! Yes, that was it.

I stared at the device. Until the sun set I was there. Examining, turning it over, though I could find nothing of further interest. To all appearances, it was an ordinary rock attached to a well-decorated metal handle. The perfect charlatain's tool. But if this was the tool of some madman doctor, then why the markings on the photographic film? And why my bosses strange interest?

Eventually I decided to get to sleep. I poured myself a shot of whiskey, downed it in one gulp, blew out the lights, and went to bed.
That night I found myself in some space I know not of.  I can remember was a grey-skinned man, with an oversized head, telling me repeatedly that I must return to my boss. He then said "he knows" and disappeared. I then realized I could see nothing around me but empty, white space. But I did not have time enough to dwell on this, because before long, I found myself falling. With no idea how high I was, I feared for my life. "HELP!!!" I screamed out loud, as if there were anyone around to hear my screams. No, I was alone. Alone in a whiteness that had turned to blackness, though above me the stars shone bright, along with a whitish-blue light in the place of the stars, but brighter and closer by far then any star.

For a quarter of one hour I fell through the windless night until at last I could see my house far below. Up from the roof gave a great beacon of that same whitish-blue light, that shot up into the sky to where the grey man had spoken to me. I screamed again, but the sleeping city gave no answer. There was nothing left to do but to say my last prayers. I fell into the great beam of white light, and was taken into it.

I became one with it, for hours, days, years. Time had no meaning in the white light. I saw my parents, my sister, my first love. I meditated upon the great poets, whom I was so fond of before my work as a deputy gave me little time for leisure. I saw the faces of those I had helped to jail and wondered if that truly was what they deserve. I thought back to the things I was taught as a child and felt disgusted with myself for believing them. I saw the children of the man I jailed for loving another man. They were starving, wasting away in an orphanage, where once they dwelt in a great mansion, with a loving family and everything they could wish for.

I heard the echoes of every thing I had ever said. I heard myself walk by the opium-den and tell the man walking in that he was worthless scum. I felt the sting of the cudgel with which I detained the lawless, and begged for forgiveness. The light knew. The light had been watching me. The light saw how horribly I had treated those who deserved much better. I cried, for a time, if time had any meaning where I was, and then cried no more. I saw the man I once was die before me. For a moment, there was only nothingness.

I woke up, in a cold sweat, screaming, and sobbing, and praying to the Lord Above for mercy. The Light had seen into my soul. The Light had shown me things no waking though could conjure. The Light had become me and I had become the Light. No longer did I feel the hate that once burned in me. My only feeling now was regret and sadness. Sadness for the one I used to be, whom I watched die before me. Sadness for all the wrong that I(or he?) had done to innocent people. I cried till I could cry no more.

The next day I returned to my boss and demanded firmly to know what was going on. Why he gave me this case. Why he had been avoiding my questions. Why he or someone put those marks on that picture.

But this time he did not avoid me. He asked me to sit, offered me a smoke, which to his great disappointment I declined. He told me of an incident from his youth, when he was a boy of only six. While playing by a stream in his hometown, a great ways east of here, he had found a simple gold pocket watch. It had strange lettering, and behind the face, under the protective lid, was a small whitish blue crystal. The crystal glowed faintly, and, after wearing the watch for several days, he began to develop a slight rash, with oddly shaped irritations and markings. His mother demanded that he immediately dispose of the thing at the local sheriff's office, in hopes the owner might have it returned to them.

He arrived at the police station, and, his mother being a longtime friend of the District Attorney, was given a brief tour of the station, and was told tales of the importance of law enforcement, stories of heroic deeds and noble men. After the tour, the boy explained his business, was thanked, parted with the watch.

but the next day, the watch was found to have disappeared from the box in which the sheriff placed it. His mother initially suspected him, but the sheriff quickly reassured her of the impossibility of that scenario. A investigation was conducted, at the matter was quickly dropped when no additional thefts were reported in the following weeks.

But one thing stuck in the young boy's mind. The night he found the watch, he had a bizarre dream, of falling into a river of flowing light, being carried underground into the earth, and dying. Previous to this incident the boy had been something of a scoundrel, even at his young age, once being caught beating a younger boy over a few coins.

But after that incident, he recounted, he never wanted to bully anyone again. "That" he said. "is why I joined the police." "I couldn't stand to see bad things happen to good people. I had to do something to make up for The person I used to be"

He paused a moment and took a puff of his cigar. "You should have a smoke. Good for the lungs" he would say.
"Now don't take the things I say as any indication that I believe in fairytales or anything. I had I dream, I saw the error of my ways. That's all. Happens all the time."

"Still, it is odd that it disappeared. And it did look an awful lot like the writing on that pistol. But coincidences happen all the time, and a level head is important for what we do. If you lose yourself in superstition, you won't be thinkin' straight when you need it most."
He then proceeded to ask the young deputy what he had come for, to which he replied that he forgot. "That's OK. Come back when you remember, I'm not leaving till the night."

I paced about the halls. Maybe THIS was a dream. Maybe in a few days I would feel the old hatred again. Maybe my boss was just playing a trick. I had heard of worse. I remembered reading a story of a boy who climbed a telegraph pole, rewired the line, and sent his own ficticious messages to The Daily Gazette. The telegrapher in charge said something about the boy's "fist" being different from their usual corespondent, but otherwise his skill was impeccable.

But really? The sheriff playing jokes? That wasn't like him. Not like him at all. I returned home. I sat deep in thought. I still felt bad for the things he I done in the past, I still remembered the eternity in the Light, and wondered what was happening. I took a moment to reflect on his bosses' story. I thought to myself, that the watch came from some other world. I recalled how moved he was by the words of the policemen at the station when he went to return it. I wondered what would have happened had he disobeyed his mother, like I was want to do in my boyhood, and kept the thing. "I would be rotting in some ditch, and he would be a common thief!" I thought.

I realized these things, whatever they were, were not of this earth. Their true place was elsewhere. I shook myself. "Keep your head!" I told myself. "If you believe this superstition, you will lose your head when you need it most!" I repeated again and again. Until finally I realized. I had already lost my head. I was already not thinking clearly. I took another swig of whiskey straight from the bottle and laughed. "I must be going mad!" I thought. "Surely I am going stark and raving mad!" I exclaimed, laughing like a madman.

I took the gun, in my drunken stagger, and went outside. The stars shone in the dark of the night sky, and from the crystal that was mounted fast to the gun, I saw, or thought I saw, a faint glow. "Take it" I exclaimed. "Thing of some other world whose place is elsewhere, go home and be free" I shouted, awakening the neighbor's dog. I was taken aback by the sight I saw. A wagon danced through the sky. I thought of quitting drinking, as I took another sip. I could now see the sign affixed to the wagon. "Come To The Medicine Show!" it read. I was still laughing. I threw the gun into the air. To my surprise, it did not fall, but rose towards this strange vision of a Quack, who I could now see clearly. His face and hands, for that was all I could see, were solid gray, and his head was oversized. I fell down. The man put out his hand and caught the gun, then disappeared into a swirl of pure white light.

I woke up, in a puddle of my own vomit, and tried to piece together what had happened. The man who owned the gun must have returned for it, and, in my drunken stupour, I must have fell victim to some illusion of my own now-aching head. I was correct in my first assumption that the owner was merely a madman doctor, but did not feel the loathing I once felt towards all of his kind.

I returned to the office. "Sir" I said. "I have located the owner of the object. The man in question was the owner of a medicine show, and was likely using the device for some crackpot cure or another." I recounted. "You didn't arrest him", the sheriff said. "No evidence" was my reply. "No proof he did anything wrong. Besides, pointing a fake gun at patients is better than feeding them poison like some of them. I had to return his lost property and let him go." "Did you at least give him your usual lecture?" He asked me. "Not this time" were the only words I could get out.

"I suppose you're right. You can't arrest a man without proof. But you look a little... tired" he said. "You will take two weeks of paid vacation during which time you are not to engage in any activities of policework." Fine by me, I thought. I could use a rest. "Of course sir. I have been feeling the need for a rest." I said, patting my pocket as I walked out the door. "Oh, one other thing" I said as I walked back towards him. "Do you have a match? I seem to have lost my lighter." "My pleasure" he replied.