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Just a Beautiful Stone

Jamie Soonback’s knuckles were growing white from gripping the iron bars on the front of the boat too tightly. Salty water sprayed him and his fellow passengers as the tiny boat ripped over the waves. All of the crew members were surrounding the passengers making sure everyone was holding on firmly. “Yeah,” shouted the big blonde haired one, “this is the part of the ride that gets really bumpy. So hold on tight! We’ll get to the islands soon enough.” Jamie looked up at a bright blue sky filled with enormous clouds spilling over one another, his brown hair ruffling in the wind above his salt-stained Oakley sunglasses. So far Jamie was unimpressed with the little boat tour. The ocean was beautiful and it was a perfect day for such an outing but the crew members kept warning people to grab the rails or else they would fly off the deck. What idiots, thinking the tourists would be dumb enough to be thrown overboard. Then again, Jamie thought, most of the passengers were parents and their children or senior citizens.

“Alright!” The boat started to slow down as it neared several rocky cliffs that jutted out of the water. “Alright!” repeated the blonde-haired crew, “we are approaching a small cluster of islands right past these rocks here!” He gestured over to the black cliffs being pounded by giant white waves. “The first two have no real names and haven’t had many inhabitants that we know of. However there is a much larger one following those where we will be docking and walking around. This is The Forbidden Island!” The sailor wriggled his fingers in the air and made a deep voice for emphasis here. Passengers around Jamie all laughed or gasped in excitement. Jamie brushed his hair back and scoffed. “This is one of the only islands out here that is still inhabited by some natives. It got its name from restrictions placed on tourists’ visits here from the early 40’s up until very recently. We are fortunate enough to be able to walk you guys around the long shore and show you some of the more interesting things there. So everyone relax until we get a bit closer and we’ll let you know when it’s safe for us to get off.” He turned away from the passengers and began yelling to a crewmate across the deck. As the big green forbidden island came into view Jamie brushed back his hair once more and checked his Rolex.

They followed the blond haired crew member in a line towards the top of the shore where the wet sand turned into tropical vegetation. Near this division was a large pile of smooth rocks that stood taller than Jamie and wider than the full tour group. “This,” yelled the blonde haired sailor as everyone came to a halt, “is our first stop. The natives have a story about how all the islands were created by a goddess of fire named Pelé. Many many years ago, it is said Pelé grew tired of how the ocean treated her small island where her people lived and so she built a big volcano here in the middle of the sea and made it erupt over and over again till her island grew bigger and she formed the many smaller islands that surround it. The natives believed these smooth rocks here are blessed with her power. You are allowed to look and pick these stones up but please do not take them with you. There is a belief here that it is beyond bad luck to take these stones away from their home here on The Forbidden Island.”

The group ooo-ed and ahh-ed at all the right times then began walking around the rock pile to examine the stones in a low chatter. Jamie walked around the pile with his hands behind his back and chuckled at what had been said until he found himself face to face with the blonde-haired tour guide. He insisted that Jamie hold one of the stones in his hand to feel how smooth they were but Jamie declined the offer and tried to walk past him. “You know,” said the sailor, grabbing Jamie by the arm, “I’m not superstitious or anything like that, man. But me and the crew get hundreds of packages full of these stones every month asking us to take them back to this island for them.” Looking the man dead in the eyes with blatant disbelief, Jamie felt the sailor’s grip slacken almost immediately.

After the tour around the shore had ended, the group began boarding the boat. Jamie stood at the back of the line, scowling. He moved to glance at his watch but instead noticed something halfway buried in the sand beneath his feet. Bending over, Jamie scooped up a handful of sand, lifting the object with it. Inside his palm encrusted in wet sand was a round smooth stone. Almost gold but mostly translucent beige, the stone glittered strangely in the sunlight and had a certain weight to it that wasn’t its own. Turning it over revealed that someone had scratched a silver “é” on the back of it. He tried hard to hide his amazement at the beautiful stone but found that he couldn’t. There was something interesting about this tour after all, he thought. Jamie turned the stone over and over in his hand, feeling the smoothness of it and relishing in his find. He had to keep it.

Jamie sat reclined on his king size hotel bed watching television later that night. Remote in one hand. Glass of scotch in the other. Three deep knocks came at his suite door before he got up and answered it. “Hello?” The silence of the empty hallway engulfed his words. He closed the door and walked back to his bed but stopped when he noticed something glittering on his bed. It was the beautiful stone from the shore- now laying on the pillow his head had rested on only minutes ago. Puzzled, Jamie coughed “Wait..” Another deep thud came at the door. This time Jamie looked through the peephole and saw no one there. He opened the door anyways and said hello into the silent hallway once more. “Strange,” Jamie whispered to himself. Closing the door, Jamie turned back towards the bed only in time to hear another large thud behind him, “Ah, what the hell!” Jamie tripped over his television plug in surprise- the glass of scotch breaking in the tight grip of his hand. “Shit,” Jamie winced for a split second, then stumbled into his bathroom. Grumbling, he washed the tiny shards of glass out of his hand, threw the rest of the glass away, and finally wrapped his hand in some gauze before returning to the carpet to check for more glass. He picked up a few more pieces of broken glass but stopped midway when he noticed the beautiful stone was now lying on the carpet next to him.

That night, Jamie slept soundly in his king-sized bed. Before he fell asleep he had put the glittering stone in his luggage, ridden off his fall as a silly accident, attributed the large knocks to annoying residents in the room below him, gotten dressed, made use of the hotel lobby’s bar, and eventually decided he was too drunk to do anything but sleep. It was around 3AM when Jamie’s television set flicked on to show a screen of static, an explosion of noise from the TV followed. Startled by the noise, he awoke with a slight yelp. He let his eyes adjust before walking over to the television set and turning it off. Stumbling back to his bed in the dark he mused: Did I fall asleep with that thing on? God I’m so damn drunk I bet th– The TV flashed on again. Staggering towards the chaotic static once more, Jamie decided he’d put the remote next to his bed in case it turned on again.

Jamie placed the remote on his nightstand and closed his eyes.

Five minutes later, when the television came on again, Jamie let his frustration get the best of him- falling out of bed in a rush to unplug the set. Jamie grit his teeth to move the entertainment system away from the wall and fumbled around in the dark to find a plug and socket. “Yeah,” Jamie laughed to himself, “ya’ stupid TV!” As he pulled the plug out, he felt a jolt of pain race up his arm and fill his whole body. Jamie Soonback felt his hand seize up and wrap itself securely around the plug at the same time that his jaw closed itself shut for what he thought would be an eternity. In the dark suite, he watched his vision blur into a blackness he willingly embraced.

It was nearly two o’clock in the afternoon when Jamie woke up with the worst headache of his life. At first, why he had woken up on the carpet next to an upside flat screen didn’t make much sense but he soon remembered his drunken fight with the television set. He looked at the plug he had pulled to discover the rubber had eroded away in some parts leaving the metal wires inside exposed. Jamie began to scratch his head but stopped when he felt a swelling bump, Perfect. Finding his arms and legs practically limp, Jamie slouched against the wall for support while wondering what to do next. Dropping his head, Jamie shuddered when he noted the beautiful stone, innocently peering at him from beneath his hands, silver symbol face up.

He touched the bump on his head and winced again, paused, then grunted at his own hesitation, before picking up the stone. I’m being an idiot! There’s no such thing as bad luck, or curses, or fire goddesses or any of that shit. Damned vacation’s got me buying into some savages’ fairytales. Stupid rock wasn’t even from that same pile anyhow. It was buried in the sand away from the others…but that doesn’t even matter anyways ‘cause all it is, is a beautiful stone. Jamie chuckled to himself, “That’s right. It’s just a beautiful rock. Ha!” With that, he struggled to get himself up by balancing against the wall and wandered to his luggage to see what he’d wear for the day.

After a quick shower and getting dressed, he still found his whole body to be slightly numb, his reflexes and motor skills a little jerky, his head filled not only by intense throbbing but now also a slight hint of paranoia As Jamie finally moved to leave he struggled to open the door and began thinking it was his lack of strength that was stopping him. It was hard to tell how much force he was exerting and whether he was grasping the knob tightly at all. He tried using one hand, then the other, then both. Nothing. “Damnit!” Jamie punched the door in anger then withdrew his hand and whimpered as pinpricks of pain and humiliation crept across his body.

He paced across the room and muttered about how terrible this vacation had been. When he first reached the side farthest from his door, near his bed, he picked up the remote on his nightstand and gripped it as tight as he could. There wasn’t much strength in his hands but enough, he had decided, to be able to open the door. I might have to ask for help… Jamie grit his teeth, if there was one thing that upset him the most it was the idea of asking for help. Let me try one more time and then… This time, the knob refused to turn in his hands.

He checked the locks. All of them, unlocked. Jamie Soonback forced his right hand into a fist repeatedly until he thought he could open the door again. Nothing changed. Pacing back over to his bed, Jamie sat down and put his head in his hands. Out of the corner of his eye he saw something glinting near his remote on the nightstand and turned away. One thought played over and over in his mind. The door is locked. The door is locked. The door is locked. No! It’s just my nerves, I can’t tell how much pressure is enough or anything. I’m just numb, numb as hell. It doesn’t even make sense how I could be locked in my own hotel room anyway. Everything’s fine, I’ll just stay here and rest up. Everything’s fine. I don’t need anybody, but me, no sir! Jamie reclined himself against his pillows and turned to grab the remote but instead felt something smooth and round pass through his fingers. “No sir!” Jamie jerked his hand away.

Sitting at the large mahogany desk in his suite, he researched the best ways to recover from electrocutions and constantly cursed himself for habitually checking his nightstand where the beautiful stone lay. Its iridescent golden glow kept appearing in his peripherals. The itch to look at it became worse and worse the more he tried not to look at it. He paced back and forth and whispered under his breath. “I shouldn’t have taken it. I shouldn’t have taken it. I shouldn’t have taken it” Eventually he ended up walking near the nightstand, slowly coming to terms with his desire to grasp the goddamned thing in his hand.

Jamie took the stone into his hands. It’s just a beautiful stone, a beautiful stone, it’s a beautiful stone, a beautiful stone, just a beautiful stone, beautiful, beautiful stone. His eyes glowed with lust.

At one point, he had contemplated calling room service to bring him food but feared they would discover his stolen beauty. The whole day passed by with Jamie at his computer, typing himself to sleep at the keyboard, cursed stone at his side. As Jamie fell asleep that night he felt himself being pulled away from the bed into a hazy yet clear world.

“You,” came a female voice in Jamie’s dream. “Do you understand what you have done foolish pitiful man?” Jamie was on the shore of The Forbidden Island crouched on the pile of stones looking up at a red-headed dark skinned woman standing as tall as a tree. No bigger- a mountain. Not knowing what to expect or think, Jamie backed away from her and lowered his head in fear, looking down he realized he was naked. Gasping, he hid himself in shame. “Foolish man,” boomed the large woman, “I am Pelé, goddess of fire! You have disrespected me. My people. You have taken a sacred stone from my island!” Jamie curled himself into a ball, “I’m s-so sor- I apologize!” He threw up his hands in misery. “I understand,” continued Pelé as if Jamie hadn’t spoken, “you were warned against this treason, yes?” She didn’t wait for a reply. “You are surely doomed to perish by the very greed and pride that first bound you to this sacred stone.” Jamie came to his feet and felt himself losing his footing on the pile of stones. “No, Pelé! Please!” Jamie raised his hands again to get the fire goddess’ attention but she had already turned and began walking into the ocean, steam rising from where her bare feet were touching the ocean. The whole island was shaking violently; Jamie began sliding off the pile of rocks and tumbling on to the sand when he noticed the beautiful stone was still grasped tightly in his hand, blood trickling in between his knuckles from where the rock begun to cut into his skin. “Pelé! No! Please! Pelé!” Jamie screamed hopelessly into the symphony of violent waves crashing onto the island as the pile of rocks swallowed him whole.

Beads of sweat running down his back, Jamie woke with a start on the floor in a mess of covers which told him he had fallen from the bed. Rubbing his eyes, Jamie noticed the stone was clenched in his bandaged hand, he dropped the stone, sprang up and screamed. “God!” Jamie began furiously pacing around his hotel suite and slapping his head sporadically. It was real, the dream was real. I’m cursed. I’m cursed! I’m a cursed fool! A pitiful greedy prideful, no…no…no! It’s fine, I’m fine. I’m letting this silly voodoo get into my head, I’m fine. I probably went to sleep with that rock in my hand! It’s all nothing, it’s been in my head! Why I bet I’m even strong enough to open the door today! Jamie moved to the door in haste and pulled on the handle with both hands. This time Jamie thought he could feel the knob mocking him, turning against his grip. “It’s locked!” cried Jamie, “It’s locked! Someone please!” Jamie began beating on the door with his fists and yelling for help. When no one came he slunk against the door and waited to catch his breath. The beautiful stone lay face up on the floor across the room where his covers lay in a heap: Practically begging to be thrown off my balcony, thought Jamie.

He burst through his balcony doors and readied his arm to throw the rock but he stopped himself just before the act. No! That’s exactly what she’d want me to do. Throw the stone away ‘cause it’s cursed! Bull! I won’t let a silly stone get the best of me! Again he resorted to pacing, this time passing the stone between his hands irreverently. “Thinking I’ll throw it away, ha! What a joke! Only the uneducated can subject themselves to such idiotic beliefs! Ha! Just wait till I fly back home and I have their pretty little stone as a paperweight on my desk.” He was locking his balcony door and drawing all the blinds on his windows when he heard his TV flick on and play the same static as before. Rather than turn the television off, Jamie muted the volume and left the static running. “I won’t let you win,” Jamie announced through gritted teeth. Walking away from the television set, Jamie tripped on the same plug he had pulled a few nights earlier and fell to the floor. Crashing to the floor, Jamie felt his whole body shake with pain. “Ahhhh!”

In one swift movement, he shot up, flung his balcony doors open, and catapulted the stone out of his life.

Locking the balcony doors, Jamie let out a long sigh only to see something glittering on his nightstand. “AH!” Jamie pounced on the object. Blind with fury, Jamie chucked the stone across the room into the large tropical painting above his television, a sizzling noise making itself apparent as the thing whizzed through the air. Anger overtaken by cautious curiosity, he eased towards the noise. The stone lay out of his sight underneath the now collapsed canvas behind the TV- an orange glow budding from where it should have fallen. Jamie picked up the picture gingerly and saw that the hole had been outlined by burnt canvas. He dropped the artwork in horror and stumbled back towards his bed, the sizzling maturing into a fizzing and popping.

Running into the restroom with the room’s ice bucket, Jamie frantically turned the bathtub faucets but got no result. “What the hell! What the hell do I do?” Jamie’s panicked yells turned into terrified yelps as he saw smoke rising from not only his possessed television set but every corner of the room. I’m sleeping! I’m dreaming! That’s what’s going on, this is all a dream! I know it! I know it! Oh God, what a terrible dream! Fruitless attempts at trying to calm himself down led Jamie to pace into the bedroom where a small fire had started to spread. Smoke continued to pour out of his decorated walls, his big mahogany desk, his pearl white carpets, and his restless crumpled bed sheets.

Jamie tried beating on his door a few more times as the fire behind him grew and grew. He opened his balcony door and tried to call for help but began coughing violently as the smoke filled up his entire suite. Grabbing fistfuls of hair, Jamie looked to face the balcony then back to his smoke filled room and began to bawl at the despair of the situation. What do I do now? What do I do now? Coupling his face in his hands, Jamie fell to his knees and began weeping to himself. “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to disrespect you! I believe now, I was wrong!”  It was then, choking on dark smoke at the mercy of the harmless stone that Jamie Soonback reached out for help. “Plea-,” the last words were drowned out by his own heavy coughing and the sounds of the crackling fire beginning to consume his luxurious bedroom suite.

“So,” the officer looked the detective gravely in the eye, “what’s the story here then?” The detective sighed. “We just got a regular tourist. High roller type, apparently the fire was caused by an old TV plug. Left the damned thing on too long and the wires eventually heated up the carpet. Hotel staff was able to contain the fire before it got too out of control so that’s why only part of the bedroom is burned badly. The smoke’s what did him in most likely; he doesn’t have too many burns on him. We haven’t found too much else but,” the detective motioned for the officer to follow him towards the desk, “his laptop has almost a 300 page document open. Except all it has is this one phrase typed over and over: just a beautiful stone.” Both men stared emptily at the document until the officer’s eyes fell on the charred canvas that was now propped against the desk- a melted TV-remote laying on the carpet close by.

“And what’s up with the painting?”

“Ah. It was above the TV, but one of your men moved it over here.”

“Hm.”

“Yeah after looking at it for a bit we found a hole in one of its corners about the size of a fist.”

Silence.

“Alright…and?”

“Ah, it’s nothing important. But we think at one point he threw that remote straight through the canvas. Was probably getting loopy from the smoke and whatnot. Some guys thought it might be a clue but honestly I doubt there’s a real case here, only just another goddamned tragedy.”

Outside the hotel, far below Jamie’s balcony, a beautiful stone glinted beneath the grass.

 

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