1 Yankai’s Skull

The skull hung on leather straps behind the glass surrounded by shrunken heads and dark juju. The final part of this mission involved smashing the glass and he had not bought any tools for this.

He cursed softly.  He could go and come back another day?  Evading the sensors had been easy enough but there was a nagging feeling of pressure and he hated to come back to the same place twice.  No matter how good he was, the risk escalated every time he returned. He had learned that the hard way.  No, he had to continue and make do with what he had.

It was a rookie error forgetting his glass cutter but then it was such an unusual mission and so too had been his preparation.  He had been approached through the usual channels but after that, the entire job had been anything but standard.  The buyer had insisted that they meet and Julian had denied this request until the money was mentioned.  It was enough to retire and live in luxury for the rest of his days.

From his villa on Kefalonia, Julian had ignored the request for a full week before curiosity and greed got the better of him.  When he relented, he told his contacts to arrange the meeting to his specific requirements and he was in control as much as he could be.  He used as much precaution as possible, obscuring his face, his mannerisms, his walk and of course his identity. When they finally met, it was in a very public cafe in London at adjacent tables facing back-to-back.

It was the voice of the man that was so disturbing.  A voice that belonged to someone that struck fear into Julian at such a fundamental level it was all he could do not to run away.  That voice had belonged to someone who was not quite right for this world, as if he belonged in another place.   Fear kept him at the seat and once the job was given, fear kept him hooked.  Julian was not an evil man and there had been times when he had not completed his job.  Times when sentiment had gotten the better of greed.  He had long ago realised that it was the thrill of the job and his desperate fear of leading an office life that had led him to this path.  He was not a bad man but he was not a good one either. This buyer was pure bad, Julian had no doubt.

He prepared himself.  Once the glass was shattered the alarms would sound immediately.  The leather straps needed to be cut quickly and then it was straight to the roof.  The event was hurtling toward him and he took a moment to enjoy this final moment of peace in the strange museum.  This particular cabinet contained the skulls and shrunken heads of people which had particularly dark uses throughout history and for all his worldly experience, he was feeling very mortal at this moment.

He breathed in and out.  In and then slowly out and then the moment demanded action.  It was now!

He punched.  Hard!  His fist went straight through the glass which shattered in long sharp shards and collapsed the entire front pane of the cabinet.  Breaking and smashing to the stone and iron floor of the museum, the sound was enormous in the quiet silence of the hall.

A moment longer and then the shrill sound of the alarm erupted and the emergency lights buzzed on.  It was a matter of seconds for someone of his skill to cut through the leather thongs and with a final cut, the skull fell loose into his hand.  Seconds later, it was safely in his backpack.  He sprinted on padded soles up the stairwell, through the emergency access hatch and up the ladder to the roof.

Kicking the roof hatch open, he jumped lightly through to the outside air and ran swiftly to the rear of the museum toward the lower roofs of the Oxford University buildings.  Beyond that, his motorcycle waited.  He was swinging round to descend the cable tethered to the wall when the hand grabbed his backpack and with surprising force, pulled him back and threw him onto the roof where he skidded along the copper.

He had barely recovered when the dark figure leapt silently upon him. The sound of cloth moving was the only sound his attacker made and the glint of something in the figures hand was the only light.  Shit!  He rolled and kicked, placing a well timed strike to the side of the attackers mid thigh and then was on his feet.  The dark figure fell sideways with the kick but rolled too and in one fluid flowing motion, touched the glinting object into his armpit.  Julian froze rigid as the electricity snapped his muscles into tight cords.  When the shock had finished all strength flowed out of him.  He collapsed but was held up by the strong arms of the man.

“We’ll take that skull.”

Julian was seeing things now.  The skull was floating in front of him, held up in the black clothed hand of the man and it was looking at him.  Julian stared at the skull through misting eyes. “I would have brought it to you” he whispered.  Julian’s eyes closed as the words fell away into the darkening night.

The man let Julians unconscious body slip to the roof and watched for a moment.  He must move quickly.  Half a year of dedicated training and it would only hold back the inevitable.  He must move quickly!

The blue lights of Oxfords police lit the sky between the old buildings and their sirens filled the air.  The man sprinted to the hatch and down the ladder, back into the Museum.  He was at the cabinet when the dark power of the skull broke through and started pulling at him, demanding freedom.

BACK TO THE ROOF!

FREEEEEE!

BACK TO THE ROOF!

He fell to his knees as the skulls demonic will began to exert itself on him, filling his mind with dark thoughts that were not his own.  Crushing his will with the power of lensed malevolence and dark purpose.  My God, so powerful!  Yankai should have done more to prepare him.  On his knees before the cabinet, a thought punched through the onslaught!  He must tie the skull to the straps.  A fresh wave of darkness engulfed him, despair bought tears, hatred tore at his core and unimaginable imagery flashed though his mind.  He shook as his mind searched for some respite from the onslaught!  He must find the light!

NO!

FREE!

And then in the midst of the darkness, the light. His mind found the place that no darkness could touch and he smiled with relief as he remembered and bought his mind to that good place.  So easy to get to when all was well, nigh on impossible when surrounded by darkness and despair.  His training had been extensive and intense.

He was dancing through Main Street in Disneyland Florida with Mary.  Watching the parade and seeing Peter Pan and there, Baloo waving at him from the float!   He remembered the firework show over the castle and the open top Mustang driven to Daytona beach. The awful taste of grits in the Starlite Diner and the stars that filled sky that same night.  He laughed aloud and with that laugh, light flashing bright cleared a path through the darkness.

He remembered why he was there and the skull suddenly looked very funny indeed. He threaded the remaining leather through the skulls eyeholes and was aware of the distant howling of the trapped entity until he tied the last knot through the left eye socket.

The spiritual silence was bliss.  Only the physical siren remained.

“Hold it right there my son!”

He turned to face the Policemen in the stairwell above him.

“Gladly officer, gladly.”  With a smile he fell to the stone and iron floor of the museum.  Warmth, light and the gentle darkness of release overwhelmed him.

Mark’s extraction from the Police had gone smoothly thanks to the remarkable talents of Jackie and the enthusiastic intervention of Wayland and Yankai. They left for London the following week leaving the two escort officers unconscious but healthy and Mark on a very exclusive wanted list.

“It was close Mark, you almost fell all the way before getting my old skull back in place.”  Yankai said as he sipped his Lapsang Souchong and looked thoughtfully out of the window of the train.  “Strange to think I once floated around in that cursed old thing.”  The ancient Himalayan warrior smiled.

“It was well done.  You used your training well but you need plenty of rest and you must find your balance again.”  Wayland spoke softly.  He paused in the pregnant moment and then announced with vigour!  “At least a month of Disney!”  Wayland laughed loudly enjoying his own idea and the infectious quality of his joy drew in the others.  He rubbed Mark’s shoulder fondly.  Mark groaned in mock dismay.

“I can recommend Frozen.”  Jackie said and then started to sing softly filling the carriage. The peace of shared comfortable silence descended as they rumbled North.

“What about Julian?  Will we bring him in?” Mark could not get the young thief out his mind.

“Maybe”  Whispered Yankai.  “but first we need to find The Poet.”

Copyright Faramond Frie © 2015

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