15 April 2011

The Scroll of Hours (a Dez Marlowe story)

Dez Marlowe found the scroll in a glass case of a curio shop. It was unassuming, a simple scroll of vellum next to a rusted dagger, some arrowheads and old coins and a scratched silver cigarette case. The proprietor of the shop—a balding man, skeletal, parchment-like skin, smoking a long cigarillo—could only say that someone had sold it to him many years ago, for one hundred dollars. He had given it a cursory examination then forgotten it until Dez walked in and saw it. “I’ll let you have it for one-fifty,” the proprietor said, “I don’t have any idea what it is, or what the writing on it means. It could be rare and valuable, it could be a list of farm tools. I had a linguist look at it once, a few years back. He said it was no language he’d ever seen before. So, one-fifty, and good luck.”

Dez asked to see it, and as soon as he had it in his hands he knew he had found what he was looking for. The scroll felt heavy in his palm, heavier than reality, whispering to Dez in a susurrus audible only to him, he knew.

“Don’t you wanna open it first?” The shop-owner asked.

Dez shook his head and left, holding the scroll close, cradling it against his chest. “Weirdo,” he heard the proprietor say as he left. Dez didn’t know how to tell him what he was feeling as he held the scroll in his palm. He couldn’t define it himself. He was afraid of it, drawn to it. He had crossed continents looking for scrolls and books like this.

He walked down the street to his car and drove back to his hotel room, glancing at the scroll sitting on the passenger seat, waiting for him to unroll it. Dez resisted. Setting it gently on the bed, Dez kicked off his shoes, sat down next to the scroll, reached for it, stopped. Not yet. The desire to unroll the scroll was beginning to dominate his thoughts, and he didn’t like that. He didn’t know what the scroll was, exactly, but he recognized the feeling it engendered within him, the sense of premonition, the warm tingling creeping sensation like static electricity crawling up his flesh when he touched it. He had found several other texts like this one. He always found them in small, out-of-the-way bookshops and antique stores. None of them were ever the same, and few had ever amounted to much. He was searching for information that would explain what had happened to him at that bus stop back in Detroit. So far, all he had discovered was a plethora of legends and myths and stories about Djinns and Ifrits, but next to nothing that would truly explain the terrifying, incredible being he had encountered, or what had happened to Dez in the months since then.

In the hotel room Dez opened his newest acquisition a few inches. The markings on it were a mixture of Arabic cursive lines and dots, Egyptian hieroglyphs and Hebrew runic shapes. Dez stared at the shapes, trying to make sense of them and failing. Then the writing began to blur and shift, as if Dez was staring at it too hard, yet when he looked away and back down, the markings were still trembling and distorting. He rubbed his eyes, shook his head, pressed his fingers to his temples, yet the bizarre writing only increased their inexplicable dance. Nothing like this had ever happened before in any of the texts he had found to date. They had all been in Arabic and he'd had to have them translated. He'd thought the tingling warmth when he'd held them had been his own excitement, but now he wasn't so sure.

Dez rolled the scroll closed, stood up and went out to the balcony of the hotel, lit a cigarette and held the scroll in his hand, staring at it and wondering what it would do.

“Screw it,” Dez mumbled to himself. He clamped his cigarette between his teeth and unrolled the scroll, waiting for the glyphs to rearrange themselves. Around him, the evening air grew warmer. He unrolled the scroll further; the sun seemed brighter, somehow, despite the late evening hour when it should be setting. He looked up, and noticed a few odd details: a few souks, which had been closed for the day, were now open, a shadow cast across the market square by building had moved backwards across the square. Dez glanced down at his watch: 6:59. He was been sure the alarm clock in the hotel room had read 7:15. Maybe not. It had been a long day, and the sweltering heat of Jordan had taken its toll. Dez dragged on his cigarette one last time and tossed off the balcony, opened the scroll further. This time there was no doubt...

The sun lifted upwards in the sky, shadows rolled and lightened, crowds swirled and reversed in time-lapse, the watch on Dez's wrist counted backwards, 6:36...6:12...5:56. Dez slumped against the rail of the balcony, light-headed, still holding the scroll open. He pulled it open an inch further, and instantly time rolled back even further, his watch now reading 5:35, the sun well above the tops of the buildings now.

“What the hell?” Dez looked down at the people beneath him, but none seemed to notice anything amiss, scurrying across the square and along the streets as if nothing had happened. Maybe it hadn't, to them, Dez realized. Dez returned his gaze to the scroll held open before him. The words were now intelligible to him, some sort of prayer or incantation. He scanned the text visible to him, but it didn't say anything about time, only the will of Allah and the words of Mohammed to the faithful.

Dez rolled the scroll closed and as he did so time snapped back to its original moment, before he'd ever opened it, 7:16 p.m.

This could make things interesting.

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