The Man Who Wasn’t There – Part 11

the-man-who-wasnt-thereThe ritual is set for that night. In the morning, though, the families get together to eat breakfast before completing their preparations.

“I got an e-mail with all kinds of attachments from Dr. Meru,” Andre said. “He told me to call him on Skype when we’ve read through things.”

“Cool! I was hoping I’d have a chance to talk to him,” Brian said. “Is he sure? That’s gonna be way late his time.”

“He was insistent. He wants to talk to you.”

“Should we call him before hand?”

“No, I wrote him back and asked both those questions. He said to read and listen, then call. He doesn’t care about the time.”

“Okay. Let’s get to it.”

Andre plugged his laptop into Brian’s widescreen TV and cued up the first video. Dr. Meru’s smiling face filled the frame.

“I am Bindjali Meru. I want to greet you all as my friends.” He bowed his head a moment before continuing. “Dwight tells me you want to know the story of the Peddler, so let us begin there.”

A picture filled the screen. It was a copy of an old wood cut. It depicted a man in clothing indicative of the 1700s. His features were hard to make out. He could have been any race, but Brian had the impression, the way it was shaded, that he was dark skinned.

“It is said that a stranger appeared in your town when the fighting and killing was at its worst. His skin was the color of an old copper penny. His long hair was curly and black. Those who wrote about it afterward thought he was a man from a far distant land, but they don’t specify which. His clothing was brightly colored and of the finest quality. At first, he did nothing, but as the fighting increased, he took his place in the town square and started to chant.

“Here, the stories vary markedly. Some said that brightly colored birds gathered around him. Others say, multi-hued rain burst forth, covering them. The one thing that doesn’t change—bright colors, like dozens of rainbows. The fighting stopped, the witches dropped dead and the wounded revived. Those who had died were burned. In fact, all the bodies of the dead witches, were dug up and burned. Their ashes mingled in a pit and they were covered with lye and bitter herbs. Protective wards were set around them and a variety of special plants circle the pit.

“For the righteous who died, they too were burned. Their remains were also buried, but in a crypt in the local cemetery.” A slide came up, a photograph of a mausoleum they more or less remembered seeing before. “As to the Peddler, he stayed for a few days, tending the wounded, and helping with the rebuilding. Then he disappeared without a word.”

The slide disappeared and Dr. Meru smiled at the camera again. “It differs some from our local story, but the circumstances are similar. The brightly colored stranger arrives, brings peace, heals and restores, before moving on. Only in our version, the Peddler is one of us. There is no telling if it’s the same man or not. Your sighting was in 1713. Ours was seventy-five years later when the first convicts arrived on our soil.” He sighed sadly, shaking his head. “It was a harsh time and a bloody one for our people and theirs. Our Peddler came to stop an uprising of my people against the Whites.”

“That sucks,” Andre interjected. “White people had no right to be there. Then the Aborigines were subjugated. They still are.” He bristled with anger.

Louisa put her hand on his arm. “It was a long time ago,” she murmured. “What happened isn’t right….”

“I imagine that Andre isn’t taking that announcement well,” Dr. Meru said with a smile, as if he’d heard them, although he’d recorded this hours before. “Believe me, it was an unhappy time. If the Peddler hadn’t come when he did, my people would have been wiped out entirely. Though our numbers are few, we survived. It was not ideal, but we didn’t stand a chance against the Whites. Better a few of us suffer than all of us die.” The video ended.

Andre didn’t like the idea, but he understood it. The choice would have been a hard one. “I don’t think I could have watched and waited,” he said. “I’d be right in there mixing it up.”

“And you would have been killed,” Louisa said. “I know your inclination is to fight, baby, but sometimes you have to kneel to fight.”

He nodded, dropping his head. “You’re right.” He smoothed her hair, giving her a little kiss.

They watched another video. In this one, Dr. Meru showed the dance Brian needed to do to summon the Peddler. At the end, he smiled at the camera once more.

“Now, my young friends, you need to call me. Pay no heed to the time, I will be up and waiting.”

Andre put through the Skype request and Dr. Meru answered right away. He grinned at them. “Which one of you is Brian?”

Brian waved to him.

“Excellent. The rest of you leave, except for Jordan. This is for them alone.” He waited until the others left.

The young people went without questioning Meru’s decision. When the door above had closed, Brian leaned forward, hands clasped between his knees.

“I know it’s not this simple,” he said in a matter of fact tone.

“No, it’s not. Though we know what to do, no one has ever done this before. You are young and have absolutely no experience with this ritual. Do you have strong Casters?”

“Yes—we hope so. None of them have done this complex a spell before,” Jordan replied.

Meru nodded. “As I thought. Never fear. You will help them,” he said, speaking to Jordan.

“Me? I don’t know how to do this either.”

© 2017 Dellani Oakes 

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