TIMEGHOST – Chapter 1, by Leo Penazzi
The summer days of school holidays can feel eternally long for a child if there is nothing to do. Perhaps for the city child there are places to go and friends to visit. For the country youngster, filling in the days of inactivity is not so easy. When an event of interest comes up it should be an opportunity grasped with both hands. Fortunately for young Gene Sedgwick he is experiencing one such interesting day.
An auction is taking place in the town of Geraldton, there are items for sale and there are bidders come from afar to buy up. There is action taking place on the bidding ground as, one by one, the lots are brought out from the back veranda of the old homestead and put up for sale.
The remainder of someone’s life is up for sale and there are bargains to be had for both collectors and dealers. One of Geraldton’s oldest residents has died and, on having no heirs to pass his possessions onto, they are cleared up by the trustee and the money divided up by whoever is nominated in the will.
‘Lot twenty-six is an ornately carved child’s chair and carved with the date, probably of its making, of eighteen seventy-nine, what is my bid for this exquisite example of woodworking?’
The small, wooden, heavily carved child’s seat is brought out from under the green painted tin roof and held up by one of the assistants for all to see. The bidding begins at the lowest dollar value, but from that point on there is spirited bidding among the crowd who are seated in the back yard.
Gene is not interested in the child’s chair, he is a little too old at ten years of age to use it, besides which a chair of that vintage would not be used for its intended purpose anyway, but would more likely be a display item or a doll collection.
Gene is interested in something else.
Walking among the trestle tables where the viewings were held earlier in the day his fancy is taken by a smallish box, in which are found some old bits of junk, strops, broken hair cutters; a picture of an old man, the deceased owner of the house in a shattered wooden frame; a stone of unusual dimensions and colour, but it is none of these that draw the youngster to this particular lot. In the box are a handful of Nintendo 3DS games. The games are the items that light up his eyes and have his fullest attention. Reaching into the box he would take them out but that a nearby auctioneer’s assistant would not have it so.
‘Sorry, no touching while the auction is in progress,’ the young woman tells him with polite severity.
Gene is startled by the sudden outburst of strictness.
‘Why?’ he cheerfully asks.
‘Because we don’t want lots to be put out of order, so you’ll have to sit down.’
‘I want to bid for these.’
‘Do you have a number?’
‘My dad has.’
‘Then you can bid for them when the lot comes up, it’s only three lots away now, so that will be soon.’
Gene cannot do anything other than what he is told. He was spoken to by officialdom and now must obey.
Stepping out into the back yard the boy makes his way to the coffee stall, a stall that is situated beside a large and handsome lemon tree. There are those taking shade from the sunlight under the tree, but they are not bidders but those who have come along as a matter of local interest. The more active members of the gathering are all seated in their chairs and looking on with interest at the lots.
‘Dad, our lot is coming up soon,’ Gene says to one of the men with a cup of steaming hot coffee in his hand.
The tall and slender man, a man with red hair, freckles and a lean face, looks down to his son and offers a smile.
‘Don’t you mean your lot?’
Gene looks down at his feet.
‘It could be our lot.’
‘As I said to you son, you can buy anything you like here, so long as it’s within your budget, all right?’
‘Sure, dad, when is your lot coming up?’
‘Not until much later.’
Gene just had to ask the question, he did not wish it to appear that he and his father are not here for him alone, but that his father also has reason to come along and enjoy a spell beneath the hot sun.
‘Lot number thirty.’
Gene’s ears are at attention and he is quick to follow.
‘This is it, dad.’
‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is the first of the assorted lots of the day in a collection that spans many decades. In this box are . . .’ the assistant picks out one item at a time and holds them up for the bidders to see, just a few to give an overall impression.
‘Now, what am I bid for these slices of history? Twenty? Ten? Five? Five dollars, do I have five dollars, there are some Nintendo games in there I see, they must be worth five dollars, my grandkids keep on playing them all the time and they cost a fortune in the shop,’ the auctioneer does his best, ‘so am I bid five dollars?’
Gene is almost having a fit as he looks up to his father for any signs of action. For the moment he is using the plastic laminated number to scratch an eyebrow with.
‘Come on dad, before someone else bids,’ his boy urges.
‘Wait just a moment, he might come down.’
‘Two dollars then, I won’t come below two dollars on anything in this sale.’
The hand of Gene’s father is not the first to go up as a flurry of takers at two dollars jump in at the chance. Gene is dismayed. The auctioneer is quick to seize the chance and rakes in the bids as he bounces off one hand to the other, when he reaches eighteen dollars he lingers.
‘Do I have any more than eighteen dollars, eighteen I have bid, eighteen once, twice.
Gene’s eyes are already at his father, who was not the last bidder. The hand goes up with the number.
‘Twenty, twenty, I have twenty dollars; do I hear twenty-two? Twenty-two dollars for some very expensive computer games, going once,’ Gene’s mouth opens up, ‘going twice,’ Gene’s mouth grows wider, ‘going three times and sold to number sixty-three,’ the auctioneer joyfully calls.
Gene is thrilled at their being the very last bidders, and Genes father Peter can be just as contented also.
‘Gee, thanks dad,’ the boy is almost lost for words.
‘It’s your money; you’ll be paying for it.’
‘Here then, go and pay for the box and bring it here,’ he says and, taking out his wallet draws out a twenty dollar bill.
‘Sure dad’, he takes the auction number as well, by now the auction has smoothly progressed past another two lots.
Gene is in the land of ecstasy, to the point he almost skips to the handful of people who have gathered around the payment table. Giving over the number to the woman seated at the cash register, she looks through her sheets and shakes her head.
‘Wait a moment for the sheet to come through mate and we’ll fix you up,’ she assures the young lad.
‘OK,’ he replies, with pride.
Gene waits for what feels to be forever. At last the auction sheet comes down from the man on the lectern and handed over to the woman at the cash register. The auction card is handed over and in about as much time as it takes for a mussel to close its shell the processes are followed, the money is paid and the item sent for. In a much shorter breadth of time the box is brought out from the back of the auction and handed over to its new and rightful owner.
‘Thanks, a lot of interesting stuff in there, take care of it,’ advises the woman at the cash register.
‘I will,’ assures Gene as he puffs out his young chest.
Confidently he strides back to where his father is still standing beside the coffee stand.
‘I have the box, dad,’ Gene says, almost giddily.
‘You’ve used up most of your allowance for the week, so don’t come asking me for anything further.’
‘I won’t,’ he makes the promise all children give, until the next time they spot something they cannot live without.
‘Hmmm,’ Peter gives a disbelieving grunt, ‘now, what did you buy for a brick?’
Gene hands over the box and his father moves a finger its contents.
‘Broken, no good, not much use,’ he loudly mutters, ‘Twenty dollars not so well spent,’ and hands the box back.
‘I have these,’ Gene takes the Nintendo games into his ready hand and waves them about in front of his father.
‘You have, now, but the rest of it . . .’
‘It’s just junk.’
‘I’ll find a use for it.’
‘Well, maybe, though, I have to say ,’ of all the pieces in the box he takes out the blue coloured stone, ‘this is the only bit of interest for me,’ he holds up the stone for a closer inspection.
The stone almost glows with an unexpected shine, as though it had been polished on a lathe and left to glimmer. There is something about this stone that holds Peter in its spell for a few moments.
‘Oh, it’s unusual, that’s all.’
‘It almost looks as though someone has tried to carve something into it, as though it belongs to another piece, at least I think so.’
‘What does it belong to?’
Young eyes look on the piece of geology with more observant, more questioning eyes the second time around.
‘If it does you’ll never find it.’
‘Why not dad?’
‘It looks as though this stone was broken off long ago, you can tell by this edge, you’re never likely to find it, at least around Geraldton, Western Australia.’
‘Oh well, this will do me,’ the child shrugs.
‘Good, it’ll have to do you,’ and the stone is handed over, ‘now go and take your bits and pieces into the car.’
‘I won’t lose anything.’
‘You might leave them behind, or someone might take it by accident.’
‘All right,’ Gene is reluctant to the idea of letting go of his latest asset, but he does not wish to argue with his father.
‘Here, take these, and don’t forget to lock the car up after you.’
‘Sure, dad,’ Gene takes the car keys and puts them into his pocket.
The auctioneer carries over to the next lot. If the auctioneer is aware of how happy he has made one of his younger customers then he might be a lot more contented, but he has no time for that for the mission of pleasing the bidders go es on.
Not wanting to distract the people in their seats Gene goes around the back of the yard and makes his way along the side of the house to the front yard. The front of the house has a fine veranda and turned posts. The yard is wide and stripped of anything that might be useful to an auctioneer, leaving only the items that have been cemented in and cannot be moved, such as the antique gas streetlight that is placed over an old wishing well.
Beyond the front yard cars are parked up and down the street. A crowd has descended onto the sale and the comers have made do with whatever parking there is. The streets of country towns are broad, quiet affairs and no one is likely to kick up a complaint. Almost all of the vehicles have Western Australian licence plates, though there are a sprinkle of licence plates that are from the Eastern States.
As Gene makes his way to the front gate, his head lowered deep in thought, he is caught by surprise by the sound of a throat being cleared.
‘Have a good time at the auction, young man?’
The voice is creaky, almost like that of an ancient machine that needed a hefty dose of grease to have it running properly.
He looks up.
The owner of the voice looks as old and as creaky as he sounds. Wearing an old style hat and grey suit, his tanned, wrinkled, long face shows an unquantifiable but old age. With a moustache as white as salt he wears a look that hangs with images, rather than with eyes. He looks exactly like the man in the photograph now in Gene’s possession.
‘I guess so,’ Gene is a little hesitant; the figure of the old man is strange to him and is not certain if he should approach.
‘You must have done.’
‘Absolutely, you seem to have bought the best item up for auction.’
‘Is that so?’ Gene feels a little more confident now someone his praising him for his choice of purchase.
‘Sure, let’s have a look at what’s in that box,’ the ancient man waves a bony hand to bring the boy over to him, for he wants to see what he seems to already know what is in the box.
Gene obliges and wanders on over.
When he arrives he takes out the Nintendo games and rests the box on the rim of the wishing well.
‘These games are so cool, they’re games I’ve been looking for, I couldn’t even find them online, and here they are.’
‘Is that so?’
‘I have thirty games so far.’
‘Do you?’ the old man shows only a patient interest.
‘Do you play Nintendo 3DS?’
‘Do your grandkids?’
‘I don’t have grandchildren.’
‘How about your kids?’
‘I don’t have children.’
That a man his age does not have children puzzles the young Gene.
‘I can tell you about the games I have.’
‘I’m certain you could, but there’s something else that you should keep a steady eye, and a firm hand on.’
‘What’s that?’ Gene cannot figure out what he not already doing.
A wizened hand dips into the cardboard container and pulls out of it the blue stone. The stone seems to glow even brighter in his keeping, almost as though it were incandescing with heat, but there is no heat Gene can feel.
‘This is what you should cherish.’
‘It’s a stone, why should a stone be cherished? I can find a stone anywhere around town if I looked.’
‘Of course, but this stone is special.’
‘It’s very ancient, very old, know where it comes from?’
Gene shakes his head.
‘It’s from Stonehenge, it’s Stonehenge bluestone.’
The boy is lost.
‘A long way away from here.’
‘Then why is it so special?’
‘It’s a place of magic, a place of supernatural forces, and this stone carries that magic and supernatural power in its crystals.’
‘Magic? Really?’ Gene does not know what to believe.
‘This stone can give you power, such power that it would go beyond your understanding and into the next world.’
Gene is a little frightened, but is curious at the same time.
‘I can see that you’ll find that out in the near future, but there is more to this stone than the eye can see.’
‘What’s that?’ Gene wants the old man to tell him more.
‘This stone is only part of a set of three, it was a carved figure that was broken up long ago, there are two other pieces that, when put together, show the face of the first Druid priest that filled the stone with his power.’
The revelation fascinates.
‘A druid, aren’t they funny people?’
‘They were the powerful elite and held terrifying forces in their command.’
‘What did they do with this power?’
‘Good, but this power can, and has been used for evil.’
‘With bad people?’
‘With evil people.’
Gene whistles and shakes his head.
‘Wow, that’s a great story.’
‘And not just a story my lad, so it is up to you, after you’ve found out some of the powers of this enchanted stone, to find the other two parts of this stone.’
‘You know, my dad said this stone belonged to something else, but he thinks I’m never going to find out what that is.’
The old man shakes his head.
‘Your father is wrong, but you’ll find that out.’
‘How can you be sure?’
‘I see it.’
‘How do you know so much about this blue stone anyway?’
‘Over many years I’ve know all about the rock, and now that my time is done, it is for someone else to discover how potent and, how dangerous it is.’
‘Dangerous, will it explode or something?’
‘It can draw dark powers around you, so dark that they are lost and you might never be found thereafter.’
Gene is still uncertain of what he should believe.
‘But if you’re of good and pure heart you need not fear, you’ll do justice to this rock and finish its story once and for all time.’
‘Gene, you still here?’
The young lad turns to find his father standing at the side of the house and looking directly at him.
‘I thought I told you to put that box in the car.’
‘Here’s dad, would you . . .’
Gene turns back to where the old man was standing to find there is no one about. He is all alone and his box, complete with the stone, is still perched on the wishing well.
‘Come on boy, put away your stuff, my lot is coming up soon and I don’t want to miss it,’ the father urges action.
Gene picks up his box and carries on as before, however with something more to think about.