Ariion Kathleen Brindley


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The Amulet of Isangoma


By M. J. Brewer


Clasping her head in both of her hands, Valerie woke up with a start. "Oh please, not again," she complained as quietly as possible while she sat upright in her bed. The night air was still surrounding her bed as she swung her legs over the side, feeling something furry beneath her feet. Yelping, her dog caused her husband to wake up, as she quickly removed her feet and found a more substantial place to put them.

"Jacks, go back to sleep! Valerie, what are you doing up already?" he pushed the button on the alarm clock for the face to light up before continuing, "It’s only four o’clock."

"It’s my head," Valerie explained as she stood slowly, gripping her head with both of her hands (boom-boom, boom-boom) and heading toward the door.

Her dog had moved across the room to find a safer place to sleep and lay back down, closing her eyes.

Jono had rolled the blankets up under his neck and gone back to sleep. This was not something out of the ordinary, since Val had these migraines about once a month.

With shaking hands, the light switch on the nightlight was flipped on in the bathroom. If there was one thing that Val had learned it was to avoid all light at any cost when her head was throbbing like it was. Unless there was an emergency, that’s just what she did, too.

Searching through the medicine cabinet, she managed to find a large prescription vile and pried the lid off. There were only two pills left at eight hundred milligrams each. Dr. Matthews had informed her that this was the last time that he’d be giving her this prescription until she was seen by a doctor again.

She remembered that day clearly as she inspected her reflection in the mirror. "If you can’t find anything wrong with me now," she’d prompted, "What difference will it make in three months?"

Dr. Matthews had given her the fatherly look that he sometimes gave her when he thought that it was ‘all in her head’, "Medicine changes and perhaps it’s a type of growing pain that will have outdone itself."

Not thinking that it was a growing pain because she was nearly thirty, she nodded in agreement so that she could take the pills that he’d given her. The rest could be dealt with later.

Speculating on how old she appeared to be now, with the shadows casting their strange contours across her face, she leaned even closer to the mirror. Reaching down to turn the cold water on, she splashed a bit on her cheeks, hoping that it would make her feel cooler, anyhow.

The countless times that she’d taken her temperature, she knew that she didn’t have one this time either, but the water still felt good.

When she sat back up from the sink, she thought that she could feel her brain shifting in her head and bouncing against the inflated membrane of her skull. She closed her eyes for a second and took a deep breath, releasing it slowly as she concentrated on feeling better. Sometimes it worked, but not this time.

Tears filled her eyes as she whispered to her reflection, "I can’t do this anymore, I just can’t!" She thought of all the things that she couldn’t do, drive a car, walk outside, sometimes it hurt to even sit up much less walk. Remembering last month’s episode, she closed her eyes and reflected on how painful each step she took was, as her head vibrated. Her husband had told her to drink four tablespoons of vinegar because that’s what his grandmother had told him and it worked for him. Surprised that she was even able to drink it, she was desperate enough to try anything and it worked for a few hours, but the aftertaste was extremely rancid.

Her friend had suggested taking two acetaminophen and four ibuprofen, but that hadn’t really helped and she’d tried that several times.

In fact, the only thing that helped was sleeping pills and all that managed to do was prolong it so that it would hurt later, instead of now. When the wretchedness really kicked in though, she couldn’t close her eyes without having to throw up.

Lying down on the couch, she turned the television on low and watched while she waited. She didn’t know what she was waiting for, since she’d tried everything that she could possibly think of.

The jingling of the chains brought Val back to reality as her dog came prodding down the stairs, ready to go outside. Cranking her head to the side, she came eye to eye with the Border collie that seemed to be begging Val to let her out.

"Just a minute," she informed her crudely. The unwavering dog laid her head on Val’s shoulder and whimpered impatiently. The hostage of inconvenience rolled over to her side, groaning as she pushed herself upright and grumbled incoherent promises.

Walking through the kitchen, she opened the back door, deliberately not looking into the morning sunlight, and let her out. As she turned around and leaned against the back door, the refrigerator seemed to beckon her to open it and see what it had to offer. When she did, she saw a pitcher of fresh grapefruit juice. Pouring herself a glass, she rotated around to enter the living room again.

Suddenly, the television was blaring so powerfully that she dropped her glass, causing it to shatter on the kitchen tiles and splinter across the floor.

The sound was staggering as she found her hands immediately raised to her ears to protect them from the sound that they’d already heard. Grabbing the sponge from inside the cupboard door, she wet it in the sink and struggled to wipe up the sticky juice from between the tiles. The broken shards of glass were twinkling at her as if mocking her when she got a piece lodged in her finger. (Boom! Boom! Boom!) Her face turned red and she began to shake as she felt the blood pulsating behind her eyes and in her ears. Her head felt extremely heavy, as she held it at this angle waiting for the anguish to subside.

Tediously, she removed the glass sliver by sucking it out and wiping it off of her tongue with a paper towel. This was something that her mother used to warn her about often as a child, but she still did it.

The television was still boisterously ringing through the house but her husband wouldn’t hear it. He was pretty much history now that he woke up to find out what was going on.

"Forget it!" she dismissed the entire mess, stumbling to her feet into the living room to turn the volume down before getting a bandage. At this hour, she wasn’t entirely surprised to see an Infomercial on.

The commercial was advertising a mystical cure for headaches. The antidote was not shown, nor was the price, just an old woman that appeared to be a gypsy of some sort along with a phone number flashing across the bottom of the screen.

"Right, the cure for everything is in the Infomercials," she laughed. Then the patrons that had been relieved were on, giving their testimonials and a lot of them described the headaches that Val had been experiencing.

Thinking about it for a second, (boom-BOOM, boom-BOOM) a major throb interrupted her thoughts just long enough to insist that it be taken seriously. Ready to try anything once, she scrambled into the kitchen by the phone, picking up the pad and pen. Jostling the number down, she continued listening to the affirmations of these people that said after only one day of the ambiguous therapeutic treatment, they never suffered again.

Picking up the telephone she began to dial the number. "Aunt Isangoma’s Miracle Cure. How can I help you?" the voice sang out of the hearing piece.

The televisions volume decreased when the voice came on the line and Valerie turned her back to it.

Valerie hesitated before saying, "Yes, I just saw your advertisement on the television and had a few questions."

"Yes, go on."

"I need to know what it is and how much it costs. And also, how long it takes to have it delivered."

"Let me start then by saying that it can be delivered immediately and hopefully by then your suffering has not reached its peak."

When she said this, Valerie realized that her headache wasn’t at its peak yet, because that was when she began crying for practically no reason. The price, though she did need to know it, was of no significant importance to her.

"The cost is a bit steep, but depending on the frequency and the strength of your migraine, it will be considered well-worth the price. It’s guaranteed."

Valerie considered what she was hearing, "What is it, anyway?"

The female on the phone paused before continuing, "Getting into what it actually is could be a bit complicated, therefore I cannot be permitted to disclose that information over the phone."

"What do you mean ‘you can’t disclose that information’? Legally you have to!" frustrated, she was wondering if it was a joke of some kind. It wouldn’t be the first time, especially through a television order. (boom-boom, boom-boom)

"Ma’am, I’m sorry. Like I said though, we do have a guarantee. We can get it there immediately and if you open it and don’t like it, send it back. We cannot possibly pack up the company and leave in a day, so you are guaranteed."

Thinking about it before asking how much it would cost, she listened to the answer.

"It’s one thousand dollars, Valerie," she was told matter-of-factly and the voice sounded as if she anticipated an astonished client.

"You’re crazy! If you think I’m paying that kind of money for something that you won’t even tell me about, you’re just crazy!" and she hung up the phone, taking a deep breath and rubbing her temples with her fingers (boom, boom, boom).

Sitting on the couch and glaring at the television at all of the pain-free people that used to have to endure pain like her own, she changed the channel. All of the programming was too annoying and loud to tolerate, no matter how much she decreased the volume.

Suddenly, as if a she’d received a premonition, she sat up, "She said my name. I don’t think I told her my name." Thinking about it, she wasn’t sure if she had or not. Her head was in so much misery (boom, boom, boom), that she couldn’t bring herself to think about it.

Clicking the set off, she lay back on the couch and covered her eyes with her arm. The sun was coming up now and trying to pry its way through the blinds behind the sofa. She tried to hum to herself, but even the ringing of that vibrated her ears so much that it hurt and it was seeming to increase. (Boom! Boom! Boom!)

Jono was yawning as he came down the stairs and staggered into the kitchen to start the coffee. Val’s eyes popped open with a start when the refrigerator door thumped closed. Then it was the cupboards opening and slamming, joined by the drawers shuffling the silverware around before rattling closed.

"Quit! Quit!" she hollered, squinting her eyes as her own voice throbbed throughout her head. (Boom! Boom! Boom!)

"Oh, sorry," Jono offered around the corner, but after a few minutes the commotion had resumed.

After he poured the coffee into the China cup and noisily stirred it with a clinking spoon, he pounded upstairs and banged the door closed to take a shower. At least that’s what it seemed to Valerie.

Cars were noisily driving up and down the street, honking their horns and squealing around corners. The neighbors talking and laughing as they walked past her window became irritating as well. "It’s only going to get worse," she sang to herself as she felt her cotton-packed brain throbbing again.

When the shower came on upstairs, she opened her eyes and noticed the number written on the paper which she’d noted fifteen minutes earlier. It seemed like an hour ago to her as she picked it up, rubbing her head with her other hand.

"Somehow a thousand dollars doesn’t seem like that much after all," she confirmed as she fanned herself with the piece of paper, leaning on the wall.

Picking up the telephone, she began to dial the number.

* * *

Jono had been working on the truck in the garage when he came through the front door. "Val!" he hollered, "Just signed for a package for you!"

Groggy from the sleeping medicine she had taken, Val sat up with a cold cloth on her forehead that was all but dry, "What?"

"A package from Aunt Isangoma. I didn’t know you had an aunt!"

Val was confused as she swung her legs off of the couch and sat up, "It’s here already?"

Obstruction racked her brain as she began to try and think. Hadn’t she just ordered the package this morning? It was about five hours ago, she thought.

"Here, you take it," he smiled, tossing the package to her, "I’m almost done working on the truck." She cringed as she caught it, jarring her cerebral matter in its cavity.

With that, he was out the door, allowing it to slam behind him.

(Boom-BOOM, Boom-BOOM)

Inspecting the package, she turned it over and over again, searching for the postmark but not being able to find one. Deciding that it wasn’t as important as getting rid of her headache and putting a cost of a thousand dollars on her credit card, she opened the paper in eager anticipation. Each rip of the paper, seemed to reverberate in her head (boom-boom, boom-boom) as her eyes became slits and her nose wrinkled up.

When she was down to the box, it had no markings on it whatsoever. It was a plain, white box that opened at the end very easily.

The crumpled up paper inside, encased a small pouch made of a fabric that appeared to be that of a guinea sack. Taking it out of the midst of paper, she loosened up the drawstring and stuck her finger inside the rough fabric, burrowing. She could feel something hard, but couldn’t tell what it was.

Jamming her thumb inside with her finger, she pinched them together and brought out a chain. It seemed to be some sort of antique silver and at the end was a petite ball that had miniscule holes in it.

"Odd," she held it up, eyeing it for a second before searching through the papers which she had just discarded.

Finding the paper with instructions on it, she was informed to put it on while she slept at night. During the day, she could continue to wear it if she wanted, but it was imperative to wear it at bedtime.

That was all it said.

Slipping it over her head she didn’t feel anything, except for the boom-boom that she still wasn’t accustomed to. She felt no tingles or overall joyous feelings, nothing at all like the miracle that she’d been expecting for the money she’d paid.

Valerie felt like the sucker that she’d heard so much about and dreaded admitting to her husband what she’d fallen for.

The door to the garage swung open and in walked Jono, flinging the door closed behind him. Val’s eyes closed for a second (boom-boom, boom-boom) and when she opened them, he was standing in front of her.

"Gotta wash up!" he notified her before heading up the stairs to the restroom.

"Seems sort of odd, doesn’t it?" she asked him, tipping her head to the side, "You showered before you worked on the truck and now you’re showering again?"

"Yeah, I guess so," he paused, "But I needed to wake up this morning and now I need to get cleaned up."

He’d rotated around to answer her and stopped when he saw her amulet. "Is that what was in the package? Kind’a ugly, isn’t it? Hope you didn’t pay much for it."

Glancing down at it she picked it up, rotating it between her thumb and forefinger before she agreed. "I suppose, but if it works who cares what it looks like?"

Without giving her an answer, he went in the restroom to clean up.

Returning to her spot on the sofa, she stretched out and closed her eyes.

* * *

When she awakened, the house was silent except for some soothing music coming from the stereo at a low key. The bothersome pounding of her head seemed to have died down immensely as she smiled and exhaled deeply. Scrutinizing the talisman for a second, she wondered where her husband was.

Thinking hard before sitting up, she was afraid to because that’s what caused her head to hurt the most, but she did it anyway. There was a slight throb as she stood up and investigated the house. The shower could no longer be heard as she climbed the stairway to the bathroom. The door was open and no one was inside.

The bedroom was the same.

"Jono?" she called him, but got no reply.

The telephone began to ring, causing her head to begin its pulsating thud-thud, thud-thud again, but not as intense as it had been. Answering it, she began talking to Kevin, Jono’s bowling partner.

Peering around the corner into the kitchen, she looked at the clock. It was almost seven o’clock already. She had slept the better part of the day.

"I don’t know where he is, Kevin. He isn’t there?" the concern was apparent in her voice.

"Haven’t seen him. Just wondered if he was running late again," Kevin told her, "I guess there isn’t much since in getting worked up, he’s probably on his way."

"Yes," her voice wavered as it drifted out of her mouth, "I suppose he is."

"Well, thanks."

"Wait a second," she stopped him, "If he shows up you’ll have him call me, won’t you?"

"Sure thing!" he said just before breaking the connection.

Hanging the phone up, Val wandered back to the garage door, checking just to make sure that he wasn’t working on the truck still.

The garage was empty.

Her car was gone.

Val’s head was beginning to drum loudly to her again (boom-BOOM, boom-BOOM). Concentrating, she tried to imagine what it was like when she’d first awakened, when she was pain-free, but she couldn’t.

Surveying the clock one last time, she turned the television on and abruptly shut it off before throwing the remote down on the couch and going to her bedroom.

Her head impaired her thinking so much that she didn’t have time to figure out what happened to Jono or where he was. She didn’t have time for anything except striving to get her money’s worth from her new token. Besides, he was a big boy and he’d always tried to reason with her by telling her so.

As she flipped the light switch on, it was promptly extinguished because the glow from the bulb distressed her eyes and her abscessed head.

Valerie wound up feeling her way to the bed by poking around with her toes ahead of each step she took in the plush carpet.

Climbing in between the coolness of the sheets she could hear the neighborhood once again, as they celebrated their Saturday evening rituals. Moaning through gritted teeth, she clasped her pillow around her head and rolled over onto her side.

Her brain thumped against the side of her head (boom-boom, boom-boom) until she was able to go to sleep.

* * *

When Valerie awakened, she could hear distant shouting that echoed throughout her brain. It seemed as if it were far away, yet somehow, close by. Sitting up, she could hear screams of anguish. Jono was not in the bed and the door was still slightly ajar, the way she’d left it.

Listening, she could hear a scratching sound from further away. "Who’s there?" she asked the night air, "Who is it?"

It was then that she heard whining. Running for the staircase, she descended the steps and opened the back door, allowing her dog inside. "Jacks, you scared the hell out of me!" she sighed.

Jacks looked at her like she didn’t care, but was glad to finally be back in the house.

"Where’s your daddy?" Val asked her. Jacks expressed her disinterest in her owner’s uncertainty as she languidly walked to her dish to get a drink.

That’s when Valerie noticed that the voices she’d heard earlier were gone, but her headache had shifted locations. Now, instead of having discomfort in the rear of her head it had shifted to her frontal lobes, behind her temples again.

Climbing the stairs to the bathroom, she opened the medicine cabinet. Taking out a bottle of sleeping pills, she emptied two into her hand and retrieved a disposable cup to fill with water. After swallowing the pills, she looked into the mirror and simultaneously turned the light on.

Inside of her right pupil, she thought that she saw the reflection of a man’s face gawking back at her. Whirling around to look behind her, there was nothing there. Peering at her reflection closely, inspecting both eyes, she only saw her dark black pupils surrounded by green iris’ and large, red veins throughout her whites.

Curiously she rolled the pills over reading for side effects, but didn’t see anything about hallucinations unless more than the recommended dosage was taken. That definitely was not the case, besides they hadn’t been inside of her long enough to affect anything and she’d only taken two.

"Hmm," she thought to herself, maybe she should take a couple more. Then she chuckled, "Not if I’m already having delusional episodes."

Extinguishing the light, she returned to the bedroom with Jacks right behind her and climbed into bed. Rolling over, she checked out the time. It was only nine-thirty. If Jono had made it bowling, he wouldn’t be home for another hour. Valerie wondered if Jono had made it to the tournament, but dismissed it when she remembered telling Kevin to call if he had. She knew that she couldn’t report him missing for twenty-four hours and she didn’t have the car to search on her own. Besides, with the monster headache she had, she’d feel sorry for the other drivers on the road. She decided that she had no choice but to wait and hope that he turned up.

This was her third day of headache heaven and each day she wondered if she’d be able to suffer through another or if it would be gone by morning. Closing her eyes, she allowed the sleeping pills to do their job (thud-thud, thud-thud) as she rolled the amulet between her fingers and went to sleep.

Valerie had been sleeping for about half an hour when she woke up to Jacks’ wailing horridly. Shooting straight up in bed she called out, "Jacks?"

The thumping and protesting continued across the room until she turned the table lamp on beside the bed. Jacks was in the corner seeming to be chasing her own tail, interchanging between fussing and growling while she nipped at it.

"What are you doing?" Valerie asked, sliding off the bed and approaching her dog, "Wake up! You’re having a bad dream, Jacks!"

Jacks didn’t pay attention but continued to run in circles, snapping at her rear haunches. Valerie reached out to wake her up when she noticed that dangling from the hair on her dog’s left leg was a tiny fairy-looking creature that had a miniature maraca dangling from his hand. The other hand was hanging on for dear life and sheer terror was etched on his wee, pink face.

"What’s this?" she demanded to no one that could answer, "What is this?"

Her head began to scream inside as a terrible gust of shrill sounds escaped her ears (BANG-BANG, BANG-BANG). Clasping her hands to her ears, she felt a jab in her right hand. Pulling it down to look at it, there was a small cut on the skin between her finger and thumb. Fuzzy headed and confused, she furrowed her eyes and stumbled back to the restroom to get a better look at her wound.

Hitting the light switch with her cut hand, the room illuminated instantly. Straddling the top of her right ear was a teensy-weensy man wielding a needle-sized sword. Inside of her ear was another being that appeared to have a pair of cymbals and every time he clapped them together she twitched in pain, squinting her eyes. The cymbal player laughed aloud until the other man swung his sword cutting the instrumental genius in half. The two portions of deceased musician fell into the sink, rolling all the way to the drain and vanishing behind the stopper.

Valerie’s eyes were wide with horror as she witnessed another man making his appearance in her canal, but this one had a bass drum and he was beating it with all of his might (BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!). Every time he swung his tymp sticks, her head vibrated inside and her eyes scrunched up tightly.

The little soldier snatched a piece of her hair that was tucked up into her ponytail, yanking it loose and swung down to her ear canal. The warrior followed the derelict and disappeared inside.

Screaming madly, she covered her ears and ran back to the bedroom, throwing herself onto the bed and rolling over it back and forth, hoping that the tiny men would fall out.

Holding her hands over her ears, she shrieked as loud as she possibly could over the noise of the drumming and clicking of the fight inside. Every time one of them knocked against the side of her swollen brain, she flinched in distress.

When the fight was at last over, the little soldier slid down the strand of hair, down the chain of the necklace, descended the bedclothes and landed on the carpeted floor where he stopped to pant.

Next, he was sprinting across the floor to where Jacks continued to bite at the pint-size musician.

Waiting for just the right moment he lunged forward, gripping the right, hind leg of the dog and scaling up it to her tail. His adversary was half-way down the other leg and had lost both of his maracas, but clung fiercely to the hair of the dog.

The valiant bug-sized man dove as he reached out and managed to grip a handful of hair from Jacks’ tail. Swinging over to the minstrel, he swiped at the air with his sword, catching nothing but air and a snippet of dog hair which fluttered to the carpeted floor.

The next swing, took him directly to the culprit as he waved his sword again. This time, he didn’t miss and the villain flew through the air with one arm missing and hit the vent in the wall. With all of his strength, he pushed with his legs until he fell in between the grating of the vent and disappeared into the ducts.

Jacks sat down and began scratching behind her ear with her hind leg as the remaining miniature soldier climbed off, ran to the bed and ascended the bedspread to Valerie.

Staring up at her, she could see him smile and bow before climbing to her necklace. Catching the amulet as it swung back and forth, he wiggled himself back inside through one of the tiny holes.

Valerie put the charm to her lips, planting a kiss on it. She couldn’t wait to tell Jono what had happened, but the sleeping pills got their way and she was out like a light.

* * *

The next morning, Valerie woke up to Jono nudging her arm. "Wake up!" he told her excitedly, "I made you breakfast!"

Wiggling up from the blankets she saw that he had. It was a big breakfast with waffles and bacon.

"How come you’re so happy?" she asked him.

"I won in the overall competition last night and with your head hurting so badly, I thought that making you breakfast was the least I could do." Jono sat down on the bed beside her and stroked her hair, "How is your head?"

"I don’t think I’ve ever been better!" she smiled, reaching for the ornament that was hanging about her neck, but it was gone. She wanted to tell him about the tiny soldier, but knew that he wouldn’t believe her without proof. Sometimes even with proof he didn’t believe her. He always told her that her imagination would get the best of her someday.

Patting her on the head like a puppy, he left the bedroom to finish dishing up his own breakfast.

When she was finished, she got up to put her dishes away and halfway across the room, jerked her foot up in pain. Looking down at the carpet, she could barely make out the tiny maraca that lay between the threads in the rug.

Lifting her head she considered telling him after all, but when she looked back down, she couldn’t find it.

"It must have been all in my head," she thought, that is until she got the bill for her credit card.

That was a different kind of headache.





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