Beneath Smoked Glass

1

They say the jar is full of voices, caged behind the weathered glass. I wouldn't know. I'm just the caretaker for the Mansewell estate. But I do hear things from time to time.

Oh, not from the jar. That'd be crazy, and I'd like to think I've got a few more years left in me before this brain ticks past its best before by date.

I do beg your pardon for rambling, and thank you kindly for the drink. Where was I?

Ah, right. Things I've heard about the jar.

There was this professor type who visited a few weeks back, claimed he could tell the age of the thing just by studying imperfections in the glass. Said glass is a fluid, only it flows real slow, so you can look at how much is bunched up at the bottom and get a pretty good guess. Said that he was fixing to come back with fancy measurement tools and find out precisely when it was made, but that it was bound to be pretty close to the fall of the Roman empire.

'course, we had another professor come in the next week from a rival university claiming that was all bunk. I suppose that's what professors do; bandy the same topic back and forth 'til it loses all meaning and…

Thank you. That's some fine brandy. Much higher shelf than I'm accustomed to drinking, but I like it. It finishes smoky.

I was saying? Oh, stories about the jar. There are a couple more.

Some students snuck in one night on a dare. Reckon they were locals. Boyfriend and girlfriend. Decided to save on admission to a scary movie and go neck in the antiquities wing.

Now, I'm just the caretaker. Wasn't my job to stop them. That's what security's for. So it certainly wasn't my fault an ambulance got called to the estate to patch a hole in the boy's arm.

How did it get there? Hell if I know. Pardon the language, sir. I'm just a wee bit tipsy. Not that I'd say no to a little bit more brandy…

Good health to you

Now, the third story. That's the doozy. Still got me scratching my head, right in the bald spot. Happened three weeks back to the day. This cat burglar slipped in, intending to make off with the jar. He got caught, of course…

2

So you're not a lawyer. Fantastic. Why am I wasting my time chatting with you?

You're outta your mind. You straight up admit that you're not a lawyer, and then you start fishing for information like that? You new at this? Or are you just jerking my chain?

Hey, man. Words hurt. Maybe it was only my second heist, but I'd been planning it for weeks. Got blueprints. Cased the joint. Knew every damn cranny in the building; I could probably do security better than the lowbrow schmucks they hired to make sure priceless gew-gas like the jar didn't walk off.

I got busted in the end. Fine. No use denying that, but it wasn't 'cause of any fault of mine. I'd gotten away clean. No scrapes. No bumps. No gashes.

Why did I say 'no gashes'? Well, when you're burgling a place you try not to leave telling pieces of you behind for the boys in blue. Fingerprints. Hairs. Blood. Your driver's license and registration. It's bad form and it gets you caught eventually.

So, there I was thinkin' that I'd gotten away scott free. I had the jar. I was off the estate, and I was lookin' to unload it before folks even figured it was missing. I took it to this antiques dealer to get it inspected, and as he was rummaging around through his tools I felt this cold, wet pressure on the palms of my hands. It didn't hurt none. It's more like that feeling you get when you lick a frozen telephone pole before some cock-knocker pulls you backwards and the skin rips off.

What happened next? Well, the skin ripped off. Two perfect sheets of flesh, thin as paper, dropped off my hands and blood started pouring out the front of them. Regular pair of fire hoses. I panicked and split. The antiques dealer called an ambulance. Must'a described the jar too, for some reason.

Anyways, police showed up. Analyzed the blood. Matched it to another pair of bloody handprints that I swear on my honor as a bastard I did not leave on the manor door. Then they tracked me down to my flat and took me in. I'm half glad they did, too, because I was running out of rags to staunch the bleeding with. It just wouldn't go away. I was feeling a little woozy. Faint. Like the world had gone all pale.

They took me to the hospital first. Tried to bandage me, but the wounds had somehow sealed up during the drive. They did spike me with an IV and give me a few days of rest, but it was just for long enough that they didn't feel like utter dicks when they tossed me in here for safe keeping.

What happened to the jar? Hell if I know.

You gonna try and get me outta here or what?

3

I'm pretty close to closing up. Could we do this another time?

Alright. I suppose it'll only take a few minutes…

You're not here for an appraisal, you say? What are you here for?

Oh. That thing. Look, the cops and I have been over this. I didn't take it. That's God's honest truth. I don't know what happened to…

Supposing I believe you. Who are you with? Local press? Tabloids? I'm not going to testify to Bigfoot taking the damn thing, or that I saw Elvis behind the tinted windows of their getaway car. I still care about the one or two shreds of my reputation that I've got left.

You're just a collector, then? Of really old jars…huh, sure. I've heard stranger. I'm not saying I believe you, but I guess you're harmless. If you can promise not to spread this around, I'll tell you what I saw when the paramedics arrived.

Go close the door for a second.

Thanks.

Alright, so, they got here a little before the policemen did. I guess they were just closer. Anyways, I still had the jar on the counter when they came in. The guy who'd lifted it had already fled, so there wasn't much else for them to do aside from asking questions.

I never caught his name, but there was this red-headed kid—must have been on his second or third call, ever—who came in with them. The instant he walked in through the door, I felt as if the pressure in the room had changed. Like we were all suddenly a couple miles higher above sea level.

Nah. My ears didn't pop or anything like that, but it was still weird. Everything felt lighter. Thinner. And then I glanced over at the counter and found the jar had been moved a good two or three feet. I decided I must have bumped it and forgotten. I've been held up twice before, but I'm still a little shaky under pressure.

Anyways, we were talking. The paramedics and I. They wanted to know about the man who'd come in with the jar, and I didn't have all that much to tell them. The kid wandered over by the counter, back turned on the jar, and I caught a little bit of motion out of the corner of my eye.

For half a second it didn't strike me as odd at all, and then I realized that it had been the jar and I whipped around to see it sitting right next to him. Practically pressing against the creases in his uniform.

I guess the other paramedics saw me go a little pale, so they had me sit down and put my head between my knees and breathe evenly for a little while. I kept trying to explain what I'd seen, but they didn't seem to get it. When I finally got a little color back and they let me look up, the jar was gone.

At first I thought the kid had swiped it, but none of the paramedics would admit to seeing it in the first place. That made things a little difficult between the police and I. Maybe now you understand why I couldn't go around telling everyone. They would've called me crazy.

Thank you. It's nice to hear that, but I wish I could just wash my hands of this whole affair…

What's the money for? I thought you didn't need anything appraised.

I think I understand you.

Alright. Mum's the word.

4

McNamara household. Linda speaking.

Oh. You must want Danny. One moment, please.

Hello. This is Daniel McNamara speaking. How may I—Linda, would you hang up the phone? It's making this awful noise. Like a computer being poked with a stick.

Sorry about that. How may I help you?

Yes. Yes, I was. Who is this speaking?

I see. Are you with Saint Michaels General Hospital?

Please pardon my abruptness, then, but what are you calling about?

Oh. No. We don't have anything like that here. Good evening.

5

Hello?

I just told you we didn't—

I don't care what you've been told. You obviously have the wrong add—

Oh my god. How do you know it does that? We've been trying to get rid of it, but the only time it leaves the house is when I go off to work. And then it follows me.

You can? This won't trace back to us, right? I didn't take it, I swear. It came back home with me, and I know how stupid that sounds.

Hold on a second.

No, honey. I wasn't yelling. I just got a little excited.

Yes, I promise I'll explain as soon as I'm done.

Love you too.

Where was I? Yeah. You can remove it for us? Quietly?

Thank you, sir. Thank you so much.

I'll see you tomorrow at eight. Just get rid of it. I don't care what you do with it afterwards.

It's starting to get to me.

6

If you're hearing this, then I am most certainly dead. What remains uncertain is whether I succeeded in what I set out to do. This tape will not tell you that. I advise you against going up to the attic to find out for yourself. In fact, the best course of action would be to go out to the nearest hardware store and buy an armful of kerosene, then come back here and smoke a couple of very unsafe cigarettes near the foundation of my house.

Do it right now.

Pause the tape and get back in your car.

If you're still listening to this, you're in a lot of danger. But I suppose that's human nature in a nutshell; an ape sticking its hand into the campfire to find out what burning feels like. Even though it knows it's bad. Even though it knows it might get hurt or die. Curiosity is our worst vice.

I can only hope that you're still listening because you want to make a rational, well-informed decision before you do something as rash as arson. That makes you a decent, stand-up citizen. It also means you're probably going to go straight up to the attic after all this to see what the fuss is about.

Idiot.

In any case, the facts—if you need to know them—are thus:

Yesterday morning I came into the possession of a very unusual artifact. It has been at the epicenter of numerous local legends, and just recently it slipped out of its exhibit at the Mansewell estate and became the subject of a brief police search. It was never found.

At least, it wasn't found by them.

You've probably read about the murder-suicide over at Quincy drive. Or you've seen it on the news.

I was involved in that.

Depending on who you are, I'd lay seventy/thirty odds that you think I was the perpetrator. More if you're cop, although I don't know how you would have tracked me down so quickly. Good on you.

If you're not a cop, hold off on calling them for a little while. You owe it to yourself to wait until the tape's done, instead of having it confiscated right before you hit the end.

A mystery like that is the killing kind. It's like watching the first hour of a horror flick. You won't sleep right for years.

And maybe that's why I'm getting ready to do what I'm about to do.

I have a hammer. Plain. Flat. Little curly, re-curved bit on one end. I bought it for a little under ten bucks at the same hardware store you should be getting that kerosene from.

I'm going to take that hammer upstairs with me, where I have a certain object wrapped up in a tarp.

I've been told that glass breaks pretty easily, but this thing makes me wonder. It might be awfully strong.

Or breaking it might be the worst thing in the world for me to do.

There's no way to tell, and I can't stand mysteries.

I'm going to go upstairs now. You're welcome to follow me. Or else you can stay here and wonder.

This tape will run for another five minutes.

Listen real close, and maybe you'll hear what's about to happen.