STRANGE OLD MAN AND THE PURPLE RING
By Forrest Wayne Schultz
The Strange Old Man got right to the point. He handed me the ornate box containing the Purple Ring, looked me straight in the eye, and proclaimed, "Your previous mission was in another world and you had to wait some time before knowing the deliverance you were sent there to perform. This time the deliverance you are to perform is in this world and you will know immediately what you are to do. I shall bid you Farewell now for my time in this world is at an end!" I bade the SOM Goodbye and walked out of his house. He died that evening.
As soon as I placed the Ring upon my finger I knew that my mission was to protect a worthy young woman from great danger and that my first act was to walk through the SOM's back yard, enter the woods, and then proceed along the Indian Trail. I had enjoyed my times on the Indian Trail as a boy and as I walked along it now the memories came flooding back. My reverie was abruptly interrupted when a briefcase came sliding down the hill and landed right at my feet. I picked it up and kept walking.
The briefcase came from a man who had been carrying it while he was walking along the path at the crest of the hill. When he stumbled over a rock, the briefcase flew out of his hand and down the slope toward me, and his fall knocked him unconscious and propelled his body toward the slope on the opposite side of the hill down which he tumbled into a deep swiftly flowing river at its base. The river drowned him and carried him a long distance downstream where he became the dinner for a hungry alligator.
This man was delivering the briefcase to a professional assassin waiting at a designated secluded spot in the woods. The briefcase contained his fee plus information on the young woman he had been hired to "terminate". He was considered by those knowledgeable of such matters as one of the most highly skilled assassins in the world, and he had never once failed to accomplish his "hits". His pride in his perfect record had led him to become extremely arrogant so that it was not surprising that he became enraged when the delivery man failed to show up on time. As he paced back and forth and his fury mounted he became so careless of his steps that he slipped and fell off the edge of the cliff and down into the same deep river where he joined the delivery man in his watery grave and was wafted toward the same spot where he provided the meal for another alligator.
The assassin's fee was paid by two wealthy anonymous conspirators who (via a man not known as their employee) hired a local criminal gang to find a "hit man" and deliver the payment and the information on the young woman to him. Shortly after sending forth the delivery man, this local criminal gang was wiped out when their headquarters were bombed (apparently the result of their dispute with a rival gang). At the time that the assassin was being eaten by the alligator the conspirators were on their yacht heading for a remote island when a storm suddenly arose which sank the yacht and drowned the men in the angry waves. After the storm subsided they were eaten by hungry sharks.
Thus endeth the first threat against the young woman but a more insidious one was awaiting.
The first thing I did upon my arrival at home was to open the briefcase. I was astonished to see that the fee was one million dollars. The planned assassination must have been regarded as extremely important by the conspiratorial duo for them to shell out that kind of money! I then turned my attention to the information on the young woman. This consisted of excellent photographs of her and a great deal of biographical data. After I examined these data and the data I garnered from a very extensive search on my computer I could not see anything there which would provide a reason for anyone to wish to assassinate her. I should point out that my computer search was quite "wide" and that the sources I accessed were more than those available from the usual "Googling". It also involved data bases only accessible by law enforcement agencies. Nowhere could I see even a hint of a reason why someone would want to murder her.
The name of this young woman is Corrie Belle Adams. She takes great delight in her descent from the great Samuel Adams and she seeks to emulate his life by her own "revolutionary" activities through an organization she recently founded called Daughters of Liberty -- the name, of course, being a take-off on her ancestor's Sons of Liberty. The purpose of the Daughters of Liberty is promoting the involvement of young women in the recovery of traditional American values. She is a high school senior at The Legacy School and next year she will matriculate at The Legacy College, both of which are nearby "classical" schools strongly committed to these same traditional American values. Her parents and her younger sister and her church also share her values. Although she is feisty like her ancestor, Corrie Belle never does anything unethical or illegal or even confrontational; in fact, her own style and that of her organization is very positive and sophisticated in the promotion of these values. They like to say that anyone can denounce evil; doing good takes talent.
My computer search on the conspiratorial duo, two elderly lifelong bachelor brothers, turned up almost no information whatever because of their extremely reclusive lives. Their parents were almost as reclusive and little information is available about them either. However, their paternal grandfather was well-known to historians as one of the leaders of the Communist coup that overthrew the monarchy of Nordland and brutally massacred the entire royal family and almost all of the nobility, outdoing even the Russian Bolsheviki in their reign of terror, which was soon ended by a pragmatist counter-revolution, which restored order (but not the monarchy) and brought Nordland into modernity . Immediately prior to this counter-revolution, the grandfather embezzled a large amount of money and fled the country and emigrated to America where he founded the family business, a minor oil company. He became very disillusioned both with Communism (and any other utopian notions) and with Nordlandic nationalism and he threw himself into his business and into becoming an ardent American with no nostalgia for his former land or former beliefs. His only son, who was born an American, accepted his lot and had no passion for anything except stamp-collecting so that he let his manager run the business for him and he ceased all social activities and holed himself up in his mansion. His wife too became a recluse and spent all her time in studying the ancient Greek philosophers. In fact there is virtually no information about her except for her scholarly writings. Although these writings were widely published, she remained reclusive because she never gave any lectures or attended any symposia or joined any scholarly organizations. She became known in academic circles for attacking the conventional wisdom by claiming that Democritus was a far better philosopher than Plato! She was an excellent writer and a brilliant thinker who was so interesting that I had to restrain myself to stop reading her and to get back to the task at hand, which clearly was in no way connected to Democritus. The sons of these two recluses became so reclusive that they did not even marry and the only time they ever leave their mansion is for their annual observations of the bizarre mating rituals of a very rara avis that lives on the uninhabited island to which they were traveling in their yacht when it met the abovementioned fate.
I know very little about the Purple Ring. I somehow received the impression that it had been dormant for some time and that its protective purpose was re-activated when I took it from its box and placed it upon my finger. Something about it reminded me of a story I had read a long time ago in which a similar ring's protective powers were withdrawn from a family which had become unworthy and were not returned until generations later when a worthy descendant arrived on the scene.
While recalling this impression and preparing to consult some books about Samuel Adams and his descendants to check out this theory, I received information from the Ring that the more insidious threat to Corrie Belle had been determined -- a threat of maleficent magic. The device which will produce this magic is called the Ponergon, which is a conflation of the two Greek words meaning evil (poneros) and work (ergon). Actually, the Ponergon is really just a fancy name for "Curse" (or, perhaps, "Curse Producer"), because a curse is something which works
evil on its intended target. The real name of the "mage" wielding it is unknown. We do know that he likes to show off his knowledge of Greek! He calls himself "Neo-Tecumseh", i.e. the new Tecumseh -- another example of this Hellenophilia: the prefix "neo" comes from the Greek adjective neos, which means "new". He has chosen this name because he regards himself as the equal of Tecumseh, who possessed various paranormal abilities including precognition and the power which placed the 120 year Curse upon the U.S. Presidency which resulted in each President elected every twenty years from 1840 through 1960 dying in office:
1840 - William Henry Harrison;
1860 - Abraham Lincoln;
1880 - James Garfield;
1900 - William McKinley;
1920 - Warren G. Harding;
1940 - Franklin D. Roosevelt;
1960 - John F. Kennedy.
This Tecumsehite Curse was little known (because historians did not want to discuss it) until recently when finally the History Channel did a show on it. Neo-Tecumseh claims to know the site where Tecumseh stood when he invoked this Curse. This is the same spot on which he will stand when he uses the Ponergon to invoke the Curse upon Corrie Belle Adams two days hence at 12 Noon.
It is proving to be very difficult to gather info on Neo-Tecumseh because he is surrounded by some sort of magical "force field" which both protects him and prevents surveillance, and his computer is so super-protected that, even though I am one of the top hackers in our country, I was only able to get partly into it, and the info I gathered was meager. The knowledge I garnered, however, was sufficient to indicate the existence of a small super-secretive group committed to the killing of Corrie Belle AND that there is a split in this group between the "materialists" (who want to accomplish this through a hit man) and the "spiritualists" (who want to destroy her through maleficent magic). The conspiratorial duo who hired the hit man headed up the materialist faction; Neo-Tecumseh is the head of the spiritualist faction. I suppose that Neo-Tecumseh will enjoy some gloating after he learns of the failure of the materialists!
Even the Ring does not know much about this but it does know the very important fact that the ONLY way Corrie Belle can be protected from the Ponergon is to destroy it by wearing the Ring while standing at the center of a certain spot on top of a high hill located about 50 miles from here. This hill is called Mount of Runes because of the runic inscriptions carved upon a huge stone standing at the top of this hill. The spot where Corrie Belle must stand is a circle about five feet in diameter in which a very rare species of grass is growing. This bluish-green grass is very lush and smooth and short and extremely beautiful. It is quite strange that this grass ONLY grows at this spot and does not spread outside of it nor does any other kind of grass or plant grow within the spot. The Indian tribe which once lived nearby forbade its members from getting anywhere near the Mount, which it claimed was a "paleface holy place". Legend has it that a member of Leif Erickson's Vinland Colony established it as a holy site when he came there and carved the runes into the stone exactly 1000 years ago in 1008 AD. (It was not until later that we learned how the soil and grass got there, which happened in 1908 AD.)
By now it was almost 8 PM but not too late to contact my good friend Jenna and cash in on her promise to do me any favor any time I would ask. Jenna is an FBI agent and one of the greatest human beings I know. She is the one who gave me her code to access the aforementioned files from the law enforcement data bases. I helped her several times with computer stuff -- and one time even helped her, via some tricky logic, in her most important case for which she received great plaudits. (I received no official credit for my role because only Jenna's supervisor knew I was assisting her; plus I myself wanted no notoriety. Jenna's supervisor, Sam, is one of the greatest men I know and is in no way a bureaucrat. He also is a great friend.) I decided I would tell Jenna everything and ask her to help me in contacting Corrie Belle and persuading her to do what the Purple Ring insists must be done.
I am one of the few people who has her cell phone number. I reached her on it as she was driving to her home. When I told her I needed to speak with her immediately she altered her course and headed for my house. A few minutes later she arrived and, as always, it was so good to see her.
Because time was of the essence I got right to the point and told her of the Purple Ring and of Neo-Tecumseh and of his plan to use the Ponergon to snuff out the life of a worthy young woman and that this plan could only be thwarted if she were wearing the Ring and standing on the aforementioned Hill. Then, when I said that the name of the young woman was Corrie Belle Adams, Jenna turned pale and exclaimed, "What!!?? This is REALLY far out!! Do you know what my current assignment is?? It is protecting Corrie Belle from a professional assassin. Now you tell me that this assassin is a magician??? This does NOT compute. We have thoroughly investigated the facts about this guy and he uses bullets, not curses. Are you sure of this??"
Thereupon I informed Jenna that my "hacking" had shown the existence of a group intent on assassinating Corrie Belle but split into two factions as to the means to employ. In short, there were TWO assassins sent forth: the bullet-using "hit man" and the curse-using mage. It was only because of her great respect for me that she accepted this and began to develop a strategy to get Corrie Belle to the Mount of Runes for the High Noon showdown two days hence. Sam, because of his great respect for me, approved this and ordered her to co-operate with me.
Although the Ponergon is a "magical" and not a "scientific" device, it was surprising to learn that it functions almost the same way. Think of it as a machine with three different "dials". One dial specifies the nature of the curse. In this case Neo-Tecumseh set that dial for "Death". Another dial specifies the victim. On that one Neo-T "entered" the name of "Corrie Belle Adams". The third dial specifies the time when the curse is to be activated. That one he set for 12 Noon two days hence. After these three settings have been entered, there is a sort of button which, when pressed, locks in the curse. Think of it as the analogy of what happens on your computer screen when you are asked if you are sure you want to do something, e.g. delete some files. When you click "Yes", the computer then goes ahead and executes the command. That is what this button on the Ponergon did when Neo-Tecumseh clicked it on several days ago. The way the Ponergon works in administering the specified curse is that at the time indicated for the execution of the curse it hones in on the victim wherever he or she may be and then it zaps him or her with the curse. The genius of this procedure is that Neo-T did NOT need to know where Corrie Belle would be at the specified time. The Ponergon will hone in on her wherever she is and zap her there. This is similar to the way a fighter pilot first locks on the target and then later pushes the button to fire the missile -- once the lock on is set, it does not matter what path the target takes after that. In short, Corrie Belle can be at any location; the Ponergon stays locked on to whatever location she moves to.
But, there was flaw in Neo-T's nefarious plan and that was that there was something more powerful than the Ponergon. I do not know exactly what this is but the Ring "knows" and I was assured that if Corrie Belle were to stand at the spot indicated wearing the Ring, then the Ponergon would be destroyed instead of it destroying her.
Jenna spent the rest of the evening and of most of the next day, which we began calling "D-Day minus one", in setting up the logistics of the thing. Two teams of FBI agents were readied and sent forth -- the first team traveling to the environs of the spot on which Neo-T would be standing with the Ponergon and the second team to the environs of the Mount of Runes. A third team, headed by Jenna, would transport Corrie Belle to the Mount. After the Ponergon was activated the first team would move in and arrest Neo-T. The second team would cover the perimeter around the Mount to be sure no unauthorized person entered. And the third would escort Jenna to the spot on the Mount. I would remain at home, which suited me fine because, frankly, I am a nerd and not any kind of knight or macho man.
It is now the afternoon of D-minus-1 and everything is going according to Jenna's brilliant planning except for one small detail: Corrie Belle is not co-operating! She insists on seeing me in person before agreeing to go to the Mount of Runes; the Ring and my computer-hacked knowledge is not enough for her. So, Corrie Belle is now on her way here to my home under heavy guard from Jenna and her team. The advance members of her team have already thoroughly checked out my house and the twenty acres of land on which it sits and have found no "bugs" or any other signs of surveillance. When Jenna brings Corrie Belle here I will meet her with no one else in the room.
I am sitting in my living room awaiting the arrival of Jenna and Corrie Belle. I am prepared for her with the new knowledge I have just received -- and what a shocker that is, as you will see. After Jenna introduces us to one another she departs from the room and I ask Corrie Belle to please be seated on the chair in front of the coffee table. I stand on the opposite side of the table and hold up my hands with my fingers spread out and ask her if she sees anything on my fingers. She immediately replies, "I see a purple ring on the ring finger of your left hand." I take the Ring off of my finger and place it onto the coffee table and instruct her: "Pick up the Ring and put it on!". She picks it up and puts it onto the first finger of her right hand. I am now shaking all over and can barely muster up the courage to speak. CORRIE BELLE HAS PASSED THE TEST !!!!!
I look her straight in the eye and announce very solemnly, "Corrie Belle Adams, you are the Queen of the Reich of Nordland!! Will you fulfill the responsibilities of this office?" She responded at once with equal solemnity while looking me in the eye, "I will, with the help of Almighty God!"
"Corrie Belle, here in this room are two men whose instruction you will need to fulfill your responsibilities. Will you receive their counsel?"
When she answered, "Yes, I will", the two men enabled her to see them, introduced themselves, and began by telling her that she must never take off the Purple Ring and that she must go to the Mount of Runes tomorrow as planned where she will wield the Ring's power and destroy the Ponergon and Neo-Tecumseh. These two men are the First King of Nordland and the Current Protector of the Throne of Nordland, who is also the person I call The Strange Old Man. They left their glorified Home on High to come here to prepare her for her destiny.
I turned my living room over to them to use for Corrie Belle's first lesson, and excused myself, and left the room to go outside to consult with Jenna. Jenna was very upset because she was afraid that Corrie Belle would refuse to go to the Mount of Runes. Jenna is very much a "take charge" kind of person and is also extremely skilled in dealing with people and knowing how to get them to do what she wants them to do. On the other hand I am a nerdish kind of guy whose "people skills" are somewhat lacking. I guess the "politically correct" way to express this would be to say that I am "socially challenged". Jenna was therefore utterly astounded when I told her that she need not worry because Corrie Belle was not only thoroughly committed to going to the Mount of Runes but was also enthusiastic about it!
"How in the world did you manage that?? You were only with her in there for a few minutes?? I cannot believe this!! Are you sure??!!"
"Yes, Jenna, I am very sure. Jenna, Jenna, do not be so upset. I did not do this. It was the protecting power of the Ring, AND -- get ready for another shocker -- there are two men in there now with her who came down from Heaven to counsel her! They are the First King of Nordland and the Current Protector of Nordland, who is the One who gave me the Ring!!!"
Although I was no longer wearing the Ring I was still "tuned in" to it and was assured that Jenna would be granted the sight to behold these men. "Jenna, you have been granted the privilege of seeing them, but you must not tell anyone else about this. Come over here now with me and look in that window and you will see them instructing her."
Jenna looked in and beheld the wondrous sight of these two men of wisdom instructing the excited Corrie Belle who gazed upon them with awe. I told Jenna that she must wait out here. Corrie Belle would come out as soon as the first lesson was completed. We did not have to wait much longer. Corrie Belle soon emerged beaming all over and excitedly announced to Jenna, "I shall go with you to the Mount of Runes tomorrow as planned and destroy the Ponergon!" She then turned to me and thanked me profusely and gave me a big hug. And Jenna got on her cell phone and told Sam that D Day was a "go".
D Day did not unfold like your typical cowboy movie high noon shootout. There was only one "shot" fired -- the Ponergon's salvo. Corrie Belle did not fire anything -- the Ring caused the Ponergon's shot to bounce off and boomerang back and destroy the Ponergon, Neo-Tecumseh, and Neo-T's secret lair where he had concocted the Ponergon and where all his maleficent writings and paraphernalia were located. Also there was no sound of a shot or flash of a light like that produced by a gun or laser. The only thing the FBI agents saw was the Ponergon blowing up and Neo-Tecumseh getting killed. So, they wrote it up like it was a failed experimental cannon which blew up instead of firing. And on the Mount of Runes it looked like nothing at all happened because there were no poofs or bangs or sparks or lightning flashes or any other external indication of what had happened. And since the destruction of Neo-T's lair was accompanied by a violent shaking of the ground, which registered high on the "Richter Scale", the FBI chalked up the lair's destruction to an earthquake.
When I returned to my living room the Nordland King thanked me for what I had done and bestowed upon me a Friend of Nordland medal and then returned to Heaven. The SOM stayed for a few more minutes and told me that my task was now complete and that it had been well done. He told me the Nordland King would be returning periodically for Corrie Belle's further instruction but that most of his time would be spent in Heaven working with the angels who are in charge of directing the history of Nordland. Corrie Belle will not actually be occupying the throne for some time yet -- not until Nordland has been prepared. In the meantime she is preparing for her royal vocation. Legacy College is a great preparation, I think, but then I am prejudiced because they like my writings there and the writings of the thinkers I recommend to them!
The Strange Old Man (The SOM) is a character I developed for a short story I wrote entitled "An Unlikely Weapon". In that story the protagonist was a junior in high school. In this story he is thirty-eight years old. The SOM then was 60 years of age. In this story he is 81 years old.
Nordland is a fictional semi-Norse semi-Germanic country located somewhere between Germany and the Scandanavian countries. I have used it in several of my short stories, but it is not exactly the same each time but varies in nature according to the story. I love the sound of it -- Nordland, which to me evokes a certain ineffable something called "Northerness", which also was found attractive by my two favorite literary mentors, C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, who were students of Norse lore.
I purposely did not give the "bad guys" any names to make a point. The more evil a person does the more he loses his identity, i.e. the identity God intended for him to have. C. S. Lewis makes this point in his space trilogy by referring to a very wicked character as an "unman". Tolkien does the same thing in the Lord of the Rings by calling one of the wickedest of the characters "The Mouth of Sauron". He once had a name but that name now is no longer appropriate because all he does now is spew forth the vile words of Sauron. Sauron is a type of Satan. Satan is not actually a name -- it is a title meaning "adversary", i.e. adversary of God. He who once bore the light of God, Lucifer (light bearer), now no longer does so but only has significance as the one who opposes the light by becoming the Prince of Darkness.
On a farm which was two farms south of my father's farm in the Upper Perkiomen Valley in Eastern Pennsylvania there was a woods in which there was a path which was called "The Indian Trail" because it had been used by the Perkiomen Indians which had previously dwelt there. As a boy I enjoyed walking along this trail, just as the protagonist did in this story.
One of my favorite works of literature is The Journals of Corrie Belle Hollister. I like its hero and her name Corrie Belle so much that I decided to use the name here. But I do not like the character Christopher, her fiance' in that story, although I cannot tell you why, just like that famous poet could not tell you why he did not like Dr. Fell. My story here is also my way of giving Corrie Belle what I regard as a much better and more suitable destiny. Imagine Corrie Belle Hollister as a twenty-first century young woman descended from Samuel Adams and you have Corrie Belle Adams. I would love to say more about her but this is a short story, not a novel.
Tecumseh is a real person, and one of the most interesting persons in American history.
The Tecumsehite Curse referred to here was also real. One thing which is unclear is whether this curse was intended to last in perpetuity or whether only for 120 years. The former appears to be the case. I have not checked this out yet, but I heard that a Christian group which became aware of this curse sometime during the 1970s prayed that God would lift it. If that is the case, then the prayer was answered because the next President destined to die under it, Ronald Reagan, who was elected in 1980, did NOT die in office.
Of course a lover of cowboy movies could argue that Reagan was a cowboy, unlike the Presidents who succumbed to the Curse, and that only a cowboy can defeat an Indian! Oh well!
The idea that Democritus was a better philosopher than Plato is not something I thought up for the sake of this story; it was already propounded in ancient times by Diogenes Laertius. When I first included a mention of it I did so just to have an academic hobby for the reclusive mother. But, on second thought, the mother's Democritan materialism could be the reason for the sons' materialism!
I like the names Jenna and Sam which is why I used them here. I am also so sick and tired of bureaucrats who jealously thwart the efforts of creative law enforcement officers who work under them, which so often happens in the suspense novels I read. Instead of complaining about this I decided to create a character, Sam, who is a GOOD supervisor!
In case you are wondering how Corrie Belle could be the Queen of Nordland, the answer is that as the massacre of the royal family began, the Queen (whom no one but her doctor knew was pregnant) died as she gave birth to a baby girl whom the doctor snuck out of the palace and brought to America via an American woman (who had been traveling in Europe) who raised her as her own passing her off as the twin of her own baby, who was born at the same time. When this baby girl grew up, she married an Adams. But this whole tale is so involved as to warrant a separate story of its own, so I did not include it in this one here; also I wanted this story to have the focus it has. Maybe I shall write that story some day; maybe not.
Concerning the Mount of Runes, there are actual places in America where such inscriptions are found. And, of course, Leif Erickson is real and he really did discover America in 1000 AD and found the colony of Vinland.
June 1, 2008