Flashback Flash Fiction: The Choker
For this story from the archives, I picked on of my ventures into a mild sort of horror, or at least the weird.
I was with Brian when it began. I knew something had happened, and I tried to get him to talk about it then, but he would not and I let it slide. That was my first and biggest mistake, but we who have these powers are slow to speak of them, and with reason.
Brian had taken me shopping with him to look for a birthday present for his wife. She liked old jewelry—not necessarily antiques, but old. Brian had seen a shop he thought looked promising. You know the kind: half junk store, half antique shop. A few good bits mixed in with a ton of trash. It just takes patience, to keep looking until you find treasure.
Brian spotted it first, and pointed it out to me, half-buried on a tray with stamped-tin costume stuff: a silver choker, made from four strands of fine chain.
To tell the truth, I didn’t like it. It reminded me of a choke-collar for a dog, somehow. But Brian was drawn to it, and I figured he knew his wife better than I did. The choker was in a display case, and Brian had the proprietor take it out for him. When he handed it over, Brian froze for a moment, and swayed. I thought he was going to pass out, and he dropped the choker. Only a couple of seconds, and then he apologized, pulling himself together. He bent and studied the chain where he’d dropped it on the counter, but he didn’t touch it again, not then. He’s quick, I’ll say that. Or maybe it wasn’t as new a sensation as I thought. To my surprise, he said he’d take the thing, and asked the man to wrap it for him.
I managed just to brush it with a finger as the proprietor took it up, and the sense of pain and despair was breathtaking. No wonder Brian had nearly fainted, meeting that for the first time. I gave him a sharp look. He’d shown no signs of psychometry before, as far as I knew, but something had definitely happened.
It’s a tricky thing, talking about stuff like that. I asked a few leading questions as we went back to the office, but he didn’t answer. I worried about his wife, but Brian didn’t give her the necklace. He kept it in his office. I caught him, twice, with it laid out on the desk, his hand held just above, not touching it.
I tried. I let him know that I’d seen. “You’ve got to get rid of that thing,” I said. “It’s getting a hold on you.” I tried to say it in a way that would let him know I understood, without coming right out and saying so. Just in case.
“I can’t let it go,” he said. “I need to know—” and he broke off without finishing the thought. I admit I lost courage. I should have done something. Taken the thing and found out what it was. Instead, like Brian, I guarded my secret against my fear.
The day came when I went into his office and he didn’t turn at the sound when I closed the door. He sat, rigid, and my heart sank. I stepped closer, and my fears were confirmed. Both hands lay face up on the desk, the choker draped across them. I called his name, and he didn’t answer. I clutched at his shoulder, and his head moved a bit, and I looked into eyes that reflected a soul gone—somewhere. He breathed, but that was all.
I snatched the choker from his hands, and nearly screamed. It clattered to the floor where I flung it from me, and my moans mingled with Brian’s. His moans said he knew something had happened, but a look at his eyes told me it wasn’t enough.
I knew what I had to do. If I followed him where the thing had taken him, I might find him, and I might be able to bring him back. If it didn’t kill me. Psychometry is all very well when it uses happy objects from an innocent past. But I had already seen enough to know that this choker was no beloved bauble of contented women. It was a choker. A slave-collar. Steeped in eons of death and despair and hatred. No wonder Brian, not believing, not knowing anything, had gotten lost. And it was my fault, for not warning him. My fault, and my job to set it right if possible.
Careful not to touch the thing, I seated myself in the lotus position on the floor by his feet. I took up the cloth lying on the desk, and even that held an echo of the choker. I picked the thing up with the cloth, closing myself to the emanations that leaked through the fabric. A few deep breaths took me into a light trance.
Then I unwrapped the thing and let it fall on my left hand.
I have no idea how long I was frozen there, one agonized life after another passing before me. Even the most recent, long after slavery ended, were marked by grief, no doubt due to the necklace itself. You didn’t have to be able to see its past for such an object to hurt you. I tried to control what I saw, to let the images and feelings flash by without absorbing them, and even so tears ran down my face and only my fist stuffed in my mouth kept me from screaming as I moved with the choker back through the ages, through each woman’s pain and wretchedness and hatred. Oh, lots of hatred.
I nearly lost myself. I clung fiercely to my sanity, and kept going, and at the end of it I found Brian.
I found him, but I could not bring him back.
They put him in a nice place, where he’s fed and cared for and they wheel him into the sun. And I? I battle the choker nearly daily, hoping to control it and then use it to bring Brian back. I don’t know if a mind can be rebuilt by that which broke it, but I intend to try.
I had to explain it all to Brian’s wife, though everyone else thinks he had a stroke. She can’t decide if I’m crazy, but she knows it was no stroke. Other people think I’m very good to spend so much time visiting Brian, but she holds me to it, clinging to the hope I offer with a deadly tenacity. Only I know that if I can’t bring Brian back, one day I’ll join him at the bottom of the hole dug by a choker from a slave-world centuries gone.
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