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Contemporary Fantasy Suspense

I’d heard the stories, but then we all hear stories. There’s the one about the little old lady who just happened to work for some of the richest men in the world. She was there at the outset and she bought shares in companies that rose and rose until they cast a shadow over the world. But that little old lady never spent a conspicuous penny of her wealth, and it was only when she kicked the bucket that her investments came to light. 

Never any relatives.

You have to wonder where all that money went. As I wonder at that big loose end, I guess that the story is all it is, a story. If there were to be a grain of truth in it, it would be modest, unassuming and not worthy of note beyond; some people own some shares. Or something like that anyway.

Some stories are told more than others. Often it’s merely that there is something enjoyable in the telling of them and if there is enjoyment on that front, then there’s bound to be some on the other side of that there equation. Some things work like that. 

Others don’t.

This particular story had a hook. Every time I heard it, the hook grew larger and it bit deeper. 

“So this guy is a healer?” I asked the bloke at the bar.

His eyes misted over as he travelled to a place in his mind, when he came back, he spoke, “I guess you could say that, but that’s only a bit of it. It’s not like the ray-kee nonsense. I mean, you feel something, but it isn’t heat.” He shook his head, “they say it’s like a warm glow, but it isn’t. If you know what I mean?”

I nodded. I didn’t know what he meant and neither did he.

I bought him another drink anyway. I intended changing the subject. Asking him about himself and seeing what story he had to tell. Everyone has at least one interesting story and they will tell it. If you invite them to in the right way. For some reason, I stayed on the not-ray-kee guy.

“Where is he?” I asked.

“What?” said the bloke at the bar, his mind evidently riding the beer rapids, crashing fast and loose here and there and not giving two hoots for the rocks up ahead.

“The ray-kee guy,” I said, “where is he?”

“He’s not the ray-kee guy,” the bar bloke was deadly serious now. He was a breath or two from taking a swing at me. I’d not been listening properly and I’d caused him offence. Not listening was a universal trigger and this bloke was here in his cups because a long line of people had failed to listen to him. My betting was that he started it. He hadn’t listened first.

I nodded, “sorry, I meant the not-ray-kee guy.”

The bar bloke nodded carefully, that was alright then. As long as I meant it.

I did.

To my surprise, he reached into his pocket and handed me a card. As I examined it, he said, “you can keep it. He said I should hand it to an interested party and I’d know when to hand the card over. Reckon the card’s found you.”

I looked up from the card, but the bar bloke had turned around to the bar and engaged the barlord in banter. My audience was over.

I slipped the card into my inside jacket pocket, downed the remainder of my drink and walked out of the bar. Neither the bar bloke or the barlord looked my way. I was fine with that.

At home, I retrieved the card and looked it over again. It was a fine, textured card with raised writing.

Raymond Key

Ray Kee.

That was decidedly odd. The oddness of it worried at me. It also hadn’t escaped me that I’d been handed this card by a drunk, and so the results of this enigma of a man were dubious to say the least. I was hooked all the same, if only to debunk another charlatan. At least this story had some substance in reality. I now had a name and something to follow up.

As well as the name, there was a number. 

Text only: 07777 777777

Surely no one had that number? Or if they did, then it would be too valuable to remain in the clutches of a snake oil salesman? I fished out my phone and rang the number.

“This service is text only. Please contact Raymond via text. Thank you.”

The line went dead after the message ended. I looked at my phone contemplating a second call. I shelved that and texted.

I would like to visit with you and talk about your services, thanks, James.

My phone pinged with a reply impossibly quickly.

Thank you for your message Jimmy. Please come to my rooms at 9am sharp tomorrow.

There was an address. The address was in an expensive part of town. Rooms. Who the hell had rooms these days? If they ever had. Sherlock was the only man I’d heard of with rooms and he was a fiction. These people steeped themselves in odd. I suppose they thought it added to the mystique and helped them ply their tawdry trade.

Wait a minute…

Jimmy? How had he known I was a Jimmy?

Lucky guess I suppose. I should feel affronted at his changing my name like that, but I didn’t. Instead I felt uneasy.

The following day I woke up early. Usually, when I wake up early, my sleep has been punctuated with a number of awakenings, but not this night. I slept through and when I awoke I felt fresh. I was dismayed to identify something like excitement as I cleaned my teeth. I was looking forward to my meeting with Raymond. I felt betrayed by the way I was feeling. I’d have to do something about that on my way across town.

The avenue that Raymond had his rooms was wide and across the divide grand residences loomed. Many of the residences had been taken over by partnerships of professionals and their invasion had sanitised the buildings. They were imposing, but soulless.

At the door of 13B I was greeted by Raymond’s man. I handed him the card, “welcome and good morning to you, sir. I am Raymond’s man. Please, come this way.”

He actually identified himself that way. I didn’t think for one second that they were a couple and this supposedly quaint self-identification made me think of slavery. But then the whole servant and butler thing was a form of servitude. Upstairs were the masters and cowering downstairs were the servants. A man like this took solace from his superiority over his fellow servants. That struck me as even more wrong than the rich beasts clattering around in the rooms above. A sad facsimile of power.

I thought this and more as I took in the hallway and glimpsed the insides of two of Raymond’s rooms. The décor reminded me of stately homes. It was dated to the point of being a museum. I was completely out of place and took care not to touch a single thing. Somehow, I had found myself on the wrong side of the red rope and my trespass troubled me.

I almost clattered into Raymond’s man. He’d stopped at an open doorway to usher me in, “Raymond is expecting you, sir.”

I nodded and paused, looking the man up and down. I wasn’t sure whether I was to shake his hand or what it was that I was to do to mark our brief acquaintance, “thanks,” I said eventually. It wasn’t enough, and I left him awkwardly to enter the room.

I had expected a desk. The desk I had expected was half the size of an eighteenth century ship. There was no desk. I had also expected a fez. I had pictured Raymond as a bizarre throwback to a time when English gentlemen had lived in far flung outposts of the empire and brought some of those locales back with them. If not a fez, then a monocle. 

Although these affectations were not present, Raymond cut a powerful figure all the same. This was because there were no affectations. He was entirely present and real. I could see that and I could feel it. He was a diminutive man with a neatly trimmed beard. His hair was oiled and swept back. The beard was salt and pepper, the hair made darker by the oil. His velvet jacket was a dark and lustrous purple and he wore a pristine white open collared shirt underneath it. He could have worn a cravat, I wouldn’t have held it against him. 

As I entered the room, he was seated. One leg crossed over the other. A crisp crease along the leg of his black trousers, his black shoes polished to a high sheen. He wore odd socks. One red and one yellow. I liked that, and I liked it even more when I noticed that his shoes weren’t matching either. He arose from his wing backed Chesterfield chair and smiled.

“Please Jimmy,” he said cordially, “take a seat.”

I nodded and looked from the seat identical to Raymond’s and the matching sofa. I opted for the sofa, sitting in the midst of it, I felt less claustrophobic.

“Thanks,” I said as I sat.

He returned to his seat and crossed his legs again. This was the man at rest. Dressed down and as relaxed as could be. Few people could pull this off. Raymond was one of the few. I felt an automatic deference to him. The respect I was feeling wasn’t a weak reaction to the grandeur of the room or the casual formality of the man, there was something very real about Raymond. Raymond was more real than anyone I had ever met, and this was the first time I had thought about a person’s substance in such terms. If the living of a life was a race to attain meaning, then Raymond was winning that race.

“You are here to run a rule over me, are you not?” said Raymond.

He was smiling again. I found my eye drawn to his hands. They were clasped upon his knee, finely manicured and the pinkie of his left hand was adorned with a chunky ring that bore a crest I had never seen before. 

“I wouldn’t say that,” I replied.

“Of course you wouldn’t,” Raymond winked, “but it is the truth of it all the same, so shall we dispense with any feints and skirmishes and get down to the brass tacks of it?”

I nodded, “that sounds like a good idea.”

“Does doesn’t it?” smiled Raymond. The smile was warm. Raymond was comfortable in his skin and not at all defensive, “now, you are here to unmask me and to show the world that I am a fraud, are you not?”

“That’s not…” I began automatically. Then I brought myself to heel. I took a moment. Then I laughed, “feels like you’ve just turned the tables on me. Exposed me for what I am.”

Raymond shrugged, “you are more than that, my friend. You came here to seek the truth, did you not?”

It was my turn to shrug, “I suppose I did.”

“Jimmy, you are an explorer. You go in search of stories. Narratives are important to you. But time and again, you have been disappointed by what you find. This quite rightly has made you wary and cynical,” Raymond unclasped his hands and leant forward, “wouldn’t you like to change that jaundiced lens of yours and see the world anew?”

“Is that what you offer?” I asked.

“You want to know what it is that I do?” he asked me.

“That’s why I am here,” I told him.

“I could tell you…” he said leaning aback in his chair.

“But you’d have to kill me?” I ventured.

He chuckled and clapped his hands delightedly, “no! Nothing like that, I’m afraid.”

“Then what?” I asked him.

“You wouldn’t believe me,” he said.

“I make it my business not to believe,” I told him.

“And how is that belief system working for you?” he asked me.

“It pays the bills,” I replied.

“Doesn’t feel great though, does it?” he said.

“So you’re going to make me feel great with those healing hands of yours?” I asked him.

He grinned, “is that what you think I do?”

“That’s what I’ve heard,” I told him.

He was shaking his head, “that’s not quite it.”

“Then what is?” I asked him.

“You’d have to try it out yourself,” he said.

“Not before you tell me what it is that I’d be letting myself in for,” I said.

He nodded, “that’s sensible,” he sighed, “then I will tell you and if you wish, you can leave my rooms and publish some twaddle about me being a charlatan.”

“You have a poor opinion of what I do,” I said.

His eyes met mine, “so do you.”

I wanted to refute that, but I couldn’t and I melted in the face of his absolute certainty. He was more real than me, I was always going to come off second best.

“OK,” I conceded, “what is it you do?”

“Do, old bean?” he smiled sadly, “it is what I am. It is what I have. You see, I am cursed.”

I nodded, but said nothing. The curse angle was a nice touch, but I wasn’t about to indulge it.

Raymond let the silence linger before continuing, “I was once like you. I was relentless in the pursuit of what I saw as the ultimate of truths. Perfection. I found what I was looking for, but it forever changed me.” He cocked his head to one side, “I saw you note my odd socks and mismatched shoes?”

“You did,” I confirmed.

“My man put my selection of shoes and socks on prior to this meeting of ours. Now watch closely as I touch my feet,” he said.

My brow wrinkled at this, but I watched him lean forward, touch first one foot and then the other with his left hand.

He leant back and folded his arms, “keep watching my feet.”

I did. Nothing happened at first. I looked askance. He directed me to continue to watch, then a strange thing happened. The surface of the socks swirled and they both bled into a new colour. Both were now orange. Whilst this happened, I was conscious of a transformation occurring in his shoes, and now they both matched. A hybrid of both shoes. 

“Nice trick,” I said

He grinned, “if only it were.”

“What is this then?” I asked him.

“Everything I touch becomes perfect,” he told me.

“You’ve got the Midas touch?” I asked.

“I suppose I am more fortunate than that poor man,” he replied.

I nodded a nod that told him all he needed to know about where I was with this revelation.

“There’s only one way to find out whether what I say to you is true,” he said.

“You lay a hand on me and suddenly I’m a believer?” I replied, “would I get a business card to hand to the next punter?”

Raymond stood, “it is entirely up to you Jimmy. You came in search of answers. Your choice. You can leave now and make up your own answers, or you can see this one through to the end. If you have the stomach for it.”

I looked up at the man. He was gently goading me. He seemed to know my buttons and levers. I didn’t like him hitting me fair and square like that.

I stood, “how much?” I asked him.

He chuckled, “I am not going to charge you, Jimmy!”

“How much do you usually charge?” I asked.

“All I ask is that those I touch hand someone my card,” he said.

“Why?” I asked.

“I’ll tell you afterwards,” he fixed me with an earnest stare.

I nodded, “why not? I’ve nothing better to do with my time.”

He raised both hands and cupped my temples. A graceful, fluid movement that I hadn’t expected, yet did not react to. His touch was gentle, reassuring and unassuming. I responded to it in the way I did to a good massage, relaxing, it kept getting better. By the time I felt the change, it was too late.

I slumped back onto the sofa, “what did you do?!”

He smiled sadly, “what I had to.”

He reached into his pocket and handed me a fresh card, “part of my curse is that I have to touch someone cynical and unwilling to accept the truth of my touch. If I don’t, it’s like a surge of electricity building inside me to dangerous levels and I can’t bear it.”

“I feel different…” I was looking at my hands, wondering what it was that was different about me, “but I’m not perfect?”

He shook his head, “no, but you will be.”

And in that moment, I understood why it was a curse, “but what if I don’t want to be?”

He sat down and nodded sadly, “you’re supposed to want to, you know?”

“Yes, but…” I began.

“Easier not to? Better to lie to yourself and others? Deny your own nature and eke out a painful existence instead?”

I felt my mouth drop open.

“When did it go wrong for you, Jimmy?” he asked.

“My mother…” I whispered in a small, childlike voice, “she hurt me.”

A single tear rolled down Raymond’s face, “you didn’t deserve that, Jimmy. Not then. Not ever. You came into the world perfect. A miracle and a gift. Now you can fulfil the promise of your life. Be who you were always destined to be.”

That was when I began to cry. 

That was when I began to change.

August 26, 2023 13:49

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5 comments

Russell Mickler
17:39 Sep 02, 2023

Hey there, Jed - What a unique idea … a character who can make everything he touches perfect. A lot of emotional depth here, delving into emotional struggles and past trauma. The story explores themes of self-acceptance, healing, and personal growth. Really engaging dialogue between the MC and Raymond; very thought-provoking RE: self-worth and the human condition. Well done! R

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Jed Cope
20:15 Sep 02, 2023

Thanks Russell, I wanted to explore something that seemed innocuous, but when it's fully considered, has the potential to become quite frightening indeed. As you say, that's really the human condition. Doesn't bare thinking about...!

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Mary Bendickson
20:32 Aug 28, 2023

🧐💆 So short on time and got interrupted 😭. It was so perfected.

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Jed Cope
08:22 Aug 29, 2023

Does this mean you're perturbed?!

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Jed Cope
15:25 Aug 29, 2023

Ah! That's lovely to hear! Thank you so much!

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