The morning of his son’s 18th birthday, Bradley Gore stood outside the bedroom door with equal parts trepidation and pride. In the fleeting moments of his son’s childhood, he thought about the majestic home he had built, both figuratively and literally, around his son. Built for protection.
Nestled safely inside a gated community, Bradley took every precaution to prepare for this day.
The door squeaked as he pushed it open. William stirred and turned onto his stomach, snores returning.
Echoes through generations reverberated through time, cementing the ritual. Even the fathers’ ages were in sync. Here he was, 45 years old about to saddle his son on his 18th birthday with a tremendous, impossible to fathom, responsibility.
Bradley instinctively clutched the amulet hanging around his neck. A habit he picked up from his own father. It weighed mere ounces, but its weight could not be measured with a scale. Each moment another grain of sand fell. Enveloping generations of heft.
As he sat down on the edge of William’s bed, Bradley lifted the amulet by the gilded steel chain from around his neck. A timepiece, perhaps? Time counted by the hope of the entrapped souls. He held it tight in his closed fist, feeling a century of ancestral obligation.
Sensing his father’s presence, William sat up. His messy blond hair hanging across his eyes. Almost a spitting image, a younger clone of himself, Bradley nodded as if to punctuate his resolve. It was time.
“What is it, dad? What’s wrong?”
Bradley put a finger over his lips and whispered, “What I am about to tell you is between you and me. Nobody else. Not your mother. Not your sisters. And when you get married one day, not even your wife.”
Wakefulness emerged in full bloom now, jarring William to a start.
With his closed fist stretched out toward his son, Bradley said, “Today, I am passing on to you the birth-right and birth-curse of every first-born male Gore since your great-great-grandfather, Ashton Gore.”
Awestruck, William held his hand out, palm up. With a slight tremble, Bradley placed the amulet into his son’s hand. Giving over the talisman was an exercise in tremendous faith and courage. Something William would have to learn and relearn until he repeated this same ritual with his own first-born son.
“Dad! I’ve never seen this off your neck. Why are you giving it to me now? Are you dying or something?”
Bradley smirked. A bit of momentary levity to ease the tension. “No son, I’m not dying. At least not yet. You’re 18 today, and just as my father passed it down to me on my 18th birthday, I am passing it down to you.”
William stared at the amulet, not daring to close his fingers around it. It was heavier than he imagined. So much heavier.
Bradley closed his eyes. Organizing his thoughts for what lay ahead. After a deep breath, he opened them.
“My father, your grandfather—Hadwyn Gore—woke me up on my 18th birthday. He was 45 that day in 1996. The same age I am as I pass this curse on to you. He held this amulet in his hands, giving it over to me with reluctance but reverence. Before passing it to me, he told me a story. About his father, Liam. Just like his father before him. And the story Liam told him, another link in a chain, was of its origin. Its importance.”
Liam, 45 years old in 1969, approached his son’s bed. Hadwyn, his first and only son. It was Hadwyn’s 18th birthday. Clutching the powerful heavy amulet, he shook Hadwyn awake.
“Haddy! It’s time.”
Hadwyn pressed his palms to his eyes and groaned, “Give me a couple more hours, pa. It’s my birthday!”
With a jolt, harder than he wanted, Liam poked his shoulder. Hadwyn sat upright, the sleep gone from his eyes. His father had never struck him in his life. Not even for stealing the car when he was 14 to go for a joyride.
Whispering, Liam said, “Son, we have precious little time, so you’re going to have to keep quiet and listen to me. This is your obligation. And I won’t have you seal the curse of this family with your foolishness.”
Hadwyn’s mouth hung open, and he nodded slowly. “Sure, pops. What’s wrong?”
Liam glanced around, then leaned toward his son. “Today, you will take on a responsibility I’ve kept to myself since the day my daddy gave it to me. On my 18th birthday. Just like yours today. But before I give it to you, you have to understand how it came into my possession, and my daddy’s possession.”
Eyeing his son closely, he waited for his acknowledgement. Hadwyn brushed the long hair out of his eyes and quietly said, “Ok.”
Liam took a deep breath and held the amulet by the tiny but strong steel chain out to his son. With great reverence, that which soothed Liam’s reservations, Hadwyn took the amulet. He bounced it up and down in his hand, noticing its weight.
“Hadwyn, your grandfather, Ashton Gore, gave this to me on his death bed. On my 18th birthday. And what I’m about to tell you is how our family’s curse began, and what you must do to avoid dooming every first-born male Gore from your grandfather to me, yourself, and countless generations to come.”
Ashton Gore, born in 1897 in Norwich, England, worked with his father as a mason and carpenter building Cathedrals. When his father fell ill in 1915, Ashton was allowed to return home from the war. As medical services were prioritized for soldiers, Ashton sought the assistance of a local magician. Samil Romero, known as Samil the Capricious. A charming and handsome gentleman, who spoke the King’s English with an eloquence few could boast of. Not cockney, but a real nobleman.
The magician offered to cure Ashton’s father in exchange for Ashton’s eternal soul. The very next day, Samil administered a strange concoction, the ingredients of which he refused to divulge.
Three days later, Ashton’s father was dead.
After burying his father, Ashton confronted Samil and declared the contract null and void. Samil merely chuckled at him, waving the contract in jest and pointing at the clock tower as a way to express Ashton’s hours were numbered.
Ashton sought the assistance of a famous oracle, Maertyn. The fortune-teller warned him that Samil’s right to his soul was iron-clad.
This Maertyn claimed he felt a darkness about Ashton’s soul, like a demon’s hands caressing a coffin.
Maertyn offered an escape, though. “Capture your soul in a protective chamber, from your deathbed, and you may avoid having to endure an eternity of death at the hands of thine enemy.”
Pointing at him with a bony finger, Maertyn hissed, “An amulet, made of Praesidium. A cage of metal, lain upon the skin at the time of death, above one’s heart. Be sure the cage never reaches the hands of the one to whom your soul is betrothed. Only death can open a door.”
Using every penny he had, Ashton employed Fulgour (blacksmith) to forge the amulet. Then, a local witch chanted an incantation, putting a spell on the protective cage of Praesidium as she pricked his finger and dripped his blood onto the strange metal. The spell dictated that at the moment of his death, his soul would enter the amulet, protected for eternity so long as a first-born male Gore held the amulet to his skin.
In 1924, Ashton and his wife had a son, Liam.
On Liam’s 18th birthday, Ashton felt life slipping from his body. He summoned his son, using the last of his strength to slide the chain from his neck.
Grabbing Liam’s hand, Ashton dropped the amulet onto his son’s outstretched hand and said, “Beware the evil Samil. His trickery has loomed, and he takes claim of my soul. At the moment of my death, keep this amulet close to your heart, until such time you have a son of your own. And it shall remain over his heart, and his son’s heart, and then onto his son’s as well, into perpetuity. If Samil the Capricious possesses our familial protector at the time of my death, our souls will be doomed for eternity. Alas, failure will destroy the Gore family, and we will endure infinite and unspeakable hell at the hands of a madman, the devil’s companion, Samil Romero.”
Liam stared at his father in horror, watching his life slip away. He slipped the chain around his neck, letting the amulet press to his skin. As Ashton’s eyes clouded over, and the last breath escaped his body, a thunderous clamor shook the walls of their home. A scream reaching from the depths of Gehenna as Samil realized he had been outwitted.
With is eyes blazing, Samil approached the Gore home and bellowed, “Liam Gore! At your father’s treasonous infidelity, I curse thee and thine primary sons. And his son, and his thereafter, forevermore. Your souls are promised to me! And I intend to collect on your debt, from now until the end of ages!”
Hadwyn stared at his father, Liam, in horror.
Whispering, “Is that true?”
Liam nodded. “I fled to the US shortly after that. I thought I was safe. Until he turned up. It was 1946.”
As if in a dream, Hadwyn slipped the chain around his neck. Liam felt a weight lift from his own shoulders. The obligation transferred. The hourglass turned, affording renewed quarter.
Hadwyn stared down at the amulet resting against his shallow chest.
“So, this Samil, he can’t just come and take it?”
Seeing where this was going, Liam nodded and waited.
Hadwyn continued, “So, as long as I don’t take it off, we’re safe. Right?”
Liam shook his head. “Listen to me, son. He will trick you, make you see things that aren’t there, mesmerize you, and make you want to take it off. Never removing it is much harder than you can imagine. But, he can only have the souls in that amulet when the last male Gore dies. As long as a first-born son holds the amulet to his chest, the blood of Ashton Gore is always entangled with your blood, and the blood of your son. Because it is the blood of all of us, the Gore. Our blood is what gives the spell its power. When the last Gore heart stops beating, the spell is broken, and all of our souls are vulnerable. And Samil will seek his revenge. Each new male Gore grants us all sanctuary.”
“I promise, I’ll never take it off.”
Closing his eyes solemnly, Liam nodded and said, “Your obligation now is to pass this curse on to your own son. And tell him the story of your father and grandfather, and of his obligation. We cannot allow evil to win. Samil the Trickster will not use force, he is forbidden. But he will try to trick you.”
Hadwyn, wide eyed, said, “We can kill him. Then the curse is broken!”
Shaking his head, Liam frowned. “No, son. For he cannot be killed. His soul resides among the cauldron of evil. Forged in a fiery crucible steeped in sin and suffering. Not even death will counter him.”
Understanding dawned on him, and Hadwyn whispered, “Our only hope is to pass the amulet on to our first-born male heirs. To outrun the sands of time, like so many pebbles falling through our fingers.”
Bradley stared at his father in the half-light, still not entirely sure this wasn’t all a dream. He glanced around his room, noting the Depeche Mode posters and Ace Ventura doll sitting on his desk.
“Grandpa Liam gave you this thing? On your 18th birthday?”
Hadwyn nodded. “He did, just as I am giving it to you today. You must protect this with your life. For the sake of my soul, and the souls of your ancestors. And the souls of your sons, and so on. Forever.”
Bradley slipped the chain around his neck, pressing the heavy metal cage to his chest. The weight of generations strained his neck. At this moment, he passed through an invisible doorway, consciously taking on the weight as it lifted from Hadwyn’s shoulders (and heart).
“Yes, father. I understand. I’ll protect it with my life, and my son’s life.”
Hadwyn added, “You will have to be ever-vigilant. Samil the Forceful will try to trick you into voluntarily handing over your ancestors’ souls to him.”
“Did he ever trick you?”
Nodding, Hadwyn said, “The night I married your mother. He disguised himself, made me think he was my bride. As your mother, he said he would not lay with me unless I was truly naked. I was astonished, but thought if I kept it in view, it would be safe. But then, he grinned. Before I took it off, he revealed his devilish teeth. I pushed him away, and the mirage dissolved. He fled, laughing like a hyena, threatening to never let me sleep.”
Bradley put his hand over his mouth. Scenarios ran through his mind like cackling imps as he wondered how Samil would come at him.
Grabbing his son’s hand, Bradley looked at William with grave concern. He could see William didn’t believe any of this.
William looked side-eyed at his father and said, “Is this some kind of birthday joke? What is this thing? For real.”
“Everything I just told you is real, son. I know it sounds wild, but you must believe me.”
Laughing, William spun the amulet around his neck, pulling the chain taut against his skin until it came to a rest over his heart again.
“Come on, a magician? An oracle? Curses and souls and barters? I’m a little hungover, but I’m not gonna believe—“
Bradley clamped his hands around his son’s wrists and growled, “This isn’t a joke, you little shit! Now pay attention, because the very souls of four previous generations are in your hands now! It’s time to grow up and accept this responsibility! I know it’s hard to understand or even believe, especially in this day and age, but I’ve never been more serious. Get it?”
William’s face melted into a silent look of anguish and sadness. His father had never yelled at him like this. Maybe he should have.
“Why are you screaming at me like this dad? It’s my birthday! What is this? Are you—do you have dementia or something?”
Exasperated, Bradley rolled his eyes and said, “Jesus Christ, William. Ok, do you remember when grandpa died?”
William nodded, a tear slipping down his cheek.
“When he died, I felt a physical weight pass to this amulet. I felt it. And when I die, you will too. That is, if you still have it. And you’d better. Samil the Anomalous is going to come at you, and you have to be ready. You can’t let him trick you. And when you have a son, you’re going to have to give this to him on his 18th birthday too. And I pray you can convince him this is real.”
Shaking a little from his father’s tone, William scooted back and whispered, “Ok, dad. I believe you. I’ll never take it off. This is just a bit much though. You never talked about this before. It’s kinda hard to believe!”
With a deep sigh, Bradley said, “I know. And I wish it didn’t have to be this way. We’ve given our sons 18 years of bliss, only to be shattered by a curse that will never cease. You’re supposed to be a man now. This is your obligation.”
Barely audible, William said, “But he doesn’t die?”
Bradley shook his head.
Bradley stared at his son for a long time, seeing the last 18 years roll by in a blur. In a lot of ways, William was still a kid. But now he had no choice but to become a man.
As if breaking the tension on a wire stretched to its limit, Bradley said, “Ok, come on down. Mom’s making you French Toast or something. Just remember, not a word of this to anyone. I understand it all feels surreal. But when he tries to trick you, you’ll know it’s real and will feel the weight of your ancestors’ souls.”
William offered a hint of a smile, then followed his father downstairs.
The amulet mostly forgotten, William headed out to celebrate with his friends. A few miles away from his best friend’s house, he stopped off at a gas station to fill up the tank.
As he stood at the pump, watching the numbers roll, he pulled the amulet from inside his t-shirt. Rubbing it with his thumb and forefinger.
From two pumps over, a tall slender man walked over with a charming grin.
In an immaculate British voice, this handsome man said, “That’s quite the necklace you have there.”
William smiled and said, “Thanks. Birthday present from my dad.”
The British man smiled wider, cocking his head back slightly as he said, “Ah, well happy birthday then. May I?”
He reached for the amulet, but William frowned and took a step back. Without another word, he replaced the pump and screwed the gas cap back on. Never taking his eyes off the charming handsome stranger, William got back into his car and sped off.
Samil watched him with admiration. A pleased smile on his face as the car sped away.
“William Gore. And so the hourglass has turned yet again. Until it doesn’t.”