The Chained Man, 2017 Published by Rustin Petrae
Copyright © 2017, Rustin Petrae. All rights reserved.
No similarity between any names, characters, persons, and/or institutions in this publication is intended and any such is purely coincidental. The Chained Man (including all prominent characters) featured in this story (and the distinctive likeness there of) are copyrighted by Rustin Petrae.
September 14, 1998
Brody Powell walked through the doors of the Colliers Student Center at Ashbrook University. It was the beginning of September, but it was unseasonably cold outside. Despite the fact that he had on a thick, orange hoodie and a coat, he was still shivering. He entered the building with his teeth chattering uncontrollably. He paused just inside the door and looked around for anyone familiar.
He was a freshman at the university and there weren’t many people there he knew. He was a military brat and had spent nearly his whole life overseas. He decided on Ashbrook because most of his relatives lived in the area and he figured it would be good to have family around. Plus, Ashbrook was one of the country’s most prestigious universities and there were a lot of great job opportunities available to Ashbrook alumni.
He’d been at the university for a little over three weeks and spent most of his time going to classes, studying, or working. He thought it’d be good for him to get out. Which was why he was going to the freshmen welcome party. It was something the school did at the start of every academic year to help new students meet people. It seemed like a good idea at the time but as he checked the place out, it didn’t look very promising. There was a scattering of people here and there but overall, not a big crowd. The place was practically empty.
He walked toward the middle of the big room and spotted Travis Spencer, his tall and lanky roommate. He was dueling with cushioned weapons on a huge, yellow and red inflatable. The other guy was shorter than Travis but much bulkier. That guy looked like your classic gym nut with a bald head and an honest-to-God handlebar mustache.
Brody stood there a moment. He watched Gym Nut deal Travis a blow so hard it sent his roommate flying almost to the edge of the inflatable.
Brody laughed to himself as he watched Travis get up and shake his head. He watched his roommate get pummeled a little more until he got bored. He walked away, trying to find something that would entertain him. His eyes happened on a sign proclaiming that the “world famous Madame Toulour was giving out free Tarot card readings.” A bright red arrow on the bottom of the sign pointed the way to her. Brody shrugged his shoulders and followed it dutifully. He always wanted to talk to a psychic and the fact that it was free was enough to convince him.
The hallway brought him to a large dark room that had dozens of candles as the only light source. Brody pushed ahead uneasily, suddenly feeling like this was a bad idea.
He looked around but the psychic wasn’t in the room. The only thing he saw was her shabby table. It was in the very center of the room and was the only thing inside. The room was big too, which made the table look even more ridiculous than it already did. He ignored the sudden (and irrational) fear that made his blood run cold. He walked to the table and sat down in the empty chair in front of it.
His stupid fear surged back in, this time a lot stronger. Again, he ignored it while wondering why he was feeling so much nervousness over nothing. Instead of getting up, he stubbornly sat there while he struggled to brush away the pesky intuition that he shouldn’t be there.
He was just about successful in keeping his fear away when he heard a voice.
“Welcome, welcome,” it said. It seemed to slither through the air like a demonic creature and it ground against Brody’s nerves, giving him goose bumps.
He looked around, trying to find the person the voice belonged to (while at the same time, wishing he wouldn’t).
He found her over in a corner, where the lights of the candles couldn’t quite reach. She was coming through a simple wooden door back there.
It was hard to see her at first. She was mostly covered in dark shadows. As she walked, however, more and more detail was uncovered. He saw that she was dressed in shades of deep yet shiny purple. A black wrap covered her hair but he could still see wispy, straw-like strands of gray tumbling loose from it as she walked closer to him. Dozens of shiny gold and silver bracelets jangled on her thin wrists.
Brody had to suppress a laugh as he watched her. She looked like a walking stereotype.
As she got closer, however, he noticed that she walked in short bursts with one arm on the small of her back and the other waving back and forth in front of her like it was a guide. Her wrinkled, craggy face came into view, appearing out of the deep shadows like an evil spirit. She had a narrow and gaunt face with a hooked nose (which made her look even more like an evil hag, Brody noticed).
Eventually, the old woman made it to her chair and when she sat down and looked at him, Brody had to stop himself from almost jumping out of his seat as pure terror nearly overwhelmed him.
Madame Toulour’s eyes were blank and milky white. That, combined with all her other horror movie-esque qualities was almost enough to send him running right then and there.
He kept his cool instead and remained seated.
“You don’t have to be frightened of me, boy,” the woman rasped. Her voice sounded dry and frail and there was an odd slur tinting her words. “I won’t bite.”
Then she laughed loudly with her mouth opened wide.
She had no teeth at all.
Madame Toulour quit laughing abruptly. The room fell dead quiet, making Brody even more uncomfortable.
“Shall we start?” she inquired, tilting her head slightly to one side.
“Uh...sure, ma’am,” Brody agreed, shakily.
The old woman nodded and withdrew an old, beaten up deck of Tarot cards from a purple velvet pouch. Strange runes and glyphs were arranged in purposeful positions on the backs of them and as he stared at them, Brody could have sworn they were glowing. He turned his eyes away after only a few seconds, unable to look at them and keep his cool at the same time. The strange vibe he felt radiating off them was really freaking him out. Madame Toulour, however, just continued to smile toothlessly.
“For you, boy,” she whispered. “Draw any three, for three is all I need to see your future.”
Nervously, Brody reached a shaking hand to the woman’s odd deck. After carefully looking at each one, he selected three of the cards. He held them in his hands and quickly realized that touching them was far worse than looking at them. They felt nauseating to him and there was a weird humming that he could feel through his fingers.
“Give them here, boy!” the old hag hissed, startling Brody.
He handed them over, glad to be rid of their disquieting touch. The old hag took them greedily and turned them so that they were facing her. He watched her run her old and withered fingers over the cards, caressing them eagerly and almost lovingly. Her wiry eyebrows were furrowed in concentration.
“Ah,” she murmured, her attention on one of the cards. She flipped it around so that he could see what was depicted on it. A pair of naked people were revealed, a man and a woman. They were entwined in a loving kiss with their limbs wrapped around each other. There were even parts of themselves where it looked like they were melting and merging together. Their hands were twisted into each other’s hair. In the background of the card’s art was a huge majestic tree with sprawling, leafy branches. Hidden among them was a glowing pair of snake’s eyes and faintly visible was its long, glistening body.
The image made Brody shudder.
“The...umm...lovers?” he asked.
“Yes,” Madame Toulour responded impatiently. “It means your soul mate is near. You will meet her soon.”
“Soul mate?” he asked, intrigued despite himself. “Happen to know what she’ll look like?”
“About five foot four, a hundred and ten pounds with red hair and green eyes. Very pretty,” the old woman shot back at once. Her white eyes were intensely set on his. Then she started laughing hysterically. To Brody, it sounded more like a scream than laughter. It scared him more than it put him at ease. “I’m joking. A little psychic’s humor. Gets them every time.”
“Oh...ha...ha,” Brody said without conviction. He sighed to himself as he realized what a colossal mistake it was to come here. He wanted to get the hell out of there.
But he was also curious.
Cursing himself for a fool, he stayed there and watched the old hag flip over the second card. She handed it to him, something somber in her movements. The card showed a nightmarishly gruesome character on a pale horse. It was cloaked all in black, the hood coming up and over its head. But you could still see its face. It was mostly skull, but there were parts where he could see decomposing flesh. The thing’s eyes were a bright, sickly green and it held a scythe in a stark white, skeletal hand. The shaft was broken about halfway down and where it ended, there was nothing but jagged splinters.
A sick, fluttering fear ripped through Brody’s stomach when he saw that card.
“Death,” the hag said, whispering.
“What does it tell you?” Brody asked, his voice small.
“It tells me that a death will shape your future. A death of someone you love or will love very dearly.”
Before Brody could ask any more questions, she handed him the last and final card. This one depicted a man bound by his hands and feet with inhumanly thick chains and suspended above a yawning chasm that was glowing an eerie red. Demons and imps ran through it, their yellow eyes ablaze.
He looked at the card for a long time, thinking there was something about it that was upsetting him on a subconscious level (even more so than he already was). He looked closer at the card and the features of the man depicted on it became clearer and clearer until he realized with a sickening feeling that the man bound by the thick chains was himself. It was completely accurate, from his blonde hair and brown eyes to the scar on his chin and the tattoo of a tribal hawk on his upper left arm.
He dropped the card in shock and looked up to find Madame Toulour’s milky white eyes watching him.
“What the hell is this?” he asked, accusation in his voice.
“That, dear boy, is the Chained Man,” the old hag responded with a toothless grin that cracked her old, wrinkled face. “It is an unmerciful card. You are bound to a fate you do not want, boy. An unspeakable fate.”
“What the hell does that mean?” Brody asked.
“That you cannot escape it,” the old woman replied, still cackling hideously. The overall effect really sold the witch vibe Brody had when he first saw her.
Scared and angry, Brody rose from his chair so quickly he knocked it over. He didn’t care, he just wanted out of there. He bolted, racing for the door like the hounds of Hell were on his heels. When he got to there, he grabbed its frame and swung out into the hall...
...and crashed directly into some poor girl he didn’t even. He watched in horror when saw her get knocked painfully onto her butt.
“Ow!” she yelled indignantly. “Watch where you’re going, asshole!”
“I’m sorry,” Brody told her, chancing a nervous glance back at the door. He half expected the old hag to pop out of the darkness and start cackling at him again.
“Well that’s great of you. Real gentlemanly. Knock a girl on her friggin’ ass and just say sorry. How bout instead of saying sorry, you help the girl you knocked on her ass up? I think you broke my butt.” She held out her slender arms for Brody to take.
He’d been so preoccupied with his own fear that he hadn’t taken the time to really see the girl. When he finally did notice her he saw that she was extremely beautiful. She had pretty red hair and green eyes that were bright and intelligent. Her skin was a not too pale white and a spattering of freckles covered the bridge of her nose.
Wait a second, he thought to himself, red hair and green eyes? He took another look at her.
“Uh...I know this is an odd question, but how tall are you?” he asked her as he helped her off the floor.
“Five four,” she replied while she brushed herself off. “Why?”
“Uh...no reason. Umm...I was just thinking about something a crazy old lady said to me,” Brody replied, glancing one last time at the dark doorway to Madame Toulour’s creepy table. Bound to a fate you do not want, whispered in his mind and he did everything he could think of to repress it. He turned back around. “Would you like to get something to eat with me?”
“Well that depends,” she answered, giving him a curious yet playful look.
“On?” he asked, arching an eyebrow.
“Do you plan on knocking me down again?” She smiled, and it was the most radiant and beautiful smile he’d ever seen.
“Uh...no,” he answered sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck self-consciously. “I’m Brody by the way. Brody Powell.” He extended his hand for her to shake.
“Hillary Preble,” she replied, returning his handshake. “So where are you taking me?”
“Do you like Waffle House? I think it’s the only place that’s open right now,” he asked her.
“Sounds good to me.”
July 10, 2014
It’s been sixteen years since that day, Brody thought to himself. He found it odd that he would be thinking about Madam Toulour now. He hardly did these days, except when he was remembering when he first met Hillary. The creepy old psychic almost never invaded his thoughts, along with the equally creepy reading she’d given him.
He sat alone in his favorite restaurant close to where he worked. He was the Vice President of Creative Services at Red Hawk Lit, a highly successful literary magazine and publishing firm.