It had a rather nefarious glint to it, and that’s probably why it caught my eye. It was a larger coin, just wider than a half-dollar, and bore a face that looked, from a distance, very much like a jubilant skull; on closer examination the profile was of some long-dead king or president of a foreign land. The lettering read ‘AXIIL’, and it held no other indicator of the time or place of its minting.
“Have interest in the old works, yes?” The shopkeeper’s voice was more feline than crone, “Of coins and trinkets of the old world, lost and found, as ancient as war and death? Welcome, welcome – peruse these- A Monkey’s Paw, long ago taken from darkest Africa, or perhaps a jade dagger from the far mists of the Orient?” She flashed her wrinkled hand over the various items of her booth: mostly junk intended to foster her air of mysticism. The ‘ancient’ jade dagger had ‘MADE IN CHINA’ pressed into the plastic of the hilt. She sold occult and mystic wares, only $9.95 each.
“You’re a hell of a saleswoman, ma’am, I’m interested in that coin there.”
She cackled, had cackled, and possessed a demeanor that seemed purpose-built for cackling. “No, no, not that. Is too much for a young pretty like you, too much.” I moved to object, of course, but she foresaw this- “That coin pays the Boatman. That is the gallow’s coin, the last coin- it is not for you.”
“I’ll give you twenty-“
“No, no, not for you-“
“Fine, fine.” She sighed in a superfluously theatrical way, “It is yours for thirty, but be warned – That coin knows darkness, brings the night to your life, turns nightmare to flesh and flesh to nightmare. You will see, oh yes.”
“I’m sure I will.” I was not sure. Really, the whole thing sounded ridiculous (because it was), but then I’ve always had a problem with chasing after things that were explicitly denied to me. I made the exchange, tucked the coin away in my purse, thanked the old virago, and brought my idle perusal to the other booths of the flea market. An older gentleman was persistent in his attempts to sell me a poorly-painted oak rocker for $150, but I resisted his siren song and departed the market.
I hopped back into the Yogi (a 1998 lime green Thunderbird that was always being reborn) and made my way back to Salem. The gazanias Ms. Buchanan planted around the front walkway were in bloom; I distinctly remember the highlighter-yellow of the petals greeting me as I went inside. I was fresh out of college then, and Ms. Buchanan was a friend of my mother with a spare room. The house was a slightly dilapidated two-story. I don’t know much about architecture, but the design was very sloping, as though the entire building was a hunched entity of roof shingle and peeling white siding. The inside was more pristine than the out, all kept very tidy and orderly by the tiny owner-custodian. She was fond of cats and glassware, so naturally the house was full of shelves upon shelves of opaque kittens, cats, pumas, panthers, lions, and everything feline of every color glass glinting in the light. It was as impressive as it was kitschy. I entered through the front door.
“Find anything good, darling?” Ms. Buchanan always called me darling, for some reason. I suppose the elderly have the right to call people whatever they like.
“Just an old coin, I think it might be silver. Here, see what you think.” I wrenched the coin free from my bag and held it to her. It had a strange sort of purple glint to it in the light, despite the absence of that hue in either the lights or the metal itself. She examined it for a few moments before delivering her verdict.
“Definitely not silver, darling, it’s not heavy enough. Doesn’t seem very tarnished, either, maybe it’s…Probably aluminum, I think. I hope you didn’t pay too much for it.”
“No, not too much. Oh well. Any idea whose face that is?”
“Oh, well… that’s Axiil, apparently. No idea, sorry honey.” She shrugged helplessly, then went back into the kitchen. “I’ve got guests coming tonight, so I’d appreciate it if you could make yourself scarce.”
“No problem, I’ll stay up in my room. Have a nice night!”
I went up to my little $240/month room. It was, thankfully, free of the watchful eyes of the glass cats. I wasn’t ever much of an interior decorator, never have been, and my walls were covered with the slim remnants of my college dormitory experience- Bowie, Audrey Hepburn, and one of those ‘Carry On’ posters clung desperately to the yellowy wallpaper. This was not the high life. I set the coin on my dresser, and went to my computer. I think I looked at Tumblr, or Facebook maybe. The particulars of those websites always tend to slip away into the void whenever I try to recall them. I browsed, surfed, liked, reblogged, and posted for an hour or so before I heard it.
That’s what I thought I had heard, anyways. It seemed to have come from everywhere in the room at once. I checked my speakers, but they were still off. It was a bit puzzling, especially when it happened again.
“…Hello?” There was no answer, of course, because there was nobody else in the room. I was having some sort of episode again. I took a steadying breath, in and out, in and – hold it- out, then headed to the bathroom. One tablet, water, another deep breath. I looked in the mirror, and saw things as they were, as they should be. This was good. I returned to my room, and everything was normal.
“MEAT.” It was a real noise. A raspy voice with the timbre of a door slamming shut. I looked around, tensed for the return.
“MEAT.” From the dresser. I went to it, to the coin. AXIIL’s face greeted me with its skeleton-smile. I picked the coin up. At that point I’d still never bothered to actually turn the damn thing over, so I did- A castle was imprinted on the opposite side, yet there were no other identifying marks on the coin.
“MEAT.” From behind me. If you’ve ever had the experience of hearing the word ‘meat’ repeated ten times in a four-minute span before suddenly being shouted in your ear, then you can sympathize with the startle I had. I spun to face the speaker and saw, without a doubt, AXIIL. His face was rotting from his skull, revealing teeth and bone, fibrous muscle bristling where skin should have been, hollowed sockets staring blankly at me. He wore some form of royal vestment, faded violet and draped on his withering frame as a funeral shroud, and carried a strange scepter, seemingly the same material as the coin. Despite all the decay, he seemed nonplussed as he repeated, “MEAT!”
“…Will hotdogs do?”