The Dark Orb
by Gary Shugar
twilight was deepening. He had put off making camp, looking for a dry flat
area. He finally came to such an area, but he would have to set up camp and
gather firewood in the dark. Off to his right, and deeper in the woods, he
spotted a faint light. Could this be the campfire of another hiker? It would be
pleasant to have someone to talk to. He had seen no one on the trail for the
past three days. If they would share their fire, he could heat some water to
make his freeze-dried beef stew. Because the light was off the trail, he
reached into his pack and got out his flashlight to pick his way through the
he approached the source of light, he noticed that it was square in shape and
appeared to be off the ground. Closer still, he could make out that it was a
lighted window in a small cabin. He thought he would knock on the door and ask
permission to camp on the property and perhaps get some hot water for his meal.
He would then forgo a fire and go to bed early.
knocked on the door and a man opened it. With the bright light behind him, he
could not see the man very well. “Good evening, sir,” he said. “It’s late and I
was looking for a flat, dry place to pitch my tent for the night. I wonder if
you would mind if I pitched it on your property. I won’t build a fire or
anything and I’ll be gone first thing in the morning.”
the man replied. “It is going to get rather chilly this evening. You are
welcome to stay in my cabin and sleep on the floor by the hearth if you wish.”
He then stepped to the side and gestured for the hiker to enter. “Put your
backpack on the floor by the hearth. I was just about to have supper. If you
wish, I would be pleased if you joined me.”
very nice of you, but I don’t want to put you to any trouble. If I could just
have some hot water, I can make my dried beef stew and join you.”
really no trouble,” replied the man. “I have plenty of chicken stew in the pot
on the stove. I think it’s rather good
and you would enjoy it. Please join me.”
stew smelled wonderful and the hiker decided to accept his offer.
a seat at the table,” the man said pointing to a small table with a blue
checked tablecloth and two place settings.
you expecting someone,” the hiker said upon seeing the extra place setting. “I
don’t want to interrupt any plans you had.”
I was hoping you would stop by and grace me with your company. It sometimes
gets very lonely out here,” replied the man.
a confuse look on his face, the hiker asked, “But how could you have known that
I was coming this way?”
the forest has eyes.” said the man as though that answered the question. He
walked over to the stove and brought a cast iron kettle to the table and set it
on an old cutting board to protect the tablecloth. He removed the lid and a
wonderfully aromatic steam rose from the pot. He took a ladle and filled both
bowls with the thick stew. “Enjoy,” he said as he began to eat his stew. It
didn’t take the hiker long to follow suit.
two ate in silence. The hiker was enjoying this meal after many days of
freeze-dried meals. He was offered seconds
and accepted, noting that there was plenty of food for two in the pot. As he
ate, he took a good look at his host. He was a slim older man, perhaps in his
seventies, but he appeared to be in very good shape. His hair was gray and he
had a gray moustache. His eyes were green and his skin was tanned like he spent
a good deal of time outdoors. His clothes were clean and in good repair, the
typical kind you would find on an outdoorsman, jeans and a plaid shirt. The
hiker also studied the cabin. It consisted of one room with a fireplace along
one wall. Along a second wall was the
small black iron wood stove for cooking. He wondered why there were two sources
of heat in such a small space, but was happy for the warmth they provided after
many cold nights in a tent. A small single bed was along another wall covered
by a white wool blanket with colored stripes, like the kind that used to be
traded to the natives, with small black stripes indicating how many beaver
pelts it was worth. There was a cupboard and a dresser and a variety of chests.
Along one wall was a crude bookshelf filled with a variety of books. He noted books on science, nature, history,
mythology, and numerous other topics. Evidently this was a learned man who
enjoyed a variety of topics. His eyes were particularly drawn to several very
old dark leather-bound books. Their titles, which appeared to be in gold leaf,
were barely visible along the thick spine and appeared to be in a foreign
language. These books intrigued him because of his interest in historical
the meal was finished, the man removed the bowls and asked, “Would you like a
cup of tea?”
that would be wonderful,” replied the hiker. The man placed two white ceramic
cups with thick sides on the table. From a cupboard, he withdrew a box
containing an assortment of individually wrapped tea bags and set it on the
table. The hiker selected English Teatime and the man chose Earl Grey. He
placed teaspoons and a sugar bowl on the table and filled the cups with hot
water from a cast iron tea kettle.
each had prepared their brew, the man said, “I apologize for not introducing
myself earlier. My name is John.”
I am Bill.” replied the hiker. “And I want to thank you very much for that
wonderful meal. It really tasted great.”
I ask, Bill, what brings you to these woods? This trail is not frequented by
Bill could answer, there was a tapping sound on the window. A crow sat on the
outside windowsill and was pecking with its beak. John looked up and smiled and
said, “Excuse me a moment.” He walked over to the door and opened it and a
moment later the crow flew into the cabin and landed on the fireplace mantle.
John went to the cupboard, got a jar lid, then reached into a bag and extracted
some sunflower seeds which he emptied into the lid. He placed the filled lid on
the mantle next to the crow. The crow seemed to make a small bow and then began
to slowly eat the seeds, while looking back and forth between Bill and John.
John turned to Bill and said with a smile, “Now that he has been taken care of,
we can get back to our conversation.”
this whole time, Bill had been sitting in quiet fascination observing what was
going on. “I like to hike along seldom
used trails and I read about this one in a hiking magazine and thought I would
try it out.”
crow, who had been quietly sitting on the mantle with his head slightly cocked,
suddenly began to squawk and rock back and forth from one foot to the other.
don’t think my friend thinks you are telling the truth,” said John with an
amused look on his face. “Excuse me; I must make a trip to the outhouse. It is
a short distance behind the cabin when you need it.” With that he got up and
went out the door.
he had gone out, Bill went to the bookshelf to examine the old books more
closely. He took one off the shelf and attempted to open it but found that it
would not open, although there was nothing holding it shut that he could see.
He tried the others with the same result. He then selected a book on native
plants of the region and it opened easily. He was paging through this book when
John returned. When John entered the cabin, the crow flew to him and landed on
his shoulder. It placed its beak near John’s ear. After a few moments, John
nodded slightly, went to the door, opened it, and the crow flew away into the
hear you were interested in my old books,” said John casually.
remark caught Bill off guard. Before replying he quickly reviewed the events so
far this evening. John obviously knew he was coming, having prepared a meal for
two. John’s reply that the woods have eyes was a strange one. The crow had
caught him in a lie about why he was here and had evidently told John that he
had tried to open the books. This was certainly no simple woodsman. He seemed
to have some sort of magical powers. Bill had kept his real reason for being
there a secret because he knew that most people considered magic to be silly,
superstitious nonsense. He wondered if he should tell this man his real reason
for being there.
he could say anything further, John said, “I know these woods very well. You
seem to be here for a reason, a quest perhaps, maybe I can be of some
assistance if you would confide in me.
However, you are my guest and are welcome to keep your secret to yourself,
enjoy a good night’s rest in my warm cabin, and be on your way after breakfast
detected sincerity in the tone of John’s voice and felt inclined to confide in
him. John, in the meantime began to wash the supper dishes without pursuing the
topic further. Bill joined him and rinsed and dried the dishes. They worked
together in silence until the task was done.
now Bill had made up his mind to tell his story to John. After all, if this man
thought he was crazy, it wouldn’t make any difference since he would probably
never see him again. Besides, John had made no attempt to hide his abilities
from him. He figured he had nothing to lose and might gain some valuable
bird was very perceptive,” began Bill. “I was not being entirely honest about
my reason for being here. It has to do with magic, which most people consider
nonsense, and I did not wish to appear a fool to you. However, things that have
happened tonight make me think that you would not consider magic to be just
superstition. Am I right?”
are,” said John simply. He took one of the chairs from the table to the
fireplace and put two more pieces of wood on the fire as if getting prepared to
hear the story. Bill brought over the other chair and began his story.
was a story that circulated in my town that my grandfather had a black orb that
allowed him to see into the future. The stories were very vague and only one
person, Jacob, a friend of my grandfather, claims to have seen it. He said it
was black and shiny and about 4 inches in diameter. Jacob also claimed once to
have seen an elf, so he was not considered the most reliable source. Having
heard these stories, I asked my grandfather about it several times. He always
answered with things like, ‘Bill, you can’t believe everything people say,’ or
‘Do I look like a wizard?’ This always implied that the answer was no, without
actually saying so. Eventually I gave up, figuring it was not something that he
wanted to talk about.
grandfather died, I helped my parents sort through his things. He always had a
small cedar chest on top of his chest of drawers where he kept small things of
sentimental value. On the bottom of the box, I found an old folded piece of 8 ½
by 11 paper with a map drawn on it. All
of the writing was in runes. This fascinated me and I kept it to see if I could
decipher what it said. Grandfather had been a Boy Scout and the crude map
contained the familiar map symbols used by them. I got a book on runes and
found that the words were easily deciphered since the words were in English. He
had simply substituted the rune for the corresponding letter. The heading on
the map read: Dark Orb Location. There were, however, on the back, a series of
runic words that I could not decipher. Writing the letters corresponding to the
runes did not yield any identifiable words. Grandfather liked puzzles and I
thought this might be a transposition cipher in which one letter is substituted
for another. As hard as I tried, and I put in a huge number of hours, I could
not make any sense of it.
had the answer to one of my questions. I now knew that he had owned a black orb
and he had hidden it somewhere. Of course, it also crossed my mind that this
may have been a game or fantasy and no orb really existed. But somehow I had
the feeling from his evasive answers and the local legend that this object did
indeed exist. Why, I asked myself, would he have hidden this? Maybe it really
did have some sort of powers. Maybe he was tired or afraid of what the orb was
really should have just let it go, but it intrigued me. It added a bit of spice
to my otherwise rather dull life. I wished I knew what it said on the back
because that might have been helpful. I decided I would make an adventure game
out of this and search for the Dark Orb. The path on the map started by a
symbol for a church, a small square with a cross on top. It said head north on
the trail. It also said it was a 3 day journey. Along the trail were streams,
swamps and other branches of the trail. This way one would know that if you
went past a swamp and crossed a stream, when the path divided you should take
the branch to the right. Two tepees apparently marked the places where he
camped for the night. I figured that it was only a half day’s journey from the
second campsite to the pond indicated as the final location. He probably camped
at the same spot the following night on his return trip. There were two big
problems. First, where was this trail? The map gave no name to the trail or the
church or even its general location. It could be anywhere, and my grandfather
had traveled a lot and hiked many trails. I asked my father if he knew of any 5
day overnight backpacking trips grandfather had taken. He only said that
grandfather used to do a lot of hiking in the northern part of the state, but
he believed he had hiked many trails there and may have gone other places.
second problem was if I got to the pond how could I possibly find a hidden 4
inch ball. Perhaps the words on the back
were directions. All there was on the map was an X on the west side of the
decided to try to find the location of this pond, even If I could not find the
orb. Who knows, maybe if I got there something would catch my eye, but I
sincerely doubted it. I began researching trails in the northern part of the
state that are long enough for a 2 ½ day hike and looked to see if there was a
church somewhere near the trailhead. I found a number of possibilities. Since I
don’t often have time off from work for a week, I had to use vacation time to
do this. That didn’t bother me because I often went backpacking on vacation and
this made it seem like an adventure. My first few tries were unfruitful. After
a day, it was usually evident that I was not passing the landmarks on the map.
This time I think I have found the right trail. The landmarks are all there,
and if I am right, there will be a pond after a half day hike tomorrow. If so,
I intend to spend several days there looking around, but not really expecting
to find much.” With that he ended his
story and looked questioningly at John.
gave a little smile and said, “Well I can tell you one thing. There is a pond
about a half day’s hike from here. It is a small one off to the right of the
trail. It is about 100 yards in diameter with some marshy areas around it and
lots of mosquitoes.”
big grin came across Bills face. “I knew I was on the right trail this time.”
wonder if I could see this map of yours.” said John. “I am interested in the
writing on the back. I know a bit about old Norse languages.”
hesitated. He wasn’t sure if he wanted anyone else to see his map. What if John
could read the words and would wait until he left, then go and get the orb for
himself? On the other hand he knew he had zero chance, without this knowledge, of
finding an orb buried long ago. He decided he had nothing to lose. He reached
into his shirt pocket, extracted the map, and handed it to John.
looked at the words and said, “Very interesting. Do you mind if I study this?”
shook his head no. He felt his eyelids getting heavy. A long day of hiking, a
big meal and a warm cabin were conspiring to make him sleepy. “I think maybe
I’ll get some rest if that is OK with you. I want to get an early start
looked up from the paper and nodded.
Bill unrolled his sleeping pad and sleeping bag by the hearth, he watched John
go to the bookshelf and remove several of the old books and open them
effortlessly. He then began paging through them apparently looking for
lay down and was almost instantly asleep. He awoke sometime later and found
John still awake sitting at the table with several of the books open reading by
the light of the kerosene lamp. He drifted off to sleep again. The next time he
awoke, John had a small cauldron on the table in which something was burning
and giving off a thin stream of smoke. John had a knife with a bone handle and
was passing the blade through the smoke. He then stroked the blade along the
length of what appeared to be a chicken bone. He only stroked in one direction.
After 2 or 3 strokes, he passed the knife blade through the smoke and repeated
the same procedure. How long he did this, Bill didn’t know for he had fallen
next thing he knew, John was calling his name. He awoke to the smell of frying
bacon. It was still dark outside. John’s bed was unruffled. It appeared he had
been awake all night working.
morning, Bill,” he said. “Did you have a good sleep?”
still dark outside but the sun will soon be rising and I have some things to
discuss with you before you leave.”
walked over to the table and took a seat. John brought two plates of bacon and
eggs. The books were back in their place on the shelf and the only things on
the table were Bill’s map, another paper with writing on it, and the chicken
bone with a string tied to the middle.
was up all night doing some research and some preparations. First, I managed to
translate the back of the note. It was in a rather obscure Norse dialect, not
in English. If your grandfather wrote this, he must have been quite a scholar
of the languages. It looked like something I had encountered long ago in my
studies. I didn’t remember much about it but with the aid of my old notes and a
few hours of hard work, I was able to make the translation. Here is the English
version of what it says on the back of your map: From the large Linden tree on
the west side of the pond walk twenty paces due northwest. There is a circle of
irregular large rocks. Dig in the center about 3 feet deep.
may have changed since he buried it. The tree may not still be there, or the
rocks may have been covered over. If you are intent upon seeing the orb, I have
prepared a ‘finding bone.’ It is only
effective over maybe 100 yards. Hold the bone suspended by the string and
concentrate on what you wish to find. The bone will swing to point the right
direction with the end that has a small dot of red paint I put on it. When you
are directly over the spot, it will point downward.
finishing these two tasks, I turned to my old books and found something that
makes me wish I had not accomplished them. One of the books mentioned three
dark orbs that could be used for seeing into the future. They were last heard
of in the Palatinate in Germany and were then lost.”
grandfather was in the Army and was stationed in Germany as a young man,”
book goes on to say that the orbs are very dangerous. One who knows the future
often is looked upon with suspicion. Others also covet the orbs. Several owners
have been killed because of them and one apparently saw his own future and took
his own life to avoid it. The book says that some authorities think the orbs
are evil and actually cause bad things to happen to the owners. The orb
requires no magic to activate. One must only concentrate on it with a blank
mind. I think your grandfather was a wise man. He probably realized the trouble
the orb was causing and hid it away so he would not be tempted to use it. He
made a map just in case he would ever be in dire need of it. That apparently
did not happen. I can’t tell you what to do, but if I were you, I would head
home this morning, or finish the quest, find where it is buried and leave it
you are certain you want to see the orb, I recommend you do so while keeping
you mind busy with other thoughts then return it to the ground and destroy the
stop by my cabin on your return to bring back the ‘finding bone’ and to tell me
what you found and be my guest again for the night.”
was now getting light and Bill packed, thanked John for everything, and headed directly
away from the cabin to the trail. When he arrived at the trail, he placed 3
stones on the path to remind him where to leave the trail to get to the cabin.
The cabin was difficult to see from the trail and he didn’t want to miss it. He
then turned right and headed toward the pond. The information John had provided
was troubling. He would at least see if he could find the place where the orb
several hours of walking, he spotted a small pond to the right of the trail. He
walked to the west side of the pond, grateful he had put on insect repellant
this morning. The mosquitoes were very bad, as he had been told. He found no
remarkably large tree on the west shore, so he got the “finding bone” out of
his pocket. He held it by the end of the string and concentrated on a black ball.
The bone swung and pointed in a certain direction. He followed the bone,
repeating this procedure several times. He thought he saw indistinct circles of
stones several times, but the bone told him to keep going. Finally, he stood
over another indistinct ring and the bone pointed downward. He had found the
orb. Having invested this much time in this quest, he could not leave without
at least taking a look at it. He got his shovel out of his pack and began to
dig. After a while, he hit some wood,
the rotting remains of a box perhaps. After another inch of digging and he hit
something hard and black. He carefully uncovered the dirty black ball. He took
it to the pond and cleaned it. The surface was unblemished, perfectly black,
perfectly smooth and so shiny it reflected his face and the surrounding forest.
It was beautiful. He felt a great desire to own such a beautiful thing. John’s
warnings were screaming in his mind, but he just needed to own this orb. He
wrapped the four inch dark orb in a cloth from his backpack, found a secure and
centered place for its weight and headed back to the trail. On the way back to
the trail his elation made him careless and he tripped over a rock and fell on
his right side. He heard a hissing sound and caught the smell of pepper. He
quickly took off his pack and moved away. His can of bear pepper spray had a
small hole and was leaking slowly. The top had also been broken and it could no
longer be used. Using a long stick, he separated it from the strap on his pack
and hit it away from the pack. He then retrieved his pack, and vowing to be
more careful, made his way back to the trail. He headed toward home.
the way back, he decided not to stop at the cabin. He was troubled by an uneasy
feeling that John was using him to get the orb. His logical mind told him that
if John wanted the orb he would not have given him the translation of the
direction or the ‘finding bone’. He would have simply waited until he wandered
around looking for the burial site and gave up and went home. John could then use the directions and the
‘finding bone’ to get the orb himself. Despite this there was something telling
him not to stop.
sun was almost setting when Bill reached the three stones on the trail. He
hesitated for a moment, and then continued on. He walked about a mile then set
up his tent in the dark. He did not start a fire but climbed into the tent to
get a good night’s rest. With the orb in the pack beside him, he had the feeling
that he had accomplished his quest, and yet he felt anxious. Could the orb
really be evil? Was it responsible for his fall and the loss of his bear spray?
Was it the reason he avoided John’s cabin? Despite his troubled mind, he fell
he awoke it was light. The sun had just risen and it was time for him to be on
his way. He packed up his gear, but before he left, he felt a strange urge to
look at the dark orb again. He removed the orb from his pack and unwrapped it. It
was really beautiful, and he sat there just staring at it reflecting his face,
thinking of nothing, just absorbing its beauty.
a start, he noted a change in the reflection of his face on the orb. His eyes
were wide and his face filled with terror. He then saw himself running down the
trail being pursued by a giant grizzly bear that was angry, with teeth bared
and drool coming from its mouth. The bear appeared to be getting closer to him,
as they ran and it looked as though it would soon catch him. And then the images were gone and he saw just
the reflection of his own face. He tried to slow his breathing and wiped the
sweat from his forehead. Had he really seen what he thought he saw, or was it
just his imagination? Did the loss of his bear spray cause him to have a
hallucination? Was the orb responsible
for the loss of the bear spray and was now showing him his future? Would he survive the bear attack? It looked
like the bear was going to catch him.
quickly put the orb in his pack and hurried, almost ran down the trail. He
heard a sound behind him on the trail. He turned and saw a bear coming out of
the woods onto the trail. The bear stopped on the trail and turned toward him.
It growled and bared his teeth and then began running toward him. It was the
bear he had seen in the orb. Bill quickly took off his pack and began running
as fast as he could. The bear kept coming and growling. He looked back and the
bear was gaining on him. He forced himself to run faster. He heard screaming
and realized it was him. He no longer thought; he only ran and ran and screamed
and screamed. After an eternity, he saw the end of the trail and the church.
The bear followed. He leaped over the stone wall of the church yard, but didn’t
leap high enough. He smashed down on his
side and looked back. The bear had cleared the wall and was coming down on him.
His mouth was open, huge fangs showing, headed toward his neck.
* * *
same morning as he was cleaning up from breakfast, John heard the familiar
tapping on his window. John opened the door and the crow flew to him, landing
on his shoulder. John’s friend told him he had seen Bill packing up his tent
about a mile down the trail. After he packed, he got out of the pack a black
ball and stared at it for a while. He quickly put the ball in his pack and
hurried down the trail. A small brown bear came out of the woods behind him.
Bill turned, looked at the bear, dropped his pack and ran off screaming. The
bear was startled and disappeared back into the woods. But Bill kept running
and screaming and looking over his shoulder as though something were chasing
him, but there was nothing there. The crow followed Bill for a few miles, and
the behavior continued. He then flew to the cabin.
got a shovel and hurried down the path. He found Bill’s abandoned backpack and
opened it and took out a round object wrapped in a cloth. He also found the “finding
bone.” He carried the wrapped orb for some distance from the path, put it down
and began digging a deep hole. He was about to drop it in when he had an overwhelming
urge to see it. Despite the feeling that this was magic that he should not get
involved with, he uncovered the orb. It was beautiful, black, and lustrous.
What a wondrous thing to own. “No, I don’t want to own you,” he said aloud to
the dark orb. He quickly wrapped it up, threw it into the hole and filled the
hole with dirt. As he returned to the cabin, he had to resist the urge to
return and dig up the dark orb.
* * *
was a year since “the incident” as he called it. Bill had returned to his
senses after about a month on the psychiatric ward. The story he got from the
psychiatrist and confirmed by his father was that he had gone for a week of
backpacking on a trail that started by a church. Five days later he was found
by the church janitor huddled against the stone wall of the church yard sitting,
rocking back and forth, and not responding. The janitor had called an ambulance
and he was taken to the hospital and admitted to the psychiatric ward. He was
exhausted and dehydrated, but only had minor injuries consistent with a fall
off the church yard wall. He remembers nothing at all about the trip. The only
clue is that he has developed arkoudaphobia, a fear of bears. Perhaps there was
an incident involving a bear. Some backpackers had found his backpack on the
trail about two days hike from the church. It was fully packed and had a tag
with his name, address, and phone number. They brought it out and gave it to
his father. Interestingly, there was no bear spray. He always carried bear
spray when he hiked in that part of the state. Perhaps he had had to use it on
a bear, who knows. He now lives and works in the city. He has no desire to go
to the woods. Even the city park makes him nervous, and he will walk many
blocks out of his way to avoid even seeing it. Black shiny minerals, like onyx,
obsidian or even coal make him nervous. The psychiatrist says the events of
those five days have not been lost but are buried somewhere in his psyche.
Perhaps psychotherapy could bring them back, but given the amount of trauma
they caused, perhaps they are best left buried.
© 2022 Gary Shugar
Bio: Gary Shugar is not new to published writing, but this is his first piece of this genre.
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