Hail caesar, p.1
Hail Caesar, p.1Levi Garcia
Copyright 2015 Levi Garcia
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Cyrus was halfway home when he came across Doctor Archibald Vanderburg's Wagon of Wonders. He had seen the wagon in front of town hall a few days earlier, as did half the county, as they witnessed Doctor Vanderburg's flamboyant presentation for his miracle cure.
"Doctor Vanderburg's Genuine Snake Oil Liniment direct from the Orient! Arthritis got ya down? Just rub some on and you'll be back on your feet in no time," Doctor Vandenberg proclaimed for all to hear. "Are you fatigued? Why, it’s so gentle on the constitution, yet so effective, that you can even drink directly from the bottle," he said as you took a giant swig from the bottle and wiped his lips with a handkerchief. "You'll be lithe and limber and immediately ready for another full day of work or even relaxation. Don't let old age and other physical maladies constrain your way of life."
Aside from the liniment, for a few pennies he also offered up oddities that he claimed were procured from around the world. Cyrus had no money to see any of them, but he heard a crowd talking about a human hand perfectly preserved in a viscous green fluid that if you stared at it long enough you would see its fingers twitching. There was also talk of the skull of a cyclops, a dove with two heads, and a unicorn's horn.
As Cyrus approached the wagon, he could see the doctor kneeling beside it and clutching his stomach. A pool of blood that had formed beside him was flowing off into the tall grass beside the trail. Doctor Vanderburg noticed him and motioned for him to come closer. "Don't worry. It's just my own sick. There's nothin' to be afraid of here."
"What's wrong with you?" Cyrus asked as he approached.
"Well, sometimes, sickness happens and there's not a lot you can do about it but be sick."
Cyrus looked to the back of the wagon. The door was open and he could see crates of snake oil stacked neatly inside. "Will your snake oil help?"
Doctor Vanderburg smirked. "Well, that's just the thing right there. I may as well fess up now. The only thing that stuff will do for anyone is get them drunk really slowly. Well, you may be able to cook with it as it does contain oil. Just not oil from a snake." He stopped for a moment to cough. A mist of blood issued forth and coated the side of his hand which he then wiped on his vest. "No use keeping tidy now. Unfortunately, what ails me has no cure. I've got this cancer eatin' up my insides and it's just a matter of time till it finishes me off. And even more unfortunate, it seems like that matter of time is now a matter of right now."
"I can run and get Doc Pritchett from town. It won't take long to get him back here."
"I've already seen Doc Pritchett. Unfortunately, there's not much which can be done for this. Thankfully, he did offer the kindness of allowing me to leave town without raising a stink. He said he'd keep quiet about it so I could leave without incident. It wouldn't do to have me getting sick for all to see and then folks would start feeling cheated and next thing you know they'd be stringing me up a tree. That just doesn't seem like a good way to go. Unfortunately, I didn't get that far away from town so I'll just make the best of it. Sitting here watching the wind shake the leaves in the trees seems a bit more of a peaceful way to go. Wouldn't ya say?"
Cyrus looked out to the field before them. "Want me to get a message to someone for you then?" he asked.
Doctor Vanderburg shifted his weight to stand. "No, but I guess there is somethin' you could do for me. I may as well pass it to someone."
He stepped to the door of the wagon, reached down, and popped the floorboard up. Hidden underneath was a gold-trimmed box. Taking the box out, he sat back down and motioned for Cyrus to take a seat beside him. "What's your name, son?"
"Cyrus, do you know anything about the Romans?"
"You mean like the Romans in the Bible?"
"Yeah, like in the Bible. The Romans had existed for a while, but it wasn't until a man named Augustus Caesar maneuvered his way into power and consolidated the empire. He conquered Europe, Africa, Asia…anything and anyone that was in his way. He was a powerful man. So powerful that he changed the name of one of the months to August."
Cyrus was hooked by his words. In school, he was mostly taught numbers and how to write. Very little about the history of the world, outside of the Bible, was ever shown to him.
"Do you realize what that means, son? Time held no sway over him. He left his mark on history by putting his name on time. That's true power there. Now, when Augustus died, he didn't concede his power to anyone. He didn't have any legitimate children of his own to pass power to. There was only the empire he built to carry on in the image he created. Instead, what he did pass on were his personal belongings."
Doctor Vanderburg had been holding the box in his lap and running his fingers along the gold trim. "There was one possession that was his most prized." As he said this, he opened the box to reveal what looked to be a bronze ring which featured the impression of a bull's head. He gently picked up the ring and held it to the light. "Mind you, all of the other 'oddities' in my wagon are hoaxes. As I said before, the snake oil is useless, and the cyclops' skull is just a really well made impression formed with some rare clay. However, this ring is the only true thing I possess. It was obtained by my grandfather, then passed to my father, and then to me. How my grandfather came into possession of it, I don't know. Perhaps he just had an eye for identifying value where others just saw junk."
Cyrus was staring dumbstruck at the ring. Doctor Vandenberg's story wasn't making much sense, but he was a captive audience.
"Well, just like Caesar," the Doctor continued, "I've got no sons or family. My line has reached its end. So what am I to do?"
Cyrus didn't have an answer. He had become mystified by Doctor Vanderburg's story and the idea of ancient history and power.
"What I'm left to do is hand it off to a stranger as I sit dying and hope that I've left it in good hands. However, this here gift comes with a warning. Now, son, it might be easy for me to not give you this warning, but I feel it would be intolerable of me to deny you the history of that which is being passed to you now. Now, for hundreds of years after Augustus' death, this ring was in the possession of a succession of Roman rulers who also took the title of 'Caesar.' During this time, the empire flourished and expanded. However, at some point, the ring was lost. I don't know how or why, but it was lost to those in power. Perhaps it was simply stolen. I'm sure there's a story to be told there, but, in any case, from that point on, the empire slowly weakened. Eventually, the empire collapsed and all those lands and people under its rule separated and formed all the countries we now know them to be. Now, listen close as this is the part you need to take heed of. It was said that the emperors, during times of trial or great need, would use the ring to call up the spirit of Augustus. I don't know the manner in which the spirit manifested, but what I do know is the way in which he could be called upon. The ring is to be cast into a fire and you say the words that are inscribed on this box, 'Memento mori, memento mortis.' Memento mori means, 'Remember that you are mortal.' Back in ancient Rome, crowds would chant this to generals that returned victoriously from battle. Saying it to someone was a symbol of respect and exalted their strength. But 'Memento mortis,' now that is a bit more ominous. It means 'Remember death.'
Now, does it work? I've always been too much of a coward to try. I asked my father if it did and he said he never tried, but that my grandfather confessed to him that he had, and pleaded on his deathbed for him to never do so. He said that he had never seen his father so scared before. He was resigned to his impending death, but his only fear was that the words would be spoken. I
Doctor Vanderburg shoved the box with the ring into Cyrus' hands as he continued to cough. As he walked off, Cyrus could still here him coughing and no doubt spilling more blood upon the grass on the side of the road. Not the most respectable place to die, but Cyrus understood, from the circumstances, that it was probably the best the he would get.
That night, Cyrus thought about what the Doctor had told him. Were his final words just a joke at his expense? He didn't really believe what he was told considering that he also claimed that the other items were fakes. It was a joke, it had to be. He opened the box to look at the ring. There was no way that it could be anything more than just a simple bronze ring. An emperor would never
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