The Meld (Short story 2)

The police left Sam to take stock of her loss. They promised to do all they could to catch the perpetrators. What was missing? Some small appliances, linen, a painting. And her jewellery. She was most upset about losing the jewellery. One piece in particular – her treasured turquoise ring. A delicate gold band set with an oval turquoise stone. It didn’t have much monetary value, but sentimentally, it was worth everything. The only tangible link to her past. And now it was gone.

***

It was dark when Tony entered his apartment. He didn’t bother to switch lights on as he made his way through to his bedroom. He wasn’t planning to do anything but shower and collapse on his bed. A day like he had needed to end as quickly as possible. He took off his jacket, loosened his tie. That was when he realized he had lost a cufflink. He cursed silently. His bad day had just gotten worse.

***

“This will do”, he muttered, “This will do.” Amos stood up slowly and examined his work with a critical eye. He could find no fault. He slipped his creation into the pocket of his apron, switched off his lamp and shuffled to the kitchen to pour himself a whiskey. Whiskey, a pipe and sitting on his veranda to watch the sun go down. These had become part of the ritual of the Meld. He never left anything out of the formula.

He tapped his pipe pensively, wondering how he would explain the ritual to Zach when he arrived the following day. What if he doesn’t believe? What if he refuses to follow all the steps? Too many questions running through his head.

He finished his pipe and emptied his tumbler as the sun disappeared. Amos reached into his apron, retrieving the ring and inspecting it one last time before placing it in the window display with his other creations. It was ready to work its magic. He noticed that his Meld was gone – just the same as the previous night, and the many nights before that. He smiled, knowingly.

The next morning, Amos was woken by a persistent knocking on the door. He squinted at the bright sunlight assaulting his eyes. Just as he watched the sunset each evening, he watched the sunrise every morning. He grumbled to himself as he made his way to the front door, annoyed that he had overslept on this important day.

“Hello Mr Amos, sir! How are you?”, Zach greeted the old man, offering a friendly hand. Amos shook hands with the young man and smiled. He noticed the difference in skin elasticity and energy. It is time, he thought. Bringing Zach in is the right decision.

“You can leave your things over there”, he said, pointing to a table in the corner of the sitting room. “Put the kettle on the stove, while I get dressed”

When Amos returned, he was pleased to see that Zach did as he was told. He imagined how his old home looked through Zach’s young eyes. He was sure that most folks did not boil water in a cast-iron kettle on an ancient gas burner these days. The boy was peeking into the workshop. He’s probably thinking about what he will change.

Zach had ticked almost all the boxes for an apprentice. He was bright, eager, responsible, creative and good with his hands. That’s what the people in town had said. But how will Zach react I give him all the details? The only thing Amos couldn’t establish was whether Zach would believe. He didn’t fear a wrong decision but there had rarely been as much riding on his decision as there was on this occasion.

“Let’s get to it boy”, he spoke decisively as he handed Zach an apron. Fortified by sugary tea, he was determined to make things work. Zach put the well-worn garment over his jeans and t-shirt and followed the old man to the workshop.

“We’ll start with the basics”, Amos said. He showed Zachery the furnace, the crucible. He emphasised the safety equipment, showing the boy his faded burn scars from when he had been a young and careless apprentice.

He opened his antique safe, allowing Zach to examine the supply of the raw materials for himself. Zach’s eyes sparkled almost as much as the gems he gently rolled in the palm of his hand. Amos could see that Zach felt the energy within the stones and his spirits lifted. Maybe? He was tempted to open the secret compartment but resisted the urge. Not yet, Amos, not yet, he told himself silently.

They worked side by side for most of the day, with Amos showing and Zach doing. Amos was pleased with their progress but around mid-afternoon, he halted their work and sent Zach home for the day, armed with graph paper and instructions for drawings. The youngster didn’t argue. He was relieved to go out into the fresh air, stretch his youthful legs and reflect on the day.

Once Zach was out of sight, Amos opened the secret compartment in his safe. Somehow, there were always two new items there, despite having cleared the space the day before. The articles were always different. Sometimes a cufflink and a single earring, or a tie pin and an heirloom ring. There had been bangles and bracelets.

In the early years, he tried to find out how the pieces came to be in the secret space, but eventually, he gave up. He knew instinctively that these items always held history within them. They were often part of a pair or a set. He could sense that their appearance in his safe represented a loss to their respective owners. The metals and stones that the items were made from were often different, but somehow always complimentary.

Back then, he was new to the art of jewellery making. He struggled to afford the supplies to make the stock he would sell. Despite wondering where the items had come from, he was eager to fill his display window, so he chose not to question anything and quickly set to work, removing the stones and melting down the metals to make something new from the old. He was delighted with the result and didn’t hesitate to give it pride of place in his display window. It didn’t stay there long. The beautiful new ring had vanished from the display the next morning. All that was left was a scrap of paper. Two names were scribbled on the scrap paper.

Amos put the scrap away in a wooden box and went about his day as before. For reasons even he couldn’t explain, he didn’t investigate further. He went about his business, designing, making and selling beautiful jewellery pieces. Each day, he checked the secret compartment and two lost pieces mysteriously arrived. At the end of the day, he would put the ring he had created by combining the two old items, and each morning, it would be gone and a scrap of paper in its place. He called these pieces his Melds.

At some point, he realised that the names on the bits of paper were the same names he saw in wedding announcements in the local newspaper a few months later. The rings he created were inexplicably linked to the joining of two lovers. A few times, he had made the effort to meet the new couples. He realised that each of them had lost something important and not long after, had met their soulmate. The strangest thing was that none of the couples ever knew anything about the Meld that Amos had created using their lost jewellery.

After he sent Zach home for the day, he worked later than usual on his daily Meld. Not only had he missed the sunrise that day, but he also missed the sun setting. He enjoyed his whiskey and pipe in dark, wondering if the change in the order of events would affect the magic of the Meld.

Amos set an alarm for the next morning. He was feeling wearier than ever, but he was determined not to allow his age to get the better of him yet. He wasn’t ready. Just before Zach arrived, he checked the window, and the Meld was gone. He put the scrap of paper which appeared in its place with the others in the box, relieved that the magic still worked.

Certainly, it’s not the sunrise or sunset that made the meld work. Amos decided not to share the secret of the Meld with Zach just yet. He had no proof that any of the steps were of key importance to the success of the charm. Maybe he could use the coming months to toy with the rituals he had created? Perhaps it would help him understand the magic before he left?

Days turned into weeks and weeks became months. Zach and Amos worked side by side companionably. Amos grew slower and his body was frail. Zach became more confident and proficient. He developed a reputation for his beautiful work and Amos was pleased with his progress. After a year of dedicated apprenticeship, Amos finally decided to tell Zach about the Meld. Zach didn’t seem at all surprised. He was excited. He loved the idea of a touch of magic in their work.

Together, they would check the secret compartment, marvel at the lost pieces and ideate the Melds. The magic remained unchanged. The Meld would go into the display each night and be gone the next morning. in time, he stopped going into the workshop. He trusted Zach with everything. The boy had become like a son to him.

Amos grew weaker as the months wore on. He left the world peacefully, knowing that he had passed the mantle to a worthy successor. Zach was doing wonderful work.

In the months after Amos passed, Zach began to make small changes to the business. Although he continued Amos’s tradition of making a Meld each day, he decided change was necessary for growth. A fresh coat of paint and bold signage brought new life to the old business. A new furnace and new tools made his job easier. He even began using a computer for some of his design work. But he never touched the antique safe with its secret compartment. He knew better than to mess with magic.

Zach was as excited as a child on Christmas morning on the day that the new workbench arrived. Amos’s old bench had seen its day and was fit for nothing but the bonfire that Zach had built in the backyard.

The next morning, sugary tea in hand, he opened the old safe. He was always excited to see what challenge lay within the secret compartment. It was empty.

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