The Jewel in the Lamp

Author’s Note: Something a little spooky for Halloween. I’m no Poe (no one is), but there’s definitely a bit of inspiration from the master here.

The lamp was really quite beautiful. Its various shades of purple glass cast soft, eerily romantic patterns of shadow and light on the wall, a fact that Thomas had taken advantage of several times when seeking to “set the mood” for an intimate evening alone with his wife. In Thomas’ own mind, this was more than enough reason to have the lamp within easy reach on the bedside table, but in truth, it occupied that honored place for a far more important reason.

The lamp was his wife’s first great triumph in her recently taken up stained-glass hobby. The various panes of geometrically shaped purple glass reflected his wife’s love of the color, not to mention her eye for complementary color and design. Even more, Thomas thought, though she probably wouldn’t have thought about it consciously, the variety of textures and hues, seemingly so discordant at first glance, but merging into a more beautiful and unique whole for their variety, reflected her — her personality and her spirit — better than anything else she owned or anything that could be said about her.

His wife loved the lamp for its beauty and because it was a creative triumph all her own. Thomas loved it because he saw her in it in a way she would never know.

On this night, though, Thomas’ wife was out of town visiting friends four states away and was not due back for at least two more excruciatingly dull and lonely days. So Thomas found himself laying the wrong way on their battered double bed, listening to the silence that reigned in their modest duplex apartment, thinking about everything and nothing all at once and staring absently at the purple lamp on the bedside table.

His attention, what little of it wasn’t turned inward on his nebulous and meandering thoughts, was focused on the “jewel” that was set into the side of the lamp nearest him. There were four jewels in all, one on each panel, or side, of the lamp, and they were the only things on the lamp, other than the solder holding the panes of glass together, that wasn’t purple. Instead, they were clear, multi-faceted, glass ovals, cut so that no two faces of the slightly convex jewel reflected the same thing at the same time.

By degrees, though, Thomas began to come more to his senses, his attention began to turn away from his thoughts and more toward a strange thing he was seeing in the jewel on which his eyes were set.

Tearing his eyes away from the jewel, Thomas confirmed what his mind already knew. The bedroom was predominantly decorated, so to speak, in white. The walls and ceiling, doors, closet, dresser, even the ceiling fan over their bed were all white. The bed, at the moment, was draped with a thick white comforter. On the walls there were a few family pictures in brown wooden frames, and in the corner there was an antiquated cream-colored computer on a spartan black computer table. But for all the colors he could pick out, even on his closest inspection of the most unlikely nooks and crannies of the room, Thomas could find not the slightest speck of red.

Yet as Thomas looked again at the jewel in the lamp he saw, in spite of his conclusions, that the jewel was indeed flashing, unaccountably and eerily, red. What’s more, Thomas comprehended for the first time that even though he held his head and eyes perfectly still, the red spark from the jewel in the lamp jumped from one facet of the jewel to another in a seemingly random way. And though it had been the flashing red spark that had wrested his attention away from his mental reverie, Thomas now noticed various shades of orange and yellow intermingled in the impossible dance of color that leapt from face to face of the multi-faceted jewel.

In a moment of inspiration Thomas realized that he must be seeing the refraction of something through the jewel, something he could not see from where he lay on the bed, rather than the reflection of something in the room. With this thought in mind Thomas sat up and investigated the bedside table on which the lamp sat, the floor around it and even the crack between the table and the wall. He found a laid-by novel, some random papers, a spare pair of his wife’s glasses, and plenty of dust bunnies, but nothing even remotely red — or orange or yellow, for that matter.

He did discover, though, that the strange flashing phenomenon was not limited to the jewel on the side of the lamp nearest him. Indeed, all four of the jewels were misbehaving in the same fashion, flashing colors nowhere to be found in the room, and all in the same chaotic pattern.

By this time Thomas had begun to feel the first pangs of genuine fear. The fact that all the jewels were behaving in the same strange manner eased his mind somewhat. The consistency of the actions of the jewels somehow made their actions seem less disturbing, less threatening than they would have seemed if only one, anomalous jewel was flashing haywire. There was peace in numbers, somehow — peace of mind that allowed Thomas to rationalize that he was simply missing something, that there was still a logical explanation for what he was seeing.

For no good reason — the lamp wasn’t even turned on — Thomas reached out and unplugged it from the socket at the head of the bed. Still the jewels danced red and orange and yellow. Thomas’ disbelief and curiosity were now rapidly giving way to deepening fear. And though he was suddenly terrified by the circumstances before him, Thomas leaned forward and looked into the jewel nearest him.

For a moment his mind would not accept the images that resolved themselves in the faces of the jewel, but he could refuse to believe for only an instant. The scenes therein were undeniable, irrevocable, and clearer than the glass of the jewel itself.

Like the reflection from a spiderweb-cracked mirror, the images in the jewel were fragmented, broken apart, yet somehow discordantly whole and, when looked at closely, unmistakable. Somehow, seemingly within the jewel itself, Thomas looked upon a raging inferno of hungry, angry flames reaching up, it seemed, to lick the facets of the jewel from within. But it was not the impossible flames that clawed desperately for a way out of the crystalline ceiling of the jewel’s inner surface that sent Thomas’ consciousness reeling into oblivion, not the flames themselves that shattered his terror-twisted mind.

It was, instead, what came out of the flames. It was the awful, tearing realization that within each flame dwelt a figure, barely discernible until the eye picked them out, then impossible to deny. A figure distorted, twisted, burning, and screaming in unimaginable pain. A figure forever intertwined with the flame around it, reaching, clawing, scratching at the glass ceiling through which Thomas saw them — seeing him, apparently, and imploring with blistered faces and boiling eyes for mercy, for succor, for relief from the agony of their world.

The breaking glass and Thomas’ terrifying screeching screams awakened his neighbors. By the time police and paramedics arrived to subdue him, Thomas had shattered, had pulverized to dust, everything of glass and mirror in their entire apartment.

His body had not fared much better in the ordeal than his mind. He was cut and bleeding from head to toe. It was, in fact, the pattern and intensity of the blood splatter on the walls and floors and furniture that led police to determine the starting point of Thomas’ rampage.

On the floor and all around a small, nondescript bed stand were the remains of what once had been a small lamp. Tiny shards of purple glass dusted the tabletop and floor. Mixed in with the purple splinters were larger chunks of clear glass that, one officer observed, might once have been a crystal or jewel of some kind.

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