Today in Fun Facts, a series of articles about characters and plot devices in my stories, I’ll be talking about Sam Yackley and the curious object called “The Jug of Death”.
Samuel Janus Yackley was the Sheriff at the atmosphere processing plant on Atooin. Aside from a few too-short vacations, Sam had spent nine years, three months and sixteen days on Atooin, and frankly, he was sick and tired of the planet.
[Incidentally, in order to see the rest of these articles in this series, click on the category name Fun Facts!]
Where was home? For Sam that was Mars, a blue planet in the Home System, next door neighbor to Earth. Long ago terraformed, Mars was home to over a billion people now. Tesla City – one of the large cities that dotted the surface, was where his family lived – in a large house overlooking the placid waters of the Great Canal, paid for by Sam’s labors. It only rained there once a week, Sam longingly thought, maybe once every two weeks. But when the rain started to fall here…
The Company also had a small detachment of scientists on Atooin to investigate any archaeological discoveries etc. As it happened, ruins of an alien civilization had been discovered on the planet, and signs of it being quite a populous place at one time, although the beings that lived there – as much as ten million years previously – had not been quite human. They couldn’t have been, considering the atmosphere the place used to have – being mostly methane, laced with carbon monoxide and other gases.
Samuel J. Yackley was the Sheriff of the settlement that had grown up around the atmospheric processing plant on Atooin. Things were usually quiet on Atooin, with just a few minor crimes to worry about – the average assault, the occasional bar brawl, coupled with the usual police work that kept any enclosed, isolated settlement running smoothly.
On average, crime was usually a bit of a headache for law enforcement personnel everywhere, but it wasn’t ordinary crime that gave Yackley such a headache. Nor was it any ordinary perpetrator behind the recent spate of unusual crimes – it was an ordinary-looking silver ornamental jug, just about the size of a quart. It had no markings, save a few scuff marks and a myriad of small dents and chips it had sustained over its very long lifetime.
The object had been uncovered by a couple of workers just a year prior, while they were leveling and clearing land which was to be used to expand the atmo-processing plant just south of the main complex. The silver jug was dug out by hand from the dry Atooin soil. It looked like it had been tucked into an alcove in the buried remnants of a low stone wall, which had been described as ‘some kind of foundation wall built of rough native stones’.
The correct procedure when uncovering things of that nature was not followed, in that the Company’s small platoon of anthropologists and other lab-coat-wearing scientists with a keen interest in such things was not notified, and the man who found it kept it quiet and hid it – presumably thinking it was a rather nice keepsake to take with him one day when he returned home again. The foundations were destroyed by the earth moving machinery and never investigated further – and the site now lay beneath Vent Number 12, a towering, hollow cylindrical chimney that spewed moisture into the planet’s air. This cunning little dodge might never have come to light, except that death seemed to follow this antique silver jug. Like a homing pigeon – well, homing.
Its finder died in a mysterious freak accident less than two days later, apparently choked to death alone, chewing on a taco while doing naked aerobics, or so the story went. A little while later, a friend of the deceased found the jug while going through the dead man’s possessions, and decided to keep it for himself. Again, the unfortunate new owner died within a few days – this time of a rather messy industrial accident involving a stone crusher. As though following a strange pattern, the mysterious silver jug was again passed on with that man’s possessions to the next new owner, who shortly afterwards followed the first two in a string of suspicious accidents that rapidly become the basis of Atooin’s growing new local urban legend.
The pattern of mysterious deaths continued, from owner to owner – with no discernible sign of foul play – until the mysterious alien artifact reached its twelfth owner just the day before… and even though someone – presumably one of its previous owners – had marked it with a paper tag that read “BEWARE! THIS IS THE JUG OF DEATH!” the new owner thought it might be a good idea to auction it off that night at the Crazy Eight – the canteen that catered to workers at the atmo-processor! Even more unbelievably, someone actually bought it!
Just thirty hours later, the Jug of Death’s newest owner – number 13, was dead – snuffed out in a mind-boggling domestic accident in his bathtub inside own locked apartment, involving of all things, a cake of soap and an ordinary kitchen blender – and no sign of foul play. The Deputies – and the forensics department – were completely baffled, and to be honest, a little spooked. So far, the twelfth owner of the Jug of Death was the only person to have had ownership of the item without dying. At least, not yet. Sheriff Yackley was pretty sure Trucilla Gorny – the seller – felt pretty darn clever for outwitting ‘the curse of the Jug of Death’.
At any rate, it was at that time –about a year after this nonsense started – that Sheriff Yackley eventually had had enough, and confiscated the artifact from the crime murder scene. Yackley wasn’t really the superstitious type, but since none of his deputies would even touch the damn thing at the scene of death, he gripped it with a pair of barbecue tongs whilst repeating “T’ain’t mine!” aloud just in case, like a kind of mantra to ward off harm, and placed it carefully into a plastic evidence bag. Then he locked it securely away in the squad-room’s evidence locker – on the top back shelf, in an old cardboard cracker box marked “EMPTEE”. And there it remained for a week. A month. Then three months.
But it couldn’t stay there. The idea that the curse might latch onto him – or one of his deputies, bothered him. To tell the truth, it gave him night sweats just thinking about it. The evidence locker was a high-traffic area – and the possibility that one of his colleagues might take it from there, perhaps a skeptic – resulting in more unexplained deaths about the place, was just appalling!
To make matters worse, Yackley’s fears were realized one night, when a deputy – keen to post a selfie photo of him holding the Jug of Death on the social media of the day – snuck into the evidence locker late one night. They found his body the next morning, at the bottom of the fire escape stairs at the station rear entrance, tied in knots – still holding the accursed thing.
That upset the apple cart for the Man in the Big Chair at the Company’s Atooin Site Office! Jim Sullivan, a man with a lot of pull at the Company’s Head Office, wanted it handled as quickly and quietly as possible – and wasn’t above issuing veiled threats of bringing in specialists if Yackley couldn’t handle the problem! Yackely was basically ordered to get rid of it – but what was he supposed to do with it? One thing was certain, he didn’t want it – but the thing’s reputation had already spread from one end of the complex to the other – so neither did anyone in the astro-archeology department – or anyone else for that matter! So he tapped into his creative talent, and tried sending the item away by courier service to an acquaintance working on another site in a different system – a guy he didn’t like very much – but to his horror, Yackley found the box on his desk – returned, a week later!
So one fine day, with little fluffy white clouds slowly forming and dissolving in the sorta pukey-yellow-with-a-hint-of-blue Atooin sky, Sheriff Sam Yackley took the box marked “EMPTY” from the station’s evidence locker and left without a word. He got into a sheriff’s department jeepo, and drove out of town towards the badlands on the far side of the settlement. What happened there isn’t known for certain – but when he failed to return by the next day, a search was organized. He was eventually found a few days later, slumped over behind the wheel of the Jeepo – with the silver jug of death clutched firmly in his cold dead hands!
Predictably, the mystery didn’t end there. Yackley’s untimely death left only more unanswered questions. …Which is precisely why you need to read “The Big Rain” (in “Life Signs“) to see what happened next!
Cheers until next time!
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All material copyright © Christina Engela, 2019.