The Fifth Ring – (day 5)

by

Kil Conor

I met Cameron in Gehenna. We’d been set about to locate the clandestine graves, as forensic students do at times. The six of us gathered for a sermon undoubtedly to be delivered regarding proper digging techniques. Cameron, with fierce green eyes and tattooed skin; “LOVE” inked across his fingers like a prison inmate, stole my attention.
It was a gleaming Thursday afternoon when the first shout was heard at the head of the camp. Cameron and I stood side-by-side, somber as a memorial service as the first finger was unearthed. The doctor held it up for all to see, brushing away at the crumbled dirt that clung to the mummified ligaments, giving the entire structure a curve, and therefore a come-hither gesture. His voice traveled past my ears, droning on as I tried to study Cameron instead.
Later that night, Cameron and I crossed paths again as I dragged back to my tent to dress for dinner, hair still wet and clad in a towel with a bundle of stinking clothes under one arm to nod in passing recognition. He had an air about him; a gentle pause of surroundings to blur into featureless landscape. I lay on my cot, arms tucked behind my head as I stared up at the nylon apex and thought of him.
The next day at supper I sat down next to him, curious to know more about the quiet curly-haired man. Music played in the open air and we sipped at tea and slurped soup, a strange instance to share with five others. Cameron bumped my elbow with his.
“Sorry about that,” he said and wiped his hands on a napkin to extend one in greeting. “I’m Cameron.”
“Jefferson,” I managed to convince my dry tongue to utter. His hand was warm and his fingers were strong as they held mine in their grip. “People just call me Jeff.”
“Ah, right. That’s what I remembered your name as. We finally found a specimen didn’t we? Seems it’s an impromptu graveyard of spare body parts, at least that’s what he thinks,” he said nodding his head in the doctor’s direction. Our conversation fell into the mundane: weather, time, previous studies, until we were the only ones left.
“It had a ring around it,” Cameron said with a sly smile, interrupting what I felt was a needless diatribe on the ethics of forced embalming in the funeral business. Relieved of carrying on conversation merely to keep him around, I leaned forward a tad.
“I didn’t see one.”
“The gold’s worth a small fortune. I might be studying to do this for a living, but right now I’m starving. Besides, how do you think the doctor found it?”
“Did you just rebury it?”
Cameron took a moment to respond, regarding me with curiosity and then he nodded. “Don’t tell anyone though.”
“I wouldn’t.”
“I’d hate for you to take this from me.”
After he’d walked back to my tent with me, glances exchanged, skin-to-skin contact lasting a little longer than necessary, I decided I liked him.

I found the second and third fingers laying side-by-side like lovers spooning in their bed of dirt. They reminded me of new crocus roots, white and accusatory in their passive grip of one other. Just below the second knuckle, each bore a worn gold ring. Without giving it much thought, (as I was starving too) I relieved the digits of their valuable adornments and called to doctor to come collect the bones. When I walked, the dirty rings jangled together in my pocket.
Cameron slipped into my tent that evening to congratulate me on finding more substantial evidence.
“So what did you do with them?” He stood in front of the closed tent flap, guarding my escape.
“Do with what?”
“The rings.”
“I looked for you.”
He snorted. “Sure you did. You’re as much of a thief as the next bloke. Hand them over.”
“But I found them!”
Cameron pushed me hard enough to make me fall on my cot. He then straddled my body, propping himself above me with his arms. I licked my lips and he dipped his head to meet my mouth with his, lips parting to admit curious and furious tongues. His hands dug into my pockets before I could know what was happening. Once victorious in claiming his treasure, he pushed off of me and left me alone and shaking in the flicker of my camp light.
A week went by before I found yet another. Glancing around me, I slipped the golden ring off the digit before reburying it.

That night a few of us sat around the fire with a local man who doubled as a guide, Aharon. Cold air circled around our modest blaze as he spoke in solemn tones of the Legend of the Five Rings, apparently a local favorite.
“The four rings exist as a warning to those who would steal from the dead,” he said in a near whisper. We had to lean closer to make out his words over the crackle of the burning wood.
“Cursed are these four rings. To join them invites Death, and then there will be five.”
“Five?” Cameron spat, choking on his beer. I sat close to him but not touching; we only touched under cover of darkness, and then under the covers.
“How do you get the fifth?” I asked, watching Cameron with a strange calm.
“Death brings with him the fifth ring,” Aharon responded.

After the circle disbanded, no doubt chilled by the gruesome legend, Cameron and I went to my tent. We spent time exploring one another’s bodies before I fell into a troubled sleep. I started awake, naked and sweating in the twisted and damp sheet. A sliver of moonlight invaded the confines of my tent and in that slice, I saw Cameron’s tattooed hand dipping in and out of my discarded jeans pockets. Once he found the fourth ring, he opened his other hand that contained the other three, dropped it in his palm and left. As if signaling his departure, I heard distant thunder.
Cameron failed to show for roll call the next day, and the day after that. Worried he might be in danger, the local authorities were telephoned, and our dig abandoned. His belongings were gathered and shipped back to the States.
Before my departure, I walked a ways into the woods. The perfect spot spoke to me and I crouched, opening the bag I’d brought along to retrieve a trowel and a napkin-wrapped bundle. The four rings clinked together as I unrolled the slender bundle to reveal a severed finger adorned with the fifth, just above the faded “V” tattooed below the second knuckle.

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10 Responses to “The Fifth Ring – (day 5)”

  1. Tony Noland

    Very creepy!

  2. TEC4

    And that’s what happens when you ignore the wisdom of legend! Chilling … well done.

  3. Jim Bronyaur

    Kil… lovely story. A wonderful take on the 5 rings idea… legends are legends for a reason, no? 🙂

  4. Icy Sedgwick

    Oh that is good. The addition of the tattoo just really sets the seal on a gripping story.

  5. Kilian Conor

    Ta to all. It was a bit of a pain to write. I’d have to thank Jodi Cleghorn for her generous time and opinion. Thanks to her the meaning of the story became that much clearer.

  6. Tweets that mention The Fifth Ring « 12 Days 2010! -- Topsy.com

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by G L Drummond. G L Drummond said: RT @kilconor: Featured today. My own "The Fifth Ring". Do drop by. http://fb.me/xPr5Lygv […]

  7. Patti Larsen

    Nice… crisp storytelling, fun exploration of legend… good job!

  8. Cecilia Dominic

    A nice holiday curse/ghost story! Love the ambiguity at the end as to what the narrator does with the rings.

    CD

  9. Coyote Southbridge

    It turned out wonderful and very creepy. Great Job.

  10. Chuck Allen

    I agree with the others, a very creepy tale. Great job!

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