The Seal of Solomon

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PART ONE

Extraction

1

I really thought my life would be different after my death. After all, I had saved the planet from total annihilation, and not a lot of people can say that—well, I can’t think of a single living person who can. I’m not saying I thought I deserved a ticker tape parade or a medal from the president or anything like that. I’m just saying I honestly thought my life might be a little different.

I was wrong.

Of course, nobody knew I had saved the world. I wasn’t allowed to tell, and who would believe me if I did? There were rumors about what happened when I disappeared from school, mostly based on the news reports that I was involved in a plot to blow up Stonehenge.

One rumor had me as a special operative recruited by the CIA to bust up a terrorist cell. Another said that I was a terrorist the CIA had captured, deprogrammed, and returned to normal life, kind of like mainstreaming someone with a mental condition.

But the most popular rumor was just that I was crazy. “Crazy Kropp,” some people called me. Okay, not just some. A lot. Not a terrorist or a mercenary or a spy. Just crazy, off my nut, wacked, loco.

And it wasn’t just kids who thought that. Dr. Peddicott, the school psychologist, must have thought it, too, because she referred me to a real shrink, a psychiatrist named Dr. Maury Benderhall, who interviewed me for three hours.

“So, Alfred,” he said. “Tell me about school.”

“Well, I’m flunking most of my classes. Nobody likes me, and about a month ago somebody invented a new sport called Kropping.”

“ ‘Kropping’?”

I nodded. “Kropping. Basically, it’s about humiliating me. Or tormenting. Tormention and humiliation. Only I’m not sure if ‘tormention’ is a word.”

“It isn’t.”

“Well, it should be. Anyway, Kropping could be anything from tripping me in the hallway to giving me a wedgie. You get more points with something like a wedgie, because it takes a lot of determination and strength to give somebody my size a wedgie.”

“I’m sure the school would put a stop to this Kropping if you told someone.”

“No, I think it would just get worse.”

He flipped a page of his little notebook.

“Let’s talk about your fears, Alfred,” he said.

“How come?”

“Do you have a problem talking about your fears?”

“It’s not something I normally talk about.”

“And why is that?” Dr. Benderhall asked.

I thought about it. “It’s not something I normally think about.”

He sat there, waiting. I took a deep breath and let it out very slowly.

“Well, clowns for one,” I began. “But almost everybody is afraid of clowns. Heights. Horses. Thunderstorms. Drowning. Being burned alive. Decapitation. Yard gnomes. Cavities. Gingivitis. Insects. Well, not all insects. Ladybugs are okay, and I’d be pretty weird if I was scared of butterflies. Mostly just biting and stinging insects, though I’m not crazy about cockroaches. Not too many people are, I guess, which is why we have so many sprays and exterminators and things like that. Bats. Well, not the fruit eaters. Vampire bats—or any creature with very sharp teeth. That covers everything, sharks and lapdogs and those kinds of things. Those are the big ones, the top fears. Blemishes. Girls. Well, girls might be one of the top ones. Maybe after thunderstorms, but definitely before the yard gnomes. Boredom. See, ever since I came home from England I’ve been bored out of my mind. Except for that time at the mall last week, when I saw the little man.”

He was staring at me. “Little man?”

“Yeah, this little bald baby-faced guy in a dark suit. I first saw him two tables away at the food court. He was staring at me and when I looked right at him, he looked away real quick. Then I was in Blockbuster and saw him two rows over in the comedy aisle.”

“Do you think he was following you?”

“He didn’t look like the kind of guy who would rent comedies, but you can’t always judge by appearances.”

He leaned forward in his chair and said, “Okay, let’s talk about what’s really on your mind.”

I thought about it. “There’s nothing really on my mind.”

“Alfred,” he said. “Anything you say in this room stays in this room. I’m not allowed to tell anyone.”

“What if I told you something about a crime?”

“You’ve committed a crime?”

“Well, I guess technically I did.”

“All right.”

“So say I tell you about that—wouldn’t you have to turn me in?”

“Our doctor-patient relationship is sacrosanct, Alfred.”

“What’s that—like holy?”

“Something like that.” He was smiling. Dr. Benderhall had large yellow teeth, like somebody who smoked or drank too much coffee. “So—what was this technical crime?”

“I beheaded somebody.”

“Really?”

“And shot somebody.”

“Shot and beheaded them?”

“Not the same person. Oh, and I guess I stole a car. Maybe two cars. A cop car and a Jaguar. And the Lamborghini. So I guess that would be three. No, there was the Bentley too. So four cars. You sure you can’t repeat any of this?”

He nodded.

“I haven’t told anybody since I came home,” I said.

He promised me anything I told him would be held in strictest confidence, so strictly confidentially I told him everything.

Then he promptly sent me into the waiting room and I listened as he picked up the phone and called the social worker assigned to my case. He had left his door open, so I could hear almost every word.

“Clinically depressed,” I heard him say. “Borderline psychotic with delusions of grandeur and paranoid fantasies . . . the death of his mother when he was twelve . . . the murder of his only surviving relative six months ago . . . issues with his father abandoning his mother before he was born . . . Alfred believes he is descended from the knight Sir Lancelot. . . . Yes, that Lancelot, and that he was involved with an international spy organization in an operation to rescue Excalibur from what he calls ‘Agents of Darkness.’ He also reports encounters with angels, particularly Michael the archangel, whom he believes took the Sword to heaven following Alfred’s own death and resurrection as ‘the Master of the Sword.’ He also believes the Sword wounded him, endowing his blood with magical healing powers . . .”

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