“It’s a what?” Harvey glared at the merchant and shook the white cloth at him.
“A Ghost Cloak,” he said again.
The proprietor of The Curious Shopper was tiny. He was so tiny that when Harvey had entered the shop he had thought it was unoccupied until a voice addressed him from below the counter. What the small Arabic man lacked in height, he made up for in flamboyance. He was dressed in a colorful robe festooned with mirror chips and what Harvey thought might be jewels but couldn’t convince himself were real; it was a rough neighborhood after all, what moron would flaunt so much wealth?
Harvey looked at the white cloth again. It resembled nothing so much as a sheet for a full size bed. He had seen pictures of poor kids who were forced to dress up like ghosts in sheets when he was younger but had never encountered anyone so unlucky. If he had, he surely would have been the first in line to punch out the geek who dared to dress so stupidly in his neighborhood.
“What does that mean?” Harvey said. “Is it something a dead guy wore or are there pictures of ghosts on it?”
Harvey looked in vain for ghostly images on the cloth.
“Oh no sir,” the man’s teeth filled the lower half of his face as he smiled. “It is a magical item of great power. It was discovered over a hundred years ago in a cave not far from Fort Algwizi in Yemen. It’s provenance is without blemish. It has been handed down from family member to family member of a Bedouin family until it found its way to my unworthy hands.”
“Magic huh? So what’s it do?”
“My friend, this wondrous cloth was created by the Djinn. It was given to a great sultan who wished to spy upon his enemies,” he said.
“And their wives,” he added in a conspiratorial whisper.
“The Djinn cloth granted the wearer the ability to become as a ghost. The sultan could move through walls and pass undetected by all. He and all that he carried was untouchable. This allowed the sultan to not only spy upon his enemies but to strike down his foes and even steal their greatest treasures.”
Harvey’s ears twitched at the last part of the story. It was insane to believe that the old sheet in his hands was magical but if it could do what the little Arab said, it would make him the perfect thief. No more climbing ladders, jimmying windows, or long stretches in lockup. If he could move through walls and safely carry out the valuables, he could live like a king.
“Do I look stupid?” Harvey said. “Magic? Djinn? What proof do you have?”
“Please sir, if you would hand me the cloak I shall demonstrate.”
Harvey passed the cloth to the proprietor who shook it out. As the small man arranged the cloth Harvey saw that there were embroidered designs that resembled a face. The merchant turned the cloth and pulled it over his head so that the design sat upon his own features. He looked comical, like a child in a cheap Halloween costume. The cloth puddled on the floor around him, clearly it had been cut for a much taller man.
“Yeah, really spooky,” Harvey muttered.
The small man muttered a short word and his form wavered. Harvey rubbed his eyes but the man remained the same, he could see through the merchant’s body. The sheet fluttered and rose until it hovered a foot above the ground. The embroidered eyes squinted and the mouth formed a smile.
“As you see sir,” the merchant said. “I am now a ghost.”
The ghostly form floated across the shop, passing through tables and bric-a-brac as if it were not there. It returned to its former position near Harvey and another muttered word caused the shape to descend to the floor and become solid once more. The merchant removed the cloth with a flourish and gave Harvey a slight bow.
“So my friend, would you like to purchase this wonder of the world? It is a steal at a mere $500.”
“Yes! Yes,” Harvey said. “But how do you make it work?”
“That is simplicity.” The merchant turned his back and began to fold the cloth neatly.
“There are magic words or course, simple words in Arabic, which activate the Ghost Cloak and then restore it to this form.” A colorful piece of jute was wrapped around the square cloth bundle as he spoke and he slid the parcel into a bag.
“The word shabh, this means ghost, is spoken to become as a ghost. Then once your travels are complete you have but to utter the word rajul, which means man, to return to solid form. But, as with all things, there are caveats.”
The merchant turned and his wide smile crumbled as he saw the gun in Harvey’s hand.
“Please sir, do not do this,” he said. His voice was surprisingly steady as he looked down the barrel of Harvey’s pistol.
“Just hand it over shorty and you’ll get to live to see tomorrow.”
“Please sir,” he said again but extended the bag toward Harvey.
“You’re an idiot, do you know that? You have the ultimate weapon in your hands and you plan to sell it for a song instead of making yourself rich. You don’t deserve the cloak, but I do.”
Harvey motioned the man back with the pistol. The merchant stepped back from the large thief and knelt on the floor with his hands raised.
“Please sir, I ask you one final time; do not do this. You do not understand what you do.”
“Yeah right,” Harvey said and chuckled. “I understand just fine. You stay there or I’ll turn you into a ghost permanently.”
Harvey fled the shop and sprinted away through the marketplace. He did not slow his flight until he reached the boarding house where he was staying.
Safely ensconced in his apartment, he unwrapped his stolen treasure and drew the Ghost Cloak over his head.
“Shabh,” he said.
Harvey felt a shiver pass through his body and then felt himself lifted into the air. He lifted his hand and was presented with a transparent sheet covered arm. He laughed maniacally and moved around the room passing through furniture. On a whim he moved through the wall and found himself in the adjoining apartment. The shower was running. He floated to the bathroom and saw a woman covered in soap standing in the curtainless shower stall. He took his time watching her. She was pretty good looking but her tits weren’t as big as Harvey normally preferred. He reached out to touch her and his hand passed through her body. The woman twitched and spun around giving Harvey a clear view of her entire naked body.
She screamed. “Jesus Christ, a ghost!”
Harvey laughed and floated through the wall leaving the shrieking woman cowering in her tub.
“Rajul,” he said after reaching his own apartment. The cloth solidified along with Harvey and he removed it. Clutching the fabric to his chest Harvey laughed maniacally.
Harvey embarked on a crime spree the likes of which the city had never seen. He would float into bank vaults and jewelry stores, solidify, stuff his pockets with ill gotten gains and then float away again as a ghost. Half a dozen robberies later he included a large pack to his gear. The hunchbacked ghost stole millions of dollars. The police were at a loss to explain the thefts as there was never an alarm or signs of forced entry. Security cameras captured the image of the sheeted form as it materialized and then disappeared but Harvey took pains to never show his face. Neither the police nor his victims were willing to go public with a tale of a ghost robber.
Harvey became rich.
Six months after beginning his crime spree Harvey decided that the next job would be his last, he had more than enough money to retire. Wearing two packs Harvey stripped the vault of the largest bank in town. He guessed that he had crammed nearly $20 million into his packs. He floated to his home. It was a large penthouse apartment in the most exclusive high-rise in town, a far cry from the $10 a night flops he had frequented not long ago.
He floated in the center of his living room, eager to count his take.
“Rajul,” he said.
Harvey remained in ghost form.
“Rajul. Rajul, Rajul!”
Harvey shouted the word over and over. His ghostly form remained intact.
The Arab, he would know what to do. Harvey flew from his apartment to the seedy side of town and soon located the shop where he had stolen the Ghost Cloak so long ago.
The diminutive Arab was polishing a lamp when Harvey floated through the wall and hovered in front of him. After a moment the small man looked up shook his head, a sad expression filled his face.
“I see you have returned sir.”
“I keep saying rajul but I’m not returning to solid form,” Harvey said. “You have to help me. I’ll pay you. You can have the cloak back; anything.”
The merchant shook his head again and reached out until his hand reached Harvey’s ghost form.
The Ghost Cloak became solid and the merchant pulled it from Harvey’s body. Harvey remained floating and immaterial. The bulging packs on his back and chest made him look like a deformed balloon in the Macy’s parade.
“Wait,” Harvey said. “Why am I still a ghost?”
“Sir, you did not listen to all I had to say before. There are caveats. The Ghost Cloak is a powerful magic but it takes its toll. If you had been fair and bought the cloak you may have heard my warning. You must not use the cloak more than one hundred times otherwise it curses the wearer to remain a ghost forever.”
“I’m sorry,” Harvey wailed. “I’ll pay you now, I have millions. Can’t you fix it?”
“No my friend. You are cursed. Already you fade. Soon you shall pass to the afterlife, a true ghost.”
Harvey’s form faded from the shop. His cries grew weaker and weaker until he was gone. The merchant folded the Ghost Cloak and placed it on a shelf among his wares.