The Quests of Simon Ark: And Other Stories

The Quests of Simon Ark: And Other Stories

by Edward D. Hoch

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Overview

When ancient evil emerges, it can only be stopped by a two-thousand-year-old sleuth
Ten years ago, Douglas Zadig emerged from the mist on an English moor, his clothes tattered, his speech slurred, and his mind completely blank. Since then, he has reinvented himself as an expert on good and evil, publishing book after book of a philosophy that is entirely lifted from the ancient writings of Zoroaster. Zadig comes to Maine on the lecture circuit, and in the frigid northern winter, just as suddenly as he first appeared, he is killed.
The case fascinates Simon Ark, a two-thousand-year-old Coptic priest on a ceaseless quest to hunt out the world’s ultimate evil. In “The Man from Nowhere” and the other stories in this volume, Ark flits from murder to murder, seeking supernatural explanations for the crimes. But as he knows all too well, no mystical force can compete with the evil inside the souls of men.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781480456488
Publisher: MysteriousPress.com/Open Road
Publication date: 11/26/2013
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 266
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Edward D. Hoch (1930–2008) was a master of the mystery short story. Born in Rochester, New York, he sold his first story, “The Village of the Dead,” to Famous Detective Stories, then one of the last remaining old-time pulps. The tale introduced Simon Ark, a two-thousand-year-old Coptic priest who became one of Hoch’s many series characters. Others included small-town doctor Sam Hawthorne, police detective Captain Leopold, and Revolutionary War secret agent Alexander Swift. By rotating through his stable of characters, most of whom aged with time, Hoch was able to achieve extreme productivity, selling stories to ArgosyAlfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, which published a story of his in every issue from 1973 until his death.
In all, Hoch wrote nearly one thousand short tales, making him one of the most prolific story writers of the twentieth century. He was awarded the 1968 Edgar Award for “The Oblong Room,” and in 2001 became the first short story writer to be named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America. 
Edward D. Hoch (1930–2008) was a master of the mystery short story. Born in Rochester, New York, he sold his first story, “The Village of the Dead,” to Famous Detective Stories, then one of the last remaining old-time pulps. The tale introduced Simon Ark, a two-thousand-year-old Coptic priest who became one of Hoch’s many series characters. Others included small-town doctor Sam Hawthorne, police detective Captain Leopold, and Revolutionary War secret agent Alexander Swift. By rotating through his stable of characters, most of whom aged with time, Hoch was able to achieve extreme productivity, selling stories to Argosy, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, which published a story of his in every issue from 1973 until his death.
In all, Hoch wrote nearly one thousand short tales, making him one of the most prolific story writers of the twentieth century. He was awarded the 1968 Edgar Award for “The Oblong Room,” and in 2001 became the first short story writer to be named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America. 

Read an Excerpt

The Quests of Simon Ark

And Other Stories


By Edward D. Hoch

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 1984 Edward D. Hoch
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-5648-8



CHAPTER 1

VILLAGE OF THE DEAD


PERHAPS, IF YOU'RE OLD enough, you remember the Gidaz Horror. At least that was the name the newspapers gave it during those early days when the story shocked the world.

I was near Gidaz when the thing happened, and I suppose I was one of the first to reach the village. I went without sleep for forty-eight hours to get the story and then I never could use it. All these years I've thought about it, and I guess sooner or later I just had to tell someone.

So this is the way it happened, that day in Gidaz ...


I was at the state capitol, covering a political story, when the flash came in. We crowded around the teletype in the press room and watched the words as they formed on the yellow paper: ... THE TINY VILLAGE OF GIDAZ, IN THE SOUTHERN PART OF THE STATE, WAS THE SCENE TODAY OF AN APPARENT MASS SUICIDE. A MAIL TRUCK, ARRIVING IN THE VILLAGE THIS MORNING, FOUND THE HOUSES DESERTED, AND, AT THE BASE OF A HUNDRED-FOOT CLIFF NEARBY, SCORES OF BODIES WERE FOUND AMONG THE ROCKS ...

That was all. There was more to follow, but none of us wanted to see it. Ten minutes later we were in a car heading south, toward the village of Gidaz, eighty miles away.

It was almost evening when we arrived, but there were no lights in the village. The streets and the few dozen houses that clustered around them were dark and silent. It was as if the entire population had suddenly vanished.

And in a way it had.

We found people and cars at the edge of the village, but the people were not toiling silently, as at the scene of a train wreck or a fire. They only stood at the edge of the cliff and looked down at the rocks below.

We joined them at the edge, and I saw it, too. In the reflected glare of a dozen headlights and in the dying glow of the setting sun, I saw the bodies on the rocks below. There must have been nearly a hundred of them, men, women, and children. I could almost imagine a giant hand sweeping them over the edge to their death.

Presently we made our way down the steep path to the bottom, and men began to set up floodlights for the long job ahead. They were piled on top of each other, among the pointed rocks that stretched upward toward the sky.

"Think any of them could be alive?" I heard myself asking.

"Not a chance. A hundred feet is a long way to fall, especially with rocks like these at the bottom."

"Yeah ..."

And they began moving the bodies. An old man with his skull shattered by the fall, a girl with her neck broken ...

They carried them from the rocks and laid the bodies in neat rows on the ground. Soon there were only the red-stained rocks remaining. And I counted the bodies, along with the others. "Seventy-three."

"Seventy-three ..."

A state trooper joined the group at the foot of the cliff. "We've gone through every house in the village; there's not a living thing up there ..."

"The entire village walked over the edge of that cliff sometime last night ..."

After that the deserted village of Gidaz was alive with reporters and photographers from all over the country. They wrote a million words about the Gidaz Horror. Seventy-three people, the entire population of the village of Gidaz, had committed suicide by walking off the edge of a cliff. Why? What had driven them to it? That was the question we all wanted to answer.

But there was no answer.

A New York paper compared it to an incident during the Napoleonic Wars, when a charging cavalry had ridden over the edge of a cliff before they realized their error. A national magazine brought up the legend of the Pied Piper, and suggested that some supernatural force had lured them to their death.

But still there was no answer.

The houses were searched for clues, but yielded nothing. In some places, food was still on the table. In others, people had been preparing for bed. It must have been around eight o'clock when something brought them from their houses. There were no notes or messages remaining. Apparently they had planned to return when they left their houses for the last time.

But they had not returned ...


I was the first one to think of digging into the background of the town, and I spent most of the first night in the deserted building that had once held town meetings. There were records here—records and memories of days past, when Gidaz had been founded, by a group of settlers pushing westward. It had been named after one of them, and had grown rapidly after the discovery of gold nearby.

I studied one of the old maps I found, and decided that the gold mines must have been almost at the spot where those seventy-three persons had plunged over the cliff to their deaths.

It was while I was looking at the map that I suddenly became aware that I was not alone in the old building. I turned and pointed my flashlight at a dark corner, and a tall man stepped out of the shadows. "Good evening," he said quietly.

"Who are you?"

"My name is not important, but you may call me Simon Ark if you wish."

"Simon Ark?"

"That is correct," the stranger replied. "And now may I ask who you are?"

"I'm a reporter, a newspaper reporter. I came down from the state capitol to cover the story."

"Ah, and you thought you might find something in the old records of the village? I also had a similar thought."

The man called Simon Ark had advanced closer now, and I could make out his features clearly in the light from my flash. He was not old, and yet his face had tiny lines of age to be seen if one looked closely enough. In a way he was perhaps a very handsome man, and yet I somehow could not imagine women ever being attracted to him.

"Are you a writer or something?" I asked him.

"No, I am simply an investigator; I make a hobby of investigating any strange or unexplained happenings in the world."

"How did you manage to get here so quickly?"

"I was in the area, just across the state line, on another mission. I would have been here sooner, but it is very difficult to reach Gidaz by road."

"It certainly is. The village is almost completely cut off from the rest of the town. Ever since the gold mines died out, the place has been almost a ghost town."

"And yet," Simon Ark said quietly, "there were seventy-three people remaining here. Why did they remain, I wonder. Why didn't they leave this dying village?"

"They've left it now," I said; "they left it last night when they walked over that cliff."

"Yes ..." And the man called Simon Ark left the ancient building. I followed him outside, to see where he would go.

He was a strange man, strange in many ways. He seemed almost to be from another world or another time as he walked slowly along the dirt road that led through the center of the dead village.

The reporters and the police had already searched the houses, but he seemed to be looking for something more ...


Soon, he had almost disappeared in the darkness, and I hurried after him. When I finally reached him, he was bending over a dark spot on the ground. I could see only by the light of the moon overhead, but he seemed excited by what he had found.

"There has been a fire here recently," he said, almost to himself. He pulled something from the ashes and attempted to brush it off. It looked as if it had once been a book, but in the dim light it was impossible to tell more.

I had not realized the utter silence of the night around us until that moment, when it was suddenly shattered by the distant sound of an approaching car.

"Someone's coming," I said.

"Odd ..." And a strange expression passed quickly over the face of Simon Ark.

He pushed the remains of the charred book into his topcoat pocket and walked back toward the dirt road.

Somewhere above, a cloud passed over the moon, and for the moment all was darkness. Then the night was broken by the gleam of two headlights moving slowly along the road.

Simon Ark stepped in front of the car and held up both hands, like some ancient high priest calling upon the gods above. A chill ran down my spine as I watched him.

The car, a light green convertible, came to an abrupt halt, and a girl climbed out from behind the wheel. "Are you the police?" she asked him.

"No, only an investigator. This other gentleman is a reporter." She noticed me then for the first time, and the tense look on her face softened.

"I'm Shelly Constance," she said. "I ... I used to live here."

Simon Ark introduced himself. "You had a family still living here in Gidaz?" he asked quietly.

"Yes ... My father and brother ... I ... I heard on the radio what happened last night. I came as soon as I could ..."

"It would have been wiser to stay away," Simon Ark told her. "Your father and brother are beyond all worldly aid now, and the evil of Gidaz still fills the air, mingled now with the odor of death."

"I ... I must see them," she said. "Where did it happen?"

Simon Ark motioned toward the distant cliff and led the way through the darkness. "The bodies have been covered with canvas for the night," he told her. "I believe the plans are to bury them tomorrow in a mass grave at the bottom of the cliff. Most of them, of course, have no living relatives."

We reached the edge, and I played my flashlight down on the rocks below, but nothing could be seen from that far up. In the light of the flash, however, I got my first good look at the girl by my side. She was young and tall and pretty in a casual sort of way. Her blonde hair hung to her shoulders, and helped to set off the lines of her face.

"Tell me," I asked, as we walked back to her car, "why did you ever leave Gidaz?"

"That is a long story," she said, "but perhaps it has something to do with this horrible thing. Come, come into my ... house over here for a few minutes, and I'll try to tell you about it."


Simon Ark and I followed her in silence to one of the houses just off the main road. It seemed strange entering this house that no longer belonged to the living. There were things, dishes and books and clothing and cigarettes and food, that were reminders of the people who had lived here. On the wall was a map of the gold mining area, where some of these people had continued to work until yesterday, in the futile hope of recovering the village's lost greatness.

It was then, as the girl entered this dead house that had once been home, that she seemed to go to pieces. She began sobbing, and threw herself into a big armchair to cover her face. I remained where I was and let her cry. There was no way to comfort this girl who was almost a stranger to me.

I noticed that Simon Ark also left her to her sorrow and moved over to inspect the small bookcase in the dining room. After a moment's hesitation I joined him and glanced at the titles on the shelves. They were mostly children's books, with a few others that had probably served as college textbooks. One, an ancient history book, was stamped State University.

This seemed to remind Simon Ark of the charred remains of the book he had found earlier. He removed it from his pocket and carefully examined it. A few charred pieces drifted to the floor.

"It seems to be ..." Simon Ark began, and then fell silent.

"What?"

"Ah, yes, The Confessions of Saint Augustine. A truly remarkable book. Did you ever read it?"

"No, I'm not a Catholic," I replied.

"Augustine wrote for all men," Simon Ark said slowly; "this is a very interesting discovery."

"Why should anyone want to burn it?"

"I am beginning to fear that I know the answer to that," he told me, and there was something in his voice that scared even me.

He returned the remains of the book to his pocket as the girl joined us again. "I'm sorry," she said. "Please forgive me."

"Certainly," I told her; "we understand."

"I'll see if I can fix us coffee or something," and she disappeared into the kitchen.

Presently she returned, with three steaming cups, and as we drank she told us of her early life in Gidaz ...

"... I suppose it was about five years ago when I left to attend college. Of course, I was home for the summers, but for the first two years things seemed the same as they had always been in Gidaz. Then, in the summer following my third year at the University, I returned home to find things had changed slightly."

"In what way?"

"Well, I suppose it would be hard for you to understand, because it was really nothing I could put my finger on. It seemed to be just a change in attitude at first. They talked of a man who had come to Gidaz—a man named Axidus, who seemed to have a great influence on their lives from then on. Of course, you must realize that Gidaz is so remote from other cities that these seventy-three people were forced to live entirely among themselves. My father and brother usually got into town about once every month or two. To them, the village was everything, even though it was slowly dying. A few of the men kept working in the mines, finding just enough gold to keep them alive. Others worked small farms in the valley. But they were happy here, probably because they had never known anything better."

"But you were not satisfied with it?"

"I wasn't the only one. Many of the young people like me left Gidaz, especially after the coming of this man Axidus."


Simon Ark's face had grown dark while she talked. "You say his name was Axidus?"

"Yes, do you know him?"

"I may have met him once, long ago ..."

"Well, he was the cause of all the trouble, and I saw that right away. When I came home for Christmas that year, it was as if a madness had seized the people. They talked of nothing but Axidus, and how he was going to help them save themselves. He seemed to have some kind of new religion ..."

I glanced at him, but his face was like stone. Once again I seemed to feel a shiver run down my spine.

"It really scared me, the way they all believed in him so completely," she continued. "Once each week he held a meeting in the old town hall, and everyone would go to hear him—even the children. It was uncanny, the way he seemed to know everything that happened in the village. He would tell people secret facts that no one else could possibly have known. When I was away at school, he would tell my father everything I was doing. Of course, people like this have always been attracted by fortunetellers and the like, and a person like this knew exactly how to get them in his power. I went to see him just once, and I must admit I found something strangely haunting about this man Axidus."

"What did he look like?" I asked.

"He was fairly tall, with a white beard that hung to his chest. His hair was long and white, too, and he wore a white robe. He would come out on the small platform at one end of the hall and begin talking without any introduction. Afterward, he just seemed to disappear. Sometimes people would see him around the village during the week, too, but always in this white robe. No one knew where or how he lived."

"It's fantastic," I said; "it sounds like something out of the dark past."

Simon Ark frowned. "It is dark, and it is certainly from the past. My only wish is that I had heard all this before it was too late ..."

There was a wind coming up outside, and from somewhere up in the hills came the cry of a lonesome timber wolf. I glanced at my watch and was surprised to see it was already past midnight.

"What do you mean ...?" the girl started to ask, but she never completed the sentence.

Suddenly, Simon Ark was out of his chair, and he was pulling open the front door of the house. I ran to his side, and then I saw it, too ...

A figure, or a thing, all in white, running with the wind toward the cliff where Death slept in the darkness ...


We followed, through the night, with the gathering breeze whistling through the trees around us. The girl started to follow, but I waved her back inside. Whatever was out here, it was not for her to see ...

In the distance, a sudden streak and rumble of thunder followed. It would be raining back in the hills, but with luck the storm would miss us.

The wind was picking up, though, and by the time we reached the edge of the cliff it was close to being a gale. I wondered briefly if a strong wind could have blown these people to their death, but that of course, was fantastic ... But perhaps the real reason for their death would be even more fantastic ...

"There!" He pointed down the cliff, to the very center of where the seventy-three bodies rested under canvas on the rocks.

And I saw it again.

The moon that had given us light before was hidden now by the threatening clouds of rain, but I could see the blot of white against the blackness of the rocks.

"Axidus?" I breathed.

"Or Satan himself," Simon Ark answered; "perhaps this is the moment I have waited for." He started down the rocks, and I followed.

But the white form seemed to sense our approach. Suddenly, before our very eyes, it seemed to fade away.

"He must be hiding in the rocks somewhere," I said.

The odor of the corpses was all around us then, and my head swam sickeningly.

"I must find him," Simon Ark said, and he shouted something in a strange language that might have been Greek, but wasn't.

We searched the rocks until the odor was overpowering and forced us to retreat. We found nothing ...

On the way back up the cliff, I asked Simon Ark what he'd shouted before.

"It was in Coptic," he said, "which is very much like Egyptian. It was a type of prayer ..."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Quests of Simon Ark by Edward D. Hoch. Copyright © 1984 Edward D. Hoch. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

Introduction,
Village of the Dead,
The Man from Nowhere,
The Vicar of Hell,
The Judges of Hades,
Sword For a Sinner,
The Treasure of Jack the Ripper,
The Mummy from the Sea,
The Unicorn's Daughter,
The Witch of Park Avenue,

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