The Sanctum Sanctorum,
NY"Thanks for the tea..."
In the grand reception area, near the entrance of the Sanctum Sanctorum, a stranger lamented in silence. His hands were warmed to the point of discomfort by the mug of liquid that had passed his way upon entry. He barely flinched, anxiety overriding his basic instincts. Miles Garland was a television personality and celebrity chef. His professional accolades were common knowledge, as were his abrupt, cocksure attitude and reliance on abrasive language. All that stripped away the second he knocked on the Sanctum's door. Here sat a man in mortal peril. Sweat clung to his frame as closely as his manscaped beard clung to his face. His right leg shook uncontrollably, jittering against the floor."He won't be long."
Wong smiled reassuringly. The man reciprocated nervously. Fear had melted his bravado away.
A crash could be heard from another room. The guest flinches as Doctor Strange enters."My apologies for keeping you,"
Strange assured. "The Cauldron of the Cosmos required an... Exorcism."
He shuddered, removing from his hands a pair of long, yellow gloves. They came away from his fingers with a snap - each snap sent a shiver through Garland's back."I see Wong has seen to you."
The man nodded. Strange came to a seat, opposite from his visitor, as Wong moved to the side. His posture echoed that of his time as a surgeon. In his mind this was no different to a consultation with a patient. Subconsciously, his demeanour changed. "How can I be of help?"
The stranger took a sip from the offered cup. It was a far cry from relaxation."You're the -- you're the Mystic Consultant aren't you? With the ad in the paper. Dr. Evil or whatev--""Strange, please,"
the mage interjected."Strange, okay."
The doctor began to speak but was cut off. "Strange, listen: I want you to know, under any other circumstances I wouldn't buy into this crap, you know? Capes and masters of the mystic crap... I don't get it, I just don't."
He took a moment to look Strange up and down, taking in the collared cloak and Elizabethan robes. "I'm all out of fucking options."
Garland shook his head, already sensing this was a waste of time."What am I fucking doing here? Jeesus...""Easy, please."
Strange looked on with empathy. The man before him was a mess. "Start from the beginning.""Okay."
The chef took a breath, slowly, trying to manage his heart. "Okay... Something is seriously going wrong. With my life, with my body? I don't know."
Strange raised an eyebrow, quizzically. "Please explain.""I think... I think I'm cursed."
Strange looked to Wong, then back to Garland. Slowly, he went over what was said."You believe that someone has put a curse on you?""I think someone has put a curse on me, yes,"
Garland gulped. Strange paused. "I don't know, things have happened around me. Things I can't explain. I can't sleep at night, it's eating at me.""Are you sure what your experiencing can't be put down to bad luck?"
Strange remained sceptical.
Something about the way he had said it, or perhaps just having someone else reiterate it besides himself made some part of Garland snap."Oh for... I'm fucking out of here, Jesus Christ... I'm not sitting here to get judged by a... a ponce in a skirt."
Garland put down his cup as he started to stand. Without a second thought, Strange paced past him, undercutting as he proceeded towards the left side of the room. From a cabinet he removed a small, gold box. As he opened it the smell of rose water filled the room. Garland stopped, confused. Strange returned, before coming to face him. Arm outstretched, he offered the box."Take one."
Garland studied the contents closely. Nine gelatinous cubes sat inside, dusted with something. Silently he does as he's told."Good. Eat it."
Garland looked at him with surprise."What is it? Is this medicine?""Loukoumi."
Strange replied, shortly."Excuse me?""Greek candy. It will help with the nerves."
Strange looked the man over. Now he was up close, he began picking something up, something magical. Garland cautiously placed the pink cuboid in his mouth and began to chew. If nothing else it would give him a task to occupy his mouth with for a few seconds besides talking. "I'm picking up some quite odd residual energies from him, Wong."
As he spoke, he moved his hands around his patient's form, careful not to get too close. "I'm not sure what I'm seeing, some sort of chaos magic perhaps?""Where is the energy centred?"
Wong enquired. Garland watched on in vague horror."It's everywhere, vaguely. Like an afterglow."
He turned his attention back to his guest. "A curse you say?"
Garland swallows."It's like bad luck, but its not... It feels engineered, if you get me."
He stretches his hands out. They were a mess of cuts and adhesive plasters. "I don't know when it started. At first I thought it was me. When I chopped, I was sloppy. I might go through a finger. I'd shave and I'd cut my lip open. Fall down the stairs. But lately, its not just me. Traffic. Strangers. It's like the fucking world is out to get me. I've seen things, things I really don't have answers for. I think I'm being haunted."
Strange thought on this for a long time."Forget the magic for a moment - lets leave the practical side of this to one side. Can you think of anyone who'd have a motive to do something like this to you?"
At this Garland couldn't help but laugh."What's funny?""I mean, you've seen my show, haven't you?""Your show?"
Strange quizzed, dumbfounded. "I don't follow.""On TV. Miles Garland, TV chef. Restaurants from Hell?""Look at me and answer honestly: Do I look like I watch much TV?"
Strange posited. Garland laughed for a second."Restaurants from Hell. I get invited to restaurants across the country - real shit holes - and try to salvage their failing, sorry businesses. You know. The success rate, it isn't great. The ratings though? Fuck me, people eat this shit up." "Perhaps a vengeful business owner blaming you for their misfortune?"
Strange pondered for a moment. "I'm going to need a list of all the restaurant's you've been invited to. We'll start there and try to piece something together. How does that sound?" "Doc, you don't know how good that sounds."
He stopped, breathing slower. He felt a small semblance of optimism. "So like, do you charge by the hour or what?"
He shuffled uncomfortably from side to side, shifting his weight."We don't require any payment."
He explained, brushing the offer off quickly. "In the meantime, it would help greatly if you could detail some of the strangeness you've uhh, you've experienced."
He stopped. Something was off. Another energy, overpowered him. "...There's something else isn't there."
Something about the way Garland was carrying himself finally clicked in the former surgeon's head. The way he was standing, and shuffling on his feet. He had a limp. Strange looked down at the floor.
There was a puddle on the floor. It was red."What aren't you telling me, Miles? What happened to your leg?"
The whites of his eyes widened as Garland too realised. He was bleeding. He rolled up his pants leg, quickly. Beneath, a large, blackened wound."I... I was attacked on the way here.""On the way here? Why didn't you--""Why didn't I mention it? I - I forgot. But I remember now... My god, that face... The fuck! What the fuck is going on?"
Strange paces for a moment. Without breaking his stride, he crouches down to inspect the gash. Six deep cuts ran in tandem down the man's leg."Wong, what does that look like to you?" "I have no idea."
Strange sighed."Wong, I need you to go to the window, check to see if anything's outside."
He said, now addressing Garland "Get up on the table. I'm going to need to examine this."