The Gheber

22 Sep

For reasons he considered important, Dr. Zend Parthava stayed away from other Iranians when he came to New York City in 1951.

Two years of unending work were needed to acquire a state license to practice medicine. It was in the lower Bronx that he decided to lease an office, near his apartment. Work with a minimum of social life was the goal.

His practice began small and only grew slowly. He had no time for personal friendships or social ties. Taking care of low-income patients, mostly immigrants, took up his day. By evening he was a tired man needing rest.

Zend’s ancestors on both sides back in Iran had never converted to Islam. They stubbornly continued to adhere to the Zerian strain of the ancient Zoroastrian religion. His family belonged to an unpopular, often persecuted minority back in the home country. At an early age, he had learned to be secretive about his beliefs and practices. Zend made few friends outside his own religion or family.

To the immigrant physician, New York City signified independence and personal privacy. He was able to shield himself from the nosy and curious, taking advantage of the anonymity of the metropolis. His life was busy, full of unending professional duties.

It was easy for him to keep distant from any Iranians with knowledge of his specific background in the ancient religion. He was able to live the way that he wished to.

The thin, towering physician fell into the habit of exploring the back streets of the metropolis at night. He would wander a distance from where his flat was located. Inconspicuous in a dark overcoat, he watched and observed in all directions. His familiarity with many neighborhoods expanded. Restaurants, taverns, and bars were of interest to him, though he never entered them. From the outside, he came to easily identify the patrons as they went in or departed.

What was Dr. Parthava after on the dimly lit streets?

The first time his hidden aim came out was on a cold, winter night in early 1953. Eisenhower had recently been inaugurated president after his landslide election. A new era appeared to be beginning in America.

That was the night that the doctor intercepted and stopped a staggering drunk leaving a cellar beer garden.

Zend pretended to be lost and asked the man for directions.

“Where is the closest elevated station?” inquired the tall physician, blocking the forward path of the intoxicated little man.

As the latter examined the face of the stranger, something in the large, black eyes caught, then captured, his attention. It was a mesmerizing enchantment that occurred.

The drunkard found it impossible to turn away.

His bloodshot blue eyes fell under an undefinable spell originating in ancient Persia. Free will vanished in an instant. The victim was enslaved by an overpowering will.

As the pair on the shadowed sidewalk stared at each other, the face skin of Zend hardened into a shining, metallic red. Something radiant glowed in the doctor’s colorless eyes, a cold fire of some strange sort.

Seconds of time passed as if in a distant galaxy.

Neither man counted the seconds of gazing at each other without movement.

At last, the beer-drinker closed his eyes, fell backwards, and collapsed onto the cement in a deep coma from which there would be no recovery.

Parthava quickly turned around and strode away from the inert body that he had just killed.

Conscious of his professional duties, Zend never saw any of his patients as potential targets of attack. He knew that the secret code of the ghebers limited him to strangers who did not know him. A gheber could not touch or slay anyone with a weapon. Eyes and the mind were the sole instrument of death. The unwary and unprepared were the game hunted by the strange destroyer.

The physician continued his night encounters throughout the spring and summer of 1953. His method left no clues of crime for the police to follow or investigate. There existed no link to him. He was free of any kind of suspicion by anyone.

But five unexplained deaths on the dark streets of the Lower Bronx drew the attention of Tom Bridges, a veteran reporter on The New York News.

What was it he sensed? Something odd and sinister? An unseen factor?

Could there be an interesting story involved here? he asked himself.

These deaths did not seem coincidences to his mind. What was their invisible connection? wondered the journalist with unending interest in the cases.

Everything is, in the final analysis, connected. That was his logical conclusion.

That was at the center of the creed that made him a newspaperman.

The short, chubby newsman with thick, rimless eyeglasses decided to begin an informal night patrol of the area where these recent incidents had occurred. Some sign, clue, or answer was what he aimed to find. There had to be some sign that might point to who was involved.

An inner voice told Tom Bridges there was a story of some sort in these events.

He started to frequent the eateries and watering spots in the region of stores, bars, and tenements.

It was not until the second week of the nightly probing that something popped up.

Coming up the steps of a cellar taproom onto the sidewalk, Tom noticed a tall shadow lurking at a nearby street corner, watching the entrance to the place with fixed attention.

The reporter made a turn to the right and slowly advanced toward what he thought was hiding there. His curiosity was aroused and activated.

Soft footsteps told him that a confrontation was coming soon with someone coming near.

Tom lowered his eyes, studying the sidewalk’s surface in the night darkness.

The shape that was approaching him had no distinguishing features at all.

A sporty fedora on the head was the only particular object discernible ahead. As they walked closer, both persons slowed their pace. Each of them was wary of what might lie ahead for him.

Each of them seemed to be anticipating something unknown.

A sudden voice broke the stillness of the murky scene.

“Excuse me, sir. Could you assist me? I have lost direction and need to find the nearest elevated stop.”

The mistake then made was exactly the same one of all the other targets: looking directly into the face and eyes of the tall man who had come near.

One fatal flash, a single sight was sufficient to defeat all defenses. The intangible net of enchantment ensnarled Tom Bridges with irresistible power. He fell into an inescapable net.

Zend did nothing more than direct his mind by visual means toward the other.

The investigating newsman fell to the cement, completely unconscious.

Then, the physician turned about and retreated the way he had come. His retreat was quick and noiseless. No one witnessed his withdrawal.

Not till hours later did a cruising patrol car discover the dead body with its wallet and cash intact. A card in a pocket gave the identity of the fallen one, where he lived and the city editor who supposedly supervised him at his newspaper.

Another unexplained, probably unexplainable death, thought the uniformed officer who reported it over the transmitter in his squad car. Another mysterious end to a life on the streets of New York City.

As was his custom, Zend spent the rest of the evening at home reading. Not for him was American television with its Milton Berle and his comedy show. Again and again he reread the classics of Zoroastrianism, as well as modern publications dealing with the precarious position of the ancient religion in Iran of the twentieth century.

“Mankind lives in the Kingdom of the Lie, a desert of death and destruction. This realm of the Druj, is one of falsehood and evil.

“The Wise Lord who created the cosmic order, Ahara Mazda, continues to wage war against evil Ahriman and his daeva spirits. Only the followers of the Prophet Zoroaster resist the deceptions that come from the West. Only they expectantly await the future Benefactor and Redeemer, the bringer of salvation.

“The present evil state shall end, the universe will be reborn. He who embodies Truth shall descend to the earth with 99,999 angels and his human agents, the Ghebers. Their army will fight the supporters of evil Ahriman and destroy them. The Druj kingdom of Lie shall come to an end.

“With final victory, human power shall become unlimited. Death and old age will end.  The dead will be resurrected, the living will become immortal and indestructible. The entire universe will become imperishable and fulfilled. The cosmic cycle of rise and fall, creation and annihilation, will come to an end.

“Hunger and thirst disappear. Bad thoughts are overcome and deprived of power over men. The Evil One, Ahriman, shall be no more. In the great, final battle, he shall be destroyed by the angels and Ghebers of death.”

Zend, his mind in a swoon, closed the book he was reading.

His mission had to continue.

He had to rid New York City of as many evil unbelievers as possible. Using his mind and his eyes, he had to continue killing the enemies of Ahura Mazda and the coming Redeemer.

Adrian Brod, wrote a Broadway gossip column for the New York News. From the beginning, he saw something inexplicable in the unexpected demise of his close friend and associate, Tom Bridges.

The man had enjoyed good health. Medical examination could give no reason for the instantaneous ending of his life. No stroke or heart attack had occurred. No specific cause could be found. The riddle puzzled and disturbed the columnist, who for years had been devoted to good mystery stories.

Something has to be done, Adrian said to himself.

He decided to write a special column for the Sunday edition. It would be entitled “Arcane Events in the Bronx” and cover the five unexplained sidewalk deaths at night in early 1953.

What did these tragic events indicate? What did they have in common?

Brod ended his piece with an unanswered question: could a single actor be behind all of them? Was there someone of satanic cleverness carrying out a plan?

It was a stubborn riddle with no available, easy answer.

The writer did not completely understand why he composed the column that he did.

Did he hope that it might inspire an informant to come forward?

Was there a chance his words could provoke an attempt on himself?

The gossip columnist felt a shiver move down his spine. Would a killer read the challenging article and attempt to hunt down its author? he wondered.

Had he placed himself in mortal danger of some sort?

As soon as he finished reading the column, Zend realized what his duty to rebirth of the universe was. Could he convert the writer to the true way? That appeared impossible.

Must the meddling interloper be exterminated through his eyes? After all, he understood that there was one person behind all these sidewalk deaths. Care must be taken in approaching the man. It was not at all going to be easy to deal with the problem that the columnist represented.

First of all, he had to have a look at the writer without himself being noticed.

Zend decided to take the subway into Manhattan and enter the editorial offices of the New York News. If his target was at work, there would be an opportunity to evaluate his outward appearance. He would then proceed from there, having seen the foe.

He would have some idea who it was that was probing around for him.

On a Friday in July, the doctor took a ride into the caverns of lower Manhattan. He got off at 42nd St. and found the office of the newspaperman. He entered the building slowly, carefully surveying everything around him.

Dressed in a gray polyester summer suit, a straw fedora on his head, he made his way into the gigantic city room. The sound of the typewriters and teletypes created a frenetic background to all the work in progress on the next edition.

Zend went to the desk nearest the entrance and asked the young woman sitting there where he might find Adrian Brod, the Broadway columnist.

“Way in the back, in the corner next to the window,” she informed him with a smirk.

Instead of going leftward, he slowly strolled to the right, opposite the corner the woman had told him was the place where Brod was located.

Stopping at the far end of the aisle, Zend scanned the desk where he hoped to see the man at work. Yes, the columnist was present, but he was not at all what the Iranian expected him to be.

Round, rotundly fat, bald, with a globular head. Heavy spectacles magnified the man’s whitish eyes to a monstrous size.

What was there to fear from such a helpless-looking individual?

How could such a harmless character endanger the holy campaign of killing?

Zend grinned sardonically, reaching an immediate decision.

He had to befriend Adrian Brod and make him an ally. It would be wise to disarm him as much as might be possible.

Taking pen and notepad from the inside pocket of his suit coat, Parthava wrote an invitation to the journalist to meet that evening at a particular neighborhood grille in the Bronx.

“We have matters of mutual interest to be shared,” ended the mysterious message to the newspaperman.

Zend did not sign the note, giving it to a copy boy he passed on his way out.

“Please see that Mr. Brod gets this, son,” said the departing Gheber.

The dimly lit Lebanese restaurant was empty when Zend arrived and took a rear booth where he and his guest would enjoy privacy. He told the waiter that he planned to order later, when another man joined him.

The wait was a short one.

When the journalist entered the place, Zend waved to indicate where he sat.

Brod continued to look about till a waiter directed him in the right direction.

His pace to the back was slow, as if he did not know what to expect from the strange invitation he had received. Was it a prank of some crazy crank? he wondered. Perhaps it was the mystery of the invitation that had attracted him to make this visit to the Bronx.

The roly-poly writer stopped beside the booth. His milky eyes scanned the stranger. “I am Adrian Brod,” he announced in a dry, muffled voice.

Parthava, without rising, extended his right hand, but the newcomer did not take it.

“Please sit down,” suggested the physician.

Once that was done, Zend gave an explanation he thought plausible.

“I was profoundly impressed by your column on the deaths on the Bronx sidewalks at night. I felt it was necessary to talk with you.

“My name is Zend Parthava, and I am a medical doctor born in Iran. My own interest in the recent street deaths parallels your own.

“Let me tell you this: my native land experienced similar events in the province of Khuzistan when I was growing up there. That is where I first began to practice medicine. My patients told me of their fear of an unseen, unknown peril. Folklore gives many examples of such events and why they happen.

“My people have an entire philosophy connected to immediate, instant death. If we had the time, these ancient teachings could be explained to you. But an adept individual can induce another person to give up life, using an intangible, non-material kind of power. But no American knows the secret of such Ghebers.”

“Ghebers?” asked the puzzled but intrigued Adrian Brod. “What are they?”

The doctor smiled benignly. “Guardians of the universe and all that is sacred in it. They are experts in matters of living and dying. The Ghebers themselves have died but continue to breath and move. Some persons call them the living dead. Others say that they are beyond both life and death.

“The Ghebers tend to combine both of these states. They are dead, but also they appear to be alive. Their existence is a double kind.”

“But how is all that connected to what happened to Tom Bridges?” frowned the other. “It is hard for me to put stock in old superstitions, Doctor.”

Zend bit his lower lip, then replied. “From what you wrote, I thought that your mind was open to unconventional explanation, to the unusual and uncanny.”

“But there has to be tangible proof,” countered the journalist.

The Iranian decided he would be unable to convert or recruit the column writer.

After ordering plates of tabouli, the pair ate in silence.

Neither spoke for a long time. Both of them had a sense of fear in his mind.

“If you come with me to my apartment,” suddenly proposed Zand, “I can provide translation from Parsi of all that I have revealed to you this evening.”

Surprisingly, the American accepted.

“Yes, that might be interesting to read,” responded Brod, rising out of the booth.

The two advanced to the cash register and paid their bills. Then, they exited into the warm summer night of the Bronx.

I will take the final opportunity once we are alone on the sidewalk, decided Zand. There is no alternative left to me, since this man cannot be made to cooperate with me in any way.

“Let us proceed there, then,” he told his fat companion, pointing westward.

What escape is there for me, but to dispose of the ignorant fellow? thought the doctor. There is no alternative, none at all. He must die. That is the fate that has become inevitable.

After passing well away from the street light, he stopped in his tracks and turned to the newspaper writer, who also halted.

Looking into the thin spectacles at the whitish eyes, the Gheber poured forth a stream of glowing mental force. He said nothing, transmitting his deadly power to his chosen victim.

It took many seconds before the realization of failure came to the doctor.

Though he increased his effort and pressure, there was no visible effect.

What was wrong? Why was the victim still alive? How did he resist the Gheber’s eyes? He should be lying dead on the cement by now. The killing should have ended with success.

Unseeing eyes of sickly white looked back at the transmitting one. No success, no result came to Zend. It was unprecedented. He had never suffered failure before. Nothing like this.

Something had gone wrong here. What did it mean?

Zend was confused and embarrassed by this unforeseeable ending.

“Excuse me, I will mail you the translation. I cannot provide them tonight. I am very sorry,” muttered the physician.

With that, Zand turned and hurried out of sight in a huff.

Astonished and dumbfounded, Adrian Brod stood meditating on the odd behavior of the Iranian. What was the cause of such mercurial emotions? Why had the man run off in such an odd manner.

I may never be able to identify him again. How can I have a clear impression with my nearly blind eyes? With my astigmatism and severe amblyopia? The fat man asked himself.

Should I have informed the eerie doctor that I can make out nothing nearer than a yard? That my vision only operates at a distance, not close to any object?

That night the Gheber decided to leave New York City. He would open a practice elsewhere in the forty-eight states.

There was surely agents of evil in many small communities that he could eliminate. The living-dead state of being a Gheber had not worked the way that Zand thought it would in New York City.

He had to forget his unforeseen failure with the N.Y. columnist in the Lower Bronx.

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