Saturday, August 4, 2012

Town with a mysterious visitor

Had anyone in the town looked to the east in the pre-dawn gloom they would have seen no one travelling over the dusty, arid plain along the faintest hint of the trail that connected the town with the untraveled expanse that lay beneath the sunrise. No one, however, was looking. Had they been, they still would have taken no notice at the nothing in the distant gloom.

When the sun rose, it served chiefly to blind the town to the arrival of the wanderer. Had the sun risen in the west on that day, the dusty, weathered man atop the dusty, weathered horse would have been clearly visible to even the most casual of eastward glances.

Of course, had the sun risen in the west on that day it seems likely that so too would the wanderer.

In any event, the sun did as it was expected, shielding the man from the sight of the townsfolk until it reached a ten o'clock height. At that time young Frederick, a boy of ten, spotted the stranger. He squinted to make sure it was no mere trick of the heat and when his suspicions were confirmed he ran back into his house at the outskirts of town. His voice rose and his breast swelled with excitement as he told his mother.

His mother slapped him, almost casually, catching him well behind the cheek and almost to the ear, knocking the boy to the floor.

"You want attention, making up stories like that? That's all the attention you are getting, Freddy." The visible mark of the contusion took nine days to fade, the soreness took twelve days.

Another resident noticed the wanderer an hour later, and by noon the stranger loped past Frederick's mother's house, the easternmost structure of the small community.

No crowd gathered. It was enough for the townsfolk to glance up from their tasks and mutter gravely about strangers. There was no one in town particularly known for quick wit, and it would take them until they began to gather together that evening for properly dark rumors to be invented about this occurance.

The town one broad street, a slightly more trampled section of grit distinguished more by the absence of structures than by any marking that would separate it from every other patch of dirt in the area. Most structure were houses, barns or workshops and formed little alleyways jutting off at odd angles. One building, however, sat flush with the main street and with its overly wide facade did more to cobble together the illusion of a tethered community as opposed to a semi-permanent mad hermits convention. Over the entrance was a porch roof. Above that were letters, once painted green, which read simply "Saloon" as if it were a place name as opposed to an entire genre of establishment.

It was here that the wanderer stopped. He came down off his horse and walked up the few stairs to the porch. He walked through the swinging doors and straight up to the bar, never once turning his head to evaluate the room.

Had he done so, he would have noticed little out of the ordinary. It was a room to hold perhaps fifty, and now held only eight locals spread over three tables. Dissolute characters all. He would not have noticed the man in white, a man marked apart from the locals by his spotless white jacket and pants, set off by a pair of shoes so black as to absorb the light from the space around it.

There was not much light in the saloon to absorb, and even less the the corner behind a short retaining wall where the man in white consumed a late lunch. He ate two day-old brisket and drank gin.

The wanderer ordered the same and sat at the bar impassively, neither inviting nor discouraging company. There was no company forthcoming in any case. The locals were consumed in their own petty worries and the man in white looked discreetly through the wall at the wanderer, content for now to evaluate the man in silence.

When the wanderer's brisket arrived, he requested more gin. When that arrived he asked if anything out of the ordinary had occurred in the town lately.

"Out of the ordinary?" repeated the bartender with a pensive apathy. "We have got a mysterious vistor."

"A mysterious visitor?" The wanderer passively repeated, a slight frown escaping and suppressed in a brief instant. "Am I mysterious?" he asked.

The bartender shifted his weight, considering. "You? Not especially. There is a man in white who rode in yesterday from the east."

The wanderer straightened, hand pulling instinctively to his gun. "A man in white?" he asked, knowing already that the words were true. He could feel the gaze of the man in white and found himself turning to look at the corner. From his seat at the bar the wanderer could only see a half-finished plate of two day old brisket and a glass which once contained gin, but he knew that the town's mysterious visitor sat behind the wall. He knew that the man behind the wall was watching him, and while the man in white's purpose was, as always, inscrutable, the malevolence of his intentions could be felt at the far end of the run down tavern.

Perhaps the bartender responded to the indefinite inquiry. Perhaps he did not.

The wanderer rose deliberately and walked slowly out the door. Halfway through the bar, the man in white rose and took the same deliberate steps towards the door. Being closer, the man in white reached the doorway five steps before the wanderer.

He turned. Four steps.

He spoke. "Please sit". Three steps.

He inhaled deeply, the movement pulling his spotless white coat against his frame, revealing a man who had never worried about sustenance in this desolate waste as much as his fellow men had. Two steps.

He exhaled, releasing the tiny twinge of frustration. With that breath he conveyed his low opinion, not of the wanderer, but of the actions the wanderer was taking. One step.

He spoke. "We have a plan, you-". The wanderer pushed the barrel of his gun between the flaps of the man in white's spotless white jacket into the man in white's spotless white shirt and fired a round into his belly. He turned his shoulders to pass but did not break stride.

The wanderer's left hand came up to push open the door. He mounted his horse and continued west.

In the saloon, blood came from a wound in the man in white's chest. The blood poured out the bullet hole in the spotless white shirt. Blood seeped through the button holes and down the torso, through the pants and onto the floor. But the spotless white clothing did not stain.

The wanderer left town on the western road, though the nearly trackless line of dirt was hardly deserving of the name. When the sun came down he was obscured from sight by the fiery star and when the sun had set the wanderer was gone.

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