Those that use words like a game are sometimes at liberty to take those words and use them in ways that do not satisfy any true goal other than the entertainment of those that use them.
The quintessential truth of Streel is that the heart that thinks too much talks in circles and therefore thinks in circles as well, which always brings it back to the point that it is in its essence a heart that thinks far, far, far too much, but simply can’t relinquish because a circle is a splendid thing to be relished and cherished and covered in relish so that it can be thought of far too much.
I was looking for a truth about life, but it seemed that I was, as a product of being me, the outside. I had never heard of the town of Farlin and was headed there solely in the hopes of finding new business. Times were hard and so was the sky above me as I rolled onto the first dusty street and as I looked around at the wooden, cabin homes, I felt a strange, eerie bleakness in my heart as if the world was about to swell up from beneath me and inhale everything, or perhaps just me, or something that pertained to me. There was nary a single person out on the streets of the town and occasional winds were kicking up dust in the place of people. The sky continued to weigh down and I felt it strange that in spite of its savage glow, there was no rain – only a sense of weight and of time being consumed by something that was far deeper and more painful than I yet knew. And so there I sat, on horseback, watching a town that was locked in a moment, a moment consumed by some unknown emotion, a moment from which it could not escape.
Sitting there, I began to speak with Sir Vantes, saying, “Well, what do you think, boy? Should we go in?”
I looked into his big, brown eyes that gave off a glow of intelligence and understanding and as his mane rustled with the movements of his long head, I felt his resistance and was once more uneasy. But pushing on, I gave him a kick and we moved into Farlin.
I had come to sell “defense,” defense against an outside force that I had but one way of knowing about – I was a conman. I would sell weapons of defense to towns, wait for my ‘supply truck’ to come, and then, when I saw the horse-drawn truck, would flee to it and escape as the driver would send the horses into a full-blown sprint. I had done this over and over for years and made more than a living doing it. My supply truck, driven by a group of cohorts, was always two days behind, just for effect and this was how I survived in the world, this was how I avoided death, by selling others the protection against a death that I had no way of foreseeing.
Moving in through the town’s front gates, I saw the most unnatural-looking skeleton that I had ever seen. Its skull had the shape of a cannon and the bones of it’s body were all arced like bent knees, except for its claws, which were powerful and yet, at the same time, subtle. As I looked at the bizarre skeleton with a perplexed gaze, I suddenly heard a voice. It was the voice of a child piping in like a student who was sure he knew the answer and it said, “That’s the Liberor; he died a long time ago and his bones were left here.”
“Sure it is, kid,” I responded sharply, “who’s in charge in this town?”
“In charge? No one really. You might want to talk to Agatha; she’s kind of in charge.”
“Where can I find Agatha?”
“She lives in the house on the opposite corner of town; it’s the one with the big red window. She knows a lot of things.”
I intentionally moved on without asking the kid’s name and began to make my way across the town. It was a strange place, assembled like an enormous square with a line of houses on each of the four sides. Most of the houses were connected and as Sir Vantes’ hooves clopped against the hard, dry, dusty terrain, I heard echoes, a sort of empty, dark, evil emanating from the ground below, as if there were eyes right below my feet, or perhaps they were teeth.
I found the house with the red window and was less than impressed with what I saw. The ‘big, red’ window that the little boy had described was more of a decrepit, broken square that just barely held a pane of glass from falling out. The red paint was cracked and chipping away, not to mention that the glass itself was mud-splattered and gave off a vile, grungy appearance that was amplified by the faded paint. The walkway leading up to the door was heavily obstructed by hanging tree branches that reached down from untrimmed limbs and the dying grass was intermittently long where it had not yet completely dried up and died. Dismounting Sir Vantes, I fought through the branches, feeling as though they were arms, pushing me back, trying to hold me away. I heard them snapping all around me as I put my head down and closed my eyes, pushing through like a small animal, blazing a trail through autumn’s fallen leaves.
When I finally reached the door, with its deep, dark lines and dry exterior, I knocked at it several times and was almost instantaneously met by an old woman’s five-toothed smile. Her white hair was wild and unkempt with the appearance that she had been pouring oil on it right before I knocked and her eyes were peculiarly different; one was small, about the size of a marble and the other was enormous, as if amplified by a magnifying glass. “Yes, yes! I’ve been expecting you!” she began with exuberance in her old, warbled voice, “You don’t know how long this town has been waiting to see you!”
“What?” I began in rebuttal, “What do you mean? I came here to sell weapons, to sell protection. I don’t have an appointment, no one knew I was coming.”
“Yes, yes, everyone makes plans and so do we, or so do I. Your appointment wasn’t with anybody or anything, but it was there because I knew it was.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that you should hold on to what you’re selling. Now, what’s your name, son.”
“I don’t know if you need to know that. I just want to talk to whoever’s in charge of this town, the mayor, the sheriff, whoever.”
“Well I don’t know anything about any sheriff or mayor, but you should talk to Mister Gareel and tell him that Agatha sent you to finish it. But please, come in!”
Recalling that name from earlier, I began to ponder how my fate was intertwined to Mister Gareel, why I was being pushed towards him, but wrote that thought off as rubbish. I suddenly felt my arm being grabbed as Agatha dragged me inside, turning around and moving into obscurity.
The inside of the house was darker than night and fumbling like a bat without a voice, I struggled to follow along behind the old woman. I heard a chair scraping across the floor as it was pulled out and suddenly felt my legs give out from under me as the chair was shoved into the backs of my legs. I sat there, looking forward into complete obscurity and began once more to make my plea. “Please, I just want to go speak to whoever’s in charge!”
“I told you to talk to Mister Gareel, but right now, I want you to watch.”
“Watch what? I can’t see anything!”
Suddenly, however, both of the old woman’s eyes lit up like white flames and I could make out that I was seated in front of a table with a book on it. The book was old and covered in yellow dust and mold. “This, my boy, watch this,” she said while pointing at the book.
She opened the pages and began to point, reciting some words in a wispy voice as if they were a prayer that I was meant to hear or perhaps take part in. “There was once a fisherman on a lake who knew but two things: how to live and how to catch fish. But when his line got snared to something on the bottom of the lake, he didn’t know what to do, for he only knew how to catch fish, not how to fix problems caused by the fishing rod. And so he dove down into the water, thinking that he would go down and untangle the line – this was the solution of the man who knew little, to fight the problem at what he saw as the source. Down he swam, down, down, down towards the depths of the deep lake. And when he reached where the hook was snared against a sunken boat on the bottom of the lake, he realized he was running out of air. And so he grabbed the line and tried to swim back up, but it was to no avail because he didn’t see the real problem. No one knows if the man drowned or not, but he hasn’t been heard from since.”
I listened to the story in slight amusement and as the old lady concluded, I asked, “And what was the real problem?” as a slight jab at her lunacy.
“That’s what you’re here to find out, boy. What the problem is.”
I looked at her with a sudden weight in my heart and returned to my mantra “I’m just here to sell weapons; I have no interest in your town’s folk legends.”
The old woman’s eyes held open for a moment in a tremulous stare as she inspected my face. Her eyes then shut like two cellar doors, heavily and with a resonating sound that although almost indistinguishable, reverberated into my heart. “Go then; go find Mister Gareel. Maybe he can help you.”
Her words sounded like the beats of a drum that was foreboding a fateful event and yet I still felt as though there was a smile in it and I was strangely offset. I fumbled through the small dwelling and eventually made my way out, slipping through the doorway and looking back at the dank house one more time as I went. For some reason, my mind was particularly drawn to that red window. Like the entrance to an ailing darkness, it stood, a portal to some hideous basement of existence.
As I stepped out onto the street, I once more saw that little boy. “Hey Mister, where’re you going now?”
“To see Mister Gareel,” I responded, strangely interested by the boy’s seeming role in my stay here.
“Yeah, you should talk to him. He lives over there.”
The boy pointed at an eerily regal house that appeared as though there was a mixture of smoke and shadow swimming in its painted walls. There was almost a face in the darkened blue exterior and as I moved in to begin my con all over again, I felt jaws coming up from the underground once more, dragging me down to some other world like a snake dragging its prey back home in its belly.
After tying up Sir Vantes, I began to approach the door and with a fake, salesman’s smile. I then proceeded up the stairs, leaving the boy where he stood and knocked. I waited. I heard rustling inside, rustling that could only be described as a struggle, as if someone with an animal biting their leg was trying to move away from the beast, trying to simply get it off of themselves. The door clicked and before me stood a man who was wearing an eye patch over both eyes. There appeared to be a tiny hole in the right patch and so looking at that spot, assuming that the man could see through it, I began to speak. “Sir, I have travelled all the way from the far North to warn you of impending danger. There is an army coming, a dark army of bandits, thieves, murderers and worse. They overran my town in the North, but luckily, as I deal in weapons, I was able to escape. Granted the cooperation of you and your town, I am able to help you forge an army and a full stock of weapons so that you can protect yourselves from the onslaught.”
“You’re a bit late. The enemy showed up years ago.”
I looked at him perplexedly for a moment and began to wonder. What does he mean? How is that possible? There’s no army; this is a con.
“I don’t think you understand, sir; I mean a real army with pistols, rifles, swords and everything.”
“Oh, I understand alright,” the man said as he stepped fully into the doorway, “just look at this house. It didn’t always look like this; not until the darkness came anyway. But come inside, we’ll talk.”
I began to feel hesitantly good about my con, but as I took my first step in, I felt the ground groan. I suddenly felt that I was in my own world, or another world at the least, and the eye-patched man whom I took to be Mister Gareel turned to me to ask “You alright? Watch out now, the floor is tricky.”
The man led me to a table where he sat and extended his arm so as to indicate for me to sit across from him. “You’re not quite what I expected,” he began, “but then I guess that’s what you can expect of right-handed people. There’s so many of them and they’re all so unpredictable. Of course, left-handed people are no different, but I can always tell the difference. Yes sir, I, for example, am a lefty and that’s why I can’t avoid winding up in Streel. Right-handed people, however, can very well avoid it, but the problem is that they, like you, need to go in. Of course, this has nothing to do with being right-handed or left-handed, but rather has more to do with being handed something and in your case, that something is a mission…or a task, whichever you’d like to call it.”
I sat and stared in absolute befuddlement at the strange person sitting across from me and took up my spiel once more to try to divert him from whatever he was talking about. “I came here to sell you weapons to defend yourselves from the army of the North. I thought you and your town would be interested in saving yourselves.”
“Oh, there’s nothing to save yet, you have to understand that the Freel rules Streel and therefore, our town is as good as dead unless someone saves us from what’s at the back of the wine cellar.”
I began to assume that the man had in fact spent a little too much time in the wine cellar himself and putting myself up on my feet, I said, “Alright, I guess you have no interest in self-protection, so I’ll move on to another town where maybe they’re more interested.”
“Oh no, don’t go. We’re very interested. As the ordained leader of this town, I am very interested in protecting my citizens. Now, let’s talk price.”
The man’s sudden change in consciousness and tone struck me as odd, but sitting down, I began to deal in price for weapons, horses and other equipment that didn’t really exist. We talked for hours about what could happen if the army of the North descended upon the town, what they would need and how they would survive. It seemed as though the man wanted me to keep talking as he continued to ask questions that deserved long-winded answers, but were more or less irrelevant to my swindle.
After countless hours of discussion with the man, I looked out the window and saw that it was pitch-black outside – night had fully descended on the town. “Well would you look at that, it’s nighttime. I hope you aren’t going to head off into the dark. You’re more than welcome to take up a place here free of charge. You can sleep here, in the basement. There’s a room near the wine cellar down there.”
I looked at him cautiously, but realizing that the streets at night would be treacherous, especially with the foreboding sky, I agreed to stay the night.
© Copyright 2016 John of Origin. All rights reserved.
Book / Science Fiction
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