The Tower Part 7

Here our story of cowboys and wizards concludes.

7

The men of the 41st regiment, led by Captain Franklin Cartigan, passed the townspeople huddled along the edges of the small dusty town of Bliss. The 3.2 in. artillery piece, pulled by a team of horses, took center stage at the head of the column. The captain tipped his hat. James rode silently beside him.

Fenton and Cannon stood on the steps of the jail watching the soldiers approach.

The captain rode up to them. “I’m Captain Cartigan, Mr. Fenton. Here as a representative of the governor. We’ve been told there are strange goin’s on in that tower of yours.”

Fenton glowered at James. “Like what?”

“You tell me. I’ve already heard from Mr. James.” The captain looked around at the townsfolk watching. “Something happening that I should know about?”

“Town business, captain. Don’t need the army here,” Fenton said.

“Who’s in the jail, Fenton?” James asked.

“Who says there’s anyone there?”

“Then you don’t mind our taking a look?” the captain asked.

Fenton turned to Cannon, who had his eyes on the jail door. “The wizard is in the jail,” Fenton admitted with a scowl.

“I’d like to speak to him,” Cartigan said, dismounting his horse.

James dismounted, joining Cartigan, Fenton, and Cannon, as they entered the only stone building in town. The four of them approached the jailed wizard. Clement and Jorgenson stood by the door. In the thin light of the jail, Mathias’ face was cast in shadow, obscuring its features.

Cartigan stepped forward. “You’re the man from the tower?”

“I am no man,” came the response.

“I see,” said the bemused soldier. “Will you let us into the tower, Mathias? That is your name, is it not?”

A deep laugh came from the darkening figure within the cell. “It is only a name I’ve taken recently.”

The captain’s amusement faded. “Will you let us into the tower, whoever you are?”

“The tower shall decide,” the deepening voice said.

James stepped next to Cartigan. “Let us in, Mathias, please.”

“And if I do not?” His voice echoed through the small jail, causing the men to flinch.

“We’ll blow it down,” the captain told him.

The eyes of Mathias began to glow white. “Know this then: The tower does not take lightly any attack upon it. Beware it’s wrath.”

The men stood silently as the dust from the dirt floor began to rise, filling the room. Fenton was the first to step back, followed by Cannon.

Cartigan shook his head at the cowards. “It’s on your head if I must blow down the towers doors,” he said.

Mathias only laughed.

Cartigan walked out and alerted his men. “Let’s go,” he commanded.

James and Fenton went to their horses to join the cavalrymen moving towards the tower. Cannon turned to the wizard whose face he could no longer see, before stepping outside. Mathias took the staff and laid it across his lap.

Kotitai and his warriors found the cattle pasturing to the east of the tower. A faint light filtered out of the tower windows.

“It is time,” he said.

There were no cattlemen with the herd, as all had been sent to the tower. The gallop of horses, along with the ominous sound of hard metal wheels striking ageless stone roads let the Tia know that the army was near.

“Our old friends are with them,” Kotitai laughed.

An older warrior approached Kotitai. “Is it wise for us to take the cattle? They will know it is us. Can we trust this wizard?”

“We are not trusting the wizard,” Kotitai said. “We are trusting our elders and the words handed down.”

“But he spoke of the end–”

“Yes, but it is not the end of the world. Not even the gods are so powerful as to end all things.” Kotitai faced the worried men. “We were promised our share of the cattle, and we were cheated. We are only taking what was rightfully promised to us. If those men are foolish enough to fight the gods, let them. We were given fair warning. Herd the cattle and drive them into the canyon.” He turned away from the tower. “We will be safe there.”

As quietly as they could, the warriors of the Tia corralled the cattle and drove them towards the opening of the box canyon. A walking warrior kept low along the top of the rise between them and the tower, watching for Fenton’s men. He saw the gun and whistled to Kotitai, who came to his side.

“They are such fools,” Kotitai said to the warrior. “Beware the tower light. If it grows too bright, come down.”

The warrior nodded.

Kotitai motioned to the other warriors. The canyon loomed in the distance.

Captain Cartigan ran his fingers along the metalwork of the door. James and Fenton stood by, their eyes following Cartigan’s fingers. He pounded on the door to test its worth. It did not give, but he was sure he felt a tingling sensation course through his fingers. Rubbing his hands, he stepped back. In the past, he had only glimpsed the tower from a distance, while on patrol or chasing the Tia. Up close, it was more formidable, more imposing. The stone was too thick for the gun, a waste of shells, but the door…

“Do you still believe you can blow down this door, Frank?” James asked.

Cartigan gave it a moment. “We only need to break the lock,” he answered, pointing to where the center edges met. “No doubt, there is a brace along the inside of the door, but we can blow a hole in that and force it open.”

James didn’t want the door broken. A thin low voice told him it was unwise. “Maybe we should send some men over the walls?”

“To do what?” Cartigan answered. “I’ve no interest in bivouacking and dragging this out, Bart. Let’s get in. the door can be repaired or replaced.” Cartigan signaled to the men to set up the gun.

The rest of the cavalrymen set a perimeter behind the gun. The captain signaled to the gunnery sergeant to fire.

The gun went off, striking the outer door of the tower.

Preacher Dovetail once more gathered the faithful at the edge of town. With Fenton and his boys riding off to the tower, only Mathias and the two men remained inside the jail.

“Time is of the essence,” the preacher told them. “The devil has foolishly allowed the others to leave. It is now up to us to confront this demon and end this scourge.”

With the Good Book in hand, he strode to the jail, the faithful in step behind him.

Jorgeson and Clement had retreated to the door of the jail, leaving it open, fearful as the white glow of the wizard’s eyes grew. In the dim light of the jail, neither was willing to enter. The glowing eyes obscured the room.

Cannon was in Fenton’s office, staring out the window in the direction of the tower.

Preacher Dovetail and the congregants gathered at the steps to the jail. Clement noticed and nudged Jorgeson, who turned to see what was so important.

Neither saw the figure that was once Mathias rise, for he was morphing into his true self.

“We demand you turn over that devil,” Preacher Dovetail shouted, once again holding up the Good Book.

“What’n the hell’re you doing, preacher? Git!” Clement shouted.

The figure moved to the bars of the cell.

“We will not git, Argus Clement! It is you who will git, for the righteous Lord commands us in his name to expel this deviltry from our midst,” the preacher shouted.

Clement shook his head. “You’re damned crazy, preacher. Go on home, ‘fore you get yourself kilt.”

“Begone Satan!” the preacher cried.

“Begone Satan!” the congregation echoed.

Cannon, hearing the voices, cursed under his breath. He made it to the front door when the artillery gun’s blast echod through the valley.

A great wail was heard, causing the people in the street to cover their ears. A shaft of light filled the sky with bolts of lightning jumping from all sides of it, high in the evening sky.

It was coming from the tower.

The figure in the jail cell raised his staff. The bars blew out, smashing against the stone walls, causing them to crack. Jorgeson and Clement started to run. A blast of hot air blew them past the door and onto the preacher, pinning him underneath them. The congregation pressed together as the figure, now draped in a black robe, stepped out of the jail.

He stood in the street, the staff in his hands.

Cannon came down the steps of the office, his pistol in hand. The preacher Dovetail pushed the frightened Jorgeson and Clement off him. Holding his Good Book, he stood next to Cannon.

Another artillery shot boomed in the distance.

The figure grew like fire, looming over them.

“I send ye back to hell, devil!” the preacher shouted.

The wind swirled on the dusty dirt road running through the town of Bliss. With a deep echoing baritone, the figure spoke. “You were warned,” the figure said.

Cannon fired at the figure, but the bullets flashed and dissolved.

The figure laughed and grew taller. The congregants pushed and shoved each other, trying to run away. They fell in the swirling winds and screamed as the devil continued to tower over them

Waving his arms, Preacher Dovetail tried once more to rally his flock. He turned to the growing figure, now a hundred feet tall. In a reedy croak he said, “I renounce you–”

The figure pointed his staff and lightning flashed from it, knocking Cannon and Preacher Dovetail off their feet and onto to the ground, blinding them and leaving a jagged scar across their foreheads. Another bolt struck the townspeople and they suffered the same fate. Swinging his staff, the figure brought down the buildings of Bliss, filling the air with swirling dirt, bits of broken wood and dancing sparks.

The tower was calling.

Kotitai and the warriors watched from the safety of the forest. The army continued to fire their gun at the tower door, and each time the tower grew angrier, sending lightning bolts above their heads. Soon the entire tower grounds were filled with light that rose high into the sky, so bright it was blinding.

Kotitai pointed to the figure striding from the town, tall as the trees, with fire shooting from its staff. “The elder tales are true,” he said. “The gods have come for what is theirs. Let us go.”

 The Tia retreated to the depths of the forest and their home in the canyon.

“You’ve got to stop, Frank, it’s no good,” James shouted.

But Captain Cartigan did not hear. He was taken by the tower, lost to his desire for battle. It mattered little that the shells had no effect, only that he continued to fight. The horses had thrown their riders and run, racing to the shadow of the warhorse on the distant rise. The cavalrymen and the cattlemen were struck by a terrible fear that left them mute and unable to move as they shook on the fields before the tower.

Fenton stood next to James, glassy eyed and raving, using words no one recognized. Only James seemed to have his wits about him, but the other did not hear him shout. A gust of wind sent him sprawling, and it was then he saw the figure looming above them.

It was the figure from the book.  

Thün.

“But he was destroyed, sent into the void!” James shouted.

A blast from the figure’s staff destroyed the gun. Cartigan fell, his hands clutching at his eyes. A wave of the staff knocked Fenton and the rest of the men to the ground, screaming. All of them, like the townspeople, left blinded and scarred.

The figure stood above James as he tried to stand.

“Why?” James cried.

The figure laughed in an ugly crackling voice that filled the valley. “Because men never learn.” He drove his staff into the ground, sending James through the air and onto his back. “Remember me and beware the malice of the gods.”

Thün raised his hands above his head. Lightning filled the sky, stretching to the heavens. 

James screamed, clutching at his eyes.

Light passed from the world.

“Are they dead, brother?” Tön asked.

“There are merely stunned. I kept my promise. And you, brother, here for your precious stone?”

“I am.” The dwarf King signaled to his kin, gathered behind him. “We have waited far too long,” he said, as he walked among the men strewn about the field. “You are a wicked soul, brother.”

“How so? This?” He gestured to the fallen “Merely a reminder, nothing more.”

Tön shook his head. “To you perhaps.”

His brother laughed. “You care too much for them.”

“Are you leaving then?” Tön pulled a pipe from his coat and ignited the pipeweed.

“No reason to stay. And you, brother, are to dwell forever under the mountains in the dark and gloom?”

“I am.”

The wizard, lately called Mathias, and, long ago, by the name Thün, mounted Cyrus and rode into the west.

The Tia watched the last of the dwarves, and the last of the stone, disappear into the mountain. A day later, the townsfolk and the soldiers awoke to find their world in pieces.

The town was nothing more than strewn timbers. Nothing stood except the shell of the stone jail. The cattle were gone, though the horses slowly returned. The people themselves were marked, all of them, with dark eyes that saw the world only in black and white, and a jagged thunderbolt torn into their foreheads.

To the north, not far from the edge of the forest, stood a ring of trees, large white oaks older than time, and the remnants of a statue to a long-forgotten king where a mighty tower once stood.

Below the statue was a book, old with memory, filled with elves and dwarves, men and wizards…

And spirits not to be trusted.

©2020 David William Pearce

The Tower Part 6

A story of cowboys and wizards in 7 parts.

6

Doe Johnson, the territorial governor, did not care for the news his adjutant James, standing with Captain Cartigan by his side, presented. He had work to do, important work. He took in the two men standing before him, shaking his head. Talk of fantastical towers and wizards, evoking old world legends held no purchase for him out here in the west. They belonged in children’s books.

“Strikes me as sheer nonsense, Barton. And I must say, it disturbs me to see you so captivated by foolish stories.”

James stood firm. “I know how it sounds, and if I hadn’t been in the tower and witnessed it myself, I’d think it was nonsense too.” James put his hands on the governor’s desk and leaned in. “But it’s not.”

Johnson leaned back in his chair and shook his head some more.

“We’ve got to do something, Doe! These kinds of things don’t just happen for no reason, and if we do nothing, then it’s on our heads.” James gestured towards Captain Cartigan. “We need to take control of this.”

“What do you think, Frank?” the governor asked.

Cartigan looked askance at James before answering. “I share your ambivalence, governor, but I agree, all things considered, we need to take a look. It’s less than a day’s ride, and I’m willing to take a detachment and see it for myself. If Mr. James has lost his senses, we’ll know then.”

James rubbed his chin. “We’ll need to convince this wizard, Mathias, to let us in,” James said. “Though, if he doesn’t–”

“If he doesn’t,” Cartigan said, crossing his arms, “then we have the means to open it ourselves.”

James turned to the cavalryman. “What do you mean?”

“The new artillery piece. You didn’t see it?” Cartigan smiled and pointed towards the window. “It’s a 3.2 breechloading rifle. It’ll blow a hole through that old wooden door.”

James went to the window. “I don’t know. It’s a hell of a door.”

Cartigan laughed. “That’s a hell of a gun, Barton.”

James stared at the gun. “I suppose it is.”

“All right Frank,” Doe Johnson spoke up. “You’ve been itching to use that thing, and I got other things to attend to.” He wagged his finger at James. “But this better not be some wild goose chase, Barton, or I’ll have your sorry ass out surveying the desert.”

“We’ll get it sorted out governor,” Cartigan said.

Of Fenton’s men watching the tower, one was hidden on a rise where he could watch the tree line at the edge of the forest. With a spyglass, he kept his eyes out for any movement. A deer skirted the tall grass between the trees and a shadow lurked beyond them. He saw the unusually large horse and its rider. Taking a red kerchief from his pocket, he waved it behind him.

A posse, led by Jorgenson and Clement, was waiting when Mathias came out of the forest. The men had their rifles loaded and pointed at the wizard. Mathias stopped and ran his hand along Cyrus’ mane, calming the horse.

“And what, pray tell, do you gentlemen have in mind?” the wizard asked.

“We been charged with bringing you in, that’s what,” Clement shouted.

The wizard stroked his beard. “And if I resist?”

“Now you don’t want to do that, mister; don’t make no sense. Why, we got you outnumbered ten-to-one, and even if you might be hiding a pistol in that city-dude outfit you got on, why we’d still shoot you plain off that big ol’ horse a yours afore you could pick off one or two of us. Don’t seem like a good play, if ya ask me.” Jorgeson spit out a mouthful of tobacco juice.

“Perhaps you’re right, gentlemen, for I carry no weapon aside from this small knife.” He placed his hand on the four-inch blade sheathed on his belt.

“All right then,” Clement shouted, “we’ll have four a you boys out front, followed by this fella here,” he pointed at Mathias, “and the rest a us’ll be behind him. Got that?” One by one the men nodded. “Then let’s git.”

Kotitai and his warriors watched the men ride off with the wizard.

“How many men do you think they have guarding the herd?” he asked out loud. “If any?” Kotitai raised his hand, and he and his warriors headed in the opposite direction of Fenton’s men.

Cannon was at the small desk in the outer room at the Fenton Cattle Company. Waiting. Worrying. They should be checking the watershed and the range, readying for the drive to the stockyards at Casper City. There was real work to do, not this damned tower business. He didn’t like sitting around waiting on some wizard. The boys were out watching the tower when they should be bringing the cattle in.

“It ain’t smart pulling the boys in like this,” he told Fenton earlier.

“Forget the cattle, I want that wizard, goddammit,” Fenton told him.

Cannon got up and stretched just as Fenton came rushing out of his office.

“They’re riding in,” he said, wild-eyed and breathless. “They’re got him.”

The two went out to greet the posse rolling into town. In the center of the posse, with a bemused smile, rode the wizard. They stopped in front of the building.

“Off the horse, mister,” said Clement.

Mathias slowly dismounted and stepped towards Fenton. A man tried to take Cyrus’ rein, and the warhorse reared, causing the other horses to move away. An angry neigh and Cyrus bolted past the men.

“Get that horse!” Fenton screamed.

Mathias laughed as the horse flew down the road. “Don’t waste your time, gentlemen. You’ll never catch him. Look! He’s already out of sight.”

“I don’t care. Go!” Fenton howled.

Jorgeson and another man headed after the horse.

Fenton pointed to the stone building on the other side of the street. “Put him in the jail.”

Cannon led Mathias away.

Preacher Dovetail gathered the flock. Word had gone out that a meeting would be held at the church, and the preacher meant to get a handle on all this wild talk. He held the Good Book to his chest.

“Now I know there’s been a lot a talk about that tower,” he said, focusing on Amos Bryant who was sitting up front. “And now I hear tell that they got that devil in the jail. But we can’t face the forces of evil without coming to an understanding of what it is we need to do here.”

“What’ll we do, preacher?” a voice cried out.

“First, we pray for strength and vigilance, that we not be corrupted by the sickly-sweet words of this devil. Second, we march right down to that heathen Fenton and demand he join us in this righteous task. There’s no room in this valley for unbelievers. Third, we face this menace, demanding it leave this bountiful valley using the love and righteousness of our forgiving God.”

“How’s love and righteousness ‘sposed to beat the devil, preacher?” another voice called out.

“Oh, ye of little faith. For does not the Lord shield us in such turbulent times? Does not faith wield the mightiest sword? I call on you, brothers and sisters, to join me in this noble and righteous task that we may stand tall in the eyes of our Lord and savior.” Preacher Dovetail cast his eyes heavenward.

“I… I got a field needs tendin’, preacher. I–” Amos Bryant shrunk into the pew as Preacher Dovetail set his disapproving eyes upon the plowman.

“This is not a time for moral cowardice.” The preacher closed his eyes. “Let us pray.”

The murmuring of the congregation quieted.

“Lord,” he began, “give us the strength and steely resolve to face this menace. Gird us such that we are not felled by temptation or sin; that we are strong in our love and conviction, that you Lord will stand beside us as we bravely march forth. We pray Lord, that through you we will drive away this demon and be blessed forevermore. Amen.”

“Amen,” the congregation repeated.

Taking a deep breath, the preacher strode down the center of the church, with the members of the church falling in behind him.

Harcourt Fenton was at his window when Cannon came into his office. “What now?”

“We got that damned preacher and his people coming this way,” Cannon told him.

“What’n the hell does that idiot want?”

Cannon pushed his hat back. “What the hell do any of us want with that tower shaking. This is your town, Mr. Fenton.”

Fenton grabbed his hat off the desktop. “And it’s gonna stay that way goddammit!” The two left the office and joined the men guarding the door. The preacher was waiting at the foot of the landing. “What do you want, preacher?” Fenton bellowed.

The congregation massed around the preacher Artemas Dovetail, all staring up at the man running the town.

“Evil doin’s are a transpirin’ Fenton. God’s called on us to act as his army against deviltry and we demand that you do your part to help,” the preacher told him.

“Help with what?”

“God’s calling, Fenton. Ain’t no place for a heathen in times like these. We hear you got that devil in the jail.” Preacher held aloft the Good Book.

“It’s my jail, preacher, and he belongs to me. Now git before I lose my temper and tan your hide, you got me!” Fenton turned to his right-hand man.

Cannon cocked the lever on his Henry repeating rifle, as did the men standing next to him and Fenton.

“You wouldn’t dare shoot God-fearing men and women,” the preacher stuttered, pulling the Good Book back to his chest.

“Don’t tempt me preacher. Now git.” Fenton pointed to the edge of town.

“This ain’t over, Mr. Fenton,” the preacher said as he turned away.

Once the townspeople had dispersed, Fenton crossed the dusty street to the jail. Inside, Mathias sat on the straw bunk in the lone cell, his eyes closed. Two men on the other side of the bars were watching him. Fenton grabbed the wizard’s staff leaning against the wall and struck the bars of the cell. Mathias opened his eyes and grinned at his captor.

Fenton stood near the bars of the cell. “Ready to talk?”

“That depends on the substance and manner.” Mathias stood and approached the bars. “Take care with that staff. I’ve had it a good many years and would be quite aggrieved if it were damaged.”

“I want to know how you go in and out of the tower,” Fenton said. “Tell me, and you can have your staff and your freedom.”

“But I told you, Mr. Fenton, I do not control the tower or who enters it. The tower does.”

Fenton’s face grew red. “Don’t feed me no goddamned nonsense about that. Buildings ain’t alive. I’m not some idiot like that preacher.” He moved closer to the bars, his nose between them. “You know the way in, and you’re gonna tell me.”

Mathias sat down on the straw bunk. “It is not within my power to do as you ask. It would be best if you released me.”

“Not till I get what I want, wizard!”

Mathias raised his right hand, and a thin bolt of lightning jumped from his finger, striking Fenton’s nose. Fenton howled and jumped back, dropping the staff. Mathias opened his hand and the staff flew between the bars to it. He placed the staff next to the bunk.

“GODDAMMIT!” Fenton furiously rubbed his singed and throbbing nose. He then drew the pistol from his holster and pointed it at Mathias. “I ought to kill you here and now, you bastard–”

“And then what, my dear Fenton?”

Fenton stood shaking, glaring at the wizard.

“Kill me and the tower will be further aroused, maybe even angered. You don’t want that.” Mathias blew the lingering smoke away from his finger.

“I want that tower, goddammit!” The spittle flew from the mouth of the enraged man.

The wizard shook his head. “Why? What use is it to you, when you already have so much. Do you not have land, wealth, and station? What else does a man need? An aging tower? It is merely a pile of stones that have weathered the years. Inside there is nothing more than forgotten memories and a few books. Books you would never open, much less read.” Mathias pointed his finger causing Fenton to jump back. The wizard laughed. “And yet, here you are, consumed by it. Is it calling you, Mr. Fenton? Singing to you.”

“It belongs to me,” he said.

“It belongs to the gods, not men.” The wizard’s smile faded. “Beware the tower for it breathes anew for fools like you. It–”

A trumpet sounded in the distance. Cannon opened the hard-wooden door to the jail. “They’re here,” he said.

Fenton turned to him. “Who?”

“I told you James would bring the army,” Cannon said.

Fenton let the pistol fall to his side. “How many?”

“Prit near fifty, I reckon.” Cannon glanced at the wizard. “And they got a big gun with ‘em.”

©2020 David William Pearce

The Tower Part 5

A story of wizards and cowboys in 7 parts.

5

The door was where he remembered it. Mathias placed his hand on the smooth stone of the outer wall, and the door-indiscernible from the rest of the wall-opened. He led Cyrus through it, watched it close, and headed into the forest.

The Tia were waiting just past the first line of trees. Slowly they approached as Mathias came closer, some visibly in awe of the great warhorse. Cyrus bowed his head as the Tia ran their hands along his mane. On a slight incline, a man with a long scar down his left cheek waited till the others admiring Cyrus stepped back.

Mathias dismounted Cyrus and walked halfway to the man.

“You come from the tower?” the man asked, moving towards Mathias.

“Yes. I am the wizard Mathias.”

“I am Kotitai, of the Tia,” he said. “The white men call me Red Tongue to disparage me, but I am not so easily offended. These are my warriors.” He moved closer to the wizard. “How is it that you enter and leave the tower? And dressed as the white man, how is it you speak in our tongue, Mathias?”

“I dress as they do because it is easier to move among them, and I have found that robes are no longer in fashion as they were in the days when I first roamed this land. As to the other, I have a gift for the languages of men, and I speak in many tongues, as you say. As for the tower, it knows me and is welcoming. In times past it was my keep and it has a long memory.”

“If you are not a man, but a wizard, then why are you here?” Kotitai asked.

Mathias smiled. “I have asked that myself, but we are exposed being so close to the forest’s edge. Perhaps we should council in that part of the woods where you and your warriors are obscured from, as you say, the white man.”

“Agreed,” Kotitai said, with his own smile.

James was intercepted by Fenton’s men as he left the tower on his way to the government house at Fort Care.

“I don’t answer to Fenton, Mr. Cannon. You should know that,” James said.

“You do when you’re in his valley, Mr. James.” Cannon nodded in the direction of town.

Blocked by the men, James pulled the reins of his horse towards the town of Bliss “Then let’s get this over with. I have my own work to do.”

Fenton stood on the steps of his building, his eyes fixed on James as his men led him into town, certain the government man could not be trusted. James had come west with Doe Johnson, the new territorial governor, six months earlier and Fenton worried they would ruin the many years of hard work he put in to secure the valley.

“I don’t like being handled, Mr. Fenton,” James said. “I’m not some easily intimidated farm hand.” James got off his horse.

“I don’t care what you like,” Fenton answered. “I want to know what’s going on in my tower!”

James tied his horse to the hitching post to the left of the stairs. “I imagine so, but getting on my bad side, and by extension the governor’s, isn’t the way to go about it. The days when you could get away with whatever you wanted are over.”

“I don’t need a lecture from some know-it-all eastern carpetbagger about what I can or can’t do on my own land.” Fenton stepped down to face James, the veins throbbing at his temples.

“I think maybe you do,” James said, sidestepping Fenton. He pointed to the office. “If you want to talk, we’ll talk. But if you think you can order me around, then I’m leaving.” He stood close to the beet red face of Harcourt Fenton. “What’ll it be?”

“Inside,” Fenton answered. “We’ll talk.”

They entered the building, and went into Fenton’s office. Fenton and James sat down as Cannon stood at the door.

“So talk,” Fenton said.

James shook his head and removed his hat, placing it on his knee. “I don’t know what you think is going on here, but it’s bigger than you or me–”

“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”

“Did you feel the ground move last night, Mr. Fenton?”

Fenton looked at Cannon, who nodded. “What about it?”

“The tower is more than what it appears.” James’ eyes grew bright and glassy. “There’s a power to it, a great power, one that has to be reckoned with. I felt it myself, standing within its walls, and I learned some of its history. It’s no ordinary tower.” James looked at Cannon. “I reckon every soul in the valley felt it and watched it throughout the night. I bet neither of you slept last night, did ya?”

“No,” Cannon answered.

James turned to Fenton. “Up all night watching. And you, Mr. Fenton?”

Fenton groused. “What the hell’s that matter?”

“Because it does. That’s why you’re so worked up now. You can feel it in your bones, just like I can,” James said.

“The place ain’t natural, boss,” Cannon added. “We got to be mindful–”

“What we need,” Fenton shouted, “is to get in!” He stood and turned to the window and the tower in the distance.

The building began to vibrate. The three men reached out: James to the desk, Cannon to the wall by the door, and Fenton to the window frame.

“What the goddamned hell!” Fenton shouted.

“It’s the tower!” Cannon pointed in the tower’s direction.

“You know how to get in, don’t you, Mr. Government Man?” Fenton continued to stare at the distant tower.

“Only the wizard knows,” James answered. “He’s the key.”

“Then I want that wizard!”

The vibration subsided, and an eerie quiet took hold of them as if to keep them from speaking. A blackbird squeed, breaking the spell.

“We’ll have to draw him out,” Cannon said, straightening himself.

“Yeah,” said Fenton, his eyes still fixed on the tower.

James shook his head and stood. “Mathias is no fool.” He put his hat on. “I’ve got to get back to the governor, Mr. Fenton. You think this your business, but I know this is bigger than all of us. Governor’s got to know. And the Army.”

Fenton turned to James. “It belongs to me, government man; it belongs to me.”

James smiled. “I won’t argue the point, but until we can get in and out of it, it belongs to the wizard.”

Fenton turned back to the tower. “It belongs to me.”

Cannon followed James out of the office. “I don’t like this,” he said. “It ain’t natural.”

James got on his horse and stared at Cannon. “Get some rest. You’re going to need it.” He turned to the looming tower, felt it at the tips of his fingers as they tingled. “Don’t do anything foolish, Mr. Cannon.” He shook his hands as if they were covered in dust. “I’ll be back.”

The government man rode off.

Two miles through the forest, past a dry creek bed, and into a box canyon, Mathias and the Tia rode. A camp was set within a series of caves cut into the rock. The entrance was sheltered by brush and guarded by sentries in the rocks above. Slowly people emerged from the caves as the riders came into view. The children huddled behind their mothers, gawked at Cyrus, as the riders got off their horses. Kotitai led Mathias into the cave, where a group of five elders were sitting cross-legged.

“This is the wizard Mathias,” Kotitai told them. “Please sit,” he said to Mathias.

“The tower has awoken,” said the man, Unnai, sitting in the middle with the other four elders on either side. “It has been sleeping since our people first came here, yet now it is breathing. What have you to tell us, Mathias the wizard?”

“That you need not fear the tower, only that you be mindful of it. It has indeed been quiet for many years, perhaps too many years. I was sent here because I know the tower from days past, so it knows me.” Mathias laid his staff upon his crossed legs. “Tell me, what do you know of the tower?”

The man looked to the others before answering. “That it is old, older than time. That it is not to be trusted. That it does not belong to men or beasts or even to the land itself. We have left it alone and it has left us alone.”

“You have made no attempt to enter the tower?” Mathias turned to Kotitai.

Unnai nodded to Kotitai. “Only once according to our ancestors,” he said. “When our people first came here, they discovered the tower and they were, as you would expect, curious. Our legends tell us an elder named Oindai approached the gate and was seized by visions of war and a hooded figure standing as tall as the trees. A great blinding light filed the sky and the land shook so violently that all the people were thrown to the ground. Oindai is said to have grown to the size of two men and had eyes that glowed like fire. It was he who forbade us from ever entering the tower, and the gods gave him great life so this would not be forgotten.”

A murmur went through the Tia, who had gathered and were listening to Unnai.

“And none have tried since?” Mathias smiled at Unnai.

“Any who tried did not return,” Unnai said, returning Mathias’ smile.

A series of women approached, bringing a fermented tea to the elders, Mathias, and Kotitai. A small fire crackled as they drank.

“What do you think of these white men, as you call them, and their desire to possess the tower,” Mathias asked.

“The man, Fenton, is obsessed with it,” Kotitai said. “The others stay away. The tower is not welcoming. I think that your presence will change that. We saw the government man enter and leave and he will, no doubt, tell others.” Kotitai glanced at Unnai. “That means the Army will be here.”

An older woman offered Mathias more tea. “We all felt the tower rumble last night,” she said, as she poured. “The children were frightened.”

Mathias sipped his tea. The Tia were waiting for him to speak.

“Is this the end, wizard?” Kotitai set his tea down.

“It is,” the wizard answered.

The sun was edging slowly down the backs of the western mountains when James entered Fort Care. The fort was set along the Blood River, so named for the colors that ran through it in the spring, when the melting snow scrubbed the mineral beds. Two young privates waved him in. Other than the Tia occasionally pilfering Fenton’s cattle, and the range war between the Forge and Brutane clans (which had grown quiet after Lester Brutane was found hung on Lodgepole Hill) little in the territory gave the soldiers any reason to leave the fort.

The commander, Captain Franklin Cartigan, greeted James as he got off his horse. He noted James’ bloodshot eyes and how his shoulders slumped forward. “Hard ride, Bart?”

“Had to make time, Frank. The world’s beginning to crack–”

“Crack?” Cartigan reached out towards James. James handed him the panting horse’s reins. Cartigan took a sniff of James’ breath. “Well, I don’t smell any liquor on ya,” he said as he tied off the reins to the hitching post.

“A drink sounds mighty invitin’, Frank. I got a good pint in my room.”

Cartigan followed James to his quarters and watched him pull the bottle from a drawer in the desk across from his bunk. James took a swig from the bottle before handing it to Cartigan. Cartigan set it on the small table by the door and sat down in one of the chairs.

“Not drinkin’, Frank?” James smiled and sat in the other chair.

“Maybe later. I can see you’re rattled. Why? Fenton?”

James laughed. “Fenton’s the least of our problems. No, this is big, Frank; end of the world big.”

“End of the world?”

“End of the world.” James leaned in. “I was in the tower, Frank, the tower! And you won’t believe this, but I’ll tell you anyway…” James took another drink from the bottle of sour mash.

“Tell me what?”

“It’s alive, Frank. Alive!”

©2020 David William Pearce

The Tower Part 4

A Tale of wizards and cowboys

Artemas Dovetail held the Good Book in his hand and thumbed through the pages, looking for an apt passage. Liquor and the scourge of drink being the focus of Sunday’s sermon, he pressed on. As shepherd to this wayward flock, it was his duty and calling to bring them into the light and the good graces of God, his lord and savior. As such, he would not relent until providence led him to the perfect verse from which his parishioners would see the error of their ways.

A loud thump on the outer door of the church broke his concentration, and with a lurch, he rose from his chair and strode out of his small room to the banging on the door.

A breathless Amos Bryant greeted him. The preacher set out his hand such that this lost soul might enter God’s house. Bryant sat in the first pew he could reach.

The preacher sat across from Bryant as he caught his breath. A wan smile found the preacher’s long gaunt face. “Brother Bryant, what brings you here in such haste?” he asked.

“Evil doin’s, preacher! Evil doin’s out in that tower!” Bryant answered.

“The tower?” Preacher Dovetail stood and walked to the outer door of the church, and looked to the distant tower. A faint cloud of dust was drifting to the west. A gathering of men on horseback, he thought.

Bryant joined the preacher at the door. “I been in it,” he said. “A stranger named Mathias got it open and…” Bryant turned at the preacher.

“And?” The preacher looked at Bryant.

“And… used magic.” Bryant’s eyes were wide and glassy.

“You saw this yourself, brother?”

“I did, preacher. Deviltry, like you said. So, I rushed over here after I told Mr. Fenton—”

“Fenton!” The preacher thought little of the grasping godless cattleman and blamed him for the sorry condition of the people here on the land he so self-righteously claimed to own. “A sinful covetous man, Mr. Fenton,” the preacher said.

Bryant dropped his eyes. “I had to preacher. If Cannon and his men heard I told you first, why I reckon they’d whip me something fearsome, and…” Bryant looked down at his shaking hands. “I ain’t strong like you, preacher.”

Preacher Dovetail put his hand on Bryant’s shoulder. “Be at peace, brother. I do not judge you as such, for all men are weak and sinful. Come.” Preacher Dovetail led Bryant back into the church. “Tell me of this Mathias and the tower.”

“Well, he done approached me and asked about the tower, and asked if anyone’s been in it. And then he asked if I wanted to go in, and I was weak, preacher, and let my curiosity get the best of me like you said last Sunday. And he waved his walkin’ stick, I think, and by gum them big doors done opened right up. And then he done the same with the doors to the tower without even touching ‘em, and that’s when I felt the breath of Satan and skedaddled.”

The preacher rubbed his chin and stared at Amos Bryant. Not a particularly learned man he thought, and prone to exaggeration, but something about the startled look on Bryant’s face gave the preacher pause. “What did Mr. Fenton have to say when you told him?”

“Cain’t rightly say preacher. I done told Cannon. He said he’d let Mr. Fenton know.”

The preacher leaned towards him. “Have you told anyone else of this, brother?”

“No. Done come right to you, preacher.” Bryant watched the preacher thinking on his words.

“We must be careful, brother,” the preacher said after a moment of contemplation. “Satan often acts to stir fear and recrimination. We must be wary of that, for unsure words and careless gossip do more for the devil than man.” The preacher stood and motioned that Bryant do so as well. “For now, I ask that you keep your tongue quiet, even to the missus, until I have a chance to witness this and seek guidance from the Good Book.”

“You don’t doubt me, do ya, preacher?”

Preacher Dovetail smiled and placed his hand on Bryant’s shoulder. “I do not doubt you, brother, but Satan is both wicked and clever and seeks to sow mistrust among those who believe and wish to spread the word of our lord’s love and forgiveness. Do this for me, will you?”

“Okay, preacher.” Amos Bryant looked down at his boots.

“Then on your way.”

Preacher Dovetail kept a keen eye on Bryant as he headed, tentatively, in the direction of his field and the tower beyond.

The more James went through the old books on the wizard’s table, the more questions he had. Mathias said nothing and rarely looked at him as the night passed. The first rays of light crept in through the windows, signaling the start of a new day. James started to rise, only to realize he had no strength in his legs.

“I don’t suppose I could trouble you for a room?” he asked the wizard. “Only for a few hours. Your books were such that I lost track of time, and I find myself quite tired.”

“There are beds in the quarters below us. You may use any you like,” the wizard told him. Mathias passed his hand over the fire in the hearth and it diminished to a small crackling flame. “Follow me.”

On the second floor, James found a bed to his satisfaction and fell quickly to sleep. The wizard smiled. “Some things do not change,” he said as he closed the door, and returned to the wizard’s room.

The stone was calling.

He approached it warily. Did he not expect to commune with them via the stone? He looked at his hands and fingers, stretched out before him. These bodies, he thought, so thoroughly isolating and yet so captivating. He had to be mindful of that.

White light began to stream out of the stone, and the wizard set his hands upon it. His mind traveled out of space and time, leaving the physical body of the earthly wizard behind. The gathering was waiting for him. He shared what had transpired since his return to Earth and the gathering absorbed it. Voices blended and together they counseled and set upon a course of action for the future of the tower.

His eyes adjusted to the red fire glow of the room as his hands left the stone, and he was once more an earthly wizard.

Mathias returned to the lookout, curious if the light carried from the wizard’s room through the night had done its work. He purposely brightened the flame to act as a beacon to the surrounding lands telling them that the tower once again was occupied and waiting. He tapped the stone of the tower at his feet with his staff and felt the tower vibrate in response.

“Awake friend,” he said mirthfully, “our time is at hand.”

To the north at the edge of the forest, his keen eyes detected men watching, but these were not the men of the town or those riding with Fenton. These were the men of the Tia, the people the plowman Bryant referred to as injuns. They had been watching for some time.

To the south, along a slight ridge separating the plowed fields and the grasslands, three of Fenton’s men were hunched down watching the tower as well. Though they thought themselves hidden, as he supposed the Tia did too, he saw them clearly. As he did Fenton, standing at his window in the dusty distant town.

“Should we expect others, friend?” he asked of the tower. A surge of energy through his boots to his fingers was the tower’s response. “Then we’ll give our guest a few hours before we proceed.”

The wizard returned to his room and took out his pipe. He tapped it, igniting the pipe-weed, and drew the weed smoke deep into his lungs.

His mind drifted to days long past.

Preacher Dovetail, like the Tia and Fenton’s men, spent the night watching the tower and the light emanating from the windows of the wizard’s room. He found himself both thrilled and terrified by the prospects of facing Satan. Him, Artemas Dovetail, and here of all places, to defend his flock from certain damnation. He clutched the worn copy of the Good Book tight in his thin hands. The distant light brought vivid images to him of demons and his standing before them, his Good Book held high, and the power of God shining forth.

He did not notice the Widow Perkins approaching with his morning meal.

She cleared her throat. Nothing. Exasperated by his disinterest, she spoke, “Preacher Dovetail, I’m here as I always am. Your breakfast is fast going cold.”

The preacher turned to her, his eyes unfixed, glassy, before coming into focus on the grumpy woman before him. “My apologies, Widow Perkins, my mind was elsewhere.”

The widow Perkins set the tray down. “So, I gathered.” She looked at the tower through the window. “You no doubt saw the light in the tower, preacher?”

“Yes,” he said, as he tried to make sense of what was before him. Porridge and biscuits. That’s what it was.

“Felicity Gumpt was running around half-mad last night telling everybody she could see there was lights on in the tower. Well, you know how folks is,” she said, while pouring coffee in the preacher’s tin cup.

“Yes,” he mumbled. He brought the coffee to his lips. Bitter and harsh was how Widow Perkins drank her coffee, and as his keeper, she was obliged to share this rather vile drink with him. It had cooled, which did it no favors. He shuddered as it trickled down his parched throat. “And what are you hearing from our flock as concerns this mystery light in the tower?”

The Widow Perkins frowned at the preacher’s evident dislike of her coffee and, no doubt, her efforts to keep him fed and the church cleaned. “Maybe that Mr. Fenton and that gaggle of idiots that works for him got in, or as that damned fool Amos Bryant was sayin’,” she crinkled her nose at the name, “deviltry is afoot here in our valley.” She pointed to the breakfast. “You need to eat, preacher, and judging by your bloodshot eyes, get a few hours a shuteye. A man working himself to death is of no benefit to others, I always say.”

Chastised, the preacher sat down and ate his breakfast under the stern eye of the Widow Perkins. He knew she was right, and he’d need his strength if, as she said, that damned fool Bryant has ignored his admonition and gotten the flock all worked up over the arrival of Satan in their midst.

He lay down on the hard bunk as the Widow Perkins cleaned up.

Mathias roused the sleeping Barton James. The sun was high in the western sky. James stared at him, dazed, shook his head, as if clearing away the dust, and rose. The wizard handed him his hat.

“I imagine you have people to report to, do you not?” the wizard asked.

James nodded. “Yes.”

His disorientation continued as Mathias led him down the stairs to the great hall and the door leading to the courtyard and his waiting horse. The warhorse, Cyrus, stood close to James’ horse, gently keeping the horse from straying. James mounted his horse and was led to the main gate by the great warhorse, with Mathias walking at his side.

James turned to Mathias as the gate opened. “What am I to tell people about this place?”

“Whatever you care to,” the wizard answered.

James looked to the valley and the town in the distance. “You know they’ll all be coming?”

“I would expect nothing less,” the wizard said, a wry smile on his face.

James again shook his head, and rode through the gate. As it silently closed, Mathias climbed to the parapet and watched the government man slowly make his way back to his people.

©2020 David William Pearce

The Tower Part 3

A novella of cowboys and wizards in 7 parts.

“I don’t like it,” Fenton said, as he and Cannon sat in his office. He could see the top of the tower in the distance through the window. “I know that goddamned bastard is working this against me. They all are!” He slammed his fist on the table.

Cannon grinned as Fenton quickly pulled his hand in, cradling it to his chest, his face twisted in pain. “Save it for when it can do you some good, boss.”

“Like when?”

“When we know different,” Cannon said, his eyes down.

Fenton stared at him. “Got it all figured out, do ya?”

Cannon shook his head. “Only what I need to figure. The rest takes care of itself.”

“And where’s that supposed to get me?” Fenton rubbed the hand he slammed on the table. “Between that ass Johnson pushing for statehood, and those goddamned sodbusters fencing up my land, not to mention that damn Indian stealing my cattle, now I got this stranger taking up in my tower! It ain’t right, goddammit.”

“Maybe not, but till we find a way in, and I ain’t found no other way. God knows I’ve gone around that outer wall a dozen times.” Cannon stared at the distant tower through the window. “We barely got out the one time we tried to—”

“Yes, yes, you’ve said it enough,” Fenton groused.

Cannon glared at Fenton. “You weren’t there. I ain’t never seen a rope break like that over and over, or had a ladder split like it was rotten, when I knew it was good from the get go.”

He stood up, towering over Fenton. “I know you think there’s money in that place, but it ain’t natural. Ask anybody who’s been here a while. Old timers. The Tia. Don’t matter. They all say the same thing. Let it be. It’s been standin’ longer‘n time. If the Army wants it, let ‘em have it.”

Fenton’s eyes grew wide. “Are you outta your mind?”

Cannon walked to the door. “No.”

“Just let ‘em have it?” Fenton shook his head. “Just like that!”

“We got other matters to deal with.” Cannon put on his hat. “Don’t mean I won’t keep an eye on things though.”

“Goddamned right! I want that place watched night and day. If that bastard leaves, I want to know it!” Fenton balled his hand into a fist and stared at the smiling Cannon.

“Sure, boss.”

He walked out, leaving Fenton to the dying light.

“That is the scope of our council together. But formally, I speak for the governor,” James said, answering the wizard’s question.

“And what council do you seek other than entry?” Mathias admired the muted reds and yellows of the western sky as the sun dipped behind the mountains.

James stood by the wizard. “How do you know this place?”

“How does anyone know a place?” Mathias took his staff and set it in a hole in the center of the lookout. The staff began to glow. “By living in it, by being a part of it.”

Barton James stared at the staff. “How does it do that?”

“The staff is merely a conduit. It is the tower that makes the light.”

“How?” James slowly approached the staff, holding out the palm of his hand, feeling the warmth radiating out.

“How what?”

“How does it do it, a generator of some kind? I heard men are working on such things.” The light seemed to grow as James’ hand moved closer.

“Are they?”

“Yes.” James looked at Mathias, the glow of the staff shimmering in his eyes. “The world is changing, rapidly. There’s talk that horses will soon give way to engines and machines, even out here.” He spread his arm out. The light dimmed.

Mathias grabbed the staff and pulled it out of the tower. The lookout grew dark. Without making a sound he headed for the stairs. A startled James went after him, his footing unsure. Carefully, with his hands pressed along the outer wall, he climbed down the steps to the wizard’s room. Mathias tapped the fireplace with his staff, and a fire roared to life, bringing light and warmth to the room. Mathias sat at the table and watched the befuddled James make his way around and then to his own chair.

“What are you?” James asked.

“A wizard. And this place, for a time, was my keep.”

“Like Merlin?”

 Mathias shook his head as he took a long thin pipe from his coat. “Don’t remember any Merlin.”

“Arthur. Knights of the round table,” James added, assuming that would help.

“And when was this Merlin here?” Mathias tapped his pipe with his finger and the pipe began to glow. He sucked in the smoke and blew it out into the room.

“Bout a thousand years, I spose. The stories are kind of vague on when. It was in England, I know that.” James looked at the books littering the table.

Mathias pushed one towards him. “These books are much older. Long before the time of your Arthur or Merlin.”

James opened the book. In it were drawing of many things, elves and dwarves, wizards and men, goblins and trolls, fantastic birds of prey. He didn’t recognize the writing or the maps, though he spent much of his youth studying the cartography of the earth. He paged through it till he came to one with a drawing of a faceless figure leading a host of warriors.

“Who’s this?”

Mathias leaned towards him, staring at the page. “Thün.”

“Thün?”

“The dark lord.” Mathias blew more smoke into the air. “He was a spirit once. Sent by the Gods of the Realm to assist the elves in the making of this world, but he became bored and corrupted and made mischief in defiance of the Gods.”

“What happened?” James ran his finger along the figure on the page.

“A long and terrible war.”

James continued paging through the book, looking at the drawings and finding he had more questions than the drawings could answer. Battle after battle was shown, with men and elves and dwarves fighting, but no victory. Towards the back of the book, the towers appeared and he recognized the man, the king, from the statue in the courtyard.

“Who’s this?” he asked.

“King Theotus. It was he who drew Thün, the dark lord, and his host into the open, where they fell within the power of the three. It was there that the dark lord was destroyed and sent into the void.”

“The three?”

Mathias nodded. “The three towers.”

James looked around the room. “And this is one?”

“It is.”

“And the story of Theotus?”

The wizard blew a ring of smoke above the head of the government man. “Such stories interest you?”

James nodded. “It explains the tower does it not?”

“It does.” Mathias’ eyes twinkled and a mirthful smile came to him.

“Then tell me.” James leaned towards the wizard, the crackling fire behind him.

Mathias waited for a moment, collecting his thoughts. “It is a long tale with many characters, some I must confess I no longer remember. That saddens me, but it is not unexpected. Memory fades. But I do remember that time.” Mathias tapped the pipe ash into the fire and set the pipe on the table.

“We called to the gods for assistance, that they might save us and this world we so loved. And after a time, they grudgingly came to our aid.” Mathias laughed at that. “They were tired of our wails. But once they saw the terror Thün was spreading, a plan was set in motion to destroy him.”

“How?” James, intrigued, tried to find the drawings in the book that went with Mathias’ tale.

“Two things the gods set in motion,” Mathias said, picking up his pipe. “First, an incorruptible child was gifted to us. It was through him we would turn men against the dark lord—”

 “That child was Theotus?” James said excitedly.

“It was.” Mathias set his eyes to guest, narrowing them. “May I continue?”

Chastened, James sat back. “Sorry. Please do.”

Mathias lit his pipe. “The second concerned the towers, for you see, gods cannot act directly in earthly matters because they have no form, no bodies, no flesh. Their power must be directed through physical objects. To achieve this, they called on the ancient king of the dwarves, Tön. He too came to the earth as a spirit to assist in creating the dwarves. He so loved them that he chose to become one, and the gods made him king of all dwarves. But unlike his brother, he was not corrupted. So, when called, Tön left the mountains to council with us and the gods.”

James stared at the wizard. “The gods?”

Mathias stared back. “The gods. We needed their power, for only they could destroy the dark lord. You’re listening, are you not?”

“I am, I am. I’m just curious how one speaks to the gods, that’s all.”

“I imagine so.” Mathias blew a smoke ring high above his head. They watched it dissipate slowly in the firelight.

“What was decided?” James found a drawing of the three towers.

“That three towers were to be built, equal in size and in the distance between them, forming a triad. It was through the towers that the gods would act.”

James felt the tower vibrate. “The tower is moving!”

“Not to worry,” Mathias assured him, “the tower likes it when its story is told.”

“I see.” James took hold of the table.

“The dwarf king reluctantly agreed to use their prized stone to build the towers, on the promise that the stone would be returned. Tüa-a I think they called it, but I could be wrong. Anyway, once the towers were built, Theotus called to the men of earth to follow him, and his presence was such, that they could not refuse. This enraged the dark lord, and he sought to destroy Theotus. But Theotus was clever and hid from Thün rather than face him. This deepened the dark lord’s anger, and anger blinds even the wary,” Mathias said, chuckling to himself.

“He knew something was up, didn’t he?” James found a picture of Thün at the edge of a forest.

“He was well aware that the gods were not happy, but he was also convinced of his own power and, as I said, became more and more consumed by Theotus—”

“And Theotus challenged the dark lord, didn’t he?”

Mathias smiled at the light in James’ eyes. Like a child, he thought. “Indeed, Theotus drew out the dark lord, against his better judgment, into a battle in the middle of the three towers. It was there the gods showed their wrath, and through the power of the three, cast Thün, the dark lord, into the void, never to return.”

James smiled. “And Theotus ruled the world, right?”

Mathias shook his head. “No.”

“No?” James paged through the last of the book looking for Theotus. Frustrated, he closed the book. “What happened to him?”

“As the gods were casting Thün out, he took Theotus hostage, threatening to kill the king if they did not relent, but Theotus threw himself on Thün’s sword, and in dying, saved the world. That is what happened. I see it now as I see you.”

Mathias grew silent, his mind drifting to a time long past.

James waited for the wizard to return to the present. He looked around the room.

What power was left in this tower?

And who could use it?

©2020 David William Pearce

The Tower, Part 2

A mashup of fantasy and western in 7 parts.

Amos Bryant slowed as he approached the storefront of the Fenton Cattle Company. Two men stood on either side of the door, neither particularly welcoming. He stood at the steps leading to the short porch and the two men, his hat in his hands.

“What do you want, sodbuster?” the man named Clement asked. The other, Jorgensen, moved towards Bryant.

“I… I need to talk to Mr. Fenton. Got some things to say, s’all.” Bryant’s knees were shaking. Jorgensen had roughed him up in the past, something Bryant didn’t want repeated.

Clement grinned at Bryant. “Sure.” He opened the door and motioned for Bryant to step up.

“Let me help ya, Bryant.” Jorgensen reached for Bryant, who flinched and nearly fell. The two men laughed. Bryant quickly stepped between them and entered the office. Clement and Jorgensen followed close behind.

The front of the office held a small desk, behind which was a large man with a graying handlebar mustache and sharp eyes, all set under a wide brimmed black hat with silver buckles along the hatband. Brace Cannon was his name and, as Fenton’s man, he was feared throughout the valley. His eyes took in Bryant with contempt. His feet were resting atop the desk, a lit cigar tight between his thin lips.

Bryant continued to shake.

The grinning Clement spoke for him. “Sodbuster says he needs to talk to the boss.”

“Bout what?” Cannon’s eyes tightened along with his jaw.

“A stranger, he… he’s… in the tower, opened the gate and all, so I…” Bryant took the rag from his britches and wiped the sweat from his forehead. “I came to tell Mr. Fenton s’all.”

Cannon moved his feet to the floor and leaned forward on the desk. “I ain’t in the mood for sass or nonsense coming from some halfwit plowboy,” he said.

“Ain’t no sass, Mr. Cannon, honest, I seen it straight away with my own two eyes… even went in a ways.” Bryant’s hands were now shaking along with his knees.

Cannon looked at the two grinning idiots behind Bryant. “An honest man doesn’t shake like that. Makes me wonder…” The idiots kept grinning. All cast from the same lot Cannon thought.

“I ain’t lyin’, I just…” Bryant turned to Clement and Jorgensen, “I just wanted to tell Mr. Fenton s’all.”

Cannon continued to bore in on him. “This man there now, Bryant?”

“Yes, sir. Said his name’s Mathias.” Bryant clutched at the rag in his shaking hands.

“Mathias what?” Cannon blew a lung full of cigar smoke at the trembling sodbuster.

“Didn’t give no last name.” Bryant, suddenly conscious of the rag in his hands, stuffed it back in his britches.

Cannon sat back in his chair. “Anything else?”

“No sir.”

Cannon stared at the sodbuster for a few moments, looking him up and down. He stood up. “I’ll let Mr. Fenton know.” He moved quietly around the desk to the frightened man in the straw hat. “If I find you lied to me, Bryant, I’ll have you whipped till there’s little left of your worthless hide, understand?”

“Yes sir.”

Cannon glanced at the door. “Show him out, boys.”

Clement and Jorgensen grabbed Bryant by the arms and threw him out of the office. Laughing, they returned to their post by the front door.

Harcourt Fenton was in the back office, grousing behind a large desk. He stared at what had once been hard lean hands, toughened by years of riding and ranching. They were soft now, like the rest of him, from still more years running the company that bore his name. Unlike his hands, his manner remained hard and demanding. The government man, Barton James, sat across from him.

“I don’t need some goddamned territorial governor telling me what to do with my land, goddammit,” Fenton snorted as Cannon came into the room.

Fenton and James turned and looked at him.

“What now, goddammit?” Fenton had a fondness for the term.

“Amos Bryant says there’s someone out at the tower.” Cannon looked down on James. “Says he opened the gate.”

“Who?” Fenton couldn’t place the name.

“Sodbuster. Works the western edge with Tad Maples and that bunch of rabble,” Cannon answered.

“You believe ‘im?”

“He knows better than to lie to me,” Cannon said.

Fenton tugged at his shirt, thinking. The tower had vexed him from the day he first saw it standing, some thirty-years before. It was a prize he wanted. The tower, a place no one had entered as far back as anyone could remember. Everyday it stood there, looming in the distance. He turned in his chair. There it was through the window. He stood up and moved to the window, his eyes fixed on the tower.

Fenton rubbed his chin, his eyes bright. “Get the boys together. I want to see this for myself.” He looked at James, who was still sitting in his chair. “You coming?”

Barton James nodded.

Mathias stood above the main gate, along the parapet, watching as the men on horseback approached. They appeared less a formidable threat than a band of thieves. He leaned on his staff as Fenton, followed by Cannon, James, and eight others rode up. The riders came to a stop at the base of the gate, their heads tilted in Mathias’ direction.

Fenton pushed back on the brim of his hat, wiping away the sweat with the back of his hand. “Open this gate,” he demanded.

“And who might you be?” Mathias demanded in return.

“My name’s Fenton, and this here’s my land. I order you to let us in!” Fenton squinted, the sun in his eyes.

Mathias spread his arms. “The Tower of the West is open to all, provided one is known to the tower as friend. If this is indeed your land, then how is it the tower does not know you and does not grant you entry?”

“Goddammit, I’m not here to argue nonsense. This is my land and everything on it belongs to me, so open the goddamned gate and let us in,” Fenton shouted.

“And by that you believe the tower is your possession?” Mathias asked.

“Of course, it is. Everyone in this valley knows that.”

“Then call to the tower,” Mathias advised, “and if such is true, the tower will let you in. However, it must be said that the tower, if it belongs or is owned by anyone, is the property of no man or being of this earth.”

Barton James, less interested in Fenton’s claims, called to Mathias, “Then who does the tower belong to?”

“The Tower of the West is not meant to be possessed,” Mathias informed him. “Nor is it meant to belong to any one man or any clan or tribe.”

“Are you going to open this gate or are we going to have to shoot our way in?” Fenton motioned at Cannon.

Cannon withdrew his revolver and pointed it at Mathias, who raised his staff to his chest.

“Well?” Fenton turned to the other riders, who, save for James, pulled their rifles from their saddles and pointed them at Mathias.

“Before you have your men kill me, I have a simple question.” Mathias pointed his staff at the men.

“What question would that be?” James moved forward on his horse and put his hand out at Fenton.

“How exactly will killing me gain you entry? Have you not tried before? Unsuccessfully? Or was Amos Bryant in error when he told me that?” Mathias set his staff down on the ledge of the parapet.

James backed his horse to Fenton’s. In a quiet voice, he spoke. “He’s right, you know. Other than climbing the wall and wandering the grounds, we’ve had no success in entering the tower itself. Maybe it would be better if I had a talk with this man, alone—”

“Alone?” Fenton’s eyes narrowed. “What are you trying to pull, Barton? Sneak around me? Get it for yourself?”

James laughed. “For what, Harry? Besides, you know the Army would take it the minute they found out you’d gotten inside it. It can’t hurt to see if he’ll talk. Threatening to shoot him is pointless.”

Fenton shifted in his saddle. “Why you and not Cannon?”

“Because I’m the only one not pointing a gun at him.”

Cannon returned his revolver to its holster. “Maybe he’s on to something, boss. Can’t hurt, and if Mr. James here tries anything funny, he’ll answer to me.”

James pulled lightly on his horse’s reins. “See Harry, and it might be to our mutual benefit if I do.”

Harcourt Fenton frowned. “Maybe, but I don’t like it.”

“Yes, but we don’t have the advantage,” James said, moving forward.

Fenton signaled to his men. “Put your weapons down, boys.” He stared at the wizard and pulled his hat back over his face. “Let’s go.”

The men lowered their guns and followed Fenton and Cannon back to town.

James waited, looking periodically between the wizard, whose eyes were fixed on him, and the trail of dust from the riders. Once the men were out of sight, James faced the wizard. “I offer a formal petition to council with you, Mathias.”

“Do you now?”

James nodded. “I do. Will you allow me entry?”

Mathias waved his staff over the gate. Barton James watched as it silently opened and he rode through. He felt a sudden unease as he watched the gate close behind him. Mathias came down from the parapet, his staff in his hand.

James slowly got off his horse and draped the reins along the horn of the saddle. Cyrus whinnied and James’ horse trotted over to the great warhorse. James took off his hat as Mathias came to his side. The wizard was taller than he first supposed and more formidable a figure close up.

Mathias did not smile as he appraised the man. Millennia had not changed his opinion of men. Useful perhaps, but they had the unfortunate habits of self-absorption and self-pity, two traits he did not care for.

“This way,” he said, walking past James.

James followed in silence, trying as best he could to take in the grounds and the tower looming before them. It reminded him of the stories his father would tell from the old country, of kings and castles, knights and honor. Of glorious wars, where men went to the kind of deaths people venerated. He stopped for a moment at the statue of King Theotus, staring at the stone face, resolute in its bearing. It was, in some ways, like that of the statues of the generals at the academy where he learned the business of soldiery, but in others it bore no resemblance. The generals were smaller and their wars less certain.

Mathias stood on the steps of the tower, cleared his throat, and entered.

James, suddenly self-aware of his dawdling, picked up his step and followed Mathias into the tower and up the stairs, through the upper floors, to the lookout. He was not used to so many stairs and found the last fifty to be nearly more than he could muster.

The wizard was bemused at his efforts to keep up. “For such a young man, I would think your stamina would be more commensurate to the men I knew in the past, but perhaps men these days are not quite the standard of their forebears.” A wry smile crossed the wizard’s face as he waited for James to catch his breath.

“My apologies,” James said, his hands on his hips. “There are few stairs like these here in the west. Even the finest buildings are not more than two or three stories, nothing such as this.” He extended his hand. “My name is Barton James. I’m the territorial governor’s adjutant. It’s my job to keep him informed of what passes for news, and to act as his agent to people such as Harcourt Fenton.”

“And people such as me?” The wizard extended his hand.

James winced as the wizard squeezed. “Yes.”

Mathias released James’ hand and turned to the view of the valley expanding out before them. “And what council do you seek, Barton James? And for whom do you speak? The territorial governor?” They watched the riders in the distance. “Fenton?” Mathias pointed his staff at James. “Or yourself?”

©2020 David William Pearce

The Tower, Part 1

As a diversion from the decidedly bad news we’re hearing lately, and as a way to add something fun, I’m going to offer a novella here to read. It’s a mashup of genres, which I thought would be interesting: What if a tower from Middle Earth survived into the age of the American west?

Enjoy.

Part 1

It was the shadow the plowman first noticed. It crossed along the furrows as he wiped his brow. The man on the horse looked down on him, a smile on his face.

            “Might I ask you a question?” The man on the horse turned his head in the direction of the tower that loomed in the distance beyond the black wall. “Are the King’s descendants still heir to this land?”

            The plowman stared up at the man. “Ain’t no kings round here,” he said as he stuffed the rag back in his britches. “Man named Fenton owns this valley, runs cattle. Me and a few others work the fields.”

            “The world changes, does it not?” The rider got off his horse and approached the plowman. He was tall, standing a head above him, with sharp gray eyes and a black beard streaked with white. His clothes were those of a gentleman, tailored from tan cottons and his boots, a fine brown leather. His hat, a coachman, was the same color as his clothes.

            “I reckon,” answered the plowman. “And who might you be, stranger?”

            “You need a name?” The stranger smiled to himself. “Yes, I suppose there has to be one. Call me Mathias. I’ve come to like that name,” he said.

            “Ain’t that your name?”

            “I’ve had many names, names that would have no meaning in these times. And you, my good man, what name do you go by?”

            “Amos Bryant is what they call me.” Bryant moved closer to the stranger who was stroking the mane of his horse. “Ain’t never seen a horse like this. Looks like one of them racers, only bigger.”                  

            The horse was indeed tall, and strong; his muscled shoulders and haunches rippled beneath his chestnut coat.

            “He is a descendant of an ancient breed of war horses. They are legend for their speed, strength, and stamina. He and I have been together for more years than I can remember.” Mathias produced a red apple from his coat and fed it to the horse. “His name is Cyrus…” The horse lowered his head to look over the plowman. “He has a keen sense of men. Those he likes he is quite patient towards, but if not, beware his kick.” Mathias chuckled to himself.

            Bryant stepped back, not sure what to do. Mathias took note of the man’s uncertainty and offered Bryant an opportunity to approach the horse, motioning for the man to come forward. Bryant carefully moved back towards the horse, his hand shaking as reached out. Cyrus watched the plowman as he reached high and ran his fingers along the stallion’s mane.

            “You see, he’s quite tame.” Mathias said.

            Bryant nodded before slowly retreating and adjusted the frayed straw hat angled on his boney head. “So, what brings you this way, stranger?”

            Mathias looked over his left shoulder and hooked his thumb. He gave Cyrus another apple. “The tower. I wanted to see if it still stood.”

“There?” Bryant turned towards the tower looming in the distance. “Ain’t nobody goes in there, mister.”

“No?”

“Can’t get in. Couple of Fenton’s boys tried a few years back, but it was no good.” Bryant hitched his thumbs in the waist of his britches. “You know that place?”

Mathias took Cyrus’ reins. “I do, though too much time has passed since I was last within its walls. Would you care to join me?”

Bryant looked around to make sure no one was watching before nodding. Pastor Jenkins had admonished him and the others at church from seeking out the tower’s mysteries, but curiosity is a hard itch not to scratch.

Slowly they walked down the path leading to the tower gate.

The tower itself stood more than a hundred and fifty feet tall, surrounded by a wall a hundred feet from the tower’s center. The circular wall was thirty feet high and twenty-five feet wide. A thick gate of gray wood, dressed in ornamental detail, held the outside world at bay. The tower stone was smooth and unbroken, black, with slight flecks of gray that shone in the light of both sun and stars. The gate showed no sign of decay. The grain was still tight and hard. Above the gate, on either side, stood statutes of men in armor looking out into the distance.

Mathias ran his hand along the stone and wood at the entrance to the tower. Bryant, following his lead, did the same.

“As it ever was,” Mathias said to himself. “And what do you know of the tower, Amos?”

Amos Bryant rubbed his head. “Not much other than it’s been here for longer than anyone can remember. Even the injuns don’t know and they been here long before the rest of us.” He turned to Mathias. “You know, mister?”

Mathias considered Bryant before speaking. “The tower was built at the end of the second age with two others, long before the age of ice changed the world. Would it surprise you to know this tower is more than ten thousand years old?”

“Ten thousand?” Bryant looked between Mathias and the tower gate.

“And yet it appears as resplendent as it did the day it was finished. Amazing isn’t it?” Mathias ran his fingers along the metalwork adorning the gate. It depicted armored solders encircling a lone figure swinging a sword. “It did not fall or break as stonework so often does, but then only the three were built with…” He stopped and stroked his beard. “With…” He smiled at Bryant. “I seem to have forgotten the name the dwarves gave the stone, only that it was mined from deep within their mountains and that they gave it grudgingly… it was quite rare.”

“Dwarves?”

Mathias nodded knowingly. “A rather miserly people. They dismantled the northern towers as the ice spread and returned them to their kingdoms under the mountains. Now, who knows if any of that still exists? So much has changed. Those mountains used to come right to the edge of the tower walls.” He pointed towards the mountains in the distance. “And the forest stood at the door, thick with time and memory.” He sighed. “They too are long gone.”

“Dwarves was real?” Bryant’s brows arched as he put his own hand on the gate.

“As real as you or I,” Mathias assured him. “And the woodland elves built the gate, which like them was meant to last forever.”

“Elves?”

“Elves,” Mathias said, his eyes sparkling at the memory. “Perhaps we should see if the gate still opens.”

They moved back, away from the imposing gate. Amos Bryant stood behind Mathias, who spread his arms, his hands palms up.

“Temios un te seuae,” Mathias intoned in a quiet voice.

The gate groaned as it began to open, moving outward at a stately pace until the road to the tower was clear before them. Mathias led Cyrus through the gate with Bryant hesitantly following. The road, made of the same stone as the tower, led them to the tower door.

Within the circular walls, large white oaks, equidistant from one another, ringed the tower. Footpaths twisted around the oaks; wildflowers carpeted the ground.

“Quite lovely, is it not, Amos?”

Amos nodded.

“You’d never know it was once ruined,” Mathias told him, “sundered by a wizard turned to evil, but good has its ways and the gardens were replanted as you can see.”

They walked along the road to the tower. Mathias looked up at the tower as it loomed above them, Bryant looked side to side and behind, as if they were being followed or watched. Halfway to the tower, a statue of an armored rider, tall upon a horse, his sword pointed forward, loomed over them. Bryant stood in awe, having never seen such statues before.

“The King Theotus,” Mathias said, “defender of the realm, destroyer of the dark lord. The greatest of the ancient kings.”

Bryant, still staring up, said nothing as they walked past the statue.

The tower door was the gate in miniature, with depictions of wizards holding staffs across their chests. Stone guards, ten feet high, stood on either side of the door. Mathias drew his staff from the saddle on Cyrus’ back and allowed the horse to wander off towards a pond. He placed his hand on the door and it soundlessly opened.

Within the tower, it was dark with the stale air of millennia. Mathias grimaced and lifted his staff. With a swift motion down, he struck the floor. The shutters upon the windows flew open, bathing the cavernous room in sunlight.

“Much better, don’t you think?” he asked of the plowman.

Awestruck, Bryant pondered Mathias. “How d’you do that?” His eyes grew wide. “Magic?”

“Something like that,” Mathias said, smiling.

Terror crossed the face of Amos Bryant and his legs gave, sprawling him upon the hard floor of the tower. “Sorcery! Deviltry! Just like the preacher said!” he cried. Finding his strength, he bolted for the door.

Mathias watched him bound towards the great gate in the distance and disappear beyond. He shook his head. “Men, they never change,” he said, as he motioned to the great gate with his staff and watched it close. “Fearful of all they don’t understand.”

Mathias continued into the tower.

The tower comprised three floors. The great hall made up the main floor. There, assemblies and councils were held. A fireplace large enough to walk through dominated the center of the room, its chimney rising to and through the floors above. The wizard’s chair, set in front of the fireplace, festooned with carvings of the five wizards sent by the Gods of the Realm to assist in the war against the dark lord, looked over the others set in a semi-circle facing it. The fireplace separated the assembly hall from the dining hall. Staircases, set into the outer walls on opposing sides of the tower, led to the second floor, where the sleeping quarters and the scullery were to be found. Above that, on the third floor, was the wizard’s room, and from there, the stairs led to the lookout, from which the mountain pass and the great valley could be seen.

Mathias slowly wandered the great hall, his steps echoing throughout. The memory of faces came to him. Voices called out, voices he recalled from a long distant past, exhorted the assembled to rise and defeat the danger at hand. To fight! Men and elves, dwarves and wizards, standing and shouting, their swords thrust in the air of the great hall; the sound of trumpets and the rush to war.

With great care, he approached the wizard’s chair, with its ornate carvings of the faces he vaguely remembered, and placed his hand on the graystone that was his. Five graystones for the five wizards were set in the headrest, each with its own signature markings. His was of stars crossing the sky. Mathias thought that appropriate. He sat in the chair, but only for a moment, feeling oddly out of place.

Up the winding staircase, past the bedchambers, cookery and dumbwaiters, Mathias made his way to the wizard’s room. It was, in truth, the only place within the tower he had any interest in beyond memory. It was where he spent much of his time on Earth, where he divined his place in the physical world, and where he held council with those in league against the dark lord.

To his amazement, the room had not changed since he last stood within it.

Just off the center, next to the fireplace, was a large table upon which were books and parchments, lanterns, and trinkets collected over some two thousand years. Gifts. Mementos. Along the circular walls were shelves littered with books of all kinds: history, legend, myth, sorcery and spells, the genealogy of the peoples who once populated these lands. These were his books, meant to inform the future for those so interested.

He shook his head at that.

Open on the table was a heavy book with a thick spine and engravings of crossed swords carved into the leather binding chronicling the Great War and the defeat of the dark lord. Mathias passed his hand along the contours of the book, and ran his fingers across the lettering, which he did not remember. He opened another book, this one in elvish, and had the same reaction: he did not remember the language or what was written down.

He had been warned of this. Time out of mind, the voices told him.

At the northern window lay the sphere. Set on a wooden stand, the orb of black onyx was quiet. Dark. The temptation to reconnect to the voices that sent him, to tell them of what he found, drew him closer. It began to glow as he moved towards it.

“Same as it ever was,” he said aloud.

He stepped back, deciding to wait. There was no rush to inform them.

He walked around the room, touching this and that, seeking the memories to which they were a part. Some came to him, but many did not. They had warned him, before he set out, that memory fades. He found himself, oddly, struggling with what he had long expected, but they had also warned of the remove that physical form creates. He had forgotten that, too. Now, as he stood in the place his mind so wanted to recall, he realized much of his memory was gone. He marveled at that.

The last stop was up the tallest staircase, for the wizard’s room had the highest ceiling at fifty feet, where the walls narrowed and the chimneystack split into fourths and traversed to the four points of the compass. It led to the lookout where clear eyes could see a hundred miles or more into the valley and to the only path accessible through the great mountain of Thail.

Only the mountain had receded along with the woods. The ice had cut it hard. The valley had changed from verdant hills into a great field of grasses, stretching out into the distance. Smoke from a small town wisped to the south.

Mathias sat in the center and crossed his legs, waiting. It wasn’t long before a cloud of dust and a cluster of horsemen could be seen heading towards the tower.

©2020 David William Pearce

Good Guy, Bad Guy?

Is your main character a good guy or a bad guy or somewhere inbetween? Or are they simply trying to cope with what the world throws at them?

I am working on the 6th Monk Buttman book. I’ve seen him and his family and friends through a number of trying circumstances. As a writer, that’s by design: Something interesting has to happen to keep the reader engaged. But as any writer will tell you, after a certain point, you inhabit your characters, you live and breath them, you know their history, and you know their quirks, where they do well, and where they do not.

I purposefully put Monk, and by extension those around him, into problematic situations. For some readers in the early books (1-3), this has to do with Monk being involved with 2 women at the same time. Some don’t like that, while others don’t seem too bothered by it. And this is among the women reading it, if that means anything.

But that was the point: What happens when you find yourself in love with 2 different people at the same time? Social convention says you have to pick one or the other, but social convention is a construct that some adhere to, and some don’t. It is in this context that the character of the character comes out, and it is there that readers tend to judge whether they like or dislike the character.

I meant Monk to be problematic in this regard. He isn’t thoughtless or mean-spirited, certainly not to Agnes, the woman he lives with, or to Judith, with whom he sees on occasion, or if you prefer, on the side. This is complicated by the attitudes of both Agnes and Judith, who are aware of each other, but are struggling with their own insecurities, as is Monk.

It doesn’t help that the 3 of them are not completely honest with themselves, or each other, and are notorious rationalizers, but I think that makes for a more interesting story and makes for more interesting characters.

Will it blow up in their faces? Of course it will, but we all knew that going in. It’s why we write and why we read.

I will say that initially I was surprised by some of the feedback and reviews, particularly those critical of Monk, but that’s to be expected. These aren’t romances, even though love and indeed romance are a part of the story. And some of that may be that the whole story of Monk and Agnes and Judith is not neatly wrapped up in one book, but extends across the first three and influences the others that follow. It may also be because Monk has issues (as we all do) and those issues don’t always make him look particularly good in light of his actions.

But as the writer and the person who knows him best, I can say, that his heart is in the right place.

©2020 David WIlliam Pearce

Rebekah, Take 2

This is the last vignette for the book, A Twinkle in the Eyes of God, A Monk Buttman Mystery.

I pulled into the driveway of Farrell and Rebekah’s home, a doublewide modular house they were renting from Farrell’s parents. The grass was trimmed and the flowers along the entrance were still in bloom. I parked the truck next to the house. Carleton was behind me in the Falcon, and Duane behind him in his truck.

“Kinda a cumbersome way to do this, don’t ya think?” Car handed me the keys to the falcon. I walked with him to Duane’s truck and gave him a hug. They both knew I was heading out from here, and I think there was an understanding that this might be it. “You sure you want to live in California?”

“I need to get away for awhile,” I told them, as I had before, each time they’d ask.

“Well, take care, man, and best of luck,” Duane said as he put the truck in drive.

I watched them drive away.

Rebekah was at the door. She put her arms around me and kissed my cheek. I followed her into the house. She liked to keep it clean and organized, with everything just so. We sat on their new couch. It was a deep-seated thing, charcoal gray, that you seeped into.

“What do you think?” she asked, patting the cushions.

“It’s certainly comfy,” I said.

“Yeah.” She continued to run her hand along the fabric. “I guess you’re here to say goodbye…”

“Yeah… I need to get away for awhile.” I shook my head. Is that the only thing I can think to say to anyone? I took the truck keys from my pocket and handed them to her. “Don’t forget the shotgun’s behind the seat.”

“Aren’t you going to need it? You know what Car says…” She tried to smile at that.

“Yes, we all know what Car says, but… I’ll be ok.”

“You sure?”

“Of course, just ask your mom,” I said.

Rebekah frowned.

“Sorry. I’ll be all right. How are you doing? Are you and Farrell happy?”

“Oh yeah, we’re doing great. Hopefully we won’t be here too long. I mean it’s nice Chess and Pell letting us live here cheap, but I want my own house—”

“And babies?” Rebekah was always talking about having a family.

“Already working on that,” she said, smiling.

“I wish you more luck than your mother and I had.”

“So no baby brother, huh?”

“Doesn’t look good. Maybe some step brothers, but…”

She put her hand on my arm. “Do you know where you’re going?”

I laughed at that. When have I ever known where I was going? “West. Maybe back to California. I don’t know.”

“You’ll let me know when you get there, won’t you?”

“I will.” I got up. I needed to go. I could feel the pain welling inside and I was tiring of crying, tired of feeling lost.

She followed me to the Falcon. I turned to her. “Oh, I almost forgot. My journals are in the truck.”

“Journals?” She seemed surprised.

“Yeah, in case you take up farming,” I said.

“You didn’t want to leave them for Judah?” I’m pretty sure she was joking.

“No. Besides, I’ve been told he’s got it all figured out. Just ask your mom.”

“Dad!”

“Sorry.” I hugged her one last time. “Be happy, Becky.”

“You too.”

I kissed her and drove off. I made it a good two miles before the tears began streaming down my face.

All the way to California.

©2020 David William Pearce

Joanie, Take 2

Monk and Joanie, a woman he was once in love with, discussing his upcoming trip to Virginia. This is a vignette to support the book, A Twinkle in the Eyes of God.

“You’re going where?” Joanie asked.

I knew she heard me the first time, but I repeated: “Virginia.”

“Virginia? I thought you’d rather be shot that go back there?” She was sitting next to me in front of my bungalow. It was a warm evening and we were nursing our drinks.

“That’s still an option,” I assured her.

“And?”

“And what?”

“Jesus, Monk,” she slapped the back of my head, “it’s like pulling teeth. And you brought it up!”

“I did, didn’t I?” I said, stating the obvious.

“So are you going to tell me or not?”

“Anything’s possible…”

“Uh-huh, like this drink all over your pretty new suit.” Joanie pointed her glass in my direction.

“I don’t think it needs to come to that. And this isn’t a new suit, just new to me.”

“Sure, Monk, sure.” Joanie took a sip of her wine and waved to Mrs. Grumpas, who was walking past.

“I’m going back to help my daughter,” I said, as I waved to Mrs. Grumpas. “I wonder where her husband is?” Mrs. Grumpas rarely went anywhere without her husband, Herman.

“Herm’s in the hospital, something to do with his prostate,” Joanie informed me. She always knew what was up with the old folks here at the Moonlight Arms. “Help your daughter how?”

“Something about her idiot husband,” I said.

“Prostate troubles?” She laughed at that.

“I doubt it. He’s a little young for that.”

“Why’s he an idiot? Not that you’d know much about being an idiot…” She laughed at that too.

“No, not much.”

The Ontavarises, Olivia and Cresto, holding hands, walked by. They smiled and wished us a good evening.

“How long are you going for?” Joanie asked, as the Ontavarises went into their bungalow, which was two down from mine.

“Hopefully not too long. I’m not exactly thrilled at the prospect to begin with.”

“You don’t want tot see your daughter?”

“It’s not that, and why does everyone ask that?” I whined.

“Who’s everyone?”

“You, Agnes, Moses—”

“That’s only three,” she said. “Shouldn’t there be more for you to complain so much?”

“It’s not quantity, it’s quality,” I said.

“Uh-huh.”

“It is—”

“Sure, Monk.”

“You’re not being very supportive, you know.”

“Then get the gun,” she laughed.

“Very nice,” I grumbled.

“Just considering the source,” she said, tipping her glass.

I shook my head and frowned, but tipped my glass anyway. I knew this wasn’t an argument I’d win.

©2020 David WIlliam Pearce