Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Last Light - A CRYPTS Short Story

Frank Hodges was not a young man when he received his summons. Already in his early thirties and if his family history was anything to go by; only a matter of months away from contracting consumption.

Growing up Frank had heard his father scoff at the idea; the Hodges curse, but just as had happened to his father before him, and his father before him, Frank's father had passed away on his thirty fifth birthday. Perhaps this was the reason for Frank's recent behaviour. It didn't matter what he did, he knew he would end up dead in a few years.

With an attitude unbecoming of a man his age, Frank led a fast and reckless last few years. When he wanted money he would take it, the same with women. When he had money he threw it away at the gambling houses and lavishing his latest young lady with sparkles and baubles.

Deep down however Frank always knew that he was far from happy. He longed for something quieter, something slower and something much longer.

Frank didn't know which part of him was the part that rode to Capital City to meet his mysterious benefactor. Maybe it was the part of him that liked the gamble and danger, not knowing if this man who gave him the pile of gold with instructions to meet at a certain time and place would kill him before the night was out. Maybe it was the part that longed for a family and to break the Hodges curse with the promise of a new life in the gold mines down south.

Regardless Frank rode his horse hard, it was only a matter of hours before their proposed meeting time at the Grande Hotel.

When Frank arrived with mere minutes to spare he recognised the man he was supposed to meet instantly.

The man was tall, that was obvious even with him sitting at one of the hotel's fanciest tables. He had also seen combat and did not shy from getting his hands dirty; both literally and figuratively.

Frank noticed that as the man sat at his table he was rolling something between his fingers. Frank paused for a moment studying the object and it's movement. He expected a coin or perhaps a sliver of gold, but instead this thing was red, blood red. Frank approached the man.

"Frank Hodges" Frank stated tipping his hat at the man.

"My pleasure" the man replied "take a seat" and he gestured to the only other chair at the table. His voice was gruff and he sounded both older and more tired than he had the other day when he made his proposition to Frank.

"So what's this about'a job friend?" Asked Frank slightly abrupt. He was used to being looked down on by others, but not by one scruffier than himself.

The man looked up at Frank, the man's brimmed hat casting a dark shadow across his face that lit up brightly as he puffed on a chunky cigar that glowed with each puff.

"It's quite simple kid" the man replied, Frank taking note of the tone of the word 'kid'. This man clearly saw himself as Frank's elder and more experienced. "I own a town down south" the man smiled to himself revealing surprisingly clean teeth "this town has trade interests all over the dus' bowl, north, south" he paused and laughed slightly "deep... south".

The man paused and looked Frank in they eyes before removing his hat revealing long black hair with a shock of white, it clinged to his face as if trying to conceal it from the additional light.

"I need someone to tend bar dow' there" the man continued before sliding a large purse across the table. "Think you're up to it? The bar itself and that there purse are yours if so."

Frank reached for the purse and opened it slightly. Inside was more gold like the chunk he had been given before, only this time there was more, a lot more.

Frank gulped and looked at the man straight in his dark brown eyes "sure thing Mr..?" Frank replied.

"Folks just call me The Sheriff" the man replied flicking a metal star from under his jacket. The star lingered just long enough for Frank to notice that it was indeed a lawman's badge before the man palmed it just inches from Frank's face, replacing the badge with what appeared to be the same red sliver he was playing with previously.

With that The Sheriff stood and walked away from the table, pausing momentarily long enough to slip a piece of folded paper out from inside his jacket and leave it on the table. He firmly placed his hat on his head once more and skimmed the brim with his fingers.
"Nice meeting you properly Mr Hodges" The Sheriff ended before confidently striding out of the hotel.

Frank picked up the paper and unfolded it. The paper was dirty with scrawled ink across it's face. It took Frank a while to read, but as he expected it was instructions on how to get to this town he was supposed to arrive.

Frank studied the paper for a whole, committing every line to memory before leaving the hotel and making his way to the instructed coach house. He mused on the name of the town in the note; "New Fairbank" he thought to himself "good enough name as anywhere for a new life".

As Frank walked with a slight smile on his face as the possibilities to come he felt a sudden thud against his back, turning he saw a man about ten years his junior holding a small child. The man apologised for stumbling into him and gestured that he would be on his way. This man was thin and very dirty, he was clearly living rough on the streets of Capital City. The baby in his arms was the spitting image of the man except for he was clean and substantially more nourished. The man had spoken in a French accent and Frank wondered if like so many he had come to this land seeking a new life only to end up down on his luck.

Frank gestured for the man to join him in a nearby sidewalk away from the bustle of the main streets. The man looked worried and gripped the child in his arms tightly. This made Frank smile, he could see the man's priorities were in the right place and so he gave him the warmest smile he could and gestured for the sidewalk again.

The man revealed that his name was Anton and that he had indeed arrived looking for a new life. There was something about this story that tugged on Frank, he couldn't put it into words, but he knew he needed to bring this man; Anton, with him.

Frank explained the situation, telling him about the bar he recently came into ownership of a bar in this town called New Fairbank and that he could use the help setting it up and running the bar. Frank paused before continuing to tell him that there would be full room and board for him and his little one if he agreed. Frank smiled as Anton agreed and together they met with a coach destined for their new home.

After what felt impossibly like months of travel Frank and Anton finally arrived at New Fairbank. Their coach had failed days before and the two had taken the horses themselves riding with what little they could carry and the new town looked before them covered in a fine dust.

Frank looked puzzled as they rode through the town. He expected townspeople and shops, but all he saw was boarded up homes and dirt encrusted signs revealing general stores.

At the centre of the town Frank noticed one building that looked clean and well looked after. It was the town sheriff's office and Frank smiled to see The Sheriff sitting in a rocking chair on the porch of the office, his wide brimmed hat pulled low over his eyes.

As Frank approached the Sheriff stopped rocking and without looking at Frank directly he pointed to the first building they had passed as they entered the town. It stood on the corner of the main street with large saloon doors, a dusty and unwashed sign swung above the front door that read 'Last Light' complete with what looked like an old painting of a candle on a black background.

Frank smiled to himself, this would do nicely, as he and Anton walked inside. The building was well maintained all things considered, the floors were covered in a thin layer of sand and the bar itself was covered in a dark lacquer underneath layers of dust. It was clear no one had used this place in a few years.

As Frank and Anton walked around the building inspecting it's many rooms and large storage they heard a sudden cough from the front door. Turning to face the sound they were greeted by the Sheriff who patted down a chair before taking the weight off his feet with an audible sigh.

The Sheriff had already arranged for many crates of bourbon to be shipped to the venue and as promised they had arrived prior to Frank and Anton. Over the course of that night the Sheriff assessed not only the men's integrity and mettle.

Just before turning in for the night the Sheriff turned to his new recruits and smiled a brilliant white smile.

"I hope you realise though" the Sheriff remarked with a smirk on his face "all of this is relying on one thing..." The Sheriff smiled knowingly before bowing out of the Last Light.

- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley

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