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The Highwayman

BOOM!

 

BOOM! CRACK!

 

The mailbox shattered into splinters as I sprinted through the gate. I covered my face with the sleeve of my coat to protect myself from the hail of wooden shrapnel. A piece nicked my ear, but I had no time to take stock of the damage. My feet pounded up the wooden steps as another thunderous boom ripped through the night. One of the porch’s wooden beams exploded in a shower of sawdust.

 

I stretched out my hand and focused my Power. The front door of the farmhouse clicked and opened before I practically tore the screen door off its hinges. Blood pounded through my ears as I continued my mad dash into the house. He was coming for me. They warned me he would come if I was not careful.

 

Why didn’t I listen?

 

I took the stairs two at a time. My chest heaved with labored breaths. Blood trickled down my neck. A sharp crack rang from downstairs as the screen door was blown off. Two heavy thuds followed it; thick boots met the hardwood floor.

 

He was inside.

 

Down the hallway. Second door on the right. I burst into the room and willed the door shut behind me. The door resonated with a series of clicks and knocks as various locking mechanisms engaged. I whipped my head around the room. Research. I needed to save my research! I snatched an empty duffel bag from the foot of my bed and swept the contents of my desk into it without ceremony. I did the same with the various journals and tomes that adorned my bookshelf.

 

Clothes? No time. I glanced at the numerous diagrams and posters that covered my room like wallpaper. Indecision wracked my mind. Which do I take?! I can’t leave anything behind, but he’ll be here any—

 

Thrack!

 

The door groaned from the impact. I was out of time. He was here. BOOM! I stretched my hand out to the window and flexed my Power. BOOM! The glass shattered outward. BOOM! I sprinted for the window just as the door collapsed to the ground.

 

Bang!

 

White-hot agony surged through my leg, and my face met the dusty floor. I screamed into the floorboards. My bag flew to the side, and papers scattered everywhere. The color drained from my face and out of the hole that used to be my knee. I needed to get up. I needed to face my opponent so I could distract him with a cantrip. I needed to—

 

The painful crunch of my fingers beneath his boot crushed any other thoughts of resistance. I cried out as he ground the bones of my casting hand into dust. After the agonizing seconds of him neutralizing my only weapon, he released his foot. I snatched away my hand and cradled it against my chest. My reprieve was short-lived, however, when a coarse hand snatched me up by the back of my collar.

 

“Get up.” His gravelly voice commanded as he dragged me to my knees.

 

A figure in a dark brown duster towered above me like a tyrannical mountain. I blinked away the tears and blood to focus on the maw of a wide-barreled revolver that glared down between my eyes. My gaze followed the barrel, up the man’s arm, and met his face. A wide-brimmed brown Stetson shrouded the top half of his features, revealing only the sinister glint of a pair of black shades. The lower half of his face was covered by a black bandana that was pulled up to his nose.

 

“P-please…” I begged. “Mercy…”

 

“Alexander Simeon.” He pronounced my name with finality. “You have been accused of the crimes of necromancy and blood magic. How do you plead?”

 

“Please…” I replied. “I just wanted to learn – to understand the world around us and the one beyond. Is that so wrong?”

 

“There are some lines Man is not meant to cross.” He replied evenly as he pulled back the revolver’s hammer. “You have disturbed something sacred, Mr. Simeon, and have stolen something that cannot be returned.”

 

“Who are you to cast judgment?!” I growled defiantly, trying to salvage my dignity. “Who are you to decide right from wrong; who lives and dies?!”

 

“I am merely the executioner, Mr. Simeon.” He calmly said. “Your judgment has already been cast by the one who sent me. You have admitted your guilt and confessed your crimes. The evidence against you is overwhelming, and with me and the souls you have tormented as witnesses against you – you are sentenced to death. Make peace with whatever gods you serve and pray they have mercy on your soul…”

 

“NO! PLEASE! I BE—“

 

Bang!

 

“… For I will not.”

 

 

Leon
holstered his revolver and scooped up his discarded shotgun. He
removed his shades, revealing a pair of steel-blue eyes, and
inspected the weapon for damage. Its black finish was scuffed with
dust from the floor, but it was easily cleaned with a brush of his
fingers. Satisfied, Leon leaned it against the shattered
doorframe.

 

He stepped over the crumpled form of the necromancer and paced the room. Diagrams, sigils, and runes in ancient languages adorned the wall. Leon kicked aside the papers that lay scattered across the floor. The man scooped up a handful and skimmed through them. Blood rituals, binding enchantments – Leon noted several pages on anatomy and post-mortem decay. There were several annotations near the end as the author inevitably discovered how to magically preserve the body by anchoring its life energies.

 

Leon balled up the blasphemous scrawling and tossed them to the floor with a huff. He reached into his duster and retrieved a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. The lighter was old – a dark steel – with a somber skull molded on the front. He flicked the device open, lit the cigarette, and took a long drag. His gaze shifted between the dead necromancer and the scattered research. Leon pondered.

 

There are some lines Man is not meant to cross, Leon repeated the mantra. The boundary between Life and Death, and all its secrets, was one such line. One risked many dangers when they dabbled in the Great Beyond, like the shattering of their own soul. The power to conquer and own that boundary was intoxicating – and corrupting. It started out in many ways. Some were driven by love and loss. Others were simply curious or desperate. Yet there are those still who are drawn to power for power’s sake. All of them were dangerous, and all of them ended the same way.

 

An image flashed through Leon’s mind – a bloody skull drenched in shadow and malice. It was laughing. He pushed it away.

 

Their motivations did not concern Leon. They were irrelevant – just as the dangers and the perceived advantages of the dark arts. It was simply not their place to dabble in such forces. Were toddlers welcome in a nuclear reactor control room?

 

Leon took another drag and sighed. They were mere ants pining for the feast of gods. It was their own fault if they got squashed.

 

He reached again into his duster and pulled out a large plastic bag filled with white powder. Leon tore off the seal and spread the contents across the necromancer’s body. It was probably unnecessary, and Leon doubted the sorcerer was able to get that far in his studies. From his notes, it appeared he was just beginning to dabble in binding the spirit to the body. Resurrecting an undead thrall was one thing, but self-preservation was another skill entirely.

 

It doesn’t matter, Leon resolved as he tossed the cigarette onto the desk. A piece of paper started smoking. He never let them get that far. They all wound up in the same place, with all debts repaid, one way or another.

 

Leon picked up his shotgun and lumbered down the stairs as the papers caught flame.

 

He never let them get that far.

 

Never again.

 

 

The sun rose over the sleepy town of Coal Springs. Fiery orange light, like molten copper, trickled down a crown of purple mountains. Herds of people – men clad in blue overalls and yellow hardhats – drifted through the darkened roads. They flowed toward a yawning abyss on the edge of town where several lifts awaited their living cargo. Metal canisters, half-emptied of ebony narcotic, sat warmly in their gloved hands. Slurred greetings murmured through white breathing masks.

One group of pedestrians lumbered past a simple diner. It was dressed in faded red paint and adorned in subdued posters from a forgotten age of poodle skirts and Rock ‘n’ Roll. The parking lot was nearly deserted, only entertaining a pair of pickup trucks and a rusty motorcycle.

A pair of steel-blue eyes, sharp as broken glass, watched the procession from a faded red booth by the window. Leon sipped at a steaming mug. He closed his eyes, focused on the scalding sensation of the blackened brew sliding down his throat, and sighed. The man ran his rugged fingers through his mop of coal black hair and looked down at a dirt-brown stetson that sat on his left. It was a worn and ratty thing covered in patches, scratches, stains, and burns, but it bore the surgical scars of being rebuilt, resown, and maintained a dozen times.

“I got a double Cluck and Grunt for ya, dear.” a plump woman in a stained apron approached the booth. Her hair was tied in a bun and wrapped in elastic netting while a pair of gold hoop earrings dangled above her cheeks. She set a still-sizzling plate in front of Leon. Several strips of bacon, blackened on the edges and glistening with grease, snuggled up against a hefty pile of scrambled eggs. “Need anything else?”

“Not right now,” Leon replied with his gravelly voice, but not unkindly. “Might need a refill to-go in a bit. Thank ya.”

The waitress nodded and strutted back to the counter. Leon ignored her and rolled up his sleeves. He snatched up his knife and fork and started sawing at his bacon. Grease from the bacon seeped into the eggs, but he didn’t mind. It all wound up in the same place in the end.

A siren shrieked across town like a banshee. Red and blue lights bathed the street. The siren built into a crescendo as a large red and yellow truck sped by, and the sound faded away.

It all wound up in the same place in the end.

Leon was half-finished with his plate when a soft ding interrupted him. A coldness ran up his neck and he placed his utensils on the table. He sighed and listened for the steady tapping of dress shoes hitting the tiles.

A short figure emerged from his peripherals. He was a child – short, scrawny, almost sickly – but carried himself with the temperance of a man four times his age. The boy was wrapped in a tailored black sports jacket and dark grey slacks. His slick ebony hair, like the night sky, looked like someone had dipped a brush in tar and painted the boy’s head.

The boy slipped into the seat across from him and folded his hands across the table. Leon refused to meet the frigid blue eyes that bore into his soul. He dared not move, and he could only stare at the bone-white watch that clung to the boy’s thin wrist.

An eternity passed until the boy broke the silence.

“Good morning, Mister Frandrich.” he said in a youthful voice that was eerily familiar to Leon. It made his stomach churn.

Leon nodded and whispered. “Good morning… Care for some eggs?”

The boy smiled, but all Leon saw was the condescending sneer that adults used when children said something stupid.

“No, but thank you for your hospitality.” the boy replied as he reached into his coat with his watchless wrist. “I was just passing through town on an errand, and I thought I would give you your next assignment.”

“Already?” Leon allowed himself a frown.

If the boy noticed, he made no comment. He pulled out a manila folder from an inner pocket and slid it across the table. Leon pulled it forward and flipped it open.

Laying on top of a stack of papers was a picture of a man with long brown hair that fell to his biceps. He was skinny, but in an athletic way, and had an aristocratic air about him. His face was gaunt – yet deceptively handsome – and his eyes held an odd mix of predatory guile, seductive intrigue, and a hypnotic allure that distracted you from the deadness that lurked behind the facade.

“‘Feron Fatemist’?” Leon scoffed. “Edgy.”

“A Name of his own choosing.” the boy scowled. “That is why he has evaded me for so long. Now that the records have been updated, however, we may proceed. My sources report that he has been prowling the nightclubs in Italy and preying upon young women – tourists and locals alike.”

“Not much here…” Leon thumbed through the file. “I don’t like going in blind.”

“He has been cunning in erasing his tracks, but I have full confidence in your abilities. Travel accommodations are inside the envelope along with coordinates for a safehouse. I would recommend going incognito and finding out what you can about your quarry before going in for the kill.”

“This ain’t my first rodeo.” he replied as he closed the folder. “I’ll need to find out who he was before. Track the bodies. Italy’s an old country. They’ll have old records… or blank spots that can be traced.”

“It sounds as if you have a plan.”

“I always have a plan.”

“Then I shall leave you to your breakfast.” the boy nodded as he exited the booth. “Good day, Mister Frandrich.”

Leon watched the boy leave from his peripherals. He saw the waitress’s eyes pass over the child, unperturbed, as she went about her business. The boy left the diner exactly as he entered – like a phantom.

Frandrich shoveled the food into his mouth and swallowed without ceremony. It was cold and bland like dirt, but he figured it would have been rude to leave it half-finished. He downed the rest of his lukewarm coffee, shoved his hand into his pocket, and pulled out a crumpled twenty dollar bill. Leon slammed it onto the table and flew from the booth with his hat and the folder in tow.

He placed the worn covering on his head, tipped the brim to the waitress, and waltzed out the door. The bell tinged cheerfully as his thick boots hit the pavement with finality.

Leon strode over to the motorcycle. It was a dark grey, nearly black, with splatters of rust licking at the edges. A skull mounted over the headlight silently screamed as a large glass bulb glinted in its mouth. The man pushed aside the flap of his duster and hiked a leg over the seat. He ignited the engine, clenched the leather wrapped handles, and rumbled out of the parking lot.


The Highwayman

  • Author: C. C. Locke
  • Published: 2017-07-22 05:35:08
  • Words: 2525
The Highwayman The Highwayman