26 August 2011

#FridayFlash - Hunting to Come

Another bit for your Friday Reading.


Whisky. One of the few things that he enjoyed in this forsaken place. The last of his whisky burned its way down into his stomach. Everyday Edison Simpson thanked his ill fortune for all the amber liquid he found in abundance in these parts. Sometimes the peaty-flavored liquid gold was the only thing that kept him sane.

He glanced at the men sitting next to him at the long table, worn soft by long years of use. Many of them were locals probably escaping from a nagging wife at home, but a few of them were travelers like himself, looking for a decent meal and decent drink at this village inn. He knew one of them had to have helpful information, know of someone, or have heard a story that didn’t ring true. He refused to accept the alternative.

As he placed his cup on the wooden table, he decided they’d drunk enough of his offerings. Time to get what he wanted. With a casualness he didn’t feel, he asked, “Where is the closest stone circle?”

The men kept their eyes on their plates and chewed their bland stew and bannocks, not even acknowledging they’d heard him. Not that he could blame them, folks avoided talking about the damned things. A superstitious lot with good reason, as he well knew.

Minutes passed as spoons continued to scrape bowls and inane chatter drifted over from the other tables. The inn-keeper’s wife patrolled the room, stopping to talk to customers. He found it curious that she avoided his table, she probably knew something. How could he arrange to question her?

He brought his attention back to his primary quarry. The men’s continued silence assaulted his hearing, as it did every time he asked these questions. He considered himself a patient man, but his growing desperation was chipping away much of his forbearance.

Taking a deep breath, he realized he’d have to open the lines of communication a bit more, loosen their tongues. Glancing around, he caught the inn keeper’s attention and lifted the empty whisky jug. The man’s curt nod signaled that a new bottle would be coming soon, the frown on the man’s face expressed the man’s displeasure.

Setting the jug down with more force that was necessary, Edison sat up straighter on his bench. He could care less what the judgmental man thought of all the drinking. Getting men drunk and letting them talk was a sight easier than beating an answer out of them. He’d learned that lesson in the army.

What he wouldn’t give to be with his men right now searching for enemies among the grand plantations of those tobacco and cotton farms, even in the cold and damp winters. That’s where he belonged, not here in this run-down inn, plying men with liquor for the answer to his most important question, the question that he could never ask another living soul.

He sighed. What had his men made of his disappearance? Given his service record, they probably thought him dead. His jaw tightened as he reasoned he might as well be given his current circumstances. With a shake of his head, he gave up feeling sorry for himself, there was no time for that.

No matter. He intended to return to his men, to the war, to get away from this treeless, machineless, backwards, God-forsaken—

The innkeeper set the jug in front of him interrupting his internal tirade. He nodded his thanks and poured himself a drink. Without putting the jug down, he tossed back the contents of his cup then refilled it before giving a portion to each of the men around him.

The man next to him, nodded his thanks before he sampled more of the amber liquid. After an appreciative sigh, the man said, “Leave them be, man, strange happenings occur at those cursed stones. Dinna look for trouble.”

Edison chuckled. “I’m not looking for trouble.” It was entirely too late for that. As a matter of fact, he was looking to get out of trouble, out of here, away from those cursed things that had ruined his life. He took another swig of his drink.

The beady-eyed man with the red nose squinted at Edison from down the length of table, suspicion written clearly on his face. “Only fae and witches are play around those wicked places. Which would ye be?”

Edison refused the impulse to challenge the man for his insolent accusation, instead he sent him a sharp glare. “Fairies and witches? What would you know about that?” Unable to stand the heat of Edison’s gaze, the beady-eyed man looked down to focus his attention on his meal before him. Edison muttered to himself, “I thought not.”

Fairy tales and witches. He might as well be listening to slaves talk about their voodoo dolls. All of it nonsense. Except, for the strangeness of the stones, which he knew to be true. Knew all too well.

He took another swallow of his whisky, welcoming the burn, forcing the memories of that day away. With all the whisky tonight, he would have no nightmares. Another reason to love whisky.

The innkeeper took the empty plate from Edison and peered at him, suspicion clear on his face. “Are ye one of those who chase after witches?” The warning note in the old man’s voice wasn’t for Edison’s benefit, but for those sitting at the table. Damn the man for warning the others, and for no good reason.

Edison leveled his gaze at the innkeeper, silently cursing the man. Edison wouldn’t lose what little in roads he’d gained, he needed answers. He’d have to use the tool handed him by the meddlesome old man. “It should be every man’s occupation to rid this world of evil. Don’t you agree?”

Someone at the table behind him whispered the words that would, depending on the men’s sense of security, either make Edison’s gamble on this village and all the coin he’d spent on food and drink tonight a waste or boon.

Witch hunter. Someone that sought out suspected evil doers, only to make them disappear, never to be heard from again.

The irony that he should be considered at witch hunger struck him hilarious, but he refrained from laughing, allowing a corner of his mouth curl up. If his suddenly larger and very attentive audience should take his reaction as proof that he was a witch hunter, so be it. Particularly if it gained him the information he needed. Edison took another swig from his cup, all the while keeping his eyes on his audience.

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