His Dark Tomb: I

Maxwell checked his pistol for a sixth time and felt its comforting cold weight in his hand as his eyes scanned the desolate treeline around him. The sun was spilling its guts like a stuck pig, painting everything the color of red gore. Mary Ann was running late and he could feel his innards twisting themselves into all kinds of knots. He was an imaginative man and he wondered at all the spectacularly bad ways the evening could end.

In another life he had been a wonderful writer, but not now.

Now he was all washed up and freezing cold. He was reduced to waiting in the middle of nowhere for a woman he barely knew beyond her first name and a solitary promise. Nidhoggr.

He paced nervously and jammed the pistol into his jacket pocket. Producing a stubby, half consumed cigar he lit it and puffed quietly, the bitter smoke barely offering any warmth in the middle of such desolation. But it offered him a narrow bridge to reality, something he left behind months prior when he left the tropics.

Maxwell by nature was a skeptical man born of educated parents. But the prospect that Mary Ann had offered him was one he couldn't refuse. He had spent the better parts of his career tracking down the mythos surrounding the enigmatic serpent which he thought dwelt solely in the mind of the Norse and their conquered peoples. He had gained tantalizing and horrific details about the creature, a taste that it might not be as fictional as he had once believed.

Unable to enjoy it, he cast the cigar into a snowbank and reproduced his pistol. The strange woman was just coming into view from beneath the dying sun. She moved surprisingly fast in her snowshoes. He started off and met her halfway beneath a dead spruce.

"You're late," he started. His voice cracked from disuse. "If I had known you weren't serious I wouldn't have left town."

Mary Ann smiled widely, her thin face creasing into far too many lines for his liking. She was an ugly woman, his father would have said she was from older, out of date stock. But his benign type of racism died with the emperor a decade prior.

"Late? Oh, Maxie. You don't even know the half of it. It's pretty hard to make sure you're not being followed if you leave a track every time you break wind for heaven's sake."

He stared at her with a deadpan expression, deciphering her odd accent. The reflection from the sunset made it impossible for her to see his eyes. But she knew there wasn't much behind his thick glasses.

She eyed his pistol, an antique creation from another era. But it was still imposing. Obsolete or not, it could still ruin her day.

"Is this a stickup?"

Maxwell grimaced and put it away.

"Bears," he muttered. "I hate bears."

They both knew he wasn't a very good liar. He had brought it expressly for her, if she disappointed him or otherwise tried to take advantage of his delicate situation. He didn't like being a bully. He wasn't a macho man by any means. But the north produced another breed of man and Maxwell would rather be damned than lose out to a bunch of inbred, illiterate hillbillies. Not now. Not at this crucial point in his life.

Mary Ann produced the package from beneath her filthy parka. It was wrapped in butcher's paper and twine. Maxwell took it and felt its impressive weight in his hands. He had waited so long, it felt like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders.

He secured it beneath an arm and produced his side of the bargain, hard gold coin. The finest currency in all of creation. She took the purse and removed a coin. Biting it with yellowed teeth she grinned.

"Tasty," she said at last.

"I'm going to need more next week. I'm planning on leaving soon. I don't want to be left with half the story before I leave town. Don't repeat the kind of mistakes that cost me my guide last time, or you'll have lost yourself a customer."

He pulled up the hood on his parka and jammed his hand into a pocket, petting the firm weight of his pistol. The wind was just beginning to whip up.

She just offered a sarcastic salute and left in the direction from which she came. Maxwell stayed for quite sometime, watching her leave. When he felt he was once again alone he too left. He had much to study and very little time to do it.


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