His Dark Tomb: III

The walk out of town into the woods was a long and quiet one. Maxwell had a lot of time to reflect on his fate. His pistol, the only security blanket he had in those far northern reaches sat completely useless in his parka pocket, not even drawn. He had simply complied with their demands and submitted. Truth be told he had never even fired it before.

He cursed himself for his cowardice as the man with an undertaker's face jabbed him in the back with a walking stick. His name was Finnis Growling, a frequent pub patron and fairly irate imperial denialist. It seemed everyone was in those days. But Finnis had a bigger bone to pick.

A big part of town saw their encounter, brief and anti climatic. There was a short scuffle and a yelp as one of the man's lackeys twisted one of his arms in the wrong direction. Everyone knew what was happening.

No one cared.

"Why are you doing this?" Maxwell rallied his courage and years as a debate champion.

"It's not personal, boy. But folks like you have to learn to mind your own business and stay out of our town."

Finnis rumbled, breathing heavy from the hike. The sun was high above, but it offered little warmth.

"Folks like me," he began innocently enough. "We don't even stay in town. I'm just here passing through. If you'd let me go I'll pack up my things and be on my way."

Finnis stopped and ran his fingers through his thinning hair. His two lackeys took the hint and seized Maxwell again.

"So you could do what? Take your little books and your maps and go looking for God knows what? Boy, I know you mean well. But your work ain't appreciated in these parts. We like things just the way they are. He stays in his world. We stay in ours. My daddy and his daddy worked hard to make it that way and I'll be damned if I'm going to let you change that. You army boys are always meddling with things beyond you."

God? Army boys? Maxwell found their monotheism and irrationality fascinating, even as Finnis produced a switch blade. It opened with a flick and the metal caught the sun in all the wrong ways.

"Hey. Listen. I'm sorry." He said, not fully understanding what was being said. "I didn't know. I was wrong."

A whisper of panic was surging through his voice.

"Hold 'em."

The hands on him felt like meat clad iron. Maxwell struggled violently. He knew what was coming and it felt wrong. It couldn't end like this. He wasn't supposed to wind up a frozen corpse in the hinterlands. He was supposed to be a hero.

He managed to free an arm. He jammed it in his pocket and clutched the one thing that could save him. He squeezed blindly.

A shot rang out. Finnis staggered back, dropping the switchblade. A pool of red began to spread around a smoking hole in the man's parka. They say the gut was the worst place for a man to be shot. He thought about it as that fact dawned on the undertaker faced man.

He struggled with his captors and fired off another shot wildly. It wasn't too difficult to break from their stunned grasp. Maxwell fired off another shot. Both missed.

Finnis clutched at the wet hole that had been drilled into him and let out a sob.

"Get him!" He yelled weakly, thick ooze seeping through his fingers. His lackeys were probably farm boys or manual laborers, but they gave chase when Maxwell booked it.

He didn't know where he was going. But that didn't matter. The pistol only had five more bullets in it and he wasn't about to waste anymore. His snowshoes had been abandoned at the pub, but the drifts were blissfully shallow and the trees thick enough to provide support.

He was a slight man, wiry and light. It didn't take him too long to out pace the lumbering hillbillies which pursued him. But he continued to run. He ran until his legs gave out beneath him and he sucked down the bitter cold winter air like a marathon runner until he choked and coughed.

After collapsing in what would have been a lovely summer meadow his body refused to get up and continue. As he laid there slick with sweat and his heart pounding he couldn't help but laugh. The idiots had forgotten to search him for weapons. Was he that unassuming and meek? Or where they really that dim? He couldn't help himself in being giddy. Now Finnis would pay the price. He felt a glimmer of guilt, but it was survival of the fittest.

After his bout of laughter subsided with his wit and strength returning he stumbled upright and continued on. It was hard not to dwell on the loss of his journals and the texts he had paid good money for. But it was certainly not wise to return to his former campsite, especially after shooting a local.

Justified xenophobia would probably be his undoing.

He strained to remember his maps, safely nestled in his pack at the pub. Along with his supplies and food. Using the sun as a compass as his father taught him, he tried his best to figure out a route to the road that cut through town.

It was impossible to live in the hinterlands without some basic tools. He'd be dead before the end of the night if he didn't have shelter or a fire. Through his own best judgement, Maxwell knew he had to return to town. Whether he stole, borrowed or traded for what he needed didn't matter. He needed to leave immediately. But he couldn't without a thin rope connecting him to civilization. Even one as dirty and primitive as the town of Early Wind.


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