Something wasn’t sittin’ right with me after I left the town. The folk there were a happy bunch, which ain’t such a bad thing, ‘cept when they’re gracious and welcoming of sorts towards one such as me then I start gettin that itch I usually get when I’ve been doing something I shouldn’a.
S’far’s I was told, weren’t nothing much going on besides a few simple kidnappings. Not my usual job mind you, but the take was a right bit more handsome than the usual unpaid fares I’d been awarded of late. And this one was all up front.
Yeah, these townspeople were mighty nice and generous, but they was startin’ta make me wonder if the gold was going to be worth whatever was actually going on round here, or if I’d ever get a chance to partake of it’s worth.
I’d ridden outta the town of Tucka some forty miles East with them folk ungraciously sending me on mah way with their oaken collections of garden tools and such. It was all due to some unfortunate misunderstanding between their mayor, my pistol, and the Slooth demon I was supposed to peg for em. Sufficin to say, the town’s in order for a new mayor, and another Slooth demon killer.
So I was ridin out on the first mule I’d seen, depressin thing that looked to be two sheets to the wind already, and I come across a poster in a nearby town that caught my attentions.
Kiddnappins!!! It were titled.
$3,500!!! Big ones sittin mighty big and bulky not far below.
Figured I’d caught the gist of what was necessary, so I high-tailed it down through the sandy dunes and dusty mires that fell in between me and my newest possible job. Weren’t the most thrillin ride, so I’ll spare you my tale of saddle sores and chap chaffing and just get back to it. Oh, one thing did occur just before I arrived, my mule finally gave up, fell in the sands and old dirt and breathed it’s last wretched breath. Damnedest thing really.
I strode in to the town, Mirrok, accordin to the dandy welcoming sign with pretty flowers painted on it, and just as soon as I passed a foot inward, the people came a flockin. Now this put my hair on end, I’d been surrounded before by crowds and such, but usually I still had a number of bullets to waste. It’d been a while since I’d restocked, so I was wondering how I was gonna be gettin myself outta this one when some kid approached me from the crowd, and sullenly asked if I was there to save em, to which I couldn’t help but sputter a simple but sturdy, “Yep.”
Them folks went nutty, started cheerin and such, going on about how happy they was I had come, and what a heroic man I must be to have braved the traveling without a horse or at least a mule. Even the contents of the bar poured out ta greet me. Bar man came out whiskey in hand, said it were his best and shoved a hefty shot in my hand just as some of the town’s more lucrative ladies came and looped my arms on either side and escorted me all the way up to the town hall, the rest of the townspeople trailing just behind.
The mayor was already a waitin, holding his neat vest, but lookin more as if the thing itself were holdin up a set of twins in his gut. He smiled broad, and offered me a neat handshake, welcoming me to the town, and then askin my name.
“Abacus,” I started, still a little weirded out by the goings-on around, “Abacus Jones.”
“Abacus Jones everyone!” he said puttin his fist in the air sort of triumphantly.
They all went nutty again, but this time all in unison. I couldn’t help but smile at such an event, this weren’t exactly something that happened all too often.
The fat mayor signaled em all off, to scoot fer now, and then he invited me in, and sat me down across from his big ole wood desk and started chatterin bout the whole thing, but honestly I didn’t hear a’thing til that bag’a gold clumped on the table in front of me.
“Mista Jones, ah reckoned you’d come soon enough. Reputation such as yours does get to the ends now and again, and I must say you’re every spec we thought a ya. Seems you’ll be a might betta’ dodga than the last chap tried to solve all a this mess.”
“You heard of me then?” I ask seriously amazed.
“Of course, Mista Jones, of course now. Like I said, one such as yourself puts reputations wherever they get to.”
“Can’t say I disregard that, but ah can’t see as to that being so good for me most times.”
“No bother, Mista Jones, all past. Believe me, it’s you that we needed. Only you can help us in our dire moment of need.”
“Well, how many?” I ask to which he had a curious look on his mustachioed face. “Before me…how many bountiers come a’fore ah arrived?”
“Oh, oh it’s not important Mista Jones. I dare say they was all just rascals, amateurs, ragged upstarts. No caliber, I say, none indeed. But you, Mista Jones, you’ll do just fine, I dare say you’ll be perfect. Jes perfect!”
Now I ain’t never liked bein referred to as some idological symbol or nothin, but it didn’t necessarily hurt mah pride or nothin neither. What can I say, I’ve a sweet tooth for such comings.
“Now don’tchu worry ya self none, Mista Jones. This town is mighty pleased with your comin now, and you’ll want for nothing. Why I hear that as far as Hilder we’s the best saloon around. Mind you, of course we’re a might bit biased.” He chuckled from that thick tummy of his, the twins threatening to kick emselves out. “But no sir, you will not want for nothing. We’ll attend to your every need, so long as you resolve our problem we got here. But it’s simple ah say, for one such as you that is.”
“Well, ah’m here, so why don’t cha get to explainin this problem you got. You got some Werewolves raiden the town like a fox would a chicken coop? Or maybe you got one of those Slooth demons? Must say I’m hopin for the latter, I got a score with one a’those still.”
“No, no, nothing of the sort. Much more simple than that I dare say, just people have gone missing’s all. Not a one returned to us yet, and this has been happening for near on a month now.”
“Well, guessin it’s about time ah started ta listen now. So git along with it ah guess.”
He gets to the details finally; thirty-five people, strike that, thrity-five virginal youngsters had gone missin from the town proper. No blood. No sign of struggle. Only the young’ns folks noticing them bein gone the next mornin. Parents were frettin on who’s kid would be gone next, and it seemed the town’s teenage young’ns had been having a sudden increase in maritals and pregnancies trying to avoid this here problem altogether. But it was seeming that the worst had ended. Last one that gone missin was nearly a week ago now, and it may already be over. But they all wanted an explanation now, over or not, and the sack in front of me made me feel all the more able at bein the one ta figger it out for em.
But it seemed they did have one bit of possible evidence. Seemed one feller was about to get into his maritals, but just before gettin it done proper, his lady was up and taken from him. Seemed he’d run out after her in nothing but boots and his father’s rifle streakin through the town’s street and out through the welcome sign towards the hills just over yonder. Now these folks had a name for them hills, seemed they called em the Spook Spires or some-odd bull. My innards chuckled some bout it, haunted hills and such.
Now this boy never returns, and just at the foot of them Spook Spires, his rifle sat, but again, no sign of struggle, not even his footprints. Just the rifle.
Mayor tells me he’d had a number of fellers come in response to the posters, paid em just the same as he did to me, and sent them off to figure it all out and ain’t a one of em ever returned neither.
I question the man givin out a sack full’a gold to each of em, thinking that they just done run off afterward, but he assures me that ain’t one’a them fellers done so. I jes chop it upta simple naivety on his part, but then he tells me the sack in front of me’s the same exact one he done given to each of them. Seems it ended up about where that rifle ended up at the steps of the hills, and found it’s way back to the Mayor’s fat digits.
Now, ah weren’t into buyin spook myths and such, but I’d seen some odd things along ma travels. Problem wasn’t so much in the spooks ‘emselves, but the idea that them hills were haunted. I understood ghosts to a point, dyin in a house without wantin to go yet, and stickin around that spot to taunt others for still bein alive; but a whole lot of hills, not so much. Hell, I’ve even heard of a ghost or two hauntin an individual once or twice on accounta that feller bein their sole reason for stickin around. I’d seen things, but never haunted lands.
He finished up, gestured the gold to my hands, and told me to go have a night on the town, and that I wouldn’t have to use any of my new profit for none of it. I shook his fat hand, and said good day to the man’s tightly grinning face.
I stop off at the town inn and drop my belongings off first. Next I know I was snatched up as soon as I’d exited the inn and taken to the saloon. The place sat crowded from the moment I got in ta the moment I sacked out upstairs with a number of the finest whores I’d seen since, well, in some time I reckon. I had drunk myself up right for a change, and not a penny of my new earnins were needed. The locals bought for me all night, listened to my stories, and didn’a even question the more ridiculous of em. Course I left out one or two of em, some things weren’t meant for such social gatherins. All in all, it was better a night than I’d had in much of the time I could justly remember. I assume that’s why it felt so gosh darn unsettling.
Next mornin came, and a great parade of sorts was awaitin my exit from the inn. Them two whores was there, the bar man, everyone from the bar the night before, and leadin em all was the fat mayor, twins bobbing up and down in his gut as he marched us all to the town entrance sign. The people clapped me upside the back, praised my name aloud, smiling each and every one of them, and for once not because I was leavin for good. Yeah, real unsettlin.
I made my way to the front of the crowd, the whores gave me a slobbering kiss each full on the mouth all to the excited cheer of the town as a whole. This got me to wondering when a town celebrated whoring so much, but then I was face to face with that grinning fat mayor once again, his hand outstretched lookin more like a shady salesman passing off a worthless piece of land than a thankful mayor type. But I jes chopped that feelin up from something out of my own pre-soulless days.
“Good luck Mista Jones. Let’s all cheer for our champion now. Here, Here!”
My eyes was stuck on them all for their chorus of my praisings. Three times in all, and I gave em a fairly confident tip of my worn old hat, much to the hootin and hollerin of my two hooker friends as well as another couple of the town’s females, and then set off towards them Spook Spires. Rucksack over my shoulder, canteen on one hip and my most trusted six-iron on the other. A belt full of extra bullets, the still-tinglin lips from the whore’s rabid kisses, and a hangover that probably could’ve killed the lot of em if’n such a thing could ever be made to do so. Yep, this was startin out jes like everything else I ever started: wrong.