If there’s one thing I know, that is to say better than all the other things I know, it’s the sound of an angry mob. The repeated crushing of Earth under their stomping feet. The tiny steps each of em make as they move along grouped together nearly arm in arm. The sudden shouts of We’re gonna send you to hell, Abacus Jones! Yeah, I know the sound of an angry mob. These people hadn’t gotten to that point yet, but I figured they might once they seen what done happened to their man and all.
The steps were coming closer. A whole mess of em. I tried to get myself up, but the guild had done it’s damage, I wouldn’t be movin along anytime real soon. The one that grazed my arm still stung smart, and it nearly killed to prop myself up, but I done it anyway. Reckoned I’d face my accusers when the time came. Didn’a want to make it easier on em when they decided to stomp my face in the ground.
And what was to stop em from doin so? They already tried ta off me. And now the maps were there for the takin. I broke out my last smoke, bent and covered in blood, probably my own, and lit it up tossing the match to the ground where it died out quick. I let the smoke fill my lungs. I looked over to the torn carcass of the codger, his limbs missing, gnawed off like a man would on a chicken leg or such. It’d be mighty gruesome if’n it weren’t what that feller done deserved. But I guessed I did feel sorry for him a bit, after all, I was just gonna shoot him, but this seemed like a just reward. But now I got to thinking, that codger, he had the maps on him, and if’n that Slooth didn’a rip em all up when it went at the man, they might jes still be on him, intact, and the one thing that may just keep them folk’s hands off’a me when they get here.
I only had a few more minutes a’fore one of em came to view our little display here. Myself, holed up slightly, bleedin fair. The codger, ripped up, torn to shreds, his blood splatterin the rocky hills on either side. The Slooth demon, completely devoid of all life now, colder than it should be if’n I try to tell these nice people that it was the thing that done killed their ritual maker. Yeah, bein the only one left alive kinda puts you in your place of bein the accused. And from what I’ve learned of bein accused, the only results are either a brigade of bulleters, your eyes blinded by a bandana, or the worn and frayed end of the ole hangin noose. Here’s hopin they don’t know much about a soulless.
I used my gut to lean forward and fall toward the ground, usin my other hand to keep my head above the weed. It was slow going, inchin along with one arm, draggin one, pushin with one leg, and draggin the other as well. My body was achin all over by the time I got there, reached into the soiled clothing of the codger, gashes ripped through it, and found the rolled parchment of the map, unharmed, and the small book we done written all the directions in. If them townspeople got a’hold a these, the need for me’d be gone right quick.
Now, mind you, I couldn’t just burn the lot of em. They was mighty valuable, and that mayor’d shit if they was all gone. I’d probably get myself a guild through each eye if that were the case. So I pulled myself up against the rock wall, propped myself up there, opened the book with my good hand, ripped out the last few pages with my teeth, and hearing the crunch of dirt and soil getting too close, ate em.
I wait. The footsteps falling closer, and nothing to pass the time cept swallowin more of the book. The first head that come around the corner was of course the mayor. He had a group of about forty or more folks tailin him, and ain’t a one of em was smiling their pearlies; except that mayor. Now he was grinning pretty. Ear to ear eyes squintin like they had nowhere else to go. I didn’a know if this was what he’d expected, minus the Slooth of course. But I didn’a have to think about it long.
“Mista Jones, ah do declare you are indeed our champion.”
The fat man came to a stop just at my toes, the rest of them behind with blunt instruments in hand.
“And how is that Mister Mayor?”
“Why you’ve done taken our little kidnapper down. Done him a mighty disservice it seems too. Yes, Mista Jones, you have earned that reward and more.”
“Save it, the codger told me everything.”
“Pardon, Mista Jones? I do believe we are misunderstood.”
“Out with it. Ah’ve had enough of the lies. One guy couldn’a done all of this alone. He weren’t exactly smart or nothin. Just the ritual man. Disposable. Sick, but not exactly able to get away with somethin like this. So come on now, out with it.”
The man laughed, jovially. “Mista Jones, you are smarter than rumors have led on to. Yes, this was all preordained. Destiny. All of this had to happen. But this man, he was a blemish to us all, he would have been cast away as soon as his use was completed. You have saved us the tarnish on ourselves. We thank you kindly.”
“Tarnish? You think the lot of ya’ll doin this one in would’a put the tarnish on ya? Ah got news for ya, ya’ll already done ya’selves in mighty nice without the codger.”
“Oh, ho. Fair’s fair Mista Jones. I do declare you are the rascally type now aren’t ya? All fun I say. Course, now you know truth, and I do feel the weight off of me, lying to you and such. But you rest assured now, we’ll take you back to town and treat you to everything we have and more. You have done us well, Mista Jones. Now, I see you have the map there, and that book, is them the directions? Well, you look mighty pained Mista Jones, so why don’t I jes hep you with those now.”
And there it was. The moment I decide to take this man’s shady grinning face at his word’s value, or finally use my instincts for a change, and wager the Mayor don’t have nothing nice in store for me aside from tryin ta kill me proper. Nope, I ain’t such a fool as they might’a heard neither.
“Your maps ain’t worth a cent of my first mule’s dead ass. Ah just done ate the last part of the readings. The only way you get to where you want ta go is in my tired head.”
That grin finally fell from his face. Wiped slowly with gravity or something else I couldn’t see. I’d found him out. I’ll have to remember usin my instincts now and again.
“Jones,” and now he dropped the mister, I am on fire today, “I do believe you are tryin ta bamboozle us. I swear it sir, we are here to help. No need to fib to fine folks such as us now. Mitty, you go check the old man’s carcass, I’ll check Jones here.”
He took the map and book from me, studied the map quickly, and lookin pleased about it handed it to one of the fellers behind him, a short one with a mustache. He then went through the book while the other feller, Mitty, searched the codger’s body. When the mayor got to the end, he flipped back once or twice, then forward again, and then slammed it shut. He then put his eyes on me.
The mayor was strong, stronger than I’d a given him credit for from the look of him. He picked me up easy, my leg and arm screamin at me to do the same, but I held it in. Checked my pockets, took my rucksack and searched it, takin the money back while he was at it.
Mitty was one a the fellers following along after his fat mayor, he was carryin a hay fork. I hated those. He picked through the codgers mutilated body, but only found the torn and scrapped remains of the man himself. I was home free, unless of course the mayor didn’a care about all a’this and jes tried again. But luck, she done set me straight, I’d get out of this one easy enough.
“Jones!” The mayor had thrown me down and bent over to grab the open hole in my leg, his fat pointer finger jammed inside, I couldn’a help my yell this time. “I am not in the mood for foolish games! We’ll patch you up, yes, we’ll do that good enough. But you, sir, are going to take us to the treasure. I haven’t planned this for so many years only to be ruined by some ragged nothing like yourself. No I have not. So you best get that straight, Jones! Or I might jest tear into your leg right here and have my boys here help me out with stripping every last bit of flesh from it’s bone. Be nothing left but skeleton down to your toes.”
He dipped in further, the pain was scorching my insides. I was sweating everywhere, cold, hot, I couldn’a tell proper. My vision was blurring, but I could still see that sick grin of his. He’d do it. I could tell these sorts of things.
“Alright! Dammit, I’ll do it!”
“That would be might kindly of you.” He said pulling his finger out and letting me coddle the wound.
“But ah got a stipulation you need to know about.”
“Jones, you don’t get any requests in this agreement.”
“Reckon you can tear my leg off. Ah can tell you’d enjoy it some too. But you’d be needin a new feller like myself, and you’d need more kids. What’s that? Another fifteen years or so? Yeah, ah’ll do this, but ah get first use of the Hand.”
“You soulless sack of shit! You have gall to ask anything out of this now!”
“Reckon you see it your way, and ah’ll see it mine. The way ah see it is you all was comin on up here to put either both of us or the last one standin out of his days. Now the only way you’ll get what you want is if ah get what ah want.”
“And what would garbage like you want, Jones?”
“Yeah, first; ah’ll be wantin that gold you paid me back. And second…”
“You are going too far Jones!”
“Second; ah’ll be usin that Hand first. It ain’t nothing to do with ya, and it’ll be all yours when ah’m done.”
The mayor said nothin. Just kneeled starin at me, his grin just a thin line across his face.
“Bring him back to town boys. Seems the plan has changed somewhat. Mista Jones here will be leadin us to the treasure himself. So treat him nice, for now.”
A few of his bigger fellas picked me up, not so nice as they could’a but I was happy to be getting back to town. Figgered I could get patched up, liquored up, and maybe spend some time with the two whores I had before settin off up into these hills.
I figgered wrong.