I found myself in the dark place again, standing and staring into nothingness.
“Here again? Already?” Came the voice from behind me, the voice of the boy that claimed to be my son.
“Last place I want to be, believe me. “ I responded as I turned to face him again.
“Surprisingly you aren’t dead, you know.”
“Figured as much. I don’t think I’d be so lucky. So what are you gonna try and convince me of this time?”
“I have nothing further to convince you of. I showed you the one thing you chose to forget, and that was the end of my life. Because of you.”
“Stop. Don’t you think that’s about enough? Just send me back already.”
“Its not up to me. This is you, remember? I don’t control this. You do.”
“Then why ain’t I back yet, I don’t want to be here, least of all with you. I can think of some women folk I’d rather be stuck here with.”
“Perhaps there is something you’ve yet to understand. Something struck up by that man that just shot you.”
“I’m sure there’s plenty of somethings. I’ve been running into him for some time now, and it ain’t never been a pleasurable time.”
“No, that’s not it. You’ve forgotten, even after just seeing it haven’t you?”
“What, the story you done tried to convince me of? I can’t think of any reason I’d care to remember such…”
“Angel. That’s his name right?”
“Yeah, as far as I know. Probably had some other name before he gave himself that one.”
“Do you not recognize him then? Beyond the eyes that bring from you such hatred?”
“Sure I recognize him. I just told you that I’ve been running into him for some time now. I think I’m familiar enough with him by now.”
“You don’t remember. The man that came for you. The man with the wanted poster. The man that ordered you hung. The man they called Angel. You must remember it.”
“That’s impossible, kid. I met Angel in Bail. That’s the first time I’d seen him in my life.”
“In the life since you were reborn. But what of the life before that? The life you’ve chosen to forget?”
“Kid, you best be leaving me be. I ain’t in the mood for any of this!”
“This is you, Abacus Jones. Or should I call you—“
“No! It’s Abacus Jones. Stop trying to tell me otherwise!”
“I’m not trying to tell you anything. Remember, all this, it’s you. Best get used to that.”
“I’m ready to get up now. I’m done hearing what I’m here for.”
“That’s not up to me. If you’re here it’s because of you. Do you not see all that that man has robbed you of? If not for him, the criminal would not have come to your home, pointed a gun at your son, and left you claiming his identity as your own?”
“But you can change it, change it all. Find the hand, say my name, together we’ll make it so he never existed.”
“I said that’s enough! Get on out of my head, kid!” But he was already gone, and I was alone in the black again.
I waited for him to come back around, but he didn’t. I sat and waited. My thoughts swirled until finally the darkness around me dissolved and I opened my eyes, but what I saw wasn’t what I was used to. I blinked, thinking maybe I was just blurry eyed. I wasn’t. I had a headache, a hell of one that would be hard to reckon there being one worse before or after. What I saw was only one side of the world. The other side was gone, not black, just gone. Angel had shot out my left eye. And dammit if it didn’t hurt.
Apart from the headache the world also appeared to be moving on its own. Not swirling, but sideways. My hands were bound, as were my arms tightly around my chest. There was also the constant jostle underneath me, I was being dragged. I turned my head, looking down at my feet which had a rope around them leading up to the ass end of a brown horse, and on its back, even though I only saw a silhouette of him, I knew it was Angel.
A puff of smoke rose past his hat and for a moment tempering the brightness of the sun past his shoulders. We were heading west. Towards The Hand, I could feel it. Something dark was spread out even this far all over the ground. I’d have kept my trap shut, except a large rock was introduced to my back and I couldn’t help but yell out a bit. The horse came to a quick enough stop and the rider atop it got down and let the full sun hit me in the face until he stepped full in front of it, his white eyes staring down at me with a grin at his lips that was the wrong kind of happy.
“So, you finally woke up, Jones. Tell me, how do you feel?”
“Damn you, Angel! I feel as right as left!”
“And tell me, how does the world look to you now? I’ve been waiting to ask you for near on an hour now. Please, be as detailed as you can.”
I didn’t rightly know why he was asking me such garbage. Why would he care what I thought the world looked like? Instead I was about to tell him exactly what I thought of him with the spit I’d been collecting since I came to, when I noticed him holding something in his hands, blocking one of those white eyes from view. The other stared at me as he smiled something fierce. I could finally just make out that it was a small telescope in his hand, but at the end of it weren’t no lens, it was my dark eye.
“What the devil did you do?!”
“Now, now, Jones. Details, details.” He said as he bent down and slapped me across my face.
“That’s my eye! What did you do?!”
Angel sighed as if resigned to not hearing what he wanted. “I did as was necessary. To lead these people to the reward they so rightly deserve. Which you were reluctant to do. And seeing as how one needed the sight of a demon to follow the path, I took yours.”
“Give it back.” I said with as much venom as I could.
“No, Jones.” He laughed. “I cannot describe to you the sounds it made as I tore this from your body. Once I held it within my fingers I wanted nothing more than to simply crush it as one would a bothersome insect. Instead I did as was asked of me, and made it possible for us to see the path that only you could see using such modern conveniences such as this telescope. Why, I hadn’t thought it would work, but I took a chance, and boy howdy did it pay off. Why, just look at it. And just know that when I tear this horrid thing out of this contraption I will make sure you watch as I smash it under my boot just before I kill you.”
“Not if I kill you first.”
He laughed again, this time it carried to the distant hills and came back moments later. “You’re only alive right now as a necessary precaution. I can see the path, but I have not read the directions for once we arrive to the resting place of the Hand. So you live only because I have allowed it. How I had rather kept you awake as I dug out your eye, but you had to go and try to make a fuss when I tied up your monster girl. How I would have loved to hear your screams as I put this spoon in your eye socket and popped out your eye.” He said pulling out a dirty spoon.
“What have you done with the girl?”
“Why, Jones, you are absolutely no fun. I show you the spoon I dug out your black eye with, leaving a hole in your face, and you ask me about some monster. Would I get a better reaction if I were to tell you what I put in that hole in your head to make sure your eye does not grow back?”
“What have you done with the girl?!” I repeated.
“She’s fine, Jones. After all, we will need her, won’t we? That is the way of your kind, always sacrificing something to get something else. I see no reason to waste a true life in this endeavor. The monster’s sacrifice will suffice. And if it is not needed, we’ll make an exception anyway.”
“You bastard! She ain’t a monster! I’ll have you dead at my hands, Angel! I’ll find a way out of these ties and have my hands around that throat of yours soon enough. That’s a promise!”
“I’ve seen how you keep your promises, Jones. We seem to be falling behind now, and the sun will be down soon. Enjoy your ride for a bit longer, we’ll camp soon.” He said as he grinned that sick smile of his before climbing back on his horse and kicking it hard to get it back to a trot that had rocks jamming into my backside far more often until he kicked at his horse again and my head cracked against a rock and I was back in the dark again.
I came to again and it was dark out. I was still tied up and on my back, but there was a light to my right. A fire was lit and around it were a number of folk. The fat mayor was there, as were a number of his followers all listening as he spoke to them while eating a fair plate that sat in his lap. Whatever they were eating, it smelled good. Angel was there too, sitting by himself, smoking, listening but not listening. I couldn’t see the girl anywhere. Luckily I was far enough away that I didn’t have to hear the fat mayor’s preaching. That and they seemed to have left me alone, but I wasn’t alone. I felt that pull in my chest that felt like my shadow was being pulled out behind me, and I knew the Vampire was at my back.
“I was wondering what happened to you. Figured you was dead.”
“I wasn’t fool enough to jump in the middle of so many to save you. I watched from the roofs. Followed when they took you.”
“You watched as that bastard shot me. As he took my eye from me. And you watched as they tied up the girl. What’s your game, Vampire?”
“The same as it was before. To reach the Hand.”
“Thought you two were a team?”
“She was not in any real danger.”
“And if she were?”
“Hell of an answer, Vampire.”
“It is the only answer, Jones.”
“So what now? You just gonna sit there, or you gonna untie me?”
“I will not untie you.”
“Then what the hell are you doing here? Come to kill me? Hope you tell this story well, that you killed the famous Abacus Jones while he had all his limbs tied up by someone else. Bet they’ll give you a hero’s parade!” I seethed.
“I would not hinder my chances at The Hand, Jones. You will live. You will lead them to The Hand. You will assist at anything they require of you, and I will be there, just out of site, and I will come when the time is right and release you and the Banshee to accomplish my ends. They will not see the treasure I have sought so long for. I can promise that. But I need to know when I should come, Jones. What lies ahead of us?”
“Why don’t you just untie me, I get a gun, we get the girl, plug our ears, and have her knock all these fellers out and get going on our own?”
“Do you ever truly think about anything before you speak? That will not work. She is unconscious, so she will not be able to aid us. You have one eye and were not a good shot to start. And we cannot take all of these men. And even I am…cautious of the man Angel.”
“So you say I am to trust you? You see the problems I might have with that?”
“I don’t see you as having another choice.”
“Only cuz you ain’t giving me one.”
“You could call out to them now, alert them to my presence, but then you’d still be tied up and would have gained nothing. If you want to be free, you will have to trust me. Now tell me, what lies ahead?”
I took a moment. I didn’t want to answer. I didn’t trust him. He was a monster, and even if that didn’t irk me I’m sure there was something else about him that was all sorts of wrong for trusting in. But he had me dead to rights, this was my only chance of getting out of this. At least so far. If things changed, I’d take the opportunity, but for now, I just needed to follow along with whatever was offered.
“Fine. This goes against my better judgment though. We’re heading to the lonely mountain. The one up ahead encircled by the rest, not part of the chain of em. There we’ll be faced with three challenges. The first is the task of three. I can’t say I know what exactly it will be, the map didn’t provide any specifics, but it’s a test of intelligence of sorts is what I gathered. The next is a trial of blood. Which I figure will be a fight of some sorts. There’s always a fight. And last, well, that is the Keeper’s challenge. It’s a riddle I’ve been trying to answer ever since I was set off on this damned trip.”
“And what is the riddle?”
“No. That I’m holding onto. You keep your end of the bargain, get me out of this fix, then we go at the last challenge together.”
“There may not be time, Jones!” He said between his sharp teeth and I could tell the blood lust in his heart was catching fire. “Tell me now!”
“I give you that and you ain’t got a reason to keep me round. I’m keeping that to myself. And hell if I’m gonna give it to them folks over there either. Nah, I’m in this, and I ain’t letting anyone go in alone.”
He calmed somewhat, but it was a weird kind of calm. One that didn’t sit right with me. Beneath his bandages he was smiling when he spoke again. “Fair enough, Jones. I’ll be seeing you at the end of things. Do be prepared when the time comes.”
At that I felt the shadow pulling at my chest loosen until it was gone. The Vampire had gone. And as much as I didn’t care none for the likes of him, I preferred it to those damned white eyes that had just fallen over my way and now sat on me. I stared back and hoped he could feel just how much I hated him. And just how much pain I was gonna cause him when I got out of these ropes. If he understood, I couldn’t say. But I guessed he couldn’t because he just smiled. And it made me hate him all the more. I told myself to try not to enjoy it when I was finally able to hurt him.