By Matthew Jones
Swirling sands shifted underneath the heel of the Wanderer as he made his way down the one road leading into town. Eyes loomed down on him from the shadows, coveting his unblemished flesh, taut with the apparent vestiges of youth. The looming eyes yearned and wished, but minded their manners. The Wanderer’s sword, displayed plain on his back, and the wanderer’s gun, stranded securely on his hips saw to that. They’d hate their twisted selves in the darkness and think their twisted thoughts, and the wanderer would care, long as they stayed where they were.
The Wanderer turned off the road, moving into the porch of a shadowy tavern offering little solace better than it protected one from the oppressive sun overhead. A slumbering old man with four horns peering out from his forehead kept guard in a creaking rocking chair. Beyond the batwing doors, was a dim, lonesome place smelling of soured beer and human stink. A pile of broken furniture was placed in a corner and the Wanderer mused about it’d make good kindling and he’d do the occupants a favor by burning the bar to the ground. He took a seat at the bar and noted a drunken flesh pile slowly swaying to his far left. The bar maid made odd clatters in a backroom behind the bar and when she emerged, her hands dotted with bits of red. She eyed the Wanderer and hastily wiped the red away on the seat of her loose hanging black dress. The woman had a dog face under a curly mound of dyed black hair.
“Water,” The Wanderer said in a hollow voice, his head hung low. The bar maid just stared, her fingers unconsciously rising to his face. He shifted his fiery blue eyes to the woman and she repented the hand, placing it between her breasts. The Wanderer knew it was more the big blade glaring off his back like some terrible vulture that stayed her hand, but it all amounted to the same thing. The world was wrong, no better way to put it. Sometime in the long way back when, Man’s started to rot off the bone, minds started to sour in their owner’s skulls, and any signs of health might a life on the run, a life by the gun, by the blade.
“Water,” The Wanderer repeated with more authority woven in his words. She turned away from him to a manual water pump set low at the far side of the bar. She put her hand on the lever to pump and paused.
“How you want it?” She asked in a quivering voice that was more old age then nerve.
“Out a picture, if it’d do you.”The Wanderer said, keeping his eye on the bar top.
“You got coppers for that?” She asked, taking her hand for the pump lever. The Wanderer clicked a gold coin on the bar top and with that she fetched a picture from beneath the counter top. The water splashed a brownish hue into the picture, but the Wanderer took it happily. The bar maid dropped her hand over the coin and slid it over to her.
“That a shined up copper? Shined up Bronze, maybe?”She said with a conspiratory flick of her eye to the swaying flesh mound. She wanted to play friendly. She wanted to play motherly. She was saying, ‘Keep your coins close, lest someone snatch them, dear boy,’ with that motion of the eyes. She wanted to believe that he was an innocent, despite the guns, the sword and the hard stare. The Wanderer was fine with letting her think as long as she kept her manners. The Wanderer gripped the picture and the bar maid turned toward the backroom.
“Ay, Water ain’t worth gold. Not when you’re sitting on a well. I got something coming back to me.”She paused and issued a nervous laugh.
“Must have slipped my mind. “ She said fishing metals from a drawstring purse of her hip. She dropped a couple coppers on the countertop and hurried to dote on her other customer. The Wanderer took his picture out on the porch and took a seat in a counter furthest from the slumbering old man. He sucked down as much of the water as his stomach could hold and poured the rest down on his head, praising its cold. He sat steady in the shade for a moment, staring at the sand roll along the path of the road.
He picked himself up and stepped off the porch, leaving the picture behind. In the corner of his eye, he saw the bar maid exit through the batwings and scoop up the picture.
“Come back,” She cried. The Wanderer didn’t turn and the bar maid added a slight diminished, “If you have a mind to.” The last the Wanderer saw of the Bar maid was her kissing the picture he’d left. He’d seen that as well, as if health were a disease one could catch.
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