Saul

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They don’t think I see nothin’. You got a face like mine and somebody looks at you funny, just scratch behind your ear and pant a bit – they’ll forget you’re even in the room.

So it was that the man in the glasses paid me no mind at all. He were quiet at first. Drank his gin at the Fork and Pheasant and made no trouble. We got a friendly little town but if a body looks like he wants to be let alone, we let him alone. I spend a lot of time at the Fork and Pheasant. Maurice lets me curl up in front of the fireplace and I order a saucer of milk and bourbon most nights. Sometimes Arabelle will stop by. I don’t much like folks’ hands on me. But Arabelle’s got a knack for it. She can put her hand on your head just as friendly as shaking hands. But that’s as may be. I was tellin’ about the man with the dark glasses.

Now, I didn’t ever see his face right proper. Usually had his hat low and kept those dark glasses on all the time. Otherwise, there weren’t much to say about how he looked. But that’s how I caught him, see?  Like I said, he was mostly quiet, let alone and didn’t mind nobody. Til one day something changed.

That day he came early and he drank heavy. Maurice’s not one to meddle but he’s on his way to being an expert in the drunkard and he could see the change a’comin’. He asks the fellow, friendly like, what the news was. The stranger empties his glass and says he’s got an imp on his shoulder that drives him, drives him, drives him and it won’t let him be. Maurice pours another and the man in the glasses says, he’s been driven from town to town by this imp with no rest, no reward, just hard luck and misfortune. Maurice nods and pours another and the stranger says, he ain’t been long in our town and he can feel the imp drivin’ him to some terrible purpose here afore he’s done. Maurice puts the bottle down and asks him what does he mean by that. The stranger laughed, short and bitter. Maurice, he says, I don’t rightly know what it is but this imp here’s got a pretty good idea.

He set his glass down then and left the bar. Maurice shook his head, sad-like, and set to putting away the glasses. I watched him go though, I watched the man in the glasses out the door and just before he left, he shot another look into the bar. Just for a sec he lowered his glasses and peered through the room. And it weren’t a sad look, nor a fearful one: it was hard and full of the terrible purpose he’d spoke of.

When the man came back later that night, I had a feeling something was afoot. The Fork and Pheasant was crowded, noisy and joyful, everybody talking to everybody. So I don’t think many folks noticed the stranger when he came in. Maurice didn’t but then, the stranger didn’t go up to the bar, which is where Maurice is accustomed to noticing people. He came right up to the fireplace, right up next to where I was laying. But he didn’t pay me no mind. I’d put my head down for a snooze and I guess I didn’t figure into what he was about to do.

My ears sure pricked up with what happened next though. The man in the glasses put his hands behind is back, as if he was warming them by the fire. And then…and then it was the queerest thing. A feeling came over the bar, a feeling like the worst thing that ever happened to you. Folks all over stopped and their faces got dark. Eyes filled with tears or rage or disgust. You couldn’t help yourself. It was reliving the worst thing that had ever happened to you, the meanest cruelest most beaten down moment of your entire life. And it felt so strong, it felt stronger almost than when it happened.

I felt it and I saw the others feel it. I don’t know what they all saw but they were terrible things. I remembered the day, that last day in the north, when the trapper found us and drove us out of our home. I remembered his face, shouting with bloodshot eyes as my wife lay in front of the kits and bared her teeth. I remembered the dreadful bargain, the greed and contempt I saw then as our home was destroyed and I was taken: the price of freedom for my family. I saw that man’s face, that destroyer of my world, and his bloodshot eyes made me remember where I was and the man in the glasses.

I stirred and with a mighty flip, brought my tail down in the embers of the fire, scattering sparks. I swept them toward the stranger and I don’t know, the heat or the smoke or somesuch but it startled him and he dropped his hands and the nightmares vanished. Folk all over the bar sort of woke up but the man in the glasses was gone before anyone thought of him.

He never came back after that night. I kept my eye open for him but I didn’t say nothin’ to the others. I knew he wouldn’t try that here again. His terrible purpose had been fulfilled, or foiled perhaps, but the game was done and he’d moved on. But I’d seen him. I’d seen his face so if he ever came back, I’d know. I don’t think he’ll be coming back.

(This story originally appeared as part of the Townsfolk series. Original drawing by Bronwyn McIvor)

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