Ironwood (II)

Station 12-B had been neglected for over two decades. The platform on which the priest stepped down was the only piece of the infrastructure still untouched; the roof had caved on the interior of the station some years ago. Dry, desert wind had blown sand into every crack and crevice, and underneath the fallen building’s shadow moss had begun to advance in the enemy territory of the desert. All around, the Fault glimmered and warped itself as the heat escaped the sand and collided with the earth; even the setting sun did not help dispose of the heat so quickly.

The train let off one long whistle as a goodbye and began to groan and come alive, limping forward on the tracks until it picked up enough momentum to glide away as it left the priest behind. He closed his eyes and stood still, long past the breeze of the passing train had finished ruffling the ends of his cassock. His chin resting on his chest, his arms dangling limply at his side, he stood still. A lizard, sensing the coming cool of evening, poked its head out of the debris of Station 12-B and observed the tall creature that now inhabited its territory. Long, flowing black cassock that made for one whole piece, flaring at the hips in the guise of a robe and narrowing at the waist and chest in the form of the suit. A wide-brimmed hat that cast his face into shadow but did not entirely obscure the sharp profile of this strong chin nor prevent the sun from refracting from his reddish-brown hair that hung past his chin. And nothing prevented the air of poverty and exhaustion that hung around him as palpably as his own cassock. None of which the lizard noted, of course. The lizard only saw a larger something and retreated.

The sun’s edge touched the lip of the desert horizon and then began to drop below, and only then did the priest open his eyes and begin moving, quickly and surely. He leapt nimbly off the platform and circumvented the fallen ruins of the station, searching behind it for something. Then, in the long shadows of the evening, he saw what he wanted: the faint outline of an old road that went due west. His face remained unaltered as he began to walk.

“Gentleman,” said the fat man, wiping his face daintily with a handkerchief. “This is Father—”

The fat man looked at him inquiringly, but the priest only said:

“Our names are given to the Lord.”

The fat man gave his compatriots a half-exasperated, half-amused look as though to say, See what I’ve been dealing with? They, however, took no notice of this. They both stood respectfully, and the four men stared at one another until the fat man came to.

“Ah, yes, of course! Introductions, how could I forgot? Father, this is General Hathbury…”

The general gave the priest a curt nod. He wore his uniform proudly, though it could not completely hide his swollen belly. His eyes shone with the brittle authority of the military as he measured the priest with an air of disappointment, as though he had been hoping for someone more formidable.

“And this is…”

The man in the three piece suit interjected. “John Smith,” he said smiling and extending a hand toward the priest.

The priest took it and gave a small smile as they shook. “John Smith?”

“Let’s just say my name is given to the government.” And then he laughed, a laugh that, despite its volume, could not hide its cynical tone. The priest only gave the man a small but respectful half-bow.

“Well, let’s be seated, shall we?”

The four men sat at the round table, with the priest and one end and the other three men seemingly across from him. Which was quite a feat, considering the geometry of the surface.

“Well,” said the suit calling itself John Smith, “I hope Mr. Preston has been showing you a good time.”

“Yes, the elevator ride was quite pleasant,” said the priest.

All three men laughed, though he hadn’t been joking.

“Yes, well,” said Mr. Preston, nervously dabbing his forehead, “I suppose you’re wondering why you’re here, Father?”

“I will learn.”

Across the landscape pillars of rock stretched for the sky, fingers of the earth admonishing God. The Fault was beginning to cool somewhat, but the priest cared little. His eyes stayed steady on the small rise ahead of him, though in truth his mind was focused on what lay beyond it. He stumbled on a loose congregation of pebbles and fell swiftly to one knee, catching himself on the ground with his knuckles. Breathing hard, he focused his energy and stood up deliberately. He had only so much time. He began to walk, a little slower but no less deliberate. Somewhere, an owl or some other night bird gave a screech, and the priest felt the air shudder. Night was coming; he could not stumble again.

“So that’s it,” said the suit, while the fat man attempted to thwart the advancing flood of sweat on his forehead. The military man himself looked a bit uncomfortable, his eyes trained at a spot on the wall only he could see. The suit and the priest regarded one another, and at last the priest spoke.

“Very well.”

“You’ll do it?” squeaked Mr. Preston as General Hathway breathed a sigh of relief.

“I will do it.”

“You are committing a great service for our country, sir.”

“Not to mention our railroads!” Mr. Preston chimed in

“The people owe you a great deal,” the suit said quietly, not taking his eyes off the priest.

The priest’s eyes had grown somewhat muted, as though he were looking deeply inward. The three men waited for a response as the silence expanded into something uncomfortable and tense.

“I will do it.”

The suit broke eye contact and looked at the general, confused.

“Well, yes, thank you,” said the general. “Again.”

The priest sighed. “I will do it.”

The priest hiked the small rise, the pain in his side beginning to sharpen. He didn’t have forever. He did not believe he even had a day. But he had sworn, hadn’t he? Sworn to finish what his brothers had started. He topped the rise and looked at what lay beyond. For the first time in a long time, he felt a trickle of fear. With one foot, he began to walk again.

“Very well,” said the general. “I think it goes without saying that we will not send you there empty handed. A full range of guns and explosives are yours if you wish. Anything that can be carried by one man, the military is prepared to give you.”

“And we will provide the transportation, of course,” piped in Mr. Preston. His double chins trembled as he put on a sickly sweet smile. “Not only that, but we have a vehicle of sorts that can be carried on the freight train, an old machine called a ‘dune buggy’. We think it will make travel much easier along the fault.”

“In addition, the government is prepared to provide you full immunity,” said the suit lightly. “For whatever it is you do.”

“No.”

The three men gave each other confused looks.

“What do you mean, ‘No’? asked General Hathway.

“I will not need the weaponry. Nor the dune buggy. Nor the political immunity.” He cocked his head, considering. “I will, however, take the train to the Fault, and then proceed on foot.”

The general laughed. “You can’t be serious,” he said disbelievingly.

“I think he is quite serious,” said the suit quietly.

“Do you know what’s happened to soldiers out there? Trained men? Are you that god damned arrogant?”

“Please do not take the Lord’s name in vain in front of me, General. And as for your men, did they not have weapons and the support of the government and all sorts of corporate goodies?” asked the priest inquiringly.

The general’s face became red. Once again, the suit answered.

“Yes, they did.”

“Then we will see what happens without them.”

The silence grew heavier as the general tried desperately to think of something to say. Mr. Preston continued wiping his moist face, now positively winded, while the suit continued to gaze thoughtfully at the priest, his composure unbroken.

“Very well. Then I think we’re done, Father.”

“You are done, yes.”

The priest paused and let the pain at his side throb uninterrupted for a moment. He closed his eyes and offered up prayer and opened them again. The town was entirely within his vision now, the last rays of the sun reflecting off the floor of the Fault. Night was coming. The lights began to come on in the abandoned town. glaringly unnatural. The priest felt the hair on the back of his neck begin to rise. With dignity, he touched the spot on his cassock, underneath which the wooden cross he wore hung. Immediately the air grew warmer, and the lights flickered. Satisfied, he walked forward.

So the priest came to Ironwood.

Ironwood (II)

William H

Joined December 2007

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