Ironwood (III)

The town of Ironwood was silent. The street lights wavered, causing the shadows the run rampant across the width of the street. The priest walked carefully, while the blank eyes of the open windows and door frames stared at him accusingly. Far above, the last traces of sunlight were disappearing, yet it still seemed unnaturally dark here, as though a great shadow cast itself upon this piece of earth.

The priest walked down the one street that Ironwood possessed, the one that ran due west until it hit the town hall a mile or little less ahead. The town of Ironwood itself resembled in shape that of the symbol for pi, with buildings that ran parallel to the road and ending with the town hall that directly faced east.

The priest walked. Around him small noises, creaks and moans, issued from the corpses of these things once called shops and bars and homes. In the frame of the windows or doorways the priest could make out the silhouettes of people watching him; but only out of the corner of his eye. When he looked properly, they could not be seen. But they were still there.

He smiled. It had been a long time since this feeling on the back of his neck had been so persistent. Long ago, before he had given the Lord his name, when his mother still tucked him in and thoughts of redemption were as far from his mind as the moon from the earth, he had feared the dark, especially the places like his closet and under his bed. Places where the dark stayed and festered, waiting to ebb out as soon as the last light flickered and died. Who would have thought that the dark still held such power over him? So he smiled, while the forms in the shadows watched on.

At first he wasn’t sure if he was actually hearing it or if, like the forms in the buildings or the flickering street lights, it was something meant to raise the hairs on the back of his neck. If it was a trick of the wind. But gradually the guitar’s riff became omnipresent in the air, the sharp metal sound of strings rubbing against the flesh of the thumb. The priest grew worried. He had not expected this. Here.

The guitar’s melody gave strength to the street lights, which buzzed unpleasantly and issued a harsh, unrelenting light upon the priest. The figures that watched now participated; he could see them jeering and booing out of the corner of his eyes.
A procession had begun; they would see him to his destination. As he looked ahead, he was not surprised to make out the figure of a man, strumming a guitar, on the steps of the town hall some ways ahead. He was not surprised, but the pain in his side elevated. He had only so much strength to expend.

As he came to the man, he noticed several things. Some things that he should have noticed before, others that he was just now presented with. First, there was nothing living, not even a blade of grass or a single moth fluttering against the streetlights. This was a barren, a dead place. Secondly, the odor that permeated this place, that lay just underneath the stench of dust. A putrid smell of decaying flesh. And finally, as he approached the steps of the town hall, he could distinguish the song as an old blues riff and could make out the words the man was singing.

The Lord did make me
The Lord did forsake me
Only the Devil really cares
Devil did save me
Devil forgave me
Cause Devil’s hungry for
My soul

The man was strange, in that he seemed to have no skin color. That is, his skin faded into the background; it seemed a reflection of the shadowed town. His clothes, skin, hair, everything reflected back the night. Everything except his eyes. And his grin. Shockingly white, they projected an aura of insanity. He was the Singin’ Man.

The Singin’ Man smiled at the priest.

“Canna play a tune for ya, fatha?”

The priest regarded him.

“No. Are you the one I’m looking for?”

The Singin’ Man smiled again, reminiscent of the Cheshire cat, his glaringly white teeth offsetting the dark nature of his body.

“I am, I is.”

“No, you’re not,” replied the priest quietly.

“Then why’d you ask, fatha?”

“Because I needed something to say.”

The Singin’ Man through back his head and cackled. His laughter echoed throughout the town, the shadows joined in a cacophony of cynicism. His laughter faded, and the Singin’ Man went back to strumming a tune on his guitar, mumbling out a few impromptu lyrics.

Priest came to town
Didn’t know what was going down
He came with a cross
To get the boss
But all he found was Ironwood

The Singin’ Man’s fingers faltered on the guitar. For the first time a shadow of humanity crossed his features and he looked terrified. But only for a moment. Then the grin was back.

“Singin’ Man. His rhymes are off today, Fatha. His rhymes are off.”

The guitar began to mutter again.

“Whatcha doin’ here, Fatha? Nuttin’ good in Ironwood. Nuttin’ good.”

The priest appeared to have lost interest. His eyes were staring inward again. Seemingly without thought of the Singin’ Man he said:

“I must go on.”

Again the Singin’ Man’s grin faltered. This time something terribly angry crossed and lingered.

“Singin’ Man ain’t good enough for ya, Fatha?”

The priest seemed to come to.

“No. Not that, of course. You are not the one I’m supposed to meet.”

“Boss sent me.”

“Where is he?”

The Singin’ Man grinned. “Up a ways.”

The priest touched the edge of his hat. “My thanks.”

“Ya sure youa don’t wanna hear a tune, Fatha?”

The priest only tipped his hat again. “Not today, friend. Not today.”

Father Man doesn’t want to hear
What the Singin’ Man’s got to say
But what Father Man don’t know is
He gonna die today

The Singin’ Man waited for the priest’s shocked expression but was only treated with a small smile.

“I have no doubt.”

The guitar strings fell into silence.

“He’s going to kill you. He’s going to torture you.”

There was no longer an apparition or an emissary from the devil in front of him. Only an old, diseased man, attempting to hoarse out a warning.

“He won’t just kill you,” the man pleaded. His crusted eyes trembled, his body racked with pain as he leaned forward to warn the priest. “He’ll make you scream for an eternity, and then he’ll let you die. And then he’ll bring you back. I know. I know what he does. I tried….”

The man began to sob, still trying to keep his eyes fixed on the priests’.

“I tried so hard.”

The priest stepped up and gave the man a kiss on the forehead. Immediately the guitar slipped out of his hands and he fell over, dead.

“Rest in peace, my child.”

The priest straightened and turned to circumvent the town hall and continue west. Before he could, he heard a voice emanate from the corpse’s throat:

“You gonna die, Fatha.”

And then the laugh again, shrilly at first and fading fast to a thin warble that held in the air.

“You gonna die.”

The priest moved one foot and began to walk away. The moon was dark, but it’s shadowed silhouette cast an eye upon him as he exited the town. As soon as he left the shadows of the building, he turned his head to give the town one last regard.

“Farewell, Ironwood,” he said softly. “Rest in peace.”

Then with a flick of his wrist, he let fly an object that glowed with a steady unwavering light, a lighter, the very kind used by stiffnecks in the working class to light their pipes. But as it fell to the earth, a strange happening occurred, as the wind picked up and seemed to take the flame with it, burning the air and sweeping toward the town. And outside its light the priest could be heard to say:

“Pitiful evil. Let fire cleanse your soul. I give your name to Our Father.”

The priest continued walking on the same outline of a road that had led him to Ironwood. And behind him, the town fell to inferno.

Ironwood (III)

William H

Joined December 2007

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