Mark of the Shadow Part 3: Some Fella Did This
Miss the beginning? Start with part 1.
If Rolph hadn’t shown up just then I wouldn’t a hit him. Thats right, I turned right around, frightened that some outlaw had come and killed Ms. Darby, and that now he’d kill me too. Only it wasn’t. It was just Rolph, dripping wet from rain, I supposed, though it wasn’t rainin when I was outside.
But I did hit him, packed a mean punch right into his leg. He didn’t seem to notice, and wrapped his arms around me, leaning down. He held my head close to his chest, and patted it. Seemed like he didn’t have much experience with this sort a thing, for he kept on pattin, and wouldn’t let go. After a few seconds I just couldn’t stand it, the man was soakin. I pushed away, and he got the idea.
“Ann…” he began, trailing off. I waddled over to the wall, and slumped down on the floor, burying my head between my legs. Girls aint supposed to stay with strange ol’ ladies, they aint supposed to see monsters, or ride the train. Well maybe some girls stayed with strange ol’ ladies before, but they aint supposed to see um die.
Rolph walked over to Ms. Darby. He took a real long look before touchin her.
“Did you just find her?” he asked.
“Ya, just… few seconds ago,” I said more to myself than to him, “just a few seconds ago.”
“You see anything. I mean you know what happened to her?”
“No, I just thought she was sleepin or, or…” I saw him pour some dust over her, and walk around the chair checkin for marks. “Still got the necklace?”
“Yes,” I said finding in my pocket. Now why hadn’t I grabbed for it first thing when I saw her?
“How’s it feel? Warm, it felt warm any these past few days?”
“Not by my accounts.”
“That means things are worse than I thought,” he said lifting her chin and inspecting the wound.
“Well, judgin from what you’ve told me, and what I’m seeing here, Ms. Darby wasn’t killed by no monster. A right solid man did her in. Question is: why, and how come they didn’t come after you?”
“You mean to tell me, some fella walked in here, killed Ms. Darby, then walked out? Without me knowin about it?”
“Seems that way,” he wiped the blood off his hand with a handkerchief. “It’s not safe here, we should get going.”
“You mean, I’d be going with you?” I asked standing up. He nodded. “Are we going to talk to the Sherif?”
Rolph smiled, “The Sherif? You could say that, but not the sherif of this town.”
Rolph explained that until he knew we could trust the locals, it would be best to distance ourselves from this murder. He told me we was riding west on his stallion. I’d never riden a horse before, and let me tell you, you fall. I learned to hold on to Rolph’s body, and squeeze the horse with my legs. After about twenty minutes I could barely feel my legs. Rolph told me it’d be about a days ride, given we don’t run into any problems. He told me after about a week of riding it would get easier. I believed him, but a week was a long ways away, specially at the rate things was happenin. We rode around the Great Lake itself, then through some arid land. Figured this was that “no-man’s land” that they always talked bout in the books. No man to be seen, or creature for that matter.
We stopped about the time the sun was setting, after I’d complained about a hundred thousand times. I was hungry, couldn’t feel my legs, and truth be told felt like I could sleep out here without nothing else but my clothes and the ground. Not a very lady like thing to do, but when your as tired as I was, anything you could do for relief seemed like salvation.
Rolph let me lay down, while he gathered some sticks, started a fire, and cooked a shallow pot of beans. He woke me up and handed me a small cup filled with beans, and topped of with some of those dried plants I’d seen a his back on the train.
“This what you eat? Everyday?” I asked, trying to be polite.
Rolph just gave me a look, and went back to his food.
“I’m sorry, I’m not used to, this,” I gestured around me.
“Get used to it, this is what we do.”
“Why, but I’ll be going back to my daddy after the war is over, and the war’s gona be over soon right? Then my daddy’l thank you and maybe you can come over for christmas dinner.” I looked glumly at my food.
“You looked in a mirror recently Missus?”
“Well I hardly think thats appropriate now, you don’t look too presentable yourself. You haven’t shaved in months have you?” I questioned defensively.
“So you haven’t…”He looked uneasily at me, as if unsure of what to say next. A knot in my stomach formed in anticipation.
“What, what is it?”
He pointed at the welt on his face, surrounding his left eye.
“You see this?” I nodded. “When a shadow touches you, this is what happens.”
“You mean like the,” I choked up, “I don’t want to look like that! Please.”
He chuckled. “Looks are the least of your worries now Miss. Once a shadow’s marked you, he never stops hunting you, and if he gets you… you aint gona be naught but a shadow yourself.” He got up threw is cup back into his bag of stuffs, and looked back at me. “I’m afraid, there aint no going back to your old life.”
We rode the rest the way that night in silence. We came upon a standing of tents and smoking firepits. A man in firs, wearing some of the same ornaments I’d seen on Rolph took the horse, and showed us a place to sleep. He and Rolph talked privately. I was too tired to be interested, but I never fell asleep till Rolph lay down beside me.
“Big day tomorrow” he murmured.