Another abandoned homestead passed by in the dead of night, the rotten buildings illuminated only by the lights of Gareth’s beat-up Saturn. He counted it in his head as he continued down the endless, winding road through the rolling hills of the Dakotas. Along the way he passed the sign informing him he was now entering the reservation. Once a welcoming sight, it now felt as hollow as the decaying structures that had littered the roads and small towns up until then.
He could already hear his father-in-law warning him to be careful when driving onto the rez at night, but that didn’t matter anymore. At this point the trip was a formality, a ritual. He knew the route, and he knew the better places to stop. He’d spend the night somewhere decent and finish his journey in the morning before returning back to what now passed as his home.
His car forced itself uphill and through the steep curve of the cracked road, the engine griping as if it was as tired of this journey as he was. Thankfully Fort Ridge was not too far ahead. It was another fifteen minutes of driving in darkness and silence before he made his way past the faded homes on the outskirts. Gareth gave cursory glances to his surroundings, the few working streetlamps illuminating the empty streets and closed buildings. The grill was closed for the night, and the bar lacked so much as one vehicle in front of it. Not a single person stirred, and even after rolling down the windows he didn’t hear so much as a stray dog howling in the void.
He sighed. Had it really been so long since last he came this way? Or was it always like this and he had just never noticed? No matter. There wasn’t anywhere to stay in town itself; all his in-laws had moved to other towns or off the reservation altogether. He’d drive the extra few minutes to the casino and stop there for the night.
The large, looming block of a building revealed itself to him some turns later, the large sign proudly proclaiming its name next to where the town ended and the highway began again. The casino also looked oddly empty, but at least he saw some cars present and enough light to assuage any doubts he had. The casino’s nearby gas station was also lit up, a practical mecca of illumination after the suffocating blackness he’d been coping with for the past several hours.
He pulled into the station, stopping by the pumps before getting out to stretch his legs. Nothing but wind blowing across the prairie coupled with a hidden speaker belching out tinny muzak. He was about to fill up his car but stopped at the sight of the touchscreen monstrosity that had replaced the original gas pump. What exactly had been wrong with the usual buttons and credit card slot that the casino had decided they needed to be extravagant?
He was not dealing with this. Too tired, too drained, too empty. He walked to the front doors of the gas station and went inside.
The door chime chirped out as he stepped into the fluorescent-lit haven of snacks and sodas, everything stocked and tidy but the front desk unmanned. “Hello?” he called out, ruffling his unkempt blonde hair to scratch an itch. “Is anyone here? I need twenty dollars on pump one.”
Gareth walked further into the store, letting the door shut behind him as he moved to look down the hallway toward the bathrooms. “Not trying to rush you,” he said. “I just don’t want to have to deal with the touchscreen. It’s been a long night.”
Still nothing. Just the easy listening playing at its muted volume.
“Never mind,” he called out, turning around and going back out the door to the same chime. Perhaps if it was earlier in the day he would have been concerned, but this late at night he just wanted a hotel room with a bed he could throw himself onto. He moved up to the touchscreen, doing his best to figure out how it worked and what magic needed to be performed to get the gas flowing.
A few minutes and twenty dollars later, the Saturn was ready for the trip tomorrow. He returned the nozzle to its holder and pulled himself into the car, the thought of a bed growing ever more prevalent in his mind. He started the car and moved away from the pump, sparing one more glance back.
In the window he could see a shape. A dark figure hidden behind the glass of the gas station, features obscured as it seemed to be watching him. Perhaps the attendant was there after all, Gareth thought, too busy in the back or on his break or otherwise unwilling to help a customer with something they could eventually figure out on their own. He waved to the shape as he turned his car around and moved away from the gas station. When he looked behind him, the figure had vanished from the window.
Gareth parked close to the entrance of the hotel side of the casino, pulling himself out with his duffle bag in tow. Countless stars lit up the night sky above him, but still he heard nothing beyond the constant wind racing across the landscape. The wind at night around this town had always unnerved him, but now it truly seemed as if it was trying to speak to him, catch his attention, lure him out into the wilderness to investigate an unusual noise.
He forced the thought to the side and hauled himself into the hotel lobby, sighing at the sight of the empty desk before him. He walked up and looked around, then down the nearby hallways, but not a soul could be seen. He rang the bell on the counter and waited. Not a sound from anywhere around him. It had been a while since he had stayed here, but he remembered there always being someone at the desk and usually some sort of activity. He raised a hand to his chin. Perhaps someone would be at the…
He didn’t want to go there. But he had to.
He swallowed and forced himself down the hall to the right, making his way to the hotel bar. His skin crawled, being here again after so long. It didn’t help that the bar, like everywhere else, was devoid of anything living. What unfathomable set of circumstances would have the bar of a casino desolate, no matter what hour?
“Hey, stranger,” called a voice behind him, making him jump. He turned around to see a man sitting at a table nearby. Hadn’t that table been empty a moment ago? How could he have missed this person?
“Hello,” he said. “Do you know where the staff are? There’s no one at the front desk and I was hoping to check in.”
“Night auditor just stepped out,” said the man, gesturing to the seat before him. “Come. Join me for a bit. He’ll be back soon.”
Gareth took the seat across from the man, placing his duffle bag on the floor as he took in this new companion. The indigenous man was certainly local, with a wizened appearance not unlike one of the elders he used to know. He had long black hair spilling down around his shoulders and gave him a massive gleaming smile. He wore a suit and hat, pressed clean and straight and giving off an air of refinement Gareth had not encountered in anyone for some time.
What caught his attention most of all, though, was the man’s stature. Gareth wasn’t short, but the man towered above him, effortlessly breaking six and a half feet. Despite his age he seemed no less weaker for it, and even through the suit he could tell that the man had a fitness that would be the envy of those decades younger than him. Gareth almost felt himself shrinking before the man’s gaze from the other side of the table.
“Thank you for joining me,” said the man in his almost methodical dialect. “Always enjoy talking to those passing through. Would you like something to drink?” He gestured with his lips to something in front of him, and Gareth’s eyes fell on a shotglass containing a white, creamy liqueur.
Gareth knew it well. This had been his favorite. He had kept a bottle of it in the kitchen fridge and in the spare fridge in the garage. He had used it to unwind after long days at work, and on the weekends when he had time to himself. It had been there for him when nothing else was.
He hadn’t tasted it in a year.
“I don’t drink,” he said.
“My mistake,” said the man. “Hope you don’t mind.” He took Gareth’s shot as well as the one before himself and downed both. “Can’t let it go to waste.” He extended a hand. “Call me Mr. Blackwater.”
“Gareth,” he replied, shaking the man’s clammy hand. “Why is there no one here?”
“This town’s been in an odd state for a while,” said Blackwater, releasing his tight grip and reclining. “Tough times. Casino’s not doing as well as it used to, more stores are closing, and it’s all weighing on everyone even more.” He grinned. “But so long as my town stands, I have a plan.”
“Your town?” asked Gareth. “Are you on the council?”
Blackwater chuckled. “No,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m not for politics. I’m an entrepreneur, and soon this town will be spearheading something that will take the Midwest and beyond by storm.”
He reached into his coat and pulled out something from inside, its form in the clothing somehow hidden from Gareth’s view. He handed it to Gareth, who found himself looking at a long can. A grape-flavored concoction courtesy of Blackwater Beverages. “Energy drinks?” Gareth asked.
“All the rage,” said Blackwater. “College kids cramming for exams, office workers pulling all-nighters, everyone will be drinking these. I have a natural recipe that makes the big brands taste like nothing but sugar and chemicals, and I can sell these cheaper.” He waved a hand at him. “Take it! I’ve got plenty more. One of those will get you where you need to go. Hopefully not far.”
Gareth took the can, but didn’t open it. Far too late to even be trying it, as appealing as it looked. “Thank you so much,” he said. “Thankfully I don’t have much further to go. Just going up north past St. Kolbe’s.”
Blackwater’s smile faded. “I see,” he said. “Well, hopefully it helps get you through the day.” He got up from his chair and tipped his hat. “I’ll be going. Tonight’s the start of something big around here. I can feel it as surely as I do my own time coming.”
“You aren’t staying here?” asked Gareth.
“I just come here for the travelers,” said Blackwater. “You have a good night, Gareth Lallamont.” Without another word, he turned around and walked off, whistling to himself as he made his way into the lobby. Gareth shuddered; a man who would whistle at night on a reservation either had no fear or was one to be feared.
Then it hit him.
“Wait,” said Gareth, getting up from his seat to pursue the man. “I didn’t tell you my last name–”
He burst out of the bar into the lobby, but it was as empty as when he had first came in. He looked around, but the man was nowhere to be seen. Gareth eyed the energy drink in his hand and stuffed it into his coat pocket before returning to the bar to grab his duffle bag, abandoned by the table. He spared another glance for the shotglasses left there, tiny dregs of the liqueur still left in them. A part of him he hadn’t felt in a year stirred, aching, pining.
Never mind staying the night here. He had gas. He’d just drive the rest of the distance, pick someplace secluded and sleep in the car. At this point he’d rather take his chances out in the middle of nowhere than spend one more minute in this town. At least in the rolling fields he wouldn’t have this temptation within walking distance. He moved back into the lobby and stopped.
A figure stood just inside the doors.
It was a young man, early 20’s, dressed in the uniform of one of the casino’s gas station attendants. He was hunched over, arms and legs spread out as if trying to maintain his balance, swaying and lurching as he moved into the lobby. Gareth clung to the strap of his duffle bag, eyes locked onto the young man who threw himself closer one step at a time.
The young man seized, then gagged, a stream of black, viscous fluid erupting from his mouth onto the floor in front of him. Gareth yelped and jumped back, bumping up against the counter as he continued to stare at what was unfolding in front of him. The man somehow found more to spew out of himself before pulling his head back up and gazing back at Gareth.
The same black fluid blanketed the man’s face in glistening, oily strings, coming from his eyes, down his nose, out the corners of his mouth. The stench of the rank fluid stung Gareth’s nose like a mixture of bile and rotting corpses someone had utterly failed to clean up using hospital disinfectant.
“I… ee… el!” the man heaved, hands shooting before him as he launched himself at Gareth. He fell back, pinned between the counter and his assailant as the man clawed at his coat and skin, raking at him with his nails before Gareth got his hands between them and pushed him away. The lunatic stumbled and fell like a ragdoll, lurching and jerking as he tried to get himself back on his feet, all while more of that rank fluid leaked from him like a sieve.
“El-ee!” the man roared, excruciation blanketing his face as he stared at Gareth, his eyes as black as the sickly liquid that now covered the lobby. He got on his hands and knees but didn’t bother getting up, instead launching across the floor at Gareth, slipping in his own expelled bile but still keeping himself aimed at his target.
Gareth yelled as he brought his duffle bag down on the lunatic, knocking him flat before kicking him in the stomach, shoving him a few feet away. The man lay on his side, covered in black grime, gasping and panting like a dog, eyes still black as night. He raised his head to look at Gareth again.
“I… ee… el,” he choked out, spitting out more of that noxious liquid. He got onto his stomach, crawling at Gareth, but now so weak he could barely manage a few inches at a time.
Gareth stepped back, readying his duffle bag. “Stay back!” he yelled. “Is there a single person in this place? Someone come quick!”
A loud crash overwhelmed the gurgling noises of his assailant, and down the hall he could see someone emerging into sight. Then another crack as a door flew open by the bar, accompanied by an unwanted but familiar cry.
“El-ee!” The figure down the hall took off like a bullet, barreling toward Gareth while something else crashed through tables in the bar. Gareth darted away, barely keeping his feet out of reach of the first attacker on the ground. He pushed open the casino doors and looked to his car but flinched back. He saw a fourth one of these afflicted locals, this one shoving a kitchen knife into one of his car’s rear tires.
“Ou-us-el-ee!” cried out the vandal, forcing herself onto her feet and falling back onto his car. She spat out her own stream of the black bile, coating her casual clothes and long hair in filth. She locked onto him like a starving person on the last piece of bread and lurched after him with no regard for every scrape, fall and collision it took to close the distance.
He ran off, gulping as he had to abandon his only known ride out of the town. He wracked his brain for possible escapes, working vehicles, but of those who owned them he could recall living in this town they had all moved out in the past year. More cries rang out from buildings as he passed them, shuttered shops and run-down homes with crooked, erratic shapes floundering past the windows.
He hurled himself past the pitch-black post office, finally spying the still-lit shape of the IHS emergency room and a cluster of bile-covered madmen stumbling about nearby. He darted into the alleyway that went around behind it, getting into cover before finally falling against the wall, gasping for air as the world around him felt like ice.
Before he had a chance to calm himself, though, he heard something vomit nearby. He covered his mouth, trying to stomach the decaying stench that seemed to cling more to the town by the minute. At the front of the alleyway stood another one of the lunatics, barely into his 30’s from what he could tell, so plastered with whatever that fluid was Gareth couldn’t even tell what he had been wearing.
The lurker shot his head around, face pulled back as if looking for his own lost child, hyperventilating in the cold night. Gareth opened his coat, pulling out the energy drink given to him by Mr. Blackwater. He was still hidden by the darkness of the alleyway, but if he could draw the man’s attention, with a distraction, it might help keep them off his trail. At least for a bit.
He threw the can out of the alleyway, it landing on the road nearby and exploding. Sizzling, dark liquid sprayed everywhere and the afflicted’s head shot toward the noise, fixing on it like a cat on a mouse. He jumped forward, landing face-first in the sugary concoction, lifting his scraped and bleeding face up enough to let him lick at the ground.
A stampede erupted from the other end of the clinic as the mob that had been by the front doors came down on the puddle of the energy drink, each scrambling in a desperate race for every drop. Gareth took the opportunity to move himself deeper into the alleyway rather than risk even one of them spying him if he made a dash for the front door. By the time the madmen had finished with the puddle, leaving the one unfortunate enough to be there first broken and ripped apart, he had vanished around the side of the building.
Gareth shuddered as he walked to where he remembered the back door being. Memories flooded back. Him waiting in the alley by the back door. Something hidden in his pocket. She came out the back, still dressed in her work uniform. He took her hand and led her to his car. He had a surprise dinner for her at the local bar and grill where they had gone on their first date.
He remembered the last time he saw her wearing that ring.
He shook his head, forcing the thoughts away and focusing on the horrors he could now hear all around him. They still took up the night air, not so much as a cricket making noise alongside them. The repeated gargles, each forced out as if it was a matter of life or death. What was the disgusting fluid pouring out of them from wherever it could?
And how had an energy drink just saved his life?
“What did you give me, Blackwater?” he muttered out loud. A shiver went up his spine, and despite the alleyway being empty it felt like something was filling in around him. Any longer out here and he’d lose his cool again.
He got to the back door. Locked. He tried it a couple more times, but it wouldn’t budge. No windows near him, but the noise of breaking one would possibly attract the afflicted. The alleyway led to where it connected to some houses, but all too likely those now held people like those prowling the streets with a greater tenacity than any of the stray dogs ever had.
He sighed, stepping away from the door. For all he knew, the clinic was also overrun. He tried his cell phone, but no service. The power poles were still up; if he could get in somewhere, maybe he could get out a call while waiting for morning.
He stopped himself there. Calling wouldn’t help. The emergency services couldn’t possibly be working. And he didn’t have anyone he knew he could call that would answer.
He looked at the door again, and off to the side he could see a glowing red dot just below the roof. The clinic must have finally installed a security camera. He walked up to where it seemed to be pointed and waved his arms. “Hey!” he said as loud as he dared. “Is there anyone inside? I’m not afflicted. I just need a place to hide.” He waited, looking up at the red dot. Nothing.
Then the red dot moved to the left. Another dot appeared and moved in tandem with the first before both angled down, and Gareth shrank back as something made of the shadows stepped forward, its glowing eyes the only light that its form didn’t absorb. It was as if the entity was a void, a gap where the world had been torn out with nothing left. It towered over him, closing the distance in a single stride before reaching forward with a hand black as pitch.
Gareth yelped and darted away before the shadow could grab him, running down the alleyway. He made it to the intersection just to see it standing at the end of the path back onto the street like it had been waiting for him. He dashed down the other path, but it wasn’t long before the shadow stepped out of another patch of darkness to block his way. He turned back but it was there as well, just as far away as it had been in the other part of the alley. He looked down the third path of the intersection, then the fourth, but the shadow beat him there every time, ambling toward him as if it was out for a nightly stroll.
His eyes landed on the back door of the closest house. He charged up to it and tried the knob. Locked. He tried again and again. The shadow was just behind him. It was too late to break a window, and it would just follow him in. He tried in vain as the shadow reached its hand out to him, palm going for his shoulder.
The door clicked unlocked and he barged in, nearly barreling over a young teen who shut it the moment he was inside, turning the dead bolt. Gareth’s momentum carried him off his feet and onto the floor, where he gasped for air before getting his legs under him.
“You picked the wrong town to have car troubles in, waṡicu,” said the teen, looking down at him while holding a tire iron. The young man looked to barely be in high school, eyes wide with heavy circles under them.
“Thank you so much,” Gareth wheezed as he stood up. “What on earth is happening? What was that?”
“Grandpa can explain it better,” said the teen. He gestured to the doorway leading out of the kitchen. Gareth followed past the hanging blanket, entering a spartan living room with several children lying about, stirring from their slumber on the floor to regard the stranger now in their home. Candles burned on the shelves and end tables throughout the room. The windows were boarded up with every last bit of scrap wood that could be spared, hiding the sight of the outside world. The strong smell of incense hung in the air; Gareth recognized the scent of sage.
“Grandpa,” said the teen, talking to an old man Gareth just now saw in a lone chair in a corner of the room. “This one nearly got grabbed by him.”
The old man got up, regarding Gareth before raising an eyebrow. “Haven’t seen you here for some time, Gareth,” he said.
“Not for a year, Shane,” said Gareth, hanging his head. He had spent more than a few hours passing the time talking to Shane while waiting behind the clinic.
Shane nodded, scooping up a bowl with a bundle of sage from an end table and pulling out a lighter. His grandson lit the sage so he could waft the smoke onto Gareth. “You’re safe here,” he said. “The thralls don’t come close to the house.”
“Thralls?” asked Gareth. “What happened here? What was that… thing?”
“A wanagi,” said Shane. “A bad spirit, a poison that’s seeped into this town like so many others. But he’s older than the town. I don’t know when he first started appearing. But now this town is his.”
“When?” asked Gareth. “Fort Ridge wasn’t like that when I was here before.”
“At least not at first,” said Shane. “His work has been slow. Deceptive. But he doesn’t need to be careful now.” He looked at the children trying to fall back asleep around him as his grandson went about trying to comfort them. “He took their parents. I and the others left have taken in who we can. We can’t escape. He made sure of that.”
“Who is he?” asked Gareth. Of course, part of him already knew.
“I will not speak his name,” said Shane. He looked at him again. “And I think you already know the one he is using now.”
“I saw him at the casino,” said Gareth. “That… thing outside was him as well?”
“He likes to think of himself as an elder,” growled Shane, “but he is anything but. I am glad he spared you, but I can’t imagine why he did.”
“Because he and I are old friends,” came a voice from behind them.
Everyone jumped, and some of the children shrieked before quieting themselves as Gareth and Shane backed into the center, arms spread wide as if to protect those around them. Out of the darkness of the hall stepped the same Blackwater Gareth had met at the casino, the shadows coalescing into the formal shape he had taken there. His glowing red eyes turned black like cooling coals save when the light caught them. Blackwater made a show of bowing to them all. “Such harsh words about my work. It’s not been easy.”
“Leave this place,” growled Shane. “I will not let you hurt these children.” He stepped forward but stayed within the living room, not daring to step into the hall where Blackwater loomed.
“Foolish one,” said Blackwater, shaking his head. “You know I don’t want to harm them.”
“They’ve all seen what you did to their parents,” said Shane.
“What hope did their parents have?” asked Blackwater. “The town crumbling. Everything weighing on them. The loss of all they cherished. No relief in sight. I offered… complacency.” He extended his hand, and in between his long fingers was another can of the beverage he had been peddling. “My latest balm for their wounds was relished by them, just as it will be by countless more. Though I do admit I prefer other drinks.” He looked at Gareth, grinning. “This one knows well how much they can help.”
“I don’t know you,” said Gareth. Yet he did.
“I was there for you when you needed me one year ago,” said Blackwater. “I helped take the pain away for you.”
“You were why I needed the pain taken away!” yelled Gareth. Memories kept assaulting him. Being shaken as morning light came in. Meeting with all those people. Looking at those he had called family and seeing the disgust and shame in their faces.
“And that pain is still there,” said Blackwater. “This will help curb it, and you won’t break the promise you made.”
“You are not welcome here, wanagi,” interrupted Shane. “Leave now.”
“You know, young one,” he said to Shane, “I know the children here want to see their parents again. I could make that happen. They’re all so thankful to me. They have to be. And I don’t think a little sage will make them think twice about coming in.”
Gareth heard the voices of the thralls in his head. The garbled, slurred words that had spilled out of their mouths like the streams of black bile.
“I… need… help!”
“You must help me!”
“Don’t, Blackwater,” said Gareth, stepping ahead of Shane. “What do you even want?”
“It’s what you want I’m interested in,” said Blackwater, grinning down at him. “You want closure. You want peace. You want the guilt to go away.” He extended his other hand, and Gareth found his rising to meet it. He struggled to move, fighting against the urge. It was as if something inside him pushed against his flesh, forcing his arm up.
“Don’t, Gareth,” said Shane. “You know what he really is.”
“Everyone knows what I really am,” said Blackwater, chuckling. “Yet still so many willingly come into the clutches of the Tall Man.” His hand darted forward, grabbing Gareth’s like a bear trap, and everything turned black.
Color came back into the world a second later, the darkness falling away like a curtain. Gareth stood on the top of a hill, left reeling from how he had appeared there. A small abandoned farmhouse stood off in the distance, St. Kolbe’s Cemetery just visible past it. The stars gave barely enough light for him to see around him, and to see the gravestone right before him on the hill, the same hill where he and Lynette had played so many times. The hill they had shared their first kiss on. The hill where they had celebrated his proposal.
And the hill where he had buried her.
That night a year ago. He should have known. He had seen the holes in the crooks of her elbows. Her withering away, rotting like the town she had cared so much about. The town he had agreed to move with her to instead of staying in the city just past the borders of the reservation. Everything had been eating away at them those past few years, but while she found her escape with a needle he had found it in a bottle.
That time, something had been different. The doctors had said it had been laced with something else, something she hadn’t been prepared for. She had died in her dead mother’s farmhouse, helpless, all while he had been passed out on the floor beside her. It wasn’t until the next morning when her sister had come by that he had awoken.
A year ago exactly.
He looked at the gravestone before him, the light from the stars blocked out by the looming shape at his side. The Tall Man looked down at him, red eyes fixed on the grave as it raised one of its arms and placed its hand on his shoulder. Not the piercing grip of a ruthless predator, but the comforting gesture of a loved one.
“It’s a beautiful place,” said the Tall Man.
“Even now it is,” said Gareth.
“How unfortunate she left my grasp,” said the spirit. “There is no comfort in death. Not for her. Not for her loved ones. Not for you.”
“At least she’s free from you,” said Gareth. “Even if it’s in death, she’s at peace.”
“And you’re still here, alone and miserable,” said the Tall Man. “Hated by everyone who had ever loved you. Still stitching together the tattered remains of your life.” He extended his other hand to Gareth. “Take in my will again. I still have some of your spirit. I know how much you hurt.” In his free hand formed another one of the cans. “There is more than one way to escape the pain. To give yourself to me freely. I’ll help you where all the doctors, family, friends and elders failed. I take care of those in my land.”
Gareth looked up at the Tall Man, then snarled, breaking away from the shadow’s touch. “I’m miserable,” he said. “But I’m also myself. I’m broken, but I’m not owned by something else. I made a promise to Lynette that I would never let myself be consumed by anything like that again. Not alcohol, not drugs, and not your disgusting sludge.”
The Tall Man looked down at him, and Gareth flinched. Everything around the shadow grew cold, and he could almost feel his own life and will draining out of him just beholding its presence. He kept expecting the spirit to raise its arm and grip him, forcing the drink down his mouth until he burst like an overfilled waterskin.
Yet it didn’t come.
The Tall Man chuckled, his laugh making everything around him almost vibrate. “You’re adorable, young one,” he said.
“What?” asked Gareth.
“Perhaps some other wanagi might have forced itself upon you,” said the Tall Man, “but I feel no need. Fight me if you wish. Give me a hard time. Maybe even try to pull me from those in the towns I have taken into my care. Do everything you can; for all my threats, I won’t try to thwart you.”
“Why would you do that?” asked Gareth.
The Tall Man chuckled, stepping back into the darkness past the hilltop. “Because, no matter what you do, I will always be with you. And I will always bring you, and everyone else who meets me, back into my clutches.”
The red eyes vanished into the night and warmth returned to the hilltop. Gareth let out a breath he hadn’t been aware he was holding, then turned to Lynette. He put his duffle bag on the ground, opening it up and pulling out some of the things he had brought. Her favorite book. Her favorite candy. Her favorite juice drink. After everything that had happened, he would still have this day with her, even if they just sat about watching the sunrise together.
As he sat down, leaning against the gravestone, something flipped through the air and landed near him. He grabbed it by the edge and brought it closer. A flier, the sort that a convenience store would put in their windows to advertise products.
COMING SOON TO A STORE NEAR YOU: BLACKWATER BEVERAGES’ PRIMAL POWER! IT WILL SAVE YOU WHEN NOTHING ELSE CAN.
As Gareth held his drink, he looked off in the distance to where he knew the next town past Fort Ridge lay, and on the wind he thought he could hear a deep chuckling.
Credit: Justin Arthur
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