So I started writing a random scene at work the other day, and it’s started to turn into a story that I like. I have no idea where it’s going, (ok that’s not entirely true, I have some idea) but I’m excited for the journey. And I want to share that journey with all of you, so I have decided to post it in serial. I will try to post a new scene at least every three days, but I will only post if I feel there is enough to form a satisfying piece of the story. So, without further ado, it begins:
Company of the Damned
The dying embers of the fire cast a ruddy glow in a dim circle around the camp. A single flame danced behind the charred log, too feeble to brighten the night beyond. Here and there around the circle lay the dark forms of men, still and silent in the gloom. The savory scent of roast bird and charred brush-hopper still lingered in the air, though only bones and husk remained, piled beside the fire pit.
The boy crouched in the tall grass just beyond the campsite, studying the still forms on the ground. He struggled to remain as still as the Stone Men of the Espanic deserts out west, ears tuned to the slightest sound, dark eyes watching for the rise and fall of breath in any of the vague shapes laying before him. In one bony hand he clutched a rock, painstakingly shaped to a ragged edge on one side; the thumb of his other hand was stuck firmly in his mouth. Crouched there on the balls of his bare feet, clutching his rude weapon, the boy quietly sucked his thumb as he waited; watching until the moon rose high enough to reveal the dark stains pooled in the sand around the fallen men.
Wary still, though it seemed safe, he cautiously scooted forward, edging his way slowly into the dim glow of the fire. Ears still straining to catch any sound above the soft hiss of the embers, he set down his stone and began picking through remains of the dead men’s last meal. With the practiced motions of the ever hungry he quickly tore even the smallest shreds of meat from the bird bones, before cracking them open to suck the marrow inside. When he had garnered all the sustenance he could from the bones, he picked up the charred husk of the brush-hopper and scrapped the juicy flesh from the carapace with his stone. There was little enough left, but to a boy whose ribs showed clearly beneath his filthy rags, it was a feast.
Hunger assuaged temporarily, the boy licked the grease from his fingers before wiping his hands on his tattered pants. Standing, he warmed himself for a moment over the fire, warding off the chill of the late summer night, and turned to the body lying nearest to him. Roughly, with no trace of reverence or fear, the boy began rifling through the man’s clothes. Finding nothing in his pockets the boy began patting back and forth across the fabric, searching for hidden bulges among the folds.
“You’ll find little enough worth taking here, lad,” a gruff voice called from the darkness, “whoever did fer these whoresons will have made off with anything of value.”
The boy started at the man’s voice. Grabbing his stone, he cocked his arm to throw and began inching around the fire pit, away from the speaker.
“Calm down son, if I meant any harm I wouldn’a spoken up.”
The words did not seem to comfort the boy, as he continued inching away from the voice. When no more was said, the boy turned and bolted for the safety of night’s shroud; only to slam into a shadow looming against the starry sky. With a cry he fell back, landing hard on the packed earth of the campsite, his stone flying from his grasp.
The shadowy form moved closer, into the dim glow of the embers, and resolved itself into a man. He was neither tall nor short, stout of frame, and dressed in the ragged clothes of a vagabond. His grizzled face was worn as a river stone, with drooping gray mustache and close cropped hair. The moonlight glinted in his eyes, and his toothy grin was a baleful white. The hilt of a sword protruded above his shoulder, and a six-gun gleamed on his hip.
Crouching, he offered his hand to the boy.
“Neat trick huh?”
The boy did not reach for his hand, but just lay on his back, watching him with suspicious eyes. The man sat back on his haunches and scrubbed at this chin, studying the boy. After a moment he reached back over his shoulder. The boy clenched his eyes shut, but otherwise did not move, his every action speaking of a glum resignation. There were several moments of rustling, then something firm hit the boy in the chest. Opening his eyes he looked down to see an apple roll off of him and into the dirt. He started to reach for it and then stopped, staring at the strange man.
“Take it son; God knows you could use it. I’ve got food to spare, and I’m happy to share if you’ll help me a bit.”
The boy hesitated a moment more, then nodded slowly and reached for the apple. When his hand closed on it he scuttled backward, as though worried the man meant to take it back. Sitting up, he stuffed the apple into his mouth, ravenously tearing it apart until only the stem remained. Through this all the man stayed where he was, watching. When the boy finished eating he spoke again.
“What’s your name, son?”
The boy looked at him sharply, then paused for a moment as though he had to think about it.
“Odi,” he croaked in a raw voice.
“Odi. That short fer something?”
Odi nodded, “Odysseus. But only me ma ever called me that.”
“Aye, an ill-omened name if you ask me. I’ll call you Odi. Me name’s Jaime. Now I was looking fer these here men, you know anything about what happened to them?”
Odi shook his head, “They was already kill’t.”
“Aye, well I didn’a figure you’d done fer them yerself. How’d you find them?”
“Saw the fire. Was gonna wait till morning, folks usually leave scraps. But I saw they was kill’t, and I was so hungry.” He looked away then, staring down into the dirt between his feet.
“No shame in what you done lad. Let’s go, me eyes ain’t good enough to pick up the trail in this light, and it’s ill-luck to sleep among the dead.”
Standing, Jaime put his fingers to his mouth and gave a sharp whistle. There came a clopping from the dark, and moments later a dappled gray horse trotted into the camp to stand beside him. After patting the horse affectionately on the neck, Jaime strode over to Odi and once again offered his hand. The boy only hesitated a moment before taking it, but shook free of the grip as soon as he was on his feet.
As Jaime swung up into his saddle, Odi retrieved his stone from the ground, clutching it to his chest as he moved to follow behind the grim faced man astride the plodding horse.
Continued: Part 2.