Michael was making up stories again. Though he had tied his long, dark hair back into a sophisticated
horse-tail before leaving his room behind the Doore Candle Shop, it had fallen loose into an array of tendrils that made him
look like an absent-minded wizard. An annoyed group of older men at the bar turned to cast disapproving looks his way as he
burst into a loud rendition of a conversation he had had earlier that day with a traveller. The dialogue was embellished and
the length dramatic. Adam was shaking his head with a smile reserved for very good, very ridiculous friends. The others were
listening intently, throwing out comments and remarks whenever they could prepare them.
"And then..." Michael said, completing his verbal set-up with a flourish of his hand, "he disappeared...just
like that! Like he never was there!"
Some of the other men laughed at the obvious fiction, but some were genuinely disappointed after
nearly ten minutes of believing it to be a true story. Even the bartender rolled his tired, bloodshot eyes from across the
room. There was smoke from a whole line of men with cigars settling around the bar like a whispy storm cloud, the edges softening
into a fine dust that would no doubt discolor everything it touched over time.
"I think I might go stand in the doorway for a minute or two," Adam told the others, hoping they
wouldn't make it too difficult for him. He really needed another breath of the fresh night air before sitting back down for
a night of breathing cigar smoke and the thick, acidic scent of the burning wax in the lanterns. They were all just getting
caught up in another story that Adam hadn't even noticed, so they paid him little mind when he squeezed behind them and out
of the corner. Donny was imitating Dante Mier, and doing a fine job of it. Everyone knew Dante didnt waste his time among
the common folk at the tavern, so there was no need to be concerned about offending the man with strikingly accurate (and
not-so-flattering) imitations, should he happen to show up.
Just before he reached the open doorway, an old farmer seated nearby with a wide cigar hanging
from one side of his mouth asked him to give his regards to his master. He informed him in return with news that Lile Irvine
would be back in the area by the end of the week. He, too, was glad for this. Lile was one of the only other men Adam knew
that could really see into his head, and understand what was there. It was a rare thing to find a kindred spirit such as this...
especially in an employer.
The cooler, cleaner air at the doorway hit him like a club as he stepped into the doorway, breathing
as if it were his last breath in this life. The stars were glittering contentedly in the night sky, shining through the slight
film of smoke coming out through the tavern's door. Looking up into space almost always got Adam thinking about his own existence.
"What am I doing?" he thought, "and what good is it?"
He had not been standing there a minute when along came the little ragdoll of a girl he had seen
outside the seed shop earlier. She was shuffling cheerfully along the side of the street below where he stood, humming a song
he didn't know. She had a mangy-looking and yellowed toy animal of some kind dangling from her hand, and she was swinging
it back and forth with each playful step.
"Hello, little Miss," he said, hoping he wouldn't frighten her. Little girls weren't always partial
to answering the greetings of men at the tavern.
She looked up, at first appearing that she wasn't sure it was she who was being spoken to. She
smiled a half-smile, nodded her head meekly, and continued shuffling.
"Miss?" he called, his heart burning with an almost admirable sympathy for her lot. "What sort
of animal is that you have?"
At the mention of her stuffed dog, Lorey was finally sure he was talking to her. She let her full
smile show as she turned and walked back towards him, still being wary of his location. She stayed below, on the street, looking
up at him.
"This is a dog I call Starlight," she told him, holding up her dog to show more clearly under
a streetlamp. Adam looked long and hard at it- both to show her his interest, and also to try to see any kind of dogness in
the vague stuffed shape it had. It was a difficult process. He tried not to let his strain show in his face.
"How nice," he said instead. "And where did you get such a cute animal?"
Lorey's smile faded, almost as if she thought she was being accused of something. After a moment,
she answered, "A nice lady gave it to me."
"That's wonderful," he replied, watching her smile come back gradually. "I hope you have a lovely night,
"Miss Lorey Frank!" she announced, tipping into a strange curtsy.
"My name is Adam, Lorey. Be sure to say hello if you ever see me again."
She considered this a moment, then nodded before shuffling off on her own way. It felt unusual
to speak to a child such as Lorey. In fact, it felt unusual to speak to a child at all. He didn't have much experience communicating
with them, as most children in Palmer Ellis were kept off the street most all the time, and when they went out, they were
always most certainly with their parents. Most parents insisted that their children remain quiet and not make conversation
with adults, who were most certaily dangerous in some way or another. Unfortunately, many "mosts" like this tended to add
up to the overall feeling that these things were inescapable. For children like Lorey, Adam knew, this type of rule didn't
A few moments after Lorey had disappeared into the dark down by the Crossing, Adam heard running
footsteps. They seemed to heavy and frantic to be the jolly scampering of a little girl, and as the sound swelled his arms
were suddenly full of someone who had smacked right into him.
"Oh graces, Adam!" she said, panting and falling to one knee.
"Gwen?" he asked, definitely not sure. He had rarely seen her dressed this way. He knew her from
the occasional rough game of Freeze and Shatter he and some of the young farm hands played. She was one of the only women
he knew who enjoyed sporting. He assumed it must be because of her unusual upbringing.
"Adam...Adam..." she kept saying, breathing as if she might keel over at any second. He gripped
her shoulders and pulled her upright. Even then, the top of her head reached only his chest. He shook her gently, demanding
"What is it, Gwen? You look like you've seen a ghost."
Her eyes widened as she remembered everything she had seen, and Adam could only stand and wait,
gripping her and staring into her wild eyes.
"Adam, you have to come... we have to... there's been killings."
At this, he let go of her and took a step back. She grabbed at his arms and tried to pull herself
to her feet, but instead brought him to his knees with her panicked strength.
"Gwen," he began, knowing it was no use refusing her, "just give me one minute to go and tell
the guys I'm leaving... so they won't fuss over me. Stay right here." He pushed her into a sitting position near the doorway,
rose, and re-entered the tavern.
"Gentlemen," he announced as he neared the table, "I have some business to attend to and must
bid you goodnight." He hoped the urgency wouldn't show in his voice. He smiled to convince them it was nothing but an unpredicted
obligation. He was greeted with the impatient wave of hands as they silently bid him not to interrupt Michael's latest story.
Had he really thought they would fuss over him?
Before he could even turn around to head back outside, Gwen was at his side again. Of course,
this was enough to prompt the attention of his companions, who immediately broke into wide grins. She was still panting- her
chest heaving in the dim light of the tavern. She forced a generic smile at the lot of them, then pulled aggressively on Adam's
"Come on," she commanded through gritted teeth. Her flushed fear had given way to impatience and
frustration. He wondered if it was an act.
"Oh my," muttered Donny, elbowing a helplessly giggling James Salor, "this one sure is insistant.
Just the kind our man Adam likes."
Adam felt his own face flush. Gwen was a friend in frantic need of help, and he was being held
subject to embarassment over his friend's half-drunk assumption. He ushered her towards the door, pulling down a bit of her
skirt that had bunched at her hip as she ran.
He said nothing to anyone, but caught the instance of several jeering smiles on the way out. Lewd
comments filtered out into the night air with the two of them.
"Forget them," Gwen said, some of the fear returning to her small voice, "Please, we have to go."
"Gwen," he said harshly, pulling her to a stop and staring into her darting eyes, holding them
still. "If someone was really killed, then why didn't you tell all those people? Why the act? Why only me?"
Her eyes fell to her feet as though she had been struck, and Adam took a step back in horror at
what he saw there- recognition. She very often looked this way. He thought maybe he knew why.
"I don't need a crew of drunk laborers who will laugh at me and stare into my bodice, Adam. What
I need is someone I can trust. When I was running, I thought only of finding someone- anyone- to tell. Then I found you and
I knew that this wasnt something I could run into a tavern screaming about."
"They would have believed you," he answered curtly, "but they won't now. Not after your self-control
facade." He took a deep breath of the smoke-free air and squinted against her expression. Her eyes were resolute, but heavy,
"This isn't important," she replied with a grunt, and pulled his arm nearly out of its socket.