Stormhawk (perfect_ruin) wrote,
Stormhawk
perfect_ruin

Here Be Dragons: Part 2

Challenge: Western Challenge
Author: Stormhawk
Date: 6 September
Story Title: Here Be Dragons
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Jackson comes home to discover his brother in deep debt, and his plan for paying it back.

Here Be Dragons: Part Two

The feather-touch left his face, and he dared to look. It was no spectre. It was no banshee. It was just a moth. He watched it fly into a pool of shadow, then disappear.

He freed his hands – but continued on deeper. A dripping permeated the silence as he went further into the cave. Water dripped from a source above and into a shallow pool illuminated by one of the streams of light.

All around the pool were large stones, and as Jackson looked closer, he realised they were the statues his grandfather had spoken about. At first glance, they just appeared to be slabs of stone, but on closer inspection, they looked like people.

Curiosity, the kind that often killed, removed the sense of danger and imminent death from his mind. He let his eyes adjust a little more, then began to inspect them.

Each one was different, some were taller, others were shorter, some were broken. The faces on some were very obvious – he could easy make out noses and the hollows for eyes. Others were merely slabs of rock with curves here and there.

They could have been man-made – carved for whatever reason – to remember those lost, or to serve as a warning. Whatever their origin, they weren’t what he’d imagined.

Three shots rang out – a warning that his time was nearly up.

***

A few hours had passed since the revelation of Charles’ “brilliant” plan. Jackson had spent all of that time in his musty bedroom, mulling over the facts. He sighed, and went and found his brother.

‘What if it’s not gold?’

‘It could be jewels.’

‘What if it’s dust?’

‘Then they won’t be very happy.’


‘Who?’ Jackson asked. Charles lifted his head and nodded, Jackson turned and looked toward the hill behind the farm – three figures on horses were silhouetted there. ‘Who are they?’

‘People with money.’

The three horses came barrelling down the hill, kicking up the dead earth behind them. As they approached, it became clear that they were bandits. It wasn’t a rash judgement – he’d seen enough at distance during his youth to recognise the type. ‘People with stolen money,’ Jackson scoffed under his breath.


‘Mister Charles,’ the one in the middle – obviously the leader as his horse’s tack actually looked well maintained – ‘today's our money day?’

Charles – evidently having expected this, pulled a map from his back pocket. ‘Payday indeed.’ He unfurled it in the manner of a showman and showed it to the bandit leader. ‘X marks the spot. There’s a treasure there that will more than pay you back what I owe you.’


The bandit snatched the map from his hands, and looked at it. ‘Ink's faded. How ya know it’s any good?’

‘I always come good on my word.’

‘That why the whisky gets weak as piss as the poker goes on? Cheaper that way – is that keeping your word?’


Charles had time to look confused before he heard the shot. He stumbled and fell to the ground. Jackson dropped down beside him – and was relieved when Charles moved enough for him to see that it had merely gone through his leg. It was serious, but not life threatening – not at the moment.

The bandit put his gun away and stared at the map. The gun came out again and this time was aimed at Jackson. ‘You.’ Jackson nodded in response. ‘Know where this is?’ Another nod. ‘Good, you’re comin' with us, fancy boy.’

‘He’ll bleed to death before we can get back.’


‘Best be hurryin' then.’

‘Doesn’t work like that.’

The bandit fired the gun, Jackson jumped, but it just hit the ground near his feet. The bandit’s lackeys jumped off their horses – one bound his hands, the other bound Charles’ hands.

‘You can’t leave him there. He’ll die.’


A simple growl was all the answer the bandit gave.

‘Does he really owe you that much?’

The bandit nodded and said the amount. Jackson raised a hand to his mouth and used God’s name in vain. He felt winded.

‘Charles, you utter idiot.’ He hated himself for his words, but hated his brother much more at the moment.


Everything their grandfather had worked for was being destroyed because Charles was lazy, or just too greedy. The allure of easy money was like a siren – a sadistic one at that. He allowed himself to be dragged away, while his brother rolled around in agony under the hot sun.

***

‘Where is it?’ Jackson asked the walls desperately. The ground was solid rock – it couldn’t have been buried, and there were no obvious hiding places – though the lack of light made it impossible to determine whether or not he had walked past a baker’s dozen.

‘I’ve seen the dragons,’ he said, casting a glance at the statues, ‘but where is the hoard?’

He continued ever deeper into the cave, wondering if the earth was merely going to swallow him up – it made as much sense as anything else that had ever happened.

***

‘I hear he’s crazy,’ eight-year-old Charles said.

‘You’re just saying that,’ Jackson said as he held his duffel-bag tighter. He looked up and down the street. ‘Shouldn’t he be here by now?’

‘Yes I am crazy, and yes I’m here,’ their grandfather said as he walked up behind them.

Charles straightened up. ‘Hello sir, sorry sir.’


‘Don’t apologise to me, you didn’t say anything that wasn’t true.’ He laughed. It was a good laugh, one used to telling jokes under the sun, doing work that created calluses. ‘All farmers got to be a little crazy, it’s what lets us talk to cows, and ask things of the earth.’

‘Hello,’ Jackson said, looking up at his grandfather.


Grandpa knelt down and smiled. ‘And you’re the quiet one, aren’t you? Well, the earth can hear you when you whisper.’

He then handed them each a bag of store candy and led them towards the wagon.


***

Jackson stopped and started a few sentences. ‘I feel like an Indian,’ he murmured. ‘Earth…ground…stone…I need your help. Please…’ he swallowed, feeling like an idiot. ‘I need my grandfather’s treasure.’ He shook his head. ‘Help,’ he said louder. ‘Help!’

When his voice echoed, he knew he’d done the wrong thing.

A moment later, resounding footsteps began to come closer.

He heard a skittering sound, and looked down at the ground. The pebbles near his feet were moving, he stayed still and looked around…everything was moving, just slightly.

‘All right then,’ he said.

He took a deep breath, and screamed with all of his might. He took another and roared. He made all the sound he could before he exhausted himself.

It didn’t stop the footsteps from coming closer, but the cave was definitely reacting. The earth was helping him. He heard shouts, and then there was only one set of footprints.

The whole cave was collapsing.

He ran as fast as he could, jumping over falling stones and parts of the roof. He threw himself against the back wall of the cave and prayed. He pressed himself against it as much as he could – hoping to avoid the falling debris.

He looked up and through all of the falling rocks and dust. He could see the bandit. The bandit rose his gun and pulled the trigger.

As he did, there was a flash of light – Jackson assumed one of the falling droplets of water had caught the light at a fortunate angle. The bullet impacted the ground near him.

The bandit went to fire again, but was crushed as section of the roof fell.

More of the cave collapsed in, but then all went silent.

Jackson reached down, the bullet up from the floor and placed it in his pocket – it was a reminder of how lucky he was. He covered his mouth with a handkerchief, as the air was thick with settling dust. carefully made his way across the floor, and looked down at the bandit as he passed.

The section of roof that had fallen had completely crushed his lower half, leaving his chest and head visible. He was entirely caked with dust – he looked as though he had turned to stone.

‘Thank you,’ Jackson said, just in case it hadn’t been simple sciences that had saved his life.

He looked again at the pool that the water dripped into, knelt and scooped out all the pebbles at the bottom. He found a rotted hide-skin bag and inside, wrapped in wax paper was a small wooden box. He held it lovingly, then looked down – in the corner of his eye, he saw a familiar reflection in the pool

‘Grandpa…’ he said without turning.

The image in the pool didn’t move.

Jackson nervously turned, but saw no one. He looked to the pool again, and saw that it had been his own reflection – he was just seeing what he wanted to see.

He turned to look at the cave. ‘Goodbye Grandpa. Thank you.’

***

‘What do you mean he’s gone?’ Jackson asked his brother.

‘I mean, Grandpa’s not here.’

‘Is he working already?’

‘All them brains and you can’t hear the words coming out of my mouth?’

‘He can’t just be…gone…’


‘Jackson, he’s gone to die, you know that. Suck it up, take it like a man, we just inherited a farm.’

‘You’re crazy, he’s just…’

‘He left his pipe here.’

Those words made Charles’ assumption true. The tobacco pouch lived above the mantle, but the pipe went with him, rain, hail or shine.


‘Can’t grieve today, we have to bring the crops in.’ With that, Charles walked away.

Jackson shook his head. ‘Not that you’ll grieve anyway, you son of a bitch.’ He looked out the window towards the where he knew the cave was – it was the only place his grandfather would go to die.


***

The bandit’s associates had been nice enough to leave their boss’s horse behind for him to ride – though their reasoning had probably been from fear. Jackson placed the wooden box in the saddle-bag, mounted and bolted for home.

He arrived to find nothing but bloodstains where his brother had been. A wavering whistle made him look up. Charles waved at him from his own bedroom window. Jackson ran into the house and found two women attending to him.

‘Thank god,’ he said.

‘Get apples delivered today,’ Charles – sounding slightly drunk – said. ‘Apple women saved my life.’

Jackson nodded to them. ‘I’ll repay you for saving him.’

He left them to tend to his brother – he didn’t want to be in the way. He took the new horse to the stable and removed the tack. He carried the saddle bags into the house and began to empty them. Aside from some dry meat, tobacco and a small bottle of whisky, there was hundreds of dollars in cash and the treasure box.

He stored the cash in a flour barrel, satisfied that at least he would be able to restore the farm. He drew himself a long bath, and fell asleep in the comfortingly warm water. He roused himself when the water began to chill, and went to bed.

The treasure box lay on the table, unopened for now.

In the morning, he took Charles breakfast and strong, sweet tea. He sat on the end of the bed and shook his head at his brother.

‘So much trouble Charles, so much trouble because of you.’

‘I was making a living.’

‘You were making a ruin of your life.’ Jackson shook his head. ‘I don’t want you a part of this life anymore.’

Charles, still slightly groggy, shook his head. ‘Meaning?’

‘I’m going to buy the farm out from you. I’m going to restore it, I’m going to work it. I’m not going to let Grandpa’s memory dry up and blow away.’

‘Look, I’m sorry little brother.’

‘You nearly cost both of our lives. There’s nothing you can say that will make up for it. I want you well, then I want you gone.’

Charles drank his tea in silence, then asked the burning question. ‘Did you find the treasure?’

‘You mean, did I find gold? Or jewels?’

‘Yes,’ Charles asked, feeling shame for once.

‘No. I didn’t.’ Jackson left his brother to finish his breakfast.

***

It was the next evening before Jackson brought himself to opening the box. Inside was a ruby the size of his palm, a gold bar with what he assumed to be oriental writing, and his grandfather’s pipe.

He tapped the dust from the pipe, then went in search of the tobacco pouch.

Jackson lit the pipe, and placed on the mantle a memento from the “adventure”. The bullet the bandit had shot at him. The bullet wasn’t metal – though he was sure it had once been – bullets made of stone didn’t fire.




Tags: challenge, ghosts, western
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