Dead Man's Hand

I woke from my slumber to the unusual comfort of a good bed. It took me a good minute to realize where I was. Eventually I was able to focus on the dulled, flowered print bed sheet and stacks upon stacks of books that reminded me I was in Dr. Declan Charleswood’s guest room. I rolled onto my stomach with some effort and saw the clock propped up on top of some texts about “Western European Horticulture”. The little hand pointed to the eleven and the big one was just past the twelve. Sunlight striking me on the face from the crack in the blinds only furthered to stress the reminder it was time to get up.

I came down from second floor after donning a t-shirt and jeans from my semi-pile of clothes I had hocked from my motel room to here. Some plants littered the floor from where the tables were filled. I stepped around each pot and straight past the figure at the table. I threw the kitchen tap on, waited for the flow to warm up then plunged my head beneath it. The water was calming as it ran across my scalp and poured off my forehead into the drain. I let it run for a few seconds then shut off the tap, grabbing a nearby towel and proceeding to dry my short, black hair.

The soft clink of a tea cup brought my attention back to the figure at the table. Dr. Declan Charleswood was a stoic man of sorts. He wasn’t old, but I wouldn’t go calling him a young man anytime soon either. He sat as he did every morning since I started living with him, silently with some tea and a paper.

“I can’t help but notice the plants starting to take over,” I said still drying my hair.

“I’ve run out of room in the greenhouse,” Charleswood replied without turning from his reading.

I rolled my eyes and tossed the towel onto the counter. “So then when will the ferns be vacating the shower?”

Charleswood merely shrugged and took another sip from his tea.

“Do you drink anything other then tea?” I wondered out loud.

The doctor tapped the rim of his cup. “This one has rum in it.”

“What’s the occasion?”

“Not dead.”

A scoff left my lips and I grabbed a breakfast for myself. Bland cereal, milk and an orange, sustaining enough. I poured the milk into the bowl and a glass, held the orange in my teeth, and took my place across from Charleswood. The generic bran clumps that made up my meal quickly became soggy with milk. I almost took a bite when I was interrupted.

TICK

The weight of a pocket watch became apparent in my jeans. I dropped the spoonful back into the bowl and took out the gold watch with a sigh. The lid sprung open almost before I pressed the crown. A simple piece of white paper sat on the inside of the cover. I unfolded the note to a single word:

TABER

I raised an eyebrow, something Charleswood evidently took notice of.

“What is it?” he asked.

“What’s a Taber?” I said, tossing the note aside.

“It’s a small town just outside of Calgary.”

“Anything special?” I asked as I returned the watch to my pocket and grabbed the bowl from the table. I wouldn’t have time to eat anyway. When the watch doesn’t give me a time it means ASAP. The bran slogged down the drain and the rest was rinsed away with a shot of water from the tap.

“It’s where corn comes from,” shrugged Charleswood.

I groaned as I strode to the front door, grabbing my coat from the back of the couch and dropping the orange into it’s pocket. “I’ll be back whenever,” I called to my roommate.


Something was off about Taber. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I think it was the fire. Yeah, definitely the fire.

A great blaze was sweeping across the buildings as I arrived, the Greyhound stopping just short of town. It lit up the early night sky with an orange-yellow light, casting across the huddled forms of the townsfolk who had fled into the streets. Firefighters tried desperately to quell the inferno but their water seemed to be useless.

My gaze fixed on a single ember falling from the fire, taken by the breeze. I watched it land at the feet of a middle-aged man with a wiry frame and wide eyes. He did not have the terror in his eyes that the rest of the town did–his were joy. A curious malice that made his entire body tremble with excitement. His eyes turned to meet mine and the smile dropped. I don’t know if he knew who I was or just was upset that someone saw him, but he turned on a dime and booked it in the opposite direction. My toes dug into the dirt and I took off after him.

I had expected him to run around one of the burning building before us but apparently he had another plan. He sprung off one leg and threw himself recklessly one of the windows, crashing arms-first through the pane. I stumbled for a second, the inferno before me dwarfing my form, but something pushed me on.

God damn it, Fortuna.

I could see blood lining the razor rim of the window. Fortunately though, the man had knocked most of the glass out. I–much more carefully–pulled myself through.

It was the heat that caught me first. An intense wave that threatened to peel my skin and boil my blood. Then the smoke entering my lungs. I felt like I was trying to breath through a sleeve. Nearby was a table with a nice square of fabric underneath a potted plant. I yanked the fabric out, sending the plant smashing against the floor. A little revenge for my denial of a real shower this morning.

I tied the cloth around my mouth and nose. I didn’t know if it was actually helping, but it certainly wasn’t hindering.

The man’s form was barely visible through the smoke that obscured my vision. I held my breath and pushed on through the halls of this house. He was limping painfully and trying find a way out but part of the building had collapsed in his way. He was trapped.

“H-help,” came a weak voice to my right.

I turned to the room I was passing. A younger man, maybe sixteen, laid pinned under a fallen bookcase. The flames in the room surrounded him on three sides and if someone didn’t help him, he would be burned alive.

The same pressure was pushing me on after the fleeing man but I shrugged it off painfully.

“Sorry, Fortuna,” I muttered, “this one is my choice.”

I swept into the room and next to the boy. He looked up at me pitifully but said no words. I heaved with all my might on the bookcase but it wouldn’t budge. The flames around me crackled and popped as they approached.

My hand dug into my jeans pocket and I felt a short, five-card stack. I pulled out one and held it under the case. I jerked up with the card and the force held inside it shot the bookcase off the boy and into the upper corner of the room before it crashed hard into the fire.

The boy grabbed at my arm and weakly pulled himself up. “Thank you,” he said.

“Don’t thank me yet,” I replied. I turned back to the room’s entrance and my heart dropped. Fire had overtaken the doorway, blocking any hope of leaving through it.

I spun a glance around the room. It was nothing but smoke and fire. The heat really started to cook me and I wished that I had taken off my coat before jumping in. The encroaching feeling of death twisted around my heart, a cold, icy grasp. If I had ignored the boy then I would have survived, instead of both of us dying here.

I shook the thought out of my head. We were not dead yet, and I was not out of tricks.

The gold pocket watch came out of my jeans, clutched tightly in my right hand. I dropped to my knee, pulling the boy down with me.

“Keep still,” I ordered.

The roof above us started to crumble and I glance up to it. I could feel the power welling up inside me. This building was destined to fall, I knew it. I was just helping.

I drove as much power as I could muster into the watch, feeling it spread around me like tendrils and touch the world. The roof cracked. Chunks of wood crashed to either side of us, smothering the fire. The walls crumbled into pieces and I shut my eyes tightly to the horrendous sound of crunching.

Soon the noises subsided. I could hear the odd crackling of flame and the shouting of firefighters still dealing with another blaze. My eyes risked opening a crack and I saw moonlight. The building had fallen, but not a splinter had touched us. Just some good luck finally.

I stood from the wreckage and looked into the prairies. Just against the failing light of the fire I could see the man fleeing into the distance. He was moving with supernatural speed, each step bounding him much further forward then any normal man’s should.

“What’s in that direction?” I asked the shaking boy.

“I–uh, Calgary I think,” he stammered out.

I groaned and stepped through the ruins. And I just got here.

Dead Man's Hand

The Wyrd West: Eldrich Calgary Strawdog