The game I play
by Michael Schultz
John stood draping his head over the shower. The scalding water poured down his long red hair, and onto his back. It was a familiar scene one that had grown so old. Everyday was the same as the last. Even college, which he thought would be his saving grace, turned out to be boring.
He twisted the rusted shower handle, and stepped out covering himself with a towel. The cubicle sized bathroom made it difficult to move around as John opened up the medicine cabinet grabbing a bottle of anti-depressants. What bothered him was how dull life was compared to novels and movies. His life was average. As the days passed it seemed that fact would not change.
He looked into the mirror trying to admire his reflection. A tall skinny boy with pale skin and sagging shoulders stared back. John was not into sports or working out, instead he read novels and watched movies. He enjoyed stories because they allowed him to become someone else. He became a person that actually meant something, a person that could change the world.
John swallowed one of the pills and left the bathroom.
His dorm was neat and orderly, and his cloths were laid out on the bed. He quickly checked the room for anything out of place. It was a habit he picked up from his father who, at one point, worked for the FBI. John dressed into his school uniform stuffing a pack of cigarettes into his pocket. "They must be waiting for me" he thought slipping into his pea coat.
John left his dorm proceeding down the steps to exit the complex.
"Hey! JFK! I thought you weren't going to make it." A student waved at him from the corner of the street.
"Richard, I told you to call me John." His friends liked to tease him because his name was John Kennedy.
"Yeah whatever. So you decided to come?" He moved next to Richard sliding his hands into his pockets.
"I told you I would." John said removing the pack of cigarettes. "Got a light?" Richard leaned over tossing him a silver lighter.
"Damn its cold." Richard started rubbing his hands together.
It was five in the afternoon, and the sun had almost vanished behind the horizon. It was the middle of winter, and it usually got dark after five.
"I hate winter." John whispered lighting his cigarette.
"Hey, you sure about this? I mean Sophie is going to be mad that your skipping class again."
"I will just tell her I was sick." He took a drag of his cigarette. "He's late."
"Dude, you should just dump that bitch." Richard said " You don't even like her, right?"
It was true, John didn't like her. Sophie had asked him out last year, and he had agreed out of sympathy.
"No, I like her."
"Bullshit! You're the worst liar I have ever met." They stood by the road for a while when, Suddenly, headlights lit up the area plastering their shadows over the snow.
"About time." They said in unison as an old truck pulled up along side of them.
The driver rolled down the window and leaned out. "Richard, JFK, need a lift?"
"Fuck you guys." John crushed his cigarette in the snow and got into the back of the truck with Richard.
"Terry, we about died of hypothermia waiting for you." Richard complained slamming the door.
"Your lucky I came to pick you up. Do you have any idea how much money I spend on gas?" Terry put the truck in gear, and started down the road.
"So, what's the movie?" Terry asked
"Some low budget horror film." John shifted in his seat.
"JFK, you remember our deal?" Terry looked at him through the rear view mirror.
"Its John, shithead, and yes I remember."
"Wow are you top of the class again John?" Richard looked at him with jealousy.
"Yes he is, and he is going to let me copy off his exam sheets from now on."
"I told you I would let you see my notes, nothing more."
"Yeah I was just kidding, but seriously how do you keep your scores so high when you skip all the time?" They came to a stop at a red light.
"Maybe he truly is with the FBI, and he was sent to spy on us." Richard whispered.
"Richard I told you to stop saying that shit. My dad no longer works with the bureau, and I have nothing to do with him, or them." An uncomfortable silence settled in the truck.
"Here comes the men in black." Terry hummed.
"Terry, just shut up and drive."
John settled into his seat drifting off into thought. If he were to end his life who would truly care? After all, there were a number of people who would love to see him dead. He had always been the black sheep of the family. It was Johns sister who was the promising one. Kate was the soul reason his parents had remained together. John was just the accident of the family, but he had a purpose. John was the shoulder Kate used to stand above everyone else. If his sister made a mistake it was because of something he did. When Kate did poorly in a class it was because she was to busy helping John with his homework. When Kate lost her gold ring it was because John had stolen it. When Kate died it was because John wasn't there to save her. He once read his mothers diary before his parents divorce. The last page said how she wished it was John who died instead of her beloved Kate. His father sent him to college soon after. John figured he did it just to get rid of him.
"Hey, were here." Richard flicked his ear.
"Already?" John looked out the window, and was surprised to see the movie theatre. It was well lit with movie names scrolling across makeshift billboards. He could almost imagine himself in a limousine with a red carpet welcoming him in.
"Are you gonna go or just sit on your ass?" Terry said impatiently.
John opened the door stepping out onto the poorly shoveled pavement. "So much for the red carpet."
"What?" Richard shut the truck door.
"Nothing." He began moving towards the movie theatre.
Terry rolled down the truck window. "I'll be back in three to pick you guys up." with that he drove away leaving nothing but an oil trail.
John entered the movie theatre removing his coat before the receptionist. "I'll take one for Land of the Forsaken." The receptionist stared at John her fingers twisting the edges of her blond hair.
"I.D?" Her voice cracked as if she hadn't spoken in years.
He sighed opening his wallet so she could see his drivers license.
"That'll be seven dollars, thank you."
John took the ticket, and waited for Richard to get through.
"I.D?" She asked more clearly.
Richard fumbled around in his pockets before revealing his wallet and license. "Damn your hot, say, what time do you get off work?"
"That'll be seven dollars.." The receptionist said coldly. John wondered if she wasn't a robot.
Richard tried several times to get her to respond before paying and taking his ticket. "What was with that chick?" He said as they moved to the snack bars.
"I guess she didn't like you." John checked his leather band wristwatch "We still have about ten minutes."
"Good cause I have to take a leak." Richard quickly looked for the bathrooms. "Why don't you hit the arcade for a bit." He said pointing to the game room.
"I think I will." John had left his mark on every game in the theatre. The infamous "JFK" that appeared on every high score list was his doing. His favorites were the survival horror arcades. It was one of these games that caught his eye as he moved to the arcade. The old machine was what he liked to call a "carriage" game. The type of arcade that was built like a small theatre. There were curtains covering the entrance and you had to duck down to get in. Once inside you felt isolated with nothing but a screen between you and the digital world.
John ran his hand across the machines smooth black surface. He moved the curtain aside taking a seat. Two multicolored plastic guns, used to interact with the game, sat in a holster before him. The words Insert coin flashed across the big screen. John removed two quarters feeding the machine. Suddenly, the screen went black as if the power had vanished. He stared at his own reflection a puzzled look crossing his face. "Piece of shit." John smacked the dark screen, and punched the refund button. The game didn't respond the screen reflecting his dark glare. Releasing a stream of curses John began to leave. He immediately noticed something was wrong. His reflection didn't move. Johns body froze, the screen weaving a dark spell. It was as if a thousand arms pinned him in place, and wrenched him back into his seat. The hairs on the edge of his spine stood on end as his mirror image began to speak.
"Will you play my game?" It asked.
Icy fear trickled down his body like sweat. His image moved like a machine, its body twitching- gaze never leaving his own. "Game?" John whispered trying to collect himself.
"You have been invited to play the game on the edge of Salem, will you play?"
His mind raced trying to get a handle on the situation. "Who are you?" John tried to move his body to duck away from that stare. "And what do you mean?"
"You're board of life, you have wished to die. I give you the right to play my game." Its hand moved pointing at him. "If you accept just touch the screen."
The hidden force holding him vanished and he was able to move again.
"Choose to play my game, and your life will change." Its voice spiked from high to low. "Imagine being able to escape your dull existence. Accept my game and live as you have always wished."
John was frightened, but his curiosity was stirred by its words. He slowly moved his finger closer to the screen until he could almost touch it. He began to shake, his finger stopping just short. Suddenly, the video screen flickered back on as Richard brushed the curtain aside.
"Dude I figured you'd be in this one. You really.." He stopped "Man, you okay? You look pale."
He quickly took his hand away from the screen. "Yeah, yeah I'm fine."
"What? Did somebody beat your high score?" Richard mocked him.
Two quarters spit out onto his lap making him jump. "Something like that.." John pocketed the quarters and left the machine. He tried to pass off the experience as a hallucination, but its words kept coming back to him. Only he knew that he had wished to die. John tried to commit suicide in his dorm room, but the rope snapped, and he was to scared to attempt it again. He never told anyone about that. But it wasn't just those words that shook him, it was the offer to change his boring existence.
He found himself unable to focus on the movie as he pondered the offer. When the movie ended he wished he had touched the screen.
"So what did you think?" Richard asked.
Both John and Richard were waiting on the corner for Terry again. "It was okay." The movie was about a zombie apocalypse that threatened the existence of mankind. In the end, Flowhaven, the main characters girl, gave up her life in order to protect her love from a horde of mindless townspeople. They left it with the main character vowing for revenge leaving room for a sequel.
"Okay?!! Man you have piss poor taste in movies. That sucked."
"You were the one that suggested it so I don't want to hear it."
John got back to his dorm late that night having been dropped off by Terry. He lay on his bed once again going back to his encounter in the arcade. "Just touch the screen." He said.
John pulled his laptop off the shelf and sat on the edge of the bed. He unfolded the computer staring into the black screen. "I accept." John said placing his hand on the computer screen. The screen rippled as if he were touching water, and then his fingers slid right through. He panicked, jumping to his feet the laptop dangling from his arm like a hungry animal. John desperately tried to separate his arm from the computer but it held fast. A strong force began to tug on his arm. He fell to the floor his body shrinking as he was pulled further and further into the screen. The laptop slapped shut, the last of him disappearing behind the black screen.
A chance meeting
John woke to a terrible headache the sun splashing over his body. The world around him blurred as he tried to stand. In an instant his memories of that night came back. His encounter in the arcade, and the frightening experience of being sucked into a laptop. When John looked around he realized that he was no longer in his room. He had been propped up against a stone slab in the middle of a graveyard. A seemingly dense, and colorful forest enclosed the burial ground. It was surreal. John carefully stood up-his back aching. The pain he felt from sleeping against the gravestone told him it wasn't a dream, but then what was it? The world he once knew had vanished. John checked around the graveyard, and found it to be well tended. A basket of red flowers decorated several grave stones. Someone had been here recently.
"Hello?" His voice echoed only answered by the rustling of leaves. John felt uneasy as he patrolled the graveyard. Suddenly, he heard something, like a sharp stabbing noise from behind. John wheeled around scanning the area. On the corner of the graveyard was a hole-freshly dug with dirt piled on the side. He heard the sound again when a new patch of earth launched out of the hole and onto the pile. "Hello?" the noise stopped. "Is someone down there?" A girl, no older than eighteen, climbed out. She had short silvery hair, burning red eyes, and wore a strange tunic coated in mud. She stared at him placing a shovel in the ground and leaning on it.
"It's about time you woke up." She said brushing the dirt from her sides. "I was beginning to wonder if you died crossing over."
John stared at her for a while unable to grasp what she was saying. "What do you mean?"
"I'm glad you accepted my invitation. I haven't had a guest in a long time." The girl laughed.
"You're the one I met in the arcade!" He began to realize the situation.
She started clapping " Wow, great job Sherlock Holmes, I guess everyone can't be the brightest bulb on the tree." She mocked him.
"Were have you taken me!" John flared with anger.
"You don't pay much attention, do you? I have brought you to the edge of Salem, by your request I might add."
"I didn't want this."
"Oh, no? Aren't you the one who's bored of life? Aren't you the one who wanted to start over, but was to afraid commit suicide? You may deny being here, but you cannot deny your heart." The girls voice sounded otherworldly.
"What are you?"
"What an interesting question. Do I not look human to you?" The sun started to cast shadows of gravestones and trees. "I, I am a demon."
"A demon?" It must have been easy to pick out the skepticism in his voice.
"Oh? Do we have an atheist amongst us? A nonbeliever?" The demon snorted removing the shovel from the ground. "Believe whatever you like it doesn't matter." She moved closer. "What does matter is that you are here, and the game is about to begin."
"Game?" A puzzled look crossed Johns face. "You mentioned that before, in the arcade."
In an instant she was next to him her arms wrapped around his neck pulling his body closer to her lean form. "Yes, the game on the edge of Salem. Want to hear the rules?" The girl whispered in his ear.
He shoved her away. "Don't touch me again!"
The demon smiled at him as if she was expecting his sudden outburst. "Aw, come on, you act like you've never been this close to a girl before."
"If what you say is true, then you are a demon, not a girl."
"And what makes you think we can't be the same thing?" She looked at him questioningly. "Oh, I get it, you think I'm borrowing this form, you think that deep beneath this flesh is a grotesque beast." She makes a clawing motion at her arm, and laughs. "I think you need to cut back on the movies."
"What's your point?" John questioned as she turned and dumped the shovel into the hole. The demon started walking around the graveyard, and he carefully followed.
"Evil doesn't have to look ugly John." She stopped those crimson eyes catching his own. "It's true what they say. Evil can take many forms, but it can never change from one to the other. I am not an illusion, and this is not a disguise. I am what I am."
"So, you're human than?"
"Yes, and no, but enough with these questions. You know, I'm curious, has anyone ever told you to shut up?" She continued moving pushing past several gravestones.
"What the Hell do you expect? Huh? I was dragged through the screen of my laptop. I wake up in the middle of a graveyard, and now I am talking to a demon?"
The girl paused. "That's an interesting way to put it, but I see your point." She giggled. "It's not that I don't care about your interest in me, but, well you see.."
"I am not interested in you!"
" You're cute when your in denial." She reached out as if to touch the wings of a butterfly; her pale skin glowing from sunlight's touch. "Listen carefully to what I am about to say John." The demons voice became serious. "This game has two rules, one must never be broken, and the other must be surpassed."
"What is this game you keep talking about?"
"First, you must survive in the village of Salem for one week." She continued. "And second, until the end of the week you may never leave Salem." The demon stopped before the hole she dug. "Should you break the second rule, I will kill you myself." Her icy words stabbed him.
Silence settled like a curtain. "You're going to kill me?" Johns memories of his failed suicide stirred.
It was a Sunday night just before midterm. The decision wasn't hard to make. He didn't have any friends, and his relatives hated him. John could no longer hide behind a book and watch as the real world passed him by. Life had stolen everything, and he wanted a way out. All it took was a knotted rope and an old rocking chair. He saw it done in a movie once. He had checked everything over; the lean of the chair, the knot on the noose, the way he hung the rope. The only thing missing was his resolve. When he stood, noose tight around his neck, John was unable to do it. He feared death more than life, but the chair made his decision. It leaned to far and toppled over leaving John to fight for his life. He struggled for less than a minute before slipping free from the noose. It was the most terrifying experience he had ever gone through. He never tried suicide again.
"But don't worry, it's not my job to hurt you." Her words brought him back to reality.
"What if I decide not to play?" He blurted out.
"It's to late, John. The fact that you're here means you agreed to the contract." She sat letting her legs dangle over the hole "If you head north from here you will reach the village." The demon pointed in the direction. "If I were you I would get a head start."
John looked in the direction she was pointing. "Why would anybody let a stranger stay in their village for a week?"
"They're expecting you."
"You haven't told me what happens after a week." He looked back at her.
"I will let you out, of course."
"And I should just believe you? What's to stop a demon from killing me when this is over?"
"Doesn't look like you have much of a choice." She hopped into the hole, and continued digging. "My word will have to do. Now, if you don't mind."
"Just one more question." John looked down at her.
"Make it quick.."
"Why do this to people? Why this game?"
"Because, it amuses me." The demon laughed.
The forest, the raft, and the village Salem
John had left the graveyard in the direction the demon had pointed. It was hard to believe. Half of him wanted this dream to end, but the other half relished in it-that was the half that scared him. To think that demons dwell outside of belief, and that a world could exist beyond a computer screen.
The forest was dense, and the light was dim. Trees stood with gnarled branches and hooked leaves. Some had rusted spikes driven into the trunks. The forest, silent as the grave, was haunting. He moved passed the trees blindly. The feeling of being watched possessed him. It was foolish, walking through a forest with nothing but a finger pointing in the "right" direction. John, however, had no other choice. He focused on moving forward trying to ignore the forests prying eye.
Seconds, minutes, hours, he lost track of time as his mind drifted.
Not all his memories of Kate were bad. In fact, their relationship as brother and sister was strong. It was Johns parents who treated them apart. Kate loved to explore and when they were young she would plot camping trips in the backyard, and adventures by the stream. She was a big influence on John. He once told her he was going to be like Lewis and Clark when he grew up.
One summer their parents decided to vacation up north. They stayed in a home near lake Superior. Every day their mother would take them to the lake shore. John and Kate loved exploring the rocky beach. There were large boulders which were formed by ancient lava flows. The lake itself was like an inland sea. John had never seen one so large. Kate once told him that it was like the ocean.
John overheard a couple talking on the beach one late afternoon. They were saying that on some days you could see a pair of islands that floated above the horizon. They were called the "mirage" islands.
He returned to the beach that morning to look. In the distance he saw an island shimmering in the morning sun. It looked as if it was floating above the water just as the couple said. John nearly tripped over a large log in his amazement. It was then that it hit him. He was going to build a raft and sail to that island. John started by gathering as many logs as he could. He had found quite a few by sun down.
Late that night he tossed in his bed. He told Kate about his new adventure and asked her to keep it a secret. She agreed as long as he aloud her to help. John smiled, finally he was going on a real adventure.
Each day they worked on the project. Kate even used her allowance. Together, they constructed a raft in secret. After four days of work they finally completed it. Kate and John would set sail the next day. That night they stayed up late talking about what they might find on the islands. John had never felt so excited. He would be able to escape his parents and follow his dream. Their excitement had clouded their judgment.
Early that morning they snuck out of the house. Thick black clouds blanketed the sky, and the wind howled. Kate started to worry and tried to convince John that maybe this wasn't such a good idea. He refused to listen to her. This was the last day of their vacation he couldn't back down now. They made it to the raft the waves beating the shoreline. In the distance the islands were still visible. John raised the mast made of tarp helping Kate on board. They both used long pieces of wood to paddle away from the shore. The water was rough but they managed to break free into open sea. The island as his beacon John pushed forward oblivious to the danger. Suddenly, the storm intensified. Rain fell in sheets and lightning cracked the sky. The wind tore the mast from the raft, and waves spun them out of control. Kate tried to say something to him, but he couldn't hear over the roar of water. His heart beat furiously as he tried to hold on. A large wave reared up threatening the raft. In that moment time slowed. John stared into the wall of water and was afraid. He cried for his life as the wave crashed down.
John awoke with a mouth full of sand. The storm had passed replaced with blue skies. Kate lay next to him, soaked but alive. Their raft was no were to be found. He looked back at the water and saw the shimmering islands. It was insulting. His first real adventure was a failure which nearly claimed both their lives. John dragged himself up and shook his sister awake. Regardless of the situation they had to get back to their parents.
As they made their way down the road side a police officer found them. Having matched the missing persons report they were taken back to their parents. It saddened John knowing it was Kate who they had filed missing and not him. Neither Kate or John ever spoke of the raft. It would remain a secret to the grave.
John tripped over a root tearing him back into the present. He cursed before coming to his feet and moving on. He checked his wristwatch. It read twelve-O-clock as it had fifteen minutes before. The urge for nicotine arose. John checked his pocket-shifting aside his leatherman and getting a pack of cigarettes. He stopped and looked around. The forest was the same with no sign of a clearing. He checked his other pocket and froze. John didn't have a lighter. He cursed again, shoving the pack back into his pocket. pushing the urge behind him he pressed on. The trees began to clear and more light filtered through the forest roof. He stopped before a tree that had a name carved in it. Peter Freesay was written with a rusty spike hammered in the middle. He checked his watch again, Twelve-O-clock. He looked ahead and saw a clearing in the brush. He carefully moved towards the opening, his eyes blinded by the light. A village set in the clearing. He checked his watch, Twelve-O-one-the games had begun.
Blood and iron
John squinted in the light as he stood before the village Salem. It was larger than he expected. Many homes covered the area; each one made of logs stacked upon each other. The homes had been built around a large well. A smooth dirt path crawled in between the village. John watched a horse drawn carriage dart down the dirt road and away from the village. He rubbed his eyes. Salem appeared to be stuck in the 1800s. The people he saw wore tunics, or dresses. He must have looked alien. Several people stared at him as he made his way to the well. On one of the porches he saw women wearing matted but clean blue dresses. They were working on a large patterned quilt. He turned; a crowd had begun to gather near the well. A few people began to shout in urgency. John slipped past a man wearing overalls as he made his way to the center of the crowd.
"Keep pressure on it!" He heard one man yell. In the center lay a young girl covered in blood. An older man held a rag firmly to her right leg. "Get the girls father!" Several people had begun to help. "S-She slipped by the cliff. I carried her as fast as I could!" A younger man cried. A large gash was now visible. It was clear that if nothing was done she would soon die of blood loss.
John quickly took action. "Listen to me!" His voice was commanding. To his surprise the crowd fell silent and all eyes fell on him. "I can save this girl but you're going to have to listen to me." He paused-the crowd nodded in assurance. "I need someone to start a fire near here and bring me an iron bar." Some of the men started off towards a shed. "I am also going to need a cloth and a thick piece of wood that could fit in her mouth." John knelt down next to the girl who was crying in pain. "You." He pointed to the man who had carried her.
"Y-Yes!" He stood up as if being addressed by a commanding officer.
"I need you to bring me a table. We need to get her off the ground." The man quickly left. John looked over the girl. She had a deep cut in her right leg.
"Have you done this before, stranger?" The older man who held the girls leg asked him.
John looked at him questioningly. Never in his life had he ever done what he was about to do. "A few times." He replied. The younger man appeared with several others carrying the table. "Place it over here." John indicated a spot next to him. They positioned the table. "Now on three." Each of the men held onto the girl. "One." The area went silent "Two" John swallowed. "Three" They all lifted the girl onto the table. She screamed in pain as the older man reapplied pressure to the wound. Several people had started a fire and were piling wood into it. A woman presented the metal bar. "Place it in the fire, quickly." John rolled his sleeves up to his shoulders. "Does anyone have gloves?" One of the men gave him a pair from his back pocket. John slid on the thick gloves. The girl was deliriously moaning in agony. "Can you hear me?" He asked her. She nodded in turn.
"Your going to be alright girl." The older man said. She didn't seem to hear; tears streaming down her face.
John wrapped cloth around the piece of wood which had been set on the table. "when the time comes I want you to bite down on this." He said to her placing the wood in her mouth. He removed the iron from the fire. The metal sung as it hit the air. Her eyes widened in panic. "Hold her." The men pinned her in place. He pushed back the folds of her bloodied dress. John nodded to the older man who pulled away from the gash. Blood poured from the wound as he applied the hot iron. Her skin sizzled and blistered as he moved the iron from left to right. The girl bit down on the stick. She would have screamed if she could; her arms and legs twitching violently. The wound was slowly closed up in a fleshy coating of blisters and dead skin. The bleeding stopped. He dropped the iron back into the fire and soaked a cloth in a bucket of cold water brought up from the well. John gently ran the water over the wound and down her leg.
The older man removed the wood from her mouth which she had bit in half. "What your name, son?" He asked.
"John, John Kennedy."
John had slipped away from the crowd and ran deep into the forest. The weight of the situation had finally caught up with him. Somewhere he had still believed this was a dream or a hallucination-not anymore. The way that girl cried in pain and the smell of burnt flesh. It had to be real. He stopped, dropping to his knees in nausea. John threw up what little there was in his stomach. "Her name is Rhonda." He remembered the old man saying. "Shit, Shit! What have you gotten yourself into!" He slammed his fist into the soft earth. Ever since he left the graveyard it all felt like his imagination, but the village, the village was real. He could no longer pass this off as a dream. The demons words plagued him. "This game has two rules; one must never be broken, and the other must be surpassed. Should you break the one rule I will kill you myself." If the village was real that meant the threat was equally so. He heaved again. Everything he had ever known was about to be rewritten.
"Are you alright?" He heard a familiar voice. John looked over to find the older man leaning over him. The man looked to be in his late forties with more hair on his chin then head. He wore patched suspenders covered in dry blood.
"Just a little shaken is all." He replied turning away from those probing brown eyes. John noticed that even though the village seemed to be in the past the villagers spoke as if from his era.
"My name is Brook Edwards, but you can just call me Ed." He offered his hand helping John to his feet.
"It's a pleasure to meet you." John replied still dizzy.
"Boy, I am sure happy you showed up when you did. Another minute, and that could have been a lot worse than it was." Brook slapped him on the back sending John into another fit of heaves. "Oh, sorry bout that."
John waited several minutes for the nausea to pass. "I was told you were expecting me."
"Aye, hear you come from the big city." Brook crossed his arms. "Mr. Kennedy, was it?"
"Please, just call me John." He wiped his mouth with his bloody shirt. "I know this is a bit late in asking, but how is the girl doing, after I left I mean."
"I reckon she fainted from the pain. We carried her to her fathers home. She's going to be fine, and we have you to thank for that." He frowned his voice turning dire. "Should've seen her father though. Turns out he was hunting, came back with a fair catch. He went crazy when he heard." Brook waved his hands. "Oh, but don't worry. We explained it to him, and he would actually like to thank you himself."
"It might be best to have a doctor look her over." John said still unsure of himself. It was a spur of the moment act on his part. He knew that by cauterizing the wound it could lower the chances of infection and stop the bleeding. He also knew that the damage to the skin was severe.
"It might've been best, yes, if we had a doctor. Our last one died about two years back, haven't been able to replace him since. Nobody wants to come out here, no money to be made." Brook sighed. "The closest doctor is a days horse ride away. We already sent for him, should be here tomorrow." He grabbed John by the shoulder. "But enough of this lets head back."
John nodded and started walking back. Brook took the lead. The village seemed to live separate from any major city-cut off from the outside world. "So, Brook, what exactly have you heard about me?" John asked.
"Didn't I tell you to call me Ed?" He grunted. "They told me the city was bad on your health and so your parents sent you here, why?"
It was as the demon had said. "Just curious." Any doubts still left in his mind were gone. John followed Ed back to Salem. He had run a lot farther in then he thought. When they returned, the village was back to normal. The older man lead him to a home just passed the well. The cottage looked different from the others. Two large wooden beams held up the entrance giving a feeling of grandeur.
" Welcome to the Owens." Ed paused. "The Owens have been the head of Salem since its foundation. Rhonda Owens is expected to carry on after her Father."
John didn't know how much worse it could get. He had hoped not to get involved with the people here. By saving that girl he might as well be on the list of top most wanted.
They proceeded onto the porch-wood creaking with every step. Ed pounded on the door. A young boy with burning red hair and a freckled face emerged. "Ah, Jared, is your father about?" Brook asked. The child disappeared behind the door. "Good lad, Jared, you'll likely see him playing around the village." He said.
The door flew open and a large man stepped out. He looked younger than Ed, but held himself well. He was tall with red hair and sea green eyes. The man wore a tunic made of animal skin. "Brooks I said you could just come right in." He had a booming yet kind voice. "Is this him?" He looked at John.
"Allow me to introduce you." Ed pushed John up front. "This is John Kennedy." Brooks cleared his throat. "John, this is Mark Owens."
"It's a pleasure to meet you sir." John offered his hand.
"Damn glad to meet you son!" Mark took his hand firmly. "I am sorry you had to arrive under such poor circumstances, but lord knows I'm happy you did." He moved aside letting them enter.
"I'm just happy I could be of help." John stepped inside, removing his shoes at the entrance. The house smelled of roasting meat and spices. He noticed a gun rack with several rifles and the house was decorated in furs. Mark led them to the living room were he offered each of them a chair. John took his seat.
"Sarah!" Mark called from his chair. A woman wearing a beautiful green dress entered. "My lovely wife, would you be so kind as to bring us something to drink?" She bowed touching the tips of her dress and left. Ed started to object but Mark waved him off. "I would like to start by saying, thank you." He looked at John.
"I did what I thought was right. I am sure anybody would do the same." John said trying to avoid the topic. He always felt uncomfortable when people praised him out in the open. In school, praise usually came with teasing and humiliation.
"Regardless, it was you who took action, and it was you who saved my daughters life. If there is anything you need just let me know." Sarah returned with three steaming cups. She handed each of them a cup and then kneeled on the floor next to her husband. "John, this is my wife, Sarah."
"It's is a pleasure to meet you miss." He took a sip of the sweet drink.
Sarah pushed aside her blond hair. "My family means everything to me, thank you, from the bottom of my heart." Her words were soft and blue eyes gentle.
John looked away-embarrassed.
"That's quite enough of that, look the boy glows red." Mark laughed.
"How is she doing?" Ed asked moving his fingers around the cups edge.
"She is resting, I have several people tending to her now, and the doctor will check on her tomorrow." Sarah responded.
John began to smell a mixture of vomit and dried blood. To his horror he realized how soiled his outfit was. "I hate to ask, but would it be possible for a change of clothes?" He spoke his mind.
"What terrible hosts we've been! I forgot, you've only just arrived." Mark suddenly stood up calling Jared over. "My boy hear will show you to your new home, and I will have clothes brought there immediately."
John left his chair leaving the cup on the arm. "Thank you for your kindness." He said.
"No, thank you!" Mark boomed slapping him on the back.
"Please accept our invitation to diner as our honored guest." Sarah quickly added as she bowed.
John was starving and gladly accepted. He left the house with Jared leading the way. The younger boy followed the dirt path away from the well. The village was busy. People had gathered at the well while others hung clothes out to dry. There were women tending to the stables with several horses. John didn't see many men. They passed a large shed were he believed they stored grains and other like foods.
Jared stopped next to a small wooden home. "This is were you stay, Mister." The boy quickly left.
John looked over the cabin sized cottage. Unlike the other homes which were built next to each other this one had been separated. It sat near the edge of the forest and was well cared for. Looking at the trees reminded him of the eerie forest. He was surprised how such a village could coexist with a forest devoid of life. John went into the house. It was bigger than the apartment he was used to. The house had a bed in the corner, a stone fireplace with a stand to hang a pot, a sink with no faucet, several chairs with a table, and an old set of matching cupboards. There was no electricity and no plumbing. John emptied his pockets onto the table. He had his leatherman, cell phone, and a pack with five cigarettes left. The craving snapped at his heels and he hid the cigarettes back in his pocket. He always wanted to quite smoking, but to stop cold turkey was no small feet. With all the things that had been going on it was easy to ignore the craving. John pushed the thought from his mind. Lack of nicotine was the least of his worries.