For No Reason

Short Fiction Post: For No Reason – Part 5

The following is the next section of a short story entitled, For No Reason. I hope to include this story in an anthology in several months. The main character, Dax, is stuck in a magical rut that’s not headed toward a good ending…

Previous posts for this story: part 1  – part 2 part 3 part 4

Fire“Tell us where good stuff is or we start with her fingers, then her toes.” The leader’s bellow carried over the cacophony of weeping women and roaring flames among the houses. Men shouted complaints cut short when the outlaws kicked or clubbed them.

Dax gritted his teeth and blinked. None of my business. He dismounted. His smirk spread as he crept closer. The mule trailed him on the lead. Dax frowned at the animal. “I guess you’re in this.”

The mule tossed its head.

The girl squealed. Firelight her face with fear.

Maybe they’d toss those fingers his way. Dax almost vomited. The cursed beast clawed for release. No, he couldn’t let it out. He steadied himself against a wall and hunched among shadows. He should go. It wasn’t his business. He’d take his chances these men would end the curse for him. He took one step backward. If only the cursed beast would leave him.

“You’ll be telling us now.” The lead ruffian slapped the girl, his dirt-smudged face twisted with a delighted grin at his power.

One outlaw held the girl down while another set a knife to her thumb.

“No, no, no!” The girl’s desperate screams mingled with her terrified sobs. Men shouted. Ruffians menaced their captives with cudgels.

Dax squeezed his eyelids shut and clenched his jaws. They’re like me. No, I’ll be worse if the village won’t let me…”

His eyelids snapped wide. He lurched into view and the mule followed. His lips curled. He didn’t need those hateful people.

“Leave the girl alone.” He removed his gloves.

The villagers shrank away and gasped.

Dax stood with his hands curled like claws and panted.

The leader and his men froze a moment and then squinted at shadows between the buildings.

The bearded ruffian laughed and swaggered toward Dax. “What you gonna do by yerself? Why, look at you all sickly and poxy.” The outlaw shoved the cursed man.

“You can’t hurt me but I can kill all of you.”

The leader laughed and his men joined him. “You ain’t gonna do nothing.” He stepped closer and Dax smelled his sour breath as the ruffian yanked him close by his shirt. “We gonna take that mule and drag you behind it, see how long you last, Poxy.”

Dax pried the outlaw’s hands from his shirt.

The bearded leader pulled away and drew back his fist. His eyes bulged as he gaped at his blackened hands as disease spread along his hairy forearms. The brigand screamed, stumbled back and crumbled to his knees. He clawed his chest and throat. The outlaw fell onto his side and writhed for fleeting moments. A death gasp rattled out of a mouth that never closed again. His eyes glazed and stared into the smoky night.

Dax lifted his gaze from the lifeless man, shook his head and sighed. He shoulda listened. Couldn’t worry about him. His shoulders relaxed and he stepped over the body as the corpse’s lips pulled back in a desiccated grin.

The girl lay under her attackers, her sob frozen as a hush gathered among bandit and villagers alike. Then the outlaws murmured and tensed to attack.

The mule brayed.

Dax whirled at a grunt.

An outlaw fell and writhed from the animal’s well-aimed kick. Animal needs a name after that. Another sallow-faced brigand snatched at the reins and received a vicious bite followed by another whirling kick. The outlaw ducked and scrambled away with a cry. Another ruffian snorted at his fellow.

The other outlaws stared at Dax. They’re afraid but willing to fight. Their sweaty faces sneered.

“I’ll gut you for that.” The lean man with the knife at the girl’s hand stood and displayed a gap-toothed grimace.

“You can’t hurt him, sick as he is.” Felton’s warning hushed the outlaws. “It’s the old crone’s curse. He can’t die, just suffer. Whatever touches him dies.”

“Then we’ll hurt the whole lot of ya while he watches.” The other outlaws nodded and flexed their arms to make good the threat.

“The whole place is cursed.” Dax advanced and grasped the knife-man’s sleeve.

The outlaw shouted. He yanked his arm away and scrambled from Dax’s reach. He waved the knife as he circled and split his glower between the villagers and Dax. “Stay back.” His gaze flitted to the corpse lying stiff in the firelight.

Dax stepped toward the outlaw. The fight’s left them. His voice sounded steady with his even breathing. “Put out the fires and leave with nothing.”

“But–” The sallow-face man glanced from Dax to the corpse again.

“Do it!” Dax’s snarl snapped like a whip. He lifted his bare fist.

The men jumped at his sweeping glare.

The outlaws beat at the fires with their tattered cloaks. Dax surveyed their work but never put his gloves on his hands. Felton and some of the men joined the outlaws while women aided with pails of water from the nearby creek.

The raiders wasted no time retreating from the village at Dax’s approval. When they were gone, he tied the corpse to his mule and pulled the remains out to the cemetery.

“What’re we gonna do with him there.” Elon flinched from Dax.

“Just dig the grave and kick him in.”

“We gotta do more work for you?”

Dax raised his hands and yanked his gloves on at Elon’s eye level. The other man dipped his head and trotted away, his face pale in the remaining light.

Dax walked his mule along the road home with a yawn. He stretched his arms and hummed an old lullaby. The beast was hiding. He’d better go before it came back.

“Thank-you.” Elon’s wife lifted her hand with an uncertain wave when he glanced over his shoulder.

Dax tugged his hat-brim lower but neither spoke nor paused.

“Wait, Dax!” Felton scampered alongside as Dax reached the village edge. The shopkeeper gave the mule wary space. “Why did you do it?”

Ash drifted between Dax and the shopkeeper.

Dax cocked his head sideways and arched an eyebrow at the other man. He shrugged after three strides. Suffering for life ‘cause no one had no money wasn’t right. He yawned again and never looked Felton’s way. “For no reason.”

“That’s all?”

“Yep.” Dax mounted the mule, jerked his hat at Felton and urged the animal to a trot.

Dax swayed with the mule’s motion. He slouched by the time he reached the cabin. His eyelids drooped against approaching sunrise. He slid off his mount stumbled to bed.

Dax woke near mid-day and washed his face in the stale basin water beneath mirror. He stood straight before his reflection in unmarred glass. He blinked and gasped. Dax touched his face. No weeping sores lingered. He touched the mirror where cracks once marred his diseased expression. The good deed done. The curse was broken!

He whirled and staggered. Dax inspected his hands and viewed unscarred skin. So tired he never noticed. He rushed out the door where he flopped on his porch steps as both laughter and weeping shook him.

Much later, the mule stared into his face while it crunched fodder, sprigs jutting from its mouth. The animal shied when he touched it bare-handed and grasped the bridle.

“Every good deed needs a reward. I’ll name you Hope.” He mule tossed its head in his grasp and he laughed. “Let’s take a trip, Hope.”

sun on mist through treesDax departed a few days later. He left the stack of unbroken mirrors–save the last–on the porch for Felton. The shopkeeper could sell them back to the village. He kicked Hope’s sides and the animal strolled away.

The pines creaked in the fresh breeze off the hills. “Until unmerited kindness he performs.” Shadow faded in the hollow.

Dax patted the mirror in his bag and searched the surrounding treetops with his eyes. “Can’t say I’ll miss you.”

The end of part 5 and the story!

Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section. The next part of the story will be posted on 3/9/2016. Sign up for my Archer’s Aim Digest mailing list to receive notification of these posts and those for other upcoming fiction projects to appear on Archer’s Aim as well as news about the upcoming release of An Arrow Against the Wind, the second novel of The Bow of Hart Saga due out later this year.

Book 1 of The Bow of Hart Saga: The Bow of Destiny can be found at these online retailers: Barnes & Noble, KoboiBooksAmazon – Kindle & Smashwords. See the book trailer.

Prequel short stories to The Bow of Hart Saga:

Trading KnivesKobo, iBooks & Barnes & NobleSmashwords & Amazon

What Is Needed Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, Smashwords & Amazon

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

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Tuesday Tales: For No Reason – Part 4

The following is the next section of a short story entitled, For No Reason. I hope to include this story in an anthology in several months. The main character, Dax, is stuck in a magical rut that’s not headed toward a good ending…

Click here to read part 1 and here for part 2 and here for part 3.

Starting within the cabin, Dax chose no particular task first but worked with steady movements interrupted by fits of weakness. He swept dust into a choking cloud so he opened his windows and doors to the forest breeze. Dax cleaned his dishes, bedding, and clothes. He gathered the shattered mirrors into a stack that he laid in a corner like a shrine to his suffering.

Afterwards, he leaned back in his chair. He exhaled without the ragged grunts that plagued him. The room shone brighter even in spite of the dim hollow. Better though his sores ran and the beast’s devouring urges loomed. Dax rested his hands in his lap.

Later, Dax found the mule staring in the door. “I don’t know if it does any good but here it is all clean.” His cantankerous companion chewed on weeds growing around the porch. The animal snorted. Dax left oats by the steps in a pail and soon after the metal banged on the rail as his only companion ate.

A coughing fit woke him that night. A new symptom? His eyes watered as he realized smoke drifted through his open windows. Dax stumbled out the door and expected the sight of fire from the cabin. He grabbed a pail and headed for the water trough. There’s no fire here. He blinked sleep away.

Dax halted at the glow lighting the night sky from several wooded ridges away. The village was on fire. His brow pinched. The mule stomped, sides twitching away flies. “That’s big. I wonder if it’s the forest.”

The pack animal snorted and wagged its head.

Dax paced between the cabin and the shimmering light that waxed and faded beneath the stars. He’d go see them burning in the night. His lips curled into a grin as he hunched with fists clenched at his side. No, not a concern of his. They hated him so he didn’t care. Dax wended away from the sight. His feet shuffled with several turns until he gaped at the glow.

Dax’s hands clenched and opened. He whirled to the cabin and seized his gloves, hat and coat. Spittle gathered at the corners of his lips and his stomach rumbled. The mule let him climb onto its back without a balk. He kicked the mount into a trot and slapped the animal with the reins. “Let’s go see if they need–if anything’s left for us.” His lips curled into a grin followed by a frown.

He held a lantern as the mule stumped along the hard-packed road. “Might be I do all the burying or gnawing.” His stomach growled and then flipped. His jaw clenched at his beast-like urge. More likely he and the mule would make a pyre and then be moving on. The glow climbed higher. This fire won’t end this curse.

FireSmoke hung thicker each time he topped a rise. Dax coughed when he paused atop the final ridgeline and pulled a handkerchief over his nose. Distant shouts echoed amid the trees as he glimpsed buildings ablaze. A growl rumbled in his chest and he groaned. He reined the mule off the road among the trees where grey billows rolled among the trunks.

No one’s working at the fires?  Dax chewed his lower lip. That’s strange.

A woman’s scream carried over the noise. “No! Not her! She don’t know nothing.”

Smoke cleared for spare seconds but in those moments he spied strangers with weapons who threatened the villagers. Bandits! His eyes narrowed. None of his business. Best not be caught by the rascals. He tugged the reins hard and guided his animal toward the road and his cabin. Maybe if they killed them all he wouldn’t–eventually. Maybe he’d be free of them and this place.

A higher, child’s squeal sounded amid the commotion.

“Tell us what you got or she’s really going to screech!” A raider yanked Elon’s girl by the hair. Scoundrels laughed as the villagers cringed or swore while cinders floated among them.

Dax halted the mule. His lips twitched into a curl. Best he looked into this–no. He sighed and reined the mule for a closer look. His hands trembled while the mule shuffled in the woods behind houses.

Twenty or more outlaws, by his count, guzzled ale from the tavern. Some ransacked the store but most held the captives tied and cowering before the leader who brandished a rusted sword.

“C’mon, chop her fingers.” One of the men guarding the people spat and swore. “We’ll be here all night.”

Elon’s girl wailed with the knife poised at her hand.

The mule edged toward the scene, hidden in smoke.

Dax grinned. He’d grind those fingers. He swayed on his mount and held his belly while his lower lip quivered. “No. I won’t.” Dax rubbed his face where the tomato struck days earlier. If only he could help. Her face bore fear as henchman grasped her by neck and arm.

He bared his teeth as drool trickled on his chin.

Dax dropped the reins and held his head. “No.”

The end of part 4.

Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section. The next part of the story will be posted on 3/9/2016. Sign up for my Archer’s Aim Digest mailing list to receive notification of these posts and those for other upcoming fiction projects to appear on Archer’s Aim as well as news about the upcoming release of An Arrow Against the Wind, the second novel of The Bow of Hart Saga due out later this year.

Book 1 of The Bow of Hart Saga: The Bow of Destiny can be found at these online retailers: Amazon – Kindle. See the book trailer.

Prequel short stories to The Bow of Hart Saga:

Trading KnivesKobo, iBooks & Barnes & NobleSmashwords & Amazon

What Is Needed Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, Smashwords & Amazon

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Short Fiction Post: For No Reason – Part 3

The following is the opening section of a short story entitled, For No Reason. I hope to include this story in an anthology in several months. The main character, Dax, is stuck in a magical rut that’s not headed toward a good ending…

Click here to read part 1 and here for part 2.

After Elon’s house he stared ahead until he approached the tavern where the men still sat. They stared, sullen and quiet.

Dax spat. “There’s your change.” Laugh at that. They uttered neither jibe nor snicker so he left Alton’s Ford without further trouble.

He rode out of earshot and ground his teeth. “That stupid hag! Worthless daughter of a hog!” Dax swore worse things in rapid succession. “That diseased herd of sheep! I’ll tear them to pieces. I’ll foul their bones when I’ve chewed them to nothing.”

The mule plodded along with its ears drooping.

At his cabin, Dax still ranted at his enemies. He stomped around, unloaded his goods and slammed parcels onto rough shelves. The mule watched with rolling eyes each time Dax returned until he tore the panniers away, untied the animal and slapped its nose.

The mule nipped at his hands.

Dax kicked the animal’s rear leg.

axeThe mule kicked back.

Dax dodged the hoof. “You filthy, nameless beast! I’ll show you! I’ll show them all!”

The mule brayed defiance.

Dax stormed the porch. He snatched his axe and hacked the porch posts.

The mule wheezed alarm and trotted away.

Dax roared with each swing. He burst through his door. They’d see when he changed. He tossed his bed over and hacked the log walls. “The blasted curse, take them all!” Dax kicked his stack of broken mirrors.

“Why won’t they let me do something? Why won’t they let me break this curse? Why do they hate me?” Each axe blow demanded an answer. Dax collapsed into a weeping heap. “Why, why, why…?”

A breeze stirred the curtains. “By his teeth their hatred will consume them.”

“No, never, I won’t come to that.” He shivered. He’d be a mindless beast, all teeth and rage and dead to himself. And they’d die. He was becoming that too soon. He blinked through sudden tears at the ruined room. If only he’d tried in the village. He’d do something.

His sores bled for days. The mule bared its teeth and trotted away from Dax whenever he approached the animal. Otherwise, he slept or stared at the trees.

One morning, he awoke wearied of the wrecked cabin that festered like his sores. He’d wounded his home. If only he could heal it. On the porch, he suppressed a groan and sunk onto the loose step-boards as he stared into the trees. The mule wandered close. “It never ends and I can’t end it even if I wanted.”

The pack animal rasped a snort, dropped dung and trotted away.

“The mule needs a name. And this place needs a cleaning.”

The end of part 3.

Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section. The next part of the story will be posted on 3/9/2016. Sign up for my Archer’s Aim Digest mailing list to receive notification of these posts and those for other upcoming fiction projects to appear on Archer’s Aim as well as news about the upcoming release of An Arrow Against the Wind, the second novel of The Bow of Hart Saga due out later this year.

Book 1 of The Bow of Hart Saga: The Bow of Destiny can be found at these online retailers: Barnes & Noble, KoboiBooksAmazon – Kindle & Smashwords. See the book trailer.

Prequel short stories to The Bow of Hart Saga:

Trading KnivesKobo, iBooks & Barnes & NobleSmashwords & Amazon

What Is Needed Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, Smashwords & Amazon

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.