Death was too good for him.

More chapters from Night Side of Dark

A VG Serial: Night Side of Dark

Episode 73

Celia slept fitfully. Pains from a bitter and not so distant past had caught up with her. Cold bore into the wounds she had ignored but not forgotten. The slash of leather belt straps across her back had remained long after the scars healed. A .38 caliber slug still lay within the sinew connecting her thigh and pelvis bones. The blade of a bayonet had  carved a crooked S, not unlike a serpent, into the back of her neck, just below the hairline. Celia groaned softly, the sound of an abandoned kitten tossed aside in the rains and on an untraveled road to perdition.

The little man had pulled a straight-backed chair to the window. He sat with his arms resting on the sill and his eyes sweeping back and forth across the streets below him.

Ice on the pavement.

And wind in the trees.

That’s all he saw.

Ice.

And wind.

“They’re out there,” he said in case anyone cared to listen.

“It’s a black night.” Lincoln glanced up, scratched his chin, and wondered if he would live long enough to ever shave again.

The odds were against it.

He liked the odds.

“All you see are the shadows,” Lincoln said.

“They’re moving from one end of the street to the other.” The little man spoke softly in case the shadows were listening.

“It’s the wind.”

“Not this time.”

“Why do you say that?”

“The shadows have eyes.’

“Do you see them?” Lincoln asked.

“No.” The little man shuddered. “But they can see me,” he said.

Lincoln sat on the floor, his back pressed against the wall, a blanket wrapped around his shoulders, the Hebrew Bible in his lap. He watched her sleep. He flinched each time a moan escaped her throat, but his mind was locked in a struggle between fantasy and reality, fact and fiction, the ancient drawings of an artist, the writings of a prophet. And who was to say which man was the maddest, and why was he in Dalldorf jousting with a myth as Quixote had dueled the winds in the mills?

Early, then again after midnight, the moon broke through a thick bank of clouds and fell upon the land like shards of fractured glass.

He had seen it before.

The when escaped him.

The where no longer mattered.

The moonlight didn’t last long.

Neither would the myth.

Neither had the wind in the mills.

The Book of Amos.

Fifth chapter.

Eighth verse.

It was a conundrum locked within a puzzle.

What should it tell him?

This is what Lincoln knew about the Book of Amos, and he had no idea why or how he knew it.

Amos was a farmer.

A herder.

And against his will, no doubt, he became a prophet, and his words became recognized by those who read the fragmented texts they uncovered from the dust as the first prophetic book ever written.

His words dealt with social justice.

They defined divine judgment.

They told of the coming Day of the Lord, and the Day of the Lord would be a Day of Doom.

But what did it have to do with the Night Side of Dark?

Perhaps nothing.

Perhaps everything.

Daylight was still an hour away, the little man had quit watching the shadows in the street below, and Celia was finally sleeping peacefully and without any hint of pain when an odd and curious thought played across the far reaches of Lincoln’s mind.

He tried to grin and failed miserably.

He had been looking for something magical.

It wasn’t there.

He had been searching for something mystical.

It didn’t exist.

Aliza Gertner had spoken plainly.

She told him what she needed to say.

And that should have been enough.

Lincoln had listened to her.

He had not heard her.

He felt foolish.

Foolish men try to open doors that have no hinges.

The voice was mocking him.

Harsh.

And bitter.

There is no escape through doors without hinges.

The voice was no longer speaking to him.

It was laughing.

Foolish men who cannot escape their plight cannot escape death.

Lincoln stood, angry at himself, and made sure the British Enfield pistol was in his belt, pressed against the small of his back.

The little man opened a single eye. He raised his head up from the window, and the sill had left a red crease down the side of his face.

“You leaving?” he asked.

Lincoln nodded.

“You coming back?”

“That’s my intention.”

“How long should we wait for you?”

“If I’m not back in an hour,” Lincoln said, “I won’t be coming back.”

“You going back to the asylum?”

“No.”

“You found the book of Amos,” the little man said. “Maybe you can show it to Aliza, and she can explain what you should be looking for.”

“She already has.”

Bahnker looked puzzled.

“Tell me again,” Lincoln said. “Exactly what did Aliza tell us?”

The little man shrugged.

“She said she preferred the Book of Amos.”

“It didn’t make a lot of sense at first,” Lincoln said. “Now it does. Aliza prefers the book that belongs to Amos.”

He paused.

He waited.

Bahnker looked at him blankly.

“She prefers the book that belongs to Amos Kreisler.” Lincoln buttoned his coat. “I have the book.” He shrugged. “I have the wrong book.”

He laughed softly.

“All these years, Amos Kreisler has had the secret to the painting at the tip of his fingers and didn’t know it.”

“Then again,” the little man said, “maybe he did know.”

“Why didn’t he tell us?”

The little man grinned.

“Have you looked at yourself lately?” he asked.

Lincoln shook his head.

“When the earth gives up its dead,” Bahnker said, “the first man out of the ground will look like you.” He laughed out loud. “Look in the mirror.”

Lincoln did.

He saw the faded and ragged reflection of a ghost staring back at him.

His hair had been blown in too many directions by the wind.

He could not remember the last time he shaved.

His face was gaunt.

His eyes were red, and the streaks looked like inked lines carelessly drawn on a folded road map.

His shoulders sagged.

His pants were splattered with mud and the stains of somebody else’s blood.

“Would you give one of the most precious and highest priced secrets in the world to a man who looks like you?” the little man asked.

Lincoln wondered when someone would wake him up and let him know he had already died.

He shrugged.

Death was too good for him.

He leaned over the bed, gently kissed Celia goodbye, and walked out the door.

She would not remember. Maybe she would never remember him at all.

Chapters of Night Side of Dark will be published on  Saturday and Sunday.

Please click the title, Night Side of Dark, to read more about Caleb Pirtle III and his novels on Amazon.

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