Authors: Edward Medina
THE KEEPERS of THE SANDBOX
book one of three
It Is Said…
copyright © 2011 Edward Medina
High Noon in Fears Corner
It is said that every frightening moment that ever existed has taken some physical form and walked the dusty streets of Fears Corner.
The people who conceive these anxieties in the flesh, men and women, young and old, the anonymous and the anointed have all at some time or another also trod its boards.
They bring themselves here in order to face whatever they fear most. They arrive here hoping and praying that faith in themselves will see them through. Those that have already passed this way would tell you that if you’re going through hell, you just keep going.
When the worlds were created, no one ever expected that such a lonely and desolate place would ever come to be. Other than the players in each nightmare, there are never any people here. The businesses are shuttered, the stables are all empty, the wind howls incessantly and the time is always high noon.
Once, with the help of a vicious prairie fire, the entire frontier town burned down to the ground. It was rebuilt. No one knows how.
Fears Corner still smells of scorched earth.
Recently a black blizzard had blown through town and buried everything in the dust and debris of the massive sandstorm. A cyclone came along afterwards and unearthed it.
Fears Corner, some say, is indestructible.
On this day there was rain, a light, steady, annoying rain. Far off in the distance, explosions of lightning began reflecting off of the surface of the dark, flat clouds that clawed at the horizon. Soft booms of thunder were heralding the impending arrival of another event.
Music is never heard here. Which is why it was odd to hear a slightly out of tune piano straining to play its last tune. You could almost hear the hushed voices of settlers that never ventured here singing…
Buffalo gals, won’t you come out tonight,
Come out tonight, Come out tonight,
Buffalo gals, won’t you come out tonight,
And dance by the light of the moon.
It was coming from the only place in town that it would if it could, and the last place in town where anybody should be – the Abandon All Hope Saloon.
Most frontier towns would build their most moving and meaningful structures at the heart of their communities. A steeple would reach up to the heavens for those of faith. A town hall would stand for those who believed in governance above all. A grand train station would be waiting for those who welcomed visitors from all points of the compass.
In Fears Corner, it was the Abandon All Hope Saloon that stood at the center of town.
There was nothing remarkable about this two story wooden building with its once fancy facade now faded away. Those that entered here weren’t looking for fancy facades, or welcoming embraces. They were looking for trouble and trouble was the rule of law.
The saloon’s large windows, now covered with filth, allowed anyone inside a full and direct view of the street. Those that dared to sit in this place liked to see danger coming. A wise gunslinger always sat with his back to the wall and a sharp eye on Main Street.
Alice sensed this as she stood watch at her post. She had taken the sleeve of her blouse, put it around her hand, and rubbed a clear spot in the window.
She didn’t know how long she had been peering through that spot. It was best not to think of those things. It was best to concentrate.
But as long as that old clock on the wall kept tocking, as long as its weight kept swinging, Alice couldn’t help but think of time. She thought the piano would drown it out.
She could hear the piano just fine, but between the notes, she could still hear that tocking, she could feel the weight swinging.
Daniel sat at the piano banging away at that tune. His fingers were tired, but he was determined to be done with this particular problem.
And if he had to sit at that piano for a whole day in order to lure that monster in here, then that’s just what he was going to do.
Besides, he had faith in Alexander. Alexander had the idea. Alexander planned the plan. He believed in Alexander. As long as he was strong, Daniel knew he could be too.
The object of his belief stood tall at the center of the room. He stood there looking tough and stern-lipped. He was never more afraid in his life.
Alexander was the leader of this little gang of outlaws, and when he first stepped onto the saloon battlefield, he knew this endeavor wasn’t going to be easy.
But he believed it was possible.
There were a dozen or so tables with their accompanying chairs scattered about the main room. Billiard and gaming tables didn’t provide much cover. Most of them had been demolished in the numerous bar brawls that had happened here. A balcony with once carpeted staircases on either side loomed above the bar.
Alexander chose to make his stand with his back to the large bar that ran across the back of the room. Behind it was a huge mirror. It covered the full length of the bar and rested in an ornately carved mahogany wood frame. He wanted that mirror behind him so that the thing that was coming could see itself when it faced Alexander down.
This was Bully Bob that was coming and he had to be shown a thing or two.
Through the rain, the sun, the haze and the filth on the windows, Alice had kept watch. Knowing that her friends were relying on her keen eyesight to spot the approach of this villain was an honor. She pushed her glasses back up and onto her nose and squinched her eyes to focus, but the thumbprint she had left behind on the lens made that impossible.
Alice took off her glasses and used the edge of her blouse to clean the lenses. Her little hands were shaking. An honor was one thing, but pressure like this was quite another.
She had put her favorite lucky rabbit’s foot on the chain around her neck, on which she also hung a gold four-leaf clover. This was a gift from her grammy, and as long as she had it, she would be safe. At least that’s what she kept telling herself.
Satisfied that the lenses were as clean as they were going to get, Alice put the glasses back on and returned to gazing through her spot.
As soon as her eyes focused through the rain, the sun, the haze and the filth on the windows, she saw him. Just on the outskirts of town. Riding slowly towards Main Street.
Alice knew this was Bully Bob. She had seen him a thousand times at school picking on some poor defenseless kid. She knew it was Bully Bob, the terror of the Theodore Roosevelt Grammar School and Kindergarten. But here in Fears Corner, sitting tall in the saddle, looking like the devil himself, she could only think – that’s the Man in Black, and this whole thing was a really bad idea.
“He’s here!” she half whispered, half screamed.
Daniel froze. He couldn’t remember the next note. He couldn’t even remember his name.
“Keep playing,” Alexander quietly ordered, never taking his eyes off the saloon doors.
He remembered this scene from every western he had ever read. The villain would soon be at those swinging doors, and the showdown would begin.
“Keep playing Daniel. I want him to know we’re here and waiting for him.”
The old clock on the wall began to strike noon.
Daniel just sat at the piano still too afraid to move. Alexander and Alice could only stand there staring at his back. They both knew that if this part of the plan didn’t work, the rest of it wouldn’t either. They both found themselves breathing to the rhythms of the chimes.
The last one sounded. Then there was nothing but silence. Not a single tock from that old clock. The weight stopped. Time was up.
Daniel took a deep breath, reached deep down inside himself, found his courage, and began to play.
Hoping that the Man in Black was gone, Alice quickly returned to her spot. But he wasn’t gone.
He had stopped just at the end of Main Street. She could see his coal black horse was restless. She could see its hideous yellow eyes darting back and forth as the horse shifted its weight from side to side.
She watched as the Man in Black pulled back on the reins to control the beast. It wasn’t enough. He wrapped his black leather covered fist around the horse’s mane and pulled at all that long black hair. That was enough.
With the animal back in his control, the Man in Black started down Main Street straight towards the saloon. The rain began to pour.
“He’s coming!” she said - but no one heard her.
Only her lips had moved. Her voice was caught somewhere in her throat. She tried to turn around to say something, but she couldn’t move. She couldn’t take her eyes away from the Man in Black, not for a single moment.