Short Fiction: The Traveler (Winner, Lee County Aspiring Author Contest)

Short Fiction: The Traveler (Winner, Lee County Aspiring Author Contest)

Michael Hudson

The rattle and clink of boot spurs against the hardwood floor jolts the otherwise silent bar. Doors swing along their hinges by a man with grim expression. His boots echo, hollow, and he approaches the bartender.

The bartender spits, “What can I do you for?”

“I’ll take a whiskey,” says the traveler.

The traveler’s eyes wear years of pain and hardship, locked behind hollow sockets. A face exhaust of patience and emotion stare longingly into the candle lit bar room.

“What brings you to Harleston?” The bartender pulls a glass and bottle of whiskey from beneath the bar.

The traveler’s calloused hands clutch the glass. He sips his whiskey and says, “Just passing through.” His voice is rough, raspy.

The Texas desert sand clings to the traveler the way a frightened child clings to his mother.

The bartender wipes down the bar with an old rag and spits in the direction of a corner spatoon.

“We got ourselves a doctor in town,” the bartender says while nodding to the bloodied wound on the travelers side with modest concern.

No reaction comes to the travelers face as he says “Doctor won’t do me no good,” while sipping more whiskey from the glass.

The bartender spat, “I reckon you’d be right old timer. Perhaps the Lord would do you more good,” says the bartender while cleaning an empty glass with the same dirtied rag.

“God won’t do me no good neither.” the traveler says while polishing off the remnants of the whiskey from the glass. The hollow tap of the travelers forefinger against the wood bar signals the bartender to refill his glass. As if the two strangers had done this same process for years, the bartender fills the empty glass with the dark, bitter fluid.

An amused smile arcs along the bartenders rosy cheeks. “Now, God means good by all of his children,” says the bartender before spitting in the direction of the spatoon.

With a sigh, the traveler says, “I reckon not partner. My past sends me hellbound and not even a God as righteous as yours can save me from my demise”.

“Don’t cut yourself short just yet old timer. God loves all of his children,” says the bartender with stern, serious affection.

The traveler looks up to the bartender who stands with arms stretched and grasping the edge of the bar. Looking into the unwavering eyes of the bartender, the traveler says “Men of war learn of the Devils wrath. God has left no room for the likes of men like me in his temple of righteousness,” with grim acceptance.

The bartender leans back, crosses his arms, spits, and nods with understanding to the travelers words. The travelers pale eyes travel back to the brown liquid that swirls in the glass. He drinks.

“I reckon the almighty gives love to even the Devil,” says the bartender in humble confidence.

An amused chuckle escapes the traveler. “Now what makes you think that stranger?” says the traveler in cocky arrogance.

“Is Lucifer not one of God’s children?” asks the bartender rhetorically.

The traveler pauses. The once amused, arrogant smirk is replaced by a look of concentration and thought.

“The bloodshed that comes of war brings stench to the future of those that participated in that bloodshed” preaches the bartender in earnest wisdom.

The bartender reaches for the bottle and refills the glass of the travelers drink. The traveler sits in silence and contemplation. Eyes fixated on the brown liquor.

The bartender pulls back the bottle and says “I see you’ve turned toward the comfort of the bottle,” He spat. “The booze wont heal the wound I reckon. Just numb the pain.”

The left hand of the traveler begins to tremble. The travelers face becomes flush as sweat beads along his wrinkled  forehead. The relentless pain of the bulletwound on the travelers side makes the traveler wince as he rests his hand over the wound.

The bartender leans across the bar towards the traveler. In a hushed whisper, the bartender says “It’s time to let go partner. And never look back.”

The room falls silent. Unspoken conversation is had as the two strangers stare through each other. The traveler looks to the glass of booze. Personal dilemma drowns the traveler as the brown liquid rests un-vandalized by the silence. Looking back to the bartender, the traveler gives the bartender a nod. The bartender pulls away from the bar. The traveler rests his fist on the bar in front of the glass. Blood from the wound reds his hand. The traveler pushes the glass towards the bartender.

Intense silence is broken by serious tone of the traveler asking “Now what?”

An atmosphere of thick, heavy air in the bar room is replaced by refreshing and clean air.

Taking the glass of booze in his hand, the bartender says “Now my son, you move on.”

As if the roof of the bar were opened with a rusty can opener, bright fluorescent light floods the room, blinding the traveler. Hard earth supports the traveler as he lays amidst warfare. A man dead from a bullet wound to the temple lays to the left of the traveler. Bone fragments and brain matter rest exposed to the world in the mans black hair. The eyes drained of life, stare at the traveler. Bullets zip overhead and cannon balls annihilate any hope of cover.

A fresh bulletwound rests on the left side of the traveler just below the rib. In all of the chaos of war and violent decay of humanity, no pain or fear of death comes to the traveler.

The traveler looks west to the beauty of a setting sun. The cries for help from injured men and the rapid roar of gunfire are not heard by the traveler. Peace washes over the dying man.

The tremble in the left hand of the traveler becomes still. The time between each rise and fall of the travelers chest becomes less. The sensation of floating comes to the traveler as the final rays of light cross the horizon. Rising above the grip of life, all goes still.