The Afterlife-Cycle

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By: Kyle Jacobson

     The innkeeper makes to stoke the fire for his huddled patrons. Wind beats the hillside lodging. Never a night the elements are stayed ‘round these parts. The innkeeper returns thanks with a hopeful smile. Hope this will be enough to get through another night of death’s stalking. Why these people come is beyond comprehension. Why make the journey? Dancing on death’s sickle, they answer, is the only way to live. Of course, being dead would make life all the sweeter, as when sadness is felt, happiness is revered as its counterpoint. The downside being there is yet a way to come back from the permanence of death. Nevertheless, the innkeeper’s lifestyle is maintained through the brave and the foolish. Looking over his patrons, the innkeeper fails to see life being experienced to claimed extents. Misery, discomfort, if this is what is needed to feel alive, contentment’s appeal is unparalleled.

     Warm drinks thaw the heart and tongue of even the most worn traveler. Nights grow shorter as laughter cures silence. Irish coffee, the innkeeper’s favorite remedy. As he takes to mixing the simple drink, a man, alone at the bar, has his rocky scotch topped off. “You sure you don’t want to join us?” Under a thick coat, the man lifts his head and waves off the innkeeper.

     Upon returning, the innkeeper’s drinks warm the hands of the huddled on the large throw in front of the fire. A scruffy man, thick as his bulging skin allows, breaks the silence. “We all going to see it?” Every adventurer’s head rocks, as nodding is quite difficult with necks buried up to ears in sweaters and jackets. “Figured as much. Came here with my father once. Now that he’s gone, I thought I should make the trip again. Brought my daughter this time.” The man points to a young girl, not a child by any stretch. Maybe even a woman to the right minded man. Layers of wool make her thick, but a small face with rounded cheeks and a rosy smile point to her being much smaller than she appears.

     Invigorated, a young man perks up from his feet. “Hey all, name’s Vincent. I ‘m a journeyer of sorts. I climbed Mt. Everest before I reached puberty, sailed across the Pacific before I sprouted my first chest hair, and now I’m here.” Vincent winks at the man’s daughter before throwing his coat to the ground with a heavy thump. On a chair he stands, raising his hand to his brow, seeing trials ahead through the logged wall. “There’s no adventure I can’t make. Nothing scares me, nope, not even death.” Vincent marks the daughter smiling at him. “I’ve gone hand to hand with pirates, wit to wit with tigers, and toe to toe with tyrants and false kings.” He dashes to the bar, next to the man hunched over his drink. “You sir, what exploits have you forgone?” The man waves off Vincent’s enthusiasm. “Surely you have stories to tell. You seem the most experienced in adventure here.”

     “Vincent, come back here and tell us your tales.” The innkeeper knows a man who keeps to himself when he sees one. “We want to hear about the pirates.”

     “Of course.” Vincent sits next to the thick man’s daughter. The crowd grins to his display of confidence, her father nods in approval. “So there I was, between blasting cannons and gunfire. I told my Captain we needed to do something daring and unexpected if we were to gain the upper hand. Captain tells me to do whatever I need. I see my opportunity, and do the most daftly thing I can think of. When the time comes I…” As tends to happen when the wind hits just right, the door flies open.

     In walks a man, blue, wearing only a light shirt and faded pants. “I’m looking for a pirate, a ship, and something hard as me shivers.” The innkeeper grabs a thick log and goes to the door to block it. Around the fire, a brief chill is discovered in sequence.

     The innkeeper returns to his spot, uncomfortably close to the fire to keep it alive, and motions Vincent. “Please continue.”

     “So I take to loading the nearest cannon with a good length of rope tied to my Captain’s lucky anchor.” Vincent motions the stuffing like a doctor preventing birth.

     “Yeah, I know a guy who did something like that to my ship.” The blue man hobbles to the fire, unable to feel its warmth. “She was beautiful, she was. Called her-”

     “Life Lost. That was the ship’s name. Blew the anchor right through the side and took to boarding that sea-worn vessel.”

     “Hey!” The blue man gets in Vincent’s face.

     “I took my belt.” Vincent grabs his coat. “Slung it over the rope.” Slings his jacket over an invisible rope. “And slid through a hole, into a cabin loaded with treasure.”

     “That was my treasure you blimey, bloated, sea-bass.” The blue man grabs at Vincent’s throat only to have his arms pass through, like grabbing a reflection in water.

     Vincent runs to the bar. The lone man covers his drink as a pirate would his gold. Featherlike, Vincent leaps on and extends his right hand, leaving his left in the air for balance. “I fought scores of pirates, and bested them all. It was their Captain who gave me the most trouble. He was no slouch with the sword. His skills far exceeded my own.”

     Eyes rolling, the man in blue finds a seat next to the lone man. “Get a load of this kid.” The blue man grabs through the scotch and pretends to drink it. “You know I’ve been everywhere looking for someone, his name torturin’ me soul. Curt be the name. Across deserts, through great cities, over oceans, up mountains, and I couldn’t enjoy any of it. I’ve looked for adventure, but never looked to live. Now here I am, watching the boy who ran me through.”

     “He thrust his rapier forth.” Vincent throws back his waist and falls on his back. “I tripped. He had me right where he wanted me.”

     “Look at him up there. He thinks he be having a good time. He’s nothing more than the pirate I was. I should’ve finished him off.”

     “Captain of Deception, Garrett the Beardless. The fool hesitates, and I run him through.”

     “I couldn’t bring myself to kill a kid. Guess I saw a piece of me in him, wanted to let it play out. My life was no more than the sea. Endless runs of waves beating the shore. Not worth keeping that life if I had the blood of this boy on me hands.”

     Vincent steps down, and the room recovers from their trance. “Didn’t want any treasure, so I left if for my Captain. I’m living the life few others dare. But now, I’m just looking for someone to share it with.” He winks at the bundled beauty. The room erupts in a smattering of applause, and Vincent takes his bow.

     “Bravo Vincent.” The innkeeper stands to refill empty mugs. “Bravo indeed.”

     Captain Garrett stands from his barstool. “Damn, Vincent. Lucky bloke. Well, good on him to get to live another day. I can’t escape this name in me head. Since I’d died it’s only gotten worse. Calling like a siren off a rocky island. If I could crash it’d be over. You think life is bad.” The dead captain turns to the stranger. “Try death.” The stranger stands, and the ghost stumbles back. “It’s you.”

     From inside his coat, the loner pulls out a gun. “Damn you Vincent.”

     “The name I’ve been hearing, yours. Didn’t want to find ya, but it had to happen some day.”

     Vincent stands tall with the crowd to his back. “Ha, I knew you went this way Curd.”

     “It’s Curt.” Pulls the trigger. Thing misfires. Before getting a chance to check the gun, Vincent is at Curt’s throat with a knife.

     “Me ol’ First Mate, Curt, my friend. I’m sorry.” Garrett takes Curt’s hand and fades out of broken death, a cursed purgatory. Curt falls to the ground, then rises from his body blue and lost. In his head rings a name, over and over. Like a bell in a tower it bangs. Fredrick Barnes. Fredrick Barnes. Why him? A life wasted on revenge for his fallen Captain, now fated to be wasted in death. Mr. Curt Barnes, ignoring the celebrating Vincent, the cheering patrons, and the contempt innkeeper, makes out to the cold to find the son he left behind. To watch his boy breathe his last.

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