The Path In Blue
By Jason N. Drake
The whole bedroom was bathed in blue. It had been this way every since the first twister hit the small town of Jasper, Kansas. That day the winds had been horrendous sending the branch of a cottonwood tree sailing through the bedroom window.
After the storm passed Henry went out to inspect if any more damage had been done to the property. Just over the horizon he could see a second storm growing. He’d have to be quick. He ran down to the stables to check on the horses, Dandy and Copper. Once he had the horses calm he made sure the doors were secure, at that moment a glint of light caught his eye. It was over by the cottonwood tree,a section of blue stained glass lay at the base of the tree. One of the windows of the church must’ve been shattered in the storm and was dropped here by the wind. It looks like about the same size as the bedroom window. I’ll just have to make it fit he thought, then he went over to the tool shed, grabbed some tools, and ran back up to the house.The section of stained glass fit the bedroom window frame perfectly.
Now Henry stood in the middle of the bedroom staring at the bed, tears rolling down his dirty face. He thought of Ruth lying there not able to breath, drowning in her own fluids; just as all the townsfolk who had stayed after the second twister. In the strange blue filtered sunlight her golden hair had become glowing white and her pale face was raditing like some some beautiful being from the book of fairy tales that they had read to each other every night by lantern light.
Ruth clutched the tattered square of black cloth as she died. Henry now held it in his calloused hand. The black square imprisoned a roughly stitched white star. Henry couldn’t remember which one,but the Sorcerer had told Ruth the fabric had either been cut from the robes of Merlin or Simon, the king of the witches. He had pried it from her hand just before he buried her. The thought of such evil going with her into the next world was unbearable.
It had been a clever disguise to come to town as a snake oil salesman.
“We haven’t been able to conceive a child.”, a Ruth had told the Sorcerer before handing him all of their money. In return he gave her a small glass bottle full of tiny round pills and the
hope of fertility; the tattered black square was a gift,a talisman to ward off misfortune and bring prosperity.
“ Ruth, why would you tell that man about not being able to get pregnant? That is for us to discuss in private.” Henry had yelled at her. “If those pills work how in the hell do expect to feed the damned thing!”
The damned thing, the words haunted him, all she ever wanted was a child, he had too. Anger, a useless emotion he thought, it only brought regret. That same week the sickness came, three weeks later she was dead. He sighed and shoved the ragged black cloth into his pocket and left the room. He grabbed his pack and walked out of the storm battered house.
Dandy,(her sister Copper had ran away,spooked by the second storm) calmly regarded him as he secured the saddlebags and cantenes. He patted her gently unhitched her from the hitching post and climbed up onto the saddle and nudged her towards the direction he’d last seen the snake oil wagon heading. Henry saw ahead of him, off in the distance a great storm was brewing a blue lightning bolt streaked across the sky and he knew his path was true. As Dandy trotted along he pulled down his threadbare bowler so it was snug, leaned forward slightly, gradually sending Dandy into a gallop. There was nothing left of the town of Jasper but dust and ghosts.
Just outside of Topeka they came to a town that was now a graveyard called Earls Fork. Exiting the town they came upon an old emaciated man sitting in the dirt. He cradled his dead wife in his arms.He told Henry a tale of a man who came to town with promised riches and miraculous cures.
“The man called himself a professor, boy howdy did he put on such show: explosions, multi colored lights, and strange music from a another world. You’d never heard and seen such wonders things.” The old man coughed and continued. “And folks was so dumbed down with excitement , that they was ready to believe anything.” The old man motioned to the canteens and asked if he could have a drink. Henry handed him the cantine. Thanking Henry he continued his tale. “When the Professor left the town threw a grand farewell with streamers and fireworks. The ladies auxiliary pulled out all the stops. There were cakes and pies every kind,pitchers of lemonade and bottles of sarsaparilla. Oh, and there was about any kind of vittles you’d want to eat.” The old man’s face grew dark. “After the good byes,I’d say a week or so later came a monstrous storm it destroyed the whole damn town and on it’s winds rode the plague. Those that the storm didn’t kill died with the plague. The damned devil didn’t leave us with nothing but his knotted salty bread.” He threw a piece of the bread as hard as he could. Henry knew what The Sorcerer called the knotted salty bread. The Sorcerer had given some to the townsfolk of Jasper he said they were a delacy of Germany called pretzels. “Yes sir, no one left but me and Sara here.”He said bringing the corpse closer to his chest.
Henry gave the Old man some jerky and a canteen of water and set off in the direction the man had told him that the Devil had gone.
Days turned into nights and nights into days.The weeks passed with nothing but the sick and the dead. Henry and Dandy were on the verge of collapse, they needed rest and water but the further west they traveled the less they found of both.
He bounced around fighting to stay in the saddle his head lolled and the landscape before him seemed to shift and soften.Suddenly blue was all he could see. He thought he was losing his sight but then he could see past the edges of blue the surrounding landscape. More and more of the landscape became visible as a blue butterfly fluttered away from his face.There stretched out before him was a vast field full of wildflowers, hundreds of blue butterflies danced from flower to flower,just a few feet away lay a pond.Henry climbed down from the saddle and lead Dandy to the pond.When they reached the pond they both drank deeply from it’s shimmering water. So entranced to quench his thirst Henry hadn’t noticed a woman sitting on the edge of the pond opposite him. Her silvery hair flowed out from beneath a large brimmed leather hat. All of her clothes save a white shirt were the same chestnut color as the hat.She smiled at him and waved , the delicate silver bracelets on her wrist clinked together and made a sound similar to wind chimes. He didn’t see her move but there was standing beside him. She was thin and tall and when she spoke to him it sounded like several women whispering in chorus and the air filled with the smell of honey.
“You are tired you should stay.” She said smiling down at him and then looking over at Dandy. “The both of you.”
“I’m afraid we will need to be on our way.” said Henry.
“What you are looking for will be there to tomorrow. This pond is fed by an underground stream the waters of the stream have healing properties. You will stay.”
It seemed to Henry that no sooner had the words left her lips that night had fallen.
The silver haired women was tending a fire,as the flames flickered henry thought he saw horses galloping across some crimson desert plain then with a flicker butterflies feeding on flowers made of flames.The flames began to change colors first green then blue then almost white then crimson again. She the disappeared in the dark and came back with a tray of strange looking vittles.
She tossed them into a pot and in a moment she brought him a bowl of what looked like stew but didn’t smell like any stew he’d ever had.
“Oh, I almost forgot.” she said, but before disappearing into the shadows again turned back to Henry. “Now be careful with that it is hot and very filling.”
She returned with a large wooden bowl full of what looked like oats and several apples and set it down in front of Dandy. As Henry finished the bowl he couldn’t remember ever having a meal that wonderful in his whole life. But now he only wanted sleep. Dandy was already sleeping. Henry’s eyes were on fire and he had been seeing and hearing strange things all day. The Lady was right, he hadn’t slept, not really since Ruth died.Then it hit him, his quest. He had to find The Sorcerer and kill him.
“I brought you your blanket from your pack,it gets cold out here at night.” The silver haired lady said smiling.
This isn’t right, Henry thought .
“You’re in league with him.You’re trying to slow me down so he can get away.”
“In league with who?”
Henry was rising now. In his hand he held a stone.
“You’re in league with the one who consorts with demons and the dead. The one who
brings disease on the wind ,the destroyer of man!”
Her eyes were wide with confusion and fear. She turned to run as he brought the stone down on her head.
Henry fell to the ground in heap, hitting his head.
The birds chirping and the nuzzle of Dandy’s nose on his face woke him. He jumped to his feet still holding the stone in his hand. He frantically searched for the body of the silver haired lady but she was nowhere to be found. He was right,she was a witch he thought, sent by her master.
Blue butterflies fluttered all around them and dragonflies skimmed the surface of pond as Henry filled the canteens and let Dandy take a finally drink of the sweet water before they continued their journey. They made their way up a modeste wildflower covered hill the bees buzzing in their ears a cool slight wind blew refreshingly around them.As the land flattened out the only wildflowers left were blue sage,giving the land aquatic look.As the blew the the sage to and fo,they did their best to mimic the waves of the ocean. And across the the bobbing sea of blue sage lie a town.
“I am on the right track, I follow the blue and there I will find you.” Henry said leading Dandy into the flat field of sage.
Dodge City is what the sign had said as Henry entered the city.He’d heard tell of of it but never had the urge to visit.The amount of life zipping around him didn’t seem natural.Folks going in and out of shops and salons.He then spotted a knot of children laughing and horseplaying.
“Where you youngins get those pretzels?”
They ignored him. He moved closer and raised his voice.
“Where y’all get those pretzels?”
One of the children, a blonde boy with eyes as blue as the sage that Henry had just passed through, looked puzzled. “What’s a pretzel?”
“It’s them twisted pieces of bread y’all are gnawing on.”
The blue eyed boy pointed. “Over yonder, we got ‘em from the magic man.”
Henry followed the the direction the boy was pointing and saw the dandelion yellow wagon. Painted across the wagon in giant bright white letters outlined in green and silver were advertising ‘Professor Boris Morlorn’s Magic Traveling Medicine Show and Esoteric Curiosities’. He nodded to the children,then tied Dandy to the hitching post and made his way over to the saloon. He’d wait there until dark then he’d go pay Professor Morlorn a visit.
At dusk Henry went to check on Dandy and to feed her some apples he’d bought from a youngin. outside of the saloon. He then walked over to had closed up shop for the night, Whirling lights could be seen through the leaded glass windows that ran along the side of the wagon.The warbling drone of strange music poured out into the night. Henry stood at the door, a sudden chill filled his body. No, he thought of Ruth. He thought all the death and evil this thing disguised as a man had caused. A carving of a weather worn demon hung above the door stared down at him as he knocked. The music stopped and the lights cease to wirl. The door open slowly.
“How may I assist you my friend.” said a short stout man. His goatee was oiled and neatly groomed his handlebar mustache waxed and his long dark curly comb back away from his face. His face was round; cherub like. He extended his hand in a gesture of greeting. Henry spat at the ground.
“Yes” said the man. “Well as you see from the sign I am Professor Boris Morlorn .”
“I know who you are. Do you remember a town called Jasper? You were there about two months ago.”
“I should say so,sold almost my whole a lot of geddy up elixir.”
Henry felt bile rise up in his throat. “ Do remember a women named Ruth?”
“Well I travel all year round all over this country sir. You are going to have to be more precise,”
“You gave her some of your pills because she wanted to have a baby but couldn’t.” “Fertility”,Morlorn said stroking his goatee on his finger was a ring adorned with a blue stone. “Why don’t you come in friend and see if we can figure this out together.” “I ain’t ya damn friend!” Henry shouted and lunged toward Morlorn.
The wagon rocked freeing the demon head from it’s home above the door. It crashed onto Henry’s head piercing his skull. He lay at the professors feet. The professor knelt and checked for a pulse. There was nothing he could do. The man was dead.
“Professor Morlorn I hope the attack on you last night won’t keep you from coming back to our city. It sure was a hoot having y’all. Heluva show you put on sir.”
“One crazy man will not turn me against the wonderful folks of dodge city Sheriff. I will return.That I will promise you.” Morlorn shook the sheriff’s hand then turned and bowed to cheering crowd before exiting the platform. At the bottom of the stars he was met by a tall slender woman. She wore he silver hair high on her had and was dressed in a brillen blue dress.
“Ms.Kristy are we ready to go?Looks like a storm is brewing.”
“Yes Professor. The horse, her name is Dandy,”
“Oh my dear Ms.Kristy we will need to change that soon as possible.”
They climbed up onto the wagon and took their places on the perch. Professor Morlorn put on his top hat then stood to give a final goodbye to the folks of Dodge city.The wagon made its way westward as soon as the dust it left in its wake had settled the air grew still. A roar filled the air and a woman screamed. A man still standing on the platform fell at the sight of them. Chaos erupted as people sought shelter. Two black funnel clouds were speeding towards Dodge City.