Friday, December 14, 2012


“And when I am re-elected mayor of our town, I will uphold the values of honesty and loyalty that has made her great,” the boisterous man admonished with a stern face and pointed finger. A brief silence passed over the crowd.
            “Vote Sam Cobbson!” he suddenly exclaimed as he threw his arms in the air.
            The small crowd applauded and whooped as the assembled brass players struck up “When The Saints Go Marching In” and fire works went off behind stage. A news camera went off.
            The photographer chuckled to himself as he changed plates in his camera. Unlike most of the onlookers, the irony of a funeral dirge being played in a celebratory fashion was not lost on him. It didn’t really matter to him though. Regardless of who won, he would be there to take the pictures.
            Candidate Cobbson had stepped off the stage and was making the rounds of kissing babies and shaking hands. A white-haired man with large mutton chops and a tall top hat waved the photographer over to him as Cobbson was making his way around.
            “Vincent, my boy” he said with a cupped hand to the photographer’s ear, “make sure you get a good shot of when he shakes my hand. Do well enough and I’ll increase your rate.”
            Yes, Mr. Stufford,” Vincent replied.
            As the owner of not only the newspaper and the local saloon, but also the owner of the only hotel in town as well as being the president of the bank, Markus Stufford was probably more influential and powerful than any single mayor could ever hope to be.
            With his tripod in place, Vincent snapped a photo of the two men. Both were shaking hands firmly while exchanging two of the most false smiles Vincent had ever had the displeasure of witnessing. Cobbson was no stranger to business himself.
            Before his first election he had also been the local barber, dentist, and mortician. Afterwards, he divided daily operations of his establishments between his two sons, the younger of whom was a weasely little fellow by the name of Conroy. He was currently trailing his father like a coyote stalking a wounded horse. The day he took over as barber was the last time Vincent had gotten a shave in town. Something about him with a razor just didn’t sit right. Cobbson’s other son, Stanley, was absent as usual.
            More than a little slow, more than a little over-sized, Stanley was the type of fellow born for menial, physical labor. Unlike his brother, he was honest to a fault.             Vincent personally thought that the lumbering oaf was simply too dumb to lie. Lying took creativity and imagination after all, and Vincent just couldn’t see ol’ Stan mustering such things. He imagined that Stan legitimately enjoyed mortuary work.
            The two old business men were chatting when they both looked in Vincent’s direction. He already knew what they would want. It was the reason he had brought three plates. Cobbson started walking over to him.
            “Say there, Vince mah boy. Ya wouldn’t mind one more, would ya? I would like one with your boss, Mr. Stufford, and mah boy Conroy.” He then slammed Vincent hard in the back. “Thank ya very much. Next time, at mah victory party, we’ll have ya take even more.” He slammed Vincent’s back even harder this time, laughing rambunctiously as he did so.
            Vincent moved his tripod to line up the three men in the shot. A few long seconds later and history was preserved once again. By now most of the crowd had dissipated and even the musicians had stopped playing. Vincent could hear the two older men talking about their latest venture.
            “Well sure it’s on the edge of their land, but a well commissioned surveyor can take care of that. Trust me, Sam. This will be bigger than anything you or I have ever seen before. They call it ‘black gold’ for a reason.”
            “I sure hope so, Markus ol’ boy.”
Vincent was distracted by an approaching stage coach. It was Cobbson’s, driven by his son Stanley.
            “What took ya so long, ya good for nuthin’ cactus brain?” Cobbson admonished. “Ya git along the way?”
            Stanley turned slowly until his gaze met his father’s. The large young man was unmoved by the older man’s hostility.
            “Had to make three more coffins.” He then looked the two older men and his brother up and down. “Figure I’ll need ‘em soon.”
            “What are ya ramblin’ about? Ya don’t need to think. Ya just need to build them pine boxes and dig them holes. Now enough about that. Ya know how to git to tha site, right?”
            “Yep,” the young man  answered, spitting a stream of brown as he paused. “The redmen say it’s a bad idea, though. They say that’s sacred land.”
            “And? Damn them and their heathen gods. Got nuthin’ to do with us.” The mayoral candidate was getting visibly flustered.
            “It’s a yard. I know, I can tell,” Stanley said flatly.
            “A what?”
            “A graveyard. I think they might be right.”
            “Did ya hear that, paw? Cactus brains said ‘he thinks’,” Conroy said in his shrill, squeaky voice.
            “Shut ya trap. No one asked ya neither.” The rotund politician was dabbing his now sweaty brow. “Just take the three of us to the site.”
            Without any more exchange, the two older men and the younger brother climbed into the coach. Stanley then turned and looked at Vincent.
            “Yer a good man, Vince. Yer honest and smart too.” They didn’t talk much anymore, but as boys they had hunted and fished together.
            “Take some advice?” the large man inquired. He had an odd look in his eye which             Vincent couldn’t recognize.
            “Sure Stan,” he said. “I’ll give you a listen.”
            “A medicine man came by other day. Said the finger would touch after the sun.” Stanley glanced at the coach. “Said to make a bunch more boxes as well. They’re breakin’ ground this afternoon. I would go visit yer sister in Greenville. Least a week I reckon.”
            Vincent stared at him with a mixture of puzzlement and disbelief.
            “What’s the hold up? Git a goin!” came from inside the coach.
            “Well, I’ll be seein’ ya, Vince.” Stanley turned away and started to lift the reigns.
            “Wait!” Shouted Vincent. “You’re not kidding, are you?”
            Stanley stared at him so intensely Vincent could swear he felt himself shrink.
            “Neither was the redman. I could tell.” With that Stanley turned back and goaded the horses into action.
            Vincent stood motionless until the coach was out of sight. A sudden fear washed over him, and he found himself running as fast as he could. Before he knew it he was at his house. He packed his camera and equipment. He also brought a change of clothes. As he lugged the large trunk towards the train station, he wondered why he had brought so much. He almost felt like a stage horse being goaded by a driver.
            Vincent heard the far off whistle of the approaching rail as he a stepped up to the ticket window.
            “Made it just in time, ya did, Vince.” The old man at the counter smiled. “Off to see ya sister again? Special occasion, perhaps?”
            “No, more of a surprise visit,” Vincent responded nervously. He felt afraid but didn’t know why. “I’m sure she’ll be happy to see me none the less.”
            Confused and slightly taken aback, the old man simply smiled and nodded.
            As Vincent boarded the train, he felt a chill wind kick up, sending a fresh shiver down his spine. Looking forward, the sky was slightly cloudy. When he looked towards the rear of the train, he saw a dark line on the horizon. Sitting down in a seat seemed to relax him, and as the train pulled away Vincent felt his uneasiness completely leave.

            Arriving at Greenville, his sister was waiting on the platform, handkerchief in her hand. Before he could sort things out, she practically knocked him over as he stepped off the train.
            “Oh praise the lord. I knew you’d be on that train. The big fellow in the dream told me last night.” Her face looked like she had been crying intensely.
            “What happened? A dream?” Vincent asked puzzled.
            “Never you mind that. You don’t know about what happened, do you?”
            Vincent slowly shook his head.
            “Well, it was after sundown, a few hours after your train departed. We got news across the telegraph. It’s gone, Vincent. It’s all gone.”
            “What are you talking about? The chill that had left was returning to Vincent’s spine.
            “The town, Vince. It’s gone. Well most of it. They just after sunset a giant twister came through and took out most of the town.”
            Vincent fell to his knees. His strength had left him, his reasoning too. An odd thought suddenly struck him. He stood up and grabbed his sister.
            “Quickly! We must go to your house. I need to develop a picture.” The look in her eyes told him that he must sound mad. Composing himself, he continued. “I want to look at something I took just before I left.”
            She nodded in silent compliance.
            A few minutes later they were at her house.
            He set up a makeshift dark room in her cellar. Immediately, he began the laborious effort. Unsure of what he’d find, something seemed to be compelling him to develop the picture. The first two pictures came out fine enough. As the last one came into view he nearly fell over.
            The stage was visible in the background as well as the remnants of the gathered crowd. Where the three men should have been there was something quite wrong. Their suits were there as well as their hats and even their shoes. The men themselves, however, were completely gone.

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