Just like clockwork I awake at daybreak. Daybreak is always my favorite part of the day. Each and every morning that I greet reminds me that I am still alive. The one-day that I do not reach daybreak will be the day that I care for the least. Today I need not worry, thankfully, as I reached that monumental goal of daybreak.
I tend to run through the same routine every day. I wake up, listen to the birds for a few minutes [Another prime example of why I love living outside of the city.], climb out of bed, and walk over to my window to peer out and see how the world looks today. Most days it is beautiful to look at. Some days it is not. But, mostly, it is. Then I find my socks [Sometimes they are directly in front of me, sometimes they hide.], check my hair [If my hair is not perfect I must redo it.], start cooking breakfast, and venture around my room to find my pants, shirt, overcoat, and the rest of my look. By the time I am fully dressed, whatever meat I began cooking is nice and crisp, and I head about my day.
Some days I find my clothing sprawled around me in bundles hidden among my life. Other days they are all in front of me, highlighted against the backdrop of the room, waiting for me to need them again. Either way, they are waiting for me to need them.
Now the day that I mentioned is a simple one. It begins by climbing down the stairs. While my room is only on the second level of my home, it always feels like I am climbing up a hundred stairs. [Well I guess it really feels like I am climbing one hundred and twelve stairs, just to be safe.] But this is just me complaining about the little stuff again. I guess I could just sleep on the couch on the first floor of my home, but I always worry that someone will come in through the front door and rob me. At least if I am on the second floor I can hear them coming for me, and I can prepare for it… And that couch never felt quite right to me anyway… There has always been something about it.
No matter. As I continue on with my day, I find myself outside on my ranch. My father left me a fair patch of land to live on when he passed. It is big enough to run a sustenance ranch on, so I am able to keep a small herd of cows around. I make it a point to name every one of them, even if the habit drove my father crazy. They are my pets as much as my livestock. So I go out, take care of my cows, collect the milk, and then continue onto town where I sell the small amount of milk I have collected.
As I prepped to leave the farm today, I noticed that I had received a message while I was tending the cows. This was rare, so I hurried to the letter and read it over. The message was addressed to me, and all it said was that I had a new coat at the tailor’s. I did not remember commissioning a new coat [I am quite found of my old coat to be honest.], but if I had received this message, there was likely a good reason as to why. I must have commissioned the coat and just not remembered it. This can happen when you are busy with life. Memories are fleeting, and are easily disturbed.
I always enjoy walking to the market. It is not too far of a walk, only about a mile or two. Some people tell me that I should get a mule to help with hauling the milk to market, but I enjoy the walk far too much to see it rush by in a cart. Nature is stunning and yet people always want to hurry right on by. I have always believed that if you take your time and listen to nature, it will benefit you in the end. It has helped guide me throughout my life at least.
Often, when I reach the market, it appears empty. Some days I will walk down the street and only see five or six people. It is really rather eerie in a way, because you expect it to be all crowded and in a hustle and the like, but it never is. Perhaps it is just slow at the time of the day when I reach the market, as it cannot remain busy always.
After reaching the city, I walk to the grocer and make some small talk with the cashier there. Some days he seems happy to see me, others he seems disturbed. No matter, though, as long as he pays for my milk. It is not the first time I have been judged as odd in life, and it likely will not be the last time, either.
After being paid I walk over to the tailor’s to immediately waste away my money. While I was not happy about spending money on a new coat [Especially one I did not plan for.], I also was not upset either. It is exciting to get new clothing on the occasion, and no one is unhappy about a surprise. [Except when it leads to the end.]
Upon reaching the tailor, I am greeted by a young cashier holding my coat. This girl seemed terrified of me, which was deeply saddening. I am not a scary man, so she had no reason to be worried. Perhaps she was just afraid that everyone in the world was going to try to take advantage of her… something that is understandable. The world is a scary place, and it is easy to lose track of yourself in it.
Once I regained my thoughts, I paid for the coat, thanked the girl, and then started traveling home. Upon arrival, my cows made it a point to let me know that I was late today. I quickly fed them and then walked into the house, tired from my arduous trip. Maybe I should get that mule one day. I cannot walk like this for the rest of my life. Perhaps that will be tomorrow’s adventure, if I get the time.
The couch beckoned for me tonight. It wanted me to rest on it. To lie on its cozy, plush top. Yet I just could not find the courage to sit on it. Something about my brain would not allow me to. I guess it is just a lost memory… filed away somewhere in my mind where I could no longer reach. The mind is unreliable like that. You believe you know yourself, and then all of a sudden you find out that you do not. You find yourself in the dark, staring out a window that leads to nowhere other than your mind.
When I snapped out of my absent thoughts, I was back upstairs. I guess my body decided that the best thing for me to do was to go back upstairs and try to rest up there. I prepped my dinner, then sat down at my table to eat. Something told me to hold off on eating, however. It was a weird feeling, yet I was sure of it. I needed to wait for my guests. It would be rude to eat without them, even if it made my food cold.
This delay just gave me more time to relax, thankfully. I love to do nothing more than drink a nice port and listen to my father’s old record player. Records are truly an amazing invention. They have been around for as long as I can remember and yet they still sound perfect. Music truly is magical to me.
Tonight I felt like listening to something classical and just staring out my window into the setting sun. The setting sun always calms my nerves because it reminds me that no matter what I do in my life, I will never be able to stop the sunset. I am but a man, and man can only watch the sunset, not influence it.
In the dusk, I noticed a reflection in the window. They say that if you see your reflection, it means that you are still yourself. Some days I wonder if I am myself anymore, so I wanted to confirm it in my reflection. I squint and look closely at the window. I see a reflection, but it does not look quite like me. It is close, but the hair is not right. It must have been that I let my hair go on the journey back. The thought of bad hair repulsed me, especially if guests were coming soon. I want to fix it, but I also do not want to leave the comfort of my chair, which invites me to sleep.
The Junk Shop
“I must say Dart, the longer I know you, the more I begin to wonder how you manage to avoid being shut down,” said a non-descript man, in a non-descript way.
“Well my friend, it is a simple philosophy. I provide a service that is needed by everyone in this town,” a large old man replied, as if he had just given a twenty- minute speech that explained why the previous question was, in fact, the single, dumbest thing that could be asked of him today. [This of course was not true, but appearances in life are often only as they seem.] The large man was Dart, the owner of the local Junk Shop. Dart wore his years on his sleeves. His face was wrinkled, and what was left of his hair was gray and patchy. Being a salesman, though, he did what he could to keep his age hidden from his guests. He wore a new looking leather vest, which was glossy with oil. It had bright brass buttons and a shiny silver chain running to his pocket watch. The vest was in markedly better condition than he was.
The original questioner looked towards Dart in hopes that his face would hold some key for him to understand Dart’s cryptic answer. All that met his gaze was a stare as shallow as the response given.
“Well, uh, Dart, may I ask what that service is, or will it cause my bill to increase again?” asked the man in a timid manner.
Dart sighed at this question. He had to think about the way to properly respond this time in order to avoid confusion at the answer. Subtlety wasn’t Dart’s specialty. He was a very… loud personality.
“You see, in every town lies three things. There will always be a graveyard- seeing as everyone dies at some point in their lives; a restaurant of some kind- seeing as everyone eats in their lifetime but not everyone can cook; and a slightly seedy shop- seeing as everyone wants to purchase something in their lifetime, but no one wants to pay full price for it. Sure, some towns will have other features; most carry some kind of a hospital, maybe a police station if they are organized, but all towns will have the three locations…”
The man decided to cut Dart off at this point in his sentence to say, “And I am guessing you fill the role of the slightly seedy shop then?” which the man immediately regretted saying, seeing as one should never point out that a mule is not a horse.
Luckily, Dart enjoyed being a mule. This response made him laugh heartily.
“You’re damn right! I have been running this shop for forty years. My reputation precedes me. And everything I do here is well within the laws. Maybe not the laws of this particular town, but I am sure that they are legal actions somewhere.”
“You don’t worry that some Politician will come out here shut you down?”
Once again, his acquaintance’s concerns made Dart smile and laugh.
“Why would they do that? If they shut me down, where else would they be able to purchase liquor, records, and company for the night? Besides, the King is apparently having one hell of a time right now anyways. His Politicians have plenty to deal with that doesn’t involve me.”
During this entire conversation, Dart never ceased to work. A man of his years, he could write out a bill in a matter of minutes while never dropping his conversation. Oftentimes, Dart would use the length of his conversation as a way to charge an additional entertainment tax. Dart was not an honest man. He was a good man, but he was not an honest man.
As Dart finished the receipt [And subsequently his conversation.] a man of thirty or so walked in through the front door. This man wasn’t tall [Roughly six feet.], muscular [Around 160lbs.], or imposing [He could be considered to be as striking as a sleeping boar.], yet he held an air of superiority about him. He had dark brown hair that was kept short to give a clean and official look. He had an unremarkable face, outside of how clean it was. Really, the only thing that stood out about him was his shirt, which had a fancy button-up collar and bore the patch of a royal messenger. At one point in time the shirt was indigo blue, but now it was so old and faded that is would barely qualify as cyan. The man knew that he should replace the shirt, but he really didn’t care. The only thing that mattered was the patch.
Normally Dart would be excited for any customer to walk into his store. This man, however, made Dart particularly excited. It wasn’t every day that an old friend walked into your home unexpectedly. Also, this old friend usually held a government weapons grant, which Dart equally enjoyed.
“Dart! You old bastard! How have you been?” the man said.
“Margo, my friend, I have been well! Times are good. As you can see, the shop is packed to the brim right now,” responded Dart.
The man named Margo took this cue to look around the shop in greater detail. What he saw set him aback. The shop was filled with items of all types and kinds. Little walkways that could barely support a man much smaller than Dart ran in between the rows of junk. There were shelves upon shelves of items, ranging from used dolls and rags, to precious gems and weapons. If it existed, it could likely be found in this particular junk shop.
“I’ve got to ask, Dart, what the hell happened to the old junk shop?” There was some surprise and confusion in Margo’s voice.
Before Dart could respond, the man at the counter─ who had been waiting patiently─ cleared his throat.
“Oh right… you. I apologize for the inconvenience of Margo. I’ll make sure to charge him extra for your time. Here is your bill.”
Dart reached over the counter and handed the man a bill. The man looked at it and began to raise his head in question to its totals. Before he could say anything, though, he stopped to think about how wise a question would be. Deciding that the bill was fair enough, he gave Dart a payment slip before parting ways with the junk shop.
With the distraction of his business finished, Dart looked back at Margo.
“So Margo, I see that the King finally decided that having all of his messengers killed was a bad idea then, eh?”
“Well, judging by the size of this payment slip, I would have to say no.” Margo handed Dart the slip and continued. “I understand that it’s better than nothing, but now I have to hire a guard before I’m allowed to leave town. I don’t understand how I am supposed to arm myself and hire a guard with this little money.”
Margo was genuinely frustrated at the state of his job. He had been a royal messenger since he was a kid. Now, fifteen years into the job and a number of horrible deaths later, his situation had become needlessly complicated. As a royal messenger, Margo really didn’t need to follow the rules. He was simply being forced to.
“I understand your frustrations, Margo. But you understand why they are making these rules. I know you do. You are far too smart of a man to not understand the situation,” Dart replied, in a calming manner. He didn’t enjoy seeing one of his few friends angry at this situation.
“I know Dart, I know. I am allowed to be frustrated at something that shouldn’t affect me. There is a reason why I am a royal messenger. I really don’t need a bodyguard; I need a new pistol and sword. I can’t buy all three with this slip,” Margo said disdainfully.
At this remark, Dart thought deeply and sighed. He decided that his friend was worth more than a pistol.
“I’ll take care of you, Margo. I need to liquidate some extra stock anyway. Take your pick of a pistol. I have a sword in the back that you will enjoy.”
This sentence shook Margo. In all the years he had known Dart, he had never given away a piece of merchandise, let alone a pistol.
“Dart… Not to sound like too egregious of an ass, but this isn’t like you…”
Before Margo could finish the sentence, Dart held up a large hand. His expression changed into something that resembled fear and worry. It was a reaction that Margo had not seen before, and it scared him more than anything he had seen in his life.
“What have you heard as of late, Margo? I know you hear more than most. But even what you hear isn’t complete. You know about the bodies, correct?”
“Which bodies? Do you mean the ones they found a few days ago?” Margo replied, knowing full well about those bodies.
“No, not those. Those are old news. They’ve found more every day since then. From what I’m hearing, they found two more last night and…” Dart noticed an expression flash across Margo’s face.
“Really, Margo? Did you really just think that? I saw what you just thought!” said Dart, chastising Margo.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Dart… But if I did know, would I be right?”
“No! No, you wouldn’t be right! The twins haven’t died! Are you really still expecting them to just disappear along with all of your troubles? One day, Margo, you will have to face up to them for your mistakes.”
“But it wasn’t my fault! How was I supposed to know who was who? Anyone could have made that mistake, but…”
“But, you made the mistake. I warned you about them, but you ignored me. I told you that dating a woman with an identical sister would end poorly. You didn’t listen though. You were so busy being in love that you forgot to pay attention to those who are far wiser than you, and…”
At that moment, in this rant, a strange happening happened. The three lights in Dart’s small shop went out, plunging everything and everyone into darkness. The timing of this was perfect for Margo to escape Dart’s criticism.
“Well, I must say, the power of your lecture was so strong it actually managed to suck all of the energy out of your building,” said Margo, never passing an opportunity to make a joke at someone else’s expense.
Margo couldn’t see Dart’s expression, but he could feel its burning hatred through the dark. Instead of continuing his lecture, Dart reached across the counter and smacked Margo across the head.
“Hey! What the hell was that for?” Margo exclaimed, more in shock than in pain.
“Oh, sorry Margo. I couldn’t see you there. I thought I heard a rat bastard standing in front of me, so I decided to give it a check. Turns out I was right,” Dart said, with a large, yellow smile across his face. He always enjoyed getting the better of people, especially Margo.
Fortunately, the only reaction Margo could muster was laughter, because the entire sequence was quintessential Dart. Plus Dart was right, even though Margo would never admit to his mistake. In fact, Margo knew that Dart was almost always right when it came to people or business. He ignored his advice once on a trade and ended up owning a pony for the next three months.
After a few minutes of standing in the dark and solving all of the world’s issues, the lights in the shop came back on with a dim sputter. The unnatural light was a welcome reprieve in the darkness of the room.
“These blackouts are becoming more and more common, aren’t they?” Margo asked Dart, knowing the answer.
“Yeah, they have been. This is only one of the many issues plaguing us currently. I heard that the King sent most of the city’s Politicians to the Solar Fields in hopes of killing whatever is making a mess out there. If they can’t find anything, hopefully they can start fixing the panels. Most of the panels are far older than I am. And no remarks on that, Margo!” Dart scolded, seeing Margo’s face light up with a joke.
Margo─ stifling his comment─ took a second to fully digest what Dart had just told him, before coming to a realization.
“Wait, when did they start sending Politicians away from the city? I was never informed that they were cutting Politician staff, especially with everything going on right now. Why wasn’t I informed of this? I outrank most of the Politicians here!” Margo questioned Dart, half hoping he had the answer, and half expecting him to. Dart simply shrugged.
“I only know what I hear Margo, just like you. If I had all of the answers, I would be king and you would be playing a flute right now,” Dart replied, with a typical underhanded joke.
“Wait, why would I be playing a flute… Oh, you bastard…!” The joke finally dawned on Margo. It was pretty good, so he couldn’t be angry about it.
“Well Margo, no matter how much I love our conversations, I know you’re here on business. I’ll head to the back and find your sword. Go ahead and look around for a pistol. If I feel like parting ways with it, you can keep it,” Dart said with his usual crooked smile. He turned around and attempted to walk through the door behind him. Instead of opening at first push, the door held fast, unwilling to move under the burden of dust and dead insects.
Dart pushed on the door once more, before looking back at Margo. He shrugged his shoulders and laughed to himself. He then turned around and kicked the door in. It immediately gave way, shooting back on its hinges to hit the doorstop behind it with tremendous force. The act created a large dust cloud that pervaded the room, obscuring Dart from Margo’s view. When the dust cleared, all Margo could see behind the now open door was a massive area filled with every other odd and end known to man that couldn’t fit in the shop proper. It was really a stunning sight, particularly because the junk shop didn’t appear to be that big from the outside.
Margo decided to take Dart’s advice and look for a pistol before Dart changed his mind on the situation. Margo turned to the closest pile of junk and began digging through it, throwing pieces into piles next to him.
“Junk, junk, creepy doll, junk. Ohh! A frying pan. I love those.” He put the frying pan to the side, into his “I’m keeping this” pile. “More junk, and… a pistol!” Margo analyzed the pistol and immediately saw that it was of cheap design. He shrugged, threw it into the junk pile and continued on with his search.
After about thirty minutes, Dart reappeared in the store through a door below his desk. [How he got there is a story for another day.] He had a sword strapped to his back and was carrying two large boxes labeled “Miscellaneous Junk” and “Cheap Things to Sell to Tourists.” He set the boxes down behind the desk and pulled the sword off his back. Before he turned around he said, “Hey Margo! Sorry for the delay. I had to take a few back roads to find this sword. But, I’ve got it now. That’s all that matters, right?”
Dart then turned around, and jumped back out of surprise. Before him stood two women, but these were not your run of the mill, everyday women, however. No, they were only identifiable by the spelling of their names [And even that was questionable.] They were the twin sisters known as Linette and Lynette.
While they may have looked similar, the twins always tried to downplay their similarities. Linette was often described as a “slender, emerald-eyed beauty with flowing auburn hair, who was just shorter than being tall,” whereas Lynette saw herself as being a “lean, harlequin-eyed splendor with rolling burgundy hair who was just taller than being short.” Despite their best efforts, they just could never differentiate themselves to others.
“Ahh, witches!” Dart yelled, and pretended to cower.
“Very funny, Dart,” said Linette.
“Yes, we always LOVE being mocked by you,” Lynette [Or maybe it was Linette.] replied, somewhat jokingly, somewhat annoyed.
“Quick, before you eat me, allow me to get your inventory! And don’t go for my heart, it won’t be very tasty,” Dart responded, laughing.
“Why would we want your heart, you old bastard?” Lynette rebutted.
“Ya, I’m pretty sure that prostitute of an ex-wife of yours stole that anyways,” Linette [Yes, this one was Linette for sure.] retaliated.
“Oh, wow, going for the deep cuts today, aren’t we?” Dart said, rather amused. He loved talking to the twins, because they were about the only ones who understood that he had no filter and simply did not care what was said about him. If anything, he encouraged the jokes, making many of them himself.
Dart reached under his desk and pulled out a box labeled “WITCHES”. “Well girls I think this is your box. Inside I have thirty feet of gauze, a case of anti-infectant paste, ten fresh scalpels, some “burn like hell” spray, a pistol, and a case of hard candy. Anything missing?”
The twins looked at each other, and then back at Dart. Before they could question him, he responded, “No, don’t worry. The candy is on me. I know you two love the stuff, and I have way too much of it right now anyways. Consider it your early birthday gift,” Dart said with a smile.
“Our birthday was a month ago,” Linette said.
“Well then it is a VERY early birthday gift then. Or a relatively belated one. I don’t really care what you call it, just take the damn candy,” Dart replied.
“Well… thank you then, Dart. What do we owe you for all of this?” Lynette asked.
“Ten slips sound fair?” Dart said, floating an offer.
“Eight sounds more likely to happen,” Linette offered.
“Nine it is!” Dart said with a smile. He handed the girls a prepared receipt.
“Wait, we offered you eight!” Linette responded.
“Well, you see. I was expecting you to say nine and I already wrote out the receipt, so… nine?”
“Some days I hate you, Dart… Most days actually,” Lynette jeered, handing Dart the nine payment slips. She really wasn’t that annoyed, considering that she had brought ten with her to pay.
Linette picked up their box, and the twins proceeded to leave the store. Just before they were both out the door, Lynette turned around and bluntly yelled, “When Margo comes back for that sword, please slap him for me.”
“I’ll make sure to give him a good slap or two for you,” Dart said with a smile. Lynette, satisfied with this response, left the shop.
Dart contemplated his last comment, wondering things like where Margo went and how soon could he fulfill his promise. He assumed that Margo saw the twins coming and was hiding from them somewhere in his store. He couldn’t blame Margo, seeing as how the twins only wanted him alive so they could yell at him more.
A few minutes later, Dart had his answer. From one of the large armoires across the store, he heard yelling. Suddenly, Margo burst out of the dresser, followed closely by what appeared to be a large, angry, anthropomorphic pig wielding a shotgun. The pig squealed, “And don’t come back!” before Margo proceeded to slam the dresser door behind him.
Margo, who was utterly traumatized by the experience, looked up at Dart and exclaimed, “Why the hell do you have a dresser in your store that holds a portal to a dimension where pigs are the dominant life form?”
Dart, without missing a beat, replied, “Why the hell are you in my armoire that holds a portal to a dimension where pigs are the dominant life form?”
“Well… I was looking for a pistol, and…”
Dart cut him off. “The twins walked in, scaring you so badly that you jumped into the armoire, hoping to hide from their admonishment. You just so happened to not be paying attention to the sign that clearly reads, ‘Warning, this armoire contains a portal that leads to a dimension dominated by pigs’. I made that sign absurdly specific for a reason!” Dart replied. He then reached over and slapped Margo.
“What was that for?” Margo exclaimed.
“The twins asked me to do it. You know I just can’t say no to them. You couldn’t either, though, which subsequently caused this whole situation in the first place.” Dart continued, “Did you at least find a pistol?”
Margo, still not fully regaining his wits, pulled a pistol out of his holster.
“I took it from one of those pigs before they ran me out of there.”
“Smart idea. Those pigs produce weapons of far greater quality than we can here. I don’t know how they do it, honestly. A part of me thinks they have some process to smelt super high quality metals, creating a metal shaft that is resistant to almost any temperature. But then again, it is a dimension ruled by anthropomorphic pigs; so, it could just be magic,” Dart mused.
“Can I at least keep this pistol?” Margo asked.
“Hmm? Oh sure. Why not? After that whole ordeal, I think you earned it. Just don’t lose it. I doubt you will ever get another one. Oh, and here is your sword.” Dart handed Margo the sword. It was a unique sword, with a dark pinkish-red hilt. It also bore an odd crest that looked like quills surrounding parchment paper. The paper read, “Those who can never forget are those who only wish to.”
“You will notice that this sword bears the crest of Brecht… So if you break it, it’s your own fault.”
“So, I’m hearing no refunds then?” Margo said humorously.
“That is exactly what you heard,” Dart replied.
Margo laughed and took the sword from Dart. He attached the sword onto his belt and placed the pistol into its holster on the side of his chest. Once the pistol was fully secured, Margo decided that he had better continue on with his day before it became any later than it already was.
“So, you need to start on your way to Tadesse’s don’t you?” Dart said, apparently hearing Margo’s thoughts.
“Yes, I do. I’ve got a long way to travel today unfortunately. Having to hire a merc to aimlessly follow me around is only going to slow down the process,” Margo replied, annoyed.
“Besides the fact that you have to deal with all of the paperwork… I swear Tadesse has to file as much as I do,” Dart said.
“Who are you kidding? You don’t file paperwork,” Margo rebutted, catching his chance for a parting shot.
Dart laughed loudly at the personal shot. “Yes, well, I think very hard about all of the paperwork I should be filing at least. That has to count for something, right?” Dart replied, still laughing.
“Well, hopefully Tadesse has his paper work in better order than you do,” Margo said as he headed for the door. “I need to be heading out. Thank you again for what you got me today, old friend. Hopefully, it will allow me to see you again sometime,” Margo said, insightfully.
“Don’t let it be this long before I see you next, Margo. Even old friends need to be visited in order to keep their memories fresh. I was beginning to forget who you were,” Dart said, behind his usual yellow grin.
“I will make sure that I see you sooner rather than later, Dart. Until that sooner date, you have a good life, Dart.” Margo gave a parting gesture, and then he walked out of the junk shop.