Completely stunned and out of breath I push myself up against a tree facing the corpse before me. Who? Why? There is no doubt that the letter is meant for my eyes. No doubt the way it was sent is intended to scare me off, meant to persuade me onto a different route, a stop sign firmly planted into the road of life. Yet, the note points to another. Another who can bring light to the dark. Why would anyone leave open the door of understanding? Why at the same time closing another in such a final gesture? After gathering my thoughts, I try to imagine how this scene has come to be. Which was first: the knife or a gunshot? It’s almost as if William shot himself and the knifed in letter came only by happenstance, a chance encounter. But, maybe I’m supposed to think this and what happened carries a much more sinister tone. Perhaps the game that has been unraveling over the past few days has just now indeed begun. The note, the hat, the glasses, and ring have all been maddening, to say the least, but they also been relatively harmless. Now, however, the game has turned deadly, and William has paid the ultimate price for it.
Gripping the bark of the tree, I pull myself to my feet and step closer to the lifeless body before me. With an eerie calm, I place my hand on Williams arm—ice cold. He’s been dead for some time now.
Walter must have seen him on his way back last night; there’s no way he could have missed William even in the dark.
A sudden jolt of electricity hits my nerve endings. Could Walter be responsible? But why would he kill his brother just to send me a message? Why would Walter kill anyone, especially his only brother? This message makes its point quite clear, much more transparent than my last cowardly placed note. Though this one is much less secretive and cryptic, it is much more disturbing, to say the least. Who would consider the task of killing just to send me a message? Why William—did he know something about my father? If so, what could be so damning? Why are my father’s whereabouts so crucial as to motivate a murder?
Pulling the note loose from the knife and William’s chest I look it over once again and place it folded into my shirt pocket. The crimson stained message tucked away for later discussion with the right minds and the right eyes. After a quick look around, I decide to relieve William of his pistol to give to Walter for proof of what is laying before me; his dead brother. Death in knowing, death in giving, and death inevitable.
Stepping back to take in the scene once and for all, there lays a man who just yesterday was moving through life, not without cares because we all have our own, with a purpose. His boots, covered in crusted forest dirt. His jeans, crumpled from a body that has rested for far too long; his shirt and open jacket stained with death. William’s face is the definition of stillness. With eyes that are slightly closed and looking carelessly into the forest across the trail, I slowly slide his tattered brown hat back down over his face so he can hold off the sun for one more day.
Placing William’s pistol within the confines of my coat jacket I ease myself around the outstretched legs and head for town as a falling leaf lands on William’s lap as if the forest is already staking its claim.
Lumbering my way through the winding trail, the thought off William weighs heavy on my mind. I never got my chance to ask him about my first mysterious letter, the one bravely and cowardly posted on my cabin door. I guess with his death now upon me he must not have been the one to leave it, but then again maybe a partner in crime has turned against poor William to keep him silent. Perhaps William was headed out to my place last night to come clean, and someone got to him before he could disclose his actions. This thought swings my mind back to Walter’ s visit last night and how he should have seen William’s body along the trail if he followed the path that is. Maybe I shouldn’t jump to any concrete ideas just yet; maybe I should just let this play out and see where and who it leads to, but to whom it leads is beyond my comprehension.
As I walk along, I began to wonder who the ‘other one’ that the note mentioned. Why was there another one at all? Is the writer of the message trying save his own guilt by adding other conspirators? What if there was a plot against my father? The thought of my father being tracked like an animal through the forest like a scared animal brings anger to my face that I didn’t think possible. Will the prospect of finding him alive begin to fall further and further from my hopes? No! I will not let my expectations be buried deep with my mind. Giving up had never been an option before, and I will not allow it to become an option today.
As the horse trail opens up in front of me, I watch as the dirt and leaves and twigs pass on by my feet in a slow parade of nothingness. I can feel the mystery tightening around me like a fevered blanket that won’t let its grip grow any weaker no matter how hard the struggle. Could I be on the brink of something new, something treacherous? My state of mind tells me my father is close, but my feelings have their doubts. It’s as if the crossroads have me tied to a stake and the rope is unbreakable, and the directions available are flirting with me as if to sway me, each in their distinctive way.
With my mind drifting I barely notice that I’m passing the cemetery and the sway of its sign as it pulls on its hinges with all of its might. Trying in vain to break free of its binds and free fall to a more natural state of being. I wish I could experience that free fall. I hope I could break loose.
Lost in thought, I’m startled by Orville, who has somehow snuck up just behind me. I’m usually more aware of my surroundings to let such a thing happen.
“Good morning Tooley.”
Turning slowly around I find him looking over my shoulder as if another is creeping up behind. I take a glance back and return my gaze to his eyes. “I have had better days Orville. What brings you out into the world so early?”
“Oh, I couldn’t sleep last night. My mind wouldn’t stop racing. Thought I would get an early start on the cemeteries needs. You sure everything is ok? You look a little lost in thought.”
“Let’s just say that the forest presented me with a turn that I hadn’t expected.”
“Well, these things seem to happen to all of us when it is completely unexpected. I’ve had my fair share of surprises through the course of my life. Some eventual fade away but others never leave your side. I guess it depends on which instances one chooses to keep close and which ones to drop to the side. Either way, a memory is forged. But, as I’m sure you’re aware of, there are actions that can be taken to wash away even the most potent of experiences.” He says.
With knowing nod I say, “I am no stranger to washing away memories, but as hard as I have tried, I have been unable to accomplish the task with some of them.” I notice Orville has begun to rub his hand up and down the other arm. If I’m not mistaken, he looks a little nervous. Why would Orville too be worried about this? He always appears the picture of content and relaxation.
“As I said, some never let go of the man no matter how hard the man tries to let go. It’s sad fate to be sure, but life has its way of keeping us all from becoming too pleased.”
Letting his words sink in, the picture of William flashes across my being. “Well, I really should be on my way, Orville.”
“Aren’t you going to say hi to her?”
I almost forgot. Too much is happening right now. I can’t believe I had to be reminded to say hello to my mother. “Of course I am,” I reply and head into the graveyard. After conducting my cemetery of Eden custom I head for the tavern, passing Orville as he enters his sanctuary, but then the thought crosses my mind that maybe I should first let Luke in on my discovery.
Walter should hear it from me, not from Luke. After all, Walter has done it for me, so it is the least I can do.
Stepping up onto the timber planks they creak with a knowing pleasure. It’s a fantastic realization when one hears the world through the world itself as if the story of our lives can be seen as they are being written in the trees, the breeze, the steps, and even the creeks of a few boards beneath our feet. I push my way through the door of the tavern and see Walter standing as usual behind the counter with the larger than life mirror at his back reflecting all that the room has to offer including the new hazy outline of the man at the door which is me. At this time of day, the reflection is nearly empty save for a few men here and there smoking their pipes and drinking their position in life away.
Instead of moving towards my usual seat I make a straight line to the bar and Walter.
“Hey Joseph,” He says not knowing that the weight of the world is about to come crashing down upon him. He’s just standing there going through his everyday rituals behind the bar. It’s a strange but inevitable truth that at times our very beings get slammed so hard by happenings that are entirely out of our hands. There is indeed a case to be made for a person who has no family and no friends. Such a man has no worries about the world side swiping him out of the blue.
Standing there with a blank stare on my face and the mirror giving no signs of interest I slowly pull out Wiliam’s pistol and without saying a word lay it on the counter. With Walter now at the other end of the bar and making his way back towards myself, I see his eyes glance down upon the counter. A look of knowing or a look of unwanted feelings crawls across his face. A face that is now standing directly across from me separated by the whiskey stained wood of the ancient bar. The counter has been dented and scratched by the ever rotation of men and women doing their best to either forgive or forget. Years of abuse by lost patrons trying to beat out a feeling that inevitably drapes every one of them.
“William lost his pistol again huh? Thanks for dropping it by Joseph.”
“He didn’t lose it this time Walter I found it with him.” My eyes lock onto my own reflection behind him. Hoping I can soften the blow that is coming.
“With him? What do you mean with him?” He says unaffected by the words.
Doing my best not to convict before I have some facts, I ask Walter, which way he headed back to town last night after dropping off my package. After telling me his route, there’s no possible way he could have missed his brother’s body lying half off the trail. Wondering just how to tell someone that their brother is dead and being a man of little words I decide to be blunt and to the point with Walter.
“Walter, I found William’s body along the trail to my cabin this morning.” I let the words hit Walter with all the power and force they can muster before I continue. Walter stops wiping the bar and looks up at me with a bit of uncertainty. A look of hearing a blatant lie that seems to attack a man with a hint of truth freezes in his stare.
“ His pistol was in his hand with a single shot lodged in his head.” I continue wondering what was going through Walter’s head. “ Now, this may lead you to think that suicide was the cause, but there was one thing that will destroy that notion. There was a knife plunged into his chest that could have come before the shot, but I just don’t know the answer to that question.” I failed to mention the note thinking that it didn’t matter that much at this given moment.
As Walter raises his hand and places it on William’s pistol, I feel the light touch of someone placing their hand upon my left shoulder. My mind swings around, but my body is in slow motion as my eyes lock with a pair of blue eyes that can only belong to the mysterious gift giver, the mysterious Elizabeth. With so much to say and ask I catch myself motionless in time, locked between two events that are colliding at the speed of light.
“Are you Joseph Tooley?” The soft voice comes ringing into my ears.
“I am, and you must be Elizabeth.”
“Elizabeth Tine and I assume you got your package, or you wouldn’t be standing here.” Again the softness of the tones hit like distant church bells flowing across the landscape breaking up as they filter through the trees and valleys. What would such a delicate creature have to do with my father? As I look her over again, I turn to Walter and find him walking back to the other side of the bar. Whirling back, I once again give her a once over.
“I did,” I say once again turning back to Walter trying to read his emotions from a motionless face. As he comes closer to me, I say, “I’m sorry Walter. I haven’t gone to Luke, yet I figured you should hear it from me for no particular reason other than I was the one who came across him and him being so close to my cabin.”
Without a word, Walter grabs his dead brother’s pistol and heads for the tavern door saying not a single word. Sometimes actions speak louder than words but this time neither uttered a syllable. The lack of everything made me wonder at Walter’s response.
Circling back to Elizabeth, I lead her to my usual seat and ask her if she minds waiting a while for me so I can catch up to Walter. She shyly agrees, and I quickly head for the door. Once outside I just catch a glimpse of the sheriff’s door shutting and hurry my way towards it as boots echo off the wooden planks. Reaching for the handle, I brace myself for what may lay beyond this stilted entrance. Life lost; one brother left one brother gone.