There were two events in Tigbolter town in which nobody in the town could ignore: the Forest Wait and the arrival of the merchants. Both were events that stirred great excitement. With both to be held at the same dates it was no wonder that the town’s main street seemed almost barren of shoppers and visitors. The Forest Wait brought about an aura of fear and stress that resulted in a tense calmness. Most men and women were at home, preparing their basements for the extended stay in which they would be force to wait out the arrival of the forest’s worst abominations. The only sounds that could be heard in main street, besides the barking of stray dogs and lazy merchants keeping warm indoors, were the knocking of hammers from the adjacent homes as shelters were made, doors and locks were repaired, and perhaps even barricades being constructed. The arrival of the merchants, on the other hand, meant that food would soon be in full supply and much cheaper than if they were bought now (farmers actually had a good produce and the prices weren’t actually significantly steeper, but the odds of finding a farmer honest enough to sell for a price as low as during the arrival of the merchants was near impossible).
So it was in silence that Bacchus entered the market place towards “Picar’s Shop”, a small store placed between two much larger general stores. Thick burlap cloths covered the vegetables on the stands and large sacks that were presumably filled with fruits lay where a store tender would stand on a busier, warmer day. Bacchus set his weapon down beside him and knocked once on the wood.
There was the creaking of wooden floors before an elderly man with a cane appeared in the door way. He looked up at Bacchus and gave a tired smile. “Well, look’it. What is it that you’re needing, Bacchus?” he said.
“Just some leftover meat ends. Around twenty pounds for the dogs and a hundred for bait, and maybe some chocolate for the boy,” Bacchus said. He reached into his pocket and perused the store. It wasn’t in the best shape. The wood was starting to wear and some of the nails were starting to stick out.
“I don’ sell chocolate, anymore. Maybe after the merchants come I can stock up,” the man said. He went into the store. There was a sound of rummaging and swearing as metal pots hit the floor.
“Er, the stand looks like it’s coming down a little,” Bacchus said.
“No need to poin’ it out. I just know it won’ last the win’er,” the old man said.
“Do you need help fixing it up? Maybe after the Forest Wait me an’ my son can come up and help patch it up,” Bacchus said as the old man came out holding a sack of impressive size. Bacchus tapped the wooden beam beside him. It was almost hollow inside from decay and echoed.
“No, no, thank you. News of you jus’ shoppin’ hear drives away the sane customers. I don’ need you workin’ here too.” the old man said. “Alright, so that’s twenty for the dog?”
“And a hundred for bait,” said Bacchus,
“Yeah, yeah, I remember enough,” the old man said. He opened the sack, revealing twenty pounds of frozen ground up beef ends and put it in a separate bag. “This ‘ere is quality goods, fer the dogs,” he said.
“I never doubt you.”
“And the rest is crap. All the same price, though. I know you wouldn’t min’.”
Bacchus picked up the bag. “I don’t. Are you sure about-“
“Les face facts. My stan’ ain’t gonna make it past the rampage. I’ll have’it empty by then and my nephews an’ I will just hav ter make a new’un,” said the man. He motioned to the sacks of fruits. “Are you sure you don’ wan’ some plums? It took my niece a lil’ bit of time to learn to store’em. They’re still good, though it’s win’er! I don’ know how long it’ll stay tha’ way, though…”
Bacchus considered, then purchased a bag of plums. He strapped the weapon back to his back and carried the one hundred and twenty pounds of meat on his right shoulder, and the bag of plums with his left arm. He walked on, following the road towards the town gate.
Before reaching the gate, he turned left and walked past a neighborhood of homes, from within each the sound of hammering and sawing could be heard. As he walked, the space between each house became larger and larger until there was a one or two minute walk between each. Then, there were no more houses for a long time and the trail became more rugged and less well tended to. There were some hills covered in green grass in spite of the rest of the town being white with an inch of snow. He passed by an arch of the river that crossed through the town’s fence. To his left upon the top of a green hill was the Alberto Training Institute, a wooden house in which the cracks of fists upon sandbags and cries of effort could be heard. To his right, there were the old wooden pegs of a long abandoned yard fence.
Further along the now near non-existent trail was a tall building in which a city guard watched over the fence. He did not look at Bacchus. The ground was littered with white paper and bottles. Some of the older delinquents would stand around at this part of town as few people lived here and no one had reason to visit. The body of a dog was nailed by the pars and throat to a wooden cross. Gravel lay around the corpse, evidently thrown at it. Bacchus shook his head, but did not stop. This was a very usual sight in this part of the town.
Finally, he made it to a spot where the grass was completely green, with no solid ice or snow covering it. In the middle of it, against a portion of the woods that crept past the Wicker Man Fence, was a house. Unlike the other houses, it was made completely of polished stones. The dirt ended and a new trail, one of proper flat stones, extended towards the front of the house. Bacchus walked along it towards the door, which was made from red mahogany, an uncommon tree in this part of the country. He knocked once.
The door opened immediately. A lady, shorter than Bacchus with black hair, greeted him. She was not a young lady, but one would not know that she was over fifty years old by looking at her. She seemed to look older when seeing her from above as her hair blocked most of her face above the upper lip. Her chin and cheeks were covered in burn scars. She only came up to Bacchus’s shoulders, thought that might have been because she hunched.
“Come in,” she said. Bacchus approached, but she raised a hand in protest. “Not through here. The back.”
She pointed to the backdoor path and then shut the door. Bacchus sighed and followed the trail. The House’s back yard was littered with cages, some of them were not washed. The dried feces that littered the inside some of the uncleaned cages looked as if they could have come from a large mammal, such as oxen, and the red blood stains were indistinguishable from regular people or animals. There were some telling signs, however, that these cages contained beasts more unusual than that. Some of the cage bars showed signs of chemical damage, as if they had been slowly eroded away by acid. One such cage, small enough to have been a bird cage, contained a feeding bowl smeared completely with animal blood. Bacchus smelled the air around the yard and, besides the heavy stink of feces, there was also the smell of chemically assisted decay, as if somewhere nearby somebody had drowned corpses to dispose of them.
The backdoor opened and the old lady stepped out.
“Yeah, I’ve been cleaning up on some things,” she said. “I can’t keep asking you to buy me cages, so I’m cleaning old ones now.”
“Are you disposing specimen bodies with acid?” Bacchus said.
She shook her head. “That was a mess up. A rat, an ordinary one, got too close to the spitter’s cage and woke it up. Poor, stupid rodent won’t be hard to clean up. There’s nothing left of it.”
“Oh. Is that why I can’t come in through the front?”
“Nah, the acid spitter’s closer to the back. But you’re gonna be dripping wet and filthy, walking in the snow and dirt like that,” she said. Bacchus grunted, and approached the door. She stepped aside to let him enter.
That didn’t take too long to finish, but boy is it hard to focus on one story series! Curse my Wandering Attention Span!