The floor tilted beneath Marcus’ feet as he made his way towards his bed, miniature dust clouds kicked up from the unswept floorboards as he passed. Putting his hand out to steady himself from falling over, he unceremoniously collapsed into the comforting softness of his mattress. Drunkenly, eye-sight roaming about the room like a storm-tossed ship, Marcus kicked off his boots before closing his eyes and letting his sodden brain drift off to sleep.
Sounds within the small house faded away, the perpetual rocking of the bed easing to stillness. Marcus slowly opened his eyes, his mind sharpening as the moments passed. Around him the moonlight shrouded buildings of Alder Creek stood, eclipsing the abyssal darkness of the surrounding desert plains. Silence roamed the still streets. Easing himself off of the porch bench, Marcus walked down the faded pathway towards the town proper. Sitting lonely in the distance, the white church smoldered with a feeling of rightness. Crowning the steeple, the iron cross glowed with a smoldering yellow-white light, wreathing the crest in a darkness penetrating yellow haze.
A flapping from overhead drew his attention away from the warm enticement of the church grounds. Following the sound brought his gaze resting upon road leading to the center of town in the distance. Marcus shuffled along, the eerie otherness of this place fully wrapping itself about him, holding him tight in invisible bonds. The buildings shifted in height as he moved amongst them, growing taller as he passed by them until the road behind was obfuscated in shadows. Ahead the creek running thru town could be heard playing its babbling melody. Just past the bridge, the four corner posts of the town square stood rigidly guarding their corners. In the center of the square existed a barren tree, small in stature, branches empty of life. The tree floated above the ground on an orb of earth, the roots hanging exposed from the nourishing soil. A silver sheen outlined the tangled branches.
Standing before the tree in wonderment, eyes taking in the etherealness before him, a sense of familiarity trembled in the core of his being, stomach fluttering with nervousness. The tree…here? Impossible! Mind reeling from the strangeness of it all, Marcus looked around at the still buildings that towered monolithically around him, before turning back to take in the image of the tree from back in Decatur, Georgia. As he adjusted to the truth that stood before him, the moon shifted its’ gaze fully upon the square and a figure that had sat beside the tree in darkness stood and moved forward into the shimmering light.
“Fear not, dear brother,” came the soft voice of Marietta. The slender form of Marcus’ sister moved closer, her long black hair perfectly framing her face. She was wearing the same dress he had last seen her in, as nicely kempt as always. Her presence assuaged his fears and quieted his discomfort, whilst bringing on a much different, stronger, rush of feelings. Marcus moved quickly to her, wrapping her up in a great hug.
“But how is this? How can you be here with me?” The emotion in his voice contrasted starkly with the bearish figure whispering before her.
“I’ve always been here silly. I never left. One would expect, though, that you’d think on me more than dote on a silly gun.” She pointed to the east, her finger tracing an invisible path across the unseen distance towards a far away spot where a shining beam of silver light streaked into the heavens.
“I left you behind. I lost you. I’m sorry.”
Gently she placed her hands on his upper arms, staring up into his downcast eyes. The weight of his decisions could be seen crushing down the fiery spirit that burned within. “It’s okay. It’s not your fault.”
He looked at her, “But Chester…Ma…”
She shook her head. “That’s none of your doing. We’re here to talk about what is.”
Guiltily Marcus looked into the serene visage of his sister. “You mean the man up north. The one I killed.”
“Marcus Hewitt! You best not be talking to me like that. You know better.”
“Well, I done killed him! I sure as hell wanted to and I didn’t move to stop that man from the bank. That Derrick fella. We could have saved him. We could have brought him back to town. All I saw was the evil lurking inside, though. The Manitou lurking, watching and waiting…”
Moving away, Marcus turned, looking out from the tree. As his vision roamed it came to rest on the wooden eyes of Garrett staring at him from a lifelike wooden carving embossed mystically on the corner post standing firmly at one corner of the town square. Marcus looked quickly around the town finding a familiar face on each of the other three surrounding him, judging him. Doc Knuckles, Carter Burwell, Hezekiah. All staring, eyes following his every movement.
“You see! They know the truth!” he shouted. “They know I could have saved him…should have saved him.”
A hand once again reached out comfortingly, pressing against the back of his shoulder. “You’re only human. We all make mistakes. It’s how we face those mistakes. You’ve the aura of a protector about you, brother. You stupidly charge into situations that no sane man would warrant to even think on. It’s the guilt of going against your nature that’s tearing you up inside.”
The hand left him and the voice moved away. “You can’t keep running, you know.” Marcus quickly turned around, watching as his sister walked back towards the tree. “I can’t rightly forgive yet either,” he shouted at her.
Stopping before the tree, she stood quietly peering at the lifelessness of it. “I know.”
Marcus watched as she stood there unmoving, a million thoughts screamed across his brain at that one moment in time, a single wish trying to will itself into being. “I can follow my nature, though.”
Glancing over her shoulder, Marietta smiled at Marcus lovingly. “That’s enough for now.” Reaching out, she placed her hand on the base of the tree and disappeared. The silver sheen brightened along the edge of a barren branch, pulsing outward towards the empty tip before slowly fading away, leaving only behind a newly formed, unopened bud.
Marcus felt the weight on his shoulders slowly slip away, and as the darkness crept inward towards the square enveloping all that remained, the image of that one simple bud retreated with him back to the comfort of his bed and the slumber of the peaceful.
“Marcus! Get on out here ya lazy bum!” roared the noisome voice of Garrett. “We ain’t got all day!”