Waterlogged mud splashed across the cobbles as a pair of heavy leather boots hit the ground. The man wearing them turned back toward his wagon, rummaging about his contents for a crowbar and sack. The stiff lines of his cow-hide coat rubbed coarsely against the wood as it had thousands of times before, polishing its hem while wearing at the dark green paint that coated his wagon. The sack he threw over his shoulder, a few meager possessions in its bottom weighing it down, while the crowbar he hooked through a loop in his belt. He coughed and drew up the high, thick collar of his coat while hacking up a loogie. It landed in a nearby puddle, distorting the reflection of the narrow building crammed between two others in front of him. Looking up he muttered to himself, narrowing his eyes and grumbling from behind a mess of greasy hair.
“Well,” he said with only the slightest of nods toward his horse. “Let’s get this over with then.”
Upstairs a man sat at his desk, working furiously with his quill, scrawling lines of ink over fresh pages imbued with the wonder of his imagination. A few more flicks of the wrist, a stroke to underline the last words, and a period to conclude it all. He thrust the quill into its ink pot, lifted the final piece of paper, allowing it to breath, and held it aloft before himself for no other reason than to marvel at its glory.
“There!” He announced, grinning happily at his own achievement. There was no one else in the small room to hear him, unless the thin walls lined with second hand furniture and a collection of near worthless possessions counted. “It’s finished. My crowning achievement, my first great work, written and rewritten to the pleasure of my future audience!” He stood, adding the paper to the pile and binding it within a string of leather. He clutched the entire body to his chest, and spun with a giddy glee when he heard footsteps approaching from the hall outside. He stopped, turning his ear to listen as the joy drained from his face.
There came a heavy knock.
Vigil Inkquill stayed quiet, holding his breath for all the good it might do him. Could it be? He knew the day was here but had the final hour crept up on him? He checked his clock- oh no, he’d lost track of time. Was this the reaper come to collect? He should have been gone an hour ago, off to the docks for his triumphant jaunt down the river. Away from his troubles, freed from his past, on his way to glory and the monetary fulfillment of his debts- albeit from a far off location. Another round of knocking cut his thoughts short.
“I know you’re in there!” A gruff voice called through the door. “Let’s not make this a problem. You’re in enough trouble already, you don’t want to make it worse.” The voice came stern but sympathetic, a man of reason with a hint of apprehension, bored- no doubt due to the forgone conclusion of his job.
“Uh, who is it?” Vigil called, a bead of sweat forming on his face.
“The Garbage Man, come to take out the trash.” The man replied. There was a pause as Vigils nerves took hold prompting The Garbage Man to speak. “Come on, you know who it is, don’t play games.” There was another cough, the hacking of phlegm, the sound of spit, the sniff of something horrid running wild inside his nose. Vigil edged apprehensively forward. The latch came free and the door opened. The Garbage Man stepped inside.
‘What a tip,’ The Garbage Man thought when he first entered, looking down the length of the narrow room to the small window at the far end. The place looked like something between a bedroom and an office, with more utility crammed inside than you’d normally find inside a regular house. For all the clutter, it had a cozy feel. “Nice place.” He gave a nod, turning to look at Vigil having made sure there were no surprises about the rest of the room.
There was an awkward silence.
“Well, let’s get this over with.” The Garbage Man produced his sack with the top held open. “Everything of worth, Mr. Inkquill. Mr. Anderson says it’s time to level the score- Or else.” He watched as the defeated mans shoulders slumped, and he rooted inside his black suit pocket for a meager pouch of coins. It went in the bag and The Garbage Man looked in after it, raising one bushy eyebrow. “What else?”
Vigil Inkquill gave a shrug.
“What about that clock over there?” The Garbage Man walked over to where it sat on top of an ugly-fitted shelf, he slid it off into the bag. “What else?”
Another blank stare, “Uh.”
The Garbage Man frowned and pulled a face that fattened up one hairy cheek. This wasn’t going so well which wasn’t in anybody’s best interest. He gave Mr. Inkquill a look over, a seemingly well dressed man put together with some measure of self respect, a black suit jacket and pants, cumberbun, crushed brown buttoned vest and long sleeved white shirt. All of it looked well worn, well past its prime, and no doubt could use a wash, but even the best man had his bad days. The Garbage Man’s keen eye for junk spied a matching pair of cuff links about Vigils wrists, and he made his way over to retrieve them. Manners proceeded the affair, “May I?” And they were promptly removed. They went in the bag.
Vigil was sweating, he could feel his clothes becoming soggier by the minute. This was not going well and his loss of voice wasn't helping anything. He considered running, bolting for the door and taking his chances fleeing the city. No doubt Mr. Anderson's goons would be out for blood but at least there was a chance. He considered his other options. Bargaining with The Garbage Man was one but from what he heard the man could not be brought. A strange fellow with peculiar tastes. It wasn't even as though he had loyalty to his employer, just that the man's values were of another world. Besides, what did he have to bargain with other than his newly finished great work? That was already in enough danger as it was.
“Well?” The Garbage Man prompted, his voice lowering an almost indiscernible octave. Not enough to alarm and yet enough to denote a change in circumstance. Vigil thought but came up with nothing.
“I was told there was a book,” Came the dreaded, open ended statement. Vigils heart sank and he clutched his body of papers tighter. It seemed to draw The Garbage Man’s attention for the first time, and both he and Vigil stared down at it. The Garbage Man held out the sack. “In it goes.” He said.
Vigil shed a tear, it landed on the top sheet and splashed about its surface. He raised it up and gave his work one last look. He sniffed. “Goodbye, Great-Work. I’m sorry I failed you.” He gave it a little kiss, held it over the precipice, closed his eyes, and released. Down it went, into the bag.
The Garbage Man took one long look inside. Not great pickings by his standards but Mr. Anderson had been clear on what might settle the score. The Garbage Man nodded, one mans trash was another mans treasure. He closed the top. “Very good, Mr. Inkquill.” He said as the man devolved into a blubbering mess. He shook his head, sorry for the sight, and took a step to leave. He stopped, overcome with a sense of pity for the man and considered an alternate course. He didn't do it often but every now and again he crossed paths with a man so pathetic, and yet so hard done by, it seemed worth the consideration.
“If it pleases, I could take away your worry.” The Garbage Man offered.
Vigil looked up, wiping at his tears and failing. “I am a ruin! Not so much a man but the desolation of one.” Vigil Inkquill cried, the epitome of a broken man, hard to look at even for The Garbage Man, and he’d seen some truly horrible things in his time.
The Garbage Man thought this over, shrugged, and said, “Close enough.” He drew his special crowbar and with a single stroke, brought it down hard over Vigil’s head.
A man wearing a black suit woke on the floor of a narrow room, part office, part bedroom, with a small window at its far end. The door hung open without a soul anywhere in sight. The man sat up, rubbing his head. His cheeks felt hot from tears but otherwise he felt pretty good. What had happened? Where was he? Who was he?
He hadn't the foggiest.
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