I'm late again and the story is still not finished, but here is another chapter.
It was a quarter past midnight when Preston finally reached Thunder Bay. He guessed his way to the harbor section of town, hoping to come across someone who could give him directions. But the streets were empty and all windows were dark, and as the gaps between streetlights grew wider and the docks and warehouses gave way to empty lots, Preston feared he was lost. But then he rounded a curve and saw the glow of red neon. A solitary building stood just off the road up ahead, and the flickering sign on its roof spelled out the name Widowmaker’s.
Preston turned onto the dirt path leading up to the bar. There were no other cars parked out front; was the place closed for the night? Preston looked for any signs of activity, but there were no windows in the bar’s dark brick walls. The neon sign cast a red hue over everything, and the only other light was a single uncovered bulb above the door, which was also red. Preston pulled the old Six to a stop and took a deep breath. He reminded himself that all he had to do was ask the bartender where he could find The Trader, one simple question that hopefully had a simple answer. He stepped out of the car and walked toward the door, but his footsteps slowed the closer he came to it. The neon sign’s buzzing caught his ear. It sounded unusual to him, almost like a swarm of insects was hovering over his head. Preston looked around once more; no sign of anyone or anything. He steeled his nerves once more and pushed open the red door.
The interior was dimly lit. Shaded lights hung above a number of booths and tables lining the walls and a large fixture dangled from chains above the bar itself, making the large open space between there and the door seem like a wide lake of shadow. Preston heard hushed voices whispering, but he could not make out any of the other patrons. He could see a thin haze of
smoke hovering in the air, but he thought it smelled of more than just tobacco. Perhaps there was a charcoal grill around somewhere. His footsteps on the hardwood floor rang out loudly as he slowly made his way toward the bar. A grizzled, heavy-set bartender with thick arms and a thin moustache glared at him suspiciously.
“Ain’t you a little too young to be in here?” the bartender asked in a deep, flinty voice.
“I didn’t come here to drink,” Preston replied.
“Then why exactly did you come here, boy?” the bartender demanded.
Preston licked his suddenly dry lips and pressed his hands against the dark wood of the bar to
steady himself. He timidly looked up at the bartender and said in a halting voice, “I need to see The Trader.”
“Nobody here by that name,” scoffed the bartender.
“Are you sure?”
“Did I stutter, boy?” the bartender snapped.
“I’m sorry,” Preston stammered. “I just really need to see The Trader.”
“And I told you he ain’t here,” the bartender snarled. “So if you’re not gonna drink, I suggest you leave. Now.”
“Sir, my papa is really sick,” Preston said frantically. “He doesn’t have much time left. He asked me to come here and talk to The Trader. Please, I need to find him.”
The bartender eyed Preston guardedly for a long moment. The hushed voices around the room went silent in chilling anticipation. Preston could not suppress a shiver as the bartender leaned toward him.
“Out back there’s a dirt road that leads into the woods,” the bartender said quietly. “Follow it until you come to fork. Wait there. The Trader will find you.”
Preston thanked the man and hurried toward the exit, the hushed voices in the room rising
between the sounds of his footfalls. He thought he heard some of them chuckling at him as he reached for the door. Unnerved, he rushed outside and jumped into the old Six. He maneuvered the car out of the red neon glow and around to the back of the building. His headlights illuminated the dirt road the bartender had mentioned. It ran up a short hill and into a cleft in a thick wall of trees. Preston hesitated for a moment, but then thoughts of his obligation made him push his foot down on the accelerator pedal. The car carried him up the hill and into the dark tunnel into the woods.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Eric Landuyt