Chapter One: Home
Three steps into the bar and Roan had already found trouble.
“Welcome back, college boy,” the voice of Bernard Eastman called from a dark corner of the bar.
From the darkness stepped a man built more like a moose than a human. Tall, wide and thoroughly unaware of his odor, Bernard was a figure Roan thought long gone from his life.
“College boy, can I get you a drink?” Bernard slurred his speech and pitched an arm over Roan’s shoulder. Roan recoiled.
“I’m a minor, Bernie,” Roan said slipping the man’s arm off his shoulder.
“Always such a wimp, dude,” Bernard said with a heavy slap to Roan’s back. He stumbled into a turn and walked himself back the darkened corner of the bar.
“Good chat, Bernie,” Roan muttered.
“I thought the Eastman’s stopped hanging around here, sorry, man” Roan’s cousin and closest friend, Flint said. Flint was sheepish and drew in on himself whenever an Eastman spoke up. His school teachers thought the boy’s quiet demeanor around Eastman children his age was a byproduct of his upbringing as the fourth of seven siblings.
Any local knew that the Eastman and Fletcher families’ hatred of one another was legend. From the time the valley was settled to the modern age, the two families could barely go a month without some sort of altercation. Neither side could recall with clarity what caused the rift, but that was not stopping them from letting go. Fletchers were taught early to not engage with an Eastman, and Eastmans were taught to never back down. For nearly two hundred years that had been the way of their world.
“I’ve never let an Eastman stop me from having fun before, and we’re not about to start tonight,” Roan said. His words betrayed his actual confidence in the matter, but he was too far in to stop now.
Flint flashed a quick smile and followed Roan to a pair of open stools at the bar.
“Sodas?” The bartender asked.
“Extra bubbles tonight, good sir” Flint joked. Roan hid his face and the bartender sneered.
“You know that magical thing that happens in movies where the geeky kid graduates high school and goes to college and suddenly becomes crazy awesome?” Roan asked, hoping Flint would not actually answer the question. “That’s pretty much never happens, right? I mean, we’re back home, at the same bar we’ve been coming to since we were sixteen being passively threatened by an Eastman.”
“In our defense this is the only bar in town that will let us in.” Flint pointed out.
“Good point” Roan raised his freshly arrived mug to toast the evening, “to things remaining brutally familiar!”
Flint laughed louder than he intended to. The sign of joy triggered the return of Bernard.
“Hey, hey college boy” the even more intoxicated Eastman shouted from his booth in the darkest corner of the bar. “Come on over here and tell me a joke. Flint never laughs at my jokes. You must be hilarious”
“Your jokes used to involve my head in a toilet,” Flint said under his breath.
“Bernie, I think it best if we don’t actually trade jokes tonight. This soda is super strong, you know, I’m afraid I’ll mess up the delivery,” Roan said.
Bernard rose from his seat looking like an angry bull chasing a matador’s flag. The bar fell silent. Roan sighed as he realized he was the matador’s flag.
“You think you’re smarter than me, college boy? You think you can make sarcastic little comments like that to me in front of my friends?” Bernard’s tone was anything but jovial drunkard now.
The brute lumbered toward Roan. “Tell me a joke here or I will tell you one outside.”
That threat drove the crowd in the bar into action.
“Sit down, Bernard. You know you two ain’t allowed to beat each other” one old voice called from the other end of the bar.
“Flint, Roan, you should sca-daddle before Bernie’s mouth moves to his fists” the old voice continued. “No telling what will happen if Fletcher blood spills again”
Roan did not understand the statement, but he heard it. He tapped Flint on the shoulder and the two exited the bar and stepped in the cold night air outside.
“What a prick,” Flint said.
“Did you pay for the drinks?” Roan asked realizing they had likely just dined and dashed. He smirked at the thought that at his most rebellious action to date was unintentional.
“Bah,” Flint shouted, “we totally just walked out.”
“No worries,” Roan said with a laugh, “I’ll head back in and take care of it.”
Roan pulled out his wallet and stepped back inside. He hoped to find a large bill and leave a nice tip to make up for whatever trouble he may have caused. Before he could apologize to the bartender, Bernard was on him.
“You just couldn’t walk away, could you?” Bernard said.
Roan was suddenly slammed against the bar floor. His nose pulsed with pain and blood pooled around him as his tried to figure out what happened. He heard shoes scuffing the floor as patrons wrestled Bernard away.
“You don’t mess with an Eastman, Roan. Never!” The drunk man cried as the crowd pulled him to other side of the bar.
The old voice he heard earlier fell upon his ears again. “This is no good, young Fletcher,” the voice said. An old woman’s hands reached down to pick Roan off the floor. The bartender through a rag in their direction, but no one took the time to care.
“You need to speak to your grandpa in the morning. Rest up tonight and let that nose sit for a day. Bernie won’t bother anymore tonight.” The old woman spoke so calmly that Roan was unsure if anything had actually happened to him.
“Thank you, ma’am.” Roan said. He touched his nose and quickly realized it was quite broken.
“Ruth Cross,” she said. “My name is Ruth Cross. Tell your grandpa to call me if he has any questions.”
Flint came running into the bar. “What happened in here, man?”
“Flint, this is Ruth.” Roan introduced the two. “Bernie has had one too many and my nose paid the price for it.”
“You’re bleeding. They aren’t supposed to draw blood.” Flint looked genuinely concerned about the blood. “Bernie you’re an idiot. Your grandma is going to be so pissed” he shouted across the room.
Flint nodded to Ruth and led Roan out of the bar once more.
The walk home was quiet as Roan kept poking his nose and face to ensure feeling was coming back and Flint fidgeted with his fingers lost in thought.
“We’ll talk to grandpa in the morning” Flint said as they reached Roan’s doorstep. “He’ll know what to do next”
Roan could not figure out why everyone was so concerned about speaking to his grandfather. He knew there was some sort of agreement between the Eastman and Fletcher families to stop the violence that had occurred in the past. It had been decades since any family members had actually fought each other though.
“It’s just a broken nose from a three second bar fight, I don’t think anyone is going to care that much, you know?” Roan said, hoping Flint would drop the grandpa talk.
“Your dad really hated talking about our history didn’t he?” Flint asked.
“What does our history have to do with anything?” Roan asked, annoyed with the topic.
“You get some sleep. Big day tomorrow.” Flint left the stoop and began his walk home.
Roan, still annoyed, went straight to bed.
He tossed and turned in a restless sleep. The bed squeaked with every motion doing little to dampen the sounds of the thunder storm outside. The storm was far from expected and surprisingly violent. Rain fell hitting the roof like a hammer, the sky was an astounding strobe light from the lightning and thunder claps rattled the walls.
When he finally fell to dreams, he wished he had not.
Corn stalks nearly ready for harvest waved slightly in the breeze that filled the air. A low, dense fog crawled through the field. From the center of the field the glow of a hot fire lit the sky.
Roan had had this dream before. He had seen the field, the fog and the flame time and time again, night after night. He had never before heard the chanting.
Hushed voices, little more than whispers, spoke words he could not understand. He forced himself to move toward the sounds. Through the rows of corn, through the fog, he stepped carefully. He felt the husks of the grain whip against his skin, scratching at him, tearing away at his shirt and cutting his skin.
He reached the edge of a clearing. A black, smoking cauldron sat in the middle of a circle of cloaked figures. Their arms were raised to the sky as they chanted. Green hoods covered their heads and black robes flowed around their bodies. The garb obscured face and form alike, but Roan knew men and women were taking part in the ritual.
The chanting abruptly ended as another cloaked figure emerged from the opposite side of the clearing. Roan became concerned when a goat followed behind the figure. This had never happened in previous encounters with the dream.
A thunder clap shook a frame off the wall behind his bed, crashing down on his already aching face. There would be no more sleep this night.
The frame that hit him shattered after its second impact on the bedroom floor. He was relieved to see the impact was little more than prized concert tickets.
He rubbed his head and returned to his pillow.
Lightning lit the room and he saw a glimpse of his shirt. It was torn. Then he noticed the smell of corn stalks.
Continue to Part 2