What did I do? What- did- I- do?!? Ken led me back into the tavern and closed the door behind him, locking it tight.
“Willow?” Ken called, and a short blonde woman entered the room. “Close up and tell anyone who stops by we’re out of rooms from the night, I’ll explain it all to you later.” Her eyes widened with fear when she looked at my blood-smeared face, and then she ran to do as she was told.
“Yuck! I think his blood got in my mouth,” Liam said as he spat and rinsed his mouth with ale from the bar. “Is she going to be okay?”
“I think she’s in shock, here wet this,” Ken said throwing a cloth to Liam.
“Can you hear me, Lenora? It’s Ken,”
“I killed him,” was all I could bring myself to say. Liam returned with the wet cloth and Ken gently wipe at my face.
“You saved Liam’s life from a man who has killed many; you’re a hero.” The look in his eyes told me to trust him, and I wanted to, but how could killing someone be a good thing?
“The man that’s laying out there right now was a vicious drug dealer and a murderer, trust me when I say the town will be grateful of you.”
“If he was so bad why didn’t the authorities deal with him,” I asked slowly getting myself together.
“Coin,” He said plain and simple. “When you have enough gold, you can get away with anything. That’s why this makes our situation a bit more difficult,”
“Why, what do you mean?” I ask worry creeping up my chest.
“You can no longer stay until morning you need to leave as soon as you can get ready. The authorities will find Jim’s body, and they will go after the first suspicious person they find. You are new here and a traveler at that, they will see you hanged for this.” Tears burst from my eyes, and my sobs are uncontrollable. I can’t die now…my people will die, and this will have all been for nothing.
Willow returned with a satchel and began filling it with food and other items and Liam ran over to help.
“It’s okay Lenora, they’ll have to go through me first to get to you,” Ken said squeezing both my hands tight and pulling me into a hug.
“I’m going to escort you to the docks, my little fishing boat should be enough to get you where you're going, and she’s easy enough that you could sail her on your own, so it seems it was meant to be.” He said with a sad smile.
“I hope there’s room for two,” Liam volunteered. “I don’t want any objections. You saved my life, I’m indebted to you, plus you will probably need a hand at sea.” Liam flashed me a quick smile and helped Willow finish packing. The thought of Liam coming with me was strangely comforting, although we just met. He could be every bit as crazy as Jim, but there was no way for me to know for sure. Still, I felt something pull at my heart the moment he volunteered. It was ever so slight, but it was a feeling I wanted to trust. No, I needed to trust for my sake.
“Okay,” I agreed, finally coming around. “I need to say goodbye to Mochi first.”
I calm my nerve as much as I could and cleaned every visible speck of blood off my hands and face. Mochi always knew when something was wrong when it came to me, and I didn’t want to do anything to startle her. I approached her stall, and she sat curled up in the corner as she always did when she slept. Her breathing changed when I approached, so I knew she was awake, but she didn’t move to get up. I cuddled beside her resting my head on her side.
“Hey girl,” I whispered so only she and I could hear. “I have to leave you here now, I’m going to do everything I can to get back to you as soon as possible but, in the meantime have fun with Ken and his family. He’s going to take good care of you.” My voice was shaky, and my eye’s filled with tears, but Mochi stayed calm as if she was already at peace with my decision. I wrap my arms around her strong neck and hug her tightly, and she leaned in hugging me back.
“I have to go now okay,” Mochi shook her head no as she always did and I couldn’t help but laugh. I reached into her saddle pack and pulled out a bright red apple, she neighed excitedly. I kissed her on the head, and she gobbled the apple right out of my palm. I turned to leave, and she didn’t stop me, she didn’t even lookup. It was as if she knew all along that there was no other way. I wiped my tears away and didn’t look back. I couldn’t. I would never leave if I did.
“Are you ready? Ken asked with my traveling pack in his hand and Liam following close behind with his bag and guitar on his back.
“Yeah, I’m ready,”
“Okay,” he said, rubbing my hair a little bit like a big brother would do to a little sister. “The quickest way to my boat is through this ally way over here. It’s dark and dangerous down there, so you’re going to need to stay close. The path is narrow so stay one in front of the other. It will be me, then you, and Liam will be last. The most important thing to remember is never- stop- running, no matter what you see or hear,
until we're out on the other side.”
“Why?” my heart rate started to pick up again.
“You’re about to find out firsthand why Jim wasn’t anyone to cry over…you guys ready?” I swallowed hard but nodded yes and Liam fell behind me getting into position.
“Willow,” Ken called out. “You know what to do.” She smiled knowingly and nodded as she let out a terrifying scream.
“Let’s go.” He said, looking back at Liam and I. He rounded the dark corner and entered the mouth of an alleyway. The putrid smell hit my face, and I fight to hold down vomit. I followed close behind Ken, and he quickens his pace into jog the deeper we go in. Nothing stood out, it was dark, but the light of the moon was bright enough for me to see the heaps of trash and crates thrown throughout the alley. I spotted a lifeless dog laying among the trash my heart ached for him as no one loved him enough to give him a proper send-off. The deeper we went, the stronger the smell got. Ken sped up, but my legs had a hard time keeping up. A shadowy figure moved quickly out of the corner of my eye, then a loud shriek echoed throughout our narrow path. Something gripped my arm and pulled me down to the ground.
“I need Myst! Give it! Give it! The world is back!” as the person spoke the smell of decay leaked from their mouth. I tried to pull my arm from their grasp, but it was no use. The grip was too firm. Ken grabbed my other arm and pulled me hard toward him, yanking whoever had a hold of my arm into the light of the moon. It was a woman, covered in filth, her left eye was clouded over and the other swollen and leaking, you could see straight through her cheek to her bloody gums and teeth as if her face had been eaten away and the rest of her body was soon to follow. She screamed the same words repeatedly as she pulled against Ken’s strength. Just when I felt I might be ripped apart I felt the woman release my arm sending me flying toward Ken. I looked back to see Liam kicking the woman back in the dark whole she crawled out of.
“Keep running!” he screamed. “they’re coming,”
“Ken put me down and started barreling through the alley charging and knocking out anyone who stepped in his way. More people approached us looking less human than the last, screaming for Myst and clawing at us, but Ken didn’t stop. The glow of the moon was brightest at the end of the alleyway, and we were close. Four people climb out of the dark and into our path twitching and contorting their bodies. Grabbing my arm Ken let out a wild and fierce yell and charged full sped toward them hitting them with the full force of his body as he broke through to the exit. We fell to the ground out in the open. The smell of the sea and fish doing nothing to overpower the scent of decay lingering in my nose. Moments later Liam emerged as well collapsing to the ground. Panic filled his face when he realized he was one bag short.
“My guitar!” he threw his other bag to the ground and ran back into the darkness before Ken could protest.
“Stupid boy,” Ken said as he followed him back inside. The screams that escaped the alley were inhuman and horrifying as the sounds of a struggle continued. Suddenly it stopped, and I could hear nothing but the ocean behind me. My heart filled with worry when they didn’t emerge. I stood up ready to go in after them when Liam stubble out with his precious guitar in his arms and Ken stomped out behind him.
“Stupid, reckless boy! Is that guitar worth your life?”
“Yes, it is…” Ken didn’t know how to respond to him all he could do is shake his head as he tried to catch his breath.
“Get up we need to move,” Ken said heading toward the dock. I followed close behind.
“What happened to those people?”
“Nyte Myst happened, a deadly nasty drug,”
“They smelled of death,”
“That’s what it does, at first it feels good, but after a while it starts killing you from the inside out. The first thing to go are the eyes. Myst blindness is what they call it. The user can no longer stand any kind of light, even moonlight. That’s why they won’t follow us out here, then the madness sets in, and the skin is last. Once the Myst eats away at the outside it won’t be long before the user dies, or what’s left of them anyway.”
“Jim did that to them?”
“He was known for finding people down on their luck offering them an “escape” soon after they would be paying him any amount of gold, anything of value, or even other people, for a little taste of Myst. Believe me when I say you’re a hero and this town is better off without him.” I smiled, the guilt that I held for what I had done eased by his words.
Ken approached a small fishing boat on the dock with the name Weeping Willow painted on the side.
“Don’t be fooled by her size Willow is fast and sturdy and will get you where you need to go. The wind should pick up once you get out to sea and you should be there in no time.”
He placed my satchel on the deck of Willow and helped me on.
“The Weeping Willow, huh? I like it.”
“My wife didn’t think it was too funny. I wanted to call her something else, but my wife whined about me not naming it after her, so on account of all her weeping and crying I called her Weeping Willow. I loved it so much I don’t even remember the other name I had in mind.” He said, chuckling to himself, “Do either of you know how to sail?”
“I do, this should be no problem,” Liam said
“Alright then go ahead and get in and I’ll remove the ramp and untie her.” I climbed back off the boat and hugged Ken Tightly.
“Thank you for everything you’ve done I know we haven’t known each other for long, but I can’t help but feel like I’ve always known you and we were meant to meet tonight.” He squeezed back tighter.
“Stay safe little sister.” His words warmed my heart, and I almost didn’t want to let go. “Go now, the Authorities will be done talking with Willow soon and will be hunting for Jim’s killer.” I climbed on to the boat and watched as Liam helped pull up the anchor. Just as Liam was about to climb on to the boat Ken grabbed him by the collar of his shirt.
“If it comes down to saving her or that damn guitar it better be her, or I’ll kill you,” Liam nodded cautiously, and Ken let him go. Ken pulled the ramp on to the dock, and the Weeping Willow slowly drifted out to sea. He watched us from the dock for a moment before he waved and ran back toward the haunting alley leading back toward his Tavern. I said a silent prayer for his safety then turn to face the misty dark of the sea ahead.