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Autumn, Part One
A Solstice story
Start at the beginning of the Solstice series
The two raised their voices to be heard over the music, grinning at one another with anticipation. The Harvest Mixer was in full swing, a five-piece band on stage in front of the hall in place of the typical suburban disc jockey.
"I wasn't sure you'd come."
"Oh, miss this?" Cary waved a hand. "I'm lucky to have been fired from the catering gigs. Truth be told, I've always hated them."
"Not much for taking orders?"
"Not much for being on my feet."
Corbin raised an eyebrow and a green beer bottle simultaneously. "Well, to the fallen friends, then."
"Hear, hear." Cary's plastic cup struck the bottle, both men turning to take in the crowd. "Did you send another invite to Vulcan?"
"It's not much of his scene. Besides, you're the only one in that triumvirate that currently interests me."
"Famed for it, Mr. Schilling. Coaxing the light from the world."
"You've spoken with my supposed victims?"
"As a matter of fact, I have." Corbin took a letter from the inside pocket of his jacket. "More than spoken, to be fair."
Cary shook his head. "Certainly not enough of a forgery to stand up in court."
"Depending, of course, on who the local judges might be."
"Friends of yours?"
"Mr. Schilling...you have no idea." Corbin sipped at the beer. "No idea how much trouble I could cause you, starting here and now; and no idea how thankful I really am to you for it."
"I'm hardly one to back away from trouble."
Corbin smiled again, turned, and leaned in closely as the band picked up the beat. "No? I imagine not. Not so long as you stick to the marks who let pride rule them, or those who play by some form of rules. So long as you keep it a fencing match, I don't doubt you do fairly well for yourself—a nice, even chess match, like our beloved Mayor enjoys with Jorge there.
"There's a point, though, where a life becomes something bigger than pride. Where you've got to acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses, your abilities and limitations. You've got to learn how far you can fly, and that's why I'm thankful to you tonight."
Cary's nose twitched. "You're not serious. That's hardly half a game."
"Ah, that's the trick." Corbin leaned in closer, taking a step forward. Cary wavered, stepped back, gained more space by giving ground. "You got me at first. I wanted someone to match wits with and you provided a nice little shiny target. Something to dive after and pry open. A secret, and I love a secret more than almost anything."
"I love a secret much more than I love a game. I love knowing more than I love playing. And little player, that's something I don't need to keep a secret any longer.
"The local judges aren't just friends. They're trinkets. The Sheriff's half a friend and half a judge of my own, but you've made sure she's not that fond of you. Look outside. I'll bet you a shiny silver dollar that a quarter of those cars are plainclothes, waiting to pick you up. Sleek little black tar babies, ready to swallow you up and hold you tight, and you're not haring after your briar patch any longer."
"Is that a fact?" Cary's face went serious. "Here I'd had such hopes for you, Byrne. We could have been epic, you and I. Toe to toe and word to word at the heart of the world's tree. I was going to give you such a story...something more than you've carried through the shadows all these lives."
"You can keep your contests and keep your stories. As I say, I've got the secrets, and among them some of the very finest. I've got a wolf chained beneath the world's roots and it looks like I'll have a rare bit of luck in finding him a cellmate, given half a chance."
Cary laughed. The smile split his face in two, wider than ever, and the laughter that came was half-choked in a snorting effort to keep it lower than the audience's applause as the band wrapped up their song.
"Don’t you know a thing, Byrne? I get out. It's what I do. It's what I am. You may pry things open and go searching after miracles, but I don't just survive, I come out on top. Listen to me. If you sell out—if you bring in the cops and the judges and your sweet bulldog sheriff, I will make a bigger fool of you than anyone ever thought possible. You'll be singed from one side of the world to the other and I'll laugh the whole way home.
"But you're happy to take the sour grapes, to limp along under a halter? That's fine. I'm not angry, Byrne, just..."
"Just terribly disappointed. That line never worked for my mother and it's certainly not going to work for you."
The silence stretched between them a moment longer before Cary shrugged. "So is it to be public and here, or quietly, out in the parking lot? I'm curious to know what kind of sad little tale you've spun with your donut-eating friends."
"Oh, there's the return of the game, Mr. Schilling. I'm not actually planning anything."
Cary sniffed, his eyes turning wary. "What do you mean?"
"I thought you'd have understood by now. I'm not playing. I already know I've got the upper hand, and so long as we're in Solstice, I always, always will. I'm part of this place. It's got my fingerprints all over it these days, and you thought—just like the old days—you could come in alone and turn everything upside down.
"It doesn't work that way any more. The stories get changed. When we started we were rebels, but there's nothing so unusual about being a stranger these days, about riding in from outside the norm. People move, they flow, they run around. Except for here.
"Here, they do one of two things. Either they learn to fit in and settle down ... or they move on, and take their trouble somewhere else. This is Solstice, Cary. You can stay or you can go, but if you stay, you know who's got the cards in his hands. If you go, then you go for good, and you don't come causing trouble any more." Corbin's eyes were shining in the dim light. "I know who I was. What's more, I know who I am; and I'm not about to throw away a damn good thing for the sake of some petty little game."
Cary took a deep breath, and then stopped—held it. His watery eyes went wide, focused on something behind Corbin, and his mouth began to open in slow-motion as the first gunshot tore through the crowd.
Story and image by Ivan Ewert, Copyright 2010