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Iron Quill - Rebirth - "The Winner..."


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Ingredients: all in a manner :) . 1254 words.

Late submission in case we extend the contest. This is a rough second draft. Its ragged and a bit dirty, like a piece of jerky dropped in the mud, but if you shake it off and don't look to close it should still taste good. Edible at least. If your hungry. OK, starving ;)

The Winner...

The wagon creaked and moaned as it rolled down the dusty, narrow path. The driver gave an irritated grunt as he had to pull slightly into the brush and grass to avoid a child sitting at the corner of the intersection. The road they were on continued to Contract Town 89 and the driver couldn’t wait to get there and out of this heat. He wasn’t sure where the other road went, other than that it headed to the west. He didn’t’ remember it on his last time out this way, though that had been some months now.

            Just as the wagon passed the intersection the driver heard a rapping from inside the cabin and someone shouting for him to stop. He sighed. He hated passengers. They always made things more difficult. The pounding and shouting continued. Reluctantly he pulled on the reins and pulled the wagon to a halt.

 The wagon door stuck as the passenger tried to exit and only opened when he, a Mr. Dowd the driver recalled, kicked it open. It banged back and forth a couple of times before Mr. Dowd grabbed it and stepped out into the afternoon sun.

“Thank you my good man,” he said while shading his eyes with his hand. He was a thin man, of later years with a small wisp of a beard and piercing grey eyes. He wore a black suit with a vest and bowler hat. A single peacock feather jutted from the hat band. Far too hot for the current weather in the driver’s mind. As Mr. Dowd straightened his jacket he asked, “Did you not see the child sitting in the road back there?”

The driver grunted and shrugged his shoulders. He was paid to move the wagon and its contents from one point to another. He didn't much care for anything else in between. “Not my concern is it? I have a schedule to keep.”

            It was Mr. Dowd’s turn to sigh. “Well, may we take a few minutes so that I may stretch my legs and make sure the child is safe?” he asked with a raised brow.

The driver shrugged again and nodded slightly as he pulled a pipe and tobacco from his pouch. “A few minutes then,” he agreed.

            Mr. Dowd nodded and wiped his hands as he turned back to the intersection. It took him just a moment to walk back to the child who did not appear to have moved since they first passed him. Mr. Dowd stopped a few feet away and looked down at the child sitting in the dirt. He was perhaps ten or eleven years of age, scrawny and stick thin like so many children on this side of the Breach. His hair was tawny and glowed in the light. While his clothes were dusty, they were well-made and still relatively intact. It appeared he had been cared for recently and not some orphan living wild. The child didn't look up as Mr. Dowd approached, but continued to play with a pair of dice in the dust by his feet.

“Hello young man. Where are your parents and what are you doing here in the middle of the wilderness?” Mr. Dowd asked, wiping the beads of sweat from his brow with a handkerchief. The child mumbled something in return and continued to play in the dirt. Mr. Dowd was getting annoyed. Children should respond properly when addressed by an adult. “Look at me when you are spoken to young man and speak up so I can hear you. What is your name?”

            The child stopped rolling the dice and slowly looked up at Mr. Dowd. He felt a slight pang of guilt as he saw that the child’s eyes were red with tears. “…Thomas…sir…,” the child squeaked.

I didn’t mean for that to happen, Mr. Dowd scolded himself. “Well Thomas,” Mr. Dowd said a little more gently, “please answer my first question. Where are your parents?”

The child looked down at the dirt near his feet and Mr. Dowd noticed for the first time several small squares drawn in a line into the dirt where he was rolling the dice. “They won,” Thomas said flatly and rolled again. They came up a pair of ones, landing in the bottom square. Mr. Dowd was growing frustrated at the child’s refusal to answer questions clearly. Thomas picked up the dice absently and rolled again. Another pair of ones Mr. Dowd noticed.

“Thomas. Thomas!” Mr. Dowd shouted to get the child to look at him again. “You cannot stay out here by yourself. It is neither safe nor proper. This area is dangerous after dark and there is no shelter or food near. I am headed into the next town and unless you tell me what happened to your parents you will have to come with me. I couldn't live with myself leaving you here,” he said as he straightened up proudly while looking down on the child.

“They won,” Thomas mumbled again as he reached down to roll the dice again. Snake eyes again. “I can’t leave yet. Not yet…”.

            Mr. Dowd sighed heavily as he glanced around the intersection. This road was small and not much traffic came through here. He could see no signs of other people anywhere in the immediate area. No other wagons or carts nearby - just trees and thorny undergrowth as far as the eye could see. The driver shouted out from behind him about getting on their way and he nodded in agreement.

The child just sat there, rolling the dice over and over again. Frustrated Mr. Dowd reached down and grabbed the dice before Thomas could. While not a gambler , he enjoyed a few friendly games of chance and as soon as picked the dice up he knew something was wrong. He rolled them around in his hand, “Thomas, I’m afraid these dice are loaded. And poorly at that. You’ll never win whatever game you are playing with these dice.”

Thomas looked up at him with big tears in his eyes and reached for the dice, “Please give them back. Please,” he squeaked in his tiny voice. “I have to win… they won… I have to win...”

“Look child,” Mr. Dowd said as he bent forward, “You will never win with these dice. Let me show you,” and Mr. Dowd threw the dice at Thomas’s feet. They spun in the dirt for a moment before coming to an abrupt stop in the top square drawn in the dirt. To Mr. Dowd’s surprise they both showed sixes. Box cars. He frowned, not sure how that had happened.

“No fair!” Thomas cried as his tears started to flow freely. He pounded his fists in the dirt. Mr. Dowd had had enough and reached down to grab the boy’s shoulder, but suddenly felt strange. He found he was much closer to the boy than he thought. He was much closer to the ground than he thought. Everything was moving quickly and he felt like he was falling as a sharp, brief pain exploded through his body.

The next moment a large, black rat was standing on his hind legs next to Thomas, who continued to cry and pound his fists. The large rat dropped to all fours, looked around for a moment confused and then ran down the road that headed to the West.

Thomas grabbed the dice and rolled again, screaming, “I never win…I never win!”.

The driver, having turned just in time to witness Mr. Dowd's transformation, screamed and whipped the horses into a frenzy. He didn’t stop until he reached the next town and promptly retired from driving anywhere ever again.


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