He split apart the iron bar. Spanning the revealed distance between the two halves were three links of
chain, a match in construction for the bars themselves. With a click of the slide he could extend it
another two links, but that wasn’t what he wanted to do right now. Instead, he flicked his wrist and sent
one shaft in a fast, tight orbit.

There was a machete showing from the place where his loin cloth split on one of his hips and a bull whip
where it did on the other. Draping off his leather belt were a bolo and a sling. Two silver boomerangs
stuck out from his bandolier. The bandolier itself hung across a thick, down stuffed, sleeveless sky blue
pull over. His arms were thick and grey. The man’s hands were endowed with five thumbs, although in
the positions of more supple fingers. He was three feet from shoulder to shoulder and only slightly more
narrow from hip to hip.

Hooding his small, light reflecting grey eyes were two porch awning-like bare brows. His nose was a
bulbous little grey thing which wasn’t determined enough to be pug, but sensible enough to at least be
symmetrical.  It was framed by two white ivory tusks which jutted out of his pronounced under bite. What
hair he had, a calico confederation of grey, brown and black, was kept very short and neatly razor cut
far away from his pointed ears and off the nape of his stumpy neck.

If he were a foot taller, he would be an ogre.  If he were a foot shorter and perhaps thinner and wearing
less clothes, he would be an orc. At one time he had been a goblin and before that a chatterling. Should
you encounter him with fifteen hundred or so similar men and they were all wearing metal armor, he
would undoubtedly be a hobgoblin. But he had a manicure. He didn’t think he smelled bad. (He tried not
to.) The grey skin simply made him look dirty. Upon his feet were fashionable and well cared for black
leather boots.

Domesticated pretensions notwithstanding, he was clearly a person one would be stupid to bother with,
especially in the middle of nowhere and in the middle of the night. Both were his natural element.

Perhaps the being approaching through the palm branches had not heard what he said. Or maybe it
hadn’t seen him or the metal shaft he had split apart and was now spinning so expertly. At least that’s
what he hoped.

So far, all the being seemed to be was movement through the branches. He couldn’t smell anything—
and he smelled everything. He hadn’t really seen anything. Despite it being a cloudy and moonless
night, he could see as well as day. From what he heard, the creature wasn’t very heavy, but the motion
through the branches said it was at least five feet tall.

A large, nocturnal, flightless bird? Birds didn’t move at night, no matter what their size. Not that he had
heard of everything.

His tovalds stirred and began shuffling away from him. The tovalds, small, hump-less camels, carefully
stepped over the packages which had once been on their backs. If the big guy was swinging into action,
they wanted no part of the immediate surroundings. Things had a tendency to fly.

Poking through the palms was now a man’s face. Its eyes were mere blank sockets. The nose was two
slits. Dark drown stumps showed from a mouth frozen in an uneven but deep yawn. All of this was
covered by skin that seemed to have been breaded and fried. The expression didn’t change.

In another step, it was through the brush. It wasn’t staggering, but its legs were not moving naturally.
Instead it was advancing by pivoting from one motionless leg to the other, much in the way little girls
make their dolls walk.  Bones showed through at the hands and between the tatters it was wearing.

The nightman had seen enough. He stepped forward and unleashed his swinging shaft, smashing the
creature across the forehead. It didn’t move. Half of its head exploded backwards, but it otherwise
displayed no sign of shock. Something unseen was rooting it to the ground and driving it forward.

He took a step back, only to see what direction the creature was headed—although he was under no
illusion that such a thing might just be passing through. It was either going to go after him or the camels.

Not that he was certain of that. This was a new experience for him.

It was going for the packages.

“Just the mail,” the nightman grunted. He then made an attempt to enunciate “It is just the mail.”

It wasn’t really ‘just’ the mail. It was the nightman’s livelihood for the moment. That, in and of itself, made
it worth a fight.

What business did this damn thing have going after his packages? What business did this damn thing
even have being here? The nightman knew that he was a little lost, but in no place he knew would
beings such as this be free to lawfully roam around. He wasn’t really the type to beat on people. On the
other hand, this wasn’t a person. That said, had it not bothered him, he would not have bothered it, no
matter what it seemingly may have been.

He drew his arms above his head and brought the shaft down swiftly. The creature’s shoulder crunched
with a flurry, like a bag of heavy dust. It spun and lashed out a hand, attempting to grab the end of the
shaft. He drew the weapon back again and sent its spinning end thudding directly onto its hand. The
hand was pulverized the next instant and slapped the ground.

It didn’t stagger. It didn’t shout. It was hard to see if it was discouraged. In two more fast blows, both
ending in thuds and dust clouds across the creature’s chest, he gave up on looking for signs of distress,
discouragement or surrender. Instead, he beat it to pieces.

At no time did it shout nor attempt to speak. It attempted to scratch. It tried to bite. It kicked him, even
after it only had one leg. It never swayed or slowed. After about the twentieth blow from the nightman’s
shaft, it simply stopped. All of the disassembled thing fell to the ground, all at one time as if a hand had
unclenched and let hold of a pile of twigs.

The nightman kicked at the pile of broken bones and thread. When nothing else happened, he called to
his tovalds “I think it’s dead. I think it’s dead-er.”

The two camels grunted back, but kept their distance.

“I guess it’s going to be sun up pretty soon anyway. And we can’t be that far off that road we were
supposed to turn onto. So we can just get going,” he said, as if any of them would be able to get back to
sleep after that.

He knelt down and placed a hand on the bones. Turning his head to the black, star-less, moon-less sky
above, he said “Take care of this guy. Wherever he is. Better than you have so far.”

The camels still weren’t coming back, so he gathered their harnesses and brought the halters to them.
Then he shuttled the packages from the piles to the camel’s backs.

Having secured the last treated skin wrapped package on a tovald, he started back down the winding
path through the palms that they all had been following for the last three weeks.

His tovalds clung close, following him single file. Unlike the nightman, they could not see so well in the
dark. He was a good guy to follow. He was always roaming and knew many comfortable places to lie
down. And he always had great snacks. On occasion he did take stupid shortcuts and there sometimes
was some hostility here and there, but the snacks were much better than the tovalds could have found
on their own. Or perhaps the camels were domesticated.  

Within a short time, he had found the place where the seeming deer path they were on dead ended at a
broad cobblestone road. He held them up, having become annoyed.

The nightman took ten steps to the right down the path. “Curses. This runs the same way we came from,
only straighter. Whatever was that kid thinking? Some shortcut.”

He came back to the camels, saying “I’m mystified. Maybe it’s a toll road back that way? He didn’t say
that. Maybe that is what he meant?”

The camels began heading left. He joined them and came to the lead. Dawn was now leaking through
the edges of the thick cloud cover. The road went up a mild grade for a mile or so. As it progressed, the
palms and sand diminished and were replaced by the sudden appearance of black dirt and shrubs.
Land beside the path was rocky and uneven until they came to the grade’s apex.

Displayed before them was a vast fanged valley, in the general shape of a frozen splash from a large
rock into a calm pond. The downward sloping land was generally even, treeless and covered in long
green grasses. Just before the far edge of the old volcano’s interior lip was a mile wide crescent shaped
lake. Dots appeared around the shoreline of the lake. That was the town.

It was an odd thing to see, here in the land where the steppes met the desert. The place was often
dismissed as a mirage—so much so that the place’s name had become ‘Not a Mirage.’ He wondered why
the land had not been broken up for farms, but that wasn’t entirely his idea. It was a comment made to
him before he set out for this place.

Breaking the sod had broken many a man, but given the paucity of the land around here and the value
of black dirt, the lack of farms was unusual.  Just fifty miles to the west of here was the edge of the
continent, an overhanging eighty foot high plateau called Useless Port.  Most civilization was to the north
of here in places called Middle Port and Springfield and Riverbend. Oxbow, where he had started his
trek three weeks ago, was a remote exurb of Riverbend, which itself was somewhat out in the boonies.
Useless Port and Not a Mirage, although perhaps nice places, did not really politically, geographically or
economically connect to the rest of their country. They had simply been claimed because no one else
had held them.

The nightman had never been here before. From what he had been told, there were plots of land
between the buildings and in a row across the main street. He was still too far away to see that.

What he had not been told was there was at least one building on the outskirts of the town, nearly two
miles away. The rock house and its stone animal pens were right off the road. The entire three acre
patch was fenced in by seven foot tall stone wall. The nightman and the tovalds paid it no mind as they
passed it.

“Warze,” said a voice from behind them.

‘Warze’ meant ‘pig’ and it was an insult to the kind of person the nightman was. He held up for a
moment. The voice had come from the edge of the wall they had just passed.

“Warze, are you the mailman?”

The nightman didn’t detect any hostility in the man’s voice, which was airy and had a sing song lilt to it.
Sometimes people were just ignorant.

“I have notices and letters, but no real goods,” the nightman reported.
Page One                                The Nightman                                Mark Lax