Page Two                                The Nightman                                Mark Lax
“Any for Doroval?”

“Doroval? Yes. The kid with the shortcut gave me it just before I left. A book. Told him I shouldn’t take it
because it’s not letters, but he showed me it was handwritten, which is sort of skirting the rules.”

“Did you take it?”

“Yes.”

“Two gold? Three gold? Three is all I have.”

In the peculiar postal system of this area, the letter carrier actually bought the mail and then sold it to
the recipients. In many places, it was something of a bidding process between stations, with one
postman selling his mail to the next until the packages got to their destination. In this case, the mail had
been lying around Oxbow for three months, thus any bid to take it was accepted—if nothing else than as
a good faith measure that the carrier wouldn’t just up and use it for kindling or outhouse purposes.

Three gold was what the nightman had paid for the whole lot. Breaking even this quick was too tempting.
“Three is good,” he said.

A small cloth pouch came lobbing over the wall and landed at his feet. The nightman, unsure of the
customs of this area, bent down and opened it.

“They’re not matched, but you’ll see three crowns from it at least,” explained the unseen voice.

One of the coins was a Dove Crown, which was pure gold and worth three crowns on its own. The other
two coins the nightman could not identify, but he was fairly sure they were silver alloy. “Good with me,”
the nightman said. He undid the leather book from his camel’s harness.

“Just throw it over the wall.”

The nightman did as he was instructed. Just before he was about to get back underway, having
scratched ‘Doroval’ off his list, he halted and asked “Do you know where Mister Store is?”

No answer. The nightman went to the fence and peered over it. There was no one there. The book was
sitting in an empty courtyard before a boarded up door. The bird pen and sty were empty also, as was
the plot of land behind the house, which was just black dirt. Not that any of this was all that unusual,
given that it was just spring. He looked up at the dormers, which were also boarded up.

“I am supposed to see a General Store? Mister General? Mister Store? It might not be a mister,” the
nightman said.

One of the tovalds grunted.

“No, I am not talking to myself again. I am talking to Doroval. Well, I was talking to him. Come to think of
it, I didn’t smell anything. Did you smell anything?”

Both of the tovalds grunted.

“Keep your opinions to yourselves. I’ve been on the road for three weeks.”

The road before them made one last drastic turn, before heading straight into town. From here the
nightman could plainly see the plots which ran one right after another on the side of the road across
from the lake. At this point the road was covered in a canopy of large bushes. The brush on one side of
the road was lined by a short fence of mortared stone. At the center of the fence was a wooden branch-
fashioned arch with vines of flowers creeping up its sides.

Just as the nightman passed by the arch, a mushroom splattered across his left temple. He whirled and
heard the sound of a sling winding up.

“Nice loincloth! Who’s your mother and why does she dress you that way?” said a high pitched voice. It
was coming from the yard inside the arch. The nightman could tell by the tone that it was a chatterling,
the type of creature he had once been.

Chatterlings were small, low to the ground, practically all head and arms. The nightman crossed through
the arch and had his eyes pealed to the ground. Beyond the arch was an enclosed indented acre.
Terraces of mushrooms in various colors aligned a curved stone path which led to a small pointed green
brick shack at the back of the plot.

Another mushroom exploded off his right temple. He looked up to the boughs of the red leaf bushes.
There he spotted a foot tall grey skinned being, with foot long arms, hanging upside down from six inch
legs. Its head was similar to the nightman’s, although the lumps above its brow were not as pronounced
and its jaw was pointed and without tusks or under-bite. A sling was in its little black hands.

The nightman drew a hand to his bandolier. He began to retrieve one of his heavy metal boomerangs,
saying “You ain’t going to make it.”

“Whatever do you think you are doing?” came a shout from the house. A willowy green skinned woman
had come out of the shack’s door. She had large almond shaped, red ruby eyes, arched lines for brows,
black slim lips and high, pointed cheek bones. The witch was dressed in black, flowing lace and wore a
pointed black hat with a wide brim.

The nightman pointed up at the bush and said “Chatterling.”

“And what of it, ogre?” the witch said. “This is private property. I can have what I want here.”

“Suit yourself,” the nightman said, turning around. Another mushroom bounded wetly off the back of his
neck.

“Cut it out, Niles,” the witch said. She then projected to the nightman “If you’re a monster, I should warn
you that there is a town near about. But if you are a man, I should warn you to have more toleration of
children. Especially of your own kind.”

“I am whatever brings the mail from Oxbow,” the nightman said with a backwards glance.

“Vinny the drunk? Ogre or nightman, you’re a clear improvement over that,” the witch said, changing her
tone. “Do you have anything for Snawy?”

“Two packages.”

“Four crowns, right? I’ll get them from my house and meet you at your packs,” the witch said,
disappearing back into her shack.

The nightman went back through the arch and to his camels. As he was untying the witch’s two parcels,
the chatterling scrambled out from the bushes, saying “Hey smell-master, lose the loincloth.”

“Really?” the nightman asked, mournfully.

“Everyone’s gotta wear pants in town. Even me. And they ain’t too keen on weapons, either. Not even
pointed sticks. Not that they’re going to bother you, Abomination boy, but it makes you stand out.”

“Great, something new to ‘invest’ in,” the nightman said. He pulled a stubby pair of green sticks out of
the camel’s pack and handed them down to the chatterling, saying “Thanks.”

“Ooooh, sweet cane! Ogres got the best snacks!” The chatterling jumped into the bushes and
scrambled away.

“What do we say, Niles?” asked the witch’s voice.

“Thank you, ogre,” came the chatterling’s voice from high in the bushes.

“I suppose the ogre has a name,” the witch said, coming through the arch.

“Sixty-Four,” the nightman answered.

“Ah, from The Abomination, are we? You are very far from there now. A completely different world,” she
said, handing him the four coins. She then noticed the scratches on the nightman’s arms and asked “Did
Niles do that to you, Sixty-Four?”

“Nah. Dead guy up the road,” Sixty-Four said, starting to imitate the creature’s walk.

“The players are not going to like to hear about that. Well, something’s up. There hasn’t been a bit of
wildlife in the valley for three days. No sight, even of a bug. You will have to report this to my lovely
sheriff in town.”

Sixty-Four asked “Does that road go all the way to Oxbow?”

“Yes. Didn’t you come down it?”

“I was on this stupid shortcut.”

“Never heard of any shortcut. From Oxbow?”

“Is it a toll road down that way?”

“Not since our gorgeous sheriff hung the two highwaymen, no.—You didn’t bring a cart with you?”

“I have Sissy and Spacey, here,” he said, referring to his camels.

“Vinny usually brings the mail with supplies on his cart for the General Store.”

“Where is this Mister Store?”

“It’s a place, dear. The largest shop in town. Pretty much the only shop in town. It’s in the biggest
building. On the same side of the road as the plots. You can’t miss it. Right in the middle of town, next to
the Player’s hall.”

“Players?”

“Players at. Players with. Brewers, really, the best lot of them. The town is chock full of stills of one kind
or another,” the witch explained. “The woman who runs the general store is Hegga, and she’s very nice
and very honest. Although she will be honestly disappointed as nicely as she can that you didn’t bring
the cart with her supplies. Do you know what happened to Vinny’s cart?”

“He lost it.”

“I swear he could lose his own head.”

“Nah. His head and arms are fine. They are in the stocks in Oxbow.”

“Again? You might want to mention that to Hegga. Do you know what his bail is this time?”

“He vomited on the wife of Prince Oswald’s arms bearer.”

“And in the stocks Vinny will stay! Too rich for Hegga’s blood. Just tell Hegga he’s in the stocks. He’s
embarrassed her enough,” the witch said. “Come back in a time and I will get you something for those
scratches.”

“Thank you, Mistress Swany.”


Swany opened one of her packages and smiled a perfect white grin. “Ooh, from my sister! I smell a
wedding!” With that, she disappeared through her arch and the nightman continued on his way. In
twenty minutes he was at the edge of town.

Not a Mirage consisted of one road, a red brick affair, which wound around the shores of a mile long,
crescent shaped lake. The lake’s other shore was miles away, at a protruding, drastic mountain which at
one time was the lip of a volcano’s flume. On the lakeshore side of the road were stone or wood
buildings, generally one story and few more than twenty feet wide. An occasional false second story
facade showed on some of the wooden ones. Amidst the shore side buildings were wooden or stone
docks, some of which had small row boats moored around them. The stone buildings and docks looked
quite old and were fashioned from a high sheen granite not common to the area. They were invariably
retrofitted and repaired by new wooden planks and shutters. Even the wood and the bricks would have
had to have been carted in, since there was no obvious clay works or stands of trees present.