2007 - Dream of the Bloody Sunset
Final word count: 50,115 (Complete)
This was the result of a random title generator and an absent muse. This was an attempt in not padding to achieve word counts and was written almost entirely in Google Docs for portablity (writing from home, work and other places.)
The story features Jake, a house boy for the Mayor of Port Winterbourne, and the adventures he has after some very important and strange guests come to call upon the Mayor's wife while the area is griped by an inexplicable drought.
"Red twilight, wanderer's delight. Red in the morning, storm warning." This is what the wise old ones used to say but when there hasn't been a drop of rain in months, one begins to wonder just how much of a delight it still is. The parched dusty landscape reaches upwards with plumes of red towards the rolling black clouds above that boil darkly yet refuse to give up their precious burden. The air is so clogged with dust that to even see the difference between the red haze of day and the redder glow of the setting sun is hard but still the morning enters with barely a pale pinkish glow as the winds have calmed during the night allowing the dust to settle somewhat. Craggy trees reach towards the dark sky; stunted from lack of water they have no hope of ever touching the angry hoarders they roll above them. Animals are scarce and scraggly if seen at all. Most have become nocturnal to escape the heat that permeates the day preferring to brave the plunging nighttime temperatures.
Nestled on the bank of the Ruddy River, a river that had been near impassable so wide was it at this point, is the small town of Port Winterbourne. Its buildings once painted in brilliant whites and yellows now as the same dull red as the landscape that surrounds it. The raging river, once their main protector and provider, now just a muddy trickle if it can be found. Closest to this extinct river was what was left of the docks and jetties that had serviced the town. Now the fishing boats, the larger trading barges and little rowboats all lay useless in the dry dust, many stuck where they had been wedged in the mud as the river had slowly wasted away. Walking into the main town of Port Winterbourne from the docks, folks could be seen scurrying around now in the twilight as the temperature dropped from the intense heat of the day just past. Tumbleweeds from the barren scrub surrounding the town were lodged against some of the verandas of the small clapboard shops that lined the main street leading from the docks into the town proper. At the end of the road, directly visible even from the docks was the Mayor's house, which shone bright pinkish white in the dying light from the sun. It was by far less dust covered than the rest of the houses arranged around it, in which many of the other well to do families of this small town lived, and this was because the Lady of the house insisted that it be kept dust free.
"To stand a beacon of hope in such desolate times", Missus Maria Winterbourne had intoned to Jake when he had dared to ask her why she needed him to brush down the whole house every day before raking out the dusty front and back yards into interesting swirl patterns.
Jake Myron was not the brightest person in town. In fact he could best be describe as a bit slow, but he was a hard and honest worker. That is why Missus Maria Winterbourne, the mayor's wife, had hired him to be her houseboy and keep her house and grounds neat and tidy. Jake liked his job well enough. He was provided with a room he didn't have to share, three proper meals a day and just enough coins at the end of the week to enjoy himself at The Colourful Wineskin, the local tavern, on the weekend if he had no extra work to do. Often Missus Maria would ask him to dress up and help out at one of her parties and then he was always sure to earn a little bit more. These little extra bits he didn't spend though but rather he saved them in an old jam jar one the cooks had given him stashed under his bed. Every month at the end of the month he would pull out the jar and count the coins. He would spill them out carefully onto and old map his father had given him, careful not to let any of the coins roll away from him. He had nearly lost one once between the floorboards of the attic room he occupied and he was now extra careful with his savings.
It had never occurred to him to pay much attention to the map his father had given him, it was pretty to look at, never seemed to stain or perish and was nice and smooth for counting his coins on. Frank Myron had at first tried to impress upon his son the importance of the map but Jake just didn't understand how a strange piece of a weird skin with even stranger swirling lines and markings on it could be of any significance. Thus Frank had long since unfortunately given up on trying to explain the map to Jake but every time Jake did come to visit he was asked to bring the map with him so his father could check that it was still being looked after as carefully as he had impressed upon his son to do so.
Jake hadn't been home to visit his folks in some weeks. He had simply been too busy cleaning Missus Maria's house and yard to make the visit to the humble family home on the outskirts of the town. Jake had seen his father once pass through down to the docks but had had barely time to raise a hand in greeting from where he had been raking large swirls in the front yard before Missus Maria had yelled for him from inside the house and he had to rush off to attend to her. In that brief moment though Jake had noticed how gaunt and tired his father had appeared as he shuffled down the road towards the docks and the water rations station. Jake resolved to try and visit his family soon and perhaps take them some of his savings, as he currently had no other plans for his small hoard of coins. Despite this decision though, Jake had more important things to attend to right now as Missus Maria did not have great patience and did not enjoy being kept waiting.
This evening was no different to that last one on which Jake had last seen his father. He had just been putting the finishing strokes another fantastically elaborate pattern in the dirt of the front yard when Missus Maria had summoned him with her shrill voice. Jake had carefully replaced his rake in the tool shed and dusted himself down before entering the great house by the servants? entrance. The Mayor's house was different from most of the other houses in Port Winterbourne in that is was actually built out of white stone blocks instead of the normal clap board. Only a few of the other houses were built out of any kind of stone at all. Mayor Winterbourne was the last in a very long line of Winterbourne?s who had been mayor of Port Winterbourne since its founding on the banks of the Ruddy River long before any of Jake's ancestors had come to live here.
Missus Maria was waiting in the annex to the kitchen where she usually met with the servants to discuss up coming parties and events that they needed to be aware of. She met with the staff at least once a week to share with them any news that was to be had and to answer any questions that she could. Missus Maria was a kind lady-boss and firmly believed that informed servant was better than an ignorant one, most of the time anyway. Jake entered the room and immediately looked towards the floor, as he was oft to do when in the room with Missus Maria.
Maria Winterbourne was a petite blond woman in her early twenties and many people though her as pretty because of how her pale green eyes beautifully offset against her peaches and cream complexion. Her checks were always lightly flushed as if she were always slightly blushing or had just returned from a brisk walk on a cool afternoon. Her marriage to Mayor Winterbourne just a scant three years past had caused a great scandal at the time as he was nearly twice her age, but Trevor Ellison had thought it a good match for his youngest daughter and would hear nothing the nay sayers were gossiping about.
Trevor Ellison was one of the top merchants in town and ran a store with his wife Emma at the top of the main street near to the Mayor's House. His store had often been stocked with the more exotic fruits, lotions and other knick-knacks that could only be brought in by special order. Unfortunately now that the river had dried up, such exotic items were in low supply and in even lower demand, so Ellison Exotic Emporium had had to resort to selling things that could be easily transported in the heat and would sell well. Their stock was still fairly exotic but now was more centred on fragrant spices, imported flours and small collection of jewellery made from semi-precious stones. Trevor and Emma Ellison still lived a comfortable life in their little brick house just a short way away from their store and on the marriage of their third and final daughter, the youngest of the their brood of five, they were looking forward to their golden years.
It was well known that Trevor was well acquainted with the mayor even before Maria had married him. The two had often been seen frequenting the better pub, The Shining Farthing, in the more well to do area of Port Winterbourne. Some had wondered if the two had not attended school together, they were such great chums, but Trevor had never even heard of the fancy school Byron had attended out of town. Never mind that Trevor was good few years younger than Mayor Winterbourne too.
Some had said that the marriage had been arranged for her when she had shown no interest in any of the merchant lads that came calling for her after her sisters had happily married into the other merchant families. This was not the case though because Maria loved her husband very much. He had been the only man in the town to not only understand because encourage her love of books. He had gone so far as to converting one of the rooms in the stately Mayor's house into a library for her, which he stocked with all books he could find or order into Port Winterbourne.
It was unfortunate that their marriage had not resulted in any children yet but Maria was ever hopeful that she would be able to repay her kind and overly generous husband with a son some day.
Standing now as she was in front of Jake in her house dress, her hair slightly out of place from what ever she had been doing, Jake looked to the floor not just out of difference to his better but also because looking as Missus Maria made him feel strange in places that were never talked about openly. Rodger one of the other servants around the house had teased Jake once about having a crush on Missus Maria. Jake had not known what a crush was and when he had asked Rodger, Rodger had simply laughed at him. Later Jake had asked his father what a crush was and had blushed brightly when his father had explained that this meant that he was sweet on Missus Maria, that he liked her more than just as his boss.
Jake didn't think he liked her more than as his boss but she was a pretty lady and made him feel funny, much like he was feeling now as he stood eyes to the ground, twisting the toe of his one shoe nervously into the worn carpet of the servants ante-chamber.
"Jake, how is the house looking today?" Missus Maria started as was normal for her.
"I have just finished brushing the house, Ma'am," Jake replied softly.
"Good. And the yards are neatly raked too into those patterns I requested? You are so good at making the patterns so clear," Missus Maria checked.
"Yes, Ma'am, the yards are ready for you to check too," Jake replied sneaking a glance up at his pretty boss-lady.
"Jake you are so good to me. Thank you. There is no need for me to check, I am sure you have done a superb job as always," she intoned pleasantly, her voice showing affection for the slow boy, understanding that he needed the praise for his work. Jake blushed a little from the praise but also felt his chest swell as it often did when Missus Maria told him she trusted him in such wonderfully warm tones.
"I am expecting important guests this afternoon arriving from out of town," Missus Maria began to explain slowly to Jake, "and I want the house looking its best, you understand. It is not often since the drought began that we get travellers visiting our humble port here." She sounded a little wistful and was obviously thinking back to the days when she and Edward had first been wed and many visitors from the neighbouring towns and even further a field had come a calling to see the young pretty bride of the Mayor of Port Winterbourne. The parties she had hosted that had lasted until dawn, the interesting conversation and tales from far away places around the dinner table, and the trinkets from such places - Maria sighed, she did miss the way it was. Quickly recomposing herself in front of her serving boy, not that she minded too much if he saw but what would others think if they happened upon the scene. "So Jake, you need to make sure every thing is prefect for our guests and tonight I need you to wear that new blue jacket I gave you last month with the gold trim over your shirt and pants at the party while you help with serving the drinks. Do you understand Jake?" Missus Maria asked the last bit with a smile, understanding that he didn't always get things the first time. She had patience for him when so many others in the town did not and she knew it was appreciated. She made a mental note to herself to send a food package to his family again this month.
"Yes, Ma'am. I understand. Keep the house and yard neat and clean for the guests. Wear the new jacket when serving tonight," Jake replied in his slow way, repeating back the instructions in case he had missed something. It was so nice that Missus Maria didn't yell at him when he got something wrong but just patiently re-explained it to him again. Even his own father had trouble some days when Jake was battling to follow things.
"That is right Jake. Now the guests are due to arrive about mid-afternoon so keep a look out for them while you go about your chores," Missus Maria smiled and then walked out of the room to busy herself with sorting out the rest of the house for the arrival of the guests that afternoon.
Jake smiled to himself. He had got the instructions correct. He didn't dawdle though and quickly set off to finish the rest of his tasks before the day got too hot.
At lunchtime all the staff were gathered for their meal and Missus Maria addressed them before they ate, explaining about the important guests and that everything needed to be perfect for their visit. Most of the staff already knew about the guests, as they had been busy throughout the day making preparations for the arrival. The meal that lunchtime was particularly good, Missus Maria had never believed in treating staff much differently to normal employees like those her father had hired from time to time at the shop so she took good care of them - well cared for workers worked harder and were less likely to leave to seek fortune elsewhere. Edward indulged her need to care for the servants of his manor much as he indulged her love of books but rarely was part of the group meals, preferring to lunch alone in his study. The drought had lowered the availability of some foods but still everyone ate well - chunks of cheese and coarse bread with slices of meat and cool juice to wash it down in the heat of the day.
After lunch there was some rest time while everyone waited for the heat of the day to pass. The shops in Port Winterbourne closed and everyone usually slept or at least stayed out of the baking heat. Before the river had dried up, the docks had been a popular place for people to meet and relax in the middle of the day. Now days most people avoided the docks unless they need to go to the Water Rationing Station.
Just as the heat began to dip and the shadows began to length again, the servants at the mayor's house were getting ready to start their afternoon chores. Jake retrieved his rake from the shed and headed out to the front of the house to check on the patterns he had painstakingly made that morning. Just as he reached the front of the house, he noticed a large cloud of dust moving slowly up the main street from the docks. There hadn't been many dust devils in the area but they were known to occasionally blow through the town but this cloud was moving far more steadily and determinedly than any dust devil Jake had ever seen before. As the cloud of dust approached the Mayor's house it soon became clear that what was causing it was not a dust devil but in fact a coach of some kind.
The dark polished wood of the frame gleamed in the bright sunlight as the coach rushed up to the gates of the Mayor's house. The driver of the coach was dressed in a rich red sleeveless jacket with a high collar that was more of a fine tunic than a jacket, over wide cream coloured cotton pantaloons. The muscles in his arms writhed and moved as he flicked his whip over the heads of the two black stallions pulling the coach and tightly held the steering reins in his massive fist. The seat on which he sat was covered in material of the same as his tunic jacket. His skin was a deep brown from hours in the sun. It was evident that this was a powerful man. With great skill he turned the coach and brought it to and abrupt halt at the gate to the Mayor's house gardens. The horses stood and puffed against their bits, foam showing at their mouths, obviously tired from the long run but not really breaking a sweat yet. The large ebony man jumped down from the drivers seat with a cat-like grace that would not have been expected from a man of his bulk and stepped over to open the door of the coach.
Jake unfroze at this point, let out the breath he hadn't realised he had been holding and bolted towards the servants' entrance to let Missus Maria know that her visitors had arrived and that the garden was still neatly raked but that there was nothing he could have done about the dust the visitor's coach had brought with it but that he would clean the house again right away. As Jake entered the house he realised he was not the only one to have witnessed the arrival of the visitors and he felt some of his elation fade. He had wanted to be the one who knew first that they had arrived. He had wanted to be the one who had told Missus Maria that her guests had come. Jake hung his head and had turned to make his way back out to the yard, when he heard Missus Maria's voice above the hubbub of the other servants crowding the kitchen area. She was calling something and it took Jake a few minutes to realise it was his name. He stopped and turned in the direction of her voice.
"Jake! Jake" Missus Maria was calling, frantic to be heard over the noise in the kitchen.
Jake walked up to her deftly dodging through the jostling servants, and said just loud enough to be heard, " I am here Ma'am, no need to yell so."
"Ah, yes, here you are indeed. Quick you must tell me how they arrived. What have you seen?" Missus Maria babbled out, her eagerness showing in her rush of words.
Jake carefully but quickly described how he had stopped to watch the dust devil coming up the main street and how the dust devil had become the dark wood coach with a large ebony man driving two black stallions ahead of it. He tried to do justice to the skill the ebony driver had shown when he had stopped the coach and to the magnificence of the drivers rich red coat but he lacked the words to do so. Missus Maria listen spell bound and excited to his short description of what had happened. She clapped her hands at the end and then rushed him towards his room, excitedly calling after him to put on his blue coat and then come down again to help with the drinks.
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