Regret is a common sensation of those that cross the mysterious and dangerous Indigo Man
The scorched air seared the sheriff’s lungs, spawning coughs. Raw and burnt flesh coated his throat. Tears spilled upon his leathery cheeks, glimmering in the glow from the flames.
He struggled to rise and collapsed onto his side. The spreading darkness from his abdomen matched the swelling pain. His fingers dug into the dry earth beneath him, birthing trenches.
His town was dead.
Flames licked the night sky, morphing the natural purple to a demon red. Tufting smoke swirled with malevolent fury; the bloating, savage darkness swallowed and encompassed all. Mirages of buildings flickered beneath the murderous fire. Bodies littered the ground in scattered heaps; the innocent as well as the sinners. A crumpled dirigible lay helpless beneath a deflated, smoldering gasbag.
My town, the sheriff thought. My home.
Signs of panicked life popped in and out of his view: People screaming, clutching little ones and the last remnants of whatever meant the most to them. Wide eyes peered from ash-stained faces. Gaping mouths uttered cries of incomprehensible sorrow.
A lone man skulked in the chaos, arms raised against the flames. He spotted the sheriff, and hesitated. The figure petrified momentarily before cupping his hands around his mouth and calling out, “Sheriff! You dead?”
The sheriff responded with a dry wheeze, which rewarded him with a sandpapery scraping along the inside of his throat.
The man loomed, walking slowly, his face childlike behind a thatchy beard. “Done kilt the sheriff,” the man breathed. The sheriff recognized him: he was the new banker, come all the way from Bedford.
A pair of men rushed past, dragging armloads of merchandise from the derelict remnants of the general store. The banker offered only a vacant stare at the affront; he was mesmerized by the eternal wall of flames. The thieves rushed into an adjacent building – the livery stable – no doubt looking for more to loot. Fresh tears, these of frustration, sprang to life from the sheriff’s eyes. He was losing all he had sworn to protect.
The ground shivered, accompanied by a low, rumbling groan. Within seconds, the roof of the stable imploded, showering the inside with burning planks and hungry fire. The men screamed within, though not for long.
“My God,” murmured the banker, but his further commentary was interrupted by a sound like a thunderclap. His head snapped back, and his body tumbled in a heap, inches from the sheriff. A wet hole glistened in the center of his forehead, and his glassy eyes reflected the raging flames.
A flicker of darkness emerged from the chaos. It shimmered and trembled in the heated air, moving with ethereal and savage grace. The darkness solidified as it neared, merging from a formless obscurity to a man-shaped shade. It bore familiarity. His burning lungs were unable to thaw his suddenly frozen heart.
The shadow form loped forward, a ravenous wolf cornering a wounded hare. The man wore only faded jeans and boots. Muscles bulged amidst the emaciation, trembling beneath skin the color of ink. Mismatched eyes seemed to glow from the dark skin. A revolver dangled in his grasp.
“Sheriff,” the Indigo Man growled.
“You were to hang,”the sheriff rasped, the words crumbling in his ashen throat. He floundered in the smoke and dust. His vacant gun belt offered no solace. He stared with hazy disbelief at the specter before him. “You were to hang.” It was the only thought that seemed capable of escaping him.
“You crossed me,” spat the Indigo Man, his features twisted with rage. “It didn’t have to happen in such a way. You all killed her. You all chose this path.”
He raised the gun. The sheriff stared into the barrel; it depths were limitless and brimming with despair. For the first time in years, his body quaked with fear.
The click of the hammer echoed amidst the roaring fire.
“She killed them boys,” the sheriff croaked. “You’n her both. She was an outlaw.” He trembled before the impending fit of coughs could escape him, and then spasmed with each horrible hack. Blood trickled onto his soot-drenched chin. “Outlaws get hung. Even the pretty ones. You reap what you sow.”
The flames raged behind him, crackling and hissing as they persisted in their feast of all. The moon winked from behind the wall of smoke, small and pale and alone. The sheriff’s eyes closed in silent prayer, and when they reopened, he found that nothing had changed.
“I’ve done many a good thing and many a bad in my time,” intoned the Indigo Man. “I’ve robbed and I’ve killed and I’ve bullied my way to where I am. Truth is, that’s the only way to live in this place. The only difference between us is I don’t wear a star on my chest.”
The sheriff said nothing, and trembled as pale teeth peeked from behind the dark skin.
“Welcome to the reaping,”snarled the Indigo Man; there was a sound like the world splitting apart, and then darkness.