December 30, 1870

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I knocked, and the door opened.

The old man looked at me with calm, dispassionate eyes and motioned for me to come in.

I did so, and he shut the door before walking to a single rocker by the hearth. He moved the chair a little closer and had his boots nearly in the low flames dancing around the logs. The man picked up a paper from the floor, opened it and went back to what he had been doing before I’d so rudely knocked upon his door.

I shucked my haversack, hung up the coat, and saw the hunting rifle propped against the left side of the fireplace.

“I’ll put coffee on in a minute,” the man stated, not looking up from his reading.

“I’d be obliged,” I replied. I spotted another chair in a corner, dragged it out and sat across from him.

He glanced over the top of his paper, chuckled, and went back to reading.

I thought about the journals in my haversack and resisted the urge to grab one.

Time passed, and soon the man tossed the newspaper into the fire. As the flames devoured the newsprint, the man stood up, gathered the makings for coffee, and set it to boil. When he finished, he adjusted his rocker to face me and sat once more.

“You’ve killed a fair few in town,” he observed, folding his hands on his lap.

“I have,” I agreed.

“Have you come here to kill me?”

I shook my head. “I was seeking shelter for the night, and I saw your lamp.”

“You’ll be away come morning?” he asked, ‘though I could tell he already knew the answer.

“Aye.”

“To the academy?” he inquired.

“Yes.”

He chuckled and checked on the coffee. “You’ve enough ammunition?”

“And my blade is sharp.”

“Yes,” he mused in a soft voice. “It always is.”

I peered closer at the man, past the wrinkles and the exhaustion in his voice, past the beard and the weight of the world upon his shoulders.

“You’re family,” I stated.

The man let out a hard, clear laugh, and the sound nailed me to my seat.

“I’m more than that, Duncan,” the man grinned. “I’m you. I won’t tell you how long we live until we look like this, but it’s a goddamned long time. Most of it isn’t pleasant.”

The coffee boiled, and he sighed.

“You’ll need the coffee,” he said.

“Tomorrow, they pay the butcher’s bill.”

Published by

Nicholas Efstathiou

Husband, father, and writer.

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