by Jevon Allen
June, 16th 1979
On the outskirts of Blood River Falls, S.E. Godsland
(a place once dubbed Moab, Utah)
“The guy said, turn right twenty three miles after the gas station. I was so shocked to see a working gas pump this far away from a protected zone, I plumb forgot to count but this should be about the place. It’s gotta be the town off yonder. What else would explain all that green.” Tossing the binoculars back onto the dash, the rugged man stepped off of the running board of the truck and stretched his legs.
We’d been traveling for two days and were cramped and parched from driving through these dry desert roads. We hadn’t seen many other vehicles on the roads since most choose to drive at night for there would be a less chance of a Wadhala. But, we were on a mission.
Patricia, the leader of the group, checked her watch. 16:25. She slid her shades back down over her squinting eyes and told everyone to get back in. “I thing we can make it there by sundown. Drinks are on me if we do.”
All five of us piled back into the White Suburban. Dave grabbed onto the “Oh, Shit” handle as he jumped up into the passenger seat, but by then Patricia’s foot was already on the gas and Dave made it into the death seat by pure arm power. “Damn, girl! I underestimated your thirst.”
There was a chuckle and, spirits lightened. There was always good banter amongst us. I guess you could say that we, the five chosen for this mission were the outcasts of our tribe. In another world and time, we would have been seen as useful in some way for our intellect and whit but, in the real human world however of conquest, wadhala, battles, and conqueror take all, we were the lowest cast and thus sent out on a mission with no chance of bringing back any booty or glory.
What was this town of so-called humans who didn’t battle each other and lived in a state of “peace”. How could they keep stability without settling scores? They were rumored to be soft with riches like Kublai Khan. This seemed interesting to every individual member of this group but they were all not willing to share such radical views with each other as of yet. It was an anomaly, a freak society, and all on board jumped at the chance when the council elected us to run this reconnaissance mission. How intriguing. All were curious about the fabled town of Blood River Falls.
As we edged to within a half mile of the town Mike, sitting next to me kept looking behind us and finally piped up. “I’ve seen less conspicuous tails on a peacock! I know they’ve got eyes up on that ridge.” The dust from the road rose high behind us. We now knew that there was no chance of an undetected entrance but from what we heard, that might not be necessary.
The stones in the road crunched as Patricia rolled the truck up to the first check point. Even though it was nearing sundown, sweat continued to bead up on her brow, only to evaporate in the dry wind. She automatically handed over the group’s papers.
Two uniformed officers came out of their shed and straddled the packed truck. The female officer spoke while the male officer checked under the carriage of the vehicle with a mirror on a stick. “This is the first time for this vehicle to enter this zone. What’s your business here?”
The female officer in particular caught their attention. She had a kind manner that was usually reserved for relatives when they were around their own families behind locked doors. She seemed soft to be this congenial out in public. Her eyes had lost their hunter instincts. She didn’t notice that I had switched off the safety on my side arm. A few others were freaked out by her demeanor, but Patricia had been expecting this. She tried to smile back like the woman was one of her sisters. “We are part of a research group from Sector 4 called Will Stand, once known as Purple Kings Domain.”
(Place names often changed in this time period when whole towns were involved in a Wadhala. Once a whole town was wiped out, there was no sense in keeping the old name. Time to move on.)
“Our paperwork states it right there.” Patricia leaned out of window to point it out. Her sleeved “pea shooter” slid out and the guard jumped back.
“Oh, sorry about that. Here, I’ll take it off.” And with a twist, Patricia took the small two shot pearl handled Beretta 950 .22 off of its spring loaded slide and slid it under her driver’s seat. She leaned back and this time had a more genuine smile. “I imagine that I won’t be needing that here.”
“No ma’am. You won’t. You’ll be asked to register those at the next gate.” The guard said cordially and handed back the big pile of papers.
“We would like to talk to the elders of this town if that’s possible.” Patricia handed the papers to Dave and he filed them away in a case.
The guard just looked at the other officer blankly. He had just finished his inspection and was standing with his arm on the hood. Something registered. Thoughts were as slow to come by as rainstorms in this heat. Elders? “You think she means old George Olaf?” She asked the other officer.
Then she turned towards the car. “He’s the oldest guy in town. At least he’s the only one worth talking too. No, ma’am. No such council of elders but we can direct you to Old George. He’s a hoot. He sure likes to talk to newbies in town so you’re quite in luck.”
The two officers drew up a map and gave them information on where they could stay for the night. They surprisingly made it through the whole conversation and didn’t have a single confrontation or challenge of any kind. Yup, this sure as going to be a different kind of place.
We followed their map to a hotel that, to our bewilderment, let us, as out-of-towners, check in with very few questions asked. In fact, the desk clerk seemed quite cordial, and even tipped us off as to where we could find this “Old George” fellow. The clerk said that he was most likely saddled up on a stool, sipping on a sarsaparilla at The Prickly Pear Saloon. “Just up the block a bit.”
We put our things in our rooms, hid certain necessary items in the usual places (as was habit), packed and concealed our essential firearms, and met back up in the lobby only modestly armed and feeling quite vulnerable in this new setting.
“You sure this a cool? Something feels off,” said Sarah, looking around the otherwise peaceful setting of the old hotel’s airy front lounge. She leaned back on the palm-printed sofa and glanced from side to side. The only movement was the leaf of a potted bird-of-paradise wafting in the dry warm breeze. The airy tropical feel was a stark contrast to the austere décor that they were used to. The sun was going to set soon, and the room glowed with the warm light.
Dave took a sip from his sweaty glass, rested it on his coaster, smiled and leaned back in his chair. “You know a dog can judge a person’s character right away! That’s how I feel about this town, and I feel something here. It seems “off” somehow. It’s different than what we’re used to. I figured out what it is.” Again, he sipped his tequila and soda. “I figured it out. My stress levels are down. I’m oddly not on edge. This worries me of course, but at the same time, I kinda like it.”
“I would have to agree with you.” Patricia chimed in. “I wouldn’t say I’m used to it quite yet, but it’s starting to grow on me. What do you say we head on down to the Prickly Pear before that sun sets?”
Dave said to Patricia, “You promised you had first round.” They both smiled.
The Prickly Pear was sparsely patronized, so it was easy to pick out the old fellow sitting at the bar chatting with the pretty young bartender. We cased the joint and two took positions in the back, one by the washrooms and one but the kitchen entrance.
Patricia confidently pulled up next to the old stranger at the bar. “Looks like your iced tea is awfully lonesome in that glass. Mind if I buy you a beverage in exchange for a chat?”
The old man turned in his stool at the strong but pretty woman who had saddled up next to him. “The name is George but these folks aren’t too keen on brevity, so I’ve been dubbed, ‘Old George Olaf.’ Sit down. There’s no charge for the chat, but you waking up my heart strings might cost you a root beer.”
“I heard you prefer sarsaparilla.” She smiled. He was a cordial but sturdy man and this was fun banter. If he was forty years younger, she might have fallen for him.
The feeling was mutual. “Well, it sounds like we have a deal. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you all in these parts. How shall I address you?”
“Call me Patricia.” She turned to the bartender. “Tequila soda for the scruffy guy behind me and sarsaparillas for me, George, and the rest of the lot if you’d be so kind.”
The bartender hopped off of the cooler and got right to it. “Right away, ma’am.”
“I’d hate to be a bother but I think that we’d feel a bit cozier in that corner booth.” Patricia was always good at protocol, and she wanted us all to be in on this storytelling. We made our way over to the secluded table and the lights flickered on as we sat down. As the old wagon wheel chandelier twinkled in the dimming light of the sunset, the bartender brought over drinks in frosted glasses and set them down on coasters on the wood table with a basket of tortilla chips and salsa.
When the bartender returned to her post, Patricia leaned in, “I’m glad we have a more secure location to chat. Let me introduce myself properly, sir. My name is Patricia Wingsly from Will Stand in Sector 4. I’m not sure you’re familiar with it, but we’re on a reconnaissance mission to see if the rumors about this town were true or not. As you know, it is custom and one’s duty to defend our family and territory’s honor to the death whenever a disagreement or disrespect should occur.”
She took a sip and thought for a moment. “Since we’ve been in this town, we haven’t been challenged once. We haven’t seen a single person defend their or their family’s honor nor fight to the death in holy Wadhala once. Not once.” She repeated.
“I brought extra bodies with me with the expectation of losing a few in a new town, but so far from home and with unknown customs, but it’s been godawfully pleasant.” Patricia sighed with bewilderment. “It seems unnatural. How do you explain it?”
“Sweetie,” Old George started. “I know where you’re going, and I can save you some breath before I finish this bottle of suds. Then you can buy me a few tacos to fill my belly and save my wife the trouble of shoveling grub into my face. It gets darn right wearisome after fifty odd years of marriage.”
She could see he’d done this spiel before and was confident in its delivery. “So here it goes. We’ve been like this since May 7th of the year before yonder. That’s two years ago in our way of speaking. Of course, before then we did things all proper like. Any time there was a dispute or dishonoring that called for a Wadhala, we went through with it. Of course, in these parts, we’re real thorough-like. We need witnesses, cause if anyone interferes, well then, they’ve got to be culled as well. As you know, that’s just the rule of the land. Once a Wadhala is settled, then we can move on to the next one. That’s just the natural order of things.
Well, we had ourselves a dishonor Wadhala between two boys over whether one of them looked at the other’s sister without permission. And as you’d guess, they chose a Wadhala. This was where you might say things took a twist to the surreal. Y’see, they chose to car-joust as their battle, and they did it over by Spanish Valley, and for some reason they got turned parallel and it became a road-rally race, just crashin’ and bangin’ into each other. And they continued doing this until they were clear out of sight. The two of ‘em went straight off into the canyon, and no one could figure out who killed who or who died first. It was quite a conundrum.” Old George laughed and picked up the menu.
He continued. “Yup, we didn’t know what to do. We had another Wadhala to do that day, but we couldn’t proceed without not knowin’ the end of the last one. And without knowin’ which one received the dead man’s honor and bestowin’ it upon ‘em, the outcomes of all of the future Wadhalas would either be invalid or up in the air! The whole town was stuck in time.” The old timer exclaimed throwing his hands up in the air.
Old George put down the menu and breathed in through his nose and said with a nod, “But I gotta tell ya. It’s sure been nice since then, to be honest. Now whenever there is a dishonor or need for a Wadhala, we write it down in the schedule book, and then go on with our day like nothin’s happened. We just kinda tolerate each other, knowing that one day a time will come when we gotta settle our debts. Until then, we live in peace. Now, how about some grub?” Old George called over a waitress, ordered for the table, and held court in that corner stall all night.
It had been ages since our team had a night like that. We couldn’t believe what a good mood it put us in. We wanted our own town to be like this. We sensed this by the slight residual smiles we could see on each other as we ate breakfast at the hotel the next day.
“Patricia, I think that we can do this. We can have peace in our town, too.” Dave hadn’t felt this alive in years. He could see how it was all so different.
Patricia looked down and started to think practically. “Yup. What this town has is special, all right. But I don’t think that it’s possible for us. How would we do it?”
Dave grew excited. “The old man told us the formula! All we need to do is set up a Wadhala that no one sees the end of, just like in this town. Then we have peace.” Sarah, chimed in. “He’s right. We just need to have a Wadhala where we don’t know the outcome, and that’ll stop the constant death. It’s been so pleasant to finally laugh in public again without worrying that somebody might die for looking at me. Let’s do it!”
“Yes.” Agreed Patricia. “We just need to set up a Wadhala where they both die and we don’t see the outcome. That’ll do it!”
“The beauty is its simplicity.” Laughed Dave.
To a carpenter, all of the world’s problems are nails.
Here we are back in our world. There are many problems that we face now. Could there quite possibly be simpler solutions out there?