Vulcan In Winter

Vulcan In Winter

By the time Alex Doran reached the hills of north Georgia, the falling snow was turning the forest white, but the roads were still mostly clear and black. The path before him was full of steep hills and blind turns that looked as if the highway was trying to hide itself in the trees, and still, he drove through them as fast as he could see. He was feeling proud of himself until he saw a branch laying across the road like a gnarled hand rising out of the blacktop. A rush of panic hit him like a splash of cold water that soaked him through to his spine. He gripped the wheel and swerved, trying to aim for a part of the tree he might actually be able to clear.  His front tires hit and bucked the car upwards. It came back down with a loud bang that the young man felt in his bones. 

The car slid to a halt and he took his foot off the brakes. He waited for his heart to stop jack-hammering and eventually managed to take a long slow breath. He looked back to see that the car had cleared branch and stopped at the edge the road, just a few feet shy of a drop-off that led deep down into the forest. The kid tried to turn the steering wheel and gently stepped on the gas. The car began to move, but not back onto the road where he tried to guide it. The vehicle lurched forward, going slightly further toward the drop-off.

Even though Alex didn’t know a damn thing about cars, he put the vehicle in park, stepped out and looked underneath it to see if anything was obviously broken. At a glance, nothing was hanging down, so at least there was that. The wheels did not appear to have turned at all. He climbed back in the car and tried one more time, shifting gears and cutting the wheel sharply back toward the road and stepping on the gas. Again, he drifted further off the road, so he turned off the car. 

Hoping he wasn’t too far from town, the young man grabbed a bag from the back seat and began walking. Wind howled through the trees and cut through his thin coat like a thousand daggers.  Every gust of wintery air was a painful reminder of how underdressed he was for such an occasion. As he came to a clearing, a large wooden sign came into view and a vehicle rumbled from behind him.

Alex turned to see the biggest, blackest pickup truck he’d ever seen approaching. It decelerated to a crawl and then parked alongside of him. The passenger window rolled down to reveal a bearded man wearing a black baseball cap with the words ‘Navy veteran”  below their crest.

“Was that your car back there?  The one next to that giant branch?” the man in the cap said.

“Yeah,” the kid answered with a hint of apprehension in his voice. He looked at the man and all he saw was the hat and the long bushy beard which was black at the mustache and sideburns, but had turned mostly white at the chin and some around the jaw.

“Do you know what’s wrong with it?” the beard asked.

“No. I hit the branch pretty hard and when I turn the car back onto the road, it just keeps going further off.”

The man reached over and pushed the passenger door open. “Hop in,” he said, “and we’ll go back and take a look at it.”

Alex looked over the truck, which he could now see was a Dodge Ram made to tow cars.

“You gonna tow me to a mechanic’s shop?” the kid asked.

“Yeah. I’ll take you to mine.  Now hop in for before we both die of hypothermia,” Sam barked.

As the kid tried to make up his mind, another gust of wind howled up the hillside and made the decision for him. He quickly hopped into the truck, slid the bag off his shoulder, and laid it at his feet. “Thanks,” the kid said. “What’s your name?”

“Sam,” he replied, extending a thick paw of a hand.

“I’m Alex.” 

Sam turned the large truck around and headed back toward the stranded car. When they arrived, the bearded man wheeled across the empty road and then positioned his truck in front of the car.  

“I thought you were gonna take a look at it first?” Alex queried.

“If you broke what I think you broke, there’s not gonna be a helluva lot I can do for you on the side of the road,” Sam replied.

The bearded man shut off the truck and reached behind the seat pulling out what looked to be a shaving mirror attached by a hinge to an iron rod. 

“Where’d you buy that?” Alex said with the pain of the cold still evident in his voice.

Sam smiled as he opened his door. “I didn’t buy it. I made it.” 

The Navy vet climbed out and walked back toward the car. He stopped next to it, bent over slightly and started adjusting the mirror before holding it just under the edge of the vehicle. The kid looked on, trying not to shiver. He watched as the bearded man placed the mirror deliberately in, what appeared to be, a very precise place under the car. After adjusting its angle, the old man stared for a minute and grunted.

“Yeah. Looks like you’re fucked,” Sam grumbled.

Alex raised an eyebrow. “What the hell does that mean?”

Sam turned away from the car to look back at the young man. “Do you know what a pitman arm is?” 

“No,” Alex said, shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders.

“It’s basically a piece of metal that connects the steering wheel to the axle, which holds the actual wheels. It’s the reason you can’t turn your car back onto the road.”

“Damn!” Alex said, as if the knowledge was actually painful to receive. 

Sam stood back up. “Bad news is: you’re not driving that thing anywhere until it’s fixed. The good news is: I can fix it.”

“I don’t have much money.” Alex said, unable to stop himself from shivering.

“Do you have parents?” Sam asked.

“Yeah.”

“I don’t suppose they live close by, do they?”

“Nah, they’re in Tennessee.  That’s where I was headed.”

“How ‘bout I fix it for you and they can pay me? Sound good?”  

Alex looked around for a minute like he was searching the forest for an answer. “Sure.”

A gust of wind hit Sam, making him wince. “Why don’t you get in the car and get warm, while I hook this thing up so we can haul it back to my shop?” 

“Let’s do it,” said Alex.

Alex sat in the truck looking back at the old man as he went about the work of getting ready to tow the car. The kid had done his best to burn through the mountains as fast as he could without being stopped by the cops. He didn’t imagine that north Georgia cops would be too friendly to a kid that looked half-black, even if he was light-skinned thanks to his white father.  All they would see was the genes of his Dominican mother seeping through into his face and his hair. 

After getting the car in place, Sam got back in the truck. He turned the key and the engine roared to life. Sam smiled and said “Yeah, she’s a beast.”  

“You sure you’re gonna be able to get us to your place in this weather?” the kid asked gesturing to the snow collecting on the road.

Sam grunted with amusement and stepped on the gas. The kid felt the wheels catching the ground then propelling the Dodge forward, easily handling the weight of the car behind them.

They reached Main Street not too far away from the large sign where they met. Alex looked around, taking in what little of the sights there were to see. He expected dilapidated buildings with faded paint, but everything here was well-kept, in spite of being small. Even the storefront signs looked professionally done and new enough not to show any obvious wear.

“Nice little town you got here,” Alex remarked.

Sam just looked straight ahead. “It’ll do.” 

“Is your place here in town?”

“Nah. We got a ways to go.”

“Like...how far?” 

“Just a little ways outside of the business district, which is what you’re in now. Don’t worry. Town’s not that big. Won’t take us long to get there,” Sam said.

As Alex looked around, he realized there were not many people on the street at all.  A few folks coming and going here and there, but nothing resembling a crowd in the slightest. The kid turned back to his driver, eyeballing the baseball cap resting on his head, now damp from the snow.

“So what’d you do in the Navy?” Alex queried.

“I was Machinist’s Mate,” said Sam.

“Is that like a mechanic?”

“Basically.”

“So you work on cars up here?”

“Sometimes. I mostly work as a blacksmith. I do some mechanic work too,” Sam said starting to perk up ever so slightly.

The kid realized he had found something that could get the old man talking, so he pressed further. “So you can just make stuff? From scratch? That’s pretty cool. What kinds of things do you make?”

“All kinds of stuff,” Sam said. “I make custom parts for a lot of the bikers that come through here. I make stuff for cars, too. Sometimes. I also make knives, swords, tomahawks, axes.  Whatever I can think of. Whatever someone will buy.” And just like that it was if the old man woke up. His eyes brightened, and he was almost smiling. 

The kid looked ahead and noticed the hood ornament from behind.  From what he could tell, it was a bull’s head, with what looked to be barbed wire wrapped around the horns.  “Did you make that?” he asked, pointing to the front of the truck.

“Yeah, it’s the logo for my business” Sam said. “My wife designed it for me. She’s an artist.”

Alex smiled. “That’s really cool."

“Just wait ‘til we get to my shop,” Sam said with a grin.

* * *

A pale-haired woman, greeted the two men as they entered the house, introducing herself as Sam’s wife, Jamie. Sam began to explain about Alex’s car and Jamie shrugged, cutting him off.  “Okay, whatever. You’re gonna fix it right?” she said to Sam. Looking back to Alex, she said “Did you understand any of that? Cause I didn’t.”

“I don’t really know much about cars,” said Alex.

Jamie smiled at him. “Neither do I. Where are you staying?” 

“I don’t know yet. I don’t really have much cash on me,” Alex said. 

Jamie looked puzzled. “You don’t have a credit card?” 

“No, my Dad didn’t want me to get in the habit of using one, at least ‘til I’m done with college,” he answered.

“Smart man,” Sam said with an approving nod.

Jamie motioned to the couch in the living room. “Sam seems to think it’s pretty comfortable. He sleeps on it enough.”

Sam smirked and shook his head while Alex almost laughed. “Only if Sam says it’s okay.”   

“He looks harmless enough,” Sam grumbled. 

“Honey, if I tell him it’s okay, it’ll be okay,” Jamie said with a wink. “Would you like something to drink to warm you up? Coffee? Tea? Hot Chocolate?” 

“Tea would be great,” the kid answered.  

“I’ll get right on that. Sam, I already got a pot of coffee waiting for you,” she said making her way into the kitchen.

Sam followed her, leaving the kid standing awkwardly in the living room. Alex looked around to see where he’d be staying for the next couple of days. The room was decorated well enough: hardwood floors and nice furniture, a large flat-screen television hung over the fireplace. On either side of it were shelves, filled with DVDs, mostly science fiction and modern action movies, with some old World War II flicks and westerns in the mix as well. There were also books, many of them hardcover, the decorative kind that were meant to be on display. Hung nearby, were a set of samurai swords and old rifles that appeared to be very well taken care off.  The frame holding the implements was heavy wood, with what appeared to be Oriental designs carved into them. This was not the kind of generic set up that Alex had seen in his local strip mall. To his eyes, it looked custom made. 

“See something you like?” Sam asked, coming to stand beside the young man.

“I’m not really into guns, but those are pretty cool. Can they actually shoot?” 

“Yes, they can,” Sam said with an obvious note of pride in his voice. “If you want, we can shoot some in the backyard later.  There’s nobody around for a few miles, so we never get in trouble.”

Trying not to sound ungrateful, Alex answered “Uh...no thanks.” 

An awkward silence hung in the air for a few seconds.  Sam gave Alex a look he couldn’t decipher and turned towards the front door. “When you get your tea, come meet me in the garage.”  

* * *

After helping Sam carefully maneuver his car onto the lift, Alex stood back and admired Sam’s workspace. One side of the large structure was laid out like a mechanic’s shop and the other was what the kid could only assume was for blacksmithing, judging by the anvil and what appeared to be a forge nearby. Tools hung neatly on hooks or were laid out on tables. Shelves for storage lined the walls. An American flag hung near the mechanic’s side and the state flag of Texas hung near the blacksmith’s side.  Between the two areas was a space that appeared to be made for display. A motorcycle, that the kid could only guess was custom made, was parked in the middle of the floor. Along the back wall was an array of weapons that almost dropped his jaw to the ground. Near the weapons was a small area on the wall filled with framed photographs of a young man bearing a slight resemblance to the blacksmith. 

Alex pointed at one of the photographs with a smile. “Is that you?”    

“It was,” Sam said with half a grin.

A young man smiled out from the photographs back at Alex from many places all over the world. Judging by the signs on the streets and other people standing around who did not appear to be Americans, Alex guessed that most of the pictures had been taken in Asia. One photo in particular showed Sam standing next to a forge with a man he assumed to be Japanese working on what looked like a samurai sword.  He figured that most of the swords were based on different cultures throughout Asia, except for the ones that were obviously European.

Alex studied the photographs in detail. “Sure looks like you got around while learning about all this stuff.”

“What about you?” Sam asked pointedly.  “You ever get to travel much?”

“I’ve been to a couple of places in Europe,” Alex replied. “London, Paris, Barcelona.”

Sam nodded his head quietly.  

The kid's front pocket suddenly buzzed.  Alex reached in and pulled his phone out to take a look.  His brow furrowed as he read the screen and he quickly shoved the phone back into his pocket when he was done.

“Something wrong?” Sam said with an inquisitive look on his face.

“It’s nothing,” Alex replied.

“Okay,” Sam answered.  

Alex tried to ignore what he had read. “So, are we gonna fix my car?” 

An uneasy silence hung in the air for a few seconds, until Sam resigned his silent inquisition. “Let’s do it,” he said walking over to the shelves on the side to grab some tools. 

After a short time under the car, Sam removed the piece and showed it to the kid. The blacksmith held up what was supposed to be a single, curved piece of metal with two holes on either side, one of which was bigger than the other.  What should have been one piece had been cracked into two. 

“Are you just gonna weld it back together?” Alex asked hopefully.

“No. Judging by this break, you got a bad piece of metal here.  You’d be better off if I made you a new one. It’ll take some time, but I can do it.”  Sam assured the young man. “You might ought to call your parents and tell ‘em you’re gonna be stuck here for a couple days.” 

“I’ll do it later,” Alex replied with a tinge of worry in his voice.  The young man looked around and shivered ever so slightly.

“Cold?” Sam inquired. 

Alex thought he saw Sam give him another suspicious look. “Just a bit,” Alex said.

“Hold on for a minute.  It’s about to get real warm.” Sam walked past him back to the other side of the shop, turned on a fan, then put a round wad of newspaper in the center of what appeared to be coal -- “coke” as Sam called it. Small pieces of wood were piled on top of the paper as it was lit on fire. Eventually, the paper and the wood was covered by the coke. Sure enough, after what seemed like a brief time, the fire came to life and a beautiful orange glow radiated from the pile of dark material along with a welcome heat that drew Alex in.

As the young man warmed himself, the blacksmith wandered over to a different corner of the shop and began to search. After a minute, he came back with a square piece of metal that could be held with one hand.

Once again, the young man’s phone rang.  He pulled it out of his pocket, read the message, and put his phone away without responding.  If Sam noticed, he said nothing. He simply grabbed a pair of tongs, clamped them on the piece of metal and gave it to the fire.

As Sam worked, Alex wandered back over towards a wall where shelves and cabinets flanked a desk.  Hung above the desk, was a framed article from the town’s newspaper, the Garfield’s Crossing Lantern. A headline read: Lord Vulcan of The Crossing. The article had been written by someone named Seth Rankin. Reading the first few paragraphs, Alex learned that the title of the article came from Greek and Roman mythology.  Vulcan, as he was called by the Romans, also known as Hephaestus in Greece, was the god of fire and the forge. This writer, whoever he was, clearly thought a lot of the blacksmith.

A color photo showed Sam Blaylock, standing over a piece of metal glowing bright against the anvil with a hammer hoisted up in mid swing.  He had clearly been much younger, judging by his beard which featured very little gray.

The blessed heat now radiated throughout the shop. Sam used a pair of tongs to retrieve the metal, now bright from the fire, and lay it down on the anvil.  Alex watched as the blacksmith lifted his hammer, and with a powerful swing of his tattooed arm, began to make it sing.

* * *

After working the metal for a while, Sam stopped and looked over at the kid who was staring intently at his phone and beginning to scowl.  He strolled over toward the young man, who finished typing something and quickly put his phone away. 

“Let’s step outside,” Sam said, gesturing toward the door.

The two men exited the large black building stepping out into a world covered under a white blanket of snow.  Jamie stepped outside of the house and saw them coming around the corner, looking westward toward the mountains.  

“Just in time,” she said.  

“In time for what?” the young man asked.  

He looked back to Sam, who pointed up at the sun which was sinking behind the mountains.  The sky burned pink with ribbons of bright orange, like the metal that the blacksmith had been hammering.  His eyes shifted to the east, where the sky darkened to violet at the edge of the horizon. He gazed out across the snow-covered field that made up the rest of Sam’s property and his breath caught in his chest. 

Jamie came up and pulled Sam’s arms around her. Alex glanced back at them before returning his attention to the field.  

“I always used to wonder why people lived up here in the mountains, so away from the city,” Alex said.

Sam looked back him and almost smiled. “Starting to get it now?”

They stood a bit longer as the sun melted into the hills, leaving the world colder and bluer than before. 

Jamie untangled herself from Sam’s arms and motioned to he and Alex. “What do you say we all go inside and have some dinner?”

* * *

Night came and after a hardy meal of steak and vegetables, Sam and Alex retired into the living room where Sam sat on the couch and Alex, a nearby chair. 

Jamie settled down on the couch next to Sam. “So what brings you to Garfield’s Crossing? Other than your car breaking down?” she asked.

“I was on the way home from college in Atlanta.  My parents live in Tennessee. I was trying to take a short cut,” Alex replied.

Jamie continued, “What are you studying?” 

“Computer science,” the young man answered.

Jamie looked puzzled. “I couldn’t help but wonder why you’re going home now?  Didn’t the new semester just start not that long ago?” 

“Either one of you ever hear of Simon Rivers?” Alex said, looking to them for any sign of recognition.

Sam perked up slightly. “He’s that professor that’s been in the news lately. A history professor. Puts videos about western civilization on the internet.”

“So you’ve seen them?” Alex said looking firmly at Sam.

“Not all of them. The few I saw didn’t sound that bad. Looked like he was just making a case for Western civilization. I’m guessing it’s probably not what you’re getting in your average college history class these days,” Sam said breaking into a smile as if he were about to laugh at the young man.

Alex leveled his eyes at the blacksmith and almost smirked. “You know he’s a racist, right?”

“Why do you say that?” Jamie asked.

The look on his face shifted from irritation to worry. “I probably shouldn’t say.”

“If you’re gonna call the man racist, you must surely have your reasons, I assume,” Jamie said, obviously fishing for an answer.

Alex looked away and said nothing for a moment, then turned back and answered, “I’ve seen his emails.”

“You hacked him didn’t you?” Sam said.

Alex looked around not wanting to make eye contact. “Me and some friends, actually.”

Sam suddenly looked uneasy “Did the university find out?” 

“Unfortunately,” Alex answered, “but they don't know what we found.”

Jamie stared back with concern. “Which was?” 

Alex began to fidget slightly. “He’s been talking to various white supremacist groups, talking how to advance their agenda without getting caught.” 

“Have you told the school?” Jamie asked.

Sam chimed in. “Let me guess.  You haven’t. All those texts you’ve been not answering are from your friends.  Probably asking what you all should do. But you’re not answering because you’re scared to pull the trigger on this thing.  Because if you show them what you have, it’s proof that you did the hacking. And if you don’t, you’re letting a Nazi go unchecked.”

“Basically,” Alex said.

“And you were going home to ask mommy and daddy what to do, because it’s one thing to yell at somebody online, but it’s another when it gets real.”  Sam paused and an awkward silence hung in the air. After a moment he continued, “you’re afraid they might kick you out of school, and I’m guessing it’s really important to your folks that you finish college.”

“Yeah. How am I gonna go out in the world and get a decent job without a degree?” the young man asked.

Sam gave Alex a suspicious look, “I never went to college, and I’m doing okay.”

“Yeah, but I’m not you,” the young man answered.

Sam furrowed his brow and leaned forward. “What’s that mean?”

“Well alright! I think we’ve talked enough politics for tonight,” Jamie interrupted. “I think we should turn in.  Seeing has how you’ve got work to do in the morning,” she said looking squarely at the blacksmith. 

Jamie stood up and looked back to Alex with a smile, “Goodnight. See ya in the mornin’.”  

“Good night,” the young man answered.  

Sam looked to his wife. “Be there in a minute.” 

As Jamie made her way down the hall, Sam got up and began to leave “See you in the mornin’, kid.”

“Alright,” Alex said moving over to the couch.

“One last thing,” Sam said stopping at the room’s edge. “Those guns aren’t loaded, so on the off chance anyone tries to break in, the swords are gonna be your best option. The armory is in the bedroom. You’re welcome to see it if you’d like.”

Alex looked as if he were fighting off a smart remark. “That’s okay.”

“Or you could just scream and be ready to hit the deck, cause me and Jamie will probably be coming out of the bedroom with guns blazing," Sam said, letting the words register before turning and walking away.

“Good to know.” said Alex, watching him leave.  He later found a pair sweats and changed into them, then laid out on the couch in the dark, fearing he had already begun to wear out his welcome.  His cell phone buzzed. Once again he looked at the screen, then set it face down without a reply. 

* * *

The blacksmith and the student rose early the next morning.  In spite of a very comfortable couch on which to rest his head, Alex did not sleep well. He woke more than a few times and stared around at the darkened room, which was lit only by a few scant night lights that shimmered off the guns and swords on display.

Sam came into the living room and growled something that sounded like “good morning,” but the young man could not be certain. The blacksmith moved slowly and purposefully toward the kitchen, straight to a cupboard, and came out with a bag of coffee that was black with a white skull on it.  

Jamie arrived a few minutes later looking as if she were sleepwalking. “Mornin’,” she said in a voice that had been robbed of its velvety Southern tones by the early hour.  She cinched her heavy green robe tight over a t-shirt. She joined Sam who wore a black robe that made him look more some old wizard. 

“Come on over, hon’,” Jamie said, motioning for Alex to join her at the table. “I got a kettle on, if you want some tea.  Sam’s got coffee brewin’, but that stuff will make your heart palpitate.”

“I kinda guessed that by the skull on the bag,” Alex said as he sat down.

“I hope you like eggs and potatoes kid, ‘cause that’s what we’re having,” Sam said as he started laying food and utensils out on the counter.

“Sure,” Alex answered.  He leaned over to Jamie and whispered, “Does he cook all the time?”

Jamie just smiled.

* * *

After a hearty breakfast, Sam and Alex trudged out across the snow on the way to the shop. More had fallen in the night leaving several inches on the ground. 

The young man looked on as the blacksmith took him through the process of making a new part for the car, explaining each step in great detail.  Slowly but surely, Alex began to understand how the chunk of metal that Sam had originally chosen came to resemble the piece of the car that was removed the previous day.

After a working for a few hours, Alex saw a light come on near what looked to be a speaker.  Sam walked over and hit a button close to the light and a voice came through. 

“Hey Sam, it’s Abernathy,” the voice said.

Sam hit a different button and turned to the kid. “Come with me, kid. We’ve got company.” 

“What’s going on?” Alex asked.

They stepped outside to see a cop car coming up the long driveway.  The car pulled to a stop and a tall black man stepped out of the driver’s seat.  He stood with perfect posture, and walked over.

“Afternoon, Sam,” he said, speaking in a deep, commanding voice.

The policeman gestured to Alex. “Who’s your friend?” 

“This is Alex Doran, a student from Atlanta,” Sam replied. “Alex, this is the Sheriff of Garfield’s Crossing, Abernathy Jackson.”

The sheriff reached out to shake the young man’s hand and smiled. “What brings you to our quaint little town?”

“Broke something on my car on the way to Tennessee. Sam found me and brought me out and let me crash here.”

“Is that right?” Abe said. “You’re in good hands kid. If Sam can’t fix what’s broken on your car, you may as well just buy a new one.”

Sam changed the subject. “Making the rounds?” 

“Something like that. Heard there was a particularly rowdy group of folks holed up at the Devil’s Grin. Some of the shop owners complained when they were wandering around just before the snow fell. Thought I’d give you a heads up.”

“Thanks,” Sam said.

Alex noticed a knife in a black leather sheath hanging from the sheriff’s belt. The handle of knife looked to have been made from a railroad spike with something carved into fat side which made the butt of it. 

The sheriff caught the young man staring.  “Want a closer look?”

“Sure. Where’d you get that?” 

Abernathy gestured toward Sam, as he removed the knife from its sheath, handing it to the kid, handle first. Alex recognized the symbol of the U.S. Marines carved into the handle.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Abe said, more as a statement than a question.

“Did you guys serve together?”

“Nah, this old squid was just a bit before my time,” Abernathy said with a grin, taking his knife back.

“I did know this jarhead’s platoon commander.” Sam said, “how is that mean old bastard?” 

Abernathy’s grin widened. “Sam claims to have gotten into a friendly bar room scuffle with my old CO.  He says that he won, but the claim is disputed.”

“I must have knocked him sillier than I thought,” Sam said trying to restrain a laugh. “That crayon-eater couldn’t have whipped me on his best day.”

“Crayon-eater?” Alex asked.

“Yeah, that’s what sailors like to call marines,” Abe said with amusement. “They’re just mad ‘cause we never let them take us out on dates. Hey kid, you know what happens when one hundred sailors down in a submarine?”

“No,” Alex said.

“Fifty couples come back up,” Abernathy answered.

Both Abernathy and Sam laughed. Alex did not.

“You gotta be careful, Abe. All this non-PC talk might hurt his ears,” Sam warned.

“If he’s hung out with you this long, I got a feeling he can manage,” Abe said.  “Well, I gotta run, Sam. Stay safe.” The sheriff turned back to the young man and said “Nice to meet you, Alex. Have a safe trip to wherever you were headed, and don’t take any shit off this guy.”

The sheriff got back in his car, pulled out of the driveway and slowly rode out of sight.

Back in the shop, Sam went to grab the pitman arm that was slowly taking shape from the chunk of metal that it had been the previous day. Yet another buzz came from Alex’s phone.  He read the screen.

Sam smirked. “Your friends getting squirrelly? Trying to figure out what y’all should do?”

“Pretty much,” Alex said lowering the phone.

Sam chuckled “I would think you guys would be relishing this opportunity. I figured you would be all about ‘punching Nazis’ and here all you got to do is tell on one of ‘em. You’re not even in danger of getting punched back.”

Alex set his phone down angrily on a table nearby. “I don’t know why you think this is so funny.  You were in the Navy. Wasn’t the U.S. all about fighting Nazis back in World War II?” 

“Yeah, but nowadays, you got people wanting to excuse to slug people because they didn’t like who they voted for.  Doesn’t matter whether they’re actually racist or not.” 

“And I’m sure you’re the best judge of who is and isn’t racist.”

Sam set down his hammer and shook his head.  “Just because I’m an old white guy? Cause I’m privileged?” 

“You said it…” Alex said with a cocky grin.

Sam walked toward Alex. “Boy, I went to a school where I was the minority.”

“So did I,” Alex retorted.

The blacksmith drew closer. “Yeah, but I bet I was in more fights by the time I was out of high school than you’ve been in your entire life.”

“How do I know that wasn’t just because you were an asshole?” the young man said with dismissive shrug as he stepped toward the older man.

“I bet you didn’t have to fight at your school.  I bet you had plenty of nice clothes like the ones you’re wearing now.  I bet you’re not paying for your own school, and I know you didn’t pay for that car.”

“Fuck you, you don’t know anything about me, old man!”

“I know you’re scared.” Sam paused and let that sink in, “ Cause you and your hacker buddies want to fight people online but as soon as the fight gets real, what did you do?  You abandoned your friends and tried to run home to mommy and daddy.”

“What about you? Talking like you know so much about the world.  From what I can tell, you ain’t seen the world in a while. You been hiding in the fucking mountains in this little white bread town.  Telling yourself how cool you are ‘cause you’re friends with the black sheriff, meanwhile, I bet you’re scared to go down to Atlanta.”

“Listen, son...” Sam said.

Alex angrily backed up. “No, I ain’t listening to you.  And I ain’t your son neither.” 

“Whatever.” Sam turned and started walking away.

“Speaking of sons, how come you and Jamie don’t have any kids?”

“Drop it, kid.” Sam’s tone changed. 

Alex paused a second, then continued. “Y’all didn’t have any pics of any kids anywhere in the house, which tells me you don’t have any.  Why is that?”

“None of your damn business,” Sam said turning around to face the young man.

Alex laughed. “What’s wrong old-timer?  Shooting blanks?” 

“You’re gonna want to shut the fuck up!” Sam said, coming closer.

Alex leveled his eyes at the blacksmith and leaned in. “Or maybe that nice lady just doesn’t want any of your kids.”

Sam’s hand closed on Alex’s throat like a serpent made of steel, pushing him backwards and forcing him to drop to his knees. The young man tried to pull the blacksmith’s hand of his neck, but his grip was too strong.   

“Get the fuck out of here,” Sam growled through his teeth, shoving the young man backwards.

Alex said nothing but rubbed his throat, got to his feet, then stormed out of the shop, leaving the blacksmith alone.

A loud noise came from back inside the shed, but the young man kept moving.  Alex could hear the metal singing from inside the shop as he made his way down the long driveway. Reaching the end of it, he hopped the fence, and walked down the road toward the woods until the sight of Sam’s home was far behind him.

* * *

Sam grabbed a nearby chair and hurled it across the floor.  With a curse, he remembered he had left the iron in the fire and quickly pulled it out.  He set it on the anvil and began hammering furiously. 

After banging the metal back into shape, Sam went back into the house to find Jamie working on her laptop at the kitchen table.  

“Where’s the kid?” he asked with a tinge of anger still in his voice.

“I thought he was with you,” Jamie said.

“I thought he came in here,” Sam replied.

“Why would he do that?”

“Because we got in an argument.”

“Oh Lord! You just had to go try and put that liberal college boy in his place, didn’t you?  And I’m guessing that didn’t go well did it?” Jamie scolded.

“Not exactly. It got personal,” Sam answered, with the anger in his voice slowly giving way to shame.

“And why did you let it get personal?  One minute you act like it hurts you to talk and the next, you have to go preachin’ at someone about your beliefs, like you can’t believe anybody might see the world any way different than you.  For someone so smart, who’s travelled around the world, you can be really stupid sometimes.”

Jamie paused to see if any of her words were sinking in.  Sam was clearly bothered by the exchange and his rage was quickly being overtaken by worry.  

“What did you say to him?” she asked.

“I told him to get out of here,” Sam grumbled.

“Jesus Christ on the cross!” Jamie said in dismay.

The two went outside to see footprints in the snow leading toward the front gate.  They looked to see in which direction the prints led. To the left was the road leading back to the hotels near the river.  To the right was the path to the Devil’s Grin. 

The footprints went to the right.

* * *

After walking for quite some time down the deserted road, Alex Doran came to a large building with several cabins nearby.  A sign had a female devil lustfully clinging to words in large print reading: The Devil’s Grin.

It didn’t look like the kind of place he would frequent, but the cold had worked its way down to his bones after the long hike and his anger could only keep him warm for so long.  He trudged through the snow-covered parking lot and into the building. 

The front door creaked open and the noise of drunken revelry overpowered the squeal of the old hinges.  At a table toward the back of the room, not too far from the bar, four white guys wearing leather and camouflage jackets sat in front of a collection of empty beer bottles and shot glasses.  

Behind the bar was an old man with long hair tied back in a ponytail, talking to a blond waitress nearby.  He wore a black leather vest with a wolf’s head stitched over the breast pocket. 

“Where in the bloody hell did you come from, kid?” the old man spoke in a Scottish accent.

“Aww, he looks chilled to bone,” the waitress said.  “Why don’t you have a seat and we can get you something to warm you up. What’s your name, sweetie?”

“I’m Alex, and thank you. Got any whiskey?”

The Scotsman laughed.  “I’m guessing you’re not old enough to drink by the look of ya.  Bollocks, you don’t even look old enough to shave. Jenny,” he shouted “let’s get this young man some coffee.  Seeing as that’s probably the only thing we have that he can drink.”

“Sure thing,” Jenny said, heading into what Alex assumed was the kitchen.

The young man sat uncomfortably at the bar trying not to look back at the rowdy men sitting a short distance away.  He looked dutifully ahead, focusing on the man behind the bar instead. 

“Are you from Scotland?” he asked the man in the leather vest.

Eric turned back to Alex and leaned in.  “No, I was born and raised in Napa Valley.”

“Okay,” the young man said, trying not to look as horribly uncomfortable as he was. “What’s your name, sir?”

“It’s definitely not sir,” the Scot laughed. “Eric Bacon. Most folks around here call me The Wolf,” he said with a menacing smile. “Since you're not frozen solid, I’m guessing you didn’t walk all the way here from Atlanta, so what safe and warm little den did you walk from into my little slice of the world?”

Alex suddenly became aware of a silence followed by a voice from behind him.  “Hey Eric, who’s your little friend?” the voice.

“No one you need to be concerned with,” Eric answered sharply.

Another voice chimed in, “Aww come on Wolf, we’re just trying to be neighborly.”

The table laughed. Alex heard the sound of chairs being moved, then picked up and set down.  He looked back to Eric who gave him a look he couldn’t decipher. The long-haired man with the wolf on his vest stood up straight and stepped back. 

Alex turned around to see the four men from the table walking up to surround him.  Of the two who wore camouflage, one was bald and the other had a curtain cut. The other pair were both clad in black leather.  One had an unnaturally red beard and his partner sported long blonde hair which was tied back in a ponytail and shaved on the side to reveal tattoos that were written in some foreign language Alex did not recognize.

“What’s going on, kid?” the bald one in camouflage said sliding up to the bar next to him. Alex figured him to be the ringleader.

Alex looked back again to Eric who seemed to be taking the whole scene in with a sort of detached amusement.  Figuring the Scot would be of no help, Alex answered. “Not too much.”

“So you stranded out here too?” the ringleader asked.

“Something like that,” Alex answered tersely. 

“Where you from kid?” the ringleader said continuing his interrogation.

“Atlanta,” Alex answered.

“Aah,” the ringleader said looking back to his friends, who laughed.

“You don’t look like you’d be from around here,” the one with the red beard said.

“Is that right?” Alex said.

“Don’t they call Atlanta the Chocolate Mecca?” Red Beard continued.  

“I think I’ve heard that term before,” the ringleader answered.

“I suspect this kid has some vanilla mixed in with his chocolate, by the look of him,” Blondie said.

“His folks were ‘down with the swirl’ as they say,” the one with the curtain cut quipped.  The group laughed.

Eric suddenly chimed in.  “You know...I figure there’s only one place you could have walked from, in this weather, in those clothes, and not be frozen to death, kid.” 

Alex looked back at him, reasoning Eric had been doing the math in his head the whole time.  He looked down to Eric’s belt and saw a knife resting in a sheath. Its handle was made of a railroad spike with a wolf’s head carved into it. Eric caught the kid looking at the knife. 

“You’ve seen one of these before have you now?” Eric said tapping the knife. 

Alex just smiled.

Eric smiled back.

It was just then that the front door squealed open, catching the attention of everyone. Sam Blaylock stood at the doorway in a long black jacket wearing his black bandana.  The blacksmith clomped over to the bar where Alex sat and looked over the group.

“Long time no see, Sam,” Eric said.  “Why don’t you pull up a chair and have a beer?”

“I’m just passing through,” Sam growled. He turned to Alex. “Decided to make some new friends, huh kid?” 

“I wouldn’t go that far,” the young man replied.

“Who the hell are you, old man?” Red Beard blurted, walking up to the blacksmith.

“Somebody you don’t want to fuck with, Red.”  Sam said looking over the man who stood half a head taller than him. “And just the what the fuck are you?”

The ringleader and the others moved up to stand behind Red Beard.  Sam didn’t budge an inch. Alex slowly climbed off his chair to stand next to the blacksmith.  

“We’re Odin’s Bastards,” the ringleader said.  

Sam let out a loud cackle, which didn’t make the group happy at all.  

“The fuck are you laughing at, old man? We stand up for Western Civilization and we honor our heritage,” Blondie said.

Sam looked at Blondie's tattoos and shook his head. “Do you even know what those markings say, Blondie, or did you just pick them out cause you thought they looked cool?” 

“Of course, I know what they mean,” Blondie said. 

Sam looked to Alex.  “He doesn’t know what they mean,” said the blacksmith, looking like he was fighting off more laughter.  Alex smiled in return.

“Who the fuck are you, this kid’s vanilla daddy?” the ringleader accused.

“What if I am?” Sam fired back.  “Would that bother you?”

“You shouldn’t be mixing with other races. That’s the fucking problem with this country. Bunch of white people with a cultural death wish who want to breed themselves out of existence with all the immigrants.”

“God, I hate people like you,” Sam said. “You take all the cool Viking shit I like and try to make it into something evil.  And then little hipster assholes like you,” the blacksmith said pointing to the guy with the curtain cut, “go and take other cool shit and twist it to where I can’t get a decent cut without some college kid like him,” pointing back to Alex “trying to punch me, thinking I’m a wannabe Nazi like you.”

“Yeah, commies love calling us Nazis,” the man with the curtain cut said.

“You call me a commie again, I’m gonna slap you upside the head with my hammer,” Sam countered.

“Piss off, old man!” Red Beard said grabbing Sam’s left arm.

“Don’t put your hands on me,” Sam growled.

“Or what?” Red Beard said menacingly.

Sam quickly circled his left arm around Red Beard's arm, wrenching it forward and causing the him to howl and stumble off balance.  The bald ringleader reached forward. Sam unclenched his right fist at his side, letting what appeared to be a long hammer fall from the sleeve of his jacket.  Using Red Beard's backwards momentum, he swung himself around to thrust the hammer into the ringleader’s sternum dropping him to the floor. He quickly released Red Beard and turned to the other two who started to advance.

Curtain Cut reached for Alex who promptly launched a punch into his jaw. He stumbled slightly and pressed forward only to catch a soccer kick in the nuts. Blondie quickly reached into his coat and Sam swung his hammer in the direction of his hand. It landed with a hard thud.  A pistol fell from the blonde's hand, clattered onto the ground and slid across the floor towards the bar.

Blondie charged at Sam, who lifted a big black boot off the floor and put it in the man’s chest knocking him back a few feet.  Red Beard got to his feet and charged Sam, grabbing him from behind. The blacksmith brought his hammer down into the man’s knee loosening his grip but not enough for Sam to break entirely free. Back against a nearby wall, Blondie pulled out a knife and turned back to Sam.

A gunshot rang out and a hole burst into the wall a few inches away from Blondie's head. Sam and the other men turned to see Alex Doran holding the pistol aimed at the man with the knife.  

“Put it down, and back away,” the young man warned.

The bald ringleader still crawled on the floor, fighting for breath, not to far away from Alex.  Red Beard limped back and fell into a chair nearby. Blondie dropped his knife and held up his hands. Curtain Cut laid on his side holding his nuts.  Sam slowly walked back over to the bar, careful to stay out of the line of fire.

Alex shook slightly as he held his finger on the trigger.  Sam reached out and placed his hand gently on the gun. 

“Why don’t you let me have that, kid?”  the blacksmith said. Alex turned over the gun to Sam. 

About that time, two men emerged from the back with Jenny.  Like Eric, they wore black vests with a wolf’s head sewn over the breast pocket.

“Jesus Christ, boys. What the hell were you doing back there?” Eric said to the two men who quickly came out onto the floor.

Eric turned to Sam, “I’ll take the firearm if you don’t mind. This being my establishment and all.”   

Sam said nothing and laid the gun down on the bar near Eric.  He then turned to Alex and spoke. “Come on, kid. We’re done here.”

“Don’t worry about these boys,” Eric said.  “We’ll keep them occupied. See you around, Sam.”

The blacksmith gave the Scot a respectful nod, then placed his hand on Alex’s shoulder and the two walked out of the bar. As they walked back to the car, Sam watched Alex who still appeared to be a bit shaken. 

“First bar fight?” Sam asked.

“Yeah,” Alex answered.

“Not too bad,” Sam smiled. 

“Thanks. What was that you had up your sleeve?” Alex asked.

Sam held up the weapon.  It was looked like a hammer but with a larger head and the back end brought to a point almost like a pickaxe. “This is my warhammer,” he said.

“That’s pretty cool,” Alex said starting to calm down.

“That was a pretty good shot back there at blondie.  Right next to him in the wall like that,” Sam said with admiration.

“I was aiming for his head.” 

“That’ll be our little secret." 

The two men hopped in Sam’s truck and drove off.

* * *

After icing his hand which was sore from the fight, Alex met Sam back out in the garage, and shadowed him for the remainder of the car’s repair. The blacksmith allowed the young man to do as much has he could under his supervision.  He even walked him through putting the pitman arm back on the car, letting the young man turn the wrench himself.

In addition, Sam had forced the young man to shoot one of his pistols at a two-liter bottle of coke filled with water that had been placed on two stumps.  Sam said “If you ever intend on picking up a firearm again, you need to know how to use it responsibly.” 

Alex was instructed to fire rounds at the target until he could not miss.  After being shown the proper way to hold and load the firearm, he did so dutifully.  

After his shooting lesson, the young man found the blacksmith far more inclined to conversation. Alex learned that Sam and Jamie weren’t legally married but they had been together so long that each considered themselves married and wore rings to get people off their backs.  They had tried to have kids, but it just never happened. Of all the pictures in Sam’s shop, one in particular had caught his eye. It was Sam standing with a small group of scrawny kids holding rattan sticks. The words “Death River Kali Group” were scrawled in the corner of the photo in black magic marker.  One of the boys, as he was told, was named Seth Rankin. His best student, who had become a writer and had published the story about his teacher in the local paper. Most of them had moved away. Seth was the only one who ever returned regularly to visit.

When it came time to leave, Jamie gave the young man a hug and told him goodbye.  “If you’re ever passing through,” she said “Feel free to stop by anytime.” 

“Will do,” he said.  Alex turned to Sam and started to approach him.

“You all decided about what you’re gonna do about that professor?” Jamie asked.

“I’m just gonna tell the truth, and let the chips fall where they may,” Alex answered, turning to Sam. “Can’t let Nazis win, can we?”

The blacksmith smiled. “Never.”

Sam reached out his muscular arm and offered the young man a hand shake. Alex reached out and returned the gesture in kind.

Jamie gave Alex one more hug, then walked back into the house.  As she walked away, Alex climbed into the car and turned the wheels back and forth.  Looking out the window to verify the wheels had indeed turned, he looked back to Sam.   

“Looks like I’m good to go,” Alex said.

“Yeah, I think you’re ready to handle some twists and turns,” Sam said. “You know the way?”

“I think so,’ Alex answered. 

“You ever want to learn some more tricks of the trade, I can always use an apprentice,” Sam said.

“I’ll keep that in mind, though I think I should get some other training first,” Alex replied.

“Not a bad idea,” Sam grumbled.  “Sign up for the right kind, you might even get to see the world in the process.”

“I gotta get on the road,” Alex said.

“See ya around, kid.” The blacksmith thumbed a remote and the front gate at the end of the driveway opened.

Alex started up the car, gave the old man a nod, and drove off.  Looking in the rearview mirror, the young man saw the blacksmith turn and walk back into his shop.

A short distance down the road, he heard something rattling in the side panel of his door.  He hadn’t remembered putting anything in it. Finding a safe place on the side of the road, he pulled off, reached down, and found the object that was making the noise.  

As he lifted it up into clear view, he recognized the “warhammer” that Sam had brought to the bar.  On the bottom of the hilt, the letters “A.D.” had been carved into the handle. As his heart swelled, he placed the hammer back into the side panel.  Turning the wheel, he pulled back onto the road, and continued his journey.


 

THE END

© Novis Opera LLC 2018

Dead End / Part Two

Dead End / Part Two

The Gods Are Always At The Gates / Chapter Three

The Gods Are Always At The Gates / Chapter Three

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