Stump - by Alexander Batura
Judging from the sun, I had been walking for a couple of hours along a small foot path that followed the lake’s edge which eventually widened into a muddy beach of sorts when I came upon a tree stump. There sat an incongruously well dressed man in an elegant and obviously tailor made yet some how dated looking pinstripe suit. At first the bangs of his Cleopatra haircut hid his face as he stared fixedly at the waters. I coughed politely to draw his attention and he turned towards me revealing the fine features of his swarthy face. He seemed to be a remarkably handsome man, saved from being pretty only by his slender yet athletic build and by something aloof in his expression.
“I am lord Talrayn… Though I suppose that would mean nothing to you.” He announced with a shrug and the suggestion of a frown. “My name is Petoh Talrayn, you may address me as Mr. Talrayn, or… I suppose, as Peter, if that makes you more comfortable, though it won’t matter soon enough” he added with an odd little half-smile.
His clothes, his manner of speech, his presence, all seemed surreal… I stood before him, mud caked, bedraggled, shivering as dawn light evaporated the mist in the air around me and slowly dried my clothes, yet he seemed entirely unphazed by my appearance.
“You’ll be looking for the houses, they’re up the path a ways. I’ll guide you, as I’m headed there myself.” he said as he stood up and left without waiting for me to answer.
I can’t say why but something about him had set off my journalistic intuition; there was a real story here, a big time once in a life time scoop, none of this old house stuff. There was something peculiar about that man and I was going to get the story. I thought to myself that I’d be damned if I let it slip away, weird or no, and hurried after him, mud flaking off of my clothes…
“Thanks for helping me…” I said, “My name is Jamie Carter”
“Yes… it is, isn’t it.” He didn’t seem especially interested in this bit of information.
“I think I was attacked by wolves yesterday night. Have you heard anything about wolf attacks in this area Mr. Talrayn?” I regretted having lost my bag with my notebook.
“There are no wolves in this area...” he stated and continued without segue, “I am a musician of sorts, and I left an instrument here on my last stay. I am here to retrieve it.”
“Earlier you said it soon wouldn’t matter what I called you, what exactly did you mean by that?”
“Human lives are like lines of color and sound, they intersect for varying periods of time, and the tone and hue changes with every meeting.”
I took a deep breath… I had interviewed some slippery numbers in my time but this disjointed conversation was getting on my nerves. I had been a rising star journalist before cracking wise at the wrong person and finding my career nipped in the bud. This was my ticket back to the big time, but I needed to figure out how to punch it in. I needed to get out of the lost pet beat if it killed me.
“Mr.Talrayn, you said you were a musician, what instrument do you play? Are you famous? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of you.”
At that last bit he stopped and looked at me squarely for the first time. Something flashed in his dark eyes, anger perhaps. I realized that though at first I had judged him to be in his mid-twenties there was something about his eyes that made want to revise my estimate... Revise my estimate and cringe.
Although his tone was cool and courteous, his answer felt sharp and biting:
“You have definitely heard of me before, and my music is certainly not foreign to you. I’d expect someone in your profession to remember these things. What instrument do I play you ask? My instrument is life!”
Easy, easy, I didn’t want to offend the guy. Be slick. Be cool. Flatter him. I thought to myself. “That’s very deep Mr. Talrayn, very zen. Mastering one’s life to create art.”
This seemed to amuse him and he smiled his enigmatic half-smile, something about it expressed mirth or mockery maybe… I was not usually prone to reading into people's facial expressions, but there was something about this man that was… unusually expressive. It was oddly attractive and off putting at the same time. Then it struck me, what did he mean by someone in my profession? I hadn’t told him what my profession was…
“We’re reaching Chiwsip.” He said, interrupting my line of thought, and sure enough up ahead, I could see the gabled roof of an old fashioned house amidst the trees.