Twelve Keys

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Stranger in the Dark

Rick hunkered down near the creek for the night, not far from the girl's cabin. He'd try again in the morning. Try what exactly, he wasn't sure. The watch faintly vibrated in the palm of his hand. That had to mean this place was important. Or maybe it was the girl herself. Could be both. He swatted a mosquito at the back of his neck.

Maybe the vibration meant nothing, but Rick couldn't shake the nagging sense that the watch worked like a compass, pointing to...something. The vibration had intensified as he'd neared the girl's place. It waned as he passed, and when he'd backtracked, the vibration revved up again.

The girl appeared to be alone and Rick didn't want to alarm her, but he wouldn't leave without figuring this out. What could he do, knock on the door, saying, "You don't know me, but my magical watch led me right to you."

Rick pulled his coat around himself and leaned against a rock. He shoved some jerky between his teeth and tore off a bite. At the sound of footfalls and a swishing through the grass, he froze. Maybe the girl was on her way to whack him with her piece of wooden board. That'd put an end to his dilemma.

It drew closer. Could be an animal. Rick knew what even a creature as mundane as a mountain lion could do to a man. He stood, silently drawing his sword from its leather sheath. Peering from behind a bush, he saw a figure a few stride-lengths away. It was walking a bicycle. Details were dull in the faint light, but by its build, he guessed it was a male humanoid.

The figure stopped and laid the bike down, then veered off toward the cabin in a slow, quavering slink, pausing a couple times to sort of sway on the spot before continuing. He was surely full as a tick with drink.

He might be the brother the girl spoke of, or a friend, but he looked sneaky. Of course, Rick imagined he'd look mighty suspicious to anybody spying on him. Nevertheless, he crept after the guy, hunkered down low, though the stranger was so juiced he likely wouldn't have noticed a herd of cattle dancing a jig behind him.

When the guy climbed the fence, Rick hung back and watched him skulk around, trying to peek in windows whose shutters were closed for the night. Rick adjusted his grip on his sword. If that man were supposed to be there, he'd have used the gate.



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