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one for the road

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Brni sits on the ridge overlooking the town. It's been neglected, this place, like so much in this world. He knows. He's done his share.

There are still hints of life around the old town. To his left, smoke rises graceful over an old cottage; to his right, the calls and laughter of farmhands taking advantage of the unseasonable warmth. Still, in the town itself, shutters rattle loose on their hinges in the wind, doors as well. Crumpled newspaper flutters through the empty streets, swirls into sudden, angry dust devils. Brni shakes his head. There had been so much promise.

But then, promises were made to be broken, right? Just pretty lies, is all.

A rustle in the bushes, and a large, white dog bursts out, dashing madly across the clearing and disappearing back into the woods again. Brni can't help but smile at her obvious joy. Then, with a grimace, he adjusts his sling and makes his way carefully down the hill and into town.

Its been some years, and the weather's been unkind. Painted signs stand faded and peeling, doors hang askew. A few buildings show signs of settling: cracked foundations and porches a-slant. The railing around the saloon has fallen, though the posts still stand, as does the hitching post. My saloon, he thinks, then amends: The saloon I built, no longer mine. The door stands open.

The wind whips suddenly as he moves to enter, slamming the door shut in front of him. He mutters under his breath and pulls the door open. Inside, a thick layer of dust covers everything. The skeleton of an old evergreen tree stands in the corner in a sea of brown needles. Faded decorations dangle from bare branches, or lie broken amidst the needles. Instruments lay abandoned on the stage, guitar strings rusted and broken, drum heads dried and cracked. Memories.

Brni walks past it all and makes his way up the stairs to his room above the bar. He arranges a kerchief and a stick on the bed; a hobo's luggage, but there isn't much here he'll be taking with him. Slowly, he sorts through everything. Two piles. One to take with him. One to leave behind.

He stares at them a long while, these scraps of memories, of hopes, of dreams. Of broken promises. And he moves them from one pile to the other, back and forth. And when he leaves, two piles remain on the bed, the kerchief still laid out, ready, unused.

Downstairs, behind the bar, he wipes the dust from a glass, and from a bottle of vodka. He fumbles a pill-box from his pocket, pops a percocet into his mouth and washes it down with vodka, then fills the glass to the brim.

When he leaves, the wind blows the door shut behind him with a fury that splinters wood.

"Yeah," Brni says. "I heard you the first time."

He adjusts his sling and wishes briefly for the rest of the bottle, but no, he doesn't even want that. He brushes the hair out of his face and sets out on the long and long overdue journey home.
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