Previously on Fractured Dawn . . .
A man wakes on a beach with no memory and discovers a strange purple stone embedded in his chest. Through a series of altercations he finds himself in the town of Bridgewood, a tree farming community far from the larger cities of the state. Gaining a job in the town’s inn, he is given the name ‘Cook’.
When a strange beast murders a child, hunting parties head out into the surrounding woodland to track it down. But the creature is underestimated and lives are lost. Cook is forced to reveal his secret and fight the creature in front of a man who wants him gone; Sheriff Lenton.
Now, the town mourns.
“And we pray to Obitus, pray that he may carry the souls of the passed, and watch over them as they now reside in his kingdom. Our loved ones were taken too early but we must be grateful that their worries and fears have ended now. Obitus protect them.”
The elderly man, Link Frouster, closed up his well-used book and bowed his head. The rest of the townsfolk lining the graves of the fallen hunting party did the same. All except Cook. He stood away from the group, beside a tree on the edge of the cemetery, watching the proceedings.
He looked at the community gathered around the graves, watched as they stood with their pain unspoken. He had no knowledge before this place and he hadn’t had much of a chance to really get to know the town he had stumbled into, but it was clear from the anguish that they now bathed in, that this kind of thing didn’t happen very often, if at all. They were struggling with the loss, not just because the people now gone meant had truly meant something, but because they just didn’t know how to mourn on this scale. The elderly passed on, maybe there were a few accidents by the men felling trees, but a vicious killing of so many in a single night had rocked the town to its very core.
And Cook knew that with the beast slain, he would be next on their list to blame.
Despite the Sheriff’s words when the second hunting party had found them, the Sheriff had backed off from Cook. Perhaps a slow respect had built as does when one man saves another. But the way in which Cook had done it, outing his powers in front of a man who already suspected, already feared, that wouldn’t go away.
And people were beginning to fall in with the views the Sheriff had of Cook even before the creature reared its ugly head. The violence that had befallen the town would only fan those flames.
Cook knew that he could not hang around much longer.
“I didn’t think you would come,” said Castor as he stepped up beside Cook.
“It didn’t feel right to fight beside these men and women but not stand beside them as they passed.”
“I see the Sheriff and you are getting on better.”
“By better, you mean he isn’t trying to chase me out of town?”
Castor chuckled. “What did happen out there?”
“Something evil tore the heart out of your town.”
“It’ll grow back.”
“It’s my fault.”
Castor rested his hand on Cook’s shoulder. “You can’t blame yourself for this. You turning up and that creature turning up, it’s just coincidence. It’s just bad luck.”
Cook turned to the doctor then, his eyes welling a little. “I should have changed.” He said, tapping his chest. “I should have used this and taken that thing down sooner. Because if my fear of this power I have, ten men lost their lives.”
Castor sighed then. “You think the town fears you now? Wait until they see what you can become. Things like this creature, things like you, they don’t happen out here. This is a quiet part of the land. We cut down trees, we ship them off, we get paid. The capital leaves us alone and we just get on with it. But a man walking around who can turn himself to stone, that kind of thing gets out there. It brings attention.”
“I need to leave, don’t I?”
“That’s not what I’m saying. It’s why you have to keep your secret.”
“Why bother? They already hate me.”
The two men looked over at the graves as the mourners began to leave the cemetery. A couple of people looked their way, muttering things. Wife’s still cried. Children wore blank looks, their understanding of the situation not fully there yet.
“Them?” said the doctor. “They’ll get over it soon enough. I mean, give them a little credit. Some have just lost their world and you’re the easiest target to send bad feelings to, is all. Let them focus all that negativity on you for now; the stranger, the oddity. But come next spring you’ll be joining us at our Foliage Festival and we’ll all be friends.”
“You’re quite the optimist,” said Cook.
“Someone has to be.”
Cook shook the doctor’s hand. “Whether I’m here next year or gone tomorrow, I just want to thank you.”
“No need, my boy.”
“Yes,” said Cook. “Yes there is.”
“This life is a short one,” said Castor. “It’s easier if we all just get through it together.”
Cook nodded as Sheriff Lenton approached.
“Sheriff,” said Castor. “You’re looking a little better. Got some of you colour back.”
“Feeling stronger every day,” said Lenton. “I’ll be by later for some meds, if that’s okay?”
“Sure thing,” said Castor. “Ribs still playing you up?”
“Only when I laugh,” said Lenton, no hint of a smile on his face. He tipped his hat to the doctor and gave Cook barely a nod. Castor turned as the Sheriff started back into town.
“I hear this one saved your life,” said the Doctor.
Lenton stopped and looked back over his shoulder. “That he did.”
“He’s a good man.”
Cook went to stop the doctor from carrying on but Castor hushed him.
“What’s your point, Doctor?”
“No point. Just seems like some people round here had him pegged wrong. I figure any man brave enough to stand up to that monster can’t be a bad thing round here. Don’t you agree?”
“I don’t worry about a brave man,” said Lenton as he turned and carried on down the path. “I worry what it is that makes a man that brave.”
Cook and Castor watched the Sheriff go. Eventually Cook spoke up.
“Why did you do that,” said Cook. “Why did you poke him like that?”
“I didn’t poke him. Just letting him know that I know about you. Give it a day or two and he’ll come and see me off his own back and ask questions about you. Hopefully they’ll be the right questions. Hopefully he’ll see sense.”
“I can’t stay,” said Cook. “You’ve got to understand that.”
The doctor looked at him then. “You saved my daughter’s life. For that I’m in your debt. Now you’ve saved his and maybe a lot more by taking care of that beast.”
“How do you know he’s not right about that thing?” said Cook. “How do you know it didn’t follow me from wherever I’m from?”
“Do you think it did?”
“Good enough for me,” said the Doctor. “Look, this isn’t about whether you want to leave or not. I’m not trying to convince you to stay. I get that you’ve got answers to find and that ain’t gonna happen if you’re stuck in this back woods town. All I want is for you to leave of your own free will and not be chased out of here. You go when you’re ready and not when the Sheriff or anyone else says.”
“And if I leave tomorrow?”
“Don’t care as long as it’s your choice.” He smiled a Cook then, a cheeky smile. “Though I’m not sure you’ll be heading off so fast.”
“You think you know inside my head better than I do because you’re a doctor and I’ve got no memory?”
“No, boy. I think you won’t leave too soon because I know women.” He nodded behind Cook to where Abigail was waiting. Castor patted Cook on the shoulder and headed back into town.
Cook waved to Abigail and she made her way over.
“How are you holding up,” he said.
“I’m okay,” she replied. “More concerned about you, if I’m honest.”
“Me? I’m fine.”
“You’re a brave man, Cook. Rescuing the doctor’s daughter, standing up for me. And now this.”
“It’s not bravery. I just want to help.”
“Modest too,” said Abigail. “You’ve put yourself out there for people you don’t even know. You’re a good man, Cook.”
“But am I?”
“How do you mean?”
“I’m not even a month old in this new life of mine. Who knows what I was before? And who knows what I’ll become later?”
“You may be a stranger to us,” said Abigail, taking his hand. “But a man who is hiding doesn’t put himself out there, doesn’t put himself into danger, the way you do. Maybe you were bad. Maybe something happened and put you on a wrong path. But here, now, you have a clean slate. In a short period you shown yourself to be a good man. That’s what I see before me know.”
“You’re too kind to me, Abigail.”
She kissed him on the cheek. “Come see me after your shift tonight. I’ll cook for you for once.”Cook lent against the tree and watched her go. He was still anxious to get out and discover his old life and this new one was getting more complicated by the day.