Bag Limit

     Dustin paused for a moment as he exited the draw, his rifle held loosely across his waistline as he surveyed the land that dropped out below him, searching for a sign of the big buck that he had spotted in the area a few weeks earlier. He tugged his pistol belt up, the .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol having a tendency to slowly drag his rig down unless he stopped occasionally to reset it around his waist.

    Whenever he went out into the woods, he always liked to be prepared for anything that the forest might throw at him, always carrying a rifle and handgun, plenty of ammunition, emergency food and water, a poncho and liner that he could rig up for shelter, as well as the makings to start a fire and a good first aid kit as well.  He had learned his lessons well during his stint in the military, often having been dumped out in the middle of the Georgia swamps with nothing more than what he could carry, having to make his way back to “civilization” using only a compass and a military map. He always carried one when he went hunting, and now took the time to figure out exactly where he was, and which way he wanted to head from here.

     Spreading the map out across a nearby stump, he located the draw that he had just exited. Just a bit to the south, the map showed a depression that backed up against a cliff, so he decided to make his way towards that, thinking that some of the deer may very well be holed up in there, preferring to sit tight till the sun was well up and things began to warm up a bit.

     Stowing the map in his side pocket, he slowly and methodically made his way down the slope, pausing every few steps to survey the area in front of him. Cautious was his method; never one to charge in recklessly, and it had served him well in the past. He preferred to think things over a bit before acting, remaining calm and cool instead of impetuous.

     He picked his way in between a couple of downed hickory trees, glancing down occasionally at his path before returning his eyes to the forest before him. As he drew closer to the copse of trees that blanketed the area at the bottom of the cliff, he heard a humming that grew louder as he got closer.

     Stepping in amongst the trees, he stopped for a moment to take a look at them. He had never seen this type of tree before, the bark and leaves resembling nothing like any that he knew. He slowly made his way deeper into the grove, the humming growing louder with each step.

     In the very center of the hollow, the ground sloped downward steeply, the dirt littered with layers of fallen leaves from the strange trees. At the bottom, there was a small pool of water, shimmering strangely in the slight morning light, almost as if some invisible hand was stirring it. His curiosity peaked now, Dustin carefully made his way down towards it, his feet slipping on the leaves now and again, but managing to keep his footing as he drew near to the pool.

     Standing beside it, he examined it closer. Only about five feet across, it looked like any other accumulation of rainwater, other than the strange swirling. Taking up a bit of tree branch that lie nearby, he stuck it in the water, intending on seeing just how deep it was…


    Before he could let go, something in the water seized the branch and yanked it in, pulling him tumbling head over heels as well, plummeting headfirst into the pool…

     Dazed and bewildered, he sat up and looked around. He was seated at the edge of a forest of those same strange trees, but the pool of water had disappeared. “O.K.” he muttered under his breath. “Now that was kinda strange…” he stood up and brushed himself off, taking a good look around him as he did.

     What he saw made him pause… in front of him lay a field of what appeared to be oats or the like, but they were ready for harvest, not lying fallow as they should be this time of year, the calendar being well into the start of winter. On the other side of the field he spied some sort of road, and began making his way around so that he could check it out.

     Upon inspection it looked like more than just a farm track, packed earth and wide enough for two vehicles to pass easily. “Well, which way?” he asked out loud, startling a large raven up from the ditch alongside. He watched as it flew to the east, and decided that was just as good a direction as any to take. He knew without looking that his map was useless here, wherever here was, as there wasn’t any farmland for scores of miles from where he had been when he took his tumble into the water. “Adapt and proceed,” he chuckled, repeating the motto from his former Army unit. Obviously something was happening to him that was out of the ordinary, but he was determined to make the best of it.

     Heading down the road, he rounded a bend and came upon a horse-drawn cart blocking one side of it, the wheel having come loose from the axle and about to fall off. “Must be some Amish community that I never heard of, ” he shook his head as he went to see if they needed his help.

     There was an old man and what appeared to be his grandson struggling to lift the cart enough to slide the wheel back on, both of them jumped back as he came around the back of the cart. Startled, the boy sprang back, letting the cart slam back down and nearly catching the old man’s hand between the wheel and the axle.

     “Ach, and nearly take off me hand, Leroy, why don’t yea?” The old man nursed the bruised hand as he eyed Dustin carefully. “And what do yea mean, scaring the lad so with sneakin up on us like that, and dressing so strange and all?”

    Dustin glanced down at his camouflage gear and clothing, then looked back at them. “What, this is what I always wear when I am hunting.” He looked at what they were wearing, ragged pants and shirts that appeared to have been hand-made, and worse for the wearing. Neither of them had shoes on, which was fine enough, as it was a hot day, and his layers of winter clothing were beginning to take their toll.

     “Hunting?” the old man scoffed.  “Best not let any of the King’s men hear yea admit to that or you will end up in chains before the day’s out.”

    “King? What King?” Dustin shook his head; this was just getting stranger as the day went on.  “Where am I, to start with? Is this England or something?”

     The old man scowled fiercely at him. “Are yea daft man that yea don’t know where yea be? Take a hit to your noggin, did yea?”

    “Yeah… yeah, I did, now that you mention it,” Dustin placated the man. “Back in the woods there, fell and must have hit it on something.”

     The old man nodded. “Sounds likely… my name be Simon, and this fine young lad cowering behind me be Ronal, and if we could trouble yea for a bit of help, we would be glad to give you a ride in to the fair city of Verrick, where the King holds court.”

     Introductions completed, Dustin leaned a shoulder under the cart and easily picked it up so that Ronal could slide the wheel on. Pinned back in place and the wheel tested, they clambered on board, Ronal scampering into the back to let Dustin ride on the high seat next to Simon.

    Clattering over the rutted road, Simon filled Dustin in on the state of things in the Kingdom. “Was nigh on five summers past that King Wesley died in his sleep, most say it was foul play, but those who spoke loudly about it seemed ta’ leave in a hurry, usually in the middle of the night, and no one seeing them leave if yea catch what I am sayin,” he spit at the side of the road. “This man Jimmy had come wanderin outta the forest same as you did, and only about a year before the King dying, and fetched up with trouble right off, havin a fit in the market square and finally laying inta one of the King’s Guards, who right then hauled him off.”

    “What then,” Dustin asked, thinking that maybe this man had arrived here as he had, and may know a way back as well. “How did he manage to be made King?”

     “Well, there is a fine story in itself,” Simon assured him. “Once he was brought before the King, he told him many wondrous stories and the like, and one thing led to another and ‘afor long this Jimmy was the King’s new Advisor…getting the King to tax everyone more, and make people pay to sell things in the marketplace… and all the while he was making friends…” Simon glanced around as if he was worried about being overheard. “Dangerous friends, if truth be told, cutthroats and thieves and the like.”

    “So you think that Jimmy actually murdered the King?” Dustin had to admit that it seemed a distinct possibility to him.

    Simon shook his head. “Won’t say nuthin of the like, or I might be the next to go in the night.” He glanced out of the corner of his eye at Dustin. “But if yea came the same way he did, might be best to watch close is all I can say, mayhaps he don’t want others to find their way here.”

    “I’ll keep that in mind.” Dustin settled back in the seat a bit, trying to find a spot that didn’t already hurt from the butt-numbing jostling of the cart.

     Just then two men sprang out from the brush that ran along the side of the track, one of them seizing the bridle of the horse and dragging it to a halt. “Ho there, travelers!” the other man called out. “Where might yea be going this fine summer day… not to pay your taxes now, would it?”

     “Damnation on yea,” Simon spat out. “Yea know today is the last day to do so, that be why yea hide out here and prey on those who are forced to come and give the King what he claims is due!”

     “Just toss it over, old man, and yea can explain it to the tax man when yea get there, sure they won’t take much hide off yea with the whip!” The robber stepped up closer to the road.

    Dustin carefully reached down and unsnapped the strap on his holster. “Simon, that horse used to loud noises?” he whispered just loud enough for the old man to hear.

    “Keep him down at the blacksmith’s place, always bangin and clattering down there… why?” Simon muttered back.

     “Hang on to the reins then, things are about to get interesting.” Dustin slid his pistol out and held it along the side of his leg. “I have a better idea,” he suggested. “How about you two back off, and let us go our way, and you can live to rob another day?”

    The two men started laughing uproariously. “Hear that, Ollie? He is gonna let us live, he says!” The man holding the bridle was beside himself. “Aye, lets just let them go, just ‘cuz he asked so nice and all!”

    The other robber thumped the heavy club he carried against the ground. “I don’t see that happenin’, so how about tossin’ the coin over to us before all of yea gets hurt bad.”

     Suddenly there was a loud explosion, and several things happened at once. The horse jerked wildly, ripping the bridle out of the first robbers’ hand and sending him staggering backward. The second robber found himself holding the remnants of his shattered club, splinters from it stuck in his hair and the side of his face, little red dots of blood beginning to form around each of the wounds.

    Simon did what he could to control the horse, panicked from the loud blast behind him, now bolting down the track towards the city, Ronal hanging for dear life to the side of the cart. Finally the horse slowed enough for Simon to bring him to a halt.

    “What in the seven sisters of the Devil was that?” Simon asked, his eyes wide as saucers.

    “It’s called a pistol, and you can kill things with it.” Dustin showed it to him. “Just something that I brought along with me… the rifle in back will do the same thing, just farther off.” He could tell that wherever he was, these people didn’t have anything approaching modern weaponry. “I didn’t want to hurt anyone, just scare them off.”

    “Well, yea might wanna think that over a bit the next time,” Simon counseled. “Them two will be back tellin’ whoever their leader is all about you and them thundersticks of your’n and it won’t be long before the King knows about ‘em as well.”

     Dustin rode along in silence for a bit, thinking about all the information that Simon had given him. “So the King… he is pretty much generally disliked by all the people, right?”

    “Pretty much hated, you mean?” Simon quipped. “Yea, that is about right I would say. He takes near everything a man can grow in the field or raise on a hoof, and gives it out to those who do his dirty work for him, barely leaving enough for us poor folks to get by till the next time for him to collect again.”

     “I tell you what, you just drop me off as close as you can to wherever this King Jimmy is, and I will see what I can do about this whole mess,” Dustin reassured the old man. “If he is taxing everyone as much as you say he is, well… this road ought to be in a lot better shape for starters!”


     And so they made their way across the countryside, Simon pointing out abandoned and broken down farmholds as they went, so and so left, or died, or just disappeared in the night… by the time they drew close to Verrick, Dustin was certain that something wasn’t quite right here, and was determined to see if he could find out exactly what was going on. They stopped at one of the old farms that still had a good well on it, Simon and Ronal pulling out some biscuits and dried meat, and insisting that Dustin take a portion. He protested, but they insisted, and he finally gave in but not before taking a granola bar out of his pack for each of them. “Now that is mighty fine!” Simon exclaimed at the first bite. “Sweet as honey!”  Ronal gobbled his down, as children are wont to do with sweets, and thanked Dustin profusely, probably hoping for more!

     Resuming their journey, Simon continued his lecture on what was wrong with the Kingdom, and what he thought needed done to fix it… for certain, the old man had his opinions, and Dustin thought that most of them seemed sound.

     It was late in the afternoon when they finally spied the walls of Verrick rising before them on the horizon, and Simon clucked to the horse and shook the reins to hurry along since they were so close.

     As they entered the gates, a large group of men dressed in uniform fanned out along each side of them, another group closing in behind so that they couldn’t escape back out the gates. “See, I told yea shouldn’t have let them two run off, sure and certain they got a message to the King, tol’ em everything about yea and all!” Simon muttered to Dustin as they sat there waiting to see what was going to happen next.

     “Make way!” a voice raised itself over the hubbub of the chattering throng that had pressed in close to see what the fuss was. A man, clothed richly in purple velvet robes with what appeared to be gold coins sewn along the edges made his way towards them, the crowd shoving hurriedly back so as to not impede his path.

    He came to a stop in front of the cart, examining the occupants of it appraisingly. “You!” he pointed at Dustin. “Who are you and where are you from?” It was more of a command than a question.

    “Folks call me Dustin, and I hail from Missouri, if that’s any business of yours.”

    The crowd gasped at this show of disrespect for the King’s Advisor, for that was who it was that had approached them. It flustered him as well, unused as he was to being spoken to in that sort of tone.

     “Now that I told you who I was and where I was from, who the Hell are you, and what rock did you climb out from under?” Dustin had had about enough of this, and was just about to climb down out of the cart and lay a serious whuppin’ on this man when a young boy about ten came running through the crowd and handed the purple-robed man a bit of parchment with a message scrawled on it.

    He read it, then glanced up at Dustin with a scowl on his face. “The King wishes to see you at once.” He nodded at the guards. “Bring them.” He turned on his heel and strode angrily off towards the castle above.

    Dustin clambered down, retrieving his rifle from the back of the cart and slinging it over one shoulder before helping Simon down from his seat. “Sorry about this, I had no idea he would drag you two up in this as well.”

    Simon waved it off. “I wouldn’t miss it for nothing’, lad.” He winked at Ronal, who nimbly slipped in between two of the guards and took off down an alleyway, deftly avoiding the lumbering pursuit with an ease that led Dustin to believe this wasn’t the first time someone had chased him through this city.

     One of the guards took hold of his arm… Dustin glanced down at it before glaring at the man, who promptly released his hold. “Smart man,” Dustin nodded his head. “You would have missed that arm.” He walked off in the same direction that the Advisor had taken, Simon following, two guards ahead of them and two behind, the rest returning to their posts.


    Once at the castle, Simon was ushered off to a bench and told to wait there, two of the castle guards assuming custody of the old man. “Come get me when yea get done, Dustin, I’ll just wait for yea here,” he laughed at having guards watching him. “They just be a bit worried that I might make off with the good silver, looks like, I’ll be fine.”

    Dustin made his way up the stone staircase to the second level of the castle, two massive wooden doors swinging open as he approached with his escort. Through the doors they went, at the far end of the room he spied the purple-robed man, earnestly speaking with a man seated on a throne, dressed in what appeared to be a three piece suit, a tie knotted perfectly about his throat, the gray double-breasted dinner suit extremely out of place given the current nature of things.

     Dustin crossed the open floor of the room, stopping at the bottom of the raised dais that the throne sat on, his eyebrows raised questioningly as he waited for his host, the King, he assumed, to speak.

     They stared at each other for what seemed like several minutes, but probably was no more than one, before the King finally spoke. “Missouri, I believe you said?” he asked. “St Louis area?”

    “South of St. Louis, live out in the boonies for the most part.”

    “And is that how you ended up here? Fall through one of those portals like I did?” The King leaned forward eagerly. “Has it reappeared yet?”

    “Why?” Dustin intended on offering up no more information than possible. “What if it has, what if it hasn’t?”

     Jimmy leaned back in the throne. “Because it will continue to randomly show up until someone goes back through it, is why.” He raised a glass up and took a sip. “Tell me, Dustin, what is it that you do for a living back in Missouri.”

     “Civil engineer, why?

     This brought the man bolt upright in his chair. “You build roads, buildings, canals, that sort of things.” It was a statement more than a question, but Dustin still nodded his head in agreement.

     “What did you do when you were on the other side?” Dustin asked, only half his attention on the man, the other half watching the small pool of what appeared to be water that had appeared alongside the throne. “I have a good idea, but just want to make sure.” He stepped up one step on the dais, putting him just one below the edge of the throne, and one step to the side.

     “Go ahead, take a guess,” Jimmy laughed, not noticing that Dustin had taken hold of the arm of the throne, and now stood next to it.

    Glancing about the room as if concerned that someone might overhear their conversation, Dustin leaned in closely. “Well, just a guess on my part, but by how bad you’ve fouled things up around here, you’re either a lawyer or a politician…” he jerked up on the arm of the throne, tipping it towards the now totally formed portal that lie just on the other side of it. “Or maybe even a Union official that everyone has been looking for?” He jerked his hand back as the chair toppled into the shimmering circle, making sure that he wasn’t touching any part of it, as he had no wish to travel along with the chair and it’s occupant.

     Turning back towards the guards who stood there in shock at the sudden disappearance of their King, Dustin drew out his pistol and pointed it in their general direction. “First off, get me a chair, and second, bring Simon to me.”

     Two of them scurried off, having seen firsthand what the stranger was capable of. A moment later, one of them returned lugging a replacement for the vanished throne, a bit less opulent, but would suffice well enough indeed. Simon came hurrying through the door, not knowing what to expect, but certainly not what he found.

     Dustin motioned for him to sit down next to him. “We have a lot of work to do, Simon, a lot of things to get fixed around this kingdom… now that Mr. Hoffa is gone…”

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