Kint had returned to the motel in a hurry. ‘Let downtown cool a bit,’ he thought as he sat in his dark room once more. ‘No telling what the police think.’
He took a shower with his cane. Not his bravest moment. The wound on his shoulder wasn’t all better but it was healing. He didn’t bother bandaging it today.
After dressing in his second favorite white and blue shirt, a simple striped one, he donned his ‘Eugene’ hat once more.
The world was a dull gray as he exited the room. No sign of life, and his two days were up so his first stop was at the office.
“Two more nights,” he said with a smile dropping the cash on the counter.
“Thank you,” the man behind the counter said in a heavily accented voice. He wore a grey sweater and a purple turban. His long white beard made Kint think of wizards.
‘Wish I had a wizard here.’
As he left the man at his counter Kint couldn’t help but wonder if he’d just gotten him killed.
Downtown was as empty as yesterday. No sign of anything other than the usual homeless people and hippies. A few less because because of yesterday maybe. He picked a likely target out of the crowd.
He was younger and new to the area. Kint could tell from the way he stood apart from the others, the way he glanced around. His hand slipped into his pocket twice, his eyes shot to the nearest group of people.
It was a few hours before he was alone enough to approach.
“Where do people sleep around here?” Kint asked as he stopped walking. The kid took a step back, as if knocked off balance by the words. His black-and-white banded shirt was a few sizes too small, his jeans a few too big. A wide chain hung from his belt to his wallet.
“Where do I go to catch a few hours sleep without the cops messing with me?”
“I don’t even fucking know, man,” he looked around as if hoping for some backup, his red hair bouncing as he did.
Kint glanced around with him, and then removed the twenties he’d separated out earlier.
“Remember anything?” he asked.
The fear rolled off the guy in an instant, his eyes glanced around again, slower this time. He grinned quickly and held his hand out, the eagerness of addiction driving him. “Only place I could think of is on the river.”
The river was as Kint expected. A caged beast, concrete on all sides. A bike-trail was built into the bank opposite him, a high fence between the water and the path.
He followed the water until he could cross and then followed the bike trail. Blossom’s poured off the trees in a gentle pink rain. The path was covered in them, spread thinly across the asphalt. Eventually the concrete gave way to natural banks, the asphalt ended abruptly as well, leaving him on a dirt path.
It was a few miles before he spotted his destination. The first sign of the camp was the smell. Fires, wood, and a few charcoal, drifted out to him, and shortly he came upon the site.
Makeshift huts and tents spread out for a hundred feet in each direction. People milled about them, some glancing his way. He scanned the banks of the river.
She was there. Always near these camps, especially on rivers.
Her steel gray hair was pulled back into a tight bun. She wore a simple dress, almost a nightgown. It was a pale green color, with simple white flowers imprinted on it. Her chestnut skin was wrinkled, and leathery from untold years on rivers.
On either side of her sat two baskets, one was empty and white, a pale clean spot stark against the mud of the bank. The other was red and brown stained wicker. The clothes that poked out of it were bloodstained, and torn.
She was hunched over the river, dunking clothes in and scraping them against a washboard. Blood spread in the water as she added in a new shirt, and tossed the one she was holding into a basket. Her gnarled hands were clean as if they were beyond the bloodstains of a mortal life. ‘Probably are.’
Kint walked up near her and sat down on the clean side, the smell of blood and death lighter away from the dirty basket. He’d stared at it too long before. Been drawn into the stories behind the stains, and it wasn’t something he wanted to do again.
“I need some information,” he told her. She continued working on the bloody shirt, her eyes forward. When she was satisfied enough blood had been removed she tossed it into the basket, and sat still for a long moment.
Kint counted in his head, his eyes on the selkie playing in the water a few feet away. Some kids were down a bit farther, unaware of the seal like creature swimming playfully near them.
‘Wonder what they see?’ he thought enjoying the quiet more than he felt he should.
“A log, just sitting in the water,” the old woman finally spoke, her voice sounded like she kept cigarette companies in business, and gargled cheap vodka. “A lump of clothes and a cursed fool with too much time and not enough brains.”
“Good to see you too, old Bean,” he said not glancing at her. “You know w-.”
“Not a lot I don’t know,” she said seriously. “Not a lot to tell either.”
“I get that a lot.”
She washed another shirt and a pair of pants before she spoke again. “It will find you in time.”
He slowly turned his head to look at her, his eye giving a slight twitch. “What about all the other people it finds first?”
“That’s my problem,” she said, washing another pair of pants. “We’ll see to the dead,” she said in another voice entirely, this one young and sweet.
“I need to find it,” he told her, his voice a little choked. “I need to know what it is.”
“And if I could only tell you one?”
He’d played this game with the Washer before. It had never gone well. ‘Loaded question.’
“Of course it is,” she dropped another shirt into the basket.
He stood up, and dusted off his pants. “Where.”
“Payment?” she asked. He removed his bill fold and gave her everything but two twenties.
“Need to eat.” She’d just waste it on lotto scratch cards and booze anyway. He’d spent enough time with the woman to know her vices.
“I need more next time.” She shoved the money into her bra. “Big favors you ask.”
“It’s all I’ve got, you know it is.” Her eyes strayed over his cane. He shifted it to his left hand.
“Where we all go, hon, where all journeys end.” She thought for a moment. “Well your probably going to end up eaten. If I bet on it.”
‘Will she wash my clothes tonight?’
The Washer’s voices stayed with Kint as did the image of the dirty basket. The trip was a long one, taking him back to the outskirts of Eugene. The Washer hadn’t given verbal directions. She didn’t need to, as usual she’d just manipulated his path.
The graveyard was silent. It was old, the grass hadn’t been cut in months, and the stones were moss covered, years of neglect shown on them.
Among the chipped angels and faded stones stood a figure. Kint approached slowly, slipping his cane into his belt. He hung his left arm over the sword with a relaxed ease.
“You took your time, cap’n,” the figure said. He wore a light gray hooded sweater and black green army pants, tucked into his boots. A machete was strapped to his back, like a sword, it’s sheath black nylon.
Recognition poured through Kint as the figure spoke, but he stayed silent. His hand moved forward a little, and his left foot back.
The man turned. Kint flinched, his foot slammed back, and his hand gripped the hilt of the his sword.
Red eyes, solid with a black pinprick of a pupil. His skin was a deep blue color, ten shades beyond death, and as he saw Kint’s reaction he smiled exposing two rows of jagged razor edged teeth. Even from two yards away, his breath scented the air with rotten flesh.
“You nervous, cap’n?” he asked, opening his mouth wide to show every horrific tooth. Jiangshi had two rows of triangular teeth, Kint had heard a few times. Seeing it was another matter.
“What did you do to yourself, Clark?” his voice was weak as he asked.
“Broke our curse,” he answered, burping a bit after he spoke. Kint removed his hand from the hilt, his eyes glancing down at the blood only he could see. “Hands are clean now cap’n.” His voice was sing-song, and his feet moved in an odd little jig. He held up both hands and waved them around in a circle.
“Trading curses? Not exactly a clean deal.”
“At least this curse has an end,” Clark answered. “Hayes sends his regards.”
“He do this to you?” Kint asked, his body still tensed for the fight. “Another reason to kill him.”
“He freed me, I can sleep right after we’re done. I can sleep forever,” his voice rang with laughter as he spoke. “I can say goodnight.”
“You’re a murderer,” Kint told him, his voice dripping with hate. “You don’t even know what he did to you.”
“He FREED ME!”
“You’re a beast. A rabid fool, who lost his way.” Kint heard his Tengu teachers in his voice and he shuddered a little.
“I’m a god,” Clark screamed his voice cracking. “I could have killed you a dozen times.”
“Fear held you in check?” Kint asked, one eyebrow lifting. “Is that why the cafe, and the hot dog vendor? Too afraid to die?”
“I saw you all this time, and you never even looked up,” he said. “I’m going for that fox you left in Corvene too, and then I’ll look up everyone you’ve-.”
“We’re not here to piss about, Corporal,” Kint said the old edge of command creeping into his voice. “Either fight or I drop you where you stand.” Madness escape his voice as the Jiangshi laughed.
Clark crouched low and launched himself high into the dusky evening sky. Kint leaned back, letting himself fall to the ground and catching the monster with his feet as he fell. The monster snapped his jaws, craning his neck and reaching with his dirty hands. The ronin drew his sword, slashing up catching the monster in the ribs, with a turn of the blade he sliced into it’s neck.
The wound was clean, the meat of him hard and stiff like leather. The stench was horrific Kint had to fight back a gag as he rolled, pushing the Jiangshi off hard.
He was on his feet in a second, dodging a grab. He slashed back, and Clark drew the machete from his back
“Not the only one with a knife, sir,” the voice was light and he wheezed as he spoke. “Not the-.” His voice broke completely, and he stumbled forward a bit. A disturbing animal growl slipped from him and he leapt again, slashing as he did. His movements were stiff, as if his body didn’t want to obey him.
Kint blocked and sidestepped two more slashes, then he went on the attack. Clark was moving with unnatural strength and speed, but the ronin had a lot of years to practice. He caught the machete hilt on the end of his sword, and spun it over. Clark kept his grip, and righted his blade before slashing again with his odd stiff movements.
A giant stone angel, it’s base weakened by the years stood over them as they traded sword-blows, and the occasional kick. Clark spun, his foot lashing stiffly at the base of the angel. The concrete cracked, and broke, the giant statue dropping as Kint rolled out of the way.
Clark launched himself forward and forced him to roll again. As the ronin rose he slashed without looking, illiciting a howl, and causing the Jiangshi to step back.
Kint took his chance, and darted forward. Clark’s machete, badly chipped from the fight, came up to block, but he sidestepped it entirely, and one-foot on a gravestone launched himself into the air. His landing wasn’t perfect, but he didn’t fall and ended up mostly on target.
As Clark spun, he dived again, this time getting too close for swords. He was directly beside the monster now, as he planted one foot on the front of his boots, and then the other into his knee. A hard push and then a sickening crunch let Kint know the joint had broke.
The sound was even more like a dog, a deep growl that barely escaped his lips. Kint dropped his knee across the back of the bent leg. He pulled the pocket knife out with his left hand, flicking the blade as he did. With a quick motion he jammed it into the Jiangshi’s snarling mouth.
Kint spun then, pushing free of the growling Jiangshi. He took advantage of the distraction to lop off Clark’s free hand. The machete dropped from his other hand as he reached for the knife.
The katana blade caught him at the shoulder severing the arm cleanly. The limb flopped to the grass. He took off the head in one swipe as well, leaving the body still on it’s knees leaning against a broken statue. He finished the job quickly, taking off the legs and kicking them away from the torso.
There was a small camp shovel in his backpack. It was near the bottom, and Kint had seen it a dozen times in the past few months. The bag was in his motel room.
He used the machete to dig the first hole, which took a lot longer than he hoped. He buried the torso first, and then the limbs. It was nearing 10 PM as he tossed the head into a hole at the corner.
“Sorry,” he said to the blinking eyes as he covered them in dirt. “I’ll get him Corporal.”
‘One hell for another,’ the ronin said to himself.
The motel shower took off the dirt but there wasn’t enough hot water to wash off the rest of the filth he carried. He settled for some pizza, and a few hours of TV.
He was gone at dawn, the bed clean and unused again.