Your main character is a cruel 36 year-old man. The story begins in a bar. Someone telling the truth isn’t believed. It’s a story about loneliness. Your character offers to lend a helping hand.
I haven’t done any writing of this sort in nearly 20 years, so bear with me if this is a bit rusty. Nothing you see here is likely to be of what I’d call publishable quality for quite some time: Here is where I’m putting my doodles & ideas. We’ll see where this gets us.
The rain lashed down in big wet sploshes, deluging down through the branches of the forest, running in streams down between the trees, bringing twigs and the occasional leaf with it, downhill, washing down into the gutter at the side of the road. The parking lot was a small pond, muddy water inches deep around the tires of the trucks, lapping up over the bottoms of the wheel rims of a row of assorted bikes parked in front of the truck stop. Sodium orange streetlights blurred with white halogen & red neon, looking blearily through the downpour to the bar. The flickering sign above the bar door read “dies”. Welcome to Eddie’s Bar.
A greasy-haired man huddling by the door, cigarette flares as he takes a last drag. He coughs as he flicks it out into the parking lake. It fizzles before it hits the water, extinguished by mid-air raindrops. He’s through the door, out of the constant white-noise din of the rain & into a din of a different sort. Rock music from a rig at one end of an L-shaped bar, dark, warm & cozy enough for those that come here. The room jostles with life, men mostly, standing 2 or 3 deep at the bar, shouting their orders to the bar staff. Beers flow from draught taps into glasses, business is brisk. The clientele are a mix of mesh-back-hatted truckers & guys with lank, greasy hair, ink & tattoos. Each keeps to their own, tough old birds of a feather.
Down the far end away from the PA rig, a game of pool is in full swing.
Round the pool table, there’s a couple of old truckers playing pool against two biker types. One of the bikers is about 6’2″ tall, head shaven, sports a beard & moustache. He wears leather jeans & a Brando style jacket, cruiser style gear like he’s a typical Hell’s Angels kind of guy, but he wears no kutte – no MC insignia on a vest over his leather. His jacket is painted, words of an old, old story on the back panels in small, neat letters. The letters belong to an older time too: they are runes, and it would take a trained eye, or a learned one at least, to tell you what the story is. There’s a bet on: money in a stack on the edge of the table, and they’ve an audience. The other biker is stocky, dark haired, a goatee beard/moustache combination, His ink is conventional & unoriginal to say the least – an old sweetheart’s name later blocked out with the sort of “tribal” swirls that were popular in the 90’s. His jacket hangs on the back of a chair, the chair his current squeeze, a 20-something woman with raven hair, now occupies. The truckers are both overweight but you wouldn’t want to get into a fight with them nonetheless – they might not last 5 minutes in the ring but a bar-fight is usually down to who hits first, and if they can hit hard enough. These guys can. The older of the two lines up his shot, carefully – he’s on spots, 3 left to sink before the black, 3 to the bikers’ 1. There’s a hundred dollars of his money on this, but the beers he’s drunk tonight make his eyes blur just that little bit. He blinks hard & bends himself over the table to get the shot. He pulls back the cue, *smack*, sinks his ball, rebounds off the cushion, and juuuust clips the black, the 8-ball. It would have been perfect. But the 8 was right on the lip of the centre right pocket & hung there for a moment, before going in. “Shit,” he thought, “that’s the game – lost!”
“Bad luck, friend,” says Runes as he puts his hand on the money, & whips it away just as the second trucker smashes a pool cue against the table where the money had just been. Shit just got real. Runes drops into an open fighting stance, hands in a placatory “I don’t want to fight you” gesture, as the cue swings again now at his head. Pivoting on the balls of his feet, Runes turns in towards his opponent, the cue swinging uselessly beyond him, hip driving into the trucker’s mid-section, still turning, bowing downwards as the trucker sails overhead & crashes into the jukebox, the wind knocked out of him. Runes grins at the trucker’s friend, a grin that says “Just give me an excuse”, but the second guy is backing away, “Not my fight, man!” as he hurriedly exits stage left, not pursued by any bears, but happy to face the possibility of a soggy grizzly outside in the flood than risk what might happen if he tangled with Runes.
“Fucker!” the first man yells as he comes back again, renewed energy making him seem fearsome. People step back away from the combatants, instinctively. As the man charges, Runes blocks with an inside block, steps to his off-side & lands jab, jab, right hook, coming in close now, grabbing the man’s head, knee in his face, elbows now against the trucker’s crown, back of head, neck, and back as he starts to crumble. Runes demolishes the guy, blood dripping from the ruin that was a nose. As he goes down, Runes kicks him in the head, and there’s a crunch as he plants his face on the tiled floor near the bar. The fight is over, but Runes is looking happy, grinning a crazy, off-kilter grin. His fellow biker pool buddy grabs him & drags him off the trucker, Runes whirls round, ready to knock this guy out, but he grabs Runes in a clinch, yells in his ear “Hey, it’s *ME* – ROB! IT’S MARK! CALM THE FUCK DOWN, OK!”, and after a couple of seconds the spirit of rage leaves him. He gives last desultory kick to the mewling, wheezing mess on the floor, spits a chunk of ear at him, and goes back to his seat, the one with its back to the wall, clutching the money in his fist. He grins to the other bikers with his bloody mouth. All the other guy’s blood. He’s a king, still. Nobody, *nobody* beats him, ya hear? The rage is going, and he’s clear again.
A few hours pass. The bar is a bit less busy, and the music is turned down low. Rob is holding court with his biker pals in a booth, when the door opens and in staggers a grizzled old man. He’s soaked through and shivering, dripping water on the floor, tap tap tap tap as he comes up to the bar.
“Evening, stranger,” greets the barman “What’ll it be?”
“I’ve no money, barkeep – but I’m in sore need of shelter & hospitality. Will you help an old man who’s weary of the road and needs to get out of the rain?” the hooded stranger replies. “I may not have money, but I will pay back anyone who’ll help me.”
“Sorry, old-timer – I’ve a business to run here. I’m not running a flop-house or a food bank, or any kind of charity here. See the sign? Says ‘Don’t ask for credit’. So don’t ask.”
The old guy grunts at this. “Time was, we had a thing called the law of hospitality. When I was young, we never turned anyone away – because you never knew when it’d be you in need, and because it’s the right thing to do.” He turns, addressing the bar collectively: “When I was young, you might be caught out in the wilds, miles from home, needing to get somewhere for help, and the wolves would come after you. I tell you, once a pack gets your scent, and they realise you’re alone, that’s it. We used to make up stories that the trolls had taken them, them that disappeared in the snow. Wolves’ll eat everything and anything in the middle of winter. Nothing to find. Nothing to bury. Nobody wants to go out like that, eh? So. You help each other out, yes?”
“Trolls? Wolves? Are you trying to be funny, mister?” jeers a trucker in a blue puffa jacket, looking up from his plate of king-size burger & fries. “That’s fairy story stuff, or else you’re from Alaska or someplace. There’ve been no wolves round here in centuries.”
“No joke, sir. When I was young, there were wolves so big you could ride them – and winter was the Frost Giants’ time. You’d hear the howling of the wind, and shudder. You’d not know if it were wolves or trolls, or just the icy North wind. Now, would you help an old feller out?” he says, looking longingly at the food.
“Man, I work for a living – you get your own food!” – the trucker takes a bite of his burger & looks to his friends, and they turn away from him. Not welcome here, old man, go away.
“Listen, mister,” says the bartender. “You’re disturbing my customers here. I’m gonna have to ask you to l-”
“Leave him be.”
Rob is standing up again, strides across toward the old man. He looks him hard in the face, though his face is in shadow. One eye hidden by an old piece of rag tied across diagonally, and a long grey beard the colour of steel.
“I… I know you don’t I?” says Rob. “You’re… Look, come & join my guys over here. Bartender, give him whatever he’s after: it’s on me. I won’t have you turned away, no sir.” – and with that he brings the old guy over to his table, gives him his own seat, and sits down beside, a look of wonder and not just a hint of fear on the scarred fighter’s face.
The truckers across the way, the guys who’d been eating burgers & fries before, get up to leave. As they walk out the door, a flurry of snow blows in. Things outside have turned a lot colder. A sound like a rising & falling keening floats in over the snow, and the truckers shiver involuntarily.
The barman brings over a big plate loaded with steak, egg, potato wedges, you name it. Our strange visitor tucks in with a grin, slicing through the meat with gusto. “Who is he?” Mark asks. “Never ask him. You must never ask him. Just treat him right. Seriously, Mark – you fuck this guy over & you’re dead. There’re stories, I know: I’ve read them.”
Old one-eye glances up from his meal & grins at Mark, a wolf grin. He looks at Rob’s rune-painted jacket & nods his approval, as he tears into the meat.
Outside in the parking lot, a mini ice age has taken hold. The water, 6 to 8 inches deep around the trucks’ tyres is now a solid sheet of ice. You would have more chance of skating to the next town than of driving there – and the snow piles up, thicker & deeper all the time. The guy in the blue puffa jacket has just about given up trying to start his Peterbilt Bullnose rig. Frozen solid, inside of 20 minutes. He gets out of the truck again thinking to get back into the bar, slipping and sliding on the car-park ice as his foot hits it, and he sees them in the near white-out. Eyes, pairs of eyes and the puffs of vapour, breath clouds. And then teeth. “Oh God! Oh godohgodohgod!” he whimpers, warm wetness leaking down his pants as he takes off sprinting towards where he knows the bar to be. It’s just a few yards, surely, but he hears their panting & snarling getting closer, slips on the step leading up to the bar entrance, chins himself on the kerb as he falls, and knows no more. They are upon him. It’s a small mercy that he’s knocked out from the fall as the pack tears him apart, strips of flesh & sinew & cloth & bone, until all that’s left is a MASSIVE bloodstain & many, many footprints, like those of giant dogs, in the snow. And still the snow falls. The last signs that he’d been there are covered over, red fading to pink as the snow drifts deeper, to white.
“So, Robert, son of John, son of Harald, son of Joseph, son of Wilhelm, son of Sven, descendent of Sigurd the Berserker of the Geats, I must thank you for your hospitality!” says the old man, to Rob. “I see you know something of the old ways, and you respect the traditions. That’s right – I know more about you than you do yourself. I see more with this missing eye than most do with two. That’s an interesting bit of poetry you have there on your jacket. You know what it says, don’t you?”
Rob smiles, a flicker of nerves passing over him. “Yes, sir. It says:
I know that I hung there
on the windy tree
swung there nights, all of nine
gashed with a blade
bloodied by Odin
myself an offering to myself
knotted to that tree
no man knows whither the root of it runs
None gave me bread
None gave me drink
down to the depths I peered
to snatch up runes
with a roaring screech
and fall in a dizzying faint
Wellspring I won
and wisdom too
and grew and joyed in my growth
from a word to a word
I was led to a word
from a deed to another deed”
The old man grinned his wolf grin & applauds.
“Well said! Remember it, lad. Remember always. I remember it. I remember writing it when I first discovered the runes.”
and with that, he vanishes. Not out the door, no bang or flash, he’s just… GONE. And outside, the snow is already being washed away in a heavy torrent of rain, big drops splatting down through the leaves of the wood, a white noise hiss which almost, but not quite drowns out the faint sound, the faintest hint of a sound…