It was a bright, sun-shiny day in the town. The leaves were singing. The birds were gathering light from the bright, brilliant star that defined all our lives. People walked around. It was a good day. But Larry didn’t know any of this because he wasn’t in the town. Instead, he was on the outskirts of town walking across sandy dunes. Oh, it was a bright and sun-shiny day for the desert as well, a little too bright and sun-shiny.
Larry stumbled across the sand. His throat and mouth dry. His vision hazy. “This is…dumb…” The sun sank its fangs into the back of his neck. A couple of shadowy vultures made themselves known, circling high above Larry.
Now, you might be asking, “why is Larry here in the first place?” Well, Larry had little other choice. He needed that rent money.
Earlier that day:
“Ok. Ok. Ok. Yes. YES! Yes. No. Maybe. Sure. Why not? Haha. Bye. Ok.” Larry stood in the opulent office and watched as the mayor spoke into the phone. “Ok. Ok. OKAY! Alright. Sure. Fine…Fine! Ok. Love you too! No. It’s just a figure of speech.” The mayor finally hung-up the phone and shuffled through some papers. Larry waited impatiently and sighed audibly, but the mayor didn’t seem to notice. Finally, after some time, the mayor finally looked up. “Oh. Oh! Larry! Come to pay your pal a visit? Your buddy?”
“Um…you said you had something for me?”
The mayor stared at Larry blankly. Then, he finally remembered. “Oh yes! You know the outskirts of town?”
Larry was confused by this question. “…Yes? I’m aware that this town has outskirts.”
“Okay. Good, because most aren’t. Or don’t. And we like to keep it that way. You see, Larry, if I can call you that, there have been some no-good happenings occurring in the outskirts. We’ve had reports of strange beasts lurking about and some possible evil swelling in the distant horizon. And I need you to make sure that doesn’t happen. Or continue to happen.”
Larry glared at the mayor. “What?”
“I need you to kill the evil. Or bribe it. Or something. Just make it go away. Election’s coming up. Can’t afford to–”
“I’m just going to stop you right there. What the fuck are you even going on about? Evil? Is this some Dungeons and Dragons shit? And if it were, what makes you think that I can even handle that?”
“I will pay you $300, fresh from the coffers.”
Larry thought for a moment. “Fine,” he said. “Fine…”
“Good! That’s great to hear! Now maybe you can bring your buddy, Carl the Cowboy. I’m sure his horse would be ideal for such sandy terrain!”
“Um, he’s still in a coma.”
“In a coma? Well that’s disappointing of him. Well, anyway, off with you. I have to sign some important documents.” He proceeded to sign said documents. “I don’t even know what most of these say. I just don’t have the time…why are you still here?”
“What did you mean by strange beasts?”
The mayor shrugged.
“I would like to know what I’m getting myself into.”
The mayor sighed. “I will let you take one of our scouts. She’s among the best of the best. The brightest. Snack attack.”
“Greetings Larry! So, are you ready to venture forth across the outskirts of town?”
“No,” she asked with a smile. The scout was a young woman wearing drapes like Lawrence of Arabia. She also had a gingery complexion which cannot be ideal for such desert conditions. This detail will not come into play later.
Larry looked out. The two of them were standing at the edge of town where the buildings and streets abruptly ended and the world suddenly opened into an endless, desolate, sandy landscape. “How far are we going? And I only have some water. We probably need more, right?”
The woman laughed and slapped Larry on the back. “Ah, I love these first-timers! When I was young I would always sneak out to see the outskirts. It’s not nearly as bad as you first think. Now, where is Carl?”
“…He’s in a coma.”
“Oh. Well, that’s disappointing. May find some bandits along the way. But, we all need a good rest now and again.”
Larry shook his head. “Can we just go?”
“I thought you said you weren’t ready?”
“I…I don’t care. Let’s just get this over with.”
The woman shrugged. And from there they commenced their trek along the dry, dry land.
They walked for hours and hours. And the woman, Sabile, spoke endlessly about this or that. About how great the desert is. Larry wasn’t a fan.
“You know, people look at the desert and think, ‘well, there’s nothing here. Let’s move on.’ But there is life here. Buried beneath our feet. Grand, wondrous life.”
That reminded Larry of something. “So, what are these strange beasts that were spotted?”
“Oh,” Sabile said, “right. Yeah, I didn’t actually see any.”
“Let’s keep moving.”
“No, no, no.” Larry put his hand on her shoulder and they stopped. “So, why the fuck are we out here?”
“Well,” she searched for the right words. “I had a hunch.”
“That is what I said, buddy.” She swiped Larry’s hand from her shoulder. “I know this desert inside and out. And I know when something’s wrong. I can feel it.”
Larry remained skeptical however. This was likely some sort of con that the scouts pull to justify their existence. They tell the mayor that “something is going on” and the mayor gives their department more money. Larry was cynical like that.
“So, we’re out here because of a hunch. Jesus Christ…” Larry started to walk away.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to tell the mayor there’s nothing out here. Or, no, I will tell him I defeated the evil. It was just some unruly ground squirrel, but it was dealt with.”
“Larry, you’re going to die.”
But Larry didn’t listen. Instead he walked off in the direction he thought the town was. He couldn’t see the town in the horizon, or anywhere, but he knew they had come from this way.
Some time passed, and Larry still stumbled across the sand. His throat and mouth dry. His vision hazy. “This is…dumb…” The sun sank its fangs into the back of Larry’s neck. A couple of shadowy vultures made themselves known, circling high above him.
That’s when he finally collapsed. His mind felt dry, crackling underneath the heat. His bones were on the verge of crumbling into ash. His skin didn’t feel too great either.
The sand was hot. His thoughts were receding. All he could imagine was a calm, blue ocean, caressing a shoreline. He then realized he’s never been to the beach. He never really thought about that until now. Now, he would happily die in a plastic chair, overlooking the blueness of a sea.
“Well, well, well…” Larry opened his eyes and struggled to cock his head up. He squinted at the silhouette that rose before him. “You ain’t lookin’ too proud there.”
“Carl…?” Larry coughed.
Carl was before him on his majestic steed. “Now Larry, I’ve got a pickle to…pick with you.”
“…What,” Larry asked, dazed and with a raspy voice.
“How come you ain’t haven’t visited me at there hospital yet? After all, it’s your fault that I’m at death’s door.”
“I…I needed help…sorry…I didn’t–”
“Maybe you didn’t mean to put me in that there situation. But you could still come by and visit. Why haven’t ya done that yet?”
“After all, remember all the things we’ve been through?”
“Remember how we first met, back in high school? I saved your ass by them injuns, I mean bullies.”
“…No you didn’t. We’re…barely friends…”
“Yeah, well…” Carl scratched his head under his hat. “You still feel guilt though. And plus, let’s face, you don’t really have anyone else. No one else…No one else…”
“Wait, come–” Larry’s cough worsened. He closed his eyes. It felt like he was going to burst into a poof of smoke. Until:
“Larry?” Sabile crouched down and poured some water into his mouth. “Geez. You’re looking rough. Are you okay?”
“You shouldn’t have run-off like that. Man, these first-timers…”
“But, I…guess I should say something. I was thinking about what you said earlier. And, well, maybe you were right about my hunch. Maybe it was all just BS. Ever since I was a kid, I always felt alone. Always felt like there was nothing for me in the town. I think as a result, I’ve developed a connection to the desert. Because I had no choice. Because–”
But before she could finish, Larry said, “I…don’t…care…,” and started coughing again. “Can you…”
“Oh, right.” Sabile helped bring Larry to his feet. “Don’t you worry. We’re just an hour or so from town, and from there we can…hello?”
In the distance was a figure. Standing there. Watching.
“Is that Sam…no. Today was his day off. Wait a minute…oh crap.”
“Oh geez. Don’t move.”
“…Will do,” Larry coughed. Sabile shushed him.
“Don’t make a sound,” she said in a whisper. The figure remained in the distance.
“So…what the fuck?”
Sabile’s eyes widened. Her voice quivered. “The legend is true…I think…that’s the Exiled One.”
“…Okay? Who is that?”
“No time. We’ve got to go!” She started running with Larry shambling slowly behind her. “Come on!”
Larry’s heart raced. He looked back and saw the figure floating slowly towards them. “What the…” He tripped and landed face-first into the sand. Larry tried to rise back up, but his bones ached and his nerves screamed. Sabile stopped and saw Larry’s struggle, then saw the figure, and continued running.
“Wait…” But then a shadow filled the sand around him. Larry stopped. His arms shook. And a chill ran through his heart as his world faded.
And that’s when Larry died.
“Um, Larry, sir,” Leanne said. “Our scout reported that he was taken by the desert.”
The mayor rubbed his chin. “And Larry is…?”
Leanne just accepted this idiocy. “He’s the guy who you sent to fight ‘the evil’ that was reportedly present in the outskirts.”
“Ah yes! Larry. Larry, Larry, Larry. How is he?”
“Dead? Well, that’s no good. I’m going to have to find someone else now. Think, think, think. What about–”
“Still in a coma, sir.”
“But, um…there is something else.”
“According to the scout, she saw The Exiled One.”
The mayor cocked his head. “I beg your pardon?”
Leanne gulped. “The…Exiled One, sir. Apparently, he is real. And possibly dangerous.”
Silence in the air. Leanne watched as the mayor slowly rose from behind his desk and walked over to the window. “Sir?”
“Maybe,” the mayor said. “I wasn’t cut out for this job. Like, who knew a job in public service would be so bothersome? All I wanted to do was play golf and wave at people. Well, there’s only one option,” he declared, “we must shut down the town.”
Leanne was afraid he was going to say this. But there was no other option. That night the streets were shut-down and strict curfew was placed. The edges of town were blocked-off via police blockades. And the mayor watched from his window, stern and a little bit scared, waiting for the hideous figure to emerge from the horizon.
“This is it,” he said, “no more running. No more hiding. This may not be what I wanted, but this is the role I’ve accepted. Even if I don’t accept it. It is my duty.” A bead of sweat rolled down his right temple. “Come on, you bastard. Come!”
At the edge of town, at one of the blockades, a couple of cops waited, rifles ready. Meanwhile, there was a sniper fixed on one of the roofs. The sniper peered through his scope in anticipation, scanning the outskirts. The sniper was born for this. He had been waiting for this moment all his life. But, not only that, but he reveled in the idea of being the slayer of The Exiled One. People would finally like him. People would finally respect him. “Yeah!” He pumped his fist and continued searching with his scope.
But then he saw something. A strange figure entered his sights. “I’ve got something,” he said into his walkie-talkie, “I think this is it.” He squinted through the scope. “Oh boy,” he said to himself. “This is it. Here we go.”
The other cops drew their weapons nervously. The mayor wiped the sweat from his brow and slowed his breathing.
The sniper followed the shadow. It was coming in closer and closer. “Yes. This is it. It has to be! Permission to fire!”
“Wait until it comes in closer. We need as clear a shot as possible. Fire too early and it will either be startled or rush-in. And we just can’t risk that,” the voice on the other end insisted. But the sniper shook his head and continued following the creature.
Finally, he said, “screw this,” and pulled the trigger. The shot rang out through the night. The cops looked at each other. The mayor stood there. And the sniper saw the figure. It had stopped. But it was still standing. “Damn!” But as he was about to make another shot, a voice called out.
“Wait! WAIT!” The figure raised its arms. “Don’t shoot!”
The sniper furrowed his brow. The Exiled One was saying not to shoot. That means it was afraid. He leaned back into the scope and fixed his sights on the figure. “Steady…steady…”
“Don’t shoot! I’m just a–”
Another shot rang out.
Silence. Until it was announced by the sniper: “Target is down. I repeat. Target is down.” However, when the officers approached the figure they were surprised.
“Well, this is the Exiled One, huh? Seems like a pretty normal guy to me.”
“Yeah…wait, it looks like that one guy who caught the Frenchman. What’s his name again?”
“Oh yeah. That guy. Pfft. Show-off.”
“Anyway, let’s grab him. We accomplished a lot tonight.”
“Hell yeah we did.”
However, it didn’t take long to realize that the person they shot was not the fabled Exiled One, but rather a citizen by the name of Larry.
Larry slowly came to. His eyes nearly blinded by the fluorescent lights. Looking around and it was clear that he was in the bed at a hospital. Word of Larry’s awakening came to the mayor who swiftly came by to pay him a visit.
“How are you feeling?”
“Good. Leanne, flowers. These are for you. We also brought you a card. Within you should find a Target gift card worth $20. I hope this will be enough to forgive the town. The man who shot you has been fired and will never maybe work in law enforcement ever again.”
Larry didn’t say anything.
“Well, at the very least you can say something, Larry.” The mayor tried a different tact. “Okay. I’m sure what happened to you was very traumatic. After all, everyone thought you were dead. The scout even said that The Exiled One had taken you. Can you please explain what happened exactly. Did you kill it?”
“Then how did you escape?”
“Dammit man! Tell us! TELL US!” The mayor started shaking Larry until Leanne pulled him back. “Sorry. As you know, this information is very important. So, if you could…”
“Asked if I could leave…and he said, ‘yes.’”
The mayor stared down at him. “What?”
“When I passed-out…he brought me to a cave. And there were others.”
“They had been there for years. People who just hung around. Played video games. Smoked weed. Ate the fish in the cavern ponds. It smelled awful.”
“I’m sure it did. But tell us about the Exiled One. Was he a mystical creature? Was he harvesting these people?”
“…No. He was mostly just kind-of chill…He was large and deformed. His face was a skull. But he was pretty cool other than that.”
The mayor and Leanne exchanged glances.
“He said that being exiled turned him into a monster. And gave him powers. But he mostly just wanted…”
“What? What did he want?”
“PFFT!” The mayor interjected. “Jesus! How lame is that!”
“He said the reason he was exiled was because he was…weird. No one really liked him so they threw him out. Now, anyone who gets lost in the outskirts becomes his friend…it wasn’t for me though.”
“Hm. Right. Because you’re so Mr. Popular here,” the mayor retorted. Leanne shot him a look. “Sorry. So, um…now that we know the Exiled One is mostly harmless, we can tell everyone that he has been defeated. It was truly an arduous and bloody battle. But you came out on top. He even tried sniping at you and you had lost your leg as a result, but you managed to slay the creature. Good job.”
The mayor sighed. “Don’t make me repeat myself. This is the story we are going with and if you divulge anything to the contrary then I will have you arrested. And here, here is the financial compensation that you were promised. $200.”
“You said $300…”
“No. I’m pretty sure I said $200.”
“…Yes. Don’t try to gaslight me.”
“Right. So I guess we best be off. It’s time to get shit-faced. You can come, Leanne, if you like.”
“That’s the spirit! Toodles, Larry. You did good today. You did good.”
Larry was now alone in his room. Alone. He thought about his conversation with The Exiled One. How the loneliness and bitterness mutated him. At first he thought it would be cool to have those kind of powers, but then he realized, it wasn’t really a life. The people he had rescued seemed to like him, but only because he gave them food and weed. They didn’t really care for him otherwise. It also made him think about Carl. Carl was perhaps the closest he had to a friend, and he felt guilty for not at least visiting him. Well, he was in the same hospital as him, presumably, so he had no excuse.
Larry pulled away the sheets, but that’s when he saw it. His right leg was gone, replaced by machinery. His new leg was metallic and had blinking lights. He was not expecting this. But he didn’t let it faze him. He rolled out of bed and swayed for a bit before finally finding his balance. And from there he exited into the hallway, stumbling, searching for Carl’s room.