by Daegan Lunsford

Boris Almens is a good man. Everyone in Veyens knows this. He runs the tavern, but some nights he doesn’t come home. Mrs. Almens is used to it. She tells herself that there were many days when he didn’t come home during the war, when he was at sea. She tells herself that she’s lucky that he’s here at all. That’s what he says to her. Her eye throbs, purple and puffy.

Boris Almens is a good man, and he fought in the good war against the King in the West. Everyone in Veyens knows this, too. Across the crumbling stone roofs of Veyens, and past the rubble of the town’s loss against the King’s Navy, the guard barracks is packed with former soldiers in low-paying lives, carrying their rusted swords. There have been deaths, they say. The Sheriff nods, but does not listen. Dockworkers die every day, he says. In the war, he saw too much death for it to be a surprise any longer. In the tavern on the street corner he will drink until he forgets that the dockworkers are dying, and then drink some more, to remember the good parts of the good war.

Boris Almens is a good man, says Elise in the little wooden house near the docks, with her smooth brown hair and the burn scar on her cheek. He was an admiral for Veyens, once. Before the good war was lost. Boris likes to talk to Elise after they meet in their usual spot near the market square, and she listens to him, watching the way he looks at her.

The Sheriff’s men find a pattern in the deaths, and then they lose the pattern. They drink to remember what they lost. Sitting at a secluded table, the Sheriff’s face is red, puffy. He sings an old song he remembers hearing once in the streets of Veyens years before the war. Nobody sings along. The Sheriff goes silent. He feels like a foolish old man.

Boris Almens is a good man, even if Mrs. Almens looks at him differently now. Even if he shouts loudly at his patrons for singing the songs from before the good war. Even if his only patrons are the Sheriff and his men.

The Sheriff sits at his table, staring at the floor. After a while he leaves, with a trail of shuffling men behind him. He doesn’t pay.

Boris Almens is a good man, say the customers still sitting in the cold tavern. Later on, in the little wooden house by the docks, Boris sits with Elise. She listens as Boris tells her about the Sheriff’s song, which she remembers from years before. He tells her about the good parts of the good war. He tells her that to truly wipe out the enemy he had to burn their towns, because their soldiers were still soldiers even without their uniforms.

Elise is surprised Boris hasn’t asked about the burn scar on her cheek that melts like butter. If he had, she would have said that as a child she’d had an accident at the stove. Perhaps he’d believe her.

Elise wants to sing the song herself, but instead, she holds Boris’s head against her breast, comforting him. The Sheriff will come back, she says. They won’t leave you, she says. You are a good man. She waits as he falls asleep, her fingers reaching towards the dagger concealed under her pillow, gripping it tightly.

Boris Almens was a good man. Everyone in Veyens says so when his body is found in a small wooden shack by the docks. The Sheriff, first on the scene, stands in front of Boris’s body, which still lies on the bed, soaked in blood.

Without realizing it he begins to hum an old song.

The End

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Daegan Lunsford is an illustrator and author based in Toronto, Canada. His work focuses on delight, nostalgia, and elements of Americana.

Instagram - @daeganlunsfordofficial

Twitter - @DaeganLunsford