As Lizzie approached the town, a feeling of familiarity settled over her. It wasn’t the comforting feeling of seeing something well loved and long missed. It was the terrible familiarity of seeing something where it shouldn’t be.
This town wasn’t similar to the one she had just left behind. It was the same town.
Looking over her shoulder, she could see it behind her. A fistful of wooden buildings scattered along the dirt road, hills rising up to either side. The saloon called the Pawn Sacrifice stood out from the rest, with its balconies and its tall frontage.
She looked ahead and there it was again – the Pawn Sacrifice, jutting out of the same string of buildings.
With a snap of the reins, she urged Hunter to hurry through the town. They emerged on the far side, rounded a heap of rocks, and there the town was again. With growing speed and mounting frustration, she raced through the same streets a dozen times. Every time, she found herself back where she had started.
At last, she pulled up out front of the Pawn Sacrifice. An exhausted Hunter guzzled eagerly from the water trough.
“What the hell?” Lizzie yelled into the darkening sky.
“I said good luck.” Laughing Wolf, the native she had played poker with, stood on the porch of the saloon. “Guess it didn’t work out.”
“What the hell’s going on here?” Lizzie demanded, striding up to him.
“It’s the railroad company,” Laughing Wolf said. “They set this up to stop anyone leaving. Drifters, hunters, traders, even wild animals that wander by, we’re all trapped here.”
“Why?” Lizzie asked.
Laughing Wolf shrugged.
“It is what it is,” he replied. “Not my sort of magic. I just relax and enjoy what this place has.”
“Not your sort of magic?” Lizzie asked. “Wait, did you know that I was using powers during our game?”
“Didn’t bother me. You weren’t using them to win.”
“That bastard Figgis,” Lizzie snarled. “I knew there was something strange going on. I’ll hunt him down and make him let me leave.”
“No point. He’s just a pawn for his boss.”
Lizzie pressed her fingers against her tired eyes.
“Fine,” she said. “I’ll stay the night, get moving in the morning, or whenever this wears off.”
“I wouldn’t mount your horse yet,” Laughing Wolf said. “It’s been like this for months.”
“Months? I can’t stay in one place for months.”
Lizzie tried to contain her growing sense of panic. She pictured the men she had fled from back east, men who nearly caught her a month before. Men with muscles and guns and debts they felt they were owed.
“It’s not up to you,” Laughing Wolf said. “Sometimes you’re a player, sometimes you’re a piece. Just relax, drink whiskey, play cards, wait for this to pass.”
“No. I need to get out of here. Who’s the top company man?”
“His name’s Mr King.”
A deeper discomfort settled across Lizzie.
“Not Alfonse King?” she asked, without much hope.
Alfonse hadn’t changed since the day Lizzie gave him back his ring. His moustache was neatly waxed, every hair on his head perfectly in place, his suit fitting him like a second skin.
“What an unexpected pleasure,” he said as his assistant showed Lizzie into his office.
The door clicked shut behind her and the two of them were alone.
“It’s certainly unexpected,” she said, surveying the room. A set of shelves held books on engineering, history, and games. Wine and spirits were lined up neatly next to glasses on a side table. The window behind the big wooden desk showed a view across low hills to where the railroad was being laid down.
“Why did you do it?” Lizzie asked.
“Do what?” Alfonse replied.
“This trap.” Lizzie walked over to a low table by the shelves. A game of chess was in progress across a board she had seen many times. It radiated power, just as the cards did when she was in the middle of a game.
“You always were smart,” Alfonse said. “I might as well tell, it’s not like you can get a message out.
“I want my railway to be the only way into and out of this place. No-one will be able to walk, ride, or run away. I’ll control the flow of traffic into one of the most valuable regions of the west. Imagine how much that’s worth.”
“You don’t need me to make your profit,” Lizzie said. “Can’t you let me go, for old times’ sake?”
Alfonse laughed bitterly.
“I should slap you for old times’ sake,” he said. “The humiliation you brought on me, my fiance running off like that.”
“Then how about a game?” Lizzie asked, pulling out a deck of cards. “If I win, you let me move on. If you win, I marry you. You can put all that shame behind you, tell people that you brought me back into line, or whatever you need to feel powerful.”
The thought of marrying him sickened her, but so did the dread at her pursuers catching up. It was a desperate gamble, but it was worth taking.
Alfonse looked at the cards and then at Lizzie.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I know who’s after you. I know what they’ll do. And I’ll take more satisfaction in that than I ever could from keeping you in my life.
“Goodnight, Lizzie. Enjoy your stay.”
Laughing Wolf looked up from his table as Lizzie slouched into the bar.
“I told you,” he said. “We’re not the players. Sit back and try to enjoy the game.”
Lizzie sighed and sat down beside him. There was a pack of cards on the table and a row of whiskey bottles behind the bar. There were worse ways to spend her final days.
“Fine,” she said, accepting her fate. “Deal me in.”
* * *
This is the second in a series of flash stories I’m stringing together into something larger. If you want to find out more about how Lizzie got to this point, you can read the first part, The One Night Town. And if you’d like to have the rest of this series delivered straight to your inbox every Friday, please sign up to my mailing list. You’ll also get a free e-book.
Next time, events take a turn for the worse as the past catches up with Lizzie…