They saw him coming up main street kicking up dirt behind him, doing a sort of power walk. Leonard was the first to notice the man in the checkerboard sports jacket, ball cap, and tennis shoes with holes in the sides. He was coming up fast past the barber shop and the school house, when Bob noticed something around his neck, swinging back and forth with every step the stranger took. Sol pointed out that the man must had been on the road a long time.
“See the dust flying off of him,” Sol said.
“Pitiful sight,” Bob shook his head, rocked a little more in his rocking chair as he whittling on a stick he'd been working on for a week.
Leonard laughed. “He could be one of your cousins, Sol.” Bob joined in, his laughter more like a squeak.
They were the eyes, ears, and mouths of the town called Leering. . Always gathering at Sol's store at two pm til six, sit on the front porch and spin stories and gossip about the town's residents. All three had lived in the small town all their lives, all three never once set foot outside the state of Virginia.
Bob ran the garage, was a grease monkey from the age of twelve. Leonard called himself a farmer, but never really grew anything, made his money doing odd jobs around town and once in awhile did maintenance on the school house or football field.
“Look at that idgit go,” Bob shook his head.
“Where in the hell did he come from? “ Leonard posed the question to the others.
The three of them exchanged looks, shrugged their shoulders.
The stranger came closer, stumbling as one foot tangled with the other. He fell to the dusty street in front of the store. The three of them jumped up, ran to the stranger's rescue.
“Whoa....buddy,” Leonard put a hand on the man's torn jacket, lift him up by the shreds.
Bob helped by pulling on the bottle, which was attached to a gold chain. The bottle fell from the chain with ease, hit the pavement. The bottle bounced, rolled to Sol's feet. He bent down, scooped it up. Sol made a face. In between that time, Bob and Leonard were in a heated exchange about clumsiness.
“Weird,” Sol said, turning the silver bottle around and around in his hands. “This thing is warm...feels like a beating heart....”
Bob and Leonard left the stranger in the middle of the street to see what Sol was talking about.
The stranger laid down, turned his face skyward, and gave out a long sigh, promptly ceased to exist. Bob and Leonard rushed over to the stranger.
“He's dead.....” Bob gave Leonard a confused look.
“What the hell?” Leonard shook his head, a long whining whistle came from his lips. “I never in my life.....Sol, this man is dead.....Sol?”
Sol was still intrigued by the silver bottle. He held it up in the sunlight. He read an inscription that had been engraved in old English lettering.
“Who so ever holds this bottle, once owned by COMTE SAINT-GERMAIN, will live as long as he is the curator and defender.....la vie éternelle.”
Bob and Leonard looked at each other. “What did he say?” Leonard made a face.
“You okay, Sol?” Bob rushed to his old friends side, Leonard trailed him. Bob took Sol by the elbow. “Let's get you out of this heat, old boy.” They pushed him forward a few steps.
“What about the dead guy?” Leonard looked.
“Go tell Bill about him,” Bob yelled out.
Leonard stood paralyzed for the moment by confusion, then as if it just came to him, he ran across the street to the jailhouse.
Later that evening, after Bill, the town sheriff, took care of the stranger and all of their statements, Leonard, Bob, and Sol gathered at Sol's store. They sat out on the porch, watched the sun set. It was Leonard and bob doing the talking mostly. Sol was on the other side with the empty beer kegs, mumbling to himself. In an instant, Sol let out a blood curdling scream. Bob and Leonard jumped from their seats. They held onto each other.
Sol's face was frozen in agony.
His mind was taken back in time. A stone hammer pounded nails into a hand that was now bound to one side of a wooden cross. A flash came and the imagery changed. The cross had been driven into the ground hours ago. The glaring sun cast a shadow on the man's body as clouds darkened the sky above. Below, on the ground, a woman holding a silver bottle caught blood dripping from the cross.
Then Sol snapped out of it.
“La vie éternelle,” Sol said.
Bob and Leonard were bewildered. When they finally noticed they were holding each other tightly, embarrassment came over them. They pushed each other away.
Sol got up and left.
They watched him scuffle down the street toward his house, kicking up dust behind him.
“What in the world......” Bob scratched his head.
“I think Sol is sick, Bob.” Leonard sighed.
“What's Jane going to think of Sol and his bottle?”
Leonard looked at Bob, cleared his throat. “I have a bigger question for you.”
“What's that, Leonard?”
“What's in the bottle?”
Bob and Leonard were at Sol's store. Bob tried the front door, exasperated. “It's still locked.”
“Ain't seen him in two days. I'm worried, Bob.”
“Me too, Leonard. Me too.”
“Hey!” Leonard screamed, pointed to a man shoveling his feet through the street, cars dodging him. “It's Sol!”
Leonard started off the front porch of the store, Bob grabbed hold of his shirt, pulled him back.
“We gotta get him!” Leonard cried out, shook off Bob's grip.
Bob shook his head. “Let him go,” He said. “He obviously has something important to do.”