Laugh, and the world laughs with you; Weep, and you weep alone

rating: +26+x

Iris gripped her camera tightly, her knuckles whitening ever so slightly. She was quite nervous, as expected when someone had heard what she had heard.

The train she was supposed to board came rumbling into the station, the sound drowning out any lingering thoughts, and she double-checked her ticket.


She reached into her bag, pulling out a photograph, and looked at it for a moment. A dark figure with broken and yellowed teeth could be seen in the photo, among several union troops, apparently fleeing from the thing. Iris could see the figure's eyes. Those haunting yellow eyes, with dark flesh sagging beneath them. Several bodies littered the ground, each one having a bright blue uniform.

She flipped the photo over, and read the note on the back.

Several rumors about this thing down south. Have a look.

It smelt faintly of alcohol.

Blunt as always. She somewhat trusted Maria Jones, but often Maria had sent her on wild goose chases. Coupling that with her rampant alcoholism, she was prone to lacking good judgment. Iris remembered the last discussion she had with her, just before meeting the commander.

They had been drinking, or at least they were supposed to have been. Iris had barely touched the glass in front of while Maria drank like a fish, slamming her glass down onto the table, and angrily ordering another one.

It was a miracle that Maria hadn't been kicked out of the saloon yet.

"So.. What do you need, Maria?" Iris said nervously. The rate at which Maria was drinking was starting to worry Iris. Maybe Maria really was a fish. A big, woman-shaped, alcoholic fish.

"I heard-" Maria hiccupped. "I heard stories about what the Confederates," her nose wrinkled in disgust at the word, "used to try and win the war.

Iris frowned.

"Yeah, they used cannons and.. guns, and knives and shit."

"No, they used other shit too. Things that weren't normal, and never will be." Maria locked Iris in her gaze.

"Anomalies." Her voice was almost a hiss.

Iris smiled nervously. She had been keeping her unusual abilities secret for years now and Maria's drunken, but sharp gaze made her feel on edge.

Maria continued as if nothing had happened.

"So, how have you been..?"

Iris looked at her for a long moment as the question lingered in the air.

The events of the past years bubbled up to the surface of her mind. Her eyes narrowed as she silently reminisced her melancholic memories of Tommy.

"You killed my brother, Maria." Iris' blood began to boil as the anger festered inside her. She'd been keeping it in all this time, and was finally done with Maria's nonchalance about the whole shebang. It made her skin crawl thinking about how Maria never gave a shit about anything important.

"Killed? You're… You're really blaming me?" She had the audacity to laugh. "It was his fault Iris, I didn't do shit. He walked into those soldiers himself-"

A sharp sound rang across the saloon as Iris slapped Maria across the face.

"You told him to! You led him there and left him to die, you drunken bitch!" She snarled at Maria. "You know what, why don't you just fuck off, Maria. You're the type of monster who doesn't care about anyone in the world, not even yourself, only what fucking drink you decide to guzzle down next." Iris's breath was ragged and she was consumed with a mix of anger and grief.

Maria just smiled, her cheek slightly warm from the assault.

"Now, now, settle down there, missy." She spat the last word, her teeth clacking noisily. "Now that you've had your little tantrum, I'd like you to investigate all this." Maria took out a couple of photos and held them up methodically.

Iris scoffed at her display. "And why would I do that? I don't owe you shit!"

But Iris did.

"Oh, you do owe me, Iris. I saved your life, and yet, you resent me for it."

Iris looked down at the bar's counter, her hands gripping the edges tightly. The ghosts of her knuckles were becoming all too familiar.

"Last time you-" Iris struggled to choke back a sob, her emotions spilling over. "Last time you told me to go investigate something, I got-"

"You got shot." Maria said bluntly, taking a long swig of her drink.

Iris touched her stomach gingerly, remembering the wound. As her fingers gently caressed her wound, she briefly wondered how painful it must've been for Tommy.

Maria slid the group of photos to her, but Iris didn't pick them up. Instead, she impulsively downed her entire glass, hoping the addictive liquid would calm her down.

Iris wanted to die. But she also wanted to live. She wanted to reunite with her brother, but at what cost? Would it really all be worth it? She glanced at Maria sourly.

"Yeah, I got shot. No thanks to you."

"Well, I thank you for your service." Maria smiled, all too sweetly. "Forty dollars should be enough. Now, I think you should get going, Iris."

It took all of Iris' willpower to not slap Maria again. But she had long been trained to keep her emotions in check, even after an uncharacteristic outburst. In lieu of continued anger, she took to biting the inside of her mouth as she forced herself to smile back at the wretch before her. The metallic tang of blood in her mouth strangely comforting.

Iris snatched the photos, without giving them so much as a glance, and stuffed them into her bag. She slid off the leather barstool and put a couple of coins on the bar's counter.

"You really should stop fucking drinking, Maria."

Iris left the bar.

Iris frowned at the photo of the inky-black man. Apparently it was given the moniker "The Old Man". Maybe it was because it had plagued that town for so long. She looked at the photo, remembering her discussion with a man that had seen and fought the monster.

Iris looked at the bar as she tied her horse to a small wooden post. She was in an unfamiliar town, about to meet an unfamiliar person, and in front of an unfamiliar bar.

Needless to say, she was quite nervous.

She climbed the steps up and into the saloon, ignoring the evil eye of the sheriff and the cat calls of some of the men surrounding the saloon.

She pushed the doors open and needed a couple of seconds to process what she was seeing.

A fight was happening at the very back of the bar, where a couple of men threw money at the fighters. In other words, a fight club. There was a couple of women talking to men, and finally, a bartender and a man with a large white hat duking it out over a game of chess.

Iris spotted the man she was supposed to see, and walked over to the bar and slid down into her seat.

"Hi, are you Mr. Elkoan?"

The man took a sip from his drink and responded.

"Yes. I presume you are Ms. Thompson?"


Alexander Elkoan smiled at her as Iris talked.

"Thank you for coming up here to talk to me, Mr. Elkoan." Iris returned the smile, wanting to be amicable.

"It is my pleasure. My fellow townsmen are a little more.. wary of such journalists."

Iris nodded. After all, she understood. These people wanted a solution to their problem, not another tourist.

Elkoan continued talking.

"The monster in the woods has been haunting our town for ten years now. It's.. quite a sight to see."

Iris responded excitedly.

"So you've seen it then, right?"

Elkoan slowly nodded.

"Alright, I have a couple of more questions, Mr. Elkoan."

Elkoan simply nodded, downing his glass of whiskey.

"What is its name? Or- I mean, what do you call it?"

Elkoan grinned broadly.

"We like to call it, 'The Old Man'."

She looked at another photo. This one was of a snow-capped mountain. On the back, it simply read "Yellowstone". She had heard stories about the battles that were fought at Yellowstone. Rumors that the smell of the dead still lingered heavily in the air.

And yet, Iris couldn’t resist making the trip.

She remembered a discussion she had with a former commander in the Civil War after she had talked to Maria.

Iris looked up at the house. It was quite tall, with dark wood covering the exterior, a spacious porch with several chairs on it, and the smell of chicken coming from the open door. Iris slowly walked onto the porch and debated to either immediately walk inside or knock.

Her question was answered for her when the door swung wide open, and the aromatic smell overwhelmed her. Standing in the doorway was a short man with a balding head and no emotion on his face whatsoever.

She hesitated for a moment. "…Mr. Gears?"

Gears simply nodded. "Good evening, Ms. Thompson. I've been expecting you."

He stepped to the side and held the door open, looking at her with expectant eyes. Iris cautiously stepped inside and looked around. It was a pleasant house, with varnished wooden flooring and a woven rug laid by the entrance. A bearskin was also displayed elegantly on the floor, claws still attached in a stylistic manner.

They sat down at his ornate dining table, where a servant bought the meal, that she had been smelling for quite a while, to the table.

The commander spoke suddenly.

"Please eat. We'll discuss the war after we have finished dining."

Gears was truly a respected man. As a scholar turned commander who helped win the war by inventing his own tactics, anyone could see why. Iris could remember a time when she was thirteen. The war had ended and the parades had begun. She could remember Gear's same, emotionless face, as well as a daughter and a sweet-looking wife.

Where were they now?

Iris was here on the pretense of covering a story on the military tactics in the Civil War, as Iris presumed that a gag-order would be in place for the "anomalies" as Maria had described them.

Thirty minutes later, Iris scraped the last of the chicken from her bowl as Gears intensely watched her. She wiped her mouth with a napkin, then pushed the bowl away from her and looked at him.

"So… I have a couple of questions about the war and the tactics you've developed and implemented in the battle of-"

"There is no need for those questions, Ms. Thompson. I believe I know why you are here."

His cold gaze pierced Iris's very soul, and she internally panicked.

"I-I don't know what you mean-"

Gears interrupted her with one word.


She looked down into her bag and made sure everything she needed was present before placing the photos inside. Iris looked at the train as it slowed and she stepped on quickly. Usually she was more excited, but after what Gears told her about Yellowstone, and what Elkoan told her about the ink-black man with those haunting yellow eyes, she wasn't the slightest bit enthused.

She stepped onto the train and searched for her seat. Moments later, the train set off.

Her thoughts once again drifted to her brother.


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