The townsfolk's lethargy was such that they didn't startle easily. Nevertheless, startlement was near to the emotion engendered by the unmistakable sound of bells and hoofbeats coming down the main road.
Said road had been paved many years ago, but was now cracked in numerous places, and ruts were worn into the road by the minimal but regular traffic into and out of town. The horse-drawn wagon was a little unsteady, but its passengers didn't seem to notice, being used to roads this poor and worse. Nobody was sufficiently roused by the noise to actually read the side of the wagon, but if they had, they would have seen, in the best archaic curlicue font, the words:
ZURCHER AND CANONACO
LIQUID LICORICE DELIGHT
and a listing of prices for various sizes of Liquid Licorice Delight and a few other assorted products, such as the more familiar string licorice in various lengths.
In any other town, the wagon would by now have attracted a following of children, eager to sample the licorice and pet the horse, which was a novelty in many areas. But not in Alethia.
The two sitting atop the wagon, one holding reins and one not, displayed no surprise at their lack of reception. The most Alexis Zurcher would allow herself was a small amount of resigned dismay. "This is the worst yet," she said. "He's been through here recently, maybe in the past few days. We're catching up to him, Soledad."
Soledad, the one holding the reins, nodded. He didn't mention that one of the beneficial side effects of their quarry's influence was the lack of reaction to his Hispanic features and accent this far north. He hadn't appreciated this fact until the events in Monette a week ago, but now he was glad at the paucity of glances he was garnering. "Think we'll get anyone to talk in this place?" he asked.
Alexis considered. "It wasn't that hard in Lennard, once we got some LL into the folk. That was the main obstacle, and a really determined pitch can probably get through even their dim brains."
They fell silent again as they chimed their way into town. They let the horse slow to a walk, to give the townspeople more time to become aware of the strange presence in their midst, and hopefully take in the writing on the wagon. It would have been more likely to penetrate if they'd had time to get it done in neon or something, but there just hadn't been the time.
She needn't have worried. Their passage was drawing a crowd after them, although a silent and slow-moving one, that obliged Soledad to slow the horse's pace so as not to leave them behind. Eventually, they reached the city center and halted in the middle of the square. The crowd of followers joined them, and spread out to encircle them in silence.
Alexis stood atop the wagon and started her pitch. She extolled the virtues of Liquid Licorice, using phrases drawn from old sales of Elixirs and Physics. She waxed rhapsodic over its curative and purgative properties, and its stimulation of the body's natural energies, adding several comments about its delicious flavour loved by children everywhere. Meanwhile, Soledad had activated a low-frequency sonic transmitter in the body of the wagon, which was stirring the brains of the Alethians to life.
When Alexis finished her pitch with a flourish, there was a scatter of lackluster applause. It's working, she thought. She leapt down to the ground and opened a panel in the side of the wagon to reveal the Liquid Licorice dispensers. Soledad brought out a package of paper cups, and they both started serving the Liquid Licorice to the townsfolk, who had lined up in a spiral around the wagon.
Half an hour later, those who had first been served were starting to look around them curiously. Alexis left Soledad to deal with the last few customers and approached the newly-awakened. "Have you seen a man in a wagon like ours pass through here? With a helix pattern on the side?" After explaining to one of them what a helix was, they shook their heads. As more and more townsfolk regained awareness of their surroundings, she asked them the same question, and eventually got some positive responses. Finally she rejoined Soledad and said, "Only a few reports, but it seems conclusive that he's not heading north anymore. He's turned east, probably trying to throw us off."
"So he knows we're after him."
"He knows that somebody is after him, and there's no reason any of the natives would come after him. No, he's expecting an informed pursuit. So he'll be more dangerous now."
After thanking the townsfolk for their help, Alexis and Soledad set off eastward, once more on the trail of their quarry.
<Julian F. Waldby gave me another alliterative assignment:
lethargy lackluster liquid licorice
lethargy lackluster liquid licorice
Back to the Four-Word Stories Page...
The Den of Ubiquity/ Aaron V. Humphrey / firstname.lastname@example.org