“Why? Why don’t you just kill me now?” the man said as he looked up at the two strange men who had managed to outsmart and defeat him.
“Why? Well that’s simple really,” said one of them, as a ridiculous grin spread across his face. “I’d much rather see you smile!”
* * * * *
Two Days Earlier, June 15
“The integration of Reconstruction by the Freedman’s Bureau with the Fourteenth Amendment, or the Fifteenth Amendment, is threatening the black codes of the Ku Klux Klan for segregation of those share cropping, tenant farming or share-tenancy scalawags and carpetbaggers!” shouted one old man to the other as the two sat rocking on a porch.
“What are you even talkin’ about?” the other asked.
“I don’ know, I jus’ read it in the paper,” the first old man replied, waving the previous day’s newspaper in the air. “And if I read it in the paper, it mus’ be true.”
“You old coot, you can’t jus’ trust everything them papers say!”
While the old men continued to bicker over the reliability of the local news, a young man with messy blond hair was walking by. He was wearing a light checkered brown suit coat over a white shirt with a bowtie, black shoes, tan pants and matching bowler hat. He also wore a grin across his face as he walked along the dusty road.
“Oh yeah, well then what about this story! A whole mess of people’ve gone missing around the area.”
“Yeah, so? Prob’ly just a bunch of scalawags headin’ North and tryin’ not to let anyone know about it.”
“No, that ain’t it. It’s mostly been farmers. But do you know what they think is behind it? Some sort of magic, like an immortal witch or somethin’!”
‘Now that’s interesting,’ the young man passing by thought. He diverted his path towards the old men. “Excuse me gentlemen, might I enquire as to what exactly you might be talking about?” the young man asked, speaking in a calm English accent that stood in stark contrast to the older men’s southern drawl.
The old men were taken back a bit at first, on account of the afore mentioned accent, but the man holding the newspaper regained his composure and responded. “This!” he said, handing the paper to the Englishman. “Just look at the picture of this barn of the sharecroppers who disappeared! It’s witchcraft!”
The young man took the paper and skimmed over the article surrounding the picture before looking at it. Painted on the side of a barn was a large circle of strange letters surrounding a star. ‘No, not witchcraft, this looks more like…’ “Where is the farm where this took place?”
“Jus’ down the road that-a-ways,” the first old man said as the Englishman handed the paper back to him. “And if y’all don’t mind me asking, what’s someone like you doing in these parts? You’re not one of them carpetbaggers here to cause trouble are you?”
“Oh, forgive me, where are my manners. My name is…” ‘Wait, probably best to use a fake name for now. After all, it’s been a while since Elmer C. Albatross has been in America…’ “Charles Wilson. And no, I’m not a carpetbagger. At least, I don’t think I am; I hadn’t heard the term until you two gentlemen brought it up!” Elmer said with a laugh.
“Tha’s understandable. I reckon you only jus’ arrived in the country?”
“Not long ago. I’ve visited the United States before, and I heard you were having some trouble after that civil war of yours and I decided to come back to help out.”
“And how exac’ly do y’all plan on doing that?”
“It’s quite simple really. I just want to make people smile!”
* * * * *
“Come out, come out. Y’all know you can’t hide forever,” the aristocrat said, brandishing a massive hammer. “And if you won’t come out, I’ll just have to force you to!” With a mighty swing he took out one of the support beams of the small barn, sending half of it crashing to the ground. Fortunately for him, it was the half he wasn’t standing in.
The man dropped the hammer and reached for the revolver at his waist, watching the pile of rubble. His mad eyes flashed as he spotted a movement in the hay and splintered wood. He quickly emptied his gun of its ammunition, and the motion stopped. “Told ya you couldn’t hide…”
June 15 – A share cropper’s small farm
“And you are sure zhat is all you know about happened?” a man with a heavy French accent, wearing a white suit, asked the tall, black man in the field of the farm he was sharecropping.
“Yessir, that’s all. I heard some noises outside, went to see what it was, and found this symbol painted on the barn.”
“And no one in your family was harmed? You found no signs of a fight or struggle?”
“No, we’re all okay. Why? Do you think someone was here to do that?”
“Zhat is not impossible. Surely you have heard of the string of dizapperances in the area?”
“Yeah, I reckon some of that news has come my way. If you don’t mind me asking, are you some sort of gov’nment worker?”
“No, I do not work for any sort of government,” the man said. The farmer looked like he was about to ask another question, but the man could already figure out what it was. “And no, I’m not part of zhat Klan either. I just like zhe look of white clothing is all. I am merely an interested observer.” ‘And besides, somezhing as simple as skin color should matter little to a true scientist.’ The Frenchman thanked the farmer for his time, took one more glance at the circle on the barn, and began to walk back towards town. It wasn’t long before he was stopped by a familiar voice. One he had not heard in a long time.
“Huey! Huey Laforet, is that really you?!” The Frenchman, who was in fact Huey Laforet, looked up to see a young Englishman, dressed in suit of various browns that nearly caused him to fade from sight in the dusty road, running towards him with ridiculous smile that was all too familiar.
“Elmer,” Huey said, his tone much calmer than that of his friend. “What are you doing here? I zhought you returned to England some time ago.”
“I could ask the same of you. I didn’t know you had stayed in America.”
“I simply moved south when I found out about some French settlements. Even people like us can appreciate our cultures, no? I have been running some experiments as well, of course.”
Elmer’s smile faded for a brief moment. “Are these like your other experiments?”
“I’ve simply been studying zhe insect life in the area. Mosquitoes to be exact. But perhaps you will hear more about that in a few years, maybe a decade. But you still haven’t answered my question about why you are here.”
“Oh right, how foolish of me. I did return to England after that rebellion a while back. Didn’t want to stir up to much trouble after all. But when I heard about all the problems this country was having I decided maybe I could come back and help out. You know, make people smile and all that!” Elmer flashed an even larger grin than before, to demonstrate. “And then I heard the most interesting thing from these two old men…”
“You came to investigate zhe circle as well.”
“So then you know about it.”
“Of course. I have been investigating for a while now, and it is becoming increasingly clear zhat my initial hypothesis was correct. And I assume you are having zhe same idea as me.”
“It’s an alchemist isn’t it?”
“It appears so. And it also seems that whoever it is, they are after the Grand Panacea.”
“I thought that circle looked suspiciously familiar. But then why the kidnappings?”
“It is more than that. Zhis farm was a strange exception. I believe the farmer may have interrupted the alchemist. But at the other farms there were definite signs of murder.”
“But why? Why commit so many murders?”
“Who can say? Perhaps the alchemist thinks he needs some sort of sacrifice to summon “zhe devil”. Of course, you and I both know zhat is not true, but it is not as if alchemic research has flourished since back then. It is entirely plausible that this alchemist has corrupted information.”
“Well, you certainly seem to have researched this well. I hope that means you know where this alchemist is working from?”
“I believe zhat I do, yes.”
“Well then, why don’t we pay him a friendly visit? Maybe then we can get some clearer answers from him!”
“I was thinking zhe same thing.”
* * * * *
June 16 – Outside of a rundown barn
“Well, I suppose a place like this as good a place to hide as any. Certainly doesn’t look like anyone’s been around for a while,” Elmer said as he and Huey and approached the barn. It was late at night, and the two were hiding behind a bush, watching the barn for any signs of coming or going.
“It is a mess. I do hope my research is correct; I do not wish have to visit this place again.”
“Doesn’t seem like anyone is there. Do you think he’s insi-?”
“Quiet! Look,” Huey said, silenced Elmer with one hand and pointing with the other. Out of the night’s shadows slinked a massive figure of a man, dressed in a fine evening suit with a black top coat and top hat. In one hand he held a rifle, and in the other what looked like a dead body, which he was dragging along the ground. He entered the barn and disappeared from sight. A few seconds later a small light appeared which began to intensify and illuminate the barn as the man lit up numerous candles inside. “Zhat must be our murder alchemist.”
“I don’t see any point in waiting out here,” Elmer said, standing up. “I’m going to go talk to him. Maybe I can change his mind about this whole killing spree idea.”
“Why am I not surprised by zhat? Very well, I shall wait out here for zhings to inevitably turn for zhe worse.”
With a smile, which was more of a mischievous smirk this time, Elmer strode over to the barn. Grabbing the handles of the two massive doors, he threw them to the side, causing candlelight to flood into the outer darkness. But that same light illuminated the darkness of the acts committed inside.
The dead bodies of the alchemist’s victims lined the walls, and they were even more numerous than thought; many were poor blacks who had simply gone unreported in the papers. It’s not like their deaths weren’t uncommon; the local black codes, official or not, certainly made it easy for them to be killed over any sort of “crime”. Elmer’s course of action, after the initial shock, was simply to grin and bear it. He looked to the center of the room, where the alchemist stood over a large circle, similar to the one painted on the barn from the day before, reading from an old book.
“Good evening my good fellow!” Elmer said as he walked further into the building.
The alchemist barely reacted, but simply turned around to face his nighttime visitor. “And just who might you be?” he said, in a somewhat more sophisticated, but still very southern and drawly, accent.
“Charles Wilson,” Elmer said. ‘Good, I managed to use a fake name. That means he hasn’t gotten the Grand Panacea.’ “And you are?”
“Remington Beauregard. And may I ask, what exactly are y’all doing here?”
“I was in the area and heard about your little killing spree and decided I might try to talk you out of it,” Elmer said matter-of-factly. “Whatever you’re doing, it can’t require all this bloodshed.”
“And just how would you know?”
“Because I too am an alchemist, and I know what all alchemists are after.”
“The Grand Panacea! The Elixir of Life! I am in fact searching for it, and I am on the verge of acquiring it for myself. Your timing couldn’t have been more perfect, in fact. I only need one more sacrifice to make the ritual complete!” Beauregard grabbed his rifle from the ground with ferocious speed and firing off a shot at Elmer. Reacting with his own incredible speed Elmer stepped to the side, and the bullet only grazed his arm, though it created a sizeable wound that began to bleed out. Wincing, but mostly unfazed, Elmer dove behind cover as the crazed Southern aristocrat began to fire a furious volley of bullets.
Elmer scrambled up a pole and jumped into the hayloft as Beauregard reloaded his rifle. He caught is breath as he hid behind a barrel, but bullets once again began to whiz threw the air as Beauregard fired blindly into the loft. When he ran out of ammo this time, Elmer was about to move out of his hiding place when he heard the sound of a rifle dropping to the ground, only to be followed by a metal scraping on the ground.
“Come out, come out. Y’all know you can’t hide forever,” Beauregard called from below. Elmer braced himself for danger, but he wasn’t expecting his opponent to destroy half of the barn. With a deafening crashed the barn side fell to the ground, and Elmer found himself buried under a pile of wood and hay, along with quite a few more injuries. He quickly forgot about these as a volley of bullets from Beauregard’s side arm pierced his body.
“Told y’all you couldn’t hide,” Beauregard said as he walked over the rubble where Elmer’s body lay. “It’s a downright shame really. I’d never met another alchemist such as myself, and I reckon you could have shared some good information with me. But I had to kill you, and that’s that. My final sacrifice is… what?!”
Beauregard had been reaching to pull Elmer’s body out of the bloodstained rubble when suddenly that blood leapt from the wood and ground and flew into Elmer’s body. A body that then stood up and dusted itself off. “Well, that was unexpected. I guess I hadn’t thought you would go so far as destroying your hide-out just to find me.”
“What are you?” Beauregard said, backing away and dropping his revolver.
“I told you,” Elmer said with a smile, “I’m an alchemist. But unlike you, I already obtained the immortality.”
“And he is also not alone,” another voice said from behind Beauregard. But before he could turn around to see who it was, everything went black.
* * * * *
The sun was just coming over the horizon as Beauregard came to, finding himself tied to a post on the half of the barn that was still standing. In front of him were his captors. Elmer crouched down to get to Beauregard’s eye level.
“Ahh, finally coming to, eh? That’s good.”
“Why? Why don’t you just kill me now?” Beauregard said, looking at the two immortals before him.
“Why? Well that’s simple really,” Elmer said, as a ridiculous grin spread across his face. “I’d much rather see you smile!”
“You’d rather see me… smile?”
“That’s right! I’ve been immortal for nearly eight score now, and there’s probably no meaning in life, but that doesn’t mean we can’t smile does it? So, I’ve made it my mission to get as many people in the world to smile. Of course,” Elmer said, standing up, “you have committed a lot of murders, and I can’t let that go unpunished, but I figure it’s best to just turn you over to the local authorities. But hopefully you can learn to smile. At least, that’s my wish.” Elmer walked over to the rubble pile and picked up his hat, dusting it off and placing it back on his head. “Take care of this guy for me, will you Huey?”
“Of course, I’ll make sure he is handed over to the zhe police,” Huey said to Elmer, before leaning in towards Beauregard’s face and whispering, “after I ask some questions of my own.”
Elmer walked away from the rubble, looking off towards the sunrise. “Looks like it’s going to be a good day. The perfect day to make people smile. And maybe when I’m done here I can visit Maiza up north!” Elmer walked away from the barn, but paused as he felt a strange vibe, but he brushed it off as him just being tired. He’d had a busy night. Of course, had he simply turned around he would have noticed the man with slicked-back hair leaning against the barn, smoking a pipe.
“So, you’re still going on about trying to make the world smile, eh?” the man said to himself in a deep, wise tone. “You certainly are a peculiar one. Well, no matter…”