The day went by without Jareth having to use force at all. He came to the last house and knocked on the door. He waited out in the snow for what seemed like an eternity until it opened and he was greeted by the face of an old man walking with a cane. Looking at him it was obvious that this man did not have the physical ability to grow enough food to support anyone but himself, and the small garden beside his home left little to the imagination of the life this man lead during from spring to autumn.
“I’m here to collect the tribute you owe the Blood Skulls for keeping you safe.” Jareth said trying to sound as authoritative as possible even though his upbringing had taught him to be respectful of everyone older than him.
“I know son,” The old man started. “Saw you coming a ways back and knew your purpose, but I gotta say you don’t look like the last one they sent ‘round here to get my tribute.” The old man studied him and placed the can in front of him to brace against the weight of standing.
“What do you mean I don’t look like the last one they sent here?” Jareth was confused and felt uncomfortable in the old man’s gaze.
“Well the last one they sent over was a giant of a man and had these big hammer like hands that I not sure I ever saw him open the entire time he spoke to me. “But, enough about the last time. Come inside you’ll catch your death out there.” The old man turned around and ushered him inside with a wave of his hand.
Jareth followed and was greeted with a strange sight as when his eyes adjusted to the odd darkness of the home. It was full of pre-conflict artifacts. Some were hung on the walls while some were laying on shelves that were overcrowded. Everything he had in the house would be worth a fortune if the world revolved around money and not power and survival.
As Jareth looked around at them a singular number kept popping up over and over. 45, he didn’t know what it meant but in every framed piece of paper 45 appeared on it over and over again.
“Where did you get all of these artifacts?” Jareth asked still looking around trying to see them all.
“They were given to me. You see before the conflict my grand-father kept all the records of the things that led up to it. All of the things that the leader of the country was doing to provoke it and he also kept things he thought would make a difference later. Things that if the world was destroyed or reset would help people remember what the world was like before any of the happened. My father taught me all about them.” He smiled as he watched Jareth look around and study the framed pieces of paper. “Those were called newspapers, back before the conflict they had almost died out of the paper form but my grand-father was more old school and wanted to hold it in his hand. That one talks about Old 45 and what he was doing to provoke the other countries into starting the conflict. He was sure that the united States would win.”
Jareth was confused. His family hadn’t taught him much about the world before the conflict, only how to survive in the aftermath of it. He didn’t understand the concepts of countries or what the United States was, but putting the pieces together he assumed it had something to do with the area they were in. He moved closer and started to skim the articles. He saw the number 45 a lot and saw posturing and chest pounding. It was no wonder that having a man like that in charge would cause something like the conflict to happen.
“I see you are reading about a year before the conflict. 45 did a lot to instigate other countries and make them want to attack the US. I will tell you though I have nothing to give you other than knowledge as far as tribute.” The old man looked down at the ground and sighed, “I do assume that will not be enough for your leader.”
“I was told to kill anyone that refused to give tribute to the Blood Skulls.” As he said this his left arm instinctively fell to his knife and he had to catch himself. The state was not all the way gone from that side of his body for whatever reason.
“I figured as much. Well, do what you will. I’d like for you to stay and learn about what happened, but I know you have your orders.” The old man walked to Jareth and looked at him.
It was the first good look at the man that Jareth had since he’d arrived. The man was short but that was because of the hump in his back. He was dressed warm in a gray coat and black pants with boots still on. His eyes were ice blue, a lighter version of Jareth’s own. His hair, or what he had left of it, was white and gathered around the side of his head. The old man seemed thin and frail, but the look in his eyes seemed to teem with knowledge that the part of Jareth that was not in the state desperately wanted.
Jareth stuck out his open hand and said, “My name is, Jareth. Unfortunately in the excitement I never got yours.”
The old man took his hand shook it and smiled, “My name is Paul. It was my father’s name and his father’s before him. It was supposed to be my son’s name, but I never got around to having any children.” Paul went into another room and beckoned Jareth, “Come further in and have a seat we have much to discuss.”
Jareth sat there in Paul’s living room listening to him talk just like he Logan, his own son’s age. The time came and went that he was supposed to get back to Red and hurriedly Jareth stood and collected his long brown leather coat to put over his navy blue t-shirt and bid Paul a farewell.
“Paul, it was a pleasure to sit and listen to you, but I have to get back the the headquarters. Red will already be furious that I am late and I haven’t even begun to think of what to tell her about leaving you empty handed.” He rushed to the door fearing that Red would take his tardiness out on his family. As he was halfway out the door he called behind him, “Thank you again! I’ll see you soon!” Then he was out the door with it closing behind him and running towards the rundown hotel.