Footprints of several sizes snaked in and out of the center. There awaited a man at a small structure that looked like a market stall built of sticks and scraps. A huge fire burned behind him next to a pile of steamer trunks. Another stall stood empty to one side, while yet another was half-built across from it. The sign hanging over the completed stall broke off as they looked at it, crashing to the ground and scaring a handful of horses who were tied-off on the unfinished structure across from the fallen sign.
“Howdy!” he shouted, waving, “Welcome to Shelville!”
The group all looked at each other. Iona shrugged and whispered to her companions, “Welcome to Shelville.” She strolled forward, hands in the pockets of her boxy, striped suit, and Edna and Highmond watched as another Change poured over her.
Her pants tightened and brightened, turning to a dusty tan, now tucked into worn leather boots. Where her hands had been in her pockets they now rested on a pair of revolvers, slung from a lopsided belt around her waist. Her jacket dissolved into the air, leaving behind a dirty white shirt covered by a tight, purple vest. The shirt sleeves were rolled to the elbows, equally and oppositely lopsided as the belt, obeying Newton’s Third Law of Looking Purposely Disheveled. Her long, black hair was still tied back, but the fedora bill grew and curved until the hat was a stetson - matching the purple of her vest.
She turned her head, moving a hand to the brim of her hat for no reason at all - other than looking very impressive. “Come along now, ya’ll,” she said, then turned and continued her forward stroll.
After Edna and Highmond got their jaws back on, they followed along. As usual, the Change had no effect as it washed over them. Edna did notice though that it felt different. So far it had always blown over like a wind, but now it felt more like walking into a cold market on a hot day - passing through a wall of conditioned air. Whatever misplaced bits of history had come here - the old west apparently among them - were lingering, rather than passing over. She wasn’t sure if this was better or not.
As they approached, the man called out, “Welcome to Shelley Green’s Soda Fountain and Clothing Emporium! Come on, make yourselves at home!” He gestured to a few barstools in front of his stall.
“Or if you have a dispute, I can serve y’all over at the Shelley Green Civic House and Firearm Dispensary.” He swept one hand - his right, which he thought of as his Grand Sweepin’ Hand - over to the finished stall. The sign, somehow back in its place, fell off again, causing the horses to winnie and buck.
“And we haven’t yet completed construction on Shelley Green’s Horse Rental and Glue Superstore, as you can see, but we have the stock.”
Iona sat down first, and the others followed. “Sarsaparilla,” she ordered, ignoring his other offerings.
“Mm. Fresh out,” he said apologetically.
“Ah, I was hopin’ to find out what it was. Root beer, then,” she replied.
“Mm. Fresh out,” he repeated exactly.
“Mm. Fresh out.”
Iona opened her mouth to try another order, but Edna cut in, “Three of whatever you’re not fresh out of, please.”
“Three waters, comin’ up,” he said, and set to work cleaning and filling glasses.
Highmond, who was sat to Edna’s right, grunted and gave his companions a serious look, motioning for them to close in. Edna, in the middle, turned around on her stool, and the others leaned in until their heads were shielded by her. “What are we doing? We haven’t any money,” the old man whispered.
“Oh I take all sorts of payment,” the sodakeep called over their huddle, “long as it helps me feed thems I care about.”
Highmond leaned out, “You, er, can hear us?” he asked, his volume unchanged.
“You ain’t but two feet from me; it don’t matter much how quiet you whisper.” Seeing the wisdom in his words, and also the warning, they abandoned their huddle. When he pushed their glasses out in front of the three adventurers, he continued, “Your hydration. Now while you sip, can I interest you fine folk in some fancy used duds?” he swept one hand grandly - you know the one - back toward the luggage that sat beside the fire.
Their eyes couldn’t help but follow such a grand sweep. “Wait! One!” Highmond stammer-screamed, as he looked more closely, “Those are my steamer trunks! Pythagoras was here!”
“And that’s my bag!” Edna added, pointing to a rough-looking duffle on top of one of the trunks.
“No kiddin’!” The sodakeep/clothier laughed, “Ain’t that grand! That’ll cost extra, then.”
At this, Highmond broke down into his standard huffs of incredulous noises. They culminated in a loud, “WHAT! But-- but-- but-- the clothes belong to us!”
“So you know they fit,” the man offered in a kind voice, like he had done them a favor.
Iona laughed quietly, “I like this fella,” she said, in her newest accent.
Highmond’s immediate response was to simmer quietly on his stool in the dignified, imperial rage of his people. In fact, the haughty self-righteousness that results from this rage is one of the main exports of his country. His anger soon rose to a boil, and thoughts began to bubble out half-formed. “Why!” and “To say!” and “The gumption!” and others I haven’t the lee nor the will to print. As will happen when these things go unstirred, one idea eventually frothed over the lip of the pot. “Where is my turtoid!” he screamed.
The sodakeep / clothier / beacon for Highmond’s rage looked to the others for aid, but they offered none, being eager as well for the answer. “I’m sorry, friend, I don’t know nobody named Pythagoras nor Mitertoid.” When that did nothing to cool the spout of profanity pouring over his bar, he continued, “An--! And it ain’t nothin’ personal! It’s just like I said before, I have got to feed thems I care about.”
Here Edna stepped in. Grabbing Highmond by the shoulders, she began to spin him bodily on his stool. It was a slow, purposeful spin, though nobody - including her - knew what that purpose was. Perhaps she heard my metaphor, you know, about the boiling pot, and decided to stir him. But probably she was just doing something unexpected that Highmond would have to think about, thereby diverting some of his ire.
Once she got a rhythm - and the old man got a little dizzy and a lot quieter - she said to the sodakeep / clothier / beacon for Highmond’s rage / apparent family-man, “You do keep saying that.” In a softer voice, she tried to contextualize for Highmond, “See? The man just has a family he’s looking after.”
“Oh, no ma’am, ain’t got no family,” he replied, unhelpfully and without explanation.
To keep things from escalating once more, Iona guessed at another possibility, “So you mean yourself and your horses?”
“Should I be feedin’ them horses? I thought they found their own food.”
“Not when they're! tied up!” Highmond spat out in spurts as he spun by a couple of times. “Sir! what mouths! Have-you-to-feed?” he continued on subsequent spins.
“Aside from these horses,” Edna jumped back in, “which you should definitely feed as soon as possible.”
“I ain’t said nothin’ ‘bout no mouths,” he said, slowly, as if his meaning had been plain all along. “No sir and ma’ams, I have got to feed this fine fire you see behind me,” he clipped one of his hands - the left - by the thumb into his suspenders while the other - the GSH - swept, grandly, toward the massive bonfire behind him. His GSH then shot forward, gesturing toward the other stalls, “and I’ve got to feed my town here a steady supply of buildin’ materials.”
Edna stopped spinning Highmond so they could stare, open-mouthed, and in unison at him. Well, almost unison. Highmond was sat the wrong way, but he scooched himself round, to complete the effect.
Edna finally broke the stare by moving her gaze to the fire, then turning and looking again at the shops behind them. The sign for Shelley Green’s Civic House and Firearm Dispensary fell off, scaring the nearby horses. She turned back around and said, “So you want sticks, then?”