The sun crept in to the midday sky, the two men had been walking in the thick wild forest for three hours before the man following finally lowered his guard and spoke up to the man in the lead.
“So Mister Huckleberry, you wouldn’t be named after the book would you?”
The man in the lead continued on hiking, “What’s a book, mister?”
The man following had momentarily forgotten his own age. He could remember a time when books were as common-place as leaves on a tree. The realisation depressed him.
“It’s nothing. They went extinct before you were even born.”
The man in the lead took advantage of the broken silence, “Finn, mister. Mah name Finn Huckleberry. My great-granpappy done give me that name.”
“I do declare, at least your great-grandfather has a sense of preservation”.
“Remind me what we looking for again, mister?”
“Riplee, for the third time, it’s Mister Riplee. And I can’t remind you about something I haven’t told you about, Mister Huckleberry.”
“What sat? You mean you don’t want to tell me what we’re looking for?”
“I’ll know it when we see it.”
“Can’t you gimme a hint, mister?”
“I would love to, Mister Huckleberry. But experience has taught me the hard way that the target of such a hunt is best kept to myself.”
“HUNT’N? Now you’re talking mister! There ain’t no type a critter out here I’ve yet to trap and skin with this here cut-throat.”
Mister Riplee’s face skewed in judgment as Mister Huckleberry flashed and ancient, but perfectly maintained, cut-throat razor.
“Well, we all need hobbies,” he discardingly retorted.
“Yessir! They don’ make them like they used to – that’s what my great-granpappy says. This here razor used to be his. It’s one of those there family hair-looms.”
“Heirloom – the ‘H’ is silent.”
“Hey mister if we be hunt’n critters, why you got me pointing out trees?”
Mister Riplee paused the hike through the hot and humid Mississippi Country and scanned the man who was his local guide. He was a shining example of the cliché redneck: he would live and die within a radius of 10 miles of where he was born. What possible threat could such a simple soul hold? Against his better judgment, Mr Riplee explained the hunt.
“Certain trees with a certain fruit grow only near a very particular type of water. I’m of the opinion that once we find the tree I asked you to point out, it will lead to more trees, until we find a nest of trees. That is where I believe will be that very particular water’s source… and it’s fountain.”
“A fountain, my dear Mister Huckleberry. We are hunting a fountain.”
With his mouth in an O-shape, his tongue slightly protruded and his left eye-brow raised, it was now Mister Huckleberry’s turn to judge Mister Riplee.
“Mister, a fountain? You can’t hunt no fountain! How you gonna trap summ’n that don’ move?”
Mister Huckleberry froze for a moment, struck by a thought.
“Then again if it don’ move, it might be real easy to find.”
He stared at the sky through the cracks of the thick canopy of trees, pondering the notion of a static prey and the challenges it posed.
The honest reaction, and absurdly practical response to the information about the target, put Mister Riplee’s fears aside. If there was to be any sub-text of danger from his guide, it would be easily detected.
“Fortunately for us, Mister Huckleberry, I am a rather experienced fountain hunter. This is my thirteenth expedition. One could even argue that I’m a collector of sorts.”
“Oh, sat a fact? You saying there are fountains all about, caus’n a ruckus and disturbing folks. Why else would a fella such as yourself need to hunt a damn fountain more than once?”
Unsurprised by the reaction, Mister Riplee predictably rose to the defence of his agenda: “I take it you find this expedition silly? Well let me tell you not all fountains are as they seem. There’s a fountain in North Africa that is said to give eternal life. That was my first hunt. And in the snowy wastes of West Greenland is a humble bubbling fountain buried in a cave, that one is said to grant the drinker the power over growing old. Probably a good idea if you were going to live forever, no?”
Mister Riplee paused, staring wistfully. “I think that was my second or third hunt – it’s so hard to remember. Those first three are the keys in order to hunt the rest…”
“Mister, you babbling. You saying you gonna live forever?”
“Let’s just say, I remember what books are.”
“So why didn’t you just tell me all that in the first place?”
“Well sometimes the locals don’t want their fountain’s location getting out, or they don’t like to share. In one instance, I think it was the Tibetan hunt, my colleagues stabbed and poisoned me so they could have the fountain all to themselves. Fountains are a treacherous treasure to quest for.”
“You know mister, that done gone remind me. My great-granpappy is awful cagey about a thicket not far from here. You think that’s got what you’re looking for?”
Mister Riplee smiled at his good luck, thinking to himself how the effects of that little fountain in the Alps constantly prove useful.
“Might just be, old chap. Might just be. Now if you wouldn’t mind?”
Mister Riplee gestured his hand for the guide to lead the way. Finn smiled broadly and his eyes glittered with achievement; if he was a dog, he’d have been wagging his tail damn-near right off about now.
Once the walking momentum was up, Mister Riplee wondered aloud, “Your great grandfather, did he every mention why he’s cagey about this spot?”
Finn turned abruptly to face his follower, with a look of concern he stated quite factually, “He said that where the Devil done gone lived. You know, after the world stopped being how it was and started being how it is, well the Devil chose that spot right there in our woods to make a home.”
He turned to continued walking, pushing the bushes aside as they got thicker and thicker with every step.
“My great-granpappy’s the only person to come back alive from meeting that wily ol’ Devil. He said the Devil real fond of wages: he tries to get you to eat the fruit off those there trees near his house.”
“But my great-granpappy knew better, he done beat the Devil at his own bet. The Devil was real sour about it too, done gone gave three scratches across ol’ pappy’s face – with this here very same cutthroat I be waving about! We call ol’ pappy’s scar the ‘mark of the Devil’. Great-granpappy don much like us saying that.”
Not 40 minutes later, through some of the thickest forest the Mississippi could muster, stood a well manicured garden with a single man-made fountain dead in the centre.
“What the hell? Well gosh-nab-it, I’ll be God-damned!”
“Ah – there it is…”
Mr Riplee savoured the success of his thirteenth hunt, turning to his young companion he thought it proper to mark the occasion by saying something clever, “God, huh? Funny you should say that, but not quite…”
It was just then that Mr Riplee realised how unafraid his simple leader was about walking straight into the dragon’s lair, as it were…