Jump to content
SASS Wire Forum

Firelands-The Beginning

Recommended Posts

Linn Keller 8-13-13


"No ye don't! Keep your nose off my table!"
Daisy's girl made a swipe at the Bear Killer with her ever-present towel, and the Bear Killer gave her a sad look: dejected, forlorn, head down and tail sagging, he made a mournful noise and slunk under the table, then out the other side and to the door, stopping to look sorrowfully over his shoulder.
"Oh, you," she said, squatting briefly and rubbing the Bear Killer's ears and under his chin. "You're just a typical man, now, aren't you? Comin' in here wantin' attention an' yer belly filled an' now you're just goin' ta leave me!"
The Bear Killer's head came up and his tail came to life, and he gave her a happy lick: satsified, he strutted out the door and down the hall, and nosed the back door open.
Stopping to scent the air, the Bear Killer decided it was a fine day for a walk, so he walked leisurely toward the generously broad alley separating the Jewel from the fine stone Municipal Building.
The Bear Killer stopped and sniffed a tree, debating whether to salute it as he usually did, when there was the sudden sound of conflict, a shot, shouts, the sound of a screaming horse.
The Bear Killer's reflexes, honed by combat and sharpened by adversity, prompted him to action.
He blinked sleepily and laid down in the warm grass.
His belly was full and he figured it was a good place for a nap.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Linn Keller 8-14-11


The Sheriff examined the document the girl in the winged fairy's riding outfit produced from a hidden compartment in the gaily-painted circus wagon.
It was the bill of ownership for Buttercup, her trick pony, and it looked legitimate.
The wagon was on a flatcar, the flatcar was one of several brightly painted cars in the circus train: the Sheriff waited discreetly outside, for it was the girl's personal carriage: it had originally been hers and her parents', but their untimely death meant she was its sole tenant now.
The Sheriff's jaw muscles bulged and few there missed his left hand closing slowly into a knotted, knuckled fist at the sounds of distress from within; the carriage had been ransacked, and the Sheriff's pale-eyed inquiries revealed it was the circus master who'd done the deed.
A circus is made up of tough and capable folk, generally hardened by life's adversities: none were strangers to petty satraps, greedy officials, crooked cops with their hand out, expecting a payoff for the privlege of ... well, of anything: these were circus folk, after all, performers and not fit for decent people's company!
There was something different about this one, though, they realized: he addressed them with courtesy, listened-- actually listened! -- when they spoke, and at no time did he forbid their presence in his town.
Clown and acrobat, juggler and roustabout, fire-eater and fortuneteller alike smiled when a small boy ran up to the Sheriff: barefoot, panting, his overalls stained at the knees and his hat in his hand, he plucked anxiously at the tall, slender lawman's sleeve and announced with his little-boy voice, "Sheriffph?" -- his enunciation somewhat handicapped by two missing front teeth -- "Mithz Ezthther thezzth therethh thhum good alfiealfie hay dey kin wanssa hafff --"
The Sheriff smiled and accepted the note the lad held out: unfolding the folded half-sheet, he smiled at the wrinkles, for the lad had apparently clutched it very firmly between thumb and bent forefinger as he ran to deliver it.
He looked up.
"With your circus master under arrest," he said quietly, his voice carrying surprisingly well, "who's in charge --"
To his credit he didn't jump, nor did he visibly startle at the unexpected sound, though in that moment his heart did jump up and occupy the space normally filled by the base of his tongue, there in his lower jaw.
If you were to take The Lady Esther's steam boiler and fire it until the pop-off let go and blew a pristine finger of white into the high Colorado air, and duct this high-pressure jet through a brass trumpet, you would closely approximate the sound coming from the othe side of the circus wagon.
The circus wagon was boomed down on a flat car; there were boxcars fore and aft; all were painted bright reds and oranges, greens and yellows, pin striped and curlicued and gilded to catch the eye.
Something like a snake, but a snake thick as a man's thigh, swung into view.
The Sheriff's long, slender fingers folded the note and slid it into his left hand vest pocket.
Jacob swallowed hard, wishing for his rifle.
A massive grey head with broad, swinging ears thrust out from behind the carriage, something resembling a young mountain on four stumpy legs, something with little black eyes and wrinkles that curled that snake-nose up and blasted forth the steam-trumpet again.
The Sheriff climbed the three steps onto the flatcar, walked across its width and stopped, tilting his head a little, regarding the circus elephant curiously.
"Matilda?" he asked. "Matilda, is that you?"
The clown looked behind him and down at the barefoot little boy who'd brought the Sheriff the note.
The lad's eyes were the size of tea saucers and his mouth was open.
The clown watched as the elephant uncoiled her trunk and sniffed the Sheriff delicately, then prodded the man's middle until he handed over an apple secreted in a coat pocket.
The clown smiled and suppressed his chuckle as the barefoot lad said "Ooooo," watching the elephant very delicately pluck the apple from the Sheriff's hand, and introduce it daintily into its mouth.
The fairy-rider came out of her carriage, skipped down the yellow-painted steps and took the Sheriff's left arm.
"Her name is Zambia," she said happily.
The Sheriff laughed as the elephant wrapped her trunk around the fairy-rider and carefully placed her on the back of the pachyderm's broad, muscled neck.
"When I met her, she was called Matilda," the Sheriff smiled. "My wife sent me a note. It seems we have a load of good hay -- half alfalfa and half clover -- it was shipped to us by accident, and it would cost more for the owner to pay for its return than it's worth. Yours if you want it."
The fairy-rider shot a beseeching look at an unassuming man who'd been doing his best to remain invisible.
The Sheriff turned, following her gaze.
"You the man in charge?"
The fellow nodded, spat.
"You'll need to feed her," the Sheriff said, gesturing toward Matilda. "I reckon she's kind of empty by now."
The fellow hooked his thumbs under his galluses and challenged, "And how much do I owe you for this most magnanimous gesture?"
"I missed your birthday last year," the Sheriff said. "Take that for your birthday present."
"Yeah?" Suspicion ran deep; most officials they'd encountered were anything but generous, and it was natural to look for the catch, the hook.
The Sheriff rubbed Matilda between the eyes, the gentle affection of a man who knew creatures, and it was evident from the caressing manner in which her trunk enveloped him that she felt a similar affection.
"What do you think, Matilda?" he asked. "You hungry?"
Matilda wrapped her trunk around the Sheriff's chest, picked him up; she set him down, plucked the hat from his head and waved it in the air, to the general laughter of all present.
The man in charge nodded, stepped out of the boxcar's shadow.
"You know Matilda," he said, a statement and not a question.
Matilda replaced the Sheriff's Stetson rather crookedly on his head.
The Sheriff reached up, straightened the hat; Matilda draped her trunk over his shoulder, and he stroked it, petting it with an easy familiarity.
The new circus master squinted at the grey-mustached Sheriff, looked up at the fairy-rider, looked over at clown and roustabout and juggler: finally he spat a brown stream of tobacco juice and demanded, "Daggone it now, do you know everybody?"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Linn Keller 9-7-11


Sarah leaned back against the log front of the Sheriff’s Office.
She realized she was shivering.
Sarah’s hand was steady as a rock on the handle of her revolver, but she felt light headed and half sick.
This is not good, a voice whispered, and she knew the voice was inside her, perhaps her own voice: Sarah watched the smoke from Jacob’s double gun curl up against the underside of the overhanging boardwalk roof, slow, lazy on the still air.
Sarah took a long, steadying breath.
This is not right, she thought: this is not right!
Sarah heard the metallic click as Jacob’s double gun fell open, she saw the empty hulls drop slowly, slowly to the dusty, warped boardwalk.
She saw the men from the Jewel running toward them in slow motion, as if in a dream, as if through invisible molasses.
Why do I feel like this? she thought, dismayed.
I have seen worse –
You have done worse,
the voice whispered.
Sarah felt sick and her breath was quick, shallow.
Don’t let them see me, she thought, don’t let them see me like this!
Sarah reached down and crushed a handful of skirt in her fist, lifted: she turned, stepped daintily down the two steps to street level, turned and skipped back into the alley, out of sight.
She stopped at a rain barrel, gathered a double handful of water, splashed her face, careless of water-spots on her bodice: she blew, snorted, shivered again.
She turned, eyes wide, hands up as if to block an attack.
I must get away!
Iron control raised a knuckled claw and clamped down over her surging emotions.
Sarah had been hurt, deeply and badly hurt as a very young child: she was scarred, hardened by this very early trauma: like Jacob, it had made her … not unfeeling, but she could turn her feelings off when the need arose.
Most of the time, at least, she could turn them off.
Now, though, it took the iron claw of self-control to clamp down over those feelings and keep them in check.
Sarah raised her head, took a long, deep breath.
You are a Lady, she thought.
You are your mother’s daughter, you are a McKenna of the Clan McKenna, and a Highland Scot –
I’m just a girl!
a juvenile voice sobbed silently within her.
I’m only twelve! I’m just a girl!
She had a vision of herself, a schoolgirl like the others, no different: a girl’s clothes, a girl’s hairstyle, a girl’s feelings: childish, immature, but growing, growing in her own good time: whispering secrets behind cupped hands, giggling over some imagined heart-crushing romance, too much of a child to understand the lust-fires that would consume her soul in years to come; a child, skipping home from school, into her Mama’s embrace, playing with dolls and tea-sets –
Sarah’s forearm automatically rested against the edge of her revolver’s grip, a protective move, second nature to her: Uncle Charlie and Aunt Fannie and Uncle Linn had all remarked on her ability to make the sidearm disappear, by the simple drape of her arm; each had coached her in how to keep someone from snatching the revolver in an unguarded moment; she, and they, had practiced and drilled and practiced again, with endless repetitions, until muscle memory made a smooth, broad highway for her nervous impulses to follow: she was satisfied that, should any seek to withdraw her pistol from its leathern home without her express permission, they would sustain at the very least a broken arm, elbow, knee, the arch of the nearest foot, and probably nose, jaw and maybe a collarbone as well.
Unless she could reach her knife, in which case they would be even worse off.
Sarah thought of the sleeve knife she wore, and she remembered long hours of practice with her Aunt Esther, just the two of them, then with Uncle Linn or Jacob helping, generally as a practice dummy: all agreed that her reflexes were phenomenally good, and the men mutually surmised that, should she ever take live steel to them, they would most certainly come out in second place.
Sarah looked down the alley, toward the street.
She knew who she had to see.
She had to see Dr. Flint.
He could help her sort this all out.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Charlie MacNeil 9-7-11


“What exactly do you think you’re doing?” Startled by the sudden voice in the otherwise quiet barn, Charlie nearly dropped his saddle into the hay- and straw-littered sand at the roan’s feet. When he had regained his composure, he turned nonchalantly, or as nonchalantly as he was capable of with his heart still beating its flurried tattoo in his chest, to face his wife’s wrathful glare. Fannie stood with her hands on her hips, silhouetted against the morning sunlight streaming into the building.

“Well, I was saddlin’ my horse, until you stopped my heart just now.”

“And who told you that you’re healed enough to saddle a horse?” Her tart tone left no doubt that she very severely disapproved of his behavior.

“I did.” Two syllables, four letters, delivered in a flat tone of cast iron that stilled all sound. Charlie’s features went rigid, lines etched deeply in forehead and cheeks, for a long, breathless moment before his lips relaxed into the barest hint of a smile. His voice was soft as he went on. “I’ve been layin’ in yonder on my duff for long enough, Darlin’. It’s past time I was out and about. Fall’s comin’ and there’s a lot to get done before winter sets in.”

Fannie stepped forward to lay her soft, yet work-calloused hand on his cheek. “I’m sorry, but I worry about you. That cat tore you up something awful.”

Covering her hand with his own, Charlie answered, “I know you worry, and I’m thankful that there’s somebody left in the world to do that. But I’m healed. Trust me.”

“Right,” she snorted. “Trust you. You’re from the government and you’re here to help, is that it?”

“Nope, not any more. I'm retired, remember?” he grinned then turned his head and kissed her palm lightly. “I’m headed for the north pasture. You comin’?”

“I suppose I’d better go along and keep you out of trouble. Let me get my horse saddled.”

“Already done.”


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Linn Keller 9-8-11


Dr. George Flint, M.D., graduate of the Harvard School of Medicine: husband, surgeon, colleague, friend: the blocky Navajo took a long step over a mountain stream with his knee-high, concho-trimmed moccasins.
He did not step in the stream. To do so would not respect the spirit of the water.
He’d known his help would be needed, and he had prepared what he would need: his traveling pack was light, yet well stocked, and he knew he would arrive well before dark, as would the other actors in the little play he knew was forthcoming.

Sarah McKenna let the line-back dun pick its own way through the brush.
She’d slipped out of the house in britches and chaps, a flannel shirt and denim jacket: she carried Jacob’s rifle and wore her revolver, her hair was in a single, thick braid and she wore one of Jacob’s old hats.
Sam whistled up the remuda and floated a loop out into the herd, drawing the dun from the horses she kept: Sam ran the cattle operation on the McKenna ranch, and profitably so: so much so that Bonnie McKenna, Sarah’s mother, gave Sam and Clark a free hand in their operation, and in their expenses.
It was a trust neither abused.
The horses were not extravagance, but necessity: when it came to rounding up cattle, when it came to cutting and culling, a good mount was needed, and it was necessary to have fresh horses.
Sarah thanked Sam, and Sam nodded and gave her a thin smile: it wasn’t unusual for Sarah to go riding, but generally it was in a riding skirt, and on her late father’s race-blooded gelding.
Sam took silent note of the rifle and the revolver, but kept her own counsel.
Sarah thrust the .40-60 into the scabbard and mounted: touching her hat brim, she turned the dun and gave it her knees.
Dust puffed up in little clouds as the dun’s hooves punished the meadow.

The Sheriff lifted his nose and sniffed, tasting the wind.
It was cooler now, fall was approaching: some few leaves were turning already and he knew the mountains would turn gold as aspen leaves colored up and got ready to fall.
He gave his knees to his black Outlaw-horse.
“Come on, fella,” he said softly. “Work to be done.”
The gelding blew and shook its head, then stepped out on a long-legged pace, a pace he could maintain all day if need be, and had a time or two.
The Sheriff’s ear twitched a little.
In the distance he heard the long, mournful song of a wolf, lamenting to the dark-blue sky overhead.
The slender lawman’s eyes narrowed, then he gave a mental shrug: it was early in the day to hear wolf song … but, well, sometimes it happens.

The circus train was moving again, and right on schedule.
The Lady Esther was breathing easily, hauling the brightly-painted cars up grade and down, past vistas and drop-offs, waterfalls and forest.
Between The Lady Esther’s tender full of water and coal, and the first gilt-trimmed and pinstriped circus car, though, was an extra, an elegant passenger car, a private coach reserved for the owner of the Z&W Railroad, and two regular passenger cars.
Much of Firelands declared holiday.
The circus was coming to Cripple Creek and Firelands as a whole wanted to see the elephant … and that cute little girl that rode her trick pony almost as well as Angela, along with clowns, jugglers, fire breathers, slickers, scoundrels, two headed giants and whatever wonders might appear.
The private car rocked a little and the rhythmic clickity-clack of wheels on rail-joints proved soporific for a little girl, cuddled up against her Mommy’s side: Angela rubbed her eyes and gave a great yawn, and she felt her Mommy’s arm light against her, holding her close.
“Mommy?” she murmured, her voice thick with the slumber rapidly overtaking her small frame.
“Yes, Sweets?” Esther murmured, leaning down to kiss the top of her little girl’s head.
“Will I get to see da Mildew Elly Fat?” Angela asked, and was just as quickly asleep.
Esther smiled, rubbing Angela’s shoulder gently with a gloved hand.
“Yes, Sweets,” she whispered. “We’ll see Mildred the Elephant.”

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Linn Keller 9-9-11


Matilda went berserk.
The elephant announced by the new ringmaster’s stentorian throat as “Zanzibar” curled her trunk and screamed the war-trumpet of an enraged pachyderm: her mahout, panicking, seized the mallet and short spear elephant drivers kept at hand to hammer through the back of their mount’s skull in such moments as this.
Lightning surged out of his silk-cushioned and draped howdah and scrambled for the mahout: seizing the man by his loincloth and the back of his neck, he picked him up and heaved him off the sceaming elephant: slipping into the seat and thrusting his feet behind her ears, he roared “Matilda, GET ‘EM!”
Matilda needed little encouragement.
The ground shivered underfoot as she charged, and the crowd gasped at the speed with which the shuffling, grey-coated elephant crossed the arena.

Lightning had never worn anything elegant in his life.
His closet was modest and sparse: his clothes were cotton or linen or woolen, his shirts were white, his vests and trousers and elastic-sided shoes were black.
When he looked at himself in the ringmaster’s wagon and beheld himself in the turban and silks, the sash and sword and curl-toed slippers of a Maharaja, he didn’t know whether to stare, gasp or laugh: the jewels he wore, so far as he knew, were fake, though cleverly made to look genuine; the yard-long yathaghan at his waist he presumed was a costume prop.
He was helped into the howdah atop Matilda’s broad back, and told to stay there until it was time to descend, and he would know the time: in the meanwhile, they instructed him, he was to sit cross legged on silk pillows and look bored, as if he were the greatest monarch in the world, astride the greatest elephant ever seen.

It was the world’s tiniest Overland stage, drawn by tiny, perfectly matched ponies, driven by a tiny little man with a tiny little shotgun guard who carried a tiny little double barrel: as they circled the arena, the driver swung his whip in a tiny little circle and snapped it over the ponies’ heads, and the shotgun driver discharged two blank rounds into the air, to the crowd’s delight.
The stage drew to a stop with a shout and a flourish, and disgorged an impossible number of capering, tumbling clowns: the clowns swatted at one another’s backsides with clap boards, jumped, yelped, threw buckets of water at each other (which missed, though the lower rows of the audience got wet), which illustrated a major principle of magic: misdirection.
While the eyes of the audience were otherwise engaged, the good Parson Belden slipped into the off side of the coach, and as one clown stuffed a stick of firecrackers into another’s sacky drawers and the victim began to pop and crackle at the top of his lungs, jumping like a Dacoit as the audience roared, the Parson stepped out: black-clad, formal and dignified, he made a proper contrast to the gaily-caparisoned buffoons.
The circus band struck up a familiar air, “Here Come the Clowns,” and the clowns drew back, juggling balls and honking horns at one another, and the gaudy-uniformed circus band segued smoothly into … of all things …
“Here Comes the Bride.”

Daciana’s mouth was dry and she leaned forward, petting her trick pony’s neck.
She tried to speak, and her throat was tight: she could not manage more than a hoarse whisper.
She shot a desperate glance at the Snake Lady.
The Snake Lady’s yellow eyes glowed in the diffused sunlight: she made a quick sign and kissed her thumbnail – Daciana recognized it as a ward against the Evil Eye – and then she handed Daciana a small bouquet.
Daciana was surprised to see a trickle of moisture falling from the Snake Lady’s eye.
“Had I a daughter,” she hissed, “I would want her jussst like you,” and then gestured, for the band had just changed its tune.

“Here Comes the Bride,” when played on a pipe organ in a grand cathedral, is stately and almost a hymn: the bride paces with a ceremonial slowness, with tiny steps, on the arm of father, brother, uncle or grandfather: the audience had seen such, many times, but not one of them had ever heard “Here Comes the Bride” delivered in such a brisk, bright, circus-band manner: the bride came into the arena at a gallop, veil streaming straight out behind her: head back, arm arched overhead, her smile was bright and genuine.
Daciana orbited the arena once, then began her performance: as her pearl-colored pony with ribbons and gilt hooves kept perfect time with the band’s music, Daciana draped herself bonelessly over the saddle, back over the pony’s hind quarters: she flowed upright, hand-standing on her saddle, legs spread, then together, pointing to the heavens: she bent double, backwards, and stood, standing upright on the galloping little pony: she dropped to the side, holding the saddle at horn and cantle and striking the soles of her feet on the ground, flipping herself up, high above her pony’s back, and over the other side: strike again, and back over her pony: she struck her feet once more on the ground, rose and dropped neatly into the saddle.
Daciana cantered to a stop before the good Parson Belden, swung a leg over, at once saucy and demure, and slid to the ground: she curtsied before the sky pilot, and her gleaming, pearl-bright pony knelt and dropped its head behind her.
The Overland Stage jingled away, and Lightning saw the surreptitious signal from the shotgun rider, and stood.
Right about then things got kind of busy.

“Let’s get us some doxy,” the one cowhand said, fueled by good old fashioned lust and cheap whiskey: his partner allowed as he could do that, and so the two of them made a quick and ill-considered plot, to sweep in and abduct the sweet little trick rider.
She was, after all, a performer, and performers in that day were nothing but … well, cheap.
And so it was, as the tiny little Overland Stage, drawn by tiny little ponies wearing tiny little bells, jingled away, this pair galloped in, swinging their loops and yelling, and neatly snared a lariat about Daciana, pinning her arms to her side and dragging her briefly until they could hoist her ahorse.
“NOOO!” Lightning yelled, snatching up the engraved, gold-inlaid double gun in the ivory hooks attached to the inside of the howdah: Lightning was not a fighter, neither was he a blooded warrior, but he saw his wife being taken, and he was not about to stand for that.
Matilda spun, agile as a cutting horse, for Daciana screamed as she was taken.
Lightning brought the double four-bore to shoulder, wiping both hammers to full cock, and took a sight on the lead rider, the one with his wife across the saddle in front of him.
Matilda had other ideas.
Curling her trunk to her forehead and trumpeting, she stunned the assembled, for an elephant’s war-scream is not quiet, especially when confined to the tented arena: Lightning, not expecting his gun-platform to move at a shambling trot, fell back and dropped the double gun: it tumbled to the ground and lay shining in the dust.
Lightning thought fast, as was his habit.
He saw Matilda was closing the distance to the abductor and counted this a good thing.
He saw the mahout raise the short spear and mallet and he knew the mahout was about to kill Matilda rather than let her run rampant in a crowd.
Lightning knew this was the wrong thing to do and so he did the right thing.
Lightning seized the mahout and pitched him overboard.
“MATILDA!” he yelled, “GET THEM!”

The tent had been closed and secured as Daciana rode in.
The abductors realized they suddenly had no escape.
Turning, they saw a grey mountain of screaming death bearing down on them, and on top, a Maharaja screaming as well, uttering obscure curses in obscene Oriental tongues: Matilda’s grey trunk lashed out like a vengeful snake, knocking one man from the saddle, sending him across the arena with a broken back and caved in ribs: he skidded to the sawdust, rolled once and lay still.
The kidnapper, with Daciana roped across his saddle, spun his cow-pony and sought to escape as well: he tried to ride to the side, and Matilda spun, her trunk humming dangerously close as she sought to snare him from the saddle: Daciana was screaming, struggling to get away: the cow pony’s eyes walled up white and it reared.
Lightning patted Matilda’s head.
He never took classes in elephant riding, he never read accounts of mahouts guiding the great creatures on tiger-hunts, but he followed his instinct: he patted her head and shouted, “Matilda, down!”
Matilda stopped, knelt, about the time the cow-pony dumped its rider and unwilling cargo.
Lightning seized the curved, wire-wrapped handle of the yathaghan and drew a yard of crescent steel: screaming, he sliced the air and charged the cowboy.
The audience was wild: cheers, yells, applause: they’d come for a performance and never in their lives had they seen such a hum-dinger!
Comedy, adventure, surprise, spectacle, all the elements of a circus!
The waxed-canvas tent shivered with the accolades of half a thousand throats, the bleachers shuddered with the approval of stomping feet – townie brogans and riding boots alike punished the pine planks!
The only ones who knew this was not a performance were the circus folk, and with the exception of the mahout, who had just made it to his feet, they were shocked into motionlessness.
Only one in the bleachers divined what was actually happening.
“Mommy?” Angela half-screamed, standing now and clutching her Mommy's skirt, and Esther shouted “Stand still, honey,” and extended her arm.
Lighting swung a figure-eight in the air before him, running now, his curl-toed slippers somewhere behind him: he did not care.
He felt sawdust under his bare feet, and he did not care.
All he saw was his beloved, his Daciana, the braided leather lariat about her, rolling in the sawdust, and her attacker just coming upright.
He saw Daciana’s eyes: fear-filled and vulnerable, beseeching.
Lightning’s father had been in the War: his father had been tempered in the forge of battle, seasoned in the crucible of combat: his father had been a warrior, fighting for the man beside him, fighting for himself, as do all soldiers in all wars: Lightning had no such seasoning, no such tempering: what he had was, perhaps, even more potent.
Lightning had the love of a helpless young woman who was depending on him to keep her safe.
Lightning raised the yathagan overhead and was less than three paces from delivering a stroke intended to cleave the criminal from crown to crotch.
Esther Keller’s thumb slipped off the Smith & Wesson’s hammer and she had the perfect sight on the felon.
The kidnapper dropped his hand for his revolver.
Esther saw how wide the man’s eyes were, just before her muzzle rose in recoil.
Angela’s hands were over her ears, not so much to prevent the sound of the gunshot, but because the crowd was on its feet and at the top of its lungs, stomping, cheering, whistling, yelling –
The kidnaper’s revolver fell from nerveless fingers.
Lightning’s cut was given with all the strength in his young body.
Watered steel sliced through an impressive percentage of the kidnaper’s thorax a tenth of a second after a .44 slug punched a thumb sized hole through the man’s liver, two fingers from the side wall of his heart.
The gunshot was the thunderclap that silenced the crowd.
Everything froze.
Esther Keller stood, arm extended, the Smith’s barrel rising slowly in recoil, the rolling blue doughnut of black powder smoke wobbling out into the air before her: the shining arc of Lightning’s hard-swung steel lingered for half a heartbeat before it, too, sparkled out of existence.
The kidnapper swayed for a long moment and Lightning raised a leg, kicked hard against the kidnapper’s middle, pulling the blade free, and the carcass fell over backwards and hit the ground.
Lightning stood there, breathing hard, the sword in his hand suddenly heavy, very heavy.
He looked around.
Matilda shuffled up beside him, explored Daciana with a delicacy that had to be seen to be appreciated.
Lightning tossed the sword aside and approached his intended.
He seized the lariat, worked it loose, drew it free and dropped it: taking his diminutive, slender little bride-to-be in his arms, he stood: holding her close into him, he bore her across the arena, the little trick pony stepping daintily through the sawdust on his left and Matilda, ponderously pacing them on his right, until they came to the good Parson Belden.
To the topmost row, silence.
Every soul there could hear Matilda’s every padding footfall, Lightning’s breathing, the trick pony’s light and delicate gait.
Lightning raised his head, took a deep breath.
“I believe we’re here for a wedding,” he said, his voice ringing with clarity and with purpose.
The crowd erupted once more.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Linn Keller 9-10-11


I know you're there, Sarah thought, eyes narrowing.
She rode with Jacob's rifle across the saddle in front of her: she rode loose in the saddle, moving easily with her horse's gait: she was truly one with her mount: reins in one hand, rifle in the other, she employed more than her eyes and her nose and her young ears: her spirit flowed over the landscape, seeing more than light could convey, hearing more than the air could carry.
This was a rare condition, one which few people achieved, and yet she knew it was natural in the moment, that it was right: she'd known her Uncle Charlie describe how he and her Uncle Linn worked when they were closing in on dangerous quarry, two legged or four: she'd watched Charlie's eyes as he gazed into something only he could see, listened to his quiet voice describe how each of they two could feel the ground under the other's advancing boot sole; how each of them saw through their eyes and the others, at the same time, and how each knew when the other raised rifle to shoulder and had a sight on that which they sought ... and how it wasn't until later, after all was done and they were discussing it over a fire, or over a drink, or over hot steaming coffee, how it seemed the most natural thing in the world until they put it into words.
Grey shadows paced Sarah, always just out of sight, but she knew they were there: they were not curious, nor were they threatening; still, they kept station with her progress.
Sarah knew her path lay ahead.
She'd never seen this part of the mountain before, but she knew she had to go here.
The dun horse's ears swung ahead and it hesitated, and Sarah drew it to a halt: she listened with more than her ears, then walked the horse ahead a little, until she could just see over the edge of the crest.
A pure-white wolf stepped up and stood, facing her.
Follow me, she heard, a whisper deep in her mind.
The dun shivered, backed, danced: Sarah knew she was about to experience all the unhappiness a horse could express, and so she reached behind, yanked her saddlebags loose and kicked free of her stirrups.
Sarah made a flying dismount and the dun swapped ends, running in blind panic along their back trail.
Sarah flipped the saddle bags over her left shoulder, came up in a crouch, rifle in both hands, nostrils flared.
Colors were bright and distinct and she saw every weed stem, every branch and twig and leaf, in sharp and distinct relief: she smelled crushed grasses and dust and a trace of her Mama's perfumed bath salts.
Yellow eyes regarded her with a lazy disregard; tongues lolled out of lupine mouths.
Sarah straightened, turning, gauging the distance to each of the encircling wolves, calculating quickly how many she could dispatch with the rifle, knowing she would have no time for a reload -- how she would have to continue with her revolver --
If I have time, she thought.
If they rush me I will have time for maybe two shots.
Her soul burned bright with the knowledge that if she were to die, she would sell her life most dearly, and when she swam the River again, she would not go alone.
"Can I offer you a ride?" a familiar voice asked pleasantly, and Sarah yelped, spinning and bringing the rifle up, then lowering it: wide-eyed, she regarded the Sheriff with open surprise.
Her quick eyes flicked to his back trail.
The dirt was bare and there were no hoof marks.
Her eyes went from fearful to calculating.
How did you do that? she thought, then looked quickly around.
Her encircling escort had disappeared.
She looked off to the right, to the edge of the drop-off, where the white wolf had stood, majestic and strong.
The Sheriff pulled his boot out of the stirrup and extended his hand, and Sarah swung up behind him.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Linn Keller 9-11-11


Fred Jerome looked at the sounder as if it had just grown great flappping ears and shook a trout at him.
There was no mistaking the message.
A slow grin claimed his face, broad and genuine.
He'd automatically written down the message as it came in, and he re-read his precise print:
It was signed with the single letter L: L for Lightning, his father's signature, which he inherited when the fine man became a silent key.
Fred Jerome chuckled and rubbed his hands together, then grasped the brass key's button delicately between thumb and middle finger, index finger on top of the round black gutta-percha disk:
FB OM was his reply: Fine Business, Old Man: Lightning would know the pride and approval behind the words.
Fred leaned back in his chair and laughed aloud, then he looked over at the cot against the back wall.
"I get you all to myself now," he chuckled.
The cot made no reply.

Lightning, and Mrs. Lightning, stood in the Cripple Creek telegraph office: Lightning's hand was about wore out from being wrung by so many happy folk, his back was sore from the pounding approval of many palms, and his daintly bride blushed furiously at all the attention -- but few missed the glances she gave her husband, nor the way Lightning held her: carefully, delicately, as if she were fine porcelain.
"You and the Missus headed back now, are you?" Franklin asked, peering through his round-lensed spectacles, then dropping his head so he could look over them and actually see something.
Lightning looked at his beautiful bride and then at Franklin.
"We've some business to tend first," he said briskly.
Franklin pulled out his watch, consulted the black hands thereon: "You know the railroad runs right on time, don't you?"
Lightning nodded, looked at his bride.
"We won't be late," she said breathlessly.
Franklin nodded wisely: he was within a year of Lightning's father's age, and he regarded the two with a mixture of pride, and surprise, and wistfulness, for he remembered what it was to be a young man and newly wed.

"Mommy?" Angela asked. "Howcomeforwhy we innada police station?"
Esther smiled and touched her wide-eyed little girl's curled hair, drawing a stray lock back into place.
"I have to give a statement," she said. "I have to tell them exactly what happened, so they will know what to tell Judge Hostetler."
Angela's smile was quick and genuine. "I likeada Judge Hots-tetler," she declared with an emphatic nod.
Esther laughed, rested her gloved hand lightly on her little girl's shoulder.
"Mrs. Keller?" a uniformed officer asked. "We're ready for you, ma'am."

Daciana's eyes were wide as gold coins jingled into her cupped hands.
"We've sold the circus," the roustabout said quietly. "The boss did us all dirty and he's gonna get his. We wanted you to have your rightful share."
"But, but, but," Daciana stuttered, looking from the muscled and mustachioed man to the composed and hypnotic Snake Lady.
"You will want your wagon," she hissed quietly, "and itsss contentsss."
Daciana thought quickly.
"If we're selling the circus," she said, "sell the wagon too. Someone will need a home and it was always a happy home."
"Itsss contentssss?"
Daciana smiled, that bright, flashing smile that brought joy to laborer and performer and audience member alike.
"We lived simply and with little," she said. "There's little room in a circus van for things. I can have it empty in five minutes."
In reality, it took twenty-five.

"Yes, sweets?"
"Did Mitster Lightning really get married?"
"Yes, sweets, he did."
They walked a little further, Esther's heels loud on the neglected boardwalk, Angela's flat-soled shoes almost soundless.
"Yes, sweets?"
"I like Mildew."
"Mildred," Esther smiled. "Or Zanzibar."
"Mildew," Angela said firmly with an emphatic nod.
They walked on for another few minutes.
"Yes, sweets?"
"Whatsadat whodat why dey puttin' stuff innada your wailcar?" -- then she recognized the tall, spare figure, mostly because of the turban and baggy silks, and exclaimed, "Mommy! Itsada Mitster Lightning!"

Dr. George Flint added another few twigs to the fire.
Darkness was approaching.
He looked up at the smooth cliff face behind and nodded.
He was almost ready.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Linn Keller 9-12-11


The solution was almost tea colored and smelled of clover and of springtime.
Sarah put it to her lips and drank.
Dr. Flint accepted the wooden bowl and nodded to the Sheriff.
Linn stood behind Sarah, loose and relaxed: his part would come soon enough, he knew, but in the meantime they wanted to make sure the decoction would have its desired effect.
Sarah swallowed again, clearing her throat delicately, uncertain as to what she should be feeling, but knowing what she'd just drunk would have a significance of some kind.
Dr. Flint squatted on the cliff side of the little fire, carefully smoothing the sand: he had a level area about a yard square or roughly so, and Sarah tilted her head curiously, watching the man dip his hand in a pouch, then trickle something ... colored sand, she realized ...in a circle.
The Navajo surgeon's hands, though blunt and strong, were dextrous, skilled: Sarah watched intently as the circle became an azure disk, looking like a pool of cloudless sky suspended a fraction of an inch above the sand.
The Sheriff's hand was warm on her right elbow, his left on her hip just above belt line, and a good thing.
The ground was slowly, inexorably describing a distinct list to starboard.
Dr. Flint's hand journeyed between the blue circle and the bag, hovering over the flawless sky-color, fingers in controlled motion.
Come and see, the voice-whisper bade her, and she took a step, took another.
Sarah bent a little, hands on her knees, and set her boots shoulder width apart, gazing into the sky-disk.
What do you see?
Sarah smiled.
"I see Mama," she whispered slowly, seeing a laughing woman picking up a laughing little girl-baby.
She remembered her mother's hands, her mother's laugh, she remembered how her Mama smelled, she remembered her Mama's hands and how warm and cuddled she felt --
The scene sizzled with red and Sarah's head drew back.
She felt ... no, she tasted fear ... fear that saturated her young soul, and she fell, fell from her mother's hands.
An angry voice, a rough voice: the meaty sound of knuckles on flesh and her mother's eye started to purple and swell almost immediately.
The sound of tearing cloth --
Sarah started to cry --
"Not in front of the baby," her Mama's voice begged, and then the sounds of a woman in anguish, in pain, and Sarah's vision hazed a little --
You are seeing the past.
The voice restored her to reason.
You are seeing what was.
Sarah's vision cleared.
Her Mama was older, drawn, her hair shot with silver though not yet halfway to her mid twenties: she looked like an unpainted shed in the middle of the prairie, bleached and dried by sun and wind until little remained of the beautiful, vital young woman she had once been.
Sarah saw herself as a young girl, big-eyed, quiet, afraid to move or speak around her Papa, lest she incite the man to rage.
He had beaten her too, and worse.
Sarah's body shivered as if from a chill, then as from the ague: she saw the brutality visited upon an innocent young girl, horror that should never be known to even a grown woman, and how her Mama tried to stop the man, and was beaten for her efforts, beaten and beaten and beaten again.
You are seeing what was, the voice whispered, and Sarah felt all the fear, all the loss, all the hurt, all the hopeless despair of a victimized child --
Something in Sarah roared to life, and Dr. George Flint looked in alarm at the young woman, backing away from the shimmering blue circle, her eyes gone from wide and alarmed to ablaze.
"No," he whispered, horrified, and the Sheriff backed up a step as Sarah bent and snatched up Jacob's rifle.
Sarah jumped into the shimmering blue circle feet first, disappearing as if she'd jumped into deep water: the blue disk wobbled, then smoothed, looking as calm as it had been.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Linn Keller 9-14-11


 The Sheriff unsaddled his gelding, spread the saddle blanket out flat on the sandy rock bench: methodically, unhurriedly, he divested himself of his white man’s clothing, exposing a number of scars to Dr. Flint’s practiced eye.
The doctor knew the history behind most of them.
Most of them.
The Sheriff was soon in breechclout and moccasins, a simple belt, knife on one side, hatchet on the other: he reached in his saddlebag and pulled out two clay pots with skin covers: dipping two fingers in one, he striped his cheeks, his chest, a brilliant vermilion; two fingers of the other hand, a dip into the second pot, and he striped again, twin lines of black.
Dr. Flint’s eyes were impassive as he watched the tall lawman’s preparations.
The Sheriff began singing softly, a melody Dr. Flint almost recognized, words he very nearly understood: the Sheriff sang in Cherokee, a song of power, a song more ancient than men’s memory, a song given at the dawn of creation.
He circled the fire, sunwise, three times, stopping three times at the same point to philter a pinch of fragrant herbs on the flame.
The fire surged, red, green, blue.
Dr. Flint made a series of passes over the flames with his hands, and the flames responded, growing with each gesture: Sings-At-Dawn, as the Sheriff had been known as a young man, matched the Navajo’s moves, and the flame grew again, until it twisted and snarled as tall as a man’s head, but as slender as a lean man’s waist.
Sings-At-Dawn sat, gracefully, across the fire from his counterpart: cross legged, erect, his lean face shadowed and sculpted by the living flame’s dynamic light, he sat, unmoving, waiting, looking off into the dark.
On the cliff’s rough face, to the side of the pair, tall shadows walked.

Sarah gasped as she passed through the disk, gasped as if she’d just jumped in a deep, cold mountain lake: then she stood, flat-footed, knees bent, turning, rifle in both hands, nostrils flared.
She was standing on the board walk in front of the Silver Jewel.
Her eyes narrowed and she turned, moving to get the wall to her back: it was Firelands, and it was the familiar main street, but it was different, it was …
Primitive, a voice whispered, and she almost smiled.
The Jewel – the Silver Jewel, behind her – was unpainted, the windows were dirty, the curtains within were soiled and sun-bleached: there were no gas lights to be seen, the Mercantile looked by contrast quite new and tidy, and the board walk ended not far beyond the Silver Jewel.
There was no stone edifice of a municipal building, just a weathered, clapboard structure with a cracked window facing the broad alley: she looked the other way and there was no library building.
Sarah took a few quick steps to her left, spun, rifle at the ready, cleared the alleyway: she faded into its shadow, her back hard against the building, looked up at windows bare of curtain or care, dirty and flyspecked.
A woman looked out one window.
Sarah blinked, looked again.
“Mama?” she whispered.
Sarah swallowed hard, looked around again, her stomach tightening: her quick ear picked up the sound of an approaching wagon.
Why does that sound so familiar? she thought, and then the wagon passed the mouth of the alley, and Sarah’s stomach fell about ten feet.
Sarah saw her Papa driving the wagon, and beside him, a little girl in a torn and dirty dress, hair in need of a brushing, hands dirty …
Sarah saw herself as she was, the day after her Papa beat her Mama to death.
Sarah looked up at the window.
The woman was gone.
Sarah knew the woman was Bonnie McKenna – her Mama – not her birth-mother, but the woman who had adopted her –
Sarah dizzied for a moment, the memories of being a scared, hurt, neglected little girl surging over her like waves in the ocean: she took a shivering breath, wiped the back of her hand hard across her eyes, shook her head.
The only kindness she'd known in the dark days after her Mama's murder had been from the working girls, upstairs, in the Silver Jewel.
They'd bathed her and they'd patched her dresses or sewn her new ones, they'd fed her and brushed her hair and sang little songs to her, and for moments, brief moments, she knew happiness, at least until she heard noises from the other rooms, and the girls hesitated and looked fearfully to the thin walls, knowing what was happening, and helpless to stop it.
Sarah heard the wagon turn down the alley the way it always did, and stop where it always did, behind the Silver Jewel, and she knew her Papa would slap the back of his little girl’s head, hard enough she would taste copper, and tell her roughly to get the hell out of the wagon.
Sarah drifted back through the alley, weight on the balls of her feet, breathing through her mouth, breathing silently.
Sarah’s memory, perhaps prompted by the proximity of her younger self, remembered her Mama … she remembered the gentleness of her Mama’s hands, how warm and safe she felt in her Mama’s lap … and how her Papa had taken this away from her.
Sarah made it to the corner of the alley, removed her hat, leaned down and peeked around the corner.
She saw her younger self, silent tears streaking her dirty face, following her Papa to the Jewel’s back door.
Sarah knew she would be hit again when she went inside, generally slapped on the bottom multiple times going upstairs the way he always did, hitting her hard enough to bring her worn, flat-soled shoes off the stair tread: she would generally fall against the stairs a few times from the strength of his blows, banging shins and forearms and sometimes spraining a wrist.
Sarah brought her rifle to shoulder, the front bead bright on her Papa’s chest.
You black hearted monster, she thought, you’re going to go upstairs and hit Bonnie again, and her finger found the smoothness of the trigger.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Linn Keller 9-15-11


Sarah hesitated, then thumbed the hammer down to half cock.
She waited until they went in the back door, then she rose, cat-footed her way along the back of the Jewel, head on a swivel.
She heard Shorty’s voice cheerfully profaning a pig eared hook nosed refugee from a glue factory and knew he was behind his livery, in the training lot.
Good, she thought. He can’t see me. That man doesn’t miss seeing a thing!
She leaned her back against the dusty clap boards, felt their edges dig into her shoulder blades and took a long, steadying breath.
Her legs were shaking.
She stopped them with a massive effort of sheer will, but her stomach was tight and turning over.
Sarah waited a full minute before slipping in the back door, closing it behind her.
She burned with hatred for the man who would smack a little child up the stairs, then beat and brutalize the woman who became her mother –
I could kill him, she thought, and hear heart beat faster.
I really could.
Sarah’s lips were pulled back, exposing even, white teeth: her eyes were pale now, pale and huge, and she was trembling a little.
In the kitchen – just to her right – she knew it was Daisy at the stove, Daisy muttering in Gaelic, stirring something bubbling and fragrant, and for a moment Sarah was distracted by the realization that she was hungry … then she looked upstairs, where her young self and her brutal Papa had just ascended.
Sarah remembered that hard, callused hand belting the back of her head hard enough to click her teeth together.
Sarah remembered worse things, far worse things.
I CAN kill him!
To think was to act.
Sarah flowed up the stairs, low, climbing silently on two feet and one hand, rifle gripped at balance point in her right: she was a hunting animal now, a predator, intent on taking down prey, dangerous prey.
She came to the top of the stairs, thrust the rifle out, took a quick sight on the middle of her Papa’s back.
A figure came out of Bonnie’s room, a woman in a fine dress and hat.
Sarah’s finger snapped off the trigger and she brought her head up, eyes wide.
Reality twisted and blurred around her and she was kneeling beside a bed.
Sarah turned quickly, swinging the rifle’s muzzle around, but no one else was in the tidy little cabin.
She looked around, eyes wide.
Home … I’m home!
Sarah stood, listened: she saw her little bed across the room, the one she occupied when she was a little girl taking three steps to the yard.
She smelled her Mama, she smelled the quilt, the way it always smelled … clean, sun-dried, like the outdoor air –
Another lurch, and something – someone – landed heavily on the bed.
It was her Mama, bleeding.
Her Papa stood, fists doubled, then he came after her and landed on top of her: punching his wife in the ribs, hard, he grunted with each blow.
Sarah’s Mama was beyond pain.
Her nose was laid over against her cheek and her eyes were swollen and discolored and Sarah heard ribs crack.
Sarah looked across the room.
Her little bed had been neatly and tidily made but a moment ago.
Now it was … destroyed.
A small leg hung over the edge.
Sarah remembered what her Papa had done to her, after he’d beaten her with the razor strop.
Sarah’s thumb brought Jacob’s rifle to full cock and she stood.
Her Papa raised his head and looked at her, surprised.
“Hello, Papa,” Sarah said in a voice that would freeze water.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


Linn Keller 9-16-11


“Who the hell are you?” the man challenged, fist cocked.
Sarah brought the rifle to shoulder.
“I’M SARAH,” she said coldly, and drove a 40-caliber bullet through the man’s chest.
He blinked at the report.
Sarah cranked the rifle’s lever.
“What’s wrong, Papa?” Sarah shouted into the ringing blue cloud. “Don’t like being hit?”
She fired again, her second bullet striking an inch from the first, splintering the cabin wall behind him.
Her Papa looked down at his undamaged chest, looked up at Sarah, faded out of existence… gone.
She looked down at her Mama, gasping weakly, her face gone a fatal slate-grey.
“No,” she groaned, as the Sarah-that-was staggered from her little bed, one hand across her belly, tears running down her young cheeks.
“Mama?” the little-Sarah quavered, and Sarah remembered the moment, when she too staggered across the floor, holding her belly, hurt, but knowing her Mama was hurt as well –
Her childhood home disappeared, and she was in Bonnie’s room.
Bonnie and Duzy were talking, Bonnie in a stained and torn slip, and Duzy in her fine dress and hat.
Sarah looked toward the bed and knew the Sarah-that-was, the Sarah-she’d-been, was hiding under there, hurt, crying: no one had killed her Papa, her Mama was dead, and she was alone, alone …
Reality twisted and Sarah clutched Jacob’s rifle to her.
She was somewhere, somewhere – downstairs? – and her Papa was loud and threatening Duzy.
He cocked a fist.
Sarah raised her rifle, remembering how he’d beaten her Mama.
She felt the smooth-walnut gunstock against her cheek and took a quick sight on the back of her Papa’s head –
There was the sharp crack of a Derringer and Duzy stepped quickly back, the little two-pipe reticule gun in her gloved grip, and Sarah's Papa staggered back, making a funny choking sound.
She watched him slide to the floor and die.
Sarah stepped up to the man, looked at Duzy.
Her Papa’s spirit peeled out of his body and stood, confused, then looked at Sarah.
“Who the hell are you?” he shouted, and Sarah stepped in and smacked him across the jaw with the steel crescent butt plate, then driving it straight-on into his face.
This time there was the satisfyingly solid contact of a real body.
Sarah hit him hard both times and the man fell back with a cry of pain, his hands going to his face.
“I’M SARAH,” she screamed, her face contorting with anger.
“Sarah?” he mumbled, spit a broken tooth into his palm.
He charged Sarah.
Sarah spun, twisted, lithe as a willow switch, kicking him behind the knee as he went past, drove the steel crescent into his kidneys on the way by.
The man hit the floor, face down, a groan of pain ripping from his throat.
Sarah turned and looked at her Papa’s dead body, impossibly still, unmoving; she saw Duzy, one hand to her lips, shocked.
“Duzy?” Sarah quavered.
Duzy did not seem to hear her.
Sarah turned.
She walked over to her dead Papa’s shade, lying on the floor as if he were still alive, and squatted beside him.
“What’s the matter, Papa?” she asked. “Don’t like being beaten?”
“I’ll kill you,” he gasped, pushing up off the floor.
Sarah drew her knife, casually cut his ear off: as he clapped a hand to his ear, she sliced the back of his hand, quickly, savagely, cutting it to the bone.
“You forgot something,” Sarah hissed, cutting his upper arm again, longways with the bone.
He tried to roll away.
Sarah wiped the blade quickly on his vest, one side, then the other, and stood.
“Little girls grow up, Papa,” she said coldly. “I’m Sarah. I’m your little girl.”
Something behind Sarah raised the hairs on her neck and her arms, and she turned, tossing the knife and bringing the rifle up.
Sarah had never seen a demon before but when she looked at this black silhouette with bat’s wings and cloven hooves, she realized this must be what one looks like.
“You want him?” she asked, unafraid.
The creature hissed.
Something touched her arm from behind and she spun, striking fast and hard.
The octagon rifle barrel made solid contact with something bony and Sarah drove the bloody crescent butt plate into the second demon’s face.
Stepping into the second dark creature, she drove the barrel like a bayonet into its belly, then yanked the rifle straight back and drove the butt plate into the belly of the first demon.
Both creatures screamed, a high, whistling screech, and bent over, holding their middles.
Sarah stepped back.
“If you want him,” she said coldly, “take him!”
Her Papa’s shade sat up, eyes wide, clutching his injured hand.
“No,” he gasped.
Sarah squatted quickly, snatched up her knife, thrust it into the horizontal sheath at the back of her belt.
"Noooo," Sarah's Papa whimpered, his word squeezing out of his fear-tightened throat.
“Yes,” a woman’s voice said, and Sarah looked up.
Her Mama stood there, young and beautiful, the way Sarah remembered her: her hair was light-auburn, glowing with health, rich with color, shining and clean: her dress was in the same shades of blue she loved, her apron pure, spotless white.
Pure, Sarah thought, realizing that was a perfect descriptor for her Mama's appearance.
“You must go with them, Walter,” she said, her voice calm and pleasantly modulated. “You have earned your passage.”
“No, no, no,” Walter whined. “No, not that, no, don’t take me, don’t –“
He looked frantically from one demon-shadow to the other, desperate, looking around for an escape, whimpering: his voice rose to a wail as the shades seized him, his voice rising to a scream as their black claws dug into his shadow-flesh.
Darkness swallowed demons and damned and wailing voice alike, and Sarah took a long, steadying breath as her Papa's agonized voice faded, and was gone.
The hallway was lighter now.
Sarah turned, lowering her rifle’s muzzle, holding it by the wrist, letting the barrel swing down and point to the dirty floor underfoot.
Sarah’s Mama tilted her head a little to the side, her hands folded in front of her the way Sarah remembered, the way Sarah loved.
“Mama?” Sarah said, her voice quavering a little.
“Sarah,” her Mama said in the warm and welcoming voice Sarah remembered, and opened her arms.
“Oh, Mama,” Sarah gasped, running into her Mama’s arms, and her Mama was solid and real and warm and she smelled like Sarah remembered, and Sarah wrapped her arms around the woman that had been taken from her so young, taken too early –
“Let me look at you,” her Mama said in an approving voice, drawing Sarah back to arm’s length and appraising her the way mothers do.
She raised a gentle hand and brushed the backs of her fingers across Sarah’s cheek, catching the drop of moisture as it spilled over her penthouse lid.
“You look so much like my own mother,” her Mama whispered, and Sarah could contain herself no longer.
“Oh, Mama,” she cried, and her Mama held her, and rocked her a little, the way she used to when Sarah was a little girl, and scared of the storm or a nightmare or a sound in the night.
Sarah did not know how long the two of them held each other, and she did not care: she had her Mama again, and she did not want to let her go.
Her Mama drew her back again, back to arm’s length, and smiled, a knowing, sad Mama-smile.
“You are so lovely,” she whispered. “I hoped you would be.”
“Mama, I missed you,” Sarah choked.
“I know, dear, and I have missed you for so very long.”
Sarah fumbled for a bandanna, blew her nose in a loud, un-ladylike honk: given the circumstances, this was most understandable.
“Mama, can you come back with me?” Sarah asked, her voice thick, and her Mama shook her head slowly.
“I can’t,” she said. “I have to go on to the Light.”
“But Mama,” Sarah choked, tears welling up and spilling over again, “I don’t want you to go!”
Sarah’s breath caught in her throat and she hiccupped and tried again, anguish in her face and in her voice.
“Mama, I want to be a little girl again. I want to grow up like I was supposed to! I want to be your Sarah!”
Her Mama reached up under her hair at the back of her neck, drew out a necklace: quickly, urgently, she put it around Sarah’s neck, fastened it: she turned the light-and-dark-blue cameo so it faced out, laid it carefully in the little hollow between Sarah’s collar bones.
“This was your grandmother’s,” she whispered, biting her lip: Sarah could see her Mama was fighting tears, and she knew her time was very near: her smile was gentle, a Mama's proud and loving smile, but a little sad.
"You are growing up as you are supposed to, Sarah. Your life is important and so is that of your children, and their children, and children after them."
Her hands, her Mama-hands, were warm and soft against Sarah's quivering cheeks.
I am so very proud of you!”
She looked up, and Sarah looked up as well.
A blue circle was opening above them.
Sarah, you are growing as you are supposed to,” she whispered urgently, her hands light and gentle on Sarah’s shoulders. “You are my little girl and I am so very proud of you, and you are Bonnie’s little girl as well, and you mean so very much to so many people!” Her Mama bit her bottom lip, then kissed Sarah’s cheek.
They held each other for a very long moment.
It was lighter around them both now, and Sarah could smell springtime, the scent of a thousand green growing things.
“Time to go,” her Mama whispered, and took Sarah’s left hand, drawing it high overhead.
“Reach up, dear,” she whispered. “Reach up!”

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Linn Keller 9-17-11


 Sings-At-Dawn knelt beside the blue disk, leaned over it: he braced his off hand on the far side and thrust his arm down, into the rippling azure.
Dr. George Flint chanted quietly as the tall, slender shadows walked across the cliff face, ceremonial staff clearly and sharply silhouetted in the silhouette's left hands hand and ears of corn, equally distinct, in their right.
Sings-At-Dawn ran his arm shoulder-deep, fingers splayed: he felt fingers brush his, and he grasped a wrist, and the hand grasped his.
Sings-At-Dawn’s teeth clicked together and he pulled, hard, then stood.
Sarah emerged from the blue portal like a swimmer coming up from a long, deep dive: Sings-At-Dawn fell back, and Sarah fell on top of him, and the pair landed unceremoniously on the sand-covered rock.
Sarah rolled over, scrambled to her feet, looking back at the portal.
“Mama?” she called. “Mama!”
The cliff-shadows stopped, and a new shadow appeared between them, the shape of a woman: her arms raised, and a set of wings spread, and then the shadows were gone.
Something soft and silent flew over the little fire – an owl, snowy and ghostlike in the darkness, its wingtips just brushing Sarah’s shoulder – and atop the cliff, Sarah saw the white wolf, watching her.
Sings-At-Dawn looked at her, eyes gentle and concerned.
“Sarah?” he asked quietly. “You okay?”
Sarah sniffed and fumbled for her bandana.
Sings-at-Dawn hooked a gentle forefinger under the magazine tube of Sarah’s rifle, swung it up and frowned at the muzzle.
He looked over at Dr. Flint.
The two placed a hand on either side of the gunbarrel and spoke a word, and black ichor sizzled and disappeared, leaving clean, brown octagon barrel behind: they lowered their hands to the crescent butt plate and spoke a word, and there was another searing sizzle.
Sarah wiped her eyes and laid delicate fingers in the hollow of her throat.
The Sheriff looked over at his niece and saw disappointment, saw her shoulders sag, as if she’d just lost something precious.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Linn Keller 9-18-11


“And then what happened?”
Jacob shifted in his seat, looked over at the accused.
“I picked up Mr. Baxter’s bung starter and belted your defendant a good one across the head.”
There was a ripple of laughter in the courtroom.
The Honorable Judge Hostetler did not reach for his gavel.
He did not have to.
His quiet look was sufficient to stifle further chuckles.
“Isn’t that a bit … excessive? After all, my client was but expressing an opinion.”
“No, sir, he was not,” Jacob said mildly, eyes sleepy, half-lidded.
“Excuse me? Free speech is a Constitutional guarantee.”
“Up to a point it is, yes, sir,” Jacob said, “but when free speech expresses as a threat, I cannot let that go.”
“Threat?” the defense attorney sneered. “My client uttered a threat?”
“He did, sir. Would you like a list of corroborating witnesses?” Jacob’s expression had not changed; he still had that sleepy expression … the sleepy expression of a cat, curled and lazing in the sun, waiting for a particular, foolish mouse to venture closer.
“Witnesses,” the defense attorney said sarcastically. “Of course you can produce witnesses.”
Jacob made no reply.
“Move to dismiss, Your Honor,” the defense attorney said theatrically, throwing a hand in the air as if tossing a handful of playing cards.
“On what grounds?” Judge Hostetler rumbled. “I don’t believe you’re finished, Counselor.”
“Your Honor, it is more than evident that this –“ he waved a limp wrist at Jacob – “this schoolyard bully was simply proving his manhood by picking a fight with my client! His reckless actions put my client’s life in danger! Your Honor, I move to charge this deputy with armed and aggravated assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm!”
“Counselor,” Judge Hostetler said levelly, “your stupidity does you no credit here. You might flim-flam and bamboozle a gullible city audience, but we pride ourselves on being able to tell new oats from used oats, and you, sir,” he pointed with the handle of his gavel, “are dispensing second hand oats in my courtroom. Unless you wish me to find a summary judgment against your client, I suggest you desist and do your job.”
The attorney was plainly displeased; he was not used to being called down in court – especially in front of a bunch of back country hicks – but he knew better than to cross a Judge in his own courtroom.
“Deputy,” he said, contempt in his voice, “just what was the threat that prompted you to attempt to take my client’s life?”
Jacob was out of the witness stand and across the floor in two long strides: he had the attorney by the chin, bent backwards, his head twisted and the honed edge of his knife against the attorney’s neck.
“Hold very still,” Jacob whispered, “or I will give you a very, very close shave.”
The courtroom was absolutely, utterly still, save only for two flies buzzing about in a window.
“If I want to take a life,” Jacob said, not raising his voice yet clearly audible to every ear, “I can do so quickly and easily.” He held the attorney, bent backwards like a drawn bow, hard hand clenched on the lawyer’s chin, holding a painful strain on the man’s cervical spine.
He released the lawyer, shoving him upright: the knife disappeared, almost a sleight-of-hand move.
“If I had attempted to take your client’s life,” Jacob said quietly, “your client would be six foot under right now.”
Jacob walked back to the witness stand, seated himself.
“Your Honor,” the attorney gasped, and Jacob stood, thrusting out an accusing finger.
“You’ve spoken enough,” Jacob declared, his voice powerful and authoritative in the hushed courtroom. “I’ll tell you one more time what happened, and maybe now you’ll listen to me. Otherwise I’ll have to help your hearing.”
Jacob’s eyes were icy, pale, like his father’s.
His good right hand descended slowly to his belt.
“Your client was drunk, loud and trying to pick a fight. He finally grabbed one of Daisy’s girls and tried to hit her when she slapped him. I came in about that time and he called me a wet behind the ears kid. Call me anything but late for supper, that did not trouble me, but when he allowed as he was going to take my belt off me and whip my backside with it and then he come towards me a-reachin’, I figured it was time to show him he could not walk hard heeled in my town.”
Jacob looked slowly around the courtroom, meeting every eye.
“You come after a lawman, you’re askin’ to have your name carved on a marble slab.
“I could have killed your client on the spot and been justified.
“I did not.
“I chose to educate him and maybe he would learn something and live.
“I knew I had to get his attention and the quickest and easiest way was to belt him over the head with something solid.
“When your client woke up in jail he sang mighty small. I’d say he learned something.
“Now if you want to run your mouth any more, you want to insult me, go right ahead.” Jacob’s voice was quieter now. “Call me anything you like. It’s a free country and yes, the Constitution does guarantee free speech. But I guarantee you this mister” – Jacob’s head turned slightly, ever so slightly, his eyes the color of a glacier’s wintry heart – “if you allow as you are going to commit any unlawful act I will be on you like ink on paper, and I can guarantee you will come out in second place – both in that moment, and in any subsequent courtroom proceeding. Do I make myself absolutely clear?”
“Your Honor!” the attorney shouted, protesting: “I did not come from the State Capital to be insulted and threatened by rubes and hicks!”
“Counselor,” Judge Hostetler said tiredly, “your client is being judged by a jury of his peers. If you wish to call the jury a bunch of rubes and hicks, you can guarantee that you have poisoned the very body that could exonerate your client.”
From the jury-box a lone voice: “He called us a bunch of whats?”
There was a quick conference, then the jury foreman stood.
“Your Honor, we have arrived at a verdict,” he said crisply. “We unanimously and with one voice declare our verdict to be guilty.”
“So noted!” Judge Hostetler swung his gavel briskly against the cherry-wood striking block.
“Your Honor!” the attorney wailed. “You must find the jury in contempt! There has been no deliberation –“
Judge Hostetler’s glare was hard as the cherry block on his table.
You,” he said, and it was the Judge’s time to drip contempt with his voice, “do not tell me what to do in my courtroom!”

Sarah waited outside the courthouse for her Mama to emerge.
Bonnie smiled and waved when she saw her daughter, standing patiently beside the buggy: Sarah looked tired, but her smile was brilliant as she embraced her Mama.
“I was worried when you didn’t come home by suppertime,” Bonnie said, brushing a wisp of hair from Sarah’s face, “but then I realized you were out at Charlie and Fannie’s.”
Bonnie’s eyes brightened and she raised a finger.
“I have something for you,” she said. “I met the nicest woman this morning. I don’t know her name, she was gone before I could ask, but she said to give you this, and you would understand.”
Sarah’s expression was puzzled as her Mama ran a gloved hand into her reticule, fished around a bit, then came up with a small, cloth wrapped object.
Sarah unwrapped it, surprised to see her hands were shaking.
“Oh, how beautiful!” Bonnie exclaimed. “Blue cameos are so lovely! Here, let me – why, Sarah, you’re pale as a ghost!”

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Linn Keller 9-19-11


"Mama, I must see Shorty," Sarah said abruptly.
Bonnie hesitated, then released the fine carriage's brake.
"Of course," she said, puzzled; she clucked to the mare and brought the buggy about, and down the alley between the fine stone Municipal Building and the Silver Jewel's freshly painted clapboard wall.
Shorty's livery was not far at all from the back door of the Jewel. Sarah had walked it many times, but it was convenient to drive the short distance, as they were on their way home, and it was but a brief detour.
Sarah jumped out of the buggy, wobbling it on its springs, and Bonnie stifled a smile -- she remembered what it was to be young, and energetic, with flexible bones and limitless energy, and part of her wished to dismount in exactly that same manner.
Of course, Sarah, in boyish denim instead of feminine skirts, could do so with less risk of indiscreetly exposing an ankle, Bonnie realized with a sigh ... Bonnie did not approve of her daughter exposing her shape in britches, but this was a new age, and Sarah was of the new generation.
As long as she does not make it a habit, Bonnie thought.

Sarah pressed coin into the gimp-legged liveryman's palm: "You're sure the dun is all right?"
Her question was not anxious; it was the honest concern of someone who'd lost track of another's property.
Shorty patted her hand gently, his callused palms and strong, stubby, stained fingers surprisingly gently on the girl's knuckles: "Fine an' dandy, Sarah, an' this is twice what we agreed on."
Sarah dropped her eyes and turned red: biting her bottom lip, she thought for a moment, then looked almost shyly at the kindly expression on the older man's weather wrinkled face.
"I'm sorry," she said abruptly. "I wasn't paying attention and she got away from me. I'm glad she came home."
"How fur off were you when she dumped you off?"
Sarah laughed quietly. "I felt her wind up like you'd wind up a clock and I remembered Uncle Linn telling me that sometimes it's better to jump ship than to have it turn over on top of you, so I jumped."
Shorty's expression went from fatherly to concerned: his head swung ponderously to the left, and his eyes ran frankly down Sarah's left side, then he swung off to the right and gave her a top to bottom looking-over again.
"Ye didn't get hurt, now, did y'?"
Sarah laid a hand on his shoulder. "No, no,?" she whispered, shaking her head. "I'm just fine."
"Good." He nodded. "But this is still way too much." Shorty held out his hand with the gold bright in his palm.
Sarah folded the man's fingers over the payment.
"I missed your birthday last year," she said quietly, quoting her cousin Jacob -- she didn't remember when he used the phrase, but she remembered hearing it -- "take that for your birthday present."
Shorty sighed, shaking his head, and dropped the gelt in his vest pocket.
"Ain't no arguin' with a woman," he muttered. "Now g'wan, git outta here so I c'n git some work done!"
Sarah turned to leave.
Sarah turned, a gently half-smile on her face.
"I had a daughter oncet, y'know."
Sarah blinked, turned to face Shorty squarely.
"Was you m'daughter I'd be jist pretty damned proud of you."
Sarah's smile would have lit up a midnight ballroom.

"That didn't take long," Bonnie observed as Sarah settled herself into the tuck and roll upholstered seat.
"I wanted to pay Shorty for using that horse."
Bonnie nodded approval. "It's wise to pay one's bills on time," she agreed, sounding like a mother, or like a schoolteacher, and Sarah laughed.
Bonnie flipped the reins and the mare picked up into a trot: they traveled down the street, past the whitewashed church and the fine Irish firehouse, and waved at the red-shirted Brigade as they went past.
They were out of town and not yet in sight of the McKenna ranch when Sarah asked, "Mama?"
"Yes, sweets?"
Sarah hesitated.
I love it when she calls me that, she thought, and pulled off her hat: she dropped it into the back of the buggy and leaned her head over against her Mama's shoulder.
"Mama, could I ask you a favor?"
"And what's that?" Bonnie's tone was light and bantering; the air was clean, and smelled of approaching fall; the sun was warm and Bonnie had a general feeling that all was as it should be.
"Mama, if I don't appreciate you the way I should..."
Sarah sat up straight, looked at her Mama's profile, admiring the woman's clear skin, her regal bearing -- "Mama, if I ever, ever fail to appreciate you the way that I should, would you please take the biggest frying pan we have in both hands, and smack me a good one with it?"
Bonnie laughed, giving her daugter a surprised look.
"Why, Sarah!" she exclaimed, and they both laughed.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Linn Keller 9-20-11


Dulcinea regarded herself in the full length mirror.
She turned side-on, then square-on, then side-on again.
Her husband of less than a week was at work, she knew, and she was still trying to get used to having so much room!
The house they now had was ... well, she could have parked her circus van inside the living room; the parlor was bigger than her van's interior; then there was kitchen, pantry, bedrooms, the entire upstairs, a cellar, a storeroom built into the mountainside behind the house ...
The question she asked the slender figure in the mirror would translate to, "Are you up for this?" -- but of course she thought in her native Romanian, except when she thought in Arabic, German, Spanish, French or the dozen other languages of which she had major or minor command.
At the moment, though, she considered the cavernous nature of her immense manse, and decided that she would do nothing with it, for the moment, at least.
She had business elsewhere.
Dulcinea knew she was "bucking a stacked deck," as the Sheriff's tall, slender son had warned her: she was probably going to be regarded by certain waspish female sorts as a hussy, a tramp, because she was a (gasp!) performer ... and Dulcinea knew all too well the prejudice people often held toward circus folk.
She knew if she were to be a proper wife, she would have to establish herself, and that meant appearances, and she knew where to start.
Dulcinea and Lightning had approached the Daine boys and they had built an extension on the house, off the back porch -- they'd enclosed the back porch, then built back to the barn, so they could get to their stable without going outdoors -- and Dulcinea was most pleased to see the stable had been Daine-built as well, and as tight and as well made as the house itself.
It would have to be.
Her beloved Buttercup lived in this stable.
Dulcinea spent as much time with her Buttercup as she had with the other circus performers, and it hurt her conscience to think of Buttercup, all alone in the barn or in the corral, while she herself was in the fine, two-story clapboard house; she took pains to spend time with her trick pony, grooming her, buffing her hooves, cleaning the stall (just like when she lived in the stock van, Buttercup did not empty herself just anywhere, she let fly in a particular and designated place ...and it was convenient to have ditched out of one corner of the barn to let the effluvium proceed downhill, so much as possible -- the rest could be removed easily by wheelbarrow) --
But now, now Dulcinea brushed her pony's mane and forelock, murmuring to her in multiple languages, all uttered in the gentle syllables she was wont to use; Buttercup shivered her back in anticipation and was soon saddled.
Dulcinea did not bother with the pretense of a bridle.
It was not necessary, it was strictly decoration, and the saddle was gaudy enough.
Dulcinea withdrew the latch, swung the double door open, and Buttercup stepped daintily into the high Colorado sunlight.
Dulcinea closed and fastened the door behind, then looked at her beloved trick pony and smiled, a wicked, knowing smile.
Only a distant schoolboy playing hooky saw as Dulcinea stretched both arms overhead, then snatched up her skirt about her waist, took three running steps, slapped her hands on her pony's rump and vaulted into the saddle.
Buttercup began moving before Dulcinea's weight was full in the saddle, and Dulcinea threw back her head and laughed, her feet finding the stirrups, and the pair of them cantered down the short street to the main thoroughfare, where they turned left and paced past the firehouse.
Dulcinea leaned a little in the saddle, her weight shifting forward, and Buttercup did something she was seldom able to do in the circus.
She began an easy gallop.
Dulcinea had only the vaguest notion of where the House of McKenna dress works was located, but she knew it was out this road and not hard to find, and she was determined to consult with this woman McKenna, this woman of whom Maude at the general store had spoken so highly.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Linn Keller 9-24-11


The Sheriff was holding court.
It had been said, and truly so, that not all the official business of town was conducted in the town's offices: not all municipal affairs were conducted within the fine stone municipal building, not all business dealings were dealt in the business offices, and not all the Sheriff's doings were done in the little log fortress that was home to his official, formal office.
No, it was not uncommon at all for mayor and council, Sheriff and Marshal, peer, potentate and powers that be, to congregate in the Silver Jewel.
For one thing, the Silver Jewel could keep dry throats slaked, stumbling tongues lubricated, and a general liquid cameraderie flowing through the business at hand: for another, should business run long, it was but a simple matter to have a meal brought to the table: the surroundings were pleasant, the ladies were attractive, if somewhat distracting (let's face it, a dance hall girl leaning down to deal a hand of poker was easier on the eyes than the bearded, cigar-chomping Councilman across the table) ... yes, if there was an alternate seat of government, it was the Silver Jewel.
The Silver Jewel profited from this arrangement.
Gambling was one of the greatest sporting past-times of the era, and the Silver Jewel offered poker, chuck-a-luck, roulette and a variety of other games of chance; on occasion, an election or an official decision might be decided with the turn of a card, the throw of dice, the toss of a coin.
Today the Sheriff was holding court.
He had long ago discovered the value of making himself accessable.
He garnered a surprising amount of information by being affable, cheerful and available: whether business was official or casual, legal or friendly, people tended to be more relaxed and less uncomfortable in the warm and welcoming interior of the Silver Jewel, than in the stark and Spartan interior of the Sheriff's office.
Today the Sheriff regarded young Lightning with approval.
The young man was now a husband.
The Sheriff had long been of the opinion that it was a mark of responsibility that a man was a husband: it showed the wisdom of his choice, in his selection of a wife; it showed the degree and manner to which the husband was willing to unselfishly and lovingly provide for his bride.
The Sheriff was also smart enough to realize that sometimes it's the wife that selected the husband -- as indeed had been the case with himself and Esther -- a matter to which he objected none at all.
Now, though, he nodded to the slender young telegrapher, who regarded his slab of berry pie without seeing it at all.
"I didn't hardly know her, Sheriff," he said softly.
The Sheriff nodded, once: Go on, the gesture said.
Lightning swallowed.
"She's beautiful, Sheriff." Lightning spoke in the wondering tones of a man who has seen a treasure of unmatched worth. "I first saw her in that fairy princess riding outfit, and --"
Lightning's face positively flamed as he thought of when next he saw his beautiful bride, and the fact that she wore no more than flowers in her hair and a shy smile: though he had come to the Sheriff as to his own father, and for the same reason, both propriety and bashfulness said more with the color in his cheeks and the scarlet scorching his ears, than his hesitant tongue ever could have.
"I understand," the Sheriff said softly in a voice he'd reserved for such talks with his own son. "Go on."
Lightning looked up and swallowed.
"Sheriff, when I got home, she ..."
Lightning looked down at the table, then back up to the older man with the sweeping grey mustache and kindly, light-blue eyes.
"Sheriff, I didn't hardly know her.
"She'd gone out to the McKenna Dress Works and got herself ..."
Lightning's eyes wandered across the room and stared at something a couple miles on the other side of the opposite wall.
"Sheriff, her hair was fixed up and she was in a fine gown, and ..."
His mouth closed, opened again, closed.
"Sheriff, I married a beautiful woman."
The Sheriff leaned forward, laid a callused hand on Lightning's knuckles: Lightning flinched, for the man's hand was hot, the way it always was.
"You have found something reserved for a fortunate few men," the Sheriff said in a deep, quiet, father's-counsel voice.
"You have realized just what a treasure your wife really is.
"Remember that moment, my friend, cherish it and keep it in your heart.
"She is a good woman.
"Know you this." His hand tightened slightly and Lightning looked at the man, looked him square in his rich, blue eyes, devoid of their characteristic frost: he saw warmth, good humor, and ... well, he saw something he'd not seen since before his own father died, he saw into the depths of a man he admired and respected.
"Know you this," the Sheriff repeated.
"She went to the trouble to go out to Bonnie's, and have gowns made ... for you."
Lightning blinked.
"She did this for you.
"She went to this trouble, for you.
"She got her hair fixed and she bought a proper wife's wardrobe so she could make you proud of her."
The Sheriff's hand was heavy on Lightning's, the intensity of his words conveyed through the scalding heat of his palm: Lightning had heard the Sheriff had hot hands, a Healer's hands, but not until this moment did he realize the truth of what he'd been told.
"Your job is to let her know that you are proud of her -- you must recognize the effort she went to -- and you must never, ever let her forget that she is the brightest star in your universe."
The Sheriff's words were low, intense, as if he conveyed something of great urgency.
"I heard an old-timer say once that a woman's heart is like a camp fire: you must tend it constantly, lest it go out." The Sheriff's smile was a little crooked, and there was a sadness in his eyes as he leaned back, and Lightning's hand was cold as the Sheriff withdrew his own.
"Women are deep and women are mysterious, and to be real honest I don't have 'em figured out." He smiled a little more, then leaned forward and winked conspiratorially: "To be real honest, I hope I never do!"
Lightning nodded.
"You got a good sharp pocket knife on ye?"
Lightning blinked, fumbled at his vest pocket.
The Sheriff held up a forestalling hand. "Fetch yourself down to the church building. There's a good crop of roses along side. Cut her three roses: one full in bloom, one just starting to bloom and one bud, then fetch them to her straightaway." He blinked slowly, sleepily, like a cat sunning itself in a wondow sill. "Fetch her flowers or pretties for no reason a'tall, but never, ever let her forget she is the most precious thing you know!"
Lightning nodded, thrusting his bottom jaw out, then looked at his plate.
"I forgot clear about that pie," he said wonderingly.
The Sheriff threw his head back and laughed, and it was a good sound to hear.
"You forgot nothing," he said heartily, leaning forward and thumping Lightning good naturedly on his near shoulder: "you just now remembered it! Matter of fact pie sounds good to me too!"
And so saying, he waved at Daisy's girl across the room.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Linn Keller 9-24-11


The tonsured monk in Cistercian-white robe solemnly regarded his blackrobed counterpart, and both were just as solemnly regarded by the black-suited parson.
Mr. Bill, Mr. Mac, Parson Belden and Brother William were seated around the checker playing barrel, on the board walk in front of the Mercantile: the four were deep in discussion, and doubtless those who saw, believed the subject would have to be a matter of faith, of religion, of belief.
In point of fact, men do define themselves by their work, and the subject under discussion was one which all four men believed in deeply and passionately: their meeting was not planned, but rather came about through happy accident, the four converging on the Mercantile in the same moment: black-suited Parson and black-robed priest, Cistercian-white monastic and white-shirted civilian, all regarded the round tin box Brother William slid to the middle of the checkerboard.
"Bretheren," he said quietly, "here it is."
All four leaned forward as Brother William carefully, delicately, worked the metal lid off the squatty little round can.
"These," he said, dipping thumb and forefinger into its interior and withdrawing a gleaming prize, "are the very finest fish hooks in the entire world."
The others gave a collective, whispered "ahhh" of admiration.

Two hooky schoolboys hesitated at the edge of the drop-off.
"I told ya," the one said accusingly. "I told ya it didn't shortcut here!"
"Yeah, ya sissy," the other sneered, to which the other shouted "You take that back!" and the two rolled on the grass, pounding at one another, until they rolled too close to the edge.

Starr twitched the reins and murmured "Ho," and his cow-pony ho'd.
Starr didn't know the country hereabouts as well as he would like, and he'd managed to head the wrong way: he didn't realize a deep, curving gorge separated him from where he wanted to go, at least until the world fell away from his cutting horse's hooves.
Starr looked up just as two scuffling schoolboys, fists enthusiastically if inefficiently slugging at one another, rolled over one time too many, and one gave a little cry of alarm as he rolled over the edge and fell.
Starr's eyes widened and his Adam's apple bobbled as he swallowed hard.
"No," he whispered: he wanted to look left, look right, searching vainly for a way across: the gorge was deep, it took a bend here and though trees arched overhead on his side, and the gorge was narrow, there was no way around to the other side without making an hour's hard ride.
He wanted to look wildly about for some way across but he could not take his eyes from the terrible sight across the gorge.
He watched helplessly as one boy flailed over the edge, all arms and legs, landing awkwardly on a ledge and clutching at something, but stopping.
Starr looked to the bottom of the gorge and shuddered.
I can't help, he realized, but I can get help!
Starr spun his cow-pony and spurred hard back for Firelands.

The two were best friends and great rivals: they knew this pretty girl was married, but each was determined to out-shine the other: he spun his lariat casually into a vertical loop, stepped through it, stepped back: not to be outdone, his partner spun a loop horizontally overhead, let it spin down over him, stepped out and back in, out and back in.
Daciana laughed: she knew talent when she saw it, and were she still with the circus, she would have tried recruiting one or both these talented cowboys: as it was, she tilted her head and asked, "How far can you cast one of these?"
The two looked at one another.
Daciana recognized the look.
Each would out-throw the other, and repeatedly, given the chance.
Daciana's quick ear heard the urgent tattoo of a hard-driven horse: the two cowpokes stopped, gathered their lariats, looking toward the approaching gallop: even the quartet at the checkers-barrel stopped their important and deep discussion and looked up, divining the source of the alarm.
Starr was out of the saddle and running before his haunch-crouched horse was stopped: he thrust his head into the Sheriff's office, withdrew it, looked around with desperation, then sprinted diagonally across the street toward the Silver Jewel.
The pair hung their lariats carefully over their saddle horns and, curious, followed Starr into the Jewel.
Daciana's curiosity overcame her natural reticence.
Brother William twisted the lid carefully back onto the little tin box, and the four stood.
This promised to be somewhat more interesting than a discussion of fishing-hooks.

"Sam!" the schoolboy yelled, leaning over the edge of the dropoff.
Sam looked up.
Sam climbed to his feet, one hand clutching a rock lip: he dare not look down, nor behind him: part of him was looking for a way up, part of him wanted to cling to the sheer, stony face like he would cling to his Mama.
"I trusted you!" Sam yelled, his voice less accusing than desperate.

The Sheriff was on his feet in an instant: he knew urgency when he saw it, and even without the first word, Starr fairly prickled with distress, and his hurried pace foretold serious tidings.
A few succinct words were sufficient to bring the Sheriff and Lightning out onto the street.
The Sheriff's black gelding was tethered in front: the tall lawman was in the saddle: he took a moment to review the location in his mind, then he fixed the two competing cowpokes with gimlet-sharp eyes.
"You two!"
The Sheriff's voice carried the crack of command.
"With me!"
Daciana hesitated, her hands tight and urgent on Lightning's forearm.
"I want to help," she whispered, and Lightning looked into his wife's troubled eyes.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Linn Keller 9-25-11


Fred looked up as hard heels approached on the depot platform.
He expected anxious faces to appear in the telegraph office window.
He did not expect his office door to thrust open and the grim-faced Sheriff surge in, followed closely by two solemn-faced cowhands.
"I need a special," the lawman snapped, "I need it to go just the other side of Kemper Gorge Trestle and come back no more than a half hour later."
Fred Jerome leaned back in his wooden telegrapher's chair, considering.
Like most railroads of the era, the Z&W ran on a timetable, but the singing wire could override the schedule if need be, and not infrequently did.
He made a fast mental review of the passenger schedule and nodded.
The Sheriff turned. "STARR!" he barked, and the cowhands parted to let the man past, looking at one another, then at Fred Jerome, before they followed the Sheriff out onto the platform.

Word travels fast, especially at a hub of commerce, industry, culture and especially information: the Silver Jewel was the place to go if you wanted to know what was going on anywhere in the territory, and Daciana and Lightning listened to what was said by the urgent voices.
Mr. Baxter kept filled mugs crossing the counter and empties coming back, and his helper industriously washed the used mugs, dunked them in the tub of scalding water, then stacked them upside down on the ventilated rack to dry: they were generally still warm when Mr. Baxter snatched them up, one at a time, and began polishing them, sometimes very briefly, for with disaster, there was an increased clientele.
Mr. Baxter was not without compassion, but he was practical: he knew that he, himself, could do little to help whatever the situation was, especially since it involved an active little boy, a cliff face, a perilous rescue; no, his place was behind the bar, to keep the community's thirst slaked, for rescue -- and talking about rescue -- was dry work.
Besides, he shrugged, business meant profit, and profit is why a man worked in the first place.
Mr. Baxter flipped the bar towel over his off shoulder and took two beer mugs by their handles, picking them up one-handed, filled them quickly, expertly: skimming the head off with a flat-bladed knife he kept for that purpose, he set the mugs on the bar and swept the coin off into his other palm.

The unnamed school boy ran with desperation, with panic: he knew the only crossing over the gorge was the trestle, and he knew the trestle was more than a mile away, and he knew that his companion's peril was his fault -- his fault! -- and he allowed his panic to seize complete control of his young body, adding speed to his flying feet, his thrusting legs: his arms pumped smoothly as he ran, and though he was too far now to actually hear his fallen chum, his words were as devil's pitchforks pricking him repeatedly:
I trusted you!
I trusted you!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Linn Keller 9-26-11


Word rippled out from the telegraph at the roundhouse.
The only spare engine was in a state of partial disassembly.
The only available transport was the owner's inspection car.
There were two men who knew the inspection car's operation and properties more than intimately: they had helped build it, and several like it; they had installed a larger boiler in this one, larger pistons, fitted extra water tanks hidden about the spotless, gleaming, painted body, the better to feed the engine's thirst: they fired the boiler, carelessly tossing in a quart of coal oil to get things going in a hurry, and shouted profanely for anthracite, for the good Eastern hard coal, for the coal that burned hotter than Satan's temper.
The owner wanted transportation, and wanted it five minutes ago.
They waited until the steam-gauge wound around to working pressure and the pop-off valve hissed angrily, blasting its pure white plume toward the roundhouse rafters.
They backed the inspection car out into the bright sunlight, switched it to another track, hooked onto a flatcar: the fireman swung out on the car's front platform and stretched up on his tip-toes, thrusting two white flags into their sockets.
White flags marked a special run, and gave them priority.
The engineer leaned against the throttle lever, pulled delicately at the whistle lanyard, and the inspection car blew a single, high, pure note into the blue sky above as it hissed and chuffed quickly toward the main line.

An urgent ringing of the bell -- Dr. Flint looked up from the thigh he was suturing -- a man had taken the ill temper of a bull and almost beat it to the high board fence surrounding the corral -- he'd lost but little blood,; he'd taken some bruising and an ugly looking tear, but the greatest damage was to his pride, for he'd been bragging to his fellows how gentle the bull was, and how he could do anything with it.
Morning Star flowed toward the door, smoothly, gracefully: Dr. Flint's patient stoically endured the physician's ministrations and had offered neither groan nor whimper at the cleansing of the wound, nor had he cried out at the physician's generous use of the carbolic; he'd accepted the long drink of distilled anesthetic gratefully, for the sweat-beads were popped out on his forehead, and now that the work was almost done, he took a moment from containing his own agonies to admire the Doctor's wife as she moved toward the door.
Had he not been able to see the soles of her shoes as she walked, he might have thought she traveled on wheels, such was the grace and the glide of her gait.
Nurse Susan knocked and opened the door cautiously: once, and only once, had she vigorously thrust it open, and caught Dr. Greenlees right in his aquiline nose: he joked later that it felt like she'd flattened his "Eagle Beak," as he ruefully explained its swollen and discolored appearance to the Sheriff the next day.
"Dr. Flint?" she called.
Dr. George Flint looked up, then back down as he drew the edges of the wound together and ran the suture-needle through its margins.
"Dr. Flint, a boy has fallen over a cliff."
Dr. Flint spun the knot, drew it snug; he repeated his efforts, until the man's thigh was reassembled to his satisfaction.
He lay a few leaves over the stitched repair work, then wrapped it with a cloth bandage: his hands were quick, deft, dexterous: Morning Star brought the man's trousers over, and Morning Star saw the change in his eyes when he saw the big ugly tear in the material had also been sewed up.
He looked at her and nodded his thanks.
Morning Star's expression never changed; she picked up Dr. Flint's black leather satchel, set it on the table, then went to the cupboard and began sorting through what he might need for his current call-out.
Dr. Flint had been almost as talkative as Dr. Greenlees: he uttered his first words since the man hobbled in, profanely detailing the cause of the wound.
"Four bits," he said quietly, and the rancher did not hesitate to dig around in his pocket-book for the coin.
Dr. Flint frowned at the well stocked interior of his physician's black bag: he took a long moment to review the inventory of his cupboard, then nodded once.
Morning Star flowed over to the coat rack, withdrew her husband's tailored suit coat and his immaculate Derby: Dr. Flint turned, thrust his arms back and into the sleeves, and Morning Star twitched the coat up over his shoulders: he turned, and she handed him his hat, reached up and straightened his necktie.
She looked into the man's eyes, lowered her head a fraction of a degree.
Onyx eyes and obsidian eyes, each black and unreadable, and yet the messages was clear:
Go, and be careful.
I will return, my dear.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


Mr. Box 9-26-11


The doors burst open and everyone in the Silver Jewel stopped everything! It was silent, other than the rasping of the sheriff's chair legs across the floor as he came to his feet. Just as quickly as the doors had burst open, they were gone and the room was silent. Quietly people began to inquire amongst themselves as to what had just transpired. Most just shaking their heads when asked if they knew. A couple of the more curious ones started drifting towards the doors, half afraid to take the handles, in case it burst open again! When they stuck their heads out, all they could see was the few people in the street running toward the depot. Then it was time to make a decision. Follow the excitement, or have another beer...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Linn Keller 9-27-11


The Sheriff turned, took two long strides toward the ticket window.
"Your engine is on its way!"
The Sheriff nodded, once.
He stopped, eyes drifting toward hard mountains, clear and sharp in the distance.
He knew the territory, he knew the gorge; if memory served, he recalled the shelf -- deep in places, shallow in others -- through a trick of nature, the near rim was timbered, the far rim was grassy ...
A good lariat should reach, he thought, turning to the two cowpokes who were keeping station just out of arm's reach.
"How good is your lariat?" he asked them.
"Mine'll do."
The other nodded.
The Sheriff nodded, his eyes pale: he knew they understood the unspoken part of his question: were their lariats sufficient for a rescue, for hauling the weight of a man and a boy both?
He knew that if he'd specifically questioned the condition of each lariat, they would have taken offense, for he would have been questioning their honesty and their integrity by the interrogative: instead, he trusted both their judgment and their honor.
"How good's your saddle blanket?"
He saw the wrinkles tighten a little at the corners of their eyes.
They hadn't expected the question, but they knew its reason: a folded saddle blanket would prevent the plaited line from chafing and being damaged on the rocky canyon lip.
He appraised each, assessing their height, their weight: he looked across the platform, his bottom jaw thrusting slowly out.
He wanted someone strong, very strong but light weight, to go down and get a loop around the casualty: he did not know how badly the boy was hurt -- if at all -- it was entirely possible the boy might panic and fight a rescuer, or over-balance and fall to the boulder-washed bottom.
He needed someone slight, strong and determined.
He smelled her a moment before she lay a gentle hand on his forearm.
"Sheriff," Daciana said, her voice accented, urgent: "Sheriff, I want to help."
The Sheriff turned abruptly, his eyes cold, hard, appraising.
He looked at Daciana's shoulders, considered her diminutive height: he did not have to seize her and hoist her to know she weighed as little as her slight build indicated.
"I need someone strong," he said quietly.
Daciana seized the front of his coat and his belt buckle: her lips pressed together and she hoisted the Sheriff off his feet, rolled him up into her, horizontally, and held him at collar bone height for a the space of five breaths before setting him down again.
"Basta?" she asked, a dangerous light in her eyes, and the Sheriff nodded, approval in his own.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Linn Keller 9-28-11


"Now shouldn't ye be seein' th' doctor?"
The maid's voice was light, bantering, her Irish accents prominent, for in a household where the master was Irish, the wife was Irish and the maid was Irish, the accent tended to turn in on itself, and everyone sounded just that more of their common heritage.
Daisy pursed her lips, brushed back a curl of hair with the back of her wrist.
"I'm foine," she said curtly, giving a pair of Little Sean's trousers a vicious snap and folding them as if she were folding a personal enemy preparatory to booting the same into the Devil's lap.
"Ye know, the more children ye ha'e, the quicker they come," the maid offered helpfully.
Daisy glared at the woman, then laughed: "Aye," she admitted, stacking clean laundry in the wicker basket and hoisting it: "they do, that --"
The moment she tried hoisting the basket, the pain gripped her again, harder this time, and the basket came back down with a thump.
Daisy's knuckles blanched as she gripped the smooth, round, wooden handles. Closing her eyes, she willed herself to calm, swallowed hard, then she put a hand to the small of her back and straightened with obvious difficulty.
"Ye're right," she whispered hoarsely. "It's time."
The maid moved with a brisk step: "Lads!" she called, clapping her hands twice: Little Sean and his wee brother were outside playing, and at the summons -- it had long ago been decided that a double handclap meant Get here NOW or I'll switch you from here to next week! -- they dropped the sticks with which they had been drawing in the dirt, and scampered, barefoot and laughing, for the house.
"Lads, we ha'e urgent work," the main said quickly. "We need ye t' stand ri' here an' don't move, I'll get th' buggy."
"Is it Ma?" Little Sean asked, big-eyed, as Daisy swayed to the doorway, leaned against the door frame.
"Sean, get yer father," Daisy said quietly.
Little Sean's eyes widened and he turned, going from dead stop to sprint in the span of a heartbeat: his little brother looked after him, then back up to his Ma and the maid.
"Inside wi' ye, now," the maid called, waving her hand in a come-hither gesture: "an' you, let's get ye back inside, we can't ha'e th' wee bairn arrivin' on th' porch, now can we?"

The two cowhands held the cheek straps of their cow ponies: neither they nor their mounts had ever ridden a flatcar before, but as long as a firm hand was on the halter, the horses ere content to stand fast.
The inspection car made surprisingly good time: they had the high ball, passenger traffic had been halted for the duration of the emergency, the ore train was on the other track, and the Sheriff had every reason to believe they would get to their destination without incident.
One of the cowhands was obliged to blindfold his horse when they came to the edge of the trestle: the other horse muttered a little and nearly stepped on boot leather with restlessness.
The Sheriff made a quick assessment of the ledge, the cliff face, the ground above: he handed the glasses to Daciana.
Daciana had trouble finding the lad; frowning, she lowered the glasses, studied the scene as they crossed the gorge: she felt no discomfort at crossing so high above the eroded canyon -- hadn't her mother had her on the trapeze as soon as she could walk? -- and she made a good mental assessment of the nature of her task.
"Saddle up," the Sheriff said, raising his chin, and the three men swung into saddle leather.
The Sheriff leaned down to extend Daciana his hand.
She swung up behind him, her grip like a vise around his wrist.
The flatcar was barely stopped when the three jumped their mounts to the flat, grassy ground.

The Sheriff saw the panicked schoolboy running toward them.
He halted and called, "Is he hurt?"
The lad coasted to a stop, agony on his face and he shook his head, bending over, heels of his hands on his knee caps, and threw up.
The Sheriff unslung his canteen. "Here," he commanded, his voice hard.
The boy took a mouthful, swished it around, spit it out: he took a short drink, took another.
"Now are YOU hurt?"
The lad gasped. "No," he choked, coughed, and handed the canteen back. "Thank you, sir."
The Sheriff nodded. "Head for the railcar, we'll be back shortly."
"Yes, sir."
The three rode on.
Twice they stopped, and the Sheriff leaned cautiously over the edge, getting his bearings: finally he spotted the lad, laying on his side, facing the cliff.
They worked their way directly above him.
Four heads hung over the edge of the cliff.
The Sheriff looked to his left, his right.
"Your lariat reach that far?"
"That far and more."
"Good. How much more?"
"I'll find out." He pushed easily off the ground, rolled to the balls of his feet, took one step and had the lariat in hand.
He came back to the edge of the cliff, shook the loop, then sailed it out into the void, allowing it to drop across the schoolboy's beltline.
"Oh heavens, Sheriff, I got all kind of line there!"
The schoolboy opened his eyes, looked up.
They saw how pale his face was, how big his eyes were.
"Hold still now," the Sheriff called. "We'll come get you. DON'T MOVE!"
The lad nodded, for he was already decided that, come hell, high water or horseflies, he absolutely, positively was not going to move at all!
Daciana stood, brushing the chaff and dust off the front of her gown.
Casually, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, she reached up to the back of her neck, and unfastened her gown: she turned to one of the cowboys and said, "Undress me."
The man's mouth fell open and he looked like she'd just handed him a carp.
Daciana turned and hit him, flat-handed, in the middle of the chest.
"You-a da beeg-a man like-a da brag about-a da women," she snapped in a heavily-accented staccato: "You put-a da ex-peer-e-ence to work, hokay?" -- and whirled: "Unbutton-a da dress!"
The cowhand shot a helpless look at the Sheriff and the other 'hand.
The Sheriff's eyes were darker now, half-lidded, and the color was in his ears and his cheeks: he was a hard man, he was a fierce and competent man, but he was also a gentleman, and he was trying very, very hard not to laugh at the cowhand's discomfiture.
Daciana rolled her eyes impatiently: "Pasa, pasa," she whispered, and finally the dress was free to the waist: a shimmy, a shrug and she was out of the gown; petticoats followed, cotton and linen cascaded to the ground and Daciana, in frillies and corset and high-button shoes, stomped over to the nearest horse and snatched the plaited-leather reata from the saddlehorn.
Her fingers had eyes: she found the honda, dropped the line to the ground, flipped the loop over the saddlehorn and gave it a twitch to snug it: with a graceful dip of her knees, she dropped down, snatched up the line and walked to the edge of the cliff.
"You," she pointed to the other man, "when-a I call, you throw-a me da loop, hey? Now gimme da gloves" -- snatching the leather gloves from the surprised man's waistband, she thrust her hands into protective leather: wrapping the line around and across her, leaned back and rappelled neatly down the face of the cliff.
"How'd she do that?" the one cowpoke gasped.
"Hold that horse absolutely still," the Sheriff cautioned: "do NOT let it take one step toward that edge. You" -- he pointed to the red-faced cowhand who was staring at the pile of vacated textiles -- "saddle up and get ready to toss her the loop. I'll set the blanket and when she says, you'll back your pony and h'ist the two of 'em up."
The engineer and his fireman watched through the glass of the inspection car.
They weren't sure quite what was going on.
They'd both seen their share of ladies in various states of undress, but they'd never seen a wee slip of a girl push a grown man around, strip off her clothes and then swing over the edge of a cliff on a rope!

"Lean on me, now, dearie. Just two more steps, now, two more steps, you can do that."
Daisy's knees were weak and the maid was holding most of her weight.
The staircase might as well have been the Matterhorn for height and she had no idea just how she'd managed to ascend such an altitude: if it had not been for the constant, reassuring, encouraging voice of her Irish maid, she knew, she could never have gotten to the top.
"Now there," the maid said briskly, the tone of voice a schoolmarm would use with a prized pupil who had just solved a geometrical theorum for the first time. "Ye've done it, an' well done!"
"The bed," Daisy gasped. "The baby is close now!"
"I know, dearie." The maid practically dragged Daisy across the little distance to her bed, lowered her gently, then began divesting her mistress of her clothes while she was still somewhat upright: she knew the task would be all the more difficult once she were laying down.
Daisy groaned, pulled out of her sleeves, helped as best she could: sweat was starting to bead on her forehead and she clenched her teeth together.
"Sean," she groaned.
"Now raise your bottom," the maid said briskly, "I want s'more under ye f'r when th' water breaks --"

"Well now, looka there," the loafer murmured to nobody in earshot.
He slouched comfortably against the front of the Jewel, a mug of beer in one hand, the other hand's thumb hooked in his waistband, marveling at the lad pelting across the street toward the fine brick firehouse well down the street.
The boy's words carried on the sunlit, morning air: "Paaa!" he yelled, his voice jiggling a little as his heels hit the ground at a running pace. "Paaaa!"
The lad disappeared into the firehouse, door swinging open behind him, closing slowly.
"One," the loafer counted, taking a sip of his beer: swallowing, he continued, "Three, four ..."
The door fairly exploded open again and Sean, the broad-shouldered, narrow-waisted Chieftain of the Irish Brigade, charged across the street, young son in his arms: he thundered across the thoroughfare with the general air of a man who could knock a freight train off the tracks if need be: he steered a course to the polished stone hospital, set back from the street, and the loafer sighed and took a long, measured swallow of beer.
"My, my," he murmured to a nonexistent audience. "Boy falls over a cliff, everybody and their uncle goes just hell-a-tearin' to see, and who's left to keep a poor fellow like me from dyin' of thirst?"
He drank again, downing the rest of the mug's contents, sighed happily.
Across the street, Digger came packing a child sized coffin up the alley and into the front door.
He stopped and raised his black-silk top hat at the loafer.
"You have to be ready for these things," he called with a cheerful morbidity, and the loafer raised his empty mug in salute, then turned and went back into the Silver Jewel.
The smiling girl behind the bar had a refill ready for him.
The loafer slid a coin toward her and considered that perhaps things weren't quite so dire for a thirsty man like himself.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Linn Keller 9-28-11


Daciana set her teeth against the pain.
The mountaineering she'd done had been in proper mountaineering clothing: lederhosen and wool, padded where the rope went around her, over her: now, in cotton undergarments, very little separated her skin from the burning friction of flat-braided leather.
She walked easily down the cliff face, willing herself not to think on the agony she was searing into her shoulder, her waist, her thigh, with every long step down.
Tears streaked her pale cheeks and she locked her throat against the sounds of anguish that were tearing at her vocal cords, trying to get out.

Daisy arched her back, setting her teeth against the familiar pain: fists clenched, she too stifled her own agonies: at one point, she came off the bed, supporting herself on bent, trembling limbs, held aloft by the backs of her heels, her clenched fists, the back of her head: as the contraction eased, she collapsed, gasping.
Her maid whispered the reassuring things women always whisper when one of their own is travailing in labor; her hands were gentle as she blotted perspiration from Daisy's forehead.
Daisy snatched the damp cloth from the maid with a snarl: she wiped quickly, viciously at her face, her arms.
"It's got t' be a boy," she muttered. "A girl wouldna' hurt like this. It's got t' be another boy" -- she turned suddenly-frightened eyes to the maid -- "Oh God, not twins!"
"Whassa twin?" a little voice called from the doorway, and the maid rose quickly, shooing the youngest Irishman away from the bedroom: she took the lad downstairs, thinking quickly, wondering how to safely distract him while she tended to her mistress.
There was the jingle of harness from without, the brisk sound of a trotter approaching the house.
"That'l be the doctor," the maid nodded, as if she'd planned it: there was the sound of bootsoles, a running pace, a great Irish-red voice bellowing, "DAISY!" and the maid swept up the youngest of Sean's get and whirled him into his startled father's chest.
"Here," she said, "keep him from breakin' an anvil wi' a glass hammer or settin' th' barn afire wi' rubbin' twa sticks t'gether! No get yersel' in th' kitchen an' ha'e some pie for the wee lad, he's starvin' t' death, no thanks t' the likes o' you!"
With that stout declaration, the maid hoisted her nose in the air, swept her skirts aside as if from something unclean, and marched upstairs.
Sean stood staring after the hired help, then looked down at his wiggling, arm-waving son with the expression of a man who was absolutely, positively, unutterably lost and confused.
Dr. John Greenlees laid a hand on the man's shoulder.
"Sean," he said, "I believe your lad would like that pie now."
"Pie!" the struggling redhead shouted, pointing toward the kitchen.
Dr. Greenlees patted Sean's shoulder. "Go on ahead. I'll tend matters upstairs."
Sean looked at the physician, then at the staircase, with the expression of a man facing the gallows, then he turned slowly and started toward the kitchen.
This strong and fierce leader of the Irish Brigade, this muscled son of the Old Sod with a blacksmith's shoulders and scarred knuckles from many a Cincinnati street brawl, this fierce fighter of the Devil's own breath, tottered like an old man toward the kitchen.
He stopped and turned and Dr. Greenlees saw the color drain from the man's face as Daisy screamed, a long, throat-ripping Irish scream, torn from a woman in the agony of birthing new life into the world.
Dr. Greenlees nodded, once.
"Go," he said, and continued his measured tread upstairs.

Daciana found her footing, what little there was: the boy was lying on his right side, stretched out along the narrow ledge: there was room enough to wedge her left foot in between his belly and the cliff, and room enough for half her shoe sole on the rim of the ledge.
She dare not trust her full weight to the very edge, and so kept tension on the rope, holding the friction-heat into her rope burns.
"Toss me the rope!" she called, and the loop sailed out from the edge above, fell in an easy arc: she caught it, bent at the waist.
"Can you hear me?" she said gently, stroking the lad's cheek with the back of her fingers.
The boy jerked, eyes wide and afraid, at least until he focused on a gentle, feminine face, a pair of concerned eyes, and the surrounding blue sky glowing through her hair.
I'm dead, he thought.
"Are you an angel?" he asked, and started to roll over on his back.
"Don't move," Daciana cautioned, pulling the lariat tight: her weight was still held by the plaited leather: she brought the loop around, worked it under his shoulders, around his upper arms.
"Raise your left arm," she said. "Slide it through -- just like that! Now the other arm."
The boy worked one arm, then the other, through the loop.
"Now we are going to go up," she said.
She tilted her head back.
"Raise the boy three feet and stop!" she shouted.
She felt tension on her own line and saw two heads: the Sheriff and one of the cowhands were working a folded saddle blanket under her rappelling line.
The boy was hoist up.
To his credit, he did little but gasp.
Daciana knew the loop was cutting into him and she knew how much it hurt -- she knew how much she was hurting! -- but she caressed his cheek with a gentle palm.
"Did you injure in your fall?" she asked, her voice soothing, motherly.
The boy swallowed, nodded.
"Where are you hurt?"
"My knee," he admitted. "My ankle." He leaned his head a little to the left and looked curiously at her.
"Hey, where are your wings?"
She flicked the lariat, smiled as it twanged: "These are our wings," she said, "now let's try them!" She threw her head back. "Bring us up, together!"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Linn Keller 9-29-11


Daciana had the boy in her arms.
That's an over-simplification.
Daciana wrapped her arms around the lad as he came upright, helped hoist him to a semi-standing posture: her hand was wrapped around the tag end of her own line, locking it in place around her: she put her left foot flat against the cliff face, her right was sideways, parallel with the narrow ledge, and she rolled the boy across her thigh.
As the lines tensioned and they rose another few inches, Daciana got her other foot flat on the vertical wall: she walked straight up the side of the cliff, with the boy across her.
She dropped her leg, hooked it under his good leg, brought it up: he was now straddling her thigh, leaning into her torso: she had one arm around him, strong, reassuring: he had both arms around her, and Daciana knew a grown man with a pry bar and two sticks of dynamite would have had a difficult time separating the boy's desperate clutch from her.
She whispered to him, whispered in Romanian, in Spanish, in Italian: she remembered the first time she froze, on the high platform, looking out at limitless space ahead of her, at her hands on the trapeze bar, and she remembered her mother's whisper, the warmth of her breath as her gentle syllables puffed into Daciana's ear.
Daciana took another step.
"You are safe, liebchkein," she said again, lapsing into German: "you are safe now, no harm will come to you."
She felt the boy's breath, hot on her shoulder, and how fast he was breathing.

The Sheriff had a hand on each cowboy's shoulder and was walking backwards with them.
He'd estimated the distance the horses would have to walk to bring the pair up the cliff face, and with a hand on each of the men, he was ensuring both lines were drawn at the same rate, the same distance, at the exact same time.
"Ho," he said softly.
"Mr. Baxter, if you please."
The barkeep had divested himself of his apron: it was his only concession to events of the moment: he and the Sheriff knelt at the rim, and Mr. Baxter felt a moment's dizziness as he regarded just how far down it was to the bottom of the curved canyon below.
"Three feet," the Sheriff called, with a go-there gesture.
The cowhands took a slow step back, another, their cow-ponies keeping patient pace with their masters.
"Another foot."
Daciana's hair, then her head, crested the brink, and the little boy clinging to her.
"Another foot!" the Sheriff called, and he and Mr. Baxter each took a knee, side-on to the edge: the Sheriff ahead, Mr. Baxter behind him, gripping the lawman's shoulders.
Daciana walked another two steps, her feet held to the cliff face by line tension alone, and she called, "Back two feet!"
One of the cow-ponies, startled, lurched ahead.
Daciana bent her knees, let the sudden tension pull her upright: she stood, stepped quickly onto level ground, but the horse stopped a step farther than she anticipated: she fell into the Sheriff, twisting a little to try and spare the injured boy the collision: lad, lass, lawman and barkeep fell backwards onto the grass.
Mr. Baxter grunted as the weight came atop him.
The Sheriff made a strangled noise as an anonymous knee drove into a particularly vulnerable area of the male anatomy.
The little boy cried out as his own injured knee hit the ground.
Daciana's teeth clicked together as the boy hit her fresh burn.

Dr. John Greenlees washed his hands methodically, thoroughly, his lips pursed a little.
Sean goggled at the medico, incredulous that the man seemed so uncaring.
His ear twitched and his eyes looked to the staircase at the front of the house, then up to the ceiling, willing them to see through lath and plaster and flooring, willing them to see his wife, bearing their child in blood and in pain --
Dr. Greenlees dried his hands.
"How's the pie?" he asked quietly, and Little Sean -- who was blueberries from nose to chin -- laughed with delight.
"Doctor," Sean blurted, "how can ye talk o' pie when ma Daisy's --"
Dr. Greenlees raised one slender, admonishing finger.
"Her water has yet to break," he said. "Once it breaks --"
He looked upstairs, smiled.
"Right about now. If you will excuse me."
Sean looked down at his own untouched pie.
Little Sean picked up the pie crust and began happily munching, scattering flaky crumbs for several feet as he always did.
Sean heard the doctor's tread on the staircase, the measured pace, the hesitation as he came to the landing.
Sean waited.
He heard quiet conversation from the top of the stairs, then his wife's agonies again, and if it were possible, a muted scream of relief.
"The water's broken!" the maid called down stairs, and Sean felt his belly fall several stories.

Esther, Bonnie and the girls drew up and dismounted: the ladies stepped out onto the cut-quartz stepping-stone, as proper ladies did; Angela swung over the side of the buggy, dropped, laughed as she hit the ground, knees flexing to take up the shock of landing.
Sarah hesitated, then followed her Mama's dismount.
I must set the example for the twins, she thought.
The twins regarded her with bright and happy eyes, extended their arms: Sarah took one, then the other, picked them up and swung them down: there was a giggle, a "Whee!" and the two were on the ground, dutifully following the ladies into the house.
Sean rose, brushing pie crumbs from his shirt front.
His expression was somewhere between hopeful and distressed.
Esther swept into the kitchen, took the big Irishman's hands, then laid a gloved hand on his cheek: "Dear Sean," she said, sympathy in her eyes and understanding in her voice, "how are you bearing up?"
Sean's mouth opened, then closed: he blinked and cleared his throat, looked toward the staircase: "Never mind me," he said huskily, "it's Daisy!"
Esther's hands were warm on his: "We'll take care of her, don't worry," she whispered, then: "Sarah? Could you take a look at Little Sean, please? And try not to get blueberries on your apron, dear."

Dr. George Flint slowly, carefully rolled a slender green leaf between his palms, once, then gently added it to the tin cup of barely-boiling water.
He bruised a second leaf, added it as well, then rose.
Quickly, professionally, he assessed the boy's knee, his ankle: he tilted his head, drew Daciana's bloodied shoulder strap over her shoulder, drew the linen down until he could see the length of her burn.
"Come," he said, the single word carrying more weight, more power than Daciana had heard from any man in her life: Dr. Flint picked up the boy, carried him over beside the little fire.
Daciana rose and followed.
Dr. Flint dipped quickly into the hot water, plucked a leaf free, let it uncoil: he waved it once, then made a single finger-gesture.
Daciana exposed her burned flesh.
Dr. Flint laid the leaf longwise with the burn.
Daciana shivered a little.
She hadn't realized just how badly it hurt, until the leaf took the pain away.
"The other," he said quietly.
Daciana drew cloth free of each burn, carefully, delicately: the Sheriff, the cowpokes, and Mr. Baxter all looked elsewhere, respecting her modesty as best as could be done.

The maid soothed her soul with words, her face with a damp cloth, and Daisy slapped her hand away.
Sean could stand it no longer: helpless, frustrated, he'd watched Sarah flatter, wheedle and connive Little Sean into accepting a face-washing, and a second slice of pie, and she and the little girls divided up the rest of the pie.
"I don't belong here," Sean thought, and then he heard his wife's raised voice upstairs.
He'd set his boot on the first step when his head snapped up, then his nostrils flared and he began taking the steps two at a time, at a dead run.
The contraction eased off and Daisy whimpered, crying a little.
Bonnie wiped her own eyes with an embroidered kerchief, and Esther quickly ran the back of her glove across the corner of her eye as Daisy's voice -- almost the voice of a hurt little girl -- "Why does it hurt so much? It never hurt like this -- no, it hurts, make it stop, make it --"
Daisy seized her maid with her right hand, Esther with her left, fixed Bonnie with a glare that would ignite timberline granite: she took a long, shuddering breath, gathered her soul and gave one long, sustained, agonized scream, putting her entire life, her being, her strength, into this one effort:

The inspection car blew a finger of steam toward the high Colorado sky, and they began their way back to Firelands: the boy's leg was splinted, he lay on a blanket and was wrapped with another: his companion sat, hugging his knees, watching his younger chum with big, guilty eyes.
Daciana stood, modest and proper in a married woman's gown, petting the cow-pony's nose and whispering to it, whispering secrets only she knew.
The Sheriff stood, legs apart, swaying a little with the flatcar's movements: he held the saddle horn with one hand, and he was bent forward a little, and still looked half sick.
Dr. Flint offered him something in a small bottle, and the Sheriff shook his head.
Mr. Baxter laid a hand on the lawman's shoulder, watching the water-carved canyon disappear behind a screen of lodgepole pines.
"You know," he said, "it's kind of boring around here. Do you supposed we ought to stir up some excitement?"
The Sheriff looked at the man and managed a half-smile.
"Nah," he said. "I like it quiet and boring."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Mr. Box 9-29-11


Mr. Baxter kept a watchful eye on the occupants of the flatcar as they rode the rails to ensure that everyone was OK and nobody was at risk of falling off. Sheriff Keller was looking a little pasty. Dr. Flint was kneeling by beside the injured boy. Daciana was expressing her appreciation to the cow ponies. The cowboys were a little shaken, and the other boy looked like he could unwind any moment. Mr. Baxter was just glad to be heading back to the barn! The engineer was trying to make the ride as smooth as possible at the brisk pace he had set. The depot was beginning to show in the distance.
"Looks like you could use a drink", Mr Baxter said as the boy began to bawl. Everyone onboard agreed whole heartedly! "C'mon over to the Silver Jewel when things settle down."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...

Linn Keller 9-30-11


Fred Jerome had deferred the telegrapher's chair to Lightning for the duration.
Now that the special was returned, its cargo discharged and the inspection car switched on the curving track back to the round house, Lightning sent word up and down the line that the timetable was back in effect.
He timed it just right, of course; two minutes later, right on time, The Lady Esther pulled her passenger cars and two box cars out of Carbon Hill, bound for Firelands on her scheduled run, and as usual, she was precisely on time, in spite of the unplanned interruption.
Dr. Flint prevailed upon one of the obliging cowhands to help him set the injured lad astraddle of the saddle, and they two walked the boy -- well, walked the horse, with the boy on top -- over to the hospital.
The other cowhand, at the prospect of wetting his dried up whistle, followed Mr. Baxter and the Sheriff.
The Sheriff took a moment, excusing himself from the group: Daciana was on his arm, and it was only proper that he formally return her to her husband.
It was a given in the etiquette of the age, that a Lady did not leave the room unless she was on the arm of a man: in like wise, it was proper for her to arrive in the company of an honorable and trusted escort, and for her to be returned to her husband, on that trusted man's arm.
Lightning and Fred Jerome both rose as the pair entered the snug little telegraph office.
The Sheriff's eyes were warm and approving.
"My friend," he said softly, "you may be very proud of your wife" -- and so saying, he turned, swept up her hand and very formally, in a very gentlemanly manner, kissed Daciana's knuckles.
Daciana, in turn, returned a flawless curtsy, though her strong and athletic legs were trembling a bit.
In this moment, Daciana was most grateful that her skirts hid their tremors, for she was certain her knees were about to start banging rather briskly together.
The Sheriff raised his hat to the three of them, stepped through the door, closed it quietly behind him.
Lightning's arm encircled Daciana's waist, and he drew her into him, his eyes bright with concern: he brushed the hair back from her face and murmured, "Are you well, my dear?"
Fred Jerome blinked.
He'd expected his long time friend to ask "Are you all right?" -- or the slurred abbreviation the two brass pounders often exchanged, "Yaw rat?"
It was Mr. Jerome's turn to exercise a gentleman's discretion.
Quietly, invisibly, he sidestepped to the door, opened it just enough to slip through sideways, and closed it very quietly behind him.

"Mr. Baxter," the Sheriff declared cheerfully, "I believe you said something about a drink."
"Aye, I did that!" Mr. Baxter declared right back, smoothing the folded barkeep's apron draped over his arm.
The Sheriff raised one eyebrow as he regarded the other cowboy, the one that remained when his partner transported the boy to the hospital.
"Name's Keller," he said, thrusting out a hand.
"Bailey," the 'poke blurted, taking the man's thin, strong hand: the Sheriff noted calluses, with approval: he hadn't much use for a man without calluses.
"Mr. Bailey, I have a thirst, and I believe we have a cure for that dreadful condition. Will you join us, with the understanding your money is no good today?"
Bailey's grin broadened until it threatened to run halfway around his head.
"Wa'l, Ah'd just take you up on that," he said, and the Sheriff's quick ear heard a trace of the old South in his slow syllables.

"The man said leave," Jacob said mildly, considering the cards he held.
"I don't take that from no one!"
"You are a cheat, mister, and you got caught. You can leave peacefully or otherwise and I don't care which." Jacob laid his hand face down and stood, his eyes pale, cold as his father's.
"You ain't man enough," the cheat snarled.
Jacob kicked his chair out of the way and took a slow step toward the blustering cheater.
The man took a slow step back.
Jacob advanced.
The man retreated.
Tom Landers stood, his face wooden, looking like it had been carved out of ironwood: years had creased his face, the sun had tanned it, and despite his work mostly inside the Jewel, he still kept active outdoors, and it showed.
Still and all, he was not unhappy the young lawman was taking a hand.
Tom Landers had learned the hard way that terra firma was generally much more firma than he really liked, and so when Jacob addressed the matter, Tom Landers stood back to watch someone else do the work.
The pair made for the door, dead slow: the cheat, one step back, Jacob, one step ahead, remaining just out of arm's reach.
The Honorable Judge Donald Hostetler took his hand-rolled Havana from the left corner of his mouth and moved it slowly to the right corner of his mouth.
Those that knew the Judge, knew that it meant he was displeased.
He, too, rose, more to watch and see than to take a hand himself.
An anonymous soul slid behind the retreating cheater, swung open the Jewel's ornately frosted, hand-carved and carefully-glazed door.
The cheat backed out, onto the boardwalk.
Several in the Jewel had laid down their cards, put down their dice, carried along their beer mugs, following the slow moving tableau.
The cheat looked left, looked right, looked at all those eyes burning into him, and turned a little.
Jacob moved closer.
Whether it was instinct, whether it was a premonition, Jacob never said in all the years that followed: all anyone knew was that when the man turned, Jacob turned as well, circling quickly to his left.
The knife sliced a silver arc through the air, a vicious, savage gut-thrust, the fastest to put into motion and the most difficult to defend against: Jacob twisted a little, feeling steel sear a bright line of incised pain across his flat, muscled belly, and he fell backwards, down the steps that led up to the Jewel's boardwalk.
Jacob fell in slow motion.
He drew his right-hand Colt, cocking as it came out of the holster as was his habit, and he punched the revolver's muzzle toward the murderous cheat.
The Colt felt right and Jacob's finger tightened on the trigger and 40 grains of FF black detonated in the bottleneck case, just as he landed, back-flat on the packed dirt street.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Linn Keller 9-30-11


"And when she said it that way," the cowpoke grinned, "why, it woulda been plumb impolite not to oblige her!"
The men laughed with a shared knowledge, the rough good humor men share in such moments: the Sheriff nodded, grinning, and looked up just as the Silver Jewel's left hand door swung open and a fellow backed out, and Jacob facing him.
The Sheriff's chuckle fell away like a dropped sledgehammer as the fellow crouched and swung: he saw Jacob twist, the pair spun and Jacob fell backwards down the three steps.
The Sheriff tasted copper and leaned forward into a sprint but he was too slow, too slow, and Jacob's Colt snaked into view and the Sheriff knew his son was about to address a matter of importance, and only then did he see the knife, still moving in an upward arc --
The Colt's report broke the spell.
The knife disappeared.
The Sheriff was across the street and up the steps in two long strides.
Judge Hostetler had just emerged from the doorway when the cheat's head slammed against the door post to the jurist's right.
Judge Donald Hostetler stopped and turned, regarding the moment with a detatched indifference.
The Sheriff's eyes were pale, very pale, and his lips were pulled back: His Honor had seen the man thus, once before, when he had someone else by the throat.
That time it had been an enemy combatant, a soldier who had very nearly spitted the Judge on a yard-long bayonet, and the Colonel, his pistols empty and his sabre broken, had seized the soldier about the neck and slammed him against a bullet-splintered tree.
Judge Donald Hostetler remembered the scene, and remembered how surprised he'd been at seeing the Sheriff's -- that is, the Colonel's -- eyes, really seeing them for the first time.
The Judge saw the cords standing out in the back of the Sheriff's hand, and in his neck, and he knew the man meant to coldly, very personally, kill the man who had so offended him.
The Judge laid a hand on the Sheriff's forearm.
"Colonel," he said sternly, stand down, sir."
The felon's face was darkening; his struggles were measurably weakened.
The Sheriff blinked, looked at the Judge.
"Stand down, sir."
The Sheriff looked at the man he held.
The Sheriff's lip curled with distaste and he released his grip.
He turned and took the three steps down in one long stride.
Jacob lay on his back, fumbling with his revolver, trying to reload his spent round.
The Sheriff went to one knee, seized his son's vest, yanked it savagely open: he opened Jacob's shirt in the same manner, scattering buttons and tearing cloth, and finally ripped open the red Union suit beneath.
A long, gleaming red line crossed his son's flat, muscled belly, running diagonally and bleeding freely.
The Sheriff drew his own knife -- the small one, with the razor's edge -- and sliced a wide strip of linen from Jacob's ruined shirt: he folded it, wiped quickly at the bloody, incised wound.
"Shallow," he said, his voice husky.
Jacob bent his head, chin to his chest, looking at his incised middle.
"Oh hell," he said, disappointment in his voice, "that was my good shirt!"
"I can replace the shirt," the Sheriff said coldly. "I've only got one of you!" He wiped again at the hemorrhaging incision. "You're lucky. It didn't even get through the first muscle."
The Sheriff glared at his firstborn.
"You shot the knife."
"My aim was off."
"I taught you better!"
"Well pardon me all to hell!" Jacob flared.
Cold eyes and hard-clenched jaws held for a long moment.
The Sheriff was the first to relent.
"I'm glad you're not hurt," he said.
Jacob's eyes softened a little, just like his Pa's, and in the same moment.
"Me too," he admitted, then grinned -- that quick, flashing grin of his -- "if he'd kilt me, my wife would never speak to me again!"
The Sheriff's grin was just as quick.
He cut another chunk off Jacob's shirt, folded it, pressed it against his son's belly. "Here," he said, "hold this. Let's have Doc take a look at that."
Jacob came to his feet and frowned.
As the two started walking toward the fine stone hospital Jacob said, "Sir?"
"Yes, Jacob?"
"Sir, did I ever tell you just how much I hate Doc's carbolic?"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Linn Keller 10-2-11


Daisy collapsed back on her sweat-damp sheet.
Her throat was stripped raw: her groan was more like a rasp or a wheeze, but her pleading eyes spoke when her voice could not.
"It hurts," she squeaked. "It hurts, Sean!" -- then she rallied a reserve of strength, the way laboring women do, and she seized her husband's hand and hissed, "And it's all your fault!"
Daisy took another long breath and closed her eyes, gritted her teeth.
"Saint Michael and Saint Christopher," she gasped, and her hand fair to crushed Sean's meaty paw.
Sarah stood beside her mother, silent, her eyes large and round.
She'd just come up from downstairs; she'd slipped out for a moment, to check on the children: the twins were collaborating with little Sean, something involving two upturned kettles, half a dozen blocks and a rag doll: Sarah was not sure quite what they were building, but they were quiet, and they were cooperating.
Little Michael was piled up on a chair, curled up like a cat, his head on a minimally padded arm of the chair, sound asleep.
Dr. Greenlees nodded, slowly, and Esther tilted her head slightly: she looked up as the door opened and Sarah slipped in, quietly, resuming her place beside her Mama.
"Sarah," Dr. Greenlees said without looking up, "I shall need a large washpan of warm water. I need the water just warm, just body temperature, two large towels and a washcloth, and just a slip of soap."
Sarah nodded and started for the door.
Sean made a little sound of distress and Sarah turned, alarmed.
Esther, behind and beside Sean, nodded to Sarah and mouthed a single word:
"Sean?" Daisy squeaked.
Sean brushed her forehead with the back of a big finger.
"Daisy, m'dear," he whispered.
"Sean, it's got t' be a boy, he's big as a team and wagon!"
"I know, Daisy me dear," Sean whispered, looking at Dr. Greenlees' impassive face.
Dr. Greenlees looked up, nodded once.
Daisy groaned again, a deep, from-the-depths-of-her-exhausted-soul sound, then began to pant, wringing Sean's hand powerfully: the door opened and Sarah came in with the wash basin before her, steaming-warm, and a towel over each of her shoulders.
Bonnie moved aside and Sarah carefully, slowly, walked around the foot of the bed, placed the basin on the vacant corner of the dresser.
"Pull the chair over here, please," Dr. Greenlees said mildly, as if he were ordering another slice of bread with his meal, "and place the basin on it."
Sarah looked at Esther, curiosity on her face, and Esther smiled a secret smile, something just between the two of them, and nodded to the straight-back chair behind her.
"It hurts," Daisy whimpered. "Why's he hurt his Mama, ma wee babe --"
Daisy's lips peeled back from her teeth and she twisted a little, then arched again and bore down, hard.
Sarah's hand found her Mama's and squeezed, and Bonnie squeezed back.
"Ah, yes," Dr. Greenlees said quietly, and Sarah had a glimpse of something before Dr. Greenlees' shoulder blocked her view.
"Mama?" Sarah whispered, looking at Bonnie, and Bonnie bit her knuckles as she watched new life, borne in pain and in blood, thrust into the world and into the Doctor's waiting hands.
Daisy let out a long wail and Sean looked, alarmed, at his wife, then at the doctor.
"Well," Dr. Greenlees said with a satsified tone, and began to grin.
"Well?" Sean blurted.
Daisy relaxed, limp, spent: it was if the last of her strength washed out of her like water thrown from a pail.
Bonnie pressed her knuckles against her lips and she bounced on her toes a little with excitement.
Sarah's eyes were huge and she was a little pale.
Esther drew a lace-edged kerchief from her sleeve and dabbed delicately at her eyes.
"Doctor?" Sean asked.
Dr. Greenlees was busy with something: he stood, turning, and Sean saw something bent, wrinkled, ugly, bloody and wiggling in the man's hands.
Dr. Greenlees eased the newest addition to the Irish household into the basin of blood-warm water and ceremonially administered the first bath.
"My baby?" Daisy whispered through a dry throat.
Dr. Greenlees tapped the child's soles: "Now what do you have to tell us, little one?" he murmured, and the arm-waving little package opened its mouth and took several quick breaths, turning rapidly from an ugly slate grey to a healthier pink, helped by the good Doctor's massaging towel.
Daisy looked at Sean as they heard a little mouse-squeak, then another, and finally the weak cry of a newborn -- a cry that grew in strength and volume, until the world at large had been well informed that Here I Am, And I Am Not Happy About It!
Dr. Greenlees stood, the bundle in his bent arm.
"Sean," he said "would you present your wife with your little baby" -- he lifted the towel and took an exaggerated look -- "daughter!"
Bonnie and Sarah hugged each other.
Esther gave Sean's shoulders a squeeze.
Sean stood and extended splay-fingered hands, with the expression of a man who was afraid he was going to be handed a delicate crystal piece of art that he would likely break.
Sean turned, swallowing hard.
"It's a girl," he whispered. "I have a daughter!"
Daisy reached for her little daughter.
Sean eased the bundle down on her belly, and Daisy unwrapped the child.
The little girl-baby waved its fist-clenched arms and fell against Daisy's chest and began rooting vigorously.
Sean chuckled, then threw his head back and laughed, tension falling away like snow from a springtime roof.
"She's no' had a meal for nine months!" he declared. "She knows where to go!"
"But what will you name her?" Sarah asked.
Daisy drew the towel over her baby, covering it completely, knowing she had to keep it warm, in spite of wanting to show it off: she looked at Sean, distressed.
"I was s' sure 'twas a boy," she whispered. "So sure!"
Sean nodded.
"We could name her for your mother."
"Or yours, Daisy m'dear."
"My mother's name was Shannon," Daisy squeaked. "She was born in a boat on the River Shannon."
Sean nodded.
"Grace," he said.
"Grace," Daisy said thoughtfully.
"Gráinne," Sean confirmed: "Grace O'Malley was a warrior princess."
"She'll be no warrior!" Daisy flared. "She'll be a proper lady!"
"Grace it is, then?"
Daisy lifted the towel and kissed her baby's head.
"Aye," she said. "Grace."

Sarah's eyes were distant as she rode beside her mother.
The twins were asleep in the back of their carriage: they had played quietly with Little Sean and with brother Michael -- at least until Michael piled up in a chair and went to sleep, curled up like a cat, his head laid over on the barely-upholstered arm of the chair.
Sarah was no stranger to life's realities.
She'd watched as fresh mares or heifers were serviced, she'd seen calves and colts birthed, and helped pull a calf or two when the bovines didn't want to come into the world peacefully.
The mechanical process of birthing was not a mystery to Sarah.
Being one of the ladies present with Daisy as the youngest Irish child was born, was something Sarah had not expected.
Sarah swayed a little as they drove.
Part of her mind registered the road ahead, open country to the left and to the right; she heard the regular cadence of the mare's trotting hooves, the hum of spoked wheels beneath her; part of her was still in Daisy's bedroom, standing at the foot of the bed with her Mama, ready to lend a hand as needed.
Sarah smiled a little at Sean's reaction to being handed his little baby daughter, how the big Irishman's eyes widened and he looked around at each of the ladies and finally blurted, "Will she break?"
Sarah remembered the brief discussion of names and how they'd settled on Grace, and this little princess was declaring her warlike intent to any within earshot.
Sarah remembered how Daisy arched and snarled and collapsed and panted, how there at the last she was too tired and throat-stripped to scream and merely groaned, there until the very last contraction.
Sarah looked back at the twins again, considering.
"Penny for your thoughts?" Bonnie asked, smiling a little.
Sarah's expression was serious as she replied, "I never had the chance to thank my Mama for birthing me."
Bonnie hugged Sarah into her with her right arm, reins in her left hand.
"Yes, Sweets?"
Sarah took a long breath, raised gentle fingertips to the blue cameo at her throat.
"Thank you for being my Mama."

The Irish Brigade came boiling out of the firehouse and laughed, swore, joked, quarreled, jostled and trampled their way to the Silver Jewel.
Mr. Baxter found himself the recipient of a half dozen hand rolled Cubans: one of the Brigade clapped a handful of coins on the bar and declared, "Sean has a fine little baby again! Set 'em up, we're uncles all!"
"That's wonderful!" Mr. Baxter declared with a broad grin, pulling the handle on his beer tap. "Is it a boy or a girl?"
The Welsh Irishman pounded his cohort on the shoulder blades . "Ya, we need t' know i' it's a boy 'r a girl, so we know if we're an aunt or an uncle!"
Sean himself came in about that time, grinning like a kid after his first kiss, and found himself glad-handed, back-pounded, congratulated and cigar'd: he reared one muscled leg up, planted one burnished black boot onto the brass foot rail, grinning like a fool kid plumb addled over some girl.
He looked shyly at Mr. Baxter.
He opened his mouth to say something, and had to stop to clear his throat.
Sean swallowed, took three long swallows of beer, thumped his nearly empty mug down on the burnished mahogany: turning, he leaned both elbows on the bar-top and tilted his head back.
"IT'S A GIRL!" he roared, and the Silver Jewel shivered with the answering roar from every throat, and the happy stomping of many feet.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Mr. Box 10-2-11


"IT'S A GIRL!" And that's all that needed to be said! The place was roaring! With all that has been going on, this celebration wasn't going to be short lived!
I had been answering questions about how the rescue had been done up until then but it was soon forgotten with the newest event at hand! Out there on the cliff, I suddenly realized that you don't always need the biggest and strongest brute you can find to handle the problem. That young lady that went down the face of that cliff was perfect for the job! I'll never forget what I saw out there today!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Linn Keller 10-2-11


When Lightning slept, he slept like a man of clean conscience: flat on his back, relaxed, dreamless.
Since becoming a married man, he was adjusting to sleeping with someone: instead of sleeping flat on his back and relaxed, when he was ready for sleep, he was now flat on his back and relaxed, but his hand held his bride's hand, and he slept thusly.
Daciana, too, was acclimatizing herself to sharing a bed with another: she normally curled up on her side, and she had been trying to sleep on her back, but the rope burns from rappelling down the cliff face made that less than comfortable, and so she was on her side again.
Lightning felt her roll up on her side, and cuddle into him, and though he was mostly asleep yet, he rolled over and ran one arm under Daciana's pillow, and the other over her ribs, serendipitously missing her burns: each felt a comfort from the other's closeness, and together they slept, relaxed, warm, safe.

Sarah felt no such relaxation.
Sarah lay awake, staring at the ceiling, remembering Daisy's travail, hearing her agonies, watching her strain and labor and work herself to exhaustion, until finally she was delivered of her child.
Sarah imagined her Mama -- she imagined Bonnie -- laboring with her own young, and wondered if she too cried out with pain as had the Irishwoman.
Sarah wondered if she herself would scream and swear and strip her throat raw with the birthing of her own child, or children.
Finally she seized the covers, threw them back.
"I can't sleep," she whispered impatiently.
Ten minutes later Bonnie stirred a little at the sound of retreating hoofbeats: she made a sleepy little noise and rolled up on her side, then relaxed back into slumber.
The night air was chilly, almost damp: Sarah relished its cold on her cheeks, how it sifted through the weave of her canvas britches.
She knew where she was going; there was moon enough to see, and the racer was full of fettle and anxious to run.
She held the gelding's speed down, knowing she had a little distance to go.
It took her a few hours and she had to cast about a few times to find her way, but finally she found the cliff face, the rocky flat.
Sarah drew up, looked around, nostrils flared: yes, she thought, this is it, and she was almost disappointed that she was alone.
She walked the gelding to the rocky flat and dismounted, holding the reins in her left hand.
There wasn't much moon, but it was enough: she studied the ground, patiently, carefully, wishing for her uncles' skills in tracking, in reading sign.
There was no trace of wood ash or fire, no blue-stained sand to show where Dr. Flint had worked his otherworldly magic.
Sarah looked at the cliff face.
It was absolutely unremarkable.
Rock, eroded and weathered, here and there a plant straggled out of a little pocket of erosion, of pulverized rock-dirt; nothing moved, there was no wind to stir the very few leaves.
Sarah's breath hung still in the air.
Sarah went to one knee, resting the crescent butt place of Jacob's rifle on the arch of her boot.
"Mama," she whispered, "are you here?"
She let the rifle drop back into the bend of her elbow, touched the blue cameo with her fingertips.
Something bade her look up, look around.
She stood, circling, searching with her eyes.
I was hoping for an owl, she thought, remembering the great, snowy-white owl that had passed by her that night when she emerged from the blue-sand circle, and then she looked quickly at the cliff face.
Sarah's bottom lip quivered a little and she batted at the sudden sting in her eyes.
She turned and thrust Jacob's rifle back in its scabbard.
Mama, she thought, I wanted to thank you.
Sarah thrust her boot into the doghouse stirrup, swung easily aboard the Mexican saddle, brought the gelding about.
Sarah took one last look around, then pressed her heels into the gelding's ribs.
She looked down the trail, studying the wooded mountainside, her attention forward, alert for the unexpected.
Behind her, the shadow of a woman flowed onto the cliff face, spread its wings, and was gone.

The gelding hadn't really exerted himself; he still had plenty of starch in him by the time he and Sarah cantered through the big ornate McKenna archway.
Sarah unsaddled the horse and brushed him down, baited him with some oats and hung up saddle and bridle and closed the barn doors.
Only then did she see the snow-white owl perched on the front porch rail.
Sarah froze, her eyes huge in the moonlight, and the owl spread its wings, and was gone.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Charlie MacNeil 10-3-11


Echoing in the darkness, softened by distance and moonlight, fading with the owl's wingbeats, the joyous song of the wolf's celebration of hot-blooded life...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Linn Keller 10-4-11


The eldest Daine tilted his head a little, regarding the powder horn in his lap as if it were the most interesting thing in the world.
His Pa had made it for him, back home in Kentucky.
He knew that inside the plug was wood burnt "A. Daine His Horn" and a year, the year he was twelve and a man grown, the year he kilt his first b'ar.
He'd carried that powder horn opposite his war bag since that time ... near as he could figure, that-there powder horn was near onto 70 years old.
Maybe older.
He held a piece of broken glass between thumb and fore finger of his skinny, withered right hand, more a claw now, for like all men of his line, the older he got, the thinner he got, until he looked more a walking skeleton with some ancient parchment stretched tightly over the bones: without his shirt, his elbows looked like they threatened to poke out through his hide.
The glass had been part of a round whiskey bottle.
He'd sorted through the broken pieces carefully and chose two, and only two.
He held it now, delicately, and began to draw it the length of the horn, scraping it slowly, precisely, peeling off a shaving of horn.
It had been a good, heavy horn, those many years ago, and now was nearly so thin you could see through it.
He smiled as he worked, remembering the times he'd measured powder into the horn-tip measure and dumped it down the barl, the times he'd shot ag'in friends and family, shooting at a chunk or a scratch or at the flame of a candle.
The rifle had broke in the wrist when he fell one winter and he made a new stock himself. The old stock had been straight grain maple, very plain, and he was never satisfied with it: he cut and filed and finished one out of tiger stripe maple and stained it to his liking, coaxing the curl out with acid and with flame, until it suited him.
He shifted a little, trying to find a more comfortable seat.
He was so skinny these days he almost needed a pillow under his back side if he was a-settin' on a feather tick, for he didn't have much meat on his bones back there any more -- not that he had much to start with.
The sun warmed his bones and the wind carried the smell of fall, and he remembered fall back home, how the hills and hollers ran riot with color: he remembered snorting up a buck, he remembered watching two yearling bucks tentatively set their racks ag'in one another and push one another back and forth a little, how he'd set that bright spark of a front sight behind the front shoulder of the larger of the two, and how he'd lowered his rifle after a time: he set there and watched them, and finally they got tired and wandered off, and he looked up to see his Pa watching him, expressionless, and it warn't until they was halfway home that his Pa said he'd done that same thing one time and it was somethin' he cherished to remember.
He turned the horn over, recalling the day his Pa give him that horn.
It was the one thing he'd managed to hold onto after all those years.
He'd told his own son once he died, that-there horn was his, and his son give him a long look and asked, "Pa, you figgerin' to die on me now?" and the old man chuckled and said "Not long as I can help it!" -- and that afternoon his son had been killed when a tree fell the wrong way, twisting as it came down, and laid him open with a stub branch.
I got little to leave anyone, he thought, blinking slowly, then he smiled, for he saw the youngest Daine -- his great-grandson -- jog trotting silently up the path with that loose, long legged, easy run of the long hunter.
He'd run that same way, when he was the boy's age.
The boy saw him and grinned.
Despite the high altitude, the lad was breathing easy, and came over to where the old man paused in scraping his horn.
They two sat for a time, silent, save only for the whisper of the broken-glass edge, peeling up a shaving of pure white horn.
Finally the old man spoke.
"I got sons," he said, "and I got grandsons."
The great-grandson looked at him curiously.
"I ain't got no fortune t'give away but I got m'name."
Curved glass whispered over the inside curve of the horn; a curled shaving fell away, spiraled to the ground to join its fellows.
"I reckon that's as rich as a man kin ask fer."
His grandson said nothing.
The old man didn't expect him to.
Of all his sons and all his grandsons, this great-grandson was given more to listen than to talk.
"Oncet I'm dead," the old man said, and there was something in his voice that tugged at the youngest Daine's right ear, "I want you t' have m' rifle and m' horn."
His great-grandson fixed him with a sharp look, as if to pierce the old man's grey eyes and divine the meaning behind them.
"My pa," he said, holding up the horn, "give me this when I was your size."
He leaned his head back against the tree trunk.
He was tired, very tired.
"My Pa made me m'rifle."
The youngest Daine looked at his own rifle, laid across his lap: his own Pa had made it for him, and when the old man said his Pa had made his rifle, it meant something.
"I fell an' broke th' stock so I made me one."
The youngest Daine nodded, slowly, thoughtfully.
The old man looked affectionately at his great-grandson.
"Iffen a man's gonna make a gun stock," he said, "he'd ought t' work in the very best piece of fancy wood he can find."
The boy's eyes were as much a question as any voice would have been, and the oldest Daine smiled tiredly at the youngest Daine.
"A man puts th' same amount o' work int' fancy wood as plain," he said, his voice faint: "he'd ought t' work in the best there is."
The old man sighed a little, and closed his eyes.
The wind stilled for a moment: the eldest Daine stood, but stood easy, as if he was twenty years ... hell, sixty years younger!
The man took a step, feeling fatigue and years fall from him like a soiled, worn out cloak would fall from his shoulders.
He looked across the clearing, and a young woman, a beautiful young woman, smiled at him.
"Maycel?" he said, surprised at the strength in his voice: "Maycel!"
Maycel smiled and extended her hands, and the eldest Daine, no longer a feeble old man, but a man once again in the green strength of youth, started to run.
He seized his beautiful young bride and snatched her up and spun her around, and she held him around the neck and threw her head back and laughed the way she always had, and they stopped, and he looked back across the clearing.
He was surprised at how old, how dried up, how feeble that old fellow asleep against the tree was.
"That poor fellow needs a good square meal," he said, and then looked at Maycel, puzzled.
Her expression was patient, knowing, the way he remembered, and then the knowledge was upon him.
The youngest Daine bowed his head and the eldest Daine, still holding his wife, saw the boy's shoulders start to shake.
"That's me," he whispered.
Maycel squeezed his hand.
"Come, Albert," she said quietly. "It's time we went home."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 months later...

Linn Keller 10-5-11


The Bear Killer sneezed.
The twins laughed and scrubbed their little pink fingers into his thick black fur, working suds and giggles into his pelt.
Bonnie's expression was patient and amused, and she looked sidelong at her daughter, who was laughing at the sight: Sarah was bent over a little, her clasped hands between her knees, and Bonnie was at once proud, and surprised, at how lovely her little girl was becoming.
The Bear Killer turned his head and looked back at Bonnie.
Bonnie could not keep from laughing, for the Bear Killer had a mound of soap suds on his black muzzle, then he sneezed again and blew soap bubbles into the air.
The twins managed to get him rinsed off fairly well -- Sarah only had to help for 2/3 of the muscled canine's surface area -- and together the three of them got him toweled down.
The Bear Killer did not mind baths but he dearly loved the attention, especially after the bath: he waited until the ceremonial bedsheet tent was in place before shaking himself, adding to the water dribbling off the back porch: he went inside and laid down on the old quilt Sarah quickly spread for him, and the Bear Killer closed his eyes and groaned with pleasure as many hands carefully, thoroughly, toweled and belly rubbed him into a blissful state of absolute relaxation.
"Sawah?" Opal asked, her dark, almond eyes bright with curiosity. "Sawah, was was dat noisy last night?"
Sarah paused, tilting her head a little, then smiled.
"That was a screech owl," she said.
Opal looked quickly at Sarah, her pink cheeks betraying her pleasure.
"It sounded funny," she said. "I tot it was a wissle."
"Mmm," Sarah considered: "It's more of a warble than a whistle ... but yes, that's what it sounded like!"
"A marble?" the other twin asked, blue eyes wide and innocent: the two girls were the same size, the same age, they were dressed identically: one hair of fine blond waves, the other of straight black; blue eyes and black eyes, but they sounded almost identical, and Sarah hugged them both.
"I think it lives in the barn," she said. "We might see it but we probably won't. They are very sneaky."
"And dey whittle with marbles."
Sarah laughed, and across the room, Bonnie smiled.
Canny businesswoman that she was, astute investor, prolific producer of womens' fashions that she was, she was still a mother, and it delighted her that in such moments her little girls let her see the world through their eyes.

Parson Belden touched his hat-brim as the Sheriff reined to a stop.
The Parson was astride his new mount, a Tennessee fox hunter.
The Sheriff had never seen one before but he knew them by reputation: they were said to have as smooth a gait, as good a paso fino, as his own beloved Rose o' the Mornin'.
Jacob, too, drew to a halt beside his father.
"Headed out, Parson?" the Sheriff asked.
Parson Belden nodded. "It's not a social call, I'm afraid."
The Sheriff nodded. "A death, then."
"The oldest of the Daine clan, old Albert."
The Sheriff closed his eyes for a long moment, then nodded.
"I'll be along directly. Their family cemetery?"
Parson Belden nodded. "So I was told."
"Be up shortly. Start without us."
The Sheriff and Jacob turned and halted in front of the Silver Jewel.
They dismounted together, as smoothly choreographed as cavalry: both men were tall and slender, they moved alike, it was quite evident they were father and son, though truth be told, an impartial observer might mark the son as the more handsome of the two.
The pair emerged not many minutes later with four traveling baskets: the Silver Jewel was part of their pre-planning, and the Sheriff knew the value of planning ahead: Daisy's kitchen maintained four baskets, designed to hold meals for tranport a-horseback.
Jacob said not a word until they were east of town and ascending Daine's Mountain.
"Yes, Jacob?"
"They don't use our cemetery?"
"They're from Kentucky."
Jacob was silent for a long moment, considering.
"Yes, Jacob?"
"What does Kentucky have to do with the price of beans?"
The Sheriff laughed and looked at his son.
"I know these people, Jacob," he said. "Family counts for more than outsiders realize. They have their family cemetery and it is their sacred duty to maintain a family graveyard. Like as not they'll have a yearly picnic there. It's how they remember."
Jacob considered this and they rode for some time in silence, then:
"Yes, Jacob?"
"Sir, that ain't a bad idea."

The coffin was plain, but well built, and was carried at shoulder height.
Jacob and the Sheriff stood with their hats in hand, unmoving through the simple service: family had made the box and dug the hole, family bore the body and filled the hole, and family had set the stone.
The old man had carved his own stone some years before and it lay under a burlap in the barn for this day.
The Sheriff smiled a little as he studied it.
The old man could carve more than just rock maple, he realized, for with the man's name was a circle, and within the circle, the carving of a hand, grasping a sheaf of wheat.
Harvest, he thought: the harvest of a righteous soul: the hand comes down from above ... the hand of God.
The Sheriff considered that he was not the only man in the territory to plan ahead.
He looked up, looked around.
At the far side of the meadow stood a wolf, a pure white wolf, and it looked at him for a long moment before disappearing.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Linn Keller 10-6-11


I dipped my quill in the ink-bottle.
I contemplated the gleaming, fat drop of India ink depending from the steel nib, then I wiped the excess on the inside of the bottle's neck and began to write.
The nib was loud on good rag paper.
It was quiet out, almost no wind; there was the faint smell of skunk and in the distance, the contented voices of cattle: the last train of the evening had run, its echoes and its whistle long since shattered on the granite mountainsides and faded into distance.
I thought for a moment, then continued:

I know Angela is a bright and intelligent child, and I know Angela is also contrary and hard headed and most of all curious.
Curiosity is a sign of intelligence.
In Angela's case, she'd ought to be nothing short of a genius.
Her favorite question generally is either Why, or How, and sometimes How Come? -- I have tried to be a good father to her, but in some areas I am strict and absolutely without compromise.
Today it paid off.
I leaned back and looked at carefully formed characters, shining and wet, there on the open page: they would dry here directly and form a permanent record of my thoughts.
I wonder who will ever read them.
I chuckled.
Chances are they'll end up in a dusty trunk in a dusty attic and get thrown out by subsequent generations, unread and forgotten.
A man likes to think that his ideas, his memories, will outlast him.
I hold no illusions.
I know how fragile this world and all its components are.
Even the mightiest of Man's works disintegrate and return to the elements from whence they were formed, whether it's the massive, cast-iron drive wheel of a freight locomotive, the great stone edifice of Notre Dame, or a man's journal-book.
Perhaps it's vanity.
I don't think of myself as a vain man ... (here I reached up and curled my mustache absently, frowning at the page) and I take pains to keep my suit and hat brushed off, and my boots polished ...
No, I decided, I just like to take care of what's mine.
I'd say that's why I raised Angela the way I did.
To obey.
Without question.

Denver Bup circled something, nose to the ground the way Beagle dogs do, his tail a happy flag, its white tip waving in the air: here I am, come follow! -- and Angela did, laughing in the high, giggling voice of a happy little girl.
I saw something out of place in the meadow, something that didn't look ... its color wasn't right, and so I ran my hand into the left hand saddlebag and came up with my field glasses.
It took me a moment to find out what had Angela's rapt attention.
"ANGELA!" I shouted. "GET OVER HERE, NOW!"
Angela stood, startled: I could see how big her eyes were, and my breath hissed out between clenched teeth, hoping against hope that her move wouldn't startle the skunk too badly.
I curled my lip and whistled and Denver Bup's head came up: his ears pricked up just a little, giving him that comical look he had when he looked at you at whistle, then he began galumphing toward me, taking those long bounding jumps of his, tongue hanging out, enjoying himself for the run.
Angela turned and followed Denver Bup for a few laughing steps, then turned and looked behind her.
"Dad-dee," she protested, and I feared she was going to return.
"Dad-dee!" Her voice took on the note of distress a little girl's voice assumes when she realizes, Oh Darn, I Got Caught and Now I'm Gonna Get It!
Angela's mouth snapped shut and she began running toward the hedge, well distant from her, but each running step took her farther from the skunk, and that pleased me.
I dismounted and ran to her, snatching her up off the ground.
She squirmed in my arms and started to cry, certain that I was going to bend her over my leg and fan her little biscuits on the moment.
"Angela," I said, my voice quiet and serious, "when I tell you to do something, you do it RIGHT AWAY AND WITHOUT QUESTION, DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME, YOUNG LADY?"
"Yes, Daddy," she said in the halting voice of a heartbroken little girl.
I turned and pointed to where she'd just come from.
"Angela, what was that?"
I saw a steer wandering curiously towards the pole cat and knew things were about to get unpleasant for the steer in very short order.
"Dat's da kitty, Daddy, an' it's got little kitties with it!"
"What do the kitties look like, Angela?"
She looked half-hopeful, like she might be able to crank me several times around her little finger again.
"Dey're black an' white spotty," she said, lowering her head and giving me those big blue eyes.
I think she practices that innocent expression in front of a mirror.
I've practiced that innocent expression for better than a half century and it ain't worked for me yet.
"Look there, Angela," I said, and set my foot in the stirrup.
We swung up on top of my black Outlaw-horse and I patted his neck and called him a good boy, and he muttered, for the wind shifted and he could smell the trace-odor of skunk.
Outlaw knew what a skunk was.
"Stand fast," I murmured, and Outlaw stood.
I had Angela in front of me so I could see her face.
She wrinkled her little nose and said "Daddy, whatsadat smell?"
"Watch," I said, and she watch'd, and about then the steer bawled and backed off, pawing at its face: we saw the misty yellow cloud, the gleaming oily spray on the steer, and how it hit the ground, then got up and crawled its forelegs a couple steps with its hinder in the air, scraping the sides of its face on the ground: it got up, nose and tail in the air, and ran bawling the other way.
"Stand," I soothed Outlaw, and Outlaw danced, restless and muttering, but he stood.
I require my horses to obey me as well.
They don't always so I was ready in case he come unglued.
He didn't but he walled his eyes and started to shiver when the smell come rolling over us.
"Angela," I said, "that was no kitty you saw. Do you know what that was?"
Angela's eyes started to water and I turned Outlaw.
He didn't take much encouragement.
Matter of fact he snapped end for end and squatted into a gallop with absolutely no go-ahead from me.
We got as far as the hedge at the corner of the yard and I ho'd to Outlaw, and he ho'd.
"Angela," I said seriously, turning her to face me: "Angela, if I had not shouted at you, that skunk would have sprayed YOU. You would smell so bad you would have to sleep in the barn, we would have to burn your clothes and you would have to scrub off in ten tubs of water with lye soap and a stiff bristle brush."
"I'm sowwie, Daddy," she said in a very small voice, hanging her head way down and hanging her bottom lip down father.
I brushed her cheek with my finger, hooked my finger under her chin and very gently raised her face to me.
"Angela," I said, "when I tell you to do something, you do it right away and you don't ask questions."
Angela understood.
"Do you see what happened because you did what I told you?"
She looked puzzled.
"Okay. Do you see what did not happen?"
She shook her head, her finger-curls swinging, and I was minded momentarily of Sarah, when she was still a very little girl.
"What happened to that steer?"
Angela's eyes widened.
"He got skunked!" she said firmly with an affirming, vigorous nod of her head.
"That's right," I said. "If you had not done what I told you, when I told you to do it, you would have got skunked just like the steer. You did obey me but you didn't obey me right away."
I picked her up and bent her over my lap.
"How many swats should you get for not doing what I said, when I said to do it?"
"I dunno," Angela whined.
I picked her up and held her in front of me, her eyes level with mine: I eased my face into hers, until our noses and our foreheads touched, and I looked into one big blue eye and whispered, "I see you."
Angela giggled.
I kissed her forehead and hugged her, a big cuddly Daddy-hug.
"I don't think you need your bottom swatted, honey," I said. "You learned from this and that's what's important."
"Do I need to cut a switch, Daddy?" Angela asked, her voice a little muffled, as I still had both arms wrapped around her.
"No, honey," I said quietly. "No switch."
I rode up to the front porch and sidled Outlaw up against the railing, picked Angela up and swung her over the porch rail.
She dropped easily the foot or so to the deck, laughing; it was her favorite dismount, especially after Esther frowned at us and said it wasn't ladylike.
We did it every chance we got.
I guess Angela isn't the only kid in the family.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use.