Post by Susan Hillwig on Jun 6, 2010 22:17:19 GMT -5
Hey there, Susan Hillwig here, welcoming one and all to WWQ's very first special. Being a quarterly book, it's never made much sense to me to do an annual, so we've gone about our usual business for the past five years while the rest of the DC2 has had their fun...until now. And just like WWQ's very existence, you have Jonah Hex to thank for that.
A little refresher course here: WWQ#0 debuted here on DC2 the same day that DC released JONAH HEX #1 waaaaay back in 2005. From the very beginning, I've always looked on WWQ as the unofficial companion title, revisiting or reinventing the old stories in order to better introduce readers to the new ones that Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray crank out month after month. So when Hollywood decided to bless the old man with a movie (heck, it only took 38 years!), I knew WWQ had to mark the occasion in...well, a spectacular fashion. So I searched far and wide for those who have what it takes to write a good oater, and came up with a Magnificent Seven (more or less) of writers to help me out. And boy oh boy, just wait until you see what they gave me!
And let's not forget the other aspect of WWQ: giving cowpokes other than Hex a place to strut their stuff. We've showcased a good amount of guys and gals over the past five years, and no way could we let this special pass by without inviting them along. So in addition to ol' Jonah (who has a big presence here, don't you worry!), we've got some familiar faces stopping by to help us celebrate, along with a few new ones making their DC2 debut! And if you happen to be new to these here parts yourself, don't you fret none: we've got a whole section right here featuring both a timeline and Who's Who files on many of our WWQ stars, so y'all can get caught up right quick.
Now, just like movies back in the day used to run a cartoon before the main show, I asked Googum of Random Happenstance fame if he'd be so kind as to grace us with one of his strips. So here ya go, kids:
Post by Susan Hillwig on Jun 7, 2010 0:27:50 GMT -5
“THE CIRCLE UNBROKEN”
Written by: Susan Hillwig
Note: This story takes place before the events of WWQ#9.
Spring was coming soon. There were no visible signs yet, but it could be felt within the snowy woodland: a yearning for green shoots and new growth, for sweet blossoms and the even sweeter fruits that followed. At least that’s what Hawk said as he and Chris Maxwell made their way up the slope. Since his arrival in Echo Valley over two months ago, Chris had learned to tolerate this sort of talk from Hawk, but always measured it against his practical knowledge of the world, in order to divine some real meaning from it. In turn, Hawk tolerated Chris’s instinctive reaction to cling to everything white and his constant questioning of anything that deviated from it. The older man was hopeful that something might still slip through, however, and just kept on presenting Chris with new ways of looking at things. Hence today’s talk of spring and the eagerness of the trees for it.
“Oh, now this one here...she can’t wait,” Hawk said, laying a hand upon the trunk of an ancient-looking oak. “She’ll be an early-bloomer, for sure.”
Chris looked the tree up and down. “I don’t see how it’s any different from the rest.”
“That’s because you’re relying on these too much.” He splayed two fingers into a ‘V’ and tapped them beneath his eyes. “You’ve got to look at the world with your heart more.”
“Uh-huh.” The disbelief in the young man’s voice was plain, and not uncommon for him. “Is this supposed to be related to the trick that keeps the valley hidden?”
“It’s not a trick, it’s...well, actually, it is sort of a trick,” Hawk replied, “and yes, it is related. Most folks rely too much on their eyes and ears and such, and the magic that’s been cast over the valley messes with that. It makes them see what we want ‘em to see, which is a big, ugly, uninviting hellhole full of rocks instead of all this glory.” He spread his arms wide to indicate the forest around them.
“And that ceremony your uncle did with me...what? Makes me immune to that magic?”
“Oh, not at all. Reckon if you squinted hard enough, you’d see the same illusion you saw when you first got here. We just taught your heart how to ignore it.” Hawk pointed a finger at him. “Which is a pretty big deal, mind you. The only other white man we’ve ever given that privilege to was your father, God rest his soul.”
“It was given to your father as well.”
Chris now pointed a finger of his own. “Your father was Tom Hawkins -- a white man -- and from what I’ve heard, he lived here in Echo Valley for quite a few years, but he also ventured out of it on many occasions. Now, either you guys had to constantly lead him in and out of the valley by hand because nobody ‘taught his heart’, as you like to put it, or somebody did ‘teach’ him and he did just fine on his own. Or maybe,” the young man continued with a smug smile, “I just caught you putting your foot in your mouth regarding all this ‘blessings of the valley’ nonsense.”
Hawk gazed at him in silence for a good long time. When he did speak again, it was rather low. “Follow me,” was all he said, and began to move up the slope once more. After a moment, Chris did follow, trying his best to keep up as the angle of the slope steepened. After a while, the trees began to thin, until they reached a clear spot in the woodland -- in the middle of it stood a pair of wooden markers poking out of the snow. As Chris walked into the clearing, he saw that one of them was a simple cross, while the other appeared to be a short staff decorated with feathers and beads strung on rawhide thongs. Hawk knelt in front of the markers, speaking quietly in the Indian dialect used by the residents of Echo Valley, then got up and turned his head to look at Chris, who was standing a respectful distance away. “Well? Y’all gonna come over here to meet my folks or not?” Hawk asked in English.
His head bowed slightly, Chris approached the markers, and Hawk looked at them again and said, “This here’s Jim Crandall’s boy, Chris Maxwell. Took a good long while, but he finally got here, just like Jim wanted.” He patted Chris on the shoulder. “Thought I’d bring him up here so y’all could listen in while I tell him ‘bout the two of ya, maybe give me a nudge if’n I get something wrong.” Hawk then stepped away from the markers and towards an old log laying on the ground. Dusting the snow off, he said, “Dad used to bring me and Small Eagle up here when we were kids, tell us stories ‘bout him fighting in the Revolution and such. He could’ve done it anywhere, but I reckon he liked the view up here best.” Hawk gestured back the way they’d come, and Chris turned to see the whole of Echo Valley spread out just beyond the trees, the lake at its center sparkling in the midday sun. “When he passed on, we decided this’d be a nice place to lay his old bones down.”
“It’s gorgeous,” Chris replied, then glanced back at the markers. “But I thought Indians didn’t bury their dead.”
“Depends on the tribe. Normally, the people of Echo Valley don’t, but Dad still considered himself a Christian, and he made damn sure we understood that when he felt his time coming. As for Mom...well, she said just in case their souls couldn’t be together in the next life, at least their bodies from the old one could be.”
“‘The next life’? You mean Heaven, or this some Indian belief?”
In answer, Hawk settled down on the log and patted the spot next to him. “You thought you caught me in a lie earlier,” Hawk said as Chris sat beside him, “when we were talking about the blessings of the valley. You assumed that, since I didn’t include my father in the same group as you and Jim, we either didn’t give him the blessing or it’s all bull. Truth is...my father never needed the blessing.”
“So it is bull, then,” Chris countered.
“Nope, just complicated.” Hawk’s eyes wandered back to the markers as he said, “What do you think happens to your soul after you die?”
Chris opened his mouth, then immediately shut it. In all their talks, they’d never spoken on such a serious matter before, and he wasn’t sure how to proceed. After a moment, he replied, “According to the Church, you are judged before the Lord, and depending how you lived your life, you either ascend to Heaven or are cast down into Hell.”
“I didn’t ask what the Church believed, I asked what you believe.” When Chris stayed silent, Hawk looked him over and said, “In your mind, it amounts to the same thing doesn’t it? You’ve never thought about it much past what’s written down in the Bible or preached upon the pulpit.” Hawk gave an absentminded nod. “That’s okay. Dad was the same way for the first half of his life. He had no reason to question it ‘til then.”
A long pause passed between them, then Chris asked, “What happened to make him question it?”
Hawk smiled. “His destiny caught up with him, same as always.”
* * * * * *
The old man groaned as he pushed aside the furs covering him. His joints were stiff this morning, which meant rain was on the way. Perhaps not today, but soon. He’d have to put up the lean-to, or perhaps find a cave to make shelter in until it passed by. There was no sense of urgency within him to do either thing, just an instinctual thought that dry was better than wet. He’d ceased caring about what happened to himself long ago, and instinct was the only thing that kept him going. He staggered to his feet and gathered up some leaves laying nearby to rekindle the campfire with -- summer was gone for sure now, and the mornings had a chill to them that his old bones didn’t like. As the fire sputtered back to life, he ate some berries he’d collected the day before, the juice from them dribbling from the corners of his mouth and staining his unkempt gray beard. His hair was gray as well, a dirty, matted affair that spilled out from underneath the coonskin cap he wore. Perhaps if there were someone else around to see him, the old man might have done something about his appearance, but since he hadn’t laid eyes on another soul in at least four years, he didn’t see much point in it.
After the berries were gone, the old man rolled up the furs he used for blankets, doused the fire, and set off across the land. He had no destination in mind, he simply walked in whatever direction he happened to be facing after he’d slipped his pack onto his shoulders. Today it was north, so north was the way he went. He would walk until midday, then find a place to set up camp and, depending on his surroundings, either lay out snares in the underbrush or toss a line into the water in order to catch supper. Some days he caught nothing, and went hungry, and other days he caught enough that he could eat for days without worry. Because of the sporadic nature of this, he didn’t weigh much, and his buckskin clothes hung on his frail-looking body. Had there been anyone around to observe the old man, they would probably be amazed that he had the stamina to hike all day. But the old man had always been like that, from the time he was a boy: he had a remarkable inner strength that kept him going, day after day, rain or snow or shine. He seemed incapable of burning himself out.
But damned if he hadn’t been trying to do so for the past eighteen years.
As the sun climbed higher in the cloud-covered sky, the old man crossed a grassy plain, through which a small creek ran. It was about knee-deep, so not too difficult to cross, but before he did, he paused to fill his waterskins. While he was doing so, the clouds parted enough to let the sunlight caress the surface of the water, which reflected it in flashes of silver that danced across the old man’s tanned face. The beauty of it managed to pierce his persistent melancholy, and he actually felt a smile forming upon his lips. He ran the tips of his fingers across the water, sending ripples through the flashes and bending them into new shapes. Strangely enough, one of the shapes looked like a figure standing upon the other bank of the creek. That was impossible, of course, there was no one...
The old man’s head whipped up. There was someone standing on the other bank, someone whose form seemed to flash and ripple like the sunlight upon the water. The old man rubbed his eyes, sure it was an illusion, but when he looked again, it was still there. Instinctively, he slipped his flintlock off his shoulder and pointed it at the figure, even though it wasn’t loaded -- he’d run out of gunpowder around the same time he’d seen his last human being. The action did help him focus his mind a bit more on what stood before him: though the specific features were indistinct due to the brilliance, the figure appeared to be female.
“Thomas, I’ve missed you so much.”
His face paled, and slowly, he lowered the useless gun. “Bess?” he said, his voice cracking as he spoke aloud for the first time in years. “It can’t be...”
The figure began to approach him, her feet hovering inches above the water as she crossed the creek. The old man scrambled backwards at the sight of this, terrified, yet unable to take his eyes off the figure. When she knelt down in front of him, he cowered and brought his arms up over his face. “Don’t be afraid, Thomas,” the figure whispered. “You know I’d never hurt you.”
“Can’t be,” he answered, still cowering. “You can’t be Bess. She..she’s dead...you’re dead.” He felt sick saying those words, but it was the truth: Bess Lynn -- the legendary Miss Liberty -- had been murdered by Lord Shilling in an act of horrific savagery. It had happened just a few months after Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, rendering the defeat of the British forces a certain thing. Shilling couldn’t bear the thought of it, and took his rage out upon the one person who meant the most to his hated enemy, Tom Hawkins. He managed to capture Miss Liberty, and did unspeakable things to her until Hawkins came to her rescue. The two men fought, each wounding the other greatly, but it was Hawkins who landed the final blow, ending Shilling’s madness forever. Unfortunately, this victory came too late for Bess, and she died in the bloodied arms of her beloved, who somehow managed to survive his own wounds, but could no longer find any reason to live. In his grief, Hawkins abandoned both civilization and his name in favor of an anonymous, wandering existence in the wilds beyond the Appalachians, far from anything that could evoke even the tiniest memory of her...until now. “Please, don’t haunt me like this. Either leave me be or let me die.” He raised his head slightly. “Is...is that why you’re here? Can I finally die, so we can be together again?”
“Death isn’t the way,” she said, shaking her head so that each glowing strand of her hair danced about her. “Death is what pulls us apart, and life draws us back together. It draws us now, just as it always has.” She reached out a hand towards his face, passing it tantalizingly close to his skin but never actually touching him. “I’ve been waiting for you, for all these years, and now the time has come for us to be reunited.”
“But how? If death isn’t the way to be with you, then how...”
“You have to find me, Thomas.” She stood up, a pair of wings unfolding from her back. “Climb the mountain, and reclaim what you left behind. Only then can we be together again.” With that, the figure took off into the sky, and as he watched, it changed from a glowing woman to a shining-white hawk, screeching as it arced far over his head and flew away.
“Bess,” the old man whispered, and climbed to his feet. He could still see the hawk flying in the distance, towards the vague outline of a mountain range. He stared in that direction for quite a while, wondering if perhaps this simply meant that his mind had finally, irrevocably snapped. But what if it hadn’t? What if Bess, against all logic, really was waiting for him?
For the first time in years, he stood up straight, his eyes filled with a look of purpose. “I’m coming, Bess!” Tom Hawkins called out, and began wading across the creek.
* * * * * *
The mountains lay to the northwest, and he kept his eyes fixed upon them as he made his way across the land. He refused to stop for food, instead gnawing on some jerky from his pack as he plodded along. Even when the sun went down, he kept on walking, the thought of seeing Bess again growing in his mind like a fever. Sometimes he would cast his eyes up towards the heavens, and there he would catch a glimpse of the shimmering hawk circling high above him, standing out like a beacon both day and night.
Two, three, four days passed, and the mountains grew in his vision. His legs shook with fatigue as he walked, and he could feel blisters forming on his feet, but he didn’t stop. Even when the rain he’d felt in his bones finally let loose and threatened to stop him in his tracks, he slogged through it until the skies became clear again. On and on he went, though fields of long grass and groves of ancient trees, across high and low plains, never deviating from his course for the slightest moment. During this whole time, he saw no one, not even a hint that the lands he passed through had even been seen by human eyes before -- during his self-imposed exile, this sort of environment had been what he’d desired, but now, that lack of humanity seemed a bad sign. How could Bess possibly be out here, at what seemed like the end of the Earth?
On the evening of the fourth day, he had entered the mountains proper. The peaks seemed so very high, but it didn’t deter him in the least, he merely set his jaw and moved slowly upward, clamoring over any rocks that happened to be in his way. By the time the sun had fully set, his hands had begun to bleed, and his arms were trembling as badly as his legs...but the hawk was still there, always perched upon a rock further above him.
As the sun rose on the morning of the fifth day, he reached the mountain’s plateau. It stretched out in a crescent shape, broad and flat, and Tom crawled on his hands and knees until he reached the center of it, then collapsed in a heap. “Bess,” he croaked, his face turned toward the sky. “I’m here, Bess...where are you?”
The hawk flew into his field of view, shrieking as it passed above him, then fell like a stone and disappeared beyond the edge of the plateau. He watched all this in confusion, then the meaning sank in. “No...no further. Too much...” But even as the words left his mouth, he was dragging himself towards the edge, his teeth gritted against the pain in his body. When he reached it, he was surprised to see a rocky path just below him, and even more surprising was what lay even further below: a vast, green valley ringed with dense forest, and at its center was a lake filled with water so clear that, despite his distance from it, he could actually see the bottom. Numerous tipis were scattered all about the valley, and as the sunlight began to brush gently over this idyllic landscape, he saw natives emerging from them. Bess is down there with them, he told himself. Find her...you have to go find her.
Had he been physically able, he would have run like mad down the path, but as every step had become a labor, he had to proceed at an agonizingly-slow pace. He’d managed to get his legs under him again, though he was unsure how long his vertical position would last. Step by step, he staggered like a drunkard down the path -- by the time he reached the valley floor and emerged from the woodland, the sun was almost directly overhead, and all the people of the valley were going about their business. He saw women sewing hides, men crafting new arrows, children playing by the edge of the lake...but no Bess. There were no whites at all in this place, save for himself. Undaunted, he headed straight into the encampment, calling her name. At first, the Indians paid him no mind, but the further in he got, the more they began to stop and stare. A few cried out, but none touched him, no matter how close he passed by -- not until he reached what Tom perceived as the heart of the encampment did two of them dare to block his path. Both appeared to be men of authority, with one of them carrying a thin staff that suggested a symbol of office. The staff-bearer spoke to Tom, gesturing back towards the path into the valley, but Tom couldn’t understand the words. He almost could, like the meaning was buried deep within him, too deep for his mind to reach. As the Indian spoke, Tom’s eyes wandered to the staff itself, looking it up and down as he swayed in place from exhaustion.
Then, without warning, a bizarre urge overtook Tom’s mind, and he snatched the staff out of the Indian’s hand -- the other Indian reached out to snatch it back, but the former staff-bearer held him at bay. Tom ignored all this as he ran his hands over the staff, part of him seeming to remember the feel of the wood between his hands. Carefully wrapped around the top end of the staff was a length of sinew, which he took hold of and unraveled, pulling it a few times to test its strength. He then upended the staff and, amid gasps from many standing around him, bent it until he could affix the loose end of the sinew to the opposite point, restoring the staff to its proper status as a bow. Throughout the process, Tom’s mind felt like it had detached from his body, as if someone had gently pushed it aside in order to guide his hands from within. The feeling increased as he raised the bow high above his head and turned to face the natives behind him. Words he didn’t recognize came out of his mouth, though he spoke them with such conviction that the Indians began to drop to their knees, some shedding tears as they did so.
Tom repeated the words twice more, until everyone was kneeling, and a feeling of satisfaction came over him, like he’d just accomplished a long-standing goal. He then turned back to the two Indians who’d confronted him -- they were kneeling as well, their heads bowed -- and laid the bow on the ground before them. The moment his fingers left the wood, Tom felt in control of himself again. Unfortunately, he also felt the full weight of his exhaustion slam into his body, and he collapsed to the ground, immediately slipping into unconsciousness.
* * * * * *
He didn’t know how long he was out, only that it was the most restful sleep he’d ever experienced. He had no dreams, just a feeling of tranquility that ebbed and flowed over him like a tide. When consciousness began to return, it was gentle, without the least hint of fear or confusion. As he laid there with his eyes still closed, he could hear a low murmur, then he felt the tip of a finger brushing over his chest. Tom opened his eyes then, and saw one of the Indians who’d confronted him earlier sitting next to him, dipping a white-stained finger into a small clay pot and running it over Tom’s skin as he chanted. The Indian paid no mind that Tom was now awake, and continued on with his work as Tom looked about him: he was laying inside one of the tipis, and he could see that his flintlock and other possessions had been placed nearby. Tom knew how to speak some Indian tongues, though none of them sounded like what he’d heard these natives saying before. Can’t hurt to try a few, he thought, and said in Algonquian, “Can you understand me? Do you know these words?” The Indian tilted his head slightly, but didn’t reply. He switched to another dialect and said, “Please, if you understand me at all...”
The Indian laid his stained hand over Tom’s mouth, speaking to him in that familiar-but-unfamiliar language, then got up and walked over to the tipi’s flap. Wiping away the paint that had been smeared across his face, Tom sat up and was about to ask the Indian not to leave, when he realized that he was now clean-shaven. “What the...” he muttered, and his hand continued upwards into his hair, which had gone from a tangled mess to perfectly straight and clean. Blinking in surprise, he looked down at himself: all he had on was his buckskin breeches, and his bare chest was covered with designs, the largest one being a bird with its wings spread wide.
“It is a hawk. Your spirit animal,” a voice said in Algonquian, and Tom looked up to see the Indian he thought of as the staff-bearer step into the tipi. The bow was in his hands, and he laid it next to Tom as he sat down nearby. “Star Falling at Dawn thought its presence might help your soul feel more at home in your new body,” he said, nodding towards the Indian who still stood by the flap.
“This body is anything but new,” Tom replied, then nodded towards the other Indian as well. “Could you thank him for me? For taking care of me?” The staff-bearer relayed the message, and Star Falling at Dawn bowed his head in respect and left the tipi. After he was gone, Tom asked, “He does not speak Algonquian, or have I just fallen that far out of practice?”
“Sadly, we have let many of our ancestors’ tongues fall quiet, in favor of our new, shared language,” the staff-bearer said. “I only know how to speak this one so well because you know how.” Tom frowned at that, and the Indian went on, “I am Grey Elk, chief of the Valley of Echoes, and like many of my predecessors, I have the gift of seeing beyond this world, which can reveal to me what is hidden in the hearts and minds of others. That is how I know you truly do carry the soul of Strong Bow within you, even though you now bear the warrior name of Tomahawk.”
Tom gaped at him. “How did you know my...” he started to say, then shook his head. “I must have been talking in my sleep, but why...”
“You said nothing aloud,” Grey Elk interrupted. “As I said, I have the gift, and it showed me that the tragedy you suffered in your past life has resurfaced in this one. Then and now, your beloved was taken from you by your greatest enemy, and you wandered the land in your grief...but unlike before, your beloved has been returned to you in this life.”
Grey Elk’s words made Tom feel faint -- how could this strange Indian in the middle of nowhere know so much about him? But when he reached the end, Tom’s eyes grew wide. “Bess? You mean she’s really...” he said in English, then grabbed hold of Grey Elk and switched back to Algonquian, “Is she really here, in this village? What I saw was real?”
“Of course it was. Seventeen summers ago, on the day my daughter was born, I had a vision that within her dwelled the soul of Moon Fawn, the lost love of Strong Bow, and that Strong Bow himself would not be far behind. We knew that you had promised upon your deathbed to return one day, and had left ways for you to prove yourself to us,” he said, gesturing towards the bow, “but no one expected you to wear the face of the white tribe when you did so.”
Seventeen years...and it had been eighteen since Bess died. But it didn’t make sense to him, this talk of old souls in new bodies. That didn’t do anything to quash his hopes, however. “Let me see her,” Tom said. “If she is here...if her soul is here, then I have to see for myself. I have to know.”
“She is, and you will.” Grey Elk stood and held out a hand to help Tom to his feet -- he still ached, but not as much as before -- and the two of them exited the tipi. Outside, it seemed as if the entire village was waiting for them, and Grey Elk raised his hands and spoke to them in their own language, which Tom now realized was a blend of many different ones. He could pick out some Algonquian words, and also some from other dialects that he wasn’t as familiar with. As the chief spoke to his people, Tom’s eyes scanned the crowd, then, without thinking about it, he started to move forward, until he was walking amongst them. As before, none touched him or barred his path, though now they looked upon him with awe instead of fear. Tom looked upon them as well, searching their faces for some glimmer of Bess, but finding none. A sense of frustration started to come over him, but that was quickly squeezed out by something else: a sense that he was looking for her the wrong way.
He closed his eyes and continued to walk, guided by nothing but whim. After a while, he raised his hands and reached out in front of him, his eyes still closed. His palms touched something, and he followed the curve of it, until the image of a face formed in his mind: a beautiful face with a warm, inviting smile and kind eyes. His hands slipped into locks of hair as soft as silk, then down a graceful neck and across strong yet smooth shoulders. Bess, he thought. Oh my Lord, this is Bess. After all these years...
Opening his eyes, he saw an Indian woman with raven-black hair and chestnut eyes...nothing like the Bess he knew and loved so long ago, but his heart still beat heavily at the sight of her. She was young, oh so young, and he’d grown so old, yet he knew in his soul that she was the one, just as he’d known when they’d first met on the battlefield over two decades ago. “Moon Fawn,” he whispered, the words coming out of his mouth not in English or Algonquian, but in some long-forgotten language, unspoken since a warrior named Strong Bow passed from this world. “It has been so long since I have truly seen you.”
“And I have seen you many times in my dreams,” she replied in the same language, reaching up to touch his face now. “I have felt your sorrow, and now I feel your joy...our joy, for now we are together again.” She stood on her tiptoes and gave him a kiss that was so sweet, so wonderful, that Tom swept her up in a passionate embrace, while all around them the natives whooped and sang praises. There would be many celebrations after that, for days on end, but none of them could ever hold a candle to this one shining moment, this breathless second of bliss brought on by lovers reunited.
* * * * * *
“Before he died and Wise Owl became shaman,” Hawk said to Chris, “Star Falling at Dawn helped Dad and Mom recover some memories from their old lives. From what they could tell, the two of them had been going through this for a couple thousand years: being born, growing up, finding each other, then dying terribly and having to start the whole mess over again, but not remembering a lick of it. Star Falling at Dawn said they had a curse hanging over them...didn’t know why, but he knew it wasn’t something he had the power to break. From the looks of things, though, it could be bent a little.” Hawk waved his hand about, indicating the land around them. “The shamans Strong Bow gathered ‘round him sowed a right powerful magic all through this valley, and it’s from one of them shamans that my mother is descended -- Strong Bow refused to take a wife, y’see, and didn’t have no kids, so he hand-picked somebody to succeed him. Now, maybe he only brought all that magic together in one spot and put one of its users in charge in order to keep his people safe...or maybe he also did it so that his soul and that of his beloved would have a place where they could find each other again, and live out their days in peace instead of being ripped apart like always.” The older man shrugged, saying, “However it came about, the important thing is they were reunited, and got to spend close to thirty years together here in Echo Valley, ‘til Dad’s heart started to give out and he passed on at the ripe old age of eighty-four. Mom joined him a couple years later, just went all peaceful-like in her sleep. She wasn’t even sick...I reckon she just missed him, and figured it was time to get the ball rolling again.”
They sat in silence for a while, then Chris said, “So, do you really believe in all that? This notion that your parents lived as other people hundreds of years ago?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“Because it...well, it’s just...” He pressed his lips together in a thin line and shook his head, refusing to say what was on his mind.
“It’s the lack of physical proof, ain’t it? All you have is my word that this is true, and that’s only based on my own parents saying that it’s true.” Chris didn’t answer, but Hawk nodded anyways, saying, “That’s fine. It is a helluva thing to believe, and I didn’t expect you to buy it all the first time you heard it...but if you’d seen my parents when they were alive, then that would’ve been all the proof you’d ever need. Because in all my travels, I’ve never seen two people that completed each other as much as they did, and I believe with all my heart that it’s because they’d gone through so many lives together, their souls constantly reaching out to find each other again and again.” He let out a sigh then, his gaze going back to the grave markers. “And even after this little miracle here, they’re gonna have to do it again.”
Despite his disbelief over the whole situation, Chris was surprised by what Hawk said. “How do you know this wasn’t the end of it? If they died peacefully instead of tragically, then shouldn’t that...”
“What? Break the curse? I think that’s what they hoped too, but the night after Dad died, Small Eagle had a vision, just like my grandfather had when Mom was born. He saw Dad alive, many years from now, still following his warrior nature and his spirit animal -- the hawk -- still watching over him. He didn’t see Mom, but if Dad was going to be dragged back to the land of the living, then she probably would be too.” Hawk stood up, knocking snow off his trousers, and walked over to the markers, saying, “We don’t know when this is going to happen, but Small Eagle says it’ll be somewhere in America, he’s sure of that. Maybe I’ll get lucky and run into them out on the trail one day.”
“But...but they wouldn’t know who you are...would they?”
“Probably not, but even though I ain’t got the touch as strong as Small Eagle, I like to think that I’ve got it good enough to recognize them if I see them.” Hawk turned back to Chris, who was still sitting on the log, and smiled at him. “Y’know, the way you said that, you almost sounded like you do believe me.”
A blush came to Chris’s cheeks, and he quickly said, “I don’t.” Then in a more sedate tone, he added, “You just told the story so convincingly, I sort of...got swept up in it.”
“Uh-huh.” Still smiling, Hawk started to walk back down the slope. “Come on, son, let’s head on home. It’s getting close to suppertime.”
Chris got up to follow, then paused at the grave markers once Hawk was a good distance away. “I don’t mean any disrespect to you or your family, Mr. Hawkins,” he said quietly, “but I hope what your son said isn’t true. Because if it is true, then who’s to say my own parents aren’t going through the same thing as you and your wife? Or that we all don’t go through it?” The young man sighed. “I want to believe in Heaven, and in eternal rest, and in the notion that I’ll finally be able to meet my mother and father when I die myself...and I want to believe that the two of you are at peace instead of cursed, because no one should have to suffer like that. Is that such a bad thing to believe in?”
He fell silent, as if expecting an answer, and none came, so he turned to follow Hawk back down into the valley, not noticing the tiny hint of green beginning to push its way out of the tree branches that hung over his head.
Post by Susan Hillwig on Jun 7, 2010 0:32:12 GMT -5
“DYING AIN’T MUCH OF A LIVING” Written by: Henry Feakes
*Disclaimer: Josey Wales and all related characters and story elements are the property of the estate of Forrest Carter. Neither the author of this story nor anyone affiliated with the DC2 site lays any claims otherwise. This is purely a work of fan appreciation and is not being used to make a profit in any way, rather its purpose is to have two great Western icons finally stand side-by-side, so that the fans can see what might have been.
Jonah Hex cursed the sand that blew in his ears and his eyes. He squinted through the sandstorm and wondered maybe if he wasn’t lost. Easy for any man to get lost in a mess like this. But Jonah wasn’t any man: he had a good inner compass that pointed him in the direction he wanted to go and it kept him on track. Of course, without that inner compass, Jonah wouldn’t have been that much of a bounty hunter or a tracker of men.
He cursed again the sand and the grit and the fate that brought him here. During the War, Jonah had met many brave soldiers and many other brave men. Some were tagged as border raiders, guerrilla fighters, or mad dogs. But Hex always remembered it was a gift and a curse.
And he remembered the one name that always haunted him: Josey Wales.
Hex met Wales a few times during the War, the most memorable being when Hex’s company was ordered to rip up a section of track, a common practice to slow up the enemy. The only problem was there were not enough men and the Yankees were coming. Then they ran across a small band of fighters led by a tall, powerfully built man with a sabre scar running down his face.
“I heard you just might be needin some help,” Josey Wales told Lieutenant Hex.
“Ah figger that since yer here, why not?” Hex told Wales.
The two of them brought their men together, tore up the section of track, then fought off the blue-bellies until Hex got hit. Wales saved him by throwing him across the saddle of his horse.
“Jonah old buddy, you don’t look too good,” he said as they rode off. “Hold on, I’m gonna take you to a old woman I know, she’s colored but she knows her medical stuff real well. She’s better than a doctor, and if you have a problem with that...well, that’s your problem.”
Hex gritted his teeth. “Why are ya doin this? My men....!”
“Jonah, you were the first person I grabbed. If ya don’t wanta be saved, SAY SO!”
So Hex kept quiet, and when Wales took him to Mama Rawlins she kept him there for three weeks, nursing him back to health and pulling fragments of a bullet out of his chest. Mama Rawlins fed Hex the best food he had during the War, and of course by the time he was ready to leave, Josey Wales had been long gone.
Mama Rawlins told Hex, “Josey is a good man, Jonah, but he’s a lonely man same as you. Death and gunsmoke is Josey’s only friends.” She wrung her hands as she spoke. “Be careful, Jonah Hex, you do not want to go down the same path as Josey. Only death and misery wait for him at the end.”
And so Jonah Hex went back to the War and forgot Mama’s words to him, but he did not forget Josey Wales. Nor did it seem that Josey Wales was done with him yet.
* * * * * *
Jonah had tracked the Branch brothers to the most forsaken area of the US/Mexico border. The Rio Grande separated them, but Jonah did not care, nor did he care that instead of six living Branch brothers he was bringing in six bodies on six horses...the damn fools.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, and Abel Branch. All of them were crazy; they loved dynamite and anything that would blow up. The Branch brothers made a big mistake blowing up a safe in Santa Fe: two people were killed four wounded in the explosion, and the Branch brothers burnt the contents of the safe. They left with 500 dollars. Hex had tracked them throughout Texas headed towards the border, and caught them at night when the morons were sleeping. When Hex announced his presence, the Branches opened fire. However, Hex was well hidden and picked them off by the light of their own campfire, one by one. Facing a long ride back to Santa Fe, he tossed the bodies over their horses and headed off. Once he arrived in Santa Fe and dropped the bodies off at the sheriff’s office, the complaining began.
“Jonah, all I see is six corpses,” the sheriff grumbled. “Why didn’t you bring them back alive to me so we could try them like civilized folk?”
Hex pulled out one of the posters and thrust it in his face. “Read it, sheriff. It says ‘Wanted: DEAD or Alive’. Now there is one of me and six of these idiots. What did ya think I wuz gonna do, invite ‘em tuh dance?”
The sheriff sighed. “Well...Jonah, these boys are worth two hundred apiece, and I ain’t got that kinda money here on hand. But what if I steered you into a bigger bounty on someone who has been wanted longer? This man has been wanted since ‘65 and well, you know...he’s one of uh, your kind.”
Hex grabbed the man by the neck and growled, “Ya best clarify that remark. What’s ‘my kind’?”
“A Reb. A Johnny bloody Reb. He never surrendered and kilt his friends rather than give himself up. I found out Josey Wales is still alive, out near a little town called Lonesome. Seems like he keeps moving every five years or so...doesn’t want people getting too familiar with him.”
Hex grunted, “Josey’s dead, you vulture, and he was cleared of those crimes, Ah believe.”
The Sheriff pulled out of Hex’s grasp and with shaking hands took a wanted poster off his desk and held it up. It read:
Wanted Dead or Alive Josey Wales for crimes against the United States of America 5000 dollars bounty
Hex looked at it and tossed it into the man’s face. “It’s an old one, vulture.”
“I saw him myself, Jonah. I just got back from there, visiting friends. I was about to put that out again but seeing that you’re here...and in need of money...!”
The man’s reply floored him, but still he roared, “Well, why didn’t you arrest him yourself, you coward?”
“Why didn’t I arrest him? Jonah, this is Josey Wales and I didn’t want to get killed. ‘Sides, I was out of jurisdiction. Ask Woodrow when you get there...he’ll tell ya it’s Josey.”
“Shut up...just shut up!” The blood pounded in his ears as his anger grew. Hex knew that, if Josey was alive, he had questions to answer, and he might have to be taken in or outright killed. Neither prospect held much pleasure for him. Jonah left Santa Fe that night, out 1,200 dollars for the damn Branch brothers, but hunting again all the same, this time for the truth and for the life of a friend...or his death.
* * * * * *
The sand kept blowing and Jonah cursed the land Lonesome was built upon. The damn town -- if one could call it that -- was a flyspeck of a place, but Jonah didn’t care. An old Texas Ranger by the name of Woodrow took care of the law aspect as Lonesome didn’t have a sheriff or much of a population. Jonah rode in and sighed. The damn town looked even more forlorn than it did last time he’d passed through it. He stopped outside the saloon and walked in. The bartender jumped when he saw him.
The bar was almost empty. Two cowboys were almost asleep at a table dealing poker, and the one whore in town leaned against the bar and studied Hex. The saloon stunk of stale beer, sawdust, and tobacco smoke. The thickness of it made Hex cough.
“Need something, mister?” the bartender asked nervously, his hands wrapped around a mug.
“Whisky in a clean glass and some information.”
The whore looked at him lazily and blew the smoke from her cigarette out in a black cloud. “Information? What do you think this is? Screw off, mister, you look like trouble!”
“Lady.. Ah am trouble for you and yore pals here. Ah rode three damn days tuh get here, and Ah need to know where Ah can find Josey Wales.”
The whore turned to the bartender and whispered, “Get Woodrow.”
Hex stepped to the bar and grabbed his whisky. “Don’t bother ‘less you want him dead. That is if you wanted him here to stop me. I got business with Wales, not Woodrow.” Hex turned to her. “Mind yer business next time. And Ah’m askin’ that nicely.”
But the bartender ran out the back door, and half an hour later he came back with a tall man with a well trimmed white beard. He clearly carried the air of authority, but he wore no badge. “Jonah, what are you doing here?”
“Woodrow, nice seeing you again. Ah need to see Josey Wales, and Ah’m askin’ you to not get involved.”
“Well I can respect that, Jonah,” Woodrow answered. “He’s living here, but out on the outskirts, near the river thirty miles from town. He bothers no one and we don’t bother him. He’s been here ‘bout five years, has a nice family. What business do you have with him, Jonah?”
“The usual business, Woodrow. Now, you gonna help me or do Ah gotta ask much harder than this?”
“Jonah...Josey just wants to be left alone. We knew who he was when he got here. Nobody in his right mind would be here if they had any better place to be. If you kill him, Jonah, I’m telling you on my authority as a former Texas Ranger, I’ll hunt you down and arrest you.”
“Woodrow, don’t be so stupid. Ah Just want to talk to him. Ah’ll kill him only if it’s needed.”
“Listen to me, he’s done nothing to warrant this...”
“And you listen to me. I owe my life to him, but at the same time he stood accused of killing his men, some of whom were my friends. I owe him a chance to tell me the damn truth whether I like it or not...You don’t know everything, only Josey does, and that’s what I need to find out.”
Woodrow stood silent a moment, then said, “Alright, I’ll take you to him.”
For the first time, Jonah smiled; despite the ugly scar on the right side of his face, the smile came through and it looked...relieved.
They rode in silence. The wind whispered in their ears and Hex rode on wondering what the next few hours would bring. Woodrow steered his mount over to a dead camp site; there was wood scattered around and Woodrow dismounted. “It’s getting late, Jonah, he’d be in bed now. Morning comes early so we might as well camp here.” Woodrow pulled his camping gear off the horse and Hex noted with some surprise that Woodrow was ready for just about anything. “You can sleep comfortably in your bedroll beside a fire or sleep in the saddle, I don’t care, but you are not seeing Josey tonight.”
“Wasn’t counting on it, Woodrow, but try anything...!” Hex let the words drift out but Woodrow understood.
Both men tended to their horses and made their beds, and not until the night was quiet and the fire was warm and crackling did they relax. Woodrow fell asleep, but Hex did not. Too many things were going through his mind. Sleep, his mind told his body, but Jonah’s body wouldn’t rest, and when he finally did, he fell into a deep dreamless sleep.
When the morning came, Hex had his horse already saddled and his breakfast cooking before Woodrow had woken up. “Jonah, did anyone ever tell you that you were impatient?”
“No. Anybody ever tell you how bad you snore?”
After breakfast, Woodrow saddled his horse and led Jonah to a sad little ranch with dying buildings. “I’m gonna leave you here, Jonah, but mark my words...”
“Woodrow, if you’re gonna go, well then git going. Ah ain’t gonna do anything rash...Well maybe.” Jonah added the last bit just to see the look on Woodrow’s face. He knew he shouldn’t but there was something about Woodrow that made him want to needle him.
* * * * * *
Josey Wales was in a pig pen with his son trying to separate the pigs that had the fever from those that didn’t. It was long, dirty, frustrating work, trying to keep them separate long enough to move them out of the pen and into a different pen. But the damn fever moved fast and he faced the prospect of losing all of his pigs. He had been at it since dawn; his wife Laura had helped him but then left to do other chores that needed to be done, so his son stepped in.
The boy was nearly 15 years old now and he was as big as his father, with sun-tanned skin and muscles that testified to being the son of Josey Wales. The boy was bright and kept his mind on his task, but once in a while he’d look down at the road coming in. He didn’t know why, he just did. This time he saw a stranger clad in grey riding up. “Pa, we got company.” He said it in a matter-of-fact kind of way.
Josey looked up and saw. The sight of the man’s uniform brought back bad memories, and a chill went through him. “Git my rifle, boy, the Winchester that’s on the doorway. Quick, boy.”
Josey Wales stood up, caked in mud, tired and sore, but determined to be rid of this stranger who brought bad feelings to his home. His boy handed him the Winchester and he cocked it and stood ready. Then his eyes saw a ghost from the past and Josey shook his head. Jonah rode up to him, then got off the horse. Both men were silent, staring at each other. The wind picked up and Jonah could smell the pigs. Josey nodded at him but kept the gun aimed at Jonah’s chest.
“What brings you here, Jonah? Personal or business? If it’s business I’ll tell you right now I don’t like the prospect of killing you but I will. Dying ain’t much of a living, Jonah, and you’re not fast enough to outgun me.”
The words were spoken softly with a air of menace, but Jonah had been in this situation before many times and Josey did not scare him in the least. “Ah came to talk to ya, Josey, and Ah want the truth. Did you kill those boys all them years ago? If you did, well I’m taking you in, and if not...”
Josey nodded. That damn incident kept coming back to haunt him. He and the other Missouri guerillas had been talked into surrendering; even though the War was over, they were the last to give up. But not Josey. He refused. His hate of the Union armies saved his life: his friends were tricked and walked into a massacre. Josey killed a lot of Union soldiers that day before escaping, only to find later that he had been blamed for the deaths. The outlaw Josey Wales had become a bounty hunter’s greatest dream, and so he killed them by the dozens, finally settling the score when his old friend Fletcher had declared Josey dead. But some people always found the truth out, and Josey was forced to move and forced to kill until he was sick of it. Josey stared at Jonah, his palms sweating.
“Ah Ain’t gonna kill ya yet anyways, so can you get yer gun offa me?” Jonah asked.
Josey lowered the gun.
“Now ‘fore we go an’ do something stupid, can Ah get a cup of coffee or something while we talk?”
“I reckon so,” Josey replied, and turned towards the house. “Let’s get that cup, Jonah. We both have a lot to talk about...and don’t try anything. I’d hate to bury you.”
They entered the small house, and Jonah was amazed at how small and how cramped it was. He admired Josey because not many men could do this on this kind of land and make something from it. Josey grabbed a coffee pot and two cups, then they sat at a table to have their talk.
“I never killed those boys, Jonah, never,” Josey began, his voice grim. “They were tricked by a lie: come in, surrender your weapons, we’ll feed you and take your weapons and let you be Americans agin!” Josey shook his head. “Not me...Robert E. Lee surrendered, I didn’t. I hated them and still do. They killed my wife, killed my son, and burned my farm because I never chose a side. So why do I want to be one of them? So what happens? They gunned my friends down like animals. One poor boy...Jamie...he died after I saved him from those butchers, and I had to bury him. Yes, I was there, and yes, I killed as many of the Union men as I could with a Gatling gun. I would have got them all but I ran out of bullets. So I ran...and they chased me and tried to kill me because I knew the truth of what happened.” Josey sipped from his cup and continued, “I made it to Indian country, and I made some friends, including a woman who later became my wife and gave birth to my boys and my daughter. Not long after that, my friend Fletcher told those chasing me that I was dead...and I was. I let the old Josey Wales die so I could have some peace. But sometimes the wrong people would find me and I’d have to either move or kill them. This here is my home now and I’d thank you to not tell anyone where I live. I don’t want to start the killing agin.”
Hex saw the truth in Josey’s eyes, and told him, “A sheriff in Santa Fe saw ya and wants to put the poster back in rotation. He told me because he didn’t have the 1,200 dollars he owed me. I think he’s hoping you’ll kill me or I’ll kill you and bother someone else for your bounty.” Hex fell silent a moment, then said, “Ah owe you my life, Josey, so now the debt’s paid in full. I’m not gonna tell anyone where you are, and I ain’t gonna shoot ya. Because I know you didn’t do it. I know that damn war got into everybody’s head and screwed us up...but not you.”
Josey spoke, “I heard about the Fort Charlotte massacre, Jonah, and how they blamed you for it. But I knew that was not you, that wasn’t the way you worked. You always has a sense of honor. That’s gonna be your undoing sometime.”
“Ah doubt it, Josey...I’m gonna die in the saddle chasing bounties till I’m too old to do anything. This kind of life...the kind you’re doing...I can do it, but sooner or later I’d wanta roam again. You got my respect, Josey Wales.” Hex stood, put his hat on, and looked at Josey. “We’ll never know, will we? Who is faster, who would win.”
“Jonah, is that so important? I don’t have so many friends that I kin afford to lose one doing something stupid like a gunfight.”
“I believe you’re right. Well, I better go, but before I do...whatever happened to Mama Rawlins? She said me and you were destined to go down the same road. I’d say she was wrong.”
Josey shrugged. “Hard to say. I heard she died. Then agin, I heard she made her way to Canada. She was a great medical woman, but not a fortune teller, I reckon.”
Jonah Hex shook Josey Wales’s hand and walked back to his horse. There was nothing more to say. Josey watched Jonah ride away until he was distant on the horizon, and even then until he was gone.
Jonah rode on until he passed the town of Lonesome and kept on going. He didn’t want to face Woodrow again. What he wanted was to be alone at this point in time. Maybe after awhile he’d rejoin the human race. But not today.
Jonah Hex rode on with his two companions: Death and the acrid smell of gunsmoke.
Post by Susan Hillwig on Jun 7, 2010 0:52:42 GMT -5
”THE THREE THUNDERS” Written by: Don Walsh
*Note: This story is set many years before WWQ#11.
Arak Red-Hand woke with a start, his muscled body rigid and cold as the dark eyes stared up into the darkness. It took him several long moments to realize he was awake now, safe in his lean-to, with the wonderful contrast of soft and hard that was his lover, Valda, at his side. Slowly, he gathered his wits and sat up, sharp eyes glancing around him in the gloom. It was cool, and it felt good against his smooth chest. He carefully picked himself up off the ground and made his way out of the makeshift shelter.
He stretched out his arms, the hard corded muscles rippling as he glanced up at the sky. It was overcast; heavy dark clouds had swooped in during their sleep, and he realized that it was indeed more than a dream that had disturbed him. He looked at the small camp, his allies, his beloved “Iron Maiden” still sleeping peacefully. The dull red coals of the fire provided the only light, and a little warmth. He mused about Chiron's absence from the fire pit, and most likely roamed the perimeter of the camp, as he often did.
So Arak was alone with his thoughts, and the lingering shards of his dream, and shivered slightly at the breeze as it caressed him. He crouched over the embers and stoked the fire, letting flames lick up into the air eagerly, excitedly lashing against the dark. With the fire strong again, he reached into a leather pouch and tossed gray powder onto it. The comforting yellow-orange fingers turned into a more surreal, creepy greenish hue, and more smoke rose up. Arak breathed deep from this new smoke, and felt it lift his spirit away, to soar free from the heavy flesh.
\\\\\ ||||| /////
Blood-of-Thunder felt the heaviness in his heart as the dream shook him awake. The coldness in his wigwam had nothing to do with the air; it was summer, and quite warm in the Swift River Valley, but the shaman felt none of that heat. Instead, he was cold for he was alone. His beloved had died a week before, and it still haunted him. He lay there, and stared at the hide-bound roof of his life and let out a low sigh heavy with grief.
He dragged himself out of his small home and looked around, blinking his eyes clear in the darkness. The sliver of moon above had been hidden behind a wall of gray, mean-looking clouds and Blood-of-Thunder realized that the dream was more than just a dream. An omen, a summons by the spirit world; he walked to the small fire pit near his home and started to light it.
His mind wandered as he worked, and thought of the trials of this summer. The Pale Ones had come, and haunted the Pocomtuc when the Moon was last waxing; he'd done what he could, and brought back sacred weapons to aid their heroes in driving them off. The strange milky-white humanoids no longer troubled their valley, but the two braves perished, and the weapons disappeared.*
Then his wife became sick, and none of his medicines could heal her. She wasted away quickly, and then died, and left his heart rent in pieces. Seven days later, and the spirits drove him awake in the middle of the night, under ominous clouds. Those spirits that had sent the braves off to die, sent the weapons away from his people, and took his wife.
The flames flickered up into the darkness now, and Blood-of-Thunder tossed grayish powder onto the flames, and drank in the smoke and felt his spirit lift away, to soar free from the heavy flesh.
\\\\\ ||||| /////
James Born of Thunder stirred, his head heavy and eyes dry, as he tried to pull himself up off the ground. The pounding between his temples made him dizzy, and he only succeeded in rolling onto his back, to stare up into the slate gray night sky. He groaned as he lay on the rock and dirt, his calloused fingers rubbed his brow. He was in the foothills overlooking Mesa City, in a sacred place where his people had once kept their sweat lodge, where the medicine men before him meditated and communed with the spirits above.
Those spirits that had ignored him throughout the time he learned at his father's knee; studied the chants, learned the dances, mastered which substances brought on healing and which drew a person close to that strange distant world. None of that learning had mattered, not once. He'd never touched that ethereal place. Instead he watched as the White Man rolled across the Island of the Turtle with a voracious appetite and not once had the damned spirits come to him. He sat up, his hand on his head as if holding it in place. It hadn't been so long now since his people had been driven off, moved off by the United States government; those who avoided them had fled further west, or south; or died fighting. He'd done none of that, instead he'd hidden in these hills, and watched it all unfold. He'd turned his back on his people and their ways, the way the spirits had turned their back on him. Since then, his trail had grown steadily easier to follow if anyone had cared to: the bottles he left in his wake across these foothills would mark his path.
He got to his feet unsteadily, the blood roaring in his brain. He squinted, staggered and his foot caught the empty whiskey bottle on the ground. He tumbled backward with a cry, then a stunted grunt as the back of his head cracked off a large rock. The sky spun above him, he felt the earth turn beneath him and felt his spirit lift away, to soar free from the heavy flesh.
\\\\\ ||||| /////
The three men stared at each other around a bonfire, with flames that leaped high into the sky, far above their heads. The skies above were clear, darker than sackcloth and studded with uncounted pinpoints of light, but they still roared with thunder. The ground beneath them rumbled with each raucous peal above, but none of it seemed to catch their notice. The resemblance between the three was uncanny: each had strong faces and sturdy jaws, weathered faces lined by hard struggles of one sort or another; jet-black hair that shimmered under the firelight; brown eyes warily caught sight of each other of the men.
“I am Arak Red-Hand, and I would know what each of you is doing here in this special place!” the ancient warrior asked as he drew a sword and pointed it first at one, then the other man.
“A strange weapon,” Blood-of-Thunder remarked as he held up his hands in caution. “I am Blood-of-Thunder, and I was called to the Spirit World.” He took a cautious step toward Arak now as his eyes danced with excitement. “You are truly Bright-Sky-After-Storm.”
James stared and approached from the other side, not the most steady of steps. “Not possible. Neither of you is possible. I'm seeing things. Bad whiskey. It must be.”
“You know of us? How can you know of us?” Blood-of-Thunder asked now as he pivoted toward James. “And how can you invade this place, this spiritual home to those descended from Bright-Sky's father?”
“My descendants?” Arak looked at Blood-of-Thunder and gasped. “He-No! Father, show yourself and explain this to me! To us! Now!”
“I am here, my children.” The Thunder answered now as the flames flared up higher, swirling and crackling, excited and eager.
“You can't be,” Blood-of-Thunder declared as he glared at James. “I can not believe that you share Bright-Sky's blood! Even here, in a realm of the spiritual, I can smell the stink of fermented drink.”
“Shut up!” James snapped, marched up and nearly struck at Blood-of-Thunder. “You have no idea why I'm like this! None at all! You'll never have any idea! Save your contempt for yourself, oh mighty shaman that lost the sacred weapons of the spirits!”
Blood-of-Thunder's face reddened, angered as he continued to glare, but took a step back just the same.
“Father, I am confused. Descendants...I'll have children, and that makes my heart glad, but...” Arak paused and stepped up to the other two, and looked at them so carefully. “Will there be nothing left of Valda by the time they are born?”
“I do not want fighting between you, it is not what I brought you here for,” the Thunder rumbled his words. “My son, the time has come to bid your friends farewell, and return home, return to our island away from the White Man and the People of the Rising Sun. You must find your family again, and bring them back together.”
“The Quontauka,” Blood-of-Thunder murmured as he watched the inferno and heard the words from the skies, talking to his ancestor.
“This is it, this is the moment Arak comes home,” James confirmed as he stood at Blood-of-Thunder's side now, their argument blasted from their minds by the revelations. “This is when he leaves his heart behind and comes home.”
“I...I have to leave Valda? I love her! We love each other, and I must leave her behind?” Arak cried in shock now, as he stared at the fire. “How dare you? How dare you play these games with me?”
“I dare because I must, my son,” He-No's voice rattled the horizon, muted near the flames as it came from the distance now. “Blood-of-Thunder, son many times down, but still son of my heart. I know the pain you feel, and the disgrace that burns inside you, but you must put both aside, and head west.”
“You gave me these weapons and sacrificed two of our greatest braves, without any reason why or any sign that it was right, then took my love away, and now...now I have to leave it all for spirits know what?”
“Exactly.” He-No's voice came in closer now and the flames turned brilliant yellow. “I gave you no weapons. They were stolen, by my enemy the Serpent. An arcane plan as twisted as his body, and one you can't hope to understand.”
“My fault they were lost...” Blood-of-Thunder stared in shock. “The Serpent, he took her, my Fawn...”
James rested a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “I'm sorry. I...you do understand. I--”
“You are what Blood-of-Thunder said you are, but you must be more now. You must rise above your pain, pull yourself out of your wallowing, and do what is needed.”
“This is our place,” Arak said as he sheathed his sword. His voice was hard as flint, as he struggled with the dryness in his throat. “Blood-of-Thunder.” He looked at James, and struggled to keep his trembling in check.
“James Born of Thunder. You...you're my ancestors,” James answered the silent question. “I've been raised on your tales since I could understand. I was raised to be a shaman, raised to know the Thunder in all his forms. Chief for my people is the Thunderbird. Blood-of-Thunder, he...he came from the far east of Turtle Island, with ways and knowledge unknown to us. We knew of the great pain he took to leave all behind him. We never knew why, never understood...”
“Born-of-Thunder, blood of my blood,” Arak said and clasped his hands on each of their shoulders, “blood of our blood, this is our place. This is where He-No resides, and where we can come to understand. To learn, to accept the pain and ugliness of the world around us.” He turned back to the flames and said, “Even if we hate it.”
“Each of you will do something distasteful, to advance the cause of our family. I can't explain, the eternal Thunder can't reveal what would only make matters worse for each of you. But rest assured, your father will never be prouder of you than the sacrifices you each make to bring about the greater good.”
“I will never stop loving Valda,” Arak snarled as he stepped away from the other two men, and from the bonfire.
“Rest assured, my son, my first and greatest son, she will never stop loving you. And that love will...” The flames dropped in height, and turned a duller red, then slowly shifted to blue, as the thunderous voice above paused as if giving great consideration to any sort of revelation. “...that love will succeed.”
“You tell me nothing I don't already know, Father,” Arak said as he let his spirit start to fade away. “Do me proud, blood of my blood. Arak Red-Hand salutes you both.”
“Blood-of-Thunder, believe me when I say the Serpent, and his allies, they're wicked and you can't be blamed for his tricking you. Yours is a name held in great reverence.” James looked downcast, his eyes on the ground, his voice thick with shame. “I'm sorry for letting the Thunder lineage down. I apologize for accusing you of such things earlier.”
“I accept your apology. But do not be sorry,” Blood-of-Thunder chided him as he stepped back now. “Instead, be strong, and change what is wrong.”
James watched as he became the last of the three spirits. “Many-Times-Great-Grandfather, why has it been so long?”
“Why did we fail your people? Our people? Why were you never allowed to reach the spirit world before now?”
“That'd be the question, yes.” He turned to the fire now.
“You were allowed here now because now is when you needed to reach here. Same as for Bright-Sky-After-Storm, same as for Blood-of-Thunder, same as for any of the shamans that have made the journey.”
James nodded and felt himself starting to drift away now. “You never answered the first question,” he shouted at the last moment, and then felt the chill of the night creeping into his skin. His head no longer hurt; his muscles were stiff, his joints ached, but he stood easily and looked around. Right, some questions remain secret. Work to do, so much work to do, he thought as he collected the empty jugs that littered this sacred place where his people had once kept their sweat lodge, where the medicine men before him meditated and communed with the spirits above. And where, he swore to his ancestors, they would do so again.
Post by Susan Hillwig on Jun 7, 2010 1:02:40 GMT -5
Elkhorn, Oklahoma. 1871:
Ohiyesa Smith shook his head as the world began to swim back into focus and he grimaced at the taste of the street that had gotten into his mouth.
His blurry deputy, Hank Brown, was staring down at him. “You alright, Pow-Wow?”
As Sheriff of Elkhorn he had gotten used to solving the most bizarre mysteries, from outlaws who could vanish into thin air to criminals who believed they could shoot your shadow with magic arrows. Which just goes to show you that sometimes the simple haymaker is just as effective as anything weird.
Tonight’s trouble, however, was of the blessed common variety. A bunch of rowdy saddle tramps got a bit too much firewater in them at the saloon, and he had to lay down the law through more than legal writs and friendly warnings.
Hank pulled him up by his dusty sleeve as Pow-Wow rubbed his aching jaw.
Great Spirit help him, he was going to enjoy this.
“You all just assaulted ‘n officer o’ the law!” Hank yelled to the still-swinging door of the Elkhorn Saloon. Loud guffaws and the sound of smashing glass was the only reply until a greasy cowpuncher staggered to the doorway, still gripping a broken whiskey bottle.
“If’n the best you got is a damned Injun, that ain’t sayin’ much,” he bellowed and both Hank and Pow-Wow could swear they could smell the rotgut from where they stood.
Both men became aware of the townsfolk gathering at the noise and the yelling, Pow-Wow more than his deputy. Already low murmurings were circulating through the growing crowd. His authority, like many sheriffs, was touchy and subject to the whims of others. This wasn’t a fight he could back down from and keep their respect.
“Best go fetch the sawbones,” Hank said to the one of the stable boys who had gathered as he readjusted his holster on his hip. “You’d think these idjits would’ve learned by now.”
Pow-Wow Smith in: “BAD NIGHT OUT”
Written by : James Stubbs
The two men hit the batwing doors at full gallop as the startled greasy cowpoke was carried along with the rush, the fight taken out of him as he was bodily hurled belly-first into the edge of a table. Ignoring the alternating sounds of his moans and retching, Hank and Pow-Wow took quick survey of the saloon.
Most of the regulars had cleared out at the first signs of trouble. The Elkhorn Saloon, much like its namesake, was a peaceful place for a few hands of cards, socializing and the occasional drink after a long day’s work. Even the saloon girls were discrete. One of whom, Mary, was trying to avoid the clumsy attentions of a drunkard. The relief of her face at their entrance was unmistakable.
“Last chance, boys,” Ohiyesa said, fists clenched at his sides, “You either cool off in my jail for the night or you get taught a lesson in manners.”
Drink makes a man stupid and, with this case, there were no exceptions. It was five against two. Hank ducked back from a wild swing and returned the favor with a hard right to the man’s jaw. Being three sheets to the wind, he wouldn’t feel it until the next day. The deputy gave him another two blows that sent the ruffian reeling to the sawdust floor and would serve as a black-and-blue reminder for a few days.
Pow-Wow sidestepped a clumsy charge by a bull of a man and dropped his elbow into the man’s back, driving him to the floor. The drunk went for the handle of a pistol sticking awkwardly out of his britches and the sheriff stomped on the man’s hand a few times until he gave up the idea. The only reward he received for his thoughtfulness was a heavy boot to his head that put him out.
Hank was grabbed from behind and a series of punches from a dirty gaucho who ran in to get in a few cheap shots made him double over in pain. He looked over to see his boss and friend tangling with another man that hefted a chair before Hank was punched in the eye. The world began to go grey as his vision blurred.
The Mexican’s head erupted in a shower of amber liquid and he dropped like a lead stone as Mary shattered a whiskey bottle over the man’s head. Hank was roughly shoved to the floor as the man who had been holding him let out a slew of obscenities. Deputy Brown saw out of his good eye his captor yank a hunting knife out and advance on the now-trembling woman before he reached out, grabbed the man’s ankle and pulled.
The rough-hewn chair slammed into Ohiyesa’s upraised arm and he felt the numbness race up it. His opponent didn’t give him a chance to recover and was immediately upon him, throwing punch after punch. He blocked what he could, but too many were getting through, and his legs were getting weak from the repeated hits. He took a shaky step back…
And kicked the man square in the family jewels.
The quick yelp of surprise was replaced by a silent scream of pain as the man’s body froze in place before collapsing on the floor and curling up in agony.
The knife and a tooth went skittering across the floor as Hank’s man crashed hard against it. He quickly planted his knee in the man’s back and slammed his head a few times against the rough timbers before he made no more noise.
Sheriff Smith and Deputy Brown both slowly moved, looking for any more trouble but, outside of some moaned profanity and crying, it seemed quiet.
Vernon the bartender came trudging out the kitchen with a shotgun and Mary behind him holding a raw piece of steak which she hurried to put over Hank’s swollen eye.
“Little late there,” Pow-Wow said to the older man who just grunted in reply. Nobody had to tell Ohiyesa that no one liked to get involved. It was his job to deal with Elkhorn’s problems and all the aches that came with it. He winced as the numbness faded from his arm to be replaced by a dull pain. Bruised for certain, he thought ruefully.
“Did ya have to kill one of ‘em though?” Vernon frowned. “They was just drunks.”
“I thought your job was to serve drinks, not have 'em yourself,” Hank fumed as Mary mothered his eye. “Damn poor time for a joke, Vernon. We just beat ‘em up some.”
“Pig sticker in the back sez differently.” He pointed at a man face down in a puddle of blood with a knife handle protruding obscenely. “’Less you wanna tell me one of ‘em knifed his own friend.”
The five saddle tramps found themselves staring bleary-eyed at the stern face of Sheriff Smith from behind bars, some feeling grateful for the iron barrier. The smell of booze, sweat, and vomit was almost overwhelming as the Sioux-turned-lawman found it fitting for them to enjoy each other’s company in the same cramped cell for the time being.
“Where’s Tom?” one of them finally worked up enough nerve to ask.
“Getting fitted for a pine box,” Pow-Wow replied.
“Tom’s dead?” the same man asked stupidly.
Ohiyesa’s stony silence was all the answer he needed.
A red-haired cowboy moaned and let his head flop back against the cold stone wall.
“Which one of you decided to put a knife in his back?” Smith pressed.
“Us? You did it, you damned bloodthirsty savage!” The greasy cowpoke who had vomited on his shirt after being thrown through the door screamed in anger.
Pow-Wow folded his arms across his chest and stared hard at them. “Because a bunch of angry drunks couldn’t have done it, right? What was it over? Money? A insult? A woman?”
The prisoners lapsed into a uncomfortable silence.
“I’ll find out,” Smith vowed. “Before you were going to walk out of here with a headache and a fine for disturbing the peace. Now, one or more of you are looking at getting your necks stretched.”
“Nothing really here, Pow-Wow,” Hank chimed in from the small pile of things scattered across his desk. His eye was still puffy and dark but the worse of the swelling had been avoided. “Five dollars in coins, a IOU for five hundred dollars from a ‘Matthew Borges’ in Arizona, a small bit of wire, a battered copy of All-Star Western Library, a half-empty flask of cheap whiskey, couple of cheroots, cartridge belts, two pistols and a knife… not includin’ the one stuck in our dead man.”
“There’s a bit more there than you think,” Ohiyesa replied as a thoughtful expression crept across his face. “I’d be willing to put a small wager on that these men worked for a cattle rancher, our Mister Borges in Arizona, and that explains the large promissory as well as the fencing wire.”
“You think one of them killed another over the how that money was going to be split?” Hank broke in excitedly.
“It’s a good idea, Hank,” Pow-Wow agreed. “Five hundred dollars doesn’t split six ways very well, but it still doesn’t explain why they’d wait until they’re in town. It’d be a lot easier to just kill him out in the wild. There are plenty of beasts and accidents out there that nobody would think twice about if told the right story.”
“Drink?” his deputy ventured.
“Could be, but have you ever known a drunk that would be able to precisely stick a knife in the back where it would kill a man in the middle of a bar fight?”
“Could have just gotten lucky.“ Hank scratched his head. “What’re you drivin’ at?”
“That one of those jokers is a damn good actor or we’ve still got a killer on the loose.”
Hank stared down at the grey-hued façade of sudden shock frozen on the corpse’s face as the clink of glass on glass told the deputy that Doc Reese was helping himself to some of his fancy cognac. It was a damn shame that the man took up the bottle, but Hank didn’t blame him for using a bit of liquid courage in this case.
Elkhorn was blessed with very few murders, so the doc’s ability to get anatomy cadavers not already assigned for a proper Christian burial was slim. Nobody was going to bother with a visitation for a drifter, so he had made himself free with his knives and saws. If there was going to be a burial, it would certainly be a closed coffin affair now. Hank choked back the bile rising in his throat.
“I’m not sure what you’re so interested in this feller for,” the doctor said with a satisfied wet smack of his lips, “Nothin’ strange in the way he died.”
“You sure of that?”
“Son, are you questioning my erudition?”
Hank left wondering what the hell ‘erudition’ was and even more why Pow-Wow had sent him over here in the first place. It seemed like a waste of time and boot leather to him.
He had just passed the general store when a bloodcurdling scream ripped from down the street from the jail.
Hank damn-near took the already-rickety door off the hinges as he burst into their office. Pow-Wow was just walking out of a back room with a mass of bloody hair in one hand and a stained knife if the other. The sounds of loud sobbing came from behind the heavy door.
“It’s always the loudest ones that are the first to break,” Sheriff Smith grinned.
“Sweet Jesus, man! You didn’t…”
“No but he thinks so,” Pow-Wow laughed and opened his hand to show off two chicken hearts. “I popped out to the butcher while you were gone and picked these up and a mess of horsehair. You run the flat of the knife along their forehead while squeezing the hearts so the blood runs all over their face. Makes ‘em close their eyes and that lets you get their ‘scalp’ ready to show them.”
“That’s awful cruel,” Hank admonished.
Pow-Wow shrugged. “No law about getting someone to talk.”
Hank looked inside the door to the loud man who had vomited on himself. He was tied down to a chair, his face and shirt soaked in blood, but otherwise unharmed. The strong smell of piss hit him hard.
“Sometimes their biggest anger is also the source of their biggest fear.”
“Hank, if you want, become a lawyer and pass a law, but I got him to talk.”
“Fine,” Hank agreed with a dismissive wave of his hand, “Learn anything?”
“I’m sure you’ll be surprised to learn that our dead friend’s name isn’t Tom. His real name was Cash Davis, and he did some time down in Arkansas for cattle rustling. His luck just ran out here. Man’ll just as well shoot you dead up there before you touch his beef.”
“And our wet friend tied to the chair was a rustler as well?” Hank added in, drawing his own conclusions.
“Or at least Davis told him about it,” Pow-Wow added. “I was just about to send off a telegram to Arizona and find out more about this Matthew Borges.”
Pow-Wow buckled on his gun belt.
“By the way, Hank, you want to take our prisoner out to the trough and let him know he’ll live for a bit longer?”
It didn’t take long for the reply to come. Pow-Wow was woken up from dozing in his chair by a boy from the hotel. “Well,” he announced to his deputy as he read from the flimsy strip of paper, “It seems our boy made an enemy. Borges is legitimate. Davis had been hired on as a foreman, except he took the opportunity to rustle and rebrand the neighbors’ stock. He sold the stolen heads on the sly and pocketed the cash. He went on the lam when Borges fired him and told everyone what he had done.”
“Leaving Borges responsible for repaying the other ranchers since Davis was his employee.” Hank added.
“That’s why the man had a bounty on his head. I guess Borges was taken in. No rancher in their right mind would knowingly hire a cattle rustler to run their operation.”
“Does this change anything about the IOU?” Hank asked.
“Not really. Davis either stole it from Borges or it might have been used in backing his play to convince people his scam was good. Even if the bounty was the motive, it still adds in even more money as an incentive for someone."
“I guess you can let him know that he won’t have to pay on it at least.”
Pow-Wow nodded. “It still doesn’t explain why he was killed though. Heck, Hank, it opens even more questions. Did one of the other prisoners find out about the bounty and decide to try to collect, or did one of our own folks recognize that he was a wanted man?”
“It’s still murder,” Hank protested.
“No. It’s self-defense, Hank. You know that no jury is going to convict a man for killing a wanted outlaw,” Pow-Wow said with finality. “However, I’m not going to allow a crime to go unsolved while I’m sheriff.”
Hank returned from shoving the manacled Mexican back behind bars.
“Near as I can figure his name is Pancho, but I don’t speak a lick o’ Spanish.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Pow-Wow said. “He’s lying. You could see the way he was following what we were saying. He understood everything we said.”
“How’s that help us?” Hank asked.
“Did you notice the look of disappointment when I casually let it slip that there had been a one-thousand dollar bounty on ‘Tom’? He didn’t know. I’m sure that, if he had, ol’ Cash would have woken up in the middle of the night to a new smile being carved into his throat.”
“So what?” Hank shrugged. “All that means is that the bounty wasn’t the reason. Hell, Ohiyesa, the little greaser might have done it for the $500.”
“Except no bank would honor a note not held by a United States citizen.” Pow-Wow retorted with a wry smile. “And most banks wouldn’t let us ‘little redskins’ in either.”
Hank winced at the slip of the tongue. “What now?”
“They’re all determined to not say anything while we’ve got ‘em in jail. Why don’t you go talk to your sweetheart, Mary? Alcohol loosens the mouth. Perhaps one of them said more than they should have.”
“Alright,” Hank agreed and headed for the door, “But dangit, Smith, I’ve told you a hundred times - she ain’t my sweetheart! …And no scalpin’ while I’m gone”
Ohiyesa laughed as the door slammed behind his departing deputy.
Heavy boots thumped down the boardwalk as Hank made his way to the Elkhorn Saloon. He wondered if Ohiyesa did it just to make him mad. Sure he had danced with Mary at the last town social and had talked for a long time, but Sally Ann was the gal he had his eyes on, even if she hadn’t paid him no mind.
“Hank!” the woman in white swept down upon his as soon as he entered. “Let me get you some lemonade.”
“Of course!” She laughed and twirled around so her linen sundress flared. “I don’t dress like a harlot all the time.”
“I didn’t mean…” he stammered.
“Never you mind,” she said as she took a seat across from him. “You never come in here unless you’re after something.” She playfully batted her eyelashes at him, enjoying watching him trying not to squirm.
Hank was grateful for Vernon’s arrival with the drinks.
“You’re here to see if I know anything about that poor man who was killed, aren’t you?” She quickly reached out and poked her finger against the tin star on his shirt. His abashed look confirmed it.
She sighed and laid her hand on his. “Look, Hank, I want to thank you for saving me from that man with the knife. It was very loud in here so I couldn’t hear everything, but if I can help you, I will.”
He tried to ignore her touch. “Did any of them say anything that didn’t make any sense?”
“Hank, honey, they were all stinking drunk. Very little of it did. But there was this one red-haired man who got a little too free with his hands.” She smiled when she felt his grip tighten against the tabletop. “He didn’t seem like a curly wolf, Hank. He did however say something about a toothpick. Seemed a bit of a queer thing to say.”
He thanked her and left, more conflicted than ever.
“You’re sure she said ‘toothpick’?” Pow-Wow asked again as he leaned back in his chair and tried to think.
“Sure as shootin’. It didn’t make any sense to me neither.”
"Guess there's nothing to it then. Go get Red out."
Hank left and returned shortly with the red-haired cowboy, who was roughly seated.
"We know you're the one who killed your friend," Pow-Wow opened with a hard stare.
"The hell I did!" The man they had dubbed "Red" erupted in hot anger, his eyes flashing.
Hank looked over at his sheriff uncertainly, the vehemence of the outburst from the formerly morose cowhand unsettling.
"You were heard talking about a toothpick at the saloon." Pow-Wow continued.
"Then yuh oughta be letting me out then," he replied hotly.
"And why's that?"
"'Cause if yuh know about that, yuh know t'weren't me!"
The moments of stunned silence was finally broken by their prisoner's wry laughter.
"I'll be damned," he chuckled. "You really was fishin' weren't you? And I just made myself the worm on th' hook."
"Look," he began. "I work fer Mister Borges. He had his doubts 'fore things came to a head. He asked me to get myself into Tom's graces 'n I did. Ol' Tom was a wily bastard tho. He lit out 'fore the sheriff could be called in. Bein' one o' the gang I went along. I figgered that he'd slip up with that IOU at some point. Y'see gents, rustlers get off scot-free if they cross the state line. Fraud's fed'ral. 'Cept someone decided to put 'im in Boot Hill first 'fore I could pin somethin' bigger on 'im."
"Let's say we believe you," Hank spoke up. "What's all this about a toothpick?"
"Arkansas toothpick." Red held his hand apart. "Nasty piece of knife. Big as a bowie. You seem 'em a lot wid fellers who was in th' war. The only man who had one wid us was..."
"Always figgered you fer a skunk, Morgan," a sneering voice rang out followed by the loud clack of a hammer drawing back.
"I would have thought I broke you of that habit of going for a gun," Pow-Wow said coldly staring at the fat man whose hand he had stomped in the bar.
"Don't you worry none, Sheriff. I fully intend on evenin’ that score." he growled. "By the by, next time yah might want to check better. Not that there'll be a next time. Dex there is a mighty powerful lock-pick. Yah only found the wire in his pocket."
Hank groaned inwardly remembering what he had assumed to be a tool of the trade.
Behind the fat man and the weasely lock-pick stood their "scalping victim”, shooting a murderous glare at Pow-Wow. In addition was Pancho and another tall, thin man. Everyone was armed.
“Y’see, sheriff. We don’t take too kindly to bein’ locked up and your hospitality has been less than accommodatin’. We’re gonna kill you, and then Pancho here wants to have a few words with that slommack in the bar...he has a real good way with women.” There was a nasty laugh from the tall man.
Pow-Wow saw Hank tense up and he broke in, “It never was about the bounty was it?”
“Hell no,” the man sighed. “If I’d have known about it. Tom’d been a dead man sooner. No, he insisted on keepin’ that note. I guess he still had plans to set up his bunkum somewheres else. Problem was that we all had to hightail it outta Arkansas with the shirts on our backs n’ little else.”
“So you waited until the fight broke out in the bar and then put your knife in him.” Pow-Wow leaned over his desk and flung the accusation.
“Easier that way,” he shrugged. “I could always blame local folk n’ you’d have one hell of a time provin’ it was us. Too bad you’re a smart one, sheriff.”
“Too bad for you!” Pow-Wow yelled and flipped his desk over while Hank grabbed Morgan and dove for the newly-created cover. He knew that Pow-Wow kept a shotgun strapped underneath. It was their only chance.
Nervous fingers closed on triggers and a hail of lead spattered the walls around where they had been standing. Pow-Wow had jumped off to the side and hurled a knife he kept hidden on him. It hit the tall man in the upper chest and he yelled more in surprise than pain. It wasn’t a killing shot but it did make him drop his rifle.
Morgan just kept his head down as Hank grabbed the shotgun. The desk shuddered under a second volley as bullets cut into the heavy wood top. The deputy rolled off to the side and fired. Pancho screamed as dozens of steel pellets ripped him apart and the fat man cursed as he caught one or two of them himself.
Pow-Wow kept moving, charging into the man he had “scalped.” He grabbed the man’s gun and twisted it upward as the snarling outlaw emptied two shots into the rafters. The two men collapsed on the floor, a whirling mass of desperation.
Hank swung the shotgun towards their leader. “Drop your gun!” he yelled only to have the fat man turn on him. Hank fired but his blast was thrown off by the sudden movement. The final barrel of buckshot pocked the far wall harmlessly but the fat man’s return shot missed as well.
Morgan saw his chance and ran from behind the desk towards the discarded rifle on the floor. Dex opened fire and caught the darting man in the leg. The red-haired cowboy cursed as his leg collapsed underneath him but he gamely kept going for the gun.
Having no shells, Hank charged from behind the desk with the empty shotgun as a club. Dex whirled to meet this new threat and fired but he missed. The wooden stock cracked as it impacted with the small man’s jaw and he crumpled to the dirty floor in a heap. Another shot from the fat man missed him.
Pow-Wow was getting punched repeatedly in the face. It took both of his hands to keep the stronger man’s gun hand in check. The room was getting blurry and he knew it would only be a matter of time before the winner finally lost. The Sioux gambled on a desperation move. He released one hand and shifted to one side. The sudden release caused the gun to swing between the two men and fire without hitting anything. Pow-Wow drove his elbow into the man’s eye. There was a shriek of agony and the gun was free.
Hank’s side erupted into torment as the fat man shot him. The broken shotgun fell to the floor as the deputy dropped with it. Morgan got to the rifle before the clumsy fingers of the tall man and he shot the other man in the head.
Ohiyesa snatched the pistol and looked for the fat man only to find him towering over the body of his deputy. “Drop it, redskin, or I’ll blow his brains out.”
“Gonna kill us anyway,” Pow-Wow mumbled through swollen lips.
The fat man grabbed Hank by the collar and pulled him up, the barrel unwavering against his head. “I’ll cut you a deal, Smith. You let me walk out of here and I’ll let him live.”
The sheriff laughed, “You’ve only got one bullet left. I’ve been counting.”
“So do you,” the man barked with a mean laugh. “Who’s it gonna be?”
“Neither!” Hank cried and thrust upwards with the knife he had taken from the man’s boot. The fat man howled in pain as the blade sunk into his stomach. His fingers spasmed on the trigger but his last bullet was impotent. Pow-Wow took aim and shot him in the shoulder.
Hank woke up to cool water on his face as he looked up to see Mary wiping his face and Pow-Wow’s bruised face looking on it concern. “God, you look like hell,” he mumbled.
Mary laughed and the usual stern face of Ohiyesa broke for a moment. “Now I know you’ll be fine.”
“Well, two of them are at the doctor’s place before they get handed over to the undertaker. The other three are waiting for the circuit judge to make his way back through. I expect they’ll all be hanged after Morgan gives his testimony to their various crimes.”
“So it’s over?”
“It’s over. Pretty straightforward once we knew everything… nothing like some of our others.”
“Oh, I don’t know, Pow-Wow,” Hank said looking over at Mary. “It wasn’t without its charms.”
Post by Susan Hillwig on Jun 7, 2010 1:12:03 GMT -5
Written by: Susan Hillwig
There was a rhythmic thunk coming from the other side of the barn as the rider approached. He dismounted, then led his horse by the reins towards the source of the noise. As he rounded the corner, he caught sight of a man in a sheepskin coat chopping wood, his axe neatly cleaving each piece in two after he set it upon the stump. His back was to the rider, who opened his mouth to call a greeting, but before he could, a big gray wolf jumped up from its resting place alongside the barn wall and started growling at him.
“Dammit, Ironjaws, whut’s yer problem?” Jonah Hex snapped as he sunk the blade of his axe into the stump, then turned around and touched a finger to the brim of his Confederate officer’s hat. “How-do, Jimmy...thought Ah heard somebody ride up.”
The rider nodded. “Afternoon, Mr. Hex. I just...” The words dried up in his mouth when he saw the wolf was still advancing. “Um, could you...”
Jonah let out a sharp whistle, and Ironjaws padded over to its master’s side. “Jimmy’s a friend, yuh big dope,” he said to the animal, kneeling down and grabbing it by the scruff of the neck, “Man ain’t never done me a bit of harm, so don’t yuh go an’ act like thet ‘round him.” He then looked up at Jimmy and said, “Now, y’all just stoppin’ by tuh be sociable, or do yuh got some sort of business with me?”
“That’d be the latter.” He reached into his coat and pulled out a small envelope. “Telegram came in for you today. I haven’t seen you in town since your wife had the baby*, so I figured I’d run it out here for you.”
“Thet was right kind of yuh.” Jonah stood back up and took the envelope. “Reckon Ah should give yuh something fer the trouble.”
“No trouble, Mr. Hex, and no charge. It was my choice to come out here.”
“Well, y’all should at least step inside fer a cup of coffee an’ a spell by the fire. Ain’t as cold today as it’s been, but it’s fer sure thet winter ain’t over yet.”
Jimmy gave him a broad grin. “Okay, you talked me into it. One cup, then I’ve gotta get back to town, otherwise Justin will think I knocked off early today.”
Leaving the animals behind, the two men followed the well-trod path through the snow between the barn and the house. “Mei Ling, we’ve got company!” Jonah called out as he opened the front door. “Jimmy from the telegraph office decided tuh drop by.”
“Hello, Jimmy. It’s good to see you.” Mei Ling was sitting in a rocker near the fireplace with a blanket laid across her lap and three-week-old Jason cradled in her arms.
“Good to see you too, ma’am,” he replied as he removed his hat. “Some of the folks around town have been worried about you and the baby, what with him coming early and all, but you both look like you’re doing fine to me.”
“We’re both doing very well, thank you. I still feel a little pain sometimes, but it’s getting better every day.” As if to prove it, she slowly got up from the rocker.
“Now, Mei Ling, yuh shouldn’t be gettin’ up if’n yuh don’t have tuh.” Jonah was over by the cast-iron stove, pouring coffee for himself and their guest. “Ah know the doc said it’s fine fer y’all tuh be movin’ around again, but Ah don’t...”
“Standing up for a while won’t do me any harm,” she told her husband, then smiled at Jimmy. “Jonah has barely let me lift a finger since the baby came. He’s even been trying to wash clothes.”
“You mean to tell me that Jonah Hex has become fully domesticated?” Jimmy asked with a laugh.
The former bounty hunter walked over and handed the man a tin cup. “Drink yer damn coffee,” he grumbled, then stood beside the fireplace. As Mei Ling and Jimmy continued to chat about the new baby and the goings-on back in town, Jonah took a few sips from his own cup, then opened the envelope and read the telegram:
Though the reasons for your absence are plain, never let it be said that I hold any ill will towards you, nor towards your new family, about which I just learned. The Lord has seen fit to grant you reprieve from all the sorrows He once laid upon you, and if you will permit me, I only wish to add my blessings to the ones you’ve already been given. - T.B.
The coffee Jonah had poured for himself slowly grew cold as he stood there, his face blank but his eyes fixed upon the telegram. When Jimmy had finished his share and bid the Hexes farewell, Jonah didn’t even look up. It wasn’t until Mei Ling came over and touched his arm that Jonah seemed to become aware of the world around him again. “Who’s the telegram from?” she asked him.
“Nobody.” He crumpled it before she could read anything, then tossed it into the fire. “It ain’t important.”
“It must be important to some degree. Even Jimmy thought so, since he rode all the way out here to deliver it.”
“Maybe Jimmy ain’t so all-fired smart as he looks.” He drank from his cup, made a face, and set it on the mantel.
“Jonah, if something’s wrong...”
“Dammit, woman, why the Hell do yuh have tuh keep buttin’ yer nose in where it ain’t wanted?” he yelled. “If’n Ah say something ain’t important, then it ain’t, an’ thet should be a good enough answer fer yuh!”
Mei Ling flinched at his harsh tone and hugged little Jason, who began to wail from all the noise. “Oh, look what you did,” she said, turning away from Jonah. “You scared the baby.”
“Ah wasn’t tryin’ tuh, Ah just...” He reached out for her, then let his hand fall to his side as she moved further away, speaking softly to their infant son all the while. “Ah’ve got some things tuh finish outside,” he said in a quieter voice, and went back out into the yard.
The rest of the day was rather sedate, with Jonah keeping himself busy out by the barn until suppertime. There was some small talk passed between him and Mei Ling as they ate, but the subject of Jonah’s previous outburst was never brought up. He could tell that she hadn’t forgiven him for it, but he also made no move to apologize, because that meant possibly telling her why he’d gotten so riled up in the first place. So he kept mum, even as they prepared for bed and Mei Ling only gave him the briefest of kisses before lying down.
Years of living by the gun meant that Jonah Hex never fully slept: one ear was always attuned to the world around him, listening for anything that didn’t fit the nocturnal lull. Unfortunately, what had once been an ability that had saved his life on countless occasions was now a hindrance, as it meant he could hear every cough and cry his son made over the course of the night. And this night was no different, with the baby starting to mewl out of nowhere a few hours after they’d turned in. Jonah laid there, listening and waiting to see if the baby would stop on his own as he sometimes did, but then the mewling grew higher in pitch, meaning that it would soon turn into a full blown wail. We ain’t havin’ thet, Jonah thought, and eased himself out of bed.
The cradle sat in the corner of the bedroom, and Jonah bent over it to scoop up his son. “Whut’s the fuss about, little man?” he whispered, patting the baby’s diapered bottom. “Yer powder’s dry...hungry, maybe?” He brushed the tip of his little finger against Jason’s lip, but the baby didn’t try to suckle. “Nope, not hungry.” He glanced at Mei Ling’s still-sleeping form. “Well, if’n yo’re not gonna hush up, then let’s skedaddle afore yuh wake up yer ma.”
Wrapping a blanket around the baby, Jonah carried him into the front room. Embers were still glowing in the fireplace, and Ironjaws was stretched out in front of it to take advantage of the waning warmth. The wolf lifted its head as its longjohn-clad master knelt down to throw a few logs on. “Don’t mind us,” Jonah said, poking the embers until the fire came back to life. Ironjaws decided not to, and settled back down just as Jonah settled into the rocker. All the motion seemed to calm the baby, whose cries became fewer, and he relaxed in the crook of his father’s arm. “Thet’s better,” Jonah said. “Y’all ain’t no reason tuh be fussin’ like thet.”
Little Jason looked up at him, the light from the fire bringing a shine to his blue eyes.
“Okay, maybe yuh got a bit of a reason, whut with how Ah was yellin’ at yer ma today. Weren’t nothin’ personal, mind yuh, Ah just didn’t want tuh tell her ‘bout something. Still don’t.” He shifted about in the rocker. “There’s only two people in the world thet know the whole truth of it all, an’ yo’re lookin’ at one of ‘em. Call me stubborn, but thet’s the way Ah’d like tuh keep it.”
The baby gurgled and kicked his legs like he was swimming.
“It ain’t a pretty story, believe me,” Jonah continued, “but Ah reckon if anybody’s got a right tuh hear it, y’all do, seein’ as how it does concern yuh, in a way. Just don’t tell yer ma.”
Gently pushing the rocker back and forth, he said, “It all started a couple years after the War...Ah ain’t gonna explain ‘bout thet right now ‘cause it ain’t important tuh this, ‘cept tuh say thet things was still kind of a mess down South because of it. Anyways, there was this group of fellas goin’ ‘round securin’ land fer the Federal government, only they weren’t too scrupulous in how they did it. One day, they came across a family thet wouldn’t give up their homeplace, so they set tuh slaughterin’ the whole lot of ‘em. Every last man, woman an’ child in thet family died by their hands...‘cept fer one.
“Tallulah Black, thet was her name. A woman with a fire in her belly them skunks couldn’t put out. They did their best tuh try, though: blasted out one of her eyes, raped her, carved up her woman-parts...if’n anybody in this world ever had the right tuh just give up an’ die, Tallulah did. But she refused tuh do so, an’ instead swore on the blood of her kin tuh kill every last one of ‘em fer whut they did. An’ thet’s where Ah come in. She’d gotten wind of me from somewheres, ‘bout how Ah could be just as ruthless as them fellas she was after. When she found me an’ told me her troubles, Ah thought she wanted tuh hire me tuh do the deed, but it turned out she wanted me tuh teach her, so’s she could do it herself.
“Like Ah said, she had a fire in her belly, an’ Ah could smell the blaze the moment Ah saw her. Ah had thet same fire burnin’ in muhself, y’see, so Ah knew she’d go on her vengeance trail with or without muh help. Least Ah could do was tip the odds in her favor. So Ah taught her. She took tuh the gun like a duck tuh water: real steady hand, never complained, never flinched. Fer three months, Ah put her through every test Ah could think of, an’ she aced ‘em all. At some point durin’ them three months...reckon thet’s when Ah fell in love with her.”
Jonah sighed and shook his head. “Mind yuh, Ah didn’t love her the same way Ah love yer ma. Mei Ling’s a delicate little thing, somebody yuh want tuh hold close an’ protect from all the evil in the world, while Tallulah...she was a hellcat, through an’ through, with a mouth thet could be sweet an’ venomous all at the same time. Ain’t easy tuh love a gal like thet, but Ah reckon Ah did ‘cause she was so much like muhself. Why the Lord decided tuh inflict the world with two people like thet, Ah’ll never know. He did, though, an’ He saw fit tuh partner us up so’s Ah could help Tallulah get her vengeance, which she did right proper. An’ once thet was done...Ah left her.”
The baby made a noise somewhere between a grunt and a hiccup.
“Ah know it don’t make no sense, walkin’ away from somebody yuh love, but up ‘til thet point in muh life, everybody Ah’d loved had been taken from me, sometimes in right nasty ways. Tallulah was tough, yeah, but thet didn’t mean Ah couldn’t lose her just like the rest, so in muh mind, the best thing Ah could do was break it off with her afore anything awful happened. Of course, the Lord gets funny ideas sometimes, an’ He must’ve looked down on us an’ thought, ‘Nope, Ah cain’t let it end thet easy,’ so He done made sure thet we’d cross paths again. Only the next time, Ah was the one who’d had horrors set upon ‘em, an’ Tallulah came tuh me in muh hour of need.” Jonah paused, a hint of a smile coming to his face. “Said she was muh guardian angel. Ain’t thet a hoot? There Ah was, wadin’ straight into the devil’s den, an’ she don’t even hesitate tuh follow. Woman was plumb crazy, doin’ thet, but it only made me love her more.
“Weren’t no shakin’ her after thet. Me an’ her, we was a force tuh be reckoned with. Hell, us just walkin’ into a place was enough tuh scare the piss outta some folks. Didn’t make no dif’rence tuh us, we was havin’ the time of our lives. Never met nobody thet could keep up with me like she could, be it drinkin’ or fightin’ or...well, let’s just say she weren’t shy ‘bout certain matters.” He cleared his throat, then said, “It went on like thet fer a good long while, just the two of us against every no-account skunk the West could throw at us, then one day, she up an’ left. No warnin’, no note, just rode off afore sunrise. Didn’t make much sense tuh me at the time, but since Ah’d done it tuh her not long back, Ah figured she was entitled tuh do the same. ‘Sides, if’n it was meant tuh be, then our paths would cross again. An’ sure enough, Ah found her months later.
“Nine months later, tuh be exact.”
The rocker slowed to a stop, and Jonah fell silent for a few minutes. Then he swallowed hard and said, “Ah’d tracked some fellas Ah was after tuh this little podunk. They was tearin’ the place up, an’ Ah was figurin’ on sneakin’ right up an’ cuttin’ ‘em down afore things got too outta hand. But then ah hear a scream, an’ even though Ah’d never heard her make such a ruckus afore, Ah knew in muh gut it was Tallulah. Ah found her, an’...there was blood everywhere, an’ her belly had been...Ah kind of lost muh head at the sight of it, forgot all about the fellas Ah was after. Ah spirited her away from thet place, an’ when she’d recovered a bit, she told me. About the baby. Our baby. Thet’s why she’d left, ‘cause she’d realized she was pregnant, and she’d thought...after all we’d been through, she thought Ah wouldn’t want it. Truth tuh tell, Ah don’t know how Ah would’ve reacted if’n she’d told me outright instead of runnin’ -- Hell, Ah didn’t even think she could get pregnant, after whut’d been done tuh her -- but Ah like tuh think thet Ah wouldn’t have been as cold tuh the idea as Tallulah imagined. But Ah’ll never know fer sure, ‘cause she never gave me the chance.
“Wish Ah could say thet’s the worst part of the tale, but it ain’t. Worst part is why she’d been screamin’ so. In thet little podunk Tallulah had holed up in, there’d been this woman, a Bible-thumper named Abigail. A mite touched in the head, she was, an’ when all them fellas Ah’d been after rode into town wreakin’ havoc, she done got the notion thet the Judgment Day had come, an’ Tallulah...she thought Tallulah was havin’ the Devil’s baby. So she cut it outta her...stole it. By the time Ah’d tracked down...thet bitch...”
The muscles in Jonah’s jaw clenched tight as the memories bled through his mind like fresh wounds: first of Abigail spouting off about righteous vengeance even as he took out his own brand of vengeance upon her, then of a tiny body laying so still within a knitted blanket. The second memory was the one that always shook him to the core, just knowing that he’d gained and lost a child -- a daughter -- in the blink of an eye. He could still feel the weight of her body in his hands as he picked her up, clutching her to his chest and shocking himself with the sobs that suddenly began coming from his throat. He couldn’t remember how long he’d stayed like that, holding her tight while he cursed God and Abigail and Tallulah and anyone else he could think of that might be remotely responsible for the death of this innocent child. Most of all, loudest of all, he cursed himself and his weakness, for had he never laid with Tallulah, this child would have never been conceived, never suffered during her brief moments of existence, never borne the punishment for her father’s sins...
Then he heard an infant’s cry, and he looked down to see that he was pressing little Jason’s body tightly against his chest. Jonah relaxed his grip, smoothing the baby’s hair back from his pinched face. His son’s hair was red, like his own, and he remembered how his daughter’s head had been crowned with dark-brown locks from her mother. Both had inherited Jonah’s clear blue eyes, though. “Ah’m sorry,” he whispered, “but now yuh see why Ah don’t want tuh tell yer ma ‘bout all this.”
Ironjaws looked up at them until the baby’s cries began to subside down to a sniffle, then set its furry head back onto its paws.
Setting the rocker back into motion, Jonah told his son, “As yuh kin imagine, things weren’t the same between Tallulah an’ me after thet. Most of the love Ah had fer her died along with thet baby, so Ah left her, one last time...thet telegram today was the first Ah’ve heard from her since then. Frankly, Ah could’ve done without it: Ah’ve had more’n enough reminders of whut could’ve been ever since yer ma told me she had yuh in her belly.” He frowned a little. “Ah tried not tuh let on, but Mei Ling scared the piss outta me every time she said she wanted a girl. Ah don’t think Ah would’ve felt right ‘bout it, had y’all been a girl instead of a boy. It would be like her ghost was still hangin’ around.
“Reckon it might’ve been nice fer yuh, though, had she lived. Ah didn’t have no siblings growin’ up, but Ah imagine thet things might’ve been a bit dif’rent fer me if’n Ah’d had one. Maybe not so rough.” His eyes wandered away for a moment, then he said, “Ain’t no sense in wishin’ fer things like thet. Maybe later on, me an’ yer ma will give yuh a sister, but it won’t be her. She’s gone, an’ thet’s it. Still...yuh have the right tuh know thet yuh weren’t muh first child.” Jonah sat the baby upon his knee. “Yo’re muh first little boy, though, an’ Ah love yuh just as dearly as Ah love yer ma. Don’t ever forget thet. An’ so long as Ah still draw breath, Ah’ll never let any harm come tuh y’all. Ah’ll never lay a hand on yuh, neither, not like muh pa did with me. Ah’m gonna do muh level best tuh be the sort of father thet Ah wish Ah’d had, but in return, yo’re gonna have tuh do some things fer me.”
Pointing a finger at his son, Jonah said, “Never cross me. Never lie, or steal, or bend fer favor. Never betray a trust. Never inflict pain deliberately unless the situation warrants it. An’ most important, never set me as yer example, ‘cause even though Ah’ve only broken a couple of them rules, Ah broke ‘em in right awful ways, an’ Ah don’t want y’all tuh make the same mistakes in life thet Ah did.”
As if in reply, little Jason reached out and took hold of his father’s finger, giving him a toothless grin all the while. “Reckon thet’s as good as a handshake,” Jonah said with a grin of his own. “Come on, little man, Ah think it’s time we got back tuh bed.” He cradled the baby in his arms again and stood up, but as he began to make his way down the hall, the baby started to fuss and mewl the same as before. “Whut? Y’all want tuh sit up a mite longer?” Jonah turned around and went back to the rocker -- the closer he got, the quieter the baby seemed to become. “Okay...won’t hurt us none if’n we spend some more time out here,” he said as he sat down again. “When yo’re ready tuh leave, yuh just let me know.” He laid the baby against his chest and leaned back, stifling a yawn as he did so.
And that was how Mei Ling found them the next morning: father and son, sleeping in the rocker as slim beams of sunlight snuck in through the cracks in the shutters.
Post by Susan Hillwig on Jun 7, 2010 1:16:03 GMT -5
“On a Warm Summer’s Evening” or “A Moment in Time”
Written by: Brian Burchette
A gentle breeze blew along the plains of the Texas panhandle. Twilight had just settled in as the old cowboy’s horse ambled towards their destination of Fort Worth, Texas. He was a man in his sixties, an adult life spent in solitary by choice. He had no liking for most men he had met, and women were good for a few things, but nothing he couldn’t do on his own.
His given name was Randall Johnson, but the few people that had known him used the nickname that his dead brother once called him – Rusty. The reason his brother gave him that name was a mystery to everybody but Randall, and he never said. When asked he’d say his brother was a stupid s.o.b. and left it at that.
Most of his life was spent roaming, doing odd jobs for money, never letting one place or one person tie him down for too long. Well, except for Amanda... the one that he let get away.
A flicker of light in the early night sky caught his eye. A shooting star, pretty close from what he could tell. He wasn’t a man who was superstitious in the least, but on this particular night, when his mind wandered back to her, he couldn’t help but make a wish. He hoped that wherever she was, she was happy. If anyone who knew Rusty had known about this wish their jaws would have dropped. That crusty old man actually had a heart? They wouldn’t have believed it.
He turned from the glow, coaxing his horse onward, his thoughts in a far away place, a time that never was. For a mean old man who had spent nearly his entire life thinking of ways to hurt those who he falsely believed had hurt him, there was a bit of irony in the fact that he would be thinking of such lofty thoughts when the large metallic spaceship that he wrongly thought was a shooting star crushed him and his horse just seconds later.
A small door opened as a platform slid from the ship onto the dusty trail. A gentleman of about forty walked down the plank looking around with a satisfied smile on his face.
“Hello Texas, it’s been a while but I made it back to ya. Yes Sir, Tobias Manning is back, and just wait ‘til ya see what I’ve brought back with me.”
“You know, my Pappy used to say ‘Bartholomew Lash, if you can’t say anything nice about someone, you come sit here next to me’.”
The small cluster of people who stood around the strikingly handsome young man laughed appreciatively at the joke. He winked at them as he slammed down another shot of whiskey. The young redheaded woman, who had been tending bar before being pulled in to the man’s outrageous stories, removed her elbows from mahogany bar to go get him another drink. The other three women stayed hovering around him. Not only were they attracted to his stylish vocabulary, a refreshing change from the usual regulars that haunted the saloon, but with his pressed white suit and youthful looks, he was by far the handsomest cowboy that had wandered into this particular side of town in years.
“You gonna keep yackin’ or ya going to play cards?” An older, but dapper looking man shouted across the wooden floor.
He gave a gentle nod to the ladies surrounding him, his eyes lingering on a pretty blond to his left. “If you ladies will excuse me, I’ve gotta take these gentlemen’s money.”
They giggled to each other like school girls. Before he left though, he turned to the blond. “May I be so bold as to ask your name?”
“Oh.” She was caught off guard and she flushed, bowing her head slightly when she answered him. “My name is Carolyn Queen.”
“Well, Miss Queen, I do hope to run into you again. I appreciate your letting me bend your ear with my little stories.”
“It was my pleasure, sir.” She replied, her head still bowed. “I hope that our paths cross again as well.”
Bat Lash couldn’t help but feel the electricity between them. She was unlike any woman he had met in the last several years. Not only was there a physical beauty, but he was an expert at picking out women with gentle souls – like Carolyn Queen.
Walking up to the large round table four men stared up at him. He removed his white hat, holding it in front of him as he flashed them all, his most congenial smile. “Gentlemen, let’s play some cards.”
The small town of Fort Worth was on the horizon when the man from the sky ran across the rather expensive carriage that came across his path. It slowed down when he held his ground in front of it, making sure his white horse stayed in the middle of the road.
“Is there a problem, sir?” The carriage driver asked the white haired man; his hand slipping silently to his the holster strapped to his side.
“Don’t know yet, young man.” Tobias Manning replied, spitting into the dusty road. “Depends on who you’re carrying.”
“My apologies, sir, but that’s none of your concern.”
The door to the carriage opened at that point, with a tall lean man stepping out. He had a laid back, pleasant smile on his face. “It’s alright Jeffrey; this gentleman is obviously a curious sort. Ah can’t blame him for that, Ah’ve always been a curious man mahself. Though for me it’s usually while Ah’m playing the cards.”
“The accent places you somewhere in the deep South, good sir.” Tobias said with a disarming nod of acknowledgment. “And by your comment I guess that you are a professional card player?”
His new acquaintance smiled back. “You are correct on both counts. Ah’ve spent mah whole life learning the art of the game. Is there something I can help you with?”
“You got a name?”
“Steven Sharp the Third is what mah mama named me, but folks around here just call me the Gambler.” He tipped his hat to the man on the white horse. “Now Ah ask you again, sir, is there something I can do for you?”
Tobias considered him for a moment before answering. “Yes, yes I believe there is. I have need of a new persona, and you Mr. Gambler, fit the bill.”
The Gambler saw him reaching for his side arm and went for his own Derringer. It was too late, however, as Tobias’s six shooter was already out and firing. The last thing Steven Sharp saw on this planet was the bizarre ray of light that struck him in the head; then he was gone.
Tobias watched The Gambler’s body vanish into thin air, the man’s clothes falling to the ground. Smoke curled up into the air where the man once stood. He turned the gun to the driver of the carriage. “You got three seconds to get off that thing and start running towards Albuquerque – and don’t stop ‘til you get there.”
It took the driver less than two to run. Tobias gave himself a satisfied smile as he stepped down from his horse to examine his new clothes. He tossed the Derringer to the side, his weapons were far superior. The outfit, however, that he found to be pretty special.
Making sure there was nobody else on the road, he used the moonlight to change into his new attire before mounting his steed. “Well now, Mr. Gambler, let’s see if we can win us some money.”
“Three jacks...looks like you lose again, Mr. Lash.” The men at the table all laughed as the bearded fellow wrapped his arms around the winning chips and drew them into his space. They had all been annoyed at the young man’s confidence that seemed to border on arrogance, but he was obviously not putting his money where his mouth was.
For Bat, the frustration was building. It was hard to focus with the pretty little filly who called herself Queen leaning against the bar; her eyes never leaving him. Those eyes were intoxicating and for the first time ever, he found himself unfocused when he needed to be.
Outwardly he smiled at the men around him, leaning back in his chair and tipping his hat forward a bit. “Well like my Pappy always used to say, it ain’t over ‘til the last chip leaves your hand.”
A grizzly old man with stench of stale whiskey seeping through his pores leaned over to him. “Did your Pappy really say that?”
Bat looked a little put out as he gathered his hand from the table. “Or my Mammy, I’m not sure which. Pick up your cards and play.”
“That little lady’s been giving you the eye since you got here, Lash.” The clean cut man across from him pointed out as he saw the gambler eyeing the woman again.
“Really? Hadn’t noticed.” Lash said as his eyes dropped back to his hand.
At the bar, the woman called Carolyn Queen couldn’t keep her eyes off the dashing young man. She was feeling a warm tingly sensation in her body that she hadn’t felt in months.
Another woman leaned over. “Not again, Carolyn. It’s bad enough you embarrass your husband by being here nearly every night, but must you sully yourself as well. If your husband wasn’t such a pillar of the community, you would have been ran out of town years ago.”
“Oh please, Jonas is married to his work; I’m nothing more than a mistress to him.”
The saloon doors swung open and the two ladies turned to see a brightly dressed gentleman walk through the door. He was an older gent, but carried himself as if he were ten years younger than his face showed. They watched as his eyes immediately went to the poker game being played out in the corner.
“Hello handsome.” Carolyn whispered, suddenly forgetting all about Bat Lash.
“You’ve got Satan in you.” Her friend said in disgust.
Ignoring the comment, Carolyn purposely headed for the newest arrival. “Is there anything I can do for you, Mr... ?”
“Just call me The Gambler.” He replied as he took notice of her. More than once actually.
Her eyes widened. “The Gambler? Well, well, well. What brings you to this little establishment of ours?” His eyes went back to the action in the far corner. She sighed with mock dejection. “Ah, of course; you are here to match your skills with Mr. Lash, are you not?”
Tobias had actually never heard of the man but chose to play it differently. “Ah’m understandably curious, but at the moment Ah’m even more curious about you, little lady.”
Carolyn Queen’s cheeks turned red, but only partially from embarrassment; mostly from the heat that seemed to suddenly be generating between the two of them. “Well, if you’d like, we can mosey upstairs and see if we can curb that curiosity of yours.”
“Well now, remember what they say about curiosity killin’ the cat.” He smirked.
“Yes, but they also say that satisfaction brought him back.” She winked.
It was all he needed to hear. His desire for money to start a new life on this planet again would have to wait a little while longer. The touch of a real woman had been denied him for too long. He wrapped his arm around her waist as he led her up the stairs.
Sitting at the table, Bat Lash watched the exchange and the exit. He shook his head sadly before dealing the cards. “This will be my last hand, gentlemen.”
“Don’t want to lose all your money to us, eh?” One of them asked.
“Oh no, your money is mine in this hand right here. No gentlemen, I’m afraid it won’t be too much longer before I’m ducking bullets or fists or something else just to get the hell out of here.”
Bartholomew Lash had two reasons for being in that particular saloon that evening; both happened to be about making money. The poker game had been his primary purpose until a very old friend had come to him asking for assistance. He believed his wife had been spending all her time in the local saloon, being anything but a wife. Normally, Bat wouldn’t have agreed to check on her, but Jonas was not only an old friend, but also a rare one as well. Jonas Queen was the most honest man he had ever met, and a few years ago, he had helped Bat out of quite a jam. Yet, even though he owed him, he would have done it anyway. You couldn’t say no to Jonas... it just wasn’t possible.
As he watched Carolyn’s petticoat disappear into the second floor he knew what he was going to have to do. After making the glib statement to his fellow players, he gathered his cards and leaned back in his chair as he examined them. Glancing up, he saw the others doing the same, which gave him the window of opportunity that he needed to replace the pair of aces with a third one out of his right jacket pocket.
The betting began and he moved slowly at first, sweetening the pot only enough to keep most of them in. He raised several times, asking for only two cards. The Lash luck was in full swing as the extra ace that he had slipped into his hand showed up. He couldn’t have been any happier as he switched it with another from his adjacent pocket. He rounded the last group of betting with an “all in” approach that folded two players and suckered in the remaining three. As he lay down his hand, he caught the saloon doors swinging open with the entrance of Jonas Queen. Jonas was dressed in his full ministry garb, causing everyone to stop their boisterous noise as they saw the reverend step into the house of sin.
Even the men whose money he had just taken seemed to care less as Bat gathered his earnings. The winnings seemed less of a thrill than usual. He had hoped that Jonas would have stayed away until he had conformation, but the one thing his friend the Reverend had never learned in all his years of preaching was patience.
Jonas looked directly at him as he finished gathering the money. It was painful to see the expression of hope on his face. When he shook his head in the negative, his eyes darting to the mysterious upstairs, it became almost heartbreaking to see the shattered look that crossed the man of God’s face.
“Hey, you can’t be leaving now?!” One of the gamblers said when he turned back around to see Bat leaving the table.
“Afraid so gentlemen, I’ve got some personal matters to... aww hell.” He muttered under his breath as he watched Reverend Queen storm the staircase.
There was none of the Bat Lash façade left as he hastened to get to Jonas before he could reach Carolyn and the stranger. Bumping one of the players he mumbled an apology as he continued on his way, only to be grabbed by the arm and spun around.
“You dropped this, pardner.” The youngest of the gamblers said, his eyes narrowing as he showed the extra card that Bat had thought he slipped into his pocket.
Bat nodded his head as if the final piece of his day had just fallen into place. “Yeah, that’s more like it.” He sighed, closing his eyes as the fist of the young man came in contact his jaw. The punch sent him flying back into another table of card players, smashing it into pieces and sending money flying everywhere.
“You cheat!” Another of the gamblers shouted as everyone else jumped up.
Somebody grabbed Bat by the shirt, pulling him up before throwing another punch that sent him flying into the bar. This time he was able to roll with the punch so the impact of the fist was less, which gave him a second to gather his wits.
When the hand landed on his shoulder, spinning him around again, he was quick enough to grab the beer bottle that was nearby. He swung it wildly and it made contact with one of the gamblers, causing the man to stumble back so that Bat could throw his own punch that knocked the man out.
Shaking off the hits that he had been given, he looked around to see that nearly everyone in the saloon was now throwing punches back and forth. He ducked quickly as a chair went flying over his head. The man who had swung at him first was heading his way so he did the only thing he could think of at that moment; he surprised the attacker by running right at him – tackling him around the waist and driving both of them into the only table that had not been smashed yet.
They rolled on the floor, each man trying desperately to gain the advantage. Just when Bat had succeeded, raising his fist to land a blow that he hoped would end his own personal feud, he heard the scream from upstairs that reminded him exactly why he had been in that saloon to begin with.
“Aww hell’s bells.” He muttered to himself as he pushed himself off the young gambler and dodged several flying pieces of broken furniture as he made his way back to the staircase.
He had just reached it when he once again felt the young man’s hand on his arm, grabbing him and swinging him around to face another attack.
“Do you mind?” Bat asked as he allowed himself to be swung around, throwing his own punch first that finally knocked the young gambler to the floor. “Some people are just rude.” He commented to nobody in particular as he took the steps two at a time.
When he reached the top, he heard a gunshot coming from the last room down the hall. His heart began to race as he pulled out his own pistol. He heard the woman scream in horror before beginning to beg for her life.
Bat reached the back of the hallway as the door burst open and the woman known as Carolyn Queen ran past him, dressed in nothing but her undergarment. Whipping through the door, he came upon the sight he was hoping not to see; The Reverend Jonas Queen was holding his gun on the mysterious stranger.
“Now come on Jonas, you don’t want to do this.” Bat said, holding his arm out in front of him. “Look at you, your hand is shaking and everything.”
“How could she do it, Bat? She took to my bed just this morning and now I find her in the afterglow of this man.”
“I don’t rightly know, to be honest.” Bat admitted as he began to inch his way towards his friend. “But killing someone is just gonna get you in a whole lotta other trouble that you don’t need. Now put the gun down and let this guy go.”
“Why should I? This man sullied my wife.”
“Well let’s be fair about this, Jonas. You may not want to accept it, but I saw Carolyn approach him first, and I’m pretty sure this man had no idea she was even married. The question is, are you going to throw away your life’s work by breaking the sixth commandment and ruin the best part of the life God has given you?”
Tobias watched the exchange, not daring to move. He had not returned to Earth after all this time with them aliens just to be shot by an angry minister husband. Though there was he had to admit there was a weird irony to it. Still, he kept one eye on his weapon, just inches from his fingers.
The silence seemed to last forever, the moments ticking away as the three of them stood frozen. Slowly, Jonas lowered his weapon enough that Bat was able to take it from him without further incident.
“You’re a good man, Reverend Queen,” Bat whispered to his friend, placing his arm around his shoulder.
“The fifth commandment,” Jonas muttered.
“You said the sixth, but the fifth commandment is ‘Thou shalt not kill’.”
Bat shrugged. “I was just making a guess that it was in there somewhere.”
As they turned to leave the room they heard the cocking of the gun behind them. Turning back they found the man Bat had just rescued with an angry looking face and a gun full of lead.
“Nobody draws on me and gets away with it.” Tobias said through gritted teeth.
Bat stepped in front of his friend. “Just who are you anyway?”
The man sneered. “I’m The Gambler.”
An odd expression crossed Bat’s face before he shook his head. “No, you ain’t. I’ve met The Gambler once in Reno and I know you’re not him. You wear his clothes and his hat maybe, but that’s about it. You want to tell me who you really are?”
“My real name is Tobias Manning, and up until several hours ago, I was living on a world in the stars. Now that I’m back, however, I plan on making up for lost time. Now step aside so I can take down this man who thinks he can threaten my life and not pay for it.”
Bat tipped his hat and scratched his head. “You saying you came from the sky? No offense there, pal, but I think you’ve cracked your head. Now why don’t you put the gun down before you hurt someone.”
As he took a step forward, Tobias squeezed the trigger, but it was Jonas who took the shot as he pushed Bat out of the way. The bullet struck him square in the chest, blue energy melting into his body before the man known as Reverend Jonas Queen ceased to exist.
Bat’s eyes grew wide. “What the hell was that? WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?”
Tobias shrugged. “I’m anything I want to be. Sorry, but no witnesses.” He fired his gun a second time but Bat had already dived for the safety of the bed. When Tobias came around the other side of it, gun aimed low, Bat grabbed the mattress and shoved it into his foe, forcing them both against the far wall.
Whatever or whoever he was facing, it was too much for him and he knew it. He pushed the mattress harder against the wall, shoving the man’s head into the picture that shattered. Then he prayed for his Pappy’s luck as he held tightly to the mattress and ran for the nearby window, using the bed piece to shield himself from the glass as he went flying through it. His body hit the awning directly underneath it and he rolled off of it, landing hard in the packed dirt in front of the saloon.
“You better run, boy!” Tobias shouted from the broken window as others gathered around to see what was going on.
“Well, you don’t have to tell me twice.” Bat mumbled under his breath as he took off at a trot down the street. He had to find the Sheriff; get some professional help.
When they returned fifteen minutes later, the man who was calling himself The Gambler was gone. Nobody had seen him leave, there were no clues at all.
Later, after Bat had checked in on a devastated Carolyn, he left Fort Worth for a better place... anyplace at that point. As he trotted along on his steed his eyes caught a glimpse of a shooting star and for one brief moment he could have sworn it had came from the ground and was going up. He shuddered in the night air before shaking off the creepy feeling it gave him.
One year later:[/b]
Bat had made his way back through Fort Worth again, his main purpose to check in on Carolyn Queen. He was shocked when he found her in a small hostel nursing her three month old son.
Their conversation was pleasant enough, but the entire time Bat had only one question on his mind – who was the father. He never asked the question because he already believed in his gut that she couldn’t have answered it anyway. He did ask about the man who had pretended to be The Gambler, but he hadn’t been seen in those parts since that night.
That evening, after a very successful four hours of poker, he sat at a small desk in his hotel room and finally wrote down the events of that night. For some reason the man he had fought was important; maybe not now, but somewhere down the road. If his journal survived and would someday fall into the right hands, it could possibly save somebody’s life. In his gut he knew that. He also wrote it in memory of his friend, Reverend Jonas Queen. A true man of God until the very end.
Just over a year ago:[/b]
A gentle breeze blew along the plains of the Texas panhandle. Twilight had just settled on the neighborhood; families were closing up their homes for the night. One gentleman was bringing his garbage can in when the bright light flashed in front of him. He was struck by something large and fell onto his cement driveway with somebody else on top of him.
The light disappeared as quickly as it showed up, the Texan struggled to push the body off of him.
“Where am I?” the newcomer asked as he pulled himself up.
The Texan, still lying on the ground in a stunned silence, looked at this man who had just appeared out of nowhere. He was dressed as some kind of old fashioned minister. “Who... who are you?”
The minister smiled. “My name is Reverend Queen. Can you tell me where I am?” he asked.
“You’re in Texas.”
There was a horrible sound above them, and the minister looked up to see a metal cylinder of some sort soaring through the evening sky. “What is that?” he asked in awe.
“That? That’s... that’s an airplane.” The Texan answered. He then caught the expression of utter bewilderment upon the man’s face as he stared up into the sky. Coupled with his anachronistic attire, the Texan ventured to say, “Maybe, Reverend, the question shouldn’t be where you are; it should be when you are.”
The eyes of Oliver Jonas Queen’s great-great-great-grandfather widened as he realized what the man next to him was saying. “Oh my dear Lord,” he whispered in amazement.
Post by Susan Hillwig on Jun 7, 2010 1:21:56 GMT -5
“UNKNOWN” Written by: House Of Mystery
"Ah have to admit, Ah wuz wunderin why yew would send out word t'me," said Jonah Hex, sitting in front of a rotund business man, whose age-white handle bar moustache bristled at his visitor's words. Hex shifted in his seat, the leather creaking beneath him, and his face twitched in discomfort. "What can Ah do fer yuh?"
"I have need of a hunter, Mister Hex," said the man. He was Mister Lawrence Shanks, and he had more money that sense. And his big dream for this country of theirs, of connecting every single town and city in the country by train? Jonah didn't like that, not one bit. He preferred the West unspoiled, untouched by man and his big ol' ideas... but this man offered good money, and who was he to turn down such prosperous work? "I operate and build train lines. I've come to this little hole in the hopes of continuing the extension of my train line, but there have been... incidents. Incidents of a nature that could use your expertise."
"Y'got thieves, Mister Shanks?" said Jonah, "Ah can find yew yer thieves, if that's yer wanting. But why not inform the sheriff of this here town? Ah'm sure that they could handle whatever problems y’all been having."
Shanks leaned forward in his own chair, the leather creak punctuating his movement, and rested his elbows on his desk, and his chin atop his latticed fingers. "I've lost good men to these thieves, Mister Hex. They come at night, steal supplies that are damn hard to replace so far out here. I've assigned night watchmen to the site, but they have been slaughtered in the most inhuman of ways. I want you to find them, and I want my merchandise back."
"An' the thieves themselves?" asked Jonah. "Ah do believe yew'd be well within yer rights to not wanting them walking away from this, but yuh gotta be clear an' simple with yer directions. An' Ah won't be killin' no one that don't deserve it, yuh follow?"
"Clear and simple," repeated Shanks. "I want these thefts done and done with, you hear me? I don't care how you go about it, but if I get word of another batch of equipment being stolen, I will not be best pleased. You're the man for this job, Mister Hex. Do you accept?"
"As long as yew can pay mah fee," said Hex, "then Ah'm yer man."
"Money is no object as long as the contract is completed," said Shanks. He stood, his thumbs latched steadfast inside his britches, and Hex slowly rose out of his own chair, the leather making an excruciating sound with his exit. He put out his hand, and the bounty hunter took it, the deal made.
* * *
Jonah Hex lay on his front -- looking through his small, compact telescope -- and surveyed the site of the train-line's construction. The contractors had long since headed into town to whore and drink, but Hex had more important things to do. He watched, waiting for any sign of movement. He'd seen the bodies of the night-watchmen, holes punched through their chests, their faces stuck forever in an expression of pure terror. No powder burns, either, nothing to suggest that it was a gun that did them in. Jonah felt a tingle run up his back, and spun round, his Colt .44 Dragoon pistols raised and ready.
"Stay where yew are," he hissed, the darkness shifting in the outback of the town.
"No need for that, Hex," said a familiar voice. Hex considered it for a moment, before holstering his weapons, and resuming his position, surveying the site. "Are we at such a stage in our relationship where you can comfortably turn your back on me, Jonah?"
Jonah rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Nighthawk, Ah ain't got no time for yer smarts. Now siddown and shuddup."
Hannibal Hawkes, clad in white-and-black and going by the moniker of Nighthawk, smiled and took a place beside Jonah. "Not even going to ask me what I'm doing here?"
"Prowling the sands, causing trouble? Ah don't know and Ah don't care, jus' keep quiet," said Hex.
"I heard about the thefts. The murders. Didn't sound right in my head, you understand me? And when I heard that Shanks sent word out for you to come fix his problems, I didn't want you running into trouble by your lonesome," said Hawkes, his voice a just-audible whisper. "Four guns better than two," he finished.
"Ah appreciate yew bringing yer six-shooters," said Hex, "but Ah ain't sharing the bounty on this one, yuh hear me?"
"We'll see," said Hawkes, squinting into the darkness. "Anything yet?"
"Nothing," said Jonah. The two men were silent for the better part of an hour before Jonah grabbed Nighthawk by the shoulder, drawing his attention to the site. "Look at that," he said, handing him the telescope. Nighthawk looked out across the plains, and saw a large, bulky thing, it's body hidden beneath a brown tarp, limping toward the construction site. "What d'yew think that is?"
"It's got to be over seven feet tall, and look at it's foot prints," said Nighthawk, handing the telescope back. “It's heavier than sin."
"Ah have no idea whut that thing could be," said Hex, "but Ah'm being paid to track it down and stop whatever it is that it's doing..." He climbed to his feet as quietly as possible, and then froze as the figure in the distance stopped in its tracks, its head winding around 360 degrees. "...Whut the devil?"
Nighthawk dragged him back down to the sand, and then peered over the dune they were hiding behind. "That thing heard you, Jonah. What kind of monstrosity is it?"
"Come on, Hawkes, only thing Ah know is that we're gonna have to take this here tracking slow an' steady, just so we don't get heard. Ah'm mighty curious though, an' that's liable to get us both killed, yuh follow?"
"I do indeed," said Nighthawk.
They stayed low, and then them began to make their way around to where the thing was trudging around. The two manhunters remained as quiet as the grave as they watched it gather up metal and tools, bearing unspeakable loads that it took a half dozen wagons to transport here in the first place. They exchanged glances between themselves, and then, under the cover of darkness, followed the hulk of a thing back toward the mountains nearby, keeping their distance as much as they could.
The thing entered a mountain through a dark opening in the ground, barely a cave, much more a hole, and then the two trackers heard it vanish into the black, leaving the two of them leaning against a boulder considering their next move.
"That thing ain't human," said Hex. He checked his Colts, and then turned to Nighthawk. "What do yuh suggest our next move should be?"
"Follow it in," said Nighthawk, "and find out what we're dealing with. But the strength of that thing, and the size...? I don't know if we should go in with just our four guns."
Hex nodded in agreement. "Yeah? So then what are yuh saying?"
Nighthawk rummaged through the satchel bag he had swung around his shoulder, and pulled out five sticks of dynamite. "Just in case."
"Yuh always carry dynamite around with yuh, Hawkes?" asked Hex, a hint of a smile on his twisted and scarred lips.
"Only when I know I'm going to be bumping into you, Jonah," said Nighthawk.
"Understandable," said Hex. He took a lantern out from his own satchel, and then struck a match. "Let's go."
* * *
Jonah Hex and Nighthawk crept into the darkened passage way, careful of their step. The passage appeared to be carved into the stone, and Nighthawk traced his fingers against what he could assume were blast marks. "Strange," he mused quietly.
"What is?" asked Hex, one hand holding the lantern that illuminated their way, the other gripping a Colt.
"The way the rock has been carved... it's like it's been blasted outwards."
"How is that even possible?" said Hex. "Unless..." His thoughts and words trailed off.
Nighthawk let it go. "I don't know how it's possible, but maybe we'll ask them when we..." A hand emerged from the darkness, groping at Nighthawk as the vigilante's fingers touched something cold and sleek. The two gunmen span around, and aimed their pistols at the thing. It was half the size of the figure they were tracking-- due to the fact that it had no legs-- and it's face was a mesh of silver machinery ticking away. The eyes were black sockets, with red points in the middle that moved in the direction of the gunmen. "What in all that's holy...?"
"Looks mighty familiar," said Hex, cocking his pistol against the thing's head. "It ain't human."
"It looks like it’s been stripped for parts," said Nighthawk, "whatever 'it' is."
The thing swatted at Hex's hand, clumsy and cumbersome, and the bounty hunter's Colt skittered into the shadows. "N-n-n-n," it buzzed, it's voice a distorted, heavy labored event. "N-n-n-no." It went to grab Hex's wrist, but Nighthawk jammed his pistol in its empty eye socket. "Man-n-n."
Nighthawk pulled the trigger, and sparks exploded out from the thing's mouth, then the red dot it had inside it's remaining eye faded to black. "What is this thing?"
"It ain't human," said Hex once more, rubbing his hand. “Strong bastard, whatever it is. Say, Hawkes," he started, "did Cinnamon ever tell you about a town called Desecration?
Nighthawk almost shivered at the mention of the place. "Yeah, she told me about it. And the misadventure that went down there*. You're not suggesting..."
*seeWWQ#10 and Justice League #15 & 16 for the full story!
"Ah'm not suggesting nothing," said Hex, "but these things certainly ain't human, are they? Would make sense..."
"I don't like the thought of madness making any kind of sense, Jonah... but just in case? Get your gun," said Nighthawk, crouching down and examining the remains of the thing. "And make sure it's loaded." Nighthawk motioned down the long, arching corridor, and Hex moved the lantern in his finger's direction. The entire tunnel was littered with stripped down monstrosities, all in various states of dismantlement.
"Mah God," Hex whispered.
The two of them continued down the way, but made sure to avoid the seemingly inert creatures that lay in their way. None of the other units had glowing eyes, and so, Hex thought, they must be dead, or as dead as these things could be, considering their origins -- whatever they may be. "There's a light yonder."
The two men readied themselves for anything, and then emerged into the cavern in what must have been the center of the mountain. The thing they'd tracked here was standing with its back to the vigilante and bounty hunter, and all around were the stolen materials from the construction site. "I know you are there," said the thing, its voice a stronger version than that of the one that had attacked them earlier. "I have been aware of your presence since your first movements in the outside."
"Who are you?" asked Nighthawk, pistols leveled.
"Does not matter," said the thing. "Only protection. And escort."
"Whut?" said Hex. "If yew knew we were following yuh, then why didn't yuh stop us? Yer a strong enough sonofabitch."
"Not within parameters. Protection. Escort. Safety. You are not a risk to those mission guidelines."
"Whut are yew?" asked Hex. "An' none of this 'does not matter' bull$%^&, Ah'm asking yew a question."
The thing turned slowly, its eyes blazing red. The tarp it had been using as a cloak to hide itself dropped to the floor, revealing a badly damaged exterior of blue and red, parts seemingly welded on top of other parts, all trying to keep itself together. "Manhunter Escort Unit 7 of 50."
"It ain't human," said Hex, "some kind of clockwork man. Makes sense."
"I figure you're right," said Nighthawk. "It's Desecration all over again, godammit." The two of them were now moving slowly around the Manhunter, their weapons still ready. "What were you ‘escorting’, Tick-Tock?"
"Unknown," said the Manhunter-- a hint of near sadness in its metallic tone, "information lost due to internal drive failure. Unknown item due for ultimate destruction in the event horizon of a black hole. Sensor readings inform that Units encountered unharnessed Zeta radiation. Thrown off course. Crashed here: Time elapsed-- fifty million Earth years. Units 1-6, 8-37 destroyed on impact. Units 38-50 damaged badly damaged. Rendered inoperative. Systems operating at minimal efficiency. Reactivated four Earth years ago. Found selves buried underground. Blasted out and burned already malfunctioning laser systems out completely. Need resources to complete mission. Unknown must be destroyed. Query: What is unknown?”
"You killed, Unit 7," said Nighthawk, "you have to answer for that."
"No time," said the Manhunter, "systems degrading rapidly. No time."
"Then I'm sorry," said Nighthawk, as he pulled the trigger on his pistol, a bullet leaving the chamber and impacting the thing's black eye. It had worked before, but this time-- the bullet fell to the floor, an almost unnoticeable crack in the Manhunter's eye lens the only thing suggesting impact.
"Knew that weren't gonna' work, but nice try," said Jonah, raising his Colts. "That won’t stop us from tryin’ something else, Manhunter. Yew ain't leaving this place unless you cooperate."
"No time," said the Manhunter again, "you do not understand. Unknown must be destroyed! You cannot get in the way of the mandate of the Guardians of Oa!"
"Yer unknown to me, Tick Tock!" said Hex. For all his bravado, the words itched at his memory… he remembered his meeting with Hal Jordan and the rest of his 'Justice League' back in Desecration. His 'power ring', the name of his bosses... was it all connected? The Manhunter lunged for him, arms spread wide, but Hex slid beneath it, and span up as it stumbled into the cave wall. "Godammit!" He began to fire, knowing full well that his bullets would have no real effect on the thing. "Nighthawk, yew still got that dynamite?"
"No. Man," said the Manhunter, its palm blasters fizzling and then failing as it attempted to blow them to smithereens. It continued moving toward them, undaunted by its mechanical failures. "Escapes."
"I think you'll find we're the exception to that rule." Nighthawk pulled a stick of dynamite from his satchel and sparked up a match. He lit the fuse, and flung it at the Manhunter, who caught it. "Oh, sh--"
The Manhunter took the full brunt of the explosion, and the entire cavern rocked and shuddered in the aftermath. The unit stumbled for a moment, silver circuitry revealed, red and blue outer-panelling reduced to scrap. "N-no. Man. Escapesss. The Manhunters!"
Jonah Hex and Nighthawk looked past the Manhunter, and saw what the unit was attempting to destroy. Buried inside the cave floor, and revealed somewhat by Nighthawk's explosion, was a sleek-- albeit dirt and dust covered-- white artifact, round in shape but still mostly hidden by the stone all around it.
"What is that?" whispered Nighthawk.
"Doesn't matter, and Ah don't rightly care!" The Manhunter was trudging toward them, and Hex was pushing Nighthawk back as the vigilante pulled more dynamite from his satchel. "One stick didn't do nothin', ‘Hawk, what yew thinkin' now?"
"If it isn't going to be put down, then we can trap it!" said Nighthawk, as he began to run, lighting sticks and throwing them behind the two men as they ran. "Keep up, Jonah!"
"Ah intend to!" shouted Hex in reply, the Manhunter shrieking a mechanical song as it attempted to catch up with them.
"NO MAN ESCAPES--!" it screamed, but before it could finish its sentiment the whole world exploded and Jonah Hex and Nighthawk were thrown out of the cavern entrance and ten feet into the air, before coming crashing down on the sands of the desert. The cave had sealed itself up, rubble fell to the floor around it, and the two men were bruised and battered-- but alive.
"Guess some men do," said Nighthawk. "Not going to forget that any time soon," he continued. "Goddamn, you think that cave-in is going to hold it?"
"It's sealed in nice and tight," said Hex with a nod, "nothing's getting out of there."
"But it dug itself out before, it could do again," said Nighthawk.
"It was spent, Hawkes," said Hex, "if it could blast it's way out, why didn't it blast us? We did it a favor."
"Maybe. What you going to tell Shanks?"
Hex shrugged. "His problem has been fixed. And if he don't want to pay us what we earned, then Ah'm gonna' have to teach him some manners."
"Thought I wasn't going to get a cut of your wage in this, Jonah," said Hannibal Hawkes with a smile.
"Well, not an even one," said Jonah Hex, patting him on the back. "Let's ride. There's a saloon in town Ah have mah eye on drainin'. Yew joinin’?"
“It’s going to take more than rinsing a bar dry to make me forget what happened here… but it’s a start, Jonah.”
Post by Susan Hillwig on Jun 7, 2010 1:28:46 GMT -5
"THE LONG SHOT"
Written by Susan Hillwig
The noise downstairs was barely perceptible, but it was enough to rouse Mayor Carmichael. He’d been sleeping lightly to begin with, thoughts of tomorrow’s ceremony pressing upon him just enough to prevent a fully restful night. So when the wood-on-wood squeal echoed up the stairs, he immediately sat up in bed, eyes wide in the dark. He wife was still sleeping soundly beside him, and Carmichael supposed at first that the noise must be the maid moving about, but he couldn’t fathom what she’d be doing at such a late hour. Perhaps I imagined it, he thought, and laid back down, but his curiosity would not let him rest. With a whispered curse, Carmichael got out of bed and padded into the hall.
There was a lit oil lamp near the stairs, the flame turned low, and Carmichael picked it up as he headed downstairs. The light revealed nothing out of the ordinary, and he felt more than a little foolish walking about the house in his nightshirt, but he proceeded nonetheless. His persistence was rewarded as he reached the foot of the stairs, and he heard the sound of creaking floorboards coming from his study. A robber? he thought, and was gripped by a wave of fear: though Mayor Carmichael may have acted like a lion when it came to running the small town of Winding Forks, he turned into an absolute coward when faced with physical confrontation. Still, this was his home, and it would do him no good at reelection time to be seen scurrying down the street in his bedclothes like a terrified spinster, especially if the perceived threat turned out to be nothing more than the maid working on some late-night dusting. But if it was a robber...
With a trembling hand, Carmichael plucked a cane out of a nearby umbrella stand, then approached the study. The door was slightly ajar, with no light coming from within, lending more credence to the robber theory. Lord, give me strength, he thought, then took a deep breath before shoving the door open and raising the cane above his head with a shout. He rushed in, ready for anything, but to his surprise, the study was completely empty. “I did imagine it,” he said aloud with a grateful sigh, and lowered the cane.
A split-second later, someone came up behind him and clamped a hand over his mouth, while another hand twisted the cane out of his grip. “I’ve heard rampaging elephants that’re quieter than you,” a voice hissed in his ear. The abruptness of it all startled Carmichael so badly that he dropped the lamp, but luckily, the person behind him was quick-witted enough to let go of him and grab it before burning oil splattered all over the rug. “And you’re clumsy...reckon the latter must be the cause of the former,” the intruder said.
Though he was no longer being held, Carmichael was too scared to run, and instead staggered back until he fell into a conveniently-placed armchair. “W-w-what do you want from me? Who are you?” he stammered.
The light from the lamp now in the intruder’s hand did little to reveal his identity: a red bandana covered the lower half of his face, and his white drover’s hat was pulled low to obscure his eyes. “I ain’t nobody you know, and the only thing I want is access to the Century Chest. I heard you’re holdin’ on to it until the ceremony tomorrow.”
Carmichael’s brow furrowed. “Why on Earth would you want to steal that?”
“I never said I was stealin’ it, I just want y’all to pop it open for me.” He hitched a thumb on his belt, from which Carmichael saw a pair of sixguns hanging. Catching the growing look of fear on the mayor’s face, the intruder moved his hand away from the guns and said, “I swear, I’m not gonna hurt you...I ain’t that desperate yet.”
He didn’t fully believe what the man said, but nevertheless, Carmichael slowly got out of the chair and walked over to a large safe in the corner of his study. After a few twirls of the dial, he opened the door to reveal a heavy lead box, about eighteen inches long on either side and a foot deep. Tomorrow it would be padlocked shut in the presence of the town’s top officials, then carried over to the site of the new courthouse and, amid much pomp and circumstance, placed within the hollow cornerstone. It was hoped that, one hundred years from now, future residents of Winding Forks would open it and remember those who founded their little frontier town. Right now, though, its contents could still be accessed by the present generation. “There’s nothing of real value in here,” Carmichael said as he opened the lid. “Just some photographs, a surveyor’s map of the town, letters to future descendants...Steve Danbury over at the saloon donated a bottle of single malt Scotch...”
“I keep tellin’ you, I’m not here to steal anything.” The intruder reached inside his shirt, the gesture spooking Carmichael enough to make him cringe a little until he saw the intruder pull out two envelopes. “I want you to put these in with the rest of them letters, and don’t tell nobody about ‘em.”
Carmichael shuffled the envelopes, reading what was written upon them. “What’s a Justice Society?”
“it’s none of your damn business, that’s what it is,” the intruder snapped, then turned his head away slightly. “I’m sorry...it’d take too long to explain. And even if I did, you probably wouldn’t believe it. Please, just put them in there, let them get sealed up along with everything else, and maybe...maybe I’ll get lucky and my friends will receive the message.”
“Your friends?” Carmichael echoed. “Pardon my saying so, but you are aware that this chest isn’t supposed to be opened again until the year nineteen hundred and seventy-seven?”
“Mister, that’s exactly what I’m countin’ on.” The intruder set the oil lamp down and moved over to the window, which Carmichael realized had been pried open. Swinging his leg over the windowsill, the intruder said, “If my plan works, you’ll not only be doin’ me a great favor, but you’ll hopefully ease the minds of a lot of people very near and dear to me. So please...put them letters in there, and stay quiet about it.” With that, the intruder slipped out the window and into the darkness.
Now that his late-night visitor was gone, the mayor examined the envelopes a little closer. Each had been sealed with a blob of wax, with a thumbprint clearly impressed into it. Odd way to make your mark, he thought. Must’ve burned like the dickens. Like the one marked for the enigmatic “Justice Society”, the other envelope was intended for a person unknown to Carmichael, and even included a New York street address. Fellow must be mad, acting like this chest is a mail car. He considered simply throwing the envelopes away, but if the intruder was indeed a madman, and he somehow found out...
Carmichael gulped. “Well, what harm can two more letters do?” he said aloud, and slipped the envelopes beneath the rest of the items.
* * * * * *
“So, that’s the place, huh?”
“Yep.” Greg Saunders -- the once and future Vigilante -- stood across the street from the Winding Forks Courthouse, his white drover’s hat tilted back on his head to reveal a few locks of salt-and-pepper hair. He pointed at the building and said, “See that cornerstone? The one with ‘1877’ carved into it? That’s where it should be.”
“Easy-peasy.” Max Crandall -- who had been known two centuries ago as both Chris Maxwell and Windrunner -- dug a toe into the ground as he found his footing. “Back in a second.” In a flash of lightning, he ran across the street, vibrated through the building, then returned to Greg’s side with a heavy lead box in his hands.
“That was five seconds, not one.” Carter Hall -- currently Hawkman, but formerly Nighthawk, Tom Hawkins, Strong Bow, and countless other warriors stretching all the way back to ancient Egypt -- gave Max a playful poke to the chest. “You’re getting slow.”
“Cut me some slack, will you? This thing weighs a ton.” He sounded mad, but Max was smiling when he said it. Though he’d originally been fearful of what might happen when Greg reintroduced him to Carter after all these years, he was now glad of how well it had turned out. Forgiveness had been asked for and granted, and from there, the two men had begun to reassemble a friendship that had been torn asunder 125 years before. Little expeditions like the one they were on today helped to do that, especially since it involved a third friend from those times past.
Greg pulled a couple of slim metal tools out of his pocket, saying, “Just put the dang thing down before your give yourself a hernia.” With a grunt, Max set the box upon the sidewalk, and Greg knelt down in front of it. “Keep them eagle-eyes of yours peeled for trouble, will ya, Carter?”
“Don’t worry,” Carter replied. “If anybody asks what we’re doing, we can always pretend to be three senile escapees from the local old-folks’ home.”
“Considerin’ that our combined age would be close to four hundred years, I’d say that story isn’t too far-fetched.” Greg slipped the tools into the keyhole and worked them about in an effort to pick the lock. “Of course, compared to you two, I’m practically a spring chicken.”
Max sniffed. “Oh, you’re real funny. Next time you need to break into someplace, don’t call me.”
“Like I’d ever leave you out of the fun.” A rusty snap came from inside the padlock, and Greg pulled it off. “Okay, time to see if that man was true to his word.” He carefully opened the box, then sifted about the papers until he found the two envelopes, now brittle and yellow with age. “Fat lot of good this scheme did me,” he said, shaking his head.
“It was a good idea, though,” Carter said, kneeling down next to him to look inside the box. “If this time capsule had been opened in 1977 like they’d planned, I’m sure somebody would’ve hunted down a JSA member and given them the letter, HUAC blacklisting or not.”
“Yeah...but it’s just my luck these yahoos forgot all about the thing.” Greg gestured towards the courthouse. “Betcha we could walk off with this whole chest and none of ‘em would ever miss it.”
“We could,” Max mused, “or I could run into the building and drop it off in the middle of the lobby before they even know I’m there. Better late than never, right?”
Greg looked over at him, and a grin spread across his face. “Sure, why not?” he said, then he reached into the Century Chest and pulled out the bottle of Scotch. “This stays with us, though.”
There were no objections to that, so Greg popped the padlock back onto the box, then Max took it back across the street, this time heading up the courthouse steps. About eight seconds after he’d returned to his friends, a commotion could be heard coming from inside the building. “They’ll be scratching their heads over this one for a good long time, I bet,” Max said.
“And it serves them right,” Greg said as the three of them began to walk away from the courthouse. “Those who forget the past are doomed to have it dropped in their laps.”
“I don’t think that’s how the saying goes,” Carter said.
“True, but I’m pretending to be senile, remember? Oh, and by the way...” He held out one of the envelopes. “Here you go, Mr. Former Chairman. Only thirty-three years late.”
Carter took it and said, “Remind me to complain to the Postmaster General.”
“What did you write, anyways?” Max asked. “‘Help, I’m stuck in the Old West, come rescue me’?”
“I considered that,” Greg answered, “but since I didn’t even know if that was possible, I decided to stick with lettin’ everybody know that I was okay, and that I was happy for the most part. I’d been there for two years by that point, so I talked ‘bout what had happened to me so far, and how I missed everyone...to be honest, it gets a little maudlin.”
“Well, for what it’s worth, I’m glad they didn’t open that chest,” Max told him. “Because if they had, then you might’ve gotten rescued not long after you wrote it in 1877...which means that you and I would’ve never met in 1880.”
Carter nodded, adding, “Not to mention you wouldn’t have been around to back me up when I tangled with the Iron Pistolero. That was 1878, if I recall correctly.”
“Yeah, it was, wasn’t it?” Greg shrugged. “Guess even bad things happen for good reasons.”
“I guess they do,” Max said. “What about the other letter? Who was that for?”
“That’s for Stuff, and it’s between me and him. Reckon maybe I’ll give it to him on his birthday...along with a certain bottle of single malt Scotch.”
There were some groans of disappointment from the other two men at that declaration, but they were only in jest. It didn’t really matter that much to them, not after all the things they’d seen and done together. Later that day, as the sun went down, they would sit in Greg’s living room with some fine liquor -- probably not as old, but still good -- and talk about those things, about places and people that none of their other friends were even aware of, because they belonged to another time...one that now existed only in fragile documents, weathered buildings, and the memories of three very old men.