Sunday, September 17, 2017

BAD WATER part 3

Copyright (c) 2017 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.


By R. Peterson

            Crow Feathers was an honorable leader of the Blackfoot tribe. The fact that he had turned renegade and led his people off a tiny Indian reservation after broken promises and outright lies from the U.S. government seemed almost justified to Tom. The settlers his warriors killed and the farms and ranches they burned were a horrible retaliation of a proud and starving people pushed onto desert lands with no game, no water and no future.
“Áóoyiwa Ko'komíki'somma!” The dark eyes in Crow Feathers head missed nothing as he gazed at the white man’s wagons sitting in the middle of his destroyed village.
“He says we eat the moon,” Tom told Belinda.
“That’s impossible!”
“It’s just his way of saying we’re all crazy!”
Bishop Johnson, tied to a makeshift cross mounted in the back of a wagon, chose the most inopportune time to open his mouth. “Behold! The hungry sinners come unto God and are filled with righteousness!”  
An angry Indian warrior raised his spear and prepared to plunge it into the Mormon leader’s chest.
“Wait!” Tom yelled using the few Siksika words he knew and a universal sign language. “These people have been poisoned and they don’t know what they are doing!”
Crow Feathers stretched out his arm and stopped He Who Jumps. He stared at Tom, noted the redness of his wrists from the ropes and then quickly turned away after glancing at Belinda. “I will listen to Rides Yellow Horse’s words before we kill our enemies.”
Tom had heard other Indian tribes address him by this name and it made him wonder where Comanche was. He climbed out of the wagon and moved closer so that all could hear him. Just before he began speaking he felt Belinda brush against his side and he placed a protective arm around the kid “Two days ago the ground shook and a large river hidden inside a mountain spilled out onto the desert. I was chasing two outlaws who camped next to the new lake and they became as if possessed by demons after drinking the water.” Tom gestured to the Mormons. Zachariah was smiling as he hung on the cross and a group of women appeared to be dancing silently around his wagon.  “These people are a religious group headed to a settlement on the other side of these mountains. I warned them about the water but they would not listen.”
            “All white men lie!” He Who Jumps yelled. “They sell bottles of the Devil Water from the backs of their wagons.” A murmur of agreement swept through the Indians.
            “This is not the same white man’s whiskey that makes a warrior do foolish things,” Tom told them. “All who drink this water go out of their minds.”
            “What of your woman?” Crow Feathers pointed to Belinda. “Did she also drink this Devil water?”
            “I’m not his woman,” Belinda said then added with a whisper. “Not yet.”
            “Yes,” Tom was finding it hard to explain. “She was out of her head when we were placed together but when she drank the bad water … the demon inside her fled.”
            “Rides Yellow Horse lies!” He Who Jumps lunged forward but Crow Feathers pulled him back. “If demons are in the water she drank … then they are also in her!”
            “Tell Woman with Rock  to look in this white woman’s mouth and listen to her breath,” Crow Feathers ordered. “She will know if the demon has gone … or if it is only sleeping.”

-------2-------

An hour later, an ancient looking female with a face like a dried blackberry dressed in white buffalo robes and supported by two bowed elk antlers she used as crutches hobbled into the camp. She stopped a few feet in front of Tom and took something burning from a stone jar filled with glowing embers. She waved a smoking root in the air and chanted “Awkiii yi nao si ya himiii,” while staring at Belinda.
            “She wants you to breath in the smoke,” Tom told Belinda.
            “What is it?” The girl held tight to the back of Tom’s shirt.
            “Maybe our way out of this mess.”
Belinda took a deep breath and drew the harsh smoke into her lungs. Her eyes watered and after a moment she began to gag and cough. The old woman smiled and then leaned forward and pried open Belinda’s mouth wide. She swept her eyes from side to side as she stared down the girl’s throat then she put her ear next to the open mouth and listened. Her small bright eyes appeared to dart in all directions.
            “What is she doing?” Belinda gasped when the old woman finally released her.
            “Looking for a Devil … and listening for snoring to see if the demon might be sleeping in your belly.” Tom told her.
The old woman hobbled away waving her arms in the air as if she had been bothered by noisy children.
            “Your words are true,” Crow Feathers said. “Three moons ago we felt the land tremble as a door to the underworld was opened and this woman had a bad spirit inside her and the water has washed it away.”
He Who Jumps threw his lance on the ground and stomped away, several others followed him.
            “Will you allow us to leave with our promise of restitution for the damage to your village?” Tom asked him.
            “When all our horses have returned you, the wild yellow thief and the woman may go,” Crow Feathers said. “They follow your horse across the plains and are very hard to catch. We Siksika cannot chase them. Instead we must decide how to dispose of the demons that live in these people. When your woman was possessed by the bad spirit I dragged her from our camp on a horse so that she would not infect others. It is dangerous to kill anyone with a demon inside them for the bad spirit that leaves will seek to find a new body to move into from any that are close. Now my horse follows the yellow one.         
“I’m not his woman,” Belinda said.
            “I am a lawman and my job is to protect these people, Tom told them. “This bad water is something new to me.”  Tom thought hard, and remembered something that might help. “These people have a book that they believe contains much magic. Perhaps something in it will make them well.”
            “I have asked Ghost Bear to come to our camp for council,” Crow Feathers said. “When He Who Talks to Spirits arrives with the rising sun we will go to this lake and discover its secrets. From this time forward your blood and these people are bound together.”
The women dancing around Zachariah’s wagon were spinning faster and faster. Tom noticed that they were still stopping occasionally to drink cups filled with lake water from a barrel mounted on the side of the wagon. One of the men crowed like a rooster as he soaked a torn shirt in the water and passed it up on the end of a long stick to the Bishop hanging on the cross. Zachariah Johnson smiled broadly as he sucked the moisture into his mouth and stared upward at the clouds.  “Halleluiah!” he shouted. “I can see Jesus picking cotton with God!’
            “What’s happening?” Belinda was tugging on Tom’s shirt; her eyes were like a trapped fox.
            “They want their horses back. It seems my horse has led them away. A great Indian medicine man from the north country has been summoned,” Tom said. “He will decide if we live or die.”

-------3-------

None of the Blackfeet seemed to want to get too near the infected whites. Occasionally a brave but mostly women would quickly dart into the destroyed camp grab up some needed object and flee back to a new camp they were making as if pursued by demons. They were careful not to pick up anything they thought the white people had touched. The Indians had posted guards to prevent their captives from escaping.
Tom realized the Mormons were never going to stop drinking the bad water on their own and searched through Zachariah’s wagon until he found an axe. After making sure that none of the Mormons were armed and hiding several rifles, he smashed the blade into the water barrels repeatedly until the staves broke and the water spilled onto the ground. Two young men in clean white shirts tried to stop him with their fists. Tom knocked both of them easily to the ground. “That water was delivered to us poured and stirred by the hand of God,” one boy blubbered wiping dirt from his face.
            “Then he must have had a dirty finger,” Tom told them. “There is a creek over in them trees. From now on if anyone of you Saints wants to drink, you get your water from there.”
            Tom was almost sorry he told them about the other water supply. Late in the afternoon some of the remaining Mormons had unhitched a balking mule from one of the wagons and with great ceremony was baptizing the repentant creature in the stream.
It was an hour after dark and Zachariah was still reciting scriptures from the Book of Mormon by memory with a voice like rolling thunder when a frustrated Tom and Belinda unlashed the wooden cross from the wagon and lowered him to the ground. “What you’ve done is sacrilege!” Two scowling women approached Tom and spat in his face. The Bishop glared at Tom and Belinda like a wounded badger caught in a trap but allowed the women to pull him into a wagon.
            “Perhaps so,” A weary Tom sighed. “But I can’t sleep when it sounds like it’s going to rain!”

-------4-------


Ghost Bear arrived at dawn, walking slowly and without any feathers in his grey hair or other ornamentation. Nevertheless he aroused awe amongst the members of Crow Feather’s camp. The warriors all laid their weapons at his feet as a gesture of respect and submission and the women covered their faces. Only the camp’s children approached him at a run and there was laughter and squeals of delight as he spun them around and tossed them in the air. “He don’t look so ferocious,” Belinda whispered. The old man chased several of the children around the fires pretending to be a bear.
Belinda had been up for over an hour and Tom noticed she had borrowed a clean dress from one of the Mormon women and her hair was brushed back and tied with a ribbon. She no longer looked like a skinny child but a young woman. Before he thought she was maybe twelve years old now she looked more like sixteen.
            “Don’t let Ghost Bear’s interaction with children fool you,” Tom told her. “This medicine man is revered as a great enemy and warrior by most of the plains tribes including the Crow, Cheyenne and the Oglala Lakota.
            “Why do the Lamanites revere their enemies?”
            “Indians believe that strong enemies are a kind of prestige and that fighting is a good thing … if your enemies are weak then you must be also. When an Indian wants to fight you … it is a sign that he likes you and also a sign of respect.”

Crow Feathers tried to gift Ghost Bears with his ceremonial lance but the old man ignored him, instead he approached Tom and Belinda frowning. “That metal thistle stuck on your dirty shirt makes people angry … and they wish to kill you,” he spoke an almost perfect, but spiteful English as he waved a withered hand like a claw in front of Tom’s face. “Your woman looks like dried grass. She would be better off with a crippled dog … than a rabbit who cannot feed her.”
            “Your shabby and stinking clothes are sage brush that hides a wolf raised by skunks,” Tom told him. Belinda gasped and stepped away from the sheriff, not sure she wanted to be close to him.
Ghost Bears looked furious for a few moments and the camp was deathly silent then suddenly he laughed. ‘I sometimes go many winters without any insults,’ he said. “It is good to share a camp with one whose tongue is not afraid of being cut off.”
            “Only a man who believes the insults are true gets mad when he hears them,” Tom told him.
Belinda had been holding her breath and now she released it with relief. “Why didn’t you tell me this Ghost chief was your friend … for a minute there I thought we were in trouble!”
            “Sheriff Thomas Lang is a great leader among the white man,” Ghost Bears said. “Therefore I think he is a man for a leader like me to kill. These other white people have a sickness. I think it is not good to touch them. I am old; it has been many winters since a scalp has hung above my lodge. This day we shall go look at the waters that have come from the spirit world under the land.” Ghost Bears smiled broadly.  “Then we will have a feast and a fire dance to chase the water spirits back into the ground. Perhaps the Sheriff and his woman will join us.”
            “For the last time I’m not his woman!” Belinda shouted.
            The entire camp including the captive Mormons with their wagons and horses forming a protective circle around their Bishop, followed Ghost Bear as he slowly walked to the new lake. Tom thought some of the craziness was leaving most of the religious settlers after they’d stopped drinking the bad water; he just hoped they could all stay alive long enough for things to get back to normal.
            “Don’t worry,” Belinda whispered to Tom as they followed. “He’s just an old man. How tough can he be? Whatever weapon the Lamanite chief chooses I’m sure you can totally beat him!”
            “You don’t understand the Blackfoot tribes or their ways,” Tom sighed. “The fire dance to honor the new lake that he talked about has only three participants … you, me, and a large ring of burning sticks.”
Belinda gasped. “They plan to burn us?”
            “Unless we can totally defeat the fire by draining the lake or dancing our way out of it,” Tom told her with a grin.

-------5-------

            “This demon water has no mouth,” Ghost Bear said when he had walked all the way around the new lake once. He noticed the fresh graves and smiled at Tom. “It will die of thirst as long as the sun continues to rise each day.”
            “What of those who drink the poison before it dries up?” Tom asked.
            “The only bones I see are of your enemies,” Ghost Bear said. “Animals are not as easily fooled as white men. We will camp here and wait. I feel the wind whispering to the trees. Another sign soon comes this way from the spirit world.”
Ghost Bear was right about the feast. A group of warriors left followed by their squaws and a few hours later returned with meat from three buffalo. Even the Mormon women helped, baking bread and picking wild berries for pies. The craziness of the last two days was being replaced with smiles and hospitality. Although Bishop Johnson sat in the ruins of his wagon, muttering and casting dark looks at the Indian’s wise man.

-------6-------

            “It has been many moons since my stomach has been this big,” Ghost Bear said smiling and standing up as he patted his middle. “The lake is afraid of the day and the sun. Perhaps the Siksika will find another way to chase it away … without a fire dance!” He walked through the congenial whites and the Indians smiling at everyone.
            “Does this mean what I think it does?” Belinda stopped crying for the first time in hours. Tom noticed her sliding closer to him and it made him feel uncomfortable. He had enough trouble just dealing with the Indians and the Mormons.
            “I think so,” Tom told her. “The lake looks like it has dropped a foot just since yesterday.”
Suddenly a shot rang out. Tom saw Ghost Bear fall to the ground knocking over a table laden with food. Several women screamed. A second later, Bishop Johnson jerked the apparently gut-shot old Indian from the ground holding a rifle to his head. A hundred Blackfoot warriors rushed forward and then stopped in barely contained fury as Zachariah cocked the gun and placed his finger on the trigger. “This lake is from heaven,” the Mormon leader thundered taking a long drink from a canteen that had been hidden under his coat. Moisture dripped off his long ragged beard. “We will not allow God’s precious gift to be cast aside by a bunch of filthy Lamanites!”
            “Where did he get that damn rifle?” Belinda moaned.
            “From Hell I suppose,” Tom said. “Bishop Johnson seems to have a key to the back door.”

TO BE CONTINUED …



Sunday, September 10, 2017

BAD WATER part 2

Copyright (c) 2017 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.


BAD WATER
Part 2

By R. Peterson

            It was dark when Tom awakened, his hands tied with rope and his head throbbing and swollen. Flickering light from several campfires leaked through the rough, wooden board sides of the wagon he lay in. The skeletal girl whom Zachariah had called the Demon Child was sitting upright on the dirty blankets taking slow sips from a leaky tin cup. Her eyes had lost much of the yellow orange glow that Tom remembered before he had been knocked unconscious but tiny black worms still stitched the corners of her too-wide mouth. “Who are you?” she asked between drinks. The snake-like hiss of her voice was becoming more of a growl. Outside the wagon Tom could hear people laughing, some almost hysterically, and he thought a few of the Mormon settlers must be drinking the bad lake water. He wondered if this girl was doing the same.
            “I’m the sheriff of a two-bit town named South Fork about eighty miles south of here,” Tom told her. “What’s your name?”
The blanket the girl sat on was crawling with insects and Tom noticed a drop of water fall from the broken cup and burn a fly like it was acid.
            “Bishop Johnson and the other elders call me Demon Child,” The girl whispered. “But my mother called me Belinda … before the Lamanites took us.”
            “Why would they call you that?” Tom thought he knew the answer, but was being polite and the girl did seem to be becoming less of an animal all the time.
            “The Indians burned our farm and killed my pa and my brother,” Belinda said. “They took my mother and me to their village in the hills. I began to cry and then to scream when they raped my mother and I couldn’t stop. The terror and the smell of the dirty savage was too much for my mind and I finally started to laugh. Once I started laughing I couldn’t stop that either. I thought they would just kill me … but oddly they were scared. There was a big fight and finally a warrior named Crow Feathers lassoed me with a rope and dragged me out onto the desert and left me there. He rode away like all the demons of Hell were just two jumps behind his pony.”
            “They thought you had a Devil in you,” Tom told her.
            “So did the Mormons when they found me,” Belinda said. “I’d been crawling in the hot sand for three days without water eating meat from rotten buffalo carcasses. I think the Johnson Overland Company would have abandoned me too, but the same Indians attacked their wagon-train shortly after I was found and then broke off the attack when they spied me. Zachariah and the others now think I’m some kind of a living Liahona, although tainted by Satan, sent by God to protect and deliver them safely to the promised land of Gilmore.”
Tom heard the sound of gunfire outside followed by even louder laughter. “I believe the water in the lake is bad,” he told Belinda. “I believe it makes people go crazy … although in your case it seems to have made you well again.”
Belinda smiled and Tom noticed that she was rather pretty. She used a towel to wipe the worms from the corners of her mouth. “Bad water couldn’t make me any crazier than I was,” she said. “I guess for me the water had to go the other way!”
            “These ropes are awful tight … can you untie me?” Tom squirmed to sit upright.
            “It’s been a long time since anyone trusted me,” Belinda said. “I guess if you don’t think I’m crazy the least I can do is trust you.”
            “Oh, I still think you’re crazy,” Tom told her with a grin as she tugged on the knots. “I just think you’re better company than those people out there.”

-------2-------

Tom stared through a crack in the boards. The Johnson Overland Company had formed a circle around two wild eyed men dancing around each other and flashing knives. The fight stopped when young men started passing around jugs filled with the lake water. All were silent as Zachariah led the congregation in a sacrament prayer. From somewhere in the darkness a wolf howled and then another answered. “Oh God the eternal father, bless and sanctify this water to all the souls who partake of it that they might remember the blood of thy son which was shed for them …”
“No!” Tom moaned. “They can’t all start drinking the lake water!”
The fight erupted again after another prayer and loaves of bread were passed around. “This is all mixed up!” Belinda gasped. “They’re doing the sacrament ritual backwards the bread comes before the water.”
            “Not as mixed up as it’s gonna get,” Tom said grimly.
            “You’ve had six wives for two years Brother Bean,” a burly man yelled as he slashed the air with a knife, “and not even one child yet! The Elder’s Quorum is beginning to wonder if you’re a little limp on your responsibilities!”
            “The two dozen that you claim have all spewed from your fast-Sunday loins look like black bears that have bred with sheep,” Bean thundered. “I know you don’t have any Negro or Mexican women in that brothel you call a wagon, Brother Larsen. How come half them kids is different shades of black or brown?”
The two men lunged toward each other just as the circle began to sing Jenny Get Your Hoe Cake Done and clap and stomp along with a wailing banjo being plucked at pepper speed. Suddenly two gunshots silenced the music and froze the fighting men. Bishop Zachariah Johnson stood with both smoking barrels of a Parker ten-gauge shotgun pointed toward the sky. His eyes were bright as embers glowing in a campfire. “Enough!” he thundered. ‘The angel Gabriel has seen fit to send me a vision and has extracted from me a promise for his immediate desires!” The Bishop’s tongue hung almost to his chin and flapped in the night breeze.
            “What holy mission has the Lord set us on?” a chorus of excited women exclaimed.
            “A Lamanite village lies less than twenty miles to the north,” Zachariah’s eyes were as two coal-oil lamps pumped to a fiery orange brightness. “These outcasts from God’s family are even now thirsting for instructions from the divine guidance of John Taylor and the rest of the twelve. Praise the Lord! We must take God’s words to these heathens!”

The crowd erupted with shouts of “Glory to Hosanna!” and then began to sing with frenzied voices. An elderly woman frowned her displeasure at the celebration with her arms folded sternly across her chest … obviously unaware that she was standing outside her wagon bath-day naked.

“Sowing in the sunshine, sowing in the shadows,
Fearing neither clouds nor winter’s chilling breeze;
By and by the harvest, and the labor ended,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.”

Tom felt the ropes tying his hands come loose just as he spied Zachariah walking toward the wagon with his shotgun. “Quick,” Tom told Belinda. “You’ve got to appear crazy and he can’t see my hands are untied. Belinda flung herself on Tom just as the Bishop opened the back of the wagon. “Give me back my mouse slippers you thieving bastard,” she hissed as she raked her fingernails across Tom’s face. “They are too small for you and you always tie their lace-tails in knots!”
            “Sorry Sheriff, but this is for your own good,” Zachariah said as he slammed the stock of the gun into Tom’s head. “Demons will always be about us …” He glanced at Belinda and shook his head, “but they won’t enter your dreams as long as you have a clean conscience.”

The Mormon leader stayed well clear of the Demon Child as he put down a plate of food and a jug of water and then closed the back of the wagon.
            “Do you think he believed I was crazy?” Belinda asked as soon as Zachariah left.
Tom only moaned as he drifted into unconciousness.


-------3-------



                It was near morning but still dark when Tom felt the wagon begin to lurch forward not a slow and steady gate but in a frenzy as if someone were whipping the horses. His head ached and he struggled into a sitting position as the wagon bounced and careened to the sound of banging pans and shrieks. Belinda was peering through the crack in the boards her eyes were like two full moons reflecting on water. “What’s happening?” Tom held his head with both hands as if it might tumble from his shoulders. “The congregation has been drinking the lake water all night,” Belinda said. “They plan to take God’s word to the Lamanite village at first light!”

Tom tried to think. It was hard as he kept bouncing against the roof and banging into the sides. Whoever was driving the wagon had whipped the horses into a wild gallop. The only Indian camp he knew of close by belonged to Crow Feathers, the same renegade Blackfoot War Chief that had dragged Belinda out onto the desert. They left the reservation for months at a time and burned farms and ranches when the buffalo was hard to find.  Tom pushed Belinda aside and tried to peer through the crack. There was too much dust and flying rocks to see. Suddenly both wheels on the right side hit something hard and half of the wooden box on top of the wagon broke away. Rushing air blew away splinters and broken boards. Tom grabbed Belinda and they hung onto the floor.

All twenty six wagons were hurtling across the still dark desert. The moon sinking into the western horizon peeked from behind a streak of clouds and appeared to be laughing. The driver of Tom and Belinda’s wagon stood on the seat with his legs spread wide. He whipped the team of six horses with religious frenzy. The racing wagons had the cloth covers removed and most of the people appeared to be standing. Some banged pots and pans together while others held song books. All appeared to be singing. Tom thought he might find Comanche tied to the back of one of the wagons, but obviously the Mormons had not been able to convert his wild mare.

Zachariah was in the back of the lead wagon lashed naked to a limbed pine tree and a splintered sideboard in the shape of a cross. The tall pole bolted to the wagon frame rocked and swayed from side to side like the mast of a ship in a terrible storm. His voice rose above the mayhem like a clap of thunder. “For behold the Lord sayeth I will visit them with the sword and with famine and with pestilence!”
The wagon flying along next to Tom and Belinda hit something and a dozen people were thrown into the air like corn popping from a fry pan. Before the thrashing arms and legs of men women and children came down, the wagon overturned in an explosion of blood, dust, shattered wheel spokes and torn linen.
A broken brake rod sprayed a plume of sparks as it banged against an axle on the wagon ahead and a wave of burning sagebrush followed behind … lighting the night sky.
The wagons thundered down a steep incline and Tom could see the tops of teepees through the smoke in a clearing below. Dogs barked and ran around several campfires. Two arrows stuck in the wood just above Belinda’s head. Tom pulled her down. The Indians gave up trying to fight the intruders and instead fled, many still naked, from the madness. A squaw holding two infants ran out of a lodge and through a campfire without slowing.
Two young braves leaped on ponies inside a makeshift corral and the flying hooves tangled in the rope enclosure and pulled down several racks of drying meat and at least three lodges.

Bishop Johnson was almost in the center of the village when he commanded his faithful to stop. Two wagons collided with each other and one overturned rolling over two teepees and a campfire. The sun was just rising. Tom looked out the back of the wagon. The desert behind was littered with broken wagons, screaming horses, rolling barrels, guns, torn bags of flour and the bodies of men, women and children. Several of the Indian lodges were on fire. “I will visit them in my fierce anger, sayeth the Lord!” Zachariah thundered from high above the mayhem.
Tom figured there had been at least a hundred and twenty Mormon men women and children before the strange nighttime missionary call … now there were less than thirty, clinging wild eyed to seven battered wagons. The Bishop looked pleased with himself. “Behold the unwashed come unto God!” Zachariah began to laugh while hanging from the cross. Those few left in the wagons once again began to sing. Tom watched a grey haired man jump from a wagon and pick up a violin lying in the dirt. He pried loose a saw blade nailed to the side of a wagon and used it for a bow.

“When I was young I used to wait
On the master and hand him his plate;
And pass the bottle when he got dry,
And brush away the blue tail fly.

Jimmy crack corn and I don't care,
Jimmy crack corn and I don't care,
Jimmy crack corn and I don't care,
My master's gone away.”

“Master Hell! It’s your mind that’s gone away!” Tom mumbled.
The men and women all began to dance. Tom peered into the dust and darkness … the Blackfoot Indians were returning through the trees with Crow Feathers in the lead  … they were fitting bows to arrows and waving spears … and Tom doubted they planned to join in with the Mormons’ celebrations.

TO BE CONTINUED …


Sunday, September 3, 2017

BAD WATER

Copyright (c) 2017 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.


BAD WATER
By R. Peterson

Thomas Lang galloped Comanche to the top of the butte and stopped. The prancing Texas mare sidestepped wind-polished rock as she gulped mouthfuls of dry air like water. The scorching sun was almost directly overhead so the Indian Fig cactus and Sage that littered the vast desert below cast no shadows. Two tiny flecks of sifted dust, rising perhaps four miles out in a sky baked dull orange by blistering sand, showed the ex-confederate soldiers he chased were too far ahead and would not be caught this day. The thick Crow weave blanket under the saddle was wet; better to wait out the heat and travel in the cool of night. Perhaps then it might be only buzzard picked bones and two leather bags filled with semi-refined Blue Bonnet ore that he captured.
Elisabeth Walker, the owner of the gold mine, had been furious as Tom saddled up to go after the outlaws. “There can’t be more than ten pounds of pure gold in them bags once it’s melted down,” she said. “Fourteen-hundred dollars ain’t near enough to get yourself killed over!”
“They killed one of your wagon drivers and left another for dead,” Tom argued. “It’s not just about the money!”
“I know that!” Elisabeth tried to get between Tom and his horse. “I’m no innocent schoolmarm fresh off the stage from St. Louis!  Dillard and Dodd Cole were a plague in Missouri when I lived there. Either brother would just as soon shoot you as look at you. Both of the killers rode for a time with “Billy” Clarke Quantrill and I heard he ran them off because they were too bloodthirsty.” Elisabeth tried to undo Comanche’s saddle cinch “You best bide your time in town until a posse can be put together!”
Elisabeth had been crying as Tom rode out of South Fork.

An hour later, the Sheriff found an overhang on the north side of an ancient volcano that offered shade but no breeze. After shooting a rattlesnake he poured water for his horse. Tom took only three gulps for himself and then put the wet hat back on his head. The first canteen was empty; only two more remained lashed to his saddlebags. Only one thing was more valuable than gold in western Montana in August 1879 … water. Tom took off his cartridge belt and laid the loaded single action Colt 45 next to the saddle he used as a pillow … and then he slept.
Just before Tom opened his eyes he thought he was sleeping on a bench in the Abilene train station. The rough wooden building shook like a St. Louis bordello dancer each time the snorting Kansas Pacific locomotive smoked and banged into the bustling cow town. When he heard the horse whinny, rear and pull against the brush she was tethered to he knew it was no dream. The rock on which he lay seemed to suddenly turn liquid as it heaved and rolled in waves beneath him. Small rocks began to rain down from the ledge above and he buried his head under the saddle hoping Comanche had sense enough to break the leather reins that tied her to the earthquake.
Less than thirty seconds later it was over. By the time the first aftershock came, fifteen minutes later, Tom had already caught Comanche and was riding down the western side. A crowd of curious stars watched his progress from a cool and darkened sky. One of the flickering red lights low on the invisible horizon looked too bright to be a planet and Tom hoped the outlaws would have coffee on.

-------2-------

The first rays of morning light were rising over the mountains to the east when Tom saw his first dark wonder of nature. The entire side of a mountain had fallen away and a never-before-seen-tributary gushed from an opening halfway up the side of a granite cliff. The water sprayed mist twenty feet in the air as it tumbled and splashed over piled, fresh boulders flung in its pathway. Wild thrashing torrents formed into a river as it roared through a canyon and then spread across the low parts of the desert ahead. “And I was worried my tongue was going to dry up and blow away,” Tom removed the canteen strapped to his pack, drank heavily and then splashed his arms and face.
It wasn’t until they neared the muddy pools spreading outward that Comanche snorted, jerked and turned away. “Dern! I shouldn’t have been so quick to dance.” Tom wiped his brow. There weren’t too many things the sheriff put his full trust in, but his horse and water were one. If Comanche refused to drink … she probably had a damn good reason.
Reluctantly, Tom rode Comanche ten miles in the opposite direction to fill his canteens from a source in the mountains. This time the wild Texas mare drank heavily and even tried to roll in the muddy spring. “Wish I’d thought of that,” Tom grinned, “but it’s a little too late now!”
It was two hours after sunset when the sheriff found his way back to the new lake. Light from a campfire reflected on the water. Tom dismounted and crept up to the camp on foot. Dillard and Dodd Cole were both laughing at something. A strong odor stung Tom’s eyes. A smell like a haunch of fatty beef that had fallen into the flames.
Tom blinked his eyes not sure if he was seeing right. Dodd Cole sat on a log next to a rock-ringed fire with a large cooking pan filled with what appeared to be lake-water on the ground next to him. His boots were off and he would alternate sticking first one bare foot and then the other into the fire giggling as the bloody flesh charred and blistered. After the foot had actually began to flame he would plunge it into the pan of water and breathe the steam vapors all while smiling broadly. Tom could see only the back of one horse and it stumbled through the brush without a tie rope like it was severely lame and going blind. Dillard sat on a rock several feet from his brother furiously whittling something with a buffalo knife all the while singing loudly in a skinner’s voice. “Oh! Bright are the jewels from love's deep mint …God bless my toes while picking lint!”
Thomas Lang stood and took two steps into the camp, cocking and bringing a Colt 45 level on each man. “You boys been drinking that lake water?” he asked. Both men burst out laughing. Tom noticed each man’s eyes appeared to glow with an orange-yellow sickness. As if in reply, Dillard dropped what he was carving and reached for a jug. “Best drink this side of my mother’s grave,” he said as he gulped and the water trickled down his beard. Tom watched the horse hoof roll toward the fire. Dillard had carved a heart with an arrow through it and what looked like his initials.
“I’m sorry about your mother, but you men are under arrest,” the sheriff told them.
“Oh maw ain’t dead yet … but we plans a real nice funeral for her don’t we … Dudd?” Dillard laughed as he glanced at his brother.
“Cut her throat and let her pretty blood drip in the gravy-pan right after she pulls them top brown biscuits from the oven!” The younger Cole licked his lips and patted his overlarge stomach.
“You lose a horse on the trail?” Tom used one gun barrel to point to the half-carved severed hoof resting next to the fire stones.
“My horse ran off thirsty,” Dodd smiled and rolled his eyes. “We had to whip Dillard’s nag and burn its legs to make the damn thing drink.” He turned his head to one side. “Pouring a pan of water into a screaming horse’s mouth is no easy chore!”
“Like night-shooting nigras inside a burning church!” Dillard smiled with the memory.
“All that jumping around I think the poor critter picked up a stone …” Dodd closed one eye and a tear ran down his cheek as he shook his head. “Sorry! But that bruised hoof just had to come off!”
“I want you both to turn around and put your hands over your heads,” Tom ordered. The men appeared to be growing sicker by the minute. A nauseating smell like burnt almonds suddenly choked the air.
“Peggy be bawn!” Dodd burst into a rapid fire song as he stepped into the fire holding his hands behind his head. His bare feet kicked and pumped furiously to the words as he kept his upper body stiff in the crackling flames.
“Oh  Ireland be a sharp fine country,
And all Scots to her be kin,
So I must gang-alang without you,
My pleasures to begin!”

Tom was so astonished he barely noticed the gun in Dillard’s hand until he heard the hammer cock. He turned as a chunk of led tore into his left arm, and shot the man four times each time listening to the growing hysterical laughter that spilled from his mouth like a soup pot boiling over. The excited speech deteriorated to fat-lip gibberish mixed with poor-white talk.
           
“Doo bla gum bo … Come on in, friend, the water be jus fine!” A demon made of fire beckoned. Tom shot the bloody, scorched thing dancing in the flames with his last eight bullets … before a thin smoke finally began to rise.

Sheriff Thomas Lang’s hands were shaking so bad he had a hard time reloading, but he knew the horse with one bloody leg stump thrashing through the brush would have to be put down.

Tom found two sun-bleached buffalo skulls not far from the dead horse and placed them on  stakes he drove into the ground near each end of the lake’s shore then he kicked lots of dirt over all three bodies. He didn’t need any crazy buzzards flying through the air and he hoped that whoever came along would heed the poison warning.

An hour later, he loaded the saddle bags with the gold ore on the back of Comanche and led her on foot away from the mind sickness. There was no way he was going to sleep tonight … in this place of devils.


-------3-------


It was near morning when Tom finally stopped to rest at the top of a ridge with a slight breeze blowing but he had wanted to get as far away from the smell of madness as possible. He was just about to turn and head back to South Fork when a glimmer of dust on the horizon caught his eye. Ten minutes later he could pick out two dozen covered wagons driving toward the lake. “Damn,” Tom muttered as he unloaded everything off his horse except the sweat. He had rode Comanche many times without a saddle, not always by choice, and the increase in speed just might make the difference between life and death for the hapless travelers.

It was a group of Mormon settlers obviously lost and too far north on their way to Utah. Tom noticed one bearded man and at least three to six women crowded into each wagon plus at least four times that many children riding and walking alongside. Comanche was winded and sweating heavily when he stopped the train just as the first wagons reached the lake.
“You can’t drink that water!” Tom yelled trying to catch his breath.
“Why not?” the man in the lead wagon reached for a rifle just behind the seat. “Our map shows open range with no restrictions!”
“The water ain’t no good,” Tom said. “It smells of a devil … and it ain’t as pure as it looks!”
“None of us is as pure as we look!” the man smiled. “Thanks for the warning … Sheriff!” He noticed Tom’s badge and the rifle disappeared. “My name is Zachariah Johnson and this here is the Johnson Overland Company. We was just about to stop for our mid-day meal … won’t you join us?”
“You folks is a bit north for Utah,” Tom said as he slipped off his horse.
“The good Lord shines a light before the faithful,” Zachariah said, “and we cannot be lost. Our party is headed to a place called Gilmore just on the other side of these mountains.”
Tom had heard of the silver mining town worked by leftover Chinese railroad immigrants. It lay in a dry valley filled with sage brush. He didn’t think it was a proper destination and it showed on his face.
“The good Lord stretches forth his hand and a garden grows in the desert,” Zachariah sounded like he was preaching. Tom only nodded.

The group proved to be more than accommodating, offering him a special place at a quickly assembled table and he was surrounded by children. “You kill any Lamanites with those guns?” Tom noticed several admiring looks from a group of blue eyed giggling females. All the dresses they wore were crisp, bright and clean. He wondered if they were all wives … or spoken for. The mid-day meal was a rich fresh vegetable and venison soup made from what looked like the last of the party’s water supply along with fresh baked bread. After a prayer, bowls were passed around and a group of women began to sing Come Come ye Saints.
After eating, Zachariah asked Tom to follow him to one of the wagons. The only one boarded up and without a cloth cover. “There is something about our people that you don’t know,” he explained and then motioned for the sheriff to look in the back of the wagon.
A skeletal girl, covered with scabs, lay sprawled near-naked on a pile of dirty, fly-infested blankets. She turned and hissed as Tom stared. Her jagged teeth were as green as new corn leaves with tiny black worms stitching the corners of her too wide mouth.
Tom didn’t see the man swing the heavy cast iron pan but heard the crash a split second before his head began to swell. Then there was only darkness.
“Put him in the back with the demon child,” Zachariah told the men surrounding his wagon, “then water the stock and fill all the barrels with water.”
“Sorry Sheriff,” he whispered as an unconscious Tom was pulled into the wagon. “We bring our own laws and devils with us … and only God in heaven can direct a Latter Day Saint what to drink!”


TO BE CONTINUED …



Sunday, August 27, 2017

DAY OF THE MOON part 4

Copyright (c) 2017 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.


DAY OF
THE MOON
Part 4
By R. Peterson

Hamilton Fisk, the witch Queen of Abra Cadaver, opened her orange eyes and a moment later her mouth. Ham’s teeth were long and shiny like the black keys on a piano. My hand was trembling and the shirt I was using for a glove slipped off when I tried to slide the bottle  from her grasp. The pupils of her eyes expanded from thin snake-like slits into dark watery wells as they focused on my face. “Pažadinti!” she hissed. What looked like twenty six discarded black robes suddenly fluttered to life with human forms inside. The frigid air inside the walk-in freezer was suddenly filled with schizophrenic shrieking and exhaled vapor clouds.
“Run!” Baby Bat pleaded as she tried to pull me toward the cast-iron door. My only thought was that Susan was going to die if I didn’t recover the stolen ethereal salts. Shoving Baby Bat toward the exit I slammed my fist into Ham’s wrist and, using my discarded shirt, caught the bottle-made-of-ice before it shattered on the floor. There was a moment when I thought I might actually escape … then I heard Baby Bat scream. I turned holding the precious bottle high above my head threatening to smash it if anyone came any closer. Several of the Goths took a step back.
Two of the Abra Cadaver cult members held the struggling girl while Ham yanked her hair from behind and traced a bloodline across Baby Bat’s throat with a sharpened fingernail as black as her teeth.  “This Spoon for the bottle,” she said thrusting her other claw-like hand forward.
“Don’t do it,” Baby Bat moaned. “She’ll kill us anyway.” Ham dug her fingernail deeper   into the girl’s throat and wiggled the fingers on her other hand.
“Give it to me!” Ham was staring at me … and then she began to smile.

-------2-------

JoAnne Wolf stared out the window of Melania Descombey’s upstairs bedroom. The sun had sunk behind the western horizon only minutes before and now an inky blackness settled over the city of Cloverdale. “They should have been back by now … if they were successful.”
“Hamilton Fisk is only half alive,” Allison said as she spooned warm tea into Melania’s mouth, “and her power comes from moonlight. Over an hour remains before the night sun rises in the east.”
Melania raised a withered hand and pushed away the spoon. “The girl is right,” she whispered. “I fear the two have failed and are in great danger!” She motioned for Allison to help her sit-up and her apprentice propped pillows behind her. “I have something that will stop the Salty Lake Witch … or at least slow her down.” Melania stared at JoAnne and then pointed to a wooden box with Ombré carved on the front sitting on her lamp-table. “Inside is a pack of very old Tarot cards,” she said. “Remove the Death card but be very careful not to touch the illustration with your fingers.”
JoAnne walked to the table and carefully removed the lid from the box. A dull glow like bottled fireflies radiated from the box. She took a step back and massaged her fingers. When a witch like Melania said be very careful … she meant it. JoAnne flexed her fingers and then began to sort through the deck careful to only touch the top edge of each card. Near the center she spied the Death card. An illustration of a crow perched on a tombstone before a landscape of the world turned into a cemetery. JoAnne cautiously lifted the card from the box, careful to only hold it by the edges.
“Inside the eye of the crow is a hole for moonlight to pass through,” Melania told her. “The beam becomes saturated with magic and very powerful when it passes through the card.” She stretched out a boney finger and caressed the carved box. “The Ombré was carved from the wood of a sacred Juhar tree called Zevot in the year 419. The paper cards were made from the pulp of the scrap wood left behind on the woodcarver’s floor. The broom used to sweep up the sawdust is in that corner.’ She gestured with her hand. JoAnne gazed at a straw broom with a twisted willow-bark handle leaning against a bookcase. “Every part of the Zevot is magical and extremely dangerous to those with the touch.” Melania flicked on the lamp next to her bed. “Hold the card up to the lamp and practice directing the light.” She noticed JoAnn’s hesitation and smiled. “Don’t be afraid. Lamplight has not the power of the moon.”
Joanne held the card before the lamp and was surprised to see a tiny beam of light projected through the crow’s eye making a tiny spotlight on the wall. She turned the card slightly and watched a beam of light cross the dark floor. A dark shape suddenly skittered in front of the light and JoAnne jerked her hand. There was a brilliant flash of light, the smell of burning flesh, scorched-blood and singed hair. “What was that?” Joanne gasped.
“A troublesome mouse that my cat has been trying to trap for months,” Melania said. She chuckled at the wide eyes covering the girl’s face. “I said the lamplight had not the power of the moon,’ she said. ‘I did not say it was without power.”

-------3-------

I was aware of being bound inside a dark bag and dragged across rough ground. My head was swimming like a college fraternity initiation gone terribly wrong. At least Baby Bat was not dead yet. I could hear her cursing our captors from what I presumed was her own black bag. “Silence them!” Ham’s voice was that of a hungry frog coming across a cluster of mating flies. “We must not attract undue attention as we move through the town.”
I felt Baby Bat’s bag brush against my own and could hear her frantic breathing. “Where are they taking us?” I whispered.
            “Black Rose.” Baby Bat said. “There is a huge wooden cross there that hasn’t soaked up its quota of blood.”
            “Be still!” I heard a thump like a wooden bat striking a pumpkin follow the harsh outburst. “There will be time enough to scream when the nails find you!”
I saw stars a split second before I heard another thump … the speed of light is many times that of sound … and then there was only darkness.

-------4-------

JoAnn didn’t know she’d been sleeping until a tiny door on a Black Forest cuckoo sprang open and the hands on the gilded dial began to spin backwards. Almost a dozen objects flew out from the chiming clock.  Blue silk wings fluttered and spinning gears hummed as tiny mechanical birds circled the room. “It’s after eleven O’clock,” Allison said. “You must take the card to the place of bones by midnight or your friends will die.”
            “How could you let me sleep,” JoAnne complained. She stared at the clock face. The minute hand was now a quarter after. “I’ll never make it there in time.”
            “All magic bends light and therefore affects time,” Melania whispered. “Pick up that broom and sweep my floor!” she commanded.
            “My friends are about to die and you’re worried about housekeeping?” JoAnne looked to Allison for support but Melania’s apprentice just handed her the broom.
JoAnne shrugged her shoulders and began to sweep. Tiny dust bunnies seemed to hop and dance before the yellow bristles. She had to move quickly to catch them. The wooden floor seemed to brush away with each stroke and then the house. Clouds appeared and then a black sky with stars. JoAnne was suddenly flying high over the city of Cloverdale. She gripped the broomstick with one hand and held the edges of the fluttering card with the other. Her legs were pressed tightly against the straw fibers. The cool night wind blew her blonde hair back like yellow ribbons tied to a window fan. Dizzying heights took her breath away and replaced it with an insane kind of euphoria. She saw the tiny intersection of Townsend Street and Vineyard Road below and leaned crazily to the right. She was laughing out loud as wind tears streamed from her eyes. The broom turned north toward State Hospital North and to Black Rose Cemetery beyond.

-------5-------

 I was semi-conscious when they pulled the black bag from my head. The members of Abra Cadaver were clustered around me and Baby Bat. Hamilton Fisk held an iron mallet and several sharpened railroad spikes in her claw-like hand. I could see the bottle made of ice that held the ethereal salts on a large flat stone behind Fisk. “You foiled our pleasure with your Goth Queen!” Ham spit on Baby Bat. “Your cries will have to be twice as loud to make up for it!”
I looked around. Black Rose Cemetery was empty except for a shimmering moon which appeared much larger than normal, peering from behind dark tree branches as if it had moved closer for a better look. Only those who enjoyed our screams would be able to hear them. “Don’t be such a Doom Cookie,” Baby Bat laughed at Ham. “I’m sure you must have done something right these last … what’s it been … nine years?”
“Tie them to the cross so they can’t move,” Ham screeched. “No quick and easy! I want the spikes to crawl like snails through their hands and legs.”
“I was hoping for something a bit quicker!” I gritted my teeth as two burley Goth Forks (males) positioned my arms along the cross.  . Next, they bound three foot long shoelaces around my wrists, tight enough for the wet leather to cut into my skin. They flipped the heavy wooden structure over. I could hardly breathe with my face buried in the dead grass but I knew the worst was yet to come.
“You know when you fail this time, Abra Cadaver will have to choose a new leader don’t you?” Baby Bat was taunting Ham even as she was tied to the other side of the cross. She giggled. “The shame will be too great!”
“Raise the cross to the night sky,” Ham thundered. “I will drive the spikes in myself!”
I felt myself lifted into the air but it was not the relief I expected. Four Forks hoisted Ham onto their shoulders so she could reach my hands with her spikes and hammer. “Perhaps when the infant bat hears your agony … she’ll think twice about insulting me.”
Hamilton Fisk placed the sharpened spike against the palm of my hand and raised the hammer high above her head. And then she hesitated, enjoying my horror as the cult began to chant.
Dooba Nanbean … ra da go.
Let us rend what others sew.
Rise the moon and tide the blood.
Drinking tears of gloom and mud.

Dooba Gonwat … goo ta rut.
Let demons eat that which they cut.
We are your shadows … wake to die.
Wings of terror … crucify!

I saw something move across the face of the moon a split second before the hammer was blasted from Ham’s hand. Every face in the execution party looked upward. I thought it was a very large bird flying with folded wings until I noticed the tail was not feathers … but made of straw. JoAnne Wolf was crisscrossing the night sky on a broomstick.  She held what looked like a playing card in her right hand and each time she crossed the face of the moon a beam of light filtering through the paper created destructive mayhem on the crowd below.
           
A beam of light bounced among the tombstones and I heard one of the Forks who had lashed my hands to the cross yelp like a coyote with his foot caught in a trap. He flung the black hood covering his head back and tried to beat out the orange flames devouring his red hair with hands as white as desert bones. The beam of light struck a large gravestone and chunks of polished granite exploded outward like organic shrapnel. The cult began to scatter and Ham had to bellow to keep them from routing. “A war from the sky is what you want?” Her eyes were like a snake’s trapped in the corner of a stone foundation by a sharpened shovel. “Then let the terror come forth!” She raised her arms in the air high above her head.

All the leaves on a giant cottonwood tree suddenly fluttered to life and became small black birds with slashing talons and angry beaks that swarmed as a cloud after the young girl riding the broom. JoAnne tried to cover her face and when she did the card she was holding fluttered to the ground.

Each time the tumbling card lined up with the moon a powerful beam of light projected toward the ground. A three foot length of cast iron lattice from the fence that surrounded the cemetery disappeared in a puff of smoke. The branch of an elm tree was severed at the trunk and sent spinning into the darkness.
The 1938 Adler Damenrad ladies’ bicycle that Abra Cadaver’s reining Doom Queen had enchanted to pedal in circles high above the cemetery came suddenly crashing to the ground as if the light beam passing through the playing card had severed an invisible tether wire. Hamilton Fisk tried to leap out of the way but the ancient bicycle struck her in the back as she dived for cover.
The Goth members as well as the enchanted birds became like dry leaves and scattered in the wind. I watched Ham pedal out the cemetery entrance with a bent front wheel wobbling horribly as JoAnne used a rope to lower the cross to the ground. The gashes in my wrists were almost cuts from the leather laces but I still laughed as a smiling JoAnne Wolf walked to a flat stone and held up the ice bottle containing the ethereal salts.


-------6-------

The night proved to be much shorter than I expected. The sun was rising in the east when Allison Weatherbee appeared in the sitting room of Melania Descombey’s mansion and said that Joanie Otter was awake and wanted to see me. Joanie had dark rings under her eyes but other than that she looked on the mend and rested. “Thank you,” she said. “I usually don’t like it when someone outside the wardrobe gets involved in Goth business … but in this case I’m glad you did.”
“Did Melania tell you why I was looking for you in the first place?” I was glad to see Joanie well but I couldn’t help thinking about what was going to happen to Susan if I didn’t stop the two Negatives stalking her and my son.”
“She said you were concerned about Lingerlings following an old girlfriend.” Joanie smiled. “Are you jealous or do you really think she’s in trouble?”
“I saw two ghost-like Orientals with knives and icepicks,” I told her. “I don’t  believe they were delivering takeout!”
“After all you’ve done for me and Cloverbone,” I want to help!”
“Are you sure you feel up to it?”
“Today is the eclipse,” Joanie said. “It’s now or never!”

-------7-------

The crowds converging on Cloverdale were enormous. Townsend Avenue from Main Street to Wallace was blocked off to motor traffic and vendors were hawking eclipse merchandise to excited crowds. I had the leftover ethereal salts in one of Melania’s antique flour sifters in my right hand covered with my jacket. There was only going to be a little over two minutes of totality the time in which the Negatives were frozen and unable to move. I had to make sure both Chinese were salted before the sun once again came into view. I put on the viewing glasses that I’d purchased from the second hand store and was surprised to see just as many Negatives or Lingerlings as Joanie and Egbert called them mixing with the crowds of living.
“In this crowd it will be hard to keep track of your Lingerlings especially if they separate,” Joanie said. She left to visit Ted Burlap and see if he had a second pair of the special glasses. I was furious when I noticed the two Chinese lingering on the sidewalk just down the street from Spare-A-Dime and I knew Susan must be inside working. I peered inside the café and saw her waiting tables. Another Negative this time an elderly lady that looked like she could be anyone’s maiden aunt stood guard in the doorway. I remembered Egbert saying that not all Negatives were bad and I hoped this woman was there to protect Susan. When I saw her watching my former girlfriend from time to time and then glancing toward the Chinese … I was sure of it and felt better.
Joanie noticed my improved mood when she returned with her own one-of-a-kind specs. “Ted insisted that he sold you the only pair until I explained to him what Cloverbone does to civilians that lie to us,” Joanie said.
“And that is?”
“You’re better off not knowing,” she insisted.
I told her to put on her glasses and told her where the old woman was standing. “Looks like we might have some help from the other side,” I smiled.
Joanie looked puzzled when she took off her glasses. “The woman looks very familiar for someone who is dead,” she said. “I know I’ve seen her picture somewhere before … but I can’t place her.”
            “Does it really matter,” I said. “We need all the help we can get.”
To my utter amazement Joanie turned and run down the sidewalk. “Where are you going?” My good mood was dissolving fast. “The eclipse begins in twenty minutes!”
            “To see my mom at the Comanche County Library,” Joanie called over her shoulder. “I’ll be back as soon as I can!”
            “Thank God there is still two of us,” I said as I smiled at the old woman. I moved down the sidewalk and vowed to keep as close as possible to the Chinese. When the sun was blocked out I was determined to get them both.

-------8-------

I waited anxiously for Joanie to return. When she didn’t I knew it was up to me and possibly the old woman to save Susan and my son. Just after the moon began to cover the sun people poured into the street and Mrs. Lee closed the café so that all of her employees could watch. I watched Susan come out of the café and a minute later leave the day care center across the street with Jackie in tow. Then I lost them in the crowd.
            I did however find the two weapon wielding Chinese and they appeared to be pressing through the crowd of negatives trying to get as close as possible to Susan. I ran into dozens of people as I was blind with the glasses on but I was determined not to let them out of my sight! Digging Bear saw me trying to push my way through the crowd and became an Indian plow.
There was less than twenty seconds until totality began.
            I noticed the Negatives all become frozen like statues as the whole town was suddenly plunged into darkness. People gasped as they pointed to stars never seen in the sky just before noon. I jerked my jacket from the sifter and let it drop to the ground. For a frantic forty-five seconds I couldn’t find the Chinese and then I located them. They were about two steps behind Susan and Jackie. Thank God the old woman was between them. I vaulted to where they stood and raised the sifter over their frozen heads. My heart almost went into convulsions when the handle on the side wouldn’t turn. I banged the metal three times with my fist and rust fell from the crank. There was twenty three seconds of darkness left.
            Joanie was suddenly behind me. She grabbed the flour sifter filled with ethereal salts from my hands and cranked it furiously over the head of the old woman. I watched in horror as the old lady gasped soundlessly and then began to spin, sinking into the ground like fog going down a flushed toilet … there was what looked like a fishing knife and line clutched in her fingers.
            “What have you done?” I moaned.
            “Given you a second chance at love … I hope!” Joanie said.

-------9-------

            The town was in a carnival mood and we went to Melania’s house to get away from the crowds. “How did you know?” I asked her.
            “Her face looked familiar,” Joanie said. “So I went to the library where my mother works to look up the archives. Edith Crane died last year in the basement of State Hospital North. She was one of the worst mass-murderers in Montana History and had been in a coma for over twenty years in the basement of the mental hospital. She ran a day care center in Cloverdale fifty years ago, nice lady great with the kids and everyone loved her … until that one day!”  Joanie’s eyes took on that lost-look typical of so many who choose to walk in darkness.
“About 5 PM people started showing up to collect their kids, but Mrs. Crane’s house was locked. By the time the cops finally broke down the door, nine sets of parents were standing outside. The cops went in first and tried to stop the parents from seeing … but a few got through. Looney Edith had drowned all the kids in the bathtub, thirteen in all. Probably did them one at a time, then she laid them out in a row, gutting them and cutting their throats. The sweet old lady, crazy as crazy gets, threaded a long piece of clothes line through the neck and out the mouth of each child. She strung the whole line up, like you do drying fish, across her living room from wall to wall. Mrs. Crane was rocking in her chair and singing a lullaby, the one that goes hush little baby don’t say a word, when the cops came busting in. Susan’s mother was supposed to be number fourteen … but was home that day with a cold. I guess the ghost of bloody old Mrs. Crane wanted to finish her killing on at least one member of Susan’s family before she moved on to other worlds.”
            “But the armed Chinese who looked so treacherous … who were they?” I gasped.
            “They were there to protect Susan from Mrs. Crane!” Joanie explained.  “Susan’s grandfather, John Demotte, worked as a forman at the famous Blue Bonnet Mine the one owned by Elisabeth Walker. In 1896 there was a cave-in and two-dozen Chinese ex-railroad workers were trapped in the long tunnels almost a half-mile underground. Most of the people of South Fork stopped digging after three days but not Elisabeth or her forman. They worked day and night and pulled six Chinese out alive, a week later. A grateful Frank and Wanda Chang swore that they would honor the sacrifice Demotte and Elisabeth made and protect their descendants for a thousand years. I guess a promise made by a Chinese person is one kept … even after death.”
            Melania was getting tired and after the members of Cloverbone left I found myself back  on Townsend Avenue. There weren’t quite as many people … but there was still a crowd. I threw the special eclipse glasses in the first over-flowing  garbage can I came to. I don’t know what Joanie did with her pair. Some things in life … and in death … are better not known. I lingered outside Spare-A-Dime waiting for Susan’s shift to be over and laughed and wrestled with Digging Bear. I felt good … better than I had for years.
It was time for a new start …

THE END?

Note: Edith Crane makes her first appearance in “Creepers” written in 2012 and part of a collection of bite sized horror stories published as “Cloverdale: Tales of Terror” available to download from Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/CLOVERDALE-Tales-Terror-Randall-Peterson-ebook/dp/B00IC4URYK