Thursday, February 23, 2012

Chapter 144: The Sticking Place

Mrs. Plunkett might has well have been speaking in tongues and standing on her head as she stood in front of the classroom Thursday afternoon. Rosie was aware of two things and two things only.

The first was the doorway to the classroom and the fact that no matter how often she kept glancing at it, neither Luis Santana nor Tommy Page had darkened it up to this point. And the day was more than half done.

The second was she could not stop thinking about the conversation she’d had with her father the previous evening.

She had fully expected him to quite literally lose his mind when he found out she’s been keeping company with Lynch’s Boys. So his uncharacteristic chattiness about the subject was unnerving and bizarre. Since when does he ever bother to talk to me? Other than to find fault, anyways. She kept turning it over and over in her mind, trying to figure out what had just happened.

More troubling, however, was the fact that her new friends had not shown up today. She really didn’t expect to see Luis, but Tommy’s absence was unexpected. Did my father say anything to them? Did they find out he knows? Where’s Tommy today?

What was my father trying to find out? And why would he care?

She glanced worriedly at the door again, Mrs. Plunkett’s voice barely registering in her consciousness over her own internal chattering. So, Rosemary, her father had said, forced cheerfulness obvious in his tone. You mean there are only the four of them at the station? How is Lynch running his mail schedule like that? Where did they go off to?

Gooseflesh broke out over her skin as she remembered the limping stranger with the gravelly voice. Something wasn’t right.

He’s paying that creepy man to find out the same stuff he’s asking me... “I suppose it might be fun to question one of them. Want me to do that, Burgess?” the man had said. Her father had threatened to call the sheriff at that.

That was a threat. She shivered, a strong sense of foreboding creeping over her. What if he goes out to the station? I bet the crew doesn’t know anything about this.

Her blood went cold. What if that’s why Tommy and Luis haven’t shown up? Her mouth unconsciously dropped open. What if that man stopped them on their way over here? What if he...what if he made good on his threat to “question” them? Who would know if he ambushed them on the trail? It’s a good long way out to the station from town...they wouldn’t be missed for a while.

Rosie felt the constricting fist of panic beginning to tighten around her insides, the same way it had tightened inside her when she saw the frightening stranger out in front of her house. The idea of him doing....well, something dreadful... to her friends made her feel sick inside.  She knew it was entirely possible that Luis and Tommy  simply had not been able to come to school today. It was entirely possible that they either got bored with the whole affair, or had work to do, or any number of completely innocent things happened. Except that they both seemed pretty sure they’d be back today.

The remains of the day stretched out before her like a ribbon of molasses, eternally long and unwilling to break. Her very chair felt like a giant, clutching hand against her body, holding her back, holding her still, unwilling to acknowledge the catastrophe unfolding just down the road. Mrs. Plunkett droned on, her voice a dim buzzing, her face maddeningly, excruciatingly calm and oblivious.

How long would it take me to get out to the station?

The thought made her chest pound, her breath quicken. What if I get out there and nothing’s going on at all and they laugh at my worry? What if they think I’m being forward....or worse, a nuisance? Her ears began to burn. They would think, great, now we can’t get rid of this stupid little girl...

What if they were just playing with me? Laughing behind my back at how easily they can make me think they like me?

She thought of Luis’ sweet brown face, the wary trust in his dark eyes, and the embarrassment in his voice when he confessed his secret to her. He reads to me, SeƱorita. Comprendes? He’d been afraid she might laugh at him for his inability to read, afraid she might think less of him. He had cared what she thought of him.

Luis had not been playing with her.

She took a deep breath, gathering her courage. If I want to look through Father’s books before I head over there, I don’t have a lot of time before he gets home...

She raised her hand. “Mrs. Plunkett...” her heart was in her throat. Lying was not something she did often, or with ease. “I need to go on home, please. I’m suddenly feeling poorly.”

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Chapter 143: And Silence Sounds No Worse Than Cheers

“Saint!” Lily felt the strain of the scream in her throat, her breath an explosive shockwave across her vocal cords, but the sound of it in her own ears was soft, muffled. “Saint! Pete!” She whimpered in terror against his heaving chest as the two of them lay tangled amid the tumbled chaos of the collapsed tunnel. He’d dragged her with him as he dove past the cave-in, and they’d landed hard on the gravel-scattered floor still locked in a desperate embrace.

It was dark, darker than anything Lily had ever experienced and she wondered if she’d gone blind. Her ears ached, and the only sound she could hear was the far-away sobbing of her own voice. She felt Saint’s arms around her, one of his hands curled around her skull in a protective embrace as he lay partially on top of her, shielding her from the debris still crumbling from the roof.  His heart pounded wildly beneath her cheek, reminding her that they were both still alive.

She thought she heard his voice, far away and filtered through the incessant ringing in her ears, which felt like they were full of hard-packed wool and ten penny nails. His fingers were tangled in her hair, frantically searching her face. She felt him roll over onto his elbow above her, and she could feel him shaking, his ribs heaving against her body.  “Little Miss... you alright?”

He’s moving and talking...oh, thank God.

She straightened her uncomfortably askew spectacles, nodding, then realized that he couldn’t see her. “Yes!” She shouted at him in the strange, faraway yell that she barely recognized as her own voice. “Are you hurt?”

“No.” He sat up, pulling her clumsily with him, still holding her close. A thin gout of pebble-filled dirt poured from the ceiling and spattered across his shoulder, softly peppering her face. He jerked instinctively, shielding her and pulling her closer. She could feel his breath in her ear. “C’mon, Little Miss.” He got shakily to his feet, lifting her by her arms and keeping her close. “We can’t stay here, sweetheart. It ain’t safe.”

“Where’s Jon?” Her legs were trembling so badly she wasn’t sure she could walk. What if he got caught in all that? She leaned against Saint, steadying her feet on the uneven surface beneath them. She was terrified to let go of him in the darkness, afraid if she did they might lose each other. She wrapped her arm around his waist, her hand unconsciously twisting  into the fabric of his coat. “Saint, where’s Jon? We have to find him!”

“Little Miss...let’s hope he got himself out the other side before it all came down.”

“What if he didn’t?” She felt new panic rising in her chest. “What... what if he’s trapped...what if...” She stopped, her voice fading with the echoes that disappeared down the far end of the shaft. The last thing she wanted to hear was her own voice bouncing and crashing around the tunnel asking over and over if Jon was dead.

There was an excruciating pause in the inky blackness, a tightening of Saint’s arm around her. “If he’s trapped...Lily.... Saint’s voice was sober and careful. “There could be fifty feet of rubble behind us. If he’s under it...we can’t help him.”

Lily put a hand to her mouth, stifling a sob. The thought was too much. “Jon!” She shouted. “Are you there?” Her eardrums were recovering a bit, and she could hear her voice bouncing away in the dark silence that answered.  Images of the farrier lying injured or worse beneath the rockfall crowded her thoughts, driving the breath from her lungs. Although I don’t know if being crushed to death by rock is worse than being buried alive by it. How are we going to get out ourselves? Jon! Where are you?”

“Hungerford!” Saint shouted, his voice hoarse. “Call out if you can hear us! Hungerford!” He gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze and then slid his arm slid from around her. “Don’t go anywhere, Little Miss.” He mumbled, fumbling with something Lily couldn’t see. A trembling yellow light flared in the darkness. Lily caught a dim glimpse of Saint puffing on another quirly before the light died back down to a glowing red ember. “I lost the other one when the roof came down.” He muttered around the smoke, holding it in his teeth. “Look here. I want you to look around when I get a light going that we can see by. There might be some candles stuck to the walls.”

“Candles?" She cocked her head, puzzled. "In here?” She squinted at the red glow of the quirly, clearly visible in the surrounding blackness as the tiny flame died back down.

“You don’t think people work in this kinda dark, do you? It's a coal mine, there might be candles. Keep calling just in case he can hear us. If he ain’t dead, he probably thinks we are.”

Monday, February 6, 2012

Chapter 142 by Jenna Reid: Perchance

I am back in town finally, after having been gone since the twenty seventh of January. In all the confusion, and not realizing I'd be up there so long, I left my laptop behind and updating from the house I was staying in was a no go. Two keyboards up there, and the best of them omitted every other keystroke while typing. I literally updated the Ask Wash column by dictating into my phone using the Google Docs ap and then using the keyboard to correct all the errors.

Fun times. 

But anyways, the support you all have sent our way has been really awesome, and I thank you. It's been a sad, stressful time and  the kind words and thoughts you all have sent have really helped lighten the load. 

So I got back, got on here this morning, and found this beautiful story from Jenna Reid waiting for me. To help me out with the site this week. Well, my mouth just dropped open and I had to settle myself a bit before writing her back.

Because frankly, I wasn't sure I'd be able to clear my head enough to give you anything worthwhile this week. I was gonna do my level best, but I knew from the get go it was going to suck.

Well, this is far beyond worthwhile. I'm not even considering it a guest post. I'm considering it canon. So thanks to Jenna, we have an actual chapter this week. Jenna, thanks again for letting me lean on you a bit. You rock. 

Ask Wash! and the regular chapter postings will resume on schedule next week. 


Wash had settled himself in a chair tucked tight against the wall beside the window, all but invisible in the gloom. Moonshine flooded the station yard, casting weird, sharp shadows, turning the familiar landscape into something altogether foreign. The single square it painted in the room flowed off the edge of the table and onto the bunkhouse floor, angling away from the man sunk into darkness made all the blacker by contrast. From his position he could see the porch and the door, and he rested his carbine lightly across his knees as he kept watch.

With his friend on guard, Storm had been able to close his eyes and fall into an uneasy, fitful sleep.

“…got to call for the Doc, Holt, he’s burning up –” 

“I ain’t gettin’ the Doc outta his bed for some damn half-breed horse thief, an’ –“

“Horse thief?!  Goddamnit Holt, you know what he is!  Where’ll we be if he dies on us?”
“In a world with one less filthy red mongrel in it!”

Footsteps, hard-soled boots pounding across creaking boards, and then a door slamming…no…a gunshot…

…Storm cowered, bruised and trembling, on the hard-packed earth behind his Mother’s skirt, in the doorway of a small cabin.  In the yard his Father glared down the barrel of a musket at two strangers; men who radiated threat.  The right man’s hand twitched above his hip as the left one snarled and spat in the dust. 

         “You’ll get yours someday, Peltier, you and your mangy Crow whore and your snivelling halfbreed brat.  One day you won’t be here to stop us…” 

Storm didn’t understand; he didn’t understand, and his Mother stood on the threshold, impassive and unafraid, her skirts concealing the heavy pistol in her hand…

…his Mother’s hands caressed his face as she soothed his childish nightmares away with an old, old song.  Her low voice and the crackling of the fire swirled together with the smell of his Father’s pipe smoke into a sensation of warmth and safety…

…and in his bunk in Green River Storm settled deeper into sleep, his dreams flowing down a smoother course.

A fleeting impression of sparkling eyes and flame-red hair resolved into an endless field of stars overhead and a bonfire in front of him.  Surrounded by his Mother’s kin he lounged against a log, drifting pleasantly as the wind and an ancient man together spoke of days gone by…

“…but though the warrior thundered down upon her, his spear raised as though to strike, Red Shield did not flinch.  The man drew up his horse, his spear nearly to her breast, and still she had not so much as blinked.  The man laughed, impressed by her courage, as he kneed his horse past her pony to capture several of the Sioux horses before she or any of her companions could stop him.  As he and his war party sped away, whooping in victory, the man turned and waved to Red Shield.  Her fury at the Crow man softened into grudging admiration for his daring. 

When Red Shield and the rest returned to their village, many among her people spoke of her bravery and her beauty, and many of the young hunters desired her for a wife.  Despite her father’s urging she would have none of her suitors, and her father became impatient with her stubbornness.  He demanded that she tell him why she would not accept any of the fine Sioux warriors who had asked for her, and so she told him that the only man she desired was the laughing Crow. Her father shook his head and scolded her:  ‘You cannot have him, for he is only a nameless Crow thief!’  But there was one among the village who had been a captive of the Crow for many years, and she spoke: ‘He is not nameless; he is Running Wolf, and among the Crow he is accounted a great and clever warrior.’ 

Red Shield’s mind was firm; she would have this Running Wolf for her husband. Her father thought to prevent it, but saw that he could not, so he thought it better to aid her.  He gave her horses, and many gifts to take to the Crow, and sent with her the woman who had once been a captive.  Red Shield and the woman travelled for many days to the place where the Crow camped.  They secured their horses in a copse and Red Shield took great care to dress and paint herself as finely as she could.  Leaving the horses and the woman behind, she stole into the Crow camp and settled herself outside of Running Wolf’s tent.  When he came outside and saw her there, he recognized the woman who faced him down nightly in his dreams.  Even more greatly impressed by her bravery and daring in walking alone into an enemy camp, and impressed by her beauty as well, Running Wolf took Red Shield for his wife, and among the Sioux and the Crow there was peace…” 
…his reverie was broken by a small voice, and a small hand tugging at his.
“Papa, Papa, will you tell me a story, Papa? One about Coyote, please, Papa?”

He looked away from the bridle he was repairing to the small coppery child standing at his knee in the kitchen of a house he knew well.  The child’s glossy black curls tumbled wildly around a heart-shaped face, from out of which green, green eyes gazed up at him imploringly...

…Storm woke with a start and a gasp, disoriented by the blackness of the bunkhouse after the bright dream.

 “Lad?” Wash’s voice came quietly through the darkness, “what’s the trouble?” 

“Nothing.  Dreams.  Just dreams, Wash.”

Silence settled over them again but Storm lay wakeful, troubled by the fading fragments of dream, until the rising dawn spilled a rosy light through the window and his bunkmates began to stir.       

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Gonna miss you, Adrian.

Most people have horror stories about how awful their in-laws are. This is, apparently, prevailent thing. So much so, that when I say "I'm going to visit my inlaws",  I get pitying looks and offers of condolences.

Then I have to explain that it's not like that at all, and I'm happy to go visit them. My in-laws rock.

So when Adrian, my father in law, passed away last Wednesday night, it made a great big loud "boom" in my life, the echoes of which will probably never fade away completely.

At the memorial service, a lot was said about his very large, full life. He started businesses. He was in the Air Force. He had five kids (the next to the youngest of which I married). He loved horses. The list goes on for pages.

But I'm not gonna talk about that. I want to talk about what mattered to he always treated me like a daughter, how he loved to tell funny stories. How every visit with him was a special occasion, because he seemed to consider it as such. How he always took care of everyone. How he loved to remember humorous family events. How he never forgot any little thing anyone might be involved in and would always inquire how that was going. Even if it was something he didn't entirely get. And the little newspaper and magazine clippings we'd get in the mail when he found something he thought might be of interest.

He asked me often how this particular writing project of mine was going. Not entirely sure he really got what I was doing exactly, but he knew I was writing and throwing it out there, and always asked me how it was coming along.

Gonna miss his stories, and his laugh, and hearing my husband chatting with him on the phone in the evening. And I'm going to miss hearing him tell stories about "the old days" and his childhood.

Gonna miss him.

So, thanks Adrian. I have been so honored to be part of your family. I won't ever forget you, and I will make sure my daughter never does, either. I love you still.