Sunday, November 16, 2008

Lights the Storm by Liezl Buenaventura

Check out this wonderful portrait of Lights the Storm Peltier by Liezl Buenaventura. I have to say, one of the main things that makes working with an artist so much fun is seeing how another person reads what you write and interprets it with their own creativity. It really gives me a rush seeing how someone else sees my characters.

I love the pensive expression and the sleepy eyes. I think I'd have his coffee ready for him in the morning, too, regardless of whether he'd restocked the woodpile or not.

Thanks again, Liezl!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Chapter 11 by Martin Ross: In The Bag

Editor's Note: This is another guest post for the Chapter 11 contest written by Martin Ross.

Copperspots blamed himself for his current predicament.

It had been a cold morning, so he had decided to sun himself on a rather large rock. The stone had been much warmer than the sand and soothed his aching bones quite a bit. Unfortunately his midmorning slumber had also kept him from hearing the two legs until it was too late. Before he knew what was going on, Copperspots had found himself scooped up and thrown into a heavy burlap bag. This of course made him quite angry and he let the two legs know of his displeasure with much shaking of his rattle. However, despite his best efforts, the two legs ignored his threats.

"I'm getting old," Copperspots thought.

It was harder to catch mice than it used to be.

Harder to slither unseen in the rocks.

Harder to avoid the two legs when they went poking about in their clumsy bounce-stepping way.

Although, he could at least ease his mind with the thought that the two legs which had caught him this morning was much quieter than the ones that normally came clodding into his domain.

Yes. This two legs seemed to move with a more natural grace than the ones Copperspots had seen on previous occasions. Like this one was more at home with the great land.

The bag was dark and warm. Copperspots could tell the two legs was traveling by horse now, as the bag rocked at bit in a slow rhythm that two legs were incapable of. Copperspots could also smell the horse. A warm scent which reminded him of the summer he had spent hunting mice in a barn. Horses were not so bad, if one was careful to avoid their huge tramping feet. All in all, Copperspots had to admit, it wasn’t the most unpleasant place to be confined. In time, he found himself falling asleep.

He awoke with a thud.

The bag had been thrown loose onto the ground. Carefully, Copperspots slithered out of the burlap. Once out, he regretted leaving the bag instantly. He was now in some sort of shed. The foulest smelling place Copperspots had ever encountered. It pained him every time he flicked his tongue. This place was dark, with wood walls and the smallest hole of to let light in. Behind him he heard a surprising sound. It was a snake’s chuckle.

“Ssssoo! They got you too!”

Copperspots twisted around and saw old Redstrips, his longtime friend from the southern side. Beside Redstrips was several other snakes he knew: Longtail, Sundots, Quicktongue and the ever beautiful Roseback. She was an older snake like himself, who lived on the farthest side of the Great Rocks. They had met once when he was young and he had always regretted not choosing her as a mate. Since then, he had gone mateless all his life. From what he had heard, she had never chosen a mate either. Seeing Roseback gave Copperspots a bit of inspiration to pretend to be more confident than he actually felt.

“Yesssss, but it doesssssn’t ssssurprise me that he caught you firssst.” Copperspots chuckled back.

At this Roseback’s mouth curved into a shape that only a snake would recognize as a smile.

Copperspots could feel boldness rising in him. He wanted to show Roseback that he still had enough speed and courage to be a good mate for her. However, in this wretched smelling place, there wasn’t much opportunity to prove his mettle.

Just then the door swung open letting in a blinding blast of morning sun. All of the snakes moved back nervously as a large, oafish two-legs walked into the shed. He shut the door and proceeded to pull down his pants.

“Opportunity,” thought Copperspots “has presented itself.”

© 2010 Martin Ross

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Chapter 11: Crook By Jenna Reid

 On the blog, I left out Chapter 11. It was an accident, and wasn’t caught in time to fix it easily. So instead of compounding the problem by renumbering everything, I invited the readers to supply the missing chapter and the winner was chosen by popular vote. Reader/writer Jenna Reid won and I liked her entry so much I decided to consider it canon and included it here in the book as an actual chapter of the story, with her permission. It fits into the story better as Chapter 12, so we moved it.

Hellbender Hungerford had seen men beaten up before. Life on the stations of the Flinders Ranges, where he had spent the early part of his life, could be rough. Hundreds of miles had separated those homesteads from the civilization of Adelaide, so law and order was as thin on the ground as it ever was here in Green River. Storm’s condition wasn’t the worst he’d ever been witness to, but nevertheless he knew it was bad. Storm’s insistence on leaving immediately had lasted as far as the boardwalk, and he had slumped, trembling and ghost pale, on the bench outside the jail. Bender knew that even if he tied Storm on to his pinto mare and hitched her reins to Swagman he’d never manage to get Storm back to the station alone. Trying would only make Storm’s injuries worse, so they were stuck where they were, forced to be content with waiting for Lynch to arrive and hoping he had the sense to bring a wagon. At least the boardwalk was shaded. It could get hot here in this season, hot in a dusty way that reminded him of home.

For years the Flinders Ranges had enjoyed what was, for the very outer hem of the Australian Outback, a wealth of rainfall. The valleys were greened and comparably lush, and the sheep and cattle men had prospered. Plenty of work for a horse doctor, although he’d ended up tending sheep more often than not. Bender didn’t like sheep much, but sheep were the lifeblood of the region. Or so he’d once imagined. He had been wrong, of course. The lifeblood of the Ranges, of the whole continent, was water. Towns were blossoming like wildflowers around the largest stations…and then the drought had come. First the rain had ceased, and then the small creeks dried up, until even the largest rivers had vanished into dust, leaving nothing to show that they had ever existed save lines of skeletal gum trees pointing accusingly at the searing blue sky. All across the ranges homesteads stood lonely and abandoned, with neat rows of graves in the yard and a skeleton or two strewn somewhere, the remains of the last poor unfortunates to die with no one to see to their eternal rest but the dingoes and the wedge-tailed eagles. Many had waited too long for a miracle and paid for it with their lives when the horses that were their only hope for escape had succumbed to the punishing aridity.

Storm’s rasping voice jerked him out of his reverie. “You ever been beaten up, Bender?” he croaked. “A couple of times, yeah,” Bender replied, remembering. “What happened?” Storm was looking at him intently, probably trying to keep his mind off the pain. “Well, one time I was just in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with too much money in me pocket.” “And the other?” Bender smiled slightly. “The other…was about a girl.”

Storm’s split and swollen lips tugged sideways in a tiny smile. “Tell me about it,” he said. Bender grinned. “She was the prettiest little thing in the whole of South Australia, and I loved her with all me silly young heart. I wasn’t the only one with an eye on her, though. She was the daughter of the blacksmith, and he had an apprentice who wanted to be a son-in-law. He wanted to pound me into my boots, and he did. He was a great strapping bloke, and pounding out horseshoes all day builds bigger muscles than dosing sheep and trimming hooves.” He paused, and his eyes grew unfocused, looking back on that distant day. “I was a sorry sight, but I won, in the end. Me darling girl picked me.” He glanced again at Storm and was surprised to see a look of aching sorrow on his face. Bender had the strangest feeling that that expression had nothing to do with Storm’s battered ribs, but the next second the twisted, despairing look had faded, and Bender wasn’t sure he hadn’t imagined it.

In the silence that settled between them, Bender stood and stepped down into the dusty street beside Swagman. A thought had occurred to him, and he felt slightly ashamed for not thinking of it sooner. He pulled a flask of water from his saddlebag and brought it back up to Storm. Storm took a swig and spat, rinsing dust and blood out of his mouth. “Oh God,” he hissed, clutching at his left side, “I’ve felt better.” “Don’t you worry, mate, you’ll be apples once we get ya back to the station and Miss Lewis-Smythe’s tender care.” Storm groaned. “Fiona. She’s going to be furious. I hate upsetting her…” Storm’s voice trailed off, and Bender saw again that pained expression. He thought he understood it a little better this time, but he was distracted by the unhealthy flush rising in Storm’s pale face. Lynch had better get here soon. Damn Holt for a sheep-buggering fool. Storm had slumped back again, eyes closed and head resting against the rough wooden wall behind him. Bender looked away up the street, in the direction of the Green River Station, waiting.

“What happened to her?” The question was barely more than a whispering scrape of sound. “What’s that, mate?” Storm cleared his throat. “What happened to your girl? Where is she?” Though clearer, his voice was barely louder and he hadn’t opened his eyes. Bender had the sense that he was barely clinging to consciousness. “She died.” Storm’s brow creased faintly. “I’m sorry,” he breathed. “Nah, mate, it was a long time ago.” Years and half a world ago, and his heart was still as sore as the day he’d buried her under a still-green gum tree next to their small son. He had left the Ranges the next day, along with the few families who had remained, down to the coast and Adelaide. Bender had fled farther than most, across the wide Pacific, running from that pair of graves as much as the terrible drought. He was profoundly grateful when the jingling rattle of a team and wagon interrupted his thoughts. He gazed up the street again, squinting against the intense afternoon light, and relaxed when he recognized the slouched figure on the seat.

“Come on mate, up you get,” he said, carefully hoisting the injured man to his feet and supporting him, “Saint Peter’s here for you.”

© 2010  Jenna Reid

Friday, November 7, 2008

Chapter 10 'Bender, Part II

"Oh, aren't you taking the piss." Bender fumed. The pale-eyed lawman said nothing, watching him. "You don't actually expect me to believe that you don't remember that he's one of our riders? As many times as you've had him locked up in here? Open the bloody door so I can bloody see to him!"

Holt sat looking at Bender with a bored look on his face. Bender's eyes narrowed. "Do you really want to have to explain to the United States Army why their documents are late? That a bloody sheepshagging jackass out in some pissant wateringhole held up something they paid ten dollars an ounce to send? Open the damn door, Holt!"

At that point, Holt hesitated, then got reluctantly to his feet, reaching for his keys. "Watch your mouth, or you'll find yourself locked up in there with him. Look, should be thankful the men in this town have an eye out." He shuffled over, taking his time, and fitted the key in the lock to the cell holding Storm and rattled them in the lock. "They saw an Indian on a mail horse. Nobody wants to think you people are paying a damn Crow a hundred dollars a month, so they naturally assumed your regular rider had been attacked and robbed." The door swung open with a loud groan and Bender shoved past him as he prattled on. "You got two white boys on your whole crew...and one of them is a Mormon, even. What do you think people around here think about that?"

"Oh, let go of it." 'Bender snapped as he carefully pulled the injured rider forward and parted the crusted hair over the angry, fevered wound in Storm's scalp. Not dangerously deep, but I'm hoping that's where all this blood came from...probably need to stitch it. "Who did this, Peltier?"

"You remember Rob...and Levi Yarl?" Storm rasped, his breathing shallow and labored, making speaking difficult. "Ambushed outside of town."

Bender thought a moment. Those two idiots Lynch refused to hire. Dammit. "Yeah." He swept Storm's matted hair away from his face and tilted his head back to check his pupils. "I remember 'em. Look'it the state of you, mate. They worked you over pretty bloody hard, looks like. How'd you get here?

"No idea."

'Bender eased the injured rider back against the wall and ran brusque fingers hastily over his torso, defly checking for injuries. Storm groaned in pain, his breath catching hard in his throat. "Ribs." he gasped.

"That's what I buggering thought." 'Bender hissed, livid. Storm, as was typical of express riders, was not a big man. Couple of big brainless apes like the Yarls could really have done some serious damage. And they may well have. Damn and double damn! "Holt, you lock a man up in this kinda state, you can't be arsed to call the Doc? How long were you gonna wait before telling Lynch?"

"Doc ain't coming all the way down here for a damn Indian. And I sure as hell ain't paying him for one." Holt sat back down at his desk, tossing his keys in front of him in with a disgusted jangle. "And Blackie's already headed out to the station to tell Lynch to come get his horse and his mailbags. Take your 'breed and go. You might consider how people are going to react when you pass them over to hire injuns and such. You can tell that to Erastus Lynch. He asked for this."

"Those jackasses attacked a mail carrier. They bloody robbed and beat a man outside of town, and you're telling me Lynch asked for this?" 'Bender snapped, incredulous. "So, tell me, you planning on arresting them now?"

Holt laughed. "For capturing a Crow they thought was a horse thief? You're lucky they didn't kill him!"

'Bender stiffened with anger, but checked himself. I gotta get him home, if I get locked up with him we're both cocked. "Look, Storm. I got some supplies out on Swagman. I'm gonna bind your ribs so you can move and then we're leaving."

"We're leaving now." Storm muttered, throwing an arm over 'Bender's shoulders and forcing himself to his feet with an agonized hiss. "You can put me back together later."

© 2008 Regina Shelley

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Saint by Liezl Buenaventura

So here is a sketch of our favorite miscreant, Saint, by the very talented Liezl Buenaventura. I'm going to be adding some artwork from time to time, so keep your eyes peeled.

I really love what she's done with the character. The wonderful pencils, the sketchiness. Heck, even the paper she used could not be more perfect.

Clearly, she's caught our boy before he's had his morning coffee.

Thanks, Liezl. Looking forward to working with you some more soon.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Chapter 9: 'Bender

'Bender Hungerford was tired. Exhausted, really. He'd ridden east a hundred miles from Weber Station in the last couple weeks and had trimmed so buggering many horse's hooves he'd started dreaming about them in his sleep. At this point, Green River Station, with it's stone buildings, it's proper kitchen, and it's warm beds seemed to him as a Promised Land, as some fabled El Dorado. He couldn't bloody wait. He just wanted to eat something a woman had cooked, lay down on something that didn't have ants or lizards crawling all over it, and take a good long nap.

So when he saw the Indian pony with it's Russell, Majors, and Waddell brand tethered outside the Sheriff's office in Green River town, he did a double take. A sinking feeling started in the pit of his stomach. He stopped, rubbing his hand tiredly over his stubbly face.

"Ah, bugger me with a broomstick." He muttered to no one, focusing again on the distinctive mare. "This ain't good." He trotted Swagman up besides the spotted company horse, tethered him beside her, and headed for the door.

"Holt?" he pushed the door open, looking around as his eyes adjusted to the dim light inside. The room reeked of old coffee, sweat, and the acrid bite of pain and fear. The hair prickled on his arms."Blackie?"

Sheriff Holt, sitting at his desk, looked up. "Well. Hellbender Hungerford." He nodded, his light blue eyes burning into 'Bender's with a predatory smirk. "Back in Green River, eh? What can I do for you?"

Bender's eyes warily flitted around the room. "I just got in and I'm wondering why one of our horses is... what in the bloody blue hell is going on in here?" He covered the steps to the just-noticed cell behind the sitting lawman in two furious strides and grabbed the bars. "What happened? Open it!"

Lights the Storm Peltier lay across the bunk, slouched against the wall inside the locked cell. He stared at Bender with bloodshot and bruised eyes that swam in his ashen face. "Thank God, 'Bender." he rasped in relief, his voice weak. His hair was partially unbraided and stiff with dried blood, hanging over his face in filthy rattails. He looked like hell. Dried blood spattered the floor and stained the filthy army blanket on the bunk. This is not good...

"Someone caught this red with one of your mail horses." Sheriff Holt casually shrugged. "I assumed he was stealing it."

© 2008 Regina Shelley