Ransom

Discussion in 'ROLEPLAY GRAVEYARD' started by Jack Shade, Oct 15, 2012.

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  1. Chapter One
    Left my Regrets on the Railroad



    The dawn smelled of gunsmoke. Bleeding in the high sky, the sun wheeled on the ten horses riding out from Brindle. Not a soul stalked the streets come cock’s crow, but sheltered eyes gazed from slatted windows and darkened alleys as the legends passed them by. Mustang hooves beat a rhythm into the ground. Miles from Mariposa, the posse had settled on a lead the governor had provided.

    “Governor.” Tipping his hat to the short man, Jack Redwood sat back on his chair, arms crossed behind his back. They were studies in contrast. Governor Radcliffe was a heavyset man in a maroon buttoned shirt and pressed collar. The chain of a pocket watch glinted from his breast and his manicured hands folded across the top of the saloon table nervously. Rings winked from them, gifts and pleasures purchased from across his fair state. His pants showed no wear of the road and his shoes, clacking together beneath the table shone like a silver dollar. Nervous blue eyes searched the faces of the men and women gathered for a sign of mercy, softness. They found none, forced to rove endlessly without hope of perch. A moustache, neatly trimmed, framed cracked pale lips over which a tongue passed earnestly, seeking to return a vestige of moisture to their canyons and caverns. Jack wore the road on him, from the prairie dust on the hilts of his blades to the wagon sand perching on the shelf of his nose. His skin was tanned to leather by the sun and he leaned back lazily, hat tipped forward over his eyes. Hands calloused like armor lay flat on the saloon table, as steadfast as the governor’s were shaking.

    “Governor.”

    Jack repeated the invitation, as laconically as he had before. But those who knew the outlaw would have put their hands to metal by now. Jack was anything but relaxed. Not since before the Civil War had the boy won any sense of peace from his travels. He was white hot, always burning. He moved like a snake, and his voice showed his rattle.

    “Brindle,” the smaller man said, “A Chinese fellow, in prison now, told the sheriff a story of an unsavory ruffian he cavorted with in Brindle’s Opium Den. Seeking a reduced sentence, he named the fellow as Riley Burr, an associate of Johnny Williams.” The Hessian, a phantom from a wartorn past leaned over the table toward Radcliffe, the scar along his face leering. Radcliffe leaned away from this silent phantom and a lawman behind him toyed with the handle of his pistol. Hessian leaned away, shrugging. Jack nodded at Radcliffe, bade him continue. Clearing his throat, the governor went on “Burr has a reputation in those parts, real clout with a gang of cattlerustlers and killers called Brinson’s Men. Law won’t touch him and Burr uses that power to bully good folk. I suspect he may be your only compass to Johnny Williams.”

    “Can we trust the words of a chink?” McNelly muttered suspiciously, knocking back a shot. Dressed in bright green, he was the strangest amongst them…and that was with the mummified Stranger in attendance.

    “Chink or not,” The Hessian said with a chuckle, “Men speak most truthfully with their necks in the noose.”

    Jack smiled, slapping his right hand on the table and standing. Radcliffe jumped, but stayed seated, “Well then, Mr. Governor,” He said, “We best be riding out. Powerful thanks for your assistance…and we’ll be back for our bounty”

    They left him sweating in the Mariposa saloon.


    Jack winced as he pulled back on the reigns of his painted stallion. The bullet had only grazed him, dead-aimed by a bandit and only passed between the skin and bone of his arm before burying into a swinging door. Nasty wound, but that half-Injun preacher fixed it up better than he’d expected. He cast a glance back at him. Hal was death-faced, a grim settling of his drawn features. It was as though the laughter had been drawn out of him, yanked out by someone, leaving lines of their passage across his eyes and mouth. He didn’t seem to notice the outlaw looking back at him, his eyes ahead as if on some distant horizon, the back of someone far away. He’d lost four men yesterday, part of their company that never left Brindle’s dusty streets. But he’d proved his worth there, he hadn’t run. The dog had bark in him. And that was enough.


    “Move aside.” Jack looked down at the moon-eyed drifter without seeing him. Shortly after leaving the saloon, the old man had blocked their path, holding out his arms. He smelled of the road, and a sweeter scent. Smoke clung to his features and wrote delusion across his face. Jack could smell the drug on him. “I won’t tell you again.”

    “I’m coming with you,” the older fellow croaked, his eyes snapping on Jack with alarming intensity, “You’re riding out for Blackheart.”

    The Hessian spit to the side of his horse. “What’s it to you?”

    “I’m coming with you.”

    “Like hell you are.” The Hessian pulled out his flintlock, the signature weapon he carried, pulled back the hammer and aimed it at the poor fool. “Move aside, or I’ll move you.”

    They were alone in the streets. The good folk of Mariposa waited for these shadows of death to pass them by. Only this man stood to oppose them.

    “No,” he said again, and in the light of the sun, Jack could see the bleached collar of a preacher winking from his neck. “He stole from me.”

    Jack held up a hand and the Hessian glared at him, the rest of their company looked on in mild amusement. “We go to gun him down. We are not looking for a preacher to lay his soul to rest, nor any who ride with him.”

    “To hell with him!” Hal snarled, once again fixing Jack with that frighteningly intense glare, “There’s no rest for that kind of man.”

    “I am neither looking to have God strike me down for letting his Word die in our company. Move aside, or the Hessian will make good on his threat. He has no fear of the Lord, they say.”

    The Hessian grinned, yellowed teeth jagged in his grin.

    “No.” the old man said again, “I will not move.”

    Hessian smirked, holding out his gun, finger tightening around the trigger. “Nathan.” The old man said, his eyes did not waver.

    There was a deafening crack, silence.

    The Hessian wheeled on his horse, his face a mask of fury. Jack Redwood’s right arm was extended, his face set as grimly as before. The pistol and one of Jack’s knives hit the dust to the left of the company. The old man stood, unharmed, unmoved, staring.

    “Hell of a name to call God.”

    “It’s the name of my son, the one he took from me.”

    “You got a name, preacher?”

    “Brandt. People call me Half-cut Hal Brandt.”


    “Well Preacher Brandt,” Jack said, nodding, “Get yourself a horse. And do not speak ill of me to your God if you perish.”

    Pushing past the half-blood, Jack was cut off by the Hessian, snorting fury. “You save this wretch? Now he rides with us?”

    “We made our plays,” Jack said earnestly, “He didn’t flinch, not once. Man has grit, faith, hell, maybe love. Lots of what we’ll need.” He wheeled around the Hessian, “Besides, might save your soul. Save all ours for the trouble.” A laugh hissed up from his throat, “Not too terrible, Hessian, to walk with God. I could use another gun I don’t have to pay.”



    The Stranger crossed in front of Jack, the white creature thundering, and yet its rider was strangely noiseless. The fellow never spoke many words, but his guns were true. Jack had seen him once, down in Arizona, outside Tilook. He’d looked the same then, a bandaged phantom wielding a pistol like Zeus hurled lightning. He’d seen him die there, take a bullet to the throat and pitch over back his horse, but he walked into that saloon in Mariposa sure as rain, living as the rest. Maybe there were more folks like that, all dressing under the same name. But Stranger…no…THIS Stranger was the same man he’d seen back then.

    What manner of devils would parlay with an outlaw like him for immortality?

    “God-Damn, God-Damn, God DAMN!” Jack Redwood hurled himself through the saloon window, crashing into the card-table in a cloak of shattered glass. Bullets followed him, shrieking past and through several of the astonished folk. Jack rolled with the table, pulling it down with him to use as cover. Blood coursed from his right arm, where a bullet had slid through his skin and exited. Cursing, he pressed his hand against it, held down by the hail of bullets smashing holes in his makeshift barrier. Burr’s posse had pulled soon as they heard their boss shout. McNelly, Stranger, and Jose had gone down first, ambushed by a burly Mexican with a shotgun and a pale fellow with a patch over his right eye. They were smart shooters, sure, but even fate can deal a damning hand. Hal had vanished in the crossfire, now Jack was doing his best to ready a throw while he was penned down by four.

    He had no opportunity to rise.

    He heard the glass shatter, breaking under the feet of that burly Mexican, the cackle of the three men behind him. Damn. No knife could be thrown fast enough or well enough to take them all down. He was a dead man, sitting behind a damned saloon table, waiting to-

    Four gunshots.

    The sound of bodies hitting the ground.

    Jack peeked around the edge of the table, knife held by the blade. He was prepared to hurl it, but what he saw shocked his grip from the edge. The Stranger stood at the window of the Saloon, tattered bandages around the wound that had been blown in his torso. Skin, bone, muscle, and blood glimmered there, but there was something else. It looked like…brambles, twisted dead branches holding his body together under all that. As if conscious of eyes, The Stranger lowered a hand to his abdomen, hiding the wound. His pistol smoked in his hand.

    “Took you for a dead man!” Jack shouted to his companion, kicking away the debris and replacing the knife in its sheathe.

    “Not for long.” The Stranger said, his voice muffled by the bandages.


    A shrill whinny brought the outlaw wheeling to the crow-haired flurry of hair passing him in pursuit of the Stranger. A’Way. Injun called herself A’Way. Grimacing, Jack put a hand to his neck, the scabbed cut breaking against his calloused fingertips. There was spirit in her, perhaps too much. She rode with a simmering fury like his own, and like him, she spoke little of her involvement with the Blackheart. Her horse passed in front of his and she looked back at him, startlingly beautiful in the light of the sun. It caught the edges of her skin, the vibrancy of her skin, her hair. Jack looked away. Better to remember her as she really was. Dangerous, and…if they were lucky, the key to Blackheart’s demise.

    Jack smashed against the wall, his breath leaving him in a painful whoosh. The savage girl had turned on him, drew her gun, pointed, and fired. The bullet misfired, flinging the weapon from her hand. By now, Jack had drawn one of his hunting knives and vaulted over the saloon table, blade raised. The agile woman, slipped his attack, rolling between splintered seats and coming up with her own knife. They circled each other, no words, only murder between them.

    He charged first, swinging his blade at her face. She ducked down, crossed her arms and rose sharply, catching him underneath his grasp, lifting, and throwing him backward. Hissing, Jack swung the back of his hand around, grabbing footing before launching forward. The blow took the woman in her high cheekbones, knocking her over a table and out of sight. Jack gasped for his breath, drew another knife and gripped it by the blade.

    She rose from around the table and he let the blade fly. Her eyes widened as it hurtled at her face, and she spun her own blade up desperately, knocking it off kilter, only gashing her cheek. Grabbing the back of a chair, she raised it in time to stop the second knife, quivering from its seat as she hurled it at the outlaw. Jack hurtled out of the way, rolling across the ground with a clatter. She was moving again, leaping out the front of the saloon, leaving the double doors flapping. Drawing another knife, Jack was quick to follow her out, pulling it back to hurl at the first sight of her raven hair.

    An arrow thudded against the double doors, pinning his the sleeve of his knife hand to the weathered wood. He reached for another blade, but she had knocked another arrow, aiming it at his head. Jack let his other arm fall to his side. Blood collected at the corner of his mouth, painting his grimace crimson.

    “Gonna kill me?”

    “Thinking about it.” Her voice was quiet.

    “I will not beg to a dog of Williams.”


    “I’m no dog.”

    “Slipped the noose with your little rape story, but you will not find a believer in me.”

    “If I am Johnny’s,” she asked, pulling the string taut, “Then I gain everything by killing you, here, and now.” She lowered the weapon, put the arrow back in its quiver. “But I want him dead as much as you do. We are not enemies.”

    Jack spit blood, ripped the arrow out of the door and tossed it to her. They were the first in town at the governor’s summons, so only the cowering bartender had the wherewithal to stop them. A smarter man, he’d chosen discretion as the better part of valor.

    “You owe me a new shirt.” He snapped irritably.

    The edge of a smile pushed at her lips.


    Bringing up the rear, a girl tried her best to keep the pace. Her horse was laden with the tools of her craft, and a flea-bitten hound trailed like a grey dot in the distance, following the trail he was too slow to run with. His master reached up to steady her top hat from being blown away, her tar-colored hair splaying out in the wind like daggers. Of them, her garb was the strangest. She lacked the decorum of a modest woman, but did not dally too far into the garb of a whore. Instead she straddled the in-between, seductive without being shameless. In any case, it was hardly appropriate for her craft, or their journey. Jack let the complaints drift out of his head. She’d proven her worth already and one way or another, she’d chosen this trail. Her death was her own to risk.

    “Move, please,” Hal urged the young woman looking on in awestruck horror, “I need to reach the wounded.” The preacher pushed past her, his hands gently pushing her aside. Hal worked with the little he had, side by side with the town doctor as they moved from bloody body to the next. More dead than saved, fourteen by the end of the shootout. Burr and Burr’s men had only numbered seven, but their reckless bullets had brought down friend and honest folk alike. Jack paused by the body of the burly Mexican, reaching down to take the shotgun from his twitching fingers. The piece wasn’t like one he’d seen before, an extra barrel lay atop the normal two, creating a strange three shot weapon that, by all accounts, shouldn’t work.

    “The hell is this?”

    “It’s mine.”

    Jack turned sharply to the voice, but the speaker had not moved from when Hal had pushed her. She had a pale face, made paler by the sick guilt running rampant behind her doe-eyes. Slowly, nervously, she held out her hands for the weapon. Jack tossed it to her, and she scrabbled to catch it, collapsing, not under the weight of the gunmetal, but perhaps under the weight of the souls it had taken.

    “Strange piece,” Jack commented, watching her twitch, wiping the blood from the barrel with brief spasmodic lurches, “You say this fellow took it from you?”

    She shook her head. “Paid, with cash. I thought…I mean…I didn’t think…” Jack said nothing, watching her wrestle with the burden. “I mean, I made this. I made this gun.”

    Now that was surprising.

    “Made?” He asked, seeking dishonesty in her voice, “Where does a woman learn to make a weapon like that?”

    “My…father,” She said at last, looking up at the outlaw, “A traveling gunsmith named Tourney, Joseph Tourney.”

    “Tourney?” The Stranger stepped over the body of Jose to approach the girl. He’d been on the stairs of the general store, rebinding his wound and trying, in vain, to fix his pistol. “Joseph Tourney made my gun.”

    She looked up to him, momentarily shocked by the bandages coursing up and down his body. It was only a moment before she swallowed her apprehension, putting the shotgun aside. She held out both hands to the Stranger, “May I?”

    The Stranger surrendered his gun and she pored over its length. Her fingers moved like expert snakes, seeking holes and niches to slip within and explore. She moved with unerring grace and skill, standing up, absorbed in her examination, and retreating to the ‘Tourney Rifles and Repair’ shop. The Stranger followed and Jack, having his fill of the terrified stares he’d been getting from the townsfolk, went with them.

    Inside the shop, she took the gun apart, hammered out the imperfections, shined, and repaired it within a half hour’s time. When she handed it back to the Stranger, the ghoul swung it from his fingers, flipped it, sighted down the barrel and then slid it into the holster. “Not bad,” he said, nodding, “What do I owe you?”

    “Nothing.” That same sort of abysmal sorrow had crept into her voice again. “I just…I want to ask a favor.”

    “Name it.”

    “I overheard you in the saloon the other night, when you talked up that harmonica drifter. You’re going after an outlaw, right?”

    “Johnny ‘Blackheart’ Williams,” The Stranger confirmed, “What’s it to you?”


    “Was he a friend of Burr and his men?”

    “Rumor has it.”

    She took a deep breath. “I want to go with you.”

    “No.” Jack snapped, already seeing where it was heading.

    “Why not?”

    “We have enough trouble without watching a kid.”

    “I’m twenty years old, thank you for asking.”

    “I was not asking,” Jack growled, “I was telling. You are not coming with us.”

    She turned to the Stranger, pressing her hands together as if praying for God to step in and intervene. “My father was killed by bandits, Brinson’s men. They keep me here to service their guns and make new ones. I sold to wretched people, monsters. My tools are used to kill good folk, honest folk. My pa wouldn’t want that. Please. I’ll do what I can. I’ll repair your guns for free, I won’t even take too much of the Ransom. Please let me clean my Pa’s name. He gave it to me when he didn’t have to and I’ve only sullied it. Please give me a chance to do something right with my talent. Something right for once.”

    The Stranger looked over to Jack, his expression inscrutable.

    “Guns need tending to.”

    “No.”

    “You are not our leader.”

    “God-damn if I am not!” Jack snapped, “I will not have her riding out with us.”

    “Not your choice. Not many know how to fix this pistol when it falls to disrepair. Girl has spirit. What was that you said about Brandt? Grit? Seems to me you’re in no position to refuse her.”

    “Fine,” Jack snapped, turning and pushing out of the shop, “But her life is on your hands.”


    The echoes of the confrontation with The Stranger weighed on the outlaw heavily. If they could not find common grounds in their company, how could they hope to stand against the Sun-downs? A’Way was quiet about their abilities, only mentioning that it was true what the legends said. The Sundowns could see without the aid of light, and that made attacking them in the dark a poor choice of tactics. They were riding into a disadvantage with a motley crew of cutthroats, civilians, and drifters. Speaking of drifters. Jack had not necessarily wanted Lonnie in their company, but the boy had a ticket to the railroad and that could be the key to outmaneuvering Johnny. The drifter had been in Brindle with a company of railroad workers, out of a job and looking to fix up places for a bit of coin as they pushed West toward another station. Jack hadn’t thought much of him when their company had slid into the saloon to ask questions about where to find Burr. At the time, Lonny had been playing a sweet melody on his harmonica, tucked into a corner and oblivious to the pennies tossed at his feet for the service of his tune. Perhaps that was where Jack had erred. Lonny was sharper than he looked, or at least was more aware than he let on.

    Hessian and Jose had gotten up for a drink, pulling The Stranger with them to talk about some shootout south of Topeka, Kansas. Jack nursed his drink, trying not to make eye contact with the Injun girl across the table. She was perfectly oblivious to his magnetized eyes, sharpening her knife.

    “Howdy, folks,” Lonny said, slipping into a seat beside A’Way, “Mind ifin I ask ya a question?”

    “I do not want to hear Dixie, nor is there any particular tune I will pay to hear.” Jack answered without looking at him. A’Way said nothing.

    “Shucks, aint for lookin to play. Heard me a little story while I was sittin back there, your friends speak loud something awful.”

    Redwood snapped up, eyes dangerously narrowed. The man was older than him, but somehow younger. Optimism and hope clung to his features like motes of light, and a ruddy glow shone through his beard. He was smiling, weaponless, only carrying the harmonica he’d been playing before. “Mind your ears,” Jack warned, “They will find you a peck of trouble.”

    “Aint lookin for trouble,” Lonny assured, “But you folk are lookin for some sorta outlaw, right? And, if I heard right, governor’s offering a pardon?”

    “Get yourself in some trouble?” A’way asked coyly. The music had livened her spirits from whatever dark place she usually kept herself. Jack, however, refused to be charmed.

    “No m’am,” he said respectfully, “But I bet folk would pay good money for a pardon.”

    “If it was for sale.” Jack muttered.

    “Well, I’d put it up for sale, sure as the railroad takes me place to place, I would.”

    Jack opened his mouth to insult the fellow, and his stupidity, but A’way held up a hand. Jack shut his mouth with the clack of a snapping turtle’s beak, biting his fury in half.

    “Poorly dressed to travel the railways,” She said with a smile, “Stowing away in boxcars?”

    “No, m’am!” Lonny beamed, fishing a crumpled letter from his shirt, “Robert Parker says me and my friends aint for payin.”

    “May I see it?”

    “Sure m’am. Don’t know what it says myself, but the folk at the stations sure know their letters.”

    A’way glanced over the letter, her eyebrow rising the farther she read down. Finally, she handed the letter back to Lonny. “Sealed and stamped, this is quite the prize.”

    “Thank you, m’am,” Lonny beamed, “I worked hard for that.”

    “Most men work to death without so much as a glance from a fellow like Robert Parker,” Jack said, looking to A’way and back to Lonny, scrutinizing him, “What else can you do?”

    Lonny blinked, scratching at the beard on his chin. “Weeell, I kin fix things up pretty good, know how to live off the land from my Pa in Oklahoma. I kin play my harmonicas real well, don’t need to hear a song more’n once or twice to get the tune. Not much for shootin, lost my gun a few years back in Colorado, but folk on the rail say I punch like a bear and work like a horse.”

    “Perfect,” A’Way said before Jack could interrupt, “Any reservations about killing?”

    “Well…” he was quiet a moment, “Way I see it, folk who hurt other folk aint for underestimatin. I aint killin no folk for the fun of it, but I’ll fight for my skin if it comes to it.”

    Jack put his head down on the table, already accepting the resignation that the boy would be coming with them.

    “Here, take this.”

    Lonny jumped back, looking up into the eyes of the Stranger. The bandages phantom was holding a pistol out to him. “Took this off a fellow who tried to kill me before I road into Mariposa. I was going to sell it, but you look like you could use it more.”

    “Thank ya kindly, sir” Lonny said with a face-splitting grin, “I’m mighty thankful for your generosity.”

    Jack tried to repress the urge to punch the musician, and felt he might have to for the rest of the journey. His attitude was bright, a sunny contrast to the gloom Redwood kept himself in most of the time.

    An annoying ray of sunshine, knocking on the lids of his eyes.


    The last new face in their company kept pace with the Hessian, a wild grin worn across his face like a bandanna. Of them all, he seemed to enjoy the reckless galloping the most. There was a certain freedom in it, an unbiased exhilaration. It showed on his ruddy face, wild hair kept at bay only by the capricious wind playing merry from lock to lock. Tarr had been instrumental in finding Burr while they’d been in Brindle, utilizing his strange mastery over locks to get them where they needed to go. Personal opinion among the other riders was that Tarr had killed the original recipient of the letter. Personally, Jack Redwood could care less. The man had proven himself on more than one occasion, ugly or not, and if the fellow who got the letter wasn’t cutthroat enough to keep it, they’d all be worse for his presence anyways.

    “Stop this! Stop this at once!”

    Tarr looked up from the body of Burr, his face streaked with blood and let the fellow drop. They had the name of where Johnny had been heading, now they only needed to reach him. Burr’s ruined face lolled from a broken neck, all of it thumping against the ground when Tarr let him go. The aftermath of the shootout had poured into the streets. Lots of good folk dead, a few outlaws with bounties on their head, and the sheriff, dressed up pretty, had paraded in to the street with a posse of three men, guns out, magnanimous. “You are all under arrest for murder. Surrender your weapons and we won’t give you any trouble.”

    “Murder?” Tarr laughed and it sounded like something dying, “Don’t know what you’re talkin about, sheriff. We were only exterminating.” He kicked the body beneath him, “See? Big ole possum, but I made sure he wasn’t playing dead this time.” A bloodstained smile spread across his face and the sheriff held out his gun toward him, his three deputies as well. Tarr looked like a devil, covered in the life of a dead man, grinning like a maniac.

    They might have shot him.

    But there was a click of gunmetal. Whirling, the Sheriff confronted The Hessian, stepping out from the general store, his flintlock pistol drawn and aimed. The Stranger stepped from around the side of the building, his gun, although damaged, glinted dangerously. Hal did not bother to stop treating the wounded, only looking at the sheriff for a moment, shaking his head, and returning to his work. Jack Redwood held a knife by the blade, poised from the ruins of the Saloon window. A sharp whistle alerted the deputies and sheriff that A’way was on the roof of a thatched home, an arrow drawn and lazily poised to pierce the sheriff’s heart.

    Lonny stood away from it all, staring down at his gun and Felicia peered from the open doors of her shop, pushing strange tools and stranger looking guns into a fourth pack.

    “I do not think I will let you arrest us today, sheriff,” Jack called out to him, “Best put away those pea-shooters and help the injured, I hear those guns can be dangerous.”

    Eying the superior odds, the Sheriff holstered his pistol, followed by his deputies.

    “I want you out of my town.” He said hotly.

    “Just give us the night,” Jack asked politely, sheathing his knife and pulling another out of a bandit’s throat in one motion, “We’ll be gone in the morning.”

    Johnny nodded at his companions, gleeful to remain free. No jail would hold him, not ever again.


    As one they moved across the dusty California terrain. The sun traveled its traditional path across the sky, diving towards the horizon as the stars came hot on its heels…the sparrows to its hawk-like singularity. They camped beneath the stars, a half-day’s journey from the railroad town of St. Clare’s. Burr had spoken, in his last breaths, of a train robbery in a few days. The Sundowns would ride in to take…something, he didn’t know what. A fellow working for the railroad knew the package, had already been paid off.

    The man they were looking for was named Langolier, or was called so by Blackheart.

    Those who took the railway knew the name Langolier. It was a whisper passed from passenger to passenger, conductor to conductor from New England to California. The Langolier was a monster, a flesh eating beast that spirited away good honest folk on long journeys through the evening light. It only left their clothes, lying where the victim had sat, as proof of its passage and monstrous hunger. No victim was ever recovered. Some said it preyed on the truly innocent. Men of God or children. Others still said it sought transgressors of the railroad, those who snuck aboard or harmed the passengers themselves. The only sure truth was that men and women disappeared through the United States setting out for somewhere.

    And it was likely their destination wasn’t at all what they had in mind. The Langolier was the undisputed secret king of the railcars.

    And now it worked for Johnny.

    Lonny helped Jack make the fire while The Stranger, A’way, and Tarr sought food. Gunsmith took her craft out by the firelight and went to inspecting the weapons. Tomorrow they would be on St. Claire and board a train. Tomorrow they would test their fate.

    As the fire burned and twisted, Jack tore a piece from his gamey venison, chewed twice, and swallowed.

    “Anyone but Lonny ever traveled the tracks before?” He asked.
     
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  2. Jack smashed against the wall, his breath leaving him in a painful whoosh. The savage girl had turned on him, drew her gun, pointed, and fired. The bullet misfired, flinging the weapon from her hand. By now, Jack had drawn one of his hunting knives and vaulted over the saloon table, blade raised. The agile woman, slipped his attack, rolling between splintered seats and coming up with her own knife. They circled each other, no words, only murder between them.

    He charged first, swinging his blade at her face. She ducked down, crossed her arms and rose sharply, catching him underneath his grasp, lifting, and throwing him backward. Hissing, Jack swung the back of his hand around, grabbing footing before launching forward. The blow took the woman in her high cheekbones, knocking her over a table and out of sight. Jack gasped for his breath, drew another knife and gripped it by the blade.

    She rose from around the table and he let the blade fly. Her eyes widened as it hurtled at her face, and she spun her own blade up desperately, knocking it off kilter, only gashing her cheek. Grabbing the back of a chair, she raised it in time to stop the second knife, quivering from its seat as she hurled it at the outlaw. Jack hurtled out of the way, rolling across the ground with a clatter. She was moving again, leaping out the front of the saloon, leaving the double doors flapping. Drawing another knife, Jack was quick to follow her out, pulling it back to hurl at the first sight of her raven hair.

    An arrow thudded against the double doors, pinning his the sleeve of his knife hand to the weathered wood. He reached for another blade, but she had knocked another arrow, aiming it at his head. Jack let his other arm fall to his side. Blood collected at the corner of his mouth, painting his grimace crimson.

    “Gonna kill me?”

    “Thinking about it.” Her voice was quiet.

    “I will not beg to a dog of Williams.”


    “I’m no dog.”

    “Slipped the noose with your little rape story, but you will not find a believer in me.”

    “If I am Johnny’s,” she asked, pulling the string taut, “Then I gain everything by killing you, here, and now.” She lowered the weapon, put the arrow back in its quiver. “But I want him dead as much as you do. We are not enemies.”

    Jack spit blood, ripped the arrow out of the door and tossed it to her. They were the first in town at the governor’s summons, so only the cowering bartender had the wherewithal to stop them. A smarter man, he’d chosen discretion as the better part of valor.

    “You owe me a new shirt.” He snapped irritably.

    The edge of a smile pushed at her lips.



    The moon was out but she didn't need it to hunt. A'Way Tuk'e'm was not only a practiced hunter but the night hid nothing from her. Crouching behind a bush, her deep brown skin and black hair camouflaged her. She blended in with nature, becoming the rocks and the trees, the breeze and the sky. Her people - the white man called them Indians - learned the ways of the hunt not just through trial and error, but by observing the animals around them. It was how the woman found her name sake, she couched like a mountain lion and did well in the cover of night.

    Her bow creaked, the twaang of her bowstring sang in the air, and the thud of her arrow hitting its prey was satisfying. The huntress didn't know if the others were with her, although she couldn't have cared less. They all knew she preferred to hunt alone. "You scare the game away," she told them when confronted. "I'd have a deer in the time it took you to catch a rabbit."

    Speaking of rabbit... She moved out of the bush, towards her shot. Dots of blood littered the dirt. Removing the arrow with a grunt, A'way returned to the camp holding her dinner by the ears. It was a plump thing, able to feed two mouths. She sat easily on a nearby log and began to skin it with an arrowhead. She didn't have a knife on her, but her pride prevented her from asking one of her comrades. She spoke as the fire light cast eerie shadows on her beautiful face.

    "The Chumash don't care for the railroads. It's too noisy. I've avoided it until recently."
     
  3. <img src=http://i94.photobucket.com/albums/l81/Asmodeus1845/Stories/chri.jpg width="150" height="225" align="right">It was a cruel test, Pop. A downright mean thing.

    That it was, Nate. Now time for bed.

    Would you do it, Pop? If the Lord spoke to you, and told you to kill me like Isaac. Wouldj'a do it?

    The Good Lord wouldn't ask such a thing o' me, Nate. You see, I already killed a part o' myself - long time ago.

    Why's a man gotta kill anything?

    Because Nate... only the bleeding can stop the blood.



    Hal looked up from his Bible, one finger on the page of Genesis 22. "Uh-uh," was his only answer before he returned to reading. He only glanced briefly as A'Way answered. The Chumash had got herself some meat.

    Between the devil and the deep blue sea. The Hessian, a German like his missionary father; the Chumash, an Indian like his mother. Two ghosts to see him through his trials. The Lord was not without his sense of humour.

    Perched on a log, hunched over, Bible held before his face, few would fathom how tightly wound the preacher's body was - how every part of his composure was invested in keeping himself still. Urgency boiled like poison beneath Hal's skin. This was the eighth night since Black Heart struck - since Hal's joy was taken from him. And with every second the Sword of Damocles wavered. He would ride through night and day, run his horse into the ground, eat his own tongue and fingers to keep his belly full, and break evey bone in his body to reclaim what was taken from him, were it not for the slithering truth that he needed these people. He could not take down Johnny's gang without them.

    It was all part of the Lord's test. He was Abraham and Sisyphus, hauling wood up the mountainside.

    Ready to sacrifice another piece.

     
  4. The great questions of the day will not be settled by means of speeches and majority decisions but by iron and blood.
    –Otto Von Bismark

    “Stop this! Stop this at once!”

    Tarr looked up from the body of Burr, his face streaked with blood and let the fellow drop. They had the name of where Johnny had been heading, now they only needed to reach him. Burr’s ruined face lolled from a broken neck, all of it thumping against the ground when Tarr let him go. The aftermath of the shootout had poured into the streets. Lots of good folk dead, a few outlaws with bounties on their head, and the sheriff, dressed up pretty, had paraded in to the street with a posse of three men, guns out, magnanimous. “You are all under arrest for murder. Surrender your weapons and we won’t give you any trouble.”

    “Murder?” Tarr laughed and it sounded like something dying, “Don’t know what you’re talkin about, sheriff. We were only exterminating.” He kicked the body beneath him, “See? Big ole possum, but I made sure he wasn’t playing dead this time.” A bloodstained smile spread across his face and the sheriff held out his gun toward him, his three deputies as well. Tarr looked like a devil, covered in the life of a dead man, grinning like a maniac.

    They might have shot him.

    But there was a click of gunmetal. Whirling, the Sheriff confronted The Hessian, stepping out from the general store, his flintlock pistol drawn and aimed. The Stranger stepped from around the side of the building, his gun, although damaged, glinted dangerously. Hal did not bother to stop treating the wounded, only looking at the sheriff for a moment, shaking his head, and returning to his work. Jack Redwood held a knife by the blade, poised from the ruins of the Saloon window. A sharp whistle alerted the deputies and sheriff that A’way was on the roof of a thatched home, an arrow drawn and lazily poised to pierce the sheriff’s heart.

    Lonny stood away from it all, staring down at his gun and Felicia peered from the open doors of her shop, pushing strange tools and stranger looking guns into a fourth pack.

    “I do not think I will let you arrest us today, sheriff,” Jack called out to him, “Best put away those pea-shooters and help the injured, I hear those guns can be dangerous.”

    Eying the superior odds, the Sheriff holstered his pistol, followed by his deputies.

    “I want you out of my town.” He said hotly.

    “Just give us the night,” Jack asked politely, sheathing his knife and pulling another out of a bandit’s throat in one motion, “We’ll be gone in the morning.”

    Johnny nodded at his companions, gleeful to remain free. No jail would hold him, not ever again.


    Tarr watched the embers of the fire crackle as old memories danced along the corners of his mind. There was a grim humor to be found in the last few days. Jack’s merry band of maniacs seemed to draw more than just stares lately as they shuffled across California sands. Hushed whispers and sweaty brows sat on the features of even the most hardened men the outlaws crossed. They’d hurry us out of towns, hoping we’d leave before we caused too much trouble. Grown men hid behind badges and the best they could hope for was to shove us off as someone else’s problem. The irony of it all was after years of dodging fate, breaking laws and appeasing damnation we’d found ourselves in the pockets of the United States Government. It’s nice to know the system works.

    Lost in his own thoughts, the Irishman snapped from his daze upon hearing the order to hunt. He rose to his feet to follow the native huntress but took pause as her voice split the air. “You’ll scare the game away,” the injun lass muttered stepping into the darkness, “I’ll have a deer by the time it takes you to catch a rabbit.”

    Tarr wasn’t about to protest. Let the girl scramble through the bushes after meat if she so desired. He wasn’t about to have a chest beating contest about who could out hunt who. Energy better wasted putting Williams and his dogs in the ground as far as he was concerned. All the same, it wouldn’t hurt to lay some snares around camp before the night was out. If nothing else, they’d be good for a bite the next morning.
    It wasn’t long before Jack’s voice chimed above the crackling of coals. “Anyone but Lonny ever traveled the tracks before?” The question came with another breath of nostalgia all its own.

    “You think I strutted all the way out ‘ere from the east coast?” The scarred Irishman rasped nestling himself down into a sandbank and rolling up a cigarette. “I’ve been known to bum a railcar a time ‘er two. Ain’t classy, but it’s free if you know the ins and outs. You gotta watch some of the fookers though. The more regular types get pretty raw if you tag along their dives without some kinda payment.”

    Jonny finished rolling his cigarette and leaned his face down near the base of the fire pit, taking in a long puff of smoke into his lungs. A jagged chuckle rang from his throat that sounded more akin to a dying cat. “Least that’s what I hear,” he laughed leaning back into his sand dune, “Buggers left me alone on account of my being so handsome…”
     
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  5. “Ain’t that the truth?” Lonnie said with a surprised smile. “Most times It’s the dirty dogs we don’t care ta bother, on account a pity. A man goin nowhere fast ain’t no threat, but a man what looks like he can pay ta ride, well that’s a man we expect to. You’re a lucky man Tarr, ifin nobody ever wallopt you for being a boxcar boy. Though I wouldn’t figure a man like you play up his…..” Lonnie hesitated, combing his hair with his fingers as if the word he was search for was trapped somewhere in his tangles. “Well, as ugly as you is.”

    Lonnie’s words came out innocent enough, but the rumbling in his stomach drew most of the heart outta his voice. He looked with less than quiet anticipation to the lady, name of A`way, wantin to help skin her bunny’s britches just to see it on the fire that much sooner.

    “Anyway, takin a proper ride on the rails is a wholat different from hoppin a car, fer one its smells allot nicer, fer two, people expect a lot more. Ya gotta make courteous like. Make yourself sound nice and proper, try not to look many folk in the eyes, and try to keep your guns outta the way.”

    Lonnie dug his boots into the cool sands, letting it pour in through the rips and cracks of the old tanned leather. He enjoyed the momentary comfort it afforded before he piped up again.

    “Me might come to find ourselves…too well desired by folks. Ifn they’re fer seeing Hal with his face in that there bible and figure The stranger as a man seen a miracle. Heck, might even call Tarr the devil ifn they get a good look at em. I figure A`way to be spit on, in those clothes, and Jack, well, ain’t you just the spittin image of a man up to no good. We might not wanna git our hopes up just yet. ”
     
  6. Jack took another bite of meat, chewing thoughtfully, “I expect we will need to purchase different garb,” he said at last, “No telling how many are working for Williams out there in St. Clare. It will not do to have ourselves spotted before we can interrupt their heist.” Johnny grinned, sitting back and the rest were quiet. The gunsmith continued tinkering with her wars, nary a peep to raise.

    “Tomorrow we ride into town. The train leaves the day after and it is a train we must be on.” He nodded at Lonny, “Railman has a letter says we ride without charge. But I do not intend for us all to take advantage of such an offer.” Out came a blade, glittering in the firelight. Taking out a whetstone, he began to grind the edge, speaking just over the noise. “Stranger and Johnny will ride the boxcars on account of their pleasurable appearance. Owing to his station, Preacher will ride with me and Tourney up in the fancy cars. We will need to acquire better garb, I expect. Hessian, A’Way, and Lonny, you will ride normal passenger class.”

    “My dog?” Finally, a word from the little songbird. Jack looked across the fire where she toiled, pausing every so often to run a hand over the mastiff’s head fondly.


    “With Stranger and Johnny in the back,” Jack said, “I do not expect dogs to be allowed with the ordinary customers.”


    Lonny shrugged and nodded, as if the knowledge were the most natural and obvious in the world.

    The words brought a twisted grin at the ends of Tarr's jawline. "How convenient," he replied with a raspy chuckle, "The good lass was kind enough to provide lunch for the trip."

    Tourney looked up sharply, worry, panic, and unexpected viciousness in her face.

    “Splitting us up across the train,” The Hessian interrupted, polishing his flintlock, “Means you don’t expect us to know the location of whatever Johnny’s after.”

    “Burr was a fortunate mistake,” Jack said quietly, “Heard too much and someone and did not die for the trouble of it. Johnny will not make that mistake again. We may have names to shake down, but we only have a day to do it and no way to know if our information is correct. Johnny usually leaves folk with the impression it may be better to die silent than screaming.”

    “Will Johnny be there?” The Stranger asked, staring into the fire,

    “No,” A’Way answered shortly, “He has business elsewhere.”

    “Where we should be.” Hal said quietly, eyes on his book.

    “Fair call, preacher,” said the Hessian, grinning wickedly, “Going to ask your God to point us the way?”

    “Enough.” Jack sat back and replaced his knife into the holster. “We do not ride into town together. Pick a partner or two. We ride staggered. Lonny, I want you to question the railmen. You know them, you know their ways. See if you can cozen up and see if anything worth stealing is being carried, take a gunhand with you, I do not care who.” Digging into his pockets, he pulled out a roll of dollars and tossed them out onto the ground in front of the fire. “It will not last, but those in passenger or above class, pick yourselves up new clothes while in town. I have no powerful inclination to be refused passage because we dress like drifters.”

    “What do I do?” Jack glanced at Johnny and shrugged,

    “Find a place to ride for the day after tomorrow. Try not to scare too many women and childfolk, St. Clare has a reputation for the law. They say the sheriff can smell sin on a man and that his gun judges the guilty. Do not give us cause to test his legend.”

    “Talking like you run the show,” The Stranger said, “What if one of our own has another plan? We have a say, don’t we?” His tone was not accusing, or aggressive, but there was a weight there. It seemed to say that Stranger had no trouble with the plan, but would have no trouble acting out should he see fit to.

    “Markus Malley, and the Langolier,” Jack said looking over at Johnny, “Those were the two names we beat from Burr before he passed.”

    “Tough possum.” Johnny chuckled.

    Lonny looked uncomfortable, but Jack continued, unabated, “I do not know Markus Malley, nor do I know his throw with Johnny. Burr said he handled negotiations with the Langolier, more a tall tale than any real threat.”

    Lonny opened his mouth, but Jack held out a hand, “Way I see it, if you hear tell of Markus, take whoever of us are available, go, and see if we cannot persuade him to cooperate. No damn bloodbath like in Brindle. Law will not be outgunned this time.”

    A’Way nodded, the Hessian just laughed. Hal did not look up from his book.

    “Railman,” Jack continued, “What do you know about the Langolier?”
     
  7. The reputation of St Clare was not lost on the Irishman. Really how tall the tales got of the dramatic dispatching of outlaws depended on how deep in the bottle you were that night. To some you’d get just brief mentions of competent gunmen with staunch moral compasses. Other folk might run your ears with stories about paladins of old catching bullets with their bloody teeth. As amusing as the later would be to see it was safe to assume the lawmen were sharp enough that drawing attention would be more hassle than it was worth. Tarr ran a hand over the bald skin of his head and traced the words charred into his scalp with a dusty fingernail.

    There were a few options that would be workable considering the situation. Regardless of anything jack was right in that both he and the stranger weren’t exactly subtle in their appearance. If folks started talking about Bramble Bob and his patchwork partner shopping around the town square, word might find its way to the wrong ears on that train. Loose lips and all that.
    No matter how you sliced it, subtlety was the kicker here. The most obvious option would be to stow away in the cargo for the duration of the trip and hope for the best in the meantime. The Dog could be packed and get through inspection without much worry, but human cargo wouldn’t be as easily overlooked. A large storage box or something of the like would have to do. Hell if the pair wanted to take the dramatic path, they could check to see if St. Clare employed a coffin maker on the cheap. With all the talk about how hot the sheriff was, the idea no one had yet made a profit from the dead was unlikely. Johnny stored the thought in the back of his mind for later. In the meantime there was a more pressing matter on Six-finger’s mind.

    “Here’s a question for you fearless leader.” The Irishman inquired with a touch of sarcasm to his tone, “Let’s say you run into a scrap on this clunker. If we’re stuck in the bag car, the hell are we gonna know when to come assist?”

    Johnny finished the end of his cigarette with a breath of smoke and flicked the last of the tobacco into the blaze. “You have some trick in that hat of yours, or are we just waiting to hear bullets?”
     
  8. “My dog?” Finally, a word from the little songbird. Jack looked across the fire where she toiled, pausing every so often to run a hand over the mastiff’s head fondly.


    “With Stranger and Johnny in the back,” Jack said, “I do not expect dogs to be allowed with the ordinary customers.”
    Lonny shrugged and nodded, as if the knowledge were the most natural and obvious in the world.


    The words brought a twisted grin at the ends of Tarr's jawline. "How convenient," he replied with a raspy chuckle, "The good lass was kind enough to provide lunch for the trip."
    ___
    Tourney looked up sharply, worry, panic, and unexpected viciousness in her face. The short boney shoulders of the young woman across the fire suddenly pushed forward. Large, worried eyes shot like lightning over Tarr's visage, taking in everything about the Irishmen sitting across from her. The petite girl smiled nervously, showcasing teeth that remained white despite the lack of dentistry. Felicia turned her bean-pole body, suddenly standing up and charging over to her horse, where she searched frantically through the side bag for something she had suddenly remembered.


    Her sudden movements had attracted the eyes of the group, though most of them turned their glances elsewhere again after a moment, continueing their conversation. She listened to everything that was being said, but as a gunsmith- the action was not as much her business as it was to keep the group outfitted with the appropriate weaponry. As she bent over to retrieve something from the bottom of the deepest leather bag, Felicia twisted her head to catch the Hessian staring at her, his cold eyes running up and down the backs of her bare legs.


    It was obvious that she had made her own clothing- not bothering to go to the town tailor or outfitter for help. Felicia dressed herself in a strange mix of clothing. She bordered the garments of a street walker- donning a loosely fitting, brass embroidered leather skirt that had a taffeta in-lay, barely reaching her knees. A tightly bound leather corset held her posture straight, small brass fixtures decorating the front and accenting a wide leather belt that hung around her waist. Hanging off the belt were many leather pouches and cases, varying in size and purpose. She was even independent enough to craft her own jewelry; a melted, mashing of metal hung around her neck by a long thin chain, falling gently into her milky white cleavage.


    Felicia's face lit up with embarressment as she hopped off the short step stool that helped her reach into the packs carried by her stead, Her brown leather boots hit the dust with an audible ‘clunk’ as she landed, her giant mastiff, MacGuiver, lifted his drooling maw and yawned from his place in the cool sands. The brindle colored dog would have gone completely unnoticed, if not for his loud, rumbling snores that only seemed to grow in intensity as he fell back asleep.


    Tourney was more or less a child protégé, though the only person who could have spread the word of her excellent skill was dead or of bad nature. Joseph Tourney, her adopted father, taught her everything she knew. Felicia was orphaned around the age of nine, found by the traveling gunsmith, who stumbled upon the girl passed out face down on the dusty road into Moonshine. Over time, the elderly gunsmith grew to care for the curious girl, trying to keep her safe from the dangerous dealings he did with bandits and other folk who would easily prey on her fragile body and soul. He raised Felicia as his own, teaching her as much of his trade as he could.


    It was taboo for a girl to know so much about gun craft, but Joseph poured his knowledge into the young lady, letting Felicia absorb as much as she could. Surprisingly she learned it all and even itched to experiment with crafting ways that her father had never even dreamed of.


    “A’new gun would feel good in’yur hands” She took a couple quick steps up to Johnny, her thin body dropping down dramatically next to him, her knees dug into the sand with her legs spread to her sides. Her cropped black hair framed her face in scraggly ribbons, an adorably uneven set of bangs being forced over her thin eyebrows by her thick leather top hat.


    “Tha’ piece alone is gonna get’cha killed, sir…” Her light blue eyes washed over the gun she held out with an expert sense. Wave after wave of observation taking in the guns body. “Best’s to carry a back up...”
    she pointed a similar revolver at him. This would have been a semi-threatening act; if the cartridge wasn’t popped open and her fingers weren’t running over the barrel in a strangely sensual carress.


    “That new gun won't take no adjustin' to, It’l form fit t’your hand quicker than the breast of a harlot!” Felicia smiled, placing the gun in his lap and rocking nervously back and forth. “Just.... Please don' eat MacGuiver. He's a good sir, and he don' mean to slow us down. He'll prove his worth, I promise ya'!" Felicia's eyes darted to the faces of Jack and the Stranger, hopping one of them would say something. Her eyes lingered on the stranger, pleadingly catching his eyes in her own and begging for him to stand up for her like he had when she offered to join them.
     
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  9. Firelight let colors dance across dusty bandages, the crackle of fire easy to hear when it fell to the Stranger to speak up. Silence came from him at first. Part of him still waiting to hear answers to all the little questions getting tossed around the camp like free beer. Both eyes were trained on the piece offered to Johnny just a few moments ago. Soon enough they shifted over to Felicia, finding himself caught in her pleading gaze. Foolish peace offering to give a killer. Not to mention dangerous had they not been working together toward a common goal. Did the girl believe that would make the man leave her dog in peace if he really wanted to eat it? Odds were he would use that very gun to shoot it dead.

    "No point in hurting your dog. Not much a dog can do to slow down a whole train anyhow."

    Simple logic offered up with an effortless sound of disinterest in his voice. The Stranger doubted that Tarr would eat her dog on the train given they were all going to eat tonight. No normal man would starve to death in a boxcar. A few hours of a grumbling stomach were something any drifter could withstand. But he would never get hungry on that train. Just a canteen full of water would get him through the whole trip without a single complaint in the nourishment department. Only a few seconds had gone by before adding an extra little comment on with a matter-of-fact tone to his steady voice. Eyes locked with those of Johnny as though he were offering friendly advice in a thinly veiled threat. Just for the sake of Felicia having peace of mind during the journey.

    "Besides I'm sure that Tarr knows he'd look awful funny with that gun sticking up his ass. If he tried anything, that is."
     
  10. Johnny's head pitched back in a boisterous guffaw at the stranger's mention. The reaction wasn't so much mockery as it was a deep seated amusement in the play of events. "At least someone in this ragtag posse's still got their sense of humor," The Irishman managed through rasped breaths between chuckles, "The whole lot of you's been so damn stoic I'd almost assumed I'd get better conversation out of Burr and his buddies."

    Tarr glanced down at the chunk of metal that had been placed in his lap and at first didn't the slightest inkling what he was looking at. Damn thing was only vaguely revolver shaped in that it had a 5 round cylinder near the front of the weapon. The barrel only stretched out a good inch and a half in front of the chamber despite the model clearly being a touch bigger than the average large framed revolver. Though the pistol held it's rounds near it's end, the hammer of the weapon seemed to be placed traditionally. It was clear that the distance between the hammer and the cylinder would make a standard striking format found in percussion pistols impossible and the Irishman hadn't the faintest idea of any reasoning for the gap. On top of it all the strange piece had all manners of cogs and tubes that would seem more fitting on an oil lamp scattered about the frame. The most eye catching of which being a strange funnel near the barrel that as far as Johnny knew was used to store cake batter.

    [​IMG]

    The scarred Irishman half expected the damn thing to explode in his lap. He slowly popped out the cylinder of the firearm and removed one of the rounds to inspect the caliber. .50-70 Government. Tarr almost had to look twice. It was the same round used for the Sharps carbine rifle back during the civil war and had legends of it reaching out to distances of over a thousand yards. Putting that kind of powder load behind a pistol with less than a quarter's length for a barrel seemed just shy of suicide. "I ain't about to look a gift horse in the mouth 'er nothin' but Jeysus..." Tarr replied as he placed the round back into the chamber and closed the cylinder, "We huntin' elephants and I just not get tha' memo?"
     
  11. She listened to them talk, continuing to skin the rabbit with the arrowhead. Its fur came off like a sock, falling softly to the ground. A'way didn't bother to pick it up, merely gutted the animal right then and there. Its intestines spewed out onto the desert sand; the smell of death had not yet set in. Her hands were speckled with blood but she didn't mind. She skewered the body with a stick and made a spit from several other branches. It wasn't long before the animal's fat was crackling on the flames. The smell of cooking meat brought A'way's hunger and no doubt the others.

    The rabbit fur went into her pack, leaving the intestines untouched in case the Mastiff wanted a bite to eat. Scarred hands plucked several dollars from the roll, about six dollars total. A'way passed the rest of the money over to Hal but whatever thoughts and feelings she had towards the Priest didn't show on her face. But they were turbulent thoughts. She knew from his face that the man was partially Indian, but she couldn't place which tribe. (Did that really matter though? Their people were completely decimated and it wouldn't be long before they all died out.) A'way knew that the man's purpose to hunt down Johnny was for his child, which she could understand. No, what bothered her was how much he looked like her people but carried with him the Bible, the book of the white man. She wondered how much he knew - if at all - of his people and their ways. Or if he even cared.

    Her stoic expression slipped, a sliver of curiosity and contempt showed on her face. Then she immediately felt guilt, for who was she to judge? She, a pure Chumash Indian who wore Levi's and boots, products of 'America.' She was the bigger traitor wasn't she, between the both of them? A'way quickly made her face blank and returned to the log. It would not bode well to have a confrontation before their ride into the town began, and she would not be the one to start such a thing. She looked around at the others, keeping her dark gaze away from Hal's face. A'way locked eyes with Lonny.

    "You'll be riding with me I expect?"
     
  12. Lonnie made to dive towards Jacks abandoned money roll, he found a knot in his chest buckling him uncomfortably in his seat when A`way had managed to get there first. He shifted his ass in the sands and wallowed in his disappointment for a moment before raising a few dark black brows in the direction of Tarr and the Young woman accompanying the dog. Why would anyone want to eat a dog. He thought to himself. The gesture once again presented itself, a member of the party freely sharing firearms. In whose company did he find himself? did all people act like this out west? he shrugged his heavy shoulders, committed the questions to memory, and spoke with absolute conviction.

    “Langolier don’t exist. If`n people go missin it’s cause we threw em off the train.” His back hit the sand and he gazed up into the night sky and tried to picture a man he’d never seen, but who had never been unknown to him. “People say, if`n he do exist, that he’s the rain come down to earth to wash away the sickness of sloth with the blood of the lazy. they say his Pa owned a farmstead in indiana, let the land waste away and the family with it. Say the langolier watched his mother die of starvation, and killed his father in a fury a`cause of it. He’s to be poor and broken, inside and out, he’s got a mouth full of sharp teeth, and only shows em to the people he’s gunna kill, a tainted smile sending sons six feet south. They say he ain’t held a gun since he shot his pa, say he ain’t one for a knife either. Say he only carries a noose rope, so as to not get called out while riding the rails. His mighty arms to hold the rope as he lets ya dangle over the back of the trolly, before he lets ya go and leaves your body to the coyotes. Some say he never stops movin, a twitchin sorta writhing mess of a man who can’t stand still. Others say he’s still and quite, like the night, a creeping shadow looking to swallow a soul without much reservation. Still others say he smells like fresh baked bread, and lures fat lil boys to his clutches. But lotsa folk talk on the railroad, but they never really say too much.”


    “I'll ride with ya, in to town and on the train, if thats what you an` Jack are thinkins a good plan. We're gunna sell these ponies, ain't we?”
     
  13. <img src=http://i94.photobucket.com/albums/l81/Asmodeus1845/Stories/chri.jpg width="150" height="225" align="right">"Sounds like a regular ol' demon," Hal replied, eyes not leaving the Bible page. His voice was a soft and stabbing kind that matched his ambiguity, a half-tone between a preacher and a killer, a father and an outcast.

    Half-cast. Half-cut.

    "An' I'll take yer word as gospel any day, son," he said to Lonnie. Then his voice lifted, to address the circle. "See now, we got this fine plan. And we're go'n be sliced up all 'cross this trojan horse o' box cars and coaches. We go'n be divided, an' hell's go'n break loose when the Sundowns make their move." The Bible lowered. His half-dozing eyes swept around the campfire. "So you best believe the Langolier's a monster. Why, you best believe he's the devil 'imself. Cos pride'll kill ya fast as any bullet."

    The Bible lifted again. His other hand sorted through the roll of bank notes, taking a single bill before he tossed it onwards. "Ride wi' fear in yer pockets tomorro', and mayhaps I won't be readin' at yer graves."

    He tucked the note into his pocket, then brought both hands to steady the book. His last words were a mutter. "Sure as God in Heaven I'm afeared."
     
  14. Felicia's thin brow furrowed as she puffed out her cheeks at the Irishman. She grabbed the gun from his hands and took aim at a nearby boulder. Her one eye shut completely, her tongue crept out from the lifted side of her mouth as she focused. Her small hand squeezed the trigger and with out much more sound than a pea-shooter, the gun fired off and caused the boulder to impload, crumbling in on itself.

    The petite woman was thrown back onto her ass, a cloud of dirt kicking up around her as she groaned. "I made this gun m'self mister Tarr, and when I say it'll do ya good, you listen" She stood up confidently, throwing the gun back at him and sitting down. She sat with her legs straight out, wiggling her boots and slapping them together, attracting the attention of her masstif, who meandered over to trail sloppy kisses over her face and sit next to her for company.

    "I don' need no new clothes sir, keep your money- i brought some fancies with me- my pa would have been proud of my prepared'ness." She smiled at Jack, her eyes reflecting her inner innocents and her smile giving away the fear that sat dormant in the back of her mind.

    As she continued listening to the conversation, the mentioning of the Langolier made her bottom lip tremble. She hugged her dog tight, pulling his stocky body against her own frail frame for comfort. eyes darting from person to person as they spoke.
     
  15. The fire burned low, guttering for a moment before Jack tossed another log on the fire. The sparks danced in the air between them all, lighting the faces around the fire. In that moment they were cast in uneven stone, shadows growing in their features and hollowing out their eyes. To Jack, they all looked dead…and maybe that was an omen. He kicked the fire and it blazed up, banishing the vision of death.

    “I suppose the Langolier is as much a man as the rest of us,” Jack said at last, looking over at Lonny, “He bleeds like us and he will die like us if it comes to it. But the Preacher has a point. Keep to your guns and trust your gut. No room in this outfit for cowards. Both men dead in Brindle weren’t, and they still ended up killed. Think on that.” His gaze lingered on Lonny and the gunsmith girl before returning to the fire. “Pick your partner to ride in with tomorrow and remember to keep your eyes and ears open.” He pointed across the fire at the Native girl roasting her rabbit, “I do not want any associates of yours to recognize your face, and we rightly do not need the law peering to close at our faces. Keep your wits about you and we will all board the train tomorrow at high noon.

    He turned from the fire and lay back on the parched ground. The stars seemed so distant above him, farther than they ever had been before. In Georgia, his mother always said that the stars were closest over their plantation. That, she said, was because God’s angels were watching over them with their thousand, thousand glimmering white eyes. A younger Jack was comforted by the knowledge. Older now, they only seemed cruel and capricious, dangling salvation and safety at impossible heights.

    “Stranger, you and Hessian have first watch. Wake me for second with A’Way. Lonny and Johnny will take the third.” The Preacher looked over at the outlaw, but said nothing. Jack didn’t return the look. He knew the Preacher would be up regardless of asking. A worried father’s sleep was a commodity first lost in panic’s wake. He’d sit with his book and read his prayers, for all the good it would do him, but it was none of Jack’s business what he did…so long as he worked with the rest of them.

    He let sleep take him, then, conversation dying on his lips and the hilts of his knives glittering by firelight. No one would kill him in his sleep, not here, not among these folk. Each one had a reason to go after Blackheart or, if not, didn’t have a reason to take Jack’s life and fight two sentries.

    It was the first evening after the showdown in Brindle. Already some of their number lay dead. Jack scowled as sleep rubbed its balm over his eyes. More would die in this bloody venture, surely, but the civilians weighed heaviest on his conscience.

    Maybe it was for the best.

    No man lived pure for long.





    St. Clare​

    High Noon​


    St. Clare was to Brindle as a creek was to a river. The smell of the railroad was in the air, an odor most had come to identify with progress. The one lane town had boomed over the past ten years, a whole mess of new homes and stores erected around the railroad station. To each horizon, the railroad stretched its glimmering rails outward, broken every so often by the lumbering shape of smoke belching locomotive chugging toward town.

    The dust of arid lands beyond did not tread far past city limits. Civilization kept the wild out of St. Clare and the wild seemed to respect that notion, growing around and continuing on as mankind held vigil in their personal Eden. Paintings, cracked in sunlight, grinned hollowly at the travelers from the sides of buildings. Banners praised the Rocky Saloon and Hapchance, while others advertised clothes, beds, doctors, and even the Zeus Theater. The dusty folk were strangers here among the colored butterflies, men and women that wore more colors than a palate and walked with the airy sway of those who could not be touched.

    St. Clare was a land of gods and demigods, all too foolish to remember their mortality.

    Jack maneuvered his horse through the crowd, keeping his hat low against his eyes. The brim shadowed his gaze just enough to distort his identity, but afforded him enough room to field a scathing gaze. Most of his weapons were packed away, leaving only the knife at his belt and one in his boot. The party had scattered to their own upon entering St. Clare. Jack had encouraged them to move in pairs, but he’d broken his own edict when he rode out early. This town sang of memories, old as tobacco stains against the posts of the Spittoon or the tired landscape beyond, as if God had but one color to paint the rest of the world.

    One of Crow’s men leaned against the wall beside a swinging door. David Crow was the outlaw that settled down in St. Clare when the killing was at its bloodiest. To the day, no one could say what caused ‘Lawslayer’ David Crow to take up the badge of sheriff and run the wretched out of town. Some said he’d seen God, that he’d seen his soul dancing over brimstone and that set him straight. In any case, he made St. Clare a haven before the railroad, and fewer rustlers tried their luck when the bodies began piling. Governor pardoned him after five years of service, gave him the power to pardon others too…those loyal to the cause. Jack scowled, turning his face away when the greycoat looked at him. Save badge, each of Crow’s men wore a grey duster round their shoulders. Sinful souls, they say, purging the black. But not even Crow ever took a white duster up, and the greycoat lawmen were whispered legend in California.

    He took a side alley, escaping the watchful stare of the former crook. His eyes had felt uncomfortable on his shoulders, probing, deciding. Didn’t help Jack had a record here. Didn’t help anyone to have a record here. Not anymore.

    Four years ago he’d killed a man in St. Clare and for a reason he could no longer remember. He’d been a doctor, well to-do gentlemen. Even now, his face did not accumulate the same dust as the rest of his kills. The bespectacled youth stared back at him from every open door, from every clear or dusty window. This town, this place, it was full of ghosts. The Doctor was his, but the Hessian had killed here too…maybe others, certainly the Stranger. St. Clare was different, before the railroad. Once upon a time, during the construction, it was a harder place for desperate men to find cold graves. That Doctor, that soft face among so many hard-nosed criminals.

    Snorting, Jack turned his horse. There was no time to dwell on what was. He had to find board for the night and hope the rest found there’s. If one was taken by the law, they had the benefit of separation to continue their journey.

    A flyer blew in the wind kicked up between carriages, tearing it from the post and through the sky. It fluttered, unfurling and ghosting by Jack for a moment, a moment enough for him to rear back and swat at it.


    The paper continued to tumble, hitting the street and blowing over.

    Faustus, it said in black letters, Come and see the man who sold his soul! Zeus Theater, 8 o’clock showing.

    Jack trembled, blinking hard. For a moment, the face of the masked and comical devil on the flyer had been…something else.

    Something terrifying.

    Urging his horse onward, Jack dismounted by a hitching post, counting his currency before entering The Night’s Respite.

    Auspicious name for the establishment.

    He hoped they didn’t charge extra.


    OOC (open)
    Alright all, partner up and let’s get moving. A few facts about St. Clare before I turn you loose. We only have the day. The train leaves tomorrow. That leaves a number of quests for ya’ll to take part in if you’re interested. I’ve moved Jack until ruckus begins, unless you have a hope to thread with him…in which case, feel free to follow. I want to get to know your characters a bit more in this environment, see what we can’t shake up before the next leg of the story. Imagine Tombstone, if you will, but without so many miners. Rich town, boomed with the railroad. Plenty of stores and attractions. Some of you will be getting pm’s for me with some personal attatchment to St. Clare. Not all of you will, I like to keep the plot twists and hooks spread out from place to place.

    Anyways, three things to know. One, there is a man here that might be able to give you information about the Langolier and the package. He was mentioned a few posts ago. Those interested in finding or interrogating him, gang up and we’ll ride. There is a performance of Faustus in the Zeus theater this evening. Those who see the flyer the first time will see something terrifying and undefineable for a moment, and then it will return to looking like a devil’s face behind the words. The last notion to keep in mind is Crow’s greycoats. They’re like Old West Paladins. Make trouble and they’ll show, but they’re pretty easy to spot. If you have any questions or ideas, please PM or put them here. Otherwise, let’s see where the plot takes us. I’ll have Jack join in later in the evening. If things start to stall, I’ll push em forward…I just wanted to see what you’d all do with a little freedom.
     
  16. First watch had ended up nothing more than the death of small talk and the birth of silence. A natural occurrence when in the Stranger's company. Not even a cigar or cigarette was lit to pass the time until shifts would change. But that never bothered the man who stood watch with his hat's brim pulled low enough to keep most from seeing his own eyes. Hessian might suspect him of sleeping on the job after a while given the lack of movement from him could have won a stillness contest with a statue. Or a corpse. Yet suspicion would find itself offset with an eerie feeling that those eyes were not only open but ones that his own eyes did not want to meet out of fear for what he might see in them.

    Regardless, their watch went off without a hitch.

    Though each shift afterward might get the same unnerving notion that the Stranger's eyes were open and alert.

    [video=youtube;CpZjvbSC9_M]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpZjvbSC9_M[/video]

    Once day came, Felicia received a firm squeeze to the shoulder from a gloved hand in order to wake her. Without fail the Stranger was wordless in preparing to head into town. Just a lone, muffled whistle came from behind bandages after mounting his white appaloosa. If the young woman did not hurry she might get left behind. No one would doubt for a moment he was the type who would leave someone behind for taking too long. At least that was the uncompromising impression that he gave with such curt actions. Not a single word came while the girl was helped up onto his horse. All of her belongings had been packed onto her own horse. Save for the dog. Rope connected the two steeds together as they trotted along toward St. Clare with Macguiver in tow.

    After a time the two reached their destination.

    The grey poncho hung over most of the Strenger's body with all the allure of a deathshroud made from ash. Grey that matched up with the kind worn by Crow's men. Enough that a few of the peacocks walking around town found their eyes drawn to a sight both familiar and strange. A few of the Greycoats looked as well with uncertainty in their eyes. Legs of coal black dangled out from beneath the poncho, ending in brown leather boots covered in dust that blended with the earthen ground they walked on. Noiseless despite the silver spurs attached to each boot that glinted under sunlight as though to blind.

    Recognition of who he was went whispered rather than spoken aloud. Glances of adoration, fear, and a few with more death behind them than a bullet between the eyes. Few could claim they had not heard at least one story that involved him. Each tale ended with bullets and the Stranger walking away in the end. Others found their attention drawn to the lovely young woman at his side. Just why was she with him, they wondered without asking the question out loud.

    While the town found their thoughts occupied with him, his own thoughts were occupied with the town. Glimpses into his mind offered both pleasure and pain to any psychic audience. Death brought on by his hand and the hands of others. Flashes of a time long since dead and buried came at him all scattershot. Some would just graze him while others hit dead bang. A few had him with gun in hand and barrel smoking while others had both hands on a pickaxe hitting rocks under lamplight. Memories perhaps? Or at least they felt like memories when they hit. It started the second he had dismounted. Deja'vu? Nostalgia? He could call up bits of information and facts about the town. One thought that his mind kept drifting to between each blast from the past, almost like the reload of a gun, was the face of a lone woman.

    An odd notion of old roots here in the town was undeniable. . . yet still he said nothing to Felicia or anyone else.
     
  17. Under the blanket of stars, the crackling of the fire, and the cool sand, the indian A'way dreams.

    She dreams of a home that she has not seen since she was a small child. It is a home made out of willow branches and whale bones, the place is large, spacious and cool. She dreams of copper skinned people, male, female, young and old, all covered in small bumps that bleed when scratched. The scabs form, harden, fall off, and form new bumps. The people reach out to her with their coughing fits and their swollen lips. Their eyes are pleading. A'way is disgusted and she flees the scene, shutting a wide door whose sound echoes among the high ceilings of a church. She is small again, holding onto a warm hand - her mother's hand. Little A'way walks down the pews as their footsteps reverberate through the air, the walls, and the ceilings. She is in awe and she looks at a glass window - we don't have this at home - and suddenly she is sitting at a wooden desk. Alone. In her a hand is quill, to her right is a bottle of black ink, and in front of her is a book and a piece of paper. A'way has written something but her writing is too sloppy. Someone lectures her from behind, but her hearing is selective. She looks at the book and scowls, wishing for it to be burned. Too many times she has copied and written its text down, repeated it, summarized it, paraphrased, memorized; the words hold no meaning to her and so she becomes angry.

    She stands up, instantly an adult and hurls the book at the wall. It falls to the floor, open faced. From her lips flies a string of curses and she doesn't care who hears them, the whole world could hear them and she wouldn't care, why does she have to -

    The woman jumps, startled. Her hand finds her gun and she points it at the Mastiff. It is his growling that has awoken her and she relaxes. She still holds her gun as she readies for her shift. The priest, Stranger and Hessian eye her warily but she avoids their gaze. Nightmares are for children.



    The woman is unnaturally silent as she gets ready for the morning. There are lines of tension around her lips and even as she takes a bite out of leftover rabbit, her expression is still serious. Quiver goes onto her back, gun goes into its holster, the fire is doused - This is her routine. Not a word is spoken to Lonny as she swings herself up to her paint horse; A'way rides bare back. Is she unnerved? Definitely. Is the woman scared? Out of her mind. But she tries her best to remain composed, posed. The white males would lose respect for her if she showed fear.

    So she rides, rides with her black fair fanning out like a crow's wing into Saint Clare. She does not lower her head or let her posture slacken. There is pride in those dark eyes. Already she is getting looks from the townsfolk, but A'way is used to this. She looks to her side and sees Lonny. Amused she is at how her partner has kept up.

    "I'll need to buy make up," she says, breaking her silence. "Follow if you like."

    Johnny moves in front of her, a flier whipping past him. A'way hears the clattering of the carriages and their horses, but the sounds are faint. Time has slowed down. The wind dies for a second, the paper lays dead on the street. She looks and she wishes that she hadn't.

    A black dog grins manically at her.

    Fear and panic is injected into her like a syringe. A'way tears her gaze from the flier because is no other image that could scare her such as this. She takes a shaky breath, numbly taps her horse to trot and moves on.
     
  18. As the night carried on, the glowing embers of the fire seemed to settle in unison with the evening's chit chat. The outlaws began about their various evening rituals as the need for sleep descended upon the lot. Before the final coals lost their glow, the Irishman sought one final conversation before the night came to close. The long faced man of cloth, seemingly lost amongst the pages of a dusty bible. "Preacher," Tarr began in a low voice, lacking the sardonic edge from before, "How would you feel about a bit of a proposition?"

    *****************************

    Unlike the others, Tarr had little trouble finding rest in the face of the Godless night. If he had learned anything over the years, it was how to sleep amongst the jagged roads of nomadic life. He focused on the soft sands beneath him and imagined them more perfect than any mattress made from the finest down. Sweet nothings sang out from the corners of the evening sky in the form of gentle winds, rocking his mind like the cradle of a babe. The lids of the outlaw’s eyes grew heavy and as he closed them, he allowed his mind to wander. Thoughts of things that had come before danced along his memory. The fields of Ireland, the oceans of the Atlantic, the railroads of the States, and the cold dead carcass of Burr all played against his mind as the sweet solace of rest began to take him. On any other night, the thoughts might have been enough to carry him into the morning.

    This night however, the Irishman found himself stricken by cold. A sharp whine of evening wind scrapped across his ears like nails on a chalkboard. The midnight breath chilled the outlaw down to his very bones and with a violent shudder he stirred. As Tarr's eyes attempted to gaze through the foggy veil of sleep, he could almost make out the clattering of chains in the distance.

    [video=youtube;ht7mxF9XZiA]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ht7mxF9XZiA[/video]

    The Irishman woke and found himself trembling. In spite of the gripping cold, beads of sweat seemed to drip from his body like a freshly wet sponge. The sweat drenched his clothes and made the experience all the more apparent. Shuddered breaths left the man's lips as whisping trails which could be followed by the naked eye. The immigrant found himself in a fetal ball, clutching for any hope of warmth he could find. The chill was death and its touch was jagged. As the pain bore against the tortured man's soul, he hadn't realized he wasn't alone this evening.

    "Hello John..." It was the tone of a refined southern drawl, educated and deliberate. The words echoed against the walls of the outlaw's mind causing him to glance up slowly. A suited man sat before a leather bound card table of sorts. The figure was tall and lanky, bearing a clean shaven face and a dead set smile. Blond hair sat parted perfectly to one side without so much as a stitch out of place. A red tie with a mother of pearl inlay wrapped around his neck and folded into a coat that would make the wealthiest of plantation owners jealous. The man brought on a sense of awe that almost made the near frozen Irishman forget his predicament. "You're a hard man to get ahold of you know. You never call... You never write... One would almost think that you were avoiding me. Can I offer you a jacket? It's a bit nippy out here."

    "I-I'll manage..." The outlaw spit out in a growl from between his clattering teeth. "I s-see you hav-haven't lost your sense of humor."

    The sharp dressed soul tossed his head back in a fit of laughter and leaned back against his chair, a foot appeared from the other end of the table and sat along its leather finish. The figure's hands cradled his head as he eyed the Irishman with demonic glee. "Why you should know better than anyone Johnny boy. Why the fates can rob a man blind of his family and wealth, strip him naked of his title and good fortune... But to take away his sense of humor? Why that'd just be cruel. Take a seat and stay a spell would you?"

    "I'll stand." The Irishman attempted to press blood into his legs in order to make them move but the action led to no avail. The immigrant continued to shiver against the desert sands. There was something to be said of an Iron will, but even the healthiest of bodies have their limits.

    "I'm sure you will," The refined southerner replied from behind a grin. "All the same I thought I might be able to interest you in a spot of fun. You know the rules of Poker I assume?"

    The outlaw glared at the card table. On this side of the fence, nothing was free and no gamble shifted from the favor of the dealer. All the same, this 'gentleman' had come to him this time, and that changed all the rules. "W-what are the st...s-stakes?"

    A bark of a laugh echoed from deep in the suited man's throat. "You ain't got nothing to wager Tarr, remember?" a grim chuckle followed the line of dialog, "No no this is just healthy sport. A spot of good will between old friends..."

    "You ain't g-good and we ain't friends."

    "Business associates then..." The suited figure leaned forward and rested his elbows on the table. "But I understand your hesitation. Tell you what, you humor me and I'll cut you a deal."

    "Not inte...Int... In..."

    "Oh don't hurt yourself now." The figure rattled a long pair of slender fingers against the leather table. "Besides not even you would pass this up. One game of poker, five cards, no wager on your end and the revocation of our deal if you best me..."

    "You've s-stacked the deck." The quips were growing shorter as the outlaw's breath continued to trail against the air.

    The suited man tsked and shook his head. "Mayhaps I have, but have you got to lose? I already own you."

    "Dignity."

    That caused a reaction. The lanky figure tossed his head back and released a bone rattling cackle from deep within his being. A hand set against his forehead and the night seem to echo the bolstering guffaw. "Oh... Oh my, that's a good one." The suited man managed to get out from behind the breaths of laughter. "Boy, you ain't never had any dignity. Your mother lost that to a grip of English soldiers on the night of your conception."

    The Irishman bore his teeth at the figure as a low growl left his lips. For an instant, the cold seemed to ebb in the light of the insult as the immigrant's blood boiled.

    "Well color me intrigued..." The suited man held out an open palm to the five face down cards on Tarr's side of the table.

    Johnny picked himself to his feet, still trembling but not enough to keep them from function. He reached a scarred arm out and took hold of the cards, handling them carefully as to not lose them from his shaking mitts. Slowly he turned the faces towards his gaze and made a face as his eyes trailed over the values.

    He was looking at twos. Five of them if you counted. The outlaw glanced back at the figure as if he was the brunt of some sick joke. "What the hell is this?"

    The lanky man soaked in the reaction and chuckled. "Oh don't look at me like that Johnny Boy." The night began to darken and the colors of the table and figure started to fade. The refined tone of the man's voice seemed to carry above the darkness, echoing once more in the evening air. "You drew the cards, I'm just changing up the rules..."

    ******************

    Tarr woke in a cold sweat, still freezing from the wayward chill of whatever dream had held him that night. On the horizon, the peak of the sunrise seemed just shy of cresting over onto the valley. The outlaw gripped at his shoulders and shook blood back into his limbs. Several strains of well-set curses danced against his tongue as the red blooded Irishman awoke with anger on the mind.

    There was no point in getting back to sleep now. Morning was already here and he had work to do. Johnny spit a mouthful of phlegm into the remains of the fire pit and stomped off to the edges of the camp. For his plan to work, the snares he had set the night before needed to have caught something...
     
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  19. The strangers silence was a bit much for the awkward shut in. Felicia’s thin arms were wrapped around his waist ,cheeks still dusted with blush from her sudden wake up. As they rode, the young gunsmith reflected on the morning. The Stranger had gripped her shoulder, causing the frail girl to jolt forward, arms flailing in a strange attempt at self-defense. She had been sleeping against MacGuiver, chest rising and falling with shallow, rested breaths. The frightened squeak that blasted from her mouth turned her face crimson, eyes wide and staring forward, despite the lack of interest by the man waking her. Small hands rubbed the sleep from her eyes as she shook herself awake, top hat tumbling off her head to the dust before being scooped back up and fitted to her ebony crown of hair. Felicia scrambled up, standing and dusting herself off while He tied her horse to his own, mounted up and waited for her to join him.</SPAN></SPAN>

    “T-thanks again for standin’ up fer me…” She smiled crookedly, taking one hand off of him to hold her top hat in place, squinting with a sudden gust of sandy desert wind. The Strangers appaloosa picked up speed with its riders impatience, bouncing the light weight and making her scramble to grab tightly at his dusty grey poncho, her fingers gripping tightly and her face pressing against his back. Felicia was not very fond of horses, let alone not being in control of one. She didn’t doubt the Strangers ability to steer the stead, but being at the whim of such a large creature made her nervous.</SPAN></SPAN>

    Once in town, they slowed their pace and Felicia let go. Dismounting the horse and cursing under her breath yet again at her petite stature. </SPAN></SPAN>

    “Wha’ are they starin’ at?” The eyes of the colorful townsfolk made the gunsmith nervous, reaching her hand down to gently caress her dog as they walked. MacGuiver grunted as her fingertips grazed over his head, finding comfort in his familiar coat. “Like they never seen a burn victim before? That’s wha you are-right?” She kicked up dust with her boots, puffing out her cheeks at the gawking townspeople as they passed by, suddenly finding herself a bit behind. </SPAN></SPAN>

    “It’s rude ta’ stare…” Felicia scurried, catching up with him and even bending down to look under the brim of his hat, trying to get a good view of his eyes. “Don’t let the eyes of the outside bug ya on the inside sir, you’re a good man as far-as I can-tell.” She nodded strongly and crossed her arms, noticing the distance in his face; like he wasn’t all there.</SPAN></SPAN>

    “Hey…Mr.Stanger, you alright?”</SPAN></SPAN>
     
  20. <img src=http://i94.photobucket.com/albums/l81/Asmodeus1845/Stories/chri.jpg width="150" height="225" align="right" border="1"> The stars and clouds were shifting.

    Where mesas touched the desert sky the sand swelled up, a dark inferno. Blues and yellows spilled from it, forming human shapes. They stood like gods of old, robes flowing between the stars and billowing into half-seen wings and crowns. And between them moved aimals, sea creatures swimming serenely and sending whalesong through the heavens.

    Beneath this canopy the Preacher sat, hipflask in hand. The Salvia Juice was strong tonight. He kept his eyes on the stars and ignored the things of lesser beauty around him: the salt pillar of the Stranger, the thrashing A'Way with fish-tail, Tarr at dance with serpents, the dog yawning, over and over, and revealing smaller jaws each time.

    And they were not the only ones. On his left the desert sloped to the town limits, and a dozen figures, a hundred, more – all stood in line like sentinels. Men and women, mutilated, carved into human statues. The end of an age, all things stalling, all people frozen in repose and apathy. Heroes entombed in stone as Hal, alone, drank his fill.

    Then the rising sun repainted him. He was desert grey, withered and pale. All the colour was in his eyes - which were bloodshot violent red, as if every drop had pooled there. As if he had drunk all the horror of the world. The salvia flask lay beside the rock on which he sat, and morning breeze ruffled the pages of the Bible lain beside it. But his hands were still in gripping pose.

    He blinked once as Tarr cut across his vision, heading out towards the snares. Sunlight caught the back of his partner's head, painting afresh the hodge-podge scars that trailed from his right ear. NEVER DONE - as red raw as the preacher's eyes. For sure that man had been dragged through the underworld, but Hal could see no Shaman's healing in Tarr. What spirit guides he had were not the rebuilding type, it seemed.

    "Well now, what say you, Six-Fingers?" he called out to Tarr, even as he stooped to pick up flask and bible. "Do we have ourselves a plan?"

    They would be the last to leave camp.

     
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