Wide Weird West

Cedar City or Bust.
S.M.M

Just one more train journey. Sometimes I feel like my whole life has been a journey with no destination. There have been stops on the way, sure. But the miles roll beneath my feet and I don’t seem to be getting any further along the trail.

Maybe this time will be different. Seems to me something of an omen that I met my companions on a train journey, and here we are again. Maybe that is why I’m so jumpy. Of course, telling a young woman you are having feelings for her doesn’t help calm the nerves, but I’m unable to relax. First, that man on the station, dark, gaunt and watching us like, well, like some western simile that my friends would use. “A rattler watching a mouse” or something, I don’t know.

Then the Professor asked Addy and I to change rooms, and I all but accused him of trying to kill us. Of course someone did try to break into the room, so maybe I wasn’t far off.

I got to spend some time with Addy though, not letting my mind settle on it. Just take each day as it comes, let things sort themselves out. Part of me still thinks I should feel guilty, but that part is growing quieter and quieter every time I see that girl…

I’m told Cedar City is up ahead, so this particular part of my journey is closing fast. Somewhere out there lies the Grand Canyon and the trail of this lost expedition.

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On the Tracks Again
** Marshall's Update **

After a couple days of preparation, the posse boards a new Smith and Robard’s steam train to Cedar City. Even Dead Feathers, though he chooses to stay in the livestock car rather than the offered sleeping arrangements. They are fed well, and aside from a couple of regular passengers the train seems to be mostly the posse, the reporters that are interviewing the professor, and a small contingent of US soldiers who seem to be protecting a secure car.

After a curious exchange with Haskins late in the nite, Solomon, discovers signs of nefarious activity, otherwise the trip is uneventful. First thing in the morning, Dr. Haskins discusses with them the m the plans for the rest of the journey.

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Whirlwind departure
Addy Maltster

~ Sitting on a bench on the platform ready to depart for Cedar City, Addy is lost in thought watching some children standing with parents nearby. She leans against the end cap of the bench with her right arm wrapped over her middle, subconsciously cupping her nearly healed injury ~

Children live in such different worlds, I think. And they can come up with the most astute observations, sometimes. I am never around them very much, but I expect I’ll have one or two of my own someday. Quite a bit needs to happen between now and then! Not that a lot lately hasn’t happened; law’s a’mercy, it’s like there’s a curse following this group. We run into one mishap after another. Maybe there really is somethin’ to Munroe’s idea a’ bein’ cursed, but I wonder if it ain’t a bigger curse on him than he thinks. That poor man is lookin’ a mite rougher than the first day we met; I can’t really put my finger on it, it’s like he’s getting’ thinner through-wise, like the sun shines right through him a little more each day. I reckon that’s frightenin’ feeling for a body. Warmed my heart to see my whisky bring the color to his cheeks, though. Man needs a helluva lot more than my liquor can offer. I must say, he looked a sight with that cravat, like one o’ them gentleman he always acts—funny code of conduct he has; must be part o’ all them English ways—but I have got no other Englishman to compare him to. I find myself watchin’ him to see what he’ll do, though, an’ more often than not, he does just the thing the widdah’ would do—or is doin’—an’ I sure do like the level-headedness of that one!

The gala was quite a lot of talkin’ and then a little bit o’ shootin’. I never seen a pair of people pull together the way Mrs. Chapman and Mr. Cobb did, ‘twas uncanny. She can be sweet but she has got some fire inside her and ain’t afeared a’lettin’ it out! I couldn’t see much but gun barrels once the dustup started, but halfway through, a few of these Junkyard residents reached back and found their backbones and helped put a stop to the rowdiness. I can’t rightly say now what all Dr Haskins was blatherin’ on about up there on the dais before them roughnecks wandered in, but I reckon we’ll get a’ earful o’ details on the trip an’ if we don’t, we’ll get an eyeful firsthand.

Mr Feathers, well that just don’t sound right, I better have a set-down with him and see who he is if we’re gonna be sharin’ a trail for a week or four, but I reckon “Mr Feathers” will have to do for now. Mr Feathers don’t strike me as yella’ but he got scarce once the lead started flyin’; I will have to keep my eyes out for him and see what kind of medicine he has. I think he’s Lakota, but he’s awful tight-fisted with credentials. Hard to know who you can trust these days, so I can’t say I blame him, but a body needs to know who her compatriots are.

We been doin’ a good bit o’ ridin’ and strollin’ and my side hardly twinges at’all now. The last couple days have been naught more than a blur, what with all the buyin’ an’ packin’. Mrs. Chapman’s horse showed up on the mornin’ train yesterday, and shoo-wee wasn’t she just pleased as punch to see him, understandably so, he’s a fancy beast. I thought she’d hug him when I saw her watchin’ him come off the train and I swear he looked around for her when he stepped down that ramp, snortin’ with each step and peerin’ all around! I have been right busy myself, but I managed to spend a few minutes with my new ride too, though he’s a shabby boy compared to Lonesome’s feller. I reckon a few weeks’ ridin’ will have him trimmed up and me a good bit more limber as well. A couple weeks have worked wonders for improving my condition. I must say, the bug-crawlin’ feelin’ of havin’ my stitches pulled was such a relief—nice to keep a body to a body’s self now too—I’m right tired of havin’ some sawbones peerin’ an’ pokin’ at me. I do find my fingers wanderin’ to that new flesh though—gonna be a bit of a nasty mark there now, but nothin’ I reckon a pretty get-up won’t make up for now an’ again, least-awise for me. Anyways, them few who will see it, nobody who matters won’t pay it no nevermind, so I reckon I ought not as well.

Speakin’ of get-ups, I had my eye on those leather britches Miss Sophie wore—they seemed like they could stand up to a week in the saddle, three days in the bottom of a rucksack, and a night on the grass and come back just as good the next time a body put ‘em on. I had that modiste who fixed me up with the new green skirt and cream blouse piece me together a black pair o’ them trousers too and I’ll say, they look to be a right solid piece of work. Reckon a gal in her position out here needs to work in leather an’ rawhide as well as silk and chambray. Nice to have a chance to change the scenery ever’ once in a while! Them canvas britches‘ll be waitin’ for me in my pack when I need ‘em again. Her little apprentice complained of a megrim while I was havin’ my fittin’ and that little lady rubbed some lavender oil on the poor gal’s temples and sent her to bed. I asked her if that was efficacious and she said about half of the time it was. I asked her where to get it and she said the mercantile had some; I stopped by that shop after the fittin’ and picked up a little phial of it, can’t hurt to see if it’ll help Mr Munroe. I was gobsmacked when the old gal had a pair of black silk stockins’ too. When I saw my mama’s pretty stockins’, which papa gave her as a weddin’ present, all soaked through with lantern oil, I felt like I was losin’ another piece of her and there ain’t too many pieces yet left to lose—havin’ her pretty things is a poor lesson on bein’ a female, but a lesson nonetheless. I reckon she’d want me to hold on to that part of me and let her go, seein’ as she’s been gone long enough.

Mr Munroe doesn’t say much about his wife, God rest her, or that little mite o’ theirs that passed. I reckon it’s still too fresh for him. That poor man is full up on death. Seems like if he could just find that one thing to remedy his curse or whatever, he’d be alright, once he gets his head straightened out and lets that family of his go on to the next world. Sometimes, he seems a good bit older than he really is and my heart just tugs for his sadness. I see that same look in his blue eyes that Papa had a few weeks after my mother passed away; I just wanna’ take his hand an’ tell him it’ll get better if he can just hold on for a spell and let the storm blow by; reckon that wouldn’t be appropriate seein’ as I hardly know the man. I did see him standin’ out under the stars one night, just a’gazin’ up, barely breathin’, his eyes searchin’ the sky, watchin’ like one o’ them specks had a message if only he could find the right one and listen hard enough. Couldn’t bring myself to interrupt him, he almost looked healthy, starin’ up so solemnly with somethin’ like hope and yet wistfulness at the same time on his face, and I do wonder if he don’t need a friend right now. Hard to tell with foreigners, when a body’s crossin’ a line and when one’s bein’ unfriendly. Suppose I’ll keep an eye on him.

Seems like things picked up tenfold once Mr Munroe told Dr Haskins we’d take his little proposition. I been so busy preparing, I ain’t had two seconds to string together. S&R said they’d sell us a steam car or other some such contraption; what they think a steam powered thingamajig’s gonna help us over the Havasupai lands I never heard tell, but the agent said he knew a few horse dealers and he’d arrange a meetin’ gratis. Lonesome told me she had a lovely sorrel of her own comin’ in special, but she’d help us look over what was on offer. I’m none too attached to any of our beasts at home and really, ain’t none of ‘em truly made for any o’ this rough trekkin’ I bet we’re fixin’ to do. I thought Lonesome was gonna draw on that Smith and Robards agent when he took us out to that dusty corral full o’ sorry nags. By god if that weren’t a sad collection in the first bunch! The blazes I saw in Mrs. Chapman’s glare were hotter’n a billy goat in a pepper patch! Somehow just a whisper from that beldame can jerk a knot in any rascal’s attitude. ‘Course, the look alone on his face when he started backin’ away from her stare and then my throwin’ knife landed halfway to its hilt in the dirt next to his boot was worth the two hours I spent practicin’ the evenin’ before! The little leather shoulder holster the saddler made for my throwin’ pieces worked out real smooth for that lesson—keeps my six knives snugged up next to my ribs ‘n ready to fly. The Smith and Robards agent jumped a foot, nervous as a whore in church!

He reluctantly walked us back across town to a little corral off the main thoroughfare and showed us a second bunch that looked a bit better but weren’t none o’ them winnin’ any beauty contests neither. That grulla beast I got couldn’t a’ even won the prize for congeniality—he’s a mean cuss; glad he’s cut, I’d wager he’d be a unholy terror intact. Them blue eyes o’ his had a ornery look in ‘em the second he swung his head my way, but he’s a sturdy boy—if he were an inch taller, he’d be round. That should come in handy long about the third week out and feed starts runnin’ thin. Reckon he’s too mean for his herdmates to get near the trough ‘til he’s had his fill, or close to it. I saw him lay them ears back when that rangy bay walked past an’ he looked meaner’n a snake! That agent tried to tell me the grulla was new to the group and findin’ his way—ain’t nobody gonna mess on me an’ call it apple butter! That ol’ boy had carved out his place at the top o’ the totem pole an’ weren’t nobody gonna back talk him! I’m a bit concerned he’s gonna stand out like a sore thumb with that long white stockin’ on his front left and that white face o’ his—we do much night ridin’ and you might as well post a ‘shoot me’ sign on his rump! I think that agent pulled all the tack off the dead nags from the original expedition though—that’s some mighty rough stuff. Glad I took the time to fit it on that beast ‘afore we loaded him, rig up some paddin’, and find a good blanket for it—that bridle’s seen better days though.

I plan to visit the stable car a bit during the ride—we’ll be on for a few days and that swayin’ passenger car can be pretty soporific. Mean as that fella’ is with the other animals, he’s docile as baby with folks. Likes a scratchin’ under the chin, like a dog—now that’s gotta be some kinda’ disgrace for horseflesh. Can’t do no harm to get to know ‘im a bit though, we’re stuck with one another for the next month at least, barrin’ any unforeseen difficulties, an’ given the way the trip’s been heretofore, I ain’t above seein’ quite a bit! I warned Papa he won’t see me to July, that’s two months, don’t want him to worry when we’re out in the back o’ beyond and things get wild as a junebug on a string. Won’t be no telegraph man can let Papa know then, now, will there?

I’d given up on findin’ more rounds for the derringer and the Navy; hell, weren’t a proper throwin’ knife to be had in town until I stopped by the colored smith on the far side o’ town. That fella’ hammered out four of the best balanced throwin’ knives I’ve ever held in my palm, an’ he done it just inside an hour. From the way he stuck them things in the straw bale back o’ his shop, he spent more’n a winter or two with the Coyote Confederation people, too. He pointed me to another fella’ peddlin’ ammo and I stocked up, what a load off the mind! I can’t see venturin’ out along the Colorado with the twenty rounds each I had left—not if town’s been as lively as it has—Lord knows what the wilderness holds.

That Dr Haskins is a slick talker; I think he’s above board, but somethin’ about him just makes me feel like a goose is walkin’ on my grave—I don’t like him none. Maybe it’s them fancy East Coast duds he’s got or his pomaded quiff, but he’s got a streak o’ sheister in ‘im if ever I seen one. Useless as tits on a boar hog to boot, I bet. Face man, I suppose, with his curios and relics; like we can’t recognize a cow’s shinbone when we see one. Tinhorn dandy.

Platform’s gettin’ a mite busy, I reckon I might oughta’ step up there and prepare to jump aboard once that train rolls in. I think that’s Lonesome and Mr Cobb comin’ this way; on first glance, a body might think he’s ursine, but that there is an end all be all man! I wonder where Mr Munroe is, maybe I ought to have a peek around an’ find him.

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Expeditionary forces indeed...
Lonesome Chapman

Junkyard is less fun as an adult then it was as a kid. Dirty, noisy and dark can be fun when around every corner lurks some new contraption and the possibilities of that hulk coming out of the gloom, making tortured squeaks and groaning booms is not just an ordinary heavy transport sledge but a metal elephant hauling ore. Unless you are one of the geeks, this place is really just dirty and noisy and dark.

The legal consult and trial that I had been traveling to attend went on without me while we were stranded in the Rockies. Not that I mind much, I don’t think I have a career in courtroom litigation any longer unless judge and jury are willing to gather around in a close little circle while I speak, but, the reason for coming being discharged I had plenty of time on my hands. Time I didn’t really need… except that Grizz filled it. Which was nice. How can you not feel better, when upon proclaiming that you have never felt so alone in your life, the fuzzy giant sitting close enough to allow you to use his shoulder for a pillow, tells you there is no reason to feel that way anymore… Grizz Cobb is here.

My new companions from the train have been a boon as well. Addy doesn’t let me sink too low, asks me to walk with her, and to help her with her the business of buying barley for her family business. Not that I’m much help, the Good Lord knows I don’t know a thing about crops or brewing (distilling Lonesome, distilling… brewing is a whole other ball of string, that feisty little southern belle has explained the differences on many occasions… get it right) but I’m grateful for the distraction and delighted she seems to enjoy my company. Mr. Monroe stops by when he has found someplace interesting to visit, escorting us out in a gentlemanly fashion I have not experienced since the days spent in the company of old lawyers. Both Addy and I watch him with a cautious eye, he is not flourishing in this gloom. He may be cursed and dying, but I think he is in need of exercise and fresh air.

Which is why it is a good thing that we are now hired on as part of an expedition. An expedition to find a lost expedition. Lost while being headed by one of the most famous and prolific explorers of our time. Lost in an uncharted canyon system named (and rightly if not imaginatively) The Grand Canyon.
Everyone seems excited to be going. I cannot lie, I am as well. But. Everyone also seems to be ignoring, for the moment, the giant pink elephant in the room… Lost expeditions usually get lost for very nasty reasons.

It was funny how we became part of this expedition, really. The five of us attended a gala event at one of the swankiest hotels in Junkyard. There was a covered display and a string quartet and then a snake oil salesman who told us all about the marvel of the trunk that washed up down river of said Grand Canyon. He sounded like a tent revival preacher, but his story was interesting, however, when he dramatically revealed the contents of the display case we were all let down by the simple, weather worn and moth eaten contents. Not that we ever got a chance to look at any of it close enough. Scruffy outlaws slammed open the doors, shot off rounds in the air and demanded everyone stay right where they were. I was thinking to myself how easily it was going to be to get crushed and trampled when the folks panicked as someone fired on the bandits… which caused the imagined chaos to erupt. I had my back to the stage as we’d turned to see the intrusion, it’s edge butting up against the backs of my knees, I had to crane my head to see around the bulk of Grizz who had taken one quiet step to his left to totally block me from view. There were some fellas to my right, who were coiled and ready and looking like they were not going to take the robbery sitting down so I whispered to them. Made quiet suggestions and when they both looked at me with a knowing gleam in their eyes, I gave them that confident nod my father taught me… his signature trick to convince a jury that his point of view was the only point of view… and off they went, into the crowd, whispering in ears as they went. Very shortly, out of the chaos formed small, but powerful groups that began fighting back instead of running in panic. More shots were fired, one by me, bandits went down, one by me (thank you Ian for all those evenings spent shooting bottles off of logs). Of course, the law showed up once all the bandits were down or running. Our little quintet decided we really were not interested in speaking to the law and that it was just about time for a bite to eat when a bellhop from the hotel came and tugged on our sleeves, telling us that one Doctor Haskins wished the pleasure of our company in his rooms upstairs. Well. Seeings how Doctor Haskins and his expedition appeared to be the target of our little intrusion we thought it might be interesting to see what he might want from us.

So. Now we have two days to gather supplies and get ready to board the train to Cedar City, the launching point of this newest expedition to find The Great Lost Powell. I will meet with Dill tomorrow and collect Laredo. It will be nice to have the familiar comfort of that red shoulder again, even if it comes with the disapproving eye roll. I’m not sure what Dill will say when he hears where I am planning on going. I’m sure he will think it is not the sort of thing I should be undertaking, what with my recent recovery and all, but he’s not my father, and not my husband so all he can really do is disapprove and advise, which I’m sure he will do in spades from behind those bushy eyebrows and mustache. Ian had no more true a friend than Dill. In truth he continues to be that friend by his considerations for me. I may have been lonesome from birth, but I am blessed to be surrounded by good people.

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Can't take us Nowhere.
S.M.M

Seems me and my friends can’t go anywhere without some doings a-transpiring. We cannot even go to a historical Gala without some form of bandit breaking in and threatening the lives of good people.

That is better than the giant robot scorpion I was expecting, although something of an anti-climax.

I certainly seem to have settled into a good group; people who won’t panic at the first round fired. I wish I had people like Lonesome, Addy and Cobb in my squad in the army. I’d like the regulations to witness those two ‘ineffective females’. And I think we could have used Cobb as a cannon mule or cover if nothing else.

It may sound crazy, but I swear I saw our Indian Friend turn into a cat! On the other hand, I have no idea what the illness running through me is doing to my mind, so I may have imagined it. Going to have to convince that Man to stop chopping bits off the dead though, it is beginning to cause comment.
Then again who am I to argue with a man who can turn into a cat…

Money has been a little loose these past months, but some of that Agent’s payment has bought a smile to at least one friend. It was a tough move, not spending it on another ‘miracle cure’. And walking into that shop reminded me of the times I had to walk those thirty steps to my father’s desk. Of course, this time I wasn’t getting a thrashing. But it was worth the look on her face, I think she may even have been blushing a little. Been a while since I had that effect on a girl.

I am finding it hard to concentrate. Sometimes I feel like I have forgotten Charity, then I think I hear her voice on the edge of hearing and I glance around. Of course, she is not there. And then my heart lurches. I think if this had happened a month ago I would have sought to end it quicker than my god given time. “A despair so great as to be a sin. The end of hope and faith.” Those were the Turtles words. But I don’t feel that now.

I look at the coming end and I do feel sadness, because I have people in my life, that I have allowed into my life. I worry that, with certain thoughts in my head, I may be betraying my family. I also worry I may be heading to a path that is no good for anyone, but I can’t seem to help myself.

If this is my end, then I will make it a good one, with good people around me. Maybe I should stop looking for a cure that may not be there, and let that old Indian’s magic do its thing. But my family didn’t go into the dark without me there to hold them. And I don’t think, if I’m going to meet my Maker, I’ll be going lonely either…

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Historic Announcement!
** Marshall's Update **

You’re about to make History!

After spending a few not completely event free days in Junkyard, they attend the Gala announcement at the Grand Hotel in Junkyard. It turns out that some artifacts of Major John Powell’s last ill fated expedition to the Grand Canyon have turned up! The Explorers Society and Smith and Robards are Sponsoring it. However, during the announcement, several bandits attempt to raid the doings! THe one who shouted seemed headed for the stage.

Although the ballroom was pack close to burstin’, our posse dealt with the interlopers rather handily. Once the constabulary arrived, they were in no mood for questioning, but they each received an invitation to visit with Dr. Haskins in his room upstairs. Seems his bodyguard, Ms. Miller, has convinced him he needs a bit more security than he was expecting, and thinks these stalwart characters maybe his answer…

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A Lesson on Death and the Stars; Interlude.
S.M.M

It can be difficult to see the stars here; the City of Gloom lives up to its name. I have failed to find a cure for the spectre that haunts me, but I have made some allies on the way here that, with luck, will make my passing bearable.

But it is the sudden glimpses of the stars that I now wait for every night, when the wind shifts the floating layer of dust and soot enough to see the sky.

They remind me of a time many years ago at university, and my fencing tutor James Garbett. We all called him the Turtle. 75 years old, an almost unprecedented age for a soldier, but he was still strong and fast. It occurs to me now we are almost entirely the opposite spectrum of a man; he lived to a grand old age, and I will in all likely-hood not see fifty.

I remember that last night better than some of the lessons we had; his few remaining students sitting around him while we waited for the dawn. Duels were illegal, of course, but the Turtle had a deeper sense of honour than any man I ever knew. His daughter, like my own, lay cold in the earth. Her killer had escaped justice through his bank, not the courts, and the Turtle had challenged him. An ancient challenging his own student. His best student.

The other men drifted away as the night wore on, but I remained with my teacher; I owed him that much at least. He was smiling now, the first smile I could ever remember, and the drinks I had consumed made me brave, or foolish, and I asked him why he had never smiled, but could do so now his daughter was in the dirt at the hands of a man he had loved like a son.

“I don’t think I was a melancholy man by nature, but life piles on a man the longer he sticks to it. Weighs him down. When you are a young man like yourself, life is full of wonders. Love, hope, oppotunity. But as the years roll on things become ordinary. colours lose their vibrance.”

Here he indicated the stars above us. "Stars lose their glitter. You become less in awe of the world. It loses its magic.
“I don’t see this as a painful thing. I think it is a mercy. I believe its just so its all so much easier to let it go when its our time to pass. But when you have lived as long as I have It can break you down, all the tarnished luster. And its hard to be alive and be so broken.”

I couldn’t say anything at the time. I’m not sure that I even understood it.

“But tonight the stars are gleaming like they did when I was a bairn, and tomorrow I will probably see my family again. It has been an awful long time.”

The Turtle didn’t defeat my former friend. He was toyed with; the muscle of his arm cut so he couldn’t lift his sword, and his nose and ear sliced off before his opponant finally had the decency to finish it with a thrust to the heart. He laughed then, the man with the name that I cannot even write down. Asked me if I would avenge our teacher, take up the sword to show his friends how good I was.

I shot him in the stomach and let him lay screaming as I murdered his friends that didn’t run from the field as the sun rose. Then, when we were alone amongst the remains of my teacher and his opponents friends, I told him how I had loved Turtles daughter, and had hoped to propose that Summer. We chatted, or I chatted, as he tried to reach his sword. It was a happy coincidence, but the round from my hidden revolver had passed through his guts and severed his spine. I had used much of my families money to ensure we would not be bothered by the authorities. But when I got tired of his crying and screaming, I took my master’s blade and slowly pushed it through the dying man’s eye.

Not a nice story, is it. My teacher would have been ashamed of me, for using a pistol and for cutting down surprised men from what was essentially an ambush. And I am certain that wherever the Turtle went to meet his family, I won’t be heading there when I pass.

But I am content, i think. I can see the end coming, but I still feel pleasure at the sight of a beautiful woman, and I can still stare at the stars.

I think I prefer to not know what it’s like not to be in awe of the stars.

Thank you, James, for being my teacher.

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A Rocky Start
Lonesome Chapman

A rocky start –
Twenty years of riding trains with my father from circuit court to circuit court and not once did someone blow up a bridge, or disconnect cars. Twenty years of practically living in a narrow bunk and getting geography lessons through windows and never once did the engine plunge off the track down a ravine, never once did a dangerous creature get loose, never once did myself and the people around me wind up hunting a monster in the snow.

What made this train ride so damned special?

Considering the events of the past few weeks, I’m beginning to think that the two main men in my life are conspiring to continue to exert their influence on me from the Hereafter. My father raised me to think for myself, hold my head high and trust that all the strength I needed came from within. My beloved Ranger taught me that women are damn strong, but that doesn’t mean they should have to go through life being the strongest person in the room. Both of them loved me fiercely. Both of them encouraged me to use my strengths, bolster my weaknesses and perhaps unfortunately, to depend on men to pick up where my strengths ended.

My strengths came into play on the train ride between Denver and The City of Gloom. Train wreck, gun fight, injured folk, loose weird beastie, pushy government bitches who keep secrets… this was no ordinary train ride. It took all my brains and my guts to keep it together at first, what with my head getting a nasty bump and the horrible explosions and screetchings, but once I got started, the sensible kicked in. Long story short we saved who we could, hunted and killed the beastie, doctored up our wounds and moved back down the track to Watertown. Dealt with all the railroad officials, security, engineers who asked the most ridiculous questions. I may be educated, but structural integrity of bridges is not really part of my intellectual pervue. Engineers, scientists, lawyers… they all believe their knowledge is the end all, be all.

So. Everything got sorted and we’ve finally made our destination. However. I seem to have acquired a shadow. I don’t know if it is my imagination, and he HAD been stranded by the snows… although why he didn’t get on the train when we passed through the first time I don’t know… but. Dammit. Now I’m flustered. As I said, I seem to have acquired a shadow. He is huge, and hairy and has the oddest tang in the musk of his body. Don’t look at me like that. One tends to be closer than one might wish to their fellow travelers on trains. He helped with all the efforts to get the track cleared and running again. He lent a hand in dealing with the injured. He made fine conversation of an evening when it was too quiet to stand… and then he got on the train with us and got off in Junkyard. He has holed up in the same hotel, even though he doesn’t look the type to do much living in hotels. He has chosen the same diners as me for eating his evening meal almost every night since we got here. He is intelligent. He is funny with a slow, quiet humor. He doesn’t mind silence and always leans in to hear so I don’t have to strain my throat. He makes me feel incredibly lonesome. Dammit.

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Side Stitch
Addy

Pain. Not quite unbearable pain. It’s lancing straight to my spine and up into my chest. Restin’s been quite difficult over the last few days, but I’ll take it over the alternative. It’s almost as frightening as the thought of those disgusting insects. What’d the shaman call them…huskers? Thank the Almighty, whatever name you call him, I’m layin’ here in agony now, though. The thought of servin’ as a nest for that disgusting critter gives me the shivers. I may not yet know much about the widdah’ or Munroe, or hell, about the shaman, but I’ll tell ya one thing, they’re the only reason I’m a-layin’ here right now instead of havin’ a dirt nap. [Shudders] The journey from that cold, dark cave to Watertown is a blur. I do recall the slow small smile Mrs Chapman gave when the surgeon in Watertown pronounced her excise a sure job—I reckon she’s gotten herself outta more dire scrapes than that, by God! I’ll be glad when this mess heals up though. Doc gave me some laudanum since the muscle’s been a bit cut up and it weren’t just skin that bug removal damaged, but damned if I’m gonna start wantin’ laudanum all the time—that poppy juice has been the undoin’ of more’n one careless gal. The smell of that little brown bottle when the sawbones uncorked it was godawful but when it hit my nose I had the strangest memory of my papa—I’d forgotten about this completely.

I recall about three years ago Papa came back from one of his long absences with a healin’ slice on his back, right over one of the shoulder blades. He had a little brown bottle with him too and I remember that same scent as he went through his travelin’ sack and found it at the bottom and brought it out. He had this scowl on his face. Papa’s generally a gentle man, I mean, he’ll fight if there’s a need but he always talks it out first and usually doesn’t show much in the way of his feelins’ on his face, but that scowl! Lord ‘a’ mercy! He tramped right out to the back porch, opened that bottle and upended it over the dirt. Said he didn’t even want to pour it over a blade o’ grass, it was that nasty. Seems he’d met a lady on one of the reservations, half Tsalagi, and they’d developed a tendresse, so to speak. Well, one of the fellows who lived in her village took exception to my papa over near about everything he did there, according to my papa, and this was no different. They had a bit of an altercation and it ended with the fellow’s obsidian knife point broken off in Papa’s back—I can’t recall what Papa said happened to the other man, but it can’t have been anything too terrible or I’m sure I’d remember. The woman cleaned up my papa and the village wise man patched up the spirits but later on one of the white doctors had come through and pressed that stuff on him, insistin’ he’d be glad of it. Papa muttered somethin’ about the white man and a happy captive; he’s never taken a kind view of white people’s goals.

Anyway, I’ve seen a few things here and there in his travelin’ sack when he returns that tell me he must be gettin’ on just fine with the woman still. I can’t imagine what kind a’ situation she must have where she’s fine with his irregular visits, but they been carryin’ on since then—not that Papa tells me much about her. Come to think of it, I sure would like it if he’d bring her around, be nice to have another female around the place. Reckon she don’t wanna leave her kin—I can sympathize with that.

But, the look on his face as he dumped that poppy concoction, that left a lasting impression. He still wears that chipped-off point on a thong around his neck—that was when he gave me his necklace with the lumpy, shaped-gold nugget from his family that he’d always worn. Said the spirits didn’t like more than one rock around a man’s neck at one time, somethin’ about bein’ able to identify a soul in its body. Now that, that I have worn since the day he gave it; makes me feel connected to my Tsalagi grandparents. Papa’s told me so many stories from the old times, passed from them. You know, Papa actually mentioned those huskers, not by that name, to me when I was a little girl, but I thought he was teasin’ or that it was one of his tribe’s allegories—it never occurred to me a bug could look like that and damage a body in such a way. Whew, it really took the wind outta my sails for a few days. I’m not sure how I’m gonna repay those three, but no one better say ‘boo’ to any of ‘em or they’ll be lookin’ down the barrel of my Colt and that’s God’s honest truth.

Phew, I’m tuckered. I might catch a bit ‘a shut eye.

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Blood on my Hands.
S.M.M

Perhaps the ease with which I learned to kill in the name of the crown has not dimmed these last few years.

The sun had not quite risen when I was woken by the Indian, who, with barely a word of explanation, hared off into the pre-dawn gloom. I waited at the doorway of the carriage we had sheltered in, and was just able to pick out the sound of cries for help over the wind.

I woke the two women who had been most help yesterday, thinking that the Indian may need help if this was some trick of the bandits, but while I watched the injured and more fragile members of our party, the two ladies found the Indian, and a survivor.

With so many injured, and little enough provisions, I took it upon myself to thin our numbers while the more delicate were buzzing around the survivor. God help me, but I killed those two men most injured, and I guess I feel more guilty about not feeling guilty, than I do about my hand in their deaths, if that makes any sense. Killing is easy; it seems the choice to stop is the hardest part.

It was while I was at my distasteful task that the widow was approached by Laura. The softly spoken Mrs Chapman was tense about something, that I could tell, and when she told me the story she in turn had heard, I could only agree. With limited supplies and (now slightly fewer) injured in our ranks, Laura wanted us to hunt down some wild beast. It was preposterous.

Until, during a heated debate between the three women (Miss Maltster siding with Chapman, and our Indian friend remaining quiet) I realised that Laura was an Agent of the Union, and that the creature she wanted us to hunt was no natural beast. She described how her fellow agents had fallen at its hands, and that it would hunt us over the snow like animals until we, or it, was killed.

Foolishly I imagined it as some human killer, some unhinged individual that the Agency had captured and were transporting. But, after some fisticuffs amongst the women (not at all helped by the Agent’s lies), I agreed that I would try and track this beast. It took some persuasion, but the two ladies and the Indian agreed to come with me, and to be honest I can’t think of anyone out here I’d rather have watching my back. The two women were the only people to keep their heads in the original attack, and the Indian helped a group of strangers when he had been offered nothing in return. Some might have asked the Agent to accompany them, but I think Mrs Chapman is close to the truth when she says Laura is a coward, and though I returned the gatling pistol to her, I wouldn’t want her to decide we were ‘too’ close to the truth.

Although her promise of $500 apiece was awfully tempting.

After that, things got strange, quick. I tracked the prints from the baggage car to a clearing in the mountains. There was a cave in cliff, and disturbed earth all around. It was as I approached such a patch of earth, that a hand burst from the ground, followed, naturally, by the rest of one of the train crew.

I could believe that they were with the bandits, but when one of my companions shot the belly from the corpse, a strange insect like creature revealed itself. In the firestorm we brought down on the other corpses we cut them down, although one, the body of a stranger, I killed with a blow from my brass knuckles. It was a lucky hit, killing the insect within, and further ruining my coat. The Agency must have a hell of a cleaning bill.

Exploration of the cave revealed the Agency’s creature, a bigger insect that attacked Miss Maltster. Together we managed to pry it off the girl, and I shot it to pieces.
The girl was hard to console though, it seemed the creature had implanted her with a grub from its sting. Chapman cut it out of her side, and I flicked the grotesque little thing onto a pyre I had made for the bodies.

It’s time to set out back down the rail, we have about twenty miles to cover. Then I have to get out to Salt Lake City, scare up some information on this miracle cure. I would ask the Agent about their science, but I don’t want to owe them anything. I’d rather they didn’t know I existed.

I might have to get another shotgun too. God knows where I’m going to keep it though…

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