Wide Weird West

Back in the Saddle
Lonesome Chapman

Well. I am back on the trail again… with a bunch of greenhorns. They know nothing about camp, or cooking or whatnot. The Professor drives me to distraction. He is so focused on his own little world I think he actually forgets he has people following him. I want to grab him by the collar and slap him until he realized that if he doesn’t have a care he is going to get all these people killed.

I’m actually quite sorry I agreed to come along. I feel like a mother hen, and I’m not sure I like being the one to have to call that crazy man out and stop him from volunteering us to do crazy things. Like going into a cave after a giant devil bat that buffalo soldiers could not handle on their own. We did go. We did help, well when I say we I do really mean members of our group. I think Dead Feathers and Soloman did the actual deed by themselves without help from any of the so called soldiers. I’m not sure, however as it was dark, I was not the first one in, and by the time I did get in it was all over.

I really don’t think I’m doing very well. I’m about tired of people hassling me for speaking so quietly. I’m about ready to unleash my new voice on them and see just how much better they like it. I’m tired of my heart hurting.

Bah. Enough whining. You’d think I was a five year old.

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Stymied
Addy Maltster

/Addy sits one an outcropping of rock overlooking the quiet camp, but not far from it, as a buffalo soldier roves, keeping watch per the agreement. She has a mostly untouched flask of whiskey with her./

If I never bury another body, it will not be soon enough. I’ve seen more than I care to see of death on this trip already. Thank the Great Spirit Grizz came along and helped me with that, I was near the end of my rope—that poor boy couldn’t have been more than 20. That’s too young to die. I’m tellin’ you, I was thinkin’ about that all afternoon. Then Sophie started tellin’ me about her growin’ up and it just got worse. She sure has turned her life around, I can’t hardly imagine her as no one’s victim now, but what I truly can’t imagine is bein’ property. What a beginnin’. She gets on right well with the professor, though, in fact, I’m not sure he’d be out here without her—difficult to find a person who knows what you need before you say it. /She picks up her filled flask and tilts it gently back and forth several times, holding it horizontally, listening to the liquid inside moving./

Somethin’ felt off to me all afternoon after we buried that poor boy, I just couldn’t shake it. Then that creature showed up—what an almighty racket. That sent a cold finger up the spine and I was none too happy to be movin’ toward it when Sophie and the professor asked us to go after it. Between that poor boy newly cold in the ground and the dread that noise inspired, I could not seem to climb the rope they left for us, my hands just kept letting it slide. I thought Lonesome was gonna’ grab me ‘round the waist, throw me over her shoulder and climb up herself she was gettin’ so fired up! Then, when I did finally make it up, and into the cave (which was quite repellent, I might add), I realized I’d run off without a single torch and the twilight only reached so far back. Solomon and Dead Feathers were long gone, I could hear the buffalo soldiers moving forward, firin’ them jet pack contraptions from time to time, but I couldn’t hear Dead Feathers or Solomon moving around. The occasional chanted phrase drifted back, but that murk was so thick it was move forward or turn ‘round.

I haven’t felt that useless in a while. I still recall my feelin’ of relief when, hearing that scatter gun go off, that damned beast got a helluva lot quieter. Weren’t but a minute and it made no more noise a’tall. Come to find out, just as I’m comin’ up like some kinda Johnny-come-lately, Dead Feathers has finished it off. I’ll tell ya one thing, I’m not used to showin’ up when the work’s done and I don’t like the feelin’ whatsoever.

From up here, the camp looks so small. There’s only four fires and everyone else seems to be restin’ easy, the honest sleep of hard work—I wouldn’t know anything about that tonight. It’s a little cluster under this big sky; I tremble to think the Pathway of Departed Spirits up there looks down on me in its majesty and sees me shirkin’ my duty. It’s many a night I’ve been under that bright belt with Papa, watchin’ the forest move with life we folk see but little. They watch, timeless, clustered so thickly up there; I hope if my mama saw me today she understands. Though, I’ve always thought of her as The Star That Does Not Walk Around, guiding me from her steady vantage point overhead. We keep her on our left, on this journey, travelin’ more eastward every day, and I wonder if she’s there when the sun blazes over us—I think she must be, I just have to trust she’s there.

/She uncaps the flask and holds it to her face, inhaling the scent of the liquid for a long moment, then recaps it, untasted./ Hm. Honey, maybe a lil’ citrus too. No oak, no vanilla. Amateurs. Not bad, but not Aislinn. I’ve no idea when I’ll next see my distillery, but one takes the task at hand and carries on until that time is over. I’m just gonna’ try harder tomorrow, I reckon. /She stands and picks her way back down into the camp and settles in./

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Dead Feathers Quest

The spirits quest is indeed taxing, having to suffer the contraptions of the white men, they are using boats of metal, mechanical carriages not drawn by horses but with internal flames and now i have seen the most disturbing, these “Buffalo soldiers” slave people who can fly with the greatest of noises on their backs. such manatou that i have seen, may the great spirits protect. My task is great and the road is perilous but i shall win out against the spirits and manatou brought forth by the white man.

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Bats and Buffaloes
S.M.M

It seems to me that everything in this new world is twisted beyond recognition. After the giant ant/spider/lizard of several weeks ago, I have now seen first hand the reports of the so-called Devil Bats. As my luck would have it, the one we saw was, according to a soldier we met, about three times bigger than a normal Devil Bat, a creature about twice the size of a man.

I wonder if God, or one Dead Feathers’ spirits, is testing us. I saw some strange things while I was in the army, but since meeting Addy, Lonesome and our mysterious Feathers we seem to have been pushed into a world of alien beasts and low-down humans. It is almost like we have been gathered by someone to pit ourselves against these dangers. The thoughts keep drifting through my mind, making it hard to concentrate. I need to speak to a scholar, a priest or maybe Dead Feathers.

We came across a dead black man, a member of the ‘Flying Buffaloes’, I’m told an elite unit of the army that utilize the ‘jet packs’ created by people like the Professor. We soon came across the living example, fighting the huge creature, and we were volunteered to help them destroy it. I hold no problems with killing a dangerous animal, but I would like to have been asked.

We tracked it to a butte, and I was able to kill it with a short range blast from my scattergun. Well, Dead Feathers finished it off, but it was dying after I opened its mid-drift.

I enjoyed the solitude of ranging today, interrupted as it was by the attack of a giant plague bat, but I wouldn’t trade my companions for anyone else. We made some friends amongst the Buffaloes, and I think that the Cliff City is soon going to be in sight. Once there we have to drop into the Canyon itself, after these lost wonders the Professor is so keen on.

Hmm, as a side-note, I really should look at buying a weapon with longer range. My headaches mean that such a weapon would not always be of use to me; my sight blurs and my eyes run in the strong light when such attacks are upon me. It would have come in useful today, however. I am not sure what type of settlement it is we are heading to, but perhaps I can find something suitable…

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On the Trail
** Marshall's Update **

After less than a day in Cedar City, the train is unloaded, the barges are loaded, and the posse sets off before sundown. For two days, they travel slowly down the Big Meadow Wash watching the none too interesting scenery flow by. Late in the second day, the confluence with the Virgin River comes into view, just showing signs of spring run-off. Here, they part ways with “Big” Bob and his crew, reloading the wagons and heading on generally east into the Black Rock Mountains. It is here we discover that the professor is an exceptionally bad driver.

The days are quite hot and dusty, with water at a premium, and the professor going on about heat safety. Even though this is early spring, the heat of summer is already showing through. Setting up watches and continuing on the less-than-path, late in the afternoon of the second day, they come upon a grisly scene, and then…the largest Devil Bat anyone has ever heard of, that seems to have taken exception to some Flying Buffaloes

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"We died!"
Addy Maltster

The scene:
Riding through the dusty street around back of the tiny mail room after posting her purple dress to Colorado Springs (this one will not suffer a similar fate!)

Addy:
Who would have thought there’d be a Chinese laundry in little Cedar City!? And it looks like a miniature version of the launderer’s shop in Colorado Springs, too. I wonder if they have baths as well—I would dearly love one before we set out on that dusty trail. It’s hot already and fixin’ ta’ get hotter, don’t I know? A bell tinkles as I push the door open into a tiny front room with only a wood countertop and a door, in front of which stands an uncharacteristically tall, elderly Chinese gentleman.

“Pardon me, sir, have you any Castile soap, by any chance?”
“We hab a-soap, yiss. You want a-bath soap, not a-rahndry soap?”
“How did you know!?”
“I hab not a-seen you bep-oah, miss.”
“Ah, Cedar City is small, I reckon you know just about ever-body! That’s right, bath soap, if you have it, thank you.”
“Yiss, we hab orange scent, a-rabendah, and fo gent-uh-men we hab a-cedah.”
“Oh!” I exclaim, taken aback in surprise at having a choice. “Could I have a bar of the lavender, please, and will you give me one of the cedar bars too?”
“Ob course! Would Miss ca’ fa’ any-ting erse?
“Do you have baths?”

“Yiss, ob course,” he replied, stepping away and poking his head through the doorway behind him, obviously conversing with someone on the other side. “You go wiss a-wife, she will a-he’p you. You stay as a-rong as you need, we he-ah a’day, and most ob’ night, too!”
“Ooo, a soak! Would she be able to make sure I go by 11 o’clock? I’m travelin’ with a small group and our barges must depart at noon.”
“No prob-rem. Fa’ soaps and a-bass, just a-one silba’ dora’.”

A dollar’s a little more than the price of a bath in Colorado Springs, but then, that soap’s gotta’ travel a lot farther on the train or in someone’s wagon than it does to Colorado Springs and it ain’t cheap t’ begin with. After postin’ that gown, and payin’ for the fripperies, I’m down to three dollars; shoo-wee, I better take care, I’m not used to such a narra’ margin!
“Ah thank ya!” I say brightly, watching him roll the bars individually in brown paper and tie them closed with rough hemp cordage.

“Yiss. A-soap ba’s will be he-ah, wife gib dem to you when you finish a-bass, a-right? Dey will stay a-sorid, good fa’ packing in a-trunk o-ah balise. We hab a-soap in-cruded fa’ bass.”
“Oh, that would be lovely, thank you! I surely don’t need soggy soap in my pack!” Despite his thick accent, his command of grammar is quite good and my interactions with the Chinese in Colorado Springs have acclimatized me to their tendency to drop articles and ‘be’ and to their phonetic conventions and inclinations to end syllables in vowel sounds.

The fella’s wiry wife is a wizened little thing, but she has some of the clearest skin I’ve ever seen, all that steam must be good for her complexion. She shows me into a room so tiny I almost think twice about stayin’ in it for the half hour I asked for, it’s so close, but I’m dyin’ for that last bath before we hit the trail. In the few minutes it took for the fella to let his wife know what was needed, take my money, and wrap up those little bars, they managed to fill up a sizeable wooden tub pert-near to the brim with steamin’ water. This is the nearest to heaven I’ve been in a long time. The thick wooden slats of the tub look worn smooth from years of water and rubbing and the sopping linen sheet draped over the inside surface looks like the most inviting sight yet this morning. She points to a large white towel hanging over a wooden dowel fixed to the wall and gestures to the tiny shelf where a generous sliver of fresh soap sits, not lavender like I bought but not a harsh lye either. At home a chunk of soap that size would get mushed into a larger, ‘tail-ends’ economical ball of soap, but here knowing no one else has touched that little sliver and that it’s just enough for the job at hand, I marvel at the service these folks give, savoring the experience. I could swear I smell lavender though. When I turn around, I see she’s taken a tiny phial out of her apron and has poured just a drop or two in the bath, sure enough, dim as the gaslight inside is, I see tiny droplets sheening the surface of the hot water.

“That is divine, but I didn’t pay for that,” I tell her with dismay.
“Ar-ways put smell in a-wata’ fo’ radies,” she tells me with a smile nodding continuously, her eyes crinkling nearly closed when she sees my delight. “I bring a-green a-tea fo’ miss, a-too. One minute,” she says, and when I begin to protest that I haven’t paid for that either, she continues preemptively, “Ar-ways bring dish ob a-green a-tea fo’ ar-a-customah’s, incruded in price ob bass; make a-white pe-pah’ more her-ty, rike a-Chinese,” she winks and nods once finally. I laugh, aware of the preoccupation with health and unusual remedies of the Chinese folks at home and she smiles back again. The family that owns the Chinese laundry in Colorado Springs always thought I was white too, until the father saw me with my Papa at the mercantile one day and commented how I looked like him around the eyes, and my height.

“Could you please make sure I get out of this lovely tub in a half hour?”
“Hap hou-ah,” she confirms then slips out the door. In a trice, my trousers, shirt and things are piled in the miniscule corner under that tiny shelf of soap and I’m sinking into this blissfully hot water. I know she can’t be gone more than the literal minute she mentioned, but by the time she does return, I feel nearly boneless with relaxation. I gratefully take the steaming cup she offers, one of the funny ones with no handle that you have to hold by the rim, just like the laundry back at home, and she nods at me, satisfied that I am well-ensconced, and departs. I’ve only ever had this tea at the laundry at home, I don’t know how much it must cost them to bring it here; it’s certainly never for sale at the mercantile. It’s got the strangest flavor, but I love it because I always think of the relaxed, clean sensations like I’m having now when I taste it. They sell it prepared like this at home, but it costs extra, I reckon I’ve gotten a good deal after all, come to think of it. Dear me, I am so drowsy! I am so glad I asked her to make sure I don’t stay too long. Swallowing all but the leafy dregs, I set the cup gingerly down on the floor behind me so as not to step on it later. I pluck the bar from its shelf and make short work of a thorough cleansing, finishing with a monumental effort to lather and rinse my hair until I can faintly smell the lavender in it from the rinsing, then I lie back and allow my eyes to drift closed.

- - - - - - - - - -

“Solomon!” I scream, waking as I bolt upright, sloshing water over the edge and sluicing it
down over me, my coily hair hanging heavily, a tepid, sodden mess on my neck and back. My eyes are staring blankly at the wall ahead of me and my fingers grip the rounded edge of the linen-covered tub so hard they hurt and it takes a moment for me to recognize the wood grain pattern in the sanded cedar boards of the wall in the dimly lit, steamy chamber. Hardly a second later, the old woman pokes a very worried face through the doorway, the cool draft rolling in bringing me fully aware of my surroundings.

“Miss!” She says, her face creased with concern. She steps inside, heedless of my state of undress and bends to me, peering into my fear-widened eyes, “What a-happen?”
I realize I’m shaking and she turns and pushes the door closed then pulls the towel off its rod and nudges her hand into my palm, dislodging the fingers of one hand from my death-grip on the tub edge and pulling, encouraging me up to stand. She wraps me in the towel and I’m still shaking, though it’s plenty warm in the small room.
“A dream,” I whisper, “it was a dream. It was just a dream.” The worried expression on her face intensifies momentarily.
“Bad dream, bad sing,” she mutters, holding my hand as I step over the tall rim of the tub.
“It was just a dream,” I repeat to her, searching her face and eyes, taking in her concerned look, and it sounds more like I’m still trying to assure myself that it was just a dream than telling her.
“You wait he-ah, put on crose, not a-shirt,” and she slips back out the door.

Preoccupied with my dream, I shudder, feeling clammy now, and quickly towel dry, wrapping my hair and wringing it several times, wanting all the cold drips gone. I pull on my worn canvas trousers, the serviceable, short, thin wool stockings I normally wear and my boots, then wrap my bandeau. I’m tucking Solomon’s note into the left side of it, it seeming more than ever like a talisman, when she returns, a twist of some kind of dried grass in her fingers, the stubby far end smoldering and trailing smoke. The smell hits me and it’s no scent I’ve ever encountered before, pungent and strong. She mumbles, the sibilant sounds of her native language susurrating into my ears as she stabs the air over my chest and shoulders with the smoking wodge. I close my eyes, the horror of the dream still shadowing me, and allow her to wave the little smoldering bundle hardly an inch from my face, up and down over my eyelids and cheeks, again and again, and I can feel her fanning the smoke towards my nose and closed eyes, her hands making small circles in front of my face, then large circles, back over my shoulders and up behind my head then back down over my face, over and over, all the while murmuring.

Presently, she stops and lightly grips my shoulder, her gnarly fingers surprisingly gentle. My eyes flutter open and I feel a little calmer. The twist of fibers has burned to almost nothing and she douses it in the cool bathwater with contempt and says something in Chinese, gesturing at the remainder of the burnt bundle with another look of contempt. I think she believes the terrible dream aura has been absorbed into the soggy wodge. I throw my shirt over my head and follow her out the door through to another steamy room where several Chinese women and men stir huge vats of laundry with long wooden paddles. She strides purposefully over to a low woodstove in the corner, on top of which boils two large pots of water, and jerks open the oven door. Flames jump inside and she tosses the wet remainder onto the coals and quickly closes the door. The faint pungent scent leaks out but she seems satisfied that whatever ill residue from the dream and the cleansing exists is becoming cinders. She leads me back out and as I exit, she hands me the two small wrapped bars of soap with a reassuring smile.

“A’bettah. Dream-a gone, dream-a gone,” she assures me, nodding, a hint of anxiety remaining deep in her dark brown liquid eyes. I can do no more than nod in agreement but manage to find the presence of mind to fish out an additional silver dollar for her trouble and press it into her hand, hating the feeling of causing trouble and knowing how important the spirits are to her kind, just as to my Papa’s People.

I untie Hateful from the shady hitching post in back of the laundry and mount, riding back to the barge wharf in a daze, barely aware enough to navigate the unfamiliar streets of this fortunately small town. Dismounting, I tie him again in the shade and, wrapping my arm up under his round jaw, I lean against his fat neck, my face pressed into his shoulder and my other hand clutching the front edge of the saddle blanket, needing an anchor, and I breathe deeply, closing my eyes and trying to allow the scent of horse, saddle leather, and soap clear my lingering fog of horror. A few people and horses bustle by but I hear nothing, overwhelmed still by the fright of my dream.

“Miss Ma—, Addy?”
“Solomon,” I gasp softly with a sob, simultaneously turning to face him, feeling all the blood drain from my face. The questioning look on his face changes immediately to near shock when he sees my pale face and the misery in my eyes. He steps close to me and grabs my hands, bringing them up to his chest, cupped in his own hands, and pulls me close to him, sandwiched between his chest and the horse’s shoulder.
“What’s wrong, my love!?” He asks quietly, a fierce expression creeping into his eyes.
“I dreamed! We died!” I whisper desolately into his chest, squeezing my eyes shut as a tear spills. Confusion crosses his face as the noon sun beats down nearby incongruous with my statement.
“You’re not making any sense,” he protests, pulling me tight and releasing one of my hands in order to tip my chin up so he can look into my face. “You’re white as a ghost!” He murmurs in surprise, then notices my damp hair, “What’s going on?”
Struggling to calm myself, I take a couple stuttering breaths then force myself to inhale slowly, one deep breath, and begin to talk.

“I posted the gown home, I can’t let it get ruined. The Chinese laundry, it’s behind the post office. It was so warm and the tea made me sleepy. We were in Numa (Paiute) territory, a wagon was burning and the whole family was dead, we tracked them and they wanted to blame the Numa, they almost hanged Laughing Calf because they were killing them everywhere; the whole family was dead, the grandmother, the parents, the children, all of them. And then it had me, like that bug, pinned, and its horns were so sharp and I kept pushing and stabbing but none of it helped and it was stabbing and stabbing and you were there and you had one but you couldn’t do anything and then you shot the dynamite, and we died, we died!” I babble incoherently, I think, until I raise my eyes and look into Solomon’s face.

He’s white as a ghost.

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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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