Silas was naturally peaceful and warm hearted little town, yet Curtis Ingalls or sheriff as he prefers, makes his way to the school bouncing on the flanks of a chestnut brown stallion. His destination was simple but not one he often visited, his job was busy one of late. His thoughts lingered over recent trouble. He just finished his quarrel of a standoff between two good neighbors, Ferris and Jordan, usually both well-mannered -especially to each other. Not this time and it bothered Curtis. He found Ferris standing over a broken and bloodied man, a shotgun right to Jordan’s redden face, veins popping all over the red angry skin of the forty some farmer. His plaid shirt was crumbled and tattered with staining soil, hay and cow shit as was Ferris’s, evidence of a scuffle. Jordan had been ambushed in his tending of his cows by Ferris as luck would have it, just an hour before Curtis had arrived. They shuffled until Ferris decided he bloodied his fists long enough on the old coot’s face and pulled out Jordan’s shotgun stashed behind the empty horse stall door.
He pulled it and was about to shot when Curtis spoke, making Ferris turn forcing Curtis to shoot the man in the shoulder. He pulled back but it didn’t matter, damn near didn’t affect him in the least as Ferris’s eyes held rage that came after the shot was fired, the man’s fist pulled and ready to cuff Curtis with a pitch fork he reached for…no choice. The memory ended, unable to continue for fear of seeing those dead eyes staring back accusingly at him. It was times like this that Curtis was glad he won’t remember some things that would otherwise haunt him. Jordan offered to take the body to the town morgue and allow the caretaker to prepare the body, making the arrangements. Now came hard part…telling Ferris’s boy what happened.
It was a single room with half its occupants usually absent or off helping their families with chores of living but that didn’t affect the need for it. The schoolmarm was a small woman with look of a bigwig and borrowed eyes, dark and deep. It seemed like they could see right through him, giving them shivers of a little boy being stared at by his mother. Then again their eyes were nearly identical that could be her eyes Melinda was borrowing. He frowned, his horse clipping and clopping under him moving the old man up and down in long strides. Curtis wasn’t very happy with doing this. Yet it was the burden of the job, his old hands pulled on the reins drawing the horse to a stop right outside the white paint peeling school house. He took in the outside, wore by the elements that it should have fallen down years ago but it was held together by pure stubborn nature that built it. Boots kicked up a dirty in his dismount as Curtis slide off, biting his lip in a nervous gesture before turning his boot toe to the school’s door. Moving with heavy strides and a light tingle to his step, Curtis made his walk right into the school room stopping short of the door entrance. It was in the middle of class as every young head turned his way.
“Ma’am… Melinda, can talk to you outside?” His foot shifted, feeling like a naughty boy interrupting the class, fighting the urge to run back outside,” something’s happened.”
Melinda’s day was not going well. The Harris boys were all in, probably their Ma had a project at home she wanted them out of the way of and the three of them together always spelled trouble. She’d had to take the switch to them more than once this day and each time had been more painful for her than it had been for them. As a result, she felt and looked more disheveled than she normally did, a few errant curls hanging decorously along her aristocratic cheeks the most obvious sign of her discomfiture. She looked outside with her dark, borrowed eyes and with more than a little pain realized how young the day still was. She was almost relieved when the Sheriff interrupted her lessons.
She looked up from her crouch by Essie Stillman’s slate, still distraught at how poorly the girl’s numbers were coming at the sign of the Sheriff’s voice. She quirked one pale eyebrow up at his tone of voice and straightened slowly, her graceful hands sliding down along her body, smoothing out wrinkles in her dress unconsciously. She darted her eyes around the young faces now all looking at the sheriff when they aught to be looking at their lessons and wondered which one of them was about to get some bad news. She’d had her allotment of bad news just a few month’s earlier when she’d wound up in this backwater town.
“Certainly Sheriff.” She said in her cultured voice and moved towards the door, the heels of her boots clacking along the floor in her casual pace. Best not to hurry and cause panic when there made not be a need.
“If you all finish up your sums while I am speaking with the sheriff I will give you a few extra minutes of recess.” It was for her sake as much as the children but it seemed to get the response she wanted. Unenthusiastic scholars all murmured their agreement and looked down with close to real excitement at their slates.
She walked towards the sheriff and passed him, a delicate waft of lilac filling the air where she passed and then stepped out onto the porch of her school and then down the three steps to the dusty front yard automatically seeking the shade of the spindly tree that provided only a small bit of relief from the sun.
“What did you wish to speak to me about?” she asked, her eastern accent crisp and pronounced.
The woman looked like Old Scratch came knocking at her door personally. Her curls, a few hung anyways, were displaced as they hung about her cheek when they were usually were held back in that fancy pinning. His feet shuffled after like he been a boy done something wrong, true he wondered himself if shooting Ferris in the head had been called for. The events replayed in his head over and over in his silence before motion caught his eyes. Curtis glared at the elder Harris boy with his hand poised as if he tossed something at his younger brother, the small tap of a pebble hitting wood once the teacher’s back was though the door. Harold, the little fellow and youngest, already to counter until he felt the shiver of the sheriff’s eyes on his small shoulders as he dared a quick glance back before realizing his mistake. It took only moments to hunch his shoulders, Curtis had been known for tossing young brats in his jail even if it was only for an hour. Just until their parent came and got them, making him much loved, respected, and fear in different contexts. Some boys had got to learn thier lessons, better be scared shitless sitting in a jail then at gun point in a fight.
A warning snort from the grizzled face, he turned on his boot heel and followed Melinda out.
The woman walked herself with the air of pride and sophistication to the spindling tree. It was older them him even yet it remained fine and strong, it’s appearance only a knobby surface that with stood the elements to the day. He found himself unable to fathom why in tarnation she was here just as he followed her to the shade. She belonged in Boston, somewhere where her fancy clothes and gentle manner belonged, not here. Not in Silas, where women totted simple skirts of plain color and covered in dust and grime from riding trails across the wide land. Toiling away to help her family make ends meet without a care to shield her from the sun. Damn the girl looked whiter then snow and for many times he seen her, Curtis wondered if she was on the verge of melting in this hot weather. Expecting to turn his back away and then turning back to see a flesh colored pool where Melinda once stood.
His body was jarred with his motions on the uneven turf as the small yellowish green grasses were crushed by his boots sending more dust up in the air. The horse he rode in on nickered and snorted with its tail whishing about, the long neck arched to reach the sweet school grasses near his tied post. Contented with the meal and rest, the silly animal paid little to no mind to the two being as gentle as a lamb from birth. It merely background noise to his mind's focus. The school teacher’s pretty scent, a flowery one though Curtis couldn’t quite place it, swept along his wide aged nose to linger in his mind and made him distracted on telling her. It was a rare thing the sheriff ever had to kill a fellow in this little town and the idea of it, even after the last death being an outsider starting trouble months back, still made his chest tighten beneath his shirt and soured the man’s stomach. It wasn’t supposed to happen at all, especially to one of their own. His form looked shriveled then when she asked him to delivery his message. The shoulders slumped downward as he averted his sight from her, staring into the open prairie for a moment, letting the sight of the scenery calm him. Finally his deep hazel eyes shifted back to Melinda.
Pulling his hands to his vest, tugging it straight in his well-known nervous gesture the man stared into those deep eyes. Eyes that coursed through him as if they knew what type of news he brought, prepared for the worse and the task that was likely to come with it. He breathed deeply with a line for his mouth and a gulp of his throat, his Adam apple bobbed once. His words were strong strained by the sense of defeat in the wake. His eyes drowned at the edges, soften with sorrow, regret, and doubt.
“Is Ferris’s boy here?” Curtis knew the answer, seeing the young timid lad in the farthest seat to the door on his way out. Yet he was praying he was wrong, that his eyes made him see things that weren’t there but his mind won out. Ferris always made his boy go to school. The boy’s demeanor was a sickly looking on by most farmer standards, thin body and pale skin often made him the target of being picked on, his tight curly red brown hair and freckles on his dimple cheeks of 8 years old. He had a pair of spectacles that made him look more like he belonged in Boston, the origin of the items. Ferris believed his boy deserved something greater than just owning a farm and truth be told, Curtis suspected that wasn’t the only reason the ten year widower sent his son on regular to the school house. He tended to find it Ferris’s excuse to converse with Melinda which in Curtis’s mind was courting, whether that was true or not, it was pretty pointless now.
Charles or Charlie as the boy preferred, was there making Cutris tongue lick his lips, continuing his explanation in that deep gravelly voice of his,” Oh, jeeze Melinda. I had no choice; his pa came after me with a pitch fork after trying to shoot Jordan in the face with his own shotgun! It was his neighbor for land sakes, his boy and Jordan’s played all the time so I’m at a loss of how he could… I can’t explain it. Like he was out of his mind and there no other way to save him…”
Curtis shook his head in disbelief, “How am I going to tell Charlie? That’s he’s got to live with his Aunt in another town because I killed the only family he had in Silas…”
His hand pulled about his balding head, stroking the thin bristly back with guilt that ate away at him. The exposed flesh on his head burned into a golden tan that was across his surface from years working in the elements, not quite enough to making him brown or the deep chestnut of the Indian’s that once in a while roamed into town. The people tolerated them, no outstanding efforts to be kind or reasons to openly fire on them though Curtis expected it was going to end up that way. Things had a tense air about the town and with the death of one their own, it just about to sky rocket to the brink. Now would be a terrible time for an Indian to be traveling through town on his way to one of those tribal meetings or whatever they called them. Just a spark to the dry timber for everything to roar out of control.
A few months here and she still wasn’t used to this place or its people. She leaned against the spindly tree and watched through the window as her classroom dissolved into chaos not a minute after she left. Looked like extra recess was in no one’s future. The demographic here was so different from what she was used to, most of these kids resented being in school at all and saw no used for what she was teaching them. She’d come into it with a sort of grim determination to better their lives, to expose them to thoughts and ideas that might never have made their way to this god-forsaken spot of land otherwise. She’d not even managed a week before her high-minded plans had been destroyed by her rowdy students. She’d been a teacher of girl’s back east and had headed west with the intention of teaching girls again and instead wound up in a one room schoolhouse teaching mostly boys. Boys who weren’t the meek city dwelling mischief makers, but big, rowdy farm boys. Not that they were bad, but more that they existed in a state of frenetic energy she didn’t know how to harness or direct.
She turned her attention back to the Sheriff who was just as rough and rugged as her student’s albeit a little more reasonable and sensible. He looked greatly discomforted and she was startled when he asked about Mr. Ferris’ boy Charles. Charles was a sweet, quiet boy, one of her favorite pupils and as ill suited for these climes as she was. He was bright in comparison to the others but seemed to be lacking some sort of drive to elevate him. Mr. Ferris had been another matter. He’d been sweet and thought of his boy and his future first, which had been an endearing quality and she’d done her best to mentor and tutor Charles. But then she’d realized that Mr. Ferris’ attentions had somehow shifted into a clumsy courtship and she’d been appalled. That was the furthest thing from her mind. She knew many women had come west with the intention of seeking and securing a husband but not her! She’d come out for a career and had no intention of settling for a husband. Sweetness aside, Mr. Ferris was a rancher and she was a city girl, present circumstances aside. That she’d be a second wife was also a deterrent to the situation but she didn’t know how to address it with him.
How did one turn down sweet, well meaning widowers whose life-styles were the last thing you wanted without insulting them? Well in Melinda’s case, not much of anything. She dodged him when she could, was coolly professional when she couldn’t and never went out to his ranch. When in church she sat in an occupied pew and left no room for others beside her.
Her rambling thoughts were interrupted by the Sheriff’s frantic words. It took her a moment to change gears and catch up. Instantly she felt like a cad, a completely horrible person. Mr. Ferris was dead and poor Charles was an orphan and she wasn’t even certain how. She gripped the sheriff’s forearm and pulled his attention to her, her black, borrowed eyes boring into his.
“What happened? Slow down and explain because that doesn’t sound like Mr. Ferris at all! Shotgun? Pitchfork? Can’t there have been some mistake?”
She paled even further. Charles, what was going to happen with Charles? The minister, the minister and his wife, they could take him in until his aunt could be contacted. She felt a slight loosening of the panic that had gripped her. She wanted no ties here, none that could hold her down. She wasn’t meant for this place, was meant to be passing through and didn’t need any ties such as a clever orphan boy with thick spectacles.
“I would suggest you take him over to the Minister and his wife and tell him in front of them. They will be more help in comforting the boy and,” she peered at the sheriff and noted the obvious strain around his mouth, “it might do you some good to have someone to speak with as well.”
She tried very hard to maintain a cool and aloof demeanor, distant and professional but she wasn’t that way. She ached for the little boy and it hurt to see the grizzled sheriff looking so troubled. It was clear such violence was a rarity in this small town, a fact which she appreciated when she wasn’t planning her way out.
Black and dark, a mist like creature that seemed to look like a hairless rat settled in the grass by the fence post. The grass was taller than the rest, not being able to be clipped in the horse’s that were often tied here just like the sheriff’s pretty one not far, the thing sat. A slight breeze casted away it’s foul stench that would otherwise be noticed, both by the animal as well as the woman. Her face was what held the rodent’s attention the most, her eyes not hers of course, made it pause from scattering across the field to the playground where the children might play. Where one would fall victim to its bite. Infecting and making them jealously violent just that farmer that was shot down by the sheriff, pure delight and gory enough to wet the unnatural creature’s appetite as it went unnoticed by all. Not many could see it. Not many at all, save the people of the Kasson and this woman.
For now it would have to sly and cautious. If this woman be her… then only time would tell and the stone would fall in his master’s hands once more. Returning him to his former glory, crumbling both coyote-where ever that bastard dog held his whimpering tail- and all of the silly excuse for dominate species of this world. Mankind would fall to darkness, decaying like light to the raising of shadows. Its body tensed sensing an opportunity in the works. Soon. Oh so soon, the creature would claim another soul all for Him. so distracted in their conversation, the woman taking a brief look into the window spying on the class that she resented, before being caught off guard. Yes…it could sense her dislike of this task even while it grew to the resentment of rowdier students yet it could not affect her. If it even managed to bite her, it would cause no difference in her attitude merely expose it to her likely thrashing feet set to end its life.
No, besides it wasn’t allowed to hurt her. Not until it knew for sure, her death or injury could halt the process then the stone would never be born until another life time. He would be furious… no, it argued with itself again while watching the scene play out. Its snout twitched with a wick idea as the horse wasn’t in the slightest aware of its presence. Tiny deformed claws that curved into the foot tip tapped into scratching its way to the next post, peering up to see if it had been spotted before darting to the next each time repeating and coming close to the animal. The head bend low in the sweeping of the long lips to snatch up grass blade in the velvet lips, crushing and grinding it into a mashed pulp within the cheeks. Closer…closer…closer it came until it was nearly right beside the dumb stallion. His eyes dulled in the lazy way tamed animal did, it inwardly spat in disgust while the paws tenderly touched the solid wood post before scurrying up it to perch on the top.
Someone was coming its way but it wasn’t worried. He wouldn’t see the creature as it’s red hazy eyes glowed fiercely, the tiny razor curled beneath the lip and drips of foam dribbled from the creature’s mouth. The skin looked as if it rotted at the front of the muzzle pulling back as if shrunken, exposing white bone and ragged flaps of skin in the sunlight. Scabby and many boils covered the outside, giving it a scaly appearance while it large ratty ears pulled back against the gritty, oily skin. The rat like tail had segments as the tip peeled like a banana splitting it into three with a boney ridged center surrounded by fleshy ‘petals’ to sway. Only the woman could see it clearly but when that happened, it was too late as the horse felt the touching of paws on its flanks forcing it to rear upwards with flailing hooves and a loud scream. Dirt clods flew upwards and scattered while it bit down hard on the animal’s flank, leaving a swollen and tender red bit that burned leaving the horse madden with pain. The tongue thickened in the mouth that the stallion’s cries soon died, the panicked motions and wild bucking of the animal was another story before it turned its natural weapons on the closest target: Charles.
Curtis...a bit before.
He hadn’t noticed she wasn’t listening, too upset by the words that came tumbling out. Curtis felt the pressure of her hand, tiny and delicate reminders to him she didn’t belong here, wrap about as his body stiffened. His head jerked up to face those damn eyes of hers, holding him like a cat does a cornered mouse. It made him shiver to be locked in place by them yet he remained unmoved. It was a wonder he hadn’t turn yellow and streaked away to be honest, his breath shallow and mouth drier then cotton in dry states. There was a concern for the man which made that hole in his chest wider, tugged into a gaping canyon while teeth gritted against the mental pain. Forced to relive his memory, Curtis tried to look like his head was in the right place but truthfully, he had asked that damn last question over and over since.
“I wish there was, Melinda. Like I said, I found Ferris leaning over Jordan with the shotgun pulled and about to squeeze the trigger. I shouted and pull my gun…shot him in the shoulder and the man didn’t even flinch. Not right away. His hand…his hand went for the pitch fork then came at me. I…I pulled the trigger and buried the bullet in his head, Melinda and didn’t even think of shooting him in the legs until after he was gone,” Curtis was clearly shook up by his word, the man’s dead eyes stared at him like accusing the guilt inside of him,” Not once…”
He was supposed to be stronger than this. Much stronger, but he wasn’t. It didn’t seem like it as the old man finally seemed to have all his year bear down on him, leaving him exhausted and worn. His body leaned against the school building wall, his bone felt like the only thing keeping him up. His knees locked in their stubbornness to give out on him and now Melinda looked as if she was staring at a murder point blank, the pitted feeling of a rock in his belly grew. Her words should have felt like a sorry for your troubles, instead it seemed to push him away. It was she was forcing him to back track over his path right into some thistle weeds, her words as meaningful as they were seemed distant to a man use to the kindness of a small town. Her eyes narrowed on him as she fixed on his mouth, the thin line and slight twitch as she added him into the mix. It meant head towards town, alone with the victim’s son and a bit of a ride ahead of them. The idea made Curtis more jittery then he had already been. Death wasn’t new to him but he never killed anyone he knew so closely before, it was something had snatched away his courage leaving him at war with his past and the idea of what lay before him.
Unaware of the true feeling beneath the school teacher’s seemingly cold send off, Curtis could only nod before turning to get the boy. Unknown to either of them, Charles had been busy finishing his sums out of boredom and came to ask Mrs. Browne what he was supposed to then. The small boy froze in his tracks hearing the sheriff’s story. The thin limb trembled and tears seeped to his eyes, both sad and angry, his free hand balled up in a small fist. The other held the tight fingers to dig into the wooden door frame facing both the man responsible for the murder of his father and the woman who didn’t seem to care. Curtis could see the boy’s thoughts, even as the head was tilted down and hidden from the two.
“Charlie…I-I didn’-“ The old man began but was never given a chance as the timid’s boy’s voice turn vicious in an outright shout, making Curtis flinch from the high and force behind it.
“He can’t be… NO! NO!” Like a shot Charlie was off, his weak body flew in surprising speed towards the horse placidly grazing along the post.
“Charlie…comes back, please! Shit…” cursed the sheriff as his own body started off, his stride long and quick even in his old age following the boy’s wake to anywhere then here.
Tear flew back and his fist pumped, one foot then another dashed across open grass to escape the hell Charles life had turned in to. Pain and misery was like two coiling snakes in his middle refusing to stop hitting his side even as his frail lung threaten to quit on him forcing out his breaths in shallow puffs. So blinded by his grief, the wild bucking bronco missed his attention until loud sound of its painful voice ripped the boy’s head up. He froze once more but a different cause held him in place. The boy’s feet apart and unknowing braced, his hands rose to prepare for the tearing feel from the animal’s hooves.
Curtis dove forward, his arms hooked about the boy’s mid-drift ripping the kid to the side while his own aged body curled about Charles protectively. The dirt scratched at the two but it was Curtis that suffered the worse. He felt his arm crack on impact, the pain made him bit his tongue while blood rushed in his taste like cooper keeping him form yelling out loud. His heart hammered in his ear and the boy clutched tighter, pushing into the hurting bone that didn’t feel right. Dust scattered into his wake but the horse wasn’t through. Still nostrils flaring, the once gentle and sweet horse took on the look of a demon with foam gathered at the corners of his mouth while his eyes seemed have rolled in the back of his head with hooves stamping the ground in a mad dance looming closer then back, drawing closer with each forward motion to crush the pair’s head in. The old man’s hand went to his holster only pale in horror, in his aftermath of the unfortunate run in that ended Ferris’s life, Curtis had failed to ensure his gun was clipped in.
His gun was missing a sliver well-kept revolver, laying a few feet from where he had tackled into a roll to save Charles’s life. Now it looked like the cost had doubled.
Melinda didn’t scream as the scene unfolded before her, like a nightmare made real. Charlie hearing truth so bluntly and baldly put, running from it as she would have, were she in his shoes and then the inexplicable rearing of the Sheriff’s horse. It was a placid beast, famous around these parts for its sweet temperament and unflappable nature, so why was it rearing? Horses didn’t have such switches of personality without cause. It must be in pain, thought Melinda, but quickly dismissed the thought. It didn’t matter; Curtis and Charlie were in danger.
Her borrowed eyes fixed upon the shining silver of the sheriff’s gun and with quick, if cool and unflappable, steps she moved towards it. She kept her eyes on the horse, time slowing to an odd crawl as she moved. She found herself slipping between dust motes, dodging sunbeams in something of a dream state while Charles and Curtis lay on the ground below the rampaging horse, their own motions painfully slow. She reached the gun and bent to pick it up. The second her fingers touched the worn wood of the handle time sped up. She straightened, her delicate hand holding the pistol as she considered what next to do.
Beyond the drama unfolding, children were filing out of the schoolhouse, their little faces alight and aghast with what they were seeing. This would entertain them for a long time she knew but she couldn’t help but wish that the little beasties had the sense to keep in the school and out of the way.
“Go back in!” she shrieked to them just as the rope, reigns or what have you, that held the horse to the fence snapped. Suddenly free with a choice of targets it was as if the horse’s madness doubled. It turned it’s oddly malevolent stare towards the children, giving it’s back to Melinda. That was what finally spurred her. Without thought or concern that she might miss and shoot one of the children in her haste, she lifted her left hand and braced the gun. She squeezed once, the lout retort of the gun oddly satisfying and the ensuing shrieks of the children frightening. Have I shot one? She wondered but soon saw, just before the beast wheeled about, a red wound along its generous rump. Nothing to slow it down but something to get its attention.
“Lovely, now what?” she muttered to herself with her stiff eastern accent as she watched the eyes of the horse fix upon her. It took one step and then another each step coming faster until it was charging at her. She screamed and fired again, once, twice, a third time. As is usually the case, third time is the charm and she got the maddened beast squarely in the eye. A dramatic spray of blood flew out but the beasts momentum was such that it continued forward and she watched in mute helpless shock at it collapsed upon her. She crumpled under its weight, the back of her head hitting the ground rather hard truncating her thought midway.
“What a terrible way to….
Blackness came towards her faster than the dying maddened horse had and she was gone.
Curtis was clenching tightly on the boy, Charlie’s body shivering in fear as they held onto one another. The rein strained and taunt in the animal’s wild bucking, hooves hit the ground sending more dirt and grass kicking up in the animal’s fury. Its hoarse screams rang out in hate, pain and torment. Curtis hadn’t the slightest idea of what happened to once gentle and tame stallion that was now a maddened monster as his fragile old body expected to feel the punishment of the harden worn hooves slash out at his hide, ripping though it like paper. Despite the hooves blunt look, they were meant for defense to protect the animal from attack and predators as well as trotting tough terrain. It was a pity to see this youngster’s life taken so cruel from him and just after his father’s death too.
The hollow thump of the shoes hit the ground twice more, pulling the rein from the poles twisting them lopsided and out of place in the struggle to get free. This was it. The end, Curtis’s body wrapped about in a vein hope to spare the boy pain in his last moment and the boy’s grip only reflected the fear and acceptance of what was coming. Curtis couldn’t help but wonder if Charlie held a sliver of hope that he would be reunited with his father once more, never facing one more day of this unknown future which settled a deeper pit within the bottom of Curtis’s stomach. Making him both sick at himself for the idea and thinking he deserved this.
Its eyes flickered to the motion of the flooding children, curious and recklessly, pouring out from the school house to caught sight of the ruckus. Melinda’s voice crackled like lightning for the children to get back into the safety of the building, out of reach of the crazed animal that eyed them with white orbs as his sight. Her shriek was followed by the short snap of the reins that help keep the beast from running off. The horse’s long mane shook, rage and hate heated its flanks to the point it moved away from the original targeted pair. The forelegs swiped the air before bring itself down, crashing heavily before spurring into a charge. The chaos and carnage it could reap made its hooves take off after the larger group. Thundering down, Melinda’s eyes took on the sight with horror and Curtis’s vision rose, his hand pulled away from the boy with a command erupting though his rugged mouth stirring his body into motion.
“Charlie, get to a tree and get up there boy. NOW!” Cutris didn’t watch the boy take off, his glasses lopsided and loose in his flat out run to a strong climbing tree with a single rope swing hanging from it.
Melinda brought the gun upright, holding in both her hands to keep it from jarring too much, her thin fingers pulled the trigger reaching the chain of reaction. It was luck. A bright flash of the bullet being strike from the gun barrel followed by the air shattering crack of the exit brought Curtis’s mind to moment of freezing. He was held by memories and struggle to move, Ferris’s dead eyes and limp body floated before the sheriff’s mind leaving him dumbed. With the sound of the gun the children were rushing back in, some that were never so well behaved-the Harris boys- had pushed the younger ones right without a consideration for anything other than their safety while others shoved past to make sure they were the first in. panic and fear, it was a terrible thing that wreck the minds of everyone. The bullet nicked the ass end of the horse. Its course interrupted by the pain that danced on the surface, flooding the rear to quiver and tighten in its path change. Once more rearing to bring itself to a halt faster and nearly toppled over.
Veins popped over the neck, flesh slickened with sweat that poured from it as if plagued by fever. Muscles strained with tendons and nostril snorted with heavy breath, mist upon mist roared out of the velvet nose with wet white spit gathering at the corner of the mouth. Foaming like a rabid thing. The chest was heavy and laborious, the animal wheeled about, unconcerned with the blood dripping in a line along the rounded rump just like Ferris with the shoulder shot. What in tar nations was happening in Silas?
Once more the animal was fixed on hurt someone. Now it was Melinda that took its attention, Curtis was too far out as he forced his mind to kick his old body back to life. The thundering hooves dug deeper into the ground as several more shots followed her screams, determined to purge the air of them with its own unholy sound leaving Curtis to push his body like never before. His boot tromped the ground kicking up a trail of dust with his boot and arms curled into pump blood into his heart, lungs collapsing from the pure adrenaline streak though. The animal was still moving as specks of blood sprayed from the head coloring the air, the impact forced the beat’s head to jerk back only the body didn’t listen. The force was already pushing forward. Move…Move Melinda, it was a vain thought and the woman crumbled beneath the stallion in the falling body.
His boot skidded against the dirt while he grinded to a stop. The pebbles tossed while he leaned into his side, his leg squatted to bring him close to Melinda’s body while he shoved off the horse’s bulk and taking her hand for a pulse. It hammered about the thin wrist steady and slow. She was alive; thank god she was alive, inwardly shouted Curtis. Not concerned with being a gentle man at the moment, Curtis’s hands touched about her body tenderly near the ribs seeking bends or jutting bones broken off into the flesh. He wasn’t going to know for sure until the Doc got here with his wagon. Charlie’s body moved up just as Curtis needed him, the boy pale in color and looking more deathly then Melinda herself.
“Get to town, get doc Hubble and tell him to bring a wagon. Then get yourself to the Priest and his wife, stay there,” Curtis’s voice had returned to full strength yet his insides felt like jelly, watching Charlie nod and take off until he was half his height in the distance,” Ready?”
His grizzled head lifted to the eldest Harris boy-watching him- before pushing his arms to hook under her shoulders, the kid knew what to do, his hands wrapped about her ankles lifting as well. The only thing the man couldn’t figure out was how she was left intact. Merely bumps, bruises, and scratches where there should be a broken rib or something. A horse’s lean muscles were pounds in mass weight; it should have cracked her fragile bones into dust, while his feet widened to a stand up to pull her into the school building. Before something else went wrong.
By the time Melinda woke up, she would be in the doctor’s office staring at dark maple roof. The day had passed and it seemed as if she would never wake as hours grew longer. A bed lined her sides and blanket protected her from any unexpected chill to creep into her bone. The side table held a glass of water waiting, the liquid seeping like sweat to the simple carved surface set beside a tired old man. His face nodded off in his hands that used his knees for a brace, his eyes closed with muffled snores breezing through his lips. His breath slow and steady yet was clear, he been here for a while watching over the woman as he would any of his fellow residence. As far as Curtis was concerned, Melinda was Silas’s school teacher and a part of the community he loved.
Outside of Town of Silas, Iron
Iron’s head jerked awake, his head hazy and clouded over as if drunk from a late night. It wasn’t the case. He never had drunk a day in his life and especially not last night, the full moon was and bright leaving the Native American with little time. The images were still burned in his head while his dark hair stuck to his sweating brow, the dream wasn’t his alone as she had also had it. The woman from the story. The one reborn and calling to him, with sorrow and pain, leaving Iron much more discomforted. Lips opened and wide, inhaling vast amounts of air to fill his endless lungs that were nothing more than settler’s lead. His chest bared beneath a deer skin that traveled up to his waist and hide his lower half with teeth gritted and held to close his mouth, his lips pulled back in pain. His body had risen a few degrees from the panic as he curled into a ball fighting the urge to vomit.
The dream was so vivid and real it was hard to believe it never happened. It began differently than the others, in a blue moon corn field where the light dowsed every in a pale light. The woods as back drop but the thing that was active caught the most attention. It was focus, the canine moved with lithe and stealth his blunt claws skirted along the earth never stirring the snow or leaving foot prints. A coyote, running endlessly, his howls pierced the air of the frosty woods with a sorrowful sound. Crying almost for something…no someone. His white teeth showed though his pulled back lips, tongue flew back in his paws pounding rhythm which slapped the ground relentless. Looking. Seeking, those emotions were clear before the animal stilling abruptly. It was a matter of time before he crept into a natural clearing just beyond the tall corns.
His lean body twisted, curved about to encircle a sitting woman. Her body leaned over, protective and unaware of the animal’s drawing presence as his golden eyes stared down to take in the enclosed hands. She held something important there, her face covered by long strands of pale blonde hair that shrouded her face from the animal. Skin so white it looked as if the moon had made it from her fine Milky Way silks with care and love, casting a supernatural glow all its own and luring the animal closer. His expression serious with ear alert and body tense, the dusty color stood out against the pure white before she turned. A scream and darkness.
The man stirred and rose, his sheet casted off to reveal his worn jeans and moccasin feet in the dying sun’s light. It painted the sky red overhead reminding Iron of the last image of the dream. Blood squirting over the land, though his dream ended Melinda’s had not. The last thing she would remember would be a dark skinned man smiling as he whispered a dark promise,” I found you…”
Iron’s skin shuddered as he bended over to gather the bundle, rolling it up and tying it up on the bare backed horse. It was a pinto, blotches of dark against the light white of the horse’s flank was darkened by the fading light while Iron gently roped the thing about the middle. The animal nickered in protest but complied to the man’s wishes. His coarse hand tapped the flanks, rubbing the withers down with a loving and good natured stroke before taking the halter. He made his way to town heading into the dying sun to which by morning he would be riding up to the town of Silas as well as deep trouble.
Melinda dreamed of wisps of smoke. She dreamed of moon touched fog danced that around her and she knew nothing but that for some time beyond the cool kiss against her skin and the endless wavering of its form. But smoke and fog is mutable, ever shifting and changing state and so it was that after a time it began to thin. At first she thought she was seeing things, more phantom’s in the mist that played about her. In time she could see that it was no phantom but a light, a softly glowing light that was somehow also made of darkness. When the fog thinned some more she could see and suddenly feel that her hands were cupped below it, that it floated an inch off her hands which were cradled in her lap midway between her sex and her navel, her legs crossed gracefully. She supposed that she should have been shocked at her own nudity but her pale skin seemed to be made of the stuff of the mist, merely a more solid part of it. As if her very form were as borrowed as her eyes seemed to be.
From out of the mist, or perhaps made of the mist came a shape. It was low to the ground and slinked along, sinuous and graceful, silent and swift. It came towards her and she knew she wasn’t supposed to see it, it was sneaking after all and so she didn’t, as simple as that. Instead she looked to the glowing thing in her hands, marveling at it even though she didn’t understand it but felt that she should. Even though she didn’t see the shape she could feel it, feel it like the glowing thing in her hands, feel it like she had always felt it. It slinked around her, curling around her and she did nothing to acknowledge it but her whole being, without her permission welcomed it and embraced it. In that instant she felt a peace she’d never known, the peace of being where she should be, whole and complete. It took her breath away and made her waking misery all that much sharper in comparison. She was restless when awake, unhappy and unsatisfied, not just with Silas and the changes in her plans but in everything. Something was missing, something had drawn her west, to California and something had stopped her journey in Silas.
It was is if the concept of discontent sharpened her vision and her borrowed eyes looked up from the thing in her hands and up to the place that had held the mist and now held only darkness. The curl of warm fur at her back steadied her as she swept her eyes throughout the night finally setting, not on sight but on a hint of motion. Her black eyes bored through the darkness, trying to penetrate it and felt that whatever it was, resisted her with a strength that frightened her. Still she kept at it, trying with all she was to see, to understand. She felt something warm on her thigh and looked down to see the warm amber eyes, the laughing eyes of a coyote. She found herself smiling back for the briefest of seconds before that sense of movement returned and she looked up, saw what was coming and screamed.
She sat up gasping, heart racing and sweat beading on her skin under the thin shift she wore, soaking it almost instantly and plastering it to her form. She looked around the room blindly, her eyes seeking the darkness that was even then fading from her memory leaving only a vague and uneasy feeling behind. She put her hand to her chest, touching the crease between her breasts behind which she could feel her heart racing. All she knew, all she could sense was that something, trouble was coming.
“Trouble.” She whispered in her crisp eastern accent, her words borne on a slender thread of mist.
Then she turned and lifted the glass, as beaded with sweat as she and gulped it down. It ease her throat which was raw from screaming and she instantly wanted more.
“The children?” she gasped, her concern evident, giving lie to her cold demeanor.
Curtis was sleeping. Tuckered out of his body, soul so worn with worry it sank him and tied the sheriff down at the limbs. His arms curled as pillow soften where his head rested. The aged back bent over, his lips whistling and singing a deep clumsy tune of a snore that passed thought his unshaven grown stubble. Eye flickered under saggy lids with scrunched up brows from which unpleasant dreams galloped onward, with nightmare hooves and voiceless scream that tore into his peace. In the last few days Silas had had trouble from outsiders to dispute with farmers yet it only hours ago, the same event that which haunted was only the beginning, the trouble that was bound to follow in the creeping dawn hours that waited like hungry coyotes that roamed the plains.
His peace, the best he could do, was fast faded as Melinda’s ear splitting scream shattered his mind. Her body shifted stirring the blanket which covered her legs his figure reacted instantly to jerk up, falling back on the chair he been sitting on to clatter to floor with his body upright. His legs weaken from the abrupt stand and dizzy on the quick raise, he had his hand on his hips ready to draw a gun that was no longer there thanks to Hubble.
Silently a curse too soft to matter came beneath his breath at his foolishness.
Clearly shaken he turned to Melinda who seemed in a world of her own at the moment, woken up likely from a nightmare, no doubt. It was little wonder and he sympathized, his body relaxed with adrenaline pumping though his body likes a million horses stampeding to a cliff side. Hell bent on the end.
Rattling the man from his tired and worried posture at once his eyes stared hard at the heavy breathing, his face wrinkled and pale falling way short of her shade. Something was wrong, her face was panicked strict; he swore she had saw Old Scratch himself reaching for her with way the school marm looked. Her hand clenched in fear about her heart that likely matched the rate the sweat poured down pinning the strands of hair to her head from their loose release. Doc Hubble had unfastened her hair pins to search for any abrasions or bruises, signs of head concussion, which could be serious trouble. His hands were scratched up from the thingumabobs women put their hair nowadays looked as if he tangled with a cactus when he was done!
The young doc’s fingers, patched with cloth strips, threaded though the pale hair to the even paler skin. There seemed to be no trace of evidence of any color, blending almost completely in the hair now loose. He never seen her hair down before and she seemed to look as if some divine being now graced the bed, a thought Curtis shook off with his head shaking to spark away the unease in his mind.
There were words, serious and clear in a fearful tone, that sent a shiver down his spine. His breath was gone as if chilled by the air itself that dropped a few degrees. Arms wrapped about and hands stroked the imaginary cold that crept in, brought by her words alone. Slowly his body seemed to realize it didn’t exist while heating itself up to a reasonable temperature.
Melinda drank the glass in a flash, emptying it right before his eyes that wrinkled with relief to see her moving about. Despite the shriveled state she looked, it was better than seeing a light and unmoving body that beforehand was bouncing in the Doc’s wagon like some hollow child’s doll. Once more chased the thoughts away with the facts, she was right here in front of him, alive and well with the pace she gulped down that glass. Doc Hubble had been called away, satisfied that Curtis wasn’t leaving, to attend to a house call about Mrs. Picket’s newborn being ill with her fret about unable being leaving the home she sent her husband from the field to get him and leave an hour ago. The farm was at least several hours away even by horse out in the loose wilderness that edged the town. Closest to the tribes that lived there and most folks worried, Curtis included, that it would cause trouble.
That was something for another time.
Curits smiled. Her first thoughts were the children as it should be, but it her that gave them the fright. His boots hit the wooden floor in his way to the table, reaching out stretched for the hard glass surface before pulling it from her tight fingers. His eyes brighter and calmer the sheriff breathed deeply before answering. Turnign his back, he made a shuffle to the door going to the desk across the room that held a tall pitcher of water pumped from the pump beside a gift porcelain oval his voice carried over to her even though the sound of running water into the glass. The sounds outside rang clear in their beginnings of nightly melodies, crickets chirping and prairie dog barking at the slowly dying sun one last time before burrowing deep in their holes but they were drowned out by Curtis’s gravelly one.
“Here, Doc said to make sure you got plenty of water and yes, the children are fine. He thinks the animal was rabid, poor beast must had gotten bit by something and lost his poor mind. Only thing I can’t figure out is why there weren’t any signs before, my horse drank plenty of water and was perfectly fine before but Hubble says you just can’t tell with these things. The Harris boys and Mr. Jordan is burning the corpse and the grass about it. You scared them children. The oldest, you know Tom? The one that gave you the most trouble, he was pale was a ghost and helped me carry you inside. Doc had to check your head so,” Curtis’s hand reached out to hand back the refilled glass, his head gestured with a sharp nod to the number of pins sitting on the table side in a apologetic look. He was hoping she wouldn’t be furious at the idea of them being removed while continuing,” Charlie’s with the priest and his wife for the night, he wanted to stay here. Hubble told him it wasn’t a good idea, made the boy figure it out he might cause more harm than good in the end. So…how you feeling?”
Listening, Curtis pull up the chair that had fell to the floor and once more set it up. He swung his leg about to sit on it, the back pressed on his front to support his arms which curled up to fold over top. Waiting… his eyes even bared though that penetrating stare of hers.
She gratefully took the glass he offered her, both for the water inside as well as the distraction it provided. She gratefully gulped down the liquid, the slender column of her throat working. Finishing she gasped, her body grabbing at the oxygen she’d denied it during her long drink. She lowered the glass to her lap, her eyes dropping to it only to see and finally recognized what she was seeing. The thins chemise she had been wearing under her dress was all that she was wearing and to her horror it was plastered to her skin with the thick coating of sweat that covered her. She hastily put the glass on the table with shaking hands and swiftly pulled the blanket that was on the bed up and over her breasts, the details of which were very visible through the thin, wet fabric. Her pale face took on a slow bloom of color. She did her best to hastily wrap herself with the blanket without exposing more of herself to the Sheriff.
Humiliation burned at her. It was one more indignity she had suffered here in this small town where she didn’t belong. One more blow to her wounded pride. She wasn’t even supposed to be there and now she had to be ogled by the Sheriff and likely the Doctor as well. Which brought to mind another indignity. There went her stash of money, her way out of there. All for Doctor bills that she never should have incurred in the first place. She felt awash with frustration on top of what she was already drowing in. She needed to get out of there. To retreat to her own tiny, dingy house, a pathetic part of her teacher’s salary. She could be alone there and not have to face the eyes of this man who had seen her all but bare. She knew he wasn’t a bad man, and likely he hadn’t noticed or if he had he’d averted his eyes but that wasn’t the point. The point was that she was done in, beyond it and wanted to be alone.
She stood, wobbling on her unsteady feet, holding her blanket up like a shield. She marched over to the pile of her clothing on a chair not far from her bed.
“I’m feeling like a horse landed on me Sheriff. I’m feeling like I want to be home and done with this day.” She pulled her blouse on, her trembling fingers fumbling frustratededly at the tiny buttons.
She didn’t care about propriety just then, he could watch if she wanted, speed was all that mattered to her just then.
“Thank you for your aid Sheriff, I’m glad no one else was hurt and that Poor Charles has a place to be. That is a load off of my mind. But I'd best be home.”
She yanked her skirt up, her fingers slowly waking to the work so that it didn’t take as long as the blouse had. And soon she was almost decent enough to pass in polite society, but then she was in Curtis which was very far from polite society. She slipped her tiny feet into her battered kid boots and then turned to the sheriff, her hair a gossamer cloud around her face where it tumbled down in light waves.
“Good evening Sheriff, if you could let people know, I’ll be taking tomorrow off.”
She ignored any protest and shrugged off any attempts to stop her and stepped out into the cool night. Her skin instantly turned to all over goose flesh as the cold wet of her under things touched the cool night air. It made her shiver and her teeth chatter but she did not let it stop her. She would get home and slip into one of the flannel nightgowns she’d finally broken down and bought as the nights had grown colder. It has taken from her escape route as well but had been worth it. she’s stoke the fire, heat some water and wash all signs of the evening from her body, then warm herself and read one of her few, precious books. That was the worst of this whole thing. The trunk with her books had made it all the way to her destination. Somehow her ticket hadn’t gotten her there but her books had. Somewhere in California was a Girl’s school with a different head-mistress and a new box of books to stock their library. She’d had only the three books she had put in her reticule at the beginning of her ill-fated journey.
She turned down Main Street and then slipped behind the Saloon to the shortcut she took when she was in a hurry. She didn’t even pause to ponder the strange color of the moon or the charge to the air. Trouble was indeed coming, but just then Melinda felt she’d had enough of it to last a lifetime and was looking for no more.