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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Treasure of Eerie, Arizona -- Prologue




Posted June 21, 2017


By Christopher Leeson and Ellie Dauber 
 
Thus far, the saga of Eerie, Arizona has been posted in four novels, two short stories, and two novelettes.  That's a lot of action, but it adds up to only a small portion of the whole story centering on that remarkable Western town.  Though much about the citizens of Eerie has been revealed, much remains to be told, even regarding ground already covered.  

This new story concerns one of those untold stories.  It carries us back to December, 1871, a month that we have already visited in the second novel, Eerie Saloon:  Seasons of Change -- Autumn.  Something else happened shortly before that Christmas, something that will be the subject of this novelette.

Our plan is to post one chapter of Treasure each month until it is finished.  (Meanwhile we are working simultaneously on Eerie Saloon:  Seasons of Change -- Summer).  So here begins our novelette, featuring some old characters, some new characters, and a lot of action that has not been presented before.  It's about outlaws, and robbery, and lost treasure, and a new pretty girl, and...oh, wait and see!
 
***** 

Chapter 1 -- "Prolog: September 1871"



December 13, 1871

As the stage slowed for a tangle of branches and rocks obstructing the road, a bullet ricocheted off the canyon wall.  The derby-hatted company guard ducked, and his repeating rifle fell down between his feet.  The driver cringed and covered his head.

Before the echoing had fully died away, someone shouted.  “Throw down that smoke pole, codger, or you won't like what happens.”     

The guard looked wildly about, didn't like what he saw, and reached for his dropped weapon.  “Throw it down,” the highwayman repeated.  “I won't ask three times.”  The rifleman, looking disgusted, tossed the Henry rifle away, aiming for a roadside bush, to keep it from breaking on the rocky grade.

“That's better,” the bandit said as he stepped into the open.  Three additional men emerged from their hiding places.  Though they were masked, even at first glance they seemed to be young men.  “Driver, toss away your hog leg, too, and if any of you passengers are toting, dump what y'got out the windows.”

“Don't try anything fancy, folks,” another of the desperadoes grumbled.  He was wearing a red bandanna for a mask and his voice sounded even younger than the other outlaw's.   That voice, though it wasn't loud, packed an implicit threat.   “Hand over the strongbox and the key.”

“The key!” scoffed the guard.  “Sonny, that key'll be waiting fer this shipment at the bank in Phoenix.  Company policy.”

The holdup man with the bandanna reacted by cocking what looked like a Remington.  “Don't call me Sonny!” he warned.   Just then, the wind swept his hat back so that it hung by its stampede strap behind his head.  His hair was fair and looked like it needed a good washing.

“All right, 'old man,'” the guard answered back.  “Don't get yourself in a lather.  We've been authorized to hand over any payload if a highwayman asks fer it politely.  I'll loosen the box and toss it down.”

“You do that,” the bandit with the grumbling tone responded. 

“Wait a minute,” said a woman through the coach window.  “You sound just like Thorn Caldwell.  You even got his hair.  That's your farm a couple miles down the hill, boy.  What would your aunt think?”

The stickup man glared at her, his pistol raised, but not aimed.  “Damn you!”

At that moment, the strongbox tumbled off the coach roof, making a metallic clang against the stony ground.

The two quiet robbers went to gather in the loot.  When they tried to lift the chest, one of them exclaimed, “Shoot!  The damned thing must weight three hundred pounds!”

“Anybody bring a crowbar?” the first bandit yelled.

There was a breath of silence.  Finally, the smaller quiet bandit said, “Hell, no.”  The remaining outlaws just stood where they were, looking out of sorts. 

“Let me have a crack at it,” said Myron Thornton “Thorn” Caldwell.  The highwaymen in his way backed aside, and he squared off in front of the box, cocking his shooting iron.

“Easy there, lads,” the guard said.  “It ain't a cinch to blow off a strongbox lock.  That case is solid iron.  Bullets bounce.”

“Don't call us lads, either!” shouted the apparent leader. 

Caldwell put his barrel down close to the padlock, and, before anyone could yell, “No!” he pulled the trigger.  The blast sound rocked the canyon.

“Hey!” yelled the bigger and brawnier of the two quiet bandits as the shell whistled past his ear.

“You're an idiot!” growled the leader, pacing forward.  “Stand back and let me try.”

The shooter bridled, but grudgingly gave back a step.

The bandit chief took a careful bead, and the cliffs for a third time echoed as his shooting iron reported.

“Yahhh!”  Thorn Caldwell howled.

For a few seconds, everyone stared.  The boy was curled up on the ground, groaning.

“Keeee-rist!” an outlaw exclaimed.  “You done hit him!”

Caldwell was clutching a wound, blood flowing between his fingers.  Everyone, outlaws, company men, and passengers, looked on mutely.  Most knew that belly wounds soon turned poisonous.  Most must have also known that, during the War, gut-shot soldiers had been left to die behind the surgeons' tent while the doctors worked to save men with less fatal wounds.

“Ike!” one of the gang shouted.  “We have to...”

“Shad-up!” Ike Bartram, the leader, snapped.  He pointed at the ground with his weapon. “Pick up those guns.”  Turning, he bared his teeth at the coach.  “You men get out and clear away the barricade.  When the road is open, you can all get on your way.  Move it!  We don't have all day.”

Everyone, except the lady, exited the stage.  Watched by three outlaws, they shuffled toward the pile of wood and stone that was blocking the narrow road.  In about fifteen minutes, they had made the way to Phoenix passable.

“Now jump back into your seats and get the hell out of here!” Ike ordered.  Five minutes later, the stagecoach was bouncing down on the roadbed, in a hurry to reach the plain.

The young bandit, Ike, didn't seem sure what to do next.  Then, holstering his revolver, he told the two fit men, “Carry the box up into that gorge.  We'll hide it and come back when the excitement's died down.  Next time, we'll bring proper tools.”

“What about Thorn?” one asked.

Ike scowled.  “Leave him to me.”

The two bandits took up the daunting load, one at each handle, and staggered it between themselves toward the offshoot canyon.  The chief bandit brought the gang's four horses out of hiding and tied them to a scrawny mesquite tree growing out of a crack in the canyon wall.  Then Ike regarded the wounded boy, thinking hard.

“Damn you, Thorn, you've turned into a problem that we didn't need.  We can't take you with us and head out at any kind of speed.  If a posse takes you, you'll get talkative.  You owe it to your friends to die quick-like and be done with it.”

“Go to hell,” the wounded robber groaned.

Ike rested his hand on his gun-grip, frowning.  “That's a selfish attitude.  If you're still alive by the time we come back, you'll be a problem that needs fixing.”

That said, he followed after the other two.

Thorn cringed, toughing out the tortures of Hell.  By the time he could no longer hear the scuffing of the robber's boots, he had made a decision.  It was dead certain that as soon as Ike came back, he was going to put him down, like a nag with a broken leg.  Seething mad, the young outlaw struggled, despite the searing pain, to get up.

Somewhat to his own surprise, Thorn could walk some.  He shuffled toward his tethered horse and managed to clamber up into the saddle.  The youth was under no illusion that his new “friends” gave a hot damn whether he lived or died, and they were money ahead if it were the latter.  Thorn couldn't let his plans and dreams end like this, all because of a stupid mistake.  If this were any place else other than a canyon that was only a couple miles from his own home, he wouldn't have stood a chance.  If he could reach the farm, he could get some help.  Luckily, the youth didn't feel half so close to dying as Ike was hoping.

Riding down out of the hills, each bump inflicting shots of pain; he felt like this was some awful dream.  If he hadn't been half-unconscious, the agony would have been unbearable.

The first darkness was closing in on Riley Canyon Road by the time he reached level ground.  He rode along the trace, barely lucid.  Somehow his bay was carrying him in the way he wanted to go.  He didn't try urging it to speed, since he doubted he could hold on if the ride became a rough one.  At last, he spied the uneven shingles of the rooftop of his family's farmhouse.  Thorn was suddenly feeling younger than his actual years.  He didn't want to face his aunt, and he wanted even less to have a one-on-one with the sheriff in town.  Dan Talbot would remember the horse that he'd stolen from his neighbor, Tally Singer.  That was a sure hanging offense, even if stage robbery was not.   

By this point, though, he would have gladly taken a jail-house bunk if it meant getting off his horse's back.  The mid-December wind was chilling him to the bone; Thorn, shuddering with the cold, had to grip his horse's neck to keep from being shaken off.  His teeth chattered; his gasping came in shivery snatches.  By the time the rider heard a shout from the farmhouse, he didn't have breath enough for an answering hail.  Pain was draining away his strength like water from a leaky canteen.  Was someone running his way?  He couldn't focus.

The hard ground slammed into his shoulder.  The wounded youth never felt it. 

 
To be continued in Chapter 1. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Falling Star: Chapter 3, Part 1


Posted 06-01-17


 An Angel from Hell Story,


by Christopher Leeson





Her Toyota moved like an oxcart compared to the steel cheetah roaring up from behind.  It was edging alongside, easing toward her left side.  She had only seconds before they’d be crowding her, forcing her to turn the pasture grass on the right, into terrain that would slow her to a crawl.  If their vehicle happened to be a four-wheeled drive, they'd cross the T in no time at all and stop her.

Instead of waiting for the inevitable, she slammed down on the brake.

Its brakes squealing, the momentum carried her vehicle halfway off the shoulder and onto the grass before she could stop.  The Dodge screeched to a halt just ahead, but already Jezebel was scrambling out of the car.  Three men piled out of the vehicle; in a glance she three of them, all young with a Middle Eastern look.

Fight or flight?  Fighting didn’t look good against three, with probably a driving waiting as backup.  Jezebel didn't know if there was so much as a tire-iron in the trunk of the car, she had never thoroughly explored the vehicle.  The only thing on her side was the fact that the enemy could see that she wasn't Pelosia Wittke.  The Watcher climbed through the barbed wire fence at the edge of the grassing land and took off at a run, hoping that the Cabalists wouldn't be have a good reason to chase her down.

No such luck; the three were vaulting over the fence – not exactly like city boys.  And a few seconds later she realized that she couldn’t outrun them in the slow, weak woman’s body she had.  The fastest of them, when he came up aflank, gave her a shove.  She went went tumbling, hitting the mud and grass awkwardly, banging her left shoulder and knocking the wind out of her lungs.

Before Jezebel could force down more than a couple breaths, they were all around her.

“All right, bitch,” one said with a Syrian accent, “Pelosia got into the car with you.  Where did you let her off?”

“Go fuck yourself!” she said.

That's when the kicking started.

“Not in the face,” one shouted.  “She's got a nice one.”

Her admirer wasted no time, dropping to his knees, grabbing at her and subduing her struggles with hard slaps.  Then he roughly unzipped her coat and popped the snaps on her corduroy jeans.  “American women are foul-mouthed, but they tame so easily,” he said with a laugh.  Furiously, the Watcher struck at his bearded face with her fists, but they only bounced off hard flesh and bone.  The man made reprisal with a punch aimed below her breasts.  The diaphragm hit gave her a shocking foretaste of Hell and stopped her breathing.

Asphyxiating and struggling, Jezebel barely felt her pants being worked down.  A greedy a hand clutched the waistband of her briefs, pulling and twisting, ripping away a handful of nylon.  After that, everyone else’s hands were on the captive, too, holding her steady for their apparent leader.  She heard the zip of the fly as the one on top of her wriggled into position.  He seemed to know his way around a gang rape, since he got right into position and used his thumbs to facilitate his intended assault.  Jezebel yelled, tried to struggle, but could barely move.  When the Syrian shoved himself into her, it was only one more source of pain to add to all the others that she was enduring.  Worse than the brutality of it, was her feeling of strangulation; things were going dark.

Suddenly, Jezebel's lungs started to fill all of their own accord.   Coming to herself, feeling stronger, she lurched and kicked until she broke the hold of one of her attackers.  This freed her right fist, which she drove into the rib cage of the rapist.  Something audibly cracked and, yelling, the man swung himself away.

That made it easier for Jezebel to break the grip of the thug still clinging to her, the doing of which allowed her to roll clear and rise up on her knees.  The evaded assailant leaped at her, supposing her could to bring her down under his greater weight, but she did a fighter's switch, shifted, and sent him tumbling.  The Cabalist struck face-down in the mud and stubble, which gained the woman a few seconds.  Despite her dishabille, Jezebel got her feet under her at last and dodged away, putting fighting room between her and her enemies.

Her hunter's glance fell on her defiler.  He looked wounded, standing hunched over, holding what must have been a cracked ribs.  He glared at her, his face a mask of fury, but to her momentary surprise, she saw that hair was growing unnaturally all over his already unlovely face, its very structure changing.  His body, too, was grotesquely modifying and he quickly became something unrecognizable – at least as a man.  But whatever he was, he had the whole family along, since she now caught animalistic growling at either side.  The two henchmen were metamorphosing in the same way.

Her pants, having been dragged down to her calves, were hobbling her, so Jezebel pulled them up in a flash, not feeling much pain from her battering as she did so.  The two underlings used that moment to attack.  One leaped in from the left, his hands having become like gargoyle talons; nimbly, the Watcher dodged.  As he lumbered by she struck his skull with doubled fists, but only hit it glancingly.   Giving a grunt, the fiend fell away, staggering into the way of the third Cabalist's, who was trying to do his bit, too.

The latter shoved his stunned buddy out of the way and Jezebel could get a good look at him, while catching his sewer-like stench.  He seemed to think his appearance would panic her, because he went straight in without any cleverness, his claws ready to rip and slash, his open mouth brandishing canine-like teeth and flinging threads of slaver.  He had quickness, whatever his species, but she had more.  Wherever this energy surge had come from, she liked it.  The Watcher speedily ducked a clawed swing and then drove a fist against his breastbone.  She heard something breaking in this one two. Good!

The fiend blundered away, but the unwounded third monster was reengaging.  He stood sizing her up, not so stupid that he hadn’t at last notice that the little blonde that the gang had intended to take their turns with was fighting with too much deadly effect to be normal.

Suddenly there was the rip of a siren through the chill air and all fighters looked down the road.  A sheriff's department car was speeding toward the parked cars.  The trio of gargoyles broke off and darted for their escape vehicle.  Dazed though she was, she could appreciate that these shape-shifters travel as swiftly the desert predators of their homeland.  In a flash, they were back inside the Dodge, which took off in a trail of smoking rubber even before the back door was closed.

The sheriff's patrol car, white with blue trimming, stopped opposite the Watcher's off-the-road vehicle, but only momentarily, to let a girl spring out.  Then it roared down the blacktop in hot pursuit.

The girl was Holly.

The former singer, present-day waitress got hooked on the barbed wire, tore something getting loose, and then hurried toward her would-be rescuer, seemingly confused.  “T-Those – people,” she stammered.  “Were they wearing masks?”

The Watcher gritted her teeth.  Company was the last thing she wanted just now, and being asked about what had happened was the second from the last.  Jezebel ignored her as she adjusted her pants and closed the snaps.

“You look so beat up.  D-Did they....” Holly began.

“Never mind what they did.  Get back to the car.  That watchman – officer -- will be calling for help.  This has to be handled by people who know what they’re doing.  Cops will only tie us down writing statements.”

Jezebel then started a stride toward her Honda.  The girl hurried after her.
“Maybe I should drive,” she called out.  “You're don’t look like you’re up to it!”

“I'm fine.  Stop talking or I'll have to hit you next!”

The Watcher reached her car and swung in behind the wheel.  Holly climbed into the passenger seat immediately after.

“Maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea if we talked to the police,” the latter suggested.

“Why?  The officer won't be the only one calling for help.  We can't be anywhere the Cabal expects us to be.”

“They were Cabal?  For sure?”

“They weren’t delivering pizza.”

Jezebel then started driving, making a tight U-turn and accelerating back toward the T-intersection of 138.

“Where now?” the girl asked.

“Same place; different route.  Don't talk so much.”

Her mind in a swirl, Holly somewhat knew what had happened, but not why it had turned out the way it did.  Whoever this young blonde woman was, she was formidable, and that made he even more apprehensive than before.

#

Turning east on Highway 18, Jezebel took them through Bixby without stopping. She was pressing in the direction of Nebraska, for no reason except that she didn’t know where else go.  But she had an idea of how things worked.  It was a good idea to follow her instincts, or, rather, the little inspirations that most people call intuition, but actually came from her enemies, the angels.  Or were they here friends?  She didn’t know anymore.

Her face remained grim and she look once at the singer until after they had picked up Federal Highway 20 at Lusk.  Farther along, at Harrisburg, Nebraska, they stopped to fuel.  The Watcher filled the tank, having told Holly to check the map.

She was actually feeling worse, not better.  The strength that Jezebel had benefited from during the fight seemed to be lessening now.  She had gained dark energy from the Cabalists’ lust, and it had saved her.  But already it was fading.  Winter days were short and she didn't want to drive through the night dead tired.  To seek lodgings, Jezebel preferred to go into a big town, one where their car would be harder to track down among so many others.  She asked her companion to pick a likely stopover.

Holly, who had been checking over her condition periodically, frowned perplexedly.  “Your bruises and scrapes; what happened to them?”

Jezebel sighed.  “Remember what I said about asking questions?  Just do what you're asked to do.”

Holly looked down at the map.  “You want a big town?  In this part of Nebraska?”

“All right.  Just find whatever’s the biggest city nearby.”

“Crawford is nearby, but it looks like a Podunk.”

Thanks to Jill retained memories, the blonde knew what a Podunk was.  “What’s big enough to have a motel?”

“Chadron is about fifty miles away and has a lodgings symbol, but it’s pretty small.  A little farther away is Alliance, but it’s marked as a good-sized town.  We could pick 71 at Crawford and start south.”

“How far?”

“About ninety, I guess.”

Jezebel hung up the nozzle and went to check the map herself.  A quick glance confirmed what the girl's information.  “It'll have to do, unless we sleep in the car.”

“I'd be game for that, but not without a down-filled sleeping bag,” said Holly.  “My legs are covered with goose bumps.”

Jezebel sniffed.  “Like I said, I can loan you my spare pair of pants.”  She went to the trunk and unzipped a travel bag.   Something on top of everything else caught her glance, something red and silky.  The angel drew it out.  It was a small dress, one obviously cut to make men think about sex.  The bag also held underclothes, hose, and high-heeled shoes to go with it.

“Wow!” exclaimed Holly from over her shoulder.  “That's racy with a capital R.  I wouldn't have figured you for the honky-tonk type.”

Jezebel scowled.  Jill Arendel had a closet full of slutty clothing, but she hadn’t packed any of that rubbish.  No, it seemed that Shekinah was exercising what passed for a sense of humor.  The idiot.  The world she loved so much was going to Hell in a hand basket, and here she was playing brainless games.  “Take this,” the Watcher said to Holly, shoving her spare trousers into the girl's hands.  “Put these on and stop complaining about the cold.”

The celebrity took the garment eagerly and scrambled to the ladies' room to change.  Jezebel herself went indoors to pay for the gasoline.  The sight of  so many shelves full of food, arrayed in cans, boxes, or packaged in clear cellophane made her human body queasy.  None of it looked edible, not even for a human, but she hadn't had anything since breakfast and needed something immediately.   Everything about human existence was demeaning.  At least in Jetrel’s heavenly body, food was unnecessary.  But Jezebel had been in Jill's body long enough to know what being faint from hunger felt like.  She added a large box of chips, two quarts of milk, a couple packs of chocolate, cream-filled cupcakes, and a bunch bananas to the overall purchase.

Back at the car, Holly was already waiting.  Without saying anything, Jezebel pushed a milk carton into the girl's hands, so she wouldn't start complaining about being thirsty next.  Then she set the bag of groceries on the singer's lap.  The Holly put it down next to her feet.

Holly then drank from the milk bottle rapidly and at last dried her lips with the back of her hand.  “Do you think they have a clue about where we're going?”

The Watcher gritted her teeth.  “The Cabal always has a clue.  But we have to keep them guessing about where we are.  That should be easy, since I hardly know myself.”  Actually, she had been aiming at Omaha.  Maybe it was a subtle hint from "Above," or maybe it was the only place she now had to call home.  But right now she needed some milk and bananas herself.

“Didn’t you come with a plan?” her companion asked.

“I was just told to protect you, and wait for instructions.”

"Who told you?"

"Never mind.  You've gotten mixed up with things you don't want to know about."

"It wasn't my fault."
"You wanted fame, you wanted money.  You didn't care who gave it to you.  That was what got you into this."

“If you say so.  But how will anyone reach you?  Do you have a cell phone?”

“If I have one, I didn’t bring it.  But don’t worry.  If we’re supposed to get a message, we’ll be getting it.”

“Do you think those Dodge guys got away?”

“Of course they did.  If that officer caught up with them, they would have murdered him.”

Holly blanched.  “Can they find us?”

“They can and, given enough time, time they will.”

The brunette nodded disconcertedly.  “I wish I didn't believe you.  I've watched spy movies.  Spy technology can find anything.”

“That's how it is in real life, too.”

“Are you some sort of spy?”

Jezebel thought about that.   Shekinah had made it sound like she was supposed to be a bodyguard today and an assassin later on.  “No,” she finally said.

An hour and a half later, the ruddy sunset was dimming.  By the time they turned into Alliance, it was almost full night.

“Not exactly a Podunk,” Holly remarked as they drove under the streetlights.  “Now where are the motels?”

They found that the town offered several inns and Jezebel selected one that was off by itself, where guest cars could be parked out of sight of the main street.  It was called “the American Inn” and its sign offered double rooms for $60, which Holly considered “a good deal.”  Even so, the price was another drain on the limited money that had been gained from Jill Arendel's candy box.  When more funds were needed, robbery still seemed like the least objectionable direction to take.

Holly's spirits perked up as soon as they had closed and chained the door of their rented room.  What the singer failed to realize was that the Cabal had unlimited money and a technology that was about a century in advance of what they permitted the common herd to know about.  Black Ops interplanetary space flights had been going on for decades.  People talked about the Cabal being run by the mega-banks and international corporations, but they were like mere shell companies for those who were really running things.

Living as a phantom, Jetrel had learned much about the underside of the human world, and had a good idea about the Cabal's role in it.  He might have admired the Anti-Christ conspiracy of power-grabbing and genocide that Satan had orchestrated, but she had no liking for either him or his  human servants.

And after what had been done to her in the cow pasture that day, she liked them a lot less.

She was bound and determined to make somebody sorry.

Maybe a lot of people.



End of Chapt 3, Part 1

To Be Continued...