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Friday, December 22, 2017

The Treasure of Eerie, Arizona -- Chapter 3, Part 2


By Christopher Leeson and Ellie Dauber 
  

Chapter 3, Part 2
 
December 14, 1871, Continued

With a huff, Myra did as her aunt told her.  The only food on the table was some slices of canned oranges, a loaf of fresh bread, and a dish of churned butter.  For a beverage, they had coffee in an enameled pot and a small pitcher of milk.   

“There's hot food on the stove,” said her aunt.  “Load up with whatever you like,”. 

Myra went to the steaming kettles filled with boiled beef, green beans, and mashed potatoes.  Hungry, she shoveled large portions onto her plate.

“Mrs. Fanning!” called George from outside.  “I'm finished with the horse.”

“Come in, boy,” Irene shouted back.  “Have something to eat.”

“Don't mind if I do,” George replied upon entering.  His eyes darted around the shadowy interior, and came to rest on Myra, who had taken her place at the table.

The boy paused to hang his broad-brimmed hat on a nail driven into the wall boards.  “There's food on the stove,” said his hostess.  “Help yourself and then draw up one of the chairs.”  Following her advice, he filled a plate of his own and, a moment later, was seated opposite Myra.

The girl stubbornly concentrated on her eating, already impatient to leave.

“George,” said Irene, “I suppose you young people have already introduced yourselves.”

“We have.  I was pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Myra,” he said.

Irene knew that she had to speak as though Myra were new to the area.  “George's family lives about a mile from here on the other side of the ridge,” she explained.  “He helps out as much as his folks can spare him.”  When Myra said nothing, Mrs. Fanning added, “Be polite and say hello.”

“Hello,” said the girl.

Irene smiled tightly and put a question to the house guest.  “Have you heard anything about the posse, George?”

The youth responded, frowning,  “Mr. Singer dropped by with some news just before I left home.”

The farm woman sighed.  “He must have told you that Myr... Thorn was one of the robbers.  It makes me very sad.”

“They say that he was... shot,” the youth offered delicately.

“Yes,” replied Mrs. Fanning.  “At least that's what the rider told the sheriff.”

“Did the posse find … anything… up at the Gap?”

Irene winched.  Of course someone would have been sent to search the Gap if there were known to be a wounded outlaw up there.  “The men haven't returned yet,” she said.  “But a man was sent to look just as soon as the news came in.  The talk is that there was...no trace.”

“You're a very brave woman,” George remarked.  “I'm surprised that you're still able to smile, having gotten such terrible news.”

Irene glanced down.  “I – I think I'm still quite stunned,” she stammered.  “Deep down, I haven't really come to grips with the enormity of the tragedy.”

“It is very terrible.”  The boy then glanced with interest toward Myra.  “You were coming down from Stage Coach Gap.  What did you see up there?”

“Nothing but rock and mesquite,” the girl answered stiffly.  “I actually didn't go too far.  I... I don't even know where this gap of yours is.”

George grinned.  “If a person follows the road to where it becomes a rock pavement, he's in the Gap.”

Myra shifted uncomfortably when she realized that the nosy neighbor seemed to be watching her face rather closely. 

“The gap is where the rough country meets the prairie,” the boy explained while cutting off a peace of meat.  “Mrs. Fanning, is Myra going to be staying with you for a while?”

“I expect so,” affirmed Irene.  “Her mother passed away a couple months ago.  She doesn't have any other close family.”

“That's good.”  Then George caught himself.  “I mean, I'm sorry to hear about your misfortune, Miss Myra.  I only meant that it's always better to stay with kinfolk than with strangers.”  Myra's expression remained cold, so the youth addressed her aunt.  “Will you still need me for chores, ma'am, now that you have a healthy young lady to take up the slack?”

Irene considered that question thoughtfully.  Finally she said, “Myra has a few things to learn about homesteading, so, for the time being, you can keep on coming as before.  Even if she takes to farming well, there will always be occasions when we'll be needing extra help.”

“I'll be glad to keep coming over,” George said as he reached for another piece of orange.  “I love these oranges, ma'am.  Dad planted a few trees last spring.”

“We get our fruit, except for apples and plums, from Ortega's grocery in town.  I tried planting some oranges of our own a couple years back, but they all died.”

“I hope ours do better.  But about work tomorrow... ” began the boy.

“I think we'll hold off for a couple days.  Myra is going to need a little while to settle in.”

“She'll be needing a warm coat, too.  I noticed her wearing her uncle's jacket, instead of one of her own.”

Irene thought quickly.  “She... lost her trunk when the stage she was on went over a bump while crossing a fast stream.  A friend is going help out by picking her up some replacement things in Phoenix.”

“Why go all the way to Phoenix?” George asked.

Irene had said more than she should have.  Being unused to lying, she found it not easy to do well.  “The lady was going there anyway.  She says that prices and selection are much better in the big town.”

George smiled, “A lady from church?”

“No.  Mrs. O'Toole.”  Mrs. Fanning hadn't wanted to mention the O'Tooles and, by inference, the potion, but it was better to get that detail out now, instead of being caught in a lie later.

George blinked.  “Molly O'Toole?  How did you two happen to meet?  She doesn't go to our church.”

“We were at the same shop a couple weeks ago.  She's very nice.”

“She seems to be,” he conceded with a nod.

Irene dearly wanted to change the subject.  “So you're visiting the saloons now, George?  It seems only yesterday that you were just a little scamp.”

He grinned.  “Ma says I still am, but Pa took me to get my first beer last month when I turned eighteen.”

Mrs. Fanning shook her head.  “Men and their beer.  It would take the fiery angel of Eden to keep them apart, I'm afraid.”

“Well, men and women have their different ways.  Wouldn't you agree, Myra?” 

The girl, frowning, replied, “I reckon they do.” 


#

Myra felt relieved when Severin finally rode off.

“Myra, I've been thinking... ” Irene began.

The girl spun.  “Don't call me that name!”

Her aunt drew a deep breath, bracing for a quarrel.  “How long would it take for someone like George, or maybe neighbor Singer, to guess who you really are if they overheard me calling you Myron or Thornton?”

“Humphh!” was the only response Myra gave.  She had found that if Irene didn't frame a question like a command, she didn't have to answer it.

“If you aren't worried about people finding out, I'll be glad to call you Myron.  Otherwise, it has to be Myra -- unless you prefer Abigail.”

“That's even worse than Myra.  It sounds like some old granny's name.”

“Perhaps your cousin Abigail thinks so, too.  She signs her cards 'Gail.'  I suppose she supposes that it sounds more modern.  Anyway, I'm glad you didn't say anything to offend George.  You're almost the same age.  You can be friends.”

“Humphh!” she repeated.

“If he likes you, I bet he'll be persuaded to help with some of your heavier chores.”

“I don't need any help from the likes of him!”

“I see.  Well, it's about time we talk about more serious matters.  We can't have you riding off and never coming back.  The bad things that befall a boy out in the world can be so much worse for a girl.”  Myra looked indignant at hearing the word “girl,” but held her peace.

“I should have told you this before, but I'm telling you now.  I want you to be home – and I mean here at the farm – by sundown every day, unless you've asked for and have received permission to stay out later.  And don't try to sneak away at night, either.  If you go outside after sunset, don't go any farther than you could walk in five minutes, unless, like I've said, you've gotten permission.”

Myra's face hardened.  “So I'm just a prisoner.”

“I'm sorry that you think so.  You're walking a strange path, but robbers become convicts; that's how life works.  If you had been caught by a posse, you might have received that same potion from the judge as punishment.  Then everyone would know that it was Myron Caldwell who was cooking, cleaning, and serving drinks as the newest potion girl at the saloon.  But you were blessed.  That concoction not only saved your life, it also disguised you.  No one has to know what really happened to Myron.”

“Too many people already know!”

“Some people had to be told.  I needed advice when when the doctor found out that he couldn't help you.  They're good people and I think they will be willing to help you settle into the community without causing suspicion.  I won't tell anyone else, and I certainly hope that you don't accidentally let anyone know.”

Myra let out a frustrated sound.

“You're alive and you're home,” Irene reminded her.  “You now have a future.  This property will be yours when you turn twenty-one.  If you would just help me manage it until you're an adult, you'll have a good nest egg by the time you take over.”

Myra shook her head.  “Living like a peon isn't anything to look forward to.  I'd be better off inheriting a champion race horse instead of some dusty old homestead in the desert.  Farmers usually work all their lives and still end up with nothing.  Anyway, why should I believe that you'll turn over the land when I'm twenty-one?”

“Why shouldn't you believe?”

“Because if people think Myron's dead, there's no one to inherit anything.  And even if you hand back what should be mine already, you'll probably keep ordering me around like you're doing now.”

Irene sighed.  “Tell anyone you want that you're Myron.  It's all up to you.  But you have my word that the farm is yours when you come of age.  When that happens, I'll respect your likings.”

The girl looked at her suspiciously.  “While I'm running the farm, where will you be?”

“If you don't want me to stay and help out, I'll get along somehow.  The Lord provides.”

“I hope the Lord provides me with a buyer.  I'll be ready to sell this place on my twenty-first birthday.”

Irene grew somber.  “If you don't change your mind by then, I only hope that you will use the selling price wisely.  Your attitude worries me.  How are you going to support yourself once the money is all spent?  You can't be an outlaw anymore.  So how do you expect to be making a living a few years out?  A person who owns land always amounts to something.  You're so lucky that your father left the farm without any debt.”

Myra couldn't think of a good reply, even though she wasn't ready to accept her aunt's view of the world.

#

December 16, 1871

A couple days later, just after the midday meal, Irene heard a coach coming from the direction of Eerie.  Going to the door, she saw a small one-horse, canopied buggy kicking up dust.  Judge Humphreys was driving and, behind him, a horseman followed.  It was Paul Grant, the sheriff's deputy.  The Judge turned off  the road and passed through the open gate, the lawman following close behind.

Mrs. Fanning waited on the rock-slab step.

“Howdy, ma'am,” Paul called, dismounting.

“Has the sheriff caught the outlaws yet, Deputy?” she asked.

“Not that we know of,” her rangy visitor replied, stepping around his companion's vehicle.  “Some of the posse's straggled back, but Sheriff Talbot is still out with most of the men.”

“How is... the young lady?” Judge Humphreys asked, carefully climbing down from his rig.

Irene grimaced.  “She's doing about as well as one can expect.”

The jurist joined the other two.  “No problems?”

“She's sour and sulky.  I suppose a person can't blame her.”

Humphreys nodded.  “We need to know more about the robbery.  Paul here will ask the questions and I'll make sure that your niece tells the truth.”

The woman shook her head.  “I'm so sorry that a member of my family has to be involved in something as awful as this.”

“Boys will be... .” began the judge, but then thought better of it.

“Come in.  I'll find Myra.”

The two men followed the young woman into the main room and made themselves at home in two of the four available chairs.  Then their hostess went back outside, calling her niece's name.

A couple minutes after, the bright rectangle of the doorway was broken by Myra's silhouette, giving Paul got his first look at Eerie's newest potion girl.  When she suspiciously came closer, “pretty” was the first word that sprang into his mind.  Every time Paul saw the effects of Shamus' concoction, it amazed him all the more.   She looked Thorn's age, about seventeen, but that was where the resemblance ended.  The gal's auburn hair gave off red sparkles where sunlight touched it; her form was lithe but ripe and blooming.  Paul reckoned that Myra Olcott would soon be catching the notice of every young man with an eye for beauty.

Just then, Irene returned from outdoors.

The judge stood up and pointed to the empty chairs.  “Good day, Miss Olcott, Mrs. Fanning.  We have a few questions for your niece.”

Myra remained standing, her face like stone.  Irene had told her that the rotund man was people – rattlesnakes -- who had played a part in in her transformation.  She thought she recognized the bravo with him as a local cowboy, but now he was wearing a deputy badge.  “How much does he know?” Myra asked the justice, making a gesture toward Paul.

Humphreys shrugged.  “With the sheriff away, it was necessary to brief him fully.”

“Oh, fine!  Why don't you just tell the whole damned town while you're at it?”

“I'd like you to sit down,” the old man informed her firmly.

Myra did as told, having no other choice.  Judge Humphreys had power over her,  just like Molly O'Toole and her aunt did.

Humphreys turned toward Paul.  “Deputy Grant, the floor is yours.”

“Miss Olcott,” Paul began.

Myra refused to acknowledge the man's address.

“Miss Olcott,” the lawman repeated, “tell us about how the robbery came off.”

“Why, do you need some pointers from a professional?” mocked the auburn lass.

“Young lady,” interjected the judge, “respond to Deputy Grant's question.  Tell us about how the robbery occurred, and tell the truth.”

Something was forcing her to answer accurately.  “We w-waited for…for the stage up in th-the Gap.  We'd barri…caded the road.  When...When they st-stopped, we made – uh! -- made them thr-throw down their g-g-guns and the guard… umm, he gave us the st-strong… b-box.  We hadn't br-brought any t-tools, so Ike…Ike tried to shoot the…l-lock off.  The bounce hit…hit me in the g-gut.”

She had paused.  “And then?” coaxed Paul.

Myra felt like a damned fool, the way she was stuttering and stammering.  'Maybe,” she thought, 'I shouldn't fight against answering so hard, just to protect the bastards that shot me and left me for dead?'  She decided to tweak her answers in a way that would nail the gang down good, but would not hurt her so much.

“Reply to the question, Miss,” Humphreys interjected sternly.

Myra sucked in a breath.  “It hurt like h-hell.  Ike just… just left me in the dirt.  He told everyone to get out of the coach and c-clear away the barricade.  When they did, he ordered them to head on out, a-away from Eerie.”  It was easier to deal with the interrogation by letting go of those items of truth that she didn't mind telling!

“Who is this Ike?” Paul inquired.

“Ike Bartram!  He said he and his folks came to Arizona T-Territory after the w-war.  His pa had to hightail it out of Missouri, 'cause he'd been working with guerrillas and the army was looking for people like  him.”

“The other robbers?”

“Jeb and Horace Freely.  They're from California, where they'd ended up w-wanted for rustling.”

“Where did you meet them?”

“Antelope Spring – at Whipple's Saloon.”

“Antelope Spring?”

“A new town –  up near that Grand Canyon.”

“When was that?”

“Late October.  From there we went toward Yuma.  All that the three of them could ever talk about was getting an easy take.  I told them about the Prescott-Tucson Stage here at Eerie.”

“All right,” the deputy said.  “You were hurt and on the ground.  Then what happened?”

“Jeb and Horace lugged the chest back into that arroyo up there.  Ike came my way and said that if I wasn't fit to ride, they couldn't afford to leave me for the law.  He was afraid I'd spill my guts.”

Paul chuckled. “It looks like he was right about that.”

Myra glared.  “If I wasn't full of that potion crap, you'd see how much I'd be telling you!”

“Yeah, sure, I bet you're just as brave as Bill Hickok in the dime novels.  What did Ike do then?” 

“He said that if I was still alive after they finished with the gold, they'd have to do something about it.”

In the background, Irene gasped.

“Where did they hide it?” asked the lawman.

Here Myra snatched a sly thought out of thin air to conceal the fact that she knew exactly where the gold was buried.  She said, “I couldn't see where they went once they got inside the canyon.  All I was thinking about was dodging away.  I guess I wasn't as far gone as Ike supposed.  The hurting was bad, but I was able to reach my horse and make it as far as the farm.  Once I got to the yard, I don't remember anything, not until I woke up like... this.”

Paul frowned.  “So, as far as you know, the gold might still be in the arroyo?”

Myra didn't want to admit to that, but didn't think that she could come up with a lie good enough to put them off the track.  If the judge ordered her to tell the whole truth, any hope of getting that box for herself would be done for.  “Yeah, sure.  Is there a reward for finding it?”

The deputy grinned with incredulity.  “Not for you.  How well do you know that little canyon?”

“I went into it hundreds of times, back when I was a kid.”

Paul regarded the judge.  “Why don't I go up there with Miss Olcott and see what we can find?”

Humphreys nodded.  “That makes sense.  I'll head back to town.  If you find the strongbox, you'll be needing a wagon and a couple men to help bring it back.  I'll get things ready.”

Grant nodded.  “Right, Your Honor.”  Then, rising, he extended a hand to assist Myra to her feet.  She sneered and got up under her own power.

“Young lady,” said Humphreys, “when you're out with Mr. Grant, you'll do what he tells you to, just like I was speaking to you myself.”  The justice paused, sensing a nagging deep inside, telling him to go easy, as if Myra were an ordinary girl.  He ignored the impulse.  “It looks like everything you went through to get your hands on that gold was for nothing.  Some people can only learn the hard way that crime doesn't pay.  I hope you're capable of learning at least that much.”

“Go to hell!” the farm girl snarled.


TO BE CONTINUED IN CHAPTER 4, PART 1

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Falling Star: Chapter 5, Part 2



Posted 12-07-17
 

An Angel From Hell story

Chapter 5, Part 2

By Christopher Leeson


Could it have been sheer luck or was it unasked-for help from heaven?  Whatever it was, Jezebel's fast driving wasn't interrupted by the falcons of the law between Brady and Kearney.  The Watcher was glancing to the dashboard clock every five minutes.  Time was short; she couldn't know for how long her most recent lust-recharge would last.  The second one had persisted longer than the first, but to play it safe, she needed to extract Holly from Monsatana's clutches in under two hours.

Jezebel had lost hours of travel around Brady, but, even at that, the time was barely past two in the morning.  Would the Satanists at Monsatana wait until sunup before moving Petosia Wittke to a company air strip?  She couldn't count on that, and so needed to assume the worst.  Already, in the back of her mind, she contemplated a possible trip out to Los Angeles.  The fallen angel couldn't accept failure; the price she might have to pay would be damnation.

The young woman made the turn-off at Exit 272 for Kearney, briefly stopping to top off her tank and to find a local map.  The filling station offered the latter at $3.95 and she bought one.  It showed the Monsatana Food Company situated off by itself, in an east-side industrial area.  Checking a city directory at the station desk, she found no listings of any other Monsatana properties nearby.  That narrowed down her known area of search. If the Cabalists didn't expect a rescue, they might opt to hold their captive inside the factory complex itself.  Still, the installation looked huge and searching on the blind would be neither quick nor easy.

Jezebel returned to her Toyota and turned to the heart of town. The city had only about 31,000 in population, and so reaching the canning factory was a matter of mere minutes.

The Monsatana complex looked like it had been laid out with prison architecture in mind.  The management didn't seem to want people either getting in or getting out unmonitored.  The Watcher parked her car along the adjacent service road, where it would be screened from view by a stand of catalpas.  With her stilettos stuffed into her bag to facilitate walking, the girl advanced toward the factory, using the available shadows for concealment.

The factory had guard towers and a fenced perimeter, and the latter displayed signs saying High Voltage.  That seemed excessive.  Only a well paid-off local government would not have become suspicious at seeing such security overkill at a commonplace cannery.  Be that as it may, the thought of going up against thousands of volts made Jezebel dubious.  Could her borrowed body shake off a heavy electrical shock, its current demonic power-charge notwithstanding?

As an child of Heaven, Jetrel had often turned invisible.  Jezebel tried to invoke that power of old beside her vehicle, but nothing happened.  How frustrating!  If the Father cared so much about protecting Pelosia Wittke, why had he denied her so many of the familiar abilities that would have made her a more effective rescuer?

A new thought made the angel brighten.  She stooped, concentrated, and touched the pavement.

Finally, a break!

Just at that moment, the Watcher heard a low roar, along with the distinctive hiss of heavy-duty brakes.  A truck was entering the parking area.  She took cover inside the black shadow cast by some electric transformer equipment.

As the slowing tractor-trailer passed her, Jezebel sprang after it.  She leaped upon its towing accessory and clung to the box's door latch.  The girl then pressed forward and, like a ghost, phased through the steel doors, falling into the interior the cargo compartment.  Reflexively, she restored her solidity in time to prevent herself from dropping through the floor.

Jezebel didn't need the dim light filtering in through the ventilation grates to observe her surroundings.  There was not much to see, except for an uninteresting cargo.  The vehicle came to a halt just then, and the angel heard voices up front.

A few short phrases were exchanged, presumably between the driver and the gatekeepers.  A couple minutes later, the truck revved its engine and rolled on.  Now that she had penetrated the security fence, the Watcher had no exact plan, except to get inside and look around.  Her idea was to grab some night-shift employee and question him about seeing a dark-haired girl, a real looker, arriving in a silver car near to midnight, accompanied by two Middle-Eastern sorts.

The truck slowed and stopped.  Jezebel heard metal doors sliding along tracks.  When they quieted, the forward roll resumed and, a minute later, the cab and its load stopped with a hiss of its hydraulic brakes.  The angel phased the upper part of her body through the metal wall and peered outside.  What she saw was certainly underwhelming -- a spacious warehouse filled with stacked pallets, forklifts, and other small industrial vehicles.

Jezebel, seeing no one, sprang through, striking the concrete floor with materialized feet, to scurry toward a lofty ridge of boxes.  This she phased through as a phantom, and came out abutting a cinder-block wall.

At the sound of conversation, the Watcher peered through a gap between the stacks.  She espied the parked truck with two security men beside it. The driver emerged and a few words more were spoken.  The trucker was then escorted away by one of the uniformed men.  The other guard, having been left with the keys, started to check out the vehicle, starting with the cab.  It did seem to the intruder that the management wanted no surprises coming in and were distrustful of even routine deliveries.

Jezebel waited until the guard had finished with the cab and had gone to the back of the truck, where he unlocked the doors and climbed up inside.

A moment later, hearing a sound, the security man turned abruptly.  He looked askance, seeing a young woman dressed just the way that he liked young women to dress.  He demanded, “Who the hell are you?”

Thank heavens someone finally came in!”  Jezebel exclaimed.  “I've been locked in this warehouse for more than a half hour.  It's not all that warm, you know.”

How did you get shut in?” the man asked uncertainly.  “Who let you through the gate?”

He said his name was John.”  She smiled.  “It seems like half the guys I meet are named John.  You probably know him.  He's about your height and wears a fancy suit.”  She touched her head. “He has thinning hair.  He took me to an expensive club and bought me a lunch.”

So, why are you here?”

The guy, John, invited me back to his office.  He told me to wait in here while he checked is emails, but when he left he locked the doors.  Who'd do something like that?  Is this place run by a gang of sex fiends, like the Senate is?”

The security man frowned, not so much at the girl, but against the unfairness of life.  Money, luxury, women, the suits had all it all.  It was hard living surrounded by profligate prosperity without being able to touch it.  “I've got to take you to my supervisor.  He'll be able to hook you up with your boyfriend.”

Jezebel braced her fists against her hips.  “Some boyfriend!  I don't think I trust him.  I'm calling this off.  I want to go home.”

The guard shook his head.  “Nobody leaves Monsatana property until they're checked out.”  He walked past the girl and, from a sitting position, dropped to the warehouse floor.  Then he held out a hand.  “Come on, Miss, I'll help you down.”

Do the Monsatana big shots bring a lot of girls into this place?” Jezebel asked.

Never mind that.  Come here.”

The blonde came to the end of the box and sat down.  She let the man take her left arm, but when he put himself off guard, she swung a hard right-cross to his jaw.

The guard crashed to the concrete.  Jezebel sprang on top of him, subduing his struggles with another punch.  Then she dragged her victim behind one of the box stacks.

By dealing the man plentiful face slaps, the angel brought him around.  When he lay blinking at her feet, she affected a Russian accent and said, “I am here on orders from the FSB, which used to be KGB.”  The guard looked appropriately shocked, as she expected he would.  In the United States, the news was nothing but sensationalist lies.  For decades, the mainstream media had been controlled by the intelligence services.  

The Fake News meisters did their job well, making the people believe in a reality that existed only in the minds of Cabalist plotters.  Lately, to explain why their candidate lost the election, they blamed it on Russian manipulation and tried to arouse the populace against the new president with the idea that he had been imposed on them by spies and traitors.  It was no wonder that the guard looked alarmed.  But the Cabal had miscalculated; it was a frightened enemy who most easily gave up the best information.

She said, “The free people of the motherland know that Monsatana has been smuggling banned GMO shipments into Russia.  The rubbish they call food is made with the DNA of vermin and laden with nanites that makes the human body fat and sick.  If you deny the truth, it can only be because you support the conspirators.  Speak! I know you are not mute.”

I—I never heard of that!”

She tossed her head and scornfully.  “Of course you have not; such scheming would hardly have been published in the employee bulletin!  But you have suspected such things, have you not?”

He blinked.  “Sometimes we hear things. T-They're poisoning Africa – that's for sure.  But I didn't hear about Russia.”

Such is not important.  An FSB agent has infiltrated Monsatana and she knows everything.  This comrade is a superb honey trap.  Very lovely, very seductive.  But she failed to make her call-in.  Because the operative is traceable through an injected GPS, we have confirmed that she is inside this labyrinth, somewhere.  What do you know of such a captive?  She would have been brought through the gate tonight.”

I didn't see anything!”

Then you are useless and must die.”

But –“ the prisoner quickly interjected, “but one of the gate guards said something.”

What did he tell you, Americanski?”

Two men came through.  They had a girl in the back.  They were treating her like a prisoner.”

Did they appear to be Chinese, and was the car was red?” she demanded, testing him.

No.  These were Arab types.  The car was silver.”

Jezebel frowned.  “What did the girl look like?”

Pretty.  Black hair.”

No one at the gate became suspicious?”

We're paid not to be suspicious – not of anything that the bosses do.  We have to let women through all the time.  Most are whores, but sometimes....”  He suddenly clammed up.

What are you not saying?”

He reluctantly went on.  “Cult stuff. The top management does crazy things.  Mostly they want to do it with women and children.”

What do they do?”

He grimaced.  “Things like in horror movies.”

And you guards keep secret such vile activity?”

T-There's no one to tell.  Their friends run the city.  The state and feds are even worse.  I never realized the FBI was so dirty.  If you say you don't like something, you're fired.  Anyone who makes too much fuss disappears, or is at least framed and put away.”

The Watcher said nothing.  All the angels, both the fallen and the holy, knew how the power brokers in America protected the Cabal at every level.

Where do they take their prisoners?”

To the executive office building.  Nobody ever sees them again.”

Where is this building?”

When she had the information, Jezebel asked, “Do you have access?”

He shook his head.

Who does?”

The special security section.  They're separate from us.  A bunch of oddball creeps, if you ask me.  They look ex-military.  The big shots won't let anyone else guard them.  They're the boys that handle all the ritual stuff.”

If I saw one, how would I know that he is special security?”

A different uniform, darker.  They all wear a star, but not a military star.”

How many points?”

Five”

It was probably a pentagram, a symbol of Satan so ubiquitous that the jaded eyes of modern man, surrounded on every side by a culture that was almost entirely Satanic, seldom even noticed it.  Jezebel now peered into the guard's eyes, instructing him, “You are passing into a deep sleep.  You will not remember meeting me and you won't remember this conversation.”  His eyes drooped shut and his breathing became deep and regular.

The angel continued speaking.  “Tomorrow, you will quit this job; from now on you'll get fed up very quickly whenever you find that any of your employers are breaking a law that shouldn't be broken.  You will wish to work only for people who seem to be honest.”

Jezebel was being easy on the wretch.  It was taking a lot of self-control to spare his life.  He actually had a purple aura, but it was faint.  It was the sort of aura that betokened a dupe or a low-level underling who was frequently around Satanists.  Such a one might not even knew who or what he was working for.  But that was not why she had decided to spare him.  If someone found his dead body too soon, it might wake up the whole Monsatana factory while she and Holly were still in it.  As it was, he would simply appear lazy, drunk, or sick.

But Jezebel had another reason.  She had scores to settle.  It gnawed at her on a personal level and she didn't want the pleasure of an unnecessary homicide to take the edge off her vengeance.

#

Jezebel stood regarding herself in the truck's rear-view mirror.  She had just fixed her hair and tidied her makeup.  Presentable, the girl thought.  Despite her best efforts, she came off looking like a rumpled hooker, but the guard's information had led her to conclude that rumpled hookers would not look out of place in such a cesspool of vice.

The Watcher sighed.  What was she doing?  This was dangerous work and her life would be so much simpler if she joined the Cabal.  They were grasping for things that she could at least understand.  What was she fighting for?  But the question was in vain; she already knew.  Jezebel was playing a longer game than the enemy was, refusing to climb on board what she saw as a sinking ship.

Even so, serving the Father had always been a hard row to hoe.  She didn't care for following rules -- especially rules that often seemed so vague.  Here she was, in the thick of things, and was still not clear on whether she was expected to kill every man or woman she came across who had even a slightly purple aura.  Should she slay them on sight?  Should she wait for their bad behavior?  Was she supposed to execute every Nephilim she encountered?  Then there was the matter of human beings. 

In the old days, Jetrel had slain mortals casually.  But since this new phase of her existence had begun, an inner instinct seemed to be putting her on warning.  The Father loved these creatures, it told her.  Satan had corrupted mankind in a deliberate manipulation to make their Creator reject them.  When the Enemy found out that the Father's love could not be killed so easily, he revolted in concert with others and tried a violent coup to achieve personal power, with the intention of committing genocide on Earth.

Jezebel wondered.  Every grief that both mortals and angels had been undergoing for thousands of years had, directly or indirectly, descended from the consequences of the War in Heaven.  Why had there even been a war?  Could the Father have actually failed to anticipate Satan's treachery?  That didn't seem possible.  He always knew in advance when every event would occur.  Time was one of his own creations and he had studied its entire fabric.

Had the Creator allowed Satan's treason to go forward because he wished to separate the sheep from the goats?  Had he wanted to seal the fate of those angels who were nursing the potential to betray him?  He knew everyone's weaknesses, but it seemed to be against his own law to strike down his creations preemptively.  In thousands of years of observing life, it dawned on Jetrel that there was not just one outcome to future history; there were many. 

Billions of inferior creatures, each exercising its own free will, were determining what the world would become from day to day.  And this, amazingly, went on without ever thwarting or altering the Father's master plan.  It was like all possible roads ultimately led to an ending that conformed to the Creator's will.  It seemed to the fallen angel that the only real choice that a created being could ever make was to either save or destroy himself.

Jezebel knew that if a mortal committed many sins, he could harden into a reprobate, one who could no longer tell right from wrong.  But an angel might gain a reprobate heart after only a single sin.  Was this why the Father preferred men to angels?  The Watcher didn't like to think about angels being inferior to the human race in any way.

Jezebel's thought-streaming paused when it came up against a strange notion:  What did the Father know about her own heart?  Did he see a quality that had caused him to bring her, and no other Watcher, to this place, this time, these circumstances?

What quality?

Jezebel shook her head.  Time was wasting, and time, at least in the earthly realm, was finite.  To save herself, she had to save Pelosia Wittke.  She was guessing that the special security detail would know where the girl was locked up.  Their members, apparently, would be found especially thick in and around the Monsatana executive office building.

Though the powers available in her present state were few, there was nothing wrong with her sense of direction.  She unerringly walked through a series of walls toward her goal.

Once outside, Jezebel kept to the shadows, making her way inconspicuously toward the executive offices.  When a mutter of voices rose up, she ducked behind a concrete display that read: Monsatana: Food, Health, Hope.

The Watcher peered around one end of it, to see who was coming.  Pay dirt – sort of.  Two men were approaching, and they were both glowing a vibrant purple.  She considered stepping out to meet them, but instinct warned her not to take on two at the same time.  Immortal angels customarily dare almost anything, but in this body she could die.  Then she would leave this realm, a place where there was a least a little pleasure and joy possible, and be imprisoned in a worse one.  She still hadn't done diddly squat to escape the Lake of Fire, so she needed to be careful.  Jezebel let the pair saunter by and then continued on her way.

Not too far from an entrance, the angel paused.  She needed to get inside the multi-storied structure, but considered that its security system might be very sophisticated.  Angel bodies were elusive, but how elusive was she in a limited human shell?  Guessing that the main detectors would be thickest near the entry, she walked ten yards farther along and phased through the brick-and-mortar wall, coming out inside of what looked like an ordinary business office.

The room was lit by night lights, but Jezebel didn't waste time exploring it.  To save energy, she unlocked the exit by hand and stepped out into a carpeted hall.

It was a couple minutes passing before she detected footsteps.

Hidden in a deep doorway, the angel waited while a security man came down the corridor.  She let him advance while she made sure that he wasn't accompanied.  At the right moment she emerged into plain sight.  “Psst! Sir! Get me out of here!” she exclaimed.  “These people are crazy! They're going to murder me.”

The guard jumped back and pulled his revolver.  “Who the hell are you?”

I'm Tracy.  A couple guys pushed me into a room and locked it.  But it had another exit that wasn't locked.  I have to get out!”

He grabbed her by the arm, digging his fingers in so hard that it would have been painful, except that Jezebel's sin-energy was making her flesh difficult to damage.  “I'm going to take you to the squad commander,” he said.

She pulled back.  “That's not a good idea!  This is a bad place.”

I know it.  And now you know it,” he declared, as he started tugging her along.

Jezebel tried not to smile.  So far, so good.


TO BE CONTINUED IN CHAPTER 6, Part 1

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Treasure of Eerie, Arizona -- Chapter 3, Part 1

By Christopher Leeson and Ellie Dauber 
  

Chapter 3, Part 1
 
December 14, 1871, Continued


Mrs. Fanning brought the buckboard around and Molly waved to Myra, calling, “Let yuir aunt be taking ye home, lassie, and don't make any fuss for her on the way.”  The girl only frowned down at her knees peevishly, but Irene waved back at Molly.  The latter then faced forward and shook the reins to start the horse walking. 

All the way to the farm, Myra sat sullenly, refusing to say a word.  Irene let her behavior pass without remark.  The tension they both felt would quickly reduce any talk into an argument.  The woman, emotionally drained, didn't want to deal with that.

Before too long, the pair could see the landmark hill that overlooked their stead.  A few minutes later, Irene drew the carriage up before the farmhouse and, dismounting, dropped to the ground.  When she looked up, she saw Myra's hard, resentful expression still unchanged.

“Unhitch the horse and get it ready for night,” the aunt told the niece, wondering if she would obey, now that Mrs. O'Toole wasn't with them. 

Myra looked as though she was resisting the order, but that effort lasted only a moment.  With a sour face, she climbed down in a careless, unladylike fashion.  In such a mood, the girl started undoing the harness.

“What's the matter?  Did Molly tell you not to speak?” Irene asked.

“Go to hell, bitch!”

The rebuke stung.  Irene thought out a reply that wouldn't sound angry.  “Maybe Mrs. O'Toole didn't tell you to be quiet, but I know she told you to be polite.  People shouldn't be calling family members by wicked names.  Remember that when you're speaking.”

It looked like Myra was going to shout something vile, but seemed unable to complete the effort. 

“I know this day must have been a nightmare for you, Myron.  I didn't want this.  I wouldn't have allowed it to happen, except to save your life.  No matter how much we both wish that things could have turned out differently, we're just going to have to deal with this somehow.  When you finish your chores, you can rest.  Come in for supper at the usual time.”

Then Mrs. Fanning went indoors.  Irene could hardly put her mind around the idea of how much the world had changed.  She, as much as Myra, needed time to overcome the shock.  Only then would it be possible to sort things out.  Despite all, there had to be some way for the two of them to live together and cooperate.


#


Once she had finished unhitching the horse and leading it into the coral, Abigail Myra Olcott needed to visit the outhouse.  That interlude lent more insight into how much her life had changed.  She emerged shaking her head.  It was like she had died and was now living in somebody else's body.  She felt too numb to feel her full range of anger.  At a loss, Myra didn't have a clue as to what the rest of her life was going to amount to.

She had tried so hard to get away from this place, and yet here she was again, doing farm chores.  She detested living at the edge of nowhere, an empty world with nothing to fill a person's time except hard work.  It had actually been a little better earlier on, when Myron had still been going to school.

The boy had never liked learning, but some of the things that he'd read had excited his imagination.  Books had taught him about faraway places.  Now it seemed that Myra would never see any of those distant lands.

But the emptiness of farm-living was, for the young person, a very old gripe.  Worse than that was being ordered to wear a dress, and a corset even!  People would laugh if they knew whom she had been up until the day before.  She couldn't help blaming her aunt for what had happened, even though, deep down, she realized that it had probably been the only way to save her life.

Myra started to wonder, 'Is  staying alive a good thing?  Is being alive all it’s cracked up to be?’  She didn't believe in either heaven or hell.  As she saw it, living had no purpose, and the best way to spend one's time on earth was in having fun.  After all, sooner or later, everyone's light would go out like a spent candle.  If life lost its enjoyment, why prolong it?

‘What good is my life,’ she asked herself, ‘if old lady O'Toole and my crazy aunt can boss me around like some damned slave?’  The slaves were free now, but where was her freedom?  ‘Out on the owlhoot trail, I was always afraid of getting shot, or getting caught and going to prison.'  But what actually happened had turned out to be so much worse.

While she wrestled with her grief, Myra had been carrying out her chores.  The horse was corralled and the manger filled with hay.  The level in the animal trough seemed low, so the girl released the brake on the windmill and adjusted the blades to catch the wind.  The fresh breeze started them spinning and she soon heard water flowing.  But no water was coming into the trough.  Myra quickly realized that the valve had been set for filling the cistern, and so cranked off the cistern valve.  By diverting the flow into the pipe that ran to trough, the water would quickly fill it.  She had done these tasks many times before as a farm boy, too many times in fact. 

While he was away, Myron had sometimes wondered how his aunt was faring.  From the look of the farm, Irene had been keeping up with the work well enough.  Plenty of hay had been put away for winter, and haying was a daunting job for one or two people.  Irene couldn't have done so much by herself, so she must have kept on using hired men.  The last of those that Myra knew about had been George Severin; the girl hoped that her aunt had found different help over the last eleven months.

The potion girl clenched her fists as wrathful memories concerning George buoyed up.  Myron had been able to whip any buck his own age, all except Severin.  Myron had never liked being around kids he couldn't bully.  With George coming by every day and doing what had been his chores, young Cadwell had been embarrassed.  It was like someone else had become the man of the house.  He couldn't stand it.

Remembering those victorious old fights with smaller boys, Myra drew up her left sleeve.  The willowy bicep she beheld looked like it should belong to a stranger.  No wonder everything felt about twice as heavy as before.  The girl realized that, from now on, she probably wouldn't be able to beat down any male older than twelve.

Just then, Myra noticed movement out of the corner of her eye.  She wheeled.  It was her horse – her own horse -- the one that she had ridden from the robbery site.   The beast was looking at the water flowing inside the coral.  That gave the girl an idea.

She opened the gate and moved toward it slowly, not wanting the animal to spook and run off.  When Myra got extremely close, she took the bridle and stroked its mane.  It didn't mind being touched and allowed her to lead it into the corral.  There was plenty of hay waiting there and the equine seemed to accept its circumstances contentedly.  The bay had seen plenty of livery stables and unfamiliar people didn't frighten it.

While the horse drank and fed, the girl went back to finish her chores.  When they were at last done, Myra was freed from the compulsion to keep working.  She had been told to rest once she'd gotten her tasks done, but the girl had her own ideas about how to relax.  She thought about going into the house to put on some of her old male clothes before riding off.  But that would be risky.  Irene wouldn't tolerate her disappearing again, and any command to stay put had to be obeyed.

But the auburn-haired maid still wanted to ride.  Those thousands of dollars in gold ingots had been hidden up in the gap.  She had to act before her aunt caught on to her plan and spoiled things.  She knew that Irene had a compulsion to spoil things.  Unadventurous, unimaginative, the woman didn't seem to complain about doing hard work, going nowhere, and almost never seeing anything interesting.  In other words, she'd make Myra's life just as dull as the one she was living herself.

Myra had to get out, she just had to.  There was no telling how soon the gang would come back.  If she were them, she would have gone after some tools, and then laid low until the town posses around the area got tired of looking for outlaws.  But how many days would they stay away?  The smart thing would be for her to go after the gold as soon as possible.

There was another reason for speed.  If any of the three polecats got caught, they'd spill their guts about where the treasure was.  Then the authorities would dig it up and leave her a pauper.

What hopes could Myra still cling to?  Not many.  Gold was the last chance she had for a good life.  Being a rich girl couldn't be as bad as being a poor one.

Myra looked down at herself.  She wanted to get out of female clothes, definitely.  With this in mind, she went to the buckboard and tore apart the bundle containing Myron's soiled garments.  How repulsive!  The jeans stank, and not only from blood.  Myron hadn't been able to control either his bladder or bowels after getting wounded.  There was no way she was going to put on those foul pants.  The shirt, too, was a red-encrusted mess that Myra wouldn't have worn on a bet.  The coat wasn't too bad, fortunately, and so she drew it on over her dress.  Then she went into the barn and brought back a ragged, dusty old horse-blanket that, for years, had been hanging from a peg.

The sun still hung reasonably high.  Myra thought that she could do her treasure hunting before dark and then head out across the prairie with a load of gold.  The darkness would deepen the cold, naturally, but as Myron she had already spent a peck of chilly nights out in the open.  The old blanket would come in handy then.  Then there was the matter of provisions.  The potion girl didn't want to confront her aunt while looking for food in the house.  Instead, she hurriedly searched the farm sheds.  It soon became obvious that there was nothing there that a human could eat, but she did find some useful tools -- a hammer, a chisel, and a crowbar that could be toted by a horseman.  Nothing else seemed either convenient or useful.

By now, the bay had stopped feeding.  Myra led it out of the corral and climbed into the saddle.  Her garments, she discovered, were too tight for sitting naturally astride a horse.  The girl therefore hiked up her skirt to give her legs room enough, while still leaving them protected from the chill by her calf-length drawers and high stockings.  She jabbed the beast's sides with her heels and the beast moved off obligingly.




#



The trail to Stagecoach Gap climbed slightly along the way, but it didn't take Myra long to reach the robbery site.  She gazed back down the road.  Most of her memories of the old place were bad ones.  The stead had ceased to be a real home when her mother and father had died of cholera, a day apart.  Aunt Irene had come to Eerie a couple months later, but the loss of his parents had left a hole inside young Myron that Irene's companionship couldn't fill.  It took more than someone mending his clothes and fixing his supper to put heat back into the cold ashes of what had become his life.

During his year away from home, Myron had felt no guilt.  His aunt had seemed to like the farm better than he did, so he had left it to her.  He had even left the farm’s horse behind, to make it easier for her to carry on.  But doing that had made him a horse thief.  The consequences of that mistake had taught him a lesson.  The lesson was that a grown man should never let himself care about other people.  Let them solve their own problems; one had enough problems of his own.

Myra was trying hard not to ask herself questions about how was she supposed to live.  She couldn't imagine anything good ever coming her way again after such a disaster – except for one thing.


The gold.

Myra came to the mouth the little side canyon and drew up.  She'd been visiting Stagecoach Gap since the Caldwell family had come to the region, when Myron was about ten.  It had no proper name, but the boy had called it Secret Canyon.  The youngster had once looked at its narrow confines with eyes full of imagination, pretending to be one of those English lords who explored Africa's darkest corners.  It was a place to hunt wild tribes, tigers, and elephants.

Myra slid down from the saddle and removed the tools from the saddlebags.  So that the horse wouldn't wander off at the worst possible moment, she tied the reins around the slim trunk of the nearest desert willow.  Then the girl started up into the defile.

Climbing over the rocks was tricky while wearing slippery wooden-soled shoes.  She wasn't sure which spot would have looked like a good hiding place to the other robbers, so she paused to search her memory. 

Ike, along with those damned fools, Jeb and Horace Freely, couldn't have done much to conceal the strongbox without picks and shovels.  The canyon, which had no exit, was only some three hundred feet long.  It was not easy to climb up to the rims on either side.  The slopes of fallen rock ended well before they reached the top of the walls.  Taking a heavy box out of Secret Canyon that way would have been impossible.  It was hidden somewhere very near.

Since the three were all lazy sidewinders, the gang member would not have taken time to do anything fancy or smart.  The chest would have to be close to the floor of the canyon, hidden with nothing better than rocks piled on top of it.  Most probably, Ike would have looked for a natural dip or cavity to place it in, and then piled stones on top of it.  It had been years since Myron had last explored Secret Canyon, but Myra still knew the general layout.  Really, there wasn't much to know. 

The girl observed that after about a hundred feet, the flatness of the canyon bed gave out and the Freely brothers would have run into the beginning of the talus slope.  She looked left and right, up and down, trying to spot any place where she could remember a hidey-hole that the gang might have noticed.  Right now, it would probably be the site of a low mound of loose stone. 

She made a lot of educated guesses and checked possible spots by means of trial and error.   In the process, she was again reminded of how much weaker her new body was, as she moved rocks here and there.  After only about forty minutes of searching, her heart leaped.  She had found what she was looking for!  The stones at one location had looked slightly different from the surrounding ones; they didn't seem like they could have come together naturally.  She had started moving the limestone chunks aside and soon found the metal-reinforced edges of the missing strongbox. When it was mostly uncovered, she stood back, contemplating the box that would make her ruined life worth something.

But this box also brought back evil memories.  Ike's brainless shooting was responsible for the fix that she'd found herself in.  That ricochet had turned her whole existence upside down.  Could the chest, even by half, hold enough dust and nuggets to make up for the damage that it had caused? 

Myra took the tools she'd brought with her and worked hard at breaking the lock.  For a person who didn't care for intense physical labor, she applied herself furiously, with only short rest periods.  She skinned her knuckles several times with the tools, and still kept at it, until both her hands were aching with bruises and burning with scrapes.  The crowbar was a clumsy implement that kept slipping, while the hammer and chisel could make no certain progress, despite all the din that they raised.

Her arms began to ache seriously, and all that kneeling on rock had started her knees hurting.  Myra had begun to doubt her ability to conquer the chest by herself.  She sat back on a stone, searching her imagination for another plan.  If the strongbox were left in place, the returning outlaws might take it away before she could come back.  To prevent such a thing, it should be moved and hidden elsewhere, so that the gang couldn’t find it.  But easier said than done.  It had taken two strong young men to lug the locked chest to its present depository.  She was all alone and a lot less strong than either of the Freelys.  Despair began to grip at her.

Her tools now seemed pathetic.  It might take a sledgehammer and a mining bar to overcome those locks and reinforced hinges.  She'd need a helper of considerable strength.  A still better approach would be using explosives.  She knew that a lot of miners around Eerie handled blasting powder and dynamite.  But how was she to get some?  She could hardly walk into Styron’s hardware and buy a keg.   Any way that she looked at it, she was stumped.

Myra went back to the idea of  getting a sledgehammer.  Who did she know with muscles enough to help her?  This was bandit loot and most people would want nothing to do with it.  Who did she know that wouldn't go running to the law, hoping for a reward?  Myra would not be able to claim a reward for herself, since the local sheriff knew that she had been one of the thieves.  The stage company wouldn't look too keenly on that idea, either.

Who did she know?  Myron didn't have many friends around Eerie.  Or anywhere else, in fact.  Of those few, the best choice that came to mind was Lydon Kelsey.  He'd talked a lot about finding gold in the mountains, but had always been too work-shy to actually go looking for it.  His best assets were his strength and dishonesty.  Myron and Lydon had done some petty thieving together.  To a layabout like Kelsey, this could be the score of a lifetime.

But Lydon wouldn't recognize her in the shape she wore, and Myra surely didn't want to tell the loudmouth who she really was.  He'd spread the word all over town, that Thorn Caldwell was the newest “potion gal.”  Everyone from thither and yonder would come to take a look and give her the horse laugh.

What if she pretended to be just an ordinary girl, new to the town?  She might act like she wanted to cozy up to Kelsey.  Then she could give him some made-up story explaining how she knew about the strongbox.  He'd go for it quick if there were a chance for gold.  But there was a catch.  Would Lydon be honest enough to share the swag, or would he just shove her aside and take it all for himself?  Would she have to be prepared to shoot him once the box was opened?

And what about that order that old lady O'Toole had given her, about not hurting anyone?  What would Lydon do if she stood there pointing a gun at him, unable to fire?

Myra just didn't know what that accursed magic left her capable of. 

For now, she had no choice but to conceal the chest again.  Her hands, already sore, became sorer still by the time she'd gotten the box covered with rocks.  She was bone tired, too.

Myra glanced at the sky.  The sun could no longer be seen over the canyon rim.  She knew that supper-time was not far off.  The very thought of not getting home for the meal unsettled her more than it reasonably should have.  Irene had wanted her back by supper.  To make the deadline, she needed to hurry.

Taking the tools with her, Myra re-secured them, swung herself up over the bay's back, and hastily started down Riley Canyon Road.

The girl kept the gelding moving at a canter.  The anxiety about being tardy loomed larger and larger within her.  She hated acting like a slave, but couldn't help herself. 

Myra was about halfway home when she saw someone trotting up the dusky road on a mule.  Myra preferred to avoid him, whoever he was, but her compulsion to beat the clock didn't give her any option except to continue along by the shortest route.

“Whoa!” the rider said as she cantered close.  “You have to be Myra, Miss Irene's niece!”

The girl reined in.  The youth on the mule was no stranger.  It was George Severin.

“Severin!  I – I've got to go!  Aunt Irene wants me back by supper!”

The youth frowned bemusedly.  “I know,” he said slowly.  “She asked me to go looking for you.  Whose horse is that, anyway?  Your aunt said you came in by stage.”

Myra shrugged.  “I don't know where it came from.  It was grazing nearby and we took it into the coral.  I just felt like taking a ride.”

He regarded her with curiosity.  “Be that as it may, you gotta get on home.”

“That is what I was trying to do, when you started jawing at me.”  She tapped her heels to get the horse moving again.  But George didn't consider their conversation finished and rapidly caught up with the unusually attractive maiden.

“You don't need to come,” she said in annoyance.

“I don't mind.  Hey, Myra is a pretty name.  Your aunt should have told me I was looking for a gal who was every bit as fetching as her moniker.”

Myra felt like cussing, but said only, “Myra was my grandmother's name.”

“Yeah?  So where are you from?”

“You ask too many questions, for a stranger.”  The more she urged her horse to speed, the more determinedly George spurred his mule to keep up.

“We won't be strangers for long,” he said.  “I work for your aunt.  Unless you're going to be assuming all the chores that she can't handle.”

“I don't know anything about that,” Myra replied, refusing to look at him.

“Are you from the East?”

“Yes!”

“How do you like things -- this far West, I mean?”

Myra scowled.  “So far, I haven't liked anything about it.  And did anyone ever let you know that you talk too much?”

“Now and then,” George responded with a tolerant grin.  “Say, did you hurt yourself?  That looks like blood on that coat of yours.  It was made for a man, wasn't it?  Your uncle's?”

It took the girl a couple seconds to come up with an answer.  “Yeah, it's my uncle's.  Irene said she was wearing it when she butchered a chicken.”

To her relief, George stopped trying to force a conversation, even though he persistently kept pace until they reached the corral.  “If you still work here,” Myra told him, “get the horses ready for the night!”

She swung out of the saddle and dropped to earth, like one accustomed to riding.  As she bustled toward the door, George called from behind:  “I'll take your advice, since that's what I think Mrs. Fanning would want.” 


#

Before Myra reached the door, Aunt Irene stepped outside, her arms crossed.  “Where on earth have you been?” she demanded.

Her niece stopped abruptly.  “I found my horse.  My chores were done, and I felt like taking a ride.”

Irene glanced over Myra's shoulder and saw George.  “We'll talk about this later, young lady.”

“Don't call...” Myra began, but Severin's voice interrupted her.

“Excuse me.  I was wondering if you'd like me to unsaddle the new horse, ma'am.”

Mrs. Fanning nodded.  “Yes, please.  And when you're done, come take supper with us.”

“Much obliged,” he remarked.

Irene watched the youth draw off and then said to Myra, “Come inside.” 

The girl followed her aunt through the door and glanced around the interior.  It hadn't changed much.  And it still represented the last house on earth that she wanted to live in.

“Where did you go?” Irene asked.

“Nowhere important.   I came back on time, didn't I?”

“Yes, you did,” Irene began slowly.  “So I’ll ask you again, where did you go?  And this time you will answer me honestly.”

“Yes,” Myra responded, wincing as a compulsion to tell the truth kicked in.

I-I rode u-up to the stage… to Stagecoach G-Gap.  I-I w-wanted to… to l-look… around.” 

Her aunt nodded.  “The crook returning to the scene of the crime, as they say?”

“Y-Yes, ma’am.  I wa… wanted to just… to ride off and n-not come back.”  It was the truth, but not the whole truth.

“So why did you come back?”

“You told me that I couldn't miss supper.”  Toldordered… it was all the same to Myra, thanks to that damned potion.

“So, you admit that you were planning to run off again?”

Myra didn't want to answer that one, but it came out anyway:  “Y-Yes...ma'am.”

Aunt Irene regarded her sadly.  “Why...?  Why do you want to leave again so soon?”

The girl threw up her arms.  “This isn't any kind of life that I want.”

“You went off and became an outlaw before.  Was that better than the peace and safety you can enjoy in your own home?”

“Better than anything that happens in this home!”

Mrs. Fanning shook her head.  “I – I don't know what to say.  I just don't understand you.”

“Well, who says you have to understand?”

The aunt sighed.  “Sit down and eat your supper.  But before you do, set a place for George."



 TO BE CONTINUED in Chapter 3, Part 2