Friday Evenin’, July 10, 1868 – House at the Crossroads, ~22 miles north o’ nowhere, Louisiana
It’s been a long day, an’ it looks ta me like it’s gettin’ longer by the hour. I jus’ need ta crib down some notes so the details don’t get lost in the glare o’ the horror.
Last time I was able ta write, this mornin’, seems like weeks ago. I’ve faced some o’ the worst the plains has ta offer, but barrin’ Colorado, this God-forsaken swamp is the worst portion o’ varmint an’ madman-infested land in the Green Acre. Unless you need ta come here for somethin’, dear reader, stay somewhere dry.
Kyle an’ I were back in that flyspeck o’ a town out in the swamp … I confess ta havin’ already forgot its’ name, gettin’ the tack set up an’ fittin’ everybody’s horses ta saddles. We had some help from the boy, but I’d guess he’d never seen so much horseflesh in his life. He certainly didn’t know which end o’ a Vaquero saddle ta hold … not that Kyle did, either, but his people don’t use them.
Anyhow, Kyle went back in once the tack an’ harness was taken care o’, leavin’ me an’ the boy ta arrange the saddles. I was savin’ Emma for last, as I haven’t got ta know her all that well yet, an’ she’s still a bit dubious about me an’ my two sets o’ saddle bags, but she likes the carrots an’ the considerate care. Judith an’ Abigail were done, an’ I was about ta move on ta Rachael (who’d need the camphor for her nostrils, what with’ all the incense) when there was a loud noise that the layman might mistake for a gunshot.
Afore I could say, “stay right there”, the boy was off quicker than a greased jackrabbit in sprin’time. So, as there was a passel o’ horses not likin’ the sound o’ gunfire much, I tarried ta lash them up. O’ course, there were soon more loud noises that I was hopin’ weren’t gunshots, delicately comin’ from the hotel, an’ I jus’ worked faster.
By the time I could tear myself away, Sherriff Sketch was on route ta the hotel with his two deputies in tow with blood in his eye an’ an arsenal my posse should have had back on the Front Range when we was huntin’ … buffalo. So, rather than make whatever’ situation was in there worse, I walked over ta the sheriff. We said a few volumes with no words ta each other, squared our collective shoulders, an’ while the deputies stayed with the’ Gatlin’, the sheriff an’ I headed into’ the fray.
…an’ were immediately confronted with a passel o’ panickin’ peeps. I tended ta the peace downstairs, hearin’ how a trio o’ rough dudes had clamored into the joint an’ moments later, the gunplay occurred. A soiled dove attested ta their rough treatment o’ her, but ta be completely honest, I stopped listenin’ ta all the clamor once I saw the Lone Star badge on the vest o’ the corpse on the floor. While it was not the first member o’ the Brigade I’d seen killed, an’ is likely not ta be the last, I certainly didn’t want ta find a member o’ my own posse standin’ over one.
They all yammered at me for quite some time, but the fact that sheriff Sketch was willin’ ta let the incident slide as a misunderstandin’ despite the fact that his own brother was among the injured, I decided ta deputize the murderer in order ta keep a close eye on him. I’ll get the truth sooner or later, an’ then there will be a proper accountin’.
It was obvious that the town was now terrified, an’ that since I was closely associated with those doin’ the terrorizin’, there was little ta nothin’ I could do ta resolve the issue than ta get my posse out o’ town as quickly as possible. Fortunately, the posse was already plannin’ ta leave an’ now had additional impetus. Apparently, a woman with ties ta the mysterious murder in the coach outside o’ town escaped in the confusion. Not that I had any idea she existed… my posse needs ta work on its communication skills, but I knew that.
While I took the time ta collect the deceased’s personal belongin’s (assumin’ that his corpse wasn’t burgled before I arrived – I can’t say for sure) an’ then commit him ta the Beyond, the posse started ta mount up, an’ the sheriff went off ta the telegraph office (God alone knows why), leavin’ his deputies ta take the Gatlin’ gun apart.
It was then that most unnatural weather event occurred. A bolt o’ skyfire aimed with murderous intent struck the telegraph office, killin’ everyone inside. Includin’ the sheriff. I came back from the impromptu funeral ta find the deputies stunned by the unlikely event, an’ my posse high tailin’ it out o’ town toward the north. As I knew that the danger posed by the posse was far greater than leavin’ half a hundred people scared out o’ their minds, but with two law officers (however inexperienced), I followed the posse.
Several hours later, the posse caught up with the missin’ woman’s tracks at a house in the center o’ a crossroads deep in the swamp. The tracks at that point got lost in a big passel o’ tracks surroundin’ the buildin’.
So, despite the fact that the buildin’ was shuttered up, an’ that the front door was equally nailed shut – the posse o’ course worked their way in an’ started ta search. I sparked up a cigar an’ waited outside, takin’ a better look at the tracks. Unfortunately, the extra time spent lookin’ brought me no additional clues.
Apparently, there was a woman inside the house. I haven’t gotten ta talk ta her much. I’d like ta, since she might have clues we need. As events conspired, it was not possible.
I was eventually convinced that there were too many tracks ta make a determination as ta where the missin’ woman (or Annie, for that matter, since Kyle continues ta say she’s in this direction) went. While I had a private word with Wicked ta ask him if he’d ever come across a trick ta hide tracks in a sea o’ others in his career as a pistolero, the agent went outside ta check the tracks for themself. Wicked said no, but that he’d ask his sister – which was what I expected, anyhow.
Most everyone else resolved ta go searchin’ on horse, leavin’ the new shootist, the agent, an’ myself ta hold down the Alamo. I poked around ta see if there was any food around the house, figurin’ that if they were comin’ back, they’d need ta eat.
I was on the second floor searchin’ for stores when I smelled the familiar vapors o’ oxidation. Since my cigar was near finished by then, I decided ta go downstairs ta look about. Sure enough, there was a fire – a Ghost Rock fire!
Some unnatural black pumice-like fluid was spewed out on the ground, an’ a fire trailed all the way back ta a set o’ pipes from which the stuff seemed ta be comin’. There was easily enough there ta burn down the house, the clearin’, an’ maybe even boil away part o’ the swamp … but then I learned the bad news.
Mark an’ the agent had found a bladder o’ over fifty gallons o’ the stuff hangin’ in the house’s attic. When I explained what Ghost Fire was, an’ how hot it would burn, they gained an interest in skedaddlin’ promptly.
Which led immediately ta a discussion o’ which direction ta go in. Since Belle an’ Wicked went north, an’ the Padre an’ Kyle went east, the two people with me wanted ta head north. I had no idea what Walkin’ Eagle was up ta, but since he had (unbeknownst ta me) gone west alone, I argued that we needed ta follow him.
Saturday Evenin’, July 11, 1868 – “A Ghost Town”, ~80 miles north o’ nowhere, Louisiana
They disagreed, an’ headed north at a gallop. I couldn’t see how I could go in both directions at once, so with a prayer that the murdered boy would forgive the temporary detour from the swift assignation o’ justice, I went west. Walkin’ Eagle was, after all, even more o’ an unknown than the shootist. Besides, I’d invited him along, so the man was my responsibility. Emma made haste as best she could, an’ the girl did fine.
Not long later, I found the missin’ woman (Cher, it turns out) sittin’ by a fire, sharin’ a meal o’ beans with Walkin’ Eagle. Eagle vouched for me that I wanted ta talk rather than shoot, an’ she invited me ta sit down an’ do just that.
We discussed Annie, the stolen documents, the tracks, an’ even her house. Well, it’s not actually her house, she just found it (along with her comrades) an’ used it as a base o’ operations in the bug an’ injun infested swamp. Upon hearin’ about the missin’ scrolls an’ that I would be willin’ ta listen ta her side o’ events, Cher offered ta lead our posse ta where she’d last seen them. Unfortunately, she hadn’t seen Annie, but I have my own suspicions about where the girl is an’ how he ended up there. It’s too terrible ta write down, though, so unless it came ta pass, I shan’t.
I put Cher on my horse, an’ then brought Walkin’ Eagle an’ she back ta the clearin’. She wanted ta go inside an’ muck about for a few thin’s. I declined, as I know there was no stone my posse would have left unturned. Well, that an’ the Hellfire o’ God Almighty was about ta render this clearin’ an’ a mile around a deep hole in the ground.
We galloped north, not that Emma was happy about it. After nearly an hour, we met up with the rest o’ the posse. They’d been lucky enough ta reconnoiter in the swamp, makin’ goin’ lookin’ for Kyle an’ the Padre a moot issue.
Cher was willin’ ta lead the posse ta the “Ghost Town” where she’d last seen the scrolls. The trouble was, we were hours o’ travel from it. Worse, we were in the middle o’ a moonless swamp near midnight an’ there were jabberin’ sick Creoles just sharpenin’ their knives in anticipation o’ guttin’ us. It was suggested (an’ I won’t say by whom ta protect the yellow varmint) that we take ta the trees an’ wait until mornin’, knowin’ the Creoles would steal our horses an’ eat them.
Maybe it was the fact that I was already over-wrought from the storm o’ death an’ destruction that had been the last couple days, or maybe I was just too short o’ sleep ta think clearly, but the cowpoke in me won out. There was no damn way we were goin’ ta leave those horses ta die in order ta save our own skins. I flat-out demanded the posse run the gauntlet, an’ ta Hades with the consequences.
Runnin’ that gauntlet was an endless slog permeated with gun-smoke an’ punctuated often with muzzle flashes. It’s a lucky thin’ that the Creoles only had what weapons could come ta hand, an’ not irons, or I’d never have written these words.
There were so many, an’ so determined, that we resorted ta clearin’ the path with nitroglycerin. May God forgive us, Walkin’ Eagle was felled by one o’ the explosions – though we didn’t know it until we had gone back ta recover him an’ rode him all the way ta town. He was beyond any mortal concerns, so I insured he’d have a permanently quiet rest.
I barely knew the man, an’ I was nice ta him, so he came with me when I asked. I got him killed. That’s on my conscience. I got him killed for pride – an’ ta save seven other lives.
Sleep. I need sleep.