The Ballad of Zarahemla Two Crows, Chapter 7

This is my current work in progress. I’m posting a chapter at a time, pre-first-draft, as it comes out of my fingertips onto the keyboard. I’ll be releasing new content every Friday night, unless something crazy happens (in which case you may have to wait a day or two). It will be raw. There will be plot holes. There will be typos and turgid prose. Everything will be subject to change.  As I complete each part, I will take it down, edit it up real pretty, and put it up for sale on Amazon as part of the serialized novella.

Kind souls who donate at least $5 to the project will get a copy of the final illustrated omnibus when it is completed. You can also help support the project by buying a copy of Part I, which is available now on Amazon.

For previous chapters, go here.


Part Two: Gears of Wrath

Chapter 7

“Buffalo Soldiers”

Zarahemla was floating high above the desert. Long networks of dry riverbeds crisscrossed the land like cracks in old plaster. A stagecoach rolled across the barren flats, resembling a giant cockroach. Wild horses ran in thin columns like ants.

His aches and pains were gone, and he felt light as a tumbleweed. He wondered if he had died.

Esther’s voice, the whisper of a breeze, called to him. He turned to the sound.

She sat on an old Army cot with her knees pulled up to her chin. The flickering lamplight bathed her in an orange glow, softening her weathered features. She looked vulnerable. He wanted to reach through the bars that separated them and comfort her.

“You got a pretty face,” Two Crows said.

“And you are still coming down off the hops,” Esther replied.

Zarahemla looked back at the insects skittering across the cracks in the ceiling and sighed. “Don’t care,” he said, although something told him he should.

“They gave you enough to make an elephant dream,” Esther said. “You have been high for two days.”

“It’ll be fine,” Two Crows said. “I’ll get you outta that cell … in a bit.” He rolled over on his side and smiled at her. “Why you in a cell anyway? Pretty thing like you shouldn’t be locked up in a cage.”

Esther groaned and picked up a pitcher of water. She walked up to the bars. “Come over here.”

Zarahemla heaved himself up and shambled over to her with a foppish grin plastered on his face.

“Mr. Two Crows…” Esther said.

“Yeah?”

“Wake up already!” she screamed, splashing him in the face with the icy water.

“Dadgum,” Zarahemla cussed. “Whatcha gone do that for?” Water streamed from his beard and pooled around his boots on the rough flagstone floor.

“Better now?”

The old cot groaned in protest as Two Crows sat down heavily. “Two days?”

“Two days,” Esther confirmed.

“Where are we?” he asked, rubbing his temples. “Wingate?”

“Believe so,” Esther said. “I spent most of the trip slung over a horse with a bag on my head, and our hosts were not particularly chatty.”

“No worries, I’ll just have a chat with Cap’n Ward and we’ll get it all sorted out,” Zarahemla said.

“Ward? He’s dead.” Ether’s voice was flat. “Nakai slit his throat like a spring lamb.”

Zarahemla cussed softly and said, “Jed was a good man.”

“He was stupid,” Esther scoffed, “letting that witch control him like that. He was weak.”

“And you handed your baby over to her without a fight,” Zarahemla snapped back. “You know how wily she can be. It’s her knack. Skin-walkers ain’t all nice and cuddly like werewolves or such. They’re at the top of the food chain out here.”

“This is stupid,” Esther said, pacing. “What are we doing here? Every step I take with you, we fall back five. I swear to Heaven above you got a curse on you.”

“Mayhap. Didn’t ask you to come with,” Zarahemla reminded her. “Iffin you recall I was agin’ it from the start.”

“Aw, hell and horse shit.” Esther threw the tin pitcher against the bars and flopped down on her cot, staring daggers into the ceiling.

She tried reciting the capitols of all thirty-six states, but she was still fuming. She looked over at Zarahemla, prepared to shoot another barb in his general direction. He had taken off his shirt and was wringing it out onto the hard packed dirt floor. Esther noticed his wounds had been cleaned and expertly restitched. She was handy with a needle, but she admitted she was not that good. Whoever the surgeon was here must be an expert, she thought, and they were lucky to have him. Most regimental doctors were butchers at best.

Two Crows sat on his cot, resembling an effigy of a contemplative deity carved from richly oiled teakwood. A new constellation of burns from the electric rifle joined the landscape of scars that covered nearly every inch of his heavily muscled body. It was not the first time she had seen him in various states of undress, but she never grew weary of looking at him. Lately she had trouble being discreet about it.

He noticed her staring, and put his shirt back on self-consciously.

Esther felt color rising to her cheeks and cleared her throat. “So what’s the plan?” she asked, sounding more awkward than she intended.

Zarahemla stared into his massive palms and rubbed them against his eyes. “We wait, Mrs. Henry.”

“Not much of a plan,” Esther said.

“Is what it is.” Two Crows shrugged. “Once I get word to Washington, we’ll get this mess cleared up. But it will take some doin’.”

Esther threw her arms up, exasperated. Patience was a virtue she found difficulty exercising when it came to Two Crows. “And meanwhile my son is out there, somewhere, with that man—that man with the—“

“Bronze teeth,” Zarahemla said softly. “I know. Listen, Mrs. Henry, we done fell headfirst into a cesspit and no amount of thrashing around is gonna get us out. We’re neck-deep in it now.” He motioned to the thick adobe walls and heavy iron bars. “Beyond these walls are a few score bored troopers with no Injuns to fight since ol’ Colonel Carson drove ‘em into the mountains or marched them halfway across the desert to rot in the camps. These boys are just itching to put a bullet in something. Don’t get me wrong, there’s good men out here, but a good number of ‘em came out after the war because they got a taste of blood and wanted more, and they ain’t got nothing to do but snipe coyotes and count tumbleweeds.”

“I thought you feared no blade or bullet,” Esther said sardonically.

“I don’t.” Zarahemla shrugged. “But I don’t see the point in stirring the shit pot any more than we have to, neither. Even if we got away, we’d have the 3rd Cav nipping at our heels the whole way. It ain’t prudent.”

Esther was about to try a new angle when a heavy door swung open and a detail of troopers with electric rifles marched into the stockade. They turned the hand-cranks on their backpacks and held the sparking batons at the ready. The first sergeant entered and stood by the bars in front of Zarahemla.

“Major Goodwin wants a word with you,” the senior noncommissioned officer said brusquely. He motioned a guard to unlock the cell doors. “No trouble, Mr. Two Crows, you hear?”

Zarahemla nodded and said, “Just a misunderstanding, Top, is all. We’re on the same side.”

“Save it,” the first sergeant curtly replied. “You laid out a good number of my men and the CO is dead. It’s above my pay grade, you being a Federal agent and all, otherwise I’d have you bound to the flagpole and flogged to an inch of your life—and then I’d feed you to the buzzards.” He looked at Esther. “Both of you.”

The first sergeant spun on his heel and marched out of the room. The troopers clapped Esther and Zarahemla in heavy shackles and motioned with their electric rifles for them to follow him.

They were pushed out into the searing light of the noonday sun. Soldiers milling around the camp paused to gawk as the prisoners were lead across the dusty parade ground. Overhead the flag of the Union snapped in the breeze, emblazoned with golden crossed sabers and the words “Blood and Steel.”

Sagebrush and brown grass rustled in the arid wind, accompanied by the incessant droning of cicadas.

Hardly worth the designation of a fort, Wingate was little more than a scattered hodgepodge of corrals and clapboard buildings ringed by low hogback mountains. Many of the structures served double- and triple-duty as barracks, mess hall, and armory for the troops stationed at the remote outpost. Zarahemla and Esther were led into one of the larger buildings and deposited in a small room dominated by a large pinewood table. Motes danced in the blades of sunlight slicing through the high, barred windows.

Without a word the troopers left, closing and bolting the door behind them.

Zarahemla slumped against a wall and inspected his manacles while Esther stood on tiptoe and tried unsuccessfully to get a look outside. She gave up and sat on the table, rubbing her wrists under the chafing iron shackles.

“So who’s this Major Goodwin?” she asked after several minutes.

Two Crows just shrugged and scratched at his beard. He sniffed at the air. “Dunno, but we’re about to find out.”

On cue they heard the bolt being drawn back and the heavy door opened. Their previous escorts entered and took up positions around the room, followed by the first sergeant. A pale, chinless man entered, surveying Esther and Zarahemla with the same unpalatable disinterest one might afford a possum run over by a stagecoach. His richly tailored uniform sported the white shoulder straps of a judge advocate, embroidered with gold oak leaves.

“Major Goodwin,” the first sergeant announced, snapping to attention and saluting.

The major set a large notebook down on the table and wet his pen with the tip of his tongue. He scratched something in the ledger and turned to Zarahemla. “Do you know what you are charged with, Mr.—” He consulted his notes. “—Two Crows?”

“Nothing that ain’t right nor correct,” Zarahemla said.

Goodwin ignored him and started to tick off the charges on his fingers. “The brutal murder of six enlisted men in Canyon de Chelly. The deaths of three young Navajo men, at the same location. Resisting arrest. The aggravated assault of—” He turned to the first sergeant. “—Is this right? ‘No less than one and half score enlisted men and junior officers’?” The first sergeant nodded. Major Goodwin scratched another note before continuing. “Attempted escape. And, last but certainly not least, the murder of one Captain Jed Ward, commanding officer, ‘B’ Troop, Third Regiment of Cavalry.”

“Horseshit” Esther said. “Those Injuns were skin-walkers—they attacked Mr. Two Crows and your men. And Captain Ward was killed by the witch, Nakai, after she bedazzled him and his men into trying to kill us.”

Major Goodwin looked at Esther with a pained expression of supreme boredom. He returned to his ledger. “Skin-walkers. Witches. Badazzlement,” he said as he scribbled away.

“Ma’am,” he said to Esther, “that makes for a thrilling penny novel, but the court-martial deals in facts, not the superstitions of savages. You’ll have to do better if you have any hope of avoiding the hangman in Fort Bliss.”

“Court-Martial?” Esther was incredulous. “We are not soldiers!”

“I am the law here,” Goodwin said blandly.

“You’re new around these here parts, Major, ain’t you?” Zarahemla said.

“New enough not to buy into all this fiddle-faddle that has the men jumping at shadows. I, Mr. Two Crows, am a man of science, and I don’t fancy things that go bump in the night. President Lincoln, God rest his soul, was a great man, but even great men are deceived by foolish superstitions. Founding the ridiculous ‘Office of Physical Inquiry’ is a black mark on his otherwise honorable service to our country.”

“Psychical,” Zarahemla corrected. “As in ‘not cotton to natural laws.’ There are things that go bump in the night, Major, and whether you believe in them or not, they believe in you.”

“Indeed. Fortunately, President Johnson is a rational man, and is already taking steps to remove this leech on honest taxpayer’s money.” Goodwin slammed his ledger closed, signaling the conversation was over.

Esther began to protest, but Zarahemla shook his head and she bit her tongue. The major turned sharply and exited the room, followed by the first sergeant and his men.

“What did he mean by that—about President Johnson?” Esther asked after they were alone.

Zarahemla grunted and chewed on his beard. “Bah, the old codger’s been trying to shut us down since he took office. Seems like his mission in life is to undo everything good old Abe fought for.”

“So what do we do now?” Esther asked.

“Nothin’,” Zarahemla said.

“Nothing?”

“Yup.”

“You can’t be serious,” Esther said.

“Serious as a one-eyed fox in a henhouse,” Zarahemla replied. “They want to take us to Fort Bliss? That’s fine by me. That’s where I was headed anyway.”

“Oh, was it now?” Esther tried to cross her arms, but the manacles got in the way. “And what, pray tell, is in Fort Bliss, besides an overeager hangman?”

Zarahemla cocked his head to the side, as if he were listening to something far away.

“And another thing,” Esther continued ranting. “Those homey little idioms of yours make no sense whatsoever. ‘One-eyed fox in a hen—‘”

“Hush woman,” Zarahemla said, walking over to the window. Standing on his toes, he was just able to peer over the lip of the sill. “You hear that?”

“Hear what?” Esther said, exasperated.

“Listen—“ he whispered.

Esther harrumphed, but closed her eyes anyway, if only to humor him. She could hear men making crass jokes, horses fighting in the corral, a farrier working his forge. Straining her ears harder, she made out low voices in the next room, cicadas on the wind, the flag snapping in the breeze.

“What am I listening for?” she asked.

“Listen,” Two Crows hissed.

Then she heard it, a low thrumming sound, like a steam engine, far away. She opened her eyes. “There are no trains out here, not for hundred of miles.”

“Come,” Zarahemla said. “Look.”

She walked over to the high window. Even on the tips of her toes she could barely reach the sill with her fingers. “I am a tall woman, but not that tall,” she said, looking at Zarahemla pointedly.

“Ah—” Zarahemla paused, uncertain.

“Give me a boost, you great dolt,” she said. “Nothing to be shy about.”

He scratched his beard and hawed. “Don’t seem proper, Mrs. Henry.”

“Saints alive, man. Just lift me up already.”

Zarahemla gingerly put his hands around her slim waist and hefted her up to see out the window. He peered out beside her and pointed with his chin into the distance. She looked at his profile. For a moment all she could see was his glacier blue eyes, lined with those charming premature wrinkles that crinkled in the rare moments that he smiled. She felt the warmth of his callused hands through her shirt, the gentle strength that held her aloft. For a moment she forget herself, and moved to kiss him.

“See? Out on the horizon,” Zarahemla said, oblivious.

Esther coughed and followed his gaze She saw nothing usual. “What? Where?”

“On the horizon. There.” Zarahemla jabbed his chin out further.

“I see a bunch of brown, more brown, and then even more brown,” Esther said. “And then—oh, wait—I think I see—no—maybe—what? A dust storm?”

“Wait…”

Esther squinted against the harsh light. A low, rolling cloud was forming on the horizon, billowing black smoke and red dust. Slowly, giant shapes began to take form, colossal man-like constructs plodding heavily across the desert. The giant machines belched smoke and ash, shaking the earth as they approached. Esther looked at Zarahemla in alarm. He smiled.

“Buffalo Soldiers,” he said.


To Be Continued…


For previous chapters, go here.

© copyright R.A. Williamson, 2014

All rights reserved.

The Agony and the Ecstasy of a (New) Stay-At-Home Dad

For a blog with diapers referenced in the title, I suppose I should write more about parenting. I’ve been meaning to, really, but stuff happens, and at the end of the day kids are often the last thing I want to write about. Not that they aren’t lovely, but, well if you’re a parent, you know.

Anyway, happy update time.

So I’ve been at this full-time parenting thing for about three and a half months now, and the littlest overlord is about to turn nine months old in a couple of weeks. Crazy how the time flies.

I had been an evenings-and-weekends parent—by which I mean I had a full-time job out of the house—for most of the last eleven years. So I’m still really new at this gig. A greenhorn, wet behind the ears, rookie noob. That said, I’m starting to get the hang of it. There are good days and bad, of course. Aneurism-inducing days, and days that you wouldn’t trade for anything. But more and more, things are getting easier. Coming from the world of software development, I’m used to the unpredictability and insane demands, so it hasn’t been as much of a culture shock as I imagined. Plus, my boss is damn cute, so that helps.

The Littlest Overlord

A couple things I’ve found after three months on the job:

  • The corporate world sucks. Office job with an international multi-billion-dollar software monolith? You can have it! I’d rather have 1:1’s with my kid over rice crackers, read The Very Hungry Caterpillar a hundred times a day, and scrape puréed turkey and sweet potatoes out of my hair. Hell, I prefer changing diapers to working in an office. Even the nasty diapers.
  • I’m Not a Typical Stay-At-Home Dad. Actually, I’m not sure if there is such a thing, but a brief tour of the blogosphere leads me to believe that most men who take this job are … more progressive than me? More … politically correct? Dunno. Go ahead, call me Mr. Mom. I’m totally cool with that. Won’t ruffle my tactical apron or nothin’.
  • I no longer know how to converse with adults. I thought this was a myth. I thought it was a joke between at-home parents. It is not.
  • Free Time. There is none. Better to not expect it. I stay saner with no foolish expectations. That said, when she does nap for an inordinately long time I make the most of it. Usually by doing something productive like also napping.
  • Multitasking. Speech-to-text is a godsend. How else could I write a blog post while feeding a squirming, screaming, little bundle of joy? The downside? She just spit liquefied apricots all over my phone.

All in all I feel like I’m getting into the swing of things. We go out, we wander around the mall with all the other zombie-looking parents, we take long walks around the lake, we drive until explosive diarrhea forces us to go back home. In short we are having a grand old time.

And speaking of explosive diarrhea, I have to go now. Duty calls.

The Ballad of Zarahemla Two Crows, Chapter 6

This is my current work in progress. I’m posting a chapter at a time, pre-first-draft, as it comes out of my fingertips onto the keyboard. I’ll be releasing new content every Friday night, unless something crazy happens (in which case you may have to wait a day or two). It will be raw. There will be plot holes. There will be typos and turgid prose. Everything will be subject to change.  As I complete each part, I will take it down, edit it up real pretty, and put it up for sale on Amazon as part of the serialized novella.

Kind souls who donate at least $5 to the project will get a copy of the final illustrated omnibus when it is completed. You can also help support the project by buying a copy of Part I, which is available now on Amazon.

For previous chapters, go here.


Part Two: Gears of Wrath

Chapter 6

“This is the Man We’re Looking For”

Zarahemla Two Crows blinked hard and shook his head. His ears rang with an awful buzzing and the trees seemed to dance before him. Twin custom Smith & Wesson .577 revolvers trembled in giant hands as he swept the edge of the clearing. He was sweating like an ice pitcher, despite the cold of the night.

He tried to speak, only to find his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, dry as the Mojave in June.

It felt like it would rip clean in two if he moved it.

The widow Esther Henry stood beside him and cocked the hammer on her Sharps rifle.

“Nakai?” she asked.

Zarahemla nodded. The Navajo witch, the most powerful of the skin-walkers, was close. He could smell her.

“Where is my son, you thieving whore?” Esther shouted into the darkness.

Zarahemla looked down at her sideways and raised an eyebrow. Harsh language wasn’t the young widow’s usual fare. She shrugged unapologetically.

He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to concentrate as the lingering effects of the peyote hit him in nauseating waves. The dream journey had lead Zarahemla to the knowledge that his old enemy, the Man with Bronze Teeth was alive up to his old schemes, but it had also left him confused and weak. He hated weakness.

The wind shifted and he tested the air. His other senses might betray him, but Zarahemla had the nose of a jackalope. He could trust that. He caught the scent of boot leather and gun powder on the breeze, of hard-ridden horses and unwashed men. He was surprised he hadn’t noticed their foul odor sooner. It floated heavy on the wind and burned his nostrils.

Somehow managing to unglue his swollen tongue, Zarahemla called out into the night, “You can stop skulking around, boys. I can smell you.” He fought to keep his hands steady as the tremors worsened. Sweat ran down his brow and stung his eyes. Esther gave him a worried look.

“I’m right as rain,” Zarahemla croaked.

Esther nodded and returned her attention to the forest as a man hidden in the shadows addressed them, ordering them to disarm and surrender.

Zarahemla cocked his head to the side and sniffed. “Cap’n Ward? That you?”

A lantern flared to life and a young cavalry officer stepped out of the trees. Two dozen other cavalrymen followed, leveling their rifles at Zarahemla and Esther. The officer held his lantern aloft, illuminating a square jaw thick with stubble. Carefully oiled brown hair fell in ringlets under his Stetson.

“Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle,” he said. “If it ain’t Zarahemla Two Crows.” He smiled at Esther and tipped his hat. “Capt’n Jed Ward, Ma’am. United Stated 3rd Cavalry.”

“The late Mrs. Tom Henry,” Zarahemla said, motioning to Esther with his chin as his let his pistols drop to his side. She nodded to the captain and lowered the barrel of her rifle a fraction of an inch.

“My condolences, Ma’am—” Ward said.

A young Navajo woman in a torn dress ran up beside Ward and pointed her lips at Zarahemla. “That’s him!” she screeched. “That’s the zhinni who killed my brothers and your men!” Her hair looked like two squirrels had nested in it over the winter. She grabbed Ward’s arm and wept, pressing her body against him.

“Who? Him?” Ward shook her off his arm. “I doubt that.”

To Zarahemla he said, “We’re tracking a sonofabitch who slaughtered six of my men. Real sick bastard. Cut ’em up like a butcher. Shot three Injuns, too. This poor creature barely got away after he insulted her—” Ward lowered his voice. “—Repeatedly.”

“Poppycock,” Esther said.

“That bilagáana was there too,” the Navajo girl said, pouting seductively at Ward with full lips and wide eyes. “She helped him!”

“Cut the act, Nakai,” Zarahemla said. “It won’t work.”

Ward looked puzzled and scratched his chin. “You know this girl, Two Crows?”

“She’s a damned skin-walker,” Zarahemla replied. “Been playing you for a fool.”

Ward jumped away from Nakai like she was a leper and drew his revolver.

Nakai dropped to her knees and clasped her hands. One shoulder of her dress fell—a little too conveniently, Zarahemla thought—revealing bruises and lacerations down her neck and breast.

“Please,” she begged. “Don’t let him hurt me again!”

Ward met Nakai’s gaze and paused, uncertain. He lowered his revolver.

“Dadgumit,” Zarahemla muttered to Esther.

Nakai smiled and her voice took on a tone of command. “This is the man you’re looking for,” she said to Ward. “You will arrest him at once.”

His eyes fixed on Nakai, Ward addressed his second, “First Sergeant, this is the man we’re looking for. Arrest him at once!”

The troopers closed in, rifles held ready, fingers hovering over their triggers.

“What do we do now?” Esther whispered.

“Keep your head down. I’ll handle this,” Zarahemla said.

“What? You will get perforated like a colander before you take one step.”

“No bullet or blade made by man can hurt me, not so long as I have my beard on my chin.” Zarahemla grinned. “The prophet in Salt Lake City done blessed me.”

“Is there anything you are afraid of?” Ether asked.

Zarahemla chuckled and holstered his guns. “A razor, mayhap.”

Esther snorted and backed away slowly, lowering her rifle.

“On your knees,” the first sergeant barked.

“Yeah, that ain’t happening, Top,” Zarahemla said, cracking his knuckles and rolling his neck. He was a massive man, easily towering over the tallest trooper in the glade. Each of the troopers paused in mid-step, forgetting for a moment that they were armed with enough firepower to take out a medium-sized pueblo.

Zarahemla could feel the fight rising in him, clearing his mind and sweeping away the peyote fever. As a child he would wrestle chupacabra for fun. Two dozen trail-weary cavalrymen almost seemed unsportsmanlike.

The first sergeant noticed the hesitation in his men and snapped at them like a whip. “Brooks, Caudill—disarm him and slap him in irons.”

The two troopers slung their rifles and approached Zarahemla. Caudill, a Herculean brawler with matted red hair and cauliflower ears, pulled a large pair of manacles out of his haversack. Brooks, twice as burly and only half as pretty, reached for Zarahemla’s pistols.

Quick as a polecat, Zarahemla slapped Brooks’ hands away and grabbed him in a bone-crushing headlock. Caudill moved in, only to find Zarahemla’s hobnailed boot in his gut. Flexing his tree-trunk arms, Zarahemla tightened his sleeper hold on Brooks.

Caudill recovered, drew a Bowie knife, and lunged.

With a final squeeze, Zarahemla felt Brooks go limp, and let him fall to the ground. Side-stepping over the body, he dodged Caudill’s flashing blade and landed a solid blow on the brute’s jaw. Bone cracked and Zarahemla stifled a yelp, cradling his broken hand. The red-headed man grinned and lunged again.

This time Zarahemla embraced the attack, enveloping Caudill in a great bear hug. The trooper stabbed repeatedly in short, quick jabs, but every time he thrust the knife would turn in his hand and graze harmlessly across Zarahemla’s body. Caudill’s eyes widened in confusion. Zarahemla brought his heavy brow down hard against the bridge of the man’s nose. Blood erupted in a fountain and Caudill collapsed to his knees reeling.

Zarahemla landed another heavy boot to the side of Caudill’s head, and the big man fell hard into the dust. The other troopers, who had been hooting and hollering encouragement to their comrades, fell silent.

“Dadgumit,” Zarahemla cried. “Can’t you see that woman done bewitched Cap’n Ward?”

Nakai looked back at them innocently as she clung to the young officer. Ward stared at her, smiling like a lovesick schoolboy. She brushed her lips against his ear and he frowned.

“Shoot him,” Ward ordered.

The first sergeant paused. “Begging your pardon, sir,” he said. “Innit this man a Federal Agent? Can’t just cut him down like a common cur, begging your pardon, sir.”

Nakai’s eyes flashed. “You heard the Captain,” she hissed at the first sergeant. “You have your orders.”

The first sergeant nodded sharply and turned to his men. “You heard the old man, lads. Orders is orders.”

“This is ridiculous,” Esther said To Zarahemla.

“Ready!” the first sergeant cried. The mass of troopers leveled their rifles.

“Just keep your head down when the hornets start a-flying,” Zarahemla replied.

“Aim!” the first sergeant cried. Zarahemla found the command amusing, as the troopers were within spitting distance.

“Fire!”

Thunder rolled across the moonlit glade as thick smoke and flame belched out of twenty Spencer carbines. Esther hit the ground as the 350 grain, .52 caliber slugs screamed over her head, ricocheting off rocky outcroppings and sending shards of stone flying in all directions.

She was shocked to see Zarahemla still standing, an immense, ghostly form in the billowing white gun smoke.

He was laughing in that gravelly way of his, like a bear coughing up briars.

“My turn!” Zarahemla bellowed.

He plowed into the formation of troopers like a bull moose, tossing men left and right. Several troopers tried to tackle Zarahemla from behind, hanging off his back like remoras as he laughed and swung his meaty fists.

From under the fog of gun smoke, Esther caught sight of Captain Ward and Nakai. The skin-walker had taken on a sinister aspect and seemed to loom over Captain Ward, clutching him tight with spindly limbs. Knifelike talons pressed against his throat. Esther rolled away from the brawling men and brought up her Sharps rifle. She double-checked that the percussion cap was still positioned correctly and the hammer was fully cocked. Sighting down the front bell of the high-powered Malcolm scope mounted on her rifle, Ester pulled back the heavy rear pre-set trigger. Click!

Nakai’s eyes widened at the sound, impossibly quiet against the din of Zarahemla’s melee with the troopers, and she glared at Esther through the smoke.

Mother hen grew teeth, did she? a voice like rancid rum-butter echoed in Esther’s head.

“Get out of my head, bitch!” Ether cried, moving her finger swiftly to the front hair-trigger. She jerked as rough hands hoisted her off the ground, and the shot went wide, ploughing into Nakai’s arm.

The witch screamed, raking razor nails across Ward’s throat. The captain fell to his knees, gurgling bloody foam as a fine red mist sprayed out before him.

Esther spit and kicked at the two cavalrymen as they tore her rifle from her hands and dragged her away from the fight. She felt cold iron clasp down on her wrists. The last thing she saw before they pulled the heavy bag over her head was a mule deer with a shattered foreleg bounding away into the night.

 

“Zarahelma,” Esther screamed, “she’s getting away!”

The glade was littered with moaning and unconscious men. Zarahemla turned to Esther’s voice in time to see troopers dragging her off into the woods. He leapt to pursue when a sharp bugle sounded and more cavalrymen poured into the clearing, hedging him in.

“Fresh fish!” Zarahemla grunted, cracking bloody knuckles. “Was wondering’ when you boys would show up.”

Adrenaline surged through his body, making his head pound. The wounds from his encounter with Nakai’s brothers had reopened, weeping through torn stitches under his heavy duster. He squared his shoulders, ignoring the stinging pain, and prepared to charge.

Three troopers suddenly broke formation. They wielded heavy batons that crackled with energy as they turned hand cranks on the portable Faraday Wheels mounted on their backs.

Zarahemla took a step back and cursed as the men with electric rifles advanced. They moved cautiously, spreading out, trying to encircle him. Zarahemla could not let that happen. He knew the moment they surrounded him, the fight would be over. All it would take was a solid blow to the back of his head, and he would go down.

The young trooper on the left was the strongest—and by far the most overconfident. He spun his baton lazily as he advanced, the electricity glowing in wide, looping circles. The central trooper, a fresh-faced boy without even the shadow of a beard, moved herky-jerky, jabbing at the air between them with his baton like a nervous wind-up doll. The wiry old veteran to Zarahemla’s right was more cautious.

Zarahemla feinted to the center, making the greenhorn flinch and jump back, before making a wide leap sideways to his left. His maneuver set him in front of the brawny one, leaving the others lined up directly behind.

The trooper lunged, stabbing his baton like a spear. Twisting to the side as the baton crackled past him, Zarahemla caught the man’s hand while simultaneously driving his other fist into the side of his head. Keeping his lock on the trooper’s wrist, Zarahemla pivoted and hit him under the ribs with a stiff uppercut. The burly man fell instantly, doubled over in pain.  Zarahemla ripped the baton free and spun to parry the greenhorn’s attack in a shower of sparks.

“Balls finally dropped, eh son?” Zarahemla said.

The youth responded with short, choppy stabs and wild strikes. What he lacked for in technique he made up for in spades with sheer unpredictability. Zarahemla let the young man press the attack, and when the moment was right—he struck with the stolen baton. The young trooper spasmed and fell as the electrical current surged through his body.

“I think we’ve had enough fun here, eh?” Zarahemla said to the corporal as he dropped the baton beside the two writhing men at his feet. “Let the woman go. I’ll go my way, and you boys can go yours.”

The other cavalrymen let out a chorus of jeers and the corporal rolled his shoulders to loosen them. He gave Zarahemla a toothless grin and said, “Not bloody likely, Mac.”

Zarahemla put his hand on the butt of his revolver. “Don’t want to shoot you, friend, seeing as we’re on the same side and all—but I will.”

The corporal turned the hand crank in his backpack and began to circle Zarahemla. “I’m callin’ your bluff.”

“No bluff,” Zarahemla said. He drew and fired into the man’s leg.

The corporal laughed and rapped on this thigh with his knuckles. The leg echoed like a tin bucket. “Lost it at Brandy Station,” he said. “But they fixed me up right good. Now, Mac—my turn!”

The corporal leapt forward with a speed that belied his age and struck out with his baton. Zarahemla thoughtlessly parried with his revolver. The high voltage current enveloped the gun with blue light and shot down the length of Zarahemla’s arm. He gritted his teeth and fought to stand as his knees threatened to buckle. Several troopers raced forward with heavy netting and ensnared him, pulling him down to the ground. As the corporal continued to prod him with the electro-rifle, Zarahemla fruitlessly kicked and swore, entangling himself further.

The first sergeant called out for the troop surgeon. A tall man ran over, producing a large syringe from his medical bag. He looked at Zarahemla and then to the first sergeant. “He’s a big lad, it’s gonna take most of what I got,” he said.

“Just get it done, sir,” the first sergeant replied.

The surgeon nodded and walked over to Zarahemla. “Corporal Swift, stand down,” he ordered. Swift gave Zarahemla an extra prod for good measure before stepping back reluctantly. The surgeon instructed the other troopers to hold Zarahemla steady. “You might feel a slight pinch,” he said to Zarahemla, driving the enormous needle deep into his thigh.

Zarahemla howled and swore. He groped for the needle, but the surgeon slapped his hand away. The glade began to spin and his eyelids grew heavy. His limbs felt numb and he floated above the earth.

Eventually, everything went black.


To Be Continued…


For previous chapters, go here.

© copyright R.A. Williamson, 2014

All rights reserved.

An Indecent Proposal

I’m thinking of doing something that everyone says you shouldn’t do—in fact I’ve seen people plead vehemently for authors not to do it—but I’m thinking of doing it anyway. And I’m curious what you think.

So here’s the skinny.

I’m in the middle of writing Part II of my serial weird west story The Ballad of Zarahemla Two Crows. A teaser/prologue of sorts was released in the collection Whiskey & Wheelguns: Foreshadows, and Part I has been released on Amazon as the short story The Widow’s Son. Sales have been okay I suppose, but nothing approaching fantastic. It spiked here and there, enough to get me on a “best selling” list or two for a few hours, but it’s not going to pay for that gold-plated Maserati I have my eye on.

People who’ve read it seem to dig it, so I’m going to put aside the possibility that it sucks for the moment, and chalk the slow sales up to the market. Weird West isn’t a huge genre, I’m unknown, I have no real inventory of other work to speak of, and short stories don’t sell. There are countless other factors as well, but I think those are the big ones. That’s cool though. I honestly never expected to make more than a few bucks off the stories anyway.

But it has got me thinking about why I’m writing this series. Is it for fame? Prestige? Fat stacks and all the hotties I can handle? Or is it because it’s a story I enjoy telling, a story I want to read, and I like to share it with my friends, because they seem to enjoy it too?

I think the answer is obvious.

So with that in mind, I’ve been thinking of just throwing it up here as I write it (pun intended). Pre-first-draft stuff. One chapter a week. The entire story arc will likely fill a long novella or a short novel. Once I’m done, I’ll rewrite it, polish it up real nice, and maybe sell it as a complete book, or continue releasing serial installments on Amazon for fun. Or both. Or burn it.

I’d be releasing stuff every Friday night, starting today. It will be raw. There will be plot holes. There will be typos and turgid prose. Everything will be subject to change.

Anyway, I’m curious what you think. Do you want to see how the sausage is made?

My Stories

Over the last couple of years I’ve thrown a few of the fiction-things I’ve written up on Amazon—you can find them all here. I’ll keep this updated as more stories become available.

Whiskey & Wheelguns™

The Ballad of Zarahemla Two Crows

As an agent of the U.S. Government’s Office of Psychical Inquiry, Zarahemla Two Crows travels the Western territories enforcing law and order in the shadows of a world known only to the public in campfire stories and sensationalistic penny novels. When an infant is abducted by Navajo skinwalkers, Two Crow’s search for the child leads to the revelation that his old nemesis, The Man With Bronze Teeth, is very much alive and up to his old schemes.

In his quest to stop his adversary from reigniting the Civil War, Two Crows encounters steam-powered Buffalo Soldiers, swamps infested with cannibal Creole lizard-men, doomsday weapons, and at least one daring dirigible chase across lands forbidden to mortal men.

Not that Two Crows would make a big deal of it. He’d just tip his hat and grin through his grizzled beard.

“Ain’t nothing but an honest day’s work, Ma’am.”

Part 1 – The Widow’s Son: Amazon (Kindle)
Part 2 – Gears of Wrath: Forthcoming
Part 3 – Tough Guys Don’t Bamboula: Forthcoming
Part 4 – The Remains of the Dead: Forthcoming


Whiskey & Wheelguns: Foreshadows

This collection of six super-short stories introduces the original six miniseries in the Whiskey & Wheelguns universe:

Where the Devil Drinks by Alexander Nader
Watch the Line by Joriah Wood
Hair of the Dog by J. Edward Paul
Big Roamer by Michael D. Woods
Dark as Night by John Weeast
Zarahemla and the Skinwalkers by R.A. Williamson

Available free from these sources:
Amazon
B&N
iTunes/iBook
Smashwords

A special paperback edition is also available on Amazon.


Writing as Scott Zachary

The Least of These

“This novelette is about love, hope, charity, and choices…. A beautiful and well-told story. The writing is lyrical, and the characters are well-developed and realistic … I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Irish history, Christianity in general, or any fan of strong heroines. — History from a Woman’s Perspective

“A compelling, well-crafted story of love, loss, and redemption. This is a novella to savor.” — Susan Spann, author of Claws of the Cat, a Shinobi Mystery

Molly Gregor was not a temperate woman.

Rash, proud, and headstrong, she has carved her way through life in turbulent seventeenth-century Ireland with a bold determination that often places her at odds with those around her. Orphaned when her parents were murdered by English soldiers, and ostracized for marrying a foreign Protestant landlord, Molly feels as if she is a stranger in her own land.

When a band of Irish Travellers come to her small town, Molly finds herself trapped between her desire to help the wayfaring strangers, and the cruel prejudices of her neighbors. Will she find the courage to defend these, the least of all people?

Amazon (Kindle, paperback)


Gossamer Wings and Other Stories

From the dystopian underworld of a dead planet to the mist-shrouded rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, whether orbiting a derelict space station or trapped in a haunted animal testing laboratory, the thirteen bite-sized tales in this collection have been described by readers as, “A genre snack mix … all seasoned with a lot of heart and a clean story-telling style that binds them all together.”

And, like a good snack mix, you’ll find yourself wanting more after you are done, tipping up the bag and shaking loose any remaining crumbs.

Amazon (Kindle, paperback)

Zarahemla Two Crows Giveaway

So, for kicks and giggles I’ve decided to run a little giveaway promotion over the next three days. You can enter by liking the Whiskey & Wheelguns fan page, retweeting details about the promotion, writing a review of “The Widow’s Son” on Amazon, or following me on Twitter.

What’s the prize?

Immortality via dismemberment.

Seriously. One lucky winner will have a character named after them in my next story. I will then kill said character in a most gruesome and horrifying manner of my own choosing.

Visit the Whiskey & Wheelguns page for more details or enter here if Facebook isn’t your thing.

If you’re just joining us, check out this excerpt from the first installment of “The Ballad of Zarahemla Two Crows.”

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