Posts Tagged ‘Western’

Undead Reckoning Pt. 3

September 26, 2020

Talbot arrived at the shop the next morning and was surprised to see a light already on inside even though the sun had yet to rise. He had thought he might have at least a few moments to himself to collect himself, but it could not be helped. He would have to tear the bandage off eventually so it might as well be right away. He pushed the door open and took off his jacket and hung it up. He turned and there was Cara Moonweaver standing there with a slight smile on her face. She always looked so fragile with her thin, willowy limbs but Talbot knew that she was sturdy and strong. She was the senior partner, having started the carpentry shop while Talbot was still in the military and before Silas had arrived from Corria. She was holding two cups of tea.

“Join me for a morning cup?” Cara asked. “It’s still a little chilly out there especially before the sun comes up.” Cara really did not complain about much but she did consistently complain when it was cold. She was very thin so it made sense.

“Thank you, Cara,” Talbot said, taking one of the cups. “It is a relief on an early cold morning.”

“It is early for you,” Cara said, narrowing her eyes. “Is something the matter? Could you not sleep?” Cara had always been extremely perceptive. There were times when Talbot wondered if she might have a slight psychic gift. Her keen insight was why Talbot often came to her for counsel.

Talbot sighed. “To tell the truth, I did not sleep well,” Talbot said. “I was wrestling with something last night.”

“Bad dreams?” Cara asked. “You haven’t had those since your early days here when the war was still fresh behind your eyes.” Over many years, Talbot had probably told Cara the most about his life. His emotions had been more raw when they met and her friendship and the routine and art of carpentry had eased his pain.

“Funny you should mention the war,” Talbot said. He rarely mentioned the W-word. “I received a letter yesterday afternoon that made my thoughts turn dark. My trouble continued into the night.”

“You’ll never truly be at peace until you leave the past behind,” Cara said. “time only heals wounds if you allow them to close.” It was something she had said many times.

“I know you’re not wrong and I thought I was past it,” Talbot said. “but some things tend to reopen those wounds. Like this letter.”

“Tell me about this letter,” Cara said and sat in a chair gracefully.

“Have you ever heard of a Lord Blackrance?” Talbot asked.

“I have not,” Cara said. “his influence has not spread down here. My family would have heard about them but I could put in some inquiries if you want.”

“Thank you but I don’t think that will be necessary,” Talbot said. “I’ll explain that in a minute. He sent me a letter trying to recruit me to take up arms again against a necromancer out in the wastes.”

“You’re not actually considering going out there are you?” Cara asked. “That sounds like a really bloody affair to get involved with.”

“I don’t plan on fighting anything or anyone anymore,” Talbot said. “but I do want to give this Blackrance a piece of my mind. I would like to do it in person. It only involves going to Fallshield so it would be a relatively short trip.”

“You feel that it’s necessary to turn this man down in person?” Cara asked.

“I do,” Talbot said. “If I simply turn away, I feel like I am running from my past again. If I go and talk to him, I will confront everything. It is not something I look forward to but, through our discussions, I think I need to do it.”

“A confrontation instead of merely sending a letter back, though,” Cara started, sounding like she was trying to be careful. “It is a big step. Do you think that it might be an inordinate response?”

“I don’t think so,” Talbot said. “You know me. I consider myself to be a man of honor. This Blackrance drug up a lot of dark things from my past but he also paid me several compliments. It is only right that I refuse him face to face. I could give him a few tips as well.”

Cara took a beat and then spoke calmly and even. “What would your brother think?” she asked. The question hung in the air. If it had been anybody other than Cara who asked, Talbot would have been angry. However, it was an astute question. Cara was incredibly wise.

“Honestly, I don’t know,” Talbot answered. “Barrold was always seeking adventure. He would have jumped on a chance to hunt down a necromancer.”

“You would have jumped on it as well decades ago,” Cara said. “You have an instinct to protect people and a necromancer threatens society itself.”

“Those days are gone,” Talbot said. “Besides, I made a promise to Barrold’s grave that I would give that life up and I would live for the both of us.”

“He never asked you for that promise,” Cara said. It was true, Barrold would have never tried to control Talbot’s life. He would have supported any decision that Talbot made.

“I still intend to keep it,” Talbot said. “I’m done fighting. I’ll go and close the door and then I’ll come back. It should only take a week at the most by train.”

“Do you need my blessing?” Cara asked, a small smile creeping onto her face. “You have it if you want it.”

“I don’t need it but it is appreciated,” Talbot said with a smile. “All I need is for you and Silas to watch the shop. I promise to pick up the slack when I return.”

“I do not think he will be as understanding,” Cara said. “but you will have to explain things to Silas.”

The shop door opened during that last moment and Silas walked in. “Explain what to me?” he asked. Cara and Talbot looked at each other for a beat.

SteamWorld Heist and Quest

September 21, 2020

Steamworld Heist

I have always been a fan of the Wild West or at least the mechanics and look of the film Wild West. The genre is kind of defunct now but there are some great movies that belong to it. Firefly was the first thing I watched that linked the Wild West aesthetic with space travel. This game is about a gang of steam-powered robots who have formed a pirate crew made up of “Cowbots” in a world after the Earth exploded. You primarily play as Captain Piper Faraday, an expert sniper. At the start, all but two of your crew have been scrapped (killed). You must recruit a new crew and work toward raising your reputation as you progress from rascals to heroes. You spend most of your time trying to pull off heists which are really smash-and-grab boarding missions.

As you can see in the trailer above, the game’s combat is turn-based. Each character has a class and is able to use different weapons. Each character also has their own skills which add more to the strategy of the game. For example, Piper has the ability to inspire or heal the bots around her. Sally Bolt can fire again if her first shot kills a target. There are tons of weapons and gear you can get from shops (mostly bars and bodegas). The other main mechanic is that all aiming is done manually by the player. That leads to fun ricochet shots and trick shots that are fun to try and wrap your head around.

Steamworld Quest

Fantasy is obviously a huge genre for me but this game is one of the first I have seen to combine fantasy with steampunk. You play as Armilly a young steambot knight wannabe who has applied over and over to the Hero Guild with no success. She is joined by an alchemist named Copperina and a Handyman named Galleo. The trio sets out to rescue the entire Hero Guild and fight a new evil empire. They are later joined by a knight of legend, Orik, and two shifty rogues named Tarah and Thayne. You explore maps while engaging other bots in battle.

This is a turn-based system with an interesting card mechanic. Each turn you get a “hand” of cards each of which has a character’s skill or attack on it. You can play up to three cards per turn. If you play three cards for the same character, they do an additional fourth ability or attack. Additionally, some attacks and skills require “steam power” to be used while simpler skills and attacks build that steam power. It is a constant strategy problem of proper deck-building and resource management. You need to optimize your cards in order to make sure you always have moves to make.

Both Games

Both games obviously share the same art style and writing. The art is cartoony yet detailed which gives each character a unique look. The worlds both games travel through are full of little background details and NPCs that delightful. Both games are full of dialogue which is cute and funny as the characters are allowed to be weird, flawed, and somewhat real. The heroes are allowed to make mistakes and even the villains can be likable. Both are goofy games that are not that long but are infinitely replayable.

In Fear of Sundown Pt. 2

September 28, 2019

The Mayor, Deputy Wescott, and Ben Hoscut reconvened with the stranger in the back of the Sheriff’s old office. Word of the woman’s claims was already spreading through the town like wildfire. They shut the door on the townspeople but the damage had already been done. An exotic stranger had walked into a desert town and declared herself as the sheriff. Mayor Brown was especially irritated. In contrast, the stranger was completely calm but she had covered the tattoo up again. She moved with a lazy sort of swagger. She did not seem to notice that people noticed her. She glided along with a determined yet aloof manner. She stuck out like a sore thumb in the more reserved town of Sunwood.

“Who in the Hell are you?” Mayor Brown asked. “While we’re at it, how did you get our symbol?”

“Now be nice, Mayor,” Ben Hoscut said. “I don’t think she means any harm.” His voice was reassuring. He had kept his position on their small council based on his use of the symbol and his even-keeled determination.

“How do we know that?” Deputy Kyle Wescott asked. He had remained loyal to the old sheriff until the end and was still not at ease with all of this hocus pocus. The presence of the symbol was not a good sign, especially on an outsider.

“Maybe let her talk, Deputy,” Hoscut said. “Let’s start with introductions. We can be hospitable and civil at the very least.”

“My name is Afa,” the stranger said. “I come from an island far away. I’m sure you have never heard of it here in the desert.”

“My name is Ben Hoscut,” Hoscut said. “This is Mayor Brown and Deputy Westcott. We’re the leaders of this town since the incidents started happening.”

“We can be hospitable,” Deputy Wescott said. He walked over and grabbed a bottle of beer which the Mayor looked disapprovingly at. He set it in front of Afa. “Now how about that story?”

“Well,” Afa said. “Firstly, you called it ‘your symbol’. It is not your symbol. That symbol belongs to my people as well.”

“Did your people have the same problem?” Hoscut asked. He leaned in, very interested.

Afa smiled and shrugged. “I don’t know the problem you had here,” she said. “In our island village, people started to disappear without a trace save for some blood on the dirt or sand. We sent out search parties to find them. I lead one of them. We never found any of them.”

Westcott looked remorseful, pitying. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s the same problem. More or less.”

“While I never discovered any of the missing, I did discover something else,” she said. “I found a long-forgotten cave. There we discovered the symbol. We could not understand all of the symbols in the cave but when I touched this symbol, I felt like it would protect us. I guess I was right. I guess it protected you as well.”

“It has,” Hoscut said. “But it didn’t stop what’s still out there. Did you ever catch sight of whatever was out there?”

“Once,” Afa said, her eyes growing dark. “but only a glimpse. Really, all I saw were four bright eyes in the darkness. I heard something inhuman.”

The Mayor shuddered. The mood in the room had changed now that the three men believed that Afa was a kindred spirit of sorts. They had no idea whether they could really trust her but at least she had gone through the same fire they had. If she was telling the truth, of course. But why would she have that symbol? What would she gain from lying? Her words felt like the truth.

“Maybe we were too quick to anger,” Mayor Brown said. “Maybe you can help us figure this thing out.”

Afa nodded. “Where did you get the symbol from in the first place?” she asked. Her eyes burned with curiosity. “Maybe we can learn more from your source.”

The three men all looked at each other. One by one they nodded and shrugged. “We got the symbol from the Sisters,” Hoscut said. “They got the idea from a vision.”

“Who are these Sisters?” Afa asked she reached out and grabbed the beer and drank. “I want to talk to them?”

“We haven’t heard from them in years,” Mayor Brown said. “They’re probably dead.”

Deputy Westcott got a strange look on his face. “I remember my mother saying the same thing when I was a boy,” he said. “What’s that about?”

Afa stood and swept her coat back, exposing two onyx six-shooters. “Let’s go find out, shall we?” she asked with that same confident smile.

Deputy Westcott stood up. “Just because I’m backing you up doesn’t mean you’re the Sheriff,” he said. “With your permission, Mayor.”

Mayor Brown nodded. “I suppose it’s something,” he said. “We have lived in fear for a long time. Be careful.”

Deputy Westcott led Afa over to the Sister’s house. It looked quite ordinary. The Deputy knocked on the door and they waited for a long time. Westcott shrugged and started to turn away when Afa lunged at the door, slamming her foot hard into it. The door jamb cracked and the door opened inward. Before the Deputy could complain, Afa had slipped inside. When he followed, his mind could not immediately grasp what he saw. It looked a castle inside. A great big castle, much bigger than the house on the outside. Something was indeed strange here.

In Fear of Sundown

August 31, 2019

The town of Rosewood had a problem. During the day, everything was fine and everybody’s life went along easy. Well, as easy as life in a pioneer town in the west could be. Rosewood was a cattle town and not much else so life was simple but rough. The problem was at night. It started with the cattle on one moonless night years ago. There had been no sound during the night but one of the cattle was gone the next morning and there was a lot of blood in the dust. When guards were posted at night, they started disappearing too. Nothing was safe outside at night. When nothing was outside at night, people found scratch marks on windows and doors. Everybody lived in fear of sundown.

It was The Rule that had eventually kept everyone safe. The Rule was that when reaching the age of ten, everyone in town had to receive the brand. The symbol of the brand had been foreseen by the Blind Sisters in a vision that they only vaguely spoke of. Nobody could remember the Sisters’ names. Everybody was too embarrassed to ask and they would most likely not have shared them. Nobody had asked the sisters but one day they had been screaming that they had the solution outside of the tavern. Many had not seen the two of them outside of their house in years. Some had thought they were dead already.

Of course, nobody had actually listened to the Sisters and they were eventually shooed back to their house. After that, the two of them had begun painting the symbol everywhere. The scratch marks stopped appearing. As an experiment, the ranchers left a steer outside after branding it with the symbol. The steer was untouched in the morning but a little spooked. It had nearly pulled the post down. Still, it was alive. Suddenly, the next cattle drive seemed like it might be possible. The deep dread that lived in the town’s hearts began to lift. The Reverend Sawyer was bitter that his prayers and crosses had done nothing when these arcane symbols had seemingly solved the problem.

It had been Ben Hoscut, the town blacksmith, who came up with the idea of branding the skin of humans with the symbol. People had thought the idea was barbaric at first and were content to wear makeshift amulets. Old Sheriff Williams had outlawed the practice and the wives of Rosewood had backed the decision. He and his deputy had tried to enforce the ruling but they could not watch everybody at all times. Bit by bit, people still received the brand. Hoscut had been thrown in the jail and the Sheriff had confiscated all of the branding irons that he could find. He had gotten the evil eye from some folks for it but it was his job to protect the town, even from itself.

Hoscut’s son, Angus, had solved the argument by getting the brand and branding the sheriff’s daughter, Rebecca. The two of them walked out into the desert at night. He was gone all night and nobody, not even the sheriff, was willing to go out and look for him. In the morning, he came back untouched. Even the sheriff had to admit that the brands were the right way to go. As soon as the practice was widespread, nobody mysteriously disappeared anymore. For the first time, there was a feeling of hope in Rosewood. There was still something out there but the people could now just push it from their minds and carry on with their lives.

After the second cattle drive, Williams passed in his sleep and the town started to decide who would be Sheriff next. Everybody looked to Deputy Westcott to step up but he turned the offer down, not wanting the responsibility. Besides, he might have felt some residual resentment from his backing of the Sheriff’s plan to block the Rule. Everybody argued over who it should be. When people said they should ask The Sisters, Reverend Sawyer had objected strenuously. When they knocked on The Sisters’ door anyway, there was no answer. The town became divided over the choice with various groups backing various candidates. During these days, a young woman with long fiery red hair and dark skin walked into the tavern. She ordered a drink and sat down.

It was Billy Hampton who approached her. “Ma’am,” he said. “You might want to move on from here. This town isn’t safe.”

“I don’t want to leave,” the woman said. “I heard this town was in need of a sheriff.”

“To be honest,” Billy said. “I don’t think you’d understand this town enough to have a prayer.”

The woman laughed. “Prayer is for the weak,” she said. “I think I’m exactly what this town needs.” She brushed her hair from her neck and there was the symbol, tattooed on her neck.

Redcross Pt. 12

December 9, 2017

Redcross

“What do you mean by that, Sheriff?” Reverend Roy Simmons asked. “I am just a simple small town reverend at a Methodist church.”

“Bullshit, Reverend,” Sarah said. “Twice now you’ve come to the rescue with that rifle of yours. I didn’t think they taught that at any seminary school.”

“Maybe I wasn’t always a reverend, Sheriff,” Simmons said. He folded his arms across his chest and for a moment, Sarah thought she might have gotten things wrong. But only for a moment.

“Which circles us back to me asking what you are,” Sarah said. The two of them locked eyes and Sarah started to stare him down. She had trained this particular skill by being hardheaded with her father. He was a hard man when he had to be and he had not let Sarah get away with a whole lot unless she fought for it. Nowadays, she mostly used the look on rowdy kids in town but it was also well-suited for grown adults who had something to be guilty about. After only a moment, Simmons sighed and took a step back into the church.

“Come on in,” Simmons said. “Do you want some coffee?” He started walking off toward the kitchen even before she could answer.

Sarah walked through the door and nodded. “Please and thank you, Reverend.”

Sarah walked into the church. She had had some difficulty attending the church for a while after her father died. In the aftermath, Sarah had been named the new sheriff by most of the important people in town. It was not pity that guided the town to elect her. She had been close to her father and knew what went into the job. The job had consumed her that first week and then several of the weeks that followed. Once she resurfaced, getting back into the routine of going to church was not an easy task. It was important to the town for the sheriff to be there, though, no matter what her feelings might be. Now she went every Sunday but her recent suspicions about Reverend Simmons threw all of that on its ear.

Simmons came back with the coffee and they sat down in the little sitting area just off from the sanctuary. Simmons waited for Sarah to sit first which annoyed her a little in the moment but she went ahead and sat instead of arguing over pettier things. When organized, unkillable mountain lions were doing battle with wolves in the streets of Essex, it was not the time to quibble over niceties. Sarah sipped her coffee, eyes locked on the Reverend. They were both silent for a few moments as Sarah waited for the Reverend to start talking and the Reverend seemed quite comfortable in silence.

“So Reverend,” Sara said. “Do you want to answer the question or do you want to continue evading it in favor of coffee and a pleasant chat?”

“I have never evaded a question before, Sarah,” Reverend Simmons said before sipping his coffee.

Sarah’s eyes narrowed slightly. “That’s too close to a lie, Reverend. I saw you make shots a normal man wouldn’t hit in a million years last night. You also carried yourself well with that rifle out near the mine. You can trust me, Reverend, I just want to trust you again myself.”

Simmons took a deep breath and leaned back in his chair. “I served in the army for a time. They trained me and apparently, I displayed natural talents with firearms. Eventually, my way of thinking did not align with that of the Army and I requested my leave. Once that was granted, I was lost and found myself with the Salvation Army at Lochiel where I discovered a penchant for preaching so I chose to do that instead of fighting. The church here in Essex was empty so I eventually came to lend my voice.”

“I hadn’t heard the Army part of that story before,” Sarah said. “I had heard the rest. What do you mean when you say you didn’t get along in the Army?”

“I’m not a violent man,” Simmons said with a shrug.

“I would be liable to believe that if I hadn’t seen you with that rifle, Reverend,” Sarah said. Something was not adding up with his story. If he had forgone violence, why keep the rifle? he knew for a fact that Simmons didn’t hunt which also put what he was doing out near the mine in question as well. Even if what he said had been a hundred percent true, something just did not feel right.

“I am not a violent man,” Simmons said again. “or at least I don’t want to be. I wasn’t into fighting Indians or Mexicans. I felt like there was a greater purpose out there.”

Sarah smiled a bit at that. “I can commend you for not going after the natives or the Mexicans.” She thought of Senora Chilton, the woman who had warmed over Death himself. “So, was your greater calling the church or something else?”

“I’m not sure how much I want to reveal, Sheriff,” Simmons said. “No offense.”

“Reverend Roy Simmons,” Sarah said in her most authoritative voice. It was stern, it was hard and it could command a room when she pulled that voice out. “After last night and what we saw at the mine, this town is in trouble. People are talking all sorts of lunacy out there. If you know anything that could help us then it is time to spill everything.”

Roy Simmons watched her for a moment and then set his cup aside and then watched her again. “I found something else in Lochiel besides my faith.  I found a greater calling, one I never thought I would have to answer again.  I am part of a secret organization that has existed for centuries. It is called the Order of the Red Cross.”

Sarah’s eyes popped open at that name.

Redcross Pt. 11

November 25, 2017

Redcross

Sarah got up early the next day even if she wished she could at least sleep in until noon. She put some breakfast on the griddle and she got a lecture from Doctor Marion about how unhealthy the breakfast was. Even with the lecture, the thick cut bacon, eggs, and black coffee felt good and she began to feel like herself again. After that, she asked Marion to stay put for her own safety and got an argument there as well but it was just for show. Sarah strapped on her gun and grabbed her coat and hat and walked out the door, locking it carefully behind her.

She moved over to Chip Hendley’s door and pounded her fist on it until the door unlocked and Chip was blinking at her through bleary eyes. The man was huge so Sarah had to look up to talk to him and Sarah was fairly tall herself.

“Good morning, Sheriff,” Chip said and the smell of beer and whiskey drifted from his sweat and breath.

“Been drinking, Chip?” Sarah asked.

“I have, Sheriff Redcross,” Chip said. “Last night was the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen. After those things left last night, I took one drink and just didn’t stop.”

“I don’t blame you, Chip,” Sarah said. “I don’t blame you at all. You said ‘things’, Chip. Do you not think they were wildcats of some kind?”

“Do you, Sheriff?” Chip asked. “I saw you shoot one of them take six bullets and it was still moving. No wildcat on Earth does that, to my knowledge.”

“On Earth? Where do you think these things came from?” Sarah asked.

“I don’t really know,” Chip said. “But I don’t think they’re from here. Just a feeling I have.” He shrugged. Chip was smarter than he looked and Sarah did not discount anybody’s ideas out of hand.

“I don’t either,” Sarah said. “But you may be right. I plan to get to the bottom of it either way. For right now, I need your help.”

“Me?” Chip asked. “I don’t know what I can do but I’m happy to help out where I can.”

“You’re the best carpenter in town,” Sarah said. “I need you to go and replace Doctor Schaefer’s door. One of those ‘things’ broke it down and I would like her to have a good sturdy door to protect her again.”

“For sure I can do that,” Chip said. “I’ll get some coffee and eggs down and go right over there. I’ll try to have it done well before sundown.”

“Great, Chip,” Sarah said. “I’ll have somebody bring by some lunch and water to you later. When you’re done there, please replace the back door of my office as well.”

“I’ll build both of them stronger than before,” Chip said. “I’ll get right on it.” Chip seemed to come to life as soon as he had a purpose for the day. His eyes looked clearer and he smoothed his hair out of his face and smiled.

“Thanks, Chip,” Sarah said. “I’ll check in with you later.”

Sarah moved on to her next destination, walking across the dusty main thoroughfare of Essex. There were spots of black here and there where bullets had spilled blood from the creatures. She wondered if they had red blood that merely dried black or if the blood was black in the first place. Too many mysteries and Sarah felt more lost than she ever had. She had a feeling that, had this happened in her father’s time as Sheriff, her father would have been just as lost. This thought was not exactly comforting but it did bring up a resolve to fix this problem from deep inside of her.

Sarah found Holly Dawson peeking through the window of her family’s house and waved at her. The sound of a heavy deadbolt being unlatched preceded Holly slowly, cautiously stepping out into the sunlight.

“Sheriff,” She said softly. “I’m glad to see you survived. I saw you standing out in the middle of it all before mom and I hid under her bed.”

“Thank you, Holly,” Sarah said. “I’m not gonna sugar coat it. That was bad. But I could use your help today if you can muster up some courage for me.”

“Anything for you, Sheriff,” Holly said and her face hardened and her chin tilted up, summoning courage from somewhere.

“I don’t need you fight a battle or anything,” Sarah said. “Although I should teach you how to shoot at some point the way things are going lately. Today I just need you and your momma to cook some lunch and dinner for Chip who will be at Doctor Marion’s place and for Doctor Marion who is at my place.”

Holly just grinned.

“Did I say something funny?” Sarah asked but could not help but smile even as she put on her best confused face.

“You’ve never asked me to cook for you before,” Holly said. “You always just give in when I bring you food.” Her face was so sunny at having this victory. It was a small victory in Sarah’s eyes but apparently not for young Holly.

“I’ve never wanted to trouble you or your family, Holly,” Sarah said.

“You’ve never been trouble, Sheriff,” Holly said. “I don’t think you could be if you tried.”

“Thanks, Molly,” Sarah said. “And thanks to your mother as well. You have good souls.”

“And where should I deliver your lunch and dinner, Sheriff?” Holly asked.

Sarah smiled, at last realizing what this would mean to the girl. “Hopefully, my office but I might be all over the place today.”

“Alright,” Holly said. “I’ll see you later.” She smiled and slipped back into her house, the deadbolt sliding back into place. Better safe than sorry. In fact, the street was mostly empty and, although it was hot, the place should have had at least a little activity. It was not the worse thing for people to hide inside of their houses and shops for the moment.

Sarah made her way further down the street and found herself at the old, ragged church. She paused at the door and then she pounded on the door with her fist. After a long moment, Reverend Simmons opened the door. He looked just as fresh and ready as he usually did. He smiled when he saw who was at the door, those blue eyes twinkled.

“Sheriff,” the Reverend said. “What can I do for you? Come for spiritual guidance?”

“I came to ask you some questions,” Sarah said.

“Questions?” The Reverend asked. Sarah was not sure but she thought he might have looked nervous for a small moment.

“Like, what are you?” Sarah asked.

Redcross Pt. 10

September 9, 2017

Redcross

Sarah poked her head through the door to the street and saw Reverend Simmons on the roof of the church carefully unloading his rifle at even more beasts that were running in the streets. There were a few others firing from their windows in the night. She watched as a bullet landed on one of the beasts and it slumped to the ground but then it got back up again in a moment. She aimed her own rifle and started to fire but she worried it would not do any good. Still, she managed to land a few hits of her own which at least slowed the things and kept them from attacking anyone.

A single wolf’s howl rang out in the night and then a chorus of howls answered it. A pack of wolves ran into the town and before Sarah could aim, she watched one of the wolves slam into one of the mountain lions. The wolf sank its teeth into the hide of the big cat and there was a spray of blood onto the dirt. Sarah was astonished. Why would a pack of wolves run into town to fight a pack of mountain lions? That was stepping around the odd thought of why a pack of mountain lions would randomly storm a town like Essex.

Sarah raised her hand high and shouted. “Hold your fire! Don’t hit the wolves!” She could almost feel the confusion in the air but the gunfire stopped after a moment. She could feel the Reverend’s gaze all the way from on top of the church. She chose to ignore it at that moment and instead watched the wolves and the mountain lions fight. The fighting was fast and bloody as animals almost moved faster than the human eye at times.

After a few tense minutes, the mountain lions decided to turn tail and run out of town. The wolves gave chase, nipping at their heels. One of the wolves stopped in the middle of the town, a few feet from Sarah and looked at her. Sarah stared back into the eyes of the wolf, stunned. She held her hands up, knowing that accidentally looking it in the eye could be seen as aggressive. She tried to look as innocent as possible, holding her rifle above her head. The wolf cocked its head and then ran to catch up to its pack. Sarah let out her breath and looked around the town.

“Is everybody alright?” Sarah called out.

She could see a lot of the men and women of the town filtering out of their homes. They looked rattled but nobody looked injured. It looked as if the town had been very lucky. She scanned the buildings and saw that the door of the doctor’s house had been torn apart. She jogged over and made her way past the broken pieces of the door. She kept her rifle ready.

“Doctor?” She called out. “Are you alright?” Her heart hammered up against her rib cage and she took two deep breaths to calm herself as she made her way up the stairs. The doctor appeared at the top of the stairs.

“I’m alright,” She said. “The thing had just about gotten through the door when somebody shot it in the back. My guess is I have the Reverend to thank.”

Warren made his way through the door behind Sarah slowly. “Is everything alright?”

“We won’t be needing your services, Mr. Chilton.” The doctor said. Sarah had to smile at that little joke.

“I’m glad of it, ma’am,” Warren replied with a smile. “I don’t really want my skills to be in high demand.”

The doctor descended the stairs now that she knew that things were as safe as they were going to get. She was in her nightgown, her spectacles balanced on her nose. “Are you alright, Sarah? I can see the sheen on your forehead.”

“One of them attacked me outside of my home,” Sarah said. “It broke the back door of my office when I ran. I scared it off.”

“With that famous Redcross marksmanship, I suppose?” Asked Warren.

“Yes,” Sarah said. “But after I shot it, it had the nerve to get back up. It was not natural. I have never seen anything like it.”

“Curious,” The doctor said. “Healing of that magnitude is definitely not natural.”

“Do you not also find it curious that these beasts tried to get into the both the doctor’s office and the sheriff’s office?” Warren asked. “I have long scratches on my door that would seem to prove that these animals had an agenda.”

“What kind of agenda would a pack of mountain lions have?” Sarah asked. “And why would a pack of wolves have an opposite agenda?”

“There is more at work here than is normal, I believe,” Warren said.

“Are you actually considering he supernatural, Mr. Chilton?” Marion asked.

Warren waved the question away with his hand. “Ridiculous. There is still no proof.”

“I don’t know about that, Warren,” Sarah said. “Things are getting really strange around here.”

“And do you recall the wounds on our mystery body?” Marion asked. “I told you that I thought they looked feline in nature. Now we are invaded by wild cats. Is that merely a coincidence.”

Warren was about to say something but Sarah cut him off. “No, it can’t be,” She said. “I believe those animals are the same ones that killed the man. Now, what that means is still up for debate.”

“I agree,” Warren said. “Surely we must gather more evidence before making a conclusion.”

“Of course, I agree as well,” Marion said. “However, even though my hypothesis would have me laughed out of several universities, I still believe that we are dealing with the supernatural.”

“I don’t know whether I want you to be wrong or right, Doctor,” Sarah said with a shiver. “Either way, we better be on our guard from here on out. You should stay with me until we can get your door fixed.”

“You’ll get no argument from me, Sheriff,” Marion said. “I promise to be a good house guest. I know you have your rounds ahead of you, I will meet you back at your home.”

“Goodnight ladies,” Warren said. “And be careful.”

Redcross Pt. 9

August 19, 2017

Redcross

It was not so much a sound that woke Sarah in the middle of the night. At least, it was not a sound that Sarah consciously heard. The Redcrosses had always been famous for their powers of observation, even while deep asleep. At least, that is what her father had told her when she had tried to sneak out of the house back in the city and here in Essex. She believed it was true as the skill had served her well through her short career as Sheriff so far. She caught more mischief with a keen eye and a hard look than with a gun. Of course, she went out into the scrubland outside of town to practice with her pistol and the rifle that hung over her desk. It did no good to get out of practice.

She was glad that she had that training under her belt as she easily reached for that pistol and checked the ammunition. It was full. She pulled on her pants under her nightgown and idly wondered if she should buy some pajamas like her father used to wear. She went without her boots when she heard the sound outside. It was a scratching sound that she did not recognize and that had her concerned. No one would dare prowl around the home of the sheriff. Her little home was just behind the office and nobody wanted to get caught that close to where Sarah could easily lock them up for the rest of the night. She stepped outside, pistol in hand.

That is when she saw the wolf. Actually, it was not so much a wolf as it was the biggest wolf that Sarah had ever seen in her life and she had seen plenty out in the wilds of the Arizona Territory. This one was easily twice the size of a normal wolf. She froze. She knew if it had not noticed her yet then it was only a matter of time until it did. She needed a moment to think. If she faced the animal on its terms, she would not last long. Out here, you grew up learning to respect nature or you ended up a bunch of bleached bones out in the desert. Sarah would not let that happen to her, that was not the way a Redcross or a Sheriff should die. It also sounded incredibly painful.

The wolf was facing the opposite direction from Sarah and luckily the wind was blowing in such a way that she was still upwind. That could shift at any moment. Sarah decided to sprint for the office, a much more secure building than the tiny shack that was her ancestral home. She pushed off and ran as hard as she could. The wolf, confused in the moment, found it hard to pivot to chase her at first but it soon remedied that and the race was on. She pushed herself harder than she had ever pushed herself and she got the back door of the station open and got inside before she slammed the door and threw the deadbolt. She stood there, breathing hard and shaking a bit.

That relative peace did not last for long. The door shook hard as the wolf threw itself against it. Sarah stepped back and aimed her gun at the door, taking a deep breath to stop shaking from all of the adrenaline. She closed one eye and aimed carefully, slipping her finger from the trigger guard to the trigger. She was prepared to kill this thing if necessary. From somewhere in her mind an idea flitted through her concentration. She wondered if this was one of the things that had killed that man out in the desert. The image of the body all torn up flashed behind her eyes and she shook her head and took another deep breath. There was no time for that now.

The wolf rammed the door again and it splintered and the hinges twisted. Sarah had thought at best the wolf would get its head or paw through a hole in the door. Now it looked like either the entire door would shatter or the hinges would come out. Either meant that Sarah would be facing down a seemingly angry and definitely determined wolf with no barrier between them. This was not a good strategy. Sarah backed up into the office and that is when she had her idea. She grabbed the keys from her desk, ran into the cell to her left and closed the door. She backed up against the wall and wished that she had also grabbed the rifle hanging above her desk.

She heard the door’s hinges fail as the beast lunged at the door a final time. There was a moment of stunned silence and then she heard the thing stalking into the Sheriff’s office. Her office. She felt powerful, unreasoning anger welling up in her. The thing knew right where she was. It could smell her fear and sweat and it wasted no time in searching the place. Instead, Sarah could hear it coming right towards the cells. She readied the pistol again and hoped the thing was not stronger than iron bars.

As it rounded the corner, she could see its amber eyes, almost aflame with excitement and fury. It looked into the cage and for a moment Sarah could have sworn the thing let out a raspy laugh. It looked unconcerned with the iron bars of the jail cell. She squared her shoulders and sighted down the barrel of the gun. This thing was going straight to Hell. It lunged at the bars, its jaw moving dangerously as it stuck between the bars. Sarah closed one eye, took a deep breath and pulled the trigger. Sparks flew from one of the bars near the thing’s shoulder.

Again, she could have sworn the thing laughed at her. She pulled the hammer back and fired again. This time she drove a bullet right into the chest of the cat. She thought that might be where its heart was and the thing stopped short and fell from the cell door with a thud. It was completely and utterly still on the floor and there was a small pool of blood forming. Sarah started toward the door but the cat jumped up and roared but it turned and ran back toward the door, obviously in pain. Sarah could have sworn she had killed the thing but she guessed she had only won the battle for now.

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

April 8, 2017

I guess I have the same interesting relationship a lot of people have with firearms. I am a strong proponent of gun control because I believe that guns have never really done anything good. They can only accomplish something less bad because, with a gun,  somebody is eventually getting shot. People getting shot is kind of a bad outcome. I would like to live in a world where fewer people get shot or even none if we can swing it. But I understand that in fiction, guns are cool. All of the cool action heroes use guns at some point or another because the bad guys give them no choice. Of course, in the world of fiction, they rarely have ricochets or bullets missing their target and hitting an innocent person. I love westerns, action movies, and anime with guns. On another part of this blog, you can even read my ongoing series Redcross which features a fictional Arizona sheriff who wields her father’s gun.

I grew up in the city and went to a private school so most guns I saw were in fiction or were talked about on the news. My first actual experience with guns was when I went off to Camp Shohola up in Greeley, Pennsylvania. I regularly signed up for riflery class for several years while I was in camp. It was technically a sport but it was definitely for kids who did not actually want to do sports. We would fire rifles at a range from our bellies and shoot paper targets. Having that much force in my hands and breathing in all of that gun smoke was kind of exciting. My next experience with guns was when my uncle brought me to a SWAT team gun range and let me fire a SWAT service rifle which fired three bullets for each squeeze of the trigger. Other than paintball, my only other experience with guns was going to a gun range down in Florida where I fired actual guns. It was actually kind of scary.

The gunfight that actually happened at the OK Corral is one of the most famous that ever happened. So many movies have been made about the incident, so why did I pick this one? Well, it started with a G but more importantly, it was on my list of 1001 Movies To See Before You Die list that I have been consulting for ideas of what to watch. This is a classic and I felt it was important to see how this was done in the period when most of my favorite westerns were made. The actual famous gunfight only took 30 seconds from start to finish and three men lay dead at the end of it. The key figures involved were outlaw Doc Holliday and lawman Wyatt Earp. This happened in the infamous Tombstone, Arizona. Of course, I have visited Tombstone and Old Tuscon (a theme park and movie studio) where much of the film was shot. This film covers the two years before the famous gunfight.

Wyatt Earp is played by Hollywood legend Burt Lancaster. At this point in his life, he has been a lawman for twenty-five years. He is a little tired but he is a man who believes in justice and defending the people of the frontier. He always speaks in an even tone and his gaze is hard and serious. Doc Holliday is played by legendary action star Kirk Douglas. He is an old and sick but still debonair criminal who has pissed off seemingly every other criminal in the old west. He oozes charm and is getting tired of being a trouble magnet and having to protect himself from both the law and the other criminals. The two of them strike up an unlikely partnership out of necessity. Along the way, we also meet characters played by DeForest Kelley, Dennis Hopper and a whole host of western character actors. Everybody does a great job in a melodramatic sort of way and really brings the characters to life.

Overall, I really liked this movie. Since it takes period over a year in various towns in the west, it gets time to breathe. We get to know the characters and we get to see the development of the begrudging partnership and unlikely friendship between two men who should hate each other. The score is very middle of the road classical music (nothing like later Morricone stuff) but it suits the movie just fine. There is also some narration through song that actually works. The camera work is mostly nothing fancy but some of the shots are really masterful which makes the little touches all the more important. Some of the romance subplot feels unnecessary but it makes for some calmer story beats to rest the characters.

Redcross Pt. 8

March 25, 2017

Redcross

“A metaphorical key?” Marion asked. She pushed her glasses up in front of her eyes. “We are practical people, we deal in things we can observe. We leave metaphor to the poets.”

“I’m not so sure, Doctor,” Warren said. “I always enjoyed a little poetry before bed.” He smiled and Sarah could not help but smile too.

“Maybe not metaphorical, but maybe not a key you can hold in your hand,” Sarah said.

“That sounds like a riddle. What is a key you cannot hold, Sheriff?” Warren asked with a smile. Marion shuddered at that smile and Sarah was instantly reminded that Marion and Warren were feuding and that most people found Warren creepy.

“Please explain yourself, Sarah,” Marion said. “It is getting very late and I need the comfort of my own bed. What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about secret messages,” Sarah said. “Back in the big city, my friend Suzette and I passed secret messages. They were only visible at night. It was a special ink.”

“Interesting but what does that mean to us now. Sarah?” Marion asked. Sarah knew she was getting impatient.

“I think I get what the Sheriff is getting at,” Waren said. He accented the word ‘sheriff’ to remind the good doctor that she should be using the correct honorific. “Let my height be of use for once.” He reached up to the window and pulled the thick shutters open. Moonlight flooded the room from the small window there. Sarah’s stomach tightened as Warren pulled the sheet off the body. All three of them gasped as the moonlight touched the skin and images started to glow.

“How did you know that would happen?” Marion asked.

“I am as surprised as you are, Doctor,” Sarah said. “The special ink we used is nothing like this. That glow is actually kind of beautiful.”

“Yes, I suppose it is,” Marion said. She leaned in to study the glowing markings more closely. Sarah was struck by how close the woman could get to a dead body that was really starting to smell. “Some sort of tattoo. Well, a lot of them anyway and they used a special ink.” She looked over her shoulder at Warren and Sarah. “It’s a working hypothesis anyway.”

“Seems like a good one, I think,” Warren said. “As good as any I can think of at the moment, at least.”

The three of them stood there trying to make sense of the images on the skin. Sarah had no idea what she was looking at. The glowing kind of made the edges of the images fuzzy which made it hard to tell what the symbols were or what they meant. Sarah looked at Warren and Marion and she guessed the two of them were having no more luck with the symbols. It was not like she fully expected the two of them to use expertise outside of their field to solve the mystery but they were the smartest people Sarah knew. Just as she was about to give in and tell them to call it a night, Sarah saw something.

“Hey look,” she said. “There’s that pesky key.” Sarah pointed at an image that looked like an old key on the man’s forearm. As she did, the image started to glow brighter and then it started to move. Before Warren could pull Sarah’s hand away, the image itself reared up from the skin and caught Sarah’s finger. She stared in absolute shock as the thing snaked its way up her finger. The sensation was like ants crawling just under her skin. She was afraid to move. Finally, the key centered itself on her palm and the sensation stopped.

“What the hell was that?!” Sarah shouted and Warren put a comforting hand on her shoulder. It helped but only a little bit.

“I would like to revise my hypothesis,” Marion managed to get out. “I have limited experience with tattoos but I do not think they can do that. Are you alright, Sarah?”

“I think so,” Sarah said. “It didn’t hurt and it seems to have stopped but now I have this thing on my hand.”

“And this man was killed for having the key,” Warren said. “That puts a target on your back, Sheriff.”

“Don’t scare the girl, Warren,” Marion said.

“My dad didn’t raise me to scare easy,” Sarah said. “If anybody is going to have the key, it should be the Sheriff. We Redcrosses can take care of ourselves.” She reached down and touched the butt of her gun for a little bit of comfort. There was somebody or something out there that wanted this glowing key.

“Well, that is definitely true. I didn’t mean to imply that you’re defenseless, Sheriff.” Marion used the correct honorific. It sent a clear message.

“We are just worried because there is still so much we don’t know, Sheriff,” Warren said. “This looks like magic.”

“No such thing,” Marion said.

“I’m not so sure about that, Doctor,” Sarah said. “I just stole a dead man’s tattoo.”

“It’s late. We should look into this again tomorrow,” Warren said. He looked tired. Marion looked very tired too. Sarah could only guess at how tired she looked too.

“I must insist that you stay with me tonight, Sheriff,” Marion said. “That way I can observe you if this ‘magic’ affects your health adversely.”

“I can handle myself, Marion. But I’ll let you know if anything comes up,” Sarah said.

 

 


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