Posts Tagged ‘Western’

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.

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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.

 

 

Redcross Pt 7

January 7, 2017

Redcross

Sarah Redcross made her way over to the doctor’s office but the door was closed and locked. Not surprising at this hour but usually, Marion was still up and reading one of her books. Either the newest medical texts she could get her hands on or tales of adventure. There were no lights on in the windows but in the darkness, Sarah saw a note pinned to the door. She walked over there and lit a match near it and smiled to herself. It seemed that the good doctor had visited the undertaker after all.

Sarah headed in that direction of the undertaker. The sound of the rough dirt under her boots seemed extra loud in the chilly night. Even in the middle of the night, she felt vulnerable as if something would jump out of the darkness to tear her to pieces. The skirmish with those men, those things, earlier still had her shaken. She still had no idea what they were but either the other two had dragged the dead one away or, well, she did not want to think of any other possibilities. Gunfire still rang through her imagination and she could not make it stop. It made her touch two fingers to the revolver at her side.

Essex was a quiet town to be sheriff of. Sarah had witnessed her father breaking up fights, accepting or tracking bounties and busting the occasional cattle rustler. He mostly made people feel safe and almost never had to pull his gun from its holster. Even rarer was when he actually fired the thing. Sarah had kept up that tradition in the short time since she took over as sheriff. She was sure her father would have disapproved and would say something about going out and doing something worthwhile with her life. Secretly, he would be thrilled she took after him. Sarah felt that being sheriff of this little town was worthwhile and she could not imagine living anywhere else.

She knocked on the undertaker’s door and waited. She had her sheriff’s star clearly visible even though every single person in town knew who she was. After a moment or two, the door was opened by Raina Chilton, the wife of death himself. Her sunny smile even at a late hour was a welcome sight and Sarah could not help but smile back. The smiling actually made Sarah feel happier.

“I suppose you are here to meet with the academics, Sheriff?” Raina asked. Even after so many years, there was more than a trace of the kind of accent that came from south of the border.

“I suppose I am. It’s not too late is it?” Sarah asked in return.

“Of course it is, but that has yet to stop them. Go on in,” Raina said and stepped aside.

Sarah tipped her hat and then took it off before entering and heading toward the back. She took a deep breath quietly before entering so Raina would not see her nerves. At that moment, she would rather be facing down ten more gunmen than heading back to where the dead bodies were kept. She swallowed and pushed through and into the back room. Marion Schaefer and Warren Chilton looked up from the card table they were sitting at. There were several papers and diagrams in front of them and Sarah was glad to see the body had been covered up.

“Sarah,” Warren said, “It is good of you to visit. Can I get you any tea? I think we still have some coffee as well.” He was the very face of kindness as usual.

“Sheriff, this case you have is a strange one,” Marion said. She preferred to get to the point quickly which Sarah actually really appreciated at the moment.

“Case?” Sarah asked. She had never heard her father use the word before.

“That’s what Mr. Holmes calls them in the books when a mystery is on. It seems appropriate here,” Marion explained.

“This isn’t one of your books, Marion,” Warren said with a disapproving look.

“You are as difficult as this case, Warren. It might as well be. There is so much we still do not know and so much that does and does not make sense,” Marion said with an exasperated look followed by her rolling her eyes.

“Why don’t you two tell me what you’ve found? We can go from there,” Sarah said. She needed the two of them working together rather than sniping at each other. On any other day, she would have been amused by their banter and playful rivalry.

“As we went over earlier, the man was mauled by some sort of animal but was killed by some bladed weapon,” Warren said.

“Like a sword, for example,” Marion said. “I believe it was a sword which, while strange, explains the wounds on the body. However, it does not look like the wounds I saw from a calvary blade or a bayonet from the war.”

“I would agree with that second option. It is not a bayonet. I am not fortunate enough to have experienced a wound from a calvary blade so I trust the doctor in this instance,” Warren said.

Sarah nodded. “I would call that the opposite of fortunate. So we don’t know the exact weapon that killed him or whatever animals did this to the body,” She said.

“I believe the wounds were made very close together as the claw marks did bleed a little bit,” Marion said. “Animals working so closely with man, it makes me think of all of the horrible creatures I have read about. Perhaps even werewolves.” The last was said with a touch of excitement and a touch of fear. The look in Marion’s eyes made Sarah actual consider the possibility for a moment.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Marion,” Warren said. “We are a little frustrated because that is all we know for sure. We are working on a few other things to help you match a weapon or perhaps we could confirm an animal by its claws.”

“I do think the claw marks might be feline. They seem to fall into that pattern,” Marion said.

“Have you found anything else that might help the case? You certainly came over at an odd hour just to check on our progress,” Warren said.

“I was hoping the key was still on the body, somehow,” Sarah said. She had been working on the idea during most of the walk over after she had sent Holly home.

“I can assure you that there is nothing left in or on the body. We checked,” Marion said. “We sewed him back up.” She offered when Sarah made a face.

“I was thinking it might be more metaphorical,” Sarah said.

Redcross Pt. 6

May 14, 2016

Redcross

It was about dinnertime when Sarah got back to her office. She had to search around for more signs of those ugly rag men who had blown the mine. She wished she had tied the unconscious one up when she had the chance. Her nerves had been a little frayed after the explosion and the gunfight. She had allowed her curiosity and Roy Simmons to distract her. It made her mad as Hell. She was mad at the murderer, mad at the men at the mines and mad at Roy Simmons too. Most of all, she was mad at herself for not handling things right.

Of course, she had never dealt with an actual murder mystery before. She had also never seen anybody like those things at the mine before. She had also never seen anything like the carvings at the mine or that type of stone either. It had certainly been a red letter day and Sarah was frustrated and dog-tired as she hung up her hat. She unbuckled her gun belt and hung it up as well. She took out her pistol and carried it over to her desk. It was time to do a little maintenance and cleaning to make sure she was ready for another firefight. To say that another firefight was an unwelcome phrase was a bit of an understatement.

“Sheriff Redcross? Are you here?” A tiny voice asked as the door opened with a jingle of the bell. It was only the fact that her gun was half taken apart that saved Holly Dawson from getting shot. Sarah thought she had locked that door but she realized she was tired and distracted enough to have forgotten.

“Oh! There you are. Sorry for intruding,” Holly said. She glanced at the lamps around the room. Most of them were off. There was a little desert finch on Holly’s shoulder and it looked almost as curious as young Holly.

“Oh sorry, Holly. I haven’t turned the lights on yet. I just got in,” Sarah said. She checked her pocket watch. “Oh, I guess it was already twenty minutes ago. It’s been a long day, Holly.”

“I can imagine, Sheriff. You do so much for Essex,” Holly said. Her voice was soft and if you did not know her, you might think she was shy.

“Can I help you, Holly?” Sarah asked.

“Oh! I was just wondering if you were hungry.” Holly said with a sweet smile. The bird hopped back and forth on her shoulder, strangely silent this whole time. Sarah’s stomach grumbled and she hoped it was not loud enough to hear. Holly was carrying a dish.

“I wouldn’t turn down food kindly given, Holly. You didn’t have to bring that over, though. You know that, right?” Sarah asked with a smile. She pushed her gun forward on her desk so that Holly could set the dish down.

“Oh yes, ma’am but I remember that you used to bring your father dinner from our house,” Holly said as she set the dish down. Holly Dawson’s family had indeed helped feed Sarah and her father not too long ago. They were friends with everybody in town and Holly’s dad ran the general store. Holly herself was a quiet girl with an affinity for birds and she had always been eager to please.

“Angling for a deputy job, Holly?” Sarah asked with a sly smirk on her face. She was teasing, there was little chance of that. This was confirmed by the blush and flustered look on Holly’s face.

“No, of course not, Sheriff. I really just want to cook someplace someday,” Holly said. She was still blushing furiously and the finch was starting to get excited. Sarah decided to give her a break.

“But seriously, Holly, I’d like to thank you and your family for the help you’ve given my family. You’re always welcome here as long as long as I don’t have somebody in lock up.” Sarah said.

“I suppose that’s a deal, Sheriff,” Holly said with a satisfied little smile.

“I won’t even hold you to it. I won’t expect you.” Sarah said. She needed to make that clear.

“Understood, Sheriff. I’ll be here when I can. I need the cooking practice,” Holly said.

“What’s for dinner tonight then?” Sarah asked.

“Rabbit stew,” Holly said.

Sarah dug in and was quiet for a long time while Holly watched her eat. Sarah truly felt at peace after a few moments. She really loved the food but she also made a conscious effort to make little happy noises. Holly was standing right there and it seemed only right. Halfway through she pulled out a bottle of sasparilla. She was done way quicker than she thought she would be.

“That was delicious, Holly. Boy, you are an amazing cook. Best in town but don’t tell your mother. How do you do it?” Sarah asked.

“The proper seasoning is really the key to a good meal. At least, that’s what I think.” Holly explained.

“Wait, did you say ‘key’?” Sarah asked.

“I think so. Did I? Why do you ask, Sheriff?” Holly asked. The little finch on her shoulder cocked its head.

“Nevermind, Holly. One day I’ll tell you the whole thing but for now, I have to play it close to my vest.”

“I understand, Sheriff. I’ll try to keep my curiosity in check.”

“At least you’ve given me the whisper of an idea. If it works out, maybe you’ll earn that tin star yet.” Sarah said and winked at the girl.

Redcross Pt. 5

April 21, 2016

Redcross

The smoke cleared as Sarah walked toward the head of the mine. She had only been out here the one time before, shortly after her father had died and she had gotten the job of sheriff. She had ridden out to the mine but it was severely boarded up and those boards had been very secure. She had been satisfied that there would be no sneaking into the mine, not even by curious little children. She had no idea why anybody would try to blow the thing open. Everyone had told her that the thing had dried up a long time ago, longer than anybody could remember. At that point, the town had all but withered but somehow the smaller population thrived without it.

The mine was still smoking as Sarah approached but the smoke was not stinging her eyes anymore and she could breathe easy again. There were wood shards all over the ground and Sarah kicked them aside. If there were nails, she sure as hell did not want them going through her boots. She looked up as the smoke cleared and she saw that the boards had all been broken away like ribs broken away when gutting a deer. Sarah thought there should have been an opening in the rock. There was no such opening. The rock face was dark and glossy. She looked back and Simmons was standing there, his rifle still in hand. He gave her a sheepish smile.

“I’m sorry, Sheriff Redcross. I got curious and had to see what the fuss was all about.” Simmons said, taking some round-framed glasses from his pocket and putting them on.

“Careful of the debris, Preacher,” Sarah said. He had already left his post, he might as well see what there was to see.

“Have you ever seen anything like this, Mr. Simmons?” Sarah asked. She brushed some soot and dust from the surface of the wall. It fell away in a little cloud.

“No, I definitely have not. Am I mistaken or is there some sort of writing here?” He asked.

“What?” Sarah asked. She looked closer at the black, glossy surface and there was definitely something carved there. Actually, the whole thing was carved with something that was not writing or at least was not writing that Sarah recognized. She found herself shaking her head in confusion but realized that might be confusing. “There is something carved there but it’s not English. I don’t know what it is, Preacher.”

“It’s a mystery, Sheriff. I wish I knew which language it is. I could try and find out for you  if you want.” Simmons said. He got even closer to squint at the carvings.

“What do you mean? How would you do it, Pastor Simmons?” Sarah asked. She was intrigued. She had never really seen Simmons do anything besides drink and attend to his ministerial duties. She had no idea what his qualifications for translating mysterious writings.

“I have a couple trunks full of books. I can order more. I have plenty of time between services.” Simmons said with a smile. “I love a good mystery too.”

“You’re just full of surprises today, Preacher. First, you prove yourself a crack shot and now a scholar. Are you sure you’re just a simple pastor from Lochiel?”

“Last I checked. Though I have been many places before there and though I am still young, I have lived quite a life.” He replied.

“Roy Simmons, I’ll have to keep my eye on you,” Sarah said with a smile. Though she wondered if she wasn’t missing something about him. “I would appreciate your help with this. They wanted this for some reason and we have to find out why.”

“Well, I guess I’m at your service, Sheriff,” Simmons said. He had shouldered his rifle and was scribbling a few notes in a small pad of paper.

“Listen, Roy, can I count on you keeping this a secret?” Sarah asked.

“Why, Sheriff Redcross, I thought you swore to fight for truth and justice,” Simmons said with a mocking smile.

“Don’t sermonize me, Preacher. Sometimes truth takes a backseat to justice when I have to worry about keeping my town safe,” Sarah said. She walked past Roy and headed toward the gap in the rocks. Simmons followed behind her, putting his little notebook away.

As they turned the corner, the first thing they noticed was that the body was gone. Sarah cursed and spit on the ground with feeling. She had not heard a single sound from the area around the area of the body. She looked over at Simmons who looked embarrassed.

“I’m sorry, Sheriff. My curiosity lost us a large piece of evidence,” He said.

“Don’t worry, Preacher. I’ll solve this one way or another. Let’s just get back to town before something else tries to kill us.” Sarah said. She headed for her horse with a really bad feeling in her stomach.

Redcross Part 2

April 21, 2015

Redcross

Sarah arrived outside of the undertaker’s place a few minutes after the bell rang 11 o’clock. The sound felt too long and too ominous as if it meant more today and maybe it did. She paused at the door, the sign reading Warren Chilton firmly attached to it. He was the local keeper of the dead as her father had often joked when he had brought Sarah along for a visit. Warren was a tall and imposing man that only Sarah’s father had befriended. He had often found his way to the Redcross household sending little Sarah to run and clutch her father’s leg. His apologetic smile had always been less than disarming.

Sarah’s hesitation did not come from any past views of Warren Chilton. The ghosts of youth had all been chased away by the stronger ghosts of adulthood. Warren no longer scared Sarah. Well, maybe just a little if she was being honest. What really made her pause was the thought of the bodies in there. Mr. Nobody’s body was hard enough to look at out in the sunshine. In there it was dim and silent and much closer all of which seemed much worse.

She took a deep breath and pushed open the door. It swung open easily and she stepped inside, her boot steps sounded hollow as she stepped over the threshold. The cool air betrayed the presence of an ice block hidden away somewhere behind all of the finery and rituals.

“Is that you, Sheriff?” Warren called from a room in the back. That meant either the room with the bodies or the parlor for the guests who never came. That parlor was where Sarah would be deposited if Warren and her father had ever had to talk business which meant dead bodies. The parlor was thankfully free of dead bodies when there wasn’t a viewing or else Sarah would have asked to wait for her father outside.

“Yes, Mr. Chilton. You know, you’re just about the only person who calls me that.” The thought did make her smile. Even if he was somewhat unsettling, Warren was familiar and reminded Sarah of the good times with her father. That could never be a bad thing.

“And you’re usually the only person who calls me Warren outside of my wife.” He said. It was a gentle reminder. Of course, his first wife was ten years dead but Warren had once told John Redcross that he spoke to his wife every day still. Sarah tried to keep an open mind about it.  She knew that Warren’s second wife was very open-minded about it.

“Sorry, Warren.”

“No, it’s alright, Sarah. I wish more people treated me like a man rather than death itself. You’re not afraid of me anymore.” It was almost a question but came out sound like a statement instead. He lit a cigarette off of the candle near the door and a couple drops of hot wax hit his hand. If he felt anything, he didn’t show it.

“I grew up, Warren,” Sarah said with a shrug. She carefully hung up her coat and smoothed her dress.

“No, it’s something else, Sarah. It’s the same thing that makes you a good Sheriff. It’s the
same thing that made your father a good Sheriff.”

“And what’s that?” Sarah asked, looking up at the tall man’s beaming face. She was reminded of scarecrows and skeletons looking at him.

“Courage.” He said with a brighter smile. “Courage.”

Sarah sighed deeply. She didn’t feel very brave. She could feel the goosebumps on her arms and she felt on edge. “I didn’t want to come here.” She confessed.

“Nobody ever does,” Warren replied with a grave nod. “Shall we get on to business? Sunnier pastures beyond the rain clouds or so they say.” Sarah wasn’t sure who said that but it sounded pretty good as long as the rain didn’t last too long. She followed Warren but was relieved when he walked only a few steps to a simple desk where several items were laid out carefully. On one end of the desk, there were bloody clothes neatly folded. “These are the clothes and personal effects of the deceased,” Warren said as he turned up the nearby lamp so there was a little more light.

Sarah passed over the bloody tatters of the dead man’s clothes, she had seen them out at the spot where the man had been found. She looked with more interest at the personal items. She turned to look at Warren. “Is it ok to touch?”

“That’s fine. I don’t think he’ll mind.” Warren said with the slightest smirk.

She picked up a silver pocket watch which was inscribed with all sorts of strange symbols. She didn’t understand any of them.

“Do you understand any of these symbols, Warren? You’re a university man, aren’t you?”

“Not a single one. Do you?” He replied.

“Nope.” She sighed and set the watch down. The next item was a pearl-handled revolver which looked pretty fancy. She flipped it open and there were no bullets inside of it. “I wonder if he got to use this against whatever killed him. I kind of hope he hit it.” She said as she looked up at Warren who shrugged. It was no help speculating about gunplay without any more evidence. He might have just had the gun for show or had used the gun before he got to town and had yet to get more bullets. Too many possibilities.

There was a package of smokes, matches and money and a fancy silver belt buckle as well but besides being kind of flashy, they were ordinary. The only other thing was a piece of paper. It looked like it had been torn from a bigger piece and it had a cigarette burn in it but it looked more or less intact. Sarah picked it up and read it aloud.

“Come to me. Bring the key.” She looked up at Warren. “Instructions, it seems like. The key?”

“It wasn’t on him anywhere nor was it in him. I checked.” There was a pause as Sarah swallowed hard and tried to will her stomach not to do so many flips. “It seems to me to be a word that should be underlined. Something important, no?”

“Yeah, I get a chill just reading the words. It’s not signed so he must have known who it was from. I get the feeling the key’s a big secret. But I have no clue what it means, especially without the key itself.”

“Now are you ready for the rest?” Warren said, gesturing toward the back room.

“The rest? Warren, this is just a simple animal attack, right? There’s no need for the rest is there?”

“Well…” Warren began and cocked his head gently to the side, a gesture that seemed to mean that there was more to this story.

“No, don’t tell me that even you are influenced by the rumors that drunken idiot started.” She laughed but inside she hoped, she clung to the belief that this was just a case of lucky mountain lions finding an unlucky traveler. Why did something in her gut keep telling her differently? She could feel Warren looking at her and she could see him thinking. Something was wrong.

“I found some evidence that seems to indicate something else,” Warren said with a tone that was half proud statement and half apology.

“Something else? You’d better show me then.” Something tightened in Sarah’s stomach at the thought of seeing the stranger’s body again but that feeling warred with her sense of duty and curiosity.

“Alright. Follow me into the back, Sheriff.” Warren said as he led the way into the back room. The room with the bodies. Sarah dared to follow.


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