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A Love for Chocolate: Fiction by Kevin Hopson
Ban the Box: Fiction by David Hagerty
Different Paths: Fiction by K. A. Williams
Night Sight: Fiction by C. A. Rowland
Encounter on the Lane: Fiction by Anthony Lukas
Moving South: Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Just a Small-Town Boy: Fiction by Roy Dorman
The Loneliness of a Reseller: Fiction by Brandon Doughty
Food Chain: Fiction by Phil Temples
Final Notice: Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
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My Special Garden: Flash Fiction by Gay Degani
Revenge of the Inanimate: Flash Fiction by M. L. Fortier
The Abductee: Poem by Sophia Wiseman-Rose
De-Icing Fate: Poem by Tom Fillion
Description of Death: Poem by Meg Baird
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Found Floating Above: Poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
Beer-Craving Zombie: Poem by Bradford Middleton
They All Hate My Hero: Poem by Bradford Middleton
In Search of Ghosts: Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
Seven Hanging Trees: Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
Persistent Daylight: Poem by Michael Keshigian
Rebirth: Poem by Michael Keshigian
Bundy: Poem by Peter Mladinic
Calais: Poem by Peter Mladinic
The Room: Poem by Peter Mladinic
People with Dysentery: Poem by Partha Sarkar
There Has Been No Cooperative System: Poem by Partha Sarkar
Goes Back Toward the Talisman-the Future: Poem by Partha Sarkar
The Broken Seashore and the Fishermen: Poem by Partha Sarkar
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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Kenneth James Crist: Moving South

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Art by Sophia Wiseman-Rose 2023

Moving South

 

Kenneth James Crist

 

Morning dawned cold and sharp, the last winds of winter not that far away. John Cook carried a tin cup of steaming coffee as he moved across the main street of McCook, Nebraska from the miserable little hotel where he’d spent the night, to the equally crude livery stable.

He had earned a grudging respect from the liveryman the evening before and on this morning, he retrieved his good old mare, Persephone, and for twenty-six dollars, he purchased a small gelding for his companion, Madeline, to ride. The deal done and the horses readied, he tied them at the hotel and went to collect his gear and his woman.

John Cook was a man who made up his own name and his own rules. He had no memory of a childhood, and he might have in fact been created as an adult. A traveler not only through the American west, but through time and sometimes parallel dimensions, his life’s experience was like none other. He carried a matched pair of Colt Dragoons; older, clumsier weapons than what were currently available, but he liked the smoke and noise of black powder weapons, and they suited his persona. In a saddle scabbard he carried a Henry lever-action rifle, “for when things got serious.”

Inside the meager hotel was a dining room and Madeline was there, waiting on him. In short order, their breakfast was served, and the food was unusually good, considering the roughness of the surroundings. The eggs were fresh, the biscuits hot and light, the gravy thick and hot and peppery. Cook was in a good mood by the time they made ready to leave.

As they mounted their horses, she asked Cook, “Where are we heading today, John?”

“South,” was all he said.

Actually, southwest was their direction into eastern Colorado, which had been admitted to the Union in 1867. They were staying away from the high altitudes of the Rockies, where spring had not made much of an inroad yet. The mountain passes would still be impassable and might remain that way until June or July. They would be riding across land that had once been the territory of the Cheyenne, until the Indian wars were finally over. They would also cross the Apache Indian reservation, but most of them had been “pacified” with the final surrender of Geronimo a few years before. They would be in more danger from white settlers and trail riders.

Madeline was a woman who had been ill-used by society. She had been a prostitute in Dodge City, Kansas, when John Cook had come to spend the night. He had awakened passions within her that she had forced dormant for several years. She had allowed men to use her, but there was no pleasure in that, only a source of income in a frontier setting where one did what was necessary to survive. On the same night, John had blinded her and later restored her vision. She didn’t quite understand how he was able to do these things, but she did know one thing. She was falling in love with John Cook.

They ambled southwest, taking their time, and encountering no one. Late of the fifth day on the trail, they came to an area that John Cook knew well, because due to his work and future technology, he’d been there.

He stopped Persephone and his sad, grey eyes took in the terrain.

“Why are we stopped here, John?” Madeline was curious because they seemed to be in the middle of nowhere.

“This is where the Sand Creek Massacre happened.”

“I heard something about that a few years back. . . ”

“The U. S. Army cavalry, under the command of a Colonel named Chivington claimed a great victory in the Indian wars. They claimed to have killed 500 to 600 warriors, but in truth, they had really murdered about 150 Cheyenne and Arapahoe people, over half women and children.”

“Oh, God, no,” Maddie breathed.

“Yeah, a few months ago, I went there to see it firsthand. You know how I can travel. I know you’ve seen the blue beam. . . .”

“Yes. . . .”

“I went to 1864 and watched the whole thing. This whole area was a bloodbath. I saw the unarmed cut down by gunfire, their bodies mutilated. I saw their children shot without mercy, and even the dogs were killed. Nothing was left alive. I tried to get my handlers to let me make it right, but they refused. Something about messing up the timeline.”

“God, that’s horrible.”

“Yes, it was. We need firewood.”

He thought about these things as he and Madeline gathered firewood and made ready their camp for the night. They had hobbled their horses and unsaddled them. They would use the horse blankets as additional covers for their sleep. They made a fire and as it got going, they began readying their food and utensils. John noticed Maddie wiping tears from her face. He was pretty sure it wasn’t from the smoke.

Having the luxury of two horses meant they could carry more food and utensils. Together they cut some bacon and made biscuits in a small cast iron skillet. As they were halfway through their meal, John’s horse nickered nervously and he reached quietly for his rifle.

“What is it?” Madeline asked, looking about apprehensively.

“Keep calm. We’re about to have visitors. . . .”

Into the firelight came two visitors, an Indian man and a boy. The man carried an old rifle and was careful to keep the muzzle pointed at the ground.

“Ah-ho, white man . . . may we come to your fire?”

“Come ahead, friend. Have you eaten?” John Cook laid his rifle aside, but his brace of Colts were near at hand.

“Not in several days. The hunting has been poor, I’m afraid.”

“Then come and sit and let us cook for you.”

“You know this is sacred ground, do you not?” The warrior seemed friendly, but there was still an edge to his voice.

“Because my people committed horrible acts against your people, yes, I know.”

“We cannot change the past, John Cook, only the future.”

“You know my name? Why is it you know me?”

“You are the one who travels with the blue light . . . you are well known to most of us. You too have killed many of our people, but only to defend yourself. That is honorable. What happened here was not.”

Madeline had sliced more bacon into a pan, and it was sizzling. There would be just enough biscuits to go around. She found two more coffee cups and poured coffee for the warrior and his boy.

“You have a good woman, here, John Cook. Would you sell her to me?”

Cook smiled and said, “It is good that you appreciate the fine things in life, friend, but she is her own woman and will not be sold.”

“Too bad,” the warrior said, “she would fetch many horses. . . .” His white grin flashed in the firelight. He turned and said something in his own tongue to the boy, who jumped up and scurried away into the night. Cook covered the butt of a Colt until he heard the boy coming back, leading their horses.

“We can stay here by your fire tonight, then?”

“Yes, you can stay, but don’t try to steal my woman.” It was John Cook’s turn to flash a grin.

“If I wanted your woman badly enough to steal her, you would already be dead, John Cook.”

 

In the morning, Cook and Madeline awoke to find a small, cheerful fire crackling and their guests of the night before gone. They carefully checked all their gear and found nothing missing. Before they folded their blankets, they returned to them and made love. Madeline had learned to allow her feelings for John to come forth during their lovemaking, a thing she could never permit when she had spent her time whoring. She marveled every day at the lovely turn her life had taken since she had met him. He had caused her to be blind, but then allowed her to see a better life.

They moved on steadily southwest, stopping in the pueblo at Taos, New Mexico and eventually arriving in Tombstone, Arizona. The town was settling down since its wilder days and the “Gunfight at O. K. Corral,” which had taken place almost eight years earlier and had taken all of thirty seconds from start to finish. The gunfight between the Cowboys and the Earp clan, along with Doc Holliday, and subsequent pursuit by Wyatt Earp had put an end to the Cowboys’ reign as the top outlaws of the territory.

Wyatt had fallen in love with an actress and was rumored to be living in San Francisco, racing horses and operating saloons.

John and Madeline took a suite of rooms at the Excelsior, the largest and finest hotel in Tombstone and after both had bathed, together, as it turned out, they went down to supper in the hotel’s excellent dining room. The town of Tombstone had suffered several devastating fires in 1881, ’82 and ’83, and many of the businesses never recovered; others taking their place as time and fortunes moved on.

After supper, Madeline retired to their rooms and John took a stroll along the main streets looking for action at several gambling halls.

Upon his return, he found their rooms empty and he went back out to look for Maddie.

Twenty minutes later, he found her, near the back door of the hotel. No one was around and she was lying on her side in the alley. It was apparent she had been shot. She had bled out alone in the alley.

John Cook sprinted into the hotel and up to their rooms, where he retrieved a small device from his saddle bags. He ran back out to the alley and pressed a button on the device.

An instant later, a blue shaft of light beamed down from a clear sky and into the alley. Cook stepped into the beam and vanished.

 

After a consultation with his handlers, Cook arrived back in the alley, but he was forty minutes ahead of when he left. He stepped back into the shadows and waited. It took almost ten minutes and then Madeline stepped out the back door of the hotel. She took a cigarette from inside the bodice of her dress and scratched a match against a wooden post and lit up.

Smoking was a habit she’d picked up when she was working in the brothel in Dodge City. She knew John didn’t like her to smoke, but she hadn’t been able to completely quit tobacco.

As she smoked, two men entered the alley from the next street to the south. Both appeared to be pretty drunk, and as they approached Maddie, they stopped a few feet away and one of the men, a small guy with a huge handlebar mustache, called out to her.

“You stayin’ busy there, Maddie?”

She chose not to answer the question, and she tossed the butt of her cigarette away and turned to go back inside.

“Hey, ya fuckin’ cunt! I’m talkin’ to you!” The man’s friend had hold of his arm, trying to get him to move on, but the man would have none of that.

“Yeah, well, I’m not talkin’ to you,” Maddie called back over her shoulder, “I don’t know you, Sir.”

The man stepped up behind her and grabbed her arm, spinning her around and causing her to momentarily lose her balance. The three-inch heels on her button shoes didn’t help. “The fuck you don’t know me,” the man roared, “I fucked your brains out in Dodge and I’ll do it again, stupid bitch! How much for a good poke, woman?”

“I don’t do that anymore,” Madeline said, “please leave me alone.” She pulled her arm away and suddenly, there was the gun. A small revolver was in the man’s fist and murder was on his drunken face.

“Drop it, friend.” The voice was quiet but menacing and came from the darkest part of the alley.

The man spun around and squinted into the dark, then brought the revolver around and pointed it into the dark. “Who the hell is that? Marshall?”

“No. It’s not the Marshall. Go on about your business, friend.” John Cook’s Colt Dragoon was steady as the man reeled drunkenly, taking several side steps just to stay on his feet.

The man cocked the small gun and yelled, “No sumbitch tells me what to do about no fuckin’ whore—”

He fired blindly into the dark, missing everything except a clapboard wall. In answer to his gunshot, there was a flash and a roar as John Cook’s Dragoon fired a single shot, splitting the man’s skull and killing him instantly.

The other man suddenly remembered urgent business elsewhere and took off running back to the side street.

When he was gone, Cook stepped out of the dark and gathered the sobbing Madeline into his arms. He walked her quickly into the building and they went upstairs. Soon there was a commotion in the back of the hotel as the town Marshall arrived.

“Stay away from the windows, Maddie,” John Cook said, “If we appear too interested, they may want to ask us about this . . . problem, and we don’t need that.”

“How . . . how did you come to be back there in the dark? Were you . . . spying on me?”

“No. I was just walking back from the casino and heard the commotion. I waited to see what would happen. Good thing I was there, I guess.”

“I could have handled him. I’ve handled worse.” Madeline stepped away from John, clearly agitated and having no idea that on another timeline, she was already dead. John decided she would most likely not believe him if he told her of her own death.

“It could have gone really wrong, though. I told you smoking was dangerous, Maddie.”

Her head whipped around, and she stared at him for a moment and saw the slight, sardonic smile. Next thing she knew, she was wrapped in his arms, and they were frolicking on the big feather bed. . . .





Kenneth James Crist is Editor of Black Petals Magazine and is on staff at Yellow Mama ezine. He has been a published writer since 1998, having had almost two hundred short stories and poems in venues ranging from Dark Dossier and The Edge-Tales of Suspense to Kudzu Monthly. He has several books in print, Jariah and the Big Green Booger, and What Really Lives in Loch Ness, both children’s books, and Groaning for Burial, a book of zombie stories, plus A Motorcycle Cop’s Motorcycle Manual,  and a book of poetry, Flat Felled Seams and other Bad Dreams, all available through Amazon.


He reads everything he can get his hands on, not just in horror or sci-fi, but in mystery, hardboiled, biographies, westerns and adventure tales. He retired from the Wichita, Kansas police department in 1992 and from the security department at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita in 2016. Now 78, he is an avid motorcyclist and handgun shooter. He is active in the American Legion Riders and the Patriot Guard, helping to honor and look after our military. He is the owner of Fossil Publications, a desktop publishing venture that seems incapable of making any money at all. He is gradually working his way through his “bucket list” by doing things like skydiving and riding in open-cockpit biplanes.



Sophia Wiseman-Rose is a Paramedic and an Episcopalian nun. Both careers have provided a great deal of exposure to the extremes in life and have provided great inspiration for her.  

 She is currently spending time with her four lovely grown children and making plans to move back to her home in the UK in the Autumn.  

 In addition, Sophia had a few poems in the last edition of Black Petals Horror/Science Fiction Magazine


https://www.artstation.com/sophiaw-r6

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2023