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?”
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
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
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
“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
“Oh, God, no,”
“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.”
“Yes, it was. We need
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
“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
“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
“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
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,
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
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
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.
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
“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
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
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.”
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,
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
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.