April 2011 Volley Challenges:
Kid picked up the picture of him and Lou that sat on the mantel above the fireplace of their home. He stared at it and then through it to places he wished he could quit going.
What he'd seen. It kept him up nights and haunted his thoughts by day. It wouldn't take much for his mind to see in vivid detail all those things he wanted so much to forget. A sound, a smell, a touch, a certain taste, even something as simple as a newly washed white sheet drying on a line, gently swaying as it caught the breeze would bring pictures to the back of his eyes that he would give a thousand horses to never see again. Pictures as vivid and real as the one he held in his hand.
Once, after a long battle, he'd seen a man lug a huge camera across the battlefield littered with dead and dying men. He watched as the man carefully set up the huge box on legs, adjusting it time and again until he seemed satisfied. Then the man placed some powder in a long trough, pulled the cap off the lens, stood back to double check his angle, and then 'poof'. A bright flash of light and smoke drifting away from the man told Kid the deed had been done. He just shook his head in wonder.
After the man had picked his way back through the bodies and was placing his equipment back into his wagon, Kid approached the man. "Why?" Kid asked.
Puzzled the man turned to Kid. "Why what?"
"Why are you taking a picture of…this?" Kid said, as he swept his arm in arc indicating the field of battle.
The man grinned. "Well, Sir, so we won't forget."
As the man continued to pack up his wagon, Kid looked sadly at him. Kid didn't need any piece of tin burned with images. His mind was better than any camera.
Kid placed the picture back on the mantle then scrunched his eyes tight and rubbed his temples. At least tin could be thrown away, never to be seen again. The pictures in his mind would never go away, would never be forgotten until the day he died.
Author's Note: Thanks to my beta Karen
Author's Note: This story is the prequel of "Steam" and "Tears", the stories I wrote for the March Volley Challenge.
The pain spread through his back, so raw he could hardly breath. It was as if his own skin was on fire, his own flesh burning.
Kid's eyes shot open, he found himself lying facedown in the mud, the last thing he could remember was the shrieking sound of a cannonball ripping the air, directed toward the carriage he was driving. It carried the precious ammunitions they needed, for this reason it was one of the main target of the Yanks' artillery.
He could see a thick smoke and, through it, the bodies and the lifeless faces of his fellow soldiers. He opened his mouth to call them, he needed to know if there was still someone alive, but the acrid smoke suffocated him and Kid felt as if all the air had been squeezed out from his lungs.
He swam in and out of consciousness for what seemed an infinite time, that searing pain was the only thing he could focus on, so unbearable that at a certain point he wished for death to come quickly.
He couldn't move anyway, he didn't know if it was because he was injured or because something -someone- was blocking him and nobody was going to rescue him in that wasteland in the middle of nowhere, so there was no hope for him.
Tears stung his eyes, he was going to fail the promise he made to Lou; his beloved Lou, who he had foolishly abandoned just months after their wedding to fight this God forsaken war. He couldn't let her down, he couldn't cause her more pain.
Through the haze of his delirium he could see her, as sweet and beautiful as he remembered. She wore her blue dress, and her hair was pulled in a bun, some strands were still too short and had escaped from the knot, framing her face. She looked like in the photo he always carried with him since he left home. He tried to move his arm, and reach for his breastpocket, he needed to touch her face, even if only through a picture.
God, he remembered the day Lou gave it to him as if it was yesterday. A travelling photographer had arrived in town with his covered carriage. They had pooled their money so to have him take a picture of all of them but, ubeknown to everyone, Lou had sneaked out of the station the following day, going to that man dressed as a girl and asking him to take a photo of her.
Kid's heart swelled remembering the shy, almost embarassed way, she handed him the gift; showing it in his hands without ceremony, blushing all the way to the root of her hair. "Ride Safe" was written on the back and, from that moment, Kid had always carried the photo with him whenever he was away.
He stopped the movement of his arm, it was too hurtful trying to move around, but for him it was enough to know the photo was there, safe in his shirt, as Lou was safe in his heart.
No, he wouldn't die. He would hold on, he would crawl back to his camp if it was necessary, but he would come back to his wife.
Author's Note: I want to thank my beta Karen, thank you for your help!
The wagon was strange with its small front wheels and its large back wheels. Its box-like shape with windows, the bench for the driver that also acted as a storage place, and the poles that attached to the horses appeared longer than normal. When the men began unloading it, the strangeness only increased. These weren't the ordinary trade items.
The people stood quietly watching. Once everything was unpacked, the younger man unharnessed the horses and led them to the nearby water. The need for the long poles became evident as they were placed on the ground to prevent the wagon from tipping forward.
The older man worked with the items he had removed from the wagon -- a strange 3-legged stand, a box with something protruding from the front of it, a small hand-held trough of some sort, a bag of black powder, a smaller box, and a piece of cloth. Once all these items were assembled correctly, the older man instructed his assistant to climb back on the wagon and sit. He then fussed with the contraption he had created before crawling under the cloth. There was a flash and a loud bang from the powder filled trough that caused those gathered around to jump and fall back.
The man smiled at them and spoke soothingly - reassuring them everything was fine. He then disappeared into the back of the wagon with the smaller box. When he came back out, he held a piece of paper in his hand. He showed it to the elders, who looked from it back to where his assistant still sat waiting.
They pulled back, afraid of this man's magic and unsure how to deal with him. They did not wish him to capture their soul the way he had his companion. After a brief discussion, it was decided to let him have whatever it was he wanted so he would soon be gone from their midst. They just hadn't counted on him wanting to bed the wife of their war chief.
Louise McCloud stood quietly studying her reflection in the window of the general store. She pretended to be reading the poster that hung there, but in reality she was trying to decide if she was brave enough to continue on this new path her life had taken. She'd just about decided it would never work when the man who'd hung up the poster approached her. "I think you should give it a try," he said.
Louise looked up at him. "You don't think I'm too small?" she asked.
"Small's good," said the man. "That's why the company is hiring boys, not men." He sized Louise up. "You can ride, can't you?"
Louise nodded. "Been riding almost as long as I've been walking," she said.
"You got any family in town?" the man inquired.
Louise shook her head.
"Then come inside and let's get you signed up," the man suggested.
Louise nodded and followed the man inside. In a matter of minutes her life took yet another turn as she signed on with the Pony Express as Lou McCloud.
Shortly after signing the oath, Louise was beginning to wonder if she'd made a mistake. She felt her stomach *twist* into knots as the man handed her a Bible and her first week's pay. The feeling left as quickly as it came when the man once more shook her hand. "Welcome to the company, Son. You need to be at the Sweetwater station by the end of the week. Ask for Emma Shannon."
"I can't believe you didn't tell me," Sam said.
"Wasn't my place to tell," replied Emma, with a smile. "Don't go blaming me because you didn't notice on your own."
"I suppose you did," Sam snapped.
"First time I saw her," laughed Emma. "Frankly, I was surprised how long it took for someone to find out. I'm willing to bet most everyone would still be in the dark if it weren't for her father showing up and causing problems by taking her brother and sister."
Sam nodded. "Please tell me Kid knew before then."
Emma returned the nod. "He's known since her first ride. He's the one who found her when she was shot. He was almost as upset as you are, but Louise managed to get him to see things her way and he promised to keep her secret." Emma laughed as she watched Sam work through this new piece of information.
"What's so funny?" asked Sam, as he continued to try and figure out how come he'd never noticed before today when he'd accidentally walked in on some of the other riders discussing their discovery.
"All you men being upset with Lou for fooling you; that makes about as much sense as getting mad at a door you run into in the dark because you were too lazy to strike a match."
As he watched them circle their prey, Ike knew his days of pretending he didn't understand what was going on around him were over. He was the only one who could stop this from being deadly; it was still going to be bad, but at least no one was going to die because he stood by and did nothing.
Knowing this was going to hurt and possibly get him in trouble, Ike grabbed two rocks from the ground. The first one he threw at some of the younger kids over by the nuns; he made sure to get it close enough to make them jump, but he also made sure to not hurt any of them. When they glanced his way, he made his scary face and started towards them. As they ran to the nuns screaming, he turned and threw the second rock at the oldest boy in the mob surrounding the new Kiowa, Buck Cross.
As the rock made contact with the bully's head, Ike jumped into the middle of the circle and pulled Buck to his feet. They stood back to back doing their best to stay standing until help arrived. Ike knew it was coming; he'd made sure the nuns had seen him scare the younger kids. Sometimes you had to do a bad thing to make the right thing happen, but his father had assured him he couldn't go wrong if he was doin' what's right.