Monday, 16 July 2018

Collier's Creek: 10 - The Showdown by Jo Cameron-Symes

It was sundown outside The Golden Horseshoe. Everything was eerily silent. There was no sign of anyone. The town was empty, shut like a ghost town. Tumbleweed blew down Main Street. The wind rattled the shutters. I told Bonnie to stay back. I stepped into the street armed and ready. Where was everyone? There was no sign of a body, living or dead, anywhere. 

“Hello?” I called, “I know you’re there.”

A man stepped out from the shadows. The brim of his Stetson was pulled down low. He was covered in dust and had a thick stubbled jaw. He sneered, pulled a pistol out from his holster and aimed it at me.

“James?” I asked. “Is that you? I thought you were dead. Are you James Lennox?”

The man walked slowly towards me. All of my instincts told me to back away but I stayed fixed to the spot. 

“James. I’m Cal Samuels, your folks hired me to find you. They’re real worried about you. I can take you back to Philly. Why don’t you put the gun down and come with me? You can trust me, I’m your friend,” I said, trying to placate him.

His sneer turned into a huge growl, almost a roar, and he sprinted towards me, his eyes flashing with fire. I aimed my gun but the chamber was empty, “Click, click,” it went and I threw it down in frustration. He kept coming, I breathed in, closed my eyes and awaited my fate. Then there was a gunshot and he crumpled. I opened my eyes. Someone had shot him in the back. He was dead.

“James!” Bonnie screamed and ran towards him. His features had softened and you could now see the man in the photo, the man that he once was. “Who killed him? Why?” Bonnie cried. Concerned that there was a sniper in our midst I picked Bonnie up. Mrs Taylor came out from the back of The Golden Horseshoe.

“What’s happened? she asked, “I was in the cellar and heard gunfire. What in blazes name is goin’ on out here?!” 

I took Bonnie to her. “Please stay inside with Bonnie, it’s dangerous out here, I think there’s a sniper hiding somewhere.” I looked up across at Jensen’s Hotel. There were so many windows, so many shutters, the sniper could be anywhere. I knew he could see us in plain sight, waiting like fish in a barrel to be shot. “Please, just take her inside,” I insisted. Mrs Taylor nodded and took a distraught Bonnie indoors.

It was deathly quiet again. Then I sensed movement from further on down the street. Out of the shadows stepped a figure wearing cattle rancher clothes and Stetson, striding along with a rifle aimed at me. Great, Billy Clements has now decided to kill me, I thought. 

“Ok Billy, James is dead. We can both see that. I’ll head back home and this ends now, you hear?”

“I’m not Billy,” the figure said, smiling and raising their face up under the brim of their hat.

“Hannah?! Oh Lord! You killed James!”

“He was getting to be a real liability,” she said, nonchalantly. “How about I saved your life 
Cal, ever thought about lookin’ at it that way?” 

I was silent. Her calm manner had chilled my heart.

“Where’s Aunt Margaret?” I asked.

“Dead,” she said, calmly.

“Why? How?” 

“I shot her. She was getting on my nerves. Plus, what she did to Bonnie, well I couldn’t forgive that, not really.”

“You do realise what you’ve done? You’ve killed two people, Hannah!”

“Oh, I’ve killed plenty more than that.” She looked over at me and smiled. “Where do you think Hank is? That wolf was mighty hungry and needed feeding.”

“You disgust me.” I said

She tipped her head back and laughed. “You know nothing about how hard it is to survive out here, Cal. You should have gone back to the city when you had the chance. Besides, James was hardly a person in the end, was he?”

“He may have been un-human in the end, but you’re the real monster Hannah.”

“I’m no monster, Mister,” she said aggressively, pointing the rifle barrel up under my chin. “You hear!” she scowled and I nodded in fear. She checked her rifle to find it jammed so threw it on to the floor and took out her pistol from her holster. 

Billy walked up the street. “Hannah!,” he said, “James is dead!” Hannah rolled her eyes.
“I know, I killed him.”

“But why? Oh, damnation Hannah, the plan’s all gone South. We lost the guns and now this! Ok, there’s nothing for it,” Billy said and turned and started to walk off.

“Where do you think you’re goin?” Hannah asked serenely.

“I’m handing us into the Sheriff. A man’s dead, Hannah, the plan’s over, it’s finished.” With that he turned and walked towards the Sheriff’s Office. Hannah aimed the pistol with one clean sweep and pulled the trigger felling Billy down. I looked across at Hannah as she blew on the top of her gun and re-holstered it. She was as calm as ever and just shrugged at me. The second gunshot brought Bonnie and Mrs Taylor outside.

“Hannah! You killed Billy!” Bonnie said.

“And Aunt Margaret and James. Also, your brother Hank,” I said.

“That’s right,” she replied. “I’d do it again in a heartbeat.” “And now, Mr Samuels, for my final execution of the day,” she said turning the gun back onto me. 

Everything went black.


Three Weeks Later, Philadelphia.

It was a cool Autumn day. The maples were afire and a light rain misted the breeze. I breathed in deeply. It was so good to be home. 

I thought back to the final events in Collier’s Creek. I had fainted, the heat and shock of Hannah’s brutality getting the better of me. Bonnie, it turns out had saved my life by shooting dead her own sister. She was traumatised but faced no charges. The Sheriff turned up later on, he wasn’t even in his office that day but was with Carter Jensen over at his Mansion. The Sheriff said that were it not for Bonnie’s brave actions that day, no doubt there would have been many more dead. 

All I knew was that I needed to leave that place as soon as I could and did so, heading back here as quickly as possible. I was dreading seeing the Lennoxes, what could I tell them about their beloved son? I kept it brief and they think he’d become an alcoholic. That was better than telling them the truth, which they would no doubt not accept, incredulous as it sounds.

I looked at my pocket watch and hurried along, entering the gates of the cemetery just in time for the burial. I could hear the Preacher’s eulogy from afar, strident as he was, more used to projecting his voice in church. “James Lennox, aged twenty-three, taken from us by God in the unholy town of Collier’s Creek where his fate befell him.” Didn’t all our fates befall us there, I thought? I looked across and saw Mrs Taylor and with her, Bonnie, the girl who had saved my life. 

I thought back again to Collier’s Creek and James’s cruel fate. It seemed he was doomed the minute he stepped off that coach. Bonnie and many of us believed him to have died in the explosion but he must have escaped through a back tunnel just before it was obliterated. I tried to shake the thought from my mind, it was over now and I needed to look forward to the future.

After the burial I walked with Bonnie and Mrs Taylor. Mrs Taylor had wanted to go shopping so asked me if I could escort Bonnie back to their hotel. I decided to take us on a scenic route through Fairmount Park. The rain had subsided and it was a clear, beautiful day.

“You know I actually missed the rain when I was in Collier’s Creek?” I said.

“It’s so beautiful here!” Bonnie said looking in awe at all the rich autumn colours.

“I know,” I smiled.

“We don’t get real seasons out West, not like this anyway,” she said. “I’ll be sorry to go back tomorrow," she smiled, sadly.

“So, you like it here, then, in Philadelphia?”

“I do,” she said.

“Do you think you could live here, one day?”

“Yes,” she smiled. “But, I’m not ever likely to, am I?”

“I took your Mother out to lunch yesterday,” I said.

“Yes, I know, all very mysterious! She wouldn’t tell me why!” she laughed.

“I asked her what you would say,” I said, a little nervously.

“To what?”

We stopped walking and sat down underneath a bench sheltered by an arbour covered with Virginia creeper. I reached out for Bonnie’s hand and placed it in mine.

“To, marrying me?” I asked.

She frowned as if thinking. “Maybe,” she said, “On one condition.”

“Yes?” I asked.

“That we live here.”

“That’s fine by me,” I said, and we kissed.

A leaf fell and landed on Bonnie’s head.

“I’ll keep it forever,” she said.

It was a burnished fiery amber, like the sun going down on the rocks in the desert.


Monday, 9 July 2018

Collier's Creek: 9 - The Big Bad Wolf by Jo Cameron-Symes

“Wait!” Hannah shouted. “I know Billy can be a hot headed fool Aunt, but he does have good in him. Good that a wife could nurture, anyhow,” she said, pulling out a ring attached to a delicate chain around her neck. 
“Hannah!” Mrs Taylor shouted “Are you married?”

“No, not yet Mother, but we are engaged. Please Aunt Margaret, give him a chance? You did say you’d do anything for your family?” 

Aunt Margaret paused then nodded and sat down. 

“You’d best be careful girl,” she said to Hannah, “if you lie down with rattlesnakes, you’re gonna get bit.”

Hannah looked annoyed but didn’t reply. It went quiet and I could hear Bonnie wailing upstairs. She called for her mother who met her on the landing then came over to me. “Bonnie wants you to read this letter, she said it would explain everything.” I looked across at Hannah and Aunt Margaret and they seemed curious but Mrs Taylor took charge. “Read it upstairs in the parlour, you’ll be able to think up there. Bonnie’s calming down now.”

I did as she said, thankful to sit in the comfort of the parlour compared to the hard chairs down in the bar. At least I would get five minutes to myself now I thought. However, my peaceful interlude was not to last…

Dear Cal,

I’ve been meaning to tell you this ever since you first arrived but I was too scared to say anything. I did know James Lennox. I met him at a dance and had been getting to know him. I did at one time hope we would be married but that hope is dashed now and has been for some time. 

James was earnest and hardworking when he first arrived here. He was eager to make his money in the mine. I had high hopes for him. The problem was Billy and his gun running scheme. We thought Billy was the Master behind that scheme then, but turns out we were wrong. 

One day in the mine James was excavating a new area when he uncovered a hidden tunnel that had been temporarily boarded up and did not exist on any maps or plans of the mine. When he broke through the boards he found barrels and barrels full of guns and ammunition. He was livid. It didn’t take long for him to find out Billy was behind it, so they got into an almighty fight. Billy, being more experienced in brawling won and took James’s beaten body way out into the desert at night and left him for dead. 

Hannah found out what Billy had done and told me so I took the cart and rode into the desert to find him. On the horizon I could see vultures circling and thought it was too late. I reached him and could see he was alive, but barely. I managed with difficulty to get him onto the cart. I wanted to drive him into town to take him to see the Doctor, but he begged me not to. He was adamant that I take him to Hollister’s Cave, about a mile from where we were. Thinking the journey into town would be too much for him, I agreed. 

He stayed there for three weeks with me nursing him and bringing him food and drink. It was strange though as apart from the initial bruises  he also had huge bite wounds. They looked as if they were from some kind of beast. I asked him how he had got them and all he would say was, “there was a wolf, a huge wolf.” Now, we don’t get wolves out this far South or so I thought. As James was a city boy I thought he must have got confused and mistaken a coyote for a wolf. I was, however, worried that the wounds would get infected and as he was so adamant not to go back to Collier’s Creek I asked him if he would mind if I brought over a healer from the nearby Indian Reservation. He was adamant that he wanted no healer, so I followed his advice, even though I didn’t agree with it.

The town folk assumed that James had moved on to another town. Ma was fairly oblivious to his presence anyhow, she never did like those from out East, much though she seems rather fond of you Cal. I encouraged their belief that James had moved on and most of the townsfolk assumed that he had.

Just over three weeks later something strange happened. I arrived at the cave one day bringing food. James was in the corner, doubled over in pain. A layer of dark hair covered his arms that I’d never seen before. Concerned, I tried to move him to help but he struck me and I flew across the room. Now, James was fairly strong, though not a patch on Billy and most of the men out here who do manual work. I knew however, he was not that strong or hadn’t been before. He shouted but it came out as a growl and warned me to stay away from him and leave him alone, never to come back for my own good. Well, he didn’t have to tell me twice. I was gone.

It was only later on when reports of dead cattle and a huge wolf being spotted made me think, crazy as it sounds, could that wolf be James? Had he been bitten by a wolf out in the desert that night? I almost laughed when I first had the thought but this is a strange place where odd things occur. Who knows what the Devil may have created? Could it be possible? Maybe it could.

I now find out that James recovered enough to go and live with Aunt Margaret. She’s always been trouble that woman, I tried to tell Ma something was going on with her with all those young men out on her stud farm but Ma wouldn’t hear of it. Turns out I was right, but the thing about Aunt Margaret is, she thinks she knows it all, when really, she’s a fool. She had no idea that James was the wolf, but the thing is, has anyone ever really seen them both at the same time? It was awful dark in that mine, who could tell? Especially as James was the one supposed to be the one ‘looking after it.’ Now, he’s dead, tortured by his own guilt. He wanted to end his life once and for all and I can’t blame him.

This all made me think. Could the man I once loved become such a monster? All I know is that I’m glad that you’re here Cal. We need your help now, more than ever.


I folded up the letter and held on to it. Then I walked over to Bonnie’s room. She had stopped wailing and I understood her earlier outburst more now.

“Bonnie?” I said as I knocked on the door, “It’s Cal.”

“Come in,” she sniffled.

“I read your letter. I understand it all now.”

“I wrote most of it yesterday and just finished it now. I’m just glad you’re here,” she smiled, “It feels like the Lord has sent you on a mission, to help us get out of this infernal mess.”

I smiled, “I’m no angel, Bonnie.”

“I never said you were. But I think that you know that all this needs to stop and I believe that you’re just the man to do it.”

I reached out and placed my hand over hers and we looked at one another.

A gunshot outside broke us from our reverie and startled, we ran downstairs. On our way, Bonnie fetched a rifle from the landing.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Collier’s Creek: 8 – Family by Gemma Allen

“I think he got out” I blurted, before wondering if that was the right thing to say. “Think? You don’t know?” “Well, a group of men got out, I don’t know if he was one of them.” Bonnie cast her eyes down. “Where did they go?” “I’m so sorry, Bonnie, I didn’t see where they went.”
She looked crestfallen. I couldn’t help myself, reaching out to take her hand. She flinched and moved away. “I need to get back to Ma”, she muttered. “Want a lift back to town?” I nodded gratefully and clambered onto the wagon.
When we pulled up Bonnie rushed into the bar before I could even get down. I followed her in, where she was already in deep, urgent discussions with Ma. I stood there like a spare wheel, wondering how to help.
Hannah burst in. “Is he alive?” Bonnie glared at me. “He don’t know. Said there was a group of fellas got out, but ran off.” She seemed hysterical, and Hannah stood in front of her. “Calm down gal, we’ll find ‘im.” “No, he’s gone, he’s left me!” Hannah slapped her hard. “You gotta calm down!” Bonnie put her hands on her hips, and Ma pulled me back. Bonnie grabbed Hannah by her hair, and in retaliation Hannah scratched her nails down Bonnie’s arm, forcing her to let go. Bonnie then shoved Hannah with all her might, and she fell to the ground. She sprang back up and took up what looked like a boxing stance. “Hey!” Ma shouted. They stepped back from each other, breathing hard. I stepped forward, but Ma grabbed my arm to stop me. “Leave ‘em to sort it out”, Ma hissed. “You cow!” Bonnie spat on the floor by Hannah’s foot. “I know what you an’ Billy an’ Hank are up to, hunting that wolf! Billy got y’all caught up in it, cos you’ll do anything for him!” Hannah shook her hard, smiling. “You’re wrong! I’ve ma own mind! Me an’ Hank offered to help Billy, he was having trouble hurting that darn thing on his own! But someone else lured that creature into the mine to be killed, it weren’t us.” “That someone would be me.”

Silence descended as Aunt Margaret swept gracefully into the bar. Ma’s hand felt clammy on my arm. “Margaret? What you doin’ in town? You never leave the ranch!” Aunt Margaret glanced at her sister. “I had business”, she drawled, taking in the state of her two nieces. “Did you...kill the wolf? “ Ma asked incredulously. “Well, not me”, she smiled demurely. “I don’t like to get ma hands dirty. James offered to help. In exchange for me giving him lodgings. With extras...” Bonnie gasped. “What?” “Some men prefer experience, dear.” Aunt Margaret smirked. Hannah shook her head. “Jeez. Even though you knew him and Bonnie know?” “I have to get things down round the ranch. Me an’ James, it was a useful arrangement.” Bonnie ran sobbing up the stairs. Aunt Margaret settled down on a chair and adjusted her skirt. Hannah walked over and jabbed a finger in her face. “I don’t care if you are ma aunt, you hurt Bonnie and you will pay!” Aunt Margaret rolled her eyes. “She’ll get over it, she’s only known him for a few weeks.” I finally found my voice. “Hang, got him to rig the mine to kill the wolf?” Margaret nodded. “Not just that. I knew Billy had his gun runnin’ goin’ on in there. I wanted to teach him a lesson.” “Why?” “Cos he was leading Hannah an’ Hank astray, o’course. Into all that gun smuggling, but wanted to keep ‘imself safe. And that wolf...Can’t have no one hurting the family, can I?” She looked at me defiantly. “If James hadn’t killed the wolf, it would have got him, then all of us. This is my town, I ain’t having that. So an explosion at the mine seemed like the perfect solution. “ The pieces started to fall into place. Aunt Margaret was the real sheriff of this town after all, pulling the strings. “Did James get out?” Hannah asked Aunt Margaret shrugged. “I don’t know. They all ran off.” There was a shouting outside, and I heard Billy’s voice. “Who blew up the mine?” We all peered out of the windows, to see Billy pacing around, totting a gun and waving it at anyone with the misfortune to be nearby. “I suppose it’s that time.” Aunt Margaret sighed and checked her holster. “What you thinking?” Ma gasped. “Maybe it’s time to put Billy in his place, once and for all.” Aunt Margaret strode to the door, paused and looked back. “This is for the family.”

Monday, 25 June 2018

Collier's Creek: 7 - Dust and Desertion by Clair Wright

We ran, bent at the waist, through the dark tunnels, with the wolf’s howls behind us. The cool dawn air had barely reached my nostrils when another sound – a hot, rushing roar  - came thundering behind us. I threw myself out of the mouth of the mine and rolled behind a rock, arms wrapped over my head, as all hell burst open around me.  Fire and dust and rock rained down. I heard yells and curses amidst the crash of rock on rock, but I daren’t lift my head to see if the others had escaped. Dust filled my eyes and ears and mouth, and I choked and retched.

At last it subsided. I wiped my eyes on the filthy sleeve of my jacket and shook the dust from my hat. In the dim dawn light, I could make out the grey shapes of others, getting to their feet, looking around for their companions.

“Here!” someone thrust a canteen into my hand. I looked up to see the woman standing over me still carrying her pack. A man with the same dark skin stood beside her, rubbing welts on his wrists.

“Much obliged,” I said, taking a mouthful. I spat into the dust.

“We never got around to introducing ourselves,” I said, holding out my hand as I handed back the canteen. “My name’s…”

She held up her palm to stop me. “Ah know all I need to know about you, Mister- Out-o’-Towner,” she said, “and I reckon the less you know of us the better, if you’ll forgive me.”
Her man stepped forward. “That’s right. You’ll want to be moving along before Billy Clements turns up.”

“Happy to,” I said, and I meant it. I had had my fill of this place.  “But I need to find James Lennox first.”

“Long gone. He’s of my way of thinking.” He pointed behind me.

I turned around, and sure enough we were alone. The other men had melted into the dusty land.

“Can you at least tell me about the wolf? What was that thing?” Those blazing red eyes were etched on my brain and I felt strange, un-nerving echoes of that uncontrollable rage which had taken me over. I shivered.

The man glanced at his wife. She nodded. “All I’ll say is Hannah’ll do more that knock you over the head next time, now you’ve seen that beast. You’d best get back to the city, where you belong.” She looked around, as if expecting Hannah to show up any moment. “She don’t like folks telling tales, gets her all jumpy. Look what happened to Dale.  Auntie Margaret’s already got her looking for you, remember?”

I dimly recalled the hooves passing as I crouched in the gully, a stranger’s hand clamped to my mouth.

“Margaret? Does she know about Billy’s little operation?”

She shook her head. “I’m all done with talking to you, and you’ll be done with your asking, if you want to stay alive. We’ll be off now.”

And with that, they left me, striding out into the scrubby land and disappearing into the heat haze.

I sat in a patch of shade under a rock, and considered my options. I could try to walk back to town, but I wasn’t sure of the route and I felt weak and thirsty. I remembered those circling vultures when we had found Hank. I didn’t fancy being their next meal.  I could head for Aunty Margaret’s place. Her silk sheets were certainly very appealing, but I wasn’t sure of what reception I would get, if she had really sent Hannah out looking for me the night before.

I climbed onto the rock and looked out over the horizon. Something caught by eye. A cloud of dust, a good distance away but heading in my direction. I strained my eyes against the sun. As it drew closer I made out the shape of a wagon, the horse galloping hell for leather straight towards me. I jumped down and crouched behind the rock, waiting for it to get close enough to make out who was driving.

Covered in dust and sweat, her blond curls stuck to her forehead, Bonnie leapt down in a flurry of skirts and petticoats. “They’re sayin’ there was an explosion at the mine! Where’s James? Is he alright?”

Monday, 18 June 2018

Collier's Creek: 6 - Into Darkness by Nick Stead

The entrance to the mine gaped like the maw of some great beast, a gateway to Hell if ever I saw one. In the moonlight it was just visible as a patch of blackness somehow more complete than the twilight of our surroundings outside, as if the darkness of the tunnel had a different quality to it, one of a distinctly sinister nature. I wanted nothing more than to turn back from this madness I’d been dragged into, but I had a job to do and it seemed like all the answers I sought awaited in that passage of doom.

A flame burst into life beside me, the strange woman lighting a torch she’d been carrying in a pack filled with supplies. New shadows danced around the flickering light as she approached the mine, my sense of foreboding heightened as I fell into step beside her, the darkness made somehow more eerie for the orange glow in its midst. It only seemed to grow stronger at the edges of the light and I shuddered to think what might lurk just beyond sight.

There were no workers down there at that time of night but from what the woman had told me we could expect some company, and none of it good. I thought I could hear something from one of the tunnels up ahead but I couldn’t be sure, fear sending my imagination into overdrive as I strained my senses for any signs of danger. It was when we came to the point where the tunnel split into three that we heard the scream.

A brief glance at the woman confirmed there was nothing imagined about that sound, and we broke into a run, she no doubt fearing for her husband, while I was suffering from reckless heroism once again. There was no question as to which tunnel the scream had come from, and luckily this one didn’t appear to be branching off. We did seem to be running deep into the mine though, and we slowed only when we reached the dead end.

“What the hell?” I panted.

“They’re here, just gotta know where to look,” the woman said.

She handed me the torch and began to retrace our steps, running her hands over the stone as she went, clearly searching for something. I didn’t have to wait long before she found it. A look of triumph passed over her face as she dug her fingers into a crevice and heaved, a well disguised boulder rolling just enough to the side for us to squeeze through to a hidden passage.

“What was that?” a man’s voice said from somewhere up ahead.

“How in the blazes do you expect me to know?” another man answered him. “Go take a look yer fool.”

“And why do I have to go?!”

“Quit arguing; Billy will have our heads if anything happens to these guns. Go take a look and if it’s intruders shoot ‘em!”

We drew our own guns, tense as we waited for Billy’s goon to appear. But a new sound reached our ears, one that filled me with a cold dread far worse than anything I’d felt up to that point.

It was unmistakeably the growl of some mighty beast which could only be the wolf I kept hearing mention of, the noise rumbling in the creature’s chest like thunder. I was even more reluctant to head towards the animal than I had been to enter the mine, but my only ally down here was motioning at me to move on, and if the two men had a bunch of captives I couldn’t leave them to be torn apart by the beast. So I crept forwards, brandishing the torch in one hand and pointing my gun with the other.

A strange sight awaited at the end of that fated tunnel. There were the two men we’d heard with guns aimed at the wolf, but they stood as if frozen by fear. Just beyond them were the men we’d come looking for plus a dozen or so more, all bound and gagged. Behind them I could see the guns and enough dynamite to bring the entire mine down on our heads. And then there was the wolf itself.

An impressive specimen, the beast stood taller than any canid I’d ever laid eyes on, its body muscular beneath that fur black as the darkness of the mine itself, and its powerful jaws big enough to wrap round a person’s head. But what really held my attention were its eyes, blazing an unnatural red with a rage I’d never encountered in any other animal before. One look was enough to know this was no normal wolf, and after Dale had referred to it as ‘our wolf’ I had to wonder if they’d found some means to control it. Not that it really mattered in that moment. Billy’s goons no longer seemed to be in control of the situation and the mixture of fear and hate on my companion’s face told me she was as helpless against the creature as I was.

For reasons I’ll never be able to quite explain, the wolf turned its great head away from the two men it had been readying to attack, focusing on us instead. It fixed us with its gaze of fury and I suddenly found myself drowning in twin pools of bloodshed, lost in something greater than a predator’s hunger. This was a hunger I’d only ever seen in men of a certain nature, a hunger for violence and death. And I felt something stir deep within me in response, just as chaos erupted.

With the wolf’s attention on us, the goons seemed to find their courage, opening fire on the beast. I was sure the bullets hit the creature but they didn’t appear to do anything more than feed its rage, the monstrous thing turning back to them and charging. In the blink of an eye it was on one of them, his screams echoing round the mine as the other man lost his nerve and started to run. My companion rushed over to her lover while some rational part of my mind urged me to go and help free the captives, but something stronger was at work, something primal.

I had Billy’s goon in my sights, my own lips curling into a snarl. Fury roared at the centre of my being, spreading through my veins until my rational self was lost in that dark blaze. To this day I still don’t know if it was the wolf’s doing or something about that unholy mine – whether I was infected by the blackness of those tunnels, filled with an evil no light could ever hope to vanquish. All I know for sure is that my mind latched onto the idea that Billy and his goons were my enemies, and that animal need to survive took over, driving me to kill him before he could kill me.

The fool didn’t run far, stopping to take aim at the dynamite with the plan to blow us all to hell. I shot him in the leg before he could squeeze the trigger, his limb collapsing under him so that he fell to the floor, screaming and writhing in agony. The next thing I knew I was stood over his prone form, beating him with a savage pleasure which didn’t seem my own. Bones cracked and blood spilled, and finally his screams came to an end.

Panting, I looked up to see the captives had been freed, the men and the dark skinned woman running towards me.

“Run!” she shouted, but the words barely registered with the darkness shrouding my mind. “Run! It’s going to blow!”

That cleared my mind somewhat. “No, I stopped him.”

“The fuse is lit, run!”

And so we ran. Somewhere behind us the wolf howled, and I knew in my heart we had not seen the last of the beast. But whether for good or ill I could not say, and if bullets couldn’t stop it, I could only pray it would prove to be our ally when next we met.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Collier's Creek: 5 - Secret Weapons by Vivien Teasdale

Aunt Margaret left me, with a long lingering look of regret. I didn’t know whether to be sad or relieved. Though my thoughts were racing, wondering just what was happening outside, I must have dozed off for a while because when I opened my eyes again, all was quiet. Carefully I sat up and got out of bed. My head seemed ok so I got dressed and headed for the door.

The farmhouse was in darkness, as were the bits of the ranch I could see outside. No-one was around in the yard and even the stable block was silent as I crept in. The horses shuffled and snorted, wondering who was disturbing them, but the brown pony I led out made no demur as I saddled him and set off in the direction of town.
Half an hour later I was flat on my back, staring at the stars. I’d not seen anything to be scared of but the pony had spooked at a lonesome bush, chucked me off and made his escape back to his stable. Now I was out in the middle of nowhere, with another headache and a black wolf roaming about the place. That is, I suddenly remembered, unless he was trapped in the mine. I needed to get to town and warn everyone.
It was when I’d been walking a while that I realised I’d wandered off the path and was now truly lost. Even worse, as I walked, I began to get the feeling that I was being followed. Just every now and again I heard an echo of my footsteps, a scrape on the rough ground that I’d not made. I looked round but there was nothing; no movement, no noise, but it was too dark to be sure. I walked on, edgy now and unsteady on my feet, tripping over my own boots in fear of what might be behind. Could I outrun even a cayote let alone a wolf looking for its next meal?

I struggled on until, faintly, I heard hooves, galloping towards me. I turned too quickly, lost my footing and slithered down a small gully. Even as I came to a stop, I felt strong arms wrapping themselves around me and a hand over my mouth.
‘Quiet, mister, or I’ll break your neck.’
Naturally, I kept both quiet and still, listening to the slow breathing in one ear and the beating hooves as they came closer, then faded into the distance.
I was released as my captor stepped back.
‘What in tarnation you doin’ out here this time o’ night?’
‘I could ask you the same.’ In the slight moonlight I could just make out the shape of a woman, her black skin blending with the night. She was easily as tall as me and dressed in the buckskins and shaggy jacket of a hunter. ‘I’m trying to get to town, what about you?’
‘You’re that fella, lookin’ fer Lennox, ain’t yer? Really want to find him, then keep away from town. Even he’s learnt that much.’
‘You know where he is? Can you take me there? Is he ...’
‘Whoa, fella. Why should ah help you? Got my own problems, ain’t none o’ yourn.’ She stopped and looked at me, considering something, before she went on. ‘Well, maybe. Thought you was in cahoots with that Hannah till she bashed you over the head.’
‘How did you know that? In cahoots with her doing what? I’m just here to find Lennox.’
‘Hm, reckon ah believe you too. If Hannah thought you was a real threat you’d be dead, like Dale is now.’
‘Dale? The drunkard? But he was at the Stud ...’
She nodded. ‘Yep, and that’s where he’s buried. Billy won’t stop at nuthin’, he’s too much ridin’ n getting them guns through.’
‘Look,’ I said, getting a bit exasperated. ‘I’ve no idea what you’re on about. My job is just to find Lennox and let his parents know he’s ok. Can you take me to him or not?’
She smiled, her teeth white in the darkness. ‘Sure can, mister. Problem is, he’s in the mine, same as a lot o’ folks round here. Thought he was just goin’ to meet a friend and got mixed up in Billy’s little sideline.’
‘I heard Dale mention the mine, that there’s dynamite down there and a wolf.’
‘Hm, there’s dynamite, for sure, it’s a mine. There’s also the guns Billy’s hidin’ afore he gets them over the border into Mexico. And now they’ve got your friend Lennox down there. And my man, too. That’s why we need to work together. Got to get them out and warn the miners that Billy’s goin’ to blow that mine when he’s finished this last run of guns.’
I had the feeling I was getting into something I would regret. After all, no-one since I’d come out West had given me any reason to believe them. Why should I trust this woman? But then my mind got sidetracked with what she’d said.
‘And the wolf? Why is everyone so bothered about that animal? Surely they could just shoot it, like the cayotes or the bears?’
She gave me a sidelong look, then set off along the gully. ‘You coming or not, fella?’ she asked.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Collier's Creek: 4 - The Stud Farm by Owen Townend

I awoke to silk sheets and the softest pillow against my cheek.
   I never thought there would be such gentility in an Old West town like Collier's Creek but, as I opened my eyes, everything was colour and neatness. Blue patterned plates with wagon trains around the rim. Embroideries with pink thread spelling out 'My Heart Got Lost in Austin' and 'Home'.
   Purple curtains fluttered against the window. I sat up to see where I was but a small firm hand pressed against my chest.
   "Rest, Mr Lawman," a soft voice said, "You're safe at the farm."
   I turned to a woman with black ringlets in her hair that suggested youth and deep green eyes that revealed age. Her heart-shaped lips formed a smile.
   "I am Aunt Margaret," she said, "You've only been asleep for an hour which is surprising considering the whack ol' Hannah gave ya! You mustn't have a head for such things!"
   Hannah. So it was her. "Where is she?"
   Aunt Margaret smoothed down the sheets and sat beside me. "She had to deal with her brother, take him on to a special place. That girl won't ever stop to apologise but I will."
   "Why'd she hit me?"
   "Hank should never have gone out on his own. That wolf..." Aunt Margaret shook her head. "Hannah and Bill are seeing to him. Far away from here."
   "Is Hank in danger?"
   "Yes and not just him now." Before Aunt Margaret could explain what she meant by that, something caught her eye outside. She marched over to the window.
   "Tommy Boden! Get your pert ass over here right now!"
   A tanned man of twenty approached the sill. His face was smeared with dirt but his chest glistened with sweat. I detected a slight hum of approval from Aunt Margaret.
   "What in tarnation is that noise by the stables?"
   Tommy pulled out a rag and ran it across his fingers. "Dale wandered onto the property again, I reckon."
   "You reckon? You reckon?" Aunt Margaret looked about set to blow. "Get over there and find out! Who's down there right now?"
   "David and Andy."
   Aunt Margaret's eyes widened. "You know David's leg! Get out there, boy! Go! Or none of that..." This last part I did not catch though I supposed it wouldn't have been proper to hear.
   She span back around and primped her scarlet dress.
   "Sweet child," she told me, "Smart as a sugar cane."
   There was still so much I didn't understand. It felt like my every question was being evaded. Hannah...
   "Oh, don't pay that girl no more mind," Aunt Margaret muttered, "She's far too busy to return the favour."
   Was I really that obvious? I pushed the sheets off me.
   "I have to go."
   "They are miles away." She hit me with a hard stare I could feel. The green of her eyes seemed to darken. "You can't keep your head straight."
   Attempting to get on my feet, I did feel dizzy.
   "Besides," Aunt Margaret said, sidling up to me, "I like my handsome faces in one place."
   For a woman of her years, she was quite the looker. Her every movement stirred something in me and that glint in her eye. So close.
   "So," she whispered and I could hear a trill in her breath, "Mr Lawman..."
   There was a build up of voices outside the door. It flew open.
   Dale, the town drunk, stumbled in: muscular arms trying to pull him back but failing. He had a broken brown bottle in his fist which he pointed at me.
   "Stranger!" he shouted and made to run for me.
   Aunt Margaret blocked his way as Tommy and four other farm hands watched sheepishly from the hall. She looked down at the bottle and slapped it out of Dale's hand.
   "What is it, Dale Jensen?" she snapped, "I ain't got time for your damn liquored tomfoolery now!"
   Another Jensen. I wished that I had my notebook: I could sketch out a family tree of sorts. Still it was in my jacket which was on the back of a chair at the other end of the room. I could not see where my pants had gone.
   Dale lowered his head at Aunt Margaret's insistent tone. "Ah'm sorry, Miss Maggie, but ah hear you've got that lowdown out-of-towner in yer cot. An' ah saw what he did!"
   "What he do?"
   "He trapped our wolf! Lured it into the mine!"
   Our wolf?
   Aunt Margaret rolled her eyes. "Was that mind rot from the Golden Horseshoe?"
   Dale nodded like a boy about to get the switch.
   "Clearly not your first of the evening!" She pointed at me. "That there is Mr Calvin Samuels! He has not been in town a day!"
   Dale's thick, grey brow furrowed as he looked at me. "That ain't the Lennox kid."
   I sat up. "You've seen him? How long ago?"
   "Sundown yesterday."
   "Is he still at the mine now?"
   Dale frowned again. "Ah can't rightly remember."
   Aunt Margaret raised a hand before I could ask another question.
   "Thank you for informing us," she said, lightly gripping Dale's shoulder. "You didn't work yourself up for nothing. Still you know the rules, Dale. This is my land." Aunt Margaret turned to the young men still waiting at the doorway. "Boys, make yourselves useful and get him on home now."
   Dale broke down as Tommy led him away. "They're all still down there! 'Tween wolf and dynamite..."
   Aunt Margaret shook her head. "This is a sanctuary for lost souls but old Dale there just keeps on losing hisself."
   My mind was on the mine. Bonnie's mother said it was the largest employer in the town. I wondered just how many were in danger. Also did the wolf actually belong to anyone? If so how?
   I tried to get out of bed again but Aunt Margaret was too fast for me.
   "Not until Hannah gets back at least," she insisted, "Please."
   I didn't like any of this. I had young Lennox's last known location but couldn't get there for vertigo and charming bedside manner. My only hope of salvation was a woman who had seen fit to club me.
   Aunt Margaret moved closer.
   "I know," she said, teasing back the bed sheets.
   A single gunshot rang out: outdoors but definitely not far away.
   "It had to be done."