by Michael Morgan © 2018 All Rights Reserved
This is the first chapter of a Cattlepunk/Steampunk story I have been playing with. Hopefully, I can flesh this out into a series, and maybe a book. Quien sabe?
— 1 —
A screech-lurch and the tempo of the iron wheels clacking over rail joints changed. Roger shifted position in the angle of bench seat and wall as the sway of the second-class passenger car lulled him back to sleep beneath the heavy felt hat being crushed out of shape against the window.
“Clarksville next!” called the conductor as the door at the end of the car slammed open. “All out for Clarksville!” Another screech-lurch shook the car as the conductor stopped next to Roger’s seat. “Hey mister. Clarksville next.” At Roger’s feeble wave, the conductor shrugged and yanked open the door spilling the sulfurous reek of sooty coal smoke through the car.
The slamming door brought Roger fully awake. Pinching the crown of his hat, he straightened in the seat before settling the hat back on his head. The scrubby second growth trees crowded the window threatening to overrun and take back the land cleared by the Texas & Pacific through Fannin County, Texas.
Cleared fields broke out on either side of the car leaving the no obstacle to the westering sun as the tempo of the wheels slowed again and the engine’s wailing cry signaled arrival. A quick glance confirmed his soogan and the fringed rifle scabbard sporting Comanche beadwork still lay in the overhead rack.
The town rolled slowly past the filthy windows. People going about their normal business was no comfort. Roger’s toe gently tapped the sole of the boot worn by the man sleeping on the facing seat, “Up you get Gordon. We’re in Clarksville.”
“Yeah, I heard the man.” A gloved thumb pushed back the brim of the tan felt hat exposing an exceptional walrus moustache that had once been a luxuriant black before the silver took over, and friendly green eyes looking out past the crow’s feet in their corners. Gordon fished in his pocket and thumbed open the cover on his watch, “Damn. Stopped again.” He held it up to his hear and shook it gently before taking the finger of a glove in his teeth and tugging his hand free before winding the stem and returning the watch to his pocket.
Roger swayed on his feet as the train lurched to a stop along the station platform. He threw the bulky soogan over one shoulder, and held the cased Winchester at the balance. “I’ll circle and come in from the west. Meet you at the hotel.” At Gordon’s nod, he joined the other passengers headed for the front door of the car.
That kid is always in a rush, Gordon levered himself off the bench, and grasped the handle of the ratty carpetbag that had been lying on the seat like an old hound napping. Gordon tipped his hat to a passing woman and stepped in behind the last of the departing passengers headed for the rear exit. Just hope the folks hereabout are none too lively.
Roger turned right as he stepped onto the platform and began hurrying through the crowd ignoring the occasional complaint as he glanced rapidly left and right. Coming to the end of the platform, he took the wooden steps two at a time and stretched to jump the foul puddle at the bottom.
“Hey Mister!” The caller suddenly blocking Gordon’s path was a skinny younger fellow wearing a miserable excuse for a moustache and a dark green suit with brown velvet lapels. Weak-seeming gray eyes looked into Gordon’s, “May I have your name sir? For the Clarksville Times. That’s the paper I work for…” The man’s voice stumbled to a stop at Gordon’s noncommittal gaze. “Uh, We like to report on important folks coming into town…”
“Orek Nebelwerfer,” Gordon spoke the name slowly. “He come through town?”
“I-I don’t rightly know, sir.” The reporter glanced at the rapidly thinning crowd of passengers from the train, “If you’ll excuse me!”
Gordon watched the reporter hurry up to his next victim before turning left and heading for the stair at the end of the platform. Everybody in a hurry these days.
Roger turned between two buildings and found himself on what looked like the main street through town. The boardwalk along the shop fronts thumped a brisk rhythm of passersby. Nodding to a matronly woman who shot a glance in his direction, Roger stepped up on the walk and proceeded to take in the town with a purposeful stride. Everyone he passed looked to be going about the business of the day in an unhurried pace. Any sound of raised voices was easily explained as necessary to the task at hand. When the commercial buildings faded into houses, he crossed the street and headed back.
Gordon reached the edge of town and stood quietly looking at the east Texas pines jutting above horizon on the far side of the cleared acreage. A few wagons and mounted riders were visible, but not the wagon they sought. “You lost mister?” The boy looked to be seven or eight. Sun-bleached hair, nut-brown skin, and dirty bare feet looked up at Gordon.
“No sir, I’m not lost,” Gordon’s smile spread his moustache like eagle wings. “Just wonderin’ if a friend of mine had come through town. You hear tell of a revival or medicine show comin’ through recently?”
“Naw. Nothin’ like that,” the boy pinched his chin in the manner of an old man thinking. “If there was a Revival Meetin’ around, Ma would have made me wash and put on my Sundays.”
“Thank ye kindly,” Gordon turned and started back into town.
“If I see ‘em should I tell ‘em you’re looking fer ‘em?”
Gordon looked back over his shoulder, “No need. Just stay away from those medicine shows. What they sell is poison.” He left the boy standing in the road as his attention turned back to the town.