Thursday, April 18, 2019

Lodestar (A Story in Three Parts), Post #82

Courtesy of Brillo
Let’s go for a short story this time. Not a short, short story, but one that will take us three installments to finish. I first wrote Lodestar years ago and sold it to the editor of an anthology. I came across it again and decided I’d like to shorten it and see if it flies today. So here’s the first part of the story It’s far longer than usual for a blog, but I hope you’ll stick with it.


( Part One)

A penetrating chill pulled me from my sleep as the distant rumble of thunder and ghostly flashes broke the half-light of dawn. I abandoned the bedroll to find my two companions scanning the Little Humps, a line of low hills to the west.
“Rain?” I asked, scratching my bum where a rock had rendered it sore.
“Ain’t thunder,” Hap Auslander replied. “Somebody gittin’ the crap stomped outa ‘em.”
“Military guns. Big ones,” Henry Nettles added. “They’s a Injun town over yonder.”
Hap tied his bedroll on Speckles, the Appaloosa he rode. “Best be moving. Keep a sharp eye out. Stragglers is apt to be tetchy.”
We took the trail in single file with me bringing up the rear. Half a day on the trail passed before Nettles hauled up and pointed west.
“By, God, it’s the troopers that done it!” Hap shouted as horsemen appeared on the horizon. We waited silently while the blue column approached. As the riders passed, a man broke ranks and rode over to us. Two others fell in behind him. The fella in front, a runty man with gold all over his hat and on his shoulders pulled up and gave us the once over.
“Major Elijah Raintree, commander of the Southfork Militia at your service. Who might you be?”
“Hap Auslander of St. Jo. This here’s Henry Nettles outa Independence. The young’un’s Jim Tobar, a eastern man. We be bound for Ft. Johnson. You fellers wallop ‘em good?”
“Old White Hair’s outfit won’t give no more problems.”
“White Hair?” Nettles asked in surprise. “White Hair was under paint?”
The major’s eyes went flat. “They’re all under paint, far’s we’re concerned.”
The major favored us with a personal account of his heroic attack on the red heathens while his column of two hundred or so blue-clad soldiers and four wheel-mounted guns passed, leaving a broad trail on the prairie flats. His parting words sent a chill through my heart and left me wondering what this popinjay did for a living when he wasn’t murdering human beings.
“Should you encounter any survivors, you have my authority to dispatch them forthwith. I want no living heathens left between the Bent Fork and Elk River.”
After the major and his aides were out of earshot, Nettles turned to us. “Hell, White Hair wasn’t no war chief. That’s why them bluebellies had such a easy time.”
“A Injun’s a Injun, Nettles. Wouldn’t go ‘round takin’ the red man’s side, I was you,” Auslander cautioned. “Let’s be on our way.”
As we crossed the trampled earth marking the column’s passing, Henry Nettles’s head wobbled on his thin, wrinkled neck. Auslander, a thick, squat man of grizzled hair and beard, gave me the nasty eye, making me wonder once again why I was in the company of these men. I had never contemplated the frontier until events conspired to place me here.

Too young to fight in the War Between the States, I watched helplessly as that bloody conflict destroyed my family. It killed my brother outright and maimed my father into a grave two long years coming. My Aunt Bella, a well-settled widow, took me in when the fever carried off Ma’am. Perversely, life grew easier, but Providence has a fine set of scales and knows how to balance them.
I would likely have married Mistress Penelope Greenstem, to my eternal regret, had not her brother John pursued me into the hayloft where we learned that males can pleasure one another without benefit of the opposite gender. In time, we were discovered, and I was loudly proclaimed a pederast—one of Satan’s foulest demons. Aunt Bella hastily sent me on my way with a small packet of coins, the law and the rector of the Puritan Church dusting my heels. That was near onto a twelve-month past.
The fabled Santa Fe Trail beckoned until a chance encounter with skinny-shanked, pot-bellied Henry Nettles inclined me toward accompanying him to Ft. Johnson where opportunities abounded for industrious young men. Twice my twenty years, Nettles was not totally disagreeable, although his manners and morals required a smidgen of understanding. But who was I to complain about morals? It is not clear why he craved my company since my obvious assets were limited to a few silver and copper discs, an excellent repeating rifle, and Nellie, my good mare.
A week out of Independence, Hap Auslander, an old associate of Nettles’s joined us on the trail. I neither liked nor trusted the grum ruffian. To make matters worse, Nettles coarsened under Auslander’s influence. The deeper we penetrated the plains, the more uneasy I became, especially when the galoot cast an ugly, speculating glance my way, leaving me to wonder if I trailed the stench of sodomy in my wake.

Two hours down the trail Nettles hauled his horse to a stop. The hair on my neck bristled. Even to my tenderfoot eyes, the pony grazing on the trail ahead was an Indian horse. Small, spotted, and haltered with buffalo hide, it had a bright blanket tied across its back and a vivid red hand painted on one rump. Rifle in hand, Nettles reined to the right as Auslander continued up the trail, leaving the left to me. My mouth went dry as we crept through belly-high grass. My heart tumbled into my bowels when Nellie broke the pinto’s trail. Something lay on the ground. I dismounted and crept forward. An Indian lay face down, his head obscured by long, black hair. I judged him to be tall and slender, yet well-built. Suddenly, someone shoved me roughly aside. I struggled to bring my rifle to bear.
“Hold it!” Hap snarled, kneeling beside the body. “I ain’t no red devil.”
“Damn, Hap!” I gasped, indulging in a rare vulgarity. “Give a body some warning.”
“A man gives warning in this country, he’s apt to meet his maker.” He turned the body over, drawing a gasp from both of us. “This heathen’s still breathin’.”
The Indian was young and comely. I would have thought him a beautiful woman, but his manhood was scarcely concealed by a loincloth. The only other articles of clothing were short, deerskin moccasins. A bloody bruise marred the right side of his broad forehead.
“Hellfire and damnation!” Nettles exclaimed as he joined us. “He alive?”
“Yep,” Auslander replied, his piggish eyes sweeping the inert form. My examination was little better. I was seized by the same emotion as when John first exposed himself to me.
“Lordy! He’s purty as a woman!” Nettles chortled.
Auslander’s stubby fingers prodded the youth’s breast. One finger rested on a dark brown aureole. “Help me get him on that pinto.”
“Ain’t ya gonna scalp him?” Nettles asked as they bound the unconscious Indian and slung him belly down on his pony. Auslander made no reply.
We traveled perhaps another hour before a grove of trees in the distance signaled water. Hap led the pinto to a shallow pool and shoved the Indian over the side. He hit the water on his back and sat up without uttering a sound.
“Playin’ possum, you miserable whoreson! I oughta take your scalp right now!”
The bronzed youth sitting in a foot of water held his tongue.
“He don’t talk American, Hap,” Nettles opined.
Auslander waded into the water and grabbed a handful of the Indian’s hair, placing his knife to the scalp. “Ya unnerstand this?”
The young man sat absolutely motionless. Overcoming his blood lust, Hap hauled his prisoner onto the bank. The bound Indian fell against a tree, opening the bruised cut on his forehead. I rushed forward and pulled him upright, feeling the strength in the muscles beneath my hands as I worked to staunch the flow of blood.
“How come we ain’t killing him?” The longer Henry Nettles was around Hap Auslander, the more offensive he became. Only a few hours back, he was concerned by the attack on White Hair’s camp. Now he seemed anxious to kill one of the chief’s people.
“I aim to take his crown, Henry. And I’m gonna make a traveling bag outa that pretty hide. But I got plans for him first. Like you said, he’s looks womanly.”
“That I did,” Nettles said. “A pretty woman was what I said. We gonna leap him, Hap?”
“I reckon that’s the idea in my head. But I ain’t in no hurry.”
I looked down at my patient. My hand still held a tattered rag against his forehead. My leg touched his shoulder. “I gotta get that head wound to stop bleeding.”
“That you do. I don’t want him bleeding all over me.”
Nettles stepped in before things deteriorated further, declaring he wasn’t having a cold cap tonight, Indians or no Indians. He wanted hot food even if it was the death of him. The fire he laid cooked victuals but provided scant protection from the elements.
I spread my blankets on the far side of a little rise in the glen to put distance between me and a probable rape. Wrapped in my blankets, I peered over the hillock and recoiled. Auslander had laid the Indian directly on the other side; I stared into his alert black eyes from a distance of less than two feet. Unsettled, I lay back on my blankets. I don’t know how long I slept before a persistent hiss woke me. Cautiously, I lifted my head. A stray shaft of moonlight reflected in the Indian’s eyes.
“Help me, and I will lie with you,” he whispered
My mouth was open in shock when Auslander’s voice called out. “Whut’s goin’ on?” The Indian immediately uttered something in his own tongue.
“He’s a prayin’,” Nettles ventured.
Auslander moved on his prisoner. There was the sound of a struggle, harsh blows on naked flesh. The Indian began to chant.
“Miserable bastard,” Hap cursed. “What’s he doing that for?”
Nettles cackled. “That’s his death song, Hap. He’s telling you you’ll have ta kill him ‘fore you can fuck him.”
The Indian’s chant faltered as Auslander struck him repeatedly. Without thinking, I rose and rushed through the darkness, butting into the bully with a loud grunt. Nettles intervened before the enraged man assaulted me.
“Damnation, Hap. The kid was coming to help and tripped. Didn’t mean no harm. Let’s get some sleep. You can cover the Injun later. Better in the daylight anyways.”
The danger past for the moment, I covered our prisoner’s nearly naked body with one of my own blankets and lay back on my bedding. The Indian had spoken in English! He understood what was in store for him. That made him dangerous. I should have told my companions but did not. This was different from John and me. This was evil! Nonetheless, the handsome heathen’s words rattled around in my head. Help me, and I will lie with you.

What happens when a young man’s sense of decency and fair play collides with his carnal desires? And how did the young prisoner know what bait to cast? Let’s see what happens next time.

Amazon permits you to read a short passage of my novels, Cut Hand and Johnny Two-Guns. I also believe the STARbooks-published River Otter, Echoes of the Flute, and Medicine Hair are still up. I sure would like to get the final book in the Cut Hand Series, Wastelakapi… Beloved, published, but it’ll take some help from readers to get Dreamspinner interested.

My contact information is provided below in case anyone wants to drop me a line:
Website and blog:
Twitter: @markwildyr

The following are buy links for CUT HAND:

And now my mantra: Keep on reading. Keep on writing. You have something to say, so say it!

Until next time.


New posts at 6:00 a.m. on the first and third Thursdays of each month.

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