NaNoWriMo Update Seven

1441 words tonight for a total of 117782. Not quite quota, but still just one day behind.

Some time later Walter Hawkins woke with a start and covered in a cold sweat. His nightmares had been filled with torturous creatures that tore flesh from his bones and burrowed around inside his guts. He could still feel the ghost of their passage in every muscle of his body even as he opened his eyes. The room swam around him and his ears rang.

“Woah there,” a familiar voice said softly. Lonesome, he remembered the man’s name. The Aribiter’s deputy.“Take it easy now, it’s over.”

“Over?” Hawkins asked, his voice rough and raspy. “What – why does my throat hurt so much?”

“Because you were screamin’ fit to wake the dead for the better part of an hour,” the Spirit Talker told him, his demeanor sympathetic. “It’s a mercy you passed you partway through. There’s a reason I haven’t done this to myself, you know. The spirits get the job done, but holy shit does it sound like it ain’t worth it.”

“Healing,” Hawkins remembered. His recent memory was sort of fuzzy. “You were getting me healed so I could go with you.”

“You regretting that yet?”

Hawkins wiped cold sweat from his forehead and sat up. His body was twitchy and a little shaky, like every inch of him was dead tired, but everything seemed to be in better shape than before. “No,” he replied truthfully. “I feel good, mostly.”

The door creaked open and Katherine stepped inside. “Merciful Mother, Lonesome, tell me you’re done with him. We’ve got concerned citizenry ready to storm the place and rescue him despite my well armed assurances. I’ve never seen Wilcott look so worried.”

“And for good reason,” the Sheriff pushed in behind Katherine. “Sounded like a bag of cats getting skinned all at once up here. Is that… normal?” he asked Lonesome, voice a mixture of curious and suspicious.

“Since you’ve never seen a Spirit Talker heal someone before, we’ll go with yes,” Lonesome answered.

“I’m fine, sheriff,” Hawkins assured him. “Better than fine, actually. Back to good.”

“Hmm,” Wilcott’s mustache twitched. “Well, if you’re sure. You three might want to stay up here a bit while I calm the mob. And by calm I mean disperse.”

Hawkins drew in a deep breath and let it out. “I suppose I should thank you,” he told Lonesome.

“First time I’ve been thanked for makin’ a man scream bloody murder,” Lonesome said thoughtfully. “It’s an odd feeling.”

“Yeah, well, don’t get used to it,” Katherine ordered. “Last thing I need is you doin’ that for fun.”

“So when do we leave?” Hawkins asked.

“I don’t see the need to waste any time,” Katherine told him. “The sooner we get after those bandits the better. Lonesome?”

“Not until tomorrow,” he disagreed. “Our boy here needs time to rest up a bit. The spirits put him all back together, but there’s a cost to that. He’ll need some time. Tomorrow morning should be fine.”

“Well there’s your answer,” Katherine said matter of factly. “Tomorrow morning. Don’t be late, Hawkins, or I swear to what powers be I’ll leave you behind anyway.”

“You wouldn’t really,” Lonesome commented once they were out in the street. A number of curious gawkers still hung around nearby, looking up at the hotel and talking about the noises that had come from within.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“Leave him.”

“Nah,” she dismissed the notion. “Just wanted to make sure we got off on the right foot.”

Lonesome gave her a curious look. “Which foot would that be?”

Katherine brushed some stray black hair behind her ear. “The one where I’m firmly in charge and don’t take any guff, of course.”

“Ah,” Lonesome chuckled. “Of course. Funny though, I don’t think I ever saw that particular appendage.”

“Yeah, well,” Katherine pulled a cigar from her coat and savored the smell of it.  “You’re an exception to the rule, Cooper. Don’t let it go to your head.”

Having taken Katherine at her word Hawkins was there just as the sun was rising. He’d bought a horse and tack on Haversham & Black’s dime and was saddling up with the others when sheriff Wilcott came ambling into the stables, a deputy in tow.

“Not wasting any time, are you?” he observed dryly.

Katherine continued fastening her gear, though she made sure to keep her eyes on Wilcott’s deputy. “You sad to see me leave, Jeb? I didn’t take you for the sentimental type.”

“Hell no,” Wilcott scoffed. “Sooner you get after those bastards the sooner I can stop worrying about that old world barrel scum coming through like a whirlwind of trouble. No offense,” he added with a nod towards Hawkins, who bore the insult with a shrug. “I just wanted to see you off proper.”

“Proper, huh?”

“Yup. Don’t make nothin’ out of it, now. This here is Walsh,” he indicated the deputy. “He’s the best shot I’ve got that’s wearin’ a badge. I want you to take him with you, Arbiter.”

The offer caught Katherine by surprise. With as many people as were hanging around Blackoak right now she’d expected Wilcott to keep ahold of as many men as possible. It was well within her rights as an Arbiter to snag one or two for her own use, of course. She’d just opted not to do it. For one thing she figured it would have just annoyed Wilcott, but the biggest reason was she didn’t want to take hands he needed doing their jobs around town.

“That’s… well, I won’t lie. That’s unexpected, Jeb. And I appreciate the offer, but don’t you need all you men here?”

“The locals know to keep in line,” Wilcott shrugged. “And everyone else knows Haversham & Black is gonna roll in real soon. They don’t want to be on my shit list when Hawkins’ friends get here. I’m not saying I don’t need Walsh, mind. I just figure you need him more. I want the bastards that derailed that train, Arbiter, and I want them soon. If lending you my deputy makes that happen then you go ahead and take him.”

“Having another gun hand never hurts. Thank you, Jeb.”

“Bah,” he grunted, but underneath his mustache he was smiling. “I told you not to make anything of it. Now get gone, I’ve kept you long enough.” He started to leave, but paused and looked back at his deputy. “Walsh? Come back not dead.” Then he was gone.

“So,” Katherine walked around and stood before her new deputy. “Walsh, is it?” The deputy was a younger man. Mid twenties, if she had to guess, with blue eyes and a mess of blond hair she was fairly certain birds could mistake for a nest of hay. And he had freckles. Oh my, did he have freckles. He was also built like a farmhand, which was something she wasn’t inclined to complain about.

“Aaron Walsh,” he filled in, shaking her hand.

“Well Aaron, I’m Arbiter Katherine Bishop. This is Lonesome Cooper and that’s Walter Hawkins. Welcome to the posse. Saddle up a horse and we can leave. While you’re at it, why don’t you tell us what you bring to the table. Wilcott said you were a good shot, is that right?”

Walsh grabbed a saddle and got started. “That’s right,” he confirmed as he worked. “One of the best with a rifle at a distance. Not as good with a revolver, but I’m workin’ on that.”

“Better work it out fast,” Lonesome commented softly. “Odds are you’re going to need it.”

“I think I can help with that,” Hawkins offered. Katherine gave him a curious look.

“Is that so?” the Arbiter asked, almost as if she didn’t believe him.

“Haversham & Black didn’t send me down to guard their precious lockbox because of my charming good looks,” he told her flatly. “I’m good with a revolver. Better than good – I’m ambidextrous.”

“Is that so?” Katherine asked, eyebrow raised.

“He’s what?” Walsh asked.

“He can shoot from both hands,” Lonesome guessed. He’d heard the word before, but never had cause to use it himself. “Is that right?”

“That’s right,” Hawkins nodded. He patted the two revolvers he’d bought, also on his employer’s tab. It was amazing what you could put on credit when the company you worked for owned the town.

“Can you teach me to do that?” Walsh asked, an edge of excitement to his words.

“We’ll see,” Hawkins told him. “It’s hard to do unless you’ve got the knack for it. But I figure we can at least give it a try.”

They started their hunt at the derailed train, its wreckage still strewn about the landscape.


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