Thursday, April 30, 2009

ICE BOUNTY

A couple of years ago I placed a short story at the Amazon Shorts program at Amazon.com. I'd done a fair amount of research on it, down to finding out what kinds of guns were used in the west shortly after the end of the Civil War, and to reading actual period letters and discovering how semi-educated folk actually wrote in the dialects in which they spoke.

The editor there apparently appreciated the effort, but requested that I change the ending. The story, "Ice Bounty" had what he considered a finale that was "too downbeat". I've rarely minded making editorial changes, being of a commercial mind when it comes to my fiction. However, "Ice Bounty" was a horror story and required, I think, a "downbeat" ending to remain effective. At the time I was eager to increase my exposure because of the then-recent appearance of my
first novel (THE FLOCK). So I agreed to the changes and the story was accepted.



But, I really felt the need to show the original story as I had written it. My short story collection A CONFEDERACY OF HORRORS never appeared, and that was the only other venue for the original version. Now, though, I've decided to place the tale here, online, at my blog. Take a look at the story as the author intended it:


ICE BOUNTY
copyright 2009
By
James Robert Smith
Approximately 5,650 words



10 January 69
Dear Momma an Daddy,
I am still here in Colorada. Scobie is with me an yor old Cherokee friend Ben Gess. We look a site travelin together, a white man an a nigger an a Indin. When we are in a town Scobie goes to the kitchen door to et an Ben waits with the horses till I brang him food. Some has said some stuff to us an you know me. We have broke some jaws out here. Thar aint hardly no law out here an a man has posted a bounty for a Chinaman. A big bounty for two thousan in gold. If we can get it Scobie wants to go to New Orleans wher he says a nigger can buy a house an be a man. An I will come home Momma. I will come home an get some land near you an Daddy Maybe get some pasture from Mr Oakey south of yals farm. I do not know what Ben will do with his gold. He says that his family is all dead kilt by the Union army.
I wisht we had not loss the war, Daddy. I wish. I will writ agin when we come back from the hills. Lord thay is big here. Snow all year roun an in the winter like now it is terribl cold. Ben say he knows where the chinee is gone. We will track him. You know Scobie can track anythang. We will git that chinee an brang him an git that gold. I will writ when we come down then I will come home.
Yor son.
Bill.

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Bill Yard had read the bounty notice that Scobie had brought back to the camp. Scobie was black as a man could be, but he could read as good as any white man. Bill and the Cherokee, Ben, were sitting in the teepee, smoking; the big man had returned from what passed as a town out here at the frontier. No one said anything, but Yard passed the pipe to Scobie, who stomped the snow from his boots and squatted down to smoke. Outside, the wind was blowing hard, and the three could hear little shards of snow and ice pellets tapping against the tent. From somewhere in the camp, someone was moaning.

"He'll be dead before the night's over," Ben said.

Bill and Scobie just looked at one another. And the wind whipped harder and the dying man wailed a little louder.

For a time, no one said anything. They had tired of wondering what they were going to do next, jawing over and over their plans and fantasies. For now, they had just a little money left, their horses were boarded in quarters more comfortable than their own, so they merely smoked and bided their time. The trio sat in the relative warmth of the teepee, huddled round their hot coal fire, the whistling of the wind broken only by the silent sucking and puffing of lips on tobacco pipe. They had bought the teepee from a young Indian, from a western tribe none of them had ever heard of. The man had taken the money, bought too much of the bad whiskey being sold in town; Bill found him lying dead in a frozen puddle of bloody vomit three days after they had bought his home.

The harsh crackle of paper filled the close spaces of the buffalo-skin shelter. Bill and Ben peered at the yellow-white square that Scobie had pulled from beneath his coat, unfolding it now that he had his lambskin mittens off of his hard hands.

"What is it?" Ben set the pipe aside, the bowl gone all cold and dark.

"Remember that Chinaman who was here last month? The one who got a room at the hotel?"

"I remember," Bill said. It was strange, that. Only white men were allowed to stay at the hotel, no matter how much money one might have hidden in the lining of one's coat. But that Chinaman had got him a warm room and had eaten there and been served just like a white man. And the word in town was that he had asked for a whore who was brought to him, but nobody saw her after that. The Chinaman had not stayed long, had been here one day and was gone the next. But nobody was sad to see him go. All the while he had been there, Bill and Scobie and Ben had felt strange, as if something bad were about to happen. Even the saloon had been quiet, none of the mountain men coming out of the hills to get drunk with white Indians whose furs and pelts they would try to steal. Short though his visit had been, none of them had forgotten the little man.

"A fella come up from Denver with these," Scobie said, holding the unfolded poster for the other two. Sure enough. Once you had seen that slant-eye, you would not forget him. He was old, his face a badland of chewed leather. His mouth was a crooked slash, thin black lips that everyone figured must have been tattooed to be so dark; like he had just drunk some sweet, dark molasses. And his eyes were scary. They stared all of the time, even when the Chinaman was laughing. Bill and Scobie had seen him laugh. Elvin, the pimp who had sent the whore up to him had asked the Chinaman where his woman was; and the Chinaman's face had split in half, showing his rows of white, even teeth. He had laughed like that, staring at Elvin and then he had thrown a gold coin at the pimp. When the pimp had gathered the coin out of the sawdust, he had trembled and left the hotel. “Gold. From the Plains of Leng,” the Chinaman had cackled at him.

“More valuable than any whore.”

"That's him, sure," Bill said, reaching out to touch the picture. "Some Chinee gover'ment wants him." And then he had seen the bounty. "They gosh," he breathed. "How much is two thousand split three ways, Scobie?"

"Six hunnerd and sixty-six, with two dollars left over."

Bill's breath huffed out and rose with the charcoal heat toward the vent above them. "Them ain't good numbers, Scobie."

"Money is money, Bill. What y'all say? Ben?"

The Cherokee peered at the paper, touching it. "I'll track him with you if you want to do it."

"Good," Scobie said. "I know which way he went when he left here." His head turned toward the slopes behind them, his coal-black beard jutting out from his chin to point the way. "He headed up toward Big Lick Pass."

"Damn fool, then, this time o' year." Yard hunched his shoulders, thinking of winter storms.

"Only means we can catch him. He ain't goin' far 'less he can tunnel under the snow like a worm." Scobie tried to smile a little. But nobody laughed.
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12 January 69
Dear Momma an Daddy.
We are now up in them hills I was tellin you about since I mailed the last letter. I as reckon this will be a long note from me since there ant no way to send this out until we come down. Scobie allows how we are on the Chinamans trail but how he can track from the topside of two foot of snow I dont know. He has never got us lost yet so I reckon we are on the trail. We will see.
The onlies thing I can say for this country is that the sky is purty at night. Lord has put many a star in it up here an you have never seen the like not even up in them Grate Smokies yonder east of yals farm. I am thinkin of home.

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As cold as it had been, the weather was with them. There had not been a hard storm since they had set out and five days traveling found them bearing down on the bounty. Bill and Scobie had thought that others from the camp would be willing to go after the Chinaman, but Ben was not puzzled by their lack of competition. "He was bad," was all he could say.

Scobie and Bill had learned to respect Ben's opinion, and the way the Cherokee could sometimes lay claim to knowing such things. It was Ben who had taken one look at a miner's camp near the Yellowstone and had pronounced it unwise to go down from the ridge and into the makeshift village. Half the place had burned that night, tents and cabins going up like kindling in the dry summer air. Fifty men had burned to death and six more had died later. "I dreamed it," he had said. They listened when the Cherokee voiced his opinion.

Scobie was twenty yards ahead; Yard that far in front of Ben who, like the others, struggled through the crusted snow, leading his horse. Bill was in the middle of a measured step, his eyes focused on the wet rawhide straps that anchored his snowshoes to his boots; Scobie had stopped short, no sound of crunching snow, the wind still and the air filled with no more sound than that made by a beam of sunlight. The kid looked up the slope. Above him there was the low, easy line of the saddle, snow making a pale contrast against the almost purple blue of the sky. Scobie, he knew, was just at the verge, and could see over the swag of the gap and toward whatever was beyond. The black man was frozen, a bit of dark with the drifts offering a small protection; he did not move, only continued to peer at whatever lay beyond. In a while, he made a small flicking motion with his right hand, and Bill came up, he and his horse breathing steam.

At the edge of the gap, Bill squatted next to Scobie and looked off where the other man stared. To their left and right, the mountain loomed, twin peaks reaching up toward tree line and above, rock and snow and ice stabbing at the sky. Below them lay a small valley, almost like a bowl and carved out by glaciers long since melted away. Down in the pit of it was a blue smear of water, a tiny lake spotted with bits of floating ice. Down there, at that cold shore, was a dot of onyx; it moved. The Chinee.

Scobie motioned again and the two edged back down to the waiting Cherokee. The three huddled as a mass with their horses like some warm, dark beast panting on the mountainside.

"How far you figure him to be, Scobie?"

"That's three mile, maybe a tad more."

"Was he alone?"

"Yeah. I know it's hard to believe, but he ain't got nobody with him, and I don't know how he's made it this far with no horse and nobody to help him."

"Yore right, Scobie. That boy's queer as cat shit."

Ben almost smiled.

"What do you boys thank he's packin? Thank he's got a long-range rifle? Thank he might could pick us off afore we could reach him?"

"He mought could, Bill. But we got him dead, anyways. All we have to do now is jus keep on his ass. It don't really matter if he sees us. An they ain't no way we gone be able to sneak up on him down there, anyway. Ain't nothin but ice an rock tween here an there. Mights well jus get in clost as we can an shoot him. You pop him, Ben. You the best shot of us."

"Alright." Ben turned to his horse and drew his rifle out of its scabbard. There was a rasp of oiled steel against frozen leather.

"An we gone have to leave the horses here. The slope's too steep on tother side. Gots to jus go down an git him. We come back an git the horses after we gets the Chinee."

Bill hobbled the horses, letting Scobie and Ben precede him over the top of the saddle. The two of them strode on over, making no effort to conceal their movement from anyone watching from the other side. The sun was rising high. Bill figured they still had five, maybe five and a half hours of daylight. Plenty of time.

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17 Jan 69
Daddy. We fount that Chinee. They God I wisht we had not of ever heard of him. I believe in God Daddy. Tell Momma an everbody that they is a God.
Bill.


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The three topped the ridge and came plainly over the saddle. There was no wind. Yard and Scobie and Ben fanned out, making a considerable space between them so that the others could break and run if the Chinaman did have a gun of some range. They went down and down the slope, Scobie front and center, the others moving around to flank their bounty. It was obvious that he could see them: there was virtually no cover in the huge, iceless col. But he merely held his position by the small lake, waiting.

When they had crept to within a half-mile of the Chinaman, Bill stopped and squatted; gripping his rifle and once again checking to make sure he had a shell in the chamber. The snow was not very deep in the col, only a few inches. Across the steep saucer of the valley, Scobie was moving in, closing in a straight line, sighting down the barrel of his gun from time to time. There was no reaction from the little man they pursued, only an odd movement now and again, his arms lifting up, waving strangely in the air. Overhead, the sun was at its zenith.

On the far side of the bowl formed by the valley, Yard could plainly see Ben curling down and away, faster than the others. He had obviously decided that he could move in for the kill. Bill knew that the Cherokee could hit a target as big as a man from half a mile. In a few minutes, a shot would crack the silence and he'd see the evil little fellow fall down, perhaps a clear blossom of red preceding his body to the snow. The Cherokee was jogging, moving into range.

Bill tore his gaze from Ben to see what the Chinaman was doing. Their bounty was gone. What the Hell? He had been close to the edge of the cobalt lake. No one would be stupid enough to go into water in weather like this.

Scobie was yelling, his voice loud, even from a distance. Bill could hear him clearly, "Ben! Ben!" He saw Scobie raise his rifle and fire, but not toward the Chinaman: at Ben's position. Yard peered across, over Scobie. The sun shimmered blindingly off the snow. A puff of ice blew skyward from Scobie's shot, but Bill saw nothing where his companion had aimed. Nothing. Ben was gone. He blinked, and for an instant thought he saw something long and low to the ground go sliding down the slope, something that seemed to move beneath the snow. But the movement was so quickly gone that he thought it was nothing more than a play of sun.

Bill ran to Scobie, no longer afraid of any gun the Chinaman might have. Yard stood beside him, leaning on the bigger man, panting after his race across the snow. He had been wrong about Ben not being there; he was, but he was lying in the snow and barely visible where he had apparently fallen. His arms jutted out of the white, his lambskin gloves dangling where they were tied to his wrists. He must have taken the gloves off to fire. He must have been close enough for a clear shot.

"Scobie. What happened? I didn't hear no shot." He was still leaning against the black man; his breath was a great plume rising up and up, vanishing. No answer. "Scobie!"

"I don't know. I saw somethin. I don't know what it was. Somethin come up out of the snow an..."

"And what? What was it"

"It...crawled up on Ben's back. An then he jus froze up an fell over. I...I think mebbe it...bit him."

"What bit him, Scobie? What are ye talkin about? And whar's the Chinee? He ain't down thar! Look, Scobie! He's gone!" Yard pointed, but Scobie did not look down to the tiny blue lake that lay surrounded by white and white.

The big man tore free of Yard's grip, and he trotted over to the Cherokee. He could see Ben's cap there in the snow: squirrel's tail tied on gray and shedding, and there were a couple of hawk feathers stitched on, too. "Ben? Ben. Are you all right, Ben? Ben!" He knelt and put his hands on the Indian's coppery face. Ben's cheek, where Scobie's thumbs pressed, caved in, shattering like window glass. His teeth were plainly visible through the new hole.

"They God," Yard whispered. "They God, what has happent to Ben?" He drew his rifle to him and peered round; looking for that movement he had seen just after Scobie had fired the one shot. He didn't have to ask if the Indian were dead.

The black man cast about and found Ben's rifle lying at the dead man's feet. He grabbed it up.

"What was it, Scobie? I didn’t see nothin but the snow kindly movin over thar past ol Ben. What did you see?" Yard could make out a trail, of sorts, a disturbance in the sheer coating of snow that lay everywhere. There had been something there. Something.

"I cain't say, Bill. I cain't say. I was lookin over here an Ben was fixin to fire. An then I looked down to see what the Chinaman was doin. An I heard somethin, like a soft wind, an then there was this...like a snake...only blue and white like ice an it was crawlin up Ben's back. They...I heard a pop, like it bit him. An Ben fell back an I took a shot. But it was gone by then. Gone."

There was still no wind. And the sun was yet high in the blue. "What are we gonna do, now? I didn't see at all whar that Chinaman went to. An what are we gonna do about Ben? We cain't jus leave him here. Wouldn't be right. Cain't bury him up here."

"Here." He held out Ben's rifle and Bill took it. Kneeling again, he took hold of Ben's left arm and made to pull him uphill, to get a better grip on the body. The Cherokee's arm snapped off in his hand, shirt and coat and all; the flesh inside had gone a pasty color, and the bone was a rounded cross section of white. "Jesus. Oh, Jesus." He dropped the arm and glared down the valley to where the Chinaman should have been.

"I'm sorry, Bill, but we gone have to leave Ben here. I know you didn't see the Chinee go, but he only could have gone up that draw yonder side an over the top of that ridge." He turned and began to trudge upslope to their horses.

"What about that thang, Scobie? What about that?"

"It run. It run when I shot at it. Let's go git our horses." And the snow crunching beneath their boots was the only sound.

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19 Jan 69
Daddy. It is almost dark now. Some animal we aint never seen has killt Ben Gess. I know you two fought them Yankees together. I know he saved yor life an I am sorry. We are goin to try and kill that Chinee. We aim to brang him in for that bounty. I hope I see yall again. I will write more tomorrow.


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Bill and Scobie took an entire day getting their horses around the wide col. They skirted the ridge top, knowing the horseless Chinaman would be moving well across the gaps and down the mountain. But they would catch up to him before he could get very far. The evening after Ben's death, they were heading downhill, already into the evergreens that lay like a black cloak beneath the bare tundra above. Now, their prey was leaving a track that even Yard could plainly see.

In the relative cover of a grove of birch trees, the two sat and warmed themselves over a small fire. The night had closed in, and above them the sky was mad with stars. "You thank there might be Crow Injuns in these woods?"

Scobie snorted. "There might be. But I ain't seen no sign of nobody but that Chinaman. He is one runnin bastard. But he ain't more n three hours ahead. An he gots to rest jus like us."

"I wisht Ben was with us. He can...could talk several injun tongues. Member him talkin with them Creeks in Arkansaw? We didn't have no trouble with red men with Ben with us. What was it you figure killt him?"

Scobie got his cup from the fire, and he drank down the hot water in it. "Wish we had some more coffee. Or even some of that tea we bought back in town."

"Hell, Scobie. We'll buy whatever the hell we want ater we kill that goddam Chinaman. You'll see."

Scobie's eyes scanned the blackness around them. He could make out the skeletal fingers of the birches reaching nakedly for those billions of stars shining their green light overhead. "May be," he grunted, swallowing the hot water. "We gone take turns watchin tonight. You go first. Then you wake me up an I'll let you sleep till jus befo dawn."

"Shore, Scobie. You go on an sleep. I'll watch."

Yard sat there after Scobie turned in. He sat by the hot coals, adding finger-sized sticks to the fire, faithfully manning his watch. He peered round and about, his ears straining for sound. Nothing moved, though. Not even the wind. Three hours later, Scobie rose and Yard huddled down into the black man's bedroll, relishing the warmth the other had left for him.

Soon, Bill was dreaming of home. His daddy had a good farm. Two hundred acres and six mules and some milk cows. There were no more slaves; but sharecroppers did the same work and things hadn't been so bad. Not really. He dreamed of that warm Tennessee sun and going out in the morning to cut firewood for his momma. He could hear the axe strike home. Crack!

Bill opened his eyes, gummy with sleep. It had been a gunshot. One shot. Scobie was screaming.

"Bill! Oh! Gawd! Bill!" And then there were no words he could understand. Just Scobie's voice making awful, painful sounds.

Yard threw off the blankets and stood, his rifle coming up with him. He had gone to bed with it like it was a whore, his hands hot around it in anticipation. He kicked out with his left boot, shoving small sticks into the fire. The flames leaped, made orange light. Scobie still screamed, and something long and pale, like the snow, writhed in Scobie's arms. It seemed to have a long tail trailing like bluish ice into the dark. Bill fired at that.

The shot went true. Bill heard the report, and then a crack not unlike the explosion of powder. Something wet jetted into the night. The thing, whatever it was, dove into the snow like a mole, like a burrowing rat, and then it was gone.

"Scobie?"

Yard was answered by a low moan.

"Scobie?" Afraid to look, he edged over to his friend. He peered down.

Scobie's hands were gone.

Oh. No, they weren't.

There they were.

Layin over yonder in the snow. Bout eight foot away.

"Oh. Oh, Gawd, Scobie. Scobie, no!" He knelt beside his friend, tears welling up. There was nothing he could do. Nothing.

"Bill." He would have reached up to pull Yard down to him. "Listen to me," he whispered. "You gone have to kill him your own self."

"No, Scobie. We got to git out of here."

"Shut up, boy, an listen to me. I'm dead. I'm dead. An if you try an run, I thank he will catch up to you an kill you while you sleep. You hear me, boy? So you better git on yore horse before that sun comes up an you better find him before that sun sets! That's what you got to do."

"Oh, God, Scobie. I cain't leave you. I..."

"If I ain't dead in ten minutes, then you gone shoot me in my head. An then you better git, boy. You hop on that horse an you git that evil witch. He ain't goin nowhere but down. You folla him down to the river west of here. That's where he's goin. You folla him, an don't you leave me here alive. Not like this."

"Scobie. No. We can get you out of here." Bill reached down with his left arm, to lift Scobie up. But his friend had already stopped breathing.

"Scobie. Oh, God."

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20 Jan 69
Daddy.

Scobie is dead now, too. I am writin this at the edge of this little fire. I have to get that Chinaman by myself now. I hope I can come home an tell you what happened. If I don't, then he killt me an this letter is all yall will have. Tell Momma that I love her an don't yall come out here to try an get that chinee. He is like the devil. At leas he has the devils power. I love yall.

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The trail was plain, now. Whatever creature that Chinaman controlled, it was not always with him. It left a strange track, under the snow. Bill had seen that track twice, and it was not here. The Chinaman's tracks looked labored. Initially, Yard had thought the man was wearing snowshoes; but now he could see shoeprints, (sandalprints, actually), stamped down there in the deep snow. During the morning, Bill had made good time, and he figured the oriental was no more than a mile ahead. He would catch him. Soon.

There had not been a heavy snowfall in two weeks down there on the mountain's flanks. So the footing beneath those first soft ten inches was solid. The horse was moving easily through the forest. The trees were great evergreens that held snow. Ahead, limbs still sifted their icy burdens onto the ground where the Chinaman had brushed against them only moments before. Bill dismounted, his rifle in hand; and he led his horse this last little bit before he caught that yellow bastard.

And then he heard the roaring. It almost frightened him before he realized what it was: water, great amounts of water rushing madly down over shattered stone. It was the river Scobie had told him he would come to. The sun was straight above. Noon. He would kill the son-of-a-whore before the hour was done.

The trail led through a thicket of young hemlocks, and then out onto bare rock that dropped steeply down to the edge of a canyon. There, on the verge of the rock, was the Chinaman.
"You bastard!" Yard screamed it at he top of his lungs, and the Chinaman actually turned to look. The little man was not smiling. His face was that same evil map of chewed leather, his eyes black and piercing in the sagging flesh, his lips like a long black slash there in the weathered country of his head. In turning, he fell back, his arms waving as in counterbalance too late. The water roared and Bill could here nothing else save the rushing of bloodlust in his ears.

Near a stand of shattered boulders, a shoulder of the mountain that had tumbled down, Yard stopped and let go the reins of his horse. He hefted the rifle, Ben's rifle, and he aimed it at the small black-robed figure that yet lay, arms dancing crazily, as if writing in air. He aimed carefully, the barrel pointing solidly: the great wad of lead would strike just under the rib cage.
To his right, Yard's horse reared up. From its throat, a scream that somehow bellowed past the roar of water. That thing had come down from the rocks, down from the ice in the cracks there, and it had landed upon the horse in its attempt to dash toward Bill.

For the first time, Yard had a good look at it. It was more like some gigantic bug than a snake. Its body was in segments, dozens of segments. And each segment bore a pair of thin, yet powerful legs that propelled the thing down the rock. Those legs had pierced his mount’s hide, and the insane horse was preventing the monster's advance. It snaked its body round the horse, encircling the neck, and it bit down into the mane. Bill could see mandibles creaking wide, closing upon hair and flesh, and something like blue water vomited out. The horse's jaws froze wide; and the weight of the animal's head caused it to break free of the neck in one great section that shattered like ice on the rock.

The body of the horse landed upon the thing, and it was struggling, rearing up like a big, blue erection.

And Bill shot it.

The bullet entered dead center, four segments below its head. Its carapace opened up, bled a gush of stuff that steamed, and then the wound was closed. But it retreated.

Bill drew out one of his pistols, and he fired it at the monster. His aim was true. The thing was wounded again, a leg falling to the ground like a broken stick. It backed away. Bill shot. The thing went back. He herded it along, his left hand producing yet a second pistol; and it fired and the thing was at the precipice. He leveled both barrels and the guns bucked in his hands.

The animal, if it was an animal, was pushed back like a paper kite in a strong wind. It tried to grasp the rocks with those legs, but it was too late. The edge went past it, and the thing went hurtling down into the gorge. Bill stood there by the lip and watched it plunge into the small river sixty feet below. The water froze around it, piling up as if by a dam, and the thing writhed there, trapped by the ice.

He was turning to see where the Chinaman was. That was why the blade struck his shoulder blade and skidded off, leaving a long, red cut down the flesh of his back.

"God!" He turned, fell. Warm blood oozed into his pants. "You!" The Chinaman twisted, too, wordlessly raising up the knife. Bill rolled, freeing his right hand. The gun shouted for him. A hole the size of Yard's boot blossomed on the yellow man's spine and he went down with a sigh.

"There, you whore-fuckin piece of dawgshit."

In pain, Yard retrieved Ben's rifle. He reloaded it carefully and slowly. Then he went to the edge of the cliff and sighted down its barrel at the thing that still squirmed and struggled in its trap of ice. He squinted finally and fired. Its head exploded in a hundred hoary shards. And the ice dam broke, sending pieces of the thing down the canyon as if in some kind of race.

By the light of the afternoon sun, he used the Chinaman's own knife to sever the wizard’s head. All the while, as he sliced and hacked, he kept expecting those white, even teeth to snap at him, to take off a finger. But the jaw was slack, and hung as dead as anything shot to and cut to pieces. He wrapped it in a blanket and took it back to where he had left Scobie's body, where he had left the other horses to hobble about the camp until his return. As night fell, the sky yet full of those billions of blue-green eyes, he made a fire and only fell into sleep when he could keep his eyes open no longer.

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19 Jan 69 again
Dear Momma an Daddy.

I have killt that Chinaman an will git the bounty when I take him back into town. The two thousan is all mine now. I dont know any of Ben's family. But Scobies sister still lives down the holler dont she? I will give her some of the money when I get back. This letter will make it back befor me but not by much. With any luck yall will see me home befor summer is over. I will help with the corn.

Yor son Bill Yard.


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14 June 69
To the Yard family of Crump, Tennessee.

Enclosed with this bundle, you will find the property your son had upon him when we found his body. I do not know what happened to him, other than what his letters to you state. When we found him, he was sitting there in what must have been his camp. The horses were gone, of course. There are just these pistols and this little bit of money. I sold his rifles to pay for his burial back in town. We looked for the Chinaman's head, but all we found was a bloody bit of cloth it may have been wrapped in. Some animal probably made off with it, it was so small. I guess no one will have the Chinaman's bounty. There are some anxious folk, I guess, in China, or that Plains of Leng the bounty stated. Be assured Bill Yard received a decent and Christian burial.

Sincerely, Joseph Whitaker, Territorial Deputy.

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From the porch of his home on the edge of town, Deputy Whitaker gazed up in awe at the mountains rising up like dragon's teeth in the summer sun. God, he thought, how cold had it been up there? The boy had still been frozen when they had found him in June. Whitaker shivered and sipped his whiskey.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hiking to Buckeye Knob

Hiking to Buckeye Knob.

After hooking up with Andy Kunkle and his puppy-dog Boone in Gastonia, we drove up to Marion NC where we met with Jack Thyen and Joel at the Wal Mart parking lot just off NC 321. This was the view of the mountains looming above Marion. In that bunch somewhere are Mackey Mountain and Buckeye Knob where we were headed. They're not really large mountains by NC standards, at less than 3500 feet in elevation, but they do rise impressively from the lower country where Marion is situated.

Soon after beginning the hike, we came to this waterfall on the trail. This was actually the best of the pair of falls on the route. The other one would have been a good place to take photos, but dying hemlocks have fallen into it and blocked it off.

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View from the top of the falls.

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The view from the base of the falls.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Flowers

Andy Kunkle, Jack Thyen, Joel (sorry, I forgot Joel's last name), my son Andy, and I gathered on Sunday for a hike in the Mackey Mountain area near Curtis Creek in the Pisgah National Forest here in North Carolina.

Jack Thyen, My son Andy, and Joel hike through a dying hemlock forest.

The area's a good one for hiking with lots of impressive peaks, some good waterfalls, and patches of virgin forest here and there. In fact, we hiked near some old growth forests, but as our schedule and trail conditions would have it, we didn't actually get to take a close look at any really big trees.


The main purpose of the hike was to get a look to see how this year's crop of wildflowers was doing. We did see a fair amount of wildflowers, but nothing really spectacular, except for some very vigorous and colorful patches of Dwarf iris. There were other flowers popping up, but nothing that particularly impressed me.


We bagged one peak, that being Buckeye Knob, which tops out at a bit over 3,200 feet. Not very high by North Carolina standards, but the long hike to the summit was tough. The weather was hot, dry, and the ridgelines were parched out from lack of rain. One thing that I learned, to my horror and disgust, was that these woods are PACKED with
ticks. This seems to me to be a good indication of the effects of global warming. I've been hiking and backpacking the southern Appalachians for well over thirty years, and I'd only ever gotten a single tick on me while in the high country--that being on Pinnacle Mountain in South Carolina a few years back. But on this trip I pulled eight ticks off my shins and thighs!

The guys on the hike who used Deet, however, didn't get any ticks on them. I didn't use any, and pretty much got covered with them. Next time I'll use the Deet.


This was a very tough hike for me. Once again I was reminded of my age, and of how out of shape I've gotten over the past year. I felt every ounce of the twenty pounds I gained after walking away from the diet in early 2007. One realizes the extra poundage as you labor up a steep slope on the way to a summit. It sucks! I keep telling myself that I'm going to shed those twenty damned pounds of lard, but then I go back the flatlands and eat fried chicken. Alas!


Oh, well. I'm going to give it another shot. Twenty pounds--I can lose that much.


Early azalea. We found a few of these opening up.

Violets.

I have no idea what these are. But there were lots of them.

I'm told that these are called Dwarf iris. Probably the prettiest flowers I saw all day. We'd pass large patches of them making wonderful color upon the forest floor.

More unknown. A small, delicate flower.

I am ignorant of this one, too. But it made for a great photo.

The first waterfall, with Boone pausing between splashing time.

Andy Kunkle taking a photo of azalea while I take a photo of Andy taking a photo of the azalea.

Some tree beginning to blossom. Another mystery for me.

My son, Andy, at a small waterfall along the trail.

These looked like tiny white bells. Very pretty. I don't know what it is.

I was told what these are, but I've forgotten. These were also on the forest floor in great abundance.

Violet.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Buckeye


Went hiking.

Mountain kicked my ass. Very tired. Post report later.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Friday, April 24, 2009

Places to Go, Things to See

Some places in my native South where I've never been, but intend to visit:

Cloudland Canyon State Park, Georgia.

The Pocket, Chattahoochee National Forest, Georgia.

De Soto Falls State Park, Alabama.

Sipsey Wilderness, Alabama.

Jefferson Pools, Virginia.

Mountain Lake Wilderness, Virginia.

Clifty Wilderness, Kentucky.

The Breaks Interstate Park, Kentucky/Virginia.

Cumberland Gap National Park, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia.

Big South Fork National River, Kentucky/Tennessee.

I've never been to any of these places. Some of them have been very high on my to-visit list for years, but time being what it is, I've yet to make my way to any of them. Hopefully, the future will find me in at least some of them (hopefully all). Life is way too freaking short.

The Towers, Breaks Interstate Park, Virginia/Kentucky.


Global Warming Claims an Ancient Culture.

Understanding the Horror of Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining.

"Clean Coal" is BULLSHIT!!!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Goodbye to All That

One of my favorite book titles is Robert Graves' GOODBYE TO ALL THAT. It's his autobiography dealing mainly with his days as a British soldier during WWI. It's a pretty horrifying account of that struggle, but is a book of many facets. He caught a lot of flack from his fellow countrymen over his blunt admissions about the conduct of his fellow Allied soldiers and of the insanity of the war itself. It was, in many ways, taking leave not only of the grief of those memories, but also of the grief of having to bear up under the weight of his British identity. With that book, he seemed to cut a lot of baggage loose.

I've always been able to identify with people going through such turmoil. In a nutshell, I don't know the advantages of weird concepts like tribal loyalty. They had their day, I reckon, but it seems so strange and counter-productive in these modern times to hold fast to such primitive ideas. I cast my contempt on pretty much every kind of so-called patriotism.

For a long time I had not much but admiration for Graves. For his courage and his clarity of thought to be able to throw off the chains and move on, improved by freedom. Alas, though, I continued to read his work and soon found that he was, like all of my other idols, cursed with feet of clay.

Before WWII he was living in a kind of happiness on the island of Mallorca off the coast of Spain. Both the Spanish Civil War which pitted the filthy murdering bastard Francisco Franco against the Socialist Republican Loyalists in a bloodbath of almost unimaginable savagery, and the threat of Nazi capture caused Graves to leave his idyllic home on the island and go into temporary exile. So he boarded a British rescue ship and ended up in, among other places, the USA for the duration of the hostilities.

Eventually, though, he did return to his home in Mallorca. It was, though, the Spain of that Fascist sack of shit, Francisco Franco. He could have gone somewhere else. But he didn't. He went back to his island farm, ruled now by one of the most murderous tyrants of modern European history. I could have forgiven him that--going back to the embrace of a land ruled by a vicious monster. But he did something that forever colored my impression of Mr. Graves.

He wrote a story to excuse himself of this act. Now, he didn't have to do that. He could have just returned to his old Mallorcan haunt and held his mouth shut, or uttered an occasional "no comment" about going back to a place now administered by one of the most evil regimes to ever hold sway in the western world. They weren't going to molest a man of such reputation. Not at that point. All he had to do was go about his business, write his fiction and his poetry and tend to his orchards and his wife and children.

But there was that excuse he felt he had to pen.

It was in the form of a short story in which the reader is left to conclude that the Loyalist Republicans were no better than Franco's Falangists. Anyone who understands what went on during the Spanish Civil War is left to be astounded by the scandal of such an argument. It was then that my respect for Graves as a person drained forever away.

I still hold him in high regard as a writer. I admire some of his ideas about the nature of the social standing between men and women. He was brilliant.

But I had to say goodbye to my respect for him as a person.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Wrapping Up Another Novel

I'm very hard at work trying to finish THE-NOVEL-FORMERLY-KNOWN-AS-BEAUTIFUL-BOY.

I really loved that title (BEAUTIFUL BOY). It was absolutely perfect. Then that asshole came out with a book using that title last year. I wouldn't have worried about it (you can't copyright a title), but it was a best seller and would still be foremost in the minds of editors (even though it was non-fiction and my book is a work of fiction). So in addition to trying to pen those last few thousand words, I also have to figure out what I'm going to call it.


First of all, I was still going to use the word "boy" or "child" in the title. But now I'm not so sure. Instead, I'm leaning in another direction entirely. It's a problem, but now that I'm almost finished with the manuscript, I won't worry about it too much. It will come to me.


While I work on the book, here are some cute photographs of Lilly to look at. She's a year old, now. Yow!



The first day or so after we brought her home.

Waking Lilly up when I got home from work one day. Still in uniform. "Can't you let me sleep?" says Lilly!

Sleepy Lilly.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Fort Clinch, Part Two

Some panoramas and details of Fort Clinch:

Stitched panorama of part of the interior of the fort. It's a pretty expansive place.

For some reason I took almost no photos of the ocean and sound views from the fort. I guess I was sick of the ocean. But you can look out into the sound from the walls of the fort, and one can easily see Cumberland Island, which is not far from where I was born. (Not a very effective stitch, but the best I could do.)

Once again I am reminded of the engineering it took to create these earthworks and buildings. Most impressive.

Guns aimed out to sea.

Detail of the system of wheels that allowed the guns to be aimed.

Covered area outside one of the buildings. This was actually a mess area, with dining facilities inside and outside.

This lock was on one of the doors in the hospital section of the fort.

Chains and such on the floor of the brig.


Some of the tools located in the storerooms. Yeah, that's a casket on the floor, for shipping bodies of the dead to various parts of the country once the corpse was embalmed.

Monday, April 20, 2009

We Visit Fort Clinch


On our last full day of vacation, we drove a bit north of Little Talbot/Big Talbot to visit the
Fort Clinch State Park. Clinch was once part of a series of federal forts built to protect the southern coasts from threats both real and imagined. This one, unlike Forts Sumter and Pulaski to the north, never saw any actual battles. Not even from Feds and Rebs skirmishing over the rights to see who could piss into the Atlantic.

It's actually a very impressive fort. I've visited a number of these 19th century forts, and this one ranks with the best of them in preservation and in complexity of construction. Just sheer number of bricks that it took to build these places is mind boggling. And when one considers the technology at hand in those day, it's absolutely amazing to stand in and on these forts and realize the effort involved in engineering these walls and buildings.


One curious fact is that this fort was briefly at work again as a military installation during the 1940s when it was used to search for roving German U-boats. Not surprising, considering that the Nazi bastards indeed put some infiltrators ashore not far from
this very spot.

We had a really nice time in this park. In addition to the historical aspects, it's an overall nice place to hang out. The next time we head down in that direction, we're going to book at least a few nights at the campground. It's hard to believe that I once lived not 100 miles north of this park and never once heard of it. Alas. I robbed myself of quite the experience. This park has quite a lot to offer, including fishing, kayaking, boating, hiking, and biking. We'll definitely while away some hours there some day down the line.


This is one of the buildings at the entrance to the fort complex. You have to pay for admission to see the fort beyond this point.

Sign telling you what's ahead on the trail.

Our first sight of the fort as we came out of the trees.

The guns on the Atlantic facing walls.
As we got ready to walk into the fort.

I had to get this shot of the roof of the entrance. The sheer number of bricks is amazing.

The fort complex that greets you as you pass through the gates and walk onto the grounds of the interior.

Typical bunk area for enlisted men.

Actor who portrayed an enlisted man. He was packed with information about the day to day running of this fort. He always stayed in character and was quite amusing.

Carole descending one of the narrow stairwells that one finds throughout the fort.

To give you an idea of the size of the cannon: an old man standing in front of one.

Me, at the brig. (I'll try to post some more shots of the fort tomorrow.)

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The view of the fort just inside the gates. The foundations that you see on the ground were for barracks that were never constructed. Fort Clinch was never actually completed. It was decommissioned before the building were even finished.

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The view from atop the fort on one of the sea-facing walls.
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That ol' flag. It was a-flyin' and a-snappin' that day.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

One Beach: Two humans

On our first day at Little Talbot Island State Park, we drove from the campground over to the beach section. At the very end of a long paved road was a boardwalk that led down to the beach at the very tip of the island. Numerous signs were erected to declare that swimming was not allowed, with information bits explaining why:

Apparently the beach drops precipitously into very deep water and there are extremely powerful currents in this area.

At any rate, we had no intention of swimming. We just wanted to walk the beach and look around. Little Talbot boasts of having five miles of unspoiled Atlantic beach. This is a fact. We could look north as far as we could see and could spy nothing created by humans save for a few of those warning signs. In addition, we saw no other people. No one else was beach combing, and no fishermen were along the shore with rods and reels. We had the place to ourselves.

One of the boardwalks across the dunes leading down to the Atlantic. These days, most beaches have such boardwalks to preserve the dunes. When I was a kid, they were rare sights and, of course, the dunes suffered for it, losing the vegetation that covered them and held them in place.

Mid-section of one of the dune fields. It's requested that people stay out of these places. Left only to the grasses, shrubs, and the animals who live there.

The wind was blowing extremely harshly while we were on the beach. The sand blasted away at our bare legs. It was actually quite uncomfortable.

The only "people" we saw. I took this telephoto shot of a cruise ship leaving its Jacksonville port. As advertised in those warning signs, the water does apparently drop off precipitously. Sharply enough to allow shore access to a ship of this size.

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The wind was really howling on the beach, moving sand in uniform fashion.



Saturday, April 18, 2009

Manatee Springs, Day One

Just a few photos from the first day of our Spring vacation.

Normally, we wait unitl later in April or early May before we take our first long vacation of the year. But for various scheduling reasons, we settled on earlier for 2009. As soon as I'd gotten off work, we loaded the truck, attached the trailer, and headed south to get an early start. I finally ran out of steam around Hilton Head and we pulled into a SC rest area and parked the rig to spend a few hours sleeping. We got up about daybreak and continued our trip to Manatee Springs, arriving there at around noon.

Carole and I get the trailer set up and the campsite ready.

We headed down to the spring to take a look. The weather was really much cooler than we'd anticipated, but the water there is a constant 72 degrees so we decided to jump in and have a swim.

Carole took this one of my standing at the edge of the limestone shelf above the spring vent. It was pretty deep there. Not sure how deep, though.

The raccoon who was checking out our campsite for a possible raid. Fortunately, the raccoons at Manatee Springs are not as bold as the ones we've encountered in other parks.