The Party: Chapter 16 – Bill Brown, Friday Flash Fiction

Yes, this is political. I offer you trigger warnings for language and sexual and racist slurs and comments. Future episodes may also contain rape, abuse, and other unpleasant things.

Chapter 16: Bill Brown #9645990

Bill, rose stiffly from bed at the chimes. It had been two weeks since he’d asked Officer Fernald about writing to his family. Before he knew what was happening, Fernald, someone Bill had thought was pretty nice, given the circumstances, was zapping him with the cattle prod. The officer, while Bill was still writhing on the hall floor, blew a whistle. Three other guards ran up and Fernald began beating him with the prod. The others joined in with their prods and with boots to the back, stomach, anywhere they could reach.

Bill had woken in the infirmary, hands and feet strapped to the bed. A tube was in his mouth, he couldn’t breathe through his nose, and an IV was hooked to his arm. A headache felt like the top of his head was going to blow off. A white-coated doctor came in.

He glanced at the monitor beside the bed, turned so Bill couldn’t see it. “Well, 9645990, you’re a lucky guy.”

Bill didn’t feel lucky. Every part of him hurt.

“I would suggest, in the future, you not ask for anything. You have four broken ribs, a broken arm, kidney damage, and your left femur has a fracture. Your nose is broken, that’s why you can’t breathe through it. I’ll get the nurse to unhook the ventilator. It looks like you’re breathing on your own now.”

Bill grunted. It was all he could do with the ventilator in his mouth.

“I’ll see you get some water. Your mouth is probably very dry.”

Bill managed a small nod.

“Headache?”

Bill nodded again, though the movement made his eyes water.

“We’ll get you something for the pain.” He looked at the monitor again. “Trust me on this. The next time you’ll be headed to the morgue.” With that he turned and was gone.

After the nurse came in and unhooked the ventilator, given him some water and took a few minutes to wipe his face. Bill felt somewhat better. The male nurse had been gentle, but all of the activity had ramped up the pain levels. He was happy when the nurse came back and shot something into his IV bag.

“Pain meds. Doc says you can have them for the next twenty-four hours. After that, you’ll have to suck it up.” With that the guy was gone.

A day later, despite the kidney pain, and casts on arm and leg, he was sent, with a crutch, back to his dorm. No one spoke to him.

It was two days before one of his dorm mates told him, they’d all been hit with the cattle prods for his indiscretion. The whole thing was a huge lesson for him. And, he realized, for everyone. They really were nothing but farm animals. Slaves, he finally recognized. And anything any one of them did was going to result in punishment for the whole group. Bill went into a slump, emotionally. It was too much to take in.

After a week, the other men began to talk to him again. George, from his work room, walked with him a moment on the track. “You okay?”

Bill shrugged. “Yeah. I can hobble along, after a fashion. Try and get my strength back.” The crutch hurt him under his arm. Especially since he couldn’t change sides with it. But he’d learned his lesson. He didn’t ask the guards for anything.

“Happens to at least one person in every group. They make an example. Sorry it had to be you.”

“Me too.” Bill nodded to George, then George moved off before one of the guards blew his whistle.

Bill hobbled on. It took him the whole thirty minutes to get around the track once. He was breathless and light-headed as they went back into work. He’d learned his lesson. Now, he watched everything around him. What he’d thought was kindness on the part of any of the guards was simply a strict adherence to their rules. Mostly it was that they weren’t sadistic assholes. And some of the guards were sadistic. They’d cattle prod a man for no reason, then snigger when the man fell to the floor, flopping like a fish out of water.

He noticed they didn’t laugh, though. They eyed the cameras; then would kick the guy they’d just zapped to stand up with a slur matched to the man. Nigger, Spic, Kike—Bill thought those names had been long forgotten, but apparently not. He also realized the guards were under as much scrutiny as the workers were. Perhaps just not punished as much. Though after a month and a half, he recognized that guards were replaced. Especially the sadistic ones. Just one day, someone else would be in the old guard’s place. That was something, he thought to himself. But it didn’t make it much better. He was still a slave. And that stuck in his craw.

Thank you for reading.

Phoenix Fan Fusion T’s, Friday Flash Fiction, Gardening, Payson Book Festival: Monday Blog Post

Newest News:

After the show, I began showing some of the t-shirts from the Phoenix Fan Fusion. Above is one for this week.

If you read my Friday Flash Fiction, you know that last Friday, I began a serial story. I’m calling it The Party. I don’t generally get into politics on my blog, there’s just no reason to upset people with my opinions of things. However, some rhetoric lately has gotten me thinking of ways what’s being discussed can go horribly wrong. I’m not the first author to think about these things. Many authors over the last few generations have done the same. Animal Farm, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, are just three of many stories that have looked at the political arena of their time and turned to “what if”. I’m no Aldous Huxley or George Orwell, but The Party is my take on what I see and hear in the current news. So, I guess, this is a warning. If you don’t care for dystopian stories, give The Party a pass.

As of Sunday, my newest tomato plants are surviving. The zucchini has been chewed but is still hanging in there. We’ve bought a hav-a-hart trap and so far, have caught one chipmunk. We transported him up to a wild stream, where there will be plenty of water for it. There are two more chipmunks to catch but I haven’t seen them since we caught the first one. After we brought the trap back from the stream, we reset it. A couple of hours later, we saw two squirrels standing next to the trap. Laughing at it I suppose, as it’s too small to catch them. They’re next on my list.

Giveaways:

I’m gearing up for the Summer giveaway. I see other authors signing in and getting their prizes ready. I’ll let you know when it goes live.

Where will I Be?:

The Payson Book Festival 2019. Mark your calendars for July 20th. Go to www.paysonbookfestival.org for all of the details! We have nearly 90 authors, lots of speakers in both the Fireside and Maple rooms, and again, the silent auction. Want to just make a donation? Go to our Paypal.me page, Payson Book Festival.

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Click here to sign up for my newsletter. I’ve put sign-up gifts on the regular and the SciFi/Fantasy and the Cozy Mystery newsletter sign-ups. That’s right. If you sign up for my newsletter you get a free story from me. Be prepared for fun and contests! Click on the video link for a short video from me. Hear what I’m working on. Join my “A” Team to be the first to read my books and hear what new books are coming.

Don’t forget to follow my blog, too. Different material goes in the blog as in the newsletter. You can share both, so spread the word!

Newest Book Release:

Gold Dreams released May 13th, 2019. It is only up on Amazon, at the moment. I’ll let everyone know when the print version is up and is up on the other platforms. You can also see all my books on https://conniesrandomthoughts.com/my-books-and-other-published-work/. If you’ve read any of my books, please drop a short, honest, review on the site where you bought it or on Goodreads or BookBub. Your review is critical to help me promote the books to other readers. Thanks in advance.

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The Home, Part 5: Flash Fiction Friday Post

See Part 4 here.

Morgue__Table_by_anaisroberts in Deposit Photos

The Home, Part 5

At five till two, the staff that was going to the meeting were already in the conference room. The security guard had the door open while Ralph made a big scene getting broom, trashbags, mop, and water-filled bucket through the door into the lobby. Mike was trailing along with the buffer. Edna had a stack of buffer pads. I stood at the door with a clipboard and pen. “Okay,” I said as I made check marks on the paper. I smiled at the guard, who was glaring at the four of us. “That’s everything. Thank you, Austin, for holding the door for us.”

Austin wasn’t happy, and he grunted in what sounded like disgust. “Just get on with it,” he said. “We’re not supposed to have the door open this long.”

“Of course. Just let them put the stuff down. Shall I hold the door while you go with them?” I smiled sweetly, doing my best not to let my excitement show. This was going to work!

He looked with alarm at the other three, steadily marching toward the front door. “Yes. Yes.” He hurried across the lobby. “Hey. Stop right there.”

I slipped out into the lobby and let the door close behind me, holding it so it barely snicked as the lock caught. I rushed across the floor. Ralph put the bucket down, dropped everything but the broom and shoved the handle end of it right into Austin’s chest.

Edna all but threw the buffer pads to the side and Mike let go of the buffer. I really expected a horrendous scream from Austin but he was making little mewing sounds instead, eyes wide in shock. Mike and Edna ran for the front door. I grabbed Ralph by the arm. “Come on.” He was standing, staring at Austin, hands still on the broom handle. “Let’s go!”

He nodded, releasing the broom and took two steps then went back.

“What are you doing?”

“Keys.” He dropped to his knees beside Austin, still making those noises, and searched his pants pockets. Ralph pulled car keys from the left pocket. “Got ‘em.” He rose and ran to the door Mike was holding open.

I don’t know about the others, but outside in the sun I was nearly blind. “This way,” Edna called. We followed her to the parking lot. I had my hand over my eyes, looking through the spaces between my fingers.

Ralph was holding the key fob out, pressing the unlock button until we heard the car horn of a newer model four-door sedan. To say we ran was an understatement. Ralph took the driver’s seat. Edna was front passenger. Mike and I slid into the back seat. “Let’s go!” Mike yelled.

That’s when a klaxon began to sound. “Hurry!” I yelled. I looked out of the car windows. That noise was going to bring the neighbors. But there weren’t any neighbors. There were no other buildings within sight.

The car tires squealed as Ralph floored the gas and pulled out of the parking space. Security was running out of the building.

“They’re going to catch us!” Edna yelled.

“Not if I can help it.” Ralph had both hands on the wheel, white knuckled.

I slid back into the seat and put on my seat belt. We were already going so fast I was scared to death. Mike saw what I was doing and did the same. “Look out!”

One of the security guards was just about at the parking lot. We just had to get past him and we’d be able to drive down the driveway and out of here.

Edna covered her eyes. It looked like we were going to hit the guard. I held my breath. At this speed, Ralph might lose control of the car if we collided with the guard. We brushed by it, it’s hand out. I could hear it thump against the rear window, right in front of Mike’s face.

“Hoo!” Ralph yelled. “We made it!”

We were at the edge of the parking lot, driving onto the access road. That’s when I saw the shimmer. “What’s that?”

“What?” Ralph asked.

Then we hit it.

I woke up in the infirmary, sick to my stomach and fuzzy-headed. Some noise was piercing my brain and I just wanted it to stop.

It was coming from my right. I turned my head to look. It was Ralph. A monitor beside him was screaming, a bright green flat line running across the middle of it. A monster came to Ralph’s bedside, made a note on an electronic pad, then turned the monitor off. He pulled the sheet up over Ralph’s face. He noticed me watching, then left.

Ralph dead? How? Then I remembered the car. We were out! What? I was trying to get my brain to function when Dr. Jenkins appeared at my bed. “Laurie. How are you feeling?”

“What happened?”

“You and your friends tried to escape.” He took a pad from the monster I saw cover Ralph. “You had your seat belt on. That saved you.” Jenkins shook his head. “Your friend Edna died on impact.” He stared into my eyes. “I know you planned this. Now two of your friends are gone.”

“Mike?” I asked.

“He’s been transferred to another facility.”

Sadness and grief came over me like a mountain crashing down on my chest. I couldn’t breathe. I could feel tears leaking from the corners of my eyes and running down my face into my ears. They were all gone?

“I’ve called for your son.”

A small bright spot of hope. “Stan is coming?” It was so hard to focus. What kind of drugs had they given me?

“He’ll be here this evening.” With that he handed the pad back to the other monster and left.

I drifted in and out of sleep. They brought me a tray, but I couldn’t face the glop that they’d served. My stomach rolled and I pushed it away. I fell back to sleep. I woke up to voices in the hall. Was that Stan? I tried to focus on the conversation.

“What happened?”

“She led an escape.”

“Escape? How’d you let that happen?”

That was Stan’s voice. What did he mean by that?

“Your mother is very smart. It was a long-term plan and she and her friends carried it off beautifully. The training said humans were smart. They were right.”

“How is she now?”

Ah, that was my boy.

“She’s fine. She had a seat-belt on. Right now we have her heavily sedated.”

“Can she talk?”

“Yes. I told her you were coming.”

“Fine. Let’s go in.

I tried to wake up more. Of course they’d drugged me. Monsters. I just wanted to see my son. I tried to focus as they entered the bay. There he was. He must have come straight from work. He was still in his suit and tie.

“Stan?”

“Yes, Mother.”

I reached out for his hand. “Stan. Get me out of here.”

“We can’t do that, Mother.”

I looked up at his face. Tears began to flow as I saw at his gray-green skin.

Thank you for reading The Home.

Quartz: Part 13 – Flash Fiction Friday Post

See Part 1 Here.

It was two months later that her parents arrived by stage. Mary met them at the hotel then brought them by Mrs. Estrada’s carriage to Mrs. Estrada’s. Three days later, the entire town turned out to Mrs. Estrada’s for the wedding.

“What changed your mind, child?” Mrs. Estrada asked in a quiet moment in Mary’s room.

“He told me how he felt.” Mary wiped tears from her eyes. “He’s a good man, Cassie.”

“I know he is, chick.”

“He hates the killing. He blames the gold.”

Cassie Estrada nodded. “I understand. But between you and Mr. Talbot?”

Mary chuckled. “I would never. Mr. Talbot was being polite. So was I. He’s a gambler. There would never be anything.”

“Would Zeke know that?”

Mary sighed. “I’m sorry for that. But Zeke was reluctant, I think. Never thinking he was good enough. He needed to feel that he’d won.”

Mrs. Estrada shrugged. “A close thing, that kind of game. You could have lost.”

“I know.” Mary wiped an eye. “It was close. But Zeke needed a push.”

That afternoon the local preacher married them in Mrs. Estrada’s flower garden. The party went on long into the night.

Two days later, Mary and Zeke waved her parents off on the stage back to Santa Rosa.

Zeke wrapped Mary’s arm in his. “The bank transfer is complete. Are we agreed on San Francisco?”

Mary smiled up at him. “I am. That’s where we need to be, Zeke. A nice ranch outside of the city. It’s green and full of water there.”

Zeke grinned back. “Yes. We’ll raise fine horses there.”

“And children!” Mary punched him lightly in the arm.

“And children.” He laughed and held Diva’s head while Mary mounted. Yes. California. Well away from the gold dreams. That’s what he wanted.

End.

Words: 299

Thank you for reading this serial. I hope you liked it. By now it should be available as a paperback and ebook at the on-line bookstores of your choice.

Quartz: Part 12 – Flash Fiction Friday Post

See Part 1 Here.

Adding to his misery, he’d left the bodies where they were and left Woolsey and Brokaw to their own devices as he hid in his tent for the rest of the night. He wasn’t proud of it but he’d reached the end of his ability to deal with the death. It was midday before he came out, sleepless and heartsick.

His hope that the two mining men would have dealt with the bodies was overly optimistic. The four lay where they’d died but the mining men were squatting, ignoring the bodies, around the fire, their interminable cans of beans heating beside the fire. Zeke swallowed his earnest desire to smash the both of them with the nearby shovel for their disregard of human life and offered a pale greeting. “Mornin’”

“Mr. Stanford. Greetings from a great day,” Woolsey offered. “We reigned supreme in the end. A fine Arizona morning.”

Zeke supposed it was and walked to the shovel he’d left by the arista. “So it is. I’ll get to burying these men.”

“What matter!” Brokaw waved his mug of coffee. They’re dead and gone. Let the crows have them.

Zeke looked to the sky. Indeed, the crows and ravens were already circling. If the men hadn’t been there, the birds would have already descended. “It’s not Christian.” It was all he could offer. He’d held a hand in their deaths after all, so he couldn’t be all condemning. “It’s right we bury them.”

Woolsey sighed. It was clear the man thought Zeke a weak. “Very well.” He rose and tossed the remains of his cup of coffee into the fire and pulled the can of beans away. “Best get to it then.”

The burying of four bodies made a long day and at the end, Zeke had nothing to scribe into the wooden crosses for any of the men except Delbert but Outlaw One, Outlaw Two and Outlaw Three. That made him even more sad than before. What about their families? Who would mourn these men?

In the meantime, the two mining men talked about nothing but the richness of Zeke’s claim. They rode out the next day talking about ounces per ton, and the method of transport. Zeke rode ahead so he couldn’t hear them. Scouting he called it and blamed the Apache attack he’d suffered weeks ago. Really, he just couldn’t stand the sound of them any longer. He missed the days of riding on his own. Working on his own.

When they got into town, he bid them farewell and rode out into the chaparral. He needed to get some quiet. Two days later, he rode into Mrs. Estrada’s. Cesar hurried from the barn. “Mr. Zeke! Are you all right? We were so worried when we heard the mining men were back but you were gone!”

Zeke dismounted. More guilt piling up. “Sorry, Cesar. I just needed to get their voices out of my head.”

Cesar nodded. “It’s good you are back. Miss Mary is so worried.”

Zeke closed his eyes. Of course Mary was worried. What was he thinking. “I’ll make it up, Cesar. Thank you.” For once, he let Cesar take Butters and lead him into the barn while he went to the house. He remembered his manners and was doing his best to beat the dust from his clothes when Mary raced down the steps and slammed into him in a huge hug.

“Zeke! Zeke! I’ve been so worried.” She hugged him so hard he didn’t think he could breathe. That’s when she slapped him in the face making him stagger. “What do you think you were doing! You disappeared without a word. I’ve been worried sick.” She advanced on him until he retreated across the yard to avoid her wrath. She was like the stories of the Norse Valkyrie, avenging goddess, hair flying in the breeze, full of fire and ice. He’d never seen anyone more beautiful.

“I’m sorry. Sorry.” He held out his hands in supplication, trying to hold off her anger.

“Sorry doesn’t make it right!” She crossed her arms, breath coming fast from her anger. “I was worried sick. You just disappeared. The sheriff has men out looking for you!”

“I apologize. I’ll apologize to the sheriff, too. Mary. It’s been a hard week. Will you forgive me?”

She smoothed her loose tendrils of hair back as though her hair angered her as well. He wondered that it didn’t come out by the roots. “Very well. But you’d better have a good explanation.”

“I do.” He convinced her to walk with him and they wandered across Mrs. Estrada’s little ranch. First, feet apart, then closer. By the time they were by the stream, they were hand in hand. By the time the supper bell rang, they had reconciled.

Words: 798

Quartz: Part 11 – Flash Fiction Friday Post

See Part 1 Here.

The next day started early. The men seemed eager, for a change, to get started. It was a hike up to the mine. Once there, he stopped and looked around. With any luck at all, this would be the last time he would climb up here. The view was of rolling hills, studded with alligator juniper and shrub oak. As the mining men examined the entrance, Zeke watched a javalina and her juvenile offspring trot, single file, across the prairie.

“You mind if we go in?”

“Go ahead,” Zeke said. “See what you’re payin’ for.”

He sat down and enjoyed the view as they went in. The sweat from the climb cooled his back as he wiped his face with his bandana. It seemed strange to be showing people his mine. He’d kept it secret for so long.

A noise behind him made him turn. Were the men done already?

He was face to face with a gun barrel. When he raised his eyes, it was the man from the alley, the night of the dance.

“Ha! The look on your face. Thought you were done with me, didn’t ya?”

Three more men crept down the hillside on each side of the mine entrance. Zeke could hardly form a coherent thought. Weren’t they supposed to be in jail in Globe?

The man waved his gun. “Get over there, out of sight of the entrance.” Zeke slowly got up and moved to the spot indicated. The other three men took position next to the entrance, out of sight of the two who would come out. Zeke eyed his rifle, lying on the ground where he’d been sitting. The man holding him at gunpoint picked it up and tossed it down the slope. “Just take it easy, there, son. No sense getting shot.”

Zeke agreed with him there. What was this guy’s name? “Delbert. You don’t have to do this.”

Delbert laughed. “Shut up. On your knees.” He moved behind Zeke. “You just keep quiet now. No callin’ out to your friends.”

Zeke felt helpless. He wasn’t friends with the mining men but he didn’t want to see them shot. “How’d you escape?”

“None of your business. Shut up.”

They waited, the sun beating down. Zeke could feel a trickle of sweat run down his spine. Could he warn the mining men somehow?

Delbert jabbed him with the gun barrel. “No ideas. I’ll shoot you first.”

Zeke guessed his thoughts were obvious. All he could think about now was Mary. Would she ever know what happened? Eventually. The coordinates were on the claim. Mr. Markum would send people out if he didn’t return, wouldn’t he?

He looked up. He could hear Woolsey and Brokaw talking as they came out. They were feet outside the entrance when they noticed Zeke on his knees, Delbert behind him.

“Howdy boys.” Delbert pointed at them as they stopped.

His partners moved behind the two mining men. Guns pointed at their backs.

“That’ll be far enough.” Delbert jabbed Zeke. “Stand up and get over there with them.”

Once Zeke was there Delbert said, “Now drop those gunbelts and kick them over here.”

Zeke watched the mining men slowly unbuckle the belts. Didn’t they have any tricks? He sighed as the belts hit the dirt and they kicked them over. Apparently not.

“Tie ‘em up.”

Zeke could feel his hands pulled back and tied behind him. The rope was biting into his wrists. “Let’s get them back to camp.”

The walk back was difficult. It was hard to keep his balance with his hands behind him. Once at camp, Delbert’s men tied the three of them to a tree and proceeded to explore the camp. One went for wood and soon they had a fire going and had Zeke’s food out and being cooked.

As night fell, Zeke worked the rope on his wrists. He was hungry but worse, he was thirsty. And angry. Not only was he tied up in his own camp, but they hadn’t even cared for the horses. He could hear Butters whinnying in complaint.

“Shut that horse up!”

“He’s thirsty and hungry.” Zeke felt he had to call out. He didn’t want his horse shot.

“Shut up, boy.”

“Feed the horses, Dan.”

“Why do I have to do it?”

“You want a ride out of here, don’t ya?”

There was mumbling Zeke couldn’t hear but the man was getting up to do what he was told.

“We could use some water,” Zeke called out.

Delbert laughed. “I’ll bet you could, boy.” The others with him laughed as well.

Zeke sighed and settled back.

“Nice try, son,” Woolsey said.

“You two have any ideas?”

“Nope,” Brokaw said. “Never been in this situation before.”

Great, Zeke thought. He continued to work at the ropes. His hands were slick. Blood, more’n likely, but he continued. Maybe they’d get slippery enough to get out of the ropes.

Eventually, Delbert’s men lay quiet around the dying fire. Zeke watched and worked. It seemed the ropes were getting looser. Twice he’d jerked awake, having fallen asleep as he worried the ropes.

The night sky wheeled around, and Zeke finally broke a hand loose. The moon had risen, and he could see blood dripping from his fingertips. He put a hand on Woolsey’s shoulder. “Stay quiet.” He untied Woolsey, then did the same with Brokaw. They wriggled out of the rope wrapping them around the tree. Zeke’s leg was asleep, and he could hardly stand on it as the prickles made his leg feel like ants were crawling all over it.

The three crept up on the sleeping men. Zeke went for Delbert, a rock in hand. Woolsey had a rock as well and Brokaw had a broken tree limb. Just as Zeke reached Delbert, the man rolled over in his sleep, muttering something. Terrified, Zeke smashed the man’s head. Woolsey and Brokaw did the same.

Zeke sank to his knees and did a sudden turn. The bile was a bitter as his anguish.

Words: 1004

Quartz: Part 10 – Flash Fiction Friday Post

See Part 1 Here.

https://secureservercdn.net/184.168.47.225/5cd.b1f.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/australian_gold_nugget_by_nerodesign.jpg

Zeke seldom traveled with others and Woolsey’s and Brokaw’s incessant talking was annoying. If it had been interesting or informative, it would have been different but the two just traded tales of saloons and fights and loose women. Dirty jokes figured heavily into their repartee. From their talk, it seemed they didn’t travel together all the time. And neither man seemed to be married. Neither of them ever mentioned a wife or children. What kind of life was that?

They stopped at midday to rest the horses and eat a bite. Neither man had thought to bring a lunch, so Zeke shared his ham biscuits. He was surprised they’d remembered to fill their canteens.

Just before sundown, Zeke stopped at his usual camping spot, off of the trail, just for safety. The two men were about to sit and make themselves comfortable when Zeke realized what they were doing. He suggested they take care of their horses, then for Brokaw to gather wood for a fire. They made a bit of fun at him for being bossy but did as they were told. Zeke made sure the horses were hobbled properly. He did not want to have to go looking for horses in the morning.

When he finished, he was pleasantly surprised to see that the pair had managed to light a fire. They were pulling cans from their saddle bags.

Zeke pulled his small cast iron skillet from his bag and a couple slices of bacon. He got those frying then pulled a coffee pot out and dropped in a few spoonsful of coffee. One of the reasons he camped here was a small spring nearby. He filled the pot and his canteen and put the pot on the fire. The bacon done, he added a little flour to the grease, stirring it all around and then piling it into a biscuit shape. He let that cook and pulled out his cup and spread his bedroll on the ground.

The two others had opened their cans and set them beside the fire. They watched Zeke with interest. “How’d you learn to do that,” Brokaw asked as Zeke formed his pan biscuit.

“My ma showed me before I left home. The bacon fat already has salt in it.” He shrugged. “Not as good as baked, but it fills the stomach.”

“Smart.” Woolsey checked his can. He stirred it up from the bottom, losing a little bit of the canned beans over the side. “Dang.”

They ate, mostly the two mining company men talking about fancy restaurants they’d been to in Denver and Tucson. Zeke grunted in spots to let them know he was still awake. After he ate he cleaned his pan, added water, then beans. He used the cast iron lid to cover it and put it beside his bedroll.

“What’s that for?” Woolsey asked.

“Breakfast.”

“Smart.” Brokaw nudged Woolsey with a grin. “The boy’s smart.”

Zeke sighed silently and after banking the fire, lay down to sleep. It was going to be a long trip.

The next two days went the same as the first. By the time they made Zeke’s permanent camp, he was thoroughly sick of his two companions. A quick check made it clear to him that nothing had been disturbed. He gave the two men his tent. Anything to separate him from them for even a short while. Zeke showed them the creek and mentioned that he had panned some gold there. But it was up in the hills that the mine was.

For the first time the men looked competent. They waded out into the stream and probed around a little, muttering to themselves and each other. They peered up at the hills and still talking, gestured possible water flows and rock formations. Zeke washed up, and went back to camp, collecting fire wood as he went. By the time it was dark and the two men had returned, the fire was going, the horses had been cared for and Zeke was making his dinner.

They walked around the camp, admiring the layout and his arrastra. They asked informed questions about how he’d searched out the gold, and nodded with understanding as he talked about the potato and mercury trick. While they ate, they told him about other miners and how they’d done their work. Finally, Zeke thought, something useful from these two. Maybe the Apache don’t have to kill them. The evening passed quickly, and Zeke bid the two good night as they retired to the tent.

Words: 755

Quartz: Part 9 – Flash Fiction Friday Post

See Part 1 Here.

The next morning he said goodbye to Mary and after stashing a napkin-wrapped bundle of biscuits with butter and ham in his saddle bag, he left for town. It was a good day, starting off cool with the sky a clear blue. Birds sang as he passed, and a coyote hurried across the road ahead of him. He mentally reviewed the contents of his saddle-bags. Mrs. Estrada had been generous, and he had beans and flour and bacon enough for the nine days he planned to be gone. He had some cornmeal as well to make cornbread if there was time. His canteens were full, and he had feed for Butters too. This was just supposed to be a quick trip. He hoped it would go according to plan and that Mr. Woolsey and Mr. Brokaw were experienced outdoorsmen. If they were tenderfeet, it was going to be a long trip.

Markum was on the hotel porch in one of the rocking chairs, when Zeke arrived. He tied Butters to a rail and went up the steps. “Mr. Markum. Mornin’.”

“Good morning, Zeke. Woolsey and Brokaw were just finishing breakfast. They’ll be out shortly.”

Zeke nodded and took the chair next to Markum. “They have supplies for nine days?”

“I believe so. I saw them in the general store yesterday, buying supplies. I put in a good word with them at the livery, to get good horses.” The man eyed Zeke. “You have everything you need?”

“I do. It’s out and back, so I didn’t bring a lot.”

Markum nodded. “The men who ambushed you are being sent down to Globe for trial.”

“Good.” Zeke was relieved. “I wondered how that was going to be handled.”

“The sheriff found some wanted posters. He telegraphed the sheriff down there. Turns out they are wanted for several claim-jumping and assault charges. Colton told me you have some reward money coming.”

Zeke rubbed his face and nodded. It wasn’t that the money wasn’t welcome. Between the three gunmen and however much these brush-poppers were going to bring in, he had several years-worth of income in the bank. Nothing to scoff at. But the stares and the speculation were more than he wanted to deal with. Even as he thought that, men passing by were looking at him. He couldn’t wait to get out on the trail. “Appreciate the news.” He turned to look at the front doors of the hotel. They were open to the morning air. Where were those men?

“They’ll be out soon.”

Zeke looked at him with eyebrows raised.

Markum laughed. “I can see you looking for them.”

Zeke nodded. “Just want to get going before the day gets hot.”

“Of course.”

So they waited, talking about the assay business, mining in general, and some of the town gossip. It was an hour and a half before Woolsey and Brokaw came out the front doors. “Ready?” Woolsey said.

He was more jovial than he had a right to be as far as Zeke was concerned. They at least had their saddlebags in hand. “Ready.” He stood up and shook Markum’s hand. “Appreciate you coming out, Mr. Markum.”

“Glad to be here, Mr. Stanford.” He tipped his hat to the mining company men. “Safe trip, gentlemen.”

“We plan on it,” Brokaw said.

“I’ll walk with you to the livery,” Zeke told them. He left the porch and untied Butters as Markum shook their hands. Finally, they left the porch and headed to the livery. Zeke, leading Butters, walked with them. “You have to do this often? Travel out to some mine or other, I mean.”

“Often enough,” Woolsey replied. “All over the west. Where ever the company sends us to look.”

Zeke thought that sounded uncomfortable at best. He was mining now, but when he was married and settled down, he wanted to sleep at home in his own bed.

“How about you, son. You been mining long?”

Zeke shrugged. “A little over a year, now. Left my Pa’s ranch and came west.”

Brokaw nodded. “Sowing a little wild oats?”

Zeke didn’t like the way the man sneered. “Just looking for a strike. Then for a good place to ranch.”

The conversation ended when they reached the livery. The man had the horses ready to go. Zeke was glad. He was ready to get on the trail. Once they had their saddlebags in place and were mounted, Zeke got on Butters and led the men out of town and across the chaparral. It was good to get back out on the trail.

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Quartz: Part 8 – Flash Fiction Friday Post

See Part 1 Here.

Zeke went back down to the kitchen where Pia was moving around preparing breakfast. He was just too wound up to sleep. He sat at the kitchen table. “Where did Mrs. Estrada go?”

“She went back to bed.” The woman put a cup in front of Zeke and poured him some coffee. “She told me what happened. You’re fine? Miss Mary?”

“We are. Talbot too.”

“Good thing he was there.”

As much as it choked him to say so, he had to agree. “He warned me, earlier. But who knew they’d try something right in town.”

His stomach rolled. What if something had happened to Mary? It was too much to think about.

Cesar came in and Pia gave him some cornbread from last night and a slice of cold ham, while Zeke sat at the table. Pia was speaking to him in Spanish, telling him about the ambush, Zeke thought as they kept glancing in his direction. Good. That way he wouldn’t have to tell it again. He finished the coffee and went out the back door. The sun was just beginning to brighten the horizon. He sat on the back steps and watched as the sun came up, the birds waking and singing their morning songs as the sky became rosy then blue.

Cesar had gone back to the barn and Zeke could hear him moving around, the horses stamping as he gave them hay and water, the rooster crowed and the hens came out of hiding. Pia went out with a basket and gathered eggs. Zeke felt like a bum, letting the couple do all of the work but he just couldn’t seem to move. He was going to kill those men if he could have. All for the gold. If it weren’t for Mary, he would let everyone have the gold. It was nothing but trouble.

“Morning.”

Zeke looked up. It was full day and Talbot was approaching the steps. “Beautiful day.”

“Yep.”

“You doing all right?”

Zeke was tired of people asking him that. “Fine.”

Talbot’s eyebrow rose. “Fine.” He went inside. Pia followed. “I get you some coffee, Mr. Talbot.”

“Thank you, Pia,” Talbot said.

Zeke felt completely tired of Red Talbot and wondered why the man was hanging around Payson. There couldn’t be that much money gambling here in town, could there?

Pia called him in for breakfast and he went to the dining room. Talbot was seated there, along with Mrs. Estrada. He looked at Mary’s usual chair.

“I’ll take her something later,” Mrs. Estrada said. “We’ll just have a quiet breakfast, the three of us.”

Zeke nodded. That was fine with him.

The rest of the day was quiet. Talbot went to bed. Mary got up at noon and had a light lunch with him and a walk down by the stream. They talked about what kind of life she was looking forward to. He talked about the kind of ranch he’d like to have. Mary asked him about the mine and he told her about building the arrastra and using potatoes to get gold nuggets.

When the bell rang, they came in to dinner. Talbot didn’t bother him nearly so much this evening as before. Mary played, after dinner, and he went to bed content.

The days passed and finally, Markum sent word that the mining company was in town. Zeke put his best clothes on and rode Butters into town. He tied up at the Assay office and noticed all the eyes on the street looking at him, people whispering to each other. He was uncomfortable. The sooner he could sell the mine the happier he’d be.

Markum stood up when Zeke came through the door. “Mr. Stanford. Welcome.” He came around the desk. “I’d like you to meet Mr. Woolsey, and Mr. Brokaw, from the Black Canyon mining company.”

The two men stood up and Zeke shook hands. “Pleasure to meet you, gentlemen.”

Markum had brought enough chairs for everyone. “Let’s get to business then. Mr. Woolsey, would you like to begin?”

“Certainly. We are always on the look-out, Mr. Stanford, for claims like yours.” He motioned to Mr. Brokaw. “Here’s our standard contract, with the details filled out concerning your claim. If you’d like to take a moment to read that.”

The two mining company men waited while Zeke read the contract. It was full of legal words and Zeke had trouble with it but the gist of it met his requirements. He asked them about some of the words, and satisfied, answered. “It seems straightforward, gentlemen. What next?”

“Well,” Woolsey began. “We’d like to see the claim.”

That made sense to Zeke. Who’d want to buy something sight unseen? “Fair enough. When would you like to go?”

“I understand it’s about a four-day ride. How about tomorrow. That gives us time to gather supplies.”

“I’ll be ready. Are you stayin’ at the hotel?”

“We are,” Woolsey replied.

“I’ll stop there to pick you up at seven.” They all shook hands and the mining company men left.

Markum clapped Zeke on the back. “It looks like this is going to work, son.”

Zeke nodded. “It does. Will I see you in the morning?”

“I’ll be at the hotel to see you off.” He walked Zeke to the door. “Say hello to Miss Young for me. She’s recovered from Saturday?”

“Yes.” Zeke thought he might not be recovered. He’d been having nightmares every night. “I’ll tell her you asked after her.”

With that, he went out, got on Butters, and headed back to the house. But instead of going straight back, he took a ride. It was nice country around here, and he needed time to himself to clear his mind.

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Quartz: Part 7 – Flash Fiction Friday Post

Part 1: Here.

https://secureservercdn.net/184.168.47.225/5cd.b1f.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/australian_gold_nugget_by_nerodesign.jpg

“Stop right there.”

Zeke did as he was told while Mary was kicking her attacker with the heels of her boots. A third man appeared, and slapped Mary into silence. Zeke could feel his heart pounding. Those men were going to pay.

“Now,” the one with the pistol said. “You’re going to tell us where that claim is.”

In the poor light, Zeke peered at his attacker. “You were in the Oxbow window tonight.”

“Maybe.” The waved the gun. “If you don’t want nothin’ to happen to the little lady, you’ll tell us where the claim is.”

“It’s on file. Wouldn’t do you any good. You’d just be arrested for claim-jumpin’.”

“You let us worry about that.”

Zeke made a move toward the man. A shot rang out, kicking up the dirt in front of his feet.

“We have a friend, out of sight. Don’t try anything.” He waved at the two men with Mary, now standing on her feet. We’ll just take the young lady with us. In the morning you’ll sign over the claim.”

“Don’t do it, Zeke,” Mary called out.

The third man slapped her again.

Zeke thought about how he was going to cut that man’s arm off at the elbow. He clenched his fists. Through his teeth he growled. “And who shall I make the paper out to?”

“I’ll be there in the morning. That’s all you need to know for now.” The man waved to his partners and they started to back away, taking Mary with them.

Zeke didn’t know what to do. The two with Mary had guns on their hips. One was in front of him with pistol drawn and there was another, somewhere in the darkness, ready to shoot. “Don’t take Mary.”

The men laughed. “You do what you’re told,” the man with the pistol said. “She’ll be fine in the morning.”

A shot rang out and a man’s voice screamed. While the man with the pistol looked, Zeke charged him. They wrestled for control of the gun. Zeke was terrified that in the struggle, Mary would get shot. He could hear her screaming and the two men grunting with pain. Good for her passed through his mind but he was busy. The geezer that he was fighting was wiry and fast. Stronger, too, than he appeared. This was not going to be easy.

Sounds of fists hitting flesh and men crying out in pain came through to Zeke but he couldn’t take the time to look. Finally, he got the gun and in the struggle, shot the geezer in the leg. He cried out in pain, calling curses on Zeke.

Zeke whipped around. Where was Mary? He saw her kicking one man as he lay on the ground and two men fighting. In the dark he couldn’t tell who was who. One man punched the other in the face and the man went down. The puncher, rested, head down and hands on his knees.

“I have a gun,” Zeke called out.

“It’s Talbot,” the resting man said.

Mary stopped kicking the downed man and ran to Zeke.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

Breathless, she said, “Yes. You?”

“Fine. I’m fine. Talbot?”

“I’m good.” He stood up, walked over to his hat in the dirt, picked it up and slapped it against his leg. “Quite the end to the evening.”

“How’d you know to come help?”

“I saw the four of them leave.” He shrugged. “They didn’t look like they were up to any good so I followed.”

“It’s a good thing,” Mary said. “Thank you.”

Talbot tipped his hat. “At your service, Miss Mary.”

Just about then, the Sheriff came around the corner. “What’s going on here?”

“Sheriff. It’s me, Zeke Stanford, with Mary Young and Red Talbot. These men ambushed Miss Young and myself.”

The sheriff approached, pistol drawn, and looked at the men on the ground. He pushed his hat back. “Three men?”

“Four,” Talbot offered. “The other one is just up the hill in the backyard of that house. I shot him.”

The sheriff gave Talbot a look. “Well. Let’s tie these three up and go look.”

It was nearly dawn before Zeke and Mary got back to Mrs. Estrada’s. They gave the horses a quick rub down and water, then shut up the barn. In the house, Mrs. Estrada was in the kitchen. “What happened?” She hurried over to Mary. “It’s nearly day break.”

Mary nodded. “It’s been a story, Mrs. Estrada. We were ambushed.”

“What!”

Zeke told her the whole story. Pia came in as he finished. “I’ll get coffee,” she said.

Mary shook her head. “I just want to go to bed.”

“Of course. You do that,” Mrs. Estrada said.

Zeke escorted Mary upstairs and stopped at her door. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

She nodded and smiled up at him. “I’m fine. Just tired. I’ll see you in a little while.”

“Good night,” Zeke said.

“Good morning,” she chuckled. “Thank you.”

“Anything, Mary. Anything for you.”

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