Coming soon: a new web address for this blog!

[[[At the end of November I'll be migrating this blog to a new address, which will be:]]]

28 November 2013

NaNoWriMo: Day 28

The last few (several) days have been plot-work days for my novel. I just couldn't write any more until I had a clue where all this was going. So I'm not going to 'win' NaNoWriMo. That's cool, because I haven't lost anything, either. Instead, I've gained a novel with a plot, that's just waiting for me to write it. This particular chapter, from which today's excerpt comes, is tricky. I've had to move carefully with this one, and it has taken a lot of thought. It's important.


Abraham Archer woke to the feeling of being watched. He kept his eyes closed and his breath deep and even. He kept his body relaxed, and just listened.
Whoever it was, wasn’t making any noise at all. He knew they were there, though. He could feel them. They were – there – at the foot of his bed. Just one of them, watching him. It was – male – and – old – old enough to manifest visually. But it wouldn’t do that. It was being cautious.

Archer opened his eyes. Sure enough, there was no trace of the spirit who had watched him. He didn’t get the impression that this was a spirit which would be easily cowed, or prone to timidity. Was he so strange, even the spirits found him frightening? He got out of bed and began dressing. As he pulled his clothes on, he began talking quietly, almost to himself. He spoke of his first two days in Bisbee – how he had bought a horse that he hadn’t yet ridden, how he had found treasure in the library and a gem in the cafe. As he shaved in the bathroom mirror, he spoke between swipes, about his appreciation of the fine people he had met and the impressive amenities of the hotel. Finally, Archer expressed his gratitude for the hotel’s hospitality. Then he slipped out the door, leaving his room to the spirits. 

17 November 2013

An excerpt from The Night of Writing Dangerously, Live

I'm at The Night of Writing Dangerously. Wanna see what I'm working on tonight? Keep reading...

The Mayor's office was in the Courthouse on Quality Hill, on the fourth floor. There was an elevator that once had a motor, but the motor was long ago replaced by a crank, manned by a sour looking man who smells of onions. He said nothing as Archer and Peter approached, merely grimaced and put his hands to the crank. Peter slid the gate closed behind them and the sour man cranks them to the fourth floor.

The ride up was silent.

At the top, Peter slid the gate back open and gestured for Archer to precede him. Archer stepped out of the elevator, and into a plush world of faded maroon velvets and dark, dense wood.This building, like the library, was an architectural jewel. Somewhere deep, Archer squashed the urge to examine the walls - were they facades, or real? - and contented himself with regarding his task at hand: the boy. Peter's posture had straightened markedly from the haunched and angry shape it had been when they left the Grande. The boy seemed almost a man when he knocked on the burnished double doors at the end of the hall.

The doors swung inward with a creak. Beyond them an office opened, lit by the windows lining its outer walls. There were phosporescent lights here too, unlit. Law books lined the walls in recessed bookshelves, and two large men, perhaps brothers of the onion man from the elevator, stood to either side of the open doors. Archer noted them as a show of force, and narrowed his attention to the man behind the desk. The resemblence to Peter was visible in their small, cold eyes, but where Peter was gawky with youth, the Mayor was jowled and ruddy. A man prone to drink, thought Archer, and with an affinity for keys in his decor. The desk between them was a monsterous block of wood, post-Fall production no doubt but reminiscient of the pre-Fall art deco style, with naught for embellishment but two guilded keys reaching from top to bottom on either side of the desk's front. The Mayor stood and extended his hand, smiling briefly. Archer stepped forward and clasped the Mayor's hand in return.

"Colonel Abraham Archer?" the Mayor said. "I'm so glad you've come. When I heard that the esteemed Colonel Archer of Fort Valor had made his way into our little corner of the Arizonas, I just had to welcome you myself, man to man."

The Mayor gestured to a chair, "Please, sit. Peter, fetch us a refreshment."

Peter stalked to the far wall and retrieved a platter set with two small glasses and a clear glass bottle of something brown - probably whiskey, Archer guessed.

"That's thoughtful of you," Archer allowed. "Might I have your name?"

The Mayor cleared his throat and shot the barest dark glimpse at his son, who had set the platter down and was pouring two glasses from the bottle. "Forgive me, Sir, I've been remiss. I am Rodney DeWitt, honored Mayor of this town, and I am, as I said, terribly pleased that you have come."

Archer returned the Mayor's gaze, his face neutral.

DeWitt cleared his throat again, then gestured for Archer to take a glass, now half full of the brown drink.

"Whiskey," the Mayor began proudly, "from my own distillery." He swirled the glass beneath his nose  and inhaled deeply. "It's not easy, you know, making whiskey in this climate. Have to improvise, what work what you do have." He paused again, looking pointedly at Archer. "It's much the same as running a town. It's not easy to keep this town clean and safe. We got the fighting to the east, as you well know, and nothing but coyotes and mountain lions on all sides. You know, after the Fall, Bisbee was in just as precarious position as every other city in the continent. We just got lucky, being small as cities went, and having so many good people here. People who didn't mind getting their hands dirty and doing some work. That work ethic is what keeps us stronger, growing even. We buckled down and do what we have to do. Never relied much on the outside world before the Fall, and haven't needed it since." DeWitt paused again to regard Archer, who only regarded him back. "But I expect a man of your abilities knows all that. Some say that's all ancient history, but I say history puts us where we are. What do you say, Colonel Archer?"

"Oh I suspect both opinions have merit."

When Archer didn't continue, DeWitt did. "You might be right. But we're not here to philosophize, are we? You strike me as a straight-forward man, Colonel, so I'll just ask you upfront: what brings you to Bisbee?"

Archer held the Mayor's gaze for a moment, then sipped from his glass. Smooth and oaky, the whiskey was better than he had anticipated, and he let the Mayor simmer while he pondered the flavors the alcohol presented. Peter, standing behind his father, began shifting from foot to foot.

Archer began slowly, turning the glass in his hand, "First, I'm not a Colonel anymore. I'm retired." There was a flash of something predatory in the Mayor's face. Archer continued. "Second, I'm not sure yet, that I'm staying." He raised his eyes to meet the Mayor's, then set his glass on the desk.

"Well I hope you do stay. I hope you do. We've got the best town between the oceans here. Good people here, and we need more good people working to keep it safe for those folks. You know what I'm saying. Not everyone who follows the law is good, and not everyone who is good, follows the law. That's just the nature of human beings.."

Archer raised an eyebrow, but the Mayor pushed on.

"Take your story for example - oh yes I know it, I've got family in Tombstone, too, you know. Anyway, you did a good thing and got branded an outlaw. Now, most folks would say you paid your dues putting your all into your military service the last twenty years. That's longer than Peter here's been alive! But I say you never had any dues to pay, and we owe you now, and big! Yes Sir, you've earned yourself a big rest and the gratitude of the Arizona Republic. Well, I can't speak for the Republic or any other towns in it, but you're welcome here, Sir, and I want you to know that if there's anything at all you need, you just ask ol' Rodney DeWitt, and I'll come help you out."

Archer took another sip from his glass, then set it down and contemplated the way light came through from the windows, through the glass and the whiskey, and reflected odd parabolas against the wood grain of the desk. "That's mighty kind of you," Archer said.

As he anticipated, the Mayor filled the proceding silence for him. "Of course, you don't seem the kind to sit idle. No Sir, you're a man of action. Am I right?"

Archer nodded cautiously.

"Well Sir," the Mayor continued, "As I've said, this town could always use more people of conviction to help keep the streets safe for all the good people who live here. You are, of course, welcome to make this you home. In fact, I hope that you do."

"You've mentioned that," Archer said, wiping his hand over his face. "But there's something you're not mentioning." Archer was tiring of this game.

DeWitt feigned shock; surprise would have been more honest, Archer thought.

"Mayor DeWitt, what war are you fighting, that you need an old soldier like me?" The Mayor sputtered, but Archer talked over him. "I'm no outlaw, whatever anyone said. That's all ancient history, anyway, and I have earned a rest. But you don't give a personal welcome and fine whiskey to every man that wanders into town. So who are you fighting?"

Rodney DeWitt sucked in his cheeks and reappraised his guest. Archer watched the big man pick up his whiskey glass and set it back down three times before he lost patience.

"If you'll excuse me, I believe our business is concluded," Archer said as he stood. "Thank you kindly for the welcome and the whiskey."

The Mayor raised his hand, "Wait Colonel Archer, please. Sit, please."

Archer paused, then took his seat.

DeWitt continued, "That's better, yes, thank you." He took a deep drink of his whiskey. "Forgive me. I get carried away, I'm afraid. This town is my heart and soul. I believe in this town, and want nothing so much as to keep the people of Bisbee safe and happy. Please, forgive me. I - I had not intended to burden you with this, but I see now that I must." He paused with a sigh, and locked eyes with Archer. "You see, there is trouble brewing. Trouble that could mean the end for this town, and I mean to have the best team I can muster to help me preserve our way of life here."

Archer steepled his fingers under his chin. His silence spurred the Mayor to continue.

"Colonel Archer, I intend to offer you a job. A man of your skills and experience," DeWitt raised his hand, shaking a finger at the ceiling, "you should be - you should be celebrated! Esteemed!" He lowered his finger in Archer's direction. "You should be well paid." He dropped his hand, and his voice dropped several decibels. "And I can do that for you."

Archer grimaced, about to speak, but DeWitt cut him off with a wave of his hand. "Sir, what I'm asking you is to help me uphold the law. You have been here, what, two days? You've seen the people here. They're good people. We don't have much crime here. Maybe a man gets a little too drunk and does some property damage now and then, or walks into the wrong house and gets removed a little too roughly. That's about it. Keeping the people safe from each other isn't much work." The Mayor leaned across his desk. "It's keeping them safe from them that isn't so easy." He pointed off to his right.

Archer raised an eyebrow. "Them?"

"Them." The Mayor nodded. "The mine."

"I thought the mine was closed - defunct."

"That's what they want you to think!" DeWitt's face flushed. "Shut it down back in '17. Nobody even remembers that anymore. But just last year, an entire district was evacuated, and now all those people are gone. Vanished. Where did they go? Why can't I walk into that district and see what's there? Or what's not there - that's more to the point. All those families, all those people - gone. There's a fence around it. That land - that land that used to be a town - is now part of a  mine that's supposed to be shut down. And I want to know why. And I want to keep them from taking the rest of this town." He looked meaningfully at Archer. "And where can I go for help with this? The government doesn't care unless it's keeping Old Mexico from taking Arizonan land. I've got nowhere to turn, but to the people around me. And forgive me, but I can't let the opportunity to enlist your aid pass me by. You know what you're doing like nobody else. You can find out what's going on, if anybody can. I need you. This town needs you. I'll make it worth your efforts. What do you say?"

Archer looked down at the Mayor's desk. With great care, he said, "Mayor DeWitt, you're in a tough spot here. I can see that. I'll consider your offer. If - if - I accept, I'll name my price, and you can agree to it, or not. But we'll get there when we get there. Until then, I'll need you to give me a few days. I'm not going to say exactly how long, and you won't come bothering me while I'm thinking." He cast a glance a Peter, who was glowering in the corner of the room. "Ask your son how I feel about courtesy. You'll need to respect my space until I come to you with my answer. Are we clear?"

DeWitt sucked in a deep breath. "Yes, I understand. I'm a patient man, Colonel, but I'm afraid the mine is neither patient, nor man. Do not dally too long, for the sake of the good people of Bisbee." He glanced back at his son, whose face was flushed and tight. DeWitt scowled and turned back to Archer. "You know how to find me. If I'm not in, Otis and Melroy here will bring you to me." He gestured to his oniony bodyguards.

"That'll be just fine," Archer said. "I'll take my leave of you." He swallowed the last of his whiskey and left the glass on the desk. "Good day," he said, waving to both the Mayor and Peter.

"Good day Colonel Archer," the Mayor responded. "And thank you."

Archer nodded, and found his way out.

12 November 2013

NaNoWriMo, Day 12: a quickie

This is a quickie because I'm packing for the Night of Writing Dangerously.

I'm packing for the Night of Writing Dangerously.


Anyway. I'm not done writing today, but I'm posting my excerpt now because I probably won't have time later. And, I may or may not write en route. I don't know yet.

So without further ado, today's excerpt:

Archer was enjoying a mid-afternoon beer at the hotel bar and contemplating the apartment above the cafe when he next saw the young man who had directed him to San Pedro’s Stable the other day. The youth – Peter, Archer recalled – sauntered in the front door, leaned across the bar, and beckoned for Flynn to come. The young man had a lot of nerve, it appeared. He had the look of a young officer, but none of the respect. Archer doubted the boy had ever done a lick of real work. Flynn had gone quickly enough to see to the boy’s needs, and now his gaze flickered in Archer’s direction, then back to the boy, who leaned back away from the bar looking smug. Archer frowned and took another swig from his beer. He pushed the barstool back and stood. Stein in hand, he walked over to Peter. Flynn seemed startled by Archer’s approach; Peter clearly disapproved.
“Gentlemen,” Archer said, nodding at each of the other men, “I wanted to thank you both for the good guidance you gave me. I found the most excellent horse at San Pedro’s, and for a fair price.”
“I was glad to hear of that, Mister Archer,” said Flynn.
Peter’s face flashed something – distaste, Archer thought – but the boy pasted a smile on and oozed charm like a sewer oozes stink. Archer smiled back at him.
“So pleased to be of service, Sir,” the boy practically cooed. “So I hear you’re a military man.”
Archer felt the hairs on his neck creeping up to his scalp. “Formerly. I’m retired.”
“Surely a man of your ability does not plan to be put to pasture?” the whelp asked, all innocence but for those conniving eyes.
Archer’s tension released a flow of energy limbs from his fingers to his toes; this was the type of warfare he knew, and this insolent brat was no match for him.
“Oh I think a pasture sounds refreshing, particularly if I can populate it with mares,” he rejoined. “But perhaps I shouldn’t speak so to children – I would be remiss if my poor, soldierly manners were to corrupt this fair town’s youth.”
Peter’s face burned and his lips pressed together into a thin red line. Flynn’s face was impassive, but Archer detected the faintest sparkle in the man’s pale eyes.
“I can see I’ve stolen your words, child,” Archer continued, “please, you came here with some curiosity about me, ask me your question and I shall try my utmost to answer it chivalrously.”
Peter sputtered, then raised his finger to Archer’s face. The boy was about to say something, but Archer didn’t wait to hear it – whatever it was, it would not have been congenial. Instead, he struck; between the boy’s intake of breath and the first word he might have said, Archer grabbed Peter’s pointing wrist and spun, bringing the boy across his own back and down. Peter found himself inexplicably on his back, on the floor, with his arm locked tight in the kneeling Archer’s grasp, and gasping for air like a fish out of water. The smattering of other patrons in the bar were whispering ferociously behind their hands.
“Young man,” Archer said to him, “I don’t have time for people with poor manners. Kindly keep your fingers out of my face.”
Peter nodded, dazed but certain that he didn’t want to remain in this position.
“Good then,” Archer said. “It’s always good to know one’s boundaries.” He smiled then, and released Peter, who scrambled to his feet.
Flynn cleared his throat. Archer glanced at the barkeep in acknowledgement but kept his attention focused on the boy dusting himself with shaking hands off a few feet away.
“It’s true, Sir, Peter did have a message for you,” Flynn said. “Might better deliver your message Peter.”
Peter glared at the barkeep and growled, “My father will meet with you now. He sent me to fetch you.”
“And your father would be?” Archer inquired.
“The Mayor,” Peter said, regaining enough composure to put a gloating smile on his face.
“Ah, so you’re just the errand boy, then?” Archer asked, goading the boy. “Will you lead the way? It just so happens that I was just wondering whom I should seek apology from for your rudeness.”
Peter’s face purpled; some of the other patrons had stepped forward to see better, but now they edged carefully backwards.
“We’ll have none of that, errand boy,” Archer said, gesturing to Peter’s holster. “You’ll be taking me to your father now.”
Peter’s hand dropped – he hadn’t been aware that he had been reaching for his pistol. Fuming, Peter stomped out of the bar. Archer smiled at Flynn and asked if he could pay for his beer when he returned. Flynn thought that would be just fine.
“I’ll put it on your tab, Mister Archer.”
“You do that, Flynn. Good to see you. I’ll be back soon enough, I’m sure.”

“Yes sir, Mister Archer.”

11 November 2013

NaNoWriMo, Day 11

Today I wrote 1163 words of When Stones Sing.
This brings my total to 16,473. It's pretty good, but not quite where I need to be. That's ok though, because I'm on a roll now. If I'd had more time to sit in front of my computer today, I'd have a lot more words. They're in there, in my head, just waiting to be written. The writing life is good.

Today, I had a deeply meaningful conversation with Archer, the real Archer, in which we figured out that we love each other. Again. He is, as always, a blessing in my life.

Today I spent time with friends, and that reminded me how wonderful my friends are. All of them, even the ones I didn't see today. I love you guys.

Today I won the battle against depression. The war is ongoing, but this was a victory.

And in two days, I'm driving to San Francisco.
More on that later - it's past my bedtime.


In the Sanctuary, was life. It could not properly be called a room; beyond the stairway, there was nothing manmade here. The roots of the great tree above marbled the ceiling and hung between dripping stalactites of azurite and malachite. The floor of the Sanctuary was speckled by stalagmites, but between them wove a Labyrinth marked by azurite stones placed end to end. At the center of the Labyrinth, The Well bubbled happily, looking more like a pond leaping along its stone shores than a well.
Splashing her hands joyfully in the dancing water, was a tiny little girl with ratty brown hair and the filthiest clothes Jacq had seen, maybe ever.
Jacq looked at Sasha and Frank. Sasha’s hand was over her mouth. Frank’s hands were in his pockets and there was a sour look on his face. Jacq sidled up to Sasha.
“So, I guess that’s the girl?” Jacq asked.
Frank grunted. “That’s her.” He took a long breath. “One of the acolytes tried bathing her, but she wasn’t having it. That little bag of bones has Loki’s fire in her blood. She took off while the acolyte was drawing the water for the bath. Found her down here, playing in the Well.”
“And she just – ” Jacq started.
“Middle of the Labyrinth,” Frank added, rather unnecessarily, Jacq thought. His voice had taken on an awed edge, though, that made Jacq recall her own trip to the center of the Labyrinth. It had not been easy or pleasant for Jacq, but there was that little girl who with her happiness brought Jacq’s difficulties into question.
Sasha’s hand finally released her lips, and she whispered, “how old is she?”
“Don’t know. Told ya that,” Frank said.
“She’s so tiny.” Jacq couldn’t make sense of the girl at all. “Are they all that little?”
Two sets of eyes turned to evaluate Jacq.
Sasha might have growled, Jacq wasn’t sure.
Really Jacq,” the other woman said, “why did I even bring you?”
“Cuz you didn’t wanna walk!” Jacq’s head felt like it might explode.
“By the Bones! You two are worse than children! Knock it off, for Hel’s sake!” Frank’s raised voice cut through Jacq’s sudden anger, deflating her wounded pride.
“Sorry Frank,” she mumbled.
Sasha sighed, and said, “I’m sorry too, Frank. And Jacq, please forgive me. I didn’t mean it.”
“S’okay. I’m sorry too.” Jacq couldn’t look at the two adults next to her, so she looked at the child instead. The tiny girl had stopped playing, and was standing at the edge of the water, looking right back at Jacq.
Jacq blinked.
Sasha gasped.
Frank raised his voice to carry across the distance: “Come along now sweetheart, I’d like you to meet these two. They’re Hands, like me.”
Jacq felt herself crouching down the way she would to meet a new dog. She hoped Sasha wouldn’t think that rude. It felt right. “Hi,” she said, softly. She wasn’t sure the girl heard her at first. The girl tilted her head down, as though she were looking at her feet, and began walking back through the Labyrinth. She heard me, Jacq realized, staying crouched. Jacq became completely engrossed with watching the child pick her way carefully back through the Labyrinth, step by tiny step. The sights and sounds of the bubbling water, the dripping stalactites, and the two other people next to Jacq faded away. All she could hear, all she could see, was the feathery touch of the girl’s slippers on the stone path. Jacq nearly stopped breathing when, an eternity later, the girl’s toes crossed over the end of the Labyrinth’s path. She let out a sigh then that relaxed her down to her bones.
“Hi,” Jacq whispered.
The girl’s ice blue eyes peered into Jacq’s face. Her tiny hand reached out slowly, almost touching Jacq’s face, but stopped just short and pulled back.
“Who are you?” the little girl’s raspy whisper squeezed Jacq’s heart.
“I’m just Jacq,” she said. “What’s your name?”
Unblinking, the girl’s eyes shuttered and looked away. “I’m just Dolly.”
Intuitively, Jacq reached out, grabbing the girl’s skinny arm, her fierce expression reflected by the girl’s sudden fear. “There’s nothing ‘just’ about you, child. You are not ordinary. You are not unwanted. You are necessary. You are real.”
“Jacq! You’re scaring her half to death!” Sasha’s cry broke through Jacq’s trance. Jacq’s fingers sprang open, releasing the girl’s arm, but the girl didn’t move. She stood shock-still, staring open-mouthed at Jacq.
Sasha swooped in to gather the child in her arms. “Come with me little one. My name is Sasha. Miss Jacq didn’t mean to scare you, honey.” Sasha pointed a quick glare at Jacq just before she sweep up the stairs with the girl. Her chatter quickly faded from hearing as she rose out of sight.

“Well,” Frank stuck his thumbs into his pockets and harrumphed. “That went... well.”

09 November 2013

NaNoWriMo: Day 9

Word count: 15310

Battling the depression today. Didn't get nearly as much written as I would have liked. Yesterday was a work day, and tomorrow will be too. Sigh.

Have you met Isaiah yet? Here meet Isaiah. He's fun to write, when he's not fussing.

Something of an excerpt, though this chapter is still very, very rough: 

He wanted to deliver the letter himself. He wanted to see the look on his father’s face, wanted to know if the man had ever loved his mother, Christ have mercy on her soul. He had been almost excited by the prospect. But even if he had joined the mail service, they would not have let him deliver that letter. He had asked. You need training, they had told him. Wouldn’t be ready to carry the mail until after he had been trained. There were too many hazards crossing borders like that for them to send fresh new recruits across the continent. That training would have taken too long for his purpose. Besides, the Christian Confederation of Arkansas’ Mail Service sent cross-continental mail by train partways, anyway. It would get picked up by a carrier in the Republic of Arizona, then delivered however they did that there. If he wanted to deliver it himself, he needed to get his hands on it before it got into the mail system. But the letter was already gone when he figured that out. A day late and a Promise short, as always. So instead, he followed it. The letter moved faster than he did, by train, but he hoped it would slow down once it hit the Republic’s borders. Everything slowed down there, he had heard.
They had no cars there except the ones they built by hand – monstrous things that no sane mother would allow her children near, so much did they resemble demons. And demons they had aplenty. It was a godless land, filled with devils that masqueraded as petty gods, and who led the people away from the Christ and his Church. The people of the Republic of Arizona spent all their money on whores and wars. So his mother – Christ have mercy on her soul – had whispered, and so Isaiah Archer believed.
His father had been different, she had whispered more than once, his father had been saintly. Abraham Archer – that name, his father’s name, had been her last whisper. The man had saved her, had given her a new life, had given her a chance to redeem herself in God’s eyes, had given her Isaiah. But if that man was so great, Isaiah had wondered, where on God’s green Earth was he? She had never answered that, just told him to be grateful that he had saved her when he did.
Even when he reached Manhood, she would not tell him. When he had turned eighteen and gone to serve his two years in the Blessed Army, he had hoped she would tell him before he left. She refused. And when he came home, twenty years old and feeling like he had earned the information, she refused. But when he cried over his mother’s coffin, his Aunt Amelia had put her shaking hand on his shoulder, told him what she knew of his father’s story, and told him to find Abraham Archer. Your mother has nothing to leave you, but your father can give you an inheritance. Find him. There is nothing here for you but sorrow. I’ll give you enough funds to make the trip and keep you through the next few months. Then you’ll have to find something else, because that’s all I can do for you.
She had sent a letter, she told Isaiah, so his father would know that his mother, Theodora – Christ have mercy on her soul – had died, finally, from the coughing disease that had plagued her since her arrival in Hope, Arkansas. He does not know you, she had said. Theodora didn’t know she was to be blessed with child when she came here, and I said nothing of you in my letter. It seemed to me, that you might want to decide for yourself whether you want him to know you. So Isaiah had followed the letter, never stopping to wonder how his Aunt had known where to send it, until he was two train stops away. He had spent his time on the train in his tiny compartment, reading his Bible and agonizing over what his father would look like, be like, think like. The man must have had a darker complexion than Isaiah’s mother had; Isaiah himself had been ‘born with a tan,’ she said. Her own skin had been lily-white and her hair golden blond. There is no doubt you are an Archer, she had said, with that black hair and that golden skin. As if there were any doubt. His mother was above such suspicion, obviously. She must have been teasing.
Aunt Amelia had confided that day, over her sister’s coffin, that Abraham Archer was a soldier in the Army of the Republic of Arizona. Look for him at Fort Valor, she had told him.
He had wished, on that first day off the train, that he had paid more attention to the changing scenery as it had flashed past his window. He felt he had disembarked the train in an alien world. Where were the trees with their changing leaves? Where was the green grass? How did the plants – were those plants? – grow into such oddly angled shapes? This land must truly be blighted. The air was so dry it burned his throat and stung his eyes. The heat seemed to sap the energy from his bones. He could not fathom setting out on horseback, but the man at the stable had laughed at his concerns. These here are desert horses, young’un, they’ll take good care of you. Don’t you worry that fool head. He had wanted to shout: I’ve served in the Blessed Army! He held his tongue though. Feeling outnumbered – one Blessed Army veteran to a desert full of these presumptuous old horse-traders – he said his thanks just like his mother had taught him, bought the horse – pony, more like – and asked directions to someplace he might get some supplies.
That night, well stocked and foddered, he set up camp just outside of town. As the night chilled, he silently thanked the shopkeeper who had – in a more courteous manner than that stable man – offered some much more useful advice on surviving the desert, including the blankets Isaiah had suspected would be unnecessary. In the biting cold of midnight, Isaiah had wondered, for the first time, why he had come.
Isaiah finally made his way to the walls of Fort Valor at midmorning of the seventh day out of San Simon. He had expected some bit of familiarity about the place, a military feel, at least. He got a glimpse of the fort from the top of a peak the road skirted. From there, Fort Valor looked starker than Isaiah’s post had been, but as he approached, he thought perhaps it was just shabby. There were no persimmons ripening here, no fruit trees at all in fact, the walls looked as though they’d never seen a paintbrush – and were they made of mud? – and even the men standing guard at the gate looked as though they had been working in the dirt all day. Where were their shiny buttons? Where were their medals, their pressed uniforms? Did this army have no pride in its achievements? They wore grayish pants and shirts that from a distance had looked like coveralls. They nearly blended in with the wall they guarded.
He must look a mess, too, he realized. He hadn’t had a proper shower in so long, he would count himself lucky to smell only as bad as his horse. There was no helping it. He wasn’t going to get a shower outside the walls. He brushed himself off, squared his shoulders, and rode toward the gate.
The guards didn’t seem particularly interested in him. He had anticipated certain protocols. In his own unit, they had challenged every person, no matter what the circumstances. These guards let him get all the way to the gate – which turned out to be nothing but a double door, made of some dark metal that Isaiah didn’t recognize.
There were two guards, and they didn’t even stand up from their card game when one shouted at Isaiah. “What’re ya doin’ out here by yerself, boy?”
Boy! Isaiah grimaced. “I am looking for Abraham Archer. I’m told he serves here.” Surely not with this motley crew!
“Oh sure, he sure did. Right up ‘til the day afore yesterday. Ya won’t find him here, son. You run along now,” the first guard replied. The other guard just stared at Isaiah.
Gone. He must have gotten the letter, but why leave? Was this army so ragtag as to allow a man to just leave on a whim? Isaiah struggled to contain himself. “Could you Sirs please tell me where I might find him? I have come quite some distance to speak with him.”
“Heh,” the first guard said, “I can see that. The old bird’s got quite popular this past couple weeks. Might be he’s gone back to Tombstone. He’s got a sister there, I hear. Anyway, you can’t stay here.”
Tombstone? Is that a Fort?”
The guards laughed then, a guffawing sound that grated down Isaiah’s last nerve.
“Oh don’t get yer panties in a twist, boy. You ain’t from here at all, huh?” the second guard found his voice. His companion was still chuckling. “It’s not far at all. You just keep going the way you came, around the other side of this wall. You’re almost there. Might be there by dark tonight if you ride straight through.”
Isaiah jerked his horse’s head around and left them laughing.
He reached Tombstone just after dusk. Full dark was settling, but lamps burned brightly along an alley of saloons. He rode through ‘til he found a livery, on the far end, where he stabled his horse and asked after a hotel. The stable boy took his money, gave him a hard look, and pointed him in the direction of “Tad Miller’s place, just up thataway.”
The innkeeper gave Isaiah a curious look when he asked after Abraham Archer.
“Haven’t heard that name in a good long time, boy. What do you want with that one?”
“Official business,” Isaiah had replied. “No matter, I’ll need a room for tonight.”
The innkeeper didn’t budge. “You might ask his sister, if you’re serious about finding him. As far as I know, he’s off fighting the war still.”
What war? Isaiah wanted to ask, but he was tired of being laughed at. He just sighed, and asked after Abraham Archer’s sister – his aunt, too, he realized with a jolt.
The innkeeper finally looked away. “You’ll find her at the bank tomorrow. It’s hers, or her husband’s, anyway.”
“Do you have a room available for tonight, then?”
“Yes, I suppose we do.”
In his room on his second night in Tombstone, with the sounds of a banjo band playing below him, he wrote a letter of his own:
Dearest Aunt Amelia, I went to Fort Valor as you said. It seems your letter found him first, after all, because he was no longer there when I reached the place. The men there – I cannot call them soldiers, so shoddy was their presentation – directed me to seek him out in Tombstone. What a name! But the name suits the place – the streets are filled with debauchery, and nearly every hotel is a brothel. I have sought out the one that is not, rest assured, but it wasn’t easy. I’ve asked about my father at every opportunity, but have heard only that he hasn’t been here in twenty years, or that he was here momentarily a few days ago but left again without so much as a ‘hello’ to anyone. If the latter is true, I can see why he didn’t stay. This, truly, is a den of godless iniquity, no place for a man of Abraham Archer’s stature. I have been forced to associate with these heathens in order to ask after Father, but I maintain my Faith, a staunch follower of the Christ Who Sees All. I have put in a word to speak to his sister, but she has not seen me yet. I’m ever hopeful for tomorrow. Yours in the Mercy of Christ, Isaiah. 

07 November 2013

some non-fictional thoughts

I took a break from writing fiction today.
I had reached a 'pause' in my flow, and I had homework to do, errands to run, etc., that made pushing myself to write seem wasteful. Especially since this was one of those days that I could barely hold myself together. I had random crying going on, flat affect, and massive anhedonia. Major Depressive Disorder: it's a blast.
Actually, it was the anhedonia that clued me in to just how bad it was. Me, of all people, feeling uninterested in anthropology and wondering if I even wanted to keep studying evolutionary psychology in grad school next year? Yeah, that's a clear sign that shit is bad. It also made me realize that my hesitation over submitting my grad school app for the ev-psy program at U of A was mainly a symptom of depression, not an honest hesitation of "do I want this?" However, I still don't know if I can do it. I mean, yeah I'm capable, and I'm passionate about the subject area and all that, but... my depression has been really bad this year. So bad that I've actually failed two classes because of it (I just couldn't rouse myself to do the work), and I might fail another. I can't afford to do that in grad school, obviously, but neither is my depression just going to disappear between now and then.
I want this. Even when the depression makes me forget that there's anything in the world that I want, I want this. So I'm going to apply. And hope my brain doesn't betray me if I'm accepted into the program.

06 November 2013

NaNoWriMo: Day 6

I had to go a bit outside my own head for the bit I worked on today. Luckily, I have some pretty amazing friends, and one in particular was willing to help me out with that. With her gentle shove to get me moving, I made it to 1260 words today. I'd keep writing but it's past my bedtime, so this will have to do.

Word count: 14,130

An excerpt from today's efforts, compliments of Miss Beatrix "Trixie" Jackman:

Abraham Archer had pushed off the nagging ‘what next’ concerns all morning, focusing instead on finding a good horse and some appropriate – civilian – clothing to wear. Now he was as hungry as any cavalry horse. He stopped in at a cafe on the main street. There was nobody else there at that hour – somewhere after the proper lunch hour and before dinner – and that suited him just fine.
“Hi there honey!” a chipper young woman with unnaturally red hair greeted him at the counter of the cafe.
“Hello,” he grunted, pulling up a stool underneath himself.
“What can I do for ya today?”
“I’m awfully hungry,” he replied, “what’s good here?”
“Everything, of course!” she smiled widely and her eyes seemed to drink him in. “Our special today is the meatloaf. It’s just about the best thing that ever came from a cow!”
“I’ll take it.” He was not completely comfortable with her congeniality, but the mention of meatloaf made his mouth water.
“Okay, what can I get you to drink? We have coffee, tea, water, and fresh-squeezed lemonade!”
Was everything exciting to this woman? “Coffee please. Black. Thank you.” He hoped she would leave him alone now.
Instead, she repeated his order back to him in that same energetic voice.
“Yes yes, you’ve got it. Thank you.” He grumbled.
Finally, she turned and flounced into the kitchen, where another woman was pulling a huge pan of something from an oven. Abraham sighed. All too soon the young woman was back, but with a mug of coffee steaming in her hand. She lowered it to the counter in front of him and smiled sweetly – and something about that smile caught at his memories. In that moment, she reminded him of Theodora. He shook the thought clear of his head. There was no going back. Anyway, there was no resemblance, really. Where this woman was vibrant and happy and, Theodora had been a pale, shy thing with hair so blond it was yellow.
“Everything all right, honey?” the woman asked, concern bringing her voice down an octave.
“Yes fine thanks. I’m fine.”
She frowned.
“Really, I am.” He forced a smile to his face and was rewarded by her smile in turn.
Something eased inside him, and he found himself really looking at the woman.
She was really quite shapely, with a sweet face and warm hazel eyes that seemed lit from within.
“So where ya from honey? I know you’re not from here because I know all the locals.”
Abraham frowned. “Tombstone, originally. But that hasn’t been home in a very long time.” His honesty surprised him.
“Oh don’t I know how that goes. I didn’t grow up here, either, but it’s home now. You are going to stay, aren’t you?”
“I honestly don’t know,” he replied. The woman in the back called out something that Abraham didn’t understand. The woman he was talking to said, “stay put just a moment, honey, I’ll be right back with your lunch.”
True to her word, she came right back with a plate of meatloaf, still steaming and accompanied by a thick slice of bread. She set the plate in front of him and handed him a fork.
“Well I sure hope ya do stick around,” she said.
He should be suspicious, he thought, when a stranger wanted him to stick around, but there was nothing sinister about her besides an odd forthrightness. Alright, he thought, I’ll play. He stabbed piece of meatloaf and cocked an eyebrow at her.
“Oh?” he said, “Why’s that?”
“This town could use some more eye candy,” she winked. Then she whisked away, back to the kitchen with his empty coffee mug.
Abraham was left slack-jawed with his fork halfway to his mouth. He might have watched her sway for hours, had she not stopped to fill his mug from a pot. Blinking, he tore his gaze away and looked down to his plate. Reminded of his hunger, he began eating in earnest, hardly looking up when she set his coffee mug back down.
When his bites began to slow to a more leisurely pace, he began to steal glances at her. She was wiping down the countertops on her side of the bar. Looking closely, he realized she wasn’t as young as he’d first thought. Closer to his own age, maybe. There was a softness to her skin that only came with age. On her, it was beautiful. He wanted to ask, but suspected that question wouldn’t be met kindly. Not if his limited experience with women was any indicator, anyway.
She seemed to notice he was slowing. Or perhaps she had seen him watching.
“Was it good?” she asked.
“Oh. Marvelous.” He leaned back and rubbed his hand over his stomach. He hadn’t had such a meal in years, and he told her so.
She smiled all the way to her eyes. “Well good! That’s what we’re here for.”
“Well I sure appreciate it,” he replied, his heart warming with good food and cheerful company.
“So where are you comin’ from these days?” she asked.
Fort Valor.”
“Ooooh a military man, eh? What ‘cha doin’ here?”
“I don’t know yet. Looking for a place to be, I guess.”
“Ain’t we all? I’m Trixie, by the way.” She held her hand out.
“I’m – Abraham,” he said, taking her hand gently. Her hands felt delicate in his.
“You sure?” she laughed.
He smiled back, almost blushing. “Habit, I’m afraid. I haven’t introduced myself with my first name in about twenty years. I’m working on that.”
“No worries, honey, we get all kinds in this town. I won’t hold it against you.”
“That’s awfully kind of you.”
“So, Abraham, are you planning to find work here? You’re too young to be retired.”
“No Ma’am, I am, in fact, retired.”
“How did that happen? Early retirement?”
He smiled, and this time the smile reached his eyes. “I’m forty-six years old, I’ll have you know.”
“I don’t believe that for a second,” she teased, “Where’s your Mama, I’m gonna make a liar out of you!”
“I’m afraid she’s passed, Ma’am,” he replied, his tone softened to ease her embarrassment.
“Oh dear, there I go makin’ an ass of myself. I’m so sorry honey. That was a stupid thing for me to say.” Her hands flew to cover her mouth, and it looked to Abraham like she was about to cry. He reached toward her but she was too far away.
“Oh no, don’t worry about that. Both my parents passed when I was a child. It’s no matter anymore, and hasn’t been for a good long time. Anyway, I’m newly retired and looking for something to fill my time. I don’t even know if I’m looking for a job or not, to be honest with you. I might just keep to myself for a bit. I don’t know.”
She had been nodding her head with the rhythm of his words. “O-okay,” she said when he had finished. He could see her composing herself, pulling her thoughts back together. “Well, I am sorry about your parents, honey,” she said. “And if you need anything at all while you’re here, you just let me know, okay?”

“Will do, Ma’am,” he said. “Thank you kindly for providing me such a wonderful meal. I did need that.” He settled his bill with her then and wandered out of the cafe, back to the bustling streets. There was something about this place, about this town, that drew him. He had come here because it was the closest city to his hometown of Tombstone – and really, he just hadn’t known where else to go. Now that he was here, though, he didn’t want to leave. Maybe it was time to start thinking about what happened next. Maybe. Or maybe he’d do that tomorrow. 

05 November 2013

NaNoWriMo: Day 5

Only 980 words today on my NaNoWriMo book, When Stones Sing.

But I also got (most of) my homework done, went to class, took my son to his soccer game (they whooped that other team's butt for serious - I kinda felt bad for the other kids, but not so bad that I wasn't totally cheering when my son made a goal), and got my errands done.

And, today was kinda a bad day with the depression. So all in all, this was an extremely productive day, considering how difficult it was to do anything at all.

Excerpt? Why yes of course:

Everyone’s settled but me, she thought, as the clock on her bookcase ticked toward midnight. The girls were sleeping near the warming stove. Trip was sleeping, curled in a tight little ball of cat on the seat of her chair at the kitchen table.
Jacq couldn’t settle.
She put her coat back on. The girls and Trip lifted their eyes, but made no move to follow. Boo’s tail thumped the floor a couple times, but when Jacq closed the door behind her, Boo went back to sleep.

Jacq’s feet took her up the hill and through a maze of paths and houses, over the crest between the canyons, and down the other side into the back end of Brewery Gulch. She came out onto the main road right between two gentlemen’s clubs. The crowds on the Gulch were raucous. She pushed through the foul-smelling men with her head low. Three doors farther down the canyon and across the street, Jacq shoved her way between two beefy revelers and into Madame Holly’s House.
Jacq recognized the girl on the stage at the back of the room, but she scanned the crowd for Sasha just the same. Some of the regulars were there, as were just as many that Jacq didn’t recognize. Vince was there, though his dark skin, dark clothes, and the lack of light where he stood made him hard to see. His huge frame took up the entire back corner, making it easy for him to be sure none of the customers tried to jump up on the stage with the girl, Lacy, harass the fiddler, or make their way into the dressing room through the door behind him. Jacq caught his eye and he smiled, briefly. There seemed to be no evidence of Sasha, however. Jacq found a likely spot at the bar and leaned into it. The two tenders were flurrying about at the far end. One, an almost androgynous brunette woman in a slim red dress, caught a glimpse of Jacq and held a finger up. Jacq waved back and pulled up an errant stool. The woman held three steins by the handles in one hand, and pulled the tap with the other hand. Then she turned and slid the brimming steins across the bar to a miner shaking a fist of dollars at her. She grabbed his money and another empty stein to fill. Jacq looked away as the fiddler – Joseph, she noticed – halted his song to announce a new dancer to the stage. It still wasn’t Sasha.
The brunette bartender caught Jacq’s attention with a well-placed stein of beer.
“Jacq, she’s here, but she’s busy right now.”
“Busy?” Jacq stared dumbly. Of course she was busy, she was so beautiful.
“Not like that. It’s not her night for that. You know that. She’s jus’ not dancin’ right now ‘cause somethin’s come up. You can go ask her yourself.”
“Oh. Ok. I will. Thanks Tanya.”
The bartender waved Jacq off.
Jacq collected her stein and eased off the bar. She slid her way through the crowd until she was even with Vince. He nodded at her, giving her a warm smile. Was it so long ago, she wondered, that his smile – so surprising on his rough square face – would have melted her knees? She smiled back, and pushed through the door to dressing room.
The dressing room was empty but for Sasha, who was sitting at her vanity and twirling a pencil between her fingers. A letter lay half-finished in front of her. Sasha glanced up as Jacq closed the door behind her, then looked back to her waiting page. Jacq didn’t say anything, just looked at the woman before her. Sasha had satiny bronze skin and a ballerina’s graceful limbs. Her wavy black hair, thick as a ship’s ropes when she grew it out, was cut short and clung wetly to her face. Jacq wondered again what such a beauty was doing in Bisbee, or even in Arizona.
Sasha sighed, put down the pencil, and turned toward her audience.
“Jacqueline.” She leveled her jade eyes at Jacq expectantly, but Jacq could only stand there dumbly as the moisture evaporated from her mouth at an alarming rate.
“Oh Jacq,” Sasha’s soft alto chided, “what are you doing here?”
“Come to see you,” Jacq croaked.
Sasha stood and stepped in close. She reached her hand up and touched her fingertips to Jacq’s dirty cheek.
“Sweetheart,” Sasha smiled, “you could have at least bathed.”
Jacq flushed. “Wouldn’t have mattered,” she mumbled. She could be fresh out of the tub and she would still feel like a scruffy pup next to Sasha.
“Were you out chasing bats again?”
“Not chasing – “ Jacq caught herself. “It keeps me occupied.”
Sasha’s smile dimmed. “I know it does honey.” She found Jacq’s eyes with her own. “So what can I do for you?”
Nothing. Everything. “I don’t know. Jacq paused. “Hoping to see you dance, I guess.” Jacq’s face heated. Why had she said that? “Hey, Tanya said something had come up – are you ok?”
Sasha swore and stepped back toward her vanity. “Damn busybody,” she fussed. “Yes, something has come up. Have you been to the Temple in the past few days?”
“Well, Frank found a child. It was a few nights ago, when it was so windy. You remember? She was holed up in the entrance to the old cathedral. He brought her back to the Temple, thinking to keep her from going to Hel’s Table so early, and she survived the night, and now he’s thinking she needs somewhere to live.”
Jacq took a moment to process that. “So, what, is he suggesting you take the kid?”
Sasha’s eyes seemed suddenly cold. “And why not, Jacq?”
Jacq flinched. “No reason. I mean – I just didn’t know if that’s what had come up or there was something else. I mean, I don’t understand why that’s the reason you’re not dancing tonight. Not that you have to, or that you can’t –”
“Jacq,” Sasha held up her hand, “stop. It’s fine. I’m sorry. I haven’t explained everything yet. I did dance tonight, but earlier. You missed it, that’s all.” She smiled. “I got a message from Frank not even an hour ago, asking me to come help him with the child. He’s not exactly prepared to deal with a little girl.”
“How old is she?” Jacq asked.
Sasha shrugged. “Maybe four, he guessed. Said the girl hasn’t said a word to him. He’s hoping she’ll talk to me. Maybe she has parents and just got lost. I was just writing a note to send back.”
Jacq shifted uncomfortably. “Do you – do you need a ride? To the Temple? I could take you.”
Sasha smiled distantly. “Yes, that would be good.” Her face brightened then, and her voice strengthened. “But not tonight. I’ll need to get my things together and talk to Holly. I think I’ll need to stay at the Temple for a few days, at least. Will you stay, too?”
Jacq grimaced. “Maybe.”
“I saw that, Jacqueline Avery.” Sasha’s voice was soft again, happy and teasing. “Surely your menagerie can survive your absence for a few days?”
“Might be I could get someone to take care of them for me.” Jacq frowned.
“Ask Vince. He’d be happy to stay at your place for a few days. His roommate’s got a new lover. They’re drivin’ poor Vince up a wall.”

Jacq let out a soft chuckle. She could just picture the huge man scrambling up a wall like a sun spider was after him. Maybe she’d ask him after all. 

04 November 2013

NaNoWriMo: Day 4

Day 4 stats: 1129 words written, $50 of $600 raised for my trip to the Night of Writing Dangerously.

Today's excerpt might be familiar to some of you. I've posted this bit previously, but it's gone through a moderate overhaul since then (I didn't really have an actual plot in mind when I first wrote this; now I do). I hope you like the changes.

The Excerpt you've all been waiting for:

Apple pie and coffee: breakfast of champions.
When they were kids, her Ma had let them have leftover fruit pie for breakfast, when they had it. That didn't happen very often. Ma said it was healthy because it had fruit in it. That was one of Jacq's fonder memories.
She took a bite and set the fork down. Then she reached into her satchel. Her fingers met her tarot cards and she pulled the deck out. Shuffle, flip: Ace of Cups, an opportunity for emotional growth.
That seemed ominous.
She put the cards away and took another bite. The coffee was still too hot. She’d be long done with this pie before she could take a sip. No matter.
Jacq was kicked back in her chair, watching the crowd pass by on the other side of the windows when Alice Signay spotted her.
“I knew you’d be here,” she told Jacq, triumph in her voice.
Jacq sat up, startled by the intrusion and more than a little flustered by Alice’s trim appearance.
“Glad I could be of service,” she muttered, uncertain she needed the company of her trendy friend.
Alice was, as always, the picture of high feminine fashion. The bold turquoise of her silk dress emphasized the spectral paleness of her skin and darkened her green eyes. The elegant styling and copper inlays of the dress reminded those who saw her that she could afford their lives. Only her white blonde braid, trailing well below the bottom hem of her bodice, was spared the whims of the times. That would always be spared – it was the mark of a Sister. When Alice sat, she had to tilt her head just so to swing the braid out from under her or she’d risk sitting on the tip.
Alice’s eyes always seemed to disapprove of Jacq’s attire.
“Jacq, you’re so predictable.”
“And you, Alice, are... lovely as ever. Good to see you too.”
“Well, I was just – is that pie?”
“Yes. What’s left of it.”
“You’re having pie for breakfast?”
“No, supper, but very early. Why?”
“Oh Jacq, you’ll never find a man if you don’t act like a lady.”
“You’re killin’ me Jacq.”
“No, that corset is killing you. But this isn’t what you wanted to talk to me about.”
Alice sat down and crossed her arms. "Well... I was just thinking about love, and I wanted your advice.”
Jacq sputtered; good thing that coffee was still too hot to drink. “What?”
“It’s just that, well, love is such a fickle little critter."
"I said, love is fickle."
"Oh." Jacq paused, suddenly uncertain. She lifted her mug to her lips, but the steam was enough to warn her. She held it there, letting the steam massage her face.
Alice cleared her throat.
Jacq set down her mug. "Ok, I'll play. What brought this on?"
"Well, I was just thinking about some of the silly things people do 'for love' and how it seems they always end up hurtin' for their efforts."
"Such as?"
"Oh, I don't know. Like with Sasha. I mean, think about it. She went all the way to San Antonio for some guy, and now she's back in Bisbee, all alone, and won't say a word about anything." Alice pouted.
Jacq sighed. "Well, maybe something happened to the guy, and she's too grieved to gossip."
Alice tucked her lip back in and leaned forward, “Jacq, she went to Texas. This wasn’t just a little trip around the block. She crossed the border!”
“She’s not poor, Alice.”
Alice leveled a shrewd gaze at Jacq. “She’s not ugly, either, Jacq. I just want to know if she’s ok.”
Jacq hesitated. “Just ask her. She has her own defenses.”
Alice’s pout returned, but only for a moment.
“I never see her – but you do.”
Jacq hesitated.
Suspicion bloomed in Alice’s eyes. “You do see her, don’t you?”
“You know where to find her Alice.”
“I suppose.” Alice was not convinced. “But still, I think we – who is that?"
Jacq blinked. "Who?"
"Behind you. Don't look!"
"How d’you expect me to answer you if I don't? I swear Alice."
Turning, Jacq saw who Alice was talking about. Tall guy, or maybe just slender. Looked like a traveler. He was facing away from them, ordering a coffee at the bar. Bad idea, Jacq thought. Unless you’re getting some ice with it.
"Dunno, Alice. He's not a local."
"Well I know that. Obviously, if he were from here, I'd recognize him."
"Then why you askin' me? Not like I get out any more than you do."
Alice humphed. "You're infuriating, Jacq."
"Love you too, Alice."
They smiled.
After a moment of silence, Alice whispered, "He's awfully handsome."
"What's that you were just saying about fools in love?"
"Your cynicism has been noted and rejected, Miss Jacq."
Jacq shrugged, then grinned. "So be a fool. Don't worry, I'll still be your friend - aren't I now?"
Laughing, Alice said, "And I, you, Jacqueline Avery."
"Heh, one for me, one for you. I have to go walk my dogs. You stopping by later?"
"Maybe. I've errands and such, you know. Some of us have real jobs."
"Which is exactly why I’m leaving. Wouldn’t do for me to get recruited into that shop of yours.” She picked up her satchel. “Alright, I'll see you soon. Stop by whenever.”
As Alice stood to leave, Jacq carried her mug to the bar. “Hank! Can I get some ice in this?”
“Sure thing Jacq, jus’ gimme a sec.” Hank’s face was a ruddy mix of angles and jowls. He lumbered around to the icebox, pick in hand, and chipped her off a couple pieces. She held out her mug and he dropped them in.
“Thank you sir!”
Hank smiled, “Any time Jacq, can’t have you takin’ my mugs home again.”
She blushed. The old coot had a memory as long as a python’s tail.
Jacq turned her back to the bar and leaned against it, watching the diminishing ice chips swirl around in her mug. When they were gone, she tipped the mug back and drained it.
Ahhh, that’s more like – her thoughts stopped short as her head came down and she caught a glimpse of Alice’s stranger. He was sitting down now, at a table by the window. She knew that face. Once upon a time, she’d known that man. Or rather, she’d known as much as anyone had back then, which wasn’t much. Lieutenant Colonel Archer, expert rifleman, never turned a dirty weapon over for repair, and probably never took a whore in his entire career. He wasn’t likely to remember her. She’d just been the brigade’s armorer, and his weapon rarely broke. He didn’t have a rifle on him now. What is he doing here?
Jacq left the mug on the counter for Hank, and eased out the door. She’d wondered about him at the time, as they all did, but it had been years since he’d crossed her mind, as many years as since she’d left the Army. Back then, she hadn’t been able to avoid the rumors, not living in a tent with fifty other troops. The women had all wanted a bit of Archer, with his lean muscles and gentlemanly ways. Even some of the men had shared that interest. But he had seemed cold to Jacq, as though his courtesy and careful ways were somehow meant to remind them that he was better than his surroundings. She wondered whether he was here on an assignment. Without his rifle? No. But surely he hadn’t left the Army. He had always struck her as a lifer, and Bisbee wasn’t far from the border.
Pfft, not like I never been wrong before.
His being there probably had not a damn thing to do with her, but she was pestered by the questions it presented all the way back up the hill to her house. She hoped he’d leave quickly so she could stop wondering. 

03 November 2013

Day 3 of NaNoWriMo

It's almost the end of day 3 of NaNoWriMo.

My word count is 9988 words and I'm still writing (just a short break to post this before I forget).

Money raised for the Night of Writing Dangerously Trip:
$260 for the ticket (check! - I only needed $250);
$50 for the travel expenses (I need $600 - ack!).


It was late afternoon when he made it into Bisbee proper. The street had the look of a battlefield in mid-desertion. The crowds were bustling about, trying to finish errands and get out of the gritty wind. He kept his eyes to himself and tried to look casual, but only managed to feel conspicuously foreign. A harker called out beside him, something about a fire. The boy’s shrill voice startled him into looking, but the sign behind the boy caught his attention: The Grande Hotel.
Yes, he thought, a bed. A bed and a bath. His eyes quickly searched out the door and his feet veered toward it drunkenly.
On the other side of the door, a raucous crowd caroused between him and his bed. A moment of confusion faltered his steps. Then he made his way to the bar and flagged down the barkeep, a milk-skinned man with thick white hair braided down his back.
“We got those. Bath?”
“How long?”
“A week.” He thought he’d probably sleep that long.
“One hundred, up front. We don’t do credit.”
It seemed steep, but then, he had no idea what hotel rooms ran these days. He cast his eyes about but didn’t see anyone else looking his way, so he slipped his wallet out of the pocket in his vest. Choosing carefully, he laid a hundred-dollar bill on the barkeep’s palm, meeting the man’s raised eyebrow with a cold stare.
“All righty then,” the barkeep cleared his throat. “Well, let’s get you situated. Name?”
“What’s your name? For my records.”
“Abraham. Abraham Archer.” How strange, to give his first name like that. It felt clumsy, not giving his military rank. Just another change to get used to, he supposed.
The man pulled a woman out of the crowd, handed her a key, and sent Abraham and the woman through the crowd to the stairs in the back of the bar.
Abraham followed her up the stairs, momentarily recalling how long it had been since he’d had a woman, but it was a passing thought, without conviction. He would not have made it up the stairs if he hadn’t known there was a bed up there waiting for him.
“This is it, sir.” The woman spoke softly around the edge of his awareness, but when she gestured, Abraham’s eyes went straight for the doorknob.
“I’ll have a bath, too,” he said, stepping into the room. The deep red walls gave the room an oddly pleasing atmosphere; no doubt his eyes were longing for the deep red of closed eyelids.
“There’s a bathroom, sir. Hot water and all.” A note of pride raised her voice.
He turned to stare. A bath-room? He blinked, but didn’t speak. He couldn’t quite process what she’d said. Her green eyes blinked.
“For your bath, sir.” She blushed, and he noticed the dark freckles across the bridge of her nose. They blended prettily with the deep brown of her skin. “Shall I show you?”
He just nodded, trying to project something that wasn’t ignorance, and followed her through the room. On the other side of the bed was another door, leading to a smaller room. This one had a tub, which he recognized, but there were pipes and levers on one end of the tub that confused him. She was talking about hot water and cold water and the tub; he just watched her, mute. Then he looked back over his shoulder, to the bed in the other room. Her voice, soft with kindness, caught him as he started to turn – “Sir, how about I just draw the water for you. You’ll want to get that dirt off before you get in that nice clean bed, won’t you? I know I would. Here, I’ll show you how this works tomorrow. You’re here all week, right? So I’ll just show you later. It’s no problem.”
He didn’t know how it happened, but she did something with her hands and steaming water was pouring into that tub from one of the pipes.
“If you’ll just wait one moment, I’ll get this tub filled then leave you to your bath. Would you like me to check on you a little later?”
He could hear the concern lacing through her voice. That was something he understood. “Yes, yes ma’am. That’d be good.”
“Alrighty hon, you just don’t worry about a thing. I’ll take good care of you.”
He turned his back on the noisily pouring contraption and the woman. In the bedroom, as he supposed he ought to call it, he found a coat rack for his duster. He sat on the edge of the bed and began unlacing his boots. Snippets of dreams seemed to interrupt the task, and he lost track of time.
The woman’s voice snapped his head back into the present. “Now, I’ll come back and check on you in a little bit, hon. I put your room key right there on that night stand, ok? We have another if you lose it, but that’ll cost ya, so try not to, ok?”
“Yes ma’am.”
“Look at you. Poor thing. You just get in there and enjoy the hot water, ok?”
“Yes ma’am.”
She slipped out the door, leaving him staring, one boot off and the other half laced. Had she laughed as she left? He couldn’t remember. The other boot came off. He found the lock on the door and secured it. Then he unsecured it. She was coming to check on him. But she had another key. He locked the door.

He finished undressing, then sank into the tub. The water browned instantly, but his eyes were already closed.