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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. 

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