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"Legend Chasers"


Chapter 1
Sagerton

By davisr (Rhonda)

The hot July wind whipped about a dusty intersection, forcing the buildings and structures to groan in protest. There were few humans or animals that dared venture into the sweltering heat, and yet everything was not still and quiet.

A large gray bus pulled up creaking and groaning like an old man. After swaying to a stop, it deposited a young woman onto the sidewalk. She was tall, graceful and self-assured. Dressed in a flower print summer skirt and white cotton blouse, she cut an elegant figure in the bleak surroundings.

The woman placed two large suitcases on the ground. Looking around, her eyes fixed on an unusual scene.

She heard, "Let me go!"

A grizzled old man jerked his hand from the grasp of a local police officer. They stood beside a black and white squad car, Sagerton Police, emblazoned on its side.

"Mr. Byrne," the officer said. His voice was patient as though speaking to a child. "You're creating a public nuisance--again."

"I'm trying to save lives, youngster. I've finally spotted the Piasa bird, and it's up to no good."

"Now, Mr. Byrne, you know there ain't no such a thing as a pie-a-saw bird. What you seen was a hawk or something. Please go home."

Nara Baker turned her attention from the disruption and swept her gaze around the dusty town. She made no move to alter the melee caused by the arguing men, nor to step away from the curb.

Where was the woman that was supposed to pick her up and take her to Rugged Saddles Boarding School? The text said Barbara Eddins would be in a black pickup truck. Nara looked again. She was literally surrounded by pickups. Did everyone in Texas drive the wretched things?

"Ma'am?" a deep voice said.

Startled, Nara whipped her head to the left.

There beside her, was a tall, thin man dressed in dusty attire. In a quick glance, Nara took in his appearance. On probably size 13 feet, stretched a pair of old cowboy boots. They were crusted with something like dried cow manure, but might have been mud.

The young man's jeans were faded and worn. He had a thumb hooked in one pocket in a stance he must have thought seductive. The effect was lost on Nara. Also lost, was the charm of his clean pearl snap shirt somewhat dressing up a cowpoke appearance. The dingy white cowboy hat displayed on his head completed the package.

"Please tell me your name isn't Bubba."

"It's Hank, Pretty Lady, and if your name is Nara, I'm here to pick you up."

Nara motioned to her bags sitting on the ground. She tilted her auburn head to the side and squinted sparkling blues eyes in a habitual manner.

"What happened to Mrs. Eddins?"

"She's back at the ranch feeding the troops."

"It was my understanding she'd be here to pick me up."

"She's..."

"I know, feeding the troops. The statement was rhetorical."

"Come on," Hank said, lifting the deposited suitcases with ease. "Mrs. Eddins asked me to fetch you. Are these your school books?"

"Most of my teaching material is online, or already at the school," Nara replied. "These are my clothes. Please be careful with those bags, they're Rimowa's."

"Don't know who she is, but unless she comes to load them, I'm in charge."

Hank slung the two expensive pieces of luggage into the bed of his black truck like bags of range cubes. A cloud of dust spewed out in their wake.

Nara shook her head as though doing so would send the message to her escort that she wasn't happy with the treatment of her belongings. He simply smiled and opened the passenger door for her to climb inside.

"After you," he said. A dramatic gesture accompanied his remark.

Nara clambered up a muddied side rail, grasped the cracked dash and crawled inside with as much grace as she could muster. She didn't bother to look at the condition of the interior of the truck. She could smell it.

"Don't forget your seat-belt." Hank said. He pointed at a stained strap.

Nara fastened it around her, hoping the trip to the ranch would be short. She already felt she needed a bath.

Once inside, Hank nodded his approval, then started the truck and headed off. They didn't get far, though, before he jerked to a sudden stop.

"What's wrong?" Nara reached for her purse that had thudded to the floorboard. She wiped particles of food off it's surface.

Hank didn't answer, but rolled his window down and called out to the old man Nara had seen earlier.

"Riley, get in the back. Mrs. Eddins told me to bring you with me."

"You can't take him with us." Nara protested. "He's a drunk."

"Naw, Riley ain't no drunk, Sweetie, he's just a little confused."

"Does he live on the ranch?"

"Most of the time. He's our handyman."

"You've got to be kidding me."

"Nope, old man may be a bit nutty, but he's good with a wrench."

"This is going to be an interesting job," Nara muttered.

Why had she left her position as a Nanny in New York City? She was well-paid and treated with respect.

Oh yeah, Nara thought, she was supposed to be healing a broken heart and shattered life in the warm sun of west Texas. She didn't feel she was off to a very good start.

Hank drove off again, old man in tow and young lady clawing at a broken hand-rest.

Author Notes A new year, a new book. Wish me luck!

Photo from google images.


Chapter 2
Back at the Farm.

By davisr (Rhonda)

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of language.

End of Chapter 1:

Hank didn't answer, but rolled his window down and called out to the old man Nara had seen earlier.

"Riley, get in the back. Mrs. Eddins told me to bring you with me."

"You can't take him with us." Nara protested. "He's a drunk."

"Naw, Riley ain't no drunk, Sweetie, he's just a little confused."

"Does he live on the ranch?"

"Most of the time. He's our handyman."

"You've got to be kidding me."

"Nope, old man may be a bit nutty, but he's good with a wrench."

"This is going to be an interesting job," Nara muttered.

Why had she left her position as a Nanny in New York City? She was well-paid and treated with respect.

Oh yeah, Nara thought, she was supposed to be healing a broken heart and shattered life in the warm sun of west Texas. She didn't feel she was off to a very good start.

Hank drove off again, old man in tow and young lady clawing at a broken hand-rest.


Chapter 2

"This is your room," Hank said. He placed Nara's dusty luggage inside a surprisingly charming room.

Nara looked around and saw a cozy bed, complete with a fluffy pink comforter, and stacks of pillows she could imagine sinking into. The floor was covered in soft pastel carpet, and on the walls were several landscapes so detailed they could have been photos.

"Who painted these?" Nara asked. She walked close to one and let her fingers brush the surface in silent admiration.

"A local artist," Hank replied. "Do you like them?"

"I do, they're exquisite. Are they portrayals of scenes from this area."

"Yes'm. The one with the longhorn bull pawing the ground is our own, Mr. B."

"Mr. B? What's the B short for, Bull?"

"No, Ma'am, Bastard. If you wander into the cattle pasture, you might want to watch out for him."

"That shouldn't be a problem, Hank, but thanks for the warning."

"Yes, Ma'am."

"Well, I appreciate your helping me in, and for the brilliant tour of the facility. I now know where to eat, do my laundry, and borrow a car to go to town. You've been most accommodating."

"I try to be. Don't forget there's a barbeque tonight in the outdoor commons. You can meet the rest of the faculty and students there. Grubs pretty good, too."

"What time does it start?"

"Oh, about an hour before dark. You'll know when you hear the guitars and fiddle crank up."

"Really?" Nara's word was simple, but the sarcasm was deep. Could this place get any more yokel?

"Yes'm."

"Please stop calling me Mam. I'm clearly no older than you."

"Just trying to be polite..."

"Like your mama taught you?"

"You don't like me much, do you?"

Nara paused from viewing the room and looked Hank directly in the eyes. For the first time, she noticed they were a deep, sort of sapphire blue that drew her in like the painting on the wall had done.

"I don't know you well enough to decide whether or not to like you."

"Well, folks around here like a person first, then let their opinions develop as they get to know them."

For the first time, Hank's passive face betrayed emotion and his voice took on a cool crispness.

"I stand corrected."

"You're fine," he said, lowering his eyes. "See you at the barbeque, then."

"I'll be there. Will the old man from town be there as well?"

"Yes, uh, Nara. He'll be the one on the fiddle."

Suppressing a shudder at the old man's expense, Nara opened her suitcases and began putting her things in the dresser. She listened as Hank closed the door and walked away.

What was it about this sleepy old town that irritated her? She had come here for rest and reflection. Was it the town's fault she felt uneasy, or was it her own restless spirit? And, yet the whole place didn't add up. The exterior seemed dusty and dirty, while the room was almost pristine. The contrast didn't seem right.
In an odd sort of way, she couldn't help from hoping there was something more to this town than met the eye.

Author Notes A special thanks for the artwork, "Cowboy Cleans Up Well" by Lilibug6. Much thanks, Lilibug!


Girl: Nara Baker: House Mother, History Teacher

Boarding School Director: Mrs. Barbara Eddins

Old Man: Riley Byrne - claims to be descended from leprechauns in Ireland, Handyman at the ranch

Young man: Hank - Job not yet stated

Rugged Saddles Boarding School - school in west Texas (mythical of course)

Sagerton: West Texas town Nara has come to live and teach in.


Chapter 3
The Piasa Bird

By davisr (Rhonda)

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.

End of chapter 2:

What was it about this sleepy old town that irritated her? She had come here for rest and reflection. Was it the town's fault she felt uneasy, or was it her own restless spirit? And, yet the whole place didn't add up. The exterior seemed dusty and dirty, while the room was almost pristine. The contrast didn't seem right.
In an odd sort of way, she couldn't help from hoping there was something more to this town than met the eye.



Chapter 3:


Nara and the others settled in after a delicious meal, complete with barbeque of all types, and serenaded by resplendent Bluegrass music. All was quiet as they waited for the celebrated storyteller, Riley, to begin his tale. Hank had already warned Nara that the old man always referred to himself as a young boy, or young man in the narratives. To say she couldn't wait for the tale to begin, might have overstated her anticipation, but she was relaxed and ready.

**********
A young boy knelt in the dirt beside his farmhouse playing marbles with his older brother, Conner. It was Sunday after church and he was still in his dress overalls.

The scent of broiled roast beef drifted over the boys like a welcome breeze. An involuntary grumble escaped the young boy's stomach causing him to miss a shot with his favorite marble.

"Don't you dare take my marble," the youngster warned. "I'll tell Mama."

"Tell her," Conner said, thumping his own shooter at the contested blue green orb, "and I'll tell Daddy you're being a big fat baby. He won't let you ride on the new tractor tomorrow."

"I'll, I'll..."

"You'll what?" Conner teased. He placed the younger boy's prized marble in his pouch. "You'll do nothing, Twerp."

Just as the young boy started to protest, the marble game circle, etched roughly in the dry earth by a mesquite stick, was covered by a shadow as dark and silent as midnight. A putrid odor bathed them like an old horse blanket that had sat too long in a damp puddle, and chased off the scent of baking roast.

The boy's eyes rose from the marbles until they met Conner's across the circle. He raised his eyebrows in mute question. Conner shrugged and shook his tawny head back and forth. He didn't know what was happening either.

A shrill shriek pierced the darkened air. The boys fell to the ground covering their heads with trembling arms.

The odor grew stronger and the darkness more intense. The young boy heard a loud beating sound, and felt the fetid air whoosh in and out. It seemed, almost, as though he was being drawn into the middle of a storm. A combination of terror and curiosity gripped him.

A distinctly human scream brought the boy back to reality. He turned his head to see an enormous winged creature hovering over Conner.

It had a huge, lion-like head, and the body of a four-legged fowl. Long, sharp teeth gnashed in fury. Huge eyes glared out of an oblong hairy face. The monster's body was elongated and covered in golden scales. Red wings batted the foul air.

Is this a dragon like in my storybooks? Is it a demon sent from God to punish us for fighting? Is it Death itself?

"Help me," Conner cried out. He reached for his younger brother.

The young boy was paralyzed by fear as two enormous clawed feet snatched his brother by the back of his overalls and began lifting him from the ground. Finally reacting, he grabbed his brother's leg and hung on with Herculean strength.

"Mommy, Daddy!" the young boy screamed. 

The front door of the farmhouse banged open. On the stoop stood the boys' father with a shotgun. Without a word, the older man opened fire on the dragon-like creature.

The bird glared back, his massive wings batting away bullets like flies. He rose slowly, two prize morsels within his evil grasp.

"Drop them, you beast," Mama demanded. She flew out of the front door, wielding a frying pan like a tomahawk.

The bird hesitated, looking back and forth between angry father and enraged mother.

Bat, bat, bat... swoosh, swoosh, swoosh...

The bird dropped its prey in the middle of the marble circle and flew away with an unholy screech.

**********************

Riley Byrne placed his fiddle on a small table perched beside his rocking chair. The notes and melody he had stroked out on the weathered instrument had added flavor and substance to his tale.

Gray eyes, vivid during the story, retreated into an old man's glance. Riley stretched and leaned back, the old rocker groaning with the effort of keeping him seated. He looked out at the collective eyes watching him in rapt attention.

"Was it really a dragon?" James, from the fourth grade, asked.

"Well, son, that there is one very good question," Riley said. "They're called Piasa birds, but no one knows for sure what they are. They're deadly fierce, and have been known to attack livestock... some as large as calves."

"What about humans?" a little girl asked. "Do they attack humans, like in your story?"

"Oh, yeah," Riley said. "Just like in my story."

"We don't have any such creatures in North America," a teen-aged girl named Bess said. She was an honors student who prided herself in knowledge of all sorts.

"Don't be too sure what exists in the shadows," Riley replied slowly. "This very bird was etched by Native Americans on a cliff in Illinois hundreds of years ago."

"With all due respect, Mr. Byrne, we live in Texas. Even if the Piasa did exist, how would it have gotten here?"

"Duh, it can fly," fourth-grade James said.

"Merely legend," she said.

"Yes, yes, legend," Riley said. "There are many such creatures of lore. But, my dear child, legends are based on fact, and I've seen many in flesh throughout my years."

"Was the young man in the story you, then?" James asked.

"Of course it was," Riley said. "That very experience is what started me and my brother, Conner, on a lifelong journey to discover such creatures."

"Tell us the story about Bigfoot," a little girl urged. "I love Bigfoot."

"Not tonight," Miss Eddins, Rugged Saddles Children's Home Director, spoke up. She stood and motioned for the children to join her. "It's getting late and we need to clean our messes. But first, we would to like extend our thanks to the musicians for playing, our cooks for preparing this feast, and Mr. Byrne for another of his excellent tales."

"More than welcome, Ma'am," Riley said. He rose and began helping with the chores.

Nara walked over to the old man, and rested her hand on his arm. "That was a charming tale."

"Thank you, darlin'. I'm glad you liked it."

"I have to admit I was wrong about you earlier. I've heard the South is rich with storytellers. It is a gift that should be treasured."

"As are the experiences that go with them," he said. "It's easier to describe what you've seen with your own eyes, than to make up what you ain't."

"Surely, you don't expect me to believe you actually saw a Piasa bird? I'm not a child."

"Are you sure?" Riley asked. "We all have a child inside, my dear. It helps us adjust to new situations and believe in the impossible. Isn't that what you teach your students?"

"I teach them to imagine new things, but I encourage them to seek truth."

"As do I."

Nara's response was cut off by the ambling appearance of Hank.

"Hey, you two. I'm glad to see you've met. Nara here is a history teacher, and I'm sure she'd love to hear of your many conquests."

"Oh, I don't know if they were all conquests," Riley said, "but I did have some interesting adventures. I'm not sure if this little filly is a believer, though."

"She'll get out of it. Just like I did."

Nara shook her head in disbelief. Was everyone on this ranch crazy?

"Anyway," Hank continued. "You're welcome to come by my classroom and see some of the artwork students have created about his creatures."

"Art class? You're a teacher?"

"Sure, what'd you think I was? A cowhand?"

"Pretty much."

"Ha ha, well, I'm that too."

"So, the lovely paintings in my room...  they're your students' work?"

"Heck no, they're mine, and I'm glad you like them, Sweetheart."

Hank flashed a grin and turned away. Nara thought she heard an annoying chuckle in his wake. She thought about shooting a scathing remark at his back, but just couldn't think of one. How do you counter finding out the local redneck is actually your colleague, and a very talented one at that?

Author Notes Artwork from Google Images of the Piasa Bird etched into the limestone.

"The Piasa or Piasa Bird is a Native American dragon depicted in one of two murals painted by Native Americans on bluffs (cliffsides) above the Mississippi River. Its original location was at the end of a chain of limestone bluffs in Madison County, Illinois at present-day Alton, Illinois." ~Wikipedia


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