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Priscilla finds peace before the storm
Book of the Month contest entry
| Category: || Western Fiction |
Posted:|| August 15, 2011 Views: 507|
Priscilla's family gave her away as a child bride to a self proclaimed prophet, who broke from the regular Mormon sect heading west along the Oregon Trail. Priscilla jumped from her honeymoon carriage
A roaring and crackling fire was made beneath a thin veil of clouds. With Willy acting as the chief cook on the trail, he prepared a monstrous meal, one that could have fed a caravan, and not just their motley group. While the emigrant family rested in their wagon, the rest of them ate heartily. Willy had a salted, fat piece of buffalo meat he once joked he was saving for the Queen of England. A fine pot of pinto beans were set to boiling, and Eagle Feather spread out a fresh bounty of red raspberries for desert.
As darkness swelled, the sky welcomed the flames. Every now and then Sammy, the little boy, would venture out from his folk's wagon and chase the fireflies, sometimes mistaking the sparks for the insects. Finally, he grew comfortable enough with the three new friends and sat down to dine. Willy handed the boy a napkin of dried buffalo jerky, which he chewed on vigorously. Priscilla, with Willy's help fixed a plate for Tom and Mary. Later that evening, Tom appeared from the back of the wagon to join the men for a traditional smoke.
Willy unrolled his tobacco pouch, putting a good pinch at the end of a 'u' shaped pipe. He scratched a match on a rock until the flame reached the tip of it. Priscilla had heard this was how they formed an alliance with an Indian tribe, but she'd never witnessed it first hand. They would continue to feast as they passed the pipe, trading stories. To her, it seemed, they aimed to see who could tell the most convincing lies of their wilderness exploits. They offered her a puff on the pipe. She squirmed and wrinkled her nose in disgust. "Foul thing, I'd be better off putting my head down a chimney."
The men roared with laughter.
Priscilla backed away into the crisp air, wrapping herself with the buffalo hide.
She curled near brushes several feet away. Her mind wandered to her parent's and her sisters. Do they think I'm dead? Will they break from that madman prophet who has them all under his spell? If only I could see my mother and tell her I'm alive, tell her not to fret.
"Miss Priscilla, you might want to scoot back toward the fire." She heard Willy, and opened her eyes to see his reddened face near the flames. He appeared earnest. "You might find a rattlesnake snuggled up next to you, come mornin'.'"
She leaped up and scampered back into the worn circle. "Thanks for the warning. But if you don't mind Mr. Willy, let's get a good start come morning."
Tom looked, eyes widened. "You are in flight from somethin' bad."
Willy looked through the fire at Priscilla. "I never told him nothin', Missy, it weren't my place."
Priscilla placed her hands on her knees as if resigned to run away form the inside, caving in, wishing she could disappear. She sighed from between her knees. "It looks like the only family I got is back east in St Joseph, Missouri."
Tom took a puff on the pipe and passed it over to the Indian, while his son Sammy skipped over the log pile. "You don't owe me any words, Miss. So far as my family is concerned, your middle name is Angel, and if you were to light up the sky and disappear into a whirlwind, I wouldn't question it none."
Her chin resting on a knee, she confessed, "If I could get to my Aunt Kate, I would be happy to be a family servant. I once felt like a trapped bird in cage, and my life would be far better living in a bunkhouse on a family homestead. My destiny maybe an old maid's, but I will not be the candy of a crazed old man."
The three men sat in wrapped attention, as if it were her turn to tell a whopper of a story, only hers was all the truth, and she had them held captive by her words. Somehow, maybe it was the blue flame inside the fire that hypnotized her, and made her shoulders slack, to tell her gruesome tale to men she'd hardly known, but trusted with her life. And like a rose plucked from the prairie, starving for affection, she talked.
"I remember when I was a girl and we were done tilling. We planted our corn, my sisters and me. I had a crush on a boy at our schoolhouse. I'd even written his name Tommy in the dirt with my finger when the prophet came and brushed it away with his black boots. He stood over me, the shadow of his vest covering me like a thick curtain. He looked every bit like a vulture. His eyes bulged with a hunger. As words fell from his mouth, saliva ran down his lips into the soil. He smiled down on me and said, 'you are one fine specimen, Miss Priscilla.' From that day, forward my heart felt like a trapped bird flittering away, tethered to his invisible rope."
Willy, bowed his head beside the fire, but looked up with a nervous twitch in his eye. Eagle Feather, kept his legs crossed, listening intently, weighing every word, as if assimilating her story into his own culture. Tom leaned over on the ground doing his best to chew through the beef jerky, shaking his head with disdain. "Where was your parent's in all this?"
"They were all there baking in the blazing sun. My mother turned her head but said nothing. My Pa, he just wiped his sweaty brow and continued cutting a line down the tract for our seed."
Tom scratched the tangled hair under his hat. "So they were in on it from the beginning. Your folks were to give ya away."
"I was only eleven, then." Tears glistened in her eyes. "I fear this madman, he will have his way with my younger sisters."
Eagle Feather took a long draw on the pipe. As he belched the smoke from his lungs, he spoke in a stammering English. " You are like a bird fallen...fallen from the sky. You are not of this world. You possess powers, beyond any young squaw. No man can own what has once lived in the sky."
Willy's face sweated near the flame. "Well, Missy, don't breath hellfire on me. I might've told him bout how you raised a baby back to life, is all."
"I'm just tired, wings or not, I wish I could go to sleep and wake up in a goose feather bed. I just want to have a home and family again..." She hesitated to finish. "But if I were orphaned, I couldn't have found a better family, then here and now."
"Missy," said Willy. "The prairie life makes us old before our time, but I wouldn't trade it, not even if, Queen Victoria offered me a room in her palace." He snorted a laugh.
"Willy." She strained to look at him as the flames licked the sky. "Promise me. Promise me you will get me to St. Joseph."
Willy seemed astonished that she doubted his resolve in the first place. "My word or my life, Ma'am." He lay down by the fire and pulled his hat over his eyes and sunk his head into a knapsack.
Tom looked over at Priscilla, as he stood to retire to his wagon. "I don't mean to get you riled up, but a man like that, his obsession could have him trailing us. Wolves. Fanatics. Who knows what lurks in the black of night."
"As an honored guest," said the Indian, "I will take first watch. Go to sleep Broken Wing. Someday you will soar."
Priscilla curled under the buffalo hide, eyes growing heavy.
"Willy," she said. "How much further?"
Willy grumbled under his hat. "Two, maybe three days."
"Godspeed then." She closed her eyes and allowed the darkness to engulf her weary soul.
The early morning sun was a hazy one. Birds chirped and danced along the brushes. All the delicate things of life welcomed the promise of another bright day, having escaped the predators of the night. A jackrabbit scampered through camp, and Tom with his boy tried to catch it for a good stew. They came back to the camp circle breathing heavy. "I think it ran off to Kansas," Tom said, as he doubled over.
They all ate a hearty breakfast, sharing a plate of cornbread with fresh coffee. While eating, Tom said he spotted a large caravan on the north slope moving toward Platte River. He was determined to join up with them, and keep his family moving west.
Willy cautioned him, they were likely Mormons who have a well-worn trail that would split south from the Oregon trek. "But be advised, no matter the company, no one family should travel alone."
The Indian offered to ride along with Tom and his family, and then would part for the northwest where he'd seen buffalo lazily grazing near the black hills. From the stories he told, he had no family left. After he'd joined up with the army as a scout years back, his family was wiped out from smallpox. But it seemed he held no bitterness toward the white man, and aimed to live the remainder of his life stalking the thinning herds of Buffalo. They would likely disappear together.
The sun was layered in thin clouds on their eastern trek, but Priscilla and Willy were well on their way. The land became uneven with woods and ravines, but a clear path could be negotiated under the growth of tall trees. As the forest stretched out before them, there was an abundance of wild berries and fresh running creek water. At times the shadow of trees were a welcomed respite from an oppressive summer sun.
Priscilla, with her spyglass at her side, remarked on Willy's wares. "How on earth did you come up with a piano so far along on the prairie, Willy?"
He hesitated and scratched the stubbles on his face. "Why, that there piano, it was Jake's deceased wife's prized possession.
Priscilla's mouth gaped open.
"In fact most of the goods I have, he no longer had a need fer. Let me tell you, his wife came from high society in Boston, and her fingers danced on those ivory keys."
"But what will you do with it?"
"Oh don't worry none, near St. Joseph there is an outpost and a place where painted ladies dwell, where I figure to sell it."
"Painted ladies?" She persisted. "You mean squaws?"
"Women who dance for a man's affection."
Priscilla crossed her arms and looked away.
"You didn't know? I mean he didn't tell you. He sold nearly every remnant of his past life.'
"Willy, how close are we to the gravesite where his family is buried?"
"Oh I reckon, not much more than another full day."
"I promised to pay my respects, and offer a prayer. Its marked on my map, not far from Saint Joseph trail."
Willy said nothing, but nodded his affirmation.
They passed through a small ravine, a tree-line that held the promise of a creek, as they dipped the wagon into the rocks and dirt, they could see it had clean flowing water swirling over passive rocks.
As they passed the tree line, they came into a steep but glorious golden meadow. Willy halted the wagon, and allowed his mules to graze. Priscilla, cut free Stardust and rode the horse a good ways toward the creek bed, finding a private place of fallen trees.
She'd prepared for this chance, and from the day before had taken the offer of clothing from Mary's belongings. She dispensed of the wool pants that itched so much, and noticed the red blotches from her constant scratching. Looking back at Willy in the open meadow, she could see him sprawled out on the front of the buckboard wagon, enjoying a summer's siesta.
She ran her fingers through the transparent, sparkling water of the clear flowing creek. She placed her head down and saw her reflection as she spooned a drink of water with her hands. As she studied the lucid image, she tought she resembled the look of a witch that had a bad fall. Her hair was knotted and flared in differing directions. Her eyes looked feverish.
Priscilla stripped down. She grabbed a bar of soap from the saddlebag and found a deep pool. Splashing into it, her body shook violently at first. Her body quaked, awakened to the core as she thrashed in the clear current of water. Then she released in its icy grip, allowing a free flowing peace. A calm grew inside of her, like a wave spilling into her fingers and toes. It was the most exhilarated and relaxed she'd felt since her plight started.
The enormous chestnut trees on the bank provided cover and gave her sense of comfort. She could no longer see Willy, but her colt was close enough, and able to enjoy a drink of water that flowed within the lap of his long tongue. Stardust seemed at peace with Priscilla's newfound lust for life.
As she looked down the uneven flowing creek, she noticed where it slowed to a trickle. She wanted to investigate the stream further. She pulled on a clean set of knickers from the saddlebag.
Enjoying the moist slate rock under her bare feet and the occasional lime-green moss between her toes, she meandered through the craggy divide, until she saw a hole where trout were trapped. They were spirited fish, swimming, isolated, seemingly without a care, waiting for the rain to open the creek and set them free in God's good time. Dinner. She lunged into the knee high water with her bloomers pulled over her knees, drenching herself as she tried carelessly to catch the slippery fish. Finally, she was able to scoop one into a dry hole on the rocks. She managed to get a second one, squeezing the pink belly, and admiring the healthy bronze back, she managed to get them on dry solid rock.
She grabbed the saddlebag from off the horse and went back to fetch her proudly won dinner. As she looked up from the ridge to spy the wagon, she noticed what looked like three men in the distance on a hill. All had horses and one man appeared tall and gangly, wearing a stovepipe hat.
Her heart pounded in fear, beating like brass drum. Priscilla quickly dressed in her silk blouse and blue calico skirt. She brushed her unruly hair, anxiously watching the mysterious men. She looked over to the wagon and wished she could warn Willy of the stranger's on the path. All she could do was spy on them with her trusted looking glass.
They approached slowly from the east. Willy was carelessly napping. She'd thought about riding to him as fast as she could, but they could easily catch her. She prayed they didn't know where she was, behind the fallen trees.
Priscilla squeezed the spyglass and watched as they drew close. They seemed to be laughing among themselves. One of them, who appeared to be the oldest and a leader, was stocky and wore an old buttoned down Army uniform. The young blonde haired man, quick on his horse, drove through the tall weeds and circled behind the wagon. He dismounted and crept slick as a bobcat toward the rear of the wagon. Priscilla's heart jumped up her throat. She didn't know what to do. If she screamed they would find her. She stood frozen, helpless as they circled Willy
Priscilla's eyes darted about. She thought perhaps she could lead them away, but she was afraid they would still catch her. She wanted to disappear into the creek. She held a slim hope, they would only rob him. To have life and limb was a worthy prayer from her trembling lips.
Willy broke from his sleep. He turned, clamoring for his rifle, and had the hammer pulled back, when the sneaky one, the blonde haired boy came from behind. He pulled out a small sword of a knife and ran it across Willy's throat. The blood spurted.
Priscilla knelt down on all fours, melting into the creek beneath Stardust. She vomited.
With a knot in her throat, she strained upward to steal another glance.
|The book continues with Cat And Mouse. We will provide a link to it when you review this below.|
I wanted to break this into two chapters, but rewarding the reader with something significant to ponder at the end of this read won the day.
and 2 member cents.
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