Story Seventeen – The Writer
First in a four part short story series called ‘The Writer, The Girl, The Sheriff and Madam Delaunney”… perhaps Aaron may think to rename the series ‘Moon and Stars’.
“Watch yur step, Mr. Terrence, tha carr’age’s got icy”
Mr. Herrison, the coachman continued to attempt the charade at calling his coffin-on-wheels a ‘carriage’. I didn’t have the heart to remind him that carriages have seats, not planks of wood tethered to the ceiling with a thin twine prone to snapping under a poor writer’s practically nonexistent weight.
He was rather infallible about the weather, though. Before leaving, I had remarked on the need for sun and dry air. The east coast is a strange hell of flurries and sharp ocean gusts. I wanted warmth and prairies. Apparently, my research on the destination was poorly done. The papers and stories told me of a dusty, arid, sweltering California. They said nothing of how long the territory ran or how far north it’s highest reaches rested.
Nah, Mr. Terrence, things get mighty cold in Gilbert Mines. ’Specially in Jan’yary.
Then why the hell are we going there?
My editor, a leech covered in human skin going by the name of George Theodore Meurea, answered the question the year before in a prophetic spurting of cigar smoke and poorly learned english. New Yorkers like to read books. Presently, they liked to immerse in two types of fantasy, the rough-and-tumble people in the west and the horrible terrors haunting the shadows. I, Howard Terrence, had a knack for such terrible horrors. I was the preeminent portrayer of the panic and ghastly. But, being born in a world apart from the denim trousers and dirty faces of the gun-toting, conquering frontiersmen, I had a slight problem with representing them.
Gilbert Mines combined what I could do with what I wasn’t yet knowledgeable. Recent events struck the nation through newspapers and word of mouth. Blood brought interest. Mystery only worked to further it. What better inspiration was there for me than a set of unexplained murders set in a land of cowboys and outlaws?
My black boots crunched through the thin layer of frost. The spurs were taking a while to get used to, a while which seemed perpetual. A brown package found its way to my door three days before my train was scheduled. It was from my uncle, a lovely man unsurprisingly under the falsified impression that everyone in the west wished to dress like a dime novel villain. The wrappings held a set of trousers, leather chaps, a shirt, vest, those thick snake skin boots and of course a wide-brimmed bowler, the quintessential ‘cowboy’ wear. I had to laugh at his quaintness.
I had the coachmen stop when we were a few days from our final stop. I needed true apparel and thought the closer I was to the environment, the more traditional styles I would find. When the store owner found me laughing at myself for my own assumptions in the middle of his shop in a large Nevada city, he must have thought me mad. There, in different areas, I found those same items in their same fashions. Perhaps my uncle was not so naive.
It was cold. There was a thankful lack of wind, a notable grace from the god who had obviously forsaken this place long ago. It wasn’t an ugly town. The blues did nothing for it’s complexion but it was well built and larger than I expected.
We’d stopped on Main Street. While drunk one summer, long ago, I mused at how long Main Street must be, whichever town you’re in, you can find a part of it. The joke was lost on the company I kept. I had a fear similar humor would find equally lackluster approval with the residents here.
Mr. Herrison handed me the duster and my belt. The leather and metal heft of the holsters and their charges surprised me. Guns were not my usual companions. Doyle and Poe were always by his side. Smith and Wesson were interlopers, forced upon me by a concerned friend. Emily was an artist and so her eyes was more to form than function.
The belt and leather guards were inlaid with threads of gold and copious deposits of silver. The guns themselves were practically comprised of the white metal, or that had been the sales pitch of the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company at the very least. Decorations etched over the barrel, chambers, trigger guard and the smooth polished dark wood handle caught the light and made the weapons more beautiful than deadly. And at their .44 calibre, that was a feat.
I buckled the expensive gift to my hips and covered my body with the grey coat. As pointed out to an oblivious me by a slightly shady bar keep a few days before, they were as much a danger as a help. I had no intentions of being shot for my guns, though the irony surely brought the thought of my pen to mind.
I thought, perhaps, I would be able to jot down the idea of a gunslinger killed for the very thing he used to take the lives of others. It rang of poetry. Not Walt Whitman, not true verse, but a poeticality of concept. I turned to my coachman, ready to be led to my room. We had passed a large and ornate building just a moment before our stop, Delaunney’s Inn. The balconies were certainly inviting. Nearly everyone had a pretty young woman lounging upon a wooden settee.
Mr. Herrison’s hobbling, misshapen legs, however, began to carry his equally odd but strongly built body away. He was larger than I, by a full foot. He seemed to be the average of the area with wide shoulders and physical longevity. While the learned men may live beyond them, the stock of countrymen were certainly far more useful in their earlier Years of snapping a whip and holding reigns had taken its toll. I’d take the liberties to call him a pitiful man yet I had never seen him without a gracious smile. Perhaps there are men happy with traveling, no matter how grueling the voyages may be. I was experience discomfort behind the door and under a thick woolen blanket. He had taken the winds head on.
His heading was for a small trading post. It was barely the size of a post office and had three times as many patrons inside. It was shopping day there in Gilbert Mines. From my observations, I could see they were vying for gear; pickaxes, wooden stakes, pitchforks, and oil.
I followed, slightly bewildered.
The spurs on my boots clinked with every step, causing me to speak a little louder than I normally would like. I thought he hadn’t heard me and I opened my mouth to speak again. He grunted his response before I could restate my query.
He spoke with a deep, gritty speech. The dialect I’d heard. The gravel and experience within it was new. It was how I would expect a ghost to communicate, through sound weighted by the experiences of the soul. I doubted that wondrous tone would ever be mine.
“I was wondering when I could see my room. I have little need for mining equipment.”
He turned on a club-like foot and opened the door, holding it for a young bonneted woman to hustle through. His eyes, blue and watery, searched mine.
His gentlemanly deed done, Mr. Herrison continued into the store. I found it slightly rude for him to ask a question, then move on without an answer.
He was given berth in the small place, whether because of his age or some unknown amount of respect I still don’t know. Whatever the source of his path, I was not covered. My spurs caught the dress of the young woman with the bonnet. She gave a small scream and twisted around to see the scoundrel trying to disrobe her.
I smiled. She saw the spurs and with her own foot, deftly separated metal from cloth. She gave a smile back. More youth was in her face than what I had assumed from her movements. She seemed older, even above my status of male spinster. She couldn’t have been more than seventeen, younger still since my powers of estimation were so untrustworthy. A sight to behold, she was capable of outshining the dusks and dawns my trail had witnessed. I thought those results of celestial movements the pinnacle of optical appreciation but with a nod and a wink, that girl found herself a step above. The question of Mr. Herrison was long forgotten. I extended a hand to my hat and caught her attention a tad more cordially than before.
“Miss. I apologize for my attire. It knows not what it does.”
Personification must have been a source of humor for the younger of my same generation. To describe her small burst of mirth as a giggle would be to do her a disservice, to belittle the maturity of the action. It was a small, polite laugh that hid the more girlish reaction I saw clawing to get out. She held back for the sake of society, something of a learned quality that even the most noble and well-bred have regularly shown a difficulty to grasp.
“Well sir, I shouldn’t spurn you for their biting behavior.”
Her voice was more of what I expected, a southern drawl and a slight husk; nothing to diminish her appearance and poise, it only added. She didn’t show me her hand or bow as the primping ladies of Manhattan perpetuated as a necessity. She looked me over, then gazed right into my eyes without the fake bashful sincerity so prevalent in the fairer sex, or worse, the real modesty I so detested. More so, I had been greeted by a sense of humor, feminine humor. It was alien to me. I was alien to her, surely.
“My name is Terrence, Howard Terrance.”
She breathed in and smiled. Her head shook, subtly, to no one in particular. She was denying something, an internal thought of some kind concerning me or my name. I couldn’t rightly tell. I knew people, I wrote people so I had to know them but I was not, as some of the swindling fortune tellers say, clairvoyant.
I waited for a surname. It didn’t come. My own words seemed just as reluctant. She turned, introductions over, to her necessities. She would glance at me sparingly. Now, I can see she was waiting. Then, I had no idea what to say.
A heavy hand found my shoulder. Mr. Herrison spoke past me, to the girl.
“`Scuse me, ‘Lizbeth. This’ns gotta get settled in.”
She smiled, waving a gloved hand. Among the drab, dullness of the store, she, even expressing a departure, seemed to bring life and spill it around her.
“T’was nice meeting you, Mr. Howard.”
Words paraded through my mind. I wrote her a sonnet with a paper made of thought and hope fashioned to ink. It disappeared as fast as she had behind the others. My stay there in Gilbert Mines became, in that one meeting, vastly more interesting than scribbling a few gold-rush ghost stories.
I didn’t as much follow Herrison, he pulled me back rather forcefully. I turned, glaring a demand of explanation. He gave me one, albeit not the specific response I wished for.
“This inn’t a minin’ town.”
Arbitrariness smacked my face. He was so absolute in his words, so off topic from the present situation, that it left me speechless. He must have recognized the expression, following up rather quickly with an expounding statement.
“Ya said ya needed minin’ `quipment. This ain’t no minin’ town. Now come on, I’ma git ya to yer room.”
Still unable to speak, I followed him. My original statement returned to memory yet the sense of it all couldn’t be found. Mr. Herrison, trustworthy he was, yes, forgetful as well. That particular idea mattered less and less to me when I realized the rest of his words. I grasped his arm.
“Sir, my room, it’s above the store?”
The folds of his skin collected among the sides of his mouth when he smiled. It was at once unappealing and utterly endearing.
“Course `tis. Where else wud it be?”
My fingertip stared across the street at the larger, more spacious, warmer looking Inn. I continued to stare in disbelief at the coachman.
“I assumed my stay would be spent in more comfortable surroundings?”
He leaned, caught my meaning, and laughed loud enough to gain attention.
“I dinn’t know ya wanted a stay at Delaunney’s. Dinn’t peg ya’ll city folk as want’n that kin’a service.”
He had a childish chuckle to his words. He was red in the face with more than the laughter. It was an embarrassment I was seeing. This grizzled old oaf was, like a school boy seeing his first pair of knees, tittering away.
I turned, taking a hard look at the establishment garnering such a reaction. By god, how could I have been so naive? Even in this weather, the girls navigating the balconies would throw shoulders at the staring gentlemen below. They would wave and blow affection on the perfumed wind. A whore house? Oh my.
My face became as red as Mr. Herrison’s. I gave a curt smile.
“I wasn’t quite aware of the places reputation.”
It was clear he didn’t believe me. He guffawed beneath himself while toting the weight of my bags up the rickety spiral staircase which led to a small, cramped hall.
The room was something to be dismissed as a closet with something like a bed in it. How they managed to fit the window in the undersized window was beyond me. But, it was warm and snug and secure. It was also without the company of used women, which was another blessing in itself.
Mr. Herrison left my things, which gave me less than a third of the quarters to myself. I had trouble finding the closet which was explained quickly by the evidence that one had once existed but was plastered over, eaten by the runt walls no doubt in their fervor to grow into adult-sized accommodations.
The sky was then rather dark. The moon, fading into the sky against the dying sunlight, was practically full. It seemed larger here than the vantage of my home. It cast it’s light through a ghostly haze of cold mist hanging over the buildings. This was looking quite right for a story full of ghouls. I attempted to extend my creativity over the reports I had heard. Such bloody crimes had been committed in the farmlands just beyond the stretch of dirt road. There had been an uncanny amount of disappearances, I’d read the sheriff even admitted to that but they hadn’t made the connections till now that those had the air of murder around them as well. It wasn’t until the four bodies were discovered, barely recognizable as bodies at all. Stripped of their skin and bitten into. There were places where the marks were human. That had been the most marvelous development of them all. Cannibalism, in the old west! That was the basis of a tale. I ripped the pen and ink from the packaging holding them together. My ream of freshly made paper, now weeks old, still had their same smell. I set tip to ink and ink to parchment. The first words flowed from me easily.
‘There was something amiss in Gilbert Hollow, four dead and yet so many more to come.’
It was a simple beginning. It was a quite fine start. I avoided using the complete full name of the town. One can never be too afraid of reprisals. I feared a resident would see the manuscript before finished and think it slanderous. What then? It does no one any good for a writer to be murdered over his unfinished work.
The rest was blank. I sat in the room, quite beside myself.
Being alone had rarely been a problem. It was from my solitary time that my greatest works had come about. ‘The Window’s Glass’, my only award winning story, came scrawling from my pen on the wings of three angelic nights in my summer cabin in Saratoga. It sent ripples through the northeast and garnered praise from the societies, a feat not lessened by the snobbery which turned away most horror writers of the time yet seemed to overlook my subscription to the same genre. I, of course, hated the book. There hadn’t been a drop of liquor in the shack of logs. Sobriety hung on every word. It was as dry as my mind had been. Yet others enjoyed it. They saw the simpleness of it turn to the modern, away from the flowery prose of old. I saw a problem with their assertions. My mind speaks in the poetic languages of Dickens and his ilk. To cite my work for it’s merits in literature on the basis of breaking from their tradition is to reveal its author to be another. It was an injury dealt to me but a year before. It still stung with the heat of a branding iron.
I set the pen down and capped the pot of ink. The bed was both for sleeping and sitting, replacing a chair or, as the case was, making up for the lack of such. It was close enough to the window that I could take in the guilty pleasure of spying on the townsfolk in its appreciated comfort. While watching the town and witnessing young Elizabeth’s sky blue bonnet enter and exit my field of vision from the street below, I realized my desperate need of a scotch. My greatest nightmare would be to stay in a town with no saloon. Worse yet, with no other way to procure the whiskey to which I had acquired a liking. It was the first question I had asked Mr. Herrington. He nodded, saying their saloon was rowdy and a bit rough around the edges, then offered me a shot of his own personal collection. Along the road, we finished his and broke into mine. The journey was a long one and my bottles were empty three days prior to breaking into town. There was no other way around it. I would have to find the dark and dusty hole they called a bar and order as many servings as it took to instill in me the courage to find that girl and recite passionate words of longing. As much good as that may have done someone as presumably opposite of her ideal as I.
Posted on 05/18/2011, in Madam Delaunney's Inn, Short Stories and tagged comedy, death, errant, errant studios, fantasy, funny, horror, humor, literature, shively, silver, Story a day, thriller, wild west, writing. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.