I’ve been scribbling short stories like crazy the last few weeks, with little work on the actual novel. Not a complaint, rather an observation. The one I’m excerpting here is from “Dead’s End to Middleton” which borders between steampunk and weird west. I just like this bit from the beginning.
_ _ _
“Mary Mother of Jesus.”
Up until that moment, I had no recollection of my mother swearing. A proud, quiet, Catholic woman, she navigated the majority of her life with cool, calm reserve. It was my father who swore, adhering to that form of expression not unlike my mother to her rosary–repetitive, quiet, and a cadence unto itself.
“Christ almighty on a donkey.”
That was my brother Jack. Six years my senior, he was the one steering the covered wagon as we made our way from Dead’s End to Middleton, a near three day’s ride through the desert. We were on our way to Middleton to visit my father, who’d been working there for the better part of a month while the rest of us were left to the ranch, being at it was, time for the cows to birth. But most of that business was done, and my two oldest brothers Hector and William stayed back with my younger sister Bettany.
Mother let me along with her and Jack since it was my birthday in a week, and she reckoned seeing my father would be good for me. She said I’d been ornery, and that I needed a good sitting down with Father. I suspected it had something to do with the steam gal rags she’d found under my bed a few weeks past, but I couldn’t be sure. Hector had given them to me, and said that they’d help me calm myself. Whatever that had meant. All the pictures and stories had done was made me feel wound up as a spindle, though I couldn’t put a finger on quite why.
Still, on my way to becoming a man or not, I could make no more sense out of what I’d just seen than anyone else. Mr. Stein, Father’s business partner, shuddered next to me, and held a handkerchief over his mouth, gagging back blood and snot. He had the consumption, and the lights had just about scared his soul right out of him. It was to my great dismay that I had to sit next to him and, on the order of my mother, attend to his whims.
“What do you suppose—?” he asked, his voice gritty and low, wet from coughing.
I’d only emerged from the back of the wagon when my mother had screamed. The horses had been startled, too, but that wasn’t uncommon. I’d figured it was a snake, as had been the case a day ago.
But due to my late entrance, I only caught the last few moments of the event. A black streak in the sky, fire, and an explosion. Now, whatever had landed was smoldering on the horizon, long tongues of green and orange flames intermittently flaring and quelling. Smoke rose, too, casting gray puffy streaks into the sky, dissipating as they reached higher, but not going out entirely.
There was a sound, too. A low crackling–inconstant, and yet familiar. Like dry logs in a hot fire, but louder. Like distant thunder.
“Don’t reckon we can go around,” Jack said, wiping his eyes. He looked back at me. “Jess. Get back in the wagon.”