Monday, July 30, 2007

Prologue: Bought with Blood, Part II

A twig snapped under Matthew's foot with a loud retort like a pistol going off. He jumped, his heart racing. It's so quiet in here. He cocked his head. No birds, no bugs, no nothing. He picked up a few more stout branches and hurried back to their campsite to dump the wood on an already sizable pile. That ought to do us for a day or two. Shouldn't need much of a fire tonight, it's so warm. He stacked the wood and soon had a small blaze burning. The other three arrived, carrying only their bedrolls and a change of clothes. Abigail clutched a doll, as well. He shook his head. Martha directed the children in arranging their belongings, set her own blankets next to Matthew's and sat. She patted her pockets.

"Matthew, could you go to the wagon and get my brush and mirror?"

"Nope." He hunkered down and rummaged through the cookery for a pot, which he held out to Jonathan. "Go fill that with some water in the river." The boy opened his mouth. "Do it." Jonathan snatched the pot and stalked off toward the river. Shadows swallowed him from sight before he'd gone a dozen paces.

"What do you mean, 'no'? You know I can't get to sleep unless I fix my hair."

"I know." He broke a hunk of hard bread and passed it around. "You want your brush, you go get it. I've got to get supper cooked as soon as that boy gets back here with my water."

A clipped yelp pulled their heads northward. His wife started to rise. He grabbed her wrist and pulled her back down. "Leave the boy be, Martha. He probably just kicked a root or something. He ain't a baby; he's nearly sixteen years old. It's time for him to crawl out from underneath your skirts and grow up."

She glared at him, but didn't stand again. Night fell for good as the silence spun out between them. The quiet grew brittle. Then Abigail shattered it with a question.

"Daddy, why don't the Indians live here?"

Matthew bit back a curse. He thought he'd kept her from those conversations – she'd never asked about it before now – but he should have known those little ears would pick up on just about everything.

On the trip north, he had asked about this place at various towns and outposts, trying to get a feel for their new home. News from Paris was hard enough to come by; this untamed land at the Republic's northern boundary might as well be on the edge of the world. Bits and pieces came together as they journeyed – a few who mentioned how pretty the country was up near the Red River and many who offered dire warnings about moving so near Indian territory. One or two even talked about stopping in a stand of pecan trees after crossing the river, usually with frightened eyes and hushed tones. Martha fretted over the danger of Indian attacks, but as they talked to a few red-skinned travelers along the way, it became apparent they avoided this area. None offered a specific reason for the taboo. All Matthew could gather was it had something to do with their superstitions, which he could dismiss easily enough – until they stopped for the night in Black Jack Grove.

He kept the family close to the wagon that night. The small community served as a stop for freight wagoners and other rough sorts. Texas Rangers also camped there, but he didn’t see a need to take any chances. Kicking Eagle apparently felt the same. The old Caddo politely asked to share their fire. He smiled when Matthew nodded and offered him a bit of meat and bread. He proved an entertaining dinner companion, more than paying for the meal with his stories. His wrinkled, animated features brought each one to life as he became the people and animals in his tales. Martha and the children dropped off, still smiling in their sleep. Matthew and the Indian talked late into the night. Their conversation turned to more serious matters and ventured into his hopes for their new home.

"You say you are headed north," Kicking Eagle said. "Are you going to Paris?"

"Nah, we're headed a little further on. Ain't nobody up there now. I hear even you Indians won't go there for some reason." He chuckled. "Never thought y'all would be so scared of a few pecan trees."

The Caddo's eyes narrowed. "This place, is it on the Red River?"

"Yup." He frowned at the Indian. "You know something about it?"

"You must not go there."

"Why? All I get from you redskins is a bunch of superstitious mumbo jumbo. Is there something wrong with the land? The water? What's up there that y'all are so scared of?"

He shook his head. "It is not for me to reveal our secrets to one not of the People." He sighed. "But I will offer you this warning: There are dark places in the world. You should beware the shadows in your homestead. If you go there, they will consume you."

No matter how he prodded, Kicking Eagle would say nothing more on the subject. Finally, Matthew gave up and they went to sleep. The old Indian watched them with sad eyes as they continued north. Jonathan and Martha had a good laugh over the Indian's "superstitious nonsense," but his words put a shadow over Matthew's mood that took most of the forty miles to Paris to lift.

Abigail's question brought that shadow back.

"I don't really know, darlin'," he said at last. "They just don't like this place for some reason. It's nothing to worry about."

"Okay, Daddy." She crawled over and kissed his cheek, then whispered: "I don't like this place, either. It's spooky." She crawled back to her blanket and lay down.

Part III coming Friday!

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At July 30, 2007 7:45 PM , Blogger Dale L. Murphy said...

Keep it coming Jeff. You are off to a great start my friend!siemenc sl55  

At July 30, 2007 9:23 PM , Blogger Bret Jordan said...

Friday now seems like a long way off. I'm really enjoying this, Jeff!siemenc sl55  

At July 31, 2007 12:52 PM , Blogger shadowstalker said...

Interesting. Looking forward to friday!siemenc sl55  

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