Steve Rzasa here. With my new novel Crosswind coming out in November, I thought I’d give our dear faithful readers a taste of the world the Sark brothers inhabit (Winchell and Copernicus Sark are the main characters — check out my prior post.) It’s a world similar to ours but with a few key differences, I worked up this bit of flash fiction. Enjoy!
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“In the Bag,” by Steve Rzasa
Not by my accounting, anyway. That’s what I keep telling myself as I urge my branter on through the woods. Trud, he’s the finest mount on two legs, with a chestnut hide, mane black as the sky above us, and twin horns all pearly white. His legs come up to my chest when I’m standing beside him—‘cept right now they pound the ground as we race between lodge pole pines.
The shouts ain’t far behind.
The messenger pack slaps against my back. My hand traps it, shoves it back.
When I signed up to carry for Sawtooth Parcel & Letters there weren’t a soul who told me I’d be shot at for riding post. The bullet hole letting air through my jacket told otherwise.
It ain’t like the parcel is illegal.
A droning sound jerks my chin up. A biplane silhouette flits above the treetops. I’m wishing I’d taken flying lessons.
We burst onto the edge of the field. The moons are bright—the big one tannish, the little companion a dusty orange. Stars all a-glitter. And a heap of mastodons spread out across the grass. There is no stopping even for those dark shaggy lumps. I’ll just have to keep an eye out for their tusks.
Halfway across. Gunfire rings out. Those blamed fools—don’t care one whit if they stampede the herd. Mastodons all around trumpet their alarm. Trud snorts but keeps right on running. Good boy. Last thing I need is for him to panic and take a poke at a mastodon’s rump with those forelimb claws. Ranch hands will be mad enough as it is.
A bullet whizzes by, like an angry bee. Tarnation. I limber my Thundercloud Rattler levergun. Nine bullets loaded. I hazard a look over my shoulder. Yep, still six of them—faces hidden by kerchiefs, long coats flapping behind them. Their branters ain’t as fast as mine.
But we can’t do this all night.
The river’s ahead.
Trud don’t hesitate a mite as he splashes into the water. Cold as ice, it is. But what do you expect for the middle of spring? My breath fogs out of my trap. We slow up.
We’re near the other bank when them yahoos start blasting away again. The gunfire cuts off abruptly, and there’s shouting. Sounds like arguing.
Good a time as any.
I let fly a trio of shots their way, not that I’m keen on killin’. Seriously doubt I hit anything, as little practice as I have with my iron.
A whistle hoots in the distance, loud and high pitched. The grin cracks across my face. Right on schedule.
I spur Trud up the embankment. Bullets rip dirt and grass, tossing clumps. Keep ‘em off my back, Allfather.
The tracks ain’t that far along. They stretch parallel to the embankment for a good couple of miles.
Here it comes—barreling down the rails with its lamp cutting through the dark and dragging its own cloud behind the funnel.
It’s the Nine-Twenty from Trestleway north to Pearly’s Bend—nothing like a locomotive to give you a thirty mile-long leg up on your pursuers. Getting aboard is the trick.
Trud kicks up dirt and gallops along the embankment. The engine rushes by, all steam and smoke and wind. The ground shakes even more.
C’mon, boy. You can do it.
My sweat and his mingle into a stink that, well, just stinks. The coal tender goes by, followed by a passenger car. I avoid the lights glowing from inside and look behind.
There’s another passenger car, a box car and two flatbeds—unloaded.
Our pursuers sure are ornery. They burst onto the embankment with guns a-blazing. I empty the last of my bullets in a wild fusillade. Mercifully, no man or branter goes tumbling.
The second passenger car rumbles by.
My shout and Trud’s bellow propel us into the gap between earth and iron. There’s nary a whisper save for the engine for a moment—then we crash down on the flatbed. Trud skids and moans as I wrench my arm pulling his reins.
Those boys are long gone. Ain’t no way for them to catch up to me.
The door to the passenger car flies open. Light spills out, leaving afterimages like blobs before my eyes. I must be a frightful sight to the conductor—blond beard as dirty as it feels, eyes hazel and wide from being all keyed-up, and the SPL blue coat with silver piping coated in dust.
“Boy, you got some gumption pullin’ a stunt like that.” He shakes his head. The droopy moustache over his lip wriggles to mirror his impatience. “What’re you fixin’ to do?”
I brush off my coat as good as can be. Good thing I didn’t lose my cap in that ruckus. I tip it. “Laertes Push, Sawtooth Parcel & Letters. I’ve post to deliver, sir, and I’d be much obliged if you’d keep me aboard all the way to Pearly’s Bend.”
“And what in the fires of Avernus is them fellers so keen on killin’ you for?”
It’s still there, tucked safe in my pouch. I dig past the letters and bigger envelopes for the pamphlet. It ain’t long, mind, just a few pages, but it’s the words that count. Mama says the Writ of Ifan does its talking all its own.
“Missive from Vaughn Markwater to the Exalter chapel at Perch,” I say. My voice catches. “Praise be to the Exaltson.”
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Next week I’ll reminisce about how I came up with the city-state of Perch for Crosswind.