Microcosm
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Microcosm

Old Nick’s Garley 3

Small town secrets don’t lie

Photo by Vince Gx on Unsplash

The challenge involves micro genres. I chose small town secrets. The first scene holds a carryover from the last chapter. The second scene hints at another secret that gets its reveal next week. Thank you to Zane Dickens and Paul Mansfield for the fun.

I marched up to the table, picked up the fountain pen and scrawled a squiggly line like my pa did on official papers.

The government man looked up from a bowl of my grits. “That’s more like it.” He stood and gathered the papers. “Miss Dorothy’ll be here by this time tomorrow. I told them to travel only by night.” He wiped his mouth.

The sun had risen high enough to boil an egg, not to fry. “You’ll be halfway to civilization before then. Carlisle’ll lead you over the pass not anybody knows about. Your four winters of coming don’t need to be more than a week in going.”

“Why’d you run out so fast?”

“Indians got two of my heifers.”

“Why’d you run in so fast?” He waved the papers at me.

“I had time to think.” I rocked back on my boot heels.

Rick burst in. “Buck done tol’ me …”

I skewered him with my eye.

He set his eyes on the government man. “Buck told me …” He hesitated long enough for a scorpion to nap. “You signed the papers.” He jerked his thumb at the messenger. “The papers say you weren’t to know until you signed to make sure you weren’t taking the girl for the money. $200 a year pa. For housing and education.”

I looked at the messenger.

“I was getting to it. Delivered to your back account. Assuming you got one.”

“Only account I have is in cattle. You deliver ten heifers and ten steer every year until Miss D comes of age. Rick, get Carlisle and the man saddled and stocked.”

“I should stay and make sure …”

I took out my rifle rags and oil and stared down the barrel at him. “You got four winters to make up.”

###

Nick lassoed my legs with his wind devil, whipped out to the road and sat down. He led me to Wuai’nahk. Off the trail, I kept my ears perked in the gathering dusk. My finger itched for the trigger I’d left behind.

The full moon rose moments after the sun had set into a bank of summer monsoon. They’d hover, peeking over the hills for weeks before swamping us with the change in season.

The elders of the village sat in a circle on woven mats, blanketed against the desert chill that had turned to a nip. I sat down on the empty one opposite the chief. He wore more ornate robes than the other eight, who made me feel like a worn out saddle blanket in my buckskins and chaps. Nick kept trading sides of the circle.

The desert hummed and buzzed throughout the ceremony to the start the council. The moon shadows slivered small under the rocks by the time I heard them talk about ‘the woman.’ Wuai’nahk translated their low tones into English.

“She of the soft, silky hair.”

“Who eats few beans.”

“Who runs like Ban ‘i Kuadc.”

“Who tends faithfully to her child.”

I kept my eye on the two dark humps beside the chief. They both wore women’s blankets. One wore a poke bonnet. Moon-lightning streaked off the silver in her braids.

“You are a patient man.” The chief nodded to me.

“I am grateful.” It felt weird that Wuai’nahk translated me into English. “I need help.”

“You don’t want women in your camp.”

“No sir.”

“Your word is law. Make your men respectful.” The chief scolded me.

I shook my head in dismay. “There’s no law against the birds and the bees.”

“O’Odham have birds and bees.” He didn’t smile, but I knew the gentle humour of his people.

“O’Odham have customs. Old ways to make your men respectful.”

“You would be bound by our customs and ways?” The laugh in his voice could have puckered a choya.

Miss Poke Bonnet threw off her blanket and the restraining hand of the chief’s sister.

“Excuse me, Mr. Garley. I was hired by the United States Government to deliver Miss Dorothy into your custody.”

“I signed for an eight year old, ma’am. Consider her delivered.” I turned to the chief. “The government woman can go the way of the government man.”

The government woman didn’t wait for Wuai’nahk to finish translating. “Who’s going to look after Miss Dorothy? She needs a decent upbringing and a proper education.”

The chief waited for his son. “I will take them to the winter grounds. When we return, they go to you, or the government woman goes home, or she is your wife.”

The moon dangled below the Milky Way like a throbbing pendant. Shadows stretched long across the singing sand. A desert cardinal laced the air with melody.

The elders rose slowly off their blankets, stretched, yawned, and wandered off two and three together.

I strode across the circle and bowed to the chief’s sister. “Ma’am.” I greeted Miss Poke Bonnet.

“Mr. Garley.” She’d seemed pretty feisty, but now she was softer. The bonnet hid her face, but her voice was low and meek. “Do I understand that you are sending two white women, one a young child, into the wilderness with these Indians?”

“Can’t think of a safer place. But I only signed for the eight year old. You can do as you please. If you go with them, I advise you to learn their language. Their ways. And let’s get one thing dead straight from the beginning. I ain’t marrying you.”

“Don’t you want to meet her?”

“I don’t do little girls.”

Her fingers clenched on the blanket snugged around her. Her voice caught. “I’ll take good care of her for you, Mr. Garley.”

The chief’s sister wrapped her arm around her charge and the two faded into the shadows.

Nick looked back at me. I nodded and he trotted off behind them.

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Nicola MacCameron

Nicola MacCameron

Are you creative? Everything I touch turns to art. Visual art, written, aural, tactile, you name it, I love it! Author of Leoshine, Princess Oracle.