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The End of the Line

 
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Ketch Creeley
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 22, 2017 3:26 pm    Post subject: The End of the Line Reply with quote

((Per site guidelines, and due to repeated catacombing of the Charlie's Bar folder (because...life), this thread and a couple of others will continue here until the post requirements are met to reactivate the folder.))

Continued from here:

The air was thick and rust-blood-bitter in her mouth with every breath. Ketch’s words carried in them a similar quality, a potency of iron and fortitude of steel. It was something that Madison felt as sure as the whip of that wind and the earth at her boots as he yawned the door open and set foot to a dirty path that would never echo her ever passing there. It made her smile and squint despite the lenses. These ghost lands. Things were changing and she didn't mind if there was no impression left behind. The rearview would only cause pain and questions, so Madison turned around and looked forward in time, to the road, then over to Ketch. Moseying along to the back, she threw her bag over her shoulder and then stared at the gun. "Nice. Want me to carry this too or you plan on leavin' this here?”

Swinging the door shut behind him, Ketch tore back the tarp and blankets to pull out his pack and lean the rifles against the side of the car. He eyed the gun’s polished stock before flicking a look back up at Madison. It lingered there as it was wont to do on occasion, trapped somewhere along the sedate column of her throat where it disappeared into the depthless dark of her hair. “It’s coming with me, same as you.” The realization that one was as necessary as the other on this trip circulated through him and was as much discomfort as wonder. Fire of a machine and fire of a woman. Both equally dangerous, but for different reasons. One could only kill him. The other, though, had the potential to make him suffer.

His smile turned dark and was eclipsed by a tumble of hair as he leaned forward to drop his pack in the dirt beside the car.

"Gonna need a big ***' umbrella if you plan on staying awhile, boy." That grin turned on him as she paced over. Then she rolled into the toes of the leather boots, placed a hand to his chest, and kissed him.

She wanted to know if he tasted like she remembered the other night. If she could taste the iron-kissed air on his breath. He provoked a series of reactions in the woman and it startled her, behind the unflappable exterior in the moments her bravado was strongest, how volatile, how absolute they were and that it was more than the sting of heat in her belly or in her toes. The reason she had so many damn questions was as much to hear his voice and have his eyes on her as it was to have the details filled out in this situation he’d invited her into.

Madison was still daisies and white curtains with dappled shadows on wooden floors, but she was fire, too, when she was around him. Like the taste of smoke lived in the place of their bodies, a promise of ignition and conflagrant moments. Her heart exposed like a rock and shown to be all coal, no diamond, yet. But it was open, and she was willing to bear the pressure.

Fingertips looped the barrel of the rifle, cold metal warming in the sun, warming beneath Ketch’s hand, and then there came Madison’s smile aimed right at him and striking true; he reconsidered his answer about the umbrella. “Yeah. Or maybe it’s not so bad to get caught in a downpour every now and then. Washes the dust off.” He gave her a quick, sardonic wink and caught up her hand when it landed on his chest. There came the canter of four chambers moving earth-rich blood and sunlight, a quiet thunder at her palm like hoofbeats at a distance. Fingers traveled the delicate blue tributaries along the underside of her wrist and closed around her elbow, pulling her in as much as her own momentum carried her forward, desert grit and sunburn sear to the kiss that met hers.

That same insatiable hunger that showed itself in the office that first night when he took a fistful of denim into his grip spilled now from the collision of mouths, the kind that echoed through canyons. The kind that howled. He had no more ability to prevent it than willingness to. So it was mutual preservation when he tore away from her before the side of the car, the hood, the flatbed with its blankets and tarp became the altar for an impromptu midafternoon tryst.

Ketch back-stepped a couple of paces, tipping his chin up to the sky until color flooded his eyes again. The heel of his hand ironed out a deepening furrow between his brows, some personal concession made in that moment that turned him away.

“Just how far off the map are we here?" Madison could smell something subtle and sweet in the air, like a tart berry or juniper, but it was mingled with the raw, exposed face of stone weathered by elements. She thought of what her father had said to her, about being reduced by the world she chose to set foot in. But she didn't feel less; she felt more than what she’d been. More substantial, more alive than she had in months. It soured her to think it briefly before a smile clicked into place like a round.

“This place is another map entirely,” Ketch said, striding to the threshold beneath the archway and dropping to a crouch a couple of inches shy of the pass-through. His index finger moved through the dirt, the symbol rudimentary, but distinguishable: four legs, tall ears, rangy snout, the bulk of a wolf. He cast a look over his shoulder to Madison, taking in the lines of her, the wind dancing through her hair, the way her voice resonated in his mind. Her words. When he turned back again, he added another picture, haphazard. The composition of the sparrow was smaller, the lines more delicate, wings stretched in flight. It wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t everything he felt encompassed the gunslinger. Not even close. But it was wind and flight and determination, and that’d do alright for now.

Once he was finished, he pulled one of Fin’s hand-rolled cigarettes from behind his ear, set it aflame, and inhaled. His exhale was bent toward the dust and it moved across the pictures, scattering them to the air. The mixture funneled up into a gray cloud that gathered and hung precariously above them before vanishing like ashes set to a strong wind.

He took another drag and then rose, offering the cigarette out in Madison’s direction as he settled up against the side of the car. “Now we wait. They’ll send someone for us.” Catching Madison by the waist, he stepped behind her, a looming shadow of smoke, iron, sawdust and that preternatural sense of wild that stole through his grip unbidden and tightened it upon her. His hands slipped down to her hips to steer them, but they moved as easily as the needle of a compass, as if they innately knew where West lay. Mouth to her ear and the pitch strands that the wind buffeted and sent swooping against his jaw in a flutter of sensation as light as moth wings while he spoke. “Watch the horizon that way. You’ll see.”

Ketch traded the cigarette back and forth with her, adding after awhile. “If you’d been expecting me, I probably wouldn’t have shown up.” They’d left that line of conversation in the car, but he’d pulled it back out again after some thought. “So you can just go ahead and keep not expecting me and it’s likely I’ll keep showing up. Who the hell knows?” Droll in tone, though there was no expression for her to read, just his shadow falling across hers while they waited, and his hands upon her like anchors to keep her from flying away too soon.
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Ketch Creeley
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 05, 2018 1:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The horizon. For so long, Madison’s own had been viewed through a thick lens of smoke and chaos. Creeley's was sandblasted and sun-scorched, much like the feel of his hands on her skin, his kiss—the quality of a roughness made by erosion, rather than a lack of care. Even here, beneath archway, the pictures and all the things she could not see with her eyes came alive, another sense, another way of experiencing the world, and it rested somewhere between the vision he painted at her ear with his desert mouth and its burning stone poetry, and the cigarette they shared that seemed to mete out the distance between her old life and this new path she had accepted wholly.

"They better be sendin' someone. We get stood up, you're goin' to have yourself a whole handful of Rye and not in the way you might be comin' to like." Her smile was on fire with the picture of this crooked road and the mystery. The journey and the moment of being held and directed and shown more than the scenic road. It still looked like too much blood to Madison, but it made her feel relief when she thought of it as his blood that colored the world, the sand, and the sky in the hue of life.

"As for expectin' you... why, I won't be doin' none of that. Just keep doin' what I'm doin', and callin' you on that telephone of mine see if you can get quicker to my bar each time." It was almost foreign, how comfortable she was with this strange, tall, imposing, self-possessed man that she couldn’t stop being near for anything.

A whole handful of Rye. Ketch buried the quirk of his mouth in the crown of her head with a laugh. “They’ll come. Just wait.” The sun swelled above them, its heat blanketing and baking everything below. Stretched over the red horizon was a tell-tale desert shimmer distorting the rocks and scrub grass. There was also a shadowy figure that went from black blight on the skyline to solid movement, eventually resolving into the shape of a man astride a horse holding the leads on two other four-legged beasts. They moved like oil across the sand as they approached.

Ketch’s hands fell away from Madison and he came to stand beside her instead, chin inclining to indicate the moving point of darkness. “They don’t want outsiders or anything from this side touching their land and corrupting it, so we ride into their settlement,” he explained of the horses.

Drifting off toward the car again as the figure drew closer, Ketch shouldered his backpack, settling one rifle across the span of his shoulders between his pack and tucking the other beneath his arm while Madison spoke of expectations. He thought of a future like that: one made up of pockets of time, the space between A and B: her office above the bar, the jukebox, the floorboards that creaked beneath their steps but felt like satin on their backs. Motel rooms and cars. It held more appeal than one might think.

He squinted over at her from one corner of his eye as he thought about her comment on getting to Charlie’s, the curl of his grin accepting that particular challenge immediately.

Wait and see, it said.


As it turned out, there were two horses, one of which was ridden by Sam, Dena’s nephew. The other animal turned out to be a donkey. Sam and Ketch were roughly the same age, something that had the effect of diluting some of the distaste that Dena and the elders harbored for Ketch. But not enough, apparently. Sam’s smile was fluorescent in the sunlight as he dropped from his horse and led the donkey forward. “Only the finest,” he said to Ketch’s scowl.

“You weren’t planning on being in a hurry then, I guess.”

“You’ll catch up eventually.”

In spite of himself, Ketch laughed.

“This the sparrow?” Sam’s eyes swung to Madison next. Dark as a crow’s, they jumped over the gunslinger’s figure much the same, his smile ebbing gradually the longer he took her in.

“Madison Rye,” Ketch thumbed in her direction as an introduction and then back over to Sam, “Sam. Our guide who thinks he’s awfully goddamned funny right now.” Ketch inspected the donkey briefly and then climbed atop the poor beast scant seconds later, knees braced against the animal’s side, feet dangling. They looked to be nearly the same size.

“Madison Rye. Okay. Madison, you ride Bezel,” Sam said. “Once you’re on, you don’t step off until I tell you. You understand?” The Appaloosa was the color of moonlight and stood complacently at Sam’s side until he led her forward under the archway and gestured that Madison should climb on.

Once she was settled, they passed back under the archway as a trio and began their desert crossing.
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 09, 2018 2:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

There was nothing behind them but desert, and what lay ahead looked much the same. A few token cacti stretched mutant arms toward the bright disc of the sun. Snugged up close to what appeared to be the horizon were the faint outlines of rock formations.

Sam led. Bezel and Madison were close behind. Ketch, on the damned donkey, trailed behind both of them, watching how Madison's limber spine swayed with the gait of the horse.

It was a decent way to pass the time.

Neither Sam nor Ketch were much for small talk, so the trip was mostly silent. When Sam pulled his horse to a sudden stop and extended a hand to stay Madison and Bezel's progress, it took Ketch a moment to understand what had happened, longer to find the source. The desert was quiet. Nothing moved on the horizon directly before him. There was only what looked like a murmuration of sparrows swooping and diving off toward the West.

Ketch rubbed the back of his neck and coaxed the reluctant ass in a circle to survey the territory around them. He felt it, then. But distantly—just an impression that tightened the skin over his back. It came from all directions. Looking over at Madison, he asked, "You feel that?" Then, he reached for his rifle.

Madison immediately looked past Sam with the barrel of her gaze hinged on the sky, but not the birds. She watched it as she always had, to see what it might give up, and then dropped her eyes to the devastating panorama of this barren place that pulled at her in ways that she hadn't had a moment to contemplate. The only solace, the only warmth that wasn't unsettling her to her bones, was the presence of the man behind her, and not in the ways he warmed her against a jukebox or right out on the floor of the bar. The way he would warm her under blankets in the Camino and on the bed of the earth. It was the gravity of his being and the weight of his soul. The way she felt him and heard him even in the silence. Their silence. So when he did speak, she almost heard the words he had for her before they arrived, and she felt them like he was whispering it in her ear.

The black cloud of birds descended sharply and rose again, making a sudden reversal in direction to head directly for them.

"Yeah, I do." And while Ketch reached for his rifle, Madison was feeling up the Dragoon that sat at her waist, her hand swallowing the handle as she switched her eyes back towards him with a nod and then felt it all go wrong. The men were leaning, looking the other way, and that was where her eyes were pulled. The birds hurtled closer, canvas of feathers hellbent for the group. Madison mined a breath and shook her head. "What in seven hells?"

"Crows," Ketch muttered, half wonder and half suspicion. They'd been acting all wrong, though, moving in unnatural ways. The donkey twitched, a shiver passing across its rough coat. Ketch nudged the animal closer to Bezel.

"Rivals. Let's go. Should be able to get ahead of them," Sam said, and that was all the elucidating he gave before digging his heels into the horse. She shot out ahead, and the black band of feathers and banshee calls followed after the pair.

Donkeys didn't have the get up and go that a horse did, and that punishment by Sam was the only reason Ketch was slow to follow after the man. Sam wasn't thinking right. Or maybe Ketch wasn't. "Wait," he said to Madison, reaching out to catch her by the knee before she could get any ideas about gunning ahead.

Up ahead, the crows spread out like a great net of dark feathers knit and cast over the sky. And then they came together again and descended upon Sam. The man and his horse were swallowed by beating black wings.

At that volume, at that distance and in this wilderness, the sound of wings erupted like an endless assault of bullets. Madison ducked low against it in reaction and watched as Sam and the horse were annihilated by taloned, screaming, feathered black.

Ketch slid from the donkey and stepped foot on the ground. It was cracked and dry beneath him. Dirt crumbled under his boots. He took two steps and looked down as a black, oily ooze began to fill the fault lines in the ground around the soles of his shoes. It spread and spiderwebbed and, in a few seconds time, he was standing in the midst of a circle that looked like the dead ashes of a campfire. The ground trembled beneath him as he reached for the pommel, swinging himself up behind Madison. Resting the rifle along his thigh, he settled up against her. "Now go."

"And my daddy used to say there's no such thing as monsters." A drawling tsk and then Ketch was behind her, telling her go and go she did. The beast that carried them didn't need much encouragement, spooked at the wail of the corvids and the blackening sky.

The wave of them above slowed and peeled back en masse; a flock that was widening up, tearing like a scar in the sky. But it was the sound that was the worst. The pitch of their cawing. Sounded like the end of times.

Ketch braced his legs tight against the denim clad thighs in front of him and shouldered the rifle. "How long was it ‘til you figured out your daddy was wrong?" Tipping the rifle up toward the sky, he squeezed off shot that cracked like lightning upon an empty plain.

"Pedophile who fed his victim to a 'gator was a good start on my road to believin' there's no salvation. These birds are doin' short work on any skerrick I had left." She tore that barrel around in the air and picked off a few of the black birds along the edge of the arc they made in the sky, coming closer with a heedless, almost senseless inevitability bound for the pair of them. Whether it was targeted or not Madison couldn't say, but given it was desert, any chance for a thread of meat might make the birds go crazy. She'd seen a pair of ravens tear a sparrow in two and the memory of it was served to her brightly as she fired off another pair of rounds and watched Ketch's pellets puncture the canvas of darkness descending.

"Where to, Creeley? What kind of *** show *** is this?" She was glad he was behind her. The proximity of him alone settled her down. It was where she found what it was he did to her—beyond awaken in her an animal need. He silenced the wardrums in her head. He waved out the smoke in her heart and stamped out the still-burning trenches.

"I don't know what kind of *** this is, but it's not my ***, so I don't plan on walking around in it for long." A cavalier credo that Ketch wasn’t sure he could back up, because as sure as a change of the wind skipping over a prairie, the crows shifted again, rising en masse to reveal Sam slumped atop his bucking horse until she finally managed to dislodge him. His body upon the ground looked no more substantial than a crumpled bit of paper. The horse took off a ways, then just as abruptly turned and stopped.

The crows formed a crescent in the sky and raced towards them an interminable darkness, a violent elegance in their charge.

Another pair of shots managed to knock a half dozen from the sky, and then Ketch was forced to reload. "Goddammit," he muttered, like the inconvenience of the moment was negligible. Then he aimed and fired again. Didn’t seem to have much effect besides calling attention to them; there were too many.

"You got a direction in mind? Or we just gonna keep ridin' away from this nightmare?" The ground beneath them quickened with the oil spill darkness that traveled ahead of every beat of the hooves that valiantly tried to gain them some ground away from the horror. "Tell you one thing, judgin' by that ground down there, you shouldn't be walkin' there at all. What in hell is that black ***, Creeley? Goddamnit. I thought Lofton was a ***' hell hole." Madison whistled and dug heel into the beast to try and garner them some more space, buy some more time. What remained of the flock was still vast and threw moving shadows ahead of the racing trespassers.

"You owe me a drink."

There was no shelter beyond the elusive wandering of their own shadows, and even that was a temporary as the crows circled overhead and blotted out the sunlight.

“I’d say ‘away’ is a decent start,” Ketch said absently, watching her barrel come up against the sky. He thought suddenly of Salome, a cabin out by the lake and, the sky dark and possessed. These crows were something different, and the closer they got, the more he could feel them, their essence, the mad joy of flight as they wheeled through the sky. Each bullet and bite of buckshot peeled them from the horizon, but they didn’t relent, only circled their threat above without making good on it.

Leaning into Madison’s shoulder, Ketch reached and pulled back hard on the reins, stopping the horse and holding steady when she resisted. The realization came. “They’re not after us,” he said, looking up into the calm blue-sky eye of that black, beating storm, “not the same way they were Sam.” As he said it, he knew it to be true, felt it to be true.

Craning a look over his shoulder, Ketch eyed Sam and his horse, who stood solemnly alongside his body. “First we’re going to go back and get Sam,” he said. “Then we’ll keep heading toward the horizon.” He released the reins back to her hand and lifted a finger to the rock formation haloed in the distance.

“And when we get back, I’ll buy you an entire damn bottle.”
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 07, 2018 4:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Sam ain't needin' our help." Madison’s voice went hoarse. "Look at him. He's got nothin' to him. This isn't a place for sympathy." Madison turned to catch him side on in her eyes, their portrayal full of feeling that said she trusted him but feared the consequences of this place. The birds, the blackness of the ground, it bothered her, as if she was wading through a nightmare that had spilled into reality. "I know Sam.. he's a life. It matters, Creeley. But goin' back makes my insides hurt with misgivin'. I don't think we should get off for a hot minute."

“It’s not sympathy for Sam, Madison. I’ve got eyes,” Ketch said sharply, and in spite of her concerns, he tugged the reins to turn the horse back to where the sad mound of Sam lay. “He’s our ticket in. And he’s Dena’s nephew. We leave him out here and she’ll never forgive me.” Ketch turned them back to aim them in the direction of Sam while the crows swooped and dived around them from their atomic black cloud.

“There’s something about you, something in you. *** if I know what it is, though,” Ketch said.

As if to punctuate that comment, a single crow dropped from the sky to settle on the horn of the saddle, beak working open and shut as it stared up at Madison. Ketch’s fingers tensed, curling up on her thigh where they’d come to rest, ready to release.

The crow’s head cocked right and left, the intense black of its eyes unblinking as it boldly twitched to one side and snipped hard at the skin of Madison’s wrist. The instance of blood and the passage it wrote on the gunslinger’s skin came so quick--faster almost than her lead through the air--that she blinked rapidly, unsure whether to believe her eyes. The crow’s wings unfurled and trembled, its beak rouged in her blood. Then, with a loud caw, it launched toward the sky again.

The hand Ketch had laid over his gun twitched with desire but remained where it was. “Shoot it,” he said, his voice a dark warning. It wasn’t entirely a command, more a strongly voiced suggestion to ward off any regret he might have were he to stay silent. Blood for blood.

Teeth gnashed at the tear, and as he told her, all omen, to fire, Madison was readying her gun. Reaction. As if her grief had taken feathered to the sky. The bird exploded in a flurry of feathers that rained down slow over them. Madison watched with a cant of her head and eyes seeking.

She felt like she had just twisted some cog in the universe, committed some foul crime that she'd later come to reckon. Her hand still in the air, gun cocked, she slowly turned to look over the line of her shoulder at Ketch, dark brow sloping up. "Was that the right thing?" Blood had gathered in her sleeve; off-white painted red.

The air above them went red and dark, the blood Ketch felt spray over his cheek surely imagined—the crow was no more than the length of half his forearm and yet it seemed scattered everywhere around them, tinting the sky maroon. A swipe of his fist along his brow came back streaked in color. The black gloss of a feather drifted to a settled in the gulley that ran between where their legs met on the saddle, and Ketch reached picked it up, twirled it a few times in his fingers and then tucked it in the pocket of his shirt. He had no reason to do it, but it felt like a call that he’d answered all the same.

“I don’t know,” he said to Madison’s question. Reassuring had never been his strong suit and trying his hand at it now seemed like a false prophecy, in spite of the way she turned her profile to him like she needed him to give it. In its stead came the firm press of his torso against her back, a promise of its own as he leaned forward and gripped the reins.

They watched the mottled sky together. Reaching for Madison’s wrist with his free hand, he followed the rivulet of blood from sleeve to the welt growing on her skin and pressed down on it until the thin trickle stopped. “But it’s done all the same.”

He let her go, a twinge of the muscles at his jaw when he set his sights on the body in the distance. Where Sam had landed, the ground had gone as dark as an abyss.
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 20, 2018 3:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

They arrived at the settlement two hours later with the sun bleeding out over the Western sky and a dead Pueblo slumped on the saddle in front of Ketch. The crows had followed them for another hour and then, without preamble, shifted direction and vanished.

Ketch’s hands and forearms were red with Sam's blood, the inseams of his jeans black and stiff with it. And as they'd progressed, with Madison riding alongside, they left a wake of darkness on the ground that rippled outward.

Their bones were sore with the ride but it was more than the roll of the horse and the stress of their surroundings. Both were bothered by the bird and the too-much blood in so short a time. Madison sketched a glance over the dead man before Ketch and felt again the flare of warning in her stomach that reached up to her chest and gathered there in a viper's curl. Blood dried on her wrist in a gauche brown stain, and the sky was cloudless but full of something else. It was a sky too plain, too wide, with the sun receding into a slit like a grin.

The settlement was of a modest size. No more than a hundred living there. The adobe houses on the ground were set close to each other. Behind was a mesa into which more buildings had been carved, but by all appearances were empty. Every time he came, Ketch couldn’t shake the feeling that he was walking onto a set rather than living place.

Dena sat in a metal chair in front of a low-slung rectangle with a flat, orange roof. The look she turned on them when she spotted Sam was one of bottomless discontent.

As Ketch slid from the horse, he passed an inscrutable look over to Madison before grabbing both sets of reins and starting in Dena's direction.

The old woman's hand flashed up suddenly as she gave a sharp shake of her head. "Don't bring that woman any closer yet."

The woman was sudden. Two hours of nothing and then a presence and the woman was full of it. The flash of a hand which invited only Madison's stillness, and reeling the horse back she walked it into a crescent and sat watching the roof reflect the dying sun and Ketch walking beneath it, drawing the dead man and the horse closer. Behind them, the desert was black.

Dena remained seated as she waved her hand outwards in an arc and then beckoned Ketch. "How long as he been dead?"

More crept from their houses, silent as the shadows where they leaned against the adobe and watched the spectacle of the dead-man, the half-native, and the woman who rode with him.

Ketch's skin crawled when he looked behind him into the desert and once he got close enough, he hauled Sam off the horse and laid him out on the ground. "Couple of hours." Sam's body was little more than resemblance to a former shape, blood-grimed and empty, half stripped of its meat. Even Ketch could feel that his soul had flown. Or been forced out.

Dena came to crouch beside the dead man and passed her hand over what was left of his forehead. She didn't look at either of them. "Crows that weren't crows," Ketch said by way of explanation, sending another look back over to Madison that lingered on the brown stain at her wrist.

"Do you know who that woman is?" Dena asked, beckoning some of the shadowed figures into action. They slid from the sides of the buildings and came around Sam's body, handling his remains gingerly.

"Depends on how you're asking, Dena. So happens she's got a mouth and the ability to talk for herself."

Dena hissed a curse in his direction and stood, walking toward Madison and the horse. She planted herself before the both of them like a monument and looked hard up at Madison with eyes that carried an ancient light in spite of their darkness.

Her words fell like stones and hit like shrapnel. "Get off that horse and let me see you."

More than anything else that swam through her being, Madison felt the impervious laughter thrumming at the back of her throat like bound wings and hardly fought the smirk that came to curve her chapped mouth as she regarded the woman. Something cold and hard came over Madison, something protective, defensive, cautious and she looked first to Ketch. Not for permission or direction, but to see what his face, what his eyes, gave up. More than anything out here, the only truth she had to go on was that Ketch wouldn't will her into danger. Not the kind she couldn't fend off. The bird, she sensed, had been an anomaly, a figment of the design of this world that hadn't been anticipated.

Behind the black desert, she thought, was so much she no longer felt. Here, in this expanse, she was full and real and alive and complicated, but more than anything, she felt needed, really needed, and it had her getting off of that horse and stepping towards Dena with a simple bow of her head in a kind of greeting and semblance of agreement. More shadows moved with the bodies that threw them. The desert is beautiful because it hides a well, they said, but it also hid darkness, ready to bloom with creosote deaths. Dena would see Madison rise like the spines on one of those plants, full of poison and full of potency.

"Got a name too. It's Madison." She tipped her head to the right and her gaze slit as she studied the woman. But the more she looked, the more she felt she saw, and it unnerved her.

The woman covered in dust and dried blood righted her head straight and lifted a brow at Dena. It felt like an arrow passing through her, sitting out her back. Like she was being stripped of all artifice and affect, of all bravado and mask.

"I ain't here to disturb the peace. I'm here because he asked me to be, and he's come to mean somethin' to me." Her voice traveled smooth and low.

"I know your name, Rye. Could hear it on the wind an hour before you arrived. I was asking about the who," Dena said, extending her hand not for the graciousness of a shake, but to clasp Madison by the wrist. The contact was brief: a squeeze from which Dena seemed to satisfy her own unvoiced question before releasing Madison. "But I'm thinking you don't know much about it either, do you?"

Ketch was still fixated on Sam's body and then men that had drawn in around it tight as a string to cart bones and blood off. He didn't know what he expected from Dena, but it was more than nonchalance and her intent focus on Madison. His eyes narrowed upon her, going cold and distant enough that Dena finally looked over and gave him the same in return. "He's not gone the way you think he is, but that part's none of your business. Let's stick to what is," she snapped.

Ketch reined in the urge to spit on the ground, but his expression covered the territory well enough, and it was only his eyes that moved when Dena turned and started for another building with a wave of her hand at them. Ketch picked up his pack and gestured that Madison should start walking, the curl of his fist grazing along her elbow as he leaned in and said, "This is just the way it is around here."

Dena pushed through the curtain of another squat house, this one empty of furniture. The floor was packed desert soil and woven rugs. A fire burned in a pit at the center, belching smoke toward the sky through a hole in the roof. "Sit," Dena said, and as she passed by Madison to sit opposite them, she asked, "I'll ask similar of you now: do you know what this man is beyond what he means to you?"

"I'm thinkin' your presump--" and there was Ketch's hand silencing her, explaining the surroundings in a way that the scenery never couldn't. She swallowed her words, bulky, sour and thick and walked after the woman side by side with Creeley until they were stepping through and she hung back to let him go ahead, where she would travel inside on his shadow, much like he had done at the bar in time to the swing of her braid.

Blue eyes sourced the spartan place for any revelation of what it held secret; apart from the woman's austere, bristled countenance, there was a sense of more space within, a kind of distance measured only by what Madison might say, and if she got it wrong that she would be back where she started, in a way, back outside the door. She didn't like it any when someone thought they knew her. Dena's nature was something that Madison felt annoyed by. That growing sense of restriction. It made her think of other men. Her mind skipped back along the three who wanted her to be...

And just who in hell was she now? Seating herself, she forced her eyes to the woman and lifted her chin. "I know enough. Wise enough not to go diggin' too far. He's goin' by what he knows of me and what he knows has been enough. I think it a type of disrespect to go diggin' too far in someone's life when you don't know ‘em hardly." Though that last part was a lie, for she felt she knew Ketch better than she'd known some men for years. "Ketch has met me at a strange time in my life. To know me and know of me who I am now. He means somethin' and with good reason. I ain't needin' to know more'n in that. Nothin' that time won't spill, anyway. Always does and I've always been patient with someone else's truth. Least I could do, for him." Her head jerked towards Ketch and she angled in his direction a quick smile, a flash of eyes that bespoke her ease with him. Then she sat forward, hands clasped loosely as she placed elbows on her thighs. "So quit talkin' to me like an enemy and start talkin' to me straight. You know he wouldn't be bringin' you a problem. Tell me what it is you think you know'."
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Ketch Creeley
Adult Wyrm
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 30, 2018 11:06 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dena had something he needed. Ketch had reminded himself of that when they filed inside, his eyes on the old woman’s back, his frown immobile as unquarried granite. Just inside the door, he laid the rifles and his pack along the wall, then his hand found Madison’s back. The touch brief again, not a reassurance but a reminder, fist opening so that his fingers splayed low across the center where the end of her braid would’ve hit. Instead, there were the wind-whipped ends of her hair for him to rake through when he pulled his hand back and dropped down to his heels to sit cross-legged in front of the fire as he’d done on occasions before. He knew the last time he’d wanted to touch a woman this much, keep the scent of her soap on his hands, the texture of her skin fresh on his fingertips for as long as he could, and that was something that deepened his frown for the way it felt like another omen.

The light inside was dim, dust-choked, and shaped by the dancing flames of the fire that made the walls an ever-changing feature of moving shadow and images that formed and vanished. In front of them, Dena unrolled a long strip of leather and picked up the bones rattling around on top of it, and though her attention was on the smooth, sun-bleached pieces, she smiled just a little, one of those private things that kept its own counsel at the corners of her mouth. Her black hair was streaked with white, pulled back tight in a thick braid, her face lined with as much character as the red rocks outside.

“No need to make a federal case out of it,” she said, looking up at Madison, then flicking a look over at Ketch that lingered briefly before settling once more upon the gunslinger. “You and I will talk more after we finish this exchange. For now, quit wasting your anger on the messenger. I just listen to the wind and the coyotes, and there are things already in motion that can’t be undone.”

Dena scooped the bones up between two weathered hands and scattered them in a spry release to roll over the leather mat. Pulling a feather from a pouch at her waist, she blew on it until it began churning out a thick, oily black smoke that she inhaled before leaning forward and blowing it across the bones. The smoke roiled and turned over on itself, forming a low-hanging cloud that hung above the bones.

“You’ve changed the land.” Dena addressed Ketch next. “I could feel it the moment you set foot on it.”

“I didn’t have another option at the time.”

“You did.”

“Not any good ones. It can be fixed.”

“It can,” she agreed, “but you won’t like the solution.”

“You want me to bleed for it, I imagine.”

“Oh that was going to happen anyway. The land has its own protection. You taint it and it taints you back. You don’t feel it now, but you will.”

“And what exactly am I supposed to do about that?”

“Nothing. There’s nothing you can do.”

Ketch pulled his thumb along his lower lip and thought about that while Dena reached into her braid and unfastened a trio of beads from it—two coral, one turquoise. Holding them in her fist, Dena squeezed until her hand trembled and a bright red drop of blood appeared where her thumb clasped her knuckles tight. She turned her fist upside down in the fire and then pulled it free, tongues of smoke rolling from her skin when she opened her fist to Madison. “Take these and fasten them in your hair. Keep them there until you get to Arizona. They might talk to you, but you’ll learn to tune them out if you want to.”


Madison observed the smoke on the bones, a landscape changing before her eyes, and Ketch the still point of where it turned. The woman's answers made her smile darkly, and she watched as the smoke parted again and the bones were naked and the beads were handed over. Each interaction out here held a significance to it that didn’t exist in the world behind the black desert. Here, the butterfly effect could be devastating. She made sure to keep her wrist hidden after Dena's mention of blood and had a brief, searing thought that maybe she had bled for it already. Blood was always the final payment. The ultimate currency. It was the wealth of will that made it so sought after, and it was the sole reason that she had allowed Glenn into her life way overdue; she owed him blood.

And yet in a matter of weeks, she felt the same resolve about Creeley. The talk of the wind and its language like a lyric from an old song she'd forgotten she knew how to sing. She felt the imprint of his touch at the small of her back like it was still there and it radiated throughout her body, set chords in her soul to making some uneasy notes, but it was music she hadn't heard in a long time. She listened and watched the two, and it was only as she went to sit beside Ketch that she paused in the motion of it to lift her chin towards Dena.

"You said somethin' back there about hearin' it. The wind, the dogs. I-- I hear it too, always have, but thought it some... some kinda residue of childhood whimsy. My daddy was always goin' on about listenin' hard for the whistle of the wind. But, I've heard things in it." Then, she slowly drew down to sit beside Ketch and immediately reached out to place her hand on his thigh and squeeze. A slide of fingers up and into his hand, just like in the car. Her requirement of contact. The smell of him. Even in the utter seriousness of the situation, she thought of his taste. Even with blood running out of the sky, she was thinking of the salt of his skin. Of bodies being made anew. Of the half-built house. Splinters under his nails and sawdust in their smiles.

"I hear it too, Dena. Why?"

“It’s been calling you for a long time. Not your given name, mind you, but the one written in your bones. But I told you, you and I will talk in a minute.” Dena leaned around the fire, her hand hovering over Madison’s cupped palm, reaching to fold her fingers gently over the beads within. Like a circuit suddenly closed, a charge raced through the connection between each of them, a sizzle that stood the hairs of Ketch’s forearm on end. Dena flinched away as the air snapped around them.

“You’ll need to be leaving soon as sunrise,” she said.

“The *** was that?” Ketch asked.

“A warning.” Dena retreated to her bones, scooping them up in the leather and tucking them away.

“Why were there crows after Sam, and why were their bodies empty? What was controlling them?” Ketch pressed on even as Dean shook her head.

“Old debts, Dichin Dine’é,” she sighed.

“The hungry people?” Ketch had no context for the mention of the tribe—it was an old ghost story passed from the mouths of children on the Reservation—or the expression that dusted up from the lines in Dena’s face, which was almost something like pity.

Ketch’s fingers laced between Madison’s automatically, a curling encompassment of hers within his large hand, calluses and rough-knuckles, the sandpaper-scrape of the pad of his thumb detailing the veins on the underside of her wrist. She knew every line in his palm, all the places that grease and grit hid, and he knew the same of hers. Their bodies, at least, were well acquainted and there were some moments where he took such care with her, where he spread her out before him, his fingertips walking through shadowed valleys of skin and gentle slopes alike, tracing the faint blue roads beneath until he’d swear he knew every place where they branched and every place where they ended. Other times, they were the kind of arson they’d begun with: gasoline, flame, and the dry-kindling burn of their smiles where they met and became all teeth.

Listening to Madison talk of the wind reminded him of old stories his mother had told him, of Billy at age eight howling at the spirits she said were chasing her. He didn’t know much about weather patterns or wind, just that both could shift direction in the desert in an instant.

Madison watched Dena and the splay of bones over leather, and Ketch watched Madison, the solemnity of her profile, and the black paint of shadows putting hollows in her cheeks and faintly under her eyes. When she leaned forward to reach for the beads, the entire side of her face went dark in an eclipse of wind-tossed hair, and when she pushed it aside, the shadows still held sway. Half woman, half darkness. He looked over to Dena then and saw her looking at Madison the same way. When his eyes met hers, it seemed a look that went on for days, crossed canyons, arroyos, and red rocks to reach the kind of truths one could only find in such desolate places. For a split second, they were his mother’s eyes, and he knew the meaning of the look he saw in them. His jaw clenched.

Ketch withdrew his hand from Madison’s and stood. “Have your talk, then. I’ll be outside.” Standing abruptly, he pushed from the shadow-choked room into the twilight.
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