From the Dusty Mesa – Pt. IV

The agency police were after him.  Conroy knew they were, though he hadn’t seen them for several miles now.  His thighs hurt but he couldn’t stop.  His horse was panting from the effort and seemed to be slowing down.

Could horses sweat?

Conroy had ridden south from the Lumpong Agency, around the Owl Creek Canyon and through the seemingly endless national forests.  He’d underestimated just how many trees the Hawatama Territory had.  The Lumpong Agency had been the empty, red desert he’d been expecting.  He hadn’t much time to gawk at the Owl Creek Canyon, but even that was behind him.  The trees were tall and narrow ponderosa pines, covering sparse and rocky land.

He reached for his canteen, but it was empty.  Where was the nearest water source?

“I’m going to die out here,” he said, licking his parched lips.  His vacation down from the orbital states was certainly not going as planned.

His horse had slowed down to a shuffling trot.  “Come on, buddy,” he said, patting its neck.  “Just a little bit further.”

His horse slowed to a stop, wobbling where it stood.  Conroy jumped down and the horse collapsed.  “Son of a bitch,” he muttered.  He took what he could from the saddle and began to run.

Conroy didn’t make it far before he tripped and fell face forward into a muddy wash, scrapping his hands on the rocky outcroppings.  He pushed himself to his feet and saw that he’d stumbled onto a camp.  Two Andalusian mustangs were tied to a nearby tree, and a single orc was standing over a smoldering fire.

“Son of a bitch,” Conroy muttered again.

It was a female orc–green skin, low forehead, heavy jaw.  She wore dusty jeans and a tight, grey t-shirt that said HAWATAMA in red and gold letters across her chest.  One side of her head was shaved, and the rest of her black hair was tied into braids.

“What?” she asked flatly.

“What are you doing here?” Conroy asked quickly.  She didn’t look like agency police, but she still an orc.

“Hunting,” the orc answered.

“Hunting what?”

A battle rifle was leaning against a nearby tree, as was a gun belt with a revolver.  She’d come prepared for something. “Elk.”

“Look, you have to help me,” Conroy said.  “There are some bad people after me.”



She narrowed her eyes.  Most of her face was obscured by a tattoo of a handprint that ran diagonally from above her left eye down to her right jawline.  “Why?”

“Look, if you get me to Carbonate safely, there will be a big reward for you.”


“Yes, reward.  My family is quite rich and will pay you for rescuing me.”

The orc didn’t say anything.

“What’s your name?  My name’s Conroy.”

“Odima,” the orc said.

“A pleasure to meet you, Ms. Odima,” Conroy said.  He heard distant shouting behind him.  “I assure you, you will be paid handsomely if you–”

“There,” Odima said.

“There what?”

Odima pointed to a hollow under the tree.  “Hide there,” she said.

Conroy scrambled and hid inside the hollow.  Odima untied her horses and moved them to obscure his hiding space.  His heart was thumping in his chest so loud he was afraid the agency police would hear it.  After several long minutes, he heard the sound of approaching horses.  There was shouting in the harsh guttural language of the Lumpong orcs, and there were several voices, including Odima’s.

He was too afraid to move and eve to breathe, so he lay there, motionless and listening to a conversation that he couldn’t understand.

The agency police finally departed.  He was about to let out a sigh of relief, but a hand reached down to pull him out.  He struggled and shouted as the hand grabbed him by the collar of the shirt.  Odima pulled him and pointed a revolver at his head.

“Rape,” she said through gritted teeth.


“They say you rape orc.”

“Okay, look, that was just a misunderstanding.  We were both drunk and she didn’t want to tell her parents that she–”

Odima turned her revolver around and whipped Conroy across the face.  “You bad man.”  She spat on him before pistol whipping him again and again and again.  When he tried to protect his face, she kicked him with her boots.  She finally stopped.  “Garbage.”

Conroy spat blood and several broken teeth.  “I’m sorry.”

Odima holstered her revolver, strapped a black ballistic vest across her chest and slung the hunting rifle across her back.  “It more cruel to leave you here,” she said.  She untied her horses and mounted one.

“You can’t leave me here!” Conroy said, but it came out heavy and slurred.

Odima looked down at him, a scowl on her face.  She turned and began to ride south without saying another word.  Conroy tried to get to his feet to follow her, but he stumbled and fell.  He rolled onto his back and stared up at the branches of the pine tree obscuring his view of the red sun.

“Son of a bitch,” he muttered, closing his eyes.

From the Dusty Mesa – Pt. III

The first Autumn-Men who had come to my world named the red sun Al Rescha and the world Hajar Ahmar.  After them came to current Autumn-Men, the Americans, who’d kept the name for the sun but renamed the world to Redstone.

I think it’s an apt name.

The mountain is a spire of red rock jutting up from the desert plains, its sides covered in dark pine trees.  I lean against one of the pines with my binoculars raised.  Binoculars.  The English word weighs as much as the devices do, but they are worth their weight in spices.

Below me is a meadow covered by tall prairie grass that waves in the high wind.  A mosque had been built out of stone and timber, but it is overgrown with weeds and moss.  The minaret has fallen into a pile next to it.  I see the ruins over other buildings, but all that’s left of them are their foundations.  The mosque largely survives.

The building’s design and purpose is familiar to me.  My father had been an imam once, back on the Lumpong Agency.  When was the last time I’d thought of him, of the religion that had been forced on us by the first Autumn-Men?

There’s movement inside the mosque.  Fire, at least.  Something comes out of the mosque and my breath catches in my throat.  The Arabs call them djinn, and the Americans call them fairies.  I’m not sure if my people have a name for them because they only appeared after the Autumn-Men did.

The fairies dance between the waving grass and disappear into the trees on the other side of the meadow.  A cold shiver runs down my despite the late afternoon heat.  I wipe sweat from my forehead; my forearms are still wet, and I know that my undershirt is drenched.  It has been a hard ride today through some of the most unforgiving territory on Redstone.

I need a place to rest for the night because Al Rescha is beginning to set, but not here.  I will not spend the night at a house of Allah that has been taken over by alien spirits.  I go back to my waiting Andalusian mustang to ride around the mountain and then down to a better place to camp.

From the Dusty Mesa – Pt. II

“It’s gone.  All gone.  Can you believe that?”

Floyd Gundy didn’t look up from his accounting book, but he knew that Hershel Friedgen was pacing back and forth in the motel lobby.

“How could something like this even happen?” Friedgen asked.  The fat man was wearing a brown western suit with a bolo tie that had a large turquoise stone set in it.  Expensive, if real, and knowing Friedgen, it was.  The motel lobby contained several glass cases displaying silver and turquoise jewelry.  Most of it was fake because there was no way that Gundy’s clientele could afford the real deal.

“What should I do?” Friedgen asked, coming to a stop at the front desk.  “Do you know how much copper, how much money, I’ve lost?”

Gundy held in a sigh and looked up.  “Mr. Friedgen, I am attempting to attend to my own business by checking my books.”

“This is important, though,” Friedgen said.  “Those copper mines could be a major boom for this part of the territory!”

“You mean the illegal copper mines?” Gundy asked.

Friedgen wiped sweat from his brow.  The motel lobby was air conditioned, but the fat man was still drenched in sweat.  Set off from the lobby was the motel’s restaurant, a 24/7 dinner that served a mix of traditional Arab cuisine and the traditional American greasy spoon.  “Those mines are very rich in the metal, and it’s not right that they’re covered by federal land,” Friedgen said.  “I needed this shipment to show the investors that I was for real.”

“And then what?”

“I have connections with legislators so that we can get land set aside and mining permits.”

“Connections?  Certainly you mean bribes.”

Friedgen waved his hand.  “Such a dirty phrase.”

“How do you know something has happened to your copper?”

“Because the mules were supposed to arrive in Galahad two days ago, but it hasn’t.  At first I thought they were just slow, but then the bodies of one of the men I’d hired washed up in the Huvasu a few hours ago.”

“Perhaps he fell.”

“Dead of a gunshot wound,” Friedgen said.  “I had them take a back route specifically so they wouldn’t have any issues.”

“You know the back country is filled with tribals and raiders.”

“Tribals you say?”  Friedgen looked past Gundy at the orc sitting on the floor in the back room.  Odima was sitting on the floor with a disassembled hunting rifle in front of her.  “I haven’t seen her for a few days.”

“Are you accusing Odima of something?” Gundy asked.  Odima looked up at the mention of her name.  The right side of her head was shaved and there was a hand print tattoo across her face.  “Odima was hunting in the Black Hills all week.”

“The Black Hills, huh?” Friedgen asked.  “You knew where the mules were going.  What about her?”

“What about her?”

“Does she understand English?”

“Understand little, speak littler,” Odima said in a thick, husky voice.

“You speak less,” Gundy said.  “And you’re being paranoid, and racist.  Odima is one of the good ones.”  He tapped his pen on the table in annoyance.  “It could have been anyone.  6,000 pounds of copper is a lot of money.  One of the men you hired could have betrayed the others.”

Friedgen shook his head.  “I don’t know.  Anything’s possible, I suppose.”

“Are you going to send another load?”

“I have no other choice.”

Gundy looked back down at his books.  “Then I guess that’s what your next step is.”

“There’s no other choice.”

“No, there’s not,” Gundy said.

Friedgen sighed heavily and took his leave.  The bell above the door jingled as he left.  Gundy watched the door for several moments before turning around to look at Odima.

“Where have you been, Odima?” Gundy asked.

“Hunting,” Odima answered flatly.


“I shoot elk.”

“Where’s my cut?” Gundy asked.

“Soon,” Odima said.

“You don’t have to talk like a savage around me.  I know you know more English than you let on.”

Odima merely shrugged and picked up a piece of the rifle to oil it.

Gundy watched her work.  She’d grown up on what was now the Lumpong Agency to the west, but had been working for Gundy for several years now.  The Carbonate Roadside Inn catered to middle class tourists from Samawa or Sharqiah to the south, and natives like Odima served as guides and scouts for them.  Guests who came from the orbital states and skyhooks stayed at The Carbonate Manor Lodge paid more for less competent human guides, but at least they didn’t look like they would rob you blind and leave you for dead in the high desert.

Not that Odima had ever done anything like that.

“Hunting,” Gundy said.  “Well, I owe whoever did this a favor or two.”


“Friedgen thinks the copper will be a boom, and it will be, but not the boom I want.  You know what miners bring?  Hookers, blow and lawlessness.  We’re a tourist town.  If we become a mining town, what’s in it for me?”

Odima shrugged.

“It is what it is, I suppose.”

The sound of the muezzin calling the faithful to the noon prayer could be heard through the lobby’s closed door.

“Aren’t you going?” Gundy asked.

“Going what?”

“Prayer.  I thought all you orcs were Muslim.”

“Prayer wastes time,” Odima said.  “Not going.”

Gundy nodded his head.  “Well, take this someplace where guests can’t see you.  They’ll be coming in for lunch and I don’t want them getting the wrong idea.”

Odima gathered the pieces and cleaning supplies and went into the back room, closing the door behind her.  Gundy returned to his books, but he could only focus on one question: what reason would Odima have to hijack Hershel Friedgen’s copper?

From the Dusty Mesa – Pt. I

The wind blows through the canyon and into the cracks and holes, whistling.  The valley walls are red, but become paler the higher they go.  The upper bands aren’t even visible under the squat pine trees that cover the top of the buttes.  I sit cross-legged in a small indention of a butte, a ponderosa pine shading me.  Al Rescha is setting behind me, the glare from the red dwarf shielding me from being spotted.

My legs had gone numb hours ago, but I couldn’t move.  I’m a hunter stalking my prey.

The valley is still.  The only sound is the whistling of the wind and the only movement are the ponderosas waving back forth in the wind.  There are no birds, and lizards and snakes are not known for their singing.

The Huvasu River cuts through the bottom of the canyon, but this high up, I can’t hear the roar of the rapids.  A narrow mule trail runs down the valley, a terrifying maze of hairpin turns and switchbacks.

There’s movement down below.  I raise my rifle and look down the scope.  There’s a mule train making its way down the canyon.  A dozen mules tied together and loaded down with unmarked wooden boxes.  I count seven guards.  Some are walking in front of or behind the mule train.  Other are riding the mules.  They can’t walk beside the mules because the trail is too narrow.

I pick my targets.  I’ll start with the back and work my way forward.  I squeeze the trigger and the rifle kicks.  The gunshot echoes across the canyon and the mules panic.  I shift targets and squeeze again.


As someone who writes a lot but hasn’t found a lot of good places to put my writing, I’ve decided to start a little blog to share some of the shorter things that I write.  Vignettes, snippets, flash fiction, short stories, etc.  I can’t make any promises that I will post consistent or regular stories, but I will try my best.  Once I get things sorted out with the website, I’ll start posting stuff.

Loki Goodfellow

Meshigumee stepped out of the arch, her bare feet crunching the snow under her and sending a jolt of cold through her.  “Blast you, you fiend,” she said, her words turning into a cloud in front of her.  Her arch had appeared in the middle of a forest; she was surrounded by tall, narrow pine trees that formed an overlapping canopy above her, while smaller junipers and spruces were gathered close to the forest floor.  Despite that, snow was falling from the grey sky.  The snow had already accumulated heavily, with drifts almost as tall as she was.

“Bloody snow,” Meshigumee muttered.  Why couldn’t Loki have picked a more hospitable location for her sphere?

Meshigumee stopped when she saw the saber cat blocking her path.  The saber cat’s long teeth were yellowed and glinted in the moonlight, and its fur was grey with darker stripes, though the tips of its muzzle, ears and feet were almost black.

“Why hello there,” Meshigumee said, folding her hands in front of her.  The saber cat was the largest Meshigumee had ever seen, with its shoulders reaching almost to Meshigumee’s chest.  “Where’s your mother?”

The saber cat stared at Meshigumee with its unblinking blue eyes.

“I am Meshigumee, the All-Mother of the Great Waters of the World.  I’m presuming that you’re, Sunjkothi the World Eater.  I am wishing to speak with your mother, Loki Goodfellow.”

Sunjkothi’s breath fogged in front of her nostrils.  Without a sound, she turned and began to walk away.  After a few steps, she stopped and turned her head to look at Meshigumee.  Meshigumee took several steps forward, and Sunjkothi kept walking, leading Meshigumee deeper and deeper into the forest.  After several long minutes, Meshigumee saw a faint light ahead of them.  As they drew closer, she saw that it was a fire underneath a massive ash tree that was at least two or three chains tall, and despite the season, it still had its leaves.

The fire had been built in a small clearing underneath the wide expanse of the ash tree’s leaves.  Meshigumee saw that there were several bodies hanging from the lower branches.  Their clothing was old and tattered, and each one had a bag pulled over their heads.  She looked up, and sitting in the branches were scores–hundreds, maybe–of albino barn owls with feathers as white as snow and eyes as red as blood.

Djidwewin, messengers of Loki Goodfellow.

“I almost didn’t see you approaching,” a voice said from above.

Meshigumee looked up and saw a large, red eye staring down at her.  She subconsciously smoothed out the folds of her robe; the fabric was white with pale silver scrollwork and runes stitched into it, while the tips of the long sleeves and the hem gathered around her feet were black.  “Hello, Loki Goodfellow,” Meshigumee said.  “It’s been too long since we’ve spoken.  I wish to speak with you as an equal.”

“An equal, heh?” Loki asked.  “How many millennia has it taken for you to admit that?”

Meshigumee bit her tongue to stop herself from trading barbs with Loki.

“You want something from me, don’t you?  Heh, can’t be helped, I suppose.”

Loki jumped down from her perch somewhere in the tree and landed in front of Meshigumee.  She was half a hand taller than Meshigumee, but was slender and willowy–almost as if a stiff breeze could know her over.  One eye was red, while the other was hidden by an eye patch, which covered angry scar tissue.  She dressed as a mortal would: leather jacket, plaid shirt, ripped jeans and heavy boots.

“Here we are, as equals,” Loki Goodfellow said, smirking.  Sunjkothi walked around Loki and curled up next to the fire.  “Have you come here to extend an apology to me?”

Meshigumee’s eyes narrowed.  “An apology?  What…” she stopped herself and shook her head.  “What has happened has happened, and it cannot be changed.”

“Heh, convenient for you to say,” Loki said.

“I see you’ve been in the mortal realm,” Meshigumee said.

“They, at least, accept me for who I am.”  Loki brushed some of her green hair behind her pointed ears.  “Why did you come all the way here, Meshigumee?  It’s not an easy trip from the highest spheres of the heavens all the way down here.”

“I wanted to see you,” Meshigumee said.

Loki barked laughter.  “How many millennia has it been since you threw me out?  How many millennia has it been since you last laid eyes upon me?”

“Our sisters still suspect me.”

Our sisters?  Our sisters?  You speak to me of our sisters?”

Meshigumee looked down.  Perhaps coming here had been a mistake.
Loki stood up and rubbed her hands together.  “Out of all of them, you were the only one who ever gave me the time of day.”

“My sisters might feel differently, but I always thought you were one of us.”

Loki stared at the fire but didn’t say anything.  Sunjkothi looked up at Meshigumee, regarding her with cold, blue eyes.

“You’re familiar with Captain Stormalong, aren’t you?” Loki asked.

Meshigumee nodded her head.

“On his first voyage on his clipper, the Courser, the ship was attacked by a kraken.  Captain Stormalong, being the giant he was, fought the kraken, and eventually defeated it by tying its tentacles together.  Rather than killing the creature, he took pity on it and let it live, but he trapped it in Davy Jones’ Locker.

“Sometime later, Captain Stormalong was enlisted by President Lincoln to capture Confederate blockade runners.  Desperately short on ships and men, Captain Stormalong decided that he needed help from former enemies such as the kraken.  So Captain Stormalong released the kraken from Davy Jones’ Locker with the understanding that the kraken would attack Confederate blockade runners.  But the kraken had spent years in that watery prison, smarting at what Captain Stormalong had done to him, so when he was released, he grappled with Captain Stormalong and drug him to the ocean’s depth, where the two of them remain to this day.”

“That’s not a very funny joke,” Meshigumee said.

“It wasn’t meant to be a joke,” Loki said.  She started towards Meshigumee, who flinched and took a step back.  Loki laughed.  “It’s just a story, presumable one you’re familiar with.”

Meshigumee took a few moments to compose herself.  “Yes, I’m quite familiar with the tales of Captain Stormalong.”

Loki looked about to say something, but she stopped.  She looked up at the branches of the ash tree and remained silent.  The bodies hanging from the branches swayed back and forth as a light breeze blew through the forest.  Snow had accumulated on their shoulders and hooded heads.  Not even Chilhowee paraded the corpses of the dead and the damned in her sphere.

“They’re me,” Loki said, still staring up at the branches.  “Forms and shapes I’ve taken in my life.”

“An odd way of storing them.”

“It’s convenient and they’re always in reach.”

“I suppose they would be.”  Meshigumee reached into one of her sleeves and pulled out a small package wrapped in wax paper.  “I brought an offering, of sorts.”

Loki looked down and raised an eyebrow.  “An offering?”

“Apple fritters, made from the apples picked from the groves of Hissipaska,” Meshigumee said.

Loki took the package and opened it.  Inside were a dozen apple fritters, still warm from the hot oil.  “Did she know you were taking the apples to give to me?”

“What Hissipaska doesn’t know won’t hurt her,” Meshigumee shrugged.

Loki took one of the fritters and bit into it.  Steam and heat was rising from the fried dough in the cold air.

“Well…?” Meshigumee asked.

“What are you asking for?” Loki asked.

“Excuse me?”

“Meshigumee, the All-Mother of the Great Waters of the World, would not come to my lowly sphere to ply me with fried dough simply because she wanted to chit chat,” Loki said.  She finished the fritter and licked the grease from her fingers.  “As much as I appreciate the offering, I sense that there’s some ulterior motive behind it.”

Loki turned around and knelt down next to a pack that was leaning against the tree.  She placed the package inside the pack, and Meshigumee remained silent.

“Well?” Loki asked, looking over her shoulder at Meshigumee.

“I want you to remember who stood up for you.”

“A little late, don’t you think?”

“I’m sorry for the delay, but it is difficult for me to get away.”

“I’m sure it is,” Loki said.  She stood up and slung the pack across her shoulders.  “I hold no ill will or spite in my heart for you or your sisters, nor do I hold any particular love.  It is what it is.”  She took several long steps towards Meshigumee, standing chest to chest with her.  Meshigumee wasn’t used to be looking down upon as Tekamthi was her only sister taller than she was.  “What is done is done, and what will come will come.  There is nothing any of us can do to stop that.”

“We’re gods,” Meshigumee said.

“But as with the mortals below us, we are bound to the whims and wills of Fate.”  Loki leaned down and whispered into Meshigumee’s ear.  “You know my place in things as well as I do, and I would encourage you to not anger Fate.  She is quite a fickle woman.”

“You would be an expert in such things,” Meshigumee said.

Loki’s laugh was loud and warm in Meshigumee’s ear.  “Yes, I believe I would.”  Loki stepped back, grinning.  “Take care, Meshigumee.  I don’t know when our paths will cross again, but I do hope that it will be soon.”

Loki walked around Meshigumee and into the shadows of the trees.  Sunjkothi stood up and walked after Loki, giving Meshigumee one last look with her blue eyes.  The two of them disappeared into the forest, leaving Meshigumee alone.  She raised her eyes and saw the scores of albino owls above her.  Loki’s eyes and ears…and messengers.

Meshigumee shook her head and held in a sigh.  Loki Goodfellow would come around, eventually.