Four Score and Eleven years ago our fathers brought forth on this land, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
This portion of the battlefield is where a great man, only one year past, laid down his life for this nation. The normal course of our lives has become steeped in death. Engaged as we are in the great civil war, we lay down our lives in the defense of the propositions of our fathers. That equality and freedom has begat strife and discord is a cause for despair, but the land under our feet is proof that we must stand steadfastly beside those principles.
This land flourishes. It receives the sun and yields up the fruits of the earth. Only one year past the greatest loss this nation has ever known, the land grows. I do not say this to diminish the memory of those that fought here. Great men consecrated this land with blood that will call out to us until eternity falls and we await god's judgement. Yet their loss did not destroy this land. It did not render unto us the fruits of that violence. Like our fathers before us, those who lost their lives here gave their fullest devotion to the principles of freedom.
It is in their names that we must devote ourselves fully to the preservation of those principles. We must bring forth on this land a new birth of freedom. We must come together with our brothers and ensure that the proposition of our fathers does not pass forever from this land.
Abraham Lincoln, 1867. Remarks at Gettysburg on the one year anniversary of the assassination of Ulysses S. Grant and the Second Battle of Gettysburg.
The sun was sinking low on the horizon when the president stopped speaking. If for no other reason than avoiding an assassination of his own, she thought it was a good idea when he immediately left to re-board the train that had brought him almost directly to the stage.
Private Joanna Kirkland finished clapping and looked around for the newspapermen. That a gaggle of men had followed the 1st Suffragette Brigade to various events had bothered her only in that she'd went to fight because there supposedly weren't enough fighting men left to conscript.
She thought about the president, his speech, and the days to come. The sack of Richmond had turned the war against the South, perhaps for good this time. In days, she imagined, she would be fighting the Southern bastards in Maryland under General Sherman.
She gave only a little thought to what she might do after the war. Maybe go back to Pennsylvania. Maybe go into the west.
PROCEED IMMEDIATELY TO RIDDLE WYOMING STOP INVESTIGATE LOSS OF SEVERAL AGENTS AND PARCELS STOP LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT PROVIDING ASSISTANCE STOP KEEP LOGS OF ALL ACTIVITIES THROUGHOUT
Telegram to Agent Kirkland from the office of the Union Investigative Unit, 1878.
Joseph Mayfield and Phillip Johnson wondered at the beauty of the eclipsed sun, staring a bit too long at the sky. Then the silence from the birds and animals began to creep into their rapture. The hoof beats of a horse that wasn't hitched to their postal wagon stood out from the silence. Both looked down suddenly at the horse's rider. A single man, unarmed, approached them rapidly on a black horse.
Neither man raised their rifle to draw a bead on the rider. Neither man wished to provoke a violent end, nor appear to be fearful in the eyes of the other. The rider came closer.
Joseph cleared his throat, "It's a frightful day to be riding alone! What uh, what business have you with us?"
The rider didn't respond or slow down. He was almost upon them now. Both men gripped their rifles a bit tighter. The rider failed to slow. The eclipse was still ongoing, and in the darkness they couldn't make out the details of the man's face. Phillips felt sure, though, that the man was branded across both cheeks and along his hands and arms.
The two men relaxed when the rider passed them by. Joseph looked at Phillip and shook his head in amusement as the left side of his face exploded outward in a bloody spray. Phillip's motion to turn around and face the now stopped rider was interrupted by a bullet entering and exiting his neck. He slumped over, gurgling a protest.
The gunman produced a match from his pocket, and struck it near the canopy on the back of the wagon. The cloth lit up immediately, and in a few moments the entire back of the wagon was ablaze.
The horses at the front of the wagon, either out of fear or sensing the heat, neighed loudly and bolted down the road, carrying the corpses and burning cargo along with them. The rider smirked under a wide brimmed hat and dropped the pistol he'd used. It disappeared before it reached the ground. As the sun finally began to peek out from behind the moon, the man himself had also vanished.
Hell's own train-ride, I surmise, would be less troubling than that which I undertook last night.
From sundown to sunrise horsemen engaged in dogged pursuit of the locomotive. Hidden in the darkness, as they were, the men proved impossible to identify. A fellow passenger with more laudanum than sense spoke of their pursuit as a regular occurrence. The trainmen did not seem particularly flummoxed by the development. Perhaps she recited some truth that only they know.
Regardless, the rise of the sun also brought with it a nearness to our destination that made sleep a forlorn hope of its own. My vigilance overnight has evolved into a sense of weariness that will only be sated after the full development of my day's task. I hope this deviation from routine was not as much of a folly as I suspect.
Excerpt from the journal of Agent Joanna Kirkland. August 9th, 1878.
Agent Kirkland set one unsteady foot on the landing. She followed that step with another. No one gave her a second glance as she disembarked and dragged a bag behind her containing most of her earthly belongings. It thumped onto the landing as it left the train. Agent Kirkland looked up at the town in front of her and rested her left hand on the pistol at her hip.
The town was haphazardly built, with hasty construction sparsely peppering the main thoroughfare. The majority of business appeared to be performed out of or inside the dozens of tents pitched along the mud road. A cluster of buildings halfway down that road seemed her likely destination.
Joanna hefted the bag over her shoulder and leaned forward when a bald man in a dusty but expensive coat stepped in front of her and produced from his coat a bottle with a bright red and white label carrying the name "Dr. Wonder's Miracle Cure-All!" in plain letters. Joanna waved her hand and moved to go around the man when he stepped once more into her path.
He lifted the bottle up as he stepped forward slightly. "Good lady! I believe you could stand to benefit from Dr. Wonder's curative tonics! Your countenance betrays your weary nature."
Joanna rolled her eyes and stopped. "I'm sorry. You have me at a loss. Mister…?"
"Cozen. We may not yet be acquainted but I have here," he motioned to the bottle with his free hand, "the one thing you truly need, if not desire."
"Mr. Cozen. My countenance is no one's business but my own. Furthermore, I have important matters to discuss with the marshal. If you would kindly remove yourself from my path and inflict your opinions on other visitors, I would appreciate the favor."
Mr. Cozen pondered this for a moment, and then stepped to the side. Joanna walked past him, dusted herself off, and continued down the thoroughfare towards the city marshal's office.
Dear Mrs. Kane,
It is with heavy heart and great sorrow that I must report to you the loss of your son. Sergeant Kane was a good soldier and a great friend to those under his command. I feel the need to impart to you the level of heroism your son displayed during the Second Battle of New York. When his position was overrun, and those under his command faced certain death at the hands of the Confederates, he led a piercing action through the enemy lines. If not for that bravery his men would've likely perished.
It was brought to my attention that Jacob's brother was also lost in the same battle, but as part of the opposing force. I cannot imagine the level of grief you must feel at this time, and only wish to offer my condolences. Please know, that even as this war continues, these lives are not lost in vain.
Excerpt of a Condolence Letter.
Captain Malcolm Fisher, the Army of the Potomac, 1867.
Just as Jacob said it, he knew he'd provoked a response he wouldn't appreciate. But he'd said it anyway. Jacob's partner was cooking a snake over the fire at the small camp they'd set up overlooking the mine. Their horse was already saddled, and the bags along the side were weighted down with gold.
The old man cocked an eyebrow and scoffed. "And I expect you think that makes you different?"
"From?" The younger man stood up from the fire.
"Different from me. From the rest of the poor souls traveling the wastes."
"It doesn't, as far as I've seen, endear me to my fellow man. Something I've come to accept."
"You're not special." The old man poked at the fire. "Nobody wants to be different than they was. We spend our lives trying to move forward without letting the air or water or fucking earth we pass through alter us in some way."
"I'm not talking about alteration."
"Then what the fuck are you talking about?"
Jacob reached down and grabbed his rifle and canteen. "I just don't want to change."
"Yeah. You and every other poor sod that's walked the earth. But that mine," the old man pointed to the opening behind them, "that'll change any man. There's gold in there. A few weeks of this and maybe I won't have to live like a prehistoric."
Jacob walked to their horse and hooked his canteen and rifle along the side. "This ain't how they lived."
"How the fuck would you know."
"I'm just saying, this living feels a bit too comfortable. A little too safe." Jacob mounted the horse in one swift motion. "I figure they'd be watching the horizon looking for danger."
"Yeah. Well. You ain't got a warrant out on you for murder, so the horizon probably feels a mite more welcoming."
"I'll accept that as a possibility, but if I don't make the horizon in the next couple of hours you'll be stuck digging in the ground all by your lonesome."
"Shit. You make Riddle every night without a hitch. Get fed, get fucked, and get back on the road." The old man winked. "And if you think you can convince one of those Belle girls to come back out with ya, I'd appreciate it."
Jacob laughed and turned his horse to go.
My precious butterfly;
When the Confederates overran us at Gettysburg, I thought I'd spend the rest of my life searching for the kind of peace and tranquility I had the night before the battle. We were all so certain of our righteousness. Yet there I lay in the mud afterwards, trying to come to terms with the loss.
I've never told you about that battle, or the horrors that we suffered in captivity. I did not feel the need to lay that burden on your shoulders. Yet you have lightened it somewhat. If I'd known then that one day I'd have found one such as you, I could've endured a thousand years of captivity with those Southern bastards and a thousand more besides.
Even with the war's end I failed to find tranquility, but my love, you have brought peace to my heart. The house in which our family will be blessed and borne is finally built. The arrangements are made with the Jennings coach company. Pack up your things, and bid San Francisco a fond farewell. The town of Riddle has need of your light.
Last night I slept well. I await your arrival and the start of a new life together.
With love and always yours; Conrad Drake.
Riddle town Marshal Conrad Drake's hand twitched. The man on the other end of the bar stared at Conrad with a practiced eye. They both knew this would come to a showdown, but neither wanted to be the one to make the first move. The room, previously roiling with noise, was silenced in anticipation. Then the man on the other end of the bar grabbed his shot glass and downed it, followed shortly by Conrad.
The two men continued their stare-down while Joanna watched from the front door of the bar, and the man Conrad had been drinking with passed out. The onlookers rolled their eyes and went back to their own drinks and games. Conrad used the bar to steady himself as he reached into his pocket, pulled out a small red capsule, and swallowed it.
The marshal noticed Joanna looking at his badge as she approached him. "Agent Kirkland?"
Joanna nodded. "I went to your office but it was locked." She paused. "A reprobate outside said he was awaiting the conclusion of your business here so that he could be arrested?"
"That's just Phillip. Man has a propensity for public urination."
"It's my own damn fault for having Miss Lula cook him his meals. Man ain't never had it as good as he does inside one of my cells."
Joanna picked up the empty shot glass in front of Conrad and examined it. "Regardless. I would speak to you in the privacy of your office, if you have concluded your business here?"
Marshal Drake looked at the bartender. "Tell Miss Lula I'll settle up next time I'm in. And thank her for the cornbread."
Joanna and Conrad both walked out the door of Saloon No. 19 into the brightly lit street.
I yet live. I cannot tell you where I am or what I am doing. I apologize. Abe is not well. We met by purest happenstance on the battlefield in New York. He fought for his home and I for my principles yet our bond of brotherhood proved stronger than death itself.
I do not think the east will be a safe place for us anymore, regardless of who succeeds in this horrid war. My time here is limited. I write this letter only to inform you of our survival, and to impart the news of Abe's health. We will stay here until he is well enough to travel. Please give Iris our love.
Your loving Son; Jacob Kane.
Jacob Kane could hear the sounds of Riddle behind him as he left. The horse under him rebelled almost as much as he had at the thought of leaving before the sun rose. Still if he was to add to the gold deposit at the bank tomorrow night, he'd need to hurry. He whipped the horse once, and finally got underway.
The landscape of Wyoming's Red Desert spread out before him, and the cool night air encouraged him onward. Jacob crested a hill just in time to see a group of riders on black horses trailing behind an incoming train. Jacob's heart jumped into his throat at the sight, and he pulled his horse to turn around.
The horse, however, neighed in distress at the very sight of the riders and threw him to the ground. Jacob tried to hold on but the horse ripped itself from Jacob's grasp and bolted away.
Jacob grabbed his forehead in pain and felt a slick wetness on his skin. He shook his head, reached for the pistol on his hip and checked to see if it was loaded. Three riders had broken from their pursuit of the train at the sound of his horse and were now headed in his direction. He had five shots.
Jacob knelt down at the top of the hill and slowly aimed at the leading rider. As he pulled the trigger, he knew his first shot had missed. He pulled the lever back for the second shot and pulled the trigger. The lead rider slumped in his seat but remained upright. The remaining two riders began to fire back at him with their own pistols.
He tried to crouch down further but a bullet caught him in the shoulder. He flew backward and rolled down the hill, screaming in pain. He lay there, only half conscious as the riders drew closer. Then, as the sun's first rays shone over the horizon, he passed out.
The town marshal is a drunkard who speaks of insanities as fact. I believe he missed his calling as a writer, the fantastic tales he has spun whilst we've investigated the attacks have been at the very least entertaining. He is currently regaling several prisoners with a story of how he destroyed a creature of the night with feline urine and silver bullets.
Following the telling of this tale and the conclusion of my meal, we will seek out a prospector at the doctor's office down the street. Reportedly, this prospector was brought in this morning half-delirious and speaking the name Virgil Jones. Mr. Jones is a known road agent, wanted in the Dakota Territories for stagecoach robbery. If this young man knows where to find Mr. Jones, I will bring him in for questioning.
Excerpt from the journal of Agent Joanna Kirkland. August 9th, 1878.
Conrad and Joanna entered the nearly empty infirmary. The floors were covered in blood and a variety of other dried liquids. The whole place smelled strongly of formaldehyde and death. Jacob Kane lay on a bed in the back of the room. He moaned quietly, alone.
Joanna turned to Conrad and whispered. "This seems like an ideal situation for a doctor."
"It would be, if we still had one. We wired to Cincinnati about the whole mess but until some enterprising fellah decides to come this way, I think we're gonna be out of luck."
Joanna walked up to the bed of the man and took his hand. "Hello. Can you hear me?"
Jacob looked up at Joanna and smiled. "I can, ma'am."
"Who shot you?"
Jacob looked over at the marshal for a moment before continuing. "I didn't see their faces."
"The gentleman who brought you in said something about a Virgil Jones."
"Ahh. Yeah. We have a gold claim out in the desert. All the deposits at the bank are under my name. I was hoping someone could see to getting them transferred."
"Where's the claim?"
"The old Anderson Mine. Marshal can tell you where."
Joanna looked up at Conrad who nodded. "Thank you, sir."
"Thank you ma'am. You mind if I talk with the marshal a spell? I got some other business to put in order."
"Of course." Joanna stood up and let Jacob's hand go. She moved to dust off her shirt but managed to smear blood across it instead. She stopped for just a moment before composing herself and leaving the Doctor's office.
"Connie. You know what comes next."
Conrad nodded, moved to stand beside the bed and removed his hat. He pointed at Jacob's shoulder. "That's gonna end you."
"Yeah." Jacob pointed at Conrad's hunting knife. "Figure you can end it quicker for me."
"Your brother still an asshole?"
"It ain't his fault. He ain't never been quite right after he died. He knows about you though."
"Alright." Conrad grabbed the knife from his belt and plunged it into Jacob's chest. The man's chest heaved once heavily, and then was still. Conrad moved to clean the knife on some nearby rags and left the room to join Joanna outside.
An hour after Conrad left, the geometry of the room went wrong for a moment. There was a low hum as Jacob's body fell upwards into the air and then slammed back into the bed when the room's geometry became more sane. Abel sat up in the bed where Jacob had just been, cracked his neck, and a black pistol materialized in his hand.
What strikes me as most troubling is just how appropriate your leaving is. I wish you could've stayed. I wish we could've built that family you begged me for. I cannot conceive of what the future holds for us, but I know my future doesn't lay down the train tracks in San Francisco with you. You're stronger than I ever could be, because I can't even try to leave this life.
If I could cover the distance between us every night I would. But it is wrong of me to hold you back if I will not go to where you are. Fly free, my beautiful butterfly. Find love where the world is warm and soft. I'll add the tale of your love to my stories. No one will believe you were as perfect as you were.
Excerpt of a Love Letter. Conrad Drake. 1875.
The sun was hanging low in the sky, but the fire above the mine was untended and burning out. Joanna and Conrad, already dismounted, walked towards the mine entrance. Both had their hands on the guns at their hips, waiting for a confrontation.
They both stood at the opening of the mine when Conrad finally spoke. "Virgil! I know you're in there."
The old man's voice echoed off the walls inside the mine. "Take another step marshal and I'll blow your goddamned head off."
Joanna took a half a step back while Conrad continued to shout. "This pretty lady here just wants to talk to you."
"We're outside town limits marshal. You got no call to ask me about anything. Pretty lady or not."
"She's with the UIU. You can talk to her or the next two dozen agents they send out here."
There was a silence for several seconds, then a rustling inside the mine. Virgil shuffled out of the mine. He looked at Joanna and raised his eyebrow. "What do you want?"
Joanna stepped forward again. "Two weeks ago a postal wagon on the road to Rawling disappeared. Where were you?"
The old man shook his head. "Here. I don't rob wagons no more."
"Can anyone corroborate that?"
Conrad shook his head. "Jacob's dead, Virgil."
Virgil rolled his eyes. "How long?"
"I done told that asshole havin' the deposits in his name was a bad idea."
Joanna cocked her head to the side and pulled the gun from her holster. "You're under arrest."
Conrad's eyes went wide. "The fuck he is. You said you needed to ask him some questions. They're asked."
"Even if I had a guarantee he's not behind the wagon robberies, he's wanted in Dakota. I have a job to do."
The old man's hands went to his belt. "You better talk her down marshal. I'll kill her."
Conrad took two steps back and pulled his own gun, pointing it at Joanna. "Look. You're new out here, so you don't know the score. He can kill you."
Joanna stared Virgil down. "How?"
A fourth voice from behind Conrad spoke up. "It is very complicated."
Virgil looked over Conrad's shoulder and saw a man in black with a gun trained on Conrad's back. Virgil pulled his own pistol, almost provoking a response from Joanna. Virgil didn't turn his body, however, and instead pointed it at the new arrival.
"Abel. I need your brother."
"You'll have him. Eventually."
"No. I'm thinking now. You done murdered enough folk to bring the UIU down on my head. I want my share of the gold."
The four of them stood there, guns trained on each other for at least a minute while the sun sank further in the sky. Conrad spoke first. "You gonna shoot me in the back Abel?"
"I'll make it a fair fight. Turn around."
Abel pulled the hammer back on his black pistol. "Then again you did shoot me in the back last time."
Virgil held his gun up higher as he spoke. "We don't have time for this. The sun's going down."
Conrad nodded and dropped his own pistol. "I know."
Virgil cracked a small smile. "So we all wanna hide until morning and shoot each other then?"
Conrad shook his head. "No. I'm thinking we fight them instead."
Abel's body untensed a bit. "Virgil can't beat them. You can't beat them. I've lost three times."
"What are you speaking of?" Joanna interrupted.
Conrad dropped his gun, as did Abel and Virgil. "The 682nd Cavalry."
"The black riders? They chased my train."
Abel stepped forward. "Yes."
The sun dropped below the horizon and the sound of hoof beats began. Abel, Virgil and Conrad stepped away from the mouth of the mine and turned to face the riders in the distance.
Conrad looked back at Joanna. "I'd suggest you get out of here." Conrad pulled a red capsule out of his pocket and placed it into his mouth. "I've always wanted to do this."
"What about the law?" Joanna said, stepping backwards.
"You seem to care a lot about the law. It can be your problem now, if you want."
Joanna wasn't sure what to make of the scene in front of her, as the three men stepped forward into the night. Abel dressed in black, pulled a large gun from thin air. Conrad spun the chambers on his pistols to make sure they were loaded. Virgil let his dusty coat fall to the ground behind him and he suddenly seemed smaller to her. He turned his head around fully to face her without moving his body and smiled a crooked, twisted smile.
Her eyes went wide and she turned to run to her horse. The full moon rose from behind the dark riders and the three men readied themselves for the battle.
Abel laughed a bit. "So what's the plan Condraki?"
"Don't call me that." Conrad paused. "You fellas do what you want, I'm gonna try to ride one of those horses."
And if you give yourself to the hungry, And satisfy the desire of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness, And your gloom will become like midday.
And the Lord will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.
And those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; You will raise up the age-old foundations; And you will be called the repairer of the breach, The restorer of the streets in which to dwell.
Joanna stepped out of the telegraph office after filing her report. She had already decided to go back to Washington and make her full report there minus a few details. As she stepped into the street she noticed Phillip standing awkwardly outside the sheriff's office. She ignored him and made her way down the thoroughfare.
Along her path to the train station she noticed thefts, violent arguments, and at least one dead body in the middle of the street. With no law, the town was already eating itself alive. Still, she had her job to do.
She stepped onto the train station platform and noted that Mr. Cozen was still present, though he avoided her. As she waited for the newly arrived passengers to disembark, she observed them. These men and women had no idea what was in store for them here.
The last passenger to leave the train was a tall woman with a prosthetic facial plate made of porcelain. She carried a doctor's bag with her. She'd seen the prosthetic in the past on soldiers who'd received facial wounds in the war. She weighed speaking to the doctor about her experiences of if they'd ever fought in the same battles, but decided to give the doctor a wide berth.
As she passed the doctor from a fair distance, Joanna smelled the faint odor of rotting flesh. Joanna stepped onto the train and found her seat. She looked out the window at the town, slowly spiraling into chaos and smiled as Mr. Cozen accosted the new arrivals.
When she closed her eyes she saw the doctor's porcelain face instead. Joanna startled awake, stood up from her seat and walked onto the train platform with her bag in tow. She looked down the thoroughfare, dusted her shirt off, rested her hand on her gun, and walked toward the marshal's office.