Friday, February 8, 2013

Celebration Station! Gerry Huntman

Day 8

The Curious Case of the Frozen Revenant

By Gerry Huntman

Nick Smith heard the strange, cacophonous sounds emanating from behind the hill, not far from where he had set camp. This was cattle country belonging to his parents, and no one should have been there, not within twenty miles. Not legally, anyhow.

He calmed his spooked horse, and carefully climbed the hill, rifle in hand. His hands were trembling. While he shot rattlers, coyotes and rabbits, as well as his pa’s steers when the need arose, he had never fired at a man. Never needed to. He was only fourteen years old, although tall for his age, and on the shy side. His short-cropped brown hair, green eyes, and fine facial lines, were testament to a townsman, rather than a rancher’s son.

As Nick crept around a large rock outcrop on the apex of Williams’ Hill, he was expecting to see a fire, or light from a camp. There was nothing. He was relieved and anxious at the same time.  He returned to his camp and picked up his kerosene lantern, and re-entered the neighboring gully with his light source.

There wasn’t any sign of activity. No sign of explosion, no burning embers.

He was more terrified than ever. He progressed into the thick, semi-arid underbrush of the narrow gully, and despite the sweltering night, felt a cold breeze caress his right cheek. He shone his light past a large, yellow-flowering saltbush, revealing a glistening flat surface. Nick’s anxiety dissipated, replaced by curiosity. He approached the unusual formation.

It was a large block of ice, the size of a coffin. In a gully in the rugged Gila Mountains of the Arizona Territory, in the middle of summer—in the middle of nowhere.

He tilted his lantern toward one end of the block, expecting to find something in it, already gleaning a shadow that faintly resembled a human form. He gasped as he saw through the translucent ice a man’s face with the appearance of slumber, beneath a well-worn Stetson hat. There was too much ice to make out the features of the man, but he sensed that this was a dude you didn’t want to cross…when he was alive.

Nick nearly jumped out of his skin when a second set of explosive sounds echoed from near the top of the hill he had climbed down from only minutes before. Lights flooded the surrounds, centered from where the explosion originated.

He picked up his rifle and ran up the trail, leaving his lantern on the block of ice. There was enough light glaring from the top of the hill to illuminate his path, but too much to allow him to see what was distantly ahead. He was afraid again, but he was damned if he was going to let whatever was happening to continue on his family’s ranch.

He climbed to the crest, rifle poised to shoot. Light glared from strange looking lamps fixed to a carriage three times the size of a stagecoach, constructed entirely of iron. A smoke stack jutted out of the top of the contraption, near its rear.

A door opened; a portly man in a tweed suit climbed out, wearing a gold monocle, and sporting mutton chop sideburns. He smiled when he saw Nick.

“Boy, by the look of your demeanor, I would venture to guess that you have found the block of ice. Am I correct?” His accent was thickly foreign to Nick’s ears, guessing it was upper class English.

Before Nick could respond, another figure appeared at the iron carriage’s door. A radiantly beautiful Chinese woman, wearing traditional silk clothing, although she wore flowing trousers rather than a dress. She had a determined look about her, and yet there were signs she had been recently crying.

“How…how did you get that carriage here? Only horses—“

“Boy,” the woman said, with almost faultless English, her accent had a distinct English twang, just like the tweed man, “Sir Thomas asked you a question.”

“S…sure. The block’s down a ways, easy to find…It’s got a body in it.”

“We know,” Sir Thomas replied, hurriedly grabbing a small chest and lantern from within a storage unit on the side of the carriage. “Come with us,” he ordered.

With the aid of the lamp that didn’t appear to use oil, they quickly traversed the gully trail. Sir Thomas was surprisingly spritely for a man of his weight, and middling years.

“Is it too late?” the Chinese woman asked of the Englishman.

“I hope not, Princess. Jake is hardy.”

Jake. Nick only heard of one man called Jake, from the snippets of conversations between his parents, and talk in the two streets of Clifton. A shiver ran down his spine. No, it can’t be.

Sir Thomas was the first to get to the block. “By George, as I hoped. Astounding. The water had enveloped him, froze instantaneously, but it did not freeze his body’s cells. I think we can resuscitate him.”

He swiftly opened his wooden chest, pulled out two bronze discs with handles on each, both of which had wires leading back into the chest. “My Princess,” he said, “can you crack the ice without placing undue impact injury on Jake’s body?”

The woman touched the block, which had already lost ten percent of its volume to the warm night. “Yes, I can do it.”

“Then do it, Your Highness. I don’t know how much time we have left, before the ice actually harms his body.”

She nodded, and stepped back, crouching like a dancer. She raised her hands to head height, forming white-knuckled fists. She slowly, smoothly, changed her position, her facial expression tense with concentration. She raised her fists again like an animal ready to strike its prey, when suddenly she shrieked a high-pitched sound and struck both hands against the block. The ice explosively shattered, leaving the man’s upper torso and head free, unharmed. She repeated the process, quicker this time, allowing his whole body to be released.

Sir Thomas stepped quickly in, tearing the man’s jacket and shirt open, placing the twin discs on his bare chest. “Princess Hui-ying, can you do me a favor and trigger the switch in the chest for me?”

She plunged her hand in the box.

The man’s back arched, chest raising as if he was in spasmodic pain. A small plume of smoke rose from his chest, with the smell of burned hair. Sir Thomas placed three fingers on the man’s neck.

“Please try one more time, Princess, and pray to Quan Yin that it works, as there is only enough charge for one more attempt.”

She pushed the plunger a second time, causing the man’s body to jerk again.

This time Sir Thomas didn’t have to check the man’s pulse, as the figure lying in shattered ice gasped and coughed.

Hui-ying leapt to his side, hugging the man who already was shivering. “Jake, you have returned.”

The man called Jake opened his eyes. He grimaced and peered to his left where his arm was resting loosely on the ice. He opened his hand, revealing a pear shaped blue sapphire, nearly the size of his palm.


Nick sat at a fold-out table next to the iron carriage. He had helped carry Jake into the vehicle, amazed at the scientific equipment and bronze dials and gauges covering most of the walls. There was little room to move in the majority of the carriage—Sir Thomas slid a narrow bed out of a side panel, where Jake was placed, and covered him with blankets.

Sir Thomas climbed out of the iron carriage, and joined Nick and Hui-ying at the table, who were sipping green tea.

“He will recover quickly, just needs some rest. Some fancy medicine from my scientific colleagues in Germany, and the speed of our intervention, worked in his favor.”

Hui-ying turned her attention to Nick. “You must be confused,” she said sympathetically.

“Uh, darn right. Everything. That dude, Jake…he isn’t Jake Chalmers, is he?”

Nick didn’t expect the visitors’ reaction of surprise.

“Remarkable,” Sir Thomas said. “The Sacred Stones, they really are interconnected with our lives, aren’t they.”

“Truly,” the princess confirmed. She sipped from her tea cup. “What is your name, boy?”

“Nick. Nick Smith.”

“Nick, my name is Xian Hui-yin, and I am from China. My companion is Sir Thomas Page, and he is from London, England. You are correct in stating that our third companion is Jake Chalmers, who was formerly a gunslinger from the Arizona Territory. I presume we are in Arizona, near his home?”

“Ah, yep. Don’t know much ‘bout him, but he definitely was a gunslinger. A bounty hunter I ‘spose. Closest thing to home for him was Clifton—that’s a copper mining town ‘bout two days ride to the south-east from here. Only a few hundred live there, but it’s the closest thing to a town anywhere near to this ranch. My dad owns the Triple C Ranch in these mountains and we rear Texas Longhorn.”

Sir Thomas sampled the green tea and sighed. “A delectable brew, my dear.” He placed the cup ceremonially on the table. “Nicholas, you have been drawn into a rather extraordinary adventure, and given our appearance in Jake’s home territory, I do not believe we can discount a reason for us being in this specific location, meeting you. You may have a role to play in our quest. Aside from this most esoteric connection, we need your help to get about this part of the world. We are unfamiliar with Arizona until Jake is fully recovered.”

Nick scratched his head, guessing he got the gist of what Sir Thomas was saying. “What do you mean, ‘adventure’?”

The pair opposite him exchanged glances, their serious dispositions softening.

Hui-yin said, “I am the youngest daughter of the Emperor of China. When I was born the Court’s astrologers informed my father that I was the successor to the Guardian of the Five Sacred Stones, protector of this ancient artifact that is said to keep the Empire as one. Quan Yin, Goddess of Mercy, bestowed this gift to the Emperor of the time, thousands of years ago, a statue that depicted her in the lotus position, a hand held out with the five gemstones imbedded in her palm. They are: citrine that represents the element of Earth, white diamond for Metal, blue sapphire for Water, emerald for Wood, and ruby for Fire. These Stones, together, unify the people of China, with the power of Quan Yin’s blessing, as well as the symbolic significance of the five elements.”

“The sapphire in Jake’s hand?” Nick asked.

“Yes,” Hui-yin confirmed. “We now have three of the Sacred Stones. An old enemy of the Emperor’s Court, The Society of Heaven and Earth, stole the gemstones three years ago, and I have been hunting them since.”

We have,” Sir Thomas corrected.

“Yes, the three of us. We are now known, in China, as The Righteous and Harmonious Three.”

Sir Thomas snickered. “A name that does not sound imposing in English, I am afraid, but it nevertheless has endearing qualities.”

Nick asked, “How did you two buddy up with Miss Hui-yin?” He checked to see if his reference to the princess was appropriate, and felt relieved that there wasn’t any noticeable response to his choice of words.

“A long story, old chum. All tied with the Sacred Stones.” 


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Gerry lives in Melbourne, Australia with his wife and young daughter. He is a father, husband, writer, publisher, and IT consultant, pretty much in that order. He writes speculative fiction, with attention to the three main genres in equal portions, as well as many cross and sub-genres. Most of his work, however, slides towards the dark. He publishes more than one story per month on average, the latest with Ticon4, Stupefying Stories, and Lovecraft eZine. In 2010 he published a young teen fantasy novel, Guardian of the Sky Realms. He is Chief Editor of IFWG Publishing, publisher and contributing editor to SQ Mag, and one of the long fiction judges for the 2012 Australian Shadows Awards.
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