Sunday, February 10, 2013

Celebration Station! Gerry Huntman

Day 10

The Curious Case of the Frozen Revenant

By Gerry Huntman

Jake drew his gun like a lightning bolt, and shot Zeb through the heart before the Dude even touched his Colts, sending him flying backwards. Lying on his back in the blood-pooling dirt, Zeb stared into the sun with only enough life in him to wonder how it was possible for a man to draw so fast.

Like everyone else, Nick didn’t see Jake draw. One moment his hand was hovering over his revolver, then next the gun was pointing where Zeb had been standing, smoking.

The crowd, which had grown to nearly one hundred, dispersed, not hiding their respect for Jake’s miraculous skills, and providing zero sympathy for Zeb’s demise. A few provided advice to the rest of the Clifton citizens to find safe hiding places, because the “lead’s gonna start flyin’.”

Hui-ying gathered her companions together. She said quickly, “I saw a few men running into the saloon over there. We should get indoors.”

Jake scanned the other end of town. “There’s Hovey’s Dance Hall. Anton won’t like it, but we need it for our base.”

Sir Thomas drove the Iron Queen to the dance hall, and the four adventurers entered the premises. The hall should have been full with revelers, but there were only a few hardened drinkers yakking at their table, and several men drunk and unconscious on the floor. The place was definitely a dance hall, complete with raised stage, but it was also clear it made most of its money from booze.

A man in a dusty suit, with a large wide-brimmed hat, walked onto the stage from behind one of its large, velvet curtains. “Jake Chalmers. It’s been a while, heh?”

Jake took several steps forward. “Anton. I’m sorry to say your place might get shot up a bit in the next little while.”

The man on the stage laughed uproariously. “It wouldn’t be the first, friend, and it won’t be the last. I suppose I should be flattered that the infamous Jake Chalmers chose my hall for refuge.” He noticed the others who had enter his hall. “Ah, you have companions! Let me introduce myself—I am Anton Muzzonvich, owner of this establishment. Please, come on up stage and we can have a drink in my rooms.”

“I’m not sure we’ll have enough—“ A gun shot sounded from outside and a window shattered inward.

Hui-ying grabbed Jake’s arm. “I will help defend, but I want to visit the Chinese community as soon as possible. After all, the Sacred Stone is why we are here.”

Sir Thomas said to Nick, “I believe it is time for us to find a safe location in this establishment. Jake and Princess will look after this…distraction.”

The pair ran to the stage, where Anton had already disappeared to a place of safety. Several windows crashed, and a side door smashed in.

Sir Thomas and Nick made themselves comfortable behind an upright piano, on stage.

Hui-ying was nowhere in sight. Jake turned a small table over, facing the front and side entrances of the dance hall, revolver in hand.

“How can he draw so quickly?” Nick whispered.

“A bit of a story, Nicholas,” Sir Thomas replied, keeping his voice low. “Jake was seriously wounded in the arm and it didn’t heal properly. He did not talk much about it when we met him in Australia, and he still prefers not to speak of that time.”

“That time? Sounds like he’s fixed.”

“Well, in a way. You may recall that he had been seriously injured in Mongolia. In fact, he lost most of the same arm that was previously shot.”

“That’s not possible, he’s got two of them.”

“Now he does. One of my areas of expertise is constructing clockwork automatons. It took a while, but I constructed an arm and hand for Jake, in many ways superior to muscle and bone. It has a self-winding mechanism that allows him to operate his arm efficiently on a continuous basis, but if it needs to be worked hard, or some of its specialized functions are used, he has to supplement the spring-based energy by winding the mechanism.”

Three scruffy men rushed into the hall through the side entrance, diving behind furniture, guns brandished.

One of the outlaws poked his head up to shoot and immediately caught one of Jake’s bullets between his eyes.

“Jeeesus!” one of the others cried.

Hui-ying dropped twenty feet from the rafters to the  floor, between the two remaining outlaws.

They scrambled to their feet, aiming their guns hesitantly toward her, worried they would get caught in crossfire.

The princess leapt high in the air and kicked both guns out of their hands simultaneously with each foot, breaking their hands in the process. One of the assailants was a big, strong man, and swung his good fist at her. Hui-ying easily dodged the punch by bending slightly backwards, and, falling to a kneeling position, returned a punch to his solar plexus. As slight as she appeared, the two hundred and sixty pound bear of a man was flung ten yards backwards from the blow, destroying a table, knocking him unconscious.

The remaining man ran for his life, but Hui-ying sprung into the air, somersaulting over him, blocking his way out. She fired three rapid punches to his face, kidney and stomach in the blink of an eye. The outlaw was maimed and unconscious before he hit the floor.

“Jake!” came the distant sound of someone outside Hovey’s Dance Hall.

“Dang it,” Jake muttered. He strode over to the door, keeping out of line of sight of anyone outside. “What is it, Ned!”

“Come out like a man, instead of hiding with your friends like some chicken-shit coward. Just you and me. If you don’t, I’ll fire Hovey’s.”

“What do you want to do?” Hui-ying asked.

“If we stay, my friend’s business will be burned to the ground; if I go out alone they’ll gun me down with a dozen men, maybe more. Ned is the last of the Lowry brothers, and he’s the head of the Dudes. They were all murderin’ scum, and there’s no reasonin’ with Ned—I killed his two brothers, and crippled their pa. He wants me real dead and buried.”

“Then we must go out and remove the threat,” the princess replied.

“My thoughts exactly.”

“They will have the building covered from all sides, and there are no adjoining buildings,” she summarized. “There’s one large tree out front. This situation would appear to be not unlike our encounter with the Society in Ballarat. I say we do this fast, to catch them with as much surprise as possible.”

“Agreed again,” Jake said, and kissed her passionately. “And that’s why I love you.”

She provided a small, but endearing smile, and then her stern, focused visage returned. “And I you, Jake. Let us remove the threat now.”

Nick had already emerged from behind the piano, and saw Hui-ying disappear through the front door at a blurring speed. He rushed to a window to see what was happening outside.

Jake followed the princess, diving behind a horse trough, followed by bullets kicking up the dirt of his trail. Hui-ying raced in a tight corner for the outer wall of Hovey’s, and, defying the laws of physics, ran its entire height, and using her grasp of the guttering as a hold, back-flipped onto the roof. A shot fired widely in her direction. She ran quickly, appearing almost like she was floating in the air.

A few more shots fired at her, but the outlaws failed to track her run.

Jake fired three shots at those who were targeting the princess. It kept the assailants low, except one, who was shot in the neck, gurgling and bleeding out.

Hui-ying had run out of roof, but she kept running. Gasps came from some of the men in the street, as she moved in a curved trajectory in the air, legs pumping, without losing altitude. A shot was fired at her, and inexplicably, on seeing the bullet coming straight for her, she tumbled in the air and dodged it.

She landed behind four barrels used as cover by several outlaws. In a split second they were down and out. Two men ran toward her to get a better line of fire, and were cut down by Jake—each bullet piercing their hearts.

Sir Thomas was next to Nick, viewing the battle in front of Hovey’s Dance Hall. “Jake has great speed with his arm and hand,” the scientist said, “but he is still tired from his ordeal with the ice. He had better be careful.”

Jake raced from his cover to join Hui-ying, when a rifle shot fired and a bullet hit his right arm, sending him spinning onto the dusty main street of Clifton.

Hui-ying let out a cry of concern, and exasperation that she was too far away to immediately intervene.

A tall, thickly-set, heavily bearded man with a Rebel officer’s style hat appeared from behind a general store corner thirty yards away, keeping his rifle trained at Jake’s still body.

“I got yer shootin’ arm, Jake; yer done fer.” He stood still, next to the store, aiming at Jake’s body in a military rifleman’s stance. “Get up so I can make it clean, man-to-man.”

Dudes were running in from the other end of the street. Hui-ying back-flipped twice, using the momentum to somersault twenty feet into the air, landing among them.

Jake slowly climbed to his feet, holding his right arm with his left hand, in pain. He was side on from Ned, seemingly to protect his wound.

“Turn to me, Jake. Face me like a man.”

Jake’s lower arm separated and dropped to the ground, revealing whirring gyros through its open end.

Ned raised an eyebrow in complete surprise.

Jake twisted and dropped to his knees, aiming his steel stump at the outlaw.

The shot from Ned’s rifle passed over Jake’s head, hitting Hovey’s Dancing Hall.

A small cylinder of steel propelled from Jake’s stump, missing Ned by inches, colliding with the General Store building. The entire shop exploded with intense flames, sending fragments of wood and iron into the air, flinging Ned like a rag doll in Jake’s direction.

Ned landed with a sickening thud onto the ground three yards in front of Jake.

Hui-ying raced to Jake’s side. “I took care of four more. The rest have fled,” she said, panting.

Jake walked slowly to Ned and found the outlaw still alive, lying on his back. Surprisingly, the man was still whole, having been flung by the percussion of the blast. He was singed all over, but his left side was seriously burned. The man could live with help.

Ned opened his eyes. “You bastard. You son of a bitch. Make it quick.”

Jake drew his revolver with his left hand and aimed it at Ned’s heart.

Hui-ying was conspicuously silent.

Jake’s finger tightened on the trigger. Anger coursed through his being, wanting to blot out the leader of the gang that had caused so much pain and embarrassment to him.

Ned stared at the gunslinger, resigned to his fate.

Jake released the tension, and holstered his Peacemaker. “I can’t kill a man in cold blood. No more. I’ve got nothin’ to fear—I’m goin’ to be leaving soon and won’t be coming back to Clifford. Killing you, Ned, would just be an act of spite.”

“Kill me!!!” Ned hoarsely screamed, his cracking, blackened face made him look like a Chinese demon.

“No.” Jake walked away.


A few hours later they all met at the Iron Queen.

“I don’t understand,” Sir Thomas said. “Are you saying that the Emerald Stone isn’t in Clifton?”

“Correct,” Hui-ying replied. “There are only two Chinese families living here, and they are hardworking people, with no knowledge of the Sacred Stones. They are not of the Society of Heaven and Earth. I do not sense it being near; the Sacred Stone is not here.”

Jake was sitting, finishing re-attaching his arm. The rifle shot had only left a small dent on its superstructure.

The princess took the large sapphire from Sir Thomas’ navigation chamber and displayed it on the palm of her hand for all to see. “Jake was transported by this Sacred Stone to Arizona Territory, and we assumed it operated the same way as the other Stones—seeking the next in the eternal circle. We found the sapphire two times by using the diamond, the first getting us to Mongolia, and the second time to find Jake encased in ice.”

“And…?” Sir Thomas asked.

“We are assuming that the Sacred Stones only have a single property. All the legends talk about immense power in them, bestowed by Quan Yin, goddess of mercy.”

“Mercy,” Jake echoed, eyes widening.

“Mercy,” Sir Thomas repeated. “I am beginning to understand.”

“And rightly so,” Hui-yin said. “You are the preeminent scientist of this century. Yes, mercy. For reasons that I cannot fathom, Quan Yin is testing Jake’s caliber. He was transported to his homeland to face unfinished business, and to test that he has truly learned to value life, to be able to act with mercy. This is important to Quan Yin, a virtue that represents her very essence.”

Jake said, “I wanted to come back, after I joined your team, after my arm was…fixed—after I understood my feelings for you, Hui-yin. But the mission was more important than anything else.”

Sir Thomas joined in the thread of conversation. “And Quan Yin, or perhaps her essence imbedded in the Sacred Stones, forced the detour. Splendid!”

Hui-yin nodded, acknowledging the solution to the puzzle, allowing a smile to radiate her face. “And I believe that if we use the Sapphire Elemental Stone now, it will take us to where the Emerald lies.”

“Well,” Sir Thomas said, “what are we waiting for? Let us embark on the next stage of our adventure!”

Nick had shared the satisfaction of understanding the meaning of Jake’s appearance on his parent’s ranch, but quickly realized his own adventure was nearing its conclusion.

Hui-ying warmly caressed Nick’s face. “Young boy, you have been so helpful to us, and have shown a true spirit of adventure, worthy of The Righteous and Harmonious Three.”

“Can I join you, then?” Nick asked timidly. “My ma and pa trust me to rustle Long Horn on my own for up to a week at a time.”

To his surprise, no one laughed. They took him seriously.

“No, not yet,” the princess replied. “I believe the Sacred Stones do nothing by chance, and Jake was transported to your property for a reason—and not just to acquire your local knowledge, Nick. I think you have a part to play, but you need time to grow. Besides, we need to return you to your parents’ home, as they will soon become worried.”

Nick was devastated by the news; he nodded, red-faced.

Jake stood and placed his living hand on Nick’s shoulder. “Boy, you’ve got what it takes, I’ve no doubt about that. Your ma and pa need you, and you’ve got to do the right thing by them. Believe me, we will meet again.”

Nick knew that Jake and the others were right, and poignantly sensed the honesty of the gunslinger’s words.

The Iron Queen drew water from the river that was Clifton’s water source, and left the ground when the hydrogen balloon was filled. The crowd seeing them off was twice as large as when they first came to town, and the folk were happier, having been rid of a long-term yoke around their necks.

The trip to the Triple C ranch was far too quick for Nick’s liking, but he was happy to see his parents and younger brother and sisters, and the look on their faces when they saw how he got there. After a few hours of lunching and enjoying the ranch’s hospitality, The Righteous and Harmonious Three bid everyone adieu, and entered the Iron Queen.

Nick entered the carriage one more time to make his farewell more personal. “You will come back for me?” he asked.

“Of course, my boy,” Sir Thomas replied. A red light suddenly flashed on a small console. “What the—?”

A blue haze surrounded them, and the engine built up steam.

Sir Thomas smiled wryly. “And it seems, my dear friends, Quan Yin has intervened again.”


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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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