Today we visit with Gerry Huntman as he shares his story:
Crazy Mike McCloud
I first met Mike McCloud in the main street of Clifton. It was the day my pa was shot dead by the Carson Gang.
The town was dusty, like most of the year—this part of the Arizona Territory always had long, harsh summers—and the folk who lived there were either copper miners or traders keeping them fed and drunk. Oh yeah, and there were sometimes drifters and outlaws—that was when pa told me to stay indoors as these men often hadn’t seen women or girls for months on end.
I lived most of my life in Clifton and I thought it was a good place, all told. Ma died when I was still a baby and Pa worked hard, running the only honest General Store this side of the Gila Mountains. Father was generous to a fault, and lots of people owed him money.
The Carson brothers weren’t locals—they ran stock a ways out—and they owed Pa a lot of money. They got in trouble with the law and we thought we saw the last of them ‘cause of the debt. Trouble is they needed supplies bad and they came in with a hired gun.
I remember that morning so well, and I wish it would go away. Back then I didn’t want to forget—I needed to hate with all my might so I could find a way to kill them. Josh and Kyle walked in with guns in hand. They brought with them a strange-looking man—an Englishman with a short beard and dark blue derby hat. Pa told me to hide in the house, and from behind our shop door I heard the argument getting fierce. I remember Josh, in his raspy voice, say, “Partridge, finish him.” There was a shot and I heard my pa fall to the floor. A few seconds later, as my heart beat hard against my ribcage, I heard a second shot and I knew what they did.
Kyle said, “Didja see his daughter? Can’t be over sixteen. Real sweet. How ‘bout a bit a fun?”
Partridge spoke and that’s when I knew he was a foreigner. He said, “Sounds good. I am in the mood for quim.”
I was about to run for my life when I heard Josh shout, “No! Leave her. The law will be here soon, and I think the posse are sniffing ‘round. Grab the supplies and skedaddle for Coronado. Now!”
I was in a nightmare world. I kept crying, but I had to bite my knuckles to keep the sound down. I heard the three outlaws pillage our store, and I still feared they would come in and search me out. However, they finally left, but I stayed cooped up for God knows how long. I didn’t want to see what happened to Pa. I didn’t want them to see me, even though my brain told me they were long gone.
I heard a voice; male. “Oh my God!” It was Old Man Cleary. He shouted through the door, “Laura! Laura! Are you there, sweetheart?”
I managed to open the door, and I fell in my neighbor’s arms, weeping. I saw my father and nearly fainted. He was shot in the chest, and then in the head. People say that the dead look peaceful, but not so my pa. He had the look of pain, sorrow, and loss etched into his blood-soaked marble face.
Cleary led me out of the General Store, mumbling something about him and Edna looking after me, but as the door opened we saw a lone figure in the middle of the street, hands on hips, staring at us. The man was dusty in his clothes and leathers, full beard hiding most of his face, but his bright eyes were alert and keen. Sweaty matted hair, long overdue a barber’s cut, flowed from under his salty Stetson, and he wore a Peacemaker on his hip.
“It’s Crazy Mike McCloud,” Cleary said. “Steer clear of him; he’s loco.” I heard of him; the locals said he was a wanderer and had come down this way a few weeks ago. Talked funny. People said he was a gunslinger because he was good with a rifle and revolver. Cleary pulled me gently to the right, heading for his home.
Mike McCloud moved quickly forward. “I need to talk to the girl,” he said.
“Can’t you see she’s grievin’?” Cleary replied.
“I need to talk to her.” He had a strange accent, almost like the killer Partridge, but it wasn’t the same. Yeah, it was strange; maybe he was from the east, like New England, or maybe Canada. But there was no mistakin’ the authority in his tone. It was commanding.
Cleary looked stunned. “S…sure. Don’t you lay a finger on her, though.”
“I’ll respect her, Mr. Cleary. I’ve sworn to honor and protect damsels.”
Cleary’s eyes glazed over with McCloud’s choice of words. “A…alright. Fetch her over to the Bakery. I swore to Laura’s pa that we’d look after her if somethin’ happened.”
McCloud bowed in acknowledgement, another strange thing to do.
He led me to a quiet place next to the San Francisco River. The noise of the fast moving water appeared to be something he wanted, to keep our conversation confidential.
“I am sorry about what happened to your father, Miss Jones. I only spoke with him a few times, but he was clearly a man of honor and commanded the community’s respect.”
“Thanks,” I whispered. The subject was too raw and I barely managed to keep my composure. I really didn’t want to talk.
“Yes, I can see this is hard. I would not have bothered you but I need information. The men who did this, do you know them all?”
I gave McCloud an account of what I saw and heard. When I finished, I covered my face with my hands and wept again.
McCloud placed his hand lightly on my shoulder. “I am so sorry, poor, dear maiden. Our world is, unfortunately, full of danger and evil men. But know this, there is virtue as well. And justice.”
I lowered my hands and saw glistening moisture in McCloud’s eyes. I saw compassion. I also realized he was much younger than what he appeared to be from a distance. He wouldn’t have been older than thirty. “Justice?”
“Yes, justice. I have been hunting the man known as Partridge for some years. His full name is Marcus Partridge and he is evil indeed. I have a long grievance with him, and intend on killing him.”
These were the first words in the day that resonated with me. Justice. Revenge. The same thing for me. “When are you going to do this, Mr. McCloud?”
“Call me Mike. When I find the Carson Gang I will dispense justice. You mentioned ‘Coronado’ as their destination.”
“Yeah, didn’t make sense to me. A Spanish word, but I don’t know any place with that name.”
“It is not a place. It is a trail. A Spanish explorer called Francisco Vasquez de Coronado was in search of the Seven Lost Cities of Gold, and believed—much like most of the world three hundred years ago—that they existed in the Indian territories.” He shook his head as if he was reliving a poignant memory. “Francisco so much wanted to believe in the cities. Totally fanciful, but then again, he was an impetuous man.”
I couldn’t believe what I heard. It sounded like he knew the explorer. I realized now why Mike was nicknamed ‘Crazy’. Sheepishly, I said, “Do you know where the trail is?”
“Yes, I know it well. It leads into the mountains…I believe the Carson Gang wants to find sanctuary in the wilderness from the authorities. They waylaid several stagecoaches a few weeks ago, and have been pursued since.”
I found it difficult to understand every word he said—they sounded so foreign! And yet, as crazy as he was, I believed him. And if the Carson Gang were heading deep into the Gila Mountains, no posse would follow them. Crazy Mike McCloud was my only chance of revenge. “I want to come with you.”
He raised his eyebrows in surprise. “You jest. The terrain is rugged, and the Carson Gang are murderous, especially Marcus Partridge. You…you are too young and…”
“A maiden. This is not for you.”
I was upset, but I admit I exaggerated my emotions at the time. I cried. “Mike, I’m alone now. Everything has been taken from me. All I’ve got left is seeing my father’s killers hang. I need to be there.”
Mike McCloud shook his head, but his eyes gleamed in understanding. “I cannot do this, Miss Jones. It is too dangerous. You will have your justice.”
“I’m sixteen, and you can call me Laura. Especially if we’re going together. I’m stronger than you think because I had to help P…pa work the store. We even hunted together.” Remembering the good times with my father caused the flooding of my despair again.
For a second time, tears formed in the rugged drifter’s eyes. He stared into my eyes, peering deep into my mind—my heart. “Alright, you can come. But it is I who will battle the Carson Gang, not you, and it is I who will dispense justice. You must swear that if there is battle you must stay back and take cover.”
I knew I couldn’t push him any further. I got what I wanted. “I swear.”
I didn’t expect Old Man Cleary to agree to me hunting the Carson Gang, and he’d kick up a stink with the townsfolk for sure, so I secretly left with Mike, taking Pa’s horse, supplies that I could scrounge up, and leaving a letter of explanation. I’d return, of course, when this was all over, and it was my plan to run the General Store. I’m no quitter.
The first two days’ ride was hard going but nothing I couldn’t handle. I rode with Pa often enough that I wasn’t going to get saddle sore easily, and wore men’s clothing to keep things practical. I didn’t expect to bathe for a week or two, but I hoped we’d find the odd stream or river to freshen up.
The fire crackled loudly and the heat from the flames added to the warm Summer’s night. We sat well away from the fire and ate the meal Mike had thrown together—it wasn’t bad.
“Why do you speak funny,” I asked, finally unable to hold the question, and perhaps to get a conversation going. He talked when he needed to but he also kept to himself a lot. I was beginning to like him, especially the way he treated me with a hell of a lot of respect. But he kept using strange words like ‘maiden’ and ‘damsel’.
“Do I?” he asked, tipping the last of his tea (would you believe) into the yellow-flowering saltbush.
“You know you do.”
He snickered, in a nice way.
Even in the semidarkness of the flickering fire-lit night I could see the gleam of kindness and caring in his eyes. I realized he was handsome, more handsome than my first assessment.
“I’m from England, but I’ve been abroad for quite a few years, and recently in your frontier lands. Out West. Some of my countrymen would say I sound like an American, but Americans wouldn’t agree.”
“Did you serve in the US Army?” I asked.
“Why do you say that?”
“Your gun—it’s a Peacemaker, and along with your Winchester rifle, you’ve got a Trapdoor—that’s regular army.”
“You know your guns, Laura.”
“Pa traded guns, just like everything else.”
Mike threw another tree branch into the fire. “I have military training. It is something best not to talk about.”
I want you to know I’m not that kind of gal, but later that night I thought about Mike’s eyes, and his handsome features, even if it was hidden under his beard. I couldn’t help myself.
I crawled over to him, my heart pounding because I’ve never been with a man before. I kept thinking to myself that this was stupid, but the rest of me said otherwise. I think it had to do with the hunt—I really didn’t care much about my life, or the consequence of things. I was near him when he jerked awake and pulled his long, sharp knife from under his makeshift pillow. It gleamed in the moonlight, and was only an inch from my neck.
“What are you doing?” he asked, retracting his weapon.
The knife hadn’t deterred me. “I…I…want to thank you for letting me come with you. I…” It was now or never. I started to unbutton my shirt.
“Stop!” he hissed.
I started to feel stupid, on top of my embarrassment. “I thought you might need…?”
“I’m a man, like any other,” he said, voice turning to a conciliatory tone, “but I swore chastity until I married. I cannot break my oath.”
“Oh.” I heard the churchgoers talk about it but I never saw a young man who kept his virginity, and no small number of girls.
“Please, there is nothing to be sorry about; no apologies. You are a frightfully beautiful girl—no, a woman—and a sore temptation indeed. But I have a pact with God and I will keep it.”
I felt devastated, revealing my base emotions to a stranger. “I…I’m so sorry.” I hastily buttoned my shirt, and scrambled back to my blanket.
“As I said, there is nothing to be sorry for. Good night, Laura.”
I was so glad he couldn’t see my ruddy face. “Goodnight, Mike.”
It seemed we both figured that ignoring what happened the previous night was the best way to handle the morning. While embarrassed in many ways, I still felt excitement at what happened. The possibilities. I stole glances at him when he was checking trails for signs of the Carson Gang, and on one occasion I think he did the same to me. In a way I respected him more for his chastity, his strength of character, but it also confused me because he was obviously religious and yet he clearly had no issue about breaking the Commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill’. He intrigued me.
My thoughts were not centered on Mike, only on the periphery. I suppose, in a curious turn of events, I wanted to seek comfort being with him, while the grief, sadness and ferocious need to see the murderers brought to justice, coursed through me.
“Found it,” Mike said.
“What?” I steered my horse next to his.
“Four sets of horse prints, one strikes me as a pack-horse. I was wondering why I couldn’t find them before but now I know. They took a round-about way to get to the Coronado trail, probably to trick any posse that might want to follow them into the mountains. Most scouts would have given up and returned to Clifton before coming to this intersection of trails. Clever.”
“Does that mean we’ve caught up with them?”
“Almost for certain. These dusty trails aren’t easy to read but—”
A shot fired from afar, and a bullet slammed into a lonely tree only a yard away from my head.
Mike leapt off his mount, yelling, “Get off your horse and find cover!” while pulling his Winchester from his saddle holster.
Another shot fired wildly from a craggy mountainside to the West—the sun had journeyed into early afternoon and made viewing the terrain difficult. I didn’t see this as luck on the Carson Gang’s part. They were crafty sons of bitches.
Mike shot across the trail and disappeared amidst some Apache Pine trees and low-growing brush. I grabbed his Springfield, knowing that it was loaded, and I only had one shot available to me. I ran to a small outcrop of rocks and decided to slowly follow him.
I heard the echoing shouts of men communicating with one another. “Josh, he’s in the pines!” “Yeah, I know!” “Watch the east rocks!” “Gol-darn, it’s hog-killin’ time!”
A shot fired—I was sure it came from the pines.
“I’m hit, Josh! Oh God, it’s bad! Help me!” Whimpering rebounded off the various rock outcrops.
“I can’t. Shit, shit, shit. He wants us to come over!” A pause, as if Josh was expecting a reply. “Kyle, can ya hear me? Kyle, God damn you, can you hear me?” Another short pause. “You son of a bitch, whore ass! You’ll pay!”
My respect for Mike grew from what was already a great height. I decided to move in closer, but I steered clear of the Apache Pine copse, not wanting to attract Mike’s attention. I kept my path as much as possible underneath the rock outcrops, but I hopped to high-elevated positions on several occasions. No shots were fired but I did hear the odd snap of twigs and rustling of branches from several directions.
I was startled by two gunshots—different weapons, in rapid succession only a few dozen yards away from me. I also heard a grunt. I moved as quickly as I could, without giving away my position.
Lying low in the underbrush, I saw a small clearing. Mike was holding his Colt and had it aimed at Partridge. The Englishman was grasping his lower right arm with his left hand—it was bleeding copiously. The murderer’s pistol was lying in the dirt and leaves.
“You have me, Michael.”
“I said I would get you, Marcus.”
Partridge laughed through gritted teeth. “I had no doubt of that, but I didn’t expect it here and now. You are a long way from home, old chum, as am I, and I wonder if the effort was worth the result.”
Mike kept his Peacemaker trained on Partridge’s heart, rock steady. “You have never understood me, or my kind. You committed the most heinous of crimes and you were judged, and sentenced to death. We never give up on matters of honor or sanctified justice.”
“Sanctified justice?” Partridge roared, despite the agonizing pain in his arm. “You sanctimonious fool. They were untouchables, worthless scum. Why waste our precious food supplies on worthless women and children? They deserved to die.”
Despite my distance and the angle of viewing, I could see a surge of anger in Mike’s face, and the way his hand quivered. I knew he was going to shoot Partridge then and there. I felt uneasiness in my bones, a sense something was wrong. I positioned the Springfield and readied my weapon, just in case.
A shot fired. It wasn’t Mike’s revolver.
Mike spun around, clutching his side, dropping his weapon, falling to the ground.
Partridge sunk to his knees in shock, and then relief.
Josh rushed into the clearing with his own Colt at the ready, trained at Mike, who was groaning, glaring in the dust, sweat, and blood.
“So you’re the prick who killed Kyle. Die, son of a b—”
I fired. I aimed for his head for a quick kill and hit my mark. The top of his head exploded and he crumpled to the dirt like a sack of potatoes. By then Partridge was back on his feet, and on hearing my shot, ran into the bushes—with his Webley.
I left the rifle in the bushes, more concerned with Mike’s life. When I got to him he was groaning and smiling at the same time. “Disobeying my orders was fortuitous, I see.”
“Yeah. I can’t help myself. I figured an extra gun would help.” I pushed his hand away from his side wound. There was a lot of blood but it didn’t seem to be oozing much right at that moment. It was hard to tell how bad it was. “How’re you feelin’?”
He smiled again, but his eyes suddenly looked funny—they were focused on his gun only a yard away. “Jump; shoot!” he hissed.
To this day I don’t know how I reacted so quickly. Maybe I was so highly strung by shooting Josh and fearing for Mike’s life. I leapt to the gun, grabbing it in a shooting grip while I landed heavily to my side, having about-faced. I was so quick I barely registered the form of Marcus Partridge, wide-eyed and bloodied hands, pointing his revolver at Mike, but hesitating as he witnessed my leap. As he redirected his weapon to me I fired, straight into the middle of his chest. A small puff of red mist billowed where I hit him, as he was flung backwards to the ground. His legs twitched but I knew he was dead.
I collapsed onto my back, exhausted. While my efforts at the clearing had taken a lot out of me, there was something else that sapped me completely. Flirting with death, the horror of seeing Mike shot, the anger at seeing my pa’s murderers still at large—all rendered me insensible.
“Laura, are you alright?”
I opened my eyes. Mike was over me, smiling. He didn’t appear to be in pain. I wondered if I had dreamt of the gunfight.
“Laura, can you hear me?”
“Yes. I thought you were hurt.” I slowly rolled to my side to view him properly. There was a large dried bloodstain on his shirt.
“I was…am. It wasn’t as serious as it looked.”
“Let me see it. I know a little about bandaging wounds.”
“I see you are resourceful in a number of fields. A warrior as well as a field-surgeon. But no, you do not have to see my wound. I have taken care of it.”
“I insist,” I murmured, and pushed Mike’s hands out of the way. I lifted his shirt and saw no bandaging. There was a scabbed-over wound, smaller than what was expected, among several old scars. “I don’t believe it. Even a flesh wound can’t heal that quickly.”
“I’ll explain later,” Mike said. He looked embarrassed. “I think we need to ride somewhere special. It will take a few hours.”
“No, explain it to me now!” I never spoke so boldly before.
He smiled. This time it was endearing, beautiful. “You have every right to be angry, but I implore you to have patience, young maiden.”
We stared at each other for a minute or more, my eyes flaring and his like a sad dog’s.
I gave in.
We rode without speaking for three grueling hours. We were tired, but he had a destination that gave him the energy to continue, and I simply wanted to know what was going on.
“This is the trail that Coronado mapped,” he said, breaking the long silence. “He thought it led to the Seven Cities of Gold, but it never did. It led to a treasure that is so well hidden he would never have found it, nor any other mortal soul.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“You will see it soon enough. Even Marcus Partridge was unaware of it. He had long fled to your country after committing a horrific crime when serving as an officer in the Indian Army. I prosecuted him and found him wanting…beyond the normal laws of the British Empire. I spent years searching for him when he fled custody, which ultimately led me here, a place I have visited on several occasions…”
We rounded a small crest and rock formation, and before me was a vivid green valley with a large medieval castle, just like in the story books, with high walls and commanding towers.
“…over the last several centuries.”
I pulled on my reins, halting my horse. “I don’t understand. This can’t be happening.”
“I know it is hard to believe, but you must trust your eyes. This is my home, but it is not actually in this valley. Instead, there is a door you cannot see before us, and it leads to another place…another time, which is what you see. When I pass through this door, I will ride into my valley, my home.”
I couldn’t shut my mouth. It hung open, without control. Again, my heart beat at a rapid rate. “Mike, are you going to leave me?”
He nodded. “My task is complete. There are always new quests to be assigned. My Order swore to protect the righteous and punish those who are evil. We once concentrated our efforts in the Old World, and the pilgrim roads to Palestine, but the world has changed over the centuries, and we have extended our demesne.”
“I don’t understand. You’re Crazy Mike McCloud. You’re hairy and you smell!”
He rode his horse forward five yards, and miraculously his steed grew in size, with tufted hooves, and Mike’s clothing transformed into armor covered in a white surcoat with a large red cross. His guns turned to sword and shield, mace and flail. His helmet was tied to his embossed saddle, his mail hood hung back. His beard was short-cropped, and his hair was wavy and shoulder length. He was as handsome as I imagined. More so.
“I am no longer Crazy Mike McCloud,” he said, his voice seemed to travel a greater distance than the mere few yards. “I am Sir Michael de Tourville, Knight Templar, formerly assigned to Temple Cloud, in Somerset. I am now one of only a small number of knights based in The Hidden Vale.”
“You really are going!” I exclaimed, realizing, for the first time, that his going would rend my heart nearly as much as my pa being taken away. “What about me?”
He smiled. I couldn’t believe it; he just looked like a character out of Ivanhoe. “What are you saying, Laura of Clifton?”
“I don’t know. I…I want to be with you. I want…I want to save your life again because you need me!”
Sir Michael laughed so hard he nearly fell off his mount. “You saved my life twice, actually. It is not unheard of for a maiden to be a warrior. Rare but not unheard of. Laura of Clifton, warrior extraordinaire. Would you do me the honor of being my wife, and to join me in my just quests?”
****Gerry is a writer and publisher based in Melbourne, Australia, living with his wife and young daughter. He writes in all genres of speculative fiction, and most sub-genres, where most tend toward dark. His recent publications include Aurealis Magazine, Stupefying Stories, Lovecraft eZine, BLEED charity anthology, and Night Terrors III pro anthology. His young teen fantasy novel, Guardian of the Sky Realms, will be published in 2014 (Cohesion Press). You can find out more about him at: