Apr 2 • 10M

Nowhere Ch 13 - The Aftermath

Patrick E McLean
Open in playerListen on);
Short fiction every week and serial novel "A Town Called Nowhere"
Episode details
1 comment

For a long time, nobody said anything. They just stood on the bank of the strange new river with the wounded as if the whispering of the water would explain what had happened. All in all, Dance thought, it could have been a whole lot worse and it probably would be before the end.

Pete asked, “You want to get up a posse and go after them, Sheriff?”

Dance shook his head. “Let’s figure out what we’d be raiding into before we go a-raidin’. Besides, if that boat went upriver, it will come back down. Next time we’ll be ready for target practice.

As Dance thumbed rounds into his Winchester the Englishman walked up and stood next to him. Dance looked him over and said, “You got sand, Mister. But if you’re gonna pass the time out West, you best get heeled.”

“Archimedes Croryton, but my friend call me Archie,” he said, holding out his hand.

“Good for them,” said the Sheriff, “John Dance. What was that you were barking at them?”

“Aramaic, Syriac, Latin, some Attic Greek. Anything I could think of really.”

“You know what the hell they was?”

“Not a clue,” answered Archie. He nodded at the body of an archer floating in the river he said, “But I know how to find out.” And started stripping off his clothes.

When he reached his underwear, Archie waded into the river and swam out to the dead archer. His silken garment had billowed out around him, trapping air and giving the corpse buoyancy. Archie grabbed a handful of fabric and dragged the body back ashore. When Archie got to the mud, Dance helped him land his strange fish. As Archie caught his breath, Dance asked, “Anything familiar about this to you?”

“I was hoping you would know, you’re the native.” Archie rolled the body over on its back and brushed the mud off the face. The man had a dark, olive complexion with a large, hooked nose and strange characters tattooed on his cheeks. Out of respect, Archie closed his eyes.

The man’s silk garments were held at the waist with a thick belt of bronze plates. Archie asked for the Sheriff’s knife and used it to cut the shirt open. It was surprisingly tough. The man’s chest was tattooed in the same diamond pattern as his face. Archie made a close examination of the man’s hands.

Dance asked, “Mr. Croryton, how’s a man like you, an educated man, wind up here?”

“Sheriff, if you can tell me where here is, I’ll answer your question.”

“Hell, you’re in Grantham, Arizona Territory.”

Archie said, “Last night, I was reasonably certain that I arrived in Grantham. But now, I am not so sure.”

“Fair enough,” said the Sheriff, “What do you make of our guest?”

“My guess is this man has done little else in his life but fire a bow.”

“Professional military?”

“No, I am saying, this man was not merely in the army. His entire body and one might well say his being, has conformed to being an archer.” He gently turned the dead man over in the mud and pointed to the imbalance in the musculature of shoulders and arms. The right arm with a noticeably bigger biceps muscle, the left with a well-defined triceps from extending the bow. And the muscles between the shoulder blades stood out in almost chiseled detail. “He is a professional warrior. Like a Spartan or a Myrmidon.”

Dance said, “I ain’t never heard of them, but were they too dumb to duck too?”

“Yes, they did not react like men who had ever seen a firearm before. The question is where did they come from?”

Dance spit and said, “No idea. Not yet,” as he looked grimly up the river.

“Well, then you’ve got bigger questions. Who is this military power on your doorstep?”

“Hardly call them military if they don’t have guns.”

Archie said, “Did you not see how cool they were under attack? How they continued to nock and fire even as their commander was struck down and their comrades were dying around them?”

Dance rubbed his chin. “Yeah, fair point. I was at Shiloh and others besides, and I never saw any company, North or South, that stood that straight under fire.”

“Yes, your Civil War was fought by volunteer soldiers. These were warriors,” said Archie as he buttoned his shirt.

Dance said, “Maybe he was a rower?” looking for a way out of the mess he was in.

“A rower’s back is different,” said Archie.

“How do you know that?”

Archie removed his shirt once again and turned around. “I rowed crew for Oxford.” He made a rowing motion and Dance could see the imbalance in his musculature and the curve of his spine.

“Mostly with the right,” said Dance.

Archie flipped his shirt back up and nodded. “This man’s arms are different lengths. His left is shorter than his right. He could have been at Agincourt. But that was 1415. What’s he doing in 1888?”

“In America,” added Dance.

“I do just wonder about that…” said Archie.

Dance bristled. “What do you mean? We took this land from the Mexicans. Maybe not so fair and square, but we signed a treaty on it.”

“No, no, it’s not that. Plant whatever flag you like. I care not. What I’m saying is, if a river appeared last night to the West of Town, then what awaits us to the East? Or the North or the South?”

They looked at each other for a while in the hopes that somebody would have the answer. Finally, Speedy Pete said, “Mister, you think somebody done stole Mexico?”

“You mean since the Spanish?” asked Archie.

“Mr. Croryton!” cried a rasping voice, “Whatever are you doing with that corpse? And where did he come from?” Archie looked up and saw Jean DuMont, strutting towards them with the aid of his nurse.

Archie straightened up and tugged the bottom of his waistcoat and buttoned his suit jacket in an effort to appear presentable.

“I was conducting an examination, of sorts, M. DuMont.”

DuMont looked at the river and the fertile plain beyond. “Damned odd, wouldn’t you say, Mr. Croryton. A river from nowhere?”

“Yes, sir.”

“A lake collapsed in the mountains, you think?” asked DuMont.

“Sir, I do not. This mud is of a different composition than your native soil.”

“Come now, sir. Mud is mud. We will make advantage of this river and hope it lasts. Construct a silver mill, a ferry for travelers from Bisbee, charing a modest fee of course, but as for the rest… ” He nudged the dead man with his boot and said, “Just another tribe of savages.”

“Sir, I must —“

“I appreciate your excitement, Mr. Croryton, but I am not paying you to examine the savages. Whatever tourism you engage in will be on your own time. I have a mine that is filling with water, and I am paying for you and your marvelous pumping engine to pump them out.”

Archie said, “But with this unexpected development. This new… frontier… of possibility…”

“The Frontier is not your business. And I assured you all those who come from Bisbee,” he nodded his head and indicated where the road to Bisbee had once been, “will be coming for my silver, not, your corpse. That is, provided the Sheriff here lets them live long enough.”

“A man shoots at me, I shoot him back,” said Dance, not looking at DuMont.

“I don’t pay you to philosophize, Sheriff.”

“That’s O.K. Johnny,” said Dance, “You don’t pay me. The town does.”

“I am this town,” said DuMont, as he checked the time on a gold pocket watch. He snapped the watch shut sharply and said, “Mr. Croryton, mining has commenced for the day, and I expect you to do the same. There is much work to be done.”

DuMont walked back toward town without waiting for an answer. Giving one last look to the far side of the river, Archie said, “As you say, sir,” and followed his employer.

Pete looked at Sheriff Dance. Dance said, “Pete, get on back to the jail and lock yourself in there with young Burdock.”

“What are you going to do?” asked Pete.

“I’m going see if that John Bull was right.”

“About what?” asked Pete.

He nodded at the river, “It’s one thing to be faced with the unknown. Another thing to be surrounded by it.”