Monday, February 10, 2014

Serial Novel: Burning Kansas - Chapter 1

A few months ago I took over a small community newspaper. It has a circulation of about 2500, up and down the Kansas-Missouri border. One popular feature of the paper is the serial novel that has been running for a long time. Too many people had missed the early chapters, so I decided it was time to start a new story. My new feature in The Deadline is called "The Dime Novel Series."

I publish roughly 1000 word chapters per month (maybe more often on the website,) each with a niblet of a cliff-hanger. My plan includes posting the on-going chapters online so no one gets too far behind. But until our newspaper website is fixed, I'd thought I would put them up here. Each will be labeled "Burning Kansas." I hope you enjoy it.

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The year is 1856 and in the hatred and tension of Bleeding Kansas, Creighton Blaylock and Caroline Cassett, from opposite sides of the border, face every parent's greatest fear. Their children are missing. However, there may be more to this than meets the eye. 

* * *

Burning Kansas: Chapter 1

The distinctive sound of the hammers locking on a double-barrel shotgun told Creighton Blaylock he wasn’t alone.

Raising his hands he said, “Whoever you are, I mean you no harm. I’m looking for the Cassett place.”

“Well, you found it. At least what’s left of it. If you’re looking for pickings, you’re too late. Bushwhackers have been here and gone.”

The feminine voice surprised him. Without thinking, he turned around.

“You looking to die? Keep those hands where I can see them.”

“No Ma’am, actually, I’m looking for my son. My name is Creighton Blaylock.”

The woman stepped into the light and he got his first good look at her. Spilling from under a wide-brimmed straw hat, the streaks of gold glinting in her auburn hair looked like the surface of a river in the sunlight. However, before he could muse any more, her voice came sharp and keen across the small yard.

“That name means nothing to me. I say again, keep your hands up and tell me what you want.”

Blaylock didn’t know what to think. After coming home yesterday and finding his son Jacob gone, he’d torn apart the boy’s bureau drawers and found a wooden lockbox containing letters signed ‘Emma,’ and a hand-drawn map that brought him to this farm in Kansas.

“Do you know an Emma Cassett?”

She snapped the shotgun up to her shoulder as fast and true as any battle-hardened veteran Blaylock had ever seen.  However, her finger was still outside the trigger guard, so he relaxed a bit.

Now we’re getting somewhere.

“Mr. Blaylock, you can tell me right now how you know my daughter, you can get the hell out of here, or I can drop you where you stand. Those are your choices.”

He stayed silent for a moment to gather his thoughts. “I don’t know your daughter, but I think my boy does. My son Jacob is missing and I found some papers that led me here. Can I get them out of my saddlebag?”

He couldn’t see much of her face between the hat brim and the shotgun, but her posture told him she was both surprised and curious. Maybe even a little worried as well.

“You put that Army Colt and the knife in your boot on the ground and go real slow over to your horse. Just in case you’re thinking of doing something stupid, the first shell is rock salt and bird shot to get your attention. The second is buckshot, just in case the first didn’t get the message across.”

Blaylock couldn’t help chuckling, but still kept his hands in the air. Even though her low musical voice held a hint of a smile, he had no doubt she was serious. This damn war-that-wasn’t-a-war between Kansas and Missouri had made soldiers of the most unlikely people.

“May I?” he said, pointing at his gunbelt.

After she nodded, he did exactly as instruct, pulling his pistol out with two fingers on the grip and putting it on the gravel path with the barrel pointing off to one side. The same with the springy Damascus steel knife almost invisible in his boot.

She has good eyes.

Once he’d disarmed himself, he backed toward his horse and pulled out the oilcloth-wrapped sheaf of papers. He undid the ties and exposed a stack of lavender vellum, each sheet decorated with a spray of violets and covered in dainty copperplate writing.

Even though he was a good ten feet away, he heard her intake of breath. When he looked over, the shotgun was by her side and one hand was to her mouth.

“Where did you get that?”

“I told you. I found it in my son’s things.”

“Give it to me.” Her hand tightened on the shotgun stock.

“Whoa, just wait right there. Why don’t you tell me what this is about? Can we maybe start with an introduction? You know my name. It can’t hurt anything to tell me yours.”

“I’m Caroline Cassett,” she said in a voice as brittle as glass.

“I’m pleased to meet you. I’d offer my hand, but I’m afraid you might just blow it off. I’ve grown fond of it over the years.”

Now it was her turn for a small laugh. She released the hammers on the shotgun and cradled it in the crook of her arm.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Blaylock relaxed. He still moved slowly, know she could cut him in two, but the crisis seemed over for the moment.

“That stationery belongs to my daughter. Her grandmother sent if from back East. None other like it around here, it came from England. Emma only uses it for poetry and drawing. And evidently for writing letters. 

Alright, Mr. Blaylock, you’re got my attention.”

“Can I ask when you last saw Emma?”

She pulled off the straw hat and Blaylock got his first real look at her.

Damn, if this Emma is half the woman her mother is, I’m not quite so mad at Jacob.

Beneath her tumble of fiery hair, Caroline Cassett’s eyes reminded him of the aquamarines in the brooch from his mother’s hope chest. Her ivory skin with its sprinkle of freckles across her nose bore testament to life lived on a farm rather than in a drawing room. While her cheekbones gave her a dainty air, her strong chin and the determined line between her fine brows told him this was a woman who didn’t suffer fools lightly.

“Mrs. Cassett, may I ask again?”

“I last saw her this morning. We had breakfast and I took the wagon into town. When I got home, there was a note saying she had gone to spend the day with her cousin. She does that from time to time. Their place is farther in from the Missouri border and hadn’t taken the beating we have.”

“Ma’am, I think you and I have a problem.”


To be continued . . .

1 comment:

french sojourn said...

per.....per month....ah rats!
Great characters and a nice hook as well......per month!

Nicely done...I'll be waiting.
Cheers Hank.