01: Prologue: A Josh of Allentown

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A Legendary Tale for a Legendary Team.


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It starts with one.

That, "One," was Brigadier General Sean McDermott.

The man who reset the era, once in the Near Ages, where our story begins.

Cahhhoooooooo! -coo, -coo.

A train whistle blew across a frontier that hadn't heard it in a while. Coal burned. Bells chimed. The brakemen locked wheels, ran the roofs overhead. Bethlehem steel rails crushed the orange desert. It took a lot to stop a steam locomotive. It would take even more to rebuild this derelict line onto a different track. A farther track. A stronger caliber.

To manifest a destiny this barren frontier had never seen.

That was his mission. This, "One."

It was a simple water stop, at a simple well. There would be many. The Stampede's old boiler was as thirst-making as the pioneers, homesteaders and natives who settled the Buffalo Nation. Mafiafolk they were called, "strong-hearts." Those who survived here had a kind-honesty and rough-hewn fun that made these Wests wild, that is, according to the stories.

The Gilded Age types - dignitaries, tycoons, scholars...even humorists - hadn't been in a while.

But this one Irish Brigadier came.

With a fanciful red mustache and muttonchops of his own, McDermott already stood outside between carriages. His boots, badges and sword waited in shade and hot steam. Full Bill's Royal Regalia. Blue wool and red-rock cliffs guarded the valley.

McDermott smelled the sweet coal smoke from the stopped engine six cars ahead. Steam too filled his lungs, the last moisture in miles.

He stepped off the stairs into the dirt.

His dirt.

"Huh," he said to himself after he scooped up a handful, and poured it back. Hot, dry and grainy with thorns.

Every puff of this bright dust, this dirt, farther than he could see was suddenly his responsibility. A man of cold streams and rain and waterlogged forests now with a desert realm to serve - he pushed his palm in the powder again - he'd never actually touched sand before.

It was a good place to start.



“Go Bills,”

said a cheerful voice from somewhere unseen, but where? McDermott had a train behind him and a horizon full of frontier before him…

His frontier. His dirt.

“Go Bills,” replied the general in courtesy, turning. His Irish accent seemed sharper here on the open range.

“Yah!” A bronco! A boy!

Hurtling!

The horse flew in a blur! The lad leapt too - between carriages - full clear of the train buckle - and used its purchase to spring forward on the saddled filly.

She bucked and twist and pitched straight on her front hooves to throw the kid. Instead, he held a fistful of reins and his cowboy hat high. Rodeo!

Hot dirt flecks fired direct from hooves into the wool coat and badges of McDermott’s regalia with thud-thud-thuds and powder marks.

The bucking horse of 1,000 pounds edged closer, then close enough that McDermott could smell her sweat. To keep the traveler from being trampled, the boy jumped from the saddle and onto his butt laughing.

The brigadier general rushed forward in the dust.

The farm-boy was on his feet with a smile as wide as his face and bangs to cover the rest. The kid slung a varmint rifle over his sweat-wet neck and cheered!

McDermott couldn’t help but clap steady and true. “What do they call you, gunslinger?”

“Oh me sir? I’m just a homesteader kid, son of Mrs. ‘Kind’ Lavonne and Joel of Allentown back East.”

“Even homesteaders’ kids got given names, son.”

“Well, true it is. Mine’s Josh, sir.”

“Brigadier General Sean McDermott.”

The red-bearded commander and the farm-boy clasped hands in the dusty dirt.

“Lord wills it - every gent I come by hereafter’s as well met as you, Josh of Allentown.”




Just then, the distant horse belted a whinny. Both boy and man turned.

The endless prairie. Blonde grass over shallow mounds. Little bluestem, sideoats and coneflowers all bleached by the sun and sand. And one green tree shading the distant well.

The yelping whinny came again from there. The bronco filly bounced like a puppy to bite something in the tree branches.

“Apples. They’re her favorite!”

“That’s an apple tree, eh?” asked McDermott, unable to distinguish any fruit at all - it was the length of the train away after all.

“Empire Apples! Right from our yard back East in Allentown. We had but one apple left - we saved it fresh for the whole adventuresome wagon train - almost lost it in Niagara Canyon - and again to the hollow-hearted confiscation - but when our caravan ended us here, we built us a home, a farm, and that orchard of one by the crick.”

McDermott squinted to the ‘stream’ now - nothing but dust and lizards on its rocks.

“When be the last time you saw rain, Josh?”

Josh laughed. He laughed good and hard and squinted back to the Irishman in the bright sun.

“Oh no, sir. I ain’t never seen rain.”

General McDermott paused, “What?”

“Not a drop sir. This land’s been in the Great Drought longer than I’ve had a mind of memories. 17-years it’s been.”

“So it’s true,” the general whispered almost to himself. He was suddenly aware of the moisture of his breath.

“Word is - some say - in all the worlds of the Near Ages, this very dirt here where you stand and all the rest beyond yonder has been the longest anywhere without a drop. That is, if you believe it. I ain’t never been further than the back valley. Honest, sir, you’re the first genuine red-bearded man I seen upfront.”

The general didn’t say anything for a full minute and that’s a long time in mid-conversation. The homesteader boy thought he may have given cause for offense until, “This Great Drought won’t do.” Said the immigrant general, “No family should be thirsty. I’ve now seen your country from the Pullman, it has great valleys and basins and gorges: it’s not meant to be dry. I’m fixing to change that.”

The boy lowered his eyes and looked around at nothing. He tried to take interest in the whining bronco still looking up for an apple to fall and back at Josh to help the wind blow.

“Yah?” asked the General, confused, for silence is mighty loud mid-conversation.

“Thank you, sir,” mumbled the boy.

“Aye, you don’t believe me?”

The boy picked at some dry mud on his rifle stock.

“Speak truthful,” commanded the General.

“Each few years…,” began the boy slow, “A new diviner comes through on a pretty train and in a new uniform with some forked water stick. They do their witch-promise of a whole reservoir just below the sand! Revivals and daylight robbers these, but they get great dredges in order - because the hope is so desperate here. They cut out new lands in the blisters of the last - but it ain’t ever really been nothin’.” The boy didn’t cry, but an anger choked his neck.

Josh pointed to the well and the tree and horse to catch a breath. “We learnt to dig our own wells deeper and share it with the neighbors ourselves. And when there is a threat, we don’t look to the revival…we circle the wagons and teach our kids defense!”

“If only spirit and kid-shot could win a war.”

“Yah!” Josh commanded as his spurring himself and jerked back angry! In one move he took two steps aside from the General and slung off his gun.

The barrel flew around dangerous.

“No, no! What are ye doin’!?” Cried McDermott.

The boy sighted, not McDermott who doubted him, but at the far water-well, the horse, the sky, the tree - calculating.

“Hey listen here! That horse has done nothin! Don’t take your anger and pain out on an animal!”

“Oh, mister, this ain’t anger!”

But it was a loose cannon with a boy attached.

The kid re-sighted the horse.

“I won’t let you fire! If your bullet even makes the distance you’ll only wound her!”

The brigadier general charged forward in the dust. The boy clambered two steps away. Re-framed.

“I’m making a point!” Screamed the boy.

“Not at the expense of a life!” Screamed the man.

The fit and fiery general wasn’t shaken and pushed forward - badges flapping.

The boy ducked from the direct hit. Took another step into a firing stance at the distant scene. He aimed straight for the horse’s head, then raised the barrel like a volley.

CRACK!

McDermott skidded to a stop in the dusty dirt shaded by the train.

CRACK! CRACK!

It was too late.

McDermott twisted to see the varmint rifle kick its second and third bullets. The barrel pointed high, too high, toward the treetops. A warning shot?

He jolted again to look at the scene - so far away he just had time to refocus before - SNAP!

Snap-snap-CLUNK.

The silhouette of the happy bronco caught a falling speck from the tree.

“An apple?” Whispered the sweating general.

The horse pranced proudly in a circle with her tail high and bent to chew the slices she missed and sniff for more.

“Josh! You shot an apple down from a tree the distance of 5 train cars and an engine!?”

“She loves apples.”

“Yes - but…” McDermott wiped his brow and physically tried to regain his composure.

“And it’s our tree. I planted it.”



Inside the Pullman car, McDermott feverishly knocked on the mahogany door to a cabin marked Major General.

“General Beane!”

The door opened - yet the major general was still seated drafting a letter with some haste.

“He’s a sharpshooter! That homesteader, Josh of Allentown.” McDermott began fast, for the final whistle had shrieked. “This tree. Incredible! I can’t even tell it’s got fruit from where we were greeting and he pegs off an apple for his horse. I mean the risk of a mistake would wound the creature. But his confidence was such - it was nothin’ - he might have done it with his family at the water-well. Not to even mention I gave full effort to wring his neck - wrongly I see - but holding nothing back.”

Major General Beane, still donning the suit, overcoat, and top hat of business, efficiently switched fountain pens from his Royal Cinci 77 Safety Pen, which had dried, to a single #7 stylographic maroon pen.

He primed it, and continued writing.

“Sir, the second whistle blew,” said an urgent McDermott. “We can’t leave this water stop with just a boiler full of creek silt. Tell me, what good is a Buffalo Western without a sharpshooter at its heart!?”

It was as if Beane heard nothing. A concussion of brake releases pounded each car.

“Tell me, Sir!” Exploded an Irish temper in McDermott.

“He’s a prairie boy,” said Beane cooly without looking up from the parchment. “We need men.”

“He’s a sharpshooter who learned volly-shot with no military academy.”

“Exactly, no military training.”

“Which only proves he’s skill over pedigree. Those Ivy officers won’t know how to handle a maverick. How many West Point snipers can ride a bronco one-handed?”

“I believe they use carriages, Brigadier, if not sleeper cars.” The Major General indicated the lavish woodwork, lamps, and draperies around them. “Would you care to know one of the greatest, deadliest gunslingers this land has known’s been through this nowhere already. Not a showman, a Cowboy with a capital ‘C.’ You know the one. He seen the kid too. Inaccurate. ‘The long shot’ - in both connotations.”

The lesser of the two generals removed his dusty service cap and pulled his long, red mustache-beard. He stared at a framed George Catlin painting.



In it, Buffalo Hunt, White Wolves a hulking bison with bloodshot eyes defends himself from 20 wolves, some already gored. That bull was no academy graduate. The bull had something else:

“Fearlessness.” McDermott spoke in the reflection of the oil painting, “The boy has it. A heart for things. He is doin’ what’s right from the pounding of his own blood, be it a kindness, be it a proof, be it a defiance. It’s a heart of this land. They be not driven to work or play because some high command shipped orders. They’ve been cornered, in their own land, long left f’r dead, and they still have everything to prove.”

“McDermott.”

The dreaming Irishman turned to his superior.

“I made you a promise to tell you when you’re wrong. We both respect the truth. You are wrong today. Or rather, you are not seeing the details through all of the emotion.”

McDermott’s bloodshot eyes held his gaze, the buffalo painting behind him, staring down the Major General.

“The kid’s bullet didn’t shoot the apple out of the tree from limit-range, you know better, the apple would have burst. The boy shot the stem.” Beane cracked a smile, “You couldn’t see it in the sun-glare, but from this berth, forward, it was plainly saw.”

Major General Beane sealed the letter he’d been drafting with wax and handed it to McDermott as the carriage bucked its pin and began to roll.



McDermott’s boots clanked off the iron steps and he swung off the rail. Sand. Dirt. Steam and sun-rays.

“Josh! Joshua!?”

There. McDermott ran at him as the tarnished stampede train rolled behind.

Josh saw perceived trouble, left the bronco immediately, and ran toward him fast. “You okay, sir!? You hurt!?”

“No, no,” said McDermott coming to a stop and clasping the forearm of the confused boy with bangs in his eyes. “I’m charged as new command of the Buffalo Bill Wild Western.”

“Oh? That’s that there comedy routine in the Buffalo Country? The circus brothers right?”

“I’m firstly fixing’ to change that. They’re meant to be this frontier’s defenders. Protectors. A platoon to restore Dignity to this land.” McDermott included some grand gestures of speechifying which cause Josh to look around at nothing but dirt and a rolling train.

“Not…clowns then?”

“No, not clowns.” McDermott said it sternly, but betrayed a slight smile, “It will be a process.”

Another deep whistle sounded from the train. The brigadier handed Beane’s brittle envelope to the farm boy who re-slung his varmint rifle.

“You’re just a kid, lad, and you should stay busy and happy with kid things. There’ll be time enough to be grown.” Sean kicked at the graveled dirt to stir up dust. His dirt. “I’ll be askin’ this land to believe in a process f’er change. As fragile as belief is - I’d ask no one to risk nothin’ for it. But if we are able to prove change is possible, it won’t be a belief no more, but something stronger, somethin’ real: trust.”

McDermott tapped the envelope held in two hands vibrating with nerves, Josh knew already the transformative contents.

“Promise me. Don’t you open this envelope until there comes a day when you and your whole family trust in the change we are makin’ here.”

The train whistle belted again, urging McDermott back! He yelled over it, “Go Bills!?”

“Go Bills, Sir!” yelled Josh, smiling wide.

McDermott took full posture again and walked away with all of the discipline of the academies that trained him. The whistle broke and only echoed for a brief moment in the endless blue sky. The brigadier general looked back, “Trust the Process.”



McDermott’s footsteps in the sand made a straight line to the last step of the last car of the train, gathering steam for Buffalo Territory.

The farm boy finally looked down at the envelope and read on the front in cursive, “You bloom where you’re planted.”

Josh’s brown eyes looked fast at the train. How did they know?

He flipped the envelope and got chills. He touched the royal blue wax, still warm. The stuff of stories. A homesteader’s son was holding a correspondence sealed by the old world crest of the order. The Buffalo coat of arms and the two immortal words: Bills Mafia.

The train whistle blew.



Many moons later, after a sandstorm, Josh threw dusty hay fast into the wagon, two bales per arm.

The nightstorm still twisted between funnel clouds and blankets of sand. The near danger of it passed only hours before - Josh crouched in the cellar with his family and ball mason jars filled with food.

“Happy new year,” his mom joked. Then it was back out into the cold here - to re-gather what had been blown from the barn-side. For a farmer, this was as common a way as any to spend a holiday. The full moons at least helped his oil lamps.

A bandana covered Josh’s nose and mouth from the sandblasting winds. The clouds of stinging powder hadn’t lifted since the locust days. The drought had only gotten longer since the Brigadier made his promises, but Josh didn’t quit hope.

He whistled to Filly, his filly, fully broke and gladly tugging the wagon behind him - him and his satchel full of apples, mind you. He may be spoiling her, but, he tossed another fruit over his shoulder to hear her pounce, catch, chomp…and her big nostrils gave a grunt of gratitude.

“Gross!” he said to her, jokingly, in the cracked field. Josh wiped horsey nose-spit off the back of his neck several feet away. He walked on for another bale and stopped as he bent for it.

Another drop of spit.

But his Filly hadn’t brayed.

Josh looked up fast.

Something foreign hit his eye.

“-no.”

He removed his bandana to a stunned mouth.

The noise of it started as a whisper, and in seconds rushed to multiples of volumes he hadn’t known until it hit him!

Rain poured from the sky.

Rain poured from the sky!



Josh smiled. Choked-Laughed-Screamed!

He unbridled Filly and let her run and dance with him! Forget the hay - they would grow meadows of grass!

For both drenched creatures, it was the first time in their lives rain fell from the sky. Just like the histories had described! But this was better, soaking in it themselves - they themselves - living now - could feel this thing on their wet, goose-bumped skin.

“Yippe-kai-yay!”

The drought was over!

Somehow, somewhere in time - in the interlinked worlds of the Near Ages that Josh never knew - they had done it!

The Great Drought was over!

Josh, soaked in joy, collapsed to his teen-aged knees and whispered to the new year sky, “trust the process.”

Josh and Filly galloped toward home!

He had a date with fate!

An envelope to open!

A hero to become!




Four Years Later

Buffalo Nation



Josh’s bruised and cut-open face -

glistening red with blood, his and Filly’s and theirs, fell unconscious into dark ice and snow. He jolted with a yell and lost sight again. He was a young man now, and dying.

He threw up more blood, only his, and held the hot wound in his stomach. He was rolled in bison fur and dragged away from Filly. Why didn’t she — ?

Blackness.

He woke again to freezing water being poured into his mouth. He thrashed his head so he could keep fighting. “Let me at them!”

“It’sover-it’sover-it’sover.”

“No! We’re not done!”

“It’s over maverick. They’re gone.”

Rage! Rage!

Gone? Who’s gone?

I’m right here!

“Where is she!?”

Blackness.




Tune in Next Week for a thrilling New Chapter of Buffalo Bill’s Mafia!



…find more great entertainment at PanAmericanFilms.com

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