Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Atonement (Part 2)

Recap: In Part 1, Sue Beth, her younger sister Liza Beth and their pa are heading for a new life in the recently opened territory of Oklahoma. However, halfway through the overland journey, they find themselves relentlessly pursued by a dark stranger. Is it someone who is lost or is it Ol’ Nick himself? Are her father’s sins finally catching up with him?


By Gregory M. Smith

Part 2

Sue Beth was so happy she couldn’t speak.  All she could do was nod her head.  She pulled her herself back inside the wagon and moved over to the steamer trunk that held her and Liza Beth’s clothes.  It had been much too long since she’d gotten to wear her Sunday best. 

As she set the trunk down flat, she happened to glance out the rear of the wagon…

…and blanched.  There he was.  The stranger was behind them again!

She stuck her head out the front and warned Pa.  He scowled, barely managed to stifle a blasphemous curse and glanced back through the wagon openings.  Indeed, the dark stranger was once again trailing them.

Pa didn’t hesitate.  He whipped the reins hard and sent the team of horses flying ahead.  Dust kicked up mightily, totally obscuring the dark stranger.  Sue Beth and her sister were flung about and had to flatten themselves down to the floor to keep from sliding out of the wagon.

“God, I’m sorry if’n I angered you,” he shouted to the heavens as he spurred the horses on.  “Please, don’t take it out on my young’uns.”

Pa was hell-bent for the settlement, which consisted of several houses, a large building with a steeple, what appeared to be a livery and several adjoined buildings that could have been stores.  He guided the team towards the church after spying a small crowd of people heading there.

Women screamed and jumped back when Pa rode up hard and then reined back on his horses to stop the wagon right in front of the fence by the church.  The women were in their Sunday finest and most tried to move out of the way of the dust cloud that caught up with the wagon.  Several of the men folk rushed up to help Pa, demanding to know what was wrong. 

Pa quickly explained his predicament, pointing out towards the horizon where everyone saw the dark stranger on horseback approaching rapidly.  After listening to Pa’s ordeal, the men ordered their women to head into the church.  They then rushed back into the heart of the settlement and came back in less than two minutes with pistols and shotguns.  Two of the younger women helped Sue Beth and Liza Beth out of the wagon, taking care not to further injure Sue Beth’s sore wrist.

“Oh, you poor dears,” one of the settlement women said.  “Hurt by that Devil.  Quickly, come on down to the general store.  Doc can fix you up right nicely and look after you.”

Sue Beth let the women guide her, but looked back at her Pa, who was loading his rifle as he stood with the other men.  It didn’t seem strange to her.  They were strangers in town yet the settlers were ready to stand by them and protect them as if they were family.  That was how it was with Christians, she knew, just like her mother had always taught her.  Still, she couldn’t help but be afraid for her Pa.  It seemed like the dark stranger was more than mortal.  Why would a mortal man pursue them so relentlessly?

“Come on, girls,” one of the settlement women urged.  “Let’s get inside.  There may be trouble.”

Sue Beth and Liza Beth went inside the general store.  A tall man with gray hair and beard came out of the back and Sue Beth quickly learned he was the owner of the store and doubled as the doctor.  Hearing of Sue Beth’s injury, he bade her sit down on a stool and had one of the women go to the back room to fetch some water brewing on a stove. 

Within ten minutes, Sue Beth had soaked her wrist in some warm water and had had it splinted.  The doctor assured her that nothing was broken, but she would have to rest it for several days to prevent any further injury.  Relieved, she thanked the doctor and then went back to the front of the store to check on her father.

She gaped when she saw the men standing in the middle of the street, a lot closer to the general store now.  A man in a black suit stood with them.  Sue Beth saw that he held a Bible and guessed he was the settlement’s preacher.  He was holding the Bible up in the air and appeared to be saying something.

Sue Beth cracked the front door open a little and caught what sounded like a warning from the preacher, extolling the Devil’s minion to cease its pursuit of her pa, lest it face the wrath of God’s faithful followers.  A small shout of triumph arose from the men when it appeared that the dark rider had wheeled his horse around to leave, kicking up a cloud of dust.  That euphoria died, however, when the dust settled and the men saw only a riderless horse sauntering about in the street.

The men darted their eyes about, scanning high and low for the stranger.  Someone shouted and pointed and two men fired one shot each in the direction of the pointing finger.  Then, it was silent. 

All of a sudden, the dark rider darted out from one of the buildings, running across the street fast as lightning or so it seemed to Sue Beth.  Anyway, it was quick enough that no one had time to react, but not quick enough that Sue Beth couldn’t see that the man was truly dark, his face almost a shadow, as dark as his clothes and the riding gloves he wore.  The only thing blacker had been his horse.

By the time anyone got off a shot, the rider was in the shadows between the livery and a storehouse.  The men set off in pursuit, the preacher in the rear shouting out more defiant statements.  Sue Beth felt a shiver run down her spine and she crossed herself.

“Please, young miss, close the door,” the doctor said from behind.  “I would hate to have to treat you for a bullet wound, too.”

Sue Beth realized he was right and quickly closed the door.  She could be headstrong like her mother, but she also knew when to err on the side of caution.  She moved back away from the door and towards the center of the store.  She joined the women and saw that the doctor had retrieved his double-barrel shotgun and cradled it in his arms, though he looked as if he could barely heft it.

“Is it the Devil?” Liza Beth asked, a tear rolling down a cheek, as one of the women cradled her gently in her arms.  “Is he coming to take Pa away like he done with Ma?”

“Nonsense, Liza Beth,” Sue Beth snapped, harshly.  “You take that back, right now.  Ma wasn’t a witch like they said she was.  They were just jealous that she could use the herbs better than they could.  Now, that’s the Devil’s work, getting righteous people to be jealous of each other.  And, by the way, it’s ‘like he did with Ma,’ not ‘like he done with Ma.’ Remember your grammar, like Ma told us.”

“Don’t you girls worry now,” one of the settlement women said, trying to reassure them.  “We got God on our side.  Just trust in the Lord.”

As soon as the woman said that, the rear door of the store was kicked in.  A pane of glass in the door came loose, fell to the floor and shattered.  The doctor was so surprised he fired off both barrels of his shotgun and blew a hole in the ceiling.  The recoil knocked him right off his feet and sent him back into a pile of blankets.  One of the settlement women fainted dead away.

The dark stranger jumped in and slammed the door behind him.  He had two guns drawn and had both of them pointed in the general direction of the women.  He said nothing, just looked at them. 

Sue Beth pulled her little sister to her bosom and tried to protect her with her uninjured arm.  She stared at the stranger and suddenly knew why he was so dark.  He was colored.  He was dressed in cowboy gear, like she had seen in some of the catalogs back home.  She had never seen a colored cowboy before and suddenly she wondered if maybe he was in league with the devil.  Was he looking for revenge against white people for years of slavery?  Was that why he’d relentlessly pursued Pa?  Pa had often told her how he’d earned extra money as a youngster by tracking down runaway slaves.

“Away from her, you devil!”

Sue Beth glanced over her shoulder and saw that three men had entered the store through the front door.  They had their rifles trained on the dark rider and he had one of his guns pointed at them.  Footsteps in the rear of the store made her turn back around and she saw Pa and two other men in the open doorway of the rear of the store.  The distraction at the front had allowed one of them to reach in through the missing pane area and silently turn the knob.

“Devil, back to Hell where you belong,” her pa ordered.  “You won’t git either of my daughters today.  Not while I’m still breathin’ and livin’ God’s will.”

Sue Beth knew that the dark rider was outnumbered and outgunned.  However, if anyone fired a shot, the dark rider wasn’t going to die alone.  He had a gun pointed at each group of men and couldn’t miss.  And there was always the chance that a stray shot would catch her, Liza Beth or the settlement woman who hadn’t fainted.

“I want no trouble,” the dark rider blurted out, his voice deep, strong and resolute.  “I have only come for delivery.”

“God as my witness, you will not deliver your master’s evil news,” the preacher said, sternly as he entered the store, his Bible held out before him. 

“I…I have admitted my sins to the reverend here,” Liza Beth’s pa blurted, lifting his head proudly.  “I admit that I blasphemed God because I was angry at him for lettin’ my wife die.  But, I realize it’s God will and not ours to question.  I have sought to atone and the good reverend here has seen fit to forgive me.  So, you can git now.  You and your boss ain’t got reason to hound me now.  I have atoned.”

“Ahem, I said ‘delivery’ not deliverance,” the dark rider rebuffed the preacher and Pa.  “Read it.”

Sue Beth looked down and noticed a small parcel on the floor at the dark rider’s feet.  She couldn’t remember seeing him with the package, but it was there before her, nonetheless.  She watched him kick it over to her.  Slowly, she bent down and picked it up.  Nervously, she began to open it.

“If’n it’s a contract, we want no part of it, Devil,” Pa said, sternly.

“You’ll want this contract, sir,” the dark rider replied.  “It’s fulfillment of a contract with my employer and you yourself signed it.”

Sue Beth saw her Pa’s face go ashen at the revelation.  Now, she was afraid to open it.  Had Pa made some kind of pact with the Devil when he’d cursed God the day her mother had died?  The Devil was one tricky fellow.  Was the contract coming due now?  Was that why Pa had suddenly seemed more religious?

She didn’t want to read the contract, but she knew she had no choice.  She was her mother’s daughter and she’d inherited her mother’s steadfastness.  She knew it was ultimately better to know the truth than to try to run from it.  She unfolded the contract and began reading.

“It is a contract, Pa,” she finally said after an unearthly silence.  “And you did sign it.”

The dark rider was the only person in the room who did not gasp and shudder at the news.

Suddenly, Sue Beth spun around and gave her father a scornful glare.

“It’s the contract for the house, Pa,” she snapped.  “The one you made with Mr. Mitchell at the general store back home to sell the house and forward the proceeds.  Here’s all of the money with it.”

“I’ve been trying to catch up with you for a week, sir,” the dark rider explained.  “But, you wouldn’t slow down.  And then it seemed like everyone was shooting at me.”

It was if someone had pricked a balloon.  All the tension went out of the store in an instant.  Rifles were lowered and pistols holstered.  The sighs of relief were heavy as many of the men realized just how close they’d come to killing an innocent man and on the Sabbath day, no less.  The settlement woman and a man went over to help the woman who had fainted, while another man helped the doctor get back on his feet.

“Oh, great,” the doctor muttered as he adjusted his spectacles and looked up.  “I’ve had that shotgun for 10 years and the one time I actually fire it, I blow a hole in my own ceiling.  If’n my brothers get wind of this, I’ll never hear the end of it.”

“I…I don’t understand,” Pa finally said, as he felt a dozen angry pairs of eyes glaring at him.  “If we was shootin’ at ya’ why did you keep pursuing us?”

“Well, sir, I don’t get paid until I deliver the contract and get your signature,” the dark rider replied, matter-of-factly.

Pa suddenly looked very sheepish and the men around him felt very stupid.  They turned to look at the stranger who had unnecessarily upset the peacefulness of their little hamlet.  They watched as he stepped forward and scribbled his signature upon a small piece of paper in the dark stranger’s hand.

“I hope you’ll understand if I don’t stop and partake of anything in your town,” the deliveryman apologized.

He walked past them and out the front door.  The townspeople watched him stop and whistle, waiting as his horse sauntered up on command.  They watched him climb into the saddle, wheel the horse about and then take off at a gallop, leaving a big trail of dust behind him, as if the Devil himself – or maybe something worse -- was at his back.

“I guess we should go thank the good Lord that no one was killed,” Pa said in an understatement that failed to turn any of the angry glares away from him.  “And, eh, seeing as how I have some money, I can pay my tithes.”

The men were still staring at him, angrily.

“And…I guess the first round’s on me,” he added.

“Hallelujah, brother,” the preacher agreed and, after a little hesitation, everyone shrugged shoulders and filed out of the store, heading for the church.

Liza Beth was taken in hand by one of the younger women who guided her along and made pleasant conversation.   Pa made small talk with some of the men, but Sue Beth lagged behind a little.  Pa slowed down to allow her to catch up.  As they walked up the street, Sue Beth leaned in close to him.

“I’m sorry, Pa,” she said. “I should have had more faith in you.”

“That’s okay, Sue Beth,” her Pa replied, with a slight grin. “I shoulda’ had more faith in myself and God.  I  hope you’ll understand better some day when you have young 'uns of your own.”

“Oh, I do, Pa,” Sue Beth said, while giving her pa a big hug.  “Well, almost. There is just one thing I don’t understand.”

“And what’s that?”

“Well, it’s just that, well…why are you buying the whole town a drink?”

“Atonin, my dear Sue Beth,” her embarrassed pa replied.  “Atonin’.”

To see this story in its entirety, please purchase the latest edition of Digital Digest, now on sale.

Copyright © 2010 Gregory Marshall Smith

All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or have been used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, locales, or events is entirely coincidental. No portion of this work may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.

Gregory Marshall Smith

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Atonement (Part 1)


By Gregory M. Smith

Part 1

Sue Beth glanced back over her shoulder and then hurriedly looked straight ahead again.  Next to her, her pa held tight grip on the reins of the team, almost ruthlessly pushing them to get an extra ounce of speed out of the weather-beaten Conestoga wagon.  Sue Beth knew he shouldn’t push the horses that hard; after all, they’d gotten her, her pa and her little sister Liza Beth – she was asleep in the back – all the way to Oklahoma from Kentucky.  But, she also knew what lay behind them and that terror even threatened to push the common sense she’d inherited from her ma aside.

Suddenly, Liza Beth poked her head out from inside and said “He’s still behind us, Pa.

Sue Beth cursed silently, lest her pa hear her blaspheme.  She looked over her shoulder and gave Liza Beth a sharp glare that told her little sister to say no more about it.  It was already difficult enough knowing that there was man in black trailing them by horse without Liza Beth constantly reminding them of the fact.

They’d been three weeks out of Kentucky and had experienced very few surprises.  The food had held out more than long enough for them to reach an outpost or two to buy some more.  Water was plentiful, stored in old kegs in the back.  The wagon was a Conestoga, the type pulled by up to six horses and most commonly used to carry freight. Thus, it was perfect for them and all their possessions, along with plenty of food and water.

They’d been a week since the last sign of humanity.  Alas, that had been by design.  The Oklahoma territories were not quite as civilized as Pa had been led to believe when he’d uprooted his family after his wife’s passing and had decided to realize a lifelong dream of going out west. 

Outlaws, most of them former Civil War raiders, had fled to Oklahoma in droves to escape the Texas Rangers and Buffalo Soldiers.  Indians were also still a problem.  Pa had wanted to avoid the likely routes the outlaws preyed upon.  But, Sue Beth knew he couldn’t avoid them all.

“I’ll be durned if’n I know who this fella’ is,” Pa grumbled, sneaking a quick glance over his shoulder to peer through the covering of the wagon.  “He’s ‘lentless, just pure ‘lentless.”

Sue Beth knew better than to correct her pa when he used incorrect grammar.  She knew he meant to say “relentless.”

She tried to use correct grammar at all times, as her mother had stressed to her when she and Liza Beth did their studies after school.  Her mother had wanted to raise her daughters up to be fully educated, so that they could survive in a harsh world, without a man if need be. 

Right now, however, Sue Beth didn’t care about grammar right now.  She only knew that her pa was right.  The stranger had been following them relentlessly for a week, basically right after they’d left the last trading post.

“If’n he’d only get a little closer I could try ta’ plug him,” Pa muttered as he snapped the reins and tried to coax more speed out of the team. 

Sue Beth suddenly felt cold.  Her pa had hated guns except for killing game.  He’d seen too many gunfights between many a reckless man, usually over a game of cards, some dancehall girl or just for bragging rights, nothing worth dying for.  For her pa to be contemplating shooting a man meant he was almost at wit’s end about the stranger behind them.

Suddenly, the team darted right and Sue Beth only saw the drop-off at the last second.  The left front wheel drove right into it and bounced the entire wagon into the air.  Sue Beth was pitched out and did a rather painful belly flop into some scrub brush.  It took her pa more than two minutes to regain full control of the team and pull the wagon to a stop. 

Sue Beth tried to push herself upright but stopped when she felt a stabbing pain in her right wrist.  She tasted the awful coppery sensation of blood in her mouth and when she spat, she turned a small spot on the ground crimson.  Horrified, she began touching her teeth with her tongue, hoping she hadn’t lost one of them.  She felt a little better when she counted all 24.  She figured she might have cut her cheek or gums.

She felt strong hands on her and recognized her pa’s strong embrace.  Liza Beth soon joined her and she tried to reassure both of them that she was all right, that her right wrist was only a little sore.  Liza Beth wanted her to take some water and mix it with a little salt to swish around, a trick their mother had used whenever they’d lost a tooth.

“Stay down, both of you,” Pa warned and only then did Sue Beth notice that he carried his rifle.

She wanted to stop him, didn’t want him to be like those gunfighters who killed wantonly.  Hadn’t those preachers always said that killing was wrong, that it was breaking one of God’s toughest commandments?  She’d remembered how her pa had cursed God the night her mother had died.  Sue Beth had desperately wanted her pa to come back to God, but how could he if he took another man’s life?

But her pa was Pa.  She had to do what she was told.  He was her father and it was his duty to protect his family.  Maybe God could understand it if Pa killed in self-defense, she told herself. 

She screamed when the rifle cracked once, twice, three times.  Liza Beth cowered next to her and covered her ears.  Neither looked up until their pa kneeled next to them.

“Dang it, I think I missed him,” he said, angrily.  “I musta’ done something to make God angry at me.  I had the man dead set in my sights.  Maybe I got me some atonin’ ta’ do.”

Sue Beth looked up at her pa and, for the first time in a long time, she felt some hope for him.  Then, she looked back to where she’d last seen the stranger.  She saw nothing.  She gaped and suddenly felt an even stronger surge of hope.  She tugged at her Pa’s sleeve and made her look where she was looking.

“Well, I’ll be the son of a mule,” he exclaimed.  “He’s gone.  He and his horse.”

“Maybe he was never there,” Liza Beth offered in explanation.

“Oh, come now, Liza Beth,” Sue Beth retorted, hastily.  “You saw him following us for a week.  You think the Devil could have been strong enough to make us see a mirage for a whole week?  Use your head.”

Liza Beth dropped her eyes and Sue Beth instantly knew she shouldn’t have been so hard on her baby sister.  Sometimes she knew she could be too practical and blunt, two of her mother’s worst traits.  She reached over with her uninjured wrist and gripped her sister’s left shoulder reassuringly.

“Well, praise be to God,” Pa muttered.  “He helped us show the Devil who’s boss.  Come on, girls.  Better get back in the wagon.”

As she walked back to the wagon, Sue Beth felt joy.  Her pa had acknowledged God again.  He was coming back around to the right way.  When Pa got the team going again, Sue Beth let her sister ride up front while she gargled with some water and salt in the back.  She then broke out her mother’s Bible and read until it became too dark and she fell asleep.

“Sue Beth, wake up.”

Sue Beth slowly opened her eyes and realized it was daylight.  She’d fallen asleep reading the Bible, which was still in her uninjured hand.  She sat up and looked at her sister who sat beside her.  She then poked her head out and saw Pa gently guiding the team.  His eyes were bloodshot but his demeanor and the steady trot of the horses meant he must have stopped the wagon for a few hours for some rest.  She’d slept so soundly she’d missed everything.

“There’s a settlement up ahead,” Pa said, glancing down at his eldest daughter.  “Today’s Sunday.  Maybe if’n we can find someplace to wash up, we might jus’ thank the good Lord for bringing us this far.  Would ya’ like that?”

Sue Beth was so happy she couldn’t speak.  All she could do was nod her head.  She pulled her herself back inside the wagon and moved over to the steamer trunk that held her and Liza Beth’s clothes.  It had been much too long since she’d gotten to wear her Sunday best. 

As she set the trunk down flat, she happened to glance out the rear of the wagon…

…and blanched.  There he was.  The stranger was behind them again!

To be continued August 31, 2011.

Copyright © 2010 Gregory Marshall Smith

All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or have been used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, locales, or events is entirely coincidental. No portion of this work may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.

Gregory Marshall Smith

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Our Sincerest Apologies

We had a problem with our feed to Kindle and to our email subscribers. We fixed it today and had no idea it would send out a blast of individual emails with every post from the last month at once.

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Slow Boat to China (Chapter 2 -- Part III)

Warning: Violent situations.

Recap: In Chapter 2, Part 2, Kimble’s has landed at the main base and is introduced to Cayce Colvin, the planet’s new Marine staff sergeant. He also impresses the base’s executive officer, but the feeling doesn’t seem to be mutual with the operations officer.

Slow Boat to China

By Gregory Marshall Smith

Chapter 2: Tedesco (Part III)

“What is it this time, Golis?” Glenn asked as he stepped inside the main foyer. “Did they forget your favorite cigars again?”

Banefield looked up and sneered. He obviously hated that joke. He’d gotten used to Cuban cigars but the long distances from Earth made it impossible for them to make it past all the outposts in between without being totally scarfed up by others. He’d given up smoking rather than try one of the foul-tasting local brands.

“You got your new guy,” Glenn said as he made his way into a large office occupied by a real oaken desk. “Name of Kimble. He might be worth something, if you don’t micromanage him to death.”

“I don’t micromanage,” Banefield retorted as he leaned against the doorjamb of Glenn’s office. “I just like to look at things up close and personal.”

“Speaking of up close and personal, what’s up with that farm collective by grid J-four?” Glenn queried. “Seems like maybe the farmers are playing fast and loose with the rule about reporting smuggling and missing items.”

“Heh, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were the smugglers,” Banefield remarked. “Why don’t you make a surprise raid? How can we do our jobs if we have to keep notifying the provost marshal? For all we know, one of those auxiliary guardsmen or sheriff’s deputies is probably tipping them off.”

“Now, now, we have to maintain the harmony around here, Golis,” Glenn countered. “And going behind Carmen’s back would say we don’t trust her.”

“But, we don’t trust her,” Banefield said, testily.

“Or, at least, we don’t trust a lot of her people. Would serve her right if we did make a surprise raid and caught her people in it up to their necks. Then, it’d be her neck, too.”

“And who would replace her?” Glenn asked. “She’s the most honest of the bunch. Anyway, we’ve got that Marine detachment we asked for and I need for you and your people to incorporate them into the patrol schedule. And Kimble, that new storekeeper. They say he’s really got his stuff together, so I want SK1 Jack to get with him and go over all the manifests by the end of the month. Maybe we can see where our stuff keeps disappearing to.”

A third-class storekeeper named Mia Tran led Kimble and Colvin to the berthing quarters for the storekeepers and Kimble had to admit he was impressed. The barracks for the enlisted were constructed dormitory style. Each sailor had his or her own place, though there was only one shower for each two rooms. Still, he’d have some privacy. He tested the walls, pounding on one which separated him from an apartment he knew was occupied. No answering thump came back.

“Soundproof or just really thick?” he asked.

“A little of both,” Tran answered, her eyes roving over Kimble’s body. “Means you can bring someone back to your place and not disturb your neighbors.”

He turned to her and saw her eyeing him like candy. Farrier wasn’t kidding, he told himself. I might as well be raw meat in a uniform down here. He ignored the leer and moved around his room, throwing his bag on a desk while Colvin dumped the larger bag on his bed. He peeked out of the apartment’s only window but frowned when he saw nothing but tall trees beyond the fence line. At least his view of the stars wasn’t blocked.

“It’d also make it difficult for anyone to hear you if you keel over with a heart attack,” Colvin commented, wryly.

“We’re sailors, Staff Sergeant,” Tran quipped. “We’re the best the Federation has to offer. Heart attacks are for old people.”

 “Or ‘roid freaks,” Colvin added.

“What the hell are ‘roid freaks?” Kimble asked.

“Gravity on Tedesco is almost that of Earth,” Tran answered. “But, the ground is much firmer. Pulling up roots and plants can be like pulling teeth and many of the transiters find that they’re not strong enough. So, some of them opt for super synthetic steroid shots to boost their strength. I hear it makes them better lovers, too.”

“And amps up their metabolism so much they can have a heart attack before they’re 40,” Colvin muttered. “Stay away from them. They’ll be so upped on ‘roids that they’ll keep going with sex even after you’ve screamed ‘no mas, no mas.’  I’ve seen some of their playmates in intensive care.”

Kimble grimaced. Nice world. Maybe he should have stayed aboard the dreadnought. It might have been more competitive, but at least the sailors on the ship wouldn’t cripple him or worse.

“Whoops,” Colvin blurted out. “Kimble, we’ve got to go. Let’s get you checked in with Banefield, okay?”

Kimble started to say something but caught the hint just in time. New people didn’t usually meet the ops officer on their first day and some didn’t meet the man until the end of their first week. More than likely, Colvin wanted to break protocol, get Kimble in to see Banefield and, thus, make herself look a little better in the eyes of the base’s leadership.

“Well, I’ll be around when you finish,” Tran called out after the pair left the room. “I’ll put your stuff up.”

Colvin and Kimble made their way to the nearest staircase and descended one flight to the ground. From there, they made their way past the other dormitories to a row of single-level buildings. They were nondescript and Kimble had to look real close to see the emblem of the Space Marine Corps on the wall of the closest building.

“Better check your stuff when you get back, Kimble,” Colvin warned. “Don’t be surprised if she hides all your skivvies. So she won’t have any obstacles.”

They walked in and saw the Marines from the pinnaces taking their gear into their separate dorm rooms. The only difference was that Marines shared their spaces with two others. The Marines loved to do things in three’s – three fire squads to a platoon, three platoons to a company, three companies to a battalion, three battalions to a regiment, three regiments to a brigade and three brigades to an expeditionary force. Kimble had never questioned the logic of that since it had worked for the Marines for more than 600 years.

A slew of Marines that had already been stationed on Tedesco meandered about, either cleaning weapons or reading up on the latest battle tactics. A few spotted Colvin and came to meet her with handshakes and claps on the shoulders. Marines being a close-knit service, Kimble wasn’t surprised that they recognized a staff sergeant making just her second trip to the planet.

“Hey, didn’t know they’d be dumb enough to send you here?” one Marine said, with a snort.

“Gunny’s still waiting for you to make rank so he can get out of here,” another said. “Gonna’ try your luck at Chief Hasselbeck’s card games?”

“Maybe later,” Colvin remarked, with a laugh. “You’re not getting my money that easily. Say, where’s Gunny?”

“Last building, way at the end,” someone replied. “They built three more additions, as well as a separate duplex. One for the lieutenant and one for the gunny. Since, we don’t rate a lieutenant in this backwater, one is for the gunny and I guess the other is for you.”

“Finally, they recognize a woman of my talent,” Colvin quipped.

“More likely they needed more room for your ego,” a Marine remarked, which got a big laugh out of the other Marines.

Colvin went back outside and marched down the length of the buildings. Kimble spotted a duplex at the end. The door to the apartment on the left was open and he could see what looked like an office just beyond the foyer. A young man was sitting at a desk and he turned as if to say something to someone out of sight.

“Staff Sergeant Colvin, good to see you,” Lance Corporal Mick Knightley greeted when Colvin and Kimble stepped into the foyer.

Kimble saw that the front of the apartment had been converted into an office area, replete with four other desks, all of which were unoccupied, though each had computers and piles of paperwork. Kimble noted stairs heading up to a landing that overlooked the area down below. The landing led to an open doorway and Kimble guessed that Hofstra’s personal quarters, bathroom and kitchen area were back there, a private retreat after a long day’s work.

“Hey, this is SK2 Pegram Kimble,” Colvin introduced. “Kimble, this is Lance Corporal Mick Knightley.”

“Mr. Kimble’s the new hotshot storekeeper they’ve been asking for,” Colvin said, as the two men shook hands.

“Hotshot, eh?”
“Well, he managed to get our entire request order, as well as enough supplies to outfit my detachment for six months,” Colvin added.

“Well, well, let’s see if we can do some business with the gentleman,” Knightley remarked. “Maybe I should bring you with me to Chief Hasselbeck’s next card game. Maybe you can figure out how he’s cheating us so badly.”

“Hey, that’s not a nice way to talk about a noncom,” Colvin warned an embarrassed lance corporal. “Even if it’s wholly true. Come on, Pegram. Let me introduce you to Gunny.”

The landing may have been nondescript, but the rooms at the end of the hallway were not. Colvin and Kimble walked into an office that looked more like a display from a send-away catalog. Lush potted ferns guarded each side of the door, while miniature palm trees barricaded each side of a massive oaken desk. Zulu war spears and shields decorated the walls, while dozens of exotic plants dotted the window sills, some on stands, others hanging.

“Come in, Keith,” a heavy booming voice said out of nowhere.

To say Gunnery Sergeant Dugan Hofstra was big would have been a grave understatement. The man had to be close to seven feet tall, making Kimble wonder how he could fit into the standard patrol vessel cockpit. Kimble noted that Hostra was a lighter shade of brown than he was. He also noted that Hofstra had a peculiar tick with his left eye.

“Oh, hey, Cayce,” Hofstra corrected himself when he came out of a back room and took a seat behind his desk. “About time you got here.”

The intercom on his desk buzzed.

“Gunny, Colvin just arrived,” Knightley’s voice alerted.

“You’re late, as usual,” the gunnery sergeant snorted, abruptly cutting off the box. “The storekeeper must be Kimble. Everyone’s been waiting for you. Don’t let the stardom go to your head.”

“Yep, this is him,” Colvin acknowledged. “We’ve already met Major Glenn and he liked him. Wanted me to have him meet you right off before getting with SK1 Jack and Chief Hasselbeck.”

“Well, that’s a right good thing, Cayce,” Hofstra commented, with a smile. “I’d advise keeping that armored vest on for a while. Hasselbeck will try to take your money and SK1 Jack’s liable to stab you in the back. Around here, he runs the storekeepers like they’re serfs or so I hear. A man like you, if you’re as organized and efficient as everyone says, could usurp him or, at least, make him actually do some work for a change.”

“Hmm, seems like I have a target on my back already,” Kimble noted. “Maybe I will need the machine gun I left downstairs.”

“Yeah, that,” Hofstra said, with some despair. “Pirates and smugglers have been getting a lot bolder lately. Stuff’s being taken right off of some of our transporters. We’ve got a small detachment of SeaBees. They cleared the tree line back a mile more, to give us more of a buffer zone. They’ll need a really large mortar to get close to the airfield this time.”


 Kimble could only wonder what he’d let himself in for. He’d wanted some action and it looked like there would be more than enough people – off-base and on – to give it to him.

“I know you and Major Glenn requested an extra detachment,” Colvin said. “Is it really that bad?”

“Look at my office downstairs,” Hofstra replied. “Should be four more people there, but I’ve got them out on extra patrols. Soon as you get your things settled, I need you to take over the night shift patrols. If we got even half the heat sensors we ordered, we’ll need them.”

“Kimble finagled our entire request, Gunny,” Colvin commented, making the gunnery sergeant sit up and take notice. “Plus enough for my detachment and then some.”

“Well, that puts a new light on things,” Hofstra said. “Let’s make sure they get into the right hands. Did they tell you about the outposts, Kimble?”

“Uh, no, not really,” Kimble replied, slightly confused.

“Figures,” Hofstra snorted. “They so rarely get any good sailors out here that they probably didn’t want to scare you off. We have various outposts all over this planet, including the bayous and the ice belt fjords. They haven’t been effective at stopping smugglers because they’ve never been properly supplied. If you can make sure they, at least, get the basics, like food, ammo and fuel, I’d greatly appreciate it. So would Major Glenn and that should keep Banefield off your back with stupid requests for meaningless crap.”

“I appreciate that, Gunny,” Kimble said, with a slight smile.

“Well, I don’t want to put you into too much hot water with Banefield and Jack on your first day,” Hofstra said. “Cayce, take him over to operations. And watch out, Kimble. There’s a reason for the ‘bane’ in Banefield.”
“What’d you think?” Colvin asked as she and Kimble made their way outside. “Gunny’s a good Marine. Always looks out for people, especially on a crap water planet like this. I trust my Marines, but I wouldn’t give you a sawbuck for most of these sailors. No offense.”

“Hey, from what I’ve heard, none taken,” Kimble replied. “Say, how bad is the pirate problem?”

Almost on cue, a massive explosion shook the base.

To see all of chapter 2 of this story and other works, please purchase the latest edition of Digital Digest, now on sale.

Copyright © 2010 Gregory Marshall Smith

All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or have been used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, locales, or events is entirely coincidental. No portion of this work may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.
To be continued Sept. 6, 2011.

Gregory Marshall Smith

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Daria's Dating Dilemma, Part Two

Daria’s Dating Dilemma, Part Two
When we left Daria on July 26th, she had come up with a plan to find Mr. Right and was given the option to try it out with a blind date…

I sat at a table by myself in the corner and people watched. It was a guilty hobby of mine. My finger traced designs through the condensation of my beer glass. Yeah, so most women my age in the city drank wine. I couldn’t stand the stuff and thankfully most of those stuck up women couldn’t stand my current choice of dive bar.

Chucky’s was a local tradition and we guarded it fiercely to protect it from tourists, college kids, and the snobbish. It was nestled inside an abandoned warehouse and looked like a horror movie waiting to happen on the outside. A simple wooden sign next to the nondescript metal door was the only clue of its existence.

Once inside, the place looked sublime, like an old friend. Or, at least, that’s how I saw it. To me Chucky’s was a Mecca, my place of refuge in the storm of life. I could easily slip inside, order a drink, and be left to my devices. Chucky’s was not a place to pick up men or women, or never had been for me. Nope, I was here to unwind before facing another blind date tomorrow.

I sipped my beer watching a big bosomed woman make two males fight for her attention. She floundered back and forth and was enjoying her night. Bitches like her make it harder on the rest of us. I have a hard time finding one guy who’ll pay me any attention and she’s hogging two or three. Not exactly fair and I indulged in a moment of creative imagination in which I plucked out her eyes, deflated her Barbie breasts, and rode the two men to victory.

The stool next to mine squealed in protest and I coughed to cover my choke. Busted, I thought looking over to see a man sitting next to me. Great, now I was so invisible to the opposite sex they would sit next to me without realizing I was present – did wonders for my current mood, let me tell you.

“Hi,” his voice drifted over to me and I turned my head to study him. “Do you speak English?” he asked slowly.

“Yes, don’t you?” I quipped. He smirked, revealing a dimple in his cheek.

I had to scan the room quickly to make sure I hadn’t missed some Twilight Episode opening credits. A man, in a bar (Chucky’s at that), talking to me… and I hadn’t approached him. I waited for an Angel to welcome me to the afterlife, none came.

“You doing okay?” he asked, eyeing me oddly.

“Um, fine. Just not used to, er,” I paused wondering if I should admit I’m a loser in the dating department or stick with I’m not in the mood. “Just not pleasant company tonight.”

As I was mentally high-fiving my quick thinking, studly interrupted to ask me another question. “Have a rough day?” Maybe he was worse off than me in the ‘lacks company’ department.

I chuckled. “Rough year.” Sheesh, what did a girl have to do to be left alone and enjoy her people watching in peace. Already I’d missed a fight between Barbie and one of her Ken selections.

“I’ll drink to that,” he saluted and raised his beer bottle. I automatically chinked my glass to his bottle and grinned, couldn’t help myself. “There’s a smile and it’s pretty.”

Whoa, me complimented? This had to be a practical joke. “Did one of your friends set you up for this? I mean, I can give you a number or name or whatever token it is they wanted you to collect.”

“Ouch, rejected.” He turned to look out over the bar. “Don’t have any friends with me tonight. Just moved back to the area and thought we two sad birds could cheer each other up.”

Sad birds? Now I was reduced to defecating on statues for fun, a new low in the simile department even for me. “What did you have in mind?” I asked the question casually and carefully, this pigeon wasn’t heading to his nest for anything.

“I noticed you watching the people. Want to create fake stories for them?”

Gay… had to be gay. My defenses relaxed some; I was used to being picked up by gay men to keep them company. Actually I enjoyed it. If it wasn’t for the battery bill, I would be perfectly happy marrying a gay man. Imagine the fashion advice?! I pulled myself from my little daydream bliss to find him staring at me again. Great, now I was a brain damaged pigeon. Squawk.
“Sorry, I was picking out a place to start,” I smiled and celebrated my quick cover story. “How about the blonde over there at the pool tables?”

“Miss Fake Tits and her Ken doll?” I nodded and he laughed. “Deal. I’ll play Ken.”

We made up a whole story and then played out their conversation. We laughed, we had a few more drinks, and I actually had a blast. After one particularly good exchange, I used my cocktail napkin to dab at my teary eyes.

“Shit, I haven’t laughed this hard in ages.” I grinned. “My name is Daria by the way.”

“Keith pleased to meet you.” We chinked glasses once more. “I’m glad you’re laughing. You have a beautiful laugh.”

Aww, he was too sweet. “So is the move to the area a permanent one?”

He nodded. “I didn’t like where I was, but I grew up here. I plan on sticking around this time.”

I studied him, really studied him. Keith had deep brown hair he kept a little longer than military cut. I’d bet it’d just curl over my fingers if I ran them through it. The thick locks looked like they’d have a wave to them if he grew it out. His warm brown eyes, straight nose, and full mouth were all offset by a strong square jaw. He was definitely a cutie, another one lost to my womanly kind.

I did have a friend though…  “I know you’re new in town and probably getting settled, but I have a friend.”

“Really?” His brows arched and he angled away from me in surprise.

I’ll blame the three beers on my lack of noticing his odd reaction. Instead I plowed forward. “Jon is a sweetheart and he could show you around the city, what’s changed I mean…”

“You think I’m gay?”

His voice had gone from warm to frigid in a heartbeat and I was confused. “You’re not?” He shook his head harshly and my cheeks flushed. “I’m sorry.”

“Can I ask why you thought I was gay?”

Well now he was back on my side of the menu making me nervous again. “I just figured since you decided to chat with me…” I stammered to a finish and froze.

“I see. You’re too good for anyone here or you’re not good enough?”

“What?” Well, he was downright rude and I honestly wasn’t sure how to answer.

“Have a nice night, Daria.”

He moved away from my table with stilted movements and I had to resist chasing him down to explain. The body language all screamed pissed off heterosexual and I’d missed every sign. I sighed, blowing bubbles into the foam of my beer. Oh well, what the hell were the chances I’d ever see him again. If he saw me at Chucky’s, he’d probably head the opposite direction.

I pulled my notebook free and wrote: 4. Never assume a man is gay… EVER! :(

Okay, so the caps of the word ‘ever’ biting deep into the paper and the frown face were a little overkill, but I wanted to make sure I remembered this lesson. I had to chug the last of my beer and leave before I lost myself in the horrible what-if land of Keith The Not Gay.

I woke up late on Friday; a perk of my job seniority was receiving three day weekends for my hard work. It was already noon when the coffee maker started. How man survived before coffee I have no idea, I certainly didn’t. I tidied my apartment while I waited for my brew to finish up.

My daily routine ended at the refrigerator and I noticed the calendar. “Shit!” Blind date tonight and it would take me an hour to reach Pat’s house. I had no idea what was clean, what outfit to wear, should I shave??

“Don’t panic.” Did I mention my habit of talking to myself when I’m stressed? Works great and I’m usually stressed. “Coffee first, then rummage the outfits, something classic. Then I can shave without washing my hair…”

My mental checklist continued until the first sip of coffee hit my lips. The world slows down when I hold a cup of coffee, as if it triggers some time-space continuum. Might just be me, but I enjoy the hell out of a good cup of coffee.

After two cups of it, I was plowing through my check list. Classic outfit, check. Classic shoes, check. Legs shaved, check. I laid out everything and relaxed with a book for an hour. I read a little every day, hoping it will make me a better conversationalist.

When the clock chimed five, I was already in a taxi on my way to Pat’s posh townhouse. For once, I was early and grateful. I gave myself a once over on their sidewalk before ringing the bell. I wore a simple khaki a-line skirt and a navy blouse with pearls, a tan handbag, and tan shoes. All very neat and crisp.

“Daria, darling.” Again I cringed as Maggie pronounced my name in her drawn out way. “Pat, Daria is here.”

My worries were swept aside as one of my bestest friends in the world pulled me in for a hug. We’d practically been neighbors from birth and there was no one in the world I liked more.

“Daria! You look great and you’re early.” I playfully slapped him at the shock in his voice.

“It’s easier to be on time when it’s on my day off,” I joked. “So what kind of thing is this anyway?”

“Oh just a few friends, some games. I’ll get you out of here if it gets bad.”

Thank God for small miracles. Pat understood what it was like to have multiple blind dates and he was also well aware of my bad record with them. “Am I the first one here?”

“Actually, Maggie’s date for you got here just a few minutes ago.” Pat led me into their parlor. As we turned the corner a tall brunette turned. “Daria let me introduce you to…”

My heart sank. “Keith,” I answered for him.

Great the guy I’d accidentally insulted last night was now supposed to be my date for the next however many hours. Another wasted event and another disaster date loomed. At least I’d only insulted one of Maggie’s friends.

“Oh, you’ve met.” Pat interrupted my thoughts. “Keith and I go way back to college.”

Oh hell in a hand basket, I just bought a one way pass from horror into absolute nightmare. There was no way to bow out gracefully and certainly no going back to redo the night before. I was stuck, plain and simple. I plastered on a smile and marched forward determined to repair the damage. Out of the pot and into the fire…

Please return for the continuation of Daria’s journey on September 26th, only here on Digital Digest. Catch up on your favorite stories with our ebooks available on Amazon!

~Jennifer Feuerstein~

Copyright © 2011 Jennifer Feuerstein
All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or have been used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, locales, or events is entirely coincidental. No portion of this work may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.