A Fantasy-Western Serial
It all started here, but feel free to begin wherever you like.
The sun had moved high over their heads by the time they had reached the edge of the desert that marked the border to the next town, Wheatfield, now just a dim outline in the heat a few miles at most along the cracked ground. A cloud-line swirled overhead, casting a dark shadow over them. They slowed their horses and stopped, looking up.
The air became still. Not even the dried grasses swayed in the silence. Reed and Anna noticed immediately, they could feel the quiet around them. It was like the wind had taken its last breath and died. The air felt hotter and thick. For a moment Reed remembered the air of Anna's greenhouse. Only this wasn't calming. Something was wrong.
"A storm?" Reed asked, turning around to watch the clouds move swiftly behind them. He had never seen a storm pass so quickly. The Green Mountains had their share of thunderstorms, but he had never felt anything like this.
"No," Anna said, her horse backing up in fright, whinnying loudly. "Oh Lord... no..."
"What?" Reed had never heard her sound so frightened.
Anna simply pointed upwards into the clouds.
Reed had never seen a tornado before, let alone five of them all at once. Had never even heard about them. His fellow Xylem had mentioned natural disasters plaguing the human settlements, but he had never cared to listen to such stories. He figured that was all they were, just human tales. He didn't know what to think as they spiraled down from the black cloud, stretching down like the fingers of God to caress the desert sands. He pulled his horse, Abe, to a halt. He sat in awe, watching them explore along the dusty ground, debris kicking up around them, turning them black. For a moment he didn't hear Anna calling his name.
As he turned, he could not only see the fear on her face, but feel it radiating out from her. "What are they?" he asked, his words filled with reverence.
"Tornadoes," she said, "I've seen 'em all my life, but I ain't never seen this many at once or moving this fast. It ain't natural." She shook her head.
"Are they dangerous?"
"You kiddin me! You get cornered by one of those and you're as good as dead. They'll blow you off your feet and send everything around you flying at you so fast it'll cut right through you."
"Can we go around them?"
"Are you crazy? You can't go around them like they're a boulder on a path! Look at 'em, they don't have a pattern, they just fling around willy-nilly. We don't got a choice. We gotta turn back, Mr. Reed. Least til they pass."
"How long do they last?"
"Two, maybe three minutes if we're lucky, longer if we're not," she said and steered Clark around, heading back the way they came.
Hesistating for just a moment more, he finally followed after her, until she stopped again.
"You've gotta be kidding me."
He pulled up beside her and looked across the desert, catching sight of an approaching dust cloud. It wasn't another tornado, or even a smaller dust devil, it was a large group of vehicles heading their way and fast. They were clustered tightly together in an almost military formation. Unfortunately for them, it wasn't the Calvary.
"Reinheart," she said evenly, "I just know it. C'mon, we'll have to cut sideways. Maybe if we're lucky he'll run into those," she said, indicating the tornadoes. "Even a car's no match for a tornado. They'd be stupid to follow."
Reed nodded, following her lead. They galloped as fast as the horses could go, heading south. Neither of them could keep their eyes off the tornadoes as they passed by. Anna gasped when the tornadoes began to head towards them, changing direction almost as if they were being pulled magnetically by some unseen force.
"Impossible," Anna said, "I think they're chasing us..."
"They are not the only ones," Reed said, nodding towards the approaching cars, becoming more visible by the second. "We cannot outrun them much longer. Their machines are swifter than our horses."
"No, no, no!" Anna said, "They're cornering us! I forgot about the Muddy River. It's up ahead," she pointed to what he could barely see as a wide gap in the ground. The closer he got, he saw the canyon, cut by a river, its water brown, moving fast, the gap across it too wide to jump. They both slowed the horses as they reached the gap.
Anna briefly glanced back and forth between the tornadoes blocking their exit and the vehicles closing in. "I'm not giving up," she said, "Let's keep alongside it."
So close to the edge, they rode in a steady gait, always looking to the left, the funnel clouds dark before the sun, like iron bars trapping them, pressing them against the river's edge. Shots fired overhead. Behind them the vehicles closed the gap, bumping along the uneven ground. They could even hear them shouting now over the rumble of the engines. Neither of them dared look back, focusing on the town, so close and yet so far out of their reach. They could feel the winds now from the tornadoes, dust that stung at their eyes as it blasted about. The air that had been so quiet was now rumbling softly at first but growing in volume. Reed had never heard a wind so loud and angry.
"That's it!" Anna shouted suddenly, breaking and turning about wildly. "Mr. Reed, you get on to town, I'm gonna lead them away."
He couldn't believe what she was doing and no sooner had she announced this before she was galloping towards them full-speed.
"Anna! Come back!"
She turned back for a moment, "Don't worry about me," she said, and for the first time he saw her draw a pistol from her jacket. "They don't want me, they want you! You find my Dad! I'll catch up later!" Then she was lost in the clouds of dust swirling around them. He could barely see anything, and looked up, even the sun barely shown through as a bright circle within the amber cloud. It moved swiftly as he rode.
He had no choice. He could barely see where he was going and continued forward as fast as Abe could go. He couldn't hear anything over the roaring wind that threatened to deafen him. He held one hand on his hat, losing a few of the leaves on his head to the wind. Something cut him across his cheek. He ducked as a bush whizzed by. A fierce terror he could not describe overtook him.
Time was meaningless near the tornadoes. It wasn't until the winds began to die down that he became aware of what had happened, finding himself only a quarter of a mile from the town proper. It shocked him that none of the buildings seemed disturbed in the least. The clouds were subsiding, the tornadoes gone as quickly as they had arrived, only the dust clouds showing that anything had happened. Some part of him wondered if he hadn't dreamed them up in the first place, until he placed his hand against his cheek. The cut healed easily enough under his touch, the green fibers sewing back together, weaving and tightening.
He looked around, dismounting from Abe, who he left to drink at a water trough near the town's edge. The horse seemed calm now and just as bored as ever. From here Reed could see the main street. Wheatfield's buildings here were bigger, longer, and there were more of them, but unlike Anna's town, this human village was empty. Empty as his own had been in the mountains. Many of the windows were boarded up.
Uneasiness settled upon him. This town did not feel right. Not in the least.
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