Friday, 2 November 2012

Mike Whitacre's The Crimson Wilderness


I have decided to take upon the arduous task of writing a single, first draft novel for National Novel Writing Month, as many others are doing the same (click the link to find out more about this particular event). And when I decided this, the idea for the novel sprang within me, thus The Crimson Wilderness was conceived. Let me explain: the novel is set in 1877, sometime after the American Civil War, and follows several characters either in or going to a town with No Name. The story begins when several Native American tribes (called Indians in the book and the actual synopsis) are running toward the town, away from a massacre of their tribe. A platoon of soldiers are suspected of committing this heinous act, but nothing is as it seems when a lady in a strange red dress arrives.

Now for a bit of context: The Crimson Wilderness is part of a novel series connected to my Gaze series, dubbed Gaze Chronicles, and instead of volumes, these novels will be described as Epics. The Crimson Wilderness is the first Epic of the chronicles. For those unaware, Gaze is a series e-books that have three short stories per Volume, each story revolving around a city called Red Ridinghood, involving supernatural related crimes. I have released two volumes so far (Magic Blood and Faeries Are My Business, and I hope to release the third one eventually. The world of Gaze is parallel to our world and is very similar, though the supernatural is more a blatant reality than a subtle ambiguous influence. Some humans have abilities they either hone, take for granted, try to escape, or abuse. There are creatures that come from a different realm, called the Spiritual Realm, many good and evil: faeries, pixies, goblins, trolls, demons, and even some that are a mystery even to the residents of this realm. The two realms often overlap and influence one another, causing curses and changing certain humans into tricksters (who can be so morally gray that they can be considered more dangerous than demons). I’m creating the Gaze Chronicles to provide the history why Red Ridinghood is an epicenter for the supernatural, while providing the same action-packed stories I provide for the Gaze Volumes. The Crimson Wilderness is the first Epic that begins the history, and I saw it fitting to use the post-Civil War / Western genre to start it all off.

I could bore you with more details, but I’d rather just give you the excerpt to the first chapter of The Crimson Wilderness. Enjoy!


Chapter One

Dawn broke in a hot flare as the sun peeked behind the tree laden mountain range, casting it under a red tinted shadow. The bright rays beamed westward onto a small town still sleeping. Cherry’s Saloon was the first to receive sunlight while lying in her bed, and since she never used a curtain to cover her dust-stained window, Cherry woke up as the first rays flashed upon her porcelain face, smooth yet firm with obvious lines of experience. Scrunching her eyes shut, wrinkling her nose, and grimacing, she rolled away from the sun, which was now on her glimmering brown hair. As much as she wanted to fall back into her dreams, Cherry was fully awake and ready to take on the day. Unlike most people, she never yawned during the waking hours, and that kind of annoyed her.
Exhaling a short sigh, she slipped her naked body out from under the covers and into her undergarment. Then she fitted into her faded blue dress, tied on her stained apron, and then put on her worn-out snake skin boots. Turning her head toward a table where a few empty bottles of whiskey and wine stood, along with her hair brush. With a sullen smile, she grabbed the brush, sat back down on her bed, and started straightening out her locks, pulling out the few knots made from the sleeping hours. She took her time, making one patient stroke after another as she stared blankly at the door leading out of her loft.
Finished, she set the brush back on the table then stood up and walked toward the window to grab her empty pale. Before she could grab its handle, something outside caught her attention. She couldn’t make it out at first, so she opened the window and squinted her eyes: noticing several dots running frantically toward her. For a moment, she wasn’t sure what she saw. Then her eyes went wide.
Without skipping a beat, Cherry ran out of her loft and saloon, toward the red sunrise. “Get the Sheriff!” she yelled. “Get the Sheriff!”
The townsfolk woke to her calls, but no one would catch up to her as she neared the group of Indians, who were running from their dear lives. Each of them was blood stained and muddied, and their eyes were filled with a petrifying horror.

One Day Later…
Jonathan Darrin walked near the train, heading West and away from the East Coast. He was a tall black man who wore sleek black clothes, black boots, a black hat with a red decorative bow wrapped around it, and he held a long black that could hold a good-sized trombone. A corn cob pipe stuck out of his mouth as he gave a smile toward New York City, before tipping his hat for a final so-long.
Walking on board, he felt a few eyes a sneers going his way, which was more a minor inconvenience to his survival instincts than it was annoyingly awkward. He was more worried about running into a familiar face…
“Howdy, Ichabod,” chuffed the big black man behind him, making the other passengers cringe with fright.
“Let me guess,” Jonathan started, not looking behind him, “you must be Larry, right?”
“Name’s Thorn.”
“Of course it is,” Jonathan sighed, setting his case on the ground before meeting his friend face to face with a big, insincere grin. “My name is Jonathan, though, not Ichabod. Nice to meet you Thorpe.”
“I know who ya is,” spat Thorn.
“We’ve some unfinished business.”
“No. I believe it’s finished.”
“What seems to be the problem, lads?!” asked a booming Irish voice. Thorn turned his head and John looked around Thorn to see the officer with a curvy red mustache. Jonathan knew him as Officer Dewey McClure, nicknamed “The Iron Fist” in his boxing days back in the old country.
Thorn sneered then huffed, “None at all, Clover.” Looking back to John, he said, “It don’t matter how far ya run, Ichabod. When I find ya, I’ll gut ya.”
After Thorn stomped out of the train, Jonathan picked up his case and started to walk away. “Hold it, Darrin!”
“Indeed… How may I assist you, Officer?”
McClure stood inches from Jonathan so they were face to face, one looking worn-out while the other looked as if it was catching on fire. “Wherever you’re going, make sure my eyes never see your kisser ever again.” Then he exited the train.
Jonathan stood there for a moment, dumbfounded. “Miss you, too.”
The train horn squealed into his ear as the conductor boomed, “All aboard!” Straightening up, he found himself an empty seat, found a good hiding space for his suit case, and then sat down before lighting the tobacco in his pipe as the locomotive chugged along, from slow to fast, towards his new beginning.

Late Afternoon…
Sheriff Anthony Birch scratched his dirty-blond beard impatiently as he kept his eyes pointed to the hills. Everything about him was unkempt: from his mess of hair to his calloused fingers to his disordered clothes to his boots that were ready call it quits. To his left was the Town Hall, where Mayor Timothy Smith usually did his business, sending telegrams to Sacramento and San Francisco, but right now, he stood in the entrance to the small building, looking like a penguin the Sheriff saw once, drawn in a newspaper.
“You could stand there all day, Birch,” said the Mayor, “that won’t undo the fact he was the only person available to handle the matter.”
“I know,” Anthony assured as he took out tin case from his pants pocket, opened it, and pulled out the only pre-clipped cigar left inside. “There’s just something about that Marshal that rubbed me the wrong way,” he added then put the cigar in his mouth as he put the case away and pulled out a box of matches.
While he lit the cigar, Smith shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t presume to know one way or another when it comes to U.S. Marshals. He seemed to be older than the others that have passed by here.”
“Hmm,” puffed the Sheriff. “Maybe I’ll see how Cherry and those Injuns are doing. Should have a better view of the range from there.”
“One of these days, Tony… Just try to go easy on yourself. It’s going to be a long week, after all.” Then the Mayor walked awkwardly back into the building.
“Yeah, right.”
He took out his cigar to spit then put it back between his teeth as he began walking toward Cherry’s Saloon. Nearing the saloon, he saw Cherry walking out looking frantic and busy minded, yet there was something about her that caught him off guard.
“Cherry!” he called out to her.
She directed her attention immediately to him then smiled. “Good to see you, again, Sheriff,” she greeted. “I was on my way to see Mr. Brown.”
“I told you to call me Tony,” he said, standing a foot away from her. “How’s the guests?”
“They won’t say anything, but they’re not hurt too bad. Seems like they barely made it out of whatever hit their tribe. The doctor says it’s a bit odd they’d all be in a daze. Usually, there’s at least one person who’s a little together in the head after a traumatic experience.”
“During the war, I knew a man who lived through an amputation and didn’t speak any for a whole two years.”
“Hmm… Would a gentleman, like yourself, mind walking me to Brown’s place?”
“Wouldn’t mind at–.” He stopped himself when he saw the Marshal coming in on horse back, pulling five soldiers – each on their respective horses – rope-tied behind him by the wrists.
Cherry saw the scene, too and gasped. “You seeing what I’m seeing?”
“Sure am,” Tony confirmed, letting his cigar fall to the ground, squishing it with the toe of his right boot. “This’ll be a long night.”

Pittsburg, Pennsylvania…
The sun began to set over the horizon, casting a dark glow over the city landscape. In the distance, a train horn squeals, forewarning its arrival. Gareth Vanderbilt looked through the window, inside his gun shop, and saw the locomotive exhaling black clouds from its smoke stack. He didn’t look as old as he was, still had a nicely combed head of brown hair along with his mustache, but his teal eyes usually gave that part about him away to anyone willing to look for it. “Not sure why you’re going all the way out West,” he said as he pulled a box of .22 caliber revolver bullets from his shelf, unable to divert his attention away from the train chugging toward the station. “Then again, I haven’t been sure of anything since you returned out of nowhere, asking me for weapons and ammo. After that, I began hoping you wouldn’t come back, every time you left my shop.”
A woman in a red dress, with a red sash covering her head and face, waited and listened patiently behind the counter, while the train came closer. Like the many times before, she kept herself quiet, even though there were many things she wanted and needed to say. But since that day… she just couldn’t bare to explain all that happened.
“Since you’ll actually be gone for good, however,” Gareth continued, finally looking away from the window, the train almost in full view now, “I feel obligated to ask the important things, even though we barely know each other, even back then… Did you meet up with your folks? I hope you did, but something tells me you didn’t. If I was you, I’d think it’d be better off them thinking I was dead, but I’d regret it for the rest of my life, ya know?”
“It’s not just that,” she spoke, voice barely above a whisper. Out of the window, the train nearly flew on by as it’s breaks let loose whiled, metallic shrieks.
“Probably not.” Then he set two boxes of ammunition onto the counter and said, “Two dollars… You better hurry. It’s un-ladylike to miss a train, after all.”
She smiled, took the boxes, put them in her basket, and then she slung her rifle’s strap over her shoulder. “Thank you, Gareth.” Then she gave him a bag of coins.
“Take good care of your weapons and make sure that knife I gave you stays sharp. Oh! And come back when you get a chance, Rosie Rhodes.”
Rosie didn’t say anything in response, just kept her smile when leaving the shop. She headed for the train station to go West, where something important was going to happen, though she was unsure as to what. She was compelled to find out, drawn out to an area that was, to her, undiscovered country, and wherever she ended up, she knew she would be needed.