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Timejacker #8
© 2023 James LaFond
Banks of The Canon River, near Dundas, south of Northfield, Minnesota
Jesse James felt the ache in his lung from where the goddamned Yankee scum had shot him at age 16 when he had come in to surrender. It would not really pain him until the grips of winter around about end of November. But the ache in his soul, his burning hatred for the Yankee Nation, that painful haunt in the hollows of his heart: that, never let go.
Frank, dear old Frank, had his back on the country track. They were fierce hungry when they met up on horseback. A restaurant would be a risk, as the Youngers and Clell Miller were as like as not to get drunk. Clell had been sipping whiskey since dawn.
Cole, Bob and Jim Younger and Charlie Pitts were in fine trim on the best horses they’d ever rode, much better than the broken beasts they had fought on back in the war. Jesse, Frank, Clell and Bill were as well set up, the two groups having converged from Mankato and Red Wing. It was 9:15 and something was not right, something had Cole spooked, and Cole was not easily spooked.
Jesse walked his horse up to Cole, who sat his with a studied unease, “Cole?”
Cole gave him that icy stare and nodded up, “There is a buzzing above, can’t shake it, thought maybe I’ve shot out my hearing already. It’s there,” he nodded up through the leafy greenery of the maples away south.
Jesse looked up and squinted and thought he made out something like a floating sausage about as high as an eagle might fly, a ways off south, “A balloon, maybe? Yanks used them for sightin’ guns?”
Cole followed his eyes and snarled, “A queer shape, more like a fish or a boat with two bottoms?”
Clell, ever on the lookout, clicked an advance warning and nodded his head south towards the tree line, “Two men, afoot.”
The sounds of holstered pistols cocking and of two younger rifle levers racking a round calmed Jesse, who cautioned, “Whoa...Charlie, Clell watch each your back trails, up river and down, stand off a bit not further then pistol range. What do you think, Cole?”
“Two boys have eyes on us and are walking in like they expect us, from the south like the balloon. Goddamned Pinkerton balloon, I bet.”
Six sat their horses center, stirrup to stirrup, with two flanking and looking off east and west.
Jim Younger drawled, “One’s a big sombitch.”
The men were in a hurry, both fighting men by their walk, each armed with a strange tied down pistol of square type and a big Bowie knife, with some kind of square carbine hung from a strap over their shoulders. The big man was dressed in a ruffled shirt of fancy make and a good slouch hat. The other fellow was dressed in a uniform knitted like painted autumn leaves with a cap to match.
When they came to within pistol range Jesse raised his hand, “Far ‘nough, friends.”
The men stopped and gave open hands to the front in a sign of peace. The big man nodded to Jesse and tipped his hat to Cole, obviously being a man with good parlay sense.
The oddly dressed man spoke, “I am Major Randy Bracken of the Kaiser of Germany’s Airship Zeppelin, standing off to the south. We have come to warn you that the Union Veterans that make up a good number of the citizens of Northfield are laying a trap to gun you fellows down in the street.”
Jesse felt his eyes narrow and asked, “How might you have come by this know how, and why does an American from back east care, and what does he here with a German sneak balloon?”
The man raised his hands open, “By way of explanation, I would touch the device on my left suspender above my heart, and speak into it. This done, I would prefer my honored brother in arms next to me, to explain why we seek your aid in a future War of Northern Aggression.”
The man then tapped an iron-colored wooden device on his left suspender, and it spoke, “Major Bracken?”
“Yes, Colonel. We have made contact with the James-Younger Gang and request a proximity lift.”
“In bound, ETA ten minutes,” came the voice and they sat dumbfounded as the weird balloon in the distance lowered and sped up.
The big man spoke up, with a Louisiana drawl, “I hear tell you all are a famous menace to bankers?”
Jesse shrugged, “Jesse James. Cole Younger to my left, my brother Frank on my right. To whom do I owe this pleasure?”
“James, James Bowie. My friends call me Jim.”
“Shit too,” blurted Cole, “Yer ass were kilt at the Alamo, en had you survived, you’d be north o’ eighty!”
The big man grinned, “Heard you were a hand with a knife, Cole. Care to give it a go?”
Cole reached for his pistol and Jesse laid his hand on his and hissed, “Look at this and be goddamned!”
The weird balloon was as big as an ocean-going ship, bigger even, and had cabins hung underneath.
Big Jim spoke easily, a man of perhaps 40, “Young men, I was coughing my life out in a sick bed ready to die under Mexican bayonets, not a few months ago, by my reckoning. This man here, came to me by night, and told me a story I would not have ever believed if not for this self-loading gun,” tapping the square holstered pistol with his finger.
Big Jim swept his long, strong right arm skyward, “A ship that flies through Time. A ship fishing for fighting men in battle holes where death has laid claim to them soon to take. We who hear the footstep of doom, the ship comes to gather us for a great final battle, taking us who are about to die that would not be missed.”
Cole eased off and raised his hands as the noise of the airship came closer, “Jim Bowie be my personal hero, and he took a particular wound in one fight on a sand bar.”
Big Jim pulled off his shirt, showing a small puncture scar on his left breast and grinned, “That fellow ran me through true with that fancy pig sticker. But I sunk my knife in his gullet en twisted ‘till I heard his heartstrings sing!”
Cole had a look in his yes like he were an eagle possessed with the spirit of a boy greeting a hero, “I would not fight you, Big Jim, even if I thought I could win—especially not then.”
Clell just started to ride off and Jesse called after him, “Clell?”
“Oh hell, Jesse, my head is spinning—I’m done with drinkin’ and bank robbin’ too!”
The vast ship was over them and ropes were being dropped down.
Frank said, “Jesse, someone must look after the women.”
“That would be you, Older Brother. Give my Mrs. my regards. This is a trip I must take.”
Cole stepped down off his horse and walked up to Big Jim and shook his hand. He then turned as the din of the machine above slacked off and said to Jim Younger, “Take the horses and gear back to John and set up a new concern and avoid this Yankee state. I must get aboard this paddle boat in the sky.”
Jesse nodded to Frank and dismounted, “Catch up with Clell and you three get back to Little Dixie.”
Frank handed Jesse his long gun as Cole, Bob, Charlie and Bill shouldered their long guns and saddle bags and nodded to their brothers in blood and iron.
Jesse shook hands with Big Jim and the strange Major and asked, “Who we riding against?”
“Shit if I even care, Jesse,” said Cole. “I’m ridin’ with Big Jim Bowie!”
The Major grinned, “We are flying, and maybe even riding against the Great Negro Nation of Africa in America: The Black Yankee Union. As near as we can discover they have no guns and field some five million warriors: spears, clubs, machetes and knives, no cavalry, just man eating dogs.”
“Good God!” blurted Charlie Pitts. “That is a cause to fight against if there ever was one!”
Jesse spoke his mind clearly, “Reconstruction has no end and is what we been fightin’ ‘gainst eleven hard years now. Come on boys!”
As they were hauled aloft, Bill Stiles led them in a chorus of “I Hates Me the Yankee Nation.”
Jesse felt somehow like he had chosen terribly wrong, but had a sense that death had marked him with a terrible stain and that this would spare his dear wife additional pain.
‘I know, Frank, that you disagree.’
Jesse alone did not sing as his brother became smaller in the distance until he was hauled through the floor of a railroad car cabin and saw tree tops below through a window.
“Well, I’ll be good and goddamned,” whispered Jesse.
“Ain’t we all,” grunted Cole.
All Fled
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fiction anthology one
broken dance
orphan nation
by the wine dark sea
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