This is the 25th round of The Alphabet Challenge mentioned in THIS<<link post. As a refresher, the Broxson twins, Gary and Perry, and I will each write one story for each letter of the alphabet. Meaning, a story whose title begins with the given letter. For this round, it’s the letter “Y“.
Readers have two weeks from the date of publication to vote for their favorite story in the current round. Points will be assigned to each writer based on total votes received.
In each round, the story with the most votes gets three points. Second place gets two points, third place gets one point. In the case of a tie, the points for the tied rankings are added and then split equally among the writers who tied. At the end of the year, we tally up and crown the winner with the most points.
Long or short, each story will appear on its own post and the trio will be followed by a fourth post where readers can vote.
The writing challenge has no restrictions and the stories span a wide gamut of genres. The majority of the stories fall in the PG-rating range with a few perhaps pushing into the soft R-rating. Some readers might find a few of the stories disturbing because of the topics, language, and/or plot points, and if so, stop reading and move on.
Here we go. Presented anonymously, the second of three stories with titles beginning with the letter “Y” as submitted by its author.
Copyright 2021 — Gary Broxson
(3,620 words – approx. reading time: about 14 minutes based on 265 WPM)
The whistle howled into the night sky as sooty smoke chuffed from the train’s blastpipe. The Dixie Devil was a passenger steamer, long-hauling from Kansas City, Missouri, to the Florida Panhandle. On the second night of a three day trip, the train stopped in Birmingham to take on coal, water, and more passengers heading south.
A large man in a top hat filled the aisle. He scanned the train car, his eyes decided on comfort and companionship. “Gentlemen,” he smiled behind a waxed, handlebar mustache at the three occupants of a roomy booth that could easily seat six. “Might you be so kind as to allow this weary traveler the edge of your bench so that I may rest my old bones?” The trio obliged, sliding over as the large man folded and began to spread out until the three men were forced to move to the opposite side of the booth.
“Allow me to introduce myself; my name is Harold Bailley, Esquire, but my friends simply call me The Judge. I would hope that I could include you gentlemen in that illustrious circle.” He snapped his sausage-size fingers and caught the attention of a porter. “A round for my new friends,” he ordered. “Your best whiskey.” The three men smiled and thanked their new friend, The Judge.
The drinks arrived, allowing the four to loosen their tongues and commence with courtesies. A cloaked and collared man introduced himself as a Parson, on his way to Florida to spread Christianity to the savages. Another man, well-coiffed, and finely-suited was a Banker; he was on his way to view some new real estate in a pleasant sounding patch of land dubbed The Everglades. The third man, after evil-eyeing the Parson, proclaimed himself to be a savage, but otherwise known to his people as an Indian Chief. He had been negotiating a treaty with the white man out West. In lieu of extermination, they had promised to relocate his tribe to a happy hunting ground in the bountiful state of Oklahoma.
“My friends, my friends,” The Judge took over, “we’re still a full day on this infernal contraption. I propose we entertain ourselves with a game of chance. Just so happens, I have a deck of playing cards for lackadaisical occasions such as these.” When the Parson showed his palms, The Judge persisted. “We’ll play for pennies, for penance, for partnership. Loosen your collar, Parson,” he laughed. “You are among friends.” The other two travelers, after witnessing compliance from the Parson, anted up.
It was merciful midnight when the Judge exhaled a huge blue plume of cigar smoke at his new friends and reached across the drink-ringed table to corral the loose bills and scattered stacks of coins. He carefully skimmed his pickings off the edge of the table into his upturned top hat.
“Gentlemen, I can see by your faces that you are reconsidering many of your recent decisions.” He waved a large hand. “That is all water under the bridge…but, consider this; as you are all well up the proverbial creek, I am known as a man to offer a paddle, or even an all-expenses-paid steamboat ride in times of duress.” He let the implications sink in.
“For a mere song, I offer you a chance to win back your losses and triple your stakes.” The Judge shook the treasure-filled black top hat for effect. He had their attention.
“For a song,” he mused, smoothing his curled mustache. “Let’s make it a story. Every man has a story to tell, a yarn to spin. I propose that each man recount his favorite tale and the best of the lot shall receive the measure of my top hat. I, of course, will judge your tales and decide the ultimate winner.”
The desperate men nodded agreeably at each other and at The Judge.
“Just one catch,” The Judge interjected. “As a tiding of good faith, I will require one more precious item from each of you to sweeten the pot, shall we say.” He passed the top hat like an offering plate.
The pale-faced Parson took out a thick envelope from his vest; it contained the generous donations and offerings of his parishioners, collected just before he embarked on this missionary errand of God.
The Banker unlatched his leather satchel and produced a signed deed to the tract of land his bank had purchased from the United States Government in a deal with the Creek Indians.
The Indian Chief, with no hesitation at all, unfolded a lengthy and mostly incoherent parchment the White Man had imposed upon his people. He threw the treaty on the table, leaned back and lit his own pipe.
“I’ll begin,” the Indian Chief stated, inhaling deeply on the pipe and blowing out a cloud. “The White Man’s school was built upon a sacred Indian burial ground although it was clearly marked with the usual bone-chimes and other obvious warnings designed to ward off trespassers.
The school had one teacher; a woman named Margaret Needwood.
At the beckoning of the souls beneath the school, Coyote arrived. Coyote is a trickster but is sometimes useful as a medium between the living and the dead. Coyote assured the ancient Braves that he would find a way to make the White Man leave the sacred grounds and return them to eternal peace.
Coyote watched the little red schoolhouse for many days wondering about the best way to start. When his friend Fox asked him what he was doing, Coyote replied, “I’m waiting for the lunch time scraps to be tossed out the back door. They sometimes throw out chicken, ham, and beef.” Then he curled up and pretended to sleep.
With one eye open Coyote watched Fox skulk down to the schoolhouse at lunch time, anticipating a tasty meal at the back door. When the back door opened, Miss Margaret Needwood hoisted a shotgun and blasted Fox to pieces.
That night Coyote slinked into the school and stole Miss Needwood’s spectacles. He took them to an old Shaman who put a spell on them. Coyote returned the glasses before the bell was rung the next morning.
Coyote retreated to a nearby woodpile and watched through a window. After lunch, Miss Needwood took down a large book from a shelf and the children gathered close to hear her read a story. When she placed the enchanted glasses on she started to scream. To her eyes, the children all looked like varmints; foxes, raccoons, skunks, even coyotes. She methodically loaded and reloaded the old gun and shot each and every one of them. Coyote, hearing the screams and thunder from the gun, howled and howled, letting the Indian spirits know they would soon have company. The schoolhouse was subsequently burned by the grieving and furious townspeople. The babbling schoolmarm was hung from the bell pole in the center of the playground.”
The old Indian Chief smiled at the end, almost as if he had concluded with… and they lived happily ever after. The three listeners paled at the gruesome outcome and reached for their tumblers of whiskey. “Very… um… nice,” said The Judge. “Who wishes to follow that tragic tale?”
Sensing a moment to strike, a lucrative quality in a businessman, the Banker interjected, “I’ll go next.” He cleared his throat and began. “Blackbeard is the most infamous pirate of all time. He was the scourge of the seven seas, pillaging and plundering vessels and villages all throughout the Caribbean in La Concord, a ship he commandeered from the French slavery fleet. He released its hold of slaves in Hispaniola and rebranded the ship as Queen Anne’s Revenge.
But, like all rascals, Blackbeard was caught. Queen Anne got her own revenge in the form of Lt. Maynard, a brave sailor and savior for the crown. In a true battle royale, Maynard prevailed; he hacked up the renegade pirate and posted his head to the bowsprit of the Ranger, Maynard’s naval sloop.
But that was not the end. Lt Maynard, a British officer and a gentleman, was vilified by the Americans he had attempted to protect from the scourge. The ingrates had sided with the pirate and his larger-than-life legacy. But unbeknownst to anyone, a roll of parchment was found secreted on Blackbeard’s reduced body, in a place that only the bold would ever dare to search. Lt Maynard was such a bold and thorough officer and was able to discern the contents of the map. He forthwith relinquished his commission and became a treasure hunter.
His search ended abruptly when he was eaten by an alligator. His belongings were shipped back to his family and there they remained for generations.” The Banker paused here, taking a drink, before continuing the tale.
“Maynard’s great-grandchildren discovered Blackbeard’s treasure map in the attic of their antebellum home. Angela was a beauty, and smart. Andrew was a brute who thought with fists and pistols. Together, they struck out to the barrier islands of the Carolina’s and followed the clues on the pirate’s scroll.
Angela brilliantly deciphered the contents of the map. Andrew trailed his sister and periodically whipped Ezra, the man slave they brought to haul supplies. Ezra, speaking the native Creole of the islands, had proved invaluable at attaining information and supplies. Angela tried to show Andrew the course according to the map, but her impatient brother was only concerned about the large X in the center that supposedly marked the spot of Blackbeard’s buried treasure.
The small vessel they contracted moored off a tiny coastal island. Ezra hacked through the thick brush with a machete as Angela gave directions. Just after dusk, exhausted and bug-bitten, they broke into a clearing. ‘Is this it, is this the place?’ Andrew shouted at his sister.
She looked at the map, then up to the sky. She deliberately paced out dozens of exaggerated steps. What are you looking at? The treasure is not up there, he pointed to the sky, stupid sister, Andrew smirked.
Blackbeard was a pirate; they used the stars to navigate. If I’m reading this right, Angela said, taking 10 more steps toward the North Star. We should be right over the X.
It was at that moment Andrew drew down upon his sister with a machete. If not for the intervention of Ezra, she would have been split in two. Angela backed away, gasping. Ezra held Andrew’s wrists above his head and squeezed until he dropped the offending blade. It fell from his hands and a spark flared from its tip as it struck the ground. This is it! Andrew shouted, pushing back from the fray, now unarmed but still confident as a white man in a white man’s world.
The trio converged around the tool-turned-weapon-turned-treasure finder, the machete. They brushed away sand and vegetation from the relatively bare area. Below the thin layer of soil they etched out an X-shaped piece of corral, no doubt placed here to mark Blackbeard’s spot, his buried treasure. Excited now, they temporarily tabled their petty grievances and joined forces to loosen the deep-rooted dirt around the coral centerpiece and were all able to grasp an edge, careful not to scrape their hands on the sharp barnacles. Together they were able to lift the marker and flip it over.
There it was, a small chest, just like the ones you find in every pirate treasure story. Andrew seized it. He broke the lock with the retrieved machete and actually kneeled before his new master—gold doubloons. His eyes glazed over with greed. He lifted the chest with one hand and waved the machete with the other. He ordered Ezra to his side. Ezra shook his head and stepped between the brother and his sister.
Andrew spat in disgust at the pair, then headed back into the jungle with his spoils.
Angela gave her brother a full day to make his way to the ship and depart. Meanwhile, she and Ezra feasted on blueberries and cool water from a creek. They talked of things that white women and black slaves rarely ever spoke of in the times before Lincoln. She explained to her new friend that the ‘gold’ Andrew ran off with was fool’s gold, made from a glittery stone called Pyrite—no doubt a joke from the clever pirate, Blackbeard.
The corral X, however, was infused with real gold. The X had literally marked the spot on the map. There would be more gold than any man, woman or former slave could ever spend, but together, she suggested, they could try.
The foursome looked at each other. The Banker looked at the treasure-laden top hat and scratched his palms. This could be a very profitable excursion, if he played his cards right, literally.
“That was uplifting,” the Judge noted, solemnly nodding at the Banker, not giving away anything in his demeanor. “And now for the third and final tale before we disembark,” shaking the sagging top hat at the Parson.
“Hmmm-hum,” the Parson cleared his throat as he had at the onset of a thousand sermons before, perhaps believing this most basic guttural communication added gravitas to his narrative.
“As you have heard since Sunday school, Noah was ordered by God to build an ark…”
“I beg your pardon, Parson,” the Judge interrupted the speaker. “But I must inform you that these tales are to be new and fresh. Not some rehashed bible story. We are gentlemen of age of reason, not the children of Babel.”
The Parson smiled, adjusted his collar, cleared his throat again, and continued. “The Apocryphals describe great giants in the first days. They were the bastard offspring of God’s flock of amorous Angels and oft times, unwilling human women.
When God’s grand plan of Free Will spiraled wildly into a society of sloth and sodomy, He realized his epic mistake and decided to purge the world. He chose his beloved Noah to preserve the best of his beloved creations. But Noah needed help. Surely, you don’t think that an old man and a few frail family members could construct a vast ark capable of carrying representatives of all the world’s creatures.” This was a rhetorical question that the Parson answered with closed eyes while shaking his head at a fleeceable flock.
“A few of the giants, the Nephilim, as they were known, served Noah in the construction of the astonishing ark. They hewed the wood from the primordial forests, pitched and slathered tons of tar between the massive beams, built scaffolds and lifted the lumber to the incredible heights and dimensions dictated by God’s meticulous blue prints. All at the direction of Noah, a man that most, if not all his countrymen, called crazy, for it had never rained in the first-world that they lived in.
All this action did not go unnoticed by the Serpent known to us as Satan, Lucifer, Slew-foot, and Morning Star. He foiled God’s plan in the Utopian Garden of Eden and tempted Eve to bite the big apple. After hearing about the impending Purge from his grapevine, Satan realized that God (pronounced Gawd by the animated Parson) was about to deconstruct the New Eden he had just created.
When the first raindrops fell, mouths opened and eyes turned to the heavens. But it was too late. As basic life on earth quickly learned to swim or sink, the ark floated, along with its menagerie of chosen animals; these were the best of the best God selected to multiply on the new Earth.
Noah bowed and begged God to spare mankind, even as the barbarians mocked him for his floating folly. But the clouds came, they choked out the sun and silvery water-drops suddenly spattered the earth just as the ark was completed. Noah’s tears fell with the rain, for he knew that his companions, the Nephilim, did not fit into God’s plan, and he knew that they knew their own fate.
The Apocryphals tell us that they were drowned and destroyed like all God’s undesirables. Noah and his crew rode out the torrential storms. When the clouds finally parted and the sun reappeared, they all rejoiced. It is told that Noah first sent out a raven to seek carrion, to bring back the meat of the dead.
The raven did not return, perhaps sated with morsels from bloated bodies. Noah then, on a more positive promise from his benefactor, sent out a dove to see if the cleansing, killing waters had abated. He waited, and the dove finally returned with an olive leaf in its beak.
The Serpent had somehow survived. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was its home and he climbed to its topmost branches. God’s forbidden tree had grown along with the water levels, keeping just above the rising sea. As the waters receded, the enchanted tree diminished, always keeping the Serpent’s head just above water.
Noah’s ark finally settled in the crook of a mountain that had pierced the ebbing sea. He prayed and obeyed the will of God. It took time, but he eventually led his family and his animals back to where it all began, The Great Garden.
By the time the waters had dried up and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil had returned to normal size, the Serpent was famished. He had not eaten anything in months except for a random raven that had attempted to rest on a branch. Then he heard the hooves and howls. He would not have to search for food, it was coming to him.
The Serpent willed himself to grow. He multiplied his size twenty, thirty, a hundred fold. He was now a fierce dragon and he would feast on Noah and his beasts. On leathery wings, he lifted himself into the clouds and spotted the unlikely procession. He dove like a falcon aiming at the lead white-haired man walking with a cane.
Like plucking a grape from a vine, the Dragon seized Noah and lifted him into the heavens. He circled, then tear-dropped back down to the center of The Garden. Old Noah was as tough as bark and survived the flight and descent but would not last a second in the widening jaws of the hungry Dragon.
Just as Satan, in the guise of a Dragon, lunged for the father of the new race, a giant hand rose up from the Earth. It was the Nephilim, buried by layers of silt from the Flood, he now rose to battle the Dragon and defend mankind.
As Noah watched, the titans shook the Earth. Old mountains crumbled and fresh canyons pitted the new, malleable world, creating lakes and rivers where the ground was split and gouged. The Dragon’s fiery breath nearly destroyed the Nephilim, but the giant was able to uproot the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and deflect the infernal flames. The Tree branches burned and the fruit burst like bombs.
Stop! A thunderous voice commanded. It filled the air, the ground; it vibrated in every bone. The Dragon inhaled its flame, the giant retracted The Tree, now a fiery club. The battle ceased. The voice now came from the blazing Tree. Forgive me, the voice boomed, the flames grew brighter with inflection. I see now that there is more love, more sacrifice, more to humanity and its brethren than I allowed myself to foresee. You become your best only when faced with adversity. From this day on, I promise I will always make your paths difficult so your journeys will be joyous. And I will make another promise…
The flaming Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil rose into the sky higher and higher until it was a distant candle. It exploded like a bomb bursting in air. The colors made a rainbow, the first rainbow, and arched across the sky, so colorful that even the Peacock had to turn its head. This is my promise that the Nephilim will forever be your guardian if ever again you encounter the Dragon.
The Dragon, sensing a turning tide, reduced itself to a dust-eating serpent and began slithering away, living to strike another day. The giant, the Nephilim, buckled to its knees in supplication and exhaustion, still smoldering. It’s wounds and burns extensive. It fell on its back and covered itself with cooling mud and soil. Deeper and deeper it sank into mother earth.
Noah, I am your weapon, your soldier, the Giant whispered. Awake me when evil threatens; I will forever protect your children.
And he still waits, many say,” the Parson finished.
“A romping good parable, Parson,” the Judge laughed and then furrowed his brow. “But, alas, I must decide. Each of my three raconteurs has regaled me with delightful yarns, but there can be only one winner—I choose…Parson, your parable spoke to my heart and reminded me that the goodness of God and our brethren is transcending. My dear Banker friend, I’d cherish a look at Master Andrew’s face when he found out that all that glitters is not gold. Chief, you and your ilk have been mistreated by the encroaching white plague…but not today. He slid the top hat in front of the Indian who solemnly accepted it.
The train slowed and shuddered to a stop. “This is where I must disembark, my friends. I bid you adieu and retreat knowing that the pleasure has been all mine.”
In a tavern in a whistle-stop town twenty miles down the tracks, an Indian sits at a back table. He sips good whiskey and wears a peculiar black top hat. The saloon door swings wide and a very fat man enters, he smiles and twirls his moustache. “I hope you haven’t drank away my half, old friend.”
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