Wednesday, November 11, 2020

US Gummint Cunning Man: Chapter One (Free Ebook)

Since posting this, I've removed my books from Amazon, and am moving them to Project Gutenberg Self-Publishing Press.  They're all pdf ebooks, all free, and always will be.


Sorry there's so little magic in this opening scene; I'd give you an excerpt, but that would spoil too much.  Rest assured there's lots of the supernatural later on in the novel.

Feel free to let me know how I handled the exposition here.

One other thing: I spent a year writing this novel, and months revising it.  If you do buy it, or any of my works, please take a few minutes and post a review?

Chapter One: Taken for a Witch, 1836


"Be it therefore enacted, That the said William Larch, and all other persons whatsoever, concerned in suppressing said Witches, though their measures taken may not be strictly warranted by law, were justified from the imminence of the danger…"
-Virginia Legislature, An Act to Indemnify Certain Persons in Suppressing a Conspiracy, October 1782


"Seen that mover woman?"

I looked up from the stack o' soap balls I was yearnin' at.  Might sound funny for a fourteen-year-old almost-man, but I wanted to be clean for that Astridsdätter girl in the next farm over, almighty pretty like she was, e'en though I'd only seen her the once, when Pa and I looked the land over, but she was pretty enough that I'd put up ever' day with the harsh lye soap we made ourselves.  But I'd got a bit tired of harsh, of feelin' all raw and red and rubbed hard every bath, so I'd ended up starin' at this corner o' that dusty gen'ral store.

It had sweetcane, all the way from the far-off south lands.  And honeyberries!  I'd never even seen any, a-cause what farmer could rightly ruin a field for three year growin' 'em?  They'd held my eye at first, sure 'nough.

Right now, though, I was lookin' at the man who'd just spoke, at lank mouse-colored hair, at a unshaved long chin, at a man what could use some soap hisself.

The man he was with had darker hair, and a sight of it.  He eyed Mouse Hair, and said, "Yeah.  Some good-looking, sure."

Mouse Hair shook his head violent.  "You're lookin' at her looks wrong."

"What do you mean?  What else would I look at a woman for?"

"Seen how dark she is?"

"What?"

Mouse Hair sneered.  "Prob'ly looked at that hair and thought you'd like to get your hands on it.  Should've looked how curly it was.  Prob'ly looked at that skin, and thought—never mind.  Should've thought how dark it looked."

"What?  She's a witch?"

"I ain't sayin' she's a witch.  I'm sayin' she's Haitian.  Prob'ly a bewitcher."

Sentia magick that was, I knew.

Dark Hair did too, I guess; he swore.

I came out o' the shadowed corner, took the three steps 'tween them and me.  "She ain't Haitian.  And we ain't movers!"

Both of 'em turned and stared at me.  Stared down, but only a little, bein' maybe an inch or two taller.

Dark Hair said, "You'd know about that?"

Mouse Hair said, "Pretty dark yourself…boy."


Just months ago, I'd gone out with my rifle, slidin' 'mongst the trees on the ridge east of our fields, hopin' to sight somethin' for the pot, maybe a hare standin' still hopin' itself t' 'scape notice, maybe a squirrel bouncin' up t' some branch, a wood pigeon a-flutterin', a dodo, easy shootin' and good eatin'—

Then I come on shadowbrush pushed out the way, and confused tracks, but I thought maybe I'd spotted the edge of a cow print, 'cept up here that made no sense, cattle stayed downhill, and anyways I swore at the thought that Bess had got loose again and would just be standin' stupid someplace, maybe lowin' like an idjit a-cause she wanted milkin', and hadn't had the sense a hare had to stay close t' home, so's I'd better keep an eye out for red-brown hide.

If she'd—

The fresh trail 'long the side o' the hill, it'd opened out into a clearin', maybe started from a dust wolf sleepin' there.

Not that my eyes spotted any wolf.  Nor were they fixed on ol' Bess.  They were pointin' at the red and brown there all right, in that tiny clearing, tiny but big enough for Bess to lie in her final lyin' place, red all over, and for her killer to turn growlin', and I stopped still as any hare, and for the same reason, a-cause rifle or not, almost a man or not, I didn't have much chance o' endin' up any other way than dead as Bess, because the mountain o' brown fur in front o' me was grisly b'ar, magically hard t' kill, and all I had was this squirrel gun.

Well, when I'd stood still long enough, that b'ar went back to Bess t' settle her hunger, and I'd backed on out o' there, almighty slow.

And we'd picked up and left a good piece o' land, a-cause there's no livin' with no grisly b'ar for a neighbor.

I'd stopped still then, and I did now, for the same reason, that bein' a-cause I'd been a idjit myself, again, not thinkin' 'bout what I was doin', just followin' a notion, and if I didn't find some way t' back all careful-like out o' this one, well, I could end up just as dead from these two as I could from a b'ar.  Just as grisly.

I said, slow, "Yeah, I'm kinda dark."  I tried t' sound sullen, and figger how t' get 'em t' turn back t' what they was doin'.  "Prob'ly why those folks hired me."  I pouted.  "Nobody else'd."

"So," Mouse Hair said, "y're sayin' she ain't Haitian, or a mover?"

Movers was looked down on ever'where, people who'd never stay put long 'nough for no one to know 'em, or know 'bout 'em.

I said, "They got a pig.  Hired me t' tend it till they get where they're goin'."

"Y' smell like it."

Dark Hair said, "Zeke, movers might have chickens, but a pig?"

"Okay," Mouse Hair-Zeke said, "so they're not movers.  How'd y'know she's not Haitian?"

"She says she's Creole," I said, still tryin' for sullen.  "From Nawlins."

Zeke said, "Nawlins?  How'd she get here?"

Dark Hair said, "Aren't Haitians really dark?"

Zeke said, "C'mon, Jeb.  If they're from the island, prob'ly.  But you know they got their," sneer, "liberators out there."

I couldn't know 'bout Dark Hair-Jeb, but certain sure Zeke owned slaves.  Had to, I thought, t' be so angry 'bout liberators.

I'd thought as a kid that slavery had only took a hold down south, but that was just a-cause I'd heard people talk about that Caldwell feller holdin' forth, and I'd misunderstood as if the south had all the slavin', not just more of it.  Big plantations had the most slaves, but not the only, even here on the frontier.

So Zeke prob'ly had him some slaves, a-cause nobody might want liberators 'round, since shootin' and magickin' would no doubt be a-comin' on, but nobody without no slaves had nothin' else to worry up over.

In the meanwhile, I just didn't want him or any other slaveholders comin' after us, a-cause he was talkin' 'bout either Ma or Aunt Marah, and a larchin', just the thought o' one, made my stomach flutter and bounce…and want t' flop down dead as poor idjit Bess.

And we only had 'nother three days t' go till we got t' our new home, and I didn't want no larch-parties anywhere within no week of us.

"Well, you c'mon then boy, you take us to the people what hired you, and we'll talk it out with them," sneered Zeke, grabbin' for my shoulder, except I ducked it.

Then he had a pistol in his hand, flint cocked back, and my mouth dried up, and I might've had some thought 'bout whether the pan had powder in it t' catch the sparks, but I couldn't take my eyes away from the black hole at the end of the barrel.

"Let's go, boy," he snarled.

Jeb frowned but made no move to stop Zeke none, nor did the gray-haired shopkeeper who'd showed hisself at the end of the row o' shelves, although his long-chinned face frowned more'n that Jeb did.

I scuffed up dust on the dirt street, headin' back down the valley toward the campin' place, Zeke walkin' determined-like behind me, Jeb off t' his side, with me tryin' t' think o' what t' do, and comin' up empty.  Zeke called out t' somebody I didn't see, told him t' go get somebody.  Soon enough the last buildin' passed, I walked 'cross the log over the crick, and the treeless bowl with our wagon and pig and donkey opened out around me.

My big brother Jonathon sprang up from where he worked on the spare wagon wheel and said, "What's this, now?"

Zeke shot him.  Shot him without no warnin', nothin', just shot my brother down like—like he would one of his slaves.  The plume o' smoke tore t' tatters on the breeze, blew back into my face, left the taste o' death in my mouth.

He shot him, from his pistol.  From his single-shot pistol.

I spun around, whippin' out my belt knife, and slashed in the same motion.  No thought 'bout what I was doin', just scared white and enraged red.  And I brought out the red; he ducked or I'd have cut his throat, instead slashin' his cheek and mouth wide bleedin' open.  He yelled, and I brought another color too, the yella, a-cause he turned and ran, cryin' and whimperin' like a li'l child.

Then I did somethin' I don't regret, but if I had it over, maybe wouldn't do.  I threw my knife at him.

I'm pretty good; me and other boys had passed more'n one hour throwin' knives whilst keepin' an eye on livestock.

The knife stuck him in the kidney, and he cried out louder and fell.

Then Pa bellowed, "What's goin' on here?"

And another gun bellowed from where I'd come in and dead man Zeke had run toward, bellowed louder'n Pa, and my own father fell, dyin' like my big brother.

Then someone else yelled louder yet, shootin' a gun t' make sure folks paid 'tention.  I stopped and looked, and so did the knot o' men that proved t' be friends o' that murderin' Zeke, includin' the one that proved t' have shot down my Pa, and behind everybody was a bigger knot o' folks, including the shopkeep with the chin.

Pa'd had his rifle in his hand, and nobody from the town wanted more trouble, so they didn't say anythin' 'bout the man what killed him.  On the other hand, when I pulled my knife outta Zeke, and then took the pistol he'd killed Jonathon with, nobody stopped me, although I heard a few mutters.

The mutterin' stopped when I smashed the killin', murderin' thing with a rock.

So now I got Pa's long rifle, and Jonathon's pistol, along with my knife.  And I've got over the scared and angered, though I ain't forgot, and I ain't lettin' it happen no more.

And I ain't fourteen no more, neither.  That was four year ago.

5 comments:

Elaine T said...

You probably need to know that Amazon isn't showing a kindle edition today. Which is important because I was about to recommend this book to someone looking for Old West flavored fantasy and was going to provide a link. Since I have it on my kindle there must be such an edition. I searched by title, name, and author's page and 'show all formats'.

BTW, the formatting isn't great - no chapter breaks in it, the kindle edition is just one long file.

Kevin Wade Johnson said...

I've taken all my books off Amazon, that's why it's not showing up.

On the plus side, they're all *free* pdf's now, so the formatting should not be a problem.

All my ebooks:
http://self.gutenberg.org/Authors/KevinWadeJohnson

US Gummint Cunning Man direct link:
http://self.gutenberg.org/eBooks/WPLBN0100303388-US-Gummint-Cunning-Man--Volume-1-by-Johnson-Kevin-Wade.aspx?

Kevin Wade Johnson said...

By the way, not that it matters anymore, but I did follow Amazon's formatting recommendations, and once I uploaded the Kindle file, I went through it on their previewer, paging through the whole novel, making sure the format was right.

But it went wrong somehow anyway, evidently.

All academic now, of course.

Elaine T said...

ah, ok. AMazon searches have been failing for me on books lately, so I assumed it was another case of that happening.

I'm quite enjoying US GUMMINT. I like the voice it's written in and so far all the characters and thoughts they have. Not all in lockstep but working out issues and everyone gets to contribute.

Kevin Wade Johnson said...

Thank you so much! That was definitely one of the aspects of the plot and characterizations that I hoped would come across well. :)