This one time. No, no, you aint heard this one before. I’m waiting up at Loop, you know where the big eastern rail sweeps round in a circle and there’s a whole town all crammed and jumbled up in the middle?
You aint been there yet? Sight to see, boys, sight to see. They haul all kinds of stuff out of the deadgrounds and malts. Weld it up, nail it together or rope it down to make a house or a hotel or a what-have-you.
Anyways, I got a crew out buying and selling. We’re packing up the long train for the run that afternoon. Had some troubles coming in, I can tell you. Threshers, wrigglers, sulks and that. Aint important what, though, point is I’m sitting out on a sun lounger with a third of a warm beer left, enjoying the high bright heat of the day, half looking to pick up some new blood if I can. Replacements, you know?
Figure slides up out of the salt-flat haze.
“Hear you’re hiring,” says this voice. Light enough but it’s got that deep down burr of the dust. This one aint a stranger to salt and desert, that’s a true bill.
“Mayhap,” I says. “If you got a skill worth paying for that is.”
I stand up then. Move a little so I can get a better look at her, out of the direct blaze of the sun above.
First off, it dint look good. I could lie and spin it so I knew right ways what I had here but, shit, Caddy’s call is a straight shout and if I aint got that then what am I, yeah?
So here’s the truth.
Stood real tall, so there’s that, bit skinny to my mind, delicate, know what I mean?
Dressed up fine. Brightland chic. Heavy boots and grubby jeans, one them high collared jackets with way too many buttons, long duster coat down to the ankles. Unruly black hair trapped and tied back out of the way. Pair of goggles and a wide brimmed hat in one hand, pistol at her belt.
Really, dint look like much. Looked like a costume more than anything, like a kid at play. Young enough to be my own daughter, hells sake.
Still. Brightland grows you fast, don’t it?
“I’m Caddy Bennett,” I says. “I work supplies up and down the long line. Shine, rain, sand storm, salt wave, monster mash – all the same to me. I work supplies.”
I set a bunch of jars and empty beer bottles on a fence a little ways away. Made sure there was some dirt bank behind to catch the strays.
“Company militia runs the train,” I tell her. “You’d just be looking after the stock in our wagons. Keep back the sticky fingers and the rough-house boys. Reckon you can handle that?”
“Sure,” she says. Don’t sound too convinced mind.
“Okay,” I says. “You hit more than three of these things then you got the job.”
“I need to get to Downsville,” she says.
“More than three,” I tell her.
I cover my ears and she unhooks the big old wheel gun from her belt. Enough iron there to tip her over, looks like.
She takes a stance. Empties that thing down range from about ten yards away. I don’t watch the targets, I keep staring at her.
She blinks on every shot. Don’t look like much of a shooter, that’s for sure, but you never can tell. I turn around and check the results.
It aint good.
One bottle and one jar down.
I sink the rest of my beer and shake my head. “Nice talking with you,” I says, and start back to the easy chair.
“Shooting’s not really my thing,” she says.
“Oh yeah?” I says and turn back around.
“Yeah,” she says.
That’s when it happens.
It ain’t like she does anything. There’s no hand waving or wild eyes or stuff like that. No show to it at all. This time she don’t blink.
Every jar and bottle on the fence explodes into a bright cloud of pulverized glass, green and brown and white powder scattering, out and away on a surly breeze.
The empty bottle in my hand cracks at the neck, swift, silent, the whole bottom section dropping away to thud into the sand at my feet.
“You can start today,” I says.
Brandwell, TF, 2032. Tales off the Rails: An Oral Reckoning of these End Times. 1st ed. Coppertown: Tolls Academy Press