The School Marm: A Western Serial parts 11 and 12

The School Marm: A Western Serial

by Winslow Parker and Joan Myles

TSM 11

She watched as the sheriff guided his horse into the mine trail.

“Another puzzle piece,” she thought to herself, “Why would he go to the mine?” She shook her head, mounted and turned toward town.

As she rounded a bend, she heard rustling and grunting in the brush beside the road a few yards ahead. She lifted the hem of her skirt and drew her pistol. A boar burst from the bushes running directly toward her, tusks gleaming in the noonday sun. Her horse shied. She turned her mount for a better shot and fired. The boar stumbled, crumpling into the dust of the road. More sounds drew her attention. A sow, obviously the boars mate, charge. She fired into the dust in front of it. It turned aside, puzzled, then turned and dashed into the brush.

Lucy dismounted, keeping a wary eye in case the pig reappeared.

She took her lariat from the saddle horn, tied it off and guided the horse to the fallen animal. She slipped a double half-hitch over one of its back legs. She pulled it tight and mounted again. Dragging the beast behind her, she rode into town. A knot of Sunday-dressed parishioners gathered in front of the sore-front church. Condemning eyes swung toward her. She ignored them.

“Drat,” she exclaimed to herself. “Forgot about church. Auntie will be very upset with me.”

Billy and five of his buddies gathered around her horse, wide-eyed. “Right between the eyes! Billy exclaimed. “Sure is a good shot! “His adoration of the new school teacher went up ten notches.

“Can any of you boys dress out a pig?”

“That ain’t no pig,” exclaimed Phillip.

Lucy turned her teacher eyes on him. “ What do you call it then?”

With the weight of her eyes on him, Phillip became more polite. “Umm, peccary, ma’am.”

She smiled. “Let me rephrase my question. Do any of you know how to dress out a peccary?”

“I do,” answered Billy.

“Me too,” said Phillip.

“OK, here’s the deal. I’ll drag this here peccary out to the town dump. Get your knives and dress it. The rest of you who want some, go get some sacks to carry the parts in. Give everyone the same amount to take home. I’m sure it will be good eating.”

The children scattered to their homes as she called after them, “Don’t forget school tomorrow morning at eight!”

Lucy coiled her rope, hung it from her saddle horn and turned it toward home. She unbridled, unsaddled , and curried the horse, then locked it in its stall. “I’ll ask Aunt Birdie your name,” she promised. “I have a feeling we’re going to become very well acquainted.”

“Lucy!” her aunt called as soon as she entered the back door.

“Oh, dear, I’m in for it now.”

“Lucy, you missed church. Where were you?”

“Well, Auntie, I took a ride and time got away from me.”

“Hmmph,” her aunt sniffed. “You should have been there. Not a good example for the children, you know.”

“You’re probably right, Auntie. But you should probably know something about me.” She sat down next to her aunt. “I’m not much of a church goer.”

“You mean you’re an atheist, a free thinker.”

“No, no, just that I feel closer to God out there,” she pointed out the window at the vast desert around them, “than I do sitting on a pew being lectured about my sins from someone who claims to know Him better than I. Could be true, of course, but I still don’t get much out of it.”

“Oh, dear! How horrible.”

“I’ll come to your church with you from now on. Perhaps I’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

“I’m sure that will be true. Our local elder, John Sweeney is quite good.” After a significant pause, she said, “He’s single, you know.” She let the words hang in the air.

“Not interested, Auntie,” Lucy said, her words tinged with a hint of ice.

Later she stared out of her bedroom window as the sun set. “I miss the green of the Willamette Valley,” she thought, “but there is a certain sere beauty to the desert as well.” She rocked in her aunt’s old rocking chair, its rhythmic creak a comfort to her.

“Tomorrow’s the big day,” she thought. “Hope they received the chalk board or at least the slates.” In her head, she reviewed her lesson plans, wondering how many students would be there the first day. “Did Billy finish all the sketches?” she wondered. “I’ll have to get there early to mount them just in case. Did I lay out my lesson plans? Hope there are enough books to go around.”

Her mind, satisfied that she was ready for the first day of school, turned to the mesa.


TSM 12

It was hard for Lucy to shake the sights and events of that day. Long after the heat of the sun lessened and the light of day faded away, she sat musing over her journal, recording everything she had seen– the words and appearance of the men, the camp, her initial impressions– and she struggled to make sense of it all.

The problem was, it all made perfect sense; perfect, dastardly sense.

And when she finally put thinking aside and allowed sleep to envelop her, Lucy dreamed.

In vivid detail she saw the great trees of Oregon green and swaying against a clear azure sky. She felt herself bouncing along forest trails astride her beloved Patty. And she heard the Pacific ocean rolling back and rushing fiercely toward the shore She felt free and alive, as carefree as a young girl can, embraced by Nature and love, ready to become one with the wind, to melt into the expanding horizon, looking forward easily, as easy as a pony ride, the coastline stretching on and on as she breathed the salty air, as Patty’s hooves pounded the sand.

Then a jolt.

She came suddenly awake, aware of voices, nearby, in the house, just outside her door.

“ Aunt Birdie,” she whispered to herself, “and…and is that the sheriff?”

She crept out of bed and positioned herself just behind her bedroom door.

“You know what I’m talking about, Miz Crane, how tough things can get. I’m sure you recall Jonathan’s fate.”

“I don’t know what you are bothering me about at this hour,” the voice was hushed and subdued, but it conveyed no trace of fear, “My Jonathan was a respectable citizen, a kind and decent man, a Good Shepherd to his flock, and–”

“Oh he was some kind of a shepherd, all right, all the little lambs he tried to gather to him,” Aunt Birdie’s voice let out a little gasp, a pinched sound of pain, and Lucy’s hand found the door knob with a tight grip.

But she dared not open it, not unless Aunty was in dire danger. She didn’t want to make things worse.

“Jonathan was a good and decent man,” the older woman repeated softly, firmly, “which is something you–”

Lucy opened the door and stepped forward.

“Aunty? Is everything all right?” She slipped beside her aunt and eased her gently away from the sheriff. “Why sheriff…is there a problem?”

“Well, uh…” he started, “Miz Crane here…”

“The sheriff came by because there was a ruckus at the hotel, some rowdies whooping it up and when they left all liquored up and looking for trouble, they headed this way. The sheriff just came to check in on us, knowing we’re two ladies alone and all.”

What a cool liar you are Aunty, Lucy mused, and so brave.

“That’s right, ma’am, just checkin in. And now that I see all is well, I’ll continue on down the lane to check in on the other folks.”

He touched the rim of his hat as he nodded to each of them and backed away. Then he turned and passed quickly through the front door, and into the night.


The School Marm: A Western Serial (parts 9 and 10)

The School Marm: A Western Serial

by Winslow Parker and Joan Myles


Lucy dressed quickly in the predawn dark. Under her skirt without crinolines, she drew on a pair of men’s pants. She crept, silent, out the back door. The barn door creaked as she forced it open. She paused, listening for any evidence of detection. Pouring a measure of oats into the manger, she haltered the strongest horse, hoping it was broken. It whickered as she threw a saddle onto its back, tightened the cinch, then waited for the horse to release its held breath. After tightening the girth, she threw two saddlebags over the pommel, untied her mount and led it through the barn door. Closing the barn doors more slowly, she avoided a repeat of the earlier sound. She led the horse to the street. Mounted, she dug her heels into the horse’s flanks, and turned toward the mesa. Passing the livery, she saw the sheriff standing in the doorway. He tipped his hat, silent.

Traveling at a fast trot, attempting to cover as many miles as possible during the morning cool, she reached a fork in the road on the South side of the mesa. She turned the horse and slowed it to a walk. Early morning light began to spill over the eastern horizon. The shadow of woman and beast stretched out, elongated, before them.

As she guided the horse around an outcropping of rocks, a man stepped into her path and stood, hands on gun belt, facing her.

“Howdy ma’am,” he said, polite, but hard.

“Good morning, sir.”

“What is your business on this trail?”

“I’m just out for a morning ride.”

“Curious path to take on a lady’s morning ride.”

“Yes, well, I’m new in town and just like to explore a bit before I buckle down to teaching the wee ones their letters and numbers.”

“This trail’s closed to traffic.”


“This is a restricted area. No trespassing.”

Another man joined the first. His hand lingered near his holstered weapon.

“Just trying to learn my way around the country. No offense meant.” She turned the horse and retraced her steps. She looked over her shoulder. The second man mounted a horse and galloped away toward the mine.

“I’ll try from the other side,” she decided. She was met with a similar check on the second attempt to circle the mesa. She tried leaving the trail, but tangled mesquite and deep ravines protected those approaches. Finally, she looked at the mesa itself. “Is that a trail?” she mused inspecting the north face of the butte. She reached into the saddlebag and removed a pair of binoculars. She traced the apparent trail carefully from base to top. “Looks feasible,” she didn’t realize she was speaking aloud.

She opened the other saddlebag, took out a leather pouch of water, slung it over a shoulder. The binoculars and a pouch of bread and cheese settled into place.

She tucked her skirts into the waistband of her pants and began climbing. Her holstered gun rested against her right hip, tied to her thigh by a leather thong, ready for use.

Stopping several times to rest and drink, she was grateful that she was climbing on the north face of the mesa. “The east side,” she thought, “Must be a furnace by now, with the sun blazing directly on it.”

She clambered onto the mesa’s top. Before her lay a nearly level plane, Scrub mesquite and cactus plants dotted the surface. Blackened stones and faint paintings on boulders marked an ancient camp site. She stalked carefully along a very old trail to the western rim. Sinking down behind a concealing pile of boulders, she peered over the edge. Two-hundred feet below, a camp, enclosed by a fence and patrolled by guards spread out in a square. She examined individual buildings, attempting to determine the purpose of each. Some were obviously bunkhouses. One was a dining hall, made obvious by a pile of garbage at the rear door. Another building was quite different. There were curtains of bleached flour sacks at the windows, scraggly flowers growing in broken bowls on the windowsills.

“That must either be the married couple’s quarters or the hell that Aunt Beatrice hinted at.”

A strong wire fence surrounded three sides of the camp. The fourth side was the face of the butte. Ore-laden carts rumbled from the invisible mine entrance directly below her. They approached the gate which a guard swung open to let them pass. Each was drawn by six sturdy mules, plodding their dusty path to Yuma, 25 miles to the South. She wondered if they resented the dull life they led.

One man stood out from the scene. His dress was stylish rather than practical. He smoked a long cigar and, with quick hand gestures, directed the chaos around him.

She drew a quick sketch of the camp’s layout taking special note of one building set far apart from the others. “black powder storage,” she guessed. The return trip was more treacherous. Twice, stones rolled from under her boots, threatening to send her careening down the mountain to her death. She watched the falling stones as they tumbled and bounced their way to the bottom, dozens of feet below. Halfway down, she noted a man leaning against a large granite boulder. His horse was tied to the same mesquite tree as hers.

“Howdy sheriff,” she said as she adjusted her skirts at the trail’s end.

“Miss,” he tipped his hat. “Long ways from town, ain’t you?”

“I have only one more day to get to know the area. I like to take my children on field trips to help them learn to appreciate God’s creation and its wonders.”

“Dangerous place to take a passel of kids,” he said, nodding toward the mesa.

“Good place from which to see long distances and spot things that would interest them.” she lied.

“Getting’ hot. Best you get back into town. This ain’t safe country for a woman alone.”

“I can take care of myself.”

“I have no doubt about that, but you never know. People disappear every so often around here.”

“Is that a threat?”

“Take it any way you like,” he grunted, turning toward his own horse.


TSM 10

But he whirled to face her once again, venimus threats at the ready. His gaze bore into hers for a long, intense moment as the heat pressed steadily down upon them.

At last, it was the man who pulled himself away as he adjusted the brim of his hat, and strode purposefully toward his mount.

“mind my warning, Ma’am,” he growled softly. The horse let out a fierce protest when the sheriff jerked him roughly into action, then submitted to his spurs.

Lucy did not pause to watch him disappear into the distance, but turned to her own animal. She held her water out to it and stroked its twitching ear as the horse drank gratefully.

“What makes a man such a brute?” she queried softly into the air, climbed onto her mount and started for town, “And how do we repair what he has broken?”


The School marm: A Western Serial (parts 7 and 8)

The School Marm

*by Winslow Parker and Joan Myles*


“First, you must tell me why I should not call you ‘Birdie’”

“Well, it’s a long….” Began her aunt. She was interrupted by curses, the sound of galloping horses, then a single pistol shot.

“Oh, my goodness!” cried Mrs. Krane. She rushed to the front window and stared in disbelief. “Oh, Jonathan !” she wailed, opened the front door and rushed out.

Lucy moved through the door, quickly assessing the tableau. None but Mrs. Krane moved. Within the half-circle of mounted horsemen, Reverend Krane lay face down in the dust of the street. Blood pumped from a hole in his back.

Beatrice released her apron, folded it three times and pressed it against the wound. She could feel no breath, no pulse.

When she regained her own breath, she demanded, “What happened? Who did this?”

The horsemen, in unison, turned their horses and galloped northward toward the Bar-J-Bar ranch.

Billy suddenly reappeared at Lucy’s side. . “Can I help, Ma’am?”

“Get the sheriff, please. Be quick about it,” Lucy commanded.

Billy ran to the livery stable. “Sherriff!” he shouted through the open door. “The rev’s been shot.”

“Coming, coming, Billy. I was out in the privy. Can’t walk down Main Street with my britches around my ankles.” He grabbed his shotgun from its wall pegs and ran toward the reverend’s house.

He knelt in the dust, felt for a pulse, then put his ear to the prone back.

“Sorry ma’am, he’s gone.”

Beatrice’s weeping increased in volume and pitch. Her fine singing voice lent power and emotion to her grief. She rocked on her knees, then threw herself over her husband’s prostrate body. “Oh, Jonathan, Jonathan,” she wept.

Lucy knelt beside her, drawing her close. Beatrice turned and clung to her, shaking and weeping.

The sheriff nodded toward the house. Lucy helped Beatrice to her feet and turned her toward the open door.

“Billy, go find Walt. Tell him to start digging a grave. He’ll know where. Tell him I’ll pay the usual price.” For the second time that day, the sheriff dug into his pants pocket. This time he merely handed the coin to Billy.

“Much ‘bliged.” He leaped to his feet and ran to the saloon where he knew he would find Walt that time of day.


That evening, yellow lantern light cast a warm glow over the kitchen table, pushing darkness into the corners of the room. Beatrice held a cold cup of tea between trembling fingers. Silent tears coursed down her cheeks. Lucy drank her tea in small sips. She stood, rounded the table, and knelt beside her aunt. She wrapped her arms about her and held her as her aunt wept.



Only a few townsfolk gathered at the graveside that evening to bid Reverend Crane a respectful good-bye. Most of his congregants huddled in their homes, fearful to venture into the street, and trying to puzzle out why such a thing should happen to quiet, unremarkable Jonathan Crane.

Lucy supported her aunt as she wept without ceasing–dressing for the church service, throughout the recitation of Psalm 23 at the graveside, and during the long dark hours they passed until the morning light crept over the garden gate.

Then, as if on command, Beatrice recovered. And more than tearless, she was suddenly calm, uncharacteristically calm for her usual nervous nature.

“I need to tell you a few things,” she said to Lucy as they finished their morning tea and biscuits.


“Yes, because my Jonathan wasn’t just any random shooting victim. Those gunmen knew what they were doing, who they were doing away with.”

She became suddenly conscious of voices coming through the parlor window, and ran to look out.

“Just youngsters out for a lark,” she sighed in relief. But she closed the window and the curtains nonetheless.

“Come sit beside me, dear. We need to keep our talk as quiet as we can. There are too many uncommitted hearts in this town, too many who would just as soon turn away from the cruel things that go on when nobody speaks up. That’s why he was killed, you know, my dear, darling Jonathan, because more and more he was using his pulpit to speak out, to shine a light on the ugly, unspeakable goings on in this town–even after they burned down the church, or maybe because they did–they had to silence him.”

Lucy settled in close beside her aunt, and said, “Tell me aunt Birdie, I’m here to do what I can.”

“It has to do with the gold mine, all the men coming to town, all the gold, the greed, the ugliness that greed sparks, the lust and ugliness…” she shook her head and turned her face away from Lucy for a long moment.

The young woman waited, bracing herself for what might come next.

“…you know how greedy men are, how they expect all their lusts to be gratified.”

Beatrice looked deep into Lucy’s face to measure her understanding.

“I understand,” Lucy assured.

“The Mexican girls are especially easy prey,” the words were almost whispered, “because this town…these folks…don’t always care about what happens to brown folk.”


The School Marm: A Western Serial *parts 5 and 6*

The School Marmby Winslow Parker and Joan Myles


Curved and straight lines, whirls and gentle arcs appeared behind his pencil point.

“Why, Billy! That’s what I see in the mirror every morning! You’ve drawn my face just as I see it! You have a real talent!”

“Tain’t nuthin’.”

“You are wrong, Billy, this is a wonderful talent. Just look at the eyes. They seem to follow you, no matter how you move the page. That is a master artist’s touch. Who taught you?”

“Um, no one, ma’am.” He looked down, face reddening seeming both embarrassed at the praise and reveling in it.

“Would you draw more pictures for me?”

“I guess so. What of?”

“Anything you like.” She glanced to her left, along the road her aunt would be soon taking. A haze of distant dust assured her that it wouldn’t be long. “Look out there, Billy. What do you see? You can draw anything you see.”

“You mean, like cactus and things?”

“That and animals and people and mountains. I’ll pay you five cents per picture.”

“How many you want?”

“Good question. Tell me about the school house.”

“Well, ‘taint much of a house. It’s the church.”

“The church?”

“Yep, which you to be the dry goods store until it went broke.”

“Where is it?”

“You passed it on yer way here. That building with big windows in the front.”

“Oh, I remember. Well, then, I will commission ten drawings from you to decorate the school room for our first day of class.”

“Really? Fifty cents?”

“Yes. I’m impressed at your ability to calculate. You didn’t have to think even a second to have the correct answer. Let’s see, can you have them done by the first day of school?”

“Sure. Well, when is that?”

“Next Monday. Actually, I’d like to have them by Friday. Would that work?”

“What is today?”

“Tuesday. That gives you three days.”

“Lemme think a bit. Well, Maybe I can. I’ll try.”

“Good. Come to the school house on Friday and show me what you have. I’ll be arranging desks and writing lesson plans all day Friday and Saturday.”

“Gee, thanks!” Billy handed her the pencil and journal. “See ya Friday!” His bare feet left a series of small explosions in the dust behind him.

“Wait, Billy!”

He skidded in his tracks and turned.

“I have a sketch pad for you.”

She opened the trunk and rummaged among the books. “Here it is. I’m expecting more supplies by the freight wagon. When does it come in?”

“Thursday, usually.”

She pulled the sketchpad from under the pile of books. As she handed the bound pages to him, a bronze star thudded to the porch between them. She snatched it and put it back into the trunk. “It’s a remembrance of my father. He was sheriff in Yamhill County in Oregon.” She hoped he hadn’t been able to read the inscription. She didn’t want to lie to him, but it was necessary. “Let’s keep this a secret between us, Billy. It means a great deal to me and I don’t want it to become public gossip.”

“Sure, Miss Phillips. I can keep a secret.” He spat in his hand and held it out to her, then withdrew it just as fast and wiped his palm on his pants. “Sorry ma’am. Me’n my friends swear to secrecy by doin’ that.” He looked down, embarrassed.

“That’s OK. I accept your word.”

The sound of hymns drifted on a light breeze. The cloud of dust grew larger, announcing a buggy with five occupants entering the North end of the street.

“It’s the rev. See ya Miss Phillips.” He disappeared around the corner of the house sketch book tightly gripped in his fist.

She leaped to her feet and ran toward the gate.



A rattling of the cart and a jingling of the horses harness was followed by a flurry of female voices and the creaking of the gate as it opened.

“Why Lucy Phillips, is that you, and all grown up? What are you doing out here in all this heat?” The nervous little woman was a bit overcome with the heat herself as she huffed up the walk, “You should be relaxing in our parlor with a lovely glass of lemonade.”

“Oh, Aunt Birdie, how nice to be with you again,” she reached out and assisted the minister’s wife up the final step, only to be swept inside as the door quickly opened.

“You’re a darling girl, Lucy, but you must not call me Aunt Birdie outside this house.”

The younger woman put a finger to her lips and whispered teasingly, “Not a peep.” Then asked, “But wasn’t it your beautiful singing voice that earned you the name?”

“That’s what your mother always claimed–oh just put your things over there, dear, Jonathan will move them when he returns from delivering the ladies and the wagon, it shouldn’t be too long–” she perched on the edge of a chair and Lucy sat across from her, “ I think my little sister just preferred Birdie over Beatrice.

She studied her niece more closely as the younger woman settled gracefully into a chair, removed her travel hat and brushed an auburn curl away from her face. But the ticking of the carved wooden clock only intensified her natural nervousness.

At length she said, “So while we have this time alone, Lucy, you must tell me for true: why in the world did you move to this town?”


The School Marm : A Western Serial(Parts 3 and 4)

The School Marm: A Western Serial*joint writing project by Winslow Parker and Joan Myles*


“Billy, wait a sec.” The lawman searched in his pocket. Finding what he sought, he withdrew his hand and flipped it to Billy. It cast bright shards of light as it danced in the air. Billy’s eyes widened as he caught it.

“Geez, sheriff,” he breathed, “a quarter? Thanks a lot!”

She smiled. “Thank you, sir, that was very kind of you.”

“’tain’t nothing ma’am. It ain’t far to the Kranes, ‘bout three blocks, I reckon. Can you make it that far on foot?”

“Of course. You’ll find I’m made of sturdier stuff than what you’re obviously thinking, sheriff. Lead on.”

He picked up her satchel and hoisted it to his shoulder, still holding the shotgun in the cradle of one arm. They walked in silence.

“Were you expecting trouble, sheriff?” she asked, pointing at his weapon.

“Nah, it’s just precaution. Never know what the stage might drag into town.”

She looked up into his eyes, then lowered them quickly.

“We don’t have much trouble hereabouts. I keep a pretty close eye on the cowboys who come to town on Saturday night and the drifters who pass through. We’ve not had a shooting in six months or so.” He paused after this long oration. “Where did you say you’re from?”

“Didn’t say, but it’s Oregon.”

“Long way away.”

“As the crow flies, about 1200 miles. By stage coach, about a month. No telling how many miles it is.”

“How come?”

“Looking for a teaching position and my aunt Beatrice lives here. I guess it was a natural.”

“Here we are.” He turned from the street, opened the gate in the picket fence and escorted her up the three wooden steps to the front porch.

“They have a powder room with real running water,” he said, face reddening. “Um, I’m sure they won’t mind if you freshen up a bit.”

“Thank you, sheriff.” “I can take care of myself from here.” She reached for the handle of her traveling case and opened the door. “Thank you again, sheriff. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you around.”

He touched the brim of his hat. “If you have any needs, I live above the livery. I’m used to being called any time of the day or night.” He started to turn away. “Oh, if the Kranes don’t’ return by dinner time, come on down to the cafe. I’ll buy your meal.”

“I’m sure I’ll be fine, sheriff,” she said her voice cool, “but thank you for the invitation.”

He touched his hat again and turned to leave.

A distance rumble caught her attention.

“What was that?” she asked, “it can’t be thunder, there’s not a cloud in the sky.”

“Blastin’ at the gold mine in the West face of La Mesa. Getting’ ready for tomorrow’s shovelin’. Don’t much like it cuz it brings in the worst kind of riffraff. Makes being sheriff a bit more difficult, if you know what I mean.” The expenditure of so many words at once seemed to exhaust him. He turned again and strode away.

She watched until he disappeared into the livery three blocks away. He didn’t turn to look at her, which was fine with her.


TSM *4*

The air beneath the porch roof was somewhat cooler, but the day’s heat hung close, like something not quite welcome, not like Oregon air at all. She closed the door and sighed, remembering the scent of pines at dawn, the pools of shadow stretching long and soothing across her mother’s porch.

This is home to me now, she resolved.

She pulled her satchel to the edge of the steps, situated herself properly beside it, and unlatched the bag. Just inside, her leather journal and the pencil she kept always ready came easily into her hands. It was a new journal, beautifully tooled and smooth to the touch, fresh and open to her thoughts. A gift from her brother Dan as he put her on the train in Portland

“I know your head will be swimming with impressions,” his quiet rumble came back to her, the timbre she knew he used to mask uncomfortable emotions, “and we’ll want to hear every one of ‘em, once you’re settled in.”

She could still feel the bigness of his embrace and the stubble of his cheek, still sensed a trace of his pipe smoke in her clothes.

Even with all this dust, she mused.

Who knew when they would see each other again. Portland wasn’t an unmanageable distance, but Life was an untamed river, and the days of men like fleeting shadows.

She opened the journal and wrote:

August 17

Arrived in Furnace Wells late this afternoon.

But raspy whistling and the sound of something being dragged caught her attention. It was Billy coming through the gate, his face red with effort. He grinned broadly and touched the top of his hatless head.

“Knew I could do it,” he puffed up the steps.

“As did I,” she assured, closing the journal.

She reached out just in time to catch the boy’s arm, keeping him from toppling backward with his load.

“Whoa now!” Billy laughed. He straightened himself again, managed to tug the trunk up the final step, and stooped to retrieve the fallen journal and pencil.

“Oh, thank you, Billy,” she moved to tuck the items back into her bag.

The boy perched on the bottom step and looked up at her,, “Whatcha doin’, Ma’am?”

“Recording a few thoughts about my day. She brought the journal closer to show him. “I didn’t get very far I’m afraid.”

Noticing Billy’s eyes were fixed on the pencil, she held it out to him and turned to a blank page.

“Maybe you’d like to record something for me?”

“I only do pictures, Ma’am, don’t know many letters,” he sighed.

“All right, a picture then. You were drawing in the dust a while ago. Something like that, perhaps?”

But the pencil was already moving as Billy’s concentration focused on the lines flowing easily across the page. Miss Phillips waited.

A crow flew across her gaze and a horse whinnied somewhere down the lane, and the pencil kept moving.


Rainy Season

*At long last I rejoice to be able to post this at its proper time–on a day filled with rainshowers! Blessings to all*

Rainy Season

*from One with Willows, copyright 2019 by Joan Myles*

When the rains come at last,

there is no mistaking what will happen.

One person uncovers the cistern

he dug years ago against thirst.

Another brings out buckets

to place beneath the leaky roof.

Oh, let me be the one

who opens windows and unlocks the door,

who presses her face against the screen,

inhaling the mist like life itself.

Let me gather the children

to trace raindrop outlines

upon the window glass,

to clap and dance with joy

for gardens yet to be

and for promises kept.

The School Marm

The School Marm*A joint writing project by Winslow Parker and Joan Myles*


Heat-shimmered air blued a distant mountain range. Spiraling Buzzards marked the death of a desert creature. Mirages poured dry water onto every flat surface . A horse dropping hosted a constellation of desultory flies. A black and tan mongrel lifted a curious head, glanced around, lifted his tail once then dropped his head back into the dust. Humans pulled their tar-paper shacks over themselves like desert tortoises, seeking shelter from the sun.

A lone sun-weathered man leaned against the livery door, face in the shade, body exposed to the sun’s angry noontime rays. His hand lifted and lowered to the rhythm of slow draws on a black cigar. He blew lazy smoke rings toward the center of the empty street. His eyes flicked to the left, following the dry road south to its curve around the base of La Mesa Butte.

Dust puffed at the Eastern base of the vertical cliff then gathered strength, billowing into a cloud. Two miles from town, a stagecoach headed by six plodding horses emerged from the cloud. The man flicked his cigar into the street, straightened, turned and entered the livery. He appeared a moment later, a shotgun cradled in the crook of his right elbow. He reached into his pocket withdrawing a brass star, the token of his office. With a practiced wrist flick, he pinned it to his shirtfront.

The stage drew up to the livery door. The horses let their heads droop. Sweat carved stream through the brown dust caking their flanks.

The creak of leather and the shril protest of inadequately greased axles drew two men to the saloon door. They stayed in the shadow of its sign, watching. A boy, heedless of the heat, scuffed across the street toward the only action in town. His feet were two moles raising the dust from beneath.

“Howdy Fletch!”

“Howdy Frank! Hard trip?”

“Yep, wasn’t sure this team was going to make it. Heat’s got them tuckered nearly to death.”

“Looks like it. Need a fresh team?”

“Nah, just some feed and water. I’ll let them rest for a coupla hours in the livery to cool down. Any passengers back to Yuma?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Then it’ll be a light load and I can baby them a bit.”

“Suit yourself.”

Frank swung down from the driver’s box, lighting easily in the thick dust. He placed a wooden stool beneath the door then straightened to open it. He touched the brim of his hat.

“Yer here, ma’am,” he said. “This is the end of the line, Furnace Wells.”

A dainty booted foot extended from the door, seeking the stool . A second followed it, then a flurry of skirts dropped into place. A delicate hand sought and found the supporting door handle. A pretty young woman emerged and stepped gracefully to the ground.

“This here’s Miss Phillips, your new school marm.” Frank said byway of introduction, “And this is Fletch Furnace Wells’s sherriff.” He gestured at the man standing just inside the livery door.

Fletch touched the brim of his hat, “Pleasure, ma’am. We’ve been waiting a long time for ya.” His smile did not reach his hat-shadowed eyes.



She stood for a moment beside the stage, the heat pressing down upon her and the dazzling light bringing tears to her eyes.

“Furnace Wells. An apt name for a town on such a day as this,” she wiped her brow, then, squinting, looked up at Fletch and smiled, “Now really, I’m not so dangerous as to require a lawman’s welcome.”

But before Fletch could speak, the sprightly young woman was reaching back into the coach to retrieve her bulging cloth satchel, and calling out, “oh, my books. I’ll need my books, please.”

Frank cast a sideways look in Fletch’s direction, and slowly climbed back onto the stagecoach.

“Got your trunk right here, Ma’am,” he lowered the massive piece down to Fletch, touched his hat brim once more as he jumped from the coach, and strode into the livery like he was on fire.

“Thank yooooou,” Miss Philips sang out after him. To Fletch she confided, “I simply can’t do my work with out my books. And my typewriter.”

Leaning the trunk against the coach’s rear wheel, Fletch cleared his throat and thought for a minute. He wasn’t much with words. Careful deliberation and quick action were his usual methods. This school marm, though, was not like him. He could tell already. He pulled a few thoughts together, and took a deep breath.

“The reverend sent me to meet you, Ma’am, he started, “Ya see, old Lizzie Grandbouche is on her deathbed–has been for the last three years or so, I reckon–and ev’ry now an’ again she gets a hankering for a private, weekday sermon, like she ‘spects the angels are hovering’ right overhead.“

He paused to measure her sense of things, but coming up empty, just kept talking.

“So Reverend Krane and his wife–she leads the ladies in singing’–both scurry on over to Lizzies when she gets like that, pickin’ up a few of the ladies of the choir, cause she is the church’s biggest supporter, Ol’ Lizzie Granbouche, you know what I mean. Well, it’s a good ten miles up to Lizzie’s place, and the Kranes won’t likely get back, what with the singin’ and the prayin’ and the tearful rememberin’ Lizzie is likely to put them all through, and then dinner–no tellin’ how late they’ll be.”

“I see.”

Fletch noticed Miss Phillips’s smile was gone. She was frowning, gazing down at her dusty boots, then along the road, up to the cloudless sky, and back down to her boots again.

“Now don’t you fret,” he said.

his searching gaze landed on the boy crouched down the street drawing in the dust with his finger. He let out a sharp blade of a whistle that shattered the infernal dullness settling over Miss Phillips. Startled, the boy looked up, then jumped to his feet.

“I’ll see you get to the reverend’s, and all your precious books and things too,” Fletch said.

“Yessuh,” the boy stood panting before them, hopping on one bare foot as he scratched the other ankle.

“Billy, this is Miss Phillips. She’s your new School marm.”

Nice to meet you, Billy. She smiled at the boy, barely looking down.

“And you, ma’am. Gosh, a school marm.”

“Think you can haul that trunk over to the reverend’s? Miss Phillips is stayin’ there for the time being.”

“Heck, yeah,” he grabbed hold of the trunk and dragged it a few paces.

“And mind you take care, boy,“ Fletch warned, “Miss Phillips needs all those books and things. Reverend Krane says she’s some kind of scholar and we’re lucky to have her.”