IVD - Beneath the Cold Clay.   Posted by Kansas Kate.Group: 0
Kansas Kate
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Sun 9 Jun 2019
at 21:54
IVD - Beneath the Cold Clay

Hank Williams Sr.:
In the great book of John
You're warned of the day
When you'll be laid
Beneath the cold clay
The Angel of Death
Will come from the sky
And claim your poor soul
When the time comes to die

Death and hell are never full, but neither are the eyes of men.

Siobhan had heard that once so long ago; she couldn't remember when and hadn't thought about it in years.  It was a laconic statement when you considered it had such a complex meaning when applied to an actual human life.  Everything that had ever happened to her revolved around death, hell, and the wickedness of man's desire.

As she ran down the muddy street her ramshackle shoes, full of holes, did nothing to keep her feet clean.  What did help were the thick layers of rags stuffed in there to make the shoes "fit", after a fashion, on such little feet.  Those rags would be soaked through with mud by the end of the day.  She wore her threadbare sun-bleached blue dress.

Blue dress?  When's the last time she had worn a dress?  It had been years.  Not since she left Abilene.  Just before Abilene somewhere, that would have been the last time she'd worn a skirt even.  Because after Abilene, she was on a horse too often.

But that wasn't just any dress.  She remembered it.  She remembered those shoes too.  She would wear that dress every day for, well it was hard to say, but in retrospect it must have been right at a year.  She didn't get anything different until she was so big the garment was cutting her circulation off to put it on.  She remembered its eventual destruction too: the garment being at least two sizes too small, it had ripped at the seams as she went about her business.

But all that had happened when she was a... a child.

Siobhan felt a wave of confusion wash over her, catching the former outlaw completely off guard for the first time in a long time.  She knew who she was.  She knew what had happened to her, but she wasn't there.  She was here.  But here was what, fifteen, sixteen years ago?

This entire muddy street didn't even exist any more.  She'd hear about it being burned down in about a dozen years, and drink to it triumphantly, surrounded by her (at the time) "sisters".

But here it was, just as it had been.  Siobhan was here as she'd been too.  Smelly, dirty, in an old threadbare dress that she had to wear every day, her dark hair unwashed and unruly, wearing shoes that were far too big for her little feet.

She didn't understand.  She was here, and she wasn't here.  She could remember all of this, but not this specific moment, but she knew this moment must have happened as it was happening now.  She could turn her head left, and right, and hear and smell everything.  There was a team of horses behind her, snorting and nervous, hitched to either a carriage or wagon, she couldn't tell.

She knew she had to get home.  Home.

An icy chill grabbed her heart.  Her mother would be there.  She would have to relive it all over again, wouldn't she?  Siobhan hated her mother, hated and feared her, though she'd been dead for a decade.  Well, the two had something in common now.

She tried to will herself not to go, but it wouldn't take.  Siobhan panicked, and then stopped.  She had to not panic.  She had to be slow in a hurry.  Just like a gunfight.

The passage of time was hard to nail down in this state, it seemed just going from the edge of one building to the other could pass at regular little girl speed, or that it could take weeks.

But she had done an admirable job of figuring it out.  It had rules of a sort.  Siobhan could just watch it unfold as it had back then, but she could also do a sort of "override" and force her younger self to do anything her younger self would have been capable of at the time.  That was extremely limiting, because Siobhan wouldn't become "Kansas Kate" for a good many years yet.  This included both physical and mental abilities, as well as the sense of scope and self.  She tried it.

Sure enough, little Siobhan could be told to run around the same building thrice, to jump clumsily, and to roll in the dirt and sing nonsense songs, all things in the physical and mental purview of a little girl of six.  However she could not recite the exchange rate between Union and Confederate dollars and instead just babbled some nonsense about the colors of the bills.  This earned her some stares at the apparent childish hyperactivity but no one said anything.

Siobhan then saw her real opportunity.  She willed her younger self to run off across town and jump in a well and drown herself to prevent her miserable life from ever happening.  No reaction to that whatsoever; it wasn't germane to little Siobhan's mind.  It's not that kids weren't capable of putting themselves in lethal situations, but deliberate suicide just wasn't something her younger self could understand the desire for.  She wasn't capable of thinking like that yet.

It went even deeper.  Whatever the little Siobhan did, grown up Siobhan did, and felt.  She felt every bit of it.  The exhaustion, the pressure, the heat, the pain, the elation, the fear, the too big shoes slippery and loose on her feet, whatever the little one would have felt at the time had she decided to do such a thing.  But she felt it regardless of whether she intervened or not, like some kind of lucid dream that proceeded by default even if she chose not to engage.

It was beyond bizarre to her, so absurd she had no choice but to accept it.  Siobhan had heard that if you die, your whole life flashes before you, but this was no flash.  This was deep and rich and real and perverse.  This was literally being trapped in your own mind.

Why?  She wondered, too perplexed to be upset.  When she pondered, she noticed time's dilation again, the actual proceedings seeming to come to a near freeze.  That was the last rule of this new state of being, she had to live in the moment to experience it.  So finally, she embraced it.  What else was there to do?

She'd been born here and thought nothing of it.  The infamous Dodge City.  It was no place for children but a child couldn't understand this.  Older Siobhan sure could though.  Her experienced eyes watched in wonder as the little version of herself innocently crossed its streets, wondering how in tarnation she hadn't been kidnapped and hurt in unspeakable ways a dozen times over in any given day.  Young Siobhan was oblivious to threats, but the older Kansas Kate was quite savvy.

The little girl, after some impulsive diversions, headed home.  Home was the launderer's shop, one of those places without an actual name.  There was simply a sign that read "Laundry" and people called it the same.  However that was only the front business (though it was profitable enough it would have justified its own presence regardless).  The real business was the bordello in the back.

Siobhan's mother could be euphemistically called any number of colorful epithets, lady of the evening, soiled dove, and so on, but at the end of the day she was a prostitute.  Siobhan herself preferred the more coarse synonym whore, or rather she would in about six or seven years.  Little Siobhan, the Siobhan who had lived this moment, didn't understand the meaning or significance of such words yet.

Had she ever been this innocent?  She must have been, but it was mind boggling to see it like this, with her adult perspective.

The child had lived here all her life, ever since she was a baby.  Originally a bassinet was brought into her mother's room.  The customers were weirdly comfortable with it for the most part.  However the time had long since lapsed that it was okay to just leave the babe in the midst of such depravity.

The current accommodations were awkward for everybody.  There was just the thinnest veneer of human kindness at play as everyone involved, other than the mother, realized the child could not be exposed so directly to the truth.  That, and the madame knew a little brat being visible was just plain bad for business.  But the kindness, such as it was, was very thin indeed here, as they considered the girl's innocence but not her safety.

Regularly, the little girl was sent out, usually used to deliver messages, and at all hours of the day and night, only being allowed to sleep when there was no danger of seeing something traumatic.  School wasn't even thought of.  Someone brought it up once, but Tilly Miller forbade it, she didn't believe in school.

She was never happy to go home to the brothel though, despite all the efforts to protect her from the reality of the place.  Because when there were no distractions and she was left with her mother...

...the grown up Siobhan Miller screamed into the darkness, reliving the personal hell she'd tried to get away from for so many years.

It got easier when she was a little bit older.  A couple of years made a tremendous difference in terms of capabilities, physical and mental.  Though she was small, the manager of the laundry figured out the child could easily pull a basket on a wagon.  It was a convenient way to get her out of the place.  Her deliveries were necessarily difficult and slow, but this was even better since the purpose was to dispose of the child.  When she wasn't out, the child was still useful for sorting, stacking and changing out the water.  She just didn't have the strength in her little fingers to really scrub clothes yet.

The only reason the child knew as much as how to write her name (poorly) was the manager of the laundry was also infuriated by the child not knowing how to read the tags or written instructions.  A compromise was reached with the other.  Every day, before the laundry opened, little Siobhan was expected to have completed a lesson in a copybook.

It was hardly an effective way to learn how to read and write, but it worked for the purpose.  Siobhan would never be particularly literate, or particularly good at arithmetic.  She'd never read literature or science or philosophy.

Oh but she was clever, clever in all the wrong ways.  Adult Siobhan watched this part passively, as she had forgotten what a little thief she'd been.  As she delivered laundry, the girl also stole her meals, and took anything that wasn't supervised closely so she could try to sell it to the madame of the brothel, who ran a small side business fencing such trinkets.

The girl was thin, too thin.  Her clothes were still threadbare.  She was always covered in bruises, sometimes a small burn.

Conditions were getting better and also worse.  Her mother was sometimes too strung out to rent her body out on some nights.  Drugged up mommy didn't have the energy or inclination to go to work on little Siobhan, so the child began to secretly pray her mother would take the concoction more often.  The laundry was actually paying her now, just a little penny here and there to make her laundry deliveries.

But her mother would take those payments.  Needed it for laudanum.  And when she wasn't out of her head, though the harm she did to the child was less frequent, it was much more severe.  And slowly the madame was losing patience.

A couple more years, and while the nightly terror and inhumanity of what that woman who had the audacity to respond to the name of mother had given way to a more constant state of being strung out of her mind instead, it also meant Tilly Miller was working less and less.

They were out of the brothel.  That would theoretically be good, except the place they were in now, what used to be a store room next to a stable.  It smelled like horse feces and chemicals.  Her mom was still a whore, just in a saloon now.  The new arrangement was less generous as her manager took a bigger cut, and living expenses were no longer included.  The only upside was little Siobhan didn't have to live and sleep in a literal whorehouse, but it was too late if the goal was to preserve her innocence.

The little girl knew all too well by now what her mother did.

But there was one meaningfully positive circumstance:  Siobhan, thankfully, somehow, looked older than she was.  She lied and said she was fifteen years old.  It was enough to get a job at a saloon, and not the one her mother whored herself in.  And it was not the job most people would think of, rather she was busing the tables, cleaning the furniture, and getting the blood out of the floors.

Well that, and coming at off hours and pouring full bottles into empty bottles and adding just enough water.  You could turn seven bottles into eight and no one would know the difference.

Somehow she had talked her way into it.  It helped that the owner was incredibly cheap and desperate to continue to be incredibly cheap.

That, and he stared at her.  It was creepy.  But he paid.  And more than anything, that was important, because even when her mother worked, all of that went to more laudanum.

She was fourteen, almost legitimately fifteen, now.  Siobhan was starting to find she had a little more control over her younger self.  She was not yet in her adult body but it was well on its way.  She'd grow a little bit more.

The body was there but the mind sure wasn't.  The things older Siobhan really wanted her younger self to do, her younger self couldn't quite grasp it yet.  Soon though, she could very nearly take total control now.  She felt like it was mere moments away.  Then this weird dream play might get real interesting.  What could she did if she could actually relive her youth?

Relive her youth.  That was rich.  She'd only been twenty two, maybe twenty three, she wasn't sure, when she bit it in that New Mexico schoolhouse.

She had just finished watering down the whiskey and packing the bar.  She needed to get a better job.  She could pass for seventeen or eighteen at this point.  She had better options.

And the boss' staring was getting way too damn creepy.  Soon.

Young Siobhan walked out in the night, heading home to yet another new place she'd had to move them into.  Her mother was completely out of it, all the time now.  In her hand was a canvas sack of broken glass from cleaning up the bar.

The night terrors had started, recollections of what her mother used to do to her before the laudanum.  They'd plague her the rest of her life.

She was wondering how bad they would be tonight when she realized she hadn't paid a lick of attention to her surroundings.  She'd wandered straight into them.

Jules McCarthy stood there, but not alone.  Four of his "boys", technically grown men all, were with him.  Any one of them stood six inches taller than her and had a lot of steel on his belt.  Siobhan had nothing.

Siobhan versus Jules himself might have been more fair, but even with the disadvantage of age he'd probably win.  McCarthy had the personality of a horse's ass.

The men opened their coats and jackets to reveal their hidden sixguns.  They weren't supposed to have those in Dodge City.

"Girl, you owe me a lot of money."

She stopped, her blood running cold.

That's when Siobhan felt it.  She had an in.  She... remembered, remembered how this went last time.  Her younger self would wind up blubbering while two of those men grabbed her and tore her clothes and robbed her, since she'd just been paid for the week.

But that was inexperience talking.  The fact was, this experience had been a turning point in her life, when she'd finally truly realized how the world was.  It was understandable her younger, inexperienced self would cringe and mew like a little bitch the fist time.

But now?  To hell with that.

What was supposed to happen was a blubbering response of "I-m s-sorry but w-what are you t-talking about Mr. McCarthy?"

Not this time.  Hell to the naw.  I 'member this peckerwood.  Fuck him.

What happened this time was pure Kansas Kate.

"Let me guess, the horse's cock weren't big enough for ya and ya want a refund?"

It wasn't her best line, but the non-sequitur nature of it, the crassness, the insinuation, and the ice cold tone caught the men off guard.  The two who were supposed to grab her now... didn't.

McCarthy was stunned for a moment, then he laughed.  "Damn girl.  Must have caught you at the wrong time of the month.  You know she owes me, plus interest."

"Then you march your little dancin' ass on down that street, you go find that old whore and take it out o'her dried up old cunt.  Ah'd worry it'd make yer todger sore, but yer too small fer sech to be a problem.  Ah'm sure she remembers how to lie there on her back.  Go on now you pig raper, go get yer fill until she's all paid up, you flintskin piece of donkey shit.  Hell let all yer boys here go first, you'd like it better that way."

That shut them all up.  That wasn't fourteen year old Siobhan Miller at all.  That was crass, brutal and above all mean.

What was supposed to happen is McCarthy was going to bully her and send men to beat her when she she didn't pay for the next year, only for McCarthy to eventually cut Siobhan's mother off.  That led to the night Siobhan's mother would come at her with a knife and a fireplace poker.

That would in turn lead her to stowaway to Abilene, which led to a very short stint as a saloon gal there, which would lead to her hearing of the Colorado territory, which would lead to that fatal express west which would be derailed by none other than the Wichita Witches.

But that wasn't going to happen this time.  Current Siobhan, the older Siobhan, wouldn't let it.  There would be no Kansas Kate.  She wouldn't die in a wrecked schoolhouse in the middle of nowhere looking for a man with a cross shaped scar above his nose.

This time it was going to be different.  For the first time in her sorry existence, she had a choice, a real choice.  She was taking charge of her life this time, right here, right the hell now.

McCarthy flashed red, realizing he'd just backed off from a girl.  Angrily, he pointed at one of his men.

The man advanced, reaching to grab her forearm.  He had planned to grab both arms, lock her wrists in one hand, and go to work on her with the other hand.

That might work on most teenage girls.  But not this one, not one that was currently being ridden by a mean bitch in much the same way a houngan is ridden by a loa. Her teenage body wasn't quite there, but it was close enough.

The Siobhan who had once been Kansas Kate played along, but when he got close enough, what was essentially now the outlaw given new flesh twirled the bag full of broken glass just right and broke it against the man's face, sending a spray of brown bottle glass into his eyes.

The man screamed.  Kate reached into his waist, and although it was awkward, pulled the Colt out of his holster.  With an old gunfighter's twirling trick, she instantly oriented it properly and then proceeded to fire five rapid shots expertly.  Two went wide but three found their mark.  The three thugs (that is to say the ones without glass in their eyes) fell.  One was dead there on the spot, the other would be within the hour, the third would survive but was in shock right now.

One of them dropped the sawed off he'd been concealing under his duster with the aid of a leather belt tied in an improvised sling.  Kate ran to it as soon as it hit the dirt, and managed to shoulder its mangled form.

McCarthy was stunned.  This was first rate gun-play, where the hell had this little girl learned to do this?  He panicked and ran.  He ate a double load of buckshot in his back for his trouble.

She'd done the titular get out of Dodge this time.  She made it to Missouri, where a posse sent to intercept her caught up to her.  Five men gunned her down inside a saloon at a faro table.

She'd only been twenty one this time.  She had a much higher body count though, this Kansas Kate had her skills from her previous life.  She didn't have to run with a rail enforcer gang for a while to learn them.

This Kansas Kate never made it onto the stagecoach, never went to New Mexico, and died there shot down like a dog in the sawdust.

Death and hell are never full, but neither are the eyes of men.

Siobhan had heard that once so long ago; she couldn't remember when and hadn't thought about it in years.  It was a laconic statement when you considered it had such a complex meaning when applied to an actual human life.  Everything that had ever happened to her revolved around death, hell, and the wickedness of man's desire.

As she ran down the muddy street her ramshackle shoes, full of holes, did nothing to keep her feet clean.  Wait. What in the blue hell?  The thought came to her.  Was this happening... again?

She immediately tried to stop her younger self.  It did work, but time dilated, just like before.  The same rules were in effect.  She just understood how it worked now.

Kansas Kate lived a hundred lives.

She tried everything.  Abandoning her mother.  Running off and joining a convent.  Getting addicted to laudanum herself.  Killing McCarthy.  Killing McCarthy in the most hilarious way possible.  Joining McCarthy.  Joining McCarthy and killing him.  Then joining McCarthy, gaining his trust, pretending to want to sleep with him and then killing him in the most hilarious way possible.

Eventually, she started to memorize things, make the best possible decisions.  She'd got to the point she knew exactly what song and dance to do to pay McCarthy off and scare him at the same time.  He wasn't any fun to play with any more.  He was just another Murphy, on a smaller scale.

But it always ended the same.  Somehow, she'd be backed into a corner.  Somehow, she'd have to turn to the gun.  In some lives, she let things go naturally, watch herself gain skills like before.  In some lives, she pretty much took over and shot to infamy as a young female pistolero.

But every time, she wound up shot down before she ever turned twenty and four.  Shot down by other outlaws, shot down by the law, shot in the back by a coward, but none of them were ever "good" deaths.  Well, in some she got stabbed or clubbed to death, there was that much variety at least.  Not once did she ever lose a duel, or get mowed down making a heroic stand, no, it was all hopeless, brutal murder for her.

Maybe the real lesson here was, she shouldn't be stuck in her old ways, being an outlaw gunslinger could never have brought her to a good end.  What if she'd been a good girl instead?  So then she tried something different in her next few lives.  She only intervened to stop herself from doing anything criminal or violent.

At first, this was promising.  It took a few tries but eventually she found a life where her mother passed away two years before she was supposed to, and Siobhan went to Abilene, danced at a saloon, met a boy named Clay...

...who was shot down by a jealous rival...
...who was shot down as an innocent bystander in a bank robbery...
...who turned out was stringing her along to sell her to a pimp...

So to hell with Clay.  That bastard.

Another thirty or so lives, two more different cities, different boys.  Always the same, with the one variable being she didn't necessarily become Kansas Kate properly, but she always died like Kansas Kate, shot down en masse, like a rabid dog.

Steve was a genuinely kind soul, but none of the lives she had with him ended in anything other than her being violently murdered even when she was a saint.  Giving up on him was painful.  Siobhan wished she'd known Steve the first time, she might have been able to die in some kind of peace then even if she had been murdered.  But Steve, she had to let go.  He was never really hers, and she prayed the real Steve who had never met her had gotten half of what he actually deserved.

Connor was fun, but if she made the wrong move, he betrayed her, and if she didn't, he did to her what her mother used to.

She tried again, telling herself she had to get to Colorado.  Then the Maze.  Then Deseret.  London.  Paris.

It didn't matter what she did, what life she led, how good or bad of a person she was.

She never lived to be any older than she'd been when she bit it in that Lincoln schoolhouse.

She always died violently.  It might be completely random, and some deaths were better than others, but they were all brutal and senseless and unsatisfying.

There were even a couple of lives where she'd had a child.  In one the infant was shot in her arms, in the other it was stolen in the middle of the night and drowned.

She stopped trying to have children after that.

But none of that, none of that was the worst.

The worst was, every time she made another circuit, she went back to being six years old again.  Went back to her mother, and the terrors of that, again, and again, and again.

She must have led twenty score or more lives by now.  All the same, in the end.

Kansas Kate might never be known as such in one life or another, but she always existed, in the end.  Siobhan had no choice.  She'd never had a choice.

She let the cycle run by itself a few times.  Left on its own, it ended there in the Lincoln schoolhouse, again and again.

She tried something else.  This was surely hell.  What could possibly be a better hell than this?

So if this was hell, there had to be a devil right?  She just had to get his attention.

Eventually, she figured it out.  How many times had she been murdered and beaten and abused by her mother by now?

She knew she was insane now.  How she knew she knew was a riddle in and of itself.  But she knew.  But now she had it.

If, and she had to to it perfectly, but if she threw a stone and broke the window, it would startle the lead horse, and start the team, and the wagon would run her over, right there at the beginning of the whole thing.

It had to be just absolutely perfect though.  She kept getting it right in one life, only to foul it up in the next.

She'd tried, many times, killing herself as the older Siobhan, when she got to a point in her life she could understand wanting to die, but the problem was, that only spared her the brutality of being murdered.  Whoever was doing this, he didn't care if she cut out that part of the equation.

In fact he wanted her to die faster, because it wanted her caught as a helpless child vulnerable to her mother, forever.  It took so many iterations to figure that out.

It'd seemed hopeless at first because child her wouldn't do anything to harm herself.  But throwing a stone at a window... that she would do.  It'd taken her countless cycles of mere observation to even get the idea.  Just to figure out those horses in Dodge City could be spooked and how to do it using a six year old's capabilities had taken a mind numbing amount of trial and error, and she never would have thought to try the sound of breaking glass.

But when you could just try, try again for all eternity you caught some breaks eventually.  That was good part.

Yet that was the worst part.  While each cycle felt like sixteen years or longer, the truth was there was no time here at all.  She could live an eternity of eternities with no time passing at all.

But finally she'd outsmarted the system.  And with every new cycle, she died anew, died before she could get home to her mother and that awful first night of her life she could remember.

She'd gotten his attention.  It took maybe a hundred cycles, but she had it down so cold now, she could replicate it each and every time.  It was, oddly, mind numbing and its own kind of torture.

But it wasn't the intended torture.  She could feel it, there was something, someone else here, and it had taken notice.

How many times had she relived her life now?  A hundred would have been a joke.  A thousand seemed far too low.  Ten thousand seemed perhaps too much, but also within possibility.

But this time, after the horse team ran her over and crushed her six year old form, it all went dark, and... nothing.  No Dodge City.  No shoes too big for her feet.  Just her.

Just her.  Though it was dark, and without heat or cold or light or wind or air or land to stand on, she knew she was naked.  But then there was light, just the smallest amount.  It was coming from her hand.  Her right hand.

Siobhan held it up and looked at it.  It was the pentagram the Wichita Witches had burned into her hand in preparation for her induction into the coven.  The induction she had refused.  Now the symbol glowed like hot metal, though there was no heat from it.

That was weird.  That was from her original life.  She'd only get that in the subsequent lives if she let it happen.  Which she had, a few times, trying to suss out which variables to change and which to leave be.

A cold feeling passed through her.  Somehow she knew that meant he was there, at last.  No, not he.  It was The Devil.  But The Devil wasn't what she'd been told.  It was just as well.  Hell was supposed to be a big fiery pit, not a never-ending repetition of your horrific childhood.

Tilly Miller was there in the void.  Her mother looked like she had when Siobhan was little, still beautiful and youthful with her long curls of raven hair, pursed lips, piercing sapphire eyes.  She was wearing one of the gowns of her trade.

"Do you think you've outsmarted me?"  She asked, the voice cold and distant and uncaring like it'd been in life.

"Ain't no outsmartin' to it."  Siobhan answered in the Kansas Kate voice.  It wasn't a particularly strong answer, it was cryptic and had none of her usual bravado or swagger.  It sounded strange.

There was a long pause.  How long, who knew.  An hour?  Ten thousand years?  Time meant nothing here.

"Your choices never meant anything."

That elicited a little bit of Kansas Kate, dripping with sarcasm.  "Oh no shit?  By the blood of the cross, ah was reckonin' if'n ah just kept goin' ah'd've done found me the life where ah would have not turned out to be a total piece of shit.  Well dang now ah'm downright dis'ppointed."

Another pause, not quite as long.

"Fuck ya all the same ya old whore.  Steve would have been worth it.  Who knew all ah had to do was become a dancer in Atlanta.  Shit on a shingle, ah would have done it, had ah known."

"You'd still be here, and you'd still be mine.  You always were, and always will be."

"Yep, ah reckon so.  Sure as yer cunt's dryer'n Arizonaland."

Kate's mother frowned.  That... wasn't supposed to happen.  Siobhan was supposed to howl and rage.

"Have you lost your grit, gunslinger?"  Now that was an odd statement to hear in her mother's voice.  She'd never have said such a thing.

"Not a grain of it, Satan.  Or Mom.  Or whatever kinda dunglicker ya are."  Came the answer.  Were they really speaking?  It didn't seem like it.  Maybe she just imagined it as speech.  "It's just you done learnt me real good."

"Oh, and what did you learn?"

She felt a shrug.  "That yer right, it don't matter what ah do.  Whatever decision ah make, ah'll just keep going back there.  It's all ah have and all ah'll ever have.  My little workaround ain't really no solution, ah'm gonna lose my damn mind completely soon enough 'n then it'll just go all on its own.  Ain't a damn thing ah can do about it other'n make a good showin'."

The revelation was cool and nonchalant.  This was not how it was supposed to be.  The realization of this should have broken her into deep, everlasting despair.  Tilly Miller frowned.

Siobhan kept going.  "Yer no diff'rent 'n Murphy.  Ya could o'erpow'r me, sure, but ya couldn't take me on and win where it counted.  You wanted ta be a' damning me.  Now, ah'll admit, ah've done lost my damn mind.  You have tortured me real good.  Ah hate you more now that ah've ever hated you before.  But you ain't damning me.  That's the reason you're here right now.

"What you understand, what we both understand, is even after a thousand times- you haven't beat me once.  Sure ya can force anything to happen that needs to happen.  But ah figgered it out, this here is a farce.  Reality ain't built around me.  Mebbe it's true ah never really had a chance to be anything other than what ah was, that part probably is true.  But that don't mean ah didn't have a choice winnit counted."

She held up the burning pentagram.

"Ah was not a good person.  Bein' good weren't never in the cards, ah see that now.  Ah thank ya fer it.  Ah was a villain, thru and thru.  This is hell and ah deserve ta be here, no question about that. 

"But what ya don't get you old whore is ah was mah own kind of villain.  Ah told them Witches ta get fucked.  Ah told Murphy ta get fucked.  What ah did, ah did on my own.  Once ah understood what ah was, ah stopped robbing trains an' other petty shit.  Ah didn't put my hands on no chitlins 'n no schoolteachers.  Ah turned mah guns on people who was dang'rous.  Yeah, t'were an evil life, but it t'were mah kind of evil."

She stepped forward, suddenly wearing boots and spurs again.

"You can break me and hurt me all you want, forever 'n ever.  But ah ain't afraid of it.  You done learned me it's inevitable, no matter who ah am or what ah do.  There's no choice about it.  But that's now.  It weren't then.  This is a damn lie."

Her duster was suddenly back, and there was a wind that carried the smell of blackpowder smoke.

"Life mattered, even if ah was never gonna be particularly good at it.  Death and damnation are easy.  Sufferin' and pain are easy.  Despair and agony are easy.   What's hard?  What's hard is livin', and bein' happy for one damned second.  That's hard.  Was somethin' ah was never much good at.  But ah had th' littlest chance in th' world o' havin' just a little bit of it.  Some of them lives ya shown me, they had good parts, if only fer a season.  Th' fact ah fucked up when it counted, can't be helped now, ah had no way a knowin' back then, no point in cryin' about it.  Th' fact yer gonna rub that in for all eternity, can't help that neither.  Ah hope that helps ya get real excited in yer petticoat.  Go eat shit and die, ah don't care."

She stood there now, in the void, her hat back.  The weight of that gunbelt on her hips again.  Something leaked into her eye.

She moved her finger up to touch it.  Blood.  Mostly congealed.  But there was more.  Bone, viscera.  She felt around.  Nice big bloody gash right there behind her eye down the side of her head, mostly hidden by her hair.

The shot had hit her in the head, yes.  Right thru the zygomatic arch, not that Siobhan knew it was called that.  It had been a long glancing blow.  Contrary to her belief the bullet hadn't actually passed into her head at all, but it had traveled the length of her skull.  But the hydrostatic shock had caused a traumatic cerebral hemorrhage.  Not that she knew what that was either.

But currently none of that mattered.  Tilly Miller smiled.  A disquieting, vile smile.

"Oh, very good.  Very good.  Yes, yes.  I chose well.  I chose very well."

That... was her mother's voice, yet it wasn't.  No threat, no taunt, could have shook Siobhan to the bone more than that had.

There was the shortest of pauses.  Her mother's eyes glowed coal red, and now when she smiled her teeth were like pointed daggers.  Despite herself, Siobhan stepped back.

"You are right.  This is a farce."  Tilly Miller laughed wickedly.  "All of it.  Your whole life was a farce, so naturally your hell is a farce.  It's fitting yes?"

The wicked laughter returned.  It was deep and metallic and vast, seeming to come from everywhere in the void at once.  The red eyes glowed bright.

"You solved that game so quickly.  Let's play another one."

And in that moment, Siobhan knew fear.
 GM, 483 posts
 W5 R1 B0
Sun 9 Jun 2019
at 21:55
IVD - Beneath the Cold Clay
Her eyes open. Kate lies in dust, dry earth long abandoned by human tread. Around her are the ramshackle remains of a barn, the rotted timbers splintering with the effort of holding their own weight. Gray light, what the outlaw understands as the first hesitant rays of dawn, ease through the gaps in the rickety walls, lending just enough illumination to allow her to see in the grainy dimness.

Sitting up, she sees that tied to a nearby post, secured with ropes that are now black with rot, is a skeleton, a thick belt circled across its open mouth and the post, a cruel step taken to silence it while it still possessed strength. Not far from where she lies, there is what she guesses to be another corpse, covered by a waxed canvas tarp. Propped against the wall near her head are a pair of rusted shovels, implements that she guesses will be used when the killers return to dispose of the bodies properly.

Only they will not be getting rid of her. Not anymore.

She sits up, her body at first unwilling to obey her, but quickly falling into line, stiffness lingering in her limbs, her neck. As she surveys the empty barn, her gaze quickly falls on a figure crouched in a corner, a few steps away from a pair of large, sagging doors that hang partially open. The man, his features concealed by the darkness that lingers in much of the building, watches her intently.

After a moment, he speaks. ”Greetings, tuwikáa. I knew you would be along soon.”
Kansas Kate
 player, 294 posts
 Hot words and cold slabs
 P6 T9 W0 F0 W0 R0 B0 L#
Sun 9 Jun 2019
at 22:22
IVD - Beneath the Cold Clay
A loud gasp escaped the gunslinger.  Had it all been a horrible dream?

She looked down to see a trickle of blood up and down her body.  A vague, incomplete recollection of a thousand, if not a hundred thousand, lifetimes came back to her.  Mercifully, she wouldn't remember the texture and detail of the experience, not in this state.  Reality, the actual world, not hell, was far too overwhelming, that, and her perfect and total recall had been facilitated by another who was now really toying with her.

The gasps were nasty and rapid, and mostly involved coughing something up, something like dust, dirt, dried blood, and debris.  It wasn't until she was well into it that she realized something.  It was a reflex.  It was purely a reflex.

She stopped herself, disgustingly reached in and with two fingers clawed a piece of rawhide out of her mouth.  She didn't even want to know how that had gotten in there.  But pulling that out had the desired effect.  Well, one of the desired effects.  She could still feel that grit in there making her uncomfortable.  She'd need water.  But she could talk.  It made her voice even raspier than usual, or was that permanent.

She looked around again and sighed.

"Well.  Shit.  Well played you dirty bitch."  Then she closed her eyes, leaned back and sighed again, even deeper, and then laughed, a low, rumbling laugh.  She touched the side of her head, where it was never going to heal quite right.  "Shiiit!"

She finally acknowledged her "host" of a sort.  "Ya know... I think imma startin' to hate white folks.  Ain't never seen any o' th' other colors do this ta each other.  But how are you?  Good ta see ya."
 NPC, 9 posts
 Roving Wolf
Mon 10 Jun 2019
at 21:44
IVD - Beneath the Cold Clay
”I am well, even though I don’t sleep. The spirits...they won’t let me. They are stirred up by what wakes atop the mountains. The cannot rest, so neither can I.” He shrugs.

The old man stands and approaches the outlaw, setting down a stained burlap sack and an unopened bottle of whiskey in front of her. ”You will need both. The venison in the sack is fresh. Killed last night, just after the stars showed their faces.”

He crouches down. ”I came to help. And to ask for your help in return.”
Kansas Kate
 player, 295 posts
 Hot words and cold slabs
 P6 T9 W0 F0 W0 R0 B0 L#
Tue 11 Jun 2019
at 00:39
IVD - Beneath the Cold Clay
Kansas Kate accepted the gift.  The outlaw that had been didn't like most people but she liked this Injun.  "Well, ya done right by me this whole time feller."  She sloshed the whiskey around.  "Ah'm... ah'm dead ain't I?"

She just said it mildly confused.  She knew she was dead, she knew what the demon-thing had done.

What's hard is livin', and bein' happy for one damned second.

It had called her bluff.  She was back in the only life that counted.  But she was different.
 NPC, 10 posts
 Roving Wolf
Wed 12 Jun 2019
at 02:41
IVD - Beneath the Cold Clay
Roving Wolf’s expression is somber, his sadness plain even in the dim light. ”Yes, you are.”

“You returned, I believe, because you still have much to do, much to finish, before you are ready to rest. Your coming back...it brings with it great power, but...”

He pauses, searching for words. ”You did not come alone. There is a tuhubitu, a shadow that remains with you. It seeks to control you, to use you for its own purposes.”