Some very bad medicine was afoot, because I watched as Lucas' form contorted and warped unnaturally. I stood transfixed with fascination as he suddenly became an amorphous creature of … water?
I had no time to consider how this might have come to be. I was pummeled with a blast of cold fluid that hurt, but did not knock the wind from me. I decided that the prudent thing to do was to take cover behind some rocks. 1
A few forever-moments of avoiding cold blasts later, I reasoned that trying to garner attention might be a good idea. The water above was odd enough by itself. I decided that it might be odd enough that I could shoot an arrow through it. If the Ancestors were with me, someone above would see the arrow and come to lend aid.
I would not be writing this were it not for Bill. I am not certain how this came to be, but Bill jumped through the water and down on into the cave.
What followed was quite grisly, and I had not the time or inclination to take precise notes. Suffice it to say that when the brawl was over, whatever Manitou that had possessed Lucas' form had fled to its' home, Bill looked tuckered, the passel of people following <s>Mr. Hellstromme</s> Xander around showed up, and Lucas was dead on the ground in two pieces.
Never before had I truly understood the admonition 'come back in one piece.' Now, I do.
So, we had found the missing children – more than we were looking for – and the missing ranch hand. Unfortunately, they were also all dead. This was not likely the result that they wanted, but it was also probably the one the ranch expected. While the adults set to moving or melting the ice blocks as they were wont to do, I went back to the ranch – Miss Isabella would be wanting to hear about it all, no doubt.
But, it turns out that I was wrong. By the time I walked back to the house, night had fallen and the common hearth was out. The lady of the house was in her rooms, and it seemed more prudent to get some sleep than to wake up a woman I did not know.
The rug on the floor was made of buffalo-hide, and was nearly as comfortable as grass. I had fallen swiftly asleep. I was awoken far too early. It was the strangest thing – a kraa-bird 2, which usually looks for meals and trinkets to steal during the day, was outside the window nearest me, making quite a racket. I would not be able to get back to sleep with that kind of din.
I emptied my apple-sack and then stood before approaching the offending window. It continued its' commotion unabated. I then opened the window, and it one swift motion, bagged the bird. I was tired still, so it would have to wait until later for me to ask Bill if I could keep it.
But the bird would persist in keeping me from my deserved rest. I had – by chance – noticed something on the bird's leg that … might … be the sort of message that was sometimes attached to the legs of messenger birds. Sure enough, a message (in English) was written on a strip of paper in a small and shaking hand. It asked for the people here at the ranch to come help, and to bring dynamite.
Since Isabella did not respond to knocking at the door, I used alternate means to wake her – specifically by releasing the bag into her room. That worked fairly well.
Once the bird fled out the window and the ruckus died down, I gave the frazzled Isabella the note. She read it swiftly, and seemed surprised that someone would think that the farm would have dynamite. I was then tasked with bringing her to the cave-site immediately. On the way, she explained to me that our information indicating seven children was old. Fourteen were now missing – including one named ‘Lucas’. Had we actually found them all?
In time, we reached the cave. Efforts there were underway to thaw the victims. All manner of methods were being tried. The going was slow, and the work pretty grim. No one really expected survivors.
The nice lady from the auction was apparently the one that sent "Edgar" the kraa-bird. He seemed somewhat upset with the rough handling, but was none the worse for the wear. I should ask her sometime how she learned to catch small birds.
Somebody wanted to blast the cave entrance with . They figured that it would asked the course of the river. It was said that with the way the water was going, it would flood the plain and a settlement below. Not much of any of this made much sense to me. After all, the disappearances had started only weeks ago, and settlements take time to build. How could they have built it if before the water world have washed it away Disaster was avoided by the discovery and use of a dam up river.
Two of the children survived. It was hard to feel like a hero with such loss. At some point someone mentioned Lucas by name. Isabella seemed surprised that we had found the last 'missing child' and not told her. This confirmed that Lucas was the fourteenth.
Now, as I explained before, I thought Lucas was a ranch hand. He was certainly grown up enough to be considered a man. This meant that instead of missing a fourteenth child, we were still missing a lost ranch hand. Privately, I think the water-Manitou got him. The corpses were returned to the ranch house (Bill went back for Lucas) and got put to rest.
Isabella offered to pay each person the promised $25 reward. Most refused it. I think that this was because when she brought the till around, she made sure folks saw that there was not much in it. A popular farm like this with very few supply needs, broke? That stuck with me.
Given the hour, most of us went to bed. I could not sleep, though. I kept thinking about how Lucas died, and the missing hand, and most especially the empty till. I decided that I could do something about at least one of them tonight – and I did.
Burning with curiosity, I went to Isabella's parlor. It was all manner of fancy (of course). It was like her Medicine Bag, but was pictures, and keepsakes, and stuff. Most of it was pretty uninteresting. Some of it was downright disgusting, like the Damn Yankee war memorabilia. I had come to check the till for a secret compartment, though. I found one. Inside were a map and another document. I seized the former and left the latter.
I tried to wake bill, but that didn't work. I had to consult the adults as to what to do, and I was not sure which of them would pay attention, even at this hour. Mother put up with my sisters no matter what time they had bothered her, so I resolved to try talking to a woman. I could hardly talk to Isabella… I went to the kraa-bird lady from the auction.
Compared to most adults, she woke pretty easily, and was not too surprised to be awoken. Maybe she was still awake when I knocked? I do not know. I explained about my curiosity, and the parlor, and the Damn Yankees, and she was getting that red look when I showed her the map.
After looking at the map, she asked me to go back to get the other paper, so I did. She took a long time then writing stuff, and I fed the bird some of my tallow. I figured that it would only be good to try to make friends after the bad meeting. I even dozed off a bit. When it got light, I went to go help with the chores – another pair of hands could hardly hurt with so many missing.
Mid-morning Edgar (the bird!) brought a message from the lady – she wanted me to put the papers back. So I did. I spent some more time in the parlor looking around. There was (like I said before) lots of old Damn Yankee war stuff for a man. An officer. That got boring, so I went back to doing chores
After a meal, all the adults were finally awake. Bill and all them resolved to go, and we left for Chicago. A five hour ride later, Bill and I arrived at Miss Hattie's. There was a big surprise from Bear waiting for me, though. The lady said that Edgar had brought something back from the plains. It was Boo! She was hurt awful bad, but me looking after her would fix that up!
I do not remember anything important after that. I was tired, and besides, I had Boo to take care of.
Redmark wrote this.