I don't own Hell on Wheels or any of the characters created by Joe and Tony Gayton. It's been a while since I've done this; I'm feeling a bit rusty. Any feedback would be much appreciated. This is just for fun, but if anyone has any notes or suggestions I'd love to hear 'em! Hope you enjoy.
"The Lincoln Argus: A Weekly Newspaper, devoted to the Interests of the Laboring Classes and Advocating the Truth in Every Issue"
– Lincoln, Nebraska November 24, 1865. No. 33
"Missouri River, Nov. 10, 1865. The survivors of the Niobara River Massacre arrived in Lincoln last week, 8 in number, namely Reverend Jeremiah Clawson, wife, and three children; Mrs. Shepstone and child, and Miss. Reith. Of 19 emigrants only 8 are known to be saved. Three children (two girls and one boy) are supposed to be taken prisoner by the Indians. One of the girls was supposed to be 14 or 15, the boy younger. All the others are expected killed or of death due to starvation. The emigrant Mr. Joshua Boelter of Richmond with wife Hanna and 2 children, sister, and mother are among the dead. Their bodies were found…"
Durant fumbled to fold the paper, pages loudly crinkling. Balling it into his fist, he threw it to the floor of the train car; his teacup rattling on its saucer as he slammed his hands down onto the desk. Henri jumped at the outburst; and quickly looked down at his feet, when Durant noted his surprise. "Such stories turn my stomach so early in the morning".
Mrs. Bell had yet to rise. It had only been a few days since he'd rescued the 'Fair Haired Maiden of the West' from the clutches of those pursuing her. With President Johnson's support, and further investment from various Congressmen in Washington, his endeavor would prove to cultivate the American west and perhaps put a stop to the thoughtless killing of American emigrants, and entrepreneurs like himself.
Forty miles stood in his way. Thomas Durant was a businessman. Great wealth stood to be made with the completion of this railroad, and yet the men of Washington did little to secure its success. It was incomprehensible how they could stand by, sitting on their hands, turning a blind eye to the innocent American pioneers and frontiersman slaughtered at the hands of an uncivilized hoard. Manifest Destiny was an ideology the Republicans had presented, but now in the face of adversity seemed hard-pressed to pursue.
Durant's new foreman, Bohannon, had assured him he would get his forty miles, within weeks, days even. Whatever dubious means this mysterious rebel had in mind would prove meaningless if Durant was unable to locate Robert Bell's maps. The maps would guarantee passage through the Rocky Mountains, without a plan there would be no railroad. By the time new survey men could be brought to Hell on Wheels, and then sent to explore the terrain, Durant would be out of time; this of course was assuming they were not attacked by the blood thirsty natives first. Not even Mrs. Bell's lovely smile could assuage the pang that thought caused in his gut. Thomas Durant was not accustomed to failure.
The screams echoed behind her as she ran through the trees, twigs snapped under her feet and scraggy branches snagged and scratched at her pale skin. Towards the river, the rush of water barely audible in the distance; there she would wait, quiet in the cool autumn fog, until it was safe.
Her mother's hands had clasped at her skirts; the light dying in her eyes, as her mouth, filled with blood, and gaped to form words. The booming sound of rifles firing all around her caused an excruciating squeal in her ears, muting the screams, making them sound like whispers in the midst of the chaos. The violent scene seemed to slow as the tight grip on her dress slowly released. Her mother was dead. It had happened so fast. They had been washing. She looked down at the lye, still sticky on her trembling fingers. Men had started falling all around her, left and right. Women and children were screaming; she had lost sight of Hanna and the children. She stood and ran to their tent.
Joshua was there, bleeding, packing his gun, with shaking hands, his knuckles white on the barrel. "Nora, I have to find Hanna. I want you to run to the river, as fast as you can. Don't come back here. Wait for us there. Do you hear me? Nora, look at me! Is mother…?"
She nodded dazedly, and looked down at the bloody patches at the hem of her dress. Joshua stood still as he took in his sister's emotionless expression. He peered forward through the tent flaps, grabbing the top of her arm hard, shaking her. "You have to run, Nora. Fast. Don't come back." As he hauled them both into the morning sunlight he was instantly struck in the chest with an arrow. "Run, Nora!"
Nora ran until she was out of the camp, until there were no open fields, until all she saw were grey barked trees, and all she heard were the crunch of dead leaves under her feet. She ran until her ribs ached, and her nose and throat burned like fire from the cold. She hadn't looked back, and hadn't heard their attackers give chase. She was close. She could hear the river; feel the earth change under her feet, the crisp leaves were now shifting stones. Unsteadily they rolled her, as she slipped and slid down the river bank, twisting an ankle as she landed with her boots in the shallow, frigid water. There she'd wait, damp and alone, for Joshua to find her.
She lay there, still against the river rocks, breath coming in uneven gasps, heart pounding in her chest, and the roar of blood coursing through her ears. She could feel the cold water of the creek soaking her stockings and sloshing inside her shoes. Sticky blood dried quickly on her hands, but whose blood she couldn't recall. She wanted it off, she rubbed at it hard, too afraid to stick her hands in the cold water. She shook so badly she was afraid her movement would announce her location to the enemy. So, she waited, straining to hear more screams, waiting to smell the smoke of her kinsmen's rifles. But there was no sound, no familiar metallic scent. They had been miles from Lincoln. She knew she should walk back towards the city she'd come from, but she'd have to pass through the camp, and what if Joshua brought Hanna and the children to the river after she left? Surely they would continue away from Lincoln? The thought of feeling her way through the darkening woods, back towards the lifeless body of her mother and perhaps of her brother and his family was unbearable.
Standing on unsteady legs, she crossed the icy, knee deep water of the creek. She planned to take a different route. Unwittingly, further into Cheyenne territory, closer to the burgeoning Union Pacific Railroad, and the city of Hell on Wheels.