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The Quick and the Dead


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Rating: PG-14
Content: N/A

Mature Content: No.

Author: Jemima Wigfall

With: Anyone who is passing.
Location: Outside the Old Funeral Parlour.
When: June, 1876
Time of Day: After the bodies are brought into town.

 

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Jemima Wigfall could have been a light breeze passing with a whisper through the streets of Kalispell, the amount of attention anybody paid her. Hmmm. Maybe light was an ill chosen word: for she was heavy in body, dark and brooding in looks, and dull in her very nature, unless roused to anger by her twin brother’s merciless prodding or tickled to reluctant mirth by some rare, tittersome event in the vicinity. She hardly even noticed herself: her days passed by in repetitive drudgery and commonplace turgid toil.

 

Thus she was thrilled to see any new novelty to brighten up the soulless days as she dragged herself from one job as a drudge to another. Right now she was heading from her position as a doorstep scrubber in the upmarket part of town to her home, and another job as a general dogsbody in her Mother’s boarding house, and the novelty she espied was enough to bring a wet smile to her slack lips. Dead ‘uns! Three corpses laid out on the boardwalk outside the old funeral parlour and a crowd gathered that would do justice to a lynching or a cock fight. She moved in a little closer, the slow blood in her veins struggling to do a little pounding in her heart, a feeble effort to feel a thrill.

 

Before she could see a body properly, she was treated to the sight of Arabella Mudd being dragged off one of the corpses, covered in blood, moaning incoherently about someone called Billy, and getting more or less carried in a faint back to the Saloon where she cleaned spittoons and wiped up vomit for her keep. Why dead ‘uns was grist to everybody’s mill, and Arabella had sure got her ten cents worth. Another vulture was that Crabbe feller, even now setting up his tripod and camera, ready to take a jolly snap of the stiff stark trio, trying with professional patience to get his own shadow out of the shot.

 

She oozed her way through the crowd to get to the front and stared down with ghoulish delight at the three cadavers. A fat one and a thin one were a nice mess, but the one Arabella had been covering with tears was still handsome, pretty almost, in death. She could certainly see the appeal. They all had their shirts pulled off, no doubt to display where the bullets had entered their torsos and caused their death, their return to the clay. Jemima Wigfall felt her eyes inexorably drawn to the one called Billy, his angelic face, his pale, slightly muscled body, his once pink but now deathly white nipples, his belly button looking like one of the bullet holes, the crease where his loins marked a vee at the bottom of his stomach...

 

She was jealous of Arabella, she wanted to throw herself upon his marble form as well. But she was never able to do dramatic stuff like that. She was just too doggone dull. Well, she couldn’t be romantic, but she could sure be ghoulish. She nudged hello to a boy standing next to her and bend down a little to whisper in his ear.

 

“They reckon you can see a reflection of the murderer fixed in a dead man’s eye. I dare you to go look.” She said in flat tones, but with a flash of horrible delight in her black eyes.

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Guest boshmi

As the spring months gave way to the beginnings of summer and the days grew hotter, Thomas found himself out in the streets ever more frequently. His newfound duties with the Kalispell parish were keeping him busy, both in visiting outlying ranches and hosting services when Pastor Evans was indisposed, and what time he had away from the pulpit was mostly spent getting to know the townsfolk.

 

Which is why it came as such a shock to the senses when three men were shot down; a rancher the culprit. Some part of the old priest might have hoped that Kalispell would be a quieter chapter of his tumultuous life, but of course, the passions of men were more than any one person carried.

 

He stood off to the side, leaning against the church's wall as the crowd milled around the caskets on the other side of the road. Soon, he would say a prayer over those men, as their bodies were commited to the earth, but for now, he merely watched. A trickle of smoke wafted upward from between his fingers, a cigarette alight, and for all the world he might have simply looked a tired old man, if not for the white collar at his throat, highlighted against the black of his waistcoat. He certainly felt like a tired old man, for as Arabella was drawn, wailing and screaming, from the center of the crowd, he didn't feel pity or sorrow, but a sense of exhaustion. Death was tiring, for none more so than those left behind. One day that girl would forget Billy's voice, his features, the way he moved and laughed, just as he had forgotten Louisa's, but not after years of exhausting sadness.

 

He took a drag of the cigarette, tapping ash out onto the street, and propped one boot up against the church wall behind him. Passers-by still were pausing to get a view of the grisly scene, and under any other circumstance, Thomas might have used the opportunity to get to know them better. Take the brown-haired, brooding girl, for example. He could hardly say that he'd noticed her before today, but she pushed herself to the forefront of the throng with such urgency that he might have imagined her to be family of the deceased, if not for the cold, unforgiving look plastered upon her face. These were his people now, and perhaps one day he would have the words to give them comfort. For now, he merely smoked, watched, and waited.

@Javia

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Speed and Pike mounted their horses, it was walking distance, but like most western men, they preferred horseback. They had decided to ride over to the funeral parlor where the bodies were laid out for everyone’s viewing pleasure. Word had it they weren’t even stood against the wall, just laid out one next to the other.


It was far from a novelty to either of them. They had seen their friends laid out in plain wooden coffins, or on battlefields, left where they lay for the black contrabands to bury. Of course out here, away from the rest of civilization, dead men were a novelty to prove the wages of sin did not payoff. They would not be cleaned up, they would be buried as they looked, dirty, bloody, grotesque. They would be posed with their guns, which would be later be taken and sold to pay for the expenses of the service rendered, such as it was.


Death, no matter how it was reached, was final. Whether good or bad, those who were killed, justly, or unjustly, were a sight people gravitated to. When they arrived at the display, both men remained on their horses. There was no law preventing the display, no reason for the law to be involved. They were just spectators, like the others, except they took no pleasure in the viewing. They knew the men in the pine boxes, young Billy, who they hopped would not end up as he had, and Greer, who ended up right where men of his caliber finished their lives. Black Jack Laine, he was a two-bit gun hand that thought, like a good number of them, that he was more than he was.


Speed looked to Pike, who nodded and they wheeled their mounts and started back when Speed noticed the Catholic priest., he pulled up, “Padre.” The touched the brim of his hat. “Gettin’ yourself settled in, are you?”

@boshmi

 

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Wyatt, like most boys his age, was fascinated with such things as this display of dead bodies. Not that he had ever actually seen dead bodies laid out like this. But he had been present at the bank robbery earlier in spring and a few men died then too. So he did know violent death. As a crowd ogled the corpses, he had to take a look himself.

 

"Why are their shirts off?" asked one girl, a grade ahead of him at the town school.

 

"I guess so they can see the bullet holes?" Wyatt took a guess.

 

"Why?"

 

"I ain't sure," he was concentrating on the youngest of the trio of corpses. Why that young feller wasn't all that much older than he was and now he laid there with three bullet holes in him.  He could hear folks talking about how it seemingly happened. One of the Lost Lake ranchers brought in the wagon with the bodies heaped inside. Seems he shot 'em all. Wyatt had to wonder if that jasper would be arrested for this?

 

“They reckon you can see a reflection of the murderer fixed in a dead man’s eye. I dare you to go look.” some older girl said in flat tones, but with a flash of horrible delight in her black eyes.

 

Wyatt didn't believe that for a minute and his look showed it, "That can't work."

 

Since he was dared and it's not like a dead guy was gonna lash out at him, Wyatt stepped closer then peered into the youngest one's face, the eyes wide open but not looking like ....well, he was alive of course. He locked his gaze with the sightless gaze of the corpse for a few seconds then stepped aback again.

 

"I don't see nothin'," he told the gal with a shrug.

 

Wyatt.jpg

 

 

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It wasn't uncommon for Emeline to make an occasional mid-day run to the mercantile, either leaving the cafe temporarily closed, or in the care of one of the waitresses, and today she'd needed to make a quick run to get some spices, and besides, it was a nice day out, and a good chance to get some air.

 

But as she walked along the boardwalk, she was blocked by a crowd, gawking at something, and at first she was curious.  But then she saw that it was the funeral parlor, and she started around...she didn't need to see bodies, and likely, if they were on display, these were criminals of some sort, no family to protest the obscene spectacle in the victims' last hours before the grave.  

 

She felt no compulsion to look, and besides, she didn't have time to linger on trivialities, but she had only gone a few steps into the street when she heard a familiar voice wailing, rather like a banshee, and then the name, 'Billy', more than once.

 

Billy?  No, not that Billy. 

 

Frowning, Emeline changed course, going to look.  'Billy' was a common name, so the chanced that this was the young man who had given Clara a hard time were small, right?

 

Wrong...

 

She didn't need to look long to confirm her fears, and Emeline turned away, back toward the cafe...spices could wait, right now she just didn't care.  Sure, she didn't really know the boy, but he'd been charming and personable, only laying on the boardwalk because a a few mis-steps along his path, and it was a pity he hadn't heeded her warning.

 

And she had to wonder if he had a mother somewhere who would never know what had become of her baby boy...

 

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Most people saw Lorenzo Crabbe as an oily, untrustworthy operator, but he had his creative side, too. He soon decided that taking pictures of dead outlaws, or whoever these fellers were, was a one-dimensional job. Having missed the opportunity of photographing Arabella lying on top of Billy (damn it) he’d done a couple of straight shots of the bodies, and still had a few extra plates with him.

 

Next, he moved his camera back and got two shots of the crowd gathering round the three stiff and stark forms. He had a feeling that these would be the more interesting compositions, despite – or maybe because – of the inevitable blurring effect of some of the townsfolk’s movements. The bright sunlight meant he didn’t have to open the cap over the lens for as long as usual, so that blurring would be minimised, at least.

 

Hmmm, last plate. He saw one boy come in close and stare into the face of the youngest corpse, either on a dare or looking for the reflection of his killer (that old wives tale!) and then a quite plain older girl come in and do the same. She even stooped and touched the body, morbid bitch, then got out a hanky and dabbed it to the poor boy’s bullet wounds, as if gathering a relic of a saint!

 

Crabbe suddenly had a great idea for his last plate.

 

“All right, let’s have one last shot with all the kids in!” he jubilantly cried, there were certainly enough of them looking on, ranging from a tot of five to the dumpy nineteen year old Jemima Wigfall herself, with her newly sanctified handkerchief. It didn’t take much encouragement to get the youngsters gathered round the corpses and frowning sullenly at the novel camera contraption. Jemima herself, feeling that Crabbe was staring at her through the gun-like camera, crossed her arms defensively. "All right, don't smile, then, y'little bastards." Lorenzo muttered to himself as he opened the cap and the light and dark of the composition streamed into the camera and onto the reactive glass plate.

 

Oddly, it was the postcard of this print which sold the most, and over a hundred years later featured on the cover of the catalogue of a fancy New York photography exhibition entitled “Death In the West: Funerary photography on the American Frontier 1856-1902” in which the artistry of Lorenzo Crabbe was extoled both in written and visual form and which overall gave the impression of a gentle, sensitive soul far from the grasping conman who lived and breathed this fine day in Kalispell in 1876.

 

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Guest boshmi

“Padre.”

The Marshal and his Deputy, Guyer and Pike. Two men that had probably seen more death than half this town put together. That's how it was with law-bearing types. Lord, did they look it too; weather-worn, bearded faces below low brims.

“Gettin’ yourself settled in, are you?”

"Something like that, Marshal." replied Thomas, a quick nod of his head in response to the tip of Guyer's hat. "Though I'd have hoped it be under less... tenebrous circumstances."

He walked out into the street, bringing himself to bear with the two riders as a man with a camera attempted to corral the gathered children behind them.

"You uh... making a move on the culprit?" The priest asked, squinting slightly as he looked up.

@Flip

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 "Something like that, Marshal." replied Thomas, a quick nod of his head in response to the tip of Guyer's hat. "Though I'd have hoped it be under less... tenebrous circumstances."


He walked out into the street, bringing himself to bear with the two riders as a man with a camera attempted to corral the gathered children behind them.


"You uh... making a move on the culprit?" The priest asked, squinting slightly as he looked up.


“Culprit, sir? I don’t follow. No law against taking a photograph, with or without children. Chalk that up to poor taste. Now as to the dead? ‘fraid that happened outside my jurisdiction. I’m just the town Marshal, and at present, we have no County Sheriff, though a leading candidate for the job is presently locked up for several charges.” Speed remarked.


“Them that’s boxed up, outlaw types. Known trouble makers. If they was shot it, was with good reason, but there ain’t no badmen out there responsible for this shooting, we can guarantee that. Seems like them Evergreen hands are always on the prod.” Pike added.

image.jpeg.1d2c95e59f4e5f699d6a9873aa543242.jpeg

@boshmi

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Guest boshmi

“Culprit, sir? I don’t follow. No law against taking a photograph, with or without children. Chalk that up to poor taste. Now as to the dead? ‘fraid that happened outside my jurisdiction. I’m just the town Marshal, and at present, we have no County Sheriff, though a leading candidate for the job is presently locked up for several charges.”

"Ah, out of your jurisdiction. I see." Thomas nodded along inoffensively, though the little tidbit about the sheriff was interesting news indeed. A tale as old as time; that of the sinful lawman.

 

“Them that’s boxed up, outlaw types. Known trouble makers. If they was shot it, was with good reason, but there ain’t no badmen out there responsible for this shooting, we can guarantee that. Seems like them Evergreen hands are always on the prod.”

Pike added.

This of course raised the question as to how the overenthusiastic but well-meaning Arabella had been tangled up in such business, but that was a line of inquiry for another person, in another time, perhaps. At any rate, Kalispell's violent element had been well and truly borne.

 

"Well, that's certainly good to know." Thomas declared, momentarily glancing over to the crowd, a thoughtful expression on his face. "Apologies." he suddenly said with a smile, as he stepped back. "I wouldn't want to hold you two gentlemen up."

and with that, he moved back to the church wall where he settled back into his watchful state, taking another drag from his cigarette.

@Flip

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"Well, that's certainly good to know." Thomas declared, momentarily glancing over to the crowd, a thoughtful expression on his face. "Apologies." he suddenly said with a smile, as he stepped back. "I wouldn't want to hold you two gentlemen up." 

 

And with that, he moved back to the church wall where he settled back into his watchful state, taking another drag from his cigarette.

 

Jemima had drunk her fill of the dead ‘uns, getting her picture took was an unexpected bonus. She turned away and moved on with her tedious day, eyes closed, trying to imprint the memory of the dead, half naked Billy on her memory. She opened them to be confronted by the sight of a Man of God, imposing despite the cigarette and the slouching posture against the wall.

 

Jemima’s small, slow, brown eyes lit upon him in serious consideration.

 

“They’re going to Hell, aren’t they?” she told, more than asked him.

 

“I’ve seen pictures in a book” she heard herself telling him, some sort of necrophillic excitement at seeing the semi-nude dead men providing an odd impulse of energy to her usual passive demeanour. The pictures in question were Gustav Dore’s engravings in her employer F. Falmer Browne’s folio edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy, which she pored over whenever she got the chance while working in his house.

 

“Sinners get stripped naked and burned and frozen and stabbed and tortured by demons, don’t they?” she asked the Priest “That will happen to them, won’t it?” she asked, almost licking her lips.

 

dante-and-virgil.jpg

 

@boshmi

 

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