The steel grey sky over Dawson City shone a little bluer to the boy’s eyes. Less smoke than usual meant folks were indeed sleeping later today. Fair enough, he thought, it being the first day of a new millennia and all. He pondered how wild it would have gotten last night and looked over to Zadok Jon, who plodded alongside him on a spectacular Palomino that deserved far better than the haggard ribbon of road that lead into the Klondike’s capitol city.
“A proper shindig last night, do you reckon?” The boy, held his horse’s reins loose in one hand and pantomimed drinking from a bottle with the other.
Zadok Jon laughed. “Proper might not be the word I think!” His English was perfect for a member of the Han tribe. Like his best friend, who he rode with now, he had learned his letters on the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, and the conversations that accompanied same.
The snowfall was light and the flakes were large. The town seemed peaceful for a change. But it didn’t matter that it was New Year’s Day, in the year 1900 by Christian reckoning, Dawson City was always open for business.
“Sorry to hear about the Maestro, Pluck.” Percy Greymore, who was the train station attendant, tipped his stovepipe hat to the boys. He had scurried over as soon as he heard the door creak shut. As e scurried to the desk, he made an effort to hide a darkened, swollen cheek he seemed ashamed to have acquired the night before. The boys looked at one another and tried not to smile. Proper shindig indeed.
“You too Jon. He lit up a lot of nights for folks around here. We will miss him a lot.”
“Thanks Mr. Greymore,” Pluck Doherty quickly pulled off his derby hat to show he meant what he said. “It woulda meant a lot to him that you said that.”
“Here it is.” Percy slid a yellow envelope under the opening under the bared enclosure. “I hope it’s good news, boys. You deserve it.” He looked at them and nodded. It struck Pluck that he was a genuinely kind soul. Not a common find in the Klondike. “And give a Happy New Year to your mother from me and Betty. If she needs anything we will be sure she gets it.”
“Will do, sir.”
“Obliged for your kind words, Percy,” Zadok Jon gave a curt nod. His fearless confidence and urbane manner was unsettling to the outsiders who had come for the gold. The Han native took great joy in flaunting what he had come to think of his white-man costume.
Outside, the town had livened up somewhat.
“Aren’t you going to open it?” Jon exaggerated his distress at watching Pluck put the envelope in one of his horse, Cherie’s, saddlebags.
“When I get home. I want mom to see.” He stroked Cherie’s haunch. He was pensive. The telegram had come Christmas Eve and his father had died the day after Christmas. It had taken him until now to work up the gumption to come pick it up.
Zadok Jon swung up effortlessly onto his palomino, Plotinus was her name, after the Neoplatonist philosopher. “You’re a good boy, man. I would’ve opened it.”
“Lets see what’s up at Dolan’s,” Pluck said. “Maybe they’ll have somethin’ left behind the bar.”
Zadok Jon’s eyes lit up. “Happy New Year brother!”
“Happy New Year.”
And the boys on their horses sauntered toward the saloon.
When an Asian dragon enters the material plane, the long tendrils from their nostrils and brows are always the first things to manifest. Sniffing the quantum substrata for stray aether, they grab the first molecules they can find. In this case, the majestic serpentine spirit became the smoke from a woodstove in a quaint log cabin in the Canadian Yukon.
Elizabeth Crow pumped a shotgun. The Ancient Sumerian hieroglyphs and Asgardian runes etched into its twin barrels made it look like it was carved from Grecian marble. Blowing a damp strand of her auburn hair from her face she pointed the weapon at the ceiling.
She muttered a circle of protection into existence around her body. The pail green light it cast made her look more frightening than frightened. The true face of a witch – a witch with the face of an angel.
She pulled the trigger and blew a hole in the tin roof. When she heard nothing she knew their was no point in reloading. She turned to the door and smiled. Not a hint of fear was in her.
The dragon, now fully formed from the chimney smoke was elegant, white, gold and beautiful. It bowed its head and looked into the witch’s eyes. Believing in neither good nor evil, the dragon was merely serving the balance. It would feel no regret for what it was about to do. Its eyes smiled. The witch’s eyes smiled back.
Then with a simple breath, the Elizabeth Crow became silver dust on the pine plank floor. Not burned by fire, just simply and painlessly transformed.
And with but a thought, the dragon was gone as well. Back to its home in skies far beyond this realm of our experience.
Two riders and a wagon pulled by a large draft horse came up the hill to the east and out of the bush to stop at the cabin’s front door.
The smallest of them, and no more than a teenager really, flipped the tails of his confederate army long coat away so he could crouch down to frown at the pile of silver dust by the magic shotgun. Elizabeth Crow was a kind and good woman, He thought. But this was necessary.
He handed his tricorner hat to one of the enormous thugs that worked for him.
The banjo rested on the mantle of the stone fireplace. It was magnificent.
Its ouroboros-rimmed head; its marble neck; the orange, demon-wing leather strap. Legend was, its head was skinned with the hide of the Nemean lion, its strings were wrought by dwarves of the nine realms.
Despite his best effort, the man could not safely lift it. Indeed, it took both of the henchmen to load it into the back of the horse-drawn cart.
As per their agreement with the witch-slaying dragon, the banjo was the only item they took from the house.
His mother had been a prostitute in Skagway, Alaska when she had met his father. She had come to the Yukon with her boyfriend from California. The boyfriend had fallen through the ice in Northern British Columbia. Elizabeth Crow had finished the journey alone.
She had met Pluck’s father in Skagway and he brought her with him to Dawson city. He loved her and taught her much, including the Kabala, the Tarot and a Hermetic, Gnostic understanding of the esoteric path.
Pluck knew the neat pile of silver dust was her. But he did not weep as Zadok Jon did. He loved is mother – but he did not weep.
He got to his feet and collected the enchanted shotgun. Beth, he named it then and there. It’s what his father had called is mom.
“We need to go if we intend to catch them John.”
“There was three, two big, one small, maybe a child. And a horse and wagon.” Jon wiped tears from his face with the frilled doe-skin sleeves of his jacket. The light dusting of morning snow had told his eyes the tale.
“Why did they kill her?” Jon’s anger was emerging.
Pluck reached into his breast pocket and pulled out the folded telegram. Jon noticed the tab that sealed it shut had been torn.
Time for Moon to return to New York. I have unlocked her secrets. Safe travels!
Pluck watched Jon’s eyes look over the mantle for the banjo. As expected they came right back to his.
“Luna,” he whispered. It’s what their father called is banjo.
“Moon,” Pluck said.
And with a bag of ammo, a bag of food, and a bag of essential books. Pluck Doherty and Zadok Jon of the Han tribe set out from the little cabin neither of them would ever see again.