Part 35 - Giuseppe's Choice

Edna and Iona sat still on their shared horse for another moment, following Highmond with a wide-eyed, wide-mouthed stare.

“I didn’t know he could do that,” said Iona. “Did you know he could do that?”

“I had no idea he could do that,” replied Edna.

A noise to their side broke the trance. The man who was many things - few of them good and none of them well - had set his guns down, ripped his pants from his face, and was working to push the sign boards off himself.

“Let’s find out if we can,” Iona said. Cracking the reins in an imitation of Highmond. She added a high, loud, “GIT!” which helped.

Their horse shot forward. Its riders were not as steady as the old man atop the other, but it managed to keep them on - probably because she yelled git. Edna braced her arms and legs - against Iona and the horse - and her mind - against the shrieks of pain she expected from within. Apparently both worked, for she kept herself aloft and kept the pain at bay.

They galloped after Highmond, who was cutting through a trail that led east from Shelville’s little clearing. Behind, they could hear the man shouting, then shooting. Edna was terrified a bullet - or soon a storm of them - would come ripping its way through the trees at her and her companions, but they never came.

About two miles and two minutes away, there was a lovely woman who thought - for time reasons - that she was Isaac Newton. She held an apple outstretched, feeding her goat - whom she was sure was Edmund Halley - when the bullet dropped out of the sky. From her perspective, the fruit exploded without cause or caution. From the goat’s perspective, everything suddenly became wet and tasty. “Eureka!” Isaac cried, “Apples explode spontaneously!” The goat bleated acceptingly and continued to lick the juice from her hand and its own face.

Back in the present - which is the past - which is a jumble of many times anyway, so why not call it also the future - Edna and her friends were not out of trouble yet. Having raced down the trail for some time without issue, Edna heard a sickening clip-clop clip-clop coming up behind them. She looked back to see their would-be captor in fact would be on them soon.

He had grabbed the last remaining horse, apparently the fastest of the lot, and was racing down the trail. He charged toward them like a stormwind - fast, angry, and pantless - his pistols clutched against the reins.

When he locked eyes with Edna, he shouted something. She could hear the noise, but the details of it were swallowed by the hungry wind that bit at their faces. At the same moment, the wind brought a new sound from ahead, one it had digested already - the sound of a train.

Invigorated, Iona cracked the reins again and their horse sped ahead once more. In moments, they burst through the treeline at the edge of the wood, where they could see now the train barrelling northward past them. Highmond had pulled up alongside an open storage car and was looking back for his companions. He had adjusted to sit side-saddle, facing the train. As soon as he saw them, he threw his bag into the car; then he waved and leapt in after it.

Edna and Iona angled toward the car and toward ending this doomed chase before it ended them. They tried to pull up along the open door, but Highmond’s horse was still running beside it.

The animal - who thought of itself, in the language of horses, as a Guiseppe - kept looking back and forth from where it was going and where its skillful rider had gone. Should Guiseppe abandon this human who had put its whole head in his mouth?

Surely not. Surely the old fool would need Guiseppe.

The human and his companions began yelling human things - at each other and at him. Guiseppe’s rider - now crouched on the ledge to which he’d leapt - pushed at the air between them with his grotesque human hooves. Guiseppe did not understand. Could humans do air magic? He thought only birds and bugs could do that.

The other humans tried to pull their horse - whom Guiseppe knew as Prisha - between him and the big, fast human worm. But Guiseppe, unladen and more able to maneuver than the heavily weighted Prisha, was able to keep his spot by the opening while he made his decision.

The man walked out of sight then, disappearing into the belly of the worm. Guiseppe thought maybe that was it, maybe he was gone forever, but he came back a moment later with wads of hay, which he began to throw at Guiseppe.

Normally Guiseppe would think this method of feeding rude, but under the circumstances and given how hungry he had become in his days with the Stupid Man, he found it very kind. That did it. That made up his mind. Guiseppe summoned all the strength he had left - willing himself even faster than the fast worm - and leapt.

Edna didn’t understand any horses, really, but this one was a full mystery. As Iona attempted and failed to pull between the horse and the train, Edna wondered what could be going through its head. Too bad no one will ever know, she thought.

There wasn’t time to consider the enigma of the stallion now, for their pursuer had closed the gap considerably. He now trailed only a horse’s length behind, which is unsafe - Edna noted - you should maintain at least three horse’s lengths at all times. Notably though - and as a mark toward his safety record - he didn’t seem interested in shooting them. Edna was basing this notion solely on the fact he hadn’t shot them yet, but it seemed like a solid enough foundation, given the ample opportunity he had had.

Nonetheless, Edna was starting to get worried that she might actually have to try something, when all of a sudden Highmond’s horse leapt fully into the train carriage. It was an astonishing, magnificent, very stupid leap, but it worked. Suddenly the horse stood next to and over Highmond, devouring hay from his hands and coat and face.

Iona, quick as her wit, pulled their horse into the now vacant spot beside the door. Edna could hear their pursuer shouting more things at her, but as before it was devoured by the wind, with help now from the train. One by one she tossed Iona’s bag and Highmond’s cane (which Iona still claimed) into the car.

When it became her time to leap she tried to summon up her courage, but it wasn’t answering - perhaps off playing bridge with her pain. They were moving so fast, any mistake would be a miserable end to her storied, miserable career. Fitting, she thought.

Using Iona’s shoulders for balance, she began to stand on the horse’s back, trying to gain a better position for jumping. She lost her balance though - probably to the bridge game - and tumbled forward. Her outstretched hands caught the floor of the car and her head tucked under them, forming her accidentally into a roll, which culminated in a three-point landing, one hand having flown out to her side in a panic.

“Show off,” Highmond said, as his horse licked his face.

Iona jumped in quickly after, with a simpler grace, and suddenly all three of them were in the car. It wasn’t over though. Edna jumped to her feet and turned. Their horse - Prisha - had pulled away, stopping to catch its breath like a normal animal. Their pursuer was quickly and forcefully filling the gap, turning as he did and stowing his pistols, preparing for the leap.

She looked for something, anything to stop him and spied the large, rusted handle of the carriage door. She reached it just as he was planting his feet into the side of his poor steed and yanked at it, trying to close it in front of him.

She got it half-way across just as he jumped. He slammed into it, but managed to grab on, holding the lip of it. But the rest of the door was as rusted as the handle, and the sudden complex of forces caused it to shutter and fall from its track. With the sodakeep / clothier / beacon for Highmond’s rage / apparent family man / cane arsonist / shoddy builder / generous salesman / stick-up man still firmly held onto it, the door flew out and down. The wind caught it on the bottom edge as it fell, pulling it so the inside part - where the man was not - was the side that hit the ground.

Edna and Iona watched as he skid across the dirt, shaking a fist and screaming more unhearable things at them. Highmond meanwhile watched a horse eat more hay off of his face. They all breathed a sigh of relief. The women comforted by the surety that their pursuer had been thoroughly lost, Highmond by the surety that his animal had no horse cavities.

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