"No need fer cryin, boy," Old Ma Cody growled as tears ran down her own cheeks, "She's getting better all the time, isn't she? When she wakes, she'll be fine, Clint, all she needs is sleep. She'll be okay soon."
How desperately Clint wanted to believe Anna's grandmother, how he longed for her words to be the words of wisdom, sound, solid wisdom, the wisdom of the aged, of someone who'd seen it all before. But he knew Old Ma Cody was as desperately frightened as he was and all her words fell flat and lifeless onto the unswept floor.
"Ma... " was all Clint could say, standing near the door, unable to move, unable even to think.
Part of him wanted to run away, but his legs wouldn't move anywhere until Old Ma Cody raised a hand and beckoned him towards her. Reluctantly, almost unwillingly, he let his legs move.
"Is she - ?" he couldn't finish the question.
"No Clint, she's not... dead. She's not going to die. She's going to get better."
This was what Clint wanted to hear. He sat down beside the old woman and gently moved the blankets down off Anna's face.
And he cried.
The old woman looked towards Clint.
His first thought was 'it's not Ma Cody, it's a witch!' Her skin was yellowed by lamplight, her hair dishevelled and her eyes looked tiny in her puffy face. She looked like she'd aged fifty years since he'd seen her last.
"Oh Clint," she moaned and her eyes became glittery and bright as tears formed.
He tore his own eyes from her beseeching gaze and looked at the bed.
A tangle of blankets covered Anna so that all he saw of her was one arm as Old Ma Cody stroked her cold white hand.
At first he didn't see Old Ma Cody. A grey light drooped onto a wooden table from a small window and a gleaming brass lamp shed a fetid yellow pallor over the rest of the room, but Clint saw only a plain hard wooden chair at one side of a fireplace which had been left to go out and remained untended, and something shapeless in front of it.
The chilled air made him shiver.
His eyes growing used to the dim light, the shapeless mass became a bed, a tangle of blankets and Old Ma Cody kneeling next to it.
Clint was fast.
He covered the ground between his home and Anna's place inside ten minutes, though to him it felt like forever. As he raced, part of him wondered if he was in a nightmare, his legs seemed slow and heavy and the ground moved beneath him so slowly.
The few cries of "Slow down, Clint" or "Hold up, boy" made no impression as he demanded his legs go faster and they refused to comply.
The door to the Cody place was open. Clint knocked and entered, standing panting as his eyes grew accustomed to the change of light.
Eddie Sherman's answer was immediate, but he spoke the words slowly, as if having difficulty remembering.
"Wasn't nobody near her. But I thought mebbe I saw somebody running away."
Sheriff Cole's eyes narrowed.
Mickey intervened: "Think, Sherman, or dya want me to think for you?" The threat was vague, but it was there.
"Sheriff, I was kinda shocked, y'know? I dunno. A kid."
Sherman spread his arms, "I dunno."
"Who'd you think it could have been, Eddie?"
"Dunno for certain, Sheriff. But it sure looked to me as if it could have been Zeke McGinley."
The mist had cleared from the river, which splashed and chattered noisily as it glinted in the warming midday sun. Winter snowfall in the mountains had melted long ago, but there was still enough melt-water and mountain storm water to fatten the river and make occasional surges at this time of year.
"Here, Sheriff. I found her here. She was lying here."
Eddie Sherman pointed at the ground. In amongst the sparse grass and brush was a small patch of stained dirt.
"Anyone else with her when you found her?" Sheriff Cole asked.
Mickey moved quietly behind Eddie Sherman.
Eddie Sherman was in a group of men and woman, standing and whispering amongst themselves at what they considered to be a respectable distance from Old Ma Cody's place.
Approaching the group, Sheriff Cole called Eddie Sherman away and strode away himself, Mickey and a confused Eddie Sherman trying to catch up.
The Sheriff suddenly stopped and turned abruptly.
"Who found Anna Cody?"
Eddie Sherman stuttered and panted, just about getting out "I did."
Mickey grabbed Sherman's arm.
"Easy, Mick," Sheriff Cole guessed what Mickey was thinking, then suddenly strode off in the direction of the river. "Follow me, men."
Mickey was thinking that when he met Sheriff Cole and Doc Morris leaving the Cody house.
"How she doin'?" he asked.
Mickey looked from the Doc to Cole and back again. Neither spoke, so he stepped across the front of Sheriff Cole and blocked his path.
Sheriff Cole reached up and put his hands on Mickey's shoulders. "The girl's in a bad way, Mick. Ma Cody aint much better, neither."
"Who done it?"
Sheriff Cole ignored the question and turned away. He was looking for Eddie Sherman.
"Cole?" Mickey questioned.
"He's there," the Sheriff answered. "Come with me, Mick."
News of Anna reached Mickey O'Donohue quickly. He didn't know Anna well, but he'd known Old Ma Cody years, knew how she'd looked after the kid when the kid's parents had gone back to Kane County. Big upheavals for the poor kid: uprooting to Roylsden for Ma and Pa to get ranch work - only for the ranch they'd arranged to work on to close suddenly and its owners move away themselves. That sort of lame-donkey luck happens sometimes, mused Mickey. So Ma and Pa moved and Old Ma Cody, being Old Ma Cody and caring, took the kid in.
Mickey O'Donohue was, by his own admission, a drunk.
"A pretty healthy drunk, but... yeah... a drunk," he'd tell anyone who'd listen, and no one argued: partly because it was the truth but mainly because Mickey was six-six and like a mad jaguar in a fist fight. He rarely took offence, but if he did nobody was safe until the offender was either insensible or sensible enough to apologise.
"Never drink when I'm working though," he'd say proudly, but only whilst working as a heavy at the nanny shop at weekends or bartender at the Waterhole Saloon most weekdays.
Sheriff Cole quickly lowered the blanket.
"Sorry, Ma," he said, his hand reaching to again touch her shoulder. He felt inadequate, unable to say anything that would give comfort. This time her hand didn't reach up to hold his. This time her sorrow held her as tightly as she held her granddaughter's hands, and she continued crying.
Doc Morris tucked the blanket around the girl's arms and motioned Sheriff Cole outside.
"It's touch and go, Sheriff."
Cole nodded: "Pretty kid, Anna Cody."
"If she pulls through, her face'll heal," said Doc Morris "But right now that's a darn big 'If'."
Her clothes were stained with dirt and blood, her blouse ripped above her waist to reveal a long, shallow gash and bruised skin either side.
Cole raised the blanket higher, inadvertantly hiding the girl's face from her grandmother, and an anguished cry erupted from the old woman
"No! Don't take my child away from me, not now!" And for the first time since Anna Cody was carried into the house and laid on the bed the old woman sobbed, her tears pouring out her agony and dread into her hands, her bent frame shaking and shuddering with every helpless wail.
Sheriff Cole looked at her closely, as if a clue to her attacker would suddenly appear to him.
Anna Cody's skin was sallow, sheened with sweat as if hot, but almost icily cold to the Sheriff's touch. Drying blood stained both her nostrils a dark red and mingled with the dirt on her skin. Her lips were marbled with dirt and congealed blood. One eye and one cheek was raised in a fierce welt where her head had hit the ground and a few small cuts adorned her cheeks and neck, splashes of livid red on the pale, corpselike skin.
The Sheriff bent over the girl, his hand on her forehead.
"Can you feel how cold she is, Doc?"
Doc Morris nodded.
Sheriff Cole rubbed the girl's arms.
Doc Morris held out a whisky bottle to the Sheriff and whispered "In her state, this can't do any harm," then said aloud "This'll warm the poor mite, Sheriff. Put a few drops on her lips and in her mouth."
There was the slightest movement of the lips. Nothing more.
Doc Morris lifted the blanket off her and placed his hand on her chest, feeling for a heartbeat. There was barely one.
The train roared at us. I closed my eyes before the impact.
Then... silence, broken by her voice
Trembling, I opened my eyes. Only the grey mist swirled silently around us.
"You have witnessed it. Remember well. Now, I move on."
Take me, please -
"No. Day and night meet but never dwell together. It is time for you, too, to return to your people."
I can return?
She hugged me and then, like the remnants of a tremulous dream, there was a shadowed silhouette, perhaps that of an eagle, becoming one with the mist.
And she was gone.
Suddenly, ferociously, a train exploded out of the mist, it screamed and squealed towards us, painfully, terrifyingly, loud. A whistle shrieked the agonies of a thousand deaths as it sped at us, black smoke spewing from its funnel, its black-painted front gleamed evilly. Beneath, a glowing crimson cowcatcher glistened from the mist and looked like it was freshly painted in blood.
The noise was horrific and drained me of everything. Despite it hurtling directly towards us, there was nothing I could do. All I heard was its raucous clatter, all I felt was fear.
I stood, petrified, and waited.
"I shall leave you, but before I go - "
Take me with you, take me with you and your people, I have to go with you, I want your people to become my people, I want - I -
I couldn't finish because the fear of losing her strangled me and my eyes burned with scalding tears.
"My people call," she said, then pointed. "Anna Cody. Look there."
I looked where she pointed and the mist swirled faster and faster. It became blacker as it spun like a tornado, and a scream erupted from it, a scream at once unearthly and unholy.
"I'll do everything I can, Ma Cody." The Sheriff coughed to stifle a tremor that was forming in his voice and turned to face Doc Morris
"I'll get the bastard," he whispered. "One way or another."
The Doc squeezed Sheriff Cole's arm then guided him to the other side of the bed.
"Her injuries, Sheriff. The back of her skull's been gashed wide, mebbe a rifle-butt, but can't say for sure. Not a rock, I guess, no dirt around the wound. She fell forward onto her face. There's a couple more hits, on her shoulders and side of head."
Sheriff Cole leaned forward and put his hand on the old woman's shoulder. She didn't take her eyes off the girl, but spoke slowly
"Sheriff Cole, you get the man who did this to my little girl. You get him and you bring him here, to me-" she took a deep, stuttering, breath in "and you tell him, you tell him to tell me why he did this to a young girl. You tell him to explain to me. You tell him to explain, explain good."
The grandmother's hand left her grandchild's hand, and gripped the Sheriff's hand tightly.