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but even that motion did nothing to soothe the raw and burning ache of her
throat. If anything, it made it worse. Actually, just thinking of her dry
throat and the last time they’d had any fresh water to drink was just shy of
torturous. “Didn’t know Texas was quite so hot,” she rasped. “Never got this
hot in Indiana.”
to urge their thirsty Sookie onward. They had come a long piece since Vinita
and had been so wrapped up in the affairs of Clayton Allison that they had
neglected to pack extra water. “We’re not in Texas yet, Katie.”
of sweat slide down the side of Peter’s face. “I figured us to be almost there
by now.” Adjusting her seat brought no comfort as the blackness of the buggy
made the inside little more than a rolling oven. “Where are we then?”
were leaving Vinita, just inside Indian Territory?”
attempted a swallow. “Yes. Doesn’t Texas come after Indian Territory?”
a half-smile. “Most folks still call this land we’re in now Indian Territory.
Others think it’s part of Oklahoma. Whatever it is, we still haven’t made it
Katie’s backbone. Leaning, she peered out of the buggy and into the scrub
brushy hills that surrounded them. “You mean, there really are Indians here?
Wild ones, like Mr. Allison, spoke of?”
Katie’s lips at the recollection of Clayton Allison. “Have you noticed that the
closer we get to Texas, the less out of place we both seem?”
cough. “Full of colorful characters, Texas is. Figure we’ll fit right in.”
lungful of air so hot that it burned her raw throat. “So where do you suppose
the Indians are?”
their land we’re traveling across, my guess would be anywhere around here.”
you, God for having the divine foresight to send Peter to help me, Your
stubborn but faithful servant, on this journey. She
twined her fingers together tightly to keep them from shaking.
here? Because of the fine weather?” Katie’s attempt at a joke fell on deaf ears
as Peter stared straight ahead into the hot, unchanging hills.
government moved them all here Katie and most are none too happy about it.” He
flipped the reins again and scanned the horizon. “To most of these Indian
folks, white people are the enemy. Not only to them, but to everything they
love and hold dear, as well.”
sweat that tickled her forehead. “Oh.” Her heart sank a bit. Even though they
weren’t English, both she and Peter would probably still be considered white
from an Indian’s perspective.
struggled to see what Peter pointed to in the distance. Squinting, her eyes
only saw the same scrubby hills. “What is it?”
said, shielding his eyes with one hand. “Where there’s a town, there’s water.”
He licked his lips with his tongue, which was no doubt just as dry, swollen,
and gritty as hers. “As long as it isn’t a ghost town,” he whispered.
choosing to ignore the ghost town remark as they passed a roughshod shingle
nailed to a tree. “Thank you for the town of …” Katie squinted to read the
shingle as they passed. “Badland.” She glanced at Peter. “Badland? Did I
read that right?”
again. The mere thought of water had sent a ravenous surge through her mouth
and throat. Unfortunately, that resulted in nothing more than
a dry ache that encompassed her entire neck and chest. Thinking that there
might not be any more people here was too horrific a thought to bear, so she
didn’t think it. “The well. Let’s find the well of Badland, Peter.”
the center of the dusty and overgrown street sat a dilapidated well house.
Katie perched on the side of the buggy, ready to dive out, the moment it rolled
to a stop. Peter had only just reined in Sookie before Katie dove out, hitting
the ground running in her once-shiny black shoes. Hand over hand, she began
hauling up the bucket.
Peter started, “that we haven’t seen another soul since pulling into Badland.”
down the street, bringing with it a round and rolling tumbleweed, but no hint
of any nearby moisture. A derelict wooden door hung, squeaking, on a rusty
hinge punctuating the eerie silence. The haunting sounds of the deserted street
echoed ominously as Katie hauled the splintery bucket up over the side of the
broken down well. Before she could get it to her mouth, Sookie stuck her dry
black nose smack dab in the lifesaving liquid. Katie smiled. “I suppose you
ought to get to go first, Sookie.”
adamant than before, edging on worried. “Katie, don’t you agree? Don’t you find
it odd? Katie?”
bucket, Katie ignored Peter as the remaining liquid ran down her throat in
welcome gulps, soothing what was dry and healing what was cracked and aching.
Katie also ignored the slick horse spit that accompanied it.
voice, peppered by a deep and rattling cough, echoed through the empty town.
“Mister, stop that gal!”
corner of her eye as Peter approached the woman, whose head poked out of a
nearby ramshackle door. He held his hands out in peace. “I’m sorry for our
intrusion ma’am, but we’re mighty thirsty –”
gnarled finger out the door. “Stop her Mister, can’t you read?”
she pointed, Peter caught sight of something that made him pale. “Katie, stop!”
Turning on his heel as she wiped her damp lips on her sleeve, Peter dashed full
force to her side. “Put the bucket down, this whole town is quarantined!”
and the bucket fell from her hands into the dirt. A rolling, nauseous feeling
surged in her stomach. Sookie, however, had no qualms about slurping up what
water was left in the misbegotten bucket. “What did you say, Peter?”
pitiful excuse for a sign, also nailed to a tree. Running both hands through
his hair, he brought them down hard against his sides and muttered things under
his breath that she couldn’t rightly understand. One thing for certain, she had
never seen such a wild-eyed look on the face of her sweet Peter.
closer when I got that bad feeling.” Stomping his foot, Peter swore an oath for
the first time since she had known him.
a long breath. “Can you read that sign, Katie.”
to sound out the misspelled word. “Gr … gripe.” She looked to Peter for
confirmation, her hopeful brows arched skyward. “Gripe. Isn’t that what English
people do when they are upset?” She forced an uneasy smile in an attempt to
lighten the heaviness of the moment. At the same time, she willed the emotion
building inside of her not to explode.
deathly pale. “That’s not gripe, Katie, it’s grippe. As in the grippe.”
where she’d heard the word before, but fear fuzzed her memory. Glancing at her
fingers, she realized she was trembling. Hard.
Peter shoved it back down on his head without bothering to dust it off. “That’s
what most people call the influenza. Shuts down whole towns and has been known
to wipe out a few.”
knot that had formed in her throat refused to budge. “So it could make me sick
if I catch it?”
her, his strong shoulders slumped. “Sick? Yes, I’d say so. At the least.”
accepted Peter’s hand and clambered back into the buggy. “What do you mean, the
but didn’t look at her. Sookie appeared as though leaving the well was the last
thing she wanted to do, but she turned away from it grudgingly. They passed the
last of the tar-paper houses before he answered her question. “It’s deadly
Katie. Mighty deadly.” He snapped the reins again, driving them on out into the
suffocating heat. “And it’s catching.”
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