Muleskinner Blues
Chapter 12

Copyright© 2022 by Joe J

Posted: July 19, 2011 - 09:08:26 am

I woke up some time later. My mind swam up out of a fog and I was instantly alert. My eyes sprang open, but when I tried to move it was as if I was mired in quicksand. I was lying on my back with my head cradled on something soft. My legs were out straight and my arms were at my sides. I did not appear to be tied up; instead, it was as if all my limbs were asleep. I twitched just then as my muscles started to come back to life. The second time I twitched, Helena’s head loomed over mine upside down. After a moment of confusion, I realized that my head was in her lap and she was bending over, looking at my face. I smacked my lips together and finally collected enough moisture in my mouth to talk.

“What happened?” I managed to croak.

“I am so sorry, Jeremiah,” she moaned. “My crying out in passion woke up Sonja and Coleen. They came running out of the tent and saw you on top of me. They thought you were attacking me, so Sonja knocked you off me and Coleen zapped you with her stunner.”

I could not help snorting in laughter.

“It was you attacking me as I remember it,” I said. “Where are those two anyway? I think I want a word with them about jumping to conclusions about me.”

I was not really angry, because the other women had done the right thing and defended their friend. The stunner had not harmed me in the least, but my left arm smarted some from where I fell on it. Helena giggled and told me that the other women were in their tent, too embarrassed to face me. I grinned at that and sat up. I was feeling better by the second. I kicked the blanket off and stood up.

“Go get those desperados, please. It’s their guard shift anyway,” I said.

Sonja and Coleen shuffled out of their tent a few minutes later, both looking chagrined. I shushed them before they could apologize.

“I think we are all embarrassed enough about tonight without rehashing it. I say let sleeping dogs lie.”

Everyone agreed to that immediately, so I grabbed my bedroll and went to sleep under my wagon, while Sonja and Coleen took up station around the fire.

The next morning I was up with the sun as usual. I sent Sonja and Coleen to bed to get a few hours sleep before their big day, while I tended my animals and made coffee. I was a bit surprised when both women kissed my cheek before they disappeared into their tent. I was surprised, but not in the least displeased. The women from California might be unusual, but they were all attractive and smart. It was a combination I had always found irresistible.

All three women were up and stirring around by nine. Sonja joined me by the fire. She declined my offer of a cup of coffee, but did ask for a sip of mine. I could not help grinning at the face she made after taking a gulp.

“That’s disgusting,” she blurted.

I shrugged and took my cup back. We sat in companionable silence for a minute or two before Sonja spoke again.

“Jeremiah, I know it is not what we originally agreed to, but with Jonathan gone, we need your help today.”

I was not thrilled with the idea of going up on the mountain, but I figured that if the women felt safe doing it, I could at least listen to what Sonja wanted.

“What do you want me to do?” I asked.

Sonja told me her plan and it did not seem foolishly dangerous, so I signed on to it.

Sonja wanted to take a wagon closer to the mountain so that she and Helena would not have as far to tote their equipment. I hitched up Zeke and three other mules to the smallest wagon and the women and I loaded four of their trunks on to it. We rode for about a mile; all the while Helena’s silver box kept chirping and clicking. I was beginning to hear a pattern to the noise the box made as it clicked faster, the closer we advanced to the mountain. After that first mile, Helena dismounted the wagon and walked about fifty feet in front of us. We were almost at the base of the mountain when Helena signaled me to stop. She took one last look at her strange device and walked back to us.

“I’m reading two gray units of radiation here, so this is as far as we are going unprotected. Anyone going further than that large square rock will need to be in full protective gear and wearing a dosimeter,” she said.

After we dragged the metal chests off the wagon, the women flipped them open and started pulling out these shiny metallic cloth garments. The garments looked as if they were silver union suits with built in boots. Sonja and Helena unselfconsciously stripped down to their unmentionables and wriggled into the suits. As if the suits were not strange enough, both women then hooked a half circle looking thing over the tops of their heads. The thing covered one of their ears, had a curved twig like appendage that went from their ear to the front of their mouths and a part that looked like a spool of thread with a glass front. The spool looking thing gave the women the appearance of having three eyes. They next donned hoods made of the same shiny material. The hoods covered their heads and fastened to the suit at their shoulders. The front part of the hood was made of some sort of flexible clear glass, the likes of which I had never seen. They topped off the bizarre outfits with long gauntlet-like gloves.

While Sonja and Helena were busy with the suits, Coleen placed a smaller case on top of one of the big ones. The lid of the small case hinged up. The part that opened was mostly a black rectangle, while the bottom had some buttons on it with letters of the alphabet stamped onto them. I jumped back in alarm when the black rectangle came to life, showing a picture of Coleen and me. When I jumped, so did the Jeremiah in the picture. Coleen saw me jump and gave me a gentle, reassuring smile.

“Relax, Jeremiah, it’s nothing to harm you. I’ll explain it all later,” she said softly.

I nodded dumbly as Helena and Sonja turned and the picture changed to a view towards the mountain. Right then I knew that there was much more to all this than I had even imagined before. I knew that because, up until the strange picture I was seeing, all of the Californians’ marvels could be explained as something similar to, although much better than, things I had seen before. Not now though, and especially not after what happened next.

Coleen slipped a device over her head that was similar to the one Helena and Sonja wore, minus the spool with the glass front, and started talking.

“I have two good video feeds, Sonja, now let’s do a comm check.” she said.

By now, Sonja and Helena were at least fifty yards away, too far to hear Coleen’s voice, I thought. So much for what I thought, because suddenly Sonja’s slightly echoed voice spoke out of the machine that I was looking at.

“Good. I hear you loud and clear. Do you have radio also, Helena?”

Helena’s voice jumped out of the machine too.

“Roger,” she said.

Sonja and Helena disappeared from our view a few minutes later. When we were alone, Coleen tried to explain what I was seeing. Her explanation did not help me at all, because I could not find a frame of reference for what she was saying. Until thirty minutes ago, the telegraph was the most sophisticated communication system in the world as I knew it. Now I was privy to something that not only sent a message from one place to another, it sent your voice and your picture, too. What I was seeing was impossible, yet here I stood, watching it happen. It was either real or I had finally slipped into insanity. While I was hashing all this out in my mind, Coleen was watching me closely. I realized that she was afraid that I would do something irrational. I gave her a reassuring lopsided grin.

“You ladies are full of surprises, but I think I know you well enough to trust you. Tell me you aren’t witches and this isn’t some witchery magic, and I will stay with you.”

Coleen laughed, threw her arms around my neck, and hugged me. She finally leaned back and looked into my eyes.

“You are an amazing man, Jeremiah. We’ve never met one like you. We were lucky beyond belief to have found you here. As far as witchcraft goes, if anyone here is casting any spells, it is you. How else can you explain all three of us being crazy about you in only four days?”

I gave her another grin and slipped my arms around her slim waist.

“I would be more flattered if I was not the only man you have met here in Wyoming, but I am not complaining one bit.”

Coleen laughed and squirmed out of my grasp.

“Later, big boy,” she said coyly. “Right now we have work to do.”

I loved making Coleen laugh. She was probably the best humored woman I had ever met. I sighed theatrically and nodded my head. She laughed again, grabbed my hand and pulled me over to one of the open metal chests. She was in the middle of telling me what we needed to do next, when she held up her hand to shush me and cupped the other hand to the thing on her ear. She listened intently for a few seconds, then said, “I copy, Sonja, and I have the camera’s recording.”

Coleen stopped talking and grabbed me in another tight hug. She sure was excited and she quickly told me why.

“They’ve already found some Hawkingium. Helena says it’s lying all over the place, instead of being buried as she thought it would be. Hurry up and help get this suit out so we can watch them on the monitor.”

I helped Coleen lay out another set of the shiny union suit, then sat beside her on one of the camp chairs and watched the incredible moving pictures on the small black rectangle. As I watched the picture in utter fascination, I noticed that Helena was talking the entire time. She was using that nearly indecipherable California dialect with many Latin sounding words thrown in. I glanced over at Coleen and whispered, “Who is she talking to?”

Coleen pointed to the box with the picture on it. “She is narrating the video we are recording. What they have found up there will be of great interest to the scientists back home,” she said.

Coleen and I watched the small picture for another hour as Sonja and Helena found more pieces of the metal they sought. By then the novelty of the device was wearing thin, so I stood up and stretched. While I was up, Coleen asked me to place one of the trunks on the ground about thirty yards in front of us. After I completed that task, she had me fill this silver metal five gallon bucket with water from the barrel lashed to my wagon. The cover for the bucket had a pump handle and a small flexible tube mounted on it. I lugged the bucket over to where I placed the trunk. As soon as I sat the bucket on the ground, Coleen told me the other women were headed back.

When I returned to where we had been sitting, Coleen stood up and started disrobing. I had to comment on how quick she and her friends were to do that.

“You all are not very modest,” I opined.

Coleen draped her frock over the camp stool and turned to face me.

“It’s just a body, Jeremiah. Everyone alive has one just like it,” she replied.

I chuckled and shook my head.

“I doubt if five percent of the women in the world are as desirable as you, Coleen,” I said sincerely.

Coleen had turned around and was picking up one of the long john suits when I said that. She dropped the suit and spun around to face me.

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