The history books would read that Jim Walker was brutally executed after the Battle of Goliad, but a few dollars in the right hands blurred the contrast between blood and ink. Now an aging bounty hunter on the verge of retirement, his services are requested in the Northern Arizona Territory to solve the mystery of the Verde River Massacre. With the aid of a local Deputy and a handwritten, deathbed confession from a delusional Medicine Woman, Jim sets off on what could be his final adventure. Will he lay the ghosts of his past to rest once and for all, or is he, like so many others before, simply Tracking Zoe?
Coming soon from the first time team up of C Derick and Sam Cloud-Miller! A Splatter-ish Western (depends on who publishes this insanity!)
Dear Mr. Walker,
I address you by that name because I’ve heard it’s what you’ve chosen to go by these days. You claim it to be your birth name, but whispers on the wind tell me otherwise. Who am I to argue with the wind? After all, it’s been here a lot longer than the two of us combined. The wind, I mean. In my native tongue we call it nilch’i, but in that dying language, it also means far more than just the breeze you feel on the back of your neck on a hot day. Nilch’i is the creator, the life giver, the healer, but can also be a mischievous force. I learned that lesson many moons ago, and I should have heeded its warnings.
I’m sure you’re just as surprised I know your true identity as you are the fact that a dying Navajo woman knows how to read and write English. Life is full of surprises, and it’s a shame I’ll have to leave it soon. Then again there’s a huge part of me who can’t wait to take the long journey to the other side. I’ve done horrible things, Mr. Walker, horrible things…but those horrible things have been done to horrible people. Does that cure the wrong? Maybe next time I’ll get it right.
My given name is Weeping Cloud, and this is my death bed confession. I can’t promise what I’m about to tell you will give you the answers you seek. You see, she’s very unpredictable.
I’m sure you’ve heard by now the rumors of the infamous Verde River Massacre, but I’m certain they all pale in comparison next to what really took place. Even though a full year has passed, the people who inhabit this area still aren’t quite ready to hear the truth of what happened at the end of the last growing season, but then again, neither are you, Mr. Walker. I can only hope you’re sitting down while you read this.
I know the reason you’ve been brought here is to solve the mysterious murders which have terrorized this place for the last few moons. Unfortunately, I feel as though I am the one responsible for those deaths. I can assure you they will not stop with the ceasing of my wind, however. She will never stop until she finds what she’s looking for. As the luck of a dying woman would have it, I’m unsure as to what she seeks. I guess this is where you come in.
The “she” I keep referring to is a young lady who once settled in this area. Her name was Zoe Telos and, even though I say “was,” I can promise with ultimate certainty that she is still among us. What I really mean, and this is the part I hope you’re sitting down for, is that she and her infant child were murdered by an evil man who went by the name of Robert Jack. Don’t bother trying to track him down, you will find no answers there. He killed himself shortly thereafter.
Fortunately for Mr. Jack, he was able to stay dead after he pulled the trigger, but I can’t say the same for Zoe.
Now, pay close attention to this next part because it’s the reason I’m scribbling out this confession rather than shutting my eyes. I was what one might call a Navajo Medicine Woman. I did my fair share of healing over the years for my tribe, praying to the wind to save my people, and the wind always answered. When my people were forced to leave the Northern Arizona Territory, my son and I decided to stay behind. I could never leave the familiar nilch’i, streams, and animals. I could never abandon all that I held holy, the essence of our existence. So, out of pure love for me, my son agreed to stay by my side until the authorities forced us to vacate. That was when we met Zoe Telos.
In her family’s natural tongue, the girl’s name meant “the end of life”, but that didn’t steer my son’s heart away from her pale skinned beauty. We were being pursued by the Army when we landed on Zoe’s porch in dire need. With a big heart, she took us in immediately, without question, and hid us from the soldier’s search parties. After all, she was in a spacious home all alone on the banks of the Verde River. What else was she going to do with all that extra room other than share it with two people in desperation?
Zoe was a war widow with no children, and we found that our company was her real motivation behind saving us. We also provided her with protection from the men who came to drive her away. They claimed she had taken the life of their father, a very important figure, but I’m not sure Zoe was capable of such an atrocity. You’ll meet these two men soon enough because they’ve already visited me here in my convalescence. I am writing this letter to warn you away from them. Don’t trust these men no matter what you do, Mr. Walker. I firmly believe you’re not seeking the same answers as they. If this letter is unsealed when it reaches your hands, it only means they know I’ve attempted to warn you in advance.
Shortly after my son and I had settled into our new home, the inevitable occurred. A roving group of soldiers caught up to him while hunting for food. He was executed on the spot and those soldiers left his lifeless shell to rot in the forest. One moon later, Zoe and I realized the hole left in my heart by my son’s death would soon be filled by the birth of a child.
She was pregnant, you see. Zoe, believing her husband dead in the Civil War, had allowed herself to fall for my son. When the time came, I delivered the child, brought first wind into her lungs, and love returned to a loveless home once more. We dared to hope that our tribulations had finally come to an end, and that our little family would sustain us for eternity. But we should have known, the winds of change can be very unpredictable.
I’m not sure who Zoe and Jack were in their former lives. On one fateful day, he found his way home somehow, against all odds. He was fresh from the war, and very much alive. Robert Jack was a cruel man and that’s the best word I can think of to describe him. A few minutes into his homecoming, he slaughtered my grandchild and left his own wife for dead. I’m sure he believed he had his reasons to take revenge out on Zoe, but the image of my slaughtered granddaughter, laying swollen, bleeding, and lifeless at the bottom of an old dry well is one I can’t forget.
I always wondered why Zoe insisted on naming the child Jackie. It was in honor of her long lost, presumed dead husband. Maybe Jack never knew the child was named in his memory, and now he will never comprehend the true depth of Zoe’s love for him.
Now, pay attention because this is the part of the story that involves me, Mr. Walker. When I said he left his sweet Zoe Telos on the banks of the Verde River for dead, I meant it. The breath was nearly gone from her lungs, and in my desperation, I performed a windway ceremony, using all of my dormant knowledge from when I had been the caretaker for my village. But in my grief, perhaps resulting from my lack of practice, I think something went wrong. Maybe she was too far gone to save. Maybe her grief and guilt twisted her. You see, Zoe Jack-Telos is not quite dead, contrary to popular belief, and she feels guilty for soiling the sanctity of her marriage to the man she loved more than anything on the face of this land, the moon, the stars, and whatever else lays beyond the darkness above.
You can choose to believe me if you like, Mr. Walker, or you can listen to the advice of the narrow-minded masses who have sickened the land of my people. Zoe Telos is no ordinary woman, and I can guarantee you her thirst for the blood of the unfaithful is far from quenched. Trust me when I say it’s going to take a lot more than those pistols you white men worship to put Zoe Telos in the grave. Find the grieving mother, and you’ll find the cure to the curse placed upon this once great land.
I’ve worked my magic well, Mr. Walker.