June 2011



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Jade Ghost Story

by Laura Hanson Skarka

Jemiah twirled the irregular green circle on its edge around the bar and flipped it across his knuckles like a coin. He couldn’t stop messing with it, hadn’t been able to since it had appeared a week before, lying next to his head on the pillow when he awoke from yet another drunken stupor.

He knew what it meant.

He’d ridden out of Ganneston less than an hour after waking, knowing that it would do him not a damn bit of good. Flint and Lan Young had thought they could run. Lion Creek and Jessop, too. All of them were dead now. Each one found with a perfect bullet hole between the eyes, and a perfect rose petal carved from deep green jade beneath their tongues. A petal like the one Jemiah had before him, spinning on the cracked wood of the bartop.

Six men had gone after the gun and killed the family of the carver who made it, and four of those men were dead. Maybe five. Jemiah had heard nothing of Mouse’s-Friend Megget since they parted ways a year and a half before. He’d tried though, tried to find him when the news of Lion Creek’s demise had reached him. But he was gone. Even Megget’s favorite lotus girl in Six Stars had no clue. She’d had some crazy story about Mousey repenting his evil ways and going to join the priesthood, but Jemiah couldn’t cotton it. More likely that Mousey was now a skull in the desert with a green jade petal rattling behind his teeth.

He called to the barkeep for another round, watching the man’s big-knuckled hands as he poured out the shot and pulled the beer to make sure he wasn’t cheated.

Six men had gone after the gun because it couldn’t be made, and therefore it was worth something. An impossible six-shooter carved from white jade, folks called it the Ghost, both for what it was and what it could do. A bullet fired from the Ghost, they said, didn’t just take a man’s life, it took his soul, trapping it wherever the bullet came to rest and keeping it from moving on.

Legend said that it had been used only once, but whether that had been to kill a monstrous huge hoard of dragons, or save the Emperor, or defend a small and helpless town from bandits, depended on who was telling the tale. Jemiah had heard all those and more while they were hunting it. Most folks said that it didn’t exist, that it couldn’t exist. Not past the first time it was fired, anyway. No jade could take the explosive force of a bullet exiting the chamber without splintering, folks said, even if you could carve the pieces right. Others had tried and failed, usually with a brain full of shards or if they were lucky, a shattered gun hand.

But Jemiah had believed, and his gang had believed, and besides, what better weapon could there be than a legendary one for a band of men who felt destined to become legend themselves? So they had trailed a ghost, pouring drinks and knocking heads and taking fingers when they thought someone was holding out on them, or they were drunk, or bored. Once or twice they even paid for information. And eventually, the trail pointed to a town called Moon Pool and a man said to be the grandson of the Ghost-Maker.

The Six rode in to Moon Pool on the trail of the Ghost. They rode out again a day later with blood on their hands and nothing much else to show for it. A month after that Flint was dead, shot in the alley beside The Poxy Whore Saloon while his brethren drank on the other side of the wall. There was no sign of the bullet that killed him. They’d thought at first that it was simple robbery, or over a woman, until that damned petal had slipped out of Flint’s mouth when they turned him over.

Jemiah had known what that meant. The old jade worker in Moon Pool had lied. He’d lied even as they tortured his son. He’d lied even as they cut off his hand. He’d lied even as they killed his son’s wife. A carved jade rose had tumbled from the woman’s hair as she fell from his grasp, broken petals scattering across the floorboards. He’d found one caught in the top of his boot when they rode out of town and tossed it to a young girl in the street whose eyes had matched the jade. Flint grumbled as they left that the thrice damned gun probably wouldn’t have worked even if they had found it.

By that morning Mouse’s-Friend Megget was long gone. He simply vanished in the night, along with his share of the gang’s loot and the best of the horses.
The four who had been six rode hard back to Moon Pool and reached the ravine that held it just as the sun dipped below the horizon two days later. There was only one problem. The town was gone. Not just empty, gone. Nothing remained but its’ namesake, a perfect circle in stone reflecting her sister circle in the sky. They made camp at the mouth of the ravine, too spooked to make use of the shelter offered near the pool. Lan Young, at least, had given his reasons and said his goodbyes before he left them at daybreak. Not that it mattered. He followed Flint into the winds a month later.

Lion Creek abandoned him six months after that, a week after they found Jessop’s body when the lotus girl he’d spent the night with had woken up and started screaming. Jemiah still heard her sometimes in his dreams.

He called to the barkeep for another round, “A drink to old friends,” as he finished the last, and sent the petal spinning.

The bartenders’ hand as he poured the drink looked wrong somehow, even through Jemiahs’ boozy haze. It was too small, too delicate, too …feminine. He knew what that meant, too. He tossed the shot back quickly, letting liquid fire burn down his throat for the last time before he slowly set the glass down and lowered his head to look across the bar.
Her eyes matched the green of the jade petal. The gun she held leveled at him was ghostly white.

“Grandfather sends his regards. He understood that you wanted to see a Ghost,” she said calmly, “I can assure you, it works just fine.”

About The Author

Laura Hanson SkarkaOur first guest author, Laura Hanson Skarka is a writer, costumer, and archivist whose work has included UnderWorld from Synister Creative Systems and a regular column on Live Action Role-play costuming in the Mind’s Eye Theatre Journal from White Wolf Publishing. A daughter of the wind-swept prairie, she is rumored to be a Master of the Nine-Stitch Needle style.

Authors interested in a guest post for Far West can email Gareth-Michael Skarka for further discussion.

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