The remnants of the fort are five or six black ashy posts sticking stubbornly out of the rocky snow-covered ground. Twenty of the dead face the setting sun.
They sit a cook fire. Staring mindlessly into the leaping flames, something bubbles. It doesn’t smell good.
Nearby, meat rots.
Gerald climbs the small rise, loose stones moving out from under his boots. He wears new Lieutenant bars on his blue wool covered shoulders, shiny gold in the bright light streaming over the LoDaisKa hills behind him. He leads his horse who borders on refusing to budge and making to flee.
A rifle goes click and his pony neighs, frightened. War horse my ass, Gerald thinks as he loosens his fist on the reigns and the horse sprints away. He raises his hands above his head.
He is roughly frisked. His six-shooter is tossed to the feet of the closest rotting thing, a former man with a large brimmed hat fraying around the edges. The hat covers his homely face. A face that seems to sag wrong on his skull. He nudges the pistol closer to the fire.
Gerald is forced to face a pockmarked face, grey bone visible in spots. Yellow eyes look him up and down. They seem dull and lifeless, but filled with hate and menace.
“Now what? Fancy a dance?” It’s the Five Points city boy in him. Gerald smirks, though he feels far from confident.
The thing in front of him pokes him in the ribs as if testing his meat.
“Too skinny,” he can smell cheap bourbon on the creature’s breath and rotten teeth, the new scents mix quickly with poorly dug cat holes and the pot of stew bubbling away, spitting its horrible sour stench into the air.
When the big knife appears in the degloved hand missing three fingers, he instantly doubts his size makes any difference. More that availability is all that matters to these fellows.
By instinct alone, he grabs and twists. Surprised at the resistance the thing offers, but even more that physics wins the day and the arm snaps off at the elbow like dry kindling in a shower of dust and rotting leather.
Dropping the arm but taking the knife, he sprints off after his horse thinking the nag probably knew best all along.