Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Past the Colorado

Past the Colorado

The Early Adventures of Olivia Crawford

By William E Wilson

Past the Colorado: The Early Adventures of Olivia Crawford
Copyright 2012 by William E Wilson

Except as permitted under the Copyright Act of 1976, this book may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any manner.

This short story is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents are either products of the author's imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Version 1.0, August 2012
Visit William Wilson's web page at

Published by
C.R. designs
PO Box 1215
Flagstaff, AZ 86002

Author's Note -

This short story is a quick prequel to my story After the Collapse. I wrote this while waiting on edits for the main book and to help set the stage and introduce people to Livie, the main character of the new upcoming series. The series is set in a post apocalyptic world that has technology pushed back to the Victorian age. I am calling this Neo-Steampunk as Steampunk elements are included. Please enjoy this short story and hopefully it will lead you to some of my other upcoming books.

Peering through the binoculars, the woman wondered if the bridge would be clear. Years ago during the collapse, the Hoover Dam had been destroyed which left only the bridge to cross the Colorado River for hundreds of miles. She swept her gaze over the landscape, looking for any telltale signs of marauders awaiting prey.

Suddenly a movement caught her eye and she zoomed in, adjusting the binoculars for the best focus. A smile crossed her face - a bighorn sheep. If a sheep was at ease perhaps there was no one else in the area, she thought.

Easing herself back off the rock she had been poised on over the bridge, she scrambled down to her horse.

"Ok Lee, let's go boy."

Her horse tossed his head as she mounted and they turned to head down to the road and the object of her attention, the bridge.

Livie was a bit skittish here. She had heard that marauders travelled the roadway in the area, preying upon lone travellers. So far she had avoided such encounters, travelling mostly off the roads. It had been a long trip with many stops from northern California. She regretted having to leave her sister at the ranch, but she felt the pull strongly to find her brother.

The sky was almost devoid of clouds, the day bright and warm. A sound of rocks shifting interrupted her thoughts and her head shipped around as she instinctively reached for her vest pocket where she carried her derringer. On closer look there was nothing there. Lee was even picking up on her unease and was a little skittish himself, as he danced along the trail.

She finally breathed a sigh of relief when she reached the other side and was able to leave the road. Safety. She had to be vigilant. The terrain was rough here and the going slow - Rock filled ravines, rolling hills, and cliffs slowed her progress. And it was dry. Bone dry here. Water would be a premium for a while but luckily her waterskins were nearly full. Her destination was Kingman where she hoped to find some friends of her father. He had talked about them over the years before his death. Good people, always willing to help he said. She remembered meeting them once on a trip to visit her grandparents in Flagstaff.

Livie turned her focus back to travelling, checking her compass heading before stowing her map. She would be lucky to make fifteen or twenty miles. And... She couldn't afford to injure Lee.

Lee was a paint and was devoted to Livie. She had raised him herself, even breaking him for riding. She patted his neck as she reminisced. It had been a struggle of wills. He darn near broke her, but she came out on top, and now they were inseparable for the most part. Plodding on she steered Lee to what she thought were safer areas that would still be protected from the view of anyone on the road.

Coming up over a rise Livie's head jerked up when she heard a yell. She scanned the area quickly before looking off to her left and seeing the road. Dismounting she pulled Lee down to his side, calming him with soft words, "Shhhhh, there boy, it's ok." but he could feel the tenseness in her. Who was it she thought as she broke out her binoculars. It took her a few minutes to see what was happening and it wasn't good. Then she heard the report of a gun. Marauders. She could make them out clearly now. They were on horseback and had run down someone and shot them. The person was crawling away from them now. Then the second shot made her wince. The body lay there - unmoving. One of them kicked it and she could hear the whoops and laughter even at this distance. As the pool of blood spread she could see them rifling through the person's goods and thought it good that she had avoided the road. She held Lee down for at least fifteen minutes after they left. It was very difficult to understand how people could be like this. How they could show such disregard for human life. She couldn't bring herself to call the marauders people. They were animals, preying upon the weak and she would not forget this. Mounting, she took off for the east and Kingman, hoping against hope that she could avoid them.

The landscape was stark. Off to the right, every now and then, she could see the Colorado River. About Lee's feet were cactus, scrub, and creosote bush. Passing one large rock, Livie saw a lizard sunning itself. Looking up, she took off her hat and wiped her brow. Another few hours before the temperature would start to drop as the sun went down. She shifted in the saddle and pulled at her shirt which was clinging to her back. Despite being spring it was terribly hot. Lee's coat was wet with sweat. A good sign. Sweating meant he wasn't overheating. They walked slow to keep the exertion down which would help.

Livie decided it was time to stop. A watering would be good too so she poured some into her hat and gave it to Lee before getting a drink for herself. She had the feeling this part of the trip would be monotonous, especially once she made it out onto the flats. She had heard that there was a watering spot for travellers at a saloon called the Arizona Last Stop. Past that was Dolan Springs and then Chloride. Each leg of the journey would take a day, going from one watering hole to the next.

As the sun was sinking down over the western side of the Colorado, Livie could see the sky taking on a rich red hue. Tomorrow would be another clear and hot day. Water rationing would be the norm until she could make it to the Verde River and the Mogollon rim.

Selecting a good place to camp that was out of hearing range and sight of the road, the she broke out some of her trail rations for dinner. Tonight would be poor fare since it wasn't safe to even build even a cooking fire and so ate a bit of dried meat, a few nuts, and some dried fruit. Livie gave Lee a few oats and then let him graze a little while she watched. After he was done, she gave him a good portion of water and then had a scant cupful herself. Although she couldn't afford to become dehydrated, having Lee become dehydrated would be a greater problem.

Dawn broke early as usual and Livie stretched and rolled over. As she opened her eyes she scrambled back off her bedroll and then chuckled. Waking up to a lizard staring you in the face before it runs off is a bit of a shock.

Lee was standing there dutifully waiting. At least Livie thought that as she chuckled. Looking out over the barren landscape she took in the juxtaposition of the light grey and tan rocks with the reddish sands and the blue sky. So beautiful and yet so inhospitable except to the creatures that managed to live here. Breakfast was spartan for the two. A little dried meat for Livie and some dried grasses for Lee. The oat supply was getting low and she thought it best to save some for later.

Gathering everything up, the two started on their way again, Livie leading Lee for now. The terrain was rough and she didn't want to chance injuring Lee or herself. After about an hour of travel she finally mounted as things smoothed out a bit. She still hoped to be able to make it to Dolan Springs in a few days.

The two travelled southeast towards their next destination, stopping every hour or so to take a drink of their precious water. Coming over a small rise Livie could see a road down below her. It cut across the trail which was worrisome. Looking at her map she scratched her head and wondered what it might be and finally decided that perhaps it was the road down to Willow Beach. Checking the map, there was a marina at the end of the road on the Colorado but it would be easy to avoid which would be easy as she had no desire to go in that direction.

The landscape continued to be a monotonous expanse of hills and ravines. She saw little wildlife except the occasional lizard or bird. At nightfall she heard strange noises off in the distance to the east. Almost a wailing noise. It made her shiver and she moved a little further to the southwest just to make sure she was a ways from the road.

The next day the landscape finally evened out and she could see that they were going through what looked to be a great, flat valley. To the east she could see some low mountains and to the west the broken terrain bordering the Colorado River. She looked at her map and thought she must be about fifteen miles or so from Dolan Springs. Checking her water supply she figured she could make it, but it would be tight. Now that she was basically out in the open she angled towards where she thought the road would be. Anyone traveling the road would be able to see her in the distance anyways.

The heat of the day caught up with Livie and she started to drift off as she was riding. Sweat trickled down her neck and between her breasts. Her shirt stuck to her back and she felt downright miserable and thirsty. She contemplated taking a big drink but thought she had better conserve it for her horse.

Livie caught herself as she almost fell off Lee. Shaking her head she wondered where they might be and taking stock of the situation she looked about. They were about ten feet from the road. And near a route 93 sign which meant she was at least going in the right direction. Taking out her binoculars she surveyed the locale and noticed a building to the southeast, just off the road with a large sign nearby. "Last Stop"? Horses appeared to be tied up outside of the building which looked like a saloon. There were other outbuildings and it would be good to get more water. Deciding on giving it a shot, she lightly kicked Lee into motion and traveled on to the building.

A trough with water sat outside so she had Lee drink before tying him to the hitching post. Taking her one saddlebag with her possessions in with her, she went in the front door and after a quick look, up to the bar. There were a few others in the room that took looks at her and then went back to their conversations. The barkeep came over, setting a glass of water down, "Water's free if you order something to eat or drink."

Livie thought for a moment and then asked, "What are the food choices?"

The lady slid a piece of paper across the counter and Livie took a quick look. Corn chowder, tortillas and meat, sopapillas and a few other things. Thinking that the corn chowder would be the safest, she ordered that, "Corn chowder with a couple of flour tortillas if you have them."

"That will be two bucks." replied the woman as she called the order in to the kitchen.

Counting out the change for the meal, she thought it was highway robbery but there was nothing she could do.

"Is there anywhere I can fill my waterskins?"

The barkeep nodded and replied, "Yeah, over at the windmill."


Life had to be tough out here. Well, maybe not? If enough travellers came through maybe a person could eek out an existence. The interior of the bar was interesting. There were murals on the walls, the largest taking up pretty much one wall and showing a motorcycle rider in front of a theatre. The marquee showed James Dean. Other paintings of bikers adorned the other walls. The tables were old. Maybe from the classic route 66 days as were the chairs. It really did harken back to before the collapse.

The barkeep brought the chowder and tortillas out and Livie dived in. It was thick and hot and despite the heat of the day she literally gobbled it down. She used the last bit of tortilla to clean the bowl.

"Not eat in a while?" asked the barkeep.
"Just trail food. The chowder was really tasty."
The woman nodded and said, "Here sweetie, have a touch more." and took her bowl.

Some people since the collapse showed compassion for others. The barkeep had seen her fill of people down on their luck. Setting the bowl down on the counter she asked, "Where ya headed to?"
"Kingman for now."
The woman nodded and continued, "Family or just passin thru?"
"Family friends. Hope to be able to find them."
"Good luck dear."
"Thanks. Can I ask a question?"
"Sure. What's on your mind?"
"Any place around here I could find a bed?"

The woman nodded and said "I think we could muster up one for you."

Livie thought for a moment and asked "Do you do work in trade?"
The barkeep smiled and answered "I'm sure we could dear. How're you at washing dishes and doing clean-up?"
"I've done my share." Livie replied with a smile.

That evening Livie darn near worked her hands to the bone. She wanted to make a good impression on the woman and make sure she did her share. For it, she had stabling for Lee, a bed for herself, and even breakfast in the morning. What a change from the past months on the road.

The next day dawned early. Stretching she got up slowly and gathered everything up before going back to the bar. She had a hearty breakfast of eggs and tortillas with salsa before helping out a little more with chores.

"Thank you so much for helping me."

The barkeep smiled "You're welcome dear. You travel safe now."

Livie returned the smile and went and retrieved Lee. He was well watered and ready for the trip. She saddled him, doubled checked everything and then set out on the road again. The barkeep had mentioned that she would start to see more people on the road. Wagon trains went through the area, taking people and goods from one place to another. They were expecting a shipment in today in fact. She had asked about marauders and was told that from here to Kingman things shouldn't be bad.

The way was easy going. The area had more grasses than in the rugged country she had travelled through earlier. Yet even with the increased rains over the past few years it was still dry here. Lee was able to forage a few times during the day and Livie didn't spare the water on him, knowing that she would be able to refill at the end of the day.

Gone were the ups and downs of the hills from before. They passed a number of other travellers along the way and one wagon train that appeared to be carrying goods. Each of the wagons had a driver and a guard carrying some sort of rifle. Although conventional ammunition was rare and mostly non-existent, the use of black powder firearms was on the rise. Livie even carried a small .32 caliber single shot derringer. She had never had to fire it. Some people even used makeshift crossbows.

Many of the people she passed waved or tipped their hats. She would always respond and give a smile. Smiling often seemed to put people at ease which she preferred over confrontation. She had experienced enough of that in the past.

Shortly before sundown Livie saw buildings ahead and figured she was coming in to Dolan Springs. She continued riding past a number of ramshackle buildings until she came to a restaurant of some sort. A few young men sat out front and watched her as she tied up her horse. As she approached the door, one looked at a friend and said, "I'd like me some of that. Wonder if she is one of the new girls at the whore house?"

Livie seethed inside as she turned, took a deep breath and looking the boy in the eyes said in her best teacher's voice, "I am a Lady. You will treat me like a Lady. You will talk to me politely or I will wipe that smirk permanently off your face."

The young man was completely taken aback and his friends sat their speechless. Taking off his hat and standing he replied, "Sorry ma'am."

Livie watched him wring his hat for a moment before saying, "What would your momma say? Would you say that in front of her?"

"No ma'am." he almost whispered before looking down.

She turned back to the door, watching for as long as possible. As she entered the establishment he sat back down quietly next to his friends. One started to speak and he said "Shup." before the door closed.

The dining area was small. In fact the whole building was on the small side. Livie ordered and paid for something to eat that included some vegetables. She ate them as often as she could. It didn't take long for her to finish and she inquired about a place to find accommodations.

"There a boarding house or hotel nearby?"
"There's the Miner's Rest down the street next to the Blue Monsoon."

"Thanks." she said before heading outside. The boys were still sitting there as she went to her horse. She took one look at the one she had dressed down and he looked down and scuffed a shoe against the ground. Good, she thought. Kid needs to learn some manners. Women should never be treated that way.

Livie quickly found the boarding house and arranged a room for herself and stabling for Lee. There was a covered porch that she could sit on for a while that evening, looking out over the landscape. Although there really wasn't much to look at. Another night with a bed was a treat, bur it still took her a while to fall asleep despite the door being locked from the inside. Towns could still be dangerous.

No breakfast came with the room, and she decided on just some trail food later. She was able to refill her skins at the boarding house and Lee was well watered before her trip to a place called Chloride. She could travel leisurely again as it was only about fifteen miles.

Like the day before the travel was easy and free from troubles. She skirted a set of hills on the west to make it down to Chloride. She had heard that the town had been established in the 1800's and was known for its silver mine. In its heyday millions were made. She couldn't fathom that much money. Especially these days. She had a number of ten and twenty dollar pieces sewn and hidden in various spots in her kit and other denominations of coin in a small purse that she carried. She carried everything she owned. As she approached the town she could see the mines which appeared to be active. Finding a place to get a meal she listened in as best she could on conversations.

"They say they hit another vein."
"Yep. Might pan out with quite a bit."
"Bobbie still bringing lead out of his?"
"Yeah, by the bucket load. He's been selling it to some guy named Mick in Kingman. I hear he smelts it and makes bar to sell off to those travelling through."

The name Mick rang a bell. She was looking for a Jules and Mick Hardy. Her dad used to talk about them. Jules was an artist with a passel of kids. Mick was a tinkerer and had worked at the dam. She thought she should take the chance and ask about him.

"Excuse me, you know this Mick."
"I've met him."
"His last name Hardy?"

The man scratched his chin and said "I believe it may be."
"Know where I can find him?"
"He has a shop front next door to the Brunswick Hotel. Can't miss it. Big sword hanging above the door."

Livie thanked the man and went to find accommodations. One more day and she should be in Kingman, and with luck, find someone who had known her dad.

The next day she was able to hook up with a wagon train taking minerals and lead to Kingman. That should assure a safe trip. As they travelled during the morning Livie could see clouds building up.

"Looks like a storm brewing." said one of the drivers to his guard.
"Yeah, we best stop and get out the oilskins."

At that, the driver stopped his wagon and broke out rain gear. They checked the wagon to make sure it was well covered and then started on again. The other wagons had done the same. Livie's raincoat was just behind her saddle so she decided to wait as long as possible to put it on. The further they rode the darker it became - The clouds boiling up and looking like giant dark grey puffs of fluff. A change in the breeze brought a smell of moisture to Livie and she wondered how hard the rain would be and for how long. A few minutes later she noticed what looked like a dark diaphanous sheet extending down from the clouds to the ground. And then a thunderclap nearly stopped her heart as the lightning arced from clouds to earth. It wouldn't be long before the deluge passed over them.

As the first sprinkles began to fall Livie put on her coat and pulled her hat down tight. She also cinched up the tie so if the wind picked up bad she wouldn't lose her hat.

The raindrops almost hurt as they pummelled her. She followed close behind the wagon, not being able to see more than about ten or fifteen feet. She had been in storms but this was a dilly. She thought it lasted at least a half hour with the rain coming and going for the rest of the trip into Kingman.

Finding the Brunswick was easy. It was right on the main street. Luck would have it the shop next door was still open. Livie walked in and took a slow look around. The store was full of artwork but there was also what looked like an assayers desk in the back. One individual sat on the edge of the desk, leaning on a sword that was point down on the floor. He had longish hair with flecks of grey. A well trimmed beard graced his face which had a wry smile. He was talking to two others about a new batch of swords that were being heat treated.

She worked her way back slowly, looking at everything till she was close to the three. The man leaning on the sword finally said, "Can I help you with anything?"
"You Mick Hardy?"
"Who's asking?" replied Mick as he put his sword across his knees.
"The daughter of Richard Crawford."

Mick looked at Livie and his smile broadened.

"Come a little closer." he said, waving her over.

Livie complied, standing right next to him. He stood up and she was surprised that she was easily six inches taller than he was. He looked up into her eyes and exclaimed, "I'll be. Same eyes."

Livie had her father's and her grandfather's eyes. Bright blue with a hazel ring around the pupil. The two caught up quickly then Mick said, "Shop's closed boys. Party tonight at my place."

Mick showed Livie back to his home which wasn't to far away. His wife Jules was pleasantly surprised by their visitor. It had been many years since they had seen the Crawfords. Livie had just been a toddler at the time with the families staying in touch over the Internet until it had gone down before the collapse. Like many people, they lost all contact at that point.

When Mick introduced her to Jules, she got one of the hugs of her life. She caught up quick with Jules too, telling her of the fate of her father who had died in the conflict. Mick's wife popped off to make dinner as he and Livie continued to talk.

"Would you care for some mead?"
"You mean, made with honey, mead?"

Mick nodded his head and smiled, "Yeah, I brew it."
Livie looked excited as she said, "Where on earth do you get your honey?"
"I have my own hives and also bring in some honey from Flagstaff. They still have hives up there too. Your dad used to like my mead."

The mead was wonderful. It had a floral smell to it that Livie couldn't place. It tasted like honey too. She had tried other meads in the past that tasted more like rocket fuel than anything else. This though, was exquisite. A they sipped the drink her eyes wandered over the sitting room. The walls were covered with art. Quite a few photographs could be seen of people. Many of children. Photography was impossible now with lack of power. Digital photography that is. She had seen some old style film cameras but those were rare as well.

When dinner was served Livie was quite surprised by the repast. Jules had cooked a suckling pig. She had to have butchered it before dinner. She also served a spring mix salad and pickled vegetables. The vegetables were quite spicy and went well with the roast pig. Just before dinner was served, Jules called outside and a passle of kids came running in. The dinner table was huge and the children scrambled for seats. Dinner was served and the kids dug in as the adults took their time.They sat and joked and talked while they ate, the adults talking about life and the kids talking about the next fort to make, or what to play when dinner was done.

"These all your children?" Livie asked Jules.
"No, they are orphans that we took in. Kids need a good home and I like a big family. Mine are all grown but some we haven't seen in years."

Jules took on a far away look as Mick rubbed her back. The three adults were quiet for a minute before striking up conversation again. When they had finished eating Mick called out to the kids, "After dinner chores, then out of the house with you."

The kids all got to work, some went to the outdoor kitchen and began to clean up, some cleared the table, and the rest went off to take care of other chores. This freed up the adults to move to the sitting room to talk.

Later that night people started to arrive at the house. Couples, individuals, some with children. The children went off to play with the others as the adults started to mingle. When the sun had fully set, Mick was assisted by some other men as he built up a bonfire. Despite the warmth of the day, when the sun set the night air took on a chill. The bonfire blazed and threw off a cheerie light and warmth. Some of the revellers brought out instruments - a bouzouki, tambourines, and dumbeks. The players struck up a cord and an eastern melody filled the air. As they played, some of the women, including Jules, began to dance. Livie was entranced by the entertainment. She had listened to music since the collapse but it was mostly American folk music. This had an ethereal quality to it. Almost fey.

One of the women picked up a sword. Was it a sabre? She balanced it on her head and continued to dance - hips undulating, hands moving slowly in patterns, stomach flexing and relaxing, head and neck ever straight as the rest moved elegantly. Some men even joined in the dance and moved in their own ways. Although smooth, their movements were more masculine. Not touched with softness. Not feminine. Livie was intrigued and then startled as Jules took her hand and pulled gently, beckoning her to join. Livie shook her head but Jules would have none of that. She guided her to the circle of dancers and helped her move with the rhythm of the music. She had never done anything like this before. She felt a flush. Embarrassed as she thought the movements were sensual?

Livie had always been a bit of a tomboy and was strong willed which put many men off. She had boyfriends over the years but something always happened. They moved, she moved, they weren't quite right for her and vice versa. And then since the collapse she didn't have time for an involvement. She liked the thought of settling down with someone. Mick and Jules seemed so happy despite what had transpired. She had met people living in despair and also people living happy. What was the difference? Most had gone through the same things. The thoughts faded quickly as she came back to the present. She moved with the music, hands, body, mind. She thought the word fey again. This was fey, otherworldly. A safe haven for a short time. Something to be savoured and remembered.

The night wound down and everyone began to disperse. A smile graced Livie's face as she said goodbye to the many revellers. That night as she lay in bed she had some hope for the future. Hope of finding her brother after looking for her grandparents. The next leg of her journey would be difficult. The Hardy's had mentioned they needed to travel to Seligman to make deliveries of various items and to pick things up as well. They would travel in their Vardo, a type of gypsy wagon, and she was invited to travel with them. That was most welcome as Livie didn't have the opportunity often to travel in a group. Yes, the future had much in store. 

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