The Drabblecast Weird West Event closes out this week with another original story– this time with epic train shoot-outs, centaurs, and manifest destiny! We bring you, “That Bloody Frontier” by Sasha Brown.

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Cover art by Tristan Tolhurst



That Bloody Frontier

by Sasha Brown

August 2, 1855

The bones of the railroad workers were laid out in whorls and loops on the desert plain, gleaming under the white gold moon. It was profound, in its way. They were brought from far away to lay these tracks, to become part of a de- sign they couldn’t hope to understand. Someone must have arranged them as they fell. They were no pioneers. Theirs was not the achievement, Daddy. They simply cleared the path.

I was on the roof of the train, as I often am.

It’s a good perch to watch for trouble, but it’s not only that. When I’m up there, my pure white Sunday dress fluttering in the desert wind, my hair burning gold in the sun, my opera glasses to my eyes… I hope I’m a reminder to my men. The frontier is a lawless place, but our train brings purity. There will be no whores on my watch. No kicked dogs, no saloon fights. Where Eulalia Rain goes, civilization pools around us like the hem of my dress.

Spenser climbed up a little ways, so his shoul- ders stuck out of the hatch. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” The sun glinted off his bald skull, so bright

I could hardly look at him. He repulsed me, of course; all the men did. But he was the engineer, the most important of them, and I could spare him some of my attention. I showed him my dimples for the briefest moment.

“It is indeed, Mr. Spenser. But we must be vigi- lant. We are beyond the maps now, and there are monsters.”

“Wild things, yes,” he said, obsequious. “It’s been quite a journey. The giant ant lions, the tunnel of teeth.” He turned his weak-chinned smile to me and showed the pistol on his hip. “Don’t worry. I’ll always protect you, Eulalia.”

I put a full bucket of ice into my reply. “It is Ms. Rain to you, sir. We are not intimate.” My body may not be large, but men will find that I am not to be protected.

He stammered an apology, blushing. But as helooked away his eyes widened, and he pointed at a dust cloud on the horizon. I raised my opera glasses.
Desperadoes were coming.

I couldn’t tell, at first, what was off about them. But they neared quickly, and I saw it soon enough. No horse heads; no boots. Horse and rider were the same, in this outlaw herd. Human torsos reared out of equine bodies. Their four hooves galloped across the dusty ground, while human arms wielded pistols — and weirder weapons I didn’t recognize.  It was an abomination, as though humans were smeared backwards into savage nature. What perversion had birthed these beasts? What unspeakable acts?

“Stoke the engine, Spenser,” I hissed. We’d been traveling at a casual rate, conserving coal. We would need more fire to outrun the outlaw centaurs.

“And pass up the detonator.”

“You wouldn’t use it, though, Miss,” he gasped, reaching the plunger up.

“You won’t need to use it.”

But I wouldn’t fear to, either, Daddy. I’d wired the cars just as you showed me. Dynamite through and through. We would try to outrun them or outshoot them. But if it came to it, we would not surrender train nor track.

My men shoveled coal furiously below, but the desperadoes came up fast. They were too big: ten feet tall, out of scale. They rushed onto the tracks behind us like a flash flood into a ravine. Several carried what looked like tumbleweeds, and they bowled them hissing at us. They gleamed and sparked as they rolled, embedded with razors, and where they hit my leaning men they sent blood flying, arms sheared away.

Their leader galloped ahead of the rest, gaining steadily. Curly red hair streamed behind her. It looked like red hair all over from a distance; but as she neared I saw that she had no horse hair at all, just raw skin. Her flank muscles churned beneath her naked flesh, knotting and flexing.She wore no bandana, and she grinned at me as she came, her green eyes locked on mine. She was grotesque but powerful, and in her I sensed an energy I had not encountered before. An opponent, perhaps, worthy of respect.

My hand twitched at my bosom, where I kept a derringer concealed. But no: from this range, my little gun’s aim would not be true.

We were almost at speed, and I believed we would outrun them — giants though they were — but we needed more time. Not much. A moment would do. I walked down the train to the caboose, where my man was perched on the roof and firing wildly at our pursuers.

“The bullets barely slow them, Miss,” he said.

“It’s all right, sir,” I said. “You’ll find a way.” I patted him on the shoulder; but I gave him just the barest push as I did.

He yelped and tumbled off the train, landing crooked on the track. The outlaws leapt instinc- tively to avoid him, losing their cadence, and we sped away.

It’s as you taught me. We are not a team: we are an engine powered by men. Some must be consumed along the way. I am not afraid to make these decisions for them. There are abominations out past the frontier, Daddy, but I have the Lord God with me. They are the monsters; I am the danger.

August 2, Late

I stayed up on the roof all night as we raced, our coal supplies dwin- dling, putting miles between us and our pursuers. Spenser came up to join me, and I let him sit qui- etly. The blizzard of stars whirled over our heads. Saguaros towered, the great cactus sentinels of the desert.

“What do you think the ocean will be like?” he asked.

“The same as the other one, I imagine. The ocean is not the objective. The railroad is the ob- jective. When we tie the coasts together, we will have dominion over everything in between. No more monsters; no more wilderness. We’ll tame it all.”“Of course, Eu — Ms. Rain.”

He smiled at mewith his damp lips. I’m sure he thought it was a moment.

Two of my men stalked up and down the cars, watching for the desperadoes. But they watched the wrong things in the night. It was one of the great saguaros that swept down and walloped into Jonah, sweeping him off the top of the train with a violence so sudden as to elicit no scream. Its needles impaled him as it went. As it straight- ened, his body was silhouetted before the broad desert moon; I could see the vampire saguaro pulsing as it sucked the blood from him. Its trunk reddened, stiffened. His bones would bleach in the desert and join the great design.

August 3, The next morning

I was startled by the screaming of brakes. I rushed to the engine, ready to scourge Spenser for stopping; but I saw what had forced him to do a halt before the cliff.

“They’ll bow out as we go, Ms. Rain,” he said.

“We’ll never make it. The wheels will lose the rails, and we’ll fall.”

We had no time to fix the track properly. We must simply get across, one way or another, and we had an hour at the most before the bandits caught up. I was saddened then, Daddy, for I knew what must be done.

I am not heartless, as you know. I went back into the cars and favored the men with my brightest smile. It smelled awful in there. They pressed on around, filthy and frightened, desper- ate for leadership. “A temporary setback, boys.”

I showed my dimples again. “I have a solution. In the meantime, it is time for lunch anyway; and we’ve been running hard, haven’t we? For those who want it, I offer a cup of rum with your midday meal.”

Some demurred, perhaps knowing how distasteful I find liquor, or for their own private reasons. Spenser walked the aisle with a jug, and perhaps half the men accepted.  Enough.

I raised my voice as they drank. “We may face obstacles, but the great engine of progress cannot be stopped.” I knew my voice was sweet and lilting, and it was difficult to make men take it seriously; but in my Sunday dress I was an island of purity amidst their grime and squalor, and I stood out as though I were lit from the inside.

“God has sent us, and God watches over us. I, Eulalia Rain, love each and every one of you: my team, bending as one to make our holy mission a success. But some trials are more difficult than others. Some require pain; some require sacrifice. I hope you will remember that the company engine is greater than any one of us; indeed, in a very real sense, we are all the engine. The engine is us. And above all else, above even ourselves, we must keep that engine on the tracks.”

I felt quite emotional, as I reached the end of my speech. The men, sadly, didn’t seem to appre- ciate it. I’m afraid it went over their heads. And some had already fallen asleep, knocked out by what I’d put in that rum.

Spenser’s hands were shaking almost too much to be of use, when he began tying the drunks. “I know, Ms. Rain, sacrifices must be made,” he moaned, “but this seems so very cruel. Is there no other way?”

“I wish there was, Spenser. I, too, am saddened. But such is the way of progress. One must tie or be tied. I hope, sir, that we are both ones who tie. We are, are we not?”

Spenser paused, and our eyes met briefly.

He was a weak man, but not a foolish one. He nodded, sweat streaming down his bald pate, and went about his grim business. Just as you taught me, Daddy. Most men are incapable of truly serious decisions. Deep down, they want to submit.Aug 3, late So it was that when that half of my men awoke, they found them- selves bound hand and foot to the tracks across the ravine. For the human body is just the length of a crosstie; and if it’s not quite as strong, it will do well enough for one pass.

I stood once again on the roof. I wanted those men to see one last beautiful thing. Eulalia Rain, hair haloed in the sunset, a last white beacon
of piety and progress to show them that their sacrifice was truly meaningful.

Oh, they gibbered and shrieked anyway, as Spenser released the brake and the train groaned out across the ravine. They rolled their eyes at me and begged, as the engine crept towards them: first the shadow, then the steel. Their pale hands flailed against the hot iron track. We rolled over their ankles and wrists, crushing and severing them as we went. Bones broke, tendons snapped, blood squirted; one by one, as the train passed over, my men tumbled into the abyss, screaming, waving the stumps of their limbs.

Crossties are stronger; men will only hold once. But once would be enough for us.

I looked back upon my gory track as we cleared the ravine. The rails were still festooned with hands and feet, hanging limply to either side, their tendons smeared into the steel itself.

Back on the other side loomed the despera- does. They massed there on the edge, perhaps two dozen altogether, led by the red woman.

“Stoke the firebox, gentlemen!” I shouted. “Shovel! Your very lives depend on it!”

We began to leave our bloody bridge behind… but even as we picked up speed, the desper- adoes trotted out onto the rails. They moved with impossible grace and balance, their hooves steady on the shining lines of steel. Even when the metal was slippery with blood, the centaurs never wavered, never faltered.

They were coming for us.

We picked up speed; but we were running out of coal, and the outlaw centaurs were gaining. The rhythmic drumming of their hooves rose until it seemed all I could hear. There was something unnatural about the sound, something jarring to the ear, and I realized that they were missing beats. It wasn’t the rhythmic drumming one might expect from galloping horses. It stuttered and lurched, out of time.

But it was faster than ever before, and soon they surrounded us. They held ropes that they swung like lassos, but with grappling hooks at the end. They launched them at us, hooking into windowframes and dragging, slowing us further.

I stood on the roof of the engine car, my Sun- day dress whipping in the wind, facing back- wards. I knelt for a moment and bowed my head. I was praying to God, in this decisive moment. But I was preparing, too. Just like you showed me, Daddy.  I arranged the hem of my dress carefully, and then I stood to face the bandit leader.

She ‌came directly up the rails. As she neared our caboose, she flexed her great centaurmuscles and leapt high into the air, landing on the roof at the opposite end of the train.

We stood there, facing each other. She seemed too big for the car, as though she might tumble off; but her hooves were steady. The wind whipped my wide straw hat off and it fluttered down towards her; she batted it away, grinning at me. She trotted steadily towards me, leaping nimbly over the spaces between cars.

“I hate your stupid train!” she called. She stopped on the next car, perhaps twenty paces away. “You and your straight lines. I’m here from the twisty places. We want you to go home.”

My hand hovered at my bosom area, where I had my derringer concealed.

“God sent me here. He sent civilization with me. I did not come to negotiate with horses.”

“You know the problem with you?” She laughed, showing brilliant white teeth. “Your dress is silly, but also: you’re no fucking fun.”

“Men have died to bring me here. You dare talk about fun? I bring order to a world of anarchy. The march of civilization is ever resisted by creatures of chaos. I am not here for fun.”

“We have a fun game we play out on the frontier.” She dropped her smile and her shoulders flexed, weaving from side to side. “Our favorite game. What we do is, we get our guns out and see who can shoot each other the fastest. You want to play?”

I showed her my dimples, in case it might throw her focus off. My fingers were poised between my breasts, inches from my derringer. “I stand in the light of Jesus. Do you think you are faster than Him?”

Her hand twitched at her gunbelt. “Draw and find out, asshole.”

“You talk like a whore.”

Her eyes were locked on my cleavage, and she never had a chance to draw before I stomped my foot down on the dynamite plunger hidden under my dress.

The train cars exploded in a series of fireballs, smoke and fire curling towards the sky, and I on my engine careening away from the destruction. Those left of my men died in flame; but the desperadoes died too. So did their leader.

I felt God’s light around me in that moment, Daddy. I really did. I watched the smoldering ruins of the train shrink away in the distance; when I turned, over the next ridge, I saw a flash of ocean. We were so close. We were nearly to the shore.

But the engine was stopping.

I climbed back down to find Spenser alone, shoveling from a meager heap of coal, tears coursing down his black-smudged cheeks. “We’ve run out, Miss,” he said. “Run out of coal — and out of men, too.” His face twisted, fear and despair showing alongside something else, something tentative but dangerous: anger. “You’ve killed them all. It’s only us left.”

I almost heard a hint of wistfulness in his voice; but he was too frightened now, too wounded to imagine us alone. His hand crept, trembling, towards his gun. “It’s as though your only strategy is sacri- fice. Every pitfall, you’ve filled with bodies. All of your solutions are death, Eulalia.”

I showed him my dimples. It was the least I could do. “But it is effective,” I said. “And we are not intimate, sir.”I pulled my derringer and shot him through the head. He stumbled backwards, an astonished look on his round face, and fell directly into the firebox.

The engine picked up a bit of speed, with that addition. I pushed Spenser’s legs into the fire, and we crept on. His body wasn’t as good as coal, but it kept us rolling a little ways more. Just over the next crest; and there before me was the glittering sea.

I have made it, Daddy. I write to you now from the shore. The ocean rolls out before me, and the land between belongs to us. The twisty parts will be straightened; the bloody frontier, tamed; the rewards, ours. I’m first, alone. I am the winner. I am the pioneer. All of this is ours, Daddy.

Everything is ours.