Excerpt from “Birds of a Feather”

Zeke scanned the area as he took a pull from the canteen. “Well, Maude, that ol’ mine town should be jest ahead. Hopin’ we find a few nuggets, least ‘nuff dust to buy us some supplies, else I’ll be fightin’ ya fer some o’ that wattle. Course, I know ya don’t mind the lighter pack, do ya, girl?” Maude nuzzled against his hand as he scratched behind the pack mule’s ear and led her away from the silver wattle, having used the pause for an opportunistic nibble.

As the afternoon wore on, Zeke could see Widdershins on the rise of the gorge. Below him was a river, little more than a stream in this dry season, and several ponds with a flock of birds going in and out of the rushes around the largest of them.

“Looks in pretty good shape, way better’n some places we been, eh, Maude? Might even be some fish in them ponds. Must be sumpin’ to draw all them birds.” As they approached the town, Zeke heard sounds like distant conversation. “Might have company, Maude, sure sound like folk chattin’ up a storm.”

The travel-worn pair arrived in town a bit before sunset. For an abandoned town it did look well preserved. Zeke peered into a few houses on the edge of town. When he stepped into some of the clapboard houses, Zeke realized they were still stocked. Yet, the thick dust blanket was undisturbed – mute testimony to the town’s desertion. Hitching Maude near some of that silver wattle she liked so much and getting her some water, Zeke set about unloading their gear into one of the houses. Making a meal out of the last of his bacon and potatoes with some coffee, Zeke surveyed his surroundings by the light of the moon. Hanging gibbous, it would be full in the next day or two. By its wan, yellow light, he could see the bony structure of the town’s long tom. It leaned crookedly against its sluice, likely the victim of a flash flood during one of the monsoons.

Zeke was surprised to see swans apparently still swimming down in one of the ponds. He would have expected them to be nested in by now. The thought of nesting in sounded like a good idea; it would be nice to sleep in a bed. After beating the old mattress to chase out any spiders or centipedes might have had the same idea, Zeke settled in for a deep sleep.

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