Another collaboration by Carolyn and Riwa
Francine Hunnicott scowled at the two young women sitting across from her and her husband. They appeared to be sisters but they both looked like soiled doves, off to ply their trade in the Wyoming territory. They were wearing dresses and appeared to be very self-conscious about something.
She coughed at the dust being kicked up. Traveling to and fro in this manner was undignified; there was dust everywhere. But it couldn’t be helped.
She and Willoughby had traveled to acquire some more supplies for their mercantile in Cheyenne. This was the only stagecoach available for their return. And now they were stuck riding with these… these prostitutes!
Her husband had smiled politely at them when they’d first boarded the stagecoach. He’d seemed fairly taken with them at first sight. But she’d given him an angry elbow in the ribs. In no uncertain terms was he to pay them any mind once they got back, especially at whatever saloon they would be residing. Merchants such as the two of them were supposed to be above that sort of people.
The coach swayed back and forth over a rough section of road. “Must you rock us around like that?” she hollered up at the driver, assuming he could even hear.
“It’s the road, ma’am,” a male voice called down to them. “Nothing I can do about it. The horses are doing their best.”
“Well their best isn’t good enough! You better mind our belongings or I’ll sue the company. We have valuable merchandise up there we’re taking back to Cheyenne.”
“Do my best, ma’am.”
Francine snorted derisively. If this was his best then she had no illusions as to the welfare of the contents of their merchandise once they arrived. Thankfully she’d packed it carefully knowing full well the coach would be none to stable a ride.
Across from them Meredith and her younger sister Sara smiled politely. But the matronly woman huffed at them and then looked away. Meredith could only hope she would not run into the woman too often in Cheyenne.
She and her younger sister had left Missouri after her father had died of tuberculosis and their mother of consumption. They could not handle the farm on their own and it had been foreclosed due to the debt father still owed. Packing up their few meager belongings, they had set out for the Wyoming territory.
There was work for a girl like her in the saloons, work for her younger sister if she allowed it. But she did not want that life for Sara. She wanted her to be a schoolteacher, although Sara had insisted on working at the Saloon with her. It had been a source of dispute ever since they’d left Missouri.
One of the clouds of dust that was annoying Francine kicked up and hit her in the face as she felt the wagon stop. She looked out of both sides and saw, on one side, a general store that was not unlike her own. On the other side was a church and some other buildings.
“We need to stop here,” she heard the driver call from above. “The horses need to rest and to have some water. I’m also going to use the outhouse and get something to eat.”
The idea of the outhouse and eating struck every passenger as a good idea. Francine was a bit annoyed when her fellow passengers were able to get out faster and find the outhouse first. So much for respecting your elders and betters…especially your betters, she thought.
When everyone was done with their business they all found themselves in the restaurant. Francine looked for the two younger women and made a point of siting as far away from them as possible.
Unbeknownst to her, had she been there first, the two younger women would have done the same thing. Her snooty attitude was obvious, that of a spoiled city girl who had not done real hard work in her life. Despite the argument that Meredith was anticipating with Sara, the woman’s attitude was even worse.
At least her husband was tolerable. But both Sara and Meredith could easily tell who the boss in that marriage was.
Food was consumed and then they reassembled by their wagon. The horses were still resting but their driver was waiting with a sausage in his hand.
“I was just in the saloon, asking around, and the general feeling from the people was that it’s been raining and the creeks that we’re going to have to pass are high. Also, they think that the wet weather isn’t over with.
“Well we are most certainly not going to stay here. I don’t even see a proper room to stay at. It’s not even mid-day so we’re going on.”
Their driver sighed, but got the horses ready to go again. The entire foursome then got in, taking their exact places as before, and they were off again.
They headed out of the small town and settled in for another long stretch. The sisters either looked across at their traveling companions or looked away. But the look of disdain on the elder woman’s face made them wish to avoid eye contact with the couple.
The husband managed to smile at them a couple of times. That made them feel better until the wife caught him. An angry glare made him look down at his feet.
The stagecoach lumbered along, occasionally bouncing over rough terrain. “Hey, watch it!” Francine called up at the driver. “I’ve got valuables packed in those suitcases you know!”
“Doin’ my best, ma’am,” a harried voice replied. “If I go any slower we won’t get there at all.”
“Is that all you got to say for yourself… ‘doin’ your best’?? This conveyance is rattling my innards!”
“Doin’ my best, ma’am.”
Francine huffed in annoyance. Sara couldn’t help smirking at her until she glared down the young woman. Sara looked away uncomfortably.
For reasons only she knew, Francine decided to close her mouth and shut up for a little while. Her husband and Meredith took advantage of the silence and stayed still, enjoying the brief respite. Sara suddenly found herself unable to keep her eyes open.
She dozed off, her head tilting to the right and coming to rest on her sister’s shoulders. Meredith gave her a small shove so that her head went the other way. But then it came back and rested on her shoulder again. She gave up and let her keep it there.
Things stayed smooth for a bit when they all heard a pattering above their heads. That noise could only be from rain droplets. They looked outside, Sara having been woken up, and saw the rain coming down. It was light at first but soon picked up and got heavier and heavier.
Sara and Meredith enjoyed watching the rain. But, as expected, Francine got uppity about it. “Keep my things dry, driver”, she yelled up to him.
“I’d like to ma’am, but there’s really nothing I can do about it. The weather is what it is.”
Francine pouted and, as the rain came down harder, they felt the wagon sloping downwards, following a trail that was taking the wagon down a steep hill. All four of them waited for the road to level out, but it didn’t. They all held onto the sides and their respective companions as they went down farther and the rain intensified.
Meredith looked at Sara who looked back. They looked across at the couple riding with them. Francine gave them an indignant look but said nothing, especially as they kept going downhill.
For a moment it felt as though the stagecoach had picked up speed. They could hear the horses starting to pick up the pace, heard the driver trying to reign them back in. All the while the rain kept coming down.
Just how long was this hill anyway? They were still going down. The sisters looked expectantly at the couple as though they should know if they had been this way once before. The husband smiled sheepishly and then shrugged his shoulders. The wife glared at him as though he wasn’t supposed to be nice to their passengers of low-standing.
“My luggage!” Francine called up toward the driver.
“It’s raining ma’am… and I’m a little busy at the moment!”
“Mind our luggage, driver!”
“Right now I’m trying to mind the horses, ma’am!”
The carriage continued to pick up speed and all four of the passengers started to worry. Sara and Meredith slowly reached over and took each other’s hands. Francine sat up straighter, trying to act calm and collected. Her husband just turned and looked out the side, hiding his face from everyone.
The rain intensified and they could all hear the driving yelling at the horses, trying to reign them in. Nothing he did seemed to be working.
Suddenly they all felt the wagon as it took a huge hit. Either they had hit a hard rock, or one wheel had gone into a large hole in the ground. It was such a jolt that all four of them were lifted from their seats and banged their heads against the roof of the carriage.
Meredith looked out of her window and saw, to her shock, the driver in midair as he went flying out of his seat. She covered her mouth in horror just as the wagon started to slew to one side.
“Driver, what’s going on up there?? If any of our merchandise is damaged your freight line is going to pay for it!”
“He certainly needs to slow the horses down!” her husband agreed nervously.
“He’s not up there anymore,” Meredith gasped, her face visibly pale.
“What??” The other three looked at her aghast.
“I saw him go over the side on that last bump we took.”
“Then who’s driving the stagecoach??” Francine simply could not comprehend their situation.
“There’s no one driving??” Sara gasped anxiously. She knew instantly the trouble they were in.
“What about the horses?” Francine asked. “Surely they’ve been trained…”
“They’re probably running scared!” her husband observed, clearly becoming more frightened.
“What do we do now? Are we riding a runaway stagecoach??” Everyone looked at Francine but no one had an answer to her question.
As if in answer, the wagon straightened itself out again and all of them breathed easier, but only for a moment. The wagon didn’t stay straight, but kept sliding until it was out of position, just slanted on the other side.
Francine stuck her head out of the carriage to look for the driver. She didn’t see him but did lose her hat in the process as the wind took it off of her head. She was able to get back in but her hair was already wet and had lost its styled appearance.
“What are we supposed to do now?” Sara asked her sister.
Meredith didn’t have an answer and looked at Francine’s husband. He didn’t have an answer either.
The carriage kept turning and going down the slope. Then, and they all guessed that it had gone too far, there was a huge snapping sound. The wheel that Sara was sitting over broke, putting the coach on a slant and letting everyone see the horses still attached to their tender run away from their conveyance. They didn’t run for very long, just long enough to get out of the way. Then they just stood where they were until they were out of sight.
With Sara sitting slightly lower than the rest of them, the carriage kept going downhill. None of them could even tell how far they had gone but it seemed like a long time. With Sara down, and the cart at an angle, rain started to pour into the cabin as the carriage spun again and everyone’s place was reversed.
The coach headed out of control down the hill as the occupants started to scream and cry out. With one wheel broken it kept skidding on one side of its axle, threatening the remaining wheels. Francine finally lost all manner of decorum as she screamed in terror, shaking her husband as though expecting him to do something.
Sara and Meredith clutched each other, looking with fright at the other two occupants as the coach bounced along down the hill. The carriage took another huge bump and threw them all up into the air again, resulting in another chorus of cries. At the angle they were heading down, Francine caught sight of valuable pieces of luggage flying off.
She let out a mournful wail before another rough bump caused them all to cry out in terror. The whole time the rain came in through the openings on either side. It wasn’t long until they were soaked.
They all let out a scream as the coach became airborne. It pitched over at an angle with Francine and Willoughby going over backward. The two sisters pitched over on top of them.
Meredith got a view of the ground coming up and realized there was water below them. She had a fleeting hope it might soften their landing. Then they hit with a splash and a crunch as the coach started to disintegrate all around them.
A piece of splintered wood came through Willoughby’s back, narrowly missing Sara as it emerged out of his chest. There was the sound of breaking glass as the contents to Francine’s luggage spilled out. A shattered plate spun thorough the air and sliced her jugular. A second later she was submerged; gurgling, bleeding out and drowning.
The back of the coach continued moving forward, breaking Meredith’s back. With a grunt she inhaled reflexively as the coach entered the water, swollen from the recent rains.
Sara felt the contents of the crumbling coach push her downward, submerging her in the midst of the dead and dying. Her dress was snagged as the weight of the coach pinned her inside the sinking stagecoach. The current grabbed the mass of destruction and began to sweep it downstream.
Something knocked the breath out of her. Then she was wildly struggling inside the destroyed coach. It caught a rock as it rushed downstream and she gurgled as she started to drown.
She couldn’t believe how this whole day had turned out. She was dimly aware of her dying sister’s spasming body next to her. There was no movement from the husband’s body beneath her, and Francine didn’t seem to be active. Then she gurgled again. The carriage hit a submerged rock before settling upon the bottom, entombing the four occupants until the flowing water receded and someone could find out what happened to the missing stagecoach…
© 2016 (written Jul 28 ’16 by Carolyn and Riwa)