SepSceneWriMo #3.5 – Bison bones

Charlie Eden and Roy Kewanis towed their wagon, heaped high with bison bones, into the station at Broken Bow. Their haul, a day’s worth of collecting, gave off a mildly offensive odor, half sweet, half unsavory. The relentless Nebraska Territory sun had baked the bones a grey-white. A few still retained sinew and traces of flesh turned black in the heat. A few, dug from moist soil, stank of rot.

“You boys can’t leave that mess here. You be stinkin’ up the whole office.” Ticketmaster Sorenson, his navy-blue cap pulled down against the glare of the setting sun, eyed the bones. “Not so many anymore eh, boys?”

Charlie’s overalls, a brother’s hand-me-down, hung like a tent on his shoulders. He hitched them up, or tried to. “We’z found a new cache, out on a spit near the Loup Riv…”

Roy kicked him and lowered his head close to Charlie’s. “Don’t be sayin nothing ’bout where we found ’em.”

Sorenson made to sniff the air. “Well, you two roll that load down the platform. We have officials arriving this evening from Chicago. Won’t do to have that mess foulin’ the air a’fore they pull in.”

Charlie tugged at Roy’s sleeve, and led him and the wagon down the ramp into the dirt alongside the tracks. “Nobody but us be pickin’ bones these days. Why you mean on me?”

Roy hefted one of the twenty pound femurs that had once stood a massive bull bison. It had been years since the hunters and skinners had come and gone leaving middens stacked house-high with ribs, legs, and skulls. Shipped east, the bones were ground up and used for industrial purposes.

Roy smacked the pile with his heavy cudgel. “Sorenson’s been givin’ my mam the look. I don’t like it.”

“Wha’d ya mean, ‘the look’?”

“You know. Like she’s a picture in one o’ them museums the schoolmarm showed us. He’d like to take her home, keep her for his-self.”

“You can’t take them pictures home. That’d be stealin’.”

Roy squinted at his friend. “Forget it. Here comes the train.”

The #419 coal-fired steam locomotive hissed like a creek full of snakes, its wheels, level with the boys’ chests, rolled to a stop not ten feet away. Stoops were placed and folks stepped carefully to the platform. Down a ways from the passenger cars, boxcar doors slid open revealing dark holds full of freight ready for offloading.

Dan Taudry, buyer for the Michigan Chemical Company called down to the boys and their wagon. “Just you two?”

Charlie and Roy looked around. “Yessim’.” For months it had always been just the two of them waiting for the train.

“You weigh ’em yet?”

Having learned the ritual well, the boys looked at each other and shook their heads. Roy spoke up. “You trust our measure?”

Dan laughed and wiped at his neck with a red checkered handkerchief. He tossed down a bunch of burlap sacks. “Fill those and we’ll get ’em loaded.” He swung a pulley out from the open door. “Not many bone pickers left along this route. This may be our last pickup in Broken Bow. Bones still plentiful up in the Dakotas. Here in Nebraska Territory, just a piddlin’ now.”

The bones weighed and loaded, Dan handed Roy two dollars and fifty-five cents. More than two-hundred and fifty pounds of calcium, iron and assorted minerals.

“You two wanna earn two cents, maybe even five a pound, you head up north. We’ve got agents eager for pickers. ‘Course you’ll have to deal with the injuns.” Dan pointed to Roy. “You’d fit right in—be the fact. You native on your mom’s side, that right?”

Roy frowned, turned and walked away. 

When Charlie caught up, Roy handed him half of the money. He made a flourish of the moment and flipped the remaining buffalo nickel in the air. “Heads ‘r tails?”

“Naw, you keep it.” Charlie pocketed his dollar and a quarter. “How much you got saved?”

“Sixty-three, no. Sixty-four or so.”

“Is it enough?”

“Tickets to California are forty apiece.”

Charlie pulled the wagon with one hand and slapped at Queen Anne’s lace with the other. Roy kicked at dried-up cow pies.

“I got more ‘n thirty saved.” Charlie turned to his friend. “That be enough?”

Roy pulled up short, gestured for the wagon’s handle and resumed walking down the trail that paralleled the track. They were headed back to a set of homes, cabins really, on the outskirts of town. Charlie lived on a homestead south. Roy lived in the cabins with his mother who worked as a maid in Broken Bow’s original hotel. The newer hotel, The Grand Western, didn’t hire Kiowa or Pawnee.

“You don’t have to, Char.”

“Now or never. I won’t offer again.”

Roy angled his shoulder and bumped his sun-burned friend.

“Yeah,” Roy said. “That’d be plenty.”

Nearing the cabins, Charlie said, “I guess, no more pickin’ bones for you.”

“Nope. What about you?”

“Naw, I only did it cuz’ you did.”

11 thoughts on “SepSceneWriMo #3.5 – Bison bones

  1. Charlie Eden and Roy Kewanis towed their wagon heaped high with bison bones into the station at Broken Bow. The bones, some baked a grey-white by the relentless Nebraska territory sun, a few others retained sinew and traces of flesh turned black in the heat. A few more dug from moist soil stank of rot. In all their haul, a day’s worth of collecting, gave off a mildly offensive odor, half sweet, half unsavory.

    Hopscotch continuity. They did what, followed by what, the outcome of what is … pixels add up to picture. Bouncing between in and out of here we are and oh yeah there were these other bones and then… hook up all the bones to the result. Good story. White space is always a good option 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Will need multiple examples of this to get the true hang, including the mental processing patterns of A vs B. Like the inside-out sentences, ok vs better, ok vs better…
      I know my programming approach causes consternation, but, rather than A, D, C, B -> scene, it’s A, B, C, D. And one would want to present the facts in this way as the natural flow of evidence better suits how readers consume information… (smile)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. First off, if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times, your characters always smell. Second, I too found myself caring for the boys and normally I don’t care about children who smell, so that’s a win for you.

    Third–a post of yours came through in an email, but I didn’t actually see it on your blog. I saw it in my email in the middle of night. Maybe I dreamed it. If you were Dr. Catman, you’d infer all sorts of things from that. Anyway, you said you didn’t care that you don’t care. I have noticed that you seem to be focusing on the mechanics stuff a lot. However, I think that if you really didn’t care, then you wouldn’t notice. Perhaps you’re trying too hard to conform to a certain vision or style that you have in mind as a goal and it’s taking the fun out of it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. (pre-dated post that I didn’t know would actually get sent.)
      But astute of you to tease from recent history here the dichotomy of my declared intents and the execution of soulless snippets. I’m grappling with technique vs substance, and I believe I’ve figured out, substance must come first. This realization due to various individuals pointing out my obvious inconsistencies. (Duke, PH, George F. — and now you, too)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I believe this scene and I believe the characters. They come across as real folk and I for one wouldn’t mind knowing more about them and what adventures lay ahead for them in California and beyond. And most importantly you care about them or they would not ring so true. I say this even if you insist on saying you don’t have passion for your characters I just don’t believe that. Let me know when they get to California. You can’t rightly leave me hanging now can you?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for reading, Mike. I did care about these two boys while writing them.
      I think I’ve got two competing forces battling for my writerly attention. The mechanics of excellent writing vs the passion of caring for characters.
      Thus far, it’s been one or the other. Maybe I can imagine myself shifting back to the passionate side — leave the perfecting ’till later in the process.

      Liked by 1 person

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