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Restless Rider

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The trouble with Kentucky, besides everything, is that there's a really inordinate amount of beautiful, breathtaking scenery and quaint small towns and horse events and so on in it. It's made it very hard to hone in on the bourbon. Sadie is of course a huge fan of horse events in the abstract; as a child she attended several, and paid attention through almost one entire race, but she's no longer a child and has put aside childish things and would like to get directly to the adult things. Specifically bourbon. Specifically in one of those cute little highball glasses with the slogans on it. "Welcome to Kentucky," for example. "Unbridled Spirit." "Beware the Pope Lick Monster, Beware, Beware."

Take this town, for example. Fenton's Knife or something along those lines. Farrah's Junction. Floyd's Fork! There's nothing whatsoever in Floyd's Fork. They'd been told that when they got off the train in it, and then the locals had tried to convince them that, since the sun was setting, they should stay in town just to be safe, and they'd all had a good laugh about that suggestion, and gotten back on the train in the safe expectation that it'd been only a brief detour, and then their private car had detached itself from the forward engine while crossing this dreadful trestle just outside of town. This is exactly what comes of having so much scenery about the place. It's pleasant enough in moderation, but it does rather encourage things like rusty tracks. Dark woods. Old, rickety engines.

Now Frank is off buying or stealing a car, whichever is quickest, and here she is, a hundred feet off the ground in Kentucky, literally kicking her heels on a railroad trestle. Surrounded by temptation in the form of six crates of bourbon and one crate of those little glasses.

It probably wouldn't hurt to just open the glasses, would it? She'd only be checking on them for damage. One is always being told that contents may shift during train.

She's in the process of getting the crowbar out of her purse when she hears the wailing. It's high pitched and tragic, and she leans over the edge of the trestle to see if she can spot what's causing it. The poor thing can't be older than ten, and it's really in some distress. "Hello?" she says. "Are you all right?"

The crying stops abruptly, and there's a little rustle in the bushes directly below. She still can't lean far enough over to see it, but she does catch a glimpse of white. "Hello?" says a young voice. "Hello, can you hear me?"

"Yes, of course," Sadie says. "What's the matter, darling, are you lost?"

The child hiccups. "No," it says, in a treacly fashion. "No. I'm hurt. I think I broke my ankle."

"Well, that's dreadful," Sadie says. "I'm so sorry. Do feel better."

There's an expectant silence.

"Aren't you going to come down here?" the child says.

"Oh-- no," Sadie says, apologetically. She taps her heels against the trestle. "I'm in stilettos, darling. I can't possibly climb down the ladder. But my husband will be back in just a little while, and he'll probably have a stolen car, and we can give you a ride to the hospital in it. Would you like that?"

The silence this time is less expectant, and more nonplussed. "Not...really," the child says. "Are you not feeling compelled to do so?"

"No," Sadie says. "But then I don't compel very well."

"No hypnotic, irresistible desire to come down?"

Sadie shakes her head, and is going to explain her rules re: hypnotic, irresistible desires, e.g., only if in a direction she was already going, when there's another rustle. The glimpse of white solidifies, and then twitches, sideways. Sadie nearly drops the crowbar in surprise. "You have a sheep down there?"

The little white tail jerks back in. "No," the child says, hurriedly. "No sheep. Or any goats. Or any sheep-goats. None of those at all."

"Oh, it's all right," Sadie says, reassuringly. She gets the crowbar into the side of the case. "I'm not going to steal it. I've learnt my lesson about having farm animals in the house: their odor is not worth their air of mystery. Especially sheep-goats. That sounds dreadful."

"You have no idea," the child says. It sighs. "Itchy in winter, frolicky in summer, constantly lusting for the blood of the innocent..."

"I've never seen one of those before," Sadie says, somewhat wistfully, and then, thinking about it, "No, I don't think that's quite true. Where have I--?" The case opens, and she's presented with her array of highball glasses. "Wait! I know exactly where. On one of these little engravings."

"No, that doesn't sound right," the child says. "Look, I'm wet and scared, and also, very young, and injured. Are you sure you don't--"

"Yes, look! It's on the one we bought in Floyd's Fork, with the monster warning on it," Sadie says. She holds it up to the light. "Well, that certainly doesn't look like it'll win any medals at the state fair. Is this what your sheep-goat looks like?"

"What? No! It's very handsome!"

"I thought you said you didn't have one."

"I don't!" The child pauses. The tail rustles out again, as well as a portion of its hindquarters. It's flat with dissatisfaction. "Wait, why did you ask me about it if you thought I didn't have one?"

Sadie lifts an eyebrow. "I didn't want to presume."

A strangled noise of irritation emerges from the underbrush, and Sadie goes back to contemplating her glasses. They really are beautiful on their own, but they pale in comparison to their glories when filled. She fishes around for the flask. "You sound much better," she says, helpfully. "I think perhaps your ankle wasn't really broken at all, and it only felt broken because, as you keep reminding me, you're young, and wet, and scared. Why are you wet, by the way?"

"...It was raining," the child says.

"No it wasn't," Sadie says.

"Yes it was."

"I'm sorry to contradict you so much, because otherwise we're getting along so well, but it definitely wasn't. It's been beautiful all evening. Unless you've been stuck down there since before--" She consults her watch. "Three o'clock, I think, is when we woke up. Have you?"

"Yes," the child says, instinctively. "Yes! Doesn't that make me much more sympathetic? Doesn't it fill you with the urge to come down and rescue me, whatever the cost to yourself?"

"Ah. Well," Sadie says, kindly, "I don't know if children have the same bones as normal people. I'm sure yours are very special, but mine simply wouldn't survive a jump of a hundred feet. Besides, I have all these boxes."

"I can take care of those," the child says. To be fair, its voice has really stopped being remotely childlike, but she doesn't want to go to the trouble of thinking up another term. "I can take care of everything if you'll just--"

"Would you? That would be so kind. I really don't know how we can get them down the ladder otherwise," Sadie says. "And then perhaps I can pop right down to you."

"F--fine. Fine!" the child says. "Yeah, sure! Absolutely. But, um, close your eyes, okay?"

"Oh, is this a game?" Sadie says. "All right." She covers her eyes. "I'm hiding, little man!"

Below her, she hears a low chanting, which swells into a terrible great noise, and then before her a huge whoosh of air which nearly unseats her. It carries a terrible stench. She plays fair; when the boxes disappear from around her in a further whoosh of air, she keeps her eyes closed.

The child says, in tones like a rail dragged over concrete, "Peek-a-boo."

Sadie lifts one hand away from her eye, and gasps. The thing before her is seven feet tall, and its tail is a woolly refugee from her worst agricultural nightmares. It is aflame with a sepulchral light. Its face is the face of a young boy, and it gazes down on her with dark satisfaction.

Its hooves clatter precariously on the trestle.

"Oh," she says, for lack of anything better to say. "I'm so sorry."

"Yes! Be sorry! Gaze upon my pitiable state! Then tremble in fear!" the Pope Lick Monster bleats. "The road will have your bones and I will feast on any oats you may have about your person!"

"No! No," Sadie says. "For one thing, Sadie Doyle does not carry oats. For another thing, I wasn't apologizing for your state, darling. Being a sheep-goat-man in Kentucky isn't precisely my cup of tea, but I can't say that I find it particularly pitiable. I was apologizing for thinking you were a dreadful liar. Now, of course, I see you've been scrupulously truthful throughout. You are very damp, and you do look rather young, and your legs are backwards, and you don't own a sheep-goat, do you? You are a sheep-goat. And you are very handsome. This glass doesn't do you justice." She finishes the last of her bourbon, in order to illustrate the point. "And you're frightened."

"I am your death! I am the death of Kentucky!" the sheep-goat-man bellows. "I am not frightened!"

"Oh?" Sadie says, smiling. "You should be." And throws the crowbar at his head.

*

Some time later, there's a flash of headlights, and Frank pulls up in what-- not jumping to any conclusions-- Sadie really must suspect is a stolen car, since it is, in fact, a hearse. He steps out of the cab, leaving the headlights on in a very devil-may-care way, and peers at the Pope Lick Monster's unconscious figure on the ground. "Sadie," he says. "Did you defeat some kind of sheep-goat-man without me?"

"I'm afraid I did," she says, kicking off her stilettos. She watches with satisfaction as they bounce off the monster's stomach. "But I did get all of our crates down. Wasn't that clever of me?"

"Enormously. Sadie, you never fail to surprise me."

"Oh, you know me," Sadie says, and sidles her way to the end of the rail. She smiles down at her husband. "Unbridled spirit."