Field Notes

Being a record of certain phenomena found in the environs of the Lost Quarter.  

The Black Rider

The rider, dressed in black, journeyed west across the plains as spring arrived fitfully across the land. He encountered all manner of weather, the wind always at his face, sometimes bitterly cold. There were blizzards and rain and days so bright and warm it seemed impossible it could turn cold again. Snow lingered in most places, especially on the north-facing sides of hills and valleys which the sun only reached for a brief time each day. The rivers he came to were largely open, though ice still clung to some of the banks and they were swollen with runoff. The ground was damp and soft everywhere, even where it was bare, making his evenings miserable affairs. The temperatures would plunge below freezing, sometimes far below, and he would wake up covered in frost, his blankets and clothes stiff.  

He passed along roads – wagon trails more accurately – before leaving them behind and following buffalo and cattle trails that had a wandering westward trajectory. Sometimes there was nothing to mark a way forward, only the snow and the dormant grass of the vast plain. An empty place by all appearances, though he knew that to be deceptive. He had come from a place of towns and villages and farms and people and now encountered such signs of civilization only intermittently. The great tribal nations that had once commanded the immense sweep of the prairies were banished now and newcomers were taking plows to the grass. There were towns and homesteads here and there, but mostly he found only surveyor stakes buried in the still frozen earth waiting for warmer times for someone to pull them up and claim them. The ranchers had taken their cattle to southern valleys and would not return until spring had truly come to stay.  

This suited him, for he preferred to stay away from people. The presence of magpies, strutting and chirping and preening, would alert him to their nearby presence before it came into sight and he would go out of his way to avoid them. Sometimes it could not be helped. He passed by homesteads with families blinking at his sudden appearance as though they had just awoken from a winter slumber. One time, in trying to ride around a town he came upon a group of children with their sleds making the most of a steep hill while the snow stayed upon it. Their screams of delight, heard before he caught sight of them, startled him initially and he was still tense and frowning, with a hand at his belt, as he rode by.  

What people saw, when they noticed him at all, was a man in a long black coat with mud-spattered black boots. His shirt and pants were faded, almost absent of colour. As was his face, his expression always distant, his soft eyes looking past anyone who tried to meet his gaze. Some caught a glimpse of a pistol at his belt, a flintlock. A large cumbersome thing out of all time. Those who saw it wondered at it and dismissed it, for no one would carry such an antique across a land where wolves and bears and worse things than that lurked. 


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