Black Veil Tour

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Date Published: 7/1/2020
Publisher: Épouvantail Books, LLC
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Murder and Madness in the High Sierras
The tragic and gruesome story of the Donner Party is being made into a movie, a tale of cannibalism and treachery high in the snowbound mountains. The cast is made up entirely of children. One by one, they are dying. The series of deaths are haunting the production, each one of the “accidents” at the hands of Florentino Urbino. Driven by greed and jealousy, he is killing off the film’s stars to line his pockets by selling off the gruesome footage of the accidents.
Six-year-old actress SeaBee Danser in her black veil is his next target. She is the only one who can see through the black curtain that Florentino Urbino drapes over his deranged and murderous heart.
Can she survive?
Can he be stopped?
Will any of the children be left standing?


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Chapter One


Film Title: Rascals – The Sequel

Production Day: One

Story Date: April 16, 1846


The first explosion inside the munitions warehouse launched timbers, hot shards of metal, and body parts out across the wharf. Black plumes of hot smoke boiled upward, clawing from the windows as the roof blew apart, feeding a downdraft of cruel oxygen to the angry orange flames. Yellow bursts of ammunition cooked off. Rounds of steel-balled cartridges fired in all directions. Reverberations from the secondary blasts of the crates of dynamite blanked out the screams and cries, which went on, anyway, from those still living and erasing those of the dying. Out on the wharf, distraught, stunned, and wounded dock workers dove behind wagons and shipping pallets as others were torn apart by flying, burning debris.

  Eleven-year-old Sarah Graves appeared from the side of the brick warehouse under a rainstorm of flaming wood and metal shrapnel. Her face, hands, and arms were blackened, her path changing as she climbed, dove, and ran through the crashing beams of timber and sections of falling brickwork. Right on her heels, a vengeful open mouth of flames opened, its teeth of wood and stone chomping.

Her sister, six-year-old Frau Graves, leaned out of a third-story window followed by a launched coil of rope. The hair on the right side of her head was smoldering, her face was scraped and pale and bleeding from wounds to her ears and nose. Climbing out, she clenched the coarse horsehair line with her little hands, her smock and coat pocked by smoking burn holes and flaming embers. The girl’s eyes were tightened down with fearful resolve belied by the beginning of a beautiful, satisfied grin.

The cast iron fire bell clanged from further up the wharf from the cobblestone plaza where child workers squatted, kneeled, and lay, staring open-mouthed into the devastation in the southwest corner of the shipyard waterline. 

Three of the young workers staggered onto the loading dock, their clothing in flames, their cries piercing the echoes from the blasts. One was cut to his knees by the bloody punch of bullets exploding out through his chest like a high-speed pitchfork. A deafening secondary blast inside the building propelled a heavy work table out through the doors, decapitating the second and propelling his headless body out onto the cobblestones, where it slid to a crash against a lorry parked across the way. The third worker was missed by the table but was cut vertically in two as a sheet of hammered metal was flung from the building like an errant, deadly toy.

Sarah and Frau Graves met up, eye to eye, kneeling on the stones as brick and wood continued raining down, their heads temporarily sheltered by the burning tool wagon they were under. Their eyes were locked on each other—the older girl appearing stunned in disbelief, the younger one no longer grinning. Frau Graves took her sister’s hand, looking wide-eyed for a path through the burning, twisted carnage. Helping her up, she led the way.

Reaching the edge of the warehouse yard where the wharf boards replaced the stone road, they ran as best they could while still hunched forward. Shrapnel was still flying and impaling anything in its path as additional explosions tore through the warehouse. 

A secondary explosion of chemical and powder stores eviscerated the interior of the first floor of the building, adding coils of thick black smoke under launched beams and timbers.

The town bell continued its deep and dulled ringing from the tower in the vendor square. Two platoons of well-armed, diminutive child soldiers double-stepped from the harbor garrison, in effect cornering the chaos. Their rifles poised to fire, they turned every which way, eyes frightened and deadly. Fire wagons rolled up before the warehouse, staying well back of the flames and continuing explosions, the crews making no moves to unfurl the hoses or work the pumps.

Running along the wharf boards right at the edge of the foul and stagnant harbor, Sarah and Frau Graves breathed the eye-burning stench of human and farm waste, the oily water mottled with village refuge. 

“This one,” Frau Graves yelled, pointing with her small, filthy hand to the stern of the fishing trawler named Desperation.

Both staggered as their boots snagged in a nest of fishing nets abandoned on the planks. Frau Graves led her sister along the boards past a sail-powered cargo vessel, weaving around crates and hoisting arms and a small flock of sheep. Wild-eyed young sailors were bent low, staring at the boiling black smoke climbing over the wharf. 

Passing along the sail ship’s starboard side, its mast was smashed by a flying strongbox wagon of exploding dynamite, slaughtering and torching crew members. They ran to the gangway of the long boat to their right, a worn and run-down fishing craft. The plank ramp to the Desperation was guarded by a squatting, jaw-dropped boy. His unbelieving eyes were sweeping from the fire on the ship beside them and across the black water to the burning warehouse. He had dropped his flintlock to his feet where it lay forgotten.

Sarah Graves brushed past him, knocking him aside. Frau Graves shoved even harder, shouting, “There, there, now. Few fireworks is all.” 

The disheveled and filthy-clothed crew were huddled low on the foredeck, ducking and scampering along the port rail for stolen views of the carnage on the wharf and the burning ship ten yards away. Sarah and Frau Graves jumped from the gangplank and tumbled to the deck, landing before the decapitated head of a goat. Its blood-soaked body lay a few feet away, a twitching, kicking mess. Sarah Graves booted the head away while Frau Graves studied the crew of children.

“Lord, they’re an ugly lot,” she piped, looking at their young faces and bodies. Without exception, each was badly maimed and injured.

“Who the rip are you?” a kneeling, angry-eyed sailor yelled at them.

“Stroke the boilers!” another youth hollered.

Before the sisters could answer, an explosion on the opposite ship launched a steel axle joint across the dock. A young girl’s back exploded in crimson as the hot orange shrapnel tore through her chest. The impact launched her into the side of Sarah and Frau Graves, bowling both over.

“Get us out of here!” Frau Graves yelled at the huddled sailors.

“We’re short crewed!” a frightened boy called back. He was crouched against a sail-wrapped beam, pulling inch-long slivers from his neck and shoulder.

“The captain’s ashore!” another yelled, waving at the oily smoke rising from the embers on the deck. 

“Skipper’s at the pay house!” another frightened voice called.

“We’ll go nowhere without pay,” a tall, angry-eyed boy barked.

A volley of musket fire tore through the din. The head of a young sailor disappeared with a cascade of bloody spray. Her body remained upright, her hands and arms still stroking the smoke for fresh air before her missing head. Seconds passed before her bones and muscles gave up the ghost and she crumbled to the deck.

“They’re firing at us!” a disbelieving voice cried, the sailor on her haunches in between the rail and casks.

“Not us. Them!” The tall boy pointed at the sisters, flinching and dropping as the muskets discharged again.

Bullets dug into the wood and sparked off metal as the second round struck the foredeck.

“Who are you?” yelled a short, overweight sailor on his hands and knees.

“No time for that!” another called up from the main deck.

“Lines in!” he shouted the command.

At the fore and aft rails, child sailors swung axes at the cleated ties rather than work the knots. With three deft stokes, the ship was freed from the dock.

“We need full steam. And now!” Sarah Graves bellowed, clambering to her feet and running to mid-deck for the ship’s wheel.

“Stroking the boilers!” a crew member screamed up through the deck hatch.

The sailors on the foredeck ran for their stations, leaving Frau Graves kneeling on the blood-soaked boards in the fire and smoke, destroyed casks and crates, and the two dead bodies. Pushing the severed sheep head aside, her tiny blackened hands tore into the pockets of the dead bodies, pulling out a few coins from each. Pressing them deep inside her sock and left boot, she crawled away.

The approaching soldiers fired another salvo. The long boat was backing into the harbor, bullets sending up sprays of wood. A youth cried out in dying disbelief. A plume of hot, sparking smoke billowed from the steel exhaust spout at the back of the helm where Sarah Graves was cranking the large, spoked wheel as fast as her thin arms could swing.

The bow turned, the trawler listed, and the props spun in the filthy black water. The platoon of blue-coated Spanish soldiers lined up on the wharf, their lieutenant commanding another volley with a down sweep of his saber.

“Get down!”

“Look out!”

“Find cover!”

Bullets struck like deadly knives of steel. Chunks of railing flew and deadly wood shards were launched. A high-pitched scream of pain came from somewhere in the chaos. The boat was ten yards off the dock, leaning hard to starboard as its engines spun at full throttle, propelling the fishing craft out and away.

A sailor crawled to the side of Sarah Graves and stood up. 

“Name’s Trenton, why are they after you?”

“I might’ve been the one who dropped the match,” she swept smoke from her lovely face and coughed.

“It’s not going to stop the slaving, but it was an impressive explosion.”

“Thanks,” she spun the wheel fast in the opposite direction. “I need more steam!”

Trenton bashed the throttle bar forward, setting off signal bells. The long boat shuddered and wood beams and metal groaned. He stared at her, beautiful even in her dirty and torn and ember-smoldering dress and coat.

The long boat responded painfully to the change in pace and the turn but gathered speed away from the wharf and out into the low-tide harbor of Puerto Mita. Looking away from her, Trenton stared out across the waters.

“The rocks!” he shouted. “The tide’s too low!”

Sarah Graves looked forward and grimaced. The waters to the open sea wove between encrusted boulders and dangerous rocks. 

“We can make it!” she yelled back, trying to see how.  

From the right side of the harbor mouth, cannons fired with white puffs of smoke. Along the ramparts of the Spanish fort came the deep thundering booms. Seconds later, the overhead rigging came crashing down from the foremast and yardarm, smashing onto the main deck. A fountain of ugly black water rose twenty yards forward of the bow, the second cannonball missing the trawler.

The planks underfoot shuddered as the vessel took a waterline hit from the next roar of cannon fire. Crew members dove for cover as the deck leaned hard to port. Sarah Graves was still on her feet, spinning the wheel. Squinting into the dense smoke, she studied the passage, ignoring the cannons, looking for a way to snake to open water.

“We’ll never make it!” Trenton climbed to his feet. “You’re going to get us all killed!”

“Not today!” she yelled back. 

Frau Graves climbed through the broken mast timbers and furled and burning canvas, clawing her way to the forward hatch. Swinging her small legs out into the darkness below, her hands gripped the stair rails and she lowered herself into the heat and chaos of the engine room. Flames were licking the joist and beams as the boilers and engines screamed in a metallic roar. The cracking of timbers mixed with panicked shouts and cries of agony. 

Seeing that one of the boilers was unmanned, she struggled to it. Taking up a shovel, she went to work feeding the open mouth of flames. The long boat made an aggressive turn to port. Behind her, a sailor screamed, toppling into the open box of the transmission. His body was half-consumed in the grinding gears. He was still screaming and spraying blood when the top half of his body crunched and disappeared.

A one-legged coaler shoved Frau Graves hard, knocking her aside as he planted his good foot in the mountain of coal. 

“The breach!” he shouted at her, tearing the shovel from her hands.

Making her way forward around the engines, she splashed through two feet of water to the chubby boy struggling with hammer and wedges trying to stem the spraying seawater. At his heels were wooden buckets of saws and shims and a box of square-head nails and rail spikes. Pulling a horse-hair brush from a cask of tar patch, she slathered the first seam he pounded a board over.

“Make it fast! When we level, we’ll be swamped.” He turned his half-burned face to her, his eyes narrowed, steeling himself from panic.

A sailor reversed the bilge while another pumped the hand bar. A third youth turned the hose to the flaming beams. Frau Graves and the rotund boy were blasted as the nozzle swept around to the fire. Both were knocked from their feet, their filthy clothing drenched. Under the smoke boiling from the low ceiling, embers circled, orange gnats sizzled as they landed in hair and headscarves. The goats penned in the forward steerage were thrashing and braying.

Frau Graves got to her feet and took up a mallet. Pounding nails into a second board, she was splattered with black pitch as the overweight boy at her side splashed and sealed the seams. 

“Should hold,” he shouted, stumbling back from the repairs.

“Let’s hope,” she yelled back and crawled through the tight space between the two steam engines to the left side transmission where what was left of the dead sailor lay under the housing. Kneeling before the gore and shredded clothing, she dug in with her hands. Finding a bit of fabric with a pocket still attached, she pilfered a few farthings and stashed them inside her sock and boot.

“God will smite you!” the round sailor with the melted face shouted at her.

“He’s gonna have to get in line,” she yelled back.

About the Author

Greg Jolley earned a Master of Arts in Writing from the University of San Francisco and lives in the very small town of Ormond Beach, Florida. When not writing, he researches historical crime, primarily those of the 1800s. Or goes surfing.
Contact Links
Twitter: @gfjolle
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