Holonovel, Chapter 1 (Part 1)
Timeline: MD 3 2000
Opal and Caleb arrived at the holosuite behind Gino's restaurant for their pre-arranged session, which they booked the last time they were here. Gino had loaded up a holonovel from his collection after offering them a choice of categories and basic scenarios. They put on suitable costumes that the software replicated and stepped inside, finding themselves immersed in the landscape and buildings that they were about to act out the general storyline inside. They smiled at each other as they went in, but then immediately began to act as if they were total strangers. Opal felt a thrill of excitement as she went inside the ranch house and began to get the feel of her role.
The Holonovel Began to Run:
The sun was low on the horizon when the mysterious stranger road up the dirt trail that connected the farmsteads along the river to the small town. The horse moved slowly, and the man slumped wearily in the saddle. He was tall, with roughly weathered handsome features, sharp, dark eyes beneath dark hair, dressed in buckskin. He pulled up outside the split rail fence and sat gazing at the small, cozy farmhouse for a long while, with the inviting firelight in the windows as the evening chill started to settle.
A woman with a long apron over her ankle length dress came to the porch, wiping something, perhaps a plate, with a cloth and peering out against the low sun's rays spreading across the land, bathing it in a pinkening orange light with dappled shadows forming as it sank further and further. It had begun to turn chilly, and if it hadn't been for the sound of the footfalls of the approaching horse, the woman would have closed up her doors and windows for the oncoming night, to keep in the warmth.
Peering up towards the stranger, the woman shaded her eyes with her hand held up above her eyebrows. She wiped the plate and put it down on the table in the porch and lay her drying up cloth on top as she waited to see if the stranger was preparing to call or to ride on by.
The stranger paused as he came adjacent to the house. He seemed to study the little homestead for a moment before his horse danced up to the gate in the split rail fence that surrounded the yard and garden. The horse was a majestic creature, a midnight black stallion, though it looked to be winded and road weary, like the man himself.
“Ma’am,” the man greeted in a deep baritone, politely removing his black Stetson. He had black hair and deep, soulful black eyes set in rugged, weathered features. His eyes met hers. “Wonderin’ if a lonely traveler could trouble ya’ll f’r a meal an’ a place in the barn t’ sleep. Ah’m willin’ t’ work f’r mah supper,” he assured her. He nodded to the pile of firewood that needed to be cut. “If yer husband don’t mind, that is.” Other than the rifle in the saddle boot, he didn’t appear to be armed.
"He won't mind. You'll need to see to your horse, and then come right on in. The supper is already almost ready. You'll be able to wash up at the pump in front of the barn, if you want to," she added pleasantly. She was very pleased to have a paying guest who could would help chop the wood for her. It was hard work, and she had more than enough of that to already tax her. She returned inside the house and stirred the stewpot, putting it back onto the iron fire stand in the hearth. She had eaten her own already, but had made enough to last several days, as always. It wasn't an easy life for a widow, and even the smallest economies helped make ends meet better.
By the time she had warmed the pot and set out another plate and cutlery at the table, the traveller had come inside. She had put a kettle on the fire as well, right back when she had stoked it to warm the food, so it was just boiling.
"Will you take a mug of tea with your meal? Or do you like beer? I'm not much of a drinker myself, so I only have root beer, but you're welcome to some if you would like it," she offered as she dished up a man-sized portion of her mutton stew onto a plate and brought it over to him, indicating where he should sit.
The stranger dismounted and took care of his horse, setting it up inside the barn. He noted a few things there that could use repair, as well. What was this woman’s man doing, letting his place run down like this? Was he a drunk, perhaps? That could prove troublesome, him being alone with his wife.
He went to the pump and took his shirt off, revealing his lean, muscled, tanned chest. He shook the trail dust from his shirt and then washed his face and hands, his lithe muscles rippling beneath his bronzed skin. Once he had cleaned up, he went inside.
The small home smelled delicious. He saw what looked to be a bedroom off the main room, and a ladder leading to a loft room. His stomach rumbled audibly as he sat down.
“Tea, or whatever ya have will be fine, ma’am,” he said. “Ah ain’t much of a drinker, either. This looks wonderful, ma’am. Cain’t remember the last time Ah had a good home-cooked meal.”
He paused to see if she was going to join him, and then bowed his head, saying a quick grace over the meal before picking up his spoon.
“Ah’m Shane, by the way,” he introduced himself. “Shane Black.”
"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Black," she replied. "I'm Carrie White," she told him as she fetched the pot of coffee from the range and planted two deep, old, but spotlessly clean mugs on the table. She raised the pot to pour and began to ask: "Black or wh--" She stopped. "Oh." She began to chuckle. "The coffee, with milk, or just as it comes?" She changed how she worded the question, smirking very slightly. "That's an unfortunate coincidence, our names. Well, yours and my late..." Oh no! Why had she revealed that her husband was dead so soon? How could she know if this man was here to rob her yet, and now he knew there was no husband coming home to rescue her? Well, it was out of the bag now.
"My late husband's name, White, and, well, it seemed amusing at first. Sorry." She shrugged, having now filled both mugs with black coffee, but with a little room for milk if it was needed.
"Listen to me rattling off at the mouth. I'm sure you didn't stop for the night because you were desperate to spend it chattering to a foolish widow. I'm sure you'll want to get some sleep as soon as you've eaten. I'll leave you in peace." She picked up her mug and took it to the sink where she scooped out enough water to wash up from the container beside the fire, inside the hearth, where it was keeping warm. She set up her bowl and began to wash her plate from earlier, humming to herself, pretending not to be affected by him being here.
When he had come up the roadway, he'd been buried beneath a wide brimmed hat and a dark overcoat around him. He was dressed for travel and dusty from the long road, but after she had told him he could stay, and that he should see to his horse, she had been amazed to see such a beautiful body emerge from within all those folds of dusty clothing. She had been so taken aback she had hardly known where to look. Well, at first! She had been fascinated, and had pinched herself to be sure it hadn't been a mirage, a hallucination brought on by too much sun, or even a dream that she was about to wake up from and find herself alone again.
She was walking her mind through all these thoughts and memories as she absently washed up, but it didn't take as long, as it seemed before she was finished, and had moved on to the drying up cloth. She wasn't going to rush him over his meal, so she left the water for her to slip his plate into it later.
Pretending not to be looking over at him, she made a fairly obvious pantomime of looking everywhere but.
"Have you come far?" she began instinctively, desperate to break the silence even though she had said she wouldn't trouble him. "Your horse seems as tired as you do, that's all. It's none of my business. It'd be best I hadn't asked. Please just forget the question," she retreated verbally.
“Straight up will be jus’ fine, ma’am,” Shane answered the question about the coffee. He smiled his thanks at her. “The stew is very good,” he rumbled his compliment. “Sorry ta hear about yer husband.”
He ate slowly in silence as she chatted away as she washed the dishes. Seated behind her, he watched observantly, noting the fine figure she had beneath the house dress. Yes, indeed, a fine woman, and young, too young to be left alone in a world as cruel and capricious as this.
He smiled when she stammered to a stop. “Out from Cheyenne,” he said. “An’ Denver, before that. So a bit of a ways,” he allowed. “Been here in the valley long, ma’am?” he asked. “Seems a nice place.”
"Please, call me Carrie," she said. "I've lived around here all my life. I was born a rancher's daughter from just north of the river. My father died and left my mother and I alone there, but we managed well enough. It was a gift that I met my husband, because when Ma died there was a cousin who inherited everything, so if I hadn't had a place to go, I would have had to find a living in other ways that might not have been to my liking. I was glad to come here, but I wasn't expecting to lose him as well. Not so early on. But he was quite a lot older than me and… well, it can be a hard life," she told him. "Listen to me still rattling on." She shook her head and finished the washing up, adding his own plate when he had finished his meal.
She took the coffee pot off the range again and offered him a refill.
Cdr. Caleb Ryan
Dr Opal Oliver