“I'm always ready for a war again
Go down that road again
It's all the same…
I'm always ready to take a life again
You know I'll ride again
It's all the same…
Tell me who's gonna save me from myself
When this life is all I know…
Tell me who's gonna save me from this hell
Without you, I'm all alone…
If you won’t pray for me
Take my pain for me
Save my soul for me
'Cause I'm alone, you see
If I won’t die for you
If I won’t kill for you
Then I spill this blood for you…!
I fight the world, I fight you, I fight myself!
I fight God, just tell me how many burdens left
I fight pain and hurricanes; today I wept!
I'm tryna fight back tears, flood on my doorsteps
Life a living hell, puddles of blood in the streets
Shooters on top of the building, government aid ain't relief
Earthquake, the body drops, the ground breaks
The poor run with smoke-lungs and scar-face
Who needs a hero?
You need a hero, look in the mirror, there go your hero!
Who on the front lines at ground zero?
My heart don't skip a beat, even when hard times bumps the needle
Mass destruction and mass corruption
The souls of suffering men, clutching on deaf ears again,
Rapture is coming, it’s all prophecy
And if I gotta be sacrificed for the greater good, then that's what it gotta be!
Just in case my faith go;
I'll live by my own law
I'll live by my own law
I'll live by my own law…”
‘Pray For Me’, The Weeknd & Kendrick Lamar
LJ Lafferty Shadows of Brimstone commission by the great !
Laverne Jane Lafferty was born in 1872, in Brimstone, the capital of Shannedam Country in western Texas. Her father was the legendary lawman, Lawson Lafferty, a former Union captain who fought in the Civil War as a young man. Coming south after the war, Lawson fell in love with Texas, and settled there despite the wounds of the post-war period. He was elected Sherriff of the county seat, and began an extraordinary career in law enforcement. Lawson proved to be just and capable; calm and rational even in the face of great danger. He became renowned for being firm but fair – he was a persuasive and reasonable authority figure who preferred to settle disputes with words wherever possible, but you didn’t take him for a fool either. Quick on the draw and accurate, Lawson cut down many men who called his bluff... and he always lamented the necessity of doing so. Over the next two decades, Lawson protected the county from enemies within and without – tribal raiders, ferocious monsters, vicious bandits, corrupt lawmen, or greedy businessmen. Sherriff Lafferty had a knack for drawing the just and talented to his side, and never backed down from a challenge - he was from a good family in Massachusetts, and held progressive attitudes. He defended Indians, negroes, gypsies and even mutants when unjustly accused, and refused to be cowed by the powerful and influential. In doing so, he made many enemies, but the common folk looked up to him as a man who protect them whatever dangers came along. He forged a reputation as one of the most capable men to walk the West, a legend in his own lifetime.
Lawson’s wife Kelly died of cancer when Laverne was only five; her death shattered Lawson’s faith in the divine, and from that day on, he refused to pay any respect to divine beings or attend church. Unusually, his fair-minded nature preserved his long friendship with his priestly friend, the Reverend Nathaniel Hellerbrand, saying ‘You tried your best for her, Nate. It’s your boss I've a bone to pick with, not you.’ If the Good Lord was capable of healing the sick, but chose not to save his wife, then Lawson reckoned he could do better without the Almighty on his side. It was an unpopular attitude, but one he passed on to his young daughter.
As an older single father, Lawson raised his daughter as a son in many ways – he did not expect her to practise needlepoint or cookery or housework. Instead, her days were idyllic, filled with learning how to shoot, fight with a sabre, to hunt and fish and – above all – to respect the law, and put the needs of others before your own. Laverne took all these lessons to heart, and yearned to follow in his footsteps. As she grew into her teenage years, not everyone found her attitudes appealing – she knocked the teeth out of the first swain who got grabby with his hands. Generally, the townsfolk found her masculine and aggressive – she did not wear cosmetics or feminine dresses; she chewed gum and drank beer and spoke her mind, and moved with a ‘manly walk’. Laverne didn’t care about being liked; she followed her father in being stubborn, in saying what was right, not what was popular.
When she was eighteen, to relieve tensions in the town and also to provide his girl with a different experience, Lawson sent her back East to attend a prestigious university in Boston; Lasell College, founded in 1851 as the ‘Auburndale Female Seminary for Young Women’. She dragged her feet in leaving Texas, but academic life astonished her with its openness and tolerance. Laverne inherited her father’s smarts, and took to the lifestyle like a duck to water. Exposed to other academics and her father’s well-to-do family, who encouraged her forthright attitude, she immersed herself in the liberal arts. She studied law as well as poetry and music, falling in love with the free verse of Walt Whitman, among others. She attended dinner parties where she learned to debate and discuss the politics of the day, and private clubs where musicians performed jazz and blues. She was captivated by all of it; she learned to write verse and play the cornet, and to involve herself in progressive causes, such as women’s rights and the emancipation of negroes. She mixed across all stratas of Boston society, cementing her father’s lessons that you judged someone by their deeds and spirit, not their gender or the colour of their skin. Justice must above all be blind to such things.
She majored in political science and law, and seriously considered staying in Boston and pursuing a legal career. But she knew some part of her belonged in Texas, that she would miss the seasons and the wide open land, the prairies her father had fallen in love with. With surprising reluctance, Laverne returned to the place of her birth, armed with everything she had learned. At twenty-two, she helped her father enforce the law in Shannedam County. It rankled that – as a woman – she could not officially be deputised, although everyone knew she was the best deputy her father had. Whether in an official capacity or not, she joined her father in defending against the enemies of Brimstone, whether within or without. She fought against bandits and hostile tribes, as well as the occasional monster that encroached on civilised lands. She looked terrifying ogres in the eyes, before felling them with a ferocious blow or blowing their heads off with the heavy Peacemaker pistol the Sherriff’s office mysteriously ‘misplaced’. She stood by her father when he defended the innocent in court, and when he presided over the hangings of the wicked. She stood up to the crooked and corrupt, whether they were cattle-thieves or rail tycoons. Everyone knew she was Lawson’s right-hand man, despite not being a man at all.
Where Lawson was tall and rangy, Laverne was big and broad-shouldered; she worked hard at the ranch, honing her muscles with physical labour, and worked out with heavy bags like a prize-fighter. Those men who doubted her ability learned painful, bruising and humiliating lessons. Lawson was quietly proud of his daughter, but worked hard to temper her ferocity with his calm, just manner. Laverne usually preferred violence to negotiation, but accepted her father’s teachings and worked to improve her temper.
That year, one of her father’s close friends, the US Marshall Travis Kane, moved to Brimstone from his native West Virginia, sent by the government to investigate the growing reports of monsters roaming the plains and woods of Shannedam County. The quiet, gruff Marshall was a monster-hunter, a lawman who hunted bandits, raiders and gruesome monstrosities alike in the wilds. He based himself in Brimstone, helping out her father when he could in town, having been inspired to become a lawman by Lawson in his youth. He brought with him his eighteen year old daughter, Candace, with whom Laverne struck up an immediate friendship. They had much in common – both had lost their mothers, and were raised by their fathers, famed lawmen who taught them practical skills like hunting and fighting. From that year, Laverne and ‘Candy’, as she liked to be called, were inseparable. Together, they roamed the woods and prairies - hunting, swimming, camping out beneath the stars. Both yearned to follow in their father’s footsteps, both were intelligent, educated young women, both held strong opinions and had a stubborn tenacity. Candy was sassy and cheerful, while Laverne was serious, though not solemn. Laverne wore denims and leathers, where Candy dressed practically on the trails but liked to be feminine in town, wearing her brown hair in twin-tails and donning gingham dresses and pretty frocks.
They had something else in common, too. By the time they were holding hands around town, stealing kisses under the orchard trees, it became clear that they were more than simply friends. Aware that people were talking about them, Lawson asked Nathaniel if he could have a word with the girl, perhaps reminding her of Adam and Eve, and the natural way of men and women. Nathaniel tried his best, but learned some new curse words that day, and Laverne’s vocal rant ended with this sucker-punch: ‘You married a DEMON, old man! You’re the last person on this earth who should be giving relationship advice!’
Nate endured her tirade with good grace, and told her father that he fully intended to set that girl straight – ‘…right after I’ve saved every sinner on the good Lord’s earth, and killed every demon in Cynder. After that, she’s top of my list…!’ Lawson took his point – he found her yearnings odd, and it bothered him that he would never have grand-children, but he admired her stubbornness and determination. When she wanted something, she went ahead with it, the opinions of others be damned.
Hearing people talk about her behind her back didn’t do much for Laverne’s temper, and she began to get into more altercations with elements lawless and otherwise. Lawson began to worry for her – there was a mean streak and hot temper to the girl – and he knew full well she didn’t get it from him.
The desperado swaggered into town, sweating in the midday heat. His sidekick fingered his pistol nervously.
“Jake… maybe this weren’t a great idea…! This is the county seat – “
“Red, I ain’t scared of old men and womenfolk! If that’s the only law this place got, I reckon we got no reason to be worried – “
The red-haired outlaw nodded at the tall figure who stalked down the dusty street.
“I reckon you’ll get your chance now…!”
Jake looked up as the figure advanced. The sneer died on his face as she approached. The old man’s girl was… kinda big, he thought. He actually had to look up at her. And those shoulders were like a horse.
He opened his mouth to say something, but she threw a punch, fast as a rattlesnake. The blow smashed his mouth, spraying blood and shattered teeth. As Jake went down on the dusty street, Red fumbled for his pistol. She swivelled and whipped about, lashing out one booted foot that struck him cleanly in the face, breaking his nose and caving in his face.
As both men clutched their damaged faces, she muttered something under her breath.
“I know who you are, you bastards…! Well, you won’t get to the gallows if I have a say in it…!”
She viciously kicked the first man in the head, then brought her heel down hard on his stomach. She launched a series of hard kicks to his groin, and then another to his head for good measure. The other man spat blood and tried to rise. She whipped out her Peacemaker and used it as a club, striking him hard across the head, caving in his cheekbone. He went down hard, and she continued to stomp him into the dirt, his face a mask of blood and gore.
A crowd had gathered to watch what seemed to be a summary execution, faces both excited and horrified. She turned to look over at her father, dressed in Sunday black as always. His eyes were dark, disappointed.
“These are the Avery boys, wanted for killing that girl in Lestina,” she growled softly. “They need to die.”
“They’ll hang,” he assured her. “You have my word. But not now. Not this. We do this by the book. You understand?”
They stared at one another for long moments, faces stony. She noted that Marshall Kane stood a little way off with Candy.
Then she glowered, cricked her neck, and stormed off. Candy ran after her, calling her name.
“Let’s get these boys cleaned up,” the Sherriff said calmly to his deputies. He walked across to his friend.
Kane smiled wryly. “I reckon if she wanted them dead… you might not be able to stop her,” he said quietly.
“She’s still my girl,” Lawson said simply. “She’ll listen to me.”
The Marshall smiled wanly. “You know where she gets that from,” he said.
When Lawson did not answer, he murmured: ‘So, when you gonna tell her?”
Laverne sat beneath the canopy of the Malt Shop, her hand entwined with her lover’s.
“Soda with ice-cream, EllJay. Drink up; you need to cool down…!” she joked.
“This… this isn’t me…!” Laverne murmured quietly. “Beating men to death in the streets…! I’m better than that…!”
“Yup,” Candy nodded seriously. “Though I gotta say… I find it kinda hot…!”
Laverne scowled at the younger girl.
“Very funny. It’s just that… I just feel this… anger, burning up inside me…”
She looked plaintively at her paramour.
“What am I supposed to do with this rage..?”
When she returned home, it was past midnight. It wasn’t surprising to find her father was still awake. Neither got much in the way of sleep.
She stood at the lounge door for a moment.
“I’m sorry,” she said quietly.
“Not your fault,” he said quietly. He rose, leaving the leather-bound book he had been reading on the table.
“It’s all in here,” he said. “When you’ve read it… Well, I’ll still be awake. I should’ve told you long ago…”
“Told me what?” she asked. But he simply walked to the whiskey cabinet, took a bottle and a glass, then went to the study.
Laverne approached the book as if it were a poisonous rattlesnake. Somehow, she knew things would never be the same afterwards.
She sat down, and began to read.
It was her mothers’ diary, written over a decade, in a neat hand.
Mrs Kelly Lawson.
Or as she’d been… Kelly Sloane. The infamous killer and outlaw chieftain, the most murderous woman to walk the Old West.
An hour later, she walked into the study.
“Why?” she husked.
Lawson turned slowly, his face thoughtful and melancholy.
“That’s not an easy question to answer,” he admitted.
“You fought for years…!” she said fiercely. “She put you in the infirmary a few times… Put many of your friends in the grave…!”
Her eyes hardened. “Why?” she repeated.
Lawson sighed softly.
“There was… a fire in her. Sometimes… opposites attract. When she was betrayed by her men… I realised I didn’t want her dead. We’d… made a kind of connection, over the years. The lawless years, before the town was like it is today… A kind of…respect, I suppose. She was wounded, betrayed. I gave her an opportunity… made her an offer. She turned herself in, testified to the others… and I’d speak for her in front of a grand jury. Make sure she didn’t hang.”
“And you married her…! That was part of the offer…?” Laverne said in disgust.
“It wasn’t a condition, no,” he admitted. “But she didn’t even get gaol. I’d earned… a lot of credit back then. A lot of judges and politicians owed me a lot of favours. Called them in. I traded them all in for her life. Told them she’d been working with me. That she wanted out of the outlaw life, in return for amnesty.”
“And you lied to the grand jury at the trial?”
He nodded simply. She closed her eyes in disbelief.
“And was justice served?” she said softly. “That’s what you always used to tell me…!” How hollow it seemed now, she thought.
“I think so,” he said quietly. “You’re here. Your mother loved you. You changed her. She wanted more out of life. We were happy.”
She opened her eyes and looked at the man she loved and respected more than any other.
“You have her… fire,” he admitted. “That rage, the anger that burns. I wanted to turn that to a better end. It’s what she wanted for you too.”
He reached out for her, but she pulled away.
“I know you’ve been having the dreams… The nightmares…! She told me all about that. She’s from further west. Her father was one of the hundred-and-eighty. The men who died defending the Alamo.”
He sighed. “It’s why she went outlaw. She lost her family that day, blamed the government, the army, Sam Houston. All of it. It lit the fires, and they never really went out. And now they burn in you.”
She looked suddenly shocked and horrified.
“But… that’s why…? Why Nathaniel wasn’t able to cure her…! Because of… all her sins…?”
He nodded sorrowfully. “Don’t know for sure. The Lord moves in mysterious ways, they say. But… yes. That’s how I saw it. The Lord stood by and did nothing. He let that fire die. He took Kelly from us, after all we’d lived through. And I’ve not set foot in his house since.”
She looked at the ground, tears welling in her eyes. Her hands bunched into fists. And then she looked up, face full of sorrow.
“Reverend Hellerbrand… Mister McBride… Marshall Kane…? Did they all know…?”
In time, Laverne came to terms with her heritage, and eventually made her peace with it. In the end, she chose to believe her father - that love and life were complicated, and everything wasn't always what you expected it would be. He supported her own relationship with Candy, and so she'd respect the choices he made also.
She threw herself into keeping the peace in Brimstone, and kept her temper when folk would gossip about her behind her back. While Lawson couldn't officially make her a deputy, he did the next best thing, giving her a nominally 'secretarial' position in the office, where she was technically in charge of reports and the telegraph. In practise, he let her do much of the work, and she relished every moment of it. As the town grew into a small city, she lead and coordinated others, showing a flair for giving orders as well as confronting issues personally.
When Lawson turned sixty in 1897, he decided to reduce his direct involvement in law-keeping, and started to defer responsibility to his most capable followers. The fellow who followed him as Sherriff was affable enough, although it was agreed that Laverne would be Sherriff in all but name. She might not wear the silver star, but everyone knew who was really in charge. The new Sherriff was happy to leave her to it, swigging whiskey and playing chequers on the porch while she went out and laid down the law and organised deputies. It was an arrangement that suited everyone. Lawson remained on hand, writing his memoirs and helping out as an advisor. He missed the life - he'd led it for almost forty years - but Laverne had earned her chance, and he was proud of what she'd become. While Marshall Kane continued to hunt monsters and outlaws in Shannedam County, his daughter Candy stayed mostly in town, accompanying Laverne in and out of work. Laverne continued to suffer the nightmares that plagued her mother, dreams of the men who fell at the Alamo, and of ghostly soldiers dressed in the uniforms of Santa Anna's men... But her daily tasks kept her busy, and she worried more about rustlers, bandits and corrupt judges than spectres who haunted her sleep.
For a while, life seemed good.
But Brimstone continued to grow; at first with the flow of gold from the nearby mines, and then with the peculiar mineral named 'Darkstone'. The material was found in Shannedam County in large quantities, and had properties that baffled scientists back east. The purplish rock had metallic properties, as much like iron as stone. Powdered, it could heal the sick and treat illness, and it could be smelted and used in steel-forging and bullet-smithing. It had strange magical properties also; the local tribes had long used it - albeit sparingly - to enhance their power of their shamans and medicine-men. But there were odd rumours of what it did to those who used it in greater quantities - of corruption of the mind and mutation of the flesh... The tribals spoke warily of the Black Fang people, who used the purple stones carelessly and began to worship the stuff.
But Darkstone was in great demand, both in Texas and back east. Prospectors and panhandlers mined seams of it throughout the quarries of the county, and it arrived in Brimstone in great carts and crates on a daily basis. Many believed it would finally make the town its true fortune, becoming one of the most successful cities of the United States. The streets ran with the wealth that the stone brought into town, and Laverne was kept busy keeping the peace in these boom-town days.
And then, in the Spring of 1899, a year before the new century, it happened. There had long been whispers about the dark stones, suspicions of something sinister about Brimstone's 'black gold'. One dark eve, a tumultuous explosion tore apart the fort built to ferry the stones east, and clouds of purplish smoke billowed into the air. Dark fires leapt from building to building, burning all in their wake. As if called somehow, the monsters came in from the dark - not singly as they had always done, but in great packs, with horrific, gigantic monstrosities at their head... hell-bent on devouring humans, or dragging them screaming off into the dark.
Half of Brimstone died during that dark night, including many prominent citizens and the new Sherriff and his deputies. The Lafferty's and Kane's swiftly organised a resistance, and through the long night, they fought back, taking their town back street by street. The flames were put out, the hideous monsters driven back into the dark. By morning, almost half the town had been burned, and hundreds were dead or missing. Terrified, garbled messages from the telegraph warned that other towns across the county had also been attacked.
Now 62, Lawson reassumed the mantle of Sherriff. Deciding that the End Days were upon them, he deputised Laverne and Candy immediately. Hell had come to Shannedam County, and it didn't seem to matter whether it was man nor woman who fought back against the spreading Darkness.
A call was sent out across the county, a cry for Heroes to stand up and be counted. All the old divisions - tribals and army, humans and mutants, outlaws and lawmen alike - would have to be set aside to make a stand and protect humanity in what seemed to be its last days. The great forts had been attacked in the first wave, and much of the standing army had been taken out of commission. But the attacks on the townships continued, sporadically, and a handful of brave souls could not hope to defend every settlement. And thus were the Posses born - small bands of the very best, who could travel swiftly to defend towns and seek out the driving force behind the Darkness, and hopefully bring an end to it.
After several months of grim resistance, Lawson came to the bitter conclusion that they could not stand and fight for Brimstone. With the armed forces all but scattered and destroyed, the Darkness seemed to focus upon humanity's leaders and finest. Lawson and his deputies were like a beacon to the enemy - their very presence brought fresh attacks upon Brimstone. Lawson was eventually convinced that they would have to leave to better protect the townships. The Darkness was neither omnipresent or omniscient - the eye of the enemy could not see everywhere at once. If it was set upon exterminating the Heroes, then they would have to move quickly in small groups, to be the fox before the hounds and lead the Darkness away from the people of the towns - all the while seeking out the dark places of the land, to discover the secrets of the Darkness and find a means to destroy it.
With a heavy heart, Brimstone's last Sherriff gathered his closest friends and prepared to lead the fight against the Darkness. He asked Laverne to accompany him, but she argued that they would need more than one Posse, and that she would seek out others and lead them, drawing like-minded folk to her banner. Her father reluctantly agreed, and Laverne set out with Candy to gather the 'Fallen Angels' who would fight to protect her mothers' homeland...