Bandit's Moon Chapter One I Hide I had hardly got three miles down the road when 0.0. Mary herself caught me running away and locked me up in the harness room off the barn. It was infernally dark, and I knew there were black widow spiders in there. I tried to keep my mind off them except to think that 0.0. Mary could give black widows lessons in meanness. I had been padlocked almost a week when I heard someone come around the pond on a winded horse, frightening off the squawking ducks and mud hens. I heard a yell; "Mary! 0.0. Mary! That Mexican's a-coming after you! The whole gang of 'em! Run for your life! They ain't far behind!" It was hardly a moment before a key started rattling in the padlock. 0.0. Mary flung open the door. The white afternoon sunlight about blinded me.She tore through the saddles and harnesses and general trash until she came up with a scuffed red hatbox with the tips of yellow feathers sticking out the lid. I'd been using the box to eat on when she remembered to bring me some food. I could hardly imagine that she'd ever owned a pretty hat. She had a head of hair as matted as a dead cat's. But hadn't I heard her say she'd once been with the circus or a showboat or something? That must have been a hundred years ago, I thought. I don't know what her real name was. She told me that everyone called her 0.0. because her eyes were always open, and don't forget it. She gave the leather box a smile with that fossil face of hers and then seemed to notice me for the first time. "Out of my way, child! Run for your life!" "What on earth for?" "Annyrose! Didn't you hear? That cutthroat don't spare women and children! Why are you standing there? Contrary orphan! Run!" "I'm not exactly an orphan," I said. After all, I had kin. I had a brother still alive. "It's no skin off my bones if that confounded outlaw murders you in your shoes!" If I'd wanted to argue fine points with her, I'd have reminded her they weren't my shoes, either. She'd sold my New Orleans petticoats and dresses months ago. She had me walking around in some boy's castoffs, shirt and pants, and brown boots as curled up as dead fish. "Don't claim I didn't warn you!" she shouted, pushing me out of the way. "And don't think he'll spare you! It's the devil on horseback riding this way! It's Wakeen himself!" I answered, calm and snooty, "He isn't coming after me." "Stupid girl!" she snapped. "His arms drip blood up to his elbows. And if he don't finish you, there's Three Fingered Jack to do it. They'll cackle over your bones, the whole gang of them! Pesky foreigners! Greasers!" That was what she called her Mexican help, when she had any. The foul and lumpish woman didn't have a good word for anyone. "You don't aim on coming back, do you?" I asked, hoping I might be seeing the last of her forever. "Even if they burn the place to the ground, I'll be back," she snapped. Moments laterI saw her with her hatbox racing down the road in her dusty black buggy. It was piled withloose dresses and her big goose-feather mattress, all rolled up and puffy as a cloud. With the horsewhip held aloft, she struck sparks in the air. I'd heard the horrible tales about Wakeen, and they were enough to give anyone the fits. Now as I saw dust rising behind the hill, I decided I ought not to be passing the time on the porch having myself a long fresh drink out of the water barrel. I got my few belongings in a pillow slip, in case the outlaws set the ranch on fire. My eyes lit on the bundles of hay standing out in the field like a flock of scarecrows. With my bootheels flopping in the dirt, I hurried to the field and snugged myself inside the nearest stack of hay -- but not too deep. I wanted to be able to see the famous cutthroat. As I waited, I thought I must be a true child of calamity to be standing all covered with smelly hay. Ever since we'd set out for California, my mother and brother, Lank, and I, bad luck came leaping out at us. Crossing Panama on muleback to reach our ship in the Pacific Ocean, Mama had caught a jungle fever. We had had to bury her at sea off the coast of Mexico. When Lank and I landed in San Diego, where Mama had planned to start a school, our money was stolen right out of Lank's left coat pocket. Not only our money but all our papers, including a guide to the gold country up north that Lank had got hold of. It showed an X mark near a place called Mariposa where there was supposed to be a rich vein of gold. In order to eat, we had had to sell off Mama's trunkful of books, including all of Shakespeare in red leather bindings. And then Lank got it into his head to walk to the gold diggings a few hundred miles north, the both of us, and strike it rich like everybody else. He figured we'd outfit ourselves in Sacramento first. So we set out with all our belongings on our backs like peddlers. But you'd think someone had thrown a curse over me. Mama never believed in evil curses and hokey-pokey stuff like that, so I figured bad luck just happened. And when it did, Mama never spared it more than ten minutes of her time and just got on with things. I tried to get on with things, but why couldn't I have tripped over my own long feet and broken my ankle in a better spot? Lank carried me to the nearest house, which was only a mile away. Tarnation! It turned out to be 0.0. Mary's horse ranch. Only she was just back from across the border in Mexico, and so powdered and gussied up you'd hardly recognize her. She splinted my leg with greasewood sticks and seemed as kindly as your grandmother. So Lank left me there to heal and said he'd send coach fare as soon as he could. And she said not to worry, for as soon as I could walk on my leg, I could do little things around the horse ranch to earn my keep. Lank was hardly out of sight when she pulled off her wig and put it in mothballs. The next day I found her holding up my dresses and lace petticoats to the light. They disappeared to pay for my keep. I cried when she sold my violin in its black leather case and every note of my Mozart and Schubert. She even cut off my long yellow hair and sold it. With all the comings and goings around the place, it didn't take me long to figure out that she dealt in stolen horses and earrings and anything else you didn't hang on to with both hands and a foot. I think she must have stolen letters from Lank. He wrote me once from Sacramento to say he'd be sending me coach fare, but I never saw it. I was awakened from my thoughts by the squawk of ducks from the pond. When I looked out again, there came the bandits, about ten of them, with their hawk's eyes looking out from the black shade of large straw hats. Yellow cartridge belts made X marks across their chests. The men looked as stiff as soldiers, and I wondered if they'd fought in the war we'd finished off with Mexico. The Mexicans had sold us California and Texas when it was over, but when it was over, my papa didn't come back. Closer and closer the horsemen came, walking their beasts now, with only the silver jingle of spurs and the snort of a horse to disturb the afternoon quiet. I recognized a big Mexican by the finger missing off his right hand and figured he must be Three-Fingered Jack. My gaze shifted to the bandit riding beside him, the one with the silver buttons running down his legs. He smiled. His teeth gave off a flash as white as oyster shells. That must be Wakeen, I thought. He made my blood run cold, smiles or not. I'd never been so near to murdering villains. It surprised me that Wakeen hardly appeared much older than my brother, Lank, who was seventeen. And the outlaw wasn't even as tall. He wore a red scarf around his long black hair so that he looked more like a pirate than a general leading his army of cutthroats. Step by step he advanced. He frightened me even though his arms weren't stained with blood all the way up to his elbows. He smoked a thin black cigar as crooked as a twig and wore silver spurs almost as big and spiky as sunflowers. He said something in Spanish, and his men began ransacking the place, looking for 0.0. Mary. He dismounted and helped himself to the water dipper on the porch. As I peered out, I saw him staring down at the dust, studying it. He must have had a keen eye for tracking because he began following my fresh footsteps as directly as if I'd left a trail of breadcrumbs like the kids in the fairy tale. I saw him pull a pistol from his sash, shift to one side, and cock back the trigger. "Buenas tardes, Calico. I heard a whisper that 0.0. Mary was hiding you. Do you wish a moment to say your last prayers? It is me, Wakeen!" I was almost afraid to breathe. If the outlaw saw even a few straws jiggle, he might be edgy enough to fire. Copyright (c) 1998 by Sid Fleischman Bandit's Moon . Copyright © by Sid Fleischman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from Bandit's Moon by Sid Fleischman All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.