The Wild, Wild West Meets the Goddess of the Reading Room! - Or...How The Reading Room was Won!
The Wild, Wild West Meets the Goddess of the Reading Room!
Oh, the Deadwood stage is a-rollin' on over the plains,
with the curtains flappin' and the driver slappin' the reins.
A beautiful sky! A wonderful day!
Whipcrack away, whipcrack away, whipcrack away!
Oh, the Deadwood stage is a-headin' on over the hills.
Where the Injun' arrows are thicker than porcupine quills, dangerous land!
No time to delay! So whipcrack away, whipcrack away, whipcrack away!
We're headin' straight for town, loaded down with a fancy cargo,
care of Wells and Fargo, Illinois, boy!
Oh, the Deadwood stage is a-comin' on over the crest,
like a homing pigeon that's a-hankerin' after it's nest.
Twenty-three miles we've covered today,
so whipcrack away, whipcrack away, whipcrack away!
The wheels go turnin' round, homeward bound, can't you hear 'em hummin'?
Happy times are comin' fer to stay, hey!
I was feeling particularly parched that afternoon. The wild, wild west was a dry place. Drier than a bull's bum going backwards up a hill. Dry...Even for an Australian such as myself. I couldn't wait to hit that saloon. The ride in this stage coach had been particularly long and bumpy...Yes... I was looking forward to that drink.
As I approached the town, I saw a sign a pointing to what looked like one of the main streets of town...We pulled up outside the Golden Garter! The town's only saloon. What luck! I was going to get that drink sooner than I thought.
I climbed down from ontop of the stagecoach where I was ridin' shotgun and retrieved my bag and then helped a lady alight from the carriage. The old, toothless driver shot me a smile as he waved me a goodbye.
"Thanks fer ridin' shotgun me boy! Don't know if we'd a made it through Injun territory without ya!" With a "Giddup!" and a shake of the reins, he waved me a fond farewell. I stood for a moment waving goodbye from the steps of the saloon as the stagecoach pulled out of sight.
I could hear the strains of a somewhat jaunty tune being played enthusiastically on a piano as it wafted on the smoke filled air out into the dusty street. From the amount of smoke which accompanied the melody, I could immediately tell that these folk had not heard the Surgeon General's Warning about the dangers of smoking. Coughing a little, both from thirst and fumes, I picked up my bag and entered the saloon.
Upon entering I immediately made my way to the bar shouldering past the dirty, sweaty assortment of gunslingers, cowpokes and ne'er-do-wells.
"What'll it be?" asked the bar tender with a lazy drawl.
"Make mine water followed by a chaser of milk," I said as I slapped down some loose change on the bar.
"Milk?" came the incredulous reply. "Now sonny...I can see you are a bit young and all...but this 'ere is a saloon. You should have a real drink. Here..... Have some whiskey...it'll put some hair on your chest," said the bar tender as he poured me a glass.
Quickly I grabbed his arm. "Make mine milk! I said I want milk, and milk is what I mean to 'ave. And besides," I said taking off my hat briefly before replacing it again. "I don't want to put hair on my chest."
The bar man gasped along with all of the others who stood beside me. I was not the boy they had presumed I was, but a woman!
"Yes Ma'am," he said as he replaced the whiskey with a glass of fresh, creamy milk.
Unused to seeing a woman dressed in man's garb, the barman decided he'd strike up a conversation with me.
"Did you just come in on the stage?"
"Yes I did," I replied draining my glass. The bartender proceeded to refill my glass with milk.
"Where did you come from?"
I just blew in from the windy city,
the windy city is mighty perdy,
but they ain't got what we got, no sirree.
They've got shacks up to seven stories,
never see any morning glories,
but a step from our doorway,
we got 'em fer free.
They've got those minstrel shows,
perdy ladies in the big chapeau's.
Private lawns, public parks,
for the sake of civic virtue,
they've got fountains there that squirt you.
I just blew in from the windy city,
the windy city is mighty perdy,
but they ain't got what we got.
I'm telling you, boys,
we got more life in Deadwood city than in all of Illinois!
"Well then young lady, since you've come such a long way, and sing so perdy and all, The next drink is on me," winked the bartender.
I smiled in return and raised my glass in salute when a sudden commotion form the stage caught my attention. A beautiful young girl stood there looking rather nervous, waving a piece of paper in her hand. For a moment she said nothing, as she blinked at the audience. She gave a slight nod to the piano player, who then struck up a rather melancholy piece on the instrument.
"I was only a poor little Orphan...by Kerosene Kate," she began with a trembling voice.
The crowded saloon seemed to pay her no mind, as they continued drinking and carousing round about. I looked up at the hapless girl, and then at the wreckage of human disorder around me.
Suddenly a tall, handsome stranger in a white stetson, white shirt and white chaps, stood up from the table where he was playing cards and held up his hands.
"Pay attention to the lady, fellas. She wants to recite a poem." He was greeted by a groan.
He then strode over to the man who seemed to have groaned the loudest, and grabbed him by the scruff of his shirt.
"I said to pay attention, pardner."
"Aw...that's only Kerosene Kate. She ain't no lady." The tall, handsome stranger in the white stetson, white shirt and white chaps looked down at the greasy piece of humanity he held in his manicured hand.
"Now look 'ere Poison Pete, if I say she's a lady, then a lady she is, and you had better listen or else." The greasy looking man quickly nodded his head as the handsome stranger let go.
"Who's that?" I asked both intrigued and impressed. The bar tender leaned across and whispered into my ear.
"That be Parson Holiday."
"Parson Holiday? That name sounds familiar."
"Yup...he's Doc Holiday's younger brother. Moved here after his older brother died in that sanitorium in Colorado. He used to be a gunslinger, but he gave up his fightin' ways. But they all know his reputation around here. He may not use a gun anymore, but he's pretty handy with his fists. We don't have no sherrif anyhow since our last one took off to California, seems there are too many outlaws around abouts. They scare 'em all off. Parson Holiday moved here about 2 months ago. Said he's here to do the Lord's work and all. Clean up the place a bit. Still has a long way to go, so it would seem."
I looked over at the tall, handsome not so much a stranger anymore and shook my head. A parson in a saloon? Well this was the wild west after all. Anything can happen. He motioned for the saloon girl to go continue with her poem. She smiled and lifted her paper again.
"I was only a poor little Orphan....by Kerosene Kate.
I was only a poor little orphan
A victim of cruel fate it seemed
Alone, bereft and abandoned
Without any kin or family.....
"That doesn't rhyme!" A voice suddenly shouted from the doorway.
"Yeah! You should reverse the order of kin and family. Make it family and kin."
Loud laughter rang through the saloon.
"Oh no. It's the Error Gang!" groaned the bartender all of a sudden. I turned to him and signalled to have my glass refilled.
"The Error Gang? Who are they?"
"Punctuation, Spelling and Grammar....they're the most 'ornery gang this side of the Rio Grande. They're wanted in just about every town I know for pointing out the errors in writing and recitations without mercy."
"Really? Why don't people just ignore 'em? I mean...it's not like they're actually committing a crime like murder or robbery or something equally as serious." I took a sip of my milk, trying to comprehend the barman's words.
"Oh it's serious alright," he said as he leaned over the bar towards me. "They might not kill the body, but they've killed the spirit of many an author roundabouts and people are giving up. Pretty soon, we won't have anymore writers and such, because they're all too afraid."
"Afraid of what?"
"Afraid of getting something wrong. The writers' spirits are dying from discouragement. All they seem to cop is a bunch of constant criticism and correction. I tell you. It starts to wear thin after a while. If you look around this room, you can see a few who've given up altogether. You can see it in their eyes. If you were to ask them to write something for you, such as a story or even a poem, they would look at you sort of blankly. Almost as if they hadn't heard a word you said. Their spirit has died I tell you. I call them ghost writers."
An old cowpoke went ridin' out one dark and windy day,
Upon a ridge he rested as he went along his way
When all at once a mighty herd of red eyed writers he saw
Come rushin' through the ragged skies and up a cloudy draw.
Their papers still on fire and their eyes were made of steel
Their pens were black and shiny and their hot tears he could feel
A bolt of fear went through him as they thundered through the sky
He saw the writers coming hard... and he heard their mournful cry
Yipie i ay Yipie i oh
Ghost writers in the sky.
Their faces gaunt, their eyes were blurred, and shirts all soaked with sweat
They're writin' to please the Error Gang, but they ain't pleased them yet
They've got to write forever in that range up in the sky
The Gang's a-snortin' fire, as they write on, hear their cry
As the writers loped on by him, he heard one call his name
If you want to save your soul from hell a' writin' on our range
Then author change your ways today or with us you will write
A-tryin' to please the Error Gang across these endless skies. Yipie i ay Yipie i oh Ghost writers in the sky. Yipie i ay Yipie i oh Ghost writers in the sky. Ghost writers in the sky.
The girl on the stage was valiantly forging ahead with her recitation.
"That Kerosene Kate is a plucky young thing. But I don't think she stands a chance. The Error Gang are extremely picky, and can find faults that even the best editor can't pick up."
Alone I was wandering the world...
"You should've said...Alone I was wandering in the world, " guffawed one of the men from the Error Gang as they sat down at one of the card tables after kicking the previous players from their chairs.
"How do you spell wandering?" asked another.
"With an o," came the trembling reply. Loud laughter rumbled from the card table.
"With an o? That would make the word have a completely different meaning then. For to wonder means to be filled with curiosity or doubt," answered one of the gang whilst rolling his eyes.
"Or to have a feeling of awe or admiration; marvel: "She wondered at all the things civilization can teach a woman to endure," (Frances Newman)." added another.
"Well said, Punctuation. I would like to add that wonder can also mean to have a feeling of surprise," responded Grammar. Punctuation clapped him on the back.
"Come Grammar, what other jewels of advice do you have for our fair authoress here?"
"Hm. Let me see. Well the adjective for wonder is wonderful, meaning something is far superior to anything formerly recognised or foreseen. There is a popular idiom I know of; 'for a wonder', most often expressed as a cause of surprise." Grammar scratched his chin for a moment and then looked up at the hapless girl on the stage. "Do you suppose you were surprised at being alone and abandoned...I mean after all you were an orphan after all. Although, that shouldn't be such a 'wonder' to you."
The three men fell about their seats laughing at the joke. Nobody else laughed or made a sound. Even Parson Holiday was silent. I was beginning to get cranky.
"Yes it would be totally out of character for an orphan to 'wonder' about such things," added Spelling as he took a swig of whiskey from his glass that a saloon girl had just poured and looked up at Kerosene Kate.
"So what did you mean girl, was it wonder or wander? "
Kerosene Kate stood there silent in the face of such superior opposition. She didn't know what to say. She was sure she had meant to write wander, but for some reason had mispelled the word. Spelling wasn't entirely her forte, but she loved to write and derived immense pleasure from it. Sharing her stories and poems with others was one of the chief joys of her life. Now all she felt was shame. Shame that she had been so stupid to let the Error Gang catch her out like this. Little by little she could feel her spirit giving in to the barrage of criticism she was now receiving.
"My money's on wonder," said Punctuation as he slapped a fistful of dollars down amongst the cards upon the table.
"Perhaps she could have used a better word than wonder, Punctuation. What are the synonyms for wonder? Let's help her out a bit," suggested Spelling.
"Yes, Grammar...Tell us the synonyms," asked Punctuation. "After all, the poor girl does need our help. She couldn't write a lick unless we were here to correct her work. She'll get it right in the future now, thanks to us, and then we can move onto someone else...but first the synonyms if you please?" asked Spelling.
This whole scene was about as dirty as a marsupial in an ablution block. What right did the Error Gang have to tear strips off this poor writer anyway?
"Why doesn't Parson Holiday do something?" I whispered to the bar tender.
"He can't. He's made too many mistakes himself. He's only a ghost writer now, himself," came the whispered reply.
"Ah...The synonyms for wonder are: marvel, miracle, phenomenon, prodigy, and sensation if my memory serves me right. These nouns denote one that evokes amazement or admiration," announced Grammar.
Spelling and Punctuation nodded sagely in agreement with their learned friend.
"Let me give you some examples of each for your edification. I saw the wonders of Paris; a marvel of modern technology; a miracle of culinary art; a phenomenon of medical science; a musical prodigy; the theatrical sensation of the season." Grammar sneered with unreserved delight. He looked over at Kerosene Kate, who still stood alone upon the stage with papers in hand.
"Come girl. What else have you got there? Bring it here, so we can judge its worth."
"Well, I have a story..." she began.
"A story?" cried Punctuation, Grammar and Spelling at once. Kerosene Kate shuffled nervously on the stage. Without warning, Grammar suddenly leapt out of his chair and ran for the stage. He almost knocked poor Kate down in an effort to obtain the papers she held.
"Come here boys, You should see this..." he cried. As one the remaining two left their chairs and crowded around Grammar.
"Tsk, tsk, tsk. Just look at all those spelling errors. Really child...Don't you know how to use a dictionary?" asked Spelling.
"What's this story based on anyway? It seems familiar somehow."
"I based it on an old Navajo legend," answered Kate a little tremulously.
"Indians? I know all about Indians!" cried a loud voice from the doorway.
"Oh no! It's Know-it-all. She's done for now," sighed the bar tender as he wiped down the counter.
I looked over at the pug faced, red-haired kid who stood at the saloon doors with his hands on his hips.
"Why, he barely looks fifteen," I countered.
"Don't mean a thing, Ma'am. That's Know-it-all, and whether he does or not, is of no matter, 'coz he reckons he knows -it-all anyway. She might as well give up," said the bar tender shaking his head.
"Lemme have a lookesee at that paper," said Know-it-all as he strode over to the others. After a few minutes, his voice could be heard rising with falsetto horror as he reacted to what he had just read.
"You've got this ALL wrong. Your characters are completely out of whack. In fact they're out of canon. There is NO way an Indian would say that! NO way. And you've even changed the legend to suit your own purposes. You can't do that!"
"But I just thought I'd be a little bit creative there..." started Kerosene Kate.
"Creative? Since when does being creative give you the right to change the way I say a character should act. You have to stick to canon. Otherwise it's just no good!"
Kerosene Kate fumbled awkardly in response.
"Now I know this legend," continued Know-it-all, "It's quite famous, and you have it all wrong. Your spelling is wrong, you have several gramatical errors, such as "saw" instead of "seen," and a couple oddly placed commas."
Kerosene Kate looked down at her feet. She longed to tell him that he had left out the word 'of' in the above sentence, but she was too afraid. The poor girl didn't know where else to look. A few moments ago she had been happy. She was doing what she loved best of all; sharing her writing with others. Somehow she had hoped that it would make others happy to hear what she had written as well. Now, as the weight of her errors crushed down upon her spirit, she knew she had been wrong. The Error Gang and Know-it-all were making sure of it. Slowly but surely she could feel her spirit dying. It wouldn't be long now until she became a ghost writer as well, and joined the others who had failed so dismally at their task. Tears of discouragement fell freely from her eyes. The Error Gang and Know-it-all paid no heed, intent upon finding all the flaws they could in her writing instead.
"And whatever you do, please don't make it a Mary sue!"
"Oh no...It's Mary sue!" groaned the bar tender. "That does it...I'm gonna pour myself a drink now," he said as he poured himself a glass of whiskey.
"Who's Mary Sue?" I asked, half afraid of the answer. I eyed the gorgeous woman who had just entered the saloon up and down as I waited for the bar tender's reply.
"Oh Mary Sue is perfect. Can't you see? She can do everything and can solve any problem you care to give her. She originally started off as a perky, blonde fifteen year old girl who always saved the day...Sort of the counterpart to Know-it-all, if you get my meaning, but somehow...she's turned into this, this Amazon, this wonder of womanhood, this perfection of femininity who can do no wrong." The bar tender gave a short exasperated sigh, and downed his glass all at once.
I watched as Mary Sue strode up to the stage and took the paper from Know-it-all's hand.
"It would also be much better if you would use correct spelling, punctuation and grammar your grammar is wrong, your facts are wrong,"
"Someone's gotta put a stop to this. Might as well be me, " I thought as I looked upon the five members of the Error Gang feasting upon the misery of Kerosene Kate. "You used a run-on sentence there Mary Sue!"
There was a sudden gasp through the crowded saloon as a sea of faces suddenly turned in my direction. The handsome Parson Holiday, turned in his seat and gave me a little wink.
"Hmmm. He looks even better than I first thought," I said to myself as I leaned upon the bar fingering my gun belt with one hand. I could tell that the Error Gang were unhappy with my statement.
"What did you say?" asked Mary Sue rising to her full height. She was indeed an Amazon. A woman of such grandeur and proportion that she made Xena the warrior princess look positively flat chested and unattractive in comparison. I suddenly felt like my own chest had shrunk at least three inches deep, and that I was having the worst hair day of my entire life. I looked at Kerosene Kate in her misery, and knew I must go on regardless. Undaunted I looked squarely at my foe.
"You used a run on sentence there, Mary Sue. You forgot to insert a semi colon between 'punctuation and grammar your grammar is wrong,' "
"Who are you to speak to me like that. Your hair is terrible!" she shouted.
Indeed my hair was a dreadful mess. I had to agree with her there. Parson Holiday raised his eyebrows at me and flashed a smile. My courage was renewed.
"Who am I?" I responded finishing off the last of my buttery milk. "Who am I? Why I'm a federal marshal and the Goddess of the Reading Room!" A murmur ran through the room like liquid silver. "I just bought this 'ere saloon, and I'm here to keep the law and order. There are gonna be a few changes round here....and I'm starting with you!"
Punctuation turned every shade of red as he jumped out of his chair and strode over to me with his gun drawn.
"Who do you think you are to be tellin' me and my gang what to do? I don't care if you are a federal marshal, I ain't afraid of you."
I drew my gun in response.
"Well ya oughta be. Remember I also told you I'm a Goddess! Your bullets can't hurt me! Look!"
All of a sudden, I slipped out of my cowboy gear.....There was a flash of lightning, both for effect and to protect my modesty, as all at once I was revealed in all of my glory!
The Error Gang and their accomplices fell backwards in horror! Even Mary Sue was aghast. I was a Goddess and she knew I clearly outranked her. No mere mortal was I. It also helped that my word was law.
Suddenly Parson Holiday jumped to his feet and grabbed Punctuation, Grammar and Spelling by the scruff of their necks. He was a big man, and needed no help. Not even from the Goddess of the Reading Room. A cheer went up from all, and soon a few other fellows had taken care of Know-it-all. Kerosene Kate leapt from the stage and jumped upon Mary Sue. She was not one to give in lightly though. I could see a cat fight coming on. Donning my travelin' clothes again, I rushed over to Mary Sue and threw her backwards onto a lounge chair and pulled out my gun.
"Now Mary Sue, I don't care what you think. You've met your match in me. For you were just sent here to discourage other female authors and characters, because really...you are just a jealous hag! Now rack off hairy legs, and don't darken the doorway of this 'ere saloon again. Scat!"
With a cry, Mary Sue jumped up and ran out of the saloon as fast as she could.
Parson Holiday followed with the Error Gang, whilst the bar tender grabbed Know-it-all. Soon all of the offenders were out on the street in front of the saloon. Punctuation held up his fist and shook it.
"You can't do that! How are people gonna know when they've made a mistake. Who's gonna remind them? Who's gonna put them on the right path so they get their writing right?"
I pushed through the crowd at the doorway.
"Why, I reckon that'd be me Punctuation. Now you and your cronies had better get on your horses and ride out of town, 'cause you ain't welcome here no more."
"Not welcome anymore? Why I never..." began Grammar.
"This 'ere saloon is now my new Reading Room. I'm turning it into a writer's sanctuary, and I intend to rescue all of those poor ghost writers as well. There will be no more correcting and pointing out errors. No more criticising no matter how helpful you think you may be. No more suggestions of what could be better, and certainly no more 'Know-it-alls' telling everybody else their business. Look...I'm givin' all of my writers a licence. It's called artistic licence, and they now have the right to write whatever they like, as long as it is fair and decent without any reminders from you lot about where they went wrong! This ain't no shooting gallery, nor is it a showcase. My motto is, 'If you can't say something good then don't say anything at all!' There will be no more mullarking about with crticism of punctuation, spelling, grammar or anything else for that matter. No more polishing off potshots with a back handed compliment about how good the dialogue is as some sort of consolation prize either.
"The terms of service will be posted soon for you to read, if you ever ride back this way again. You may care to read them and put them into practice. I can guarantee that if you don't, that I shall henceforth delete your comments and no further correspondence will be entered into. Now git, and don't come back until you have mended your ways!"
Just for effect, I went into full Goddess mode again and donned a white riding outfit which complimented my status. The handsome stranger in the white stetson, white shirt and white chaps strode up beside me and put his hands on his hips.
"Now you heard the little lady. Git on your horses and ride out of town, before this turns into a shoot out you know you can't win." We watched with a great deal of satisfaction as the Error Gang along with Know-it-all and Mary Sue, quickly got on their horses and rode away. The crowd at the saloon door let out a cheer!
By the way, Ma'am. What is your name?"
"My name is Lady Coralie," I replied.
"I knew you were a lady, the moment I set eyes upon you." The tall handsome stranger in the white stetson, white shirt and white chaps looked at me and winked. "Well you've already had an effect on me Lady Coralie." He tipped his hat to me as he spoke, and I felt the blush rise to my cheeks. "And I think that a writer's sanctuary is a wonderful idea. I can feel a story coming on."
"Really?" I replied. "What sort of story would that be?"
"Why, a love story of course!"
The handsome stranger in the white stetson, white shirt and white chaps then took off his hat and kissed me behind it, safe from the prying eyes of the saloon customers.
"Come on," he said as he released me from his embrace. "Let's go round up the rest of those ghost writers and let them know that they will be safe in the sanctuary of the Reading Room Saloon from now on."
With a laugh and a song in our hearts, we mounted our horses and rode out of town together.
Happy trails to you
Until we meet again
Happy trails to you
Keep smiling until then
Happy Trails to you
'til we meet again!
PS. Don't criticise my spelling...it's Australian..The Queen's English...Quite Tolkienesque!
Oh...and if anybody receives any comments from any member of the Error Gang...please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org, give me the url...and I will put it to rights, pardner!
Happy Trails (writing) to you! ;)