Passing the Narrows
by Frank Tuttle
The Yocona surged ahead, paddle-wheel churning, cylinders
beating like some great, frightened heart.
"Dark as Hell and twiced as hot," muttered Swain from the
shadows behind the clerk's map-table.
A ragged chorus of ayes answered. The Captain checked his
pocket watch; ten o'clock sharp. Old Swain and his hourly
announcements hadn't lost a minute in twenty years.
The Captain snapped his pocket watch shut and peered out
into the darkness. There, to port, loomed a hulking mass of
shadow twice the height of any around it -- Cleary's Oak, last
marker before the riverboat landing at Float. "We're an hour
from Float, Mr. Barker. Notify the deck crew we'll be putting in
for the night."
"She won't like that," said Swain, whispering. "Fit to be
tied, she'll be. Full of fire and steam."
"You know who. The wand-waver. The Yankee."
"Go back to sleep."
"I heard her talkin' while the boys were hauling me up the
deck," said Swain, gesturing with the stump of his missing right
arm. "Said she was aimin' to make Vicksburg 'fore the moon came
again. Said she had orders, and papers, and -- "
"I give the orders here, Swain. Not any damn Yankee wand-
Swain cackled. The Yocona churned past Cleary's Oak,
picking up speed as the Yazoo River turned narrow and straight.
The Captain rang three bells, and the thump-thump-thump of the
The Yocona's running lamps began to touch the trees
on each bank of the Yazoo River. Shadows whirled and twisted,
caught mid-step in some secret dance before fleeing back into the
impenetrable murk beyond the first rank of trees. Some few
seemed to run just ahead of the light, capering and tumbling like
shards of a nightmare given flesh and let loose to roam.
The shadows reminded the Captain of Gettysburg and Oxford
and a hundred other haunted ruins left in the wake of the war.
The Yazoo River was the only safe route through the countryside
now, unless you were a sorcerer, a Yankee, or a fool.
"Eyes ahead, boys," said the Captain, softly. "They're only
there if you look."
The pilothouse door flew open and slammed like a rifle-shot.
The Captain whirled, cursing.
In the dim red glow of the pilothouse night-lamps, the
Yankee in the doorway looked little more real than the shadows in
the trees. A long blue Union sorcerer's robe and hood concealed
all angry green eyes and long, pale hands.
"Why are we stopping at Float?" said the sorceress.
"Warned you," whispered Swain.
The sorceress stepped forward and glared down at Swain.
"You are the Captain of this vessel?"
Swain guffawed. "No ma'am," he said. "I'm the clerk. If
you want a freight book marked or a Federal river-map copied I'll
be happy to oblige." Swain cocked his head. "Tell the truth,
now -- don't them robes get awful hot?"
The sorceress turned, traded frowns with the Captain.
"You gave the order to put ashore at Float?" she said.
"I did," said the Captain.
"You will rescind your order. We will proceed on to
Vicksburg. Tonight. With all possible speed."
The Captain turned his back to the sorceress and listened to
the paddle wheels for a time. Far off in the night, he heard the
shriek of another riverboat's steam-whistle.
"Get off my bridge," said the Captain, staring out into the
shadows. "Get off, and stay off."
"We go to Vicksburg."
"Tomorrow. First light. Not before."
The sorceress stepped forward. "I am an official
representative of the United States government," she said. "I
have Papers of Empowerment which authorize me to commandeer this
vessel, if necessary. Is it?"
"Just like a Yankee," said
Donald F. Glut, Mark D. Maddox