Crossfire

Salt Lake Bound!
The Journal of Father Eric Brooks

August 16, 1875

Miss Veila has received word that an uncle in Salt Lake City had passed, leaving a significant portion of his estate to her. In order to begin our journey West, we returned to Jackson, our original party now reduced to Miss Mirta Veila, Mr Antonio Marconi, the child Danika, and myself. Leaving Oxford, we were also joined by a Mr Stephan Deepneau, an inquisitive – if rather abrasive – fellow with an interest in the… unusual.

Upon arriving in Jackson and securing lodging for the night, my companions went about their usual business. Given the excitement the last time we passed through Jackson, we were going to keep a low profile for the night. It appeared to be a quiet evening for once – which I should know, by now, just means there’s something we’re going to have to deal with in the morning.

As it turns out, Miss Danika’s description of “low profile” involves buying lockpicks, for which she was arrested. After confiscating the child’s personal armory – which I can only assume took up most of the night – the sheriff’s deputies released her into Miss Mirta’s custody, along with her assortment of knives (of which, I can only assume Miss Veila claimed ownership). In the morning, it was left to Mr Marconi to retrieve her firearm collection. The story being they are research for a design he’s working on of a quick-draw Derringer holster. Given the lukewarm (at best) reception Marconi has received as an Italian, I thought it best to accompany him, in order to smooth the way.

As we approached the sheriff’s office, we were greeted by a man dressed – apparently – as a Texas Ranger, but with a heavy Russian accent. After addressing us both by name, and several claims of “our best interests” he invited himself to accompany us on our journeys. Eventually, he introduced himself as Ranger Victor Edwards, but refuses to give any indication as to his motives, or true intentions for our party.

I can’t help but be concerned this is somehow involved with the unpleasantness in Mexico that took the life of Ranger Lockwood. Though at this point, it’s merely a baseless suspicion, it’s too much of a coincidence for this man, who seems to know more about us than he’s willing to divulge about himself, to simply fall across our path. He also seems to be a rather hot-headed man, one who is perfectly willing to shoot first and ask questions… maybe. This could simply be a matter of a poor first impression – when I declined to bless his twin pistols, he turned one of them on me. That sort of thing leaves a sour taste in one’s mouth.

Upon retrieving Marconi’s property, we return to our lodging and prepare to cross the Mississippi. The crossing occurs with almost no incident, aside from a panicked horse somewhere in the line behind us – Railroad workers put the beast down and cleared the lane in short order, to keep traffic moving smoothly. Some urchins on the Arkansas side of the river also attempted to relieve our wagon of some supplies, but Mister Deepneau’s sharp eyes spotted them before they were able to make off with anything.

The remainder of the day was spent on the trail, and we made camp alongside a wagon train which we caught up just before dusk. They were gracious enough to allow us to share a campground, but made it perfectly clear we were not welcome among them for the evening.

August 17, 1875

Upon daybreak, we broke camp and headed out – our decision was to leave early, to avoid delays from being behind the caravan all day. Shortly before we left Jackson, Danika informed me there were some men in town searching for Miss Veila, and she informed us that afternoon that they were now on our back-trail.

Gradually Mr Edwards fell back from our group, to better assess our follower’s intention. The rest of us continued on, making camp in an abandoned farmstead for the night. As we were setting up camp, we heard gunfire from along the trail. Mr Deepneau and myself rushed to the scene on horseback, to find Ranger Edwards lying on the ground with a gunshot wound in his belly. As I was doing what I could to stop the bleeding and save the man, Danika arrived – accompanied by the beast Pookie. The dog, upon smelling blood, immediately attempted to eat what he thought was food. Fortunately, Mr Deepneau was able to wrestle him off before any further damage was done.

Then began the strangest thing I have yet seen that child do – she muttered something almost prayerlike under her breath, cleaning and passing her hands over the wound for a few moments. Then she reached into the wound itself, and extracted the bullet. Once that was done, the wound sealed itself, leaving not so much as a scar to show the Ranger had been shot.

Mr Deepneau – who seems to have an eye for the strange – immediately began questioning what had just happened. Not understanding myself (and still largely flabbergasted), I attempted to defer the question until we got our companion back to camp and made him comfortable.

When Edwards regain consciousness, his questions were much along the same lines as Mr Deepneau’s – though with much more force. Both of them seemed to direct their questioning at me, despite my assertion that I was just as much “in the dark” about what had happened as they. Is it possible the child was able to work a miracle?

After much discussion – in the guise of a loud, forceful debate between myself and the Ranger – we were able to get some kind of story of what happened to Victor. It seems he confronted our followers and, when he asked their interest in our group, they drew on him and opened fire.

He claims he only drew in self-defense, but given his brash, fast-acting nature I can’t help wonder if we’re getting the full story from him.

From the description he gave – of the men’s full, neatly-trimmed beards and the cross-and-star badge their leader was wearing – I believe them to be Dananites: “lawmen” sent out by Deseret‘s blasphemous church. I’m very worried that they would venture this far East in search of Miss Veila – if LDS attack dogs are already after us this far from Salt Lake City, what kind of reception can we expect when we finally arrive there?

Once cooler heads than the Ranger’s (and, to my great shame, mine) prevailed, the rest of the evening passed relatively without incident. Though the child continues to suffer from horrible nightmares, which kept several of us awake throughout the night. I understand that Mr Marconi is attempting to apply his alchemical talents towards finding a means to quiet the girl’s sleep – an act of mercy not only to to Danika, but anyone she travels with.

August 18, 1875

For well over a week now, we have traveled largely without incident. We recently passed through Wichita – bypassing the Coyote Confederation entirely – and are roughly following the Black River rail line through the disputed territories.

Late this afternoon, we encountered the remains of a still-burning wagon train. Based on Mr Deepneau’s findings, it appears this was the scene of a minor skirmish between some Confederate sympathizers bringing supplies East for the war effort, and some Yankee raiders hell-bent on preventing just that. It appears the Yankees won this particular battle, as horses were slaughtered and one of the wagons set ablaze.

We spent the rest of the day ministering to the fallen. While we didn’t have time to properly bury these poor souls (scavengers – not to mention Pookie – saw to that), I was able to at least perform last rites. Once this was done, we set to burning the bodies using the remains of the wagons – Confederate or Yankee, these men will arrive to God together. Once the bodies started burning however, the stench… overwhelmed me completely. I was barely able to keep upright, much less help perform this final service. My lunch, sadly, was left on the prairie.

It is now just after midnight. We’ve made camp a little way upwind of the afternoon’s activities, and Mr Deepneau has just woken me for my turn at watch. Just before dark, he spotted a figure on the horizon. Unfortunately, the sun prevented him from making out any useful details, other than that someone was there.

Things are very quiet now. Aside from the wind, there’s barely anything mov- What was that? There is something out in the tall grass. Someone’s found us! I must wake the others!

Lord, Grant me strength!

Your Humble (if somewhat overwhelmed) servant
- Fr. Eric Brooks

August 18, 1875 – Addendum

Forgive me Father, for I don’t think the others will anytime soon. Though I swear before you that I heard something out in the tall grass, when I woke everyone else there was nothing to be found but the wind. After my mistake was uncovered, Ranger Edwards relieved me of the remainder of my watch. I’ll do my best to get to sleep, but I don’t think it will be soon in coming.

Your (truly) Humbled servant
- Fr. Brooks

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Distraction and Loss in Kansas
The Journal of Father Eric Brooks

September 3, 1875

Following the events of my last entry, we were indeed set upon by unsavory types. From what we could gather after, they were agents of the Mormon blasphemers, intent on preventing Miss Veila from reaching Salt Lake City.

In the meantime, both the Ranger and the reporter have taken their leave of us. Their journeys simply took them down a different road than ours. We continued through Kansas in relative peace, until one day when a storm came bearing down upon us. The storm was very intense, and others in the group reported seeing or feeling something “strange” in the atmosphere. We took refuge in a nearby barn. “Refuge” being a relative term, as it turns out.

The barn was abandoned, and looked about three days from falling down of it’s own accord. After stabling the horses, and securing the doors from the wind and rain, we set about exploring our temporary home.

In the back room we found three graves. As soon as we were settled, I set myself to giving these unknown men their last rites. Suddenly, I found myself to be… not myself.

I was in the same room, but there were three men with me, all in Confederate uniforms, and all preparing their weapons. Upon examining myself, I found that I too was in uniform. The men repeatedly addressed me as Marks, and it was obvious they weren’t too fond of me. Not knowing what else to do, I played along with this vision, until I came out of whatever trance I had found myself in.

Near-panicked, I left the back room to join the others in the main barn. Ever since Oxford, Danika has developed a habit of drawing a salt-circle when she feels threatened. It seems to calm her, and at that point I was willing to take what comfort I could get. I joined her in drawing the circle, but some unseen force kept marring the line before we could complete it.

Eventually, fatigue overtook the three adults in the group, and we fell unconscious. In my dream, I found myself back in the story of Private Marks. I was to learn later that Miss Veila and Mister Marconi would experience the same dream, though from the perspectives of the other two privates.

The Lieutenant insisted that we go out in the storm – he wanted to get the payroll wagon back from those damned, double-crossing redskins. I didn’t think it was the best idea, but the LT had gotten us through some pretty bad situations in the years since our unit formed, so I followed his orders.

Back in the barn, Danika and Pookie found themselves entertaining an enigmatic Indian fellow, who seemed to know more about the overall situation with both the storm, and our shared dream.

We saddled up, and Consecas was able to find their trail pretty quick. After hours of hard riding, we found the village. Dornan took up a sharpshooter position on the ridge, and the rest of us headed in under cover to try and take back the wagon.
We were able to eliminate a few warriors before we were discovered. In the ensuing fight, Consecas was gravely injured. As I hauled him out of the camp, he was fading in and out of consciousness.

I was to find out later that, as Consecas went under, back in the barn Mister Marconi would wake up. Danika and the Indian were worried that it wasn’t necessarily Marconi who woke up, and sent him back to sleep with the judicious application of a frying pan to the head.

As we were retreating, the savages took down the LT. Dornan and me got back to the horses, threw Consecas over one of the saddles, and rode hellbent for leather back to the barn. When we made it back, we finally had time to check out his injuries. It looked bad, but neither of us were medics. We calmed our nerves with the LT’s stash of bourbon – he didn’t need it anymore – and tried to do what we could.

We all woke from the dream just as the Indian warriors broke into the barn, and presumably slaughtered the three Privates. Though initially Marconi appeared to have injuries mirroring those of Consecas, they quickly faded to nothing.

As we came back to reality, the Indian explained to us that he was a survivor of that massacre. That the entire village had perished in the storm, and the spirits – both theirs and the soldiers’ – were using the storm to reenact the battle. He claimed the situation was steadily worsening, and there could be catastrophic results if nothing was done about it.

Further exploration of the barn also revealed inscriptions on the back of the barn, near the three graves. It seems that Private Consecas survived to bury his companions. What became of him after, we don’t currently know.

The next day, we began exploring the area. Danika found a small settlement a couple hours’ ride away, though they were not particularly welcoming. Two boys followed her back to the barn, and the three got into a scrap. As a group, we rode out to return the children to their parents. They were cautious but slightly more friendly when they learned we were simply traveling through the area. The leader of the clan was a man named Corvin, and we made arrangements to return the next day to stock up our water. In addition, I agreed to take confession and lead a Mass for the families.

When we arrived the next day, everything started out rather well. Mister Marconi set to filling water barrels, Miss Veila was taken up by the ladies of the farm, and Danika left to play with the girls. Confession from a group of people is rather boring – nobody wants to do anything bad, because pretty soon everyone is going to find out. After finishing with confessions, I returned to the yard to find Marconi leading a demonstration of one of his may inventions.

Suddenly, there was a great commotion. A fight had broken out between the farm children and Danika. The boys who she had fought with the day before didn’t take kindly to losing to a girl, and wanted payback. Greatly outnumbered, Danika called on Pookie to help her out. Being part wolf, Pookie reacted the only way he knew how. When the dust settled, three children were dead, and the farmers killed the animal.

How we left that farm alive, I still don’t know. I can only thank Divine Providence for staying the hands of Corvin and his men. They agreed to let us leave, so long as we left. We immediately returned to the barn to gather our belongings.

As Miss Veila, Danika and myself were breaking camp, Mister Marconi went outside to load the wagon. After a few minutes, we followed out to see what had become of him, but he was nowhere to be seen. We eventually found indications of a struggle and a trail. Not wanting Corvin to think we were returning, we finished packing and set out in pursuit. After several days, we were forced to abandon the wagon in order to maintain the chase. We eventually caught up with his kidnappers far to the south-west, at a pass leading into the mountains.

Having been pinned down by an ambush, we were eventually able to learn that Marconi had been taken by the Confederate government. They were, shall I say, interested in some of his inventions, and decided to offer him a job – whether he wanted it or not. Though it pains me still, we were forced to leave our friend behind. Of the three of us remaining, the only one likely to mount even a meager assault is eleven years old. I can only hope that we can rescue, or at least make contact with, Mister Marconi at some future date.

Returning to the nearest town, we discovered that we had given chase nearly to Santa Fe. We decided our next step would be to turn north to Denver, in hopes of finding passage to Salt Lake City. We acquired enough provisions for a three week ride, and Miss Veila sent a telegraph ahead of us, arranging for money from her late uncle’s estate to be waiting for us upon our arrival.

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Arrival in Denver
The Journal of Father Eric Brooks

September 22, 1875

Though we arrived in the general area of Denver last night, we only entered Denver proper this morning. It certainly is a city on the grow, for better or worse. I only wish Mr Marconi were still with us, as he would have thought we’d passed through the Pearly Gates on the way here. Our experiences that day taught us, however, that there are far more sinners than saints in this mile-high city.

As we neared town, we were accosted by beggar children – surrounded, in fact. And even though Charity is truly a virtue, we had nothing to give. Ever impatient, Danika fired one of her small pistols into the air, causing the children to scatter. We were dismayed to find these children had relieved us of some of our possessions, including two whole saddlebags from one of the pack-horses. Shortly thereafter, a man named Hank confronted us, demanding to know which of us (myself or Mirta) had fired at “his children”. As the situation escalated, guns were drawn between Hank and Danika. Just before true violence could break out however, Hank was shot in the back by another man. This man wore a tin star on his chest and introduced himself as a Deputy Ted Irvings of the Denver sheriff’s office – though "everyone calls me “Slick”".

Deputy Irving offered to show us to decent lodging in the city, and on the way gave us quite a tour – including an overview of local politics, businesses, and history. Finally, we came to the mouth of an alley. He instructed us that what we were looking for was on the other side, and took his leave.

The alley was narrow enough that we had to move single-file. I took the lead, with Miss Veila in the back, keeping the child between us. We found the passage blocked by a crate partway down, and just as we were preparing to move it, there was a cry from Danika. We were surrounded from in front as well as above by street children. They seemed to have no concept of the English language, and indeed did little more than hiss at us before they attacked.

I prefer to avoid fighting in general, and the thought of battling children is particularly distasteful. But we were left with no choice, as they were clearly intent upon killing us.

The events that follow, I only have vague impressions of. I was blinded early in the fight with a handful of sand, and spent a good amount of time trying not to be lynched. From what I could infer from the aftermath, Danika once again saved the day with – according to Miss Veila – an impressive display of acrobatics and hand-to-hand combat. I recall hearing in the background several wet thumping sounds during the ordeal – it turned out afterwards to be feral children Danika had thrown from the roof of one of the buildings. Up on that roof, she found the remains of several other unfortunates. It appears that we were meant to be these children’s latest meal.

Once the fighting subsided, I felt a great urge to get to a church and be absolved of my sins – particularly this latest, very terrible one. However, before we could move the blockage from our path, Slick returned. Apparently, his plan was to let the children take us for meat, then sell off our possessions for a tidy profit. Tempers flared, including my own, and in the ensuing altercation Danika slew the villainous deputy.

After removing ourselves from the alley, we set about securing goods for a trip to Salt Lake City. The last large city before the Rocky Mountains, Denver is the natural stocking-point for trains – both rail and wagon – headed west. It is a seller’s market, and the price is whatever the shopkeep feels he can get away with. We quickly determined that we didn’t have enough money to stock up for the two month trip through the mountains. We would need to find a source of income if we planned to continue from here.

Miss Veila retrieved a message from a nearby telegraph office, instructing her to visit a Mister Marcus Brown at the First Colorado State Bank in order to draw funds from her late uncle’s – now her – estate.

September 23, 1875

After spending the night in less than savory accommodations – both in price and atmosphere – we set out to locate the First Colorado State Bank. We quickly discovered that there is no First Colorado State Bank in Denver. We proceeded to the two main banking establishments in the city, in hopes of tracking down the correct location. As it turns out, Mister Brown had been employed at the First National Bank of Colorado, but has since passed away. Mister Kinkaid, another banker at the same establishment, had been assigned to this account. However, the gentleman keeps peculiar hours, and we have as yet been unable to contact him.

While we were waiting for a better time to meet with the banker, I was able to find the Cathedral of St Mary’s and took Danika and myself for a long-overdue confession. Though I tried to keep to the more recent events of Kansas and beyond, Father St Beuve could tell I was holding back and – at his prompting – I gave a full accounting of our tale thus far. Everything from when I joined the group in Texas, to the fiasco in Mexico, the possibly-unfounded “strangeness” going on in Oxford, even our run-in with settlers on the plains.

After receiving my penance, Father St Beuve asked to speak with me in his office. He assigned Father Swinburn the task of taking Danika’s confession. I believe I last saw that unfortunate man heading out of the sanctuary with a faraway, stunned look on his face.

In his office, Father St Beuve informed me that he had been tasked by Holy Mother Church to report on any strange goings-on in Denver. If nothing else came of this meeting, he at least promised to send someone to look into the situation concerning the barn in Kansas, which sets my mind somewhat at ease.

He was particularly interested in Miss Veila’s profession of archaeology – “tomb raiding” as he put it. He explained to me there were some strange things happening surrounding the local cemetery. People being seen about town after their own funerals, supposed ghosts, things of that nature, which seem to be following us around. Though I was unable to vouch for my companions, I agreed to bring it to their attention as a possible source of employment over the coming winter months. In the meantime, the Father agreed to put us up in the rectory, which is a very welcome change from the hard bedrolls and seedy rooms we have been staying in of late.

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The Investigation Begins
The Journal of Father Eric Brooks

September 23, 1875. Dinner

After settling into our new accommodations, we joined the good people of St Mary’s for dinner. Aside from Fathers St Beuve, and Swinburn – who was rather worse for drink – there was the caretaker Mrs. Johanson, her son Jamie, and a Northern gentleman who introduced himself as Chanticleer Arthur Thomson. Mr Thompson was a large man – head and shoulders above nearly anyone I’ve ever met – with a thick, full mustache and a preponderance of scars. We were to find out later that the man was a pugilist by profession, and was staying at the church as payment for performing odd jobs.

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Danika's First Entry
Danika's Diary

Danika Dark

Father Brooks thinks I should keep a journal. Mirta agreed that it would be a good way ta pratice my words and stuff. She promised ta help me if I wanted. I do not know how ta do this. Chanticleer says to just put in things about my life I don wanna ferget. He also says to start at the beginning. So that’s what I m gonna do.

I was takin care of myself just after I turned ten. Mirta says that because I did not have a mom or dad or my brothers and sister anymore I was an orpan. I don’t like that word. It sounds sad. Father Brooks said I could just say that I was lost for a little while. Until Rosalie found me. She was a ranger but no one knew she was a girl. Me and Marconi and Calvin and Keno and Mirta all worked for her. She made sure I had food and a safe place to sleep. That was before I had my derringer and could protect myself.

Marconi would think things in his head and then make them. Horses hated him and he didn’t like them none either.I think he just said he didn’t like em cause he only had one arm and couldn’t ride one anyway. He made this wagon that didn’t need em. It ran on ghost rock. He would let me drive sometimes. Calvin was a good gambler. That means he played cards for money. He taught me how to read and how to gamble too. I won a lot of money in Mexico once gambling. And Keno was a half indian girl who had a huge wolf dog as a pet. She was real good with a rifle and taught me how to shoot my guns. She didn’t take very good care of Pookie so he decided he liked me better. Keno went away. She just left and never came back. Mirta wears pants and dosent ride side saddle. She digs in the dirt and reads a lot.

Rosalie and all of us chased a few bad guys to Mexico. We got arrested and shot at. We gambled and shop and got the bad guys. Then zombies showed up and as we were trying to get out of town Rosalie blew up the place where they kept the gun powder and herself. But it did leave a hole for the rest of us to leave threw.

After that we met a Chinese lady named Yawnmay. She was cool. She could do what she called Martial arts. That is a fancy way of saying she was a good brawler. Me and Calvin rescued her once. And Pookie helped.

We went to Missippi after Mexico. I did not like it there! The town was scary Mrs Foster was a witch who wanted me to join her coven. She was evil. And she put a spell on the whole town cause they all did what she said. Calvin said they had a huge ruby that we had to find but Mirta got a letter about some important family stuff and Calvin went to the college to gamble with students and never came back. So we left for salt lake city to see her family and never got a chance to see the ruby. I wonder if salt lake city has a lake made of salt?

On the way to salt lake we got stuck in a really bad storm. Indians were fighting in the sky and throwing spears of lighting at us. Marconi almost got hit by one but I threw him on the ground just in time. We took cover in an old barn.It was falling apart and had holes in it but it worked. It had graves in the back room of three soilders. Marconi and Mirta and Father Brooks all got taken over by their ghost and relived a battle they were in. Me and Pookie got to meet a creepy old but young Indian guy who tried to help but didn’t know much more n we did about it. Marconi looked like he was having a bad dream so I tried to make it better like my mommy used to do for me and I woke him up. The Indian guy said I shoud not have done that cause a spirit piggy backed with him. So he hit on the head with a fryin pan ta put him back ta sleep. When he woke back up on his own his head hurt but there was no more ghost with him.

The Indian said that his people were mad at the way ours treated them and were getting back at us threw the spirit world. He was trying to figure out a way to put his people to rest. We were gonna help too. But all we ended up doing was putting Pookie to rest.

We needed water and other supplies so I went looking. I found a big farm house. Me and Pookie went to check it out and see if they had water. They did and I brought Father Brooks and Marconi back to get supplies. And then the next day Mirta came out with the rest of us too. I played with a few of the girls and then the older ones started saying that I wasn’t a girl cause I didn’t hit like one. I beat up their brothers the day bfore cause they followed me. And then the girls started saying mean things about Mirta and we started fightin. Then when I was winnin they ran. I chased em and ran into their older brothers. Who said they was goin to whoop me and then prove I was a girl. I fought back and called for Pookie to help. I guess they didn’t like Pookie eatin the heads of a few of thier kids. So they filled him full of bullet holes. After that the adults yelled back and forth they made us leave the farm and the area. They were mean.

We went back to the barn to get the rest of our stuff and to bury Pookie. Me and Mirta buried Pookie and Father Brooks did what he called last rites to put his soul to rest. He said animals don’t have souls but I know Pookie did. He was a good boy and he was my best friend. While we did that Marconi went to start loading the wagon. He ended up getting taken by these thugs. Thugs, that’s what Mirta called em. We tried to rescue him. We stashed the wagon and followed them for a few days but they figured out we was behind em and waited for us. Mirta and Father Brooks thought it best to just let the thugs have Marconi. So we decided to go on to salt lake.

On the way to salt lake we hit Denver. It is a huge town. We got lost and asked sherrif Slick where to go. He told us to go down this alley. He tricked us. Led us into a dead end with children who must have thunk we d be good eatin. We killed them and then had to kill the lyin sherrif too. After that Mirta went to see if she got a message from her family and then we went to the church. Father Brooks said I should take confession and he did too. I think I scered the priest who took mine cause he started drinking a lot afterwards. The church let us stay with them if we would look into weird things happening in the town.

That is where we met Chanticleer. He is staying there too. He is a boxer. He told me all about it one night and even teached me some moves. He seems ok. I don’t want to like him too much cause he might leave me too.

Well that is all I have in my head for now. I will try to write more sometime. This is kind of fun.

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Initial Journal Entry for Chanticleer
Journal entry for Chanticleer Arthur Thomson

I have finally arrived in Denver, and what a city.

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Boogey Men
Danika's Diary

I was playing with my new friends today and they was telling me bout some people who dissappeared from thier tenement. They was saying it was the boogey men.

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Circus
Danika's Diary

Today was an icky day and I dont think I like Chanticleer much any more.

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Circus (continued)
Danika's Diary

Afta I got somthin ta eat I went back ta the circus. I found Nitzka with other circus kids. They was gonna tell on me cause I am a townie and not supose ta be there.

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Mirta's Thoughts
Mirta's Thoughts

Life has been a journey so far. After leaving my parent’s home in Texas, I was recruited by a Texas Ranger for an assignment in Mexico. Unfortunately, that assignment didn’t go as planned and I shutter to think what has happened to that poor village.

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