"Fragments in two bundles from the journal of John Flowers, 1853 – unknown"
“John & the Revelator” is written in the style of 19th century cowboy diaries (including unconventional spelling/grammar) with a touch of magical realism.
John Flowers treks across the western frontier from the Dakota Territory to Texas, hoping to escape the ghost of his murdered partner and a gang of cowboys hellbent on revenge. Along the way he is joined by a wandering monk who has apocalyptic visions that could mean either salvation or destruction for them both. But Flowers has no patience for mysticism; he is determined to make it to Mexico before the fires of his past return to burn down his whole world.
Fragments in two bundles from the journal of John Flowers, 1853 – unknown.
Recovered from Monasterio de la Asunción de María, Cuernavaca, Morelos, México
(An unknown number of opening pages are missing. The journal ends June 26, 1872 with the following page missing and the remaining pages blank. Ellipses in square brackets […] indicate additional text or pages lost.)
May 7th, 1872
Com long a odd fellow to day. 4 days ride East from Deadwood. Most folks ride South fer Denver or Ogallala or West. So I reckon no one is scouting fer me out here. Jest open prairie and some big white canyons. Land spread out flat as a pan bottom, I can se soulders or Indians coming miles away. Thats how I seen him. Aint seen a soul in 3 days. Then thar his is, off crouched in a spot a new grass.
His appearance matches that of a bear or lame deer on first sight. So I draw my pistol and ride up curious. I se hes a man so I sit and watch a spell. A fellow out here with out a horse or friends is dangerous or crazed or in terrible bad luck. Or maby all three. He wears a thick warm cloak. Brown with a hood and rope belt. Some priest or mishonary I reckon. He holds a dead bird, some phesant or prairie chicken. Its head is cracked back hanging loos. I holster my pistol and holer, Ho thar friend. You got some to share?
I aint ate a good meal since Deadwood and Im powerful hungry. Fellow dont even look at me, like hes def. Jest whispers to that dead bird and draws a cross on it. I nigh fall outta my saddle when I se that birds head flip up. Priest tosses it in the air and off it flys. Whyd you do that fer? I say. Priest looks at me now. He dont speak nothing and I can se he aint ate in longern me. Wherebouts you headed to Father or Reverend or? I aint stood in no church since I was a boy, I confess. I cant recollect what hes called.
Thar you are, Priest sais. I have been wandering these ten days. Thought youd be two.
I ride alone Priest, I say.
We should be on our way my son. Those clouds give the appearance of rain, he sais and points.
Skys blue, flee bit with little white clouds but I se darkness building on the horizon. Reckon they do. Well good luck to you Priest, I say. Hes a odd fellow out here lonesome and hungry. Appears as old as my own Pa would be if he werent already left this world. To weak shurely to survive long in these bad lands. He eyes my horse like he already knows what Im bout to do. I look back the way I com. Aint seen a soul in 3 days. Fine, I say and pull him up behind me […]
May 9th, 1872
I catch the ol Priest walking shoeless this morn. Likely been walking hours fore I find him. He peers all round like hes lossed some thing.
My friend should be back soon, Priest sais. I hope with an olive branch if these flood waters have begun to reside.
I look round and dont se no water. Jest flat prairie and canyon off yonder. Couple sharp buttes cut up the horizon. What water? I ask. Lands dry as bones.
Open yur eyes, he sais. This sea is far and deep as Noah’s. We are geting close.
I believe hes been out here alone fer to long. His eyes is gone foul. Do you truly se a ocean, Priest? And what friend do you speak of? I ask him
My feathered friend of course, he sais. You met him. Do you not se the flood my son?
Come long ol fellow. Lets git you some grub. I lead him back to camp and leave him thar to tend the fire. I go check my rabbit snare and by God well be eating this day! When I reach fer the rabbit I sight a odd shaped stone. On close inspection tis a sea shell but hard like rock. I show it to the Priest and inquire what he means bout some sea.
Tis a sign of judgement my son, Priest sais. The end is nigh, but God in his mercy has sent you to aid me.
Aint no God sent me Priest, I say. Priest dont know the fate a those that stick with me to long. He aint seen the flames nor bullets fly. I enquire whats his mission?
Why to find the new Jerusalem. The new Heaven and new Earth, he sais.
I dont know bout no new Jerusalem, I say. My calculation is to keep riding East till tomarrow then dog leg South fer old Mexico.
That is a good path, Priest sais.
If you say so, I say.
We breakfast and head off by 9. Tis quiet remainder a the day.
May 10th, 1872
Head South to day. Aint seen a soul since I struck out a Deadwood. Excepting the priest. Still I wont feel safe till Im off these ol drover trails and in to Mexico. I try warning the ol fellow off. Tell him Im a bad man, nor do I care fer his fool mission. But I cant git shed a him. He keep asking me bout my pardner and where is he. I dont recollect mentioning my ol pardner, though I mustve. Maby in my dreams. I do have most frightful dreams since he died. Since I let him die.
May 11th, 1872
Fine day. Sun with pleasant breeze. Sighted a band a Indians off on the horizon. Steered clear.
May 12th, 1872
Priest in a right fit to day. Holering bout some massacre. Seals opening and folks slaughtered. Scalped and heads cut off. Hole town swallowed up in to the earth. Right frightful words. I try to quiet him. Thar aint no folks round fer miles, I say. Jest Indians and we aint seen but a trace of em yisterday. We make to cross the Missouri river near Crow Creek and Priest falls in to terrible hysterics. River is turn to blood, he holers.
Tis jest water Priest, I ashure him. I have thunder giting us crost that river. He quiets down futher South we ride […]
May 16th, 1872
We noon up a little Nebraska town. Im ready fer a bathe and barber’s chair. Been weeks since my chin was smoothed off. I higgle a small room off the livery. Leave the Priest and horse thar. They both a them seem wore out from many days rideing. I jest finish my bathe when some fellow come and interupts me. Git now, I tell him, I aint had my shave yet.
Tis yer pardner, fellow sais. Hes causeing a regular public disturbance. Sheriff sent me to collect you quick.
I dress and hurry after him to the livery. Things is worse than he let on. Hole crowd a mad towns folk surrounds the barn. Livery it self is got flames climeing the walls and black smoke puffing out its roof. The hells going on? I shout. Wheres the sheriff?
Fellow with a star finds me. You with that priestly fellow? He done stirred up a nest a trouble.
He aint no trouble, I say. Hes unarmed and dont even drink none.
He got a devil in him, Sheriff sais. Sais he sees plague poured out on this town. Folks and they younguns covered over in hard bumps. That kind a talk put a powerful scare in those what survived the small pox once already. Folks reckon he come to finish the job. They will burn the hole place down to save em selfs.
You must stop em! My horse is stabled in thar!
Tis only me, Sheriff sais. My soul deputy was shot last week and no one is stood up to replace him.
Well cuss you! I say. You is no law. Wheres the Priest now?
Sheriff points to the barn.
What! I like to give him one in the face. But I got plenty trouble as it is. I push thrugh the mob to the burning barn. Now I hear horses screaming. A memory takes hold a me and Im ten years old agin. I wake on my blanket in our wagon. Ma is screaming, rushing I and the baby out. Dont know where Pa is. I se severel men out trying to rustle frightened horses. Im confused on account a the brightness. I think tis day light but the skys black. Then I se tis flames and smoke. All round camp, rushed up over the prairie on a windy night. I choke and my lungs burn. One wagon is already a light. Horses and mules is running this way and that. Some leaping in to the flames. I cry fer my Pa. Ma gathers I and the baby to the middle a camp. She tries to shield us from the heat and smoke till it fills our lungs so we cant stand no more. I wake to a black ash land. The hole camp, each wagon and the horses and our friends all strewn about. What the fire aint consumed is chared and smoking still. Ma and my sister is singed but not burnt. But nor is they breathing. My tears make a black mud in the ashes. Then I se him, Paul, my own age and my friend. We walk away from that terrible place and aint never been separate since. Least til Deadwood.
I shake my head clear. Flames round the barn is tall as a man. Pull a kerchief over my face and shoulder thrugh the door. Sparks fly and a rush a hot air and flame nigh to nock me off my feet. I find the back room where I rented and se the Priest laying still on his blanket. He aint conscious but hes breathing. Im surprised at his lightness. I carry him out the room back in to the barn. Horses still in thar scream and kick at they stalls. I set the Priest down and make a try at unlatching the doors. I shoo em out best I can, but theys panicked and choked and some cant find the out side door. The roof commences to fall in now. I pick up the Priest and rush out.
The mob is parted from the scared horses and makes a easy path fer us. A sea of faces shineing red from the fire. One of em shouts out, Theys both devils! Look how the flames recoil from him. Fire aint touched him at all.
With the Priest over my shoulder I make a run past the crowd and clear out a town with out stoping to look back. I run till my legs give up severel miles out in a little spot a timber. Priest still aint waked so I find some brush fer cover and we lay up fer the night.
May 17th, 1872
Priest is revived by sun up. But with no supplies and no horse tis slow going. A terrible hot day to. Priest dont mind the walking but Id like to make Mexico fore Im old as he is. Whyd you go rile up em folks? I ask him.
Tis not for me to hide what God has shown, Priest sais.
I shurley wish youd keep it to yerself. Yer liable to git the both a us killed, I say. What is it you keep seeing?
I se the end, Priest sais.
But that town done suffered the small pox and some survived it. Are you saying theys due fer another round? And what was that up Crow Creek bout some massacre or sea? Thar werent nothing but peaceful grassland?
I am but a vessel. I se what is revealed to me, Priest sais.
You se trouble is all. I must be blind not to se it to. You cost me a saddle and a good horse. I should leave you right here!
I squint and nigh make out chimney smoke. Closer we find tis a lonesome cabin with a little barn and corral. I recognize the fellow thar from the crowd up town yisterday. I tell Priest to wait behind some cover till sun down. Come dark I sneak over and annex 2 a them horses and saddles. I reckon that town owes us. Now wes square.
May 18th, 1872
With two fresh mounts I and the Priest put severel miles between us and that town. I hope to make Dodge City by months end. Keep my ears open thar fer word on Deadwood and my ol parder Paul. Terrible hot day. I tell Priest I wish fer a change in this weather. He points to the horizon and I se a storm front building. Werent thar this morn. Cools us some but stirs up a powerful wind.
May 21st, 1872
Kept journal wrapped in oil cloth 2 days that storm follered us. Hole heavens was turned loos with falling weather, rain and hale. Every thing wet. Priest he […]
May 23nd, 1872
At cross road. Is we in Kansas yet? Rain done washed out clear trail markers. On a quandary which is trail or run off […]
May 27th, 1872
Must be nigh to Dodge City now. All quiet. I and Priest giting on finely. Maby hes done with his hysterics.
May 28th, 1872
Seen a farmer digging hisself a well. I trade severel feet a dirt fer a hot supper. Im down in the hole when Priest gits that funny look in his eye. I think, Oh hell here we go!
Keep digging, sais Priest, but you will find no water here. The under ground lakes are dry. No water here. Tis all used up. The air, the hole earth is changed. Warmer, can you feel it? In there greed men have brought the end to this earth.
Farmer is nervous. Whats he speak of? Is yer friend a water witcher? Ask him where we should dig, farmer sais.
Whats that you se now Priest? I say. Thars no one here but us and this family. Closest neighbors he sais is a days ride out. What greedy men?
Open yur eyes my son, Priest sais.
Should he dig some other place? Over yonder? I ask. I take another heave and my shovel strikes mud. Another foot and cool water come bubbling up. I shout fer joy and wipe the swet from my face. Fore I can climb out a that hole my boots is wet. Yer connetion must broke, I tell the Priest. Thars plenty a water right here!
June 1st, 1872
Ride up Dodge City Kansas today. I leave Priest at our camp long the Arkansas river out side a town. Wait here a spell, I tell him. I dont want no trouble like we had up that Nebraska town. Sides I dont aim on staying long.
I wear a full beard now and hope it conceals my appearance. I head over to the Long Branch saloon. If ever thars folks willing to loosen they lips fer a drink or coin thats where they be. I sidle up that long polished bar. Ask the barman if any fellows come this way from Deadwood. Week ago perhaps more, he sais. You want to inquire with Miss Delila thar. She seen to some.
I find Miss Delila over with a drover gabing on bout some beef drive hes on. Big pay out hes promising. Will she wait fer him on his return from Ogallala next month hes asking. I motion fer her to com over. Drover looks dagers at me, but Miss Delila strokes his face. Shur hon, she sais. You com find me once you git paid. He walks off and she com up right clost me. I thank you sir. That boy bout jawed my ear clean off, she sais and touches my hand. No what can I do fer you?
Im jest after information, I say. Have you any word on a outfit com thrugh here from Deadwood? A big fellow OConnor leading em?
I might seen the boys yer after, she said.
I open my wallet. They aint much left, but I hand over couple dollars.
Nigh two weeks past 8 or 10 boys ride up town, Miss Delila sais. Mean and rough fellows the lot a em. Said they was on some mission a vengence. Yer OConnor was with em, asking bout a fellow name a John Flowers. He seem like a bad fellow to. A woman and child killer, I reckon he deserves what thunders coming.
Wherebouts they headed? I ask.
Didnt say. Rode off South, she sais. She give me a long look. You should take care tracking those fellows. Yer appearance matches that what they give a Flowers.
Never hurd a him. Much obliged, I say. I give her another dollar and take my leave.
Thats more fellows than I reckoned on. Word a that day musta spread. Maby theys the greedy men Priest spoke of. If theyd jest left us alone. If theyd not tryed taking what werent theres. No one paid no mind to us fore our stake struck a vein. But gold fever infects the hole town a Deadwood. I recollect I and Paul in that hotel loby celebrating our good luck. We shoulda kept our mouths shut.
That mines part a my claim, OConnor sais. You boys been digging whats mine.
Yer a dam liar OConnor and a thief to, Paul sais. OConnor stands and reaches fer his pistol but I draw first. The hole room freezes up stiller than statues. OConnors got 4 with him aginst I and Paul. A child in the corner cries, his mother shushes him.
You boys take yer disagreement out side, barman sais.
You hurd him, OConnor sais. He makes fer the door.
A lantern on one a the tables busts and in a blink the hole tables in flame.
I said no guns inside, barman holers.
Aint no one fired, I say.
Now the flames is flung crost the plank floor. Creates a wall between I and Paul and the OConnor gang. Paul smiles. The child cryes louder. Mother grows hysterical as theys behind the flames to. Paul this aint worth it, I say. We can find another claim. Maby it will all stop.
Stop it then, Paul sais.
Tis hot as hell in that lobby now. Fire edging closer to the walls, filling the room all excepting a opening nigh to I and Paul and the door. OConnor and his boys se this. What the Devil! You will kill us all! OConnor shouts.
This aint me. Aint no one fired no shots! We can settle this peaceful, I say.
John we must leave or end this, Paul sais. He motions fer the door. The room is all bright heat and screams and smoke now. Paul grabs his side. He coughs and stumbles. Fire aint never affected him so. I grab him and pull him out side. He cant stand. Coughs agin blood this time. Go! he sais. I pull him but hes heavy. He spits blood. His side is wet and red.
I hear the gun shots now. Bullets flying out the walls and open door. I duck and pull him aside. Com on parnder our horses aint far, I say.
Give me my pistol. Ill hold em off. You know I aint leaving this place, Paul sais. I cant leave my only friend. He shoves me and sais Go! A chair crashes out the window and OConnnor climbs over. Paul fires at him. I run. I reach the horses and look back to se OConnor standing over Paul. Paul aint moving. I spur my horse outta that town and dont stop till dark.
June 2nd, 1872
I and the Priest ride on South. I reckon Mexico is still my safest course. He dont say it but I can tell hes nervy after my return yisterday. He knows I aint told him every thing. I aint told him how it was to early still in Deadwood that day fer lanterns to be lit. Nor do I tell him bout the prairie fire what come up outta the night long ago when I and John was jest children.
June 3rd, 1872
Drizzly morn. Noon up a small creek to water the horses. All quiet […]
June 5th, 1872
I grow tired a this flat prairie land. I strain my eyes on the horizon alert fer shadows or dust cloud or any sign a riders. My dreams grow worse. Seems no rest fer me day nor night. Must be nearing Indian Territory soon […]
June 8th, 1872
Days run together. I loos track a when I scribble in this journal. Priest is quiet. Aint said words in days excepting fer prayers.
June 9th, 1872
Big crowd a Indians gathered fer horse racing today. Nooned a ways off but still in sight a the excitement. I want to join em but my wallet is nigh empty and Priest dont carry no money. Sides my horse aint in no shape fer racing. So we make our own little wagers. My lunch, a dryed beef strip, aginst Priest’s ration a coffee grounds. The little paint pony I picked wins and I cheer my good luck.
Tis a dry day. That quarter mile dirt track kicks up powerful dust what carryes far off as we is. Priest coughs and sits down his lunch. He stands, holds his armes up. Do you se the darkness coming? he sais.
Tis a fine day Priest, I say. Hardly a cloud nor shadow.
Open yur eyes my son. The sixth seal is opened. Red earth clouds fill the heavens. Blacks out the sun and moon. Fills the lungs of man and beast. Crops fail and the land is made barren. Desolation. Pray for deliverance my son. This is the end shurley, Priest sais.
Priest quiet down, I say. This aint no time fer yur hysterics. I git him in his saddle and pony his horse wide a the Indian races. He goes on fer another hour bout great winds and earth blown outta its place in to the heavens. I offer him his coffee back but he gabs on.
June 10th, 1872
A few little clouds this morn. Will be a pretty day I reckon. Priest is quiet today. He takes longer recovering from his fits. Like he dont want the world the way it is, but how he seen it. He sais were closer than ever to his New Jerusalem.
June 17th, 1872
Ran outta pages. Country’s so thin settled I cant buy no new pages til Dallas Texas. I feared swiming the Priest over the Red River, but he cross it splendidly. I inquire the shop keeper bout OConnor. He aint hurd him. I find a livery stable to make a trade on our horses. Theys much fatigued from so many days rideing. I is to but I cant stop now. Im switching saddles when the Priest has another fit. Fine time. Least the trades done already.
The beast! I se him, Priest sais. Rising up from a foreign land. His army reachs across the sea. I se men the world over readying for war. Turning there plowshares to swords. Great machines of death roll over the land, fly thrugh the air and sea. Rivers turned to blood. All of yur young men slaughtered. Oh! he holers and nigh falls over. Oh! A great explosion like a star falls from heaven. The hole city is consumed! Oh, end of days!
A crowd gathers round the hysterical Priest. I se the same fear in they eyes I seen back up that Nebraska town. The crowd commences to shout. I se flashs a pistols unholstering. Priest quiet down. We must go now, I say. Then I hear that voice above the crowd.
Whats this commotion? OConnor holers. I hide my face and try to pull the Priest away. Whos that? Flowers is that you? OConnor sais. Boys we found him now! Tis John Flowers the devil a Deadwood!
Forgive me Priest, I say and I hit him hard over the head. He seem to recognize me. Git on yer horse, I say.
This is not my horse, Priest sais.
She is now. We must ride. I say.
The crowd parts as we fly past. I se OConnor and his boys saddle up. I and Priest race down dirt roads past houses and shops and folks scurry away. Bridge over the Trinity Rivers to far. I spur my horse in to the water. OConnor fires but speed and distance hobble his aim. Crost the river I and Priest find cover in a small live oak grove. I feel now a terrible pain in my arme. One a OConnor’s bullets hit its mark. I take two hands to steady my pistol. Wait fer em to approach the river then fire. I put holes in three men fore Im clean a bullets. OConnor’s horse goes under to but he swim back up the bank. Water is red thar from the mud stired up and blood.
Water to blood, Priest sais. Tis yur gift.
Aint no thing I ever asked fer, I say. You tell yer God all I want is to git to Mexico and live a quiet life. I aint asked fer none a this.
Our duty is but to receive and obey, Priest sais.
Com on Priest, lets git fore OConnor and his outfit can foller us crost that river.
June 18th, 1872
Clouded up last night but no rain this morn. Arme is in conciderable pain. I dig out the bullet but the bleeding wont stop. I and Priest push our horses 35 miles over hard country. No sign a OConnor. Maby I got shed a him yet.
June 19th, 1872
Im very much fatigued after another long days ride. Priest tends to my arme. Sais words and makes signs over me. Still it bleeds some. My scribbling hand to.
June 20th, 1872
Hot to day and no clouds. Com eve I seen a plume a dust rise from the North. I reckoned the ground was to hard and dry to leave a hot trail. No fire to night. Supplies is running low […]
June 23rd, 1872
OConnor still on our trail. Were able to keep a head a him but the horses is nigh worn out. Aint had steady grazing in two days. Nor me. I give my last 5 dollars fer supplies up San Antonio. Right pretty town with its ol missions and haciendas and big weeping trees. Wish I had time to look round. Mexico is close now. 3 or 4 days ride Im told. If we make it.
June 25th, 1872
Cant tell who is most wore out I or my horse. Hes huffing like his lungs is broke. I pass out thrice in the saddle. My arme is ever worse and its take on a rot smell now. Still we must press on as OConnor wont let up. Priest remains silent excepting fer his prayers.
June 26th, 1872
Got off early this morn 6 oclock. My horse give out by 9. Fell right under me and nigh broke my leg. I transfer few supplies to Priest’s pack and leave the beast thar where he lay with my saddle. I hop up with Priest and we continue on. No stop fer noon rest as OConnors so close now I make out five fellows what ride with him. Wheres that Rio Grande Ive com so far to cross?
We ride another hour fore I tell Priest, Jest stop. That little hill thar with that felled tree and all that brush is as fine a place as any. We dismount and tie the horse off a ways in a thicket. Priest I shurley wish youd take up this other pistol a mine, I say. But hes staring off to the horizon. Whats that? You se em? I ask.
I se the angels tarry ahead. We have arrived my son, finely arrived. Heaven and Earth are refreshed. The new Jerusalem, fruitful and everlasting jest thar a head. Tis so bright and glorious. Our tribulations have ended my son. We have found that peaceable kingdom at last, Priest sais.
I stare out to. I desire so to spy what he sees. But tis jest bright hot sun over head and six terrible shadows approaching. I shurely hope yer right Priest, I say. Tis a better ending than I se.
Daniel K. Miller is a Texas based writer and teacher. He holds graduate degrees from Duke University and the University of Edinburgh. His short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in literary journals such as Cleaver, Entropy, Gulf Stream, Hippocampus Mag., and The Hopper. His story “Fall Cutting” was a finalist for the 2021 Texas Institute of Letters Best Short Fiction award. Novels include Fire on the Firth and Loch and Key (Level Best Books). www.danielkmillerauthor.com