Realms Podcast
Denali, Denial

Denali, Denial

A diary account of the Denali War, 1881.

CW: Before we begin, I want to make readers aware that today’s story is a historical fiction piece that has elements of violence and racism. 

Welcome to Realms of Roush, a monthly newsletter that takes you to new worlds. Enjoy sci-fi and fantasy short stories, and the occasional personal essay - and soon reviews! - both as text and audio, every month!

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Something I’m trying to do is connect with more writers on Substack and beyond. Today, I want to shout out a writer and project I’m really enjoying:

is writing a new serialized series called Marredbury

Here’s a summary!

In a near-future city haunted by its own dark history, evil lurks beneath the surface. Enter Marredbury, a chilling serial anthology that weaves together a tapestry of haunting tales from the past and a contemporary digital nightmare.

Carla Bird, an unsuspecting IT professional, is thrust into a strange project involving the decryption of files from the abandoned Colby Corp site in Old Town Marredbury. Little does she know that these files hold the eerie stories of the town's namesake. From Gigi Talcon's peculiar gardenias to the unforeseen consequences of a night of recreational drug use, Carla can't dismiss these narratives as mere fiction, especially as she witnesses unsettling occurrences in her new surroundings…

I loved part I of Marredbury so much. It’s so atmospheric and jumps right in to the weirdness. If this piques your interest, read part I here:

Indie Fiction Digest
Welcome to Marredbury (Part 1 of 2)
Asa and her husband's idyllic renovation project turns into a nightmarish ordeal when the history of the house intertwines with Asa's reality. In a bid to uncover the truth, Asa must confront the chilling tragedies that lurk within the house. Start with…
Read more

And now without further ado…

Denali, Denial

The following pages have been archived in the Museum of Freedom by the Portland Research Bureau. They are deemed dangerous to the cause. Private Goldbryar offered them willingly. We have decided not impugn his loyalty nor press charges for their anti-Founder nature. With censorship, these might prove a valuable addition to the museum. 

- Captain Howard Bulls

January 5th, 1881 - Aboard Glory of Isaac Stevens, near Vancouver

War is officially declared! The Ruskies have really got it coming for them. Got ten ships with ten battalions in all. We’re fresh off the line. Can’t say I felt excited during the training, but with all this firepower, how can I not be confident? They sent us with rifles that might as well be red hot they’re so new. Gigantic artillery, portable telegram transmitters, and those men-lookin machines, automatons, were sent too. Never seen their like before. Don’t know if any other state in the Union has its own army like Oregon does. I know I’m gonna make my momma proud. She got all teary-eyed, seeing me fighting for my country. 

‘Even though them Russians is white, don’t mean they don’t deserve the stick,’ she said. 

‘Nobody messes with Oregon,’ is what I said.

There’s the bell, time for some slop. Maybe I’ll grab an ale with my unit. They seem a good sort. Some units, I heard, got prisoners in them. Working their time off. There’s even Indians off the reservations from some government program to get them productive. I know them other boys talk like they prisoners and Indians is lower than us. But I got a feeling it won’t matter when the bullets is flyin’.

February 25th, 1881 - Anchorage, Alaska

Things ain’t gone so well. It’s why it’s been so long since I wrote.  

The Ruskies were ready. More prepared than anybody knew. Lost four ships on the way to port. All those men and materiel sank right off Kalgin Island. Some survivors. Didn’t help that so much of our new gear ain’t winterized. Oil froze up in the automatons. More trouble than they worth. Takes something like an hour to program their protocols so they kill the enemy and not us. Fat lot of good they did. 

We got ourselves a beach head at Point MacKenzie ’n dug in. Trenches go way south into the forests. Them ships left us to go cut off Ruskie support. They don’t hit us with the big guns so much no more. 

The name of the game is waitin, accordin to the officers. Waitin for the end of winter. The signs are there. Dripping icicles. A burst of green brush. The hunger for warmth and life is in the air, but our hunger doesn’t end. We’re low on food and supplies and support. One more push, they say. One more push and we’ll break the Ruskies. I think they mean it the other way. 

Smaller boats brought in a fresh run of guns and machines to help us. Why not food? And clothes? 

‘Metal doesn’t fatigue, Private,’ Captain Bulls said when I asked. I wanted to punch him in the mouth. 

February 27th, 1881 - Trenches Near Knik, Alaska

We broke through. They’re melting away into them frozen hills past the lakes. I’ve taken a wound to the hip. A flesh wound. We’ve got the mines back, though. I’m getting good care in the hospital, an old general store. Lots of buildings turned into hospitals now.

Me and the boys in my section done fallen in love with the nurse. Nurse Virginia. She’s got beautiful dark brown hair, cut short, and a smart mouth that makes us all hoot and holler. Her face is sharp, too, but not in a starved way. Looks real nice. I try not to stare. 

Some of the boys think she’s one of them Indian nurses. If they look good, do it matter? I don’t know. My momma’s always been one of those whites first kinda people. Most recently she joined up with that new group, the Founders. They quite literally worship George Washington. I went to one meeting. They said all sorts of fancy stuff like ‘American destiny’ and ‘white hegemony’ but I din’t like it. Seems like it’s all made up. Point is, Nurse Virginia’s lovely no matter how you slice it. She even let me hold one of those quartzicon rocks from the mines. It’s a crystalline lump shot through with lines of bronze or copper. 

I held the thing in my hand and couldn’t believe it. I said, ’This is what we’re fighting for? This shiny rock?’

‘People have killed for less,’ Nurse Virginia said.

I said, ‘I know we saved them folks in Anchorage, but the rest of this feels like just fightin for money.’

She just held a tight grin, pained-like. ‘Best not say that too loud.’

I got scared after she said that. She’s right. The officers been crackin down. I don’t know if I oughta write about it or not, neither. I will just ask this: is this war really worth the death? My unit’s down to half its size. And it’s obvious there ain’t many people to save. We’re only here for the damned rock. The thing that powers the automatic trains, metal horses, Switchboards, and God knows what else down there in Portland.

February 28th, 1881 - Talkeetna, Alaska

Ceasefire talks begun. We’re all talkin bout goin home! The officers been breakin out rations of hooch and tobacco. There’s gonna be dance halls set up. Gonna be some grand celebrations. I’m inviting nurse Virginia. Even bartered with a local for a fancy red scarf for her. I hope she likes it. I hope she says yes. I suppose some other guy will ask, too. Yancey’s the best lookin. She’ll probably say yes to him. Hold on here she is.

She said yes. I gotta wash up. 

All right, just writing this down so I don’t forget. Best night of my life. Virginia is a sweet gal and a great dancer. Had a lot of fun. Trying not to get too excited about it. Momma always said I got too excited about things. She looked lovely, dancing in those nurse whites and the red scarf flying around. 

Best night of my life. Best night—

I barely got away. It was a ruse. We’re surrounded. I feel so small. The trench is cold. My hip aches from the runnin. Hand’s frozen like claws. I’m so small. The night is big and wide. The stars watch us die. Muzzles flash from afar. Cannons boom. Someone let the automatons loose without protocols. They’re huntin in the hills now. Don’t know if my unit made it. Or Nurse Virginia. Hospital got hit bad. 

I want to survive. I want to go home.

I’m sorry, Momma. If I don’t make it, think better of me. 

March 2nd, 1881 - Hills near Talkeetna, Alaska

Two days since the massacre. We been run out of the mining town into the hills just like we run the Ruskies out before. We’re freezing our asses off. The glare of the sun on the snow is blinding. With our scopes, we can see the Russians wearing our darkened glasses, laughing, waving at the hills. 

Me and Virginia been puzzlin out how the Ruskies managed to rout us. 

The generals, ours n theirs, was all in one of the field tents. From what we know, the talks were goin well. Then someone opened fire. No one knows who. But General Bauman died. That’s when it all started. It was right when I got in bed. People was still partying. The Ruskies that were partying got up, sober as snakes, started shooting inside the dance hall. I woke to gunfire, got my gear and journal, then it all exploded.

I got out from the rubble and got my bearins. The town was covered in fire, horses running amok, soldiers screaming and holding wounds, Ruskies shooting and runnin. I got a gun, tried to rally anyone I could find. Everything was spinning, the smoke in the air choking, the cold biting. Virginia found me and stuck like glue. She had a gun, too.

Just hours before, we were laughing, twirling, singing to Maid in the Bay.

We found Captain Bulls. He was trynna get the automaton  technician to set loose the tin men. The technician refused, since it takes an hour or so to set up the protocols. Bulls shot him dead on the spot. Got the other tech to do the work. He done removed important things like some targeting matrix, dog tag radio approval, and powered em up. 

The machines’ red eyes glowed, lighting up them monstrous faces they made with. Gargoyles and wolves and demons and worse. They went after anything that moved. Cut down the assistant with their curved blades. Started firing their pneumatic rifles at us soldiers. I ran. Virginia did too. 

The machines went after the Russians next. It was like watching a scythe go through wheat. The screams never ended. But the artillery fire did. By morning, yes this all transpired in the night, we had recouped up in the hills. 

But we’re trapped. The Russians are firmly ensconced in their own hidey-holes between us and Anchorage. Winter’s screamed back in, unleashing snow and ice, hiding the sun so we don’t know what day it is. The bodies out there have drawn wolves.

March 3rd, 1881 - Somewhere in the hills

I’m out of smokes. Out of salted meat. Not much real food left. Bulls and another officer, the last two, started handing out trench pills between the scant meals. There’s more pills than food. They keep us going. Take the edge off the hunger and cold. I just hope the shakes don’t make me miss when I need to shoot.  

Virginia’s only one left to care for the men - the surgeon died and the other nurses gone missin. She’s doing all the amputations and stitching. I keep an eye on her. Don’t know what these desperate men’ll do. She’s very calm. She’s been through worse than this, it seems. Her kindness got an edge to it now, but it’s kindness still. 

She told me about her life growing up. Father a gold prospector, mother an Indian. Mother died of some illness, so she seen a lot of the high country with her dad. Then he dropped her in a school to forget about her. 

I told her, ‘Don’t know my daddy. Got that in common. Missin a parent makes you wonder bout your place in the world.’

She said, ‘Plenty people got two parents and more family livin close and they’re still miserable.’

I said, ’Only cure for misery is to share it. Like it says in the good book, my burden is easy and my yolk is light. Just means that whatever burdens you got, you gotta get em shared.’

She looked kinda said after that. She said, ‘Never looked at it that way. Always thought it meant God didn’t come for free.’

I replied, ‘Ain’t nothin’ for free, Virginia. That’s a fact ‘o life. But it ain’t about what we can get and get away with. You and I, what we share has a cost, but it’s worth it.’

‘Yes, Private Goldbryar. I suppose it is,’ she said.

March 4th, 1881 - Somewhere in the hills

We’re not alone at night. There are things that look like wolves, have their flickering eyes, but stand taller than a man. Whisperings of half-man, half-wolves are rampant through the camp. Virginia tells me stories of such creatures, passed all the way to the natives of Sacramento, where her mother came from. 

She said we’re all gonna be addicted to the trench pills. Says we already are. I know what she means. We all line up for our doses at the same time, get all antsy if it’s a minute late. Hope they don’t run out. 

Men are going missing. Abandoning their post when no one’s looking. It doesn’t take long to find their frozen body in the dawn, holes in heads through the mouth. Or missing limbs. Or smiling from the sweet release of death. I heard when you freeze to death you feel all warm at the end. Sounds mighty nice.

March 10th, 1881 - Lost

Cold. Hungry. Only pills left. Only bodies. Red eyes in the night. Yellow in the light. My skin crawls. Need more pills. Talks of a strategic retreat over the mountains. Dumbest thing I ever heard. I will not go. I will not go.

My hands shake. Hardly can write. Got to write to stay awake.   I have to stay awake. So eye write. I pills take. I sleep with my mind open. Eyes snoring goodly. I’m thin as paper. Paper as thin. Virginia laughs at everything. It’s all funny as clowns. The sky’s blue as hot coals. My face burns on snow.

March 15th, 1881 - Anchorage, Alaska

The Russians got routed. A new wave of recruits and machines came through and din’t make no mistakes like we did. Blew them all to hell. Myself and a hundred others limped down to Anchorage. Virginia and I walked arm in arm. She looked half-dead. Half-starved, too. Eyes glazed. Don’t know how I kept myself together. Probably cause of her. She  and I ended up spending nights together. Not more than for warmth. Everywhere I looked, I saw the dead. The hills and roads of Denali were packed with the empty and the lifeless. 

What a waste. All for some rock in the ground. 

I took the flywheel from the heart of an automaton to remember it all. The gear, bronzed and polished, was cracked on one side. A broken heart, I joked. Virginia didn’t laugh. 

April 1st, 1883 - Portland, Oregon

Been more’n a year since I wrote in this journal. I can hardly remember the details. I don’t want to remember them, anyhow. I found work in the Founder government. That little social club now governs Oregon and Washington - they say they gonna make it one big state. 

I’m in with the Portland Research Bureau as security detail for the Wollstonecrafts. Don’t know how I managed it. These are some big wigs. I think Momma worked her magic. These people are focused and intense. They seem to think everyone white and not is going rebel any day now. Lucky for me, I just man the door leading into the operations room. I’m safe. Underground. Always warm. Everyone I know wonders how I put myself back into the uniform. But they don’t know. They don’t understand. I’m not safe anywhere but here. I can’t be out in the world as a military dog. Better to be the louse in the dog’s fur. The people who ordered me and my men to death are all close to me.

I ain’t seen Virginia. I want to. I don’t think she wants to see me. I just want to know that someone else knows it was all real. Does she still see red eyes in her dreams? Muzzle flashes? Screams echoing out into those hills like giant teeth? Does she scream herself awake in the night? 

I don’t like remembering. I don’t think I’ll be writing much here ever again. 

I wonder if she kept the scarf or lost it out there among the dead.

Thank you for reading and listening to Denali, Denial!

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Look out in your inboxes for the first Realms of Roush book review. I’ll be talking about The Trackers by Charles Frazier. My review is going to be short and sweet. A little bit of summary, some quotes, and whether you should read it or not!

Until next time, Realm Walkers, 

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