Part 1.

"When you see someone putting on their Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an Adventure is going to happen." - A.A Milne, Winnie The Pooh.


Poppy Aisling pulled on her big boots, red leather and bright as blood. She hadn't packed much, carrying with her a small bag filled with her canteen and other small but necessary items. On her hips there were holsters slung up with her grandfather's No. 3 revolvers. The handles still smelled like the sweet tobacco he had once smoked. That was back when he still had air in his lungs to smoke with, before he died with dust and sand rattling around in his throat, old and tired. All because of this drought, this curse. This damned curse.

It was his death that was the last straw. He and her grandmother had raised Poppy as their own, after her teenaged mother and father had eloped and left her good as dead in her abandoned crib. He was her real father, more than her biological one. He had been there for her. And he was now dead. Poppy promised herself that she would leave Sugarhill and find a way to break the curse that had made it so barren and like a wasteland.

"I'm going now, Auntie." Poppy told her only living relative. Augusta Lilwell was a character unto herself, an aging woman who loved to go around town in her tackiest clothes, winking at the local men in that cheeky way of hers. She looked at this moment as she would always look whenever Poppy would think about her in memories: wearing her tattered silk rope, her hair twisted up wildly, her last drop of pink wine cozy in her hand. On her lap, one of the many stray cats she gave a home to was curled. While she was an admittedly ridiculous woman, Gusty was a dear and loved Poppy very much.

"Be careful, Pudding Pop." Gusty said, tears standing in her big rheumy eyes. Gusty didn't tell her niece not to go, and Poppy was grateful for that. They both knew that everything was depending on Poppy and whether or not she succeeded. The crops were dying, without rain or well water. Even the air felt dry and painful to inhale. Just yesterday the last of Rusty Wilkes' sheep had died. Rusty was Poppy's age, and perhaps her closest friend - it had even occurred to her once or twice that he had feelings for her that she did not reciprocate. It was an upsetting thing, the sight of Rusty carrying away the malnourished corpse. Odd to see him without the sounds of their bleats surrounding him like a badly tuned symphony.

"I will." Poppy promised, a certain lack of confidence in her voice. It was because of the wolf, Gusty had told her back when it all started. One of the farmers had found the carcass of a wolf near the desert edge, an arrow lodged in it's meaty heart. The drought had started soon after. The only question was: who had done it? Everyone with half a brain knew that it was illegal to kill a wolf, a sacred animal. To kill a wolf was to purposefully enrage the gods.

"You'll find the gypsies somewhere in the East. They'll know how to break the curse. They always know what the Gods want." Gusty said, nodding to herself. She had now taken out a wrinkled handkerchief from her breast and was dappling at her eyes, the tears now quietly spilling over. It was monogrammed with her initials. "Be sure to ask around, honey. Ask the folks around Heymouth. I'm certain you'll find someone who has seen them."

"Thank you." Poppy said, looking at her aunt for another moment and shooing away a cat with her heel. Gusty had always left out scraps of what food she had for the town's strays, and though lately she had little to offer they still hung around. Leaving strands of fur on every surface and making the house smell like cat shit. The vile smell would always serve as a faint reminder to Poppy of her eccentric aunt.

Poppy gave her aunt a quick kiss on the cheek and then, picking up her knapsack and slinging it over her shoulder, walked away from her aunt's porch and toward the East. As she grew further away, Gusty allowed herself to break down and sob. Great hitching sobs that racked at her sides and threatened to choke her. She was certain she would never see Poppy again, and forced herself to watch as the girl walked away, her hand raised in a wave goodbye. Goodbye.