The House on the Hill Part 3 - Master of the House
* * *
Wilder, entering the hall with a lamp, thought he saw something on the floor near the door to the dining room. It looked like a few drops of blood.
“Hm,” he said.
He knelt and touched the blood, finding it fresh.
“Marshal,” he called. “You might want to … uh … return to this room … at your earliest convenience.”
“Uh … okay,” Marshal Pierce said.
Wilder pointed out the blood to Marshal Pierce.
“This is … quite fresh,” he said.
Marshal Pierce knelt by the spots of blood and then looked up. They weren’t coming from the ceiling.
“You are a braver man than I,” Wilder admitted. “I did not wish to look above me.”
“There was nothing in the dining room earlier,” West said.
Marshal Pierce opened the door to the dining room. With the lantern Wilder carried, they could now see a fresh pool of blood by the closed glass doors as well as bloodstains on the nearby draperies. A bloodstained shoeprint seemed to lead from the puddle of blood back to the hall. The prints were gone by the time they got to the door.
Jack West noticed the door presumably in the back of the stairs for the first time. He leaned back to kick it down when the French doors from outside opened up. The hunchback came into the room and slammed the doors behind him.
“I am so sorry,” the hunchback said. “So sorry. I forgot about you. I was busy. I’m sorry. I’m afraid the master is busy as well, I’m sure.”
“Where is the master?” Jacali asked.
“Oh, he is very busy. He cannot be disturbed.”
“Why is there blood everywhere in this room?”
“There’s blood,” Marshal Pierce said.
“Oh yes, it’s the blood on the floor,” the hunchback said. “Oh yes.”
“You gonna clean that?”
“I should clean that, yes.”
“Excuse me, sir,” Jacali said.
The hunchback turned and walked to the kitchen. They could hear him moving around in there. Marshal Pierce followed him to the nasty kitchen. The hunchback was working a pump to get water into a bucket. He also got a mop and poured soap powder into the water bucket.
“You going to clean that too?” Marshal Pierce said to him.
He pointed to the entire kitchen. The hunchback just shrugged though it was hard to tell due to his deformities. Some of them noticed a couple of rats in the kitchen.
“Excuse me, sir …” Jacali, who had followed along with West and the lantern, said.
“The master will be with you as soon as he’s done,” the hunchback said.
“Why is there blood in your hallway?”
“Oh, that’s from the lady.”
“Wha-the l-eh-uh … I’m going to need more explanation on that one!”
“What lady?” Marshal Pierce said.
“In the basement,” the hunchback said. “The master’s working on her.”
“Oh, how do we get to the basement?” Jacali asked.
“Oh, you can’t disturb the master,” the hunchback said. “He’s busy.”
“Is it this door here?” Professor Stalloid called from back in the hall.
“What’s-what’s-what’s he working on with the lady?” Marshal Pierce said. “What’s wrong with the lady?”
Jacali left the kitchen.
“I don’t know,” the hunchback said. “I don’t know.”
He stirred up the soapy water in the bucket.
* * *
In the hall, Professor Stalloid, who had been eavesdropping from the door to the dining room, walked to the door he assumed was under the stairs. He found it locked. Then Jacali entered the hall.
“Stalloid, let’s get this door down,” she said.
“M-kay,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I’m pretty sure there’s a hostage somewhere in here,” she said.
“If we’re too late …” Professor Stalloid said.
“Well, we’ve gotta go quick,” Jacali said. “Let’s get this door down.”
* * *
“I’m going to see about saving this lady,” West said. “That’s probably a safe bet.”
Marshal Pierce watched the hunchback.
“I’ve got the bucket!” the horrible man said.
“Yeah, you’ve got the bucket,” Marshal Pierce said. “Let’s go clean what should be clean.”
They went to the dining room, Marshal Pierce putting himself between the hunchback and the door to the hall. He had his pistol in his hand. Wilder was there as well and had his hand on the pistol in his pocket.
* * *
West entered the hall.
“Stalloid, is it locked?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Step back,” West said.
Professor Stalloid stepped back. West kicked the door and the latch shattered as it flew open. As it opened, exposing blood-covered steps leading down into a dimly lit dampness, a loud scream carried up the stairwell. Whoever screamed must have been horribly frightened, in great agony, or both. The single scream echoed through the house followed by unearthly silence.
“Stalloid, right behind me!” West said.
They headed down the stairs as a group with West in the lead followed by Stalloid and Jacali and most of the others. As they descended the steps, they couldn’t help but notice the heavy odor of formaldehyde in the cold cellar air. The source of light came into view more fully as they descended the stairs, lying behind a half dozen wheeled stretchers covered with white sheets. It looked like bodies were beneath the sheets. Beyond the stretchers, the light shined brightly from beneath a closed door at the far end of the room.
There were shelves with bottles on them and a strongbox in the room as well.
They were halfway across the room when one of the bodies sat up and the sheet fell away. The woman had obviously been badly injured. Her face was bloody and broken as were her arms. Her eyes were open in a vacant stare and she looked dead. West yelled a profanity and fired. The bullet struck the sitting corpse and it tumbled over the far side of the wheeled stretcher and crashed to the floor and lay unmoving.
“Jesus, Jack West!” Jacali said. “We didn’t know if she was going to─”
“I thought they were dead!” West said, obviously shaken.
“Well … I mean … yes,” Jacali said.
“Now they definitely are,” Dr Weisswald said.
“At least that one,” Dunspar said.
“Now we really need to continue and fast,” Professor Stalloid said.
* * *
Marshal Pierce heard the gunshot but it was not followed by more gunfire or screams. The hunchback stopped his mopping.
“Was that thunder?” he said.
“Yes,” Marshal Pierce said.
“What a beautiful night. A beautiful night.”
* * *
Jacali led the way to the far door and flung it open.
Inside, a man in a blood-covered apron stood over the bleeding body of a woman. He was holding a cloth tightly over her mouth and nose. The woman’s body was on a wheeled stretcher like the ones in the other room.
“Get outside at vunce!” the man exclaimed in a thick, German accent.
He brandished a scalpel in his right hand over the reclining woman while keeping the cloth over her face.
Jacali drew the arrow on her bow and pointed at the man.
“What are you doing to her?” she asked.
“Get out!” the man shrieked. “Get out! Get out at vunce!”
“That’s not an answer!” Jacali said.
The man looked back down to the woman and held her down. Jacali fired an arrow which went right through the man’s right hand. He let out a shout and dropped the scalpel.
“Mein Gott!” he cried out, stumbling back from the wheeled stretcher. “You’re unbelievable! Don’t you care that you’ve probably killed her!?! Ivor! Ivor! Go for the sheriff!”
Jacali moved out of the doorway.
* * *
Marshall Pierce heard the shout from below and the hunchback looked up.
“Master!” he said. “Master’s in trouble! I have to go for the sheriff! I have to go for the sheriff!”
“That was thunder,” Marshal Pierce said.
Ivor didn’t believe it. He ran for the front door.
“You got one right here!” Marshal Pierce said, pointing at his badge.
Ivor stared at the badge for a long time.
“Oh, well come on!” Ivor said. “Come on!”
He grabbed Marshal Pierce by the arm and started dragging him towards the basement. Wilder followed.
“What are those criminals doing down there?” Marshal Pierce said.
* * *
Professor Stalloid asked Dr. Weisswald if she could help the woman on the table. He hustled the doctor forward and she told the man who was clutching his hand she was a doctor. Once they got next to the woman, they smelled ether and guessed it had been on the cloth in the man’s other hand. The woman was torn up and looked like she’d been in some kind of terrible accident. There were numerous older surgical instruments on the table as well.
“I haven’t performed surgery in years!” the German man shouted at them. “I was trying my best!”
He cried out in pain.
“I’ll take care of you next,” Dr. Weisswald said. “Just let me take care of this.”
“Don’t worry about me,” the German said. “She’ll die if we don’t finish in moments! She’s internally hemorrhaging!”
Dr. Weisswald got to work on the woman and found it was very, very bad. The woman had internal injuries in addition to the damage done to the rest of her body. She could see the German doctor had been hard at work trying to stop the internal bleeding. Dr. Weisswald realized she had her work cut out for her.
“Get out!” the German screamed at the others. “You’re all contaminated … filthy … get out!”
The others left the room. Stalloid shut the door behind them.
The German doctor assisted Dr. Weisswald with advice and helped her with the 20-year-old instruments and gauze with his good hand. His right hand bled freely but he kept it away from the patient.
* * *
“Hey, Otto, can you check those bodies back there?” West said. “Are they actually living people?”
“Okay,” Otto said.
He found the bodies in the first room were corpses and they seemed fairly fresh. Formaldehyde had obviously been applied to them. West examined the woman he had shot and found her dead, probably not for terribly long. She had obviously been dead before he shot her though.
“How did this dead woman sit up?” West asked Professor Stalloid. “Stalloid, look at this!”
Professor Stalloid examined the body.
“It was just rigor mortis,” he said.
“Rigor mortis makes you jerk up, like you’re sitting up?” West said.
“Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I haven’t seen that on people before.”
“Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.”
“Are you seizing, sir?”
Dunspar examined the bottles on the wall and found various preservatives, formaldehyde and the like. He also found a locked strongbox.
Marshal Pierce, Wilder, and Ivor came down the stairs and looked around.
“What’s going on down here,” Marshal Pierce said. “I’m a sheriff and I’m here to arrest anyone who─”
“I’m sorry!” Professor Stalloid said, playing along. “We surprised the … uh … surgeon while he was operating. He got … you know … a bunch of people came in and he got scared. He’s okay.”
“And this looks like a morgue in this area,” West said.
“We were a little surprised too, you know. Because it’s spooky tonight.”
“And it’s a morgue.”
“I mean beautiful.”
“I also found this box here,” Dunspar said.
“Leave the man’s possessions alone!” Professor Stalloid said.
“A box?” Marshal Pierce said.
“What’s in the box?” West said.
“A surgeon?” Marshal Pierce said. “What’s going on down here?”
“The master of the house appears to be a surgeon,” Professor Stalloid said. “He’s operating on someone right now.”
“A good operation or …?”
“Weisswald’s helping him.”
“That’s the doctor with the pants,” West said.
“I don’t want to arrest anyone …” Marshal Pierce said with a wink.
Jacali didn’t make eye contact with him. She looked ashamed. West headed up to the ground floor. He didn’t like morgues.
Dunspar was examining the locked metal box. Stalloid went over to him.
“Seriously, leave the man’s possessions alone!” he said.
He took the box out of Dunspar’s hands and put it back on the shelf. When Marshal Pierce asked if he was going to meet the surgeon, Professor Stalloid told him it was not a good idea until after the operation. Ivor noted the master was busy and he shouldn’t go in there. He told him to listen to Professor Stalloid.
“Come,” Ivor said. “Come. I will fix snacks.”
“What kind of snacks?” West said.
Dunspar stole a bottle of formaldehyde before he went upstairs with the rest. Only Jacali and Otto stayed down in the cold morgue, surrounded by corpses.
* * *
Jacali looked under the sheets that covered the dead bodies in the basement. They were a mix of men and women, most of them Caucasian. Aside from the freshly dead woman, they all smelled of formaldehyde as well. Some of them had cuts in them or pieces removed surgically. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to Jacali. She found one of the older bodies was about the same size as the serpent person. The only fresh body was the woman who had sat up and she was a little bit smaller than the serpent person.
* * *
It was an hour before the German doctor and Dr. Weisswald finished the surgery. They had saved the young woman. Dr. Weisswald had finally gotten a good look at the white-haired old man. He was tall and thin and had a thin, harsh face. After the surgery, she removed the arrow from the man’s hand and dressed the wound.
“What happened to her?” Dr. Weisswald asked.
“There vas a buggy accident,” the man said. “They vere trying to cross the bridge vhen it collapsed underneath zem. Ivor managed to bring back the two women. She was near death. I’m not a surgeon. I haven’t been a medical practitioner in years. I’m a researcher. I research ways to improve medicine now and I was trying to do my best to save her. You did a magnificent job. I am very impressed. Where did you get you education?”
“Ah. Yes. Vars. They are terrible things but they teach us so much. Who are your stupid friends? Breaking into an operating chamber in the middle of an operation!”
“They spook very easily. They’ve seen many things.”
“Vell, they need to … I vill go meet zhem.”
They got the woman situated so she would sleep easily. He told Dr. Weisswald there was another woman in the buggy who did not survive. He was unsure which of the nearby towns they were from but said he would have to ask around to figure out who the two women were. He stripped off his bloody gown. Then they went upstairs.
They found Otto and Jacali in the other room.
“Zhere she is!” the German doctor said when he saw the Indian girl. “There’s the red woman who shot me!”
“She’s my assistant,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Oh, so she shoots people and then you patch them up.”
“Is that how it works?”
Jacali didn’t look at the man she’d shot.
Otto said “Hello” to the man in German.
“Bah!” the doctor said.
He went upstairs.
“Sorry about this one,” Jacali said to Weisswald. “I really … I really wound it up, pretty bad.”
* * *
The doctor entered the parlor to find the others there.
“To what do I owe the pleasure of brigands coming into my house?” he said.
“You know, it’s pouring outside,” West said.
“So, you come into my house, you shoot me in the middle of an operation, you break down my doors?” the man said.
“We were getting rather spooked,” Professor Stalloid said. “Your parrot kept saying ‘Help me. Help me I’m trapped.’”
“Yes, I noticed the library door’s been smashed down,” the doctor said.
“She did it!” Professor Stalloid pointed at Dr. Weisswald as she entered. “She did it!”
“What did I do?” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Smashed the library door,” Professor Stalloid said.
“If she wasn’t so much help in the surgery, I would be angry at her,” the doctor said. “What have the rest of you gotten into?”
“Why do you have individual body parts in your library?” Dunspar asked.
“Because I am a scientist,” the doctor said.
“He’s a surgeon,” Professor Stalloid said.
“A medical scientist. I study the human body.”
“He’s an anatomy specialist.”
“Exactly. An anatomist.”
He looked them over.
“Who are you?” he finally said.
“Well, I’m actually escorting this other scientist,” West said.
“Do you have a name?” the doctor said.
“Oh yeah,” West said. “Jack West. If she hadn’t shot you in the hand, I would’ve just shot the scalpel out of your hand because, yeah, we didn’t know what you were doing.”
“I was performing …” the doctor said tiredly.
“We know now!” West said.
“I am Baron Victor von Frankenberg,” the man said. “The people of this area know me and respect me.”
“Well, it’s nice to meetcha,” West said.
“But a bunch of strangers come in … American cowboys … and I end up with zhis,” von Frankenberg said.
He gestured with his injured right hand.
They introduced themselves to the man, all of them giving their names.
“My name is Jacali,” she said when he turned his angry eyes upon her. “First of all, I’d like to apologize. When white people’s homes are full of blood and men tell me there are injured women in the basement being worked on, I … not to excuse what I did, but I was … afraid.”
“You’ll have to excuse our Indian,” West said. “She’s a little skittish.”
“Jack West, if I wasn’t very upset with myself right now …” Jacali said.
They learned Ivor saw the accident as he was out in the rain. He loved thunderstorms and the like. He saw the bridge collapse with the buggy on it heading east. He managed to get the women. One of them was dead. The other was alive. He brought them back to the house and Dr. von Frankenberg tried to save the living woman when he was interrupted.
“Without the intervention of Dr. Weisswald here, this woman would have died,” Dr. von Frankenberg said. “Certainly.”
Professor Stalloid went out to the medicine wagon to check up on Night Horse and S’Slir-ethess. He found the Indian in the corner, clutching to his chest the .52 Sharps rifle Professor Stalloid had given him. He stared at the serpent person. She was laying on the bed. It was very quiet. Professor Stalloid got the large Formidulosaurus claw and returned to the house with it, giving it to the doctor. Dr. von Frankenberg also wanted compensation for the broken locks and the damage done to the house. Professor Stalloid paid the man $10 for the damages.
Dr. von Frankenberg was willing to let them spend the stormy night in the house. He apologized for the mess, noting he didn’t pay much attention to that as he was too busy. They were welcome to stay in the carriage house or the stables if they preferred as well.
Jacali and Wilder went to the stables to sleep. West made himself comfortable on the couch in the parlor. Professor Stalloid returned to the medicine wagon for the night. Night Horse jabbered away at the man in his language when he returned but he had no idea what he was saying.
“Yes yes,” he said.
They were all fed and given water and whiskey if they wanted.
* * *
Marshal Pierce got Ivor alone at one point.
“Do you dig up the bodies for your master?” he asked.
“No,” Ivor said. “The master has arrangements for that.”
Marshal Pierce ended up talking to the ugly hunchback for some time and learned he was very devoted to the master.
“You should clean more around here,” Marshal Pierce told him.
“But I am so busy,” Ivor said. “I am so busy.”
“What are you busy doing?” Marshal Pierce said.
The man just looked at him for a long time.
“Yard work,” he finally said.
“Yard work?” Marshal Pierce said. “The yard’s fine. Clean the house!”
“I’m not a good cleaner.”
“Yeah, I can tell.”
“The baron doesn’t mind. He doesn’t mind at all. The baron doesn’t mind at all. Ivor likes the little smells. They make him feel alive.”
* * *
Otto went to check on Jacali before he bedded down for the night. He found her in the stable, reclined up against the wall near her horse, almost on her back. She stared straight ahead and was munching on hardtack and beef jerky.
“Hey Otto,” she said without looking at the man.
“Hey Jacali,” he said. “Holding up all right?”
“Well, I mean I’m not broken up but I feel bad.”
“Could’ve been worse. You could’ve hit him in the head.”
“I wasn’t trying to but I would have felt much worse if that happened.”
“I mean I … I don’t think he really holds a grudge.”
“Well, if you would’ve seen the way he was looking at me, I think you would feel differently about that.”
“Maybe. So, you gonna be all right out here tonight.”
“Yeah. I’ve been through worse.”
“Well, if you need anything, just let me know.”
“I’ll be in the house.”
“I’ll yell my berry.”
Otto checked on his horse and returned to the house.
* * *
The storm passed by the morning of Saturday, August 7, 1875. It was a bright, clear morning. Everything was soaking wet and the river was still swollen past its banks. They learned from Dr. von Frankenberg there were bridges to the north and south.
Marshal Pierce asked the baron if he had seen any strange things like The Drifter or the dragons on the Sequoyah Star. The man said he had not. He was just a medical researcher who had been working for years to try to improve medicine. Marshal Pierce told him to be careful as it seemed to be strange times.
Dunspar asked the man to see how the girl was doing that day.
“Are you a doctor?” Dr. von Frankenberg asked.
“Uh …” Dunspar said.
“I meant Weisswald.”
“Well yes. Dr. Weisswald can come down and look. We will make sure she’s fine. Come!”
The two of them went to check on the patient. She was resting and comfortable though still unconscious. Dr. von Frankenberg told her he was going to send Ivor to Idaho P.O. to inform them of what happened and to ask for transportation of the girl once she could be moved.
Otto asked about the woman who had sat up the night before. Dr. von Frankenberg told him the freshly dead moved from time to time. Sometimes muscles contracted. What happened with the woman sitting upright was not common but had been known to happen before. Some dead bodies would twitch after they were dead and he guessed that was what happened to her.
Otto asked the man how he ended up out there in Colorado and he was told he emigrated to America.
Otto asked Weisswald if the reaction was common in dead bodies. She confirmed that it was not but it could happen. She further asked Dr. von Frankenberg if he wanted them to transport the woman to Idaho P.O. He said he didn’t want to move her yet. He did ask if they were in Idaho P.O. they could ask around for the girl and see if she was from there. If they could find relatives, he asked they tell them he didn’t want to move her yet.
Marshal Pierce said good-bye to Ivor before they left.
“Good-bye Marshal,” Ivor said to him. “Have a safe trip, wherever you’re going.”
“You should greet people differently than you do,” Marshal Pierce said. “It’s very …”
“Misleading,” West muttered.
“… misleading about your intentions,” Marshal Pierce said.
“How is that?” Ivor said.
“You really emphasize words like ‘bodies’ and ‘not staying here for very long.’”
“Oh, I did not figure you would stay more than a night.”
“Yeah, but the way you said it!”
“Don’t worry. I’m sure you don’t get many visitors anyways.”
They left the house and continued east.
* * *
When they reached Idaho P.O. they told people about the buggy accident and were told the women must have been Mary Galloway and Jane Dockery, who were supposed to return the day before.
Dr. Weisswald, Professor Stalloid, and Jacali discussed what to do about the serpent person. Dr. Weisswald suggested he take the dinosaur head and the snake person west, dropping her off in Midnight, and going on to San Francisco. Or they could continue with the wagon. They also talked about a simple disguise for her. Jacali asked who of the others they thought could keep a secret in a morally ambiguous way. Jacali thought Pierce would be trustworthy enough to let him know they would need a body. Dr. Weisswald noted she trusted Pierce and Wilder.
They ended up telling Pierce the snake person could pass as a woman if they could provide her a female corpse about her size. He asked the size and she gave him an estimate. He told them if they gave him five days with the help of Jack West, he could get them a fresh female body that was guilty and deserved to die. He said he was going to take Jack West in case it was a bounty.
“I don’t understand giving this snake person what it wants, but …” he said. “If that’s what it takes for you all to get on a train and us to stop hoofing it on horses all this time, then … that’s what I want.”
Professor Stalloid gave the serpent person some books to read. She didn’t seem impressed by the pharmacy or medical books he had. She seemed to know about biology and chemistry. He gave her a botany book he kept in the wagon, hoping it might interest her.
* * *
They proceeded on to Denver, arriving in the city on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 1875. There, they waited while Marshal Pierce and Jack West went in search of a dead body.
On Friday, August 13, 1875, Marshal Pierce learned of a Jane Doe who had hung herself, committing suicide shortly after arriving in the city. She was not from Denver and had come in on the train the day before. No one knew who she was, where she came from, or why she had come to Denver, aside from dying. He looked over her paperwork and saw the height and weight were about right, thanking the local authorities.
He noted he might be able to take the body and find out who the girl was, however. The doctor at the city morgue was unsure about that, stating how unorthodox it was and not thinking it was his right to hand over the body. Marshal Pierce tried to bring up various obscure laws but what he said didn’t make much sense and, in fact, the man asked him to leave when he pushed the issue. The man wanted to get his name but Marshal Pierce left immediately.
He went to Jack West and they concocted a plan whereby Marshal Pierce would be very visible talking with several people while West raided the morgue and stole the body. They decided he should do it when the morgue was open so they would know exactly when the body was taken.
Later that afternoon, after having “borrowed” a horse and having purchased a couple of cheap pistols from a second hand gunsmith, he put a mask on his face and a different coat and hat and raided the morgue. He broke in the front of the morgue, announced himself as Jerry Swanson, pistol whipped the man there, and grabbed the body out of the large ice box it was kept in. He burst out of the back of the place into the alley where he had the horse and then rode off, leaving town and taking the horse back before carrying the body to Stalloid’s medicine wagon.
The headline in the newspaper the next day read “Daring Daylight Raid by Cadaver Kidnapper!” The name Jerry Swanson was also mentioned.
* * *
While they waited, Otto wired for money from his bank at home.
He also went to a gunsmith to have his Winchester looked at. He noted it jammed often and the man took the weapon apart and looked over it but found nothing wrong with it. He didn’t know why it would keep jamming.
He found a second gunsmith and asked him the same question but that man also didn’t find anything wrong with the weapon.
“Sometimes guns jam,” he was told.
“But this has consecutively jammed within a few months of each other,” Otto said.
“Maybe you’re getting bad bullets,” the gunsmith said. “I have bullets here.”
He decided to go to one more gunsmith and the man looked it over.
“So, it jams when it’s important, is that what you’re saying?” the man said.
“Whenever I really need it, it jams,” Otto said.
“You’re probably just working the action too fast,” the man said. “You can’t do this.”
He worked the action on the empty carbine several times very quickly.
“You’ve gotta treat a gun like you treat a woman,” he said. “Gotta caress her. Gotta love her. You can’t just jam things in her! There’s nothing wrong with it.”
“What part do you think causes the jam when it jams?” Otto said.
“This one,” the man said.
“Can you replace it for me?”
“If you wanna waste your money. Okay. Sure.”
He replaced the part for a buck. The gunsmith rolled his eyes and Otto left the store.
“You’re not dealing with a jam,” a smooth voice said as he stood on the boardwalk in front of the store. “You are cursed.”
He looked around and saw a little, old negress with wild hair standing there. She had bones sewed into her necklace.
“It’s not your gun that is broken,” the old woman mumbled.
“How am I cursed” Otto said.
“You bare the mark!” she said.
She pointed at the terrible scar on his face.
“You think it is just a scar,” she said. “It is the mark of the curse.”
“What curse?” he said.
“I do not know. I’m an old woman.”
She turned and walked away.
“So, you’re saying that the guy who cut my face with that saber cursed me?” he called to her.
She stopped and very slowly turned back to him.
“Blackness all around you,” she said. “It starts there. It starts there.”
She pointed at the scar. He walked over to her.
“If it’s cursed, what do I do about it?” he said.
She reached into a pouch and took out a handful of dust, then blew it into his face.
“Ah,” she said. “This is no easy task. This is no easy task at all. I could help you.”
“How much do you want?” Otto said.
“You think I just want money? You think I am fake! You are like all others.”
“I assume most people─”
“Fine another to help you!”
She turned and walked away.
“I assume most people want money for their services!” he called after her.
She walked away.
“Well, what else do you want?” he called.
She continued walking. He waved her off and turned and went his own way, almost stumbling and falling off the boardwalk, only catching himself at the last moment.
This is a bad sign, he thought.
* * *
Professor Stalloid purchased some women’s clothing for the serpent person. He also made sure to lock all the chemicals into the cabinet below and removed the shotgun and the swords.
Per the serpent person’s request, they left her alone in the medicine wagon for three days. They made camp at the edge of town and waited.
* * *
On the evening of Monday, August 16, 1875, S’Slir-ethess exited the medicine wagon for the first time since they found her in July. She was wearing one of the skirt and blouse outfits Professor Stalloid had purchased for her. She looked like the pretty woman with short, blonde hair. She shoved a burlap sack into Dr. Weisswald’s hands and the woman found it was filled with human bones, presumably the bones of the dead woman.
A few of them noticed her shadow was still that of the serpent person.
“It must be some sort of illusion,” Professor Stalloid said.
He wrote in his research journal.
“Could you teach me that?” Professor Stalloid said.
The woman looked at him.
“Maybe,” she said. “And what will you teach me?”
He held up his hands in an “I don’t know” kind of way.
“I don’t know what I know yet,” he said.
“That gesture is … ridiculous,” she said.
“Will this interfere with my medical attention to you?” Dr. Weisswald said.
“No,” she replied softly. “Not at all.”
“Should we introduce her to the group now that she’s─” Jacali said.
Jack West walked up to the “woman.”
“Well, hi there!” he said.
“Never mind,” Jacali said.
“Uh, we’ll need to come─” Dr. Weisswald said.
“I was the one that so … uh …” West said.
“Is this how you mark your slaves,” S’Slir-ethess said.
She pointed at West’s terrible scars.
“Oh Jesus Christ no!” Jacali said.
“Why no,” West said. “I’m more of the muscle of the group, in a way. I was one of the ones that was used to procure your … new outfit.”
She looked down at herself and touched the skirt.
“The fleshy part,” West said.
“You did adequately,” she said.
He looked at her a moment.
“So, I’ve got some questions for you,” West said.
He asked her several pointless questions that obviously irritated and annoyed her, mostly things about her personal grooming, habits, and hygiene.
“I could bite you and you would be dead in a minute,” she said calmly to him.
“Now, so you actually don’t have those human teeth that I’m seeing,” West said.
She stared at him a moment and then turned to Dr. Weisswald.
“You should train him better,” she said.
“Oh, we’ve tried,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Again, they’re not above me,” West said.
“We-we need to come up with your human name,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“I studied this era’s language,” S’Slir-ethess said. “That was my job. Naming was not a part of it.”
“How about Samantha?” West said.
“I assume that is some form of insult,” S’Slir-ethess said.
“You don’t like Samantha?” West said.
“I think it’s just a bad name,” Jacali said.
“I have come up with Ophelia Ethess,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“That would be adequate,” the newly dubbed Ophelia said.
“All right, everyone, say ‘hello’ to Ophelia,” Jacali said.
She looked at all of them.
“So did your people only use medieval warfare?” West asked. “From what we saw at that one site?”
“We are masters of alchemy and magic,” she said.
“Oh,” West said.
“They did not need guns,” Professor Stalloid said.
“But a gun’s always better than a sword,” West said.
“Magic is better than both, usually, I feel like.”
“But I saw a lot of swords.”
“Well, not everyone can be magic.”
“Then the guns are for them!”
Ophelia followed the conversation with a pained look on her face.
“Ophelia, we wanted to know if you would rather travel with us or stay at a place called Midnight,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“There’s a library,” Professor Stalloid said.
“There is a library that is currently being built and stocked,” Dr. Weisswald said.
Ophelia frowned. She thought on it a moment.
“I will travel with you,” she finally said.
“That decides it then,” Dr. Weisswald said.
Jacali asked if she wanted to learn Apache in exchange for teaching spells. Ophelia asked about the people who spoke it, how important they were, and how widespread. When she learned the Apache were not a dominant race on the planet, she was not interested in learning it. When Jacali told her why they were not dominant, she said she found it interesting that the primates fought among themselves so.
Professor Stalloid asked Night Horse if he wanted to go back west with him. When they reached Salt Lake City, he would give the Ute money to get back to his reservation.
Professor Stalloid was planning on returning to San Francisco with the Formidulosaurus skull to show his find to the scientific community. The rest of them decided to take a train to Devil’s Gulch. They figured they would reach the town in a day.