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The Doom That Came to Devil's Gulch Part 3 - In Pursuit of Vandals

* * *       Jacali and Dr. Weisswald went to the jail to talk to the Marshal and asked him if he knew anything about the Bar-T Ranch. Marshal Bishop seemed a little leery about Jacali. Though she asked him the question, he talked to Dr. Weisswald when he answered. He told her the Bar-T was owned by Melville Watts whose son sometimes came into town and caused trouble. He never stayed in jail for long because his father paid off any problems he had caused so the owner wouldn't press charges. He noted they didn't come in often, every couple weeks or a month, and he didn't like seeing them come into town but there was little he could do about it.   "Do you know anything about the windows being broken at the Gilded Lily?" Dr. Weisswald said.   "Miss Jones has reported it," he said. "She came in this morning and reported some broken windows and some paint. She reported it yesterday as well. I looked into it as much as I can. I haven't found anything out, anyone specifically doing it. Maybe it's some kids. But "¦ there's not been anybody "¦ I don't have any suspects yet. At least not amongst adults."   "Thank you."   "You're welcome."   They left and went to the general store next, asking Mabry there about people buying lately.   "Everybody's buying paint," he said. "People are painting up the town because, when we get the new courthouse, we're expecting an influx of visitors. Not to mention we won't have to use the circuit judge anymore because we'll have a judge right here that comes and sees cases every day."   He thought a moment.   "Some other fella was in here asking about that too," he said.   "Who asked about it?" Dr. Weisswald said.   "Some stranger," Mabry said. "Had a long beard, long hair, was dressed real nice."   They looked at each other.   "Oh," Jacali said. "Do you mind telling us who has purchased paint lately."   "Everybody," he said.   "Literally everyone," Jacali said.   He told them people were painting their houses and businesses and getting the town spruced up.   "Here's the thing," Mabry said to them confidentially. "They're trying to impress Mr. Macy because if we can get the store and distribution center in this town, that'll put us on the map. Not to mention the courthouse. Now, just between you and me? That Mr. La Forge, he's been allowing people to buy shares of stock! He told me, he said he didn't tell anybody else in town. So shush. Don't tell anybody "˜cause I don't want people upset that I bought $500 worth of stock from him because I expect it to skyrocket."   Jacali and Dr. Weisswald looked at each other.   "How well do you know these people who are selling you these things?" Jacali said.   "Well," Mabry said slowly. "Silas Finch, he's the barber, he was the one who started the whole story because he found out from Shamus O'Gara, the telegraph operator, about some of the telegraphs that were being sent. Now, that's not strictly legal but, when they found out they weren't really that upset. Turns out they're going to put a store here and he was willing to sell me some stock when I asked how to get in on the ground floor. So he told me not to tell anybody. And Finch was the one who brought up the whole courthouse thing, because if they made this the county seat - because Middle Kiowa doesn't even have - it doesn't even have a train station - there's no train that runs there. There's nothing. This would be a much better place. We're the center of the county! Anyway, so that's who's doing it. Mr. La Forge, he's staying at the hotel, he's been here for a few weeks."   "Are you aware he also sold stock to Miss Jones?" Dr. Weisswald asked.   "No, I didn't know that," Mabry said. "Well, she's "¦ she's "¦ she's "¦"   He thought on that.   "Well, maybe he just doesn't want word to get out," he finally said. "Maybe he's just selling to a few of us, a few particular ones. Miss Jones seems really nice. I really like her place. I don't get over there very much but I like it."   "But this county seat business, the only word you've heard about it from people saying that the telegrams have been intercepted?" Jacali said.   "Well, they sent telegrams to New York City."   "But how did you find out about the telegrams?"   "From Shamus. The telegraph operator. Our telegraph operator. Up at the train station."   "Hm."   "Like I said, he was a little upset. You're not supposed to give that information out but "¦ once the news was out, he seemed okay with it. He said it couldn't do any harm."   "Do you know anybody who's unhappy with this county seat business?"   "Nobody in town. We're looking forward to getting the county seat here. Once we get the courthouse built, how can they say "˜no?' Middle Kiowa doesn't have a courthouse."   "So, they're building the courthouse currently?" Dr. Weisswald said.   "Not yet," Mabry said.   He told them they were building it on the south side of town and they remembered seeing a great deal of lumber, brick, and concrete among the other construction supplies there.   "Mr. La Forge has been arranging for all the supplies," Mabry said. "And you can go to town hall. They got the blueprints at the town hall, up on the wall. It's going to be beautiful!"   "We should find out if anyone else has this "¦ stock," Dr. Weisswald said to Jacali.   "Uh-huh," Jacali said.   "Who would also buy stock?"   "The heads of the saloons?"   "The bankers?"     * * *       Bowen saw Dallas leave the boarding house later that morning. He had eliminated the two left side rooms of the house by then as being Dallas'. He guessed the bedroom he suspected downstairs probably belonged to the Widow Barrington.   He went into the boarding house and saw a woman downstairs in the parlor, reading a book. She looked up as he came in, looked back down at her book, and then looked up again with a frown as he mounted the stairs. He knocked on one of the rooms on the right, where he thought Dallas might live. There was no answer so he went to the other one and knocked. There was no answer there either.   He knocked on one of the left hand rooms but guessed they might have left for the day.   He went to the blacksmith shop to have Levi Kerns make metal stakes and also bought 700 yards of rope.     * * *       Dunspar went to the bank and arranged to have money wired to him. Then he went back to the hotel to wait for Dallas for the teaching lesson. He taught him about the atmosphere first, and how it was made of chemicals. The two men actually had a lot of fun together and Dallas even treated the man to lunch. He asked if Dunspar wanted any money for the teaching he was giving him.   Dunspar read The Mysteries of the Worm the rest of the day.     * * *       Dr. Weisswald and Jacali stopped at the Doctor's Office in town. The sign out front read "Doctor Miles Gibbs, M.D." The building was obviously a house converted into a doctor's office. They let themselves into the office where the front parlor would normally be. A small, potbelly stove sat in one corner. There was a bed and a roll-top desk in the room. A bookshelf next to the desk held many volumes of books, probably medical journals. A skeleton hung in one corner.   "What's the trouble?" Doctor Gibbs asked.   He had a strong Midwestern accent.   "Oh, no trouble," Dr. Weisswald said. "Exploring the town a bit."   "All righty," he said.   "Is there "¦ the town seems bustling lately though," Dr. Weisswald said.   He told them the same thing they'd heard before: a new courthouse might be coming in, there was a store and distribution center for R.H. Macy and Company possibly coming in, and people were very excited about it. She asked if there was anything he was doing to expand his practice and he said he wasn't, though he was putting a fresh coat of paint on the house and tidying it up. He figured people would start moving there once the courthouse was built so he wanted his place to be a little more presentable.   When Jacali asked about the Bar-T Ranch, Dr. Gibbs told her pretty much the same the Marshal had. They asked him about Dallas and he didn't know much about him except that he hadn't been in town very long.   They went to the Bull's Head Saloon and found Pete Sutter there. He saw them and glared at them.   "Have you ever heard of a man named Dallas Avery?" Jacali asked him.   "No," Pete said. "What a stupid name! That's the dumbest damned name I ever heard in my life!"   "What about Jack West?" Dr. Weisswald said.   "That's pretty stupid too," Pete said. "It's obviously a fake!"   "Have you heard anything about the Bar-T Ranch?" Jacali asked.   "I hear they've got a pretty sweet operation," Pete said. "Pretty much run the whole county. They can come in, do whatever they want, and their daddy just pays "˜em off."   They talked to other people around the saloon about Dallas, La Forge, and the Bart-T Ranch. No one knew Dallas at all and La Forge wasn't seen a lot as he spent all his time in his room at the Empire Hotel. They learned he went to the telegraph office once or twice a day though, sending telegrams to New York City. They were scheduled to start construction of the county courthouse in a few days.   They asked about Patrick Mills but no one knew about him. When they asked around town, they learned he was a clerk who worked for Bob Smith at the hardware store. He was a nice enough fellow though kind of dull. He was courting Lily Jones before Dallas Avery came to town. Then Dallas swept her off her feet.   "And he's so handsome and so sweet and comes in here and gives candy to the children," one woman they talked to said of Dallas. "He's perfect."   They went to the Empire Hotel and asked the same questions, learning mostly the same thing. They learned La Forge was staying there. They learned the same thing about the expansion of the town but there, Farnsworth told them he heard they were going to put stores all along the railroad and were putting stores in everywhere. Thus, anyone who wanted goods from R.H. Macy and Co. would be able to get them easily. It was a genius idea that would pay off in spades for the company.   "Don't you think it's a little dangerous to expand so quickly?" Dr. Weisswald asked.   He didn't know but he understood Macy was rich and could afford it. The man already reputedly had four stores in New York City alone. Farnsworth said he checked on that and found that to be true.   They went to the hardware store and saw Patrick Mills when they entered. When he saw them, he blushed, looked embarrassed, and went into the back. They talked to Bob Smith a little bit. He said they were doing record business with sales of everything needed to make repairs and fix up people's homes and businesses. He was very excited to see the courthouse go up in a few days.   They asked him about La Forge and he told them he didn't know the man. He told them Silas Finch, the barber, had told him everything about the county seat and the courthouse. He had heard of La Forge but only knew he was an investor or something from New York City.   "We would like to speak to your employee, Patrick," Dr. Weisswald said.   "Oh," Smith said. "Okay. Patrick, there's some people want to see you!"   Patrick Mills came out of the back room looking like a dog who'd been caught and was obviously embarrassed.   "Can I help you folks?" he said quietly.   "We want to hear more about what you said last night," Dr. Weisswald said.   "Uh "¦ well "¦ I-I-I "¦ I don't know," he said. "Obviously I must be mistaken. I just "¦ I feel like "¦ something ain't right."   "Do you have any solid information that we could investigate?" Jacali said.   "No," Mills admitted. "No. I don't have any solid information. I'll be honest, I was courting Lily before Dallas came and "¦ uh "¦ and he swept her off her feet and then she kind of forgot about me. And "¦ maybe I'm just being jealous. But just something doesn't seem quite right. He seems too perfect. How can anybody be everything to everybody?"   "You wouldn't happen to know about any of the trouble Miss Lily's been lately with people throwing rocks and such?"   "I've been hearing about it. I've been hearing about them breaking glass. I went out there a couple nights ago, as late as I could stay up to kind of keep an eye out and nothing happened. There was nothing by the next day either. I was hoping it was just a one-time thing. Something threw some paint or something, I heard? Word around town is. I feel real bad for her. Some of the saloon owners are probably behind it. Well, maybe not Mr. Farnsworth. I don't know. I don't know. I shouldn't be spreading rumors."   "Do you know where Dallas is staying?" Dr. Weisswald asked.   "No," Mills said. "I understand "¦ I heard he's in one of the boarding houses over on the east side of town."   "Well, what you were saying about the saloon owners, any information that would help Lily "¦" Jacali said.   "It's just a guess," Mills said. "Buck at the Bull's Head, he's not a friendly fellow. I could see him being behind it."   "You think he could be the kind of person who wants to do dirty business like that?"   "Yeah. I would think so. I don't know if he would. He's the kind of person who could. So "¦"   Mills was obviously very embarrassed about the entire situation.   "I'm sorry I bothered you folks last night," he said. "Lily won't listen to me so I was hoping her sister "¦"   Dr. Weisswald put her hand on his shoulder.   "We'll look into it," she said.   He thanked her quietly and they left.     * * *       At the Gilded Lily, a few tarps had been thrown down over the floor where the paint had been splashed. They wouldn't be able to paint over it until it dried so that was being left for the next day. They had a nice evening there once again. There was a great show with Gemma singing again.   They all exchanged information after that as they sat at a table in the saloon. Dr. Weisswald suggested a plan for that night and the next day. Jacali was all for all of them watching the Gilded Lily that night. Dunspar noted he had insomnia so it was easy for him to stay up. Otto quipped he could slap him if he fell asleep again.   Jacali asked Otto if, the next day, he could give basic gun lessons to Ophelia. Otto agreed though he took Jacali aside to talk to her for a moment, pointing at his scar. Once he was out of earshot, he told her his real concern.   "You sure you want me to teach that snake person how to shoot a gun?" he said.   "Well, I mean, she's got to know how to defend herself somehow," Jacali said. "And she doesn't really express an interest in learning how to use my bow and arrow."   "But she could kill us. Or you."   "Well, Otto, any one of us with a gun could kill us."   "Yes, but she's probably more likely to kill us. She does not seem to like any of us."   "Well, I don't think she likes us any less than she likes anyone else in this town, or in this world basically."   "I just feel like it's a bad idea but if you want me, I'll do it for you. I do owe you."   "Well, I mean, keep in mind, Otto, that whatever feelings she has for us, we did save her life and we did get her "¦ a way to blend in to normal society."   "She thinks we're primates. And just because you save someone doesn't necessarily mean that they're going to help you."   "Not necessarily but, for any other person."   "I'll take her out to shoot my rifle tomorrow."   "You don't have to give her a gun, but I think it would be good for her to know how to use one and I have a feeling that this may get us more information about her time and about the things that she knows if we are able to help her in this way."   "Okay."   "So I think it "¦ I know you have your worries about it and, if something does go wrong─"   "I'd like someone to be with me."   "─it can be on me. Yes, I can be with you."     * * *       "So, what did you make of this last night?" Ophelia asked Gemma. "Taking apart a gun at the table?"   "What do you mean?" Gemma asked.   "When these two men took guns apart," Ophelia said. "That one and the one over there."   She pointed at Dunspar and Otto.   "Just "¦ being men," Gemma said.   Ophelia gave her a cool look.   "You will soon "¦ understand "¦ men do things for "¦ no reason at all," Gemma said.   "So, they're stupid," Ophelia said.   "I "¦ I did not say that," Gemma said. "Men do things for strange reasons. I don't. I'm not married."   "Hm."   "I'm not in a relationship."     * * *       Jacali brought up Dallas and making sure his story was okay at some point.   "Seems like a good guy to me," Dunspar said.   "I haven't heard anything bad about him, only that he's too perfect," Jacali said.   "True," Gemma said.   "I would say it couldn't hurt but "¦ it could hurt "¦ if he finds out," Jacali said. "I don't know if he's the prime suspect but "¦ I mean "¦ it is interesting."   "A suspect for what?" Gemma said.   "I'll keep watch on Dallas," Bowen said.   "What is he suspected of?" Dunspar said.   "It is possible he might be the one throwing the rocks," Dr. Weisswald said.   "I mean, if what Patrick said was true and that he was "¦ doing something bad and, admittedly, I don't think it's very likely, I think it would be good to cover our bases on it," Jacali said. "And make sure that's not what it is because, I think allowing it to slip under our gaze would be worse than him knowing we were worried about him and having to make it up to him."   Jacali also talked about their distress call of yelling out one's favorite berry. The berry was also a code word if someone needed help while talking to someone.     * * *       They set up a watch on the saloon that night. Jacali watched from near the photographer's shop nearby. Dunspar and Otto watched from the balcony over the front porch. Bowen planned to watch from the back of the building. Dr. Weisswald, Ophelia, and Gemma all stayed in the saloon proper, waiting in the dark.   "Do you want these people alive?" Ophelia asked Dr. Weisswald as they watched.   "The people throwing rocks?" Dr. Weisswald said.   "Yes."   "For now."   "I'd say that's optional," Gemma said.   "So, how old are you?" Dr. Weisswald asked Ophelia.   "Optional," Ophelia said.   Dr. Weisswald talked about how the year worked and how long humans lived. Ophelia understood the passing of a year but they didn't keep careful track of their births. Dr. Weisswald guessed the snake person was in her 30s perhaps.   "How long had you been studying humans?" Dr. Weisswald said.   "Six months before we were going to punch through and take over the world," Ophelia said.     * * *       It was in the early morning hours of Thursday, August 19, 1875, when Ophelia perked up. Gemma thought she heard something but moved to the front door and cracked it open to hear better.   "Get back," Dr. Weisswald whispered to the girl.   Gemma peeked out of the crack between the doors and saw four people out there with bandanas over their faces. They had stopped near the photographer. Then they all heard someone walking up on the balcony.     * * *       Outside, Jacali and Dunspar saw four people moving towards the front of the Gilded Lily from one of the nearby alleys. They suddenly stopped and stared at the front of the establishment for some time.   On the balcony, Dunspar moved over to Otto, and tapped him on the shoulder, waking him.   The four people started to creep back to the alley between the photographer and the hardware store. They moved very slowly and quietly. They stopped at the alley not far from Jacali and had a hushed discussion. She could overhear them.   "Are you sure the door's open?" one of them said.   "Maybe it was open the whole time," another said.   "I thought I saw it open," another said.   Jacali looked towards the front and thought she could make out the front doors open just a crack behind the batwing doors.   "Should we go back or should we get outta here?" one said.   "I think we should get outta here," another said.   "No, you're crazy."   "Hold on, just wait."   "Nobody came out."   "No, nobody's come out."   "Okay."   They watched the front of the saloon for a few moments.   "Okay "¦ go!" one of them said.   They ran towards the front of the saloon and then stopped just short of the building and started chucking rocks at the windows. Gemma Jones burst out of the front doors as Otto fired a warning shot into the air.   "****!" someone yelled.   They all turned and ran away but slowed when they saw Jacali come out of the shadows by the hardware store. Then they ran right at the girl, turning just short of her and running back into the alley where they'd talked before. Jacali shot one of them in the right hand. The person screamed but they kept running.   They all ducked into the alley, Gemma on their heels. Dunspar leapt down from the balcony and also gave chase.   "Fresh meat!" Ophelia said just before she and Weisswald ran out after the culprits.   The vandals ran down the alley and headed for a fence between the Empire Hotel and another building. They were gaining ground on Gemma, Ophelia, and Dr. Weisswald. They reached the fence and the one with the arrow in his hand scrabbled over. The other three struggled to climb the fence. Dunspar rushed them. Jacali pulled back on the bow and shot at one of the ones struggling to get over the fence, hitting him in the upper thigh of the left leg and he shrieked, dropped off the fence, and crashed to the ground.   Gemma Jones and Dr. Weisswald came around the corner of the photographer.   "They got injuns!" one of vandals yelled.   "They're gonna kill us!" the other cried out.   They scuttled up and over the fence. Dunspar knelt at the edge of the fence and held his hands together, offering a leg up to anyone who wanted it. Jacali ran to the next alley up to avoid the fence, going around the side of the building.   Gemma ran to Dunspar and he helped her up and over the fence. She dropped over the other side and saw the vandals ahead.     * * *       Weisswald stopped at the injured person and performed first aid on his injured leg. She broke the arrow and pulled it out, then bandaged up his leg. Ophelia looked down at the person.   "I'll take care of him," she said calmly.   "Chase after the rest!" Dr. Weisswald said.   Ophelia sighed and then leapt at Dunspar, taking his leg up but not really needing it.   "Do you need me here?" Dunspar said.   "Not really," Dr. Weisswald said.   He struggled to get over the fence.     * * *       The person with the arrow in his hand had run to the t-intersection at the end of the alley and was trying to crash by the garbage there. Jacali moved past the next building and saw them struggling to get around the junk that had been abandoned in the alley. The person with the arrow in his hand got by and ran towards her but hadn't she'd seen her yet.   She stepped out from behind the building and readied an arrow to shoot him.   "Don't do it!" she said.   The person ran at her, his left arm in front of his face. He leapt at the end of rush, going low, and hit the ground too soon, sliding towards her but stopping just short of her. He had apparently been trying to leapt between her legs to make his escape. He screamed as the hand that had the arrow in it rubbed along the ground.   "Ow!" he cried out. "Ow! It hurts so bad!"   "I told you to stop," Jacali said. "Sorry."   It sounded like the vandal was crying as he lay there, splayed out on his face.   She looked up in time to see the other two running the other direction down the alley towards the Empire Hotel. She moved to the vandal's side and put a foot on his back to keep him down.   "No!" the man cried out. "We didn't mean nothing by it. We didn't mean nothing by it."     * * *       Dr. Weisswald offered Dunspar a leg up and he was up and over the top of the fence. He ran down the alley and caught up with Gemma. Ophelia had passed the woman already and was almost up where all the trash was clogging the alley. Ophelia and Gemma reached the junk and couldn't get by it, there was so much.   "To your left!" Jacali shouted.   Ophelia tried to get by the junk but the more she moved out of the way, the more that fell into the way. Dunspar made it through and headed down the alley to the left after the vandals.     * * *       Bowen ran to where Dr. Weisswald was tending to the injured man. He sat down, tired.     * * *       Dunspar turned a corner in the alley and saw there was a very muddy spot at the end of it before it opened out into the street again. The other two vandals had made it past the mud and headed out into the street. He followed, leaping over the muddy spot. He ran after the two, who ran into the darkness of the badlands.   He followed, yelling "Blackberry!"   The two split up just before Dunspar lost sight of them. He turned and headed back.     * * *       "What is this stuff!?!" Ophelia yelled as she started smashing the various junk in the alley, trying to get by.   Lights started to come on in the buildings around them as Gemma tried to get past the junk. Eventually Ophelia made it past the junk and ran down the alley. Gemma got her foot caught in some of the debris.     * * *       Otto, who had gotten down from the balcony by the inside stairs, reached the porch of the Gilded Lily and thought he heard someone yell "Blackberry!" It sounded very far away.     * * *       Gemma gave up and headed back, disgusted by the amount of junk in the alley. Jacali flagged her down and asked for help. She made her way through the junk to the other woman and her prisoner.     * * *       They took the two people back to the Gilded Lily where two window panes were broken. One was still unconscious and the other cried and held out the hand with the arrow in it. Dr. Weisswald saw to the injured hand, breaking the arrow in half and then bandaging the hand up.   When they removed the bandanas from the two, they found they were both 12-year-old boys. One was crying from the wounded hand and his scraped up face and chest. The other eventually came to with Dr. Weisswald's camphor. The boy refused to cry. The crying boy refused to look at Jacali. Both looked terrified.   "We didn't mean nothing," one said.   "What are you names?" Dr. Weisswald said.   They gave their names as Jack Thompson and Eric Hutton.   "And-and who are the other two boys?" Dunspar said.   The two just looked him.   "Why would you do this!?!" Gemma said.   "The old man told us to," Brad said.   "What old man?"   "He gave us 50 cents. He said it was a joke."   "This isn't a joke!"   "The old man, he had a beard and he had a cane and he paid us 50 cents earlier this week and then "¦ and then he paid us 50 cents and we broke "¦ and the paint "¦ and then "¦ he paid us 50 cents tonight. He was going into the Empire Saloon."   "Hey, this isn't a joke, okay?"   "He said it was."   "Breaking people's windows isn't a joke," Jacali said.   "He said he was gonna pay for it," Jack said. "And he was just "¦ joking."   "No, he lied to you," Gemma said. "This is an offense, okay? This is my sister's saloon."   Jack wailed.   "You can't do this!" Gemma said.   "You could've gotten yourself killed," Otto said.   The boys looked scared.   "What are the names of the other two?" Dr. Weisswald said.   The two boys refused to answer that. They wouldn't snitch on their friends. Both of them were willing to take their punishment but they wouldn't tell on their friends.   "What was his name?" Gemma said.   "He didn't tell us," Jack said. "He was just some old codger. He was at the Empire."   "Is that where he stays?"   "I guess? I never seen him before in town. I don't know who he is. He's some "¦ and he "¦ and he "¦"   "Can you point him out to us?" Dr. Weisswald asked.   "If I saw him, yeah, I'd point him out to you," Jack said.   "How old is he?" Gemma said.   "Would the marshal be in?" Dr. Weisswald said.   "He looked old," Jack said. "He had a gray beard and "¦ no, not the marshal! Don't tell the marshal! Oh God! Not the marshal!"   Both of the boys were terrified of the marshal. They had all heard, over the course of the last couple days, Marshal Bishop was a stickler for the law. If you broke the law, you would be punished to the full extent of the law. He gave no breaks to anybody.   "We'll fix the stuff and we'll paint the door and-and-and-and we'll give you the money!" Jack said. "We'll give you the dollar fifty."   "You give "˜em the money," Eric said.   "Shut up!" Jack said. "We'll give "˜em the money!"   "You won't get in trouble," Gemma said.   "But if you tell the marshal, we'll get in trouble," Jack said.   "We won't tell the marshal," Dr. Weisswald said.   Both of the boys were visibly relieved when they heard that.   "But you can't do this," Gemma said. "Any more."   "We won't!" Jack said.   "And your friends as well," Dunspar said.   "Okay, we'll tell our friends," Jack said.   "And we might "¦ do we want them to point out the old man?" Jacali said.   "Yeah," Dr. Weisswald said.   "Here!" Jack said. "Here!"   He nudged Eric and they both held out 50 cents. They all realized the boys wore worn clothing and were probably pretty poor. Fifty cents was probably a fortune to each of them.   "No, you can keep it," Dr. Weisswald said.   "We'd also like if you help fix the saloon tomorrow," Otto said.   "Yeah," Gemma said.   "We'll paint," Jack said. "We'll paint and "¦ I don't know how to work glass "¦"   "Well, round up the rest of your boys, come back here tomorrow, and fix this," Gemma said.   They looked t her suspiciously for a moment but then nodded.   "And if they won't come," Jack said.   He nodded at Eric with a frown and Eric pounded his fist into his open hand. The boys told them they would make sure the other two boys came. They were also willing to identify the old codger, as they called their employer. They apparently wanted revenge on the old man.     * * *       They got a few hours sleep before the Gilded Lily opened that day. All four of the boys showed up soon after the establishment opened. One of them had a bloody nose and another had a black eye and another kid had a bruise. Gemma gave the boys cold rags for their wounds. The two new boys both apologized and seemed sincere. They asked where the paint and the brushes were.   "We've got to repay our debt to society," one of them said.   They got to work on painting the front porch, batwing doors, and interior doors.   They asked Lily to watch the boys and they apologized to her.   "You're really pretty," one of them said to Lily.   Gemma gave the boy a light smack on the forehead.   "Ow!" he said.   "That's not how you speak to a lady," she said.   "Okay," he said.   He walked over to Lily and pulled her hair.   "Isn't that what you're supposed to do?" the boy said.   Gemma glared at him.   "That's what I did with Mary Elizabeth Jones and I liked her!" the boy said. "But that was four years ago."   Gemma pulled him away from Lily.   They gave the boys paint brushes and paint and set them to work under Lily's guidance. She said she'd find some other chores for them as well, to help pay for the damages. She thought the floor could use polishing in the saloon. Dr. Weisswald asked Lily if La Forge was the one she got the stocks from and she confirmed it. She told the doctor she had bought quite a bit of stock. Dr. Weisswald also got a description of La Forge and learned he had a thick, black beard, wore shaded glasses, and had a thick head of hair that was held down with pomade.   "So, he's not old?" Dr. Weisswald said.   "No, he's in this 30s or 40s," Lily said.   She asked Lily about an old man with a beard who used a cane. She noted Buck at the Bull's Head had gray hair and a beard, but the boys would know him on sight.   Jacali suggested looking at the Empire Saloon and seeing if the codger might be there. Dunspar thought they should have the kids meet the codger again and intercept them. They asked the kids where and when they met the codger usually and they told them it was usually in the late afternoon or early evening. They said the old codger found them, usually outside where they played kick the can or some other game.   Dallas arrived as they discussed it. By then the boys had finished painting the front of the building and Lily had them polishing and cleaning the floor of the saloon.   "New workers?" he said when he saw the boys.   "Yes," Dunspar said.   "Kids gotta have something to do!"   "We're going to have a short lesson today, Dallas."   "All right. Yeah. Teach me, Teach."   The two did their lesson at the bar. Bowen kept an eye on them.     * * *       Otto and Jacali took Ophelia a mile or so out of town to show her how to shoot a rifle. They had a few cans and he showed her how to shoot and load the weapon. She was startled by the noise of the rifle at first but otherwise did fairly well for a novice.     * * *       After his lesson, Bowen followed Dallas at a discreet distance. He saw the man talking to numerous people throughout town, everyone charmed by him. It sounded like he was making inquiries about land for sale in the town, especially ranches in the area and what quality various ranches were in.   Dallas didn't return to the Widow Barrington's boarding house until suppertime and, by carefully watching the house, Bowen eventually saw Dallas in the window of the room in the back of the house to the right.   "Room Number Four," he mused to himself.   None of the rooms had numbers on them, he remembered. But that would be room number four to him.     * * *       Otto was walking down the street when he saw a familiar face: Pete Sutter. He frowned and walked over to the man, who was walking towards the Bull's Head Saloon.   "Pete Sutter," Otto said.   "You!" Pete said.   "Yeah."   "Whoever the hell you are! What the hell do you want?"   "What are you doing here?"   "Whatever I want!"   The two looked each other up and down.   "I like the sunsets in Colorado," Pete finally said. "They make me feel like a little girl. What're you doing here?"   "Well, I'm just tracking the Crescent."   "You got five hundred dollars?"   "No."   "Then you ain't got nothing I want!"   "So, you have information?"   "What the hell's the crescent?"   "You still have a bounty on you, Pete?"   "I got lots of bounties on me, boy. But none in Colorado."   "Well, I'm not collecting right now."   "So, why don't you just blow."   "I saw you on the street!"   "What!?! You saw me right here on the street!"   "You were dead. Like a corpse."   "That's the thing about your Chinese death stars. An hour after you get killed, you're alive again!"   The two men stared at each other again.   "They used them machines on me," Pete finally said. "It's fine."   "What machines?" Otto said.   "The glowy things. You know. Them new-fangled medicine machines."   "Who?"   "I dunno. You know, them "˜boop' and there it is. And you're all healed up."   "I need one of those."   "You sure do! Right there in face! "˜Cause it's so ugly."   He laughed loudly at his own unfunny joke.     * * *       The others had the kids play as they usually did and told them they would be keeping an eye on them from a distance in hopes of catching the old codger. The boys were all on board with the plan and even talked about beating up the old man if they caught him.   "We'll throw rocks at "˜em!" Billy Hutchins said. "We're good at that. Billy's the best!"   As they watched, close to 5 p.m., they saw a man with a thick black beard, shaded glasses, and a thick head of pomaded hair walk up main street to the train station. They recognized him as La Forge from the description Lily had given them.   Nobody had approached the kids by dark and one of the boys approached one of them, telling them they had to go home. He said they could try again the next day.     * * *  

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

The Doom That Came to Devil's Gulch Part 4 - Horror at Whiskey Mine

* * *       They returned to the Gilded Lily after having a light dinner at one of the restaurants. Bowen noted he had supplies to explore the cave. Jacali said she wanted to get the codger in trouble but didn't think they had a good route to do that yet as all they had were the kids' word against his. She didn't know how to get the codger in trouble without getting the children in trouble as well. She did remember there was a deputy who was not as a hard-ass as Marshal Bishop was. She had seen the man around and could always hear him coming because he had a nervous laugh that preceded him wherever he went, it seemed.   Jacali asked Lily if the deputy was a good person who could help them.   "He's a weirdo,"Lily said.   "He's a weirdo,"Jacali said.   "He laughs all the time!"   "Well "¦"   "If you're standing on the street, you know he's coming five minutes before he gets there because he's chuckling the whole time. It's so strange."   "Is that something he's always done?"   "As far as I know. I've only been living here a few months. He's a chuckler and when you talk to him, he doesn't. Otherwise, he's always got a weird, nervous laugh. But he's an alright fellow."   "But do you think he would be trustworthy to go get the codger with the kids more than the marshal."   "Oh yeah, the marshal will throw them in jail and then fine them. And they're all from poor families."   "I don't want to do that."   "I don't think Chubby will. Chubby is always trying to get the marshal to ease off on people."   Jacali thought it was a good idea to keep a watch on the Gilded Lily and to talk to the deputy. They talked about going to the cave and Dunspar, Ophelia, and Gemma said they'd stay and watch the saloon.   Dr. Weisswald asked Ophelia if she was not interested in the Crescent. The serpent person said she didn't know what it was. When Dr. Weisswald said it might be in the cave, she told the woman to bring it to her. When Weisswald said they didn't know if they could bring it back, Ophelia dismissed her abruptly.   Otto told them about his encounter with Pete Sutter.   "He talked about glowing machines that brought him back from the dead,"Otto said. "I think. That healed him."   "Pete Sutter's an interesting character, isn't he?"Jacali said.   "I played poker with him,"Bowen said.   "I have an idea but I don't really want it to be true,"Jacali said. "When the dream slugs - God, I need a better name for those - next time I talk to them I'll ask."   "Yithians,"Dr. Weisswald said.   "Yithians,"Otto said.   "We have a name!"Jacali said. "Next time I talk to the Yithians, I will ask them. The thing is, they told me there is another group that wanted the Crescent. I think of their kind. It "¦ makes me wonder if Pete Sutter is their connection to getting the Crescent. I mean, obviously, they've really chosen a "¦ a bad peach on that one."   She suddenly remembered the Secret Service men on the Sequoyah Star holding their hands almost like claws. Just like the claws on the Yithians in her strange dream.   "I don't think we should trust Pete Sutter,"Jacali said. "And I mean, I thought that before but now, it's justified. I don't think we should trust Pete Sutter."   "Well, no,"Otto said. "I don't think any of us did before this."   "And again, I didn't either. But I think he has some connection to Yithians about the horn."   "And I think they might be manipulating him."   "Yes. That sounds like─"   "Because he does not seem terribly bright and pretty easy to fool."     * * *       Jacali, Dr. Weisswald, Otto, and Bowen returned to the mine they had trespassed in before and found their way to the crevice. It looked like some work had been done in the area to facilitate getting down into the hole, but not much. They set Bowen's 700 yards of rope and flung it over the side. Then they climbed down carefully but found the pit was deeper than the rope could reach. They noticed wind seemed to come out of the hole for about 30 seconds and then stopped for some time before it blew into the hole for 30 seconds. It was almost as if something impossibly huge was breathing down there.   They noticed, just below the end of the rope on the opposite side of the hole was a large vein of gold. Bowen's eyes lit up. He thought about trying to get to it but it was just too far away.   They climbed back up, took their rope and stakes, and headed back to Devil's Gulch.   As they got close to town, they saw a figure coming from town heading south. They were not far from town when they saw it and Jacali suggested intercepting the man. They recognized the figure. He had a thick, black beard, shaded glasses, and pomaded hair. He wore a nice suit. They thought it was La Forge. He stopped when he saw them, a little startled.   "Hello stranger,"Dr. Weisswald said.   "Good "¦ evening,"La Forge said uneasily.   "Heading out of Devil's Gulch, I see,"Jacali said.   "Just taking a walk,"La Forge said. "A constitutional. To settle my stomach. I had a very late dinner."   "Oh, I probably have some medicine for that,"Dr. Weisswald said.   She rifled through her doctor's bag for some mint.   "Yes, it's best to be home at this hour,"Jacali said.   "It best is!"La Forge said.   "Why are you wearing those glasses?"Otto said.   "Are you bandits then?"La Forge said.   "No, we're not robbers,"Dr. Weisswald said.   "No, I don't fancy myself a bandit,"Jacali said.   "Most don't,"La Forge said.   "I'm not a thug,"Bowen said.   La Forge backed away from them nervously.   "Where are you from?"he said carefully.   "We are just passing through Devil's Gulch, staying for a bit,"Jacali said.   "Ah,"La Forge said. "I see. Very well."   He continued to back away from them. Dr. Weisswald had pulled out some mint. She handed it to the man and he tucked it into his pocket.   "Are you the man selling stocks?"Bowen said.   La Forge stopped backing up.   "Where did you hear that?"he said.   "All around town,"Bowen said. "Everybody's investin.'"   "Everybody?"   "Lots of people. Uh "¦"   "I'll be honest with you, there is some stock that is for sale. I've been trying to limit the sales to a very few."   He looked at them.   "Why is that?"Dr. Weisswald said.   "Because I don't want people to claim that I'm ripping them off,"La Forge said.   "Are you?"Otto said.   "Why would they claim that?"Dr. Weisswald said.   "Because I'm an out-of-towner,"La Forge said. "And I don't want to seem like a criminal. Now, I'm going to walk back to town. If you want to shoot me on the way, there's little I can do about it."   He backed away from them again.   They escorted him back to town, following him and making him various nervous. He went back to the Empire Hotel and he used his room key to open the front door and then lock it behind him.   Jacali suggested posting someone to see if he tried to leave again. Otto volunteered but asked for someone to watch with him so he didn't fall asleep again. Dr. Weisswald suggested he keep pacing to stay awake, noting that was what they did in the war.   Otto stayed behind the watch. The others returned to the Gilded Lily.     * * *       About a half hour later, the front door of the Empire Hotel opened and La Forge slipped out again, heading south. Otto followed him at a discreet distance. La Forge walked about five miles out of town and met with a fellow with a mustache and bushy eyebrows wearing a plaid suit. They conferred for a short time and then they headed to a mine entrance nearby. They went inside and, a moment later, he saw light coming from within. The light dimmed as they walked deeper into the mine.   Otto found a safe spot in some broken rocks about 20 yards away and watched. About a half hour later the men ran out of the mine shaft, throwing their lamps down behind them as they sprinted away, looks of horrors on their faces. Something was in the mine that stopped at the entrance. It appeared to be some kind of amorphous lump made of viscous black slime that changed its shape as it writhed in the mine entrance.   The two men kept running towards town and he soon lost sight of them. The strange shape disappeared back into the mine entrance and he saw the flames gradually subside.   He went back to town and found everyone at the Gilded Lily had gone to bed and the structure looked fine. He went to bed.     * * *       The early morning hours of Friday, August 20, 1875, were broken by a screams and a great cry and hue from the east side of town. The initial cries were painful screams soon followed by cries for help.   Bowen was woken up fast as he had pitched his tent over on that side of town, not far from where the screams originated. He grabbed his pickaxe and ran out to find the cries were coming from Dallas Avery's boarding house. He ran to the back of the house and found a woman on the stoop there retching on the ground in terror.   "It's horrible!"she cried when she saw the old prospector. "Don't go in there! Don't go in there! It's horrible! Help! Help! Murder! Murder!"   He ran in and found the door to the ground floor bedroom near the kitchen was wide open. In the light from a lantern in the kitchen he could see what looked like a skeleton on the bed. The sheets and mattress were wet with fresh blood. He thought he saw a little hole in the ceiling above.   He went by the room and headed up the stairs, passing a couple of men coming down. He went to Dallas' room and found it locked. He tried the other door on that side of the house but found it also locked.     * * *       Dunspar and Gemma Jones reached the house along with a few other townsfolk from nearby homes and businesses. Gemma consoled the woman by the back porch.   "It's the Widow Barrington!"she said. "She's dead! She's dead! Oh my God! I heard the noise! I heard her scream and then I looked. Oh, it was awful! It was awful!"   Dunspar went to the room and saw the bloody skeleton, all that was left of the Widow Barrington.   Marshal Bishop and Dr. Gibbs had arrived along with Dr. Weisswald, Jacali, and Otto. Everyone was terrified by the horrible sight.   "My God,"Marshal Bishop said.   Everyone looked up as they heard the sound of wood being smashed upstairs.   "What the hell?"Marshal Bishop said.   He headed up the steps.     * * *       Bowen struck the door a second time with his pickaxe and smashed the lock, knocking the door open. He peered in and could see, from the light from the hallway, that it looked like a typical room. The bed was unmade and a few clothes were scattered around the room. He moved to the other door when Marshal Bishop came up the stairs.   "What the hell are you doing?"Marshal Bishop said.   "There was a thing on the ceiling,"Bowen said.   "You stop what you're doing,"Marshal Bishop said, putting his hand on his pistol.   Bowen put down the pickaxe.   "Get downstairs!"Marshal Bishop said. "What's wrong with you? Pick that up!"   Once they were downstairs, he wanted to know what the hell Bowen was doing. Bowen told him about the hole in the ceiling, pointing it out. He said he was trying to see where it went to see if they could catch what did it. Marshal Bishop got a stepstool and got up near where the hole was.   "I wouldn't do that!"Bowen said.   Marshal Bishop held up a lantern and noted there was something, some space, between the ceiling and the floor. He climbed back down and found the Widow Barrington's keys. Then they went up to the other room upstairs and unlocked it. It didn't look like anyone was living there and someone mentioned Miles Nelson left the day before. Dr. Weisswald asked what he looked like but it wasn't the old codger. Bowen suggested prying up some of the floorboards and they retrieved crowbars and got to work on it. They found a loose floorboard that led to a spot under the floor. When Bowen went into Dallas' room, he found another loose floorboard that led to the same space. Within was a little bit of gunnysack or burlap that looked like it had been burnt. Bowen pocketed it.   "What the hell's that!?!"they heard a familiar voice. "Whoa! What happened to her!?!"   "Oh, hey Pete Sutter,"Bowen said. "Hey Marshal, this is Pete Sutter."   "That's right, I'm Pete Sutter!"Pete said.   Marshal Bishop didn't seem to care.   Otto took everyone aside and told them what he had seen at the mine south of town.   "Oh!"Jacali said. "That sounds where the Crescent might be at."   "Or something worse,"Dr. Weisswald said.   "You think the Crescent can spawn tentacles?"Otto said.   "Or something worse,"Jacali said. "Like Weisswald said."   Dallas Avery wandered back and seemed quite surprised at the crowd near the boarding house.   "Where were you, Dallas?"Dunspar asked.   "I was taking a walk,"Dallas said. "I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep."   "Where to?"   "I just took a walk outside of town. It's so hot. What is going on?"   Marshal Bishop took the man down to the jail to talk to him. When they asked about Miles Nelson, the other boarders said he left the day before with a suitcase. They were not sure how he left town or when, exactly. Dr. Weisswald examined Widow Barrington's mattress and realized, though there was not enough blood for a person, there was a lot. There were also chemical burns on the mattress unlike anything she had ever seen before.     * * *       They returned to the Gilded Lily and quietly discussed the horror in the boarding house. Jacali was of the opinion they should investigate the cave Otto had told them about. She thought there might be a connection between what Otto had seen and what had happened that night. They decided to question La Forge that day and then possibly explore the mine.     * * *       All of them except Bowen went to the Empire Hotel after they ate breakfast that next morning. Bowen waited on the porch. They learned from Farnsworth La Forge was eating breakfast in the dining room and they were welcome to wait for him. They went to the saloon and hung out at the bar until they saw him come out of the dining room. When La Forge saw Bowen, Dr. Weisswald, Otto, and Jacali, he was a little taken aback, obviously recognizing them from the night before.   "Yes?"he said as they approached him. "Can I help you people?"   "We need to talk in private,"Otto said.   "I don't know if I want to,"La Forge said.   He again looked over the four he had met late the night before.   "Well, sir, it's about "¦ it's about "¦"Jacali said. "It's about last night. Otto, here, knows the details probably better "¦"   "I saw you meet a man with a mustache,"Otto said. "You went to that cave south of town. I saw you run out. Something came out of the cave after you."   "What was that?"La Forge said.   "Well, I don't know."   "Was it a bear?"   "I don't know."   A few other people who came out of the dining room stopped, curious, to listen to the conversation. La Forge noticed them.   "Well,"he said. "What was it?"   "If you "¦ don't know what it is "¦ I'm not going to say,"Otto said. "I feel like that kind of defeats the purpose."   "What?"   Otto just stared at him.   "Very well,"La Forge said. "I met with a geologist. I had one come to this area a week ago. And the man has told me this is a prime spot for gold and silver, possibly other precious metals. I and my associate, his name is Maxwell Barrow, he's staying outside of town to be discreet, but now that's over, we were examining some of the old abandoned mines when there was some kind of collapse. It frightened both of us quite badly. However, if I'm right, the gold that was not found here before still resides in the ground around Devil's Gulch, which could lead to a possible gold rush! I didn't want to loose any information until the facts were sure, but you forced my hand."   He looked over all of them.   "Is that all?"he said.   Otto looked at the others.   "I'm satisfied,"Otto said.   Jacali left.   Some of the people in the place were murmuring and they realized the rumors were going to spread like wildfire.   They all returned to the Gilded Lily and prepared to investigate the mine Otto had told them about.     * * *       Dunspar went to the bank where he withdrew the money he'd had wired to him. He returned to the Gilded Lily and gave $400 to Lily.   "I expect a kitchen next time I come,"he said.   She looked at him with fire in her eyes and shook her head.   "Not a loan,"he said. "Gift."   "No!"she said. "How dare you!?! You think I'm just a woman, I can't earn this money?"   "I know you can!"   "No!"   "I just want food next time."   "I will not take charity. Take your money. Take your money."   "Fine."     * * *       Otto led them all to the abandoned mine some five miles south of town and they could see the mouth was blackened as well as some of the massive supports. They didn't think the damage was enough to weaken them, however. The cave went back and headed downward at a steep angle. Gemma told them the rumors she had heard about the Whiskey Mine, in which men had heard strange noises and had to take a drink before they entered to work up their courage.   Bowen took a swig of whiskey and offered it around.   They entered the place and found it well-built. There was no sign of a collapse near the entrance. The roof was held by solid supports. The main shaft ran back at least a half mile and they explored for 20 minutes or so, the feel of the entire world above their heads weighing heavily upon them. The few side passages didn't go very far.   Finally, it came into the upper side of another tunnel that went nearly perpendicular to it where they met. This tunnel was of worked stone of strange manufacture. Hexagonal-shaped stones fitted perfectly into each other formed the floor, walls and ceiling. To the right, the worked tunnel went only a little ways before it had collapsed. To the left, it went into the darkness.   They followed the tunnel only a hundred feet or so before they came to a large room at the end. The room was about 50 feet across and, in their lantern light, they could see a huge basalt statue of a horrific, toad-like creature. It felt like infinite slothfulness and had eyes that appeared to be two slits of oozing blackness in the black, browless face. It had a fat, furry body and bat-like ears. The mouth was wide and the eyes half-closed as if sleepy. They seemed very deep. It also had a ruby mounted in the center of its chest.   On either side of the statue was a deep, bronze brazier. Strange-shaped, long cuts in the floor were very black, almost as if they were filled with darkness. The odd troughs seemed to be oddly and randomly shaped.   Ophelia gasped and looked around nervously.   "We should leave now,"she said.   "Why?"Otto said.   "We "¦ should "¦ leave "¦ now "¦"she said quietly as she backed up the tunnel.   "I'm with her!"Dunspar said.   "I'll need some more exposition on that,"Jacali said.   The serpent person had gone pale despite the fact that her human form was just some kind of magical disguise. Both Dunspar and Bowen were moving back down the tunnel.   Otto, Jacali, Dr. Weisswald, and Gemma stood in the entrance to the terrible chamber.   "What is this?"Gemma said. "What is this?"   Even those who were in the entrance began to back out when some kind of horrible, oozing blackness came out of one of the troughs.   "Run!"Ophelia said.   Gemma turned to run and then she went white and her eyes rolled back up into her head as she collapsed in a faint. Bowen, a little further up the corridor, had the misfortune of looking back and then screamed and ran down the corridor at a sprint, laughing insanely. Jacali, also stunned by the sight of the horrors suddenly dropped her bow and arrow as her arms went limp and she couldn't feel them. She looked at Gemma.   "Uh!"she said, unable to reach down to grab the woman or her bow.   Ophelia turned and ran away. Otto picked up Gemma and flung her over his shoulder, turning and running away as well. Dunspar ran forward and grabbed Jacali's bow before he turned and ran away.   "I'd be very mad at you if I could move my arms!"she shouted at the man. "Weisswald, I have polio! Help me! Help me!"   She ran away as well.   Whatever the thing was, it came out of the trough. It seemed to be a black, horrific ooze, a viscous black slime. Thos who had not yet fled saw it form a hand, and a blade, and a corkscrew-looking appendage from its bulk. Dr. Weisswald saw something come out of the other three troughs and then huge versions of the things come out of the great braziers before she turned to run. They moved unnaturally quickly, much faster than any of them.   Otto felt Gemma stir on his shoulder as the woman regained consciousness.   "Hey!"she muttered. "What's happening?"   "Not enough time!"Otto said. "We're moving!"   Gemma looked up and saw the others following them and something moving in the room behind them.   In the rear, Weisswald looked back and saw the horrors were quickly catching up to her. She knew she could not outrun them. She flung her lantern down onto the stone floor behind her and the lantern shattered and broke as kerosene came out and sprayed over the floor, quickly catching fire. She didn't look back.   They fled, following the dim light of the madly-laughing Jerimiah Bowen who led their escape. They ran as hard as they could and didn't stop until they reached the entrance to the Whiskey Mine. Otto had to put Gemma down as they were falling behind. They ran together after that until they reached the entrance. By the time they got there, Jacali had the use of her arms once again and Bowen had stopped laughing insanely.   Both Jacali and Gemma got sick.   "The good news is, I don't have Polio anymore,"Jacali said.   "Keep going!"Otto said.   Ophelia didn't stop at the mine entrance but jogged at least another mile away. She finally stopped and looked back as if expecting pursuit.   "That was a statue of Tsathoggua and those were formless spawn,"she said. "They don't seem to like fire."   She looked at Otto's rifle.   "That's useless,"she said.   "I figured,"he said.   "I think we should collapse that mine,"Dr. Weisswald said.   "Yeah,"Dunspar said.   "It won't matter,"Ophelia said. "They can get through a hole the size of a pin. They are literally living liquid. Not as bad as shoggoths, but they are awful."   "What's a shoggoth?"Jacali said.   "Yeah,"Gemma said.   "What should we do then?"Dr. Weisswald said.   "There is the locomotive,"Ophelia said.   "Well "¦"Jacali said.   "I've only heard tales of these things,"Ophelia said. "I've never seen them before."   "Do we think that thing is what killed "¦?"Jacali said.   "People think there's a gold rush in this town,"Dr. Weisswald said. "We have to stop it."   "Yeah,"Jacali said.   "What killed what?"Ophelia said.   They told her about the death of Widow Barrington.   "Yes, that's the way that they kill their prey,"she said. "They strip the body of its flesh."   "Did they cause the fire?"Bowen said.   "How do we stop them, then?"Jacali said.   "They are acidic, somewhat,"Ophelia said. "I do not know."   Dr. Weisswald suggested the burlap sack might have held one. Ophelia didn't think so, noting the things were intelligent and malicious. The burns might have been related but it wouldn't have been kept in a burlap sack.   "They are horrific,"she said. "They protect the temples. They've worshipped Tsathoggua. They've been around for as long as I know. My people avoid the formless spawn and Tsathoggua, an elder god."   "Maybe something stole something from the temple and they had put it in that sack because they were trying to escape with it and hid it under the floorboards,"Bowen muttered.   "You think the window had it?"Jacali said.   "No."   "Oh, you said the floorboards."   "And the thing came and killed her and reached up through the ceiling and that's why the hole's there and went and grabbed it back."   "But then nobody else saw anything coming in, that we know of."   "And then it retreated back into the ground."   "It doesn't go through the ground,"Ophelia said. "It usually travels on the surface."   "Oh,"Bowen said.   They realized the statue had a ruby and the eyes had been really deep, as if they had something in them too.   "We need to find the other ones,"Dr. Weisswald said.   "So we need to go through the whole town and figure out─"Jacali said.   "Well, I have an idea,"Otto said.   "Yeah?"Jacali said.   "What about La Forge?"Otto said. "He and that other man were there. There were two of them. There were two eye sockets."   "Maybe the bit of money Dallas has came into was from selling them two gems,"Bowen said.   "It could be as well,"Otto said. "Maybe he sold them to La Forge."   "Well, La Forge and his partner were the only people who knew about this place,"Jacali said.   "And they were being chased by them last night,"Otto said.   "Let's go talk to La Forge,"Dr. Weisswald said.   "I think it was Dallas!"Bowen said.   They returned to town and found the people there nervous. They were obviously excited about the rumor of gold but were very nervous about the weird death of Widow Barrington. Rumors were flying through town and they heard some people wonder aloud if the half-Sioux in the gypsy wagon outside of town had anything to do with it. There as a rumor of some kind of insane murderer in town or perhaps some kind of disease that killed Widow Barrington. Dr. Weisswald tried to nip that one in the bud but the rumors were moving faster than the truth could keep up. Everyone had a theory.   "Maybe instead of confronting La Forge, we could convince the telegraph man to let us look at what telegraphs he's been sending,"Otto said.   "I mean, I don't know if we have the authority to do that,"Jacali said. "It's very illegal."   "I know,"Otto said.   They stood on the porch of the Gilded Lily and discussed how to proceed. Otto suggested they confront La Forge on his nightly walk but it was quickly pointed out they didn't know if he went every night and no one thought he would return to the Whiskey Mine. As they talked, one of the boys who had vandalized the saloon walked up.   "We ain't seen the old codger,"he told them. "We've been looking for him."   Then he was off.   Bowen wanted to distract the telegraph man and noted it was just a two person job and should be easy. Jacali thought if they contacted La Forge, Gemma might be the best person to do so.   "Are you up for that, Gemma?"Jacali said.   "Yeah,"Gemma said.   "What about the telegrams?"Bowen said.   Neither Jacali nor Dunspar liked the idea of that. Bowen pointed out they might get something that could be used as leverage in the conversation. Jacali didn't think it could be helpful in that regard either. Bowen noted he needed two people to go for the telegraph so that one could make a distraction while the other one stole the paperwork. He pointed out he just needed someone to make a distraction.   "I'll get Pete Sutter to make a distraction!"he said.   He left.   Gemma wanted to know the exact plan for dealing with La Forge. Jacali pointed out they could wait until Bowen got the information from the telegraph office to see if they could use any of it for leverage. However, she also noted if too much time passed, she felt they should go ahead and go anyway and talk to La Forge. She said they might not need to go up in a huge group and she thought it should just be her.   "What would you like to know?"Gemma asked.   "We need to know if they took a ruby,"Jacali said. "And where it is. I guess. This is open to everybody."   "Simply threaten him,"Ophelia said. "With death. Until he tells you the truth. I don't understand the problem."   "Typically that's not how humans work most of the time,"Gemma said.   "It's been the way I've seen you work so far,"Ophelia said.   "I don't know,"Jacali said. "We need to know if he has the ruby and where it is and if he'll give it to us."     * * *       Bowen found Pete Sutter and offered him $20 to make a distraction.   "Fifty!"Pete said.   "Twenty,"Bowen said.   Pete wanted to know what kind of distraction the old coot wanted. He didn't want to go to jail.   "A good one,"Bowen said. "A Pete Sutter original."   "Hm,"Pete said. "I like the sound of that. You pay me in advance."   They walked to the station and cased the place. The telegraph office was in the back of the building, facing away from Devil's Gulch. It was somewhat isolated but it was also connected via an archway to the teller's booth, meaning they had to distract both Shamus O'Gara, the telegraph operator, and Old Zeke Pratt, the ticket seller.   "It's gonna cost you double "˜cause I gotta distract two people,"Pete said.   "You're distracting both?"Bowen said.   "I'll distract both. You want me to rob "˜em too?"   "I mean, I might be."   Bowen agreed to pay the man an extra $10. Pete thought for a few minutes about what kind of distraction would be best. Then he went to talk to Old Zeke.   "I overheard there's some bandits,"he told the old man. "They're gonna crash the train by putting a boulder on the track. You should go tell the marshal! Yeah. You should go!"   Old Zeke didn't seem to believe him at all. Pete grabbed him by the lapels of his vest.   "You're gonna lose a train!"he shouted at the man.   Then he tried to pick the man's pocket and get the keys but Old Zeke saw him and, though Pete got the keys, it was not without its own problem.   "You!"Old Zeke cried out. "There's a thief! Thief! You're a thief!"   Pete gave the old man a shove and then ran away. The old man leapt over the ticket booth and gave chase but he was quite slow.   "Shamus, help me!"he screamed. "He's gonna get away!"   Shamus O'Gara ran out of the door to the ticket booth in pursuit of Pete while Old Zeke followed, more slowly, shaking his fist at the man.   Once they left the building, Bowen slipped into the telegraph office and started looking quickly for the telegraphs sent and received. He soon found a file labeled "La Forge."It seemed to have all of his correspondences. He went to the teller window and opened the register, taking a handful of cash, before he fled.     * * *       Bowen arrived at the Gilded Lily with a folder with La Forge's name on it. They took an hour to look over the papers together as there was no one else in the saloon that late morning. Most all of it seemed to be harmless correspondence though some seemed to indicate some kind of competition between the managers at R.H. Macy and Co. There was nothing about gold. A few telegrams asked for more stock certificates to be sent as many people wanted to invest. A couple of telegrams didn't make any real sense to them. One read "Do not forget to inform J about the situation referred to earlier."Another was just a list of 20 words sent August 11. The reply to that was "Proceed I am in route"which was received on Aug. 12.   "All right, well "¦ I guess it's time for the plan to contact La Forge, right?"Jacali said.   Gemma nodded.   Dallas had shown up at the Gilded Lily for his lesson from Dunspar while they looked over the papers. He took the cowboy aside.   "They're studying too?"Dallas said.   "Uh "¦"Dunspar said.   "What're they studying?"   "They're trying to gather some information on a new topic?"   "What?"   "Code breaking!"Bowen called.   "Yeah, code breaking,"Dunspar said.   "Oh,"Dallas said. "That sounds interesting. How do you do that?"   "Well, it's a bunch of secret words that─"   "Well, I know what a code is."   "Right."   "How do you learn how to break a code?"   "Um "¦ you basically learn what certain words mean for other words. That type of thing."   "Oh. Can you teach me that?"   "Unfortunately, I am not skilled in that."   "Oh, okay. I understand teacher."   Dunspar took the young man to the other side of the room.   "Do we ask him about the hole in his room?"Bowen said.   "I don't know,"Jacali said.   They discussed whether or not to question Dallas. They also planned who would go with Gemma. She thought Otto should come with her as he was the one who saw the men in the desert initially. He noted he could be somewhere nearby in case she needed him. She decided she would go alone with Otto somewhere nearby. They left the building.   The others talked about whether or not to talk to Dallas about the hiding spot under his room.     * * *  

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

The Doom That Came to Devil's Gulch Part 5 - Death at the Empire Hotel

* * *       Gemma went to Farnsworth and asked if he had seen James La Forge.   "I believe he's in his room," Farnsworth said.   "And what room would that be?" Gemma said.   "And why should I tell you, Miss Gemma Jones? After you threatened me."   "My dear man, I am very sorry. We did find the culprits of such a horrific vandalization."   "Who was it?"   "I'm not at liberty to say. But me and La Forge have a special arrangement and "¦ uh "¦"   "Oh."   ""¦ it would behoove you to let me in if you would not mind."   "Of course. Of course. I did not know Mr. La Forge was that kind of man."   He gave her the room number and she went up the steps, finding it at the front of the building, not far from the stairs on the second floor. She knocked on the door and thought she heard someone inside say "Who could that be?" A few moments later the door opened and La Forge stood there. He started, obviously surprised to see her.   "Yes?" he said.   "Mr. La Forge."   "Yes?"   "I've heard of your "¦ going's on around town and "¦ uh "¦ I feel we need to talk."   She pushed by him and entered the room. There was a bed, a dresser, and a wardrobe which was slightly open. There was also a desk in the room with a lot of paperwork on it as well as a small, somewhat portable safe that was in the corner. It was open and he walked quickly to it and closed it. She noticed a good deal of cash and paperwork in the safe before it closed. He spun the dial on it. She noticed several blank stock certificates on the desk as well, folded as if they came in the mail.   "Oh, I wonder what small fortune that could be," she said.   "Well," he said. "Miss Gemma Jones. Your name proceeds you."   "I've heard from reliable sources that you may be up to some shady business in this town."   "Shady? How ridiculous. I'm merely trying to make the people of this town as rich as I can."   "Oh really?"   "Yes."   "Well, you should know that I am looking out for several peoples' best interests."   "Hm. Who would that be?"   "I am not at liberty to say. You do not need to know that."   "Very well. How can I help you, Miss Jones? I would hate to be thought inhospitable to my "¦ guest."   "I've heard rumors that you've been involved with mysterious beings in the caves."   "Oh. Have you?"   "Yes."   "I haven't."   She laughed.   "Really?" she said.   "Yes, really," he replied.   "I don't think that's very true now, is it?"   "I didn't hear any rumors. None whatsoever. But "¦ what would I have to do with mysterious beings in a cave? You've been talking to that fellow with the rifle, haven't you?"   "Excuse me?"   "That fellow who said "˜something,' a bear or something, followed us out of the cave. Me and my geologist."   "Hm. What did the bear look like?"   "There was no bear. It was an avalanche."   "An avalanche where?"   "A collapse. In the mine we were looking in, hoping to find some more gold."   "You find any gold?"   "We found what we were looking for. Well, not really what we were looking for. But it was close enough."   "You must be alluding to a gem of another sort, I take it?"   "Something."   She looked at the safe.   "Oh, of course," he said.   He walked over to the safe, turning the dial while being careful to shield it from her. Then he opened it up.   "If you think I've stolen something, just say so," he said. "And you are free to look. Don't take anything for yourself though or I'll have to pull the full weight of the law down upon you. You are just a dancehall girl, albeit one who sings well."   "Oh just," she said.   "Yes. Just."   "You're funny."   "My daughters always thought so."   She looked at the safe and he gestured towards it again.   "That could very well be a red herring," she said.   "Where else do you wish to look?" he said. "Under the mattress, perhaps? In the dressers?"   "I want to know what you know and I think it would behoove you to tell me."   "What could I possibly have to gain from that?"   "We've intercepted some telegrams of yours."   "Oh. It seems like everyone in this town does."   "There are things in this town that "¦ we have seen and I know that you have seen. And unless you want those things to continue happening to this town, I'd suggest you tell me what you know."   "What things have you found?"   "The bear "¦ if you want to call it that."   "No no no. There's something else, isn't there? You've found something else in this town, haven't you?"   "You tell me."   "I want you to tell me."   "It seems like we're at an impasse here."   She laughed.   "It seems like we are," he said.   "Knowledge," she said. "Okay. Information for information. What do you want to know?"   "What have you found? Where is it?"   "What are you referring to?"   "You know what I'm talking about. Where is it?"   "Where is what?"   "Where is it?"   La Forge slowly approached her, his arms crossed.   "It," she said. "Describe it."   "She's not gonna tell," A smooth voice dripping with malice covered by a thick Georgia accent said.   The wardrobe door opened the rest of the way and a man slipped out. He moved with the grace of a snake though Gemma was sure every step was carefully planned. He had long, blonde hair and wore black. Two reverse holsters were on his belt, each holding a Colt Peacemaker and he wore black gloves that were smooth and clean. He had ice blue eyes and didn't seem to blink, merely stare. There was something terribly menacing about him.   "And who might you be?" she said haughtily. "An accomplice?"   He walked over to her, laughing quietly to himself.   "No, m' dear, I'm not an accomplice," he said with a sinister smile. "I'm his boss. I'm in charge of "¦"   "Of what exactly are you doing?" she asked.   "Mr. La Forge "¦ are we still going with that?" he said.   He grabbed her by the arm.   "Where is it?" he said.   He was still smiling slightly.   "I know it's here," he said. "They told me it's here and I need it and I want it and I'm not above a little rough play if need be."   "What "˜it' are you talking about?" she said angrily.   "I don't have time for this!" he said slowly. He looked at La Forge. "Do you have time for this? I don't have time for this."   He drew a pistol and pointed it at her.   "I really don't have time for this and I'll shoot this whole town if I have to," he said.   He looked at La Forge.   "She's yours," he said. "You tell her what to do!"   Gemma took advantage of his distraction to slip her knives into her hands. When he looked at her and saw her with him, his smiled broadened. He still didn't seem to have blinked.   "She has bite," he said. "You didn't tell me she has bite. Oh! You have bite! I like that. I like that. But this is faster than that."   He nodded towards his pistol. Then he glanced over his shoulder at La Forge.   "Why don't you "¦ just show her," he said.   La Forge looked suddenly nervous.   "Go ahead and kill me," she said. "They'll all be dead soon anyway."   The man in black looked back at La Forge.   "I like her," he said. "Why didn't you tell me about her sooner?"   Gemma grabbed the barrel of the gun, twisting it out of the man's hand and reversing it to point it at him. He turned back to her with a grin and a laugh.   "I like - I like her," he said. "Why don't you show her? Why don't you show her?"   He turned to La Forge again.   "Show her," he growled.   It was an order.   La Forge didn't seem pleased with it.   "All right," he said.   He took off the glasses. Then he pulled off the beard and the wig.   "Hello Jennie," he said.   To Gemma's horror, she recognized her father, Charles Allen. Her jaw dropped and she just stared at the man. While she was stunned, the man in black reached forward and gently took the pistol from her hand and pointed it at her, positioning himself between her and the door.   "Now, I will ask you one more time little girl," the man in black said, his voice almost soothing. "And this time "¦"   He reached down into his boot and pulled out a Bowie knife. He held it to her throat.   "Where "¦ is "¦ the Crescent?" he said.   "Oh," she said   "I know it's here."   "I see. You don't know where it is either."   "You don't know?"   "That's what I've been saying."   "She's worthless to us."   He tried to stab her but the whalebone in her corset turned the knife aside like armor. Charles Allen stepped forward and clamped a hand over her mouth. Gemma stabbed her father in the inside of his left elbow and he grunted in pain. Valentine tried to stab her again but, again, the whalebone in her corset saved her. She reached down and picked up the knife on the floor, brandishing them both at the men.   "Where are the rubies!?!" she said.   Both men stepped back, Allen bleeding profusely. Valentine moved his hands in a strange way that they almost seemed to go through each other. He pointed at her and an intense wracking pain went through her as her face and hands blistered and dripped fluid. As her father came towards her to try to clamp his hand on her mouth, her vision clouded with something red as blood dripped from her eyes. The pain was intense and terrible.   The next thing she knew, she was laying on her back on the ground gripped in pain and unable to say or do anything.   "I don't think she knows," the man in black said. "I don't think there's any point of keeping her around."   "We can't just leave her in my room!" Allen said.   "She doesn't know. None of "˜em probably know. It doesn't matter. We'll find it sooner or later."   "Just, hold on a second."   "Little girl, you shouldn't mess with me."   He stabbed her twice in the gut and she felt herself starting to bleed.   "You better get your money, Allen," the man in black said. "And get outta here. I don't care if he's got them rubies."   She felt the man in black wipe his blade off on her clothing. Then the door opened.   "Blackberry," she whispered.     * * *       Otto had arrived at the Empire Hotel and Saloon about five minutes after Gemma. He sat himself down at the bar and listened for her to call for help, just in case she needed. He had been there for a little while when he saw a man come down the stairs. He was blonde and wore all black, including black gloves. He recognized the man as John Valentine and he stood and drew his sword.   "Blackberry!" he heard a woman scream from upstairs.   Otto rushed to the stairs, brushing past Valentine.   "Excuse me," Valentine said.   He got a good look at Otto's face.   Otto ignored him and ran up the steps. He saw a single door open in the hallway and ran to it. In the room, a man was kneeling by a little safe, filling up a satchel with money. Gemma Jones lay on the ground in a widening pool of her blood. Otto rushed across the room, stepping over Gemma, and stabbed the man in the chest as he looked up at the last second.   Gemma, in a haze, turned her head towards her father and saw him run through. Money flew into the air. The man fall back with a high-pitched gasp and then lay still. Otto sheathed his bloody saber and went to Gemma but found her dying. She clutched at her belly.   "Gemma "¦" he said.   He tried to deal with the wounds but had no way to stop her from bleeding.   "Gemma, what happened?" he said.   She looked up at the ceiling.   He ran out of the room to go get Dr. Weisswald.     * * *       After Dunspar and Dallas had finished with his lesson, the cowboy was going to have a beer and relax before lunch. He always said he was "all dried out." The others came over to him and he bought them each a beer.   "Terrible thing to happen to that widow," Dr. Weisswald said.   "Oh my God!" Dallas said.   He went pale.   "I saw it!" he said. "I saw her body! There was nothing left of it. They say there was a disease that did that?"   "It wasn't a disease," Dunspar said.   "I've been traveling with the doctor for a while now and "¦ that's not a disease," Jacali said.   "That's just what I heard," Dallas said. "I'm just an ol' cowpoke. I don't know these things."   "Dallas, you said you recently got a big pay raise?" Dunspar said.   "I got a bonus. We took cattle up from Texas to Kansas and we did it in record time. The owner was willing to give us a nice, nice bundle of "¦ I got $200. That's over and above regular pay. There were four of us that got that "˜cause we did such a great job. That's amazing! I can't believe it! More money than I know what to do with. I'm looking. I'm thinking I'm going to be able to find a place."   "That's nice."   "It is."   "You ever meet your neighbor at the boarding house?" Bowen said.   "Oh," Dallas said. "Miles Nelson? Yeah. Funny about that man. They told me he left yesterday afternoon "¦ but I coulda sworn I heard him in his room last night. He was bumping or something. I don't know what he was doing because he woke me up. That's why I went for the walk, because he woke me up. I tried to get back to sleep and then I couldn't get back to sleep. So "¦ I'm glad I wasn't in the house. Poor Widow Barrington. What was it? What'd it do?"   "Well, there was a loose floorboard in your room," Dr. Weisswald said. "I'm not sure if you knew about that. And we found something under it. And I think it might be related to her death."   "In my room?" Dallas said.   "Uh-huh."   "I didn't know about any loose floorboards. What did you find? Was it gold? I hear about people hiding gold under loose floorboards."   "It wasn't gold."   "Oh. I don't need gold anyway."   Bowen held up the burnt piece of burlap. Dallas looked confused.   "Here's what I found," Bowen said.   "Oh!" Dallas said. "It's just some burlap. That's not treasure."   "It coulda held treasure."   "I thought you were talking about treasure. I thought you were talking about treasure."   "Also, the floorboards connected from your room to your neighbors," Dunspar said.   "So maybe he had some treasure," Dallas said.   He snapped his fingers.   "He took it with him," he said. "But I couldn't have taken it anyways, because it wasn't mine, and if I'd found it, and I found out it was connected to his room too, I would've had to ask."   "Well, we were just wondering if you knew anything about it," Dr. Weisswald said.   "Huh-uh," Dallas said.   "What was Miles'─"   "Wait, which board? I wanna go look."   "What was Miles' occupation?"   "I dunno but he was always looking at rocks. He was only here a few weeks."   Lily came out of her room where she was doing paperwork. She was delighted to see Dallas there and he gave her a big smile. The two of them went behind the bar to chat.   Otto burst in the front door.   "Weisswald!" he yelled. "Come with me! Now! No questions!"   Dr. Weisswald ran out the door with him, followed by Jacali, Dunspar, and Bowen.     * * *       Gemma knew she was dying. She could feel her life running out of her on the floor. She looked at the carpet to one side of her and then dipped her finger in to the pool of blood under her and wrote a message. She was certain she was not going to survive. She blinked and someone was leaning over her left side. The woman had dark hair, reddish skin, and was pretty. She wore a white Stetson and looked concerned, frowning at the girl.   The woman gestured towards her left side and Gemma saw, lying there on the floor next to her, was a large silver crescent with small spikes sticking out of it. She recognized what it was from the description the others had given her. It was the Crescent.   "You need to trust in it and touch it," the woman said. "Pull one of the golden rods forth. The Lunula determines if you're worthy. But it's a matter of faith to believe it will not harm someone."   She gestured to one of the spikes.   Gemma only thought about it for a moment before reaching for the Crescent and grasping one of the spikes. She pulled and it slid out easily. Connected to it was a long, golden rod. It glowed and seemed to sparkle, practically crackling with power.   "Touch your wounds," the other woman said.   She touched the wounds on her belly with the rod and everything got hazy. She closed her eyes and felt very strange but not wrong.   "You have to trust and you have to have faith," she heard the woman say.   When she opened her eyes, someone else was leaning over her.     * * *       Otto burst into the front door of the Empire Hotel, followed by the other three.   "What is going on?" Farnsworth cried out.   "Medical emergency!" Bowen yelled as he ran past.   Otto led them up the stairs and down the hall to the room with the still-open door. Gemma Jones lay on the ground in a wide pool of blood. Nearby, another man lay next to a safe, bank notes and money all around him, in a similarly large pool. Dr. Weisswald ran to Gemma and found cuts on her clothing in her belly. Gemma opened her eyes.   "I think I saw God," she said.   Weisswald quickly pulled up her dress and examined her belly but found not cuts, marks or scars. She was covered in blood. Her dress, belly, face, and hands all seemed slick with it.   Next to her, written in blood on the carpet, were what she had expected to be her last words. It read:     Couldn't find out about rubies Searching for crescent James is John Send my love to Lily Jennie Allen     Weisswald continued to look for a wound. There was so much blood and she couldn't figure out how Gemma could be alive after all of the blood. Gemma appeared unwounded.   "Damn, I do good work even when I'm not here!" she finally said.   Otto just stared at Gemma Jones. He couldn't believe she was unwounded. He had tried to stop the bleeding himself and the blood had just been gushing out of the woman. It was simply impossible. He fainted.   Gemma got up and tried to help him.   Bowen had walked over to the other man who lay in a heap by the little safe. He had been run through the chest with a sword and blood oozed from a wound on the inside of his elbow. Bowen didn't recognize him as La Forge but saw the beard, glasses, and wig on the ground nearby. He looked around and then pocketed a handful of the bank notes.   Gemma slapped Otto lightly on the face and he came around.   "You were dying!" he muttered.   "You killed my father," she said.   "I thought he killed you!"   "I thought so too!"   "But "¦ you're alive "¦"   "Good Lord!" Farnsworth cried out as he looked into the room. "What is going on here!?!"   "I'm sorry," Gemma said. "There's been an accident."   "My God!" Farnsworth said. "My God!"   He ran to get help.   Gemma kissed Otto's forehead.   "So, what's going on?" Jacali said. "Who attacked you? Was it him?"   She pointed at Charles Allen as Otto climbed to his feet and brushed himself off. Bowen picked up the shaded glasses and put them in his pocket. Then he left the room at a quick pace.   "What's going on?" Jacali asked again. "Is this the man that attacked you?"   Gemma looked confused. She had been nearly delirious after John Valentine had stabbed her and thought sure she had seen her father flee the room as well.   "Did you do a Pete Sutter?" Otto said.   "I'm sorry?" Gemma said.   "You came back from the dead," Otto said.   "Hey, my question remains!" Jacali said. "What went on? Who attacked you?"   "It was "¦ it was my father," Gemma said.   "That I apparently stabbed to death," Otto said.   "Well, as long as it's resolved," Jacali said.   "This is my father, Charles Allen," Gemma said.   "Was there anybody else?" Dunspar said.   "Yes," Gemma said. "La Forge was not "¦ him. He was my father: Charles Allen."   "And I just "¦ ran him through," Otto said.   "Which I am "¦" Gemma said.   She giggled.   ""¦ eternally grateful for," she said.   "Grateful?" Otto said. "I thought you'd be terrified."   "He's a madman!" Gemma said. "He's "¦ he "¦ I was abused. My sister and I and my mother and he's "¦ he is "¦ hell incarnate."   "Well, not anymore," Otto said. "He's literally in hell now."   "Nice one, Otto," Jacali said.   "Thank you," Otto said.   "John Valentine was also in the room," Gemma said.   "I saw him go down the staircase," Otto said.   "So, John Valentine is in this town?" Jacali said.   "He's already gone," Otto said.   "He's already gone?" Jacali said.   "Yes," Gemma said.   "I assume so," Otto said.   "Well, I mean, if he's close to town or just left, we might be able to get him on horseback," Jacali said.   "Nobody move!" Marshal Bishop said.   He walked in with gun drawn.   "Put down your guns," he said. "Same for anybody that's armed."   Farnsworth peeked around the door frame. Chubby Hawkins giggled nervously and looked into the room, sawed-off shotgun in hand.   "What's going on?" he said, laughing nervously.   They all put their weapons on the floor.   "Who killed this man?" Marshal Bishop said.   "What?" Otto said. "Which one?"   "No, I don't think I want to know, "Marshal Bishop said.   He took several sets of cuffs out.   "Turn around," he said.   "I'm just the doctor," Dr. Weisswald said.   "You're all coming down to the jail where I'm going to talk to you and find out what happened," Marshal Bishop said.   Marshal Bishop had Chubby cuff everybody.   "Who's hurt?" he asked. "Is somebody hurt?"   "May I have some medical assistance?" Gemma said.   "All right, we'll take you to the doctor," Marshal Bishop said. "Chubby, you're going to take her to the doctor. Keep an eye on her."   The other four were cuffed and taken to the jail. He told Farnsworth to lock the room and when he got to the hotel saloon, he looked in and called out one of the men he knew, deputizing him and telling him to guard the room where the murder had taken place.   The four were taken to the jail and each put in a cell and not allowed to talk to each other until Marshal Bishop had all their stories straight. Chubby returned with Gemma during the questioning and she was questioned as well. He told Marshal Bishop the doctor had found nothing wrong with the girl though she had been covered in blood. Otto confessed to killing the man for what he called "self defense" of Gemma. He also mentioned seeing John Valentine coming down the stairs and how he was somehow mixed up in all of it. They couldn't understand why Gemma was covered in blood and there was some confusion but their stories all seemed to check out. Gemma didn't mention the Crescent or the woman who had saved her.   Lily came busting into the jail to look for Gemma. Bowen had told her about Gemma being found in the room and La Forge being a grifter and being dead as well. She made sure Gemma was all right.   After Marshal Bishop had questioned them he made arrangements to retrieve the money and papers in La Forge's hotel room. He also sent a telegram to R.H. Macy and Co. questioning their employment of La Forge and noting the claims he had made in Devil's Gulch.   Though the others were released, Otto was jailed until everything could be sorted out and they could identify Charles Allen's body and find out if La Forge was legitimate.     * * *       It was suppertime by the time the rest returned to the Gilded Lily. Dallas came by that night as well, a little earlier than usual. He and Lily talked and giggled and then she gave him the key to her room and he went back there. She told Gemma Dallas had a busy afternoon, having ridden to one of the ranches to look it over for possible purchase. She said he was going to nap there until that night as he didn't really feel safe at the boarding house any more.   They talked about the rubies that were still missing and Dr. Weisswald wondered if all of the rubies had been retrieved. Jacali wondered if they got retrieved, why were they not returned. Bowen wondered if Dallas had them and they realized Dallas couldn't have sold them to anyone in town. No one would have been able to afford them.   By the end of the evening, they were still not sure what to do. Dr. Weisswald had convinced Ophelia to drink a shot of whiskey but the beverage didn't seem to affect the serpent person. She didn't seem to like it.   "You're metabolism might be too fast for it," Dr. Weisswald said.   Ophelia looked at her.   "Do I get to experiment too?" she said.   "Uh, if you want," Dr. Weisswald said.   "If they're safe," Jacali said.   "Hmm," Ophelia said. "Can you bring me a child?"   "No," Dr. Weisswald said.   "With more description," Jacali said.   "Or a baby?" Ophelia said.   "Probably not," Jacali said.   Ophelia rolled her eyes and sighed.     * * *  

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The Doom That Came to Devil's Gulch Part 6 - Fire at the Gilded Lily

* * *       "I'm not ready to go home," the last drunk said as they were closing up some hours later.   "You don't have to go home but you can't stay here," Bowen said.   "My wife is gonna yell at me "¦ for drinking," the man said.   "You don't have to go home," Dunspar said.   "Can I sleep under a table?" the man said.   "You don't have a ruby?" Dr. Weisswald asked him.   He looked at her.   "You have beautiful eyes," he said, his voice slurred.   Gemma grabbed him by the arm and led him to the door.   "Oh no!" he said. "Don't make me go! I like it here so much! It's so good!"   She gave him a little push out the door and he stumbled onto the porch. She closed the door and was getting ready to lock it when she heard a cry from outside. She locked the door, not even wanting to look. Then she heard something moving on the porch. A grinding noise came from the door near the floor.   Bowen was sweeping the floor and Dunspar was reading. Jacali and Dr. Weisswald talked to Ophelia.   "Did you hear that?" Gemma said.   "Hear what?" Dunspar said.   Gemma readied her knives and cracked the door. She saw that one of the horrible things from the mine was outside. Half of the drunk man was gone. From the waist down, he was just a skeleton. The start of a hole was in the base of the door and she slammed the door closed and backed away. Something crashed against it.   "What is it?" Dr. Weisswald said.   Bowen went for his pack and Jacali pulled her bow from her back.   "It's "¦ it's those things from the cave!" Gemma said.   "Oh, so we should leave!" Jacali said.   Dunspar ran for the bar. Dr. Weisswald ran to one of the oil lamps on the wall. They were glass and had just been filled by Lily. Bowen pulled out the lantern from his pack while Gemma went for one of the lamps on the wall as well.   Ophelia leapt up from the table and ran for the back door. Then a grinding noise started there as well. Bowen ran to Lily's room in the back   "What is going on?" Lily cried out.   She came down the stairs where she had been filling the lamps on the walls of the balcony above.   The front door was creaking as a great pressure was placed against it.   When Bowen reached Lily's room, he knocked.   "Hey Dallas!" he called out. "Dallas!"   There was no answer.   "Okay, so, we need to get out of here!" Jacali said. "Top balcony? That sounds like a good idea to me!"   "Don't go upstairs!" Gemma said. "Don't you know anything? We need to get fire and kill these things!"   "And burn the place down?" Jacali said. "Your sister's saloon!"   Jacali and Ophelia ran for the stairs. When the serpent person reached Jacali she stopped her.   "They're looking for the rubies!" she said. "Where are the rubies!?!"   "If I knew, Ophelia, I would have already thrown the rubies away and given them to them!"Jacali said.   Ophelia hissed at the woman.   Lily looked around, confused. Dunspar ran to Lily's room as Bowen jammed his pickaxe into the door frame to try to lever the door open.   "What is going on?" Lily said.   She reached under her skirt and pulled out a little derringer, cocking it.   "That won't work," Dr. Weisswald said.   "What is going on?" Lily said.   "They're creatures!" Gemma said. "They're creatures that are coming for these gems that they need. No time to explain! We need to hurry."   "I've got to get Dallas!" Lily said.     * * *       Under the combined efforts of Dunspar and Bowen, the door to Lily's room crashed open. They saw Dallas climbing out of the window.   "Dallas, give me the rubies!" Bowen yelled.   Bowen noticed Lily had a little safe in her room. It was open and looked empty.   "Dallas!" he shouted. "They're gonna chase ya!"   "No they won't!" Dallas said. "Have fun!"     * * *       In the back of the saloon, a hole broke in the bottom of the door perhaps two inches wide. In through it flowed the black slimy mass of one of the things they had seen in the temple in the desert. Lily stopped when she saw it and backed away. Gemma grabbed her arm and pulled her further away. Lily shot the thing and they saw the bullet strike it and pass through but the wound instantly closed.   Jacali and Ophelia ran up the steps and headed for the front of the building. Below them, Dr. Weisswald flung her lamp at the floor near the bar. The lamp shattered and the kerosene within ignited, filling the hall in the back with flames between the back door and the saloon.     * * *       In Lily's room, the Dunspar and Bowen glanced towards the sound of the sudden flames and saw something horrible and black and oozing move past the broken door of Lily's room, flowing like some obscene and terrible river of tar. Bowen fainted on the spot, collapsing to the ground. The thing seemed to be stopped near the door.     * * *       Out in the saloon, Weisswald ran up the stairs after the others, grabbing another lamp as she went by.   In the saloon, the fire was spreading quickly. Gemma looked around for the nearest window and then pulled Lily towards it.     * * *       "Evacuate the building!" Dunspar yelled.   He grabbed Bowen by the arms and pulled him to the window, shoving him outside, and following him. He saw Dallas running towards Main Street.     * * *       Upstairs, Jacali knew there were other guests. She started knocking on doors and yelling "Fire! Get out!"   One door flew open as she knocked. A bear of a man stood there in his long underwear.   "What?" he said, obviously confused.   "Fire!" Jacali said.   "What!?!" he said.   She could smell the whiskey on his breath.   "Fire!" she yelled at him. "Get out!"   The next door was answered by a well dressed little man.   "Have you found the Crescent?" the man asked.   She noticed he held his hands like claws.   "What is going on?" he said.   "No, I haven't found the Crescent!" Jacali said. "I've been too busy with all this other stuff! And the fire!"   Ophelia ignored the man and ran past towards their room at the front of the building.   "Why are you here now!?!" Jacali said.   "Oh dear," the man said. "To check up on things."   "You should have been here five days earlier!" Jacali said. "Five days! If your job is to watch things, you're so bad at it!"   Ophelia reached the door to their room and flung it open, running in.   "It took you long enough!" Jacali shouted at the man.     * * *       "Someone's burning "¦ someone's burning my place," Lily said vaguely.   "I'm so sorry but we need to get out," Gemma said.   The grinding at the front door stopped as another of the things started flowing into the saloon from the front of the building. It kept coming and coming and coming, the top of it flowing upwards to tower near the ceiling of the saloon. Gemma felt like it was looking at her. She continued to pull Lily towards the door.     * * *       Dunspar pulled Bowen towards the middle of the street. He didn't see where Dallas went.     * * *       Weisswald reached the top of the steps and saw Jacali yelling at a man standing there in a suit.   "You remember when I showed up at this town and I didn't know where to go!?!" the native shouted. "That was the time!"   She grabbed the man by his lapels and shook him.   "Is this violence necessary?" he said.   "I'm very upset right now!" she said. "There's fire in the building! There's things trying to kill me!"   A large fat man stumbled out of the next room.   "God damn it, injun!" he shouted. "There's a fire!"   "That's what I said!" Jacali said.   "What the hell is that!?!" the big man said, pointing down into the saloon below. "There's some big black rag down there or something!"   "Jacali, calm down!" Dr. Weisswald said. She turned to the little man in the suit. "Do you know how to fight these things?"   "Fire," the man said. "Strong acid would be helpful. Otherwise they are indestructible."   "Well, the building is on fire!" Jacali said.   "I noticed."   "So, currently, I think our best plan is to abandon the building through "¦" Jacali said.   She pointed at the open door to her room.   "Very well," the man said. "I shall abandon."   "No!" Jacali said.   The man blinked and then looked around.   "Where am I?" he said.   "You idiot!" Jacali yelled in his face.   "What's going on?"   "Oh my God, I hate you Yithians!"   "There's fire!" Dr. Weisswald yelled at the man. "Get out!"   The man let out a startled shout and followed them.     * * *       Gemma reached the window with Lily who was looking towards the back of the building. The fire was spreading quickly. The other horror behind the flames moved back and forth as if wanting to get by but not wanting to get burned.   The one in the front turned away from Gemma and oozed over to the stage, sliding along the floor, moving over itself and knocking tables and chairs aside. It smashed easily through the front of the stage and slid into the structure, disappearing underneath it.   Gemma opened the window and shoved Lily out.   "But "¦ where's Dallas?" Lily said.   "Run!" Gemma said. "Just run!"   "My hotel!" Lily said.   "I know!" Gemma said. "I'm so sorry. Please!"   She hugged her sister.   "Run!" she said again.   "No!" Lily said, grabbing her hand. "I'm not leaving you!"   "No! No! You've got to get out of here! This is not your problem!"   "You too! You too!"   "Please! No!"   "Come! Come!"   "No! Run!"   "No! I'm not leaving you! C'mon! We can both escape! Let's go!"   The stage shook and rattled behind Gemma.     * * *       Dunspar pulled Bowen across the street and tried to wake him without luck.     * * *       Jacali hustled the man towards the front of the building and they heard the pounding of feet behind them. The huge mountain of a man was running after them as fast as he could and screaming "Why didn't these injuns tell us there's a fire!" The smoke was starting to get thick as they ran to the room and found the windows there already thrown open. Ophelia was on the balcony on the front of the building, looking for a way down.     * * *       "I love you," Gemma said.   She flung down the sash and locked the catch.   "No!" Lily cried outside.   She banged on the glass.   Gemma turned and ran for the stairs. She saw the fire was spreading and the things behind the flames was still looking for a way into the room.   Why did it not kill me? she thought as she glanced at the shaking stage.   She ran up to the balcony on the second floor and noticed some of the room doors were open, including the room Jacali and Dr. Weisswald shared with Ophelia.   "Jacali! Dr. Weisswald!" she called.     * * *       Dunspar dragged Bowen to the closed blacksmith shop and leaned the man against the side of the building. He noticed the livery stable doors were wide open and didn't see any sign of his quarry. He ran into the livery stable as Dallas flung open the back doors of the place and climbed onto a horse.     * * *       Ophelia, Jacali, and Dr. Weisswald climbed down from the balcony with only a little trouble. They thought they heard yelling coming from somewhere inside.     * * *       Gemma looked into the two open hotel rooms but no one was in either. She turned and looked over the balcony to the ground floor below when something smashed up out of the stage. The horrible formless spawn came out of the hole like a fountain of tar, the top of it level with the Gemma's face in moments. She again felt like she was being observed and measured. In two pseudopods, one like a mangled hand and the other like a tentacle covered in smaller tentacles were two very large rubies.   The horror seemed to look into her very soul and she blinked but stood firm.   For a moment, she thought it was going to attack her and then it seemed to collapse upon itself and sloshed down to the ground where it moved towards the front of the saloon. She heard movement from the back and then, aside from the roar of the fire, the saloon was quiet.     * * *       As Jacali, Dr. Weisswald, and Ophelia climbed down from the balcony outside, the doors of the saloon shuddered and the horrible formless spawn spewed out onto the porch and splattered into the street. Ophelia turned and ran away. Dr. Weisswald looked up at the glass lamp she had put down on the balcony above, unable to climb down without using both hands.   "Do we get the horses?" Jacali said.   "Yeah," Dr. Weisswald said.   Dr. Weisswald ran towards the photographer's shop, yelling "Fire!" as the two men above let out a shout as they saw the horrible thing. Jacali ran towards the livery stable in a curve to try to stay away from the thing and started yelling "Fire!" when she heard Dr. Weisswald yelling it.     * * *       Gemma, seeing the things were gone, ran to one of the room and grabbed the sheets and blankets from one of the beds, then ran downstairs trying to smother the flames on the stairs. She started to make slow progress.     * * *       Otto, in his cell, heard shouts of "Fire!" There was no one else in the jail and Marshal Bishop hadn't even left the deputy to watch him. He could hear the shouts of "Fire!" from other parts of the town as the word was spread. He desperately looked out of his window but could not see smoke or fire.     * * *       Dallas was on the horse and saw Dunspar enter the stable. He drew his pistol and pointed it at the man.   "Mr. Dunspar, thank you so much for all you taught me," he said. "But I can't have you following me."   He fired at Dunspar but missed the man.   "God damn it," he said. "That's what you should've taught me, teacher man."   Dunspar ducked into a nearby stall and hid. The horses were all disturbed by the close gunfire.   "No hard feelings, Teach!" Dallas said. "Thanks!"   He kicked his horse into movement and rode out of the back of the livery.     * * *       Bowen shook his head and looked around. He didn't know how he had gotten to the street but was mighty glad to be there. He blinked several times. The last thing he remembered was being in Lily's room, looking in the safe and then "¦ he didn't want to remember the thing he'd seen in the doorway.   "No hard feelings, Teach!" he heard Dallas Avery said. "Thanks!"   "You will never get away, Dallas!" he shouted.   He stumbled to his feet and headed back for the Gilded Lily. He saw Lily outside trying to open a window, going from window to window trying to get into the building. He could see flickering light of fire from within and heard shouts of "Fire!" nearby.     * * *       The call of "Fire!" was going up all around town as Jacali sprinted towards the livery and realized the horrible creature had already caught up to her and was pacing her about five feet to her left. Instead of curving towards the livery, she bore to the right, hoping to get away from the thing, which just continued forward down main street and soon disappeared into the darkness.   She heard a gunshot and spooked horses somewhere.   Dr. Weisswald had seen the thing go right by Jacali as if she wasn't there. She saw it held two huge rubies, one in each appendage. She stopped running and called to Jacali.   "Hey, I'm alive!" Jacali said.   "I noticed!" Dr. Weisswald said.   They heard Dunspar yell Jacali's name from the livery stables. She and Dr. Weisswald ran to the livery stables.     * * *       Gemma thought the fire on the stairs was under control and she started trying to smother the fire in the hallway where it had started. It was continuing to spread behind the bar. She fought it desperately. Then she heard something crashing against the front door over and over again. It burst open and the marshal rushed in, bucket of water in hand. Other citizens of the town had buckets of sand or water, wet blankets or cloth, and whatever they could use to fight the fire. Charles Farnsworth, the owner of the Empire Hotel, was there with a bucket of sand and ran in to help. Bowen was with them.   Lily grabbed and hugged Gemma.   "I'm sorry!" Gemma said, tears in her eyes. "I'm sorry I left you."   "I love you!" Lily said to her, hugging her.   Then she went around to the lamps, blew them out, and removed them, in case the fire spread to the walls.   Gemma saw the four boys who had vandalized the place were all there, each of them with a bucket of water and a soaking-wet broom. It was like the whole town was there to help fight the fire. Even Buck Hatch was there.     * * *       Jacali and Dr. Weisswald ran into the livery stable to find Dunspar in there, saddling a horse when they arrived. He was having some trouble with the cinch.   "Dunspar!" Jacali said. "What's going on?"   "Dallas went that way!" Dunspar said. "He stole from Lily!"   Dr. Weisswald ran to Shy Anne and climbed up. Jacali ran to a bale of hay and jumped onto Nalin, sliding right over the top of the horse and falling into the stall on the other side. She leapt up. Neither of the others noticed so she jumped up onto the horse and rode out of the stall and into the corral. She saw the gate was open. The moon was waning but nearly full.   She looked around and spotted a rider following the rail line ahead and riding hard. She kicked Nalin into motion and gave chase. Dr. Weisswald burst out of the stable behind her.     * * *       Inside the stable, Dunspar found the saddle almost sliding off the horse and realized it was not cinched up tightly enough. When he went to cinch it, he found it snug. It took him a few moments to realize the horse was blowing up its belly when he tried to cinch it. It took him a minute to get the timing right so that he attach the saddle correctly.     * * *       Jacali and Dr. Weisswald rode hard after Dallas Avery. At first, Weisswald pulled ahead significantly but Jacali soon caught up, even though Shy Anne was the fastest horse in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Both of them were closing the distance with Dallas. Over the course of about a half hour, they had pulled to within 30 yards of the man. Dallas never looked back.   While Jacali pulled out her bow and an arrow, aiming at the man, Dr. Weisswald pushed Shy Anne to catch up. Jacali let fly with her arrow and it struck Dallas in the right shoulder as Dr. Weisswald nearly caught up to him. Dallas slumped forward and fell from the horse, crashing to the ground and laying still.   Dr. Weisswald chased down his horse as Jacali rode up and dismounted. She found Dallas on the ground in a crumpled heap, barely breathing. She tried to administer first aid but then the man gasped and breathed his last. Dr. Weisswald rode back with the horse. They put him on the back of the horse and headed back to town.     * * *       Everyone who could lift a bucket or slap a broom fought the fire at the Gilded Lily. Lily ran some people upstairs, where she had pumps in the two bath rooms to get more water on the fire and soak the front of the building.   Though the entire town fought the fire, a good portion of the back of the Gilded Lily was destroyed, including Lily's room and the storage room, as well as the three rooms in the back upstairs. However, the building was not a total loss and the rooms towards the front were intact.   Structurally, the building was still intact but it would cost money to make repairs.     * * *       The fire was out and people returned to their lives, for the most part, on the morning of Saturday, August 21, 1875. Dallas' body was returned, as was the horse he stole. Money was found in his pocket that matched the money Lily had in the safe from her profits from the evening before.     * * *       Otto was released from jail that day as the La Forge who worked with R.H. Macy was still in New York. The telegrams being sent by Charles Allen were going to a fake business in the city, obviously an accomplice. The dead man was identified as "Charming" Charles Allen, wanted dead or alive. He had been a part of John Valentine's gang and was wanted for many numerous and sundry crimes including fraud, rape, theft, assault, grifting, and the like. Otto would be receiving the $1,000 reward for his death once it was wired to Devil's Gulch.   The money in the room would be returned to the town "investors" though a portion of it was missing and everyone assumed that was what Allen had used to buy materials for the courthouse. Said materials were found to be substandard and the entire project, backed by a grifter and a criminal, was dropped by everyone in town.   Bowen had counted the money he had snatched from Allen's room and found himself $332 richer.   Lily was devastated by the destruction of her saloon and Dallas' betrayal. She was happy Gemma wasn't hurt though and figured she would use canvas and tents to cover the back of the saloon until she could afford to repair is correctly. She had borrowed $1,000 to buy stocks but that money was returned and she gave it back to the bank immediately.     * * *       Dunspar again tried to give Lily the $400.   "No," she said.   "Once a year for one week, for the rest of my life, I'm coming here and staying," he said smugly.   "No," she said.   She was too proud to take his money. She told him she didn't need the help of a man. She said she trusted a man and he turned out to be a grifter.   She refused the money. She told him he could pay her for the room when he came there every year.     * * *       Otto pulled Gemma aside.   "Gemma, how did you survive that "¦ you were dead "¦ when I left "¦ but you were fine when we came back "¦" Otto said. "What happened?"   "Oh!" she said. "I've been meaning to talk to you about that."   She wanted to tell all of them what happened and she gathered the others. Though the saloon was damaged, it was under repair and was still running nightly. People in town were bringing her food as a form of condolences as well.   "There's something I wanted to tell you all about my "¦ experience," Gemma said. "I-I said I believe I saw the face of God. And she was a woman. And "¦ I don't know how. I don't know "¦ why "¦ but she told me to have faith and to trust "¦ and the Crescent appeared beside me."   She smiled.   "She told me "¦ she told me it would heal me "¦ and I "¦ had nothing left to lose," she went on. "My life was "¦ before my eyes "¦ it was on the line. She told me "¦ to take "¦ one of these spikes "¦ out of the side of it and, you know, I've "¦ we've all been told "¦ touching it is terrible. Terrible things happen."   "You turn to ash," Dunspar said.   Jacali shrugged.   "I took one of the spikes as she asked me to do," Gemma went on. "And she told me to touch it to my wounds. And "¦ they were healed. And-and that's how I survived miraculously. And you were there."   "You did not see a god," Ophelia said curtly. "That statue in that temple? That was a god."   "Then what did I see? Can you explain it?"   "What did this "¦ female primate "¦ look like?"   "She was a woman with long hair, a cowboy hat. She was god to me."   "What color hair? What color was her skin?"   Gemma told her what the woman had looked like. Otto recognized the description.   "Gemma, I saw that person!" he said. "In town!"   "You "¦" Gemma said.   "She was the gypsy! She was the gypsy outside of town! I went by the first day to ask her about the scar!"   Gemma looked at him.   "She saved me," Gemma said. "I don't know how to explain it or put it. I don't know how or why or "¦ I have a belief in God, but "¦ she-she is God to me."   "I'm glad," Otto said.   "Where can I find her?"Gemma asked.   They all went to the edge of town and found a fire pit that was long burned out. The vardo and the girl were both gone. Otto found tracks from the vardo entering the road and heading east.     * * *       Later, Otto took Gemma aside again.   "I got a thousand-dollar bounty for your father," he said. "Do you want half of it?"   She looked at him.   "Why would─" she said.   "Because you're the one that got stabbed?" he said.   "No," she said. "Please."   "You sure?"   "I don't want anything connected with my father."   "Then I'll keep it."   "You deserve all of it."   Otto asked if her sister wanted it but she reiterated that he deserved all of it and, if her sister found out where the money came from, she wouldn't take it. Otto decided to keep the money for himself.     * * *       Bowen returned to the Whiskey Mine that afternoon and detonated several sticks of dynamite within, sealing it off, hopefully forever.     * * *       On the 3:00 train that same day, a blonde woman came to Devil's Gulch. Gemma, Dunspar, and Otto recognized her as Matilda Terwilliger, the beautiful blonde daughter of Professor Marion Terwilliger. She carried a rifle on her should and wore rugged traveling clothes.   "You told me you were coming to someplace called Devil's Gulch," she told them. "I had to come find you. My father's been kidnapped."

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The House on the Hill Part 1 - The Serpent Person Awakens

Wednesday, April 18, 2018   (After playing the Call of Cthulhu Down Darker Trails Catastrophe Engine Campaign Chill scenario “The House on the Hill†from Evenings of Terror with Elvira Sunday, April 15, 2018, from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. with Kyle Matheson, Austin Davie, Yorie Latimer, Ben Abbott, James Brown, Ashton LeBlanc, Collin Townsend, and John Leppard.)   Marshal Clayton Pierce had been in a hospital in San Francisco from injuries received from the terrible dragon-like creature since May 23, 1875. He was released on June 26 with a clean bill of health and found there was no bill. When he inquired, he learned a Professor Brandon Stalloid had left an open account to pay for his stay. He was given some laudanum to help him sleep and morphine for the pain to self-administer later. Unfortunately, do the severity of his wounds, his left arm had limited movement. He could not raise it up over his shoulder. The doctors hoped it might come around but told him not to hold out too much hope. He also got $100 from the railroad for his help in driving off the train robbers.   During the time he was recuperating, he read the papers and learned Jack Parker had been killed during the train robbery when he was shot off the train and fell into a gorge.   He found Professor Stalloid’s house and was told by the little old Chinese lady there that Professor Stalloid left some time ago. She told him he was going to Midnight and Devil’s Gulch. A little time spent with an atlas showed him Devil’s Gulch was in Colorado and Midnight was in southern California not far from Los Angeles.   He guessed Professor Stalloid was already done with Midnight and so headed for Devil’s Gulch.   The trip took about a month before he found himself in Utah, crossing the Uintah Reservation. He spent some time with the natives there. He was told there dragons had spotted and they had sent for the army. They had sent several braves to alert the white men in the town of Santaquin of the things. He was told the Indians had been scoffed at, however, and it was unsure if any help would be sent.   Marshal Pierce crudely drew what attacked him on the Sequoyah Star and asked the English-speaking Ute if it was the same. He said one of those that had encountered it thought it was.   He continued east into Colorado and, on the morning of July 30, 1875, spotted birds circling ahead. He soon came across the bones of a massive thing, he wasn’t even sure what. The head of the thing had been cut off and there were signs of a wagon passing through the area. Part of the nearby cliff was collapsed in what looked like an explosion. The thing had been reduced to nearly bones. He took one of the large claws from the horrible beast.   He consulted the map of Colorado he’d gotten out of the atlas and marked his best guess as to the location of the dead creature before he continued east.     * * *       Robert Dunspar had left the others in Santaquin, Utah, on July 20, needing to get away from them for some time. He still felt drained and awful from their encounter with the strange worms in Hilton Springs, Nevada. He took the train to Salt Lake City and saw a doctor there who didn’t know of anything he could do to help him. Then he took the train to Denver Junction before boarding another train he thought led to Denver.   It didn’t. He’d gotten on the wrong train.   Instead, he found himself at the railhead at Idaho Post Office. It was a small town and he asked advice in getting to Devil’s Gulch. He was told he had to follow a road out of town in the opposite direction as the rail line. He purchased a stallion from a shifty-looking character for $100. The man told him the horse sagging in the middle was preferred as it would help hold the saddle in place. The man also sold him a saddle and bridle for $30 as well as some oats before he set off down the road he was told to go down.   Unfortunately, he was heading west, not east. He passed through several towns until he followed little more than a trail in the wilderness for several days.     * * *       On the evening of July 30, 1875, the people of White River Post Office were very curious about the huge head on Professor Brandon Stalloid’s medicine wagon.   “What is that thing up there?†one of them asked.   “Why, it’s the discovery of the century!†Professor Stalloid said.   “What is that?†  “What? A century?†  “That’s a hundred years, ain’t it?†  “Yeah.†  “Or is that a thousand?†  “It’s a hundred.†  “No, what is that? What is the discovery of the century?†  “I’m calling it the … scary monster.†  “Well, it looks like you called it right.†  “I’m going to figure out what that is in Latin.†  “Nobody here speaks that.†  “Yeah, I don’t either.†  “Old Bob, he speaks a little Apache.†  “Can you ask him what it is in Apache?†  “Hey Bob!†  Jacali, nearby with Night Horse, looked at the man.   “Stalloid, you know that … I speak Apache,†she said.   “You do?†Professor Stalloid said.   “I am Apache!†  “This is the first I’ve heard of it. I just thought you didn’t read English.†  “Yes, I just don’t read English and then nothing else. No other language. I just …†  “Well, I was already flabbergasted at ‘didn’t read English.’†  She stared at him.   “Well … if you do want to name this thing something Apache, don’t go to … Bob,†she said.   “But he’s coming,†Professor Stalloid said. “Well, what’s ‘scary monster’ in Apache?†  She told him the words. Professor Stalloid didn’t care for it so went with Latin instead, and decided to call the massive thing the Formidulosaurus.     * * *       Clayton Pierce reached White River P.O. and spotted a brightly painted red medicine wagon with the words “Stalloid’s Stupendous Supplements†on one side and “Brandon’s Bountiful Brandies†on the other. There was some kind of huge, rotting lizard head on the roof. He guessed it was from the thing he had found dead in the wilderness. The town itself had a general store with a sign that noted a post office within. The other buildings were unmarked but simply built.   Marshal Pierce entered the general store.   “Can I help you, sir?†the old man behind the counter asked. “Oh! Marshal!†  “You know me?†Marshal Pierce said.   “No sir, I know your badge.†  “Oh yeah. Have you seen a weird individual? A man …†  “He’s over at the … at the … at the tanners.†  Marshal Pierce got directions to Reuben Fielding’s house and headed out of town to the hut that stood a good eighth of a mile away. As he arrived, he saw Jack West leaving the hut. The man’s clothing was bloodstained and worn. He looked like he had been working in a butcher shop.   “Well Marshal, what brings out to Colorado?†West said.   “Jack West,†Marshal Pierce said. “Where’s Stalloid?†  “In his wagon, I presume.†  “Oh my God.†  Marshal Pierce turned and walked back to the little town with West.   “Did you see the beast that we … managed to bag?†West said as they walked.   “Y’all killed that?†Marshal Pierce said.   “Yeah. Shot out its eyes.†  “I got this claw. I’m going to take it to the Indians and tell them I killed it and maybe get some money. You can claim it to if you want the money. I didn’t know y’all’d encountered it.†  “I finally got myself a skin!†  “I was going to say I did it.†  “It’ll be hard to claim that with the head on his wagon and all.†  “Yeah, I saw that. I don’t know why I didn’t check the wagon. What happened on the train after I got hurt? Everybody make it out all right?†  “Uh … yeah, from my understanding. Most of us got out. We managed to take out a couple of them dragon-things, which melted after they died, by the way.†  “So, I been out of commission for a while. Are there just dragon-things everywhere now. Is this the world?†  “Hopefully not. Have to start collecting trophies if it is. But what we need to keep our eyes on is a … Pete Sutter.†  “Oh, the Boulder Bandit, or whatever they call him.†  “He was posing as a Secret Service Agent.†  “What?†  “We locked eyes and guns and we just … had to fire at each other.†  “You locked eyes?†  “I just knew there was something wrong.†  “I’ll keep an eye on him, but what about Jack Parker?†Marshal Pierce asked as they reached the medicine wagon.   “Parker fell out of the train into a river,†West said. “But his body was not recovered. Neither was the … slab of stone he was carrying.†  “That artifact you were so head over heels for.†  “I don’t know nothing about it.†  “I’m pretty sure it’s just a piece of stone.†  “Probably.†  Marshal Pierce knocked on the side of the wagon and looked into the open door. Jacali and Night Horse were outside, the man whittling a long piece of wood. Jacali was carving the monster tooth she had acquired to make a knife or dagger. He saw Professor Stalloid and Dr. Eva Weisswald in the wagon. They were tending to someone in the bunk set near the ceiling in the front. He could not make out who was in the bunk.   “You also missed … uh … Miss Weisswald was able to save a snake person,†West said.   “What?†Marshal Pierce said.   “See his insides were outside. She managed to put them back inside.†  “Snake Person?†  “Snake Person. It’s fascinating.†  “So, now there’s dragons.†  “Fascinating.†  “And we have snake people.†  “And giant worms!†Professor Stalloid said.   “Giant worms,†Marshal Pierce said.   “I don’t know nothing about that,†West said.   “And pterodactyls,†Professor Stalloid said.   “P-terodactyl!†West said. “I don’t know why he won’t pronounce it with the ‘p.’†  “P-terodactyl,†Marshal Pierce said.   “It’s spelled that way!†  “Why is there a ‘p’ if … you’re not going to say p-terodactyl?†  “Doctors think they’re better than us.†  “I see another person’s following me,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Have you been billed yet?†Marshal Pierce said. “For the hospital bill?†  “I don’t know,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Well, I owe you one. Whatever you need from me, just let me know. I didn’t have the money.†  “I need a bodyguard.†  “You need a bodyguard? Well, I’m not going to call myself a bodyguard.†  “I have one. I need two.†  “You can consider me a marshal that protects you.†  “Yes.†  “Speaking as such, are you paying me anything?†West said.   “Didn’t I already give you this week’s …†Professor Stalloid said.   He clicked his mouth and winked at the man and looked at West’s coat pocket that bulged with the bottle of whiskey mixed with laudanum.   “Didn’t … didn’t I have to pay for that?†West said.   “Yeah,†Professor Stalloid said. “That was a security deposit.†  “I’d like travel expenses too. I need some whiskey.†  He went to the general store.     * * *       Wilder had left San Francisco directly after they had dealt with the tongs in Chinatown in late May. There were too many people in the city, all crammed together and living on top of each other. He had traveled east, heading back for his native Colorado and gone back to work hunting and trapping.   In late July, he had gone to visit his friend, Reuben Fielding, in the tiny town of White River P.O. in the middle of nowhere. The afternoon of July 30, he had gone out to check the traps and soon returned to Fielding’s house with some game.   “Ugliest damned man I ever seen was just here,†Fielding said. “He had a hole in his cheek and scars all down his face. He wanted me to tan this piece of leather. This piece of … I don’t even know what this is!†  “Was his name … was his name West?†Wilder asked.   “Yeah! How’d you know that?†  “Huh? We have traveled … on occasion.†  “He’s at the Post Office.†  “I shall go and … commiserate.†    * * *       When Wilder got to town, he recognized Professor Stalloid’s medicine wagon. It had a huge, strange head upon it.   “I have … seen stranger sights,†he said to himself.   He was actually talking about West.   He saw another man ride a broken down stallion into town. He had long hair and a beard and wore a suit. A suitcase was tied to the back of his saddle.   Must be a greenhorn, Wilder thought.     * * *       When Dunspar rode into White River P.O., he was surprised to see Professor Stalloid’s medicine wagon.   Finally, he thought.   He also saw a bearded man wearing what appeared to be a bear pelt with the bear head atop his own. He headed for the medicine wagon.     * * *       “Wilder, you’re alive!†Marshal Pierce said when the man approached the medicine wagon.   “As are you,†Wilder said.   “I thought you would have died after I got attacked. You were the last thing I saw before that thing grabbed me.†  “Yeah … I … I got as far away as I possibly could … on a train like that.†  “I wish I had done that.†  “Well, the Pinkertons seemed to have you in good care.†  “Oh, did they save me?†  “They had you in hand, yes.†  “Looks like I owe a major debt to a lot of people then. I’m a federal marshal/bodyguard now.†  “There are worse things to be.†  Wilder looked down at himself. He had noticed the other man was holding his arm oddly. He said nothing.   Then Dunspar rode up.   “Who’s this guy?†Marshal Pierce said. “He the new person in the party? Seems like we get somebody new quite often.†  “Oh,†Dunspar said. “I’m a friend of Stalloid’s,†Dunspar said.   “Oh,†Marshal Pierce said. “I’m sorry.†  Lambert Otto walked up to the wagon. He had been down at White River, using two rocks to beat his clothing and clean it of the blood that covered it. His clothes were still a little damp but he had no doubt they would dry in the summer heat shortly. He had gotten most of the blood out.   “So, where’s Gemma Jones and the preacher man?†Marshal Pierce said. “Those are the only ones I don’t see here.†  “Dead,†Wilder said.   “What?†Marshal Pierce said.   “They’re not dead!†Otto said. “Only the preacher is.†  “The preacher died on the train,†Wilder said.   “To one of the monsters?†Marshal Pierce said.   “I do not know,†Wilder said. “I found him in a sorry state.†  “He got shot,†Otto said.   “I could do nothing for him,†Wilder said.   “They had guns?†Marshal Pierce said.   “There was bandits,†Otto said.   “Oh, he got shot by a bandit.†  “Yeah, he had a crossbow.†  “I was going to say, we have no chance if those things can shoot too. And Gemma Jones? Dead as well?†  “No, she went to Salt Lake City. Was heading towards Devil’s Gulch.†  “Well, I hope she’s okay traveling alone. Bad time to be doing such things, it would seem. Now, tell me more about this … thing … you all killed. And … snake people.†  “I call it the Formidulosaurus!†Professor Stalloid said.   “Formidulosaurus … okay,†Marshal Pierce said.   “It means scary dino.†  “It was a dinosaur.†  “I think.†  “You … killed a dinosaur.†  “Yeah.†  “I shot it in its eye,†Jacali said.   “I threw nitroglycerin at it,†Professor Stalloid said.   “You’re getting really good with that bow,†Marshal Pierce said.   “Yes,†Jacali said. “Thank you.†  “Hasn’t it been extinct?†Dunspar asked.   “Millions of years!†Professor Stalloid said. “Yes!†  “Do you always go for the eye?†Marshal Pierce said.   “As long as I can,†Jacali said. “It’s easy to watch your back but it’s hard to watch your eyes.†  Otto told Dunspar his horse was probably about 20 years old and in very bad shape. Dunspar was nonplussed.   “What’s in the suitcase?†Marshal Pierce said.   “Oh, just my personal equipment,†Dunspar said.   “And why are you here to seek out Mr. Stalloid? You come for the dinosaur head?†  “Oh, no no no no. He has asked me to─†  “He helped me fight the worms,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Yes, the worms. Which─†  “Oh! By the way! Weisswald!†  “Yes,†Dr. Weisswald said from inside the wagon.   “Here’s the man that had all his blood sucked from him!†Professor Stalloid said.   Everyone looked at Dunspar.   “All of it!?!†Dr. Weisswald called.   “Not all of it!†Dunspar said.   “A lot of it!†Professor Stalloid said.   Professor Stalloid ushered Dunspar into the medicine wagon.   “It wrung him out like a rag!†he said.   “Someone please just explain worms and snake people,†Marshal Pierce said.   “I can explain the snake people,†Jacali said.   “Yes.†  “You see, when we were in our wild pursuit being chased by horrible lizard creatures through the foggy mountains, we found a portal with a lot of dead snake people. However, one was not dead. Weisswald, in the best medical precision that I’ve ever seen in my entire life, and I’ve seen her do some crazy things, she put all of its innards back innards. They were outtards, I guess, at the time, because they were out. And the snake man spoke and he hasn’t woken up since.†  “He’s in there?†  “Yes.†  Marshal Pierce stepped into the medicine wagon. It smelled like a snake house at the zoo and he could see a figure under the blankets, strapped down to the bunk. It had a snake head that was the size of a man’s, and the outline of a body underneath the blankets. It looked like a snake-headed man. It still wore tattered blue robes and its eyes were open, staring unseeing at the ceiling.   “Marshal, this is a medicine wagon, not a freak show,†Dr. Weisswald said. “I would appreciate it if you would leave.†  “I would appreciate it if you would close your jaw,†Professor Stalloid said.   “The only question I have is: you healed this thing while it was unconscious,†Marshal Pierce said. “You have not spoken with it yet, correct?†  “We talked to it,†Professor Stalloid said.   “It’s not woken up,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “She talked with it,†Professor Stalloid said.   “You talked with it?†Marshal Pierce said.   “Didn’t you say it called you a filthy primate?†Professor Stalloid said.   “I didn’t say anything and it didn’t say anything back, so …†Dr. Weisswald said.   “My mistake.†  “If you call that ‘talking.’†  “Have you spoken to this thing?†Marshal Pierce asked. “Can you speak to this thing? What is this?†  “It knows English,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “I just want to make sure a giant snake doesn’t wake up angry,†Marshal Pierce said. “That’s all I’m saying.†  “I’m for that idea as well,†Dunspar said.   “I’ll leave you to it though,†Marshal Pierce said. “I’m probably not going to come in this wagon ever again.†  “I must apologize for striking you,†Wilder said to Jacali outside.   “Well …†Jacali said.   “During our last …†  “It happens.†  “Hm.†  Professor Stalloid had taken out one of the jars they had found and set to testing it. He found it was a terribly powerful poison and guessed was for injection or coating weapons with. He didn’t know what would happen to a man if it was ingested but didn’t think it would be as bad as if it was injected. Dr. Weisswald watched him test the material and realized the dagger she had found had the blade covered in the same poison.   When Jacali entered the wagon later that evening, he handed her a jar.   “Here’s your payment for being a bodyguard so far,†he said with a grin.   “Uh …†she said.   “It’s poison!†  “It’s … why would you pay me in poison?†  “I don’t know what else you would want.†  “You think … all right, Stalloid.†  “It’s very special poison.†  “You seem like a very intelligent man. I think you would be able to deduce there’s many things in this world that I want that are not … poisons … that kill people.†  “I’ll give you some candy too, okay.†  “Wow. You really nailed it on the head with that as well. You know what, Stalloid? I’ll take my poison. Thank you.†  And she did.     * * *       “Stalloid, do you happen to have that interesting book?†Dunspar asked.   “Yeah,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Do you mind if I take it to my room for the night and read it?†Dunspar said.   Stalloid just looked at him.   “I’ll have it back in the morning,†Dunspar said.   Stalloid just stared at him. Then he took out Mysteries of the Worm and started to rip pages out of the book that had the spells on them. He found all of the spells in the book were well-grouped, allowing him to tear out only a few pages. He ripped out Command Ghost, Invoke Child of Goat, and Voorish Sign. Then he handed the book to Dunspar.   “Thank you,†Dunspar said.   Professor Stalloid bound the pages for Voorish sign and gave them to Dr. Weisswald. He glued the other two sets of spells into his research journal.   Dunspar went in search of a hotel or boarding house in the tiny town of White River P.O. There wasn’t either. He returned to the medicine wagon and learned the tents they had used before were gone.     * * *       Otto spent time by the fire that night disassembling his Winchester carbine. The damned thing seemed to constantly jam and he wanted to know what was wrong with it. He had done so before and found no problems with the weapon but he was going to do so again, certain he’d overlooked or missed something.     * * *       While Dr. Weisswald and Jacali were seeing to the serpent person, Dunspar opened the door to the medicine wagon and entered, sitting down in the corner and opening up Mysteries of the Worm.   “No no no,†Dr. Weisswald said. “No no no no no.†  She motioned for him to get out of the wagon.   “Stalloid said I could be here,†Dunspar said.   “Well, I didn’t,†Dr. Weisswald said. “This is my patient.†  “Yes, and this is Stalloid’s wagon. I’m in the wagon. I’m not near the patient.†  “Listen, we might need some room when this patient wakes up,†Jacali said. “And you don’t want to be here when he does, I’ll tell you that.†  “I’ve been in a dangerous situation before,†Dunspar said.   “If you’re going to be here, you’re going to be quiet and let us do our thing and not make any moves on this thing, okay?†  “That’s fine.†  “All right.†  Dr. Weisswald frowned at the man. Jacali noticed her annoyance.   “Excuse me, stranger, how about this?†Jacali said. “You can stay here and read your book, but once this patient wakes up, we need room in case he gets violent or anything like that. Three people crammed in here is not going to happen on that.†  “Okay, well, when he wakes up, I will happily leave,†Dunspar said.   “All right,†Jacali said.   The serpent person stirred a few minutes later.   “All right, it’s time!†Jacali said.   She grabbed Dunspar by the arm and pulled him to his feet. He creased the page on the book and took his leave. The women both turned towards the stirring serpent person and heard a footstep behind them. The man was coming back!   “Oh damn it,†Jacali muttered.   Both of them turned to find Professor Stalloid in the medicine wagon, fixing his tie.   “Oh damn it!†Jacali muttered.   The snake person’s eyes focused and it looked around, obviously confused and saw Dr. Weisswald and Jacali, who stood nearest to it. It stopped moving and stared at them with unblinking eyes.   “You’re safe,†Dr. Weisswald said. “You’re safe.†  It looked at Professor Stalloid and then looked at Jacali and Dr. Weisswald again.   “Hello,†Jacali said.   “Hello, I’m a scholar,†Professor Stalloid said. “No worries.†  The thing felt itself and grimaced in pain when it touched the significant wound on its belly under the blankets.   “I … put everything back … I think,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Why did you save me?†the thing hissed.   “Because I am a doctor. That is what I do.†  “What is it you want of me?†  “We can’t let you go extinct,†Professor Stalloid said. “A lot of you were dead.†  “We were dead,†the serpent person said. “All of us. I should be dead as well.†  “What is your name?†Dr. Weisswald asked.   “Yes, we have been calling you by many names because we didn’t know the official one, and we think that’s rude,†Jacali said. “And we wish to know how we should refer to you.†  “S’Slir-ethess,†the creature said.   “That’s a tough one,†Jacali said.   “I got it,†Professor Stalloid said. “Say it as if you were going to say ‘I slur the word assess. But you slur it. Slur-ethess.†  “Slur thessess,†Jacali said.   “I see not all of you have … evolved completely,†S’Slir-ethess said, looking at Professor Stalloid.   “Well, our tongues are very different,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “What is it you want of me?†  “I don’t want anything. I just wanted to save you.†  “Yes, typically we like people best when they are alive,†Jacali said.   The thing seemed to think on that, staring at them.   “If you are to help me, then I need something from you,†S’Slir-ethess said.   “What?†Jacali said.   “A female of your kind. The body of a female of your kind. Not long dead. Roughly my size.†  “Uh … so a corpse then. You need a … you need a corpse.†  “Not long dead.†  “Uh … what’s the time that we’re working with here?†Dr. Weisswald said.   “A few hours,†S’Slir-ethess said.   “Oh jeeze,†Jacali said.   “A few hours dead or you need it in a few hours?†Professor Stalloid said.   “A few hours dead,†S’Slir-ethess said.   “Okay, then we have time on this,†Dr. Weisswald said, relieved.   “Do you mind me asking exactly why you … uh … would want a dead body of a person?†Jacali said.   “I assume for magic,†Professor Stalloid said. “You were a spiritual leader, right?†  “Why do you always go to magic?†  “Well, I feel like he’s a spiritual leader.†  “You know what, Brandon Stalloid, I never took you for one of those kind of people, but every time you see a strange person who looks different from you, you assume they have magic going on and that they’re a spiritual leader.†  “I don’t think─†  “Is that why you gave me the poison?†  “No! You have arrows. Guns don’t work with poison!†  “Uh-huh.†  “Firearms.†  “What?†S’Slir-ethess said. “My people’s poison?†  “Yes,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Oh, we just found it laying around,†Jacali said. “So, we picked it up.†  “Hm,†S’Slir-ethess said.   “It seems powerful,†Professor Stalloid said.   “I need to acclimate to your society,†S’Slir-ethess said. “Otherwise I will be viewed as a monster, as we would view you.†  The serpent person looked at all of them.   “So, make it so,†it said.   “I feel like …†Professor Stalloid said.   “And I am a female,†S’Slir-ethess said.   She leaned back onto the bed and looked straight up.   “I feel like she wants to wear a skin?†Professor Stalloid whispered to the others.   “They have a gender dichotomy,†Dr. Weisswald muttered.   She quickly wrote it down.   “Do you need to eat:?†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Oh yes,†Jacali said. “Food. What are your favorites?†  “Carnivore, herbivore, omnivore?†Professor Stalloid said.   “Meat,†S’Slir-ethess said.   “Meat,†Jacali said.   “Carnivore,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Alive,†S’Slir-ethess said.   “This might be offensive but I feel I should ask,†Jacali said.   “Vermin, avian, weasel?†Professor Stalloid said.   “The snakes that we know that look like you like mice and things,†Jacali said. “Is that okay or is it just any meat. Do you have a preference?†  “Some living meat that I can swallow,†S’Slir-ethess said.   “You … you need it alive though?†  “Preferably,†S’Slir-ethess said.   “We’ve got a really old horse out there,†Professor Stalloid said.   “And a dead woman,†S’Slir-ethess said.   “What is the size?†Dr. Weisswald asked.   “Would you like many small portions or a big portion?†Jacali said.   “We don’t want you to throw up your meal afterwards,†Dr. Weisswald said.   S’Slir-ethess held her hands up to indicate something the size of an opossum or a raccoon.   “I can probably talk to Wilder and get him to trap some stuff alive,†Jacali said. “I’m fairly good at shooting things and, well, it doesn’t really work out for that.†  “And water,†S’Slir-ethess said.   “We’ve got plenty of that,†Professor Stalloid said. “I’ve been sponging you with water.†  “So about this dead woman we’re supposed to find,†Jacali whispered to the others. “Are we going to wait for someone to die. I don’t feel right about killing someone.†  “We’ll figure it out,†Dr. Weisswald said.     * * *    

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

The House on the Hill Part 2 - A Sudden Storm

* * *       “Who are you?†West asked.   “Robert Dunspar,†Dunspar said. “A friend of Stalloid. Also a friend of Terwilliger. Do you know him?†  “Oh, we know Terwilliger,†Marshal Pierce said.   “Mad fellow, yes.†  “So, are you two friends?†  “I have more friends back in my home town but … of this group, yes. I know Otto.†  “I think you might’ve picked the two worst ones,†West said.   “Yeah,†Marshal Pierce said. “Especially when they’re together.†  “Nothing gets done,†West said.   “What do you do?†Marshal West asked.   “I’m a scientist,†Dunspar said. “Primarily in the physics and chemistry areas.†  “Okay, so it’s p-terodactyl then, right?â€Marshal Pierce said.   “As a doctor, yourself, of physics …†West said.   “Not a doctor,†Dunspar said. “Not yet.†  “P-hysics,†West said.   “P-hysics,†Marshal Pierce said.   “‘PH’ makes the ‘f’ sound,†Dunspar said. “Not …†  “I feel like that one is correct,†West said.   “I might’ve been wrong on that one,†Marshal Pierce said.   “P-terodactyl!†West said.   “With the ‘pt’ I don’t know if it would be silent or not,†Dunspar said.   “Never heard of a silent ‘p,’†West said. “I’ve just heard of an ‘f’ ‘p.’†  They discussed spelling and pronunciation until the Stalloid and Jacali came out.   “May I go back in and read, Stalloid?†Dunspar asked.   Stalloid made a strange noise. Then he went back into the medicine wagon and returned with another lantern.   Jacali asked Wilder if he could catch some game about the size of a raccoon alive. She said she would take what she could get and would repay the man in some way. She noted it was not for her.   “Hey, Stalloid, the snake man wake up?†West asked.   “Snake woman,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Snake woman!†  “Uh-huh.†  “Did you check her?†  “How can you tell?†Marshal Pierce asked.   “She told us,†Professor Stalloid said. “S’Slir-ethess.†  “S’Slir-ethess?†West said.   “Of course, it starts with an ‘s,’†Marshal Pierce said.   “And ends!†Professor Stalloid said.   “And ends,†Marshal Pierce said. “What did it say?†  “Uh …†Professor Stalloid said.   “Do we get to talk to her?†West said.   “No,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Why?†West said.   “What did it say though?†Marshal Pierce said.   “It said it was very thankful for us saving it,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Is it going to give us anything?†West said.   “It doesn’t have anything, sir!†Professor Stalloid said.   “It’s a snake?†West said.   “Do you want its hide too?†  “It could spit in a jar for us! I don’t know how you get venom.†  “So, now that’s it’s woke up … now that it’s woke up, are we just going to release it into the wild and go on our way?†Marshal Pierce said.   “Of course not!†Professor Stalloid said.   “It’s a snake!†  “It’s still injured. Its stitches would probably rip.†  “Why?†  “Just like we didn’t wait three days and then release you into the wild!†  “I’m a person!†  “It’s a person!†  “It’s a snake!†  “Person!†  “It’s a snake person,†Jacali said.   “I feel like there should be a term for this,†Wilder said. “I cannot think what it would be.†  “It has consciousness,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Wait, why would we want to release it?†West said. “We can learn from this thing.†  “Learn what?†Marshal Pierce said.   “I don’t know. It uses different weapons then us, probably.†  “What weapons? This is the first I’ve heard of this.†  “I … they had medieval stuff but … hopefully they got some sort of fancy guns.†  “Speaking of learning, what were the pages that you ripped out of this book?†Dunspar asked.   “What I’m reading right now,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Fair enough.†  “And something that no one should read.†  “I wanna read that bit!†West said.   “No!†Professor Stalloid said.   “But now I’m curious.†  Professor Stalloid just shook his head.   “What’s this reading I’m hearing about?†Marshal West said. “You’re reading stuff now?†  “Can-can you read?†West said.   “I can read!†Marshal Pierce said, disgusted at the question.   “I’m going to talk to it tomorrow,†West said.   “Nope, you will not,†Professor Stalloid said.   “The day after tomorrow.†  “Nope.†  “Before we release it.†  “We’ll take a rain check on that,†Jacali said.   “Why?†West said.   “Because the doctor is in charge to see who the patient sees,†Jacali said.   “Things don’t go that well when you talk to them,†Professor Stalloid said. “I’m sorry.†  “I am an elegant human being!†West said.   “Yes, elegant, not eloquent,†Professor Stalloid said.   “I agree with two out of three of those words,†Marshal Pierce said.   “I can say that you’re elegant but not eloquent,†Professor Stalloid said. “And that’s what we need here.†  “I just don’t think he’s human,†Marshal Pierce said.   “I think that’s obvious,†Jacali said. “But she can think and speak and talk to us.†  “They barely would allow me in there!†Professor Stalloid said.   “Yeah, we were kind of one the fence about it,†Jacali said.   “You people,†West said.   “So, what?†Marshal Pierce said. “We just going to hang out here in this boring town?†  “No, we’ll go to Devil’s Gulch,†Professor Stalloid said.   “With it?†Marshal Pierce said.   “Yeah,†Professor Stalloid said.   “And I still don’t get to talk to it?†West said.   “No,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Where do I get to sit from now on when we’re riding then?†  “On one of the other horses.†  “Oh, I get to ride your horses now?†  “How did you get here?†Wilder asked.     * * *       Alone with the serpent person, Dr. Weisswald, under its instructions, brought a bowl of water. It submerged the lower portion of its face in to the bowl and drank through its mouth somehow. But then it also lapped the water with its tongue at the end. It was very strange.     * * *       Saturday, July 31, 1875 was a bright, clear day in the badlands of Colorado. Jacali and Wilder went out early to check the traps they’d set the night before. They found a single live raccoon in the trap and returned with it. Jacali apologized to the raccoon in Apache and brought it to the medicine wagon.   “Hey, we eating coon this morning?†Marshal Pierce said.   “What is going on?†West said.   “This is for the patient,†Jacali said.   She entered the medicine wagon and Professor Stalloid closed the door behind her.   “Can I at least watch her eat!?!†West said.     * * *       S’Slir-ethess took the live raccoon and ordered Dr. Weisswald, Jacali, and Professor Stalloid to leave the medicine wagon. Jacali left.   “This is my home,†Professor Stalloid said. “And you are a suspicious individual. There are plenty of weapons in here.†  “There are?†S’Slir-ethess said. “Show me where these weapons are.†  “I’m just going to turn around and we’ll have the door closed so no one else can see,†Professor Stalloid went on. “Weisswald will turn around too. And … we’ll let you eat.†  S’Slir-ethess stared at him and then ordered them to turn around. There was a weird popping and cracking as, they assumed, the snake person opened up her jaws. It was quite disturbing.   Outside, Jack West listened at the side of the medicine wagon but couldn’t make out any of the words. He heard a strange popping noise.   After she had swallowed the raccoon whole, she lay back down in the bunk.   “Have you gotten the other thing I require?†she asked.   “Not yet,†Professor Stalloid said.   “When?†  He held up his arms to indicate he didn’t know.   “What does that mean?†she asked.   “This means I don’t know,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Primates,†she muttered.   “We’re trying to find a suitable body for you,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “It must be close to my size,†she said.     * * *       They set off that day, making their way east. Jack West rode Basil, one of Professor Stalloid’s horses. Jacali rode Shy Anne, Dr. Weisswald’s horse. Otto rode Nalin, Jacali’s horse. Wilder rode his horse: Horse. Marshal Pierce rode his own horse. Dunspar sold his broken down stallion for $10 and rode one of Professor Stalloid’s horses as well: Coriander.   “If you do anything to Cory, I’ll kill you,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Okay,†Dunspar said.   That night, they decided to strip the flesh from the head they were carrying. Professor Stalloid used his chemicals and some bleach to clean the bones of the skull and rid the medicine wagon of the smell.   Wilder set traps every night for fresh game for everyone.   “So, Stalloid, did we ever find out what’s in those jars?†Jack West asked that night.   “Oh,†Professor Stalloid said. “Very, very good poison.†  “Can you put ‘em on bullets?†  “I doubt it. That could clog up your gun.†  “In the bullets.†  “In the bullets? What good would that do?†  “So it’s got a little hole in the front of the bullet.†  It took them several days to reach Empire City, which appeared to have been a boom town that was now fading away. There were a few hundred people living there and a hotel. A telegraph office was also located in the town though there was no train. The telegraph line actually ended there.   Professor Stalloid sent a telegraph to Denver Junction, asking for a flatcar and a few tarps to transport a package. Dr. Weisswald purchased a tent at the general store. Dunspar purchased a bedroll.   Otto thought about wiring for money from his own bank but realized it would take a day or two. He looked into getting a job in town but realized they only had low-paying manual labor jobs. When Jacali found out he needed money, she noted he could take a loan out of the bank of Jacali and purchase a horse in town. She leant him $50 to purchase a horse and he noted he owed her quite a big debt.   “Stalloid, when do you think we will be able to use your wagon again?†Dunspar said.   “I would like to know this as well,†West said.   Professor Stalloid went to talk to Weisswald about it.   “Hey,†he said. “Should we ask around to see if any women have died recently?†  “It would have to be within a few hours,†she said.   “I know.†  “I think they would question your tastes a little bit.†  “I know, but I’m going to be out of this town.†  When Professor Stalloid left the medicine wagon, West confronted him again.   “So, Stalloid,†he said. “Can I see her today?†  Professor Stalloid took out his research journal and drew a picture of what the serpent person looked like. It wasn’t a very good drawing.   “I’ve seen her,†West said. “I would like to speak to her.†  Professor Stalloid looked around.   “All right,†West said.   “I believe we’ve already talked about that,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Can we ask why?†  “‘Cause she doesn’t seem like she wants to talk to us either.†  “Ah. Then what’re we doing with her?†  “Not yet.†  “Ah. Yet.†  “Yeah.†  “What are the stipulations?†  “She wants something first. I will not tell you what but I’ll tell you when we find it.†  “Maybe I can help!†  “Mm, I’m sure you could very easily. Very quickly even.†  “Well, then, why don’t you tell me?†  “Because we don’t want to go that route.†  “What? But if I can get it done faster, then why wouldn’t you want me to know?†  “You could get it done faster, but way messier. We’re trying to have no mess.†  “Sometimes you gotta break a few dozen eggs if you wanna make … uh … eggs.†  He looked at the man.   “So, you’re just trying to stick a syringe into your egg and … suck out the juices,†West said. “Get what you need and then leave the rest?†  Stalloid just looked at the man.   “You doctors are strange,†West said.   Professor Stalloid gave him some more laudanum and walked away.   “This will keep my quiet for a while,†West said.   They spent the night there on Thursday, August 5, 1875, some of them getting a room at the hotel, a bath, and their laundry done in the town.     * * *       They set off on Friday, August 6, 1875, another sweltering day. They passed through Mill City and stopped there for lunch, staying a little bit long in the place before pushing on and hoping to reach Idaho P.O. before dark. It was some seven or eight miles but they made slow progress that afternoon.   They had made their way into the evening, the road narrow and winding through the countryside as the landscape suddenly darkened. The skies, clear only a moment before, turned gray in an onrush of thunderheads that arose from nowhere; the day grew sour and ominous, threatening rain.   The flash of lightning and the loud rumble of thunder swirled across the roadway as if saying “Go back, or suffer things too dreadful to speak!†It got darker, still darker. A wall of rain rushed heavily, relentlessly onto all of them.   Jack West pulled his duster closed and tried to stay somewhat dry. Professor Stalloid looked around for any structures as the road got muddy. Otto looked around for trees but they were still in the badlands. There were no trees that would make good cover.   They continued down the road through the pouring rain. Directly ahead, a darker gray amidst the swirling clouds and rain, loomed the stone abutments of an old country bridge. But beyond the abutments was dreadful emptiness. The bridge was missing, washed out. Churning white foam crashed against the land, spraying through the air. The road yawned above the swollen black waters that rushed by in the darkness.   “Well, this is gonna slow us down,†West grumbled.   “Do I need to try to find another way around?†Jacali shouted over the roaring storm.   Jacali turned her horse upstream when an especially bright flash of lightning cast a hill off to the north of the road into a crazed glow. There, perched high among twisted and bare oaks and maples, an old Gothic house towered black against the skyline. The lightning passed and darkness returned. One lamp shined dimly through the recesses of the house, through the night, and through the dense, continuing rain.   “Let’s go take shelter over at that house!†West shouted over the roaring storm.   “Sounds like a good plan!†Dunspar said.   “Really?†Jacali said. “At the spooky house?†  “It’s shelter,†Dunspar said.   “All right,†Jacali said.   “I’m done getting wet,†West said. “I call upstairs!†  They made their way to the house and could see more of it in the flashes of lightning as they approached.   “We don’t even know if anybody lives there,†Jacali yelled. “How can you call upstairs?†  “I call upstairs!†West said.   As they approached, they could see a stable and a carriage house situated to one side of the building. They could see a tower on one side of the house with a light up in the window there. There was also light coming from the basement. The house seemed to be in a state of disrepair. Shutters hung on the hinges, the walls hadn’t been painted in a long time, and shingles were obviously missing from the roof.   Professor Stalloid and Dunspar found a buggy in the carriage house but the structure was large enough they could have fit the medicine wagon within as well. Professor Stalloid got to work unhitching the horses and putting them in the building.   The others took their horses to the stable and found two other horses there. They left the saddles on their horses and didn’t bother to rub them down, unsure if they’d even be allowed to stay.   Jacali and Marshal Pierce went to the front door of the place. Jack West loitered in the rain close enough to see and be seen from the door, arms crossed. Otto stayed on his horse in the rain.   The front porch was obviously once very nice. Given adequate repairs and a fresh coat of pain, the house could easily return to its former beauty. However, even in the flicker and flash of the lightning, it was easy to see the porch hadn’t seen pain for at least 10 years.   The porch was completely covered with a tattered, sagging roof. The wooden railings and columns along the outside edge of the porch were ornately carved, but also in need of paint, and covered with cobwebs. The floorboards were worn; they creaked beneath the feet, as if whoever walked there didn’t walk alone. Shades and draperies covered the windows but it looked dark inside.   The front door was solid oak and had two brass wolf’s head knockers. Each of the knockers was held in the mouth of the brass wolf’s head.   Jacali knocked loudly with the knocker. After a few moments, the right hand door opened with a loud whine. From behind the door, an ugly bald head poked out.   “Yes?†the ugly man’s nasal voice inquired. “What can I do for you on a doom-laden, bloodcurdling night such as tonight?†  The body belonging to the ghastly head moved from behind the door. Awash in the flickering light from the bolts of lightning crashing near the porch, the face become terribly visible: one eye bulged while the other was scarred past sight and belief. Indeed, a one-eyed hunchback smiled graciously from the shelter of the doorway.   “We would like to escape the storm if you have room,†Marshal Pierce said after getting over the initial shock of seeing the horrible little man.   “We were traveling and the bridge was out,†Jacali said.   “Oh!†the hunchback said. “Of course. Of course. I’m sorry, the master’s busy right now. But he will be pleased, oh yes, very pleased indeed, to have some new bodies around the house.†  He laughed.   “But the house is warm … very warm,†he went on. “You can find shelter here against the night … if only for short while. Please stay. It would mean so much to the master!†  He opened the door fully and gestured for them to enter.   “We don’t have a choice and we have guns so I’m not worried,†Marshal Pierce said.   “I’ve seen plenty of creepy white folks and this is one of the creepiest but it’s this or the rain,†Jacali said.   “Who?†the hunchback asked.   “Uh … not you, sir,†Jacali said. “It’s the man back there.†  She pointed at Jack West, still standing in the rain.   “Oh, I didn’t see him,†the hunchback said. Then he raised his voice. “Come in! Come in!†  West walked to the porch.   “Jack, you might be better suited to talk to this individual,†Marshal Pierce said.   The hunchback didn’t seem concerned with Jack West’s horribly scarred face. Jacali went to the stable to tell the rest they were invited in the house. West and Marshal Pierce entered and the hunchback took their coats, shaking them off and putting them over his arm.   “What about your lady-friend?†the hunchback back.   “What?†Marshal Pierce said.   “Oh,†West said.   “She’ll be back,†Marshal Pierce said.   “She’s just wiping down the horses,†West said.   “Come in,†the hunchback said. “Come in.†  They entered a darkened entrance hall, which appeared to be a mess, matching the shabby outside of the house. It was dark and dreary, a slight odor of mildew rising from somewhere, along with another, more unpleasant odor not strong enough to recognize. Cobwebs hung from every corner and dust covered everything. There were a number of picture frames on the walls but they couldn’t see what was in them in the dark.   “We need to look around before we bring the others in,†Marshal Pierce said to West.   The hunchback led the two men to the left into a large octagonal living room, lit by only a single, guttered candle. The room was decorated with furniture that must have been from the 1820s. In fact, the room seemed to be more a museum than a living room. A sofa and love seat sat against one wall. Two ornate upholstered chairs stood in the room, one each against opposite walls. A number of end tables were scattered about, each bearing a lamp placed on a doily. One of the end tables held a human skull, staring vacantly out the window at the storm-crazed countryside.   A finally crafted wooden staircase was in the interior corner of the room. An ornately carved gargoyle leered from the bottom post of the staircase banister, as if at any moment it were about to spring to life.   A thick layer of dust covered the entire room. It was so dusty one could make out a path where people had walked through.   “Make yourself at home,†the hunchback said. “Things have been dead around here of late. The master will be pleased to deal with the living for a change.†  “Who is your master?†Marshal Pierce asked.   The hunchback didn’t seem to hear him and disappeared into the darkness.   “Let’s just inspect,†Marshal Pierce said. “Let’s just inspect the house. I ain’t waiting.†  Just then the candle crackled and went out. The constant lightning was the only light.     * * *       Jacali entered the stable and told the rest of being invited into the house. Otto finally brought his miserable horse into the stable as well. They quickly removed the saddles from the horses and rubbed them down.     * * *       “Do you want to follow him or should I follow him?†Marshal Pierce said.   “You follow him,†West said. “I’m going to check upstairs.†  Marshal Pierce left the dark room for a darkened hall that was filled with bookshelves. There was a door under the stairs, doors on the opposite wall, and a door in the wall to the right. He didn’t see any sign of the hunchback. It was very dark.     * * *       West returned to the entrance hall and tried to see what was in the frames on the walls but it was too dark. A yellowed travel poster was on one wall and he could just make out the word “Neudorf†upon it. There was no furniture in the room aside from a single, hard-backed chair.   As he moved to the archway they hadn’t entered before, the front doors flew open behind him. He spun around to see Jacali and the rest entering from the storm-tossed night.   “All righty,†West said. “So … little creepy man just keeps spitting off cryptic messages so it might not be safe. Jus for y’all’s general information.†  “Have most of the places we’ve ever been been safe?†Otto said.   “Come to think of it, no,†West said.   “My house was pretty safe,†Professor Stalloid said.   “The last two towns were pretty safe,†Dunspar said.   “Yeah,†Otto said quietly.   “I ignore boring,†West muttered.   He went into the dining room.   “So, where is our host?†Professor Stalloid said.   “He said wait,†West said.   “He said wait?†  “I’m not waiting.†  “You’re not waiting? But it’s not your house.†  “It’s my upstairs.†  Professor Stalloid looked at him like he was crazy.   The dining room proved to be dark, like the rest of the house and filled with furniture. The table, chairs, and china appeared, in the flashing lightning, to be extremely ornate and reflected an era of craftsmanship when pride was more important than profit. There were several doors leading out of the room and one of them opened. Marshal Pierce stuck his head in. The double doors in the far side of the room seemed to lead outside.   “I lost him,†he said.   He went back out the way he came, closing the door behind him.   West headed for the door to his left.     * * *       Jacali went into the living room and saw the skull on the table by the flashes of lightning. She went over to the skull and found it was the upper half of a real human skull. She noticed, in one flash of lightning, Marshal Pierce in the next room.     * * *       Marshal Pierce tried the two closed doors in the back of the hall and found them both locked. He tried the door that was under the stairs but found it locked as well. He returned to the parlor and, without a word to Jacali, headed up the stairs to the second floor as Professor Stalloid entered the room and lit the three lamps there. It was a relief to finally be able to see. He took off his jacket and hung it over the back of one of the chairs and then sat down.   Wilder, Dr. Weisswald, Otto, and Dunspar entered the parlor as well. Dr. Weisswald lit her lantern.     * * *       West found himself in the hall near the parlor and found the room was filled with shelves which contained volumes and volumes of books. He started to look through the books on the wall near the parlor, where there was the most light, and found they dealt with unsolved mysteries, murders, and strange events.   “What have you found?†Professor Stalloid called from the parlor.   “Books!†West called back.   “A library?†Professor Stalloid said.   West headed out to the other door across the dining room and found a dirty, smelly kitchen. Dirty plates, pots, and pans were stacked everywhere. Garbage overflowed onto the floor. Half-eaten meals had been left to rot on their plates. The stench was overwhelming.   He left quickly after seeing a few rats in the corner. He went to the glass doors in the north wall of the dining room and found they led to a decrepit back porch.     * * *       Marshal Pierce found himself on a dark landing on the second floor. Three doors led off the landing and only a single window lit the place. More steps led upwards. He made his way to the door that led to the room over the parlor.   The room there was cluttered but orderly. A large, unmade double bed jutted from the opposite wall under wide windows. A wardrobe, its door open, stood to the right and contained clothing which looked rather posh. Off to the side was a dresser covered with books. A few paintings of unfamiliar landscapes covered the walls. There were many windows.   A single portrait was on the wall to the left. In the flashes of lightning, Marshal Pierce could see it showed a family. He didn’t recognize the man from the foyer in the painting.   He closed the door and left.     * * *       Professor Stalloid brought a lamp into the hall with the books and started looking through them. It didn’t take him long to find what appeared to be journals written in what looked like German. He looked through the volumes dealing with unsolved murders, mysteries, and strange events.   Dunspar entered the hall and began to look through the books as well.     * * *       Marshal Pierce opened the door that led to the bathroom in the back of the house. There was a pump and a bathtub and small furnace, obviously for warming water.   The last room on the second floor was an absolute mess, littered with everything from food scraps to dirty laundry. It was impossible to set foot inside, indeed anywhere in the room, without stepping on something. A mattress lay in the middle of the floor.   “Jesus,†he muttered, closing the door.   He headed up to the third floor.     * * *       Dr. Weisswald headed into the hall to look at the books. She was hunting for Latin books but the journals were not in Latin and the others were all in English. Otto followed her in.   In the parlor, Jacali closely examined the parlor but found nothing of interest.   “Jacali, what are you looking for?†Wilder asked.   “These journals are written in German,†Otto said.   “What do they say?†Dunspar said.   He started to skim them and found they were general things for the most part.   Jacali headed up the steps.     * * *       Marshal Pierce reached the top of the staircase and found they came up into an octagonal room with windows in all of the walls. It gave a magnificent view of the road and the washed-out bridge below. The contents of the room were all covered with sheets and mostly it appeared to be filled with furniture.   One particular sheet-covered shape appeared to be a man standing in the corner between the windows.   “Are you the master of this home that I’m supposed to be waiting for downstairs?†he asked.   There was no reply. Marshal Pierce inched closer.   “Did you hear me?†he said.   There was no reply. He moved a little closer and put his hand over his gun.   “Are you the master of this home?†he asked.   There was still no answer from the figure. Pierce was in the center of the room. He was not sure if the figure had moved as he could see very little when it was dark between the flashes of lightning. Only during the constant flashes of lightning was he able to see. He was unsure if the figure moved during those times of darkness. He was a little afraid it was moving though it didn’t seem to be moving at all. The figure stood in the corner but, as it was covered with a sheet, he was unsure if the figure was facing him or the wall.   “Jack?†Marshal Pierce said loudly.   He drew his pistol and slipped it into his left hand. Then he leaned forward carefully and reached for the sheet, trying to stay away from the figure and pull the sheet off. He grabbed the sheet and pulled it and the figure lunged at him. He let out a shout and fell back. The figure crashed into him and fell to the floor with a hollow noise.   He stood there, gun ready, and saw in the next flash of lightning that the figure was just a dressmaker’s dummy.   Then he heard footsteps behind him.   “Pierce?†Jacali said.   “Up here,†Pierce said as he picked up the dressmaker’s dummy and put the sheet over it again.   “You all right?†  “Yeah.†  “You knocking things over?†  “A little bit.†  “What’s up here?†  “Uh … dummy’s disguised as men.†  “Ah. I’ve heard that’s just men … but okay.†  “I can’t seem to find the man who greeted us at the door and there’s a master of the house that I still haven’t found but, I tell you what, they do not take care of this place from what I’ve seen.†  “It seems that’s what I’ve seen as well. Have you checked all these rooms?†  “Yes.†  Jacali took the hood off one of the lamps and just looked at it.   “You need a match?†Marshal Pierce said.   “Ah yes,†Jacali said. “That’s typically how you make fire.†  He lit one of the lamps.   “I’ve checked everything on the second floor and this seems to be the only place on the third floor,†Marshal Pierce said. “I don’t know where this man could have gone without me or Jack West running into him again.†  “Exactly,†Jacali said. “And you said there was a master so two people in this house which we haven’t seen? Doesn’t make sense to me.†  “I haven’t thoroughly inspected but I don’t know why they would be hiding from us.†  “This is the room we saw a lamp in, right?†  “I think so. I can’t remember. We should … are the others inside yet or are they still in the stables?†  “Everybody’s inside, I believe.†    * * *       “Help!†a voice called. “Get me out of here! Help! Help! I’m trapped!†  It sounded like an old man and came from the doors off the hall opposite the parlor. Dr. Weisswald ran to the door followed closely by Professor Stalloid. They found it locked.   “Are you the master of the house?†Professor Stalloid said through the door. “Hello? Sir?†  “Help!†the voice came again. “Get me out of here! Help!†  “Are you the master of the house?†Professor Stalloid said again.   “Help!†the voice said. “I’m trapped!†  Wilder entered the room, having heard the voice from the parlor. Dr. Weisswald flung her weight against the door and they heard the latch snap as the lock broke.   The room beyond appeared to be L-shaped and went off to the right. It was littered with books, curios, and other strange items. A rickety desk, sagging under books and papers, sat in the middle of the room, facing the door. A large human skull, a hole in the center of its forehead, sat atop the desk where it served as a paperweight. A high-backed chair, its arms ending in carved wooden skulls, stood behind the desk.   As they pressed forward, they saw that deeper in the room, the scenery was more disturbing. Glass cases held human arms, hands, and other organs. Skulls and bones lay about the floor and covered the shelves.   In the farthest corner of the room was a large bird cage in which perched a large gray parrot with a red tail.   “Help!†the bird called out. “Help! Get me out of here! I’m trapped! Hurry!†  Dr. Weisswald recognized the parrot as an African Gray, a large and extremely talkative bird.   Professor Stalloid and Dunspar looked at the books on the desk and found them to be medical journals Professor Stalloid found a Newton’s cradle on one of the shelves: a series of balls held suspended by string. He lifted up one of the balls on the end and let it fall, causing the ball on the other end to rise up and fall with a “clack.†The motion continued for some time. The noise startled the others.   “Maybe he’s a master of anatomy,†Professor Stalloid said.   Otto opened the other door in the room and found it led to another bathroom with tub and pump.     * * *       Upstairs, Marshal Pierce held up his hand for a moment and then looked down.   “I heard something!†he muttered.   He ran down the stairs, followed closely by Jacali.     * * *       Jack West, on the second floor, spun around, lamp in hand, when Marshal Pierce and Jacali came pounding down the stairs.   “I heard something,†Pierce said.   He ran down the stairs, followed by Jacali. West followed them.     * * *       Wilder was still in the hall when the three ran down the stairs and rushed in.   “What happened down here?†Marshal Pierce asked.   Wilder looked at him.   “I too, heard, a loud noise and came to investigate,†he said. “And found the door open. I have not yet─†  “That was locked when I tried it earlier,†Marshal Pierce said.   He moved to the door and saw the others in the room. Wilder went back for the other lamp.     * * *       Dr. Weisswald went to the parrot.   “Hello?†she said.   The parrot just stared at her.   “Help me!†she said to it.   It didn’t answer. She began to wonder if it had even really spoken.   Stalloid went into the bathroom to examine the tub but found nothing out of the ordinary. Otto then went in to inspect it with a lamp.     * * *    

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

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.†  “So beautiful.†    * * *       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?†  “No.†  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?†  “A war.†  “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.†  “Yes.†  “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.†  “All right.†  “I’ll be in the house.†  “I’ll yell my berry.†  “Okay.†  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.   “Then no.†  “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!†  “I’m confused.†  “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.

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

The Crack'd and Crook'd Manse, Part One

SPOILER ALERT: The following text contains information about a certain estate in Gamwell, Massachusetts, and its owner, Mr. Arthur Cornthwaite. Perusal of this text is strongly discouraged for all except those Keepers who wish to conduct their own investigations into this matter. Investigators wishing to visit Gamwell in connection with Mr. Cornthwaite should, under no circumstances save an irrational desire to ruin their own enjoyment, read any further.   Session Date: Tuesday, April 17, 2018
Session Location: Six Feet Under Games, New Holland, Pennsylvania   Investigators:
* Elspeth Marsh, a librarian at the Miskatonic University
* Stephanie MacLeod, an archaeologist at Cambridge University
* Lynn Conners, a stage magician in Arkham, Massachusetts   Friday, February 6, 1925   Stephanie MacLeod is contacted by her mother, who has received a letter addressed to her late father. The letter, dated January 30, 1925, is from an attorney named Walter Dodge. Dodge is requesting assistance in locating Arthur Cornthwaite, a prominent archaeologist and philanthropist. Recalling that her father knew Mr. Cornthwaite (the two of them were often rivals), Stephanie decides to look into this matter and travels by rail to Arkham, Massachusetts.   There she meets Dr. Fenton, head of archaeology at Miskatonic University. Dr. Fenton confirms that Mr. Cornthwaite has donated several valuable artifacts to the Miskatonic Museum during the past decade or so, and is eager to lend assistance in discovering Mr. Cornthwaite's present location.   Dr. Fenton introduces Stephanie to Elspeth Marsh, a librarian who works at the Miskatonic University. It turns out that Stephanie is already acquainted with Elspeth, the two of them having met at an equestrian club when they were younger. Stephanie agrees to assist Elspeth in finding Mr. Cornthwaite, and asks if her friend and roommate, Lynn Conners, may join them. Lynn is a stage magician; the final performance of her act is to take place this evening, after which she will have no commitments for the next two months or so. Lynn agrees to accompany the others, if only to keep Elspeth out of trouble.   Saturday, February 7, 1925   Stephanie, Elspeth, and Lynn meet at 8:00 a.m. for a quick breakfast before boarding the train to Amherst. The journey is comfortable, as Stephanie has secured a private compartment. Stephanie asks Lynn about the magic tricks she performs; Lynn is unwilling to divulge her secrets, and feels compelled to inform Stephanie that she does not actually perform true magic. While they chat, the view outside the train gradually shifts from cities and small towns to pastures and woods.   In Amherst, the ladies hire a taxi to take them to Gamwell. The driver is a friendly but quiet young fellow named Pete, who agrees to wait for them while they conduct their business. A small rural town in western Massachusetts, Gamwell provides amenities to the local farmers, several of whom have significant wealth.   At the law office, they are escorted to a conference room where they soon meet Walter Dodge, a short man in a drab grey suit who looks uneasy and barely introduces himself before launching into an explanation of the task they are to perform. As mentioned in his letter, Arthur Cornthwaite has been missing for almost a month now, and the attorneys require his guidance regarding the administration of his affairs. Dodge explains that his office manages Cornthwaite's finances, and he agrees to provide copies of the accounting ledgers. He also provides keys to the Fitzgerald Manse, Cornthwaite's residence located ten miles north of town. Dodge invites the women to take up residence in the Manse while they conduct their search, but stresses that no damage should be inflicted upon the property, as it is quite valuable. He also mentions that he has made arrangements for them to stay at the local boarding house if necessary.   The investigators decide to travel to the Fitzgerald Manse immediately, as it is still early in the afternoon. As they depart, Lynn notices a policeman watching them from across the street, and the expression on his face is not at all friendly.   On their way to the estate, Stephanie and Lynn begin to examine the ledgers. Though they have little experience with accounting, Lynn does notice something odd about the records concerning Cornthwaite's last expedition to South America. There are several records concerning the hiring of men and the transportation of equipment - but passage for only one person was booked for the return from South America.   A winding drive leads them into the expansive grounds of the estate, but they soon encounter a locked gate. The lock does not respond to either of the keys provided by the law office. Lynn tries unsuccessfully to pick the lock, and her tools become damaged in the process. Stephanie finds her Webley revolver and fires it at the lock, blasting it to pieces. Pete begins to wonder what he has gotten himself into.   The Fitzgerald Manse is a large building surrounded by overgrown trees and gardens. All of the windows are shuttered, and the house has a strange, somewhat crooked look about it, which makes them uneasy. Asking Pete to wait for them again, Stephanie walks up the steps to the front door and unlocks it. The door opens to reveal a dark hallway. As they enter, Elspeth squeaks with alarm as she is showered with plaster debris from the ceiling. There are cracks in the walls and several dark spots on the ceiling indicating significant water damage. Lynn comments that they may be staying at the boarding house after all.   Opening the first door, they find a library. Stephanie lights a candelabra, and they start to examine the books - many of which have become moldy and stained. The titles indicate a variety of subjects - history, archaeology, anthropology, and so forth. Elspeth notices that none of them pertain to South America, and the many gaps on the shelves suggest that some books have been removed. On their way out of the room, she also spots a bulge in the wood paneling on a wall. Prying the knot hole off, she finds a few pieces of old, yellowed parchment inside. The writing on the pages is miniscule and erratic, almost completely illegible, and the ladies suspect that the writer may have been somewhat unhinged. All that they can make out are the initial letters of the final signature - A.C.   In a nearby study, they find an open book on a reading desk: The MIssing People, by Thomas Pratt. Stephanie and Elspeth recognize the author's name; his works are of questionable validity, often concerning myth and folklore. Nevertheless, they decide to keep the book for later review.   Returning to the hallway, Stephanie receives a shock when she opens a door to find a huge, menacing dark figure - but it turns out to be merely an overcoat hanging in a cloak room.   The next door reveals a storeroom full of crates and barrels. Stephanie and Elspeth begin to investigate their contents, while Lynn crosses the hall to find an empty dining room with a table set for one. Her candle reveals a glint of broken glass under the table, and she finds the shattered remnants of a glass container - possibly a salt or pepper shaker, or perhaps a decanter. Hearing a crash from the other room, she rushes back to find that the floor beneath Stephanie has collapsed, and she is barely hanging onto the edge. Wary of weakening the floor further, Elspeth and Lynn help Stephanie up. Peering down into the hole, they see complete and utter darkness. Lynn cautiously lowers her candle until she sees piles of coal - at which point she hastily withdraws the flame.   The three of them make their way to the kitchen, where they immediately notice a horrible stench. Lynn goes to a closed door and finds herself unable to open it. Stephanie and Elspeth approach the pantry, where the foul odor seems to be strongest, nervously wondering if they will find spoiled food or perhaps the rotting remains of Mr. Cornthwaite. At that moment, all three of them hear a loud creaking sound - at first, it seems to be coming from the walls, and then above them. It sounds as though something rather large is moving somewhere, perhaps on the second floor.   When the noise subsides, Stephanie quickly returns to the car and retrieves her pistol. She advises Pete to start the car and to keep it running. Before he can ask any questions, she returns to the house, and the three women cautiously climb the staircase, worried that the steps may collapse beneath them.   Reaching the landing, they see no footprints, and all is quiet. The enter a den and find a shotgun on the wall above the mantel. Lynn quickly grabs the shotgun but finds the barrels empty. Stephanie anxiously searches a nearby desk, but there is no ammunition. While the others are searching, Elspeth notices a crumpled paper in the fireplace. Carefully unfolding it, they read the following.   "To whom it may concern,   "I am writing this statement in the event of my joining my staff and my expedition members in death. I, Arthur Cornthwaite, being of sound mind and body
"No time for formality or legalisms. It is the thing I must tell you of. What is sanity, when faced with this? I thought I had fled from it in that foul green place, the accursed temple, yet somehow it has followed me here. I know the signs, there can be no mistake. It is with me. It is a thing so clever, so terrible that   "MELODRAMA! What's the point! Notes to myself in an empty house! Whoever reads this knows, or will know, of it, but what you must also know is that it has a weakness so simple, so"   The investigators immediately decide to leave the house and return to Gamwell. It is starting to get dark, and they want to show this paper to Mr. Dodge tomorrow.   Returning to Gamwell, they give Pete a generous $15 gratuity and ask him to stay in Gamwell for another day. Against his better judgment, Pete agrees.   At the local boarding house, they are greeted by Edith Haggerty, who sternly warns the ladies that no nonsense is tolerated here. After changing their clothes, they enjoy a nice dinner with Edith and her husband, Hank, who inquires about their business in Gamwell. When they mention Cornthwaite, Hank informs them that the Fitzgerald Manse has quite a history to it. He seems eager to tell more, but a threatening look from his wife convinces him to remain silent on the subject. Instead, he asks if they've heard about the horse that's gone missing from a farm north of town. A valuable animal, apparently, and there are no clues about what happened to it.  
*** ^ *** ^ *** ^ *** ^ *** ^ *** ^ *** ^ *** ^ *** ^ *** ^ *** ^ *** ^ *** ^ *** ^   Keeper's Comments:   I've wanted to run this scenario for years, but had a hard time finding players. Previously, I ran through half of The Haunting (the group I had at the time disintegrated) and Edge of Darkness (one of the players didn't care for Call of Cthulhu; he prefers the standard sort of combat and treasure that other RPGs provide). I finally decided to post an open invitation at a local gaming store, where I was told that demand was high. I wanted to limit the group to three or four players, fearing that more than that would be unwieldy for this sort of game. Even with only three players, there were times when I found myself thinking of ways to provide each of them with opportunities to shine and not get left out of the action. Two of the players had played "homebrew" Call of Cthulhu games before, and one had never played. They put a lot of great thought into their characters, which almost makes me reluctant to conduct the final horrific encounter. It seems to me that there's a lot of leeway in how lethal that encounter can be. I could probably slaughter everyone with little difficulty, or I could allow them ample opportunity to escape, barely.   I had heard that players do not always do what you expect them to do, and this was certainly proof. I thought they would travel around town in search of information, but they headed straight to the Fitzgerald Manse. They didn't even enter the garden.   To prepare for the scenario, I created index cards for each location, as well as typed notes with greater detail. It turns out that I didn't use the index cards at all; I had read the scenario so often that I remembered most of the details. I only had to glance at my notes a few times. I sketched out a map for each floor of the mansion, filling in details for each room as they explored it.   None of the investigators has lost any sanity yet!

Thomas Craven

Thomas Craven

 

The Last Valley Part 1 - East of Santaquin

Sunday, April 8, 2018   (After playing the Call of Cthulhu Down Darker Trails Catastrophe Engine Campaign original scenario “The Last Valley†Sunday from 1:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. with James Brown, Ashton LeBlanc, Ben Abbott, John Leppard, and Yorie Latimer.)   Jack West, who had been shot by Pete Sutter around May 22, 1875, was in one of the hospitals in San Francisco for about six weeks after the terribly injury. He had been on laudanum and other drugs for the pain during the first few weeks of his stay. In that first week, something happened that he was not sure was a dream or not.   He thought he overheard one of the nurses tell someone “I’ve given him a double dose of laudanum just for you.†That night, reality seemed distorted and twisted. He was unsure what was real and what was not. He felt like he couldn’t move, like someone had strapped him down to the bed.   When he awoke at one point, or so he thought, he found Popie East standing over her bed, smiling down at him. One of the most beautiful women he had ever seen, “Ugly†Popie East, her nickname ironic, had dark hair and tanned skin, perfect lips and sensuous, come-hither eyes. She had been the one that had terribly maimed Jack’s face some years before when he had defended his homestead against her and her gang. She was also rumored to have been a part of John Valentine’s gang.   “Oh, you look beautiful Clint,†she said.   She caressed the horribly burned and maimed side of his face. Then she was gone. It seemed like days passed or maybe he slept again or maybe it was all just a dream. Then she was back and he saw her unbutton and drop her shirt to the floor, reaching down to unbutton and remove her jeans. He again lost track of everything around him and was unsure what happened. He thought she might have climbed on top of him naked but that was all he remembered.   He woke some days later and was still unsure if what had happened had been real or not. It had seemed so real, but at the same time it was all so strange. It might have just been a hallucination brought on by the laudanum.   During his stay, he found out his hospital bill had been paid by Brandon Stalloid. He also found himself in possession of $100 from the railroad for his help in holding off the raiders and another $285 from Lambert Otto for his share of the bounties he had collected for the attack.   When he finally left the hospital some weeks later, he found himself needing laudanum on a regular basis.     * * *       After dealing with the tongs in late May, Jacali and Dr. Eva Weisswald decided to leave San Francisco almost immediately. They took the train south again, Jacali paying for a pair of first class tickets for the two of them. It took a day and a half to travel back down to Los Angeles and a couple of more days ride from there on horseback to Midnight in southern California.   They arrived at the tiny town in the dry but wooded mountains just after dusk on Thursday, June 3, 1875. Jacali was surprised to see a man dressed as a clown acting as the street sweeper and even more surprised to see the two beautiful women working in the blacksmith shop. She noticed the town hall that had obviously been converted into a Chinese hospital.   Dr. Weisswald showed the Indian woman the house Stalloid had purchased from the town the month before. The downstairs was still a mess as Professor Stalloid was having it converted into a library. There were shelves being built in the dining room and work was progressing nicely. The three bedrooms on the second floor were untouched and Dr. Weisswald and Jacali stayed there the first night.   They decided to stay in Dr. Chin’s hospital and recuperate from the injuries they had suffered after that. The first morning, when the cannon had fired from the roof of the Colonel’s house over the lake the town rested on, Jacali leapt out of her hospital bed and grabbed her bow, looking around, terrified and alarmed.   “We’re getting attacked!†she cried out.   “No no no no,†Dr. Chin told her. “That’s just the Colonel.†  She was also later told by Town Marshal Harry Flute the cannon fire was just the Colonel.   “He fires a gun,†he said. “He thinks he’s still in the War of 1812 and there’s British ships out on the lake out there.†  Jacali looked at him.   “White people are crazy,†she said.   Dr. Weisswald learned the town was hard at work trying to convince the county a telegraph and railroad through the town would be a good idea. However, there was another village a few miles to the east, San Jacinto, at the end of the Temescal Mountains, that was also trying to get the train to run through their town.   One night of their stay, Jacali had a nightmare that turned into a strange dream.   She was in her village when her family was killed, years ago. Everything was happening again. Her mother was running with her to try to get her on a horse. The only thing different was the Apache were not only protecting their home, they were protecting the Crescent. She knew it was there somewhere in her village.   As events unfolded and she had just gotten on the horse, she heard a bland and unemotional voice.   “Contact has been made,†it said.   “Is there danger to the subject?†a second voice, as unemotional as the first, said.   “Hypothetically though only with long exposure.†  “Continue.†  The scene faded around her and she found herself in a blank white nothingness. She remembered she was no longer a child and she guessed she was dreaming.   “Are you the being known as Jacali?†one of the voices asked.   “Uh … yes … I guess,†Jacali said.   “It is unsure,†one of the voices said.   “Perhaps it is not the one.†  “We may have failed.†  “Try again.†  “Who is asking?†Jacali said.   “We seek the tri-mnemonic static harmonizer, what you called ‘The Crescent’ or ‘The Horn,’†the voice said.   “The Crescent?†  “It is in danger and must be returned to us.†  “I’ve been trying to return it for … ever … for months now.†  “We know─†  “Nobody tells me what it is!†  “We know that you seek what you call the Crescent and must continue to do so. You are linked to it. You … can help us.†  “Do you have any information you can give me about it? Risking my life for this thing for no reason other than I think it’s bad and horrible and everybody told me that it’s filled with demons … I mean …†  “The device is beyond your understanding, but you must know it is very dangerous and very beneficial.†  “Can I touch it?†  “Those who touch it or are touched by it are changed or destroyed dependent upon their need and the needs of the harmonizer.†  “So, I shouldn’t touch it?†  “It changes those who touch it or it touches.†  “So I shouldn’t touch it?†  “It is unsure how it will affect any individual.†  Jacali thought she started to see some strange shapes near her. They were very blurry and she tried to focus on them but it was difficult for some reason. They were large and moved strangely.   “It is unknown how it will affect any individual but changes are dramatic and complete,†the emotionless voice said. It seemed to be coming from one of the blurry shapes.   “Others of ours seek the harmonizer,†the other voice, also coming from the shapes, said. “Some of them are allies but others are a danger to you and your race. Anything you write down might be used against you. Keep no records of what you do.†  Jacali didn’t think that latter warning would be any trouble for her as she didn’t know how to read or write.   “Who do I know who’s my friend and allies in this?†she said.   “We have not that information yet,†one of the voices said.   “No,†the other agreed. “We have not that information … yet. You must trust in your heart and in your feelings. Those who are connected to the harmonizer, like yourself, are in great danger. They are sought out, especially the four remaining who initially examined the device. Four others who studied it were destroyed by the device. A fifth remains free and hidden but she is also sought by those who seek it. Another is also free.†  “You got any names for me?†Jacali asked.   “We only have the name of a father of Marshal Clayton Pierce,†the voice said. “He is a key.†  “Oh.†  “You must … find the device and then find us again.†  “Will we be able to make contact again?†the second voice said.   “That is unknown,†the first voice said.   “How do I find you?†Jacali said. “You came to me in a dream.†  “We will find a way to contact you,†the second voice said.   “But you told me to contact you,†Jacali said.   “Documentation is not sufficient to answer your question,†the second voice said.   The strange shapes were becoming clearer as Jacali struggled to focus her eyes upon them. They were huge, it seemed like. They were enormous, iridescent cones about 10 feet high and 10 feet wide at the base and made up of some ridgy, scaly, semi-elastic matter. From their apexes projected four flexible, cylindrical members, each a foot thick, and of a ridgy substance like the cones themselves. These members were sometimes contracted almost to nothing and sometimes extended to any distance up to about 10 feet. Terminating two of them were enormous claws or nippers. At the end of a third were four red trumpet-like appendages. The fourth terminated in an irregular yellowish globe some two feet in diameter and having three great dark eyes ranged along its central circumference. Surmounting the “head†were four slender gray stalks bearing flowerlike appendages whilst from their nether sides dangled eight greenish antennae or tentacles. The great base of the central cone was ringed with a rubbery gray substance which seems to move the whole entity through expansion and contraction.   “What the hell are those!?!†she cried out.   The yellowish globe on each of the things moved towards the other.   “Can she observe us?†came the emotionless voice from the trumpet-like appendage on one of them.   “Of course,†the other voice came from the other strange creature.   “That is unfortunate,†the first said.   “Hey, what’s going on?†Jacali said. “I’ve never seen anything like that.†  “We are collectors of information and observers,†the second thing said. “We rarely interfere with things that happen, merely observe. The harmonizer was designed to do the same, allowing us to observe. It was also to supplement other sources of information. Now … it has …†  The strange eyes turned to look at the other creature.   “… malfunctioned,†it finished. “It may have … evolved over time.†  “We will be in touch with you,†the other thing said. “Do your best in the meantime.†  “Are you slugs?†Jacali said. “I have seen slugs before.†  “We are not slugs,†one of the things said. “We exist elsewhere.†  “Search in Devil’s Gulch, Colorado,†the other said.   “We must terminate connection,†the first said.   “This is a weird dream,†Jacali said.   She awoke in her bed in the hospital.   When she had breakfast with Dr. Weisswald, she confronted her.   “What kind of medication do you have me on?†she said.   Dr. Weisswald frowned. Neither she nor Jacali was on any medication at present. They were both nearly healed.   “Oh … uh … none?†she said.   “So … I may have a lead on the Crescent,†Jacali said. “But, it came from some slugs in a dream that talked to me.†  The doctor just looked at her.   “Have you ever heard of a place called Devil’s Gulch?†Jacali said.   “No,†Dr. Weisswald said. “I have not.†  “I don’t know what really went on and that was the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to me in a dream, even with recent events. But that’s where they told me to go. So … I don’t have any other leads other than dream slugs.†  “It’s good enough for me.†  They did a little research and found there were a few books at the library, including The Cram Atlas Company New Commercial Atlas of the United States and Territories published in 1875. There, they found maps they could follow and figured a path from Midnight north through Nevada to Utah and then Colorado. They decided to take their horses and ride cross country instead of taking the trains.   Dr. Weisswald looked for The Mysteries of the Worm but couldn’t find it. She guessed they had misplaced it during the construction downstairs but figured it would show up sooner or later.   They left Midnight on June 18, 1875.     * * *       Professor Brandon Stalloid, Gemma Jones, Lambert Otto, and Robert Dunspar, after leaving the town of Hilton Springs and the terrible worms on July 10, 1875, with only a stop to get the tequila bottle from the Webster House, continued east into southern Utah. They made their way north through towns and villages primarily dominated by Mormons though with a scattering of other people until they reached the rail head at Santaquin on Tuesday, July 20. Gemma, having had enough of the slow, overland travel, told the others she would take the train to Salt Lake City and then meet them in Devil’s Gulch. Dunspar was likewise done with overland travel and said he would be staying at Santaquin for a while. He hinted he might meet them at Devil’s Gulch as well, but made no promises after the horrors he’d personally and physically experienced.   Professor Stalloid and Otto planned to travel due east from the town, bypassing the Uintah Indian Reservation and working their way through the mountains until they reached the area of Idaho Springs, Colorado, where they could continue the way they’d come or take the rail from there to Denver and then Devil’s Gulch. He had asked some of his customers about John Valentine but none of them knew anything about the man or had heard he was nearby.   Santaquin was a very small town. It had a Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution or ZCMI store and a small population who were mostly Mormon. There was a hotel and a saloon was tucked away on one side of town however. The people there seemed friendly enough and didn’t mind Professor Stalloid selling pharmaceuticals so long as they were medicinal and didn’t contain alcohol or tobacco. He was allowed to camp on the south side of town.   The children of town were amazed at the medicine wagon and Professor Stalloid. He tried to make them some rock candy infused with carbon dioxide so it would kind of crackle when they ate it. However, he made a terrible mixture of sugar that was too hard to ever eat. He threw the whole thing out.     * * *       Jack West had come to Utah in search of Popie East and others of John Valentine’s gang. He had just arrived in the town of Santaquin when he spotted a medicine wagon with the name “Stalloid†on the side. A bunch of kids were hanging around it. He heard them asking for explosives of the pharmacist and he said he didn’t have any dynamite any more. They wanted him to go get it.   Lambert Otto sat outside by a small campfire, cleaning his rifle.   West sauntered up to medicine wagon.   “Are you married?†one of the children asked Professor Stalloid.   “No,†he said.   “I gotta sister.†  “No.†  “I’ll go get her!†  Jack West walked up to the man.   “Oh no, kids!†Professor Stalloid said when he saw the man. “A brigand! Run!†  The children screamed and ran away.   “There we go,†Professor Stalloid said.   Only one little four-year-old boy didn’t run.   “An outlaw!†Professor Stalloid said to him.   “What happened to your face?†the child asked West.   “Boo!†West said, leaning down close to the child.   The little boy reached forward, trying to put his finger in the hole in West’s cheek. The man stood up straight and pushed his hands away.   “Is that real?†the child asked.   “Does it look like it could be fake?†West asked.   The boy looked at his face for a moment and then reached up to try to put his finger in the hole in his cheek again. He pushed his hands away.   “Anyway!†he said. “So, you got medicine, Stalloid?†  “He got candy,†the child said.   “Of course,†Professor Stalloid said. “I have all the cure-alls.†  “I’ve developed a … a hankering for laudanum,†West said.   “Where have you been?†Professor Stalloid said. “We’ve needed you. These giant worms! They came out of the ground and …†  “Wow!†the little boy said.   “Well, as you can see, I was healing from a gunshot wound,†West said.   “It was sapping the blood out of people!†Professor Stalloid said.   “What?†  “But I blew it up.†  “Wow!†the little boy said.   “Have you been taking your own stuff?†West said.   “Occasionally,†Professor Stalloid said. “But now you’re here! I can get you some laudanum.†  He got a little bottle of laudanum and gave it to the man. When he held out his hand, West shook it.   “That’ll be one dollar,†Professor Stalloid said.   West handed over a silver dollar, Professor Stalloid handed it over to the four-year-old, and the four-year old handed it to Professor Stalloid.   “Candy,†he said.   Professor Stalloid gave the boy some candy and refused to take the dollar.   “Thanks!†the boy said. “Thanks Mr. Stalloid.†  He ran away.     * * *       Dr. Weisswald and Jacali arrived in Santaquin later that same day and eventually found the medicine wagon where Otto sat near a fire and Jack West and Professor Stalloid talked about worms. Four horses were hobbled nearby, munching on the sparse grass. Several feedbags hung on the medicine wagon side. West just nodded to them.   “Seems like the hospital treated you well, Jack West,†Jacali said.   “Well, they did a pretty good job,†West replied. “Almost good as new.†  He gave the woman a half smile as the damaged and horrible side of his face didn’t move like it should.   “You’ve been out for long?†Jacali said. “Heard anything about the Crescent?†  “I haven’t heard about anything,†West said.   “All right,†Jacali said.   “Why that’s Jacali!†came a shout from inside the medicine wagon.   “And that’s Stalloid,†Jacali said.   Professor Stalloid appeared at the opening in the side of the wagon. He slammed his hands down on the counter.   “Are you people following me?†he said.   “Well …†Jacali said. “Would you be mad if we were?†  “No,†Professor Stalloid said. “I was just trying to get a straight answer. Anger seems to do it.†  “That was angry?†West said.   “Weisswald and I are heading to Devil’s Gulch,†Jacali said.   “Oh, we are too,†Professor Stalloid said. “You are definitely following me.†  “Why are you going to the Gulch?†  “Well, because a Chinese man who was gutted in an alley by … a dimensional shambler from the skies … whispered it into my ear in Chinese.†  “But you don’t speak Chinese,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Yes, but this lady was there and she translated it,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Okay …†Jacali said. “Well, weird slugs that I met in my dream told me to go to Devil’s Gulch, so I guess we have a similar─†  “Did these slugs have tentacles?†Professor Stalloid asked.   Jacali stared at him for a moment.   “Maybe,†she said.   “Did they dig?†Professor Stalloid said.   “What?†  “Did they dig?†  “No. They talked.†  “Oh. Okay, the ones I found don’t talk.†  “This guy’s crazy!†Jacali whispered to Dr. Weisswald.   “You’re both crazy,†Jack West growled. “Well, the reason I was heading out here turned out to be false rumors. I got nothing on my slate.†  “Honestly, I don’t know if the weird dream slugs that I met are false rumors either,†Jacali said. “But … at the very least it’s a place to go.†  “Dream slugs can be reputable,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Strange injun,†West said.   “Strange white man,†Jacali said.   “I’ve never seen any dream slugs but they could be useful,†Professor Stalloid said. “You should catch it next time.†  “Yes, I’ll make a note of that when talking slugs talk to me in my dreams, I’ll catch them. That’s the smart thing to do.†  “In a bottle.†  “In a dream in a bottle.†  “Dreams are powerful.†  Professor Stalloid described what had happened in Hilton Springs, noting the huge worms had drawn the blood and vital fluids out of their victims and he had destroyed some of them with dynamite. He described how they had melted after they had been destroyed.   “As hard as it is to believe, that sounds more and more familiar,†Jacali said.   “They had a tunnel that went under the town that was coated in shellac or varnish,†Professor Stalloid said.   They looked to where Otto sat by the fire.   “Otto killed a man,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Why would you tell me that!?!†Jacali said. “Well, yes, I know! He did so in front of me!†  “No, a defenseless man.†  Jacali looked at the man.   “I would keep an eye on him,†Professor Stalloid went on, his voice low. “He also aimed a gun at me. At one point, he attacked another person we had hired to help kill the demon back in Chinatown. Now, that man’s dead.†  “Yes, ‘cause you said he …†Jacali said. “… you just said he killed him.†  “Two different men. I don’t know if he killed the other one. I assume he didn’t though. But then he chased me down an alley with a gun!†  “So, you’re saying I shouldn’t ask him how he’s doing.†  “Yes.†  “Okay.†  They decided to head east the next day.   Around the fire that night, after they’d had their meal, Jack West poured a little bit of the laudanum in a whisky bottle he had purchased before entering Utah, spiking it with the “medicine†he needed. Dr. Weisswald noticed the man and watched him carefully. It didn’t look like he used too much but she was determined to keep an eye on him for the next few days to watch for any symptoms of his taking too much.   She also noticed Professor Stalloid in the lantern light later that night in his wagon, reading The Mysteries of the Worm. She was glad to know where it was.   “Is that why they couldn’t find the book in your library?†she said to him with a smile.   “What book?†he said.   “The book you’re reading.†  “Well, yeah. It’s not in the library. It’s right here.†  “Well, it makes a lot more sense now.†  “This book does not make any sense.†  Professor Stalloid told her he had forgone a deeper reading of the book in order to try to learn one of the spells: Command Ghost. She decided she would try to learn one of the spells as they traveled too, sharing the book with the man. She decided to try to learn Voorish Sign.     * * *       After a filling breakfast on Wednesday, July 21, 1875, they broke camp and prepared to head east into the wilderness from Santaquin.   “S-S-Stalloid …†Otto said as they got underway. “Can I ride one of your─†  “No,†Professor Stalloid said.   Otto glared at the man.   “Hey, Stalloid, can I ride in your wagon?†West asked.   Professor Stalloid nodded and West climbed in, finding the pull-down bunk and making himself comfortable.   “You can ride in the wagon,†Professor Stalloid said to Otto. “You can ride up front. You can direct the horses.†  “I guess I’ll direct the horses,†Otto mumbled.   He climbed onto the seat and Stalloid climbed up next to him. Dr. Weisswald and Jacali rode Shy Anne and Nalin, respectively, leading the way.     * * *       They made good progress for a few days. It was late on their fourth day, Saturday, July 24, 1875, when they could see mountains in the distance ahead and they saw five or six people on horseback riding hell for leather north of them, probably about five miles away. It was hard to tell who they were at that distance but they were heading west with speed. Professor Stalloid got his binoculars from the back of the wagon and looked through them. He thought sure they were Indians.   “Something’s got them in a hustle,†he muttered.   He called to the women leading the way and they returned. They discussed what to do about the riders and Jacali said they should just keep their wits about them and watch out for whatever it was they were running from, if they were running at all. Dr. Weisswald didn’t want to get into a firefight. In the end, they decided to continue on the way they were heading. Jacali and Weisswald kept a closer eye on the terrain and Professor Stalloid looked around with the field glasses.   They rode on until dark that night and made camp once. Jacali scrounged around and found some herbs while Dr. Weisswald searched and found some wild onions and other wild plants to add to their meal that night.     * * *       It was another scorcher on Sunday, July 25, 1875, and they continued east, approaching the mountains. They had only been traveling for an hour or so when Dr. Weisswald saw circling birds in the sky ahead. Professor Stalloid saw they were circling over an area of broken stone. He shouted and pointed it out to everyone.   Dr. Weisswald headed that direction, followed by Jacali. Otto turned the horses a little to the left to head for it while Professor Stalloid looked at it through the binoculars. Jack peeked out of the front of the wagon between the two men.   When Dr. Weisswald and Jacali approached the broken rock, they thought they heard someone singing or chanting. It sounded like an Indian death song came from a sheltered area in the rubble. Dr. Weisswald held up her hand to signal the others to stop the wagon.   “I think we should approach alone,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “On foot, probably,†Jacali said.   They rode back to the medicine wagon and Jacali told them they wanted to approach the place on foot and didn’t want to take the medicine wagon. When Professor Stalloid asked if he could go, Jacali said he could so long as he was stealthy and followed behind them. Otto climbed off the seat and stood there ready. Dr. Weisswald noted it was natives and they might not be friendly towards white men approaching them. Jacali told them she would appreciate the other two being backup instead of coming with them.   Professor Stalloid suggested some kind of signal to indicate danger, noting howling like a wolf might work.   “Strawberry,†Jack West growled. “That’s a good one.†  “I forgot you were here, Jack West,†Jacali said.   “We could go with raspberry,†Professor Stalloid said.   “I don’t think the type of berry matters,†Jacali said.   “Well, then I choose blueberry,†Professor Stalloid said.   “If any of us are ever in danger, we all agree that we will start howling like wolves and naming off all of our favorite berries,†Jacali said. “So, blackberries for you. You have blueberries. West, you should strawberries. Otto, what’s your favorite berry?†  Otto just stared at the woman.   “Nice berry, Otto,†she said.   They discussed berries for a little while longer.   “I will have raspberry,†Jacali said. “Of course.†  Dr. Weisswald and Jacali headed towards the broken rocks on foot while the Professor Stalloid and West stayed near the medicine wagon. Otto went about halfway to the rocks before finding a place to cover them with his carbine. The two women crept to the little enclosed area in the broken rock and found a Ute brave. He lay on his back in a puddle of blood, singing his death song. As soon as she saw the blood, Dr. Weisswald ran towards the man. She could understand most of what he said. Jacali could understand a little less, knowing less of the language than the other.   “Thunderbirds!†he muttered. “Lightning lizards!†  The man was obviously delirious, not even noticing them approach. His injury was a terrible tear as if from a sharp claw, right up his gut. They had no idea what could have caused the horrible wound and Dr. Weisswald treated the brave while Jacali told him they were there to help him. She also assisted Dr. Weisswald in treating the terrible wound. Dr. Weisswald told him she was a doctor, there to help. She didn’t think he heard either of them.     * * *       The men saw the woman rush the rocks and disappear within. They waited for a little while before Jack West started to walk that direction. Professor Stalloid stopped him.   “They didn’t howl or say their berry though!†he said.   “We are waiting for raspberry,†West said.   West stopped. The two of them sat down on a ground by a rock and started playing rummy.   Ahead of them, Otto repositioned himself behind a pile of rocks a little closer to where the women had gone.     * * *       Dr. Weisswald saw the wound was terrible. She worked desperately and dedicatedly, knowing saving the man’s life might be beyond her means. It took her a half hour to get the man stitched up and she thought the man was going to live. She sent Jacali back to tell the others, asking her to get the medicine wagon close. Jacali collected Otto and they headed to the medicine wagon and the other men brought it closer.   They got a litter out of the medicine wagon to get the man out of the cave and into Professor Stalloid’s bunk, strapping him down tight. They got him to drink some water as well but he was delirious and only semiconscious.   “I’ve never been happier for your medicine wagon,†Dr. Weisswald told Professor Stalloid.   Jacali noted the man didn’t seem to speak English so either Dr. Weisswald or Jacali would have to speak to him when he woke. They discussed where to go and soon continued on east towards Devil’s Gulch. When Professor Stalloid suggested the reservation, Jacali noted there would not be much in the way of medical treatment there and the reservation villages were not even on the map. Dr. Weisswald noted he would be better off in her hands anyway.   They had all noticed Otto’s silence. Jacali approached the man.   “Otto, I understand you’re in a bit of a crisis right now, but eventually we will need to know your favorite berry to know if you’re ever in trouble,†she said. “I just want to put it out there. I won’t bother you any more in your time of need.†  “Maybe his could just be berry,†West said.   Otto looked at the woman in bewilderment.   They continued east, Jacali and Dr. Weisswald riding a little ahead again. Jack West sat on the seat in the front with Otto while Professor Stalloid kept an eye on their patient in the back.     * * *    

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

The Last Valley Part 2 - The Fog

* * *       An hour or so later, they spotted another bird flying in the air. It had a longer head that made them think of a blue jay in shape. It seemed to be fairly close but they realized it was further away than they thought it was. It started wheeling their way. The flapping of its wings looked wrong.   West drew his black pistol as he realized the bird was much further away than they thought it was.   “That looks wrong to me!†West said. “Does it look wrong to y’all?†  Jacali took her bow from her shoulder and nocked and arrow.   They all realized the thing was much larger than they had initially thought. It was lizard-like in appearance and had a wingspan of probably about 18 feet. It had a long hornlike thing in the back of its head.   “Strawberry!†Dr. Weisswald shouted.   “Strawberry!†Jacali shouted.   West fired at the thing, which was probably about 30 yards away. The bullet struck it and it screeched horribly. Otto banged on the medicine wagon.   “Stalloid!†he called.   Jacali felt ill. She was seeing all of the gods of her people that she had never put any stock into before. She raised her hands in prayer to her ancestors in her native language. Then her eyes rolled back in her head and she fell off the back of her horse in a faint. Dr. Weisswald had seen it coming.   Otto pulled on the reins, stopping the wagon.   Professor Stalloid stuck his head through the curtain of the medicine wagon.   “What’s going on?†he said.   Then he saw the terrible-lizard like bird that Jack West was aiming at.   “By Jove!†he said. “That’s a pterodactyl!†  He pulled his head back into the medicine wagon and grabbed the lightning gun, running to the open back door and looking out.   In the front, Jack West thought the horrible flying lizard was flying right at him!   Dr. Weisswald pulled her horse around and dismounted, grabbing the reins of Jacali’s horse as the lizard thing swooped over her heard. The horses were a little skittish but she took them to Jacali.   Otto leapt from the wagon and put his rifle to his shoulder, backing away along the left side of the wagon and shooting the thing. He was certain he hit and hurt it. Jack West, still on the medicine wagon seat, narrowed his eyes and fired a single shot at the terrible beast. It let out a squawk as the bullet passed right through it.   Professor Stalloid leapt from back of the medicine wagon and just was the thing dipped out of sight, the wagon in the way. He pointed the lightning gun at the top of the wagon, expecting the thing to swoop over it.   The creature wheeled out of control and crashed into one of the horses attached to the wagon. The horse let out a terrified scream and then both horses panicked and ran, pulling the wagon forward with a jerk. The horses in the back were jerked forward and whinnied in pain.   Dr. Weisswald got Jacali onto her horse.   As the medicine wagon roared past Otto, he put his gun to his shoulder and shot the fallen pterodactyl in the head again.   Still on the seat, Jack West reached down for the reins that were sliding off. He pulled back on them hard. Dr. Weisswald mounted Shy Anne and kicked her into motion, heading for the horses pulling the medicine wagon.   Behind the wagon, Professor Stalloid let the lightning gun fall to his side on the strap and ran after the medicine wagon, calling the horses’ names. Otto ran towards Jacali, who regained consciousness looking down at the ground. She found herself laying on top of her horse. She looked around and saw her horse was behind Dr. Weisswald’s horse, chasing the wagon.   “Wha happened?†she muttered, pulling herself up on top of the horse.   Jack West managed to get the small team under control after a few moments, stopping the medicine wagon. Professor Stalloid examined the injured horse and found she suffered bad bruises where the thing had struck it.   When they examined the dead thing, Dr. Weisswald recognized it as a pterodactyl.   “Did you all shoot this thing out of the sky?†Jacali said.   “I sure did,†West growled.   “Seems we found his thunderbird,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “I have a big disagreement with one of those being able to be shot out of the sky,†Jacali said.   Jack West poked it. He felt its skin, which was lizard-like but obviously thicker.   “I want to make a coat out of it,†he said.   “I don’t think you should do that,†Jacali said.   “Do we put it on the roof of the medicine wagon?â€â€™   “I wouldn’t suggest putting a sacred creature on the back of the medicine wagon like a deer we shot.†  Shy Anne kept backing away, apparently made nervous by the thing.   “Hey, Stalloid, check this out!†West called.   Professor Stalloid got some feed for the injured horse. He realized the bruising wasn’t very bad. We went over to the creature to look at it.   “You made this extinct … again,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “You never know,†West said. “It came from somewhere. It’s gotta have parents, right? Let’s get those.†  “My parents are dead,†Jacali said.   “What came first, the pterodactyl or the egg?†Professor Stalloid quipped.   “Is it asexual?†West asked.   “When I heard tales about these when I was a child, I didn’t believe them,†Jacali said. “And I still find it hard to believe, so no … I don’t really know about their sexuality.†  “They’re not asexual,†West said.   “You didn’t believe about pterodactyls?†Professor Stalloid said.   “A what?†Jacali said.   “Scientists have published papers about them.†  “It’s a what did you say?†  “It’s a p-terodactyl,†West said, pronouncing the ‘p.’   “She can’t read,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Oh, that’s right,†Professor Stalloid said. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.†  “Why aren’t you pronouncing the ‘p’ in p-terodactyl?†West said.   “I don’t quite understand,†Jacali said. “What does he mean?†  “It’s spelled with a ‘p’ before the ‘t,’†West said. “P-terodactyl.†  He picked up the thing’s wing and dropped it, finding it lighter than he would have expected.   “Anybody good at skinning things?†he said.   “Wilder would be,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “I … have qualms with skinning this,†Jacali said. “I’ve done some before. I’m not as good as Wilder. But I don’t want to touch that. I’m not … going anywhere near that with a knife.†  “It’s not going to bite you,†West said.   “I’m … not worried about that.†  “Well, I guess we’ll have to set up an appointment with Wilder to get it skinned before it decays.†  Professor Stalloid had written “pterodactyl†on a piece of paper and tried to show Jacali how it was spelled. The woman didn’t even know her letters, making it an effort in futility.   “Stalloid, do you mind if we put this on top of your medicine wagon?†West said.   “I believe it would crush my wagon,†Professor Stalloid said.   “No, see, look,†West said. “It’s rather light.†  He picked up one of the wings and dropped it. Professor Stalloid looked at him. He did it again.   “I don’t think my horses like it,†Professor Stalloid said.   “I don’t think it liked your horses either,†West said.   “Yeah, I don’t like that.†  “But it’s dead.†  “We could take its head,†Otto said.   “This belongs in a museum!†Professor Stalloid said.   They eventually used the three tents to cover the entirety of the thing, Professor Stalloid putting some salt onto it, and lashed it to the roof of the medicine wagon. The effort took about an hour. They knew the thing would rot fairly quickly. Professor Stalloid had some pressed flowers that he placed into the bridles of the horses to try to distract them from the smell of the thing.   “The hell are you doing, Stalloid?†West asked.   “Buttercup needs to look pretty,†Stalloid quipped.   “You’re a weird man.†  “Buttercup is a very pretty, pretty pony.†  “My God.†  They continued east, Professor Stalloid suggesting they keep a look-out for more of the things. Jacali suggested they talk to the Ute to find out what it was but realized they might have trouble finding the Ute villages on the reservation. They checked on the man in the back to see if he knew what the thing was but he was still delirious and semiconscious. Professor Stalloid gave the man a little more laudanum.   They reached the mountains, the low spot being several miles across. They noticed fog between the mountains ahead. Dr. Weisswald realized such fog was not natural for the desert. Professor Stalloid wondered aloud if they could go around the mountains to avoid the unnatural fog. Jack West wanted to get to where they were going as fast as they could to try to preserve the pterodactyl.   “Okay, let’s go,†Professor Stalloid said.   They continued through the pass. Though it was rather thick, they could still see for about a mile in every direction. Stalloid positioned himself in the back of the wagon as everyone else was facing forward.   “So, Otto, you been quieter than usual,†West said to the other man as they rode.   “Hm,†Otto said.   “What’s going on there?†West said.   Otto didn’t respond.   “Sounds good,†West said.   They rode on in silence.   The fog continued to thicken and they soon couldn’t see more than about a half mile. It wasn’t long until, off to the right, at the edge of the fog some half mile away, they saw a shape. It looked like it was standing on hind legs, whatever it was, and had a long tail. It kept lowering its bulbous head to the ground and lifting it back up. It looked very big though they were not sure how large it was.   “I don’t want to get into another confrontation with these things,†Jacali hissed at the others. “I don’t know about you. That’s just me.†  “Don’t worry, Jacali,†West said.   “We’re carrying fresh meat on our wagon,†Professor Stalloid said from the back of the medicine wagon.   “It’s not p-terodactyl,†West said.   “Maybe it’s not a cannibal,†Dr. Weisswald said. “Let’s pick up the pace.†  “I’m ready to cut the bindings if anything comes at us,†Professor Stalloid said.   “It adds … 190 pounds best to the cart,†West said.   “Fresh meat attracts more things that like to eat fresh meat,†Professor Stalloid said.   “I think we should pick up the pace like Weisswald said,†Jacali said.   Otto handed the reins off to West, who pulled the horses to a stop. Otto and Professor Stalloid switched places, Otto taking a spot sitting in the back door of the medicine wagon and Professor Stalloid taking the reins from West. Then they got moving again.   They kept an eye on the thing that remained in the distance. Professor Stalloid looked through the field glasses at it and tried to focus on what it appeared to be eating. He didn’t think it could be just a single body, if it was a body at all. He guessed there were several bodies if it were bodies at all.   They discussed scouting head and Dr. Weisswald heard a strange clicking, hissing growl coming from somewhere nearby. It came off to the north, the opposite way from the horrible thing they’d see before. It was a rattling, clicking growl. She told them she thought she heard one of those creatures to the north and suggested they bear south. She also suggested she and Jacali scout ahead. Professor Stalloid thought they should be closer.   “We could get away faster than the wagon if we get into trouble,†Jacali said.   “Most predators like to separate their prey,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Well, we need to get out of here.†  “I agree.†  “Don’t you think going through the fog is the right idea?†West said.   “What if the path isn’t clear?†Dr. Weisswald said. “We need to know. We don’t want to get stuck in a dead end.†  “Listen, Stalloid, I know your reservations but─†Jacali said.   “How about one scouts far enough ahead but then one stays in between?†Professor Stalloid said.   The growling seemed to have moved to the west, behind them. She noted the direction.   In the back, Otto thought he saw something move from cover to cover behind them.   “Nice berry!†he said.   “What the hell is a nice berry?†West said.,   “There’s something behind us!†Professor Stalloid said. “Run away fast!†  He slapped the reins on the horses and, already nervous, they suddenly broke into a run. Otto fell right out of the back of the wagon.   “Nice berry!†he yelled. “Nice Berry!†  Jacali turned her horse to ride for him. As Otto got up off the ground, she tried to ride by and grab him. She saw something running from the cover. It appeared to be some kind of lizard the size of a man, making for Otto. It ran with its head low in front of it, small arms jutting out there as well. The back legs were large and moved on the ground with precision as it barreled towards the man, its head barely moving up and down.   She looked back to Otto, kicked her horse for more speed, reaching out her hand.   “Otto Otto Otto Otto Otto!†she said.   She looked terrified.   She grabbed the man’s arm as she passed but didn’t pull him up far enough. He bumped into the side of the horse and Jacali let him go so she wouldn’t drag him behind her.     * * *       “What do you think he meant by nice berry?†West asked.   “He meant run!†Professor Stalloid said.   He slapped the reins to urge the horses on again.     * * *       The horrible thing rushed at Otto, who turned when he heard the crash of foot beats coming at him. He turned.   “Jacali!†he cried out.   He fired at the thing from his hip and winged the terrible creature. Then it tried to bite the man with a huge, terrifying head but he fought it off, striking it with his rifle butt and screaming his head off     * * *       Weisswald was riding ahead of the medicine wagon and heard the sound of a man screaming. She was torn but decided to continue riding ahead to make sure they had safe passage.     * * *       Otto flung his rifle down as the thing kicked forward with its legs. He drew his saber and slashed at the horrible thing’s throat. He was splattered with blood and the hook of the thing’s foot, that it seemed to be trying to kick him with, caught his coat and tore it. Then it crashed to the ground as it died.   Jacali pulled her horse around and rode to Otto, offering him a hand. He sheathed the sword and picked up his Winchester carbine before getting up onto the horse. Then they rode back to catch up with the medicine wagon. They soon passed it, catching up with Weisswald who had moved up nearly a half mile ahead of the medicine wagon, just keeping it in sight.   As they proceeded, the fog thickened and she soon found she had to stay within about a quarter mile of the medicine wagon to keep them in view.   They could hear some strange noises unlike anything they’d ever heard before. They reminded them of the creatures they’d seen and dealt with already but they also heard other strange grunts and growls as if by large creatures in the distance. The fog hid whatever they were from view.   Dr. Weisswald suggested Jacali circle her and keep her in sight to give them a bit more range of vision and the woman did so.   Soon, the visibility dropped to about 100 yards and they fell back to keep the medicine wagon in view. Jacali continued to circle her to extend their range of scouting. The medicine wagon rattled loudly behind them. Then Jacali saw something on the ground ahead. It was bright red and looked like bodies, perhaps even some dead horses. She rode back to Dr. Weisswald, who signaled the medicine wagon to stop.   “I think we want to find a way around this,†Dr. Weisswald said.   She signaled the wagon to slow but it kept coming. She told Jacali to find a way around the bodies and then she turned her horse and rode back to the approaching medicine wagon. Professor Stalloid finally slowed the wagon.   “There’s … uh … seems like bodies up ahead,†she told Professor Stalloid.     * * *       Jacali moved her horse off to the right of the dead bodies.   “Watch my back,†she said to Otto, who still rode behind her. “And I swear to God, if you deafen me with that gun, you’re going off of this horse.†  He slung his Winchester and drew his saber.   They bore to the right, going around the dead and found the ground not much different from the rest of the desert, just keeping the bloody mess in sight. She headed back the same way she’d come and told them the path to the right was clear.   They continued ahead with what speed they could, bypassing the bloody mess and leaving it behind. They continued to hear the strange noises that came and went around them. Jacali continued to circle around Dr. Weisswald as they went.     * * *       Jacali was between Dr. Weisswald and the wagon, over an hour later, when the doctor spotted what appeared to be a massive ring of metal in the fog. It stood on the ground upright. They came at it from a slight angle and it appeared very green in the center. She stopped her horse and rode to Jacali, whistling. Jacali rode over to her.   She pointed out the thing, which seemed to be 30 to 40 feet in diameter and standing upright. There was some kind of debris, red splotches, and white sticks or bones perhaps, around it. They could see the gleam of metal scattered on the ground around it as well. The ring appeared to be made out of some kind of silver metal.   The wagon came up behind them and stopped when Professor Stalloid saw the thing.   “What’re we looking at?†West asked. “Let’s get a closer look.†  “I don’t like this thing,†Jacali said. “But I also want to check it out.†  West hopped down from the medicine wagon and cautiously moving towards it. He had drawn his pistol.   “What do you think, Stalloid?†Weisswald said.   Professor Stalloid watered his horses quickly. Jacali dropped off her horse and told Otto if he was going to come over there, he shouldn’t bring the horse. Then she led her horse towards the strange ring. Dr. Weisswald rode closer to the things as well.   Professor Stalloid mounted the medicine wagon and headed off to the right of the huge ring, keeping it within view but moving the wagon to a place where he could put it into motion away from the thing if he had to. It also gave him a good view of the rest of them.   The first oddity they noticed about the great ring was that it floated about a foot off the ground.   “Jacali, it’s your favorite thing,†Dr. Weisswald said. “It’s floating.†  Jacali hadn’t noticed that before.   “I don’t like that,†she said.   There were bodies and blood around the base of the thing. It appeared the bodies had been torn apart. There were also curved swords and spears scattered around near the bodies. Crossbows of a strange design were about as well, some of them damaged or destroyed. Some of the bodies appeared to have had bands of metal around them, almost like armor. A few of them had some kind of pots or thick, glazed bottles connected to their belts.   West walked directly towards the huge ring. They all noticed the bodies didn’t appear to be people. Their flesh was green and scaled. They had what appeared to be the heads of serpents or snakes. It was quite disturbing as the creatures seemed to be human-sized serpents with arms and legs. However, none of the bodies were intact. They had all been mauled, gnawed on, torn apart, and chewed upon.   West stopped to examine the armor and found it was metallic, like steel, though the blood beaded on it as opposed to being splashed across it. It felt slick and proved to be very light when he lifted up some of it. It seemed strong and solid. It appeared to be some kind of banded mail unlike anything he’d ever seen before.   He walked right up to the ring and saw it was about a foot thick and appeared to be covered in some kind of writing unlike anything he’d ever seen. It was a particularly sinuous, curving script with many curves and curls.   The fog billowed out of the ring and he wasn’t seeing the desert through it but a lush jungle. The other side of the ring was positioned atop a pyramid or ziggurat. Steps led down to a city built of what appeared to be some kind of green soapstone. There were towers and buildings, many of them damaged. Trees were scattered about though some had apparently been knocked down, some of the buildings likewise destroyed. There was only a little mist on the other side of the ring but he could see lizards the size of a men with hooks on their hind legs as well as a larger creature like the one they’d seen on the edge of the fog earlier. It must have been huge as it was ripping away at a large building.   He also saw more bodies and blood, some of them wearing armor, some of them being eaten by the various horrible lizard-like creatures he had seen before. There were more noises as if from more of the creatures coming through the portal.   Dr. Weisswald picked up a knife from one of the corpses. There was something smeared all over the blade that wasn’t blood. She wasn’t sure what it was and so dropped the knife.   When Jacali saw the portal she was very afraid.   “Hey …†she said. “What’s coming through the portal?†  She had her bow and arrow out and was looking around, trying to keep her eyes on every direction as much as she could.   “What’s … do you hear that?†she said.   “Nothing,†West said.   “Nothing,†Otto said.   Jacali let go of the horse and it started to move away from all the blood around. Otto kept her still.   Jacali felt terribly paranoid for about a half minute before she regained her wits. She didn’t care though. She grabbed the mane of her horse and got back to the medicine wagon with Otto.   West had gone to look at one of the pots and found it closed with a strange cork. He pulled it open and found it contained a foul-smelling liquid. He took some time to gather two more of the strange pots. Then he went to work on removing the armor from one of the things. Once he had it he took it all back to the medicine wagon.   “Stalloid!†he said.   Professor Stalloid took the pots into the wagon and put them into the cabinet with his chemicals.   “There were some snake people that had those,†West said.   “Are we going?†Professor Stalloid said. “Are we going? Are we going?†  “Yes. But … but … we should come back later and investigate …†  “With a posse!†  “… the safari jungle that’s through that portal.†  “But with a posse, right?†  “Yes. With about nine men, we should be fine.†  “Twenty-nine.†    * * *       Back at the ring, Dr. Weisswald decided to continue looking for a snake person knife. She found one and used some cloth from her kit to wipe what she assumed was poison off the blade.   She thought she heard a whimper or a grunt of pain from just around the side of the portal. She mounted her horse and urged Shy Anne over there. There was a portion of broken stone and a lot of blood on the ground. The trail of blood indicated someone dragged themselves behind the rocks.   “Hey Weisswald, where are you going?†she heard Jacali call from the medicine wagon.   “I think there’s something hurt over here,†she called back.   Lying on the ground amidst the broken rocks, partially concealed. was another of the serpent people, this one intact and even alive. It wore blue robes and had ornamental jewelry. However, it was terribly injured and practically torn open. Some organs extruded from the thing’s body and it was obviously in terrible pain.     * * *       Jacali saw Dr. Weisswald ride around the side of the ring. Then she leapt from her horse and grabbed her medical bag from her saddlebag and rushed around a small escarpment of rock. She jogged over, afraid the woman might be in danger. West followed.     * * *       The green-scaled serpent person glared at Dr. Weisswald with cold, unblinking eyes filled with hatred.   “So,†it hissed in English. “This is what eventually replaces us. The future primates come down out of the trees to claim our world. Is it not enough that the beasts have destroyed my people? Must I endure the humiliation of the inheritors of the world being monkeys who won’t even evolve for millions of years after we are gone?   “Valusia is gone. We were the first to evolve on this world naturally and we’re done. We were the first true rulers of the Earth. We didn’t come from the stars like the elder things or the Yithians or Cthulhu of old. Earth belongs to us. We will take it back someday. This wasn’t the only gateway we constructed. And others have ways of surviving the eons.   “Remember the City of Zuriss. Remember the last valley. Yig takes me now.†  The creature lay back.   Dr. Weisswald didn’t hesitate for a moment. She didn’t care that the thing wasn’t human. She didn’t care that she had no idea about its goals or plans for her or humanity. She didn’t care that she had little idea if it’s physiology was something she could even repair with the materials she had at hand.   She went to work.   Despite the odds against her she tried. She pushed the loose organs back into the creature and she got to work closing up the thing’s skin and scales, applying bandages and sewing the skin back, falling back on every last skill she had until the serpent or person or whatever it was had been closed up and was breathing, if not peacefully, at least steadily. She thought the thing would live now.   She looked up to see Jacali and Jack West standing over her, watching.   “Should we put it in the wagon?†West asked.   She sent the men back to medicine wagon for a litter, knowing too much movement of the creature could undo everything that she had done.   “Ladies, by the way, if you were wondering where all the … prehistoric stuff was coming from, it’s the big ring,†West said when they got back with the stretcher.   “Wow,†Jacali said. “Who would’ve thought.†  Dr. Weisswald asked for the wagon to be moved closer as well.   “Is someone injured?†Professor Stalloid asked.   “Yeah!†Jacali said too loudly. “Yeah!†  “I think some THING works better,†West said.   “Well … I don’t know,†Jacali said.   “You got a dinosaur?†Professor Stalloid asked.   “Would you be happy if I did?†Jacali asked.   “Maybe,†Professor Stalloid said.   He went back into the back and tried to wake up the American Indian. The man was unconscious and would not wake. He unstrapped the man and tried to move him out of the bed but the man proved too heavy for him and he found himself born to the ground by the man’s form, being pinned there. He squirmed out from under the man and then tied his hands and feet, trying to otherwise make him comfortable in the corner.   Otto was still on Jacali’s horse nearby when West and Jacali carried the serpent person to the medicine wagon on the litter. Dr. Weisswald opened the back door of the wagon and took it in. They got it up onto the bunk and strapped it down as well.   Some of them who had seen the strange creatures melt away before realized the dead serpent people were not doing so.   “I hypothesize that anything of this Earth stays on this Earth,†Professor Stalloid said. “I’m going to write that theory down.†  He jotted it down in his notebook.   They were ready to go but Jacali didn’t like the idea of just leaving the strange ring there. Professor Stalloid asked if any of them had dynamite. Of course they didn’t. Jacali said that was the next point she was going to make: she didn’t know how to destroy the ring. West was against destroying it.   “I don’t really know how to turn it off,†Jacali said.   “There’s a gorgeous land on the other side,†West said.   “It’s not like we can knock it down,†Dr. Weisswald said. “It’s floating.†  “I’m not going in there if you paid me to,†Jacali said.   Stalloid asked about it and they described it. He suggested they fiddle with the runes or letters on the side. West described the beautiful jungle on the other side again. Stalloid was ready to get out of there and asked Dr. Weisswald to keep an eye on the thing as they might not be trusted.   “Y’all wanna explore a little bit?†West said.   “Okay, sir,†Professor Stalloid said. “There are about 50 snake people. They are all dead! They were trying to get out of there! Why would we go in there?†  “There’s more inside.†  “They didn’t even make it!†  “Well, clearly. We got guns.†  “One. Two. Three guns.†  “Four.†  “I’m not counting mine.†  “Five.†  West kept pulling pistols out from under his coat.   “So, does nobody have any ideas for destroying this?†Professor Stalloid said. “He wants to go in.†  “I’ll be right back,†West said, heading for the door.   “We have a pterodactyl, we have a patient that’s in critical condition,†Dr. Weisswald said. “I think we should get out of here. There’s monsters all over!†  “As usual, Weisswald is correct,†Jacali said.   “If you absolutely want to try to destroy it, I have one idea for that and then we go,†Professor Stalloid said. “If everyone’s okay with it, I’ll shoot some lightning at it and maybe that will disrupt it. And then we leave, because I think that’s our best bet.†    * * *       West had walked to the ring once again and looked through. The scene on the other side was about the same. He took off one of his leather gloves and put his hand up to the ring to put it through. His hand stopped though he didn’t see anything there to stop it. It was like a formless but solid wall was blocking the interior of the ring. He was surprised to see fog billowing through and he could hear what was happening on the other side as if he was there.   “Dang,†he said. “Well, that’s unfair.†  Jacali had exited the medicine wagon and mounted on her horse in front of Otto.   “Did you try pulling?†she called when she saw West. “I notice some doors you must pull.†  He frowned at her.   Looking through, he saw the wide staircase on the ziggurat went down to a wide, paved plaza or street. He noticed a large dragonfly fly by. He saw smaller dinosaurs as well, moving quickly through the city from cover to cover.     * * *       In the medicine wagon, Professor Stalloid and Dr. Weisswald discussed using the lightning gun on the portal. He wondered if it might damage one of the runes or perhaps, if the device were actually some kind of machine, destroy some of its interior works.   Otto dismounted and looked around for one of the serpent person swords. He found one, possibly covered with poison, so he ripped part of his coat and wiped it off, leaving the rag behind. West found some of their armor that seemed to be intact.   They had also noticed there was another view of the city through the other side of the gate.   West finally got into the wagon as Jacali rode around, scouting a few dozen yards from the medicine wagon and keeping a lookout.   “Otto, are you riding with me or Jacali?†Professor Stalloid called from the seat of the wagon.   “Jacali,†Otto said.   Professor Stalloid got the medicine wagon moving. Jacali rode over and took the reins of Dr. Weisswald’s horse and Otto suggested he ride on it.   “You ain’t asking me about that,†Jacali said.   “It would be simpler,†Otto said.   “Weisswald!†Jacali called. “Otto wants to ride on your horse!†  “No!†Weisswald yelled from the medicine wagon.   “Well, there it is. What if I ride on your horse and Otto gets mine?†  “That’s fine!†  “Okay.†  They changed horses, Otto taking the sword he found and put it in the medicine wagon with his saddle. It was a strange sword with a thick blade, curved slightly and heavy on the end. The hilt felt strange and the weight of it was wrong as well.   They headed off.     * * *       The fog thinned quickly as they left the strange ring in the foggy valley. Soon they could see a mile away from them again and the noises seemed to fall behind them. When they stopped once to water the horses again, Professor Stalloid marked the atlas page for Utah, noting where he though the valley was. Then they continued on, crossing a dry riverbed just before they made camp for the night.   The pterodactyl was already starting to stink and bloat in the heat.   “To be clear, this was not my idea,†Jacali said, looking at the thing.   “To be clear, we could have skinned it there,†West said.   “You can get leather at the store,†Professor Stalloid said.   “It’s p-terodactyl skin,†West said. “You know how rare that is?†  “Yes! Impossibly!†  “Exactly.†  “It should go in a museum!†  “Why would you want to put my coat in a museum?†  “Because it’s a pterodactyl, not a coat.†  “Yet.†  West suggested cutting open the creature and cleaning out the guts. Otto took Jacali aside while they talked.   “Jacali,†he said. “Thank you by the way, for coming back for me.†  “Well, I mean, I wasn’t just going to leave you to be lizard food,†Jacali said.   “I appreciate it,†Otto said. “If you ever need anything, just let me know.†  “I’ll know where you are,†she said.   They heard a growl or a roar in the far distance back towards the valley. Otto got out his rifle. Jacali went to the others again.   “Whatever this thing is, is not going to last long and pretty,†Jacali said. “So─†  “I just really need the bones,†Professor Stalloid said.   “And I need the skin!†West said.   “I’m not keen on that one,†Jacali said.   “They already have some more,†Professor Stalloid said.   “What?†  “These are everywhere. They found these in Europe.†  “I have not seen these things everywhere!†  “No no no no.†  “They’re on the other side of that portal!†West said.   “These, they’re dead,†Professor Stalloid said. “Normally. Long dead.†  “Just cut it up!†Dr. Weisswald said. “You don’t need Jacali to cut it up.†  “If it is reverent and you deem it necessary, I can help,†Jacali said. “But I don’t really want to and if I do, it’s going to be a burial.†  “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to,†Professor Stalloid said.   “I’m just saying, if you need my help …†Jacali said.   “And we can make its skin into a ritual duster,†West said.   Jacali ignored him.   “This is just the scientific find of the century,†Professor Stalloid said. “Other people have found the skeletons in rocks.†  “The what?†Jacali said.   “The skeletons.†  “People have found the skeletons of these?†  “Remnants of the skeletons that have been fossilized by─†  “Where were these that I did not see them and everybody I know taught me about them.†  “A lot of them were found on the coasts of England.†  “Why would thunderbirds be in England?†  West pulled the pterodactyl body down and Professor Stalloid helped him to gut it and take the stinking guts a hundred yards from their camp and bury them about three feet deep. West then tried to skin it but Professor Stalloid stopped him and they wrapped the body back up in the canvas from the wrecked tents and tied it back to the roof of the medicine wagon.   They set watches that night. Outside Otto kept the first watch and woke West for second after several hours. West was supposed to wake Jacali for the third watch. Inside, Dr. Weisswald kept the first watch and Professor Stalloid kept the second, shotgun in hand.     * * *    

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The Last Valley Part 3 - Pursuit

* * *       Jacali woke up after the sun had risen on Monday, July 27, 1875.   “Damn it, Jack West,†she muttered.   She had expected the man to wake her when it was still dark. She found West leaning against the medicine wagon where he must have leaned and fallen asleep. His gun was still in his hand and he looked very peaceful. She thought on how to she wanted to wake him up. She finally decided to leave him be until he woke naturally.   He awoke when he heard people moving around in the camp.   “****,†he said.   He had merely leaned against the wagon at one point while watching and rested his eyes. Then it was morning. He was a little embarrassed by the situation but didn’t say anything about it.   During breakfast, they heard a strange roar in the distance, much like the one from the night before. It sounded closer. They looked in that direction, Professor Stalloid and Jack West using the field glasses. West and Jacali both saw the shape of a massive creature, like a lizard, a few miles away. West’s jaw dropped. He recognized it as the thing he’d seen on the edge of the fog. It seemed to be heading their direction. It dropped its head near the ground for a moment and then continued on.   “I have a very exciting idea,†West said.   “What’d you see, Jack?†Professor Stalloid said.   “Well …†  “I saw your jaw drop.†  “There’s a different skin that I would like.†  “Okay, Jack, you stay here, we’ll keep going ahead. Everybody agree?†  “Yes,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Stalloid!†West said.   “Stalloid, in non-crazy-person news, I think there’s something following us from the fog, and my guess would be that it’s following the dead, giant sack of meat that we are carrying,†Jacali said.   “Yes, I said that in the fog!†Professor Stalloid said. “That things would follow us.†  “What is our plan on that, then? Since you have clearly already thought of it.†  “Ride.†  “To run until … we stop and it catches up with us …†  “And we get more people with more guns.†  “And we endanger civilians.†  “More people with more guns. Yes.†  “Stalloid, have you seen me use this?†West said, holding up one of his six-guns.   “You’ll be there with the more people with more guns,†Professor Stalloid said.   “No, but, Stalloid, if we do it by ourselves, we get all the glory. Also, we are on a wagon. This is faster than that big lizard.†  “What makes you think that?†  “We’re still ahead of it, right? Y’all want to stay ahead of it. I agree, but … we should go a little slower so we don’t lose it.†  “Do you want to go fast? Ride until we get to civilization?†  “Do you think we can lose it though?†Dr. Weisswald said.   “I don’t know,†Professor Stalloid said. “I’m also wondering if it would be attracted to the smell emanating from the─†  “The guts?†  “─we buried at all.†  “I don’t want to lose it,†West said.   “I don’t think there’s going to be another town for a while,†Jacali said. “Not that I remember around here.†  “We could take the head,†Otto said. “Leave the rest for it.†  “We could gather the ashes from our fire at night and slowly spread those along our trail as we go ahead,†Professor Stalloid said. “That might disrupt its scent and we could find out tomorrow.†  “Stalloid, if we do that … we might lose it,†West said.   “I think that is the goal Mr. West,†Jacali said.   “We’ll have to take the chance, I guess,†Professor Stalloid said.   Dr. Weisswald suggested laudanum might disrupt its scent as well. Professor Stalloid noted he still had the poison he’d made for the worm things in Hilton Springs. Jacali thought they should do whatever they were going to do and do it quickly. There was talk of digging up the guts from the pterodactyl or poisoning the meat from the creature.   “You know what would make this easier?†West said. “If we get the skin out of the way.†  In the end, they injected the horrible poison into some of the meat from the pterodactyl and left it behind, hoping to poison the thing following them. In Apache, Jacali prayed, apologizing for using the thunder bird for what they had planned and praying not to be punished for it.   They continued to the east at good speed. West continually asked them to slow down, not wanting to lose the beast.   They made good progress that day. When they stopped to camp that night, they could still hear the roars of the thing in the distance. It sounded like it was a little closer.   “How long would that poison have taken?†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Oh, it would have been very quick,†Professor Stalloid said. “It was basically just everything I had that would kill a living thing.†  Dr. Weisswald was of the opinion they should leave the pterodactyl. Otto and Jacali agreed, though Otto thought they could keep the head.   “Who says it’s not after our innocent snake man?†West said.   “I don’t think he has a big enough scent,†Jacali said. “I don’t think he’s good enough food for a creature of that size.†  “You smelled him?†West said.   “Smelled like any snake I’ve ever smelled,†Jacali said before gesturing at the roof of the medicine wagon. “But this thing! Oh my God! I don’t know if you’ve been outside all day but I have smelled it for 24 hours.†  “I don’t know what you’re talking about,†West said.   “I vote we leave it,†Dr. Weisswald said again.   “We should leave it,†Otto said.   “I second,†Jacali said.   “Maybe take something small off of it but leave most of the corpse behind,†Otto said.   “Maybe we take off the skin,†West said.   “That’s what it’s after!†Otto said.   “That’s a large portion of what it’s after, I believe,†Professor Stalloid said.   He pointed out it was good at smelling and they should get rid of all of it, noting the serpent person alone was the discovery of the century. West thought they should look for a tall bluff or cliff. Jacali didn’t think her bow would be any good at piercing the thing’s skin. Only those people with guns would be able to actually fight it. Professor Stalloid didn’t think the guns would have much effect on the creature. West noted bears were big too but could be killed. Jacali said it was much bigger than a bear. West thought that just meant they’d need more bullets.   “I’ll let you get rid of the p-terodactyl if we kill that,†West said. “Because I want that.†  “If you want to kill it, you can get whomever else you want in there,†Jacali said. “But I am not in it. I think we are all going to die. Or it is going to be extremely dangerous.†  “We climb a big rock,†West said.   He looked at them.   “Wow, that is such a good plan,†Jacali said.   Dr. Weisswald had a temporary name for the snake person, calling it Opheo after the genus for the American green snake.   West suggested driving slowly enough to shoot it from the back of the medicine wagon. Otto thought that a bad idea and Professor Stalloid pointed out the thing was catching them on a daily basis. Jacali thought it probable if the thing caught up to the wagon, it would destroy them.   “True. We could lead it to a town and the citizens could distract it for us,†West said.   “No!†Otto said.   “That’s what y’all are talking about, right?†West said. “You want to go to the safety of a town? It’s just going to keep following us.†  “I don’t think that is a good idea,†Jacali said.   “That’s why we’re getting rid of the pterodactyl!†Professor Stalloid said.   “We’ve got to have some sort of trophy,†West said.   “Opheo,†Professor Stalloid said.   “We’ve gotta save Opheo,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Can I claim him?†West said.   “No!†Professor Stalloid said. “Opheo’s a person!†  “He is already saved!†Jacali said.   “Fine,†West said.   “The thing is, Jack West, I am not opposed to killing this thing and I feel I am not going to be very useful in it,†Jacali said. “And I think it is incredibly dangerous, and …†  “We’re gonna need a bigger gun,†Otto said.   “We’re going to need either a very good plan or more guns,†Jacali said. “And I don’t─†  “About this big rock,†West said.   “Expand on this idea of the big rock,†Jacali said. “What happens with it?†  “Well, the rock is bigger than it,†West said. “And we stand on top of it …†  Jacali looked around but it was already getting dark. She guessed there might be places nearby where they could get up. Dr. Weisswald pointed out it wouldn’t save the wagon or the horses. West noted the gunmen would take their place on the tall butte while the others moved away with the medicine wagon. He said they could put the pterodactyl on the ground in front them.   “What your suggesting here is we leave you and Otto with the pterodactyl and we go to the town,†Professor Stalloid said. “Good plan.†  “No!†Otto said.   “Not all the way to town,†West said.   “Not again!†Otto said. “I’m not being left behind a second time.†  “Okay, we leave Jack and the pterodactyl on top of the rock,†Professor Stalloid said. “We’ll come back for you later and we’ll go to the town.†  West suggested they just lead it for three days and it would die of dehydration. That didn’t seem feasible as they were passing, occasionally, springs in the desert where the thing could probably get water. West suggested they go two more days before getting rid of the pterodactyl. Professor Stalloid said they could wait until morning but then if they saw it still getting closer, he would throw away the pterodactyl.   “Seems fair,†West said.   “And if you want to stay, we can ditch you,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Also fair,†West said.   They set the watches for the night. Jacali was disappointed at the watches the night before. They decided Otto would be on watch first and Jacali second. When she found out Otto had stayed awake the night before, she trusted him over West.   The Indian they had rescued was still only semi-conscious and often delirious.   During the night, they heard more growls and roars of the huge creature in the distance. On his watch, West thought the thing had their scent and would be there soon. He assumed the cries of the thing were some kind of challenge to its prey.     * * *       Tuesday, July 28, 1875, dawned bright and sunny once again after the cold, desert night. They could see the thing was closer, visible to the naked eye. Some of them looked at the thing through the field glasses and it was definitely still moving in their direction. It looked like it was only a mile away.   “So, Stalloid, is that close enough?†West said.   “I think it is,†Otto said.   “I think we are getting rid of this pterodactyl,†Professor Stalloid said.   Otto asked if he could use his saddle on Jacali’s horse. Her first reaction was a no but when he noted the saddle also had a rifle sheath, she said he could try. He tried to put a saddle on the horse but it shied away. He gave up and put it into the wagon. Then he mounted up bareback. She stared at him for a moment. Jacali apologized to her horse in Apache.   They removed the dinosaur from the top of the medicine wagon and Professor Stalloid gave the wagon a quick wipe-down before they continued east away from the thing. They used the ashes they’d been collecting from their fires behind the medicine wagon as well. West watched the thing as best he could with the field glasses.   West suggested they use a cave to try to deal with the thing. Stalloid didn’t like the idea of being cornered with the horrible thing but West was certain it was a good idea.   They had been following the White River in Colorado and continued to do so. Someone saw a mark on the map noting “White River P.O.†Jacali and Otto led the way, scouting ahead to find a clear path for the medicine wagon. She narrowly got them around a marshy spot near the river towards the end of the day. West, who had been watching the creature, thought it was closer by that evening.   They could hear it roaring in the distance as they camped that night.   “It’s too bad we don’t have dynamite,†Dr. Weisswald said.   There was a noise from the medicine wagon and they found the Ute brave had woken up. He jabbered away in Ute, terrified. Dr. Weisswald understood most of what he said and Jacali could understand him a little bit. She told the brave she was a friend and she had been the one who had helped him. He didn’t know where he was and was terrified. He did relate that he and other braves were attacked in the fog by lizards the size of men. He fought bravely but then fled as they killed the others. When Dr. Weisswald told him they had killed a thunderbird, that terrified him even more. He wanted to know why he was tied up and was certain the white people were going to kill him.   Jacali introduced herself and introduced “Whitewind†noting that the white woman could understand him better than she could. She also told him they were in Colorado, which confused him. He was very hungry and thirsty. When Weisswald asked where his home was, he told her he lived on the Uintah Reservation.   They told him they would take him home but there was danger behind them. When they told him it was a lizard, he was terrified. Jacali said they had some luck dealing with the lizards and thought that would continue.   “Why am I tied up?†he asked.   “We don’t want you to hurt the other patient,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “What is that thing?†he said.   She calmed the man down after some time and he said he would not hurt the snake thing but he was still very distracted and disturbed. They untied him and used some liniment on him. Jacali quickly removed him from the medicine wagon. He was introduced to the rest of them and then they heard the roar of the thing following them. He was terrified at that and told them he and the other braves had heard such noises in the fog though they never saw what made them, though it sounded really big.   Jacali learned the man didn’t speak English. He only understood Ute. She told him she had to talk to the others.   “I think that I’m worried about is this thing catching up to us in the night and catching us unaware,†she said to the others.   “That’s why we’re on watch,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “But I’m saying: do we have any better plan than that,†Jacali said. “And what is our plan for tomorrow? Because, we haven’t lost this thing. I don’t know if it’s getting closer. The noises sound closer every night.†  “I say tomorrow we might just have to go with Jack’s plan,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Finally, people are thinking responsibly,†Jack said.   Professor Stalloid suggested they might be able to continue at night, using lanterns as well.   “Too dangerous!†West said.   “It will still catch up to us,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “I know, but at least we’re moving,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Maybe it’s after your snake,†Otto said.   “When would be able to sleep?†West said.   “How would it know?†Professor Stalloid said.   “We got rid of the pterodactyl,†Otto said.   “I think it’s just after us now,†Professor Stalloid said. “The big - the big creature that my wagon is, is what it’s after. It thinks ‘That looks yummy yummy.’†  “We have six horses and six people …†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Six people, a big structure, it doesn’t know it’s wood,†Professor Stalloid said. “It might think it’s a big solid hunk of meat.†  “That’s what I thought it was,†West said.   “And if the snake smell, if Opheo’s smell is what is attracting it─†Jacali said.   “I don’t think it’s that powerful,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Possibly not,†Jacali said.   “Even if we just injure it, we might be able to get ahead of it,†Dr Weisswald said.   “I agree,†Professor Stalloid said. “Oh! Rockslide.†  They heard the thing in the distance.   They had been starting to move into the hills on that day as they continued to follow the White River, but it was still very barren.   “Now that the terrain is more mountainous, your big rock plan, Jack, sounds more feasible,†Jacali said.   “I could try to make some nitroglycerin,†Professor Stalloid said.   They discussed what to do, Jacali pointing out she realized West wanted his trophy but she wanted to get out of it without any of them dying, if possible, just for the hide.   “We could always come back later for it,†Otto said.   “I don’t think there’s gonna be a later,†West said. “It’s after us now.†  Jacali suggested they keep watch that night and try to pick up the pace the next day, trying to put some distance between them and it. On the way, they could look for a high vantage point and set up for an ambush.   “Sounds like a plan,†West said. “Sounds like my plan.†  “It is your plan,†Jacali said. “I’ll give you credit for that.†  Dr. Weisswald wanted to keep it away from the wagon. They realized they could make much better speed without the wagon but Dr. Weisswald refused to leave the serpent person and the Ute. Jacali noted, in addition to that, they kept the wagon away while they had some horses that could get the rest of them away if it wasn’t going to work out.   “Sounds like a great plan,†West said. “Problem is, we don’t have enough horses unless somebody’s willing to share.†  Professor Stalloid was willing to share a couple of the newer horses.   They had not seen anyplace they could use when they had set up camp that night. They figured they would have to look for a spot once they moved on the next morning.   Professor Stalloid also got to work making two batches of nitroglycerin. The first turned out to be a dud and didn’t work at all. The second seemed to be very unstable and powerful. It was perfect. He packed it into a crate filled with wet straw. He knew someone would have to hold it while the medicine wagon was moving to keep it as still as possible.   Jacali told the Ute what they were planning and what they hoped would happen. She also asked his name and learned he was called Night Horse. She told him the thing was following them despite all they tried to do to slow or stop it, so they figured they had to deal with the horrible thing. Night Horse told her he knew of certain bears that, once they caught a man’s scent, they would hunt him until they were killed. He was afraid it was like that. He told her it might also be some kind of vengeful spirit that drove the horrible creature. He was afraid to die and was pretty certain he had died the first time death had come to him. He worried he was dead.   Jacali had Night Horse take the first watch with Otto. She gave him her bow but, when Dr. Weisswald saw that, she advised against it as the motion of drawing the bow could rip out the man’s stitches. Otto pointed out they would not be able to communicate either. Jacali said she had a solution and went to Night Horse and told him of the signal in the group, an English word “raspberry.†If he ever heard anyone say it, that meant there was trouble. She then asked the others if they could give him a gun. Otto gave him one of his peacemakers. Jacali asked him if he knew how to use it and he said he did, though he preferred a rifle. Night Horse cocked the gun and sighted down the barrel. She also told him if there was ever danger, he could wake her up first.   The second watch would be Otto and Jacali, while the third watch would be Jack West and Jacali.   Dr. Weisswald and Professor Stalloid kept watch on the serpent person. Professor Stalloid used a sponge, occasionally, to wet down the creature’s skin. Dr. Weisswald listened to the creature’s torso with her stethoscope. It was very strange but she didn’t think she heard any signs of internal bleeding or the like.     * * *       The next day, Wednesday, July 29, 1875, they could clearly see the terrible lizard without the field glasses. It was only a half mile away. They very quickly hitched up the horses and got the medicine wagon underway.   “Raspberry!†Night Horse said, seeing it for the first time. “Raspberry!†  The thing obviously saw them and headed their direction faster than they found comfortable. They pushed their horses while Jacali scouted ahead to find a safe path. They didn’t see any place to ambush it that morning.   Jacali fell back and asked the others if they wanted to make due or hope for a place to ambush the beast further east. Dr. Weisswald was for looking for a better spot so they continued on, the dinosaur continuing to close the gap. They had moved away from the river a little ways and Jacali found a place, around 2 p.m., where there had been a landslide. It opened up a way to get to a cliff overlooking the place the wagon would pass, up about 40 feet. It was a place they might be able to use to stay above the head of the horrible thing.   They decided to ambush it. A discussion ensued on who would actually be part of the ambush. In the end, they decided West, Otto, Jacali, and Professor Stalloid would go up the landslide and wait to ambush the thing at the top. Meanwhile, Dr. Weisswald, Night Horse, and Opheo would continue on with the horses and the medicine wagon. Professor Stalloid gave Night Horse his .52 Sharps rifle and some ammunition. He gave Otto his pistol back. Night Horse would drive the medicine wagon so that Dr. Weisswald could see to her other patient.   The four ambushers left the wagon at the landslide, climbing up as quickly as they could. In addition to the little bottle of nitroglycerin, Professor Stalloid had several bottles of lamp oil that he planned to stick rags into and light on fire in the straw-filled crate. Jacali had her magical arrow nocked and ready. Otto had his rifle and West was ready with his guns.   They waited at the top.   Jack West lay down on the ground, close to the edge. Professor Stalloid knelt a little further back from where he was. Jacali asked for a spare pistol in case her arrows couldn’t pierce the thing’s hide. Otto lent her his peacemaker. He also gave her some bullets.   “Wait for me to fire first,†West said.   They heard the thing before they saw it. It was almost as tall as the cliff they were waiting upon and was huge, standing 40 feet to the top of its head. West took aim. Then the thing stopped and sniffed loudly with impossibly huge nostrils.   Jacali stood from where she was quietly kneeling and shot the black arrow at the thing even as Jack West fired. Otto shot at the thing a moment later. Professor Stalloid used the lightning gun but the blast went by the creature and struck one of the few nearby trees. The bullets struck the horrible creature and Jacali’s black arrow entered the terrible beast’s right eye. The thing roared.   West stood and fired another shot at the horrible thing. The bullet didn’t seem to harm it much.   “Damn lizard!†he said. “Die!†  Otto worked the action on his Winchester carbine and put it to his shoulder again. With a click, the gun jammed.   This thing always jams! he thought in frustration.   The horrible creature moved to the edge of the cliff and reached its head over the top towards West, snapping at the man, who staggered back. The jaws closed only a foot or so from him.   Professor Stalloid reached into the crate and took out the vial of nitroglycerin. He carefully threw it underhand, tossing it over the side of the cliff so that it might hit the thing in the chest. The vial went over the edge of the cliff and struck somewhere below. The blast knocked them all off their feet and physically moved the terrible creature back from the cliff.   The thing turned and stumbled away, finally collapsing to the ground and rolling on its back. They got to their feet as quickly as they could and saw a massive, gaping wound in its belly. Then blood and guts that had been flung into the air by the initial blast came down upon them.   “God damn it, Jack West,†Jack West said. “Did you have to blow it up?†  “Yes!†Professor Stalloid said. “That was the plan. That’s why I made the nitroglycerin.†  “Jacali, are you against skinning this one?†West said.   “I don’t give a damn,†Jacali said.   Otto was cursing his carbine as he struggled to clear the jammed bullet.   “I’m not going to help you though,†Jacali said. “That’s too big of a job.†  “We’re not getting all of it,†West said. “Just enough for a duster.†  They climbed back down the landslide. Jacali examined the thing’s head in an attempt to recover the black arrow. She found it embedded in the giant eye all the way down to the feathers. She was surprised it had not killed it instantly. She recovered it and returned it to the quiver.   Jack West cut off some of the meat to eat later. He also cut away a huge amount of the skin on the back of the thing for later tanning though he did a sloppy job of it. He wanted to cut the thing’s head off to take with them. Otto started to cut it off with his saber.     * * *       The medicine wagon showed up about 20 minutes later and found everyone left behind was covered in blood and gore. They talked of staying the night there while they butchered the carcass but Night Horse suggested that might be a bad idea as the meat would soon cause every carnivore and scavenger within miles to congregate on the spot. He suggested they at least get an hour’s travel from the thing.   Professor Stalloid cut one of the large talons from the foot and Jacali asked for a tooth.   Otto tried the serpent people sword to try to finish cutting off the head but found the balance was all wrong and he didn’t care for the weapon. He used it anyway so that he wouldn’t dull his own blade too much.   By the time they headed on, there were already vultures and hawks circling overhead.   They made camp that night, several miles away from the carcass, and cooked up tyrannosaurus rex meat for dinner. It tasted like chicken.     * * *       They reached White River Post Office late the next day, Thursday, July 30, 1875. The place proved to be little more than a trading post and post office with little to show for it. There was no hotel or saloon though there was a place to buy liquor at the trading post. It stood just off the river and was pretty bare.   “What you got there?†one man asked as they rolled in across the scrubland. “What is that thing?†  “Got us a big lizard,†West said.   “I ain’t never seen the like!†the man said.   “Anyone got a tailor ‘round here?†West asked.   Professor Stalloid asked about a tarp but the trading post didn’t have any and the people there couldn’t spare him one despite the money he flashed around.   Jack West was able to find someone who was willing to tan the tyrannosaurus rex hide. He offered to pay $10 earnest money in advance and another $20 once the job was done. The man’s name was Rueben Fielding. He had a Midwestern accent.   That evening, the serpent person awoke.

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

Off to Germany

I am about to head on a business trip to Germany; alas, unconnected with the scenario I'm writing and not taking me to its intended location T_T   I will keep an eye out for Lovecraftian and related goodies while I'm there, and may try to pick up some gaming swag. I've already made the pleasant discovery that Hiveworld is just round the corner from one of my hotels! And both the others are also nearish gaming shops, which is promising. I'm not sure how much time I'll have to explore historical sites, but hopefully some.   Suggestions for gaming, touristing and otherwise making the best of the trip very welcome. I may be able to grab goodies (smallish games, books etc.) on behalf of fellow UK Yoggies; contact me if interested and we can see if it seems feasible.

Shimmin Beg

Shimmin Beg

 

Worms! Part 1 - Spring in San Francisco

Monday, April 2, 2018   (After playing the Call of Cthulhu Down Darker Trails Catastrophe Engine Campaign original scenario “Spring in San Francisco†and the Deadlands Dime Novel Scenario “Worms!†by John Goff Sunday from 1:30 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. with Ambralyn Tucker, John Leppard, Yorie Latimer, and Austin Davie.)   Gemma Jones had stayed on the Sequoyah Star after the bandit attack, and arrived in San Francisco on May 22, 1875, in the evening, taking a hackney carriage to her mother’s house in San Francisco. Her mother owned an upscale saloon and hotel in the city but lived in a house in one of the nicer parts of town.   Her mother was happy to see her and hugged her and fixed her a home-cooked meal and coffee. They ate and chatted before her mother got serious.   “Lily has gone,†she said. “She wanted to go off and make her way in the world.†  “Oh,†Gemma said.   “I got this letter a couple weeks ago,†her mother said. “It sounds like she’s doing fine …†  “Whew,†Gemma said.   She realized that was exactly what she did, but it was still quite a blow.   The letter read:  
May 2, 1875   Dearest Mother and Jenny,   I have finally found a place to call my own and I did it on my own like I always knew
I could. I have found a place in a town called Devil's Gulch, Colorado. It lies upon the
Kansas Pacific Railroad several miles from the other nearby towns. Better yet, I was able
to acquire revenue to make my dream of my own place come true. I call it the Gilded Lily
Saloon and Hotel and, though there are two other such places in town, it is doing very, very
well, most likely because I treat the girls well and make sure everything is fair.   I’m sorry I left so abruptly but I was certain if I didn’t take the action, I never would follow
through. I love you both and hate being away from you but this was something I felt I had to
do. Jenny is so successful and I want to be successful in my own right. I am now finding that
here.   I admit, I am having some troubles with the other saloon owners as they are jealous of the
success of the Gilded Lily Saloon and the fact that I, a mere female, am making such a success
of it.   I hope you will come visit me someday. I will continue to write whenever I can. I miss you
both very much.   All my Love,
Lily  
Gemma’s mother told her it was the only letter she’d received from Lily and she was a little worried about her.   “When?†Gemma asked. “When did this happen?†  “She left not long after you did, early this year,†her mother said.   She told Gemma that Lily had taken all the money she’d saved up, some $200, but she wasn’t sure where she might have gotten the money to buy a saloon.   Gemma spent time with her mother and friends in San Francisco. She sang at her mother’s saloon later that night and was well-received, as always. She saw a familiar face in the crowd: Professor Terwilliger. She saw he was there with a beautiful young blonde woman close to Gemma’s age. After she sang, they met with Gemma, Professor Terwilliger shaking her hand and fawning over her a little bit. She learned that he lived across the bay on a farm just outside of Oakland. He made small talk while the other gentlemen who vied for Gemma’s attention.     * * *       Professor Brandon Stalloid continued to hear rumors about a demon loose in Chinatown after their dealing with the kidnapped child on May 28. He realized he couldn’t go after the thing alone and so focused on the lightning gun he had acquired during the terror on the Sequoyah Star. He hired a craftsman to mount a rifle stock on the back of the device. The man was a little confused as to why he wanted to put a stock on a camera and Professor Stalloid claimed it was for long-range photography. He also purchased a tripod for the device when he found a mounting on the bottom for such, and realized Professor Terwilliger had probably actually made the device out of a camera.   In early June, Chun Zhi Ruo came to Professor Stalloid in his laboratory told him there was a distinguished Chinaman there to see him. She said he was waiting in the parlor.   Professor Stalloid was not happy to see Yan Min, the leader of the Rightful Spirit Tong whom they had taken the kidnapped child away from. He sat in one of Professor Stalloid’s comfortable chairs and smoked a cigar.   “Ah,†Mr. Yan said. “Mr. Stalloid. I see that you are still … well.†  “Why, of course!†Professor Stalloid said. “I try to be!†  “If I may speak to you for just a moment.†  Stalloid just looked at the man.   “When you visited me, there was an odd coincidence at my place of business,†Mr. Yan went on. “Two men were killed down in the basement and their bodies thrown in the sewers. I found it interesting that you and Mr. Li came and visited me at the same time.†  “That is interesting,†Professor Stalloid said.   “I’m very disappointed in both you and Mr. Li for your acts of complicity in two murders.†  “I don’t see what you mean.†  “Well, you were obviously there as a distraction, were you not?†  “I was there to sell you something.†  “But it has been almost a week.†  “I’ve been working on other projects.†  “Are you still interested in selling me products?†  “Of course, sir.†  “Well, I would hate to send a demon to do the dirty work of my men, who could visit you at night.†  “One of those things between the stars.†  “Yes. However, reparations could be arranged by you and all could be forgiven.†  Mr. Yan puffed on his cigar.   “What sort of reparations are we talking about, sir?†Professor Stalloid asked.   “My men are very important to me,†Mr. Yan said. “And you, obviously, are of great wealth.†  He gestured around the room.   “So, I would think that $5,000 should suffice,†he finished.   “Ah,†Professor Stalloid said. “Well, you have already declared, I am a man of great wealth … and import.†  “Yes.†  “I would dare say you might not even want to send a demon here if you’d like for your organization to continue to exist, for the police of my area not to get involved.†  “Oh. But none can trace it to me, can they?†  “But they can trace my will.†  “I will leave you to consider it.†  “I will not longer interfere with your Chinatown ways.†  “That is good to hear. If you decide to make reparations …†  “So long as you don’t kidnap any children.†  “I cannot guarantee anything.†  Yan Min left Professor Stalloid’s house.     * * *       After their dealings in Chinatown in late May, Lambert Otto went looking for Pete Sutter’s body in hopes of cashing it in for a bounty. He didn’t find it. He asked Mr. Chang, the Six Companies representative, about the corpse but the man had not heard of any body. However, he learned there were still rumors of a demon loose in Chinatown and if he could do anything about it, the people of Chinatown would be grateful. He said he was interested in doing something about it.   He also looked for bounties around San Francisco for some time but found nothing. He heard rumors that someone called Popie East had been seen in San Francisco about a week before but she had not been seen since.   He shared with Professor Stalloid that the demon was still in the city. Professor Stalloid told him he knew it was as they had never dealt with it.   “I feel like it would be a great injustice if we just let that thing massacre its way through Chinatown,†Otto said.   “I don’t know if I have the firepower to be killing a demon,†Professor Stalloid said.   “We could go recruiting,†Otto said. “I’m sure there’s some hired guns in town.†  Stalloid agreed they could, as he put it, “round up a posse.†They knew a circus was in town and perhaps some of those people could help.   “They’ll do anything for a little bit of money,†Professor Stalloid said.     * * *       Professor Stalloid went to Li Wei, the lawyer in Chinatown, and asked him to write up his will. In the will, he wanted to leave all his possessions to, in succeeded order, Chun Zhi Ruo, Dr. Weisswald, Professor Terwilliger, Jacali, and finally Clayton Pierce. There were also instructions to help his friends if they ever came to San Francisco. Mr. Li thought that a little strange but noted he had seen stranger in the past   “It’s strange, but you’ve seen things we deal with,†Professor Stalloid said. “If suddenly, three of us are dead …†  Mr. Li told Professor Stalloid that Mr. Yan had visited him and subtly threatened him about their dealings with the murders under the Rightful Spirit Tong brothel.   Mr. Li was not happy with Professor Stalloid about the scroll, having skimmed it and found it terribly disturbing and awful. He would translate it but it would take many months. He told the man there was supposedly a spell on the scroll that could raise people from the dead. He wanted to know if Professor Stalloid wanted the whole thing translated or just the spell. When Professor Stalloid asked what the whole scroll was about, Mr. Li told him it talked of Huang-Ti, the Yellow Emperor, and his miraculous inventions and cures. That intrigued Professor Stalloid and he asked the man to translate the whole thing. Mr. Li was not happy about it but he said he would do it.   When Professor Stalloid returned home, he wrote several letters noting if he was strangely murdered, it was probably Yan Min of the Rightful Spirit Tong in Chinatown. He left several of the letters in his house, put one in a safe deposit box, and the like.   He started to visit Mr. Li daily with baked goods and tea.     * * *       On Friday, June 4, 1875, Professor Stalloid and Lambert Otto went to the circus. They saw Gemma Jones there, looking at various animals in cages. There were shows in the big top: jugglers, clowns, a strong man, trapeze artists, midgets and dwarves, clowns, and the like. It was all quite entertaining. The strong man threw axes and knives as well.   Ronald Clay, the strongman, was a large, handsome, muscular man with a handlebar mustache. He had been the strongman at the circus for some years.   “Stalloid, I’m impressed with that strongman,†Otto said.   “I believe he could even wrestle the beast down!†Professor Stalloid said.   “Maybe not that far …†  “I believe in him … more than I believe in myself.†  “I say we ask him after his act if he wants to join us in our little adventure.†  They went behind the big top where several wagons and tents were pitched. Gemma Jones followed. They eventually found Clay sitting on a barrel by one of the wagons washing dishes in a big tub and smoking a cigarette. A midget who they recognized as one of the clowns was sitting on the step next to him, fixing a shoe.   “Hello, sir,†Otto said.   “Yes?†Clay said.   “I’m … Otto … I’m Lambert Otto,†Otto said. “This is … uh …†  “Brandon Stalloid!†Professor Stalloid said, striding forward and shaking the strongman’s hand. “Child savior, healer of men and women alike! And we are forming a posse!†  “Oh … okay,†Clay said. “What for?†  “Demon hunting,†Otto said.   “Have you heard of the demon of Chinatown?†Professor Stalloid said.   “I’ve … heard of that but it’s just silly superstition,†Clay said.   “We can’t have no demons running around Chinatown!†Professor Stalloid said.   “No sir!†Otto said.   “It could come into San Francisco, you know!†Professor Stalloid said.   “Chinatown is in San Francisco!†the midget said.   “The greater San … that’s demeaning …†Professor Stalloid said.   The midget gave the man a look.   “I don’t believe in no demons,†Clay said.   “We’ll pay you well,†Otto said. “Well, Stalloid will, I assume.†  “I will pay you handsomely,†Professor Stalloid said.   “How much?†Clay said.   “If we actually find and defeat this demon, I don’t know …†Professor Stalloid said. “Upwards of …†  “One hundred dollars!†the midget said.   “I was going to say 50,†Professor Stalloid said. “But, if you just come with us─†  “Don’t let ‘em sell you short, there, Clay,†the midget said.   “If you just come with us and we don’t even find anything, I will still pay you,†Professor Stalloid said. “Ten dollars for your day.†  “Sounds like, uh, decent deal to me,†Clay said. “But, if we defeat the demon, if the demon exists, uh, seventy-five.†  “That’ll be fine,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Oh, hello Gemma,†Otto said.   He had not noticed the girl behind him.   “Oh, quite,†Gemma said.   “That’s … that’s Gemma Jones!†Clay said.   “Yes,†Gemma said. “I have just seen your act and I was … I was very impressed.†  “Well … thank you!†Clay said, gushing. “I really appreciate that.†  “Of course,†Gemma said. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance.†  “Terwilliger’s not here, is he?†Professor Stalloid asked. “Here, right now, at the circus.†  “I did see him a couple nights ago at my mother’s saloon,†Gemma said.   “But he’s not here?†Professor Terwilliger said.   He pointed at the ground.   “I have not seen him,†she said.   “Okay,†Professor Stalloid said. “I still have his thing.†  “Oh!†she said. “Quite.†  “I’d hoped to use it with the demon.†  “With better accuracy.†  “Yes, I’ve modified it.†  “It’s hard to explain, sir,†Otto said to Clay. “I swear it’s true. Just think about the money. It’ll help you understand.†  “Hey, I get 15 percent,†the midget said. “I helped negotiate the deal! I’ll see ya later, Clay.†  “See ya later, Roy,†Clay said.   “I thought Roy was gonna help us,†Professor Stalloid said. “He seemed like a good fighter.†  “Really, it’s him and his posse that can rough people up,†Clay said. “So, you’d have to pay all of them.†  Introductions were made. Otto asked about weapons and Clay noted he had a bowie knife, pointing a thumb at the wagon he sat next to. He shared the wagon with five of the midgets, who took up a surprising amount of room for such small people. Clay had the smallest bed in the wagon, actually. He retrieved his knife and joined them once again.   “Where are those axes you threw during your act?†Professor Stalloid asked.   “Uh … I’m not allowed to go get those until performance time,†Clay said. “Ringmaster’s orders.†  “Can I talk to your ringmaster?†Professor Stalloid said.   Clay took him to see the ringmaster of the circus. Stalloid offered the man $5 but the ringmaster wanted a $50 deposit on them as well. Stalloid paid for it. The ringmaster put the $50 in a safe in his wagon and the $5 in his pocket.   “All right,†the man said. “Bring them back. Bring my strongman back too. I don’t want to have to replace him.†  Clay got four axes and they set forth. There was some discussion about alerting the police but in the end they decided not to bother as the police didn’t really care about Chinatown. Gemma told them she had a show that night at her mother’s saloon and would really appreciate it if they would come.   “I … I can’t go,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Why can’t you go?†Otto said.   “Terwilliger might be there,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Why?†Gemma said.   “How about you stand outside?†Otto said.   “Not until we deal with this demon,†Professor Stalloid said. “I can’t encounter Terwilliger.†  They made arrangements to meet Professor Stalloid in a saloon and restaurant on Broadway Street just outside of Chinatown.     * * *       Otto and Clay went to see Gemma perform at her mother’s saloon. Otto and Gemma both saw Professor Terwilliger and the beautiful blonde woman there as well, sitting close to the front and drinking wine. Gemma sounded amazing with a great deal of clapping and coin- and rose-throwing at the stage after every song.   Otto went over to Professor Terwilliger’s table and tapped him on the shoulder.   “Terwilliger,†he said.   “I know you!†Professor Terwilliger said with a grin. “I know you. Wait! Wait! I never forget a face! Wait! You’re Stalloid’s guard!†  “Not necessarily.†  “You had all those guns though.†  “I guess a better word would be armed acquaintance.†  “Well, sit down! Sit down! I’ve forgotten your name. I’m sorry.†  “I’m not his bodyguard, Terwilliger. I just happen to be with him a lot.†  “Oh! Are you his … friend?†  “I don’t know if I would go that far yet.†  “Well, you should be friends to the people you’re around.†  “Well, he’s certainly very nice to me at least.†  “That’s good. Sit down! Sit down! Join us! Oh, this is Tilly.†  Tilly had a smile that lit the room and she shook Otto’s hand gently. She also seemed cautious of the man, eyeing him warily.   “What are you doing here?†Professor Terwilliger said. “You’re from San Francisco? I live outside of town.†  “I’m from Hills County, Texas, actually,†Otto said.   “That’s a long ways away!†  “Yeah.†  “How’d you get here?†  “By horseback.†  “Oh, that’s a terrible way to travel. I’m working on a balloon.†  “A balloon?†  “And some wings.†  “Wings.†  “Tilly’s been helping me. She’s been testing the wings out. She hasn’t broken anything yet! That’s always a good sign.†  “So, what are you doing here?†  “Oh, we’re taking the night off! Sometimes you have to relax. And Gemma Jones is here!†  “Yeah.†  “I love her, she’s great. She’s an amazing singer.†  “Calm down,†Tilly said to the man with a smile. “Just calm down.†  “Aw, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,†Professor Terwilliger said.   “I must say, she’s very impressive,†Otto said.   “She is! I’m looking forward to hearing her again tonight.†  “So, do you want that lightning gun back?†  “What lightning gun? What’s a lightning gun? Oh! Oh. You meant the static generator.†  “Yeah, that … thing.†  “That’s right, I lost that on the train. Wait, do you have it?†  “No.â€â€™   “I’ve been working on an improvement of it.†  “Really?†  “Oh yes!†  “What’s your improvement?†  “Well, it doesn’t have the range but it doesn’t kill as quickly. I found the static generator, when it’s discharged, it tends to burn things. This more … well, it hurts things but it also stuns them.†  “Could I look at it?†  “Well, you’d have to come out to the farm. It’s out there.†  “I have a horse. It probably wouldn’t be hard to get out there.†  “You probably want to take one of the ferries. I’m across the bay.†  “Really?†  “Yes. Oakland area. Ask around there for me if you want to come visit the farm. You’re welcome any time.†  “Yeah. So, you’re not worried about that static generator thing?†  “Worried about it? You know I’ve got a friend who might be able to help you with that scar.†  “Well, how?†  “There’s this new surgical technique they’re trying to try to smooth out the skin. He might be able to help you with that.†  “I’ll consider it. I do think it makes me look more intimidating … but at the same time less appealing.†  “Fair enough. Fair enough. Well, if you want to keep it, you can keep it. I understand.†  “So, Terwilliger have you heard anything about that … what’s he call it? That … thing?†  “Thing? There’s been a lot of things.†  “It looks like the moon … thing.†  “Sh! I’m not supposed to talk about that. The Secret Service men were quite specific about that. I’ve only heard one rumor. There’s a town out in Colorado that has a silver one … a silver horn. That’s what I heard. Wait! I can talk about that! That has nothing to do with anything! Yeah, the Silver Horn. Some town in Colorado. I heard some rumor about that.†  “Well, what’s the rumor?†  “Just the Silver Horn. And horns are … curved. It’s probably nothing, I just … it just seemed interesting. But I’m too busy, I’m too busy to worry about that anymore. I’ve got too many ideas. I’ve got the quadrovelocipede. I’ve got the steam engine I’ve been working on. I’ve got the battery. There’s this one device, I don’t even know what it does. I’ve got the wings. I’m trying to design an engine out of a metal lighter than steel so it’ll be light and the balloon can lift it and then activate the engine, and the propellers will go. Like a steam ship! But in the air!†  Otto waved Clay over and the strongman walked over.   “This is a mountain of a man!†Professor Terwilliger said.   “This is Professor Terwilliger,†Otto said.   “He has quite a mouth on him, doesn’t he?†Clay said.   “You could say that,†Otto said.   “I always just assumed it was just normal,†Professor Terwilliger said, gingerly touching his mouth. “Nothing special.†  Tilly frowned at the rude strongman, looking him up and down disapprovingly.   “Nice to meet you,†Clay said.   “Nice to meet you, too,†the oblivious Professor Terwilliger said. “What’s your name?†  “Ronald,†Clay said.   “Ronald,†Otto said.   “Mr. Ronald, nice to meet you,†Professor Terwilliger said. “Sit down and join us! We’re going to watch more of the show tonight.†  “Terwilliger, do you happen to know anything about Chinese mythology and demons and stuff?†Otto said.   “There’s a couple of colleges in town, they might know,†Professor Terwilliger said. “I don’t know much about it. Never really focused on the Chinese. They did some wonderful things with gunpowder.†  “I’ve heard about that.†  “Of course as far as physics go, Arabia is the place to go. They knew their physics and math. Yes, that’s right. Rockets! I’m planning a bigger one. You know what, I think you could actually put somebody out of the atmosphere with a big enough rocket! The problem is, they keep blowing up on me. We’ll get back to it someday. Oh! I’m sorry. Mr. Ronald, this is Tilly. Tilly, Ronald.†  She shook his hand and gave him a cold, suspicious look.   Otto asked if there was a college he recommended and Professor Terwilliger noted any of those in town would probably serve.   They watched the show. Gemma sang beautifully, as usual. Afterwards, a few of the gentlemen who were trying to court her talked to her. Her friends were also there that night, the four of them having a table to themselves. They also visited her after the show.   “C’mon Gem,†Joe Turner said. “There’s a new saloon.†  Joe was not a bad young man though he could be quite flighty and often excitable about new ideas.   “There’s a new one?†she said. “Hmm.†  “We’re going to try it out,†he said. “Johnny and Anne and Felicity.†  Johnny Blakely had been to college and was an introspective youth who often served as the voice of reason within the group. He was short but had piercing eyes that rarely missed anything. Anne Sawyer wore rugged clothing and had been a tomboy all of her life. She worked on a ranch near San Francisco, breaking horses among other things. Felicity Hawkins was of upper-class breeding and wore very fancy and frilly clothing. Though she often joined them for their little adventures, she often seemed to be both excited and appalled at them.   Gemma decided to hang out with her friends instead of going into Chinatown and they left. She was surprised when the saloon Joe had chosen had Professor Stalloid, sitting at a table. The restaurant was very nice with gas lighting and a small floor show. It was a little more expensive than Gemma’s mother’s saloon and very nice overall.   Stalloid had eaten dinner in the place and found the food quite good, a mix between Chinese food and typical western fare. He had enjoyed a nice glass of wine with the meal. He was surprised when he saw Gemma Jones with four people in tow. Stalloid went over and smiled at her.   “Oh!†he said. “You found more people for the posse!†  “Posse?†Joe said. “What are you talking about?†  “These are my - these are my closest friends,†Gemma said.   Joe made introductions.   “So, are you going to help us hunt a demon?†Professor Stalloid said.   Joe gasped in excitement. Felicity gasped in fear.   “Must you get him riled up?†Gemma asked.   “Demon?†Joe said. “Let’s go!†  Johnny gave Gemma a look and she explained to him how she met a lot of interesting people while touring.   “We’re going to hunt a demon in Chinatown!†Professor Stalloid said.   “He’s quite the eccentric,†Gemma said to Johnny.   Johnny looked Professor Stalloid up and down carefully.   Otto and Clay arrived about then.   “Yes!†Joe said. “We’re in! Wait. Demons. Johnny, what do we do about demons?†  Johnny sighed.   “I don’t know,†Johnny said.   “C’mon Johnny,†Joe said. “You went to college.†  “We don’t study demons in college,†Johnny said. “Joe.†  “Yes, I do apologize,†Gemma said. “Let me introduce you to my─†  “Holy water!†Joe said.   “─to my … ah …†  “I don’t know if it’s that kind of demon,†Professor Stalloid said.   “… my closest friends,†Gemma finished.   She introduced Clay and Otto to the four. Johnny studied each of the new men with interest. Otto looked him up and down as well. Johnny noticed the bulges under Clay’s jacket where he had hidden the throwing axes. He also studied the wrapped-up rifle Otto carried.   “Well, I didn’t learn about demons in my school either,†Professor Stalloid said.   Otto pulled Professor Stalloid to the side.   “Stalloid, these people have no weapons and they look like─†Otto said.   “Well, then, why did Gemma bring them?†Professor Stalloid said.   “They’re her friends,†Clay said.   “They’re her friends and they─†Otto said.   “Yes, you all are my friends and I brought you for the posse,†Professor Stalloid said. “She’s bringing her friends for the posse.†  “She decided to forego─†Otto said.   “This is her hometown,†Clay said.   “This is my hometown!†Professor Stalloid said.   “They decided they wanted to go to a saloon, I think,†Otto said.   “Yeah,†Clay said.   “I thought they said they wanted to go hunt a demon?†Professor Stalloid said.   “No, after the show─†Clay said.   “That jolly one really wanted to go hunt a demon, he said,†Professor Stalloid said.   “After the show at the saloon, her friends approached her and asked her to go to a saloon,†Clay said.   “I feel like we’re going to get these people killed if they go with us,†Otto said. “Or they’re going to wander off down some dark alley and get killed by some tongs. I say we just let her─†  “If we’re not taking Gemma, I might have to go find more members of the posse,†Professor Stalloid said. “We can’t be a posse of three people.†  “What I was saying, Stalloid─†  “That’s more like a trio.†  “Haven’t you heard of the three musketeers?†Clay said.   “That’s not a posse!†Professor Stalloid said. “They were musketeers! They’re trained soldiers!†  “I’m a trained soldier!†Otto said.   “Wait wait,†Clay said. “I just remembered, they also had a fourth person.†  “Yeah, that’s one trained soldier!†Professor Stalloid said to Otto.   “Regardless, I was going to say─†Otto said.   “They were French,†Professor Stalloid said.   “─we’ll scout out for it tonight and figure out where it is,†Otto said.   Professor Stalloid suggested talking to the Clean and Pure Serenity Tong and seeing if they would lend them some men for their endeavor. Otto questioned whether they should get more involved in the tongs than they already were. Stalloid didn’t think the Clean and Pure Tong wanted the demon there but Otto argued they didn’t necessarily want to work with white men either. Professor Stalloid noted they had returned the child and when Otto asked if they seemed very thankful, Professor Stalloid said yes.   “He didn’t want to kill me anymore,†Professor Stalloid said.   He pointed out they had been in the Clean and Pure Serenity Tong safe house for a few hours though Otto noted the leader of the tong didn’t seem to particularly like their presence there. Professor Stalloid said he was still going to go, either there or to the Six Companies. Otto finally agreed.   “So, we’re hunting demons, huh?†Joe said. “What kind of demons? The kind with pitchforks and …†  “I was just pulling your leg, sir,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Oh, c’mon!†Joe said. “I like this guy!†  “Well, I’ve seen quite a few characters on the road, quite a few … unexplained phenomena,†Gemma said.   “Like what?†Joe asked.   “The likes of which you’d have to see to believe.†  “Like those thunderbirds?†  “Tell him about that spooky ghost sheriff,†Professor Stalloid said.   “The drifter,†Otto said.   Gemma told her friends the story of the drifter in Yellow Flats and Professor Stalloid signaled Otto and Clay they were going to sneak out. Unfortunately, Joe noticed and called to them, asking where they were going.   “Oh, we’re going to get weapons,†Professor Stalloid said. “You don’t seem to be armed.†  “Oh,†Joe said.   He pointed towards Felicity.   “She has a weapon,†he said.   “Well, what about the other four?†Professor Stalloid said.   “Bring me a big gun!†Joe said.   He wanted a big buffalo rifle. He’d never shot one and wanted to try it, he said.   Johnny got Gemma’s attention.   “Are your friends trying to ditch us?†he whispered to her.   “Oh, they wouldn’t leave,†she said.   “They’re walking out the door right now,†Johnny said.   She quickly got up and went to talk to the others.   “Weapons?†she said. “What are you doing?†  “We’re going to go confront the demon,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Oh!†she said.   “We don’t want to bring your friends,†Otto said.   “Certainly you jest,†Gemma said.   “I don’t want them to get hurt.†  “Are you going …?†  “We’re just going scouting.†  “Are you going after those things again?†  “Scouting. At least that’s what I’m going to do.†  “Those creatures.†  “We’re not going to go fight it.†  “No,†Professor Stalloid said, realizing she was probably talking about the creatures on the train. “Much worse.†  Her eyes opened wide.   “It disappears and reappears,†Otto said.   “My God!†Gemma said.   “I actually know this one somehow!†Professor Stalloid said.   “You’ll get yourself killed!†Gemma said.   “I saw it and I knew it and I don’t like that,†Professor Stalloid said. “And it knew me, somehow.†  Johnny had called the waiter over and bought Joe another beer. He was also ordering food. He gave Gemma a nod when she looked at him. She went back over and took the beer from Joe, drank a sip, and put the beer back on the bar. Johnny rolled his eyes and she slipped out.     * * *    

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

Worms! Part 2 - A Demon in Chinatown

* * *       They walked into Chinatown and discussed what they would do. Professor Stalloid wanted to the go to the Clean and Pure Serenity Tong brothel. Otto wanted to try to track the demon. There was discussion of meeting at Mr. Li’s office or signaling the others in some way to get back together. They decided to use Mr. Li’s office as a place to meet it they couldn’t find each other later.   Chinatown was very, very quiet, more so than Gemma had ever seen before.   “It’s a bad sign,†Otto said.   “It’s quite ominous,†Gemma said.   “I guess it’s due to the demon,†Otto said. “Does someone want to go with me?†  “I’m going to Clean and Pure,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Do you want to go to a brothel, Gemma?†Otto said.   “I’m sorry?†Gemma said.   “Do you want to go to a brothel?†  “I don’t really have a place there.†  “I’m just saying, that’s where Stalloid is going. That’s where the Clean and Pure headquarters is.†  “Oh.†  “At least to my knowledge.†  “Are you quite sure you want to go there?†  “Ask Stalloid.†  “They have well-armed men,†Professor Stalloid said.   They heard a scream from down the block.   “This is exactly why we shouldn’t be here!†Gemma said.   Clay and Otto ran towards the sound as another scream issued forth from a nearby alleyway with a street sign marking it at Sullivan’s Alley. Professor Stalloid and Gemma followed them. Otto pulled the blanket off his gun as they rounded the corner.   In the dreary alley, there was a Chinese man on his back on the ground. Standing over him, between him and the four, was a horrific creature. Shuffling in the darkness was a gigantic, blasphemous form of a thing not wholly ape and not wholly insect. Its hide hung loosely upon its frame and its rugose dead-eyed rudiment of a head swayed drunkenly from side to side. Its forepaws were extended, with talons spread wide, and its whole body was taut with murderous malignity despite its utter lack of facial description.   Nearby, windows and shutters were being closed and lights extinguished amid the muted jabber of Chinese.   On the sight of the horrible beast, Otto felt a red mist descend over his vision and he was suddenly incensed that such a thing could exist, a foul blasphemy that should not be. He was consumed with a desire to kill and destroy anything he possibly could.   Professor Stalloid had the lightning gun in his hand and aimed down the alleyway at the horrible thing. Gemma ran down the alley directly towards the horror.   “Get off of him!†she cried out.   She stabbed at the horror but her knife skittered across its thick skin.   Otto swung his rifle at Clay. He looked angry and insane.   The horror ignored Gemma and slashed at the Chinaman, who screamed once and collapsing to the ground.   Clay moved away from Otto and flung one of his axes at the horror but it flew between it and Gemma and disappeared into the darkness of the alleyway, clattering to the ground.   “Why are you running at the thing!?!†Professor Stalloid yelled. “This is why I got him throwing axes!†  He continued to aim at the thing, hoping for a clear shot.   “Move!†he cried out.   Gemma looked over her shoulder and saw Professor Stalloid with the camera-like lightning gun. She backed away to the opposite wall from the horrible creature. Otto slammed his rifle barrel into Clay’s head.   The horror in the alley turned towards them and looked at the people arrayed in the alley. Clay grabbed the rifle and the two men struggled with the weapon. Professor Stalloid carefully moved forward, aiming the lightning gun at the horror.   “We might want to run!†he yelled.   There was a crack of thunder and a blast of light as the lightning bolt flashed down the alley, grounding itself on the axe that lay there. Gemma had closed her eyes at exactly the right moment, opening them just as the flash had passed, and wasn’t blinded. She smelled ozone and felt tingling running all over her body. She rushed the horror with knives in both hands and stabbed the thing but it tore at her with a claw, injuring her badly. She swooned and fell to the ground.   Otto kicked at the strongman in his insane rage. Clay fought back, injuring the man as he kicked the man back. Then he heard footsteps rush up the alleyway towards him and he let go of the gun and turned as he felt the horror’s terrible, hot breath on his back. The thing cut into Clay with a single claw and he fell without a sound, blood everywhere.   Professor Stalloid turned and ran away, disappearing around the corner.   Otto raised his rifle and shot the horror directly in the chest. The thing stumbled back as black ichor spewed out the front and the back of it. It let out a screech, then crouched as if it was going to leap and disappeared.     * * *       Professor Stalloid looked over his shoulder when he heard the gunshot and the strange screech. Otto ran around the corner of the alley with blood in his eye, looking at the man like he wanted to kill him. He stopped, worked the action on the rifle, and put it to his shoulder. Professor Stalloid fled around the corner to his left and headed up the street as fast as he could.   He heard footsteps running up behind him and he peeked over his shoulder again. Otto reached the corner and stopped there, putting his rifle to his shoulder once again. Professor Stalloid saw Pacific Place Alley to his right and, next to it, the brothel of the Rightful Spirit Tong. A sailor was stumbling drunkenly up to the door.   He ran across the street to the brothel, rushing in right behind the sailor and closed the door behind him.   The sailor went to talk to the familiar Chinese man who greeted guests to the brothel. There was an armed tong member standing off to one side, reading a dime novel. Stalloid pushed past the sailor roughly.   “Hey!†the sailor said.   “Welcome,†the little Chinese man said. “Welcome. What is your fantasy? What is your wildest dream?†  “I’m just looking for a good time,†Professor Stalloid said. “A good, safe time.†  “A good, safe time. I have the woman for you. Come.†  He turned.   The door behind Professor Stalloid burst open as Otto strode into the room with hate in his eyes and a saber in his hand. He spotted the tong member who drew his axe and screamed at him in Chinese. Professor Stalloid followed the little man out as the sailor cursed behind him.     * * *       Otto recognized the man as one he had stabbed in the basement the week before. He tried to stab the man but the man fought him off. Then the man swung his hatchet wide at Otto, who ran him through. The guard fell with a scream and the sailor, eyes wide, turned and ran out of the room after Professor Stalloid.   Otto suddenly came to his senses. He recognized the symbol on the tong hatchetman he’d just cut down. Screaming was coming from somewhere in the house. A man started yelling “Murder! Murder! Murder!†over and over and over again.   He fled.     * * *       The sailor ran up behind Professor Stalloid.   “Murder!†he screamed. “Murder! Murder! There’s a crazy man out there!†  A few other tong members drew axes and a third drew a pistol. All three of them headed for the front door as the little Chinaman who had led him back into the house assured the men in a soothing voice that all would be well. Professor Stalloid quickly followed the hatchetmen.   He got back to the street and saw them run down the street and head off to the left. He turned right and returned to Sullivan’s Alley. There was so much blood and he stopped at Clay’s body which had been gutted by the horror. He put a few drops of laudanum on the man’s tongue as he couldn’t stop the bleeding.   “Hey!†he shouted. “Can I get some medical assistance out here!?!†  He leapt up and ran towards Gemma as one the doors off the alley opened and a little Chinese ran out. Professor Stalloid pointed at Clay and the old woman ran to the man and tried to bind his wounds. Then the strongman breathed his last and died.   Professor Stalloid had tended to Gemma and brought her around. Then he tried to tend to the dying Chinaman on the ground in the alley. As he did so, the man’s eyes opened for a moment and he grabbed Professor Stalloid by the lapels of his jacket, muttering something in Chinese before he died.   The old Chinese woman stood there.   “What did he say?†Professor Stalloid asked.   “He … he … was just mumbling,†she said. “It was nonsense.†  “C’mon!†  “What is Devil’s Gulch?†  “I believe it is a location.†    * * *       Stalloid had collected Clay’s axes and the body, returning all to the circus. He also gave the circus $100 for the funeral and he gave another $75 to the midget he’d talked to with Clay before. It turned out that the $1,000 Clay had was willed to the midgets he had shared his wagon with for so long.   He told the midgets of what had happened: that the demon had driven one of their companions mad with fury and while he struggled with the man, the demon killed him. He told them the companion had dealt the final blow on the demon and destroyed it.     * * *       When Professor Stalloid returned home late that evening, Chun Zhi Ruo told him Lambert Otto had burst into the house and then left, leaving a note in the parlor. It profusely apologized for what happened in the alley but he was leaving. He mentioned in the note that he was going to Terwilliger’s in Oakland across the bay.     * * *       Over the next few days, there were rumors of one of the Chinese tongs looking for a scarred madman who attacked and badly injured one of their members. They also heard no talk of a demon in Chinatown anymore. Professor Stalloid thought he could add demon-hunter to his title.   An obituary appeared in the newspaper for Ronald Clay, noting he had died in an animal attack.     * * *       Otto had taken the ferry across the bay, along with his horse, Blitz, and inquired as to the location of the Terwilliger farm. He had found the place and Professor Terwilliger allowed him to stay if he wished. He learned the beautiful young blond woman was Professor Terwilliger’s daughter, Matilda Terwilliger. She was brash and bold and good with her fists. She was also willing to test out some of the items that Professor Terwilliger didn’t have the stamina or youth to try, like the wings he’d designed.   The farm consisted of a tidy, two-story farmhouse and a large barn, the latter building where Professor Terwilliger did most of his experimenting. There was also a long-abandoned chicken coop. The farm stood close to a lake and a 50 foot tower was upon that where Tilly usually launched herself with the wings during tests, allowing a safety feature of falling in the water if there was any kind of failure. Another tower stood in the yard as well, this one larger and connected to the various electrical producing the devices of Terwilliger’s. He was trying to create rain, occasionally, by firing electricity up into the sky but had made little progress on that front yet.   He kept Otto on as an assistant, used mostly for fetching and carrying.     * * *       Yan Min visited Professor Stalloid once again a few days later. He asked why Professor Stalloid had been in his place of business and why he had brought a crazy man in who tried to kill one of his men. Professor Stalloid said the crazy man had been trying to kill him.   “Don’t bring him into my place of business,†Mr. Yan said.   “I didn’t wish to,†Professor Stalloid said. “I didn’t want to!†  “Are you considering your reparations yet?†  “Maybe, but I didn’t want to go into your place of business.†  “You should consider it carefully.†  Mr. Yan again threatened to send the demon. When Professor Stalloid asked him about Devil’s Gulch, he didn’t know anything about it. He told Mr. Yan he took care of his loose demon.   “As you should have,†Mr. Yan said. “You owe me!†  “Yeah, we got it,†Professor Stalloid said.   Mr. Yan was willing to take money, drugs, or women. Professor Stalloid didn’t have any to give him.     * * *       Joe had dinner with Gemma one night and he mentioned to her that Professor Stalloid, whom he’d become a little obsessed with since their meeting, had been talking about someplace called Devil’s Gulch. He asked if she’d heard anything about the place.   “Oh,†she said. “That’s interesting. My sister just opened a saloon there.†  “Oh!†Joe said. “It sounds like an adventure!†  “Maybe. It would be very good to see her there.†  They had a nice dinner.     * * *       Gemma went to Professor Stalloid’s house. The door was answered by a little Chinese lady.   “Can I help you?†she asked Gemma.   “Yes, my name’s Gemma,†the woman said. “I’m looking for Dr. Stalloid.†  “Oh! This is his house. Come in! Come in! I will announce you, tell him that you’re here. You need refreshment?†  “Tea, if you don’t mind.†  “Tea. Tea. I will bring tea.†  Chun Zhi Ruo led her to a plush parlor and she saw a liquor cabinet on one wall with a fine decanter atop it. A stand-up piano was against another wall. The furniture and furnishings were lush and lavish. The Chinese woman left and, after a few minutes, Professor Stalloid arrived. Gemma had found a wooden stereoscope and a box of picture cards of the San Francisco bay on the end table and was looking at them.   “I didn’t expect to see you here, Gemma Jones,†he said.   “Yes, Dr. Stalloid, it’s good to see you,†she said, putting down the stereoscope.   “Are you following me?†  “Well, I … no, but I heard you …†  “Is Terwilliger here?†  “Uh … no, it-it’s just me this time.†  “Okay.†  “I heard you were asking around about a place called Devil’s Gulch?†  “Devil’s Gulch!†  “Yes. Quite.†  “Yeah, the Chinese man told me about it. He said I should go there. The one that expired.†  “Well, my concern is that my sister recently moved to Devil’s Gulch, a few months ago.†  “That could be a travesty! Usually Chinese men that are killed by demons do not tell you to go to good places.†  “Oh goodness! What do you think might appear?†  “I don’t have experience with that but I assume.†  “Well … I … I … I’m just more concerned─†  “Oh, the tea is here.†  Chun Zhi Ruo poured their tea and left the parlor.   “I just … I didn’t know if you knew much … about this place,†Gemma said, sipping her tea.   “Nothing,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Well, I was just concerned about my sister, you see.†  “It’s in Colorado.†  “I didn’t know if we … we might could gather some … a posse if you will.†  “Another posse?†  “A posse, if you will, to go visit my sister. That would be a great delight to me.†  “Well, I would be interested to see what the man wanted me to go find. I just hope it’s not another demon.†  “Well, that would be even more concerning … for me … as my sister has made her home there.†  “Those don’t seem to turn out well.†  They enjoyed their tea and began to make plans for a trip to Devil’s Gulch. Gemma didn’t want to go on the train after the last time. Professor Terwilliger decided to purchase two more horses to supplement his own horses for the medicine wagon.     * * *       On Thursday, June 10, 1875, Professor Terwilliger and Gemma Jones took the ferry to Oakland and then rented a buggy to ride out to Professor Terwilliger’s farm some five miles from the town. The farm proved charming and lush with trees in the area. They saw what looked like an oversized Chinese firework in the corral next to the barn. Professor Terwilliger was out there, tinkering on it.   “Oh goodness, Terwilliger, I never know what to expect from you,†Gemma said as she dismounted from the buggy.   “Why, Gemma Jones!†he said excitedly. “And Professor Stalloid!†  He left the corral and shook each of their hands, delighted to see them.   “To what do I owe the pleasure?†he said. “What an unprecedented surprise!†  Otto came out of the barn with a piece of metal. Tilly came out of the farmhouse as well. She seemed surprised to see people. Gemma approached her.   “Yes, I saw you both at the saloon the other night,†she said to the woman   Tilly smiled at her.   “Oh yes yes yes!†Professor Terwilliger said. “Did you meet Tilly?†  “I don’t believe I have,†Gemma said.   “This is Tilly,†Professor Terwilliger said. “Tilly, this is Gemma Jones!†  “Hello,†Gemma said.   “Yes, I know who she is,†Tilly said with a smile.   The two women shook hands.   “Welcome to the farm,†Tilly said. “I could go make us some refreshments.†  Professor Terwilliger watched her go, obviously delighted by her presence.   “Oh oh oh!†he said when he turned back to them and nodding towards the strange rocket. “What do I owe the pleasure? I’m not ready to test it. I’m hoping it doesn’t explode. It might.†  Professor Stalloid showed Professor Terwilliger the modifications he’d made to the lightning gun. He didn’t see the purpose as he though the device was best put to work cutting down trees. He thought it an interesting addition to it, however. He let Professor Stalloid keep the lightning gun as he had worked up more prototypes.   “What do I owe the pleasure?†Professor Terwilliger asked again.   “Well, I heard you were harboring this fugitive,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Otto? Otto’s been a great help. He’s very good at fetching and carrying. He doesn’t have a mind for science, you know. But, I’ll take whatever help I can get.†  Otto had already learned about Professor Terwilliger’s new device, which he called The Incapacitator because it fired sparks that caused muscle seizures to incapacitate the target long enough to tie up a person. The device was built into a demon light, a tiny lantern used on bicycles that had the interior torn out. He had given Otto a demonstration but when Otto had asked for one of his own, he noted he hadn’t finished testing on it.   Gemma eyed Otto, last remembering him fighting Clay, and Tilly soon returned with a picnic basket with food and drink. Professor Terwilliger introduced Professor Stalloid to Tilly. Professor Stalloid reminded Otto had could add demon slayer to his name too. Otto was less than enthusiastic about it.   “Demon slayer!?!†Professor Terwilliger said.   He had Otto recount what he could remember of what happened that terrible night nearly a week before. Professor Terwilliger had his doubts about the situation but kept an open mind, as he usually did. Gemma continued to watch Otto leerily. Professor Stalloid took the man aside.   “Don’t feel bad,†he whispered to him. “Wilder also went crazy and started attacking people when he saw a creature like that.†  Otto told them about the strange rage he had felt, that he vaguely remembered fighting with Clay, shooting the horror, and running after Stalloid. Professor Terwilliger tried to calm the man’s nerves about the entire incident.   They had a pleasant picnic lunch. Professor Terwilliger told them the rocket wasn’t ready and the others had blown up on the launch pad.   “Stalloid, you know what the tong’s been doing?†Otto said.   “Oh, they’re looking for you,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Oh. Oh. That’s horrible.†  “The leader came and visited me again. He said he was looking for you. He was mad that I had brought you in─†  “A leader of a tong!?!†Professor Terwilliger said. “You should stay out of San Francisco. Their influence is very small outside of San Francisco.†  “Which is why I’m here,†Professor Stalloid said. “We were going to go to Devil’s Gulch. Would you care to join us?†  “Why?†Otto said.   “My sister lives there and I’d like to see her,†Gemma said. “I’m also concerned about possibly things that might be there since a Chinese man told him to go there.†  Tilly seemed concerned about the entire situation. Terwilliger had never seen Devil’s Gulch.   “If the tong is looking for me, I know they don’t tend to operate out of San Francisco─†Otto said.   “Chinatown,†Terwilliger said.   “Chinatown,†Otto said.   “Well, Chinatown and my house,†Professor Stalloid said.   “They came to your home?†Professor Terwilliger said.   “Yes.†  “I’m glad I don’t live in San Francisco.†  “You said that they don’t know exactly what I am, they know what I look like?†Otto asked Professor Stalloid. “Is that right?†  “Yes,†Professor Stalloid said. “Also, at least I don’t believe they know that I’m with you because I also pointed out that you were trying to shoot me. I don’t know if you remember that.†  “I don’t … remember that …†  “You wanted to shoot me!†  “Did I hit you?†  “No. But you were aiming!†  “Oh my goodness,†Tilly said.   “I’m glad I missed,†Otto said.   “That’s quite aggressive!†Professor Terwilliger said.   Otto asked Professor Terwilliger about his earlier offer of someone who could remove a scar. He didn’t want to have the tongs after him. Professor Terwilliger said he would look into it.   “How are we getting to Devil’s Gulch?†Otto asked. “Train again?†  Gemma looked uncomfortable.   “We were going to ride,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Ride on horseback?†Otto said.   “Yes.†  “I’d actually prefer that. It’s been a long time since I rode Blitz.†  Close to dinnertime, another buggy rode up to the farm. The man within had long hair and a beard. He had a stocky build and was probably in his mid-30s. He wore a suit and hat. Professor Terwilliger recognized the man and greeted him by name, introducing Robert Dunspar to the others and noting he was a fellow physicist and chemist. He told them the man was from Oakland and invited Dunspar to supper.   They all had a nice supper, Tilly cooking it. Terwilliger noted he had been working on a coffee machine but the prototype machine had blown up last week.   “The blend was a little strong,†he noted.   “Mr. Dunspar,†Professor Stalloid said. “Robert.†  “What are you doing with them again, Terwilliger?†Dunspar said, pointing at the window at the rocket in the corral.   “Well, at the moment, I’m hoping for low orbit,†Professor Terwilliger said.   Dunspar sighed.   “Then the moon!†Professor Terwilliger said.   “And approximately how much fuel are you using?†Dunspar said.   “The correct amount. I’ve just not got the fuel … it’s a little too rich. So, I’m lowering the richness but I’m not sure if it will get us off the ground. I’m certain that this is mankind’s future.†  They discussed the fuel base of using petroleum and nitroglycerin. Professor Terwilliger told them about the quadrovelocipede, a vehicle with four wheels and a steam engine on the back. He confessed he hadn’t gotten it working quite like he wanted yet. They also talked about the wings he had built, noting the damned neighbors kept trying to shoot Tilly down when she tested them over the lake.   They had a nice dinner.   “So, what do you all do?†Dunspar asked. “How do you know Terwilliger?†  “Bobby?†Professor Stalloid said. “Robert? Bob? Robby?†  “I prefer to go by Robert but Bob is okay as well.†  “How you doing, Bob?†  “Uh … I’m fairly well. Just coming to see what Terwilliger’s up to these days.†  “How interested are you in the paranormal? We’re rounding up a posse, you see.†  “Not particularly. I’ve read a few books on those things.†  “You see, my sister, Lily, has opened up her own saloon in Devil’s Gulch, which I’m very proud of her for,†Gemma said. “But, I’m becoming increasingly concerned about her well-being, which … probably has something to do with things beyond our realm of understanding.†  “What do you mean?†Tilly asked.   “Things which should not be seen,†Professor Stalloid said.   “That’s also very vague.†  “Things that live between the stars.†  “Supernatural creatures,†Gemma said.   “Giant flying ones with necks like the dragons of old,†Professor Stalloid said.   “You don’t need to scare her,†Gemma said.   Professor Terwilliger nodded.   “I don’t scare easily,†Tilly said.   Gemma looked at the woman.   “They could bite a man in half quite easily,†Professor Stalloid said.   “I’m sorry,†Gemma said. “How do you know Terwilliger?†  “Oh, he’s my father,†Tilly said. “Matilda, I prefer.†  “Tilly is your name!†Professor Terwilliger said.   “Father,†she said. “I’m a grown woman.†  Professor Terwilliger noted she was the spitting image of her mother. They learned his wife had died a few years before, prompting them to move west. He obviously loved her very much and was lost in a moment of sadness. But he soon moved past it, as if he had moved on from the moment when they discussed the love of his life.   “I don’t know what I’d do without her,†Professor Terwilliger said of Tilly. “Lambert’s been a big help. But he won’t put the wings on.†  “I’d rather not,†Otto said.   Professor Terwilliger shook his finger at the man.   “Your sister … you’re concerned about her?†Dunspar said.   “Yes, I thought she would have been here but I recently received a letter from her that she moved away, much as I did at the start of my career,†Gemma said.   “Well, I don’t see why you’d be worrying about her then,†Dunspar said.   “Well, I … I’m concerned for her well-being as far as things that I have witnessed,†Gemma said.   “The supernatural things that you mentioned before?†Tilly said.   “Yes,†Gemma said.   “That could potentially put her in danger?†Dunspar said.   “Yes, I have heard … I have heard that there might be strange things occurring in Devil’s Gulch,†Gemma said. “And that is why I am concerned for her. I know she could make it on her own, bless her, but … but I’m worried for her sake if the supernatural is … would be of …†  She trailed off.   “It does strike my curiosity,†Dunspar said. “But …†  “I figured since you worked together you might have heard of his knowings and dealings of the supernatural,†Gemma said.   “Who’s knowings!?!†Professor Terwilliger said.   “I don’t talk about that too openly,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Professor Stalloid has knowings?â€Professor Terwilliger said.   “Remember?†  “And dealings?†  “I told you about the - the girl that floated above the air.†  “Oh yes. The woman that floated above the air. That Indian woman.†  “And now those dragons on the train.†  “That was quite disturbing.†  “Yes,†Otto said.   “Well, I didn’t see them, but I heard tell,†Professor Terwilliger said.   “Yeah,†Professor Stalloid said.   “I stayed in my bed.†  “In Chinatown there were these demons. They were like an ape but not quite. Like an insect, but not quite.†  “I’m sure they’re just creatures we haven’t discovered yet,†Dunspar said.   “Yes, there must be some logical explanation,†Professor Terwilliger said.   “They can appear and disappear from existence,†Professor Stalloid said. “As if they were passing into some sort of realm we cannot see.†  “And then there was that device,†Professor Terwilliger said.   “The device,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Device?†Dunspar said.   “I’m not allowed to talk about that!†Professor Terwilliger said. “Don’t ask!†  “I haven’t seen the military in a while and they don’t even have it any more,†Professor Stalloid said.   “They don’t have it any more?†  “They don’t have it anymore. It got thrown off the train. Uh … pulled off. Someone picked it up and ran off the train with it, over a bridge.†  “That’s a terrible place to leave a train.†  “Yeah. My comrades, Weisswald and Jacali, they went and tracked it.†  “I was there too,†Otto said.   “They found footprints that just disappeared,†Professor Stalloid said.   “I found the tracks as well.†  “Along the track.†  “Fascinating,†Professor Terwilliger said.   “As if he floated away,†Professor Stalloid said. “It was that Jack Parker.†  “Creature that has the ability to …†Dunspar said.   “To phase out of existence,†Professor Stalloid said. “It even pulled people out of existence.†  “I don’t remember hearing of this,†Gemma said.   “I vaguely remember it disappearing,†Otto said.   “I’ve not heard of this,†Gemma said again.   “I was going to tell you before we encountered it, but it was too late!†Professor Stalloid said. “I didn’t want anyone assaulting it at a melee range, in a brawl.†  Gemma looked very offended.   “I was rather hoping we would just … kill it from afar,†Professor Terwilliger said.   “You couldn’t expect me just let that man lie there!†Gemma said. “With that creature!†  “We could have helped him afterwards,†Professor Stalloid said.   “You attacked it?†Professor Terwilliger said.   “Yes,†Gemma said.   “With you fists?†Professor Terwilliger said.   “She went at it with knives!†Professor Stalloid said.   Gemma pulled out her two hidden knives, startling the older man.   “Oh my goodness,†he said. “That’s … that’s … incredibly impressive.†  “It almost murdered her,†Professor Stalloid said.   “These are somewhat of an heirloom to me,†Gemma said.   “It’s still impressive,†Professor Terwilliger said. “Very impressive.†  “If it wasn’t distracted by the lightning … the boom box, I’m afraid it would have killed her,†Professor Stalloid said.   “I heard about some sort of animal attack in Chinatown, but …†Dunspar said.   “It was no animal,†Professor Stalloid said.   “No animal,†Otto said. “No.†  “You’re saying it’s this creature that could … phase away?†Dunspar said.   “One of them,†Professor Stalloid said.   “One of them?†Dunspar said.   Gemma glared at Otto.   “It felt like there were … thousands … watching us,†Professor Stalloid said.   “I would love to examine one of these creatures if it’s incapacitated,†Dunspar said.   “As far as I know, it’s gone,†Otto said. “I don’t know what happened to it. I shot it, I think, and then …†  “Stick with us and I’m sure we’ll find more!†Professor Stalloid said.   “It’s probably not good for your health.†  “Definitely not good for your health.†  They all looked at each other.   “Gemma, where’s Clay?†Otto asked. “Ronald.†  “Ronald Clay?†Gemma said.   “Yes, because … you two are here, but I don’t see our strongman.†  “Did you not read about him?†  “No.†  “He was supposedly attacked by … an animal.†  “Is he dead?†  “Yes. Quite. It was in his obituary.†  “Oh.†  “So far we’ve lost two very brave men,†Professor Stalloid said. “In our adventures.†  “I don’t know how much how much assistance I would provide … fighting these creatures,†Dunspar said.   “Oh, I don’t provide much either. First, we investigate. We have a few men with guns that we know. We try not to fight the things.†  “I’d much rather investigate than confront.†  Professor Stalloid noted that currently their gunmen were incapacitated. One of them broke most of the bones in his body. When Dunspar asked how long ago it had been, he was told about three weeks. He asked if Dunspar had read about the foiled train robbery and when he said he had, Stalloid noted they had been the ones that stopped it. Dunspar had not remembered any mention of demons or dragons. Clayton Pierce was credited with driving off the raiders. Dunspar had also heard Clayton Pierce had wiped out a band of men trying to take over a town in Arizona as well, or so he’d heard. Professor Stalloid said they had another gunfighter by the name of Jack West.   “And which one is the one with every bone broken in his body?†Dunspar asked.   “Clayton Pierce,†Professor Stalloid said. “It took a lot to bring him down.†  “And where’s this ‘Jack West,’†Dunspar said.   “Also in the hospital,†Otto said. “You would know him if you saw him.†  “We’re just heading there, really, to investigate,†Professor Stalloid said.   Dunspar told them to let him go back to his home and gather a few things and he could take a break from his work.   “Honestly, you can bring your research with you,†Professor Stalloid said. “I have a mobile lab.†  “Oh!†Dunspar said, his interest peaked.     * * *       They left the next day, going from San Francisco south once again all the way to Los Angeles and then on to the town of Midnight in southern California. Gemma took the bunk in the medicine wagon while Professor Stalloid, Dunspar, and Otto camped outside. It was Wednesday, June 23, 1875, before they arrived in the tiny town tucked in the mountains of Southern California. They passed a forge wherein two beautiful blonde women were working the iron. A clown in full make-up was cleaning off the porches of some of the stores. A curly-haired man approached them soon after they arrived, a marshal’s badge on his chest.   “Professor Stalloid!†Marshal Flute said in his high-pitched voice. “You’re back!†  They took the medicine wagon up the hill to the fine house and Professor Stalloid found the pantry stocked full of food. As they ate a splendid dinner that night around dusk, they heard what sounded like a cannon fire from the village. Marshal Flute, who had joined them for dinner, explained the Colonel fired a little brass cannon into the lake every dawn and dusk as he thought he was on Lake Erie during the War of 1812.   “I’m the town marshal,†Marshal Flute said after supper. “Town decided to keep me.†  “Wait, what happened to the last marshal?†Dunspar asked.   “He was murdered,†Marshal Flute said. “It was pretty bad. He was killed and put in a grave.†  “He pushed him in front of a wagon and broke both his legs,†Professor Stalloid said.   “I was trying to stop him from walking under a ladder. No, black cat. Because … you know … bad luck.†  They learned Marshal Flute was very superstitious and had pushed the former marshal out of the way of a black cat and the man was run over by a wagon. Marshal Flute also told Professor Stalloid he’d been keeping an eye on the house and making sure no one went under it. He told Professor Stalloid they had finished the door to the cave and gave the man a large key. He told them the town was looking to hire a librarian. They also needed some books.   Professor Stalloid found Mysteries of the Worm still in the house so he decided to take it with him to try to learn what he could from it. He would have plenty of time to read it.   Professor Stalloid visited Mrs. Delacroix, who gave him a foot massage.   They only stayed in Midnight for a week, Gemma staying in Dr. Chin’s hospital so she could get some more medical attention.   * * *

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Worms! Part 3 - Hilton Springs and the Missing Homesteaders

* * *       They left Midnight on June 30, 1875, bearing north once again and heading for Nevada. They traveled for a little over a week. En route, Professor Stalloid practiced with the lightning gun. Dunspar asked him to see it but he was reluctant. He told Dunspar to ask Terwilliger about it.   It was late afternoon of Thursday, July 8, 1875, when they reached the tiny town of Hilton Springs, Nevada, a tiny town of a dozen or so buildings in the desert. It made Midnight look like a bustling metropolis. They saw a general store, a jail, a church, a barn, and a saloon and hotel.   Gemma, Otto, and Dunspar went to the saloon while Professor Stalloid took the wagon and horses to the barn.     * * *       Daly’s Saloon was run by a tall, slender man with graying hair. He was the only one in the saloon when they got there and, as they approached him, another man came in from behind them. He had blonde hair, a mustache and muttonchops, and wore an apron. A marshal’s star was pinned to the front of the apron.   “Good day to you folks!†the man with the apron said. “I’m Frank Parsons. I’m what passes for the law around here. Well, when I’m not tending the store that is.†  He laughed at his own joke.   “We don’t get too many visitors here in Hilton Springs,†he went on. “Let me be the first to welcome you to our little community.†  “Well, thank you,†Dunspar said.   “Since we are a little off the beaten path, I hope you don’t mind me asking what brings you to town?†Parsons said.   “We’re heading to Devil’s Gulch,†Otto said.   “Yes,†Gemma said. “My sister has just relocated there. She’s made a life for herself. She has her own saloon now.†  “Oh,†Parsons said. “Oh. Could I talk to you folks in the marshal’s office for a minute?†  “We’re not in trouble, are we?†Otto asked.   “No no,†Parsons said. “I just … I just want to ask you a couple questions.†  “Sure,†Otto said.   “I wouldn’t mind,†Dunspar said.   Parsons led them next door to the Marshal’s office. It was a tiny stone building with barely enough room for the small office and a single cell. A gun rack next to the door held three Winchester ’73 rifles, a double-barreled shotgun, and a small assortment of pistols. There was also a small desk with paperwork atop it. Parsons sat down behind the desk.   “Look, um … we got a problem here,†Parsons said. “If Mr. Webster were still with us, I’d ask him for help but … I know it’s none of your folks’ business, but I’d appreciate any help you could see fit to give.†  He looked at Otto, who carried his rifle and had a pistol on his holster.   “We’ve had a bunch of kidnappings lately,†Parsons went on. “Well, that might not be the right word for it. Let’s just say folks are starting to disappear. If I had my way, I’d stick to tending my store over there, but I up and got elected marshal. Honestly, I’m over my head here. I need some help, a lot of help really. You folks look like the type to provide it.   “I can’t offer much, just room and board at Bufont’s and a dollar a week. I’d give you more but all that’s comin’ out of my own pocket already. I pretty much marshal for free myself. The town doesn’t have much of a treasury left.†  “Well, I’ll help you just if you give me room and board,†Otto said. “I don’t need the dollar.†  “Well, that’s mighty generous of you,†Parsons said.   “You seem like you need it more than I do,†Otto said.   Parsons looked at the other two.   “I’d be more than happy to do some investigating,†Dunspar said. “Do you know who particularly disappeared and potentially where they were last seen?†  “Well, I can tell you how to get to several of the outlying houses,†Parsons said. “People there are just gone. Very strange. It’s … uh … my prime suspects are Mahoney’s Red Rock Ridge Gang. They’re camped out of town. There’s a couple of gunmen of theirs staying at the saloon, but I don’t know anything about tracking.†  He told them of where eight of the homesteads were that had been hit. The only witness he had found was a girl by the name of Cindy Tuller, a little girl.   “Okay, I might start by talking to Cindy and do I have permission to look in the homes of the missing people?†Dunspar said.   “Yeah, of course,†Parsons said. “If y’all can help me, I’d be greatly appreciative.†  “How about I go out to the homes and start looking around there and I’ll go talk to Cindy,†Otto said.   “All right,†Parsons said. “Unfortunately, I think Cindy’s a little touched, if you know what I mean. My wife’s taking care of her but she spends most of her time over at the church. If you want to talk to her.†  Otto went to get his horse to head for the homesteads outside of town.   “Would you potentially come talk to Cindy with me?†Dunspar asked Gemma.   “Well …†Gemma said.   “I don’t think I could potentially persuade her to give me the information.†  “Okay.†  “I think a feminine touch for a little girl would help a lot.†  “Okay.†  She seemed nervous and antsy. She didn’t want to stop for long.     * * *       Professor Stalloid met Harlan Jessup in the barn. The man was older, probably nearly 50, and balding. He had odious personal habits of belching and nose picking, and burdened Professor Stalloid with personal stories of how he never married.   “You wanna stable your horses here?†Jessup asked. “Nickel a day!†  Professor Stalloid also bought some feed.   “All right!†Jessup said. “I’ll take good care of ‘em!†    * * *       Dunspar and Gemma went to the church. The steeple of the building clearly identified it as the right structure. The interior was clean and there were benches enough to probably hold about 50 people with an altar at the front. A little dark-haired girl sat in a pew with her legs curled under and hugged a dirty rag doll.   “Cindy, is that you?†Dunspar said.   Cindy looked at them and then looked away.   “Hello Cindy,†Gemma said softly. “Uh … my name is … my name is Gemma.†  Cindy just looked at the woman with big, sad, scared eyes.   “We have heard that … you might have … you might have seen something that … uh … that … wasn’t too nice,†Gemma said. “Do you think you could … tell us about it?†  She smiled at the little girl and eventually drew her out.   “The wormses got my mommy and daddy,†Cindy eventually said. “They climbed all over them and pulled them down in the ground. If you stay on the dirt too long, the wormses will get you, too.†  With that, she leapt up off the pew and ran to another on the other side of the room and pulled her legs up off the floor once again. Gemma walked over to her.   “Oh dear,†she said to the little girl. “I’m so sorry.†  Cindy didn’t look at her.   “When did this happen?†Gemma said.   The little girl just shrugged, still not meeting her eyes.   “How-how big are these worms?†Dunspar asked.   The girl shrugged again.   “Do you know about where you saw this?†Dunspar asked.   “Home, stupid!†Cindy said, still not meeting his eyes.   “Well, where is home for you?†Gemma asked.   “I don’t know,†Cindy said.   “Can you point in the direction?†Gemma said.   The girl didn’t say anything.   “We’re not going to get anything else,†Gemma said.   “We could potentially ask the sheriff where her home is,†Dunspar said.   “We’ll leave you now, okay?†Gemma said.   “Hm,†Cindy said, a haunted look in her eyes.   Gemma reached towards the girl to comfort her but then thought better of it.     * * *       Otto rode southwest of town to the nearest homestead. He found the abandoned place empty of any life larger than a housecat and saw no evidence of robbery or damage to the house. All of the owners’ possessions still seemed to be on hand. Upon looking around the grounds around the house, he found a couple of patches of disturbed earth about 10 feet in diameter. Near one of them, he found signs of a body being drug into the area o the broken earth.   He headed back to town immediately.     * * *       Professor Stalloid entered the saloon after seeing his horses taken care of and his wagon secured near the corral. He found the saloon-keeper behind the bar and three rugged men at one of the tables, talking quietly. They eyed him warily as he entered the room. He went to the bar and ordered a whiskey.   “You a stranger here?†the saloon keeper said. “Well, you must be. I ain’t never seen yer face before.†  Professor Stalloid nodded.   “Yer friends went over to the marshal’s office,†the barkeep said.   Stalloid downed his whiskey and headed to the marshal’s office. He found the tiny little building empty. He crossed to the general store and saw the proprietor appeared to have a marshal’s badge on his apron.   “Howdy,†the man said to him. “You’re not from around here.†  “No, I just rolled into town,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Did you come with those other three?†  “Maybe.†  “Well, did ya or didn’t ya? Y’all showed up at the same time.†  “Are they in trouble?†  “No! They’re helping me out!†  “Oh. Okay. Yeah, I’m with them.   “Are you a gunslinger?†  “No!†  “What do you do?†  “I travel around and I help out.†  “Well, we need some help here.†  “Is it gun slinging?†  “Well, I don’t know.†  “I can’t really help with gun slinging.†  “I can’t either.†  “I can heal. You got any broken water pumps? You got any broken wells you need fixed?†  “We got some people disappeared.†  “That seems to be happening a lot more these days. Everywhere I go.†  “All right.†  Professor Stalloid bought some beef jerky and other supplies. Then Parsons told him what he had told the others.   “We’ve got a problem here,†he said. “If Mr. Webster were still with us, I’d ask him for help. I know it’s none of your business, but I’d appreciate any help you can give.†  “Mr. Webster?†Professor Stalloid said.   “Mr. Webster was something of a local celebrity. He was an officer in the Union army, a regular war hero, I hear tell. Anyway, he retired and came west to be a hunter. Let me tell you, he brought some of the weirdest trophies you ever did see. Kept them up in his house over near the river. Loved to show them off, he did.   “Well, about a while ago, he went off on another hunt - he had friends in Denver who were always arranging these big hunting trips for him. It’s been a year since he left. He’s never been gone near that long, so, honestly, we’ve kind of given up on him coming back. Like to broke old Wormy’s heart, it did.†  “Who’s old Wormy?†  “Old Wormy? Well, he was a miner went bust years ago, but he never left town. He’d taken a strong liking to the drink - tequila in particular.†  “Is he over at the saloon?†  “No. Well … no. No. I haven’t seen him in a while. He had a real taste for them worms in the bottom of the bottle. Spent most of his time sleeping off his binges in the town’s jail cell, across the street there.†  “He wasn’t there.†  “Well, I haven’t seen him in a while. Mr. Webster took a liking to him. Maybe he felt sorry for the old coot, I don’t know, but he always left Wormy in charge of his house when he went on a trip.†  “Where’s is Mr. Webster’s house?†  “It’s up by the river.†  He gave the man directions on getting to the house.   “Wormy’s not going to be there,†Parsons said. “He ran afoul of Black River Mahoney. Smudged his boots or something. Whatever the reason, Mahoney dragged him outta town. Nobody’s seen him since.†  “Wait,†Professor Stalloid said. “Where?†  “Don’t know. The Red Rock Ridge Gang, that’s who Mahoney’s in charge of. They’re southwest of here but it’s several hours ride.†  Professor Stalloid sighed.   “Shouldn’t have stopped,†he muttered to himself.   When he left the general store he saw Dunspar and Gemma leave the church. They met in the street.   “Did the marshal ask for your help as well?†Dunspar said.   “No, I’ve been looking for you,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Well, uh, we just went to talk to a … witness,†Dunspar said. “She said something about worms.†  “Witness of what?†Professor Stalloid said.   “She said that worms took her parents,†Gemma said.   “Yes,†Dunspar said.   “Itty bitty worms?†Professor Stalloid said.   “We don’t think so,†Gemma said.   “We’re not sure,†Dunspar said.   “More of like the demon,†Professor Stalloid said.   “I suppose,†Dunspar said. “We were about to go ask the marshal where Cindy’s house was.†  “We keep running into strange things,†Gemma said.   “I’m going to go look at Webster’s house,†Professor Stalloid said.   They returned to Parson’s General Store and he gave them instructions on where the Tullers lived. It was a homestead southwest of town. They kept cows and crops like most of the homesteaders. When Professor Stalloid asked about the cattle, they learned they had disappeared as well. Everything larger than a housecat was gone.   They left town and ran into Otto returning, rifle in hand, looking around very nervously.   “Otto, what’s going on?†Dunspar said.   “I found signs of a struggle and something that pulled someone into the ground,†Otto said.   “Huh,†Dunspar said.   “Around the house,†Otto said.   “So that matches what Cindy was saying …†Dunspar said.   “What?†Otto said.   “Oh, she said worms took people,†Dunspar said.   “Worms …†Otto said. “Wonderful.†  “Did she say anything else?†Professor Stalloid said.   “Not really,†Dunspar said.   “Something from beneath the ground,†Gemma said.   “That would match what I think I saw,†Otto said.   “Approximately how big was the hole in the ground?†Dunspar said.   “Ten feet across,†Otto said. “Disturbed earth more so. So, the little girl said she saw worms, right?†  “Yes,†Gemma said.   “I would say we have 10-foot across worms to deal with, if we want to worry about this problem,†Otto said.   Gemma gasped nervously.   They continued to the Tully homestead. It was not the same one that Otto had looked at previously and they reached the place as the sun neared the horizon. Otto suggested not staying out there too long.   They searched the house and found it in the same condition of the first homestead Otto had searched. In addition to the undisturbed house, they found some money in a cigar box on the mantle. There was $14 in hard currency, which seemed to support the theory it wasn’t bandits that had attacked the homestead. Otto looked outside and found more patches of disturbed earth about 10 feet across. He pointed out that and the disturbed dirt that looked like someone had been dragged towards the spot.   Professor Stalloid had found one of the surviving housecats and petted it and fed it some beef jerky. He named the female Milo and decided to take the cat with him. It was a grayish brown and black.   Otto suggested they get back to town quickly.     * * *       Gemma and Professor Stalloid went to Daly’s Saloon and learned there was a single room left above. It would cost a dollar a night.   “The other three are occupied by those gentlemen,†the proprietor said.   He nodded to three rugged men sitting at a table, talking quietly amongst themselves. They were all armed with pistols on their belts. Professor Stalloid overheard the men talking about leaving town instead of going back.   “Could they be members of the Red Rock Ridge Gang?†Professor Stalloid whispered to Gemma.   They left and found Parsons, telling him what they’d learned, including the money they found at the homestead and the strange, disturbed earth. Professor Stalloid also asked Parsons about the three men at the saloon. He wanted to know how long they’d been in town. Parsons looked embarrassed.   “They’re probably some of Mahoney’s Red Rock Ridge Gang,†he said. “The three men have been staying at the hotel for a couple weeks. I’m a shop keep that was elected to become marshal. So this …†  He touched his badge.   “Mostly I handle Wormy,†he said. “And his binges. I certainly can’t go up against three gunslingers.†  “Yeah, yeah,†Professor Stalloid said. “Just wondering.†  “Mahoney was the last one,†Parsons said. “He got angry at Wormy and dragged him out of town. Nobody’s seen him since. We’re in the middle of nowhere here.†  Professor Stalloid mentioned they had said something about missing men.   “Well, the less of them the better, I suppose,†Parsons said.   Otto told him about the disturbed earth.   “What could have caused that?†Parsons said.   “Worms,†Otto said.   “Ten-foot worms?†  “Maybe?†  All four of them got their rooms at Bufont’s Boarding House, a two story wood building. Widow Bufont was a prudish widow of about 60 who noted that men and women couldn’t share rooms. She told them she did not tolerate rowdy or inappropriate behavior.   “There’ll be none of that happening,†Gemma told her.   Widow Bufont warned her that she couldn’t trust any men.   “Men will take advantage of a woman,†she said. “Be careful. Dinner is at six.†  “What a character,†Gemma said after she left the woman.   Otto kept an eye out of his window for some time once it got dark.     * * *       Friday, July 9, 1875 was another blistering hot day in southern Nevada. They had a large breakfast at Bufont’s before heading out. Otto and Gemma went to the location of the most recent attack on foot. The homestead was similar to the first one they had examined. Gemma found more money in the house in a very obvious place, a change purse on the mantle. It didn’t look like the house was robbed or ransacked. Outside, Otto found another spot of disturbed earth like at the other homestead. Otto looked under the house for disturbed earth but found nothing.   “I think it’s one worm because it was only one spot,†Otto said.   “One spot?†Gemma said. “What do you mean?†  He pointed out the disturbed earth near the house.   “How can you say for certain?†Gemma said. “How are you so sure? That it’s just one.†  “Well, I’ve only found one spot,†Otto said. “So, it’s a single mass or it’s always one giant worm doing this, that comes out of the ground … and then drags them down with it.†  “Why?†Gemma said. “Why would it be here?†  “It might be carnivorous,†Otto said.   Gemma gasped.   “That’s the only logical reason I can think of,†Otto said.   “Well, I guess we should … look around more,†Gemma said.   They headed to the next homestead. On the way, he handed Gemma one of his Colt peacemakers.   “I doubt stabbing it will do much,†he said.   “Well, you … you might be right,†she said.   “It’s better than nothing,†Otto said.   She tucked the pistol in her belt.   They found similar signs in the next two homesteads. They headed back to town around noon.   “We need bait,†Otto said on the way.   He realized most of the homesteads that had been hit were on the southwest side of town.     * * *       Professor Stalloid first took the cat he’d brought back to town to Cindy Tully in the church. She petted it and cried over it. Then he and Dunspar went to the medicine wagon and worked on making a large amount of sedative. After that, they decided to go to Webster’s house.   The house was quite nice and two stories tall. The front door was ajar and they found the interior well-kept but a couple weeks of dust had accumulated. The only area that had been disturbed was a once well-stocked liquor cabinet. It’s contents were emptied and the bodies lay in a heap in front of it. The rest of the house was nicely furnished. Apparently Mr. Webster was a man of wealth. In spite of the other lavishly rich furnishings, there was a trophy room downstairs.   The largest single item in the trophy room was a stuffed, eight-foot tall polar bear. A number of other stuffed animals adorned the walls and shelves, but one shelf held a few unusual displays, each with a numbered tag upon it. There was a piece of barbed wire, a single, enormous claw, and a nasty-looking jack-o-lantern. Professor Stalloid examined the tag on the great claw but found it had a code number of some kind on it. He pocketed the claw.   They looked around the room and soon found a piece of paper with numbers corresponding to the tags.   Barbed wire was a relatively new invention and only starting to be used in the west. The description for the tag that was on it marked it as “Bloodwire―Wyoming Territory.†The mark that matched the huge claw Professor Stalloid had taken read “Chinook claw―Montana Territory.†The third code was not on any of the items on the shelf and read “Piece of Chthonian tentacle―Deadwood, Dakota Territory.†The last, matching the jack-o-lantern marked it as “Scarecrow―Wichita, Kansas.†  Under the couch, they found an empty tequila bottle with the tag that corresponded to the third code. There wasn’t much liquid left in it but, from the smell, it obviously wasn’t tequila.   “I believe we found our worm,†Professor Stalloid said.   “I-I-I would probably say so,†Dunspar said.   “We’re going to need to look around the area for a smaller hole, because I feel like that thing grew.†  “Probably. I presume you wanted to use that sedative on the worm?†  “Yeah, I don’t know if it will work though.†  “Perhaps─†  “I was also thinking about using it on those three men.†  “Huh? We would need a fairly large dose.†  “I’m thinking about some kind of poison but now I don’t know if that would work.†  They searched the rest of the house and yard but didn’t find anything else around of interest or import. They searched near the empty bottles as well, but found nothing out of the ordinary. There were a few empty gun racks and gun cases, but no weapons.     * * *       All four of them had returned to Hilton Springs by noon and had lunch.   Otto went to the stable in town.   “Hey, how can I help ya?†Jessup said, picking his nose.   “Do you have any livestock?†Otto said.   “I got these four horses here. They’re not mine.†  “Besides that?†  “Nope. That’s it.†  “No donkeys? No cows? No … large animals?†  Jessup turned to Gemma.   “Does he know what the word ‘no’ means?†he asked.   “We’re just … we just wanted to know,†she said.   “Does anyone?†Otto said.   “Well, there’s some homesteaders,†Jessup said. “I suppose somebody has some.†  He dug into his nose again.   “Well, thank you for your time,†Otto said.   Jessup belched and they left.   Otto asked Parsons who might have cows and he told the man the locations of some other homesteads that might have livestock. He asked what they’d found. They said they thought it was a worm and thought it important they bait it to a trap.   They rode out to another homestead and purchased a cow for $40, bringing it back to town.     * * *       Professor Stalloid got to work making a terribly strong poison, filling up a mason jar with the most vile substances he could. He put half of it into a canteen.   The discussed testing the poison. They poisoned some cheese and put it near the barn until a rat ate it and died very quickly.   “I’d say that’s quite effective,†Dunspar said.   “That’s some good poison,†Professor Stalloid said.   Gemma and Otto returned with a cow a short time later. When Otto asked what they were doing with the rat, they noted they were testing some poison for the worms. Otto said they had bait and nodded at the cow. Gemma asked if they could put the poison on the cow’s skin. Dunspar dipped the dead rat in the poison and saw no reaction so assumed it would be safe to put on the cow. Professor Stalloid wondered if it might irritate the cow’s skin.   They discussed going to one of the ranches that had already been attacked. Professor Stalloid wondered if the worm would come back to a ranch it had already hit if it were intelligent.   Worried about his horses, Professor Stalloid talked to Daly and asked how much it would cost to keep horses in his room. Daly told him it would be $10 a night jokingly and the man paid him and took the horses upstairs, much to the man’s disgust.   Professor Stalloid got Parsons to write them out a note that they were deputies. Then they went to one of the homesteads that had not yet been attacked, tying a water skin filled with poison with the cap off to the cow’s neck and making sure she had a big cowbell. They waited in the house, watching it until it got dark. They realized they should have put a lantern near the cow.   It was a few hours later, well into the night, when they heard the cow making a ruckus out there. Otto fired a shot into the darkness and they heard a yelp. They headed out with a lantern and found a dead coyote next to the cow. They left one of the lanterns next to the cow.     * * *       Nothing else occurred by the morning of Saturday, July 10, 1875. Gemma was very anxious to continue on to Devil’s Gulch. They returned to town with the cow and learned there had not been any other attacks anywhere that night. Parsons did note the attacks had started after Wormy disappeared, taking by Black Water Mahoney of the Red Rock Ridge Gang.   Otto went to the saloon and saw the three men were still downstairs, talking. They had their kits as well, as if they were ready to head out. Otto returned to fetch the others and suggested they talk to them about what was happening.   The three men were rough-looking and eyed them as they entered that late morning. Otto went to the bar and bought a bottle of whiskey, bringing it to their table.   “Who the hell are you?†one of them grunted at him.   “Name’s Otto,†he said.   “What do you want?†  “I was wondering if you knew anything about the attacks out of town to the southwest.†  “No.†  “Sure?†  “Yes.†  “Well, I hear that yer boss took Wormy.†  “My boss?†  “He said Wormy!†one of the other bandits muttered.   “Shut up!†the first said to him.   He turned back to Otto.   “Shut the hell up!†he said.   “Why?†Otto said.   Professor Stalloid, seeing the bandits tense up rushed over.   “Oh, I’m sorry about the possible inclinations of accusation that my associate has!†he said.   “Inclinations?†one of the bandits said. “What’re you talking about, buddy?†  “We know that you have nothing to do with the ranches,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Gemma, can you help me?†Otto hissed at the girl.   “That it’s something else,†Professor Stalloid said. “Some kind of creature.†  One of the bandits had his hand on his gun. They all looked very nervous and tense.   Gemma walked over, smiled, and batted her eyes at the men.   “We were just concerned for the well-being of this community,†she said.   The men softened a little towards the pretty woman.   “I was worried that my … my sister had gotten in touch with some … ruffians along the road,†she said. “We were just trying to … to maybe … we just wanted to know of his possible whereabouts to see if she might be with him. It was a long shot.†  “She’s awful purty,†one of the men said.   “Shut up!†the one who had done most of the talking said. “Mahoney did take Wormy out to Red Rock Ridge a couple of weeks ago. His temper snapped after that drunk threw up on him in front of the saloon.†  “We gotta leave town,†a second said. “Mahoney staked him out there and fed him to the worms. He did that several times. The gang had a special place out at the end of the ridge for just that sort of thing. But we weren’t there for that. Yeah. We weren’t there for that. We made a break from ‘em. Yeah. Today. Right.†  “Yeah, we’re getting out of here before everybody dies,†the third muttered.   “Big worms or little worms?†Professor Stalloid said.   “Worms!†the first said. “Who the hell are you?†  They glared at the medicine man and put their hands back on their pistols.   “You a lawman?†one of them asked him.   “I’m a pharmacist,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Pharmacist?†one of the bandits said.   “That’s a drug man,†another said. “He makes the drugs for the doctor to give ya.†  Professor Stalloid showed them some bottles and vials he kept in his pockets.   “You’re a medicine man!†one of them said. “You got cure-alls.†  “He’s a medicine man,†another said.   Otto nodded at Gemma. She looked at him, confused as to what he wanted. Professor Stalloid whispered to her to ask if they were big or small worms.   “I don’t think they were garden worms,†she said to him.   “We’re trying to figure out if it’s an expression. ‘Feed him to the worms?’ Kill him and bury him.†  “No. I think they mean that quite literally.†  The three men got up and Otto cleared his throat again. They all put their hands on their guns again.   “I was just wondering how you summon the worm?†he said.   “We’re talking to her!†one of them said. “Why don’t you make yourself scarce?†  “We were all … we were all very concerned about the community and, like I said, the well-being─†Gemma said.   “Hell with the community!†one of them said to her.   “I have money,†Otto said.   “How much?†one of the bandits said.   “I’ll give you $100 if─†  “Two hundred dollars!†  “Three hundred dollars!†said another of them.   “Five hundred dollars!†said the third.   “Two hundred dollars,†the first man said once again, glaring at Otto.   He handed over $200 in cash. The man seemed surprised to see the money.   “Them worms are big,†he said to Otto. “Big. That’s why we’re getting out of town.†  “How do you summon one?†Otto asked.   “There’s a bell!†  “A bell?†  “Yeah.†  “What type of bell?†  “Why don’t you go ask Mahoney. Go ask Mahoney. He’ll tell you. There up on the ridge. And we can’t get to him, can we? No, we can’t. We were at town. We been waiting for days. They’re probably all dead. You best take them food and water, if you want. I bet they’re out by now.†  They backed towards the door.   “A few days later, the worms started grabbing anybody that tried to leave the ridge!†the bandit said. “We been unable to make it back.†  “They’re trapped by the worms on the ridge,†Professor Stalloid muttered.   “Do they come at night or during the day?†Otto asked.   “Whenever they damn well please!†the bandit said. “They’re huge! Terrifying! I’m glad to get out of it!†  “Me too!†the second bandit said.   “I kind of liked ‘em,†the third said.   “Shut up, boy!†the first said. “Nobody gives a damn what you think!†  “I know but I wanted to talk,†the third man said.   The three bandits fled the saloon.   “I guess we should go up there,†Gemma said.     * * *       After lunch, they headed to the southwest, making for Red Rock Ridge. Otto and Gemma rode on one horse and Professor Stalloid and Dunspar rode on two others. It was about a three hour ride out to Red Rock Ridge. As they approached, Dunspar noticed a number of disturbed patches of ground, similar to those at the abandoned homesteads.   The ridge rose about a hundred and fifty feet above the surrounding land. It sloped steeply down towards the desert end. It was a spine of rock with a few trails leading up. They rode up the ridge and found almost a dozen men at the top. They approached the riders as if they knew they were coming, guns in hand.   “Who are you?†one said. “What do you want?†  Otto looked towards Gemma.   “We know the situation and we’re here to help,†Professor Stalloid said. “We’re here to stop the─†  “They got food?†someone said.   “You got food?†the man who talked to them asked.   “I brought some jerky,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Why don’t you hand it over then. You got water?†  “Of course!†  Most of the men had chapped lips and looked at them with bloodshot eyes.   “Yes, we have a few canteens,†Dunspar said.   “Holster your guns and we can …†Professor Stalloid said.   The bandits ignored him but took the canteens and the beef jerky. They handed them around, everyone wanting food and water.   “What do you want?†the first man finally said again.   “We’re here to deal with the worm,†Professor Stalloid said.   “We believe we may have … concocted a poison to … to kill it,†Gemma said.   “Worm?†the man said.   “Are there worms?†Professor Stalloid said.   “They should go see Mahoney,†another man said.   “Let’s go,†the first man said. “We’ll go see Mahoney.†  They realized the bandits had probably not had food or water up on the ridge for a little while.

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

Worms! Part 4 - Wormy and the Underground Terror

They followed the first bandit, the others trailing behind, guns still out, to a tent under an outcropping of rock, the front flap open. Black River Mahoney had black hair and a thick black mustache. He wore black clothing and loosened his pistol in his holster as they approached. He glared at them as the first man handed him off some beef jerky and a canteen.   “What do you people want?†he asked.   “Um … we-we heard that you potentially had a bell to summon a worm or two?†Dunspar said.   “Three or four or five?†Professor Stalloid said.   “Whatchu gonna give me for it?†Mahoney said.   “Your lives?†Gemma said.   “That’s a good start,†Mahoney said. “You gotta help me and the gang get away from Red Rock.†  “Well, of course,†Professor Stalloid said.   “The worms ain’t let us leave for two weeks.†  “How many men are left here?†  “Enough.†  “I’m just trying to figure out how many we’re transporting.†  “There’s almost a dozen of us. You seen ‘em all outside.†  “Okay.†  “We ran outta water yesterday. We ain’t had food in a week.†  He looked them over.   “Get us off this ridge and yeah … yeah, I’ll help you,†Mahoney said.   “That’s our plan,†Gemma said.   “We have to leave to so we’ll take you with us,†Otto said.   “I don’t give a damn what happens to you!†Mahoney said. “You could die for all I care!†  “Well, I’m just saying─†  “I don’t care what you ‘just say!’†  “We’re going to take us all with us when we leave.†  Mahoney just glared at the man. Then he turned back to Gemma.   “Well, Missy, you’re gonna let us go,†he said. “Get us away from here. Isn’t that what you said? Before your boyfriend started interrupting?†  “If we are able to kill this thing … we will assure your safety,†Gemma said.   “Fair enough,†Mahoney said. “The rest of you on board with that?†  The other three gave their affirmation.   “You got any horses or are they all gone?†Professor Stalloid said.   “They’re gone!†Mahoney growled.   “That’s what I thought.†  “What do you want to know?†  “How do you summon the worms?†Dunspar said.   Mahoney snorted.   “Out there near the stake out where we stake people down,†Mahoney said. “Old Wormy was the last. Son of a bitch. Got vomit on my boots. Dragged his hide out there and staked him out for the worms. When I tied him down there, rang the dinner bell … something strange happened. The worm came like normal. But instead of eatin’ him, it stood over him for a minute. It’s tentacles were quivering, almost like it could sniff the old coot! We all got a laugh outta that at first. But when it bent down and pulled him loose, real gentle-like, well, it wasn’t so funny anymore, was it? It carried him screaming back into the tunnel and we never saw him again.   “About two days later, them monsters started grabbing anybody trying to leave the ridge! Lost four men to ‘em before we just gave up. Now we’re stuck here, aren’t we?†  He looked them over.   “I can show you where we stake ‘em out,†he finally said. “Where the dinner bell is. You wanna see?†  “That would be useful,†Dunspar said. “Yes.†  Mahoney got up and led them down to the edge of the ridge the opposite end from town. There were four stakes in the ground there with leather thongs. A large hole about 30 feet in diameter was in the ground some 15 feet from that. Mahoney explained the worms came up through the hole and noted since they used it so much, it was permanent.   He also showed them the dinner bell, which was little more than a wheel mounted on a small frame with a handle attached. Several rocks hung from ropes tied along the rim of the wheel. It looked like when the handle would be turned, it would slam the rocks against the ground.   “We do that for a couple seconds, we can hear ‘em coming,†he said.   “And that’s … that’s how …†Gemma said.   “Took ‘em right down there,†Mahoney said, pointing at the hole in the ground.   “… so that’s how we’ll …†Gemma said.   “So you said the worms have tentacles?†Professor Stalloid said.   “… poison them …†Gemma said.   “Yep,†Mahoney said.   “We … went into Webster’s house … in town … and there was─†Professor Stalloid said.   “Who?†  “It’s a person in town. He’s a … not a bounty hunter. What’s the word? Big game hunter!†  “All right.†  “He had a bottle in his basement mounted with something … I don’t know … tentacle. And I believe Wormy had drank the contents and the tentacle as well, thinking it was tequila.†  “All right.†  “Which might explain why they took him instead of eating him. Just … passing information.†  “Are you looking for Wormy?†  “No!†  “Because he’s in there.†  “He’s in the hole?†  “That’s where they took him.†  “I don’t wanna go in there.†  “You and me both, brother.†  “We’re just looking to poison these─†Gemma said.   “That looks like a bad place,†Professor Stalloid said.   Mahoney just put his hands in the air.   “The worms come when you ring the dinner bell,†he said. “I reckon the solution to y’all’s problem lies somewhere down that hole. If you got the guts, I bet you’ll find your answers down there.†  “How about you lead us?†Gemma said, whipping out a dagger and putting it to Mahoney’s neck.   He didn’t seem fazed at all by that.   “They ain’t letting you leave,†Mahoney said. “They ain’t let us leave in two weeks. You start to ride down; they show up. You can see the sand moving. They want us to know that they’re gonna stop us. So, I think it’s a good idea if you go down the hole.†  Professor Stalloid moved to the edge of the rock and saw the sand move nearby.   “Oh yeah, we’re stuck here,†he said. “Shoulda brought the cow.†  Professor Stalloid did a little experimenting with moving around to see if the sand moved. The sand didn’t move unless he seemed to be heading off the rock. He moved back and forth and took three steps and walked backwards.   “What the hell?†Mahoney said to the others. “Is your friend dancing? They won’t let us leave. They ain’t letting y’all leave.†  “We’re probably your only hope,†Gemma said.   “And we’re probably yours,†Mahoney said. “Stab me right now and kill me. Better than being taken by those things.†  Professor Stalloid picked up a large rock and poured the poison onto it. Then he ran to the edge of the rock and tossed it into the sand as if he had jumped. Nothing happened.   “They’re smart,†Mahoney said. “They’re damned smart. Why do you think we used to use ‘em. Used ta. Now they seem to want us too. You can put that away, girlie-girl. Or stab me with it. You should do one or the other.†  Gemma frowned.   “What do you mean use them?†she asked.   Mahoney pointed to the stakes and the thongs.   “Used to feed ‘em!†he said. “People that made us angry. But they took Wormy and all the sudden they’re acting all weird.†  “Your own men?†she asked.   “Oh no,†he said. “Hell, no. People we didn’t like. People that offended our delicate nature. Never fed it no women.†  “Would you be willing to come with us?†Dunspar asked.   “Hell no, I’m not going in that hole!†Mahoney said.   Professor Stalloid was peering at the hole. It didn’t look like a pit but seemed to slope down at a steep angle. He was unsure if they could make it to the hole before something grabbed them. He wondered if they took the dinner bell to the other side of the ridge, it would attract the worms long enough for them to get down the hole. He suggested that possibility to the rest of them.   “I think it might be the best choice,†Gemma said.   “Do you have weapons we could use if we’re unarmed?†Dunspar said.   “No,†Mahoney said.   In the end, they decided they would have the bandits take the dinner bell to the other side of the ridge and then use it to try to draw the worms away. Mahoney set up his men to signal across the ridge when they started using it. He said he’d keep banging it as long as they could.   After they got the signal, they saw some of the sand move and gave it a minute or so before they were ready to get back down on the ground. Then they all looked at each other, seeing who would go first.   “You first,†Gemma said to Otto. “And then me.†  She pointed at Dunspar and Professor Stalloid.   “And then you and you,†she said.   “No, I’ll give - I’ll give my pistol to someone else,†Otto said, taking the pistol out of his holster. “But I’m not going first. I’ll go second.†  Gemma rolled her eyes, grabbed the second pistol, and walked off the ridge onto the dirt, heading for the hole first. The other men were all a little ashamed at their cowardice and being shown up by a woman.   The tunnel sloped steeply downward. The walls of the tunnel were covered in a hard, transparent substance. Light filtered from the opening for only a short distance and then Professor Stalloid quickly lit a lantern and handed it off to Dunspar. He took out the lightning gun.   Though the tunnel was 30 feet across, it felt claustrophobic and the deeper they went, the tighter it seemed be. Dirt constantly sifted down through cracks in the dry varnish-like substance that covered all the surfaces.   After a half hour of or so of walking, the tunnel emerged into a large cavern nearly a hundred feet across and as high. The walls, floor, and ceiling were covered in more of the hardened varnish-like substance. Passages ended the room not all of them at floor level but from every imaginable angle. The floor was littered with bones, some of them obviously human, and other vile substances.   Just visible from the tunnel they entered from was a column of stone. An old man seemed to have his hands and feet attached to it. The man’s skin was leathery with a pale yellowish cast. Over a dozen half-healed puncture wounds an inch across dotted his distended stomach. Large dark splotches stained the ground in front of the man. His arms and legs were deeply imbedded in the rock-like column. His lips were chapped and he looked like he hadn’t eaten in days.   “Help me!†he grunted. “Help me!†  “Oh my goodness!†Gemma said.   She ran across the room to the older gentleman and he muttered for water. Someone gave the man the last couple swallows from a canteen.   “I sure am glad to see you folks,†the trapped man said.   “I’m so sorry!†Gemma said. “What happened to you?†  “I figured I was a gonner for sure!†the man said.   The trapped man nodded at some of the bones lying around.   “Wormy, I assume,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Yes sir,†he said. “Yes sir. You folks keep an eye out for them other things - them big worms - and them other things that are runnin’ around down here.†  “There’s other things?†Professor Stalloid said.   “I don’t know what they are but they sure do move fast!†Wormy said. “When the worm - when the worm carried me down here, it was as gentle as a momma holdin’ her baby, like it didn’t want me to come to no harm. Heh. That’s a laugh, after what they done to me since. It’s been hell, I tell ya!   “They stuck me here in this mud! And they used them snake tongues a’ theirs to suck the blood out of me. They never took too much - I guess they didn’t want to kill me. Them things has brung a whole bunch of folks down here since they caught me - some of ‘em I recognized from the town, but others I never seen before. They stick them over in that hole until they’re ready … there’s still some folks in there right now, I think.†  He gestured back and to their right. Just in the light of the lantern was a pit by the wall.   “Then they bring ‘em out here in front of me,†Wormy went on. “Then they suck out all their blood, not a little like they do with me. They suck it out all out and then they take a little of mine and mix it with some liquid - maybe it’s worm spit or blood - I don’t know but they put it in the body. And then a little while later, it starts to change! I can’t describe it. It comes back to life! I reckon they done a good half dozen or more of these things by now They’re like … worm-men or something but … I figure we’ll see them right soon anyhow. They live in them smaller caves.†  He gestured to the caves to the right and left. They were smaller and at the level of the ground.   Dunspar started to try to break Wormy free. Gemma helped as well, using her knives.   Professor Stalloid took the lantern and headed for the pit. Two men and a woman were in the pit. One man and a woman were wearing rough clothing, like homesteaders. The other man had a gun belt and wore clothing like the men on the ridge.   “Mister, you come to save us?†the homesteader man said.   Professor Stalloid pointed the lantern over at others and waited to get one of their attentions. Dunspar went over to the pit and looked down, trying to figure out how to help. The homesteader helped the woman up, giving her a lift up for the two men to pull her out. The fellow who looked like one of Mahoney’s men wanted to get up next and the homesteader helped him up as well. Getting the last man out was the hardest but they used a shirt and Professor Stalloid’s jacket tied together as a piece of rope.   They learned the homesteader was Robert Altman and the woman was his wife, Tina. They told him that they thought the last man was one of Mahoney’s gang.   Wormy was finally free and seemed very relieved to be so. He thanked Gemma profusely and seemed to be badly injured. Gemma gestured for them all to come back to where she stood.   “Okay,†she said. “Okay. Everyone, we’ve established that … these things, these worms … won’t kill him. After he drank what he did, they - they - they’re not going to-to…†  “Me?†Wormy said.   “They love you,†Professor Stalloid said.   “─they’re not going to kill you,†Gemma said. “So─†  “You drank something at Webster’s,†Dunspar said.   “Whatever you had, wasn’t─†Gemma said.   “Yeah, I was on a bender,†Wormy muttered. “Yeah.†  “Whatever you had─†Gemma said.   “Tequila,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Whatever you had, it wasn’t tequila,†Gemma said.   “I know that,†Wormy said. “It was horrible.†  “But, this is - this - is - is a plan that I have, okay?†Gemma said. “They’re not going to kill you, so we’ll use you as bait.†  “I don’t wanna come back here.†  “You won’t. We have a poison that, when the worm comes up, we’ll be able to poison it, and hopefully kill it.†  “There’s more than one. There’s like half a dozen. I just wanna go home.†  “That’s what I’ve got,†Gemma said.   Otto frowned. He thought he heard digging.   “I heard something move,†he said. “We should probably start moving.†  “This is the best plan we’ve got right now!†Gemma said. “We’ve got to get going.†  They headed for the cave entrance they’d come in and the gunfighter, the man they’d been told was probably in Mahoney’s gang, took the lead, obviously wanting to get out of the place. Professor Stalloid noticed the ground just inside that tunnel looked strange, almost as if it was drier. It looked like dust covered it. He quickly pointed it out to the rest of them.   “Maybe the worms can come in through there,†Professor Stalloid said.   “As long as we can get out,†the bandit said.   He had slowed when Professor Stalloid had given the warning but then headed for the tunnel again. Otto told them it looked something like the holes he had seen before and called for him to stop.   “How about we let Wormy go first?†Otto said.   Professor Stalloid shoved the canteen filled with poison into Wormy’s hand.   “Why am I going first?†Wormy said, obviously terrified.   “We’ll be right behind you, okay?†Gemma said. “We’ll be right behind you.†  Wormy moved forward slowly, obviously terrified, his whole body shaking. When he reached the spot Otto had pointed out, he stopped, looked back over his shoulder, and then turned and took a couple of steps. The ground collapsed under him and he fell with a cry.   “Oh God!†Wormy screamed. “What are they!?!†  The things that climbed out of the pit were humanoid in shape with long, distended arms and legs that looked segmented like the body of a worm. Their bodies were impossibly and horribly slim and their faces had two milky-white eyes and a large mouth with four tentacles whipping out of it. There were great claws on their hands and their feet had five toes that pointed out in different directions from their ankle. Each creature seemed wet, covered with some kind of greenish slime that dripped from it, and a darker slime dripped from the things’ mouths.   Four of the horrors scrambled up out of the hole and faced them. Dunspar and Professor Stalloid heard digging behind them and saw two more of the things dig up and out of the ground behind them.   “Back you beasts!†Professor Stalloid shouted. “They’re behind us!†  He activated the lightning gun in his hand, the blast of electricity arcing to one of the horrible things and striking it in the chest. The blast arced away from the thing, striking another of the terrors. Both of them exploded, bursting and splattering everyone. Otto fired his rifle at one of the nearby things which fell back into the pit. Below, Wormy screamed.   Gemma pulled a pistol from her belt, holding it with both hands, cocked it, and shot the last thing by the pit, hitting it in the chest. Black ichor spewed from the wound and it screeched, the tentacles from its mouth whipping around.   The worm creatures advanced. One of them attacked Tina Altman, clawing the woman. She screamed and fell to the ground. Another attacked Nick Altman but he fought it off. The last, from the pit, attacked Dunspar and clawed him, tearing his clothing and cutting his chest. He tried to push the thing back into the pit as it tore at him, knocking it back into the pit where it slid to the bottom and hissed at him.   Professor Stalloid turned and fired the lightning gun at the horror standing over Tina Altman’s form. The blast struck the worm man in the chest and it stumbled backwards, badly burned.   “Get that man a gun!†he shouted, pointing at the outlaw.   Gemma pulled a second pistol out of her belt and handed it off to the outlaw, then she turned and shot at the creature that threatened Altman. Otto turned and shot the creature that had been struck by Professor Stalloid’s lightning. It shrieked and fell backwards.   The last two suddenly crouched and dug down out of sight into the earth.   “Help the woman!†Otto said to Professor Stalloid.   The man tried to tend to Mrs. Altman, as did Gemma. They couldn’t awaken her   “I got her,†Altman said.   He picked up his wife.   The bandit made his way around the pit while Professor Stalloid tried to tend to the injured Dunspar.   “Give me a knife!†Dunspar said to Gemma.   She handed off the pistol.   They helped Wormy out and then headed back out the tunnel the way they’d come. As they ran, they sometimes heard a rumbling in the distance or felt the ground move under them in a small tremor. Sometimes dust or dirt trickled down from the roof of the terrible tunnel but they made it to the opening above.   Their horses were still up on the ridge.   They sent Wormy out of the hole first and he ran across the dirt and up the ridge. The rest of them followed him and found their horses up there. They saw no sign of the Red Rock Ridge Gang.   “They used our distraction as a distraction … to run,†Professor Stalloid said. “Why did they leave my horses? Or they all got eaten at the dinner bell.†  They could see the dinner bell on the other side of the ridge.   They discussed how to get back to town. There was talk of using the dinner bell and how to get everyone off the ridge. Gemma thought they should just go. They mounted up, two on each horse and Wormy and the bandit walking. They made their way towards Hilton Springs.     * * *       It was nearing dinnertime when they got back to town. They’d seen no sign of the worms. Otto actually arrived first, trying to get Mrs. Altman to the town as quickly as he could without killing Blaze. When he arrived, Parsons helped him get her to a place of relative safety. They carried her to Bufont’s boarding house for the time being.   Once the others arrived, Professor Stalloid ran to the medicine wagon and made something to help Wormy vomit. He was certain there was something in his stomach. They got Wormy some water before taking him out to the street and giving him the medicine. Gemma told the man it was going to be okay. Professor Stalloid warned him it might make him a little queasy. Moments after drinking the potion, he started puking and puking and puking, ending with dry heaves. There was nothing but water and bile. It made both Gemma and Professor Stalloid got sick as well, mostly from the smell. Dunspar looked through the puke but found nothing in it.   Parsons wanted to know what happened and they told him everything, Dunspar suggesting they evacuate the town. That seemed extreme but he said he would try. Professor Stalloid told him to at least be on alert to evacuate the town if they needed to.   “What do we do if they come here?†Parsons said. “They sound like they’re huge.†  The bandit just nodded desperately, terrified. Otto asked the bandit for his pistol back.   “Uh … no,†the man said.   “That’s my gun,†Otto said.   “It’s fine. You can give me some bullets.†  “Why?†  “In case them damned things come around here!†  “But I want my weapon back.†  “Well too bad!†  “C’mon, man, we’ve already saved your life,†Professor Stalloid said.   “That’s right, but if them things come around here, I might need this to save it,†the bandit said. “Or at least one bullet at the end.†  “I can give you poison instead,†Professor Stalloid said. “It’s quick.†  Otto turned to Parsons and asked about weaponry. He said he had rifles and a shotgun but no pistols he could spare. Gemma tried to talk the man into selling her the gun back but he was convinced he had to keep the weapon to save his life. She batted her eyelashes some more and gave him the big, puppy dog eyes. He finally succumbed and was willing to sell her his gun. Otto got one of the rifles from the marshal’s office and offered it to the man who told him to fill it full of bullets. He did so and the man gave him the pistol back.   Professor Stalloid got his stethoscope and listed to Wormy’s stomach but didn’t hear anything unusual. They got him some food after that. Professor Stalloid told the marshal to keep an eye on Wormy.   “Why?†Parsons asked.   “He’s been through a lot,†Gemma said.   “Okay,†Parsons said.   “Just in case,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Stalloid,†Dunspar whispered to the man. “Wormy did say they were taking his blood while he was down there, so it might be in his blood, not in his stomach.†  “No,†Professor Stalloid said. “Worms couldn’t be in his blood.†  Parsons wanted to know what was going on and what they thought was going to happen. Dunspar thought the worms would continue taking people until there were none left. Professor Stalloid noted the outlaws were gone when they got out of the hole, and they hadn’t seen a worm since and got off the rock by themselves so possibly the worms ate the outlaws and were satisfied, or they might be chasing the outlaws. Or they could still be there and the townsfolk needed to leave. Parsons asked what killed them but no one knew. He didn’t’ think guns would help.   “The mines played out back in ‘68,†Parsons said. “But there’s … still got a case of dynamite back in the storeroom in the general store. Would that help?†  They didn’t know. Professor Stalloid noted the things had been there for a while, it looked like, and were probably there to stay. He didn’t know if dynamite would help. He also explained that the things were really smart. Parsons wanted to know what to do and they suggested they evacuate the town. He started to spread the word.     * * *       About a half hour after they got back to town, perhaps an hour until sunset, the ground shook. It was enough that it set the church bell ringing slightly. Professor Stalloid and Dunspar ran for the general store. They hadn’t seen any sign of the bandit. Otto ran to the marshal’s office for a shotgun. He found Parsons in there, pulling one of the rifles from the rack.   Professor Stalloid and Dunspar found 13 sticks of dynamite. They were sweaty and obviously very dangerous. There were also blasting caps and fuses.   A crash came from inside the saloon.     * * *       Gemma, who was out on the street, saw a huge mass crash up through the floor. of the saloon Daly started screaming behind the bar. Then there was the sound of crashing from inside as the horror tore Daly apart. Gemma turned and ran towards the general store.   “Stalloid!†she yelled. “Where’s the poison!?!†  She noticed that the ground outside the town moved as if something moved underneath it.     * * *       Otto and Parsons peeked out the window but Otto couldn’t make out anything inside the saloon.   “Oh my God!†Parsons shouted. “What is that!?!†  He fired through the window towards the saloon. The terrible thing within the building screeched with a sound that hurt their teeth and their ears and then was suddenly gone, disappearing back into the ground.     * * *       Dunspar ran out of the back of the general store and climbed up onto the back porch, sweaty dynamite stuffed into his pockets. He tried to help Professor Stalloid up but the man struggled to climb. Gemma ran out of the back door a few moments later. She was surprised to see sticks of dynamite sticking out of Dunspar’s belt and pockets. It didn’t fill her with confidence.   “You going to blow up that thing?†she said.   “Maybe!†Professor Stalloid said. “If it comes to it. Give me a leg up!†  They manhandled Professor Stalloid up onto the roof and then helped Gemma up onto the roof as well.     * * *       A commotion came from the barn. They heard rending wood and the screams of horses. Otto ran out of the marshal’s office, heading for the general store, Parsons close behind him.   “It’s in the barn,†he yelled. “One of ‘ems in the barn! What the hell’s that!†  He pointed towards the edge of town where the ground rippled.     * * *       As they got Gemma up off the ground, they saw Otto and Parsons run around the side of the building.   “Help me up!†Otto yelled.   They helped him and Parson’s up as the horses screamed and screamed and screamed in the stables.   A man came out of the house next door with a crate of his stuff.   “The worms are here!†Professor Stalloid screamed.   The man dropped the crate and they heard a crash from towards the front of the store. Dirt fly up into the air as one of the horrible creatures burst up out of the dirt street in the middle of town. It was huge and towered probably 20 feet in the air. Parsons screamed. The man ran back into the house next door.   “What the hell is that!?!†he cried out.   Flowing tentacles and pulpy, gray-black, elongated sack of a body seemed to reach for the sky before bending and tearing at the stone marshal’s office. It had no distinguishing features at all other than the reaching, groping tentacles. A lump was upon the upper body of the thing.   Otto ran towards the front of the store, rifle in hand. He shot the thing but didn’t seem to hurt it. Dunspar flung a lit stick of dynamite at the thing but it fell short, exploding between the general store and the thing. It turned in their direction and Professor Stalloid flung a lit stick of dynamite which went into the mass of tentacles at the front of the horror. There was a thump as the explosion inside of the thing rocked it but didn’t kill it.   Otto shot the thing again and Professor Stalloid and Dunspar flung more dynamite. Professor Stalloid’s went long and exploded near the Marshal’s office, damaging the building further. Dunspar’s exploded right next to the horror, blasting it in the side. The thing made a gut-wrenching and terrifying noise and then collapsed in the street, unmoving.   Two of the horrible worm people climbed up out of the ground nearby and ran for the general store from the area of the marshal’s office. Horses screamed in the stables as Otto put his rifle to his shoulder.   “Don’t waste the dynamite on them!†he shouted.   He pulled the trigger and his Winchester jammed. Parsons fired at one of the things and missed. Gemma had grabbed some dynamite and blasting cap from Stalloid’s bag and got a fuse in one of them. Dunspar fired at the horrors rushing towards them but missed. Professor Stalloid pulled out his lightning gun and fired. Thunder clapped and lightning flew, missing the horrors.   “What the hell!?!†Parsons cried out.   The barn collapsed and they saw another of the terrible worms in there, swallowing a horse. Otto dropped his jammed rifle and drew his pistol, shooting one of the things. Professor Stalloid dropped the lightning gun, which hung from the strap, and pulled out his shotgun, firing and missing. Gemma lit and chucked the dynamite in her hand. It landed between the two worm creatures and blasted both of them to pieces.   The thing in the barn disappeared into the ground and they saw the ground rippling towards the general store.   “C’mon!†she cried out.   Gemma ran to the other side of the general store and quickly climbed down to the ground. Otto followed her, sliding down the side of the building. Professor Stalloid followed, leaping off the roof and landing solidly on the ground, following Gemma. Dunspar finally decided to follow but hurt himself when he hit the ground.   Gemma ran for the church, where she heard Cindy screaming. She ran by a large rock about five yards across on the ground between the general store and the church. The barn collapsed somewhere behind her. The men followed behind her as quickly as they could.   Parsons was still on the roof, looking around. He stumbled as the thing passed under the grocery store and rattled the entire building.   Dunspar, in the rear of the column, felt like the horror was directly behind him.   Gemma ran into the church, followed by Professor Stalloid, who stopped in the doorway.   The horror tore up and out of the ground between the general store and the large rock where Otto and Dunspar cowered. It was larger than the other two. Otto fled, running in terror as Professor Stalloid aimed the lightning gun at the terrible thing. Dunspar leapt from the rock and tried to hide on the other side of it.   The terrible thing came over the rock and two of its many, many tentacles rippled down at Dunspar. He tried to dodge out of the way of one but the other one wrapped around his arm and then the end of it wormed its way into his arm. He felt a drain on his arm and was suddenly weak.   Professor Stalloid blasted at the horrible thing holding Dunspar. Thunder crashed and lightning flew by the terrible thing and into the sky. Dunspar, meanwhile, put the gun right up against the tentacle and fired, blasting a big chunk of it away. It didn’t let go.   “You’ll be with us soon,†he thought he heard it whisper. “Soon you’ll be with us.†  Dunspar screamed and struggled to pull free and felt himself getting weaker and weaker as his vital fluids were drained.     * * *       Gemma ran up the aisle in the church to find Cindy Tuller in the fetal position on one of the pews, screaming and screaming.   “We gotta go!†she said.   “The wormses!†Cindy screamed. “The wormses! The wormses!†  Gemma picked the girl up and put her head to her chest, covering her eyes. She ran towards the door where she saw Professor Stalloid standing.     * * *       Professor Stalloid moved closer to the horrible worm, stopping about 15 feet away from the terrible thing. Otto had turned and was running towards the saloon.   Dunspar noticed that the tentacle that held him seemed to be healing. He fired another bullet through the tentacle. He could see his own blood pouring out of the wounds he had created, pumping hard every time his heart beat. Screaming, he pulled on the horrible thing.   Two more tentacles grabbed him and inserted themselves into the man, lifting him bodily up off the ground.   “Give him back!†a voice said loudly in his head.   “He’s in the saloon!†Dunspar shrieked at the horrible thing.     * * *       Gemma ran out of the church and saw the worm was holding Dunspar up and off the ground. He seemed to be yelling at it or talking to it. Ignoring that, she raced across the road towards Bufont’s boarding house.   Professor Stalloid dropped the lightning gun and it hung from the strap. He pulled the shotgun from his shoulder and fired both barrels at the horror. The blast missed the horrible thing, only a few pellets hitting it and bouncing off.   Gemma ran into the boarding house as the girl wailed.     * * *       Otto reached the door to the saloon. There was a massive hole in the floor and the dirt under it was disturbed as he had seen the dirt near the homesteads disturbed. He ran around the edge of the room to the stairs and headed up.     * * *       The huge worm turned away from the church and headed for the saloon, carrying Dunspar with it. Stalloid dropped the shotgun and pulled a piece of dynamite out of his satchel. He flung the dynamite, hoping the impact would be enough to set it off. It was and the stick exploded near the rear of the horrible worm. It ignored Professor Stalloid.     * * *       Gemma put Cindy down on the floor in the boarding house foyer. The girl lay down, going fetal position, and put her hands over her ears. Her eyes were closed.   “It’s okay,†Gemma said to the girl, rubbing her shoulder to comfort her. “I’ll be back.†  She turned and ran back out the door. She saw the horrible worm heading towards the saloon and noticed the wound seemed to be slowly closing. She whipped out her knives.   Professor Stalloid had noticed the wound was closing as well.     * * *       Otto ran up the stairs and flung open the first door. He found Wormy laying in the bed, the covers up to his neck, looking around, terrified. He also heard a very loud rumbling noise almost as if a stampede of cattle were running towards the building.   “Get out!†he yelled.   He ran towards the front of the hotel but when he got to Professor Stalloid’s room, he found the door locked. The rumbling noise stopped and the horses started stirring in Professor Stalloid’s room.     * * *       “Please let me go,†Dunspar whispered to the horrible thing that had him helpless.   There was no response.     * * *       Stalloid ran to the horrible worm and underhand flung another stick of dynamite at it. The stick arced through the air and fell right into the horrible wound that was healing and closing on the back of the worm. The unstable explosives exploded inside the horrible thing and blew it to pieces. The explosion knocked Professor Stalloid off his feet and Dunspar screamed as the tentacles ripped out of his arms and he fell to the porch of the saloon, rolling off it and crashing to the ground.   The worm crashed to the ground in the middle of the street.   Professor Stalloid went to Dunspar and tended to his wounds. They heard the crash of wood from inside the saloon upstairs as Otto broke into Professor Stalloid’s room to free his horses. Then Professor Stalloid helped Dunspar up to the second floor to one of the rooms.     * * *       The worms outside of town seemed to have disappeared. Otto escorted the horses down to the street. Professor Stalloid started to hitch up the horses to the medicine wagon.   Otto found that his horse, Blaze, was dead. Harlan Jessup, who ran the stable was also dead. He had been in the barn when it was attacked.     * * *       They found Wormy in the saloon as they prepared to leave town. They were unsure what to do with the man. They suspected the horrible creatures could still use him to create more of the worm people and worried about that.   Professor Stalloid sat at the bar with the man and explained to him that he was cursed. He said there was probably nothing going to be good in his life for the rest of it. He left the water skin filled with poison and told the old man if they got him again, they would make more of the creatures that were outside.   “Drink that,†Dunspar said, pointing to the poison.   “No …†Wormy said.   “I cannot bring myself to kill you,†Professor Stalloid said. “But if you want to help the rest of the world … drink your last drinks here in this saloon. There is plenty of liquor for you. And finish it with the poison. If we take you with us, they are going to follow. They’re going to come to every other town and it’s just going to be the same thing. If you want, you could try to start living on Red Rock Ridge or someplace made of stone.†  Professor Stalloid apologized to Wormy, knowing the man had a tough life ahead of him.   He, Gemma, and Dunspar went out to the medicine wagon.   They heard a shot from inside the building.     * * *       Otto had waited until the others had left and then put a bullet into the back of Wormy’s head. He knew the act would haunt him the rest of his life.   He walked out to the medicine wagon and they left Hilton Springs.

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

Horror on the Orient Express: Paris Episode 2

Edelmiro Cervantes – Spanish-born Occultist touring Britain.
Dr. Klaus Fischer – German-born Psychiatrist, disciple of Jung.
Flora Bianchin – Italian Nurse and Midwife, saw the Great War up close. (absent)
Mikhail Sokolov – Exiled Russian Aristo-turned-Criminal.
Viktor Gruzinsky – Bolshevik Spy posing as Exiled Russian Aristo. (absent)
Lavinia Wray – English Archaeologist working for the British Museum.
*Sophie Chapallier – French Librarian working for the Bibliothéque de l’Arsenal.   *Keeper’s Note: With Flora and Viktor’s players once again absent due to medical issues, it was decided to briefly add a new investigator in the person of Sophie Chapallier. We had written Sophie as an NPC who became smitten with Mikhail when he visited the Bibliotheque de l’Arsenal during the last session. However, my partner, who had been quietly observing my games with fascination, decided they wanted to take a turn as a player just to see what it’s like. So we stated Sophie based on the librarian in the Curious Characters Deck (handy little tool in a pinch), shuffled around the language skills, did away with the Dreaming in favor of some more concrete investigative skills, and changed the name of “Mr. Paws†to “Monsieur Pattes†and we were off and running.   A Rosicrucian Connection?
Edelmiro, hoping the local community of occult scholars might know something about Fenalik, the Sedefkar Simulacrum, and/or the Skinless One, endeavored to meet with members of the Rosecrucian order in Paris. As with many such groups, the Rosecrucians are more a service organization in these days than an occult society, but the stories and literature are available through such organizations to hobbyists, provided they don’t prove themselves to be too obsessive or deviant in their practices. Edelmiro managed to arrange lunch at a café with a one such man, a banker by trade, who did not have much to add, but did indicate there are many stories of sacrilege and debauchery associated with the French nobility in the days leading up the revolution. He was also familiar with Poissy, and suggested visiting the archives at the town hall, saying they were very thorough.   Charenton Asylum
Klaus Fischer and Lavinia Wray, both established academics, led investigation of the Charenton Asylum by getting contact with the acting director. It takes a day to get access to Dr. Leroux, and when they do they’re glowered at for brining their fellows along with them to his office, which is currently in shambles from changing hands owing to the accidental death of former director Dr. Delplace. Lavinia and Klaus are permitted the meet with Leroux, while the rest are forced to wait in the secretary. Quickly taking stock of the room they’re in, Mikhail, Edelmiro, and Sophie note boxes marked with the name of Dr. Delplace, including a particular box containing private research journals.   Having no qualms about theft of private property, Mikhail pockets Dr. Delplace’s most recent research journal while his replacement was distracted by questions from Lavinia and Klaus. He then calmly exited the room after asking after the washroom, a signal to his fellows that he was going to go snoop about. Edelmiro and Sophie followed Mikhail out of curiosity, and also to escape the uncomfortable gaze of the acting director’s secretary. Sophie’s nose for directions* led the group right to the medieval cellars beneath the hospital, where their research reported Fenalik had been entombed.   The sneaky investigators were rewarded with confirmation that someone was imprisoned down here: a room has been bricked off (sometime during the 18th century according to Sophie’s archaeological knowledge) and someone had been chained up inside it. The clothing within had all but disintegrated, but there was dried blood on the wall that appeared to be only a few weeks old by comparison. It was then, from the gloom of the far hallway a voice spoke. It tried several languages before settling on archaic, courtly French. “Poor little mice, you must be lost. Don’t worry. I’ll help you.†With that, there was clacking, ticking and cracking coming towards them. Almost as though something was crawling across the ceiling in their direction. As the investigators turned their torches toward the noise a mangy, emaciated creature leapt into their midst! Those who caught a glimpse of the snarling beast swore it was a tiger. Amidst the torch beams they saw yellowed teeth and claws. They ran for the stairs, the creature hot on their heels. As they made their way upward, the pursuit ended, and the snarling was replaced by tittering laughter. “Oh, what fun! What fun we shall have! See you next time, little mice!†  Upon reaching the safety of the hotel and reading the stolen notebook, detailing the discovery of a “lost†catatonic patient, and the mayhem this patient caused, the three investigators who found their way to the basement immediately jump to the conclusion that the creature they encountered was Fenalik himself. This chilling revelation sparks a debate between returning to the Asylum to confront the creature and visiting Poissy, the last known location of the Simulacrum. In the end, the investigators belief it is wiser to seek out the artifact, both because it is the purpose of their visit to Paris and the creature seemed very, very dangerous, even moreso than old Corbitt.

*Keeper’s note: I decided to have a more aggressive contact with Fenalik here in the cellars of the Asylum for a few reasons:
--Sophie made a Navigation roll to get herself, Edelmiro, and Mikhail through the building. It turned up a “000.†I would argue that there is a difference between getting where you want to go and getting where you “think†you want to go. A successful role would have led the subdivided group to Fenalik’s broken cellar room. Instead, it led them to an encounter with Fenalik.
--My players were already suspecting a “vampire†in that they’ve encountered the long-lived Mister Corbitt. So the fact that Fenalik is long-lived wasn’t so much a surprise to them.
--After reading through the campaign and listening to the YSDC pod-cast I’ve elected to make Fenalik and Mehmet Makryat more “public†characters. This is an experiment on my part and we’ll see how it goes. I feel though that, as written, the involvement of Fenalik and Mehmet Makryat in the campaign have more of a “who are these people?†impact once they were revealed than the subtle puppet-master approach the authors were going for.
--Finally, given this was going to be a one time appearance of Sophie and, for now, my partner’s first and only foray into Cthulhu gaming as a player, I wanted to give them the full experience: sanity loss, mythos monsters, etc. So having Fenalik make a brief appearance was meaningful in that regard.
  Poissy
After travelling to Poissy and taking in some time to enjoy the quaint amenities of the Hotel Rose Blanche and a Sunday afternoon and evening exploring the town, the investigators make their way to the town hall. After a day of exploring the archives* they learn that the Lorien family occupy a home on Comte Fenalik’s old estate. They make their way to the Lorien home, posing as surveyors for an archaeological dig.   The Loriens are all to happy to welcome a team of academics, as they can now boast to their neighbors about the historical significance of their home. The investigators spend two days and nights with the Loriens while working at their impromptu excavation. During that time Mikhail and Sophie experience hideous dreams of an emactiated tiger emerging from a cloud of mist that floats across the floor of the Lorien’s home. They awaken just as it pounces on them.   *The encounter with the tiger in the basement of the asylum had seriously rattled the players. As a result, the puns were flowing freely as a means of dealing with the emotion surrounding the threat. I made the mistake of having a desk clerk remark that Poissy had thoroughly “fleshed out†archives compared to many towns in the area. Things went downhill from there and the town hall of Poissy will forever be known for it’s “fleshy archives†which would brave investigators “deeply penetrated.†But it isn’t a Call of Cthulhu game until we reach the plumb the gutters of gallows sex humor, now is it?  
Chez Lorien
Over two nights, the group digs down beneath the cold ground of the back yard and discovers an 18th century cellar door. Forcing it open, they discover a long-forgotten chamber of horrors: skeletons bound in numerous torcher devices tell a sadistic story of the comte’s last days before his incarceration.   The sight of the tortured remains of so many victims in the cellar had a particularly cruel impact on Mikhail. Upon seeing what he perceived to be a bride and groom, locked in torture devices and forced to observe each other’s suffering, it was too much for him. He could only rationalized that this must be some sort of nightmare and he had to wake up to save himself. To this end, he began to buffet himself about the head, at first with hard slaps, but eventually with the closed fists. It took Dr. Fischer’s stern, psychiatric intervention to stop Mikhail from breaking his own jaw.   With Mikhail settled and under control, Lavinia presses forward and recovers the left arm of the Sedefkar Simulacrum from the wall at the far end of the cellar. The group then quickly emerges and fills in the hole they’ve dug, advising the Lorien’s that, while historically, significant, it is much too dangerous to be left open. They promise a more complete archaeological team will return in the Summer months to unearth the entirety to the cellar and remove all dangerous and historically noteworthy materials. While the Loriens seem more at peace with the removal of the artifact, the investigators have some reservations. A strange, cold mist seemed to follow them into the cellar, only to recede suddenly when they recovered the statue’s arm, and, perhaps more ominously, some of the investigators thought they heard an odd, giggling laughter similar to that heard in the basement of the Charenton Asylum.   The Orient Express
The group boards the Orient Express just after midnight, with a band playing and well-wishers coming to send off performers from a traveling opera company who just finished a series of performances at the L’Opera. On board the train they meet Ms. Caterina Cavallaro, along with a handful of hangers on: a member of the chorus, a woman of Rhodesian extraction named Blessing, a Russian Jewish clarinet player from the orchestra named Ari, and quiet, unassuming Japanese man named Kashiro, educated in the Netherlands and now following the opera company as a set design consultant.   Ms. Cavallaro is enchanting, and gets on well with the traveling investigators. Amidst the free-flowing wine and song of the evening, she offers them passes to her upcoming performance in Milan…

maglaurus

maglaurus

 

Horror on the Orient Express: London Episode 2 / Paris Episode 1

Edelmiro Cervantes - Spanish-born Occultist touring Britain.
Dr. Klauss Fischer - German-born Psychiatrist, disciple of Jung. (absent, post-London)
Flora Bianchin - Italian Nurse and Midwife, saw the Great War up close. (absent)
Mikhail Sokolov - Exiled Russian Aristo-turned-Criminal.
Viktor Gruzinsky - Bolshevik Spy posing as Exiled Russian Aristo. (absent)
Lavinia Wray - English Archaeologist working for the British Museum.   Keeper’s Note: Our most recent session was unusual in that we had two players missing for medical reasons and one player had to leave early in order to pick up a family member at the airport. As a result, by the time the group reached Paris, we were down 50% of our players. I steered these remaining players toward research to get the necessary Fenalik clues so the full group could press on the physical investigation in Paris during the next session.   The night after the incident with the London-Liverpool express, the investigators discover their world has gone topsy-turvy. Strange newspaper articles indicate Mehmet Makryat, a strange character they encountered at Profession Smith post-lecture reception and a key figure in the disappearance/death of Henry Stanley has now become involved in bizarre triple murder/suicide. To make matters worse, professor Smith’s home in St. John’s Wood has burned to the ground and the jovial and rotund academic is missing. Finally, the police are looking to question witnesses regarding the bizarre noises and the smell of smoke coming from the alleyway behind Viktor Gruzinsky’s townhome.   Gruzinsky makes up a story about ruffians with a smoking, backfiring automobile rumbling through the alley causing mayhem. He points to Flora (who fell on her face during he escape from the Doom Train) as having been assaulted by the thugs. Flora goes along with the ruse and the two are taken in to give statements at the Chelsea police precinct. Meanwhile, the rest of the group make their way over the to the nearby Chelsea Arms hotel to see if they can learn more about the thrice-dead Mehmet Makryat.   During the day there are visits in the Chelsea Arms Hotel, the University of London, and morgue room at New Scotland Yard. Discoveries include that the three Mehmet’s were similar, but not identical, they appeared to be stabbed through the heart without a struggle, and they had been bled out in a hotel room bathtub, partially skinned with surgical precision, and then redressed and placed in the room to be discovered by the cleaning staff.   Later in the day Edelmiro returns to the Hotel Fitz for the first time in roughly twenty-four hours. He discovers an envelope waiting for him at the front desk. It contains a visiting card from Professor Smith with his address in St. John’s Wood scratched out and an address in Cheapside written in its place. He brings the note to Viktor’s house where he meets the rest of the group. Night is falling, and the investigators decide to waste no time in going to Cheapside.   The dilapidated tenement where Professor Smith and Beddows are laying low is a cramped and dimly lit affair. There is a thick medicinal smell, and once the party is over the shock of seeing Professor Smith’s burns, they quickly do what they can to aid their injured friend. Dr. Fischer is able to assist Beddows is applying bandages and adjusting the medicines Beddows has managed to acquire for comfort. Professor Smith is roused and relates the story of the fire and likely the meaning behind the attack on his home.   Ever the performer, he begins by quoting a Shakespeare, specifically Hamlet’s line to Horatio about there being, “more things on Heaven and Earth…than are dreamt of in your philosophy.†He also adds that he knows the investigators have seen some things in recent months that are outside the realm of the normal and everyday, even for members of the SPR. He had hoped to use the Challenger Trust Lecture and subsequent grant to bring his concerns about the realities of the supernatural to the attention of those in power, slowly pulling back the vale so as not to break their stagnant minds. Unfortunately, be became aware of a group of men during his last trip to Europe who have more flexible minds when it comes to magic and more flexible morality. He relates the story of the Sedefkar Simulacrum and the need for it to be destroyed. It is too late to wait for good people with power and influence to come around to his way of thinking, and now he must rely on the discrete friends he has to take up his task.   After receiving what little information the professor has on the artifact, the group agrees to make the journey to collect and destroy the various part of the artifact in their friend’s place. They are given funds and tickets aboard the Orient Express, as well as the promise that once the professor is safe, Beddows will be in touch by telegram. The group plans to set off following a few days of preparation.   Dr. Fischer makes for the Bethlehem Hospital in order to arrange a leave of absence and hand his regular cases off to an eager disciple. Meanwhile, Lavinia makes her way to the British Museum to arrange her own leave of absence. This also gives her associate Edelmiro a chance to get acquainted with the reading room. Finally, there is Mikhail, who spends a couple of days preparing the itinerary, booking rooms at Le Bristol in Paris with the Professor’s money, and creating a some secret compartments in the group’s collective luggage where he can stash a couple of pistols and some spare ammunition in case things go array.   On his last day of research, Edelmiro is witness to a horrible sight. A strange man appears at the table across from him the reading room. He wears a hat and coat and hold a newspaper in front of his face. Edelmiro remarks on the man to Lavinia, quietly alerts a security guard. The guard, and Edelmiro unfortunately, discover this is not some thug lying in wait, but the oozing, bloody corpse of Richard Wentworth, flayed from head to toe and placed there in the Reading Room as a warning! A cryptic note written on tanned human skin sits before him on the table. “The Skinless One will not be Denied!†  Bags packed, and hotel arranged, the investigators quickly make their way from London to Paris without incident. Lavinia, an excellent library researcher who’s spent time in the Bibliothéque Nationale before, is able to uncover a variety of information involving courtly intrigues and scandals involving Comte Fenalik and share them with Edelmiro. They uncover personal diaries from two courtiers, which point to Fenalik losing favor with the King for acts of sacrilege and being committed to the lunatic asylum Charenton, placed out of sight were he could do no further harm.   While skilled in French, Mikhail is not terribly skilled with research, so he uses his wit, charm, and fast-talking to build a relationship with an intern at the Bibliotheque de l’Arsenal. Sophie Chapellier (NPC invented on the spot) is a bookish young lady with a fascination for history and leftist politics. Mikhail cleverly hides his association with the Russian Royalists and tells her tales of witnessing the glorious Bolshevik revolution first-hand. Sophie is captivated, and gladly offers to assist Mikhail with his research on Comte Fenalik and the raid on his estate in Poissy.

maglaurus

maglaurus

 

Valentine's in Innsmouth Part 1 - Alice Sander's Plan

Monday, March 26, 2018   (After playing the original Call of Cthulhu scenario “Valentine’s in Innsmouth†based on the scenarios “Christmas in Kingsport†and “Halloween in Dunwich†by Oscar Rios, Sunday, March 25, from 1:30 p.m. to 5:50 p.m. with Ambralyn Tucker, Ben Abbott, Collin Townsend, and Ashton LeBlanc.)   Directly after Halloween in Dunwich in 1928, Alice Sanders wrote to her cousins letters inviting them to a Valentine’s Day get-together of the families. Her mother had told her they were going to move back to Dunwich by Easter and Alice knew time was running out.   She mailed letters to her cousins noting she wanted to have a party and there would definitely not be any moonshine as they knew what happened last time. She said it was somewhat time sensitive that all the cousins meet.   “Speaking of what happened last time, I felt like we really were a team,†she wrote. “I felt like we really helped each other out and got through that. This has made me even more want to find out what happened as I have this strength now. I have two knives, one a magic dagger.†  She noted she wanted to go to Innsmouth, where she used to live, as well. It was important to her, personally, and she needed their help with it.   Alice was one of the oldest of the cousins at 14. She was from Innsmouth and had light hair and very large blue eyes. She’d always loved living on the water and had always been fascinated by the sea. Her family’s business was fishing and she’d been working on the docks with them since she was eight years old. She’d always been told her father died before she was born, but she was starting to think that might not have been true. Her mother kept things from her, telling her not to worry about it for the moment and enjoy her childhood while it lasted. Alice always told her she was already a teenager and had a right to know what was going on. Her mother promised to tell her everything “when her friend comes.†  Her favorite member of the family was her Aunt Margie. When Alice was 11, a man grabbed her and pulled her into an alley, tearing her clothes and touching her. He was drunk and she could smell the alcohol. He covered her mouth so she couldn’t scream, but she had her fish-gutting knife in her pocket. She grabbed it and there was a lot of blood. He let her go but she couldn’t move and he fell at her feet. There was so much blood. Aunt Margie had found her, taken the knife away from her, and dragged the man’s body to her uncle’s boat. She told Alice she had done the right thing but not to tell anyone what happened. She covered Alice with her coat, took her to her house and washed her up. She told Alice she was a good girl and that her father would be proud of her. Then she gave her a switchblade knife and told her to always keep it with her. The next day, she told Alice it was all taken care of and not to worry about it. Sometimes Alice wondered if she was a bad person because she’d never felt guilty and was glad the man was dead.   In 1927, Aunt Margie got sick. The family said she was going to “go away†to get better. But after that, her house was deserted. Sometimes when Alice passed it, she saw someone in the attic, staring down at her. Sometimes at night, she saw a light up there. She’d been thinking about breaking into the house to see who was up there. But she thought she knew what she’d find. Aunt Margie wouldn’t have left without saying goodbye.   Just last February, Alice and her mother had fled Innsmouth. Alice remembered it was late at night when she heard someone come to the front door. She was already in bed but couldn’t help hear the deep voice from downstairs. She had peeked out her window and saw a figure walking away from the house in a strange, hopping shuffle that made her uneasy.   The next day, her mother had packed what little money and possessions they owned and they had fled to Ipswich, only a few miles away. She learned that only a few days later the Federal Government had raided Innsmouth, arresting many people from the village, and putting the entire place under lock and key. No one was allowed in or out. She didn’t know why. Her mother wouldn’t tell her.     * * *       The first letter she got back was from her cousin, Edward. In his neat handwriting, the letter read:  
Dearest Alice,   It is amazing to finally be included on a team of any sort, whether it be former acquaintances,
sort-of friends, friends that don’t call me friends back, so I am vastly pleased with being included
and I would probably agree to anything to be included on a team at this point. But I also share a
desire to see what’s going on in Innsmouth and will begin my research forthwith and make sure
it is thorough.   Sic Semper Tyrannis
Edward  
Edward Derby was 13 years old and from Arkham. He was a small boy with brown hair, glasses, and large front teeth. He wasn’t very strong but he was probably the smartest of the cousins. His voice was starting to change. His father was an ancient history professor at Miskatonic University and since Edward was old enough to walk, he’d been able to read. Some years before, he’d discovered his father kept certain books locked in his desk. Instead of asking him about it, Edward made a copy of the key and snuck into the library when his father was at work. He found some rare books: a Latin one called Othuum Omnicia, and two in English: The Secret Watcher and Marvels of Science. It took Edward more than a year, but he managed to read all three without being caught.   What he read fascinated him. They told of another world hidden just below reality and illuminated secrets most men would run screaming from. Edward applied himself in school, learning Latin, astronomy, and physics. While other boys were building soapbox racers, he was reading any occult books he could sneak out of the library.   He had a theory. Certain angles, in certain places had power. These powers could be heightened by the positions of the stars, making it possible to open gateways between various times, places, and maybe even realms of existence. He knew that with enough time, he could figure it all out. Part of him was eager for that while part of him feared what might lay behind the doorways. From what he’d read, some of them appeared to have been carefully constructed and shut, as if barriers were in place to stop travel from one side to the other.     * * *       Her cousin Gerdie’s letter came next and merely read “As long as there’s time for digging, I’m in.†She sent a second letter asking “Do you have a shovel or do I need to bring my own?†Alice wrote back if she had a particular shovel she liked, she could bring that one. Each of Gerdie’s letters also had a strange symbol upon it that Alice could not make heads or tail of.   Gertrude “Gerdie†Pope was a cute little 12-year-old girl who lived with her parents on Mill Road just north of Dunwich Village on the side of Round Mountain. She had very pale skin, platinum blonde, curly hair, and piercing blue eyes. She was a strange little girl whom many of the local people thought was crazy but she was really just confused sometimes, or so she thought. During the warmer parts of the year, she wandered around the hills and valleys of Dunwich until dark. Once in a while, she’d be somewhere new, a place she’d never been before, but she remembered it somehow, not as it looked normally, but with glowing lights and magic, streets, towers, and shops. She had sometimes gotten the urge to dig and found strange things: old clay pots or pieces of statue, and sometimes the pretty coins she still carried in a handkerchief at all times. Though the writing was strange, she could clearly read it. She carried five of the strange coins and sometimes showed them to others.   She wasn’t the first person born in Dunwich with her features, the elders said. It cropped up once in a while, usually in someone “touched.†  She sometimes thought of herself as Solinia and had to remind herself she was Gertrude Pope. She knew she had been someone else once before, long ago, and she would be someone else again. The strange flashes of memory weren’t so bad when she wasn’t in Dunwich. She loved being around her cousins. She didn’t see them most of the year so they didn’t treat her like a loony.   One of her Dunwich relatives was in the Great War and she asked him if he had a shovel, he leant her one that broke down and folded up. He had been a little strange since the war but was very friendly and glad to help.   “Don’t let the Kaiser get ya,†he said to her.   She scratched some hyperborean lettering on the shovel.     * * *       Her cousin Gordon wrote back he would help, noting “Anything to get off the farm for a little bit.†He wanted to know why they were going to Innsmouth and how they were going to get there. Alice wrote back they were going to go see Cousin Melba first because she might have information that might be important to them. She also noted she had a bicycle and possible access to other bicycles.   Gordon Brewster was also from Dunwich. Thirteen years old, he was a blue-eyed, dark haired little boy. He was strong and fit and large for his age. He knew Dunwich was good country if one was willing to work it. His family had been there a long time, going back to when the village was first settled. He’d taken his place beside his father and brothers working the family farm on Dunlock Creek Road, earning extra money by cutting firewood for the neighbors with the axe that was always with him.   When he was eight, kids around Dunwich started to go missing. His parents kept him close to home for weeks. Eventually one of the kids got away from the folks doing it. Polly-Ann had been missing for a week before she turned up at the Brewster farm. She had been all beaten up and covered with scratches. She didn’t talk, just rocked back and forth, screaming if anyone touched her. Soon after that, folks showed up with shotguns, rifles, and hunting dogs. They set off to follow her trail back to where she’d come from.   After her parents took her home, Gordon had gotten his squirrel hunting rifle and ran after the others when his ma wasn’t looking. He caught up to them as they were setting fire to the cabin of one the neighbors. The members of the Gardner family had already been shot dead by the time he go there. They were horrible to look at in the light with faces and limbs twisted, hunch backs, and sharp teeth. They looked like monsters. His father spotted him hiding nearby and ordered him to stay close after smacking him for being there.   The men found the remains of the missing children under the chicken coop. There were only bones left and they had been gnawed on after the flesh had been butchered from them. Gordon didn’t remember anything after that. They told him later he seized up and didn’t come out of it for three months. He tried not to think about it.   Both Gerdie and Gordon knew only a little about the Horror that had struck Dunwich in September of 1928. Their parents hadn’t said much about it, just like they had rarely talked about Wilbur Whateley, who had been killed by a guard dog at Miskatonic University in Arkham back in August. All they knew were the rumors: rumors that something huge had broken out of the abandoned Whateley house in early September; rumors that huge, unnatural footprints were found in the Glen Road and wounded cows belonging to Seth Bishop were discovered near Devil’s Hopyard; rumors the Horror had disappeared into Cold Spring Glen; rumors of two attacks on the Elmer Frye farm, one destroying the barn and taking the cattle, and the second destroying the house and wiping out the entire family; rumors that several state policemen disappeared near Cold Spring Glen, never to be seen again; rumors that on September 15, the Horror had returned, destroying Seth Bishop’s house and killing all within before it was followed to Sentinel Hill by three professors from Miskatonic University and then never seen again.   Nothing but rumors.     * * *       Her cousin Donald wrote her back, unsure of that endeavor because he was afraid and nervous about Innsmouth, having heard a few stories about the shunned village. However, Simon convinced him to go and he couldn’t deny Simon.   Donald Sutton was 12 years old and the only cousin of their age from Kingsport. He was a small boy with short brown hair. He was quick and smart. Both his parents were artists who owned their own gallery in Kingsport and he hoped to follow in their footsteps one day. He was seldom without his sketchbook and was told he had a remarkable gift for one of so young an age. He was a rather sensitive person and able to see things in a way few others could.   Sometimes he saw things, people mostly, who were dead. He guessed they were ghosts and he’d always been able to see them. It didn’t happen every day but usually at least a couple times a week. Mostly he ignored them but, once in a while, he’d give them a nod to acknowledge their presence. They usually kept to themselves … except for Simon.   Simon seemed to never be far away. He was a nine-year-old boy who died in a carriage accident a long time ago. He’d been hanging around with Donald since he was six and they talked almost every day. Simon looked out for Donald by giving him advice or warning him if a bully was planning something mean. He’d always been a good friend and Donald guessed he was just lonely. When people caught him talking to Simon, he just told them the boy was his imaginary friend. That excuse wasn’t working as well lately, though. He asked Simon to be more careful when he talked to him. He didn’t want to get caught talking to himself again. He’d overheard his parents talking about it and they were worried, thinking he needed some “real†friends.   At Halloween, all of his cousins had seen Simon when they had approached the hill where the witch was working her magic. It was at that point they realized the boy was not imaginary, but a ghost. After their terrifying adventure, none of them ever saw Simon again except Donald.     * * *       Her cousin George wrote back, asking if he’d get to bust some heads. He was in. Later, he wrote her that he’d heard one wasn’t supposed to join any churches in Innsmouth and asked what that was about. She wrote back that she didn’t have any concern of the churches but maybe they would find out. What she didn’t write back was that she knew the main church in town was the Esoteric Order of Dagon, but it had not played much of a part in her life so she didn’t mention it. She remembered her mother had told her to stay away from the church but never explained why. George wrote back he was bringing his baseball bat.   George Weedon was a 14-year-old boy from Arkham and the last of the cousins their age. He was a strong kid and very much into sports of all kinds. There was nothing he enjoyed more than a good game. Baseball and football were his favorites and he hoped to be a pitcher or a quarterback one day. His father always pushed him to do better, try harder, and be the best. It certainly wasn’t easy to try harder when he was already giving it all he’d got.   Sometimes he dreamed about his father, screaming at him as he struck out with the bases loaded. In the dream, his father had called him worthless and weak, making everyone laugh at him. Sometimes in those dreams he just stood there. Other times he dreamt of showing his father how hard he could swing that bat.   He thanked goodness for his mother, though. If it weren’t for her, he’d be lost. She was always there, telling him she’d be proud of him and love him whether he came in first or dead last. When he pushed himself, it was for her, not for his father. When he made it to the majors, it would be for her.   Arkham wasn’t a big city but he liked it well enough. Moving about town on his paper route, he’d glimpsed things out of the corner of his eye though. There were storm drains he’d never get too close to, abandoned houses he stayed out of, and things he just didn’t talk about. People said the college had lots of spooky old books and things professors brought back from Egypt and the Amazon that were cursed. Sometimes at night, when the air was still, he could hear things whispering and moving about in the graveyard across the street from his house.     * * *       The cousins had grown very close since their strange adventures the past Halloween and at Christmas in 1927.   They had met for Christmas in Kingsport at Great Aunt Norma’s that year. It had been an adventure in and of itself when their cousin Melba had taken them all to the dreamlands and they’d saved her adopted children there from the Krampus, who turned out to be the father of Gretchen von Khol, the wife of their cousin Wally Weedon. It had all ended happily, however, when Gretchen’s father had appeared in Kingsport to share Christmas with the whole family. The children had visited the Dreamlands ever since, off and on.   Then, at Halloween in Dunwich in 1928, the party of Great-Grandpa Silas was interrupted when ghost of their great-great grandmother, disguised as another cousin, arrived to poison their parents. Only the children were awake and able to find their way to where the ghost of the witch had cast her spell and disrupt it, destroying her and saving everyone.     * * *       Edward started doing more research on Innsmouth. He had heard strange things about the people there. He knew a lot of residents of town suffered from the Innsmouth look, which was blamed on inbreeding, the introduction of foreign blood, or perhaps a long-term result of the plague that swept through in the 19th century. The look was characterized by large, distended eyes, a general broadening of the mouth, stooped posture, and skin diseases resulting in a scaling, flaking condition accompanying it. Later stages resulted in the enlarging of the hands and feet and a change in the hip structure that resulted in a hopping, shuffling gait.   He had also heard a few years back, a factory inspector got a terrible scare in Innsmouth. After, he had been committed to the state mental institution in Danvers.   He had even read the article published right after the raid in February of 1928. It didn’t take him long to find a copy of the article in the public Library in Arkham from the Arkham Gazette dated Tuesday, Feb. 14, 1928. It read:  
Government Raid on Innsmouth
Bootlegging, Smuggling, Slavery Stamped Out   INNSMOUTH― A vast series of raids and arrests occurred in the village of Innsmouth
Sunday, resulting in numerous arrests and the burning and dynamiting of several empty
houses along the waterfront of the village.   In the early morning hours of Feb. 12, a joint force of the Department of the Navy, in
the form of Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) agents, U.S. Marines, and U.S. Coast Guard
troops assaulted the small coastal village of Innsmouth. The Justice Department Bureau of
Investigation (BI) under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover was also involved in the raid to
seize suspected aliens and seditionists for deportation.   The raiders reportedly faced heavy resistance by the criminals in the village. Several soldiers
and sailors were reported injured or killed though the exact numbers have not yet been made
available to the press.   Approximately 200 people were arrested while another 35 were reported killed during the raid
with an additional unreported number injured. A great deal of smuggled goods and supplies were
confiscated by the ONI and BI during the raid, including an undisclosed amount of bootleg liquor,
Canadian Whiskey, and other, unspecified, contraband.   Several empty houses on the abandoned waterfront were burned and dynamited to destroy a
large amount of illicit material, including alcohol and narcotics.   The prisoners were taken to an as-yet undisclosed location pending arrest and arraignment.
Evidence continues to be collected by the ONI and BI.   In addition to bootlegging and smuggling operations, there are inferences of a white slave
operation working out of the village. Who was enslaved and where they were taken is, as
of yet, unknown. As at least half of the village was arrested and imprisoned, it can be assumed
this had something to do with people who have disappeared in the area or perhaps other citizens
of the village. Authorities continue to investigate the allegations.   According to authorities, less than 200 citizens remain in Innsmouth since the raid. The village
remains under martial law and controlled by Federal forces at this time.   The village of Innsmouth is not without a rocky past.   Founded in 1643, the community had grown to a population of about 2,000 souls by the
American Revolution, most of them engaged in the shipping and fishing industries. The town saw
an end to its prosperity after the War of 1812 crippled the town’s growth. By the middle of the 19th
century, the Marsh Gold Refinery was the main industry in the village.   In 1846, the town was struck by a plague believed to have carried by a ship returning from the
South Pacific. Riots eventually broke out resulting in the dozens of deaths. The town never truly
recovered after that.   By the time of the Civil War, the village had fallen into a steep decline, leaving it a shadow of
its former self.   The population of Innsmouth before the government raid is estimated at 550.  
He also spent the intervening months at the public library in Arkham and at Orne Library at Miskatonic University. There, he found Fall’s Historical Atlas of Massachusetts by David Gyer Fall that had been published in 1898. It held some information about Innsmouth he found very interesting and read:  
Innsmouth - founded 1643. Current Population estimated at 556. Region first settled by the
Hogg, Eliot, Marsh, and Martin families of nearby Newbury. In 1678, a shipyard was opened
by Tomas Martin, and industry supported by the increasingly prosperous trade in codfish.
Additional shipyards were opened and prosperity early embraced the town.   The first Innsmouth voyage to the West Indies was made in 1662, followed over the years
by an ever-expanding trade with the East Indies, South Pacific, and China. To avoid running
afoul of the increasingly restrictive provisions of Britain’s Trade Acts, early traders found
smuggling their only available recourse. Illegal cargoes were unloaded far offshore, then
secreted into town by way of a complex of sea caves and man-made tunnels running under parts
of the town. Some of these tunnels, long unused, are supposed to still exist.   By the time of the American Revolution, Innsmouth had grown into a community of nearly
2000 people, most of them engaged in the shipping and fishing industries. The town had by then
spread to both sides of the Manuxet River, now crossed by a bridge built over the gorge near the
location of the present day Main Street. At Bunker Hill, Innsmouth was represented by a small
band of stalwart men, but for most of the war, the town’s contributions were in the form of ships,
and the privateers who took them to sea. The privateers were authorized by the newly formed
American government to attack and raid ships flying under the flag of England. Privateers signed
agreements that allowed them to keep one third to one half of any English booty, the rest to be
turned over to the government and the cause of the Revolution.   The success of the American Revolution allowed the New England traders free access to the
seas and Innsmouth, like similar ports, prospered. But the War of 1812, bitterly opposed by many
of the Federalist New England traders, brought an end to prosperity. The loss of ships and men was
atrocious and the end of the conflict found an Innsmouth crippled by the lack of ships as well as
manpower. Some of the town’s most prosperous families were ruined by the losses they suffered
in the course of the war. An unfortunate series of maritime disasters over the next few decades
further crippled the town’s growth. The last of Inns mouth’s trade ships made their final port of
call by the middle of the 19th century.   By then the town’s interests had turned to industry, spurred in part by the Marsh gold refinery
operated on the banks of the Manuxet River. But the Industrial Revolution never caught fire in
Innsmouth, and the failing fishing industry added to the town’s woes. In 1846, the town was struck
by a plague, believe to have been carried into town by a ship returned from the South Pacific.
Although little is known of the incident, riots eventually broke out, resulting in the deaths of dozens
of individuals. By the time of the Civil War, Innsmouth had fallen into a steep decline, and already
the number of empty houses were a cause for remark.   Today, Innsmouth is a shadow of its former self, a half-deserted seacoast town forgotten by time.
Most of its residents are of old stock, rooted in the land by time and tradition.  
In Orne Library, he found a book titled Innsmouth: Superstitions and the Sea by Michael Peabody published in 1920 by Small, Maynard and Company out of Boston Massachusetts. The slim volume detailed the strange customs and quaint folk practices of small Yankee seacoast towns with Innsmouth, Massachusetts, as its focal point. One old Innsmouth native was quoted in the book as he spoke vaguely of a curse that lay upon his home, stating “that the old town has lost more than its share of sons and daughters to the sea.†Peabody concluded his treatise with the assertion that Innsmouth’s loss of maritime trade in the 19th century caused its insular populace to resort to superstition to restore its prosperity, forsaking healthier routes of alternate industry. In this bizarre effort, the town failed, though had yet to, and might never, emerge from its intense insularity. A brief endnote to the book by the publisher stated that author Michael Peabody drowned just before the publication of this, his only book.   An excerpt from the book about the town read:   ... perhaps nowhere else have declining maritime fortunes had such an adverse social and economic
effect than in Innsmouth, Massachusetts, a once thriving seaport now reduced to a depressed hamlet.
Education and other social services are all but unknown, leading to a rapid decline in cultural mores,
despite the town’s close physical proximity to Arkham, home of the prestigious Miskatonic University.
Arkham for its part ignores any responsibility it might feel it has as a community to its backwater
neighbor. As a result, the residents of Innsmouth have combined elder sea lore, religion, and cultural
ways into an odd mix of superstition and secretive ritual practices unique in New England. Samples of
Innsmouth superstition include rituals to reap better lobster harvests, spells to attract and control sharks,
and charms wrought to invoke a watery doom on the unwary. Perhaps most curious are some of the
genuine golden ornaments that are incorporated into many of the rituals and charms. Locals insist these
are locally crafted; nonetheless they possess a disturbing, otherworldly quality that this author struggles
to convey in words. I have examined only two such ornaments, and this under circumstances that would
draw the ire of many locals, should they know of my trespass into their affairs. The ornaments most
greatly resemble similar pieces described in ancient occult tomes such as the obscure Ponape Scripture,
a copy of which resides in special collections at nearby Miskatonic University Library. There have
been rumors circulating in academic circles for years of similar objects and practices common to the
geographically and socially isolated peoples of the Louisiana bayou country. If proven, this could prove
a fascinating link between the cultural, moral, and religious decline of the two separate, isolated
communities ...  
He found a map of the outskirts of Innsmouth, a roadmap of that part of Massachusetts, and a perspective map - kind of a bird’s eye view drawing - of the town in 1912.   He also heard Dr. Ezekiel Wallace, pastor at the Asbury M.E. (Methodist-Episcopal) Church had, in the past, warned certain members of his congregation against joining any Innsmouth Church. He learned George had heard that rumor as well. The boy told him he was bringing his baseball bat and punched Edward in the shoulder like he always did.   He decided to scout out Innsmouth in early January and biked up to the town. He passed several abandoned farms on the road nearest Innsmouth as he reached the salt marsh that surrounded the town. He also passed at least one farm with smoke coming from the chimney. As he passed the last abandoned farm before the town, he saw the road ahead was gate and a small hut with several soldiers visible. There was also a pickup truck and a motorcycle, both painted olive drab.   He went back to the farm and turned west on the side road, noting the salt marsh between the road and Innsmouth. There were stunted trees and tall, dead grass out there. It looked very muddy, even in the cold.   He turned back towards the sea and, when he reached the next road there, which he thought led to Fall Street according to the maps he’d been perusing, he saw there was a concrete barricade across that road not far from where it intersected the road he was on. He thought he could get around it on his bicycle though. Looking towards Innsmouth, he saw another concrete barricade at the far end of the road, near town. He didn’t see anyone manning either of them.   He road west again to the Ipswich road and saw another checkpoint a little ways up. Then he biked back to Arkham.   He wrote a letter to Alice after that.  
Dearest Alice,   I have formulated an amazing undeniable incredibly successful way to get into Innsmouth
regarding the martial law and the barricade and the checkpoints situation. What is it, if I may
inquire, that you wish to do in Innsmouth? I may be able to help more if I know more details.
Otherwise, I’m very excited to not only be going to this fascinating town, but to also be included
on a team of people who may or may not call me friend.   E Pluribus Unum
Edward  
He also briefly summarized that the town seemed to be haunted and the people were insular, not taking too kindly to visitors. He also wrote the town was very spooky, being cursed or haunted.   Alice wrote him back almost immediately.  
Yes, I hope you know you’re always welcome to our adventures. I do consider you an acquaintance
and I appreciate the information.  
He was a little disappointed she had not told him more about why she wanted to enter Innsmouth but was happy to be part of the team.     * * *       The families all arrived in Ipswich on Friday, February 15, 1929. Gerdie and Gordon’s families borrowed an old pickup truck for the trip. It wasn’t a comfortable ride, but they got there. Edward’s parents drove their sedan and Donald rode with George’s family. His own parents were busy that weekend with an art show at their gallery in Kingsport.   The whole family had dinner at Alice’s little house. Her mother was glad to see the in-laws and happy with seeing her own family before she moved back to Dunwich.   Though the parents all split up after dinner that night as far as accommodations, the children all bunked in Alice’s bedroom. Edward and George’s parents got hotel rooms in Ipswich so they didn’t have to drive at night. Gerdie’s parents slept in the living room. Gordon’s parents had brought a tent for the back of the pickup and slept out in the cold.   “So-so-so … when are we doing this sneaking off?†Edward asked his voice cracking in the throes of puberty.   George rolled his eyes. Gordon, who had been sharpening his axe with a whetstone, stopped and just stared at the other boy.   “What happened to you?†he said.   “I … uh … my body changed,†Edward said.   “I can tell,†Gordon said. “Don’t feel bad about it.†  He went back to sharpening his axe very slowly. He looked at Edward as he did so, wondering what happened to the boy and not wanting it to happen to him.   “Has-has-has-has it happened to you yet, Gordie?†Edward squeaked.   “Iunno … maybe,†Gordon said with a shrug. “My voice cracked once and my dad slapped me, so I don’t do it anymore.†  “W-w-w-wait,†Edward squeaked. “You can control it?†  Gordon grinned.   “He’s from the country,†George said. “They go through it early. Age nine.†  “Wow!†Edward said.   “I know a lot about these things,†George said. “‘Cause I’m 14.†  “Mmm,†Gordon said. “Hasn’t started for you yet, has it George?†  “Shut up, Gordie!†George said.   Alice had left the room and brought back bottles of Pepsi-cola for everyone. Donald spoke quietly with Simon.   “So, are we digging before or after?†Gerdie said.   “We’re digging?†George said.   “Well … it …†Alice said.   “You promised there’d be digging,†Gerdie said.   “Yes, I did,†Alice said. “But … not at this point.†  “So, after,†Gerdie said.   “Is it metaphorical digging?†Donald said.   “It’s … well …†Alice said.   “That’s what Simon wants to know,†Donald said.   “Well, I assumed you meant … in the earth,†Alice said.   “Yes,†Gerdie said.   “Then that,†Alice said.   “I mean, we can do both,†Gerdie said. “Both is good.†  “Well, right now, we’re going to be doing more of the metaphorical digging,†Alice said.   “Metaphorical!†Donald said. “You were right, Simon!†  “I like all kinds,†Gerdie said.   “But first, now that I have you here, I need to explain some things to you,†Alice said. “I know I was intentionally vague with my letters. So … there are a lot of things that you don’t know about me and that needs to be clear before we continue with this.†  “You’re from Innsmouth,†George said. “You got the plague?†  “W-w-w-ell I think … I think I don’t know about most-most people,†Edward squeaked.   “Uh … okay,†Alice said. “Would you … I don’t have the plague.†  “Good!†George said. “I don’t want it.†  “I appreciate your digging with this information,†Alice said to Edward.   “I-I-I-I dig in books,†Edward said.   Alice pat him on the shoulder.   “Well,†she said. “The truth is … I wanna find … my Aunt Margie. And she’s a very important person to me … because of things that happened in my past that you don’t know. When I was 11, I was in … I was in a very bad situation … where … a man … pulled me back into an alley and … was touching me … and … trying to hurt me.†  She looked at all of them.   “But, as you know, I’m … I’m very adept at my knife skills and … uh … he didn’t … he wasn’t … let’s just say, he didn’t have the capacity to touch me anymore,†she went on.   “Damn!†George said.   “Y-Y-Y-Y-You killed him!?!†Edward squealed.   “Do you blame me?†Alice said.   “Not really,†Gordon said.   “Well …†Alice said.   “Good!†George said.   He looked angry.   “Like I said, I was … I was 11 and my Aunt Margie found me …†Alice went on. “...with my clothes torn, with my clothes open … and … a man bleeding out right beside me. She … helped me … dispose of his body … and told me that I was a very good girl for doing what I did. Well …†  Donald had slipped over to the girl and carefully and quietly patted her shoulder.   “Simon says he’s sorry,†he said.   Alice smiled, her eyes filled with tears.   “Thank you Simon,†she said. “It’s good to know you’re still here.†  She looked over in the corner Donald had indicated.   “Well … anyway … my … my Aunt Margie,†Alice went on. “She got very sick … and my family said that she was going away to get better, but … something about me, I just didn’t think that was true. She … she wouldn’t have left without saying good-bye. I know her! And … um … so, Margie … Aunt Margie was a very important person in my life and … I need to find her. I need to find out where she is and, ever since this situation that happened at Halloween … I feel like we can do this. I feel like we can take this upon ourselves and find out what happened to her because it’s always been a mystery to me and it’s always been eating me alive. I just need to know.†  “Well, how do we find out?†George asked.   “Well, my first idea was going to Cousin Melba first,†Alice said. “I’m sure you all know her …†  “She has my eyes!†Gerdie said.   “I love Cousin Melba,†George said.   “Uh-huh, she’s the best,†Gordon said.   “Simon likes her too!†Donald said.   “Yeah, she’s … yeah,†Alice said. “Yeah. But … I think she might have some information since she’s connected to otherworldly things. I think she might have some information on where my aunt could’ve gone.†  “We’re going to the Dreamlands again?†Gerdie said with a smile.   “I thought we were going to Innsmouth!†Edward squeaked.   “That’s a great idea!†Donald said to Gerdie.   “I’m not sure if it─†Alice said.   “I was gonna suggest reversing the charges,†George said. “She works at the switchboard in Kingsport.†  “If it comes down to that, maybe,†Alice said. “Uh …†  “She lives in that castle in the sky,†Donald said.   “Well, like I said, it’s pretty time sensitive since we’ll be moving as far away from here as possible,†Alice said. “But─†  “Wait, you’re moving?†George said.   “Yes,†Alice said.   “I didn’t know that,†George said.   He turned to Donald.   “Did you know that?†he said.   Donald shook his head.   “Well, now you do,†Alice said. “That’s why you’re all here, so I can explain things to you. But … since it’s time sensitive, I think that would be a good idea to try to do that … maybe tonight.†  “S-s-s-s-so─†Edward said.   “Wait wait wait wait,†George said. “Before you start talking for an hour, when do you wanna go to Innsmouth then? When are we - is this a rescue mission?†  “That’s what I was gonna ask!†Edward squeaked.   George patted the other boy on the back.   “Maybe,†Alice said. “For all I know, maybe she … she might …†  Her eyes brimmed with tears again.   “Look, we’ll just have to see,†she finally said. “We’ll just hope for the best.†  George patted her shoulder.   “We’ll bring her home!†he said.   “Well, I’m … I have a good plan for getting into Innsmouth,†Edward said. “It’s kind of locked down right now, but …†  “Yeah, I’ve heard that,†Alice said.   “Yeah, you’re-you’re kind of the captain on that one,†Edward squeaked.   “What’s your plan?†George said. “Tell the plan and then she can decide. She’s the captain.†  “Cousin Melba will help us,†Gerdie said.   “We need to get to her first and find out what to do, pretty much,†Alice said.   Edward gulped and grunted, trying to get the words out.   “There is a road,†he finally said. “Where there’s not guards and we can just bike-bike on past it.†  “What are you talking about?†Alice said.   He pulled out a map of the outskirts of the town of Innsmouth. He had marked it up with pencil putting several letters upon it, A through G.   “All right, so … after long deliberation, I’ve figured out plans A through G,†Edward said.   “Where’s F?†Alice asked.   “F is hidden on there,†Edward said. “It’s on the ink dark part.†  “How many plans do you expect us to go through?†Alice said.   “G? F?†George said.   “Well, it’s good to be prepared,†Alice said.   “Hopefully not more than G,†Edward said.   “Well, it’s good to be prepared anyway,†Alice said again.   “I have - I have a lot of free time,†Edward said.   “The best way it to attack ‘em from the sea,†Gerdie said.   “From the … from the ‘C’ or the ‘S-E-A?’†Alice said.   “The sea!†Gerdie said.   “The …†Alice said. “This is like you and your digging again! What are you talking about!?!†  “I think she means from the Atlantic Ocean,†George said.   “They won’t be expecting it from boats,†Gerdie said.   “Well, Gordon doesn’t really want to be on the sea, does he?†Alice said.   “D-d-d-d-d-do you have a boat?†Edward said.   “No, dummy,†Gerdie said.   “We have boats down in Kingsport, but they’re rowboats,†Donald said. “Well, that’s about 20 miles. It’s gonna be hard work.†  He looked over at the corner.   “What?†he said. “No, you can’t help. You … you … I know but …†  He listened for a moment.   “Simon says he’s done a lot of boating,†he finally said. “But … how are you going to do the tiller?†  “How can you … can you row a boat here?†Alice said.   “Where?†Donald said.   “Here.†  “Oh yeah! We’re inland! Sometimes he gets on a thing on boats. He likes boats.†  George pulled out one of his comic books and flipped through it.   Edward told them what he had learned: the town was cursed, there had been a plague, no one wanted to live there, and the government came in and attacked the place and locked it up. No one would talk about the town and there were stories of white slaves, booze, and horrible things. It was currently held by the military.   “That plague ain’t catchin’, is it?†Gordon asked.   “W-w-w-w-w-w-well, I haven’t heard any official reports about the plague,†Edward said. “But … I don’t - I-I-I-I─†  “They get big eyes and scaly skin and their mouth gets real big,†George said. “They think it’s inbreeding.†  “Oh, okay,†Gordon said.   “They’re breeding with fish?†Gerdie asked.   They all looked at her. Gordon patted her on the head.   “What?†George said. “Maybe? I dunno.†  “Y-y-y-y-you can do that?†Edward squeaked.   “No,†Gordon said. “No.†  “Continue,†Alice said.   “You’re supposed to be the smart one!†Gordon said to Edward.   “What are your plans?†Donald said to Edward. “What are your plans! I wanna hear your plans.†  Donald had taken out his sketchbook and looked at the map Edward had, drawing it. Edward explained about the road with the barricades but without any guards. He said Plan B, C, D, and E were various points where they could enter the swamp and go through to avoid the soldiers. Plan F was to follow the road that ran along the coast, though he admitted he hadn’t scouted it out yet. Plan G was to go into the water and swim into Innsmouth.   “Or get a boat,†Gerdie said. “It’s too bad we don’t have krampus to sniff her out.†  “Edward, you’re smart,†Donald said. “Which one do you think we should do?†  “A,†Edward said.   “There you go!†Donald said with a smile. “Let’s try A.†  “That’s why it’s A and not B,†Edward said.   “I think, in alphabetical order, we probably should go with your first plan,†Alice said.   “A-A-A-A-A-A is the best one,†Edward squeaked.   They decided to enter the Dreamlands that night when they slept.     * * *    

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

Valentine's in Innsmouth Part 2 - Secret Entry into Innsmouth

* * *       As they had all been in the Dreamlands before, they knew the way through the door to the Cavern of Flame in which burned a great pillar of fire that reached from floor to ceiling. They passed Kaman-Thah and Nasht, passing down the 700 steps and through the Gates of Deeper Slumber, entering finally into the Enchanted Wood. They eventually found their way to Celephais where they boarded one of the ships to the floating city of Serannian. There, they were easily able to find Mitzividor, a great castle of white marble where Cousin Melba lived as The White Maiden while in the Dreamlands. She was delighted to see them all.   The children the cousins had rescued that magical Christmas in Kingsport had all long since grown up as time flowed differently but much more quickly in the Dreamlands. However, Melba had adopted more children since then, always bringing Dreamlands orphans into her home. She introduced the children there to them all once again.   There were numerous krampus in the castle as well, acting as servants and helpers. Gordon had made amends with the krampus he had badly injured with the axe on their first meeting and they had become the best of friends. He was glad to see Gordon.   “Hans!†Gordon said.   “How joo doing?†the krampus said to him in the thick, krampus accent.   They had a lavish and splendid dinner with Cousin Melba and her children.   “I haven’t felt comfortable enough to go along this line of questioning yet, about Aunt Margie,†Alice said.   “That’s fine,†Melba said to her.   “Do you have any information?†  “Aunt Margie? Is that your aunt from Innsmouth?†  “Yes.†  “I never really knew her. I know that the Innsmouth people are strange. I never learned much about them.†  “I knew her very well. She … she saved me … when I was … when I was … younger.†  “Good. That’s great. I don’t know much about her though. I never met her in the real world. I’ve never seen her in the Dreamlands or at least she’s never come here. What do you need to know about her? I might be able to look up some things in Kingsport in the real world.†  “Well, she sick with some kind of illness I was never told the name of. And she … my family said she had to go away. But … I just never believed that. I … her house is empty and … I’ve never seen her. I have had possible glimpses of … I don’t know what inside of her windows … I … probably a figment of my imagination but still, I can’t get it out of my mind.†  “Do you think she might still be there? Even after the raid and everything.†  “I hope … she’s not a ghost.†  “I don’t know much about her at all.†  Alice started crying and Melba took the girl into her arms and held her.   “If there’s anything I can do in the real world to help you … or here,†she said. “You let me know. Do you need a ride up there? I haven’t been up there. I know the military’s still up there from what I’ve heard. Are they still up there?†  “I have concocted a lavish, perfectly impenetrable plan … to get us into Innsmouth,†Edward said.   In the Dreamlands, Edward never stuttered and his voice was warm and smooth like rich, perfect coffee.   “Several plans,†Alice said.   “You can trust me to get everyone in there safely,†he said.   “So, you don’t need any help from me at all?†Melba said. “I could borrow a car. I could drive you all up there.†  “That would be nice,†Alice said.   “How would we get past …†Edward said.   “We wouldn’t have to arrange─†  “… the military checkpoints?†  “I-I don’t know,†Melba said. “I haven’t been up to Innsmouth since the raid. I don’t know about any military checkpoints. I could ask─†  “And this is the superiority … of my amazing plan,†Edward said.   “I could act as a distraction,†Melba said.   “So, it would be safer to ride our bikes individually?†Alice said.   “The distraction plan is something I did not think of,†Edward said. “But I like the bikes plan still because it’s the one I came up with. I still think it’s very good. I put a lot of work into it.†  “Are you planning on going into Innsmouth?†Melba said.   “Well, yes,†Alice said.   “Okay,†Melba said. “Be careful. I’ve heard there’s strange things that happen out there.†  They looked at each other.   “Yes,†Alice said. “We’re aware.†  “Do you have any details … on the strange things?†Edward asked.   “No,†Melba said. “There’s … I’ve heard about fishermen who fished in their waters, from Falcon’s Point and Martin’s Beach, and … bad things happened to them. They’re boats got stove in, their nets got torn and ripped to shreds.†  “Such a terrible thing to be afraid of the water,†Alice said.   “Yeah. That’s what I’ve heard. Well, I’d like to help somehow. When are you planning on going?†  “When we wake up.†  “Are all of you here? I mean, are you in Innsmouth right now?†  “No.†  “Well, if we were in Innsmouth, we probably wouldn’t be talking about the plan to get into Innsmouth that we have yet to enact,†Edward said.   “You’re so clever, Edward,†Melba said with a smile. “You’re right.†  “Don’t be such a smartie to Melba,†Gerdie said. “Melba’s so nice.†  Melba smiled at her.   “But he’s right,†she said. “Okay, where are all of you?†  “We’re in Ipswich,†Alice said.   “You’re in Ipswich. Okay.†  “We’re at my house.†  “That’s not far from Innsmouth. I tell you what. I don’t work tomorrow. I’ll drive up to Ipswich tomorrow. There’s someone I can borrow a motorcar from.†  She smiled. Melba had several suitors in the both the real world and the Dreamlands.   “When are you going in?†she asked. “After dark?†  “I think with the cover of dark that would be best,†Alice said.   Melba said she would drive up to Ipswich that night around dinnertime and surprise everyone. If there was anything the children needed from her or the vehicle, she would be there for them. After that, she’d at least be around if they needed her. She didn’t know what she could do to help, but she’d be there to help if she could.   She hugged Alice and the rest.   They spent what felt like weeks in the Dreamlands, enjoying themselves. They all tried to learn the language of cats, most of them without luck. Gerdie learned some of the cat language from one of the cats in Melba’s palace. She also tried to get one of the krampus to teach her how to smell things. She wanted to learn how to sniff someone out.   “Hold on,†the krampus said to her. “Barry!†  A small krampus came out.   “Teach her how to sneeff,†the first said to him.   “Oh jes!†Barry said. “I teach you how to sneeff! Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go!†  He did his best to teach her how to track via small. It wasn’t easy as she wasn’t really built for it, having a human nose and all.     * * *       When they got up the next morning, Saturday, February 16, 1929, Alice asked Donald if Simon slept. He told her he didn’t know and had never thought to ask. He supposed if Simon did sleep, he did so when he slept.   “W-w-w-w-wait a minute!†Edward squeaked. “Do you just go to sleep with him looking over your bed?†  “No, he goes to sleep too,†Donald said. “I think. He likes to stay in the closet, sometimes. Sometimes he goes under the bed. And sometimes he’s just gone, ‘cause he just kind of fades away. Where do you go when you fade away?†  He looked over by the door to the room.   “It is too my business,†he said.   He listened.   “Okay, fine!†he said. “Wow. Don’t ask him that question! He doesn’t like that question, apparently. What is wrong with you? Okay. Okay, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry! Okay. It’s okay.†  “I’d feel safer is someone was watching me,†Gerdie said.   George shuddered.   “U-u-u-u-unfortunately, I would not get that impression,†Edward said. “It would be very bothersome.†  “Simon would watch over you,†Donald said to Gerdie. “If you want.†  “Aw, thanks Simon,†Gerdie said.   “I don’t want a 9-year-old watching me while I sleep,†Edward said again.     * * *       That day was spent with the families at Alice’s house. They had a large breakfast and a fine dinner, with Cousin Melba arriving unannounced as a surprise as she said she would. Gerdie impressed her by whispering “Hello†in the language of cats. A very enjoyable evening was had by all of them. Melba found time to tell all of the children she was going to leave after dinner but she would be around Innsmouth. Edward told her of their plan and she thought it a good idea. She warned them to be careful.   Near dark, the parents all went their own ways, George and Edward’s parents to the nearby hotel, Gordon’s parents into the back of the truck, and Gerdie’s parents into the living room to sleep. Cousin Melba left as well.   Alice’s mother gave her a kiss on the cheek before the girl went to bed.   “This was a great idea, Alice,†she said. “I’m glad you suggested it.†  That left the children alone.   After they were certain their parents were asleep, they snuck out and borrowed bicycles from a place Alice knew there were several. Edward had brought his own bicycle. George was disappointed he had a girl’s bike.   “C’mon!†he muttered.   Alice punched him on the shoulder.   “Ow!†he said. “Stop!†  “George, shut up and get on the bike,†Gordon said.   “Why does he get a boy’s bike?†George said.   “Your ideas of gender are atrocious!†Alice said to him.   “It’s only one bar of iron,†Gerdie said.   Donald helped Simon get on the bike.   Some of the bikes had bells and some had electric lights powered by a generator. They agreed not to use either.   They headed for Innsmouth. It took them about an hour to get there but it was a cold, clear night. They went to the road where there were two concrete barricades. They saw some light up at the checkpoint on the other road nearby. They went around the barricade and, as they were riding up the road, they saw a dark-colored sedan pull up to the checkpoint and, after a few minutes, drive on into Innsmouth.   The smell of fish grew stronger as they approached the decrepit town. They noticed some light came from the village and Alice realized the streetlights, which had burned intermittently in certain parts of the village when she had lived there, still worked. Most of the streets were cloaked in darkness, but certain parts of town had working lights, she remembered. That changed her plans somewhat.   Gerdie was riding her bike with her shovel on the handlebars, holding it ahead of her and thinking of it as a dowsing rod. Alice gave the girl a look but realized stranger things had happened. Donald whispered over his shoulder to Simon.   They went around the barricade on the other side of the road that became Fall Street and stopped. The houses there looked like they were about to fall down. They were decrepit, the sidewalks there in disrepair though the street seemed to be in decent shape.   They rode up Fall Street without issue until they reached the Marsh Street Green at the intersection of Marsh, Fall, and Bates Streets. The streets surrounding the large, iron-railed green were in poor shape. Weeds growing up inside the fenced green had taken firm root well into the pavement, filling the cracks in the street with dandelions and thistles, all dead in that time of year. The dead, waist-high weeds of the green hid the remains of a toppled Indian statue and rotting park bench.   Gerdie sniffed around, hoping to smell Aunt Margie, but the stench of fish was very strong. Alice told them the route she hoped to take to Aunt Margie’s house on the northern side of town.   Gordon suggested they all pair off in case anything happened or they had to separate. He thought someone who was good at hitting something and someone who was smart was the best way. They decided Donald and George were a pair, Gordon and Gerdie were a pair, and Edmund and Alice were a pair. When they called Donald and George “three,†do to Simon, George frowned.   “Two and a half,†he said.   “And … that’s rude,†Alice said.   “Don’t be mean to Simon!†Gerdie said.   “He has a soul and no body,†George said calmly. “He’s half a person.†  Alice slapped George firmly in the face.   “Ow!†he said. “Stop it, Alice!†  They also decided if they all got separated or something they would meet back at that spot and hide in the tall, dead weeds, despite the fact that Bertie thought they should meet at the remains of the old lighthouse on the southern tip of the breakwater in the harbor. It looked, from that distance, like nothing more than a jumble of stones.   “You can see it from here, so it would make a good meet up spot,†she said.   They discussed whether or not to ride their bikes. In the end, they decided to walk their bikes to allow them to hide if need be or use them to flee.   They continued along Fall Street but, as they approached the next intersection, which Alice knew was Waite Street though there were no street signs, they spotted two armed soldiers walking down the street towards them. Each of the men carried a flashlight and had a rifle on his shoulder.   Gerdie said “hide†in the language of cats.   None of them knew that language.   They all went to ground, hiding as best they could in the cluttered street. Gerdie disappeared into the darkness but Gordon knocked over an old garbage can as he tried to hide. Donald was also loud, dropping his bicycle and shushing Simon. Edward lay down in the gutter next to the street. Alice picked a terrible hiding place and didn’t realize there was a beam of moonlight shining on the back of her head.   The soldiers obviously heard the children and started to walk towards them more quickly when there was a crash from down Waite street in the direction of the New Town Square. The soldiers stopped and there was another crash. They took their rifles off their shoulders and headed down that way, shining their flashlights ahead of them.   Gerdie meowed it was clear.   “What are you saying?†Alice asked.   “Gerdie, stop rubbing it in!†Gordon said.   “D-d-d-d─†Edward said.   “She’s been learning cat,†Donald said.   “D-d-d-d-does this mean I should talk in Latin now?†Edward said.   “No!†Alice said.   “No Ed,†Gordon said.   “That’s even worse!†Alice said.   “Just don’t talk at all!†George said.   “No, you can still talk,†Gordon said. “Just don’t talk in Latin.†  Alice glared at George.   “I’m going to slap you in the face again if you don’t stop that,†she said.   “You gonna slap him too?†George said.   They quickly moved down the opposite way down Waite Street.   As they passed a house on Waite Street, they thought they heard a heavy breathing coming from one of the few remaining buildings. They had moved into an area that was desolate and most of the houses has been demolished. The street was unpaved and it was very dark. There were some warehouses still standing in the area. The breathing sound seemed to be coming from one of those out of a broken window.   They kept walking but Edward slowed to look at the building. As he did so, the breathing stopped and he heard the slapping of wet feet as if something were running away into the darkness of the edifice. Gerdie held her shovel out towards the sound and didn’t seem to think it minded it.   “S-s-s-somebody just got out of a bath,†Edward said, trying to make a joke.   Alice just looked at him.   They continued down to Water Street where most of the buildings were simply rubble and debris as if they had been blown up or burned down. As they approached the bridge over the frozen Manuxet River, they saw three more soldiers walking down the street towards them from the other side.   The children hid as best they could. George and Donald actually hid in the darkness, tucking their bikes among the rubble. Gerdie and Alice managed to hide themselves.   Gordon and Edward both tried to climb down the short embankment below the bridge. Both of them slipped on the dirt and loose grass there and slid all the way down to the ice, crashing at the bottom. Both of them slid away, having lost their bicycles, which slowly slid off in another direction.   The soldiers heard and stopped on the bridge, looking down. One of them took the rifle from his shoulder while the other two shined flashlights down onto the ice below.   “Who’s that down there?†one yelled. “Don’t move! Don’t move!†  “Stand up!†another man yelled.   The soldier with the rifle wasn’t pointing it at the boys but held it ready as the other two soldiers worked their way down the embankment to the ice below.   “C’mere!†one of them said.   They made for the boys who were struggling to stand up. Edward tried to run away, sliding along the ice to the embankment on the opposite side of the river. Gordon tried as well but fell, slamming onto the ice face-first. The soldier grabbed him by the arm and picked him up.   “Boy, just hold still!†the soldier said to Gordon. “Just hold still!†  “I’m a dog!†Edward shrieked as he slid across the ice to the other side of the river, the soldier close on his heels. “I’m a dog! I’m not a person, I’m a dog.†  He ran up the embankment and around a broken building to hide behind the rubble, trying to bury himself. The soldier wasn’t fooled.   “I’m a dog!†Edward said, panicking. “Bark bark!†  The soldiers snatched the boy up and dragged him back to the bridge.   “Hold still, boy,†the soldier that had Gordon said. “We’re not gonna hurt you.†  “Bark bark!†Edward squealed. “I’m a dog!†  “There’s something wrong with this kid,†the soldier that held Edward said.   “Let me go! I’m a dog!†  “There’s something really wrong with this kid, I think. Kid, we’re not gonna hurt you. We’re not gonna hurt you.†  “What?†  They met on the bridge once again and started to head to the north along Water Street in the same direction the children had been going. Alice followed them at a distance, trying to stay hidden in the shadows. Donald and George followed her.   “Where’d Gerdie go?†Donald whispered.   “She’s dead,†George whispered back.   “She’s right there,†Donald said, spotting Gerdie in the shadows.   Gerdie followed, a little despondent that she’d lost her buddy. The three of them caught up with Alice.   “Where you going?†George whispered.   “We gotta do something!†Alice said.   “They have guns!†George whispered.   “So!?!†Alice said, brandishing her two knives.   “We’re so close, we should go to Aunt Margie’s house,†Gerdie whispered. “Then we’ll figure it out.†  The soldiers took a left on Dock Street and headed down towards the Old Town Square where there light spilled from the streetlamps there.   “If we get caught too, then we can’t do anything,†Gerdie whispered.   “Yeah, but, we’re supposed to all be together for this!†Alice whispered.   “We’ll get together later,†Gerdie said.   “Edward’s smart!†George said. “He’ll figure it out. He’s tricky. So’s Gordon. Gordon’ll probably insult ‘em ‘til they pass out.†  They could see several vehicles parked in the Old Town Square as they stopped before they reached the lit streets.   “That looks like a bivouac,†George said.   “A … what?†Alice said.   “That’s where they stay, where they live. I bet that’s where they’re staying.†  “A what?†  “A bivouac. That’s where you lay your head. It means a camp, okay? It’s just a camp. That’s the soldiers’ base, I bet.†  They decided to continue up Water Street on their original route. All of the buildings there had been demolished and then they heard something moving in the rubble. Alice crouched down and Gerdie meowed “friend.†A moment later, she heard a meow and a ragged black cat came out of the debris. It asked her for food while Alice looked back and forth between Gerdie and the cat.   Alice meowed a question, the purr rising up at the end.   She tried to say “friend or foe†but both Gerdie and the cat looked at her quizzically. The cat continued to ask Gerdie for food. Gerdie sniffed around for fish but the stench of fish was everywhere.   “Food,†the cat said to her again. “C’mon!†  “Follow,†Gerdie said in cat.   “Okay,†the cat replied. “Bad stuff underground.†  “Gerdie, what’s up?†Alice asked. “What is she saying?†  “It wants food but it says don’t go underground,†Gerdie said.   “Why the hell would we go underground!?!†George said.   “I don’t know,†Gerdie said.   “C’mon, let’s take her with us,†Alice said.   George looked around nervously as they moved one. The cat followed Gerdie and, about a block up, where Church Street met Water Street, they found a small, stinking pile of rotted fish guts and bones in a terrible corner. The cat seemed quite happy with the find. Gerdie took the coins out of her handkerchief and tucked them safely in her pocket. She scooped up some of the rotten guts and bones and put them in the handkerchief to take with her. The cat followed her.     * * *       The soldiers took Edward and Gordon to a square north of the river where there were lights. There were more Ford pickup trucks and motorcycles painted olive drab in the square. Several soldiers were present as well. The boys were taken to a building on the square that had a brick storefront with dusty windows. The sign hanging overheard read “Dr. Rowley Marsh―General Practitioner.†Below, in smaller letters was written “Ralsa Marsh―Law Consultant.†A long, black Cadillac sedan sat out front.   They were taken into the building and to a small front office where there were two doors, one on either side of the hall. They were made to wait there with one of the soldiers. The other went to one of the doors in the back and entered.   Sometime later, two gentlemen came in from the back. One of them was an older man with a mustache and a stern face. The other man was younger and clean-shaven. Both of them wore suits and motioned for the soldier to bring the boys into the back. They sat the boys on a bench in the room, taking Gordon’s axe and placing it on the desk. Then both soldiers left.   The older man grabbed Edward by the shoulder.   “Sit still, boy,†he said.   “O-o-o-o-o-o-okay,†Edward squeaked.   The man got very close to the boy’s face and looked in his eyes and then at his mouth and finally he turned the cowering boy’s head from side to side and examined his neck closely. He did the same to Gordon. He finally stood back from the boys.   “What are you doing in Innsmouth?†he asked.   “W-w-w-w-w-w-we’re …†Edward stuttered.   “Ed, just let me talk,†Gordon said. “I bed Ed here we could sneak in the town because he didn’t think we could do it. Because you know with all y’all soldiers in here, he said we couldn’t do it and I wanted to prove him wrong.†  “W-w-w-were you checking us for the … plague?†Edward squeaked.   “Where you from?†the man asked.   “I-Ipswich,†Edward stuttered.   “I’m from out in Dunwich,†Gordon said. “I was just in town visiting him.†  “What’s your name?†the man asked.   “Michael … Filbin,†Edward lied.   Gordon pinched his nose in frustration. He had already called Edward by his name.   “How about you, boy?†the man asked. “What’s your name?†  “I’m Gordon,†Gordon said. “Gordon Brewster.†  “Who’s this? Who’s the lying boy?†  “My cousin Ed. Believe me, I thought he was smart.†  The man walked over to the desk, opened a drawer, and pulled out a hammer, putting it on the desk next to the axe.   “Now, why are you here?†he asked against.   “W-w-w-well …†Ed said.   The man picked the hammer up and hit the desk hard with it. The noise was loud and startled Edward.   “I want the truth!†he said. “Next time I use this hammer, there’s going to be a finger under it, you understand?†  “I-I-I-I was reading about Innsmouth,†Edward stammered. “And I was - I was just really curious. I-I-I-I-I read a lot of books and I wanted to know if it was - if it was true, all the things they said.†  “Who are you with?†  “I’m with my cousin.†  “Who else?†  “I don’t know. We don’t have … I ain’t with anybody else. I’m scared. You’re about to hammer my hands.†  “If need be.†  “Oh God!†  “I’m trying to protect this great country from horrors … from things that are trying to infiltrate the American people.†  “Am I a horror?†  “That remains to be seen.†  “Oh God!†  “Harry, they’re just a couple of kids!†the other man said.   The older man shushed him.   “Shut it!†he said. “Something’s going on, isn’t it?†  “Maybe,†the younger man said.   “Couple kids just decide to come in tonight on a dare,†the older man said, then turned to Gordon. “On a dare, you say?†  “Yes sir,†Gordon said.   He shoved Gordon’s shoulder, none too gentle.   “It’s like I told you, he bet we couldn’t get in,†Gordon said, sticking with his story. “I bet we could.†  “Mm-hm,†the older man said. “Interesting. Let’s see what else we can find out.†    * * *       Alice, Gerdie, Donald, George, and the cat reached the intersection of Martin Street and Water Street. Alice noticed a couple of suspiciously large crabs scuttle out of the rubble nearby.   “What the hell is that?†George said, pointing his bat at the things.   “That’s … that’s not good,†Alice said. “Those are not good.†  She picked up her pace, heading up Martin Street.   “What does that mean!?!†George said, also walking faster.   The others followed suit. Gerdie looked at the shovel, expecting it to show her good things. She looked at the cat, expecting it to warn her of danger. She was not disappointed when the cat ran after Alice.   A block from Aunt Margie’s house, between Fish Street and Main Street, there was a horrible stench unlike anything any of them had smelled before. It was the terrible stink of death and decay and something worse. They spotted, on a building that was mostly intact, a black, tarry slime near a large hole at the base of the building. George cursed at the stench and they all stopped.   “What is that?†he said.   “We should go to Aunt Margie’s first,†Gerdie said.   Alice pulled her coat tighter around her and looked towards the cat. It crossed the street away from the terrible smell and kept walking. All of the children avoided it the hole.   After they carefully crossed the intersection at Main Street, they saw a strange symbol on a wall not far from Aunt Margie’s house. It appeared to be a star with a flame in the center of it. Alice didn’t like it. It made her uneasy. Gerdie recognized it as an elder sign, a protective symbol she sometimes saw in her strange dreams. The cat didn’t seem bothered by it at all. The shovel seemed indifferent to it.   Aunt Margie’s house stood on the corner of Fall Street and Martin Street, facing south onto the latter. The older Georgian house had a gambrel roof and two windows to the attic on the third floor. The first and second story windows and doors were all boarded up but the decrepit structured looked little different than it had before Alice left Innsmouth. There was no sign of life in the place or any suggestion anyone lived there.   Alice was suddenly hesitant, stopping in front of the building.     * * *       Edward was taken to the office next door, which appeared to have once been a doctor’s office but now had several cots set up on one side. The older man got in the boy’s face and started being a little rough with him. Edward told the man he was telling Gordon all about how creepy Innsmouth was and they got into an argument about it so they decided to try to creep into the town. Then the soldiers caught them. They were just going around the houses to try to look for weird and spooky stuff.   The man didn’t seem to believe him.     * * *       The old man returned to the room where Gordon was being watched by the younger man. He grilled Gordon roughly but the boy stuck with his story. The man told Gordon that wasn’t what Edward had told him.   “What about the others that came with you?†he said.   “We had one other cousin that came with us but they chickened out at the last minute,†Gordon said.   “Who?†  “Huh?†  “What was that cousin’s name?†  “Name was George.†  “Where’s he from?†  “Huh?†  “Where is he from? Is he from Innsmouth?†  “He was in town with the rest of us. He’s from Arkham. All three of us showed up. He was tagging along. All three of us showed up and at the last minute he said ‘Nah, I’m not doing this.’†  “Why didn’t you mention him before?†  “Huh?†  “Why didn’t you mention him before?†  “Huh? You didn’t ask.†  The man grabbed Gordon’s hand and held it down on the desk.   “You can - you can─†Gordon said.   The man had picked up the hammer and slammed it down on the desk next to the boy’s hand. It startled Gordon.   “Sir, you can do that all night,†Gordon said. “It’s nothing compared to what my daddy’ll do to me.†  “What’s your daddy’s name?†the man said.   Gordon told him.   “Where is he?†the man asked.   “Huh?†Gordon said. “He’s back in town.†  “Define ‘town.’†  “Ipswich.†  “Uh-huh.†  “So, who are you staying with in Ipswich?†  Gordon told him he was staying with the Sanders.     * * *       The old man entered the room where Edward waited with the younger man.   “Your cousin’s made of tough stuff,†he told Edward. “Didn’t even scream when I broke his finger.†  Edward squeaked.   “H-h-he didn’t …†he muttered. “Y-y-y-y-y-y-y-y-y─†  “Go in there and help that boy,†he said to the younger man. “See if you can set it. Or, if you can’t set it, just cut it off.†  The younger man left.   “I’m tired of all these lies,†the older man said. “Who are you here with and where are you going?†  “I was just - I was just─†Edward stammered. “I was just here with Gordie. We were gonna see - we were gonna see the plague and the spookies─†  “A party?†  “Gordie! Gordie! It’s his name! His name is Gordie! We call him Gordie! It’s a nickname! Oh God!†  “You’re very persuasive son, but you’ve got to understand something. There are things going on in this town that not only threaten the United States but the people in it. There are things in this town that are trying to destroy the human race. You understand that? They’re trying to change us into something we’re not. They’re very dangerous, and if you’re not going to help me, then I’m going to have to find out some way to get some help.†  “If you’d elaborate on that, let me write it down, I’ll get out of your hair instantly! I just find out─†  “You can’t write any of this down.†  “I don’t have to write it down. That was a lie. You can just tell it to me. I’m just curious.†  “If I get another lie out of you after this, I’m throwing your ass in jail.†  He looked at the boy carefully before he went on.   “There are things, living on Devil’s Reef, that have been breeding with the people of Innsmouth and changing them into half-human, half-fish creatures,†he finally said.   “I thought my friend told me - he couldn’t - he couldn’t do it with a fish,†Edward muttered.   “They’re not fish. They’re fish people. They’ve evolved next to us for millions of years.†  “How did the fish people start?†  “I don’t know. But we’re trying to protect this county. The raid last year was to stop them. Now, are you going to help me, and protect whomever else is here with you? Or not?†  Edward was certain the man was telling him more than he probably should have and felt he was being completely honest with him. It was unnerving. He also felt like the man would do anything he needed to do to get the information and the truth.   “Will you help us?†the old man said again.     * * *    

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

Valentine's in Innsmouth Part 3 - Aunt Margie

* * *       Aunt Margie’s was completely boarded up on the ground and second floors. Even the back door proved to be boarded shut. Alice peeked into the windows and could see very little though it looked pretty decrepit inside. She decided she wanted to go in.   “Stand aside, ladies,†George said.   He handed off his bat to Donald and then rolled up his jacket sleeves. He spit in his hands and rubbed them together. Then he grabbed the lowest board on the door and ripped it loose, putting it aside. He tried to break the door down.   “I don’t have enough leverage,†he muttered.   He ripped another board off and then put his shoulder to the door again. There was a snap as the latch broke and the door creaked open. George held out his hand towards Donald, who just looked at it for a moment. George turned and looked at his baseball bat.   “Oh!†Donald said.   He handed off his baseball bat the boy stood there, waiting. Gerdie looked at the cat, which looked at the open door nervously.   “Someone should keep a lookout,†she said.   “Hm,†Alice said.   “I could meow,†Gerdie said.   They discussed it briefly and then Gerdie crept around the side of the house by the little well house there. The cat followed her.   Alice, George, and Donald entered the house.   “Be careful,†Donald whispered. “It might be haunted.†  He looked over his shoulder.   “Not by you!†he whispered to Simon.   They crept into the house, Alice taking out a flashlight she’d brought just for that purpose. She clicked it on. They were in the hall that ran through the center of the house. A stairway went up there and there were archways to either side.   The house smelled strongly of raw fish. There were two rooms towards the front of the house, a sitting room and a dining room. The furniture was all covered with dust and dirt, as well as some kind of flaking debris that looked like fish scales. More debris was on the floor and the lamps and lights were all broken. There was the sound of dripping water coming from the back. Small piles of bones were in the corners.   Alice led them through the dining room to the small kitchen. Water dripped down from the ceiling above, which looked like it was about to collapse. There were puddles on the floor and the cupboards were all open. Pots, pans and other kitchen implements lay about amid the bones of small animals and fish. The back door was closed, as was the door to the basement.   Alice grew despondent. She sighed.   “This is useless, isn’t it?†she said. “God, this is useless.†  “What?†Donald said. “Why? Nobody’s been here for a while.†  “There’s not going to be anything in here but … just … fish bones …†Alice said.   “What left the bones?†Donald said. “Or who?†  Alice looked at the two boys.   “Okay, let’s check the rest of the house,†she finally said.   Dejected, they looked into the back parlor and headed upstairs. There were three bedrooms and a bathroom. The bedroom doors were all open and the rooms were filthy. The beds appeared to have been slept in. There were more scattered bones around the place and the fishy smell was strongest in near the bathroom, in the back over the kitchen. The bathroom door was closed.   Alice knocked. There was no answer. She tried the knob and found it unlocked. She pushed it open.   The stink of raw fish was very strong in the dirty bathroom. Though the smell didn’t bother her, the two boys were disgusted. George gagged and Donald put the sleeve of his jacket over his mouth and nose and looked away. She pulled the door somewhat closed once again but shined the flashlight into the room.   The bathroom was once been very nice with a tile-covered floor that went up the wall about four feet. Now the tile was covered in filth and a large patch of black mold grew on one wall. The sink was disgustingly dirty and the mirror over it shattered. The toilet was also dirty and moldy. The bathtub was very large, standing on four legs, and filled to the brim with water which dripped out of the crack in one side, leaving a wide puddle over most of the bathroom floor. A tiny, dirty window was covered with filth.   Not seeing anything, she pulled the door closed. But then she heard a gurgle and splash from inside the room. She pushed the door open again. The water in the tub rippled as if it had been disturbed slightly.   Alice carefully crossed the room to the tub. Through the murky water there, she saw a woman lying in the bottom. She had large, unblinking fish-like eyes, a wide mouth, scales all over her misshapen face, and slits on the side of her throat that seemed to palpitate, opening and closing as if she were breathing. Her large hands were clasped over her chest, evidence of claws and webbed fingers obvious. Despite the fact that she had changed and was malformed, she recognized it as Aunt Margie.   For a moment, nothing happened. Then Aunt Margie sat up in the tub, splashing water out of the bathtub. Behind her, George gasped and stared at the thing.   “Alice?†the thing in the tub said in a deep, guttural voice.   “Wha … what?†Alice said, tears brimming in her eyes.   The thing that was, indeed, Aunt Margie leaned towards the girl.   “I waited for you,†she said. “I hid and I waited when the men came and destroyed everything. They didn’t find me because I hid. The basement is flooded, but I’d changed enough by then I could stay under water as long as I wanted. They eventually gave up looking and I’ve been hiding here ever since, living as best I can though the sea calls to me every night and every day.†  She climbed out of the bathtub, standing stooped over on clawed feet and looked down at Alice. Then she knelt in front of the girl and reached tentatively for her. She put her clawed hand on Alice’s shoulder and then touched her hair and smiled sadly.   “I began to change about a year before the men came,†she said. “Just like my brother, your father.†  “My father?†Alice said, tears trickling from her eyes.   “We all change here. Things are different in Innsmouth. I and your mother hoped to protect you until you were old enough to understand but then the government men came.†  Alice frowned, terrified. Aunt Margie took her hand off the girl.   “Off the coast of the village is an amazing underwater city called Y’ha-nthlei,†Aunt Margie said. “A place where the deep ones live. It’s a place of great watery spaces with sunken porticos and labyrinths of weedy cyclopean walls with fish as your companions. Long ago, the people of Y’ha-nthlei made a pact with the people of Innsmouth, an agreement, to mate with them so their children would be immortal and live forever like the deep ones do.   “Your father married an outsider, a woman from Dunwich named Susan Morgan, your mother. They had fallen in love and, when he brought her back to Innsmouth, when she realized what was happening to him, she agreed not to tell you until you were old enough to understand. Your father changed early. He went away to Y’ha-nthlei. He lives there still. He didn’t die. He’ll live forever, because he carries the deep one blood. And you, too, have the blood of the deep ones. You, too, will change one day and feel the call of the sea. You, too, will live forever in Y’ha-nthlei, the city that’s lived for more than 80,000 years. Some of the residents there are still alive, Alice. Some of them from long ago. They have such stories to tell.†  Alice started crying.   “Your father can see the future,†Aunt Margie went on. “He kept this from the other deep ones but he sometimes knows what’s going to happen and that’s how he warned your mother of the government men coming here to Innsmouth to destroy it. And he warned me and so I stayed here to wait for you because I knew you would come back some day to find me.   “I’ve been waiting for you ever since, surviving as best I could while waiting for the last year. My change continued. I’m almost nearly full deep one now but I don’t think I’ll be able to escape the men who hold Innsmouth. They’ll probably kill me. And if they see you, they will, no doubt, try to take you prisoner as well. They … they hate our kind. They want to imprison or possibly kill us all. You must not be caught.†  Alice sank to her knees onto the wet floor.   “Your mother has kept you away from Innsmouth since the fall to protect you from the government,†Aunt Margie said. “I had to wait to see if you came back and I had to know that you were all right. This is who we are. This is what we are. Some … cannot stand that. But many see the beauty in what we have become.†  Alice breathed heavily.   “My father’s alive?†she finally said.   “He’s alive,†Aunt Margie said.   “I just … I felt him! I knew he wasn’t …†  “He didn’t think you were ready to know the truth yet. He was afraid that you would reject him if you saw what he was becoming. He was afraid.†  “And you?†  “I know you must see me as a monster, but I’m still Aunt Margie.†  Alice looked at her.   “How could I think you’re a monster?†she whispered.   She reached for Aunt Margie and embraced her.     * * *       “Wh-wh-wh-what’s gonna happen to us if I help you?†Edward asked the man.   “You’re going to go home,†the man said. “And you’re not going to tell anybody what I told you. They’ll probably think you’re crazy anyway. But know that you’re helping your country and the human race.†  Edward looked at the man for a long time.   “All right,†Edward finally said. “The reason we came here … I agreed because I wanted to know the stuff. The weird, Innsmouth stuff. Why the town was shut down. But … the real reason everybody went was because somebody had family in Innsmouth and they wanted to know what happened.†  “Do you know where this family might be?†the old man said.   “I don’t know the town very well, but they’re up in the north part,†Edward said.   The man got a map out and showed him the town and Edward learned his name was Agent Baldwin. They began to talk about where the children might have been heading. He didn’t tell the man the exact house, hoping Alice could do what needed to be done and escape, but did give him an idea of the general area of the house.   “You’ve done the right thing,†he said. “Come with me.†  He told Agent Smith to get the other boy and the four of them went out to the sedan. The older man found the sergeant on duty.   “Alert the men,†he said. “There might be one of those things in town and we have to get it.†  The boys got into the back of the sedan with Agent Baldwin. He had brought Gordon’s axe.   They saw the American soldiers getting roused and armed. The trucks were started up, as were the motorcycles. Some of the men had large tanks strapped to their backs and carried wands connected to the tanks by hoses. They lit the business ends of the flame throwers as the boys watched. Other men carried submachine-guns.   A motorcycle left the square and headed south.   “I’m sorry Gordie,†Edward said. “I was worried what would happen if I didn’t. He seemed real serious.†    * * *       “We have to get you out of here,†Aunt Margie said. “We have to get you and your cousins out of here.†  Donald and George looked at each other nervously. Alice looked over her shoulder at the boys.   “This is an introduction …†she muttered.   “Hey, Aunt Margie!†Donald said as cheerfully as he could.   George just waved at the deep one hybrid.   “Simon, say ‘hi,’†Donald said. “He says ‘hi.’†  Alice explained that Simon was a ghost that only Donald could see. Aunt Margie smiled and nodded.   “So, I’m not unfamiliar with the supernatural,†Alice said.   “Well, I hope that you can accept what you’re going to become,†Aunt Margie said.   She put one large, damp hand on the side of Alice’s face.   “You’re already starting to show some of the signs,†she said.   She looked at all three of them.   “We have to get you children out of here,†she said. “And I have to … probably … surrender myself to my fate. I don’t think I can make it to the sea.†  She stood up.   “But how?†Alice said. “But why?†  “Because I don’t think that I can get away and protect you as well,†Aunt Margie said.   “We can help you!†Alice said.   “Yeah!†George suddenly said. “We’re helping her! Hell, yeah, we’re helping her!†  “We can help you,†Alice said. “We can help you.†  She heard Gerdie meowing downstairs outside.   “We’ve got to go,†Alice said. “We’ve got to go, Aunt Margie. Please, please come!†  “Okay,†Aunt Margie said. “Let’s go.†  Alice grabbed a grubby towel and wrapped Aunt Margie in it. They raced downstairs, Aunt Margie hopping. Alice helped her.   “Do you need water?†she asked.   “I’ll be fine,†Aunt Margie said. “We’re fully amphibious but the ground gives me difficulty with my walking.†  George ran ahead and opened the door. Alice helped Aunt Margie out of the doorway. They heard Gerdie meowing around the side of the house and Alice meowed in return. Gerdie came around the side of the house with the cat behind.   They could all hear vehicles that seemed to be getting closer so they headed down Martin Street towards the sea. Alice took out both of her knives, holding them in her left hand. She tried to help Aunt Margie with her right. The creature obviously had trouble and moved with a hopping, shuffling gait.   “Who’s that over there?†a man’s voice called. “Stop right there!†  “Those are the lights I saw!†another voice said.   They raced down the street and heard people running and vehicles closing in. A truck came down Martin Street and the lights washed over them as they fled. They made it almost to Water Street before soldiers cut them off. They stopped as a black Cadillac rolled up the street, lights pinning them down. Soldiers closed into within 20 feet on either end of the street. Rubble stood where the buildings had once been, blocking their escape.   A few men moved in and flanked the children, guns at ready. They were surrounded. Alice still had an arm around Aunt Margie. The black cat hissed and growled at the soldiers. George had his baseball bat at ready. Donald looked scared. Gerdie looked around for some way out.   Agent Baldwin and Smith got out of the motorcar. Edward followed, grabbing at Agent Baldwin’s sleeve. Gordon also exited the motorcar, grabbing his axe as he did so.   “Oh wow!†Edward cried out. “It’s a real - it’s a real thing! It’s a real scientific development!†  Agent Baldwin approached the small group around Aunt Margie, putting himself between Gordon and Edward and the thing. The flicker of flamethrower igniters were scattered through the troops arrayed against the children and the hybrid. Other soldiers had rifles or Thompson sub-machineguns at ready.   “You gotta investigate!†Edward wailed. “You gotta learn about it!†  “We’re going to son,†Agent Baldwin said.   He shook Edward off and stepped forward.   “Now children,†Agent Baldwin said. “I don’t know what this creature has told you, but it’s all lies. These things subverted the people of this town and murdered many to keep their secret. We stumbled across it a year ago and your government did something about it to protect its citizens and the United States of America. Please step away from that … thing … and we’ll take it away before it hurts anyone again and then take all of you home.†  “She is my home,†Alice said.   “Let the children go and I’ll come peacefully!†Aunt Margie yelled.   Alice looked at her.   “Just leave me!†she said to Alice. “It’s more important that you get away.†  “No!†Alice said. “I lost you before! I’m not going to lose you again. Please!†  “I can’t …†Aunt Margie said. “They’re going to take you. They’re going to know that you’re one of us and they’re going to take you.†  Alice started crying.   Aunt Margie looked at the girl, her eyes more watery than they had seemed before. She nodded and stood up. George, next to them, had watched the whole exchange, his own eyes brimming with tears. He turned and was ready, baseball bat in hand.   “We’ve only been here an hour and there’s worse things in this town than her!†Gerdie called to Agent Baldwin.   “I know that!†he said.   “Well, then, why aren’t you taking care of them?†  “We’ve tried, little girl. We’ve lost a lot of troops. But certain things can’t be killed! They …†  He looked at Aunt Margie.   “… they control,†he finished.   “Excuse - excuse - excuse me,†Edward said. “What do you mean by saying they can’t be killed? That doesn’t make no darn sense.†  “You ever heard of a shoggoth, boy?†Agent Baldwin said.   “What the hell is that?†Edward said.   Both Edward and Gordon suddenly remembered. Whether it was from some repressed ancestral memory or something each of the boys had read, they would never know, but the very word stirred up images of terror, a nightmare, plastic column of fetid, black iridescence oozing forward, shapeless congeries of protoplasmic bubbles, faintly self-luminous, and with myriads of temporary eyes forming and unforming as pustules of greenish light all over the thing filled their minds with a terrible hellish understanding. They knew that facing such a terrible thing would mean death and the idea that something like that might be near was terrifying to both of them.   “Oh wait!†Edward screeched. “Oh yeah! I have!†  Gerdie also remembered what a shoggoth was, though unlike the boys, she was not overwhelmed with knowledge. Something in her, something old and deep and long lost, squirmed uncomfortably at the mention of the word. Something of what she had once been, perhaps long ago in the great city that had burned. She knew she never wanted to face such a horror. It reminded her of the slime they found earlier.   Agent Baldwin sighed.   “Seize them for interrogation!†he said to the soldiers. “Try to keep the hybrid! Try not to hurt the children!†  The soldiers closest to Aunt Margie and the children started to move in, shouldering their rifles. They did not draw the bayonets on their belts. The soldiers with flamethrowers held back, as did the men with sub-machineguns. The men tried to talk to the children as they approached, urging them that they didn’t want to hurt them and that they were only there to protect them.   Alice looked at Aunt Margie and saw the hybrid had her claws ready. George was swinging his baseball bat back and forth. Alice had two knives in her left hand. Gerdie screamed “Help†in the cat tongue. The man approaching her looked at her like she was crazy.   “What can I do?†Alice asked Aunt Margie.   Aunt Margie took Alice’s hand off her.   “Fill your hand with steel and let’s see if we can get away,†the woman said.   Alice put one of the knives in her off hand and turned towards the sea, readying herself to fight the men approaching her.   Nearby, Edward looked at Gordon questioningly. Gordon nodded. He looked over his shoulder. The only person behind them was Agent Smith, who stood near the motorcar.   Gerdie tried to fling the rotten fish guts in the face of the soldier going for her. She got them on him but not in his face.   “What the hell, little girl!?!†the man cried out.   George stepped forward and swung his baseball bat at one of the men, striking him in the left arm. There was a crack and the man let out a shout, stumbled, and fell to the ground.   “God damn it, kid!†the other soldier yelled.   Alice stabbed at the two soldiers that rushed her but they backed away.   “Little girl, we’re just trying to help you!†one of them said.   Nearby, Gordon turned towards Agent Smith, who stood near the motorcar. He pointed beyond him and then started describing the shoggoth he’d seen in his mind: plastic, huge, horrible. Agent Smith glanced quickly over his shoulder, but didn’t seem to believe it. He frowned at the boy.   Edward ran past Agent Baldwin and the men with the flamethrowers and sub-machineguns.   “Kid, where you going?†one of them yelled.   “Excuse me, I just wanna get a closer look at this fish thing!†he cried out. “Oops!†  He kicked out at one of the men moving towards the other children but didn’t hurt the man at all.   “Kid, what are you doing?†the man said.   “I’m sorry!†Edward said.   The soldier grabbed at Edward but the boy ducked and the man grabbed empty air.   A soldier grabbed Gerdie and her cat ran away. Two men grabbed Alice, who tried to stab both of them. Donald ducked to one side with a cry of “Don’t hurt my hands, you jerks!†A soldier rushed Aunt Margie and she was slightly injured. Then another of them grabbed the hybrid. She slashed the other man and he backed away with a scream, bleeding.   “Get offa me you mugs!†George yelled.   More soldiers moved quickly in as most of them were held. Then a strange croaking and baying of voices, clearly used for articulate speech but in a language no one understood, came from the harbor. The slapping of many feet across the damaged and destroyed buildings followed before dozens of deep ones appeared on the edge of the light, attacking the soldiers that blocked the children from their escape.   Other soldiers panicked and start screaming with those nearest the children letting them go and arming themselves as quickly as they could. The deep ones rushed forward, killing or incapacitating those soldiers nearest the harbor, tearing them to pieces, and quickly surrounding the children. Some of the soldier fainted, ran away shrieking, or stared incomprehensively at the things.   The sight was not good for Edward. He stood there, gasping in terror at the horrors he was seeing. He realized the sea and the water was what had spawned the horrible creatures and the sea and water was where they came from. He wanted nothing to do with either place again. Then he saw water starting to pour up out of the cracks in the ground and the cobblestones around. A shattered storm sewer was nearby and water poured out of it, rolling across the ground towards him. It was all around him.   One of the creatures knelt next to Alice and looked at her with wide, wet eyes.   “Come with us,†he said.   For just a moment, Alice recognized her father in the face of the creature. He gave her a nod and a familiar smile that she remembered and held out a large claw. She felt the tears brimming in her eyes.   “Dad?†she said.   “There’s no time!†he said, looking around.   “No, please.†  “Come with us!†  “Take her! Take her please!†  “We’re all getting out of here! You’re coming with us!†  Nearby a flame thrower burst into the air.   “Take Aunt Margie!†she said.   “We will!†her father said.   He grabbed her in a wet embrace and the other deep ones grabbed the rest of the children, one of them pushing past the soldiers and grabbing Edward while two more came down the rubble on one side and rushed Gordon, one of them shoving Agent Baldwin aside as he drew his sidearm. Edward shrieked in terror, struggling hopeless against the large creature.   Gunfire erupted from the soldiers that still had their wits about them. Blasts of flame thrower engulfed several deep ones and there were the screams of men and of the terrible creatures. Over it all, someone sang for a few moments before something burst up from under the ground behind the children, cutting off the soldiers and the motorcar from them.   “I don’t wanna die by being eaten!†Edward shrieked. “Please help me!†  They all saw the horrible nightmare, plastic column of fetid, black iridescence oozing upwards from below, a shapeless congerie of protoplasmic bubbles, faintly self-luminous, and with myriads of temporary eyes forming and unforming as pustules of greenish light all over the thing.   “I changed my mind!†Edward shrieked on seeing the horrible thing. “Take me to the ocean! Take me to the ocean!†  Donald screamed and pointing at the terrible thing as the deep one carried him away.   The deep ones with the children and Aunt Margie ran to the harbor.   “Trust me,†the deep one that held Alice said to her. “The moment has been prepared for.†  He and the other deep ones leapt into the freezing harbor with their charges. They swam down, down, down into the freezing water for what felt like longer than the children would be able to hold their breath. The cold became terribly intense as the children felt their fingers and toes quickly going numb. Finally, just visible, at the bottom, was a sarcophagus without a lid. The deep ones swam into the sarcophagus and through it.   They all fell through the box and landed on the hard, wooden floor on the other side, held and protected by the deep ones. The children shivered though the room on the other side was warmed by a kerosene heater. Heavy, black curtains covered the windows of the dirty room and they could smell dust and coffee. A coffee pot sat on the kerosene heater. One by one, each of the children came through the strange box.   Alice coughed.   Two men in heavy coats and overalls stood in the room. They both showed obvious and advanced signs of the Innsmouth look with big eyes, wide mouths, and sagging skin around their necks. They helped the children out of their freezing, wet clothing and gave them blankets and towels. When one of them tried to take Alice’s clothing, she brandished her knife in his direction.   “Okay girlie,†he grunted.   He threw her a towel and backed away.   “Robert, we shouldn’t have come this close,†the man said to the deep one that had been Alice’s father. Her father’s name had been Robert Sanders. “It’s dangerous.†  As the children warmed themselves with coffee and warm blankets and the two men put their wet clothes on or near the kerosene heater to dry, the other deep ones left, shuffling out of the room. Alice’s father had backed away from her, watching her. He approached her once again.   He reached for the girl and she softened. He put his hand in her hair and on the side of her face, like he used to do when she was little. Once again, his eyes seemed moister than they did before.   “Aunt Margie and I have to go,†he said. “But we’ll see you soon.†  “Go?†she said. “Wait. No!†  She started to cry.   “I thought you were dead this whole time!†she said.   “I know,†he said. “We thought it best that you didn’t find out yet.†  “Didn’t find out? I’m fourteen! I don’t know anything that’s going on with my body!†  “Same,†Edward said.   “But you weren’t when I went away,†her father said. “You were only eight years old. All those years ago. And you wouldn’t have understood. I didn’t want you to see my like this until you were ready. And we didn’t have much choice at this point.†  Alice quietly cried.   “We’ll be together again someday soon,†he said.   “Where are you going?†she asked.   “Y’ha-nthlei. The place where we all live. All of us from here. Those that escaped.†  “Why do you have to go? Where are we right now?†  “This is a farmhouse just south of Innsmouth,†Aunt Margie said. “It’s abandoned. It’s been abandoned for a long time.†  “These hybrids will take away the sarcophagus that got us here,†her father said. “And, I’m sorry that you children had to go through this.†  “Better than going through that,†Gerdie said.   “Well, I did just develop a horrible fear of the ocean,†Edward said. “You kind of dragged me right into it, but … I mean, I guess, all things considered … it’s not that bad. I’m still alive. I guess. Am I? Am I dead?†  “No,†Alice’s father said.   “We did go through a coffin,†Gerdie said.   “You’re not dead,†Alice’s father said.   “Oh, the symbolism there,†Edward said.   “The sarcophagus has a gate that you went through,†Alice’s father said. “To bring you here safely, this was the only way that we could have done so.†  The deep one looked over the children.   “I hope you will still love your cousin,†he said. “You are her cousins, aren’t you?†  The children nodded.   “She’s different from you but she’s not … she’s not wrong and she’s not evil and she’s not bad,†Alice’s father said. “ She just is what she is like the rest of us.†  “I don’t know if she’s that different,†Gerdie said.   She flipped her wet hair.   “These two men will take the sarcophagus away,†Alice’s father said. “But you can warm yourselves here until you’re ready to go.†  “I mean, to be honest Mr. Sanders, I can’t really be too picky about my friends so … I’ll be friends with a fish,†Edward said.   “Well, fish aren’t amphibious,†Gerdie said.   “Love your cousin,†Alice’s father said. “And you, Alice, go your own way. You’ll get the call.†  “What’s going to happen to me?†Alice said.   “You’re going to change. Once you reach a certain age. Possibly your 30s, maybe your 40s, you’ll begin to change like us.†  “I …†  “And then you can come back to the sea. We don’t age, Alice. We don’t die. Except through violence, we live forever. And you’ll be able to as well, if you decide to join us.†  “What if I don’t want that.†  He looked at the girl.   “Well, I hope you will,†he said. “Because I miss you.†  “I missed you!†she said.   “You’ll have plenty of time to decide.†  “When will you be back?†  “I’ll be nearby. As long as you’re near the sea, I will find a way to be nearby.†  She started crying again and the deep one reached for the girl and held her for a long time. Aunt Margie joined in the wet embrace and the three of them held each other for a long time.   “We cannot be caught here and you cannot be caught with us here,†Alice’s father said. “Otherwise they won’t know even to look for you. So, go with your mother, wherever she’s going, and know I will find you.†  “Does mom know about me?†Alice asked.   “She does. She agreed with me. She found out later. I didn’t know about me when I met your mother. She found out later but was willing to stay with me because we loved each other. I hope you’ll find the strength to come back to the sea someday.†  “I could never be without it.†  He held her again before he and Aunt Margie left. The two hybrids picked up the sarcophagus and hauled it outside. They returned to tell the children they should be fine from there. When Edward asked where they were, the man told them they were in a farm just south of Falcon Point.   “You’ll be fine,†he said. “Alice’s father’s seen to it. He knows things. Just stay here ‘til yer warm enough and yer clothes r’ dry so ya don’t freeze t’ death.†  They left and the children heard a motorcar engine that started and then drove away.   They stayed in the dirty little farmhouse for about an hour, warming themselves by the kerosene heater and waiting for their clothing to dry. Some of them drank the strong coffee. Gerdie put some in a cup and just held it and smelled it without drinking it.   When their clothing was dry, though crusty with salt, they found their bicycles next to the house and then saw motorcar headlights approaching down the road. Gerdie meowed “friend?†The car stopped nearby, the lights shining on the children, and they heard a car door open. Quick, light footsteps walked along the gravel towards them.   “What are you children doing out here?†Cousin Melba said coming into the light. “A man told me you all were here. What are you … let’s go home.†  Gerdie climbed into the back of the motorcar, pouting. She hadn’t gotten to do any digging. The others tied the bicycles to the motorcar and got into the machine. Alice stood in the lights of the motorcar, staring out towards the sea. Cousin Melba came to her. They could hear the surf in the far distance. Melba looked at the girl in silence for a moment.   “C’mon Alice,†she finally said.   The two of them walked back to the motorcar and Alice climbed into the passenger side next to Donald. He put an arm around her and Melba drove them home.     * * *       By Easter, Alice’s mother moved them to Aylesbury. Alice was pleased to see that the Miskatonic River ran right though the town. Their house was not far from it, actually, and her mother got a job there, closer to some of her Dunwich relatives.   One day, she and her mother had a picnic by the Miskatonic River.   “Why didn’t you tell me?†Alice asked.   “Why didn’t I tell you what?†her mother said.   Alice looked at the water of the Miskatonic River.   “My father,†she said.   Her mother was quiet for a long time.   “We didn’t think you were old enough,†she finally said. “I’m sorry.†  There was a splash in the water.   “Alice, you’re very special and you’re going to be very different from everybody around you,†her mother said, looking towards the river. “And it’s going to be very hard. And I’m sorry that we didn’t tell you earlier.†  “I know he’s out there,†Alice said quietly.   “He’s out there. You’re going to change, someday, into somebody totally different and you have to be ready for that. I have to be ready for that.†  “I know.†  She cried softly and hugged her mother, who held her for a long time.   Alice made it a point to come to the river as often as she could. She talked to the river, knowing her father could hear her and wondering if he was really there in the river after all, watching over her as he said he would.     * * *       It was summer before the military pulled out of Innsmouth and finally released the mostly-abandoned village from government martial law.   The town did not last long. Its population reduced to less than 200, and the village lacking any industry, it withered. Still shunned by neighbors, many inhabitants moved away and the population dwindled further. A fire in the early 1940s led to an exodus of the remaining population and, after World War II, only a handful of squatters could be found there.     * * *       Gordon Brewster grew up in Dunwich and lived there the rest of his life, away from the sea. He treated his cousin Alice the same after that, as indifferently as he always treated everyone. He eventually inherited Grandpa Silas’ house in one of the few fertile places in Dunwich and lived the rest of his life there.     * * *       Gerdie Pope also never left Dunwich. Over the years, as she grew older, she owned more and more cats in a small house not far from Round Mountain. Though she never married, she became an avid dreamer, learning the languages of cats and taking in any cat in Dunwich that needed a home. Word spread among the cats that she existed and cats came from far and wide to visit or live in the house. Word spread in the Dreamlands as well, where she had a magnificent tree house of dozens of rooms in a massive tree, all filled with cats. She also dreamed with her cousins regularly, all of them becoming avid dreamers.   She rarely left her Dunwich house, usually only when she got the urge to dig and find things left over from her life in the Hyperborean age. She made her living sometimes selling the cats but otherwise was self-sufficient.   When she was sleeping one night, years later, a man broke into her house. She only found his bones the next day because the hundreds of cats living in and around the house killed and ate the intruder. She buried the bones behind the house and never told anyone.     * * *       Edward Derby took voice therapy classes and eventually got rid of his stutter. He went to Miskatonic University and did a great deal of research on Devil Reef and the other strange things in the world. He studied physics and eventually got a teaching position at the University. Over the years, he got psychological therapy to get over his terror of the sea and eventually beat his fear. He also studied the occult with great abandon.     * * *       George Weedon succeeded at his quest to become a profession baseball player. When he graduated high school in 1932, he worked his way up through the minor leagues and played for the Boston Red Sox by 1935. He stayed with the team and became as famous as he always wanted to. He made sure all of his cousins got a signed baseball card of him and came home for the holidays to visit with them.   He was still playing with the Sox when his father died. He did not go to the funeral.   He was noted on the team and even interviewed by the press. In one interview, he mentioned that his cousins were the most important people in the world to him.   “Without them I wouldn’t be who I was today,†he was quoted as saying. “Especially my cousin Gordon, who always pushed me and pushed me and pushed me.†    * * *       Donald Sutton moved to New York City after high school and college. He pursued his career as an artist and came out as a homosexual, at least to his cousins, in 1950. He wanted nothing to do with the sea or especially Innsmouth however. He never painted the sea or the ocean.     * * *       Alice Sanders went to college at Miskatonic University in Arkham. It had the largest rare book collection of occult lore on the eastern seaboard. She was there the year before Edward, who got a job working in Orne Library when he started school there in the 1933. Edward helped her get access to some of the rare books in the restricted section, despite the safeguards that Dr. Henry Armitage had put in place just to keep such a thing from happening after the terror of the Dunwich Horror in 1928.   Alice learned much about both herself and her people. She read the Necronomicon with the help of Edward, the two spending many a late night in the empty library reading books they shouldn’t have been reading. The two became very close during their college years.   Though her occult studies took up a good part of her time, she studied marine biology at school and graduated with her degree in that field. After graduation, she also dabbled in writing, telling true stories about the things she had learned about both herself and the world from her occult studies while disguising it as fiction.     * * *       In 1952, when she was 38 years old, Alice started to change, the Innsmouth look becoming more pronounced. She was living on the coast not far from Martin’s Beach by that time. She made a trip to Aylesbury to tell her mother and wrote letters to all of her cousins to tell them what had happened. She had gotten them all involved in Innsmouth decades before with a letter. She wanted to let them know what was happening the same way.   “My time in human form is lessening by the day,†she wrote. “You were always there to support me and you never looked at me as something strange or something terrible or evil. But I have made my decision and it’s time to go back to where I belong.†  She signed it “vale†which in Latin meant good-bye.   She got a letter back from her cousin Gerdie asking her to meet in the dreamlands at a certain date. Gordon sent her a message that read “Best of luck†and sent her a pocketknife. Edward sent a longer letter from Arkham that read:  
Dearest Alice,   Obviously it should be no surprise that I’m supportive of your decision. But please, tell me
all the secrets. Give me all the details and don’t hold anything back. Dreams or letters, however
it is, I don’t care if the letters are soggy or however you send letters from the ocean.   Venimus, Vidimus, Vincimus
Edward  
She received a letter from Donald along with a small statuette that he had obviously sculpted himself. It looked very much like Aunt Margie the last time they had seen her. He said in the letter the piece was called “Hydra†and noted he had done some research and got some help with Edward, getting information on some of those on the “other side†of Alice’s family. He hoped that she could keep it with her when she finally went as it was waterproof.   She sent a letter back, thanking him.   She soon became a recluse. She visited Gerdie in the Dreamlands and enjoyed all the cats.   George didn’t write to her or meet her in the Dreamlands for two weeks but then, one day, he showed up, unannounced, at her house.   “I don’t know what you’re going through,†he told her. “But I’m willing to be here while you’re going through it if you need help. I don’t know what’s going on. I’m not the smartest one of us, but I never got married … yet … probably won’t. Anyway. If you need help when you’re changing, I’m here for you.†  She blinked.   “If you need help, if you need me to stay here for however long it takes, and help you out with this, then I’m here for you,†he said.   “Thank you,†she said, hugging the man. “You’re welcome to stay.†  George moved into the guest bedroom and helped Alice when she started having trouble walking, getting a walker and a wheelchair for her. He drew baths for her, often filling the water with salt, and cooked meals, even learning about fixing sushi to help her adapt to her possible life under the sea.   The more she changed, the more the house stank of fish, but George never complained nor said a word about it.     * * *       It was 1953 before Alice’s changes reached their conclusion. She had felt the call of the sea and the call of Y’ha-nthlei growing stronger and stronger and knew the time was coming close. George had gone out to eat the night she was ready to leave. She left a note for him, telling him it was her destiny and her time to go and thanking him for all his help.   She walked out to the beach and found all of her cousins were there.   George had realized her time was very close, despite the fact that he was not terribly bright. He had contacted all of the other cousins and told them he was certain it would happen soon, making telephone calls and sending cars to pick up all of them, especially Gerdie and Gordon in Dunwich and Donald in New York City. The note that accompanied the cars said he thought it was going to happen that night and urging them to get there.   All of them waited for her on the beach.   Donald wept openly. George looked stoic. Gerdie had a white cat with blue eyes on her shoulder and whispered to it what was going on in its own language. The cat looked on, curious but detached, as a cat does. Gordon watched silently. Edward was trying to be strong and tough but failing badly, the tears welling up in his eyes.   “Thank you,†Alice said, crying softly. “Thank you for being here. I’m sorry I have to go. But it’s my time.†  “Don’t be sorry about who you are,†Edward said softly.   George nodded. Donald cried.   Alice hugged all of them.   “Do deep ones still dream?†Gerdie asked.   “I believe so,†Alice said.   She smiled.   “Then we’re going to see you soon,†George said, his voice cracking.   Alice walked quietly into the ocean. Her cousins saw movement in the water as it reached her waist. Two more deep ones were there: Alice’s father and Aunt Margie. Alice went under with them and they were gone.

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

Additional Ogham

Quite a long time ago now, I made a Cthulhu statuette for Paul. Early last year, I felt crafty again, and put together another one, and I've just put a description of the process, and the package of plot I assembled for it, on my main blog. It's dated February 2017 as that's when I started drafting the post, but I did in fact just finish it...   I'm considering whether I might be able to make these to order. I still have some suitable materials, and I could definitely use the money (I'm not in financial trouble or anything, though). Anyone got any advice on that sort of thing? I don't know whether there's any interest, just something I'm thinking about - hobby-related things I could do to pick up a bit of extra income.

Shimmin Beg

Shimmin Beg

 

Dark Tongs of Chinatown Part 1 - A Demon in San Francisco

Monday, March 19, 2018   (After playing the Call of Cthulhu Down Darker Trails Catastrophe Engine Campaign original scenario “Dark Tongs of Chinatown†based on The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. episode “And Baby Makes Three†as well as Big Trouble in Little China Sunday from 1:30 p.m. to 5:50 p.m. with Ashton LeBlanc, Collin Townsend, Ben Abbott, John Leppard, Yorie Latimer, and Kyle Matheson.)   In the early morning hours of Saturday, May 22, 1875, the Sequoyah Star limped into San Miguel, California, after being attacked and partially damaged by raiders in Palonio Pass. The train offloaded several passengers and the crewmen got to work on repairs as well as filling up with more water and coal. The express car had to have both doors replaced quickly and the town marshal handed over two deputies to help guard Dan McGoohan for the rest of the trip.   Though the train was a little late leaving the station, she managed to keep close to her schedule of leaving by 4:51 a.m.   Dr. Eva Weisswald, Wilder, Jacali, and Lambert Otto did not remain on the train when it left. Each of them asked for their horses to be removed. Then they headed back the way they’d come, hoping to return to the place where the Crescent had fallen off the train with Jack Parker. They reached the location in the early morning hours just after the sun came up.   They found the only large railroad trestle. The river below it was a raging torrent, probably a flash flood brought on by rain in the nearby mountains. They made their way down to the water’s edge. There was no sign of Parker or the Crescent. They headed downstream for over an hour before Dr. Weisswald pointed out a likely spot for a body or debris to wash ashore.   There, they found boot prints leaving the water. Otto noticed they were not very deep, almost as if the man was walking on top of the mud instead of sinking down into the mud. He pointed that out. The prints only went a little ways before they simply stopped, almost as if the person had been taken up into the sky. Jacali looked around for a pile of ash but didn’t find one. She wondered if he had grown wings.   They returned to San Miguel and got tickets for San Francisco, reaching the city by late that evening. Dr. Weisswald tended to Jacali’s wounds on the trip.  
* * *      
Professor Stalloid had continued on to San Francisco on the Sequoyah Star. The train was only a little late for its further stops. When they arrived at the city, the single injured lawman and two surviving bandits, along with Marshal Clayton Pierce and Jack West were taken to various hospitals in the city.   Professor Stalloid had found his medicine wagon and horses waiting at the station, held by a boy who had probably been hired for the task by his maid.   “Good job, boy!†he said.   He gave the boy a dollar. The child looked at it and then at Professor Stalloid. He got the man’s name and address and told him if he ever needed anything, he was his boy!   He paid for Marshal Pierce’s hospital bills, repaying the man for saving his life. He remembered screaming at the horrible creature on top of the lounge car and Marshal Pierce pulling him back and shoving him into one of the seats in the dining car. Professor Stalloid had also neglected to return Professor Terwilliger’s lightning gun, hiding it in his luggage after the attack.   He returned to his house on Nob Hill in San Francisco. It was one of the many being erected in one of the nicer neighborhoods of the city. The only other resident of the large structure was Chun Zhi Ruo, the Chinese maid who had helped raise him. Professor Stalloid’s parents, who had originally lived in the house, had died some years before of cholera, leaving only the maid as his family.   He had looked into getting the scroll he’d brought from Midnight translated. He first asked Chun Zhi Ruo but her English was not great. He also looked into St. Ignatius College and Heald College, as well. He was referred to Chinatown and even given the name of a lawyer in the neighborhood who was known to be fluent in English and Chinese: Li Wei. Both colleges were willing to keep the scroll if he wished to donate it.  
* * *      
Lambert Otto had arranged to get the bounties for the dead and dying bandits. He got a total of $1,175 for the five men who had been part of the attack. He divided up the money four ways, giving $285 to Marshal Pierce, West, Wilder, and keeping one share for himself  
* * *      
The railroad gave $100 to each of the people who had tried to defend the train from the bandits in a small ceremony with long speeches held in San Francisco later that week. They learned from various newspapers in the city that an additional $900 in gold and an undisclosed amount of uncut diamonds had also been transported on the train, as well at $50,000 in gold transported secretly by the Pinkerton Detective Agency.  
* * *      
The others learned of where Professor Stalloid lived and the man was gracious enough to offer them rooms at his house while they were in the city. His large house stood in one of the nicest parts of town and included a very large backyard and carriage house and stables.   When Otto paid Wilder part of the bounty, Dr. Weisswald frowned and wondered about her own share of helping people captured the bandits on the train.  
* * *      
On the evening of Thursday, May 27, 1875, they all met for dinner. They all officially met Chun Zhi Ruo, who served them dinner. She and Professor Stalloid treated each other like family.   They told Professor Stalloid everything that happened on the train he had not seen. He was surprised to hear the Secret Service seemed to carry cameras and wondered about the connection of the Secret Service metal boxes and Professor Terwilliger’s lightning gun.   “That man who touched the Crescent … his tracks disappeared from the water as if he spread wings,†Jacali told them.   “Oh … God!†Professor Stalloid said. “Floated away.†  “Or he disappeared …†Otto said.   “If he turned to ash, the ash might’ve blown away,†Professor Stalloid asked. “But then where was the Crescent? Where was the Crescent?†  “We didn’t find it,†Jacali said.   “Where’s the Crescent?†  “It was nowhere to be seen, down by the river,†Jacali said.   “Something got out of the river though,†Otto said. “It didn’t look like to be him. The tracks were too light.†  Professor Stalloid postulated Jack Parker might have been floating as Jacali did that time when they first met.   “She was lighter than air,†he said.   “Who said I was floating?†Jacali said.   “Floating?†Otto said. “What about floating?†  “Nobody floating,†she said.   “He said gloating,†Wilder said.   “Yeah, I said gloating,†Professor Stalloid said.   “He said gloating,†Wilder said.   “Yes, I gloat normally,†Jacali said. “I am proud. And rude. I do not float, though. That’s for sure.†  “Like the other woman, then?†Otto said.   “The other … who?†  “I don’t think I ever actually got her name. The other Indian woman on the train. She insulted me.†  “Do you mean Rhymes with Wolf?†  “Yes.†  “Oh, I love Rhymes with Wolf.†  “Yeah, she called me ugly.†  “Oh. Well, I’m terribly sorry, Otto.†  “Well, thank you.†  They decided to go to Chinatown that afternoon.  
* * *      
Li Wei was a Chinese lawyer. He had a small, secondary office in Chinatown that he used for dealing with his own people. He had a house and a larger office elsewhere in the city, wherein he took rich, white clients. With the money he made there, he often gave his services away pro bono to the poor and destitute, particularly those in Chinatown who needed representation more anyway. He did everything from litigation over land rights or property rights all the way up to criminal cases. The Chinese were treated poorly in San Francisco by the whites and there were several anti-Chinese societies in the city as well, some of whom had spread rumors and lies about disease in Chinatown in an effort to rid the city of Chinese.   There was a light knock at his tiny office door just as he was ready to close up for the day.   “Come in,†he said in English.  
* * *      
Professor Stalloid opened the shabby door to a small but cleanly kept and humble office with a single desk behind which sat a plump, well-groomed Chinese man in a suit. He had a mustache and a thick shock of hair atop his head. An empty chair stood on the near side of the desk. The Chinese man looked at Professor Stalloid with surprise.   “Hello. Brandon Stalloid!†Professor Stalloid entered the room holding out his hand. “Child savior! Healer of men and women!†  “Child savior?†Mr. Li said.   “Child savior!†  “How many children have you saved?†  “Hundreds! Thousands even!†  The Chinese man leaned down to jot a note on a piece of paper on the desk.   “I’m in the need of a translator,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Well, I’m a lawyer,†Mr. Li said.   “Can you do translations?†  “Of course.†  “I’ll pay you well.†  “How well?†  “Ten dollars a day with a $50 bonus when you finish.†  Professor Stalloid took out a very old scroll and showed it to the man.   “So, you want me to translate for $10 a day?†Mr. Li said.   “Yes,†Professor Stalloid said. “And $50 when you finish.†  “Fifty dollars base pay when I finish … with that scroll?†  “Yes. Added on to the $10 a day.†  “Where did you get that scroll?†  “A crazy lady.†  “A crazy Chinese lady?†  “No, a crazy white lady.†  “Because all Chinese are crazy?†  “No, you’re not crazy.†  “That you know of.†  “Yeah.†  “Why would you come to a lawyer to get a translation?†  “I was told you’re the best in the town.†  “At translating?†  “Yes.†  “Who told you?†  “The people at the college and the locals.†  “May I take a look at the scroll?†  Professor Stalloid handed over the scroll and Mr. Li opened it carefully and found it was deceptively long with the Chinese characters written upon it in a very small and tight, though very neat hand. He realized it would take several weeks, if not months to translate it. The title listed it as The First Book of the Seven Cryptical Books of Hsan. He had never heard of it. He knew it would take at least a couple of days to skim it and then the translation could take weeks.   “When were you wanting this translated by?†he asked. “This shall take me much time.†  “Take your time,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Take my time. At ten dollars a day.†  “Within reason.†  “‘Within reason,’ he says. Why do you want this translated?†  “I’m curious.†  “Curious of … what? It is just a scroll.†  “I mean, it could have unknown cultural impacts.†  “Do you want to know of the Chinese culture? I could teach you. Without having to translate this scroll.†  “This could be lost … lost knowledge.†  “You believe that there is a Chinese treasure hidden in this scroll?†  “Possibly.†  “We do not put our treasures in scrolls.†  “A treasure of knowledge.†  “A treasure of knowledge. I will translate this for you … in my time, as you have said.†  “Of course. I don’t want to interfere with your work.†  “My work is for the people and you are one of the people so … I shall translate this for you but know that justice comes first, not scroll translating.†  Jacali had taken a seat as they talked. She was still badly injured from her encounters on the Sequoyah Star. Mr. Li looked at the woman and frowned.   “Did this white man beat you for the scroll?†he asked.   “No, because otherwise he would be dead,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “I wish he had been the one beating me,†Jacali said. “That would be interesting.†  “He claims to be a child savior,†Mr. Li said. “He said nothing of women.†  “I said ‘Healer of men and women,’†Professor Stalloid said.   “Men and women,†Mr. Li said. “Men first, of course, as the white men see.†  “They have to be hurt before you can heal them, though,†Dr. Weisswald quipped.   “I’m just going in alphabetical order, okay?†Professor Stalloid said. “Children. Men. Women.†  “Are these your …?†Mr. Li asked.   “Companions!†  “Companions?†  “Companions of fate!†  “Companions of fate?†  “We don’t say we’re traveling together to each other but we somehow keep traveling together.†  “So, you have not known each other for a long time?†  “No.†  “A few days, I’d reckon,†Otto said.   “You are … you are a very different-looking group,†Mr. Li said. “I must say.†  “We have been through some strange things together,†Jacali said.   “You especially,†Mr. Li said.   “Oh yes.†  “Have you had that treated? I know a person who could help you.†  “Oh yes, I have a very good doctor who I owe many debts.†  She looked at Dr. Weisswald and smiled.   “Well, if you are ever in Chinatown, go find Dr. Wong Chi,†Mr. Li said. “He will give you good medicine for a cheap price.†  “Thank you very much,†Jacali said.   “Especially because you are not white.†  “I am Jacali.†  Mr. Li handed out a business card to each of them. They had his information in both English and Chinese.   “A card for each of you,†he said. “My services are cheap and fair.†  “I cannot read this,†Jacali said.   She handed the card back to the man. She could not read English or Chinese.   Professor Stalloid gave the lawyer one of his cards and the man looked at it carefully.   “Oh, now I know where I have heard of you,†Mr. Li said. “The Chinese people speak of you. You come to Chinatown. Spend big money. Win a lot.†  “Yeah,†Professor Stalloid said. “Uh … from time to time.†  “But you also help the Chinese.†  “Why, I help the community.†  “Yes, those that are in need, of course. You have my respect, Brandon Stalloid. I will translate this scroll twice as fast as I was going to.† 
* * *      
They headed back towards Nob Hill but got a little turned around and slipped through Stout’s Alley not far from Mr. Li’s office. As they walked down the dim alley they thought they heard a cry of someone in distress. Dr. Weisswald broke into a run, followed closely by Otto. They ran around a corner down another alley where they heard the sound of people fighting.  
* * *      
Mr. Li had left the office almost directly after the crowd of people had been there, walking down the street towards his home. As he reached a narrow street called Church Court, he heard a cry of distress. He headed down that way, taking out his blackjack and his .31 Colt Pocket pistol and running down the narrow street surrounded by tall buildings.  
* * *      
The scene was one of chaos where Church Court turned as two groups of Chinese men wearing different colors of clothing and different badges were fighting hand-to-hand without weapons. They seemed intent on hurting each other in the lantern-lit area. Dr. Weisswald stopped when she saw the scene, lurking in the shadows as there were at least 40 men in the alley, fighting using open fists. Some were being hurt but all of them were obviously well-versed in their style of fighting.   Tall buildings stood on either side of them, most of them boasting closed storefronts with windows above where Chinese people quickly closed sashes or even shutters, obviously not wanting to get involved. Then they saw Mr. Li run into the fray.  
* * *      
Li Wei recognized what was going on as soon as he reached the fight. Two Chinese tongs were combating each other.   The tongs had initially been benevolent societies formed some 20 years before, groups with benevolent goals to help the Chinese and other Orientals there. However, over time, all of the tongs eventually turned to crime as the best way to achieve their goals. Prostitution, gambling, opium, and protection were their main forms of crime. Though some had some legitimate business interests as well, all participated in crime.   He had heard of small scuffles, fights, and even sometimes murders between tong members but never a huge, all-out fight like the one he saw in the alley.   He ran to the edge of the fray and fired his pistol into the air.   “Please stop fighting!†he yelled in Chinese.   The fighting stopped for a moment and then two of the men came to him, one from each of the tongs. They got in his face and yelled at him. It was hard to understand the two as they argued against each other and at him. He understand that each of the men thought the other tong had dishonored theirs and that they must be stopped. Each of them claimed the other group had the child though he was not sure what that was about. The two men shoved at each other as they yelled at him. They poked him in the chest as they each accused the other of stealing the child. They also mentioned there were white men involved.   The rest of them started fighting again.   “We are brothers!†he said in Chinese.  
* * *      
The fighting continued and Jacali, Wilder, and Otto heard what sounded like chanting coming from the roof of a nearby building. Professor Stalloid though he heard someone coming down the alley behind them. He turned and looked back the way they’d come. Dr. Weisswald looked at him.   Jacali looked up and saw some kind of light on the roof. She pointed up.   “There’s a light on top of the roof!†she said. “And I hear chanting.†  They looked up and saw the light.   “The echoes must have sounded like footsteps,†Professor Stalloid said.   Otto went to the door of the building but found it locked and all of the windows nearby locked and shuttered closed. Professor Stalloid didn’t think there would be another door so he knocked upon the locked one.   Dr. Weisswald and Wilder realized the blows were meant to be lethal blows though the warriors of both sides were very good at hand-to-hand and only a few were not blocked. They both waited to see if they could help any of the injured.  
* * *      
Mr. Li still had trouble getting anything cognizant out of the two tong members. One accused the other of releasing the demon that was loose in Chinatown and the other said that was the other tong’s fault. There was more shouting and talk of the child.   “We can settle this with the law,†Mr. Li said. “Two people can both be right.†  He tried to calm the two men down. They stopped pushing each other. They continued to argue with and glare at each other though. He learned one of the tongs was called The Rightful Spirit Tong and the other was The Clean and Pure Serenity Tong. He recognized both and knew they ran brothels in Chinatown. He wondered if they were talking about a child prostitute. He thought about his own daughter, only five years old, and how he would feel if two tongs who ran brothels were fighting over her.   “I know I said that sometimes two people can be right,†he said. “But now, after hearing all of this, two people can also be wrong. You should not be having child prostitutes and fighting over them.†  The two men stopped arguing, completely confused by what he said.   “Maybe I am misguided, but also, child prostitutes are wrong,†he said.  
* * *      
Professor Stalloid found a drainpipe and tried to climb it without luck. Unfortunately, the pipe was slick and nasty and smelled of urine.   Dr. Weisswald ran to the other end of the building to look for another door.   There was a scream as something horrible crawled down the side of the building. The thing climbed, headfirst, down the side, a gigantic, blasphemous form not wholly ape and not wholly insect. Its hide hung loosely upon its frame and its rugose, dead-eyed rudiment of a head swayed drunkenly from side to side. It’s forepaws were extended with talons spread wide, and its whole body was taut with murderous malignity despite its utter lack of facial description.   “Oh dear God, not again!†Jacali muttered.   Otto drew his sword and watched the terrible thing.   Wilder stared at the horrible thing for a moment and then a red mist seemed to descend over him. He wanted to destroy anything and everything. Jacali stood next to him and he turned to her, lowered his head and ground his teeth together. He punched her in the side. It was just a glancing blow but when she looked at him she realized he wanted to kill her. She backed away from the man.   “Wilder, you look very much like a bear now,†she said to the man. “Please become less like that. You’re scaring me, Wilder.†  The man stalked after her, thick in the throes of madness.  
* * *      
Mr. Li saw the horrible thing crawl down the wall and suddenly a dark cloud fell upon him and everything went black. He blinked and even held his hand in front of his face but could see nothing. He had been stricken blind. He was confused for a moment.  
* * *      
Otto backed away from the thing as it crawled down the side of the building and then leapt to the street and entered the tong fray. It tore into the men who were wearing one of the colors and symbols.   Wilder shook his head and blinked his eyes. He did not know why he had been convinced Jacali needed to die.   “I was not … myself …†he said. “I apologize.†  “Would you say you got a little wild?†Jacali quipped.   “Yes.†  “A little wilder?†  The screams coming from the alley further on, where the horrible beast was ripping men to pieces or cutting them open or broke their legs or bodies, continued.   Professor Stalloid was terrified. He thought he recognized the thing though he couldn’t remember if the knowledge came from the book he’d read in Midnight or simply something he seemed to know of his own accord, perhaps a terrible racial memory. He thought it was called a dimensional shambler or a thing from between the stars. It was a horrible thing from between time and space that could come and go between the real world and nowhere whenever it wanted. It was strong and terrible and could even drag men away to where it had come from, never to be seen again. It could be summoned by powerful sorcerers to perform a service.  
* * *      
The noises Mr. Li heard were horrifying and indicative of men dying nearby. He took a defensive stance, tucking his pistol back in his pocket but holding the blackjack, and blinked his eyes but still could not see. He tried to listen to hear exactly what was going on around him. There seemed to be a lot of screaming.   Then he could suddenly see.  
* * *      
Dr. Weisswald ran back to see the horrible thing tearing through the tong members. It was not attacking the members of one of the tongs, only the others, who had broken their ranks and, for the most part, were fleeing the alley in terror. The side it was leaving alone fled as well, rushing right by her and the others in their attempt to escape an alley which had become an abattoir.   Professor Stalloid got a good look at the badge of the side the horror was not touching. He whipped out his leather-bound journal and quickly drew a sketch of the device.   The thing grabbed another of the opposing tong members and then both of them shimmered and seemed to pull apart, shattering and scattering for a moment before they were both gone.   It was completely quiet.   Dr. Weisswald ran into the battlefield followed by Wilder and Otto. They saw Mr. Li standing in the alley nearby but ignored him as the doctor and the mountain man ran to the injured and dying tong members. Professor Stalloid moved to Mr. Li who eyed him suspiciously.   “What are you writing, there?†Mr. Li said.   Professor Stalloid showed him the Chinese symbol he’d written down.   “This is the symbol of the Rightful Spirit Tong,†Mr. Li said. “You can write that down as well.†  Professor Stalloid did so.   “The first time I see you in Chinatown, in my office, and this happens,†Mr. Li said. “Did you cause this, white man?†  “Not as far as I know,†Professor Stalloid said. “I don’t like that thing. I’d say he lives between the stars. I don’t live between the stars. I don’t want to be between the stars.†  “You knew what that thing was?†  “Somehow …†  Professor Stalloid frowned. He looked disturbed.   “You don’t know how you know what it was?†Mr. Li said.   “No,†Professor Stalloid said.   “You are crazy. I don’t know that I will translate that scroll now.†  Dr. Weisswald and Wilder had moved to the fallen men while the two talked. Of the five horribly injured men, they found two of them alive and quickly bound their wounds as best they could.   “These men require medical attention,†Mr. Li said when he saw the survivors. “We must get them to safety.†  “Well, then you’re in luck, sir,†Jacali said.   “Why is that?†  “Weisswald’s the best doctor in the west.†  “Is that so? A traveling hospital?†  “Well, it’s Stalloid here who’s my medicine, so I guess … kind of?†Dr. Weisswald said.   “So, you are a group that goes from town to town, apparently knowing of demons,†Mr. Li said. “And saving people that are injured? Is that your goal?†  “It’s not my goal,†Otto said.   “I still don’t really know who he is,†Professor Stalloid said, motioning towards Otto.   “I see that he has steel on his side,†Mr. Li said.   “He’s the wild card.†  “The wild card?†  “And you’re not?†Dr. Weisswald said to Wilder.   “It’s my good friend Wilder,†Professor Stalloid said.   “I am usually assistant to the doctor,†Jacali said. “We have been tracking strange things.†  “Strange things?†Mr. Li said.   “Yes,†Jacali said.   She took out the buffalo skin and rolled it open, showing it to the man in the dim light.   “This is a drawing of an object that we found and are seeking,†she said. “Lots of people want it and we don’t know what it does. Most people who touch it─†  “Why yes,†Mr. Li said. “It is the moon that is in the night’s sky.†  He pointed up and looked at the moon.   “I must tell you, it will be very hard to acquire the moon,†Mr. Li said, pointing and looking up again.   He noticed two men peering down at them from one of the nearby rooftops. The heads were quickly withdrawn.   “It will be hard to acquire the moon,†he muttered.   “Maybe I’ll show you this in a better light,†Jacali said.   Mr. Li shushed her.   “I feel we are being watched,†he said.   He looked at the building they had heard the chanting coming from earlier.   “There was a strange chanting coming from above,†Wilder said.   “I think that’s where the person that summoned the thing between the stars came from,†Professor Stalloid said. “Maybe they’re from between the stars.†  “Why do you keep saying ‘the thing from between the stars?’†Mr. Li said. “Only thing between stars is more stars.†  “And the moon.†  “And the moon. Let us get these men to a hospital. Or, actually, I know a person we can take them to. And let us go back to my office and privacy so that we may talk.†  They took the injured and the dead to the tiny office of Dr. Wong Chi, an older Chinese man in Chinese clothing wearing a bloody apron. He was a little, old balding man who didn’t speak any English at all. Mr. Li knew he did not have a license in the United States, but had been fully educated as a physician in China.   Dr. Wong led them into a shoddy-looking examination room and looked over the two men who yet lived. Chickens wandered around inside the room and it was fairly filthy. Mr. Li knew he took whatever anyone offered him for payment - such as the chickens. Dr. Weisswald noticed he had some good instruments. When Dr. Wong looked over the work they had already done, he seemed pleased by it.   “Somebody did a very good job with these men,†he told Mr. Li in Chinese. “I will see to them after this.†  “A Chinese demon hurt these men,†Mr. Li said in Chinese.   “I heard a Chinese demon was here. Yes. There’s a demon running lose in Chinatown. Have you not heard?†  “No.†  “You are too busy. You are too busy.†  “This white man knows of it.†  “Did he bring it?†  “I do not yet know.†  Dr. Wong took out a scalpel and glared at Professor Stalloid who was writing in his book. Then he went back to dealing with the injured and the dead. He told Mr. Li he would find out who was related to the dead men and contact their families. Mr. Li gave him $25 for the help. Dr. Wong thanked him and tucked the money away.   They left and returned to Mr. Li’s office. Mr. Li entered last, shutting the door and locking it behind him. He stood in front of it so they couldn’t leave until they answered all his questions.   “You said that you knew what that thing was,†he said to Professor Stalloid. “But you don’t know how you know what it is. So, now you will tell me everything that you know.†  Professor Stalloid started with the construction of atoms and how they were made up, slowly building towards the elements and the periodic table. Wilder put his hand on the man’s shoulder.   “I-I-I don’t believe he meant that far back,†he slowly said.   “Okay,†Professor Stalloid said.   “But it was getting good,†Mr. Li said. “What about your companions? Do they know of this thing?†  “I don’t think so,†Professor Stalloid said.   “I’ve never seen it,†Jacali said. “And I wish I didn’t.†  “I’ve never seen one either,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Nor have I,†Otto said.   “Does the thing that exists between the stars … is it trying to stop you all from taking the moon?†Mr. Li said.   “I don’t think so,†Professor Stalloid said.   “It was a metal crescent,†Jacali said. “The drawing was bad.†  “It was not the moon,†Mr. Li said.   “No,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “It was not the moon,†Jacali said.   “It was an effigy, possibly,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Honestly, the artist was probably very bad at artwork, because he’s not very patient and is not one to wait,†Jacali said.   “So, you seek a metal object?†Mr. Li said.   “Some call it the Crescent. The man who drew this called it the Horn. He was … a Native American man, a Paiute. He … attacked us with … strange things. Not like that but strange as well.†  “You have seen creatures like that thing?†  “That is why I’m injured.†  “They had wings longer than a man,†Professor Stalloid said.   “I just saw the dead one,†Otto chimed in. “It melted away.†  “One fell on me,†Jacali said. “I’m hurt … now. Because it fell on me. With its large body.†  “I’m sorry,†Mr. Li said. “This is a lot to process. This is the first time I have seen something like this and I hope to never see something like this again.†  “I was the same way, until it happened.†  “I will not lie to you. What I saw today was terrifying. For a brief moment, I think my body shut down and I could not see anything. So, I do not want to look into this alone. Is there any chance that you … practiced individuals that have dealt with these things before … could maybe help me figure out why two tongs are using creatures to fight each other.†  “For the right price,†Otto said.   “You speak of price,†Mr. Li said.   “I need money. I don’t know about these others.†  “What good will money do if this world is fallen by these beasts.†  “But I need money to continue my work.†  “What is your work?†  “Justice!†  “This speaks to me. Are you a lawyer, such as I?†  “No, I’m a bounty hunter.†  “Then what justice do you know?†  “I take criminals in so you can do your work.†  “You do it for money. You do not do it for justice.†  “I only do it so I can keep doing it. I don’t have a home. I need money to pay for food.†  “You kill so you can keep killing?†  “I try not to kill them. They’re worth more, usually.†  “Am I the only one that understands this?†  “I’ve known for a while,†Wilder said.   “The people chanting on the roof were probably the ones that summoned this … demon, so …†Dr. Weisswald said. “We need to stop them if we’re going to stop these killings.†  “Do you know what the building was or who lives there?†Jacali asked.   Mr. Li told him there were some shops on the ground floor and cramped apartments above but dozens of people lived in or used the building. He didn’t think there was an illegal business there.   “I have been here quite a while and, I must say, there are many places I don’t know who resides in them,†he said. “But I do know that building is not linked to nefarious activity. So … well, it wasn’t. I mean, a beast crawling down it is nefarious to me. I can … be your translator and guide if you all will help me … figure out what is going on.†  “But you will pay me?†Otto said.   “Well …†Mr. Li said.   “We can’t have that thing running around San Francisco killing everyone!†Professor Stalloid said. “We can only go so far, can’t we Dr. Weisswald!†  “Oh, but it’s okay running around Chinatown?†  “I mean … Chinatown is part of San Francisco.†  “Yes, but you said San Francisco specifically.†  “The larger area!†  “Considering they didn’t hurt anyone─†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Fine!†Professor Stalloid said. “California!†  “I will accept that,†Mr. Li said. “Let’s send it to Texas.†  “No!†Otto said. “I live there!†  “Since they didn’t hurt any of the other side, we should see what they know about,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “I agree,†Mr. Li said.   “Or if there’s another tong that disagrees with the group it attacked, we could look into them as well,†Jacali said.   “I can lead you to either tong,†Mr. Li said. “Just tell me where you want to go.†  “You ran in there bravely,†Jacali said. “I will help. I do not need payment.†  “Look, I will help you and if we happen to find any bounties or anything that might be worth anything, I’ll take it as payment,†Otto said. “How about that?†  “Well, I do believe you are the only bounty hunter here, am I correct?†Mr. Li said.   He looked at Wilder.   “One moment,†Professor Stalloid said. “One moment! Anything of value?†  “Well, that isn’t illegal to take,†Otto said.   Professor Stalloid looked at the man.   “I’m not going to steal from anyone, if that’s what─†Otto said.   “How about we leave it at bounties?†Professor Stalloid said.   “Fine,†Otto said. “Bounties then.†  “Two tongs seem to be fighting over a child that they claim the other one has taken,†Mr. Li said. “So neither one of them is in custody of the child and it seems that one tong was able to summon that creature that the other tong … but it was very confusing. It seems that neither one of them knows the truth. Or one of them is lying. But I do not know.†  “I would suggest our first goal would be to find out which child it is,†Jacali said. “And try to investigate from there.†  They decided to begin their investigation the next day.  
* * *    

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