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Horror on the Orient Express: London, part 1

Edelmiro Cervantes - Spanish-born Occultist touring Britain.
Dr. Klauss Fischer - German-born Psychiatrist, disciple of Jung.
Flora Bianchin - Italian Nurse and Midwife, saw the Great War up close.
Mikhail Sokolov - Exiled Russian Aristo-turned-Criminal.
Viktor Gruzinsky - Bolshevik Spy posing as Exiled Russian Aristo.
Lavinia Wray - English Archaeologist working for the British Museum.   Our story opens at the Imperial Institute in Kensington, where Professor Julius will was giving his Challenger Trust Lecture on the evening of January 3rd, 1923. As members of the SPR and recent contributors to Smith's research, the investigators were invited to the dinner as well as the cocktail party to follow at the Oriental Club.   As expected, Smith’s lecture was an all around success. He was in fine form and kept the crowd entertained as well as informed. The feeling in the room is that the SPR will have a good shot at this year's Challenger Trust Grant. Getting a hold of Professor Smith at the Imperial Institute proves difficult, so the investigators decide to save their personal congratulations for the Oriental Club, where there's rumors of an open bar!   The cocktail hour is a whirlwind of booze, dancing and conversation. Flora and Lavinia attract particular attention as ladies are only rarely allowed in the building. Much free alcohol is consumed and by 9pm Lavinia, Flora, and Dr. Fischer are thoroughly soused, while Mikhail, Viktor (weened in vodka) and Edelmiro retain their faculties.   In the midst of the crowd, the investigators note a sour faced man of Eastern extraction who appears to be trying to get ahold of Professor Smith. Viktor decides to take the diplomatic approach and introduce himself. The man speaks in a halting accent, stating his name is Memhet Makryat and he has an urgent matter to discuss with the professor. Coincidentally, the professor has just stumbled, having gone a glass of port too far, and Edelmiro is helping him to a finely appointed couch.   Makryat produces a portion of a newspaper and speaks urgently to Professor Smith. Smith seems to be brushing him off and shaking his head until he looks up at the investigators and smiles to himself. He explains that his friend Memhet is an importer who’s been helping him acquire artifacts from Turkey and other parts of the Middle East. A regular customer of his, Henry Stanley, is missing and the rumor is he suffered an accident of spontaneous combustion.   This fascinating epiphenomena is worth studying in it's own right, and Memhet’s concern makes the investigation all the more worth it. The professor, having taken a fall in the Balkans this summer, isn’t fit to go stomping around London looking for clues. Memhet is crestfallen at this, though he attempts to conceal his feelings and quickly presses the professor on an additional matter, a meeting to discuss some books he’s recently acquired.   The investigators stumble home, a new case in hand. They meet the following afternoon for tea across from Lavinia’s place of work: the British museum. Over tea and biscuits they divide up the tasks: they want to interview Memhet about his relationship with Mr. Stanley, look up any medical documentation on the other case of spontaneous combustion mentioned in the article: a gentleman from Kent in 1919, and meet up at Stanley's apartment in the evening and see if anyone is about.   Flora and Dr. Fischer travel to the office of the London Coroner's Court, and the rest make their way to the crescent treasury in Islington. The coroner’s office has limited information, only that the 1919 case was ruled Death by Misadventure, and the Crescent Treasury is shut up tight. A kindly cobbler across the street advises the “Old Man†who ran the Crescent Treasury shut the store and took off a week and a half ago. Mikhail decides a break-in is in order, but it’ll have to wait until after dark.   Meeting up in Stoke Newington, they meet Stanley’s nosy landlady offering tours of his Death Room. 2 shillings later, the group is examining the upstairs room. They discover strange sooty marks, a train afficiando's encyclopedia open to a section on the London-Liverpool Express, and, looking behind the desk, a receipt from the Crescent Treasury for an oddly inexpensive model train toy. Furthermore, the landlady volunteers the visiting card of Mr. Arthur Butters of the London Train Spotters Society, who apparently came took some of Henry Stanley’s property for safekeeping, after discovering he was missing.   Mikhail and Viktor are now certain that they must get inside the Crescent Treasury. Accompanied by Lavinia and Edelmiro, they head back to Islington. Meanwhile the doctor and Flora go to visit Arthur Butters. Mr. Butters is a little unnerved to receive visitors after suppertime, but when Flora and Dr. Fischer explain that A) they are working to locate his friend who’s mysteriously disappeared (the truth) and they are, in fact, fascinated with trains (a lie) the meek little train spotter is very welcoming. Of predominant interest to the investigators is the model train set Mr. Butters acquired from Henry Stanley’s room. Mr. Butters explains that the London-Liverpool express model is exquisite, custom-made with a degree of detail rarely seen. Furthermore, it’s a highly morbid model given the fact the train is famous for derailing and killing all crew and passengers aboard. Mr. Butters is happy to let the doctor and Flora take the model, as he’s unsettled by it.   Meanwhile, in Islington, Mikhail is picking the lock on the back door the Crescent Treasury. He manages to pop open the door and permit access to himself and his companions. The group does a quick sweep of the one bedroom apartment upstairs find it cleared out. The shop counter downstairs contains a ledger with curious entries, including mentions of an expensive custom model train set purchased from an estate sale of Randolph Alexis and then sold to Mr. Henry Stanley for a pittance. Edelmiro has heard of Randolph Alexis: an infamous occultist who managed to offend the sensibilities of the Golden Dawn and the Order of the Silver Twilight, leading to his expulsion from both groups. He was reported killed along with the other passengers of the London-Liverpool Express derailment of 1897. Edelmiro seems to recall his son was also keen on the occult, but he disappeared some years ago.   The two groups meet up a Viktor’s house in Chelsea. There is discussion about next steps, but things go sideways in a hurry when Mikhail figures out how to set up the train model’s complex track, sets up the board behind the house, and turns it on. After a handful of revolutions around the track, both Mikhail and Edelmiro (who is standing in the frame of the back door) witness an electrical surge that brings a ghostly set of train tracks racing into existence down the alley that separates the row houses Viktor and his neighbours live in from their various garages and sheds. Through a billowing cloud of black smoke and electrical discharges emerges the true to life London-Liverpool express of 1897!   As Edelmiro calls for the rest of the investigators, passengers in Victorian attire swirl around Mikhail, pleasant at first but then twisting and distorting into haggard, hungry dead. Mikhail is carried aboard the train by many revenant hands. The remaining investigators, taken aback by what they see materialized in Viktor’s backyard fall into a pattern of fight-or-flight: Lavinia, Edelmiro, and Viktor are cautious, while Flora and Dr. Fischer bolt for the open door of the train car to rescue Mikhail. The remaining investigators can only watch a follow for a little distact as the train departs through a bring wall at the end of the alleyway.   Onboard, a host of wretched, undead froth at chance to suck Mikhail’s soul from his lips. Fortunately, the close rows of bench seats prevent Mikhail from being swarmed, and he’s able to wriggle away as Flora and Dr. Fischer distract the fiends. Flora employs a fire poker swiped from Viktor’s kitchen. Dr. Fischer opts for Marquis of Queensbury rules. The fight is brief, as the investigators figure out they are grossly outnumbered and make for the empty train car behind them. When the train arrived, Flora had noted the face of Henry Stanley from the window crying out for help a window of the third car, finding it barred from the inside, she pounds on the door and shouts Stanley’s name. Another man answers, haggard looking and wearing a tattered Victorian suit, but not appearing to be one of the wretched dead things in the front car.   The weary looking fellow introduces himself as Randolph Alexis. He’s been hiding in the barricaded sleeper car at the end of the train for years. When asked about Henry Stanley, Randolph points half-heartedly toward the last door at the end of the sleeper car, advising he’s a small minded fool who will be of no help. Flora goes to check on Henry, while Mikhail and Doctor Fischer converse with Alexis. The would-be sorcerer advises something went wrong with an incantation he was he tried to complete on the train back in 1897. He advises this is a pocket universe where time had but a toehold on physics. As near as he can figure it’s 1911 back home. Mikhail informs him he’s a little off in his calculations. Randolph sighs and says, all the same, they need a solution soon, pointing out the solid shadow of the train consuming the darkness outside.   Meanwhile, Henry Stanley, is ranting to Flora that he’s been trapped on a train for what feels like weeks with a mad-man, looking toward the other rooms on the sleeper car and shudder. Flora inspects one room and finds a pile of bones Randolph shrugs and acknowledges is his son, who built the train model to come to rescue him. He then shows the investigators his more fleshy model of the toy train set. Doctor Fishcer, is just about the point on the fact his organ train (which the players started calling the Oregon Train, after the “Oregon Trail†video game) is missing the ramps to provide the gate sigil its three-dimensional quality when there is a sudden sound like thunder and the train begins to slow. Back in the physical plane, Viktor has turned on the model and let it run its course again!   This time, when the passengers debark, the remaining investigators are ready. Viktor stabs the first woman who approaches him, Lavinia levels a rife at the pack of passengers, and Edelmiro, spying his friends in the third car, hurries to try and retrieve them. The pack of undead monstrosities is split between fighting off Viktor and Lavinia at the door of the first coach and breaking through the barricade at the rear car with all the fresh souls hiding inside it.   Struggles ensue on both ends of the train. Doctor Fischer manages to get a window of the rear car open, dislodging the black frost of the pocket dimension that had frozen it shut. Randolph Alexis spares no time, knocking Henry Stanley into the pack of hungry dead at the door and leaping out the window. Edelmiro brandishes a knife outside the train car and Alexis turns about and flees down the alleyway at a dead sprint. Edelmiro pursues, but the mad man is just too fast. Back on the train the doctor helps Flora out of the car, where she promptly falls face first into the cobbles. Mikhail helps the doctor, holding off the hungry dead with his pistol, and then manages to barely escape.   Covered by Lavinia and Viktor, the rest of the group make for the house, barricading themselves inside. The hungry dead, some shot through by Lavinia’s rifle, paw at the door and windows ineffectually as the train rolls away into the night. As it vanishes, its former passengers loose a silent scream and fade into nothingness, their tortured souls utterly destroyed by separation from the bizarre limbo-like plane that sustained them. Shakily reflecting on this metaphysical truth, and the loss of Henry Stanley, an innocent, the investigators decide to stay at Viktor’s home for the night, light a roaring fire, drink tea, and get a small amount of the sleep.   Studying the remains of the train model overnight, Viktor comes to an understanding of how it works and thinks if he had the time and the tools he could reproduce the spell. He regards it not it as magic, but as some form of experimental mathematics. He shakily collects the morning paper and notes two curious articles: “Man Dies Three Times in One Night†and “Professor’s Home Burns.†It's about this time a pair of constables arrive to inquire about complaints of gunshots, various industrial noises, and smoke and soot phoned in by his neighbors last night.

maglaurus

maglaurus

 

Forget Me Not (80's edition) - First Session

Introduction : I've run Forget Me Not (Great adventure from The Things We Leave Behind published by Stygian Fox) for three of my friends during two long game sessions. I took the liberty to set the story in 1987 because I wanted to give that "retro" flair to the game for my players. Also, we've used pre-generated characters because I thought it was more logical for this kind of adventure (With investigators having lost their memory). It was really fun to run and everyone had a good time. I can't recommend this adventure enough and we can't wait to play Ladybug, Ladybug Fly Away Home. Have a a good read.               First Session : A van on the side of the road.     A woman comes to inside a van. She is sitting on the passenger seat and she is hurt. There is blood on her face, right beneath her nose, and her head... It feels awful. Also, she's visibly peed herself. It's dark outside, but she is not alone. There is a man on the driver seat, he is unconscious, his head resting on the wheel. Behind them, in the back of the van, another man is lying on the floor. Unconscious too.   The woman wakes the driver up. He is young. About thirty years old. He has a mohawk and wears blue sunglasses and a leather jacket.   “What happened ? “ he asks. “Who are you ?†  The woman doesn't know what to answer to each question. She gets the urge to wakes the other man up. He is even younger that the other, but with a more conventional appearance. Both men have minor injuries and hell of a headache. Just like her. And nobody remember anything. Not even who they are.   The group checks their pockets, finding id cards, money and several objects. The woman seems to be called Rosamund Kane. The man with the mohawk is Lawrence Davies and he « feels » like his friends call him Larry. Last, the other man is called Thomas Woodhouse. All of them seem to live in Los Angeles, California but they have no memories whatsoever. Kane finds out she is wearing a pendant with “R&L†carved on it, and Davies wears a crucifix around his neck. Is he a christian? Also, he has in his pockets a flasks of what appears to be vodka and a photo of a naked blond woman.   Around them, they found cables, broken monitors, microphones... It's like the van belongs to a TV crew except there is no video camera. Kane is the only one with a watch that is still functionning and the screens says that it's Tuesday September the 17th 1987, 08:24 pm. In the glove box, Kane finds two maps. One is a road map of the entire United States of America, but the second one is a road map of the state of Michigan and there are annotations on it... The road is marked from Detroit to a place called Clio. Woodhouse finds a Polaroid camera near where he was lying. He feels that he knows exactly how to use it (And he has a few films in his pockets).   Outside, it starts raining. Looking around, the group sees a farmhouse nearby. They decide to go there and check for help. They walk toward the house. Strangely, all of them feels the necessity to be cautious. They look at the corn fields around them, the tall grass near the road. Each shadow, each movement created by the wind make them uneasy. It's like they're expecting some predator will come out of the field and tear them appart.   They arrive at the farmhouse and Davies knocks on the front door. They can hear noises from inside, as if someone was watching the television. The sounds stops and then the door opens to a man who is about thirty-five or forty years old. He looks at them, his eyes widened in surprise.   “Hm.. Good evening. May I help you?†  Larry starts explaining the situation without letting anything in the dark. It looks like they just had a car accident, they feel awful and they don't remember anything.   The man is surprised, but his good side makes him invite the group inside. He calls for his wife, Angela, asking for blankets. He leads the group to the living room where a teenage boy is reading a comic-book.   Angela enters the room with the blankets and offers to prepare hot coffee for the trio. All of them accept with gratitude while the man, who is called Graham Baker, says he will call for his brother-in-law, a mechanic who could help with their vehicle. Thomas indicates that they were riding a van. Angel gives Kane an aspirine for her headache.   Dave the mechanic says he will arrive in about an hour. In the meantime, the trio asks questions to the Baker. Where are they? Is there something odd or special about that road where they had the accident?   The Bakers say that there is nothing special here and that the group is in Clio, a small town of Michigan. Basically, it's the middle of nowhere.   Dave Sheridan arrives with the van. He asks 80 dollars for his service, which upsets both Graham and Angela but Davies accepts to pay. The group gets inside the van and starts wondering about the situation. Looking further inside the vans and their belongings, they discover that some of the case containing the equipment are decorated with a sticker. It says “The Supernatural Filesâ€. It looks like they were indeed a TV crew, but a special kind of crew. Ghost hunters. Paranormal investigators... With their keys, they find keys of a motel room. The Coach and Lantern Motel... Clio, Michigan. They decide to go there.   When they arrive, Kane has a flash-back. It's the end of the afternood and they are parking the van in the motel's parking lot. Inside the van, there is a fourth person : a pretty young woman with red hair. And all of them seem to know each other.   Kane explains her vision and everyone start to worry about where that red haired woman might be right now. Kane and Woodhouse decide to go to their respective room while Davies says he wants to go to the reception and ask a few questions to the motel's employee.   In the reception, Davies meets Lisa Sawyer. She is surprised by his appearance and asks if he is alright. Davies starts asking questions, telling the truth about his amnesia. Lisa agrees to help, saying that the group arrived on the evening of the 14th of September, three days ago. She finds odd that Davies doesn't remember the woman with the red hair, who, she says, is called Lyn Cartwright and has paid for the rooms. Thanking the young woman, Larry leaves and goes toward to his room.   Inside Room #5, Woodhouse finds a black t-shirt with “The Supernatural Files†printed on it, and a few documents. They're press articles. He starts to read one of them. It's about two homicides committed in a small isolated farm near Clio, Michigan...   In her room (#3), Kane starts snooping around. She finds clothes, a laptop and a bra... Too small for her. It triggers another vision. She is in bed with the woman with the red hair. They've just had sex. She savors the moment. They're not in the motel room but in a totally different place. Home? Suddenly, the vision shatters. Kane only sees the face of the woman, covered in blood and tears. Her mouth is deformed by a silent scream. Something is wrong. More blood starts pouring down on her face. Her eyes get bloodshot and then are gouged out. Kane hears a voice. An awfully powerful voice saying “THEN YOU WILL DIE!!â€. The vision dissappears and Kane starts shrieking. Soon after, Davies and Woodhouse enter the room, asking what is going on. Kane explains. She thinks the woman is or was in danger. Davies tells the others about his discovery : the woman is called Lyn Cartwright and she paid for the rooms. So, maybe that woman is their boss. Woodhouse shows the articles to the others. Double homicides in Clio. A unindentified corpse found in the fields. A horror movie project that was shut down by the town. A missing teenager... And all of this is connected to the Cooper farm where Andrew Cooper killed his wife and son because “They were inside themâ€.   They agree that they should get some sleep now. But Davies decides otherwise. He wants to search his room first. There, he finds videotapes for a camera (But not camera) and some audiotapes too. The videotapes are annoted “B-Roll†and the audiotapes have names written on them. But Davies doesn't have anything to play them. He goes to the van and search for such a thing but there is nothing he can use. He goes to the reception, where there is a man (Thomas Sawyer, Lisa's husband). He asks if he has a tape-player or something like that and if he could borrow. The man agrees but when Davies tries to convince him to give the key of Lyn's room, he refuses. Davies thanks the man and goes back to his room to listen to one of the tapes. It's an interview of two teenagers : Alexis Romanov and her friend or boyfriend James Burke. They says that they went inside the Cooper farm because one of Jimmy's friends challenged them to do so. Inside, they saw a ghost and then they fleed. The tape stops and suddenly, Davies starts hearing voices. Kane's, Woodhouse's and even his own voice. There is also another woman's voice and he assumes that it's Lyn's. Everyone is screaming and panicking about a closed door. And then something happens. Lyn screams and Davies hears a powerful voice, so powerful that it hurts to hear it : “DO YOU WANT TO LIVE???†  Half scared, Davies goes to sleep.   Wednesday September 18th. 09:30 am. The trio wakes up painfully after a terrible night. All of them had bizarre nightmares and Woodhouse even woke up beneath his bed!   Also, they all still feel horrible and Kane now has one of her eyes completely bloodshot. Oddly, when searching for clothes in his bag before going to the bathroom, Woodhouse got the sensation that something, some bug, was crawling up his arm. It terrified him so much that he pulled out his hand of the bag but there was nothing in there.   During breakfast, they discuss about the night and their horrible dreams. Davies is startled when Kane mentions “white spider-like thingsâ€. He remembers hearing the two kids from audiotape talk about “fat white spiders†they saw in the Cooper farm.   The group listens to the other videotapes. Ghost stories. Spiders crawling out of a swollen dead cat. McCumsey Road. The very road where they woke up. Did they go to the Cooper farm? Did something happened to them in there? Was this the cause of their amnesia? What if Lyn was still there??   They ask the man at the reception (Now Bob Sawyer, Thomas' father) if they could check inside Lyn's room. Kane lies about something important Lyn's forgotten there. It works and Bob leads them there. He allows them to go inside but under he will watch to make sure they don't still anything or snoop inside the woman's privacy. Davies tries his best to distract the old man while Kane and Woodhouse search the room. Woodhouse finds a laptop computer he manages to gain access to. Kane finds a novel in Lyn's luggage. IT from Stephen King. It looks like her girlfriend was into horror stories. She also finds notes about interviews that have taken place on the 16th of September and possibly on the 17th of September. She recognizes a name in the list : Vanessa Volker. It the real estate agent mentionned in one of the press articles found by Woodhouse. She is supposed to be in charge of the Cooper farm.   Davies' conversation with Bob Sawyer takes an unexpected turn when the latter mentions that the man's nose is bleeding. And it is bleeding a LOT. Davies tries his best to contain the blood and starts feeling dizzy. He sits on the bed. Bob leaves the room to search for something to clean the blood on the floor.   Now, all of them is worried. First the amnesia, then Kane's eye, now Davies' nose. What the hell is wrong with them?   Woodhouse takes this opportunity to see what's on the laptop. He finds the same list on the laptop but also some emails about their travel to Clio. It confirms their first impression : it was a scheduled trip and Lyn must be the show's producer. He also finds some “romanticâ€emails sent by Lyn to Kane. They were indeed in a secret (and pretty steamy) relationship. After Davies stopped bleeding, the group decides to do some research about the Cooper farm. Maybe they could find something at the Clio Historical Society.   There, they meet Lilly Austin. A 68 years old eccentric woman with a dark sense of humor. Apparently, they've met her the day before but they don't mention the amnesia and says they were just pretending to have forgotten her. Amused, the old woman gives them a hand in their research. They spend the next five hours searching her collection of press articles, skipping lunch even when she offers them snacks (They're not hungry).   They find some interesting things about the farm. First of all, it was built by an man called Edmund McCumsey that came from the United Kingdom to Clio to build his house with the help of german workers, back in 1947. He was an historian and he was known for a book published in 1937 about labyrinths... They were rumors about a treasure hidden inside a vault the man had built beneath his house (The man had enough money to pay the construction of the road connecting the house to the town so...). Three men went missing in 1948. One of the men's wife told the police that the trio was going to break inside McCumsey's house and search for the treasure. The McCumsey's house was searched but there was no sign of the missing men. The next day, the three men reappeared, dirty and “confused†about what they were doing and where they were during the last 48 hours. The authories concluded that the men were drunk and the case was closed. A month later, one of the men died. Then another one, and this one's wife went mad. The third man died soon after with his whole family when his farm's burning.   Davies and Woodhouse suggest they should go back to the Bakers and ask if Zack, their teenager, already went to the Cooper farm, just like most of Clio's youth, then they shoud go interrogate Vanessa Volker. After all, it seems that she was the last person they were supposed to meet yesterday.   All of the sudden, Rosamund feels horribly ill. She wants to puke and asks Lilly's for the bathroom. There, she vomits some blood and also a few bits of flesh. She is very worried and ask the others to go to a doctor.   At the Clio Urgent Medical Care Center, they're all examined by Doctor Jacob Groom. The results show nothing out of the ordinary, even though all of them had horrible sensations when the doctor examined their mouth and throat. But because they talked about their amnesia, the bleeding and, most of all, because Kane did vomit blood, Groom suggests that they should go to Saint Mary's Hospital in Saginaw as soon as possible for further examinations. They may have a serious problem and the Clio Urgent Medical Care Center just hasn't got the proper equipment to reveal it.   The group hits the road in direction of Saginaw. While Kane is being examined at the hospital, the men will search local bookstores and libraries and see if they can buy a copy of McCumsey's book.   Two hours after Kane's arrival at the hospital, Doctor Cowie talks to her about the results. The imagery indicates a lot of “dark spot†inside her shot. In fact, those spots are everywhere inside her body. The doctor explains that it may be a form of cancer but he can't be sure. He recommends that they make another test : a biopsy. Kane starts worrying. Does she really have cancer?? Was it before the accident or did something happen to her yesterday? But... She is also worried sick about the procedure itself. The idea that someone will simply cut her open and check inside her... It makes her uncomfortable. She starts asking for another solution, but Cowie says there is no other choice.   Davies and Woodhouse get back to the hospital after they managed to buy a copy of the book. Davies had skim read the book on the road and he tells the others about the book's content.   In his eyes, it's nothing but the delusions of a mad man. According to McCumsey, there is a huge network of tunnels beneath the planet's surface. It was built by an ancient civilisation and it's because of this “labyrinth†that there are similitudes in distant civilisations, such as the Egyptians and the Aztecs having pyramids and mummies... Bullshits. But, maybe that's why McCumsey went to Clio. Maybe the rumors about a secret vault beneath the farm were true.   Woodhouse goes to the toilet but there he has a unpleasant sight. Two tumor-like bump had grown at the base of his neck. When he touches them, they start moving and then dissapeared inside his body.   Kane is talking about the cancer when Woodhouse comes back. She is really worried and doesn't know if she should accept the procedure. The two men manage to calm Kane down and to convince her to accept the biopsy. After all she really has not choice in the matter. Woodhouse mentions the two tumors from earlier and says that maybe all of them have cancer. She relently accepts and everyone goes to sleep. The operation is scheduled to tomorrow morning. The men are allowed to sleep in the hospital's waiting room while Kane gets her own room.   Once again... They sleep and they dream.   Thursday September 19th. 07:00 am. The orderlies wake Kane up and start preparing her for the procedure.   The men wake up thirty minutes later and starts talking about the nightmares they just had. Woodhouse goes to the coffee machine but he suddenly feels terrible. He goes to the toilet and has a bowel movement. But right before flushing the toilet, he sees something in the feces. Movements. Then four tiny white things with multiple legs gets out of the fecal matter and crawl out of the toilet. He is just too surprised to react but then he has the most horrible epiphany : the two tumors that MOVED inside of his own body. The MULTIPLE dark spots shown on Kane's scan results. The SWOLLEN dead cat that erupted with dozens of spiders pouring out of it. The symptoms. The BIOPSY.   “Oh god... The procedure will kill her!†  He had to stop the doctors before it is too late!!     TO BE CONTINUED
 

The Evil Gun Part 1 - Strange Times in Yellow Flats

Sunday, February 25, 2018   (After playing the Call of Cthulhu Down Darker Trails Catastrophe Engine Campaign scenario “The Evil Gun†by Kevin A. Ross with Lynn Willis from Blood Brothers 2 today from 1:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. with Ashton LeBlanc, Ben Abbott, Collin Townsend, Yorie Latimer, Kyle Matheson, Austin Davie, Ambralyn Tucker, John Leppard, and James Brown.)   Though the year 1875 had started off well with the formation of the Anti-Slavery Society in January, February saw worse news. Just after Valentine’s Day, John Valentine and a portion of his gang escaped the prison train taking them from Nevada to California. By the end of the month a majority of the Yavapai and Tonto Apache tribes were forced from Arizona’s Verde Valley by the U.S. Cavalry and made to walk 180 miles to the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. However, on March 1, the United States Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, prohibiting racial discrimination in public accommodations and jury duty.     * * *       Dr. Eva Weisswald and Jacali had returned to Dr. Weisswald’s home in Wyoming after the terrible events in Nevada. There, they had treated their wounds for several weeks and spent some quality time together.   In that time, Dr. Weisswald received a letter from her sister-in-law and cousin, Jane Weisswald Westerfield, back east. It read:  
Dearest Eva,   I was simply giddy when I read your last letter. Glad to hear you helped them Cheyennes with
the Cholera outbreak. There’s already enough death and rampant disease in this world without it
claiming them poor Indians, too. Good to know that Hoff’s still alive and kicking. I miss that pup
something awful. He was just the sweetest thing.   Paul is doing much better these days. Got over that cold like it weren’t nothing. Still ran his
daddy’s store with all the fervor of a priest. I tell you if you stuck a steeple on that there roof, you’d
be pressed to see a difference between him and Father Isaacs. That man lives and breathes his work.
Not that I’m complaining mind you. It keeps bread on the table and a spring in his step. I just wish
he’d remember to be on time for supper. He was overjoyed when our little Albert started working
with him last month. I have never seen anyone so proud, bragging to all them fellers and ladies
that come through that “his son is upholding the family business.†  To tell you the truth, I’m rather glad Albert decided to help his daddy. He was coming home
with all manner of bruises and cuts from doing Lord knows what. Been spending too much time
with that Bucky Elger and his little pack of miscreants. That boy takes too much after his Pa, Roy,
for my liking. You remember the things he used to do. His son’s no better, mark my words he’ll
be just as rotten. But I’m focusing too much on the negatives. This is a blessing, I supposed. The
Lord’s looking out for Albert and keeping his nose clean.   Ethel has grown so much, you wouldn’t believe it, Eva. Must be that Weisswald blood or some
such thing. I swear, she’s gonna be taller than her daddy by next summer. It’s all I can do to keep
her clothed, the girl just keeps outgrowing every dress I put her in. Reminds me a lot of you I’m
telling true. I worry about her ever finding a husband, though. She intimidates all them boys. I
found out she was wrestling with Ainsley Thomas’s boy out in the school yard last week, had him
crying uncle. She just laughed when I asked her about it. Says he insulted her Pa and wanted to
teach him a lesson. She’s a mountain girl if there ever was one.   Your Ma is, well, she’s your Ma. She’s still out in that rickety cabin of hers at the edge of town
and refuses help from everyone, including us. That mile-wide independent streak ain’t gotten any
smaller since you left. She did ask after you when we went for a visit the other day. Asked when
her “Little Effie†was gonna come see her from “that land of savage heathens.†She insists I ask you
to come home, again. Says “the West ain’t no place for a Weisswald.†I keep telling her you’re
happy with what you’re doing out there but she just won’t have it.   I know you can’t just come back all willy-nilly but I think it would do the family good to see that
you’re still the same old Eva and going as strong as ever. I await your next letter with as much
enthusiasm as I did the last one. Take care, Sis.   Jane  
She had plenty of time while convalescing to write her sister back and took her time to compose a nice letter, sending it in reply. It read:  
Loving Jane,   Glad to hear Paul is back in good health, due to my peppermint tea and garlic soup recipes
I sent you, no doubt. Maybe he should start selling some at that store of his, better than that
snake oil Jefferson Mangum was hawking up the road. Folks these days will believe anything.
They should just be listening to their mother’s wisdom to keep them healthy in the first place.   Now afore you get upset, I swear I am fine. A few days ago, I was attacked by a bear. Big
old ornery thing. I was trying to help an Indian and just got to bold, I reckon. As luck would
have it, my good friend Wilder was there and he patched me up good. It’s not as good as I
would’ve done, but it did the job. Lucky for me I’m made of tougher stuff. In a few weeks I’ll
be back to my old self. In the meantime, I can get some reading done for a change, so please keep
sending me books. That’s one thing this damn town needs: a good library. Maybe that’s what I’ll
do when I get too old to travel.   Hoff and Shy Ann are doing good. I have my friend, Jacali, taking care of them while I’m cooped
up. And Wilder is keeping me well stocked on wild game and firewood. All the townsfolk are
having to come to me for remedies, which is turning out to be a good change of pace. But I’m sure
I’ll be suffering from cabin fever before long.   Some days I wish I was with y’all again, but I’ve found a home and friends here that I can’t
leave behind. Besides that I’m needed here. Ain’t none of these high falutin doctors out here
helping the Indians or the folks who can’t afford it. Hell most of them won’t even make house
calls once their offices are set up. Don’t they know how impractical it is to bring a sick child
down into town?   I have been thinking of coming to visit y’all. Seems that trains are becoming a bit more affordable.
It’d be nice to visit the graves. I can’t believe it’s already been 10 years. And in some ways it feels
like hundreds. Maybe I’ll see y’all this summer if I can save up the money. And don’t be worrying
about me, I’ve lived through worse.   Love, Eva  
* * *       Jacali remembered.   She was saddened when she learned of the army driving the Apache from their homes and it made her remember the time when the white men attacked her village. It had been a beautiful morning and then men came on horses, white men, some of them in army uniforms but most of them without badge or symbol to identify them. The Apache village was completely unprepared. Huts and tents were knocked over or burned. The ponies in the corral were shot or their throats’ slit.   The Apache had tried to fight back without luck. Her father had gone off with bow and arrow to fight the white men. Jacali’s mother had gotten her onto a pony to escape. As her mother put her on the horse the animal screamed as it was shot and collapsed to the ground, dying. She picked up Jacali and ran as fast as she could. Then a bullet struck her mother in the leg and Jacali stayed with the woman until she died. She later found her father’s body.   It was not a good memory.     * * *       Wilder had visited Dr. Weisswald often during her convalescence. He also met with Rueben.   While he was scouting for the Confederate Army, Wilder had been involved in a brutal battle at the edge of a flooded creek. Wilder didn’t usually participate in the fighting, being used as a scout for the confederacy. He turned tail and ran. A mile or so up the creek, he found an injured Union soldier and offered to help him. The man agreed. He didn’t want to fight any more either.   The man was Reuben Fielding.   The two men had fled west to the Colorado territory. Wilder had taught the man about trapping and Fielding had taken up the trade. Though they didn’t live close to each other, they sometimes met each other, as they did in March, and visited with each other.     * * *       In April, Professor Brandon Stalloid was in San Francisco, recovering from his encounter in Nevada, when he was approached by the United States Secret Service who said they needed his services as a chemist and botanist. He was put on a train to Los Angeles. Then he was put on a stagecoach and hustled to Arizona territory. The three day ride from Prescott, found him in the tiny village of Yellow Flats, a tiny community in the middle of nowhere, on Sunday, April 11, 1875. He was met there by three army soldiers who escorted him to a small encampment of two dozen or so men under the command of Captain John Black west of town. Captain Black greeted him, made him sign a contract that he would not divulge anything he saw under penalty of law, and referred him to an older man with short graying hair and a mustache.   “Welcome!†the man said. “I’m Professor Marion Terwilliger! It’s so exciting. C’mon! Let’s go!†  He led Professor Stalloid into the mine entrance the army seemed to be guarding and into the mountain. Lanterns were hung along the way and they soon found themselves in a large chamber at the end with a couple of other scientists. The room also held a pair of soldiers and a great deal of scientific equipment.   In the center of the room was a large silver object. It appeared to be a crescent about three feet across made of solid silver with strange spikes sticking out of parts of it. The metal was seamless and appeared to be a solid piece of silver without seams or openings. There was an odd feeling, like a low hum just on the edge of hearing, and Professor Stalloid felt uncomfortable and could have sworn it almost seemed like the thing was … watching him.   It looked uncomfortably familiar to him.   “I didn’t get your name sir!†Professor Terwilliger said.   “Brandon Stalloid,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Mr. Stalloid! Great! So, I guess they brought you here like they brought me here.†  “Yes, by stagecoach.†  “Exactly! Exactly! What an amazing and ingenious means of transportation … if you don’t mind being uncomfortable for great periods of time. So, we’ve been examining this thing. They’re calling it The Crescent.†  “I see that. There’s a crescent.†  “Well, apparently it gives off electricity and, the prisoners who were here, being used as slave labor, were - some of them touched it. And then they broke their shackles. It’s quite amazing! The government seems to think it’s of some importance. It appears to be made of solid metal, but obviously there’s something in there.†  Professor Stalloid met Thomas Fall, a metallurgist and geologist, and Andrew Bennington, an engineer who specialized in electricity. Professor Terwilliger noted he, himself, was a physicist, chemist, and inventor.   He told Professor Stalloid they had determined the object had been embedded in solid stone before the dynamite was detonated, pointing out the stone around where it was found. He said he’d dated the object based on the surrounding stone.   “I believe it come from the middle Eocene Era, 50 million years ago!†he said. “Amazing, isn’t it? The other fossils in the area confirm it. This thing is 50 million years old. It seems to be powered because there is an electrical current you can get when you connect wires to it. Obviously, it’s artificial in nature. It’s obviously artificial in nature! So, the government wants us to study this.†  He looked over the other man.   “I wouldn’t recommend touching it,†he went on. “I think that’d be a bad idea.†  “But can I touch it?†Professor Stalloid said.   “What?†  “But can I touch it?†  “I wouldn’t recommend it. You see these little piles of dust here?†  He pointed out three small piles of dust next to the Crescent.   “I believe - I believe that’s what remains of the prisoners who actually touched it,†Professor Terwilliger said. “I believe, somehow, the device took all of the liquid out of them - you’re a biologist, aren’t you?†  “They broke their shackles first?†Professor Stalloid said.   “Yes, I don’t know the whole story. They broke their shackles. They released the other prisoners. It must have quite a thing.†  “They turned to dust.†  “I don’t know. Our biologist disappeared. Are you a biologist?†  Professor Stalloid shook his head.   “We need a biologist!†Professor Terwilliger said. “Darn. But you’re a chemist?†  “Yes!†Professor Stalloid said.   “I’m a chemist as well. Chemist. Physicist. Inventor.†  Professor Terwilliger told him the government wanted them to find out what the thing was and what it could do. He noted they could sleep in town at night if they wanted, though he preferred to sleep in a tent near the mine. When Professor Stalloid asked if they had done any animal testing yet, he learned they had not and he went in search of a lizard in the surrounding plains to do such a test.     * * *       Bounty Hunters were also coming to the area of Yellow Flats, Arizona, in search of the most important prisoner who escaped from the California prison chain gang that was, for some reason, working in the mine in Yellow Flats. Dan McGoohan was a notorious outlaw before he’d been captured the year before. He had also been an important man in John Valentine’s gang. Now he was loose once again.   The town was crawling with various bounty hunters and lawmen from California, Arizona, and nearby Utah and New Mexico in search of the notorious outlaws and some of the other prisoners who had escaped. There was also some question as to why California prisoners had been working in a gold mine in Arizona.   Yellow Flats was fairly small with six streets set up in a grid. Two hotels were in the town: the Eastwood Saloon and Hotel and Leone’s Five Star Saloon. There was no train running through or near the town; it was only serviced by stagecoach. A telegraph office was present though. It was a hundred miles from the nearest town: Prescott, Arizona, and stood near what had been Yavapai territory up until the month before. There was town marshal and a deputy but no town council or mayor. If something needed to be done, people made sure it got done.   In addition to the bounty hunters in town, a Federal Marshal had been there for a few days. Clayton Pierce was a tall man with longish black hair and a black mustache. He wore a plaid shirt, his badge prominently displayed. He usually carried his rifle over his shoulder and a six-gun on his belt.     * * *       Dr. Eva Weisswald and Jacali saw the village of Yellow Flats ahead. Dr. Weisswald rode on her dapple mare Shy Ann while Jacali rode a sturdy mount she called Nalin. They had come from Wyoming in search of someone who might recognize the drawing of what they assumed was The Horn on the buffalo skin they had found in the insane medicine man’s hut. They had asked tribesmen and Indians as they had traveled and only planned to stay in Yellow Flats for a few days to give them a rest from the camping they had done since passing through Jacobs Wells a few days before.   They had learned at Jacobs Well the Yavapai were moved out as a tribe in March but there were also rumors there of a brave living in or near Yellow Flats. They were there looking for the man. They got rooms at the Eastwood Hotel.     * * *       Father Peter Bishop was traveling through the west to rid the world of evil. He rode on a horse and wore a cassock and collar, carrying a crossbow on his horse and a quiver filed with bolts. He was a tall, lanky man and was very wrinkly and unattractive. He also wore a wide-brimmed black hat.   He had performed a few exorcisms in the last few years and stumbled across a few other strange things, including a man who thought he was a vampire and murdered people by ripping their throats out. He couldn’t explain all he saw though he sometimes had visions and was very sensitive to ghosts and spirits. He decided to stay at Leone’s Five Star Saloon.     * * *       As they explored Yellow Flats, Dr. Weisswald and Jacali were surprised to see Professor Brandon Stalloid walking down the street with another man. The two went into Leone’s Five Star Saloon. They followed.   “That’s your supplier, isn’t it?†Jacali asked.   “Yes,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “We always seem to run into him.†  “I could use some more laudanum.†  They followed the two men.     * * *       Professor Terwilliger had come to Yellow Flats with Professor Stalloid, wanting a good meal and some entertainment. The army food had not been great and he wanted something more substantial. Professor Stalloid was planning on spending the night in town but Professor Terwilliger noted he was going to go back to the camp after he ate.   On the walk to town, Professor Stalloid had told the other man about the strange things that had happened in Nevada two months before. Professor Terwilliger, who had never seen anything strange in his life, had no explanation for what the man told him, but the creatures sounded like dinosaurs to him.   “Quite amazing!†he asked. “Did you save the body? Have you stuffed it?†  Then Dr. Weisswald and Jacali sat down at the table.   “Speak of the devil!†Professor Stalloid said. “This is the one that was levitating!†  “Levitating?†Jacali said.   “Oh!†Professor Terwilliger said. “I’d like to talk to you about that!†  He seemed very excited.   “Professor Marion Terwilliger!†he said. “Physicist. Chemist. Inventor. Nice to make your acquaintance!†  He shook both of the women’s hands very enthusiastically.   “We’re here to … oh wait,†he said. “We’re not supposed to talk about it. We’re not supposed to talk about it.†  He looked around carefully.   “We’re here to investigate … well, it’s this strange device!†he said.   He told them all about it the strange Crescent. He described it and noted some of the things they had learned.   “It’s impossible to damage or to mark or to mar,†he said. “We tried acid today. We tried the saws. It’s just amazing.†  Jacali pulled out the buffalo skin and unrolled it, revealing the strange drawing of The Horn.   “Huh,†Professor Terwilliger said. “Why that’s actually a pretty … that looks a lot like it! Would you say this looks like the device?†  “Uh … yeah,†Professor Stalloid said.   “It’s an incorrect number of spikes on it,†Professor Terwilliger said. “It’s missing some spikes. Otherwise it’s a pretty good likeness.†  “No effect on lizards.†  “Apparently the device was used to orchestrate an escape from the mines by prisoners from California. It’s quite amazing. Apparently they broke their leg bands, just snapped them right off after they touched it! But we did find some dust that might … our chemical analysis of it is not quite complete but it’s quite exciting! Quite exciting. How did you float in the air? I understand that Indian Swamis can do that.†  He had turned his attention strictly to Jacali.   “I did no such floating,†Jacali said. “Mr. Stalloid, he saw the other native man that we encountered together waving his hands and made up some story about magic that I don’t know how that happened, how he got that story.†  “I had my doubts!†Professor Terwilliger said. “I did have my doubts.†  “Miss Weisswald was there. She can back my story.†  “Ah! Miss Weisswald.†  Professor Terwilliger shook her hand again most graciously. Professor Stalloid took out his journal and wrote, next to the notes he’d taken about Jacali floating “Jacali is a liar.†  “Yes, we met a Paiute,†Jacali said.   A woman came out on the small stage and they recognized the owner of the establishment: Leone Hathaway.   “Ladies and gentlemen, for your edification, we bring you the famous … Gemma Jones!†she said.   The curtains opened and the saloon erupted into applause.   Gemma Jones was a dark-haired beauty with porcelain skin and the voice of an angel. Her singing was said to both sooth the savage beasts and warm the blood of any man. She was beautiful, with dark hair done in curls, and a fine figure of a woman all around. A singer by profession, she was fairly well known in San Francisco and other points in the west. She was soft-spoken, charming, and a little naïve. She traveled often and far.   She sang to the great delight of everyone in the place. Professor Terwilliger looked towards the stage with a wide smile on his face.   “It was a painted man who said he was looking for this object called The Horn,†Jacali said. “This was his picture.†  “It looks exactly like the device!†Professor Terwilliger said, not taking his eyes off Gemma Jones. “What an amazing … she’s a great singer, isn’t she?†  Professor Stalloid excused himself and went to a table where there was gambling going on. He was dealt into the game and met a well-dressed and debonair man with a pencil-thin mustached named Jack Pettit.     * * *       Gemma Jones had been in town for a few days. She had come to Leone’s to sing and had noticed most of the men in the town worked at the surrounding ranches. She had also heard about the bounty hunters in town due to the recent escape of a prison gang working in the mine. She had been given a nice private room upstairs in Leone’s and the pay was good, as well as the tips.     * * *       Lambert Otto was one of the men who had come to Yellow Flats in search of Dan McGoohan and his gang. He was 31 years old and well over six feet tall. Standing at six feet seven inches, he was a very sturdy man. He had short black hair and a goatee and mustache. His eyes were bright blue. He had a terrible scar that went down the left side of his face. He wore a duster and heavy riding boots. A derby was on his head. In addition to the pistol on his belt, he wore a saber. He sat alone at a table looking over maps of Arizona and the county as well as several wanted posters.   He had overheard Professor Terwilliger talking and eavesdropped on the table with the native woman and the showman.     * * *       Jack West had a face that had been terribly maimed. The left side of his face had been burned some time before and bore an almost melted, scarred look. There was a hole in one cheek and his one eye bulged fiercely out of his head. He wore six-guns on both hips and was a lean, big man. He wore all black clothing and everyone who saw his face avoided him.   He stood at the bar and drank whiskey. He was confused at seeing an Indian in the establishment.     * * *       As they watched Gemma Jones sing, Wilder sat down at the table with Jacali and Dr. Weisswald, taking Professor Stalloid’s seat. Professor Terwilliger didn’t even seem to notice.   “We could probably talk about something else and he wouldn’t notice,†Jacali said to Dr. Weisswald and she looked at Professor Terwilliger.     * * *       Marshal Pierce was standing on the Jack West’s left and saw his terribly maimed face.   “Fire do that to you?†he said to the man.   “Yeah,†West muttered. “Jack West. So, I had … Ugly Popie … got a little angry … and burned the **** outta my face.†  Marshal Pierce had heard of Ugly Popie East, a beautiful woman and outlaw who was one of John Valentine’s lieutenants. Breathtakingly gorgeous, she was only called “Ugly†in an ironic sense. Many said she was ugly on the inside though.   “Well, hopefully the Lord will restore your looks in Heaven,†Father Bishop leaned over and said quietly.   “No, forget that,†Marshal Pierce said. “What’d you do back?†  “Well … I was able to save my family,†West muttered. “But that bitch got away. Lookin’ for Dan McGoohan, ‘fore I can find her again.†  “Dan McGoohan, you say?†  “He’s got a bounty. I need that.†  “We’ll see about that.†  Marshal Pierce finished his whiskey and left. As he walked out, he tossed a silver dollar to Gemma Jones on the stage. She was singing and nodded at him and looked at him shyly with a smile.   Jack West walked over to the table with the Indian and leaned against the wall near the table, listening. He watched the stage.     * * *       When Gemma Jones finished her set, Professor Terwilliger clapped loudly, seemingly very impressed by the girl. He turned his attention back to the women at the table. He seemed impressed by Dr. Weisswald, a white woman out in the west wearing pants. He seemed thrilled about the situation and thought it was great.   He went back to talking about The Crescent, as the army was calling it, noting again it gave off electricity and telling them about the men who had escaped and how they had broken their shackles. He noted the location of the mine and the fact that there were some two dozen soldiers there as well as Secret Service men.   “Oh wait!†he said. “But I’m not supposed to talk about that. Don’t tell anyone I talked about that.†  At his table, Lambert Otto gathered his papers and went to the table with the Indian woman and the older man.   “Hello there,†Otto said.   “Hello, white man,†Jacali said.   “I heard that you were talking about how some prisoners broke their chains ‘round that area,†Otto said.   “He must be psychic!†Professor Terwilliger said. “We were just talking about that!†  “Or he heard us,†Jacali said.   “It was the latter,†Otto said.   “Oh!†Professor Terwilliger said. “Oh! Very good. I should make something that helps people hear. I’ve been having some interesting thoughts lately.†  “I think you should invent something that helps people listen,†Jacali said.   “I just said that, didn’t I?†Professor Terwilliger said to Otto.   “No, you did not,†Walker said.   “Regardless, do you know if Dan McGoohan was among those prisoners that escaped?†Otto asked.   “I haven’t heard that name,†Jacali said.   “Do you?†Otto asked Professor Terwilliger.   “I don’t remember the names of any of the prisoners,†the older man said. “It didn’t really seem that important.†  “Were you also hired to find him?†Walker said.   “It’s contract work,†Otto said.   “Seems like everybody in this bar is looking for him,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Maybe we should work together,†Otto said.     * * *       Father Bishop finished his whiskey and then headed for his room. One of the dance hall girls took his arm as he reached the bottom of the stairs and escorted him up.   “You know, Father, I should confess some things,†she said.   “What much you confess, daughter?†he said.   “Well, I need some money first.†  “Usually it’s the other way around.†  “It can take me quite a bit of time to confess.†  The man finally turned her down and she went back down the stairs.   Gemma Jones saw the whole thing and caught the girl behind the stage.   “That’s a priest,†she said.   “He’s a man,†the girl said. “He has needs. They all have needs. You have to offer. It’s only polite.†  “But how can you sell yourself short like that?†  “I need the money.†  “I cannot believe you, Margaret. I just can’t believe you.†  “Well, honey, we can’t all have a beautiful voice like you and all have money thrown at us. Just for singing.†  Gemma shook her head and went on to sing again.     * * *       Professor Stalloid enjoyed his gambling but only broke even, not really making any cash.     * * *       After she was done singing, several ranch hands and others went to talk to Gemma Jones, as did Professor Terwilliger. He seemed very genuine and nice but was obviously somewhat smitten with the girl. Then he returned to Professor Stalloid and told the man he was going to head back to camp. He noted he liked sleeping there and headed off into the night.     * * *       Otto questioned Wilder who had hired him and the man confessed he had come down looking to be hired as a tracker after hearing about the escape. He noted he was a tracker but said he had preferred to help someone else track the killers rather than do it alone.   Jack West sat down at the table, examining Jacali intently. Then he turned to Wilder. Otto visibly grimaced at the man’s horribly maimed face.   “I heard yer … looking for Dan McGoohan,†he muttered. “I’m actually looking for a tracker. Mine’s late. You two look like you might be good at that.†  “I have … skills in the tracking arts,†Wilder said. “And will gladly help you if the pay is right.†  “All right,†West said.   “Well, there’s your man,†Jacali said. “I’m busy at the moment.†  “Thank you for hearing me out …†West said.   “The name is Jacali, sir.†  “Jacali. All right.†  “And what is yours?†  “Jack West.†  “Nice to meet you, Mr. West.†  Both Jacali and Dr. Weisswald had put their hands on their knives when the maimed man had sat down, a little worried about him. Wilder took another sip of his whiskey.   Professor Stalloid returned to the table.   “Is that sulfuric acid?†he asked, pointing at Jack West’s face.   “What is wrong with you?†the other man growled.   “Not as much.†  “Can’t you tell this is from a burn? Fire … bad.†  “Could be a chemical burn.†  “Fire bad.†  Dr. Weisswald looked more carefully at the man’s face and realized the terrible scars were caused by burns from a fire. There was actually a hole in his cheek and she thought she could see muscle and sinew under the damaged epidermis. It was a terrible wound.   Professor Stalloid took out his journal and wrote in it, sketching the man’s face and taking numerous notes.   “So, at dawn,†West said to Wilder. “We meet. What was your name?†  “Wilder,†Wilder said.   “Wilder,†West repeated.   Professor Stalloid held up the book towards West’s face to make sure the sketches were accurate. He was content with his work. West ignored the man.   “Never talk to me again,†he said to the scholar.   “And what’s your name, sir,†Professor Stalloid said to West.   West just glared at the man.   “Hey, what’s his name?†Professor Stalloid said to Wilder.   “I did not ask his name,†Wilder confessed. “I feel I can find him if I need.†  “John Doe it is,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Jack West,†West growled.   “Jack West,†Professor Stalloid said, making a notation in his journal.   “All right, I’m staying at the Eastwood,†West growled to Wilder.   West stood up, looked over the table, nodded, and left.   “A real people-person, that one,†Jacali said.   As he left, Dr. Stalloid noticed the man had a bump under his duster, probably a third gun on a holster on the back of his belt.   Otto thanked the table for their time.   “I’m Lambert Otto, by the way,†he said. “Nice to meet you.†  “Nice to meet you, Mr. Otto,†Jacali said. “Thank you for being more polite than some of our other company.†  Otto nodded.   “If you ever happen to go after Dan, just let me know,†he said. “I’m staying here, actually.†  He headed up the stairs, one of the dance hall girls escorting him. He was annoyed when she offered to spend the night.   “Skinflints,†he heard her say as he closed the door.     * * *       Marshal Pierce tried to find tracks that night but found nothing substantial in the dark. He returned to Yellow Flats to the find the jail locked up. He headed back to the saloon and found most people leaving. Gemma Jones was also gone. Only the bartender and a dance hall girl were still up. She escorted him up to his room and was willing to spend a pleasant evening with him for $15.   “I’ll pay ya 10 if you just sleep in the bed with me,†he said.   That threw the woman off but she was willing to do it. They retired to his room for the night. When they went to bed, he lay there, stiff as a board. The girl shrugged and rolled over. When she fell asleep, he held her. When she woke up, he rolled away again. That lasted most of the night.     * * *       Monday, April 12, 1875, was warm and sunny.   Father Bishop asked the bartender at Leone’s if he had heard any strange rumors but, aside from the escaped prisoners, he had not. He saw Marshal Pierce leave the Saloon after he gulped down a quick breakfast. He stopped the man outside.   “Can I go with you?†he asked the man. “I assume you’re one of the ones hunting Dan McGoohan.†  “Why would you want to come with me?†Marshal Pierce asked.   “I’d like to read him his last rites. If you do find him.†  “If I find him I’ll bring him to you, how about that? I plan to take him alive. I have questions for him.†  “Fair enough. Fair enough.†  “I just don’t know what you can add that I don’t already have.†  “If you also get wounded, I could potentially help you with that?†  “I cannot ensure your protection. You understand?†  “I understand. But I’ve taken many a risk in my lifetime. God has seen my way through it all.†  “All right. Well, if you’re going to tag with me, you listen to what I say first and God second.†  “All right.†  They walked to the jail and found Town Marshal Bill Morton. He had a big mustache and was finishing up some paperwork. He was an older gentleman in his 40s with a Colt Peacemaker on his belt.   “Howdy fellas,†he said. “Can I help you?†  “I’m looking for Marshal Morton,†Marshal Pierce said.   “That’s me.†  “You have any leads on where Dan McGoohan might be.†  “No sir. I’m just hoping that he doesn’t come back. Quite honestly, I’m hoping he got outta Arizona altogether.†  “Has he affected this town?†  “From what I understand, he’s one of John Valentine’s men.†  The town marshal pointed to the wall where there was a wanted poster for McGoohan with a bounty of $2,000.   “I don’t want any sign of that gang anywhere around here,†Marshal Morton went on. “We ain’t got any help within three days ride. One telegraph office and if that gang shows up here, they could wipe this whole town out probably.†  “You said he was here before?†Father Bishop said.   “He was working on a chain gang down the mines,†Marshal Morton said. “They brought in some prisoners from somewhere.†  “The ones that escaped.†  “Yeah. That’s why he’s on the loose right now. Hopefully, he won’t come back. But no, we haven’t seen him. If you find him …†  He pointed to the three cells in the back of the building.   “… we’ll lock him up ‘til you take him away,†Marshal Morton said.   “Is there anybody I can contact who might’ve been in communication with him?†Marshal Pierce asked.   “There was some overseers, but they left. They were hired by the owners of the mine. I think they went back to California. And they took whatever prisoners they’ve been catching and they’ve been taking them back. Like 30 men got away. They’ve been rounding them up, very slowly, but most of them haven’t seen any sign of McGoohan since they escaped two weeks ago.†  “You know anybody that I could contact for employment? Maybe trackers, men looking for work?†  “I don’t. I don’t. There’s a few bounty hunters in town. You might talk to them.†  “I already met one of ‘em. I didn’t like too much.†  “Yeah, man with the face?†  “Yeah, man with the face.†  “I also saw a man with a bear on his head last night. We might try to find him.†  “I-I don’t know who that is. He must be new in town. I haven’t met him.†  “If anyone brings you Dan McGoohan, let me talk to him first.†  “All right.†  “Thank you, sir.†  “Good luck to you, if you’re looking for him. Good having you here, Marshal. What’s your name again?†  They exchanged names.   Clayton thought the town marshal would probably be pretty friendly with him.     * * *       West and Wilder got together and went out in search of the escaped prisoners.   “I was thinking it’d be more 50/50 and then based on performance,†West told Wilder.   “That is … fair,†Wilder said.   “The only change would go to 40/60 depending on who does what.†  “That is … fair … and I will take that under … advisement.†  “Sounds like a plan.†  West smiled. Rather, half his face smiled. The ruined part of his mouth would not turn up.     * * *       Dr. Weisswald and Jacali left the Eastwood' Saloon and Hotel and headed west towards the area of the mine on horseback. They spotted Professor Stalloid heading that way and caught up to him. He told them he’d try to get them in but he wasn’t sure.   “Don’t show any of them that pelt,†he said to Jacali.   “Okay,†she said. “Do you have a reason why?†  “I don’t … I don’t like these guys.†  “You don’t?†  “I don’t trust ‘em. They have all these guns pointed at us all day?†  “I’ll admit, that one man is not someone I would give my secrets to.†  “I don’t really mind him but, yeah, don’t give him any secrets. Oh shoot! You showed him the pelt!†  “What?†  “He’s probably already told them!†  Dr. Weisswald looked over her shoulder and saw what appeared to be a priest or preacher and another man following them out of town on horseback. She urged Dr. Stalloid onto her horse. The two men were catching up with them.   Dr. Stalloid told Jacali they would probably not let her keep that bow. She said she’d cross that bridge when she got to it.   “What bridge?†he said.   “It’s a metaphor,†Jacali said.   “I think we’re being followed,†Dr. Weisswald said.   She pointed out the priest and the gunman trotting towards them.   “I don’t think they’ll like me bringing too many people so we’d better hurry up,†he said.   She helped pull him onto Shy Ann and they both kicked their horses into a gallop. The gunman following them picked up speed while the priest continued to trot, soon falling behind. However, the women were able to keep their distance from the unknown gunman all the way to the army encampment.   The guards near the road ordered them to halt.   “Hello, Brandon Stalloid!†Professor Stalloid said as the two horses stopped. “I brought associates. I don’t know who those two men are!†  “You’re going to have to talk to the captain,†one of the soldiers said.   They led their horses into the camp.     * * *    

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

The Evil Gun Part 2 - The Drifter Comes to Town

* * *       Marshal Pierce was stopped at the edge of the camp by soldiers. He showed his badge.   “I’m sorry, sir,†one of the soldiers said. “No civilians.†  “I’m not a civilian,†Marshal Pierce said.   “Yes, you are, sir.†  “I’m a federal marshal. I’m here on government business.†  “Do you have some kind of papers?†  “I don’t need papers.†  “Yes, you do, sir.†  “Let me talk to your superior.†  “Wait here.†    * * *       “Who are these people and why are they here?†Captain Black asked Brandon Stalloid.   The officer sat behind a makeshift desk made of barrels and boards in his tent. He did not seem happy about the two women in his camp.   “This is a well-known doctor in my area and … her assistant,†Professor Stalloid said.   Captain Black stood up and looked over the two women.   “I know many … native tales about native magic …†Jacali said. “And I think that there may be horrible curses on this place.†  Captain Black rolled his eyes.   “But I mostly just help the doctor,†Jacali said.   “All right Professor Stalloid, if you say so,†Captain Black finally said.   He got the women’s names and made them sign papers that bound them not to mention anything they saw in the camp under penalty of jail and massive fines. Jacali couldn’t read them so they had her make her mark and witnessed it.   They were sent into the mines.     * * *       Marshal Pierce was made to wait about 10 minutes before he was shown to the tent of Captain Black. Father Bishop had caught up to him by then and was allowed to accompany the man.   “How can I help you, sir?†the captain said.   “I’m here on government business concerning Dan McGoohan,†Marshal Pierce said.   “He’s escaped. He’s not here.†  “Yes, but he was in these mines before, correct?†  “Yes, he was.†  “I’ll be in and out. I just need to track him. I will not interfere with whatever is going on here.†  “You can track him outside of the encampment. My men have been all over this place. They’re going to ruin any tracks that might be anywhere within these tents.†  “I’m sorry, I just need to check. I don’t care what these men have done … or haven’t done … to these tracks.†  Captain Black frowned.   “God has sent us a clue that something here could help us,†Father Bishop said.   Marshal Pierce looked at the man like he was crazy. Captain Black rolled his eyes and just shook his head.   Marshal Pierce noted it was his jurisdiction and he could get the paperwork but that would just take time, time he didn’t have. Captain Black, obviously annoyed at the two men, finally acquiesced.   “Fine,†he said. “Fine!†  He told one of the soldiers to escort the men into the mines and let them look around for tracks and then escort them out. The man saluted him and led them to the mines.     * * *       Professor Stalloid escorted Dr. Weisswald and Jacali to the chamber in the mine that held the Crescent. They were amazed that it was just about exactly the same as the drawing of the medicine man in Nevada. They thought it had the same number of spikes but then realized there were more on the actual item than on their drawing.   Professor Terwilliger was delighted they were there.   “Oh!†he said. “Oh! Professor Stalloid! Oh!†  “And friends,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Welcome!†Professor Terwilliger said. “We’ve been testing this morning and trying to use the saws again but it hasn’t worked at all.†  Professor Stalloid whispered to the man to speak a little less loudly about projects whilst in town.   “Oh!†Professor Terwilliger said. “Oh! You’re right. Thank you.†  He turned to the women.   “Remember, don’t speak loudly about projects in town,†he said.   Professor Stalloid told him he brought the women in so they would have an excuse for knowing if anyone found out. The women looked at the Crescent as Professor Terwilliger told them some of their plans for the day with the device.   “Wait, are they here to touch it?†he asked Professor Stalloid.   “What?†Professor Stalloid said.   “Okay! Okay!†  “No! We’re not ready for human studies yet.†  “Oh yeah yeah yeah. Don’t touch it. Don’t touch it! I could be quite dangerous! Oh, they’ve cleared them so I can tell them anything and I told them last night so we’re good!†  “That’s why I brought ‘em. I’ve got your back.†  “So, you know about the dust. We’ve done some tests but … are you a biologist?†  Dr. Weisswald nodded.   “That’s prefect!†Dr. Terwilliger said. “That’s great.†  He showed her the dust and the chemical lab while Professor Stalloid set up electrolysis to see if the energy coming off the thing would be enough to silver coat something. He dumped in the pellets of two shotgun shells, connected the wire, and left the silver water. Dr. Terwilliger told them about the item being embedded in rock for 50 million years. He noted he wished they had some of the prisoners that were originally there because some of them saw what happened and a first-hand account would be useful.   “When did the prisoners escape?†Dr. Weisswald asked.   “Two weeks ago,†Professor Terwilliger said.   “Well, maybe we can get Wilder to check it out. He’s a tracker.†  “Ooh.†  “Wasn’t he going with that face man?†Jacali said. “To track prisoners already.†  “Yes, if he can get some of the prisoners who were eye witnesses, I would love to talk to them,†Professor Terwilliger said.   Professor Stalloid found that his experiment was working. He found it quite interesting.   “Was Dan McGoohan one of the prisoners?†Dr. Weisswald asked.   “He was!†Professor Terwilliger said. “He was one of the escaped prisoners. There were about 20 of them. Some of them didn’t see anything, because we’ve already questioned a few that were brought in. They were in the back. When all the prisoners started running away, they just started running with them.†  Marshal Pierce, Father Bishop, and another soldier entered the large cave. Dr. Weisswald recognized the Federal marshal badge on his chest. Professor Terwilliger went to him.   “Are you more scientists?†he asked.   “Absolutely not,†Marshal Pierce said.   “Oh,†Professor Terwilliger said.   He noticed the badge for the first time.   “Oh, federal marshal. Oh,†he said. “Well, never broken the law myself.†  “I wouldn’t think you had,†Marshal Pierce said.   “Stalloid, there’s a Federal marshal here,†Professor Terwilliger said. “I think he’s here to arrest you.†  “I don’t think he is,†Professor Stalloid said. “I-I haven’t done anything wrong lately.†  “Oh,†Professor Terwilliger said.   “Lately?†Marshal Pierce said.   “Lately … uh … well,†Professor Stalloid said. “Some things I’ve done are questionable.†  “What have you done, my child?†Father Bishop said.   “Well … I made these silver … balls … right now,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Well, it’s a priest!†Professor Terwilliger said. “How quaint.†  “Man of law, man of science, man of God,†Marshal Pierce mused. “What seems to be happening here?†  “Oh, we don’t want to bore you, sir,†Professor Stalloid said.   “You’re not going to bore me,†Marshal Pierce said. “Speak.†  Professor Stalloid told him about his electrolysis experiment that was causing silver to adhere to the lead buckshot of his shotgun shells. It was amazingly boring as the man showed him the buckshot and explained exactly what had caused it.   Father Bishop went over to look at the Crescent. He’d never seen anything like it before in his life.   When Professor Stalloid brought up the prisoners touching the thing and ripping shackles, Marshal Pierce stopped him.   “Dan McGoohan?†he said.   “I don’t know,†Professor Stalloid said. “I wasn’t here. I don’t know which prisoners were here.†  “Dan McGoohan was one of the prisoners that escaped. You said they touched this and their shackles came off?†  “Yeah, and then they turned to dust.†  “The shackles or the people?†  “The people.†  “You telling me one of these things is Dan McGoohan.†  “No. I don’t know who those are.†  Marshal Pierce sighed.   “I wasn’t here,†Professor Stalloid said.   “I understand that,†Marshal Pierce said.   “We can’t identify those people. They’re piles of dust, sir!†  “What I’m trying to say is─†  “Dental records do not exist!†  “There’s no teeth!†Professor Terwilliger said.   “Even the teeth are dust!†Professor Stalloid said.   “That’s according to our biologist here,†Professor Terwilliger said. “This is Doctor … I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.†  “Weisswald,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Weisswald!†Professor Terwilliger said.   “I know Dan McGoohan was one of the three and you’re saying the three prisoners are these dust piles, then by putting that together, Dan McGoohan is one of these dust piles!†Marshal Pierce said.   “If you say so!†Professor Stalloid said.   “I-I don’t think it was established,†Professor Terwilliger said. “I believe that Dan McGoohan was one of the ones who escaped, sir!†  He looked them over.   “I think you need to go talk to the Captain!†Professor Stalloid said, turning back to his work.   “I’ve already talked to the Captain!†Marshal Pierce said, frustrated.   Father Bishop read last rites over the ashes. The soldiers gave the man a look.   Marshal Pierce asked the scientists if there was any way to determine who the three people were.   “Someday, maybe we’ll have the ability to … I don’t know, to tell a person by tiny pieces of their flesh, but we’re not that far yet,†Professor Terwilliger said. “I’ve had some ideas though. I’ve had some great ideas about that.†  “Do you have a list of all the prisoners that escaped?†Marshal Pierce asked.   “The town marshal might!†Professor Terwilliger said.   Marshal Pierce cursed.   “Or possibly Captain Black,†Professor Terwilliger said.   “Talk to the Captain!†Professor Stalloid said.   “Good luck with that!†Professor Terwilliger said. “Nice fellow.†  “I’m sure he is,†Marshal Pierce said.   “His food is terrible!†Professor Terwilliger called after him. “But nice fellow.†  Marshal Pierce left.   Dr. Weisswald’s test verified what they had thought. The little piles of dust were composed of everything that made up a human being almost as if all of the liquid had been removed from a man, leaving only that. The powder wasn’t ash but much finer. She also learned they had tested lizards and rats touching the thing.   “Well, I don’t know what to do with this thing,†Jacali said. “I don’t really want to touch it.†  Dr. Stalloid touched the thing with a pickaxe but nothing apparently happened.   “Whomever that one man was, the impatient one, the one who definitely did not wait,†Jacali said. “He really wanted this thing though.†  “I remember that guy,†Professor Stalloid said.   Jacali put a rock in the middle of the circle but nothing happened.     * * *       Captain Black did, indeed, have a list of men who escaped. There were 30 of them with various charges. He had a soldier write up a copy for Marshal Pierce. About a third of them had been caught and a two or three others had been found dead in the wilderness. The list had been updated from the day before.   Dan McGoohan was listed as having not been found. Captain Black was of the opinion that he had probably left the territory, otherwise he would have been caught.   Captain Black ended up talking to Marshal Pierce for several hours, keeping him and Father Bishop at the camp. They ate lunch there.     * * *       Gemma Jones helped out around Leone’s Saloon, fitting in and getting to know the girls. They all seemed very nice though Margaret Smithson was a little jealous of her. As she was working, she heard gunshots in the distance. They seemed to be coming from the north side of town. She went to the entrance of Leone’s and leaned out the front door, looking around.   A man came down the street a minute or so later. He looked like a drifter. He was dirty and grungy. His eyes were small and mean-looking, mostly obscured by the brim of his hat. He wore a long coat and he had a pair of guns on his belt. A half-burned, unlit cigarillo jutted from the left corner of his mouth. She didn’t recognize him. Other people he walked by gave him a wide berth. People off the street talking stopped when he walked by, just staring at the drifter. Only the sound of his spurs jingling rung down the street.   He ambled to Leone’s, scowling. He gave the girl a look as he walked by her.   She felt herself breathing hard, nervous and afraid, though she didn’t know why.   He sat at a table and ordered whiskey. The bartender brought the man a bottle and a glass.   She left the room quickly, going to a small closet with a window and closing the door. She slid down the door to the floor and started crying.     * * *       After several hours, Wilder and West managed to track down one of the prisoners to a cave on the plains. The man was half-starved and desperate for water. He had been eating raw rabbits and was ready to go back.   “Oh thank God!†he said when he saw them.   West got into the man’s face.   “So, I’m wondering … did you see Dan McGoohan?†he asked the man.   “Not for a couple weeks,†the escaped prisoner said. “Not since we escaped.†  “You see which way he went?†  “I didn’t see which way he went. I ran! You don’t know what happened in there! You don’t know what happened in there! That face? That ain’t half as scary as what I saw! And that face is scary! Makes me wanna puke!†  West backhanded him in the face.   “That ain’t nothin’!†the man said. “You seen what I seen?†  “What did you see?†West said.   “Stick a nail in my fingernail!†  “What did you see?†  “I saw ‘em touch it. They touched that thing! They touched that thing! And then - and then - and then they started ripping the shackles off like they were made of paper! Paper! Those’re iron shackles! Just pop! Just pulled ‘em right off! And-and-and-and then they started - they pulled out something out of it and waved it around, like they were gonna touch us and the others are touching it like they were in love with it! Like it was a woman! And-and there’s this … purple light … and-and-and we … we said ‘No!’ And we ran! Dan McGoohan was runnin’ too! Last I saw him, we were runnin’ out that mine! The overseers, there’s only five of ‘em, you can’t stop all 30 men! We ran ‘em over like a train!†  “So those three things, what were they?†  “The three what?†  “The three men that touched it. They transformed?†  “Yeah! I dunno! They just ripped the chains off! And then we left. We left ‘em. I was afraid they was gonna touch me with that thing they found! That rod or whatever it was!†  “All right.†  West tossed the man a canteen and he desperately drank the water out of it. Wilder handed him some beef jerky and then they tied his wrists behind his back. They returned to town with him and handed him over to the town marshal.     * * *       Marshal Pierce had verified his list with the town marshal and found it up-to-date except for the name of a man who had brought in just that day. He had a similar list and told Marshal Pierce the man had been brought in by a man with terrible scars on his face and a man wearing a bear. When he checked the name listed with the bounty, he told Marshal Pierce the scarred man was called Jack West. He hadn’t caught the bear man’s name. He also asked Marshal Pierce to pass on to Jack West that he’d sent the telegram.     * * *       When they met in Leone’s for dinner that night, they saw a new face there. The dirty drifter was sitting alone at a table, no one near him, with an unlit cigarillo in his mouth, drinking whiskey. He drank and paid and drank and paid, never speaking except to the bartender.   When they were all seated, Stalloid took out a deck of cards and asked if they’d like to have a friendly game of poker.   “I don’t play, sir,†Jacali said. “Wilder, how’s your day been?†  “We … uh … went out at dawn to the surrounding hills and found a … half starving man … who had been feasting on … hares and rats and all manner of small critter,†Wilder said. “He … did not know much … so we brought him back into town and … gave him to the sheriff.†  “We found the horn that the man who did not wait at all, the impatient one, was talking about,†Jacali said. “They said the prisoners who were escaping might know something about it. They saw something in the cave. Maybe. Some of them touched it and there are some ashen piles of what looks like used to be people near it. We haven’t touched it yet, because we think it might be dangerous.†  “He said it turned ‘em into monsters,†West said. “He said they looked scarier than me.†  “That would be a sight to behold,†Jacali said.   Marshal Pierce stood nearby.   “I’ve seen scarier,†Professor Stalloid said, putting his cards away. “Take a seat Marshal.†  “I don’t gamble,†Marshal Pierce said.   “So, some people touched it and didn’t turn to dust?†Dr. Weisswald said.   “As far as we know,†Professor Stalloid said.   “They left them behind,†Wilder said.   “Everybody ran away,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Well if they touched it and turned into monsters, maybe they didn’t immediately disintegrate,†Jacali said.   “But they were close to the Horn when they were disintegrated,†Dr. Weisswald said. “At least, they didn’t leave it.†  Marshal Pierce put his hand on the back of West’s chair.   “Let me buy you a drink at the bar,†he said.   “Appreciate it, marshal,†West said. “I’ll take that drink.†  Marshal Pierce told the priest to find out what he could there and he and West went to the bar. He told West he didn’t know what the people were talking about with all the talk of monsters.   Town Marshal Morton entered Leone’s and looked around. His eyes finally rested on the drifter. He asked the drifter about the gunfire that happened earlier.   “I was defending myself,†the other man said husky near-whisper that carried even across the wide room.   He told the marshal the two men drew on him and he had to defend himself. The room had gone quiet and someone nearby pointed out the dead men were hot heads and bullies and it was not really surprising. The bartender piped up, noting the stranger had been real peaceable since he’d come into Leone’s that afternoon. Marshal Morton seemed very nervous about talking to the man and merely nodded and left.     * * *       Across the room, Gemma Jones was between songs. She couldn’t help but hear, just like everyone else in the place. The drifter continued to drink as the noise in the saloon rose once again.     * * *       Father Bishop approached their table.   “Bear man,†he said.   “The bear man has a name,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Like most of us,†Jacali said.   “I don’t know it,†Father Bishop said.   “It would be a good question to ask rather than saying ‘bear man,†Jacali said.   “Hey, Father Man,†Professor Stalloid quipped.   “What do you think I was getting to?†Father Bishop said. “You didn’t let me finish my sentence.†  “You could say “Hello, sir.’†  “He doesn’t necessarily look like a ‘sir.’†  “Ah, so ‘madam.’†  “What are your names? If you don’t mind my asking.†  “My name is─†Wilder said.   “Professor Brandon Stalloid!†the professor interrupted. “Saver of children! Healer of women … and men alike!†  His voice carried. People looked up from their drinks and conversations and card games. Gemma Jones, always the professional, noticed but continued singing.   “And my name is Jacali,†the Indian woman said.   “Jacali,†Father Bishop said. “Interesting name. Interesting person. You, madam?†  “Weisswald,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “A pleasure,†Father Bishop said.   He looked at Wilder.   “And … uh …†he said.   “My name is Wilder,†he said.   “Nice to meet you,†Father Bishop said.   “But you can call me Bear Man.†  “Nice to meet you.†  “It will not offend me.†  “I’m Father Peter Bishop.†  “Nice to meet you as well, Father,†Jacali said.     * * *       Marshal Pierce asked the bartender for two glasses of whiskey. The bartender dropped two glasses on the table and then poured the whiskey in both sloppily. He shoved one to each of them and got his money.   “The man you captured,†Marshal Pierce said. “He was one of the prisoners, correct?†  “Yeah,†West said.   “You’re looking for Dan McGoohan as well, correct?†  “I sure am. Need the money.†  “Employed the help of … bear man over there?†  “Wilder’s been very useful.†  “Wilder? That’s his name?†  “I didn’t catch his last name. Not sure if he had one.†  “I’m just gonna be one hundred percent with you. I don’t know which name’s more fake: Wilder or Jack West. Regardless of last names. I would like to team up.†  “Having an extra gun’s not always a bad thing. You good at finding people too, Marshal?†  “Probably not as good as … that wild man over there, but …†  “But …†  “My jurisdiction can get us places you couldn’t normally get.†  “That is valuable.†  “Here’s the deal I’m gonna make. You can have the bounty. I care not for that money. But what I do care for is Dan McGoohan survives. I must speak to him alive.†  “Oh, I can definitely assist you there. I’m an expert marksman. I’ve disarmed many a man.†  “I usually shoot to kill but … in this case I need him alive. That is my one rule.†  “All righty, if I get all the money.†  “With Wilder. What does a man of his …stature want with money?†  “I’m not sure. Could be, perhaps, he buys his pelts.†  “He buys his pelts?†  “I dunno. I didn’t ask him any personal questions.†  Marshal Pierce looked across the room at the stranger.   “So, you haven’t spoken to him yet, correct?†he asked West. “The drifter?†  “No, not yet, but he looks like he might be looking for McGoohan too,†West said. “Might know something.†  West looked at the man with his bulging eye.   “What do you say we take him some whiskey over there and ask him some questions?†Marshal Pierce said.   “Not a bad idea,†West said.   The drifter got up from the table and walked towards the bar.   “Well, looks like we got him right where we want him,†Marshal Pierce said.   As the man reached the bar, Marshal Pierce ordered three more glasses of whiskey.   “One for my new friend here,†Marshal Pierce said, pointing towards the drifter.   The man didn’t pay him any mind.   “Much obliged,†he merely said to the bartender in a way that didn’t sound like he actually was.   He dropped some coins on the bar for the bartender and turned to leave.   “You forgot your glass I just bought you here, sir,†Marshal Pierce said to the man.   The drifter stopped. He turned around and looked at the man from under the brim of his hat for what felt like a long time. The saloon went quiet. Only Gemma Jones singing continued. She stared at the drifter in terror.   The drifter took the whiskey, drank it down, and put the glass down on the bar.   “Much obliged,†he said to Marshal Pierce.   Marshal Pierce didn’t think he was.   The drifter turned and walked out of saloon. Gemma Jones finished her song just as the man left. The piano player, a bowler-wearing man with a half-finished bottle of whiskey on the piano, finished the song and took another drink himself. People started talking once again.   “He’s less friendly than I am,†West said.   “Hurry,†Marshal Pierce said. “Let’s catch him.†  They drank down their whiskey and headed out of the saloon. When they got to the porch they saw the drifter head around the corner and followed him to Main Street. He was heading north.   “Usually when I buy a man a drink, he gives me his name,†Marshal Pierce called to the man.   The drifter stopped and turned around very slowly.   “I ain’t no usually,†the drifter said.   He turned and walked way.   “What is a man who isn’t ‘usual’ go this time of day?†Marshal Pierce said.   The drifter stopped again. He didn’t turn around this time.   “Man needs a place to lay his head once his thirst is quenched,†he said. “If it’s ever.†  He walked away.   “Dan McGoohan mean anything to you?†Marshal Pierce called after him.   The drifter just walked away. Marshal Pierce growled under his breath. He watched the man walk up the street and go into Eastwood’s Saloon and Hotel. He gave the man a minute or so before he followed him. West went with him.   The proprietor, John Eastwood, stood behind the desk set in the front of the saloon. He looked uncomfortable. There was a register book and Marshal Pierce turned it around and looked at it. He saw the names Dr. Eva Weisswald, Jacali, and Jack West, the last people to sign it. Marshal Pierce asked about the man who had just come in.   “Wouldn’t sign,†Eastwood said. “I wasn’t about to make him.†  “Did he … pay well?†Marshal Pierce said.   “He paid for the room. He paid for a week.†  “But not more? For you to stay quiet? For you to cover for him or anything like that?†  “No sir.†  “Doesn’t seem to be a man with something to hide?†  “If he had paid extra, you should probably try to bribe me to find out, shouldn’t ya? But he didn’t, Marshal. He did not pay me any extra to keep my mouth shut.†  “Did you just ask a Federal marshal to bribe you?†  “No, I’m trying to help you know how to do your job right.†  Eastwood laughed it off like the whole thing had been a joke. Marshal Pierce laughed to, putting his hand on his gun.   “He didn’t pay me any extra,†Eastwood said again. “I don’t know his name. I asked him to sign the register book. He just walked up the stairs. Did you see that man? Gives me the creeps! I wasn’t about to ask him nothing.†  “Did he pay for multiple nights or just for tonight?†  “He paid for one week, exactly. Said he only needed one week. I don’t know what that means. I don’t care.†  Marshal Pierce turned to West.   “Man comes into town pays for a week,†he said. “Sounds like a bounty hunter to me, to be honest. He’s looking for Dan McGoohan. And we better find him before he kills him. ‘Cause that’s a man doesn’t take any bounty alive.†  “Sounds about right,†West said.   Marshal Pierce slid a silver dollar to Eastwood.   “If you ever find out his name, you tell me first,†he said. “Agreed?†  Eastwood took the silver dollar and tucked it away.   “Yes sir,†he said.   “And any time he walks in, maybe just nudge the registry just a little bit,†Marshal Pierce said.   Eastwood looked nervous and told the man he’d do what he could but he wanted as little to do with the drifter as possible.   “As does most of this town,†Marshal Pierce said. “Have a good night.†  They went back to Leone’s.     * * *       “I saw you earlier at the mine,†Father Bishop said to the others at the table.   “Yes, and a priest at the mine was very surprising as well,†Jacali said.   “I was with the marshal.†  “Why?†  “He’s looking for Dan McGoohan. I wish to read him his final rites.†  “Yeah, the marshal made that very clear,†Professor Stalloid said. “And I don’t think he knows what looking for Dan McGoohan is like. He really, really wanted it to be one of those three bodies. I couldn’t explain it to him.†  Dr. Weisswald asked Wilder if they could go with them the next day to track Dan McGoohan.   “We’re not interested in the bounty,†Jacali said.   “No,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “At least I’m not,†Jacali said.   “Neither am I,†Father Bishop said.   “I have … no qualms about it personally,†Wilder said. “Though you should take that up with … Mr. West … as he is the one that did hire me.†  “The guy with the face?†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Yeah, I don’t really like talking with him at all,†Jacali said. “Could you do it for me, please?†  “I can do it,†Father Bishop said.   “Yes,†Wilder said. “Let the … preacher man speak to him.†  “We don’t let no man speak for us,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “I just don’t like seeing his face very much,†Jacali said.   “By the way, if any of you would ever need to repent anything from your past, feel free to call,†Father Bishop said.   “I think …†Jacali said.   They decided they would just show up the next morning with them and see what happened.   Marshal Pierce and Jack West returned to drink at the bar. Father Bishop joined them.   “Mr. West,†the priest said. “Would you mind if I and another of Mr. Wilder’s associates join you and him in trying to find Mr. McGoohan tomorrow. None of us want anything to do with the bounty, it’s just …†  “Well, if you don’t care about the money then I don’t care if you’re there,†West said.   Father Bishop returned to the table and told them what he had said. Then he returned to drink with the men at the bar.     * * *       When Gemma Jones finished singing for the night, Dr. Weisswald approached the stage along with a few other people. The piano player was chugging on the whiskey bottle. The other admirers were all men, there to compliment her, give her a silver dollar, or even proposition her. Dr. Weisswald was the only woman and, with her height, white hair, and doeskin clothing stood out from the men.   “Your singing is the best I’ve ever heard,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Oh!†Gemma said. “Thank you. I do appreciate that. I’m … I’m not sure I’ve seen you before.†  “I’m Eva. Call me Eva.†  “Eva. I’m Gemma. But I’m sure you know that.†  “Uh-huh. Are you just here for the week or …†  “Oh, I’m just here for a few weeks before I go wherever the wind takes me.†  “Do you know where that might be next?†  “Who’s to say? And who’s asking?†  “Uh … me? No reason.†  “Come sit. Would you like to have a drink?†  “Ah, tea would be fine.†  The two women found a table and sat down, getting tea. Some of the men wanted to join them but a glare from Dr. Weisswald and a word from Gemma sent them on their way.   They had a nice conversation, Dr. Weisswald mentioning there was an artifact they were investigating and they were looking for the escaped prisoners as they would know more about it.   “Ooh,†Gemma said. “An undiscovered artifact. How interesting.†  “Well, I mean … it’s discovered now,†Dr Weisswald, ever-pragmatic, said with a kind smile.   “Well yes,†Gemma said. “Yes.†  They talked for a little while in a friendly fashion. Dr. Weisswald also talked about some of the others, especially Wilder and Jacali. She told her about Professor Stalloid and his elixirs as well. Gemma wondered if Professor Terwilliger had anything to do with the artifact.     * * *       That evening at the Eastwood Saloon those who were staying there heard a strange and unsettling whistling. It seemed to be coming from inside the hotel rooms. It had an eerie ululating tune but it was not very nice. Jacali looked out of her window and soon realized it was in one of the adjacent rooms. Though that window was also open, it seemed like whomever was whistling was standing back far enough from it that she couldn’t see them.   Dr. Weisswald got Jacali and they went to the room where it was coming from. The whistling stopped when they knocked on the door and then the doorknob rattled and the door opened. The drifter stood there. He looked them both over.   “Not interested,†he said.   He started to close the door but Jacali put her hand onto the door just before it closed. She pushed it open. He stood there behind it, glaring at the two.   “We ain’t that type of girls,†she said.   The man let his gaze slowly settle on each of them.   “All right,†he said.   Jacali felt pressure on the door as he pushed on it to close it again. She didn’t let him.   “You the one doing that whistling?†she said.   The man looked at her.   “Yes,†he said. “Sometimes at night … you gotta whistle up your company, don’t you?†  “Whistle up your company?†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Are you coming in … or are you staying out?†the drifter said.   Jacali looked at Dr. Weisswald.   “Whistling’s keeping me up,†Jacali said. “Just hold it down a little bit.†  “Once you let go of the door,†the drifter said.   She glared at the man and, just for a second, his eyes glowed with an unnatural luminescence. Jacali was shocked by the strange and eerie occurrence, removing her hand from the door. The drifter closed it and they heard it lock. The two woman looked at each other before returning to their rooms.     * * *       When gunfire rang through the village in the middle of the night, it woke up several people through the town. Father Bishop got dressed, ran to Marshal Pierce’s room, and banged on the door. The other man cracked the door with a gun in his hand. When he saw it was the priest, he opened the door the rest of the way.   “I heard some gunshots outside,†the priest said.   “All right, let me get dressed real quick,†Marshal Pierce said, closing the door.   Another door opened and Lambert Otto peeked out in his long underwear and boots pulled hastily on.   “What the hell are you doing out here at this hour?†he said.   “Getting the marshal,†Father Bishop said.   “Why?†  “I heard a noise outside. Go back to bed, sir.†  “But … but …†  “It is a matter of the law. Do not worry.†  Marshal Pierce came out of his door.   “Who you talking to?†he said.   “Um … a man,†Father Bishop said.   He pointed at Otto. Otto looked at the man in surprise and saw his badge.   “You’re a marshal, aren’t you?†he said. “The marshal that’s been around town?†  “Yeah, Clayton Pierce,†the marshal said. “And you?†  “Lambert Otto,†the other man said. “Bounty Hunter.†  “Lambert, get dressed,†Marshal Pierce said. “You’re coming with us.†  The man scratched his head and went back into the room, quickly getting dressed. Father Bishop went to his room and retrieved his crossbow. The three of them headed downstairs and found Wilder in the saloon. They all headed out and soon found where the gunfire had come from.   Marshal Morton was in one of the crossroads of the town. He’d been gunned down and was badly injured.   “Father, do you know first aid?†Marshal Pierce said. “Wilder, are there any track?†  The priest nodded and got to work on the man but then Marshal Morton gasped his last and died.   “I didn’t have anything to stop the bleeding with,†Father Bishop said.   “What’s it look like?†Marshal Pierce said. “Multiple guns?†  The priest told him the man had been hit with at least five bullets. The sheriff’s own Colt Peacemaker lay on the ground next to him, still smoking. He had obviously fought back whomever attacked him.   “Somebody lured him out and killed him,†Marshal Pierce said. “Wilder! Tracks! What do you see?†  Wilder found a pair of footprints heading south towards Neff Hill Graveyard. Marshal Pierce said they’d go to the livery stables and get the horses.   “I need Jack West,†he said. “Father, go to Eastwood’s. Get the rest of them. Find a doctor that actually knows what the hell they’re doing and make sure they come. No offense, but you are a father. Wilder Man and Lambert, you’re with me. Get your horses. We’re gonna ride them down.†  They separated.     * * *    

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

The Evil Gun Part 3 - Walking Corpses and the Bank Robbery

* * *      
Father Bishop ran towards Eastwood’s and found Jack West in the street heading his way. He told him to meet Wilder in the barn and then he continued on to Eastwood’s. He went on up to the rooms above and banged on the doors, finding Jacali and Dr. Weisswald and telling them there had been a murder. They quickly got dressed. As they were leaving, the drifter opened up his door.   “Keep it quiet out here,†he said in a husky near-whisper.   The three of them headed for the livery stables. They arrived as Marshal Pierce, Wilder, and Otto rode out and headed south. They headed in to get their own horses.  
* * *      
Marshal Pierce, Wilder, and Otto tore down the street towards Neff Hill Graveyard. They were 30 yards away when they saw a couple of men stumbling up the hill. They were hard to see in the dark, had their backs to the riders, and were heading up the hill with guns in their hands.   “You saw two tracks, right, Wilder?†Marshal Pierce said. “Two men.†  “Yep,†Wilder said.   “That’s them?†Marshal Pierce said.   He pulled his horse to a stop and aimed at the two men. Both Otto and Wilder pulled their horses to a stop as well, both men aiming their own rifles at the men on the hill. Marshal Pierce shot the man on the right in his right hand. There was a spark as the bullet struck the man’s pistol. The pistol went flying and the man’s hand was smashed. Blood dripped from the terrible wound.   Wilder shot the man on the left, hitting the man in the back. The man stumbled but didn’t fall. Then Otto also shot the man on the right in the lower back. The man fell to the ground.   The other man turned around and looked in their direction. He started walking down the hill towards them.  
* * *      
When Gemma heard more gunfire from outside, she grabbed her two small knives and headed out of her room and down into the bar, unlocking the front door and going out onto the porch. She looked around, unsure where the gunfire had come from. She didn’t even bother to get dressed and was out there in her underwear.  
* * *      
Father Bishop returned to the dead town marshal and read last rites over the body. He heard the gunfire coming from the south. He stopped his rites and got up, heading towards the graveyard.  
* * *      
Marshal Pierce worked the action on his Winchester and then again fired at the man who was drunkenly walked towards them, this time hitting him in the chest. The man stumbled, falling backwards, and crashed to the ground. Otto and Wilder spurred their horses towards the wounded men.   “That ain’t natural,†Marshal Pierce said, doing likewise.  
* * *      
Gemma saw the priest she’d seen propositioned the night before heading down the street a block or so south of Leone’s. Then she heard hoof beats and saw three riders heading south the next street over at a gallop.  
* * *      
West, Dr. Weisswald, and Jacali had gotten gear on their horses as quickly as possible and tore out of the livery stables, heading south after the other men. When they reached the corner of Gold Street and Show-Down Street, Dr. Weisswald noticed a figure outside of Leone’s apparently in her underwear. She thought it looked like Gemma Jones.   Dr. Weisswald pulled her horse up and turned down Show-Down Street, galloping towards Leone’s.  
* * *      
Otto and Wilder reached the bodies. The nearer man was on his back. The further was on his face. Otto put the carbine in the scabbard and drew his saber, dismounting and heading for the further corpse. Wilder dismounted and approached the nearer. Marshal Pierce rode over and dismounted as well.   Two riders galloped from town and headed their way.  
* * *      
Gemma was a little intimidated by the rider who galloped to the front of Leone’s until she realized it was Eva.   “Get on,†Dr Weisswald said.   “Eva,†Gemma said. “What is going on? In the middle of the night.†  “Gunshots,†Dr. Weisswald said. “We need to go see what it is. I need to go help people. And put this cloak on.†  She tossed the girl a doeskin cloak and the girl pulled it over her shoulders. She held a hand up and Dr. Weisswald pulled her up onto the back of the horse. Then she spurred it and they headed south.  
* * *      
When Jacali and West arrived at the graveyard, they saw their companions examining the bodies. It was fairly dark as the moon was less than half full.   Otto and Wilder didn’t recognize the two dead men though they stank like rotten flesh.   Jacali dismounted and headed into the graveyard, looking for anything out of the ordinary.   Dr. Weisswald rode up with Gemma Jones on her horse. The two dismounted as Father Bishop ran up, only slightly out of breath.   Marshal Pierce put one of the bodies on the back of his horse and noticed there were several more bullet holes in the corpse than they had made. He told Wilder to put the other on his. Otto picked up one of the Colt Peacemakers.   “I’m here,†Dr. Weisswald said. “I need to treat them. Don’t move them.†  “They’re dead,†Otto said.   “They are … already expired,†Wilder said.   Dr. Weisswald went to the man he stood near and examined him anyway. She realized the dead man was already suffering from rigor mortis. He had been dead for a few hours at very least. There were also numerous bullet holes in the body, more than the shots she’d heard.   “You just shot a bunch of corpses!?!†she said.   “They were shambling towards us,†Otto said. “One of them even had a gun aimed at us.†  “Dead men can’t walk.†  “Well, it was.†  “Dead men walking?†West said.   “What do you mean?†Marshal Pierce said as he mounted his horse. “Corpses?†  “These men have been dead for hours!†Dr. Weisswald said.   “You saying these are a bunch of undead cowboys?†West said.   Father Bishop had heard about voodoo doctors in Jamaica who could raise the dead, supposedly, though he had always heard they drugged folks with certain terrible substances to make them seem dead but kept them alive. They would dig up the comatose later and, keeping them drugged, convince them they were still dead and force them to work in whatever capacity they might. He realized Dr. Weisswald was obviously mistaken.   “Sounds like you’re talking hoodoo,†Father Bishop said.   “I’m just saying what science told me,†Dr. Weisswald said. “I’m not saying that they could walk. I didn’t see them walk.†  “So, you’re saying these men were dead before me, Wilder, and Lambert here shot them?†Marshal Pierce said.   “Far as I can tell,†she said.   “Sure smell like it,†Otto said.   “We should watch out for the Marshal,†West said.   “Eva,†Gemma said. “What happened here? What?†  “We shot these corpses, apparently,†Otto said.   “I’m sorry?†Gemma said.   “Walking corpses,†Wilder muttered.   “We shot corpses,†Otto said. “Walking like─†  “Why would you shoot …?†Gemma said.   “I got a bad feeling about this,†West muttered.   “They were walking,†Otto went on. “And they shot the marshal in town.†  “That …†Gemma said.   “They shot the marshal?†Dr. Weisswald said.   “He’s dead,†Otto said. “I think priest … boy over there was doing last rites.†  “We need to take these bodies in town to get them identified,†Marshal Pierce said. “Wilder follow me. I don’t care if they’s corpses or not.†  “Marshal!†Gemma said. “What happened here?†  “These men shot the town marshal. We rode them down and now we’re going to find out why they shot the marshal.†  “Well, why is he saying they were corpses?†  “I’m not calling them corpses.†  “But that’s what she said!†Otto said.   “Well now they are,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Well, they are now,†Marshal Pierce said.   “That doesn’t make any sense!†Gemma said.   “Come, Wilder, let’s go,†Marshal Pierce said.   Wilder put the corpse on his horse and noticed there were several more bullet holes in the body than they had made. The two men headed into town. Wilder was a little surprised the man he’d shot wasn’t dissolving like those creatures in Nevada.   “I am severely disappointed,†he said to Marshal Pierce. “The last creature I shot with this gun dissolved and I thought it was special.† 
* * *      
Jacali found the hanging tree, a bit of torn rope still upon it, at the top of the hill. She also noticed an unmarked grave behind the tree. There was a marker, a crudely made cross, but there was no name or anything on it. From the weathering of the wood, she guessed it was about 10 years old. She found every other marker in the graveyard nearby had a name or a carving or something except for that one.   She returned to the others and they spoke briefly about how many times the men had been shot. Otto told them only four shots had been fired on the men. He questioned how many times the men had been shot and asked what caliber the bullets had been. Dr. Weisswald thought they were mostly pistol wounds.  
* * *      
Marshal Pierce and Wilder went to the jail but found it locked up and dark. They headed over to Doc McKenna’s, waking the old, bearded man up.   “Whatcha got?†the old man said when he opened the door and saw Marshal Pierce standing on his front porch with the man over his shoulder. “Oh my goodness. C’mon, let’s see what we can do for him. C’mon! Bring him in.†  “Oh, I doubt you can do anything for this one,†Marshal Pierce said.   “You’d be surprised boy!†Doc McKenna said.   Marshal Pierce put the man down on an examining table and Doc McKenna quickly found he was dead.   “Oh, I can’t do anything for this man!†he said. “He’s dead.†  “Hold on,†Marshal Pierce said.   He went to the door.   “Hey Wilder, bring the other one in!†he called. “You might can get this one.†  Wilder brought in the other dead man.   “Why, he’s dead too!†Doc McKenna said.   “Yeah, I know,†Marshal Pierce said.   “He’s been shot over six times!†  “Six?†  “Look at this. Forty-five. Forty-five. Wait a minute. Well God damn.†  Doc McKenna went pale.   “Now this looks like …†he said. “This is … this can’t be. This can’t be!†  He went to the back of the examination room, through a door, and down a set of steps. Marshal Pierce followed the man down to a cool cellar with several coffins and another examination table. The coffins were all empty and there was a strange smell in the room. He looked in two of the coffins near the door.   “This can’t be!†Doc McKenna said. “This can’t be!†  He walked back up the steps, Marshal Pierce following him. They found Jack West had arrived while they were in the basement.   Doc McKenna looked over the men again.   “God damn,†he said again. “That’s Dan Hunter. This is Mike Smith. They got brought in earlier today. That stranger in town gunned ‘em down when they tried to kill him. How the hell they’d get out there? Why’re you shooting up corpses?   “I ain’t shootin’ up anyone,†Marshal Pierce said.   “I thought you a Federal marshal,†Doc McKenna said.   “These men were walking!†Marshal Pierce said.   “No no no no no,†Doc McKenna said. “There ain’t no way they’re walking. They’re dead. They been dead for hours. Take a whiff!†  He leaned over one of the dead men and took a long sniff.   “Oh, they been dead for hours!†he said again.   “That’s what the other doctor said,†Marshal Pierce said. “The lady with the pants.†  “Well, you should listen to her,†Doc McKenna said. “She knows what she’s saying. There’s a lady wearing pants!?!†  “Hey, which one is more surprising to you?†West muttered.   Doc McKenna looked at the man for the first time.   “Lady wearing pants or dead men walking?†Marshal Pierce said.   “Y’know, I heard these men were connected to the McGoohan gang,†Doc McKenna said. “But, they’re dead.†  He seemed shaken by the information as well.   “I need you to get the deputy,†Marshal Pierce said to Doc McKenna.   “Go get the deputy!†Doc McKenna said to West.   He told the man how to get there and gave him a shove out the door. West found Deputy Hill at his house and fetched the man to the doctor’s office. He looked disheveled and tired.   “What’s going on here?†he asked.   “You the deputy?†Marshal Pierce said.   “Yes sir.†  “You’re the marshal now.†  “What?†  “Marshal was gunned down by these two men right here.†  Deputy Hill looked over the bodies and seemed confused.   “These two men … they’re dead already,†he said. “They died this afternoon. That drifter gunned ‘em down.†  “God saw fit for them to die twice today,†Marshal Pierce said.   After some confusion, Deputy Hill had them show him where the town marshal’s body was. They found Father Bishop there, administering last rites to the corpse. They retrieved it and brought it to Doc McKenna’s. It also had numerous bullets in him. Deputy Hill told them he’d tell the people of town the next day.   “So, these men gunned him down?†Deputy Hill said.   “Yes,†Marshal Pierce said.   “But they were dead?†  “Well, two doctors say yes.†  After some more confusion, Deputy Hill told them he’d tell the townsfolk about the murder of the town marshal. He noted some people in town thought Hunter and Smith were part of Dan McGoohan’s gang though there was no proof of it.   The rest of those involved in the altercation arrived at Doc McKenna’s. Doc McKenna looked around at the group who were crowded into the place and then told West to help him carry the corpses down into the basement. West helped the man carry them down.   “Marshal, those men were shot more times than you shot ‘em,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “So this doctor is telling us,†Marshal Pierce said.   “Did he tell you it was a .45 cal?†  “He did.†  Dr. Weisswald looked over one of the long-dead bodies and found the man from the cemetery had numerous bullets in him, rifle and handgun.   When Doc McKenna returned from the basement, Jacali asked him about the unmarked grave in the graveyard. Doc McKenna looked uncomfortable.   “Nope,†he said. “Help me with this next body!†  “Hold it!†Jacali said.   But the doctor was already heading down the steps, West helping him carry the next corpse.   “Where did the guns go?†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Did you tell what gun shot the other ones?†Gemma asked.   Dr. Weisswald examined the town marshal’s body and found the holes were small. She guessed they were made by handguns.   Doc McKenna and West returned for the Morton’s body.   “You do know something about that grave!†Jacali confronted the doctor. “What is it?†  “Help me with this other body, boy!†Doc McKenna said.   “I’ll help with the body if you tell me,†Jacali said.   Doc McKenna ignored the woman.   “Answer the lady’s question,†Marshal Pierce said.   “That was a man who got gunned down here about 10 years ago,†Doc McKenna said.   “Does that sound right?†Marshal Pierce said to Jacali.   “Hm,†she said.   “What grave? Why do you have these questions?†  “It’s the only unmarked grave in town. It’s out back of that hanging tree. It just seemed strange.†  “Is it filled?†  “Yes. You didn’t even care to write his name on the grave?†  Doc McKenna had just come up the stairs from the basement for the last time.   “Didn’t know his name,†he said. “All right folks, it’s late at night. I need to get some sleep. I’ll see y’all in the morning.†  “Before we go though, do you know what he looked like?†West said.   “What who looked like?†  “The one buried in the unmarked grave.†  “I don’t know. He was just a drifter.† 
* * *      
Dr. Weisswald saw Gemma Jones safely back to Leone’s Five Star Saloon.   “Because of all the events tonight, do you want to just stay with us?†Dr. Weisswald said to the girl. “We can protect you.†  “With … with who?†Gemma said. “You and …?†  “Jacali.†  “Why, I hardly know you.†  “Well, I mean, we’re all women here.†  “That’s very true.†  “It’s okay if you don’t, I just … maybe you can handle yourself. It’s okay.†  “I’ll … I’ll stay here for the night but I do appreciate the offer.†  “All right.†  Dr. Weisswald rode away.  
* * *      
Tuesday, April 13, 1875, started out like any other day in Yellow Flats, though with one major difference. Town Marshal Hill went around town information people of the tragedy which happened the night before and introducing himself as the new town marshal. He noted the killers had been gunned down by the federal marshal and his men.   Marshal Pierce went to Eastwood’s and invited everyone who had been involved in the strangeness the night before to breakfast at Leone’s. Dr. Weisswald pointed out the drifter’s room. He said they’d talk about that.   They all met for breakfast at a couple of tables pulled together in the saloon and enjoyed a good breakfast. Jacali made sure the drifter was not there. In fact, very few people were in Leone’s that early.   Jacali told them before the gunfire the night before, the drifter had been whistling out the window of his room. She noted they had talked to him about it and asked why he had been whistling in the middle of the night. She said the man told something about whistling up company.   “Whistling up company?†Marshal Pierce said.   “Right before the two people whom he supposedly gunned down appeared,†Jacali said. “He seems kind of sketchy.†  “Let me get this straight,†West said.   “Well, I’ve heard that phrase before,†Gemma said. “I’m not sure it’s in the same context.†  “This guy shot these two guys and then these two guys came back and shot the town marshal,†West said.   “Sounds like y’all had a very eventful night!†Professor Stalloid said.   “Where were you?†Marshal Pierce said.   “Oh you,†West said. “I forget you’re here sometimes.†  “I do too,†Professor Stalloid said wistfully   “I think regardless of anything, he was the only one who shot these two men,†Marshal Pierce said. “Last one to see them ‘alive,’ however you want to say they came back or whatever you want to believe. So, we need to question him, regardless. And he’s been pretty distant from all of us. I don’t trust a man who keeps to himself that much. So, we need to figure out a way to make this drifter tell us what we want to know. Anybody actually been able to talk to him?†  “No,†Jacali said.   “I’m not going near him,†Gemma said.   “I could attempt it,†Father Bishop said.   “I could drug him,†Professor Stalloid said.   “You could drug him?†Marshal Pierce said. “How?†  “I don’t know.†  “No. You know! You wouldn’t suggest it if you didn’t know.†  “Well, we know he likes to come over and drink,†West said.   “Doesn’t look like he accepts other people’s drinks though,†Jacali said.   “Oh, he does,†West said.   “He has,†Marshal Pierce said. “He did mine the other day. He just drank it without even questioning it.†  “And then he even thanked him,†West growled.   “What kind of drugs are you talking about, there,†Marshal Pierce said.   Professor Stalloid took another bite of food.   “How about you stop eating there for a second!†Marshal Pierce said.   “Opium,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Opium? I want him to be of the right mind to tell us what we need to know.†  “It might make him more suggestive.†  He went back to eating.   “Or we could sedate him and then take him away to … interrogate him, instead,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Yeah, how about sedate him instead?†Marshal Pierce said.   “That would work,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Maybe better,†Marshal Pierce said.   “I don’t really know what’s going on,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Father, do you mind at least giving the highlights of last night to this gentleman?†Marshal Pierce said.   Father Bishop filled the man in on what happened the night before. Professor Stalloid objected that he had been listening to them talk. They tried to figure out what to do about the drifter. Marshal Pierce suggested West and he be at the bar and when he came into Leone’s, and offer him a glass of whiskey once again. He said the man would take it as he had no reason to doubt him.   He asked if the sedation smelled and they told him the opium would be bitter, but as the man simply shot the alcohol down, he might not notice.   Otto wondered if didn’t come back to have a drink. Jacali wondered what they would do if the man insisted he saw them pour the drink. Father Bishop pointed out he bought an entire bottle the night before. He suggested persuaded the bartender to help but Marshal Pierce didn’t want to endanger anyone else.   They discussed how to put it into the drink and Professor Stalloid and Dr. Weisswald told him they had powdered opium he could simply pour into the drink. Dr. Weisswald prepared some opium and then prepared a tincture of opium to keep on the top of her doctor’s bag.   Otto stood up and left. He was going to go try to hunt down Dan McGoohan again.  
* * *      
Professor Stalloid went to the mine that morning but planned to return after lunch. When he arrived, he asked about when they were going to do some human testing. He pointed out there were some dead bodies in town they might be able to start with. Professor Terwilliger was put off by the idea but one of the other two scientists was for it. He also wanted the man to bring back the biologist.  
* * *      
Jacali wanted to find out about the unmarked grave, but she was not very good with talking to people. She went to talk to Marshal Hill but he was hesitant about talking about the drifter who came into town 10 years ago. The man was very evasive and then left.   When she returned, she told them there was something about the unmarked grave that people in town didn’t want to talk about. She thought sure there was something there.  
* * *      
Around 2 p.m., they heard gunfire again. It started out slowly but then started to become more and more intense. Those still in Leone’s peeked out to realize it was coming from the bank, about a block south. Several townspeople were around the outside of the bank, most of them behind what cover they could find, shooting at the bank. A great deal of gunfire came from the bank towards them.   One little old lady stepped out of the dry goods store with a double barrel shotgun. She let fly with both barrels and there was a shattering of glass before she was gunned down by fire from the bank.   West headed down the street. Wilder, Jacali, and Marshal Pierce followed him.   “What is going on in this town?†Gemma said.   Father Bishop went to the window of Leone’s and peeked out down the street.   Dr. Weisswald headed out the door, trying to keep to cover. Gemma followed her.  
* * *      
When they got closer they saw a lot of silver dollars all over the boardwalk in front of the bank. An old lady lay dead in the street near the boardwalk across from the bank. They reached a man who had an old cap and ball pistol which he was struggling to reload as quickly as possible.   “What’s going on!?!†West said.   “McGoohan’s gang!†the man said. “They’re robbing the bank!†  “You God damned townsfolk!†Dan McGoohan shouted from one of the windows. “We’ll kill you all! Just get outta here!†  “Kill everybody who ain’t him!†Marshal Pierce said.   The men and Jacali returned fire. West fired a shot trying to create a ricochet and hit one of the outlaws behind cover. He missed but someone yelled. Jacali fired an arrow into the bank, hitting one of the outlaws. She heard someone scream.   “There’s Indians out there!†someone yelled.   “There ain’t no God damned injuns out there!†Dan McGoohan yelled.   Marshal Pierce was choosing his shots, trying to make sure he didn’t shoot McGoohan. He gunned down another of the outlaws.   “Put some dirt on it!†McGoohan screamed. “Stupid townsfolk! You’re all gonna die!†  West was winged by a bullet and Jacali was hit by splinters from bullets striking wood near her. Wilder provided cover fire and kept the outlaws heads down.  
* * *      
Professor Stalloid had heard the gunfire when he returned to town and skirted around the trouble, entering Leone’s from the rear. He found Father Bishop near the front windows, peeking out and looking down the street. All of the dance hall girls were clustered around the man and peeking out as well.   “Should I play some music to go with this excitement?†the piano player asked.   “Seems like a bank robbery,†Stalloid said.   He went up to his room to get his medical supplies.  
* * *      
Marshal Hill was hit several times and stumbled out into the street where he lay on his face in a widening pool of blood.   Dr. Weisswald ran to help the fallen townsfolk.   West stood up and fanned his gun, firing into the bank. Several men went down. Jacali shot an arrow into the bank that went over one of the outlaws head but ricocheted and struck him. The man screamed there were Indians behind him and he’d been shot in the ass. Marshal Pierce fired into the bank and another man started screaming. Otto came around a corner and took careful, gunning down another of the outlaws. Wilder blasted a lamp.   There was a clatter of hoof beats as another 10 men rode in, their faces covered by bandanas. They thought they had been winning when the men appeared and started shooting the townsfolk and anyone else they could see. Withering gunfire erupted from the bank in light of the new men. Marshal Pierce was hit as was Jacali, though neither was badly hurt. One of the outlaws stood up.   “You son of a bitch!†he yelled.   He pulled the trigger and his gun exploded in his hands. He fell with a scream.   Between the men still alive in the bank and the riders outside, they were now outnumbered.   Then, over the gunfighter, they heard the ring of spurs as the drifter walked up the street, gun in each hand and started gunning down McGoohan’s men, never missing, it seemed. He calmly shot one gang member after another even as everyone else continued firing at the men. One of his misses hit the horse one of the outlaws was sitting on. He turned towards the bank, dropping his shining guns and drawing two more, firing into the structure. Every single bullet seemed to hit someone in the chest.   Wilder blew one man’s head off. Otto gunned down another man. West fan-fired his other pistol, hitting several times. Jacali was amazed at the man in the middle of the street. She just watched the drifter.   The gunfire started focusing on the drifter but nothing hit him. Gemma watched the man closely and realized several of the bullets hit the man but there was no blood, no impact, no nothing. It was terribly disturbing. She grabbed Dr. Weisswald.   “He should be dead!†she said to her.   “Who?†Dr. Weisswald said. “Why should he be dead?†  “He’s been hit so many times,†she said.   “McFly! I mean!†McGoohan cried out as the drifter shot him in the shoulder and he fell to the bank floor. “Damn it!†  It was soon very, very quiet.   The drifter spun his guns and lightly slid them into the holsters. He picked up his fallen guns and tucked them away under his duster. He looked around and walked over to Marshal Hill’s body in the street, ripped the star off his chest and the keys off his belt, and declared himself to be town marshal until the town got a new one. He put the star on his shirt.   Gemma felt herself slightly aroused despite her fear of the man.   As the drifter turned to leave, one of McGoohan’s men weakly stirred and prepared to shoot him from behind. The drifter swiveled coolly and blew the man’s head off from 12 feet. Then he lit his cigarillo.   “Dry work,†he mused to himself. “But I am always so damned dry.†  He shook his head and ambled towards Leone’s, dropping empty cartridges into the dust and reloading his pistols as he went, the gathering crowd silently parting for him. The bullets appeared to be silver. West noticed the drifter’s guns gleamed in the sunlight with a particular sheen.   Dr. Weisswald started seeing to the townspeople as Professor Stalloid ran down with his medical bag. Gemma went around trying to help the other people who were still alive.   McGoohan proved to be alive though unconscious. Dr. Weisswald got to work on the outlaws and managed to keep a few of them alive. A couple of McGoohan’s men had managed to escape during the terrible gunfight.   They saw the drifter exit Leone’s and go to the jail. He brought a chair out front, leaned it against the wall, and pulled his hat over his eyes.   They dragged the unconscious McGoohan and a few other surviving outlaws to the jail.   “If you don’t mind us using your holding cells,†West growled.   The drifter didn’t even look up from under his hat. He just reached down and took the keys off his belt, tossing them to West.   “Bring these back,†he muttered.   “Will do,†West said.   They entered the jail and put the prisoners they had in one cell and Dan McGoohan in the other. Then Dr. Weisswald used camphor to wake the outlaw leader.   “Who the …?†McGoohan said as he awoke.   He looked around, obviously confused, and grunted.   “God damn it!†he said.   Marshal Pierce slapped him. McGoohan tried to slap him back but even moving his arm a little obviously hurt terribly. Pierce caught his hand and slapped him with his own hand.   “Quit hitting yourself,†West growled.   “Jack Parker: where?†Marshal Pierce said.   “Jack Parker?†McGoohan said.   “Jack Parker.†  “How the hell should I know?†  “You should know. You’re part of Valentine’s Gang, aren’t you?†  “Yeah.†  “So where’s Parker?†  “I dunno. Probably with Valentine. Find Valentine, you can find Parker, I bet.†  “Then where’s Valentine?†  “He’s probably out there somewhere.†  “Out where?†  “Yes.†  Marshal Pierce slapped him again.   “Why don’t you make like a tree and get outta here?†McGoohan said.   “I feel like you did that wrong,†West said.   “What the hell happened to your face?†  “What’s going to happen to yours if you don’t answer our questions.†  “Federal marshal huh? I see your badge.†  Marshal Pierce drew his Peacemaker and shoved it in McGoohan’s face.   “Parker,†he said again. “Where?†  “I dunno,†McGoohan said.   Marshal Pierce lifted the gun and fired it out the window. McGoohan flinched.   “That hurt my ear,†he said.   The man seemed cowed though he still put on a brave front.   “You’re a federal marshal, you can’t do nothing,†McGoohan said. “But I don’t know where Jack Parker is. Like I said, he’s probably with John Valentine. I sent a telegram to John Valentine probably up in Colorado or Utah. That’s where I sent the message. But he sent me back just to wait. Wait and watch. My boys got anxious, you see. They get anxious when they ain’t got nothing to do. Let go of my hand! We ain’t in a relationship.†  “Your boys look dead,†West said.   “Not all of ‘em,†McGoohan said. “I see a couple of ‘em over there, bleeding out.†  “Hey! They aren’t bleeding out!†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Ooh,†McGoohan said. “I like your … why don’t you leave me alone and I’ll talk to her.†  “Wait for what?†Marshal Pierce said.   “I was supposed to wait ‘til he got here.†  “So, they’re coming here.†  “Iunno. He didn’t tell me he was coming here, he just told me to wait. Told me to make sure they didn’t take it away without him knowing.†  “Take what away?†  “The Crescent. He wants the Crescent. Valentine’s been interested in the Crescent for a while and he’s crazy. He’s so crazy. But he told me to watch the town. But then the boys got a little restless, so I figured we needed a little action. Didn’t know y’all had some kind of … crazy man … working for you.†  “Seems you called him McFly,†West said.   “That was just some fool I used to hate,†McGoohan said.   “The Crescent?†Gemma said.   “He die about 10 years ago?†West said.   “No,†McGoohan said. “I never got to kill him. He got away.†  He tried to grab West in a threatening manner, but was so badly injured he couldn’t.   “You run into a man named McFly, you tell me, ‘cause I’m gonna kill him!†he said.   He told them he wasn’t going to attack the army because they would be outnumbered but his men wanted some action so they figured they could rob the bank, make a quick job of it, and get out of town, satisfying them for a while He was only supposed to find out about the Crescent for John Valentine. He didn’t know anything about the drifter.   “Did you see what happened with the people that touched the Crescent?†Dr. Weisswald asked.   McGoohan went pale and looked terrified.   “Yeah, I was on the chain gang,†he said. “When the dynamite was blown, we were sent in to clear off the rocks and look for gold. But we found that thing! That awful thing! That Crescent thing! Three men approached it. I hung back. Didn’t like the look of it. Looked dangerous. Weird. Strange.   “When they touched it, some kinda light touched ‘em. Went into their hands. One of ‘em fiddled with one of them spikes on it. Pulled it out. Then he touched the others and then all of a sudden, they started ripping out chains off. One of ‘em put back the spike and they broke us all free. Another one of the three pulled out another spike, started waving it around. Like he was gonna touch us with it.†  He pointed at Gemma though his eyes were unfocused and she was unsure if he could even see her.   “That was enough for us,†he went on. “I ran. We fled. The overseers and guards tried to stop us but there was thirty of us and five of them. We overran ‘em like a train. Just crashed through. It was like we all had a single purpose to get out of that place. And then … we were away.†  “You need some opium?†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Yes, please,†McGoohan said.   “How ‘bout this new thing?†Professor Stalloid said.   “I’ll take some opium from the lady,†McGoohan said.   She put some opium on his tongue.   Otto grabbed West by the arm and pulled him into the far corner of the jail.   “So─†he said.   “And you are?†West said.   “I’m Lambert Otto.†  “Hi Lambert.†  “Hello.†  “I’m Jack.†  “Nice to meet you. I heard you’re a bounty hunter.†  “Yeah.†  “You probably heard I am too.†  “Just now.†  “Well, now you know. And now we got a bounty on our hands.†  “I do.†  “Are you trying to say you’re not gonna share it with me?†  “Well, I have Wilder over here and this marshal and … apparently all the people the preacher wanted to bring, helping me out. So money’s actually supposed to be split between Wilder and I.†  “I promised him the bounty,†Marshal Pierce said. “As long as he got me to talk to McGoohan.†  Otto frowned.   “How much do you think all these other men are worth?†Marshal Pierce said. “He could claim all these dead bodies.†  “Now that I wouldn’t mind,†West said.   “Seeing as how the new marshal doesn’t care.†  “True. That would be worth a few hundred.†  “But he was worth two thousand,†Otto said.   “Indeed,†West said.   “A few hundred isn’t …†Otto said.   “Y’all can duel for it,†Marshal Pierce said.   “I don’t think I want to do that,†Otto said.   “Maybe a competition of sorts,†West said.  
* * *    

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

The Evil Gun Part 4 - Dealing with the Drifter

* * *       Jacali went outside and found the drifter still leaning back in his chair, his hat over his eyes.   “Excuse me,†she said to him. “But does the name McFly mean anything to you?†  “Nope,†the drifter said.   “Nope?†she said.   She realized she was not very good with people and might not have any luck talking to the people of town. But she realized everyone in town idolized Gemma Jones and wondered if she might be able to help.   Professor Stalloid told Dr. Weisswald that they wanted to experiment with a dead body and wanted her back at the mine. She discussed going back with Jacali.   “It’s just strange that a mystery man shows up and then another one that I never saw get hit in a hail of bullet fire and he never missed once,†Jacali said. “Somebody in this town has gotta know what happened with that unmarked grave and I want to figure it out.†    * * *       Marshal Pierce returned the keys to the drifter and then found a chair and sat in front of the jail with the man, trying to get something out of him.   “Never seen anybody do what you did out there,†he said to the drifter.   The other man didn’t answer.   “Peculiar timing, you showing up like this,†he said.   “I heard gunfire,†the drifter said.   They sat in silence for a while.   “Marshal,†the drifter finally said. “If you’re a man of justice, you might want to get outta town.†  “Why is that?†Marshal Pierce said.   “Because bad times are coming for people who don’t give a damn,†the drifter said.     * * *       West came out sometime after Marshal Pierce was gone.   “Don’t mean to bother you …†he said.   “Then go away,†the drifter replied.   “… but I just got one question for you,†West went on. “You keep mentioning you’re thirsty. What’re you thirsty for.†  There was a long silence.   “Justice is coming,†the drifter said.     * * *       Professor Stalloid got a body from Doc McKenna, who didn’t seem to care so long as he brought it back when he was done with it. He advised he also talk to the federal marshal, who had some kind of list, to try to figure out who the bodies were first. He returned to the mine but touching the corpse to the Crescent didn’t seem to do anything.   “What … what are you hoping to do with this?†Professor Terwilliger asked. “He’s dead.†  “See if they turn to dust,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Doesn’t appear to affect animals,†Dr. Weisswald said.   Professor Terwilliger reached for the Crescent but then pulled his hand away, thinking better of it.     * * *       Gemma went around town with Jacali to see what she could learn of the man who was in the unmarked grave. They ended up talking to the schoolmarm, Alice Pemberton, and learned something from her.   “About 10 years ago, a man came into town and somebody picked a fight with him,†she said. “Somebody who doesn’t even live here anymore. Somebody who just moved on. Gunned him down. I always felt bad because nobody in town did anything to stop him.†  “What kind of man?†Gemma asked. “Was he an outlaw?†  “No. He was just a … drifter. He came into town and this other man took offense to him for some reason, don’t even know why. There was a gunfight in the middle of the street and he was gunned down. Since it was in the middle of the street and it was a fair gunfight, nothing was done about it.†  “And you have no idea who he was?†  “Never knew his name.†  “You know someone that might could tell me?†  “I don’t. It was just a terrible shame. He was just a stranger come to town. Got on the wrong side of the wrong person. Some man who was just passing through and he’s gone now as well. I thought it was a terrible tragedy. Other people in town didn’t like it but they didn’t figure there was anything they could do about it. They buried him in the cemetery.†    * * *       They all met for dinner at Leone’s for dinner that night. The drifter had gone into the place just before they had and sat, alone, at another table, drinking heavily.   “I suggest we all stay in the same place tonight,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “I suggest we don’t stay at all,†Marshal Pierce said.   “We did get our bounty,†West said. “We might as well go.†  Gemma told them what she had learned from the schoolmarm.   “So, talking to the drifter outside, he said if I was a man of justice that I should probably leave this town,†Marshal Pierce said. “Some bad things are going to happen. I didn’t really know what he meant by that but, I think if, the last people he shot came back to life, as strange as that is, but backed up by two different doctors, that they were dead before, and then hearing what you said about the unmarked grave, and just how unnatural that man’s been, he might be that man from 10 years ago, coming back for vengeance.†  “On the whole town,†West said.   “On the whole town,†Marshal Pierce said. “That’s the only reason he warned me … because I’m not from this town. We’re not on his map. On his list.†  “What about the townspeople?†Dr. Weisswald said.   “You think he could be appeased?†Jacali said. “Have any of us tried to learn his name yet?†  “He won’t tell us anything,†Marshal Pierce said.   “But have you asked his name?†Jacali said.   “He’ll just grunt, I bet,†Marshal Pierce said.   He glanced over at the drifter, who just stared at him.   “I’m kind of in the same boat as Jack West,†he said. “I got all the information I need out of McGoohan. Seems that John Valentine possibly could be coming here, but I ain’t got time to wait. Think I’m gonna go to Utah or Colorado. May be some more bounties in it if you wanted to accompany me. Higher bounties.†  “Sounds pretty good,†West said.   “I’d say this town chose their fate ten years ago,†Marshal Pierce said.   “You can’t condemn a whole town full of people!†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Exactly,†Jacali said.   “So much for being a marshal,†Otto said.   “We can’t stop a man who shoots like that,†Marshal Pierce said.   “Who says we can’t?†Jacali said.   She stood up and walked across the room, sitting down next to the drifter. She called for a drink from the barkeep.   “I ain’t interested,†he said.   “I’m not interested in what I think you’re thinking of,†she said. “I’m interested in your name though. What is it?†  “I know what you’re interested in,†he growled. “Come with me.†  He stood up and dropped some coins on the table. He wiped his badge and headed for the front door. After a moment, Jacali got up and followed him. Dr. Weisswald and Professor Stalloid rushed to catch up with Jacali while Otto followed further behind.   “See what?†Dr. Weisswald said.   The drifter ignored her and walked out the door. As the others followed him Marshal Pierce went out to the porch and waited there.   The procession went down Show-Down Street past Van Cleef’s gun shop. The drifter stopped near the gun shop and looked over his shoulder at the them before he continued walking. There was a dead horse out there by the road. They recognized the horse that had gotten killed by the drifter in the crossfire earlier that day. He chased away some whining coyotes and began whistling. It was the same strange tune he had been whistling the night before.   The dead horse stood up. It stunk and he led it back into town, ignoring all of them. Jacali looked really nervous but followed the man. He went to Eastwood’s and tied it up out front.   “How’d you do that?†she asked.   He didn’t look at her.   “I whistled,†he said. “Didn’t you hear me?†  “When I whistle, horses don’t come back to life!†  “‘Cause you ain’t me.†  “Then who are you?†  The drifter shook his head and walked onto the porch of Eastwood’s.   “Everybody’s somebody,†she said.   He stopped at the door.   “Not everybody,†he said.   He walked into the building.   “The school teacher cared,†Dr. Weisswald said.     * * *       They returned to Leone’s and told the others what they’d seen. Dr. Weisswald was ready to leave.   “Even if we leave, what are we going to do about the Horn?†Jacali said.   “We could try to take it with us,†Professor Stalloid said.   “I don’t know if it’s even safe to touch, but … we can’t really …†Jacali said.   “Gloves,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “We can take it and examine it somewhere else,†Jacali said. “But if this town is going to get shot up …†    * * *       Professor Stalloid got up before sunrise on Wednesday, April 14, 1875. He watched the horse as the sun rose but nothing happened to it. Other animals would not go near it. Some children were fascinated by it but repelled at the same time. The townsfolk didn’t know what to make of it.     * * *       The drifter spent Wednesday touring the town, inspecting every building, peering in the classroom, back rooms, bedrooms, stables, stalls. It all seemed the same to the drifter, who silently viewed, digested, and left without comment. Whether the activities he saw were illegal, disgraceful, commonplace, or down-right dull. He said nothing, made no reply or response to anyone.   Marshal Pierce caught up to him at one point during the day.   “I know who you are,†he said to the man. “You’re the man who was shot in the street 10 years ago.†  “I think you’re mistaken,†the drifter said.   “I’m not.†  “I’m justice.†  “Why don’t you come out to that grave with me? We’ll carve your name into the gravestone.†  “What name is that?†  “Whatever you tell me it is.†  The drifter shrugged and walked away.   “What if I go dig it up?†Marshall Pierce said. “Will you stop me?†  The drifter stopped.   “Grave robbing’s a crime and I am the town marshal,†he said. “I guess we’ll see.   He walked away.   Marshal Pierce got a shovel and went to the graveyard. He dug up the plain wooden coffin and when he opened it, found the bones of a man within. Some flesh was still on the bones; some rotted clothing clung to the remains. He looked in every pocket and every place for any kind of sign of a name. He found nothing.   He put everything back the way it was and buried it again.     * * *       That night, the drifter got into a card game at Leone’s. Professor Stalloid quickly taught Jacali the rudiments of poker and they joined the game. Wilder observed without being involved. Jack Pettit, a local gambler passing through Yellow Flats joined as well. When Marshal Pierce saw the drifter in there, he approached Gemma Jones, who was singing that night.   “Do you know any sad songs about innocent men?†he asked.   “Well, Marshal, I know many songs,†she said.   “Tragedy songs. Can you sing those tonight? About innocent lives that were taken. Or just anything of the sort.†  “Why yes. I didn’t get to thank you, before, for your generosity.†  “Well, here.†  He gave her a wad of five one-dollar bills.   “Only tragedy songs,†he said. “That’s to cover for the tips you may not receive singing sad songs all night.†  “Well, I’ll have you know … I’m not that type of woman,†she said.   “What?†  “You can’t purchase me.†  “Well, it’s just a sign of generosity as you said.†  “Of course. Much obliged.†  She blushed, a little embarrassed for having misunderstood what he’d wanted. When someone usually gave her that kind of money, it was because they wanted something else from her.     * * *       Marshal Pierce joined the others who were playing cards, sitting next to the drifter. Dr. Stalloid did very well and won a bit of money. He and several others realized Jack Pettit was cheating and doing so very poorly. He wasn’t winning either, but obviously trying hard to cheat. The drifter seemed to be getting very angry.   “You’re cheating!†he finally stood up and said.   “No!†Pettit said. “No I didn’t! No! I’m not a cheater!†  The drifter took a gun from his holster and put it on the table, sliding it across to Pettit.   “What are you going to do?†he said.   Pettit jumped up and ran out of the saloon. The drifter walked around the table and picked up his pistol. Then he followed Pettit towards the door.   “Wait, that man don’t deserve to die or anything!†Professor Stalloid said.   The drifter stopped in the doorway and then slowly turned around.   “He’s a cheat,†he said.   “But he’s not even a good one,†Professor Stalloid said.   “It’s as bad as stealing a horse,†the drifter said.   He turned and went out the door.   Father Bishop, Otto, and Professor Stalloid headed out the door after the two men.   “Pettit!†the drifter said. “You’re a damned cheat! Turn around. Face me like a man!†  Pettit, not far down the street, spun around.   “No!†he said. “Don’t hurt me!†  The drifter drew his pistol and tossed it at Pettit. It hit the man in the chest and fell to the ground.   “Pick it up or I’ll gun you down where you stand!†the drifter said.   Marshal Pierce and Dr. Weisswald came outside. Jacali watched from the window. Inside, the dulcet tones of Gemma Jones sang sad songs.   “He hasn’t killed a man or anything,†Professor Stalloid said. “He’s just trying to work off of his skills.†  “He cheated,†the drifter muttered.   “How poor those are,†Professor Stalloid said.   The drifter walked over to Pettit, who fell to his knees. The drifter grabbed Pettit’s arm, reached into his sleeve, and pulled out an ace. He threw it down. Then he reached around the back of Pettit’s neck and pulled out another ace. He threw it down. He shoved Pettit, who fell on his back. Then he reached down and picked up the pistol.   “Pettit, say you’re sorry,†Marshal Pierce said.,   “I’m sorry!†Pettit cried out. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!†  “Now forgive him as a town marshal,†Marshal Pierce said. “Put him in a jail cell. Fine him. Whatever you feel needs to be done. But, as a town marshal, you cannot gun this man down in the street. I will fire at you if you do.†  “That’d be making a mistake,†the drifter said, still looking at Pettit. “Federal marshal.†  “I don’t care,†Marshal Pierce said. “I’m a man of the law and you are too, now.†  The drifter looked down at Pettit for a long time.   “We’ll have it your way this time,†the drifter said.   He holstered his gun and then grabbed Pettit and dragged him down the street to the jail as the man cried out in terror.     * * *       Inside, West tried to juggle threw shot glasses and they dropped all over the floor. The bartender just shook his head.     * * *       On Thursday, April 15, 1875, the drifter spent the morning sleeping on a tilted-back chair propped against the front door of the jail. At about eleven o’clock, he started wandering around the town again. He took food, a saddle and bridle for his undead horse, bottles of whiskey, and so forth from merchants. He paid for nothing. Professor Stalloid followed the man all day, paying for his purchases and apologizing to the terrified merchants.     * * *       Otto went to the Eastwood Saloon and Hotel and asked Eastwood to go into the drifter’s room. He was told the man was no longer staying there as he’d moved into the jail.     * * *       The drifter took up with a saloon gal at Leone’s that night. Her name was Becky and everyone thought she was mighty young for a scowling gunman like the drifter, but no one said anything out loud, and she was only a whore anyway. Much later that night, she returned, running back to Leone’s from the jail, bruised and bloodied.   Dr. Weisswald and Gemma were there when she came in and ran to her room. They found the girl there.   “What happened?†Dr. Weisswald asked.   The girl didn’t want to talk about it.   Dr Weisswald patched her up.   “Oh my goodness,†Gemma said. “Who did this?†  Becky didn’t want to talk about it.   “Did a man do this to you?†Gemma said. “Who did it?†  “Was it the marshal?†Dr. Weisswald asked.   “That man,†was all Becky would say though she nodded.   Dr. Weisswald found Jacali and told her what happened. They and Gemma headed for the jail and the Indian girl said she had hoped she could get him to change but felt, more and more, he was just gone.   They found the drifter in the jail. When they peeked into the window, they saw him in the chair, leaning against the wall behind the desk. The prisoners were very, very quiet. Then they returned to Jacali’s room at Leone’s to discuss what to do.   “He can’t just go hurting women!†Dr. Weisswald said to Jacali.   “Yeah,†she said.   “We can say ‘We know what you did to her,’†Gemma said. “‘You’re going to pay for this.’†  “Do we need help?†Dr. Weisswald said.   “You all saw what he did to those people who rode into town,†Jacali said. “I don’t think we can fight him and I don’t think he’s going to bargain with us.†  “So, we do need others,†Dr. Weisswald said.     * * *       The drifter entered Leone’s and looked around as everyone there went silent. He saw Father Bishop and approached him.   “Yes sir?†the priest said.   “You gotta crossbow?†the drifter asked.   “Why do you ask?†  “‘Cause I’m the town marshal.†  Across the room, West was juggling shot glasses. No one was paying attention to him.   “Well … yes, I do,†Father Bishop said.   “I need to examine it,†the drifter said.   “Why?†  “There’s a law on the books.†  “Do you mind telling me the law?†  “I do. Shall we go or shall I just consider you a lawbreaker who’s resisting arrest?†  “No sir.†  Father Bishop got up and led the drifter upstairs. Professor Stalloid followed them up the steps.     * * *       Gemma thought he heard the drifter’s spurs.   “Did you hear that?†she said.   “What?†Dr. Weisswald and Jacali both said.   “It sounded like the spurs … of the drifter,†Gemma said.   Then she thought she heard a door open and close.   “We need to get …†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Other people are downstairs,†Jacali said. “We better get there quick.†  They opened the door to see Professor Stalloid loitering in the hallway.     * * *       Inside the room, the drifter looked at the crossbow and then examined the quiver. Some of the feathers were different. He pulled one out and looked at one of the silver-headed bolts. He pulled out the rest of them.   “There’s an ordinance in town about unminted silver,†he growled. “I’m taking these.†  He walked out of the room, almost running into Professor Stalloid in the hallway.     * * *       The door to Father Bishop’s room opened and the drifter walked out. He held a huge handful of short arrows.   “What are you doing?†Dr. Weisswald said to the man.   “Upholding town laws,†he said.   He walked past Stalloid.   “Do the town laws say that you can take whatever you want from the stores?†Professor Stalloid said.   The drifter put his hand on Professor Stalloid’s chest and pushed him back against the wall.   “Town marshal gets paid,†the drifter said.   He continued walking down the corridor.   “Yeah, he gets paid,†Professor Stalloid said. “And then he pays the people.†  “Upholding town laws includes beating women?†Dr. Weisswald said.   The drifter stopped.   “If need be,†he said.   He walked down the stairs and out of sight.   Professor Stalloid had noticed the arrowheads were made of silver. Then Father Bishop came out of his room. He looked angry.   Professor Stalloid got his shotgun and the two shells filled with the silver-coated buckshot.   They all met in the saloon at Leones.   “It’s time to face him,†Marshal Pierce said.   “It’s gone on too long,†Jacali said. “The drifter’s gotta go.†  “I’m going to confront him.†  “He’s not upholding justice. He’s upholding revenge.†  “I will not see this again,†Gemma said. “I will not see this again.†  “I can’t say I disagree,†Otto said.   “He specifically took my silver bolts,†Father Bishop said.   “For your crossbow?†Marshal Pierce said.,   “What is he, a werewolf?†West said.   “Didn’t he have silver bullets?†Dr. Weisswald said.   “He said he took his silver bolts,†Marshal Pierce said.   “But didn’t he load silver bullets into his gun?†  “Yeah. Why would he take your bolts? And how did he know you had em?†  “I don’t know how he knew I had them,†Father Bishop said.   “I’m going to the jail,†Marshal Pierce said.   He left Leone’s. The rest of them followed.   There were lights on in the jail. Marshal Pierce stood outside.   “All y’all get a safe distance from me,†he told the others. I don’t know how he’s going to react.†  The others scattered around the area.   “Marshal!†he called.   It felt like a long time before the door opened.   “Need sleep,†the drifter said.   “So do I,†Marshal Pierce said.   “What do you want … Federal marshal?†  “Come out here in the streets.†  The drifter walked out, his spurs ringing across the dark street.   “Take that badge off,†Marshal Pierce said.   The drifter, for the first time, smiled.   “Marshal,†he growled. “You don’t know but you need to go.†  “Oh, I think I know, just fine, what’s going on around here,†Marshal Pierce said. “Also, if you ain’t gonna take that badge off, why don’t you gun me down in the streets like you was gunned down … ten years ago?†  “‘Cause it ain’t time.†  The drifter’s eyes started glowing.   “I need you to take the badge off, ‘cause you don’t deserve to wear it,†Marshal Pierce said. “Now you see, I got this badge right here ‘cause I’m a federal marshal. Two years ago, my son was gunned down in a saloon by one of the men in John Valentine’s gang. I became a federal marshal to hunt that man down and get vengeance for my son. But I’ll tell you right now, if you gun me down, right here in this street, and I don’t get vengeance for my son, I’ll face you in the afterlife, or I’ll do something more terrible than what was done to you 10 years ago. So, I tell you now, leave this town. Take that badge off. Or gun me down, right here. Let’s duel it out. But I can’t have you go around hurting innocent people. Only thing I want is vengeance for my son, but I can’t have you hurt people like this. I’m sorry what happened to you 10 years ago. If I was here, it would not have happened to you.†  “It wasn’t me,†the drifter said. “I’m not him.†  “Maybe not anymore.†  “But I will judge this town. Those found guilty will be dealt with. I suggest you walk away.†  “Like Becky?†  “If need be. I suggest you walk away.†  “Are you the man that gunned down the man 10 years ago,†Professor Stalloid said.   Marshal Pierce took the rifle off his shoulder and put it on the ground. He put his pistol on the ground.   “Gun me down!†he said.   “All in good time,†the drifter said.   He turned and walked back into the jail and closed the door behind him.     * * *       They all returned to the Leone’s Five Star Saloon. Father Bishop had been thinking about what the drifter could be. He didn’t think the man was actually human but realized he took silver away from him and wondered if silver might harm the creature. He also realized magical or enchanted items might harm the thing or perhaps even fire. He also knew he had the ability to bless things.   He told them silver or fire might possibly hurt him. He didn’t think the drifter was human at all. He also thought the drifter might have been sent from heaven or hell.   “What about the horn?†Jacali asked Dr. Weisswald and Professor Stalloid. “You said silver could hurt him and that thing looked like it was made of silver.†  Professor Stalloid didn’t think the crescent was actually silver.   Dr. Weisswald wondered about stealing some of the silver bullets from the drifter to use against him.   Gemma realized she had quite a few silver dollars.   Father Bishop thought about salting the grave of the drifter and burning the bones. He wondered if giving the bones a Christian burial might not put him to rest.   Professor Stalloid talked about coating arrowheads in silver but Father Bishop thought solid silver would be more effective. There was talk of trying to get the drifter to drink the silver water he had used for some of his tests on the Crescent.   “If only I had some silver bullets,†West said.   “Listen father, if there’s anything you think you can do, it can’t hurt, I guess,†Jacali said. “But I … I’m not a spiritual person. I’m not a person who believes in heaven and hell or ghosts or those things, but I’ve seen some strange things recently.†  “I know a few things about beliefs,†Father Bishop said.   “You don’t know anything about mine,†Jacali said. “I just told you, I don’t believe in spirits.†  Gemma noted she had silver dollars. They realized there was probably a lot at the bank as well. They decided to prepare as best they could the next day.     * * *       On Friday, April 16, 1875, the drifter spent most of the day asleep on the tilted-back chair propped against the front door of the jail once again. Nobody dared wake him.   Professor Stalloid went to the bank that day and exchanged $25 in paper money for silver dollars.   Gemma Jones had $30 in silver dollars.   They went to the blacksmith that morning and met Carl Mowden. When they told him they wanted him to make them silver bullets and silver tips for arrowheads, he figured they were crazy. However, for $5 per item, he was more than willing to do it. He said they’d be ready by tomorrow if they wanted. He was able to make a silver knife and arrowheads and bullets for them.   Wilder paid for three silver Winchester rifle bullets. Dr. Stalloid paid for six silver .45 bullets for Jack West and six rifle bullets for Marshal Pierce. Dr. Weisswald asked for a silver knife. Jacali wanted some silver arrows and Dr. Weisswald paid for five silver arrows. That seemed to surprise Mowden.     * * *       Jacali learned over the course of the day that there was an American Indian living south of town. She and Dr Weisswald went to find him and located Broken Crow, a Yavapai brave who was left after the government took the rest of the tribe away.   They asked him if he knew the drifter from 10 years ago. He didn’t know much about that, only the rumors that a man had been gunned down. He also didn’t know anything about glowing eyes.   When Jacali showed him the buffalo skin drawing, the brave didn’t recognize it. But he told them the hills west of town where the mine lay was always avoided by his people. He told them there was some kind of curse or bad magic in the area where the mine stood. He told them of tales told of braves that wanted to dig there to find treasure but they could never say why. Other tales told of odd voices in the night, calling … always calling. He was unsure when he learned there was a mine there and he was even more disturbed when he found it was the exact spot where the strange things were said to have happened years before.   He thought it was bad magic and bad spirits.   When Jacali asked him how he would handle it, aside from just avoiding it, he confessed he didn’t know.   Jacali told him where she lived and he also invited her to return to his hut whenever she wanted.     * * *       They talked again about it and told the others what Broken Crow had told them. When Otto wondered about using the crescent against the drifter, Jacali didn’t think the two were related and might not even have anything to do with each other. She had no faith that the thing could even do anything to the drifter as he was heavily armed. She also worried if they touched it and it turned them into monsters, they might die and turn into dust like the others. She thought there were too many unknowns to use it.     * * *       After sundown that night, the drifter began his rounds. He levied dollar fines on whoever spit on the street, cursed intently, or was clearly drunk. Those and other trivial offences had to be paid immediately to the drifter. By the end of the night, his pockets bulged with silver dollars.     * * *       More gunfire occurred in the middle of the night. When they went to investigate, they found Mowden dead in his tiny house connected to the blacksmith shop. When they entered the shop, they found all of the silver items ready.     * * *       On Saturday, April 17, 1875, they discussed various plans for attacking and ending the reign of terror of the drifter. Marshal Pierce was set to confront him for killing Mowden.   The drifter spent most of the morning sleeping in his chair in his accustomed place, but woke in the heat of the day to pull a blanket around himself as though he was cold.     * * *       They decided to attack the drifter at high noon. Several of them crept around the sides of the jail. Otto, West, Dr. Weisswald, and Jacali were on the right side of the jail. Professor Weisswald and Wilder were on the other side. Father Bishop and Gemma Jones watched from Leone’s Five Star Saloon. Professor Stalloid had filled three whiskey bottles with lamp oil and put rags in the top of them. He kept one, gave another to Gemma, and the last to Otto.   Marshal Pierce walked down the street at the intersection of Show-Down Street and Main Street.   “Marshal, come out and face me!†he called.   The drifter, sitting in his chair, didn’t move.   “I’m busy,†he said.   “That’s a strange way to say scared,†Marshal Pierce said.   A dog howled in the distance.   The drifter pushed back his hat and looked at the other man. His chair leaned forward. The sound of the front legs hitting the wooden boardwalk seemed very loud.   “Ain’t nothing for me to be scared of,†the drifter said.   “Then show me,†Marshal Pierce said.   The drifter stood up and slowly walked out to the street, turning towards the man and keeping his hands free on either side of him.   “Your friends are waiting for me, aren’t they?†he said. “It’s an ambush.†  “Only if you don’t cooperate,†Marshal Pierce said. “I’m taking you into custody. You shot a man in cold blood. Innocent man.†  The drifter scowled.   “I got one question before I take you into custody though,†Marshal Pierce said. “Is your name Raguel?†  He had gotten the name from Father Bishop. The priest told him he thought that might be who the drifter was: an angel of justice.   The ambushers took aim at the drifter.   “Tell me marshal …†the drifter said. “Did you hear me whistling last night? Probably not. Boys!†  The door to the jail opened up. West fired at the drifter. The bullet struck the drifter in the head and creased his skull, knocking his hat off. The drifter cried out in pain as he scrambled for his gun. Then Marshal Pierce put his rifle to his shoulder and shot him in the chest.   The drifter flew backwards and crashed to the ground. They heard the sound of numerous bodies fall to the ground in the jail and the rattle of metal against the wooden floorboards. The drifter fell and burst into smoke. When the smoke cleared there was only bleached bones on the dry, dry ground.   They found half a half dozen dead men in the jail, all of them bodies from the bank robbery. A half dozen pistols were there as well. They found silver dollars in a cell while Dan McGoohan, Jack Pettit, and the surviving outlaws were cowering in their own cells, terrified.     * * *       The testing of the Crescent was inconclusive and it was decided the army would move it by coach to Los Angeles and take it from there by train to San Francisco.

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

Ill Met in the West

Sunday, February 18, 2018   (After playing the Call of Cthulhu Down Darker Trails Catastrophe Engine Campaign Prologue original scenario “Ill Met in the West†today from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Collin Townsend, Ashton LeBlanc, Yorie Latimer, and Ben Abbott.)   In the first month of 1875, the newspapers of the United States were filled with the news of the capture of the notorious John Valentine, a criminal and outlaw who had terrorized the west ever since the Civil War. Word had it he had been part of Quantrill’s Raiders during the war and, after it was over, had merely continued with the terrible things he had done, seemingly reveling in the terror he caused for law-abiding citizens of the states and territories. It had all come to a head at the beginning of the year when a large group of Federal marshals, county sheriffs, bounty hunters, and other lawmen had finally tracked down him and his gang and captured most of them in eastern Nevada.   On Tuesday, February 16, 1875, they were being extradited to California and taken via prison train on the Union Pacific Railroad on the Old Number 4 to San Francisco where they would be tried. The small train of cars consisted of a locomotive and tender, an express car filled with U.S. Army soldiers and lawmen, a passenger car wherein the prisoners were held in shackles and chained to their seats along with two armed guards, a second passenger car holding more U.S. Army soldiers, lawmen, and bounty hunters, two baggage cars for horses and equipment, and a caboose.   The passenger car holding the prisoners was reinforced and secured. All of the windows had been sealed with iron bars and closed shut with wooden boards. The two men on guard were constantly armed and vigilant with new men relieving them every hour.   Two people who were not lawmen, bounty hunters, or soldiers were also on the second passenger car.   Wilder was a mountain man from Colorado. Slightly portly but heavily bearded, Wilder looked much larger than he really was because he wore furs and pelts, including a bear head for a hat. He had dark hair that was graying and was in his mid-40s. Some people thought he was pretty odd as he mumbled to himself quite often and sometimes made joke that were not very funny. He’d seen things in his life. Some of them he was not comfortable talking about or sharing. That was also the reason he always carried a flask and often drank from it. He also carried a Winchester ’73 rifle.   Wilder had been a scout and tracker for people for most of his life. Recently, he had actually scouted and tracked for the lawmen and bounty hunters in search of John Valentine. As such, he was part of the group who were heading back to San Francisco with the rest.   Dr. Eva Weisswald was called “Whitewind†by those who knew her well. She had long, white hair always tied in a braid with beads and feathers even though she was only 44 years old. She wore rugged clothing and pants, something that sometimes put men off. A Stetson hat was on her head. She was from near Cheyenne in Wyoming Territory, having a small house in the territory. She usually traveled, sometimes in a wide pattern, helping the sick and injured as she had been trained as a doctor though held no actual degree. She had a bow and a quiver of arrows with her.   She had been present when the train had initially left Wells, a town where the prisoners had boarded. When the lawmen learned she was a doctor, she was asked to come along to ensure the prisoners all survived the trip. She was a little surprised to find the prisoners manacled and chained to the seats. Two men with rifles watched her very closely while she examined them before the train set out before dawn. She met John Valentine when she examined the prisoners. From the way he talked to her and the way he looked around, filled with confidence and arrogance, she thought he was a sociopath.   Another of the prisoners, Charles Allen, insisted on talking to her while she examined him, telling her how pretty she was and flirting with her, also asking if there were any other women in the train. He was good-looking but came across as insincere and smarmy. She noticed he looked her up and down, almost like a man sizing up a horse he planned to purchase.   It was late afternoon before they passed through the town of Golconda, not even stopping. The train had been passing through a flat desert with hills rising up in the distance to the left. It had been very cold that day and the cast iron stove standing in a box of sand did little to warm anyone in the car except those nearest to it.   Not long after they passed through that tiny town, there was a short whistle blast and then a long one before everyone in the car was flung forward as the locomotive braked. Moments after, there was a crash and the shriek of escaping steam. Screams and an explosion came from ahead before the entire car stopped almost at once, the impact flinging everyone forward. Many men were flung to the front of the car, crashing in a pile that helped to break the fall of both Wilder and Dr. Weisswald. Glass shattered in the windows and the car came to a stop at a strange angle. The screams of horses came from the baggage cars behind.   There was a steam whistle blast that was abruptly ended.   Both Wilder and Dr. Weisswald were barely conscious. Through the haze of pain, each of them could see men moving through the car. One of them wore all black and looked around in satisfaction. A few of the other lawmen or bounty hunters who were not so injured as to be incapacitated tried to stop the men but they ruthlessly gunned them down. One man went to one of the unconscious lawmen and pointed his gun at the man’s head.   “Don’t waste yer bullets on the injured,†the man in black snapped. “Just leave ‘em be. They’re no threat to us.†  The men left the car and moved forward into the passenger car that held the prisoners.   The man in black soon returned, escorting John Valentine, Charles Allen, and the other prisoners. John Valentine smiled, rubbing his wrists.   “Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves,†he said with a satisfied drawl, quoting Abraham Lincoln. “It is fine to sup the sweet air of freedom once again.†  He took a long breath as the other prisoners picked pistols or rifles off the injured and the dead.   “We’re only a few miles from town,†the man in black snapped. “He-Who-Waits will have his due. He won’t wait forever to collect.†  “You are correct, Pete,†Valentine said. “Let’s go.†  Charles Allen approached Dr. Weisswald and started to pull on her dress.   “Charles, there’s no time for that,†Valentine said. “You can rape somebody later.†  Allen looked down at the barely conscious Weisswald, smiled, and winked at the woman. Then he turned and followed the other men out.     * * *       Professor Brandon Stalloid was 27 years old, tall and lanky, and had features like an Adonis. He was downright beautiful to behold. He had a square jaw and parted black hair, only wearing his spectacles when he had to read or examine things up close. He wore a black coat and pants and a slim “Kentucky†style bow tie. He wore a short top hat that matched his suit. Originally from San Francisco, he traveled the west in his medicine wagon, providing much-needed medicine to anyone willing to pay. Unlike most of the traveling snake-oil salesmen, however, his medicines and tonics actually worked.   He had been heading across the desert in his medicine wagon, pulled by his horses Tulip and Buttercup. The right side of the medicine wagon was painted “Stalloid’s Stupendous Supplements†and the left side read “Brandon’s Bountiful Brandies.†The end of the name “Brandon’s†was always peeling, despite how much he repainted it. He had not thought much of the train as it passed him and disappeared into the haze of the distance until he heard the noise of the terrible crash some miles ahead. He slapped the reins on the horses and tried to encourage them to put on more speed.     * * *       Jacali was an Apache scout, a 32-year-old woman from Apache Territory in Texas and New Mexico. She was rugged and experienced with a wise gaze that occasionally betrayed lonesomeness and remorse. She had long, dark hair that she pinned up or braided when she was out in the wilderness. She wore rugged doeskin clothing and furs to keep her warm in the winter. A bow was across her shoulder and a quiver of arrows on her hip. Normally, she lived in the area where Colorado met the Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico Territories.   She was riding on horseback through the desert along the railroad tracks when she spotted a couple of men up ahead. One of them had climbed one of the telegraph line and cut the wire. He climbed down and they mounted their horses and made speed away from her, heading down the tracks.   She followed at a distance of about a half mile. En route, she heard a crash ahead and soon saw black smoke rising from the spot. She dismounted, leaving her horse in a gully, and moved to about a half mile of the train wreck and realized there were rocks and boulders around the wrecked locomotive. Men swarmed around the train, all of them heavily armed, none of them wearing any kind of uniform or badges. She heard gunshots from the back of the train.   She was surprised to see an American Indian man standing on a small rise not far from the wreck, watching the proceedings, his arms crossed.   Several men in long underwear and boots left the train and were given clothing by the other men. Then they all mounted up on the numerous horses. They took one last look around and headed to northwest. She guessed there were at least 30 men on horseback, some of them leading other horses.   The native man took out something and put it to his mouth. Jacali heard a high-pitched and strangely ululating whistle. Moments later, some hawks flew down from the sky. As they got closer, she realized they were not hawks. She didn’t know what they were. Not altogether crows, nor moles, nor buzzard, nor ants, nor decomposed human beings, they were some strange mixture of all of them and none of them.   The things landed on the roof of one of the passenger cars.     * * *       In the passenger car, men groaned and died. Something landed on the roof of the car and the sound of footsteps with a scratching noise with each step sounded from the roof. Something dropped down off the end of the car and entered.   Both Wilder and Dr. Weisswald played dead, their eyes closed.   The things went by and the footsteps sounded like they walked like a man, though there was a strange thumping with every step as if they had crutches. Each footsteps was accompanied by a scratching noise. There was movement nearby and the rustling of clothing before the two strange things left. There was a loud noise of flapping, leathery wings from outside the car.   When Wilder and Dr. Weisswald sat up, the doctor noticed a couple of men missing from the pile of bodies. She got up and started doing triage on the men, trying to help them as best she could.     * * *       Jacali watched as the two things came out of the passenger car once again. Each of them carried the figure of a man in their feet. They took to the air and headed to the southeast, towards the hill. The man on the rise watched the whole thing and started to walk in the same direction, crossing the desert towards the mountains.   She approached the train on the opposite from the man.   The locomotive was surrounded by broken rocks, some of them flat on one side with paint on them. The machine was destroyed, the front end crushed and the boiler wrecked. She stopped long enough to look at the rocks and saw there was some kind of pattern in the paint. She was unsure what the pattern was so continued down the track.   The locomotive crew were both dead, coal filling the cab and scattered around nearby. The express car, though locked up, was smashed and torn asunder. Several dead men were inside but the crash had obviously killed everyone. The next passenger car had a pair of dead men in it as well. The crash had been so bad that the iron bars on the windows had bent and the boards had split and broken. Chains and manacles lay on the floor.   She heard moaning and saw movement in the second passenger car.     * * *       Wilder and Dr. Weisswald saw the native woman walking up to the car on the desert side of the wreck. The woman quickly climbed up into the wrecked passenger car and Dr. Weisswald recognized Jacali. The two had met some time before and Jacali occasionally visited Dr. Weisswald in Wyoming as the physician was sympathetic to the American Indian cause and willing to treat any in need regardless of race, creed, or color. Jacali knew her by a nickname given to her years before. Wilder sat in his seat, dazed. Jacali knew the mountain man as well.   “Whitewind!†Jacali said. “You were on this train?†  “Yeah,†Dr. Weisswald said. “There were prisoners in the other car and I was supposed to take care of them. They all escaped though.†  “Something strange and horrible happened out in the front,†Jacali said. “Looks like a bunch of boulders and rocks were poured in front of the train. Is that you, Wilder?†  “Mmm … Jacali,†the man muttered. “Mmm.†  “Okay,†Jacali said. “Well …†  “You’ll … uh … have to forgive me,†Wilder said. “My … uh … brain is … somewhat addled … at the moment. Uh …†  “I can understand that,†Jacali said.   “Aw, just drink your whiskey,†Dr. Weisswald, still busy with the injured, said. “You’ll be fine.†  “Oh … thanks, Wilder said.   “Doctor’s orders,†Jacali said. “Is there any way I can help?†  They heard the clip-clop of a horse.     * * *       As he approached, Professor Stalloid saw the caboose of the train had flipped over and there was blood on the windows though no sign of movement within. It looked like everyone was dead. He rode past the broken luggage cars and saw movement in the second passenger car. He dismounted from the medicine wagon with his prepared medicines.   “Anybody injured?†he called out. “Anybody need any help?†    * * *       Dr. Weisswald recognized the voice.   “Oh good,†she muttered. “I don’t have to deplete my stores of laudanum.†  “Is this someone you know?†Jacali said.   “Yeah, he’s a … supplier of medicines and other … assorted …†Dr. Weisswald said.   As Professor Stalloid boarded the car, he recognized Dr. Weisswald as he had traveled as far east as Cheyenne and even gotten several of the herbs and plants for making his tonics from the doctor. He often exchanged medicine with her for them.   The two treated, as best they could, the injured and the dying. One man was terribly confused.   “Where am I?†he muttered. “This isn’t New York. Where am I?†  She gave him a double dose of laudanum.   A few men were already dead and others had a variety of injuries, from bumped heads to shattered bones. Some of those who regained consciousness and could walk left the car to head for the locomotive or the back of the train. There was some talk of getting the telegraph out of the express car and calling for aid. It was noted Golconda was only a few miles back and someone limped back for town to get help. Others questioned what had happened.   Jacali mentioned to Dr. Weisswald and Wilder how she saw where both the people who were in the train had run off went and where a native man and his weird bird things went. She wanted them to look at the strange painted rocks near the locomotive. She didn’t talk to the lawmen and bounty hunters, figuring they were as bad as the rest of the white people, who had run her tribe out of Texas and placed them on a reservation far from their homes. Dr. Weisswald included Professor Stalloid in their investigation.   The four went to the locomotive and saw the rocks scattered on either side of the engine. Some of them had paint on a flat side of the rock. It took them only a little while to piece together what happened.   “I always did like putting jigsaw puzzles back together in my college years,†Professor Stalloid said.   They pieced together a few that actually fit together as if the entire thing was one large boulder. A little figuring and they realized the boulder that must have stood on the tracks was probably the size of a small house. It also looked like someone had painted tracks and scenery on the flat side of the boulder, probably so the train would get close to it before the train’s engineer realized it was on the tracks.   “They must have had some kind of complex pulley system,†Professor Stalloid said.   “Those birds …†Jacali said.   Then she remembered hearing stories of a Paiute medicine man or sorcerer who lived in northern Nevada. She knew the Paiute had been moved to a reservation in Oregon but that the shaman was still there. She heard he had lived there since the Snake War of 1866-67 when the rest of the northern Paiute were defeated by the white man. He was reputed to be a shaman of some power and dark influence, something she didn’t believe in. He was supposedly looking for something called “The Horn.†  “Well, I know of one person around the area who might have knowledge about this,†Jacali said. “Especially if there was a native man watching and some weird creatures. Otherwise, we can try to track down where he went or where the other group went. But I don’t really want to follow a bunch of armed criminals.†  “Nor do I!†Professor Stalloid said.   They discussed transport and Jacali offered to let someone ride with her when she got her horse. Professor Stalloid offered rides in his medicine wagon as well.   “I guess I’m not getting that train ride back home, so …†Dr. Weisswald said.   Jacali retrieved her horse from the gully a half mile away. Professor Stalloid mounted the medicine wagon seat, Wilder taking a seat beside him. Dr. Weisswald climbed into the back, wanting a look inside the vehicle. There were numerous potions and bottles of various substances as well as a small laboratory for distilling. A bunk was situated near the ceiling. She also found a large, leather-bound book locked closed that said “Research†plainly the front. A small trapdoor opened to the seats in the front.   Jacali scouted ahead but soon lost the track. Then she noticed the medicine wagon bearing off to her right as Professor Stalloid, staring at the ground, actually followed the man’s tracks. Jacali rode over and then saw the tracks the professor was followed. She was embarrassed but pulled her horse around to the correct direction.   “I was just looking around,†she muttered. “I was scouting ahead.†  The tracks led into the hills and, a few miles from the wreck, they reached a narrow valley with steep sides. Jacali, scouting ahead, reached the valley first and saw a native hut in the bottom at one end. At the other end was a black, basalt stone with two men lying next to it, tied up. In the shadow of an overhanging rock near the stone were the two creatures. She got a better look at the horrors this time and it was quite disturbing. Her horse nickered and turned about, obviously displeased. She rode back down from the edge and signaled the medicine wagon to stop.   She dismounted and tied her horse to the wagon, telling the others what she had seen. She guessed the two men were the ones who had been carried away from the train. She guessed the hut must be the man’s she had seen. She also told them of the terrible things down there which she didn’t like.   “I’ve seen a lot of things,†she said. “I’ve seen atrocities made by all kinds of men but these creatures don’t look like anything I’ve seen in the world and they are unsettling. I think whatever we do, we should be careful and, whatever those things are, we should be careful, because they’re big. It’s open if y’all wanna take a look, but it looks like we’ve reached the end of the trail.†  “Were they flying around or on the ground?†Professor Stalloid asked.   “They were on the ground.†  “Around the hut?†  “They were on the other end of it.†  “I don’t want to get taken like those men did,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “I agree with that,†Jacali said. “How do you want to handle those things and this person? I can go down and try to make contact. Maybe I’m a fellow native, he’ll treat me better. But, if I’m going in alone, I want people watching me.†  “I can watch from afar,†Professor Stalloid said.   “You have any way of support if I get in trouble or are you just watching?†  “I can watch from afar.†  “That’s what I thought.†  “I can help you though I don’t wish to look at what these things are,†Wilder said.   “I don’t disagree with you,†Jacali said.   “But I shall support,†Wilder said.   Professor Stalloid retrieved a double-barrel shotgun from his medicine wagon and Jacali led them to the top of the ridge overlooking the valley. She asked Wilder to have her back as she was going to go in and talk to the medicine man. As she headed down the incline, Wilder realized the things were probably about a hundred yards away. He wanted to get closer to get a better bead on the horrible creatures, all without looking at them. He crept down the incline towards the things.   Professor Stalloid and Dr. Weisswald had lain down atop the ridge near some scrub brush. Professor Stalloid took out a pair of binoculars and kept an eye on Jacali. Dr. Weisswald had her bow out.   As she approached the bottom of the valley, Jacali noted Wilder creeping down the valley towards the basalt altar and then saw movement out of the corner of her eye. One of the terrible things lifted into the air, flapping its wings, and landed right next to the mountain man who cowered and put his head down, not wanting to see it.   She called out in the Apache tongue and in English, making a greeting for whomever was in the hut.   Across the small valley, Wilder felt something prod him. He was terrified to look at the awful thing. Then the thing jumped atop him. Neither of the two watching from the top of the ridge noticed Wilder was in trouble. Professor Stalloid was focused on the black entrance of the hut with his binoculars. Dr. Weisswald, also watching the hut, thought she saw movement inside. She was convinced several people were just inside the darkness of the hut. She stood up.   “Who is it?†a voice came from the hut in English. “What do you want?†  Jacali heard flapping wings behind her again as the thing on Wilder finally got a good grip and lifted into the air, taking him to the altar.   “My name is Jacali,†she said as calmly as she could. “I saw a train crash and I saw strange things in the sky. I was wondering … I saw you moving away. What’s going on?†  An ominous chuckle came from the hut. Nervous, she put her hand on the bow over her shoulder. She could just make out a man in the shadows of the hut.     * * *       Across the valley, the creature had lifted into the air and swooped down towards the basalt altar, depositing Wilder unceremoniously on the ground in front of it with a crash. Jacali heard someone running down the hill towards her as Dr. Weisswald left her spot. At the top of the hill, Professor Stalloid put away his binoculars and looked around, seeing Wilder being deposited on the ground. He leapt up and ran towards the basalt altar. He was unnerved by the terrible things there.     * * *       “The white man paid me to move a boulder,†the voice from the hut told Jacali. “I took my payment in those men by the altar. You should go away.†  Jacali looked back at the altar, the men, and the horrible things. She realized Wilder was lying in front of the altar.   “They are mine now,†the voice said. “Who is that … with you?†  “He is a friend,†Jacali said. “Someone I met through my work. I’ve known for many years.†  “Ah,†the voice said. “You should leave. You do not want to see what will happen tonight.†  “What are these things?†  “They come from the stars.†  “What?†  “They come from the stars, you stupid woman!†  Jacali didn’t think the man in the hut had seen Dr. Weisswald yet.   “Why do you just have creatures like these living with you?†Jacali said. “How can something come from the stars.†  The man chuckled again.   “Yig,†he said. “Yig has given. He will lead me to the horn. I will seek the horn. This will help. Leave those men. Leave my place. Who is that?†  Jacali looked again and saw Professor Stalloid running towards the altar.     * * *       The horrible thing had dropped Wilder and then walked over to the shade of the overhang. Though he didn’t look at the terrible things, he saw the two bounty hunters were tied up tightly with rope and gagged.     * * *       “If you want me to leave, you need to get those things off of my friend, Wilder,†Jacali said. “And also, I heard you practice in black magic. Are these things your creation?†  “Merely summoned by me,†the voice said.   “Will you let my friend go?†  “A white man is your friend?†  The chuckle came again.   “I don’t get to choose my friends anymore,†Jacali said, removing the bow from her shoulder. “But I know good people. Now, you will let him go or I will have to take him back from you.†  “Oh, very well,†the voice came.   The wild, high-pitched, ululation of a strange whistle blew.   Jacali turned towards the others.   Professor Stalloid was nearly at the altar as the two things moved towards the basalt block as well. Stalloid ran to one of the bound man, dropping by him and trying to untie him.   “Wild Man, help me!†he shouted, getting Wilder’s name wrong.   I have been called worse, Wilder thought.   One of the things rushed Professor Stalloid, tearing into the man and biting him. He fell to the ground, bleeding profusely. Wilder pulled himself up to a crouch, finally looked at the things, and fired at the one on Stalloid with his Winchester rifle. The bullet struck the thing in the gut and it shrieked as black ichor spewed from the wound. Wilder worked the action on the rifle, sending a smoking shell into the air.   Weisswald, running down the hill, looked towards the altar and saw what was happening to the men there. She changed directions, heading towards the two men.   “Leave and you can still live,†the voice from the hut said to Jacali. “Your white men belong to me now.†  The Apache pulled back her bow and let fly an arrow at one of the horrible creatures but it flew between Wilder and the horrible thing, clattering against the rock wall. The thing Wilder shot turned and tried to bite him but the man ducked to one side while the other horror took to the air, flying towards Dr. Weisswald. Wilder shoved his rifle in the thing’s face and blew its head off. The thing stumbled backwards over the tied men and crashed to the ground.   Weisswald stopped and drew back her bow, sending an arrow at the thing flying directly towards her. It struck the horror in the right leg. The thing shrieked, unnerving the woman.   The loud blast of a gunshot came from behind Jacali, the bullet going through her left leg. Blood spewed out and she stumbled but did not fall. She painfully turned but the man was not visible. He was somewhere in the shadows of the hut. She drew her bow and let fly into the doorway but was unsure if she hit anything in the darkness though she did hear a noise like someone, surprised, squeaking “Oh!†She stumbled to the left, hoping to be out of the man’s point of view and hoping it was a one-shot rifle.   The second flying creature crashed into Dr. Weisswald, hurting her badly. She drew her Arkansas toothpick and stabbed the thing in the chest beneath its wings, twisting the knife. It screeched as black ichor came out of the terrible wound.   Wilder, seeing her predicament, was wracked with indecision but then ran to Professor Stalloid and rubbed dirt in his wound and tried to tie the man’s coat around it. The man looked around, addled and a little confused.   Chanting came from the hut and Jacali saw the shaman come into the light from the doorway where he could see her. He pointed at her and she suddenly felt the weight leave her legs as she floated up five feet off the ground and hung there. She saw he had a big .52 Sharps rifle in his off hand. He went back to work on putting another bullet into the rifle, which was open.   Jacali drew another arrow and pulled back her bow, firing at the man. The arrow struck the wooden doorway right next to his head and he was obviously startled. Jacali felt herself float back a couple inches from the recoil.   Professor Stalloid stood up, picked up his shotgun, and looked around. He ran at the thing fighting Dr. Weisswald as it attacked the woman, biting her. She crashed to the ground, bleeding profusely. Wilder realized Jacali was floating in the air. He walked forward and shot the medicine man in the chest. The man stumbled back but was still visible in the doorway.   The shaman took out the white whistle and blew it, the strange ululating tone ringing across the valley. He shrieked something in his own language. Jacali drew another arrow, fitted it in her bow, and fired it at the man. The arrow struck right next to the first one, startling the man again.   Professor Stalloid was still heading for the thing and blasted away with his shotgun, the shot going high. The horrible thing looked down at Dr. Weisswald and then lifted up off the ground and flew to the hut with amazing speed, leaving a line of black ichor on the ground as it bled. Wilder flung his rifle aside and sprinted to Dr. Weisswald, pushing himself so hard he hurt himself. He dropped by the woman and put some dirt in her wound and tried to keep her from bleeding out.   The shaman dropped the rifle, ran out of the hut, and leapt on the horror’s back. Jacali stretched herself towards the man and drew back her bow, firing an arrow that struck him in the back. He let out a shout of pain.   Across the valley, Professor Stalloid dropped his shotgun and picked up the Winchester Wilder had dropped. He worked the action on the gun and put it to his shoulder, shooting at the horrible creature but missing.   The thing flapped its wings and flew up into the air.   Wilder ran back to Stalloid.   “I need my gun!†he said to the man.   The shaman yelled something that didn’t sound like it should come out of a human mouth and held his left hand out behind him.   Jacali reached down for another arrow and hesitated for a moment. Her hand stopped over the lone, black-feathered arrow in the quiver. A year before, shortly before the Apache were driven from their homelands and her family killed by the white man, her village shaman, Kutli, had taken her aside and told her he had a vision. He told her something important was coming and she should have something. The arrow had black fletching that looked like it was made of crow feathers, and a greenish soapstone arrowhead. He told her the arrow was magical and she should save it for the most dire of situations. She did not believe in magic but she took the arrow anyway to appease the old men.   What she was seeing was shattering her beliefs, or lack of beliefs, in magic and things that were not concrete and real.   She pulled out the enchanted arrow and nocked it in her bow. She pulled back the string and aimed at the horror flying away. The arrow flew straight and true but struck the creature and bounced right off, not hurting it at all. She cursed.   Professor Stalloid worked the action on the Winchester once again and fired, hitting the horrible bird thing. It let out a shriek, it’s wings folded up against its body, and it fell out of the sky. The shaman atop it screamed as he and it fell. The thing splattered as it hit and the medicine man stopped screaming and lay very still.   “That was a good shot, Doc,†Wilder said, taking his rifle.   He turned, worked the action, and shot the shaman’s body. He realized he was murdering the man, if he was still alive, and it made him terribly uneasy. In frustration, he gave a loud war cry for a few seconds.   Professor Stalloid picked up his shotgun, looking at Wilder, and headed over to Dr. Weisswald. He found she was not bleeding as her wound had been covered with dirt.   “What’s going on?†Jacali said. “Do you all see this!?!†  Professor Stalloid put a little opium on Dr. Weisswald’s tongue, taking a little himself, while Wilder went to the two men who were tied up and freed them. Both men were very nervous and Wilder noticed the creature was melting away or evaporating.   “That’s a good gun,†Wilder said. “That’s a damn good gun.†  Then Professor Stalloid stared at Jacali, who was still floating in the air.   “You want to help?†she called to him.   “How?†he said, coming over to her.   “You could pull me?†she said.   He reached for her with his left hand, but the wound in his shoulder kept him from reaching very high.   “No …†he said.,   He used some bandages to bind the bullet hole in her leg.   “I’m not sure I trust you but there’s nothing I can do right now,†she said.   Professor Stalloid found it amazing the girl was just floating in the air. It made treatment of the wound quite simple. He pulled out a small notebook and a stub of pencil, jotting down some notes as he observed Jacali and sketched her. She finally, a few minutes later, fell to the ground, landing safely.   Wilder managed to wake Dr. Weisswald though she was in a good deal of pain. Thanks to the opium administered to her by Professor Stalloid, she was not in nearly the pain should would have been in.   Jacali headed for the hut, followed closely by Professor Stalloid, who questioned her about how the floating felt. The hut had only a few basics for survival and a little smoked meat. A barrel of water was there as well. What was most interesting was a drawing on buffalo hide hanging on one wall. It crudely depicted a strange curved shape with small points or thorns sticking out of it. It might have been a necklace or perhaps even the Horn she had heard the man was searching for.   Jacali took the hide and they searched the hut but found nothing else of interest.   Professor Stalloid picked up the Sharps Rifle that lay in front of the hut. The two of them examined the corpse too and noticed the horror he had tried to fly away upon was melting as well. They found a dozen bullets for the rifle on the shaman as well as a soapstone amulet depicting a turtle that was the size of a fist and the small bone whistle of strange shape. It didn’t look like any kind of bone Jacali had ever seen before. She was certain it was not a bone from any animal she had ever seen in her life.   “That’s a damn good gun!†Wilder said when he wandered over and saw the other thing melting.   They left the terrible valley and returned to the train wreck. Several wagons were there by then, to take the dead and injured back to Golconda. There was talk of getting a posse together but there were delays as everyone was afraid to go after John Valentine and his gang.     * * *       Jacali consulted shamans and wise men and learned the whistle was an evil item to aid in the summoning of horrible things from beyond. She learned the amulet was enchanted but another spell would have to be cast upon it for someone other than the owner to use it. When enchanted, it would protect the owner from harm like a turtle shell. The shaman who enchanted it would have to pay a great cost, however.

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

Horror on the Orient Express, Prologue: the Haunting, Part 2

Edelmiro Cervantes - Spanish-born Occultist touring Britain.
Dr. Klauss Fischer - German-born Psychiatrist, disciple of Jung. (player absent)
Flora Bianchin - Italian Nurse and Midwife, saw the Great War up close.
Mikhail Sokolov - Exiled Russian Aristo-turned-Criminal.
Viktor Gruzinsky - Bolshevik Spy posing as Exiled Russian Aristo.
Lavinia Wray - English Archaeologist working for the British Museum.   The second part of our prologue commences when the group arrives at the Fitz Hotel Dining Room to discuss the days events. A new face shows up at the table: Dr. Fischer has asked his friend Lavinia Wray to attend the gathering on his behalf so he can deal with a difficult patient. Given all the information to hand, the group decides once again to divide up in order to pursue two goals: Dr. Wray and Mr. Cervantes will check the London city records office while the remainder of the group will perform a cursory inspection of the house at Bacon's Lane.   Visiting the Records Office yields some further information: a certificate of death for Walter Corbitt dated in 1866 and court records pertaining to the arrest of disbanding of the Societas Cognitationis. Half a dozen men were arrested for defacing the grave of Anna Kingsford in Highgate Cemetery. Cervantes knows the name Anna Kingsford, but can't place it. The pair decided to make their way to Cambridge to review the SPR library, which has a number of sources on historic occult and supernatural happenings. Research reveals Anna Kingsford was a rare case of demonic possession investigated by the Church of England. Ms. Kingsford had several violent outbursts wherein she harmed her parents and her local parish priest. She eventually institutionalized and her family left money to pay for a burial in the newly constructed Highgate Cemetery. She was interred in one of the first large public vaults.   Meanwhile, in Camden, Viktor, Mikhail, and Flora enter the former home of Walter Corbitt. Viktor is convinced that if a house is "haunted" the source of the problem is invariably in the basement, and heads there first with Flora while Mikhail checks out the upstairs. Viktor notices a broken step and he and Flora are able to avoid it. Flora quickly spots a rat hole in the far wall that indicates there's something hidden behind it. The pair begin to search around for what else might be hidden in the debris of the basement. Flora wants to find a tool she can use to pry off the boards surround the rat hole, having the sense that the basement is unusually small for a house of this size.   Mikhail is on his way to the former guest bedroom when he hears a scream from downstairs. From amidst a pile of broken boards and dirty rags, a gore encrusted knife emerges and floats in midair, attacking the pair of investigators in the basement. Terrified, the pair flee upstairs and bolt the door, knocking Mikhail over in the process of taking cover. After fleeing the house, the group reassesses their plans and heads for the second floor, this time staying together. Once inside the remaining bedroom, Flora closes the door to present any unwanted cutlery from attacking. Viktor views the wall in the room and watches in shock as the face of a terrible old man bubbles up from within the crusty wallpaper. As Viktor draws the attention of his friends to the phantom image only he can see, the wooden bed frame in the room rises up and strikes Mikhail! Flora bolts for the door, only to find it resisting her efforts to pull it open, Viktor pulls his pistol and blast the face in the wall, which dissipates in dust and silent laughter. The bed now turns up on end, towering over Mikhail and forcing him toward the window. Mihkail makes a startlingly fast dodge out of the way just as the bed surges toward the window, trying to drive him through it. Viktor during his gun on the door and blows a hole in it. The door falls open and the three companions escape, this time leaving the house behind them.   The investigators join up again for another nighttime meal at the Fitz Hotel. Edelmiro and Lavinia notice Vitkor's torn pant leg (a near miss with the knife) and Mikhail limping. Their three companions recount their tale of the haunted house. At a loss for what to do next and fearing the house at night, the bulk of the investigators decide to see what they can learn from the burial site of Anna Kingsford. Perhaps the Societas Congnitationis left some clues behind that could better help them understand the old Corbitt house. Meanwhile, Flora is looking for coping strategies and turns to the Roman Catholic Church. She's seen some horrible things in the Great War, but nothing that prepared her for genuine supernatural activity. A persuasive discuss with her priest allows her access to his personal library, where she finds a copy of Malleus Maleficarum.   Back in Camden, Lavinia, Edelmiro, Viktor, and Mikhail sneak into Highgate Cemetery after hours and pry open the vault where Anna Kingsford in interred. Inside they find her wood casket, marked up with a variety of sigils, including a prominent all-seeing eye. Looking around, the investigators find a loose stone in the floor of the tomb, under which is hidden a canvas bag containing some ritual objects and a record book containing the minutes of the Societas Cognitationis. Anna Kingsford's grave was chosen because of her experience with possession. The SC considered her remains an ideal focus for calling to their "God Beneath the Earth." The records also identify Walter Corbitt as a founding member of the SC and indicate his last request was to anoint his body with certain oils he'd mixed and then lay him to rest in his basement.   Sunday and Monday are used for research, as Edelmiro combs through the Societas Cognitationis records and several other investigators attempt research to different ends: Flora studies MM, Lavinia looks for a source on cult activity and turns up Murray's The Witch Cult in Western Europe. Viktor takes a different approach, studying sources on magnetism, electricity, and rumors regarding Tesla's latest theories and inventions, as he's convinced himself there is nothing supernatural in the house, but rather someone is using magnetic and electrical effects distort perceptions and make things move seemingly of their own accord.   By Wednesday, the investigators are ready to go back to the house and deal with what lies within the the basement. Their plan is to locate Corbitt's remains and either bury them properly or burn them. Their 1920s "Ghost Buster" kit consist of two wooden shields with leather straps commissioned through a local carpenter and a large magnet. These are intended to trap and deactivate the floating knife or another other sharp objects employed against them. Lavinia supplies a shovel and pick axe from her personal tools, and Flora brings a vial of holy water secured from her priest, some herbs to burn, and rags soaked in medical alcohol to act as accelerants.   Heading down into the basement, careful to avoid the broken step that Viktor and Flora discovered the first time, Viktor and Mikail locate the formerly floating knife resting atop a pile of crates in the basement. Using the shields, they knock it to the floor, place a shield on top of it and Mikhail stands on it. Upstairs on the ground floor, Edelmiro, Flora, and Lavinia take a moment to rifle through the storage cupboards where they find a box of books marked "Corbitt." They find three hand-written journals in ratty leather bindings and set them aside to review later. The remaining three investigators head for the basement and Edelmiro and Lavinia tear into the wall with the tools while Flora lights her herbs intent on warding off the evil she can feel practically feel beyond the loosening boards.   After prying away three boards and revealing the 1-foot space between the two false walls, a flood of rats rush out and cover the three closest investigators. The group has had the foresight to purchase heavy leather jackets and coveralls for protection, but the rats hang on and seek the soft spaces where the clothing doesn't cover as thoroughly. Wrists, knees, ankles, and necks become targets as the rats cling on in defense of their nest. Finally the death of one of the larger rats is a signal for the rest to flee up the stairs and disappear.   In the midst of the confusion with the rats, Mikhail was overpowered by a voice at the back of his mind which commands him to pick up the knife and drive it into VIktor when his back is turned. Mikhail attempts this, but fortunately Flora sees what's coming and warns Viktor. Viktor dodges out of the way of the attack and restrains Mikhail while Flora strikes him repeatedly with her handbag. The blows seem to knock some sense into Mikhail and he gets control of himself and drops the knife, which is picked up with Viktor's heavy magnet and placed in a a chest of drawers at the back of the basement. Mikhail, however, is a mess. He wakes up from his trance in an amnesiac state. As far has he was concerned he was just having breakfast a moment ago. His mind tries to force away the memory of the otherworldly voice scratching about inside his head and commanding him to do its bidding. It's all too much. Mikhail will be largely useless in the coming fight with Coribitt, but as he recovers he begins to correlate the contents of his mind (Mythos related sanity=+5% Cthulhu Mythos).   The rats are dealt with and Mikhail, psychologically weakened and disoriented, has been placed at the back of the basement near the stairs. These two matters in hand, Lavinia and Edelmiro break through the wall that stands between themselves and Corbitt. Flora approaches the wooden-looking cadaver on its mound of earth first, intent on making an examination of Corbitt's curious state followed by anointing the remains with holy water. Her plan his cut short when the cadaver suddenly lurches up upright! The monstrous thing lunges for Flora, who drops her vile of holy water on the floor. The creatures claws rake across her stomach, a wound so severe it takes all her concentration to stay upright.   Viktor's bullets do little except distract the creature, but this gives Lavinia enough time to light one of the alcohol soaked rags and shove it in the Corbitt-thing's face. Edelmiro puts himself between Flora and the creature, but falls in the process of trying to assault with his cane. The creature leaps onto the occultist and rakes him with its claws. Lavinia wraps the burning rag around Corbitt, now that his back is turned. The fire does the work that bullets and blunt instruments can't, and Viktor manages to finish off the creature by striking its burning body from one of the commissioned shield. Edelmiro is rescued from the remains as Corbitt crumbles to ashes.   Both the occultist and Flora are taken to a nearby hospital where they spend almost a month recovering. The group takes some time to go through Corbitt's journals, learning of how he left seminar, failed at becoming a professional writer, and eventually pursued some darker avenues of research that led him to conjuring a being he calls the Opener of the Way. This creature taught Corbitt a variety of magical knowledge, initiated him in the worship of several Great Old Ones, and offered him command of powerful spells.   Concluding thoughts:
--My investigator group has vary degrees of experience with CoC, they're clever thinkers, and they also keep in mind the bigger picture of telling a good horror story and role-play to a fault. They know better than the burn a house down if they can help it, so they came up with a couple of ingenious ways to handle Corbitt and the games he plays: the magnet, the shields, coveralls, and the burning rags. The quick-start version of the 7th edition rules containing "The Haunting" doesn't really mention Corbitt is vulnerable to fire or that the knife can be stopped by a competing magnetic field, but I decided these were well-thought out strategies.
--I'm still having trouble managing some of the more obscure rules: ganging up, burning luck points in combat.
--They're taking the "Mythos Book Club" approach this time. Everyone read Corbitt's diaries. I decided to leave out the Livre d'Ivon associated with the cult in the original adventure, because this isn't a stand alone story and there's not enough time between the prologue (September 1922) and the Challenger Lecture that starts off HotOE (January 1923) to appreciate a longer tome. So I reduced it to the Records of the Societas Cogitationis. The Records and the Corbitt Diaries offer +3% and +4% Cthulhu Mythos respectively in exchange for a small amount of Sanity Loss. The players now have access to two short Mythos sources and Corbitt's magical knife, so calling upon the Opener of the Way is there as a tantalizing option.
--Most players now have between 4% and 7% Cthulhu Mythos, with Mikhail leading the pack at 9% due to the additional "benefit" of Mythos induced insanity.

maglaurus

maglaurus

 

What Rough Beast ... Session Three Part 1 - Tommy Hill Returns

Sunday, February 11, 2018   (After playing the Call of Cthulhu original scenario “What Rough Beast …†today from 1:30 p.m. to 6:20 p.m. with Yorie Latimer, John Leppard, Austin Davie, Ambralyn Tucker, Kyle Matheson, and Ben Abbott.)   The six children all had dinner in their homes after getting back from Anniston the night of Sunday, June 23, 1929.     * * *       Billy told his grandfather there was a prank-craze going around town and people were trying to get back at him for pranks. He asked his grandfather not to let anyone in the house or else they would probably do something.   “Who are these … these … oh, some of these boys from school?†his grandfather said.   “Just … people,†Billy squeaked.   “Well, if I see any of these boys …†his grandfather said.   He picked up the broom.   “If those boys come around here, they’re going to get a swat!†he said.   “It’s more people town,†Billy squeaked.   “People around … who is teasing you and bullying you, boy?†he grandfather said.   He pointed the broom at the youth.   Billy squealed something unintelligible and ran out the front door. He took his bicycle from where it lay in front of the house and put it under the overhang in the back.     * * *       “Hey pop,†Richard said to his father. “Have you seen the … who’s the guy who runs the ice house in town?†  “Wilbur Mayo?†his father said.   “Have you seen Wilbur lately?†  “No. He doesn’t bring ice until next week.†  “Do you know anyone who’s seen him lately?†  “No. I don’t know.†  Richard left the house and biked up to Wilbur Mayo’s ice house. The building was built into the side of the hill and had a little lean-to on the side where Mayo lived. There was a stable and barn nearby. The horse and wagon were both there. Richard went to the lean-to and looked inside but didn’t see anyone in there. He didn’t hear anything either.   Then he biked up to Old Sanguis, the tiny abandoned town that was where their village originally began. He searched the nearest of the buildings until almost dark but found nothing.     * * *       Michael and Ella-Marie sharpened the ash stakes Michael had brought back.     * * *       Billy was in his room after dark when he heard a knock on the front door. He got up to go answer it but when he got to the living room, he saw his grandfather by the front door. A tall, dark-haired man in a suit stood there and his grandfather invited the man in. The man’s hair was parted in the middle and he wore pince-nez glasses and held a hat in his hand.   “My name is Christopher St. Jordan II,†the man said. “I have taken up residence in the Bennett Farm.†  Billy turned, walked back to his room, and grabbed Mrs. Pine’s crucifix. He put it behind his back and came out to where the two men talked near the front door. He went to them and overheard St. Jordan tell his grandfather that some boys from town were out at his house and did some damage. His man described the boys and Billy realized the description of one of them was obviously him.   “I am not concerned with who did it exactly, or getting the law involved,†St. Jordan said. “I just don’t want it to happen again.†  Billy reached the two men and his grandfather turned towards the boy, fire in his eyes.   “Boy!†he said loudly.   He grabbed Billy by the ear.   “Were you out there messing with this man’s─?†his grandfather said.   “No no no,†St. Jordan said. “There is no need for any of this.†  St. Jordan told his grandfather the old house was still in poor shape but he had plans to get carpenters and surveyors to start repairs in a month or so. He didn’t want any children to get hurt out there, playing. He also didn’t want any more damage.   Billy’s grandfather let go of his ear as the two men continued to talk, ignoring the boy. St. Jordan talked about starting a mortuary in the house to bring some more life into Sanguis. He said he was hoping to lay down roots and possibly even have a large family someday. He noted that since his family already had money, he was hoping to supply his services to the village very inexpensively. He looked down at Billy occasionally.   He thanked Billy’s grandfather.   “I’m sure you’ll see that he is talked to,†St. Jordan said, glancing at Billy. “But please … he is a young boy. He has a whole life ahead of him. Don’t you?†  “I’m sorry mister,†Billy squeaked.   St. Jordan seemed startled by his high-pitched voice.   “I’ve been … I’m sorry,†Billy squeaked. “Troubled.†  “If you just tell your friend as well, I will see him sometime,†St. Jordan said.   “I’m sorry, gramps,†Billy squeaked. “I’ll just get to the good book.†  He pulled out the crucifix and St. Jordan turned quickly away, putting his hand over his eyes.   “My wife passed recently,†he said. “She was Catholic. I must go.†  He walked hurriedly out of the door.   Billy’s grandfather gave him a talking to, telling him not to break things or he’d whip him. He had never whipped the boy before. When Billy returned to his room, he found his dog, Blitzer, cowering under the bed.     * * *       Ella-Marie was woken in the wee hours of the night by a voice whispering her name.   “Ella-Marie,†it said.   He opened her eyes in the dark room. A breeze blew in through the window.   “Ella-Marie,†the whisper came again.   She sat up in bed and looked over at the window. A small figure with blonde hair stood just outside.   “Ella-Marie,†Tommy whispered again. “Come here.†  “What are you doing here?†she whispered back.   “Well, I’m hungry Ella-Marie.†  “I saw you fly off into the night!†  “Yeah, I can fly now!†  “No!†  “I can turn to a wolf. Yeah. It’s great. I’m gonna live forever. I’m gonna live forever, Ella-Marie. C’mere.†  “Was that … you in the woods?†  “I wanna talk to you. I won’t use my eyes on you, I promise.†  “No!†  “Come over here.†  Ella-Marie picked up one of the ash stakes.   “Can I come in?†Tommy asked.   “No, you don’t come closer,†she said.   “Well, I can’t. It’s rules. I can’t come in. See, I’m not even using my eyes. C’mere, talk to me, just talk to me. I’m not gonna touch ya.†  “No. No. I’m not speaking to you.†  “Ella-Marie, I’m so hungry.†  “I’m not speaking to you.†  “Well, what have I done? What did I do?†  “You’re not natural! You’re not of this Earth! I’m not speaking to you!†  “Well, I might not be natural but … but you know … y’all’ll never find me. I got the best hiding place.†  “What do you mean?†  “I got the best hiding place. It’s a great hiding place. I’m so hungry, Ella-Marie. Please!†  “What do you want me to do?†  “Well, come over here.†  “No!†  “I can’t touch you while you’re in the house.†  “Exactly. Go away.†  “Well, if you come over here and you let me … you let me. It’s real nice. It only hurts for a second and then it feels real good.†  “No!†  “But it does!†  She got out of the bed and went over, pushing the sash down. Tommy sighed.   “I guess I’ll have to go talk to Jill then,†he said.   She went back to her bed and had a terrible time getting back to sleep.     * * *       On Monday, June 24, 1929, the six children all met at the tree house after breakfast. On the way, Michael and Teddy saw Harry Match in the Sanguis Grocery, purchasing a shovel, a pick, and a shotgun.   As soon as Billy showed up, he started shouting at the rest of them.   “He came to my house last night!†he screeched.   “What?†Richard said. “Who?†  “You, too?†Ella-Marie said.   “Christopher came to my house last night!†Billy screeched.   “Christopher?†  “The man! My house!†  “I was talking about Tommy!†  “Who cares about Tommy!?!†  “Wait wait wait,†Michael said. “Tommy came to the house last night?†  “Yes!†Ella-Marie said. “Tommy came to my window and he was … he was … playing and he was─†  “Big whoop! He was at your window!†Billy said. “Christopher was in my house!†  “Wait, in your house?†Michael said.   “In my house!†Billy shrieked.   “All right, let me tell me tell my story first!†Ella-Marie said.   “House!†Billy said. “Not window! My grandpa let him in!†  “What’d he say to you?†Ella-Marie said.   “What if I can’t tell him go out!?!†Billy said. “I’m up **** creek!†  “Billy, what did he look like?†Richard asked. “You saw him.†  Billy described a tall, handsome man, his hair parted down the center, in a nice suit. Richard was unsure if it was the same man he had seen in silhouette out in the woods.   “You sure it was Christopher?†Ella-Marie said.   “He said it was Christopher!†Billy said.   “Billy, how did he talk?†Richard asked.   Billy looked at him and then pointed at Jebidiah.   “Like him,†he said.   “Oh God!†Jebidiah said.   “Did he talk like he was not from around here?†Richard said.   “Of course!†Billy said.   “What did he want with you?†Ella-Marie said.   “So … he’s not a Yankee though, right?†Richard said.   Billy ignored him and turned to Ella-Marie.   “He knew me and Mike went out there and busted up the coffins,†Billy squeaked.   “What did he want from you?†she asked again. “Why is he at your house?†  “He’s buddying up with my grandpa,†Billy said.   “Oh god,†Michael said.   “Your grandfather?†Ella-Marie said.   “Yeah,†Billy said.   “Does he have anything to do with this?†  “No. I don’t think so. But I did find out this crucifix works pretty good. He left the house real quick when I pulled it out.†  “That’s good,†Michael said. “Good to know.†  “Good to know,†Richard said.   “Which, by the way,†Michael said.   He poured out the numerous rough crosses and stakes he’d made from his bag.   “He also said his wife died,†Billy squeaked.   The children all took some of the crosses and stakes.   “All right, now are you done with your story?†Ella-Marie said.   Billy nodded.   “Tommy came to my room last night,†she said.   “Did he say anything?†Michael asked.   “He was right at the window and he was talking to me about how he was so hungry and he said he can’t come in because I wouldn’t allow him in. And I just said ‘No.’ I just said ‘Absolutely not, you’re not natural. I saw you fly off into the dang sky.’ I just shut the window and I tried to go back to sleep. But he said he was gonna visit Jill.†  “Oh no.†  “Who?†Richard said.   “Jill!†Ella Marie said.   “Oh yeah, Christopher said that he was wanting to make a family,†Billy squeaked.   “Oh no,†Michael said.   “Oh no,†Richard said.   “Oh no,†Ella-Marie said. “Oh no.†  “He wanted to put deep roots in the community,†Billy said.   “I wanna check on Jill,†Ella-Marie said.   “I’m not going!†Richard said.   “Okay, you don’t have to.†  “Look, I may have insinuated that I would be willing to shoot her father. As a joke. But he didn’t take it as a joke.†  “I’m sorry, what? How is this going to help any of us?†  “I’m not going. I’ll go somewhere else, but I’m not going there.†  “This is a good time to talk about my idea,†Jebidiah said. “You have brought stakes and spare crosses and I thank you for your effort. We should be equipped, wherever we go. I think, while some of us go look after Jill, some others of us should go explore places we haven’t checked in the town.†  “I propose that those who don’t go to check on Jill go up to Old Sanguis. I checked one of the buildings there yesterday. I also checked the ice house but Wilbur Mayo wasn’t in. That’s the only place we haven’t been in.†  “There’s the abandoned places,†Billy squeaked.   They discussed where to go, Jebidiah noting it was daytime so they should be safe. They were all in agreement that they shouldn’t stay out after dark.   “Perhaps there’s four places we want to check,†Teddy said. “I saw Match buying some … rather curious items.†  “He was buying a shotgun,†Michael said.   “Well, that changes things a little,†Richard said. “Because he’s able to kill us.†  “I can’t say I blame him!†Ella-Marie said.   She gave Michael a hard look.   “We did break into house … three times now? Right?†Michael said.   “He could also … kill us at any point,†Richard said.   “Well, we’ll be ready,†Ella-Marie said, hefting a wooden stake.   “Well, I─†Jebidiah said.   “Against a shotgun!?!†Richard said.   “I think as long as we don’t go near that─†Jebidiah said.   “Well, we’re just as prepared, aren’t we?†she said.   “We have sticks!†Richard said. “He’s not a vampire!†  “I’m mean … they’re still sharp!†she said.   “Yeah, but …†Richard said.   “I think as long as we don’t go near the Bennett Farm again, we’ll be fine about not encountering Match,†Jebidiah said. “But, if he shows up any other places, we’ll know that something’s up there. It is good to know so we can be careful, even during the daytime if Match is around.†  They decided to split up and headed out. As they got Teddy into the seat to lower him out of the tree house, he saw Match on the railroad, walking from town in the direction of the plantation. The man had a shotgun under his arm and was also carrying a pick and shovel. Billy also saw the man.   “Look, there he goes,†Teddy said, pointing him out to the others.   “So, who wants to tail him?†Billy squeaked.   “What?†Richard said.   “Who wants to what?†Ella-Marie said. “Who wants to tail him?†  “Who wants to tail him?†Billy squeaked again.   “Tail who?†she asked.   “I don’t have a gun,†Richard said.   “He has a shotgun,†Teddy said.   “He could be digging where the graves are!†Billy squeaked. “They could have buried the coffins they’re staying in around the plantation and he’s going to where they are.†  “Who are you talking about?†Ella-Marie said.   They pointed Match out, at the edge of vision, walking down the railroad tracks.   “What is he doing?†she asked.   “I can’t get caught out there again,†Billy squeaked. “My grandpa will kill me.†  “Yeah, we’re not going to let you out there again.†  “I know. So who’s gonna tail him?†  “If he sees us, we’re done for,†Teddy said.   They discussed making a change of plans. Ella-Marie noted they had a lot of concerns right then. Billy pointed out there were six of them. Jebidiah said he and Teddy could take other jobs to free up someone else to watch Match, though suggested it be someone quiet who was a good hider. Richard noted he would go trail Match and both Ella-Marie and Teddy were of the opinion he shouldn’t go alone. Ella-Marie was insistent but, in the end, they realized there were not enough of them.   Richard told Billy which building he had checked in Old Sanguis. The boy squeaked that he would check it again and Richard protested but Billy pointed out he had plenty of time. Jebidiah warned Richard to be careful and if he was seen, to just flee as quickly as possible.   They all headed off.     * * *       Richard followed Match at a safe distance, barely keeping the man in sight and hiding behind whatever cover the woods afforded. Match never looked back but walked directly to the plantation house, going around the north side. Richard gave the place a wide berth but got to the side where he could see Match, at a distance, digging a hole behind the plantation house. He saw no sign of the shotgun.     * * *       Michael and Ella-Marie went to Spearman’s house on the north side of Sanguis. Jill Spearman was sitting on the front porch reading a book. She was dressed in a blue skirt and a long-sleeve shirt buttoned up all the way.   “Jill?†Ella-Marie said as they approached.   “Yes?†Jill said. “Oh, hello Ella-Marie, how are you today?†  “Hi. I’m … I … uh …†Ella-Marie said.   “How are you feeling, Jill?†Michael asked.   “I’m fine,†she said coldly.   “All right,†Michael said. “Didn’t know. Tommy was sick, before he passed, and you hung out with him a lot. Didn’t want you getting sick.†  “Yeah,†Ella-Marie said. “Just concerned.†  Jill frowned.   “I’m fine,†she said.   She looked at him a moment.   “Did Richard send you?†she suddenly said. “Richard sent you, didn’t he?†  “No!†Ella-Marie said.   “You tell Richard I’m tired of his advances!†Jill said.   “No, I just had a terrible dream last night. That you were … you were incredibly ill and, like Tommy, and I just wanted to come check on you.†  “I got a book on dreams! Wait! Wait here!†  The girl ran into the house and returned with a book.   “You said I was sick?†she said, flipping through the book.   “Uh … yes,†Ella-Marie said. “I-I just … I just wanted to make sure nothing was wrong with you.†  “Nothing about being sick.†  “I dreamed that you had rashes all over your body. Do you─†  “No. Ew!†  “Do you mind? Do you mind if I just check your arm? Please?†  “Why would I … it was a dream, Ella-Marie.†  “I know but … you should know … my dreams are just … they can seem kind of real sometimes … so I just …†  “Well, I don’t have no rash.†  “Are you sure?†  “Yeah.†  “Okay. No nothing?†  “No. I’m fine, Ella-Marie.†  “Even … even around your neck?†  “No.†  “No rashes?†  “No. I don’t have no rashes, Ella-Marie.†  She looked at Michael.   “Why don’t you go away?†she said. “This is girl talk, anyway!†  Michael walked away.   “That is my brother,†she said.   “That’s right,†Jill said. “He’s a man. You don’t talk about lady things around a boy!†  “He goes wherever I go,†Ella-Marie said. “You don’t talk to my brother like that!†  Jill closed the book and went into the house. Ella-Marie went after her, entering the house and seeing Jill walking down the hallway to the back of the house. Mrs. Spearman was in the kitchen preparing something.   “Well, hello Ella-Marie,†Mrs. Spearman said.   “Hello,†Ella-Marie said. “Hello Mrs. Spearman.†  Ella-Marie walked back to Jill’s room and found Jill putting the book back on the shelf.   “All right Jill,†Ella-Marie said. “Listen to me.†  Jill spun around.   “Ella-Marie, what are you doing in our house?†Jill said.   “Just─†Ella-Marie said.   “I did not invite you in.†  “Just listen to me.†  Jill crossed her arms.   “Well, that proves one thing,†Ella-Marie said. “Listen─†  “What is the matter with you, Ella-Marie?†Jill said.   “Look, Tommy came to visit me last night. And I know you’re not going to believe me but you need to listen to me, Jill.†  “Tommy is dead.†  “I know.†  “And there are some things you don’t discuss in front of boys, Ella-Marie. Private, personal stuff.†  “What do you mean?†  “Rashes? You’re asking me to look and show you rashes? When your brother’s right there?†  “He’s my brother. Can you get over this?†  “No. He’s a boy.†  “I tell him everything.†  “You shouldn’t.†  “You need to shut up and listen to me.†  “You need to shut up.†    * * *       Michael entered the Spearman house.   “Oh, hello Michael,†Mrs. Spearman said. “What are you doing?†  “Oh … I just saw that … my sister came in and I was wondering if I could wait on the couch for her,†Michael said awkwardly.   Mrs. Spearman looked at the boy a moment.   “All right,†she finally said.   “Thank you,†he said.   He sat on the couch and tried to overhear the conversation.     * * *       “All right, Jill,†Ella-Marie said. “He was talking to me. And he said that he would come visit you. And I am just worried about your safety, okay? Even if it sounds crazy─†  “I’m worried about you, Ella-Marie,†Jill said. “It does sound crazy. It sounds very crazy. But why would … Tommy died. I know you liked Tommy. He was always telling me.†  “Oh, I did not! You are very much mistaken.†  “It’s just like Richard likes me.†  Ella-Marie’s jaw dropped.   “But you gotta just let go,†Jill said. “He’s gone. He died. It’s very sad. I miss Tommy.†  “I’m just here to tell you he’s not,†Ella-Marie said. “And you need to watch out for him and don’t invite him in. If he shows up─†  “I would never invite a boy into my house.†  “Well good. That’s … that’s all I’m saying.†  “Are you all right, Ella-Marie?†  “Maybe not.†  “Come here. Come sit down. Come talk to me.†  Jill had a nice conversation with her, trying to calm Ella-Marie down. She didn’t seem to believe Ella-Marie but she also didn’t seem to not believe her either. Ella-Marie handed her one of her ash stakes and the little girl took it and put it on the bed.   “This will be for your protection, okay?†Ella-Marie said.   “From … from boys coming into my room?†Jill said.   “Yes.†  “Well, all right.†  The conversation steered towards Richard with Jill trying to learn what he was doing and how he was. She assured Ella-Marie if Tommy Hill came around her house, Ella-Marie would be the first to know. She promised and crossed her heart. Ella-Marie thanked her and left, finding Michael in the front room on the couch.   “There are you are!†Michael said. “What were you doing back there?†  “I was warning her …†Ella-Marie started to say.   Then she noticed Mrs. Spearman in the kitchen, looking at the two of them. She grabbed Michael’s arm and took him out of the house.     * * *       Billy walked Teddy and Jebidiah up the Tallapoosa Road, Jebidiah pushing Teddy’s wheelchair, until they reached the rutted path to the ice house. He left them then, heading on up the road while the other two boys continued up the path.   “How should we approach this?†Teddy said.   “It wouldn’t be a bad idea to check Wilbur with your compact,†Jebidiah said.   They discussed him doing it discreetly, as he had done to his own friends before.   “Why are we here?†Teddy said. “We have to give him a reason to think that we’re here naturally.†  “Oh, that’s true,†Jebidiah said. “I didn’t think about that.†  “Your parents need ice!†  “Yes! It can only be the best ice so we must look for a while.†  “And you brought me because my wheelchair can transport it.†  “We are fascinated by ice! We could tell him we are interested in his job. We want to be ice boys.†  “I would love to grow the ice.†  They soon came to the ice house, a large building built into the side of the hill. A lean-to stood on the side where they knew Wilbur Mayo lived. The ice wagon was gone, as was the horse in the stables next to the building.   “Maybe he’s out?†Teddy said.   “I guess that means we could just go in!†Jebidiah said.   “Don’t you mean … ‘The door was open when we came?’†Teddy said.   They went to the lean-to and found the door unlocked. Teddy opened it and they looked in the tiny room which had a bed, a pot-bellied stove, and a few other items. Mayo obviously didn’t have much money. They gave the place a cursory look and Teddy found something disturbing. When he pulled the covers back on the cot, he found blood on the man’s pillow.   “Hey, Jebidiah, I think I found something,†Teddy said.   Jebidiah came over.   It was not a lot of blood but seemed to be at least two separate stains, both of them dry. They were towards the middle of the pillow towards the bottom, where a person’s neck would be situated at night.   “This is … this isn’t good!†Jebidiah said. “That means he’s very close to becoming one of them. He’s been visited, twice, it looks like to me.†  “We should probably speed up the process and get out of here quickly,†Teddy said.   “But if it’s only two, we need to warn him, somehow,†Jebidiah said.   “Do we want to take the chance that it isn’t the third?†  “Hmm. That’s a good point.†  “I’d say, if you’re bit twice, you’re probably just gone for. You only got one more strike.†  “That is a harsh and realistic expectation, Teddy. I applaud you.†  “I’d help anybody with one bite, but two? You’re just kind of on the fence.†  “He’s out anyways. Do you think we should check on the ice house and see if it’s unlocked?†  “Absolutely.†  They found the ice house unlocked. It was very cold within. There were slabs of ice covered in sawdust. It felt nice and cool in the place. They started searching.     * * *       Billy bicycled up to Old Sanguis and began to search each and every house carefully. It was in the last house, the furthest away from Sanguis, it’s back to the river, that he found something several hours later. A few dirty blankets were on the ground along with a few tins of food and can opener. There was a can of beans, two cans of peaches, and a can of some kind of beef and broth. There was also a large, clay jug.   Billy took the cans outside, opening them with the can opener, and poured them on the ground. He then removed the blankets and hid them elsewhere in the abandoned house.   He was getting ready to mount his bike to leave when he noticed the houses in Old Sanguis were built on foundations, each of them being a foot or so off the ground. He had found no doors or trapdoors that led under the house, so he guessed there were no basements. He looked around each of the houses for some way to get into the crawlspace underneath, but there were no entrances.   He looked at his pocket watch. It was 1 p.m. He headed back down the road towards Sanguis.     * * *       Teddy and Jebidiah had thoroughly searched the ice house, only finding a place they felt, from the scattered sawdust, the ice had recently been removed. Teddy thought they would have found a body but there was nothing else in there unless it was hidden under hundreds of pounds of ice.   “I have a question,†Teddy said. “So, if he’s been bitten twice or thrice, who has he invited into his shed?†  “Well …†Jebidiah said.   “We should ask him.†  “Vanzant seems like it was too recent to invite in. That new fellow, Christopher. People around here are friendly. If they knew it was a new neighbor, my guess Wilbur might have invited him in.†  A shadow appeared in the doorway. Jebidiah looked towards the door, terrified. It was only Billy.   “Why wouldn’t you say anything?†Teddy said to him. “Why would you just walk in like that?†  “It’s Billy!†Billy squeaked.   “A little too late for that one, son,†Jebidiah said.   Teddy looked at Billy with his compact but saw the boy in the mirror.   “Did y’all find anything?â€Billy squeaked.   “We found that Wilbur might be … infected,†Jebidiah said.   “What did you find, Billy?†Teddy said.   “I found out … nothin’,†Billy squeaked. “But … we might be doing some more vandalism.†  “The ‘we’ you use in that sentence─†Jebidiah said.   “Me!†Billy squeaked.   “Okay,†Jebidiah said. “That’s a better clarification.†  “Maybe one other person,†Billy squeaked.   “Where and why and─†Teddy said.   “Old Sanguis,†Billy squeaked. “The houses: they’re built up a little bit.†  “Yes.†  “Above the ground.†  “Like houses are.†  “I can’t get under there. There’s no crawlspace or anything.†  “Why are you wanting to get under a house?†  “You can’t just crawl under the foundation?†Jebidiah said.   “Iunno,†Billy squeaked. “I’ll check back. There’s still plenty of day. I just want to check on you guys.†  “Well, the only thing we found is that Wilbur Mayo has been bitten at least two times.†  “Nice.†  “Not nice, actually. Very bad.†  “Not nice, Billy,†Teddy said.   “Yep,†Billy squeaked.   “So, we thought we may try to talk to him about who he’s invited or check him with the mirror,†Jebidiah said. “If he has been bitten two times and not three than we should try to help protect him.†  Billy looked around and found an ice pick and a mallet among other tools in the ice house.   “I’m going back to Old Sanguis,†he squeaked.   “Are you stealing!?!†Jebidiah asked.   “I’ll bring ‘em back,†Billy squeaked.   “Should we accompany him?†Teddy asked Jebidiah. “He seems adamant.†  “I …†Jebidiah said.   “To destroy houses?†  “To destroy houses. Oh my God. Well …†  “I’m mostly - I’m gonna look for loose floorboards this time,†Billy squeaked. “That’s what the mallet and ice pick are for.†  “Do you really want to accompany Billy with theft and vandalism or should we wait on Wilbur?†Jebidiah said.   “Hmm,†Teddy said. “Why are you breaking boards?†  “Looking for stuff,†Billy squeaked.   “Looking for what?†  “Iunno.†  “You said you wanted to do this, because the houses─†  “Maybe there’s a coffin under there or maybe they’ve dug out below the foundation.†  “And maybe there’s gold under my feet, Billy.†  “There is.†  Teddy looked down. Billy reached forward and flicked his nose.   “Ha!†Billy squeaked. “Made you look!†  “I think we should wait for Wilbur and make sure he’s safe,†Jebidiah said. “But you’re the tiebreaker, Teddy.†  “This seems like fools gold,†Teddy said.   “I love the pun!†Jebidiah said.   Billy headed back to Old Sanguis without the other boys.     * * *    

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

What Rough Beast ... Session Three Part 2 - Billy's the Best

* * *       By noon, Richard saw Match had dug a hole in the ground at least six or so feet deep. The man went into the house and dragged a coffin out. He manhandled it into the hole as carefully as he could, filled the hole in with newly turned soil. Then he got to work on a second hole.     * * *       Ella-Marie remembered Tommy telling her the night before that the others would never find him and he had the perfect hiding place. She told Michael about it.   “Where would Tommy be hiding?†Michael asked.   “If it was the most obvious place, it would be somewhere around our tree house,†Ella-Marie said.   “He also might be hiding at the train station?†  “Train station? But we’ve been all around there.†  “But not inside.†  “I guess it’s worth a shot.†  They went to the train station and Michael broke a window on one of the doors facing the tracks.   “Hey!†someone yelled. “What are you kids doing!?!†  Tim Bowman, the village mailman and postmaster was walking down the road and turned to stomp over to the two children.   “What are you two children doing!?!†he said again. “What the hell!?!†  He cuffed Michael in the head.   “This is against the law!†Bowman said. “This is not public property! Get outta here!†  “We were just … we were just doing an investigation, okay?†Ella-Marie said.   “Look, I don’t care what games you’re playing! You can’t just break into buildings just because you want to. What is wrong with you children!?!†  “Well, no one was here! It’s not like anyone lives here. We were just─†  “All right. Come with me. You come with me too.†  He grabbed Michael by the arm and took led Ella-Marie back to their house. There was no answer at the knock and nobody was home. Ella-Marie remembered her mother saying she was going to walk to Fruithurst that day to do something at the school where she taught.   “All right,†Bowman said. “You’re with me today. Until your parents get home.†  He led them to the post office where his horse and mail buggy were waiting. He put the children in the back of the buggy and told them not to touch any of the mail. He took the children on his route delivering mail.   Michael whispered to Ella-Marie, trying to convince her to make a run for it. However, Tim Bowman knew both them and their parents and she realized that would land them in even more trouble. Ella-Marie told him they were not going to do that: Michael’s first idea had been terrible too. She glared at him and punched him hard in the shoulder.     * * *       Billy returned to Old Sanguis and used the pick and mallet in the room where Vanzant had been living. He pried up several of the boards and found Vanzant lying on the dirt under the floor. He let out a shriek, leaping back. When he moved over to peer at the man again, the body was unmoving.   He took out his crucifix and shoved it into his belt. Then he took out an ash stake and picked up the mallet, putting the stake onto Vanzant’s chest. The first blow of the mallet sent the stake deep into the man’s chest. Vanzant’s eyes flew open and the corpse opened its mouth in a silent scream. Vanzant flinched and twitched, his arms and legs flailing. Billy could hear the man’s feet kicking up against the floor directly underneath him. Bright red blood welled up from the wound. He struck two more blows on the stake with the mallet. A terrible smelling black liquid oozed out of the terrible wound and the corpse finally lay still.   Billy wondered if he should put more stakes into it. He pulled out the old, rusty knife he’d found at Bennett Farm and looked at it. He didn’t relish using the knife to try to decapitate the corpse. He finally put the boards back and the blankets back over them. He searched the house for nails but found none. There were plenty of shards of wood, though, so he collected them. He wedged them into the door, using the mallet, to seal it. Then he crept out of the house through one of the back windows.     * * *       Richard watched Match dig another hole and put another coffin into it with some trouble. Then the man started on a third. He thought, at the rate the man was doing the work, he might get as far as a fourth coffin before nightfall. Or not. He wasn’t sure.     * * *       Early that afternoon, Billy returned with the mallet and ice pick he’d borrowed before. He explained to the Jebidiah and Teddy he had found and staked the vampire Vanzant.   “How?†Teddy said. “How did you …?†  “I took the stake,†Billy squeaked. “He was under the floorboards. I guessed right. Billy’s the best! I staked him. I killed him. There was blood everywhere. He’s not moving any more though. Black blood came out afterwards. After the red blood.†  “Are you okay mentally?†  “Billy’s the best!†  “After having done what you’ve done?†  “Can I stay at one of y’all’s house tonight? Preferably Jebidiah’s.†  “I’m sure we have a guest room,†Jebidiah said.   He left them there, returning to town. The garlic he’d ordered in the mail had not yet come and his grandfather had some chores for him, keeping him busy for the rest of the afternoon. He slipped away long enough to look for Michael in hopes of retrieving the axe but no one was home at Slayton’s.     * * *       Teddy and Jebidiah heard the clip clop of Wilbur Mayo’s horse around dinnertime. They saw the ice wagon coming up the path towards the ice house. Wilbur Mayo sat in the front, head down, hat pulled low over his eyes.   “Check him with your mirror while he’s on the road,†Jebidiah said.   “I … um …†Teddy said.   Wilbur wore white coveralls and a white, floppy hat, the brim of which had several cigarettes stuck into it. He usually had a cigarette in his mouth but not today. That seemed odd.   “Why don’t you hide just in case this goes wrong,†Teddy said. “So he doesn’t know there’s two of us here.†  “And you just alone in a wheelchair?†  “Absolutely.†  “Why don’t I hide you?†  “Because if you’re caught, I can’t save you. But if I’m caught, you might can save me.†  “You’re just alone in the middle of the road in a wheelchair that you’ve wheeled up here?†  “To get ice!†  “To get ice. Perfect plan, Teddy.†  Jebidiah found a hiding place in the nearby trees. Mayo drove his ice wagon up the path, passing Teddy without even seeming to notice the boy. He drove his wagon to the stables and then stumbled out. He went to the horse and started to slowly unhook it from its straps. Teddy rolled over to Mayo and then rolled by him like he didn’t notice Mayo. Mayo didn’t even look at him.   “Oh, hi Wilbur,†Teddy finally said.   Mayo finally noticed the boy.   “Hello, Teddy,†he muttered. “How you doing?†  “Better than you, it seems,†Teddy said. “And I’m in a wheelchair.†  Mayo was pale and Teddy noticed his hands shook as he took the harness off the horse.   “I’m under the weather,†Mayo muttered.   “We’re all under the weather this day,†Teddy said. “What’s wrong with you, sir?†  “I just got a cold.†  “Cold? Working in an ice house?†  “It happens.†  “Of course it does.†  “Franklin.†  Teddy noticed two marks on the man’s neck.   “Do you get a lot of bugs in the ice house, sir?†he said.   “Not usually,†Mayo said.   He led his horse over to the stables.   “Well, it looks to me like some might have gotten to you on the neck, there,†Teddy said.   “Yeah,†Mayo said, rubbing his neck.   “Have they bitten you … multiple times?†  “What? There’s a couple. I got a couple on my neck.†  Mayo poured grain into a bin for his horse and checked the animal’s water.   “Have you invited anyone into your home?†Teddy said. “Sold anyone ice recently that is … new to the area?†  “No,†Mayo said. “I’ve just been making my deliveries.†  “Where have you been making deliveries? Anywhere new?†  “No. Same old places Teddy. What are you doing way out here?†  “I came to get ice, of course. Why else would I be here?†  “Well, I’m delivering on Tuesday. Y’all can’t wait?†  “I cannot wait for this ice, sir.†  “Wait. Are you taking it yourself?†  “Yes sir. Ice don’t freeze my legs. I can’t feel ‘em.†  “Did your daddy tell you that?†  “Yes.†  “He is a harsh, harsh man.†  Mayo shook his head and headed over to the ice house door. Teddy followed him, giving Jebidiah a thumbs up as he entered the cold building. Mayo wiped the sawdust from some of the ice nearest the door. He took a blanket and put it in Teddy’s lap, put a cake of ice on top of it, and put another blanket on top of that.   “Just bring them blankets back or I can pick ‘em up Tuesday,†Mayo muttered. “If y’want, you can just leave ‘em on your front porch. C’mon. It’s cold in here.†  “Sir, before I leave, can I caution you while we’re in this ice house?†Teddy said.   “What? I’m always careful. These are stacked the way they’re supposed to be stacked. They won’t fall.†  “What if I was to tell you that the bites on your neck are not from bugs, but something far more dangerous?†  “Like … a raccoon?†  “Like bigger than a raccoon.†  Mayo looked confused.   “These are bug bites, Teddy,†he finally said.   “Do you lock your doors at night?†Teddy asked.   “Does anybody lock their doors at night?†  “I would if I was bit by ‘bugs’ twice.†  “What is locking your door gonna do against bugs?†  “They’re not bugs, sir. But they are something that cannot come in your house unless you let them. And you do not want to get bit again. So please, do not get bit again.†  “All right, Teddy. All right. C’mon. Let’s go.†  “Lock your doors.†  Mayo closed the ice house door and then stumbled over to the lean-to and went in. Teddy rolled over to where Jebidiah hid.   “I must say, Teddy, the ice house was cold but … not as cold as the cold shoulders I saw just now,†Jebidiah said.   “Jebidiah, I think he’s a goner,†Teddy said.   “He didn’t seem very composed.†  “I warned him in the ice house but I don’t think he’s gonna lock his doors. He’s gonna get bit again tonight.†  “Or he’s already bit three times and he’s … good as dead as a doorknob.†  “At least I got this ice.†  “Yeah, what do you want to do with that ice?†  “I dunno. Take it home, I guess.†  “Let’s get it home.†    * * *       Richard saw Match starting to dig a fourth hole before he headed home for supper. He didn’t think Match could finish digging the fourth hole until after dark.     * * *       Michael and Ella-Marie were presented to their mother by Tim Bowman that evening.   “They were trying to break into the train station for some reason, even though they know they’re not supposed to be in there,†Bowman said. “I’ll let you handle it.†  Mrs. Slayton was shocked and ordered both children to their rooms, telling them their father would deal with them when he got home.   Billy had been looking for Michael and overheard the conversation. He snuck to Ella-Marie’s window, which stood wide open. Ella-Marie sat at her desk, writing furiously in her journal.   “Cock-a-Doo!†Billy squeaked.   “Billy, I know it’s you,†she said. “You don’t have to do that stupid bird noise.†  “I staked Vanzant.†  “I’m sorry?†  “Billy’s the best.†  “Excuse me?†  Billy left her window, walking over to Michael’s. Ella-Marie ran to the window and leaned out.   “Billy!†she said.   Billy found Michael in his room, doing sit ups.   “Cock-a-Doo!†Billy squeaked.   “What the hell?†Michael said.   He went to the window.   “I staked Vanzant,†Billy squeaked.   “Good job,†was all Michael said.   “I couldn’t decapitate him, though,†Billy squeaked. “All I had was the knife. I didn’t really want to do that.†  One of his eyes twitched.   “Axe is in the shed,†Michael said.   “We could do it tomorrow,†Billy squeaked.   “Good point,†Michael said.   “What’re y’all plannin’ without me!?!†Ella-Marie said to them. “I’m right here!†  She leaned out her window. Billy walked back over to the girl.   “We’re gonna decapitate Vanzant tomorrow,†Billy squeaked. “If he’s still there.†  “Okay, but don’t not include me!†Ella-Marie said.   “No, I know. I just wanted to tell you both. Now I’m gonna go to Jebidiah’s.†  Ella-Marie stomped back over to her desk and wrote furiously in her journal about men.     * * *       Billy stopped at his house and told his grandfather he was going to spend the night at Jebidiah’s. The old man was fine with that and told Billy he was glad the boy was making friends. He patted him on the shoulder.   “Are you having dinner over there too?†his grandfather asked.   “Yeah,†Billy squeaked.   “All right,†the old man said. “You have a good dinner.†  He went to the kitchen and got out the peanut butter and bread for himself.     * * *       When Mr. Slayton got home, Ella-Marie and Michael got a talking-to. They were told they would equally pay for the damage done to the train station.   “Equal,†Ella-Marie said.   “Were you there?†her father asked.   “Yes!†she said angrily.   “Or was it just Michael that did it?†their father asked.   “I was the one that broke the window,†Michael said.   “But your sister was there with you?†  “She-she tagged along but it wasn’t her idea.†  “I don’t care whose idea it was. She shoulda said something to you. She got much more sense than you do.†  “She tried.†  “Uh-huh. Don’t be lying to me, Michael. I’ll give you the back of my hand.†  “She tried to tell me not to. I’m being honest.†  “Is that true, Ella-Marie?†  Ella-Marie didn’t say anything.   “Is that true, Ella-Marie?†her father said again. “Answer me.†  “I went along with it,†she said.   “We’ll take it outta both of y’all’s money,†her father said. “Once we find out how much it costs. I am so disappointed in you children. Go to your rooms. You can spend the next week not playing with your friends.†  The two walked back to your rooms.   “Well, that’s not gonna work, is it?†Ella-Marie said to Michael.   “No,†Michael said. “No, it ain’t.†  “Do I hear talking back there?†their father called. “Go to your rooms!†  “That’s not gonna work, is it?†Ella-Marie whispered to Michael across the hall once they go to their rooms. “There’s more important things at stake here than their disappointment.†  “I know,†Michael whispered back. “It’s the entire town.†  “We need to finish this. We’re the only ones who know about this.†  “Except for Doc and he’s out of town.†  “I’m worried about Doc. Jesus. We need to make a plan.†  She put several pillows and clothing under the blankets to make mounds to look like her. She left the window open and the lights off. She also left a note under the sheets but on top of the pillows. It read:  
Dear Mom and Dad,   There is something awful about to happen in this town. I’m sorry to leave, but we need to stop
an unholy terror. You can’t possibly understand. I just hope you know I am trying to do the
right thing to save the town and my family.   Love,
EM  
Michael had also put things under his sheets to mock his being there as well. The two of them snuck out.     * * *       Billy, Jebidiah, Teddy, and Richard gathered together at the crossroads on the south side of town. Teddy carried something wrapped in a blanket that was long and thin. They noticed Tim Bowman nailing a board over the broken window at the train station.   “So, I spent all day watching old Match,†Richard said.   “He was digging holes, right?†Billy squeaked.   “He dug holes.†  “Put the coffins in there, right?†  “Yeah. He was working on a fourth when I left.†  “Billy knows. Billy knows. I staked a vampire.†  “Billy, it seems, has done away with Mr. Vanzant,†Jebidiah said.   “What?†Richard said.   “As far as we know,†Billy said.   “He has staked him,†Jebidiah said.   “How?†Richard said.   “Well, he said he found him in the house that he lived in before and just did it,†Jebidiah said.   “Ripped up the floorboard and there he was!†Billy said. “I didn’t wanna wait, so I just staked him.†  “Honestly, Billy’s willingness to murder a dead man scares me a little bit,†Jebidiah said.   “I would tend to agree,†Richard said.   “At the same time, it emboldens me.†  “I will admit, that is a good thing.†  “Also, Teddy and I have reason to believe that Mr. Mayo, the one who works at the ice house is either about to be, or is on his way to becoming …†  “Well, that would make sense because we know of three and he was digging a fourth hole. But, it didn’t look like he was going to get finished today. So, if Mayo dies tonight, they can put him in the hole tomorrow.†  “We could do a stake-out!†Billy squeaked,.   “Does that mean we need to watch out for Mayo?†Jebidiah said. “It might not be safe with the vampires there, but if we have crosses, we might be able to save him.†  “There’s only two vampires now, too,†Billy squeaked. “So, we need to save him.†  “We should group up with Mike and Ella-Marie and see what they’ve found,†Jebidiah said. “See if Jill’s okay.†  “I think we should keep an eye on Mayo tonight,†Richard said. “And be ready to act if we need to.†  “That’s a good plan but, before we finalize it, make sure we have all the information,†Jebidiah said.   They headed for Slayton’s house and found the other two sneaking out of their windows and creeping away from their house.   “Have you entered a life of crime?†Jebidiah whispered.   Ella-Marie shushed him.   They all headed for the tree house, Michael going to the shed to grab the axe on the way. He saw that their bicycles were locked up with a chain in there.   They went to the tree house and they all shared everything they had learned.   “We need to check on Mayo,†Michael said.   “On the way, two of us could go decapitate Vanzant,†Billy suggested.   “I mean, if nothing much else is happening tonight, you two might want to stay home to make sure you don’t get into even more trouble,†Jebidiah said to Michael and Ella-Marie.   “I’m not backing out of this now,†Ella-Marie said.   They discussed what had to be done to destroy the body and remembered they had read a vampire could be staked, decapitated, its mouth filled with garlic, and then the corpse burned. Jebidiah pointed out it was not clear if all of them needed to be done or just some of them.   “Do we wanna stop at stake, or do we wanna go all out?†Billy squeaked.   “Just do it anyway,†Ella-Marie said. “Just make sure.†  “This’ll be our only piece of garlic though,†Billy squeaked.   “If we only have one piece of garlic, it’s not going to be an efficient solution to all of these problems,†Jebidiah said.   “We just want to leave garlic out and do chop off head and burn?†Billy squeaked.   “If you want to just to be safe,†Jebidiah said. “Because it’s going to be night.†  “I know,†Billy said.   “If you want to, that’s okay with me, but … I don’t … I don’t really think I’m going to be helpful there. I, personally, think that watching Mayo is more important than … double-tapping.†  “Right, so three of us watch Mayo and three of us do that.†  “So who’s going to be where?†Ella-Marie said.   “I volunteer to go with Billy,†Richard said.   “Same here,†Michael said.   “You’re going with Billy,†Ella-Marie said. “You’re going with Billy.†  “I’m going to Mayo,†Jebidiah said. “And Ella-Marie, does that mean you’re with us, with Mayo? That would split it evenly.†  She looked over all of them.   “We’re good company,†Jebidiah said. “I promise. We’re good at conversation.†  “I feel like I finally have the adrenalin,†Teddy said.   He looked down at his bundle.   “This may be my last night,†he said.   He knew if his father caught him with the shotgun, he might very well beat him to death.   “Jesus, Teddy, what do you mean?†Jebidiah said. “Think about Isaac Newton.†  Teddy flipped the blanket up just enough for Jebidiah to see the shotgun. The other boy let out a cry.   “Teddy, do you have a death wish?†Jebidiah said. “Teddy!†  “All right, I’m a bit concerned about y’all two, so …†Ella-Marie said.   “I’ve never held it before,†Teddy said.   “I’m staying with y’all,†Ella-Marie said to the two.   She had seen the shotgun too.     * * *       Billy, Michael, and Richard rode up to Old Sanguis as the sun stood low in the western sky. Billy checked the door of the house and found it still jammed shut. He led the other two around the back and through the window. He pulled up the floorboards to reveal the corpse of Morris Vanzant. Billy told them he was going to remove some more floorboards and Michael went to the body to pull it up but Billy stopped him.   “No!†he squeaked. “Staked! Leave it! We’ll get the boards around him.†  They took a half hour to remove enough boards for someone to stand on the ground under the house and use the axe.   “I’ll do the deed,†Billy squeaked.   Michael handed over the axe. Richard turned away, looking out of the window and keeping watch. Michael turned away as well.   Billy brought the axe down, hacking at Vanzant’s neck but not cutting it cleanly. He thought, just for a moment, that Morris Vanzant’s eyes opened to stare at him for a second after the blow. It took two more blows, blood spewing all over as he hacked away at the dead man, before Vanzant’s head came off. Black and red blood oozed out of the neck.   Billy retrieved the clay jug and emptied the corn whiskey inside onto the dirt. Then he wiped the top of the jug on the blood that oozed out of the corpse’s neck. He corked the jug again.   He picked up the head and put it where he’d dumped the moonshine. He lit the remains of the moonshine on fire. What little was left caught on fire and the stench of burnt meat and hair assailed all of them. Black smoke filled the room as Billy pulled out the crucifix and said some prayer he’d read in the Bible. They all fled.   Michael got his axe back. The head was covered with blood, as was Billy. Billy stripped down to his underwear and threw his clothing into the river. Michael cleaned off the head of the axe.   The three went back to the ice house on two bicycles.   “Billy, would you mind getting a change of clothes?†Jebidiah said.   “Billy!†Ella-Marie said. “What on earth happened?†  “Is there time?†Billy squeaked.   “There better be!†Jebidiah said.   Billy biked back to town and got a change of clothing. The sun was near the horizon by then.   A flickering lantern light came from the lean-to. Billy crept towards the door.   “Billy! No!†Teddy hissed at him.   “I wanna see if it’s locked!†Billy whispered back.   “It’s probably not locked,†Teddy hissed. “I don’t think he locks it.†  “I wanna know.†  “What if you give us away? What’s your cover?†  “I’m Billy! I’m the best!†  “Getting ice?†  “I’m here to get ice. My gramps heard that you gave Teddy ice. He wants his ice too.†  He crept to the lean-to and tried the handle, finding the door not locked, as far as he could tell. Then he returned to the others. Ella-Marie got a blanket from Teddy and put it on Michael. He didn’t seem to want it.   Teddy pulled the blanket off the shotgun.   “Theo,†Richard said. “Can I take the gun?†  “What?†Teddy said.   “I know how to use it.†  “It’s my daddy’s gun.†  “Do you know how to use it?†  About an hour after dark, they heard a man’s voice call from far far away: “Michael! Ella-Marie! Get your butt’s home!†The calling went on for five or ten minutes.   “Perhaps you shouldn’t be here with us,†Richard said.   “It’s a little too late for that, Richard!†Jebidiah said.   “You’re in trouble either way,†Teddy said. “Just pretend you didn’t hear it. You’re in trouble when you go home, regardless.†  “That’s true,†Ella-Marie said.   “Gaslight them!†Jebidiah said. “Make them think they’re crazy. Tell them you were there the whole night.†  They ended up not going home.   Teddy was the only one who fell asleep, napping in his wheelchair. While he slept, Richard took the shotgun.     * * *    

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

What Rough Beast ... Session Three Part 3 - Bennett Farm Murder

* * *       The rosy light of dawn arrived long after, heralding Tuesday, June 25, 1929. Around that time, they saw Wilbur Mayo exit his lean-to, still looking under the weather. He hitched the horse up to the wagon and then loaded ice into the vehicle. It took him until well after sunup before he headed down the road.   “Just like I say every time I disasterfully fail at something, ‘At least you can’t say we didn’t try,’†Jebidiah said.   “I mean, he’s not dead,†Billy squeaked.   “These two are,†Teddy said. “At least you didn’t steal your dad’s gun.†  “Yes, we’d better get you home,†Jebidiah said. “You two had better … do something. I don’t know. You’re on your own. I’m very scared.†  “Flee the town,†Ella-Marie said.   “Let’s play a game where I go to your house and try to talk down your father, and you go to my house and try to talk down mine,†Teddy said.   “You don’t wanna play that game!†Jebidiah said. “You’ll lose. Nobody wins that game.†  “Does anybody want to check on Vanzant again, now that it’s been a night?†Billy squeaked.   “I’ll go,†Richard said.   “Why do you keep wanting to look at that dead body!?!†Jebidiah said.   “Investigation!†Billy squeaked. “Science! We need to know!†  “We need to find the other ones!†  “We need to know if it worked!†  “I know where they are!†Richard said.   “We need to treat that one as taken care of until it’s proven it has not been,†Jebidiah said.   “We gotta prove whether it has or hasn’t!†Billy squeaked.   “If you’ve already cut off the head and staked him, I think we’re probably good,†Jebidiah said.   “And if that doesn’t kill him then what are we going to do?†Teddy said.   “Yeah, we’re screwed anyways if that doesn’t work,†Jebidiah said.   “Leave town?†Billy squeaked. “We run away!†  “If we see Vanzant again …†Jebidiah said.   “Those two are up **** creek,†Billy squeaked, pointing at Ella-Marie and Michael.   “Uh-huh,†Ella-Marie said.   “Do you have enough money for train tickets for all of us?†Teddy said.   Billy did math in his head.   “Either way, before your father wakes up, we need to get that gun back where it belongs,†Jebidiah said.   “He’s already awake,†Teddy said. “He checks on that gun throughout the night.†  “Lord, if we go home now, we’re gonna get our asses kicked,†Ella-Marie said.   “We could go to the plantation,†Richard said.   “But I need sleep,†Michael said.   “Oh, the plantation is the best place to be!†Jebidiah said sarcastically. “We found Vanzant. We still need to find where Tommy and Christopher are during the day.†  “I think I know where they are,†Richard said.   “You do?†  “Because Match is digging holes in the thing and I know where they are and he was putting coffins in. They probably have bodies in them.†  “Do you know … remember … where they were buried?†  “Yeah. It wouldn’t be hard.†  “Maybe that’s where we should check next. My own concern about that plan is we don’t know if that’s for concurrent vampires or for future, to-be.†  “Well, there was four. Assuming that Mayo is next, that’d be the fourth one.†  “That is assuming that that assumption is correct.†  “Unless there’s another fourth one we don’t know about.†  “There were three vampires currently,†Billy squeaked. “Vanzant does not have a grave yet because I found him in his house. Three vampires currently could get three more vampires made. Thus, four graves plus Vanzant. Math. Billy.†  “Billy, Vanzant couldn’t have moved during the day and he was digging during the day,†Richard said. “So, we killed them.†  “No, you’re talking about Match, sir.†  “Anyway, Vanzant couldn’t have moved to that grave until last night.†  “I’m saying they were digging it for him.†  “Yes, but he’s not in there.†  “I know! We’re saying these could be graves for new vampires that are not the current breed. Not Tommy or Christopher. With three vampires, you can make three vampires more. They don’t have to make one new vampires every night.†  “But how many vampires can six vampires make?†Teddy asked.   “Twelve,†Billy said. “Keep going. I’ve checked.†  “Do we want to reconvene and make a plan once we are all back to the tree house?†Jebidiah said.   “Assuming we all get to the tree house,†Teddy said.   “Do you want to bring the gun back?†Jebidiah said. “Do you want to encounter your father? Or just leave it?†  “I think it’s time I faced him,†Teddy said.   “I think that’s a bad idea, actually, sir,†Jebidiah said. “I’ll take care of Isaac Newton if you don’t make it out.†  “For all we know, Vanzant was the one visiting the ice man, and that’s why no one showed up,†Billy squeaked. “Is because that was Vanzant’s target.†  “That makes sense,†Richard said. “We should go check out Vanzant.†  “And that would mean Christopher would have a target, and Jill would be Tommy’s target,†Billy said. “I’m just assuming.†  “Assuming she let him in,†Richard said.   “Which I highly doubt that she would,†Ella-Marie said.   “But still a target,†Billy squeaked. “Because they’re trying to make more. That’s what the graves are for.†  Richard was up for checking on Vanzant’s body. Jebidiah, Billy, and Teddy went with him. Michael and Ella-Marie headed back towards town.     * * *       Richard and Billy crept to the window of the abandoned house. The decapitated body still lay in the dirt, the somewhat burnt head nearby. The smell of burnt meat and hair was still strong in the room. Nothing looked different.   They headed back to town.     * * *       Michael had walked through the woods, avoiding town, and went to the tree house where he flopped down on the floor and soon fell asleep.     * * *       Ella-Marie had crept into town, trying to stay hidden as best she could, and went to Spearman’s house. She saw Jill on the front porch on a blanket, laying on her belly and drawing on a piece of paper with colored wax crayons. She was wearing another nice shirt and skirt. She didn’t even notice Ella-Marie.   Billy biked by Spearman’s and spotted Jill on the front porch, coloring.   “Hey Jill, whatcha doing?†he squeaked at her, stopping in front of the house.   “Billy?†she said.   She stood up very quickly and brushed herself off   “I’m drawin’,†she said. “Whatchu doin’?†  “I’m kicking around,†Billy squeaked.   “Hm. Well. Gossip has it that people are in trouble.†  “Oh yeah, you know it.†  “I heard somebody tried to burn down the train station.†  Billy made small talk, trying to see if Jill was pale or seemed under the weather, but she seemed like Jill: a little snobbish and standoffish. When Billy brought up Richard, Jill perked up a little bit and he guessed she liked the boy despite the fact that she acted like she didn’t.     * * *       Teddy didn’t want to go home so he, Jebidiah, and Richard met at the train station.   “We need to figure out where Tommy’s and … this other person’s bodies are,†Jebidiah said. “It’s possible they’re at the Bennett Farm and we can go there but it’s big trouble if we go there, especially if we get caught, because of that shotgun, and because─†  “Well … we have a shotgun …†Richard said.   “Two shotguns doesn’t make the danger of getting shot any less!†Jebidiah said.   “I’m probably a better shot,†Richard said.   “Increases it, I would think,†Teddy said.   “I could go get the Springfield,†Richard said. “My dad’s Springfield.†  “Could you?†Jebidiah said.   “I got it once!†Richard said.   “Let’s just take all of the guns out of our parents’ houses,†Teddy mused.   “Do we want to check at Bennett Farm first or do we want to check on other places we think Tommy might be?†Jebidiah said. “He could be where his treasure was, I think, or he could have tried to go to the swimming hole. We haven’t checked Creek Creek.†  He mentioned looking at the train station and Richard went over to the window and peeked in. He saw the ticket booth and the waiting room. There was a door in one wall that led to a room without windows, as far as he could make out, possibly a place to store freight.   “I know there’s coffins on Bennett Farm,†Richard said.   “And if they’re recently buried, that’s a good lead,†Jebidiah said. “We just need to be careful about being spotted.†  “Or sure that Match isn’t around or can’t stop us.†  “Other than when he was in town, I don’t think I’ve seen him leave, ever.†  “We could ask the grocer if he knows anything. He’s seen them around.†  “I don’t think he’ll have said anything very meaningful. And we’ll just have only a window of time. It takes a while to dig up a grave too. How long did it take them to bury them?†  “Three hours.†  “Exactly. If that is where our vampires are then … it’s going to be a very difficult time to get up in there. We’re going to have to get Match out of the way somehow and even then have a lot of time to dig up a grave. I don’t know how useful that’s going to be. That’s going to be dangerous.†  “Any suggestions?†  “We can check around some other places.†  “I’ve checked everything! There’s nothing that─†  “We haven’t checked the swimming hole or Creek Creek. He could be buried where he found the treasures.†  “Why would he be buried by the swimming hole?†  “I don’t know. He said it was someplace that was very hard to find.†  “Or it could be under somewhere he’s already been.†  “Possibly.†  “I mean the problem is, if he’s already buried somewhere, it’s going to be nigh-impossible to find him unless we know the general area he’s buried in.†  They talked about going to Creek Creek and the swimming hole though Richard didn’t think someone would be buried there. Teddy didn’t think they should go to the plantation until they were all together.   They were all very hungry and tired. Jebidiah suggested gathering everyone together.     * * *       Billy had gone by his house and found his grandfather there, sorting pills and such. The old man wore a scarf and Billy remembered he often got chills and put on heavier clothing, even in the summer. He got some breakfast and headed out again, going to Mrs. Pines’ house.   Mrs. Pines was looked sickly and pale.   “I’m not feeling well, Billy,†Mrs. Pines said. “But thank you so much for stopping by.†  She gave him a pat on the shoulder.   “Let me get you some cookies,†she said.   When she returned with a handful of chocolate chip cookies, he saw the marks on her neck. She was very pale and her hands shook. He made some small talk.   “I need to go back to bed, Billy,†she said. “I’m not feeling well.†  “Have you had any company over lately?†he squeaked.   “No,†she said. “Nope.†  She went in and he noticed the other boys heading into the soda shop.     * * *       Ella-Marie went to the soda shop. Mr. Hicks wasn’t there and Randall Spearman stood behind the soda fountain. He nodded at the girl when she came in, asking if she wanted anything. She said “no†and sat down at a table. He went back to his motorcar magazine and talking to himself.   She had not been there long when Jebidiah, Teddy, and Richard entered. She seemed deep in thought.   “This is - this is a bold move, I’d say,†Jebidiah said to her.   She just glared at him.   “Well, I don’t wanna go home yet,†Ella-Marie said. “‘Cause I know what’s waiting for me there.†  “So, you decided on a public place where someone could verify that you were here?†Jebidiah said.   She frowned at him.   “You boys want anything?†Randall Spearman said.   “Yes,†Teddy said.   He asked for ice cream and candy and the other boys were very hungry as well, each of them getting some candy or ice cream. Ella-Marie had some as well. The food was quite sweet and delicious.   Jebidiah told her the only lead they had on where the other two vampires might be was the Bennett Farm. He noted they had only seen sick people but feared to let more time pass. Teddy chimed in that soon there would be too many for them to handle. Jebidiah noted they should all be together when they went to the Bennett Farm though. Ella-Marie said she’d have to get Michael.   “Where is Mike?†Jebidiah asked.   “Tree house,†Ella-Marie said.   “Ah,†Jebidiah said.   “Why don’t you go get Mike and meet us at the plantation,†Teddy said. “See where this goes.†  Jebidiah suggested they take shovels. Teddy thought there would be some at the plantation. Ella-Marie left to go get Michael, avoiding her mother, who was calling her from around town, apparently looking for her.     * * *       Billy headed over to the Red Bridge to look around. He was curious to see if there was any chance of someone being there. He looked for patches where someone might be buried, but didn’t find anything. He looked in the Red Bridge too, without seeing anything out of the ordinary. He followed the road back to town, looking for places where a body might have been buried.   He ran into Mrs. Slayton as he came back into town. She told him she was looking for Michael and Ella-Marie. She had a couple of pieces of paper in her hand. It looked like she’d been crying.   “Have you seen Michael and Ella-Marie?†she asked again.   “No ma’am,†he squeaked.   “I think they ran away,†she said. “I think they ran away.†  She grabbed him by the shoulder.   “Are you sure, Billy?†she said.   “I’m positive,†Billy squeaked.   “If you see ‘em, just tell ‘em to come home. Tell ‘em to come home, please. Just please tell ‘em to come home.†  “I think the best place probably would be to wait at home in case they come they’ll find you.†  “No, but I gotta look. I been waiting all morning. I gotta look. I gotta look for ‘em.†  “I’ll look for you.†  “She left me this note. And she left me this other note and I don’t what this even means. This is confusing me.†  “Can I see it?†  She handed Billy the note and he read it.   “She left that note,†Mrs. Slayton said. “She left this note. Billy, if you see them, please tell them to come home. Please tell them to come home. Please tell them I’m looking for them. Just …†  She took back the note and walked away, calling for the two.   He went on to the train station and found the board nailed over the broken window. He looked around carefully but no one was around, so he used the knife to pry the board, being careful to keep his eyes open. He got the board open enough to get his arm in but the handle only rattled. It was one of those kinds of locks that needed a key to open from both sides.   He took his shirt off and used it to muffle his breaking of the next pane of glass in the door. He thought it might be enough room for him to squeeze in.     * * *       Ella-Marie found Michael asleep in the tree house.   “Wakey wakey,†she said.   He moaned but didn’t awaken so she slapped him in the face several times.   “Mike, wake up,†she said. “I know you’re tired but we need to meet the rest of them at the plantation.†  “Already?†  As they climbed down out of the tree house, Ella-Marie noticed Billy near the train station in town. She pointed it out to Michael. The two of them headed into the woods.     * * *       The other children all met in the woods not far from the plantation. Richard led them around the building to his hiding place where he could see the graves. Match was there, digging another. It looked like he was working on the fifth grave and was about three feet in. They didn’t see any sign of the shotgun.   Richard suggested sneaking into the house and getting the shotgun. Jebidiah suggested they could see if the coffin he brought out was empty but Richard pointed out he would be digging graves all day, most likely. He said once it was dark, Christopher would come by to say hello and bite all of them. Richard was adamant about trying to get the shotgun. Jebidiah asked if he even knew where it was, suggesting it might be in his room.   Eventually, Richard left them to sneak in.     * * *       Richard crept into the front door, seeing no one, and quietly crept up the stairs, avoiding the trapped step. He got up to the second floor and crept to Match’s room, where he found no shotgun. He crept back into the hallway and thought he heard a creaking noise in the room where they’d seen the horrible dead man a few days before. He went to one of the other bedrooms to hide and found there was no coffin there anymore. All was quiet.   He crept to the bedroom with the hanging man and pushed open the door. The body hung there once again, tongue black, face purple. The dead man’s eyes opened once again and it reached for Richard, its arms seeming to stretch across the room at him. Then it was gone. Somehow Richard managed to keep from screaming.   He went in the room and found it completely empty. He closed the door and headed up the steps to the third floor.     * * *       Billy broke the other pane and put his shirt back on. He crawled through the hole but the broken glass on the bottom shredded his shirt and cut his belly pretty badly. He looked around and found the door to the storage room locked. He fiddled with the lock but couldn’t figure out a way to get it open.     * * *       Michael suggested confronting Match. Jebidiah pointed out if they confronted him, he would just tell them they were trespassing.   “He still has to explain,†Ella-Marie said.   “No, he doesn’t,†Jebidiah said. “Because this is his place.†  “Maybe if we can intimidate him.†  “He did seem very intimidate-able, but I don’t know what we’re going to get out of him.†  “I don’t want to do anything if we’re not in agreement,†Ella-Marie said.   Jebidiah suggested he try to get to Match and talk to him, trying to distract him. Ella-Marie said they had to do something and Jebidiah was at a loss as to where to look besides the farm and the station. Teddy thought they needed to know if there was anything in the buried caskets. Jebidiah said he’d go up and try to distract the man, letting the others have some time to dig.   “That’s not gonna work,†Ella-Marie said.   “Let me - let me do it,†Teddy said. “He wouldn’t hurt a crippled kid.†  “You go down there?†Ella-Marie said.   “Yeah,†Teddy said. “Let me go talk to him.†  “All right,†Jebidiah said. “If you’re okay with this. We’ll have your back if he tries to do anything to you.†  “I also have a topic that can probably stall him for a while.†  Jebidiah asked if he was going to try to get him into the house or just talk to him. Teddy said he’d talk to him in the house.     * * *       Teddy rolled quietly towards Match who didn’t notice his approach. As Teddy got close to the edge of the hole Match was digging, he saw that Match was covered in sweat and dirt. He dug with his back to Teddy.   “One of them for me?†Teddy said.   Match screamed. He flung the shovel straight ahead and it slammed into the side of the hole and fell at his feet. He followed it, rushing forward and crashing into the dirt before turning and putting his back to the far side of the hole. He looked up at Teddy.   “You need to get outta here!†he said.   He scrambled up out of the hole.   “And why is that?†Teddy said.   Match looked around, terrified.   “Just go away!†he said. “Go away! Mr. … Mr. St. Jordan … he doesn’t like anybody around here, and … and … and he doesn’t like me when I let people around here.†  “You didn’t let me around here,†Teddy said. “I just rolled on up.†  “No. You need to get out of here. You need to get out of here before you end up in the ground like the rest of ‘em.†  “What if that’s what I want?†  “No, you don’t! You don’t want that. You don’t want it. It’s awful. It’s terrible. You-you-you don’t want that. You don’t want. It seems right. It seems good. But it’s not. It’s wrong.†  Teddy noticed the man had the bite marks on his neck but they were long scabbed over.   “You-you-you-you need to go,†Match said. “Where’s that other boy? Where’s that boy?†  “I’m alone,†Teddy said.   “That boy! That one! That mad boy? Where is he?†  “Billy?†  “I dunno.†  Match looked around desperately and described Michael.   “I came out here because I saw what y’all did for Tommy and … I could be into that,†Teddy said.   “No!†Match said.   He came around the grave towards Teddy. He grabbed the boy by the shoulders.   “No!†he said again. “You don’t wanna be like him. Don’t be like - you don’t want - just go - just hide - don’t go in the house.†  “Look at my legs,†Teddy said.   “It doesn’t matter! No! No! No! No!†  “Don’t tell me my legs don’t matter!†  “No! They’re undead! They’re not even alive. They’re awful! It’s just terrible! It’s just terrible!†  “I could be a person.†  “You are a person!†  “With legs!†  “Without sunlight? Without warmth?†  “I would count legs over sunlight.†  “Oh my God! Oh my God! He’s gonna hear you. He knows everything! He knows everything that’s happening! He knows who you all are and where you live!†  “Let me talk to him then!†  “No no no no no no!†  “What’d you say his name was? St. Jordan!†  “No no no no no! Don’t call him! Don’t call him!†  “Is he in the house?†  Teddy started rolling over the uneven soil towards the house, heading for the north courtyard. Match grabbed the wheelchair, stopping him.   “No no no no no!†he said. “You don’t … you don’t know what it’s like!†  Teddy flopped forward out of the wheelchair and continued crawling into the courtyard. Match seemed to want to grab the youth but didn’t want to touch him either.   “He’s not in there!†Match said. “He’s not in there. He’s not in there.†  He shushed the boy.   “No no!†he said as Teddy kept crawling towards the house. “Stop! Please! Please! Please!†  They were soon inside.     * * *       “Let’s go!†Jebidiah said.   He, Ella-Marie, and Michael ran across to the graves. Jebidiah suggested they go to the first one and, as Michael started digging. Jebidiah went to the new grave and found Match’s shovel there, bringing it back to the others and handing it off to Ella-Marie. She gave him Teddy’s shotgun. He held it carefully.   The other two dug as quickly as they could.     * * *       Inside, Match begged Teddy to leave, telling the boy he’d send St. Jordan to his house if he did so.   “I don’t want him coming to my house,†Teddy said. “I wanna be where he’s at.†  He refused to leave and Match seemed afraid to touch him. It was an impasse.   When Teddy thought he heard some kind of banging coming from outside, he raised his voice.   “St. Jordan!†he called. “St. Jordan!†  Match tried to quiet him.     * * *       They dug as quickly as they could and it wasn’t too terribly long, in the loose dirt, before they got down to the coffin. There were three hasps and staples upon it held closed with three padlocks. Michael climbed out and got the axe, which was on the ground next to the grave. He climbed back down and set to work chopping open the top of the coffin. It only took a few minutes, but the coffin, like the rest, proved empty.   “I say we go confront him now!†Ella-Marie said.   “Yep!†Michael said.   The two of them headed for the house, going right up onto the back porch and into the back door. Jebidiah headed for the courtyard where he thought Teddy had gone.     * * *       There was a crash as the back door of the house burst open.   “Oh finally,†Teddy said. “He’s shown up.†  Match wailed in terror.   Michael and Ella-Marie came into the foyer from the back while Jebidiah came from the north wing. When Match saw Michael, he screamed and ran away from them all, heading towards the south wing. All three of the children followed him, leaving Teddy behind.   Match ran through a corridor and out into the southern courtyard with Michael and Ella-Marie on his heels. Jebidiah had to stop after he passed through the courtyard at the edge of the house as he felt his lungs and his throat close up. He was having an asthma attack.   Match ran towards the graves, fleeing towards the newest one, and stooping in the tall grass there. He picked up the shotgun and pointed it at Michael. Michael flung the axe and Match fired. The blast went high, over Michael’s head. The axe struck Match in the right shoulder, cutting him and spinning up and over. The man shrieked in pain and terror.     * * *       Billy had fiddled with the lock for the room in the train station for a very long time, trying to get it open. Then he heard what sounded like a shotgun blast from out in the woods. Without a thought, he drew his daddy’s pistol and blasted the door jamb where the latch met it.     * * *       Match aimed the shotgun at Michael’s head, screaming at him to go away.   Near the house, Jebidiah, unable to breathe, fired Teddy’s shotgun. The blast struck Match in the right hand, blasting his hand away and striking him in the chest. He was flung backwards and crashed to the ground.   Jebidiah dropped the shotgun.   Ella-Marie ran to Match, who was gasping for breath on the ground. There was so much blood. She tried to stop the bleeding.   “Look, just help us!†she said. “Help us, please!†  Michael went to the dying man as well, grabbing him by the lapels of his jacket and screaming in his face.   “Where are they!?!†  Match didn’t even seem to see him.   Michael tried to help the man without luck. Ella-Marie was still trying to talk to him.   “Please!†she said. “Please. God! God, Mike! We just need to know what to do! Please, please just tell us what to do!†  Jebidiah stumbled over to the group and pushed Michael aside. Ella-Marie still begged the man to talk to them.   Gasping horribly, Jebidiah told the dying man he knew he didn’t want to be working for St. Jordan and now he had a chance to help. He said they knew how to destroy the vampires with stakes and crosses. Match’s eyes seemed to focus upon the boys own and he grabbed Jebidiah with his good arm and pulled himself up to whisper in the boy’s ear.   “Plantation a decoy,†he said. “St. Christopher in town. Ask … Tommy …†  The man breathed his last and loosened his grip, falling back to the ground in death. Jebidiah fell backwards and got his aerosol delivery device. He put the end in his mouth, dripped the medicine in, and pumped and pumped. He looked completely and utterly defeated. Ella-Marie put her arm on the boy’s shoulder.   “The plantation’s a damned decoy!†he finally said. “St. Jordan’s in town somewhere. He said to ask Tommy. I don’t know what the hell that means because he’s a vampire now. But, if we see him again …†  He realized he had murdered a man.     * * *       Billy put his shoulder to the door and shoved it open, the latch snapping to pieces. He found a trail leading through the dust and a few crates. Then he found a large object covered with a tarp. When he pulled the tarp off, he found a coffin with hasps and staples upon it held closed with three padlocks.   He was certain Tommy was there.   He left the train station, heading for the plantation where he thought the gunfire had come from.     * * *       Richard and Teddy came out of the back of the plantation. Jebidiah told them Match had gone crazy, probably because Michael came at him with an axe. Luckily he was about to get something out of him: the plantation was all a farce. There was nothing there. St. Jordan was in town somewhere. He said Match had told him to ask Tommy. He said they needed to look every place they hadn’t been town. He guessed they should search the train station.   “Who killed Match?†Teddy muttered when he saw the body. “Who killed him?†  “It’s sort of between me and Jebidiah,†Michael said. “Primarily Jebidiah.†  “You shot him, Jebidiah?†Teddy said, appalled.   “He did a good job!†Michael said smugly. “You did a good job.†  Jebidiah had put more medicine to his machine and pumped it into his lungs.   “He saved my life,†Michael added.   He found the wood axe, which was covered in blood. Richard got Match’s shotgun, also covered in blood. They also recovered Teddy’s shotgun. Jebidiah wanted to get to the train station and, if they couldn’t get in, find Tim Bowman and convince him to let them in because somebody got in there. They all headed back to town. Richard headed off towards the Tallapoosa River to clean off the shotgun. The rest of them ran into Billy on the way to town. His shirt was bloody.   “Billy, what happened?†Jebidiah said.   “I found Tommy!†Billy squealed. “I’m a vampire hunter!†  “Where?†Teddy said.   “He’s at the train station,†Billy said.   “That might be …†Jebidiah said. “Did you open the coffin?†  “The train station,†Ella-Marie said.   “No,†Billy said.   “That’s where we need to go,†Ella-Marie said.   “We think that might be St. Jordan!†Jebidiah said.   “I thought it was Tommy,†Billy said. “That’s the last place I’d … well, that’s not the last place I’d look for him ‘cause I went there.†  “Either way.†  “But it’s someplace it’d be really hard for us to get!†  “Either way. The plantation is a decoy. There’s no reason to go back there. It’s just to fool us.†  “We got the axe? I came back to get the axe.†  “All right, let’s go,†Jebidiah said.   They all headed back to the train station.   “What’s all the blood?†Billy said to them.   “Match,†Michael said.   “You killed Match?†Billy squeaked.   “Jebidiah killed him,†Michael said.   “I’m a vampire hunter,†Billy squeaked to Michael. “You’re a murderer.†  “No, Jebidiah’s a murderer,†Michael said.   They reached the train station. The hole Billy had made was very, very small. Only Billy and Teddy could get through. Teddy put the blanket over the broken glass on the bottom of the window. Michael slid the axe in.   “Make sure you have stakes and crosses if you’re going in,†Jebidiah suggested.   Billy went in first and then helped Teddy into the building as well. Ella-Marie and Michael said they’d stand guard but Jebidiah pointed out they were wanted in town by their mother. They could hear Mrs. Slayton calling to the children somewhere. Jebidiah said he’d watch and try to stop anybody from coming around. He went around to the side of the station that faced the town and saw Mrs. Slayton. As she walked up, he realized he stunk of gunpowder. She didn’t seem to notice.   “Jebidiah!†she said. “Jebidiah!†  She wiped her eyes.   “Have you seen Michael and Ella-Marie,†she said. “I’m-I’m thinking I’ll have to call the sheriff. They’re gone. I think they ran away.†    * * *       On the other side of the building, Michael and Ella-Marie could hear every word between their mother and Jebidiah.     * * *       “Ella-Marie left me two notes,†Mrs. Slayton went on. “I don’t understand one of them at all. Have you seen either of them? You’re a good boy, Jebidiah.†  “Well, I might’ve seen them around town recently,†Jebidiah said. “Last night.†  “Where?†Mrs. Slayton said. “Where?†  She grabbed Jebidiah by the shoulders and looked into his eyes.   “Where were they?†she said. “Please. Just tell me where they were. When was this?†  “This was around last night,†Jebidiah said. “I think it was … I think …†  “Oh my goodness.†  “I think they went out near the ice house. I only saw it─†  Ella-Marie came around the side of the building.   “Oh!†Mrs. Slayton said. “Ella-Marie!†  “Oh God!†Jebidiah said, startled.   Mrs. Slayton went to the girl and grabbed her in a hug as she started crying.   “Mom, mom, I know─†Ella-Marie said.   “Don’t run away, Ella-Marie!†her mother cried out. “We were hard on you but we were just trying to teach you to be good!†  “I know, I know, I know!†Ella-Marie said. “I’m so sorry, ma! I left you a note. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.†  She took the two notes from her mother, who just held her and cried and cried and cried.   “Come home,†she said. “Come home. Please just come home. Where’s Michael? Where’s Michael? Please just tell me where Michael is, Ella-Marie.†  Michael walked around the corner and their mother called his name and pulled Ella-Marie towards the boy, embracing him as well.   Ella-Marie was engrossed in the second note. She had not written it. Jebidiah had also gotten close enough to surreptitiously read it as well. It read:  
Dear Ella-Marie,   I came by to see you. You’re parents are relly mad at you. I could give you a hint about
hide and seek if you giv me food.   Love,
T   P.S. I kno whar Mr. SJ is too!
P.S.S. I got suck a gud hiding plac.  
“It’s a miracle!†Jebidiah cried out.     * * *       Billy and Teddy could hear the whole scene taking place outside.   “What a bunch of crybabies,†Teddy whispered.   Billy carried Teddy to the freight room and showed him the coffin.   “Open it,†Teddy said.   Billy raised the axe up. Then he heard a train whistle in the distance and realized if he waited just a minute or so, he could use the sound of the train to muffle their breaking into the coffin.     * * *       “Where did you get this letter?†Ella-Marie asked her mother.   “It was in your room,†Mrs. Slayton said. “It was on the floor near the window.†  Mrs. Slayton cried and apologized and justified the punishment all at once as a train passed by the station.   “If you can talk with Tommy, he might be the only one who knows,†Jebidiah whispered to Ella-Marie.   “I know that!†she whispered back.   “Do you have anything to bargain with him?†  “My body.†  “I wouldn’t recommend that. That seems like a poor idea. If you have a farm animal … or something you don’t mind losing …†    * * *       Billy brought the axe down on the hasps and staples, tearing each free with a single blow.   “Billy’s the best!†he squeaked. “Billy’s the best!†  He flung the lid open to reveal another empty coffin.   Both boys looked down and the train went by. There was only a little dirt in the coffin.     * * *    

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

What Rough Beast ... Session Three Part 4 - The Attic Massacre

* * *       Mrs. Slayton took Ella-Marie and Michael home where she fed them, got them out of their dirty, and in Michael’s case bloody, clothing and had each of them take a bath.   “Oh!†Mrs. Slayton said to Michael after she had them fed. “Oh! That man came by yesterday. He came by to talk to you. You need to not go out that plantation anymore. He said you vandalized that place. Mr. … uh … uh …†  She snapped her fingers.   “What’s his name?†she said. “Saint somebody. He came by the house. He was very pleasant. We had tea. He said that you can’t go─†  Ella-Marie gasped and looked at her mother in horror.   “You invited him in!?!†she said.   “Well yes,†her mother said. “He was very pleasant. They’re going to set up a mortuary here. They’re going to try to help Sanguis.†  That mortuary’s gonna have a lot of business, Ella-Marie thought.   She turned to Michael.   “Don’t go out there anymore, Michael,†their mother said.   “All right, mom,†he said.   “For goodness sakes, your father’s already mad enough. When he heard you were vandalizing out there. Oh my goodness. He took his belt off right there and headed back for you room. And then you weren’t there. You were both gone. He was so angry. I’m hoping he’ll be better tonight when he gets home.†  When their father got home, he was angry but their mother intervened. They were still supposed to ask permission before leaving the house for the next week and weren’t allowed to use their bikes.     * * *       Jebidiah found Teddy and approached him with a plan. He suggested he take the shotgun and bring Teddy home. Then he would leave the shotgun on the porch. He suggested not telling Teddy’s parents. They would assume somebody had stolen it, and they would never know who it was so it wouldn’t be his fault.   Teddy said he would go home and say he didn’t know anything about the shotgun. Jebidiah said he would tell his mother, as Jebidiah would, that they were out looking for Ella-Marie and Michael last night.     * * *       Jebidiah’s mother openly wept when he came home.   “You’re all I’ve got left!†she cried. “You’re all I’ve got left!†    * * *       Richard hid the shotgun he’d washed off in the tree house before heading back to town.   He got a talking to when he got home and he explained he was out trying to be heroic to find Ella-Marie and Michael to help Mrs. Slayton feel better. He lied blatantly to his parents.     * * *       Teddy found his mother worried about him. He told the same lie that he had been out looking for Ella-Marie. She seemed quite pleased at that. She told him he was a brave boy for looking for the girl and his father would be so proud.   “Will he?†he asked.   She also asked him about the shotgun, telling him his father’s shotgun had gone missing.   “Dad’s shotgun’s missing?†he said.   “Yes,†she said. “It was gone yesterday. He came home and … and he was very upset.†  “Well, I can’t use it.†  “That’s true.†  “If I shot it, it’d flip my wheelchair over.†  She believed him and got a bath for him.     * * *       Billy had cleaned the axe and left it in the Slayton shed before going home and taking a nap.   Later that afternoon, Billy told his grandfather he was going to spend the night at Jebidiah’s again. He talked to some of the other children, telling them he wanted to watch Jill’s house. He stopped by to talk to Ella-Marie and Michael and got a look at the letter. Then he changed his mind and went to watch Mrs. Pines’ house.   It was well after dark when he saw a tall man appear out of nowhere at her front door and let himself in.   Billy the Vampire Hunter, he thought.   He left his hiding place and went in through the front door. It was dark within and there was no one in the living room. He turned on the light and looked around, crucifix in hand. He crept back down the hallway to the bedrooms.   As he approached Mrs. Pines’ room, the door to it closed. He turned the handle and pushed on the door but it didn’t move.   “Is that you, Billy?†he heard a familiar voice whisper.   “I rescind your invitation Mr. St. Jordan!†Billy squeaked.   St. Jordan chuckled on the other side of the door.   “Yeah, I figured that wouldn’t work,†Billy squeaked.   “This isn’t your house, Billy,†St. Jordan said.   “I know!†Billy said.   A grinding noise came from the knob and then the doorknob suddenly spun in his hand as the latch connected again. He tried to turn the knob again and it just spun.   “Billy, you can live forever, you know,†St. Jordan said through the door.   “Billy’s already gonna live forever!†Billy said.   “Not if he pursues this.†  “Billy has the power.†  “But … can you save Mrs. Pines?†  “Billy can try!†  Billy kicked the door and heard the already damaged latch snap. The door flew open and he could just make out Mrs. Pines on her bed, St. Jordan over her, his mouth latched onto her neck. She was making some kind of mewing noises.   Billy pushed the button on the wall but the light didn’t come on. He held out the cross.   “The power of Billy compels you!†he squealed.   St. Jordan leapt away from Mrs. Pines, averting his eyes.   “It’s only a matter of time!†he hissed.   He seemed to melt away and mist poured out the window.   When he checked on Mrs. Pines, he found her bloody but alive. She was still asleep.     * * *       “Ella-Marie,†a voice whispered. “Ella-Marie.†  Ella-Marie opened her eyes.   “Ella-Marie,†Tommy whispered again. “I know you’re awake.†  “I saw your letter,†she whispered back.   “I left it for you,†he whispered. “You’re supposed to see it.†  She sat up in her bed. Tommy was standing right outside of her window again.   “You have information for me,†she said.   He giggled.   “St. Jordan’s pretty safe,†Tommy said. “You’ll probably not ever figure it out. I’m even safer.†  “C’mon!†she said. “Quit playin’ around. This is a lot more serious than you realize.†  “I’m a 10-year-old boy.†  “This is a lot more serious than you realize.†  “It’s very serious. I’m very hungry.†  She felt around on the bed, finding one of the crosses she’d made, and picked it up. She also picked up a kitchen knife and cut her arm. There was a breath and she heard the boy lick his lips.   “Ella-Marie, that’s not fair!†he said. “That is not fair!†  “If you give me information, I’ll give you all you want,†she said.   “No, you have to give first,†Tommy said. “Because I don’t believe you.†  She laughed.   “That is not how it’s gonna work, Tommy,†she said.   “Ella-Marie, I don’t believe you,†he said.   “That is not how it’s going to work.†  “It is how it’s gonna work ‘cause I don’t think you’ll give me anything if … I don’t want much but I don’t think you’ll give me any if you get what you need.†  “I don’t trust you.†  “Why don’t you trust me? I’ll only take what I need. I won’t take no more, I promise. I haven’t used my eyes on you, have I?†  “No you haven’t. You’ve been a good boy.†  “I have been a good boy. I could tell you two things.†  “What would you tell me? I know you like me Tommy.†  He looked down and rubbed one bare foot in the dirt shyly.   “You’re just tricking me,†he said. “I could tell you where St. Jordan is. I can’t tell you exactly. But I can tell you something that you’d figure it out ‘cause you’re smart, Ella-Marie. And I could tell you where I am. And if you’re smart, you’ll figure that out too.†  “Why don’t you tell me,†she said coyly.   “Because you’re gonna kill me if I tell you where I am.†  “Why would I do that?†  “Because Michael hates me. Because Michael’s a bully. St. Jordan knows you killed his man. He knows who did it.†  “We were friends, Tommy.†  “We were friends. But you gotta give to get.†  “Michael is your friend.†  “Michael never liked me. He never liked me.†  Ella-Marie put the cross on the dresser.   “Ella-Marie,†Tommy said. “I could tell you a secret. Here. I’ll show you my trust in you. You have to be bit three times before you can change. But it feels really good.†  “Well, I figured that,†she said.   “Well, you ain’t been bit. Which means you’re safe.†  “I wouldn’t be offering this if I thought I’d turn.†  “Okay, well c’mon outside …†  “You give me … one.†  “I just did. I just told you, you gotta be bit three times.†  “I need more than that.†  “And I ain’t used my eyes.†  “You know I need more information than that. You gotta give to get some.†  “You promise? You swear? You swear on Michael’s life?†  She pointed to the cross on the dresser. Tommy thought on this.   “I’m not doing this for you, Tommy,†she said.   “Yeah, but you’re gonna come kill me,†he said. “You’re gonna try. ‘Cause you think this is wrong. It’s not.†  “I wouldn’t kill you because you have information I need. And I’ve got something you need.†  She held out her bloody arm and he licked his lips again. He thought on it again.   “All right,†he finally said. “I’ll give you a clue to where St. Jordan is, but then you have to come outside. And you have to let me have something. And then … I will tell you … I’ll give you a hint where I am after that. Deal? I won’t even try to come in your house. I can come in you know, if I want.†  She laughed.   “No you couldn’t!†she said.   “I can,†he said. “It just ain’t good. It hurts. It breaks. It breaks you. It breaks a man.†  “Okay, fine. Fine.†  “If you renege, I’ll tell St. Jordan you know where he is and he’ll just hide somewhere else. And you’ll never find him. He could just dig a hole and put some dirt in it and lie in it in the middle of the woods somewhere. Would you ever find him?†  “Tell me where he is, tell me where you are, and we have a deal.†  “You have to accept what I tell you. I can’t tell you exactly. He’ll know. And he’ll destroy me.†  “How would he know?†  “He knows everything! He’s everywhere. You don’t understand! He’s over 300 years old. Do you know how he lives so long? Because he makes traps like the plantation and stupid people, no offense, go out there, and then they spend all their time worrying about a bunch of coffins!†  “You knew the plantation was a trap.†  “I might’ve told you last night but you weren’t home. Yer momma was worried sick.†  “You had no right to come around here.†  “Yer momma and daddy, they argued so loud.†  “Fine!†  “I felt bad.†  “Fine. I agree.†  “Okay.†  He looked at her.   “You know he’s in town so I can’t tell you that,†he said. “Don’t ya? See, he knows. He found the coffin y’all busted open already at the train station.†  “Duh,†she said.   “He checks everything. He is really smart. But he is in town. But he’s hiding in a place nobody goes.†  “That’s very vague, Tommy.†  “I know! You know town. You know places people go and people don’t. And it’s in a building. How about that? That’s a lot of information. That’s more than I shoulda told you. Now you come outside and you let me … and you give me a little … you give me a little … a little food. I’m so hungry. It’s so good! It’s like chocolate, but 10 times better than chocolate. It’s so good!†  “Fine. Fine. Fine.†  She got out of bed and climbed out the window. He put his hands on her shoulders.   “From my arm,†she said.   “There’s gonna be a prick,†he said.   “You’re gonna take it from my arm.†  “No no. That’ll take a half an hour. It’s gotta be from─†  “This is what I agreed to.†  “It’s got to be from a major─†  “Why?†  “Because if not it’ll take too long and then Michael, I know he’s over there, listening. He can’t hear but he’s listening. I’m only taking a little bit, okay? All right?†  She finally nodded.   He stood up on his tiptoes and leaned in, putting his mouth against her throat. She felt a prick that was very painful and then there was a warm pleasure that seemed to wash over her. It was almost orgasmic and seemed to fill her whole being. It was accompanied by a slurping or sucking noise. Then he pulled away from her. He held out a handkerchief. She snatched it out of his hand and held it to the left side of her neck.   “Okay,†he said. “Now. I’ll tell you where I am. If your gonna kill me, that’s fine. I’m going there tonight anyway. Thank you. That was really nice.†  “Where are you?†she said.   “I’m still in the cemetery,†he said. “I don’t think you’ll find me. But I won’t tell St. Jordan I told you anything.†  “Okay,†she growled at him.   “I’m sorry,†he said. “You’ll understand.†  She climbed back into her window and when she looked back again, he was gone.     * * *       The next morning, Wednesday, June 26, 1929, Ella-Marie had a handkerchief wrapped around her neck. Michael tried to question her about it but she put him off and they made arrangements for everyone to meet in the tree house.   “What’d you do to your neck?†her mother asked when they were heading out. “Is that blood on it?†  “No, it just hurts,†Ella-Marie said. “It just hurts real bad.†  “All right. If you have a sore throat, we have to take you to the doctor.†  “I know.†  They went to the tree house.     * * *       Billy noticed Mrs. Pines’ door was still open the next morning. Fearing the worst, he went in and found the old lady in her bed. She told him she was sick and he got her some breakfast before he headed for the tree house.   “So I see that the bargain has been made,†Jebidiah said when he saw Ella-Marie.   “You let Tommy drink, didn’t you?†Billy squeaked.   “This is what─†Ella-Marie said.   “What did you do?†Michael said.   “This is what I know,†Ella-Marie said. “St. Jordan is in a building that no one goes into. He’s in a building in town that no one goes to. Tommy is still in the graveyard.†  “I knew it,†Billy said.   “Well, we didn’t look there,†Jebidiah said.   “That would probably be the best place for him to hide, actually,†Michael said.   They realized there was an abandoned house with an old bait shop in the front of it on the south side of town near the railroad tracks. It stood next to the train station but had been abandoned for about 10 years. All of their parents always told them to stay away from it as it was still owned by someone. But no one had lived there for years. It was such a common sight for all of them they never really paid any attention to it.   Billy told them of his encounter with St. Jordan and how he had fought the vampire off. He noted the thing was trying to convert Mrs. Pines but ran away.   Jebidiah noted he was thinking of asking Jill if Tommy had any hiding places but, if the boy was back at the graveyard and was honest about it, that might be where they went. Michael wanted to go to the bait shop first and Jebidiah agreed they needed to get St. Jordan and end it, figuring out Tommy later.   They all headed out of the tree house, going the bait shop. Michael and Billy slipped by the Slayton house where Michael got the axe and Billy got a hammer. Then they all met near the bait shop. Jebidiah volunteered to keep watch once again and Billy reminded everyone to look for traps, reminding them of the traps at the plantation. While Jebidiah went to the front corner of the building, closest to town, the rest of them crept to the back door.   Billy tried the back door but found it locked. He quickly checked the windows in the back but found they were all latched. They discussed getting the door open and finally decided to just break in. Ella-Marie put her shoulder to the back door. They heard the latch snap and they were in.   They found dark, dusty, dirty rooms inside. There were two rooms in the back and the bait shop in the front. No furniture was left in the house but Ella-Marie soon noticed a trapdoor or pull down stairway in the ceiling. It might have once had a rope on it but it gone. There was a storage space up above.   Michael had to leap up to grab the edge of the drop-down stairs and pulled it down. As he did so, something tipped over up above and fell. Michael leapt to one side as a large washtub filled with metal junk fell where he had been standing, crashing to the ground.   “Watch out for traps,†Billy said again.     * * *       Outside, Jebidiah heard the loud crash. He looked around nervously and saw that Tim Bowman, the mailman was walking nearby and also heard the noise. He headed towards the house and Jebidiah went to intercept him.   “Hi Mr. Bowman,†Jebidiah said.   “Did you hear that noise?†Bowman said.   “Well, I don’t know, Mr. Bowman,†Jebidiah said. “It sounded like it came from the station.†  He pointed at the train station.   “I saw that when I was just hanging out,†he said, pointing at the broken window. “I thought the noise came from there.†  Bowman seemed surprised at that and swaggered over towards the train station to investigate the new damage. Jebidiah watched him nervously.     * * *       The children had heard the conversation but, when they realized Bowman was leaving, they headed up the steps. Teddy watched from his wheelchair, trapped on the ground floor.   The terribly hot attic was empty except for a coffin. It was locked shut like all of the others they’d found. While Billy looked around, Michael smashed off the three staples and hasps with the axe. He flung open the casket and saw a man Billy recognized as St. Jordan. The vampire’s eyes were open and he looked directly into Michael’s eyes.   Michael wanted to protect St. Jordan. He would do anything he could to protect him.   Ella-Marie leapt forward and stabbed a stake into St. Jordan’s chest. Richard followed suit, stabbing a second stake into the vampire’s chest. Billy took out his hammer and headed for the head of the coffin. Then Michael brought the axe down on Ella-Marie, the blade making a glancing blow against her shoulder.   “Don’t touch him!†he roared.   “Mike!†Ella-Marie turned around and said. “Whatever he’s doing to you, it’s not real! Get it out of your head! Please!†  Billy ignored Michael and brought the hammer down on Ella-Marie’s stake in St. Jordan’s chest. Blood welled up around the wound and St. Jordan looked around wildly. Billy had pulled out the crucifix and held it between himself and the man. St. Jordan looked at Richard and, for a moment, the boy felt like he was losing himself in the man’s eyes. Then he shook his head.   Teddy had flopped from his wheelchair below and was pulling himself up the steps to the attic space.   “Wait for me, guys!†he called.   Ella-Marie pushed against Michael but he brought the axe down, and cut down the side of her leg and into her left foot. She screamed in pain and fell to the floor, blood pouring from the terrible wound. Richard, enraged at that, rushed Michael as well, pushing him back and away from Ella-Marie.   Billy put the crucifix directly on St. Jordan’s face as he pounded the stake deeper into the vampire’s chest. There was a hissing, crackling noise, like freshly cooked bacon. The stink of rotten, burnt flesh started to fill the room. More blood welled from the wound.   Michael hadn’t noticed and swung away, missing Richard, who defended himself and punched the other boy in the face. Teddy finally reached the top of the steps and saw Richard and Michael fighting while Ella-Marie bled from a terrible wound on her foot. Confused, Teddy crawled to Ella-Marie, pulling off his shirt to try to bandage her wound. She ripped her shirt and tried to bind the wound herself. There was so much blood.   Richard attacked Michael again but the other boy swung the axe and struck him in the head. He stumbled to one side and Michael followed it up with another swing from the other direction, cutting into the boy’s left arm, striking it in the upper arm and cutting through flesh and bone. There was a crack as the bone broke and Richard fell to the floor, bleeding horribly.   “I told you I’d live forever!†Billy shouted.   He struck the stake again with the hammer and St. Jordan’s mouth opened in a silent scream. Black blood welled up from the wound as his arms and legs shook spasmodically. Then the flesh came off the bones, turning to dust and falling to the bottom of the coffin. The bones themselves only lasted a moment longer before they, too, sloughed away, leaving only the pile of dust with the stake sticking out of it and the crucifix lying atop it.   Michael shook his head.   Teddy struggled to stop Ella-Marie’s bleeding as the girl groaned in pain.   “Jebidiah!†Billy shouted. “Get in here!†  Then he said the same prayer he’d said over Vanzant. Michael dropped the axe and tried to help Richard. There was so much blood.   “I don’t know what to do!†he cried out.     * * *       Outside, Jebidiah heard them call for him. He ran around to the back of the house. As he flung the back door open, he heard Tim Bowman.   “What’s going on in there!?!†the mailman called.   Jebidiah ran in and saw the lowered stairway.     * * *       Teddy crawled towards Richard and tore off some of the other boy’s shirt, trying to bind the horrible wound on his arm. He could see the boy’s bone sticking out of the arm. Then Richard breathed his last and died. Michael tried to help Ella-Marie, using his shirt to tie off the wound.   “Mike!†she cried out. “Mike!†  “I’m so sorry!†he said. “I didn’t know what I was doing!†  “Is he dead?†she said. “Is he dead?†  “I think so,†Michael said.   Jebidiah came up the stairs   “What’s going on?†he cried out. “Oh! Jesus!†  He was followed by Tim Bowman. The postman looked around in horror.     * * *       It took the police a long time to sort out what happened and the investigation by Cleburne County Sheriff’s Department was long and intense. The children were all separated and questioned. Billy told them the truth, claiming to be a vampire hunter and vampire slayer. He told them Michael had been controlled by the vampire and forced to do what he did. Michael claimed Billy had drawn a gun on him and forced him to do it. That story fell apart under questioning pretty quickly as none of the other children even mentioned a gun. Ella-Marie tried to claim Michael was trying to protect her, saying Richard tried to attack her. Teddy told police they were all innocent and when asked who swung the axe who killed Richard, Teddy claimed it was a man who got away before Tim Bowman got there. He was not believed either as he was the only child who mentioned a man. Police allowed Teddy’s father to help with the interrogation and the man beat the boy nearly to death trying to get the truth out of him.   Michael’s fingerprints were found in the blood covering the wood axe.     * * *       Michael was held in the County Jail pending his trial, but Ella-Marie was allowed to go home after a short stay in the hospital. She found a note by the window in her room the first night she was back. It read:  
Good-bye Ella-Marie. I can’t stay here any longer because eventully y’all will find me in my
hiding place. I’ll go on the road. But I’ll be back again someday because I know you’ll be
waiting for me.   Tommy  
She never told the others. She didn’t want to think about it ever again.     * * *       The murder trial was long and received nationwide attention, the papers calling it the “Attic Massacre.†Michael Slayton was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was in prison for 19 years before he was released in 1949 on good behavior. He was a broken man but reconnected with his sister.     * * *       Teddy Sanderson went back to his own life but eventually he became an author, moving to New York City and writing a book about what happened. Claiming it was the truth, the book was very well received, though it got a great deal of criticism for being obvious fiction claiming to be the truth. It sold very well though, and launched his career as an author.     * * *       Billy Hicks was committed to Bryce Hospital, a sanitarium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, as he refused to stop claiming he was a vampire hunter and would not change his statements about what happened in the Attic Massacre. He was there for six years. His grandfather died while he was in the sanitarium but Blitzer was still alive and lived a couple more years after his release.   Billy joined the church but then moved to New York City and started a semi-criminal organization to raise power and money to hunt vampires. He read Teddy’s book and knew he lived in the city as well.     * * *       Jebidiah Pleasant, the only one of them not directly connected with the Attic Massacre, grew up with a strong interest in the occult thanks to the terrible events that happened in Sanguis. He moved to a bigger city and eventually opened an antique shop wherein he specialized in strange, esoteric, or occult items. When he found particularly powerful or terrible items he hid them away.     * * *       Ella-Marie Slayton went through extensive physical therapy due to the terrible injury to her left ankle and foot. She gave up her hopes of being a professional athlete, but instead went into coaching. She ended up moving to Birmingham, got married, and had fraternal twins, living to a ripe old age and receiving her brother with open arms when he got out of prison.   In 1986, when she was 72 years old, she got very sick. The doctors didn’t know exactly what the blood disease was, just that there was something strange in her blood. It was very odd and they didn’t understand why she was dying.   One night, she awoke to find Tommy Hill in her hospital room, looking down at her. He was still 10 years old and, aside from his clothing, looked almost exactly like he did when last saw him over 50 years before.   “You can live forever, Ella-Marie,†he said to her. “Do you want to live forever?†  She took his face in her hands.   “No,†she said.   “All right, Ella-Marie,†he said softly. “All right.†  He kissed her on the cheek and she closed her eyes. When she opened them again, he was gone.   She passed away peacefully in her sleep shortly after.

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

Horror on the Orient Express, Prologue: the Haunting

Characters:
Edelmiro Cervantes - Spanish-born Occultist touring Britain.
Dr. Klauss Fischer - German-born Psychiatrist, disciple of Jung.
Flora Bianchin - Italian Nurse and Midwife, saw the Great War up close.
Mikhail Sokolov - Exiled Russian Aristo-turned-Criminal.
Viktor Gruzinsky - Bolshevik Spy posing as Exiled Russian Aristo.   In September of 1922, Dr. Klauss Fischer, a psychiatrist with offices in London, and a member of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), receives a letter from SPR senior fellow Professor Julius Smith. Smith states that he's currently in Europe and his research assistant Richard Wentworth has received a series of letters from Henry Knott of Knott & Sons Properties. He's having difficulty renting a property on Bacon's Lane in Highgate. Knott has asked for an SPR consultation, and this is especially important at Henry's Uncle is Archibald Knott, a former MP and board member of the Challenger Trust. Given the fact that Smith is preparing a major lecture for the Trust on behalf of the SPR to secure funding and academic standing for the Society, he's asked Dr. Fischer to handle the matter.   Dr. Fischer, intrigued by the request, calls upon his cadre of associates within the SPR, fellow European immigrants who are often snubbed by British members of the society. This could be a great opportunity for them to contribute to a major Society project and increase their reputation. The group meet together at the foreigner-friendly Blue Swan Tea Room, discuss the opportunity, and decide to start by collecting the letters sent to Professor Smith from Richard Wentworth at Smith's University of London offices. The young student is eager to hand off the task to some SPR members and continue with his duties filling in for Professor Smith and working on his own graduate research.   Fischer, Cervantes, and Bianchin think they should start by checking newspaper archives, the closest ones being in the University of London Library. They are limited compared to some, but as good a place as any to start. They come up with the name Walter Corbitt, a neighborhood character residents of Bacon's Lane sued in the 1800s for nefarious and menacing behavior.   In the meantime, the Solokov and Guzinsky try to get in touch with Henry Knott, discovering he's made his way to the Athenaeum Club for a suppertime meeting. Always on the look out for opportunities to increase their social standing and ndulge in fancy food belonging to someone else, Solokov and Guzinsky try to weasel their way into the club's dining room. Charm (Viktor) and Fast Talk (Mikhail) get the down-on-their-luck aristocrats into the lobby, but no further. Knott appears and advises that this is not the time or place to discuss the matter, but rather than outright offend the Russian gentlemen who stand half-a-head taller than him, he graciously invites Viktor, Mikhail, and their associates to his offices for a 9am appointment.   During said appointment, Knott provides some details on the home: it has been difficult to rent, numerous applicants have taken an interest only to back out at the last minute. The home was purchased from the Estate of Walter Corbitt. The last people to reside in the home were the Marshmans, who moved out suddenly following an accident of some kind. With the key in hand, as well as the names and addresses of the last few applicants to take an interest in the home, the investigators set about looking into the little gothic-style cottage at the end of Bacon's Lane. They decide to divide up the work. Dr. Fischer and Mr. Cervantes head for the newspaper morgue of the London Illustrated News. The remaining three investigators start making phone calls.   Over the course of the day Mikhail, Viktor, and Flora manage to interview some former applicants for renting the home, learn that #7 Bacon's Lane is considered a "Murder House," and discover it was connected with an investigation involving a gentleman's club that was broken up for unsavory nocturnal practices in Highgate Cemetery: the Societas Cogitationis (the Society of Pure Thought). Fischer and Cervantes discover an unpublished article containing interviews with the home's last residents: the Marshmans. The Marshmans are currently in long term care at Bethlehem Hospital, where Dr. Fischer does weekly rounds and observations. Mrs. Marshman is the most lucid, and with some not so delicate psychoanalysis the two men manage to extract some information about a stabbing incident, but this leads poor Mrs. Marshman to have a violent fit.   We leave off our first episode with the investigators regrouping at the Fitz Hotel (a step down from the Ritz for sure) where Mr. Cervantes is staying. Dinner is served as the five friends share their findings.

maglaurus

maglaurus

 

What Rough Beast ... Session Two Part 1 - In Search of Vampires

Monday, January 29, 2018   (After playing the Call of Cthulhu original scenario “What Rough Beast …†Sunday from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. with Ben Abbott, Austin Davie, John Leppard, Ambralyn Tucker, and Yorie Latimer.)   The youngsters of Sanguis all got together a little before dinnertime on Wednesday, June 19, 1929. They shared the information they had learned from Doc Underwood and Jill Spearman about the ghosts of the plantation and the lost coffin handle.   Jebidiah suggested anyone who had a good view of the plantation from their house might keep a lookout to see if a light came one. Unfortunately, no one did. Richard suggested there might be a good view from the tree house but Michael didn’t think they’d be able to see from there. Jebidiah also questioned the comfort of staying out in the tree house at night.   “I would catch another cold,†he said.   “Well, we don’t want that,†Teddy said.   “No, I don’t.†  “The last one was so bad!†  “Okay, if we’re all going to meet at Tommy’s grave later tonight, may I suggest we all go to the store and buy some garlic?†Michael said.   “That sounds … sounds fine to me,†Jebidiah said.   “Sounds good,†Ella-Marie said.   “We’re all going to meet out there?†Teddy said.   “Well, we don’t all have to, but …†Michael said.   “Is it going to rain again?†Teddy asked.   “I’m - I’m not sure,†Michael said.   They all looked up. It was a beautiful and sunny day.   “Shall I get my helmet?†Richard asked.   “That is … up to you, Richard,†Michael said.   “Would you be taking head injuries?†Jebidiah said.   “I dunno what’s gonna come out of that grave!†Richard said.   “A helmet would be very good for head injuries,†Teddy said.   “It has a spike on it,†Richard said.   “Okay fine!†Ella-Marie said. “If you wanna wear that thing!†  Richard ran off to his house.   “When are we meeting?†Teddy said. “We’re meeting where?†  “Let’s meet back up at the graveyard after dinner,†Michael said.   “I thought sundown would be a good time,†Jebidiah said.   “So, around eight?†Ella-Marie said.   “Yeah,†Michael said.   “So, eight at the tree house,†she said. “Have your garlic. Have your stakes.†  They all split up and went to supper.  
* * *      
Michael went to the Sanguis Grocery but they didn’t carry garlic. At that time, there wasn’t much call for it in cooking. He looked in the kitchen after dinner and found a dried-up clove in the back of a cupboard. Both he and Ella-Marie set to work making some makeshift crosses. Ella-Marie got some straight branches behind the house and used string to make a couple of crude, makeshift crosses. She sharpened the ends of them. Michael pulled a couple of frames from under his bed, taking them to the shed behind the house, and found a saw to cut it in half. He made two rough crosses from them and sharpened one of them.  
* * *      
Billy searched his house after dinner for some time, looking for a cross. He didn’t find one but he did find a small Bible with a cross on it. He put it in his room.   Then he decided to look for crosses elsewhere in town. He remembered seeing a cross or a crucifix in Mrs. Pines’ living room, across the road from his grandfather’s soda shop and pharmacy. He went over to her house.   Gertrude Pines was a little old lady who had lived in Sanguis forever. As far as Billy knew, she had never been married. She was probably in her 90s and was tiny but feisty. She was very nice to the children of the village and Billy’s grandfather was friends with her. She brought pies or cookies or even casseroles to his grandfather’s house quite often. She had started doing that right after Billy’s parents disappeared and just kept it up.   He looked in the windows and spotted Mrs. Pines in the living room. She was knitting and listening to a radio drama. It sounded like some kind of scary mystery show. Billy knocked on the front door.   “Oh!†she said, delighted to see him. “Why hello, Billy. C’mon in! How’s your grandpa?†  “He’s doin’ pretty good,†Billy squeaked.   “Is he sleeping?†  “Yeah.†  “He sleeps a lot.†  “Uh-huh.†  “Why don’t you come in? I got some cookies in the kitchen.†  “Oh, thank you, ma’am.†  “You want some lemonade?†  “Sure.†  She scurried to the kitchen.   “How’s that friend, Teddy, of yours?†she called. “Is he any better?†  “Yeah,†Billy squeaked.   “I hope he gets out of that wheelchair someday.†  “Same.†  “I bet Jesus, the power of Jesus, could heal him.†  “Uh-huh.†  She returned with a little plate of cookies and some iced tea. She chatted with Billy about how he was doing in school and how he was enjoying his summer. Billy eventually steered the conversation to how he’d been feeling troubled due to Tommy Hill’s death. He said he was reading through the bible and seeking salvation. He showed her the Bible he’d found.   “I was wondering if I could borrow your crucifix so that Jesus can watch me through my journey,†he said.   She put her hand to her chest.   “You’ll find him,†she said. “You’ll find your way.†  She got up and, taking very tiny steps, went to the crucifix and took some time getting it down off the wall. She handed it over to the boy.   “You just take that and you hang onto that for as long as you want,†she said.   “Okay,†he said. “I thank you.†  “You’re a good boy!†she said.   He ate a couple more cookies and finished his iced tea before he left.   He put everything in a book bag and put in the Colt .45 revolver that had been his dad’s and probably his dad’s before that in as well. He had an additional six bullets that he pocketed.  
* * *      
After supper, Richard approached his father who was smoking his after-supper cigarette and reading last week’s newspaper.   “Pop?†Richard said.   “Yep?†his dad said.   “Let me … uh … now don’t say no, initially, but … I was wondering if I could take the gun and go hunting tonight alone.†  “What? No! What?†  “I’m almost an adult, dad. I should be learning to shoot on my own.†  “I don’t think you should be taking the gun out at night, especially on a weekday. We’ll go out this Saturday night? How about that? We’ll go out shooting this Saturday.†  “I saw a deer in the woods.†  “Well, you’re supposed to have a license to hunt deer, you know.†  “Do you … do you have a license?†  “That doesn’t make no mind!†  The two looked at each other.   “And … right now, we don’t need no deer,†he said. “No venison. And where did you see a deer?†  “In the woods, across the trail,†Richard said.   “Across the track?†  “Yeah?†  “Where, exactly? By the tree house?†  “By the … by the river near the tree house.†  “Down by the river, huh? You saw … when was that?†  “That was … this morning.†  “Aw, he’s not going to be there anymore. Not if it was this morning.†  “But it was a big buck!†  “Yeah, that’s fine. But he’s not going to be where you saw him this morning.†  “Think about the antlers!†  “You’re never going to find him.†  “The mantle.†  “I don’t - what? You’re never going to find him. Next time you see a deer, you come right to me, if I’m here. And you tell me, and we’ll see what we can do.†  “Okay.†  “You’re a good boy.†  Richard went to the kitchen and got the big carving knife, tucking it into his pants and slipping to his room, hiding it there.  
* * *      
Jebidiah also looked around his house in search of a crucifix. He didn’t find one but he did find a fancy cross made of varnished wood adorned with a golden-colored metal. He thought it was his grandmother’s. He put it into his room.  
* * *      
Before Michael and Ella-Marie left their house, Michael crept back to his parents’ room and got the .22 rifle his father kept there. They headed for the tree house.  
* * *      
Jebidiah went to Teddy’s house.   “We can’t let my dad know I’m going,†Teddy said. “What-what’re we gonna do. Are we just going to leave and say we’re out playing? What do we do? And do we bring our turtles?†  A thought went through Jebidiah’s head that he could wear a big coat and Jebidiah could just carry him out. He instantly realized the problem with that. Instead, he manhandled the wheelchair out the window. Then he helped get Teddy out of the window as well. He went back through the house and out the front door after closing Teddy’s door. Teddy’s mother waved him goodbye. Teddy’s dad didn’t pay him any attention. He was drinking something clear out of a mason jar and just grunted. He thought he heard him say something to Mrs. Sanderson after he left but couldn’t make out what the man said. He was glad of that.   He found Teddy around the side of the house and they headed south in the twilight. They saw Richard.   “Oh, it’s Richard,†Teddy said. “Hey Richard.†  “Hey,†Richard said. “So … I have a crazy idea. How about we try and steal Teddy’s father’s gun.†  “That sounds more like a suicidal idea to me,†Teddy said.   “Have you met Teddy’s father?†Jebidiah said. “Every time I see him, I have heart palpitations.†  “I don’t know if you know my father. He’s not a friendly person.†  “Sometimes I fear the breath from his mouth will sicken me.†  Teddy nodded at him.   “Well, do you know when he goes to bed?†Richard said.   “Teddy, do guns … do guns kill vampires?†Jebidiah said.   “Well, they’re not wooden stakes,†Teddy said. “And they’re not … no.†  “No,†Richard said. “Wouldn’t it be useful to have it anyway. I mean, what if we run into a wolf or something?†  “Well, in Dracula, there was this little … crazy fellow named Renfield who wasn’t a vampire, but worked for ‘em,†Teddy said.   “See, we need a gun,†Richard said.   “Well, I’m-I’m not going to Teddy’s father,†Jebidiah said. “If you want to go, that’s on you, but if you come out in a coffin as well …†  “Is there anything that your dad’s going to leave the living room for?†Richard asked.   “When he passes out,†Teddy said.   “When does he pass out?†  “Well, that could be any time. It could be late. It could be early. It depends on his mood.†  “I think we’re barking up the wrong tree with Teddy’s dad,†Jebidiah said.   “Well, I can’t get it from my own father,†Richard said.   “So, you want my daddy to come and kill you?†Teddy said.   “No,†Richard said. “You go on ahead. I’ll catch up to in a minute.†  “All right,†Jebidiah said.   “All right,†Teddy said. “What’re you gonna do?†  “I’m gonna see what he does,†Richard said.   “Don’t let him see you peeking in the windows,†Teddy said.   “Oh, I won’t,†Richard said.   “Dear God, don’t,†Jebidiah said.   The two boys continued on and Richard went back to Teddy’s house. They soon met with the others, Billy on his bike with a book bag on his shoulder. Michael was carrying his father’s hunting rifle.   “I’m slowing you down again, Jebidiah,†Teddy said as they walked to the tree house.   “I don’t want to go fast,†Jebidiah said.   Teddy thought on that a moment.   “I can take it,†he finally said, bracing himself in the chair.  
* * *      
Richard peeked into the windows of Teddy’s house and saw his father sitting in a chair in the living room, drinking from a mason jar. He watched a few minutes and could hear Teddy’s mother puttering around in the kitchen. He headed off to the tree house.  
* * *      
They finally all met at the tree house together, Richard arriving last. He was wearing the pickelhelm and had a kitchen knife in his hand. Everyone else was also apparently prepared. Jebidiah held his fancy cross but it shook in his hand.   “Well, I found this,†Teddy said.   He pulled out a compact from his pocket with a little mirror in it.   “We can use this to tell if they’re vampires,†he said, looking at them in the mirror. “Because, you see how I can see you in the mirror and you can see me?†  “Yes, of course!†Ella-Marie said. “It’s a mirror!†  “Yeah,†he said. “But if I couldn’t see you … wait.†  He looked at each of their reflections in the mirror.   “If I couldn’t see you, then you were a vampire,†Teddy said.   “We should’ve brought a mirror to the funeral,†Richard said.   Teddy just hung his head.   “Well, we didn’t think of that, now, did we?†Ella-Marie said to Richard.   “Well … no,†Richard said. “But it would’ve been nice.†  “We got some sharp crosses!†Ella-Marie said.   “Don’t worry Teddy,†Michael said.   “All I brought was stupid water,†Teddy said.   “Don’t worry about it.†  “It didn’t even do anything.†  Michael took out the unsharpened cross and offered it, eventually giving it to Teddy. Ella-Marie fussed at Jebidiah for his shaking hands.   “We got crosses, we got guns, we got garlic─†Ella-Marie said.   “Stakes,†Teddy said. “Who brought the stakes?†  “I have the one stake,†Michael said.   “Okay, hopefully there’s only one vampire,†Teddy said.   “Why do we need meat for this?†Jebidiah asked.   “No, stakes like you stick in things,†Teddy said. “You know how you put a stake in the ground?†  “Oh,†Jebidiah said.   Ella-Marie smacked the boy in the side of the head.   “You gotta have a wooden stake made outta … wood,†Teddy said.   Michael held up the cross that was sharpened at one end.   “Anyone bring a hammer to hammer it in?†Teddy asked.   Richard picked up a large rock.   “We can use this, I guess,†he said.   Billy climbed up into the tree house and pulled off a piece of one by four that was not structurally necessary. He used his knife to sharpen the end of it. It took him about 15 minutes.   They headed to the cemetery.   The sounds of the crickets, frogs from the nearby river, and the occasional night bird seemed very loud.   The Tallapoosa Cemetery was a small graveyard with a few markers and stones. A picket fence about three feet high ran around the place. It was falling over in some places as it wasn’t kept up very well. They knew Tommy’s grave was towards the back of the place on the river side.   Overhead, clouds started to roll in. Flashes of lightning came from the distance. It looked like another thunderstorm was approaching. They figured they might have as long as an hour before the rain started.   “Should I wear this helmet?†Richard asked.   “It’s entirely made of metal,†Teddy pointed out. “It might attract lightning. But the trees are higher.†  “You can take your chances,†Ella-Marie said sweetly.   Richard left it on. Billy was looking up at the trees, wanting to climb up into one but worried about the lightning in the distance.   They made their way back to Tommy’s grave, easy to distinguish from the pile of dirt still upon it. Billy spotted a large gravestone off to the left and so crept over and hid in its shadow. The other five walked to the grave as the moon rose in the east.   Richard asked Teddy how they would know if the vampire had left the grave but the boy admitted he wasn’t sure. He noted the stories he read about were mostly of people thinking there was a vampire and so exhuming the dead body. When they opened the coffin, they would find the body bloated with blood on its lips and long fingernails and hair. Richard kicked the mound of dirt.   “I don’t know how they get out,†Teddy said.   “Well, we can’t just sit here all night,†Richard said. “With a storm coming.†  “If y’all are going to be pansy’s about it, I’ll go check,†Ella-Marie said.   “We just don’t have a shovel,†Richard said.   “Are … are we gonna dig up his grave?†Teddy asked.   “Well, if we can’t tell if he’s there or not …†Richard said.   “What do you think we’re here for!?!†Ella-Marie said.   “I thought we were gonna see if he came out,†Teddy said.   “Well, the storm’s accelerating our time,†Richard said. “We can’t stay out here all night.†  “What do you think, Jebidiah?†Teddy asked.   “We gotta get going!†Ella-Marie said.   “I don’t … I don’t really want to see either way, to be quite honest,†Jebidiah said.   “It’ll take hours to dig up a grave with our bare hands,†Teddy said. “I’ll help as much as I can.†  “The rain’ll make it harder,†Billy squeaked from his hiding place nearby.   “Oh my God, I forgot he was over there,†Teddy said, startled.   Jebidiah looked in the direction he thought the plantation stood but couldn’t see any lights.   “I-I don’t - I don’t - I reckon we should’ve brought shovels if we were gonna dig him up,†Teddy said.   “I didn’t think we were gonna dig him up,†Jebidiah said.   “I wasn’t planning on digging him up but …†Richard said.   “I’m no grave robber,†Billy called from his tombstone.   Teddy pointed at Ella-Marie.   “You wanna dig him up?†he said.   “Well, how else?†she said. “How else are we supposed to find out.†  He looked at her.   “Exactly!†she said.   “She has a good point,†Teddy said.   “Yeah,†Michael said.   Richard volunteered to go back home and get his shovel. He asked to borrow Billy’s bike.   “That’d be fine,†Billy squeaked from the darkness.   “God, how could we not bring a shovel!?!†Ella-Marie said.   “Where is he?†Teddy said, squinting as he looked at that part of the cemetery. “I cannot see him at all.†  “Billy is the night,†Billy squeaked.   Teddy was startled every time he said something.   Richard took Billy’s bicycle and rode hard for town. Not long after he left, the noises of the insects stopped nearby. The boys soon noticed what looked like a dog or a coyote sitting near a tree just outside the graveyard. It was little more than a shadow.   Michael tucked his garlic and stake away and took the hunting rifle off his shoulder. He worked the action.   “What are you doing?†Ella-Marie said to him. “What’re you doing.†  He shushed her.   “Is that a dog over there?†Teddy asked Jebidiah. “There’s a dog over there.†  Jebidiah made some strange noises.   “God, how can you see that far?†Ella-Marie said.   “Wait!†Billy called.   Michael fired. There was a flash from the rifle and he was pretty much blinded. The other children saw the animal didn’t move at all. They heard the bullet crash through the underbrush.   “What’re you doing!?!†Ella-Marie said.   “Saw a dog,†Michael said. “Coyote. Wolf. I dunno.†  His vision slowly came back.   Teddy was wide eyed and Ella-Marie looked into the woods. When Teddy pointed, she thought she could see an animal of some kind sitting next to a tree.   “He’s awfully still,†she whispered.   Billy, hiding in the shadows of the gravestone, drew his revolver from his pants.   “That was very loud,†Teddy said.   “It didn’t move,†Michael said. “I was hoping that would at least scare it away, but …†  “Did anybody bring a flashlight?†Ella-Marie asked. “Get a better look?†  “I didn’t bring a flashlight,†Teddy said. “I didn’t think about it.†  “Of course you didn’t.†  “I’m sorry.†  She had also not brought a flashlight as she had not thought about it.   “Billy!†Michael said. “Did you bring a light source?†  “Billy’s gone,†Teddy said. “Billy, are you still over there?†  There was no reply. Teddy gasped.   “Billy!†Michael said.   “Uh-oh,†Teddy said.   “He took Billy!†Jebidiah said.   “Oh no!†Teddy said.   Jebidiah looked back at the dog or animal. It looked like a really big dog. It made him think of a German shepherd or a coyote.   “Hey, Teddy,†Michael said. “Do you know if vampires have anything to do with dogs of some sort?†  “Well, um … in Dracula, he could turn into a bat and he could turn into mist and he could climb up a wall like a spider and … um … I think he could turn into a wolf and he could control wolves,†Teddy said. “Is that a wolf?†  “It doesn’t look like a wolf,†Ella-Marie said.   “I’m not going over there,†Teddy muttered.   Michael groaned. Jebidiah held up his crucifix but the animal didn’t move.   Michael walked to the spot where Billy had disappeared. He spotted the boy hiding by one of the large tombstones.   “Billy, why weren’t you answering us?†Michael said.   In the darkness of the shadows, Billy just put his fingers to his lips. Michael could not see it.   Michael sighed.   “Billy, what’s going on?†Michael said.   He heard Billy moving and then his hand came out of the shadows holding a flashlight.   Michael took the flashlight. Billy changed his position quietly by another tombstone, slinking over and finding another shadow to hide in. A bush grew up the side of that one, making it an even better hiding place.   “Did he give you a flashlight?†Ella-Marie said.   “Yes,†Michael said.   Jebidiah turned to Teddy.   “Can you see that wolf in your mirror?†he said.   “Oh, that’s a good idea!†Teddy said.   He struggled to get the mirror out.   “I’m gonna get the mirror,†he said. “I’m gonna get the mirror.†  When Jebidiah looked back where the animal had been, it was gone. Michael turned on the flashlight but there was nothing there. Jebidiah let out a high-pitched shriek and Teddy, startled, dropped the mirror. Both he and Jebidiah reached down to the ground.   “Shine it down here!†Teddy said. “I got it.†  He picked the mirror back up as Jebidiah looked all around for the animal.   “That thing was there!†Ella-Marie said.   “Where is it?†Teddy said. “Where’d it go?†  “Maybe we should get outta here,†Michael said.   “It just disappeared like those bite marks,†Ella-Marie said.   Teddy looked scared.   “So, I don’t need the mirror anymore?†he asked. “Are we leaving?†  “Keep it out!†Ella-Marie said.   “All right,†he said. “Yes ma’am.†  “Gimme the flashlight! Gimme the flashlight!†  She shined the flashlight around but they couldn’t see anything in the woods.   “Listen!†Ella-Marie said, noticing it for the first time. “There’s nothing. No crickets. No rustling. No nothing.†  “No frogs,†Michael said.   Jebidiah stood there, holding the crucifix, his hands shaking like he had palsy.   “You need to calm down!†she said to him.   “It-it’ll be okay, Jebidiah,†Teddy said. “They’ll protect us. They’re our friends.†  “I say we go back to our houses tonight and then go back to the plantation tomorrow,†Michael said.   “Why?†Ella-Marie said. “We’re here now.†  “There ain’t much we can do right now,†Michael said.   “Richard will be back in a minute,†Ella-Marie said.   “Maybe,†Michael said.   The night noises started to sound around them again.  
* * *      
Richard had retrieved the shovel and was getting back on the bike when he heard a gunshot coming from the direction of the cemetery. He went back to his own house and peeked into his parent’s room. It was dark so he crept into their room, opened up the wardrobe, and found the Springfield rifle his father had brought back from the War. He rooted around as quietly as he could until he found a loaded magazine for the rifle. He pocketed the magazine and slung the rifle over his shoulder, closing the wardrobe and the door again.   He biked back, the shovel along the handlebars, trying to ride as quickly as possible. He made it down the road without trouble, but when he turned onto the lesser-used dirt road that led to the cemetery, he took it too fast. The tires slid out from under him and he crashed to the ground, the shovel sliding away. He felt a hot, red pain running down his left leg and realized he’d skinned it from ankle to hip. He slammed his hand down on the ground and started to get to his feet when he saw a man standing in the shadows.   “Are you all right, boy?†the man said in a strange accent.   Richard scrambled to bring the rifle to bear.   “Who are you!†he cried out.   He pointed the rifle at the man.   “You have bloodied yourself,†the man said. “If you wish, I can help you with your wounds.†  “I’m quite fine,†Richard said, backing up towards the road.   The man walked slowly forward and then Richard’s foot came down on a rock that rolled out from under him. He stumbled back, pulling the trigger on the rifle and being rewarded with only a click. He crashed to his back and realized he had never put the magazine in the rifle. He pulled the knife out of his belt.   When he looked around, the man was gone. He leapt to the feet and ran towards town.   It felt like someone was following him, running directly behind him without making a noise, almost like they were flying. He glanced back but didn’t see anyone, though the feeling that someone was there was still very strong and disturbing. He sprinted back to his own house, climbing into his window.   He had enough presence of mind to return the rifle and magazine. He quietly returned to his room and climbed into the bed, watching out the window.   At one point, he blinked. The silhouette of a man was right outside his window. He flung a book from his desk at the shape. It struck the dark form but it didn’t react. He grabbed the helmet and pointed the spiked top at him. When he blinked again, the man was gone. He leapt up, ran over and slammed the window shut, latching it, and leapt back into his bed, laying in the fetal position and watching and listening to the sounds in the night.  
* * *      
The other youngsters waited for what felt like too long for Richard before Michael finally spoke.   “He’s not back,†he said.   “I believe that Richard’s probably dead,†Teddy said.   “Don’t say that!†Ella-Marie said.   “I’m scared,†Teddy said.   “At the very least, he’s not coming back,†Michael said.   “He shouldn’t have taken that long,†Ella-Marie said.   “We shouldn’t have let him go by himself,†Teddy said.   “Well, he just left, didn’t he?†Ella-Marie said.   “Did he have anything to protect himself, like …?†Teddy asked.   “He had a knife,†Michael said. “I think he had a cross.†  “I don’t think that kraut helmet was going to help him,†Teddy said.   “Shall we make our way back and check at his house?†Jebidiah said.   “Probably,†Michael said.   “Well, I guess we gotta go find him now,†Ella-Marie said.   “What about … Billy, I know you’re out there somewhere,†Teddy said. “Are you coming with us? Just … cough once if you are.†  There was silence.   “I think Billy’s gonna stay here,†Teddy said.   “Is Billy dead too?†Jebidiah said.   “Billy, if you’re dead … if you’re dead cough twice.†  It remained quiet.   “I don’t think he’s dead,†Teddy said.   “Go show me where you found him,†Ella-Marie said to Michael.   “Found who?†Michael said.   “Billy!†she said.   “All right,†he said.   He walked over to the gravestone but Billy wasn’t there. He looked around and saw a shape behind another nearby gravestone with a bush growing up against it. A sliver of moonlight revealed part of the boy’s shoulder. Ella-Marie saw him as well. Michael walked over.   In the darkness, unseen by them, Billy put his finger to his lips once again.   “Why’d you move?†Michael hissed.   Billy didn’t answer.   “All right Billy, Richard’s not back yet, so we’re going to go back to town,†Michael said. “See if we can find him.†  “We gotta get outta these woods,†Ella-Marie said.   Billy put his hand up into the moonlight and gave them a thumbs up.   “You okay?†Ella-Marie said.   The thumb stayed up.   “Are you coming with us or …†Michael said.   The thumb turned down.   “All right,†Michael said.   “What do you mean?†Ella-Marie said. “You can’t just stay here! He can’t just stay here! Michael, talk some sense into him!†  Michael sighed.   “Billy …†he said.   “We can’t leave him!†she said. “Out here all alone! This is just idiocy!†  Michael leaned forward and slapped Billy in the face.   “Mike!†Ella-Marie said.   “Billy!†Michael said. “Billy! You are not staying out here by your God-damned self!† 
* * *      
Jebidiah gasped when he heard the slap.   “That sounds way too familiar,†Teddy said. “I believe there’s a fight going on.† 
* * *    

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

What Rough Beast ... Session Two Part 2 - Billy Holds a Grudge

* * *       Michael reached forward and grabbed Billy’s ear. It hurt. The boy went completely limp and fell to the ground.   “I’m staying,†he said. “Whether you knock me out or not.†  Michael reached down and lifted the boy, throwing him over his shoulder. Then Billy tried to grab Michael’s arm, clutching at it and trying to pull it up.   “You can keep trying all you want, Billy,†Michael said confidently.   The two struggled as Michael walked towards the cemetery entrance. Ella-Marie tried to grab at Billy’s arms.   “I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but this is for your own good,†she said.   Billy kicked Michael hard in the crotch. Michael grunted in terrible pain and tried to slam Billy down to the ground but the two of them ended up both crashing to the ground in a pile, tangled up with each other.   “I’m watching Tommy’s grave!†Billy yelled.   Michael elbowed at Billy’s face but Billy held off his arm and gut punched him.   “What is happening over there?†Teddy said.   “Hey!†Jebidiah called. “What if the wolf comes back?†  “Hey! Hey!†Ella-Marie shouted.   “I regret to inform you all but you’re both being very stupid right now!†Jebidiah said.   “Tommy could’ve gotten away and we would never have noticed,†Teddy said.   “And whose fault is that?†Billy squeaked.   Ella-Marie grabbed Michael by his shoulders and flung him back off Billy, sending the boy sprawling several feet away from his opponent.   “What is wrong with you!?!†Ella-Marie shouted at Billy. “Why do you want to stay here!?!†  “‘Cause it’s what we set out to do!†Billy squeaked.   Over by the grave, Jebidiah noticed a strange mist or fog around the mound.   “Yes, but … we don’t know where Richard is!†Ella-Marie said. “We have to leave and find him!†  “So why do all of us have to go?†Billy squeaked.   “We all have to stick together!†Ella-Marie said. “It ain’t like those radio shows! You can’t just split up! We have to stick together! Okay?†  “Okay,†Billy squeaked. “Then two of us stay here.†  “You okay?†Ella-Marie said to Michael.   Jebidiah started to make a strange wailing, hooting noise and pointing at the woods.   “What is it!?!†Ella-Marie called. “What is it!?!†  Michael stood up with a groan, holding his crotch.   “Oh my,†Teddy said. “Look at that. Oh my.†  Jebidiah continued to make strange, hooting, distressed noises.   “What are you saying!?!†Ella-Marie called.   Jebidiah said something intelligible in return. Billy got to his feet. All of them saw a low-lying mist near the woods around the edge of the cemetery. It seemed to be blowing away. There was no more mist around the place and it disappeared into the woods.   “Did you see that?†Billy said. “I think you saw that.†  Jebidiah muttered something unintelligible again.   “I wish I hadn’t seen it, actually,†he said.   Ella-Marie grabbed Michael’s arm.   “Did it come from Billy’s grave?†Billy squeaked. “Tommy’s grave.†  “It’s about to come from your grave!†Ella-Marie said.   “It looked like it, yeah,†Teddy said.   They all looked at each other.   “Okay, now we can get outta here,†Billy said. “Tommy is a vampire.†  Ella-Marie rolled her eyes. Then she felt Michael tense up as the boy went to swing. She tried to stop him but he just pulled her with him. He punched Billy in the face and the boy stumbled to one side.   “That’s for the nut shot,†he said.   He walked out of the cemetery, Ella-Marie glaring at him.   “Wait, they’re going,†Teddy said. “Let’s go. Follow them.†  “Richard still isn’t back,†Jebidiah said. “I think people forgot about him.†  The youngsters headed up the road and found Billy’s bicycle where the path to the cemetery met the road not far from the Red Bridge. A shovel was on the ground next to it.   “Oh my Good Lord, he’s died!†Jebidiah said.   “He’s dead,†Teddy agreed. “They got him. They got him! They came and got him while these people were having a rigmarole. Oh. Oh no. Oh no.†  Michael shined the flashlight on the ground.   “There’s no sign of tracks!†Teddy said. “It’s like something snatched him off the bike and flew away with him!†  “I see something!†Michael said. “Somebody crashed.†  “Oh my God,†Ella-Marie said.   Jebidiah looked around but there was nothing around them. Teddy looked really sad.   “Let’s go check his house,†Michael said. “He might be there.†  “He’s gone,†Teddy said. “Tommy flew off with him.†  “Maybe he saw something and took chase,†Jebidiah stuttered. “Or he - or he─†  “Or he fled or something,†Michael said. “We don’t know.†  “Let’s stick together,†Teddy said.   “Yes,†Ella-Marie said.   “Let’s go back to town and check his house,†Michael said.   They walked back to town, Billy biking. They went to Richard’s house and found his bedroom window closed. That was unusual as it was very hot. Michael tapped on the window. They heard a cry from within.   “Who is it?†it called. “Go away.†  “Well, good news he’s here,†Michael said.   “Ask him how many times he got bit,†Teddy said.   “Oh God!†Ella-Marie said.   “Did you get bit, Richard?†Michael said.   “You’re not the man,†Richard said.   “Man?†Michael said.   “What man?†Ella-Marie said.   Richard’s window opened and the boy peered out, wide-eyed.   “We saw your bike,†Ella-Marie said. “What happened?†  “Billy’s bike,†Michael corrected her.   “I took the turn too quickly and I crashed,†Richard said. “When I got up, there was a man. Had a weird accent.†  “How tall was he?†Michael asked.   “Was he a Yankee?†Jebidiah asked.   “He just looked like an adult man,†Richard said. “He asked if I needed help and I told him ‘no.’ I got the rifle from my dad’s bedroom and I fell over - fell over - and when I got back up - when I got back up after I fell over, he wasn’t there. And I felt like I was being watched. So I ran back home and, when I got back to my room, he was at my window. I threw a book at him and he didn’t do anything. When I grabbed my helmet, he was gone. Then I closed the window. I’ve been here ever since.†  Billy looked around. He saw the silhouette of a tall man standing by a tree not far away, watching them.   “It’s okay Richard,†Michael said. “Just calm down. We’ll be back in the morning.†  “I’m closing the window when you’re gone,†Richard said.   Billy tapped Ella-Marie’s shoulder.   “Is that the man?†he whispered to her.   “Oh …†she said.   “As long as you’re okay, Richard,†Teddy said.   “Mike,†Ella-Marie said.   “It’s a good thing he’s gone and isn’t here anymore,†Jebidiah said.   “Mike,†Ella-Marie said.   “What’s wrong?†Michael said.   When he looked over there, he saw the silhouette of the man. Billy had put his hand in his book bag.   “I would say that’s true too,†Teddy said.   “Let’s make sure Jebidiah and Teddy get home safe,†Michael said. “Then let’s head home ourselves.†  “Why, that’s very neighborly,†Teddy said. “Thank you so much.†  “Thank you,†Jebidiah said.   Ella-Marie took out both of her crosses.   “This is a very terrifying night,†Jebidiah said.   “I would agree with your interpretation of the evening’s events, Jebidiah,†Teddy said.   “There was - there was a horrible wood monster. There was a spooky fog. My friends tried to kill each other. I thought Richard was dead.†  “And Billy. I thought he was dead too.â€â€™   “I thought Billy was dead.†  “We thought you were dead, Billy.†  “We thought you were dead, Richard.†  Richard slammed the window shut.   They all headed towards the Teddy and Jebidiah’s houses as the rain started to come down lightly. Billy kept watching the figure in the dark until it was out of sight. He felt like the man had been watching him. They returned Teddy back to his room and then Jebidiah back to his house. The boy just went in the front door. Then the other two escorted Billy home. He also went into his house by the front door. He found his grandfather sleeping in his chair.   The last two walked carefully home without incident.     * * *       Billy didn’t go to sleep that night. He sat in the dark and watched the window until the rosy light of dawn let him know the terrible night was over.   Most of the other children closed or merely cracked their windows. Jebidiah slept with his cross.     * * *       Thursday, June 20, 1929, was another hot Alabama summer day. The children who had closed their windows woke up stifling in the heat. When Jebidiah woke up, he was terrified to find the cross was gone. He found it on the floor next to his bed and guessed he had dropped it in his sleep.   The thunderstorm from the night before had left a heavy fog that burned off by midmorning.     * * *       Richard’s father was running late. He complained he had trouble sleeping the night before as he dreamt someone was in the room. His mother was busy cleaning the house. Neither noticed the young boy’s thousand yard stare. His sheets had been bloody where his scraped leg had bled after he went to bed.   After breakfast, he headed out to Michael and Ella-Marie’s house. Teddy and Jebidiah showed up shortly after that. There was no sign of Billy.   They saw Doc Underwood leaving his house with his horse and buggy and heading off that morning as well.   “Are you okay?†Ella-Marie asked Richard.   The boy had scabs running down the left side of his leg where he’d fallen the day before.   “You might need to see the doctor,†Ella-Marie said. “You might need stitches.†  “I think I’m physically fine,†Richard said. “I don’t know about mentally.†  “I’ve had some leg injuries,†Ella-Marie said.   “You didn’t see the fog,†Teddy said.   “Fog?†Richard said.   “There was fog,†Teddy said.   “That’s true,†Jebidiah said. “We should all recount what happened last night so we are all … in the know.†  “There was a terrible fight,†Teddy said.   “Except Billy,†Jebidiah said. “Who isn’t here.†  “Fire?†Richard said.   “Fight,†Teddy said. “There was a terrible fight.†  “Oh,†Richard said. “I was confused for a second.†  Teddy pointed at Michael.   “And Billy,†Teddy said.   “Why?†Richard said.   “I don’t know,†Teddy said. “We don’t know. Why were you fighting?†  “Billy didn’t want to leave the graveyard,†Michael said, matter-of-factly. “He wanted to stay there by himself. I wasn’t going to let him do that.†  “Yes, but it looks like you kicked the hell out of each other in the process,†Richard said.   Michael sighed.   “Yeah,†he said.   “While they were fighting, there was a big fog,†Jebidiah said. “You saw it the dog-thing, right?†  “Dog?†Richard said.   “There was a dog,†Teddy said. “He didn’t know about the dog.†  “Yeah, there was some kind of coyote,†Ella-Marie said.   “There was a wolf or some kind of coyote,†Jebidiah said.   “There ain’t no wolves around here,†Teddy said.   “You said vampires can be wolves.†  “It was an awful big dog.†  “It wouldn’t move!†Ella-Marie said.   “I fired at it,†Michael said.   “It disappeared like everything else we’ve been seeing,†Ella-Marie said.   “I thought something attacked you, so I got my Springfield,†Richard said. “Well, dad’s Springfield.†  “What do we do?†Teddy asked. “Well … what do y’all do?†  “The man you saw, did you recognize his voice or face?†Jebidiah asked.   “No, he sounded like … he was … not from here,†Richard said.   “Was he a Yankee?†Jebidiah asked.   “Well …†Richard said.   “How could you tell that!?!†Ella-Marie said.   “From the voice,†Jebidiah said.   “Well, they talk different,†Teddy said.   “He had …†Richard said.   “They talk like … oh!†Teddy said. “Like Billy tries to talk. But better.†  “Yes, they talk like ‘Hi. My name’s Michael. I’m from Vermont,’†Jebidiah said. “They talk like that.†  “You should be on a radio show,†Teddy said. “You do that really well.†  “That is a lot better than Billy,†Ella-Marie said.   Richard tried to mimic the man’s accent.   “That sounds just like your regular voice,†Teddy said.   “Yeah, just a little bit,†Michael said.   “Let’s just … not,†Ella-Marie said.   “If you have to pick one of us out of the group that sounds most like him,†Jebidiah said.   “Maybe you,†Richard said.   “Oh God!†Jebidiah said.   Teddy pulled the compact out his pocket and looked at Jebidiah’s reflection in the mirror.   “Teddy, I swear!†Jebidiah said. “Teddy!†  “No, you’re good,†Teddy said. “You’re good. See. Can you see yourself?†  “I think.†  “See, I see you. You see me?†  “Yes.†  Richard said he thought the man was wearing a cloak and described it as going over the shoulder and almost down to the ground.   “Well, that should be easy to remember,†Teddy said.   “It just doesn’t make sense for a man to be out in the woods in the middle of the night,†Ella-Marie said.   “I would think he would have a terrible problem with sweat,†Jebidiah said.   “Not if he was dead,†Teddy muttered.   Jebidiah gasped.   “Do dead people sweat?†Ella-Marie asked.   “I would say ‘no,’†Teddy said.   “Teddy, can we still go check his grave?†Richard said.   “Define ‘check.’†  “Don’t vampires come back to their graves every night.†  “Traditionally they return to wherever they were placed in the ground, yes.†  “I think Teddy said if we want to definitively know, we need to dig it up,†Jebidiah said.   “This time, we’re gonna bring shovels!†Ella-Marie said.   “You really want to do this then?†  “Like I said: ‘How else?’†  “If we get caught, you realize that’s against the law,†Teddy said.   “No one’s out there, is there?†Richard said.   They realized the trees were thin enough on the river side of the graveyard that someone from the road on the other side could see the site of Tommy’s grave.   “Well, we’d have to do it at night or when nobody’s looking or …†Jebidiah said.   “If you do it at night, he won’t be in there,†Teddy said.   “Ah,†Jebidiah said.   “You don’t know that!†Ella-Marie said. “We don’t know if any of this is true. We don’t know what we’ve been seeing.†  “She’s right,†Teddy said. “It’s been very strange. But, I’m just pointing it out because …†  “Someone should keep watch and have a signal if someone comes by,†Ella-Marie said.   “And they just see a giant hole in the dirt and us standing by it, twiddling our thumbs and whistling?†Jebidiah said.   “Why no,†Teddy said. “That’s when you ‘cheese it.’ That means you run away. So the signal comes and we run away.†  “Exactly!†Ella-Marie said.   “But Teddy, you’re in a wheelchair,†Richard said.   “Well, I’ll have to roll away,†Teddy said. “Hopefully y’all will help me get away quickly. Or I can just say I was visiting the grave and I saw somebody, a tall man, digging up the grave. They’re not gonna think I was digging up the grave. I mean, look at me.†  “That’s very true,†Ella-Marie said.   “Pathetic.†  “Very true.†  “You could be the scout,†Richard suggested.   They discussed it for a little while until someone asked where Billy was.   “I think Billy’s angry at Michael,†Jebidiah said. “They’ve had a feud.†  “They had a fight,†Teddy said. “It was quite disturbing.†  Michael sighed.   “Michael, I realize you weren’t … malicious … in your intent, but I feel like, at some point, you might want to apologize to Billy,†Jebidiah said.   “That might be a good idea, Michael,†Teddy said. “Billy holds a grudge.†  “I wouldn’t want Billy to have a grudge on me,†Jebidiah said.   “You’ve seen the people he hangs out with,†Richard said.   “I heard it skips rocks at the old train station!†Jebidiah said.   “You don’t wanna be on Billy’s bad side for long,†Teddy said. “Not when we go back to school. ‘Cause his friends are crazy! His friends there are so crazy!†  “All right!†Michael said. “All right.†  “I saw ‘em beat up a four-year-old one time!†Teddy said.   “C’mon, y’all are friends,†Ella-Marie said.   “Maybe he was just small,†Teddy said.   “Y’all should know better!†Ella-Marie said.   “Smaller than Billy?†Jebidiah said.   “Wasn’t smaller than Billy,†Teddy said. “Billy wasn’t fighting. Billy was watching. I think he’s fallen in with a bad crowd.†  “Fine,†Michael said.   “I worry about Billy.†  “Didn’t he say he was going to spend some time sweeping up his grandpa’s shop the other day?’   “He always says that.†  “You’re right.†  “Do you really color Billy as the trustworthy type?†Jebidiah said.   “All right, it’s day,†Teddy said. “We split up and we look everywhere.†  “Split up?†  “Well, it’s day. We’ll meet back at the post office when we find Billy.†  They split up, heading in all different directions, each of them getting a place to look at Teddy’s direction.   “I took command,†Teddy said quietly to Jebidiah. “Did you see that?†  “Yeah,†Jebidiah said.   “Don’t get used to it,†Ella-Marie said.   “I didn’t know you were still here,†Teddy muttered.   “Can’t you see? Whatever.†  “That’s the problem with taking command. You gotta pay attention afterwards.†    * * *       Michael was the one who found Billy. The boy had just finished sweeping the pharmacy and his grandfather patted him on the back and told Randall Spearman behind the soda fountain to give a Pepsi-Cola. Billy had a nasty-looking bruise on his face.   “Hey Billy,†Michael said.   Billy just stared into his soda. Michael ordered a root-beer float from Randall.   “Billy,†Michael said. “I’d like to sit down and have a talk about what happened last night.†  “Yeah, I wanted to sit down and have a talk last night,†Billy said.   “Except you weren’t sayin’ nothing.†  “I mean, before you punched me, I did.†  “I didn’t punch you.†  “You tried.†  “Only after you kicked me in the groin.†  “Mm.†  “I was going to buy you a soda but, seeing as you already got one …†  Billy just looked into his soda.   “What can I try to do to make this right with you?†Michael said.   Billy just stared into his soda as he drank it.   “Well … we’re all gonna meet up at the post office after … we found you,†Michael said. “If you want to meet us there, you can. I ain’t gonna force you.†  Billy just sipped at his Pepsi-Cola.   “Here ya go!†Randall said.   He handed over root-beer float and Michael quickly drank it down.   “Now Billy,†Michael said.   He put two quarters down on the counter in front of the boy and then walked out.   Billy looked at the money and then finished his Pepsi-Cola. He pocketed the coins and looked around to see if there were any mirrors in the pharmacy. There weren’t so he left the place and headed for the grocery store. There, he purchased a hand mirror and looked at the Albright’s in it. Then he went looking for Vanzant.     * * *       All of the children met at the post office.   “Are y’all friends again?†Teddy said.   “I dunno,†Michael said.   “Did you apologize?†Ella-Marie said.   “Yeah!†Michael said.   “What’d he say?†Jebidiah said.   “Um … he didn’t say much,†Michael said. “He … uh … just kept sipping at his soda. I gave him fifty cents and then I left.†  The children looked at the boy like he was crazy.   “You gave him fifty cents!?!†Ella-Marie said.   “Fifty cents!?!†Jebidiah said.   “He kicked you in the balls!†Ella-Marie said.   “Yeah,†Michael said.   “You trying to buy his friendship?†Teddy said quietly.   “No, I’m trying to make things right†Michael said.   “I’d be friends with anybody for fifty cents,†Jebidiah said.   “Well, you know Billy,†Teddy said.   “I’m just hoping that it could start to repair …†Michael said. “But he didn’t want to talk at the moment.†  “You never gave me fifty cents.†  “I never fought you.†  “You never beat me up, either. So I appreciate that.†  “What’re we going to do tonight?†Ella-Marie said. “Do we have a plan … this time? To bring shovels, at least.†  “We don’t want to dig him up at night,†Teddy said. “He’ll come at us, won’t he?†  “Well, when else!?! We can’t just dig him up in the frickin’ daytime!†  “Well, you-you had a plan to have a watch and see if you can see.†  “Was that in the day?†  “Yeah. We don’t need a watch at night ‘cause no one can see us in the graveyard.†  Ella-Marie just shook her head.   “She’s concerned about her brother,†Teddy said to Jebidiah. “I am too.†  “Well, we can try to wait to see what Doc says,†Jebidiah said. “He’s going out of town today.†  Teddy reminded him that Doc was going to see who was living at the plantation and might return with the sheriff. Michael thought the man wouldn’t be back until the next day but Teddy noted he was to be back that day. Jebidiah again suggested they wait for him.   “As long as we don’t get caught,†Teddy said. “My dad would kill me. I mean literally.†  “We’ve only seen one man going around the town and following Richard and at the edge of the woods when Billy saw him,†Jebidiah said. “But there are all those coffins at the mansion─†  “Wait,†Teddy said. “What man? I didn’t see no man.†  There was some confusion about the man who was stalking the town and Jebidiah noted there was only one man who had been seen but there were many coffins at the mansion. Michael suggested the coffins might not yet be in use. Jebidiah wondered if anyone was in them and, when Michael talked about breaking the locks, he suggested breaking through the wood of the coffins. Richard pointed out if they broke the coffins they would open; they wouldn’t be able to reseal them. Teddy pointed out if they broke off the locks, they wouldn’t be able to put them back on.   “Then we could close it at least,†Richard said quietly.   Michael was of the opinion they should break open the coffins and see what was in them.   “Are we talking about in the daytime?†Ella-Marie asked.   They nodded at her.   Jebidiah pointed out if they went back in the daytime, they could break them open and see if the vampires were in them. If so, then they could stake them. Teddy noted they would need a lot more stakes. There was some question about daylight hurting vampires but Teddy didn’t think it would. He even pointed out that in Dracula, Dracula walked around in the daylight, which Teddy didn’t like at all. They realized they had not seen any other strangers in Sanguis.   Michael again voted to break into the coffins. Richard asked if staking them when the vampires were corpses would kill them and Teddy assured him it would. Teddy pointed out if one chopped off a vampire’s head and filled the mouth with garlic or burned the body, or both, it could be assured they were destroyed at least according to folklore. Ella-Marie didn’t seem to like that. There was some talk of burning the vampires, Teddy noting the plantation would go up like a tinderbox if a fire was lit there. Richard suggested dragging the body out into the forest before lighting it on fire.   Jebidiah thought they should listen to what Doc learned before returning to the plantation. Richard agreed with him. Michael pointed out by that time, Doc would be getting the sheriff involved.   “If nobody owns the place,†Jebidiah said. “However, if the place is owned, that might explain our mystery person.†  “And if the sheriff is involved, isn’t that how it should be?†Teddy said. “Because they can …†  “Burn the bodies,†Richard said.   “We don’t want to go burning the house if we don’t know what’s going on!†Ella-Marie said.   “Exactly!†Jebidiah said.   “Arson is against the law as well,†Teddy said. “I don’t to go to the penitentiary.†  “We’re already digging up a body,†Ella-Marie said. “We don’t want to make it worse for us.†  “Who would be able to tell it was us?†Michael said.   “Who else would it be?†Teddy said.   Richard was under some confusion about burning vampires. When Teddy tried to explain, he had more questions. Teddy told him he’d just read stories but he didn’t know. Richard didn’t think they should be burning bodies if they didn’t have to. He asked about mist and the mist rising from Tommy’s grave.   They saw Billy walking around with a hand mirror. He went into the post office without a word. They saw him talking to Tim Bowman, the postmaster, and holding up the mirror.   “Don’t I look good?†they heard him say to the man, who just laughed.   The children realized he was using the mirror to look at Bowman.   “Hey look, Michael, he’s already spent those 50 cents,†Jebidiah said.   “Good for him,†Michael said.   Billy left the post office.   “Hi Teddy,†he said. “Hi Jebidiah. Hi Ella. Hi Richard.†  He walked on by.   “What is up with you today?†Ella-Marie said.   “I believe he might be holding a grudge,†Teddy said. “I don’t think 50 cents was enough, Michael.†  “I think if you start giving Billy any more money, though, he might take you out of house and home,†Jebidiah said. “Before he likes you again.†  “He ain’t getting a dime outta me anymore,†Michael said.   Richard was still of the opinion they should dig up Tommy’s grave as he was a vampire. Ella-Marie pointed out they didn’t know he was. Teddy noted Jebidiah had said they should wait for Doc Underwood to see what he said. Jebidiah, saying it was a democracy, thought they should reformulate a plan once they saw what Doc said. Richard pointed out that meant wasting the whole day. Teddy thought they should vote on it. When Michael asked for options, Ella-Marie told him they would decide right then what they were going to do.   “Man, I wonder how Mrs. Hill’s doing!?!†Billy shouted as he walked away.   “I know what he means!†Teddy said. “Who else would Tommy go for if he comes in the night? His mom.†  Jebidiah physically shook with terror.   Richard suggested he go check on Mrs. Hill and ask if she let anyone in who looked odd.   “Well, you’re not going by yourself!†Ella-Marie said.   “Well, it’s the middle of the day!†Richard said.   “How about this?†Jebidiah said. “We’ll go check on Mrs. Hill and then we’ll wait for Doc and, once he has the information, we’ll make a plan. That’s what I nominate.†  “You’re such a leader Jebidiah,†Teddy said.   “Oh, I’m not!†Jebidiah said.   “Oh, sometimes the meekest people …even Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s a governor,†Teddy said. “And he’s a cripple like me. At least it’s a plan. Is that plan okay with everybody?†  They called for a vote and Michael suggested they see what was in the coffins at the plantation while they waited for Doc. There was some discussion of that and Jebidiah pointed out if the plantation was owned, they could get in a lot of trouble for doing such. Teddy pointed out such trouble might include trespass, destruction of private property, and vandalism, just for a start. He noted if there were just squatters there, they could uphold the law at citizens.   “I doubt a vampire is going to go through the legal process of purchasing a home,†Michael said.   “Well, Dracula did,†Teddy pointed out. “He bought the monastery next to the asylum and he was going to live there. He had Jonathan Harker as his attorney and he arranged everything.†  “They don’t age, do they?†Richard said.   “They do age, but the blood can make ‘em young again,†Teddy said. “That’s what happened to Dracula.†  Richard noted the vampire had all the time in the world to secure the house. Jebidiah wanted to put it to a vote on going to the plantation. Michael and Ella-Marie were in favor of going to the plantation before Doc got back. Jebidiah, Teddy, and Richard voted to wait until the man returned.   “This is getting us nowhere!†Ella-Marie said.   “Then we’ll check back when we have our information,†Jebidiah said.   “Wait!†Michael said.   “I have another motion,†Richard said.   “Billy hasn’t voted,†Michael said.   “You voted for the …†Teddy said to Richard. Then he looked at Michael. “Why don’t you ask Billy what he wants to do? But tell him what you want to do first, ‘cause I think that will have some influence on Billy.†  “Sure,†Michael said.   “I propose we go see Mrs. Hill and ask her …†Richard said.   “I thought we were in agreement on that,†Jebidiah said.   Michael and Ella-Marie went to look for Billy again while the rest of them went to the Hill’s house.     * * *       Before they got to the house, Jebidiah had a plan.   “I don’t think we should ask any questions that could spook her or be confusing,†he said. “I think we should just how she reacts.†  “Oh!†Teddy said. “So just tell her were here to see how she’s doing?†  “Because if she … if she has seen Billy coming back, she might not feel bad, but if we ask, she might think she’s going crazy or she might think we think she’s crazy,†Jebidiah said.   “I was thinking I was going to ask her if she saw anyone around town,†Richard said.   “You can do that,†Jebidiah said. “But I don’t think we should ask her anything about Tommy unless we get suspicious.†  “Maybe we can ask if she’s been having dreams about Tommy,†Teddy said.   They knocked and Mrs. Hill answered. Her eyes were red as if she had been crying. Richard told her they were stopping by to see how she was doing. Teddy had slipped the compact out of his pocket and peeked at the woman’s reflection in it. Then he gave them a wink and a thumbs up.   “We just came to check on you,†Richard said again. “I know it’s been hard. It’s been hard on us too.†  “Yes, yes it has,†Mrs. Hill said. “I know you children are having a hard time. I’m having a hard time too.†  “Is there anything we can do for you.†  “No, but I thank you for coming by and looking in. If you ever want to put flowers on Tommy’s grave, I’m gonna go up there this afternoon, so …†  Tears rolled down her fact again. Jebidiah thought the woman, wracked with grief, would probably be in a better mood if Tommy had come to her in the night. He felt confident nothing was odd or off about the woman.   Richard asked if she’d seen anyone non-local around town lately. When she said she hadn’t, he told her he’d seen a man outside his window the night before and it gave him a bad fright. She said it was probably just a bad dream and she had bad dreams. She started crying again and he apologized.   Richard told her he’d keep in mind her going to the graveyard as they might join her.   “Thank you,†she said. “You boys are so good. You’re so good.†  She patted one of them on the shoulder and they left.     * * *       Billy had found Vanzant at Mrs. Pines house, standing in the shade of the trees near the river and whitewashing her picket fence. He looked at Vanzant in the mirror and was relieved he could see him. The man didn’t appear to be whitewashing with much effort and Billy guessed he was drunk or something.   Ella-Marie and Michael found the boy shortly after that.   “You really are suspicious of everyone, aren’t you?†Ella-Marie said.   “Oh, hi Ella,†Billy said. “Y’all check on Mrs. Hill?†  “No, we didn’t go over there. We came to sort out y’all.†  “Did someone check on Mrs. Hill?†  “Yes.†  “Yes, Michael said.   “Okay, that’s good,†Billy said.   “Jebidiah, Teddy, and Richard,†Michael said.   “A lot of people,†Ella-Marie said.   “Oh, okay,†Billy said.   “Billy, what can I do to make this right between us?†Michael said.   Billy just looked at Ella-Marie.   “Well, that’s good that y’all checked up on her,†Billy said to Ella-Marie.   “C’mon!†Ella-Marie said. “He’s right here. Look at him. Please. Talk to him. Y’all are friends!†  “You see what I mean?†Michael said. “He didn’t want to talk.†  “I sure hope Doc Underwood gets back soon,†Billy said to Ella-Marie. “I’m curious to see what he says.†  “Well, if you’re going to be like this, that’s one less person we have to worry about,†Ella-Marie said.   “Oh, did someone die?†Billy said.   “Yeah, Tommy,†Michael said.   “Not yet,†Ella-Marie muttered under her breath.   “I’m gonna head on home,†Billy said. “I’m a little tired. I’m gonna eat some lunch.†  “Okay fine,†she said. “Fine. If you’re going to do what you’re going to do … whatever.†  She turned to her brother as Billy walked away.   “Look, we tried coming, talking some sense into him …†she said.   “I told you,†Michael said. “Just … he’s a sour grape.†  Ella-Marie shook her head.   “He’ll get over it,†she said to Michael.   “Probably,†Michael said. “Now, whoever said we had to keep our promise to follow the democracy? I’m just saying we could go check out the plantation ourselves without them.†  “No, I don’t want to split up. I mean, he’s off doing whatever he’s going to do … that’s on him. But for us, just trying to figure out what the hell’s going on? We gotta stick together. That’s what the majority voted. We can’t go back.†  “I guess you’re right.†    * * *    

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

What Rough Beast ... Session Two Part 3 - Exhuming Tommy Hill

* * *       Doc Underwood got back around 3 p.m. The children all saw him ride into town on his horse and buggy and up the hill to his house. Billy had been napping but heard the sound of hoof beats.   All of the children headed up the hill and by the time they arrived, they found Doc entering his house. He invited them all in for iced tea. He had butterscotch for all of them and they went into the house. They all sat in the parlor where they had been the day before.   Doc Underwood told them he checked at the courthouse and found the Bennett Plantation had been purchased by a Christopher St. Jordan II, who bought it about a week before. Jebidiah said the man sounded rich. Doc said it did and pointed out that if someone was out at the house, they must belong there. Richard asked him if he found any other records of the man but Doc pointed out he had only gone to see who had bought the property. Jebidiah asked if there was any way to find out more about the man but Doc wasn’t sure. He did say he’d asked the clerk and learned the man was not from Alabama.   “A Yankee!†Jebidiah said.   “That’s kind of the impression I got,†Doc Underwood said.   “I don’t think he’s a Yankee,†Richard said.   “You said he talked like a Yankee,†Jebidiah said.   “I did not say he talked like a Yankee,†Richard said.   “He really didn’t,†Ella-Marie said.   “He just said he talked funny,†Michael said.   “He said he talked like someone who talked like this,†Teddy said. “And then he just said the same thing.†  “I think all Yankees talk funny,†Jebidiah said.   “Well, I do too,†Teddy said.   “He talked like … I don’t know,†Richard said. “I forget how he said it.†  “He’s trying,†Teddy said. “He’s trying. That’s a good thing, Richard. It’s good that you’re trying.†  “Well, he’s not from … anywhere … from here,†Richard said. “It’s very distinctive. It’s not anything I’ve heard before.†  “That could anyplace else besides … within 10 miles,†Teddy said. “Couldn’t it?†  “No,†Richard said. “I don’t think so. It’s not any voices you hear on the radio.†  Teddy asked if it sounded like Billy, who was looking out the window as he sat and drank his iced tea. Richard said it wasn’t and it had been unlike anything he’d heard before. Teddy talked a little bit about dialects. Richard was insistent it was not how they talked around there. Jebidiah was of the opinion people who didn’t live in Sanguis wouldn’t want to live there.   “There isn’t much here, is there?†Teddy said.   “It’s not much of a vacation spot,†Billy squeaked.   “How often are houses bought around here?†Ella-Marie said.   Teddy shrugged.   “That plantation’s been abandoned for … how many years?†Jebidiah said. “Hundreds of years?†  “Yeah,†Michael said.   “About a hundred years,†Doc Underwood said.   They asked Doc Underwood if he’d heard stories about a shadowy man or a tall man. He had heard the same rumors they had, of some tall man and hobos around. He’d also heard about the dead cattle and the wolves that were supposedly in the area.   He told them the place was owned by someone and advised them to stay away from it unless they wanted to go out and meet the owner. He warned them to be careful of trespassing.     * * *       They met at the tree house an hour later.   “Well, this means we have a lead on who our mystery man is,†Jebidiah said.   “I feel like that name’s fake,†Richard said.   “I’ve never heard a name like it,†Jebidiah said.   “It’s very fancy,†Teddy said.   “It sounds like it’s very Christian,†Richard said. “They have Christopher and Saint.†  Michael and Ella-Marie grunted.   “It sounds like they’re trying too hard, to be honest,†Richard said.   Billy pointed out that there was a River Jordan in the Bible. Richard noted the entire name was religious and, when Teddy asked what that meant, Ella-Marie guessed the man had religious parents. Jebidiah pointed out there was another one as the man was the second. Michael asked if a Christian could become a vampire and Teddy told him anyone could once they were bit.   “The only way we’re going to make progress is by going back to that plantation,†Michael said.   “Or Tommy’s grave but his mother’s out there right now,†Richard said.   “Or we could try to figure out more about this person but Doc said there wasn’t much … so …†Jebidiah said.   Teddy didn’t know where they would look for word on the man, especially if he was from out of town.   “Well, we had two options, a while back,†Ella-Marie said. “We’ve already done one.†  “We only have one left,†Michael said.   “Let’s try the other,†Ella-Marie said.   “Well, that’s trespassing now,†Teddy pointed out. “I’m just saying. I’m just saying. I’ll go along with whatever you want.†  “Who’s gonna know we’re out there?†Michael said. “Besides us?†  “I’m saying if somebody’s home,†Teddy said.   “Well, to be honest, Teddy, we were trespassing last time,†Richard said.   Teddy shushed him.   “C’mon!†Ella-Marie said.   “Well, if he’s home, couldn’t we talk to him then?†Jebidiah said. “And if he was that man you saw, we’d know?†  “If he’s home …†Michael said.   “That might be even better,†Ella-Marie said.   “We could go talk to him,†Teddy conceded. “I’m just saying, we were trespassing. Don’t tell anybody about that.†  “I wasn’t, but …†  “I know but … Richard, you talk a lot sometimes about … stuff.†  “Well …†  “Don’t tell your dad about that.†  “Well, if he asks, I feel like I should.†  “No no! No! No!†  All of the children were against that.   “And don’t tell my dad!†Teddy said.   “I won’t tell your dad,†Richard said.   “I don’t wanna get whipped,†Teddy said. “I’m not saying we can’t go. I’m just making sure everybody knows we could get in trouble if we just wander around in somebody’s house without ‘em.†  “Yes, we know,†Michael said.   “So I’m not saying not to go,†Teddy said.   They took account of what they were carrying, including crosses, a clove of garlic, and mirrors. Michael ran back to town for a hammer and a saw. They felt they were pretty thoroughly outfitted.     * * *       It was after 4 p.m. when they returned to the Bennett Farm. Jebidiah carried Teddy again. The plantation house looked exactly as it had when they were there before. The front door was closed and they had left it open when they had been there a few days before. Michael knocked but there was no answer once again.   He pushed the door open. Nothing looked different in the foyer. It was dirty and dusty and awful. They crossed the foyer when they heard a creak of someone on the steps above. Richard darted to the room to the left.   “Hello?†Michael said.   “Teddy and I can be the face!†Jebidiah said.   Teddy looked confused but nodded.   “What?†Ella-Marie said.   “The person to talk to,†Jebidiah said.   The footsteps came down the steps and a man stepped into view in the stair hall beyond the foyer. He wore a floppy hat and ragged clothing. He was as old as their parents and hadn’t shaved in days, at least. They thought he looked like a hobo. He blinked at the youths in the foyer and frowned in confusion.   “What are you children doing here?†he asked.   His accent was not local.   “Are-are you Christopher?†Michael said.   “Who?†the man said.   “Christopher,†Ella-Marie said.   “He’s the owner of the home,†Michael said. “And since─†  “Oh,†the man said. “No. No, I’m not him. I work - I work for him.†  “Well, we just wanted to welcome our new neighbor,†Michael said. “Is he here?†  “Who?†  “Christopher.†  “No. No, he’s not here right now. He’s … he’s somewhere else. He left me to watch out. He said … he thought someone had been in the house. Have you been in the house?†  “No sir.†  “No,†Ella-Marie said. “No.†  “This is all new to me,†Jebidiah said.   “We just - we just wanted to come say hello to our new neighbor,†Michael said.   “You said you work for him?†Ella-Marie said.   “Yes,†the man said. “Yes, I’m his - I’m his servant. I work for him. Keeping up the place. For him.†  “Oh, is he rich?†  “Yes. He’s very rich. He … has very much. Someone was here, just the other day. Someone had come to the house. And … fiddled. They fiddled. Were you fiddling?†  “I’ve never fiddled,†Jebidiah said.   “Define fiddling,†Ella-Marie said.   “I’ve never played any instruments,†Jebidiah said.   The man stared at him for a moment, his mouth agape.   “I used to play,†he finally said. “No. No, I didn’t. I’m watching the place. I’m here to watch. The master’s not here right now.†  “When do you think he’ll be back?†Michael said.   “He might be back tonight,†the man said. “Sometimes he comes in. He’s a very busy man … he … he’s a mortician! He works with coffins … and … dead bodies. He … puts them in the ground. That’s what morticians do, you see.†  Jebidiah thought the man sounded like a Yankee. Michael looked to Teddy, hoping he was checking the man with his mirror but Teddy was staring at the man in terror, obviously fearing getting in some kind of trouble.   “How long have you been working for him?†Michael said.   “Some time,†the man replied. “He … he hired me … to … he wanted me to watch his house and to perform errands for him. He has errands that need performing. And so I’ve been … I’ve been working for him. I have been working for him. Yes. He’s my employer.†  “How much does he pay you?†Jebidiah asked.   The man looked confused.   “Uh … he’s very generous,†the man said.   “If he’s very generous, you don’t look like you have much nice clothes on, sir,†Jebidiah said.   “No,†the man said. “No, I … I … uh …†  “What is your name?†Ella-Marie.   “Uh … Match,†the man said. “I’m Harry Match. Yes. Yes. Harry Match.†  Billy thought something was seriously wrong with the man though he might just have been very drunk.   “If … if you’d like to …†Harry Match said.   Michael walked forward and got into the man’s face.   “Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about the master?†he growled at the man.   Harry Match cowered, backing away from the boy. Michael followed him while the others looked on, horrified.   “The master’s the master,†Match said. “You … you don’t … you …†  As they reached the base of the stairs, Match grabbed the boy by his shirt with both hands.   “Get away!†he muttered into the boy’s face. “Get away get away get away get away get away get away! Get away!†  The last was shriek and he shoved Michael away and the bounded up the stairs in panic, screaming. Michael noticed he skipped one of the steps and realized there was no a broken step on the stairwell anymore. The man disappeared above and they all heard his footsteps run to one of the front rooms and a door slam.   “Michael!†Ella-Marie said. “You have got to know when to - when to hold back.†  “What made him do that?†Billy said.   “Well, you see, without him here, we can now continue checking the house,†Michael said.   “Well that’s trespass,†Teddy said.   “He didn’t seem to mind us being in the house,†Michael said.   “He didn’t tell us to leave,†Billy said.   “Billy’s right,†Michael said.   “This man doesn’t seem like he’s in his right mind,†Jebidiah said. “He yelled at you to get out.†  “He did yell for you to get out,†Teddy said.   “I didn’t see him tell anyone to get out,†Billy said.   Teddy looked nervous.   “What did we come here to do?†Ella-Marie said.   Michael headed for the north wing of the house. Ella-Marie followed him.   “Teddy, did you think to bring your mirror?†Jebidiah asked.   “Oh yeah,†Teddy said.   “If we see that man again, we should check him.†  “I hate to suggest this but maybe we could check him right now. He seems quite disturbed.†  “You want to follow him?†  “No. But Billy’s here. If it was just the two of us, I’d say we should leave right now. But we can’t leave our friends and Billy might, if that man gets violent, he got violent with Michael, didn’t he? If he gets violent again, maybe Billy could help us because Billy’s tough. Or we maybe should get with our friends so Ella-Marie doesn’t get mad for us splitting up.†  “Billy, what do you want to do?†  “I’m with you,†Billy squeaked. “I mean, we should probably go after the other two.†  “Okay, that sounds like a good idea,†Teddy quickly said.   “All right,†Jebidiah said. “Let’s do that.†    * * *       Michael found Richard in the room with the first coffin. Ella-Marie and then the others joined them shortly. Teddy looked nervously at Ella-Marie, a little worried she would be upset they split up briefly.   The room looked exactly the same as the day before. Michael took out the hammer he’d brought from home.   “And that’s going to be vandalism,†Teddy muttered.   “Are you sure you wanna do this with that man in the house?†Jebidiah said. “He can hear!†  Teddy gasped.   “He doesn’t seem like he’ll remember anything by tomorrow,†Michael said.   “I’m pretty nervous about this though,†Jebidiah said.   Michael started beating on the coffin with the hammer. It took him about 10 minutes to break a hole about a foot across. It was very dark in the coffin and he used the other end of the hammerhead to rip back some cloth inside. Billy took out a flashlight.   “It’s weird that that hole just appeared there,†he said. “I guess I’ll look in it.†  Michael covered the hole with his hands as Billy approached.   “There’s nothing in there,†Billy said.   “Billy,†Michael said.   “C’mon y’all,†Ella-Marie said.   “You gotta get over this now,†Michael said.   “You’re blocking the hole,†Teddy said.   He turned to Jebidiah.   “This seems aggressive,†he said. “Does this seem aggressive to you?†  “We know you’ve got a grudge,†Richard said to Michael.   “He’s the one with a grudge!†Michael said.   “You’re the one that put your hand over it!†Richard said.   “I don’t want to settle this right here,†Jebidiah said.   “I don’t want to either,†Teddy muttered.   “Look, pull your hands back,†Richard said. “We can solve this later.†  “Looks pretty empty,†Billy said again.   Michael moved his hands away and Billy peeked into the coffin.   “It’s empty,†Billy said. “There’s some dirt in there. Don’t the vampires need to be in their graves?†  “They need grave dirt, yes,†Teddy said.   Jebidiah groaned.   “Let’s go to another room and check another coffin,†Michael said.   “I’m kind of nervous about this y’all,†Jebidiah said. “Especially if there’s nothing in there. If there’s just dirt. Teddy, what do you think?†  “Well, I think … I think … I don’t wanna go to jail,†Teddy said.   “What if we find dirt in all of these coffins?†Ella-Marie asked. “What does that leave us?†  “If we open up all of these coffins that man is gonna know and they’ll know exactly who showed up here,†Jebidiah said.   “He can identify us,†Teddy said.   “Except me,†Richard said.   Teddy glared at him.   “Yeah, except for Richard,†Teddy said. “‘Cause Richard was smart and ran away. That’s what I always do.†  “But what good police officer’s going to trust a crazy man?†Michael said.   “The crazy man that’s the help at the house that it happened?†Jebidiah said.   “Have you been hanging out with Billy’s friends?†Teddy asked.   “No,†Michael said.   “Hm,†Teddy said.   “Teddy, do you want to wait outside and … well, I guess that wouldn’t really help,†Jebidiah said.,   “How about this?†Michael said. “If he tells the police, I’ll take the blame.†  They all looked at him.   “Don’t do that Michael,†Ella-Marie said. “You’ve been in enough trouble.†  “What’s some more?†Michael said.   “He has?†Teddy said.   “Quiet, Teddy,†Ella-Marie said.   “I mean, you got a gonad kicked just the other night and that looked pretty brutal,†Jebidiah said.   They looked at each other in silence.   “Can’t we all just get along?†Teddy said.   “I mean, the thing I’m most worried about is not that we get in trouble, but that we get in trouble and we get nothing out of it if they’re all just empty coffins full of dirt,†Jebidiah said.   “One of ‘em’s gotta have him,†Michael said.   “I think we should get the dirt,†Billy squeaked.   “We can’t go through all of ‘em without encountering that man again,†Jebidiah said.   Teddy wondered if Tommy’s coffin might have been in the house but Jebidiah was worried about checking through the whole house if someone was there. When he admitted to being a coward, Teddy told him he was very brave, pointing out he was carrying him.   “A stiff wind could put me into the grave,†Jebidiah said. “That’s what my mother always said.†  “I say we look around, see if there’s a child’s coffin in the house,†Michael said.   “I say we look around, see if there’s a child’s coffin in the house,†Billy squeaked.   “Okay, fine,†Ella-Marie said.   They looked through the north wing but didn’t see any sign of a child’s coffin. The south wing was likewise unchanged. They went up to the second floor, Richard noting which step was dangerous so they could all avoid it. They found the two front bedroom doors closed there.   “Now, watch out for the man,†Jebidiah said. “Make sure he doesn’t spook us.†  Ella-Marie went to the closed door on the right. Richard borrowed Teddy’s compact. Billy looked in the back bedrooms to check the coffins there. Michael followed his sister.   Harry Match was in the room. He looked startled when the door opened and he looked at Michael, terrified. Richard peeked at the man in the compact and could see his reflection.   “Uh … you’re not supposed to be here,†Match said. “I thought I asked you to leave. You’re not supposed to be here. The master will not be pleased.†  “We know something’s going on here,†Ella-Marie said.   Match picked up a clay jug from the floor, uncorked it, drank from it, and closed it back up.   “Can we help you at all?†Richard said.   “No,†Match said. “You have to go. I said to go and you should go. It’s not safe here for children.†  “You don’t seem to─†  “You need to go. Children. You should go. You should go. Just go. It’ll be the … he already knows about you. You should go before he … don’t anger him.†  “Christopher?†Ella-Marie said.   “If you anger him, then - then …†Match said.   “What’s your master’s name?†Jebidiah said.   “Uh … um … it’s … it’s … no … don’t make me say it …†Match said. “He … he … he’s a mortician. And that’s why he has the coffins─†  “But what’s his name?†  “St. Jordan! He is St. Jordan. St. Jordan. Christopher St. Jordan II. And he owns this house and he said you would come back. He said they always come back. You can’t stay here.†  He looked towards the window.   “It’s going to be dark soon,†he said. “And he’s gonna come back and you don’t want to be here when he comes … he doesn’t like trespassers. He doesn’t like visitors.†  “Where does he go during the day?†Michael growled.   “I don’t know!†Match said. “Not here! He’s hidden away. He’s hidden himself away. And he took the keys. And he buried them so that no one could get in. And so, he’s hidden─†  “Where’d he bury them?†Billy squeaked.   “I don’t know,†Match said.   “If you know what happened to Tommy, you have to tell us!†Ella-Marie said.   “I don’t know who Tommy is,†Match said.   “Did he bring anyone back last night?†Michael growled.   “No!†Match said. “He wasn’t here long enough─†  “Did he come from the train?†Billy squeaked.   Match looked terrified when he said that and gasped.   “There’s … he … he found me and he gave me a job,†he said. “And I’m working for him and you have to get out! You have to get out!†  “So, he came from the train?†Billy squeaked.   “Stop saying that!†  “Train!†  Match put his head in his hands and covered his eyes. Michael pulled out the handle he’d found on the tracks.   “You have to go,†Match said through his hands. “You have to go before it’s dark. You have to go before it’s dark.†  “Do you recognize this?†Michael said.   The man looked up and then looked away.   “That was on the table,†he said. “I don’t know why he saved it.†  “This one was from the train tracks,†Michael said.   “He told me he was very angry,†Match said. “When it was gone, he said that it … it … ‘it was gone’ he said. ‘Who was here?’ And I said ‘I was doing your bidding.’ And he was very angry. You don’t want to see him when he’s angry. You don’t want to. He gets very angry. You should all go. Go home and just … just go home. There’s nothing for you here. There’s nothing you can do. It’s too late.†  “Mind if we see what’s in that jug?†Michael said.   Match’s eyes opened wide.   “No, this is mine!†he said. “No. This is mine. It’s mine.†  “Yeah, what is it?†Billy squeaked.   “No!†  “What is it?†  “You can’t have it.†  “What is it?†  “You can’t have it. What’s wrong with your voice?†  Michael went to the man and ripped the jug from his hands.   “Nooooo!†Match screamed. “It’s all I have!†  Michael popped the cork and sniffed. The stink of corn whiskey almost knocked him over. He almost choked on the smell.   “You can have that back,†he said.   Match grabbed the jug with both hands, scuttling to the corner and crouching there, glaring at the boy.   Ella-Marie described Tommy to Match, asking if he’d seen the boy.   “I ain’t seen any children except for you,†Match said. “And you shouldn’t be here. He’ll be here soon.   “Does the master have any other servants?†Billy squeaked.   “I don’t know,†Match said. “Not that I know of.†  Richard looked at his watch. It was nearly suppertime.   “We need to get going,†Billy squeaked. “We only got two hours.†  “Let’s head back home,†Michael said.   “Yeah, we do need to make it to dinner before people are worried,†Jebidiah said.   “Don’t come back!†Match said. “Don’t come back! He’ll know! He’ll know you by your smell! He knows. He knows. He knows you! He knows you!†  Ella-Marie turned and pushed the others out of the room. She closed the door behind her, looking back only long enough to see the man still in the corner, sobbing.   “This might have been controlled,†Jebidiah said.   “Something’s wrong with him,†Teddy said.   “He seems like that Renfield person you talked about,†Michael said.   “That Renfield, he was crazy too,†Teddy said.   He had told them a little about Renfield and his flies and spiders earlier that day.   “I didn’t see any flies,†he said.   “I think we should watch out of our windows at night and make sure nothing comes for us,†Jebidiah said. “If he said, he’ll know by our smell …†  “I say we go back to the graveyard tonight,†Michael said.   Teddy went pale.   “I don’t think digging it up at night will be helpful,†Jebidiah said.   “It’s the only time we can,†Michael said.   “Let’s go to supper first and talk about it later,†Jebidiah said.   They returned to their homes     * * *       Richard went by the Hills before he met with the others after supper.   “How was your visit, Mrs. Hill?†he asked her.   “Very lonely,†she said.   “I’m sorry,†he said. “It’ll get better.†  “You’re a good boy, Richard,†she said. “Don’t go near the tracks.†    * * *       When they got together after supper, Ella-Marie asked Teddy if there was any coming back from being a vampire. He told her that, according to Dracula, once a person was turned into a vampire, they were just a dead body walking around. Jebidiah asked about Dracula controlling people and Teddy told him Renfield was controlled by the vampire and was crazy. He pointed out that there was a girl who hadn’t died yet in the book they kept giving transfusions. He said Dracula had left a note saying he was going back to Transylvania but when she did eventually die, he could raise her back up as a vampire, having bit her and having fed her some of his blood, tainting her. However, he never read about anyone coming back.   Richard asked if vampires lost their personality and he pointed out Lucy seemed to turn into someone else. She didn’t act like a person: drinking blood and attacking children.   Richard noted Mrs. Hill was home and Michael suggested they go and see if something showed up.   “No, we’re not going to wait to see if something shows up,†Richard said. “We’re going to dig up that coffin and we’re going to see if he’s still in there. Before the sun goes down.†  He was concerned if there was dirt in the coffins, the vampires might have moved their bodies between locations. Teddy told him that Dracula had gone from Europe to England so he guessed vampires could move. Michael mentioned Jebidiah seeing mist around the grave. He also wondered if Tommy went to Jill’s house instead of his mom.   Richard went to check on Jill.     * * *       The Spearmans were sitting on their front porch, enjoying what little breeze there was.   “Do you still have those handles?†Richard asked Jill Spearman.   “Yes, I still have those handles!†Jill said. “You can’t have them back.†  “I don’t want ‘em,†  “You gave them to me!†  “I don’t want ‘em. Okay. That’s all I wanted to know.†  “You are so weird Richard!†  “You’re weird!†  “Don’t you come around here no more!†  “I gave you those two handles! You should be thankful!†  “Oh my God! That’s just like a man! Just like a man!†  She stomped into the house.     * * *       Richard returned to the others. He still thought they should go to the grave. Michael was in agreement. Jebidiah asked Billy what he thought they should do and the boy squeaked that he was going to go scout himself. They discussed Teddy going with them and how to move him quickly if the rest of them had their bicycles. Teddy was willing to do whatever they needed. He didn’t want to get in the way.   “If you don’t want me with you, I understand,†Teddy said. “It’s just like my dad. He doesn’t want me around either.†  “I don’t feel that way about you, Teddy,†Richard said.   “It’s all right,†Teddy said.   “Maybe there’s something me and Teddy can do to help without being part of it,†Jebidiah said. “Because I’ll get winded, digging this grave.†  He suggested they be the ones that keep watch to make sure no one came around.   They all headed to the graveyard after leaving Teddy to watch the road where the graveyard path met it. The others went on to the cemetery and Jebidiah continued on into the forest about a hundred feet further on from the cemetery where he could see the road. Both boys planned on hollering if they saw someone come down the road.   The other four children dug up the grave with the shovels they had brought. They didn’t make as fast a progress as they hoped as they had trouble all working in the small space together. The sun was setting before they heard the scrape of a shovel against the hollow-sounding pine box of Tommy Hill’s coffin. They threw their shovels up and out of the grave and shoved the remaining dirt aside, Billy getting his cross in his hand as they did so.   The last rays of the setting sun glinted across the treetops above. Michael pulled the coffin lid open as they all scrambled to find their footing. Billy looked at the corpse in the mirror.   Tommy Hill lay in his small coffin, his eyes open. Michael found himself looking directly into Tommy’s eyes. For a moment, the blue of the child’s eyes seem to engulf him and he felt like he was falling.   Tommy Hill smiled, opening his mouth. There was blood on his lips. Billy saw only an empty coffin in the mirror in his hand. He was horrified to see Tommy in the coffin when he looked.   Tommy laughed.   “You’re here to save me!†he said. “Thank you for saving me!†  Ella-Marie was shocked and hesitated, unable to even react. Tommy jumped up and looked at Billy, who held a mirror in one hand and a crucifix in the other. Tommy squinted at the crucifix and then leapt up, out of the hole, and landed lightly on the rim near the temporary wooden tombstone. He backed away, not looking at Billy or his crucifix.   “Y’all!†he whined. “Put that away! That hurts! No! That’s not right!†  Ella-Marie lunged forward and tried to stab Tommy in the foot with one of her sharpened crosses but fell short, the little makeshift wooden cross digging into the ground. Richard, behind her, struggled to get out of the deep grave.   “Billy …†Michael said.   He squatted slightly and held his hands together, offering a leg up. Billy ignored him, tucking the cross into the back of his pants.   “Hey Tommy,†he said. “How are you?†  “I would be better if y’all weren’t being so mean to me,†Tommy said.   “I put it away,†Billy said.   Tommy backed away and out of sight of the children stuck in the open grave. Ella-Marie looked back and saw Michael, still waiting to give someone a leg up. She put her foot in his hands and he helped heave her out of the grave. Tommy was out there, kicking stones in the graveyard and looking bored.   “Tommy!†she said.   He turned to her.   “Hey Ella-Marie,†he said in a low voice.   Richard next took advantage of Michael offering a leg up and pulled himself out of the hole. He saw Tommy, who was looking at Ella-Marie.   “Tommy?†he said.   The boy ignored him, looking at Ella-Marie with a sly smile.   Michael climbed out of the grave, kicking down a good deal of dirt. He turned and offered Billy his hand to help him out. Billy ignored him and climbed out of the hole on his own.   “Hey Tommy, we found your treasure,†he said.   Ella-Marie felt herself falling into the little boys eyes as they seemed to engulf the entire world. She felt like she was falling into a void. Then she shook her head and felt in control of herself again.   “Tommy?†she said again. “What happened to you?†  “I always liked you Ella-Marie,†Tommy said quietly, looking down at his hands.   She frowned.   Richard and Michael slow approached Tommy, who was still staring at Ella-Marie. Both of them were empty-handed.   “Hey Tommy, did you find them treasures I gave you?†Billy squeaked. “In your coffin?†  Tommy held out his hand. There were two flattened pennies there.   “I’ll bring ‘em back to you soon, Billy,†Tommy said.   “You can keep ‘em,†Billy said, suddenly uneasy.   “I’ll talk to all y’all very soon,†Tommy said. “Watch this.†  Tommy’s body seemed to become compact, the arms and legs drawing in unnaturally, as he turned into a bat and flew up into the purple sky. They saw him head towards town.   “Wait, who would he have drunk from?†Michael asked. “Because he had blood on his lips.†  “Tommy is alive and on the run!†Billy yelled as loud as he could.   “Guys!†Ella-Marie yelled.   Jebidiah awkwardly ran into the cemetery, breathing heavily. He stopped to lean on a gravestone.     * * *       Teddy, who was still watching, was getting nervous.   “It’s awful dark out here,†he muttered to himself. “Is that a bat? That’s a bat. Wait a minute …†  The bat flew over his head in the general direction of town.     * * *       “Does destroying his coffin do anything?†Richard asked.   “The expert’s not here,†Michael said.   Billy ran towards town, as Jebidiah caught his breath. The others got their bicycles.   “Gotta go!†Ella-Marie said.   “Tommy’s back,†Michael said.   “Heading to town,†Richard said.   “I … heard,†Jebidiah gasped.   “Take Billy’s bike!†Michael said.   “Hold on,†Jebidiah said. “What about Teddy?†  Ella-Marie tried to push Jebidiah onto her bike.   “Teddy!†Jebidiah gasped.   “C’mon, let’s go!†Ella-Marie said.     * * *       “It’s dark,†Teddy said when he saw Billy running up. “Did you kill it?†  “Tommy’s back!†Billy said. “He’s a bat!†  Teddy went pale and pointed up at the sky.   “You might’ve seen him,†Billy said. “Let’s get going.†  He pushed Teddy back toward the cemetery as fast as he could, handing off his mirror to the boy. They arrived as the others were getting their bicycles around. Jebidiah went to Teddy and offered to push the wheelchair. Billy ran to his bike. While Michael, Ella-Marie, and Richard rode ahead, Billy hung back with the other two boys.     * * *       When Michael, Ella-Marie, and Richard got to town, it looked normal. Richard peeled off and headed for the Spearman’s house, going straight up the road, while Michael turned right at the train station, heading down the road there with Ella-Marie close behind.   They stopped in front of the Hill’s house.   “Mike!†Ella-Marie said. “Mike! What are you thinking!?! We can’t say anything to her!†  “I was just seeing if maybe he would show up here,†Michael said.   “What do we do? We didn’t really see where he went.†  “True.†  “We …†  “He sorta just flew off.†    * * *       “Did you see anything?†Teddy asked as Jebidiah pushed him pushed him up the road. “Did you see him? I saw a bat.†  “No, I didn’t see anything!†Jebidiah gasped.   “Billy says the bat was him!†  “I didn’t see anything!†  Billy rode in silence.     * * *    

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Max_Writer

 

What Rough Beast ... Session Two Part 4 - Death in the Darkness

* * *       Richard tore up to Spearman’s house and dumped his bike in the road. Seeing lights on in the house, he ran up and knocked on the front door. Mr. Spearman answered.   “Hey, do you know where Jill is?†Richard said.   “Just right over there,†Mr. Spearman said.   He gestured to the front room where Jill sat on the couch.   “Is she in her bed?†Richard said, breathing heavily.   “No, she’s right there on the couch, Richard!†Mr. Spearman said.   Richard looked in. Jill was sitting on the couch with a book in her hand. She looked at Richard, turned her head away, and went “Hmph!†  “Daddy, no,†she said. “Daddy, he’s not allowed to come in.†  “I’m not trying to─†Richard said.   “I do not accept your advances, Mr. Messer. He’s been bothering me, daddy.†  “I’ve been trying to keep an eye out on you. There’s been weird men walking around.†  Mr. Spearman looked confused.   “There’s been someone walking around town late at night,†Richard said quickly.   “What’re you talking about boy!?!†Mr. Spearman said.   Mr. Spearman was a big man. He wore coveralls, probably still from his work at a factory in Atlanta. A large, stinking cigar stuck out of one side of his mouth.   “I’m just saying don’t let anyone you know in,†Richard said.   “You take me for some kind of dummy?†Mr. Spearman said.   “No.†  “When I take advice from a 15-year-old boy comes ‘round here mumbling stuff, I hope somebody shoots me in the head.†  “Well, I can do that for you.†  Mr. Spearman’s eyes opened wide and he grabbed Richard by his shirt, shaking him.   “Richard Messer,†he said. “Do not make me come over and talk to your daddy about you, all right?†  “Sorry,†Richard said. “Sorry.†  “I thought you were

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

What Rough Beast ... Session One Part 1 - The Sick Child

Sunday, January 21, 2018   (After playing the Call of Cthulhu original scenario “What Rough Beast …†today, from 2 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. with Kyle Matheson, Ben Abbott, Austin Davie, Ambralyn Tucker, John Leppard, and Yorie Latimer.)   The summer of 1929 was warm in the town of Sanguis, Alabama. By June, the evenings were usually spent sitting on the porch and sipping lemonade or iced tea and talking about how hot the day had been. But for the children of the tiny town, who were out of school for the summer, it was a time of freedom and fun. They had so much to get done: fishing in the river, swimming in the swimming hole, climbing up into the tree house in the nearby woods, or even playing various games with their friends.   Sanguis was a tiny town of about a hundred people that stood on the Tallapoosa River where the Southern Railroad crossed it. The tiny, unincorporated village was established in 1876 by brothers who hoped to use the Tallapoosa River as a canal. It didn’t grow to more than a few families until the Southern Railroad line came through in 1896. The dozen or so people living in Sanguis at the time moved the entire town 500 yards south in order to be a stop on the railroad and even built a train station.   Many people who originally came to Sanguis worked in the grape industry in nearby Fruithurst or ran small businesses of their own and the village grew until about 1905.   The village lay in a lowland of northern Alabama between wooded hills and was surrounded on all sides by forests. Some small farms stood near the town, but most of the work in the area was done in Fruithurst. There was also a criminal moonshine and wine business with said products being taken by bootleggers.   Most of the houses had electricity and just about everyone had a telephone on a party line with the other homes. Water was mostly provided by wells and brought into houses with buckets, though both the Sandersons and the Pleasants had pumps. There was no indoor plumbing - outhouses were used. Most people did not have motorcars and some still relied on horse and buggy or even wagon. Most used the train or simply walked. The children of the village got by with bicycles.   There weren’t many businesses in Sanguis, only the post office, Sanguis Grocery, the mostly abandoned Sanguis Train Station, the Sanguis Pharmacy and Soda Shop, Roberds Shop and Gas, and an abandoned house that used to be a live bait shop. Additionally, Doc Underwood lived on the side of the nearby hill and, though retired, still looked after the people of the village and surrounding Cleburne County.   Old Sanguis still stood, some six abandoned buildings in the forest on the Tallapoosa Road north of the town. The road went through the small town and crossed the Tallapoosa River at a covered bridge called Red Bridge by the locals. Down there, it turned into the Muscadine Road and, eventually, connected up with that village in a rather roundabout way.   There were six children in town who had all just finished 9th grade at the school in nearby Fruithurst, some two miles west of Sanguis. They were all pretty close friends, being the only children in town of that age.   Theodore Sanderson was called “Teddy†by everyone in town, especially his friends. He was a tiny, brown-haired, bowl-cut kid with freckles and glasses. He was in a wheelchair because of an injury in 1926 which had paralyzed his legs. He always claimed it was from playing sports. His father, Robert Sanderson, was a harsh man who worked on a farm outside Sanguis. His mother’s name was Gloria.   Everyone in town knew where Teddy got his name because his dad talked about it all the time. His parents had wanted him to be like Teddy Roosevelt but the boy had ended up sickly and in a wheelchair. The joke his father never seemed to tire of telling was “We thought we had a Theodore, but it looks like we had a Franklin†referring to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the then-Governor of New York who had been stricken with polio. Teddy didn’t find the joke very funny.   Teddy didn’t have any brothers or sisters but he did have a pet turtle named Isaac Newton. He was very quiet and kind of cowardly but very smart. He also read a lot and tried not to disagree with anyone in their group of friends. His house was on the north side of the town off the main road and across the street from the Spearman’s house. However, his bedroom window faced the Pleasant house, on the main road, and Jebidiah Pleasant’s window.   Jebidiah Pleasant was a spindly, ghastly white, cowering young 15-year-old boy. He had a prematurely oily voice and, though he was always well-dressed, his outfits were disheveled as if they had been put together with shaking hands. He mostly wore hand-me-downs from distant relatives. He was also sickly and had asthma, meaning he carried around a glass nebulizer with him wherever he went though it was a bit of a chore to get it set up for him to use when he had trouble breathing. He was timid but resourceful and caring and had a large scar on his abdomen from when he had appendicitis and had his appendix removed.   The most important people in Jebidiah’s life were his best buddy Teddy, his mother Joyce, and his turtle Throckmorton. His father wasn’t often present in his life, being a traveling salesman and on the road most of the time. Jebidiah’s bicycle had been a present from his father but the boy almost never used it. His favorite place in the world was his family’s kitchen, where he helped his harried mother as best he could. He also loved his Uncle’s antique shop down in Heflin. He treasured the pocket watch he had gotten from his grandmother.   Michael and Ella-Marie Slayton were twins, brother and sister. They lived with their parents Ted and Eleanor in a little house on the main road on the south side of the village between the abandoned bait shop and Sanguis Grocery. The two had an older brother, Jonathan, who was in his 20s and had moved away after graduating high school. Their father worked on one of the cattle farms in the area while their mother was a teacher at nearby Fruithurst School.   Michael had short brown hair and blue eyes. He was average-looking but very strong and solid. He loved the gym and idolized Jack Dempsey. He always carried a locket with a picture of his twin sister. He was loyal but could be very hot-headed.   Ella-Marie was called “Marvelous EM†by her friends at school as she was good at everything she did when it came to sports. She was beautiful, bold, and brash. She had reddish brown short cut hair. She was very athletic and outspoken, some seeing her as rude. She was competitive and believed hard work led to success. She was a great believer in democracy. She loved the Red Bridge as she usually went for runs on Muscadine Road, always starting there. She loved the school fields in Fruithurst as well. She treasured her sports medals and trophies and a locket with a picture of her brother when he was a baby.   Richard Messer was a fairly rough-looking young man with light brown hair. He tended to take care of his appearance a little better than the other children in the village. He idolized his father, Joseph Messer, who had served in the Great War and even brought back a pickelhelm, one of the German spiked helmets, from France. Joseph now worked in a factory in Atlanta, commuting there by train six days a week. Richard idolized him and loved his mother Mary. He also doted over his 3-year-old brother Zach, whom he cared about deeply. Richard always tried to do the right thing and was very honest, stubborn, and demanding.   Billy Hicks was the grandson of the town Pharmacist, Merle Hicks. Billy was very small for his 15 years though he was solid and healthy. He slicked back his dark hair with pomade. His voice had also never dropped and was squeaky. He and his grandfather lived in a house on the main street next to the pharmacy and soda shop. He was cooperative but sneaky and treasured a watch his grandfather had given him.   Billy had lived with his grandfather ever since he was seven years old when, one night, his parents disappeared from their house. He had woken up the next morning and found them gone. The house was undisturbed and their clothing and luggage were still in the proper places. Alone and not knowing what to do, he had ended up moving in with his grandfather. The boy did not adjust well, however, and his grandfather had gotten him a Doberman Shepherd mix Billy named Blitzer, thinking that was the name of one of Santa’s reindeer.   Unfortunately, Billy had fallen in with some of the ne’er-do-wells at their school in Fruithurst. They were a bunch of troublemakers who didn’t respect anyone or anything. That meant he had two groups of friends, his school friends, who kept getting him into trouble, and his friends in Sanguis. He also liked to hang out at the train station and enjoyed putting pennies on the tracks to flatten them. He had his father’s revolver hidden under his mattress in his bedroom.   Recently, there had been talk around town of several instances of cattle being killed in the nearby area. The animals had their throats torn open but the bodies simply left behind. What was perplexing was that whatever beast did it didn’t maul or eat the carcass. There was also rumors of a hobo skulking around in the area and other rumors of a tall man being seen in the area. A few others said they had seen, of all things, a wolf in the area. All of the sightings were being blamed for the cattle death.     * * *       On the morning of Tuesday, June 18, 1929, the six children were hanging out at the tree house, trying to figure out what to do with themselves that day. The tree house was in the woods south of Sanguis with everything a young boy or girl could want. A set of boards nailed to the tree led up to a trapdoor that actually had a wooden bolt nailed to it so it was even possible to lock it. A little balcony was on one side and the children had set up a rope and pulley system with a little seat on the end to get Teddy up. They usually left his wheelchair at the base of the tree with their bicycles. Blitzer was actually able to climb ladders so he was up there with them.   It was another hot, humid summer day, but there was a little breeze up in the tree house.   Ella-Marie was petting Blitzer and the dog was licking her face. She fed him some crackers from her pocket. Billy was sitting on the balcony, throwing rocks at nearby trees.   “What do want to do today?†Michael asked.   Everyone just looked at each other. It was so hot, even talking was a chore.   “Hey guys, let’s go to the soda parlor,†Billy finally said in his squeaky voice. “My treat!†  Billy always tried to imitate what he thought was a New York accent as he idolized Al Capone. Since his grandfather didn’t own a radio, he only knew what a New York accent was by people he had talked to, most of whom had never been to New York City. It was the strangest accent.   “That is not a New York accent!†Ella-Marie said. “That’s just stupid!†  They climbed out of the tree house, lowering Teddy and Blitzer on the seat, and then went back into town to the Sanguis Pharmacy and Soda Shop. The place had a soda fountain on one side with electrical refrigeration for the ice cream and soda.   Billy went to the other side of the store, where his grandfather worked. Merle Hicks was an old, balding man in his late sixties who wore glasses. He had a harsh and angry-looking face but was actually very kind to everyone.   “C’mon gramps!†he said to the old man, asking for free drinks for everybody. “I’ll sweep the store! Next week.†  Hicks sighed.   “All right, but you’re gonna follow through this time!†he said.   “Of course,†Billy squeaked.   Both Jebidiah and Michael overheard the conversation and realized Billy wasn’t really treating them.   Randall Spearman was working behind the counter for the summer. He was a year older than the children and lived on the north side of town near Teddy’s house. The Spearmans had one of the only motorcars in town, along with Isaac Roberds, who had an old Ford tow truck at his gas station. Randall loved to drive whenever his father would let him, which wasn’t often. His little sister, Jill, was only 12 but was almost as tough as Ella-Marie.   They all ordered their root beer floats, milkshakes, and the like, each of them enjoying the cold treat. Blitzer lay down in the corner after drinking from a bowl of water.   “Y’all wanna go to the swimmin’ hole a bit?†Michael asked as they finished up their drinks.   “Why not?†Richard said.   “I can’t swim,†Teddy said.   “It’s okay, Teddy, I won’t - I won’t be swimming either,†Jebidiah said.   “We can skip rocks,†Teddy said.   “I’d like to skip rocks,†Jebidiah said.   They went to the swimming hole, stripping down to their underwear and getting into the cool water. Ella-Marie splashed Teddy and he looked at her incredulously.   “You said you couldn’t get in!†she said.   “I can’t swim,†she said.   “Okay,†she said.   “But watch out,†Teddy said. “I don’t want to hit y’all with the rocks.†  Teddy and Jebidiah skipped stones and the rest enjoyed the swimming hole. Jill Spearman showed up at one point and got into the water as well. She was 12 and one of the other towheaded children in town. She usually played with Tommy Hill, who was 10 and closer to her age, but they had heard he’d been sick for the last couple of days or so.   “We can find bugs for our turtles here,†Teddy said to Jebidiah.   “I would like that very much,†Jebidiah said. “Throckmorton has been anxious lately.†  They didn’t leave the swimming hole until around dinnertime. Ella-Marie rolled Teddy back to town by way of apology for splashing him earlier.   “Thank you,†he said. “That’s mighty sweet of you.†  The smell of cooking came from the houses they passed as they headed back for their own homes. They had almost reached the Slayton house, where the smell of pork chops was wafting forth, when they saw Doc Underwood walking down the street from the post office, his medical bag in his hand.   They all knew Doc Underwood, Jebidiah better than most. A very friendly man in his sixties, he had delivered all of them and seen to their injuries and illnesses their whole life. Friendly and open, he often carried sweets for the children of town in his pockets.   Jebidiah waved at the man and Michael called out “Hello.†Richard walked towards the man and he approached the children.   “How you children doing?†he asked. “You been enjoyin’ the swimmin’ hole looks like? Wet heads.†  “Yes sir,†Richard said.   “No, the water is dirty,†Jebidiah said.   “Where you going?†Richard said.   “Tommy Hill’s still sick,†Doc Underwood said. “His mother telephoned. He’s been ill. I’m guessing it’s just a summer cold or something.†  Jebidiah sniffed.   “How are you feeling?†Doc Underwood asked him.   “Oh, the same as always,†Jebidiah said, sniffing again.   “All right,†Doc Underwood said. “You do your best boy. You just never know. Sometimes people … you just do your best.†  “My ankle’s still bothering me,†Ella-Marie said.   “Well, you play too rough now,†Doc Underwood said. “You take it easy with them other girls.†  “C’mon!†she said.   “Hey Doc, when’d you say my growth spurt’s gonna happen again?†Billy squeaked.   Doc Underwood looked the short boy over.   “I-I don’t know,†he said. “I was expecting it but … you never know, you never know. And if it doesn’t, then you got other assets, you know? You’ll be fine. You’ll be fine.†  “Doc, when’s his voice gonna change?†Teddy asked.   “Well …†Doc Underwood said. “I think … uh … it’ll change. It’ll change. Some people just grow differently at different rates.†  “I pray it changes every day,†Teddy said.   “Well, we all do,†Doc Underwood said. “We all do.†  He looked the children over.   “I’m going over … I’m going over to Tommy’s house,†he said. “Y’all visited him? He’s been sick for a couple days.†  “Not yet,†Michael said. “Not yet.†  “Can we see him?†Teddy asked. “It’s okay? It’s not contagious?†  “Oh God, is he contagious?†Jebidiah asked.   “I don’t think it’s─†Doc Underwood said.   “Oh God!†  “I don’t think it’s contagious. I’m going to take a look. If y’all want to come with, you can. I’m sure Mrs. Hill would love to have you boys and girls say ‘hello’ to Tommy. He’s been in his room for the last couple days.†  “Ella, would you push me to Tommy’s?†Teddy said.   “Sure,†Ella-Marie said.   “I gotta go that way anyway, so …†Richard said.   Jebidiah seemed nervous about contagion but Doc Underwood assured him he would be fine and he could just keep a safe distance from the child.   “It’s probably nothing,†Doc Underwood said.   The children tagged along, Ella-Marie pushing the wheelchair quickly down the road.   “Oh,†Teddy said. “I don’t know if these wheels can go that fast.†  “Oh you bet your ass they will!†Ella-Marie said. “C’mon, ya pansies!†  Jebidiah tried to keep up with them, running with flailing arms and heaving breath. He had to stop just short of the Hill house and lean against a tree to catch his breath. The other children and Doc Underwood caught up and they all went on together.   Mrs. Hill was fine with them coming in with Doc. They all went in except for Jebidiah, who walked around the back of the house and stood outside the open window, looking in.   The room had a smell of unwashed child. It was small and stuffy, despite the open window. There was no breeze. Tommy was very pale and seemed tired, smiling weakly at the other children. He wore pajamas buttoned up to his neck and was shivering even in the heat. A brown teddy bear with buttons for eyes sat on the bed with him.   “Thanks for coming,†he said weakly.   Doc Underwood examined the boy closely in the small, stuffy room. He took the boy’s pulse and temperature, checked his heartbeat, and looked in his eyes, ears, and mouth. Mrs. Hill told him Tommy didn’t eat his dinner that night. He told Tommy he needed to eat and to drink lots of liquids. Then he packed up his bag and left the room with Mrs. Hill.   “You’re just skin and bones, aren’t you?†Ella-Marie said.   “I … food ain’t been feelin’ good,†Tommy said. “It’s all bright all the time and I’m tired.†  “Well, I hope you’re feeling better, little buddy,†Michael said.   “Thank you,†Tommy said.   “How’d you get sick?†Teddy said.   “I dunno,†Tommy said. “I ain’t been out in the rain in … a month. It’s been a whole month. That’s when I found those pennies on the railroad track.†  “Pennies on the …?†Ella-Marie said.   “It’s my treasures,†Tommy said.   Billy shushed him. Then he realized he had left some pennies on the railroad track one rainy afternoon and they had disappeared.   I’m gonna get them pennies, he thought.   “It’s part of my treasures,†Tommy said. “It was raining but that was a month ago.†  “What were you doing when you started feeling sick?†Michael said.   “Nothing,†Tommy said. “I just started feeling sick.†  “That’s why!†Ella-Marie said. “You need to get outside, run around, play some … play some sports, for God’s sakes.†  “Well, I play sports. I mean … I play.†  “You’re not active.†  “Not since I got sick.†  “Before then!†  “It ain’t all about being active,†Teddy said.   “Thank you, Teddy,†Tommy said. “Thank you Ella. I’ll try to do better. I’m sorry.†  “Talk about being active,†she said.   Tommy went red in the face and looked away from the pretty girl. She punched him on the shoulder.   “It’ll be all right,†she said.   “Tommy, if it feels like you’re never going to get better … you might,†Jebidiah said through the window.   “I hope so,†Tommy said. “Thank you.†  “You sometimes do, in my experience.†  “Oh. Okay. Thank you, Jebidiah. Y’all are so nice for coming.†  Ella-Marie, Michael, and Teddy overheard Doc Underwood talking to Mrs. Hill while they talked to Tommy. He told the woman he didn’t think it was influenza or strep throat and suggested keeping the boy warm, giving him some warm broth and plenty of liquids. He said he’d be back in the morning and if it got worse they’d see about moving him somewhere.   Doc Underwood peeked his head in the door.   “You children ready to go?†he said.   They all left the Hill house.   “It doesn’t seem contagious,†Doc Underwood said as they walked back towards his house. “Which is good.†  He admitted to not recognizing all the symptoms and confessed he thought he boy had picked up a bug or something. Then he handed them each a butterscotch candy.   “What are the symptoms?†Jebidiah asked.   “He’s pale, looks a little anemic, and he’s obviously very cold, but he seems to have a fever,†Doc Underwood said.   “Seems normal to me,†Jebidiah said.   Teddy thought anemic meant the child was gassy and he giggled when the man said it. The children all split up as they heard their parents calling them for dinner. Teddy’s mother actually met Jebidiah and Teddy as the former pushed the latter home.   “I’m so glad you two are friends,†Mrs. Sanderson said to Jebidiah. “You two are the best boys.†  Clouds began to roll in and it started to rain as they got home and went in for supper.     * * *       Jebidiah and Teddy had rooms that faced each other and could see the other’s window clearly enough that they could use flashlights to communicate with Morse code, which they were each trying to learn, after dark. They usually sent simple messages to each other nightly, mostly concerning what was for supper or how the other’s turtle was doing. They did so that night as the rain cooled the evening a little bit.   By 10 p.m., thunder growled outside and the constant flash of lightning filled their rooms. Those who went to bed after that found it hard to sleep.   Billy, who had gone to bed around 9 p.m., was woken by the storm. It took him a while to get back to sleep.   Michael and Ella-Marie went out into the storm a little after 10 until their mother yelled at them.   “Get in the house!†came a call from inside.   “We like watching the storm!†Michael said.   “Get in the house!†Mrs. Slayton called from the front door. “Watch it from the porch!†  “Mom!†Ella-Marie said.   “Watch it from the porch!†their mother called again.   “We’re on the porch!†Michael said.   “That’s not the porch, that’s the road!†Mrs. Slayton said.   “Fine!†Michael said.   The two got back onto the porch. They watched the storm for about an hour before going to bed.     * * *       Everyone was woken near midnight when the telephones in their houses started ringing. Billy heard his grandfather trying to get up.   “I’ll get it Merle!†he called to the old man.   “Oh, thank God!†Hicks said.   Billy went to pick up the telephone.     * * *       Richard was up when he heard the phone and quickly went to the kitchen to answer it.     * * *       In the Slayton house, both the children were woken by the ring. Ella-Marie groaned and got up, going to the hallway. Her father beat her to the telephone, however. Michael was also woken by the call; he didn’t get up but just listened as best he could.   They heard their father trying to calm whomever was on the line.     * * *       At the Sanderson house, Teddy heard his father get up and stomp down the hallway to the kitchen where the telephone was located. He grumbled under his breath about the time and how a man couldn’t get sleep.     * * *       Jebidiah was still awake, reading by the light of a very small lamp near his bed. Not wanting the sound to wake up his dear mother, he leapt from this bed and ran to the front room where their telephone was, picking it up as quickly as he could, already out of breath.     * * *       On the other end of the line was a frantic woman’s voice.   “He’s gone!†she cried out. “He’s gone! He’s gone!†  There were numerous other voices from the other telephones in town. As all of them were on a single trunk party line, and whomever made the call had basically opened up the line to everyone, the entire town was on the call. Many were trying to calm the frantic voice on the line, others were confused, and a very few were annoyed.   Richard and Billy recognized the frantic voice as Mrs. Hill, Tommy Hill’s mom.   “Everybody needs to shut up, right now!†Mr. Sanderson said.   The line went quiet.   “Margaret?†Mr. Sanderson said. “Margaret, is that you? What is going on?†  Jebidiah recognized the voice and realized it was Mrs. Hill on the line.   “I went to check on Tommy just after 11 and he was missing!†Mrs. Hill said. “His window, I shut it because I didn’t want there to be rain, it’s wide open and then I searched the house and then I called. Everything’s … he’s gone. He’s gone. He’s gone!†  “All right, calm down,†Mr. Sanderson said.   “He already went looking. Phillip already went looking but … but …†  Others on the line started giving the woman advice and many of the men who answered confusedly said they should form a search party. Mr. Sanderson finally told them all to quiet down. He told Mrs. Hill to hang up and call the sheriff.   Richard quietly hung up the telephone and left the house.   “Let’s all meet at the … let’s all meet at the post office and we’ll figure out where we’re going to go looking for him,†Mr. Sanderson said. “Margaret, call the sheriff. Do it now.†  Everyone started hanging up.     * * *       Richard had run out the front door through the pouring rain, crossing the road to the Hill’s house and onto the front porch. The windows were open in the front and he could see and hear Mrs. Hill on the telephone, hysterical. She was agreeing to something and then she hung up the telephone and then told the operator she needed the County Sheriff. A few moments later he heard her telling someone about her son missing. It sounded like the sheriff was going to do something and she began just agreeing and saying “okay†to whomever was on the other side of the line.     * * *       Teddy heard his father cursing to himself in the hallway as he went back to his room. He heard a rustling of clothing as he father got dressed in his room and the murmur of his mother’s voice asking him what was going on.     * * *       Mr. Slayton hung up his telephone.   “What’s going on?†Ella-Marie asked.   “Tommy Hill’s missing,†Mr. Slayton said.   Michael opened his bedroom door.   “What?†Ella-Marie said. “Tommy Hill?†  “Tommy Hill,†Mr. Slayton said. “That little boy that lives …†  “Not too far away,†Michael said.   “We just saw him!†Ella-Marie said.   “Yeah, he’s missing,†their father said. “He’s been sick. Maybe he’s delirious. I don’t know. We’re all gonna go look for him. You go back to bed.†  “What do you mean?†  “Go back to bed. Just go back to bed.†  Their father went into his room.   “You wanna go check the tree house?†Richard said.   “Why would he be there?†Ella-Marie asked.   “I don’t know.†  “He could barely get out of bed!†  “You’re right, but …†  “I mean …†  “We don’t know the specific details on how he went missing.†  Michael went back to his room and got dressed. Ella-Marie did as well.     * * *       “Who was it?†Merle Hicks called from his room as Billy walked back to his own.   “It was everybody!†Billy squeaked.   “God damn, boy, I hope your voice drops someday. What did they want?†  “Someone’s missing.†  “Who?†  “I think it’s that Tommy Hill.†  “Oh. That’s a shame. I-I gave his momma some medicine. He’ll probably gonna die. I’m going back to bed.†  Billy walked back to his room and got dressed.     * * *       Jebidiah hung up the telephone and returned to his room. He used his flashlight to flash Morse code at Teddy’s window saying “You there?†    * * *       Teddy saw Jebidiah’s light and made out what the message was asking. He could still hear his father changing in his own room, cursing and mumbling to himself. He carefully picked up his flashlight and signaled back “Yes.†The message came back “Did you hear phone?†He replied with another yes. “Tommy gone,†came back and he sent back “dead?†“Missing†came back. Then “window open.†  Teddy got himself out of his bed and opened his window. It was still raining out and there were intermittent flashes of lightning. Thunder occasionally growled across the sky.   “Okay,†he signaled to the other boy’s room.   “No,†the message came back. “Tommy window open. Him gone.†  Teddy closed the windows.   “My dad will find,†he sent back.     * * *       Richard ran back across the muddy road to his house, letting himself in the front door and heading down the hall to his room. As he reached his parents’ door, it opened.   “Boy, what the hell are you doing up?†his father said.   Richard stuttered.   “Why you all wet?†Mr. Messer asked.   “Uh …†Richard said.   “Go to bed. Go to bed.†  “I picked up the phone for you. Tommy’s missing.†  He told about the phone call and claimed he was checking on Mrs. Hill. That was why he was all wet.   “I’m going to go look for that boy, damn it,†his father said, turning to go back into the room.   “Can I come with you, dad?†Richard asked.   “No,†his father said.   “But─†  “Go back to bed.†  “But─†  “Go to bed.†  “But─†  “Go to bed.†  Richard hung his head.   “The house needs somebody here in case something happens to your momma,†his father said. “Go to bed.†  Richard walked back to his room, seemingly defeated. When he got there, though, he got dressed quietly. His father left the house a few minutes later. Peeking through his window, he saw his father leaving the house and heading down the street towards the train station.   He waited a minute or two, put on the pickelhelm and then snuck out his window.     * * *       Jebidiah didn’t want to go out in the wet for fear of catching a cold, but eventually he decided he needed to. He messaged back to Teddy he was coming and then got dressed and put his raincoat on. He left his house through the front door and walked down the road to the Sanderson’s front door, letting himself in. It was dark with only a single light in the living room. He went to Teddy’s room and found him there, completely dressed, in his wheelchair.   “I think I misspelled one of them words,†Teddy said. “Morse code’s hard when we gotta a lotta things to say.†  “Yes,†Jebidiah said. “I’d like to be more efficient at it. You think we should go after Tommy?†  “We can’t find him. Look at us.†  Jebidiah nodded sadly.     * * *       Richard found Michael and Ella-Marie on the road near the train station.   “Richard!†Ella-Marie said.   “I … I … I assume you heard the news!†Richard said.   The two of them stared at his pickelhelm.   “Well, yeah,†Ella-Marie said. “That’s why we’re out here.†  “Yeah,†Michael said.   “Can I join you?†Richard asked.   “Sure,†Michael said.   “I guess,†Ella-Marie said.   “You got any more details?†Michael said. “We didn’t actually pick up the phone.†  “Uh … I spied on Mrs. Hill,†Richard said. “They’re getting deputies to come.†  Billy suddenly rode out of the darkness of the night on his bike.   “Billy!†Richard called.   “Billy!†Ella-Marie called.   Billy just waved at them and rode by.   “Billy what is─!?!†Ella-Marie yelled.   “I’m going to the train station!†Billy called in his high-pitched voice.     * * *       “Do you think you know where he would have gone and … do you think … do you think someone took him?†Jebidiah asked.   “What does it matter?†Teddy said. “Our friends are the heroes. We’re just the sickly boys.†    * * *       “Stop!†Richard yelled after Billy, but the boy disappeared into the darkness.   “He’s going to check that out,†Michael said. “I’m sure he’ll be fine.†  “Billy!†Richard called. “Wait! My father! Train station!†  “Yeah, I’m heading to the train station!†Billy’s voice called from the darkness.   Richard sighed and turned back to the others. They stared at his helmet.   “What on earth is this contraption?†Ella-Marie asked Richard.   “It’s my … it’s a war trophy,†Richard said. “My father got it for me.†  “Uh-huh,†Ella-Marie said.   “I ain’t got time for this,†Michael said. “I’m going to the tree house.†  He walked away. Ella-Marie tapped the helmet and found it stout metal.   “We need to … we need a plan,†Richard called. “Because I assume we’re all out here for the same reason.†  “Yeah, we’re trying to find Tommy,†Ella-Marie said.   “What are we going to do about that?†Richard asked.   “I’m checking the tree house,†Michael called back.   “Well that sounds like a good plan,†Richard said. “I’ll lead the way.     * * *       When he got to the train station, Billy shouted Tommy’s name a few times and peered into the dark windows of the locked building. A minute or two later, the other three found him there.   “You know, if they took Tommy in his state, I’d be worried about them two,†Ella-Marie said.   “All right,†Michael said. “All right. Two of us go check the tree house real quick and the other two go get them. Sound good.†  Michael grabbed Billy’s arm and headed for the train tracks. Richard and Ella-Marie headed back towards the north side of town.     * * *       “Did you bring your turtle?†Teddy asked.   Jebidiah looked at him and grinned. Then he pulled Throckmorton out of his pocket.   “Yeah!†he said.   They put their two turtles on the floor. The animals just looked at each other.   “How about, until our friends come and get us, let’s do a turtle race,†Teddy said. “Isaac Newton’s gotten faster.†  He pulled out the piece of cardboard with a track drawn on one side.   “Throckmorton’s been training hard since the last race,†Jebidiah said.     * * *    

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

What Rough Beast ... Session One Part 2 - The Disappearance of Tommy Hill

* * *       When Richard and Ella-Marie approached Teddy’s window, where they saw the light on, they peeked in to find Teddy and Jebidiah crouched over the cardboard track, quietly urging their turtles on. Ella-Marie was about to knock on the open window when she stop and stared at them in amazement.   “What are y’all idiots doing!†she said loudly.   Jebidiah fell over and Teddy almost fell out his wheelchair.   “You have Tommy, don’t take us!†Teddy cried out.   “One of our friends is missing!†Ella-Maria went on. “And you’re doing a God damned turtle race!?! What the hell is wrong with you!?! Christ!†  She climbed into the window.   “What’s that spike-headed monster!†Jebidiah said, looking out the window.   “Oh, shut yer trap!†Ella-Marie said. “That’s Richard! Being stupid.†  “Oh, that’s Richard,†Jebidiah said.   “Take that thing off!†Ella-Marie said. “What is wrong with you?†  “But it protects my head,†Richard said.   He tapped on the side of it.   “Not indoors!†Ella-Marie said.   “But … it …†Richard said.   “Take it off!†she said.   “Well-well-well-well-well, I can - I can - I can - I can push Teddy,†Jebidiah said. “I know a little bit of the - of the lay of the land.†  “Y’all hear the phone call?†  “Yes. Yes, I did. I told Teddy about it, I did.†  “And you decided to have a turtle race?†  “What’re we gonna do?†Teddy said. “Look at us.†  “His wheels get stuck in the mud sometimes,†Jebidiah said. “And I have … asthma.†  “My dad’ll kill you,†Teddy said.   “If I wasn’t concerned about you two, I wouldn’t even be here,†Ella-Marie said.   “That’s …†Jebidiah said.   “Now Tommy’s missing … and I’m concerned about y’all,†she said. “‘Cause you’re about the same … mentally … physically … health-wise.†  “I can’t argue with her,†Teddy said timidly. “She’s right.†  “It sounds logical,†Jebidiah said.   “I’ll give you my helmet if it helps,†Richard said.   “I’ll-I’ll go if Throckmorton can stay the night at Teddy’s,†Jebidiah said.   “Yeah,†Teddy said.   “Okay, fine, whatever you want to do with your … turtles,†Ella-Marie said.   Jebidiah put his turtle, Throckmorton, in the bowl.   “All-all-all right,†he said nervously. “You do good now with your good friend Isaac Newton.†  “We’re wasting time here!†Richard said.   “Okay okay,†Jebidiah said. “Teddy, do you have your raincoat on? Where is it?†  “In the closet,†Teddy said.   Jebidiah fetched it and put it over the boy.   “There you go,†he said. “All right, let’s go.†  They left the dark house by the front door and headed towards the south side of town.     * * *       The tree house was dark when Billy and Michael got there. The small structure proved to be completely empty, the drip-drip-drip of rainwater from a leak in the roof sounding loud in the small structure. No one was there and there was no sign of anyone having been there since they, themselves, had that morning.   “Dang,†Michael said. “I thought he might be here, but … you see him sometimes at the railroad tracks?†  “Yeah, that’s why I checked over there,†Billy squeaked.   “Where else could he be?†  “The woods?†  “The woods?†  They both realized Tommy used to walk along the track, finding things and calling them his treasure. They knew he was afraid of the train bridge going across the Tallapoosa River, so he probably didn’t go that way. He might have followed the Southern Railway the other direction though.   “You want to check down the railroad track?†Michael finally said.   “I figure we should wait for everyone else,†Billy said.   “Let’s head back towards town and meet up with them somewhere.†  “Okay.†  “They’re probably on the way back by now.†  They climbed down out of the tree house and headed back. They met the other four on the railroad tracks just east of town. Rain poured down out of the sky, darkness thick except in the flashes of lightning that came with great frequency. They others struggled with Teddy’s wheelchair which was a problem in the mud. They had made it to the gravel covered embankment of the track.   “Hey Teddy, how’d you like a piggyback ride?†Michael said.   He moved over to the wheelchair and put his back to it, waiting for Teddy to climb on.   “Uh … I don’t know,†Teddy said.   “I think it would be a little bit easier than your wheelchair,†Michael said.   “We brought it all this way!†Ella-Marie said. “What are we going to do with the wheelchair?†  “Just leave it here.†  “That’s his wheelchair!†  “We’ll bring him back!†  “We could just pick up the wheelchair,†Richard said. “When he’s not sitting in it, it’s not that hard to move.†  “Well, if y’all get tired, I’ll be stranded,†Teddy said.   “I mean, I’ll grab the wheelchair if I need to.†  “I don’t think y’all can piggyback me that far.†  “No problem,†Ella-Marie said.   “What do you think, Jebidiah?†Teddy asked.   “Well, I-I-I mean, I guess─†Jebidiah said.   “You’re gettin’ tired pushing me.†  “I guess it’ll make us to a little bit faster, if anything.†  “Well, they do say that time is very crucial when someone is─†  “It is!†Richard said. “So get on his back!†  Teddy looked around at everyone, unable to make out their faces in the dark.   “We never speak of this,†he said.   He reached out and grabbed Michael by the back, pulling himself on. Michael got his legs and picked him up. Jebidiah had his hand to his heart.   “I wonder if this is what Isaac Newton feels like when I pick him up,†Teddy said to Jebidiah.   Michael, Jebidiah, and Teddy thought they heard the sound of a train whistle far away. There were no lights, however, so it much have been far off.   They headed east along the tracks as quickly as they could. Not far down the line, they spotted something lying on the ground. In a flash of lightning, they saw it was a teddy bear. They recognized it as the same one they had seen in Tommy’s bed that very afternoon. Richard picked it up and looked it over. It was soaking wet.   “Well, this is a good sign!†Ella-Marie said. “We must be close.†  “Yeah,†Richard and Michael both said.   They all heard the whistle of a train from the east.   “But this also means that Tommy came out here on his own,†Teddy said. “Why would a kidnapper take the bear as well?†  “I mean, Tommy could have just been carrying it,†Michael said.   “Not necessarily,†Ella-Marie said.   Richard put it in the seat of the wheelchair and they continued down the track. Michael started calling for Tommy.   “What are we going to do about the train?†Jebidiah said.   “Tommy!†Ella-Marie called.   They moved to the right side of the tracks and soon saw a light in the distance. In another flash of lightning, they saw a white shape lying on the rails.   “Oh my good God, it’s Tommy!†Jebidiah said.   Richard pushed the wheelchair to one side of the track and he, Billy, and Ella-Marie sprinted towards the figure lying there. Michael moved to the right side of the track and Jebidiah grabbed the wheelchair and pushed it along. Of the others, Billy started to fall behind but Richard pulled ahead. Ella-Marie couldn’t believe he was outrunning her. She was the best runner.   Richard reached the white figure first and realized it was Tommy. The light and sound of the train was bearing down in the darkness and he grabbed the boy and pulled him off the tracks as the train roared by. Ella-Marie caught up and started slapping Tommy in the face.   Tommy was very pale and only wore one sock. His pajama shirt was unbuttoned all the way. As Ella-Marie tried to wake him, Richard felt for a pulse.   “I … I think he’s … he’s dead,†Richard said. “He doesn’t have a pulse.†  Ella-Marie looked at him and then at Tommy Hill.   “Tommy,†she said. “Tommy?†  There was another flash of lightning as the train was finally gone. In the brief light, she saw two nasty red marks on his neck, like two bug bites, within about an inch of each other.   “Richard!†she said. “Richard!†  “What?†Richard said. “What?†  “What on God’s earth?†  “I can’t see anything.†  “I swear it’s … it’s two marks.†  There was another flash of lightning and he saw the two nasty red marks on the boy’s neck. He felt them and they seemed like swollen bug bites. Something warm was on his finger and he smelled it. He thought he smelled the metallic smell of blood. He licked his thumb and realized it was blood.   “What!?!†Ella-Marie said. “Are you crazy? You don’t know what happened to him!†  He cupped his hand to try to get some water to clean out his mouth. Ella-Marie was trying to see if there was any kind of other injury to the boy but couldn’t find anything.   Billy, meanwhile, was looking around as the others approached. He noticed what looked like a light out in the trees to the south. He thought, for a moment, it might be a search party, but then he realized it wasn’t moving. The only thing out that way was the old, abandoned Bennett Farm, a plantation house that had been in ruins for as long as anybody could remember.   “There’s a light out there,†he muttered.   The other three boys arrived, Jebidiah out of breath.   “Is-is-is Tommy all right?†Jebidiah asked.   “He’s dead!†Richard said.   “Oh Jesus,†Jebidiah said.   “There’s blood on his neck,†Richard said.   “Michael, look at this!†Ella-Marie said.   They looked at the marks in the lightning flashes.   “I’ve had a couple bites in my time, but I’m not sure,†Ella-Marie said.   “It’s too little to be a dog bite,†Richard said.   Billy was ignoring them and looking towards the south. He thought he saw the shape of a tall man near one of the trees not far away.   “Hey, we got a dead kid over here!†he called. “Hey!†  The man seemed to vanish, almost as if he faded away.   “Who are you talking to?†Ella-Marie said.   “The man!†Billy said.   “Is there someone out there?†Ella-Marie said.   Richard picked up Tommy’s body and put it into Teddy’s wheelchair. Teddy frowned.   “Teddy, I know some cleaning techniques we can use to clean your wheelchair,†Jebidiah said.   Billy could not see the man but the light out in the woods was still there.   “There’s a light!†Billy said, pointing out the light.   It was a flickering light and Jebidiah guessed it was a lantern or a candle somewhere far off, barely visible. Ella-Marie yelled for help in that direction.   “Hey, El, take Teddy for a second,†Michael said.   They transferred Teddy from his back to hers. He grasped her closely, his hands just above her breasts and he felt himself pressed closely to her. She gave him a look.   Michael examined the bug bites, putting his finger to them to measure how far apart they were. Then he checked against his own mouth, noting how far his canines were apart. The size was slightly comparable.   “That’s not good,†Michael said.   “What are you talking about?†Ella-Marie said.   “What are you talking about?†Richard said.   “There’s a chance those might be human teeth marks,†Michael said.   “No, it can’t be,†Richard said.   “Wha?†Ella-Marie said. “Human? Why?†  “I think those are bug bites,†Billy squeaked.   “I’m sorry, but …†Michael said.   “What are you trying to say?†Ella-Marie said.   “A human bite mark would not look like that,†Teddy said.   “The canines … but … human canines are perfectly positioned to …†Michael said.   “Do you know anybody who has that long and piercing of teeth around these parts?†Jebidiah said.   There was a flash of lightning.   “They’d be pretty slender,†Billy said.   “Don’t squeeze me with your knees!†Ella-Marie said to Teddy.   Teddy was confused as he couldn’t even move his legs.   “I wanna go see what that light is!†Billy said.   “Look, we found him, we have to get him back to town,†Richard said.   “Yeah,†Michael said.   Billy ignored them and walked towards the woods where he could make out the flicker of the faraway light.   “We gotta let our parents know,†Ella-Marie said.   “Hey!†Richard called to Billy. “Stop!†  “We gotta let somebody know,†Ella-Marie said.   “Billy!†Richard called.   “That could be a person who could go help us!†Billy called back.   “Billy, you can’t get lost in the woods,†Jebidiah called.   “Yeah, I know I can’t,†Billy called.   “That could also be the person that took Tommy!†Michael called.   “It’s-it’s the abandoned plantation, Billy!†Teddy called.   They had all heard stories about the abandoned plantation in the woods. The place was supposedly haunted and some children had gotten murdered out there or something. None of them were really sure. They just knew it was not a good place.   “Yeah, so … why?†Billy said, finally stopping. “I’m going to go check out that light.†  “There’s no one over there,†Teddy said.   “You reckon he was … already dead before he was on the track?†Ella-Marie said.   She thought on that.   “He was already dead by the time he was on the tracks,†she said. “Someone was trying to cover this up.†  “Yeah,†Michael said.   “Don’t worry,†Billy called. “I’ll sneak on over there.†  Jebidiah realized the light was most likely coming from the old plantation house.   “Billy!†he called. “That’s where the plantation is! Tetanus! And diseases!†  “Yeah, but there’s not supposed to be anyone over there!†Billy called back.   “That’s what makes the light scary!†Jebidiah called.   “Why isn’t Billy scared like us?†Teddy said. “Is he dumb?†  “Must be,†Richard said.   Billy walked back to them.   “Fine!†he squeaked. “I guess we can go back with everybody else.†  “We gotta call off the search party,†Ella-Marie said.   “Yeah, we need to inform the town,†Michael said.   “God, we just saw him yesterday,†Ella-Marie said.   “We could go back to the plantation in the morning,†Jebidiah said. “When it’s not raining.†  He sneezed.   “Bless you,†Michael said.   They headed back down the tracks. Jebidiah pushed the wheelchair with Tommy’s corpse in it. Billy left them and went into the woods near the tree house to retrieve his bicycle. The thunder and lightning continued as the rain poured down in buckets. They were all soaked.   They returned to town, Michael saying they should take Tommy to the Hill’s house.   “We need a trained, medical professional to pronounce him dead,†Teddy said.   “We’re not gonna walk up to Doc’s house!†Richard said.   “Did you see him?†Ella-Marie said.   “We need to at least call Doc,†Teddy said.   “We can call Doc from her house!†Michael said.   “Let’s go to her house,†Teddy said.   “That’s what we were talking about!†Ella-Marie said. “Doofus!†  “Hey!†Teddy said. “I did your homework.†  “No, you did not,†Jebidiah said.   They went to Hill’s house and knocked on the door. Mrs. Hill answered. She’d obviously been crying and her face was flushed.   “Tommy!†she said when she saw the little boy in the wheelchair.   She ran to him and then started sobbing when she found the boy unresponsive. She was wracked with grief and cried out “No! No!†She was hysterical and the scene was very disturbing. Teddy calmly bid Jebidiah to telephone Doc Underwood and the other boy telephoned but there was no answer on the other end. He guessed the man was with the search party.   The children went out and found the searchers. The word went out and Doc Underwood soon arrived at the house. Tommy’s body was taken to his room and Doc Underwood went back to examine it. Mrs. Hill sat on the sofa in the living room, crying. Little six-year-old Marjorie Hill sat next to her, also crying. Ella-Marie stayed with her. Billy got on the telephone and asked the operator to ring everyone on the party line.   “Yeah, we found Tommy,†he said once people had picked up. “We’re back at the Hill place.†  Richard, Michael, and Teddy went into the room with Doc Underwood. Jebidiah loitered in the doorway, unwilling to get too close to the dead body.   Doc Underwood examined the very pale body, seemingly at a loss as to what had killed the child. Michael and Richard, who had seen the marks on the boy’s neck, were very disturbed to notice they appeared to be gone.   “Doc! Doc! Doc!†Richard said.   “Uh …†Michael said.   “Doc!†Richard said. “Doc!†  “What?†Doc Underwood said, buttoning up the dead boy’s pajama shirt.   “There was a bite mark on his neck,†Richard said.   “They looked like bug bites,†Michael said. “But …†  “I tasted … they were … he was bleeding from it!†Richard said.   Doc Underwood unbuttoned Tommy’s pajamas again and examined the boy’s neck. There were no blemishes or markings on it.   “What’s the cause of death then?†Teddy asked.   “I … dunno,†Doc Underwood said. “He must’ve died from whatever disease he had or whatever was wrong with him. Maybe it was a congenital thing. I’m not … I’m not sure. We’ll have to ask … go fetch me Mrs. Hill.†  He pointed at Michael.   “Yes sir,†Michael said, leaving the room.   “He wouldn’t’ve left the house,†Teddy said.   Richard blankly stared at the dead boy’s neck.   “He might have been delirious and just wandered out into the rain,†Doc Underwood said. “I don’t know.†  When the Hills came back, Doc Underwood took them aside and asked if they wanted an autopsy of the boy but the Hills did not. They said they would prepare the body, which was still normal in that area. Mr. Hill mentioned going into Heflin the next day to get a coffin. They obviously wanted to get the boy buried as soon as possible. Mrs. Hill continued to silently cry and ask “Why?†lamenting the death of her child.     * * *       When Teddy returned home, he got a very stern and quiet talking to from his father. That was worse than the yelling because Teddy was used to the yelling. His father wondered aloud if the other children in town were a bad influence on the boy.   “They’re all I got, dad,†he said.   His father told the boy his mother had been worried as she had looked in on him while he was gone. His father then went to bed while his mother got him out of his wet clothes and got him into bed as well.     * * *       Michael and Ella-Marie got a talking to when they got home, but their parents were also proud of them taking the initiative to find Tommy’s body and then actually finding it. They told the two to be careful because they didn’t want something to happen to them like what had happened to Tommy.   Before they went to bed again, Michael told Ella-Marie the bite marks were missing when Doc Underwood examined the body. She laughed.   “No they weren’t,†she said, not believing him.   “Yes, they were,†he said. “Doc didn’t … both me and Richard saw there were no bite marks when he was examining the body.†  She looked at him a moment.   “They were there!†she said. “How─?†  “I know they were,†he said. “They weren’t there when we got back to the house.†  “That’s impossible!†  “I know. It’s just … I don’t know how to explain it. They weren’t there.†  “Well … what else about him?†  “Nothing else was changed. He was the same as normal: dead.†  “I know we didn’t just imagine it. Even Richard! He saw it was bloody. He tasted it, for Christ’s sake!†  “He also saw that they were gone when Doc was examining the body! What could have that kind of effect on a kid?†  “They couldn’t just close up like that. They were there.†    * * *       Billy was able to sneak back into the house without waking his grandfather, who was snoring loudly in his own room, as usual. Blitzer was glad to see the boy, who stripped out of his wet clothing and went to bed.     * * *       Richard also got a talking to about going out but his parents seemed proud of him.     * * *       Jebidiah’s mother was very upset when he came home. She hugged the boy and worried over him, getting him dried off and into clean clothing. She told him she knew his friends were good people but asked him to be careful and stay away from those trains. She was more concerned than angry.     * * *       The rain had blown over by the next morning, Wednesday, June 19, 1929, and though a child had died in the town the night before, as the day began, everything was strangely normal. Word was spread through town that Tommy Hill’s father had gone to Heflin and returned with a pine coffin. All of the children were told by their parents the funeral was that afternoon at 2 p.m. They were all told they were going to the funeral.     * * *       Teddy went over to Jebidiah’s house after breakfast.   “Let’s get everybody to the tree house,†he told the other boy. “Let’s me and you take charge for once.†  “Just once,†Jebidiah said.   “Can you help me clean my wheelchair?†  “Oh yes. I have supplies in my room.†  They cleaned the mud off the wheelchair wheels. Jebidiah went over the entire machine with an alcohol-soaked rag, just in case Tommy Hill had left any germs behind. After they were all done, they contacted the other children and, by 9 a.m. were all together at the foot of the tree that held the tree house. Billy had brought Blitzer.   “Were we going to go … look at the plantation now that it’s daytime?†Teddy said.   “I mean, if you’re all scared …†Billy said.   Richard reminded them there was the funeral that afternoon but Michael pointed out it was no until much later and they had plenty of time to go. Richard noted he was planning on going to the funeral. Jebidiah said he was going as well, but also wanted to look around the plantation.   “What happened … it’s just strange,†Ella-Marie said. “And impossible!†  “Impossible?†Jebidiah said. “What, pray tell, do you mean?†  “The bite marks disappeared,†Michael said.   “Oh, the bug bites?†Billy said.   “The bite marks!?!†Jebidiah said.   “What?†Teddy said.   “The bug bites,†Michael corrected himself.   “The bite marks?†Ella-Marie said.   “The bug bites,†Michael said again.   “What?†Teddy said.   “I can attest to this,†Richard said nervously. “I saw it myself. There was no bite marks and Doc didn’t know what killed him. Doc … thinks whatever he was sick with killed him.†  “I hate to─†Teddy said.   “But the bite marks … he was bleeding,†Richard said.   “I hate to be that person, but─†Teddy said.   “You saw it!†Ella-Marie said to Richard. “You touched it.†  “─I didn’t see any bite marks,†Teddy finished.   “It was real!†Ella-Marie said.   “I saw a man last night,†Billy said. “Nobody else saw that.†  “I also trust the diagnosis of a medical professional─†Teddy said.   “That was over by the plantation, right?†Ella-Marie said.   “─over some kids,†Teddy said.   “No, it was over in the woods,†Billy said. “Kind of.†  “When we found the body,†Michael said.   “Yeah,†Billy said.   “But didn’t-didn’t Tommy seem like he was … he was in such a bad state when we saw him that he would just go wandering around and …†Jebidiah said.   “No,†Michael said.   “Unless─†Richard said.   “It seemed like he wanted to stay in bed,†Michael said.   “I doubt he could even get out of bed,†Ella-Marie said.   “That’s true,†Richard said.   “I know whenever I am sick, and it is a great portion of my days, I just lay around and I feel as if I am a rock at the bottom of a well,†Jebidiah said. “Not able to move myself out─†  “Stop with your poetry already!†Ella-Marie said. “We know you’re sick as a dog.†  “Actually, I think most dogs are more healthy than I am.†  “Fine!†  “I say we go check out this plantation real quick,†Michael said. “Get back in time for the funeral.†  “But … should we prepare at all … he saw a man,†Richard said.   “I’m prepared!†Ella-Marie said.   “But …†Richard said. “I’m not that strong …†  “I think there’s enough of us,†Teddy said. “I don’t want to bring … weaponry … into the equation.†  “I think we can handle whatever’s there,†Michael said. “Even if it’s homeless men.†  “He could have a gun,†Richard said.   “And?†Michael said.   “I’d knock it right out of his hand!†Billy said.   “If he has a gun, we’ll just run away,†Michael said.   “That’s a great strategy,†Richard said sarcastically. “Get shot in the back!†  “I’m not even very good at that part,†Jebidiah said.   “You end up like him!†Richard said, gesturing at Teddy.   “You end up like who?†Michael said.   “Like poor Teddy over there if you get shot in the spine,†Richard said. “Or you bleed out!†  “I’ll be fine!†Michael said.   “I’m gonna need someone to carry me again,†Teddy said quietly. “I know it’s faster this way.†  “Don’t worry, Teddy,†Michael said. “I got you.†  “I know,†Teddy said sadly.   “Wait, if you are encumbered, could I try taking you, Teddy?†Jebidiah said.   “Do you think you could?†Teddy said.   “I … wouldn’t recommend that, son,†Ella-Marie said.   “I … I may not be the most dexterous of all, but I have my strengths,†Jebidiah said.   “Just-just-just … no,†Ella-Marie said.   “Okay,†Jebidiah said.   “Maybe for a little bit,†Teddy said.,   “For your own good, no,†Ella-Marie said.   “Maybe for a little bit,†Teddy said.   “Could we give it a try right now?†Jebidiah said.   “Sure,†Teddy said.   “He wants to try, let’s let him,†Michael said.   Jebidiah picked up Teddy, piggy-back, and seemed to be able to hold him sturdily.   “I’ll be dogged,†Richard said.   “Together, we form one functional human being!†Jebidiah said triumphantly.   Ella-Marie rolled her eyes.   “Why does this seem easier for you than pushing my wheelchair?†Teddy said.   “I’ll be damned, son,†Ella-Marie said.   “It’s the cardio aspect,†Jebidiah said.   There was some talk about taking the wheelchair, Jebidiah pointing out he would have to hand off the boy if they had to run.   “I will also make it of note … I have learned to crawl pretty fast,†Teddy said.   He looked over all of them.   “Some say I teach Isaac Newton … but he has also taught me very much,†he said.   They headed through the woods to the plantation. It was only a 20-minute walk through the woods before they saw the large plantation house amidst the stunted, sickly trees and overgrown fields around it. The house faced west and was a two-story central building with connecting wings to the north and south. The train tracks were just visible to the north. There were no signs of any outbuildings, which had probably fallen into ruin years ago.   Pillars held up the roof in the front and there was a portico and a balcony, each running the length of the main house. Some shutters were still up in the windows and there was even the hint of glass panes. Crumbling chimneys jutted out of the roof of the main house and the wings.   They approached, Richard and Ella-Marie in the lead as each tried to be ahead of the others. Ella-Marie beckoned them on and they were soon standing in front of the house.   “Where’d you see the light?†Teddy asked Billy.   “It was too far away,†Billy squeaked with a shrug. “It was in this direction though.†  “Do you think it was coming from the building? If you had to guess.†  “It was pretty far away. It was storming.†  “Why, I know it was storming. I was there.†  “That’s why I wanted to go last night.†  “That was dangerous. Let’s just go in.†  “I think we should make a thorough─†Jebidiah said.   Michael had walked onto the portico and knocked. The front door creaked opened.   “Well, okay then,†Jebidiah said.   Billy walked away from the group, heading towards the south side of the house and looking for a cellar entrance.   “Does he ever not wander off on his own?†Richard asked.   “We should follow him,†Teddy said.   “Someone should follow him at least,†Richard said.   “I just wanted to see if there was a cellar,†Billy squeaked.   “I think we should all stay together,†Teddy said.   “I think we should all look around the whole area before we go into places,†Jebidiah said.   “I just want to see what the inside looked like a little bit,†Michael said.   “What does it look like?†Jebidiah asked.   Michael and Richard peeked into the front door while Ella-Marie, Teddy, and Jebidiah headed around the house to catch up with Billy.   The foyer of the house was a mess. There were open doors left and right and an open doorway directly ahead. They saw stairs through the open door ahead, off to the right. Above was a decorative ceiling medallion with support wires sticking out the center of it but no chandelier or lamp. The place was very dirty with trash, dirt, and debris on the floor. They thought they could see the back door through the hallway directly ahead, dimly lit by sunlight coming through the dirty windows on it.   “Let’s go see what the others want to do,†Michael said.   “Sure,†Richard said.   As they turned to leave, Michael thought he heard a voice mumbling from somewhere inside.   “I heard something,†he said. “You want to go check it out?†  “What was it?†Richard asked.   “I’m not sure. Maybe a voice? They might be talking out back and there’s a back door right over there.†  “Sure, let’s go check.†  The two crept towards the back of the house.     * * *       The other children and Blitzer walked around the south side of the house. The wings were only a single story tall and looked to be in no better shape than the main house. Vines covered the back of the wing on that side of the house and the rear of the house looked to be in even worse repair than the front. The narrow back porch seemed to be on the verge of collapse, as was the small balcony above it. A stairwell connected the two. Between the wing and the main house was some kind of open courtyard, apparently, with wooden walls with slats. A door stood on the far side of the south wing as well.   Ella-Marie went over to the porch and kicked the wood.   “This isn’t structurally sound,†she said to the others.   They continued around the north wing, which was not ivy-covered but still in terrible shape. Another courtyard was between the north wing and the main structure of the house as well, seemingly in as bad a shape as the southern one. They also saw an old foundation around back that had probably once been the kitchen. Another door led out of the north wing away from the main house.   Billy saw no sign of exterior cellar doors on the house, nor signs of any cellar windows. It didn’t look like the house had a cellar.   They soon found themselves in front of the house again.     * * *    

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

What Rough Beast ... Session One Part 3 - The Haunted Plantation

* * *       Richard and Michael crept into the stair hall towards the back of the house. The steps went up to a landing above and, in addition to the obvious back door, there was a door on either side at the back of the hall. It felt like someone was watching them. The hairs went up on the back of their necks.   “Wish I’d brought my helmet,†Richard muttered.   “I don’t like this,†Michael whispered. “Let’s wait at the bottom for the rest of them.†  They heard a noise like splashing water off to the left somewhere. They also saw, just for a moment, the other children walking around the back of the house through the window in the back door.   “You wait here for them,†Michael said. “I’m going to go check out that noise.†  “You sure?†Richard said nervously.   “Yeah yeah, I’ll be fine.†  “You sure?†  “Yeah.†  “Sure?†  “Yes.†  Michael walked into the room in the back. It was as dirty and dusty as the ones in the front of the house and he saw a large archway with sliding pocket doors partially opened leading to one of the front rooms. Another door went off to the right and he saw dirty windows looking outside and back of the house. More debris was in the room and wire hung from the ceiling.   He looked out one of the windows and saw a brick courtyard surrounded by a damaged gallery. He thought the sound might have come from that direction. Looking around, he crossed to the room towards the front of the house and found a doorway that led out to the courtyard.     * * *       Alone at the bottom of the stairs, Richard heard a floorboard creak above. He looked up but didn’t see anyone at the top of the stairs. He backed towards the front door, standing in the doorway between the stair hall and the foyer.     * * *       There were doors all around the gallery but the one towards the back of the house, where Michael was more and more convinced the sound had come from, was ajar. He crossed the gallery to it and found it opened into a tiny hall or antechamber with doors in all four walls. He heard another splash. It came from the door directly in front of him.     * * *       Billy headed back around the back of the house.   “Billy!†Teddy said.   “I think we should check on our two comrades who bravely went in the house,†Jebidiah said.   Ella-Marie walked onto the portico and inside.   “I feel confident following her,†Jebidiah said.   He followed, Teddy clinging precariously to his back.     * * *       Richard turned when he heard someone enter the front door and was relieved to see the other three.   “Where-Where’s Michael?†Teddy said.   “He’s … uh … he went ahead,†Richard said nervously.   “Where?†Ella-Marie said.   “Alone?†Teddy said.   “And you just─†Jebidiah said.   “He said to wait for you,†Richard said. “And then we’ll go join him.†  “Join him where?†Ella-Marie said. “Where did he go?†  “He went that way,†Richard said, pointing towards the back of the house and to the left.   “Why did he venture alone?†Teddy said.   “He insisted,†Richard said.   Ella-Marie headed towards the back of the dirty house, Richard trying to push past her and lead the way. There was a little struggle in the hallway as the two fought to be in the lead.   “Listen, I-I love this power struggle but did you see anything recently?†Jebidiah asked. “Anything happen?†  “I heard a creak,†Richard said. “A creak upstairs. And I think he heard water splashing.†  “That’s enough to get my heart pounding already,†Jebidiah said.   “Jebidiah, your heart’s pounding,†Teddy, still on his back, said.   “All right, all right,†Ella-Marie said. “We’re going to stick together. Okay?†  They all crept into another room that was dirty and dusty. A door stood on the wall to the right and an archway with pocket sliding doors was to their left.   “Michael!†Ella-Marie called.     * * *       Billy went to the back of the house and started looking through the vines. He wondered if something or someone might have climbed up them but they appeared completely undisturbed. There were no leaves on the ground and they didn’t seem to very sturdy anyway. He doubted he’d be able to climb up them and he was pretty small.   He walked into the courtyard on that side of the house and saw it had a cement floor. More debris lay within it and there were panels with slats built to create a gallery or outdoor hallway with broken doors upon them. He saw doors leading into the house and the wing off the walkway. He crossed the courtyard to the gallery.     * * *       Michael pushed the door open and found himself in some kind of a bathroom. Dirty tiles covered the floors and the lower portion of the walls. A single, shuttered window stood in the wall to his right. A large brass washtub stood near a drain in the floor. The tub appeared to be filled with dirty gray water and was about five feet long by a couple of feet wide and just as deep. A spigot stuck out of the side of the tub near the drain.   “Nasty,†he muttered.   He crept towards the tub and looked at the drain. There was a tiny drip of water from the spigot. He reached down and turned the faucet on the drain. Water started spewing out, almost directly into the drain. He turned it back the other way to turn it off and the faucet snapped off in his hand.   He turned to leave and heard a bubbling from the washtub behind him. That’s when he noticed the door to the room was closed. He dropped the handle, gave the tub a look, and saw that, as the water in the washtub was lowering, two black mounds were being revealed. He turned and ran to the door but found it wouldn’t open. It was stuck. The water was splashing loudly out of the spigot behind him.   He kicked the door, knocking out one of the panels. It was not quite big enough for him to get out.   “Mike?†he heard his sister call.   “El!†he cried out.     * * *       When Ella-Marie heard Michael yell from somewhere in the house, she ran to the window where she thought his voice had come from. She looked out of the grime into a gallery and courtyard but saw no sign of him.   “Mike!†she called again and heard him call back to her in return.   It sounded like he was in that wing on the other side of the courtyard.   Richard ran through the archway with the pocket sliding doors and found a doorway that led to the north wing.   “This way!†he called.   He ran through the door to the gallery. The others followed.     * * *       Michael tried to kick out another panel but only managed to shake the door in its frame. Then the water stopped spraying out of the washtub, leaving only the persistent dripping. There was a noise behind him of something wet moving.   Michael turned around and raised his hands in a boxing stance.   Sitting up in the washtub, mostly obscured, was a colored man. He was soaking wet and had gray hair. He wore old, out-of-date clothing. Terrible bruises were evident on his neck, nasty purple marks. The old man slowly looked his way, and the two locked eyes.   Michael felt the room seem to spin and he felt like he was going to fall as he saw the old man.   Then the features of the man changed as he became pale and white and took on the features of his older brother, Jonathan, who glared at him and shook his head at him. Then he seemed to lay back down in the tub. Michael stared in terror at the washtub, unable to move.     * * *       Billy looked around the gallery and thought he heard the others calling to each other somewhere else in the house. He noted four doors leading into various rooms nearby, some of them with a few glass panes still set into them. The door to his right, which led into the main house, did not have a window like the others.   He realized Blitzer wasn’t with him and when he looked towards the back of the house through the courtyard, he saw the dog sitting some ways behind the house just looking at him.   “Stay!†he shouted at the dog.   He headed into the main house.     * * *       As the others entered the gallery on the north side of the house, they didn’t hear anything.   “Mike, are you okay?†Ella-Marie called.   Only silence answered her.   “We should check all the doors,†Teddy said. “Quickly.†  “Maybe straight ahead first,†Jebidiah said.   Richard ran to the door straight across the gallery that looked out onto the courtyard. Ella-Marie ran to the nearest door, which stood on the left, and kicked it. It crashed open to reveal a smallish room with a single window that, other than dust, dirt, and debris, was empty. She ran to the next door.   Richard arrived at the door and saw it had glass mounted into it that was intact. He put his shoulder to the door and hear something snap in the handle. It flew open. In addition to the dirt, dust, and loose debris, a coffin sat on the floor in the center of the room.   Ella-Marie ran to the next door and tried to kick it open but it merely rattled in its frame. One of the panes of glass set in it shattered.     * * *       Michael turned away from the horrible tub and grabbed the handle of the door, pulling it violently open. He fled the room and heard Richard call his name.   “I’m right here!†he said, exiting the antechamber into the gallery.   “Mike!†Ella-Marie called, turning away from the door she was standing in front of. “God! What is wrong with you? Why didn’t you answer me!†  “I did!†Michael said.   “I didn’t hear anything!†she replied.   “I answered you twice.†  “But not the third time!†  “You called me a third time?†  “Yes! Are you okay?†    * * *       Billy walked through the house and, as he did so, he thought he heard weeping or crying coming from somewhere nearby. He heard Michael and Ella-Marie arguing and stepped out into the gallery around the other courtyard where the rest of the children were.   “Are you scaredy-cats crying?†he squeaked.   “Michael, what have you found?†Jebidiah asked.   “There’s a body in there,†Michael said.   “A what?†Jebidiah said.   “Body,†Michael stammered. “There’s a negro body in the tub.†  “Oh God, what happened?†Ella-Marie said.   She put her hands on his shoulders. Michael sighed.   “For a second, he leaned up … looked at me … and he looked like our brother,†Michael said.   “I’m interrupting!†Billy squeaked. “Anybody else hear that crying?†  Everyone ignored him.   “Your brother is a negro?†Jebidiah asked.   “No,†Michael said. “No no no no. He changed.†  “Hold on!†Ella-Marie said.   “Guys, there’s someone crying back there!†Billy squealed.   “Everybody shut up!†Ella-Marie shouted. “We need to figure out what to do!†  Billy went back through the doorway to the main house.   “Richard?†Jebidiah said. “Where is Richard?†  “There’s a coffin,†Richard said.   “A coffin?†Jebidiah said.   “A coffin,†Richard said.   “If there’s a body in there, we’re not touching it!†Ella-Marie said.   “I think he’s dead but he sat up,†Michael said.   “That’s why I didn’t want to bring the wheelchair,†Teddy whispered into Jebidiah’s ear.   Ella-Marie closed the door to the antechamber that led to where the body was.   “We need to stick together and we can’t do this if Billy keeps running all over the damned place!†Ella-Marie said.   “Then let’s go find Billy,†Teddy said. “If we’re not going to go touch the body then lets at least stay together.†  “But the coffin!†Richard said.   “Well-well, I think the most safe and sanitary things of all is the crying rather than the dead body or a coffin that could possibly have a dead body,†Jebidiah said.   “Did you check?†Michael said.   “The coffin?†Richard said.   “Why would you open a coffin?†Jebidiah asked.   “I haven’t opened the coffin,†Richard said.   “Let’s not be concerned about that right now,†Ella-Marie said. “We need to make sure everyone is in the same place.†  “Was it Tommy’s coffin?†Jebidiah suddenly said.   “I don’t know!†Michael said.   “Why would it be here!?!†Ella-Marie said.   Richard looked into the room. He had heard Mr. Hill was getting a pine coffin for Tommy. The one in the room seemed to be a nicer coffin of a more expensive design. However, looking more closely at it, he noticed it had three hasps and three staples on top of it where the lid met the body of the coffin, each held shut with a solid lock.   The others had looked into the room as well.   “We should go find Billy,†Richard said.   “Why would a coffin be locked?†Jebidiah asked.   “‘Cause …†  “Because?†  “Grave diggers?†    * * *       Billy headed through the room to his left, through a set of sliding pocket doors, into one of the back rooms of the house. He thought the crying was coming from behind yet another closed door towards the back. It was a soft sobbing.   “Hey, is there anybody in there?†Billy squeaked. “Jill? Marjorie? Billy Number Two? Jimmy? Zach?†  The crying continued.   He turned the doorknob and found it not locked so pulled the door open. The empty, dirty room had shelves on the walls, some of them having long-ago fallen to the floor. There were doors to his left and right; he guessed they led outside from the light coming under them. A dirty, shuttered window stood in the wall directly ahead of him.   Though there was no one in the room, the noise of someone crying continued. He looked up at the ceiling but saw nothing out of the ordinary there, not even the ceiling medallion or wires were evident in the room.   He closed the door. As soon as he did, the crying stopped. He felt a shiver run down his spine.     * * *       “I mean, it’s a nice coffin,†Richard said. “There could be something nice in there.†  “Let’s go find Billy!†Michael said.   “Why would they put three locks to ward off grave diggers?†Jebidiah asked.   “I don’t know,†Richard said. “I’m not a coffin maker.†  “We can speculate about this later!†Ella-Marie said.   “It’s spooky,†Jebidiah told her.   “Yeah, but we need to find Billy!†she said.   “Fine, let’s go find Billy,†Richard said.   As they turned to head back into the main house, Billy walked out onto the gallery again.   “Hey y’all, I couldn’t find the crying person,†he said.   “You just gave up?†Jebidiah said.   “Thanks for just running off like that!†Ella-Marie said sarcastically.   “Well, I mean─†Billy said.   “As per usual.†  “─as per usual, it was … it was gone. If I waited, it’d be gone too. Still.†  “Why would I ever listen to you?†  “Teddy, what are your thoughts on the coffin?†Jebidiah said.   “I think anything with three locks is … something worth investigating,†Teddy said.   “If it is for grave robbers, why have they not buried it?†Jebidiah said.   “Are any of the locks already open?†Billy asked.   Teddy shrugged.   “I don’t think we should open the coffin,†Richard said. “I mean that’s … that’s …†  Yeah, but are the locks unlocked?†Billy asked again.   “… that’s awful,†Richard said. “I don’t know. I didn’t check.†  “We’d have to get the locks off somehow,†Michael said.   “Let me see if I can put all this together,†Teddy said. “This place is supposed to be abandoned. You think you’ve seen a person. You think you’ve heard a person crying.†  “I heard a creaking upstairs,†Richard said.   “He’s heard creaking. We found a coffin with three locks on it.†  “And it’s clean.†  “And it’s clean. If there happens to be another body here or something of importance, this could get the sheriff involved and solve all of this right here. I say we open the coffin and find out what’s going on.†  “Shouldn’t we check on your body that you say moved?†Jebidiah said to Michael.   “No,†the boy replied.   “Agreed,†Ella-Marie said.   “Do we need to open the coffin?†Richard asked. “We have a dead body here.†  “It looked as if it had been strangled or something,†Michael said.   Billy went into the room and looked at the coffin. He found the padlocks were fairly new and required a key. They were all clicked shut, which he carefully checked. The hasp and the staples were also new and screwed into the lid and body of the coffin. He didn’t think there would be any way to get the coffin open with some heavy tools.   Richard suggested they go upstairs, thinking there was someone up there. Or something. Ella-Marie said no one was going to go on their own. Everyone should be with someone else. Teddy agreed with that. There was a general agreement and Richard led the way back to the main part of the house. Jebidiah looked back at the door Michael had come out before he left the area behind the others, Teddy on his back.   They all entered the stair hall and then headed up the steps with Richard in the lead. Halfway up the steps, one of the treads collapsed under his foot and he felt something pierce his shoe and his foot. He let out a shout and jerked his foot out of the hole. It hurt intensely and he saw blood on the stairs. He fell backwards, hopping down a step, as all of this friends put up their arms to stop him. Blood dripped from his foot.   “God, what happened?†Ella-Marie said.   “I don’t know!†Richard said. “The floor fell out - the step … whatever it is. Something stabbed me.†  Michael looked into the hole where the two pieces of the tread had fallen. A foot down, several knives and nails stuck up.   “You’re lucky your foot isn’t more hurt,†he said.   Ella-Marie shoved Richard up against the banister and ordered him to take his shoe off. She found a round hole in his foot, like a nail, and wrapped his foot tightly in his sock before having him put his shoe back on. Billy, meanwhile, reached into the hole and grabbed the handle of one of the knives, eventually pulling it free. It proved to be an old, rusty kitchen knife.   “Why are these down here?†Ella-Marie asked.   “Are they rusted?†Richard asked.   “Tetanus!†Jebidiah said, pointing at Richard. “Tetanus just as I said!†  “Everyone be careful with your steps,†Michael said.   “It seems someone doesn’t want us to go to the upper floors,†Jebidiah said.   “Then we must!†Teddy said.   “Teddy’s newfound bravery inspires me greatly,†Jebidiah said.   Billy tapped on the next tread up the steps. Then he moved to the next one and the next one and the next one, leading the way up and testing the stairs as he went. The others followed after him, Richard limping and trying not to put too much weight on his hurt foot. Jebidiah asked for help as he carried Teddy and Michael made sure he didn’t lose his balance.   The second floor had a hallway that ran from the front of the house to the back. Doors stood on each end of the hallway, some light coming in through the dirty glass mounted on them. There was a door at the top of the stairs and three other doors in the hallway making two on either side. Another staircase went up over the staircase they had come up.   As they watched, a door towards the front of the house and to their left slowly closed.   “You got that knife, Billy?†Ella-Marie said.   “Yeah,†Billy said.   “Hope you know how to use it,†Richard said.   “Let’s go check it out,†Michael said.   “Teddy, I trust you have my six o’clock,†Jebidiah said.   “Always,†Teddy said.   Ella-Marie led the way to the door with Richard close behind. Billy followed them. The others approached more slowly, looking around nervously.   When Ella-Marie touched the door knob, it felt like ice. An uncomfortable and terrible feeling assaulted her as she turned the knob and pushed the door. It creaked slowly open, revealing a man hanging by his neck from a rope from the rafter in the center of the room. His face was purple and puffy, and his tongue stuck out of his mouth, black and swollen. There was a stench in the room like rotten meat. As the three watched, the apparent dead man opened his eyes and stared at each of them.   As suddenly as he was there, the man was gone, leaving the children shaken.   “Mike …†Ella-Marie muttered.   “Dead guy!†Billy cried out. “There’s a dead guy!†  “Mike,†Ella-Marie said as the other three boys finally reached them.   “What’s going on?†Michael said.   “There was … there was a man … right there!†she said.   “Hanging,†Richard said.   “Like you said!†she said. “Like … how …?†  “His face was purple.†  “How could he have gotten downstairs and … here … but you said he was … negro …†  “They could be two different people,†Michael said.   “What’s going on?†Jebidiah said.   “We’re here now,†Teddy said.   Ella-Marie, Richard, and Billy could all still smell the stench they had noticed when they came into the room.   “Do you not smell that?†Ella-Marie said.   Jebidiah, Teddy still on his back, entered the room. There was some dirt and dust within, but otherwise it was empty.   “No,†Michael said.   “It’s like a rotting corpse,†Richard said.   “It’s a terrible stench,†Ella-Marie said.   “Like meat,†Richard said.   Jebidiah sniffed but smelled nothing. Neither did Michael or Teddy.   Michael closed the door.   The other three doors were already closed.   “What are we even here to do?†Ella-Marie said.   “To see if we could find the person who did something to Tommy,†Jebidiah said.   “Or clues,†Teddy said. “Clues. Anything.†  “Why would Tommy have just gone out of his window?†Jebidiah said.   “Nothing’s making any sense,†Ella-Marie said. “We’re not tying up any loose ends here.†  “Well the only thing that was─†Jebidiah said.   “It’s just getting stranger and stranger!†  “The only thing that was put here recently was the coffin. And if we saw a light here last night, it looks like the only thing that we’ve seen so far that could have been put here. It could be that the coffin was moved in and the light was on because the people were bringing the coffin here …†  “Also, I just want to say, it seems the coffin is the only thing that we have seen that still remains there,†Teddy said, “while these other things, I have not personally seen.†  “That’s true,†Ella-Marie said.   “Obviously, we could look into every room and see if we can get anything, but if, like you say, there are more, strange things or terrors that go away …†Jebidiah said.   “Let’s go back to the coffin room,†Michael said. “That’s my vote.†  “So, we’re not going to the third floor?†Billy squeaked.   Jebidiah went to the door at the end of the hall towards the front of the house. Peering out, he realized he could see the railroad tracks in the distance, once he cleared away some of the dust. He guessed the front of the house, or perhaps the north side, was where Billy had seen the light come from.   “If there was a light on in the house, it had to have come from one of the rooms in the front side of the house,†he said. “So, we could check all the front-side rooms to see if there’s any evidence of people being there before we go back to the coffin, just to make sure we’re not missing anything.†  “Brilliant,†Teddy said.   Jebidiah suggested they check in the room across the hall from the room that had allegedly had the body hanging in it. Michael opened the door.   The rough and dirty room beyond looked like it had been inhabited. An old kerosene lantern stood on the mantle of the fireplace, along with a few other items: a few tins of food, an empty bottle or two, and other personal items. A large jug sat near the fireplace and there was evidence of a fire there. A table stood to one side and the remains of a bed, more of a box filled with hay, was to one side. Someone had apparently been living in the house. On the table sat a golden handle. The room smelled of wood smoke.   “This might be where the light came from,†Michael said.   The handle appeared to be a rod with connectors on either end. Michael went over and picked it up. It was relatively heavy. Billy, Ella-Marie, Jebidiah, and Teddy all recognized it as a coffin handle. Billy realized it was not a match for the handles on the coffin they’d found downstairs.   “Why would a piece from the coffin be up there?†Jebidiah said.   “Because they brought it here and it broke in transit,†Teddy said.   “I don’t know about it, guys,†Billy said. “That doesn’t really look like the ones on that coffin.†  “Well, I guess─†Jebidiah said.   “I’m not saying that it’s not weird,†Billy said. “I’m just saying it’s not from that coffin.†  “So, could there be another coffin?†Michael said.   Billy shrugged.   “How is any of this related?†Ella-Marie said. “It’s got to be here for a reason.†  “Well, it seems to me like the people who stay here took the coffin,†Jebidiah said. “And … Billy, you said you saw a man last night in the woods.   “Yep,†Billy squeaked.   “And also the light.†  “Yep.†  “But he said he disappeared into thin air,†Ella-Marie said.   “Yep,†Billy squeaked.   “It couldn’t have been human.†  “I mean that noose man also disappeared into thin air.†  “There aren’t people that aren’t human,†Jebidiah said.   “ Could they have been the same?†Ella-Marie said.   “Listen, I haven’t seen any disappearing men,†Jebidiah said.   “He was too far away to tell the race.†  Billy sifted through the bed of straw with his knife, trying to see if he could find anything within. He didn’t find anything after a few minutes of searching, going so far as to pull out the old, slightly smelly hay. He thought he could smell a musky smell, like someone who hadn’t bathed had been sleeping in the bed.   “I vote we go back to the coffin,†Michael said.   “Guys, we got one more floor,†Billy squeaked.   Billy went to the stairs up and started checking the steps with his knife again. They were all solid.   The third floor was a little darker as the windows were much smaller and there was a slot between the wall and the outer wall of the house. There were two doors on either side of the hallway, all of them open. Billy went back to the lived-in room and retrieved the lantern. Unfortunately, none of them carried any matches. Billy thought it felt chilly up in that horribly hot place.   Jebidiah suggested peeking into the rooms quickly and then leaving. the others agreed.   They peeked into the rooms and saw that the nearest one across the hall from the stairway had another coffin within. It had dirt on it but was otherwise relatively nice. They saw it had the three hasps and staples, each of them closed with a lock as well.   “All right, gang, there’s another coffin in here, but it looks like it’s been here a while,†Jebidiah said.   Michael compared the handle he had found with the coffin’s. They did not match.   The door right next to it opened into a dirty room with a coffin within as well. It was not as nice a coffin, but was better than a plain pine box. There were wooden handles on the sides. It, too, was locked shut.   “Hey, coffin number three everyone,†Jebidiah said nervously.   He was shaking with fear.   Across the hall from that room, still on the front of the house, the bedroom contained another coffin. It was clean but still not as nice as the first one they’d found. The handles didn’t appear to match the one Michael had.   “Coffin number four!†Jebidiah shrieked. “It’s a new one! What’s going on?†  The last room on the third floor was empty except for dust, dirt, and debris. However, there was a cleared space in the center of the floor where something had obviously been at some point. It seemed to be coffin-shaped.   “Amazing!†Jebidiah said hysterically. “Oh good!†  “Where is it?†Ella-Marie said.   “We should … we should open one,†Teddy said.   “Teddy!†Jebidiah said.   “Jebidiah, set me down beside the nice coffin, please,†Teddy said.   “Are you quite sure, Teddy?†Jebidiah asked.   “I’m not. Don’t talk me out of it.†  “Okay.†  Jebidiah took the man to the last room they’d looked at with a coffin and put the boy down on the dirty floor next to it. He started to examine it as closely as he could. Jebidiah asked if he could see what was in it but the thing was locked down tight.   The coffin wasn’t dirty or dusty and was probably a decent coffin, though not as nice as the first one they’d found. Teddy had read Dracula by Bram Stoker and a few folklore stories about vampires. He had also read the Varney the Vampire series of stories. He knew that mythical vampires lived in coffins during the day and reverted to dead bodies if they were struck by sunlight. He knew they bit people in the neck and fed on their blood and could only truly be destroyed by a stake to the heart. He remembered Dracula had bit people three times before they became a vampire, or perhaps fed them some of his own blood to change them. Crosses and crucifixes warded off vampires and they left no reflections in mirrors. Garlic repelled the things and they couldn’t cross running water or enter a home unless invited. Dracula was strong and immortal, looking old until he feasted on blood, which made him young again.   “Well, what do you make of it, Teddy?†Jebidiah asked.   “Hold on, I have an idea,†Teddy said.   He put his ear to the coffin but didn’t hear anything. He knocked on the side of the coffin to no effect.   Michael went to the coffin and slammed the handle he had found onto one of the locks, trying to break it. It had no effect.   “Does that handle fit with any of the coffins?†Jebidiah asked.   “No,†Michael said. “This handle doesn’t fit any of them.†  “Hm,†Teddy said.   “I’ve been keeping track,†Michael said.   “So, there’s possibly a fifth coffin,†Billy squeaked.   “Maybe,†Michael said.   “Looks like it to me,†Jebidiah said. “But it’s not here.†  “We could go back downstairs and check the second floor,†Michael said.   “We could ask around,†Jebidiah said. “See what happens this night. I mean, unless we find a way to open any of these coffins, I don’t think we check and see if there’s anything actually in them.†  A door slammed downstairs and they all looked at each other nervously.   “Let’s go back downstairs,†Michael said.   Jebidiah picked up Teddy and, after he quickly looked into the rooms to make sure none of the coffins were open, they carefully walked down to the second floor.   “If anyone is too weathered by the things they have seen, I can go,†Jebidiah said. “But, I am of faint heart.†  They examined the room across from the stairway on the second floor and Michael and Billy noticed that, though there was only dirt and debris in the room, there was a cleared spot in the center of the floor that was the right size for a coffin. Billy was certain there was a coffin there.   “At least six more coffins,†he squeaked. “Or no … still five.†  “Six more?†Ella-Marie said.   “Five. Five more still. It could be six.†  “So … ten? What are you …?†  “So, missing coffin again,†Michael said. “Not good.†  They looked in the room at the top of the stairs and found it held an older coffin with verdigris-covered copper handles and fixtures. Richard peeked into the rooms off both of those rooms and found a locked coffin in each of them. None of them matched the brass handle Michael carried.   “It doesn’t make sense that they would store them in different rooms on different floors,†Ella-Marie said.   “Or that they wouldn’t smell in the summer or be locked from the outside,†Jebidiah said.   “Unless they were assigned rooms?†Michael said.   “Assigned rooms?†Ella-Marie said.   “Yeah?†Michael said.   “For a coffin?†Billy squeaked.   “I think unless we try to look for more keys or things to do, it might be best to get information,†Jebidiah said.   “I say we just check the last few rooms and then go back to town,†Billy squeaked.   “I’m pretty spooked,†Jebidiah said. “What are we trying to figure out today. Do we want to try to find a match for the handle? Do we want to try to find keys for the locks? And how long do we want to stay? Do we want to check every room?†  Billy went to the inhabited room but came right back, having returned the lantern to the place he had found it.   “I was hoping we would find all of it, but …†Teddy said.   They realized there were several rooms of the ground floor they had not yet explored. Jebidiah suggested they explore the rest of the rooms quickly and then decide if they should go back to town and talk to someone. Teddy noted they should return better prepared now that they knew something serious and perhaps supernatural was taking place there. Ella-Marie pointed out the plantation was the only lead they had to what had happened to Tommy. Jebidiah wanted to decide what to do after exploring things.   They agreed and went down to the first floor. The only room they had not been in within the main house was empty aside from debris. However, the north wing proved to have more coffins in the front and back bedrooms.   Michael refused to enter the bathroom there. The others found the room empty and dry and holding only an empty brass washtub full of cobwebs.   When they explored the south wing, they found a coffin in each of the three bedrooms.   None of the coffins they found matched Michael’s coffin handle. All were different types and designs, some of them with dirt or dust upon them. Others were clean. All of them were locked closed with three locks.   By the time they had explored the whole house, they all felt dirty, dusty, and tired. When they headed out of the house, Billy went out through the south courtyard to get Blitzer. He brought the dog around to the front of the house where the others had gathered on the portico. It was so hot.   “I am both scared and disappointed,†Jebidiah said.   Teddy told them everything he had read about Dracula and vampires.   “I didn’t want to jump to conclusions, but that’s a lot of coffins,†he said. “I’ve maybe jumped to the conclusion that Tommy might be becoming a vampire if the marks have disappeared. So, I think even though it may be a bad idea, we should open up his coffin somehow at the funeral while it’s daytime.†  They looked at each other.   “Maybe we could just say we want to see Tommy one last night,†Teddy said. “We don’t want to remember him in his pajamas, naked, cold, and in the rain.†  “I gotta give him these pennies,†Billy squeaked.   “Let’s just see what happens if we open the coffin in the daylight,†Teddy said.   “All right,†Jebidiah said. “And if we have to make another quick run back by here tomorrow once we know more or something like that. You said that sunlight destroys them, right?†  “Many things destroy them, but no,†Teddy said. “But we can come back, better prepared, with the knowledge that I have.†  “And, as much as it bothers me to see these coffins, if they’re all locked up, except for the ones that are missing, it seems pretty safe,†Jebidiah said.   “Could they be opened?†Richard said.   Teddy remembered stories of vampires coffins being opened up after several people had identified the dead as being seen after their deaths. When the coffins were opened up, they found, under six feet of soil, in a closed coffin, the vampire, bloated, blood on their mouths, with long fingernails and hair. He was unsure how a vampire got out of the its coffin from under six feet of dirt and returned without disturbing the soil above.   They all returned to their homes and got cleaned up. Richard walked to Doc Underwood’s house and told him of stepping on a nail at the plantation. Doc Underwood cleaned the wound and gave the boy a tetanus shot as well. He sent the boy on his way and he went home to get ready for the funeral.     * * *    

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

What Rough Beast ... Session One Part 4 - Funeral for a Friend

* * *       Billy had ridden his bike around town in search of Morris Vanzant. Vanzant was a vagrant almost as old as Doc Underwood who did odd jobs around the town to by. He allegedly lived in one of the buildings in Old Sanguis, the tiny town of six shacks some 500 yards up Tallapoosa road. Old Sanguis was the original settlement until the railroad had come through 30 years before and everyone had pulled up stakes and resettled the town near the tracks. That was why there was a train station in the village. The townsfolk had built it in hopes of becoming a regular stop. It hadn’t worked and the station was now abandoned.   Billy found Vanzant pulling weeds at one of the houses in town.   “Hi Mr. Vanzant,†Billy squealed when he saw him.   The man looked hard at him.   “Well, hello there Billy,†he said.   Vanzant called all of the children in town “Billy.†  “Me and my friends are wondering if you ever go near that plantation,†Billy said.   The old man stared at him.   “The Bennett Farm?†he finally said.   “Yeah,†Billy said.   “Hell no! That’s probably haunted. Huh-uh. No. There’s … there’s ghosts out there. I don’t like spooks.†  “So whatever happened over there?†  “Uh … I don’t know. When I was a kid, they was wanting me to go out there and look … but I wouldn’t. Who went out there? Somebody … Jesse Underwood. He went … I should take a break.†  He sat down.   “Jesse Underwood went out there,†he said, pulling a nasty-looking flask out of his jacket. “Don’t tell anybody I’m not working.†  He took a swig and coughed violently after it was down. Billy smelled moonshine.   “Woo,†he said, getting back up. “Yep, yep, yep. I think that he went out there as a child. I think.†  “Thank you Mr. Vanzant,†Billy said.   “You’re welcome, Billy,†Vanzant said. “You be a good boy.†  He patted Billy on the head.   “You be good in fifth grade,†he said. “And you study. Don’t wanna end up like ol’ Morris Vanzant.†  He went back to work and Billy went home.     * * *       The funeral was at 2 p.m. that afternoon. All of the children were there, uncomfortable in their Sunday best. When people arrived, the grave had already been dug but the pine coffin sat on the ground next to it. It was opened once everyone arrived in order to allow people to pay their respects and the Baptist preacher from nearby Muscadine had come to conduct the ceremony.   Mrs. Hill and Marjorie cried the entire time. Mr. Hill looked on stoically, thanking people for coming though his chin sometimes quivered.   Teddy noticed the sun was hitting the corpse of Tommy Hill. The coffin was so small. Tommy had obviously been cleaned and prepared by the family as his hair was brushed and he wore his Sunday best, his hands crossed over his chest.   Teddy had brought a little tin cup filled with water, keeping it in his lap. He sought out the Baptist minister before the ceremony began.   “Father, can you bless this?†he asked.   “Boy, I ain’t no Catholic,†the minister said.   “Just do it.†  “We don’t believe in that kind a thing. Ain’t no blessing water.†  “Just pretend. What would you say if you was Catholic?†  “Why don’t you sit down?†  “Can you just pretend you’re Catholic?†  The man put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and then his head.   “Good Lord, please bless this feeble-minded and crippled child,†the minister said.   Teddy held the water up near the man’s hand.   “And the water,†he said.   He rolled over to Tommy’s open coffin and carefully poured a little on him. Nothing happened.   “Just like when we was at the watering hole, bud,†he said.   His father came over and grabbed the back of the wheelchair with a grumble, moving it away from the coffin with speed.   “What’re you doing?†he muttered to Teddy once he got him a little ways away. “You don’t be pouring no water on no dead body! What’s the matter with you?†  “He loved the watering hole,†Teddy said.   His father grumbled and mumbled at him, angry but not wanting to make more of a scene.     * * *       Someone poked Ella-Marie in the back. She turned around to find Jill Spearman there.   Jill Spearman was a 12-year-old towheaded girl who had been one of Tommy’s friends in the village because they were the only ones of their age in the town. She had been at the swimming hole the day before.   “Oh,†Ella-Marie said. “Hi Jill.†  “Did you know about Tommy’s treasure?†Jill said without preamble.   “Tommy’s treasure?†  “Yes, he accumulated treasure from the railroad tracks. He’d been doing that for … two years.†  “Oh … yeah.†  “He’s been collecting things and … no, four years. Since he was six years old. And his parents don’t know about it so they probably ain’t looked but I seen a little bit of it, including the golden handles that he found in May and I was there when he found ‘em and he didn’t even share. So, I think somebody needs to get me them golden handles ‘cause those are mine. I have rights to half that because I was there when he found ‘em but he didn’t share at all.†  “Wait! Slow down. Golden handles?†  “It was a handle. It was like a handle. It was a little rod with little hooks on it. It was a golden handle. He found it down by the railroad tracks amongst all that broken up wood and stuff. And junk. So, I think you should help get ‘em. You should help get me my handles back. There were two of them and I think I should have half.†  “I … I’ll look in that.†  “Okay, I’ll ask you about it … tomorrow.†  “Okay.†  “Well thank you very much. I thank you.†  “All right.†    * * *       Billy had found time to put his flattened pennies into the coffin.     * * *       When the ceremony started and they had closed the casket, Ella-Marie turned to her brother.   “Mike!†she hissed.   He looked at her.   “Jill just told me something strange,†she whispered. “You know those flattened pennies?†  “Yeah,†Michael said.   “She said he had … handles. Gold handles that he found down by the railroad tracks.†  “Gold?†  “Gold handles.†  “Well, the handle we found was brass.†  “Still, did you see how many coffins were there? They were all different.†  Their mother shushed them.   “Show a little respect!†she said to Michael.   The rest of the ceremony passed without any other incident and several of the men from town lowered the tiny coffin into the ground. A temporary wooden marker had been set at the top of the grave and Morris Vanzant was there with a shovel, having obviously been paid to fill in the grave.   Jebidiah had paid especially close attention to the coffin, which was a cheap pine box with rope handles and leather hinges. The Hills were pretty poor and it was probably all they could afford, especially at short notice. When he had paid his respects to Tommy, he had noticed the interior was lined with simple cloth. He thought sure if he ever saw the coffin again, he’d recognize it.   Richard looked around to see if anyone looked any younger than he remembered, but everyone looked normal to him. He remembered Teddy had told him about Dracula getting younger when he drank blood.   The children all got together after the funeral as Morris Vanzant shoveled dirt into the grave.   “I talked to Vanzant and Vanzant says Doc Underwood’s only person he knows who ever went to that place,†Billy told the others.   “The Doc?†Michael said.   “Billy, that may be a clue, but also Vanzant calls all of us ‘Billy’ so I don’t know,†Teddy said.   “I don’t see a problem with it,†Billy squeaked. “He’s always right for me.†  “It’s because your name is Billy,†Teddy said. “He calls you Billy.†  “Well, the least we can do is go talk to the Doc,†Michael said.   Ella-Marie told them what Jill had told her about Tommy’s treasure.   “Well, if it’s not likely any of us will be in any trouble, do we want to have a handle team and a doc team?†Jebidiah said. “I know the Doc probably better than anyone around here.†  “You probably do,†Ella-Marie said.   “I’d love to go speak to him at any time that’s not for sickness,†Jebidiah said.   “I go where Jebidiah goes,†Teddy said. “He’s good at carrying me.†  “I’ll go with them,†Billy squeaked. “I’m suspicious of this Doc.†  They saw Doc Underwood at the funeral, talking to some of their parents and others.   Richard said he could probably try to sneak into the Hill house to find the handles. They all knew the windows would all be open, like they were at all their houses, and the front door probably wasn’t even locked. No one locked their doors or windows.   “You want to do a handle team and a doc team, but I think there’s a third team that we’re going to need for tonight,†Teddy said. “Someone should watch over Tommy’s grave and see if anyone digs it up or he … arises.†  “But he would only do that at night,†Richard said.   “Exactly,†Teddy said.   “So we don’t need to worry about that until sundown,†Richard said.   “Could we try to regroup before then and try to have a look at that together?†Jebidiah said.   “It’d probably be easiest for me to do it, I guess,†Billy squeaked.   “Fine!†Ella-Marie said. “You’re always going off alone anyway!†  “I ain’t scared,†Billy squeaked.   He looked away because he was afraid there was a terrified look on his face.     * * *       Richard and Michael went to the Hill’s house after they had changed out of their Sunday best and figured the Hills were back that afternoon.   “You go through the window,†Michael told the other boy. “I’ll distract them at the door.†  Michael went to the front door and knocked. Mr. Hill answered it.   “Uh, hello Mr. Hill,†Michael said.   “Hello Michael, how are you doing?†Mr. Hill said.   “I’m doing … I’m doing fine. I’m doing fine. Very sorry about your loss.†  “Yes, we all our. What do you need?†  “Jill, Tommy’s little friend, was talking to us earlier at the funeral.†  “Okay.†  “And she said something about him having some kind of treasure around the house, maybe, or somewhere he would maybe hide it?†  “I … I don’t know about his ‘treasure.’†  “Okay, well, according to her, she said something about him wanting her to have it. I didn’t know if you had any idea where it could be?†  “Well, let’s go look in his room.†    * * *       Richard climbed into Tommy’s window and looked around the room. There was a bed, small wardrobe, desk, and chest of drawers. He looked under the bed and spotted an old hatbox with the word “Tresur†written on it in ink. He pulled it out and found it filled with various items and mixed junk. On top of it all were two brass handles. They looked like the one they’d found in the house. He took them out of the hatbox and put the hatbox back. He pocketed the handles and then climbed out of the window.   Just as he got outside the window, he heard the door opening. He dropped to the ground.     * * *       “So, where do you think this treasure is, Michael?†Mr. Hill said as they entered Tommy’s room.   The two of them searched the room and soon found the hatbox under the bed and opened it up.   “What does she want out of this?†Mr. Hill said.   They went through the box and Michael picked up the two crushed pennies in it.   “These,†he said. “These are what she was asking for.†  “Yeah, she can have ‘em,†Mr. Hill said. “If it’ll make her happy.†  “Thank you,†Michael said.   Mr. Hill closed up the hatbox and shoved it back underneath the bed. Then he saw Michael out.   Michael left the house and saw Richard on his porch across the road. The two went inside and to Richard’s room. He showed Michael the handles and the boy recognized them as the same as the one he had gotten from the house.   “Okay then,†Michael said.   “So, these are gold?†Richard said.   “No … maybe,†Michael said.   Both boys doubted they were gold.     * * *       Ella-Marie, Billy, Jebidiah, and Teddy went up the hill to Doc Underwood’s house. It was a little larger than the other houses in town, being two stories high and built into the side of the hill. It was a bit of a push getting Teddy and his wheelchair up the hill, but they made it, getting Teddy onto the front porch.   Doc Underwood answered the door and invited the children in. He had some candy for them and poured glasses of lemonade. They all sat in his parlor, the open window looking down over the little town.   “Doc, I need some advice from you that’s not of a medical nature,†Jebidiah said.   “Shouldn’t you be talking to your parents?†Doc Underwood said.   “Well, I think … you’re the only one that has experience with this.†  “All right.†  “Uh … Billy, last night saw light on coming out near the old plantation. The night we found Tommy. And we went to look at it today and we saw some … disturbing things. I wanted to know … I’ve heard you’ve been there before and that you know about it. I wanted to know what you know.†  “Well, when I was young …†  “Yeah.†  “Wait, what disturbing things did you see?†  “Well, we saw lots of coffins. There was boards that had been trapped and some people thought they saw things that … didn’t stick around.†  “But regardless,†Ella-Marie said. “What do you know?†  “Now, my grandmother told my mother this story,†Doc Underwood said. “She told me I was too young to remember it. She had lived in Sanguis before it moved down here towards the tracks in the 1890, thirty years ago. Well, forty now. She was living in a farm near here when the original Sanguis was established in the 1870s. She was old even by then and had lived her whole life in the mountains here.   “She told my mother that Bennett Farm had been established well before Sanguis, in 1832, when the Creek Indian Land here was opened to settlers. You see, plantations never really grew up in the hills around here because there wasn’t any place to really grow the kind of crops that slave labor was used for: that’s cotton, tobacco, and that kind of thing. But E. Charles Bennett, that was his name, he thought differently. He came with his family and a handful of Negros and set up south of the river. He built a good-sized house. There was a few outbuildings and places for the slaves. Started clearing land. He brought his wife, his family, his three daughters.   “It didn’t go well.   “See, the land hereabouts isn’t good for those kinds of crops in great amounts, like I said, and the isolation didn’t seem to suit any of them, white folk or slaves. Strange stories began to circulate in the nearest towns, that was probably Carrollton in Georgia, 20 miles away.   “So, it’s no surprise that when things went bad there, nobody found out for quite a while.   “I think it was the summer of 1835 when they came to look in on the Bennetts. There’d been no word from them in some weeks. The men who came to investigate found the farm empty and quiet. Doors had been left open and there was a terrible smell about the house.   “They found E. Charles Bennett hanging in one of the rooms upstairs by a crude noose. There was no sign of whatever the man had stood on to hang himself, or what had been pulled out from under him when he hung. They found no trace of his wife or young daughters.   “The slave shacks were empty. Everyone was gone. Same with the animals. All gone. Everything was gone.   “There was no sign of any kind of struggle or attack. Some blamed the Creek Indians, most of whom had emigrated out west by that time. Others wondered if the slaves had murdered everyone and then fled north.   “They couldn’t explain some things though.   “In the kitchen, they found a mortar and pestle had been used to grind up a good deal of glass, the work left was at the table. And across each doorway and window, a line of salt had been placed, though much of it had blown away by then.   “That’s what my grandma told me.   “Now, when I was your age, we all knew about the place. Haunted Bennett Plantation. The other kids claimed the house was haunted by the ghost of E. Paul Bennett, who was said to roam the place looking for something, usually they said it was his lost treasure. There was also tales of lights in some of the upper windows at night and strange sounds that came out of part of the woods: cries sometimes, or voices. I never heard any of them myself but some of my friends claimed they had.   “I went there once. I was probably 12 or 13 years old and went on a bet my cousin made me about the place. He claimed I wouldn’t go upstairs and find something to bring back to prove it. It was an old bet. Lots of kids had done it.   “A few of us went out to the farm. It was a bad place. The woods had grown back up in the 40 years or so since the place had been abandoned though they all had a sickly look to them. Nothing ever seemed to grow quite right out there.   “They waited near the house while I went in the front door and up the narrow staircase to the second floor. There was a bang or a bump in the house somewhere and I tried to reassure myself it was just a raccoon or opossum. As I reached the top of the stairs, a door slammed somewhere but I told myself it was the wind.   “The door at the end of the hall on the left was the only one closed so I figured that must have been the one. I walked slowly up to it and opened it, looking for some trinket from the house to prove I’d been up there.   “And hanging from a rafter in the center of the room, believe it or not, I know you’re probably thinking I’m just telling a story, was a man.†  Jebidiah looked at Ella-Marie who was staring at Doc Underwood in horror.   “His face was dark purple, like a bruise, and his tongue swollen and hanging out of his mouth,†Doc Underwood went on. “He wore rough, homespun clothing and swayed slowly back and forth, the rope creaking in the silence of the house.   “Then his eyes opened, bulging out of his head, and he looked right at me.†  “That’s what I saw!†Ella-Marie said.   Doc Underwood looked at the girl in silence.   “I saw him,†she said.   “You saw … you children should not be going up to that house,†Doc Underwood said.   He seemed a little shaken by the revelation.   “Did-did you find something?†Jebidiah asked. “To prove you were up there?†  “I don’t remember much after I saw him,†Doc Underwood said. “The other boys told me they heard me scream from upstairs somewhere and then I came running out of the house, shrieking. I collapsed near them in a faint and they had to carry me back home, a pretty good ways. You know how far it is. They weren’t happy about that.   “I … I don’t think they believed me when I told them what I saw. You see, they went back, in a group of course, and told me there was no rope or man of any kind in any of the rooms upstairs. My footprints were pretty visible in the dirt and dust of the place, however. It looked like I’d gone to the room at the end of the hall but they swore there were no footprints leading back.†  “When we were there, things just disappeared before our eyes,†Ella-Marie said.   “You shouldn’t … that’s … you children should not be going out to that place. It’s a bad place. I wouldn’t normally tell anyone this story. People … are doubtful. What’s this about coffins?†  “What are we supposed to do? We don’t know what happened to Tommy and that was our only lead.†  “What did you say about coffins?†  “Well, there were coffins in all the rooms,†Jebidiah said. “Almost all the rooms.†  “Well, nobody lives there. Well, I don’t think.†  “Well, the coffins are locked.†  “With new locks too,†Billy squeaked.   “Looked like somebody’d been up in one of those rooms,†Jebidiah said.   “Well, I tell you what, I can go into Heflin, I can ride into Heflin tomorrow and I can go check at the county seat and see if anybody’s … if anybody owns the place,†Doc Underwood said. “Maybe it’s been sold by the state.†  “Why would you have coffins in your new house?†Teddy said.   “That is really very strange.†  “Why don’t you come out there with us?†  Doc Underwood went pale but then took a drink of his lemonade and composed himself.   “Well, I’ll tell you what Teddy, I have not been out to that house since I saw what I saw and I don’t want to see it again,†he said. “Ella-Marie says she saw things that - she saw things that disappeared? I don’t think any of you or me or anybody should be going to that house. Hopefully that place will fall down.†  “You telling me you won’t go someplace a cripple’s been?†Teddy said.   “Maybe I’m smarter than a cripple,†he said to Teddy with a wink.   Teddy smiled back at the joke.   “I’ll tell. you what, tomorrow is Thursday,†Doc Underwood said. “I’ll ride down to Heflin tomorrow. I’ll go down to the courthouse and I’ll see if anybody owns the house. If not, was there anything else there? Just a bunch of old coffins?†  “We think there’s vampires in ‘em,†Teddy mumbled.   “Well some of ‘em looked new,†Billy squealed.   “Don’t listen to him,†Teddy mumbled. “We think there’s vampires in ‘em.†  “Have these coffins been there for … are they covered with dust and dirt and grime?†Doc Underwood said.   “Some,†Teddy said.   “Some but not all,†Billy said.   “All right, I will go into town tomorrow,†Doc Underwood said again. “I’ll go into Heflin and I’ll check at the county seat and, if the house has not been sold, I will go get the sheriff and he and some deputies can go in there. Obviously somebody must be squattin’ there which is against the law. And if they got some coffins …†  “Digging up graves?†Jebidiah said.   “They might be digging up graves and stealing jewelry and valuables from people’s dead bodies,†Doc Underwood said. “And we will … and then … we will take care of it.†  He looked over the children.   “Is that all right?†he asked. “Will that put y’alls minds at ease?†  “I don’t know it’s gonna be fast enough,†Teddy said.   “It’s gonna be what?†  “Fast enough.†  “We could …we …†Jebidiah said. “We could keep watch over it tonight and make sure that nothing is up there.†  “Keep watch over the house!?!†Doc Underwood said.   “Not-not─†  “You children should not be going out there at night. Jesus Christ! Do not … do not go out to that house at night!†  “You said there was … it was just stories and stuff.†  “Didn’t you just hear the story I just told you about what I saw? I’m a believer in science but … I don’t know what I saw when I was … maybe I was hysterical, but it was … hm … it looked real to me and I still believe that something awful’s in that house. Don’t be going out to that house at night.†  “Well, still, we can keep an eye on it from town, is what I was meaning. Seeing if anything comes up tomorrow.†  “How can you keep an eye on it from town?†  “We saw the light on in the window from out on the train tracks.†  “Somebody could’ve bought that house and be trying to live out there. Some … fool. So, we gotta find out if somebody owns it first and I’ll find out for you. I’ll let y’all know by dinnertime tomorrow night. It’s 10 miles, it’s going to take me a few hours to get there.†  “Can you at least tell the sheriff that’s what you’re gonna do?†Teddy said. “Just in case you … go missing.†  “What do you mean tell the sheriff?†Doc Underwood said. “You mean go to his office tomorrow?†  “I’m just covering our tracks,†Teddy said.   “If I find nobody owns that house, I’ll go straight to the sheriff’s office in Heflin and I will tell them what y’all have told me,†Doc Underwood said.   Doc Underwood asked Ella-Marie what she’d seen and she gave him as much information as she could, telling him about the man she’d seen hanging and the negro Michael had seen in the washtub. She talked about the coffins and the trap on the stairs. That perplexed him and he told her he remembered those stairs as he’d walked up them decades before.   Jebidiah described the inhabited room they had found and that seemed to make Doc Underwood want to find out the information from the county seat even more. He believed the children and wanted to figure out what was going on out that plantation.     * * *       Richard went to the Spearman house and talked to Jill.   “I heard, Jill, that Tommy found some handles,†he asked.   “Yes, I was there,†Jill said. “I was there when he found them handles and I deserve half.†  “Where did he find it?†  “It was up … it was up the rail line a little ways.†  “Where would that be relative to where we are?†  “Up the rail line a little ways.†  He took out the handles and showed them to her.   “Can you be more specific?†he asked.   “Those are mine!†she said.   “Yes, but I’ll give them to you if you tell me where it was.†  “One of them. All right. Fine. I’ll show you.†  He gave her the handles.   “C’mon,†she said. “You boys think you know everything.†  She led him up the track and, Richard and Michael thought, a little ways past where they had found Tommy’s body. They could see the plantation house from the spot and, a search of the area found some old wood and cloth. Everything was rotten and had been out in the weather for a few months.   When they looked around, Michael found a brass hinge and another handle. He tucked both of them away. The handle looked identical to the one they had found in the house. He wondered if they were gold.   “Yeah, there’s all these pieces of wood and there’s all this old rotten cloth,†she said. “And then he found the handles. He found two of ‘em. And one of ‘em is mine but he wouldn’t give it up. And I forgave him ‘cause I’m a good Baptist. But, he shouldn’t have done that.†  “Did he find anything else?†Richard asked. “Back then?†  “Not anything he told me.†  “When did you find it?†Michael said.   “This was a couple months ago,†Jill said.   Richard picked up a piece of wood.   “How good a condition was this in originally?†he asked.   “Well, it was better ‘en that,†she said.   He frowned and tossed the piece of wood away.   “They were new when we found ‘em,†she said. “Is that all you need from me?†  “Yeah, you can head back,†Richard said.   “I will,†she said.   She walked back to town. The boys looked around the spot a little longer before they went back to town and found the others.

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

Shadows of Yog Sothoth

I have been running three players through this classic campaign for a good number of months now. We have been pretty good at getting together Monday nights online and playing for a couple hours.   TWO HOUR GAME LIMIT....
This actually works out so well for me as a keeper. The prep I have to do is so minimal. They can only get so far off track in two hours!   I do not discourage any tangent they want to go on, and I have a week to figure out a clever way to let them do what they want and still progress through the campaign.   Because of this I have dropped whole chapters from Shadows as written. Sometimes I skip something completely, other times I substitute a completely different published adventure.   I have done a lot of writing.   I have learned how to read a chapter of the campaign, strip out everything that doesn't matter, and focus on the main thing that does.   I have learned to set up set pieces that must happen, but leave them open ended enough so they can crop up whenever the opportunity presents itself.   I have learned how to gently herd the players to these set pieces and edit them on the fly.   I have learned how to use the NPCs as the main thing that drives my end of the story.   Once I read the scenario I figure out who the NPCs are, and what they are trying to achieve. I then contemplate how they plan on doing this. I try to plan for what my PCs most likely will do, predict possible outcomes, make a few notes and run with it.   I think Shadows of Yogsothoth is a fantastic campaign.   I do not think it flows well from chapter to chapter. I do not think the chapters really even relate to each other very much.   Some of it is even ridiculous I dare say.   BUT! I have learned so much about running this game through my efforts in trying to make Shadows work.   We have about three sessions until the end.   I would recommend this campaign to any Keeper out there. I have been having a great time with it, and so have my players.

Judgetrev

Judgetrev

 

New Year, old scenarios

So as 2018 rolls in, let me see how things are looking with writing.   The Perishing of Sir Ashby Phipps - secondary revisions relating to Victorian theories of dreaming
Echoes Will be Found - remembered this exists, need to plan to run it
The Man Who Wasn't There - on hiatus, needs substantial work
The Sprawling Campaign - have recruited friendly archaeologist advisor, need to do some reading and knuckle down to it, also reread the Archaeologist's Handbook
The Neighs Have It - purely skeletal but concept seems good
Upon Their Backs to Bite Em - done, playtested, finished   Various other things - deliberately sidelined for sanity's sake   I've been struggling with reading recently due to some health issues, just finding it difficult to focus on reading for any length of time due to tiredness. This is not helpful! But I do have many supportive friends who encourage me to keep working on these projects.   I'm looking forward to the upcoming publication of a scenario I was lucky enough to offer some input on; it's the closest I've got to authorship so far, so quite exciting for me.   Gamingwise, a lot of my time has ended up with Pathfinder, as the group I'm now in run several campaigns. However, a couple have now gone on hiatus, so I may be able to find time soon to run another scenario or two. Let's hope!

Shimmin Beg

Shimmin Beg

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