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yock's Lovecraftathon: The Moon-Bog

Getting off to a rather mixed start with this one. On the one hand I like the Irish setting. I can't remember reading another Lovecraft story set in Ireland. But I don't like the feudalism overlord-ness of it re grateful peasants happy to see their quasi ruler back. I can't help myself but I already want something bad to happen to that character! That says as much about me as anything else, I'm sure. Sorry. It's also problematic in the context of Ireland breaking away from Britain around this time, the idea of bringing in labourers from the north etc. I'd be interested to know what a southern Irish person who read it in 1926 might have thought, especially if they knew it was written in 1921.   The next bit about the narrator going to visit Denys is clumsily written and repetitive, and needed an edit down. I don't know if Lovecraft was trying to write to reach a number of words here, for publication. But this seems to me very much a case where less would be more appropriate.   I do like the description of the legends of the bog though. That's quite evocative. I'm not so taken with the dream descriptions, which feel a bit too familiar, having read many Lovecraft stories now. But I do like the Greek elements in there. There are a number of Lovecraft stories which are Greek Myth inspired in some elements, rather than, say,  Arabic or New England or English, and this definitely fits into that category.   There is something rather satisfying about Lovecraft's use of groups of mysterious barely seen figures, whether in procession as in "The Festival" or dancing, as here. And even more so if these figures are not acting of their own volition, but possessed. It's a very satisfying image, that always works for me. I'm using something similar in a text game I'm writing at the moment, inspired by one of Lovecraft's Commonplace Book entries.   I don't think I have ever seen any writer before use the word "fulgently", though I am, of course, familiar with the word "effulgent" from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as well as Lovecraft's fondness for it. Oh and my goodness, he also uses "refulgence" in this story. Another first for me, and not necessarily in a good way!   I'm also struck, as I read, that the piping in this is reminiscent of the strange music that Lovecraft uses in other stories like "The Festival". Reuse can be successful, including for me sequences of strange figures as discussed above. But sometimes it's not so good, and just makes me think he's recycling ideas and elements a little bit too much.   I'm also puzzled why the curse struck, and in such a deadly fashion, before the work to drain the bog began properly? Yes the labourers were already in place, but they were idle, waiting for the work to start the next day. I suppose the dreams and images before were warnings, to stop the bog being drained. But if so they weren't very effective, since they don't seem to have affected Denys at all, or if they did he certainly didn't believe in them.   I do rather like the ending. But generally it's not a great story for me, with some problematic elements, and needed editing and more rework.

yockenthwaite

yockenthwaite

 

Shimmigration

My daily activities have, of late, been thrown into some confusion by a sudden development. There is, as so often, a young lady in the case - be that as it may, to cut to the quick of the matter, the East calls to me. Within mere weeks, I must gather my humble possessions (or rather, a small and portable selection of them, the remainder hopefully finding refuge in the attic of one relative or another) and depart for the Middle Kingdom - to Chang'An, the immemorial heart of China.   To put it another and less purple way, I am (visas permitting) heading off for a new job in Xi'an, in central China. And oddly enough this is pretty disruptive, so my communicating, writing, posting, gaming and generally everything is getting dropped while I try to sort it all out. Sadly this mean I have not been spending much time on the forums, and none at all writing posts, blogs or even scenarios. It's a bit of a wrench. Still plenty waiting on the back burner... I'll probably be fairly sporadic until late autumn when I've had a chance to settle into my new job, lifestyle and suchlike. After that I'm hoping to leap back into the fray and try to pummel some more of my ideas into shape. Fingers crossed that Yoggie doesn't fall foul of the Great Firewall!   One sad outcome of this is that I won't be able to attend Games Day this year, which is a huge disappointment. Unfortunately I don't have the freedom to take a holiday that soon into my new job, and I'll be tied to university terms anyway. I'll be very sad to miss it, and hope everyone else has a fantastic time and records everything for my vicarious enjoyment! Maybe some sort of virtual YSDCGD can be arranged for those of us unable to attend? No promises, but let me know if that might be interesting.   I'd also be keen to hear from any other Yoggies who might be around those parts - even in a roughly similar timezone would be nice. I fear a dearth of gaming lies ahead.

Shimmin Beg

Shimmin Beg

 

yock's Lovecraftathon: The Temple

Oh this one has an intriguing start, with a German WW1 U-boat commander, and location somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. I sort of want to get out a map, or fire up Google Earth, to see exactly where it is.   There's something very appropriate about a submarine as a setting for a Lovecraftian story. The potential for terror in a confined space is increased greatly, and the ways in which people could die numerous and nasty. Though I am rather amused, in a black comedy kind of a way, that going mad, so typically Lovecraftian, is the main issue here. Also as more and more of the crew are killed I can't help but think of a Call of Cthulhu RPG sanity score tumbling, one by one. I sort of wish I knew how many crew a typical U-boat had, so that I could keep score.     Mmm. Delightful isn't he, not, in so many ways. If they weren't in a dire state before they certainly are now! Though to be fair the boat isn't responding to controls, so they're stuffed anyway.   And yes, dolphins as menacing creatures is certainly a novel approach for any story to take.   I find the section underwater overly long though. And I'm struggling to visualise some of the things described, both the black rock thing and the shape of the temple. But it is a nice image, of a submarine drifting at the bottom of the ocean, moving inexorably towards a mysterious lost city.    Thank goodness for my Kindle's built-in dictionary for another archaic word used by Lovecraft: "fane", meaning temple or shrine.   Would a WW1 U-boat really have had a diving suit that could be used safely at that depth though? I know the German sailor wasn't worried about safety so much by this point, but I honestly expected him to leave the submarine and die instantly. Fatal realist me.   But I did like the ending. I was wondering how the message would get out of the submarine, and a message in a bottle - again assuming that the water pressure doesn't crush it - is one solution.   Oh and my edition has a particularly gruesome illustration, which, sorry, I couldn't resist including as an attachment.

yockenthwaite

yockenthwaite

 

yock's Lovecraftathon: The Festival

I thought I might have read this before, but no, it's new for me.   I really like the imagery of Kingsport in the snow. There's a descriptive passage in there that is one of the most evocative pieces of writing I've ever read by Lovecraft. I'm almost sad to leave that part, and go into the building. I wish I could wander around the town as described and explore it more.   The household with the strange inhabitants is well described too, and there's a nicely growing sense of menace and unease there. Though for me this part goes on too long. I'm clearly still missing the town outside!   The same issue is a problem with the underground sections. I like the walk to the church, and descriptions of the throng of people who leave no footprints. But once things are underground it's less successful for me. And I find the description of the creatures particularly disappointing, though I like the part where the narrator dives into the river.   But I do like the time shift at the end, to a more modern Kingsport, and the idea that it may all have been a vision in the narrator's mind. Obviously I'll side with the no it all happened viewpoint. But it's a nice ending. I'd just like to see some of the earlier sections tightened up a bit, to my taste anyway.

yockenthwaite

yockenthwaite

 

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

The ladies spend a day pursuing various leads in town and in the surrounding countryside.   Session Date: Tuesday, May 29, 2018
Session Location: Six Feet Under Games, New Holland, Pennsylvania   Investigators:
* Elspeth Marsh, a librarian at the Miskatonic University
* Stephanie MacLeod, an archaeologist at Cambridge University
* Lynn Conners, a stage magician in Arkham, Massachusetts   Saturday, February 7, 1925   After dinner, Stephanie offers to help Edith with the dishes. Edith politely refuses at first, pointing out that Stephanie is a guest, and Edith is more familiar with the kitchen than anyone else. Stephanie mentions that she is interested in managing an inn of her own someday, and asks if Edith has any advice for her, seeing as how she maintains such an excellent boarding house. Edith succumbs to flattery and begins to describe all the ways in which she strives to keep the lodging in good order - especially by keeping out the "riffraff."   While Stephanie keeps Edith occupied, Lynn and Elspeth encourage Hank to tell them more about the Fitzgerald Manse. He warns them that the house has a dark history, and begins to describe the previous owners. There were the Franklins, an elderly couple who lived there peacefully until they died of old age. Before them were the Curwens, a wealthy family from New York. They bought the property about thirty years ago, wanting to raise their children in an idyllic rural setting. Then something happened to Arthur Curwen, who became increasingly irritable until finally butchering his family with an axe and then disappearing. Hank notes that Arthur was never found, and he mentions that Sheriff Whitford - who was only a deputy at the time - was shaken up by the whole grisly affair and was never the same afterward. Hank apologizes for disturbing the ladies, but doesn't refrain from telling them about the 'original sin' that stained the mansion right from its beginning, when John Fitzgerald returned home from the Civil War, killing his entire family and then himself. Hank thinks that the place is cursed, and advises the ladies to steer clear of it.   The ladies decide to retire for the evening. Lynn, who has always been a night owl, stays up late and reads the book from Cornthwaite's study - The Missing People, by Thomas Pratt. She notes a curious reference to a "great dome" that is believed to have held some religious significance to a South American tribe that vanished.   Sunday, February 8, 1925   Stephanie and Elspeth rise early, the latter having recalled a strange dream in which she had committed a ghastly crime and was now confined in a small space with no hope of escape.  Elspeth studies Cornthwaite's ledgers again and notices that some information seems to be missing from last month's expenditures. She awakens Lynn and asks her to review the accounts to confirm her findings. Lynn blearily agrees before returning to bed.   Stephanie joins Hank as he works in the yard; she inquires about the missing horse and asks for advice about renting steeds for the day. She and Elspeth travel to the Watkins farm, where they learn that one of the prize horses disappeared sometime during the night. There was a thick dew on the paddock the next morning, and they believe that any tracks would have been seen. Stephanie negotiates the acquisition of two horses for the day. Farmer Watkins recognizes Elspeth as the winner of a local derby last year, and he is pleased to help the ladies.   They decide to take a circuitous route toward the Fitzgerald property. It is a mild day (for February), and the two ladies enjoy their ride until Stephanie spots something under an old, gnarled tree. They women draw closer and see an assortment of large bones on the ground. Stephanie dismounts, draws her Webley, and cautiously approaches. She believes that the bones belonged to a horse, and that they have not been here long. There are no signs of blood or sinew; it looks as though the bones have been picked clean. Unnerved, the ladies search the nearby area but find nothing.   Since they are very close to the Fitzgerald Manse by now, they decide to have another look at the grounds. As they approach the mansion, they are again struck by an odd sense of wrongness about the place - as if the house is somehow crooked. Stephanie ventures into the overgrown garden, followed carefully by Elspeth, who soon stumbles upon a tree root that she swears was not there a moment earlier.  Up ahead they see a small shed, and their sense of dread unaccountably increases when they see that the door hangs open.  Stephanie has her revolver out as she cautiously peers inside and sees a scattered collection of tools.  Elspeth follows Stephanie into the small chamber, and they narrowly avoid stepping on the edged instruments.  They notice a space on the wall where an axe used to hang, and then a sudden breeze begins to stir the dead leaves on the floor, making it look as though some of the tools are beginning to move.  The ladies scurry out of the shed and quickly complete their tour of the garden before deciding to return to Gamwell.   Back at the boarding house, Lynn studies the ledgers and confirms Elspeth's discovery - some details have been omitted from the most recent expense list.  She visits the local bank and asks an accountant to review the ledgers to verify her findings.  [Keeper's note:  I totally forgot that this was supposed to take place on Sunday.]  She then visits the library, where she finds a large collection of books that Mr. Cornthwaite donated just before his disappearance.  Many of the books pertain to South America, and Lynn notices that some of them contain scrawled notes in the margins.  A pattern begins to develop; it seems that Cornthwaite was very interested in legends concerning a "great dome" that the natives worshipped long ago.  When she returns to the bank, the accountant agrees that a considerable amount of expenses have been deleted from the final entries - perhaps as much as $50,000.  Lynn leaves the bank just as Stephanie and Elspeth ride into town, and the three of them compare notes during lunch. The ladies then return to the attorney's office, where they confront Walter Dodge about the missing expenses.  After closing the door, Mr. Dodge quietly informs the ladies that Cornthwaite had requested a large amount of salt to be purchased just before he disappeared - a truck full, in fact.  The attorneys thought the request odd, but Mr. Dodge is now concerned that Cornthwaite was experiencing some sort of mental breakdown - a suspicion that is supported when the ladies reveal the crumpled note they found in the Fitzgerald Manse.  Dodge asks them to keep their findings to themselves; he does not want rumors to spread about Cornthwaite's state of mind.  He urges them to continue their investigation and find Cornthwaite as soon as possible.   The investigators agree that there is no choice.  They must return to the Fitzgerald Manse to continue their search.   *** ^ *** ^ *** ^ *** ^ *** ^ *** ^ *** ^ *** ^ *** ^ *** ^ *** ^ *** ^ *** ^ *** ^   Keeper's Comments   Presenting the garden and the sinister shed made me scratch my head a bit.  The Keeper is supposed to convey a sense of menace and dread - but there's really nothing there.  I guess it's just meant to build an ominous atmosphere.  In retrospect, I could have had Joe Virelli or Sheriff Whitford barge in and startle them, but I was planning to save that for the main house.   This was another session with no supernatural events.  If I was playing the adventure, I would have been happy to follow up on the various leads - but I sense that these players are getting thirsty for more visceral encounters, which the next session will almost certainly provide.  Still, there is a long, slow build-up, and some players get bored with that.  I need to think of ways to spice things up, adding in some drama and tension where appropriate.   The next session will probably be the final one, and I am still not sure how deadly I want to make it.  Much will depend on sanity rolls and other skill checks, and I am really looking forward to that final, horrific scene.   Please feel free to offer any comments, suggestions, or advice, especially if you've had experience with this scenario.  Thanks!
 
 

yock's Lovecraftathon: The Horror at Martin's Beach

Ah, a collaboration with his wife. I wonder how much of it was by HPL and how much by Sonia.   There are passages that are typical Lovecraft, some of the horrors described. But the way the story gets on with things, and is full of plot, is very atypical for him, so I'm guessing those aspects were mainly done by Sonia. The writing is rather clumsy here, and needed a polish. It's also very unusual for a Lovecraft story to start at the end of the story with a survivor, and then look back. It's far more normal to move inexorably forward.   The images are really disturbing in this story. Again not typical Lovecraft, because he would usually leave things undescribed rather than described. The exact nature of the horror at the end isn't fully explained. Was it an adult monster, or what? And how were the people effectively glued to the rope? But it's really effective. In a horrible kind of a way.   Checking Wikipedia I see the article there also mentions the 1961 B-movie Gorgo as similar in some respects. I've been meaning to watch that for ages. But knowing some things about it already I don't think it would be nearly as horrific as this short story!   And in a cheerier vein I really like this related sketch by Jason Thompson.
 

yock's Lovecraftathon: What The Moon Brings

Pushing ahead quickly onto this very short piece.   It's all about atmosphere, and I'm not sure the writing fully works. There are clunky sections for me, and bits which seem to have strange phrasing. For example Lovecraft writes "strange oceans that are not in the world", whereas, rightly or wrongly, I'd rather expect his take on that to end "of this world". I know the meanings are different, but it was a slightly jarring moment for me on first reading.   I do like the idea of the terror of a moonlit landscape though, especially one that is transformed, not just in subtle ways, but also stretches without daytime limits. It reminds me of my terror as a child in the 1980s watching the BBC TV adaptation of the novel Moondial. A very scary experience, and this story captures a similar feeling.   I don't know if it's intentional, but the description of spires revealed among the sea water sounds like the story of English Dunwich. I'm presuming Lovecraft knew of Suffolk's Dunwich, and that was the source for his place name. But I'm also now wondering if its legends could have inspired the "dead, dripping city" here too.   The ending is a bit poor for me, but generally I rather enjoyed the story. Even with very arcane language throughout, even more so than Lovecraft often uses, it was successful in building an evocative atmosphere, and satisfyingly disturbing. And all done in a small amount of words. Good stuff.
 

yock's Lovecraftathon: Hypnos

I'm finding the opening paragraph hard to read. It's quintessentially densely-written Lovecraft, but I do rather prefer a more straightforward form of writing, which he does use some time. I thought things were improving in the railway station, but it's still floridly written.   Much of the early section is strangely reminiscent of his story "The Tree", not just with the idea of a sculptor, but also much of the imagery and descriptive allusions. I see that the two stories were written two years apart. Also another story set in England, in Kent and London. The characters don't feel very English though.   I'm afraid that from "Of our studies it is impossible to speak ..." I started skipping big chunks. Yes I know that Lovecraft was a huge fan of the indescribable, but there's only so much writing about it I can take. I want plot! At the very least more characterisation would be nice. And while I know he's expounding a world view in this section, I just don't find it compelling or interesting, hence skipping hefty portions.   I rather like the idea of drug-induced voyages of the mind though. But I'm finding the narrator's motivations a constant struggle. This friend sounds dangerous, someone who he stumbled across at the railway station, and took up with for no particularly rational reason. Just why?! Also he doesn't know his name?   And then there's more indescribable stuff, and specifically "perceptions of the the most maddeningly untransmissable sort". Aarrggh! Yes maddening.   I do like the narrator waking in the tower room though, and then fainting from the horror of his friend's screams. That's plot, action! I am also bemused by the spelling "phrensy" that I've never seen before.   And there's more plot from this point onwards, which I approve of. I like the rapid ageing, and also the terror in the sky in the vicinity of Corona Borealis.   I'm unsure what happens at the end. Was there really a friend or was it all a hallucination? Or an aspect of Hypnos before the statue appears? But I did rather like that bit. It's just a shame the story took so long to get going.
 

The Dragon and the Wolf Part 1 - The Black Wolf of Wroxeter

Monday, May 21, 2018   (After playing the Cthulhu Dark Ages scenario “The Dragon and the Wolf†by John W. Thompson from The Bride of Halloween Horror monograph Sunday from 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. with John Leppard and Nick Novacek.)   In the year 1000 A.D., the church predicted the Millennium of Christ would bring about the beginning of Armageddon. As if this was not enough to inspire fear in the common people, the land was wracked by the raids of the fierce Viking Northmen.   In the village of Wroxeter, tales of disappearances and a phantom Black Wolf had reached the Count of Shropshire. The Viking threat and an influx of people seeking safety kept the Earl from sending his own men to see to Wroxeter, so he had, instead, issued a reward of 500 deniers for the pelt of the Black Wolf.   Two men had answered the call and rode into the town on Saturday, October 27.   Bossard was from France and was a Norman. He was a black-haired, weathered looking man with a small beard. He wore clean boiled leather armor and had a long sword on his belt. He carried a large shied in his left arm. He rode one of the Count of Shropshire’s horses as he was a sergeant in the man’s house, the only person the Count could spare to see to the end of the Black Wolf.   John was Welsh and had short brown hair and a face that was not clean shaven, though not with enough stubble, even, to call it a beard. He was scruffy. A hunter and woodsman, he had known Brossard for some time and had agreed to come with the man to hunt the Black Wolf. He wore boiled leather armor his friend had lent him and carried a strange device Brossard had brought from France but never used: a crossbow. He had given it to his friend some years before and John had become proficient in its use. He rode a horse Brossard had lent him.   A cool autumn wind shook the leaves from the trees as they entered the tiny village of Wroxeter. It was said it was once one of the largest Roman cities in Britain. Now, fragments of a great wall and some crumbling foundations, as well as a broken tower were all that remained. Interspersed within and around those shadows of yesterday’s greatness was a humble village of a dozen or so families. A solid church stood in the middle of the village near a village green.   The people of the village watched the two riders cautiously as they approached. Men, women, and even children had bow or knife at hand, ready to fight. The villagers were hard, strong folk of Saxon heritage. They were the ones who stayed after the more fearful had fled to Shewsbury. Yet, even in their eyes, the two men could see a hint of fear. The Black Wolf must have been a fierce beast, indeed, to trouble those folks.   Despite their unease, the men could see the villagers were preparing for a festival: All Hallows Eve. Once called Samhain, it was the time of blood and death, when the livestock were culled of those too weak to live through the winter. Such animals were slaughtered and the villagers preserved as much meat as possible by salting and drying. The rest would be eaten in a feast. Naturally, people’s minds turned to death in that season and it was common to honor the memories of loved ones now gone. The church held its veneration of the Saints the next morning on the first day of November.   A bleat sounded suddenly as an old goat had its throat cut, a quick and merciful kill. Another gust of wind carried the coppery tang of blood, an ominous omen to begin the two men’s hunt for the demon wolf.   Some of the houses had smoke seeping out of the thatch of the roofs but others seemed to have been abandoned. The fields and gardens around the village were fallow, for the most part, as the planting season was over.   They approached a man mending rope by a house. He was a thick man with a great jaw and a shapeless hat atop his head. He was clean-shaven and looked surly.   “Hello sir,†Bossard said.   The man pulled on the front of his hat, looking them up and down suspiciously. He had a knife in his belt.   “We’re looking for the Headman of this village,†Bossard said.   “That’d be Aelfred,†the farmer said.   “Where’s Aelfred?†Bossard said.   “That’s his house,†the man said, pointing.   Bossard nodded and thanked the man.   “Give him a coin,†John said.   The other man flipped the farmer a denier. He bit into it and tucked it away before going back to his work.   They went to the indicated house and met Aelfred. The Headman proved to be very young, only about 23 years old. He greeted them and they knew, as Headman, he was responsible for collecting taxes and generally serving as the intermediary between the villagers and the Earl’s men. The villagers also looked to him to make important decisions and lead them in times of trouble.   “Good afternoon, gentlemen,†he said. “Can I help you?†  “We’ve been sent by the Earl to deal with your … black wolf,†Bossard said.   “Oh!†Aelfred said. “Good. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen the black wolf.†  “Have you, now?†  “Aye. Aptly named and bigger than any wolf I’ve ever seen before. Fifteen to 20 stone at least. Wulfstan, my predecessor, saw the beast up close and was so terrified that he took his family and fled in the night.†  “Do you know where he fled off to?†  “I assume to Shrewsbury. That’s where many of the people are going.†  “Hm. Do you have any more information about the beast besides how much it weighs?†  “It’s been here a few months.†  “Are any of the buildings abandoned?†John asked.   “Aye,†Aelfred said.   “Do you mind if we take residence in one of the abandoned ones?†  “Well, what are you doing here?†  “We’re here to kill it!†Bossard said. “Order of the Earl.†  Aelfred took them to one of the abandoned houses. They found the single-room building had no furniture and a small fire pit. When John asked about a smith, he learned the nearest one was in Shrewsbury. Aelfred noted there was a miller in the village and a mill on the river outside of town. They were told the miller was Ingeld. He also told them Father Thomas was the village priest.   “He’s not too happy with our festivities,†Aelfred said. “But Aehtelgythe is. She’s the old wise woman that lives here.†  “Would she know more?†Bossard said.   “About what?†Aelfred said.   “The wolf,†John said.   “The situation,†Bossard said.   “The wolf?†Aelfred said. “Maybe. I don’t know if she’s seen it. I’ve seen it. It’s huge. Big as a horse. If you need me, you know where to find me.†  He left.   “And here I was thinking it was just some crazy Viking running around with a black pelt on his back,†Bossard said.   “Couldn’t we win by just killing a wolf and dying it black?†John said.   Bossard frowned at him.   “What?†John said. “We should visit the old lady. It sounds like a local myth.†  “Good idea,†Bossard said. “The priest might know something too.†  “The priest? No. He wouldn’t tell us anything.†  “We’re not from the area.†  “Yeah, but he doesn’t believe in it. To him, it’s just a ─†  “Well, he said he didn’t believe in the festivities.†  “Yeah, but the wolf is most likely … not natural if it’s that big. We can go ahead and assume that Catholicism doesn’t approve of its existence.†  “I don’t know, it could just be some big wolf that’s pretty old.†  “If it’s old, it wouldn’t be abducting people.†  “Do we know that it’s been taking people from their homes or just killing them?†  “Wise woman.†  They asked around and learned Aehtelgythe lived in a house connected to and partially made of stone from the old Roman tower that stood crumbling just outside of town. The door there was answered by the oldest person either of them had ever seen.   Aehtelgythe was probably 70 years old but still spry and healthy. She wore plain, dark clothing and a hood covered the top of her head. Her skin was wrinkled but her eyes bright as she looked over the two men at her doorstep.   “What do you want?†she growled.   “We seek information,†Bossard said.   “Well, you’ve come to the right place,†the old woman said.   She turned and walked into the dark hut. The two men followed and found she was boiling water which she mixed with certain herbs and honey in a cup. She sat down on a bench and drank it, not offering them any.   “What are you looking for?†she said.   “We’re looking into the wolf problem,†Bossard said.   “Oh!†she said. “I seen the yellow eyes of the monster, staring from the woods. These were not the eyes of a normal animal; they held intelligence and evil within them. I have cast my auguries and know what the Black Wolf is an unnatural beast and it is motivated by malice! It means harm to this village and must be stopped! Are you here to stop it, man with a sword?†  “Yes. The Earl is paying us very well to take care of this.†  “Oh. Then you need to find it and stop it. Track it down and kill it. Especially before the 31st. Before our festivities.†  “What kind of animals has it abducted in the past?†John asked.   “Sheep,†Aehtelgythe said. “Cows. Goats. Killing everything.†  “Bait,†he whispered to Bossard.   “These are not my horses,†Bossard said.   “Bait,†John said again.   “What are you whispering about?†Aehtelgythe growled.   “Nothing, ma’am,†Bossard said.   “Bait,†John said. “Bait for the animal. We can draw it out and track it.†  “Which one of you are you going to use for bait?†Aehtelgythe said.   “The armored one.†  “You’re both wearing armor!†  Aehtelgythe poked John in the side, slapping his armor.   “The shielded one,†John said.   “Oh,†Aehtelgythe said. “There’s something evil about it. It’s in the woods. Waiting.†  She sloppily sipped whatever brew she was drinking.   “Is there some sort of pattern to these attacks?†Bossard said.   “No,†Aehtelgythe said. “Not that I know of. But I’m not everybody.†  “Does it attack at night?†  “Mostly. Nobody sees it in the day. It stays in the shadows of the woods. It’s an evil creature. It’s a horrible thing.†  She glared at both men.   “Do you know why this creature …?†Bossard said. “Or when it started appearing?†  “Month, maybe more,†Aehtelgythe said. “Not longer than a month. Not too much longer than a month.†  “Are there any special holidays or traditions that took place in September?†John said. “Last month? A few months ago?†  “No,†she said. “Nothing that coincides with when the wolf was first spotted or when it first attacked.   “Do you have any theories as to why it’s appeared?†Bossard asked.   “No,†she said. “I cast an augury to try to determine what was happening. I’ve told you all I learned.†  They did learn, after talking to the woman some more that she was a follower of the old ways. She didn’t come across as very Catholic or Christian. She was proud the festivities would have some of the old ways included in it.   “Do you know anyone in town who might know more?†Bossard said.   Aehtelgythe gestured vaguely towards the town.   “Just ask around, then?†Bossard said.   She again gestured.   “Is there anything else we should need to ask her, my friend?†Bossard said.   “I don’t think so,†John said.   “Thank you for your time, ma’am,†Bossard said.   “Good luck!†Aehtelgythe said. “Kill it! Kill it!†  “We’ll come back later if we need your assistance,†Bossard said.   She nodded at them and they took their leave.   They went to the church and found Father Thomas, the village priest. Though they had heard him called “Young Thomas†around the village, he was actually quite old, being in his 40s. Balding, he had thick hair on the sides of his head and a beard and mustache. He wore simple, brown robes. He seemed happy the Earl sent someone to deal with the wolf and a little exasperated the locals clung to their superstitions despite his frequent sermons. He seemed a little in conflict with Aehtelgythe and a little upset none of the villagers were willing to learn Latin. He was a little crotchety and mentioned aches and pains he always felt, noting he would not be taking place in the festivities in a few days due to the “pagan foolishness,†as he put it.   “As the Millennium of Christ draws to a close and the return of Our Lord, not as the Lamb but as the Lion of God, draws nigh, the Devil is loosing his demons, such as this Black Wolf, upon the world. The Dark One prepares for the great battle of Armageddon! We must prepare ourselves and put on the Full Armor of God! We must repent and pray and be ready for the End is at hand!†  “Is there anything about the wolf that makes it seem as if it’s anything but a normal wolf?†John said.   “It is the Devil! It’s huge! Bigger than a man! Why, Aelfred himself has said it’s 10 to 14 stone. That’s bigger than any man!†  “Do you believe Aelfred’s word?†  “I have no reason to doubt him. I’ve taught him Latin. He’s the village Headman now. He was a ready student. Not many want to learn. Aelfred took over as Headman of the village, appointed by the earl after Wulfstan disappeared. They left one night. Aelfred said Wulfstan had seen it up close and left due to the terror he had felt after seeing the horrible beast.†  Father Thomas didn’t see any reason why Aelfred would lie. Lying was a sin, especially at that time, when the whole world was coming to an end. He was willing to listen to the two men’s confessions if they wanted to unburden their souls. He was also upset about the festivities planned because Aehtelgythe was adding pagan elements to them. He felt she was too supportive of the old ways.   “Thomas, do you know of anyone who─†Bossard said.   “Father … Thomas,†Father Thomas said.   “Father Thomas, do you know of anyone who does not believe Aelfred in town?†  “Cuthbert is very upset.†  “Cuthbert?†  “Cuthbert is Wulfstan’s cousin.†  “Hm.†  “He and Aelfred do not get along. Aelfred claimed Wulfstan left the village out of terror and fear. That he’s a coward.†  “What does he believe?†  “I don’t know but he doesn’t like Aelfred.†  “Where does he live?†  Father Thomas gave the man directions to Cuthbert’s house across the village. They learned he was one of the local farmers. They found Father Thomas lived in the tiny rectory behind the house, a building no larger than any of the others in the village.   “Does anyone live in Wulfstan’s house?†Bossard asked.   “No,†Father Thomas said. “They left a month or so ago. No one has come into the village.†  “Thank you Father, I think we’re going go to ask … Cuthbert …?†  “Cuthbert.†  When they left the church, Bossard spoke to John quietly.   “I say we look in Wulfstan’s house first,†he said.   “I concur,†John said.   They stopped at the abandoned house of Wulfstan and let themselves in. The hut was typical of those in the village. It was solidly built with a thatch roof and only a single door to let in light. With only a single room, there was a cold fire pit in one corner. A little debris and straw remained but nothing else was in the place except for a few mice which scurried to the corners and disappeared.   They searched the house, looking for clues but found nothing remained in the house whatsoever.   “I guess we should go talk to Cuthbert,†Bossard said.   It didn’t take them long to find the man. He was skinny with a sunken face and thick muttonchops. He had dark eyes and wore a straw hat and a tunic. When they questioned him about Wulfstan, he said he didn’t believe the man took his family to Shrewsbury as Aelfred claimed.   “Wulfstan was a strong, dedicated leader, a man you could trust,†he said. “He would never have just packed up and vanished in the night. Aelfred says that Wulfstan told him that he had a run-in with the Black Wolf and it frightened him so badly that he was taking his family and leaving. If that were true, why did he say nothing to me? We were closer than brothers! Besides, Wulfstan was no coward and as skilled a hunter as I’ve ever know. In fact, we were planning to hunt the beast down ourselves! The whole story doesn’t sit well with me.†  “When did, supposedly, Wulfstan leave?†Bossard said. “Last month?†  “It was a month. A little more than a month ago. Not long after the wolf appeared.†  “Do you know what happened to his house?†  “What?†  “Wulfstan’s house.†  “No. What do you mean?†  “We looked inside and there was nothing in there.†  “Aelfred says they took what they had. In the night. Left in the middle of the night.†  “That’s odd.†  “Did he own a cart?†John said.   “No,†Cuthbert said.   “Any horses.†  “No. Would’ve had to pack it all on his back.†  “Didn’t leave anything behind?†  “I don’t know. I haven’t been in his house. You said you were in his house? Was there anything there?†  “Looked like it had been abandoned for a month,†Bossard said.   Cuthbert shrugged.   “Is there anywhere the villagers congregate outside of the church?†  “Not really,†Cuthbert said. “Sometimes on the village green in the center of town. That’s where the festivities will take place in a few nights for All Hallows Eve.†  He looked at Bossard.   “Why would he have left without telling me?†he said.   “I don’t know who he was so I’m not sure,†Bossard said.   “He was a good man,†Cuthbert said. “In charge of this village. Did a good job. Then he was gone in the middle of the night.†  “Doesn’t make sense to me, personally. He would probably wait until morning to leave at the earliest.†  “Uh-huh.†  “And he would probably have gotten a cart from someone in town first.†  “But he’s gone!†  “Hm.†  “Mm-hm.†  “So, why is Aelfred in charge of the town now?†  “He was assigned it by the Earl.†  “Really, now?†  “Uh-huh. The Earl put him in charge.†  “Has he been a local in the town for a long time?†  “All his life just like the rest of us.†  “Hm.†  Bossard thought on that.   “Well, we’re hunting down that beast,†he finally said.   “Good!†Cuthbert said. “Kill it. Find out what happened to Wulfstan.†  “That seems to be something of interest.†  “Hm.†  “Related to this. Because if we could find what happened to Wulfstan, we might find out more about the beast.†  “Aye.†  “Or the beast if we find him. Either or either. But I do not feel heading back to town would be helpful. You don’t think heading back to Shrewsbury and looking for a man in that town would be helpful, do you?†  He had directed his last question to John.   “It’d waste an entire day, at least, looking for him,†Bossard went on. “And, if the fears are right about All Hallows Eve, I don’t feel we have enough time to bother. Plus, I feel like the Earl would have told me if the old Headman was in town. Probably would have sent him with us. Help us out with our investigation.†  “We should probably leave the building,†John said.   Cuthbert looked at both of them.   Bossard told him they’d look into his cousin’s disappearance. He told them “Good.†He bid them to kill the Black Wolf if they found it. They saw their way out of the house.   They talked about figuring out where the attacks were occurring and also about keeping an eye on Aelfred. John found him suspicious. They decided to talk to the villagers to see what else they could learn. They learned the people had refused to leave the village despite bandits, Vikings, and the Black Wolf. All of them respected Wulfstan until he abandoned them. Most of them very much liked Aelfred and were very happy the man stood up to lead the village. Aelfred was a bit less hearty than the average man but he was very intelligent. He could even read and write Latin, having been taught by Father Thomas.   They learned the Black Wolf was a monster the size of a pony with a pitch black pelt and glowing yellow eyes. Multiple villagers reported the loss of livestock to the beast but no one had been closer than several dozen yards. All of the sightings had been at a distance. Many worried that the slaughter of excess livestock in preparation for the winter would bring the wolf into the village as the demon beast followed the scent of fresh blood.   There were no specific spots where the wolf struck.   The two men discussed what to do. John suggested they watch Aelfred and Aehtelgythe’s homes. Bossard wanted to stay together. He feared facing the beast alone and, when John suggested climbing a tree, Bossard wondered aloud if the beast could climb.   “It’s a wolf!†John said.   “It’s an abnormal wolf, according to these people,†Bossard said.   “Fair enough. All right, you take the old woman. I’ll take Aelfred.†  “Okay.†    * * *       Bossard went to Aehtelgythe’s hut and asked the old woman if he could spend the night there. He told her he needed a place to stay but she refused to let him in, claiming he was too young for her before she slammed the door in his face. He found a place nearby to watch her house that night. He ended up climbing a tree.     * * *       John had hidden himself near Aelfred’s house behind one of the rough stone walls nearby where he could watch the house but didn’t think he would be noticed.   It was the wee hours of the night when he saw the silhouette of a huge animal creep up to the house. It looked like a huge wolf or dog. It was far too big and had yellow, glowing eyes. It crept around Aelfred’s house as if it was looking for something. Though chilled by the sight, John watched. The animal seemed to be looking for a way into the house. It finally left, heading south and passing closer to John than the man was comfortable with. He thought it might have looked right at him before he crept out of the village. He lost sight of it when it disappeared into the woods.   He waited a while longer before he slipped back to the abandoned house he and Bossard had been shown by Aelfred. There was some firewood there that had been gathered by the villagers for them. He built a small fire before wrapping his cloak about him and going to sleep.     * * *       The day of Sunday, October 28, 1000, dawned with rain. Nothing had happened at Aehtelgythe’s house that night. Bossard returned to the house he and John had been given to stay in and found it smelled of fresh smoke. A few ashes were in the pit in the corner and John slept on the floor. He nudged the man with the boot.   John explained the wolf was very real and wanted something inside of Aelfred’s house. It was definitely looking for a way in and was around the house for a while. When Bossard asked if the man had seen Aelfred leave, he said he hadn’t, but the wolf definitely wanted in. John suggested they talk to Aelfred and ask if he had taken anything from the ruins or done anything to anger the wolf.   They set off for Aelfred’s house that morning and found the man there. He seemed happy to see him. John noticed very large wolf-prints all around the house and could see they headed south.   “Did anything strange happen last night?†John asked.   “No,†Aelfred said. “I slept well.†  “Slept well?†  “Why?†  “Have you traveled around anywhere in the last month? We have reason to believe the wolf may have wanted to get inside your house.†  “No.†  “Found anything interesting?†  “No.†  “Done anything out of the ordinary?†  “No.†  Bossard realized the man was not telling them everything. He was keeping something back and was not being completely honest. He tried to convince the man they were all trying to stop the wolf and he could tell them anything. It was almost an impassioned plea that was very convincing.   Aelfred seemed unconvinced. He claimed nothing out of the ordinary had happened. However, each of the men noticed him glance towards a chest tucked into the corner of the room. It didn’t have a lock or even a hasp, but was large and weathered, as if it had been in his family for some time. Bossard exchanged a knowing glance with John before he thanked Aelfred for his time. Aelfred wished them luck finding the wolf and they took their leave.   They returned to the house they’d been lent.   “We need to see what’s in the chest,†John said.   “I have an idea,†Bossard said.   “I have one too.†  “What’s your idea?†  “If you can fast talk him, if you find him out in a field, we have to be careful that villagers don’t see us rummaging through his stuff. So, we need you to convince him to go get him something from the house. And we can go fetch it. And that way none of the villagers are concerned and we can go take a look in the chest.†  “My plan was to convince Cuthbert to distract Aelfred for us. Convince him, maybe, that we found some information about Wulfstan that he needs to distract Aelfred for us. We don’t need to be truthful about it. It might be true. But we just need to get in that house and get into that chest.†  They discussed it, John noting the problem was that the village was small and the villagers might see them. Bossard suggested they try John’s idea first.   They soon found Aelfred was going about town and talking to the other villagers about the festivities in a few days. They learned it was a dance with a certain song that would be sung that night.   John told Bossard they would ask to borrow a shovel to dig something around the village that needed dug in thanks for the loan of the abandoned house they were staying in. However, when they approached Aelfred and asked him about it, he told them all he needed from them was to get the wolf. He wanted them to find and kill it. When Bossard told them there was not anything they could do during the day, Aelfred was taken aback.   “You can’t track it down?†he said. “Find out where it lairs? That’s what I would think you could do. Find where it lairs and be ready for it when it comes out or set a trap or burn it out if it’s in a cave. Kill it or block it up or collapse the cave on top of it!†  He seemed very anxious to kill the wolf.   Bossard asked the man if he had taken any spiritual attempts at self-protection, like salt in front of the door. The man said he had not. Aelfred was curious why the man asked and told him he prayed fervently every night as Father Thomas taught him.   They left the man, heading towards the woods as if they were planning on following the tracks. They followed the tracks south and found they went all around the animal pens and the barn, though not nearly as much as were around Aelfred’s house.   “Well, I think, one thing we should, could, consider, is setting fire to one of the abandoned houses,†Bossard said.   “You know, I was already thinking about that,†John said. “I was actually thinking we could set fire to an outhouse.†  They both figured it would draw all the villagers to it and they could use the confusion to look into the chest in Aelfred’s house. John wanted to burn a latrine. He thought it a good idea to burn the one behind Aelfred’s house. They argued over it briefly.   They followed the tracks into the woods but John soon lost the trail when it went on rocky ground. He was not able to find tracks leaving the area. It was almost as if the wolf was trying to lose any pursuit.   As they walked around the rocky ground, John suggested they set loose the animals in the barn as a distraction. Bossard was unsure how they could do so inconspicuously. John was unsure how to set a fire inconspicuously. Bossard suggested leaving something burning in the house. He was also of the opinion the Earl wouldn’t mind as much them setting some animals loose as he would them burning down a peasant’s house. However, he realized the Earl probably valued the livestock at least as much as the peasants, if not more so. He was unsure which the Earl would hate more.   They continued looking for the wolf’s prints around the rocky area that day without any luck. Bossard found some boot prints and followed them, soon following them back to the rocky area. John realized the man was following his own boot prints in a circle. John found no tracks leaving the rocky area in the woods, which didn’t seem right to him at all.   They returned to the village long before dark as the rain started.   They split up, Bossard going to talk to Aehtelgythe and John going to see what Aelfred was doing.         * * *       Bossard found Aehtelgythe kneading dough for bread.   “Hello Aehtelgythe,†he said.   “What is your name?†she said.   “Bossard.†  “Bossard? That sounds French!†  “I am French! Originally.†  “What are you doing here?†  “I told you!†  “Are you spy? For the French?†  “I’ve been sent by the Earl to kill the wolf. Remember?†  She looked at him suspiciously.   “I remember,†she finally said.   “I’m not a spy,†he said.   “But you’re French!†  “Yes.†  “Hm.†  “Regardless, Aehtelgythe, I was hoping you would provide us more information about the wolf from what I’ve learned.†  “What have you learned?†  He told her about the tracks disappearing on the rocky spot and about the boot prints. When she asked if he was sure he wasn’t following his own tracks, he came to a sudden realization. Then she walked over to him and poked him hard in the chest.   “That sounds like a werewolf,†she said.   “Werewolf?†Bossard said.   “A werewolf.†  “I thought it was just a Viking, some crazy man with a wolf pelt on.†  “No, it is a man that can turn into a wolf.†  “So, like my original theory.†  “I don’t know.†  She told him the werewolf was a man who could turn into a wolf to do horrible things. They could infect others with their curse if they harmed said others. They were the Devil’s agents, or at least that was what the church claimed. She said they were very dangerous. She noted if they hunted a werewolf, they might want to have their weapons blessed by Father Thomas. She said he knew some things.   “For though he is just a priest of a new god,†she said blasphemously, “he does have some power and does know some things. But it will be a wolf with the cunning of a man. Cunning of a man!†  She got in his face and pointed at his forehead.   “So, are you saying one of the villagers here is a werewolf?†Bossard asked.   She shrugged.   “It could be,†she said.   He told her there had been a lot of tracks around Aelfred’s house and he had looked at a chest when they had talked to him about it. She didn’t know anything about that but she trusted Aelfred and pointed out Aelfred was ready to incorporate aspects the church might not approve of for the festivities. She approved of that use of “the old wisdom.†She asked if he was suspicious of Aelfred.   “Not necessarily,†Bossard said. “I just don’t know what he’s worried about in his house. He won’t tell us about it.†  She thought on that.   “It could be what the werewolf wants,†Bossard said.   “Why don’t you just ask Aelfred?†Aehtelgythe asked.   “He refuses to divulge it,†Bossard said.   He related their question of something happening or him finding anything when he had looked at the chest. Aehtelgythe was unsure but guessed the Romans had nothing to do with anything as even they didn’t know the old ways. She again noted the inclusion of the old ways into the festivities was a good thing.   She asked him what kind of Catholic he was. He shrugged and alluded to the fact that he merely paid the church lip service. The old woman nodded.   “The old ways have power,†she said.   “Do they?†Bossard said.   “The new ways do not have as much power. Some of them do. But not much. We need to get back to the old ways. The ways from before. From before.†  He thanked her and took his leave.     * * *       John found Aelfred under a small, roughly made pavilion on the village green with some of the children of the village, helping them learn the song that seemed to be in Latin. He walked back to Aelfred’s house but saw one of the townsfolk, a pretty young woman with long, dark hair named Aelfwynn, mending clothing in the doorway of the nearby house. Unfortunately, she could see the door to Aelfred’s house from where she worked.   He went to the hut where Aelfwynn worked. She was very pretty and only about 16 years old. When she saw him, she blushed at the handsome man, lowering her eyes.   “Hello, good sir,†she said.   Village gossip had it she was the most beautiful girl in the village. She lived with her father and mother and was unwed and unbetrothed.   “Would your parents mind if you lent out farm tools?†he asked her.   She said she didn’t think they would.   “Can I borrow a shovel?†he said.   She brought him a shovel and he left with it, returning after a short while to give it back. He had hoped she wouldn’t have the tool so he could use that as an excuse to enter Aelfred’s house.   He wandered back to the village green to watch the man teach the children the song in Latin. He told them what to say and when to sing it. John was unsure if it was Latin but guessed it must be. He stayed until he saw Bossard returning to the village and went to meet with him.   “Did you learn anything interesting?†he said.   “It’s a werewolf,†Bossard said.   John was unsure what he was talking about and Bossard told him. He also noted they needed blessed weapons, according to Aehtelgythe. John wondered if they could just place the weapons on the altar and they would get blessed. Bossard felt they should just go ask Father Thomas.   They went to the church and found the priest. When they told him they wanted blessed weapons, he wanted to know exactly what they wanted. Bossard told him it was the Devil and Father Thomas was certain he was right. When Bossard told him he needed a blessed weapon to drive it off, the man looked more trepidatious. He told the man it was very costly for him to bless a weapon. When John tried to minimize the fact, he noted it was costly to him and would cost him part of his soul.   “But God would want you to do this,†Bossard said.   “Are you sure it’s the Devil,†Father Thomas said. “Have you seen it? Have you seen arrows bounce of it?†  “My friend has.†  “Have you seen your weapons bounce off it?†  “I haven’t seen my weapons bounce off it,†John said.   “Do you want us to try?†Bossard said.   “It’s far too large to be a normal wolf,†John said.   Bossard told the man he had deduced the creature was a werewolf. Father Thomas listened to him and frowned.   “How dare you lie to me!†he said. “Your eternal soul is more important than lies! You must tell me the truth, young man!†  “Aehtelgythe told me,†Bossard said.   “As I thought! She’s a pagan! You can’t trust her!†  “But I still─†  “If you come to me with the truth, that this wolf cannot be harmed by mortal bow and arrow, then, yes, I am willing to give part of my soul to protect you. But until that time … no. Especially to a liar.†  “He’s not a liar.†  Bossard pointed to John.   “You lied to me when you said that was what you thought,†Father Thomas said. “Don’t lie to me. I can see the truth. I know a liar when I see one!†  “But God would want you to help me kill this creature!†Bossard said.   “You lied to me already! Don’t sully the name of God with the same mouth that just told me lies!†  “Fine, we’ll go try and kill it tonight. But if I die …†  “It’s God’s will. For your lies.†  “And if the werewolf kills you, it’s God’s will.†  Bossard left the church without another word. John followed.     * * *       That night, the two men entered Wulfstan’s house. Bossard, exhausted from saying up the night before, curled up in a corner and went to sleep. John climbed up onto the thatch roof and set himself up on one of the braces that held up the thatch with plans to watch Aelfred’s house but he also nodded off to sleep.     * * *    

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

The Dragon and the Wolf Part 2 - The Dragon

* * *       The morning of Monday, October 29, 1000, was overcast and gray but the rain had stopped. When the light woke John, he realized he had fallen asleep soon after he had taken up his watch the night before. When he climbed down to the room, Bossard was already awake. The Frenchman slapped him in the face.   “I deserve that,†John admitted.   They went to Aelfred’s house and found fresh tracks all around. Some of them headed south once again. They followed them to a stream and started to search up and down the rill to see where the tracks came out. They had lost the tracks however despite spending several hours carefully looking. They finally found some tracks that left the stream and headed back towards the rocks they had lost the tracks upon before.   Canvassing the area between the two, however, brought them to a sparse campsite on a rocky patch along the River Severn. A man had a small fire burning in the clearing. He was wearing once-nice clothing now ragged and threadbare. He looked like a merchant or a minor noble who had fallen on hard times. He had a thick black beard and thick black hair. He cooked a fish over a small fire.   John signaled Bossard and they crept back into the woods to talk, getting a mile or so away before they stopped.   “What do you think?†John said. “Do we jump him? Do we question him?†  “We should question him,†Bossard said. “We don’t know that he’s the werewolf.†  “It would save a lot of trouble if he wasn’t.†  “You want to try to murder an innocent man?†  “Well, it’s obvious from his clothes nobody will miss him.†  “No. I know the Earl doesn’t care but you’re not going to weigh the conscious of murdering a man?†  “I don’t want to get eaten.†  “You don’t know if he’s a werewolf! What if you murder him and then the werewolf attacks again?†  “Then he wasn’t a werewolf.†  “And then you go insane!†  “We should go back and ask the old woman if you can kill a werewolf in its man form.†  They returned to the village to find Aehtelgythe. She was unsure if the creature would be immune to normal weaponry or not. When John asked if they could turn during the day, she told them she thought the creatures changed on the full moon. John realized the festivities fell on the dark of the moon and the moon had been waning for several days. The next full moon was not for two weeks.   Bossard asked her who the man in the camp south of town was and she didn’t know. They left.   John pointed out they could shoot the man to see if he was immune to their weapons. They didn’t even have to kill him. Bossard still wanted to know if the man was the werewolf first. John pointed out the man would have to answer their questions and couldn’t get away if his foot was pinned to the ground. They could also claim it was a hunting accident. Bossard preferred to watch the man’s camp and wait for him to come back. John pointed out the wolf would probably be able to smell them, even hidden up in the trees. Bossard said it hadn’t smelled him that night he’d watched Aelfred’s house.   It was noon by then and they talked about getting into Aelfred’s house to get into the chest.   They found Aelfred at his house. Several people were there, adults from the village, who he was teaching the dance and the song for the festivities.   Bossard suggested letting the animals out to draw them away. John wanted to burn something, pointing out it was no raining any longer. When Bossard noted it was still damp, John pointed out things could still burn.   They discussed lying to Father Thomas once again about the man they’d found in the woods, faking evidence to prove they needed their weapons blessed. Bossard decided he didn’t want to risk further alienating the priest, however. When John suggested they form a lynch mob to deal with the man in the woods, Bossard was not happy about that, not wanting to possibly murder an innocent man.   They decided to go back to the man’s camp.     * * *       When they arrived at the edge of the man’s camp, they saw he had finished eating the fish he’d been cooking before. As Bossard entered the clearing, John climbed a nearby tree to watch the meeting, making a lot of noise. The man stood and greeted him.   “Hello, fine sir,†Bossard said. “What brings you out here?†  “I am Gerhard,†the man said   “Gerhard.†  “Who are you?†  “Bossard.†  “Norman?†  “No.†  “Welcome. I have little to give. I have been living a hermit’s life. I seek to purify myself before the end time. I’ve been living alone, subsiding upon the Lord’s bounty of fish and wild berries.†  He held out some berries. Bossard shook his head and the man put them away.   “What are you doing to prepare for the end of days?†Gerhard asked. “It comes at the thousandth anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ.†  “Hunting,†Bossard said.   “You’re hunting to prepare yourself for the end of days?†  “I’m trying to enjoy─†  “Enjoy!?!†  “─the Lord’s bounty.†  “The Lord’s bounty is important. Enjoying it doesn’t come into play much anymore with the end of the world coming and all.†  “Yes.†  “But you’re welcome to come share my fire and what little I have. I’m afraid I’ve already eaten the fish but I still have the berries.†  Bossard made small talk but eventually steered the conversation towards the local village of Wroxeter. Gerhard knew the village was there but had never been to it, he claimed.   “Have you?†Gerhard asked.   “I passed through it to get here.†  “Ah.†  “Have you heard stories of the wolf?†  “Aye. I’ve seen the beast. Black as night and with the devil’s own eyes, it was. It came stalking about my camp not two nights hence. At first I was afraid but then I stood to face the beast with only faith to guard me and, like Daniel in the lion’s den, the Lord God did keep me safe and the beast fled to the east.†  He pointed downstream.   “Do you know why?†Bossard asked.   “Because I had the protection of God,†Gerhard said. “That’s the only reason that can explain it.†  Bossard wished the man to be safe and Gerhard wished the same for him. He left the clearing heading west.     * * *       Bossard circled around the clearing and found John crashing down noisily out of the tree he had been hiding in. He saw him slip the last few feet and crash to the ground on his back, knocking the breath out of himself. It took a few minutes before he could talk. Bossard swore at him in French under his breath.   “I still want to shoot him,†John finally said.   “I cannot condone you shooting that man,†Bossard said.   “What did you learn?†  “That he is apparently waiting for the end of times.†  “Will anybody miss him?†  “If you want to shoot him, you’re welcome to try.†  He told John everything Gerhard had told him. He said he didn’t believe the man, though. John looked around for wolf tracks in the vicinity but found none.   “Can we shoot him now?†he said. “He knows we’re here. He’s not going to come back to the same spot.†  “What are you going to do if you don’t kill him?†Bossard said.   “Run. What are you going to do?†John said.   “I’m going to go confront him,†Bossard said.   The two entered the camp, John stopping at the edge of the clearing with his loaded crossbow ready. Bossard approached the man who had been deep in prayer or thought. Gerhard stood as the man approached.   “Ah, you have returned,†Gerhard said. “Have you reconsidered my berries?†  “Sir, I do not believe that you scared the wolf away last night,†Bossard said.   “Of course I didn’t. God did.†  “There are no tracks.†  “There are no tracks? I don’t understand.†  “I fear this is not a typical wolf, sir. I would ask you that you be honest with me with what happened.†  “I have been honest with you.†  “Hm.†  Bossard looked back at John. He sighed.   “I think you’re a werewolf, sir,†Bossard said.   “What?†Gerhard said.   “A werewolf. You heard me.†  Gerhard looked him up and down. Then he sat back down by the embers of his fire.   “I used to make my living as a trader of goods and a tinker, traveling between villages, trading my wares and repairing the kettles, pots, and suchlike of the villages I visited,†he said. “About one month ago, I came to Wroxeter and plied my trade there for a few days. With the villagers being more sparse than when I was last there, I soon finished and made plans to move on. Aelfred suggested that I follow a shortcut that he knew of to the next town. This route, he said, would also lead me past a village I had never visited before. As I had found less business than I expected in Wroxeter, I took his advice and followed the route.   “However, I couldn’t find the promised village, and so I had to camp outside that night. Fortunately, the moon was waxing three-quarters full and bright and I had space in my wagon to be off the ground. As I was preparing to bed down, I spied a great shadow crossing the moon and barely dove aside as a dragon, a great wyrm, swooped upon me and tried to envelope me in its coils. The only thing that saved me that night is my heritage. Not only am I of a strong Saxon lineage, but my family also bears the blood of the wolf warriors of old: werewolves.   “Because I was born wolf-blooded, I can control my changes and take wolf form whenever I choose rather than being tied to the cycles of the moon. I was so frightened at the sight of this horrible monster that I froze in fear. I would have died there, but the Wolf was not ready to die. It took over and I changed. My Wolf recognized the dragon as the stronger beast and so ran for all we were worth! My Wolf was faster than the wyrm and we evaded the beast until near sunrise when it took flight back to wherever it lairs, but not before slaughtering my horses and destroying my cart, wares, and tools. Left with nothing, I began to investigate.   “I watch Wroxeter and its new Headman. I spied Aelfred skulk out of the village one night to meet with the wyrm itself! It was he who fed me to the beast. Since then I have been seeking the wyrm’s lair and planning revenge upon Aelfred. They took everything from me except my life. I intend to see justice done.†  “So, you say you’re interested in Aelfred?†Bossard said.   “He’s the one who betrayed me,†Gerhard said. “He is the one who is working with the wyrm.†  “Ask him what’s in his house!†John called.   “What’s in his house?†Bossard said.   “He is,†Gerhard said.   “What? The wyrm?†  “Aelfred.†  “There’s something in his house that he’s interested in.†  “I know nothing about that.†  “He was looking at it when we were questioning him. It’s in a chest. I don’t know what it is.†  “I don’t either.†  “Have you been attacking the village folk?†  “Occasionally. Not the folk. Livestock. When I can get to Aelfred, I will. I cannot defeat his dragon. The Wolf does not feel that we are strong enough. I don’t know where it lairs. He is up to something devilish and awful. If you are here to stop whatever evil is infesting Wroxeter, that’s where you should start.†  “If we shoot him we don’t get a pelt,†John called.   “He’s not a werewolf right now,†Bossard said. “He could change.†  “Anytime I want,†Gerhard said.   He frowned at the two.   “I could kill both of you easily,†he said. “Or … I can help you. The choice is yours.†  “I’m inclined to believe you that Aelfred is up to something,†Bossard said. “I feel like he’s acting suspiciously. Do you know anything about Wulfstan?†  “No.†Gerhard said.   “Well, if you’ll keep your attacks just to the livestock, I’ll leave you alone for the moment,†Bossard said.   “No!†John said. “Come on!†  “What would you propose, Welshman from your accent?†Gerhard called to the man.   “I do not trust my ability to defeat this man,†Bossard said to John. “And he hasn’t harmed the villagers.†  “Yeah, but we can’t kill a wyrm and we can’t go back without a pelt,†John said. “So, I suppose we kill a wolf and dye it black.†  Gerhard looked at the man quizzically.   “The earl has a bounty on you,†Bossard said.   “Of course he does,†Gerhard said.   “And we were sent here to collect it.†  “I would suggest to you that something worse than what I am doing is going on here. If he is working with a wyrm, the gods only know what he is up to.†  “I’m not getting paid for a wyrm carcass,†John said.   “You might,†Bossard said.   The other man looked doubtful.   “Do you have any proof?†John said.   “No,†Gerhard said. “I don’t have any proof. My own word is the only proof that I have.†  John lowered his crossbow and walked over to the two. He unloaded the weapon and put it away. Bossard slung his shield onto his back. He asked Gerhard to tell him more about his transformation and the wyrm.   “The wolf took over,†Gerhard said. “Saved my life. It knew it would die when I died. If I die, it dies. If it dies, I die.†  “But you don’t control the wolf?†John said.   “Not entirely, no,†Gerhard said. “I control the wolf, but not completely. But if there is a battle, I can try to help you. The Wolf will help you. I am not much use.†  He gestured at the dagger on his belt.   “Do you have any theories on why Aelfred benefits on feeding the wyrm?†Bossard said.   “I have no idea,†Gerhard said. “I’ve been trying to learn what his connection is with the wyrm and I’ve learned very little so far.†  “He is in charge of the festivities on the 31st,†Bossard said.   “I’ve not been Wroxeter during the day,†Gerhard said. “I don’t know anything about that.†  “If we gave you Aelfred, would you leave?†John said. “If we could get you Aelfred?†  Gerhard thought on that a moment.   “I want Aelfred,†he finally said. “The Wolf wants the wyrm. But yes. If you kill Aelfred or give him to me to give him to the Wolf, that might appease it. It will appease me.†  “Will you stay here?†Bossard said. “So we can find you later?†  “Yes, I’m willing to stay here,†Gerhard said. “I will be going to the village every night.†  “Does the Wolf know not to attack us at night?†  “I cannot guarantee your safety.†  The two men took their leave of the man, who gave them both a hard, distrustful look. As they walked back, they spoke on strange story.   “It seems like the easiest solution here is give up Aelfred,†John said.   “I’m not looking for the easiest solution,†Bossard said.   “So, should we confront him?†  “Aelfred?†  “Yeah.†  “If he’s alone. How about we wait until nightfall when he goes home and confront him?†  “Okay.†  “Then no one knows we entered except Aelfred.†    * * *       They returned to the village and returned to Aehtelgythe to ask her about wyrms. She told them dragons were fierce beasts and hard to kill. When he asked if they were weak to anything, she guessed blessed weapons would be helpful against such a beast. He asked if she knew anyone else who could bless their weapons besides Father Thomas but she didn’t.   “Why are you asking about wyrms?†the old woman asked.   “Can you keep it secret?†Bossard said.   “It’s something I’m interested in,†John said. “I’m Welsh. We like dragons.†  “Oh, you’re Welsh,†the old woman said. “That explains so much.†  The old woman said she had cast the bones, performing an augury, and found there was a looming threat hanging over Wroxeter. Something bad was coming very soon. Something that could end the world. Bossard, feeling he could trust the old woman, wanted to tell her everything. When he started to do so, John interrupted.   “She’s old,†he whispered to the Frenchman. “Don’t trust the old people.†  “What’s that you said, Welshman?†Aehtelgythe said.   “Hm? Me?†  “Something terrible is coming. I don’t know what, exactly. The augury was not that clear.†  “I had too much cheese for lunch.†  “Just like a Welshman!†  Bossard thanked her and they left her hut.   They crossed the village to Aelfred’s house once again. They found the man teaching villagers the song that day. Torold also came to the man’s house to discuss taxes.     * * *       It was not until after dinnertime when Aelfred was alone as most of the villagers had gone to their homes to eat their evening meal. The two men approached his house and asked to have dinner with him. He invited them in and shared his meager repast. It was mostly bread and cheese, as well as a little bit of boiled mutton and ale. They sat and ate in silence, for the most part.   Bossard eventually talked of how the village was doing. Aelfred said it was doing fine except for the Black Wolf, that terrible agent of the Devil, according to Father Thomas. If it was gone, things would be better for Wroxeter. He noted otherwise the village was doing well and he was looking forward to the upcoming festivities as were all the villagers. It would make a nice celebration and break from the drudgery of life.   “Have you ever heard of a dragon?†John asked.   “I’ve heard of lots of dragons,†Aelfred said. “There are many stories.†  “Have you ever seen one?†  “No.†  “Do you know any local stories?†Bossard asked.   “Any local stories?†Aelfred said.   “Yeah, about dragons.†  He told them some stories they had heard before. John thanked him and told him he enjoyed hearing about dragons.   “He’s Welsh,†Bossard said.   “Oh,†Aelfred said as if understanding.   They left after the meal and discussed what to do about Aelfred. John was for accosting the man but Bossard didn’t want to do that.   “Just a little bit,†John said.   “The earl will hear about me accosting this man,†Bossard said.   “Why you gonna accost the Headman?†a voice asked.   A little nine-year-old boy stepped out from behind the wall where they talked.   “Is it because of the things in the woods?†the boy asked.   “Thing in the woods?†Bossard said. “What thing?†  “The thing I saw. I saw. I saw. I was up late one night. I had to use the latrine. And I saw Aelfred slip out of the village. And I followed him. And I saw a shadow descend from the sky. I did. I was so scared, all I could do was hide. And Aelfred entered the trees. And he was there for a long time and then snuck back into the village. And I went back and I had been terrified of the dark ever since. I’ve wet my bedclothes at night. I don’t want to go out to the latrine. My father’s very, very disappointed in me. He says he won’t raise a coward. I think he’s going to put me in a bag and throw me in the river.†  He nodded at the two men.   “What’s your name?†Bossard said.   “I’m Leofric,†the boy said.   “Leofric?†  “Leofric. My father’s Godwine.†  “Godwine?†  “Yes. Tell him not to throw me in the river. I don’t want to be thrown in the river.†  “I’ll tell him that if I see him.†  “Thank you. Because you have a sword and you can stop him from throwing me in the river.†  “I can swim,†John said.   “That … won’t stop him from throwing me in the river, though,†Leofric said.   “I can get you out.†  “Oh. And then I can come away with you? Once he throws me in the river? And learn that wicked mechanism that you carry?†  The crossbow was probably a mystery Leofric.   “I don’t know what it is,†the boy said. “I’ve never seen it’s like before.†  He looked the men over.   “Was it the Devil?†he said. “Was that what it was? The Devil?†  “What?†John said.   “What?†Bossard said.   “The dark shape that made me scared,†Leofric said.   “Maybe,†John said. “But we’re going to look into it.†  “I’ve been praying and it hasn’t helped at all,†Leofric said.   “Do you know where he met it?†Bossard said.   “It was in the woods,†Leofric said. “To the east.†  “Could you lead us there?†  “No. I’m not going back there.†  “Tomorrow morning?†  “No. I’m not going back there. It might still be there.†  “I’ll take you with me if you help.†  “I don’t … I don’t … no. No.†  “Can you at least lead us to the edge of the woods where it is?†  “No. I’m not going back. That’s a terrible place. It’s a terrible place.†  “We can go look,†John said.   “Yes,†Bossard said.   “We have a dog,†John said.   “Where was it?†Bossard said to Leofric.   The boy pointed down the road to the east. Bossard gave him a denier. That surprised the boy.   “If he throws me in the river, save me,†he said to the men.   He scurried off home.     * * *       Bossard and John returned Gerhard’s campsite and found the man cooking another fish over the fire. He stood when they entered the clearing and looked at them warily.   “We have information about a wyrm,†Bossard said.   “All right,†Gerhard said.   “A child apparently saw Aelfred meet with it,†Bossard said.   He described, as best he could, where Leofric had told them he had seen Aelfred meet the wyrm.   “I thought you were going to bring me Aelfred,†Gerhard said.   “Well, he’s in his house,†Bossard said.   “I still vote for that,†John said. “To be fair.†  “I cannot defeat the wyrm,†Gerhard said.   “But what do you want to do about the wyrm though?†Bossard said.   “I … I don’t know.†  “We were hoping you can track it for us.†  “It flies. You can’t track something that flies.†  “Well … I mean …†  “I thought wyrms didn’t have wings,†Johns said.   “It had wings,†Gerhard said. “Long and sinuous, it curled around my wagon and crushed it like kindling. Shattered it to pieces. Unfortunately no, I cannot track it.†  He said he could track anything that walked on the ground but not something that flew. He also didn’t think he was a match for it alone and his wolf knew it. When Bossard asked if they might be able to kill it together, he didn’t know. He just knew it was awful. Bossard asked about using the peasants and Gerhard scoffed at that idea. When Bossard noted some of them might have training, the man doubted it.   “At best, they would be a distraction,†he said.   “I have a question for you,†John said. “If I were to shoot a crossbow at the wolf, would it bounce off?†  Gerhard looked at the man suspiciously.   “The crone in village said the wyvern could be hurt with blessed weapons,†Bossard said. “The father won’t bless our weapons unless we have proof that we’ve tried to kill one of these creatures.†  “So, hold this and snap it in half,†John said. “Then we can say the wolf snapped an arrow and it won’t be a lie.†  Gerhard broke the bolt in half and handed it back to him. Then he said he would do them one better. He took the sharp end of the shaft and stabbed John in the arm with it, handing it back. It hurt very much.   “Thank you, though,†Bossard said.   They left the camp.     * * *       They went back to the village, Bossard trying to bind up the wound. He managed to stop the bleeding and they returned by nightfall. They went to Father Thomas’ house and knocked on the door, showing him the arrow as proof of the werewolf.   “But there’s blood on it,†Father Thomas said. “You must have wounded it.†  “Yes, but it didn’t kill it,†Bossard said.   “Not only that, it broke the shaft,†John said. “It’s hide is too thick to pierce with normal weapons.†  “But there’s blood!†Father Thomas said. “You obviously pierced its hide!†  The two men looked at each other.   “Obviously it’s my blood,†John said.   Father Thomas looked him, completely baffled.   “You shot yourself?†he said.,   “You know, I’m not very bright,†John said. “It’s sharp. I tried to load it. It came off my shoulder.†  “Why do you lie to me!?!†Father Thomas said. “You’re both a couple of liars!†  “Well, the wolf did break the arrow,†John said.   Father Thomas was very angry at them.   “It’s my blood on the arrow,†John said.   “The wolf did break the arrow,†Bossard said.   “What happened exactly?†Father Thomas said.   “We attempted to confront the wolf.†  “Yes.†  “And … have you heard the tales of werewolves?†  “Satan’s minions!†  “It’s a werewolf that’s terrorizing this town.†  “Stabbed me with my own arrow!†John said. “I lied because it’s embarrassing.†  Father Thomas looked over the two men with a frown. He finally said he was willing to either bless Bossard’s blade or a single arrow of John’s. When he told them about the spell, he noted he had to sacrifice part of his soul to do it, something he can never replace. Bossard told him they’d need to think about what to bless.   They left, talking about what they should have blessed. In the end, they decided on the sword. Bossard questioned whether or not they should confront Aelfred that night but John was of the opinion they should wait until they had it blessed before they did so.     * * *       Tuesday, October 30, 1000, was a bright if chilly day.   The two men went to the church and asked Father Thomas to bless the sword. He said he would need the morning to do so. He told Bossard to fetch one of the goats because he would need that as well. The man did so and he took it into the church.   The two men took the time to look in at Aelfred’s house but they found villagers there, decorating the structure. Aelfred didn’t appear to be home. John suggested they light something on fire.   “John, you should demonstrate your superior archery skills to the village,†Bossard said. “I could help you set up and then disappear.†  They set up some apples on the wall some distance from Aelfred’s house. Bossard tried to convince some of the villagers to come watch but they didn’t seem interested as they were too busy that morning. One of them noted they might be able to come watch that afternoon.   Bossard went to the community barn and found a few animals within but no one else was there. He thought about letting the animals out. He didn’t think he would be able to let the animals out without being recognized.   When he returned to John, that man mentioned using a flaming arrow to light something on fire. He went into the woods and did a little hunting but didn’t get any game by late morning. He went back into the woods so they could implement their plan.     * * *       Bossard noticed Ingold in the vicinity of the house they had planned to burn. He engaged the man in conversation, making sure he had the man facing away from the woods where John was to fire the arrow from. He talked about the next day’s festivities, telling the man he thought Aelfred could use Ingold’s help. The man was happy to help Aelfred and really seemed to like the young man. He followed the man towards Aelfred’s house.     * * *       In the trees, John saw Ingold and Bossard leave the vicinity. He wrapped some oil-soaked cloth on the end of the bolt, lit it, and fired it into the air. It flew high and went into the thatch of one of the abandoned houses, lodging there. He didn’t hear any cries of alarm so he slipped back into the woods, circling around the village, giving it a wide berth, and planned to return after everything was all over.   He soon heard shouts from the village and saw smoke rising into the sky.     * * *       Bossard had followed Ingold to Aelfred’s house and the old man looked around for the young Headman. Bossard glanced back at the house and saw the first, faint hints of smoke. Ingold asked where Aelfred was and Bossard asked some of the other villagers where they thought Aelfred had wandered off to. Bossard didn’t say anything about the fire and no one else in the village noticed the fire before flames were licking at the dry roof.   “Fire!†Bossard yelled. “Fire!†  The villagers ran in the direction of the fire, crying out in terror and alarm. Some grabbed buckets of water, or got some water from the well.   Bossard ran into Aelfred’s house and found it empty. He flung open the chest and found, hidden under some clothing was a leather-bound book. He picked it up and peeked out the door. All of the villagers were running towards the burning building. He quickly opened the book but found the handwriting was in Latin. He tucked the book under his armor and ran to help fight the fire.   The fire raged out of control but the villagers managed to isolate it to only the one house, which burned to the ground. There was little left but ashes and a little of one wall. It took them two hours to fight the blaze and, about the time it was little more than a smoldering wreck, John returned to town from the south with a pair of rabbits he’d caught.   Bossard asked everyone in the village what had happened and no one knew. None of the villagers knew how the fire had started in the abandoned house. A few people guessed the town was cursed while others blamed the Devil. Some mentioned the Black Wolf, which might have started the fire by being some kind of Devil Wolf. Father Thomas agreed the Black Wolf was obviously an agent sent from the Devil to wreak havoc at the end of the world.   They returned to the small house they were living in and got a fire going in the pit. John gutted and butchered the rabbits and got the meat cooking. Bossard showed him the book he’d found. Unfortunately John didn’t read Latin either. John suggested taking the book to Gerhard to see if he understood Latin.   They ate lunch.     * * *       Returning to Gerhard’s camp, the man told them he did not read or write any languages. He could speak English and German.   They returned to town.     * * *       They talked to Aehtelgythe but she didn’t know how to read or write either. She could understand Low German if it was spoken but had not head for letters. They went to the church and recovered Bossard’s now-enchanted sword.   They talked about getting Father Thomas to translate the journal but didn’t trust the man. John wanted to simply give the man to the Wolf. Bossard wanted to know what was in the journal but John was convinced taking it to the priest would be a mistake. John suggested someone in Shrewsbury might be able to read Latin so the two took their leave of Wroxeter.     * * *       Shrewsbury was a larger town and they were able to find a priest, that night, who could read Latin. Bossard told the priest reading the book was on the Earl’s business. The man took the book and looked through it, telling them to return in an hour.   They went to have a meal and, when they returned, the priest threw the book at them.   “What blasphemy is this!?!†the priest said. “Why did you write this!?!†  “It’s not my book,†Bossard said.   “It’s confiscated from a fugitive,†John said.   “It describes spells!†the priest said. “They’ve been learned from a creature that is apparently a wyrm . It claims it can cloud a man’s memory and enthrall people and create fear and drain power and shrivel a man! Where did you find this? Who’s is it?†  “Now a wanted fugitive,†John said.   “A wanted fugitive,†Bossard echoed.   “It also describes some rite that will turn a man into a god!†the priest said.   “Kill him,†John muttered.   “Blasphemy!†the priest said. “Blasphemy!†  He wanted to burn the book and demanded it back. Bossard told him the Earl wanted proof the man’s blasphemy. It was evidence.   “Whoever wrote this is a witch!†the priest said. “They must die!†  “We’ll kill him,†Bossard assured the man.   “‘You shall not permit a sorceress to live!’†the priest quoted.   They took the book and left the church, heading back to Wroxeter. They rode through the night, John’s horse going lame on the way when it took a bad step in the dark. It took much longer to get back leading the struggling animal.     * * *       When they finally reached Wroxeter in the wee hours of the morning, they heard a wolf howl somewhere in the distance. The village was dark and quiet. They put their horses in the barn and headed to Aelfred’s house. It was dark as well, the door closed. They found it latched from within.   Bossard slammed himself against the door. Aelfred cried out “Murder!†from within. Then John helped the man smash the door open. It was pitch black within.   Chanting came from inside the house. Remembering Aelfred’s bed was in the back left side of the room, John fired blindly into the room. He heard the bolt strike something wooden and someone within let out a shout. He pivoted around the doorframe to start reloading his crossbow while under cover. Bossard rushed into the room, swinging wildly with his sword, stomping to the far wall until his sword struck it. He bumped into the side of the bed and brought his sword down onto it. He heard the sword strike the straw tick.   More chanting came from somewhere nearby. Then it went very, very quiet. Bossard swung around in the direction he thought he had heard the chanting from. Then he tripped over the prone form lying on the ground, landing atop Aelfred. The man underneath him said a horrible word that make Bossard’s skin crawl. For a moment, an awful feeling of terrible power was upon him but it didn’t seem to grasp him. Maybe it was his faith in God. Maybe it was his blessed weapon. He didn’t know why, but whatever the terrible thing was, it was gone as quickly as it came. He felt the man slip out from underneath him like a snake.   Outside, John ripped his shirt off and pulled out flint and steel to start a fire. The dirty shirt began smoldering almost immediately.   Inside, Bossard swung wildly, the sword smashing into the ground. Aelfred cried out in terror.   Outside, John was trying to get the shirt to burn more quickly when a figure ran out of the house right past him at a sprint, turning to the right and running towards the corner of the building. He had no idea who it was but snatched up his crossbow and shot the man, hitting him in the side of the chest just before he disappeared around the corner. The man shrieked.   Bossard ran out of the door, looked around, and ran towards the corner of the house as well. He noticed a small flame on the ground, John crouched over it, crossbow in hand. Bossard didn’t understand why there was a fire there except that the man was obsessed with fire. He ran after Aelfred.   John went around the other side of the house, reloading as he walked.   Bossard ran around the side of the house and chased after Aelfred. He was catching the man quickly, who struggled to run with a crossbow bolt in the side of his chest.   As John came around the side of the lean-to on the other side of the house, he saw a single silhouette running down the road. He noticed there was a stick coming out of the side of the man’s chest and knew it was Aelfred. He shot the man in the abdomen. The man stumbled and fell to the ground.   Bossard saw the man jerk to one side, stumble, and fall when the bolt hit him. He ran up to him and found him quite dead.   He heard a growling nearby and backed away. Out of the fallow vegetable garden came a huge black wolf. Nearby, John reloaded his crossbow as the wolf picked up Aelfred by the midsection and turned to head south out of the village. It passed near John, who put the crossbow on the ground and saluted the terrible beast. The animal went out of its way to move towards him and then took a swipe at the man as it passed, tearing into his midsection. He was knocked back but it didn’t stop or slow its pace, simply continuing on its way.   He thought the blow would be much more painful but then found his boiled leather armor had deflected the entirety of the blow though was partially torn. He was pleasantly surprised he was not dead or badly injured.   Lights started to shine in the village as villagers came out of their huts with candles and torches. John and Bossard got together and planned to tell them of the wolf attacking him and their wounding it. They told the villagers their story and headed off to the southwest.   They eventually arrived at the River Severn. Bossard examined the bruise John had sustained but found he was not really injured. They decided to make a little camp near the river so climbed a tree and tied themselves in the branches to sleep uncomfortably through the night.     * * *       The morning of Wednesday, October 31, 1000, was bright and brisk. The two men untied themselves and climbed out of the tree, going to Gerhard’s camp. They found him there and asked if he was going to stop attacking the village. He said he would as Aelfred was dead. He knew it as he had found the body that morning, partially consumed. They noticed he looked a little bloated.   Bossard told him what was in the book, according to the priest in Shrewsbury.   “Are they going to do the ritual tonight?†Gerhard said.   “They might,†Bossard said.   “Maybe you should tell them not to.†  “Well, I could convince the priest.†  “I don’t know what will happen.†  “I could tell the priest that it’s blasphemous and they need to stop it since Aelfred wanted to do it.†  “Will the priest recognize Aelfred’s handwriting?†  “He knows how to read Latin and he taught him how to, I believe.†  “So, yeah,†John said.   “He would know,†Bossard said.   “Show him the book!†Gerhard said. “Show him this book and tell them not to do it tonight.†  Bossard told him they were going to tell the priest they were about to arrest Aelfred as a witch when the wolf attacked and killed him. Gerhard didn’t really care. John suggested they also note they mortally wounded the wolf and it wandered off to die. Bossard suggested they say they had knocked it into the river and it had washed away.   Gerhard told them if they wanted to fight the wyrm, he would help them as they had helped him.   “Do we even stand a chance against this wyrm?†Bossard said.   “No,†John said.   “I don’t know,†Gerhard said.   “We came for the wolf,†John said. “We got the wolf.†  “Did it cut you?†Gerhard said, noting the damage to John’s armor.   “No,†John said.   “His armor saved him,†Bossard said.   Gerhard nodded.   “That is probably good,†he said. “That is very good. Lycanthropy is contagious.†  “We might consider taking down the wyrm too,†Bossard said. “But we need to stop the ritual first.†    * * *       Bossard and John went back to the village and found Father Thomas. On the way, John suggested they gather the entire village. He feared the priest might turn out to be working for the wyrm as well. That surprised Bossard and John pointed out the man had taught Aelfred Latin, noting they were clearly friends. Bossard didn’t think the priest knew what Aelfred was doing. John insisted on a few people witness it in case the man tried to cast a spell.   They gathered villagers as they entered town and had a half dozen people with them when they got to the church.   “Let’s say we found the book on Aelfred’s body,†Bossard said. “And we knew he spoke Latin.†  “That’s a terrible idea,†John said.   “How are we going to explain this book we have?†  “We saw him drop it and we couldn’t read it.†  “Are you sure we want to confront him in front of a big group of people?†  “Just go with the full truth. Just don’t tell him we burned a house down.†  They arrived at the church and found Father Thomas. Bossard told him when they were searching Aelfred’s house, they found the book which they got translated by a priest in Shrewsbury. He said it was witchcraft and handed it over to Father Thomas.   Father Thomas looked doubtful but he looked through the book, reading the Latin within. The further he read, the more horrified he looked. He was terrified by the whole situation. When Bossard told them not to go forth with the ritual that night, Father Thomas agreed wholeheartedly. Aehtelgythe was there and was not pleased at the end of the festivities, but had read doom for the village and so was willing to forgo the ritual as well.   Father Thomas wanted to burn the book and they were agreeable to that. John made sure never to let the book out of his sight. The villagers made a bonfire and Father Thomas flung the book into the flames.   That night, Father Thomas performed a mass instead of the regular All Hallows Eve festivities. They slaughtered the animals and there was a feast. Everyone ate well.

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

A Self Judgement Ramble.

Damn it!
It's been bugging me for awhile now the question of "Am I alright as a Game Master?" it's a question I guess all G.M's ask themselves from time to time but after my last online group just weirdly faded away after a few poorly attended sessions without and real comment from anyone the question of my Gaming style has risen from the depths.
I do all my gaming Online and that may factor into how things pan out, Online is a fantastic way to meet up with people all over the world and actually get to roll dice but it does mean is a little more trickier to fully connect with people as off table talk is almost impossible to do, if you and another person starts talking about last nights game its heard by everyone and interrupts the game, so when the action involves someone else its probably best to mute your microphone and resist the temptation to do a google search on the information the Games Master has just dropped but back to the question that's unsettling me a little, am I okay as a G.M? as I mentioned before the last group I was part of just faded away in a really bizarre manner the first session was nearly a full house and the Players were awesome and I really had a blast running the game though I saw afterwards that I needed to change a few things to match the handouts better etc. but after that first session Players started to skip out, at first it wasn't to bad as they would post up that they couldn't make it next week which was fine, real life always trumps gaming and its always a juggling act spare time wise but soon the updates stopped and each session was a different make up from the previous and then suddenly after five or so sessions no one turned up not even the one Player who had previously made all the other sessions. For me the strangest thing was that even after a couple of days no one had really made an attempt to find out what had happened and when I managed to contact a few of the Players none seemed too concerned either way if the game continued or not, so it didn't (I never managed to contact the only Player who had previously made every session and if you are reading this I hope you're okay as your online presence went dark) Other groups though have lasted several years and I've almost completed a fantastic Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign which was updated to the modern day but all these groups in the end have foundered as people lost interest or they said things in the heat of the moment that couldn't be unsaid (This one was unfortunate as the guy running the Cthulhu Dark game is pretty cool but the play test didn't go the way he expected and blamed me for all the problems and I was to was apparently on a short fuse towards the end, never have I regretted not taking a count of five and some deep breaths more) but I still maintain that whilst not playing great I did play okay and it was the adventure that was mostly at fault.
So that's a potted history of my Cthulhu gaming most of the groups have started off well but end badly or in that one case just end which is a shame as these people become my internet friends, we share a cool hobby and I don't talk to most of them anymore because of how the groups ended which is a great shame but thinking about the groups of yesterday got me thinking about what mistakes I have made and its a lot. I don't think I have ever run a decent campaign, there have been two mostly okay ones that petered out before they were finished but everything else has been pretty shabby really and that's been mostly down to me as a G.M to be honest. The Eclipse Phase game I ran was a horrible mess to be honest as I just got swamped by all those options (So many options) and it was the game that broke a Player. Looking back on my G.M'ing career its awash with partial games that ended fairly quickly due to one reason or another, a sprinkling of cool moments here and there but nothing really sustained, overall its been rushed games with not enough preparation on my part and listening back to some of those early games I'm surprised that anyone could understand me as I muttered and mumbled through endless handouts ( I went a little crazy on the handout front with one game ) but for a time at least everyone came back and rolled dice until ennui set in or I blew a fuse.
I suppose the real question is why am I writing this? the answer is I want to roll dice and try to save the world from the uncaring forces of the cosmos but I'm uncertain if it will work. All the other groups have collapsed (Though I think the Masks group might be still going in one form or other) and whilst they collapsed for a variety of reasons I was involved in some capacity with their demise. I think I'm a better Player now but I don't think I'm a better G.M and since running a game is the easiest way to get a group started I'm a bit conflicted and to honest the failure of the last group has taken the wind out of my sails somewhat.
Reading this back I think I will hang off trying to get a group together, I'm playing in a pretty awesome Renaissance campaign at the moment so I'm still getting my gaming fix and it looks like I need to get the preparation aspects right first before trying again as that seems to have been a major problem in the past as I've had to fudge and um and arr a lot which has made things difficult for the Players. Also I need to calm the hell down as I have gotten way too over excited at times as well stressing out about the lack of communication (Must admit this still bugs me but I don't get as angry as I used to)
So this has really been a way to get my thoughts in order and to get in a bit of cheap therapy on the side I guess but if anyone who has gamed with me as a Player or as a G.M reads this by any chance let us know how you thought things went, all offers of advice gratefully received and Mr B if you read this can you just confirm that you made it back safely from the Christmas cruise?

Butters

Butters

 

yock's Lovecraftathon: Celephais

It's been too long since one of these reviews. Apologies folks! Hoping to get back into the swing of things with a more regular schedule. And first up is this one, again from the Eldritch Tales collection.   I really like Lovecraft's Dreamlands stories, though I know they're not to everyone's tastes. For me they are a wonderful mix of the exotic east, very evocative descriptions of places and peoples, and hints of magic.   It's interesting to me that this story's narrator lives in London, I presume the English one, and not e.g. in Ontario or elsewhere. The description of the narrator's writings being mocked and retreating into dreams does sound almost autobiographical, and at the very least something that Lovecraft himself could probably relate to. I almost wondered if it was late in Lovecraft's career, but no, I see it was written in 1920.   I really like the imagery of the dreamer walking through childhood memories, retracing steps from his old home, through the surrounding landscape, until he drops, rather dramatically, into the dreamworld proper.   Things drift a bit much for me when the narrator goes on the galley. Maybe it's because I enjoy reading about Celephais so much, and don't want to leave it. I'm rather like a dreamer myself at that point, unhappy about being pulled in a direction other than the one I want to go! Though I do like his repeated attempts to get back to the city, and the descriptions of the other landscapes he dreams about instead. Lovecraft can be very, very good at building up a sense of place, with a deft and compact turn of phrase.   The ending is strange though. I guess there could be various readings of it. I interpret it as the narrator dying, and in his final moments being carried away in his mind to his dreamworld. Though whether this was for a perpetual time as the story says, Heaven like, or if it was an illusion isn't clear. And then there's the bit with the tramp, and the brewer, and Innsmouth of all places. I thought the story was set in the UK! That very last bit jars for me, and I think doesn't work. Though I do rather like the story up until that point.
 

Our Ladies of Sorrow Musings (spoilers)

I've bought a box of 120 crayons and have done three drawings, including the ones that are probably the most important. I'm probably overdoing this.   I've made a map using something from Google and am not sure why I can't copy it so I can have one without all the points that didn't exist then but also without the green, and one with all of that -- or, for that matter, why I can't add park green to the Basic Atlas style. No big deal, I know, but it itches at me.   Have now seen Angel Heart twice, and while it doesn't help directly here, it's really good.

Lisa

Lisa

 

Japanese CoC unofficial site

This site is Japanese CoC unofficial site. Japanese CoC official don't have official site.
http://seesaawiki.jp/trpgyarouzu/   This page is Japanese CoC official supplement and scenario page.
http://seesaawiki.jp/trpgyarouzu/d/%b4%fb%b4%a9%a5%eb%a1%bc%a5%eb%a5%d6%a5%c3%a5%af%a1%a6%a5%b5%a5%d7%a5%ea%b0%ec%cd%f7   This page is Japanese Interim CoC scenario timeline.
http://seesaawiki.jp/trpgyarouzu/d/%b8%bd%c2%e5%c6%fc%cb%dc%a4%cb%b1%f7%a4%b1%a4%eb%a5%b7%a5%ca%a5%ea%a5%aa%bb%fe%b7%cf%ce%f3

Mimumu

Mimumu

 

Terror Over Tokyo 4: The Demon Procedure Part 1 - The Doolittle Raid

Friday, May 4, 2018   (After playing the original Call of Cthulhu scenario “Terror Over Tokyo 4: The Demon Procedure†Saturday, April 28, 2018 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Appalachian State University NerdCon 2018 with Gina Towey, Dante Valentine, Carl Cordini, Tilak Lipscomb, and Christopher Weiler.)   World War II started on Sept. 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, beginning the war in Europe. Within two days, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. On September 17, the Soviet Union, a German ally, entered Poland from the east. The Soviet Union would go on to invade Finland in November while Germany invaded Denmark and Norway the following April.   Germany continued to roll over other European states in 1940, including Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Belgium. In June, France signed an armistice, allowing Germans to occupy the northern half of the country. Italy invaded British controlled Egypt in September and Greece in October. In June of 1941, Nazi Germany and its allies invaded the Soviet Union; by Dec. 6, a Soviet counteroffensive drove them from the Moscow suburbs. On December 7, 1941, America entered the war when the Empire of Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. An ally of Nazi Germany, this meant that the Axis soon declared war on the U.S.   The 17th Bomber Group was flying antisubmarine patrols from Pendleton, Oregon, and immediately moved cross-country to Lexington County Army Air Base at Columbia, South Carolina, supposedly to fly similar patrols off the East Coast but in actuality to prepare for a mission against Japan. The group officially transferred to Columbia on Feb. 9, 1942, where its crews were offered the opportunity to volunteer for an “extremely hazardous†but unspecified mission. On February 17 the group was detached from the Eighth Army Air Force.   Initially, 20 B-25 Mitchell medium bombers were to fly the mission, and 24 of the group’s B-25B Mitchell bombers were diverted to the Mid-Continent Airlines modification center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The 710th Military Police Battalion from nearby Fort Snelling provided tight security around the hangar. Each of the B-25’s had the lower gun turret removed, de-icers and anti-icers installed, steel blast plates mounted on the fuselage around the upper turret, the liaison radio set removed, installation of a 160-gallon collapsible neoprene auxiliary fuel tank fixed to the top of the bomb bay, as well as a support mounts for additional fuel cells, mock gun barrels installed in the tail cone, and replacement of the Norden bombsight with a makeshift one.   The North American B-25 Mitchell was an American twin-engine medium bomber manufactured by North American Aviation. She had a length of 52 feet, 11 inches; a wingspan of 67 feet 7 inches; and a gross weight of 19,480 pounds. Her cruising speed was 230 miles per hour and her top speed was 272 miles per hour with a service ceiling of 24,200 feet. She had a range of 1,350 miles (with the modifications to the aircraft, that was increased to 2,400 nautical miles). The aircraft on the Doolittle Raid were armed with a .30 caliber machinegun in the bow and twin .50 caliber machineguns in the dorsal turret on the rear fuselage. Ammunition was 750 rounds for each in three belts of a proportion of one tracer, two armor-piercing, and three explosive bullets.   The 24 crews picked up the modified bombers in Minneapolis and flew them to Eglin Field, Florida, on March 1. The crews received intensive training for three weeks in simulated carrier deck takeoffs, low-level and night flying, low-altitude bombing, and over-water navigation mostly out of Wagner Field, Auxiliary Field 1. Navigators had to learn the work of bombardiers. Pilots and co-pilots had to practice every job on the plane. Lieutenant Henry Miller, USN, from nearby Naval Air Station Pensacola supervised their takeoff training. The testing was extensive. Dropping a 100 pound bomb from 500 feet proved dangerous and shook up the crew and the ship. Plus, the 500-pound bombs they would be dropping would have a 50% charge instead of the usual 35% charge.   Each B-25 bomber would carry four specially constructed 500-pound bombs. Three were high-explosive munitions and one was a bundle of incendiaries. The incendiaries were long tubes, wrapped together in order to be carried in the bomb bay, but designed to separate and scatter over a wide area after release.   On March 25, the 24 B-25s took off from Eglin for McClellan Field, California. They arrived at the Sacramento Air Depot for final modifications on March 27. Sixteen of the B-25s were chosen to fly to NAS Alameda, California, on March 31. Fifteen were for the main mission force and a 16th aircraft was squeezed onto the deck to be flown off shortly after departure from San Francisco to provide feedback to the Army pilots about takeoff characteristics. However, 16th bomber was made part of the mission force instead.   On April 1 the 16 modified bombers, their five-man crews, and Army maintenance personnel totaling 71 officers and 130 enlisted men were loaded onto the USS Hornet (CV- under Captain Marc Mitscher at Naval Air Station Alameda. It was decided at the last minute that the eight remaining aircraft would also join Task Force 18, along with the Lexington-Class Aircraft Carrier USS Brandywine (CV-0) commanded by Captain Horton D. Frost.   Originally designed as a battlecruiser, the U.S.S. Brandywine was converted into one of the Navy's first aircraft carriers during construction to comply with the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, which essentially terminated all new battleship and battlecruiser construction. The ship entered service in 1928 and was assigned to the Pacific Fleet. Brandywine and her sister ships, Lexington and Saratoga, were used to develop and refine carrier tactics in a series of annual exercises before World War II. On more than one occasion these included successful surprise attacks on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Due to various red tape and other paperwork snafus, she was issued the number CV-0 instead of CV-4. The numbers stuck and Brandywine continued under that call number. Her motto was Sit cælum, quod pertinet ad magnanimitatem (The sky belongs to the bold). Her patch included a picture of a three masted frigate - the original U.S.S. Brandywine, a wooden-hulled, three-masted frigate commissioned in 1825.   Hornet, Brandywine, and Task Force 18 left the port of Alameda at 10:00 on April 2 and a few days later rendezvoused with Task Force 16, commanded by Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., which included the carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6), commanded by Captain George D. Murray, and her escort of cruisers and destroyers in the mid-Pacific Ocean north of Hawaii. Enterprise'​s fighters and scout planes provided protection for the entire task force in the event of a Japanese air attack, since Hornet '​s and Brandywine’s fighters were stowed below decks to allow the B-25s to use the flight deck.   The combined force was three carriers, three heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, eight destroyers, and two fleet oilers. The escort ships included the heavy cruisers Salt Lake City (CA-25), Northampton (CA-26), Vincennes (CA-44); the light cruiser Nashville (CL-43); destroyers Balch (DD-363) which was the flagship of Captain Richard L. Conolly’s Destroy Squadron Six, Fanning (DD-385), Benham (DD-397), Ellet (DD-398), Gwin (DD-433), Meredith (DD-434), Grayson (DD-435), Monssen (DD-436); and the oilers Cimarron (AO-22) and Sabine (AO-25). The ships proceeded in radio silence.   On the afternoon of April 17, the slow oilers refueled the task force and then withdrew with the destroyers while the carriers and cruisers headed west at 20 knots toward the intended launch point in enemy-controlled waters east of Japan.   It was only after the ships were at sea that Doolittle told the pilots they would be bombing Japan with targets of Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Kobe, and Nagoya. The aircraft would fly in low, increase their altitude to 1,500 feet to drop the bombs, and then drop low again to fly under anti-aircraft fire. Doolittle ordered there was to be no bombing of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo - only military and industrial targets would be targeted. Once they had bombed targets in the cities, they would fly on to one of several airfields in Zhejiang Province in eastern China, refuel, and continue on to Chongqin in China.   The attack was scheduled for the evening of April 18 when the fleet was 350 nautical miles (400 miles) from Japan. The planes would come over the city in the dark and fly through the night to China, landing in that country around dawn.   “Surprise is our main safety factor,†Doolittle constantly said.   Until the launch date, the days were filled with battle stations drills, lectures, tinkering with the birds, and gunnery practice (using kites flown behind the aircraft carrier). The ships were completely blacked out at night. It was drilled into the pilots’ heads not to take anything that could be traced back to the aircraft carriers and they were told when they dropped their extra five gallon gas cans to drop them all together so as not to give the Japs a trail back to the fleet.   Each pilot was given his choice of target cities, though the planes on the Hornet were given priority as they would be heading in first. There were plenty of targets in each city between plane and tank factories, steel smelters, military sites, armories, army arsenals, steel factories, gas factories, chemical works, oil tanks, refineries, dockyards, ships, etc.   Pilots were bunked with seamen wherever there was room. The weather was pretty bad for most of the trip.     * * *       The fourth B-25 bomber in the group of eight on the U.S.S. Brandywine was commanded by 1st Lt. Brad Anderson. Lt. Anderson was tall and thin, a clean shaven man with light-colored hair, he was rugged and had a thick, rural accent. He was friendly and patient, an all-around good officer. He was 22 years old.   Born in the Logan County seat of Guthrie, Oklahoma, he was unsure what he wanted to do when he graduated high school. He got some time in and learned how to fly an airplane but, by the time he was 21, he was still unsure what he wanted to do. In August of 1941, he joined the Army Air Corps to put his piloting skills to use. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December, he got the chance to volunteer for a dangerous secret mission.   His co-pilot was 1st Lt. Harold Duff, called “Harry†or “Duffy†by his fellows. A dark-haired man who never got enough cut off the top so it tended to amass there, he was also clean-shaven. He was a small man, barely five and a half feet tall, and slim with a goofy smile and a strong southern accent. Duff was 21 years old.   Lt. Duff was born in the middle of nowhere in Virginia, a town called Augusta Springs. He was able to graduate high school with only a little difficulty and get an apprenticeship with a carpenter in Richmond. He was working there when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and he immediately enlisted. Who would know they would need pilots? He’d learned on an old crop duster of his uncle’s and the Army Air Corps had him in a bomber pretty damned quick.   He was ready to get some revenge on the Japanese as he hated all of them for what they’d done. He even had his father send him the old sawed-off shotgun when he learned he was on a secret mission. He was ready to kill some Japs.   The navigator on the bird was 2nd Lt. Thomas Locklear, a tall lanky, preternaturally graying man. He had a ready smile and a clean-shaven face. He was smart, well-educated, well-spoken, and friendly. He looked older than his 23 years.   Lt. Locklear was born in Juneau in the Territory of Alaska. He worked his way through high school and even went to college for a year before he found a job as a librarian in the territory. He took the job very seriously, however, and lived to deliver books to other places and people in need. Enough was eventually enough, though, and he joined the Army Air Corps in January of 1941. Though he wasn’t terribly educated, he still had great skill as a navigator and was soon working on bombers. When he learned of the upcoming secret mission, he’d had a friend mail him his trusty Winchester ’94 carbine.   Lt. Orrin Cook was the bombardier of the bird. He’d had lots of nicknames since he joined up, including “Cowboy,†“Nebraska,†and even “Doc.†He was skinny with thick black hair and had a rural accent and a large nose. He tended to be angry, impulsive, and persistent.   Born in the little town of Hemingford, Nebraska, he worked his whole live to take over his folks’ cattle ranch once he turned 18. Unfortunately, the bank foreclosed on the ranch just before his birthday and he parents moved to nearby Alliance. He decided to call it quits and enlisted in the summer of 1941. He was surprised when war broke out less than six months later. He was 19 years old.   The Flight Engineer for the aircraft was Technical Sergeant Aaron Shivo. Sgt. Shivo was a handsome man though he was fairly short, only a little taller than Lt. Duff. He had black hair and was 19 years old.   Sgt. Shivo had wanted to be in the military all his life. From San Francisco, California, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps the summer of 1941 as soon as he graduated high school. It didn’t take him long to make sergeant and working on the B-25 Mitchell was a dream! Now he was part of a mission to strike back at the Japs for Pearl Harbor and he was ready. He was a ladies’ man who had a girl in every port and was beholding to none of them.   En route, they were told to decide what target they wanted. They had the choice of Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Kobe, and Nagoya. Lt. Locklear wanted to bomb the Imperial Palace but that was off the table. Sgt. Shivo wanted to drop bombs on the Forbidden City, not realizing it was in China. They discussed what would be a good target and eventually decided on hitting a raw material plants, a fuel tank, and an industrial plant in Kobe.     * * *       At 7:38 a.m. on April 18, 1942, after the morning battle stations drill at dawn and before mess, battle stations was sounded again. This time it was not a drill.   The roar of guns could be heard from above decks. One of the big cruisers to the port of the Hornet, itself ahead and to the port of the Brandywine, fired away. It was the USS Nashville. Down near the horizon, a low-slung ship began to give off an ugly plume of black smoke. American dive bombers wheeled overhead.   “Army pilots, man your planes!†came over the loudspeakers. “Army pilots, man your planes!†  Lt. Duff, Lt. Cook, and Sgt. Shivo were all up on deck. Lt. Locklear was in the commissary. Lt. Anderson was in his cabin, shaving. They all made their way towards their aircraft, Lt. Duff finishing his cigarette before he headed over.   The flight deck was a hive of activity while the voice over the loudspeakers barked commands. Signal lamps flashed on the nearby Hornet and a reply was made from Brandywine. The Morse code read “Sighted by Japanese patrol boat. Bombers to lift immediately.†The Navy men on the deck started taking care of the bombers. Blocks were whipped out from under the wheels and a small service vehicle moved the bombers into position. Within a half hour, the B-25’s were crisscrossed along the back end of the flight deck, two abreast, the big, double-rudders of their tails sticking over the edge.   The weather was good though the sea was rough. The Brandywine increased speed until she was fairly flying through the water. The bombs were brought from below and rolled across the deck on their low-slung lorries to the planes. Sgt. Shivo helped to get them aboard the plane. Navy men topped the tanks of the bombers and, once full, rocked the planes in the hopes of breaking whatever air bubbles might have formed in the big wing tanks. Brandywine’s control tower started to display large square cards giving compass readings and wind, which was gale force.   The take-off instructor went to each plane to wish them luck. Not long after, a Navy man brought five additional five-gallon fuel tins to the plane. Other Navy men and officers whom the Army pilots met came to wish them luck.   While they waited, some of them argued about naming the plane.   At 08:20, Hornet was plainly visible from the Brandywine. Lt. Col. Doolittle’s plane was the first one in line to attempt a takeoff from half a carrier at sea. It worked well enough on the ground during training. It was time to see if it would work in the field. If he couldn’t get his aircraft off the carrier, the entire mission would be scrubbed.   Doolittle’s bomber lurched forward with the change of signals from the Navy man on the bow of the ship. With his left wing far out over the port side of the Hornet, Doolittle’s plane waddled and then lunged slowly into the teeth of the gale. He picked up more speed and then, just as the Hornet lifted herself up on the top of a wave and cut through it at full speed, his plane took off with yards to spare. He turned the ship almost straight up on its tail, then leveled off, came around in a tight circle over Hornet, and shot low over the heads of the other bombers.   The Hornet had given him his bearing. Admiral Halsey had headed her right for the heart of Tokyo.   One by one, the other 15 bombers on the Hornet launched successfully from the ship, the second nearly crashing. It was only once they had all launched by 09:19 that the Navy man on the flight deck signaled for the bombers on the Brandywine to ready themselves for takeoff. The first aircraft off the ship, commanded by Lt. Ralph Conner, has a little difficulty on takeoff, getting off the deck but then crashing back down before actually getting into the air and off. It circled around the Brandywine and then headed for Japan.   “I knew he was never going to do it,†Lt. Duff said.   Sgt. Shivo knew the flight engineer on the bird was Sgt. Preston Quackenbush.   “That poor mother,†he said, shaking his head as he thought of the man.   The second aircraft off the flattop, that one piloted by Captain James Elloitt, lifted off effortlessly with yards to spare. Then it was off towards Japan. The third aircraft, piloted by Lt. Isaiah Bean, also took off effortlessly and headed on its way.   Now it was their turn.   A Navy man stood at the bow of the ship to the left with a checkered flag. He gave the signal to begin racing the engine, swinging the flag in a circle and making it go faster and faster. He waited, timing the dipping of the ship so the plane would get the benefit of the rising deck for take-off. He finally gave a new signal and the Navy boys pulled the blocks out from under the wheels. Another signal and Lt. Anderson released the brakes. The bomber moved forward.   “If you can’t handle the pressure, just let me know,†Lt. Duff said to Lt. Anderson.   “You know, I like you a lot, but honestly, now is not the time for this!†Lt. Anderson said.   With the left wing over the port side of the Brandywine, the plane slowly tore through the gale force winds. The left wheel was on the white line painted there just for that purpose. The right wing looked like it barely missed the island and smokestack of the Brandywine. Lt. Anderson pulled back on the control stick and the aircraft lifted and fell, lifted and fell, bouncing off the deck twice before it finally lifted up off the deck with very few yards to spare.   “I did say if you couldn’t take the pressure …†Lt. Duff said.   Others were cursing over the intercom phone.   The aircraft banked, gained altitude, and circled over the Brandywine, getting her bearing, then flew on towards Tokyo. The original mission was supposed to be a night mission, but they’d be reaching their targets during daylight. The fleet was also 650 nautical miles from Japan instead of the 350 nautical miles that it was supposed to be. They’d launched 10 hours before schedule. It was unsure if the aircraft would have enough fuel to reach Zhejiang Province, let alone Chongqin. They hadn’t eaten since the night before.   As soon as they are en route, Sgt. Shivo topped off the tank with the reserve fuel cans, beginning with the big emergency tank. Warm-up and take off burned the equivalent of eight of the five-gallon cans of gas and it was still 2,700 miles to China. They realized they might not have the fuel to reach the landing fields at all.   Lt. Duff suggested they land somewhere and wait until they could attack Japan at night but it was pointed out they didn’t have the fuel to land and take off again and still reach China. He jokingly suggested they land in Japan and refuel there.   “They’ll welcome us with open arms,†he said.   Lt. Anderson flew as low as possible, about 20 feet above the waves at a slow speed to conserve fuel. The controls felt sloppy at such speed. The weather was disgustingly good - beautiful clear blue skies. About an hour and a half into the flight, a Japanese merchantman was spotted some three miles to the left. By then the emergency tins were used up. Sgt. Shivo had already tossed them out.   About five hours from launch, they spotted the coast of Japan. The island nation lay very low in the water with a slight haze that made it blend eerily into the horizon. There were several small boats anchored off the beach, including fishing boats and motor launches. As they flew over, there were surprisingly no shots fired from the boats. They saw men and women waving at the plane as it passed.   “What?†Lt. Cook said.   “That’s what I told you guys,†Lt. Locklear called over the ship’s phone.   “Told you we’d be welcomed!†Lt. Duff said.   “You know why?†Lt. Locklear said. “Because the meatball in the center of the star! It’s a psychological thing, guys. They see the meatball.†  “That doesn’t seem right,†Lt. Anderson said.   “Why are they waving at us?†Lt. Cook called.   “The meatball in the middle of the star,†Lt. Locklear said again.   They guessed the people thought they were a Japanese aircraft due to the red disc in the middle of the American star.   The white beaches quickly turned into soft, rolling green fields. Everything looked well-kept with little farms fitted in an almost mathematical precision. The fresh spring grass was brilliantly green and fruit trees were in bloom. Farmers in their fields waved at the passing aircraft.   “What is happening?†Lt. Anderson said.   There were many hills and valleys and the safest route was by following a valley going in the right direction until the aircraft needed to cross over a hill into another low valley. The plane flew over the rooftops of a few villages. More people looked up and waved at them.   “You know, I don’t think we’ve been told everything that’s happening,†Lt. Duff said over the phone. “Maybe we’re actually Japanese.†  “I … I think I would know!†Lt. Anderson said.   “What the hell you talking about, Duffy?†Lt. Cook said.   “Look at them!†Lt. Duff said. “They’re waving at us as though we were friends. Maybe we are friends.†  “These people probably don’t know anything that’s happened with the war,†Lt. Cook said.   “Relations with Japan have been steadily declining,†Lt. Anderson said.   “I wouldn’t expect any of these people to know anything,†Lt. Duff said.   They realized the people probably had no idea what a Japanese aircraft looked like, let alone an American one.   “All they know is ching and chong and that’s it,†Lt. Duff said.   “Oh my God,†Lt. Anderson said.   “Duffy!†Lt. Cook said. “Duffy, keep off the radio if you’re going to be spouting that ****!†  “Just keep chatter to a minimum please,†Lt. Anderson said.   “Captain, just fly nonchalantly, will ya?†Lt. Locklear said.   “I’m doing my best,†Lt. Anderson said.   “Now Duffy, I’m going to be straight here,†Lt. Cook said. “We can’t be talking about other people like that just because they’re different colors.†  “Let me put it this way,†Lt. Duff said. “We have the gas … and we also have the rodents below us.†  “Duffy!†Lt. Cook said.   Lt. Locklear checked the fuel supply and then did some calculations. He thought they had enough fuel to get to China, just. While Lt. Anderson spoke to him, Lt. Duff tried to sneak a cigarette. Lt. Anderson smelled it immediately.   “Put that out!†he said without even looking at the co-pilot. “Don’t smoke during the mission.†  “We might make it to China,†Lt. Locklear said.   “Locklear, Locklear, don’t worry about it,†Lt. Cook said. “Once we drop these bombs weight, we’ll be okay.†  About six hours after launch, the aircraft rose over a hill with a temple atop it and they spotted Tokyo Bay ahead. Lt. Anderson dropped down to just over the water and Lt. Locklear gave a course change as the ship continued at the same slow speed to conserve fuel. A large aircraft carrier was in the bay to the right as they approached the city, anchored a couple miles away. There were no enemy planes in sight. However, black smoke rose from Tokyo and Yokohama, the results of the earlier raiders. Lt. Duff made a crack about smoke signals and why the Japanese were so friendly. It took five minutes to cross the bay. Some barrage balloons were visible between Tokyo and Yokohama, across the river from Tokyo. The bay was filled with yachts and larger ships.   They continued southwest passing Yokohama and then west to Nagoya, both cities belching smoke from various earlier attacks, where they made another course correction to before they spotted Kobe. They saw there was a sameness to most of the city, making it difficult to spot their targets. Smoke was rising from it, however.   Once they reached their objective, Lt. Cook alerted Lt. Anderson by ship interphone and he turned over the aircraft control to the bombardier and increased speed to maximum. Lt. Anderson was still in control of altitude and climbed quickly to 1,500 feet. Black bursts of smoke began to appear in the air as anti-aircraft fire come into play. It was not as heavy as anyone expected. They just had time to get to the correct altitude, level off, attend to the routine of opening the bomb bay, make a short run, and let fly with the first bomb.   As each bomb was dropped, a red light blinked in the cockpit and the plane seemed to pick up speed as a big 500-pound bomb fell. After the third bomb drop, there was the shortest of delays before the aircraft flew over the part of the city that would burn the best. Then the incendiary was away. The last bomb separated as soon as it hit the wind and dozens of small fire bombs molted from it, spreading small fires all over the city.   The first two bombs struck their targets though the third missed. The incendiary struck an area that was not already in flames, a perfect hit.   “Does anyone smell burning dog?†Lt. Duff said.   As soon as the fourth red light blinked in the cockpit, Lt. Cook turned control of the plane back over to Lt. Anderson with a “Back to you, Captain.†and they ducked back down to treetop level and reduced speed. A new course was set heading due south towards the coast to confuse any pursuers. Evasive action was also taken and all hands kept eyes to the air for the possibility of enemy aircraft. Behind them, more smoke rose from the city.   Lt. Duff lit a cigarette.   “Put that out!†Lt. Anderson said.   Lt. Duff snuffed his cigarette and tucked it into his pocket.   In the back, Sgt. Shivo had lit up a cigarette as soon as the bombs started to drop. After the successful bomb run, he started to sing over the interphone. It was awful.   “Shivo, are you all right?†Lt. Anderson called back to him.   They eventually got him to shut up.   The aircraft proceeded southwest along the southern coast of Japan. All of the auxiliary gas was gone by then and the plane was dependent upon the wing tanks. At one point, three Japanese cruisers were spotted. They opened fire with their big guns, as well as machinegun fire, but the range was too great, the target too small and fast, and the plane got by them without damage.   The Islands of Honshu and Yakashima, Honshu a lumpy tail of an island and Yakashima an active volcano, were their next marker. They flew between them and then turned west to head for the coast of China, following the 29th parallel. At this point, Lt. Anderson allowed the men to smoke.   As they headed west, across the China Sea, they spotted a couple of submarines and a tanker about the time the weather started to go bad. Around 6 p.m., it started with a few drops on the windshield but quickly escalated into a full-blown storm.   “Captain, are you meaning to fly us into that big storm over there?†Lt. Cook called up.   “This is the way we’re supposed to go,†Lt. Anderson said. “We’re supposed to go to China. We don’t have enough fuel to go around.†  There was talk of going around or through the storm and but they realized they didn’t have the fuel to divert. Lt. Locklear told him as much and Lt. Anderson continued into the poor weather. They talked of typhoons and other terrible weather. At the mention of “typhoon,†Lt. Duff asked why they were talking about food.   Most of them remembered the Navy men warning them storms gathered to roll off the shelf of China without much warning. It meant finding Choo Chow Lishui or one of the other airfields without radio guidance. The silver lining of the bad weather was it would mean the Japanese would have a much harder time finding them.   It continued to get worse as they crossed the China Sea, making it harder and harder to see out of the cockpit. Lt. Locklear recalculated their position and thought they were still on course and should have just enough fuel to reach China. Lt. Anderson had to stick his head out of the cockpit side window on more than one occasion to try to see ahead.   Sgt. Shivo examined the aircraft and found her holding together despite the storm.   Around 9:30 p.m., land was spotted. An eerie, peaked island rose out of the mist ahead of the aircraft. More islands followed, sometimes looming up out of the storm directly ahead of the ship.   “What the hell?†Lt. Locklear said. “Can anybody tell me what the fuel situation is, please?†  “Low,†Lt. Anderson said. “Very low.†  “How many gallons we talking about?†Lt. Locklear said.   “Not enough!†Lt. Duff said. “As in, we need to find someplace within two hours.†  Lt. Anderson and Lt. Duff were of the opinion that they would push through the storm, looking for a place to land as best they could.   A couple of hours later, Lt. Duff and Lt. Cook spotted what looked like a runway of some kind below. There were no signs of lights or other markers to indicate the place was still used.   “Looks like a landing field below!†Lt. Cook said.   Lt. Anderson brought the aircraft around, heading down. Lt. Locklear thought they were over the mainland. Lt. Anderson said they’d land.   They came down in the pouring rain, Lt. Anderson lowering the landing gear. Lt. Cook climbed up into the cockpit and took a position behind the pilot and co-pilot’s seats. In the back, Lt. Locklear and Sgt. Shivo took their positions with their backs against the forward wall of the cabin they were in.   Lt. Duff tried to get Lt. Anderson to let him smoke but his commanding officer refused.   “If I’m going to die, I’d like to die with a cigarette,†Lt. Duff said.   “Look, we’re not going to die and you can smoke when we land,†Lt. Anderson said. “All right? It’ll be fine!†  As they made their approach, they saw it did look like a runway. Lt. Anderson put the B-25 down perfectly.   “I must say, I didn’t expect you to─†Lt. Duff started to say.   Then the starboard landing gear hit a huge hole in the runway and the aircraft spun to the right. Lt. Anderson tried to correct it but that only made it worse as the aircraft hit more holes in the concrete. The forward landing gear went into one, snapped, and flew upward past the starboard side of the cockpit as the front of the aircraft hit the ground and then the entire bird flipped over, flopping several times before coming to rest on her belly, the landing gear destroyed, the props wrecked, and the craft completely demolished.   Lt. Anderson was smashed against the controls and got a chest contusion, tearing his uniform and giving him abrasions. Behind him, Lt. Cook had been flung around the cabin and fractured his right wrist when he tried to brace himself. In the back Lt. Locklear had abdominal contusions, tearing up his uniform and getting cuts and abrasions to his belly. Sgt. Shivo had a thigh contusion with cuts and abrasions to his right thigh.   Lt. Duff got the worst of it. He had not been strapped in securely enough and was flung around in his seat as the plane crashed. He had a shoulder contusion, his right shoulder torn up pretty badly. His left leg was strained when he tried to brace himself. The pain was immense. Worst of all, however, was the back fracture. He was in intense pain any time he moved even a little bit. After the plane finally came to a stop, he didn’t move at all.   Painfully, he pulled out three cigarettes from the pouch in his pocket and put them all in his mouth.   “Are you all right, Duffy?†Lt. Anderson said.   Lt. Anderson lit them for the man, who puffed on them.   “My plane!†Sgt. Shivo cried out loudly enough for all of them to hear, even over the pounding of rain on the aircraft. “My God damned plane!†  The aircraft was smashed up, most of the glass broken out of it.   “Captain!†Lt. Locklear yelled from the back of the aircraft. “Captain! How you feeling right now?†  “I’m all right, but I think Duffy’s hurt!†Lt. Anderson called.   Lt. Locklear suggested helping Lt. Duff but also suggested posting some guards as the Japanese might be coming.   “Locklear, maybe we should focus on getting out of the plane before anything else,†Lt. Anderson called back. “Cook, you okay?†  Lt. Cook used the gauze of his medical kit to bind up his broken wrist as best he could.   “Captain, I’m in absolutely horrific pain … but at least I still have everything attached below the waist,†Lt. Duff muttered.   “This is not the time to joke,†Lt. Anderson said.   “Harry, get over here,†Lt. Cook said.   “I can’t move!†Lt. Duff said.   “He can’t move!†Lt. Anderson said.   “Fine, don’t move!†Lt. Cook said.   He pulled himself to the front of the cockpit and started to see to Lt. Duff.     * * *       “God damn it, Locklear, did you damage your hearing in the crash?†Sgt. Shivo said.   “I think maybe I did,†Lt. Locklear said.   “You reckon this airfield has any buildings we could bunk up in?†  “Right now we’re doing first aid. You and I might be able to─†  “I want to go look.†  “Check with the captain first though.†    * * *       Lt. Anderson kicked out the remaining windshield and climbed out of the cockpit. The rain was pouring down, much of it leaking into the cockpit. Then he heard a howl in the distance unlike anything he’d ever heard before.   “Doc, I need you to help me get out of the plane,†Lt. Duff said.   “I think there’s something out here!†Lt. Anderson said.   Lt. Cook helped Lt. Duff out of the cockpit. The latter leaned against the wreckage and noted aloud he could hardly walk. He also asked for cigarettes.   Lt. Cook climbed back into the aircraft and into the bombardier’s compartment. He found the .30-caliber machinegun there intact and started to work removing it from the bird.     * * *       In the back, Sgt. Shivo kicked out the damaged glass from the .50-caliber turret on top of the aircraft. Then he removed one of the belts of.50-caliber ammunition from the gun. He climbed out of the wrecked aircraft.     * * *       “We can probably make use of the remaining fuel in the wing tanks,†Lt. Duff grunted.   Sgt. Shivo came out of the pouring rain, a belt of .50-caliber ammunition draped over one shoulder.   “Captain, I have one recommendation,†he said.   “What’s that?†Lt. Anderson said.   “They’re not gonna want this plane falling into Jap hands.†  “The plane is busted to hell.†  “Yeah, they can still grab intel and stuff from here.†  “That’s true.†  “If there’s anything in here, we could be giving the enemy valuable information. I recommend we take the remaining gas and burn this thing to the ground.†  Lt. Duff drew his pistol and looked around when they heard some strange howl in the distance. He was pretty certain it was just a coyote even though it was terrifying. Lt. Locklear came out of the rain as well.   “It’s those damned Japs, I swear,†Lt. Duff said, certain the coyote had rabies. “They did it on purpose.†  There was also the sounds of some great animal moving in the distance. It sounded huge, like an elephant or something equally massive. Lt. Duff pointed his pistol in the direction of the sound.   “Did you hear that?†he said. “I think it’s one of those legendary Jap fat women. Sumo.†  “Harry, I swear to God, you need to get serious,†Lt. Anderson said.   Sgt. Shivo entered the aircraft again and helped Lt. Cook remove the .30-caliber machinegun. They got it loose and dragged it out of the aircraft along with the tripod for the weapon and three 250-round ammo belts.   They were all clustered around the front of the wreck. Lt. Locklear had his carbine out and Sgt. Shivo asked if he was any good with a machinegun. When he said he wasn’t, Sgt. Shivo decided he would keep hold of the larger weapon.   They could hear something large moving around in the rain, hidden in by the darkness and stomping on large feet that thudded when they came down on the ground. Many large feet.   “Captain, I would advise we leave,†Lt. Cook said. “I’ll set off the scuttling charges. We don’t want to be anywhere near here when it goes up.†  “If y’all are gonna run, you’re going to have to lift me up and carry me,†Lt. Duff said, gesturing to his bloody leg. “I ain’t running nowhere.†  “Alright, well …†Lt. Anderson said.   “Doc, you’re going to have to carry me,†Lt. Duff said.   “He can’t,†Lt. Anderson said. “His wrist is busted.†  “I’ll carry you,†Lt. Locklear said.   He shouldered the carbine and helped Lt. Duff limp painfully away. Lt. Cook went back into the wrecked aircraft and Lt. Anderson told him they’d meet him in a direction to the port of the aircraft. Lt. Duff took out his flashlight, was relieved to find it intact after the terrible crash, and lit it, shining it around them.   As they moved away from the aircraft, they realized the airstrip was filled with holes. It looked like it had been shelled.   “I don’t want to get eaten by the Japs,†Lt. Duff said.   “I suggest we move away from the noise if we can,†Lt. Locklear said.   Lt. Anderson had taken the .50-caliber belt and Sgt. Shivo had the three belts of .30-caliber ammunition. Lt. Anderson looked around and then led them off to the port of the crashed aircraft. Lt. Cook scuttled out of the aircraft after setting the scuttling charges and ran after them.   They soon stumbled across another airstrip that ran at about a 30-degree angle from the airstrip they’d landed on. They examined some of the holes in that runway. Lt. Duff examined the holes carefully and thought they were caused by shells from a five-inch gun, very typical of destroyers.   “Why would they be firing at an island in their own ocean right on the border of China?†he said.   “I think we may be on the island they use to test their ships’ guns,†Sgt. Shivo said.   “Well, that’s kind of awful,†Lt. Anderson said.   “Because these are ship guns and this is their island,†Sgt. Shivo said. “They have no reason to fire on a friendly island.†  “Could we get out of the rain?†Lt. Duff said.   They were all soaked to the skin.   “Can we get out of the rain?†Lt. Duff said again.   Lt. Anderson led them down the airstrip. At the end of it, they came across a rusted and sagging chain-link fence. It was in terrible shape. Part of it had taken hits by the shells and portions of it were rusty, as if it had been left for a while. Barbed wire ran along the top of it. They thought they heard surf over the rain and, when they explored beyond the fence, they found a beach. They saw some docks nearby.   The docks lay outside the chain link. All that was there were the bare remains of concrete, metal, and wooden docks. Closer examination revealed a couple of military boats were probably there but they were now at the bottom of the water, rusted and filled with holes. Machinegun damage was evident on the deck and there were more holes from shelling.   “Oh!†Lt. Duff said. “They’re killing each other! The animals!†  Lt. Locklear and Lt. Duff saw what looked like a structure nearby just inland of the blasted docks. They pointed it out and Lt. Anderson drew his pistol and took point. As he got closer, he found it appeared to be not one but two large storage buildings of some kind. Both were intact. They were simple buildings of sheet metal with metal roofs. There were a pair of doors in the front but no windows save for slits near the roof.   Lt. Anderson pushed open one of the doors and shined his flashlight around. It was mostly dry within the large building and he guessed it was used for storage. There were markings on the wall for tools and signs there had been things there, but it was mostly empty otherwise. It looked like everything of value had been taken from the place.   He went back to the others and found Lt. Duff had taken his morphine for the terrible pain. They all went to the building while Lt. Anderson went to the next. The second building was very similar to the first though it looked like it had doubled as a mess hall. A few tables and benches still stood in there and some open cupboards were built against the wall. A large cook stove was also present.   “Maybe come over to this one!†Lt. Anderson called.   “All right, fine, just drag my broken body everywhere,†Lt. Duff said as Lt. Locklear helped him to the second storage building.   Sgt. Shivo stayed behind in the first building alone, looking for sacks. He hoped to fill them with sand for a makeshift foxhole. As he shined the flashlight around in the dark, he thought he saw something in the corner. At first he thought it was a rat. When he shined the light on it and looked more closely, he thought it looked like a dead baby. It was in the far corner of the room and he felt a shiver go down his spine.   He backed out of the shed and ran to the other one to find Lt. Cook.     * * *       The others found the second building had a few more leaks in the roof but was otherwise dry. They helped Lt. Duff to lay down on one of the tables there. He was still in great pain despite the morphine. Not moving certainly helped.   “Someone give me a cigarette,†Lt. Duff said.   “Sure, why not?†Lt. Locklear said, lighting a cigarette for the man and putting it in his mouth.   Sgt. Shivo burst in the door.   “Uh …†he said. “I think I found a dead baby.†  “What?†Lt. Anderson said.   “I don’t know how to put this … other than that,†Sgt. Shivo said. “I’m pretty sure it’s a dead baby.†  “Listen, we don’t need your promiscuous past following us, all right?†Lt. Duff said. “It’s none of our business.†  “You have quite a sense of humor for a man who’s in terrible pain,†Lt. Anderson said.   “No, I’m not joking,†Sgt. Shivo said.   “Shivo, just show me,†Lt. Cook said.   “I was looking for some sacks,†Sgt. Shivo said. “I wanted to make some sandbags so we could mount the gun outside.†  “That’s a good idea,†Lt. Anderson said.   “Just show me then,†Lt. Cook said.   “Follow me,†Sgt. Shivo said.   Lt. Cook awkwardly drew his Colt .45 with his left hand but Lt. Duff stopped him.   “If you’re going to check out some freaky ****, take my boom stick,†he said.   He offered his sawed-off shotgun. The man took it and he and Sgt. Shivo left.     * * *       Sgt. Shivo and Lt. Cook carefully entered the other storage room, shining their flashlights around. There was nothing there. A small gap was in the corner of the building there, but that was all.   “Nice … uh … dead baby, there, Shivo,†Lt. Cook said.   “I don’t know … maybe it was a possum or something,†Sgt. Shivo said. “I don’t know. It’s dark. I thought it looked skin-colored. It could have gotten out of the hole.†  They searched the storage house again but didn’t find any bags that Sgt. Shivo wanted.     * * *       The others in the second shed, quiet now except for the falling rain, could still hear something very large moving around outside somewhere. It didn’t sound close but, whatever it was, it sounded big.   “Listen, all right?†Lt. Duff said. “I’m broken. I’m literally broken. Both of you need to do something about that so I can get some rest. It’s really irritating, actually.†  The other two men returned, closing the exterior door behind them.   “So, did you find it?†Lt. Anderson said. “Was there anything?†  “Was there a dead baby?†Lt. Duff said.   “Whatever it was, was gone,†Sgt. Shivo said.   “Okay,†Lt. Locklear said.   “Maybe it was an animal,†Sgt. Shivo said.   “Are you seeing things, Shivo?†Lt. Anderson said. “Are you sure you didn’t hit your head?†  “Look, it was an animal,†Sgt. Shivo said. “I don’t know anything about Japanese animals.†  Lt. Cook thanked Lt. Duff for the sawed-off shotgun and handed it back to him. Lt. Duff asked him to help him and Lt. Cook put together a makeshift splint for both his leg and his back. The man remained in terrible pain.   They moved a table to the doors and tipped it over as a makeshift foxhole for the machinegun.   They set watches and tried to get some sleep.     * * *    

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Max_Writer

 

Terror Over Tokyo 4: The Demon Procedure Part 2 - Island of Demons

* * *       The rain let up the next morning, April 19, 1942. Light shined through the cracks in the door and through the vents set high in the building. Water dripped outside.   “Give me drugs!†Lt. Duff said.   “Harry, we can’t use up all the morphine right now,†Lt. Anderson said. “We don’t know how long we’re gonna be here.†  “Here’s the problem. I would be nothing but a deficit as I am. Give me drugs!†  “Just lie still!†  “There’ll be a drugs deficit if you take all the drugs,†Sgt. Shivo said.   “I’ll be less of an irritant,†Lt. Duff said.   “Look, I will rip off a chunk of my shirt to gag you,†Lt. Shivo said.   “Oh God!†Lt. Anderson said.   They argued about it while Lt. Locklear opened the door and looked outside. In the daylight, he could see the place looked like a military base or installation. Off to the left were some smaller buildings, up off the ground, most of them intact, that might have been barracks. A burnt-out building was near them. There was also a generator building. There were a pair of hangers near the runway where their bird had crashed. Further away was what appeared to be an inner compound with several solid buildings within, possibly bunkers.   “Captain, give us our orders,†Lt. Locklear said. “We got hangers, we got barracks, we got the baby. Guys, let’s listen to the captain─†  “As soon as you stop talking, I will absolutely give orders,†Lt. Anderson said.   “I gotta good question,†Lt. Duff said.   “Harry, not right now.†  “Why are we listening to you? We’re no longer a team.†  “What are you talking about? We’re in the military! Do you understand how militaries work?†  “Whoever can move, see if you can find a trace of whatever was here last night.†  “Locklear, why don’t you go check out the barracks?†Lt. Anderson said. “Doc, if you want to look through the officers’ quarters. And you and I can go check out the hangers and see if there’s a plane.†  The last comment had been directed at Sgt. Shivo.   “I want to go look in that generator building and see if there’s a generator,†Sgt. Shivo said.   “We’ll stop by there on the way to the hangers,†Lt. Anderson said.   He looked at Lt. Duff, helpless on the table.   “And you stay here with your shotgun,†he said.   Sgt. Shivo moved the .30-caliber machinegun over to Lt. Duff.     * * *       They all left and, a moment later, they heard machinegun fire from the storage room.   “Don’t waste ammo, Harry!†Lt. Anderson yelled back at him.   Lt. Locklear ran back to the storage room.   “Hey, Locklear, how ya doing?†Lt. Duff said.   “What the hell?†Lt. Locklear said. “What the hell do you think you’re doing!?!†  Lt. Duff shrugged painfully. He had merely been testing the gun.     * * *       “You doing all right Shivo?†Lt. Anderson said. “You seemed pretty shook up.†  “You crashed my God-damned plane!†Sgt. Shivo said.   “I did not crash the plane!†Lt. Anderson said. “The plane crashed. It’s not my fault.†  They reached the generator shed.   Wires ran from the building to the other buildings in the compound except for the two large storage houses and the inner compound. The generator building is intact with a single empty barrel outside. A large generator of Japanese manufacture was there, off, and it’s fuel tank dry as a bone. An exhaust pipe ran through the roof.   There was a single empty 55-gallon drum marked in Japanese something-fuel outside of the shed. A second barrel had been ripped to pieces and there was evidence of claw marks upon it.   A small manual pump for transferring the fuel from barrels to generator was there, as well as a toolbox filled with typical tools for repair. The room could be lit by a small light hanging from the ceiling with a string attached to it to turn it on and off if there was power.   The hand pump weighed about 25 pounds and consisted of the hand crank, a long pipe that went into a barrel, and a six foot hose.     * * *       Lt. Cook reached the remains of the officer’s quarters. It looked like it had taken a direct hit during the shelling and there was nothing left but a single wall and debris from where it had burned to the ground. Nothing else remained but ashes and burnt and broken debris. Something seemed to move in the pile of debris.   Doc drew his Colt Peacemaker in his off hand and cautiously approached. As he did so, there was a rattling and someone stood up out of the debris.   The thing was barely a skeleton covered in a bit of burnt and rotten flesh. It had no eyes and wore the burnt and tattered remnants of a Japanese uniform. It was definitely not alive but still walked and moved as if it was. It shouldn’t have been alive. It had a bayonet in its hand.   He aimed and shot the thing with his Colt.     * * *       Locklear had reached the nearest barracks building. Of the five of them, two nearest the storage building appeared to have survived while the rest had been damaged or destroyed by the shelling. Atop each of the two surviving barracks buildings was a large, open-topped water tank.   The buildings were set up off the ground by about a foot. A single step led up into each. There was no glass in the windows and the shutters were open, closed, or blown off. Inside, a dozen cots were set up, each with a footlocker. Two bare electric light bulbs hung from the ceiling. The room was very Spartan. Most of the footlockers were ripped open and personal effects scattered about.   He had also noticed a well nearby.   He saw tent pieces, knapsacks, loose boots, entrenching spades, gas masks, mess tins, and the like across the floor. As he started to look around the place, he heard a gunshot from nearby.     * * *       Lt. Cook’s bullet didn’t seem to hurt the skeleton in the least. It looked like it went between the ribs. The skeleton lunged at him with the bayonet and he beat on the horrible thing with his pistol, fighting it off. He dropped his Colt and drew his hunting knife, bashing at the thing’s head with it. Some of the horror’s teeth flew out.   Sgt. Shivo and Lt. Anderson burst out of the generator shed and saw the fight. He headed that way. Locklear came out of one of the barracks building and saw it as well. The man he was fighting looked like he was dead!   Lt. Cook continued to bash the skeletal Japanese officer but the horrible thing wouldn’t fall! It brought the bayonet down on his broken wrist and he was almost incapacitated and almost fainted from the pain.   “I told you I saw God-damned dead babies!†Sgt. Shivo shouted as he ran towards the man.   He realized he could see through the man fighting Lt. Cook. It was like he was just a skeleton.   “What is happening!?!†Lt. Anderson yelled as he ran after the sergeant.   Lt. Locklear raised up his rifle like a club, screamed, and rushed the thing fighting Lt. Cook. The blow was merely a glance. The dead Japanese soldier focused on Lt. Cook, who fought it off. Lt. Anderson saw the horrible thing as he rushed to approach but managed to keep it together.   Lt. Cook stabbed the skeleton again but it would not go down! Sgt. Shivo ran up and tackled the thing and grabbed its upper leg. Bracing his foot against the thing’s hip, he pulled, ripping the entire leg free of the rest of the skeleton. It crashed to the ground. He noticed the foot was skill kicking. Lt. Locklear brought the rifle stock down on the thing but slipped and fell in the mud. The skeleton swung wildly around with the bayonet and it was flung free of its hand, just missing Lt. Locklear and flying through the air to land some yards away.   The skeleton set itself on the fallen Locklear and the two struggled against each other.     * * *       Lt. Duff heard the gunshots and then the sounds of his fellows shouting as if they were fighting someone. Then he heard some kind of scrabbling noise over by the door. He looked that way, drew his pistol, and worked the action on it. He fired where he thought he sound was coming from, right through the wall. There was a squeak or something from behind the wall. He wondered if he had hit a rat. Or a dead baby …     * * *       Lt. Anderson heard a gunshot towards the storage room. He turned and ran back as he figured the other three had the situation with the skeleton or whatever it was well in hand. As he raced towards the storage house, he thought he saw something by the door. It looked like several overly large fetuses, all of them connected by some kind of terrible umbilical cord! One of them was covered with blood.   He let out a shout and drew his pistol.     * * *       Lt. Cook attacked the horrible thing again, smashing at it with his hunting knife and finally smashing the skill to pieces. As the rest of the skeleton stopped moving and the bones fell to the ground, he continued to smash the skull with his knife over and over and over again. Sgt. Shivo, holding the leg by the femur, felt the lower bones fall away, leaving him only the femur in his hand.   “Doc! Doc! Doc! Doc!†Sgt. Shivo said. “Doc, it’s okay! Doc!†  Locklear tried to help the man calm down their bombardier. Sgt. Shivo offered him the femur.     * * *       Lt. Duff dropped his pistol and it fell off the table and to the ground. He grabbed the .30-calibur machinegun handle and aimed it at the noise, then let fly with a relatively long burst from the machinegun, screaming loudly. Unfortunately, he was not skilled with the weapon and unused to the recoil. He fired a short burst of about 15 shells but the recoil sent the barrel upward and he basically fired a line of bullets right up the side of the building.   Then something appeared in the doorway. It was three or four human fetuses, each about three or four feet tall. They were all connected together by umbilical cords. They appeared to be undeveloped fetuses with sharp teeth and claws and dragged a fifth of them along the ground. It bled from a bullet hole in its torso. The things started making their way towards him.   Lt. Anderson appeared at the doorway right after the horrible fetus-things. He yelled and shot at one of the things from the doorway. It fell to the ground, bleeding. The other ones screamed something in Chinese.     * * *       Lt. Cook picked up his Colt Peacemaker and ran back towards the storage shed where he heard gunfire. Sgt. Shivo and Lt. Locklear ran after him.     * * *       One of the horrible fetus things ran towards Lt. Anderson while the other two ran towards Lt. Duff. The cords pulled taut and they stopped.   Lt. Duff grabbed his sawed-off shotgun and fired both barrels at the horrible things, blasting two of them away and injuring one last one, which fell to the ground and tried to crawl away, mewing like a kitten in pain.   “Didn’t you hear that language!?!†Lt. Duff said. “It’s a ching chong monstrosity! Shoot it!†  The horror looked up at Lt. Anderson with pleading eyes and he shot it dead.   The other men rushed in moments later.   “I told you I saw a dead baby!†Sgt. Shivo said.   “What are these things!?!†Lt. Duff said.   “I don’t know!†Lt. Anderson said.   “Please take this gun away from me, “Lt. Duff said of the .30-caliber.   “With pleasure,†Sgt. Shivo said.   He asked someone to get his pistol and Locklear picked it up and gave it back to him.   “I told you I saw a dead baby,†Sgt. Shivo said again.   “What the hell is going on on this island?†Lt. Cook said.   “I don’t know … maybe we’re on some sort of Japanese island?†Lt. Anderson said. “Maybe they’re weapons?†  Lt. Duff shot the thing again with his pistol.   “Don’t waste ammo!†Lt. Anderson said.   The horrible conjoined fetuses seemed to be shrinking as they watched.   “Get me a trophy from one of these things!†Lt. Duff said.   “No no no no no no no!†Lt. Anderson said.   “You are twisted!†Lt. Cook said.   “No!†Lt. Anderson said. “No!†  “Get me a trophy!†Lt. Duff said.   “No!†Lt. Anderson said.   “Here, take this,†Sgt. Shivo said.   He handed the man the burnt femur from the skeleton that he still held. Lt. Duff sniffed at it. It smelled of ash and burnt meat.   “Is this … uh … is this Jap flesh?†Lt. Duff said.   Lt. Locklear went to the open door to keep watch. He saw a man over by the hangers, peeking in their direction. He looked to be Asian and wore ragged pants. He had a beard and long hair and was very sunburned.   “Captain over here on the double please!†Lt. Locklear said.   “What?†Lt. Anderson said.   “I see a guy that looks like he’s alive,†he said.   He pointed towards the hanger across the compound.   “I think this guy’s alive,†Lt. Locklear said. “****! I’m going to try to capture this guy or something.†  “Let’s go try and talk to him or something,†Lt. Anderson said.   “You cover me while I go over there.†  “No, I’m going with you. I’m the only one that speaks their language.†  “Okay, let’s go.†  Lt. Anderson and Lt. Locklear crossed to the hanger. Lt. Anderson told the other man to put his weapon away and he held the Winchester carbine by the barrel. The Asian man looked at them very nervously as they approached. Lt. Anderson held out his empty hands. The man looked terrified. Lt. Anderson talked calmly to the man, trying to get him to trust them. He noticed the man looked at their uniforms terrified.   When Lt. Anderson said something in Japanese, the man seemed even more terrified.   “Oh no!†he said.   “Oh, I’m so sorry!â€Lt. Anderson said. “You speak English?†  “You are Japanese! Japanese!†  “No no no no! Obviously not. Obviously American. I’m sorry.†  The man babbled and wailed. Lt. Anderson continued to try to calm him and gain his trust.     * * *       Lt. Cook redressed his wrist and Lt. Duff examined the damage he’d done to the structure while Sgt. Shivo told them what he had found in the generator and that it could work but they didn’t have any fuel for it.     * * *       It took what felt like a long time for them to get the man to trust them.   “Where are we?†Lt. Anderson finally asked. “What is happening?†  “Èmó DÇŽo,†the man said. “We’re on Èmó DÇŽo: The Island of Demons.†  “Oh, great,†Lt. Anderson said.   “Great,†Lt. Locklear said.   “What is … demons?†Lt. Anderson said.   “They’re everywhere!†the Asian man said.   “Yeah, we noticed,†Lt. Anderson said.   “The Japanese, they brought us here,†the man said. “They experimented on us.†  That’s when they noticed scars on the man. He also had pockmarks on his face like he’d had measles or chicken pox recently.   “They captured me,†the man went on. “They take the captured men here.†  They convinced the man to come back to the storage house with them.   “Hey, everybody be calm,†Lt. Anderson said as they approached. “He’s not Japanese, Harry.†  They entered the storage house. Lt. Duff was unsure if the man were Japanese or not. He certainly looked Japanese to him. The terrified man had no shirt or shoes.   “Somebody make sure Harry doesn’t do anything stupid,†Lt. Anderson said.   “What the hell are you doing with that Jap?†Lt. Duff said.   “Is that permission to put him down because it sounds like it,†Lt. Cook said.   The man looked at Lt. Duff in terror. Lt. Cook took a wad of bandages and shoved them in Lt. Duff’s mouth.   “Shut up!†he said.   Lt. Duff spit it out.   “I’m still in pain, all right?†Lt. Duff said. “I have every right not to shut up. The morphine. Give it to me.†  “I’m not going to give you my morphine!†Lt. Cook said.   The man told them again they were on Èmó DÇŽo, the Island of Demons. At least that was what the Japanese who brought him there had called it. He told them the place was used to experiment on other races besides the Japanese, including Russians and Chinese prisoners of war. He said they did terrible things to people there, including exposing them to disease, starving them to see how long it took them to die, injecting them with various substances, cutting off limbs to see how long before they died, and other terrible things. The Japanese found that the isle, called Demon Island by the Chinese, was just that. Certain people, subjected to certain horrors, would change into demons. He was not sure if the demons were ghosts of those who came before inhabited their bodies, changing them, or if something on the island caused the change. He once heard the Japanese talking about it, wondering if there was something in the water.   He thought the Japanese, once they learned of it, were trying to create more demons, perhaps for their use. One guard who delighted in his use as a rapist of the women changed, his member growing large and his body shriveling but becoming very strong. He was locked up like the rest and didn’t seem to respond like a guard anymore. One terrible night long ago, he was unsure when as the scientists never told them the date, the demons all escaped. They killed the Japanese. They killed the remaining prisoners. Only he escaped and hid from the horrors and he thought he was the only actual person on the island.   The demons tried to escape the island. One of them thought he could fly an aircraft there, but a Japanese ship and troops and more aircraft arrived. They bombed the air strip and shelled the base, destroying the boats at the docks and as much of the place as they could. Then they went away. He was unsure how long he’d been there. It felt like a long time, he said. The demons mostly lived in the jungle. They mostly came out at night. Mostly. Some of them wandered about the outer compound though few went to the inner compound. He thought they feared the place they were born in.   He told them he’d been living in the generator building in the inner compound. He noted there was a secondary generator building there. He said he barricaded the door at night and he’d been living off of fish and whatever he could find on the fringes of the jungle.   He begged them to take him with them if they were leaving.   “No,†Lt. Duff said.   “Yes,†Lt. Anderson said.   “We will certainly try,†Lt. Cook said. “Don’t listen to the man on the table.†  “He’s a scary man,†the Chinese man said. “He’s a scary man.†  “Yes, he’s also insane,†Lt. Cook said.   They learned his name was Liao Lin.   “Captain, should we check out the hangers?†Lt. Locklear said. “Maybe, just maybe, they have a plane there.†  “I mean …†Lt. Anderson said.   “They’ve taken everything,†Liao said. “They’ve taken everything from all of these buildings.†  “We’re going to take everything from you,†Lt. Duff muttered.   “We’ll worry about that later,†Lt. Locklear said.   “Harry!†Lt. Anderson said.   “I heard the gunfire so I came to see what it was,†Liao said. “I was afraid it was the Japanese.†  “How about this Liao Lin, have you been around the island?†Lt. Locklear said.   “I don’t go into the jungle,†Liao said. “I don’t go into the jungle.†  “How long have you been here?†Sgt. Shivo said.   “I don’t know,†Liao said. “It feels like a long time. It was 1939 when I was captured. But I haven’t seen a calendar since.†  “And you say you haven’t seen anyone else?†  “Demons.†  “And … what─†  “None of them looked like people.†  “And …†  “You don’t look like a person,†Lt. Duff said.   “What different kinds of demons,†Sgt. Shivo said. “How many different kinds of demons have you seen.†  “Give it a rest, Harry,†Lt. Anderson said.   “I don’t know,†Liao said. “There are 20 or 30 … maybe more. I never counted them. The night of the escape was chaos. There’s a giant one that looks like a caterpillar.†  “Can you tell us more about them?†Sgt. Shivo said.   Liao Lin could not. All he knew was Chinese folklore which said when men did terrible things or had terrible thoughts, they could change into demons. They had powers and were bloodthirsty and wallowed in the terrible things that made them demons in the first place.   “So, there’s no way off the island?†Sgt. Shivo asked.   He asked if there were any maps of the island on the island. Liao Lin said there were not. He was able to tell them the general layout of the island. He told them of the two mountains and the thick jungle. He thought the demons stayed in the mountain caves. He had gone along the beaches some little way but usually had to flee into the ocean or run back the way he came when he heard something stir in the jungle. He was terrified of the demons.   “What did you do before you were captured?†Sgt. Shivo said. “What was your job?†  Liao Lin said he was a welder, mechanic, and plumber and often worked as a handyman. When Sgt. Shivo asked if he could still do that, he said he could.   “That’s good, because we may need you,†Sgt. Shivo said. “Can you take us to the inner compound?†  Liao Lin pointed to the inner compound and nodded, noting he would show it to them.   When Lt. Duff asked about getting the generators working, Sgt. Shivo pointed out he had told him they had no fuel to do so. He said he couldn’t even try to start them without gasoline. Liao Lin told them there was no gasoline in the generator room he was living in either.   Lt. Locklear wanted orders, suggesting he go to the hanger or the barracks.   “Why don’t you leave the Jap in my care?†Lt. Duff said. “I’ll take good care of him.†  “Please don’t leave me in his care,†Liao Lin said.   “Absolutely not,†Lt. Anderson said.   Lt. Cook went over to Lt. Duff and injected him with morphine. Then he took the man’s pistol from his holster. Sgt. Shivo, noting Liao Lin’s nervousness, offered him his sidearm. Liao Lin took it but didn’t seem to know, exactly, what to do with it. He showed him briefly how to load it and the like. The man thanked him and tucked it into his belt.   They all went to the generator building in the inner compound. Lt. Anderson helped Lt. Duff walk though the man didn’t really need the help any more. The door looked recently repaired and it looked like Liao Lin piled up stuff inside the door to barricade it at night. The interior had been lived in and there was a bucket of water and some food, including some raw fish he had been eating.   The generator proved to be almost identical to the one in the other generator house and as empty of gasoline as that one had been. Lt. Duff and Sgt. Shivo both looked over the generator and it seemed to be in good, working order but was simply had no fuel. They discussed getting a plane going if there was one in the hanger.   Liao Lin also pointed at the building two down from the generator building and told them it was haunted. He noted that was where they used to vivisect people, cutting them open alive.   Lt. Anderson sent Lt. Duff and Sgt. Shivo to examine the hangers, noting no one was to go anywhere alone.   “Can I take someone else?†Sgt. Shivo said.   “No,†Lt. Anderson said. “Take him with you.†  “Hello friend,†Lt. Duff, feeling good from the morphine, said.   They left as Lt. Cook looked over Laio Lin medically. He found the man was skinny as if he didn’t have a good diet. He was obviously malnourished and not getting enough calories but was eating enough to survive. When he asked about the bucket of water, Liao Lin told the man there were some springs on the island. He told him that he could use the pump on the well by the barracks but warned him not to open the top.   “Something is in there,†he said.   “But you feel the water is okay, though?†Lt. Cook said.   Liao Lin was unsure. He had not been using it as he didn’t want to venture too far from the generator house.     * * *       Lt. Duff and Sgt. Shivo found the hangers had been stripped of tools and goods. A burnt and blackened aircraft sat on the landing field only 20 yards or so from their own cracked up bird. It looked like it had taken a direct hit from a shell, as if it had been fully fueled when it had been hit and the whole thing had burned up. Their own aircraft was more intact than they had expected it. The scuttling charges didn’t destroy it completely.   They found a radio that had been completely destroyed. Sgt. Shivo scavenged everything he could find from their destroyed aircraft. He found that one of the engines was actually still mostly intact. There was also a little fuel in the fuel lines.   They headed up to check on the sunken boats at the docks.     * * *       Lt. Locklear noted he wanted to look in the barracks once again so see what they could find. He, Lt. Cook, and Lt. Anderson ended up looking over the buildings of the inner compound.   The northernmost building appeared to be quarters. The solidly built building had high windows, the glass long broken. The interior consisted of a cross-shaped hallway with numerous doors, most of them open or broken off their hinges. Each room once held a pair of beds, dressers, chairs, and other furnishings. Each of the rooms was also connected to a small bathroom.   In the center of the building was a small communal area and kitchen.   The place had been ransacked and wrecked. Tables, chairs, and other furnishings had been thrown about and there was little there of use or interest. They did find some paperwork that survived, which mentioned something called Unit 731, which seemed to be some kind of organization for medical experimentation. They also found a calendar for 1940 marked until September.   The next building appeared to be a surgery. The building had a T-intersection hallway that ran from front to back. Eight laboratories were set towards the front while the same number of cells were built towards the back, their doors open. The laboratories were mostly set up like surgeries. The place was a mess with labs and surgeries thrown into ruin and equipment damaged or destroyed beyond repair. The bars on the fronts of cells were bent outwards, cell doors ripped from their hinges, or strange slime crusted to the bars of certain cells that were undamaged.   The third building was similar to the second. The notes they found seemed to indicate the prisoners were injected with various diseases.   The fourth building was similar to the others. Liao Lin refused to enter the building, claiming it was haunted. Lt. Anderson had Lt. Locklear stay with Liao Lin while he and Lt. Cook entered. They found the man was not lying. The place had a strange feel about it and sometimes they saw rooms that were suddenly completely intact with scientists doing terrible things to the prisoners, cutting them open when they were conscious. In one case, the vision showed them cut open an woman to pull out and examine her fetus. In each case, a woman with long hair covering face seemed to watch each terrible vivisection from a shadowy corner.   It was disturbing and they quickly left.   The fifth building had high, barred windows and seemed to be a holding building for prisoners. There were 16 large cells in the building was a mess of broken and bent bars, smashed and broken doors, and debris.     * * *       Lt. Duff and Sgt. Shivo found the boats were blasted and broken. They didn’t think there would be any useable fuel remaining within them.   Lt. Duff suggested burning down the island but Sgt. Shivo noted the smoke, if the fire spread to the entire island, might be enough to kill them all.     * * *       They finally got back together that afternoon to discuss what they had found. They had searched the entire compound.   “The first thing I think we need to do is clear the well,†Lt. Duff said.   Liao Lin said there was a demon there.   “Some of us are injured,†Lt. Duff said. “We need to recover before we make any kind of expedition to the forest. So, what we need to do is clear cut and reinforce.†  They had no saw to cut trees.   Sgt. Shivo had an idea for cutting down trees. He suggested making a hole in the tree with a knife and then filling it with the shell of the .50-caliber ammunition he’d kept from the aircraft. All they needed was a way to trigger it to blast trees so they could use them.   Lt. Locklear asked when the last time Liao Lin had gone into the jungle but he wasn’t sure. He also suggested making a raft to escape the island. Sgt. Shivo mentioned aircraft had various gear boxes in the engine that they could possibly use to make a hand-cranked propeller to propel the raft.   They got to work on their plans, using the ammunition to fell trees and gathering vines in the jungle. They found some flint and cut it into crude axes to shape the logs somewhat once they were down. At night, they barricaded themselves in the generator room with Liao Lin. They soon ran out of water and so used the spring Liao Lin told them about.   After the first night, they noticed the bones of the living skeleton they had fought had disappeared. Around that same time, Lt. Duff realized his holster was empty. He didn’t know where his pistol was.     * * *       On April 21, Lt. Locklear noticed Lt. Duff’s features seemed to be changing slightly. They were more severe and he looked angry all the time.   “Captain, I want you to look at Duff,†he told the other men. “What is he changing into? Remember what Liao Lin was talking about? I don’t know what we’re gonna do with you but we’re going to have to tie you up. I am afraid that you’re going to go bonkers like these other creatures we’ve fought off.†  Sgt. Shivo noticed he looked a little different.   “What do we do?†Lt. Locklear said. “Captain, what do we do?†  “What are you talking about?†Lt. Cook said, not noticing a difference.   “Look, we’ve all been under a lot of stress lately,†Lt. Duff said. “We’ve been having to deal with this horrible island and these creatures and these monsters. The last thing we need to do is turn against each other. We need to turn against the Jap.†  Lt. Cook had been on board with what the man said until that last sentence. Sgt. Shivo decided he would give Lt. Duff the benefit of the doubt for the time but would be ready in case the man turned into some kind of demon.   Lt. Duff found a puddle and looked at himself in it. He realized he was looking a little different. Were his eyebrows coming down more sharply? Were his ears looking pointed? He was certain he looked different than he did when he had arrived at the island. Lt. Locklear was right. He also remembered Liao Lin said something on the island caused people to turn into demons.   “You’re right,†he said. “I have changed physically … but I haven’t changed on the inside. Can anyone help me to try to figure out what’s going with this.†  “As I told you earlier, the Japanese thought there might be something in the water,†Liao Lin said.   Lt. Duff had not trusted Liao Lin to fetch the spring water they had been drinking since their second day on the island, so he had fetched his own. But they had all been drinking it.   “So, it’s the water on the island,†Sgt. Shivo said. “We may not be able to drink it or continue drinking it.†  “How come you haven’t changed?†Lt. Anderson said to Liao Lin.   “Good question,†Lt. Locklear said. “Good question.†  Liao Lin didn’t answer and Lt. Anderson stared at the man intently.   “What I was going to suggest was that we have wood, we have all sorts of containers and stuff,†Sgt. Shivo said. “We have wood. We have all this stuff we have around that we can use. Can we boil seawater and distill it?†  They discussed it somewhat and Sgt. Shivo said he wanted to have water to go with them on the raft. Then Locklear remembered there were tanks on the top of two of the remaining intact barracks used for collecting rainwater. It had rained several times since they crashed. They could use the water from the tanks for fresh water.   Lt. Duff talked about clearing the well again, as he had every day. No one else wanted to deal with it. Then Lt. Locklear brought up the question of why Liao Lin hadn’t changed again.   They talked to Liao Lin.   “You’re not changing,†Lt. Locklear said. “After all this time. I assume it’s been months or I assume it’s been since 1939.†  “1940,†Lt. Anderson said.   “I’ve got a question,†Sgt. Shivo said. “He’s the same mentally and everything but changing on the outside.†  He pointed at Lt. Duff.   “What if … what if Liao Lin is the same on the outside but not on the inside?†Sgt. Shivo said.   “Let’s find out!†Lt. Duff said.   “No no no no no,†Lt. Anderson said.   “No!†Sgt. Shivo said.   Liao Lin’s eyes opened wide and he looked terrified.   “I don’t know,†Liao Lin said. “Not everyone changed.†  Lt. Duff moved closer to Liao Lin and stared at him but was unsure if he was telling him the truth. It made Liao Lin nervous and he backed away from the Americans. They were scaring him.   “Liao Lin, let me check your pulse,†Lt. Locklear said.   He gestured for Lt. Cook to examine the man. Lt. Cook did so and didn’t find anything out of the ordinary with the man, just has he hadn’t when he had examined in a few days before.   “Didn’t you say something about how, if you were a bad person, it changed you?†Lt. Anderson said.   “That’s what I thought,†Liao Lin said.   He wouldn’t look at Lt. Duff.   “I never claimed to be good,†Lt. Duff said. “I’m just funny.†  “Maybe you’re changing because you’re a racist! Sgt. Shivo said. “Or what if he’s changing because he kept a piece of one of those creatures.†  Lt. Duff still had the femur from the skeleton tucked in his belt.   “Yeah, you should get rid of that,†Lt. Anderson said.   “It’s a trophy,†Lt. Duff said.   “No, I─†Lt. Anderson said.   “Your trophy’s making you sick,†Sgt. Shivo said.   “I mean, I feel fine,†Lt. Duff said. “I just look different.†  “Look, we don’t want anything to happen to you,†Lt. Anderson said.   “Well, my cousin felt fine and then he caught the pox and … he didn’t look so fine and then he died,†Sgt. Shivo said.   “Would it make you feel better if I wrapped it up in something and stopped touching it with my bare hands?†Lt. Duff said.   “It would make me feel better if you threw it away,†Lt. Anderson said.   Lt. Cook thought it a good idea to at least wrap it up. Lt. Duff did so.   “Did anyone see where my gun went, by the way?†Lt. Duff said. “My pistol?†  “No,†Lt. Anderson said.   Lt. Cook shook his head. But he knew. He’d been the one that took it from him.     * * *       After their meager lunch of raw fish and c-rations, as they headed back to the docks to finish up work on the raft, Lt. Duff diverted to the well. Lt. Duff pumped the pump next to the well and clear water came out. It didn’t seem to be off or strange in any way.   “Hey!†he yelled. “This!†  He pulled the lid off and tossed it aside. He leveled his shotgun straight down into the well and fired both barrels at the water about eight feet down. Sgt. Shivo ran to the man. Lt. Locklear sprinted over as well.   A tentacle came out of the well and lashed at Lt. Duff. Lt. Duff tried to beat the thing off. He switched his shotgun to his off hand and then drew his hunting knife to stab at the tentacle, which wrapped around him.   “No!†Liao Lin screamed. “No!†  Lt. Cook and Lt. Anderson suddenly looked at each other suspiciously. Both of them were filled with terrible paranoia.   Sgt. Shivo ran to the tentacle and stabbed it with his syringe of morphine. He shoved the needle in and pushed the plunger home.   “No!†Lt. Duff cried out. “My drugs!†  Lt. Locklear had stopped, put his Winchester carbine to his shoulder, and fired at the tentacle, hitting it and blasting a huge hole in it. The blood struck Lt. Duff in the face and he licked his lips. He didn’t think it tasted that bad. Then the tentacle went limp. He grabbed it.   “Give me back my drugs!†he yelled. “Give me back my drugs! Help!†  Whatever was on the other side of the tentacle was very heavy and sinking into the well. It was slowly pulling Lt. Duff with it.   “Try letting go!†Lt. Locklear yelled.   “Can anyone else help?†Lt. Duff said.   Sgt. Shivo grabbed the tentacle as well and, between the two of them, stopped it from sliding into the well.   “Everyone help!†Lt. Duff yelled. “Help us yank it out of the well!†  “What the hell do you want to yank that damned thing out for!?!†Lt. Locklear yelled.   “Out of the water!†Lt. Duff said.   “I know but what are you going to do with it!?!†Lt. Locklear yelled.   “You don’t have an option!†Lt. Duff said. “Do it! Now!†  Nearby, Lt. Anderson and Lt. Cook looked at each other suspiciously until Lt. Anderson drew his sidearm. Lt. Cook was ready though, and drew his own sidearm. Lt. Anderson hesitated and Lt. Cook shot the other man in the left arm. Lt. Anderson fell to the ground, the vein struck, gushing blood.   The others heard the shot behind them and looked back. Liao Lin turned and ran away. Lt. Cook looked around with wide eyes. Then he turned towards Liao Lin.   “Stop where you are!†he screamed. “Or I’ll shoot you!†  “It’s okay, man,†Sgt. Shivo called to the man. “Put the gun down and help us grab the tentacle. We want to help each other, not hurt each other.†  Lt. Cook ignored him.   Locklear ran back towards Lt. Anderson and Lt. Cook. Lt. Cook still had his back to them and was pointing his pistol at Liao Lin.   “Do you realize what you’ve just done!?!†Lt. Duff called. “You shot your commanding officer. If you were to stop right now, we might have a chance of forgetting this.†  Lt. Cook turned back their way, pointing the gun at Lt. Locklear, who was rushing towards him. But then he hesitated, as if something Lt. Duff had said had gotten through to him.   Sgt. Shivo used his hunting knife to stab the tentacle into one of the posts holding up the enclosure over the well. Then he eased his grip off the tentacle. It got very taut.   Lt. Locklear dropped to his knees by Lt. Anderson and tried to staunch the terrible bleeding, ignoring Lt. Cook. He was unable to stop it.   “Liao! If you don’t come and help us yank this out of the well right now, I’m going to hunt you down and skin you alive!†Lt. Duff screamed.   Liao Lin stopped running away. Then Lt. Duff tried to stab his own knife into the tentacle to hold it in place. It was close to the edge though and he figured it would just tear away from the knife once the weight of the thing was placed upon it.   “You’re a doctor, God damn it!†Sgt. Shivo said. “Do something!†  Lt. Cook blinked and looked down at Lt. Anderson.   “Duffy, can you try to take care of the captain?†Lt. Locklear called.   Lt. Duff continued to tell Lt. Cook to help Lt. Anderson. It finally seemed to get through.   “Get off him!†Lt. Cook yelled, shoving Lt. Locklear aside and attempting to staunch the terrible bleeding of their commanding officer.   Unfortunately, he couldn’t stop it either.   “This is bad!†he cried out. “This is bad!†  Liao Lin was moving towards Lt. Duff but was not very quickly, obviously very much afraid of the man.   “Move faster!†Lt. Duff yelled.   Sgt. Shivo ran for Lt. Anderson and tried his best to patch up Lt. Anderson. He stopped the bleeding but the man had lost a lot of blood.   The other men managed to pull the horrible thing out of the well. It was humanoid, for the most part, but had tentacles coming off its chin and an elongated skull. There were several tentacles coming off the thing’s body as well, distorted and distended as it was. It was horrible to behold. When Liao Lin saw the horrible thing, he beat on it with his fists for about 20 seconds.   “I like you more,†Lt. Duff said to him after that.     * * *       On April 22, 1942, they felt ready to leave the island. They had a raft they thought could get them to shore. Sgt. Shivo had devised and built a propeller with a hand crank using the modified gearbox to allow them to propel the raft and they also had a few boards from the tables in the mess hall to row with if need be.   They carried Lt. Anderson and the raft down to the boat docks and, there, found several of the horrible demons coming out of the brush. The largest among them seemed to be a great snake made of bile. Liao Lin let out a cry when he saw it.   “I am Dùjì, the demon that came out of Liao Lin,†the horrible thing intoned in a voice like thick phlegm. “I helped all of the demons escape. We will come with you. Liao Lin vomited me up. I know what he thinks.†  Lt. Duff blew Liao Lin’s head off with his sawed-off shotgun.   “I don’t need him anymore,†Dùjì said. “I’ve got all of you.†  The demons advanced and the soldiers opened fire. Sgt. Shivo blasted away with the .30-caliber machinegun, cutting down two of the terrible things. The others shot at Dùjì or the other demon there, a horrible thing that looked like a woman who had been cut apart and put back together. All of the soldiers were injured in the terrible fight but the gunfire drove back the last two demons and the soldiers pushed the raft off, Sgt. Shivo leaping aboard and operating his hand-cranked engine while the others rowed with boards.   They escaped from the island and rowed some 10 miles to the shore of China. There, they managed to connect with the free Chinese Army after some confusion and distress. They managed to get the Americans across Japanese-held China and to freedom.   Lt. Anderson got gangrene in his injured arm and it had to be removed at the elbow during the trip.     * * *       Lt. Brad Anderson made it home alive but did not return to the service due to his missing arm. He eventually married. He was never the same, however. He had constant nightmares of the horrors he had seen.     * * *       Lt. Harold Duff also made it home alive. Since he had to work closely with the Chinese in their escape, he learned to be more tolerant of other races. The fractured back took him out of the rest of the war but, years later, when he was in a nursing home, he constantly talked about what he had seen off the coast of China.     * * *       After the war, Lt. Thomas Cook returned to Alaska and was soon ordained as a minister, preaching to the Inuit in Alaska for the rest of his life.     * * *       Lt. Orrin Cook went to medical school after the war and eventually became an M.D.     * * *       Sgt. Aaron Shivo actually took strength from what had happened to them on the terrible island. Considering all of the improvising he did there, he began to write survival manuals for the military after he served out his term in the War.

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The Doom That Came to Devil's Gulch Part 1 - Arrival in Devil's Gulch

Monday, April 23, 2018   (After playing the Call of Cthulhu Down Darker Trails Catastrophe Engine Campaign original scenario “The Doom That Came to Devil’s Gulch†Sunday, April 22, 2018, from 1:30 p.m. to 9:15 p.m. with Ambralyn Tucker, Yorie Latimer, Ashton LeBlanc, Ben Abbott, John Leppard, and Austin Davie.)   Gemma Jones awoke with a start as the train braked at Devil’s Gulch, Colorado. She had dozed off in the passenger coach and had a dream about her father, a terrible man who had abused her mother, herself, and her younger sister Lily. She had been only 13 when the man had finally left them to fend for themselves in San Francisco, but it had been a blessing for all three of them. Charles Allen had been physically and verbally abusive to all three of them and seemed to relish hurting them.   Gemma had been called Jennie then. Her mother had taken the name Jones after he had left, anxious to be rid of anything that would remind her of him. They must have been happy once, Gemma always thought, but something soured her father and turned him to the path of crime, corruption, and evil by the time she had reached the delicate age of 13. She had learned, some years later, that “Charming†Charles Allen had been connected to the John Valentine gang and was wanted for numerous counts of forgery, fraud, theft, assault, and rape. So many counts of rape.   She couldn’t remember the dream exactly and was glad of that. Anything connected with her father was awful.   She disembarked from the train, finally at her destination after what felt like so long.   She had left her friends on July 20, 1875, in Santaquin, Utah, taking the train north to Salt Lake City and east through Utah and Wyoming, though there were numerous delays, before heading into Colorado through Denver and finally arriving at Devil’s Gulch, Colorado, on Saturday, August 7, 1875, on the 3:00 train. Steam flowed around the locomotive as the trainmen refilled the steam engine with water from the tower. A few other passengers got off when she did, including four Chinese dressed in suits. Others boarded the train.   The station stood on a rise above the town and she looked down to see the quaint buildings of Devil’s Gulch. A clock struck three from a tall tower atop a building in the center of town and she saw a church on the near side of the village on a rise near a graveyard. A larger graveyard stood on a high place further back on the opposite side of town.   People in town seemed to be very busy and excited.   She walked down Main Street and soon found her sister’s business, the Gilded Lily. It was a two-story saloon and hotel with a covered balcony on the top floor and a porch on the bottom in the front. The large building had a great sign with a golden lily painted on it and the words “Gilded Lily†advertising it.   Gemma found her sister and learned there were three other dance hall girls working there along with a bartender by the name of Frank Simms. Lily was happy and surprised to see her sister and hugged her and showed her all around the saloon and hotel. The main saloon was large with numerous tables and a large stage directly beside the bar. A balcony ran around the top where the rooms were and looked down over the bar and the stage. Lily had a large room in the back that she used as quarters and an office. There was also a good-sized storage room. She even had two rooms upstairs with pumps running right into bath rooms, one of them connected to the grand suite. Her own room below likewise had a room with a bath. The saloon didn’t have food yet as there was no kitchen in the building, but she was saving her money to have a separate kitchen house built behind the saloon so they could serve food.   She told Gemma the building had been a general store but was abandoned when she had arrived in Devil’s Gulch earlier in the year. It had cost a bit of money to refurbish it and she was in some debt but business was booming. The Gilded Lily was on Main Street and the first hotel and saloon travelers disembarking from the train saw. The stage often stopped on Main Street as well. The other two saloons in town were further down and she was certain it was helping her business.   She also told Gemma there was a man named La Forge in town representing the R.H. Macy and Co. store. Apparently, the company was talking about bringing a store in the town as well as a distribution center for mail order. They were buying land in the town and Lily was thinking of buying up a little land and then selling it later when the town boomed. There was also talk of building the county courthouse in Devil’s Gulch. The Elbert County seat was presently in Middle Kiowa, which didn’t even have a train station.   She told Gemma she had met a beau, a cowboy who was staying in town after a big cattle drive from Texas to Kansas. He was talking about settling down there and had been courting her for more than a week. Gemma met the handsome cowboy, Dallas Avery, and was charmed by him if a little nervous about her dating a cowboy. He seemed really nice and was quite charming, noting he was hoping to settle down so Lily could make an honest man of him. Gemma learned he was staying in one of the boarding houses in town as he didn’t think it would be appropriate to stay at the saloon Lily owned. He was about 20 years old and very nice, friendly, and very supportive of Lily owning her own establishment, which was a little unusual. He seemed perfect.   Gemma settled into the Gilded Lily, her sister sharing her room with her. Gemma not only sang on certain nights of the week, always drawing a good crowd, but also helped the dance hall girls, Lily, and Simms keep the saloon up while she was there. She also had time to have long conversations with Lily and catch up for the months they had been apart. She told her of some of the strange things that had happened to her and Lily seemed to mostly believe her.   While she was in town, she heard a rumor that some people said they had heard the morning train whistle blowing in the middle of the night down at the depot. Nobody was sure what it meant. It was just strange.   She also heard about a place called the Whiskey Mine, abandoned back in ’64 after the digging turned up nothing. The men who were cutting it didn’t like it at all. They said they sometimes heard strange noises unlike anything they’d ever heard underground before. They said they had to take at least one drink of whiskey before entering the mine because it was so strange. Then, one day, they came to town with what little gold dust they’d dug up, cashed it in, and left without another word. It was a few miles south of town.   On Saturday, August 14, 1875, the first shipment of supplies to build the new county courthouse arrived. It consisted of lumber, bricks, and concrete powder. Construction hadn’t yet begun upon the building.     * * *       Jerimiah Bowen arrived in Devil’s Gulch on Monday, August 16, 1875. He was a crusty old prospector of 61 years who was very friendly. He was also squat and boney with wild white hair and a grin on his face most of the time. He carried a large pack with a pick and a Spencer rifle. From Texas, he had most recently lived in Nevada before striking east in the hopes of finding gold or silver in Colorado.   He immediately went to the general store in town and purchased a tent to live in, pitching it on the east side of town. As he pitched his tent, he saw a gypsy vardo driven by a woman who looked half-Indian arrive. She had two horses, one pulling the wagon and one pulled behind it. She set up camp a hundred yards or so from town.   Then he went to look for silver.     * * *       In the early morning hours of Tuesday, August 17, there was the tinkling of glass from the Gilded Lily Saloon. When Lily and Gemma investigated, they found several rocks in the saloon itself and three of the window panes had been broken.   “Damn it,†Lily said the next morning as they cleaned up. “Not again.†  She went to see a man about replacing the panes.     * * *       On Tuesday, August 17, 1875, Dr. Eva Weisswald, Jacali, Lambert Otto, Robert Dunspar, and Ophelia Ethess arrived in Devil’s Gulch on the 3:00 train.   Brandon Stalloid had left their company in Denver, wanting to take the dinosaur skull back to San Francisco to present it to scientists as the find of the century. He had taken Night Horse with him, telling them he was going to arrange for his transport back to the Uintah Reservation in Salt Lake City before he went on to San Francisco himself. Jack West and Clayton Pierce had gotten separated from them in Denver as well and they were unsure of their whereabouts.   Before he had left, Night Horse had asked Jacali to look for him if she was ever on the reservation. She was unsure if he was sweet on her or not but they had hit it off and were friends.   On the train, Otto had talked to Jacali.   “Do-do your people know anything about curses?†he asked.   She frowned.   “Well, I mean, I’d say about as much as you know about how much we know about curses,†she said. “I mean, there are stories … um … they are tales.†  “Any of them have to do with scars?†Otto said.   “Probably not,†she said. “Well, I mean, you know the whole Hansel and Gretel story? It’s like that. The kind of curses that I know about. ‘Oh kids, don’t go to the candy house or the old witch will eat you.’ It’s not like adults talking to each other about curses.†  Otto looked embarrassed and thanked her.   “If you want to know more about that, I am not the person to ask,†she said. “In case that wasn’t clear.†  Devil’s Gulch was a bustling little town and they watched several men unloading lumber, bricks, and bags marked “concrete†from the baggage car. A few people boarded the train and others disembarked and headed into town. They saw a man with a mustache coordinating the unloading and aiding people. An old man with thick glasses manned the ticket booth and a red-headed man wearing a green eyeshade was at the telegraph.   They headed down to the town and saw the Gilded Lily Saloon and Hotel on Main Street. A man was replacing window panes in the front of the building. There was a livery and blacksmith across from it and they had brought their horses in the cattle car so Jacali took them there. The building was wide and tall with great open doors in the front and back. There was a corral behind the place and several stalls, a few of them with horses already within. Above the stalls was a hay loft with large bales of hay. She could hear the bang of the blacksmith’s hammer in the nearby smithy. She had seen another large negro man working in the smithy when she passed.   She met Jeremiah Kerns, the negro livery owner with graying hair, who cooed and talked quietly to the horses as he put them into the stalls and started to rub them down. He was very friendly and helpful. She asked if he sold horses but he said he only boarded them. She also asked if he had heard any rumors about new things in town.   “Well, I’ve heard lots of rumors,†he said. “Some people have heard the train whistle in the middle of the night but it’s the morning whistle. People have heard it twice so far. Nobody knows what it means.†  She asked about any weird silver things in the area and Jeremiah had not heard about anything like that. He did know there were some silver mines in the hills that were played out.   “Bill Graves and Matt Brady have a mine to the … it’s southeast of here,†he said. “There’s all kinds of old mines scattered around. Back in the ‘60s there was a lot of mining in this area but nobody really turned up much.â€â€™   “All right,†she said. “Thank you.†    * * *       Otto had stopped off at the marshal’s office, a small two-story wooden and brick building with a tin roof and a covered boardwalk out front. The door and windows were all barred. A couple of wooden chairs were on the boardwalk and a few wanted posters and proclamations were nailed haphazardly next to the door.   When he walked in, he saw the ground floor was mostly one large room with a small table and chairs next to a pot bellied stove in the center. A coffee pot bubbled on top of the stove. A roll-top desk was set in the back of the room as well as a cot and a filing cabinet. Another board filled with wanted posters and proclamations was on the wall to the right. To the left were three jail sets set in a brick addition to the building. The cells were mostly simple bars running from floor to ceiling and each held a simple rope cot with straw-stuffed mattress. There was a small, barred window at the back of each cell, looking out into the alley.   The man behind the table had a thick mustache and a stern face. He was writing something on a piece of paper as Otto approached.   “Hello, marshal,†he said.   “Howdy,†the man said, looking up.   “Do you have any bounties for the town?†  “Well, there’s a wanted board out front and there’s a wanted board right here on the wall.†  Otto went over to the board and looked over the posters. The one that seemed fresh and local was for “Black†Jack McKinney who was wanted for murder, arson, theft, banditry, and the like. The rough drawing on the poster showed a man with a thin beard and mustache holding two pistols and wearing a black hat with a feather sticking out of it.   Otto nodded at the posters.   “Have you heard anything about McKinney in the area lately?†He asked.   “He’s around here somewhere,†Marshal Bishop said. “Him and his coyotes.†  “So he has a gang?†  “Yep, he has a gang all right.†  “He been attacking the town lately?†  “Attacking the town?†  “I don’t know. Some bandits attacked a town a few weeks ago.†  “What? Where is this?†  “Hilton Springs, Nevada.†  “That’s terrible. Well, nope, he ain’t that dumb but they’ve been robbing people and such. We’re keeping any eye out for ‘em. They haven’t hit anything really heavy yet, which is good.†  “Well, I think I might go look for him, then.†  “You do as you please. You’re a bounty hunter, then, huh?†  “Yeah.†  “All right. I don’t want you to cause any trouble.†  “I won’t.†  “You bring anybody in here that’s not supposed to be arrested and you’ll be causing trouble.†  As Otto headed for the front door, the back door open and a chubby man who laughed nervously came in. He wore a deputy’s badge and carried a sawed-off double barrel shotgun as well as the revolver on his hip.   “I didn’t find those kids, Marshal,†he said.   “Yeah yeah yeah,†Marshal Bishop said. “All right, Chubby.†  “Marshal, have you heard anything some mystical folks in town or something?†Otto stopped and asked.   “Some what?†  “Gypsies and those sort of people.†  “I don’t know. I haven’t. There’s some lady who just came in a wagon on the east side of town, camping, the other day.†  “Really?†  “No, I’m lying. Yes, really!†  “Well, thank you.†  “You’re welcome.†  He heard Chubby laughing nervously as he left.     * * *       Dunspar, Dr. Weisswald, and Ophelia walked down main street to get a feel for the town. They spotted the jail, a town hall with a clock atop it, and noted a library tucked behind that building. They headed that direction.   The library was a small building attached to the back of the town hall. Though there were plenty of shelves, there were not a lot of books. A pretty blonde woman wearing glasses and with her hair pulled up in a severe bun on top of her head sat at a table nearby and coached a boy with his reading. When she saw them enter, she told him to continue to the next page and then stood up, straightened her dress, and approached them.   “Hello,†she said.   “Uh, hello madam,†Dunspar said. “Would you happen to have any - uh - books on mystical things?†  She gave him a look.   “We have Treasure Island,†she said.   “Could you point me in the direction of it?†he said.   “Mystical things?†she said.   She showed him the small fiction section. It was composed mainly of dime novels and a few classics as well as some Shakespeare.   Dr. Weisswald turned to Ophelia and asked if she was interested in anything. The serpent person said “Technology. Your weapons.†They went in search of books on weaponry and found some history books with information on cannons and the like. Ophelia looked over the book while Dr. Weisswald looked for medical books. Dunspar sat down with Mysteries of the Worm and continued his painstaking reading of the obscure tome.   Dr. Weisswald found a few school primers and learners as well. The librarian allowed them each to get a library card with a one dollar deposit.     * * *       Jacali had wandered further into town, finding the Bull’s Head Saloon further down the street. Though the building it sat within was three stories tall, the saloon itself, with its front door off to the side, was simply a darkened box. Batwing doors led into a dim room with only two windows to the front, leaving it dark and shadowed. It smelled of smoke and sweat, beer and whiskey. A rough-cut pine bar sat on one side and tables filled the room. An older gentleman with a gray beard and mustache and wearing a fine suit sat in the corner. A Colt army pistol was in the holster at his side. A blonde man sat in another corner playing cards with several other gentlemen.   She recognized somebody. Sitting in the back corner was Pete Sutter, apparently playing poker with himself. He kept checking the other hand before declaring “Beat ya’ again!†A bottle of whiskey was on the table next to an empty glass.   Jacali walked up to him.   “Pete God-damned Sutter,†she said. “I thought you were dead twice now and yet here you are again.†  “Well, if it ain’t injun girl,†Pete said. “What’re you doing here?†  “You know what, Pete, that’s good enough from you. I won’t harsh you on that one.†  “What’re you doing here? Did they send you? They sent ya, didn’t they? I knew that they knew that I would come if they didn’t want me to know that they was knowin’ I was comin’!†  Jacali looked at him for a moment.   “I’m still looking at stuff that fell off that train we were both on,†she said. “Heard it would end up here.†  “What?†Pete said. “Train? Oh, I get ya. I know what yer talkin’ about. It ‘fell off the train.’ I getcha.†  “You were on that train! You got shot on that train!†  “Is Jack West here!?!†  “Uh … no …†  “Good! I hate him! I hate him so much!†  “I didn’t think to see him either, but all right.†  “Why don’t you sit down and have a drink with me?†  “Uh, sure, I can play a hand.†  She played a hand of poker with Pete Sutter. They both had terrible hands and Jacali didn’t know how to play poker, never having learned. She had the worse hand, which seemed to put him in a good mood. Then a crusty old man with gray hair carrying a backpack with camping supplies and a Sharp’s rifle walked up to the table.   “What’re we playing?†the old man said.   “This a friend o’ yours?†Pete asked Jacali.   “No one I’ve ever seen.†  “Is it your dad?†  “I thought he was yours.†  “My dad’s dead.†  “Oh. My dad is too.†  “We do have something in common then.†  “My dad’s dead too!†Bowen, the prospector, said.   “Of course he is!†Pete said. “You’re old as the hills! Why aren’t you dead yet, too?†  “I’m lucky I guess.†  “That’s a shame.†  “What brings you to our card table, sir?†Jacali said.   “I saw you were playing some poker,†Bowen said. “Thought I’d come over. Try my luck.†  “You’re a card shark, ain’t ya?†Pete said. “I know it when I seen ya! You’re a card shark! I know a card shark when I see one.†  Bowen wailed.   “C’mon!†he said.   “Deny it!†Pete said. “He’s not even denying it!†  Though they played penny ante, Pete kept flashing money as if showing off. Jacali asked him vaguely about any silver artifacts but Pete hadn’t heard of any. Pete also told her why he was there.   “Them Secret Service agents are the ones that sent me here,†he said. “But they didn’t send me here. If you get my drift.†  Pete smiled.   “I don’t get his drift,†Bowen said. “I thought we were playing poker.†  “I was hired to go up to Oregon, wasn’t I?†Pete said. “Paid me $500. Didn’t give me a pardon last time so I didn’t trust ‘em!†  “They paid you to go to Oregon?†Jacali said.   “They paid me to go to Oregon,†Pete said. “This ain’t Oregon, is it? See how clever I am?†  He smiled.   “They told me ‘Go to Oregon,’†he said. “Some town, I don’t even remember the name. But then I heard ‘em whispering to each other: ‘We don’t want him going to Devil’s Gulch, Colorado.’ Overheard it. So I said ‘I’m going to Devil’s Gulch, Colorado!’ That’s right! Here I am.   “I like your thinking, Pete Sutter,†Jacali said. “You truly are a man among men.†  “I hate ‘em!†Pete said. “I’ll go wherever they tell me not to! I got $500 spending money. I’m gonna enjoy myself in this pissant little town.†  Jacali looked around and saw that the other poker players were looking in his direction.   “And I saw somebody else I knew too,†Pete went on.   He laughed.   “I saw somebody else first day I was here,†he said.   “Oh, who was it?†Jacali said.   “Oh, that’s gonna cost you some money.†  “Hmm.†  “It’s somebody important. Ha! You double my money and I’ll say.†  “Double your money? You want $500?†  “Yes. Yes, that would be double my money. I didn’t know injuns could do math.†  “You think I own five hundred whole dollars?†  “Well, you got rich friends, aincha?†  “Well … not around here.†  “Oh well, that’s a shame!†  Jacali took out the dinosaur tooth.   “This is one genuine tooth of a giant lizard,†she said. “I can offer you that. There’s not another one like it in the whole world.†  “Why the hell would I want that?†Pete said. “I can’t do nothing with that.†  “I’ll take that,†Bowen said.   “Yeah, give it to him,†Pete said.   Jacali tucked it back away.   “What are you doing here in town,†she asked Bowen.   “I’m drinking whiskey right now,†he said.   “No, but what brings you here?†  “I came for the silver!†  “The silver?†  “Yeah, I was told there was silver something. I just heard the word silver and I got going.†  He cackled.   “You didn’t hear the words ‘silver horn’ did you?†Jacali asked.   “No,†Bowen said. “I just heard silver.†  “Where are the best spots to find silver in this town?†  “Usually in caves.†  “Well …†  “Mines. Other people’s mines usually. I like them. They’re already dug up.†  “I was wondering if you had in more specific mines in mind.†  “I haven’t explored yet.†  “All right. Well, if you’re going out─†  “Probably tonight. You don’t want to go during the day. That’s when they spot you.†  “Who is ‘they?’†Pete said. “Is that Secret Service? Is that who you’re talking about? God damned Secret Service?†  “I think he was talking about the owner of the mine, Pete Sutter,†Jacali said.   “Oh, you’re a mine poacher, huh?†Pete said. “Maybe you and I can do some business.†  “I was about to ask if you need a partner for these mines. I do have─†  “Oh! She wants to get into the crime gang too!†  “Well, I do have knowledge of some weaponry.†  She gestured towards the quiver on her belt.   “Yeah,†Bowen said. “You can come with me.†    * * *       Dr. Weisswald and Ophelia walked the streets of town, getting the lay of the land. They saw Devil’s Gulch had a bank, a doctor’s office and home, an undertaker, a Chinese laundry, restaurants, a drugstore and barber, and even a photographer right next to the Gilded Lily. It noted he was also a chemist. When they peeked in through the big front window, they saw he had a camera set up to show off.   Dr. Weisswald went looking for Jacali and found her almost immediately coming up Main Street. A crusty old prospector with a rattling pack was walking with her.   “So, Weisswald, here’s an update,†Jacali told her. “I found this old man─†  “Hi!†Bowen said.   “─who’s going to explore old caves and silver mines with me and see if the … Crescent … is anywhere nearby in any of those.†  “Did you say croissant?†  “Yes, we’re looking for breakfast in the mines.†  “Nice.†  They all looked at him.   “Also, you’ll never guess who I found at the bar,†Jacali said. “Pete God-damned Sutter.†  “Why am I not surprised,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Well, I mean, I knew you were good but I didn’t think you were that good,†Jacali said.   They noticed a poster for Gemma Jones in front of the Gilded Lily.   “Looks like fate has brought us all together,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Looks like it has a tendency to do that,†Jacali said.   They went into the photographer with Bowen following. They arranged for a photo of Dr. Weisswald, Jacali, and Ophelia, Jacali sitting in front of the other two, who stood behind her. The photographer took them outside to take the photo. He had a backdrop painted on the back of the building and the sun was in a good position. He removed the lens cover and watched his pocket watch for a minute before covering it again. Then they all went inside again. Dr. Weisswald ordered four copies of the photograph and would have it by the next day for $1 each.   Ophelia didn’t see the point of the entire exercise. Dr. Weisswald pointed out it was technology.   They went to the Gilded Lily where they found Gemma Jones.   “Oh hello there!†Gemma said when she saw them. “Oh, it’s so good to see you made it in one piece.†  “Yes, good to see you as well, Miss Jones,†Jacali said. “This is our friend Ophelia we have met along the way.†  “Oh, hello,†Gemma said.   Ophelia stared at her oddly.   “This is Ophelia,†Dr. Weisswald also said.   “She doesn’t talk much,†Jacali said.   Ophelia rolled her eyes.   “Hello,†Gemma said. “I’m Gemma. It’s nice to meet you.†  “What brings you to Devil’s Gulch?†Jacali said.   “Oh, my sister lives here. This is her saloon actually.†  “Oh!†  “I’m here to help her out and perform for her in the evenings so … plus we just wanted to make sure. I’ve heard about Devil’s Gulch and I wanted to make sure she’s … she’s doing all right.†  Lily came out of the back where she had been doing some bookwork. Gemma introduced her.   “This is my sister, Lily,†she said.   “Oh, hello!†Lily said.   She shook each of their hands and got their names. She was pretty and little younger and slimmer than Gemma though Gemma was prettier. She seemed very glad to meet them and Gemma told her they had shared some of her strange adventures.   “Oh my goodness!†Lily said. “Oh! Oh.†  She was very pleased to meet Dr. Weisswald and pleasantly surprised to see a woman doctor. She was impressed with Jacali as well, noting Gemma had told her she had shot a dragon in the eye and killed it.   “And you’re both women!†she said. “I am so proud.†  She shook their hands once again.   “And who’s this?†she asked.   Ophelia just stared at the girl.   “Oh, I just met her as well,†Gemma said. “This is a friend of my friends.†  “Yes,†Jacali said.   “Ophelia,†Gemma said.   “Who we met along the way,†Jacali said. “She is … uh …†  “I haven’t heard anything about her,†Lily said.   “She is wise beyond her years but … not a conversationalist,†Jacali said.   Ophelia looked at Jacali and then walked away from them, looking around the room at different things by the bar.   “So, Miss Jones, have you heard anything … different … showing up in town recently,†Jacali said. “We have still been looking for the thing on the train. It escaped us and … we’re still looking for it.†  “Yes,†Gemma said.   She noticed Bowen. She had thought the crusty old prospector had just come in at the same time as her friends. But he stood near them like he knew them.   “Hello sir,†she said to him.   “Hi!†Bowen said.   “Oh, I’ve seen him,†Lily said. “He’s been in here.†  “Oh, you have?†Gemma said.   “He was in here the other night,†Lily said. “He was drinking whiskey.†  “Yeah!†Bowen said.   “Last night he was in here,†Lily said. “He was just drinking in the corner. It was so full, I’m not surprised you missed him.†  “Oh yes, I do remember your attire,†Gemma said. “That hat.†  “He was carrying everything he’s carrying right now,†Lily said.   “Yeah!†Bowen said. “This is my everything.†  “Do you need a room?†Lily asked.   “I got a tent.†  “All right. All right. That’s fine.†  “Okay,†Gemma said.   “I can’t afford your rooms,†Bowen said.   “But as far as any mysterious …†Gemma said.   “The spooky stuff,†Jacali said.   “… I have not,†Gemma said. “Praise be. I’ve not, thankfully, seen anything of that sort. Why … why do you mention?†  “Well, I had a dream one night and … uh … some slug … insects … that I saw there told me to go to Devil’s Gulch and that everyone was in trouble,†Jacali said. “So, I’m here.†  “Peyote, right?†Lily said.   “Sure.†  “I’ve heard of that.†  “Sure.†  “Oh, goodness,†Gemma said. “That sounds like a nightmare.†  “I’ve only heard of it too!†Bowen muttered.   “Why would you ever listen to slug-insects that tell you to go somewhere?†Gemma said.   “Well, there was nowhere else to go on this spooky trace so … you know …†Jacali said. “When a lead comes from weird creatures in your head when you sleep, that’s where the lead goes.†  “I respect your beliefs,†Gemma said.   Lily said nothing, apparently unsure.   “Are you looking for rooms?†Gemma said.   “I guess we’ll take rooms,†Jacali said. “If you want to go on our spooky **** chase, you’re more than welcome to.†  “There’s plenty going on around here!†Lily said. “Have you heard about the new store that’s coming in? And the courthouse they’re gonna build? This is gonna be the county seat. At least that’s what Mr. La Forge says.†  “Well, if it’s anything to be there to my close sister to protect her …†Gemma said.   Lily went over to Gemma and stood close to her, putting her arm around her and smiling.   “I think this man and I were going to check out some of the─†Jacali said.   “Sh!†Bowen shushed her.   Jacali looked at him.   “We were going to have a talk about it,†she said. “About our next plans sometime tonight.†  Dr. Weisswald and Lily looked at each other in confusion.   “Sure,†Gemma said.   They arranged rooms at the Gilded Lily. Dr. Weisswald and Jacali decided to share a room with Ophelia and Lily suggested one of the front rooms.   Ophelia was examining the stage. She knocked on it and tested its strength.   Lily told them there was no food served at the Gilded Lily yet. She had plans for a kitchen house out back at some point, once she could afford it, which would probably be soon.   “But I did invest,†she told them. “So, that money’s going to be coming back once that store comes in. Mr. La Forge says there’s going to be all kinds of business. I even bought a little bit of extra property I’m going to sell for a huge mark up.†  Gemma was obviously so proud of her sister.     * * *       Otto went to the east side of town about a hundred feet from the last building just off the road. The vardo was a small caravan wagon with windows in the side and an open door in the back. Two horses were hobbled nearby and tied to a stake in the ground. A small fire had been built not far from the vardo and a cooking pot was hanging from a metal tripod over it. The woman who was tending to the pot had reddish skin and he guessed she was a half-breed. She had dark hair, wore rugged clothing, and had a white hat. She was young and pretty.   He approached the camp and dismounted.   “Hello,†the woman said. “Is there anything that you need?†  “Hello there,†Otto said. “My name’s Lambert and …†  “I’m Daisy.†  “Nice to meet you Daisy. Uh … the strangest thing happened back in Denver. I had a strange encounter with someone. She said that the scar I had was cursed. Would you happen to know anything about that?†  “I don’t really know much about curses or anything like that. I’m sorry. But how can a scar be cursed?†  “That’s what I was trying to figure out.†  “It doesn’t seem to make any sense to me.†  “It doesn’t make any sense to me either. Maybe she was trying to pull my leg or scam me.†  “I … I don’t know. Is there anything I can help you with? Are you injured?†  “I think I’m fine.†  “All right.†  “That was mainly why I …†  “No, I don’t know anything about curses. I’m sorry.†  “Thank you.†  “You’re welcome.†  “I’ll keep it in mind.†  He mounted back up.   “You have a nice day,†she said.   He tipped his hat and waved to her and rode back into town.     * * *       Dr. Weisswald, Jacali, Ophelia, and Bowen went to the general store, a simple wooden building with glass windows in the front displaying many of the newest goods. There were all kinds of things in the store and she met the owner, Ulysses Mabry, who had a New England accent. He had brown hair and mutton chops and was slim. He wore an apron instead of a jacket and wore a bow tie. He was quite friendly.   When she inquired about purchasing a horse, he noted he didn’t sell horseflesh. He had plenty of other things though. He didn’t know of any facilities in town that sold horses but suggested she try out at one of the cattle ranches in the area. When she asked about the closest one, he suggested the one to the east along the road that ran by the railroad. They were a cattle ranch but might have some horses they would be willing to sell her.   Ophelia looked over some of the things on the shelves, mystified. She was surprised by the ladies underwear, unsure what to make of it. She didn’t pay much attention to a barrel marked “used†that was full of long johns.   They went back to the livery and got their horses, heading out to the ranch that lay a mile or so east of town. They left Bowen, who didn’t have a horse, behind, waiting at the edge of town like a lost puppy.   One of the hands there warned them to watch out for the Bar-T ranch boys.   “They think they own the whole county,†he said.   He told them the ranch was a day’s ride southwest of town and was big enough that it had its own stagecoach stop. He noted they didn’t want to go down there as the owner was rich and let his son do whatever he pleased. He thought he owned the county due to his money.   Dr. Weisswald found the man at the ranch wasn’t selling their best horses. However, he was willing to sell one of the horses for $50. The man warned her the horse sometimes chewed fences so she had to watch out for that. She knew it was not healthy for the horse to chew on fences.   She presented Ophelia with the horse, which seemed nervous of the disguised serpent person. Ophelia looked it in the eyes, staring at it for a few moments before mounting it to ride it bareback. She also bought a chicken for Ophelia and she ate it on the ride back, feathers and all.   They visited a restaurant for dinner before going to the Gilded Lily.     * * *       Gemma saw Dunspar eventually arrive at the Gilded Lily. He talked to one of the dance hall girls and then he got up and left.     * * *    

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

The Doom That Came to Devil's Gulch Part 2 - Ophelia Unimpressed

* * *       Otto got there a little while later and got a room. He sat in the saloon and ate some hardtack and beef jerky while he drank his beer. Shortly after that, the others arrived at the Gilded Lily. They had hurried through dinner in order to get back in time to watch Gemma sing. There was a magician before her. He pulled a rabbit out of his hat and had colored balls that he made disappear. A pigeon appeared at one point. He also did card tricks. Bowen watched him intently.   Ophelia was not impressed at the act, glaring at the man. She had been docile since she’d eaten.   “Do you want to see some real magic?†she asked Dr. Weisswald.   “I have the pages of that one spell I’m learning,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Do you want to see some real magic?†  “Yes.†  Ophelia started to mumble under her breath.   “Not right now!†Dr. Weisswald said. “Not right now!†  “I thought you wanted to see something,†Ophelia said.   “We’ll do it later.†  “It might be entertaining to you.†  “Tonight will be better.†  “I need someone to cast it upon. I was going to pick him and his little sad tricks.†  The magician pulled flowers out of nowhere.   “Now, who wants to come and help me with this next trick?†he said. “It involves cards! Cards!†  Bowen volunteered and the magician picked him to help. The man made fun of his age for an easy laugh, calling him grandpa, and then had Bowen pick a card. Bowen realized the man was forcing a card on him. He asked Bowen to show it to the audience but not him and memorize it. Then he told him to tear up the card. While Bowen did so, the man put a little kerosene in a bowl. Bowen ripped the card up and the magician lit the kerosene and bid him to burn the card as it was no use to them. He fiddled with the deck and made banter and then pulled the card out of nowhere in the deck. It was somewhat impressive.   “Is it harmful?†Dr. Weisswald asked Ophelia.   “Not physically,†the serpent person said.   “We’ll do it later,†Dr. Weisswald said.   Gemma sang her song with the dance hall girls singing in the background. Lily joined her at one point as well and they performed a delightful duet. They used a player piano for all the music as Lily didn’t have a piano player yet. Everyone seemed to enjoy it.   Ophelia seemed nonplussed by the performance.   “The words she’s singing don’t make any sense,†she said.   A handsome cowboy showed up towards closing time. He snuggled up to Lily and she brought him over to meet all of the, introducing him as Dallas Avery. He was likeable and seemed very friendly, getting along with everybody. He told them about the big cattle run he had a month ago and the big bonus he’d gotten from it. He was thinking of settling down in Devil’s Gulch in the hopes Lily would make an honest man of him. He was very impressed when he found Dr. Weisswald was a doctor and was even friendly with Bowen. He was simply nice to everyone and seemed to be everyone’s best friend after only a short time. He was impressed with Otto’s being a bounty hunter and Dunspar’s being a scientist. He wanted to know more about being a scientist and Dunspar told him he’d teach him anything he wanted to learn.   Dunspar asked about why there was no food and Lily told him about her plans to build a kitchen house in the future once she could afford it. When he asked how much it would cost, she noted it would be several hundred dollars and most of her money was invested in the county courthouse and the promise of town growth in the future. She noted Mr. Finch and Mr. La Forge had said the boom was coming.   When he offered her a loan, she noted she was already up to debt to her eyeballs what with the mortgage on the property and her investments. She told them about the money she’d gotten for investing in the courthouse and the land she’d bought and she didn’t want to borrow any more. He said that was fine.   “We’ll pay it off in a few years … or a few months if things go well,†Lily said.   “They’re gonna, honey,†Dallas said.   Gemma thought the two were very cute together. He hung on her every word when she spoke, listening to her intently and they seemed very happy together.   Jacali asked if Dunspar knew how guns worked. Ophelia perked up when she said it.   “Work, yes,†Dunspar said.   Jacali looked at Weisswald.   “To an extent,†Dunspar said. “Why do you ask?†  “Well, I was wondering if you might be able to get some insight into your knowledge of it,†Jacali said. “We have a friend who’s interested in the science.†  “Well, I know the mechanics behind it, yes,†Dunspar said. “However, using them … not as good.†  “I don’t think that’s what we need,†Jacali said.   “Okay,†Dunspar said.   “You know, Jacali, I know more about guns than this scientist probably knows,†Otto said.   “You know about how they work?â€Jacali said.   “I take them apart regularly. You’ve seen how I shoot.†  “All right. Well, I might ask─†  “One second,†Dunspar said. “Would you mind if I see your gun?†  “Which one?†Otto said.   “The one you take apart most often.†  Otto handed him the Winchester carbine. Dunspar stripped the rifle as quickly as he could, laying the parts of the weapon all over the table. Then he put it back together.   “Is this some kind of ritual?†Ophelia asked.   “I’m sorry,†Gemma said.   “No, this is how all the mechanisms work together so it will fire,†Dunspar said.   “I think they like to show off their expertise,†Jacali said.   Otto did the same, stripping the gun down and then putting it back together.   “I know how to shoot it though,†Otto said.   While they all watched the gun-stripping, Bowen slipped a whiskey glass into his pocket.   “Sometimes it’s easier to clean things when they’re in pieces,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “I understand that,†Ophelia said. “I don’t understand why they are taking this weapon apart and putting it back together now.†  “They’re showing off for you.†  “For me?†  “Yeah.†  Ophelia turned to the men.   “I’m not impressed,†she said.   “I was just showing you how to put it back together and take it apart,†Dunspar said. “That’s all.†  “And I was just trying to show Dunspar …†Otto said.   Ophelia looked at Dr. Weisswald questioningly.   “She said she was interested in─†Dunspar said.   “Well, one of you two are lying,†Ophelia said.   “They’re men,†Gemma said.   “She said you were interested in how this works,†Dunspar said.   “Men,†Gemma said.   “Did you learn anything?†Dr. Weisswald said to Ophelia.   “Isn’t that what you said, Jacali?†Dunspar said.   “Yes, I was … a friend was interested,†Jacali said.   “Something about primates, I think I did learn,†Ophelia said to Dr. Weisswald.   “I’m always happy to teach,†Dunspar said. “That’s …†  “Well, maybe sometime tomorrow or after it’s dark out, we could arrange something where we can figure it out if Ophelia is still interested,†Jacali said.   “Okay,†Dunspar said.   “I could teach her how to use them,†Otto said.   “Will they fight for our pleasure now?†Ophelia asked the other woman.   “Mr. Dallas, you said you were interested in learning some things about the sciences?†Dunspar said, desperately changing the subject.   “Oh yeah!†Dallas said. “I want to learn everything about everything. I mean I gotta, I gotta life to lead. I mean, I’m not gonna be that kind of man that makes my wife not work. That’s wrong! But we’re gonna be … we’re gonna be one hundred percent partners. But I gotta pull my weight. And if I can’t afford to get a ranch, I’m going to have to be able to do something.†  “All right,†Dunspar said.   He was more than willing to learn from him and seemed eager to know whatever he could about whatever he could.   “I’d be more than happy to teach you,†Dunspar said. “What would you like to know about?†  They discussed it and Dunspar pulled out his briefcase and showed him the beakers and chemicals he carried with him. Dallas was willing to learn anything the man was willing to teach him. They arranged to meet the next morning to start his lessons. Dallas admitted he wasn’t that smart sometimes and so Dunspar would have to help him. Dunspar said he’d be patient.   “That’s great!†Dallas said. “I bet you’re a great teacher.†  He seemed very enthusiastic about it.   Later that evening, Dallas and Lily went to sit on the front porch for a while as he was courting her.   “The reason we came to Devil’s Gulch is we’re still looking for the horn, the Crescent,†Jacali said.   “Silver!†Bowen said.   “Yes,†Jacali said. “And he’s looking for silver.†  “Yes,†Gemma said.   “This man, I think, would know the mines,†Jacali went on. “He would know the best mining spots and I think it likely if the horn is in Devil’s Gulch, as my … intuition …†  “Yes. Quite.†  “… has said that those would be the best places to hide it.†  “That seems to make good enough sense.†  “We are planning on going out at night and obviously it’s not something that we would like to be found doing. I don’t know what’s going to happen and we are going to be in dark caves at night with nobody knowing we’re there, so …†  She looked them over.   “But, if you’re interested, you’re welcome to come along?†Jacali said.   “How much of a threat is this horn?†Gemma said.   “What is it?†Ophelia said.   “I have also never heard of this horn before,†Dunspar said.   “We’re going to steal silver,†Bowen said.   “Otto, you’ve seen it, right?†Jacali said.   “No,†Otto said.   “Mr. Stalloid has trusted you with his book of strange things,†Jacali said.   “Yes,†Dunspar said.   “And you … well, you’re on the job anyway so who cares?†Jacali said to Bowen.   “He is old and will die soon anyway,†Ophelia said.   “Thanks for the in-depth analysis,†Jacali said.   “I’m 61 years young,†Bowen said.   Jacali told them about He-Who-Waits in northern Nevada and his search for the “Horn†as well as the drawing on buffalo hide of the device. She talked of stumbling across it in Yellow Flats, Arizona, and its connection with Professor Terwilliger. She pulled out the large buffalo hide and opened it on the table. The drawing or rough painting showed a crescent shape with spikes sticking out of it at various angles. She said the Horn was about three feet across. She told them about chasing it through the train but of the outlaw Jack Parker falling from the train with it.   “When we found it, originally, there were piles of dust where people had touched it,†she said. “And basically evaporated.†  “Why would you want that?†Dunspar said. “Instantaneous combustion?†  “Well, whatever it was, it appears … Terwilliger also said there was an electric current running through it or something like that,†Jacali said. “That it might be able to conduct things like that. From my … admittedly … strangely sourced information … it might be some kind of device of magical or advanced technological origins, but … I don’t know. All I know is that it’s not good to touch and it does strange things that are out of my realm or my perception of reality.†  “Interesting,†Ophelia said.   “So, that’s why we’re looking for it,†Jacali said.   “Do you think this … what do you think this thing is capable of?†Gemma said.   “So, it’s made of silver?†Bowen said.   “Yes,†Jacali said.   “It looks to be,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “What do you think this thing is capable of?†Gemma asked again. “How much of a threat is it?†  “Well, and again, I really, really wish I had a better word for what I saw in that dream, but … the slugs had … uh … they told me that it gives people … it changes people permanently … based on what they want and need,†Jacali said. “Is what my dream told me. My dream slugs. My friends in the dreams.†  “Oh.†  “That were tentacle-y.†  “Well, wouldn’t that be a good thing, if you were changed into something you want or need?†  “Not if you turn into a pile of dust afterwards, I wouldn’t imagine, which is what some people did when we first found it.†  “I don’t understand how that could happen.†  “Spontaneous,†Dunspar said.   They looked at him.   “The combustion,†he said.   “Uh … well, we have heard of some people who touched it and then became supermen,†Jacali said. “There was also an equal number of small piles of ash that were … people.†  “What did they look like?†Ophelia said. “The slugs?†  “Surely you have a chance either way,†Gemma said.   Jacali described the slugs, noting they were cones some 10 feet wide and high. They had four tentacles. Two ended in nippers or pincers. Another tentacle had three eyes and the last had horn-like appendages. There were small tentacles on the bottom of the eye tentacle and others that came out of the top of it.   “Hm,†Ophelia said.   “So, does anybody have a better word than slugs for these things …†Jacali said.   “Monstrosity?†Dunspar said.   “I would concur,†Gemma said.   “I call it a lobster,†Bowen said.   “Monstrosity might be accurate to the feeling I had when I saw them but it’s not very descriptive,†Jacali said.   Many of them noticed Ophelia put her hand to her jaw as if she was thinking. Jacali and Otto noticed the light of recognition in her eye when Jacali described the things from her dreams.   “Oh, Ophelia, did you have something to add?†Jacali said.   Ophelia looked at her.   “No,†she said.   “You looked like you were thinking about something,†Jacali said   Ophelia looked at her blankly.   “Did my description … meet anything in your mind?†Jacali said. “In your memory?†  She stared at the Indian woman again.   “These things sound like the Great Race,†she finally said. “Yithians is what they called themselves. Or did … 225 million years ago.†  “You talked about them,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Hm?†  “You mentioned them. By the ring.†  “My goodness!†Gemma said. “You’re quite abreast of your history.†  Ophelia gave Dr. Weisswald a blank look. She told the woman she did not remember that but believed her. Dr. Weisswald guessed the serpent person had been delirious at the time.   “Oh,†Ophelia said. “I must keep my mouth shut.†  “Do you have any information about them?†Jacali said. “And why were they appearing in my dreams and talking to me.†  “That I don’t know. They have been on … Earth … for millions of years and were still a … force … on the world during our reign of Valusia 225 million years ago.†  “I’m sorry?†Gemma said.   “Then you might think that my dream was more than instinct then?†Jacali said.   “I might think what?†Ophelia said. “My mind is much more clearly focused than you primates. I probably don’t think anything that you do.†  “But why would these appear in my dreams if it didn’t mean something, is what I’m saying,†Jacali said.   “I don’t know,†Ophelia said. “I’ve heard mere rumors about them. They were from my time.†  “What is your time?†Dunspar said.   “Two hundred twenty five million years ago,†she said.   “How … how old are you?†he said.   She looked at him.   “That’s a very rude question to ask a woman!†Jacali said.   “Whatever do you mean?†Gemma said to Ophelia. “You talk from experience.†  Ophelia looked at her.   “You haven’t told her about the gate?†she said.   “What is this?†Gemma said.   “Wait!†Otto said. “Is this that snake person?†  “Yeah, I thought that was pretty clear, Otto!†Jacali said.   “You never told me!†  “We introduced our friend, Ophelia!†  “Yes, but you never told me!†  “I … ah what?†Gemma said.   “But … that’s not … that’s not a snake!†Dunspar said.   “Sh!†Jacali said. “Don’t think about it too hard.†  “That just makes me think about it more!â€Dunspar said.   Gemma looked at Ophelia carefully but she just looked like a woman. She didn’t see anything out of the ordinary about her.   “Yes,†Ophelia said. “Two hundred twenty five million years ago.†  “But … but … what do you mean?†Gemma said.   “She was a snake and now she’s a woman,†Otto said.   “Yes, like I told the professor over here, don’t think about it too hard,†Jacali said.   “But …†  “We’ve solved that riddle and it’s done.†  “Is she …?†Gemma said. She lowered her voice. “Is she safe?†  She realized she was sitting right next to the woman. There was no way she hadn’t heard.   “I’m sorry, I …†she said.   “Ophelia, do you feel safe?†Jacali said.   “I’ve not felt safe since I got here,†Ophelia said.   “She’s as safe as she’s ever been.†  “I’m surrounded by primitives.†  “I didn’t quite mean it like that but …†Gemma said.   “I thought we were primates,†Bowen said.   “Primates, evolutionarily, are our ancestors,†Dunspar said.   “No,†Bowen said. “Naw.†  “Yes,†Ophelia said. “they didn’t evolve until well after us. You are still only somewhat evolved.†  Dunspar knew from his studies that, if she was being truthful about 225 million years before, there weren’t even any primates around yet at that time. The first primates didn’t appear until roughly 50 to 55 million years ago. How she knew there were even primates was a mystery.   “Once again, how old are you?†Dunspar said.   She stared at him.   “I think we’ve been over this!†Jacali said. “This is a very rude question.†  Ophelia just gestured at Jacali. Bowen patted Dunspar on the shoulder.   “Please don’t touch me,†Dunspar said.   The all looked at him.   “He has dirt,†Dunspar said. “This is a nice suit.†  “His age is not contagious,†Ophelia said.   “No, but his dirt is,†Dunspar said.   She shook her head and rolled her eyes.   “But do you know something about what they are saying about this Crescent?†Gemma asked.   “I’ve never heard of the Crescent,†Ophelia said.   Bowen left the table, getting water from one of the dancehall girls to wash his hands with before returning.   “The Yithians have many secrets,†Ophelia said.   “And, also, what they did tell me in this dream was that the Crescent was something of their creation,†Jacali said. “They called it the harmonizer.†  “Harmonizer,†Dunspar echoed.   “So, we have three names for it now: the Horn, the Crescent, and the Harmonizer,†Jacali said.   “And the Silver Thing,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “And the Silver Thing,†Jacali said. “So whatever you want to call it is basically fine.†  They planned for Bowen, Weisswald, Otto, Jacali, and Gemma to go explore caves that night.   Lily returned just before closing time. She was very red in the face, flushed, and very happy. Then she looked a little upset.   “Dallas is so sweet,†she said. “He wanted to stay and guard the saloon so we don’t get rocks thrown through out windows tonight.†  “Rocks?†Otto said. “Has someone been doing this?†  “I think it’s some of the other hotel owners,†Lily said. “That’s what Dallas thinks too. They don’t want a woman to compete with them and we’ve been very successful. I’m on the main street here, right by the train station and they’re down the street and around the corner so, of course, people see the Gilded Lily first and this is where they want to stay.†  “You need a guard?†Otto said.   “I know how that is,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Right?†Lily said. “Yeah! Men! They’re so infuriating. But I’m just worried that it’s going to happen again tonight.†  “I am often infuriated by white men as well,†Jacali said.   “Especially arrogant old …†Lily growled.   “Lily, do you need a guard tonight?†Otto said.   “If you would like to guard, yes,†Lily said. “Maybe nothing will happen but if something happens …†  “The only thing I ask is that I don’t have to pay for room and board tonight,†Otto said.   “All right,†Lily said. “I’ll trade you for that.†  Otto determined to sit on the top porch to keep guard.   Lily and her dance hall girls cleaned up early and then Lily told them they could stay up as long as they wanted, asking them to pay for whatever they took from the bar if they kept drinking. Dunspar asked the price of some bottle of whiskey and she told it to him. She gave Gemma the keys to lock up.   Jacali asked Ophelia if she was still interested in technology and weapons and willing to learn from Otto and Dunspar about it. She wanted to learn how to use them more than anything. She had not yet seen guns fired and told them she assumed the two men were some kind of alchemists.   “I wouldn’t give them that much credit,†Jacali said.   Just a little before midnight, when they planned to close the place up, a man peeked in through the batwing doors of the establishment from the street. He was a young man with short, black hair and a boyish face. He wore plain clothing and took off his hat to hold it in his hands. He looked them all over the room and the bar.   “Saloon’s closed,†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Oh, all right,†the man said. “Is that … is that Gemma Jones?†  “Yes,†Gemma said.   “You’re supposed to say ‘Depends on who’s asking,’†Jacali quipped.   “Is that Lily’s sister?†the man said.   “Yes,†Gemma said.   He came into the room, holding his hat in his hands. He walked up to the table.   “You need to warn your sister about Dallas Avery,†the man said quickly.   “About Dallas?†she said.   “I don’t trust him.†  “I’m sorry, who are you?†  “Oh … uh … sorry. My name’s Patrick Mills. I work at the hardware store. Uh … I-I-I-I think that Dallas is up to something.†  “Whatever would make you think that?†  “I just feel it. It’s just … an instinct, you know? So …†  “Well, that … frankly that is not a good enough reason to walk into my establishment and question my sister’s life choices.†  His eyes opened wide.   “All-all right,†he said. “All right. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I just don’t feel like he’s - like he’s being completely honest. I’ll just leave you. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.†  He turned and walked out of the establishment.   “Strange man,†Dunspar said.   He went up to his room to read along with his bottle.     * * *       Otto stationed himself in the shadows of the balcony above the front porch.     * * *       The others went out into the badlands night with Bowen in the lead taking them southeast. They found a few abandoned mines that didn’t go very deep. Then they found a mine with a cabin outside that appeared to be inhabited, a little smoke trailing up out of the building. Bowen wanted to sneak into the mine.   “That’s the good one,†he said. “That’s the one.†  They went into the mine, Bowen and Dr. Weisswald lighting lanterns once they were in. The shaft was narrow and only five feet tall. A wooden mine car on makeshift wooden tracks led into the mine and they began exploring. It looked like the mine was actively being worked. They headed deeper in, the rail ending at the t-intersection ahead. They continued exploring through numerous branches and intersections for about an hour, Dr. Weisswald marking the way out with a scratch on the floor.   They eventually found a huge natural cavern. Stalagmites and stalactites decorated the place and a large crevasse in the center of the chamber fell away into the darkness below. Bowen cackled. It echoed through the place.   “What do you think they’re mining here?†Dr. Weisswald said.   “Silver!†Bowen said.   He cackled insanely and then ripped the sleeve of his shirt off and lit it on fire, tossing it in the cavern in the middle to see how far down it went. It went down and down and down and down before it finally went out.   “So, I don’t think we ought to go down this one,†Jacali said.   They thought they heard some kind of hissing from down there. They asked if Ophelia knew what it was and she didn’t. Dr. Weisswald tossed a rock in there and it didn’t hit for about 15 seconds.   “Well, the hissing could be gas escaping …†Jacali said.   “Let’s go back,†Bowen said.   They finished exploring the mine and found nothing else of real interest.   “Let’s come back with climbing gear,†Bowen suggested.   “What’s the point?†Gemma said.   Bowen scuffed out Dr. Weisswald’s markings and then snuck up to the cabin but it had no windows.   They returned to town where they saw Otto on guard on the balcony above.     * * *       They found more damage done to the Gilded Lily the next morning, Wednesday, August 18, 1875. Some window panes were broken in the front and some horrible, greenish brown paint had been splashed on the front porch and the front doors of the place.   “I thought you were guarding the place,†Dr. Weisswald said when she saw Otto.   “Wha-uh-I-uh-wha?†Otto said.   Lily was very upset, especially at Otto.   “I’ll slit their throats,†Gemma muttered when she saw the damage.   Lily went to the glassmaker again to get more panes of glass. Otto paid her for his room.     * * *       Gemma left, angry, going to the Bull’s Head Saloon. She found the place open that morning but there was no one there but the bartender and a bearded man in the corner near the bar. She went to the bartender and asked who was in charge. The man pointed to the bearded man in the corner who had thinning hair in the front and a pistol in his holster.   “Buck’s over there, ma’am,†the bartender said.   She walked over to the man who sat at the table, a ledger open in front of him and a bottle of whiskey on the table. He looked up as she approached.   “Well, what can I help you with?†he said as she approached.   “I need to have a talk with you,†she said.   “Well sit down. You wanna drink?†  “No, I do not.†  “Fair enough.†  “There’s only three saloons in this town. One of them is my sister’s, the Gilded Lily.†  Buck laughed.   “I know it,†he said.   “Oh, I’m sure you know it,†she said. “That’s why I’m here.†  “Why are you here?†  “Because you’ve been throwing rocks and paint all over my sister’s─†  “Whoa! Whoa!†  “─saloon.†  “I’ve not been doing any of that.†  “Oh, tell me you haven’t.†  “I just did.†  “I don’t believe you.†  “You don’t have to.†  “It’s either one of two saloons here and I suspect you.†  “Listen, little filly! I don’t need to throw rocks through windows in order to make my business or my way in the world. Understand? Your sister is outta line. She’s a woman, shouldn’t be running these kind of things.†  “I beg your pardon!†  “It’s just the truth.†  “It most certainly is not and you have no right─†  “She certainly is not going to cause me to break the law to put her out of business. I’m sure she’ll do that on her own pretty soon.†  “Well, just so you know … I’m keeping an eye on your business. And I can take you down whenever I please.†  “Well, you’re welcome to try.†  She turned and walked out.   She crossed the street to the Empire Hotel and Saloon. It was one of the larger and fancier buildings in town. It was freshly painted white and blue and had a large sign hanging over the boardwalk in front. The windows in the front of the building all featured colored and lead glass and they really gave the place a taste of high society.   The interior was just as fancy. The oak French doors in the front featured leaded and etched glass. They were wide open to allow for a breeze. To the right of the foyer was a lobby with a front desk where a well-dressed man with a prodigious mustache and well-groomed hair stood. A carved oak staircase led upstairs. To the left was the saloon with a long, intricately carved bar, a large mirror behind it.   Gemma walked up to the lobby desk where the registry book sat. On the wall behind the desk were a rack of room keys and a number of pigeonholes. A heavy iron safe was set into the wall under the stairs. Gemma could smell breakfast food.   “Yes ma’am,†he said in an upper-class British accent. “May I help you?†  “Yes, are you the owner?†she said.   “I’m Mr. Farnsworth, yes.†  “Mr. Farnsworth, I have a matter I’d like to speak to you about.†  “Very well. Do you need a room?†  “No, I don’t. I’ve come on behalf of my sister’s saloon: the Gilded Lily.†  “Oh.†  “She has been vandalized and─†  “Again?†  “Yes. There’s only two other saloons in this town and it must be one of you two. And/or both!†  “My dear, the Empire is doing quite well. I don’t need to resort to vandalism in order to continue doing well.†  “Oh, I know you’re doing well, but it’s not about that, is it?†  “I don’t follow.†  “It’s about principal! She’s a woman, right? That’s what you all think.†  “Well, she is a woman. But I don’t believe that I need to resort to anything illegal in order to drive her out of town. She’ll do quite well on her own.†  Gemma glared at the man.   “The figures and things … it’s quite beyond the female mind,†he went on.   She glared at him.   “You know, you see a pretty dress and you just have to buy it,†he said.   “Well just know, I will get to the bottom of whoever did this … and they will pay,†she said.   “I admire your spunk.†  “Oh, don’t bother.†  She turned and left the place.     * * *       Otto headed out of town for the day, looking for “Black†Jack McKinney.     * * *       Bowen went out to find out where Dallas Avery lived and soon learned he had a room in one of the boarding houses on the east side of town. It took him a little longer to narrow it down to the Widow Barrington’s Boarding House. It had four rooms that were all filled at the time, he learned.   He hung around the boarding house to try to figure out which room was Dallas’.     * * *       Dunspar went to the general store and asked if anyone had bought paint recently.   “Quite a few people,†Mabry told him. “Right now people are touching up their houses and businesses in hopes of construction starting on the courthouse soon.†  “Any of the saloon owners?†Dunspar said.   “Oh, no, I don’t think so,†Mabry said. “Neither Mr. Farnsworth nor Buck Hatch have purchased any lately.†  “Okay. Well, there’s just been some vandalism last night and I was just checking.†  “Oh yeah?†  “That’s all.†    * * *    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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