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The Iron-Banded Box Part 1 - Night of the Oni

Sunday, June 24, 2018   (After playing the Call of Cthulhu scenario “The Iron-Banded Box” by Michael Dziensinski from Strange Aeons II today from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Kyle Matheson, John Leppard, and Ben Abbott.)   It was a time of civil war in Japan known as the Sengoku or “warring states” Period.  Since the Onin War (1467-1478), the razing of Kyoto, and the subsequent weak rule of the Azuchi military rulers, all social order in the county had fallen into complete anarchy.  Political alliances changed constantly and feudal daimyo lords faced threats from without and within as their samurai subordinates tried to seize power for themselves.   Common folk and priests, disgusted with the lawlessness ravaging the countryside, formed egalitarian communities free of daimyo rule.  To take life’s daily hardships in stride, a commonsense wisdom of enduring misfortune had developed, as most could do little else.  Many felt the age of Mappo had arrived, the darkest of times where Buddhist law and morality disappeared from the land.   It was the golden age of the samurai, where bravery and a strong sword arm could determine one’s fortune or doom.   A group of six rônin, masterless samurai, were on the road seeking better fortunes since their daimyo was killed and his lands taken by a young upstart warlord some months before.  Hōjō Sōun was the first lord of the Hōjō clan.  Born Ise Moritoki, he was originally known as Ise Shinkurō, a samurai of Taira lineage from a reputable family.  He had worked his way up from a rônin until he gained control of Izu Province in 1493 when he avenged a wrong committed by a member of the Ashikaga family which held the shogunate.  It was then he adopted the surname Hōjō and the given name Sōun or Sozui.  He built a stronghold at Nirayama and then secured Odawara Castle, which became the center of his domain.   He died in the winter of 1519 when his stronghold fell and his samurai were scattered, becoming rônin.  Masterless.   For the last few months, the group had wandered the countryside brooding, the sting still fresh from the indignity of their new rônin status.  How could they establish a name in the new order when even the lowliest could overturn the elites?  With sharp swords and solid determination, they needed an edge to establish a new domain in the time of anarchy … if they didn’t slide into common banditry out of desperation.   The six had a falling out when two of them, brothers, had an argument.  The group had parted ways at that point, half of them heading south while the other half went north.  This is the tale of those who had traveled south.   Wada Soburô was 25 years old and was a large, muscular man standing a head taller than most.  His skin was deeply tanned and he wore his hair in a simple topknot.  He carried a katana and three yari, spears strapped to his back. He wore a rough cloth kimono and hakama.   The third oldest of the Wada family, Soburô had worked enough years as a farmer and suffered trampled fields by samurai enough to be very cynical about the lot.  He was amused when he and his brother, Gorô, were conscripted as soldiers and eventually promoted to samurai.  Practical as ever, he merely saw it as another way to protect his village.  However, now that he had gotten a taste for the warrior’s life, he liked it.  He was very cynical of the samurai and their ways however.   He and Gorô were the brothers who had argued and caused the rift in the party.  Soburô had argued that, as their master was dead, they had to move on with their lives and make something of themselves.  However, his brother Gorô had disagreed, thinking they needed to find a way to avenge their former master.  The group had split, for the most part, along those lines.  Gorô had left with Endô Soun and Doi Ihara.   Abe Masao was thin but sturdy with graying hair that was thinning on top.  He wore a green kimono and a hakama, a katana and wakizashi in his belt.  He was older than all the rest of the rônin at 48 years.  He no longer scraped his forehead for the chonmage hairstyle as he had gone bald long ago.  He had gray hair on his temples and had seen many battles.   Abe had served Lord Hōjō most of his life before his untimely death.  Though not sure what he was doing out with the young rônin, he couldn’t go home until he made a new name for himself.  A former Tiashô, a field leader, he had the wisdom the others did not.  He only hoped they would defer to him at times.   Oda Ino was 29 years old and had the shaved head of a Buddhist monk.  He had a light beard and mustache.    Though he started life as a Buddhist priest, at age 17, destiny had other plans for him when his monastery was burned to the ground by samurai.  Taking pity on him, a rônin who protected the nearby village took Oda under his wing and trained him in the warrior arts.  He had always been a rônin though his companions didn’t know it.  He sought to punish those who trampled the common folk.  He wasn’t above physical work and sought out the company of the common folk.   It was the summer of 1520 A.D. when the three men came upon the village of Kôhai-Mura in Izu Province.  The town consisted of three dozen or so sun-bleached buildings clustered around two central but narrow intersecting dirt streets that divided the buildings into a simple grid, an inn in the center.  The west side of town abruptly ended in a thick mountainside forest.  The arid air was absolutely still and the heat suffocating.   As the three entered town, it seemed they were not welcome.  The streets were empty, the only sounds being doors and windows creaking shut upon their arrival.  They could hear people off in the town to the east as they passed the inn.  Then they smelled food coming from a tavern nearby.  Their stomachs growled as they were all very hungry, having only a little of their dried fish left from the road.   Wada lifted his head and sniffed at the air.  He looked at the other two and then sprinting towards the tavern.  The other two looked at each other and then followed behind more slowly.   *              *              *   Wada burst into the tavern.  The omiya had a cluster of four low tables and stools which filled the room.  A dozen people were in the poorly-lit establishment, eating or drinking sake.  A middle-aged man in a simple black kimono stood behind a counter with space for about four stools.  Behind the counter and near the ceiling was a shelf with a small Buddhist altar with two fresh wooden planks.   The smell of rice, fish soup, cooked mountain yams, buns, and tea filled the room.  A few of the men were drinking warmed sake.  Wada’s stomach growled loudly.   Wada kicked off his sandals and crossed to the bar and the man in the black kimono.   “I humbly offer my services for any food or drink that you may spare,” Wada said to the man, putting his face humbly down on the bar.  “Please, I am a rônin.  I have no money.  May I please work for my food tonight?  Please sir.”   The man looked down upon him and considered it.   *              *              *   When Oda and Abe entered the tavern, they saw Wada at the bar, apparently begging the man behind it for something.   Oda saw the small Buddhist altar.  In Japan, Shinto ceremonies were performed for births and weddings while Buddhist ceremonies focused on funerals.  Buddhist mourning consisted of cremating the dead and storing the remains in an urn under the house for a period of time.  A Buddhist priest would give the dead a new posthumous Buddhist name which was inscribed on a plank of wood and prayed upon, both at the family or clan grave and in the home on a small, Buddhist altar.    The butsudan altar was a cabinet with a central image of the Buddha surrounded by candles, sandalwood incense, and wooden planks bearing the names of deceased relatives.  Daily offering of rice, sake, or fruit were placed at the base o the altar.  Living relatives wore black during the mourning period.   Oda removed his sandals, crossed to the Buddhist altar, and knelt down, saying a short prayer.  Abe removed his sandals and crossed to the bar.   “Oji-san!” the man behind the bar barked.   On old man came out of the back.  “Oji-san” meant “old man.”  He hobbled painfully over to the bar.   “Find him some work!” the man said, gesturing at Wada.  “And get him food.”   He left the bar to see to his other work.  Oji-san went into the back and returned with two plates of rice, cooked fish, and buns.  There was a very small carafe of sake as well, though it was little more than a swallow for each of them.  He gave them each tiny cups.   Wada groveled on the floor in thanks before he sat at the bar and dug in.  He poured himself some sake and poured a little less to Abe.  He drank and quickly poured out the rest of sake into his own cup.  Abe bowed slightly and then set to eating as well.   Oda, meanwhile, read the wooden planks on the altar.  They bore the posthumous names for “Ichirô” and “Mika.”  He saw the offerings of incense and rice there, indicating recent deaths.  The names were poorly scrawled and he guessed they had not been done by a Buddhist priest.   He walked over to the barkeep.   “I am very sorry for this town’s loss,” he said.   The barkeep grunted.   “You’ve already met my traveling companions,” Oda said.   The barkeep looked over at the men at the bar who ate.  He grunted again.   The tavern started shaking.  The walls and tables rattled.  A bottle of soy sauce tipped towards the edge of a shelf but Oji-san deftly caught it, righting it.  No one in the tavern seemed to give it any mind as if it was a common occurrence.   “I … I am looking for work as well, if you or anyone you know in the town …” Oda said.  “Are you … is this normal?”   “It has been happening,” the barkeep said.  “What can you do to pay for your meals?  Who are you?  Are you a monk?”   “I am a rônin,” Oda said.  “I was raised as a Buddhist monk.  I am trained in combat but I have two good hands─”   The barkeep pointed at the altar.   “Can you write?” he said.   “Yes,” Oda said.  “Calligraphy.  Very good at it.”   The barkeep took him to the altar as the earthquake subsided.  He showed Oda the planks and asked if he could do better.  If he could do that, he would give the monk meals for a day.  When the monk agreed, he fetched a half dozen planks for him to write on.  It took Oda a few tries before he wrote out two that he thought would be acceptable.  He also learned the man was Udai and Ichirô had been his son.  Mika had been his wife.   “Oji-san!” Udai shouted when he was done.  “Food!”   The old man brought the monk some rice, cooked fish, and sake as he took his seat with his fellows.   Three men stood up and approached the bar as the rônin finished their meal.  They were rough-looking fellows, one with a goatee and mustache, as well as a topknot.  Another had a mustache and a strange bump on his forehead.  The last was clean-shaven though he had a full head of hair, also pulled back in a knot.  Each of them had a wakizashi in their kimono sashes.   They leered at Abe’s katana.   “Greetings,” the first said.  “Welcome to Kôhai-Mura.  Allow us to buy you a drink.”   The rônin could smell sake and food on the men’s breaths but they did not seem drunk in the least.   “Yes!” Wada said.   “Come,” the man said.  “Join us.”   “Yes!” Wada said.   The three rônin joined the three men, who yelled for sake from Oji-san.  The old man hobbled over and brought a clay jug and six cups.  The first man poured for everyone at the table and they talked to the rônin.   “Where are you from?” the first man asked.   “I am Wada Soburô from the Izu Province,” Wada said, taking up his cup.  “I am a rônin.  My master is dead.  And now I am here to drink sake and enjoy life.”   All of the toughs laughed   “Sake!” one of them called out.   They all drank.  One of the toughs refilled the cups.  Then they looked towards Abe.    “Who are you, old man?” one asked.   “I’m Abe Masao,” he said.  “I am also a rônin.”   The men laughed at him, pointing at his katana and his wakizashi.   “Of course,” one said.   “He is the captain,” Wada said.   “The captain of the fallen samurai?” one of the toughs grunted.   Abe glared at Wada.   “Our fearless leader,” Wada said.  “You are the oldest one at the table.  They know you are the captain.”   “I could just be an old man,” Abe said.   “He’s just an old man!” one of the toughs cried out.   “Old!” another said.   “Who are you, monk?” the third said.   “My name is Oda,” the man said.  “I was raised as a Buddhist monk but my temple was destroyed by samurai.  I was raised as a warrior by a rônin who took pity on me and I have been a warrior every since.”   “But not a samurai,” one of the toughs said.  “Just a rônin.  A fallen samurai.”   “I am a rônin, yes.”   “Without family.  That’s a shame.”   “That’s a shame,” another said, obviously not meaning it.   “Sake!” the third called out.   Everyone drank and one of the toughs refilled their drinks.   “And have you found work in this town as samurai?” Oda asked.   The toughs all burst out laughing.  It was loud and obnoxious, like the braying of mules.  Wada laughed with them.   “We are not samurai,” one of them said.  “We are much better than samurai.”   “Then what do you do in this town that is better than samurai?” Oda asked.   The three men looked at each other.   “We work for Hebei,” one of them said.   “Hebei?” Wada said.   “At the gambling house,” the tough said.   “We will soon all be rich,” another of them said.   “We already are!” the third said.   He tossed some coins on the table to pay for the sake.  Wada started to reach for the coins, thinking they were for him, but then realized they were not.  The tough leered at him.   “You can become rich too,” he said.  “Come and work for Hebei.  At the gambling house.”   “Where?” Wada said.   “On the east side of town,” the man said.   “But you are just samurai,” another said.  “You might not be good enough.”   “Sorry … rônin,” another said, sneering.   “I hate my life,” Wada said.   Then, though he was not the smartest among them by any measure, Wada realized something: the three men were trying to goad them into a fight.  He had the impression the three men wanted to cut them down, cross steel with the three rônin.  They had been mildly insulting them since they had crossed their paths, laughing at everything about them.  For whatever reason, they were trying to provoke him.  He didn’t know if it was a test or they wanted to kill the rônin or just wanted an excuse to send them from the village.  It might have been because they were outsiders but he was not sure, exactly.   Both Abe and Oda were starting to feel inebriated from the sake.   Wada stood up suddenly.  Oda and Abe did so as well.   “It has been a pleasure drinking with you, but─” Oda said.   “It’s a shame we can’t say the same!” one of the toughs said.   They all burst into laughter.   “… but I must attend to my prayers,” Oda said. “While I am not a monk, I am still a Buddhist and it is my time to go and be with my prayers.   “Go!” another tough grunted.  “Be with Buddha.”   “I will go seek out Hebei,” Wada said.   “Yes, go seek out Hebei,” one of the toughs said.   They all laughed.   “You said the east side?” Wada said.   “East side,” another tough said.  “You can’t miss it.  Just follow your ears.”   “Follow my ears,” Wada said.   The three toughs giggled as the rônin retrieved their sandals and left the tavern, Oda thanking Udai for the work.  The man merely nodded at him.   Oji-san stopped Oda before he left.   “You need guide?” he said to the monk.  “What do you need me for?  He doesn’t need me.  What do you need?  Do you need something?”   “No …” Oda said.   “I can get something for you.  The town.  The earthquakes.  Ugh!”   “Yes.”   “If you need anything, you ask for Oji-san.  Oji-san will help you.”   “May I ask where the source of these earthquakes is from?  Are they recent?”   “Bad magic.  Be careful.  Be careful at night.”   “What happens at night?”   “If any of you need me, I will be near.”   They left the place and stopped in the street.  They heard a cheer from the east side of town.   “Maybe they weren’t lying about Hebei,” Wada said.   “Who this Hebei is sounds like something that is not good for this town,” Oda said.  “He’s the head of a gambling house.”   “Those men were quite rude but, seeing as how I have no food or coin on my person, I … believe making some coin with Hebei is in my best interests,” Wada said.   He walked down the street towards the east side of the village.   “Well, you’ll not find me working for Hebei,” Oda said, following him.  “These gambling houses take advantage of people who spend all their coin on fleeting glimpses of grandeur.  I think, if anything, that we must protect this town from Hebei.”   “Well, then, should we not see and meet Hebei to learn more about him?” Abe said.  “If we are either going to work with him … or deal with him … we need to know more about him.”   “I guess,” Oda said.   They caught up with Wada as he reached the gambling out.  The bakuchiya, or gambling hall, had a large entrance in the front.  When they entered, they found it was a smoky room within with two entrances and no windows.  A group of haggard and obsessed people sat in a row of low stools in front of a long, flat table.  One man cried out and covered his eyes from the sunlight that shined into the dim room when the rônin opened the door.   A thin yet muscular man, naked form the waist up and covered in dragon motif tattoos, was using a bamboo pole to stack in front of the customers wooden lozenges carved with numbers that indicated their bets.  A dog was tied to a post in one corner, barking furiously and pointlessly.   The man ran a dice game of betting on evens or odds, shaking the dice in a cup and then bringing it down on the table.  Bets were made and the man revealed the dice.  Behind him were four tough-looking men with swords.  Behind them were a set of four sliding rice-paper doors that led to the back of the gambling hall.  At each entrance was a pair of men with studded clubs.   A man on one side was selling cups of sake to the gamblers.   Oda stood by the wall and watched the proceedings.  Wada went to the man selling sake.   “Sake?” the man said.  “Sake?”   “Free?” Wada said.   “No!”   “I have nothing.”   “Why are you here?”   “Because I have nothing.  Do you know Hebei?  Where’s Hebei?”   “Hebei’s the boss!”   “Yes, he is.”   The sake seller pointed at the four men standing in front of the rice-paper doors.   “May I see Hebei?” Wada asked.   “Hebei sees no one,” the sake seller said.  “What’s wrong with you?”   He slapped the man on the shoulder.   “I need money,” Wada said.   “Get a job,” the rice seller said.   “I’m trying!” Wada said.   The sake seller looked the man up and down carefully.   “What are you?” he said.  “Samurai?”   “Was,” Wada said.   “Hm.  Come back tomorrow. Hebei will maybe give you a job as a bodyguard.”   “Bodyguard?”   “See them?”   The sake seller pointed at the men near the door with the clubs.   “If you don’t pay when you gamble: smash!” the sake seller said.   He gestured at his hand as if smashing it with a club.   “You good at smashing?” he asked.   “Better than most,” Wada said.   “You talk to Hebei tomorrow.”   “I talk to Hebei today!”   “Tomorrow.  He’s busy today.  I’ll tell him you came here.  What’s your name?”   “Wada.”   “I tell him Wada wants to see him.  All right?”   “May we watch?”   The sake seller looked uncomfortable.   “Eh,” he finally said.  “I don’t care.”   “I will watch,” Wada said.  “Thank you.”   Abe was petting the dog.   After a short while, they noticed one of the men was losing a lot of money.  The man was thin and spindly but with a fat face and a long mustache and beard that came to a point.  He was balding on top and seemed cowardly in his mannerisms.  He wore a little black hat and a faded black kimono that seemed too big for him.  He seemed almost supernaturally bad at gambling and got every dice call wrong.   One of the guards approached Oda.   “Are you going to play?” he said.   “I am here with my company,” Oda said.  “One of my traveling companions wanted to ask about a job working for─”   “Who?  Who?” the guard said.  “The other ones that aren’t playing?”   He snapped his fingers and the guards approached all three of the rônin.   “Play or get out,” each of them was told.   Abe sat at the table with his pittance of coins.  The men sitting near him looked at his coins and then, surprised, looked a second time, as if they could not believe someone would play with so little.  He grinned at them confidently.   “He plays for me,” Wada said to the guard.   “Play or get out,” the guard said to him.   “Then I will get out,” Wada said.   He and Oda left, escorted to the door by the guards.   *              *              *   Abe played only a few rounds of dice for his pittance.   In that time, he managed to quadruple his money, meaning he had enough to purchase a meal.  When he got up and left, the other gamblers staring at the man while the guards rolled their eyes.   *              *              *   The others waited outside in case Abe got into trouble as he didn’t have much money.  They were pleasantly surprised when the last rônin exited the building unharmed.  Abe looked pleased with himself.   “Look how much money I got,” he said to the others.  “I could buy a meal now.”   The ground shook again for about a minute.   “Great Buddha, what is going on?” Oda said.  “I am worried about a man I saw in there who was losing all his money.  He was wearing a black kimono.  Someone in mourning.  It must have been those other two … a relative of theirs.”   “Is this the work of a god, or the gods, or a spirit, Oda?” Wada asked.  “You are more religious than I.”   “Not anything I am familiar with.”   “Perhaps those in the afterlife are upset that you won that much money and you should give some of it to someone else.”   He held out his hand to Abe, who looked at him in disbelief for a moment before he slapped the man’s hand away with a frown.   “You will pay for that in the afterlife!” Wada said.   “Oji-san said there was black magic at foot causing the earthquakes,” Oda said.   Several townsfolk approached the three rônin, Udai in the lead.  They stopped some ways from the gambling house and Abe went to them.   “I never worked for my food,” Wada said to Oda.  “That must be what this is about.”   They followed Abe.   “We need your help protecting this town,” Udai said.   “How?” Abe said.   “There’s a terrible thing happening,” Udai said.  “Will you help?  We are willing to give you free room and board.  We cannot give you much more.  Will you help?”   “Are we enough?” Wada said.   “You are samurai!” Udai said.   The townsfolk looked at their weapons.   “Was,” Wada said.   “You know how to use a sword?” Udai said.   “Yes,” Wada said.   Udai turned to one of the other townsfolk.   “Do you know how to use a sword?” he asked.   “Wha?” the man said, surprised.  “No!”   Udai clapped his hands in front of the other man’s face.   “Room and board … and food?” Wada said.   “Room and board and food,” Udai said.   “Yes.”   “That’s what board is.”   “Yes.”   “Your friend is not smart.  No offense.”   “I know.”   “Apologies.  Will you help us?”   “I am not offended.”   “A terrible thing is happening to this village that must be stopped.”   Oda pointed back to the gambling house.   “Will you help?” Udai said.   “Yes, I will help,” Oda said.   “Will you help?” Udai said to Abe.   Abe nodded.  Udai turned to Oda.   “No no,” he said.  “Not them.”   “R-really?” Oda said.   “Yes.”   “All right.”   “They are Ryû-Ryôshû,” Udai said.  “The Ryû-Ryôshû are not the problem.”   Ryû-Ryôshû meant “Dragon Lords.”   The ground started shaking again.   “Is it this?” Oda said.   Udai nodded as they waited for the tremor to pass.  It lasted for about a minute.   “Some unspeakable monster arrives in the dead of night from the mountainside to abduct townsfolk,” he said.  “It is a dreaded event that everyone recognizes by the rhythmic earthquakes that shake the buildings for several long minutes, followed by a bloodcurdling scream of the victim.  We cannot go outside to help.  We are not armed.  We have no weapons.  We need someone to help us.  To stop this.  You have sealed a pact.  You have agreed to protect us from this thing.  Please stop it.  I will take you to the inn where you can have your rooms.”   The townsfolk muttered in agreement, all of them obviously fearful.   “Is the monster the thing that took your wife and son?” Oda asked.   “Yes,” Udai said.  “It takes many.  Every night, it takes someone.”   “I am terribly sorry,” Oda said.   Udai wiped a tear from his eye.   “Is there a pattern?” Abe asked.   “No,” Udai said.  “It comes into town.  It takes someone.  Screaming.  We hide and hope it doesn’t take us.”   The villagers muttered in agreement.   “Where from the mountains does it come down?” Oda said.   “We don’t know,” Udai said.  “Nobody will look.  We are locked in our homes in the hopes it will not smash through the wall and take one of us.”   “Hmm,” Oda said.   “Come, I’ll take you to the inn,” Udai said.   “Can you take us to the house of the person who was taken last night?” Wada said.   The tavern keeper looked at him.   “Yes,” he finally said.  “If you have nothing to take to the inn then come.”   They were taken to a small house with a large hole smashed into the side.  The hole was larger than a man.  Inside the room, blood was splattered around the floor and walls as if someone had been hurt.  Scratches on the floor had been left by someone trying not to be pulled out of the house.  Broken fingernails were also scattered amongst the scratches.  Whatever had pulled the person out of the sleeping chamber had been immensely strong.   They spent some time examining everything in and around the room.   “No one has seen this?” Wada said.  “Ever?”   “It’s been going on for more than a week,” Udai said.   They learned it had rained that morning so any tracks would have been obliterated.   “This thing is big,” Wada said.   Wada took the other two rônin aside in the room and spoke to them in a low voice.   “What are the consequences of breaking a pact?” he said, unsure.   “Oh, the townsfolk are clearly suffering from this,” Oda said.  “It is our solemn duty, not only as rônin, but as fellow members of this Earth.”   “You’re starting to sound like my brother.”   “If it was happening to rich folks, I’d be … uh.”   “Maybe we should leave and hope it takes Hebei then.”   Abe reached over to slap Wada in the face.  Wada tried to block the blow, realizing it was coming, but the man easily slapped him regardless.   “Stop hitting me, old man,” Wada said.   “You have terrible ideas,” Abe said.   “That thing is big!  We only fight other men!  This is something else!  Am I the only one that sees blood and the big hole in the wall and says ‘Not for me?’”   “But, as Oda said, it is our duty.”   “You are samurai,” Oda said.   “Was a samurai!” Wada said.  “We are rônin now!  We beg for food!”   “Is there a problem?” Udai said, peeking in the huge hole.   “No problem,” Wada said to him.   The innkeeper stepped back out of the house.   “If you wish to break your vow, I will not blame you,” Oda said.  “But this is something I must do.”   “And I will do it with you,” Abe said.   “Not for my honor as much as for the people of this town.  I have seen people in mourning, losing the rest of their savings to gambling, and it is clear that this town is helpless with the only other warriors being bodyguards of … gambling rings.  You all can decide on your own, but I have made my decision.”   “I will stand with you for it is my duty as a samurai.  Well, as a rônin.  It is my duty to protect these people and I will do it for my honor as well.  We have made an agreement.  We will deal with the issue or die trying.”   “Is this the second time today you’ve agreed to something for food before you knew what it was?”   Abe noticed Udai was obviously trying to eavesdrop on their conversation.  He shooed the man away and he went outside.   Wada looked at his feet in shame and fear.   “This is not for me,” he said.  “I am sorry.”   He left immediately.  Oda watched the man go, heading south in the direction they had been walking when they had come to the town.  Udai peeked into the hole again.   “Is-is there a problem?” he said.   “You have my blade,” Oda said.   Udai looked terribly relieved and looked towards Abe, who nodded.   “Come come,” Udai said.  “I will take you to the inn so that you may sup and rest.”   Oda looked for Wada but the man was out of sight, having left town.  He thought he couldn’t blame him too much but was still disappointed.   It late afternoon when Udai took them to the inn.  The rest of the villagers went their separate ways.   The nondescript yado was old and neglected with ancient tatami mats on the floors.  The smell of sandalwood incense permeated the building.  In the front room was a beautiful young woman, her hair bound in a bun.  She was in her 20s and wore a black kimono.  She was chanting in prayer in front of a small Buddhist shrine with freshly painted funeral tablets.  It looked all too familiar.  She abruptly stopped when the door opened and greeted the rônin, taking their sandals as they stepped into the yado’s entrance.   A man Oda recognized as the loser from the gambling hall also entered the room.   “Hikyô, they are going to help us with the horrors at night,” Udai told him.   Udai introduced him as the innkeeper: Hikyô, who introduced them to his daughter, Chiyo.   “Take them to their rooms,” Hikyô said.   “I am terribly sorry for your loss,” Oda said to them.   Both of them bowed deeply.   “I was trained as a Buddhist monk,” Oda said.  “If you would like me to work on the calligraphy on those …”   Both of them seemed delighted at that.   “My brothers are dead,” Chiyo said.   She broke into tears.  There was a noise from the back hall and an old man came out, merely a silhouette in the darkness.   “Chiyo!” he screamed.  “Shut up!”   Then he went back wherever he’d come from.  Oda glared down the hallway.   “Come come!” Chiyo said.  “I apologize.  Come.  I will take you.”   She took them to their rooms and bid them wait there.  She soon returned with food, tea, and sake for each of them.  While they ate, another tremor shook the inn.  Dust sprinkled from the walls.   It was after dark when Chiyo returned for the bowls and cups.  She told each of the rônin the town had a hot spring and hot or cold baths were available.  She noted as they were helping the village, they could use the baths for free.   It had been a while since either of them had a hot bath.  Japanese bathing involved scrubbing down with soap, rinsing, and then soaking in a large tub full of hot water, the furo.  The pastime was considered very relaxing and had developed into an industry as people sought out natural hot water springs set in beautiful vistas or bearing waters infused with minerals said to have medicinal properties.   Both of them decided to take their wakizashi with them.   Chiyo led them to a building connected to the yado by a breezeway to the back entrance of the bathhouse.  They realized there was a back and a front entrance.  The girl gave each of them a wooden token carved in the shape of an oni, a demon.  She told them the place was called Jigoku No Onsen or Hell’s Spring because the minerals in the natural hot spring turned the water rust-red.  The minerals bubbled up like magma in the spring and were believed to have healing powers.  She told them the town was developed when the hot springs was found and the bathhouse was built around it.   The two both took a hot bath and both of them took their wakizashi in with them.  It was heavenly.  They had not bathed in that way for a long time.  They scrubbed themselves down and then got into the hot spring.  The water was hot and rusty red and felt divine.   As they relaxed, the door burst open and Oji-san came in.   “Hey, can I help?” he said.  “What do you need?  Do you need something from me?  I can get you something.”   “I’m fine,” Abe said.   “Can I take your weapons?”   “No.”   “You don’t need anything?”   “No.”   “Oh.  Okay.  Good.  Good.  Good.”   “Wait.”   “Yes?  You need something?”   “Why do you keep … why are you here?”   “What?”   “Why are you in the bathhouse?”   “To help you.  I understand the great rônin are going to help our village.  So I wanted to help you.”   “But─”   “Do you need any help?”   He turned to Oda.   “Do you need any help?” he said.  “Do you need food?  Do you need beverage?  I could bring you sake.”   “I will be fine,” Oda said.  “Thank you.”   “Oh,” Oji-san said.  “Okay.”   He left and they went back to relaxing in the tub.   It was a short time later when the door opened again and five men entered the room.  They were dressed and all of them were armed with wakizashi.  They walked around the tub, surrounding it.  Oda put one hand on Abe’s arm and put his other hand on his wakizashi.  He stood up, weapon in hand, water dripping from his naked body.    “What is the meaning of this?” he said.   The men looked the two of them over as Abe stood as well, weapon at hand.   “The meaning is … you are not wanted here!” one of the men said.   They all drew their wakizashi.   Oda took a single step and stabbed the man who’s spoken in the belly.  The man cried out and stumbled back, crashing against the wall and falling to the ground, dropping his weapon.   Abe swung at one of the other men and sliced his clothing, barely blooding the man.   Two of the thugs attacked each rônin.  One of them stabbed Oda in the back though he parried the other with a backhand thrust.  Abe parried both of the blows coming from the men who attacked him.  Oda turned and swung at the man who had stabbed him but the man parried the blow with a nasty grin.  Abe stabbed one of his opponents and the man stumbled back and fell to the ground, crying out in pain and slumping to the floor.   They suddenly felt the ground shudder underneath them and large ripples sloshed the water in the tub.  It was not constant as the quakes before had been, but a rhythmic yet thunderous pounding like a drum.  It was as if something huge was walking through the night.   The thugs looked at each other in terror.  Abe took advantage of their confusion to stab one of  them while Oda slammed the pommel of his wakizashi to another.  Instead of fighting back, the three fled, leaving their unconscious companion.  The man whom Oda had stabbed tried to crawl away, trailing blood, but Abe grabbed his foot and dragged him back into the bathhouse.   *              *              *   Wada had left the town out of fear of whatever horror had taken away the villagers.  He had not traveled more than a hundred yards before he realized he could not bring himself to leave the village to its fate or his brothers in arms to theirs.  He crept back to the village after it got dark to watch it from afar.   The thing that walked into Kôhai-Mura was so tall as to stand well over any of the buildings.  It was horrible to look upon, standing 20 feet tall and having huge, terrible horns and great ears.  The oni had huge tusks coming from the lower part of its jaw and wore only a loincloth.  It dragged a massive tetsubo, an iron club, in one hand.   It came into the village on the east side, going to the gambling hall where it smashed in a wall and reached in.  He heard someone screaming.  The oni pulled out what appeared to be a man, who grabbed onto the broken wall.  The oni pulled on him once, twice, and, the third time, there was a crunch and a pop and something flopped to the ground as the man let out a shriek and the horror stood back up again.  It walked to the west as the man struggled in its grip.   Once he lost sight of the horror, Wada ran down to the village.   *              *              *   Oda and Abe heard a scream from somewhere in the village.  They heard the men outside scream and then flee.  Abe moved to quiet their prisoner but the man had already gone completely silent.  He was very pale and shook in terror as he stared at the door that led to the hallway and then to the street.  Oda crossed the narrow hallway to peek out the door.   The thing that walked down the street was awful to behold.  It held a man in one hand and as the figure struggled, something splattered against the wall, a warm liquid also hitting Oda.  He could smell blood.  Abe saw dark liquid splatter on the floor near Oda.   Suddenly, something flew out of the air from Oda’s left.   *              *              *   Wada had made his way into the village, ducking between the houses to try to keep them between him and the oni.  When he entered the main street where it walked, he found himself next to the bathhouse.  He flung his spear at the horror, striking it in the center of the back.  The oni let out a shriek and turned and looked around.   *              *              *   Oda recognized the spear that struck the terrible beast as one of Wada’s.  He turned and ran back into the room with the hot spring bath.   “Wada is fighting this thing!” he said to Abe.  “We must retrieve our weapons!”   He ran out of the other door to the bath, heading for the inn.   *              *              *   Outside, Wada had seen Oda peek out of the bathhouse door before disappearing inside once again.  He also recognized the thing as an oni, a demon.  Without thinking, he drew another spear and flung it at the thing, missing it completely, the weapon flying past its head.  As the oni turned to watch the spear fly by, he fled, running into the alley by the bathhouse and towards the back, ducking out of sight of the horrible demon.   *              *              *   Abe crept to the door to the building to peek out.  He saw the oni, the terrible thing looming over the bathhouse and every building in the village.  It looked around in confusion and he ducked back into the bathhouse and fled after Oda.   *              *              *   As Wada came around the side of the bathhouse to the breezeway between it and the inn, Oda burst out of the bathhouse naked, wakizashi in his hand, and ran towards the inn.  Oda looked his way.   “I-I’m getting my pole arm!” he said.   “Oda!” Wada said.  “Oh!”   Oda ran towards the inn.  Wada could see the figure of the oni moving west but it was quickly out of sight and he realized the creature was probably faster than he was.  He was glad he had not tried to run down the street.  He didn’t think he would have been able to outrun it.   A moment later, Abe ran out of the bathhouse, naked as well, and stopped when he saw him.   “What’s going on?” Abe said.   Wada tried to climb up the side of the bathhouse without luck.  He turned to Abe.   “Can you help me?” he asked.   “Sure,” Abe said.   Abe gave him a leg up and he climbed to the tiled roof of the bathhouse.  He looked around and could hear the oni still walking away to the west, but could not see it.  He ran along the roof of the breezeway towards the inn and found a window at the top of the breezeway.  He let himself into the second floor, finding himself on a dimly-lit landing.   Oda ran by where he stood, rushing into his room.  Wada ran to the opposite side of the landing and looked out the window there, trying to see where the oni went.  He saw it enter the forest on the west side of the village and disappear into the foliage.   *              *              *

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

The Iron-Banded Box Part 2 - The Blood Garden

*              *              *   Abe went back into the bathhouse and found the man who had been injured was gone, having crawled away.  The unconscious man still lay there.  He dragged the unconscious man out of the room and towards the inn.   *              *              *   Oda ran out into the passage with his pole arm and saw Wada looking out of the window.   “All right, Wada,” he said, naginata in hand.  “I am prepared.  Where is the monster?”   “It is gone,” Wada said.   Oda looked at him for a moment.   “Next time, then,” he said.   “I injured it,” Wada said.  “There might be a blood trail.  It seemed very agitated.”   “Oh.”   Wada told Oda he had gone into the forest to watch the village from afar, that being his plan all along.   “We could have just done that … if you’d told us,” Oda said.   “Yes,” Wada said.  “Perhaps we could have.”   He turned to leave but then looked at Oda more carefully.  He pointed at the blood seeping through his clothing.   “Did the oni do that to you?” he asked.   “Oh, you mean this,” Oda said.  “There were a group of armed men, not samurai or rônin like us, but … not warriors, but men with swords came and ambushed us in the bathhouse, which is why I was running around with my … swords out.”   They heard a bumping on the stairs and Abe came up, dragging one of their attackers by his feet.  The man’s head bumped on the steps.   “Here’s one now,” Oda said.   “Why did they attack you?” Wada said.   “The reason that they gave us is that we are not welcome here.  Which was not a very good reason.”   “Why is it the oni wears more clothes than you two?”   They took the unconscious man into one of the rooms and bound his wounds.  They also saw to Oda’s wounds as well.  Oda hurt himself further in his attempts at binding the wound when he wrapped it too tightly.  Abe wrapped the wound up again.   Oda realized there might be some clue as to what was going on at the site the oni attacked.  When he told the others, Wada mentioned the oni had attacked the gambling house.  That surprised Oda.  Wada told him the thing had smashed its way through the wall and took someone.   “I believe half of the man is still at the gambling house,” he said.   “Oh,” Oda said.  “Who would still be at the gambling house this late at night.  If there were a large group, perhaps there would be witnesses.”   “There was screaming.  I believe they were still gambling.”   “Maybe we should─”   “We should go there now, I believe.”   They took two of the paper lanterns from the walls.   “What do we do with him?” Abe asked, nudging the unconscious thug.   “Ah,” Oda said.  “Do you think that our hospitality was … ill-offered or that this happened─?”   “They tried to kill us!”   “Well, I mean, but were they with the people who were housing us or did they just know we’re here is what I’m asking.”   Abe shrugged.   “Do you think it safe to stay here any longer?” Oda said.   “But he could have information about why he attacked us,” Abe said.   “True.  We could … have one person watch him.”   “I could stay here and watch him.”   “Be armed and be aware of other people coming.”   “Or you could stay here and watch him because you’re injured.”   “Well … yeah.  Either way.”   “I … I’m not trying to fool you old man, but I might need your coins in case they make us gamble to get in,” Wada said.   “Despite the giant hole in the wall?” Oda said.   “I do not know how Hebei works.  They were pretty insistent that you must have coin to get in.”   “Fair enough.  If you must have coin to get in the hole that he opened …”   Wada and Abe left Oda with the unconscious thug.   *              *              *   It was quiet and dark at the gambling house.  The front doors were closed and there was a great hole in the wall.  Splatters of blood were sprinkled all over the scene and a severed hand with tattoos lay on the ground near the hole.  The wrist of the hand was roughly ripped as if the man had not let go until the hand had been ripped free.   Examination of the hole proved it entered into a small room in the back of the gambling house.  The room had a pile of personal gear and goods of various kinds, probably things lost gambling, including some weaponry and cheap jewelry.  Atop the pile of goods was an odd box the size of a coffin.  It was iron-banded and looked very valuable.   Wada looked around.  No one was on the streets and there was no sound at all.   He went to the iron-banded box and examined it, finding it was made of sacred hinoki wood (Japanese cypress) and reinforced with by iron bands and rivets.  Along both edges of the lip where the box opened was a strange script of glyphs.  The box was latched shut but some scrapes upon it indicated it might have been recently opened.   “Abe?” he said.   “Yes,” Abe said.   “Do you want to open this?”   “That would be stealing.”   “From a dead man?”   Wada looked down at the hand on the ground.   “I’m not sure why opening the box would be helpful in the situation,” Abe said.   Wada suddenly remembered something horrifying.  He remembered an old story about an iron-banded box and told Abe.   Long, long before, the infamous oni king of Rashomon Gate in Kyoto had his armed severed by the brave samurai hunter Watanabe, one of the five retainers in service to the great ogre killer Raiko, who was said to have wiped out all the oni in Japan.  Watanabe was said to have chopped off the oni’s arm and sealed it in the iron-banded box after a fierce battle with the ogre, in order to deny the cowardly demon the chance to retrieve its arm.  It was magically sealed so the other oni could not find it and take it away as, if they returned it, he would retrieve his powers.  However, if the box was ever opened, the oni could detect the arm.   “We must take this box now,” Wada said.  “And this.”   He picked up a spear to replace the one he had lost.   “Come captain,” he said.   They lifted the iron-banded box and headed back to the inn.   They had noticed a gully going down the middle of the street and Wada guessed it had been caused by the giant club the oni dragged behind him.   On their way back to the inn, Abe saw the spear Wada had thrown that missed.  He pointed it out.  Without a word, Wada dropped his half of the iron-banded box and went to retrieve the spear, much to the annoyance of Abe.   “Thank you,” Wada said, picking up his end of the iron-banded box again.   They continued on to the inn and returned to the room where Oda and the unconscious thug waited.   “Oda, poor me some sake,” Wada said.   “This will ruin the tatami!” Oda quipped.  “What are you doing?”   “I will tell you what we are doing if you poor me some sake.”   “This room is very crowded.”   Unfortunately, there was no sake in their room.   Wada told Oda what he knew about the iron-banded box and the oni.   “So … someone opened this,” Oda said.   “Hebei,” Wada said.  “I believe Hebei opened it.”   “I didn’t like Hebei before and I still don’t like it now.”   “But I still have the question of who had this box and brought it here.”   “I feel like the question more so should be what do we do with it?” Abe said.   “We don’t open it,” Wada said.  “I tell you that.”   “But we just can’t keep it here.”   “We must dispose of it.”   “How?”   “I do not know.”   “You two are the more … spiritual …”   “They didn’t train me in demons,” Oda said.   “Perhaps someone like … Oji-san knows more about the folklore of the oni and the kind oni than I do,” Wada said.  “All I have heard is about the iron-banded box but perhaps Oji-san knows how to get rid of it.  If nothing else, we could take it to the coast and drop it in the ocean.”   “I was thinking about putting it in a big body of water like a river or lake or ocean.  Those are all good.”   “Anything bigger than a bathhouse.”   “Now, I have a question,” Abe said.  “Would opening it again, as it’s been opened, do anything?”   “I believe we should not do that,” Wada said.   “But what if the arm’s gone?”   “I don’t think the arm is gone.”   “I think if the arm was gone, the demon king would have his power,” Oda said.   “I am also … it was very dark, but I did not see the oni dragging an arm,” Wada said.  “Or maybe it was the club that he had.  Was the club the arm?  It was too dark.  No.  It was a club.”   “Well, you all carried the box,” Oda said. “Is it just the box or is there something inside?”   “I think that the arm is still in this box.  But if we were to open this box, we run the risk of attracting more oni to this location.  I think we should speak to Oji-san in the morning.”   Upon further thought, Oda realized they should probably take the box to Kyoto to one of the Buddhist monasteries on Mount Hiei.   “The monks in Kyoto might be able to do something about it,” he said.  “We could make it their problem instead of ours.”   “I like this plan,” Wada said.  “Should we still tell the villagers in the morning what has happened?  Why this was caused and that it will stop once we take this iron box out of here?”   Oda wasn’t sure it would stop.   “You said, in the legend, that once the box was opened, the oni could detect the arm,” he said.   “Yes,” Wada said.   “Why haven’t they come for the box?”   “I would assume they don’t know where the box is.”   “But, didn’t you pull this out of the hole where the man was taken?”   “Yes.  But …”   “So, why was he that close but he still didn’t get the box?”   “Maybe the box was open once.  That attracted the oni to the location, or this oni to the location, but it has not been open again, so it’s looking for the box, but it doesn’t even know that it was that close tonight.”   “So, that suggests that if we move the box to Kyoto─”   “And open the box.  Or that if you’re in another location and you open the box, they know it’s over there now.”   “True.  But if we move the box to Kyoto and they don’t open it, does that mean that the oni still come here, looking for the box that’s never there?”   “Probably.  That’s my guess.”   “Unless the monks could do something to send out a signal to the other oni that it’s just gone and they shouldn’t look for it.  I don’t know how we will …”   “What if we got the box out of the village and opened it, safely far away?  The oni only comes at night.  Or … they have.  But either way, you think it best to take it to Kyoto, correct?”   “I-I see what you’re saying.  If we open the box on the road to Kyoto in the middle of some field─”   “Daylight.”   “In daylight.”   “Please.”   “We could attract the oni somewhere else.  And then, we would deliver the box to Kyoto.”   “Do we have to go all the way to Kyoto?” Abe said.   “If we want to deal with the box, I think it’s the best idea,” Oda said.  “If we address the village with this concern and they realize this is a good too or realize it’s a good idea, we could ask them for a cart to try and haul it along so we aren’t carrying this giant box all the way.”   “I would like to talk to Oji-san as he is older and he might have heard of these things as well,” Wada said.  “It couldn’t hurt.  They already know this monster is destroying their village.  Letting them know it’s an oni and he’s trying to retrieve the arm for the oni king changes nothing for them.”   “And on top of that, some of us weren’t welcome, apparently, and needed a bathhouse murder.”   “We should probably address that.  The distance we would have to travel is another reason to talk to Oji-san.  In case there’s an easier route.”   “True.”   “So, sleep on it?”   “It garners more investigation in the morning.”   They tied up the prisoner.  Wada took Abe’s room while the iron-banded box and the unconscious prisoner remained in Oda’s room with him and Abe.   *              *              *   They were awoken the next morning by the sound of a hammer outside.  Oda and Wada went to investigate and found, in the street, several Ryû-Ryôshû nailing up a sign declaring the new ownership of the inn by Hebei.  Hikyô was wailing and trying to stop them but two of the Ryû-Ryôshû restrained him.   “We might want to get this box out secretly,” Wada said to Oda.  “Why don’t you get the townspeople to meet you at the tavern, draw their attention there, telling them we have information on what has been attacking the village.  Me and the captain get this box out into the woods, at least, so that the Dragon Lords don’t find out that we robbed them last night, and we will tell them about the oni king story once we’ve hidden the box.”   Oda looked at him.   “I don’t know what they’ll do if they find out we took the box,” Wada said.  “It’s technically Hebei’s but I don’t know if he’ll reason with us when we tell him we need to take the box.”   “I also feel like he might have seen the connection,” Oda said.  “I feel like─”   “He might know as well.  Can you do that, Oda?”   “Sounds okay, although I am still worried, especially with Hebei owning this establishment and with the attack last night.  It makes me think that this might not be a safe place to stay for us any longer.”   “Yes.”   “We will need to find new lodging shortly.”   “Should we even mention the box at the meeting?  We could tell them of the folklore, about the box and the arm and how the oni want to retrieve it.  But I don’t think we should say that we know that it’s definitely here or anything like that.”   “I think that’s a smart idea.  Feigning innocence is always good in the face of death.”   “Then we can ask: ‘Has anyone seen this box?’”   “Yes.  I will say it at the meeting.”   Oda went to call the meeting.  He gathered everyone he could in town in an hour’s time, after they had all quickly broken their fast.   The villagers gathered at the tavern and Oda noticed several of the Ryû-Ryôshû were there, watching him carefully.  He told them all of the story Wada had told them, leaving out the fact that the rônin had found the iron-banded box out of the story.   “What will you do?” someone asked.  “What will you do about this?”   “How will you stop it?” another villager asked.   Oda asked if anyone knew anything about what was happening with the oni upon when it started or what might have caused it.  The villagers only knew it started a week or so before.  None were certain of an exact date or how long it had been.  They persisted in asking him how the rônin would stop the terrible thing.  Oda said the rônin were willing to try to kill the thing, which raised a cheer amongst the villagers.  He noted that while they would do that, the thing looked horrible.   An older woman fainted dead away.   Oda confessed that even if they were successful, it didn’t mean there were more of the creatures out there.  He said the whole village needed to group together to deal with the thing.   *              *              *   While the village met, Wada and Abe carried the iron-banded box quickly out the front door of the inn.  Unfortunately, as they left the building, around the corner came several of the Ryû-Ryôshû.  They recognized the three men who harassed them when they first arrived at the village among them.  The four Ryû-Ryôshû stopped and watched the two.   “‘Just walk out the front door,’ you said,” Abe muttered.  “‘No one will see us.’”   “Ah, the great samurai are now carrying coffins!” one of them said.  “Are you coffin-makers now, samurai?”   The Ryû-Ryôshû all laughed loudly and obnoxiously.   “Yes, yes,” Wada muttered.  “Yes, we are.”   “Buddhists!” another of the men said with disgust.   They carried the iron-banded box down the street and to the woods, where they hid it in the undergrowth.  Abe marked a tree nearby to help them find it later.   “Why … didn’t they stop us?” Wada asked.   “Maybe─” Abe said.   “Does only Hebei know of the box?”   “Probably.  That’s what I would assume.  They called it a coffin.”   “Then we shall say it is a coffin.”   *              *              *   The meeting at the tavern broke up and, as Oda headed back to the inn, several of the Ryû-Ryôshû approached him.   “Hebei wants to talk to you and your friends,” one of them said to him.  “Come to the gambling house in one hour.”   “One hour,” Oda said.   The thugs walked away.   Oda went in search for Oji-san, finding him at the tavern.   “How can I help you, master?” the old man said.   “I was just wondering if you knew what was going on with the oni,” Oda said.  “What might have caused it.  Have you heard of the story that I told?”   “I heard of the story,” Oji-san said.  “It’s a terrible thing.  An iron-banded box, you say?   If it’s true, someone has it and they’ve opened it and let the oni know where it is now.  It’s a terrible thing!  It’s a terrible thing!”   He shook his finger at Oda.   “Have you ever heard of what might stop the oni if we … dispose of the box somehow?” Oda said.   “It will have to be killed!” Oji-san said.  “It will have to be destroyed!”   “The box would?”   “No!  The oni!   “The oni?”   “The oni will have to be killed.  Destroyed.”   “But there’s only one?  You’re sure?”   “I don’t know if there’s only one.”   “But you just said it had to be destroyed.”   “You just said ‘How do we deal with the oni?’”   “I said the box!  The box, Oji-san.”   “I misheard!  I misheard, master!  I misheard, master!  I’m unworthy!  I’m unworthy.”   “I’m sorry I said anything with my mouth, ever.”   “No, the oni will have to be destroyed.  I do not know what to do about the iron-banded box.”   “Well, I apparently have a meeting with the local gang lord I have to go to in exactly one hour and I don’t know where my friends are exactly.”   “No!  Not the local gang lord!  He is a terrible and formidable foe!  Beware of him!  Beware!  Beware!  Do not mention my name!”   Oji-san ran away.   *              *              *   The three rônin soon got together again.  Hikyô found them as well, telling them they could stay one more night but that they would have to leave the next day.  A single tear rolled down the old man’s cheek.   “My only possession was this inn,” he said.  “What will my daughter do now?”   “Hikyô─” Oda said.   “Hikyô, I would advise you not to sell your daughter into slavery,” Abe said.   Hikyô looked sad, nodded, and walked away.   “Don’t gamble anymore!” Oda called after him.   He turned to Abe.   “Why would you tell him that!?!” he said to the older man.  “I didn’t even think he thought of that.  Buddha!”   Wada also looked at Abe.   Oda told them of Hebei wanting to see them and they described where they had hidden the iron-banded box.  Wada told him some of the Ryû-Ryôshû had seen them with the artifact.  They discussed taking their weapons and eventually decided to do so.   *              *              *   At the appointed hour, they arrived at the gambling house.  There was no gambling going on and, as they entered the hall peacefully, they saw six Ryû-Ryôshû armed with wakizashi flanking the open shoji doors leading to the room beyond.  It was pitch back in the back room.  Hebei was only a shadow.   “I compliment you on your martial prowess after your battle with my Ryû-Ryôshû,” the voice from the darkness said.   “That was my first question,” Oba said.   “But your welcome in my town is wearing thin,” Hebei said.  “However, there is a bigger problem of … the thing … that has taken one of my men and has attacked my gambling hall.  I have lost men to these midnight abductions and I can see profit with working with you to take it down.  I also need peace in my town to conduct business.  Are you willing to agree to a truce?”   “We assumed we had a truce when we entered the village,” Wada said.   “You assumed wrong,” Hebei said.   They stared at each other for a while.   “What are the …” Wada said.   “Conditions,” Abe said.   “Yeah, what are the conditions?” Wada said.   “How are you willing to help us?” Oda said.   “I am willing to help you if, afterwards, you leave this town and never look back,” Hebei said.   “Fine with me,” Wada said.   “I mean we basically got a meal and a nice rest and I even got a bath out of it, so …” Oda said.  “All in all, better than expected.”   “Can I ask you a question, Hebei?” Wada said.  “Why are you threatened by us?  We are just traveling rônin.”   “Exactly,” Hebei said.  “You are honorable men.  Some of the men in my employ are not so honorable.  They are realists.  But you value a code.  You protect certain people who deserve to lose everything because they are fools!”   “I actually agree with you on that one,” Wada said.   “We might do business later,” Hebei said.   Abe realized they might be able to get some other concessions out of Hebei.  He seemed desperate to get rid of the demon.   “You’re wealthy, are you not, Hebei?” Abe said.   “Wealthy enough,” Hebei said.  “For now.”   “Could we earn some monetary compensation?” Abe said.   “For the road, of course,” Oda said.  “When we leave.”   “Or some equipment to make our travels easier,” Abe said.   “You could,” Hebei said.  “What do you need?”   “What do you have?”   “No no no, fool.  It will not go that way.  If you tell me what you need, I possibly could acquire it for you.  The way I acquired an inn yesterday.”   “One thousand coins,” Wada said.  “This is an oni we’re talking about.”   “I would enjoy some traveling expenses for when we leave town,” Oda said.  “At least enough for meals to go on the road and enough money to get us to the next town.”   “I would also like─” Abe said.   “Discuss it amongst yourselves!” Hebei said.  “And bring me a tally of what you think you want in one hour and then we will discuss again.”   He clapped his hands and a man on either side of the door slid them shut.   They left the gambling house and went to the inn.  They found Chiyo crying in the room downstairs.  Abe suggested one of their conditions might be that Hikyô could not gamble any more.  They spoke of adding a cart to the tally as well.  Wada thought Hebei feared the oni and knew they were the only ones who could get rid of it.  Oda agreed.  He also thought they should ask for weapons and armor to fight the oni as well.   They returned at the appointed time to talk to Hebei once again.  The half-dozen men were there and Hebei was again hidden in the shadows of the other room.   “What do you want?” he asked.   “Well, this is a task that we don’t think anybody has ever dealt with before and it’s one that we very well think could cost us our lives,” Oda said.  “We think it is reasonable to ask for 1,000 coins.  While we do this, we would also request any of your armor or weapons or anything you can outfit us with to get rid of this thing.  It will be better for our lives and better for getting rid of it.  We need your help fighting it and─”   “You will have several of my archers.”   “That would be most appreciated.”   “At present we have no armor in our treasury.  It was sold to make up for debts of other rônin who gambled in my gambling hall.  Anything else?”   “Cart and donkey,” Wada whispered to Oda.   “If it is available, to ease our travels, we were wondering if you had a cart or some kind of donkey to … help us,” Oda said.  “We’ve been traveling on foot with empty stomachs.   Hebei sighed.   “Done,” he said.   “That is all we ask.”   “Good.”   Abe bowed his head in appreciation.   “Nightfall,” Hebei said.  “Meet at nightfall in the town square.”   He clapped his hands again and the doors were closed.  They left the gambling hall.   *              *              *   Wada wanted to see if he could track the trail of the oni.  He wanted to find his spear.  All three of the rônin headed off into the woods trying to track the beast.  Though Oda found a trail, Abe also thought he had found one that led off in another direction.  He walked away.   Wada and Oda followed the trail through the woods and to the north until they reach a pathway that led, along with the oni’s trail, to a Shinto shrine.  It was a building surrounded by a low, wooden fence, easily straddled, with a post-and-lintel archway, a torii, demarking the entrance to the shrine grounds.  The fence formed a square perimeter around the grounds.   The shrine appeared to have been scorched from fire and the roof was ripped off.  There were skulls stacked atop the torii.  A tree grew up in the temple but it had black and twisted branches without leaves.   “Is this how you do things?” Wada asked.   Oda shook his head.  He thought the shrine, which appeared to be desecrated, might have been the lair of the oni.   “I think the oni might be in there,” he said.   “What do you want to do?” Wada said.   “Now it makes me think it might be good to ambush this thing, but I don’t know how we’re going to communicate that to the archers or get them all out here in time before this thing just starts coming through the woods.  But …”   “Why don’t we … carefully … confirm that it’s in there?”   “It seems … unlikely I would be successful at that.  If you want to do it …”   “I will see if he’s in there.”   “And if … and if he wakes up …”   “We run.”   “All right.”   “He’s fast, I think.”   “Then we will die running.”   “Then one of us is the faster runner.”   While Oda waited some 30 yards away where the trail connected to the path, Wada crept up, using the trees as cover as much as he could.  When he reached the fence that ran around the overgrown property, he crept along the south side of it, trying to peek into the shrine.    The smell got worse the closer he got to the shrine.  He followed the line of the fence where it passed close to the shrine on the west side and the smell of rotting meat got stronger and stronger.  A noise from within was some kind of strange grumble that didn’t sound healthy.  He thought he heard the shifting of something large as well.  The branches of the trees that thrust up out of the top of the shrine were of a dark wood and bereft of leaves.  He realized it was the height of summer and the tree should have been filled.   He crept around the north side of the fence and then crossed the fence line and went, as carefully as he could, to the open front door of the shrine.  He crept to the front and was terrified by what he saw within the shrine, almost choking on the stench that came from the place.   Hanging from the ancient tree like rotten fruit were the missing townspeople.  Steel pikes and other iron torture implements were impaled in the ground beneath.  Body parts littered the ground and the entire area reeked of the stench of rotten flesh.  Blood, torn flesh, and viscera seemed to cover the ground in the shrine.  What looked like blood bubbled up from the spring under the tree which was not free of the taint either.  Parts of it appeared to be composed of living human flesh and bone.   The oni was in the shrine, tending to the tree as a gardener would tend to a bonsai.  He chopped off little bits of the villagers and arranged them in some insane artistic formula of his own on the ground and the spikes.   Wada thought it was the same oni.   He also saw his spear.  It had been thrust into the ground and a hand was stuck onto the sharp head.   Wada crept back to the fence and then followed the north side of the tree line back down the pathway to Oda.  He was pale and wide-eyed, sweating, and vomited when he reached Oda.   “No oni?” Oda said.  “Everything’s clear?”   “There is one oni inside,” Wada said.  “The one that I put my spear in.  He has a blood garden.  He … we must burn that place at some point.”   “Burning is … you say a blood garden?”   “That’s the best I can tell you.  If we burn it, you will see it and then you will know exactly what I’m talking about.”   “Well, maybe I can excuse burning a sacred temple if there is a blood garden in it.”   “There’s nothing sacred about that place anymore.”   Oda knew bodies were to be cremated in Buddhism and so burning the place might be for the best.   “One thing that I can describe to you is: he’s not eating the bodies,” Wada said.  “He’s … using them as decorations.”   “Somehow, that is more sinister,” Oda said.   “I really thought he was eating them.”   “He was asleep, right?  During the day?”   “No, he was not asleep.”   “He was not asleep.”   “I don’t think they sleep.”   Oda had never read about oni sleeping though he had always assumed they slept at some point and time.   “That is unsettling,” he said.  “So he is just waiting until the night.”   “Gardening,” Wada said.   “Can we go away?” Oda said.   “We should find the old man.”   “What are we going to do with the old man?”   “We need to just get him out of the woods.  He’s still looking for the oni.”   “Oh, our old man.”   “Yeah, our old man.”   They headed back into the woods and quickly found Abe following his own tracks.   “Now Abe, quit following your own footprints and let’s get back to town,” Oda said.  “I’ll tell you all about the blood garden and the mutilated bodies.”   “Uh … sure,” Abe said.   They told him what they had seen at the shrine and what the oni was doing as they walked back to the village.   They spent the rest of the day resting and eating in preparation for that evening.  Oda drew the calligraphy planks for Hikyô and Chiyo.  Abe asked if the tracks had gone near the iron-banded box and Wada said they hadn’t.   They also discussed their plan for that evening.  There was talk of setting up a trap for the oni or ambushing  it before it left the shrine.    Abe went to the gambling hall to talk to Hebei but he was rebuffed from the hall if he wasn’t gambling.  He ended up gambling and won a little more money before he left once again.  He returned to tell them he had won a little money but had not been able to talk to Hebei.    They discussed again the possibility of taking the fight to the oni or fighting it in the village.  Abe suggested some kind of punji sticks but they were unsure where to place them to catch the thing.  It was pointed out that convincing the archers to ambushing the oni at the shrine might be possible.   They rested the rest of the day.   *              *              *   They met 10 archers in the town square in the center of town.  They were all armed with bows and spears.  They told the rônin they planned to climb onto the buildings around the town square to shoot at the oni while they were on the ground.   Abe asked the archers when the oni usually attacked.  He was told it varied every night.  The night before, it had been just after nightfall.  Other nights it was at different times.  It was not consistent.   Abe thought the best strategy was setting up the ambush in the town square.  He didn’t think going to the thing would be as effective.  He told the archers where he thought they should set up on the roofs around, setting up a crossfire that would allow all of the archers to fire without hitting one another.  He also ordered the archers to lay on the roofs and stay hidden until they attacked.  He noted the three rônin would make noises to draw the thing.  He realized if they used the iron-banded box as bait, it would surely draw the oni to wherever they wanted.   The three discussed using the iron-banded box as bait and Wada and Abe went back into the woods and retrieved it.  All was still quiet in the village when they returned so they put it in the center of the town square.  They also discussed how to get the box away from the town square if anything went wrong.   Then they waited.   *              *              *   It was after midnight when Abe heard the sound of light tremors as the oni approached.  He called up to the archers to get ready while the rônin waited in the square.  The tremors grew in strength and then they heard a strangled scream a few rooftops away.  Even in the dark, they knew the oni was close as the horrible stench of rotten flesh assaulted them.  The horror immediately began chanting in an arcane tongue and came in swinging his tetsubo.   Arrows flew from the rooftops as half the archers, those who were still awake, opened fire.  There was the snap of a bowstring as well, though two arrows struck the terrible creature.  Some of the archers that awoke screamed and fled or fainted dead away.   With a shout, the oni headed for the iron-banded box.  It continued chanting.   Oda took the initiative and rushed the horrible thing, sprinting at it and running his naginata, a great pole arm with long blade on the end, into its right thigh.  Wada flung one of his spears at the horror, striking the oni in the left arm.  There was a noise as if the spear had struck bone.  It let out a shriek but continued chanting.  Abe also charged the horror, attacking its left leg with his katana and cutting it to the bone.  The oni screamed again as it continued its chant.   The oni, badly injured and bleeding from several wounds, turned and fled from the village, still chanting.  The horror swung at one of the archers as he passed but missed, smashing the front of the building.  Bamboo and wood went flying.   “We should follow him!” Wada yelled.   The archers let fly once again, one of them screaming insanely at the top of his lungs.  Two arrows struck and there was a snap and a scream as one of the archer’s bowstrings broke and the arrow struck him.  The oni stumbled and fell as the arrows struck it in the back.  It collapsed and death rattled in its throat.   Though it was dead, the chanting continued to echo, becoming increasingly louder.  The ground began to shake continuously, the shaking increasing in magnitude.   Oda looked back towards the box and saw it still there.  Wada and Abe ran to it as Abe tried to yell at the archers.  One of them fell off a shaking building with a scream.  Abe gave up on that and ran to help Wada lift the box.  Oda ran to the oni and found it was definitely dead.  Then he ran out of the north side of the village towards the shrine.   Wada dropped his end of the iron-banded box and ran after Oda.   Abe dragged the iron-banded box to the inn.  He had just safely secured the box inside when he heard the crash of a building collapsing nearby.  He peeked out of the door and then fell to the ground due to the terrible shaking as  he looked out upon a new horror.   In the middle of the town square, a large area turned molten hot, quickly collapsing into smoking void.  The body of the oni, at the edge of the hole, fell into the darkness and disappeared.  Ropy tentacles emerged from the terrible hole, followed by a great and horrible body as the earthquake subsided.  One of the tentacles snatched an archer from a nearby roof, the man’s screams quickly cut short.   The thing was as big as a house with flowing tentacles and pulpy gray-black sack of a body.  There were no distinguishing features other than the reaching, groping tentacles though there was a lump in the upper body of the thing.  It thing stretched its undulating tentacles to the starry night in a strange repose.   All was silent.   Abe fled the inn through the back and left the town.   *              *              *   Oda and Wada sprinted to the shrine, slowing only as they approached the terrible place.  Oda realized they didn’t have any light source though Wada carried flint and steel.   “We need to burn this place, right?” Oda said.   “That’s what I believe,” Wada said.   “Let’s get to it,” Oda said.   They went to the edge of the low fence around the place and ripped up much of it from one corner for kindling.  Bowing to tradition, they walked back to the torii to pass through it to the shrine, Wada in the lead.  As he passed through the torii, there was a flash of light and he found himself falling down a hill, crashing onto the side of it on ground that was preternaturally sharp, cutting him horribly.   When he looked around, he saw there were men and women in the horrible place, prodded by oni to climb up razor sharp and alien-looking trees that horribly disfigured them as the climbed.  Otherwise, the place was an endless, burning vista that seemed to go forever.  He realized he was in Shugo-Jigoku, one of the Buddhist hells.  He saw the torii at the top of the hill he had fallen down.  Oda looked through it but stayed on the other side, a terrified look on his face.   Wada climbed back towards the torii, tearing himself as he went, his sandals and clothing being torn and shredded by the ground itself.   “It’s a gate to Shogu-Jigoku!” Oda cried out.   One of the oni turned and looked at the gate.  Then it left its place by its terrible tree and walked towards them.  Oda reached through the gate, holding out his hand towards Wada.   Wada crawled up the side of the hill, the ground ripping at him as blood dripped from his many wounds.  He got close enough to Oda for the man to grab his hand and pull him back through.  They collapsed to the ground in front of the shrine.   “Break the gate!” Wada said.  “Break the gate!  Break the gate!”   They leapt to their feet and both of then tore into the torii with their weapons.  Wada screamed as he attacked the horrible gate and the oni got closer and closer.  It was only then they noticed the arcane wards and sigils carved in rings on both posts of the device.   With a crack of wood the torii broke as the oni almost reached them.  There was a strange fizzing noise and the opening to Shogu-Jigoku vanished as the post of the torii Wada attacked with his katana snapped.  They were once again plunged into darkness.  The creak of rending of wood came from Oda’s side of the torii as it broke as well, splinters flying as the entire structure collapsed.  The skulls upon it rattled away on the ground.   Wada continued to attack the wood of the torii, smashing it with his katana and screaming as he did so.  Oda approached the man but could not get close to him due to his wild swings.   Oda approached the shrine and saw the terrible sight within.  It was horrible to behold and the stench turned his stomach.  It was just as terrible as Wada had described it before.  He piled the wood they had already gathered against one corner of the shrine and looked back at Wada, who was making kindling out of the torii.   *              *              *   Abe had heard Wada’s screams from the village and had headed into the woods.  He found Wada destroying the torii of the shrine while Oda piled wood against the corner of the shrine.   “The town,” Abe said.   “The town?” Oda said. “There was a gate.”   “Come back there!  Now!”   “All right.  All right.  Lead the way.  I’ll come.  He might not though.  I don’t know about - just leave him.”   Abe tried to persuade Wada to come with them but the man just ignored him.   *              *              *   When they got back to the village, Oda and Abe saw the terrible thing in the center of the village.  It was unmoving though upright.   “That’s the thing!” Abe said.  “We have to get the box out now!”   “Is that here because of the box?” Oda said.   “I don’t know.  I don’t want to die.  You headed off to the temple.”   “All right.”   “Like cowards.”   “I was trying to burn the evil demon and, you know what Abe?  We destroyed a portal to hell!”   Oda saw the tentacles of the horror twitch.   “I saw it move!” he said.  “I don’t understand how the box is going to help get rid of that.”   “We just have to get it out of there!” Abe said.  “We can go in through the back.  I left it in the inn.”   “I guess but … I don’t know what to do about that!”   “I don’t either.  But we have to get the box.”   “Where are you going to put the box?”   “I don’t know but we have to get it.”   “Okay.  Sure.  Fine.  Okay.”   They crept into the inn and got the iron-banded box, creeping out with it and leaving the town.   The ground shook again and more houses collapsed.  It lasted several minutes and then stopped except for a strange hissing noise coming from the town.  They hid the iron-banded box in the forest and, when Abe headed for the shrine, Oda stopped him.   “There’s something going on in the town though!” Oda said.  “I need to be in the town.  I don’t know if you want to check on Wada or not but I need to be in the town.”   “What were you trying to do at the shrine?” Abe said.   “I was trying to start a fire to burn it because there was a blood garden.”   “Do you want me to burn it down?”   “Yeah.  Sure.  If you’re going there, burn it down.”   Oda gave flint and steel to him and they parted ways.   *              *              *   When Oda got back to the village, he saw most of the buildings had collapsed.  In the center of town was a great sinkhole, right where the town square had been.  Within it was a great pit.  The hissing noise came from the pit and he thought it sounded like falling water or steam.  He crept to the edge of the pit and saw it seemed to disappear into the darkness.   His first thought was that the world was bleeding and it was pouring into the pit.  Then he recognized the hot reddish water was that of the hot spring they had languished in two nights before.  A great deal of heat came from the hole as well, more so than the hot springs could have generated.   With a creak, the inn, already badly damaged, collapsed.  He saw the people picking through the rubble of their former lives, packing up their belongings as if they were going to leave the town.  Some people were leaving with nothing but the clothes on their back.   *              *              *   Abe found  a fire already burning at the Shinto shrine and soon heard the sound of insane laughter.  A silhouette of a man sat by the fire and, as he carefully approached, he saw it was Wada.  A fire burned near where the torii stood and Wada threw chunks of the torii into the bonfire he had started.  He laughed hysterically.   Abe ignored the madman and went to the shrine, peeking inside.  He was terrified by what he saw.  A pile of kindling lay against one corner of the shrine.  He went to the fire.   “Abe!” Wada said, laughing hysterically.  “Help me throw this in!”   He laughed again.   “I ruined my katana!” he said, laughing still.   He flung it into the woods.  He had dulled it cutting up the torii.   “We’re rich, Abe!” he said.  “We’re rich!  Rich!”   Abe collected more kindling from the pile and piled it up against the shrine.  He ignited the fire and then saw to the burning of the entire shrine.   “That’s the spirit!” Wada called when he saw.   *              *              *   Oda, fearful of danger from the terrible pit in the center of the village, watched it for several hours.  Eventually, the water from the hot springs filled up the sinkhole and formed a strange, blood-red, lukewarm pond in the center of the remains of the village.   As dawn broke, more people packed up their meager belongings and fled to the north.  The tavern and bathhouse still stood though both the inn, the gambling house, and most of the houses in the town had collapsed.   He helped people pack their belongings as they left the town, heading north in a shambling procession.   He was approached by a man who gave him an unfriendly shove to get his attention.  He recognized him as one of the Ryû-Ryôshû.  The man flung a sack down on the ground before him.   “Hebei expects you to fulfill your part of the promise,” he said before turning and walking away.   “I mean, it’s dead,” Oda said.   When he picked up the sack, it clinked of coins.   He left the town, noting the column of smoke coming from the nearby forest.   *              *              *   When Oda returned to the shrine, he found it burned to the ground.  Wada and Abe continued to move about the place, making sure everything was burned.  It was around noon when they had finished.  Oda suspected that, with the burning of the shrine and the bodies within, it would keep any ghosts from returning for revenge on what was left of the village.   “What’s that in your hand?” Wada said with a smile.  “Is that the coin?”   “Yeah, gather around everybody,” Oda said.  “It looks like we have a fire tonight and a job well done.”   “And you brought sake?”   “Well … bad news about that.  The town is mostly a pile of wood.”   “But no oni.”   “No oni.  Well done, boys.”   They decided to head for Kyoto with the iron-banded box.  They took the path back to the road that led north, recovering the iron-banded box, and found Hikyô and Chiyo as they fled the village with their meager possessions.   “You want to travel with some oni-killers?” Wada said to the girl.  “Make the road safer for you.”   The two agreed to travel with the rônin.

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

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

 

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"Š'"‹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.     * * *

Max_Writer

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!"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."'   "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?"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!"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."     * * *  

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

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

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

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

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

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

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

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

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

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

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

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

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

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

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

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

The House on the Hill Part 2 - A Sudden Storm

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

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

The House on the Hill Part 3 - Master of the House

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

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

The Last Valley Part 1 - East of Santaquin

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

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

The Last Valley Part 2 - The Fog

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

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The Last Valley Part 3 - Pursuit

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

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Worms! Part 1 - Spring in San Francisco

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

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

Worms! Part 2 - A Demon in Chinatown

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

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Worms! Part 3 - Hilton Springs and the Missing Homesteaders

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

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

Worms! Part 4 - Wormy and the Underground Terror

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

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

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

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

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

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

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

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

Valentine's in Innsmouth Part 3 - Aunt Margie

* * *       Aunt Margie’s was completely boarded up on the ground and second floors. Even the back door proved to be boarded shut. Alice peeked into the windows and could see very little though it looked pretty decrepit inside. She decided she wanted to go in.   “Stand aside, ladies,†George said.   He handed off his bat to Donald and then rolled up his jacket sleeves. He spit in his hands and rubbed them together. Then he grabbed the lowest board on the door and ripped it loose, putting it aside. He tried to break the door down.   “I don’t have enough leverage,†he muttered.   He ripped another board off and then put his shoulder to the door again. There was a snap as the latch broke and the door creaked open. George held out his hand towards Donald, who just looked at it for a moment. George turned and looked at his baseball bat.   “Oh!†Donald said.   He handed off his baseball bat the boy stood there, waiting. Gerdie looked at the cat, which looked at the open door nervously.   “Someone should keep a lookout,†she said.   “Hm,†Alice said.   “I could meow,†Gerdie said.   They discussed it briefly and then Gerdie crept around the side of the house by the little well house there. The cat followed her.   Alice, George, and Donald entered the house.   “Be careful,†Donald whispered. “It might be haunted.†  He looked over his shoulder.   “Not by you!†he whispered to Simon.   They crept into the house, Alice taking out a flashlight she’d brought just for that purpose. She clicked it on. They were in the hall that ran through the center of the house. A stairway went up there and there were archways to either side.   The house smelled strongly of raw fish. There were two rooms towards the front of the house, a sitting room and a dining room. The furniture was all covered with dust and dirt, as well as some kind of flaking debris that looked like fish scales. More debris was on the floor and the lamps and lights were all broken. There was the sound of dripping water coming from the back. Small piles of bones were in the corners.   Alice led them through the dining room to the small kitchen. Water dripped down from the ceiling above, which looked like it was about to collapse. There were puddles on the floor and the cupboards were all open. Pots, pans and other kitchen implements lay about amid the bones of small animals and fish. The back door was closed, as was the door to the basement.   Alice grew despondent. She sighed.   “This is useless, isn’t it?†she said. “God, this is useless.†  “What?†Donald said. “Why? Nobody’s been here for a while.†  “There’s not going to be anything in here but … just … fish bones …†Alice said.   “What left the bones?†Donald said. “Or who?†  Alice looked at the two boys.   “Okay, let’s check the rest of the house,†she finally said.   Dejected, they looked into the back parlor and headed upstairs. There were three bedrooms and a bathroom. The bedroom doors were all open and the rooms were filthy. The beds appeared to have been slept in. There were more scattered bones around the place and the fishy smell was strongest in near the bathroom, in the back over the kitchen. The bathroom door was closed.   Alice knocked. There was no answer. She tried the knob and found it unlocked. She pushed it open.   The stink of raw fish was very strong in the dirty bathroom. Though the smell didn’t bother her, the two boys were disgusted. George gagged and Donald put the sleeve of his jacket over his mouth and nose and looked away. She pulled the door somewhat closed once again but shined the flashlight into the room.   The bathroom was once been very nice with a tile-covered floor that went up the wall about four feet. Now the tile was covered in filth and a large patch of black mold grew on one wall. The sink was disgustingly dirty and the mirror over it shattered. The toilet was also dirty and moldy. The bathtub was very large, standing on four legs, and filled to the brim with water which dripped out of the crack in one side, leaving a wide puddle over most of the bathroom floor. A tiny, dirty window was covered with filth.   Not seeing anything, she pulled the door closed. But then she heard a gurgle and splash from inside the room. She pushed the door open again. The water in the tub rippled as if it had been disturbed slightly.   Alice carefully crossed the room to the tub. Through the murky water there, she saw a woman lying in the bottom. She had large, unblinking fish-like eyes, a wide mouth, scales all over her misshapen face, and slits on the side of her throat that seemed to palpitate, opening and closing as if she were breathing. Her large hands were clasped over her chest, evidence of claws and webbed fingers obvious. Despite the fact that she had changed and was malformed, she recognized it as Aunt Margie.   For a moment, nothing happened. Then Aunt Margie sat up in the tub, splashing water out of the bathtub. Behind her, George gasped and stared at the thing.   “Alice?†the thing in the tub said in a deep, guttural voice.   “Wha … what?†Alice said, tears brimming in her eyes.   The thing that was, indeed, Aunt Margie leaned towards the girl.   “I waited for you,†she said. “I hid and I waited when the men came and destroyed everything. They didn’t find me because I hid. The basement is flooded, but I’d changed enough by then I could stay under water as long as I wanted. They eventually gave up looking and I’ve been hiding here ever since, living as best I can though the sea calls to me every night and every day.†  She climbed out of the bathtub, standing stooped over on clawed feet and looked down at Alice. Then she knelt in front of the girl and reached tentatively for her. She put her clawed hand on Alice’s shoulder and then touched her hair and smiled sadly.   “I began to change about a year before the men came,†she said. “Just like my brother, your father.†  “My father?†Alice said, tears trickling from her eyes.   “We all change here. Things are different in Innsmouth. I and your mother hoped to protect you until you were old enough to understand but then the government men came.†  Alice frowned, terrified. Aunt Margie took her hand off the girl.   “Off the coast of the village is an amazing underwater city called Y’ha-nthlei,†Aunt Margie said. “A place where the deep ones live. It’s a place of great watery spaces with sunken porticos and labyrinths of weedy cyclopean walls with fish as your companions. Long ago, the people of Y’ha-nthlei made a pact with the people of Innsmouth, an agreement, to mate with them so their children would be immortal and live forever like the deep ones do.   “Your father married an outsider, a woman from Dunwich named Susan Morgan, your mother. They had fallen in love and, when he brought her back to Innsmouth, when she realized what was happening to him, she agreed not to tell you until you were old enough to understand. Your father changed early. He went away to Y’ha-nthlei. He lives there still. He didn’t die. He’ll live forever, because he carries the deep one blood. And you, too, have the blood of the deep ones. You, too, will change one day and feel the call of the sea. You, too, will live forever in Y’ha-nthlei, the city that’s lived for more than 80,000 years. Some of the residents there are still alive, Alice. Some of them from long ago. They have such stories to tell.†  Alice started crying.   “Your father can see the future,†Aunt Margie went on. “He kept this from the other deep ones but he sometimes knows what’s going to happen and that’s how he warned your mother of the government men coming here to Innsmouth to destroy it. And he warned me and so I stayed here to wait for you because I knew you would come back some day to find me.   “I’ve been waiting for you ever since, surviving as best I could while waiting for the last year. My change continued. I’m almost nearly full deep one now but I don’t think I’ll be able to escape the men who hold Innsmouth. They’ll probably kill me. And if they see you, they will, no doubt, try to take you prisoner as well. They … they hate our kind. They want to imprison or possibly kill us all. You must not be caught.†  Alice sank to her knees onto the wet floor.   “Your mother has kept you away from Innsmouth since the fall to protect you from the government,†Aunt Margie said. “I had to wait to see if you came back and I had to know that you were all right. This is who we are. This is what we are. Some … cannot stand that. But many see the beauty in what we have become.†  Alice breathed heavily.   “My father’s alive?†she finally said.   “He’s alive,†Aunt Margie said.   “I just … I felt him! I knew he wasn’t …†  “He didn’t think you were ready to know the truth yet. He was afraid that you would reject him if you saw what he was becoming. He was afraid.†  “And you?†  “I know you must see me as a monster, but I’m still Aunt Margie.†  Alice looked at her.   “How could I think you’re a monster?†she whispered.   She reached for Aunt Margie and embraced her.     * * *       “Wh-wh-wh-what’s gonna happen to us if I help you?†Edward asked the man.   “You’re going to go home,†the man said. “And you’re not going to tell anybody what I told you. They’ll probably think you’re crazy anyway. But know that you’re helping your country and the human race.†  Edward looked at the man for a long time.   “All right,†Edward finally said. “The reason we came here … I agreed because I wanted to know the stuff. The weird, Innsmouth stuff. Why the town was shut down. But … the real reason everybody went was because somebody had family in Innsmouth and they wanted to know what happened.†  “Do you know where this family might be?†the old man said.   “I don’t know the town very well, but they’re up in the north part,†Edward said.   The man got a map out and showed him the town and Edward learned his name was Agent Baldwin. They began to talk about where the children might have been heading. He didn’t tell the man the exact house, hoping Alice could do what needed to be done and escape, but did give him an idea of the general area of the house.   “You’ve done the right thing,†he said. “Come with me.†  He told Agent Smith to get the other boy and the four of them went out to the sedan. The older man found the sergeant on duty.   “Alert the men,†he said. “There might be one of those things in town and we have to get it.†  The boys got into the back of the sedan with Agent Baldwin. He had brought Gordon’s axe.   They saw the American soldiers getting roused and armed. The trucks were started up, as were the motorcycles. Some of the men had large tanks strapped to their backs and carried wands connected to the tanks by hoses. They lit the business ends of the flame throwers as the boys watched. Other men carried submachine-guns.   A motorcycle left the square and headed south.   “I’m sorry Gordie,†Edward said. “I was worried what would happen if I didn’t. He seemed real serious.†    * * *       “We have to get you out of here,†Aunt Margie said. “We have to get you and your cousins out of here.†  Donald and George looked at each other nervously. Alice looked over her shoulder at the boys.   “This is an introduction …†she muttered.   “Hey, Aunt Margie!†Donald said as cheerfully as he could.   George just waved at the deep one hybrid.   “Simon, say ‘hi,’†Donald said. “He says ‘hi.’†  Alice explained that Simon was a ghost that only Donald could see. Aunt Margie smiled and nodded.   “So, I’m not unfamiliar with the supernatural,†Alice said.   “Well, I hope that you can accept what you’re going to become,†Aunt Margie said.   She put one large, damp hand on the side of Alice’s face.   “You’re already starting to show some of the signs,†she said.   She looked at all three of them.   “We have to get you children out of here,†she said. “And I have to … probably … surrender myself to my fate. I don’t think I can make it to the sea.†  She stood up.   “But how?†Alice said. “But why?†  “Because I don’t think that I can get away and protect you as well,†Aunt Margie said.   “We can help you!†Alice said.   “Yeah!†George suddenly said. “We’re helping her! Hell, yeah, we’re helping her!†  “We can help you,†Alice said. “We can help you.†  She heard Gerdie meowing downstairs outside.   “We’ve got to go,†Alice said. “We’ve got to go, Aunt Margie. Please, please come!†  “Okay,†Aunt Margie said. “Let’s go.†  Alice grabbed a grubby towel and wrapped Aunt Margie in it. They raced downstairs, Aunt Margie hopping. Alice helped her.   “Do you need water?†she asked.   “I’ll be fine,†Aunt Margie said. “We’re fully amphibious but the ground gives me difficulty with my walking.†  George ran ahead and opened the door. Alice helped Aunt Margie out of the doorway. They heard Gerdie meowing around the side of the house and Alice meowed in return. Gerdie came around the side of the house with the cat behind.   They could all hear vehicles that seemed to be getting closer so they headed down Martin Street towards the sea. Alice took out both of her knives, holding them in her left hand. She tried to help Aunt Margie with her right. The creature obviously had trouble and moved with a hopping, shuffling gait.   “Who’s that over there?†a man’s voice called. “Stop right there!†  “Those are the lights I saw!†another voice said.   They raced down the street and heard people running and vehicles closing in. A truck came down Martin Street and the lights washed over them as they fled. They made it almost to Water Street before soldiers cut them off. They stopped as a black Cadillac rolled up the street, lights pinning them down. Soldiers closed into within 20 feet on either end of the street. Rubble stood where the buildings had once been, blocking their escape.   A few men moved in and flanked the children, guns at ready. They were surrounded. Alice still had an arm around Aunt Margie. The black cat hissed and growled at the soldiers. George had his baseball bat at ready. Donald looked scared. Gerdie looked around for some way out.   Agent Baldwin and Smith got out of the motorcar. Edward followed, grabbing at Agent Baldwin’s sleeve. Gordon also exited the motorcar, grabbing his axe as he did so.   “Oh wow!†Edward cried out. “It’s a real - it’s a real thing! It’s a real scientific development!†  Agent Baldwin approached the small group around Aunt Margie, putting himself between Gordon and Edward and the thing. The flicker of flamethrower igniters were scattered through the troops arrayed against the children and the hybrid. Other soldiers had rifles or Thompson sub-machineguns at ready.   “You gotta investigate!†Edward wailed. “You gotta learn about it!†  “We’re going to son,†Agent Baldwin said.   He shook Edward off and stepped forward.   “Now children,†Agent Baldwin said. “I don’t know what this creature has told you, but it’s all lies. These things subverted the people of this town and murdered many to keep their secret. We stumbled across it a year ago and your government did something about it to protect its citizens and the United States of America. Please step away from that … thing … and we’ll take it away before it hurts anyone again and then take all of you home.†  “She is my home,†Alice said.   “Let the children go and I’ll come peacefully!†Aunt Margie yelled.   Alice looked at her.   “Just leave me!†she said to Alice. “It’s more important that you get away.†  “No!†Alice said. “I lost you before! I’m not going to lose you again. Please!†  “I can’t …†Aunt Margie said. “They’re going to take you. They’re going to know that you’re one of us and they’re going to take you.†  Alice started crying.   Aunt Margie looked at the girl, her eyes more watery than they had seemed before. She nodded and stood up. George, next to them, had watched the whole exchange, his own eyes brimming with tears. He turned and was ready, baseball bat in hand.   “We’ve only been here an hour and there’s worse things in this town than her!†Gerdie called to Agent Baldwin.   “I know that!†he said.   “Well, then, why aren’t you taking care of them?†  “We’ve tried, little girl. We’ve lost a lot of troops. But certain things can’t be killed! They …†  He looked at Aunt Margie.   “… they control,†he finished.   “Excuse - excuse - excuse me,†Edward said. “What do you mean by saying they can’t be killed? That doesn’t make no darn sense.†  “You ever heard of a shoggoth, boy?†Agent Baldwin said.   “What the hell is that?†Edward said.   Both Edward and Gordon suddenly remembered. Whether it was from some repressed ancestral memory or something each of the boys had read, they would never know, but the very word stirred up images of terror, a nightmare, plastic column of fetid, black iridescence oozing forward, shapeless congeries of protoplasmic bubbles, faintly self-luminous, and with myriads of temporary eyes forming and unforming as pustules of greenish light all over the thing filled their minds with a terrible hellish understanding. They knew that facing such a terrible thing would mean death and the idea that something like that might be near was terrifying to both of them.   “Oh wait!†Edward screeched. “Oh yeah! I have!†  Gerdie also remembered what a shoggoth was, though unlike the boys, she was not overwhelmed with knowledge. Something in her, something old and deep and long lost, squirmed uncomfortably at the mention of the word. Something of what she had once been, perhaps long ago in the great city that had burned. She knew she never wanted to face such a horror. It reminded her of the slime they found earlier.   Agent Baldwin sighed.   “Seize them for interrogation!†he said to the soldiers. “Try to keep the hybrid! Try not to hurt the children!†  The soldiers closest to Aunt Margie and the children started to move in, shouldering their rifles. They did not draw the bayonets on their belts. The soldiers with flamethrowers held back, as did the men with sub-machineguns. The men tried to talk to the children as they approached, urging them that they didn’t want to hurt them and that they were only there to protect them.   Alice looked at Aunt Margie and saw the hybrid had her claws ready. George was swinging his baseball bat back and forth. Alice had two knives in her left hand. Gerdie screamed “Help†in the cat tongue. The man approaching her looked at her like she was crazy.   “What can I do?†Alice asked Aunt Margie.   Aunt Margie took Alice’s hand off her.   “Fill your hand with steel and let’s see if we can get away,†the woman said.   Alice put one of the knives in her off hand and turned towards the sea, readying herself to fight the men approaching her.   Nearby, Edward looked at Gordon questioningly. Gordon nodded. He looked over his shoulder. The only person behind them was Agent Smith, who stood near the motorcar.   Gerdie tried to fling the rotten fish guts in the face of the soldier going for her. She got them on him but not in his face.   “What the hell, little girl!?!†the man cried out.   George stepped forward and swung his baseball bat at one of the men, striking him in the left arm. There was a crack and the man let out a shout, stumbled, and fell to the ground.   “God damn it, kid!†the other soldier yelled.   Alice stabbed at the two soldiers that rushed her but they backed away.   “Little girl, we’re just trying to help you!†one of them said.   Nearby, Gordon turned towards Agent Smith, who stood near the motorcar. He pointed beyond him and then started describing the shoggoth he’d seen in his mind: plastic, huge, horrible. Agent Smith glanced quickly over his shoulder, but didn’t seem to believe it. He frowned at the boy.   Edward ran past Agent Baldwin and the men with the flamethrowers and sub-machineguns.   “Kid, where you going?†one of them yelled.   “Excuse me, I just wanna get a closer look at this fish thing!†he cried out. “Oops!†  He kicked out at one of the men moving towards the other children but didn’t hurt the man at all.   “Kid, what are you doing?†the man said.   “I’m sorry!†Edward said.   The soldier grabbed at Edward but the boy ducked and the man grabbed empty air.   A soldier grabbed Gerdie and her cat ran away. Two men grabbed Alice, who tried to stab both of them. Donald ducked to one side with a cry of “Don’t hurt my hands, you jerks!†A soldier rushed Aunt Margie and she was slightly injured. Then another of them grabbed the hybrid. She slashed the other man and he backed away with a scream, bleeding.   “Get offa me you mugs!†George yelled.   More soldiers moved quickly in as most of them were held. Then a strange croaking and baying of voices, clearly used for articulate speech but in a language no one understood, came from the harbor. The slapping of many feet across the damaged and destroyed buildings followed before dozens of deep ones appeared on the edge of the light, attacking the soldiers that blocked the children from their escape.   Other soldiers panicked and start screaming with those nearest the children letting them go and arming themselves as quickly as they could. The deep ones rushed forward, killing or incapacitating those soldiers nearest the harbor, tearing them to pieces, and quickly surrounding the children. Some of the soldier fainted, ran away shrieking, or stared incomprehensively at the things.   The sight was not good for Edward. He stood there, gasping in terror at the horrors he was seeing. He realized the sea and the water was what had spawned the horrible creatures and the sea and water was where they came from.