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Worms! Part 2 - A Demon in Chinatown

Max_Writer

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* * *

 

 

 

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?â€

 

“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?â€

 

“I don’t really have a place there.â€

 

“I’m just saying, that’s where Stalloid is going. That’s where the Clean and Pure headquarters is.â€

 

“Oh.â€

 

“At least to my knowledge.â€

 

“Are you quite sure you want to go there?â€

 

“Ask Stalloid.â€

 

“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!â€

 

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?â€

 

“I’m just looking for a good time,†Professor Stalloid said. “A good, safe time.â€

 

“A good, safe time. I have the woman for you. Come.â€

 

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!â€

 

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!?!â€

 

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.â€

 

“C’mon!â€

 

“What is Devil’s Gulch?â€

 

“I believe it is a location.â€

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

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!â€

 

“Are you considering your reparations yet?â€

 

“Maybe, but I didn’t want to go into your place of business.â€

 

“You should consider it carefully.â€

 

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!â€

 

“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.â€

 

“Oh!†Joe said. “It sounds like an adventure!â€

 

“Maybe. It would be very good to see her there.â€

 

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.â€

 

“Oh! This is his house. Come in! Come in! I will announce you, tell him that you’re here. You need refreshment?â€

 

“Tea, if you don’t mind.â€

 

“Tea. Tea. I will bring tea.â€

 

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?â€

 

“Well, I … no, but I heard you …â€

 

“Is Terwilliger here?â€

 

“Uh … no, it-it’s just me this time.â€

 

“Okay.â€

 

“I heard you were asking around about a place called Devil’s Gulch?â€

 

“Devil’s Gulch!â€

 

“Yes. Quite.â€

 

“Yeah, the Chinese man told me about it. He said I should go there. The one that expired.â€

 

“Well, my concern is that my sister recently moved to Devil’s Gulch, a few months ago.â€

 

“That could be a travesty! Usually Chinese men that are killed by demons do not tell you to go to good places.â€

 

“Oh goodness! What do you think might appear?â€

 

“I don’t have experience with that but I assume.â€

 

“Well … I … I … I’m just more concerned─â€

 

“Oh, the tea is here.â€

 

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.â€

 

“It’s in Colorado.â€

 

“I didn’t know if we … we might could gather some … a posse if you will.â€

 

“Another posse?â€

 

“A posse, if you will, to go visit my sister. That would be a great delight to me.â€

 

“Well, I would be interested to see what the man wanted me to go find. I just hope it’s not another demon.â€

 

“Well, that would be even more concerning … for me … as my sister has made her home there.â€

 

“Those don’t seem to turn out well.â€

 

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!â€

 

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!â€

 

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?â€

 

“I don’t believe I have,†Gemma said.

 

“This is Tilly,†Professor Terwilliger said. “Tilly, this is Gemma Jones!â€

 

“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.â€

 

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.â€

 

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.â€

 

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.â€

 

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.â€

 

“The leader came and visited me again. He said he was looking for you. He was mad that I had brought you in─â€

 

“A leader of a tong!?!†Professor Terwilliger said. “You should stay out of San Francisco. Their influence is very small outside of San Francisco.â€

 

“Which is why I’m here,†Professor Stalloid said. “We were going to go to Devil’s Gulch. Would you care to join us?â€

 

“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.â€

 

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.â€

 

“I’m glad I don’t live in San Francisco.â€

 

“You said that they don’t know exactly what I am, they know what I look like?†Otto asked Professor Stalloid. “Is that right?â€

 

“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.â€

 

“I don’t … remember that …â€

 

“You wanted to shoot me!â€

 

“Did I hit you?â€

 

“No. But you were aiming!â€

 

“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?â€

 

Gemma looked uncomfortable.

 

“We were going to ride,†Professor Stalloid said.

 

“Ride on horseback?†Otto said.

 

“Yes.â€

 

“I’d actually prefer that. It’s been a long time since I rode Blitz.â€

 

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.â€

 

“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.â€

 

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?â€

 

“Bobby?†Professor Stalloid said. “Robert? Bob? Robby?â€

 

“I prefer to go by Robert but Bob is okay as well.â€

 

“How you doing, Bob?â€

 

“Uh … I’m fairly well. Just coming to see what Terwilliger’s up to these days.â€

 

“How interested are you in the paranormal? We’re rounding up a posse, you see.â€

 

“Not particularly. I’ve read a few books on those things.â€

 

“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.â€

 

“What do you mean?†Tilly asked.

 

“Things which should not be seen,†Professor Stalloid said.

 

“That’s also very vague.â€

 

“Things that live between the stars.â€

 

“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?â€

 

“Oh, he’s my father,†Tilly said. “Matilda, I prefer.â€

 

“Tilly is your name!†Professor Terwilliger said.

 

“Father,†she said. “I’m a grown woman.â€

 

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.â€

 

“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 …â€

 

She trailed off.

 

“It does strike my curiosity,†Dunspar said. “But …â€

 

“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?â€

 

“And dealings?â€

 

“I told you about the - the girl that floated above the air.â€

 

“Oh yes. The woman that floated above the air. That Indian woman.â€

 

“And now those dragons on the train.â€

 

“That was quite disturbing.â€

 

“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.â€

 

“In Chinatown there were these demons. They were like an ape but not quite. Like an insect, but not quite.â€

 

“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.â€

 

“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!â€

 

“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?â€

 

“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.â€

 

“That’s a terrible place to leave a train.â€

 

“Yeah. My comrades, Weisswald and Jacali, they went and tracked it.â€

 

“I was there too,†Otto said.

 

“They found footprints that just disappeared,†Professor Stalloid said.

 

“I found the tracks as well.â€

 

“Along the track.â€

 

“Fascinating,†Professor Terwilliger said.

 

“As if he floated away,†Professor Stalloid said. “It was that Jack Parker.â€

 

“Creature that has the ability to …†Dunspar said.

 

“To phase out of existence,†Professor Stalloid said. “It even pulled people out of existence.â€

 

“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.â€

 

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!â€

 

“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.â€

 

“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.â€

 

“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.â€

 

“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 …â€

 

“Stick with us and I’m sure we’ll find more!†Professor Stalloid said.

 

“It’s probably not good for your health.â€

 

“Definitely not good for your health.â€

 

They all looked at each other.

 

“Gemma, where’s Clay?†Otto asked. “Ronald.â€

 

“Ronald Clay?†Gemma said.

 

“Yes, because … you two are here, but I don’t see our strongman.â€

 

“Did you not read about him?â€

 

“No.â€

 

“He was supposedly attacked by … an animal.â€

 

“Is he dead?â€

 

“Yes. Quite. It was in his obituary.â€

 

“Oh.â€

 

“So far we’ve lost two very brave men,†Professor Stalloid said. “In our adventures.â€

 

“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.â€

 

“I’d much rather investigate than confront.â€

 

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.â€

 

“And where’s this ‘Jack West,’†Dunspar said.

 

“Also in the hospital,†Otto said. “You would know him if you saw him.â€

 

“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.â€

 

“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!â€

 

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.â€

 

“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.â€

 

“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.â€

 

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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