* * *
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. Liâ€™s office or signaling the others in some way to get back together. They decided to use Mr. Liâ€™s office as a place to meet it they couldnâ€™t find each other later.
Chinatown was very, very quiet, more so than Gemma had ever seen before.
â€œItâ€™s a bad sign,â€ Otto said.
â€œItâ€™s quite ominous,â€ Gemma said.
â€œI guess itâ€™s due to the demon,â€ Otto said. â€œDoes someone want to go with me?â€
â€œIâ€™m going to Clean and Pure,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œDo you want to go to a brothel, Gemma?â€ Otto said.
â€œIâ€™m sorry?â€ Gemma said.
â€œDo you want to go to a brothel?â€
â€œI donâ€™t really have a place there.â€
â€œIâ€™m just saying, thatâ€™s where Stalloid is going. Thatâ€™s where the Clean and Pure headquarters is.â€
â€œAt least to my knowledge.â€
â€œAre you quite sure you want to go there?â€
â€œThey have well-armed men,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
They heard a scream from down the block.
â€œThis is exactly why we shouldnâ€™t be here!â€ 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 Sullivanâ€™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.
â€œGet off of him!â€ 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.
â€œWhy are you running at the thing!?!â€ Professor Stalloid yelled. â€œThis is why I got him throwing axes!â€
He continued to aim at the thing, hoping for a clear shot.
â€œMove!â€ 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 Clayâ€™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.
â€œWe might want to run!â€ 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 wasnâ€™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 horrorâ€™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.
â€œHey!â€ the sailor said.
â€œWelcome,â€ the little Chinese man said. â€œWelcome. What is your fantasy? What is your wildest dream?â€
â€œIâ€™m just looking for a good time,â€ Professor Stalloid said. â€œA good, safe time.â€
â€œA good, safe time. I have the woman for you. Come.â€
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 heâ€™d just cut down. Screaming was coming from somewhere in the house. A man started yelling â€œMurder! Murder! Murder!â€ over and over and over again.
* * *
The sailor ran up behind Professor Stalloid.
â€œMurder!â€ he screamed. â€œMurder! Murder! Thereâ€™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 Sullivanâ€™s Alley. There was so much blood and he stopped at Clayâ€™s body which had been gutted by the horror. He put a few drops of laudanum on the manâ€™s tongue as he couldnâ€™t stop the bleeding.
â€œHey!â€ he shouted. â€œCan 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 manâ€™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.
â€œWhat did he say?â€ Professor Stalloid asked.
â€œHe â€¦ he â€¦ was just mumbling,â€ she said. â€œIt was nonsense.â€
â€œWhat is Devilâ€™s Gulch?â€
â€œI believe it is a location.â€
* * *
Stalloid had collected Clayâ€™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 heâ€™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 Terwilligerâ€™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 Terwilligerâ€™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 didnâ€™t have the stamina or youth to try, like the wings heâ€™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 Terwilligerâ€™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.
â€œDonâ€™t bring him into my place of business,â€ Mr. Yan said.
â€œI didnâ€™t wish to,â€ Professor Stalloid said. â€œI didnâ€™t want to!â€
â€œAre you considering your reparations yet?â€
â€œMaybe, but I didnâ€™t want to go into your place of business.â€
â€œYou should consider it carefully.â€
Mr. Yan again threatened to send the demon. When Professor Stalloid asked him about Devilâ€™s Gulch, he didnâ€™t know anything about it. He told Mr. Yan he took care of his loose demon.
â€œAs you should have,â€ Mr. Yan said. â€œYou owe me!â€
â€œYeah, we got it,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
Mr. Yan was willing to take money, drugs, or women. Professor Stalloid didnâ€™t have any to give him.
* * *
Joe had dinner with Gemma one night and he mentioned to her that Professor Stalloid, whom heâ€™d become a little obsessed with since their meeting, had been talking about someplace called Devilâ€™s Gulch. He asked if sheâ€™d heard anything about the place.
â€œOh,â€ she said. â€œThatâ€™s interesting. My sister just opened a saloon there.â€
â€œOh!â€ Joe said. â€œIt sounds like an adventure!â€
â€œMaybe. It would be very good to see her there.â€
They had a nice dinner.
* * *
Gemma went to Professor Stalloidâ€™s house. The door was answered by a little Chinese lady.
â€œCan I help you?â€ she asked Gemma.
â€œYes, my nameâ€™s Gemma,â€ the woman said. â€œIâ€™m looking for Dr. Stalloid.â€
â€œOh! This is his house. Come in! Come in! I will announce you, tell him that youâ€™re here. You need refreshment?â€
â€œTea, if you donâ€™t mind.â€
â€œTea. 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.
â€œI didnâ€™t expect to see you here, Gemma Jones,â€ he said.
â€œYes, Dr. Stalloid, itâ€™s good to see you,â€ she said, putting down the stereoscope.
â€œAre you following me?â€
â€œWell, I â€¦ no, but I heard you â€¦â€
â€œIs Terwilliger here?â€
â€œUh â€¦ no, it-itâ€™s just me this time.â€
â€œI heard you were asking around about a place called Devilâ€™s Gulch?â€
â€œYeah, the Chinese man told me about it. He said I should go there. The one that expired.â€
â€œWell, my concern is that my sister recently moved to Devilâ€™s Gulch, a few months ago.â€
â€œThat could be a travesty! Usually Chinese men that are killed by demons do not tell you to go to good places.â€
â€œOh goodness! What do you think might appear?â€
â€œI donâ€™t have experience with that but I assume.â€
â€œWell â€¦ I â€¦ I â€¦ Iâ€™m just more concernedâ”€â€
â€œOh, the tea is here.â€
Chun Zhi Ruo poured their tea and left the parlor.
â€œI just â€¦ I didnâ€™t know if you knew much â€¦ about this place,â€ Gemma said, sipping her tea.
â€œNothing,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œWell, I was just concerned about my sister, you see.â€
â€œItâ€™s in Colorado.â€
â€œI didnâ€™t know if we â€¦ we might could gather some â€¦ a posse if you will.â€
â€œA posse, if you will, to go visit my sister. That would be a great delight to me.â€
â€œWell, I would be interested to see what the man wanted me to go find. I just hope itâ€™s not another demon.â€
â€œWell, that would be even more concerning â€¦ for me â€¦ as my sister has made her home there.â€
â€œThose donâ€™t seem to turn out well.â€
They enjoyed their tea and began to make plans for a trip to Devilâ€™s Gulch. Gemma didnâ€™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 Terwilligerâ€™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.
â€œOh goodness, Terwilliger, I never know what to expect from you,â€ Gemma said as she dismounted from the buggy.
â€œWhy, Gemma Jones!â€ he said excitedly. â€œAnd Professor Stalloid!â€
He left the corral and shook each of their hands, delighted to see them.
â€œTo what do I owe the pleasure?â€ he said. â€œWhat 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.
â€œYes, I saw you both at the saloon the other night,â€ she said to the woman
Tilly smiled at her.
â€œOh yes yes yes!â€ Professor Terwilliger said. â€œDid you meet Tilly?â€
â€œI donâ€™t believe I have,â€ Gemma said.
â€œThis is Tilly,â€ Professor Terwilliger said. â€œTilly, this is Gemma Jones!â€
â€œHello,â€ Gemma said.
â€œYes, I know who she is,â€ Tilly said with a smile.
The two women shook hands.
â€œWelcome to the farm,â€ Tilly said. â€œI could go make us some refreshments.â€
Professor Terwilliger watched her go, obviously delighted by her presence.
â€œOh oh oh!â€ he said when he turned back to them and nodding towards the strange rocket. â€œWhat do I owe the pleasure? Iâ€™m not ready to test it. Iâ€™m hoping it doesnâ€™t explode. It might.â€
Professor Stalloid showed Professor Terwilliger the modifications heâ€™d made to the lightning gun. He didnâ€™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.
â€œWhat do I owe the pleasure?â€ Professor Terwilliger asked again.
â€œWell, I heard you were harboring this fugitive,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œOtto? Ottoâ€™s been a great help. Heâ€™s very good at fetching and carrying. He doesnâ€™t have a mind for science, you know. But, Iâ€™ll take whatever help I can get.â€
Otto had already learned about Professor Terwilligerâ€™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 hadnâ€™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.
â€œDemon slayer!?!â€ 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.
â€œDonâ€™t feel bad,â€ he whispered to him. â€œWilder 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 manâ€™s nerves about the entire incident.
They had a pleasant picnic lunch. Professor Terwilliger told them the rocket wasnâ€™t ready and the others had blown up on the launch pad.
â€œStalloid, you know what the tongâ€™s been doing?â€ Otto said.
â€œOh, theyâ€™re looking for you,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œOh. Oh. Thatâ€™s horrible.â€
â€œThe leader came and visited me again. He said he was looking for you. He was mad that I had brought you inâ”€â€
â€œA leader of a tong!?!â€ Professor Terwilliger said. â€œYou should stay out of San Francisco. Their influence is very small outside of San Francisco.â€
â€œWhich is why Iâ€™m here,â€ Professor Stalloid said. â€œWe were going to go to Devilâ€™s Gulch. Would you care to join us?â€
â€œWhy?â€ Otto said.
â€œMy sister lives there and Iâ€™d like to see her,â€ Gemma said. â€œIâ€™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 Devilâ€™s Gulch.
â€œIf the tong is looking for me, I know they donâ€™t tend to operate out of San Franciscoâ”€â€ Otto said.
â€œChinatown,â€ Terwilliger said.
â€œChinatown,â€ Otto said.
â€œWell, Chinatown and my house,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œThey came to your home?â€ Professor Terwilliger said.
â€œIâ€™m glad I donâ€™t live in San Francisco.â€
â€œYou said that they donâ€™t know exactly what I am, they know what I look like?â€ Otto asked Professor Stalloid. â€œIs that right?â€
â€œYes,â€ Professor Stalloid said. â€œAlso, at least I donâ€™t believe they know that Iâ€™m with you because I also pointed out that you were trying to shoot me. I donâ€™t know if you remember that.â€
â€œI donâ€™t â€¦ remember that â€¦â€
â€œYou wanted to shoot me!â€
â€œDid I hit you?â€
â€œNo. But you were aiming!â€
â€œOh my goodness,â€ Tilly said.
â€œIâ€™m glad I missed,â€ Otto said.
â€œThatâ€™s quite aggressive!â€ Professor Terwilliger said.
Otto asked Professor Terwilliger about his earlier offer of someone who could remove a scar. He didnâ€™t want to have the tongs after him. Professor Terwilliger said he would look into it.
â€œHow are we getting to Devilâ€™s Gulch?â€ Otto asked. â€œTrain again?â€
Gemma looked uncomfortable.
â€œWe were going to ride,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œRide on horseback?â€ Otto said.
â€œIâ€™d actually prefer that. Itâ€™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.
â€œThe blend was a little strong,â€ he noted.
â€œMr. Dunspar,â€ Professor Stalloid said. â€œRobert.â€
â€œWhat are you doing with them again, Terwilliger?â€ Dunspar said, pointing at the window at the rocket in the corral.
â€œWell, at the moment, Iâ€™m hoping for low orbit,â€ Professor Terwilliger said.
â€œThen the moon!â€ Professor Terwilliger said.
â€œAnd approximately how much fuel are you using?â€ Dunspar said.
â€œThe correct amount. Iâ€™ve just not got the fuel â€¦ itâ€™s a little too rich. So, Iâ€™m lowering the richness but Iâ€™m not sure if it will get us off the ground. Iâ€™m certain that this is mankindâ€™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 hadnâ€™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.
â€œSo, what do you all do?â€ Dunspar asked. â€œHow do you know Terwilliger?â€
â€œBobby?â€ Professor Stalloid said. â€œRobert? Bob? Robby?â€
â€œI prefer to go by Robert but Bob is okay as well.â€
â€œHow you doing, Bob?â€
â€œUh â€¦ Iâ€™m fairly well. Just coming to see what Terwilligerâ€™s up to these days.â€
â€œHow interested are you in the paranormal? Weâ€™re rounding up a posse, you see.â€
â€œNot particularly. Iâ€™ve read a few books on those things.â€
â€œYou see, my sister, Lily, has opened up her own saloon in Devilâ€™s Gulch, which Iâ€™m very proud of her for,â€ Gemma said. â€œBut, Iâ€™m becoming increasingly concerned about her well-being, which â€¦ probably has something to do with things beyond our realm of understanding.â€
â€œWhat do you mean?â€ Tilly asked.
â€œThings which should not be seen,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œThatâ€™s also very vague.â€
â€œThings that live between the stars.â€
â€œSupernatural creatures,â€ Gemma said.
â€œGiant flying ones with necks like the dragons of old,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œYou donâ€™t need to scare her,â€ Gemma said.
Professor Terwilliger nodded.
â€œI donâ€™t scare easily,â€ Tilly said.
Gemma looked at the woman.
â€œThey could bite a man in half quite easily,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œIâ€™m sorry,â€ Gemma said. â€œHow do you know Terwilliger?â€
â€œOh, heâ€™s my father,â€ Tilly said. â€œMatilda, I prefer.â€
â€œTilly is your name!â€ Professor Terwilliger said.
â€œFather,â€ she said. â€œIâ€™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.
â€œI donâ€™t know what Iâ€™d do without her,â€ Professor Terwilliger said of Tilly. â€œLambertâ€™s been a big help. But he wonâ€™t put the wings on.â€
â€œIâ€™d rather not,â€ Otto said.
Professor Terwilliger shook his finger at the man.
â€œYour sister â€¦ youâ€™re concerned about her?â€ Dunspar said.
â€œYes, 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,â€ Gemma said.
â€œWell, I donâ€™t see why youâ€™d be worrying about her then,â€ Dunspar said.
â€œWell, I â€¦ Iâ€™m concerned for her well-being as far as things that I have witnessed,â€ Gemma said.
â€œThe supernatural things that you mentioned before?â€ Tilly said.
â€œYes,â€ Gemma said.
â€œThat could potentially put her in danger?â€ Dunspar said.
â€œYes, I have heard â€¦ I have heard that there might be strange things occurring in Devilâ€™s Gulch,â€ Gemma said. â€œAnd that is why I am concerned for her. I know she could make it on her own, bless her, but â€¦ but Iâ€™m worried for her sake if the supernatural is â€¦ would be of â€¦â€
She trailed off.
â€œIt does strike my curiosity,â€ Dunspar said. â€œBut â€¦â€
â€œI figured since you worked together you might have heard of his knowings and dealings of the supernatural,â€ Gemma said.
â€œWhoâ€™s knowings!?!â€ Professor Terwilliger said.
â€œI donâ€™t talk about that too openly,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œProfessor Stalloid has knowings?â€Professor Terwilliger said.
â€œI told you about the - the girl that floated above the air.â€
â€œOh yes. The woman that floated above the air. That Indian woman.â€
â€œAnd now those dragons on the train.â€
â€œThat was quite disturbing.â€
â€œYes,â€ Otto said.
â€œWell, I didnâ€™t see them, but I heard tell,â€ Professor Terwilliger said.
â€œYeah,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œI stayed in my bed.â€
â€œIn Chinatown there were these demons. They were like an ape but not quite. Like an insect, but not quite.â€
â€œIâ€™m sure theyâ€™re just creatures we havenâ€™t discovered yet,â€ Dunspar said.
â€œYes, there must be some logical explanation,â€ Professor Terwilliger said.
â€œThey can appear and disappear from existence,â€ Professor Stalloid said. â€œAs if they were passing into some sort of realm we cannot see.â€
â€œAnd then there was that device,â€ Professor Terwilliger said.
â€œThe device,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œDevice?â€ Dunspar said.
â€œIâ€™m not allowed to talk about that!â€ Professor Terwilliger said. â€œDonâ€™t ask!â€
â€œI havenâ€™t seen the military in a while and they donâ€™t even have it any more,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œThey donâ€™t have it any more?â€
â€œThey donâ€™t have it anymore. It got thrown off the train. Uh â€¦ pulled off. Someone picked it up and ran off the train with it, over a bridge.â€
â€œThatâ€™s a terrible place to leave a train.â€
â€œYeah. My comrades, Weisswald and Jacali, they went and tracked it.â€
â€œI was there too,â€ Otto said.
â€œThey found footprints that just disappeared,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œI found the tracks as well.â€
â€œAlong the track.â€
â€œFascinating,â€ Professor Terwilliger said.
â€œAs if he floated away,â€ Professor Stalloid said. â€œIt was that Jack Parker.â€
â€œCreature that has the ability to â€¦â€ Dunspar said.
â€œTo phase out of existence,â€ Professor Stalloid said. â€œIt even pulled people out of existence.â€
â€œI donâ€™t remember hearing of this,â€ Gemma said.
â€œI vaguely remember it disappearing,â€ Otto said.
â€œIâ€™ve not heard of this,â€ Gemma said again.
â€œI was going to tell you before we encountered it, but it was too late!â€ Professor Stalloid said. â€œI didnâ€™t want anyone assaulting it at a melee range, in a brawl.â€
Gemma looked very offended.
â€œI was rather hoping we would just â€¦ kill it from afar,â€ Professor Terwilliger said.
â€œYou couldnâ€™t expect me just let that man lie there!â€ Gemma said. â€œWith that creature!â€
â€œWe could have helped him afterwards,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œYou attacked it?â€ Professor Terwilliger said.
â€œYes,â€ Gemma said.
â€œWith you fists?â€ Professor Terwilliger said.
â€œShe went at it with knives!â€ Professor Stalloid said.
Gemma pulled out her two hidden knives, startling the older man.
â€œOh my goodness,â€ he said. â€œThatâ€™s â€¦ thatâ€™s â€¦ incredibly impressive.â€
â€œIt almost murdered her,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œThese are somewhat of an heirloom to me,â€ Gemma said.
â€œItâ€™s still impressive,â€ Professor Terwilliger said. â€œVery impressive.â€
â€œIf it wasnâ€™t distracted by the lightning â€¦ the boom box, Iâ€™m afraid it would have killed her,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œI heard about some sort of animal attack in Chinatown, but â€¦â€ Dunspar said.
â€œIt was no animal,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œNo animal,â€ Otto said. â€œNo.â€
â€œYouâ€™re saying itâ€™s this creature that could â€¦ phase away?â€ Dunspar said.
â€œOne of them,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œOne of them?â€ Dunspar said.
Gemma glared at Otto.
â€œIt felt like there were â€¦ thousands â€¦ watching us,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œI would love to examine one of these creatures if itâ€™s incapacitated,â€ Dunspar said.
â€œAs far as I know, itâ€™s gone,â€ Otto said. â€œI donâ€™t know what happened to it. I shot it, I think, and then â€¦â€
â€œStick with us and Iâ€™m sure weâ€™ll find more!â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œItâ€™s probably not good for your health.â€
â€œDefinitely not good for your health.â€
They all looked at each other.
â€œGemma, whereâ€™s Clay?â€ Otto asked. â€œRonald.â€
â€œRonald Clay?â€ Gemma said.
â€œYes, because â€¦ you two are here, but I donâ€™t see our strongman.â€
â€œDid you not read about him?â€
â€œHe was supposedly attacked by â€¦ an animal.â€
â€œIs he dead?â€
â€œYes. Quite. It was in his obituary.â€
â€œSo far weâ€™ve lost two very brave men,â€ Professor Stalloid said. â€œIn our adventures.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know how much how much assistance I would provide â€¦ fighting these creatures,â€ Dunspar said.
â€œOh, I donâ€™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€
â€œIâ€™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 heâ€™d heard. Professor Stalloid said they had another gunfighter by the name of Jack West.
â€œAnd which one is the one with every bone broken in his body?â€ Dunspar asked.
â€œClayton Pierce,â€ Professor Stalloid said. â€œIt took a lot to bring him down.â€
â€œAnd whereâ€™s this â€˜Jack West,â€™â€ Dunspar said.
â€œAlso in the hospital,â€ Otto said. â€œYou would know him if you saw him.â€
â€œWeâ€™re just heading there, really, to investigate,â€ 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.
â€œHonestly, you can bring your research with you,â€ Professor Stalloid said. â€œI have a mobile lab.â€
â€œOh!â€ 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 marshalâ€™s badge on his chest.
â€œProfessor Stalloid!â€ Marshal Flute said in his high-pitched voice. â€œYouâ€™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.
â€œIâ€™m the town marshal,â€ Marshal Flute said after supper. â€œTown decided to keep me.â€
â€œWait, what happened to the last marshal?â€ Dunspar asked.
â€œHe was murdered,â€ Marshal Flute said. â€œIt was pretty bad. He was killed and put in a grave.â€
â€œHe pushed him in front of a wagon and broke both his legs,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œI was trying to stop him from walking under a ladder. No, black cat. Because â€¦ you know â€¦ 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 heâ€™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. Chinâ€™s hospital so she could get some more medical attention.
* * *