* * *
â€œWho are you?â€ West asked.
â€œRobert Dunspar,â€ Dunspar said. â€œA friend of Stalloid. Also a friend of Terwilliger. Do you know him?â€
â€œOh, we know Terwilliger,â€ Marshal Pierce said.
â€œMad fellow, yes.â€
â€œSo, are you two friends?â€
â€œI have more friends back in my home town but â€¦ of this group, yes. I know Otto.â€
â€œI think you mightâ€™ve picked the two worst ones,â€ West said.
â€œYeah,â€ Marshal Pierce said. â€œEspecially when theyâ€™re together.â€
â€œNothing gets done,â€ West said.
â€œWhat do you do?â€ Marshal West asked.
â€œIâ€™m a scientist,â€ Dunspar said. â€œPrimarily in the physics and chemistry areas.â€
â€œOkay, so itâ€™s p-terodactyl then, right?â€Marshal Pierce said.
â€œAs a doctor, yourself, of physics â€¦â€ West said.
â€œNot a doctor,â€ Dunspar said. â€œNot yet.â€
â€œP-hysics,â€ West said.
â€œP-hysics,â€ Marshal Pierce said.
â€œâ€˜PHâ€™ makes the â€˜fâ€™ sound,â€ Dunspar said. â€œNot â€¦â€
â€œI feel like that one is correct,â€ West said.
â€œI mightâ€™ve been wrong on that one,â€ Marshal Pierce said.
â€œP-terodactyl!â€ West said.
â€œWith the â€˜ptâ€™ I donâ€™t know if it would be silent or not,â€ Dunspar said.
â€œNever heard of a silent â€˜p,â€™â€ West said. â€œIâ€™ve just heard of an â€˜fâ€™ â€˜p.â€™â€
They discussed spelling and pronunciation until the Stalloid and Jacali came out.
â€œMay I go back in and read, Stalloid?â€ 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.
â€œHey, Stalloid, the snake man wake up?â€ West asked.
â€œSnake woman,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œDid you check her?â€
â€œHow can you tell?â€ Marshal Pierce asked.
â€œShe told us,â€ Professor Stalloid said. â€œSâ€™Slir-ethess.â€
â€œSâ€™Slir-ethess?â€ West said.
â€œOf course, it starts with an â€˜s,â€™â€ Marshal Pierce said.
â€œAnd ends!â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œAnd ends,â€ Marshal Pierce said. â€œWhat did it say?â€
â€œUh â€¦â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œDo we get to talk to her?â€ West said.
â€œNo,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œWhy?â€ West said.
â€œWhat did it say though?â€ Marshal Pierce said.
â€œIt said it was very thankful for us saving it,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œIs it going to give us anything?â€ West said.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t have anything, sir!â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œItâ€™s a snake?â€ West said.
â€œDo you want its hide too?â€
â€œIt could spit in a jar for us! I donâ€™t know how you get venom.â€
â€œSo, now thatâ€™s itâ€™s woke up â€¦ now that itâ€™s woke up, are we just going to release it into the wild and go on our way?â€ Marshal Pierce said.
â€œOf course not!â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œItâ€™s a snake!â€
â€œItâ€™s still injured. Its stitches would probably rip.â€
â€œJust like we didnâ€™t wait three days and then release you into the wild!â€
â€œIâ€™m a person!â€
â€œItâ€™s a person!â€
â€œItâ€™s a snake!â€
â€œItâ€™s a snake person,â€ Jacali said.
â€œI feel like there should be a term for this,â€ Wilder said. â€œI cannot think what it would be.â€
â€œIt has consciousness,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œWait, why would we want to release it?â€ West said. â€œWe can learn from this thing.â€
â€œLearn what?â€ Marshal Pierce said.
â€œI donâ€™t know. It uses different weapons then us, probably.â€
â€œWhat weapons? This is the first Iâ€™ve heard of this.â€
â€œI â€¦ they had medieval stuff but â€¦ hopefully they got some sort of fancy guns.â€
â€œSpeaking of learning, what were the pages that you ripped out of this book?â€ Dunspar asked.
â€œWhat Iâ€™m reading right now,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œAnd something that no one should read.â€
â€œI wanna read that bit!â€ West said.
â€œNo!â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œBut now Iâ€™m curious.â€
Professor Stalloid just shook his head.
â€œWhatâ€™s this reading Iâ€™m hearing about?â€ Marshal West said. â€œYouâ€™re reading stuff now?â€
â€œCan-can you read?â€ West said.
â€œI can read!â€ Marshal Pierce said, disgusted at the question.
â€œIâ€™m going to talk to it tomorrow,â€ West said.
â€œNope, you will not,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œThe day after tomorrow.â€
â€œBefore we release it.â€
â€œWeâ€™ll take a rain check on that,â€ Jacali said.
â€œWhy?â€ West said.
â€œBecause the doctor is in charge to see who the patient sees,â€ Jacali said.
â€œThings donâ€™t go that well when you talk to them,â€ Professor Stalloid said. â€œIâ€™m sorry.â€
â€œI am an elegant human being!â€ West said.
â€œYes, elegant, not eloquent,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œI agree with two out of three of those words,â€ Marshal Pierce said.
â€œI can say that youâ€™re elegant but not eloquent,â€ Professor Stalloid said. â€œAnd thatâ€™s what we need here.â€
â€œI just donâ€™t think heâ€™s human,â€ Marshal Pierce said.
â€œI think thatâ€™s obvious,â€ Jacali said. â€œBut she can think and speak and talk to us.â€
â€œThey barely would allow me in there!â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œYeah, we were kind of one the fence about it,â€ Jacali said.
â€œYou people,â€ West said.
â€œSo, what?â€ Marshal Pierce said. â€œWe just going to hang out here in this boring town?â€
â€œNo, weâ€™ll go to Devilâ€™s Gulch,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œWith it?â€ Marshal Pierce said.
â€œYeah,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œAnd I still donâ€™t get to talk to it?â€ West said.
â€œNo,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œWhere do I get to sit from now on when weâ€™re riding then?â€
â€œOn one of the other horses.â€
â€œOh, I get to ride your horses now?â€
â€œHow did you get here?â€ 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 theyâ€™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.
â€œHey, we eating coon this morning?â€ Marshal Pierce said.
â€œWhat is going on?â€ West said.
â€œThis is for the patient,â€ Jacali said.
She entered the medicine wagon and Professor Stalloid closed the door behind her.
â€œCan I at least watch her eat!?!â€ West said.
* * *
Sâ€™Slir-ethess took the live raccoon and ordered Dr. Weisswald, Jacali, and Professor Stalloid to leave the medicine wagon. Jacali left.
â€œThis is my home,â€ Professor Stalloid said. â€œAnd you are a suspicious individual. There are plenty of weapons in here.â€
â€œThere are?â€ Sâ€™Slir-ethess said. â€œShow me where these weapons are.â€
â€œIâ€™m just going to turn around and weâ€™ll have the door closed so no one else can see,â€ Professor Stalloid went on. â€œWeisswald will turn around too. And â€¦ weâ€™ll let you eat.â€
Sâ€™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 couldnâ€™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.
â€œHave you gotten the other thing I require?â€ she asked.
â€œNot yet,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
He held up his arms to indicate he didnâ€™t know.
â€œWhat does that mean?â€ she asked.
â€œThis means I donâ€™t know,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œPrimates,â€ she muttered.
â€œWeâ€™re trying to find a suitable body for you,â€ Dr. Weisswald said.
â€œIt must be close to my size,â€ she said.
* * *
They set off that day, making their way east. Jack West rode Basil, one of Professor Stalloidâ€™s horses. Jacali rode Shy Anne, Dr. Weisswaldâ€™s horse. Otto rode Nalin, Jacaliâ€™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 Stalloidâ€™s horses as well: Coriander.
â€œIf you do anything to Cory, Iâ€™ll kill you,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œOkay,â€ 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.
â€œSo, Stalloid, did we ever find out whatâ€™s in those jars?â€ Jack West asked that night.
â€œOh,â€ Professor Stalloid said. â€œVery, very good poison.â€
â€œCan you put â€˜em on bullets?â€
â€œI doubt it. That could clog up your gun.â€
â€œIn the bullets.â€
â€œIn the bullets? What good would that do?â€
â€œSo itâ€™s got a little hole in the front of the bullet.â€
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.
â€œStalloid, when do you think we will be able to use your wagon again?â€ Dunspar said.
â€œI would like to know this as well,â€ West said.
Professor Stalloid went to talk to Weisswald about it.
â€œHey,â€ he said. â€œShould we ask around to see if any women have died recently?â€
â€œIt would have to be within a few hours,â€ she said.
â€œI think they would question your tastes a little bit.â€
â€œI know, but Iâ€™m going to be out of this town.â€
When Professor Stalloid left the medicine wagon, West confronted him again.
â€œSo, Stalloid,â€ he said. â€œCan I see her today?â€
Professor Stalloid took out his research journal and drew a picture of what the serpent person looked like. It wasnâ€™t a very good drawing.
â€œIâ€™ve seen her,â€ West said. â€œI would like to speak to her.â€
Professor Stalloid looked around.
â€œAll right,â€ West said.
â€œI believe weâ€™ve already talked about that,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œCan we ask why?â€
â€œâ€˜Cause she doesnâ€™t seem like she wants to talk to us either.â€
â€œAh. Then whatâ€™re we doing with her?â€
â€œWhat are the stipulations?â€
â€œShe wants something first. I will not tell you what but Iâ€™ll tell you when we find it.â€
â€œMaybe I can help!â€
â€œMm, Iâ€™m sure you could very easily. Very quickly even.â€
â€œWell, then, why donâ€™t you tell me?â€
â€œBecause we donâ€™t want to go that route.â€
â€œWhat? But if I can get it done faster, then why wouldnâ€™t you want me to know?â€
â€œYou could get it done faster, but way messier. Weâ€™re trying to have no mess.â€
â€œSometimes you gotta break a few dozen eggs if you wanna make â€¦ uh â€¦ eggs.â€
He looked at the man.
â€œSo, youâ€™re just trying to stick a syringe into your egg and â€¦ suck out the juices,â€ West said. â€œGet what you need and then leave the rest?â€
Stalloid just looked at the man.
â€œYou doctors are strange,â€ West said.
Professor Stalloid gave him some more laudanum and walked away.
â€œThis will keep my quiet for a while,â€ 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 â€œGo back, or suffer things too dreadful to speak!â€ 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.
â€œWell, this is gonna slow us down,â€ West grumbled.
â€œDo I need to try to find another way around?â€ 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.
â€œLetâ€™s go take shelter over at that house!â€ West shouted over the roaring storm.
â€œSounds like a good plan!â€ Dunspar said.
â€œReally?â€ Jacali said. â€œAt the spooky house?â€
â€œItâ€™s shelter,â€ Dunspar said.
â€œAll right,â€ Jacali said.
â€œIâ€™m done getting wet,â€ West said. â€œI call upstairs!â€
They made their way to the house and could see more of it in the flashes of lightning as they approached.
â€œWe donâ€™t even know if anybody lives there,â€ Jacali yelled. â€œHow can you call upstairs?â€
â€œI call upstairs!â€ 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 hadnâ€™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 didnâ€™t bother to rub them down, unsure if theyâ€™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 hadnâ€™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 didnâ€™t walk alone. Shades and draperies covered the windows but it looked dark inside.
The front door was solid oak and had two brass wolfâ€™s head knockers. Each of the knockers was held in the mouth of the brass wolfâ€™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.
â€œYes?â€ the ugly manâ€™s nasal voice inquired. â€œWhat can I do for you on a doom-laden, bloodcurdling night such as tonight?â€
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.
â€œWe would like to escape the storm if you have room,â€ Marshal Pierce said after getting over the initial shock of seeing the horrible little man.
â€œWe were traveling and the bridge was out,â€ Jacali said.
â€œOh!â€ the hunchback said. â€œOf course. Of course. Iâ€™m sorry, the masterâ€™s busy right now. But he will be pleased, oh yes, very pleased indeed, to have some new bodies around the house.â€
â€œBut the house is warm â€¦ very warm,â€ he went on. â€œYou can find shelter here against the night â€¦ if only for short while. Please stay. It would mean so much to the master!â€
He opened the door fully and gestured for them to enter.
â€œWe donâ€™t have a choice and we have guns so Iâ€™m not worried,â€ Marshal Pierce said.
â€œIâ€™ve seen plenty of creepy white folks and this is one of the creepiest but itâ€™s this or the rain,â€ Jacali said.
â€œWho?â€ the hunchback asked.
â€œUh â€¦ not you, sir,â€ Jacali said. â€œItâ€™s the man back there.â€
She pointed at Jack West, still standing in the rain.
â€œOh, I didnâ€™t see him,â€ the hunchback said. Then he raised his voice. â€œCome in! Come in!â€
West walked to the porch.
â€œJack, you might be better suited to talk to this individual,â€ Marshal Pierce said.
The hunchback didnâ€™t seem concerned with Jack Westâ€™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.
â€œWhat about your lady-friend?â€ the hunchback back.
â€œWhat?â€ Marshal Pierce said.
â€œOh,â€ West said.
â€œSheâ€™ll be back,â€ Marshal Pierce said.
â€œSheâ€™s just wiping down the horses,â€ West said.
â€œCome in,â€ the hunchback said. â€œCome in.â€
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 couldnâ€™t see what was in them in the dark.
â€œWe need to look around before we bring the others in,â€ 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.
â€œMake yourself at home,â€ the hunchback said. â€œThings have been dead around here of late. The master will be pleased to deal with the living for a change.â€
â€œWho is your master?â€ Marshal Pierce asked.
The hunchback didnâ€™t seem to hear him and disappeared into the darkness.
â€œLetâ€™s just inspect,â€ Marshal Pierce said. â€œLetâ€™s just inspect the house. I ainâ€™t waiting.â€
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.
* * *
â€œDo you want to follow him or should I follow him?â€ Marshal Pierce said.
â€œYou follow him,â€ West said. â€œIâ€™m going to check upstairs.â€
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 didnâ€™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 â€œNeudorfâ€ upon it. There was no furniture in the room aside from a single, hard-backed chair.
As he moved to the archway they hadnâ€™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.
â€œAll righty,â€ West said. â€œSo â€¦ little creepy man just keeps spitting off cryptic messages so it might not be safe. Jus for yâ€™allâ€™s general information.â€
â€œHave most of the places weâ€™ve ever been been safe?â€ Otto said.
â€œCome to think of it, no,â€ West said.
â€œMy house was pretty safe,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œThe last two towns were pretty safe,â€ Dunspar said.
â€œYeah,â€ Otto said quietly.
â€œI ignore boring,â€ West muttered.
He went into the dining room.
â€œSo, where is our host?â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œHe said wait,â€ West said.
â€œHe said wait?â€
â€œIâ€™m not waiting.â€
â€œYouâ€™re not waiting? But itâ€™s not your house.â€
â€œItâ€™s my upstairs.â€
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.
â€œI lost him,â€ 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.
â€œWhat have you found?â€ Professor Stalloid called from the parlor.
â€œBooks!â€ West called back.
â€œA library?â€ 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 didnâ€™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 didnâ€™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.
â€œJesus,â€ 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.
â€œJacali, what are you looking for?â€ Wilder asked.
â€œThese journals are written in German,â€ Otto said.
â€œWhat do they say?â€ 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.
â€œAre you the master of this home that Iâ€™m supposed to be waiting for downstairs?â€ he asked.
There was no reply. Marshal Pierce inched closer.
â€œDid you hear me?â€ he said.
There was no reply. He moved a little closer and put his hand over his gun.
â€œAre you the master of this home?â€ 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 didnâ€™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.
â€œJack?â€ 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 dressmakerâ€™s dummy.
Then he heard footsteps behind him.
â€œPierce?â€ Jacali said.
â€œUp here,â€ Pierce said as he picked up the dressmakerâ€™s dummy and put the sheet over it again.
â€œYou all right?â€
â€œYou knocking things over?â€
â€œA little bit.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s up here?â€
â€œUh â€¦ dummyâ€™s disguised as men.â€
â€œAh. Iâ€™ve heard thatâ€™s just men â€¦ but okay.â€
â€œI canâ€™t seem to find the man who greeted us at the door and thereâ€™s a master of the house that I still havenâ€™t found but, I tell you what, they do not take care of this place from what Iâ€™ve seen.â€
â€œIt seems thatâ€™s what Iâ€™ve seen as well. Have you checked all these rooms?â€
Jacali took the hood off one of the lamps and just looked at it.
â€œYou need a match?â€ Marshal Pierce said.
â€œAh yes,â€ Jacali said. â€œThatâ€™s typically how you make fire.â€
He lit one of the lamps.
â€œIâ€™ve checked everything on the second floor and this seems to be the only place on the third floor,â€ Marshal Pierce said. â€œI donâ€™t know where this man could have gone without me or Jack West running into him again.â€
â€œExactly,â€ Jacali said. â€œAnd you said there was a master so two people in this house which we havenâ€™t seen? Doesnâ€™t make sense to me.â€
â€œI havenâ€™t thoroughly inspected but I donâ€™t know why they would be hiding from us.â€
â€œThis is the room we saw a lamp in, right?â€
â€œI think so. I canâ€™t remember. We should â€¦ are the others inside yet or are they still in the stables?â€
â€œEverybodyâ€™s inside, I believe.â€
* * *
â€œHelp!â€ a voice called. â€œGet me out of here! Help! Help! Iâ€™m trapped!â€
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.
â€œAre you the master of the house?â€ Professor Stalloid said through the door. â€œHello? Sir?â€
â€œHelp!â€ the voice came again. â€œGet me out of here! Help!â€
â€œAre you the master of the house?â€ Professor Stalloid said again.
â€œHelp!â€ the voice said. â€œIâ€™m trapped!â€
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.
â€œHelp!â€ the bird called out. â€œHelp! Get me out of here! Iâ€™m trapped! Hurry!â€
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 Newtonâ€™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 â€œclack.â€ The motion continued for some time. The noise startled the others.
â€œMaybe heâ€™s a master of anatomy,â€ 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.
â€œI heard something!â€ 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.
â€œI heard something,â€ 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.
â€œWhat happened down here?â€ Marshal Pierce asked.
Wilder looked at him.
â€œI too, heard, a loud noise and came to investigate,â€ he said. â€œAnd found the door open. I have not yetâ”€â€
â€œThat was locked when I tried it earlier,â€ 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.
â€œHello?â€ she said.
The parrot just stared at her.
â€œHelp me!â€ she said to it.
It didnâ€™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.
* * *