Tuesday, January 29, 2019
(After playing the Call of Cthulhu Down Darker Trails Catastrophe Engine Campaign Ravenloft: Masque of Red Death scenario “Falls Run” by James Wyatt from Dungeon Adventures #67 Sunday from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. with Yorie Latimer, Ben Abbot, James Brown, John Leppard, Ashton LeBlanc, and Samantha Underwood.)
It was still snowing on the morning of Thursday, December 23, 1875. Five or six inches of snow were on the ground and the scraping of shovels on the sidewalks outside was the first indication it had snowed to those staying at the downtown hotel. It was cold outside.
They met for breakfast at the hotel and Professor Stalloid told them about his strange dream of the night before. He told them the cat said to him “The wolf is widespread and hurts my mistress’ children. As does its kin. There is a traitor in the midst of them, hidden in sleep. Deal with him as you will. He is no longer one of hers, but belongs to the wolf. Stop the others that kill her children.”
“So, there’s a wolf that doesn’t like them,” Jacali said.
“Sounds like the witch, maybe,” Jack West said.
“I think there’s a person in the house that’s under medical sleep or something, and we’ve got to wake them up,” Professor Stalloid said. “God says so.”
“You’ve become a prophet suddenly,” Jacali said.
“You do realize that … Jacali here probably does not believe in Christianity,” Otto said.
“Oh, I never said Christian,” Professor Stalloid said.
Otto looked at him.
“What does Yahweh have to do with this?” Professor Stalloid said.
“Yahweh?” Otto said.
“Stalloid’s really good at things,” Jacali said.
“Interesting,” Jack West said.
* * *
It was still snowing when they met to board the 2:10 westbound for Wheeling, which passed through West Virginia and then headed north from Grafton to Wheeling. According to their tickets, they would not even need to change trains once during the journey. There were three engines on the train, the first of which had a huge snow plow affixed to it. These were followed by the coal car, an express car, a baggage car, a dining car, five Pullman sleeper cars, and the caboose.
People at Camden Station were talking about the storm that had blown in from the west as they discussed the six inches of snow already on the ground. A few talked of a blizzard coming through.
Their tickets were for the middle of the three passenger cars.
The Pullman cars were luxurious compared to the standards they were used to out west. The seats were upholstered with fine cloth and the chandelier in the ceiling over the aisle gave a comforting, warm light. The fold-down bunk above the seats was exquisitely decorated and the well-dressed porters moved down the aisle with graceful efficiency.
The Pullman cars were ornately decorated, inside and out, and sumptuously furnished. The main chamber of the car consisted of twelve compartments of two facing seats, a row of three compartments on either side of the car. The seats could be folded together to form a lower bunk, while and upper berth folded down from the ceiling of the car. Curtains could be pulled around each bunk for privacy. A gas chandelier hung in the aisle between each pair of compartments.
At the forward end of the main compartment, a curtain led into a narrow hallway linked to the car entrance. The hall bent around the smoking room and ended before a door leading to the vestibule between cars. At the rear end of the sleeping compartment, a second curtain opened into another hallway, which led to a rear vestibule identical to the forward one. A door in that hallway led to a drawing room.
Otto and Professor Stalloid took seats in the front of the car on the left, across from Jacali, Dr. Weisswald, and Ophelia. Jack West had a seat behind them and found he was sharing the pair of seats with a young clean-shaven man wearing a bowler and a nice suit. Miss Bloomberg, meanwhile, had gotten a seat in the back of the car with a young woman who wore fine clothing.
Sitting directly behind Otto was a family of four, a man with a mustache, a pretty blonde woman, a young girl of possibly 12, and a little boy of six or seven. Professor Stalloid leaned forward as the train was being boarded. The little girl was reading Little women.
“What do you want for Christmas?” he asked the little boy.
Across the aisle from Miss Bloomberg was a man with a thick mustache and a woman who chatted as if they had not yet met. He tucked a heavy wooden box with a handle under his seat.
They had noticed the two ladies and the clean-shaven gentlemen had entered the train together and seemed a little disappointed they couldn’t sit together. Professor Stalloid stared at them as they boarded the car. He looked over everyone for weapons. He also looked for anyone looking at him.
The conductor approached Jack West.
“I’m sorry, sir, we’re going to have to take those pistols off your belt, please,” he said.
“Are they going to be secure?” Jack West said.
“Yes sir. They’re going to be in the baggage car.”
He wanted to take the large duffel bag he carried as well as it was too large for a carry-on. Jack West put the pistols in the duffel bag and the conductor made sure it was secure and put his name on it before handing it off to a porter with orders to stow it in the baggage car. Otto had already stowed his rifle there.
Professor Stalloid noticed the boy in the seat just stared at him. The child was standing on the chair behind Otto, his arms on the back of the seat, and just looking at him. Professor Stalloid took out the camera-shaped lightning gun and pantomimed taking a picture of the child. Dr. Weisswald noticed and quickly covered her ears. Jacali thought the man was handing the lightning gun to the child.
“Oh, Jesus, Stalloid!” she cried out. “Don’t!”
Otto, his seat facing Professor Stalloid, reached across and gently pushed the camera down.
“What?” Professor Stalloid said, tucking the camera away. “I was taking his picture.”
“I know what that is,” Otto said.
“Yeah, but … he doesn’t,” Professor Stalloid said.
“You were trying to kill him without him knowing!?!” Jacali whispered to the man.
“No, he’s looking at me,” Professor Stalloid said. “I figured he wanted his picture taken.”
Finally settled in their seats after pressing through crowds of holiday travelers for what seemed like hours, they all allowed themselves a deep breath and began to relax.
“Yea!” the little boy said as his mother gave him a lollipop.
“Board!” the conductor called out. “Westbound for Grafton, West Virginia, and Wheeling, West Virginia. Final call! Board!”
A few minutes later, right at 2:10 p.m., the train lurched into motion as the snow continued to come down outside. The conductor was soon coming around to punch tickets. He told them to find a porter if they needed anything and noted the dining car would be open from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. for dinner that night.
They were on their way.
* * *
Otto talked to Professor Stalloid about his idea of a scope for a rifle, though he was unsure how he would put it together, exactly.
“I got the idea from seeing these tubes that the sharpshooters put on their rifles in the war,” he said. “I swear, those things were terrible. This. This is different.”
Professor Stalloid thought it a good idea and wanted to add pivoting rings of extra lenses with slots that you could filter in and out as the shooter desired. It sounded awfully complicated to Otto.
“Maybe later,” he said.
* * *
Jacali was carving a piece of dark wood into the cat statuette Professor Stalloid had asked for. It was actually coming along remarkably well and looked much better than the Yig statuette she had worked on for a Christmas present for Ophelia.
* * *
Jack West learned the man sitting across from him was Alvin Stephens and he was a bit dull. Stephens didn’t mention Jack West’s face, probably out of politeness. He pointed out the woman sitting behind him and the one cattycorner sitting with Miss Bloomberg as his cousins, Elise and Elaine respectively. Jack West learned they were traveling to Cincinnati, Ohio, so they’d be changing trains in Grafton. They were going home for Christmas. Miss Bloomberg was having a nice conversation with Elaine Stephens.
* * *
Every once in a while, no more than hourly, Dr. Weisswald heard Ophelia cast her Find Serpent Folk spell. She always looked disappointed afterwards.
* * *
The little boy had stopped staring at Professor Stalloid once the train was underway. He stared out the window at the scenery rushing past instead.
Definitely not a Pinkerton, Professor Stalloid thought.
* * *
The trip was, for the most part, uneventful. They had a nice meal in the dining car around 6 p.m. consisting of sirloin, mashed potatoes, green beans, and drinks. The train continued to push through the ever-deepening snow as they moved through the mountains of West Virginia. At 9:50, the train stopped in the town of Keyser, West Virginia, for water, coal, and for a few passengers to get on and off.
At 10:15 p.m., not long after the train left Keyser, the porters started to come through to fold down the beds for people to sleep. They also lowered the lights in the car and asked if anyone wished to stay up, they go to the dining car or the smoking room or drawing room. They were free to stay up in their beds, if they wished, but the seats were being folded down at that time.
Jack West went to the smoking room to ponder on his dependence on laudanum and wonder if it was something he should, perhaps, try to stop taking.
Professor Stalloid took the top berth above Otto, who tucked his pistol under his pillow. He thought, if a Pinkerton came into the car, it would mean they would have to get through Otto to get to him. Across the way, Ophelia and Dr. Weisswald took the top berth and Jacali took the bottom. Alvin Stephens had told Jack West he would take the top bunk and would leave the curtains of the other open for the man. Across from them the family had split up with the little girl, Camilla, and her mother in the bottom berth and the father and the boy, Clovis, in the top. Behind them, Miss Bloomberg took the top berth while Elaine Stephens took the bottom. Across from them, the gentleman took the top bunk while Elise Stephens took the lower.
Jacali couldn’t sleep. She lay there for a short time before she got up and crept out of the front of the train car. It was terribly cold outside and the snow came down, much of it blowing onto her. She leaned on the railing and took a deep breath, enjoying the fresh air.
* * *
Professor Stalloid had fallen asleep. He heard movement around the car and then a scratching at the window.
Oh, this again, he thought.
He heard the window slide open.
“What do you want?” he said.
A cat padded in the window and sat on the terrified Professor Stalloid’s chest, staring down at him. He found it hard to breathe and found himself sweating.
“The wolf is widespread and hurts my mistress’ children,” a voice said. “As does its kin. There is a traitor in the midst of them, hidden in sleep. Deal with him as you will. He is no longer one of hers, but belongs to the wolf. Stop the others that kill her children.”
“Of course,” Professor Stalloid said.
The cat batted the man in the face and he blinked. The cat was gone. He looked towards the window and saw it was closed. He was bathed in sweat.
* * *
It was 11:15 when a piercing scream filled with horror echoed through the car.
Lambert Otto grabbed the pistol from under his pillow and his saber and slid out of bed as Jack West pushed the curtain aside near the smoking room and looked into the car. Dr. Weisswald likewise burst out of her berth. At the other end of the car, Miss Bloomberg peeked out of the curtains around her berth.
A young woman in her bedclothes was sprawled on the aisle floor, shrieking as she stared horrified at the berth above hers. The curtains of that bunk had been thrown back, and a man lie thrashing within, flailing wildly as if to ward off some demonic madman.
He fell out of the bunk onto the woman, yet no assailant followed him – just a simple pocket knife, surrounded by an eerie blue glow. Otto and Jack West noticed in a reflective surface they could see a man holding the knife, but when they looked, no man was there. The knife rose into the air before their eyes and plunged deep into the man’s back! The woman continued to scream horribly as blood seeped onto her bedclothes. A soft, gurgling noise escaped the man’s mouth as he began to slump lifeless.
As Otto, Dr. Weisswald, and Jack West ran down the aisle toward the dead man, he jerked up and staggered to his feet. Stiffly, he reached under his bunk as Otto trained his pistol on the man and cocked it, and the walking dead man produced a large box with a handle. Like some hideous automaton, he smashed the box against the floor, causing small pieces of delicate machinery to fly out from the ruined item.
Both Otto and Dr. Weisswald saw the man in a nearby reflection. In the image in the glass, he was not the same man, but a clean-shaven, thin, younger man with sunken eyes and high cheekbones, his face contorted with grief. Even his clothing had completely changed from the pajamas the mustached man wore to a nice suit.
“Get out of the way!” Jack West said.
There was a blast of cold air as Jacali burst into the front of the train car.
After mindlessly crashing the box down onto the floor a few more times, the man gave a slight cough and collapsed face-first on the cabin floor. Only this time, he did not stir again.
Otto nudged the body with his foot. He slide the saber out enough to see the reflection in the blade, but everything seemed normal.
The woman was crying hysterically and the woman in the berth across from her comforted her. Otto went to the box to examine it and saw the machinery within was destroyed. He recognized it as a telegrapher’s box that could be hooked up to the lines to send a message if there as an emergency on the train. It appeared to be broken beyond repair. He guessed the man might have been the train telegrapher and overheard the woman telling her sister that was what the man said his job was.
Professor Stalloid climbed out of his berth and approached. Jacali did as well.
“U.S. Marshal!” Otto said. “This is an odd request, but I need a mirror.”
“I gotta mirror,” Jack West said, pulling the silver mirror from his belt.
“Why would you have one?”
“I like to look at my pretty face.”
Another blast of air from the front of the car heralded the entrance of an older gentleman with a loud suit, a bowler, and a thick, handlebar mustache, waxed at the tips.
“What’s going on here?” he said. “What’s going on here?”
He started pushing past people in the aisle. Other passengers peeked out of their berths. Alvin and Elaine Stephens were trying to comfort Elise, who was still hysterical. Otto didn’t move out of the way.
“Excuse me, sir!” the man said to him. “Excuse me!”
“U.S. Marshal,” Otto said.
“You don’t have any authority here! I happen to be the train detective!”
“I don’t believe you.”
“I don’t care what you believe, sir! I’m the train detective! And on this train, I’m almost as important as the conductor! So, step aside! Step aside!”
“I want to see the conductor!” Professor Stalloid said.
Otto didn’t move.
“Sir, I’ll have you clapped in irons!” the other man said.
“I can have you clapped in irons,” Otto said.
“No, you can’t! This train is sovereign!”
Professor Stalloid leaned forward to Otto.
“He’s telling the truth,” he said.
“Step aside!” the man said. “Step aside!”
Otto finally stepped aside as the man stopped over the dead man’s body.
“What happened here?” he said.
“Well what do you think happened?” Otto said.
“That’s a very suspicious answer!” the train spotter said. “From someone who doesn’t want to give an answer.”
He looked at Otto’s badge.
“Is that real!?!” he said. “Hmmm. I’m watching you, sir.”
“Do you notice any bullet wounds in the body?” Otto said.
“There’s a knife wound in that man’s back,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Yes, I saw the knife!” the train spotter said. “I’m not a fool. What happened? Who saw this?”
Everyone looked at each other.
“Anyone?” the train spotter said.
“I saw the reflection,” Otto said.
“There was … uh …” Jack West started to say.
Otto described the man with high cheekbones and sunken eyes he’d seen in the reflection.
“Where is this man?” the train spotter said. “Which berth is he in?”
“I think he escaped,” Otto said.
“Did he get out the back?”
“I don’t know where he went.”
“Did anyone else see this man? What’d he look like? Tell me what he looked like.”
When no one answered, he huffed and puffed again.
“Who saw what happened?” he said.
“I was in my bunk,” Professor Stalloid said.
The train spotter looked him up and down.
“What about you two?” he finally said to Dr. Weisswald and Jack West. “You’re standing in the aisle.”
“I didn’t see any person …” Jack West said.
“Tell me what you saw!”
“A floating knife.”
The man frowned at him.
“All right, all right,” he said and turned to Dr. Weisswald. “What did you see?”
“I saw a man get stabbed,” she said. “He died instantly.”
“Yes, who did it?” the train spotter said. “Did you see the man who did it?”
She looked at him.
“No,” she finally said.
“Curses!” he said. “I’m going to have to examine everyone on this train.”
He turned to Otto.
“I’ll start with you,” he said.
He began asking Otto a battery of useless questions, wanting to know where his bunk was and what the man looked like who had done the stabbing, and where he had gone. He moved around the car and questioned every single person, even the children. Elaine Stephens told the man exactly what she saw: a floating knife with blue sparks all over it stabbed the man and then he stood up and smashed the box under his berth.
The train spotter questioned Jacali and learned she had been outside.
“Hm,” he said. “That’s highly suspicious. What were you doing out there?”
Jacali learned his name was Geoffrey Leecy.
“In the event of an emergency, is there any way for the train to contact the outside world, other than that box?” she said.
“No,” he said. “No. I’m going to make a recommendation that we get a new telegrapher when we stop in Grafton. Great thinking, young lady. See, now this. This! You could learn!”
He scowled at Otto before he started questioning the rest about what they saw as well. Dr. Weisswald told him the medical side of it.
“Maybe I should be the marshal, Otto,” Jacali quipped.
“Good luck trying to get approved,” Otto snarled.
“I don’t think I would try,” Jacali said.
The conductor showed up, left again, and brought some porters to remove the dead body. Everyone remained on edge.
“It sounds like it was some sort of man shrouded in an optical illusion that allowed him to appear to be invisible to most eyes,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Well, you have a camera!” the train spotter said. “Did you get a picture?”
“No, I was in my bunk.”
“That’s a shame.”
The train spotter continued to question people on the train. The little girl went back to Little Women while the boy, Clovis, chanted “I saw a dead body! I saw a dead body!”
After about 20 minutes from the event, that dolt Leecy, still questioning the other passengers, stopped in mid-sentence, and let out a little yelp, almost a squeal. Sparks and flashes of blue seemed to leap from his jacket and hovered in front of him and then they saw what had happened: some unseen force had pulled Leecy’s own gun form under his jacket and was pointing it at Leecy’s head! The man stood stock still, white as a sheet, visibly trembling as a drop of sweat worked its way down his nose.
Otto drew his saber and tried to see what was holding the pistol in the reflection of the blade. He saw the man in the reflection he had seen before.
Jack West flung himself over his seat and grabbed the Colt police pistol with his left hand, jamming his thumb down between the hammer and the pistol itself. He felt an eerie chill in his hand. Then the hammer came down on his thumb.
Professor Stalloid saw the man in the reflection of one of the windows. He looked at Leecy but didn’t see anyone but Jack West. He reached forward and tried to touch the place where the man was in the reflection. His finger got icy cold but he didn’t feel it actually touch anything. There was nothing there.
Otto made his way where Jack West struggled with the pistol. He brought the pommel and guard of the sword down on the tip of the pistol. Unfortunately, as Jack West struggled with the gun, the guard came down on Jack West’s hand and there was an audible crack as the blow broke his left index finger. He was suddenly cold.
“God-damned idiot!” he shouted. “How incompetent can you be!?!”
Dr. Weisswald pulled a mirror out of her doctor’s bag and looked at the area with it, seeing the man who wasn’t there. She had heard the finger break. She climbed out of her bed as did Jacali. They saw Miss Bloomberg peek out of her berth.
Then Jack West felt no resistance on the pistol anymore. He flung the gun at Otto’s face. Otto kicked it away, between Stalloid’s legs. Professor Stalloid leapt on the gun.
“There are children!” he cried out. “Why are you kicking guns around!?!”
“God damn it!” Jack West yelled again. “I had that under control!”
Women were shrieking in panic and Clovis started crying. Leecy collapsed quietly to the floor. Professor Stalloid went to Otto.
“There is a child on this train!” Professor Stalloid said to Otto. “That is not marshal’s actions.”
“But Jack West─” Otto said.
“I don’t care about Jack West. You’re a marshal. Don’t kick firearms around when there’s children!”
“I kicked it towards you so you could pick it up,” Otto said.
“A likely story,” Professor Stalloid said.
Otto continued to try to look in the reflection of the saber for the man.
Dr. Weisswald saw to Jack West’s index finger. The middle phalanx was cleanly broken and she set it, splinted it to the middle finger, and wrapped it in gauze. It was already starting to swell though Jack West didn’t seem to be in any pain. She sent someone to get some snow off the side of the train, wrapped it in gauze, and used it on the swelling.
“I won’t be dual-wielding for a while,” he muttered.
Professor Stalloid tried to calm down the other panicking passengers by pointing out they were in good hands as Otto was not only a marshal, but a paranormal marshal.
“We specialize in these kind of events!” he said. “And we will keep everyone safe.”
His face twitched slightly as he said that last bit.
“No one go on their own,” he said. “Anywhere.”
People started to calm down though it took a little while. Some talked about the strange blue sparks they’d seen around the pistol. Ophelia watched with cold eyes.
“You know anything about this, Ophelia?” Otto asked her.
She shook her head.
“No?” he said.
“I’m afraid not,” she said. “Do you?”
“I’ve not seen this type of stuff before,” he said.
“Same,” she said.
It was only minutes later, when they all started hearing screams of alarm from the car behind theirs. In an instant, the reason became apparent. The curtain s at the rear of the compartment were ripped open with a shower of blue sparks, and they could see the drawing-room door behind the curtain banging open and closed apparently of its own accord. The lower berths bucked with some unseen force and collapsed, while the upper berths bounced up and down. The curtains around the bunks opened and shut frantically, all the while suffused with that same blue glow. Miss Bloomberg was flung from her upper berth to crash to the floor of the aisle.
Dr. Weisswald used her mirror and Otto used the blade of his saber to see what was causing it. Jacali saw something terrifying reflected in one of the windows of the car. They again saw the man but he moved faster than any man possibly could, moving through the car and causing the pandemonium. It was terrifying to watch.
The force seemed to be moving forward through the car, throwing loose objects into the air, smashing personal belongings against the walls and ceiling, all amid the terrified cries of the other passengers. Some of the people were struck by various small items. One of Dr. Weisswald’s scalpels flew out and just missed Clovis. Otto was struck with several items in quick succession and he swung in the direction where he thought the man was but struck nothing. Dr. Weisswald was struck by some of the loose medicine bottles in her bag. Seconds later, the curtain at the front of the car was torn open and the doors began to slam in the forward hallway. Soon the screaming began in the car ahead, the sound mingled with the terrified sobbing of the passengers, including Leecy. Professor Stalloid went to the man, who was practically catatonic.
“Does anybody have a crucifix?” Jack West asked.
After only a minute, the sobs and moans of the passengers desisted and the screams from rest of the train stopped. They could almost feel the air move as the passengers finally dared to breathe again. Women were crying. Some of the men were even crying.
Then, an inhuman shriek of metal pierced their ears. The train lurched forward, sending passengers sprawling in the aisles, and the steady rhythm of the wheels increased its tempo. Only Jack West kept to his feet. The steam whistle bellowed forth a sustained note of terror as the train reached speeds which did not seem possible. Passengers cried out in panic, their gasps swallowed by the squeal of metal, a horrific wrenching noise, and a low rumbling that seemed to go on and on.
The train lurched suddenly, heaving passengers from their seat and the aisle. They were thrown forward, Dr. Weisswald feeling a sickening sense of déjà-vu, unable to steel themselves against the imminent catastrophe.
* * *
Professor Stalloid opened his eyes and found himself alone in the train car that rattled along the tracks. He looked around a moment and then ran forward where he flung open the curtain. A cat sat on the floor of the aisle by the smoking room, staring up at him. He looked at it in terror.
A voice rang through the car.
“The wolf is widespread and hurts my mistress’ children,” it said. “As does its kin. There is a traitor in the midst of them, hidden in sleep. Deal with him as you will. He is no longer one of hers, but belongs to the wolf. Stop the others that kill her children.”
“I know!” Professor Stalloid cried out. “I know!”
The car lurched and he was then flung to the left.
* * *
It was strangely quiet. It took a moment for them to realize they were still alive. Others around the car were beginning to move amidst the wreckage of the train and they realized no one was even badly hurt. They had been lucky.
Everything seemed shrouded in eerie silence. The movements of others seemed soundless – even the flames engulfing the engine seemed to burn in silence, casting an ominous glow on the thick clouds overhead. Then, one sound reached their ears, reassuring them they still had hearing: the howling of wolves at a great distance, almost like a heavenly choir.
Outside the wreckage of the train, the snow-cloaked mountains rose up, oblivious to their plight. The snow was falling hard, but off in one direction they could barely make out a few lights glinting off snow on the mountainside, offering a hinted promise of warmth and comfort.
Professor Stalloid found Leecy near the front of the car, his neck broken, his body already growing cold. He must have been flung nearly the length of the car in the crash.
“Noooo!” he cried out.
While Jacali looked around, Otto and Jack West headed out of the car, intent on getting to the baggage car to get their things.
“I’m a little bit tired of trains,” Jacali said.
Dr. Weisswald took the little lantern out of her medical bag but found the glass broken on it. She lit it anyway. Jacali left the car as well, hoping to find her bow in the baggage car. Dr. Weisswald moved about the wrecked car to try to help the groaning people. Professor Stalloid searched Leecy’s body in hopes of finding some kind of badge. He found nothing so he followed the others out of the car. Miss Bloomberg was close behind.
* * *
As they left the car, they found there was over two feet of snow on the ground. It was terribly cold and most of them weren’t dressed for that kind of weather. They could hear cries, shouts, and groans from the other cars they passed. Professor Stalloid headed to the nearest car to see if he could help.
“Grab my stuff!” he called out.
In the dark, he didn’t see Otto nod.
Professor Stalloid was still in his pajamas but made his way to the next car forward to try to help people. Those he helped he told to help others. Then he headed back to their car to get dressed.
Jacali’s moccasins filled with snow almost immediately.
* * *
Professor Stalloid quickly got dressed and started moving from car to car, telling people to put on as much clothing as they could. He quickly found willing souls to take orders and help calm the chaos. He also looked for metal pan or trays. He sent a porter to look in the dining car for him.
* * *
When Otto, Jack West, Jacali, and Miss Bloomberg reached the baggage car, they found it had not only fallen from the rails but had also broken open like an eggshell, scattering baggage through the snow. Jack West sighed loudly. They could see the mail car in front of the baggage car had flipped onto its top and the coal car had dumped its coal over the new fallen snow. The three locomotives had cracked up and one of them was on fire.
They stood there in the dark and realized they had no light source. Jack West found a cloth valise and tried to set it on fire, but the wind kept blowing out his lighter flame. He tried from the inside of the valise but the cloth wouldn’t catch. The pink valise was filled with supplies for a child.
* * *
A headcount of the 120 passengers on the train showed that seven were dead, along with two porters. The engineers, firemen, the conductor, and Leecy were all dead as well. There were eight surviving porters and other servants on the train. However, they all deferred to Professor Stalloid on what to do. Many people were not dressed for the extreme snowstorm they found themselves in.
The cars were all smashed to pieces and the stoves that kept them warm knocked over or extinguished. A small fire had broken out in one of the passenger cars but had been quickly extinguished by the passengers and snow that had sloughed into the broken car. Most of the windows were broken and snow was blowing into the cars, which were getting colder and colder.
Stalloid tried to tell everyone what not to do to try to stay warm. He continued to organize the people as best he could.
* * *
Jacali gave up looking for their things in the dark after a short while. She was terribly cold and there was baggage everywhere. She was followed by Jack West and Miss Bloomberg. Otto continued to look for his things in the dark.
Eventually, he gave up as well, drawing his saber and slashing a suitcase in a huff.
* * *
Professor Stalloid was organizing the people to start moving out and one of the porters came back with a single serving tray. It was all the boy could find. He called to Dr. Weisswald to get people to head out. When he tried to warn the people not to cower if they met any wolves, everyone started to panic once again. He managed to calm people down once again, noting they were in the distance. He advised against panic. When Jack West returned, he handed over the pistol he’d taken from Leecy.
Looking again towards the lights on the distant hillside, they realized with a start that one of them seemed to be moving. A large shape plowed through the snow, and they saw that the moving light was part of the shadow. Their blood began to pound in their ears as fear ran up their spines. They heard a jingling noise and the gentle crack of a whip, and began to make out the shape of two horses pulling a sleigh. Walking behind the sleigh and its driver were a number of other shapes.
A half dozen men followed the sleigh towards the wreck and the survivors.
“We’ve had an emergency!” Professor Stalloid called. “Save us!”
The half dozen or so men bundled up against the cold with thick coats and hats appeared in the darkness. Scarves covered their faces. They started to distribute blankets to the passengers. The weak and the wounded were put into the sleigh. The men told them Falls Run was only about a mile away and they could get them all there in less than an hour. They encouraged everyone to get moving.
The army of survivors trudged through the snow along the railroad tracks for perhaps a mile. Their feet were so cold and their eyelashes so caked with ice that many of them lost track of distance and time. Soon, the white monotony of the snow was broken by hulking shadows which they dimly recognized as houses. The men led them towards a pair of open doors from which light and warmth spilled out. A sign above the doors read “Mount of Olives Baptist Church.” A crew of women had already prepared some huge pots of steaming soup.
Almost a dozen women dressed in simple clothing were in the church, where the pews and benches had been pushed back to the walls to make room.
“This is just like last year,” one of the women said.
Professor Stalloid took note of that.
“Why didn’t anyone tell us?” Otto grumbled.
The woman handed out bowls of soup as the stunned passengers made their way into the warm church building. Many of them took the food, thanked the women, and found a place to sit on the floor to eat. Others simply collapsed to the floor and fell to sleep. The men of the village brought in the injured passengers from the sleigh and found a place for them to settle.
Professor Stalloid made conversation with the women and learned there was a wreck last year on December 23 as well, right around midnight, the same as this.
“And why weren’t we told about this at the station?” Otto mumbled.
“Because it was an accident last year,” Professor Stalloid said. “Why would they talk about that? That’s bad publicity.”
“It’s turned into a regular thing,” Jack West said.
“But next year, they should definitely tell people,” Professor Stalloid said. “That’s two years in a row.”
He looked around for cats and was relieved not to see any in the church.
Dr. Weisswald continued to help those who were injured. Others helped people with frostbite.
The local men checked in with the women of the town and then they headed out.
Dr. Weisswald couldn’t help but notice the reflection of the man she’d seen on the train. He was always somewhere in the church and when she looked away or looked at another reflection, mostly in the windows of the church, she saw he had moved to somewhere else. Every time she saw him, he was staring at her.
“What do you want?” she said.
“My hand hurts,” the woman who had approached her said. “I think my fingers are all broken.”
Dr. Weisswald examined her and found she had sprained her wrist. She wrapped it up and sent someone to get some snow to put on it to try to lower the swelling.
She had noticed the man, when he wasn’t looking at her, was looking towards the doors of the church.
Professor Stalloid also noticed the man in the reflections of the windows of the church. He was always moving about and always looking directly at him. He tried to track the man down and poke the area where he appeared but couldn’t ever quite catch the man. When he was unsuccessful, he waited until he could see the man again and then muttered the command ghost spell. Nothing happened of course as he was not near the man’s grave, as far as he knew, and he had used no blood. He noticed the ghost often looked towards the front of the church.
Otto also noticed the man’s reflection in the windows of the church. When he got his soup, he looked down at it to take a sip when he saw the man’s reflection in the greasy broth as if he were standing over him and looking down at him. It was startling. When Otto blinked, he was gone.
Jack West and Miss Bloomberg also saw the man in various reflections. Once he was in the reflection of someone’s glasses.
The train passengers were settling down and trying to get some rest. Otto, angry at losing Professor Stalloid’s gift already, sulked in a corner. He drew and put his saber back in the sheath. The others noticed as the man usually at least tried to make clumsy conversation with those around him.
Jack West used his mirror to try to find the ghost but every time he tried to focus on the man, he vanished. Professor Stalloid, likewise tried to communicate with the ghostly reflection. At one point when he saw the man’s reflection looking at him, he looked at the church door and winked at the man.
Jacali listened for wolves and enjoyed the soup. It was warm and the vegetables were still crunchy, as if it hadn’t cooked for very long. There was even a little meat in it as well. She thought, every once in a while, she could hear a wolf, very far off.
Miss Bloomberg asked one of the ladies from the town if there was a hotel.
“There’s no hotel in this town, ma’am,” the woman said. “We’re just gonna have y’all stay here until they can bring in another train like we did last time.”
Miss Bloomberg found an empty corner and settled in.
The women from town started to douse the lamps and candles they were using to light the place. The little girl from the train put Little Women away as her family settled down. Professor Stalloid noticed Otto was angry. He went over to the man.
“Hey, don’t beat yourself up,” he said. “I can buy you a new rifle.”
“You gave it to me!” Otto said. “I immediately lost it.”
“Oh, it’s fine. I lost the revolver that Jack West gave me.”
“And I lost the materials for that scope. And …”
“It’ll still be out there. We can go look tomorrow.”
“I’m okay with a pistol, but I’m much better with a rifle. And there’re wolves!”
“Yeah yeah yeah. We’ll sleep through the night. We’ll go tomorrow.”
“I have a knife,” Jacali said.
“I have several,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“One. Knife,” Jacali said. “When everyone talks about ol’ Jacali, you know what she has in her hands. Not a knife.”
Otto took out one of his pistols and offered it to Jacali.
“I’m better with a knife,” she said. “But it’s still a knife.”
The women from the town left a single candle lit near the front doors when they departed into the blowing snow.
* * *
Professor Stalloid had the dream again. The message was the same.
* * *
On Friday, December 24, 1875, they awoke to bright light pouring in through the windows of the church. The entire town was covered in several feet of snow and more was coming down. A crew of women arrived early in the morning to fix breakfast for the stranded passengers. There was scrambled eggs, bacon, toasted bread, water, and milk. Professor Stalloid asked if any of them needed someone to chop wood for them.
“No sir,” one of the ladies replied. “We got husbands for that.”
“Okay,” Professor Stalloid said.
Otto asked if there was a horse he could borrow. The women looked at each other.
“Dr. Korek’s got a horse and Reuben Turner’s gotta horse,” one woman said.
“Do you know where they live?” Otto asked.
“In town?” the woman said.
“Dr. Korek lives on the hill and Reuben Turner’s down at the bottom of the lane cross the crick from the telegraph office.”
Professor Stalloid asked some of the women if anyone from the wreck the year before had said anything strange about the accident. That was met with blank stares. He clarified, asking if anything strange happened on the train the year before that caused the accident. None of the women knew but one told him Clyde Johnsson put a story in the paper about it. She told him he worked at the telegraph office though she thought they’d sent a telegraph already.
While they ate, a man came in from the cold, stomping the snow off his boots and shaking it from his hat and jacket. He had a prodigious mustache and wore a dark cap. He introduced himself as David Wells and said he was the constable in town, what passed for the laws in those parts. He talked to all of the passengers, greeting them and apologizing to them for the terrible tragedy. He told them they had sent a telegram to the railroad company to let them know what happened and the people in town would try to make their stay there as pleasant as possible until another train could be sent for them though, with the blizzard, it could be a couple of days.
One lady was trying to keep the church cleaned up. She was a frumpy woman with long dark hair wearing a maroon-colored dress.
The room almost had a festive atmosphere as the passengers tried to make the best of the situation.
There was talk of more food brought in at noon and later for dinner as well. The whole town was pitching in to do what they could to help.
* * *
Professor Stalloid had learned the woman in maroon was named Ellen Hood and asked her if she could show him the way to the telegraph station. She was more than happy to point it out to him. The building was just down the road from the church at the end of the street.
“I’m awfully bumbly,” he said. “I might lose my way.”
“C’mon Stalloid!” Otto said.
He grabbed the other man by the arm and dragged him out of the church.
“I was going to question her!” Professor Stalloid said to him.
* * *
Jack West found out Reuben Turner owned the sleigh and his house was down the lane the other side of the crick from the telegraph office. He set off.
* * *
Jacali, Miss Bloomberg, and Dr. Weisswald asked for clothing they might wear so they could go back to the train to look for their things. The women from town were happy to go talk to their husbands about some heavier clothing and quickly left to go fetch them.
Several people, overhearing they were returning to the train, asked them if they could look for certain items from the baggage car.
* * *
Otto escorted Professor Stalloid down the street maybe a hundred feet to the telegraph office, the only building with a telegraph line running to it. The sign over the door read “Zorex Coal Company.”
Otto saw Jack West heading for a house with a small barn.
“What are you up to, Stalloid?” he said as they approached the building.
“This man knows things,” Professor Stalloid said.
He pointed to the sign.
“That’s why the town’s here,” he said.
The front door of the building was unlocked and, as they entered, a short, balding man wearing a green eyeshade came from the back room, wiping ink off his hands. He introduced himself as Clyde Johnsson, the telegrapher for the company office there in town. He told them he’d wired the railroad company about the crash.
“If you want, it’s five cents a word to send a wire,” he said.
“I actually want to know about last year’s crash,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Last … there was. There was a crash last year. Yes sir. It was right about this same time. I think it might’ve been on the 23rd as well.”
“It was bad but nobody died. The train was going a little too fast …”
“And there was a lot of snow. No. Nobody died.”
“I don’t think so. I’d have to look it up.”
“You know, we could look in my newspaper.”
“I’m the one who does the newspaper hereabouts.”
“I love the newspaper.”
“Aw, it’s - it’s - it’s very nice.”
“Do you do any doodles?”
“We can look it up. That’ll be right around the 23rd. I call it ‘The Falls Rundown.’ Get it?”
“They do run down.”
“Well, no no no. Not that. Like a rundown. Like when you tell somebody what’s going on, you’re giving them the rundown. You get it?”
“Yeah yeah. And also Falls fall. They run down.”
“I didn’t think of that.”
Otto smirked but only for a moment.
“Yeah, c’mere, c’mon,” Johnsson said. “It’s in the back.”
The back room of the company office had a small printing press and shelves filled with back issues. Johnsson showed them the weekly one-page newspaper that was put out on Friday.
“You take care of this, Stalloid,” Otto said. “I’m going to go get a horse.”
“Will do,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Aw, you want to check with Reuben Turner, he’s got a horse,” Johnsson said. “And Dr. Korek. Dr. Korek’s an atheist though. Be careful around him. He don’t believe in nothing.”
Otto headed out while Johnsson and Professor Stalloid looked through the old newspaper articles from the Christmas before. Johnsson remembered writing an article about it and quickly found it. It was dated Friday, December 25, 1874. It read:
B. & O. Crash Brings Christmas Guests to Falls Run
No one in our peaceful village is unaware of the railroad derailment which brought
nearly two hundred travelers to stay in Falls Run over the Christmas Holiday. On
Wednesday night, the westbound train from Baltimore struck a broken rail and plowed
into a snowbank one mile south of town. Miraculously, no one aboard the train was
seriously injured, even though several cars turned on their sides in the crash.
Church-goers rallied to prepare a meal for the passengers on the night of the crash.
The town shared a holiday supper at the church on Christmas Eve. Hopes are that tonight
or, at the latest, tomorrow, these good folks will be sped on their way to their homes and
“Did anybody … any of the passengers you might have interviewed for the newspaper, even if it sounds completely irrelevant to anything you think is newsworthy … did they say anything about anything weird happening on the train the night before the crash?” Professor Stalloid asked.
“Uh … no sir,” Johnsson said. “No. But, you know, one of ‘em came up missin’ later. One o’ the - one o’ the - one o’ the passengers just kind of disappeared.”
“You don’t count that as a death?”
“No no no. He was here in town.”
“But then he never got back to Cincinnati where they were going. Wait, hold on. I think I wrote a story about that. It was a couple days later. Uh … here we go. Here we go.”
Johnsson pulled out another newspaper and handed it to Professor Stalloid. The date on it was Friday, January 1, 1875. The relevant article read:
Missing Rail Passenger Stumps Constable Wells
All of us here in town are certain to remember Edward Gravits, a journalist among
the nearly two hundred B. & O. train passengers who spent Christmas in Falls Run last
week. Mr. Gravits brought himself to the attention of many in the village with his persistent
questions. His apparently inability to ride out the snowstorm which held the passengers here
for four days was regarded with amusement by many locals, irritation by others. Edward
Gravits has been missing since the train arrived from Grafton to pick up the stranded passengers.
It is believed that Mr. Gravits did not board the train.
Mr. Gravits’ fiancée, Miss Jane Carpenter of Cincinnati, wired the B. & O. offices in Baltimore
last Monday morning, when the replacement train arrived in Cincinnati without Gravitz aboard.
The railroad was unable to account for Mr. Gravits’ absence from the train and wired Constable
David Wells here in Falls Run to inquire. Constable Wells promised an investigation and he
has been busily asking questions in the week since―to no avail. Constable Wells has turned up
no clues as to the location of Mr. Gravitz.
Naturally, anyone with information to offer what might help clear up this mystery is urged to
contact Constable Wells with great haste.
“What sort of questions was he constantly asking?” Professor Stalloid said.
“I don’t remember,” Johnsson said. “He seemed to be real curious about everything. He didn’t ask me anything. I think it was professional jealousy. He just seemed to be interested in everything that was happening in town. Think he was bored. He was bored and he was walking around trying to stir up trouble or trying to find out some dirt on somebody.”
He didn’t recall much more than that.
“Well, thank you,” Professor Stalloid said. “You’ve been a big help. I’m going to go see the doctor.”
* * *
When Jack West arrived at the Reuben Turner residence, a small house with a neatly kept front porch, he could hear fiddle-playing coming from inside. The playing stopped when he knocked on the door. Jack West recognized the man who answered as one of those from the night before.
“You’re one of those fellas from the train,” he said.
“Yes indeed,” Jack West said. “I was wondering if I could possibly … uh … rent out your sled and horse so I could get some of the baggage that was all spilled out. For the train-goers.”
“Oh,” Turner said. “I guess. If you want. What would that be worth?”
“Is … ten dollars sufficient?” Jack West said.
Turner was obviously surprised by the offer.
“That should be plenty!” he said. “All right. Let me get dressed. C’mon in. C’mon in.”
* * *
Otto had seen Jack West heading over to the Turner residence and went there himself, knocking when he arrived. Reuben Turner answered, pulling on his jacket. He had a boot on one foot.
“Oh!” the man said. “You’re another one of them fellas from the train.”
“Yeah,” Otto said. “Deputy Marshal.”
“Oh. Yes sir, can I help you?”
“I wanted to rent a horse to go back to the train.”
“Oh, this fella here’s already rented it.”
He pointed to Jack West, who was sitting in one of the chairs in the Turner living room. Four children were clustered around him from ages five to 10.
“What happened to your face?” one of them asked.
“It’s a mask, dummy,” another said.
“It’s not a mask,” the first said.
“Say something,” another said. “Blow a hole! Do like this!”
The boy put his hand over his mouth and then blew his cheeks out.
“Blow as hard as you can,” the child said.
“Hey!” Turner said. “Leave that man alone!”
He looked them over.
“I suppose y’all could go together if you want,” he said. “I only have the one horse.”
“Oh, hi Otto,” Jack West groaned.
“You know each other?” Turner said.
“Yes,” Otto said.
“That solves everything,” Turner said. “Let me get my boots on.”
“Is this sufficient for the weather?” Otto said.
He gestured to his clothing.
“Should be,” Turner said.
* * *
At the church, several women brought tall boots and heavy coats, hats, scarves, and gloves for the four women. The shoes didn’t fit very well but one of the ladies handed over several socks, telling the women to put them on until the boots fit. More people asked them to fetch certain gear if they saw it.
An older, rough-looking gentleman spoke to them.
“If you see a box,” he said. “It’s about seven foot by three foot by three foot.”
“Nope,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“No. Make sure it’s okay. That’s all I want.”
“That’s my brother in there.”
“I’m taking him home.”
“So, if you could just make sure it’s not busted open or something. If it is, let me know. I’ll have to go out there.”
When they set out, they saw Otto and Jack West going with one of the locals into a barn. They headed on to where the train wrecked.
* * *
Reuben Turner took the two men to the barn and hooked up the horse to the sleigh.
“Three feet of snow, I don’t know how this is going to go,” he said.
“We’ll find out,” Jack West said.
“Okay, just don’t leave it out there,” Turner said.
Otto took the reins once the sleigh was ready. It was slow going through the deep snow.
* * *
Dr. Weisswald, Jacali, Miss Bloomberg, and Ophelia arrived at the wreck. The cars were covered in snow and they could see that the fires of the locomotives were out though the place smelled of smoke. There was still some baggage in the baggage car though much of it had been scattered when the car had broken in half in the crash. They set about searching for their things, keeping an eye out for the other items some of the passengers had asked them to retrieve or locate.
Otto and Jack West arrived shortly after the women, plowing slowly through the snow in the sleigh.
Dr. Weisswald found the crate the man had asked about. The lid had come partially free and there was a coffin within. She checked the body before closing the crate as best she could. Jacali had been asked by the mother of the small family aboard their car to find some specific presents for the children, which she did. Jack West found the pink valise a woman with a baby had asked them to retrieve.
“This is a terrible lantern,” he muttered as he flung it into the sleigh.
Otto was happy to find his gear and finally came out of his funk. The rest of them found their gear and luggage. Otto looked around for Professor Stalloid’s luggage without luck.
* * *
The Korek residence was on the side of the hill overlooking the town and appeared to be the finest house in the village. It looked like it doubled as the doctor’s office with a small but elegant brass plate by the door that read “Dr. Howard Korek, M.D.” A carriage house and stable stood behind the house.
Professor Stalloid rang the bell, which was answered by a pretty young woman with her hair pulled into a bun. She invited him in and asked how she could help him.
“Oh, Dr. Korek, I presume,” he said.
“No sir,” she said. “I’m his wife. If you need to see Dr. Korek, I can fetch him. He’s in his office.”
“Well, let me ask you first,” he said.
He asked her the same questions he’d asked Johnsson but she was no more helpful than the newspaperman had been. She hadn’t even talked to Gravits. He thanked her and said he’d talk to the doctor.
When he met Dr. Korek, he asked the man the same questions, but learned nothing new.
“What are the chances of everyone on a train of that size not be harmed in a crash?” Professor Stalloid said.
“From what I understand, the train just slid off the tracks and into the snow bank,” Dr. Korek said. “They weren’t even moving that quickly because of the curve down there. It’s not surprising that there were no injuries. The train wasn’t moving at great speed at that time. Apparently your train was, from my understanding. We heard the crash. So, it’s not too surprising.”
Dr. Korek offered him some brandy and they sat down to talk. During their conversation Mrs. Korek joined them. She mentioned that Paul Booth, Thelma’s husband, ran off last month with a singer at the church’s Thanksgiving fair, leaving her with five young children to take care of by herself. The oldest son, Don, was only nine. Folks in town helped take care of her, but her people were in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio.
He looked at the grandfather clock and suddenly realized he’d been there, socializing, for an hour and a half.
He asked about the Zorex Coal Company and learned coal company agent lived in Grafton and commuted to Falls Runs daily. Dr. Korek doubted the man would make it in due to the inclement weather. When Professor Stalloid asked where the mine was, Dr. Korek took him to the front window of their living room and pointed up the run and to the west. He could just make out what appeared to be a mine entrance. Dr. Korek told him a rail ran from the mine down to the tracks where the coal was offloaded onto cars to take it to Grafton. When Professor Stalloid asked if anyone was there, Dr. Korek said he doubted it as it was a holiday and the blizzard was keeping everyone inside. He noted the reverend at the church hadn’t even made it for service that night. When asked, he said most of the men in town worked there.
He also learned one of the women in town was a midwife who had given birth to pretty much everyone in town because they didn’t trust Dr. Korek.
“Oh, because you’re an atheist,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I’m not an atheist, sir,” Dr. Korek said. “I’m Presbyterian.”
“I don’t go to church at the Baptist Church here.”
“They call you an atheist just because you’re not Baptist.”
“They call me an atheist because they don’t know. I’m newer to town. We’ve only been here about 10 years and that’s not long enough for us to be townsfolk. So, I’m not generally trusted in town but I do try my best.”
“That’s awfully rude of them and they should treat you better.”
“Well, people are as they are. I try to help them out in any way that I can. We go up to Grafton to the Presbyterian church every Sunday.”
Dr. Korek noted there was a seamstress in town, a cobbler, a blacksmith, and a taxidermist. When he asked, Professor Stalloid found out the taxidermist was Joe Walker. Dr. Korek thought one of the wolves he had stuffed was down at the Sleeping Wolf Bar and Grill but was unsure what happened to the other one. He guessed Walker kept it. He told the man Ron Iler, up at the top of the Run, killed a couple of wolves already that winter. He noted the man was the first line of defense for the town against wolves, as they came from the top of the run, usually, when they came. Ron Iler’s house was at the top of the run so he kept the village safe.
“Any odd creatures you find?” Professor Stalloid said. “Any jackalopes?”
Dr. Korek laughed.
“No no no,” he said.
“Okay,” Professor Stalloid said.
“No, nothing odd,” Dr. Korek said. “Foxes, rabbits, just the regular animals for West Virginia.”
“Any sightings of sasquatch?”
When he left the house to go to Walker’s house, he spotted the rest of his companions returning to town with the sleigh, heading for the church.
* * *
When the others returned to the town with the sleigh, they found Professor Stalloid waiting for them. As they went back to the church, he told them of his conversations with Johnsson and Korek and his learning of one of the passengers disappearing in the crash of the year before. He guessed the missing man was the ghost they’d seen.
“I think that makes sense to me,” Jacali said.
“That makes sense,” Otto said. “I also didn’t find your stuff, Stalloid. I’m sorry. I found the rifle though.”
“Why would he be haunting the train?” Jacali said.
“I don’t know,” Professor Stalloid said. “He didn’t die on it, according to the townspeople. But, also according to the townspeople, he never made it out of the town.”
“Sounds to me like we’ve got a missing detail.”
“Also originally, they told me no one died but then they revealed this missing person? I consider that a death. In my line of business, it does.”
“In the law’s definition of it, they’re not considered dead until they’re found,” Otto said.
“Explain law to towns where spiders crawl out of holes and kidnap people,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I understand that. I’m just explaining it from the law’s point of view.”
“If we hadn’t shown up, they’d have all been dead …”
“I realize that.”
“But most people don’t realize these things happen.”
“I say dead until found missing!”
“I agree that he probably died, but … legally, until we find him, he’s not considered dead.”
“He is a ghost. He is definitely dead.”
“I realize that. I agree with you. But I’m just saying, until we find him, he cannot be legally declared dead.”
“I’ll legally declare it. I’ll make the document myself.”
“That’s illegal, Stalloid.”
“I’ll do a real good job.”
They stopped the sleigh in front of the church. The smell of food wafted out of the building as many of the passengers came to see what they had recovered from the wreck. The lady with the pink valise wondered why it smelled like smoke. Others thanked them for finding certain items, including the woman with the children, Mrs. Habborlain, who hid the presents away. The gentleman who asked about checking on the big boxed thanked Dr. Weisswald when she told him about pushing the crate lid closed again.
They found the folks of town had a covered-dish supper at the church with enough food for everyone in town as well as the stranded passengers. Plenty of food would be left in the church’s iceboxes to tide over the passengers through dinner that night. They all had plenty of time to chat with the various townsfolk. Dr. Weisswald looked in her mirror around the church but saw no sign of the ghost.
Otto asked about the dinner on Christmas Eve the year before and was told they did what they could for the stranded passengers. He asked if anyone had come out of town for it the year before but was told there had been a blizzard that year as well. No one was moving on the roads at all.
Professor Stalloid asked the townsfolk about David Gravits.
“Last Thursday,” a man said to him.
“Uh-huh,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I heard that everybody in the Sleeping Wolf tavern seems to have fallen asleep at the same time.”
“That happened on the train.”
“That happened on the train?”
He learned Gravits was snooping around town and asking a lot of questions. The person he talked to thought it was funny as people in the town were slow moving and here was this fellow who couldn’t stand still for five seconds.
“You mean like me?” Professor Stalloid said.
“I didn’t say that,” the person said. “Doris Cutler was following him around. She’s 19. She was bored probably. And so she was following him around a lot.”
Professor Stalloid went in search of Doris Cutler.
Jack West left to return the horse and sleigh to Reuben Turner.
Jacali heard gossip about Paul Booth, Thelma Booth’s husband, who ran off in November with a singer at the church’s Thanksgiving fair, leaving her with five young children to take care of by herself, with no steady income. The oldest son, Don, was only nine. Folks in town had helped take care of her by her people were in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio.
Otto heard Luanne Fisher, the blacksmith’s eldest daughter, was a girl of low morals.
Dr. Weisswald heard the Turner house was haunted. The family had mentioned strange footsteps and doors slamming, that sort of things.
It looked like everyone in town was there, just about. They were able to have Doris Cutler and Luanne Fisher pointed out to them and spotted Johnsson and his wife, Susan, in the church as well. There was no sign of Dr. Korek and his wife. They also met T.J. Miller and his wife Susan. There was a single man who seemed kind of slow and they learned his name was Zachery Butler. Larry Lukas seemed to be drunk.
Professor Stalloid approached Doris Cutler.
“Good afternoon Miss Cutler,” he said. “I’m investigating … uh … past investigators. And, if you wouldn’t mind, I would like to know something about Mr. Gravits.”
“Oh,” she said. “Yeah, I spent some time with him. He was interesting, the only interesting person around here. I mean, it’s not like there’s any - look! Look at all these old people.”
“They are quite old.”
“He was at least trying to be somebody interesting. He was asking around. He was suspicious. He was a journalist! Journalists are very suspicious. I want to be a journalist, maybe, although there’s a lot of writing and I don’t write real well. But he had his suspicions. Something was wrong in this town, he said. He said there was some secrets going on or something. He didn’t tell me what. But, there was something fishy in falls run. That’s right. I told my momma what he was talking about. She didn’t seem to think there was. And then … I didn’t see him after that.”
“Did he think it had anything to do with the mine?”
“He didn’t go up to the mine. He just said there was some people that were acting … funny. Like they had secrets. Like bad secrets.”
He leaned in close to whisper to her.
“Can I know the people in particular?” he said.
“He didn’t tell me,” she said.
“Aw. Who did he snoop around?”
“He was everywhere. He went all around town. He was asking everybody about everything, about everybody. ‘Cause he was a journalist. That’s what they’re supposed to do. That’s their job.”
“Is there an inn in the town?”
“There’s the Sleeping Wolf Bar and Grill.”
“Ron Cordingham owns that. But sometimes … sometimes …”
“Any other gathering points?”
‘Well, there’s the church, of course.”
“Of course. Of course.”
“Sometimes Reuben Turner works down there. He covers Ron Cordingham when Ron can’t make it. Some of the other townsmen, they’ll cover for Ron if he’s busy or something. You know - you know what makes me sick? Is my parents. They go off every Sunday. And they have their little ‘private time.’ They gotta go off and be all cuddly with each other. It’s disgusting! I tell you.”
“Okay. Every Sunday.”
“That’s my mom over there.”
She pointed out one of the women of the town. She had dark hair and an average-looking face.
“Jenny Cutler,” Doris said. “They go off every Sunday. They say ‘This is our time.’ And … they don’t want me to come and they don’t want anybody to know.”
“They just lock themselves in their room or …” Professor Stalloid said.
“No. They go off. They walk in the woods or something.”
“They go off in the woods.”
“They go do something. I don’t think it’s very appropriate.”
“Well, they are husband and wife.”
“It’s still not appropriate to go off in the woods. You do certain things alone.”
“In the woods.”
They argued about it. It was Doris’ opinion that marital relations should take place in the bedroom at certain times of the night, not Sunday afternoon. She was also of the opinion they should take place in the dark, as dark as possible.
He went looking for the blacksmith’s daughter, Luanne Fisher, and asked if her parents disappeared on Sundays but learned they did not. He asked other children about that as well.
The others also spoke to the townsfolk. Otto heard Dr. Korek was an atheist. Jacali heard Larry Lukas was a drunkard. The man was pointed out to her and she thought he looked a little inebriated. They heard Turner house was haunted.
Professor Stalloid ended up talking to Agnes Wyatt.
“Almost everybody in town likes Sue Miller,” she told him, pointing out the woman in the church. “Present company excepted. I just can’t understand why folks seem to crazy about her. It’s not like she’s ever done anything nice for anyone. But folks fawn all over her. Hmph.”
Professor Stalloid approached Sue Miller
“Howdy,” she said with a smile and lowered eyelids.
“Howdy,” he said.
“You’re one of them fellas. Off the train. How are you?”
“I am a fella.”
“Is that a ‘Miss Miller’ or a ‘Mrs. Miller?’”
“Missus. But, you know, it’s just something people call me.”
She looked around.
“Mmm,” she said. “There he is.”
She pointed to a bearded man who Professor Stalloid thought he recognized as one of the men who had come to the train the night before, now chatting with some of the men from the train. She looked at her husband with disdain in her eyes and he soon noticed she looked at all the townsfolk the same way.
He made small talk with her.
“You’re a professor? Mmmm,” she said. “That’s so interesting.”
He was immediately suspicious of her.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
She pointed down.
“I want out,” she said. “I still want out. I need to find a way to get out, don’t I?”
She looked at him under lowered eyelids again.
“Well, there is a train that goes by,” he said.
“Somebody like me, who’s better than everybody else in this town, needs some money to get out as well,” she said. “You think I’m better than everybody else, don’t you?”
“I don’t know everybody else.”
“Well, you don’t want to. They’re small-minded. They’re stupid.”
He was less suspicious of the woman though she was blunt and arrogant.
After lunch, the townsfolk headed back to their homes while the passengers made themselves as comfortable as possible.
* * *
Otto bundled up and headed up the run in search of Ron Iler’s house. He soon noticed Jack West seemed to be following him up the run. Otto ignored him and found the house furthest up the run across the creek. It was a small house with a single central stove for heat. Ron Iler lived there with his wife Elizabeth and their five children. Otto recognized Ron as one of the men in the rescue party and Elizabeth as one of the women who had been at the church that first night. The youngest children were fascinated by his badge.
“Mr. Iler, I … uh … heard you hunt wolves that come into town,” Otto said.
Iler handed him a cup of coffee and he took a sip, thanking him.
“Well, most of the wolves that come into the run come from up the run,” Iler said. “And my house is the furthest up the run, here, except for the mines, and there’s nobody living there. So, when I see one, yeah.”
He pointed at the Springfield .58 muzzleloader on the gun rack on the wall.
“If one of them comes down or gets too close,” he said. “You might have noticed, there’s a lot of pigs that run around out here.”
Otto had noticed several pigs running, apparently loose, in the town. They were allowed to run loose in the day to forage. He had also noticed splatters of brown in the snow and soon saw that many people in the town chewed tobacco and spit it wherever they pleased outside.
“You saw all the pigs running around town,” Iler went on. “If a wolf comes down, it might get the pigs or might get one of the little kids, so if I spot a wolf then, yes sir, I shoot it dead, and I’ve got two this winter so far. Gave ‘em both to Joe Walker.”
“Joe Walker?” Otto said.
“Yeah, he-he-he … uh … he treat’s ‘em and then he stuffs ‘em.”
“Do you have the stuffed carcasses?”
“No. I gave ‘em to Joe. He does with ‘em what he wants.”
“You didn’t give ‘em to him to stuff for you?”
“No. I have no use of that.”
“Daddy!” one of the children said. “We need a stuffed wolf!”
“No, we don’t,” Iler said.
He rolled his eyes.
“Are there any … this sounds odd but … are there any interesting features about these wolves or behaviors?” Otto said.
“No,” Iler said.
“Or are they just a wolf?”
“They’re usually pretty thin. They gotta be … to come down here, they gotta be real hungry if they come around people, so, they were obviously hungry and they probably come for some of the pigs.”
“Do you know the rest of the town pretty well?”
“Oh yeah. I know everybody in town. Everybody knows everybody in town.”
“Except the doctor on the hill, I guess.”
“Oh, Dr. Korek?”
“Yeah, he’s a strange one. He’s not been here long, so, people are still trying to gain trust for him. He seems a nice fellow. Seems a real nice fellow. If he came to church he’d be a nicer fellow. He doesn’t. I hear he’s an atheist or something. That’s a terrible thing, bless his soul.”
“Ah. What about David Gravits?”
“That was the funniest thing. I thought he was funny, walking around asking everyone things and trying to find out stuff.”
Iler gestured towards his front door.
“Falls Run, they’re ain’t much to it,” he said. “We dig up coal. We move coal. We live our lives. There’s not much going on here. Johnsson runs his little rag every week and I buy one, ‘cause there’s some interesting things in there sometimes and he puts in announcements but … nothing happens in Falls Run. Just the way I like it.”
“Well, you will be coming to the supper later tonight?” Otto said. “Or will you just be staying up here?”
“Well, I’m gonna … Ron Cordingham’s got some business or something tonight. I think maybe he’s going to the church, so I’ll be down at the Sleeping Wolf running bar.”
“Do you know how long that’s open tonight?”
“Uh … well, it’s not open on Sunday’s. It’s illegal. But usually it’s open from about two in the afternoon ‘til two in the morning. He uses it kind of like a general store too. We have to go all the way to Grafton if we want to get goods, but he’s got canned goods and a few things we can go and buy them at the bar that he’s got stored down there. He’s got a basement to his bar and that’s where the kitchen is. I’m going to have to dress up pretty warm though. He doesn’t warm up that room. It gets mighty cold. I think he thinks that makes people drink more. I don’t know.”
“Well, I might stop by later tonight for a drink.”
“Oh yeah. I think Reuben Turner’s going to be there. I think he’s going to be playing his fiddle for a little while tonight.”
“Thank you for your time.”
“You’re welcome. It was nice to meet you, sir.”
They shook hands and Otto finished up the last of his coffee
“Oh, where’s the taxidermist, by the way?” Otto said. “Before I leave.”
Iler took him to the front door and pointed out a house just across the creek.
“I might stop by on the way back to the church,” Otto said.
“Alright,” Iler said.
“Thank you for your time,” Otto said.
* * *
Jack West had stopped when Otto entered the Iler house and soon spotted Zachery Butler come up the run.
“Hey, Mister, what you doin’?” Butler said to him in a slow, deliberate voice.
“I’m just taking in the scenery,” Jack West said.
“What happened to your face? Was it shot? That looks like a bullet hole.”
“It was more fire than bullets.”
“Can you whistle through it?”
“Aw. I like whistlin’. Watch. Watch. Watch. Watch.”
The man started to slowly whistle “Jimmy Crack Corn.” He gestured for Jack West to join him in his whistling.
“Jimmy crack corn, and I don’t care,” Butler sung.
“You’re an interesting fellow,” Jack West said.
“Go ahead. Jimmy crack corn!” Butler said.
He seemed convince Jack West could whistle through the hole.
“I used to be able to whistle, but not anymore,” Jack West said.
“Aw,” Butler said. “That’s so sad.”
Jack West didn’t think the man was all there. Butler just stood there and stared at him.
“Well, you have a nice day,” Jack West said.
“It’s been all right,” Butler said.
Jack West walked away from the man, who just stood there, looking very sad that he couldn’t whistle.
* * *
Otto saw Jack West loitering outside near a man Otto didn’t recognize who appeared to be digging in the snow. Otto walked over to the digging man.
“Hey,” Zachery Butler said. “You’re a sheriff!”
“Marshal,” Otto said.
“You see, a sheriff is for a county. A marshal is for a town.”
“Oh. No, I don’t get it.”
“Why are you digging the snow?”
“Oh, I’m digging a hole. So, if the kids come by, then I can throw snowballs at ‘em. And so I can hide. It’s called a … snow hole. They use ‘em in the wars. They used it in the Civil War. Snow holes.”
Otto shook his head.
“That’s what I heard,” the man said. “And … I’m gonna throw snowballs at ‘em. ‘Cause they always throw snowballs at me, so I’m gonna throw ‘em back. Sometimes they put rocks in ‘em, which isn’t very nice. I don’t do that. That man can’t whistle! Did you know that?”
He pointed at Jack West. Jack West obviously noticed and headed up the run.
“I’m very aware of it,” Otto said.
“Bless his heart,” Butler said.
“Don’t stay out here too long,” Otto said. “I don’t want you to freeze.”
The man looked at him.
“How will I know?” he said.
“If you feel this cold prickly feeling,” Otto said.
* * *
Jacali, Dr. Weisswald, Ophelia, Miss Bloomberg, and Professor Stalloid stayed at the church and talked to some of the townsfolk. They heard more of the rumors about town. Jacali heard about the Turner house being haunted though the teller thought the Turners might have made it up for the attention.
Professor Stalloid got an earful from Agnes Walker about Sue Miller, whom she truly did not like.
“What do you see in her, anyway?” she said.
“I saw snobbery and elitism,” he said.
She stared at him for a moment.
They all heard Zachery Butler was a psychopath who would tear small children limb from limb if given half a chance. They were told what he looked like and warned to stay away from him. When they asked, they learned he was a miner and lived alone up near the top of the run. They were warned not to be alone with him.
* * *
Jack West headed up the run and found some tracks leading up the hill towards the mine. He followed them and soon spotted the dark entrance to the mine shaft. Then he saw some armed men there near the entrance. He thought he recognized one of them as one of the men who had been part of the rescue party. He didn’t recognize the other two: one had a goatee and mustache and the other was a hulking man with a bowl haircut. All three were warmly dressed. The man he recognized carried a muzzle-loading rifle while the other two carried shotguns.
He tried to creep up as close as he could, using a tree as cover. However, the men obviously saw him, one of them pointing him out to the rest. They headed down his direction, their weapons under their arms. He waved at them. One of them waved back and they approached.
“Howdy, you from the train?” said the man with the mustache.
“Yeah, just … uh … taking in the sights,” Jack West said. He turned to the man he recognized from the rescue party. “And I just want to say thanks for helping with the rescue party, ‘cause … we would’ve probably frozen out there.”
“Oh, that’s all right,” the man said. “That’s all right. I’m Phil.”
He pointed to the massive man with the bowl haircut.
“That’s Joe,” he said.
He pointed to the man with the goatee and mustache.
“And that’s Bill,” he said. “I saw some wolves. We were going to try to shoot ‘em.”
“Oh,” Jack West said. “How many?”
“Couple,” Phil said. “We haven’t found any sign of ‘em yet, though.”
“Need some assistance?”
“I don’t think so. You don’t have any long arms, sir.”
“It is true. But I am a crack shot.”
“Mn-hmm. Most city-folk are, I hear.”
“So, if I should not get in your way, should I just head back into town or could I go─”
“I would right now. At least ‘til we see if we can get ‘em or drive ‘em off.”
“Well … uh … while I’m up this way, is there anything worth looking at?”
“Just the mine up there. Nobody’s there right now.”
“All right. You gentlemen have a nice day.”
He headed back to the town and the men headed up to the mine.
* * *
Otto had gone to the Walker house. The front porch had a blanket over something at one end. The woman who answered the door wore glasses and he had seen her at the church. She had a thin face and curly hair pulled up on the sides of her head.
“Joe’s not here right now,” she told him. “Phil saw some wolves and he took his gun and they went up looking for it.”
“Really?” Otto said.
“Do they need assistance? I got my rifle.”
“They said they were going to take care of it.”
“Well, they might need my help.”
“I don’t know,” he said.
She pointed up the valley.
“They went up the Run, past Bill Iler’s house,” she said.
He thought on it.
“I might as well,” he said.
He headed up the run and soon ran into Jack West coming back into the town.
“Oh, West,” he said.
“Otto,” Jack West said.
“You see some men with rifles?”
“Did you want to break their fingers?”
“Yeah. Joe, Phil, and Bill are up there hunting wolves, it sounded like.”
“Well, I was going to go join them.”
“Eh. They might let you in ‘cause you have a rifle. But they might not, since you’re city-folk.”
“I was a soldier.”
“Tell me how it goes.”
Jack West continued back in town.
Otto trod up the run, taking his rifle from his shoulder and holding it in his hand. He soon spotted three men near the entrance to the coal mind. He waved and one of them waved back. The three headed back down towards him, meeting him a couple hundred yards from the mine.
“Marshal,” one of them said.
“Phil?” he said.
“I was told you were hunting some wolves and you might need some help.”
“Uh … welp … we don’t think … it doesn’t look like … I don’t think there’s anything up here.”
“The man was mistaken,” the man with the beard said.
“Well, I could go take a look,” Otto said.
“If you want,” Phil said. “You can go take a look if you want. But we’re heading back.”
“I’ll take a look.”
“Well, be careful. Lone man up here … run into something … could be the end of him.”
“Well, I won’t stay up here too long then. I’ll just take a quick look. See if there are any tracks.”
“All right. Be careful.”
They parted, the three men going back into town while Otto followed the men’s tracks, which led right up to the mine. They had obviously gone to the mine entrance and inside. It looked like they walked back down to where there was another set of tracks coming through the trees. Then they walked back up and then they’d come back down to talk to Otto.
He returned to the mine and spotted another set of tracks from a different direction. They were large wolf tracks and seemed to go to the mine but not leave it. It was dark in the mine but he saw several lanterns and other equipment by the entrance. He looked back down the Run and saw the three men heading back to town.
He walked back to town as well. He picked up his pace to catch up to the men and did so at the edge of town.
“You know where Joe is?” he said.
Phil pointed to the man with the bowl cut. He was a very large man and carried a double-barrel shotgun.
“I’m Joe,” he said.
“I heard you stuffed some wolves,” Otto said.
“Do you mind if I look at ‘em?”
Walker led him to the house and pulled a blanket off the stuffed wolf on the porch. It had not been preserved very well. Obviously Joe Walker didn’t know a great deal about taxidermy but had made a valiant effort. It was recognizable as a wolf but he was obviously an amateur. Otto didn’t see anything unusual about it.
“Thank you,” he said. “I was just curious. Ron told me …”
“You got something you need stuffed?” Walker said.
“Maybe, eventually. Depends on how long we’re going to be stuck her.”
“Hopefully not long.”
“That would be a shame.”
Walker went into his house. He had left the blanket on the floor of the porch so Otto covered the wolf with it again. He was a little unnerved by the encounter.
* * *
It had grown dark by 5:30 p.m. and they could hear wolves howling in the distance. The clouds occasionally parted to reveal a less than half filled waning moon though the snow continued to fall. Once it was dark, they all started to see Gravits again more often, as they had the night before. At one point, Dr. Weisswald looked at a reflection in a window and her own reflection had been replaced by his. The visage was of a tall and thin young man, clean-cut and handsome, with sunken eyes and protruding cheekbones, his face contorted with grief. It was quite unnerving.
At different points in the evening, they all saw their reflections replaced by Gravits. It was disturbing though Professor Stalloid and Jacali were the worst bothered by it.
He often seemed to be looking towards the front doors of the church.
Dr. Weisswald went out of the front doors of the church. She took out her mirror and looked around using it. She thought she saw the man standing over by the telegraph office. He looked towards her and then he appeared to walk behind the building.
She went back inside to alert the others. They all got dressed and headed out of the church.
A few people were heading for the church and they knew a gathering was planned for around 7:30.
They followed Dr. Weisswald out into the cold and she led them down to the telegraph office and around the corner where Gravits had gone. There were, of course, no footprints. She took out the mirror again and looked around until she thought she saw the man by another building further south at the very edge of town. It was a one-story building with a sloped roof and didn’t appear to be in the best repair. There appeared to be light coming from the other side of the building. It almost looked like a warehouse.
“So, I followed the hunters up to the mine,” Otto said as they walked towards the building. “I found wolf tracks that go to the mine but they stopped at the mine. And the men went down from the mine and … maybe … if there’s werewolves, like we think, they have something to do with the mine.”
“No, those were back in Wheeling,” Professor Stalloid said.
“There could be more. You keep on saying you have dreams about a cat.”
“Giving you vague warnings.”
“Taken by the wolf.”
“But there is no sleeper here.”
“I got my silver knife anyways, so …” Dr. Weisswald said.
“I have silver arrows again, so …” Jacali said.
Jacali walked a little ahead and poked her head around the side of the building. The south side had a porch that ran the length of the building, a single window where light spilled out, and a single door. Over the door a sign read “Sleeping Wolf Bar & Grill.”
“Oh, so this is it, then,” Otto said.
Light came through the cracks in the walls of the place too. It was obviously not well-built.
They could see the reflection of Edward Gravits in the window of the place, staring out at them.
They all went in the front door. As they entered, Jack West and Professor Stalloid noticed footprints in the snow on the back of the building.
Dim, flickering kerosene lamps barely held back the shadows in the spacious room that took up the entirety of the building. A few men huddled at the bar on the far wall from the door, trying to stay warm by keeping close together and drinking far too much. Three tables were spread haphazardly around the floor, and a couple more men sat there, preferring cold isolation to warm socializing. A billiards table was set up near the wall to the right, just below the window that did little to keep out the bitter wind. Back in the corner of the room to the right was a door in a section of the wall set out from the outer wall.
Reuben Turner sat off to one side, warming up his fiddle. Ron Iler was behind the bar, acting as bartender. They recognized Nathaniel Wyatt, Larry Lukas, Peter Hood, Dr. Korek, and T.J. Miller there. Several passengers from the train were also there, a few men and a couple of women. It was very chilly in the place, even with the door closed.
Gravits face was much more prevalent in the bar than anyplace else they’d seen. He was reflected in the window, in the glasses the people were holding, in Dr. Korek’s glasses, and pretty much every reflective surface. Wherever they looked, they saw Gravits. He seemed to be everywhere.
Ron Iler waved them over and offered a drink.
“What’s the situation on rooms in the place?” Jacali asked.
“Rooms?” Iler said.
“Yeah, are there rooms for …?”
“No ma’am, this is just a bar and grill.”
“They’ve closed the kitchen down. Usually Ron Cordingham’s family works in there but I think they’re going up to the church to have supper with the passengers. We’re still serving drinks.”
“There’s a basement,” Professor Stalloid said.
“You want a drink?” Iler said.
“Sure,” Jacali said.
“It’ll warm you up.”
“There’s some local stuff and then there’s some better stuff.”
“Well, it’ll make you feel warm but it lowers your body temperature so …” Dr. Weisswald said.
“What?” Iler said.
He turned back to Jacali.
“You want something nice or you want something cheap?” he asked.
“I just want something cheap,” she said.
“All right,” he said.
He poured her a clear liquid from one of the jugs behind the bar and took her nickel.
“How about you, ma’am, you want something?” he said to Dr. Weisswald.
“You should probably insulate this building better,” she said.
“Well, Ron owns the building,” he said. “I’m just helping out because … I think he’s up at the church with everybody else.”
“Ron owns the building?” Jacali said.
“Ron Cordingham, yeah,” Iler said. “I’m Ron Iler.”
“You got me on that,” Jacali said. “I thought you were talking about yourself in the third person.”
“No no no,” Iler said. “Who does that? I’m sorry. It must be very confusing. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
He offered Dr. Weisswald a drink again.
“No,” she said. “It’s too dangerous in this weather.”
Jack West bought some Kentucky whiskey, which cost a dime.
“What about you, sir?” Iler said to Professor Stalloid
“I was really hoping for food,” Professor Stalloid said. “I am rather peckish.”
“Well, they closed the kitchen down early so they could go help with the you folks up at the church,” Iler said.
“Would I be able to pay you to use the kitchen?”
“What? No. No no no. It’s locked. Ron locked the door. He doesn’t want anybody down there that’s not supposed to be down there.”
“When does Ron get back?”
“So, uh, Stalloid, I could go find him or we could go back to the church,” Otto said.
“What?” Professor Stalloid said. “I heard they have food at the church.”
Professor Weisswald looked in her mirror again and saw the image of David Gravits right there, his reflection replacing hers. He frowned and looked like he was filled with grief, but urging her to do something, though she didn’t know what.
Reuben Turner started playing some Christmas music. Jacali approached him and he finished the present song.
“How you doing?” he said to her.
“Well, Mr. Turner, I can’t have helped but overhear, my quick stay in town, that your house is supposedly haunted,” Jacali said. “Do you know anything about that?”
“Well …” he said. “Yes ma’am, sometimes doors open and close by themselves. Damnedest thing. Or you leave a door open and it’s closed later on. Some of the children claim they’ve heard footsteps and the youngest, she claimed she heard a baby crying one night. She was scared to get out of her bed. It’s the damnedest thing.”
“Any blue sparks,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Blue sparks?” Turner said. “I’m sorry?”
“What … a … what?”
“It’s a common … it’s a ghost thing,” Jacali said.
“Oh,” Turner said. “I’ve never heard that.”
“We are a group of people who have traveled around and we’ve seen some strange things and investigate it. If you wouldn’t mind us, we would love to take a look at your place sometimes, if you think it’s haunted.”
“You investigate these things?”
“Well … sometimes …”
“Who does that? Yeah, if you want to come by, you can look around the house. I don’t mind. I don’t think Doris will mind either. If you want … sometime during the day? Would that be okay?”
“Yeah. I’m sure not tonight. You don’t have time, but tomorrow, we’ll come by.”
“Maybe the next day. Tomorrow’s Christmas and all. We’ve been spending a lot of time at the church, trying to cheer you folks up.”
“Does the haunting happen at night?” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Uh, the things I’ve noticed always happen at night,” Turner said.
“Well, shouldn’t we check it out tonight then?”
“Well … if you want, but I’m supposed to be playing and entertaining folks until … uh … uh … til about two. Will you still be up then? We’re trying to help Ron out.”
“That’s a long time to play a show,” Jacali said.
“Well, it’s a job that keeps me warm. And he pays me in whiskey, so. It’s worth it, I think. I only do it once in a while. I’m going to be going down to the church tomorrow to play for the people, ‘cause you know, for Christmas. We’re going to get together for Christmas with everybody.”
He talked for a little while, making small talk.
Jacali drank her drink. It was rough and strong.
“Whoo!” she said.
“You can feel it, can’t you?” Iler said.
“Whoo!”she said again.
He nodded and smiled.
“Would you like some more?” he said.
“Nope!” Jacali said. “I think this is quite enough.”
“It’ll warm you. It’ll warm you.”
“It’ll do other things!”
“I’ll come by later,” Otto said.
“We’ll be glad to have you,” Iler said.
They all left the bar.
“Just follow me this way,” Jack West said. “This looks … interesting.”
“Yeah, some tracks,” Professor Stalloid said.
“You’re spoiling the surprise, Stalloid.”
“Someone went over there.”
“As many people do in town?” Otto said.
They moved to the far side of the porch where they could see tracks going around the side of the building to some cellar doors where the snow had recently been cleared away.
Dr. Weisswald and Jacali went to the doors and Dr. Weisswald pulled on them. They came easily open with a grinding creak of metal on metal from the rusty hinges. It sounded so loud! Dr. Weisswald dropped the doors and turned to flee.
“What are you people doing over here!” Otto said, rushing over.
He was hoping to alleviate suspicion.
“Thanks Otto!” Jacali said.
Dr. Weisswald tried to shove Otto down into the snow but he ducked out of the way. She turned and ran away, followed by Jacali. Before she went around the side of the building, Jacali turned and held out her hands, giving Otto a questioning and disgusted look. Professor Stalloid followed them, along with Jack West and Dr. Bloomberg.
The front door of the building opened and Ron Iler came out on the porch.
“Everything all right here, marshal?” he said.
“Some ruffians came by earlier and opened the door,” Otto said.
“What?” Iler said.
He walked over to the edge of the porch and looked around the corner.
“Well, what’d they look like, marshal,” he said. “Who was it?”
“Just some of the kids,” Otto said.
Iler walked over and opened one of the doors, peering down the steps to the cellar door below. He closed it back up. They creaked loudly.
“I think it was just some of the kids wanted to be troublemakers,” Otto said.
“Oh,” Iler said.
“Well, I’m sure it’s nothing.”
“Sorry, I didn’t really get a good look at ‘em.”
“Well, if you see ‘em, you tell the constable. He’ll give ‘em a talking to.”
“Maybe he’ll give ‘em a whipping.”
He offered Otto a drink but he thanked him and said no. Iler went back into the bar.
Otto inspected the hinges and found they were rusty and hadn’t been oiled in a long time, possibly ever. The only way to open them would be to do it so slowly one would probably get frostbite before they were truly open. He realized it had not been as loud as it felt when Dr. Weisswald had opened it, but it was still loud.
He headed back to the church.
* * *
By 7 p.m., most of the folks of the town had gathered at the church to sing Christmas hymns and carols. The place was packed and it seemed like almost everyone in town was there.
Otto looked around for Phil, Bill, and Joe Walker, but didn’t see the three men in the building. Professor Stalloid asked around to see if their wives were there and found that Dotty Dexter, Phil’s wife was there, as well as Janet Walker, the school marm and Joe Walker’s wife. The woman who pointed them out noted that Joe and Janet were a funny couple as they were practically opposites, her small and smart and him big and thick. The woman didn’t see Jenny Cutler though. She told him she was the midwife in town.
“What does Dotty do?” Professor Stalloid asked.
“She’s Phil’s wife,” the woman said.
He went over to Dotty Dexter.
“Hey,” he said to her. “Where’s Joe, Bill, and Phil? They see some more wolves?”
She wasn’t sure where they were.
Otto looked for Zachery Butler and found him sitting off to himself, singing loudly and off-key. He was grinning from ear to ear.
Jack West took the others aside.
“Maybe later when everybody else is asleep …” he said.
They looked at him.
“What?” Professor Stalloid said.
“Check out the kitchen,” Jack West said.
“Yeah,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“I mean …” Jacali said.
“And the mine,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Maybe they eat people,” Jack West said.
“And the Turner house,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“And also figure out where Joe, Phil, and Bill always go,” Professor Stalloid said. “And are they werewolves?”
“They’re probably the bad ones,” Jack West said.
“Do they do things?” Professor Stalloid said.
Otto asked a few people if there was a woodcutter in town and learned there wasn’t one. People chopped their own wood. He asked a few people if anyone needed help chopping wood and they looked at him like he was crazy. Then they thanked him but said no, they didn’t need anyone to help with chopping wood.
Professor Stalloid looked around for Mrs. Hood, the woman in the maroon dress, but he didn’t see her in the church. He looked around for her husband but then remembered he’d seen him at the bar. He asked around if anyone knew where she was but no one was sure where she might be. He got shrugs and blank looks.
* * *
Otto told his companions he wanted to go look for Phil, Bill, and Joe. Professor Stalloid and Jack West said they’d go with him.
“It doesn’t seem like the time to do that, Otto,” Jacali said. “It seems dark and cold and blizzardy.”
“But what if this is the only time to do it?” Professor Stalloid said.
“You think it’s just going to warm up tomorrow?” Otto said.
“Well, it will at least be light outside,” Jacali said. “It’s warmer during the day.”
“But what if they’re thinking the same thing?” Professor Stalloid said.
“Listen, if you think these people are really suspicious, you go ahead,” Jacali said. “But I haven’t met them.”
“I’m at least going to go up to Bill’s house to see if he’s there or not,” Otto said.
Otto, Professor Stalloid, and Jack West headed out to look for Phil, Bill, and Joe, walking through the cold, dark town in the snow in the direction of the mines. Otto had grabbed one of the kerosene lanterns from the wall. They could hear the howls of wolves in the distance. They stopped at the Walker house and found it closed up and dark. They guessed most of the family was at the church.
“That’s odd,” Otto said.
“You want to go to the mine?” Professor Stalloid said.
“Do we have enough guns for that?” Otto said.
“Mine does sound interesting,” Jack West said.
“He’s got guns,” Professor Stalloid said.
“One gun,” Otto said.
“I got a lotta guns,” Jack West said.
“He’s got a lot of guns,” Professor Stalloid said. “Right?”
“Yeah,” Jack West said.
“Let’s get the others,” Otto said.
“Let’s get them to go to the mine,” Jack West said. “Then we can go to the cellar afterwards.”
They headed back to the church.
* * *
“Did-did y’all - did y’all know there was a murder in this town?” Robert Kranken said to Dr. Weisswald and Jacali. “Easter before last?”
He was a small, bearded man who wore a formless had with a narrow brim. He spoke very softly but with a thick West Virginia accent. They remembered he had been with the rescue party but had not said anything the night before. Now, he looked at them with bright eyes.
“We did not,” Jacali said.
“Yes,” he said. “Back in ‘74. Easter of ‘74. That’s right. It was the … uh … the … it was … well, it was in my house. That’s what I heard. There was a murder in my house. McCullens. Killed. About six months before we moved in. Did you know that?”
“No … no sir. Before you moved in?”
“Nobody told you?”
“No. You’re the first.”
“Oh. Okay. Well, it was a year and a half ago.”
“I just know the name. We didn’t live here yet. We moved in about six months after and people said ‘You live in that murder house’ and I said ‘Okay.’ I don’t know what they want me to do about that. It’s just a house. But, you folks look bored, so I thought I’d tell you.”
He looked them over.
“I heard you were ghost hunters,” he said.
“That is … I mean …” Jacali said. “Is your house haunted as well as the Turner house?”
“I never seen or heard anything strange in that house,” Kranken said. “Neither have my kids, or my wife, Irene. We have four kids. There’s Josella, and there’s Mark, and that’s Tom, and … uh-oh … where’s Bradley?”
He looked around desperately.
“Where’s Bradley?” he said again. “Oh God. I gotta go!”
He ran off.
Jacali found Constable Wells.
“This man, Mr. Kranken, came up to me and told me people died in his house for no reason,” she said.
“Yeah … that was during the Easter Fair of 1874,” Constable Wells said. “Um … their throats were all slit. You could read about it in the paper.”
He looked around and then motioned Johnsson to come over.
Jacali didn’t think the man had a clue what he was talking about and guessed he was quite stupid, he seemed so hesitant and unsure of a murder that took place in his own town. Dr. Weisswald didn’t think he was telling them everything about the situation. Johnsson crossed the room as Constable Wells walked off.
“There’s something he’s not telling us,” Dr. Weisswald whispered to Jacali.
“Really?” Jacali said. “I mean, if you really want to try to talk with this guy … go ahead. I’m going to talk to the newspaper man. I think this guy just eats doughnuts and whiskey. Whatever. Whiskey doughnuts.”
Dr. Weisswald led Jacali and Miss Bloomberg to Johnsson and asked him about the murder.
“Yeah, it was terrible,” Johnsson said. “All their throats were slit. I had an article in the paper. It was Easter before last. Easter 1874. I can get it for you tomorrow for you, if you want.”
“Do you know who done it?” Jacali said.
“No. Nobody … it was never found out. Yeah, somebody killed ‘em all.”
“A small town like this?”
“It must’ve been somebody passing through. They must’ve just …”
“Who was passing through around at that time?”
“It wasn’t anybody anybody saw.”
“So, somebody just walked into town, cut their throats, got out?”
“Well, we have a big Easter - there’s a big Easter Fair kind of thing. It could’ve been somebody at that.”
“I heard that Mr. Butler … uh … is a psychopath. I’ve heard a rumor around town. Do you think it was him?”
“I think if it was him … Constable Wells would’ve figured it out.”
“Well, yeah. Constable Wells is a good constable.”
“Well … yeah …”
“Do you reckon Constable─”
“Although, come to think, he never did let me look at the murder scene.”
“So I don’t know. Look, I’ll go over to the telegraph office and find a copy of the newspaper. I remember it was April 1874. Should only take a minute to find it. I’ll get it for you.”
He donned his coat and left the church.
Dr. Weisswald led Jacali back over to Constable Wells.
“All right, look …” Jacali said.
“Yeah?” Constable Wells said.
“Is your friend okay?” Constable Wells asked Dr. Weisswald.
“I’ve had a little bit of your corn whiskey,” Jacali said.
“Oh, you’ve been down to the Sleeping Wolf.”
“And let me tell you … it was like drinking lye, but … so, you don’t know who did this murder two years ago.”
“You have no idea?”
“I wish I knew, ‘cause I’d arrest ‘em.”
“What about that psychopath, Butler?” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Yeah, I feel like─” Jacali said.
“No no,” Constable Wells said. “It was definitely not him.”
“Well, how do you know?” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Because I investigated the … the killing,” Constable Wells said. “And … it was definitely not him.”
“Was there something …?” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Well, how do you know that?” Jacali said.
“You’ll just have to trust me on this …” Constable Wells said.
“We know what happened,” Miss Bloomberg suddenly said. “We just want to hear it from you.”
Constable Wells looked around nervously and he took the three women aside.
“You cannot tell the people in this town,” he said. “I do not want to start a panic.”
“I think we’re pretty good at discretion,” Jacali said.
“And we’re leaving soon anyways,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“The secret will─” Jacali said.
“All right,” Constable Wells said.
“─travel far away,” Jacali finished.
“Their throats were not slit,” Constable Wells said. “The McCullens’ throats were not slit. Their bodies were horribly mangled and mauled as if by a huge, wild animal. Now, I decided to not have a panic because … there’s no way that animal could’ve gotten in the house. The doors and windows were locked. But somehow, some animal got in and ripped them to pieces.”
“There was no sign of forced entry?” Jacali said.
“Correct,” Constable Wells said.
“And got away while locking the door?” Dr. Weisswald said.
Constable Wells just nodded, a frown on his face. He looked nervous as he looked each of them over.
“But the people in this town start thinking that some kind of animal can get in their houses by unlocking their doors or opening their windows, it could lead to bad things,” Constable Wells said. “So, I decided that I would tell Johnsson …”
He looked at the main doors as Johnsson entered the place again, taking off his coat. He had a newspaper in his hand.
“I told Johnsson and everyone else that they were murdered,” Constable Wells said. “Probably by somebody passing through. I’d appreciate your discretion in this. Thank you, ladies.”
Johnsson walked over.
“There you are, constable,” he said. “They were just asking me about the McCullen Massacre. There it is.”
He handed Jacali the Falls Rundown dated Friday, April 10, 1874. The relevant article read:
McCullen Massacre!! Family of Nine Found Dead in Their Home
It was certainly the worst crime ever committed in Falls Run―a sign that the deterioration
of decency and morals has no longer confined itself to the cities. The entire McCullen family
was found dead in their homes this week, their throats slit by some villainous criminal. It is
almost certain that some vagabond, having come to Falls Run during the Easter festival, is
responsible for the deed. Constable Wells and police from Grafton are investigating any
sordid characters who might have attended the fair.
Teddy McCullen will be sorely missed on the Board of Trustees of the Church, and Mary’s
voice will echo in our memories as the choir sings. The happy voices of Anne, Margaret, Toby,
Obed, and Eugene will never more be heard piping up in their Sunday School classes, and even
the screaming of the infant twins, Katie and Jessica, will be missed by us all.
“Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth,” the Scriptures tell us: “Yea, saith
the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.” As the whole
town of Falls Run grieves these horrible deaths, let us cling to that promise and, filled with the
fear of God, do our utmost to bring this vicious killer to justice.
“They never did catch the murderer,” Johnsson said. “Or murderers. But obviously somebody who was passing through town did it.”
“Tragic,” Jacali said.
The doors to the church opened again and Otto, Professor Stalloid, and Jack West entered.
They all shared what they’d learned with each other.
Otto wondered aloud what the moon was like when the McCullens were murdered. He talked to some of the people in the town and was able to get an 1874 almanac from one of their outhouses that the pages with the phases of the moon were not torn out of. He learned the full moon that year had been on April 1; Easter Sunday was April 5.
Professor Stalloid asked about the board of the church and learned a few men in town were but it didn’t seem to match any of the people he was feeling suspicious of.
The people were singing carols and hymns. Mrs. Habborlain had taken out the presents they’d brought back from the broken baggage car and showed them to the children so they would have something to look forward to Christmas morning.
“What about Santa?” Clovis asked. “How will he find us?”
“I’m sure he’ll leave the toys at home and we’ll be home in a few days,” Mrs. Habborlain said.
“I want my toys now!” Clovis said.
Dr. Weisswald pointed out they had three places to investigate but they had to decide what do to first. Professor Stalloid wanted to investigate the kitchen. He was certain the ghost had the most information. Otto pointed out the outside cellar door was not going to open without the entire town being alerted. Jacali noted it was a small town and no one seemed to live in the building; perhaps they could even just go in the front door. Miss Bloomberg said she could probably pick the lock if not.
“You pick locks?” Jacali said. “These are the skills we need.”
“Now it doesn’t matter,” she said. “We can just avoid that rusty door altogether.”
“Yeah,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“I have qualms about this,” Otto said
“Well, then, don’t come!” Miss Bloomberg said.
“I mean, we’re not lock picking,” Professor Stalloid said. “Let’s go investigate the mine together.”
“Okay, listen, copper …” Jacali said.
“Yeah, we’re going to investigate the mine,” Dr. Weisswald said. “Meet us there.”
“We have a thief among the party!” Otto said.
“She never said she stole anything,” Professor Stalloid said. “She could be a locksmith.”
“Exactly!” Jacali said. “And all we know is that she’s following Jack West for information.”
She looked them over.
“Listen,” she said. “I … don’t want to be anywhere near Jack West but I would imagine that someone could be very interested in his deeds.”
“Oh, I thought we were such good friends … uh … uh … Jojo,” Jack West said.
“Right,” Jacali said. “Because that’s my real name. That you have learned.”
“Yep. Got it right.”
“See, I did remember!”
“Oh, you did.”
“Well, clearly, there’s been mystery murders in this town,” Professor Stalloid said. “And people missing. The townsfolk could be in on it.”
“Listen Otto, what I’m saying is that we will be there to keep Jane innocent,” Jacali said. “And you know us, we’re not going in there to trash the place, to steal anything─”
“Yeah, I know that!” Otto said.
“─so …” Jacali said.
“Our intentions are innocent as well,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I was just saying that …” Otto said.
“And isn’t ‘intentions’ nine-tenths of the law?” Professor Stalloid said.
“I understand you not wanting to be on the bad side of it if we get caught,” Jacali said.
“Yeah,” Otto said.
“And I feel like it is within your right to do that. I would appreciate it, though, if you did not turn us in, of course, on the other end of that.”
“I was not going to turn you in. I just wanted to … I told him that some kids were doing it, okay? You’re fine.”
“I appreciate that.”
“I wanted to explain why someone was there.”
“Could you keep watch for us instead?” Professor Stalloid said.
“So he knew he could trust me,” Otto said.
“I appreciate it,” Jacali said.
“Can you keep watch for us, instead then?” Professor Stalloid asked again.
“I can do that,” Otto said.
“Also if you see Joe, Bill, and Phil again … follow them.”
“Alone? And they have shotguns?”
“I will say, Otto, if you really don’t want to be in any way related to this, it might be good to have an alibi, either staying at the church─,” Jacali said.
“That’s why I stayed there,” Otto said. “I wanted an alibi to explain why someone opened the door.”
“Right, I know,” Jacali said. “But I’m saying for this, for going back. If you want to stay at the church for the night and be seen there or if you want to …”
“I could go to the bar,” Otto said. “And hang out there. I’ll hang out in the bar. How about that?”
“Well … uh …” Jacali said. “But I thought we were going there after hours at the bar, anyway.”
“If you’re at the bar, then you’re going to be seen at the crime.”
“What do you want me to do? Stay here?”
“I think that’s up to you but I’m just saying if you want to have no part in this, I’m fine.”
“I’m fine with having a part in it, but I’d like to be able to not get in trouble.”
“Yeah, so stay watch,” Professor Stalloid said. “I’ve said this.”
“I think if you stay watch, you’re going to get in trouble,” Jacali said.
“Stay watch where?” Otto said.
“I think if you stay watch anywhere, you should stay as close to the church as you can,” Jacali said. “You can still kind of see it.”
They talked a little of him going up the steeple but it was far too small. Jacali told him she felt it would still look suspicious if he was close to the place they were going to break into. She noted he knew more about the law than she did. Professor Stalloid piped up to say he knew a lot about the law. Jack West claimed he knew the most: if you don’t get caught it doesn’t count. Otto gave the man a look.
Jacali said she knew Reuben Turner was going to be at the bar until 2 a.m. and, if they planned on breaking in with the help of Miss Bloomberg they needed to wait until after 2 a.m. Jack West said he thought they should go to the mines first. Dr. Weisswald was also of the opinion they should go to the mines first, then the kitchen, and finally the Turner house.
Professor Stalloid suggested they go to the mine and then the bar so that Jacali and Dr. Weisswald could meet Turner there and go to his house. While they were there, the others would sneak into the kitchen. Jacali worried something might go wrong in the basement, citing the possibility of a chained-up, horrible, black tar monster thing.
“I’ll come get you,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Do you have something that could help with that?” Jack West said.
“No,” Jacali said. “I’m just saying that I don’t want … if we have to … I mean …”
“You’ll have a head start on running away?”
“I’d rather not have members of us die as a mystery in a place we don’t know, is what I’m saying.”
“I’ve heard Otto’s getting braver by the minute. Maybe he’ll make the sacrifice that we need.”
They decided to go up to the mine and got lanterns for Dr. Weisswald, Ophelia, Jack West, Professor Stalloid, and Miss Bloomberg. They left the church where they still saw reflections of Gravits and headed up the run.
It was around 9 p.m. when they left. The town looked practically abandoned as most everyone was either at the church or at the Sleeping Wolf. The cold wind blew as the snow continued to come down as if it would never stop. It took them about a half hour to slough through the snow.
As they approached, Otto and Jacali looked for tracks near the mine entrance. Jacali found the tracks of several men coming and going from the mine but they were all covered in new-fallen snow. Fresher tracks, though still covered with snow, seemed to indicate an animal had come out of the mine at some point. Jacali recognized them as wolf tracks.
“These are wolves,” she said.
“That’s what I thought,” Otto said.
“Leaving the mine?” she said. “Leaving the mine! Why is a wolf leaving the mine?”
“‘Cause they went into the mine earlier,” Miss Bloomberg said.
“Well, why would wolves go into a mine?” Jacali said. “This isn’t what wolves do. They’re normally pack animals. They don’t usually go alone.”
Otto realized he had seen tracks going in but not coming out earlier. The wolf must have been in the mine when he went to look there earlier that day.
“Somebody in this town’s a damned wolf,” Jacali said.
“Well, this sounds like maybe we should follow it,” Jack West said.
Jacali pointed out the tracks were heading up into the mountains. She wondered about entering the mines, thinking it was a lot to explore. She suggested they could try to follow the wolf instead. Jack West said he thought that sounded more interesting. Professor Stalloid said the wolf would know they had gone into the mine, if they did so, as they would leave their scent within and wolves were good at tracking scent. He was of the opinion they should follow the wolf.
Jacali guessed the tracks were a few hours old. The wolf had a good lead on them. When she talked to Otto about the men he’d seen up there and when they had been there, it put them there around the same time as the wolf, she guessed. That made the tracks around six hours old.
There was some talk about whether they should bother to try to follow the old tracks but Dr. Weisswald pointed out the wolf might have only gone someplace an hour or so away.
They headed into the mountains, tracking the wolf prints.
* * *
The snow continued to come down as they followed the wolf’s tracks. They seemed to go mostly in a straight line though they sometimes meandered a little ways here or there. They followed the tracks for two hours, all of them very cold by that point. They found a little blood in the snow at one point, but otherwise the wolf was just moving through the mountains in a mostly straight path which was, in and of itself, a little bit strange.
They headed back and were cold and exhausted when they finally returned to Falls Run. Fiddle music was still coming from the Sleeping Wolf. It sounded like “Jimmy Crack Corn.”
The church was dark except for a single candle in the foyer. The townsfolk were gone and the passengers had all settled down to sleep. But at least it was warm in the place. A few people looked up from their sleep but no one paid them much attention.
They quietly discussed who was going where. Roughly half were to go break in the Sleeping Wolf and the rest would go with Turner.
“That sounds fair, three and three,” Jack West muttered.
“And we’ll go hide in the bushes,” Professor Stalloid muttered.
Jack West looked at him.
“You mocking me?” he muttered.
“Are you mocking me?” Professor Stalloid muttered.
Jack West slapped the man’s shoulder.
“I deserved that,” Professor Stalloid said. “But seriously though, we should go hide.”
“Yes,” Jack West said.
They noticed Gravits in the windows, his reflection seemingly watching them.
* * *
Jacali, Dr. Weisswald, Otto, and Ophelia entered the Sleeping Wolf just before 2 a.m. They found the other passengers were gone and Reuben Turner and Ron Iler were just finishing cleaning up the bar. They asked Turner if he wanted them to come look at his house right then. He was a little confused and told them he’d rather do it the next night and earlier, around 6 p.m. However, he was willing to if that would be best.
“Well, ghosts come out most at night in our experience,” Jacali said. “Especially─”
“Right, tomorrow night,” Turner said.
“Well, this is the witching hour right now.”
“The wishing …”
“Do you wish?”
“Ghosts like this time,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Ghosts good this time,” Jacali said.
“Two in the morning?” Turner said.
“Two in the morning. Best ghost time. We know.”
“Okay. Okay. That’s fine. That’s fine.”
“And if we don’t find anything or we need to be loud and make a noise, we can always come back tomorrow like you said. But we’d like to give it a once over at this time.”
“Scout,” Otto said. “Scout around.”
“You’re the Indian, you know best,” Turner said.
“Oh, yes I do,” Jacali said.
“Yes, she does,” Otto said.
Turner put his fiddle away and led them out of the building. They could see Gravits in every reflection once again. Larry Lukas got up from where he’d been napping, his head on one of the tables, and stumbled away, very drunk. T.J. Miller went with him to see him home. Ron Iler followed and closed and locked the door behind them.
* * *
Turner had a snug little house with a stove in the center, ashes still glowing within. He put in a few more pieces of wood as Otto, Ophelia, Dr. Weisswald, and Jacali entered. The four of them saw Gravits in the windows occasionally but not like he had been in the bar. Jacali borrowed Dr. Weisswald’s mirror and they saw Gravits reflected in it. She showed Turner but he didn’t see anything.
“Well, only some people have the gift so don’t worry,” Jacali said.
“Oh,” he said.
“Some people do it and don’t know.”
“But I definitely see him. You got something.”
“I knew it! I knew it!”
“And you were right.”
“Right! Right! I know!”
The man was a little drunk.
“Well, what do we do?” he said. “What do we do?”
“Well, we need to find out what he wants,” Jacali said. “And we need to look around and see what he does.”
“Oh,” Turner said. “Who is he? I built this house.”
“Is it an Indian burial ground?” he said.
“Oh no,” Jacali said. “This is a pale, pale white man.”
“Oh,” Turner said.
She described Gravits: his high cheekbones and sunken eyes, his clean shaven face.
“That’s … that’s that … feller,” Turner said. “Last year. That was on the train.”
“The train that crashed?” Jacali said.
“That feller. That feller with the high cheekbones. He was that feller … who’s asking questions all over everybody.”
“Do you know if anything happened─”
“That’s who it sounds like!”
“─to him? Anything that … any reason that he would have unfinished business?”
“I heard that he didn’t get back on the train or something. I … I dunno. That was a year ago.”
“Well, maybe something terrible happened to him.”
“I don’t have a basement!”
“Well, something’s made him stay around town─”
“I’ll get a crowbar! Let’s rip up the floorboards!”
“Oh no! Christmas.”
“Oh yeah yeah yeah. Sh.”
“Floorboards make a lot of noise.”
They looked around the small living area of the house as if they were looking for a ghost, playing it up for the ruse. Otto looked around for anything suspicious but saw nothing. Jacali made sure to tell Turner that, since the ghost was in his house, if he could help them find out what happened to him, it might help them deal with it. Turner thought on it and told them the Cutler girl had been following the man all around town.
“So, maybe she killed him!” he said.
“Maybe,” Jacali said.
He gasped again.
“She killed him!” he said.
“Or - or - or she might know the most,” Jacali said. “Listen─”
“We don’t know.”
“Let’s not jump to conclusions. But she might know what happened to him.”
“Oh. Let’s go ask her right now.”
“Well, it’s too late.”
“Oh, it’s late. It’s dark.”
* * *
Jack West, Professor Stalloid, and Miss Bloomberg waited until the men had been gone for 30 minutes before they crept from their hiding places in the darkness to the main door of the Sleeping Wolf. They found the front door locked and Miss Bloomberg took out several tools and got to work on it. Unfortunately, she couldn’t get the door unlocked.
They moved around to the cellar door, Professor Stalloid warning them to open only one of the cellar doors very slowly. They did so, revealing a set of wooden steps going down some six or seven feet into the ground. A door lay at the bottom. They crept down the creaking wooden steps to find the door there locked as well. Miss Bloomberg got to work on it and managed to get the door unlocked. She pushed it open. It was very dark inside.
Professor Stalloid lit his lantern to reveal a kitchen. The room was some ten feet deep and went roughly fifteen feet to the right. There was a great stove and oven directly ahead of them, a set of stairs going up to the right, and another door directly in the wall to their left. A plain blue blanket hung against the opposite wall next to the stairs. There were counters and shelves and plenty of kitchen items present.
“Hey Jack, let me see your mirror,” Professor Stalloid said.
When he looked in the silver mirror, he saw Gravits face instead of his own. It was quite disturbing. The man was looking directly at him. He handed Jack West the mirror back.
“You got that?” he said, pointing at the door to the left.
Miss Bloomberg nodded and Professor Stalloid went to the blanket and pushed it aside to reveal another locked door. Jack West went across to the steps, banging his head on the rafters of the low ceiling.
Miss Bloomberg found the unlocked door led into a pantry. Six rows of shelves lined the four walls except where the door led in. All sorts of dry foods were stocked in the shelves, as well as extra liquor for the bar upstairs. A huge ice chest occupied most of the floor space, making it somewhat difficult to squeeze around to get to the shelves.
“Over here,” she heard Professor Stalloid whisper.
She opened the ice chest to find ice, some snow, and meat. There were a few hams and sides of beef and venison.
She went back out into the kitchen and Professor Stalloid pointed her to the locked door. It only took her a moment to pick the lock. She pushed the door open and stepped into the room.
A horrific form came into view. It must have been human once, but its dry skin was stretched tight over its bones, and a claw-like hand was extended towards Blair as its empty eye sockets seemed to leer in his direction.
“Ew!” she said.
Looking more closely, however, they saw the menacing figure was not actually moving, nor was it alive – it appeared to have been a stuffed, embalmed corpse. The man’s face must have been young in life, his features handsome – though it was hard to be sure when gazing at the gruesome mockery. His cheekbones were high and pronounced, his eyes deep-set, and his hair was long and unkempt. His naked body bore the horrible marks of burns and cuts, bloodless, but certainly painful and gory when they were inflicted.
Two heavy black iron candelabras flanked the embalmed corpse, and two more stood on the near side of the room, on either side of the door. Beside a couch against one wall, a stuffed wolf stood eyeing them. Another couch rested on the opposite corner of the room, facing a massive iron safe. On top of the safe was a stack of cards, like playing cards. A rug adorned with a strange, twisted pattern covered the floor in the center of the room.
Miss Bloomberg went straight to the safe. She picked up the cards and saw they were decorated with gruesome and occult imagery. She pocketed them and then got to work on the safe, turning the dial and listening to the sounds of the tumblers.
Professor Stalloid went to the naked stuffed man. He guessed it was Gravits and thought the man was obviously tortured to death. He considered casting a spell to try to talk to the man. He knew he needed some blood.
“Jack, how open are you to the supernatural?” he said.
“I see it … all the time with you people,” Jack West said.
“Okay. How committed are you to donating a little bit of blood to help solve this?”
“I … just need to cut your hand and bleed you a little bit.”
“My hands are already damaged or very important.”
“It won’t matter, right? Just the left one?”
“Can’t you bleed yourself?”
“I am very frail.”
“Well, I kind of need to survive any weird encounters that we are going to obviously have.”
“I don’t know. This seems like normal people. Crazy normal people, but normal people.”
“What about her?”
“I don’t her. I don’t want to ask for her blood.”
“Shut up,” Miss Bloomberg said from where she was working on the safe.
“I’ll give you some,” Jack West finally said.
Professor Stalloid cut the man’s left hand, already bound up for his broken index finger, and had him hold the dropping hand over the stuffed corpse. Professor Stalloid chanted for a very long time.
During his chanting, there was a click and a clunk as Miss Bloomberg managed to get the safe open. She found three books within.
“What’d you get over there?” Jack West said.
“Books,” she said.
One of the was simply bound papyrus pages stitched together without a cover. Someone had scribbled “Codex Romae” across the front page in crayon. The next appeared in remarkably good shape and was quite sturdy. It was bound in black leather with several metal studs, the cover made of thick sheets of wood covered in leather. The book had a tiny lock upon it. The third was more contemporary and bound in a thick brown leather cover held closed by a simple hasp.
It suddenly got much colder in the room and frost formed on the walls. Professor Stalloid finished his chanting.
“Look away,” Professor Stalloid said to Miss Bloomberg.
“What?” Jack West said.
Edward Gravits suddenly stepped out of his own corpse right into the faces of Jack West and Professor Stalloid, startling both of them. Professor Stalloid gasped as the man has been horribly tortured, obviously just before he died. The wounds were still dripping blood or pus, the burns were fresh, the pain evident on the man’s tortured face. For a moment he wanted to just run from the room screaming, but then rallied himself as Gravits looked at him for the first time with actual intelligence in his eyes.
“Ask the easy ones, like ‘who did this?’” Jack West said.
Miss Bloomberg looked up and was startled to see the man standing in front of himself and the one in the front was fresh. Jack West backed away from the man, his hand still trickling blood. Professor Stalloid took out a notebook and pencil.
“Who killed you?” he asked. “Who … this?”
He gestured at the man’s naked and mutilated body.
“The Cabal of the Sleeping Wolf,” Gravits said, his voice hollow and distance. “Cutler. Cutler. Cordingham. Walker. Miller. Dexter. Hood.”
The dead man stared at him, his eyes filled with pain.
“Can I get the first names on those?” Professor Stalloid said.
“Bill. Jenny. Ron. Joe. Sue. Phil. Ellen,” the ghost muttered in a voice that growled.
Professor Stalloid wrote down the names as quickly as he could. It was getting colder and colder in the room, more frost forming on the walls.
“What’s the big wolf?” Professor Stalloid said. “Is that a god or is it … do they turn into the wolf?”
“Jessik,” the hollow voice of Gravits rang across the room. “Jessik is their … master. I do not know why he formed the cabal. He’s been here for a very long time. He was there was I died. He was a she. And a he.”
“Do you want me to do anything for you?” Professor Stalloid said.
“Avenge me!” Gravits said.
“Other than that.”
“See they are punished!”
“Other than that.”
“See that the truth comes out!”
“See that the truth comes out!”
“See that the truth comes out!”
“Can you turn this guy off?” Jack West said.
“I vote we leave!” Miss Bloomberg said.
It was getting colder and colder in the room.
“That’ll be all,” Professor Stalloid said.
The tortured ghost of Gravits disappeared. The cold seemed to press in on them.
“What was the constable’s name?” Jack West said.
Miss Bloomberg left the room, shivering. Jack West closed the safe, threw the latch, and spun the dial.
“Do you mind locking the doors again?” Professor Stalloid said.
She stopped in the kitchen and then waited as the other two men left the room. Professor Stalloid stayed long enough to wipe the blood off the stuffed corpse as best he could. Then he went to the kitchen to get some water on his handkerchief, rinsing it out and then using the wet cloth to better clean off the corpse. Miss Bloomberg got to work on trying to lock the door and had it secured in a moment.
They went to the outer door, Professor Stalloid getting extinguishing the lantern as Jack West led them through the door. There was a cat sitting on the steps leading to the open cellar door above. It was a tabby and merely stared at them.
Jack West ignored it, climbing the steps to the open cellar door and peeking out.
Professor Stalloid stopped when he saw the cat, terrified. His ailurophobia kicked in and he stopped there, frozen in his tracks, having just blown out his lantern, terrified of the animal. He looked away.
“Please,” he said. “I’m working for your master. I-I-I-I gotta go. Please.”
“What the ****?” Jack West said.
“I need to go!”
“What the hell are you talking about, Stalloid?”
“I’m doing - I’m doing her bidding. We’re righting this wrong. Please. Please. I’m doing my job.”
“Stalloid, get your ass out here!”
“I’m doing my job.”
“It’s just a cat!” Miss Bloomberg said.
“Shut up and come up here!” Jack West said. “We gotta get out.”
“I will move it,” Miss Bloomberg said.
She pushed by Professor Stalloid and reached for the cat, which launched itself at the man. It grabbed him by the head, scratching him in the face. It clawed its way up over the top of his head. Professor Stalloid ran up the steps in terror as the cat tore at the back of his jacket and growling loudly. Jack West tried to punch the cat as it ran by.
“Stupid cat!” he said.
The cat easily leapt out of the way of the man’s swing, flying off Professor Stalloid’s back.
“That is the traitor!” he said as quietly but emphatically as he could. “That is the traitor. Please kill it! It works for the wolves!”
The cat had disappeared back down into the cellar hole. With a whimper, Professor Stalloid ran away.
Miss Bloomberg turned to close and lock the door. The cat landed somewhere near her but it was very dark at the bottom of the stairs. She could just make out the cat, which had landed near her feet. She reached for it to push it into the cellar but the cat leapt out of the way and then it leapt at her. The woman put up her left arm to block the cat but it merely latched onto her and started scratching her, tearing at her jacket. She felt the animal’s claws tear through the fabric and cut her.
Miss Bloomberg tried to rip the cat off her arm but it deftly climbed up her arm and onto her back and started scratching the woman’s back, ripping at her jacket. She grabbed at the cat, trying to get the animal off her. Jack West came down the creaking steps and swung the butt of his pistol at the cat, striking it solidly. It fell from the woman’s back and disappeared into the dark kitchen. He followed it and looked around, seeing the dark shape on the floor. He holstered his pistol, picked it up by the scruff of the neck, and headed out of the cellar, telling Miss Bloomberg to lock the cellar door.
She quickly locked the door while Jack West bashed the cat’s head against the floor of the cellar, killing it instantly. He dropped the cat and told Miss Bloomberg to pick it up as he drew his pistol again. She picked it up and the two of them headed up the steps again.
They could see a light in the house next door to the Sleeping Wolf. They heard a door open and Jack West headed directly away from the Sleeping Wolf and the town, pushing through the deep snow to the tree line and the mountainside. Miss Bloomberg followed him.
Someone came out of the house with a lantern and moved to the Sleeping Wolf. Jack West turned left and to the north. A glance behind them showed the man following them had a shotgun and a lantern. He was wearing boots and a jacket thrown over a nightshirt, apparently. He followed the tracks they were leaving in the deep snow. Unfortunately, the man behind was closing as he was not having to push through the deep, fresh snow.
“You come back here!” their pursuant yelled. “Sons of bitches!”
They didn’t recognize the voice.
* * *
Meanwhile, at the Turner house, there was a pounding at the front door. Reuben Turner leapt up out of his chair.
“Is that the ghost!?!” he said.
Otto opened the door and Professor Stalloid rushed into the house, his eyes wide. He was pale and sweating. Blood was on his face and forehead. His jacket looked torn in the back. He looked at his wits end. He made a strange, strangled noise.
Dr. Weisswald saw to Professor Stalloid, cleaning the blood from his forehead and bandaging the wound. He started to tell the others what had happened but then saw Reuben Turner standing off to one side.
“Did the ghost do that?” the man asked Jacali when he caught his eye.
Professor Stalloid realized the man was a little drunk.
“Oh,” Jacali said. “Ah ... oh yes. Ghosts are known to do that. But it hasn’t happened before, yes?”
“No, there’s not been anybody hurt,” Turner said.
“Well, then it means this probably isn’t the type of ghost that does that very much. So … so don’t worry, but it looks like this time─”
“Well, where was he when … was he under the house? Were you looking under my house?”
“Under your house?” Professor Stalloid said. “You have a basement?”
“No,” Turner said. “There’s a crawlspace.”
“You shouldn’t go under the house! It’s haunted! She said there’s ghosts under there.”
“Some feller. Some reporter.”
“Yeah. Edward Gravits.”
“I don’t remember his name. So he was under the house?”
Turner stomped his foot on the floor as if to flush the ghost out.
“I’m so sorry, sir,” he said. “I didn’t know the ghost would hurt somebody. Why were you under the house? Oh! You’re helping.”
“I’m also a paranormal investigator,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Yeah, you’re their friend. Yeah, I seen y’all together.”
Turner sat back down on the comfortable chair and Dr. Weisswald realized the man would probably fall asleep if he was left alone for a few minutes. That would give them time to talk.
* * *
“Throw the cat forward!” Jack West said over his shoulder.
He cut to his left through the snow. Miss Bloomberg flung the cat straight ahead as she followed the man. They pushed their way through the snow and back towards the town between a house set back from the road to their right and what appeared to be a house with a forge and anvil out front to the left. They broke into a run once they hit the partially cleared road, running behind the church and down the road, across the bridge over the creek, and then turned to head down to the Turner house.
The man was not far behind them by then but fell back now that they were able to run at full speed. Miss Bloomberg started falling behind as the man following them got his second wind and started to catch up again. She heard a rattle behind her and then there was a gunshot. It was very loud and obviously a shotgun. She didn’t feel anything strike her and realized the man had missed.
When he heard the gunshot, Jack West holstered the pistol in his hand and drew the magnetic pistol Professor Terwilliger had made for him. He stopped, turned, and aimed it up the street. Miss Bloomberg ran down the road and hid behind Jack West. The man with the lantern ran down the road towards them and Jack West fired at the lantern at a range of some 40 yards, the pistol making a loud whiz or whine.
The man had short hair and a mustache but Jack West didn’t recognize him as anyone in town he’d met before. He flung the lantern aside and turned and ran away into the darkness.
* * *
Turner was about asleep when they all heard a shotgun blast somewhere nearby outside. He sat upright and, a moment later, there was a gunshot and a high-pitched, abrupt whine.
It’s probably Jack West, Professor Stalloid thought.
“What was that?” Turner said.
Otto picked up his rifle, which he’d left leaning against the wall, and opened the front door. Dr. Weisswald, grabbing her bag, ran out of the house followed quickly by Jacali, who grabbed her bow on the way out. They almost ran into Miss Bloomberg and Jack West. They could smell gun smoke on Jack West.
* * *
Inside, Reuben Turner got up and walked towards the front door. Professor Stalloid quickly stood and grabbed the man’s arm.
“Somebody’s shootin’,” Turner said.
“We were all here,” Professor Stalloid said.
“What are you talkin’ about?” Turner said, his voice slurring. “Somebody’s shootin’ outside. There might be wolves.”
Professor Stalloid let go of the man and he stumbled to the front door and started to put his boots back on.
* * *
“Anyone hurt?” Dr. Weisswald said.
“There’s a vicious cat,” Jack West said. “It was dealt with.”
“Let’s get inside,” Dr. Weisswald said, looking at the darkness all around.
The snow continued to fall, making it even more difficult to see.
“What was the shooting?” Dr. Weisswald said.
“There was someone chasing us and they decided to shoot at me,” Jack West said. “My gun makes a very unique sound so you know I didn’t shoot first.”
“Good clarification,” Dr. Weisswald said. “Well, let’s get back in the Turner house.”
They all walked to the Turner house, finding Reuben Turner at the front door, donning his coat.
“What happened?” he said.
Dr. Weisswald saw to the bad cuts on Miss Bloomberg’s arm, bandaging them and applying iodine and alcohol to the wound.
“What is going on?” Turner said. “Who was shootin’ out there?”
“I was shot at,” Jack West said.
“Who shot at you?”
“Why would somebody shoot at you?”
“I’m such a nice guy, I have no idea.”
Off to the side, Otto made little shushing noises but wasn’t saying anything.
“What?” Turner said, obviously confused.
“Probably a misunderstanding,” Jack West said. “I spook people.”
“Wha?” Turner said. “Let’s get Constable Wells. People can’t be shooting at other people.”
“Where is Constable Wells?”
“He’s probably in his house. Let’s go get him. Let me get my jacket.”
“I’ll go with you,” Otto said.
Miss Bloomberg told Turner it was just the ghost that caused the gunshots. She tried to convince him to return to the house.
“No,” Turner said. “No. We gotta tell Constable Wells. We gotta tell him about the gunfire. He just said somebody was shooting at him. Doesn’t like him or something. We gotta tell the constable.”
He pulled on his jacket.
“We can go tell the constable,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Just sit down,” Otto said. “I’ll go get the constable.”
Turner looked at the man’s badge.
“All right, you go tell the constable,” he said. “Can’t have people shootin’ at each other in town. I am tired.”
“Yeah, you probably need to get some sleep,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Probably do,” Turner said. “I gotta get up tomorrow.”
“It’s real cold out there,” Professor Stalloid said. “We’ll take care of it.”
“Oh! It’s Christmas,” Turner said. “I gotta get up for Christmas. All right Mr. Marshal, I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Tell me what happens.”
“Okay,” Otto said.
They all left the man in his house as he stumbled towards the bedroom.
As they walked back to the church, Professor Stalloid and Jack West told them what had happened. They discussed who the ghost had claimed to have killed him and who was probably guilty. They quickly narrowed it down to seven people in town: Bill Cutler, Jenny Cutler, Ellen Hood, Ron Cordingham, Phil Dexter, Sue Miller, and Joe Walker.
Miss Bloomberg retrieved the lantern the man had dropped and blew it out. They noticed a few lights on in the houses on that side of the creek and the house nearest to church.
They stopped at the front of the church and discussed the constable, Otto saying he’d go handle him though Dr. Weisswald didn’t think they should talk to him at all. When the door to the house closest to the church opened and light spilled out as a man stuck his hand out to look around, they went into the dark church. They had recognized the man as T.J. Miller but he probably couldn’t have made out their features in the dark.
Otto had suggested telling the man he was escorting them back to the church but that idea was nixed by everyone.
They found a quiet corner in the dark church. Only a single candle was lit in the foyer, giving a little light.
“Before we talk about things, it might be a good idea to … I don’t know,” Jacali said. “People are going to talk to the sheriff … constable … either way. Right? I think it’s bound to happen. Because whomever got stolen from is going to come to the constable and they’re going to, if they saw you, they might be able to identify you.”
“No way,” Jack West said.
“That’s not reassuring,” Otto said.
They told each other everything that had happened in the Sleeping Wolf. Professor Stalloid asked to see the books. Jack West told Miss Bloomberg the man would probably pay some good money for them. She took out the leather-bound books and the papers. She said she wanted them back. Dr. Weisswald asked if they should read them but Professor Stalloid wondered if they should destroy them. Jack West was against that. Dr. Weisswald asked what was in them. Miss Bloomberg, thinking the books had some value, said she’d put them in her bag. Professor Stalloid told the woman they might search her bag but she protested there was no reason as no one had seen her. He noted they might search all of the outsiders’ luggage for stolen goods. Dr. Weisswald asked again what was in the books, citing they were either evidence or clues. Miss Bloomberg tried to open the book with the lock but failed again.
“Either way, what I think we need to talk about right away is who’s guilty in this and thinking about what we’re going to do about the constable,” Jacali said. “I think those are our two biggest priorities. Because, like we’ve discussed, we think we’re pretty sure on these five people with the names we were given. But, there’s only a Peter and Ellen Hood, but there’s no person by those first names under the Walker last name. So, if it’s Ellen Hood and Joe Walker, that could be who it is.”
“They could have died over the year too,” Otto suggested. “Or they changed their name.”
“I mean, the names already line up,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Do we check the obituaries?” Otto said.
“I mean … why would they … I find it very …” Jacali said.
“Keep it from their spouses?” Professor Stalloid said.
“I think it unlikely,” Jack West muttered.
“Why wouldn’t they keep it from their spouses?” Professor Stalloid said.
“I … well …” Jacali said.
“I only see one couple there. Period.”
“We have no idea. It might be different between them as well. We have no idea if their spouses are in on it.”
“I know for a fact Sue does not like her husband.”
“That would make sense.”
“So I don’t think she would tell him. She shows nothing but disdain for the man.”
“Do ya’ll think the spouses and … more than likely, children … aren’t involved?” Jack West said.
“Right,” Jacali said. “What exactly are we going to be able to do about it? I mean, if the rest of the town isn’t in on it, and it’s a secret within the group, and it isn’t something that people know about, whether people are in on it or not, we could be able to just incriminate them and be done with it, unless they try to fight.”
“I agreed. We just have …”
“But here is the problem. If we incriminate them, I don’t know how we do it without proving that we broke into somebody’s house.”
“That is the difficult part,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I mean, if it’s in the books,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Play the marshal card,” Jack West said.
“Right, but where did we get the books?” Jacali said.
“We stole them,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Borrowed ‘em from their library,” Jack West quipped.
“I could say I got a tip and bring the constable to the kitchen and break it down,” Otto said
“You would have to do that fast,” Jacali said.
“Now,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Like right now,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“And even then, it might backfire,” Jacali said. “That’s the thing about these close-knit towns of white people that I hate, ‘cause everyone trusts each other no matter if they’re trustworthy or not.”
“Well, y’all already have good rapport, right?” Jack West said to her.
“Well, I know who we can get on our side: that Agnes Wyatt,” Professor Stalloid said. “She really hates Sue.”
“Well, that’s one out of a town of … how many?” Dr. Weisswald said.
“She would love to take down Sue,” Professor Stalloid said. “Leap at the chance. And all those Sue-lovers. So we can trust Agnes.”
“Whatever we do, we gotta do it quick,” Jack Wes said.
“Yup,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Yes,” Jacali said. “Whether it’s getting the heat off of us or … I mean we don’t, we can’t even hit these people at once and run. There’s too many of them and we have no means of escape. There’s snow all around. It’s a blizzard and we have no means of transport until the new train shows up.”
She looked them over.
“The other variable is this wolf person,” Jacali said.
“Jessik,” Professor Stalloid said.
“It sounds like the same thing we tracked out of the mines.”
“Which might mean that … as long as we’re not … going to be criminals very soon, we could try to ambush those folks that go to the mines and check on that.”
“We could also, if we could get the Jessik … thing … it might be the one that’s also … talkin’ with the Elgers,” Jack West said.
“Possibly,” Jacali said.
“It kind of adds up,” Jack West said.
“Yeah,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Yeah,” Jack West said.
“Well, here’s my dilemma,” Jacali said. “We might have a good plan to deal with Jessik and these folks that go to the mines … based on … well, most of the men work in the mines so that isn’t even a good plan … but those hunters up near the mines, we can maybe deal with them, lay an ambush for them. But, have a plan for that and maybe Jessik. But we don’t have a plan for so far is the people who went into the bar being found out. So, what do we do about that?”
They all looked at her.
“You both say that he never saw your faces,” Jacali said. “And that could be fine. But if we’re under investigation, we might not have time to go out and lay an ambush for cultists.”
“True,” Jack West said.
“So, if Ron Cordingham’s house is the one next to the bar, and he was the one that noticed the break-in, he’s the one that will let all the other cultists know that they’ve been found out,” Otto said.
“Yeah,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Because even though you locked the doors, he’s going to go check the safe,” Otto went on. “Did you lock the safe, at all?”
“Yeah, the safe is relocked,” Jack West said. “But they’re just going to reopen it.”
“But you took the cards on top of the safe?” Otto said.
“Yes,” Miss Bloomberg said.
“So, he knows someone was in there,” Otto said.
“Yeah, yeah,” Professor Stalloid said. “So we need to act fast.”
“We should just go to the constable now,” Jack West said.
“I say we burn the tavern down,” Professor Stalloid said.
“No, because there’s a body in there and we need the body,” Miss Bloomberg said. “Evidence. We can’t burn our own evidence.”
“We could try to ambush the man back at his … bar,” Jacali said.
“Back at the tavern,” Professor Stalloid said.
“At the tavern,” Jacali said. “And get the body out. And then it could be our evidence and we could confront this man directly before he gets out.”
“I’ll feel bad if I kill innocent people,” Jack West said.
“But the body in the bar is the evidence,” Dr. Weisswald said. “If we just have the body, we just have a body. We can’t prove that it was there.”
“And they would accuse us of doing that,” Otto said.
“I mean, you said it was stuffed, right?” Jacali said. “Only the taxidermist could have done that and there’s only one taxidermist in town.”
“And he’s one of the suspects,” Jack West said. “Joe Walker.”
“That could be incriminating,” Jacali said.
“But not his wife, right?” Professor Stalloid said.
“No,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Merry Christmas everybody,” Professor Stalloid said.
They decided on talking to Constable Wells.
“We need him on our side,” Otto said.
“I don’t think they can get rid of the body that quickly,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“We need, we probably need to have somebody talk to the constable and convince him,” Jacali said. “And whether that can’t be you with your credentials, Otto, maybe it could be you, Stalloid. You have a silver tongue.”
“Okay,” Professor Stalloid said.
“But we need somebody … somehow we need to get this guy to trust us enough to check out the place while …” Jacali said.
“Tonight,” Otto said.
“… Mr. Cordingham is destroying the evidence,” Jacali said. “And we need to do it fast. I think.”
“Yeah,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Before anybody else comes to him about the noise of gunshot and before Mr. Cordingham has a chance to alibi himself,” Jacali said.
“Let’s go,” Jack West said.
They grabbed their coats and headed to the doors. Otto peeked out the front doors of the church before he exited but didn’t see anyone. The lights in the Miller house had gone back out and the rest of the village was quiet and dark. They suddenly realized they didn’t know where Constable Wells lived. Dr. Weisswald asked if the man at the telegraph office lived there but Professor Stalloid told her it was just an office.
They eventually decided to go back to Reuben Turner’s house to ask where the constable’s house was. they walked back across the bridge over the frozen stream and down the lane to the Turner house. It was dark in all of the houses. They knocked on the door and it seemed like a very long time before a light was lit in the house and the door opened. It wasn’t Reuben Turner but his wife, Doris. She looked at them with sleepy eyes.
“Which house is the constable?” Professor Stalloid asked.
“The constable?” she said, irritated. “Why are you … what are you doing up? It’s the middle of the morning. It’s Christmas morning.”
“It’s urgent,” Professor Stalloid said.
“There were gunshots,” Dr. Weisswald said. “We need to report them.”
“There … I didn’t hear any─” Mrs. Turner said.
“Your husband sent us,” Professor Stalloid said. “But we don’t know where it is.”
“Fine,” she said. “If you go across the bridge and walk in front of the church and go directly across the main road, it’s the house there.”
She had described the house very close to the church.
“Thank you, ma’am,” Otto said.
“Thank you, ma’am,” Dr. Weisswald said. “Sorry for interrupting your sleep.”
“It’s all right,” Mrs. Turner said. “Just … good-night. I hope you find your constable.”
She closed the door.
They went back to the church, crossing in front of it again and heading across the new-fallen snow, their way lit by Professor Stalloid’s lantern. As they reached the area of the front doors, they Dr. Weisswald and Jacali thought they saw a shadowy figure standing near the corner just around the side of the church. It was impossible to make out details but saw someone was standing there.
“Douse your lantern,” Dr. Weisswald whispered to Professor Stalloid.
Jacali nocked an arrow.
Then Dr. Weisswald and Jack West heard the person standing there speaking some strange words.
“Shoot the person nearest you!” the voice that called from the shadow by the wall was a woman’s.
Jack West’s eyes suddenly glazed over and he glanced around himself. He drew his pistol and fired, point-blank at Otto, who tried to leap out of the way.
“I knew it!” Otto cried out.
The bullet struck the man in the head, grazing his skull and setting his ears ringing.
Then more chanting came from the side of the building. Professor Stalloid ran from the group, heading through the snow towards the constable’s office. He flung his lantern into a snowdrift and it went out.
“That man just shot you!” a woman’s voice came from the side of the building. “Shoot him back.”
I’ve always wanted to do this! Otto thought.
He struggled with his rifle.
“I’m gonna kill him!” he muttered.
Ophelia chanted and glared at the side of the building. The woman gasped and turned. Dr. Weisswald leapt onto Otto, landing on top of him and grabbing the rifle he was struggling with.
“You know what he did!” Otto said. “He’ll rob a bank again! I have to stop him!”
Jacali took a few steps and shot the woman by the church with an arrow, striking her in the right leg. Miss Bloomberg drew the Colt Peacemaker she kept hidden in her dress and also shot the person standing by the church, hitting the woman in the left leg. The woman fell without a sound.
Jack West shook his head and looked around.
“Probably deserved it,” he muttered.
He followed after Stalloid. Otto saw him going and, when Dr. Weisswald pulled on the rifle to rip it out of his hands, he let it go and tried to get the pistol out of his holster. Dr. Weisswald’s leg was in the way, however.
Jacali ran over to the body on the ground and tried to see where she had come from. Tracks led directly to the church from the road, which was partially cleared. Jacali could not make out the woman’s face but saw she was roundish and had long dark hair. She went to the road and knelt to see if she could figure out where she came from. It looked like she had come from up the run. She followed the tracks.
Otto felt the compulsion to kill Jack West suddenly wane though he was still a little angry at the man. He stopped struggling to draw the pistol.
* * *
Professor Stalloid had reached the constable’s house and heard another gunshot behind him. He knocked on the door and then heard someone run up to him. He glanced behind him and thought he recognized the silhouette of Jack West, easily recognizable by his size. A light came on in the house.
* * *
Jacali continued up the road, following the tracks as best she could. She heard a noise behind her and saw Miss Bloomberg was following her.
* * *
“Please,” Otto said. “Get off.”
Dr. Weisswald got off the man. Otto got to his feet again.
“Can I have it back?” he said. “Please?”
“As long as you don’t shoot Jack West,” she said.
“As much as I’d like to … it’s against the law,” Otto said.
She handed back his rifle and then headed for the constable’s house followed by Ophelia.
Otto headed towards the body and saw an unlit lantern in a snowdrift. He picked it up and lit it.
* * *
Professor Stalloid and Jack West recognized Dr. Weisswald and Ophelia coming to the front door of the constable’s office. They saw a light near the church and spotted Otto standing there, lighting a lantern.
* * *
Jacali continued up the road, following the tracks. She didn’t notice dark figures on the porch of the house on the right near the road. However, Miss Bloomberg, close behind her saw the two dark shapes, as well as another in the dark doorway. She also noticed the front door of the house was open though no lights burned within. She crept towards the house, failing to be quiet in the new-fallen snow. Jacali noticed her head that way.
What? she thought.
That’s when she noticed the shadows on the porch of the house.
Miss Bloomberg thought she saw the shadows turn and look in her direction and then heard whispered voices of alarm from the people on the porch. She guessed she’d been spotted or heard.
The sound of a woman’s chanting came from the front porch. Miss Bloomberg, for just a moment, was almost overcome with drowsiness. It felt like she was going to fall asleep, but then she shook her head and blinked, coming to herself. The second figure on the porch lifted up something that looked like a rifle and aimed at Miss Bloomberg.
“Who’s there?” a man called out.
Jacali, convinced the man inside the door she could barely make out was the one spreading the word, aimed her bow at the woman on the porch and shot her. The arrow struck her in the chest and the woman screamed in pain. The man in the doorway disappeared into the house.
Miss Bloomberg lifted up her gun and fired. The man on the porch let fly with his rifle a fraction of a second later. The man missed, the bullet kicking up the snow nearby. Miss Bloomberg’s bullet struck the man in the left arm and he let out a yell but didn’t fall.
* * *
Otto had stopped by the dead body in the snow and saw it was Ellen Hood, the woman who had been cleaning up at the church. She looked up at the clouds with dead eyes, the snow already collecting on her. He spit on her. Then he ran over to the house and handed off the lantern to Stalloid.
Two gunshots rang out from the north.
Jack West turned and ran to the north, followed closely by Dr. Weisswald, Otto, and Ophelia. Professor Stalloid waited at the door to the constable’s house.
* * *
The woman on the porch aimed a long shotgun and scanned the area in front of the house, blinking due to the muzzle flash from the rifle a moment earlier. At one point, the barrels went right past where Jacali huddled in the street, but the woman didn’t seem to have seen her. Jacali let out a breath. The man with the rifle stumbled into the open front door and disappeared from sight.
Jacali shot the woman on the porch in the left leg where it met her pelvis and she collapsed to the floor of the front porch without a sound. Miss Bloomberg crept to the side of the house, crunching in the snow, and made her way to one of the windows. It was very dark inside the house. She couldn’t see if anyone was in the front room.
* * *
Right at the edge of Professor Stalloid’s hearing and barely audible, he thought he heard the sound of grunts as if someone was lifting something heavy and the sounds of voices quietly talking. The noise came across the snow from the south and sounded far away. Now that he was alone, he could just make it out.
He stepped back from the door and looked to the south but didn’t see anything. He tossed the lantern into a snowdrift again and it went out.
* * *
The sound of people quietly talking came from inside the house Jacali and Miss Bloomberg were close to. Jacali ran up the road, keeping low, and turned on the path to the house, rushing forward and onto the porch, going to the left of the doorway and pressing herself against the wall. As she reached the spot, she heard someone whisper “Somebody’s coming!” A man came out of the front of the house and tried to strike her in the head with the butt of the shotgun he had in his hand. She ducked and the man missed her, slamming the shotgun butt up against the lintel of the door with a crash.
Miss Bloomberg peeked around the front of the house and saw a shadow on the porch. Another shadow that she thought was Jacali was just the other side of the man. It looked like he had a shotgun in his hand. She fired at the man, missing him completely.
* * *
Jack West saw a muzzle-flash ahead of him. He blinked and must’ve turned his head slightly to the left when he did so. The afterimage looked, to him, like the shot had come from down the road. He ran as fast as he could up the road, running right by the house where the struggle was taking place.
* * *
Constable Wells opened his front door. He wore a cap and a nightshirt. Slippers were on his feet. He rubbed sleep out of his eyes.
“Hello, sir!” Professor Stalloid said. “Great Christmas news! We’ve solved the mystery of the murder of the people a year ago and the missing person!”
Constable Wells blinked at him.
* * *
Otto, running behind Jack West, saw the muzzle-flash from the house and noticed the figures on the porch. Jack West had run right up the road past it.
Otto stopped and fired at the larger figure on the porch, hitting the man in the left arm. The man let out a shout of pain.
Dr. Weisswald was just behind Otto, who worked the action on the Winchester rifle, sending the smoking shell flying out of the weapon. Dr. Weisswald saw the conflict on the porch and ran there, knife in hand. Ophelia was close behind.
On the porch, Jacali pulled back on her bow and tried to shoot the man. He tried to mess up her aim by thrusting his shotgun at her. She still sent an arrow into the man’s stomach. He let out a shriek but didn’t fall.
“Bitch!” he cried out.
He brought the double-barrel shotgun to bear and she tried to shove the barrel of the gun out of the way. The shotgun barrel went up as he tried to avoid her arms and the gun went off, blasting a hole in the roof of the porch.
By the corner of the house, Miss Bloomberg took aim and pulled the trigger. There was a click but no report. The hammer had come down on a dead bullet.
* * *
Up the street, Jack West turned and ran back to the house, moving around the others and aiming at the man on the porch.
* * *
“Let’s go in the house and talk really quick, okay?” Professor Stalloid said.
The two had just heard the crack of a rifle and the sound of a shotgun from up the road.
“There is shooting going on out here!” Constable Wells said.
He went into the house all right, to the gun belt hanging next to the door. He grabbed his jacket as well.
* * *
Ophelia chanted, staring at the large man on the porch, but nothing happened. That seemed to make her angry. She bared her teeth and readied herself to lunge at him.
Otto, nearby, shot the man again, hitting him in the midsection. The man fell back into the doorway, disappearing into the darkness of the house.
Dr. Weisswald took the lantern off her belt and struck a match, touching it to the wick. The light seemed very bright after their time in the darkness. Light spilled over the front porch and into the living room of the house. It revealed a man crouched there, a powder horn on the floor next to him. He dropped the ramrod and lifted the .58 Springfield rifle to his shoulder. They recognized Phil Dexter before his face was obscured by gun smoke as he fired the gun. The bullet struck Ophelia in the left arm and she stumbled back but did not fall. However, her magical disguise vanished and they found themselves in the presence of a serpent person. She looked even more angry.
“Oh no!” she said. “No no no!”
Jacali turned around the corner pulled an arrow back on her bow and let fly, the missile striking him in the chest. Dexter flopped over backwards onto the floor and lay still.
In the light from the lantern, Otto and Jack West recognized Joe Walker as the other man laying in a heap on his back in the living room of his house, a pool of blood around him. On the front porch was Jenny Cutler. Walker looked to be dead, as did Dexter.
Dr. Weisswald moved to Ophelia, whose fangs were out and dripping poison, and started to work on her. She found the bullet had passed straight through the serpent folk arm.
“Jabooshi!” Jack West said. “Is there any more tracks?”
“I haven’t checked,” Jacali said. “I was dealing with these people.”
“Do you need another body?” Dr. Weisswald said.
“No,” Ophelia hissed at the woman, her tongue flickering in and out.
* * *
“It’s Joe, Phil, Bill, Jenny, Ellie─” Professor Stalloid said.
“Where?” Constable Wells said.
He shoved him out the door.
“─Sue, and Ron … Cordingham,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Where?” Constable Wells said. “Show me.”
Professor Stalloid started to lead the man north, telling him that’s where the trouble was, but also told him the Sleeping Wolf was where the proof was. He said that was where the body of Edward Gravits was.
“They know we found out,” Professor Stalloid said. “So they’ll be trying to destroy the proof. But we can also go see the gunshots first. And also I heard noises down there.”
Constable Wells thought on that a moment.
“All right,” he said. “Come on.”
He and Professor Stalloid headed south.
“We’re going to go see … you said you heard something down there,” Constable Wells said. “You think they’re going to try to destroy evidence. Check that first.”
Professor Stalloid laughed nervously.
“Oh man, I don’t wanna─” Professor Stalloid muttered.
“If this is a mistake, and people end up dead because I did the wrong thing, I won’t constable for much longer,” Constable Wells said.
* * *
Jacali and Otto moved back to the road and looked for tracks. Jack West was close behind them. Otto found two sets of footprints coming to the house. They came from the north. The tracks were fresh. They had been there not long before.
Dr. Weisswald checked the bodies and found Joe Walker dead. Jenny Cutler was unconscious. She found Phil Dexter was also dead, lying in a pool of blood next to the Christmas tree.
“This is inconvenient,” Ophelia said.
She stared at her hand, concentrating, and the illusion of the human Ophelia quickly rolled over her body once again.
Dr. Weisswald suggested they take Jenny Cutler to the constable. Then Janet Walker, the school marm, came out and started screaming.
“What’s going on!?!” she wailed.
“Mommy, what’s happening,” a child said. “Is Santa here?”
“Do you want me to take care of this?” Ophelia, still outside, asked.
“No!” Otto said.
“No!” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Okay,” Ophelia said.
“Okay!” Jacali said. “We still don’t know where Cordingham is.”
“Who’s out there!?!” Janet Walker screamed from inside the house. “Where’s my husband!?!”
“But we have these tracks. Where are we going?”
“I’ll go wherever you point.”
The front door slammed shut but the screams of “Murder!” continued from inside the house.
“We’re going north,” Otto said.
“Why are we going north?” Dr. Weisswald said.
“That’s where we found the tracks,” Jacali said.
Otto headed north along the road followed by Jack West and Miss Bloomberg.
“We have Jenny,” Dr. Weisswald said. “We should take her to the constable.”
“All right,” Jacali said. “I’ll help you.”
The two of them picked up Jenny and started taking her south.
“Those two have guns, they should be fine,” Jacali said.
“We don’t have any guns,” Ophelia said.
“Well …” Jacali said.
* * *
Otto, Jack West, and Miss Bloomberg followed the tracks to a house on the north side of the village just east of the frozen creek. The house was dark though they could see lights in the Walker house and hear cries of “Murder!” coming from that residence. They could see Dr. Weisswald, Jacali, and Ophelia heading south along the road with her lit lantern.
Otto led the way to the dark house as they saw lights started to be lit from within.
* * *
As Constable Wells and Professor Stalloid got to the road, Professor Stalloid could see Dr. Weisswald and Jacali helping another women in their direction though still some ways away. He saw Ophelia was with them. Constable Wells stopped.
“Those are my compatriots,” Professor Stalloid said.
“All right,” Constable Wells said. “Did you say they were trying to destroy evidence?”
“No! Oh yeah! They’re not trying to but the other people are. So, let’s go. They’ll catch up.”
* * *
Dr. Weisswald and Jacali saw two dark shapes leave Constable Wells house, still a couple hundred feet away, and head south along the road. They couldn’t make out who it might be though they guessed at least one of the men was Professor Stalloid. They picked up their pace as best they could. Unfortunately, they were slowed by the unconscious form of Jenny Cutler.
“Do you want to drop her at the constable’s house?” Jacali said.
“I don’t want her to wake up,” Dr. Weisswald said. “It would just make things worse.”
“Yeah, that would,” Jacali said. “Best to keep her.”
They saw the shadows they assumed were Constable Wells and Professor Stalloid cut to the left to go behind the Sleeping Wolf Bar & Grill and then disappear from their view.
“The thing is, if they’re going to that building, I don’t really want to stop them,” Jacali said.
* * *
Otto approached the house carefully, moving through the snow with crunching steps. Jack West and Miss Bloomberg tried to creep us as well, but also made a lot of noise.
“Murder!” someone yelled from inside the house. “Murder! There’s murderers here!”
It was a woman’s voice.
“Kids!” the woman yelled. “Hide! Hide! Hide! Where are the guns!?! Where are the guns!?!”
“U.S. Marshal!” Otto said.
The cries of “Murder!” stopped and the door cracked open.
“Throw your badge in!” a woman called out. “Let me see it!”
“Here, I’ll drop the gun,” Otto said.
He did so and walked towards the front door.
“No!” the woman cried out in terror. “No! Get away!”
The door slammed shut.
“Kids!” the woman cried out. “Put the couch in front of the door! It’s murderers!”
There were children screaming inside the house.
“Try to find the gun!” the woman screamed.
Lights started going off in the house.
“I don’t want to hurt you!” Otto called out.
“They’re gonna hurt us!” the woman screamed. “Hide children! Hide! You won’t take my children!”
“I won’t!” Otto called out.
They could still hear calls of “Murder!” from the Walker house.
Jack West headed around the side of the building followed by Miss Bloomberg. He found the back door locked and she set to work on it, quickly unlocking it. It opened into a small kitchen area. It was very dark in the house now. They both tried to creep into the house, making a racket.
“They’re in the house!” the woman screamed. “They’re in the house! Run, children! Run!”
One of the children was crying and there was a crash and a tinkling sound from the front of the house. It sounded like the Christmas tree had just been knocked over. The entire house was in a panicked uproar.
* * *
“There’s a secret room behind a blanket,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I know there’s a back basement door,” Constable Wells said.
“Yeah,” Professor Stalloid said. “The cellar.”
Professor Stalloid heard the creak of the storm doors that led to the basement being opened.
“They’re there,” he said. “Opening the cellar door.”
Constable Wells nodded and headed around the back of the building. Professor Stalloid followed him.
“We have a little time,” he said. “Do you want to wait for my compatriots to catch up?”
“What if they’re destroying evidence?” Constable Wells said.
“Okay,” Professor Stalloid said.
He stopped at the corner as Constable Wells went around, gun drawn.
“Stop right there!” Constable Wells said. “Who is that?”
“Aw, it’s just me, constable,” a voice said. “We’re just taking out some trash. I couldn’t sleep. It’s Christmas. And somebody broke in. And they killed … they killed Zody I think. I found blood at the bottom of the steps.”
“Why’re y’all out here without no lights or nothing?”
“Well, it’s like this …”
Professor Stalloid heard somebody mumbling under his breath.
* * *
As they approached the side of the Sleeping Wolf, Dr. Weisswald and Jacali could see a tall, thin shadow standing by the back of the building and Dr. Weisswald thought the man was mumbling as if he was casting a spell.
* * *
“Constable!” Professor Stalloid shouted. “Watch out!”
He pulled his lightning gun from his shoulder and readied it to fire.
Constable Wells made a choked sound and then ran out from behind the building, sprinting towards his house. It was quiet after that and then it sounded like two people were moving something heavy. He peeked around the corner. Two figures in the dark appeared to be carrying out a third figure hurriedly. Professor Stalloid turned around the corner, said “Bast says ‘hi,’” and fired off the lightning gun, the blast going over their heads. There was a brilliant flash of light and a crash of thunder.
Professor Stalloid backed up around the corner again, blinded by the bright light.
“What the hell was that!?!” someone yelled from the behind the building.
* * *
The pandemonium in the panicked house was loud and frantic, so much so that both Jack West and Miss Bloomberg didn’t hear the thunder or see the lightning.
* * *
Otto was heading towards the back of the panicked house when he heard the thunder and saw the lightning. It looked like it was on the other side of town.
He tried the front door and found it unlocked. He tried to push it open but something heavy had been pushed up against it. He headed around to the back of the house.
* * *
Professor Stalloid sidled along the wall of the building, moving away from the corner. Dr. Weisswald and Jacali moved closer with the body but then Jacali headed over to the building, drawing her bow. Dr. Weisswald told Ophelia to follow her.
Jacali ran around the corner and saw someone laying down at the entrance of the storm doors. She shot it and the arrow thunked into the arm of the figure, going straight through and coming out the other side. It made a strange hissing noise as it passed right through. The figure on the ground didn’t move.
“That wasn’t a person!” she shouted. “They’re inside!”
Ophelia followed Jacali and stopped near her, looking around.
* * *
Someone ran into the kitchen were Jack West and Miss Bloomberg stumbled around in the dark. She looked around, spotted the hulking figure of Jack West, screamed, and ran at him with what was apparently a Christmas gift over her head. She brought the gift down on his head. Whatever it was, it was heavy and struck the man solidly. He guessed it was some kind of cutting board.
“Get out of my house!” she screamed. “Get out of my house! Get out of my house!”
Jack West fled the house, running out the back door. Miss Bloomberg followed him as quickly as possible.
Otto reached the back door in time to see Jack West barrel out of the building.
* * *
“Hey, Weisswald, if you’re there, can you watch the front door?” Professor Stalloid, still blinded by the lightning flash, said.
Jacali realized the person laying in the entrance to the storm doors was a statue or something. It was not moving at all. She guessed it was probably the stuffed Edward Gravits. Ophelia muttered and glared at the body but nothing happened. She hissed.
Dr. Weisswald had turned and headed around the other side of the building towards the front.
Jacali, around back, nocked another arrow.
“I cannot cast anymore spells and I have only a knife,” Ophelia whispered to her.
“Go wide around the house but watch the other exit,” Jacali said, pointing a little away from the building in the direction of the front of it.
Jacali moved towards the storm doors and then peeked down as Ophelia made a wide circle away from the building towards the trees. As Jacali peeked down the steps she was greeted by two shotgun blasts coming out of the cellar. She had leapt aside, spurred probably by some instinct. Once blast took away part of the top of the cellar stairs right where she had been standing. The other went high and would probably have missed in any case.
* * *
“What the hell are you doing!?!” Otto said.
“I don’t think they’re in there!” Jack West said.
“Well, go down south!” Otto said. “I saw lightning.”
Jack West and Miss Bloomberg ran around the side of the house. Otto stayed to try to calm the situation there.
* * *
Professor Stalloid had moved back to the corner.
“I can do that lightning again!” he shouted.
Footsteps pounded up the cellar stairs and a man leapt out. He put his shotgun within inches of Jacali’s face.
“Call yer friends off!” he said to her. “Especially that one.”
He gestured towards the shadows where Ophelia stood and shoved the gun up against Jacali’s head. The hot barrel burned her skin. She heard another set of steps on the creaking cellar stairs but didn’t see the other man.
* * *
Dr. Weisswald had reached the front of the building and saw no one on the porch.
“Alright, I have a gun against my head!” Jacali called. “Let’s be smart about this!”
* * *
Professor Stalloid, around the back of the building could finally see past the red blur that had nearly blinded him for what felt like a long time.
“What are your demands?” he called.
* * *
“I have a trade,” Dr. Weisswald called from the area of the porch. “I have one of yours.”
The light from her lantern was shining around the front of the building, still not quite close enough to illuminate the area around the cellar doors.
Another man came out of the cellar and stood over Jacali, his back to Ophelia. He didn’t even look Ophelia’s direction.
“Bill, we gotta get outta here,” he said. “We gotta get outta here now.”
No one recognized the voice.
“Shut up!” Bill said. “Let me think!”
“You said Bill,” Jacali said. “That’s Mr. Cutler, right? Your wife’s in this? You might want to check on who we have.”
“You got Jenny?” Bill called out.
“Yeah, I got Jenny,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Bring her!” Bill said.
“Well, you got guns,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Tell her to bring her,” Bill said quietly and dangerously to Jacali.
He pushed the shotgun barrel hard against her head.
“Bill, we gotta go,” the other man said, looking around nervously.
“Dr. Weisswald!” Jacali said. “I think you should bring her!”
The man Jacali guessed was Ron Cordingham backed towards the trees, nearer to Ophelia. Jacali didn’t think the man had seen her. She could see the serpent person’s eyes glittering in the darkness.
The light from the front of the building got closer. Then Dr. Weisswald came around the front of the building. She had put the lantern down on the porch and was carrying Jenny Cutler in front of her, using her as a shield, a knife against the woman’s throat. Ron Cordingham aimed his shotgun at Dr. Weisswald and, consequently, Jenny.
“Put her down,” Bill Cutler said.
“How do I know you won’t shoot her anyways?” Dr. Weisswald said.
“You don’t,” he said.
She didn’t trust the man but realized he only had a single barrel. She also realized he was a dangerous man and probably knew that only the hangman’s noose was waiting for him. She knew the two of them didn’t have enough shells to deal with all of them.
“You only have two shots,” Dr. Weisswald said. “There’s four of us and more coming. I’ll let her go if you let mine go first.”
Bill Cutler thought on that a moment. He stepped away from Jacali but aimed his shotgun at Dr. Weisswald.
“Take her,” he said. “She’s just a filthy injun anyway. Give me my wife.”
Jacali got slowly to her feet and walked over to Dr. Weisswald, Ron Cordingham pointing his shotgun at her.
“All right,” Bill Cutler said. “Bring her over here. And if she’s dead, you’re dead too.”
“Oh, she’s alive,” Dr. Weisswald said. “I’m a doctor.”
“All the doctors I know put knives to people’s throats,” Bill Cutler growled.
Dr. Weisswald lay Jenny Cutler gently on the ground. Bill Cutler gestured with the gun for her to back up. She did so, taking a couple steps away. Bill Cutler went to Jenny, going down on one knee, trying to examine her while also trying to keep an eye on Dr. Weisswald, only a few feet away.
Ron Cordingham had his shotgun pointed directly at Dr. Weisswald. Dr. Weisswald looked past him at Ophelia. The disguised serpent person was looking directly into her eyes, watching her very closely. Dr. Weisswald winked at Ophelia and then lunged at Bill Cutler. Jacali had read her friend well, lunging at the same time. At the same moment, Ophelia dropped her magical disguise and lunged at Ron Cordingham, her jaw open as she tried to bite the man.
Ophelia crashed into Ron Cordingham, who let out a shout. Jacali rushed Bill Cutler and grabbed the shotgun barrel even as Dr. Weisswald slammed her knife into the man’s left shoulder and felt it grind against the man’s scapula. He screamed, stumbled over backwards, and lay still, leaving the shotgun in Jacali’s hands. As she turned the gun and aimed it at Ron Cordingham, she saw Ophelia in her natural form.
Jacali started screaming, dropped the shotgun, and fell back against the wall of the building. She screamed and screamed and screamed.
Professor Stalloid suddenly knew all of this had been a huge ploy, a great trap for him. They had all conspired against him and were all out to get him: Cordingham, Ophelia, Weisswald, Cutler, and even the screaming Jacali. He didn’t think he could take on that many people. He knew he couldn’t. He turned and fled into the darkness.
Ophelia tried to bite Ron Cordingham again but he clocked her in the head with the butt of the shotgun solidly. She looked even more angry and hissed at the man. Dr. Weisswald rushed Ron Cordingham, the man not even hearing him coming. She stabbed him low in the back and down he went with a squawk.
Jack West and Miss Bloomberg ran around the back of the building, guns in hand.
* * *
Professor Stalloid’s paranoia went away about the time he reached Constable Wells house and found the man there, apparently a little embarrassed. He didn’t know what happened.
“Don’t worry, we stopped them,” Professor Stalloid said. “I ran all the way back here to tell you we got them!”
* * *
Jacali had only screamed for about 30 seconds before she regained her head.
Constable Wells and Professor Stalloid returned a short while later. Professor Stalloid lit his lantern once again. By then, Ophelia had disguised herself again. Both Bill Cutler and Ron Cordingham were unconscious but not dead. Dr. Weisswald bound their wounds. She also saw to Ophelia’s wound. Constable Wells let out a low whistle when he saw the stuffed and mutilated body of Edward Gravits.
They told Constable Wells they thought Sue Miller was involved as well and Jacali went with him to the Miller house. They caught the woman coming out the door with a suitcase. Constable Wells arrested her.
It was almost dawn Christmas morning before they calmed people down and got the whole mess sorted out, especially in the Walker house. Otto managed to eventually talk Dotty Dexter down, whose house Jack West and Miss Bloomberg had broken into, and get her to believe he was a legitimate federal marshal. She was hysterical again when she learned her husband was dead and part of a conspiracy of murderers.
* * *
Constable Wells woke Clyde Johnsson, taking the man to the telegraph office to send a message to Grafton, the County Seat, but when they opened up the locked office, they found the equipment wrecked, damaged beyond immediate repair without parts from Grafton. A hung over Reuben Turner was woken and sent to Grafton on his horse to fetch more lawmen while the prisoners were bound and locked up in Constable Wells house. Several sheriff’s deputies arrived Christmas morning to take the prisoners to the county jail. The horrible stuffed figure of Edward Gravits was left locked up in Constable Wells house until the snow cleared enough to get a wagon through to take it away.
Constable Wells took statements from several of them about what actually happened and the various attacks. He thought some of them might have to return to Grafton for the trial.
They later learned Ron Cordingham had a fit in the county jail, screaming about wanting to know who killed Zody, who killed his cat.
* * *
Christmas Day was a little more subdued than the other days in Falls Run had been, what with Phil Dexter, Joe Walker, and Ellen Hood dead, and the Cutlers, Ron Cordingham, and Sue Miller arrested and taken away. They saw little of Dotty Dexter, who had been asking about the men who had broken into her house to kill her children; Janet Walker, whose house had been the site of two killings; or the Cutler children. They heard Doris Cutler was taking care of them. T.J. Miller was also in low spirits.
The snow had not let up on Christmas Day and was now more than three feet deep. All the tracks from the night before were completely covered and it continued to come down. The church women prepared a massive egg breakfast for the stranded passengers of the train around 9 a.m.
Miss Bloomberg showed them the books that day as well and they could finally examine them. The papers bound together with the name “Codex Romae” scrawled across the front in crayon were very fragile and were written in Latin. Dr. Weisswald noted she could read Latin and a cursory examination gave references to the Roman Empire. The locked book they decided to wait on dealing with. The third book was in English and titled The Book of Lesser Summoning. It was a handwritten manuscript and seemed to be very disorganized and possibly insane.
They saw nothing of Gravits that night in the reflections in the church.