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The Wolves of Wheeling

Max_Writer

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Monday, February 11, 2019

 

(After playing the Call of Cthulhu Down Darker Trails Catastrophe Engine Campaign original scenario “The Wolves of Wheeling” Sunday from 1 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. with Ashton LeBlanc, John Leppard, Yorie Latimer, James Brown, Ben Abbot, and Samantha Underwood.)

 

When the group was asked to write up depositions of the events in Falls Run and how they had come to know who was in the strange cabal of cultists, Professor Stalloid noted they had found the names on a ledger in the basement of the Sleeping Wolf Bar & Grill.  When no such ledger was found, it was assumed Roy Cordingham and Bill Cutler had burned it they they had tried to move the horrible stuffed corpse out of the cellar.

 

*              *              *

 

On Sunday, December 26, 1875, a locomotive pulling a mail car, baggage car, dining car, five passenger cars, and a caboose arrived at Falls Run, stopping on the tracks south of town and blowing its whistle long and loud.  A conductor from the B&O Railroad came to town to let the passengers know they would be boarding that afternoon.  The man explained they had brought railroad workers and equipment to try to get the other train cars back on the tracks, those that were intact.  Once the men and equipment were offloaded from the train, they would board the passengers and their possessions onto the train bound for Grafton.

 

It was afternoon when the stranded passengers filed down to the train and boarded it to complete their journey.

 

Those members of the small group of investigators started reading some of the books and papers they had found.  The train journey made for good reading.

 

Dr. Eva Weisswald read the bundle of papers they’d found.  “Codex Romae” was scrawled across the first page in crayon.  The document was written in Latin, which only she was familiar with, and seemed very fragile.  She determined to get a special box to protect it once she got back to Wheeling.  The manuscript proved to be a third century Roman book, the original name of which was apparently lost.  It was concerned with beguilement and holding sway over the minds of other individuals and theorized about the psychological process of winning control over another human mind in terms of ancient philosophy rather than modern psychology.  One of the things written about was instructions on how to brew some kind of love philter.

 

Deputy Lambert Otto noticed the letters Professor Brandon Stalloid still carried that had originally come from Jack West.  Professor Stalloid put them carelessly aside and when Otto asked him about them, he said he didn’t care anything about them.  Otto took the two bundles, wanting to know what they were about if Jack West had brought them.  He untied the first, which was a stack of some 25 one- to three-page letters all addressed to “B” or “Mr. B.”  They were from six different people around the United States and Canada, from various states, and only signed with initials.  The locations of some of them could be determined by various notations in the letters.  Each of the letters detailed a single person who remembered being mentally kidnapped and taken to a prehistoric city by creatures they sometimes referred to as the “Yith.”  Each person related their own bodies were apparently going about strange business in the years they were switched out.  They also noted they were apparently not supposed to remember any of it, but the memories came back over a few years.  They were all upset with the Yith.

 

Professor Stalloid set to work on opening the locked book with the black leather cover, using a knife to try to jimmy open the lock.  It clicked open and he started to look through the vellum pages.  The book proved to be written in early 17th century English though clear enough to the educated man.  It was titled On Things Unseen.  He started skimming it and found it contained lengthy theories about the behavior of light and magical emanations, invisibility, and detection of magic.  There seemed to be several spells in the book: become spectral, consume likeness, Deflect Harm, Detect Enchantment, Seek the Lost, and Sense Life.

 

Jack West reached for the other leather-bound book they’d found in Falls Run.  It appeared to be written on sheets of hand-made paper bound between two covers and was titled Book of Lesser Summoning.  The theoretical portion of the book was scant but described in roundabout fashion magical summoning, theorizing a parallel between the functioning of such spells and the functioning of the telegraph, and speculating as to what “wires” the summons might flow upon.  It was in English but the author was apparently quite insane and possessed of a truly twisted mind. 

 

*              *              *

 

It was about 6 p.m. when Dr. Eva Weisswald, Jacali, Professor Brandon Stalloid, Lambert Otto, Jack West, and Miss Jane Bloomberg arrived in Wheeling.  When they arrived at the Westerfield house, Jane Westerfield was both surprised and happy to see them, noting she had read about the crash in the paper and they had all been very worried.  She made a big fuss and then got food around for supper.

 

Jane told them they had waited to celebrate Christmas until Dr. Weisswald returned.  Even Albert waited on his Christmas presents.  His father had talked to him and he had seemed happy enough to wait.  She noted there had not been any yelling between them, so she was happy about that.

 

“Well, we missed it yesterday,” Jacali said. “Do you want to do Christmas?”

 

Jane told them she planned on doing it the following morning.

 

“I’d rather have my mother here,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“Sure,” Jacali said.

 

Jane sent Paul to go let Sarah Meadows, Dr. Weisswald’s mother, know that they would be celebrating Christmas as a family the next morning.  He had joked he might need a crowbar to get her out of her house, but he’d try.  He returned later that evening with her.  She had said she could just sleep on a blanket in the basement but Jane insisted she have a nice bed and took her next door to the Weisswald’s house.

 

*              *              *

 

Miss Jane Bloomberg had returned to her hotel for the night and went to bed, exhausted.

 

*              *              *

 

Monday, December 27, 1875, was a lovely way.  The snow still lay on the ground and it was quite pretty and bright outside.

 

Lambert Otto was the first up that morning, as he always was.  His time in the war saw to that.  He went to the bathroom and shaved and cleaned himself up, using a little warm water from the pot always on the stove in the kitchen.  The noise woke Dr. Weisswald and Jacali.  Jacali got all of the gifts ready and heard stirring in Paul and Jane’s room.  Albert got up shortly after that and headed downstairs.

 

They heard Otto go downstairs, followed by Jane, who headed for the kitchen to help getting breakfast around.  Tilda was obviously already at work down there.  When Jacali, Dr. Weisswald, and Ophelia came down, they found Otto in the living room stoking the fire; they could see him through the archway to the parlor.  Albert was looking at the presents.  Jacali put her presents under the tree as well.

 

Paul came down in pajamas and a robe.  Jane came out of the back, dressed the same, and chatted with Albert.  Shortly after that, Dr. Weisswald’s mother, her Aunt Victoria, and her Uncle Matthias arrived to celebrate Christmas with the family.

 

After a little while, Jacali went up to the room Jack West was staying in.

 

“Jack West!” she called, banging on the door.  “Christmas time!  Be merry!  Express joy!”

 

She noticed through his open door that Professor Stalloid was not in his room.  She heard Jack West starting to stir and so went back downstairs.  After what felt like a long time, Jack West came down.  Around the same time, there was a rattle from the front door and Professor Stalloid walked in with packages of liquor, liqueurs, and bottles of champagne.  He put them atop the liquor cabinet in the living room.  Tilda came and took the champagne to the kitchen to chill it.

 

They handed out the gifts to everyone and they opened them one by one, everyone enjoying the looks of surprise on the faces of those opening them.   It took them an hour or more to open the gifts.

 

Albert got a few nice gifts from his parents, including clothing, socks, underwear and the like.  He got an air rifle and a few toys.   He got a slingshot and an introductory physics book from Professor Stalloid.  He was a little mystified by the physics book but Paul seemed quite pleased with the present.  Albert rolled his eyes.

 

Jane got some jewelry and a dress from Paul.  Paul got a new tie from Albert and a few other things, including shoes and a new apron to wear at the store.  Professor Stalloid had also gotten him a tie.  Eva’s mother Sarah got some nice things.  Uncle Matthias got a new fob for his pocket watch. 

 

“Bullets,” Sarah said.  “Where are the bullets?  I told you I needed bullets for Christmas.”

 

Everyone got furs from Dr. Weisswald.  The women were gifted with fox pelts.  The men got wolf pelts.

 

Professor Stalloid got Jacali a couple of books: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.  She was happy with both of them.  He gave Jack West a Webley Bulldog, a snub-nosed, five-shot revolver that fired .455 bullets.  It was a heavy little pistol but small enough to fit in a jacket pocket easily.  He gave Dr. Weisswald a silver ouroboros  pendent.  He got several history books for Ophelia, which interested her.

 

Otto got Jacali a very ornamental-looking Indian tunic with silver threading and fancy tassels, a hand-carved horse necklace, and an adult reading primer.  He got Ophelia a .45 peacemaker and the scimitar he had recovered when they found her in Utah.  She seemed quite pleased with both gifts.  He got Dr. Weisswald better quality medical tools and a nice doctor’s bag to go with them, thick, felt gloves, a nice suit of clothing, and a leather-bound Gray’s Anatomy 3rd Edition, 1870.  He got Professor Stalloid a leather-bound textbook of organic chemistry, a periodic table, and a white suit.  He got Jack West a deck of cards, a pair of spurs, and socks.

 

“Thanks …” Jack West said.  “I didn’t know we were doing anything.”

 

Jacali got Dr. Stalloid the strange bone whistle they had taken from the body of He-Who-Waits.

 

“Well, Stalloid, I’ve had this for a while and I know you’re interested in weird, wacky, wild ****, and I just figured, if there’s anyone who can figure out how to use it, what’s it’s secrets are, you’d be the one,” she said.  “So, that’s my puzzle that I’m giving to you.”

 

“Well, thank you,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“I’ve been a little bit scared to blow it,” Jacali said.  “I think you know why.  But, I trust you’ll figure it out well.”

 

She gave Otto a soapstone turtle amulet.

 

“Well, Otto, I’ve had this for a while,” she said.  “I got it from a man who’s very impatient and tried to kill us.”

 

“I’ve heard of him,” Otto said.  “I believe.”

 

“Yes,” she said.  “It is supposed to be an amulet that, if you take it to a spirit man, a shaman, he’ll be able to protect you.  I just figure you’ve gotten yourself into some scrapes recently, some brushes with death, and I don’t think that I’m ever going to invest enough in the superstition to get it enchanted but, if you do yourself and it saves your life, than that’ll be my gift to you.”

 

“Thank you,” he said.

 

He put it on immediately.

 

“How quaint,” Jane said, obviously not understanding most of it.

 

“Sounds useful,” Jack West said.

 

Jacali gave Ophelia a wooden carving of Yig that resembled the statue in the Spiral Crypt.

 

“I don’t know if this is offensive or anything about the religion or worship of this deity, but it’s something I saw and I knew you were connected with it,” Jacali said.  “I know you were connected with it.  I thought you might like to have something with you.”

 

Ophelia looked at it.

 

“Thank you,” she said. “If you will take me to this place, I will be even more thankful.”

 

“I … know where it is,” Jacali said.  “I would love to take you there one day.”

 

“It is Yig”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Okay.”

 

Ophelia kind of smiled.

 

Jacali got Dr. Weisswald a large piece of light-colored leather hide.  On it was a rough map of the United States, mostly in the west.  A trail was marked upon it starting in Nevada, where they had their first adventure into the strange and unknown, and going through their movements through the west, to Yellow Flats, Midnight, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Central Utah, Colorado, Devil’s Gulch, Nevada again, Gravity Falls, the Arkansas River area, and then finally ending in Wheeling.

 

“All right, Mr. West,” Jacali said.  “I know that you are a fan of money.  So, in my gift to you, I hope it meets you well.  It is a crisp …”

 

She took out a bill and snapped it.

 

“… five-dollar bill,” she said.

 

She handed it to him.

 

“Why, thank you,” he said.

 

“I thought you’d like it,” she said.   

 

Dr. Weisswald, finally, gave away the puppies.  She gave one to Albert, one to her mother, one to Jacali, and one to Ophelia.  She whispered to the serpent person that she couldn’t eat it, however.  Ophelia was perplexed by the puppy, who seemed fearless of the disguised serpent person.  Jacali named her puppy Benito.  Ophelia named hers, after being prompted, Lost Valusia.

 

When Paul first saw the puppy for Albert, he didn’t seem terrible pleased, but as Albert played with the puppy, he quickly softened.  General Grant loved the puppies and soon all of them were running around the house.

 

After they exchanged gifts, they had a nice breakfast with the Westerfield Family.  Dr. Weisswald’s mother stayed for the day, not planning until going back the next day.

 

Otto sat in the parlor and read the letters.  He finished the first stack that day.  He moved onto the second packet of letters.  That one contained some 40 one- to two-page letters were all addressed to “Ignatius.”  They were only signed “JV” but all indicated they were written by the same person from someplace called “Saltmarsh” in Washington Territory. 

 

The others played with the puppies, examined their presents, read their books and enjoyed a relaxing day.  The puppies had a great time and had a few accidents in the house, but were a lot of fun to play with.  Jacali started training Benito in Apache.

 

It was warmer that day and the snow started to melt though there was so much of it, it would probably takes weeks before it cleared.

 

Professor Stalloid had read through On Things Unseen in record time and he seemed to comprehend it completely, as though the book wanted to be understood.  He felt a little uneasy about that thought but blamed his nerves.  He had a good understanding of the work.

 

Jack West finished skimming the Book of  Lesser Summoning that day.  He found the book had two spells: summon familiar and unseen servant.

 

Dr. Weisswald had time to skim Codex Romae.  In addition to the instructions of brewing a love philter, the book seemed to have spells of dominate, drown mind, and enthrall victim.

 

*              *              *

 

Tuesday, December 28, 1875, was again a clear, lovely day, warm enough to continue melting the snow from the blizzard of just a few days before.  After breakfast they got together in the Westerfield living room to decide their next move.

 

“Maybe we should pay this Ott fellow a visit,” Jacali said.  “Maybe we─”

 

“─ought to pay him a visit,” Professor Stalloid said with her.  “I’ve been teaching you well!”

 

“This is going so good,” Jacali said.

 

“Damn it,” Jack West said.

 

They left the house and saw Miss Bloomberg loitering nearby.  Jacali waved at her and the rest obviously noticed her.  Otto headed over to her.

 

“Miss Bloomberg, I’ve already paid you!” Professor Stalloid called.  “You can come with us!”

 

The rest of them headed north.

 

*              *              *

 

“Hello, Miss Bloomberg,” Otto said.

 

“Hello,” Miss Bloomberg said.

 

“I notice you’re still watching us.  May I know why?”

 

“There’s not a clear reason.”

 

“A lot of things aren’t clear in our line of work.”

 

“As if right now, that is not information you are privy to.”

 

“I am a marshal and it’s just the two of us at the moment.  I know you’re interested in West and I’m no friend of his, as you probably noticed.  So, if you want to tell me, I will not betray your trust.”

 

“All I know is I’m supposed to keep tabs on him and that is what I am doing.”

 

“But who sent you?”

 

“An unnamed person.  I do not know.”

 

“How did they contact you?”

 

Miss Bloomberg thought back.  The man had approached her in Denver in mid-December.  She never got a good look at his face as he kept his hat low over it.  He offered to pay her “a considerable amount of money” to watch Jack West and relay back to him everything he did.  When she pressed him about how much, he had told her if she succeeded in giving them the information he wanted, it was worth $1,000.  He wanted her to follow Jack West, send back information to J. Smith in Denver via telegraph everything she could find out.  She would be recompensed for any spent on such telegrams.  He noted she needed to let them know immediately if he tried to leave the country.  He had caught himself when he said “let us know” and changed it quickly to “let me know.”  The man said he wanted to know everything Jack West did and everyone Jack West talked to.  Though she had not gotten a good look at the man’s face, she realized he had a refined accent.

 

Otto was pretty certain she was telling him everything she knew.  He wondered if she only met the man via correspondence.  He felt she was telling him everything of importance and he could trust her implicitly, at least in this matter.  He wondered if maybe she was a victim or she was being used or blackmailed by someone.

 

“Well, you probably shouldn’t take deals with people you don’t know a lot about,” he said.

 

“This one seemed awfully important so …” she said.

 

That gave Otto pause for thought.  If it was important and it dealt with Jack West, it was probably some awful thing he’d done.

 

“Well …” he said.  “Thank you for your time.  If you want to come with me, you’re welcome to.”

 

He turned and headed up the street after the others, walking quickly to catch up.  She followed.

 

*              *              *

 

It took them most of the morning to find the Ott house.  They asked for directions at a few farm houses and eventually located the Ott farm.  They could see Elger House from the man’s house, a huge structure surrounded by bare trees on top of a mountaintop a mile or so away.

 

The Ott farm was small with only a few outbuildings.  It was surrounded with snow-covered fields but a path had been shoveled from the road to the front porch of the house.  Their knock at the door was answered by a very old man of probably 75 or eighty.  He had flying white hair and a thick, fuzzy white beard.  He wore glasses and rough clothing. 

 

“Yeah?” he said to them.

 

“U.S. Marshal,” Otto said.

 

The man leaned forward to look at Otto’s badge.

 

“Paranormal detectives,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“That appears to be,” Ott said to Otto.  Then he looked at Professor Stalloid.  “What?”

 

“Paranormal detectives,” Professor Stalloid said again.

 

“Para-whatsit?” Ott said.

 

That threw Stalloid for a moment.

 

“Yep,” he simply said.

 

“So, when did you arrest him?” Ott asked Otto, indicating Professor Stalloid.

 

“Just yesterday, actually,” Otto said.  “But, we’re here─”

 

“I can see that.”

 

“No … uh … I know this line of questioning might frighten you, but we were wondering if you could tell us more about the …”

 

Otto gestured at the mansion atop the mountain a mile or so away.

 

“… about them,” he said.

 

“Mayhaps,” Ott said.  “What’s it worth you ye?”

 

“The law.”

 

“Have they broken it?”

 

“Potentially.”

 

“Potentially?”

 

“It’s called an investigation.”

 

“What’d they do?”

 

Otto looked at the grizzled old man.

 

“We can’t disclose that information at this time,” Jack West growled.

 

Ott looked at him.

 

“Friend in the war, huh?” he said.

 

“Yeah,” Otto said.

 

“I knew it,” Otto said.  “I knew it.”

 

He looked carefully at Dr. Weisswald.

 

“Do I know you?” he said.

 

“I’m from around here,” Dr. Weisswald said.  “Maybe you’ve seen me.  Uh-huh.”

 

He looked at Jacali.

 

“Uh-huh,” he said.  “Why’s a marshal draggin’ a whole posse around?”

 

“They’re my deputies,” Otto said.

 

“I’m a deputy,” Jacali said.

 

“I don’t see no badges,” Ott said.

 

“We haven’t earned them yet!” Professor Stalloid said.  “He’s very strict.”

 

“C’mon in,” Ott finally said, turning.

 

“They’re in the mail,” Otto said.

 

They went into the tiny farmhouse.  It was warmed by a single wood stove in the living room and reminded them of the small houses in Falls Run.  There was some old and worn but comfortable furniture.  On a table was a large pot with a plant that had dark green leaves with a spiral arrangement around each plant.  The tall, erect stems were crowned by large blue flowers which were distinguishable by having one of the petals in the form of a cylindrical helmet.

 

Dr. Weisswald, Professor Stalloid and Jacali recognized the plant as aconitum, also called monkshood or wolf’s bane.  Both Dr. Weisswald and Jacali realized it was supposedly good at keeping off supernatural spirits, especially werewolves and the like.  They also knew the plants were very poisonous, the ingestion or injection of which could cause sickness with large doses resulting in death.  Only 20-40 ml of the tincture could prove fatal.  Initial signs included nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea followed by a sensation of burning, tingling, and numbness in the mouth and face and burning in the abdomen.  Pronounced motor weakness occurred in severe poisonings and the numbness spread to the limbs.  Other symptoms included sweating, dizziness, difficulty breathing, headache, and confusion.  The cause of death was generally paralysis of the heart and respiratory centers.

 

Treatment of the poison included gastrointestinal decontamination with activated charcoal soon after ingestion.  Atropine (mandragora) could be used as well.

 

Otto and Jack West both recognized the flowers as similar to the ones planted around the Gerhart property near Terwilliger’s in Oakland, California.  Both of them remembered Elroy Gerhart turning into a wolf when they had been flung back to 1855.

 

Ott sat down.

 

“All right, everybody, take a little touch,” he said.

 

He pointed to the plant.

 

Otto touched it.  Professor Stalloid reached forward and touched the plant, then pulled his hand back and cried out as if in pain.  Ott jumped to his feet, alarmed.

 

“No no no no,” Professor Stalloid said.  “See see.”

 

He touched the plant without issue.

 

“I’m bringing him to the asylum next,” Otto said.

 

“I see you got manacles on your belt,” Ott said.  “I think you should chain him up!”

 

He glared at Professor Stalloid, obviously seeing no humor in what he just did.  He sat down, watching him.

 

“I’ve been looking for these plants,” Dr. Weisswald said as she touched the plant.  “Do you know where you found it?  Is there any more around here?”

 

“Well, it’s planted all around my house but you can’t see it,” Ott said.  “Cause they’re dead outside.  But they are annuals.  They come back.”

 

“You afraid of wolves?” Jacali said.

 

“Some,” Ott said.

 

“Most people are afraid of wolves,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“You afraid of the kind that walk on two legs?” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“Some,” Ott said.  “You’re crazy friend is pretty … smart.”

 

“He has a Ph.D.,” Otto said.

 

“Yeah,” Ott said, obviously not believing him.  “Sure he does.  What do you want to know?”

 

“Well …”

 

“I’m a storyteller, you know.  I usually get paid for it.”

 

“We can compensate you.”

 

“Well, how much?”

 

“How much do you charge?”

 

“I don’t charge.  I just want something for my time.”

 

Professor Stalloid took out a dollar bill.  Ott took it, glaring at the man.  Otto took out a 10-dollar bill and handed it to the man.  That elicited a smile as he took the bill.

 

“I can tell you about the Elgers,” he said.  “They came to this part of then-Virginia as some of the first to the area back in 1771.  They were led by Revelation Elger and were already a large clan of nearly 20: men, women, and children.  They settled where Elger House stands today on Cherry Hill Road, though for a time it was called Elger Road.

 

“They built a cabin there but Revelation declared it t’wern’t enough and they continued adding to it for the next 20 years.  T’was a surprise to many the width and depth they added to what was, at first, just a house and stockade, built for defense so the Indians that sometimes roamed the area wouldn’t have an advantage over them.

 

“No one is sure where Revelation Elger came from.  Some say he was a pirate who plundered the sea lanes around Madagascar in the 1720s and much older than the 40 years he professed to be.  Others said he spent time a-living in Salem, Massachusetts, but not until after the witch hunting there was done, for the most part.  Still others say he left Salem or Boston, one, followed by rumors he was a wizard or a sorcerer of ill-repute.

 

“What was certain was his wealth.  As long as he lived here, Revelation always had gold that he paid for anything he needed, though his family did all the work on the house.  And what work they did!  Some says it proves Revelation was a pirate by the craftsmanship of his home and the finery of the woodwork.  Only skilled ships’ carpenters could craft that kind of finery.  Perhaps the whole family had been pirates.

 

“By 1778, he had raised a great stone tower in the midst of the still-growing house that was still built like a fortress with gun-slits instead of windows on the first floor and massive oak doors that could be barred against any attack.  The tower and the house stood on that mountaintop and could be seen from miles away.  Just like now.  T’was about this time they started renting out their further lands for tenant farming.  They were a hard lot, were the Elgers, and treated their tenants like slaves, demanding their rent and their due in a timely fashion or they would run out anyone who defied ‘em.

 

“Other than visiting tenants to demand their rent or the equivalent in crops or goods, they were a reclusive bunch.  No one visited that grand house and only a few of the Elgers ever came into town.  This raised more rumors about the family, whether there were Africans in their mix or some kind of deformities among them.  The Elgers weren’t saying though, and kept to themselves.

 

“And Revelation, he was the strangest of them all.  He was a cunning old fella and somehow always seemed to know what his neighbors and tenants were up to, sometimes even in the privacy of their own homes.  He might tell them something they spoke about only in private or mention some slight to his own family or others in the area.  It was as if he could see right into the very hearts of men and the rumors about him claimed he had some kind of crystal or magic that could see beyond the ken of men.  Others said he sat in that tower with a powerful spyglass and watched his neighbors.  He was rumored to be a wizard of no little power and some spoke of him souring the milk in their cows just by looking at them, cursing folks with his evil eyes, or even calling up poor weather for those who displeased him.

 

“There was also talk in that time of the strange noises that came from the mountaintop which that grand and terrible house stood.  Lights sometimes played around the tower top and strange sounds could be heard coming from the sky or the ground there.  There at Table Rock, that was also on Elger property, and was the sight of strange lights at night though none were too keen to look into it as the Elgers were quick to shoot trespassers with lead or rock salt, much as they are today.

 

“Revelation married one of the clan, no one is sure who to this day, and had a son whom he named Judas around abouts 1782.  He named the boy such as he always said he assumed the youth would someday betray him.

 

“During the deprivations of the Indians around these parts between 1789 and ‘92, when they was at their worst, nothing happened to the Elgers though some claimed they heard Indian war cries and screams from the house on more than one occasion.  Some said the Indians were working with the Elgers and some of the deaths were actually very convenient for the family.

 

“Old Revelation Elger died in 1811.  Seems he fell from that tower of his on All Hallows Eve late of an evening.  The 50-foot drop from the open top of the tower should have been fatal and a doctor was sent for that next morning to see to the man and write up the death certificate.  Judas wanted it all recorded so that he could take control of the family through the law.  The doctor, he was an uncle of mine actually, he was from Wheeling and saw the spot where the body had struck the rocky ground just outside the tower.  He also claimed to me, though perhaps he was just telling a story, that a trail of blood led to the front doors of the house, 30 feet away, as if the old man had survived the fall and crawled to the porch to vainly scratch at the doors there, his blood and broken fingernails giving proof to what he had seen.  The marks are still on the door to this day, they say.

 

“Judas proved that he would, indeed, betray Revelation, if he hadn’t already by pushing the old man out of the tower.  Revelation’s will stipulated a crypt be built on the property and some very intricate rituals be carried out before the body was interred.  Judas claims he did it, though no crypt or mausoleum lies on the property, just a pile of marble Judas had hauled in and left.  There’s also rumors of some great fire on the mountain the day after Revelation’s death, like a funeral pyre.  Judas was later seen dumping buckets of ashes in the Ohio River and there are even stories that he paid travelers passing through to take a pocketful of ash and disperse it as far away from the house and the mountain as they could.  None of it could be proved, of course.

 

“A few of the younger Elgers went away to fight in the War of 1812.  One of them returned but he soon left that place.  Mayhap he finally realized how strange and sick the family had become.  He fled to Ohio, they say, and never returned.

 

“With Revelation gone, the money he’d always provided the family just seemed to dry up and disappear as well.  The will stipulated Judas to receive it all for the family but no money was found in the house.  Some said there was a secret door or passage or room where Revelation kept all his pirate gold along with his own private library of strange books and tomes that he used for his witchcraft.  No such room was ever found, according to many.  The Elgers declared robbery as certain books were missing and gone and they say only a few pages of the strange books were ever found by the family.  Revelation, if he had hidden away his fortune and his books, had the last laugh in the end. 

 

“The family looked for years for the library but they never found it.  They weren’t sure if it was in the house or hidden somewhere on the property perhaps.  It might have even been hidden in one of the tenant farms, for all they knew, and they searched everywhere but never found it.

 

“Without any other option, they started selling off the farms that surrounded their land.  This here was actually one of them the Otts acquired back in 1815.  By 1830, they had sold off all the land except that where Elger House stood and the land around it and Table Rock.  The house was, by then, starting to show the neglect the Elgers would become famous for around here.  No repairs or improvements had been made on the house since Revelation died.  Judas was too busy, scouring the mountain for the hidden treasure, and the rest of the Elgers didn’t know any better.

 

“Judas died in 1842 when he was struck by lightning late one night between the house and Table Rock.  His body was found not far from the house, his head and feet burned in a blackened spot on the ground.  The storm had been fierce and some claimed they had seen Judas at Table Rock not long before he died, dancing around the rock and singing strange songs.

 

“He didn’t die without issue, however.  Lamentation Elger had been born in 1803 to Judas. He led the clan and his wife, whomever she might be, mayhap Lettice Elger, though some said she was also his sister, gave birth to Roy in 1837.  Now Lamentation was a wily one and I hear tell he never trusted Roy, who was cunning if not terribly smart.  Lamentation made sure he was always seen in Wheeling, at least once a week.  That lasted until 1855 or thereabouts.  Then he just disappeared.  According to Roy, the old man had gone mad and was being kept safely locked away in the house as his degenerative senility had struck early, something not unheard of amongst the Elgers.  There’s some as say Lamentation saw something out at Table Rock late one night and it broke his mind.  Others claim Lamentation didn’t disappear at all, but was murdered by Roy so he could take over the clan.  Still more say Lamentation’s ghost still walks the house, looking for old Revelation’s treasure. 

 

“Now Roy, he’s been in charge, or so he says, of the clan ever since.  Recently, within the last five years or so, there’s been more signs of wolves and such at on the property, sometimes big animals.  There are tales of men and women disappearing on the road if they go too near Elger House on certain nights, usually when the moon is full.  That’s why I’ve got that wolf’s bane around and in my own house.  This close to the place, why it’s only a mile or so away, I often hear the howling of wolves at night.  Some have been frightened in their homes by the sounds of growling and such, but I believe the Elgers have something to do with that and are using the wolves to their own advantage, or at least the rumor of wolves.

 

“The house is partially in ruins now.  Whatever skill the Elgers once had at carpentry is long gone and they don’t even both to fix the sagging roofs and falling shingles any more.  The place is little more than a ruin and the Elgers have inbred for the last three generations at least.  There’s not record nor word of an Elger marrying outside of the clan, or marrying at all, I reckon.  They only marry each other.  I’d say in another 50 years, they’ll all be mad and the place’ll be in ruins.

 

“That’s my story.  Thank you for the ten dollars.”

 

“Sounds like the Elger’s story, not yours,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“That’s the story I’m telling,” Ott said.  “Miss I’m-From-Wheeling-Too.”

 

“Where is this … uh … Table Rock?” Jack West said.

 

“If you continue along the mountaintop the other side of the Elger house, it’s down that way,” Ott said.  “Off Cherry Hill Road as well.  It’s on their property, which is the house, the land between it and Table Rock, and Table Rock itself.  That’s all they’ve got left.”

 

He noted they had used to own everything within a mile of the house down to the Ohio River.

 

“All righty,” Jack West said.,

 

“Anything else you want to add?” Otto said.

 

“I just told you the whole story!” Ott said.

 

“Is there anywhere … I know you said their farm plots were sold out … is there anywhere you think the library might be, if you said this library was still missing, not found?” Jacali said.

 

“I would say it’s in the house,” Ott said.  “Why would you have a library on some piece of land you rented out to somebody else.”

 

“Makes sense,” Jacali said.  “You just said it could’ve been …”

 

She got the impression he thought the Elgers thinking the books might be hidden on one of the tenant farms was stupid of the Elgers.  He was certain it must be hidden in the house, though he’d never been to the house and didn’t want to go to the house.

 

“Do you think they still keep watch with those gun slits?” Jacali said.

 

“They replaced the gun slits with windows,” Ott said.

 

“So it’s not a fortress so much anymore?”

 

“Twenty, thirty, forty … no.  Nope.  Although most of the windows are busted now.  They board ‘em up.  Must’ve been grand in its day.  It’s not grand anymore, I can tell you that.  You can see it from the road.  If you go up Cherry Hill Road, you can see the sagging roof.  You can see the missing shutters, blank windows where there’s boards - they didn’t replace the glass.  Didn’t care.  There’s something wrong with ‘em.”

 

“Do you think there’s something true to the Elgers being sorcerers, or at least Revelation being …”

 

“Something ain’t right with that family.  And Revelation, stories about him are scary.  The things he saw.  The things he would say.  He would tell people secrets about themselves that nobody else should know.  So I heard.  So I heard.”

 

“Could I borrow or buy some of your wolf’s bane?” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“What?” Ott said.  “No, that’s all I got living right now!”

 

“Just a few clippings,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“No!” Ott said.  “It’s all I got!  I’m not gonna have my house undefended.  Not this time o’ year.  Not with a full moon coming up  in a couple of weeks.”

 

“Do you think the outside plants work well too?” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“They’re dead!” Ott said.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Right now they’re dead and covered in two feet o’ snow.”

 

“Oh.  Okay.”

 

“Where can we get some wolf’s bane then?” Otto asked.

 

“Iunno,” Ott said.  “I have no idea.”

 

“Where did you get yours then?” Jacali said.

 

“Got it a long time ago,” Ott said.

 

“From where?” Otto said.

 

“Found it in the woods.”

 

“Where in the woods?”

 

“I don’t know!  It was 40 years ago!”

 

Jack West tipped his hat.

 

“Well, thank you for your time,” he growled.  “You have a delightful evening.”

 

“You better get that looked at,” Ott said.  “It’s gonna get infected.”

 

Jack West left the house.

 

“Just one little leaf,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“No!” Ott said.

 

“I’ll give you five dollars.”

 

“All right.  One leaf.”

 

She paid him the money for the single leaf.  She was delighted with the purchase, as was he.

 

Otto asked Miss Bloomberg to go outside and the others followed them.  They found Jack West on the porch and they left the farm.

 

“So, I know you’re of a … more dubious background,” Otto said to Miss Bloomberg.  “If you were going to, say, sneak into this property, how would you do so?”

 

“Judging by the fact that these people seem abnormal, going there at night doesn’t sound like the safest option,” she said.

 

Professor Stalloid heard them quietly talking and eavesdropped on them.

 

“So,” she went on, “in an instance like this, under cover of daylight and definitely not with this many people all in one group.”

 

“Wait,” Professor Stalloid said.  “Which house we talking about?  This house we’re at or that house.”

 

Otto pointed at the Elger house, visible on the hill.

 

“So, we’re not stealing the man’s wolf’s bane,” Professor Stalloid said.  “Okay.”

 

“No, we’re not going to steal the poor, old man’s wolf’s bane,” Otto said.

 

“My vote is we go check out this Table Rock,” Jack West said.  “And, clearly, these people are disturbed and/or bad so if we have to return fire on people … it won’t be as bad.”

 

Otto mentioned if they trespassed on private property, it would be them breaking the law.

 

“How about me and Miss Bloomberg go investigate under the pretenses of tracking a criminal and just happening to be on their property when it happens?” Otto said.

 

“Why don’t we all come?” Jack West said.

 

“You are terrible at hiding,” Otto said.

 

“I am a shadow!” Jack West said.

 

“A shadow skyscraper?” Miss Bloomberg said.

 

“Yes,” Jack West said.

 

“You may be a shadow, but you’re a stampede at the same time,” Otto said.

 

“His spurs jingle,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

They discussed what to do.  Then they parted in two groups.

 

*              *              *

 

Otto, Jack West, and Miss Bloomberg went up Cherry Hill Road, passing the lane that led up to Elger House and turning right where the road split. They soon spotted Table Rock on the bare hillside next to a lone tree.  It was very visible from the road.

 

“How about you hang in the back, West, and me and Miss Bloomberg go ahead,” Otto said.

 

“Sure,” Jack West said.  “Sounds fair.”

 

The two of them headed up the hill from the road.  As they got closer, they saw Table Rock was much bigger than they had thought from a distance.  The name was somewhat misleading.  They expected something the size of a table but it was much larger.

 

The central pillar of sandstone averaged three feet high and varied from six to eight feet in diameter.  It supported an irregular horizontal slab about six feet thick, about 60 square feet in area.  Projecting from the center of this flat piece of sandstone was a cylinder some two feet high and six to nine feet in diameter. 

 

The snow around the rock had been stomped down.  A trail went through the snow towards Elger House, the top of the tower and very rooftop the only part of the house visible from there.  Otto didn’t see anyone in the tower top.  He kept an eye on it.

 

Miss Bloomberg tried to climb up onto the rock but it was too slick.  Otto gave her a leg up and she climbed to the top of the rock, which had no snow on it at all.

 

The top of the “table” had several petroglyphs of great age and obvious Indian origin.  On the northern side of the rock were newer markings.  One was snail or swirl-shaped, another is kidney-shaped, and the other two were of abstract design.  On the south side of the rock were several other designs, these more worn and of more ancient origin, the weather having nearly eroded them to obscurity.  They appeared to be some kind of great bird surrounded by men of birdlike aspect.

 

“What’re y’all doin’ up here?” a girl’s voice said.  “You’re trespassing, you know.”

 

Otto looked down from where he was watching the tower to see a young girl of maybe 18.  She had dark hair and was pretty in a somewhat sinister way, with cold eyes that glared at the two of them.  She wore a skirt under her heavy but shabby-looking coat.

 

“Well, I was looking for a criminal,” Otto lied.  “Something happened in Wheeling.  I saw him come up this way.”

 

“What happened?” the girl said.

 

“Robbery.”

 

“Who got robbed?”

 

“This lady.”

 

“What’s her name?”

 

“Miss Bloomberg.  I brought her along to identify him.”

 

The young woman stared at him for what felt like a very long time.

 

“Well, this is private property,” she said.  “I don’t care what you want.  You’re not allowed to be here.”

 

“Well, we’ll get off,” Otto said.  “We didn’t know.”

 

“Who’s this?  Is that your lover?”

 

“What?  Her?”

 

The girl looked around.

 

“I don’t see anybody else here,” she said. She called out to Miss Bloomberg.   “Don’t slip and fall and break your neck and die!  That’d be a terrible thing.  For … your lover’ll miss you.”

 

She nodded at Otto.

 

“I’ll try not to,” Miss Bloomberg said.  “What are you doing here, if it’s private property?”

 

“Probably lives here,” Otto said.

 

“It’s my family’s property,” the girl said.

 

“What are you doing here?” Miss Bloomberg said.

 

“Anything I want,” the young girl said.  “It’s my property.”

 

Miss Bloomberg climbed down off Table Rock.

 

Otto headed back to the road, gesturing for Miss Bloomberg to also make her way that direction.  They walked down towards Jack West, Otto looking often over his shoulder at the girl who had moved to the hilltop near Table Rock to watch them.  She had put one hand on Table Rock.  They finally reached the road after what felt like a long time.

 

They headed back to Wheeling.  At one point, when one of them looked back up at Table Rock, she was gone.

 

“So, what’d you find?” Jack West said.

 

“Creepy young woman,” Otto said.

 

“And?”

 

“She was on top of the rock.”

 

“I saw some carvings,” Miss Bloomberg said.

 

She described what she had seen.

 

“Let’s go find the others,” Otto said.  “Maybe they’ll know what that means.”

 

*              *              *

 

Dr. Weisswald, Jacali, and Ophelia returned to the Westerfield house.  They had lunch.

 

Dr. Weisswald found a place in the cellar where she could work and made a kind of paste from the wolf’s bane leaf she had gotten from Ott.  It took a couple of hours before she had a thick paste she hoped would be potent.  She put it onto a small piece of leather and folded it over onto itself.  She hoped to be able to use it to quickly coat a knife if need be.

 

She went out shopping for bread and cheese and such to make some sandwiches and the like if they were going to be out late that night.

 

*              *              *

 

Jacali got ten dollars from Professor Stalloid to do some shopping.

 

“My ‘bribe’ has left me a little short,” she said.

 

“Oh, I just thought about something,” Professor Stalloid said.  “You know who he really is.  Why don’t you go blackmail him for the money back?”

 

She looked at him for a moment.

 

“You see, Stalloid, this would work really well if I was about three shades paler,” she said.

 

“I can go blackmail him for the money back,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“Honestly, I’d rather just forget about it.”

 

“All right.”

 

“But if you get the money back, I’ll take it.  But that’s … just don’t get me killed.”

 

She and Ophelia went shopping for a gun belt for the serpent person and a few other items they needed, including a box of bullets for Ophelia’s pistol, and three lanterns.  She also got kerosene and a replacement lamp chimney for Dr. Weisswald’s lantern, which had been broken during the train wreck.

 

*              *              *

 

Professor Stalloid went to the Wheeling Intelligencer.  He learned there they did not have any newspapers in the archives before 1865 but he was welcome to the newspaper morgue to look at papers.  He started with the oldest papers, looking for anything of interest.

 

It took him several hours to scan the old newspapers from 1865 to 1871.  He found four articles.

 

The first was from Friday, November 2, 1866.  It read:

 

               

Strange Lights on Hill

 

Passers-by on Halloween night, Wednesday, claim they saw strange colored lights

in the vicinity of Table Rock.

 

Maybe witches are prowling the county!  They certainly picked the right night for it.

 

 

The  next was from Thursday, May 7, 1868.  It read:

 

 

Strange Cries

 

Mr. Robinson of West Liberty claims he heard strange cries coming from Elger House

when he passed by Monday night just after dark.  He claims the sounds of a man wailing

came from the area of the house and whomever it was must have been in great pain.

 

Sheriff Thomas J. Campbell investigated but the Elgers deny any man crying out.

 

Perhaps Elger House is haunted.

 

 

The third was from Wednesday, May 5, 1869.  It read:

 

 

Broken Cart Found

 

A broken peddler’s cart, emptied of all its contents, was found on Cherry Hill Road not

far from the Simon McClure Estate.

 

The cart had obviously been abandoned in the woods not far from the road and was

covered in sticks and debris.  It was rotted and had been there for some time.

 

Sheriff Thomas J. Campbell noted there was blood on the cart. The incident remains under

investigation.

 

 

The last was from Tuesday, June 6, 1871.  It read:

 

 

Tinker Disappears

 

Thomas Woods, a tinker who often roams Ohio County doing repairs, was reported missing

Monday. 

 

He left West Liberty after noon on Saturday and was last seen on Cherry Hill Road when

he stopped at the residence of Simon McClure, leaving that residence just before dark and

declaring he would make it to the schoolhouse on River Road before stopping for the night.

 

That was the last anyone saw of him.

 

 

He found the articles intriguing though by then it was nearly 5 p.m. and he was asked to leave.

 

*              *              *

 

When Otto, Jack West, and Miss Bloomberg returned to the house that afternoon, they found only Tilda and Jane Westerfield there.  When they learned the others had all gone into town shopping, Otto and Miss Bloomberg headed in as well.  They ran into Dr. Weisswald first and later found Jacali and Ophelia.

 

“Weisswald, we found stuff,” Otto said.

 

“That’s … good,” Dr. Weisswald said.  “That’s what a scouting party is for.”

 

“And we had an encounter.”

 

“Helpful stuff, I hope.”

 

“We also ran into one of them.”

 

“Uh-oh.”

 

“One of the children.”

 

“So, did Jack West give you away?” Jacali said.

 

“I don’t know,” Otto said.  “Probably.”

 

“Okay.  I’m sure that happened.”

 

“She found some symbols on table rock.  That I don’t really know what they mean.”

 

Miss Bloomberg told them about the symbols she’d seen.  Jacali thought the kidney-shaped marking sounded familiar and for some reason thought of something called Bugg-Shash, an outer god as dangerous to the summoner as to everyone else around.  She told them she thought it familiar and wondered if it was a deity they might worship.  She guessed the birds might be something like it as well and she thought the spiral represented magic.

 

Ophelia knew of Bugg-Shash and confirmed what Jacali had said.  She added the fact that it was terribly dangerous to summon the horror and, if done wrong, it would destroy everything it could find in the area.  She noted it was often sent to murder people.  Jacali thought it fit with the rumors of people dying.

 

“So, what else did you find?” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“Just that young lady,” Otto said.  “But she didn’t provide much information.  Just ordered us off the property.”

 

“You should have tortured her,” Ophelia said.

 

“I … doing … no,” Otto said.

 

*              *              *

 

Otto left them and went in search of a gunsmith, eventually finding Alexander Green.  The man seemed interested in Otto’s scope ideas and Otto said he could provide the man with the materials to make it.  Green asked if he had any drawings of the concept and the two of them worked on it until dinnertime.  He said he’d see what he could put together.   When Otto asked when he should check back, the man told him to come back in two or three days and he’d see what he could do.

 

*              *              *

 

Professor Stalloid walked into Doctor Mangum’s Healing Tonics and Unguents shop, the bell ringing merrily as he entered.  Jefferson Mangum was alone in the shop, puttering around and restocking.  He turned towards Professor Stalloid as the man crossed the store towards him.

 

“Hello!” Professor Stalloid said.  “I had a friend come in here the other day and they were … maybe … cheated a little bit out of their money.”

 

“Hello!” Mangum said.  “That’s impossible!  You must have the wrong shop!  But thank you so much for stopping by!”

 

“No!  This is the shop of Clyde Skaggs, isn’t it?”

 

Professor Stalloid grinned from ear to ear.  Mangum’s eyes opened wide for just a moment in shock but he quickly regained his composure, though his eyes looked hard.

 

“I’m afraid you have me mistaken for my brother … cousin,” he said.  “My cousin.”

 

“Ah, those brother cousins!” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“A brother through marriage, cousin through birth.  You understand.”

 

“Ah!  Brother-in-law cousin!”

 

“You know how marriages can be in families here in West Virginia.”

 

He matched Professor Stalloid’s grin with one of his own though it didn’t reach his eyes.

 

“I’ve met some of your friends, Mr. Clyde,” Professor Stalloid said.  “I know who you are.”

 

“You have the better of me, sir,” Mangum said.  “What is your name?”

 

“Oh.  Brandon Stalloid!  Child savior!”

 

“Jefferson Mangum: doctor.”

 

“Aw.  I’m also that but I don’t gloat about my … intelligence.”

 

“And I don’t gloat about being a child savior, but I’ve saved so many children!”

 

“Yes yes.  Well, sometimes you have to say it.”

 

“Not I.  My reputation precedes me.  Are you here for tonic or …?”

 

“I’m here to get the money back.  At least a portion.  We will pay you for the tonic.”

 

“I don’t understand any of what you’re saying or who you’re talking about.  Obviously, you’ve mistaken me for someone else.”

 

“I don’t know if you’ve heard of the marshal I’ve been traveling around with but we are on very important business.  And we would hate to be instead investigating an impersonating-someone-else case.”

 

“It would be a shame if you wasted your time with such a thing, yes.”

 

“Oh, but we have eyewitnesses and the University of Maryland at Baltimore, which I have attended.  I am an alum.”

 

“Ah!”

 

“An actual alum.”

 

“Me as well.  But I kept a low profile while I was there.  I didn’t actually allow my photograph to be taken for the yearbook.”

 

“Well, I would be surprised because I don’t think you made it to the yearbook.”

 

“That’s because I didn’t have my photograph taken.”

 

“No, you left in your freshman year.”

 

“Oh, no no no.  You are again mistaking me for my cousin.”

 

Professor Stalloid lowered his voice.

 

“Sir, seriously, we have a lot of information on you,” he said.

 

“Sir, seriously, if you try to blackmail me, you will regret it,” Mangum said.

 

“I … don’t think I will.”

 

“I know you will.”

 

“Hm.”

 

“Now, I don’t even know who you’re referring to.  This person that you said I took their money.”

 

“Yet you winced when I said it.”

 

“I don’t know this person you say I’ve chiseled.  Who are you talking about?”

 

“Well, my good friend.  The Indian girl that was in here.”

 

“Oh.  So, she is an Indian giver.  I see.  I see.”

 

“No.  I’m the Indian giver.”

 

“You’re good friends with an Indian and  you actually think anyone would believe anything she says?”

 

“No, she’s not the one claiming it.”

 

“And who are you?  Brandon Stalloid?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“You’re not even from around here.  I can tell by your accent.  I have given many of my services to the people of this town, some of them quite highly placed.  Some of them … very low placed.”

 

“I hear you’re scared of the low-placed ones though.”

 

“Ah, everyone should be.  Especially those who blackmail other people.”

 

“I’m scared of no one.”

 

“Ah.  Then you’re a fool.”

 

“Not even the gods.  Maybe some.”

 

“In any case, she paid me.  She offered me a sum of money, which I accepted, and gave her information.”

 

“Very well, very well.  Thank you.  Good-bye.”

 

Professor Stalloid left the shop.

 

*              *              *

 

When Professor Stalloid returned to the Westerfield house around dinnertime, he gave Jacali an additional $25 for the cat carving, which appeared to be coming along very well.

 

“Seriously, do not give fifty dollars to someone again!” he said to her.

 

“We needed the information,” she said.  “I don’t know how much he needed to tell.”

 

“That’s a lot of money!”

 

“You start low,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“Start with one or five,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“Start with one dollar,” Ophelia said.  “Or a punch to the face.”

 

“Listen, I’ve been around this place since before money was a thing, and I think it was a lot better back then,” Jacali said.

 

“Our society had no need for it either,” Ophelia said.

 

Jacali just nodded at the serpent person.

 

*              *              *

 

They met after dinner to talk and shared everything they had experienced that day, as much as was important anyway.  When Miss Bloomberg told them about the symbols, Jack West thought he recognized the spiral as symbolic of something called Azathoth.   Professor Stalloid told them about the newspaper articles and shared the copies he had of them.

 

They talked about meeting Sheriff Thomas Campbell, who was mentioned in the articles.

 

“This man is terrible,” Otto said.

 

“Yeah, he seems very bad at his job,” Jacali said.  “Almost like the last guy.”

 

“Almost like every sheriff we meet,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“That’s why I’m a marshal,” Otto said with a smile.

 

“Yes, you’re different, Otto,” Jacali said.

 

“I like to think I am,” Otto said.

 

“Is he?” Jack West said.

 

Otto said he’d go to the sheriff’s office.  Jacali asked if they were going to ambush the Elgers or do something else.  Otto pointed out Table Rock was very exposed.  They discussed what to do.

 

Professor Stalloid borrowed some old almanacs from Paul and found the moon was  full only on the date of the last incident he’d found in the paper.

 

Otto headed to the sheriff’s office.  He returned in an hour to tell them Campbell was no longer sheriff.  He had been sheriff from 1867 to 1870 and was then replaced by Richard Brown, who had been elected in 1871.  Brown was not at the sheriff’s office, however, having gone home for the day.  The man he talked to didn’t know anything about Campbell.

 

They continued to discuss what to do.  Jacali was worried about moving on the Elgers at night and feared they would have the advantage.  Dr. Weisswald suggested watching from a distance.  Jacali wanted to find a place to watch both Table Rock and Elger house from a distance, preferably not on their property.

 

In the end, they all decided to go, making some food and bundling up against the terrible cold they knew they were going to have to face.  They set off around 8 p.m.

 

*              *              *

 

It was close to 10 p.m. when they crept down Cherry Hill Road under the shadow of Elger House.  A few lights burned in some of the windows, but there was a new moon and it was dark on the road down in the valley.  Jacali found a spot where they could see both Table Rock and Elger House.  It was a cold and exposed, the wind blasting down on it.  She thought it was a good enough spot and they settled in as best they could though it was terribly cold.

 

*              *              *

 

Some three hours after they arrived at the spot, Professor Stalloid left.  He couldn’t feel his feet and he was miserable.  He was done.

 

*              *              *

 

Around 2 a.m., those who remained watching saw a light up by Table Rock.  It looked like someone had lit a fire.  Singing or chanting rolled down the mountainside from the spot.  It was quite unnerving.  There seemed to be some people moving around the rock.

 

“Maybe we should get a better look,” Jack West said.

 

“If we aren’t going to do anything, we weren’t going to do anything later …” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“I want to get a better view though I’m worried about endangering ourselves,” Jacali said.  “Although …”

 

“We heard weird chanting in the woods and we’re …,” Jack West growled.

 

“And we have a marshal,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“… worried,” Jack West said.

 

“But they already know that …” Otto said.  “I don’t think she bought my excuse for being on their property.”

 

“We should get closer,” Jack West said.

 

“We could try to creep up and try to stay hidden,” Jacali said.  “So, who wants to go up with me?”

 

“Me,” Jack West said.

 

Otto waited behind while the rest of them crept forward towards Table Rock, stopping about a hundred yards away.  They could make out the strange chanting and saw there were maybe a half dozen people around the rock.  Most of silhouettes were solid and they guessed they were men.  One was much smaller and was wearing a dress, probably a young woman or a girl.

 

One of them was too big.  It towered over the rest, gangly and lanky.  They thought perhaps the others were not as large as they had thought and all of them were children.  Or perhaps the large one was seven or eight feet tall.  When it passed close to Table Rock and actually loomed over the natural structure, it seemed more likely it was the latter to Jack West, who had seen how big it was earlier.

 

They heard guttural voices along with a voice that sounded like it was that of a baby or a very small child.  They sang or chanted some strange things in a language none of them understood.

 

The biggest of them stopped and pointed their direction.

 

“Someone’s out there in the darkness!” the baby’s voice called.

 

Jack West realized it was coming from the giant.  The giant had the voice of a baby.  Dr. Weisswald wondered if he was holding a child in his arms.

 

All of the dancers stopped.  They could see the glittering of their eyes, looking in their general direction.

 

Jacali started backing away through the snow, keeping an eye on them. 

 

“Who’s out there?” a girl’s voice called.

 

“It’s the girl from earlier,” Miss Bloomberg whispered to them.  “She’s at the rock.”

 

“Probably should sneak away,” Miss Weisswald said.

 

“Maybe it’s best we just we take our information and get out,” Jacali said.

 

They continued to creep away.

 

There was talk amongst those at the rock.  Then  the chanting continued though it seemed a little more frenzied and different this time.

 

*              *              *

 

It took them only a few long minutes to creep back down to where Otto hid in the dark.  The cold stars shown down upon them.

 

“Time to leave?” Otto said.

 

“Maybe,” Jacali said.  “You can hear though, the chanting is different.  It might be time to get out.  I’m nervous.  I kind of what to see more but I’m worried it might be dangerous.”

 

“Well …” Otto said.

 

“They might have something they can use against us,” Jacali said.

 

They started to head back to town.

 

“What if they summon that guy, though?” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“They obviously saw us,” Jacali said.  “We’re not going to be stealthy.  Unless we tried to barge in there and start shooting …”

 

“If you wanna just get some dynamite and blow up their ‘special table’ …” Jack West said.  “That’ll probably stop a lot of the bad stuff they could do.”

 

“Well, I mean …” Jacali said.

 

“They’re werewolves, they’re casting some sort of spell, and they can summon something … maybe …” Dr. Weisswald said.  “So … I don’t want that to happen.”

 

“What do you think, Otto?” Jacali said.

 

“It’s probably illegal,” Otto said.

 

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Jacali said.

 

“Not in a long shot,” Jack West said.

 

“Just because it’s illegal doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“That and they know you’re here,” Otto said.  “And it’s been five minutes since they spotted you.  It’ll take you another five minutes to get back into the position where you could do something, and they’ll probably notice us this time before you’re able to get there.  That and we don’t have Stalloid here.”

 

“I feel like if we were trying to do something, it would be better to try to storm the house while some of them were away, if we were going to do something,” Jacali said.

 

“That’s not a bad idea,” Jack West said.

 

“The house will have more people though,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

The chanting they could still barely hear near Table Rock stopped abruptly.

 

“We might … be in trouble … I think,” Jacali said.  “We need a better plan.”

 

“If we come back tomorrow night, they might not be out,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“I feel the chance to eavesdrop on them has passed,” Otto said.

 

“Right, but if we’re going to take action tonight … we might have to do something very soon,” Jacali said.  “We don’t have Stalloid.”

 

“Yes,” Otto said.

 

“Well, let’s just come back another night,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“I don’t know,” Jacali said.  “I just don’t know what our best plan of action is here.  If we try to run up on these guys right now … if we’re going back anyways, maybe we should just go back to the house.”

 

They headed back to town.  They only walked down the road for five minutes when they heard a strange screech coming from Table Rock.  A shadow seemed to come down out of the sky and disappeared onto the hilltop at table rock.  The fire went out as if someone had tossed snow upon it.

 

Otto noticed a half-dozen fir trees clustered in a group.  He ran over to them and took cover  Jack West and Miss Bloomberg headed more quickly down the road.

 

“That is not a werewolf!” Jack West said.

 

Dr. Weisswald ran after the others along with Ophelia.

 

“Otto, we need to get out!” Jacali hissed.

 

Otto came out of the trees and back down to the road, running after the rest with Jacali.

 

A few minutes later, they heard another screech and the flapping of great wings.  Jacali looked back and saw a strange silhouette in the sky, flying down over the  road.  It flew right past the fur trees where Otto originally hid, flying back and forth as it came down the road.

 

Jacali ran off the side of the road and ducked for cover.  Otto ran after the woman.  They found hiding places behind trees.

 

“I should’ve gone for the fur trees!” he muttered.

 

The others saw the horror and realized it was flying faster than a man could run.

 

Jack West also ran off to the right, further ahead of Jacali.  Ophelia had drawn her pistol.  Miss Bloomberg ran off the road between where Jack West and Jacali had gone.  Dr. Weisswald ran to the right, followed by Ophelia, between where Miss Bloomberg had ducked off the road and where Jacali and Otto had disappeared into the darkness.  She had thought a large mound of snow had been a rock but it was only a snowdrift and the two of them threw themselves down behind it.

 

The horror flew over, going back and forth across the road.  They felt the things eyes searching for them, but only saw clearly the silhouette against the clear sky filled with a million stars.  It was like some huge, queerly-deformed bird larger than a horse, a hulking, horribly quasi-avian form with only one leg, a glaring Cyclopean eye, and hideous, hooked, fang-lined beak.  The sound it made when it flew was not that of something feathered, but rather something else.  Something that shouldn’t exist.

 

It was looking for something.

 

It continued down the road and was soon out of sight in the darkness.  They huddled there, terrified.

 

Jack West headed back out to the road towards Wheeling.  Miss Bloomberg followed him.  Jacali left her hiding place, the black arrow in her bow, while Otto tried to comfort her.  Dr. Weisswald and Ophelia crossed to the two.

 

Jack West stopped when he realized the others weren’t following.

 

“What’re y’all doing?” he hissed at them.

 

“Maybe we weren’t the target,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“Yeah, that makes sense,” Jacali said.

 

“What’re y’all doing?” Jack West hissed loudly again.

 

They finally went back down to the road.

 

“It didn’t look that big,” Jack West said.

 

“The size of a horse?” Dr. Weisswald said.  “Maybe we weren’t its target.  Maybe we should find out where it went.  There’s no way it didn’t see me.  We should go after it.”

 

“As Weisswald pointed out, it may be targeting someone else, if it wasn’t looking for us, and we just were out of the way,” Jacali said.  “It might be good to keep an eye and ear open but I think we should go towards town again, at least to get to safety, if not to see where it was heading.”

 

“We don’t have time to talk,” Dr. Weisswald said. “ Let’s go.”

 

“Let’s go,” Otto said.

 

They headed down the road at speed.

 

“So, that counts at attempted murder, right?” Jack West said to Otto.

 

“What?” Otto said.

 

“Summoning horse-sized birds to … uh … come down the road and try to kill us?”

 

“That’s a good way to end up in an asylum, Jack West.”

 

“That’s not the excuse we use but … to help your conscious with us … uh … ridding the town of Elgers.”

 

“Fine.  But, I don’t suggest you say ‘Hey, we almost got killed by a giant bird on the way home.’”

 

“No, I’m going to tell Stalloid about that.  He’ll probably have a kick.”

 

*              *              *

 

Professor Stalloid was almost back to town and could see the lights from Wheeling ahead.  He had just passed a pair of farmhouses and was very, very cold.

 

He heard the flapping of enormous wings from behind him.

 

He realized he was perhaps two hundred yards from town, two hundred yards from the farmhouses, and some 30 yards from the Ohio River to his right.  There was no obvious cover around him.                          He picked up his pace, running towards Wheeling as he got the lightning gun in hand.

 

He looked over his shoulder and saw something in the sky, a silhouette of a great flying creature that was going back and forth along the road as if looking for something.

 

My friends are dead, he thought.

 

The horror moved very quickly and he realized it was coming down the road at such a clip, he would not make the lights of Wheeling before it reached him.  It moved as fast as a train and as quietly as the wind.  He didn’t think he could outrun it.

 

He ran from the road and flung himself into a snow bank.  The horror flew over and he got a good look at it.  He was terrified.

 

The thing flew almost to the glow of the lights from Wheeling.  Then it turned and headed off into the darkness, in the direction of Elger House, he guessed.  The wings didn’t sound like they had feathers but might have been covered by scales.  The thing was massive, much larger than a horse.  He was shaken to the core by the good, long look he got of it.  His shivering was no longer just because of the terrible cold.

 

Once the sound of the terrible thing’s wings were gone, he leapt up and fled into Wheeling.

 

*              *              *

 

When Professor Stalloid got back to the Westerfield house, he locked the front door behind him.  He went to the back door and locked it as well when he found it, like the front door, was not secured.  He went into the living room and stoked the hot coals there into a fire, adding several logs, and tried to warm himself up, hoping against hope the others had somehow survived.

 

Almost an hour later, he heard someone rattling at the front door.  He crept to it and peeked out the window there, surprised to see his companions.  Or their ghosts.  Or their possessed figures.

 

He carefully unbolted the door, cracking it with his foot at the bottom to keep it from opening further.

 

“How do I know it’s really y’all?” he said quietly.

 

“Stalloid, get out of the way!” Jack West said.

 

“Child savior!” Otto said.

 

Jacali cursed at the man.

 

“Oh, okay,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

He let them in, locking the front door behind them.  They all crept to the living room where a fire blazed in the hearth.  They noticed Professor Stalloid was wide-eyed and nervous.

 

“I assume you saw the creature?” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“I got a close look!” he said.

 

“Well, did you see where it went?  Must be hunting somebody.”

 

“I would guess back towards Table Rock.”

 

“So, it flew─”

 

“That would be my guess.”

 

“─it flew past you and then … went back?”

 

“Yes, right before the lights of town.  It didn’t want to go in the light, I felt like.”

 

It was nearly four in the morning and they were all cold and exhausted. 

 

They discussed what to do, Jack West suggesting that in the morning, as they don’t shoot on sight, they could try to talk to the Elgers at their abode.  Professor Stalloid noted they might shoot on sight then but Jack West said they had guns as well.  Otto wanted to talk to the old sheriff.  Professor Stalloid suggested they talk to Albert.

 

*              *              *

 

They found themselves standing in front of Elger House, perhaps 20 or 30 feet from the building.  They all recognized it immediately.  They stood in the snow in the dark, clouds blowing overhead.  The house seemed to shiver as if it were alive and very much afraid.  Strange lights and sounds came from various windows.  They were wearing their regular clothing and were unarmed.

 

To their right on the south side of the house, strange electric lights glowed and something large seemed to be moving around inside the house.  From the tower top, strange glowing and flowing lights unlike anything they’d ever seen before moved around in a strange patterns.  To their left, in the north wing, they saw the silhouette of a man stealing by the windows.  From the second floor of that north wing, they heard the flapping of terribly familiar wings.  Something impossibly large moved up there.

 

A cat stood on the ground in the snow in front of them.  It looked them over and then started walking towards the left side of the house, the north wing.  They followed it.

 

The cat walked to a window there, in part of the wall set back from the rest of the house.  It stopped just under it, looking first at the window, then back at them, and then back at the window again.  They carefully moved forward and peered into the window as the walls of the second floor seemed to rattle and shake with the terrible movements of the impossibly huge bird that seemed trapped within.

 

Within was a filthy room.  It was dirty, dusty, and disgusted.  There were two beds, each of which held a sleeping old woman of some foul aspect.  They were old and had ratty hair, snoring loudly.  A fireplace was in the far corner to the right and, on the wall to the right not far from it, was a small cabinet or alter.  Floating above the cabinet were several cats, perhaps a dozen, tethered to the cabinet with jagged rough rope with tiny spikes sticking out of it.  They mewed plaintively and suddenly all stopped and looked towards the window.  Stalloid, terrified out of his mind, waved at the cats and forced a smile.

 

Suddenly, a man stood in front of the window.  He was completely bald and had a long bound goatee sticking out of his chin, like a pharaoh’s fake beard.  His eyes were made up like an Egyptian pharaoh and he wore black clothing.  He smiled at them.

 

“Greetings,” he said in a thick Egyptian accent.  “Spying about where you are not supposed to be?  Shame on you.  Perhaps I can help you?”

 

“I can’t control my dreams,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“Ah,” the man said.  “The one who thinks he is so clever.  I see her mark upon you.  What do you wish here?”

 

“I don’t know.”

 

“She created this place.  You should have the answers, shouldn’t you?”

 

“No.  She doesn’t tell me anything.”

 

“Ah.”

 

“She just tells me to go places.”

 

“Ah.  I see.  I have not dealt with her kind in many, many years.  I thought them all dead.”

 

“What do you want?”

 

“Who are you?” Otto said.

 

“Who do you think I am?” the man said.

 

“Roy?” Otto said.

 

“Are you Revelation?” Jacali said.

 

“No,” the man said.

 

He laughed.

 

“Though Revelation was … amusing,” the man said.  “Quite, quite amusing.  What is it worth to you to know?  What do you want to know?”

 

“I don’t think─” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“How can I help you and how can you help me?” the man said.

 

“I’m actually curious where there’s some hidden books,” Jack West said.

 

“They are hidden.  They’re well-hidden.  In the house, yes.”

 

“That already helps a lot.”

 

“You may look near Roy Elger’s bedroom.  And now you owe me a favor.  I will collect it, someday.  Don’t forget.”

 

“Just him, though, right?” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“Who else wants to know─” the man said.

 

“I owe too many favors!”

 

“─my name?”

 

The man looked at Otto with a strange grin that didn’t reach his eyes.  It looked like he was not used to smiling.  Or perhaps too used to it.  Dr. Weisswald looked around for the cat but it was gone.  She also realized she was not leaving tracks in the snow.  She also realized Ophelia was not there.

 

“Are you a deity?” Otto said.

 

“What do you think?” the man said.

 

“Yes,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“I wasn’t speaking to you,” the man said.

 

“Potentially,” Otto said.

 

“Do you want to know?” the man said.  “I’ll tell you, if you want to know.  I’ll tell you, so long as you don’t displease me.  Or would you rather see something special, Professor?”

 

“Maybe,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“I’ll take that as a ‘yes,’” the man said.

 

Professor Stalloid’s eyes suddenly went wide.  He saw a terrible, horrific sight as a tentacle seemed to burst out of the man’s neck and his arms grew expansively into great claws.  A third leg burst from his body, tearing through the clothing and revealing his skin as completely black.  He also seemed to grow to immense size and towered over Professor Stalloid in a terrible revelation of something that simply should not be.

 

Then Professor Stalloid vanished.

 

*              *              *

 

Professor Stalloid found himself in a room with no doors or windows.  Something moved outside, something huge and impossible and horrible.  Loud, hollow steps pounded all around the room and then something far too large to be real banged on the walls and floor and ceiling.  The walls began to tremble and he heard the crunch of breaking wood and the splintering groan of metal as one of the walls was pulled away and a great, black, clawed hand reached in for him.

 

He awoke in his bed at the Westerfield’s screaming.

 

*              *              *

 

“What’d you show him?” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“I don’t like those who talk back to me,” the man said.  “So, I showed him the truth.  Do you want to see?”

 

“Yeah,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

She suddenly saw the man become vast as the cosmos as his head burst forth a tentacle.  His onyx-black skin seemed to be part of the vastness of space but she was still disturbed by the terrible sight.  She suddenly vanished as well.

 

*              *              *

 

Dr. Weisswald woke up and heard Professor Stalloid scream somewhere else in the house.  She sat bolt up in bed and looked around.  Ophelia was not there but the covers were thrown back as if she had gotten up.  Jacali was asleep in her cot.  She tossed and turned.

 

She lay back down and felt something on the pillow.  It took her only a moment to realize it was a lock of hair. Her hair.  She found her hair felt strange.  Loose.  She heard a  name in her head.

 

Nyarlathotep.

 

*              *              *

 

“Oh,” the strange man said.  “How polite.”

 

He turned to Jacali.

 

“Do you?” he said.

 

“I’m fine,” she said.  “But I do have a question.”

 

“Ask and owe,” the man said.

 

“Even if it’s about …?”

 

“You’re cheating.  This is cheating, you know.”

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

“She is allowing you to cheat.  But I don’t mind … much.”

 

“Can I ask you what I can ask without owing?  Or can I ask you what I must know?”

 

“Just ask your question.  Stop trying to outthink me.  That way lies madness.  Even faster.”

 

“Are you an ally of the Elgers?”

 

The man laughed loudly.  It was not a pleasant sound and it came from deep in his gut.

 

“No,” he simply said.  “Are you?”

 

“No,” Jacali said.  “We are … trying to confront them.  What is the best way for us to … oust them from this place?”

 

The man drew in a breath through his teeth.

 

“Fire is often good at purifying,” he said.  “I know you mortals like your bullets.”

 

He made a gun out of his finger and thumb and pointed it.  He made a sound under his breath as he pantomimed firing it.

 

“Hey hey!” Jack West said.

 

“And, of course …” the man said.

 

He gestured towards the altar.

 

“She’s obviously not pleased,” he said.  “But I don’t have anything to do with that.  That’s Pharady and Roselle.  Their own plan in secret against me.  Or … not of my plans.  I don’t care for those kinds of sacrifices.  Children are much better.  Babies the best.  Or nothing.  It’s all the same.”

 

“So, you’d like it if we get rid of those two?” Jack West said.

 

“You’ve already asked your question,” the man said.  “So you can owe me twice.  Do as you will.  Do as you will.”

 

He looked them over again and his eyes landed on Miss Bloomberg.

 

“What of this one?” he said.   “The follower.  The secret-keeper.  The sly one!  What of you?  Ready to slip a knife in his back yet?  Or how about the police officer’s?  I can do much for you.  I like you.”

 

He looked at Otto again.

 

“Do you want to know my name or not?” he said with his humorless grin.

 

“No,” Otto said.  “I would like to know something else.”

 

“Hmm?  If it amuses me.  I’m growing bored.”

 

“In a similar vein to Jacali’s question, what do you want in exchange for information?”

 

“A favor.”

 

“But what favor?”

 

“Hm?  Whatever I decide.  I’ll let you know.”

 

“Am I cursed?”

 

The man grinned at him, apparently delighted with the question, and laughed.

 

“Very good!” he said.  “Very good!  Oh, I am delighted.”

 

He looked Otto in the eye.

 

“You’re not cursed, Otto,” the man said.  “Lambert Otto.  Well, you weren’t.  This …”

 

He pointed at Otto’s scar.

 

“… is merely a memento,” he went on.  “Although some are seeing things in you that they shouldn’t, and some are seeing things that they should.  Do you want to see in the house and what opposes you?  I’ll let you look in every room.”

 

“But what for?” Otto said.

 

“Why not?”

 

“Is there a cost attached to this?”

 

“No!  For free!  I’ll let you look in any room.  All of you, if you wish.  Well … every section.  The important things.  This is all but a fragment of unreality created by Bast to get her little professor, little professor, to save her little, tiny kitty-kitties.  But it’s also real.  So … would you like to look in places and see what you’re up against?”

 

“I would like to,” Jacali said.

 

“Sounds good to me,” Jack West said.

 

“Very well, where shall we start?” the man said.

 

He gestured towards the south wing, then to the floor of the north wing where they stood, and then he gestured up to the upper north wing.

 

“Oh!” he said.  “Or!  Or the most fun of all!”

 

He pointed towards the tower top where they could still see the weird, undulating light.

 

“What do you want to see?” he said.  “Choose wisely.”

 

“How about this Roy’s room?” Jack West said.

 

“Roy’s room?” the man said.  “Well, I can show what Roy is about.  Roy’s not here now.  None of them are.  They don’t dream about themselves.  Would you want to see what’s in that part of the house?”

 

“Yes,” Jack West said with a grimace.

 

“Aha!” the man said.

 

Without preamble or fanfare, the walls seemed to fade away so they could see through them.  They saw something in that section of the house, moving around in it’s terrible glory.  It was a glistening, shuddering wall of jelly-like ooze in which many mouths gaped and just as many eyes monstrously ogled.  The eyes were beyond words, but worse still were the mouths.  Sucking and whistling with thickly vicious lips, the mouths glistened and slobbered, and from out of those gluttonous orifices poured the lunatic chitterlings of alien song.

 

Jacali recognized it as Bugg-Shash.

 

She suddenly felt a terrible pain in her chest and numbness ran down her left arm for a moment.  But the feeling passed.  Then the walls of Elger House were suddenly back.  For a moment, she felt like her heart had stopped.  For a moment, she thought she was going to wake up.

 

“Wasn’t that delightful!” the man said.  “More?”

 

“Gross,” Jack West said.

 

“That’s two,” the man said to him.  “Or was it three?  We’ll say three.  Do you want to see more?”

 

“Favors,” Jack West said.

 

The man had turned away from him by then.  He looked at Jacali.

 

“You recognized him,” he said to her.  “But you won’t recognize … him.”

 

He looked up and the flapping of wings resounded through the house.  The shingles above them ratted and some fell from the rotten roof, crashing to the ground nearby.

 

“I have a vague understanding of what that is,” Otto said.

 

“No,” the man said.  “You have a vague knowledge of … his followers.  Not him.”

 

“Yeah, the little birds in the drawing,” Jack West said.  “Not the big bird.”

 

“The little birds!” the man hooted.  “Yes!  The little birds!  That little bird that followed you home!”

 

“Oh … God,” Jacali said.

 

She wanted to see though.  She wanted so badly to see.  She didn’t want to, but she spoke before she could stop herself.

 

“I want to see the bird,” she said.

 

“You want to see the bird?” he said.  “Very well.”

 

Otto looked away.

 

“No no no no!” the man said.

 

He reached over and pulled Otto’s chin up.

 

“It’s all for one and one for all,” he said.  “She wants to see the bird.”

 

It was as if the man was next to Jacali and had put a comforting hand upon her shoulder.  It was not comforting.

 

“I … I spoke a little quickly but I … uh … I … uh …” she said.

 

“You can owe me not to see the bird, then,” the man said.  “Yes, I like that.  That’s fair.”

 

“I …”

 

“Very good.  Is there anything else?”

 

“I … I’ll stick to my word.”

 

“It’s either way, you’ll owe me.”

 

“I’m … I’m confused.”

 

“Do you wish to see the bird or not?”

 

“The owing rules are a little confusing,” Jack West said.

 

“Aren’t all … owings … a little confusing?” the man said.

 

“I wish there was more information about it,” Jack West said.

 

“I have a request,” Otto said.

 

“Joy!” the man said.

 

“I actually want to know your name,” Otto said.

 

“Then you can owe me again, Lambert Otto,” the man said.  “For you speak to Nyarlathotep, the crawling chaos, he of a thousand masks!”

 

He got into Otto’s face though he also hadn’t moved.  As he seemed to lean forward, his teeth seemed to sharpen of their own accord and his grin grew and grew and grew.

 

And then they all woke up.

 

*              *              *

 

Jacali gasped and opened her eyes, looking around in terror.  She thought she’d heard someone scream. 

 

*              *              *

 

Both Jack West and Otto awoke at the same time.

 

“That was strange,” Jack West said.

 

They heard the echo of someone scream.

 

“At least we know which room Roy’s is,” Jack West said.

 

Otto felt himself all over but seemed to be fine.  He thought he heard someone moving furniture somewhere nearby.  He got up.

 

Jack West rolled over and went back to sleep.

 

*              *              *

 

Professor Stalloid had leapt up from the bed and grabbed the dresser, dragging it to the door to barricade it shut.

 

There was a knock on the door. He stopped moving.

 

“Stalloid?” Otto’s voice called.

 

“I don’t owe you anything!” Professor Stalloid said.  “Stay away!”

 

“I didn’t know you owed me anything.”

 

“I know who you are!  You tried to trick me!”

 

“It’s Otto.”

 

“Yeah.  Yeah.  He knew your name in there too!”

 

He took the mattress off the bed and placed it against the window, blocking it as best he could.

 

*              *              *

 

Out in the hall, the door across the hall from the steps opened up.  Paul Westerfield peeked out.

 

“What is going on out here?” he said.

 

Otto stammered and stuttered.

 

“I think Stalloid had a night terror,” he finally said.

 

Paul frowned.

 

“He’s a grown man,”  he said.  “If he had a nightmare, he’ll go back to sleep.”

 

“He’s panicking,” Otto said.

 

Paul shushed him.

 

“He’s fine,” he said.

 

The door closed again.

 

*              *              *

 

Ophelia came out of the bathroom and looked at Otto.

 

“Ophelia!” he hissed.

 

She walked over to the man and looked at him with cold eyes.

 

“What?” she said.

 

“Nyarlanhodep─” he said.

 

“Why are you being so loud out here?”

 

“Down in the parlor.  Please.”

 

She sighed and followed him down to the parlor.

 

“Nyarlanhodep?” Otto said.

 

“What?” she replied.

 

“We all had a dream.  He said Mask of a Thousand …”

 

“Have you been drinking?”

 

“No.”

 

“Maybe you should start.”

 

“Go ask … go ask … Jacali.  She’ll back me up.”

 

She gave him a doubtful frown and then went back upstairs.

 

*              *              *

 

Jacali sat on the edge of the cot and stared into space.  Dr. Weisswald kept feeling her hair.  Bits and pieces of it were coming out. 

 

“Did he tell you anything?” Dr. Weisswald said.  “Did he show you … did he show you something?”

 

“I saw … Mr. Bugg-Shash,” Jacali said.

 

“Bugg-Shash?”

 

“Yeah, it was the worst thing I’ve ever seen.  There were eyes as far as I can see.  That thing you showed me: gelatin?  He looked like that but there were mouths in it and it just kept talking and talking and talking …”

 

“Did he show you anything else?”

 

“He said his name.”

 

“What was his name?”

 

“I feel like it might be a shame to repeat it, but I can write it down, I think.”

 

They lit and candle and Jacali wrote down the name “Nyarlathotep” on a piece of paper and handed it to the doctor.

 

Ophelia entered the room and looked at each of them in the dim light.  She closed the door behind her. 

 

They didn’t get any more sleep that night.

 

*              *              *

 

Downstairs, Otto stoked the fire once again.  It was about 5 a.m.  He wasn’t going to get back to sleep.

 

*              *              *

 

The morning of Wednesday, December 29, saw several shaken people coming down for breakfast.  Otto was still in the living room, watching the fire.  They all shared a strangely quiet breakfast.  Then they all met in the living room once Paul had gone to work with Albert and Jane was in the kitchen, helping Tilda.

 

They talked about the strange things they’d seen in the terrible dream.  Jacali felt like she almost knew the name of the thing on the second floor that flapped and seemed to seek to escape from the house.

 

Otto suggested they burn the house down but Dr. Weisswald noted they needed to recover the books.  Otto didn’t really care, he said.  He wanted to burn it down.  Professor Stalloid agreed with that assessment.  Dr. Weisswald wanted to get the books first but Professor Stalloid thought the books were bad and wanted to merely burn down the house.  He noted they had to save the cats first.

 

There was talk about waking up the old women: Pharady and Roselle.

 

“Are you sure the wolf people were doing bad things to the cats?” Jack West asked.

 

“Yeah, but they’re sleepers,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

He thought back to his original dream with the cat, the one he had night after night.  The message he’d received was “The wolf is widespread and hurts my mistress’ children.  As does it’s 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.”  He thought it referred to the cat in the basement in Falls Run.

 

“Maybe it’s a double hint and the sleepers are on our side,” Professor Stalloid said.  “So, wake the sleepers.”

 

“All right, we have three goals─” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“Plus, they’re the only people in the house that we saw,” Professor Stalloid said.  “And Nyarlathotep said that the other people don’t dream any more or something.”

 

“About themselves,” Jacali said.

 

“Yeah,” Professor Stalloid said.  “So … we should wake the sleepers.  And we should talk to Albert.”

 

“Well, also we could wait and see if they go back to Table Rock because that’d be fewer numbers in the house,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“Maybe they cycle days of worship,” Jack West said.

 

“Maybe they sleep during the days because they’re up all night,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

They discussed what to do.  Jack West thought they should talk to Albert.  He wondered aloud if Bucky Elger knew where the books were.

 

Dr. Weisswald suggested a distraction so the Elgers would leave the house.  Jack West noted they might come out full force.  Jacali said that would mean the fighters were out of the house.  Jack West thought their gunmen should split up, one outside and one inside.  When Dr. Weisswald asked who the gunmen were, he pointed out himself and Otto.  He suggested Otto as the distraction as he had the long gun.  Jacali suggested they both be the distraction, with Otto behind Jack West.  She remembered they were splitting the two up, but she suggested doing it that way with her and Ophelia in the house.  She noted she had a bow and Ophelia had magic.  Dr. Weisswald said Stalloid had a lightning gun, which was very distracting.

 

There was talk of  Professor Stalloid being there, though he was against it.  Jacali suggested using the lightning gun to set the house aflame.  Professor Stalloid was still of the opinion he should research old newspapers while they were assaulting the house.  Jack West said he could take the lightning gun if need be.

 

“It sounds like you don’t want to be a part of this in any way, Stalloid,” Jacali said.

 

“Raid on the house?” Professor Stalloid said.  “No.”

 

When pressed, he was unsure if he wanted to be a part of the whole situation.  Jack West suggested he shoot the lightning gun twice in the general direction of the house, though not hit it, getting the attention of everyone in the house.  Then Stalloid could run away.

 

“From wolves!” Otto said.

 

“While I try to keep ‘em at bay,” Jack West said.  “While he tries to keep ‘em off me.”

 

Professor Stalloid suggested borrowing a horse and carriage to aid in their escape.  Otto wanted a horse as well.  They talked of renting horses.  Jack West said he was perfectly fine risking someone else’s horse.  He suggested they use dynamite on Table Rock and Jacali pointed out that could be the distraction.  She suggested dynamiting Table Rock and then when the Elgers went to investigate, they would raid the house, trying to find the hidden library in Roy’s room.

 

It was decided that Jack West, Otto, and Professor Stalloid would go to Table Rock and act as the distraction.  That would leave the women, or females counting Ophelia, to enter the house.  Jack West pointed out Miss Bloomberg was good with locks.

 

They discussed when they should assault the house and it was eventually decided they would do everything at twilight.  They figured if the Elgers were already out there, they couldn’t blow up Table Rock.  Jacali pointed out they needed to be out there before the Elgers were.  Jack West suggested burying the explosives around Table Rock with a long fuse.  He could light it and it would destroy them while they were chanting.

 

Otto asked if they wanted to get the law involved.  They only discussed it a little bit but, in the end, decided not to involve the police or sheriff in their assault.

 

There was talk of getting a very long fuse for the dynamite.  Then the men could light the fuse and return to the women so they could all enter the house together.  Otto pointed out they might put out the fuse but Jack West assured him he could cover it up with snow and it wouldn’t be seen.  Otto was doubtful.  Jacali said they could do it early enough in the day so they wouldn’t have time to get up there.

 

The plan was, in essence: blow up Table Rock, enter the house while most of the Elgers went to investigate the explosion, find the library and take the books, free the cats, wake the sleepers, and flee

 

Miss Bloomberg asked how they would save the cats.  Dr. Weisswald said to simply open a window and throw them out of it.  Jacali thought the cats might be dead.  Professor Stalloid pointed out if they could save the cats, good.  If not …

 

*              *              *

 

They spent the rest of the morning preparing themselves.  Jack West bought two crates of dynamite from two different stores.  He also found a bandoleer he could use for his pistol bullets.  It was large enough he could actually wear it over the huge leather poncho he always wore.  He also bought a great deal of fuse; the owner of the store had to send to other stores in the city to get enough, actually.

 

They rented three horses.  They also bought enough kerosene to fill four bottles, planning to stick pieces of cloth into them to make fire bombs.  Professor Stalloid planned to carry two and Dr. Weisswald planned to carry two.

 

*              *              *

 

They left Wheeling that afternoon, going up Cherry Hill Road and arriving at the area of the Elger House an hour or so before sundown.  Dr. Weisswald, Jacali, Miss Bloomberg, and Ophelia found a hiding place along the road where they could observe Elger House without, hopefully, being seen, picking a spot a little southwest of the house.  They couldn’t see Table Rock from there, the house hiding it, but guessed they would hear the explosion as their signal.  The men noted the spot and continued on.

 

*              *              *

 

The men rode on up Cherry Hill Road until they reached the place where Table Rock was nearest to it.  They crept up to the rock, leaving the three horses tied up on the road below.  No one was around.

 

Jack West planted the dynamite all around the area of Table Rock along with putting several sticks up against the rock.  He set the fuses from the individual sticks in such a way, he hoped, that they would all go up at once.  He covered the dynamite with snow all around and piled up some against the rock as well.

 

He dug a trench down to the road, which took some time in the gathering twilight.

 

Otto and Professor Stalloid both kept watch.  While Jack West was laying the trench, they noticed two people coming from the house and walking towards Table Rock.  Professor Stalloid signaled to Otto and the two met on the side of Table Rock where those approaching couldn’t see them.

 

“Do we distract them and try to buy time for Jack?” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“How do we distract them?” Otto said.

 

“You’re a marshal.”

 

“I’m trespassing here.”

 

“Ask them again if you can look for thief you were looking for.”

 

“They didn’t believe me the first time!”

 

“That was a different person.  That might’ve been a different person.  We still need to buy time for Jack.”

 

“But it’s going to be obvious─”

 

“I know!  They might not see him if we stop them before they get up here.”

 

“If these people live, they’re going to blame us for blowing up this place.”

 

“Okay, but we still need to do something, so let’s do it, lawman.”

 

“I’m not breaking the law!”

 

“We’re not by talking to them!”

 

“We are by blowing up the rock!”

 

“I have a camera.  We’ll tell them I’m photographing the rock for a magazine!”

 

“Go to it, cameraman!”

 

“You come with!  Regardless of anything, we have to distract!”

 

“You go distract them.”

 

“So, you’re sending me, alone, knowing they could shoot me down?”

 

“Fine!  Go!”

 

“With!”

 

“Go!”

 

Professor Stalloid started to head that way.  Otto didn’t move. Professor Stalloid returned and punched the man in the arm.

 

“Clayton Pierce would be very sad with you,” Professor Stalloid said.  “Coward.”

 

Otto followed him down the hill.  They soon realized there were two women approaching.  One of them held a cleaver in her hand.  The other was one of the women who had been sleeping in the room they had dreamt about.

 

“I’ll let you do this,” Otto said as they approached the woman.

 

*              *              *

 

Jack West was ready to start laying the fuse.  He went to the horses and got the two large coils of fuse, putting them across this shoulder.  When he looked up at Table Rock, the other two were gone.  He looked around.

 

*              *              *

 

The women looked angry.

 

“Good day, madams!” Professor Stalloid called.

 

“Who the hell are you?” the woman with the cleaver asked.

 

“I’m a surveyor of oddities, working for the government.”

 

“You’re in the wrong place.  You’re on private property.  You best get outta here.”

 

“They hired me to go look at natural wonders.”

 

“Did I ask?  You best go.”

 

“This is government land.”

 

“It’s not.  It’s private property.  You got ‘til the count of three.”

 

Professor Stalloid noted that though it was private property, the government could go where they wanted to go.

 

“Don’t care,” the woman said.  “Get off.”

 

“You’re making a very good point,” Professor Stalloid said.  “Okay.  I guess we’ll head back to town.”

 

He and Otto started to head off in a perpendicular course to the way they had come.

 

“I guess I’ll come back with a lot more surveyors and the proper documents so that there will be more people sniffing around,” he said.

 

“You do that,” the woman said.

 

“Okay, we just wanted to take a quick picture,” he said.

 

They walked away as the woman watched them, muttering to each other.  Then Professor Stalloid had horrible visions in his mind, terrible feelings.  But it quickly passed.  One of them laughed and the other told her to shut up.  Otto stopped, turned around, and looked at the old hags.  The woman with the cleaver started cursing and saying horrible things.  She was infuriated.

 

“I said get outta here!” she screeched.

 

The men turned and they headed away.

 

*              *              *

 

Jack West cut some four feet of fuse and headed cautiously up the hill towards Table Rock.  He was the wind, the night.  The crunching noise every step he took was just a coincidence.  The jingling of his spurs was obviously not loud enough for anyone to hear.

 

He was about halfway back from the road when he saw two women crest the hill where Table Rock stood.  They were old and decrepit-looking and one had a cleaver in her hand.  They looked around Table Rock as if searching for something.  They had not yet noticed him.

 

He crept to the one of the nearby trees and hid behind it.  The women continued to walk around Table Rock, looking around it.

 

He crept forward again, trying to be as quiet as possible.  He crept up close to them as they muttered to themselves and each other in the twilight.  He got to within about 15  yards when one of them nudged the other and pointed down the hill off to his right.  He followed their gaze and saw Professor Stalloid and Otto, hundreds of yards away, walking towards the road.

 

Then one of the women pointed down towards him.  For a moment, he thought they’d seen him but he had ducked behind a log and realized they were pointing down at the horses tied up to a tree by the road.  Then they looked at Otto and Professor Stalloid and looked back down at the horses.

 

Jack West aimed at the woman with the cleaver and shot her.  The bullet struck the woman in the eye and the back of her head flew off.  She fall backwards, crashing against the rock and fell to the ground.  The other woman saw him and the puff of smoke his pistol discharged.  She whipped out a pistol of her own, screaming at the top of her lungs, and closed with him, opening fire, completely missing the man.

 

*              *              *

 

Otto and Professor Stalloid heard two gunshots behind them, and screaming.  Professor Stalloid started running towards the road more quickly.  Otto ran after him.

 

*              *              *

 

In their hiding place, Dr. Weisswald, Jacali, Miss Bloomberg, and Ophelia heard two gunshots in quick succession.

 

“That doesn’t sound like an explosion,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“It certainly will be a distraction,” Jacali said.

 

“Jack West has ruined everything, hasn’t he?” Ophelia said.

 

Jacali moved slightly from their cover to keep a better eye on the house.

 

They heard another gunshot.  Dr. Weisswald thought she heard a woman screaming from very, very far away.

 

*              *              *

 

“Bad move!” Jack West said.

 

He rushed the screaming woman and shoved the pistol against her before he shot her.  She shrieked as she fell to the ground, the bullet cutting across her scalp.  She twitched but lay still.

 

He ran to Table Rock.

 

“You wanna do something, you gotta do it yourself!” he muttered.

 

*              *              *

 

There was another shot fired from behind Otto and Professor Stalloid.  They ran as hard as they could to the road.

 

*              *              *

 

Jack West quickly hooked up the four-foot long fuse to the spot where he had planned to attach the longer fuse.  He lit the fuse and ran down towards the horses as fast as he could.  He flew down the hill like he had wings, not stopping until he reached the horses several hundred yards away.  There hadn’t been an explosion.  He didn’t know how long it had been, exactly.  Did it not go off?  Was it about to go off?  Was he far enough away?

 

“****,” he said to himself.  “We can do this later.”

 

He headed up the hill towards Table Rock.

 

*              *              *

 

As Jacali watched the house, one of the front doors opened up and a man came out.  He had long dark hair and a beard and mustache.  His mouth was pulled up on the left side as if he was scarred, damaging the lip.  He looked towards the north side of the house and seemed to listen but it was silent by then.  He looked up at the tower and then hitched his pants up and headed back into the house.

 

A few moments later, a couple of old women, a younger woman, and an old man came out of a porch on the front of the north wing.  The man was bald and carried some kind of rifle or blunderbuss.  The youngest woman had a baseball bat.  They immediately went around the side of the house in the direction of table rock.

 

*              *              *

 

When Professor Stalloid and Otto reached the road, Otto saw Jack West walking up towards Table Rock.  He hesitated as Professor Stalloid started to move down the road towards the where they were supposed to meet the women.

 

“If you want to go back … I’m not good in a firefight,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

Otto looked around and found a hiding spot while Professor Stalloid ran down the road to where they were supposed to meet the women.

 

*              *              *

 

“We know some people are heading to Table Rock,” Jacali said.  “I think we should take a chance and try to get inside the house.  Do y’all agree?  Or do you think we should wait?”

 

“Let’s wait a little bit longer,” Dr. Weisswald said.  “Because we’re all supposed to go together.  And there was a big distraction.”

 

A minute or two later, she and Miss Bloomberg saw, for the briefest instant, a figure up in the uppermost level of the tower.  It was an open area all around with a roof above it.  The figure appeared for only a moment before disappearing, presumably heading towards the far side of the tower.

 

Dr. Weisswald told them of the figure.

 

“Does that mean he’s about to cast some horrible black magic or summon something to them?” Jacali said.  “If this is about to get dangerous, we might need to get in there, is what I’m worried about.”

 

She looked at all of them.

 

“I know we’re not all together but … if we don’t … maybe us burning down the house could be the secondary distraction that saves them,” Jacali  said.  “Maybe we need to get up to that tower and kill Roy before he can summon anything.  Maybe we need to divert enough attention.  Maybe they’re already dead and … we’re going to not help anybody by waiting.  I don’t know.  I’m just worried about a lot of things.  I don’t want to do anything that’s not a group decision …”

 

“I’m just worried if they come back down here and we’re not here,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

They looked at each other.

 

“Oh!” Dr. Weisswald said.  “We could write in the snow.”

 

They quickly drew an arrow and wrote “to house” in the snow.  They headed up towards the south side of the house.

 

*              *              *

 

Jack West arrived at Table Rock and saw the old woman twitching and gasping for breath, unconscious.  He saw where the fuse that he’d attached to the other fuses had not caught on when he had attached it in a makeshift manner.  He wrapped a load of fuse, making a wad the size of his head around the fuses to the other explosives.  He nudged the wad up against one of the pieces of dynamite.

 

As he worked he noticed a group of dark figures coming from the house.  It appeared to be four women and a man.  The man appeared to be armed with a shotgun.

 

He lit another fuse some four or five feel long that led to the wad and then ran down the hill again, looking desperately for a hiding place.  He got to the horses but nothing happened.

 

He headed back up the hill.

 

*              *              *

 

Otto had watched Jack West go back up the hill, fiddle around Table Rock for a time, and then run back down to the horses.  After a couple of minutes, he started slogging back up the hill again, obviously getting tired.

 

“And they call me incompetent,” Otto muttered to himself.

 

*              *              *

 

Dr. Weisswald, Jacali, Miss Bloomberg, and Ophelia reached the south side of Elger House.  There was a porch there that wrapped around that side of the structure, it’s roof leaning oddly and covered with snow.  Windows that looked out upon it from within were mostly devoid of glass and boarded up.  Only a few panes remained.  A little smoke trickled from the various chimneys on the roof.  It was starting to get dark, the western sky only faintly red while the eastern sky was a dark purple.  They thought they heard animals, especially the clucking of chickens.

 

“I feel like Roy’s room would be up on the second floor,” Dr. Weisswald whispered.  “I think Roy’s room is around her.  If not, we’ll abandoned the plan and go save the cats.”

 

“Right,” Jacali whispered.  “Either way, we don’t want to go in with the animals and cause a ruckus.”

 

Dr. Weisswald and Miss Bloomberg gave a leg up to Jacali and the woman still had a terrible time getting up to the roof of the porch.  The shingles kept coming away in her hands and she cursed under her breath.  Then she got hold and she pulled herself up on the roof, knocking shingles, dirt, and moss down on them.  She crawled through the snow until she could crouch by the edge of the porch roof.  She saw a pair of darkened windows near her and some light flickered in the bay windows nearby.

 

She leaned over to give a hand to the others.  Ophelia was next but also had difficulty getting up onto the porch roof.

 

“Why are we climbing …?” she muttered.

 

She drew her pistol, cocked it and looked around.  They got Dr. Weisswald up after only a few moments and, when they turned to help Miss Bloomberg up, they found she had already shimmied up onto the roof by herself.

 

“Why didn’t she go first?” Dr. Weisswald whispered.

 

Snow muted their footsteps across the porch roof where they peered into the bedroom.  It was dirty and unkempt.  A woman sat at a vanity that had a dingy mirror.  She had a wooden brush and was brushing her blonde hair.  She was pretty but wore shabby clothing.  A large bed stood against the outer wall.  A single candle burned on the vanity and light from the fireplace also helped light the room.

 

They moved to the dark windows where they first climbed up and found one that was completely dark to be latched shut.  They peered into the other and saw, through one of the last remaining panes, what looked like an unused dressing room.  A little light spilled from the bedroom they’d seen before.

 

“Jane, can you unlock this window?” Jacali said.

 

The woman examined the window and then took out a piece of wire.  She put it between the sashes and fiddled with it for a few moments before she slid up the sash with a grinding rattle.

 

“That is amazing,” Jacali whispered.

 

The room appeared to  be a nasty bathroom though it was very dark.  They could make out the tub and an earth toilet on one side.  The door directly across from the window was slightly ajar.

 

“Who’s taking point?” Jacali whispered.  “It could be our stealthiest member.”

 

Miss Bloomberg moved to the door.

 

“Listen,” Jacali hissed.  “Listen!  If you see anybody up ahead, let us know and we can take them out if they’re a danger, but you have the best chance of not being seen.”

 

Jacali followed behind Miss Bloomberg, who moved to the partially opened door and peeked out.  A corridor ran to her left and right and an archway opened up ahead onto what appeared to be a gallery or balcony.  She thought there might be steps leading down from it.  She could hear animals down in the hall out there.  It smelled like a barn.  But under it all was a smell like rotten meat.  A few flies buzzed around the chilly room.

 

She crept into the hallway and could just make out a door to her left and more doors along the right wall of the hallway to her right, across from a larger archway.  Someone was singing “Oh my darling” somewhere.  It looked like there was a door at the far end of the hallway to the right as well.

 

*              *              *

 

Jack West reached Table Rock once again and found the wad had apparently snuffed the fuse out.

 

“Hm,” he said.  “Hm.”

 

He could see the people approaching from the house were still coming.  He took out one of the pieces of dynamite and stuck it where he could easily see it and then went down some 30 yards from Table Rock, turned, aimed at the stick, and shot it.  He hit it and the stick disappeared into the snow.  It did not explode.

 

He frowned.

 

He went back up to the crest where Table Rock stood and peered down.  The people who were coming had obviously heard the gunfire and were coming directly towards Table Rock.  He recognized three women and a man.  Two of the women looked old while the third was younger with dark hair and a club in her hand.  The man was completely bald and had a short-barreled, one-shot shotgun unlike anything he’d ever seen before.

 

He waited for them.

 

*              *              *

 

Professor Stalloid had run down the road towards where the women had been concealed before.  He heard a single gunshot at one point from far away but didn’t slow his pace until he reached the place he had left them.  They weren’t there.  However, he saw an arrow drawn in the snow pointing towards the house with “to house.”

 

He looked up at the house and didn’t see anything out of place.

 

When he tried to figure out what to do, he heard “Save the cats” in his head.  A shiver went down his spine.  Just for a moment, he flashed back to his dream and the house seemed to tremble.

 

He walked towards the decrepit house.

 

*              *              *

 

Miss Bloomberg was standing in the hallway when she heard footsteps coming from the gallery somewhere but didn’t see anyone.  They were moving at a quick pace.  She quickly stumbled back into the bathroom and shoved the door most of the way closed behind her with a creak.

 

“Fay!  Cleft!  Hepsibah!  Israel!  Methusalah!  Mordecai!” a man’s gruff voice called out.  “There’s some problem at Table Rock!”

 

A figure passed by the doorway, kicking the door as he passed, which sent it shuddering, rattling in the frame.  It struck Miss Bloomberg.  They could hear movement from other parts of the house.  Jacali aimed the arrow in her bow at the door.

 

“God damn it, Nebuchanezzar!” the man yelled.  “Make yourself useful!”

 

He walked past, going to their right up the corridor.  They heard doors opening from other bedrooms.

 

“Get yer guns!” the man shouted.  “Get all yer guns!”

 

It was quiet except for the sound of people moving all around.  They heard movement from the chamber just to the left of the bathroom as well as other places in the house.

 

*              *              *

 

Otto watched Jack West just crouching by Table Rock.  He left his hiding place and ran for the horses.  When he got to the horses, he untied one and mounted it.

 

*              *              *

 

Jack West saw movement out of the corner of his eye and spotted Otto running down the road towards the horses.  The people were still approaching, following the path the other two women left in the snow.  He took out his magnetic pistol and waited until he had a good shot.

 

*              *              *

 

When Professor Stalloid reached the southwest corner of the house, he could hear people inside moving around and some muffled, garbled speech, though he could not make out what was happening.  He hid by the side of the building, terrified.

 

*              *              *

 

In the bathroom, the women heard the footsteps of several men stomping down the stairs and the animals below were disturbed by the ruckus obviously. 

 

“C’n I go, pa?” they heard a young boy say somewhere nearby.

 

“God damn it, Bucky!” the man said.

 

There was a loud slap.

 

“You’re gonna stay here and guard the fort,” the man said.

 

“Okay,” the boy said.

 

There was no pain in voice at all.

 

More footsteps came down the hall and the man appeared in the gallery and went down the steps, a rifle in his hand and a pistol shoved into the back of his belt.  He was pulling on a coat, one-handed.  The blonde woman came right behind him, a Navy pistol in her hand.

 

*              *              *

 

Outside, Professor Stalloid heard the creak of the front door.  Several men came out of the house and tromped out and headed up along the front of the house away from him.  He watched them go.

 

*              *              *

 

“Now might be our time get around,” Jacali whispered.

 

“Bucky hasn’t left though,” Dr. Weisswald whispered.

 

“True.  We could just try to give that room a wide berth.”

 

“Yep.”

 

“Although I would hate to have to engage with him.  Maybe he could … we heard that man slap him.  Maybe he could be talked to.  But …”

 

“I think that’s more of a last resort though.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Let’s find the books.  Find the cats.  Let’s go.”

 

They pressed out into the passageway, which went left and right, further to the right.  The door to their left was wide open as was the one at the other end of the corridor.  It was very cold in the hallway.

 

Jacali suggested they start looking in rooms and they headed to the left where there was a room that was warmer than the hallway.  There was a low fire in the fireplace.  There was a bed and it stank of someone living there.  Another door beyond the fireplace led to a small, messy dressing room.  A quick search of the dressing room found nothing.  Returning to the main room, they saw a rat scamper under the bed.  Dirty men’s clothing was in the dresser.  They returned to the corridor.

 

They continued up the hallway and found the next door led in the direction of the lit room Jacali had looked in before.  Dr. Weisswald listened at the door.  Then she and Jacali heard gunfire from somewhere far outside the house.  Some of the shots were accompanied by a piercing whine.

 

*              *              *

 

Otto rode his horse up the hill to Jack West, who turned to look at him.  He gestured at the man to stay down.  Otto dismounted and crouch-walked up the hill until he was within a dozen yards.

 

“What are you doing?” Otto hissed.

 

“Well, we gotta distract ‘em,” Jack West whispered.  “This is gonna be a good way because the stupid explosives are not working.  We’re going to have to set it on fire later.  And that’ll set ‘em off.”

 

“Do you want to get outta here?  I got a horse.”

 

“We got guns!”

 

“Well, they got guns too.”

 

“I only see one gun.  But I see two unarmed women.”

 

“Probably one of those … one of those … Ophelia types.”

 

“Tell you what: I’ll get the women.  You get the guy.”

 

Jack West peered past Table Rock.  The people had stopped some 30 yards away.

 

“Wait for me to shoot,” he said.

 

Then he popped out and fired at them, fanning his pistol.  The first bullet struck the overweight woman in the chest.  The second struck the an old woman he recognized as one of the women sleeping in his dream in the arm.  The last bullet struck the younger woman with the club in the chest.  Only she fell.  Each shot was accompanied by a high-pitched whine.

 

Otto rushed up to the crest of the ridge and fired at the man with the blunderbuss but missed completely.

 

The overweight woman started shrieking and screaming at the men.  She pointed at both men, closing one eye and yelling something at them they couldn’t understand.  The man with the blunderbuss also sought cover behind some fallen trees.  The last old woman ducked for cover behind a mound.

 

The heavyset woman looked around for cover as Jack West aimed and fired at her.  There was a click as the hammer of his pistol came down on a dud bullet.  Otto worked the action on his rifle and fired but nothing happened.  It was a dud bullet.  He worked the action on his Winchester rifle again.

 

It jammed.

 

The old woman cackled like a madwoman and ran to cover, hiding from sight.

 

They had no targets.

 

Jack West stood up and looked about. 

 

“I’m going to the horses,” Otto hissed.

 

He headed back down the hill towards the horse.

 

Jack West took cover again and loaded two bullets into his pistol.

 

*              *              *

 

Professor Stalloid heard gunfire again, very far away.  Some of the shots were accompanied by a high-pitched whine like he’d heard in Falls Run that night.

 

*              *              *

 

The women moved up the corridor and reached an archway that led to a short hallway with a door at the end, light coming out from under it.  They crept on up the hallway to another door on that same wall.  They finally went to the open door at the end.  It was another warm bedroom with a fire on the hearth.  Two nasty beds were in the probably once-elegant room.  The sheets were stained with sweat.  Another door led back in the direction of the last door they had bypassed.

 

“How are we supposed to find a library in this place?” Jacali whispered.  “Well …”

 

“I don’t see any books,” Dr. Weisswald whispered.  “Let’s check another room.”

 

They crept back and looked out into the darkening main hall where the animals were.  They saw another passage that ran along the front of the house.  They quietly discussed where they might go.  Jacali thought it risky to go into the room where Bucky was.

 

They headed towards the front of the house again and crept to the passage there.  They almost immediately came upon a set of steps going up and down, probably the interior of the tower on the front of the house.  The  door just beyond the tower seemed to be where an old man was badly singing.  Candlelight flickered under the door.

 

“Jimmy crack corn and I don’t care,” the old man sang.  “Roy can bite … my derriere.  Son of a bitch.  Son of a bitch.”

 

They crept up the stone steps which led to a door and continued up into the tower as well.  They pushed open the door.  It was dark and cold in the room beyond.  Jacali lit a lantern and realized the entire third floor was one huge room: an attic that was practically empty.  Debris was in the area but, in the light of the lantern to their right, it appeared a small house stood.  A small cabin was there, complete with a shingled peaked roof.  There were no windows in the building and it had a solid-looking door with a sliding door peephole.  There was also a narrow flap on the base of the door.  A dim light came from under the door.

 

They looked up to the high-arched roofs and could see stars through the broken and missing shingles of the roof of the house.

 

They went to the tiny house and saw it was built solidly but not well.

 

“This has got to be something, right?” Jacali said.  “Do you want to try to open the door?”

 

“It looks like the type of thing they’re storing something in!” Miss Bloomberg said.  “Like an animal!”

 

The door had a heavy bolt on the front but no lock.  They thought they could easily open it.

 

“This is definitely where they keep something,” Miss Bloomberg whispered, her voice cracking with nervousness.

 

Jacali reached to open the sliding peephole.  She hesitated when she thought she heard a child singing.

 

*              *              *

 

Otto mounted his horse once again.

 

At the crest of the mountain, Jack West looked around and, when he didn’t see anything, he backed down the hill, reloading more bullets.  He watched the top of the hill for pursuit, his gun ready.

 

“Get on the horse, Jack,” Otto said.  “I think we’ve had our distraction and we need to get out of here.”

 

“But we gotta keep ‘em here,” Jack said, watching the top of the rise.

 

He spotted the old man, who pointed at him and said something as he did so.

 

“Die,” Jack West muttered.

 

He shot the old man in the throat and the man fell backwards without a word.  But Jack West saw horrible things in his mind.  He screamed, dropped his pistol, and turned to run down the hill in blind panic.  Otto dismounted, grabbed the pistol, and mounted once again.  He looked back and saw two old women standing near Table Rock, peeking around it at him.

 

“You’re cursed!” one of them shrieked.  “You’re cursed!”

 

One of them fired at him with a tiny pistol but he guessed they were far out of range.  He turned the horse and headed down the hill after Jack West at a gallop, catching up to the man quickly.  He offered the man his gun back.

 

“Thank you!” Jack West said too loudly.

 

“Let’s just get out of here, Jack,” Otto said.

 

“As long as they keep chasing up then it’s fine,” Jack West said.

 

He looked up the hill to see the two women retreat out of sight again.

 

“Honestly, we might should ride up at them,” Jack West said.  “Because we’ve got to make sure they have enough time at the house.”

 

“We don’t know if there’s anyone from the house coming to help after all that gunfire,” Otto said.

 

“You mean like more of ‘em?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Well, that’s better.  Gives ‘em more time to search.”

 

“But that decreases our odds of actually living through this.”

 

“That’s if they can land a shot.”

 

“Our guns aren’t working, obviously.”

 

“No no no no no.  Mine are working fine.”

 

“Well, I haven’t been able to hit anything.”

 

“We need to hold our ground as long as we can.  Then we can leave.  Once I see a few more faces, then we can leave.”

 

“I’m staying on the horse.”

 

“It’s fine by me.”

 

Jack West headed to the left of Table Rock, heading back for the ridge.  Otto headed off to the right, trying to flank around a ways away from the Table Rock.

 

*              *              *

 

Professor Stalloid crept along the front of the house carefully.  He had heard the distant gunfire and strange whistling noises not long after the men had left the house.  He thought he heard someone singing somewhere in the house.  He was relieved when he passed the front doors and was able to get to the building wall once again.  As he moved further towards the window he wanted, he passed a bay window that was intact and stuck out from the house. 

 

He heard  a soft noise.  He peered at the window and saw a dirty child standing in the window, obviously on something, perhaps a window seat.  The window was intact and open an inch or so.  The boy wore a formless hat and dirty clothing.  His face was also dirty and he stared at the man.

 

“Oh, hi Bucky,” he said.

 

“You’re gonna die,” the boy sang in an odd sing-song voice.

 

“We all are.”

 

“You’re gonna die.”

 

Professor Stalloid thought there might have been more than one child singing.

 

He crept away from the window and out of sight of it.  He spotted the window he recognized from his dream.   He carefully lit his lantern and looked into the room.

 

*              *              *

 

Jacali pulled back the slider on the peephole and looked in.  The room was filthy, as if it had never been cleaned.  A small bed was in the far corner and in the other was a tiny table and chair with a guttered candle atop it.  She smelled animal fat, urine, and sweat.  A man sat hunched over at the tiny table.  He had thick gray hair and shriveled skin but was heavyset, though not in a healthy way.  He was old and decrepit, with pasty white skin.  He turned slowly to squint at the peephole.  Jacali squeaked in terror.

 

“Hello, sir,” she said.

 

“Who is that … lookin’ in my house?” the old man said.  “Who’s out there?  It’s hard fer an old man t’ see.”

 

His chair scraped against the floor as he pushed it back to get up from his sad little table where a plate of something, Jacali couldn’t tell what, sat.  He seemed short, as he hunched over and she could see his hair was slicked back with grease.  His face was pockmarked and sickly.  He walked unsteadily towards the door.

 

“You wouldn’t happen to be a librarian, would you?” Jacali said.

 

“Mayhap,” the old man said.  “Who’s there?  Who’s a knockin’?  Who’s a knockin’ at m’ door?  Knock.  Knock.  Knock.”

 

He got to the door as Jacali leaned back from the peephole.  He leaned close, sticking his face close to the hole so he could see out.  Jacali leaned back as far as she could.

 

“Why there’s beautiful ladies here for me,” the old man practically cackled.  “I had … wanted a library once.  But I couldn’t find it.”

 

He put his hands in the peephole slot so the fingers stuck out.  His fingernails were long and gnarled.  His hands looked disgusting.

 

“Who’re you?” he said.  “Are you lettin’ me out?”

 

“Uh,” Jacali said.

 

“I can’t reach.  I can’t reach the latch.  You could let me out, though.”

 

“So, you said you couldn’t find the library?”

 

“I looked … until that bastard Roy locked me up, up here.  I was looking.  I might’ve been close.  I’m betting it’s in his room somewhere.”

 

“Could you tell us where his room is?”

 

“I could never find it.  I could show you.  Let me out.  Let me out.  You should let me out, pretty ladies, or come in here and join me.  I might be old, but I’m not dead.”

 

“Are you going to hurt us?” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“Why would I do that?” the old man said.

 

Miss Bloomberg thought the man was completely mad.  He didn’t look very dangerous though.  He was old and decrepit and in obviously very ill-health.

 

“Are you gonna let me out?” the old man said.

 

“You said that Roy doesn’t like you, right?” Jacali said.  “That’s why he put you up here?”

 

“That bastard,” the old man said.  “That bastard, Roy!  I hate him!  I hates him!  He’s the worst!  Him and his kid.  Yeah, both of ‘em.  Like to get their little necks in my hands and squeeze until they just stop talking.  But that ain’t easy no more, is it?  He likes to show off.  He likes to give me a gun and say  ‘Go ahead!  Just shoot me!’  And then nothing happens.  It goes right through him.  Busts up the attic behind him.  Son of a bitch!  Son of a bitch!  Maybe my hands’ll do it.  Maybe these old hands have one last good use.  Yes.  I could enjoy that so much.  Let me out!  Let-let me out.  I’ll help y’ find the library.  Let me out.  Let me out.  You know you want to.  It would be great.”

 

She walked away as he continued to urge them to let him out. 

 

“Is this an enemy of my enemy is my friend thing?” she said to the other women.

 

“We’re kind of lost without … anything,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“Exactly.  We can keep weapons trained on him.”

 

“Also, we’re wanting to burn the house down.  I’d hate for him to be trapped inside if he’s actually innocent.”

 

“I mean, I don’t know if he’s innocent, but it sounds like he doesn’t like Roy.  And that’s who we’re trying to─”

 

“And we could always overpower him.  We have four people.”

 

“I like him,” Ophelia said.

 

“And we have Ophelia,” Jacali said.  “All right, Ophelia, you’re the best judge of character─”

 

“Oh, I don’t trust him,” Ophelia said.  “I do like the things he says.”

 

“Okay,” Jacali said.  “So, are we doing this?”

 

“Yes,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

Jacali approached the tiny prison again, making sure the others all had weapons out and ready.

 

“All right,” she said to the man who peered at them through the peephole.  “We’re going to let you out.  You’re going to lead us to Roy’s room and the library.”

 

“Roy’s room,” the old man said.  “It seems like it’s got to be there.  That was Revelation’s room, you know.  It was my room before Roy took it from me.”

 

“And what’s your name, just so I can refer to you?”

 

“I’m Lamentation.  Lamentation Elger.”

 

He shoved his arm partly out of the peephole, trying to shake her hand.  She waved and opened the bolt on the door, quickly backing away.  He nearly stumbled out of the room before pulling his arm free of the peephole.  He wore a ragged and out-of fashion suit.  He held his crippled hands in front of him.

 

“Thank you,” he said.  “I haven’t been out of that room in … what year is it?”

 

“1875,” Jacali said.  “Almost ’76.”

 

“That would be …” Lamentation said.  “That would be … that would be … carry the … that’s 20 years.  Twenty years I been in that room.  They never let me out.  Never.  And now I’m out.  They’re gonna pay!  They’re all gonna pay!”

 

He giggled insanely.  Dr. Weisswald realized the man was quite mad and probably very dangerous.

 

“Fay,” he said to himself.  “I’m gonna cut her throat.  Then Roy’s gonna get strangled.”

 

“All right,” Jacali said.  “Library first.”

 

“I’m gonna throw Bucky outta a window.”

 

“Library first.”

 

“The library’s on the first floor, but there’s nothing there.  Except for the Regnum Congo.  At least it was when I was locked up.  But  that’s not the secret library.  It’s gotta be in Roy’s room.  I looked everywhere else.  Either in my sleep or when I was awake. Sometimes both.”

 

“Congo?” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“Regnum Congo,” Lamentation giggled.  “It’s a good book.  You’ll probably like it.  If you read.”

 

“To Roy’s room,” Jacali said.

 

“All right,” Lamentation said with a grin filled with stained, cracked, and missing teeth.  “Let’s go.”

 

He hobbled slowly towards the stairs.

 

*              *              *

 

Professor Stalloid was disturbed to see the room looked almost exactly like the one in his dream.  The beds were there, unoccupied, and the fireplace had glowing red coals within.  A black lacquered cabinet stood against the far wall but there were no floating cats around it.  Instead, there were dozens of cat skulls atop it.  Brown stains were on the sides and top, as well as the floor around it.  Two dead cats lay on top of it and bones were all around it, apparently the bones of cats.

 

“Save the cats,” he thought he heard.

 

He tried the window and found it unlatched.  He pushed it up with a rattling crunch and the smell of the room was almost overpowering.  There was a stench of rotten meat and blood and filth.  It turned his stomach.  The warm, filthy air that came out felt good, however, and he realized how cold he actually was.  His hands were shaking not just from the obvious terror he was feeling but the fact that it was terribly cold out.

 

He climbed in the window and looked around.  The door was closed and there was a dresser and a vanity with a broken mirror, both covered in dust and dirt.  He didn’t want to open the cabinet but he walked over.  He took one of the bottles of kerosene, uncorked it, and poured it all over the cabinet and the bones thereon.

 

He had emptied the bottle when the door rattled in its frame.  There was a click and it swung slowly open.

 

Professor Stalloid dropped the bottle and pulled the lightning gun from his shoulder, pointing it at the door.

 

“You’re gonna die,” a child’s voice sang.  “You’re gonna die.”

 

“I know!” Professor Stalloid cried out.  “In time!”

 

“It’ll be tonight,” more than one child sang.

 

“Okay,” he said.

 

At least three or four children were out in the hall, he guessed, singing.

 

“Go bother the people elsewhere!” he cried out.

 

One of the children gasped and it went quiet in the hall.  Someone ran away.

 

Professor Stalloid cursed.  He walked over to the door and pushed it.  As he did so, a child leaped out into the hallway.

 

“You’re gonna die!” he hissed at the man, pointing at him with both hands.  “You’re gonna die!”

 

He closed the door but there was no key in the lock.  Then someone scratched on the door.

 

“Let us in,” a child said. “We’re hungry.  Hungry.  The oatmeal isn’t enough.  Let us in.”

 

He had moved his foot to the base of the door to keep it closed though the doorknob turned again, rattling.  The stench of kerosene was getting almost overpowering in the room, despite the open window.

 

“Let us in,” a child said.  “It won’t hurt much.  It won’t hurt much.”

 

*              *              *

 

Jack West crawled to the crest of the hill some hundred yards to the left of Table Rock.  He saw several men a hundred yards away or so, all of them armed with rifles or shotguns.  There was another woman with a pistol in her hand.  They spoke to the two old women they had seen at the rock before.  The old women pointed towards Table Rock.

 

*              *              *

 

Otto had moved further from Table Rock, perhaps 300 yards.  He eventually rode up to the crest of the hill and he could make out the shadows of the group of men down the slope.  In the dying light, he could barely see them.  He aimed at them and pulled the trigger of the Winchester, only then remembering it was jammed.  He worked the dead bullet out of the weapon and tossed it on the ground.  He worked the action and then saw that the people were looking his way.  One of them pointed at him.

 

He fired in their direction, knowing they were terribly out of range, and then turned his horse and rode off down the hill, hoping to draw some of them off.

 

*              *              *

 

Professor Stalloid heard a rifle shot some distance away, the first he’d heard in a while.  He took the rag he was planning on using to light the bottles of kerosene and stuck it into the second bottle.  He was going to light it but then realized his hands were covered in kerosene.

 

He quickly moved to the window and climbed out.  He lit the bottle.  The door to the room swung open with a creak and he saw the silhouette of a very small child.

 

“Run!” he shouted.

 

He flung the bottle into the room and it struck the wall over the cabinet and burst.  The fight caught and lit the wall on fire.  It started to spread very quickly.

 

“Oooo,” the child said.  “Get him!”

 

He heard the frantic footsteps of many running children.

 

Oh God, he thought.

 

*              *              *

 

The women had followed the hobbling Lamentation to the second floor.

 

“Let’s go,” he said.

 

He pointed towards the corridor they had been in.  He led to them to the archway that led to the short hallway with the door at the end.  Light came from under the door.

 

“They’re in here,” he said.  “They’re in here.”

 

He walked to the door and laid his hand on it almost reverently.

 

“They’re in there,” he whispered.

 

“Is that Roy’s room?” Dr. Weisswald whispered.

 

“That’s Roy’s room.  In there …or in one of these dressing rooms,” Lamentation said.  “Maybe.  They open into the bedroom.  It might be in the wall or in the floor.  It could be anywhere.  You’ll give ol’ Lamentation a book if you find ‘em, won’t ye.  Yeah.  You will.  I know you will.  That’s because you’re good children, unlike Roy, that son of a bitch.”

 

He continued to mutter under his breath, as he had done since they’d let him loose, a continuing monologue of hate and madness spewing forth.

 

Jacali took out her knife, hoping to use it to rip open parts of the wall, and gestured for Lamentation to open the door.

 

“If you think it’s in there, let’s look,” she said.

 

“You ready to shoot, Bucky?” Lamentation said.  “Shoot him right here.”

 

He pointed to his forehead.

 

“As many times as you can,” he said.

 

He turned the latch of the door and pushed it open.  Jacali had her bow ready and both Miss Bloomberg and Ophelia were armed with their pistols.  Dr. Weisswald held a silver knife in her hand.

 

In the dim light of the single candle and the embers of the fireplace, they could see Bucky on the large bed under the windows on the far wall.  He had very short hair and squinty eyes.  He only wore a shirt and  was masturbating furiously as he looked at postcards.  He stopped when the door opened.

 

“Lamentation!”he shouted.  “How the hell did you get out!?!  You get back in your hole!”

 

“These ladies let me out, you nasty little boy,” Lamentation said.  “Okay!”

 

The old man stepped into the room and to the side to give them a good, open field of fire.

 

“I brought them to kill you, Bucky,” he said.  Then to the women: “Go ahead!”

 

“Wha!?!” Bucky said.

 

“I thought you wanted to kill him!” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“Don’t argue with me,” Lamentation said.  “Just kill him!”

 

“Why?”

 

“‘Cause he’s a little … aw!  You’re gonna make me kill him.”

 

Lamentation hobbled towards the bed.  Bucky leapt off it.

 

“Who the hell are you!?!” he cried out.  He raised his voice.  “Somebody’s in the house!  Somebody’s in the house!”

 

“Do you know about a secret library, Bucky?” Jacali said.

 

She had one eye closed and was trying not to look at the boy’s nakedness.

 

“You get the hell outta here!” Bucky shrieked.  “Somebody’s in the house!  Somebody’s in the house!”

 

*              *              *

 

Professor Stalloid heard a young man’s voice from somewhere deeper in the house, screaming about trespassers.  He couldn’t exactly make it out.  The children ran across the room as the flames roared up to the ceiling.  He grabbed the window and slammed it shut.

 

*              *              *

 

Bucky pointed at Lamentation.

 

“You’re going back in your cell, you son of a bitch,” he said.  “After I get them.”

 

He walked across the room towards the women.  Jacali saw a pair of pants near the door and kicked them at the boy.  She felt like there was something heavy in the pocket.

 

“Thanks,” he said.

 

He reached into the pocket of his pants and took out a knife.  Jacali shot him with an arrow, which struck him in the right hand.

 

“God damn it!” he yelled.

 

He ripped the arrow out of his hand and they noticed there was only a drop of blood.  He dropped it to the ground.

 

“Bitch!” he said.

 

Dr. Weisswald rushed into the room with her silver knife.

 

“You bitch!” Bucky said.  “You …”

 

He sniffed at the air.

 

“… you stink like a Westerfield!” he said.

 

She stabbed him with the silver knife in the belly.  He shrieked and grabbed at her shirt as he collapsed to the floor, the death rattle in his throat, his dead eyes staring at the ceiling.

 

“He stabs real good,” Lamentation said.  “Stab him again!”

 

“No!” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“Yes, you gotta keep stabbing him.”

 

“We gotta find the books.”

 

“You better leave the silver in him.  I hear ‘em howling at the moon.  I bet Bucky’s one of ‘em.”

 

Lamentation nudged the half-naked corpse with his foot.

 

“All right, we’ll keep an eye on him,” Jacali said.  “Take us to the library.”

 

“I think,” Lamentation said.  “I thought it was in one of these two dressing rooms in the wall.  That’s what I thought.  But I didn’t have time to find it before they put me away.  I could never find it.”

 

They quickly looked into the west dressing room where they found a closet as well.  While Ophelia watched Bucky’s dead body with a cocked pistol, the others started ripping out the walls in that dressing room.  Lamentation watched with excited eyes.

 

*              *              *

 

Professor Stalloid stood outside the closed window.  The four children who had run into the room stopped, not touching the mostly intact glass.  They watched the man as the fire spread in the room.  When it reached the cabinet, the flames quickly flared over the kerosene he had laid there, spreading even faster.  One of the children tapped the glass.

 

“You gonna let us die, mister?” the child say.

 

“You gonna kill me?” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“Yeah,” the child said matter-of-factly.

 

“Sucks.”

 

“Okay.”

 

Another child picked up something heavy and slammed it through the glass, shattering the window almost in Professor Stalloid’s face.  As the children started coming out, Professor Stalloid pulled the camera from his shoulder and, closing his eyes and backing away, thumbed the trigger.  There was a crash of thunder and a blast of lightning as well as  the sizzling of flesh, brief shrieks, and the stink of burnt meat.

 

When he opened his eyes again, the four children lay in the window, smoking and dead.

 

*              *              *

 

Jack West saw about half the armed men head off towards Otto.  The other half headed up with the two women towards Table Rock.  He waited and watched.  He heard thunder, he thought.

 

*              *              *

 

There was a crash of thunder from somewhere outside the house but the women had not found anything in the dressing rooms walls.  Then they heard a creak as the door to the bedroom opened.

 

“You’re not supposed to be here,” a tiny child’s voice said.

 

“And you won’t be here much longer,” they heard Ophelia calmly say.

 

There was a gunshot from the room. 

 

“I think you’re mistaken,” the tiny child’s voice said.

 

Heavy footsteps crashed across the room and they heard the sound of someone being struck by a fist and a grunt before someone hit the floor.

 

Jacali rushed to the door of the dressing room and out into the bedroom, drawing a silver arrow from her quiver.  Dr. Weisswald was directly behind her.

 

Standing in the doorway to the room was a pretty young woman in a shirt and a skirt.  She had dark hair and cold eyes.  Next to her stood a tall and lanky man, too tall to be real, his head brushing against the eight-foot high ceiling.  That head was unnatural.  It was too large and round and perfect, for one thing.  It was the head of an infant, but proportional to his oversized body.  He stood over Ophelia, looking down at her, her disguise gone, her serpent person self revealed.

 

“What the hell is that thing?” the woman said, also looking down at her.

 

Dr. Weisswald rushed the huge man, who looked her way.  He swung at her with the back of his hand, but she ducked under it and stabbed the man in the upper left leg.  He let out a shout and she drew the knife out.  The leg bled profusely and she hoped she had hit an artery.  With a cry of rage, he brought the hand down he had swung at her before, striking her left hand as she tried to dodge out of the way.  Something snapped in her wrist and she stumbled back, swooning from the pain and crashing to the ground.

 

Jacali dropped the silver arrow from the bow and drew her black arrow from her quiver.  She fired at the horrible thing at point blank range.  The arrow struck the horrible man child in the right leg and he screamed, tears welling up in his eyes.  Then Miss Bloomberg stepped out, drew her pistol, went to Jacali and fired at the giant point blank, hitting him in the head.  The giant stumbled backwards, crashed into the bed, and fell to the floor.

 

The woman in the doorway screamed as she watched the giant fall.  She turned and ran out of the room.

 

Lamentation stepped out of the dressing room.  He looked at the fallen Dr. Weisswald.

 

“They’re all ready, aren’t they?” he said.  “Get her on the bed for me.”

 

He giggled nastily.

 

Jacali ran after the woman who ran, crossing through the short hallway.  She couldn’t see the woman but could hear her running away.  She had obviously gone to the passageway at the front of the house near the tower and was running along it.  There were narrow windows along that passage that looked out into the great hall, most likely to let in more light.  There was also a larger archway she guessed the woman would have to run past as well.  Jacali ran out to the gallery, a balcony that overlooked the great hall.  She saw the woman run by one of the little openings.

 

She drew back on her bow and readied herself to shoot the woman once she appeared again.

 

*              *              *

 

“Get her on the bed!” Lamentation said to Miss Bloomberg.  “Or you can get on the bed.  I ain’t very particular.”

 

She raised up her revolver to pistol whip him and he ducked with a strange noise.

 

“You little bitch!” he muttered.  “I knew you’d turn against me.”

 

He muttered some words and she suddenly saw terrible visions of horrible places and things.  She swooned.

 

*              *              *

 

Jacali saw the woman flash by two little windows and let her arrow fly.  It flew straight and true, striking the woman as she appeared in the larger archway, striking her in the side.  She shrieked and stumbled but kept running.  Jacali quickly walked back to the room and found Lamentation standing over Miss Bloomberg and Dr. Weisswald.

 

“Hey!” Jacali said.

 

She cursed and put a silver arrow in the bow.

 

“You bastard!” she said.  “What did you do?”

 

“I didn’t do nothing,” Lamentation said.  “What’re you talking about?”

 

“Why is she on the ground?”

 

“She just fainted.  All this excitement must’ve been too much for her.”

 

She shot him.  The arrow struck him in the belly and the old man shrieked.

 

“You bitch!” he cried out.

 

He stumbled back and fled into the dressing room they had been in before.  Jacali ran in and saw he had thrown open the other door and was running to the stairs.  She fitted another silver arrow and shot the man in the back.  He let out a screech and fell down the stairs, disappearing from sight.  She ran forward and peeked down the stairs to see Lamentation Elger lying on the landing, not moving.

 

She ran back to the bedroom and saw that Miss Bloomberg was coming around.  Jacali got smelling salts out of Dr. Weisswald’s bag, noticing as she did that her wrist was bent at an impossible angle.  Panicking, she shoved the smelling salts directly up against Dr. Weisswald’s nose, smearing the liquid actually onto it.

 

Dr. Weisswald awoke with a shout and the feeling that someone was kicking her in the face.

 

“Weisswald!” Jacali cried out as the doctor’s eyes opened.  “Weisswald!  I killed the old man!  Did he do anything to you?  Jane?  Weisswald!  Help!”

 

Dr. Weisswald realized her left wrist was sore and in the wrong position.  It was obviously broken and already starting to swell.

 

Jacali realized she was starting to smell smoke.

 

“They know we’re here,” she said.  “I can smell smoke and … everyone went down except for me so … I’m sorry.  I panicked a little.  I know it was bad.  Oh, it was really bad, wasn’t it?  Oh.  Oh.  Okay.  You’re alive now.  Or … awake now.  And you’re back up.  Did he do anything?”

 

Miss Bloomberg shook her head.  She felt unsteady.

 

While Dr. Weisswald tended to Ophelia, Jacali and Miss Bloomberg ran to the other dressing room and started tearing out the walls in search of the secret library.  The undisguised serpent person was a bit loopy and she saw a bruise forming on her head.  She guessed the man had struck Ophelia in the head the same way he’d struck her in the wrist.  She bound Ophelia’s wound and then wrapped her own wrist and tucked it into her shirt.

 

They could hear yelling in the other parts of the house.

 

“They do know we’re here,” Jacali called from the dressing room.  “I’m trying to get us out fast.”

 

“Are you trying to get out fast?” a voice said.

 

Another little old man stood in the doorway.  He was bald and overweight, obviously very old, and he wore tattered clothing.  He looked around the room fearfully, his eyes nearly bugging out.

 

“Singing guy,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

He looked down at the undisguised Ophelia.

 

“Looks like Gideon … is dead,” the old man said. “And so … as it goes with Buckminster.  I think the house is on fire.”

 

“Well, we need to find Roy’s books,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“You’ll never find ‘em!” the old man wailed.  “Nobody’s ever found ‘em.  They kept me here ‘cause I was looking.  They said ‘You’re not gonna find ‘em, Nebuchadnezzar.  You’re not gonna find ‘em.’  Nobody ever finds ‘em.”

 

In the next room, Jacali ripped open a part of the wall and behind it saw a small, secret hiding place high up.  There were three books and some loose papers with writing on them.

 

“We found ‘em!” Jacali called.

 

Nebuchadnezzar’s mouth dropped open.

 

“All right, you might want to get out of here,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

She took out matches and stuffed a rag into one of the bottles.  She lit it on fire.

 

“Oh,” Nebuchadnezzar said.  “Roy ain’t gonna like that.”

 

He turned and hobbled out of the room.

 

*              *              *

 

Professor Stalloid stared at the burnt bodies of the children he’d killed for some time, unable to believe the horror he’d just witnessed.  He came out of his shock and thought he heard, over the roar of the fire in the room, someone running around upstairs.  There were shouts of alarm and calls.  Someone cried out “Let Titus out!  Let Titus out!”  Someone was yelling “Fire!” and another was yelling “Murder!”  There were at least two men up there.

 

*              *              *

 

Dr. Weisswald went into the dressing room with Jacali, the lit bottle of kerosene in her hand.  She flung it back into the bedroom and there was a whoosh as it burst and splashed flaming kerosene all over the floor.  They picked up all the books and papers.

 

“Let’s get out here,” Jacali said.  “I’m tired of this place.  I hate it.”

 

When they got out into the corridor, they heard the animals downstairs moving around restlessly, obviously panicking from the amount of smoke already in the air.  It seemed like more than there should have been.  As they reached the top of the steps, Jacali was horrified to see Lamentation’s body was gone.

 

“I killed him!” she muttered.  “God!”

 

They ran down the steps and towards the front door, finding Nebuchadnezzar in the vestibule dragging Lamentation’s corpse.  Lamentation’s head lolled at an angle no neck should have been able to move.

 

“We’ll fix y’ up,” Nebuchadnezzar said quietly.  “We’ll fix y’ up, old man.  I don’t know why they had to do this.  I think it’s Roy’s fault, that son of a bitch.”

 

“Should we release the animals?” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“If anything bad happens, shout!” Jacali said.

 

She put her bow over her shoulder and drew her knife, going back to the animals and starting to cut them free.

 

“Oh, Regnum Congo’s in the library,” Nebuchadnezzar said.

 

He pointed to the south side of the house in the corner.

 

“You all are injured or hurt,” Jacali said.  “I’ll handle things in here.”

 

“Jane, do you mind helping her with the animals?” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“Sure,” Miss Bloomberg said.

 

*              *              *

 

Professor Stalloid heard the great front doors of the house open.

 

Oh God, what have I done? he thought.

 

He wandered towards the front door of the house in a daze.

 

*              *              *

 

When Miss Bloomberg started untying animals, Dr. Weisswald handed her a knife.  Then she went to the front door as animals started to move quickly through the vestibule and out of the house.  Nebuchadnezzar dragged Lamentation out, sitting him on one side of the steps of the front porch.  He sat down next to it.

 

Professor Stalloid walked up and looked at the two of them.

 

“Who are you?” Nebuchadnezzar asked him.  “Did you kill Roy?”

 

“Who’s Roy?” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“Oh,” Nebuchadnezzar said.  “You didn’t kill Roy.”

 

He sounded disappointed and sighed.

 

“Is there anything in that tower that I should do stuff to?” Professor Stalloid said.

 

*              *              *

 

“****!” Jacali suddenly said.  “The black arrow!”

 

She had left it in the giant’s leg up in Roy Elger’s bedroom.  She looked up at the gallery.  It was getting quite smoky up there.  She ran back up.

 

*              *              *

 

“Ain’t nothin’ in that tower,” Nebuchadnezzar said.  “But Regnum Congo is in the library one of the high shelves in there.”

 

“So, there’s no sort of ‘seeing device’ up there?” Professor Stalloid said.  “Magical crystal?”

 

“I don’t think so.  I don’t know.”

 

“What’s the tower for?”

 

He shrugged.  Professor Stalloid entered the house.

 

He saw Dr. Weisswald, Miss Bloomberg, and Ophelia as he entered the house.  He saw steps leading to the tower just to his right.

 

“I’m going to check the tower first,” he said.  “Before this place comes down.”

 

“Here’s one last bottle of oil,” Dr. Weisswald said. “You can throw it on your way out.”

 

“All right,” he said.

 

He took the bottle and left them.

 

*              *              *

 

Coughing, Jacali ran up the stairs and back into Roy Elger’s bedroom.  The fire had spread but she could see the black arrow sticking out of the horrible giant.  She coughed more, her chest hurting terribly.  She ran in and grabbed the black arrow, yanking it out.  As she did so, the leg came up as if the horrible giant was trying to kick her.  She realized it was either a seizure of the body or just the arrow, possibly lodged in the bone, pulling the leg up.  It was a shock but it didn’t slow her down.

 

“Can’t fool me, demons!” she said.

 

She turned and saw the fire had spread to the door to the room, cutting her off.  She ran into the west dressing room and through the door there, back onto the gallery and down the steps, coughing.

 

She and Miss Bloomberg finished cutting the animals free.  Then she ran to where she heard other animal noises and saw a couple of pigs in the filthy room.  She ran to the room in the back where she had heard chickens and found the once-beautiful morning room was being used to house them.  She left the doors open and hoped for the best.

 

The smoke was getting thicker as she ran to the room in the front of the house where Nebuchadnezzar had pointed.  The room was still chilly and the smoke was not as thick there.  The fireplace was cold and there were bookshelves on many of the walls, most of them with only a few books.  A child stood in the center of the room and stared at her.

 

“Whatcha doin’ here?” the child said.

 

“You need to get out!” Jacali said.

 

“Is the house on fire?”

 

“Yep!”

 

“Did you set it?”

 

“Nope!”

 

“Did you kill somebody?”

 

“Debatable.”

 

“Will you kill me?”

 

“Only if you keep asking too many weird questions.”

 

That threw the child, who seemed to be trying to puzzle out what she meant.

 

She ran around, looking on the high shelves for books and finally saw a leather bound book she thought was probably the one.  She climbed up and grabbed it.  It was bound in leather with metal fittings and the name written on the spine.  It had a smell of rotten meat about it.  She grabbed it and ran towards the front door, finding Dr. Weisswald and Ophelia in the vestibule. 

 

*              *              *

 

Professor Stalloid found it growing smokier and smokier as he climbed the stone steps of the tower.  The second floor was bad but the attic was filled with smoke and he found himself coughing as he reached a small room on what would be the fourth floor. It was empty so he continued upward to the very top of the tower.  It was open with a roof above.  He could see for miles though the plumes of smoke coming up through the broken shingles of the house below were starting to get thick.  The view was still magnificent. 

 

He didn’t see any kind of telescope or device.  There were just bird droppings, dirt, and dust.

 

He headed back down the stairs.

 

*              *              *

 

Jacali ran into the vestibule and found the other women.  She told them the fire was going and the animals were free and she had found the book.

 

“Stalloid went up the tower but …” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“What!?!” Jacali said.

 

“… I guess he’ll be fine,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“That idiot,” Jacali said.  “Do you have any more fire to set?”

 

“I gave him the last bottle of kerosene,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

They left the house as the last of the animals fled.  They found Nebuchadnezzar and the corpse of Lamentation on the steps.  The living man was chatting with the corpse.

 

“You ain’t yourself no more, Lamentation,” the old man said.  “Much quieter.  I like it.”

 

“Do we need to worry about him?” Jacali said.  “He knows our faces.”

 

“He’s crazy,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“Yeah, you’re right,” Jacali said.

 

Professor Stalloid came out shortly after them, lighting the last bottle of kerosene and tossing it into the vestibule as  he left the house.

 

Jacali and Dr. Weisswald noticed several people exiting the house from a porch on the north side. The first was a really fat man with only a little hair atop his head.  He was naked and barreled out of the house and ran down the hill away from them towards the road, laughing like a moron.  Three large men and the young girl came out as well, heading down towards the road as well.  When Nebuchadnezzar saw them he hopped up and headed off into the darkness in the other direction.

 

By then, fire was burning on the outside of the house on the north wing where Professor Stalloid had initially set it.  The fire in the vestibule was spreading fast.

 

“That’s rubbish,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

He stared at the Regnum Congo in Jacali’s hands.

 

“Get that in the fire,” he said.

 

“What?” Jacali said.

 

“That’s made of flesh,” he said.  “That’s no good.  Put it in the fire.”

 

He had spoken in a quiet deadpan voice, staring at the book.

 

“Are you sure?” Jacali said.

 

“That’s a no-good book,” he said.  “Nothing made of flesh is good.  C’mon.”

 

“Second opinion on this?” Jacali said.

 

“I’ll take it,” Miss Bloomberg said.

 

“Hey, look, she wants it,” Jacali said.

 

“How do you know that’s not human flesh?” Professor Stalloid said.

 

His eyes were wide and he blinked several times nervously.

 

“Wait, we can dispose of it later,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“Yeah, there are plenty of─” Jacali said.

 

“Just get rid of it now,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“─fires, Stalloid,” Jacali said.

 

As Stalloid looked at the book in the dim light from the fires burning in the vestibule, he thought it was looking at him.  He thought the book wanted him to take a big bite of the cover, which he was certain was made of human flesh.  He didn’t want to take a bite.  But he was certain the book was looking at him.  He looked away from the horrible thing.

 

“It’s making me have weird thoughts just by looking at it,” Professor Stalloid said.  “It’s a bad book.”

 

He saw a red mist cover his vision and he knew he had to destroy the book, rushing Jacali without warning.  He tried to grab the book from her hands and she ducked to one side as the man clawed at her.

 

“Burn it!” he shrieked.  “Burn it!  Burn it!”

 

Ophelia reached for her gun but didn’t seem to know who to shoot.

 

“Stalloid!” Jacali cried out.  “What the hell!?!”

 

“Burn it!” he continued to shriek.  “Burn it!  Burn it!”

 

Dr. Weisswald stepped forward and shoved Professor Stalloid down in the snow.

 

“We need to make tracks!” Jacali said.

 

Miss Bloomberg grabbed the book from Jacali and ran.  Professor Stalloid stood up and ran after her.

 

*              *              *

 

As it got darker and darker, Jack West watched two men and the two women go to Table Rock.  The others had headed off after Otto.  He saw that one of the men chasing Otto took a shot at him when they reached the crest of the hill, but the other man was far out of range.  The man immediately started reloading his rifle through the muzzle.

 

The people at Table Rock searched all around the rock, moving some of the bodies.

 

The men who had pursued Otto started heading their way while the men at Table Rock talked and then started digging in the snow and removing the dynamite.  They looked around nervously.

 

When he thought he heard the clop of horse’s hooves, he started to creep closer to Table Rock.

 

*              *              *

 

Otto had reached the road and then started to ride back up to Table Rock.  It was fully dark by then and he could see the stars overhead.  He couldn’t see anyone up by Table Rock.

 

*              *              *

 

Jack West thought he spotted a man on horseback moving very slowly up the hill towards Table Rock.  He stopped and waited as the man rode slowly up towards Table Rock.  He didn’t see anyone near Table Rock.  Then the rider started coming down the hill.  He waited and the rider went back down the hill to the road.

 

He headed up the hill again and heard a shout from the top of the hill.  There were calls of alarm and he lay perfectly still.  Then he heard nothing for what felt like a long time.  There was a light coming from the other side of the hill from a ways away.

 

He crept to the top of the ridge and could see part of Elger House was on fire.  Pillars of smoke were going up from the top of the house.  He even thought he could hear the crackling of flames.  He saw no people.

 

He headed back down the hill to the horses.

 

*              *              *

 

Professor Stalloid ran after Miss Bloomberg but the woman stayed out of his clutches.  She heard the man coming at her and tried to stay away.

 

“Burn it!” he screamed.  “Burn it!  Burn it!”

 

Then they heard someone else yelling from some distance away.

 

“Burn it!  Burn it!  Burn it!” the strange voice called.

 

“Just burn the book!” Dr. Weisswald called.

 

She started to run after the two but then slowed.  Every step she took sent a wave of pain up her left arm from her unset wrist.  Running made it so much worse.  Ophelia followed her.

 

Jacali ran to Weisswald and asked if she needed help. The other woman grimaced in pain.

 

Miss Bloomberg ran away from Professor Stalloid, who screamed for her to burn the book.  He sounded like he was catching up with her.

 

Dr. Weisswald stopped and opened up her doctor’s bag, looking for the bottle of laudanum.  Jacali helped her.

 

“Something appears to be coming from that direction,” Ophelia said.

 

She had her pistol in her hand.  They could hear someone running their way.

 

“Burn it!  Burn it!  Burn it!” he shouted.

 

Dr. Weisswald found the laudanum and drank the whole bottle.  It seemed like a lot to Jacali but she took out an arrow and aimed in the same direction Ophelia was aiming.

 

Professor Stalloid lunged at Miss Bloomberg, hitting her in the back but not injuring or slowing the woman.  She picked up her pace and got away from the man, who stumbled after her.

 

“Just burn it!” he called to her, almost pleadingly.

 

It sounded like he was crying.

 

“Burn it!” he cried out.

 

Jacali pulled back on her bow, watching the area she could hear the man coming from.  Dr. Weisswald dropped the vial back into her doctor’s bag and stumbled down the hill towards the road.  Jacali and Ophelia stood their ground.

 

What came out of the darkness was awful.  The man was obviously grossly overweight and completely naked, though didn’t seem bothered by the cold.  He was at least 300 pounds if he was an ounce with a flabby body and face.  Only a tuft of hair rose from the top of his head.  The rest of him was hairless.  He had a large branch from a tree in his hand.

 

“Burn it!  Burn it!  Burn it!” he yelled as he came.

 

Jacali fired at the man, who was very far away.  The arrow disappeared into the darkness.  Ophelia carefully aimed her pistol.  Jacali shot another arrow at the man, who was still very fall away and the arrow disappeared into the darkness.  The man ran at them, the flab bouncing disgustingly as he ran.

 

*              *              *

 

“Seriously, burn it,” Professor Stalloid said more calmly. “Burn it.”

 

“Why?” Miss Bloomberg called over her shoulder.  “It looks important.”

 

“I can give you a different book if you want.”

 

“I want this one.”

 

There was a gunshot nearby.

 

*              *              *

 

Ophelia shot at the horrible man coming up the hill but missed. 

 

“Get out of the way!” Jacali said.

 

She shot an arrow at the horrible man, dodging off to the left as soon as she loosed it at him.  The arrow struck the man in the right foot and he let out a shriek as he tripped and crashed into the snow.  He climbed clumsily to his feet and slogged forward through the snow towards the two. 

 

*              *              *

 

“I want to keep the book,” Miss Bloomberg said.  “We need to help other people.”

 

“That book is clearly sentient and malignant,” Professor Stalloid said.  “It needs to die.”

 

*              *              *

 

Ophelia fired and hit the man in the right arm.  He cried out in pain and dropped the makeshift club.  Then Jacali shot the man with another arrow, this time hitting him in the chest.  He cried out in pain again.

 

“Titus hates you!” he cried out.  “Titus hates you!”

 

He turned and ran away, favoring the foot Jacali had shot.

 

“Titus hates you!” he screamed as he ran.  “Titus hates you!”

 

Ophelia cocked her pistol again and aimed after the man but then seemed to think better of it and didn’t fire.  Jacali, angry at naked men coming at her all night, pulled back her bow to try to shoot the man before he disappeared into the darkness.  With a snap, her bowstring broke.

 

Titus disappeared into the darkness.

 

She suggested they leave and Ophelia agreed.  They turned in the direction Dr. Weisswald had gone.

 

*              *              *

 

Otto had reached the horses by the road and found them still there.  A few moments later, Jack West slipped out of the darkness, his spurs jingling.  They mounted up and headed down the road back towards where they’d left the women a half hour or so before.

 

*              *              *

 

As Dr. Weisswald reached Professor Stalloid and Miss Bloomberg, she found the man calmly telling the woman to burn the book.  They stood in the snow, the fires of the burning Elger House spreading more quickly to the outside walls now, and he tried to reason with the woman calmly and rationally, as if they were in a shop somewhere, haggling over the price of something.  It was surreal and Dr. Weisswald felt as if something were terribly, terribly wrong with Professor Stalloid.  She knew they had to get away from the burning house as quickly as possible.  Then Jacali and Ophelia came out of the darkness, stinking of gun smoke.

 

“Listen, we still don’t know where Jack West and Otto are,” she said.  “We still need to find them, find any horses that we have that could tie us to this place, and get out as quickly as we can.  And … come up with a story if anyone asks us what happened.  We were asked by your sister to find the people who were a bad influence on her son.  We did that.  They attacked us with fire or something, we can come up with the details later.  That’s why we were in their house and when we tried to run away, that’s when they did all the shooting and … something like that.”

 

“No, seriously, that was malignant,” Professor Stalloid said to Miss Bloomberg, ignoring Jacali. “I didn’t want to do that.  I know what magic does … ish … and I did not have control there.  That book must have done it.”

 

Miss Bloomberg slowly slipped the book into her satchel.

 

“I’ll burn your bag!” Professor Stalloid said.  “That book is burning or else I will not travel with you anymore.  I will leave.”

 

He sounded unnaturally calm.

 

“That book will not be with me,” he said.  “That book has nothing good.”

 

Jacali headed down to the road followed by the rest.  Professor Stalloid turned to the left and headed back to Wheeling when they reached it.

 

“Y’all should burn that book!” he yelled back after them.  “That’s it!”

 

The rest of them headed up the road in the direction they supposed the horses had been left.  They could hear Professor Stalloid shouting imprecations at them constantly for some time.  They soon came upon Otto and Jack West on horseback, leading the third horse.

 

The house was burning furiously by then and very visible.  They thought they saw figures around it, some of them throwing snow on the flames in a vain attempt to stop the blaze.  A woman wailed and cried.  There seemed to be several people around the house, trying to fight the fire, but it was completely out of control.

 

“Well, we … uh … couldn’t set the dynamite off but we could still mop them up, possibly,” Jack West said.  “How are y’all on things?”

 

Jacali suggested using her arrows with dynamite and Jack West noted they had taken the explosives. 

 

“A lot are dead and the house is burned anyways,” Jacali said.  “This might be as good as we can do.”

 

“We might mop up some other time,” Jack West said.

 

“Let’s get the hell out of here,” Jacali said.  “We only got six of us left.  Stalloid’s on foot.”

 

They mounted up and rode back to town, keeping a slow pace most of the way as movement hurt Dr. Weisswald.

 

Jack West, at one point, was certain the Elgers were following them.  He saw a large group of people behind him following him quickly.  He suggested they ride faster.  Dr. Weisswald noted they should wash their clothing as they stank of smoke.  Otto protested that he didn’t.

 

At another point, Miss Bloomberg was certain she saw Lamentation Elger watched her from the woods.  She could see his eyes glittering at her and he grinned at her nastily.  She looked away, not wanting to see him.

 

“They may have seen my face,” Jack West said.  “So, I should probably leave … tonight.  Unless we’re going to clean this up.”

 

“The girl saw our faces too,” Dr. Weisswald said sleepily.

 

“Yeah,” Jacali said.

 

Miss Bloomberg started laughing hysterically.  She cackled loudly and pointed up the hill to a few trees.  They didn’t see anything there.

 

“I don’t think it’s that funny,” Jack West said.

 

Dr. Weisswald laughed as well, being so undone by the laudanum she’d taken.  The pain was mostly gone in her wrist and everything felt funny.

 

“What was the joke?” Jacali said.  “I didn’t hear it.”

 

Miss Bloomberg suddenly stopped laughing.

 

“What?” Jacali said.  “Was it about me?”

 

“It was probably about me,” Otto said.

 

*              *              *

 

Professor Stalloid had used snow to smooth his hair back down and tried to rub it over his jacket to remove the smoky smell that permeated them.  He continued back to Wheeling as fast as he could walk.

 

When he returned to the Westerfield house and let himself in, he changed out of the suit he wore and put on a new one.  Then he grabbed his suitcase with his books and things, leaving his other baggage behind.  He went into the room in the back where Dr. Weisswald and Jacali had been staying and looked for the other magical books they’d found.  He found the Latin book in the brand new doctor’s bag.  He went into the front room Jack West and Otto shared and found the leather book from Falls Run.  He went back downstairs and opened the front door to find his companions tying their horses up out front.

 

“Burn it or I’m leaving!” he shouted at them.

 

“You’re not leaving if I have anything to say about it!” Otto said.

 

He headed up the walk to the house.

 

“Are you going to hogtie me, lawman?” Professor Stalloid said, walking down to meet them.  “I’m leaving!”

 

“Why though?” Otto said.

 

“I feel that this magic is corrupting us and I’m going to take it and I’m leaving,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“It’s been burned,” Miss Bloomberg lied.  “It’s gone.”

 

He looked at the rest of them.  None of them said anything.

 

“She’s not even with us,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“That’s the point,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“There is no point,” Otto said.

 

“Stalloid, what the hell is wrong with that book?” Jacali said.

 

“It’s terrible,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“I need more than that.”

 

“Have you seen that house?”

 

“Yes, and why is every other house that we’ve been to, why did the wolf people back where we crashed─”

 

Otto shushed her.

 

“I’ve been destroying pages from the books!” Professor Stalloid said loudly.

 

“And you haven’t even read this book and you’ve already decided it’s the most evil thing we’ve ever come across?” Jacali said.

 

“Yes,” he said.

 

They looked at him.

 

“Stalloid, for all your education, sometimes I think you’re an idiot,” Jacali said.

 

“I am,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“Are you stealing property, Stalloid?” Otto said.

 

“Huh?” Professor Stalloid said.  “No, this is all mine.”

 

“I don’t think it is,” Otto said.

 

He walked up to Professor Stalloid and put a hand on his shoulder.

 

“Have you burned the book?” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“I didn’t know we had a book, Stalloid,” Otto said.

 

“Okay.  Fine.  Go tell them to burn the book and you can stop me at the train station.”

 

“They said they burned the book, Stalloid.”

 

“It’s not burned.”

 

“I believe them.”

 

“It’s not burned.”

 

“I believe them.”

 

“They burn it in the snow?”

 

“Just burn the book,” Dr. Weisswald said.  “Please.  I want to set my arm and go to bed.”

 

Professor Stalloid started to move but Otto had him firmly by the arm.

 

“Are you trying to stop a free man in the United States of America?” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“As a lawman─” Otto said.

 

“Are you trying to illegally detain me?”

 

“I’m trying to stop me from stealing someone’s property, Stalloid.”

 

“Are you?  Are you?”

 

“I …”

 

“Do you have any proof?  Do you have a warrant?”

 

“You said you─”

 

“Do you have a warrant?”

 

“Do I need a warrant to investigate you?”

 

“Yes, you’re a lawman!”

 

Otto recognized the doctor’s bag as the gift he had given Dr. Weisswald for Christmas.  He was certain it didn’t belong to Professor Stalloid.

 

“You still stole something Stalloid,” he said.

 

“Okay, we stole it too,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“Stalloid!” Jacali said.

 

“It’s stolen property either way,” Professor Stalloid said.  “You want to go give it to law enforcement first?  You can search me and you will find that.”

 

“What’s going on out here?” Jane Westerfield called quietly from the open front door.

 

“Search her and you will find the other book!” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“Stalloid is this really─?” Jacali said.

 

“I know it’s not burned!” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“Why is this so important to you that we can’t talk about this as a group as we do every other thing!?!” Jacali said.

 

“Maybe you should … you should all come into the house,” Jane Westerfield called once again from the front door.  “Instead of yelling in the street.”

 

“Thank you!” Jacali said.

 

“It’s malignant!” Professor Stalloid said.  “It’s clearly intelligent and can cast and defend itself!  That is bad!  Kill it!  I’ve explained that multiple times.  I’ve yet to hear a good argument against me.”

 

“We’ve never seen that,” Jacali said.

 

More lights were coming on in nearby houses.

 

“Can we please go inside?” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“We’ve never seen a lot of stuff we see,” Professor Stalloid said.  “That’s not a good argument.”

 

“Let’s talk about this inside!” Jacali said.

 

“I’m not talking!” Professor Stalloid said.  “I’m getting out of here!  There are madmen gonna come down the mountain soon!”

 

“I’m on Stalloid’s side,” Jack West growled.  “I’d rather get outta town tonight.”

 

They looked at each other.  Jack West went into the house.

 

Professor Stalloid tried to move again but Otto grabbed him by the arm.  He swung around.

 

“Look, Otto, you’re still one of the good ones,” Professor Stalloid said.  “Okay?  Let me go.”

 

“Stalloid─”

 

“Let me go of my own will.”

 

“Stalloid─”

 

“I’m done.”

 

“I’m trying to prevent you from doing something terrible.”

 

“I’m not doing anything terrible now, am I?  Am I hurting anyone?  I’m done.  I’m leaving.”

 

“That doesn’t mean you get to take everything from us!” Jacali said.  “And just leave on a whim!”

 

“It’s clearly going to corrupt─” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“How long have we been together, Stalloid?” Jacali said.

 

“I’m willing to let you leave─” Otto said.

 

“I’m going insane!” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“I will let you leave if you give me the books!” Otto said.

 

“C’mon Jacali, let’s go inside,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“You think you’re the only one going insane!?!” Jacali said.  “Go to hell, Stalloid!”

 

“No, but I think I’m the only one going insane from exposure to the magic!” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“I would also remind you, Stalloid, you’re yelling and resisting … me,” Otto said.  “It looks bad.”

 

“I’m not trying to make it look good,” Professor Stalloid said.  “I’m trying to leave.”

 

“Well, just let me have the books.”

 

“What do you want with them?  They’re terrible.”

 

“Because …”

 

“There’s spells in here for flaying men alive and invoking demons to rise from the ground!  I know those ones are in here!”

 

Dr. Weisswald had walked up to the house and was talking to Jane Westerfield, who was practically begging her to get her friends into the house.  She finally went back into the house

 

“The book’s not even here anymore,” Dr. Weisswald said from the porch.  “She’s gone.”

 

They looked around and realized Miss Bloomberg had slipped away in the confusion.

 

“That doesn’t help,” Professor Stalloid said.  “Y’all didn’t believe me.  This is a betrayal of trust.”

 

“I told them to burn it!” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“Okay, but did you actually do it?  No.  You just spoke.”

 

“I have a broken arm!  I’m not going to tackle her and burn the book!  If you want to go do that, fine!”

 

“I can’t.”

 

“Just … leave in the morning.  We’re going and we’re going to pack up and leave in the morning.”

 

“I’m leaving tonight.”

 

“If we leave now, it’ll be suspicious.”

 

“I’m a very suspicious character.”

 

“We’re all suspicious characters.”

 

“Have you seen me!?!”

 

“We’re all suspicious characters.  If we leave now, it’ll be suspicious.”

 

“I’m fine with that.”

 

“I’m not fine with that,” Otto said.  “I would like to stay.”

 

“And you are your own person,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“Yes but …” Otto said.

 

“Okay, we’ll see you Denver,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“Okay,” Professor Stalloid said.  “You might see me. You might see me in San Francisco.  Most of you are always welcome in my house.”

 

“Denver then,” Dr. Weisswald said.  “We’ll meet you there.”

 

Jack West came back out with his suitcase.

 

“Where we going, Stalloid?” he said.

 

“Screw you, Stalloid,” Otto said.

 

He took Dr. Weisswald’s bag and walked to the house.

 

“Love you!” Professor Stalloid said.  “Love you, Otto.”

 

“Yeah,” Otto said.

 

“Keep that rifle safe.”

 

“It jammed the first time I shot it!  It’s crap!”

 

“The curse might be continuing!”

 

Otto went into the house as did Jacali, Dr. Weisswald, and Ophelia.  Professor Stalloid and Jack West headed to the train station.


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