A day outside of Coffin Rock on the trail the posse came across what appeared to be a small wagon train of four vehicles parked in a semi-circle on the side of the trail. The remains of a campfire could be seen beside the wagons, but there was no sign of any horses or people. On investigation, the posse discover several strange things:
• Lying near the wagons, hidden from view until the posse was right on top of the site, were six human bodies. The corpses were shrunken and withered, as if they’ve been lying in the sun for weeks.
• Checking the corpses revealed a rolled-up newspaper. It was dated four days ago and was printed in a town called Watkins Field.
• Aside from the usual gear travelers might need, such as bedrolls, shovels, rope, and so on, all the wagons contained in the way of cargo was shredded cloth sacks. Faint traces of white powder lay here and there. Tasting it revealed it to be ordinary flour. There was no sign of any fresh provisions, though there were some rusted tinned goods. The tins proved to be empty however.
• Inside one of the wagons was a manifest. The caravan was transporting flour from a railyard about 50 miles back along the trail to a Coffin Rock ahead of them. One name was listed on the delivery manifest—Ray wisely.
• There was a lot of torn-up ground around an old tree stump. It revealed the dried husks of four horses lay there first mistaken as logs.
Feeling uneasy Moira said let’s not camp here. They road on until nightfall and camped on a hill. On fourth watch Calvin nodded off. He had a nightmare about Content Not Found: Ixtli chasing him and speaking to him in a language he didn’t understand. She was missing one eye and a finger.
The rest of the posse woke up and Calvin was gone. they went from anger to concern and after breakfast headed after him. The posse rode into the quiet town around noon.
Seeing their reflections in the windows as they rode into town they looked emaciated, their faces gaunt. They also noticed that half the businesses were boarded up.The open institutions were The Crystal river Hotel, The Six Feet Under Saloon, Blacksmiths, assay office, The Church, A Doctor’s office, The General store and The Jewel Theater.
The Newspaper, Boarding house, library, barbers, livery, and bank, hardware store, schoolhouse (haunted), and mayor’s office were closed. The Daily mansion was a burned shell.
The townsfolk looked thin and weary. As they ambled through town, folk came up to the posse holding out their arms. The church seemed to be having a service but it sounded more like O Fortuna.
A woman holding a small bundle who could barely stand Said "Please. My baby is too weak to cry. Can you spare any food?” As she drew close they caught the smell of death. Moira handed her some trail rations and more people crowded the posse. Someone grabbed at her food and the woman dropped her swaddled bundle.
People crowded closer, all clawing at their saddlebags and horses. A babble of voices asking for food overwhelmed them. James Yelled “Ya!” and ran the townspeople down. Moira fell from her horse and her horse ran away.
A cowpoke shot one of the mob. He fell over dead and the Church Bells tolled.
“Who’s shooting? Cease Fire! Leave these good folk alone! They ain’t got food enough to fill all our bellies. We’re still civilized, ain’t we?” said the Marshal coming out of his office.
Marshal Walter Bryce, who promptly approached the posse and apologized for the townsfolk’s behavior. He was almost as gaunt as the others.
“I’m Marshal Bryce, the law in this town. Say…you haven’t seen a group of wagons heading this way, have you? We’re expecting a food shipment.
The posse took Bryce aside and told him the bad news.
Bryce hung his head when he heard the fate of the wagons. His lean frame sunk in.
“Dang it! That’s the fourth wagon train this month we lost. I don’t know whether it’s outlaws or Indians, but every time we send out a wagon train for supplies it fails to return."
“Have you seen our friend. Young feller. Rode in this morning?” asked Otis.
“Yeah, not sure where he got to though.” said the Marshal.
The posse went to the Crystal River Hotel. Most of the sign letters had fallen leaving Cry A River. Peering in the stable they saw a horse that looked like Calvin’s.
Going in they asked for rooms and asked if Calvin was there.
“He said he wasn’t feeling well and would head over to the doctor’s.” said Taylor Johnson the Hotel owner.
The posse headed over to the Doctor’s and looked around.
“may I help you?” asked Dr Osgood.
“We’re looking for a young man who came in here.” said James.
“Haven’t seen any young men today.” said the Dr.
“That’s funny because Taylor said he saw him come in here.” said James.
“No one’s been in today.” said the dr.
“What’s in here?” asked Moira trying to open the back door.
“That’s my operating theater. It’s full of sensitive equipment and I don’t want your filthy boots in it.” said Dr Osgood.
“Show us the back room.” said Moira.
“I will call the Marshal.” said Dr Osgood.
“Good.” sad Otis.
“Marshal!” shouted Dr Osgood.
The marshal came in and asked “What seems to be the matter here?”
“These ruffians are slandering my good name and tramping there muddy boots about my office.” said Dr Osgood.
“Taylor said our Friend came here and I’m so worried for him. I love him.” said Moira shedding crocadile tears.
“Open the door doc.” said the Marshal.
The Doctor ran for it. Red grabbed his pants leg and Dr Osgood found four guns shoved in his face.
The marshal took the key from his pocket and opened the door.
Inside was a flayed man on a table with arms and a boiler. The boiler chugged steam and several small drills whirred in the arms.
James Puked. Several gun hammers cocked.
“Your alive.” said Moira seeing Calvin in the corner.
“I have never seen that body before in my life. I can’t imagine how it got there.” said Dr Osgood as the Marshal took him to jail.
“I don’t feel well.” said Calvin following the posse back to the Hotel.
Moira Tucked Calvin into bed and asked Taylor to watch after him. They headed to the bar and shortly after Calvin snapped out of his trance.
He walked down stairs and Taylor said
“You look better. Your friends said they were headed to the Six feet under.”
The posse walked into the bar and most people looked up. Everyone looked gaunt except for a group of rough looking men in the corner playing poker. Two miners wrestled in the opposite corner. The posse took a table and ordered whiskey.
“You seen my buddy Cole Porter? Missing a finger?” asked Otis.
“Yeah. He is probably out at the mine or in the Jewel Theater.” said the bartender.
The wrestlers pulled knives and one stabbed the other.
“Take that outside.” said the bartender.
Two men helped the wounded man outside. Calvin saw the men and asked "What happened.
“What’s it look like genius?” asked one.
“I’m a doctor.” said Calvin.
“I’m so sorry. This man’s been stabbed.” said the man.
“They brought the man back into the bar and Calvin dressed his wound. Seeing the blood James dry heaved.
“Thank you. Take this.” said the wounded man handing Calvin a small bag of ghost rocks.
“We were thinking of heading up to the mines.” said Otis.
“You can’t go to the mines. The guards shoot first and claim bandit later.” said the bartender.
The posse went next door to the Jewel theater. the red filmy curtains made the windows look like they were dripping with blood for a minute. The shadows of a coat rack looked like hands reaching up in desperation. They shook their heads and went in .
Belle Sygrove, the lovely middle aged madame came up and asked “What can I do you for?”
“We just wanted a drink.” said Moira.
“Girls. This strapping young man surely wants some company.” said Belle.
Two girls clamped onto Calvin and sat with him.
“You seen Cole Porter around here?” asked Moira.
“Of course. I ain’t seen him today but he comes in regular.” said Belle.
They hung around watching men take whores up to the rooms until they were sure he wasn’t there.
Heading out of the whorehouse the posse headed to the church. It was freshly painted white. The sign read Brotherhood of the covenant. Inside a knot of churchgoers conversed with the preacher. The alter was polished copper. James saw the paintings of christ’s wounds on the cross and grew queezy.
“Welcome, I’m Deacon Robert Plume.”
“You all seem well fed.” said Otis.
“Ray wisely is a godly man. he donated food to the church.” said Plume.
“How long has your church been here?” asked Moira.
“Our congregation left the east because of persecution about our sects particular beliefs. Like the Mormons we fled west and settled here when it was all tents.” said Deacon Plume.
“What particular beliefs?” asked Otis.
“Nothing two unconventional but you know how particular some can be. Why don’t you join our service tomorrow?” asked Robert.
“We will.” said Moira.
The posse went back to the hotel.
Taylor was nodding off at his desk.
“I guess you don’t serve dinner.” said Otis.
“There’s no food.” said Taylor.
“Take this.” said Moira handing him a bundle of hard tack and biscuit.
“Thank you!” said Taylor wolfing it down.
“Is ray Wisely a godly man?” asked Moira.
“I’ve never seen him in church.” said Taylor.
“That’s funny because The Deacon said he donates food.” said Otis.
“What is going on in this town?” asked Otis.
“I can’t rightly say. It’s all gone down hill since Daly’s house burned down with him in it. Ray Wisely had bought the mine right before. Then the bandits came and started stealing the food.” said Taylor.
“You ever see any of these bandits?” asked Moira.
“No but the guards at the mines shoot one from time to time. Also where else would our food go?” asked Taylor.
“there’s more food for you if you’ll sleep in the barn with the horses.” said Moira.
The posse went up stairs. Calvin and James took first watch. They watched the front windows to see if anyone went into the barn. Calvin heard footsteps coming down the hall to their door. James shook his head and Calvin looked at the keyhole. He jumped back as a brown eye filled his vision.
“There’s someone out there.” said Calvin.
James shook his head.
Calvin opened the door and no one was there. Calvin shut the door. he heard footsteps and a door opening and closing in the hall. Footseps came up the stairs and a woman’s voice said
“i wasted the best years of my life on you. Why did I come west with you? What was I thinking.”
“We had some good times didn’t we?” asked Taylor.
Calvin opened the door.
“Who you talking to?” asked Calvin.
“Uh nobody. I talk to myself a lot since Dorothy died. I’m sorry I’ll head back to the stables.
Calvin heard something outside. He ran to another room and looked down at the back of the building at figures huddling in the dark. He ran back and said someone’s at the back of the building.
A door opened and closed downstairs. Everyone got up and ran to the stairs. Gone fire came from the first floor. The lights were low in the dining hall. They peered into the darkness of the stables. running up they were backlit. Bullets whizzed past them. They fired back. Moira ran outside and pushed a rain barrel in front of the barn doors. They charged into the barn with a lantern and shot a couple emaciated miners. A few more fired down from the loft and were shot down.
The marshal ran over and looked at the carnage.
“What happened?” asked The marshal.
“Horse thieves.” said Otis.
“I’m so sorry. Our town is not usually like this.” said Marshal Bryce.
Until next time Pardners…