Silence and pain.
As the dust from the horrendous wreck billowed and swirled about the prone form of Reverend Sebastian Dallas, these were the only sensations that applied to his state of mind. All was darkness in the Reverend’s mind, but the pain of his injured body shot thru his psyche like a bullet thru the brain.
Slowly, the Reverend began to stir, and the world about him regained its shape. He pushed himself to his knees as the fog of injury and confusion began to lift. His eyes cleared of the darkness in him, and he saw the scene of carnage that had developed.
He found himself kneeling amongst a few stunted prairie grasses a few scant yards from the mangled wreck of the No. 6 Black Phantom. The Reverend’s tired and trail-worn eyes had seen much, but the twisted husk of the locomotive put many of the grisly sights which he had borne witness to shame. All about the main body of the crash lay pieces of the engine; they were tangled about one another and shoved into the hard packed Kansas soil from the force of the impact. A thick, roiling cloud of smoke and fire wafted from the wreck itself, and for a moment, the Reverend could hear the tell-tale wailing of ghost rock set alight, and shapes of leering demonic faces seemed to appear and disappear in the cloud itself. The wreck itself was almost unrecognizable as a steam engine of high quality, but instead more resembled a pile of discarded and forgotten hunks of steel and fittings. The engine had been thrown farthest from the crash, it seemed, and had perhaps lifted itself into the air to land rather unceremoniously on the ground. The cars it carried appeared to have fared little better. The Reverend noted that the passenger car he had previously occupied when he last was cognizant had been thrown onto its side, and any luxurious accoutrements it had previously possessed had been stripped away. The paint that had once gilded the car was now mired in smoke and ash and scraped away by the rough landing.
And then it struck the poor Reverend…he was alone.
Struggling to get to his feet, Dallas began hobbling toward the passenger car, all the while not knowing if his comrades were alive. A panic welled up in him, closely mirrored by the pain that had been inflicted upon him. Although he traveled with individuals who perhaps did not share his mission, he knew that, at their cores, they were fellow humans. Besides, his own past was not so honorable…
The Reverend quickly found an entrance into the passenger car and began working thru the wreckage of the lounge. The pool table had been upended and split in two from the force of the impact, while spilled food and drink splashed the once austure wallpaper. Dallas could only hope to himself that non of the stains on the walls were blood.
A groan welled up from the water closet, catching the Reverend’s attention. He stumbled back thru the debris, making his way to the water closet, and fighting gravity and broken apparatuses, Dallas wrenched the door open to find the young Cheyenne, Walks With Moonlight. She coughed and spat up dust (and not a little blood), but appeared otherwise unharmed. Dallas outstretched his hand and asked, “You going to live, Walks?” The young shaman nodded back at the Man of God, and took his hand. The Reverend hauled her to her feet, and set about looking for others.
A loud groan and a shuffling of detritus from the hitching area revealed that Ruckus was yet alive, and the scowling brigand hauled himself to his feet with a grunt of disapproval. “Gol’damn trains! Can’t rely on nuthin’!”, he exclaimed.
The Reverend and Walks stumbled thru the wreckage to the mercenary and Dallas asked, “You seen Leo or Hedgewig?”
Ruckus looked offended. “Yea….I’m fine. Thanks.”
Walks sighed and rolled her eyes. She was not in the mood for more back-and-forth displays of tough-guy animosity. Now was certainly not the time. Leaving the pair, she made her way to the back of the car, the last place she remembered seeing the Southern gambler and the undead scientist.
Piled in the divans next to the exit door at the back of the car, she found Leo Nighthawk. The wiry huckster had to be roused back to consciousness under Walks’ medicinal capabilities, and once he was around, Leo began to speak.
“I don’t know what happened, but I know that Hedgewig had something to do with it. I’d say his demon got the better of him at last. But, where is he?” , Leo asked.
“We haven’t found him yet,” Walks replied, “But, what do you mean? How did Hedgewig cause this?”
Leo took Walks’ hand and shuffled to his feet, joints stiff with pain. “He must have mucked with the train somehow, sabotage I expect. He tried to flee, but I stopped him with my trusty Earthwrack hex. We should look for him.”
Walks was about to reply when a faint sobbing noise grabbed the posse’s attention. Immediately, all four began to pull apart some of the debris, and beneath the liquor cabinets lay one Dr. Hedgewig. The doctor was mad with grief it seemed, and a pall of guilt had settled on his face. A bottle of bourbon rested shakily in his hand as he sat in a ball underneath the debris. He seemed almost oblivious to the fact that he was now faced with the angry and accusing faces of the Posse.
Angrily, Ruckus hauled the doctor to his feet and slapped the liquor out of his hand. Ruckus wasted no words and pulled his pistol from its holster and placed it against the head of Dr. Hedgewig.
“Should I kill the sum’bitch now?”
The Reverend hefted his own rifle and pointed it into the eyes of Hedgewig. “Maybe,” he answered, “but we need to know who’s in there first.”
Finally, the undead scientist broke out of his malady long enough to exclaim, “I had no control! It was animating me, making me sabotage the train! But it has fled my mind….shock of the crash, perhaps, but I am myself once more, I swear!”
Leo seemed unimpressed. “And how are we supposed to know that, sir? I feel that you are attempting to dissuade us from granting you release from your torment, just so you can try to shuffle us off the mortal coil at a later date.”
Ruckus added, “What my dear brother is saying is that yer fulla shit, hombre.” Ruckus cocked the hammer on his pistol and prepared to send Hedgewig to meet his maker, when the Reverend chimed in.
“There’s a way to be sure,” he said, and Reverend Dallas closed his eyes and said a silent prayer to God Almighty. When his eyes opened again, a golden light radiated forth from his pupils, and Dallas scrutinized the Harrowed up and down. When he was satisfied, he said, “It’s Hedgewig, all right. He’s in control for now.”
Ruckus and Leo seemed almost disappointed as Ruckus reholstered his gun and Leo deigned to not contact the spirit world for power to send Hedgewig to Hell. Hedgewig spoke to Dallas, saying, “Thank you Reverend. I am in your—”, but the sentence was not finished, as Reverend Dallas drew his gun and planted it squarely in the doctor’s mouth.
“What I said,” the Reverend explained, “is that you’re in control NOW. Doesn’t mean I trust you, Hedgewig. No one’s dead, so that means you live…for now. You keep your demon in check, doctor, or the next time, I’ll let the Nighthawks send you to Hell on a shutter.” The Reverend removed his pistol from Hedgewig’s mouth and finished, “Comprende’?”
“Indubitably…”, the doctor replied, deflated and beaten.
Walks with Moonlight interrupted, “Boys, I think a departure is in order,” as she pointed toward the flaming wreck of the ghost rock boiler. More fires were spreading, and all of the party knew that the engine would soon go critical!
All of them hurriedly gathered whatever weapons and provisions they could find, and exited the car in a chaotic fashion. The posse ran hard and fast, and soon, they were all thrown to the ground from a violent explosion! The boiler had burst, and whatever remained of the No. 6 Engine was soon obliterated in a pyrotechnic display of vast proportions!