“Not a goddamn thing left!”
Ruckus Nighthawk picked thru the remains of the ruined storage car where the Posse’s supplies, extra weapons and horses were kept. It was total wash. If the violent crash didn’t destroy most of the party’s belongings, the explosion would have certainly done so. Ruckus angrily kicked a piece of broken wood across the ruined car and it careened off into a far corner and landed atop one of the grisly remains of one of the horses.
“I tell ya, this is some bullshit! We were better off on our own! Ever since we ran into this pack of lunatics, we’ve been shot at, stabbed, crawled thru caves, covered in blood, fought off packs of blood-drinking psychos who don’t have the good courtesy to die when ya shoot ’em!…” Ruckus’ sentence trailed off as he continued to loose his anger on the wreckage of the supply car, but his only audience were a pile of broken guns, dead horses and of course, Leo Nighthawk.
The wiry gambler absently wiped some of the soot that Ruckus had kicked up from his tirade off the crisp silk of his shirt. “Indeed, dear brother. Our fortunes have not been the most auspicious as of late. To be truthful, I also weary of this constant assault by the supernatural. Then again, I haven’t had this much fun since Armarillo.” Leo shuffled a pack of cards in one hand while grinning to himself. While, he had to admit, his life had taken a turn for the dangerous and obscene, he was having the time of his life!
Ruckus and Leo exited the ruins of the car and rejoined the Posse. At a small campsite away from the wreckage, Rev. Dallas, Walks With Moonlight and Dr. Hedgewig were seated around the flavorful smelling pot of chili that the Reverend had whipped up. Walks With Moonlight seemed to be keeping an abnormally close eye on the good doctor, and as the Nighthawks rejoined the group, Walks spoke.
“So, the demon got the better of you. You have my sympathies, Doctor. I have not known many who suffer from such curses as you.”
Doctor Hedgewig stirred uncomfortably on the ground. A deep malaise had overtaken the Doctor since his control was wrested away by the demon lurking in his undead mind. Grimly, the Doctor replied, “I agree. Though I do not share your savage predilictions for blaming everything on spooks and goblins, I have to admit that I am at a loss to explain what precisely happened to my ability to control myself.”
All eyes fell on the Doctor as he recounted the tale. “I could…see myself. Not an ‘out-of-body’ experience or what-have-you, but I was fully aware of what I was doing, but powerless to stop it. My ‘demon’ was using my own techinical expertise to sabotage the train. I had no control, and I couldn’t stop it. All I could do was watch….and listen to that insane cackling…I…cannot express my remorse.”
A strangely silent Reverend Dallas handed out bowls of chili to his compatriots as Walks placed a comforting hand on the Doctor’s shoulder. “Few have the strength to best a manitou when it is NOT residing in your soul. You have won control back, Doctor. Do not squander your time in control wallowing in misery.”
Doctor Hedgewig sighed heavily and turned to his bowl of chili when a loud belching noise erupted from Ruckus Nighthawk. The burly gunslinger glowered at Hedgewig and uttered, “Bullshit.”
Reverend Dallas sighed heavily himself, out of aggravation. “What’s done is done, Ruckus. He’s in control, and the Lord willing, he’ll stay that way.”
“Whatever,” Ruckus replied, “All’s I know is if he turns again, I’m blowing a new set of eye sockets in the back of his skull.”
Doctor Hedgewig abruptly set aside his chili and went off by himself. He snatched up a bottle of whiskey from the debris on the ground and set to drinking it deeply as he stumbled away from the rest of the group. He carried a look of utter dismay.
After he had gone, Ruckus grinned slightly to himself and growled, “Was it sumthin’ I said?”
With a belly full of lunch, (and quite a few drops of whiskey in the Doctor’s case), the Posse set about the task finding a way to go. It was the goal to head toward Denver, and on the Black River rails, it was a straight shot from Dodge City. All one had to do was follow the rails.
The march passed in silence, half because no one had much to say, but also from the heat. July was being frightfully unkind to the Posse as it began a march along the rails that would lead them to Denver. The sun beat down upon the Posse like an oppressive blanket of fire. The Reverend marched in grim solitude, seemingly unbothered by the heat, but the trained eye could catch his labored breathing. Walks With Moonlight played a low tune on her sacred flute to ignore the scorching sun. Ruckus greedily downed some more whiskey in his pocket flask, unheeding the knowldge that whiskey only made you thirstier. Leo played a game of Higher/Lower with himself, alternately drawing cards, shuffling his deck and wiping sweat of his well trimmed hairline. Only Doctor Hedgewig seemed to ignore the heat, but he had a different enemy: flies. A group of the winged devils had found the necrotized flesh of Hedgewig a tasty treat, and pecked at him with all the fervor of a vulture on a fresh kill.
Ahead, the Great Plains stretched out in front of the Posse like an endless ocean of grass. Rolling hills and cloudless sky made for uninteresting scenery to accompany a forced march, and the stillness was only broken by the rails that led the Posse on their course. Even this, however, became monotonous; It was only another trail that seemed to lead into infinity, disappearing into the horizon ahead.
After many hours of walking, the Reverend’s tired eyes spotted a break in the endless grassland. What appeared to be buildings were spied nestled in one of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It looked like a mining camp, but more importantly, it was civilization!
The Reverend pointed out the structures to the Posse, and the thought of shelter seemed incredibly inviting to them. Their pace quickened, and salvation was approaching ever closer…
It was only when the Posse saw scores of dead bodies lying in the dirt, pools of dried blood all about them, did they realize salvation was a long way from this place…