The Crossroads of the Aether
Thomas Bishop has not received any gifts yet
We manage to close the door without attracting attention. Ms. Penshot moves to the back of the small one room cottage, leans against the wall and slides to the floor holding her right arm to her chest. There is a lot of blood staining her simple blue dress. More blood on her face turning her pretty charms into a horror show.
I whisper to Mr. Willowby to securely bar the door and to be sure not to make too much noise doing it. We don't want to attract the wrong attention just yet. He looks almost as bad as Ms. Penshot. Blood thickening in his hair and soaking his shirt. Mr. Willowby's young face has an almost vacant look as if his mind has retreated from the horrors we had just escaped from. He nods once and moves listlessly to move a table over by the door to block it better.
I leave him to his task and kneel by Ms. Penshot. I whisper to her softly, “Ms. Penshot? Ms. Penshot, are you alright?” She looks up at me slowly still cradling her right arm. “Ms. Penshot, may I take a look at your arm? If you are injured we need to get it looked at lest an infection sets in.”
Taking her arm gently I push the sleeve up exposing what I feared. There on her forearm was the tell tale crescents of a bite. It did not look like a vicious bite, there was no deep gash, no missing chunk of flesh, so there was a possibility that Ms. Penshot would be alright and that it was just the shock of what she had been through that took the light out of her eyes. With a little water from my canteen I wash the drying blood from the bite. Once the bite was cleaned my fears were confirmed. The skin had been broken.
I reach inside the breast pocket of my coat, pulling out a vial, I look at it and seeing that it was not the correct one, place it back in the pocket and rummage for another. Producing a small vial filled with a cloudy mixture with no label I remove the cap and hand it to Ms. Penshot. “Here, drink this, it will take care of the infection”. I lie to her. I have to help her drink the contents of the vial as she is in no real condition to do anything. She looks at me with that thankful expression I know I will see over and over again in my nightmares. Unable to bear it for too long I stand and move over to Mr. Willowby to check on his progress on barring the door.
Marcus had finished his task and was sitting facing the door in one of the two chairs in the cottage. I take a .45 caliber pistol from the holster on my belt and hand it to him saying, “You're going to need this. This pistol is special. The copper tubing on both sides of the barrel running back to just behind the cylinder use the gas to push the hammer back. If you hold the trigger down it will continue to fire. I recommend one or two rounds per target.” He numbly takes the pistol and lays it in his lap. I hand him an oil-paper wrapped package of cartridges for the gun. I take one out and place it in the breast pocket of his shirt I saying, “Shoot all the ones in the package at anything that moves outside, but save this one for last. I'm sure you can determine it's use.”
Looking up at me I see the hopelessness in his eyes. I see that he has already given up. “We're not dead yet Mr. Willowby. Not while I still got this”, I say as I pat the Mule, an exceptionally large bolt-action fire-arm strapped to my left hip.
“What was it that you gave to her?” He asks glancing over at Ms. Penshot.
“Mercy”, I reply looking him in the eye.
“What do you mean, mercy?”
I say nothing, knowing that he will figure it out on his own.
“You monster! You poisoned her? You might as well have let those, those creatures take her.”
“Mr. Willowby, even now she is turning into one of those creatures. Even with the poison in her system she will die and rise up as one of those beings with a hunger for the flesh of the living. I have merely eased her suffering.” I look over at Ms. Penshot and see a pained look come over her face. With a nod to myself I stand and step over by her drawing the Mule as I move.
She coughs twice with blood frothing upon her lip and then she is still. A calm serene look descends over her face. With my left hand I cycle the bolt and chamber a round. “What are you doing now?” Marcus said with a look of concern on his face.
“Finishing the job.” As her eyes snap open I get a glimpse of the hunger within before I draw my weapon and fire making a ruin of her once fine features.
With the sound of my cannon still ringing in my ears, and possibly still echoing through Silver Falls, I stand on a chair and open the trap door to the roof. Marcus was still staring at the remains of Ms. Penshot, replaying in his mind the scene that just transpired. “Marcus, they will be coming for us. I'm going up on the roof to lead them away. Remember what I told you to do. Shoot anything that tries to get in.”
He takes the pistol in hand and moves back to the door nodding silently as I make my way out onto the roof. Closing the trap door I look around and see roughly twenty five of the undead making their way towards the little cottage.
Walking carefully across the roof towards the next building in the little boom town of Silver Falls I eye the distance and determine that I can make the jump. With two quick steps I leap across the narrow gap and land on my feet. I continue down the row of buildings and houses until I get to the end. Here I chamber another round and with a resounding boom I send the nearest sailing off his feet to land in the dust to remain still.
While I carry on chambering rounds and picking them off as they head towards me now I hear the whispering put-put of the .45 as Marcus fires at those who pass the cottage.
They gather around the little building where I am making my stand and begin to climb as I pull a clip of bullets from my coat pocket and load them into the top of the weapon pocketing the clip as I finish. Out of the corner of my eye I spot one of the miners as he stands erect on the roof. I smash in his teeth and lower jaw with the small butt of my weapon as I turn to shoot another in its face, the round going through the decaying flesh and into the undead thing behind her.
Quickly chambering another round I turn to the next one that has gained purchase on the roof. I hesitate a mere moment as I confront a child, a boy who couldn't have been maybe ten summers old. A part of me was locked away then as I pointed my gun at him and blasted him off the roof.
Sensing movement behind me I turn and see that my old friend the toothless miner is back. Chambering another round I say, “You've tried to eat the butt end of my gun how about trying the business end this time.” Shoving the barrel of the gun into his ruined mouth I pull the trigger and watch his head burst like a soap bubble.
Taking stock of my surroundings I am surprised that there are no more undead about. I also notice that there are a number of spent casings about me letting me know that I had to have reloaded several times. With the joy of the living I climb down off the blood slick roof and begin making my way back to the little cottage where I left Marcus holed up. I stop dead in the street as I hear the whisper of the .45 from within the cottage and then the small town of Silver Falls becomes as silent as a tomb.
My weapon falls to lie in the dust of the road as I hang my head. With a whisper that echoes through the dead town, I say two words, the last two words ever uttered in Silver Falls. “I failed.”
Three days later sunburned, blistered, dehydrated, and smelling of smoke I board a train heading to Sydney where there awaits a steamship to take me back to Tokyo where I shall deliver a few vials of blood and saliva to the two eager scientists there to study. I leave behind me the smoldering ruins of the silver mining town of Silver Falls and the charred remains of the poor folk who dug in the wrong spot and were punished for it.
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