Eugene pulled out the brown envelope just as he’d done countless times over the past couple days. He couldn’t put the trip off any longer, he was telling Ru. Ru had been sharing stories of the ordeal in Shan Fan, although truth be told, he told more stories about the fox-like masseuse and the never-gonna-forget-it-sorry-you-missed-it air ship ride back to Denver. The letter was addressed, “Little Boy Blue,” a name he hadn’t heard in over ten years. “Meet us in Dallas, Texas at the Rusty Nail Saloon within two weeks’ time.” Signed: C&S. Clarissa and Stephan. “We collectively have some unfinished business with a certain few individuals.” It was time to court disaster. He’d always been good at that.
The posse shared stories over a Tennessee whiskey, warmed by the alcohol and the wood-fire stoves in the kitchen, but Eugene noticed Min huddled over a sketch pad in the corner. He recognized the creature he drew – a vampire of sorts, named the pennangalan. She probed him with questions pertaining to the creature, clearly still searching for answers, trying to find out how this happened to her mother. And while he couldn’t dismiss that, Eugene could remind her he needed her. Maybe it would even do her good to help him cheat fate. She considered his request quietly, glancing at Iniwa’s missing eye. Here was a chance to return the favor the posse had done for her. No good would come of this, and she warned Eugene to expect as much. But she was in.
Eugene knew the letter he’d received was probably all just a set-up, and Master McCarthy planned to finally catch up with him. But he might not be expected Eugene to show up with the legendary gun Min, as well as the rest of the equally competent posse. If Papa Lavaysse intended to finish the job his curse had started or if McCarthy planned to finally punish Eugene for the attempt at rebellion some 10 years ago, he was in for quite the surprise.
“But if you know it’s a trap, why are you going? And do you really think any good will come of digging in your past. It certainly didn’t turn out well for me,” Min remarked grimly.
Eugene sighed. It was a good question. “Sometimes Min, you’re right, you can’t cheat what fate has in store for you. The best you can hope for is to meet it straight in the eyes.”
He couldn’t risk leaving Clarissa and Stephan a second time. Whatever was in store for him, he’d meet it head on in the best way he could. And this time, he had a half dozen of the best men and women the West had to offer, to stick by him through whatever hell the South had to offer in the dead of winter.
When Min and Eugene finished talking they noticed Laslow and Felix conferring about a man with an enormous sum on his head: $5,000. That’s money you just can’t look away from. Apparently, the fugitive Sam Bass, alias Sam Bushon, alias Honest Eph, robbed $60,000 in gold from the Union Pacific train at Big Springs Nebraska, also for the stage and train robberies in the Black Hills. The man got around. There was a description of this Notorious Badman, but there was no tellin’ where he was now. He’d been seen in the Dakotas, but word has it he went South to the contested lands – maybe Texas. They’d keep an eye out for this outlaw and his $60,000 in gold. Fitz, Iniwa’s new dog companion, barked in excitement.
Headed to Witch’s Territory
They had to take the Black River Railroad all the way to Little Rock Arkansas, then they’d hop a minor railroad to Jackson Mississippi, and swing back along the Dixie Rails (thank god it’s not Bayou Vermilion!) to Dallas, Texas. And that would get them there a day ahead of the two weeks C & S had asked for. Of course, that took them through Coyote Confederation territory, and uncomfortably near the McCarthy Plantation. But what were the odds that McCarthy would have anyone looking for Eugene in the area ten years later?
The deeper they got into Coyote Confederation territory Felix started being plagued by dreams. They were strange dreams. A woman knew who was, spoke to him from the ether. The posse couldn’t get any clear information out of Felix – whether the woman was beautiful, whether sweet nothings to him, how she about the posse, and what exactly she was asking. They chalked it up to heavy drinks the night before, except Eugene and Iniwa. They knew that dreams could carry spirits. And they knew curses could work on the soul from afar. They worried about the influence of this dreamspeaker.
Min and Felix also spent time chatting up a senator who was on the train who was destined for Little Rock. Ru, Felix, and Eugene gambled an evening away with a soon disgruntled mustached man and a woman named Mary-Beth. She appeared to fawn over the gentlemen, and feigned ignorance of the game, but the ruse was up when she won $60 of their hard-earned money. Ru laughed and said he was out – that he knew better than to play with hucksters. Eugene murmured that he didn’t know what Ru was talking about – partly because he knew sorcerers were strung up by the noose, but partly because he didn’t know a bit of gambling tricks. But Felix and Eugene kept playing despite the odds. Felix, after all, knew what he was doing. He was gambling man – not just one to gamble, but one who knew how to gamble. Eugene just felt like risking it all. He was getting in that kind of mood.
Turns out Lady Luck is a mischievous mistress. Eugene not only earned his money back, he came out ahead by almost $100 more. Over the next day, Iniwa prayed to the spirits in forgiveness for riding the great metal horse that spit smoke from its head. Fitz whined incessantly longing to roam free. Iniwa wondered if it regretted taking up him as a companion. Eugene did join Iniwa for a whole afternoon, meditating on the past as Iniwa channeled the otherworld. In between rigorous sessions of meditation, they talked about the unseen world, the Manitou, and how they performed what Iniwa called “Miracles” or “shamanism.”
In Coyote Confederate territory, Iniwa saw a couple Cherokee board, guided by a Union soldier. They spoke enough of the general Algonkian dialect that Iniwa, Eugene, and they could all hold a conversation, though they mainly stayed away from the white man.
There was a bad moon rising. Fitz knew it. He paced the small compartment nervously. Felix, Iniwa, and Eugene stayed more to themselves, trying to fish out the dreamspeaker. They suspected she road the train with them. They had begun to suspect a woman who seemed to also stay to herself – and lord knows, that must be suspicious. Ru and Laslow took it easy, and spent a fair degree of time in the dining car. Min drank heavily and continued to sketch violent, disturbing images.
Suddenly they all heard a howl – several howls, and close at hand. To their horror, they realized they were from inside the train, not in the black forests zipping by in the window. They heard screams of pain and roars of slaughter. Ru leapt to his feet just as a large wolf-man burst through the door, pressing its bulk through the doorway. He screamed for everyone to get out, and most did, but a couple unfortunates hid behind the seats on the other end of the car while the others pushed their way out. Ru shot the creature dead in the head as it came at its prey. It knocked its head back and shrugged off the bullet as if one would have from an unexpected slap. Ru clambered up latched door in the ceiling, just as the creature swiped below him. He could do nothing to save the other two unfortunates as the creature ripped them apart in mere seconds.
Elsewhere, two cars away, Felix opened the door to his and Eugene’s room and stared into the gaping maw of the werewolf – for he knew what this was. He had heard stories – reliable stories. He shot the creature in the chest, well and good, enough to burst a man’s lungs and heart. But the creature seemed similarly unfazed and stuck its claws deep in his bowels and bit down hard, caving his rib cage in. “Werewolves…” he sputtered. In the next room, the dining car, Min and Laslow ran to the door and saw a third creature tearing apart another commuter. Iniwa and Eugene came up behind them. Laslow’s heavy gun shot the creature and stunned it, while Min did the same to the creature looming over their friend, Felix. But it was only a momentary victory. The flesh and bones of the werewolves healed in seconds, hair back up brisling.
“Silver,” said Eugene and Felix together, though Felix said it through wet, bloody teeth. “We need silver.”
“What? I don’t carry silver on me,” said Min.
Laslow prepared to shoot it again – the only thing he could do. Felix clenched his teeth and regretted not buying that supernatural hunting kit he’d been considering. Eugene stuck his hands into his jacket pockets and pulled a single silver bullet from both his left and his right pocket, as if he’d planned for just this occasion, and carried loose silver bullets in his pockets. He stepped forward with open palms in each direction, one to Min and one to Laslow.
Iniwa took a big desperate step forward hoping to avert disaster. He knew the Cherokee had skinshifters, shaman-workers that did good work. “No,” he said desperately. “No, don’t kill them.” And to the werewolf that looked to be female, “No. Stop. Please stop.”
But the creature, consumed by bloodlust, lunged at him. And then the shots rang. Just as Felix saw the other werewolf open its impossibly wide mouth to consume him, its chest burst open. Again and again Eugene pulled silver bullets from his pockets. Again and again Laslow and Min took the bullets, in a blink they loaded their guns and fired. Mary Beth stepped into the train car behind them and admired the scene, while others ran in terror past her.
Iniwa held one werewolf in his arms as it breathed its last breadth. Eugene glanced down, understanding his friend’s pain, but they had no choice. Min and Laslow briefly checked on Felix who tried to hold his guts in and waved them on. There was still one more. Min, Laslow, and Eugene ran to the next car where Ru had been. They found an even larger werewolf climbing up through the latch, onto the top of the train car, where they could guess Ru had escaped to. The wind whipped into the car, and they imagined the winds tore violently at Ru up-top. They heard shots ring out from above. Apparently, he could keep his footing well enough to keep distracting the werewolf. Eugene gave another bullet to Min, but finding himself closer, he took the last bullet for himself and loaded his own gun. They saw blood spray as the creature finally grabbed hold of Ru’s torso in its claws.
They stood under the opening and shot together. Still it did not die, but wounded, and feeling its pack members absent, it reconsidered for a moment, and let go of Ru. Before Eugene could pull more bullets from the other world with his sorcery, the werewolf jumped off the train, disappearing into the darkness.