Dead Man's Gulch
I reckon I've heard and seen my fair share of strange things out in the wild prairies that make up most of this old country, but the strangest things I ever seen took place in the little West Kansas town of Dead Man's Gulch. This all happened a couple of years back in 1879, just when it seemed like everyone with money to spare was headed out West. I should know. I was there.
Now, I weren't no resident of Dead Man's Gulch, no sir. That town always had something queer about it, like something important was missing and you couldn't figure out what in the Good Lord's name it was. The people was always staring at you out of the corner of their eyes and always seemed to be talking about you behind your back. I didn't like going to Dead Man's Gulch, but men in my line of work don't often have a choice in where they get to go. The name's Clark Reeper, and I'm a bounty hunter.
I was chasing a two-bit gunslinger by the name of Fire-Eyed Dick, and word had it that he was holed up in Dead Man's. Kind of a funny story about who exactly Fire-Eyed Dick was, and I think now would be a good time to tell it you. Dick's bounty was two hundred dollars in pure gold dust, to be paid out in full to whoever brought him in, dead or alive. The bounty was leveled on Fire-Eyed Dick by an old scientist named Doc Torrent.
Torrent, who operated out of a lab in a particularly desolate part of the Dakotas, had heard about my success putting down the monstrous Jackalope nicknamed 'The Ricochet Rabbit' that had been terrorizing the Nevada-California border, and knew I was a fellow that specialized in jobs of a strange and unnatural nature. He told me some bull's crap of a story about how a gunman with piercing eyes had attacked his lab, killed a few of his assistants, stolen his prize experiment and ran off. He wanted me to find this gunman, Fire-Eyed Dick, and bring him back. I knew the Doc wasn't telling me the whole story, but I took the job anyway.
Dick's trail was a wild as a drunk man's wanderings. I chased him all over North Dakota across desert and forest until I caught up with him in a saloon in Deadwood. He was a thin rod of a man, completely covered up in a black cloak and wide-brimmed hat. His hands were even covered with black leather gloves. A burning light seemed to shine through his hat brim, and I began to think he weren't all human.
Turns out I was right. I fired at Fire-Eyed Dick from behind with my trusty twelve-gauge, and that should have torn the fellow apart. Instead, the gunman swung around and lays into me with a fist made of solid steel. But when he hit me, his entire body spun completely around, so that the tips of his boots were pointed the opposite way as his blazing eyes! He got up ran out of the place, his feet still pointing backwards.
After I had picked myself off of the floor and wheezed for a minutes, I was hot on his trail. I caught up with Fire-Eyed Dick and shot off his hat with my peacemaker as he was riding out of town on a stolen horse. Without his hat, I saw that Fire-Eyed Dick didn't have much of a face. It was a metal rod with two light bulbs stuck into it, and it was the light bulbs that gave him that glow.
See, it turns out that Fire-Eyed Dick didn't steal Doc Torrent's experiment. He was the experiment. Torrent had been trying to make a mechanical man with something like a clattering cash register for a brain and a steam engine for a heart. He had succeeded a little too well. That was why Doc Torrent was paying so much for me to kill the mechanical man. He knew that Fire-Eyed Dick would get smarter and smarter and someone had to shut him down before he caused too much trouble. I reckon I was that someone.
I tracked Fire-Eyed Dick out of Deadwood, but he was getting better and better at hiding. I would have to finish him quickly, before he got wise enough to finish me even quicker. I found out he was heading straight for Dead Man's Gulch.
A wagon train was leaving Kansas City on its way to Dead Man's Gulch, and I was able to tag along. There are all sorts of outlaws, Indians, and other dangerous critters running amok in the frontier parries, and that's not even counting some of the stranger things I've seen, things like a train-hijacking crew of Circus Freaks, bloodthirsty cults, and a hairy giant the Indians called Sasquatch. The wagon train was filled with your typical number of immigrants to the west, thin-skinned pioneers looking to strike gold with their first footstep, and nervous families forced to move out to find work and new lives. For some reason, I preferred walking with the latter.
I found myself walking beside a wagon belonging to a fellow from Baltimore by the name of Oswald Green. He was a little fellow with a bowler hat and a thin moustache, the kind you would see toiling away in any big business. He didn't have no place out here and seemed drawn to me. Plus, he had this little boy who was riding along in the wagon, name of Charles, and the boy seemed real excited when I mentioned that I was a bounty hunter. Charles Green was a nice-looking little fellow, decked out in a gray brown suit and peaked cap, and had a full head of curly brown hair and freckles on his face. Didn't have the heart to leave him hanging.
"So, you're saying the people in charge of United Coal are giant lizards?" Oswald asked me after I had mentioned my crusade against the cold-blooded reptilians that controlled the United Coal Company to his son.
"Shape-shifting lizards," I said. "You wouldn't know it to look at them."
"Wow!" Charles said, completely amazed. I couldn't help smiling, even though I could tell that his father didn't believe a word I had said.
"Well, enough about me," I said. "You folks gonna settle down in Dead Man's Gulch?"
"Oh no, we're just passing through on our way to California," Oswald said, glad to get away from the subject of giant lizards. "I wouldn't want Charles to grow up in Dead Man's Gulch. His mother would have wanted the best for him, and right now that's in California."
"His mother is-"
"Dead." Oswald sighed wistfully and Charles looked away. "Some Confederate Renegades that didn't surrender when the war ended attacked her home in 1870. Charles was just born then." Oswald fixed me with a look a few miles from kindly and asked, "what side were you on, if I may ask?"
"Both," I said simply. It was true enough. "But why don't you want to settle in Dead Man's?" I asked, trying to change the sentence. "It ain't the most friendly, town, but there ain't much wrong with it."
Oswald shook his head. "You haven't heard about the Englishman who bought all the land on Blackpine Peak last year? Lord Dark-something, I think his name is. He's supposed to be ruling the place like a king. A depraved king, even connected to the notorious Midnight Gang. Also I hear the people are getting into conflicts with the local Indians, and I really don't want to see the outcome of those conflicts."
"Darkmoore," I whispered to myself. If Lord Darkmoore was here, that meant this was a place with a real presence for the supernatural, and it wasn't a good presence.
"You know him?" Oswald said.
"Yeah. I know him." Then I stopped talking and stared.
The wagon train turned around yet another curve and I saw a sight that will stay with me until my dying days. I gulped and held out my hand for the wagon to stop. "Charles, you should get into the wagon and close your eyes. And probably cover your ears too."
"Why?" Oswald asked curiously. He peered ahead around the bend and gagged. After he had finished retching, he ordered his son to get into the back of the wagon. Charles must have realized how serious things were because he went in the back of the wagon and didn't even complain.
Some things are just so dead wrong that all words in all the fancy-pants Eastern books in the world can't do them justice, and this was one of those things. I had known that Lakota sometimes passed by this area, and the townsfolk battled with them, but nothing like this.
The people here had been a Lakota tribe, well, mostly women, old folks, and little kids that made up an Lakota tribe when the men weren't around, before the townsfolk of Dead Man's Gulch had finished with them. Now they was just pieces, dripping and draining in the dusty dirt.
Some of them were still alive, horrible as it may seem, but vultures, coyotes, and other desert critters were finishing them off the painful way. I spotted a dying old man whispering words in his own language over the bodies of a couple of young children, and I knew he was having the most painful moments of his life. I took out my peacemaker with a spin of my wrist and walked over to ease his passing.
"Easy there, old man, just performing the Good Lord's mercy," I said, pressing the colt's muzzle to the back of his head. His arms and legs were twisted around like broken twigs and he was covered in blood. Even so, he turned around and started shouting furiously in his language, a lot louder than someone in his position should be able to shout.
After I had been scared off by his outburst, he went back to low chanting, but I don't give up that easily. I put one round in his skull right when he was in the middle of his chant, and the old man keeled over. I returned my peacemaker to the holster and walked back to the wagon train.
Most of us holed up in the Killgrave Hotel, a two-bit dump that suited the two-bit town of Dead Man's Gulch. I got a room next to Oswald and Charles Green, and then went off to see if I could catch Fire-Eyed Dick's scent.
I didn't see the mechanical man, but I did figure out the reason why he came to Dead Man's Gulch. Lord Darkmoore was looking for bodyguards, and he had put up posters advertising his need for guns and muscle all over the town. It didn't take me long to figure out why Darkmoore needed hired guns. He was a Vampire, a Vampire Lord, if you want to use their terminology, and he needed folks with guns to watch over him while he slept during the day. I didn't have any reason to kill Darkmoore, and I was hoping I wouldn't even run into him.
With no sign of Fire-Eyed Dick, I headed to the local saloon to knock back a few. Alcohol has always been my vice of choice, you see, and I haven't found any reason to stop yet. But on the way to the Saloon, two things happened that would make my stay in Dead Man's Gulch a lot less easy.
First, Charles Green came running up to me. He was crying and afraid, and shivering all over like he had been out of the cold. His father wasn't anywhere to be seen, and poor Charles was headed straight for me.
"Mr. Reeper! Mr. Reeper!" he cried. He would have collided into me if I hadn't caught the little fellow in my arms.
"What's wrong, son, where's your pa at?" I asked, kindly as I could.
Charles kept on crying for a few seconds, but I calmed him down and got him to talk. "I wanted to see what you wouldn't let me see, the dead Indians! So, I headed out while my father was checking in, and then he went after me. And I saw the Indians, and they were dead, but they were also….alive!" He burst into tears again.
"Don't worry, son," I said to Charles's comfortingly, "corpses can stiffen up sometimes. It happens a lot. They ain't really alive though. Now, where's your pa gone to?"
"They got him!" Charles cried. "The dead Indians, came and ate him up!"
I stared at Charles. I had seen a heck of a lot of strange things, but I wasn't inclined to believe a crying boy's story about living dead eating his daddy. I was about to say something else that would ease Charles's fears, but then a bullet shot whizzed by my head and clipped my hat.
"Son of a gun!" I shouted. Sure enough, Fire-Eyed Dick was right in front of me, a Winchester Rifle in his iron hands. "Charles, you better get behind me, things are about to head straight for Hell." Even I didn't know how right I was.
Despite my urging, the boy seemed too scared to move. He just crouched there and stood still, right in the path of Fire-Eyed Dick's bullet. I roughly picked him up and tossed him to the side, ignoring his squeal of terror. I wouldn't have tossed him around, normally, but I didn't have much choice in the matter.
Fire-Eyed Dick fired again, but the mechanical man's shot went wild and kicked up dust near my right leg. I drew out both of the peacemakers and let him have it. My two shots caught him straight in the chest, tearing off his black coat and letting me get a look at his body. He weren't nothing more than arms, legs, a head, and a body made out of thin medal rods with a couple smoking machines welded onto him. Having a chest about as wide as a stack of nickels meant that he was a lot harder to hit.
Well, we exchanged gunfire for a while, his bullets hitting close but always missing, and my shots always going just by his metal stick of a body. Those twin light bulbs were glaring at me like two little suns, and I got myself an idea. I fanned one of my revolvers, the bullets rapidly flying around Dick and driving him back. Then I drew out my other revolver, closed one eye to aim, and put a single bullet into one of his light bulb eyes. The glass shattered and Fire-Eyed Dick let out a loud whining sound, the first sound I had ever heard him make. I tried to shoot out the other light bulb eye, but Dick scampered down and alley and leapt over a water trough, running like a wounded antelope. He was gone. By now it was nearly dark, and the pale moon had crept out of its hiding spot.
Then something else caught my attention.
See, Charles weren't lying about the living dead Indians. They really had gotten up, still rotting and spilling out every which way, and were coming in to Dead Man's Gulch for revenge. The townsfolk soon started screaming and running around in circles, hollering about 'dead walking,' and other such things.
I turned to Charles, still crouched on the ground. He had stopped crying, and was sitting very still. Slowly, he raised his little arm and pointed behind me. I looked, and there was a large mob of corpses, men, women, and even little kids, all heading our way.
"Ah hell," I muttered. "I thought Dead Man's Gulch was just a nickname! What do these dead folks want?" I soon got my answer when a gaunt-looking Lakota maiden with half of her face missing grabbed the town banker and bit straight into his skull. The poor fellow let out a piercing cry and doubled over on the ground, clutching the gaping hole in his head. Then, in a few seconds, he came to his feet and let out a low, hungry, moan. It didn't take long for me to put two and two together and realize Charles and me had to get out of that place.
"Can you walk?" I asked Charles, pulling the child to his feet.
"I…uh...I guess so," he stammered. I was probably being a little too hard on a boy who had just seen his own father eaten, but I didn't have much of a choice. I was having a lot less choices lately.
"Well, we're gonna have to run. Those dead folks don't look to fast, so it shouldn't be no problem to outrun them. Follow me, we'll get to the stables, get a horse, and leave this town to the corpses. Come on!"
We took off running. To his credit, Charles managed to keep up with me, even though he began panting and wheezing after a couple minutes of sprinting. He followed me a little ways down the dirt main street, and round the corner to the where the stable was. But then I stopped.
A large army of those dead folk was blocking our path, and they weren't just Indians. Nope, it seemed that most of the citizens of Dead Man's Gulch had got bitten, and had turned into things a lot like their attackers. I turned around and more hungry corpses. We were surrounded.
"Son of a gun!" I shouted, drawing out my peacemakers. I blasted the first dead fellow, an overweight man in a butcher's apron, but the bullets just sent him rocking on his feet. Fighting Fire-Eyed Dick gave me another idea, so I tried blasting the dead man in the head. His brains splattered on the dirt road and he toppled over. I reckon even dead folks can't go on when they're missing a brain.
Well, there was only option open: the Killgrave Hotel. "Charles," I said, "we're gonna have to go inside and stay there until we can leave this town for good. How you getting on?"
"Uh…. okay," he wheezed. He was doubled over and his face was red. Poor kid.
"Alright, now you just stay near me and I'll keep them dead things away from you. Don't worry, son." I blasted another walking corpse and started walking slowly backwards to the Hotel, Charles right next to me.
Then a dead boy only a little older than Charles lunged out and grabbed him. I blasted the dead kid's head off with both my peacemakers, but not before it had sunk its teeth into poor Charles's arm. I holstered one of the revolvers, picked up Charles, who was crying piteously, and threw him over my shoulder. Then I raced backward into the hotel. I kicked open the door and slammed it behind me, then found myself looking down the barrel of a wide-mouthed shotgun.
"I ain't no dead man!" I cried, "and there's no need to make me one!"
"The kid's been bit," the man with the shotgun said. He was a short fellow with thinning hair and spectacles. "The name's Murphy, I own this place, and I think we're in the last building not overrun in the whole town. I'll be damned if I let some kid turn into one of those things on us!"
"If he does, then I'll put him down myself!" I shouted. I drew out my revolver and pointed it at Murphy. "Now let me pass or by the Good Lord I will blow your head off!"
I reckon he knew I weren't kidding, so he lowered the shotgun and led me upstairs, but glared at me like he didn't trust me. There was about ten or so townsfolk hiding out in the hotel, and they had barricaded the pathway to the upper story pretty well. I laid Charles down on a bench and looked him over.
"Does it hurt?" I asked. He was very pale and wasn't crying too much. Even though I didn't want to admit it, I knew he was gonna change.
"It hurts," he whispered. "Am I going to be those things that ate my pa?"
"I don't rightly know," I whispered.
"I do," Charles said. "I can feel it happening to me right now. I'll be one of them soon." He was very quiet for a few moments. "Can you make it painless?"
"That I can," I said, feeling sick to my stomach with what I was gonna have to do. I gently pressed the muzzle of the revolver to the boy's forehead. "You won't feel nothing until you reach the Gates of Heaven." I was going to wait for him to change, wanting to give the kid as much life as he had before shooting him, but then something distracted me.
"Hey look at this!" Murphy shouted, pointing out the window. I left Charles lying on the bench and went to see. A youngish man in a white shirt and bowler hat decorated with feathers stood on the roof of the one-story General Store across the street. By his browned skin and face paint, I could tell he was a Lakota. He took out a bow and arrow, tied a rope to the arrow, and shot it straight at the roof of our building, so that the rope hung down like a vine in a jungle. Then he gave the rope a test pull, and leapt into the air, swinging on the rope like he was some kind of monkey.
Much to my amazement, the Lakota made it all the way across. He swung low, and some of the dead people reached up to try and grab him, but he swatted away their hands. Once he had made it across, he climbed up the rope until he got to the window and leapt inside.
"My name is Running Dog. You are the last live people in this city," he said, not sounding tired or short of breath at all. "If you want to stay that way, you will do exactly what I say." He had a real strange accent, almost like a stuffy old Easterner, or even an Englishman straight out of Victoria's Britain.
The survivors gasped in horror and surprise, scared out of their minds when they heard that they were the last ones left alive.
"Now hold on!" Murphy said, swinging his shotgun so it pointed to the Lakota. "Indians were the first ones to stop being dead and start eating people after we killed them all! I say we can't trust any Red Man!"
Faster than I could see, the Lakota grabbed the shotgun and tore it out of Murphy's hands. "You foolish paleface!" he cried. "Even Sitting Bull would not wish this on you! If a Lakota Burial Chant is interrupted, then the dead are not yet dead, and they become hungry. They spread that hunger to everyone else they bite, unless the proper rites are delivered. Or the head is removed." I swear he looked straight at me. "Someone must have interrupted an elder's Burial Chant in the middle."
"Well," I said, "that don't matter none. You said you can finish the chant and send all of those corpses back to being dead, so why don't you do it?"
Running Dog shook his head. "It is not that easy. I only know a few chants and rituals." He sighed. "I was the son of our tribe's medicine man, but I preferred the paleface's ways to our own. I left my tribe for what I thought were greener pastures, even attended Oxford, and I just returned yesterday. I wish I had never left."
"So do I," I said. "Don't you remember any chants?"
Running Dog nodded. "I know one that can stop someone who is bitten from turning." My eyes instantly went to Charles.
"That boy over there, he's been bitten. Can you save him?"
The Lakota walked over and gave Charles a quick look. "I believe I can. Bring a bucket of water and some tobacco, some bandages if you can find them, and I will try my best." We gave Running Dog the materials he wanted and then he set to work. Now I had seen Lakota fighting, and I knew they were fierce warriors. But I had no idea they could be so tender. Running Dog wiped Charles down, gently caressed the wound and burned some tobacco next to him, all the while chanting in a low voice. When he was finished, some color had returned to Charles's cheeks, and Running Dog had also wrapped and bound the wound.
"Thank you," Charles whispered.
"You are welcome, dear boy" Running Dog came to his feet. "The child is saved. Now we have to save ourselves." He went over to the window and looked down at the walking corpses. I walked over to Charles, figuring I was the closest thing he had to a father in this town.
I took off my long brown coat and wrapped him up in it. "You feeling better, son?"
"Yes," Charles said weakly. He smiled. "I can't believe I met a real Indian! And a British one too!
I chuckled and ruffled his hair. Then I went over to where Murphy and Running Dog were talking. It was time to get out of here.
"The stables are our best bet," Murphy said. "The only problem is that the dead have clogged up the streets!" A lot of time had passed, it was not almost midnight, and us survivors had realized that we didn't got enough food to hold out for more than one or two days. It was time to leave, but that presented a bit of a problem.
"If we just had something to clear the way," Running Dog whispered. "It wouldn't be a stroll through Hyde Park, but maybe we could get through."
Running Dog's words gave me an idea. "My tools! They must still be here. You guys just wait here a second or too, and I'll give us something to clear the road." I ran out of the room and headed for my room on the bottom floor. I jumped over a barricade and then stopped dead in my tracks.
The walking corpses had torn down the door and they were walking around inside the hotel lobby. A thin woman with smashed glasses and a tall young man with no left leg fixed on me with hungry gazes.
"Uhhhhh," the young man said. He reached out with one hand and grabbed on to my collar. I went for my peacemakers, but they were plum out of ammo. "Son of a gun, son a gun," I said, kicking the dead man away and stumbling backwards. "Son of a gun!"
I came quickly to my feet and picked up one of the saloon chairs. I had been in plenty of barroom brawls before, but never one against rotting corpses. The woman came at me, and I slammed the chair into her head. It broke apart and sent her sprawling, her brains spilling out on the floor.
Then I grabbed a chair leg and slammed it into the one-legged corpse. His skull was soft and spongy, so I whacked him again and again until he stopped moving. I dropped the bloody chair leg, kicked the corpse off of me, and headed to my room.
The tools were right where I had left them. My twe
lve-gauge, a scoped sharps rifle from the war, and a few more peacemakers. I reloaded, grabbed all of the guns, and then found what I had been looking- several sticks of candy-red dynamite.
Yes sir, Alfred Nobel had outdone himself with the dynamite, and I was happy to have it along. I went back into the lobby, saw a couple more corpses but easily blew their heads off with the twelve-gauge, and then headed upstairs.
Murphy, Running Dog, and the rest of the survivors were just as happy to see the dynamite as I was.
"Now we can finally bust out of here!" Murphy said. He picked up one of the dynamite sticks like he was a kid on Christmas.
"Not so fast," I said. "This stuff is just as likely to blow up us as the dead folks, so we're gonna play this careful." I turned to Running Dog and handed him a stick. "You got a good arm on you?"
"I was a champion horseshoe thrower when I was at Oxford," Running Dog said, with a smile.
"Good. Here's the plan, we split into two groups, each with a couple of sticks. We leapfrog our way to the stables. First group throws, the second group runs, and then the second group throws while the first one runs. I'll take one group, Running Dog takes the other, okay?"
Running Dog nodded. "And who takes the wounded child?"
"I reckon I will." We all stared at each other, as did the other survivors. Some of them had pistols on them, but we didn't have nearly enough ammo to hold out against all the hungry dead for too long. This would have to be quick.
While they were all getting ready, I walked over to Charles. He was looking a lot better, but still pretty weak. "We're gonna get out of here now," I said. "I'm gonna put you on my back. You just hold on real tight and we'll make it. Okay?"
Charles nodded. "Um, Mr. Reeper?" he asked.
"Those dead people, are they going to eat us?"
"Don't you fret, son," I said simply "I won't let them". Charles looked a little bit better, but he didn't say anything. I picked him up and set him on my back, and held on as tight as he could. I drew out one of my revolvers and looked it over. It was almost time.
I picked up my sharps rifle and offered it to Running Dog. "Need some firepower?" I asked.
"I'm fine, thank you." Running Dog tapped the bow and arrow on his back. "You never forget how to use a Lakota War Bow. Let us begin."
I lit the first dynamite stick with a match I struck on my boot heel and tossed it down the stairs so it could clear out the barricade and any dead people that had walked in. There was a lot of smoke and noise and the way was cleared.
My group, about five folks besides Charles, ran out of the Killgrave Hotel and into the street, blasting away with every gun we had. I had given my twelve-gauge and sharps rifle to two of the townsfolk, and while they weren't no Annie Oakley, they held their own. Just as the crowds of dead folk were about to overwhelm us, Running Dog blew apart another hole in front of us and we ran into the General Store, and then blasted a path for him.
Using this pattern we slowly made our way to the stables. It took a long time, a lot of ammunition, and every dynamite stick I had, but we finally made it. Charles hung on like a limpet and I was mighty proud of him.
But just as I shoved open the door of the stables, I thought of something. What if the dead folks liked horsemeat just as much as human meat? With a sinking feeling in my chest, I peered inside.
I was right. The walking corpses had gotten their first, and every horse in the place had been chewed up good. Running Dog and his group ran inside the stable and then they saw what happened.
"Well that does it!" Murphy cried. "I've had it with running! Those goddamn Indians ate everything!" He swung around and aimed his shotgun at Running Dog. "This is all your fault!"
"Now calm down Murphy," I said. "It ain't nobody's fault, so just calm the hell down!"
Murphy shook his head. "No, this goddamn red man did it, and I'm gonna do him in!" He was about to fire, I could tell, and there weren't nothing Running Dog or I could do. But then a hand grabbed Murphy from behind and pulled him backwards. It was a young woman, a Lakota by the looks of her, with a bloody slash in her tan buckskin dress. Running Dog stared at her and watched silently as she tore the screaming Murphy apart. Then Running Dog notched an arrow to his bow and shot it straight into her head. After he had put another one in what was left of Murphy's head, he turned back to me.
"That was my sister," he said simply. "I would recognize those eyes anywhere." We said no more about it.
"There's a train-refueling depot a little ways from town," I said if we can get out there, we'll be safe. Once we explain what happened to the train engineer, I'm sure he'd give us a ride out of here."
"But how are we going to clear away the dead people?" Charles on my back asked. "We don't have any more dynamite, and all the horses are dead."
"Maybe dead." I walked over to one of the horses, a big fellow with his legs all chewed to the bone, and put my hand next to his muzzle. I wasn't completely surprised when he lunged for it. "But the folks outside are dead, and that doesn't slow them down none."
It took us a while to saddle up the dead horses, but we did it. We took some pieces of flesh from the dead people outside and hung them from some poles we found in the stable, and used those to lure the horse corpses forward. It was probably the most stinking ride I ever had, but I was sure grateful for it. Then, with me on the horse and Charles on the back holding onto my waist, we road off.
"Yeee-haw!" I couldn't help shouting as my horse pounded out of the stable. One of its back legs tore off but the animal managed well enough with the other three. The other survivors rode after me with Running Dog bringing up the rear. The corpses blocking our way were trampled under the feet of the dead horses, and we left that stinking town to the flies, the vultures, and the living dead.
We rode the dead horses until the sun rose and Dead Man's Gulch disappeared behind us. Then, we careful blasted apart each one of the horse's heads and buried the bodies. We walked the rest of the way to the train depot.
It wasn't until I was waiting for the train to come that I realized just how tired I was. But I fought to stay awake until the train came, but there was some nagging sensation in my mind that there was still something I had to do. I shrugged it off and sat down next to Charles. He leaned against my shoulder and closed his eyes.
"Where am I going to go now?" he asked in his quaking little voice. "My pa is gone, and I don't have any other relatives."
I thought for a while and then said, "I reckon I'll send you off to a boarding school. You'd get yourself a first-rate education there."
Poor Charles didn't seem to share my high opinion being packed off the boarding school. "I don't want to go to boarding school," he whispered, leaning his curly haired head against my shoulder.
"It ain't gonna be that bad," I said hopefully. "Teachers might beat you a few times, but you'll get a good schooling, and you'll be safe."
"I don't want to go to boarding school," he repeated. "I want to be with you."
"Uh, well, I don't know if I'd be a good father," I muttered. "I've never had much of anything to do with wives and children and such. Sorry kid, it's just not cut out for me."
Then, Running Dog kneeled down next to me. "But you were a good father," he said. "When the lad was scared you comforted him and cared for him. I think you did a capitol job."
I looked at Charles and he looked at me. His eyes got all big and he was looking all small and helpless. I gave in. "Ah hell," I muttered. "Fine, you can stay with me for a bit. Until I figure something else out."
"Thank you," Charles said, beaming.
"But I'm warning you, its gonna be dangerous. I don't even understand half the outlaws and beasts that are trying to kill me these days, or the outlaws and beasts that I'm paid to kill."
"It can't be that dangerous-" Charles was interrupted when a metal stick figure with one light bulb still shining burst out from behind a coal pile and fired on me with a Winchester Repeater. I hadn't finished off Fire-Eyed Dick and now he was here to finish off me.
The bullet went by my shoulder, and I went for my peacemaker. The mechanical man was working the lever of his rifle when I had his last light bulb eye in my sights. I fired, but the bullet neatly missed. He seemed to gloat at me as he finished working the lever and went for the trigger. But with all his cash register brain-powered intelligence, Fire-Eyed Dick had forgotten one thing. He was standing on a railroad line, and railroad lines are home to trains. Doc Torrent must have forgotten to put ears onto Fire-Eyed Dick, because the mechanical man didn't hear the train coming until it was too late.
The train plowed straight into Fire-Eyed Dick and when it came to a stop, only shards of glass from his light bulb eyes remained.
"Like I said," I told Charles as we boarded the train. "It's dangerous."
"Oh," Charles said slowly. "Uh, were are we going to go now?"
"Now? Probably little town in New Mexico by the name of Roswell. Heard on the grapevine a while back that they've been having some trouble with hovering discs and big-headed babies that can shoot lightning bolts or something. Probably need a fellow like me around."
"I'll go with you," Charles assured me. And he did.