The Ghosts of Perdition

Chapter Two, Scene Four
Long Shadows

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Jack and Bulwork looked out into the darkness, knowing Two Crows was out there, but not knowing what form he was in. Bulwork saw, on the edge of the darkness, the movement of a wolf. He put the lantern carefully down on the ground, and placed a handful of trail rations next to it. He stepped back with his hands open. “We mean you no harm,” Bulwork called. “We just want to talk to you.”

Two Crows remained in the shadows and he changed back into his human form. He walked slowly into the lamplight, watching the humans for any sign of trick or aggression. There was none. He leaned down to pick up the food; He was starving. Jack and Bulwork laid out their plan: since Two Crows spent time with the Killers of Carcass Creek, he would be able to lead them to their hideout, where they would assumedly have the loot from the Perdition Bank heist they pulled off a couple months ago. They could work as a team to take out the Killers and get the bank loot in the process. “They are enemies to me,” Two Crows said. “Then we have something in common,” Jack answered. They all headed over to The Grand Hotel to get a much needed night’s rest.

Po-Po had drank his fill and lost some money at the Poker table. He, too, was tired from his travels. Not knowing where his travelling companions had gotten to, he found a quiet place in the scrub-brush behind the One-Eyed Saloon to spend the night. The wind picked up as he lit his opium pipe, and there was a strange unsettled quality to the clear night. As his eyes started to close, and the poppy dreams developed in his head, he heard the sound of plaintive howling from the foothills nearby. He found he could not place the creature’s voice, whether it was man or wild beast. It sounded hungry, and desperate. Then, the dreams took him.

Bart and Two Crows heard the strange animal sound as well. They rose from their cots in the hotel room and looked out the window into the night. The pale moonlight cast a long shadow across the street, that of an unseen person who walked slowly with an awkward gait, like its legs didn’t match up right, or perhaps it was wounded. It moaned again, a sound plaintive and half-human, before it shuffled away and its shadow disappeared. Bart and Two Crows ignored the strange fears this weird shadow instilled in the backs of their minds, and returned to their beds. More than anything, they needed sleep.

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Chapter Two, Scene Three
Bugs in the Brain

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It was then that ruffian Bart McArthur’s wounds and exhaustion caught up with him. He decided not to continue the hunt for Two Crows, and go get a room at the Grand Hotel up the road instead. Now it was just Bulwork and Jack who made their lantern-lit way cautiously around the Assayer’s Office, following the wolf tracks of what Bulwork suspected was Two Crows in animal form. Around the corner, they were confronted with a large, hulking shadow, lumbering towards them from the direction of the street. The lantern light glinted off a star-shaped badge on the shadow’s chest, and they knew they’d be meeting the local law.

Bulwork held the lantern up to his face and introduced himself, noticing that the Sheriff carried the discomforting combination of a shotgun in one hand and a mostly empty bottle of whiskey in the other. The man was obviously staggering drunk. He demanded they explain what they were doing, but barely listened to their answers. “I have to pee,” he declared loudly, placing both his gun and bottle on the ground to go against the wall. Bulwork and Jack eyed the shotgun, Jack obviously wanting to grab it, and Bulwork gesturing that they didn’t need to invite trouble with the Law. The sheriff was too drunk to be a threat anyway.

The man talked over his shoulder in his gravelly low slur while he peed. “I haven’t always been a drunk, you know.” The guys sighed and rolled their eyes. “Uh-huh.” “Really!” he said. “I got cursed. By a witch!” “A witch?” “Yup. Out in the desert. She put… bugs in my brain.” “And that’s why you drink?” “Right. It’s the only thing that quiets them.” The sheriff finished up and picked back up his bottle and shotgun. “You need some help gettin’ somewhere?” Bulwork asked. “Naw, naw, I’m just going back to my place over here…” The sheriff stumbled away towards the Sheriff’s Office across the street.

Watching all this from the near darkness was a wolf the others knew as Two Crows Redfang. He’d been quietly pacing in the scrubby dirt, crossing his tracks all over the place so they wouldn’t be able to follow him. Now he watched, uncertain what to do. He did not trust humans and feared their weapons, but he had a mission to fulfill in their world, and he would need assistance. He had trouble believing the stumbling fat man they’d met could be the Alpha of Perdition, but human behavior was often contradictory and strange to him. The short, bearded one had shown him some kindness, feeding him when he was in human form. He may be worthy to pack with. The wolf would stay hidden and see what they did next.

At the same time, a thin man with slicked back black hair and a thin moustache starts up a “conversation” with Po-Po in the One-Eyed Saloon. When the man realizes Po-Po doesn’t speak English, he speaks louder and with large hand gestures.
“Poker?!? Cards?!? Do you like to gamble?!?” Po-Po gets the gist, having played cards for money countless times. He joins the gambler and another small, quiet man at the table and plays some poker. He quickly loses 15 dollars, and decides not to risk any more. The mustachioed man tells him, without him understanding much, that if he’d like a higher-stakes game, he should head on up to Trixie’s Dance Hall. “And,” he added confidentially, “I hear the Devil’s back in town this week. You don’t know who the Devil is? Oh, you’ll find out! You’ll find out!” He laughed riotously.

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Chapter Two, Scene Two
The Gallows Welcome

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Darkness took over as they passed the gallows on the west end of Perdition, a sand-weathered, two-street town clustered just beyond the last of the foothills and before the Great Dry Plains. The streets were mostly deserted, but lanterns remained on in a few buildings. Bart noticed there was still someone in the Assayers and Land office, and he rushed in to sell off his gold. The large, well-dressed man inside wasn’t thrilled to hear where the gold came from (“haunted,” he called it), but liked the look and weight of the raw nuggets enough to give Bart $200 for it.

Outside, Tommy looked for the Barber’s shop, where his uncle performs haircuts and the occasional doctorin’. Po-Po silently wandered down the street and disappeared into The One-Eyed Saloon. Jack and Bulwark prepared to escort their prisoner, still tied tightly on his horse, to the Sheriff’s office. They spoke with him briefly, tho’ Two Crows talked as if he was barely familiar with the English language. They asked if he was prepared to face the Law, and he nodded slowly, saying, “It is my mission to find the Alpha. If he is the Alpha here, I must meet him.”

Meanwhile, Tommy had progressed pretty far down the street, and they could barely see him in the darkness. They called out to make sure he’d found his destination. He answered he had, and that he’d seek them out tomorrow. Suddenly, Jack and Bulwork heard a thud and a heavy scurrying sound behind them. When they turned quickly, Two Crows was nowhere to be seen, and the ropes that had bound him lay unraveled in the dirt.

They cursed and leapt down from their horses, tying them up at a roadside post. They filled Bart in on the news when he returned from the Assayer’s. Bulwork grabbed his lantern, and they headed towards Two Crows’ most likely path of escape: the alley between the Assayer’s Office and the Bank. As they entered the shadowy passage, a strange, unidentifiable howl was heard from the foothills outside town.

Meanwhile, Po-Po was ordering the second of many planned beers from the rough-looking orcish bartender within the One-Eyed Saloon. It was a dark place with a generally subdued clientele: two hill-folk nursing their mugs, a trio of card players taunting each other. Someone was clumsily playing a honky-tonk folk song from the back of the room. The occupants had fallen silent upon Po-Po’s entrance, but now merely kept an eye on the strange oriental shaman aggressively downing beers at the bar. One of the gamblers called to him to try and pull him into the game, but he didn’t turn around. He didn’t know the language.

Jack, Bart, and Bulwork found no promising tracks in the lantern-lit dirt of the alley, but they continued behind the building. There, they found where an enormous hole had been blown through the back wall of the bank. Jack recalled Chet boasting that the Killers of Canyon Creek had successfully robbed the Perdition Bank a couple months back. This got them all to thinkin’: maybe if they got a hold of Two Crows again, they’d spare him the law’s judgment, and instead use him to track down the Killers and get the bank heist loot for themselves.

They again surveyed the ground to try to figure out which way Two Crows had run. There were horse tracks and all-mixed-up human tracks with no obvious trail to follow. Then, Bulwork found a fresh set of animal tracks he recognized as those of a wolf, heading around the building towards the street. All at once, the specific peculiarities of Two Crows’ behavior, his impossible escape, and now seeing these fresh wolf tracks, planted an idea in Bulwork’s mind. He didn’t want to believe it, but he couldn’t shake it, neither. He was convinced they were dealing with a shape-shifter.
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Chapter Two, Scene One
The Drink of the Dead

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After taking its cruel, otherworldly revenge on ol’ Chet, our party rode from the haunted cave towards Perdition, a bag of gold nuggets richer and still overseeing their last lone prisoner from the Killers of Carcass Creek ambush. This hombre hadn’t drawn much attention to himself since the capture, keeping his head down and not speaking, but now the party noticed his scruffy and cagey manner, and the fact that he studied his surroundings intently from under brim of his filthy old hat.

They’d been following a peaceful creek towards town for a while, and around a rocky bend, the stream suddenly collected into a sizable pool with an atmosphere that was anything but calming. The muddy clay around the pond was piled with the bones of various animals, human remains among them. A board had been painted with the crude image of a skull and hammered into the mud as a warning.

Also on site was a short but sturdy hill-folk scout, standing with a mule that seemed disinterested in moving any further. The scout studied the grim pond and scratched his grizzled beard, looking like he’d spent the last few weeks outdoors. The party approached cautiously, looking and feeling mostly ready for the grave themselves. Introductions went around, and they established the wary trust of exhausted travellers. Turns out Bulwark Blackcave, that being the hill-folk’s name, and ruffian Bart McArthur had both fought for the North in the war, and they compared battle stories that Tommy soaked up with open-jawed astonishment.

Casual banter done with, they spent a few minutes exploring this morbid wellspring of decay. Po-Po, the strange eastern shaman who was uncommonly sensitive to the spirit world, felt an overwhelming presence of evil here. In his typical manner, both exotic and obscure, he attempted to communicate with the rotting bones, but had no success.

The party’s ragged prisoner, who’d been silently staring at the pond’s edge, suddenly spoke up. “Shiny,” he said without emotion, and gestured with his roped hands towards the bone-strewn bank before him. Bulwark investigated, and sure enough, he found a silver dollar coin half-buried in the clay. Studying the tracks in the clay, they decided there had been Shee in the area recently, and that human-sized bodies had been dragged towards the water for some unknown purpose. Bulwark, pleased that the prisoner’s keen observation had proven profitable for himself, shared some trail rations with the tightly bound man. The others showed little interest in the Killer, only hoping his deliverence to Perdition would bring in a decent bounty.

They were yet a couple hours to town, and the night approached, so they moved on. Being a native of the area, Bulwark Blackcave knew the way. As they trodded onwards upon their weary mounts, both Two Crows Redfang, for that was the prisoner’s name, and Bulwork spotted a figure high upon a nearby hill, who seemed to be observing them. It looked to be a female Shee judging by the silhouette, but she was too far away to speak to or shoot at, so they could do nothing but proceed, now with the uneasy feeling that they were being followed.
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Chapter One, Scene Three
Ghost Cave

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En route to the cave, Chet told them the Killers usually split up between the cave and the canyon, and that they had knocked over Perdition’s bank a couple months ago, so they were flush with money. Po-Po noticed as they approached the cave that there were few tracks in the area, and more leading towards than away. More evidence that the cave wasn’t what Chet said it was.

The hand-dug cave mouth sat twenty feet up the side of a steep rock hill, so there was no way to see inside. It was also unlikely they’d get the wounded hostages up there easily. Po-Po searched the ground for a critter to recruit for reconnaissance, and found a lizard under a rock. Speaking to him using the spirits, and bribing him with a bit of food, he asked the lizard to run up and check out the cave. The lizard agreed.

The lizard returned with the report of a deserted, dark cave system, with litter, broken picks, crates, and bones. No people. The lizard said the cave was rumored to be haunted, and the lizard himself believed this to be true. The party decided to leave young Tommy guarding their hostages, and Jack, Bart, and Po-Po headed up to explore.

Darkness and silence enveloped them as they entered with a flickering torch. They heard what could have been a trick of the wind or low, menacing laughter. Jack went ahead to the edge of the torchlight, to be confronted by the angry spirit of an old prospector hanging down from the ceiling. “You’re not going to steal my gold!” he croaked. Jack responded like he normally does, by shooting at him. The spirit was unharmed, but disappeared for now.

They headed deeper into the caves, through a couple rooms of useless debris and scattered bones. Finally they came upon a rotting crate. Bart approached cautiously with his lock pick tools, but he didn’t need them. The lid swung open easily to reveal a pile of decayed clothing. Po-Po suddenly felt a presence behind him in the entrance to the room. He turned to see the wasted face of the prospector, who spat “You’ll never make it out alive!”

images.jpgJust then, clawed skeletal hands reached up from the bottom of the crate at Bart’s throat. Bart dodged the arms and leapt back to see a full human skeleton emerge, followed by another set of arms climbing out. Po-Po said hello to his ghostly friend with his shotgun, which again did not injure the spirit, but did compel him to dissolve. Bart drew the emerged skeleton away from the crate, and Jack threw his torch into the old clothing, causing the chest to erupt in a ball of flame around the second skeleton. Bart took a slash on the face from the skeleton’s claws, but Po-Po tangled the undead in crawling vines, courtesy of the spirits. Bart shattered the horrible thing quickly.

Despite their now considerable wounds, and the presence of a taunting ghost, the party pushed deeper into the caves, driven by the promise of gold. They came upon a small tunnel and had to crawl for hundreds of feet in the close darkness. Jack, at the front, saw the spectral hand of the prospector reaching up through the tunnel floor ahead. At the end of the passage was a small burrow, where they found the skeletal last remains of the prospector in ragged clothes. His big find, a large chunk of gold, was long gone, but Bart thought to go through his clothes, and found his pockets full of gold nuggets. He was grabbing all he could carry when the ground started shaking, and they heard a howl of outrage from the spirit world. It was time to leave, quickly.

As they scrambled back through the passage, the prospector’s hand leapt through the floor numerous times to grab at the hearts of the intruders. Shootin’ Jack took two attacks from the ghostly hand, and his insides felt like cold death. He didn’t think he was going to make it. Finally, they fell out of the tunnel and bolted towards the exit. The evil presence of the spirit fell away as they approached the outside world, and they burst into the hot sunlight, lucky to still be alive.

Back down on the trail, they found Tommy nervously holding a gun on Chet and the other wounded killer, tied up on the ground. The third, unharmed prisoner had gotten away. Jack and Bart confronted Chet about lying that the cave was the Killers’ hideout, but Chet still insisted that they used it sometimes. No one believed him, and the boys came up with their own version of frontier justice: they dragged him up to the cave and pushed him in. Chet stood in the dark of the first cavern. “What do you want me to do?!?” he cried. “I want you to walk inside,” Jack responded, and shot the ground at the killer’s feet. Chet stumbled forward into the darkness, and they once again heard the sound of menacing laughter. Po-Po used the spirits to seal off the cavern entrance with vines, and as the party turned towards Perdition in the long shadows of the late afternoon, they heard Chet’s faint screams from deep inside the hill.
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Chapter One, Scene Two
Ambush!

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Finally the party came down to the foothills on the western side of the Broken Bones, and felt the punishing heat the June sun dealt to the lower praries. Their horses were as tired and thirsty as they were, and the party stopped at a clean watering hole between two steep, scrubby hills to refresh the animals and stretch their own legs. The first indication of trouble was Po-Po spotting a figure crouching down behind a boulder forty feet up the hill on the right side. Immediately, two mangy-lookin strangers approached on the path in front of them, their hands hovering over their gun holsters. The taller one spoke. “I’m Chet! We’re here representatives of the Killers of Carcass Creek. You probably heard of us.”

The party looked at each other and shrugged. No one had heard of them. “Really?” Chet gasped. “We’ve killed some thirty folks in these parts over the last year.”

“So what’s that to us?” Jack asked.

“Well, now, we figured if you all just hand over your horses and money, then nobody has to get hurt.”

They don’t call him Shootin’ Jack for nothing. He smiled and spit. “We’re here representatives of Smith and Wesson,” he said, and his guns were out and blazing before anyone else had chance to draw. They also don’t call him Aimin’ Jack for a reason, cuz’ both his shots missed by a mile.

Then all the guns came out fast and bullets started flying. Jack caught some lead in the leg, and Bart in the chest, but nothin’ that slowed ’em down too much. Bart caught little Tommy rushing forwards to shoot a bad guy in the face, and threw him behind a large boulder for cover. Po-Po released his shotgun towards the rifleman up on the hill, but missed. Jack shot Chet once in the chest and ducked behind a large stone on the other side of the path. Bart told Tommy to cover him while he ran up the hill to take out the rifleman. Po-Po made that job easier by calling on the land-spirits to entangle the shooter in vines that rose up out of the ground. Bart had no problem scurrying up the hill and knocking the tangled thug out with one punch.

The bullet Carl had caught gave him cold feet, and he turned and ran for his horse. Meanwhiile, Jack had found his aim. He ran out from behind the rock and plugged both Chet’s sideman and Chet again. They were on the ground bleeding their surrender before Tommy ran out in hopes of some heroic bad-guy face-shootin’. Tommy was disappointed. “Don’t worry. You’ll get your chance, kid,” Bart laughed.

They tied up the villains, and found out Jack’s bullet would be the death of Chet unless they performed some mountainside surgery with a knife, a bottle of whiskey, and a torch to cauterize the wound. Turns out Jack’s got a pretty steady hand with a doctorin’ blade, and he patched up Chet so’s he wouldn’t die on them. Then, they interrogated the varmints. Chet claimed they were the newcomers to the Killers gang, but there was still a price out on all their heads in Perdition. There were eight other members of the Killers of Carcass Creek, led by one seriously vicious shee killer called One Bloody Knife. He said they holed up in two nearby locations, one a cave about an hour’s ride north, and the other a box canyon another hour north of that.

The party deliberated at length whether to go searching for the Killers’ hideouts or just take them into town for the reward money straight away. Calling upon a spirit of animal speaking, Po-Po talked to the killer’s horses, who said they had never been to the cave that Chet had described. It smelled of a trap. This did not deter Jack and Bart, who decided to travel to the cave anyway, with vague plans of maybe drawing out the other killers with their hostages.

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Chapter One, Scene One
The Train Heads West

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Our story began with a steam train chugging West, carrying a couple notable travelers: Shootin’ Jack McAlister, a gun-for-hire looking for new prospects in the open, lawless frontier, and Po-Po, a Chinese shaman who’d had some kind of trouble in the East he was lookin’ to get away from. Shootin’ Jack had another reason for the trip: a cousin of his, Kurt McAlister, a trapper in the area of Perdition, New Mexico, seems to have got himself missing. The family hadn’t heard from him in months.

They switched trains in Dodge, and their compartment car took on a new passenger: Tommy Taylor, a freckled 12 year old, who talked up a storm and was very interested in Jack’s guns. “Are you a bad guy?” he asked Jack. Jack said he didn’t rightly know whether he was bad or good. It depended who you talked to. Tommy excitedly said he was gonna’ make a name for himself “shootin’ bad guys in the face.” He said his mother had proclaimed him a “wild kid,” and was sending him out west to live with his uncle in Perdition. He planned on becoming the best gunslinger in the west, and showed off his Remington Yellow Jacket .22 revolver. “Good luck with that, kid,” Jack said. Tommy asked Jack how many men he’d killed. “Maybe ’bout 200,” Jack said. Tommy had a new hero.

A long ride brought them to Santa Fe, where they disembarked and rented horses. They met up with a loner ruffian by the name of Bart McArthur, a former Union soldier who now wandered the land out there, doin’ odd jobs both lawful and not-as-so. They headed into the mountain range that the locals called The Broken Bones, accompanying wagons that were delivering supplies to a silver mine up in the cold peaks. The wagons reached their mines, and the party became just the three men and the boy, tired and travel-weary from the tough ridin’ and campin’ in the mountains.
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