The Gallows 12 Sept 1878 4:37 pm
The blackened storm clouds blanketed sky, throwing the desert into an almost unnatural dusk. Soon darkness would completely fall, and with it, the rain. Ed McNeil gripped the rifle in his hands tightly and stared towards Delamar City, just a few buildings with their insides twinkling from oil filled lambs against the horizon. The young man, only two months past nineteen, avoided looking at the scene down in Ghost Moans Canyon and the opening of the mines known as the Gallows. It was just too gruesome, and just too heartbreaking to look at. Ed had lived in Delamar City all his life, his family having moved there when he was only two. His father was a Gallowwalker, a nickname for the miners that worked there. He worked there for over a decade before he threw out his back and now sits at home, coughing up snot from his lungs. He lived his walk in the Gallows. Ed’s brother had been working in the Gallows for about four years now, and Ed thanked God that his brother worked the graveyard shift and wasn’t at them mines when the accident happened. Though Ed’s brother was home with his family, Ed still grew up knowing some of those that laying dead below, those men he called friends, and their families. As the wind picked up, the sound of what only could be described as a low, monotone moan echoed in the air, a sound that had earned the canyon its name. Ed closed his eyes, he knew it was only the wind making the noise, but he couldn’t help but think it was the Gallowwalkers’ spirits making that noise, unable to rest until their bodies are placed into the ground.
Still, Ed had a job to do. As heartbreaking as this tragedy was, Ed still couldn’t help feeling a little pride. After all, this was the first day Ed had been allowed to carry a rifle officially in his job as deputy, and its not everyday that a legend, and one of your own heroes, personally hands you such responsibility. It was as if the President himself haded Ed a medal, expect in this case, the medal was a gun. And the President, he didn’t kill the wicked outlaw Billy Keys in the famous Duel of Bodie, or personally hunt down the dangerous Perish Gang after the Swanson family massacre, killing every member including Mad Dog Minegar and Smooth Draw Sanchez. And, of course, the President had never beat the fastest gun the west, Wild Bill Hickok, not once, but twice in shooting contests in front of hundred of spectators. No, only Sheriff Vaughn could lay claim to those deeds, and for the youngest deputy in Delamar, it was as if God, Himself, hand given him the rifle and ordered him to guard the Gallows.
Turning back to the tent set up in front of the ramp that led down to the gallows, Ed was greeted by the warmth of a fire and the smell of meat and beans, not enough to overpower the stench of rot that drifted up from the mines, but still enough to make the young man’s mouth water and his stomach growl. Underneath a canvas flap put up in front of the tent to keep the rain from putting out the fire was Abraham Harrelson, a black man and one of the reasons why McNeil had been picked for the job despite his age. Abraham was in his early fifties, a skinny, former slave with white peppered through his dark hair and beard, and he had placed the rifle Sheriff Vaughn had given him to scope up some of the bean stew into a metal bowl with a wooden spoon. The sheriff had decided that almost every deputy should be in town to keep the peace in case things got violent over the announcement of the accident, the lives the accident may have taken, and closing of the mines, but he wanted to make sure that no one entered the mine, or attempted to retrieve one of the bodies from the Gallows. Sparing one deputy was all he could afford. Abraham worked at the jail, cleaning the offices and jail cells, keeping the guns cleaned and oiled, filing the paperwork since he could read. Sheriff Vaughn usually dealt with Abraham when he had business in the Shanties. But when Vaughn handed the black man a rifle for the guard duty, most of the deputies wanted nothing to do with a colored holding a gun. Ed, being only nineteen, didn’t remember the war that had split and country, and had actually gotten along with Abraham. He liked the old man’s stories, especially the ones involving Wade Vaughn, despite the fact that the sheriff himself had told him that ol’ Abe’s stories were taller than he was.
There would be no stories tonight, however, as Abraham was much more affected than Ed was by the accident. Abe had six sons, and two were working the Gallows. They must have been hard workers like Abe, most positions on the day shift were reserved for whites. It also showed what respect Abe had for Sheriff Vaughn. Ed was sure that Abe wanted to see his sons, to bury them proper, but Vaughn had convinced him not only to wait, but to guard against anyone who didn’t want too. Sitting down, Ed took the bowl of beans from the black man, and nodded his thanks silently. Scooping a spoonful in his mouth, Ed couldn’t help but close his eyes and savor the delectable taste in his mouth, making audible noises as he did so.
“Mmmmm, my word Abe,” Ed said, the taste consuming his senses. “This is the best chili I’ve ever had.”
Ol’ Abe grinned a gap toothed smile. “Why thank ya, Mister McNeil. Me n’ the wife, we wanted to open a restaurant after we was freed. Still do, one day, the help of the kids….”
Suddenly Abraham’s smile died as his eyes focused on something behind the deputy. Ed stopped chewing, and, with a mouthful of chili, turned to see what the had stopped the black man in mid sentence. Perched on a rock behind the deputy, as a huge black buzzard. Its black feathers shined in the flickering orange firelight, and the white plumage at its neck stood in stark contrast of the graying background. Its red, bald, and frankly, ugly head was cocked to the side then shot straight up when it noticed the two men looking, then screeched, a gooey, black substance dripping from its mouth as it did so. The bird’s eyes were hideous, bulging with a purplish white film that covered them, one could see a hint of dark orbs underneath the membrane staring at the men with something that could only be described as hate.
Ed fell onto his back as upon seeing the demonic bird, spilling the bowl of chili and crawling backwards using his feet and elbows. Jesus H Christ, Almighty,” the young deputy almost screamed.
Abe stood up, reaching for his rifle, but the large bird launched itself from its perch, slamming into the man’s chest, its talons piercing shirt and flesh as its hooked beak ripping flesh from his face. The momentum caused the old man to topple onto his back, and as Ed watched he could hear the snapping as it tore chunks of skin from the man. The old man eventually stopped trying to push the bird off his chest and began attempting to protect his face with his arms, losing two fingers in the process.
As Abe screamed in pain, the young deputy scrambled up to his feet, grabbing his own rifle. He pointed the rifle, trying to aim at the bird, but the struggle was too furious, he couldn’t get a bead. Abe was screaming and thrashing around, the bird’s huge wings flapping to maintain its balance. There was suddenly a gurgle as the bird ripped out part of Abe’s throat, and the black man struggled no more. Ed watched in shock as the bird began eating pieces of Abe’s face, yanking an eye from his skull, the vulture cocked its head and stared at Ed.
The young deputy immediately turned to run, crying. He couldn’t believe what he just saw, and throw tears and panic, he didn’t see where he was running, headed towards the slopping hill that lead down the Gallows. He tripped on the railroad beams on the track the miners used to load the gold and mineral they extracted from the mines. Looking up, Ed saw a figure walking towards him, up the slope. He was big, a large man, with large belly, wearing red flannel and blue jean overalls. Looking up at the man’s face, Ed screamed out. The man’s large, breaded face looked burnt in the back of his neck, up to his ear and around parts of his face. The long think beard the man had hung in patches now, and black goo dripped from his mouth onto the hair. His skin was a pale gray with black veins that stood out underneath the thin, translucent skin, like cracks in a granite giant statue. He stared at Ed with the same bulging, purplish white eyes that the bird did.
Ed got up and shakily pointed the rifle at the man. “Stay back! Stay back!” the deputy order. The man bent at the waist and opened his mouth wide, its teeth looking rotted and stained black. Black spittle flew from his mouth as he hissed and slowly walked towards Ed. “Stop! I’ll shoot! Stop!”
The man continued to move, slowly, with purpose, like a animal stalking prey. Ed was panicking, in the back of his head he could almost hear the flapping of wings. “Stop!” the deputy yelled, but it was more of a squeak. Finally the gun erupted, the man was hit in the chest, reacting to the momentum of the bullet, but he did not scream, he did not fall. He simply continued to walk towards his prey.
Ed fired again and again, hitting the man in the chest several times, with the same no effect. Finally, he raised the rifle, and pointed at the man’s head and shot. It hit the man above the right eye, and the man fell. He wasn’t still though. His body flopped about on the dirt ground like a fish out of water. His body shook and shivered, his mouth spurted out black spit and goo, until finally he was still.
Ed whirled around, looking for the bird. It was no where. He walked up to the body of the man he just killed, the first man. But he barely looked like a man anymore. Blackish thick blood oozed out of the many holes in his chest and above his right eye. Ed kicked the body several times then looked up. He pissed himself when he saw them, hundreds walking up the slope. Some running towards him, some shuffling as if chained to cement blocks. Some even ran at him on all fours, like some sort of animal. They were coming up from the Gallows, and their eyes seemed to glow purple in the growing darkness.
Ed went to run, but a hand gripped his ankle and tripped him. Gaining his bearings he looked down at the man he had just killed, but wasn’t dead. Things began to slither out of the hole in his head like darkening veins; small, hair thin, black like roots that seemed to crawl out of the hole like some squid coming out of its den. The man hissed again, keeping grip of the Ed’s ankle, and began to pull itself up on top of the deputy. Ed screamed, kicking the man in the face several times, struggling, using the butt of his rifle finally until he freed himself. The man with the whole in his head struggled, unable to move its legs to get up, it flailed about on the ground, attempting to recapture its escaping prey.
McNeil tried to run, tried to flee, but something had hit him from the direction of the slope sending him face first onto the ground. He knew it was another miner, running fast, probably the first one to reach him from the Gallows. He never got a good look at the man’s face, but black goo seemed to drip constantly from him, and when his hands racked his it was like sharp knives cleaving the skin. His screams didn’t last long, and the echo died before the first drop of rain hit the desert floor.
Unrepentant Hill Sept 12, 1878 6:35 pm
The three black men had run as fast as their legs could carry them, slipping in rain soaked mud as they did so, making Johnny Dauber laugh. Not as hard as when he pulled the his gun on them and saw their eyes bug out in surprise, but a rather loud guffaw noe the less. There hadn’t been much to laugh, or even smile about in the last few days, and especially on this night, with the rain pouring down in the middle of a cemetery, but Johnney still managed, and there was something to be said about that in his mind. The three men had high tailed it out of there so fast they left the cart, mule, shovels and three dead bodies unburied on the rain soaked ground. Holstering his white Cattleman revolver, Johnny sneered at the smell of the bodies and noticed the black stains on the white sheets that they were tightly bound in. It didn’t look much like blood at all. He kneeled down, and unwrapped the head of one of the bodies, glad that he had worn his leather gloves. Pulling the sheet down, he saw the dead man’s face and grimaced. Had he been of weaker stomach, he would have retched at the sight.
“Johnny?” a voice, deep and rough called from behind him. “You run them niggers off, Johnny?”
Duncan Dauber was sitting on a cart, wet and muddy, a shovel in one hand, and a bottle of whiskey two thirds gone, his second in the last two hours. He was staring at the newly made grave in front of him, the wet soil still raised from the burial. Johnny had never seen his father gripped in such grief, not even when his mother died. His eyes were red and puffy, but Johnny could tell if it was only the rain that had wet his face, or if it were tears for his fallen son. It was as if Johnny had seen his father for the first time today, and what he saw was an old and broken man, drunk and covered with mud.
“Yeah,” Johnny muttered, going up to his father, and sitting down on the cart next to him. Duncan handed him the bottle and Johnny took a large gulp, the hot liquor warming his throat. “They were burying some people, one of them looked like Earl Harp, but I could tell, his face was all burnt.”
Duncan didn’t react; he simply grabbed the bottle from this eldest sons hand and took a swig. “A man shouldn’t have to bury his youngest son. It’s not right. It’s not natural.”
“Dad, we shouldn’t have done this. Karen,” Johnny mentioned the name of his father's wife, and Phil’s mother, “she had a right to be at the burial. Sara and Natalie too. Natalie is going to be pretty vexed that you buried Phil by yourself, and here of all places.”
“This is men’s work, the women folk should mind their place,” Duncan told his son, “and I have my reasons.”
Long minutes passed, the light from the oil lantern flicking on the roughly made wooden crosses on the unmarked graves. The cemetery had long been used by the poor to bury dead kin, and by the town when they didn’t want to ‘desacrate’ the cemeteries their loved ones were buried in by burying some murderer or thief that was shot or hanged in the same lot. Duncan had always been a difficult man for his son to understand. When he was in his teens, he looked up to his father, a hellraiser, a man played by his own rules, regardless of the law. If someone disrespected him or his family, Duncan made sure that man would regret it for the rest of his life. He owned the city of Delamar, and Johnny respected that. But as the years passed, something changed in him. Was it that he was getting old, or mellowed out because of his new wife? Or was it the two daughters he treated as princesses, who could do no wrong? Whatever it was, Duncan didn’t seem like the man, or the father, that Johnny had once looked up to anymore.
Getting up, Duncan took chugged the last of the brownish liquid from the bottle then threw it, listening for the sound of breaking ass as it struck a rock next to the bodies that the black men had tried to bury.
“Johnny, its time,” Duncan said, throwing the shovel in the back of the cart he had just been sitting on.
Duncan grabbed a sawed off shotgun from the floor of the cart, his favorite weapon back when he took matters into his own hands, back before Sheriff Vaughn. He turned to Johnny, and his son saw the fire blazing in his eyes again, just like old times.
“Get the boys together,” Duncan said, “its time that we teach Wade Vaughn and McConnell who exactly owns Delamar City. It’s time we bring Virgil back home.”
As the rain fell, the two men left, leaving only the freshly buried grave and three unburied bodies. There were no witnesses as the bodies began to twitch and move, then to thrash violently in the mud as they struggled to free themselves from the ropes that bound them.
The Bucket of Blood Saloon Sept. 12, 1878 8:15 pm
Wade stepped through the entrance of the Bucket of Blood Saloon, and was immediately greeted by cold stares from the few patrons that were there. Ignoring them, he strode the bar, keeping his head up, showing now sign of fear or intimidation. As soon as he sat down at on one of the bar stools, two men, Douglas Lozotte and Bill Millmine, stood up, and walked out, leaving two full glasses of ale behind them. They stared at Wade on the way out, but Wade couldn’t blame them. It was his decision to close the these folks livelihood, to cut off the city’s lifeblood. Even Dan Stevenson, whom Wade had a run in some years ago, and often avoids the Sheriff like the plague, looked up from his card game and stared at Wade as if he were some intruder invading a home.
It had been a long day, and the town meeting had gone exactly the way he thought it was going to go. Anger, confusion and grief ruled that day. Mayor Schlettelin made it no secret that it was Wade that made the decision to close the mines and to wait a day before grieving families could retrieve their loved ones bodies. Then there was the paper work, as hundreds of family members looking for information about their loved one, a father, or brother, or son. At last count, there were one hundred and seventy seven miners listed as missing persons, including thirteen blacks from the Shanties that Wade had personally rode too and had a meeting with them, the same as the white folks in town. Though they suffered from the same tragedy, endured the same emotions, the black folks just seemed to be more appreciative that the Sheriff came in person. Of course, the Mayor wasn’t going to the Shanties at all. Decent whites don’t go near the Shantise, and blacks had no rights to vote.
Wade threw two things onto the bar, and old, dog eared book copy of the Modern Prometheus and a silver dollar. The sound of metal hitting the bar immediately got Lars’s attention, and he walked over to Wade, a look as if he were sucking on a lemon. Lars was the owner of the Bucket of Blood, and seemed like a friendly short of chap, but whenever Wade showed up, Lars’ mood would change. Maybe he just didn’t like authority, or maybe somewhere Wade had unknowingly disrespected him, but whatever the case, Lars certainly treated the Sheriff with a certain amount of hostility. Just one of the reasons Wade had stopped gambling and going out drinking. Tonight, however, seemed the perfect night for a couple drinks.
“You’re not welcome here Sheriff,” Lars said. “You’re money is no good.”
Wade gave the bartender a look that made the man grow white and threw a silver coin on the bar.
Lars looked around the saloon, seeing several of the patrons looking at him, waiting to see what he would do. One more got up and left. “Come on Wade, look at this place. It’s empty because of you, your decision. Everyone is staying home. And now you’re running off the rest of my customers. I’ll give you a bottle, you can take it home, but just leave, okay?”
Suddenly, a twenty dollar silver coin was thrown onto the bar. Lars eyes lit up. “I’m buying and you can keep the change.,” a voice said. Lars greedily scooped up both coins and hurriedly returned with a bottle and two glasses. In his eyes he wasn’t happy about it, but between the two coins, it was much more then he would have made the entire night. “We have business to discuss Mr. Beall,” the man said walking up to stand next to Wade. Lars went off, but not too far, wanting too ease drop on the conversation.
“Not making many friends today, are you Sheriff?” McConnell said, opening the glass bottle of scotch and pouring Wade and himself a glass. After returning the bottle to the bar top, McConnell turned around, leaning his back against the bar so that he could see around the saloon. He was dressed in a fine clothing, the vest probably cost more then what Wade made in a month. He smoked a cigar, blowing a few smoke rings in the air before reaching down and taking a sip of his drink. “I was at the town meeting, damn shame, damn shame.”
“I’m really not in the mood Mr. McConnell,” Wade told him, watching the patrons like a hawk in the mirror behind the bar. “What do you want?”
“Listen,” McConnell said, “I have, that is to say Central Pacific Railroad has… a certain interest in this city. Both you and I have seen gold towns like this, even bigger, shrivel up and blow away like a tumble weed after the mines go dry. I would rather that not happen Sheriff. What I’m offering is a partnership of sorts. You’re going to need a friend in this, you know that don’t you Sheriff. Look at the town meeting, Schlenttelin, he left you hanging in the wind, giving enough rope for the towns people to hang you. He’s not in your corner, and neither is the Gold Standard.”
“Your point?” Wade said, taking a sip.
McConnell smiled. “My point is that we’re allies in this, neither of us want to see this town die, either from going tits up, or from sickness. I understand there’s this ‘dust’ that killed people. I understand you’re waiting for the rain, hoping that it will wash it away, but the fact is, that rain ain’t getting into the mine. You’re going to need both equipment and manpower to clean up and reopen that mine, and I have both, and if I don’t have it, I can get it.”
Wade swirled the liquor in the glass around, then looked up at McConnell. “And you’re doing this out of the goodness of your heart? Wanting nothing in return?”
“Ha, Sheriff, no one does anything out of the goodness of their heart any more. Even Father Martic goes up on the pulpit to preach the word of God, not because he thinks the words will bring more people to heaven, but because the more people he believes he converts, the more he believes his God will love him.” McConnell pulled the cigar from his mouth, the smoke rising up to the rafters. “You’re going to need connections my friend. They got equipment in Pennsylvania that they use to pump out gas from the mines, and it can be used to clear this dust, I’m sure. But its going to take someone with connections to cut through that red tape. I have those connections, having the President of these United States indebted to you is a wonderful thing. The fact is, friends scratch each other’s backs, that’s the way the world is.”
“I’m guessing that, by scratching a friends back, you mean that I should release you men out of jail and you’ll handle all the paperwork for the mine cleaning, including getting this equipment,” Wade said. “I also reckon that the Gold Standard would be indebted to you as well, getting the mining operations back on track. So indebted that you would get exclusive contracts for shipments of silver and gold.”
McConnell smiled, and turned around, leaning against the bar as he did so. “You’re a smart man Sheriff, a smart man indeed. So everyone wins. I get my men back, the town gets its lifeblood back, the people of this town go back to being paid to work, and you look like the hero protecting his town. Everyone wins.”
“Everyone, but the Dauber family,” Wade concluded. “Virgil Dauber would be the one to take the fall for what happened that night. The Gold Standard will cancel most of the Dauber’s contracts, resulting in loss of Dauber’s livelihood. The entire family would loss everything eventually, their land, their ranch, their livestock.”
“Life isn’t fair Sheriff, we both know that.”
Wade finished his glass, then poured another one for himself, then pulled out his pipe from his own vest and a package of tobacco. “Well, Mr. McConnell, what you do say is true, life isn’t fair.” He loaded the end of his pipe, close the package of tobacco and placed it on the bar. He lit a match from the bar surface, and brought the flame to the tobacco, taking some puffs. “But you see,” Wade said through puffs. “Your men broke the law, and its my job to enforce the law.” His pipe lit, he looked up at McConnell. “I really don’t care about this little feud you and the Dauber’s are having, but the fact is, this is my town, my city. Your men will see the judge and it will be up to him what is fair and what isn’t.”
McConnell’s face showed his displeasure. “Sheriff, you’re making a big mistake. I would hate to see what happens if the federal marshals were to get involved in this…. little matter. That would be, unfortunate, especially with people who say…have a long and checkered past.”
Wade smiled, and was about to say something when suddenly someone was pushed through the door way so roughly, he landed face first on the bar floor. Turning, both McConnell and Wade saw that man was one of the Wade’s deputies, Bud Sanders. His hands were bound by rope, and when he looked up at Wade, his face was bloodied and swollen. Above him, Duncan Dauber stood, wet and covered with mud. He held a sawed off shot gun and around his waist, a holstered revolver. Behind him, his son Johnny stood, as did Virgil.
“Lookie here, a pit of vipers,” Duncan said, looking at Wade and McConnell. “Wade!” his eyes focused on the Sheriff. “I buried my son today, on Unrepentant Hill.”
Wade stood up, clenching the pipe in his mouth. His hand went to the handle of his Remington. “You have my condolences Mr. Dauber. I wish things would have been different.”
Duncan kicked the deputy in the ribs. “You shot my boy down like a dog. That’s why I buried him up on that damned hill, Wade, because that’s where all the men you shot down are buried. Guess what though, I made another grave, just for you.” He threw the sawed off shot gun on the bar and placed his hand on his own revolver’s handle. His sons looked at their father, in shock, this wasn‘t part of the plan. “Outside, Ssheriff,” Duncan drunkenly slurred. “Itss time to end this like men. Outside in five minutes, or I’ll burn this whole fucking city down!”