The Stage Coach
Wyoming – March 4, 1874
mid afternoon was growing long when the hard packed ground began to be
mottled with the strange patches of black stone. A spot here, a
larger spot there ... and then the trail faded away to be replaced by
what looked like four unbroken ribbons of black stone stretching into
the distance as far as the eye could see.
A road, of some kind!
A road, a manufactured road, appearing out of the surroundings and coming into focus!
Cowboy stopped his horse and took a drink from his canteen, considering
his options. This was a road of some kind though how the road had
come to be here or who had built the road, he had no idea. He put
his canteen back on his saddle and gently eased his horse back into a
slow walk. The sound of his horse's shoes on the black road
ahead the black road seemed to flower off to each side ... there were
four separate curving loops that merged to the left and right into
another wide black road that ran perpendicular to the black road that
the Cowboy was traveling upon. There was a gentle rise ahead
where the black road flowered off to each side, other roads looping in
wide curves back down to the other black ribbon, crossed over by a
bridge of some kind, where the second black road flowed under it ... a
bridge, he realized, that was simply built over the other black road
but who would build a bridge over a trail or over the point where one
trail crossed another?
this side of the bridge and on the far side were massive metal
constructs ... like warped steel rails, looking like they couldn't be
as strong as they evidently were. Atop those metal constructs
were large, well-worn and rusty metal signs, some faded green with
white borders, white lettering and numbers ... smaller signs with faded
yellow or orange backgrounds and black bordering, lettering and
numbers. The Cowboy stopped his horse again, pushed his hat up a
bit and leaned forward slightly in his saddle, resting his gloved hands
together on the saddle horn, looking up at the metal signs suspended
above him on the metal construct. The signs held strange letters
though the numbers were recognizable. Whoever had made this road,
whoever had made the signs, hadn't spoken the same language that the
Cowboy did. After a minute or so of trying to make sense out of
all the symbols, letters and numbers on the signs he simply gave up,
shaking his head slowly in amazement then nudging his horse back into a
slow walk forward.
days ago had been the day of The White; when The White came and went,
when things changed ... The White always brought a lot of strange
things from ... somewhere else, and sometimes the White took things
from here to somewhere else. Things. Livestock.
Even entire towns and cities ...
Cowboy had never seen anyone taken by The White ever come back.
Sometimes The White didn't take things, rather The White changed those
things and not for the better. Memories ... not good memories,
Cowboy shook his dark thoughts away and looked around in muted
amazement as he rode. All of this, this road, these metal
constructs, these signs ... must all be from somewhere else ...
somewhere, maybe somewhen else, maybe not even of this Earth, the
Cowboy mused. As he slowly rode along the black road, he noticed
markings on the black road itself and then realized that the black road
had been marked all the way back the way that he had come ... only he
had been too lost in his own thoughts to notice the stripes and dashes
that decorated the middle and sides of the black road. Sometimes
there were strange symbols in the middle of the road, strange writing
in what looked like white and yellow paint. A long white painted
line highlighted the edge of the black road on each side and a dashed
line down the middle of the black road divided the black road into two
smaller ribbons. Sometimes the line in the center was solid,
other times it doubled itself and ran parallel for a while.
Sometimes it was solid on one side and dashed on the other. The
pattern sometimes alternated. The Cowboy quickly lost interest in
trying to make sense of the markings since none of them seemed to warn
of any kind of danger.
now and then a rusty or bent metal pole, more often than not with some
kind of odd faded or rusty metal sign attached, would be driven into
the ground on the side of the black road ... sometimes the odd
metal signs were too rusted or covered in years of elemental exposure
to be seen clearly. Other times the sign would have numbers
displayed, none of which made any more sense than the stripes and paint
lines on the surface of the black road. As the Cowboy rode,
larger metal supports appeared ... one crossing the road completely
with large, rusty and faded signs mounted atop the metal
supports. Strange words ... in a strange language. Almost
all of the signs showed evidence of having been used for target
practice ... bullet holes, shotgun pellet patterns ... a few that
looked like they had holes melted all the way through the sign.
others had passed this way ... maybe they had tried to figure out the
strange markings and what the signs meant. Maybe those who came
this way before the Cowboy had simply grown tired of the mystery and
instead took our their frustration on the strange metal signs using
whatever firepower they had at their disposal.
The thought of that made the Cowboy give a soft chuckle, barley louder than the hot breeze that blew over him.
White had come and gone ... again ... and who knew what it had taken or
what it had brought with it and left behind here where such things
shouldn't be. The Cowboy directed his horse over to one of the
nearer signs ... something had caught his eye ... fine strands, like
spiderweb, wafted gently in the breeze. The more the Cowboy rode
along the black road, the more the signs showed evidence of the fine,
almost invisible spiderweb-like strands.
Fifteen minutes later
the road once again began to disappear, slowly at first, then in an
ever increasing amount. A patch of dirt here, sometimes with
grass or weeds growing out of it, then more patches, then entire
sections of the road had been covered. A few minutes more and the
blafck surface of the road was vanishing slowly into the surroundings
until all trace of it was gone from sight and the Cowboy was once again
travelling on a well used dirt road through scenery that was
recognizable for what it was, if not familiar in passing.
Cowboy had been following the hard beaten dirt road for about an hour
now. Gone were all traces of the strange road, the metal signs,
the strange paint markings ... but now there was something new. A
faint trace of a sickly sweet and strange smell that
wasn’t quite hickory and not quite burned flesh, a smell that tickled
his nose and brought back memories, not good memories, of another
place, another time. Shiloh, where he had worn Confederate gray
in stark contrast to the Union blue. A time when the thunder of
crew served artillery made the air scream and the ground shake and took
men to glory in an orange and black blossom of fire and fury and a
shower of shattered metal filling the air like angry rain. He
remembered the fading cries of those who had existed one instant and
ceased to exist the next. Always the scream of the wounded and
the silence of the dead ... and always that smell ... that sickly sweet and strange smell that
wasn’t quite hickory and not quite burned flesh.
Cowboy closed his eyes for the count of five, then for five more and
felt his eyes burn behind his eye lids. He would need sleep,
soon, and more sleep than he'd like to admit that he really needed.
A good meal and a hot bath might not be a bad idea, either, if he
could find a town or someone who could put him up for the night and was
willing to do a little trade in return. There was a time in his
life, years ago, no, a lifetime ago, when there were no good memories
... when everything but his mind had been shattered and lost and burned
to ash and swept to the four winds and now this smell, this scent in
the air, reminded the Cowboy of that dark, miserable time. A time
of war, of a nation divided, and a time he thought he could forget with
the passage of years and a bottle of whiskey in front of him but even
that hope had faded. The Cowboy shook himself out of his memories
and gently prodded his horse on, riding and thinking and against his
better judgment ... still remembering.
Men did things in war ...
things that they needed to do but should never have to do. Doing
those things didn't mean that men were proud of those things that they
had done ... but you did those things just the same, especially if you
wanted to survive, and it was those memories that the Cowboy
remembered. It was those memories that caused the Cowboy to come
awake with a loud cry on some nights and it was those memories that
came back to haunt him when he closed his eyes and prayed for rest.
Cowboy took out his flask of whiskey and took a long pull from it, was
about to put it back up in his vest pocket, then decided different and
took another long pull from it. He shook the flask ... still
about a third left. He'd need more when he could find it but
until then the whiskey was like holy water ... it kept his demons at
bay, especially at times like now when those demons decided to gang up
on him and haunt him for no better reason than they could.
"Sing." the Cowboy whispered.
his enchanted Colt started to sing there in its holster as thread thin
lines glowed pale blue and moved like living things across the etched
surface of his revolver, no two lines ever the same and the weapon
shrouded in a pale blue luminence of its own making. Sometimes
the Colt talked to him, in whispers, but not now ... Now it just sang.
The Colt sang tirelessly in a softly undulating, decidedly
feminine voice that was as etheral as it was now long familiar to
him. The voice was ancient, soothing, reaching through him
to touch his soul, to touch his troubled spirit and ease his heavy
heart. The songs the Colt sang he couldn’t ever understand but
the songs that the weapon sang never failed to calm him, songs that
called to him across the span of time with a voice that made him long
for the woman who had given him the gift of the enchantment that now
lived in his Colt.
So many memories.
Some good, some bad ... but most of them bad.
Half an hour later,
the Colt still singing softly there in the holster on his hip, the Cowboy came upon the stage coach. It was easy to
recognize the stage coach for what it was as its familiar outline was
illuminated by the bright orange glow of the late afternoon sun.
It was odd that a stage coach would be stopped here like this,
seemingly abandoned. He stopped his horse a hundred feet away
from the stage coach and checked out the situation, patting his horse
and looking for any sign of the coach team or passengers.
Nothing moved around the stage coach and yet that sickly sweet and strange smell that
wasn’t quite hickory and not quite burned flesh had grown stronger, more noticeable, in the last few minutes.
"Stop singing." the Cowboy said softly.
The Colt stopped singing.
Cowboy took his canteen, shook it, took a long drink, paused in
thought, then put the canteen back on his saddle and took out his flask
of whiskey from his duster's inside pocket, taking a long pull and
sizing up the situation. At first glance, the coach looked like
it had simply been abandoned but then he noticed the luggage still tied
securely to the top and rear racks and that struck him as rather
strange if not just damn odd. Perhaps
the stage coach had been abandoned by the coach team and the passengers
but the Cowboy thought that unlikely since the luggage was still
present. He urged his horse to move closer, his reins in his left
gloved hand, his right gloved hand resting on his right hip, near his
holstered Colt revolver.
... bad memories ... whispered to him as old instincts that he had kept
sharp guided his hand now, so much so that it took him a second or two
to even realize where his hand was ... ready ... out of habit and
training and experience. Something wasn't right, just a feeling,
but it was the same kind of feeling that had kept him alive at
Vicksburg, Shiloh, and Chickamauga. The Cowboy used a finger to
gently push his hat higher off his forehead and he leaned forward in
his saddle, sizing up the situation in front of him.
And there it was again, the sickly sweet and strange smell that
wasn’t quite hickory and not quite burned flesh, stronger but seemingly carried aloft on the breeze of the wind.
coach looked abandoned; there were no signs of violence, no visible
damage to suggest that the drivers and passengers, if there had been
any passengers, had come to a bad end.
Surely there had been passengers because the luggage on top of the
stage coach suggested the presence of paying fare. The stage
coach was upright; there was no damage to any of the wheels that he
could see. For all practical purposes, the stage coach looked
like it had simply been abandoned, which was itself odd. The Cowboy moved closer still with
his curiosity overcoming his caution ...
... and ...
his horse snorted and took a step back, drawing the
reins taught in his gloved hand as it pulled its head hard to the side. His horse took another step back ... and another.
Easy. Easy!" the Cowboy whispered, patting the horse with
his gloved hand, realzing only after the fact that he had whispered.
the horse sensed something that the Cowboy didn't ... or couldn't.
The Cowboy had long ago come to understand that animals knew
things before men did and it was an ignorant man who ignored the signs
of an animal starting to spook when the man's own God given senses
refused to show him what the animal clearly saw. The Cowboy
tugged the reins but
the horse would go no further towards the stage coach, so the Cowboy
slipped out of his saddle, taking the reins in his hand and walking
the horse back away from the stage coach, about 20 steps until the
animal seemed calmer. The Cowboy reached up to his saddle pack,
took out a piece of metal, heat bent into a loop at the top and
sharpened to a point on the other end, threaded the reins through the
loop like thread through a needle, tied them off then drove the metal
stake into the ground, tethering the animal in place with enough slack
to keep it comfortable. The Cowboy patted the horse with his
gloved hand, reassuring the animal and that's when the hair on the
back of the Cowboy's
neck started to stand up. He rubbed his gloved hand over his neck
... and found nothing.
horse snorted again, almost softly, and moved back to the limit of the
slack of its staked reins which the Cowboy still held tight in his
"Easy." the Cowboy whispered, patting his horse. "What's gotten into you?"
The horse didn't reply and the Cowboy didn't expect the horse to; after all, the world hadn't gotten that strange ... yet.
horse stood there, at the limit of its reins, staring at the stage
coach. The horses nostrals flared once and it snorted then
accepted its situation. The Cowboy patted the horse, offering
reassurance and calming the animal ... and there was that feeling
again, the tickling on his neck when nothing was there.
And still there was the stage coach ... itself a mystery, now more so than ever.
His horse seemed calmer now, almost tranquil so he thought it best to leave the animal there. The
Cowboy reached up to his sadddle and took his
lever action Winchester repeating rifle out of its saddle bag. He checked
that the rifle was loaded, worked the lever to chamber a round, then approached the stage coach cautiously, his Winchester
held in both
hands in a manner that would allow him either to bring the weapon to
bear quickly or put it up in a show of faith and trust should he find
anyone in need ... or fear ... around the stage coach.
And there it was again.
There was the faint trace of that sickly sweet and strange smell that
wasn’t quite hickory and not quite burned flesh. The smell was
more of a taint than an odor and seemed to be coming strongest from the
stage coach, getting stronger the closer he approached. He stopped, clutched his Winchester,
looking around, listening for … something.
of his instincts that had allowed him to survive Chicamauga and
Vicksburg and Shiloh ... now those instincts, now that experience, told
him to walk backwards, to untie his horse, to climb into the saddle and
ride ... ride as hard and fast as he could away from here. But
that was the fear talking and fear was what got you killed, quick,
because fear clouded your mind, muddled your thoughts, and spoke for
you when you didn't need it to do so.
Nothing moved, not even the air ... and it
was then that the Cowboy noticed that the usual annoying insects were
missing from the arealeaving behind nothing but silence. The
Cowboy squatted on his heels and looked at the ruts left by the passage
of the stage coach; they were deep and wide. The coach had not
only been loaded heavily but it had also been moving fast, way too fast
for caution. The distance between the hoof prints of the horses
indicated that the horse team had been moving at a pace hard enough to
get them lathered. The fact that the wheel ruts and the hoof
prints meandered somewhat meant that whoever had been driving the coach
had been paying attention to something other than the road ahead …
perhaps to … something … following behind the stage coach?
hair on the Cowboy’s neck went straight as he spun in place, turning on
his boot heels and looking back the way that the coach had come.
The path the stage coach had taken along the trail was as evident as it
was wild. The coach and its coach driver had been running from …
something … but whatever it was that had been chasing the coach, its
team and its passengers, had not left a trace.
trace of pursuit yet something had been chasing the stage coach …
something that was ugly enough to frighten a stage coach driver into
whipping his horses almost to death in order to get away from whatever
sickly sweet and strange smell that wasn’t quite hickory and not quite
burned flesh became stronger the closer he approached, and his nose
wrinkled in distaste. The Cowboy was twenty feet away from the
coach when he managed to catch another recognizable shape over the top
of the luggage and travel cases on the top of the coach. It was a
man, leaning and bent forward on the buck board.
the Cowboy shouted as he walked slowly up from behind, moving to the
side… and that peculiar sickly-sweet smell came on strong, as if the
stage coach itself was somehow producing the foul odor.
Cowboy covered his nose and mouth with the left sleeve of his duster
and tried to breathe through the thick fabric, but the smell was there
just the same. He looked at the luggage, tied securely, but the
luggage had been jostled about enough to toss it around in its
strapping and roping. The stage coach had been driven hard.
side curtains in the coach were drawn tight and he stepped back,
letting his eyes travel to the front of the stage coach. What he
saw made his mind scream within his skull, the kind of scream he had
heard years before at Vicksburg when he wore the uniform of the
Confederacy and had seen the horrors of the Civil War first hand …
The Cowboy’s legs went weak, failed him and he stumbled in place before catching himself.
Cowboy’s wide staring eyes took in what his mind could not comprehend,
what his mind refused to acknowledge as being even possible. He
found that his breath had escaped him; his heart pounded in his chest
pushing blood colder than ice through his veins at a rate that caused
his ears to roar.
Cowboy wanted to run away, to scream but he could not. He was
paralyzed with fear and all that he could do was stand there and stare,
open mouthed and unblinking, unable to turn away from the sight before
him. His soul fought desperately to form a sound in his throat
but even that simple sound came out as little more than a strained
whimper, so paralyzed with fear was he because the stage coach hadn’t
been abandoned after all … No, the coach team was still here, with the
coach … or what was left of them.
on the buckboard, illuminated by the shifting light from the auroras,
was both the coach driver and the coach rider, or at least both of
their still fully clothed skeletal remains were there on the buckboard,
both the coach driver and the coach rider were looking back over their
shoulder, looking back behind the stage coach itself but at what the
Cowboy knew not.
skeletal remains seemed to be frozen in time; the empty sockets of the
coach rider’s skull stared at the Cowboy as if mocking him. The
coach rider had been sitting on the buckboard beside the coach driver;
a shortened double barrel shotgun, a coach gun, still held in his
skeletal hands appeared to be in the act of reloading. The
shotgun’s breach was open and long, skeletal fingers were drawing a
shell out of the coach rider’s vest pocket. His bare skull looked
over his right shoulder, looking at something that was … or had been …
behind the stage coach. Now the empty sockets of the coach
rider’s skull were staring almost directly at the Cowboy, the coach
rider’s jawbone open as wide as it could be … seemingly frozen in a
silent, ear splitting, soul halting scream.
Cowboy didn’t know how long he had stood there, staring at the macabre
sight, but he reckoned that some time had passed before he could
recover his ability to regain his senses, to reacquire his
straight-thinking faculties and even then it was against his better,
hard earned experience to do so. The Cowboy stood there, rifle in
hand and at the ready as he walked slowly toward the stage coach; the
Cowboy’s legs were weak, his heart still pounding, and each step echoed
a silent plea from his soul not to go one bit further. The
sickly-sweet smell grew strong enough to almost gag him and perhaps it
was the taint of the smell that worked to arouse his senses and snap
him out of his mental dullness.
Cowboy looked at the coach driver and the coach rider with morbid
fascination … whatever had killed the two men had killed them almost
instantly, stripping every bit of meat and muscle and fat and viscera
from their bones in the process, a process that had barely allowed the
two men one last, seemingly shared scream.
was no sight or trace of blood … anywhere. If it weren’t for the
smell and the residue on their clothes the Cowboy thought that he might
have believed that he was looking at some kind of macabre display in a
nose wrinkled … again … and itched with the acrid tingle of something
not of this world. The strange sickly-sweet smell was strongest
now this close to the stage coach …
Cowboy looked up at the coach driver … The coach driver’s skull was
turned backwards, looking over his right shoulder, at whatever it was
that had been chasing them. The coach driver’s jawbone was like
that of the coach rider … open as wide as it possibly could be, like
the coach driver had been screaming as loud as he could … in abject
fear … or in total and complete pain when whatever it was that had
overtaken them had killed him.
Cowboy reached out a gloved finger to touch the coach driver’s hand …
it was like the bones had been glued together … strong glue, keeping
the two skeletons in the pose that they had died in and the Cowboy
noticed that the bones were also covered with that curious iridescent
sheen that covered the clothes and leather; the same dried … whatever
it was … easily discernible at the edges and joints of the bones,
almost like fine thread … almost like spider web in the early morning
on the still dew wet grass. The Cowboy brought his gloved finger
back cautiously, sniffing it, and getting a full whiff of the
sickly-sweet odor, much stronger now. The Cowboy was glad that he
was still wearing his heavy leather gloves, thinking that the residue
might indeed be caustic or at least unpleasant to the touch of bare
Cowboy stepped back and looked around the stage coach again … his rifle
now laid more or less casually over his right shoulder. It made
no sense from what the Cowboy could discern. Whatever had killed
the coach driver and coach rider had done so horrifically and almost
instantly, or in such a short time that the two men had barely had time
to scream before whatever had been chasing them was upon them,
stripping their flesh and bodies while reducing them to bare bones.
Cowboy looked closer at the clothes on the skeletons. The cloth
was glistening slightly, coated in what looked like the residue left
behind after a large slug had passed across a wooden step on a
porch. Both the coach driver and the coach rider looked like they
were covered in some kind of very fine cobwebs, stretched across the
bare surfaces of the bones, some of the cobwebs which wafted back and
forth softly in the late afternoon breeze. The cobwebs were very
fine, almost ethereal, and it had taken the Cowboy getting this close
to the bones to even be able to see the cobwebs.
Cowboy stuck the barrel of his Winchester lever action rifle up near
the coach driver, using the barrel to slowly pull away a small bit of
the cobwebs. He held the rifle barrel close, looking at the
cobwebs. No … not cobwebs … because whatever these fine fibers
were they had that strange glistening sheen … the same strange
iridescent sheen that the clothes and bones had to them.
The Cowboy looked around the stage coach.
coach driver’s stance indicated that he had been driving his team hard
and fast. The coach driver’s arms and hands were outstretched,
holding the reins to the team. The Cowboy followed the tight
drawn reins all the way to the bridle and tackle that still was
attached to the skeletons of the four horses, hitched to the yoke of
the stage coach. His disbelieving eyes saw the stance of the
skeletal horses, captured in motion, frozen at full gallop, necks
stretched, mouths open in heavy breathing despite the bit, some of the
horse’s legs were on the ground, others stretched out in the air.
There … the feeling that something was out there … watching … waiting. The Cowboy looked around … nothing.
Nothing but … silence.
Complete silence where complete silence should not have been.
Cowboy took a few steps away from the stage coach and walked towards
the horses. The leather of the harnesses was also covered in that
same iridescent sheen, and the sickly strange smell was stronger here,
much stronger. The horses had died like the coach driver and
coach rider … horribly, painfully, and almost instantaneously.
The bones of the horses, their muscles, skin, hair … everything was
gone. The bones picked clean, coated in that iridescent sheen and
covered in the fine wrapping of the cobwebs that were not
cobwebs. The Cowboy looked at the large, vacant, empty eye
sockets of the lead horse, staring straight ahead, hell bent on running
away from whatever it was that had finally done this to them.
No trace of blood around the horses … just all flesh and meat picked clean.
Cowboy squatted again near the lead horse, leaning slightly, noticing
that the horses were all still shod proper. He started to rub his
chin with his gloved hand, remembered that he had touched the
iridescent residue just a moment or two before, and rubbed his chin
with his other gloved hand.
He squatted there, lost in thought, and then he noticed something … the bones.
bones of the horse in front of him were covered in tiny holes, holes so
small that he hadn’t even noticed them until he had gotten this close
to the skeletonized horses. He looked again … dozens of tiny
holes, like the holes had been drilled at random, in each bone and
joint of the skeletonized horse, and from each hole there seemed to
flow those strange spiderweb like filaments. The Cowboy stood and
went to look at the skull of the lead horse … the skull was covered in
dozens of tiny holes drilled right into the bone, wrapped in the fine
Cowboy walked around to the other three horses, each of their skeletons
had those strange tiny holes drilled in each of the bones, all at
random locations, all around the bone and from every angle … almost
like the skeletons were covered in a tiny case of black measles, holes
almost too small to see from more than a few steps away, those curious
spiderweb-like filaments impossible to see a few steps farther back
Cowboy turned and walked back to the coach driver and coach rider,
climbing a rung on the side of the coach and looking at the exposed
bones of the two men … tiny holes. Tiny holes in each of the
bones, in the joints, and in the skull … all perfectly drilled, all at
random, and dozens of the same size holes on each bone … like …
something had not only stripped the men and the horses to their bare
skeletons but had also drilled into and sucked out every last bit of
marrow from the bones.
Cowboy stepped down and back from the coach … doubting that removing
the marrow from the bones of the men and the horses had been as quick
as removing the meat and skin from the men and horses had seemed to
imply. No … the two men and horses had died instantly and
whatever had killed them had not only stripped them to the bone but had
also stayed around to suck their bones dry from the inside out
Cowboy looked around again … still, nothing moved. He slowly
walked back towards his horse, still tied where he had left it, when
one of the side curtains of the stage coach wafted in the breeze,
causing him to stop.
The stage coach might have been carrying passengers as well … the luggage on top seemed to suggest that.
The Cowboy cautiously reached his gloved hand for the door handle of the stage coach, twisted it, and then stepped back.
door hung there, slightly open, and the Cowboy used the end of the
barrel of his Winchester to slowly open the door to the coach wider.
the coach were four skeletons … a well-dressed man, a well-dressed
woman, a little boy by the cut and style of the clothes on the small
skeleton, and what appeared to be a traveling salesman clutching a
suitcase to his chest. The Cowboy looked in closer,
cautiously. The sickly-sweet smell was strong in here as well,
much stronger, and the Cowboy did a cursory inspection of the four
skeletons finding they were in the same condition as the stage coach
driver and coach rider as well as the horse team.
were frozen in poses of sheer, abject terror. All were
skeletonized, their jawbones slammed open in screams of pain, their
empty sockets of the skulls staring blankly in different directions,
like what had come for them had come in every window and through every
curtain at the same time. Each of the skeletons were bracing
their selves, probably against the wild ride. Each of the
skeletons were still dressed, their clothes covered in that strange
iridescent sheen, their bones showing the same tiny holes, dozens of
holes, all bored into the bones that the Cowboy could see … and the
bones covered in that same fine iridescent cobweb-like material, so
fine that there in the dark of the coach interior he almost didn’t see
A traveling salesman.
had killed them had done so in the exact same manner and at the exact
same time as it had killed the stage coach operators and the horse
team. Suddenly the Cowboy didn’t feel like remaining anywhere
near the stage coach. He did a cursory inspection of the
interior, of the passengers, and with some effort managed to pry the
salesman’s suitcase from his skeletal hands. He searched the rest
of the bodies, the man, the woman, the child, as well as the driver and
the rider, all the while throwing frequent glances over each of his
shoulders to make sure that he and his horse were still alone.
After five minutes he had the belongings of the men, woman and child on
the ground in front of him. The usual fair … some jewelry, a
necklace, a pocket watch (still keeping time), a few rings, some money
and coins, a smoke case with tobacco and paper and matches. The
well-dressed man had a small pistol in his pocket, a gentleman’s pistol
that was more useful in threatening rather than of actually carrying
out that threat.
If anything that the Cowboy found had value in basic trade, he took it. The dead no longer needed their possessions.
Cowboy felt no qualm about doing so … his life had come down to basic
survival and the dead would have no use anymore for what he took from
them. He put the jewelry, money, pocket watch and coins in a
cloth bag he kept in the right-side pocket of his duster. He
stuck the smoke case in the left pocket along with the small pistol …
maybe he could trade that to someone. He climbed up the side of
the coach and quickly used his knife to cut the straps on the luggage
on top, pulling down the suitcases and the trunk and carefully opening
them on the ground.
but clothes and some old letters. He scanned through the letters
quickly then not bothering to put the letters back in the envelopes
they came in he stuck the letters back on top of the clothes in the
case and shut the case again, not bothering to return the ransacked
through luggage to the top of the coach. The traveling salesman’s
suitcase held clothes, a half full bottle of some cheap looking rot gut
that the Cowboy didn’t recognize the label on, and … nothing else which
surprised the Cowboy and made him take a second or two to scowl.
Maybe the man hadn’t been a traveling salesman, but his clothes sure
finished searching the interior and top of the stage coach, the Cowboy
walked to the front of the stage coach and checked the two skeletons
there. Three minutes time with patting down the two skeletons
found some more folding money, a few coins, a small almost full bottle
of whiskey with a label that the Cowboy recognized, a cheaply made
pocket watch and the double barrel twelve-gauge coach gun with ten
spare shells scattered between the two large pockets of the coach
Cowboy left the coach gun but took the shells as they would feed his
own shotgun strapped to his bedroll on the saddle of his horse.
On second thought, the Cowboy took the coach gun as well … thinking it
might be worth something in trade when he next needed to lay in for
minutes later, the Cowboy was back in the saddle, gently walking his
horse on into the late afternoon while the grisly visage of the stage
coach got smaller as it receded in the distance behind him.