Monthly Archives: October 2012

H. Norman Price

I fully depressed the studs on the gun barrel and a two inch blade shot out of the wooden grip. The weight and structure of the gun with the blade extended was roughly the same as the tomahawks I had grown accustomed to during the six months I had spent fighting with the Sioux tribe in Dakota Territory. I had commissioned the modification to my Model 3 in Topeka when my Dakota Territory tour had ended early on account of my placement in Phoenix.

The brown “fancy dandy” wolf had taken a few powerful steps and leapt toward me. The blade caught the wolf in the neck and I sidestepped, dragging the knife with me and ripping flesh. I was fairly certain the wolf would be up again in a few moments, but I took the brief pause in its onslaught to take a shot at H. Norman Price. He was still standing near the mesquites but his calm, handsome businessman’s face had strained into pure outrage. In the time it took to bring my revolver around to a shooting grip, my mind raced, straining to come up with some snappy quip to say to the werewolf that had most of California’s sheriffs in his pocket. I couldn’t come up with anything, so I just took the shot.

Pain exploded in my calves and my bullet missed Price. He didn’t even flinch as the lead tore past his face. The brown wolf dug his claws deep into my left leg and pulled me toward him, his jagged neck wound still dripping. I kicked at it with my right foot and evoked a satisfyingly wet, gurgling growl. Two more kicks, these a little more expertly placed so my spurs did most of the work, loosened the wolf’s grip. Looking down, my left leg was a bloody mess; looking behind me, Price calmly walked away with a smile on his face. This was a hell of a day.

I’d given the brown wolf a fairly rough beating, but he would still be able to take me down if I made a run for Price. Come to think of it, running was probably beyond me at this point, anyway. Rationality screamed at me to incapacitate the beast that had injured me so I could track Price, but pain and fury were more persuasive. The blade was still out on the butt of my gun. I raised my arm and brought it down on the wolf’s shoulder. It didn’t even attempt to block the blow, just sat on its haunches with both paws at its neck and panted heavily. I thumbed a sliding catch below the hammer of my revolver and the blade slipped back into its housing. I cocked and aimed the gun with my right hand while using my left palm and right leg to crabwalk backwards a bit. My intention seemed to dawn on the beast. His eyes narrowed, lips pulled back in a pathetic snarl. I fired.

“You all right down there?”

I looked up to see the Brass Wyrm and the old man above me, his lever-action rifle still trained on the brown wolf.

“I am. He’s not very fancy anymore, though,” I said. This elicited a chuckle from above.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to make it up the ladder this time,” I gestured at my leg.

“Don’t worry ‘bout that none. You think I carry these cannonballs up here by hand? There’s a wooden lift attached to a winch on the stern.”

By the time I was propped up on the Wyrm’s gunwale, my adrenaline rush had melted away and been replaced threefold with pain. The fact that the old man had placed my gunbelt on my upper thigh to stem my bleeding didn’t help. And I wasn’t overjoyed that the leather was getting stained by my blood. I hoped I could buff it out. Still, the gleaming brass handles, pressure gauges, steam release valves, helium tanks, and dark stained wood captured my fancy and awe intermingled with the pained grimace on my face.

“So, what d’you think of your new conveyance?” The old man asked, his words all but dripping with congealed pride.

“Well, it’s a lot different than what we had to work with in the Balloon Corps. Much more regal. And maneuverable. Those weren’t much more than floating lookout stations and occasionally a sharpshooter’s perch.”

“Sharpshooters, eh? I thought the Balloon Corps was a non-combat civilian unit,” the old man’s enthusiasm for his craft had faded. I was worried that talk about the war would stir up old feelings – it often did – but he seemed more conversational than confrontational.

“The Corps was civilian and most of the aeronauts were, too. But some of us were trained in survival and marksmanship and then personally introduced to Commander Lowe by some army brass or other.” I thought it was best to leave the name of the army officer who made the introductions out of the explanation; he wasn’t well liked by southerners, and for good reason.

“So you’re not really a part of the Balloon Corps?”

“No, I am. Or was. I just had supplemental training and received the occasional order from Union Army HQ to take a shot at an officer or cut my tether and reconnoiter further behind Confederate lines.” It wasn’t as simple as that, but I didn’t much feel like elaborating until I had some morphine in my blood. I pulled the end of the belt around my thigh tighter and tried (failed) to bite back a grunt of pain.

“And you were at Vicksburg?”

I nodded in response to the old man’s question.

“Take out any of the Menace that day?”

Another nod.

“How many other sharpshootin’ Balloon Corps boys were there?”

This was an odd line of questioning, but I answered anyway. “None.”

At that, he made a thoughtful noise and turned his attention back to the polished controls.

“We’re closin’ up on town. I don’t suppose you know about our medical situation here?”

I shook my head, which I immediately regretted. I felt as though the small motion had been amplified until my whole head spun around my neck. Nausea set in fairly quickly. Had I lost that much blood? Or was sepsis already setting in? I had been injured before, and it seemed early for some sort of infection.

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The Grey at Vulture City

Some of you may have noticed that it’s been a while since I’ve posted. A number of people in the town have asked me when I’ll be concluding the tale of my first few days in Phoenix when they’ve seen me out and about. I suspect that I’ll have some time very soon, and the reason why is a point of great news.

Earlier in the month, I posted an alert warning about travel between Phoenix and Vulture City and points between. A citrus farmer from Wickenburg, Thom Yekes, and Wickenburg’s sheriff came to me very early Saturday morning saying that Yekes had run across what he thought was a Vicksburg grey about five miles south of his town. We rounded up a group of three men and headed northwest, picking up another two in Wickenburg.

It wasn’t long before I began to see what the locals call “Menace-sign”; a bit of fur in a cholla, some odd prints. Eventually, we came upon the fresh carcasses of two jackrabbits. Leading away from them were hasty prints that morphed from human-sized to much larger. Blood trailed along side the prints until we found a third carcass. He had heard us (or smelled us) when he hunkered down to eat and was on the run. I had a good feeling about this hunt.

The trail was taking us steadily eastward, in the direction of the Hassayampa River. I suggested the other sheriff and the best marksmen in the group turn back for a few minutes and then cut directly across the river and travel back south at a full gallop to meet up with us. I had the rest of the men continue forward in an attempt to keep driving the Menace southeast instead of dead east. I took off due east and rode down the river a ways until I found a good tie up for my horse. I rolled up my pant legs and waded in. It seemed like I slogged through the Hassayampa forever before I heard a rifle crack up ahead. I picked up my pace and drew my revolver.

The sheriff had sighted the wolf first and directed his marksman to take a shot. It was a good shot, though not a kill shot. The wolf was bleeding at a decent rate from its left shoulder. The men from the west side of the river made their entrance with wild pistol shots that did nothing but announce their presence to the wolf. He used the calamity to huddle inside a shallow dirt alcove above the water line. One of the men from the west side ran forward, Bowie knife in hand. I yelled for him to stop, but either he couldn’t hear me or just ignored my warnings. Sprinting down the river, wincing at each sharp rock that stabbed deep into my heel, I didn’t have the best vantage point. All I saw was the man go into a fighting stance at the entrance to the cave and then a bloody paw slash across his chest, claws as hard as steel digging deep, scraping bone.

The man fell back and threw his knife into the cave. This drew a growl from inside. The Menace pounced before remembering he was surrounded. Bullets from my own Model 3, the marksman’s Winchester, and the sheriff’s pistol all converged on the wolf, bringing him down. The injured man was able to walk away from the scene under his own power, though we insisted that he be lashed to boards and carried between two riders back to Wickenburg. Medicine in that town is closer to butchery than surgery, but the wounds didn’t seem as bad as they had from a distance.

At the end of the day, we had one confirmed Menace kill with no loss of human life. Still, the Menace tend to hunt in packs. I saw no evidence of a second wolf, but travelers are still advised to take extra precautions between Vulture City and Phoenix until further notice.

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My First Trip in the Wyrm

“Can you hold them off for a few seconds?” the old man asked, already on the move. I grunted my assent and he climbed the rope ladder into the Brass Wyrm.

Without even a glance at the askew barn door, the old man hefted a large cannonball into the mouth of a forward-facing gun. I smiled at his plan and returned my attention to the easiest point of ingress. A low growl sounded from outside, then the weighty footfalls of a large beast. A large Vicksburg grey bounded into the barn, snarling, froth flying from his fangs as he took in the interior before settling his gaze on me. He pushed off with his right foot like a competitive runner. I raised my Model 3. I took my first shot a little prematurely. The bullet tore a ragged hole in the flesh on the side of the grey’s neck but he didn’t slow down. I kept my finger tight on the trigger and slapped the palm of my hand down hard on the hammer, like the flashier gunfighters do, and the gun bucked again. The recoil from the first shot had raised my barrel a bit, causing the second shot to tear upwards through the werewolf’s snout and into his brain. The body crumpled instantly, but momentum kept it traveling until it slid to rest at my feet.

On the barn door, a dark viscosity trickled slowly downward. Small flecks of the grey’s ruined skull littered the substance. The others outside would smell it and know their advance scout was dead. That might be good; it would tell them I was dangerous and ready for them and force them to lose precious time by coming up with an attack plan. Of course, vengeance and bloodlust could win out over meticulousness and the full force could rush in here to rip me apart. Either way, I would need more than four bullets. I breached my pistol and reloaded.

The old man complimented my shooting from above. I turned to grin at him and saw he held his finger to his lips, telling me to keep quiet. He patted the large cannon he had loaded and primed and mouthed, “Tell me when.” I nodded.

A minute had passed without incident, but the werewolves were still outside. I could hear shuffling outside of the barn and a few intermittent snarls. Finally, two thuds sounded through the barn as heavy objects hit opposite outside walls. Long claws splintered into the wood, disappeared, and then reappeared slightly higher. A shadow blocked the daylight from the askew door. They were trying to attack through the door and flank us by coming in from above.

“Now!” I yelled. The deck gun exploded with smoke and sound. The door exploded in a shower of wood particles. The werewolf who had been in the doorway lay on the ground with two-thirds of door in his chest. I could see a second werewolf down outside and, if it wasn’t dead, it was definitely not getting up any time soon.

“Grab on!” I looked up to see the old man pointing to the Brass Wyrm’s rope ladder.

“What?”

“Grab the ladder!”

“What the hell will that do for me?”

“Listen up. Them wolves’re fixin’ to come through the roof any second. You can grab the confounded ladder or you can stay here and see how long you last.”

I still didn’t understand how climbing the ladder into the dirigible would help us; we’d just be trapped in a smaller area. I grabbed on anyway. As soon as I did, the old man reached out of the bow of the Brass Wyrm to throw a switch on the wall of the barn. At first, nothing happened. Then, I could hear a few solenoids snapping into place followed by a pulsating hum that rose in pitch. The roof began to separate along its center seam and lift away. It was surreal and threw me for a loop, but I soon realized the entire roof was hinged like a large set of horizontal double doors. The hinges must have been powered by something I missed in the barn. The claws that were exploding through the wooden siding had stopped; probably the wolves had been frightened away or physically thrown off by the roof opening. When the doors had opened to a fully vertical position, the rings that had been tying the Wyrm down opened with a series of sharp snaps. We began to lift away from the ground.

Still on the ladder, now supported only by the rung I stood on and the one I clung to with my left arm, I took aim at the splintered, gaping hole that had once been the only (ground) entrance to the barn. Three Vicksburg greys clustered around the opening, ears back in fear but teeth exposed. I was out of range and swinging wildly on the rope ladder. Still, I aimed and fired, seeking only to hold them back. The bullet went wide, but did force the wolves to retreat a few paces. By this time, the Wyrm was completely clear of the barn and my ladder was rapidly following.

“Do you have a plan for these guys?” I asked.

“Yep. Killin’ ‘em. There ain’t but three V-wolves out there and some fancy dandy hangin’ back.”

Fancy was not the right way to describe a Vicksburg grey. When the Menace emerged from the treeline at Vicksburg, we thought they were unstoppable killing machines. Once we rallied and mounted our counter-attack, however, we noticed that a few of them were gimped in some fashion. In my first expedition, I came across a male with a severely underdeveloped right arm that seemed to be protecting a female with a torturously deformed spine. That was the exception, but the rule was matted fur interspersed with mange and a potently organic stench. The Vicksburg greys seemed to be more wild animal than most of the wild animals I’ve encountered. I suspect that they had interbred until only insatiable animalistic drives and human malaise remained.

I holstered my Model 3 and climbed higher on the ladder to see the “fancy dandy.” The old man was right. This was a different face of the Menace, not the blood-thirsty beasts of impulse we were used to. His fur was clean and well-kept; it almost looked like it had been combed. There was an unsettling intelligence behind his eyes that made his hulking stature even more unsettling. I had no doubt that he was the leader of this pack, that he had ordered the Vicksburg greys to climb the barn and attempt the pincer movement, or that his presence here was kismet.

As I was considering this, one final oddity about this wolf struck me. “He’s not grey,” I half-called, more in surprise to myself than to the old man. The Vicksburg greys were so named because they were all fairly monochrome. Some may have white patches or be a salt and peppery shade, but every single werewolf that has been observed in the States has had a coat that could be characterized as grey; most likely this is another trait caused by the high rates of inbreeding. This odd wolf was a dark, chestnut brown.

“Nope. And I have a feelin’ he heard you.” The old man must have heard me, as well. How loud had I been? The brown wolf had begun to back slowly away from the cabin and the greys.

“Go,” the old man commanded. “I’ll take care of these others.”

The Wyrm had been slowly descending foot by foot, but we were still much too high for me to able to step off the ladder. Instead, I wrapped my legs around the whole ladder – allowing my chaps to take up most of the friction burn – and used my hands to grasp every third wooden rungs as I slid down. I reached the ground in good time and not too much the worse for wear. My left inside thigh would be screaming later, but it could be ignored.

The wolf had a good lead on me, but there was a good two miles before the nearest alfalfa field. He ran down the half-beaten path the old man and I had ridden in on, which didn’t seem odd during the heat of the chase. I drew my weapon and fired one shot deliberately low and right, throwing up a cloud of dust just in front of my prey’s foot. The shot was a tactic they taught us in Topeka to end foot chases quickly when we were acting in our secondary capacity; to uphold law and order in our towns. Paramount to that was the “quick and judicious extermination of the Menace in designated jurisdictions.” I sometimes found that order contrary to the goal of eradicating the Menace from North America altogether. The US Sheriff Bureau didn’t care much for interrogation or intelligence, but I did.

Surprisingly, my shot did the trick. The wolf stopped running just past a patch of mesquites and raised his large arms over his head. I stopped running, too, but kept my gun trained on his back as I moved forward.

“On the ground,” I ordered.

“Sheriff Wilcox, surely you don’t need to humiliate him to ask a few questions, do you?”

The voice came from the other side of the mesquite thicket. Idiot! My desire to make the capture had forced me into the realm of sloppiness. I drew my bead on the brown wolf’s head and responded.

“Who is that?”

“H. Norman Price. I own a very profitable business in San Francisco.” A man in a dark vest and shirtsleeves stepped out from behind the mesquites to my left. If I wanted to keep an eye on him, I would have to use my periphery to watch the brown wolf. This was a bad position and I was sure H. Norman Price knew that.

He continued, “You’re pointing your gun at my associate. I’d appreciate it if you’d lower it and listen to a proposition.”

With their positioning dividing my attention, the gun wasn’t doing much good anyhow. I flipped it into the air and caught it by the barrel, placing my thumb and forefinger on two raised studs. Behind us, one of the Wyrm’s deck cannons boomed followed by two shots from a rifle.

“It doesn’t seem right for us to be standing here talking business while some of your kind get slaughtered.” I smiled a bit at the end, just to rub salt in the wound.

“Sheriff Wilcox, those drooling curs are no more ‘our kind’ than an orangutan is yours. I’ve seen more civilized behavior from the feral dogs that plague London.”

So he was a werewolf. That meant I could take one of them out and still have one left to question.

Price shifted his body into a more comfortable stance and adjusted his vest. “We’ve seen you in action, Sheriff Wilcox, so we know a handful of what you call ‘Vicksburg greys’ would be no match. We also know that, despite your remarkable proficiency for war, you’re not as unforgiving as some. I’m referencing, of course, the incident in Dakota Territory three months ago.

“So, I propose to you an understanding. You continue to uphold your duty and slay the greys; both our civilizations will be stronger for it. We’ll even help protect you and your loved ones and offer you financial assistance when needed. In return, you do not hunt us, nor do you mention our existence to your superiors in Topeka and Washington. It’s a good deal; many of the sheriffs in California have taken it.”

More gunfire came from the direction of the Wyrm. I put pressure on the studs on the barrel of my Model 3. The springs pressed back firmly, steeling my decision.

“What if I decline?” I asked.

Price shot me a fake, wood carved grin that showed each one of his teeth. “We have other arguments for you to consider.”

“Well then, I have to decline.”

At that, the brown wolf attacked.

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!Traveler Alert!

This is an urgent alert for travelers northwest of Phoenix. I’m sure most of you are familiar with Sam Easton, the manager at Easton Bank and Loan. Yesterday he came to me with news that a gold delivery from Vulture City was late in arrival. We both assumed that some enterprising criminals had ambushed the driver on his way to Phoenix, so we took a few men with us and went out to investigate. Sure enough, we found the buckboard overturned about halfway between Phoenix and Vulture City, but instead of a busted up driver and no gold, we found gold and no driver. We also found a lot of blood and claw marks on the bench of the buckboard.

Until further notice, there is a Menace watch in effect for the corridor between Phoenix and Vulture City. If possible, try to avoid travel in this area. If not possible, try to form up caravans. There’s safety in numbers. I’ll have caravan signup sheets available at my office tomorrow morning. I’ll also be holding a town meeting tomorrow at high noon to identify anyone interested in forming a posse to clear the area of the Menace.

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