Pulp and Dagger Webzine Presents

Government Agent, Abram Donlevy in

The Terror of the Rails!

An Extraordinary Odyssey of Action and Wonderment!

Andrew Dunphy

Chapter Three -  What Lies in the Field

 MAJOR ABRAM DONLEVY STIRRED FROM WHERE HE HAD BEGUN TO DOZE, his head resting on his chest.  He looked up, feeling the rail car lurch sluggishly to a halt, the sound of pistons hissing and screaming bleeding into the car from outside.  He knuckled the sleep from his eyes and rose to his feet, grabbing up his travelling bag from the seat beside him.  The car was almost deserted, his only travelling companions being a couple of railroad executives come to inspect the front lines.  He squeezed through the aisle and made it to the exit between the cars.  He stopped, squintting against the bright glare of the prairie sun, inhaling of the fresh air.  Then he stepped down.

It was an odd sight, almost surreal.  Surrounding the train was an endless, flat vista interrupted by hillocks comprised of makeshift tents for work crews, and piles of equipment and supplies, some loosely covered over by taurpalins and sheets.  Looking eastward, back the way he had journeyed, the black tracks led into the distance.  But looking west?  There was only a disconnected train car straddling the tracks just in front of the snout of the train engine that had carried his car.

Beyond that, the tracks simply vanished.  This was the end of the line -- in more ways than one.

The trans-Canada railroad was still growing and it was his job to insure that its growth went unarrested.  At least, those were the orders he had received straight from the prime minister of Canada himself, Sir John A. Macdonald.  Something was sabotaging the line.  Some creature, if the stories were to be believed.

"Mr. Kellum?" loudly asked a short, rolly polly man stepping up beside him.  His teeh flashed beneath a bristly red mustache.  "The new accountant?"

Abram took the proffered hand.  Though the rumours were of a creature, there were enough human parties who would benefit from the railroad's destruction that it was felt his investigation should be handled covertly, hence the use of an alias.

"I'm Jackson Maryand.  I'll take you to where you'll want to go."  They made their way through a throng of workmen who had begun congregating around the train, to help unload fresh supplies, or to stand in line for mail.  Maryand said, "This is very exciting.  A government man -- here, of all places.  It's like something out of a penny dreadful."

Abram leaned close and muttered.  "Perhaps we could discuss this somewhere not quite so...public."

Maryand flushed, realizing his mistake.  "Of course.  Of course."  He made a twisting movement with his fingers before his lips, as though fastening a button.  Then he winked at his illustrious charge.

Abram smiled thinly.

Maryand led Abram up into the railcar that marked the end of the line.  Inside, it was clearly an office, with tables laid out with charts and ledgers, and the lingering stink of expensive cigars.  This was where men of power congregated when they were inspecting the line, Abram surmised.  Awaiting them was a stiff backed man in a red serge jacket and navy blue trousers with yellow piping who saluted with military formality.

"Sgt. John Falstaff, North-West Mounted Police," he said, lowering his hand from its salute and offering it, then, in a handshake.  Abram shook.  "I'm ordered to offer whatever assistance you require."

Abram considered the choice of words.  By saying he was 'ordered', was the sergeant intimating that he was acting against his personal wishes?  Abram could understand if there might be a bit of a bruised ego at work.  After all, the only reason he was here was because the powers-that-be clearly felt that the good sergeant wasn't handling things to their satisfaction.  All he said was, "Good to know.  I'm sure we can get to the bottom of the matter."

"Now," said Maryand, cheerily oblivious to any possible tension, "I suppose you'd like to get settled, rest up after your long journey.  The nearest hotel is about 20 miles away -- a bit of a jaunt, but still, it's a nice place.  Or we can set you up in one of the tents..."

Abram had been on the train travelling west from Ontario for days, and his back was stiff.  The notion of some place to lie down, if only for an hour, was tempting.  What he said was, "I think I'd like to take a look at a scene where an attack took place."

* * *

Their visit to the scene of the most recent attack was timed to coincide with the work crew's lunch break, so that no curiosities would be piqued by the visit of an "accountant" to the scene of the devastation.

At first glance, there was nothing especially untoward.  The prairie field spread away from them, the yellowing stalks of long grass like some eerie congregation, standing silently by.  Observing, judging these works of men, but not speaking.  Silent witnesses to eternity.

"We've lost about eight men so far," said Sgt. Falstaff, interrupting Bram's philosophic broodings.  "Bodies broken."

"Witnesses?" asked Bram.

"Not credible, I'm afraid.  They blather poppycock about a monster.  No help there."

Bram turned, as though to speak.  Then held his tongue.  There was no point in challenging the Sgt. his first day here.  He just made a private mental note to speak to any witnesses himself when he had a free moment.  He was not quite so willing to dismiss any claim -- any -- until he knew more.  Turning his gaze back toward the ground, hands folded at the small of his back, the tail from his top coat flapping in the breeze, he began to circle about the freshly laid train tracks.

"Of course, I'm afraid we haven't quite preserved the scene," Maryand apologised.  "I'm afraid we're desperately trying to keep on schedule.  These ties were set out this morning.  Three days ago this whole area was a shambles -- ties and wood everywhere.  The ground dug up.  It took us two days just to smooth out the terrain enough to lay down new tracks."

"The ground itself was torn up?" asked Bram, looking up with an incredulous expression on his face.

"Yes, sir," said the rolly polly man.  "Quite a sight to see.  It would take a work crew with picks and shovels the better part of two nights to do what was done here."

"But there were no signs of such a body of men," the Sgt. explained.  "No tracks.  No discarded objects like a scrap of clothing, or a canteen..."

"I thought you said there were no tracks?"  Bram had stopped and was staring at the area around his feet.

The North-West Mounted Police officer stiffened, as though rebuked.  "I did."  He glanced at Maryand, then the two hurried over to the government agent who had stopped some twenty paces from the line.

Maryand peered around them, bent at the waist like a chicken searching for feed on the ground.  "I'm afraid I don't..."

"There and there," Bram said, pointing.  "The earth has been disturbed.  There are odd swells and swirls in the dust."

Falstaff snorted, relieved that some vital clue had not been discovered that he had overlooked.  "That is hardly a man-made track, sir."

"Quite right," agreed Bram.  "It doesn't look man-made at all.  Let's see where it leads."  Off he went, following the weird pattern of disturbance on the ground.  It was very wide, he noted, perhaps as far across as four men lying head to toe.  As they followed it into the grass, where stalks had been crushed and broken beneath whatever it was, Bram's mind raced ahead of him.  What could it be?  A natural occurence, as Sgt. Falstaff clearly assumed?  Wind or perhaps prairie dogs racing about in some sort of primal frenzy?  Or perhaps it was indication of a body of men obscuring their tracks?  Perhaps horses dragging logs behind them?  But if that were the case, surely the ground would look unusually smooth, rather than rough and pitted, as though something uneven had been dragged -- or had dragged itself -- across the land.

Suddenly Bram stopped, lifting his gaze to stare with wide eyes and an unwillingness to believe those eyes.  Maryand and Falstaff hurried up beside him.  Both men stopped as well.  Finally, Maryand mumbled, "Wh-what is it?  I mean, surely that...I mean...that can't have anything to do with..."

Before them the earth had been turned up in a massive upheaval that was perhaps ten paces across.  It resembled nothing so much as a giant prairie dog hole that had collapsed in on itself, effectively obscuring any clue as to whether it was just a mound of earth, or really led to some mammoth underground tunnel.

* * *

Weary, Bram mounted the narrow and creaking wood stairs that led to his hotel room, rented for him in advance by Jackson Maryand.  After the long, many days train ride, followed by his trek out to the scene of the earlier attack, he was bone weary and needing rest.  He also needed to contemplate what they had found out there -- the strange mound in the wild prairie field.  Was it anything?  Or was his physical exhaustion causing him to see clews and signs where none existed?

He opened the door to his hotel and instantly knew something was amiss.  An oil lantern flickered inside as though someone was already waiting.  He flung back the door and reached for the pistol under his overcoat.

"Now is that anyway to greet your old friend?"

Bram gawked.  Seated in his room, bold as you please, with a sardonic, victorious grin on his lips, was Miles O'Leary -- the Fenian terrorist he had captured not a week ago and left incarcerated hundreds of miles east of here in Ontario.

Next episode: The Devil Strikes!

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The Terror of the Rails is copyright 2003, the author.