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 Four -  The Devil Strikes!

 BRAM DONLEVY WHIPPED HIS PISTOL OUT from under his overcoat and leveled it at the man seated waiting for him in his own hotel room.  Miles O'Leary grinned with a machiavelian mirth, seeming unperturbed by the business end of the weapon pointed his way.

"What's the source of this mistrust, my boy?" he asked.  "After all, you were the one who betrayed me and my band of freedom fighters, not the other way around.  But I'm prepared to let bygones be bygones."

"Freedom fighters?"  Bram snorted with contempt.  Miles' ragtag band of Fenian raiders was hardly that.  But he was as angry at himself as at Miles.  Seeing the man reminded him of the rest of Miles' band -- men who were now dead.  Enemies of his, and of Canada, but not evil men.  Shrugging off such regrets for the moment, he said, "I thought I'd left you in a prison cell in Kingston."

"That you had, lad," agreed O'Leary.  "And there I'd still be -- thanks to you -- except some curious gentlemen made me an offer."

Bram whirled, hearing a rustle of clothing in the corner of the room.  Emerging into the light was a man in a red serge uniform.  "Sgt.Falstaff?  What the Devil is going on here?"

"Mr. O'Leary was, uh, escorted out here, apparently on another car on the same train that brought you.  His guards-"

"Chaperones, if you please," interjected O'Leary.

Falstaff ignored him.  "His guards brought him to me, with these orders."  He held out an envelope tied with a red ribbon.  "Seems I'm not the only one Ottawa doesn't trust to get the job done."  Bram didn't take the bait, knowing The North-West Mounted Policeman was not exactly pleased that he, an outsider, had been sent to investigate the mysterious deaths and sabotage that had been plaguing the construction of the railroad -- crimes in the policeman's jurisdiction.  "With our suspicions that the sabotage may be political, they apparently made a deal with Mr. O'Leary.  His assistance in capturing the perpetrators in exchange for a full pardon."

Bram quickly flipped through the papers that had been in the envelope.  Everything appeared to be in order.  Reluctantly, he looked up at the Fenian.  Apparently it was felt that Miles O'Leary's ties to radical groups made him an ideal investigator.  Using a thief to catch thieves.  But that was presupposing what they were after was that simple.  Bram was not so sure.  The attacks seemed too unexplained, and the bizarre trail that led to a heaping mound of earth...  No, he was not so convinced they would be needing Mr. O'Leary's "expertise".  But he was under orders to accept O'Leary as an aide, and in so doing, he feared he would essentially be embracing a potential adder to his bosom.

* * *

The sun did not so much shine over the endless prairie field as it did glare, its bold, bald light the only thing peeling back the cooling temperatures that promised autum not too far off, and winter soon on the heels of that.  As it was, it was a pleasant day, almost pleasant enough for Bram to forget the dark and bedevilled reasons for his visit to these Western climes.

He pulled aside the flap and entered the hospital tent alongside the local supervisor, Jackson Maryand.  There was a musty, dusty odour to the place, and the canvas provided little detriment to the coolness of the air, even as it blocked some of the warmth of the sun.

"You have an entire tent that acts as an infirmary?" asked Bram.

"We employ hundreds of workers, Mr. Kellum," Maryand said, using the cover name they had agreed upon while the government agent went about, pretending to be a simple company accountant.  "Disease, and general poor health accompany many of these migrant workers."  But his eyes did not rise to meet Bram's cool gaze.  They both knew there were also plenty of accidents while laying a railroad.  Worker safety was not a high priority for the company.  "This way," said the rolly-polly man quickly, as if to change the subject.

Maryand guided Bram past cots, some with laid up workers occupying them, and maneuvered him past nurses ministering to their needs.  At last they came to a curtained off section.  "Most of the men who've encountered the...well, whatever it is," he whispered, "we ship out as soon as possible, so they aren't spooking the rest of the workers with their stories.  But the doctor refused to let this man go until his leg set properly.  His name is Pierre LaFortune."

He pulled back the curtain.  Before them was another cot, and a man sprawled upon it, his leg in a plaster cast.  More unexpectedly, he was not alone.  At his side sat a priest, while just at the edge of the perimeter was an Indian woman in skin garments.

"Father Forcier," said Maryand, slighty taken aback.  "I didn't realize you were here."

The priest rose and came to join the two men.  "Bonjour, M. Maryand," he said, smiling pleasantly, glancing at Bram with polite curiosity.  "I came at the request of M. LaFortune -- for last rites."

"Good lord," muttered Maryand.  "I had no idea it was that serious."

The Father raised a hand assuringly.  "It is not.  M. LaFortune is merely a trifle...exciteable.  I felt it best to give him reassurance.  Apparently he has had a shock more mental than physical, yes?  I am merely trying to ally his concerns."  Looking more boldly at Bram, he said, "You must be Monsieur Kellum, the, ah, accountant, yes?"

Bram nodded.

"This is Mary Manyrivers," the priest said, gesturing at the Indian woman.  "She is acting as my assistat."

Bram's gaze went to her, and stopped momentarily.  She was a beautiful woman, her gleaming black tresses framing an ideally sculpted face, her eyes dark and intelligent.  "Ma'am," he said stiffly.

"You're here about The Devil?" she asked.

Bram stepped back, just a little.  "I'm merely an accountant."

"Visiting the scene of an attack the first night?" inquired the priest pleasantly.  "Visiting poor M. LaFortune today?  Word gets around, M. Kellum.  I do not think you are here just to balance the books."

Bram folded his arms across his chest.  "And just what do you know about these attacks?"

"Me?  Very little, I'm afraid.  But when you have a moment, perhaps you should speak with Mary."  And with that, the priest turned and ushered the young Indian woman from the sectioned off area.

Bram watched them go, unsure what to make of them.  Then, after a moment of thought, he turned and crouched beside the bed.  "Monsieur LaFortune?"

The man in the bed looked at him, not so much turning his face toward him, as rolling his head that way on the pillow.  "Oui?" he asked.  The rest of their conversation proceeded in French.

"What did you see the night of your accident, M. LaFortune?"

LaFortune stared at him for a long time, so long that Bram wondered if he had not heard the question.  Then, he cracked his dry lips apart, and spoke.  "The Devil, monsieur.  The Devil came."

"And what did the Devil look like?  Was he a man?"  Briefly Bram entertained the notion of a costume of some sort.

LaFortune's head rolled back and forth in the negative.  "No.  No, he was as big as the sky.  He filled the very heavens.  I do not remember much -- it was dark, and I ran quickly.  But I remember the earth shook, the way the Indians say it would shake years ago when the buffalo herd raced by.  I remember its roar, like nothing I had heard before.  Its eyes glowed, like great beacons.  And I remember its tentacles, scattering out from its great, massive body."  As LaFortune related his nightmarish narrative, he began to grow more agitated, his eyes bulging in his sockets, spit glistening on his lips.  "It wanted me, it wanted my soul!  It's coming for my soul, monsieur."  Gnarled hands leaped out and grabbed Bram's sleeves.  "Don't let it take my soul!  Don't let it!!!  Don't!!!"

Suddenly the curtain was pulled aside and a nurse came in, face aghast.  "What are you doing?  What's going on here?"

Bram hastily disengaged himself and stood.  "I apologize, ma'am," he said, switching back to English.  "I did not mean to excite him."  He turned and, with Maryand at his elbow, exited the tent.

"Did you learn anything?" asked Maryand, who spoke no French.

"Enough to make me all the more convinced about what I feared.  This is more -- far, far more -- than just a case of sabotage.  Come, I want to make arrangements for tonight."

* * *

Bram sat before the burning campfire, allowing the dancing flame to ward away some of the chill of the night.  He pulled his pocket watch out, and angling to see it better in the light of the flame, discerned that it was past midnight.

"According to the good sergeant," said Miles O'Leary, seated across the flames from him, his face underlit rather like a lord of Hell himself, "the attacks are random.  They come at irregular intervals, and can strike any of a dozen places along the line.  That's why they've never managed to have a sufficient body of men on hand to stop it."

"Maybe that's the point," said Bram.  He would rather have conducted his vigil here in the utmost forefront of the work crews in solitude, but he also wanted to have O'Leary where he could see him.  "Too many men, anything that smells too much of a trap, would scare away our quarry."

"And here I was thinking you said it wasn't human," O'Leary teased.

"Even a wild bear knows when it is out-numbered."

"So we are the bait in your, ah, bear trap?"

"I can put you on the next train or wagon car to Ontario, if you'd prefer."

O'Leary said nothing, but his perpetual grin looked even colder, even less sincere, after that.

Time passed.

Another glance at his watch said it was almost two in the morning.  And so far, he had nothing to show for it except a cramp in his leg, and the sensitive intelligence information that Miles O'Leary snored.  Suddenly, he stiffened, his ears weeding past the rumble of O'Leary's snores and the chirps of various nocturnal critters, to make out a gentler, softer sound.  The swish of feet in the grass.  More than one set of feet.  He waited, still as a stone.  Then abruptly whirled, pistol levelled.

"Mon Dieu!" exclaimed Father Forcier, emerging from the darkness, Mary Manyrivers at his side.  "Do not shoot, monsieur.  It is only us."

Bram relaxed, slightly, but he did not lower his gun.  "Only?  I'm afraid I haven't quite decided whether to classify you as only anything."

"Surely you do not think that we are somehow involved?"

Bram did not answer.  The noise had roused O'Leary, who now stood by his side.  "A frog and a squaw?  What are they doing here?"

"Shut up, O'Leary."

O'Leary looked at him, startled, then slowly grinned.  "That'll be the death of you Canadians, Donlevy.  Mark my words.  You're a mongrel race, to be sure," said the Fenian terrorist, who had devoted his life to a war in the name of race.

"We came," said the priest, acting as if O'Leary had not spoken, "to offer what assistance we may.  I, for one, am curious about the whole matter.  As an agent of the Almighty, I wish to know all I can about his world, and the...creatures...that dwell upon it."

"You're a Jesuit?" asked Bram, already guessing the answer.

"Naturally.  Mary, meanwhile, may have some information to add to your investigation."

After a moment, Bram pocketed his pistol.  "Go on."

Mary Manyrivers stepped forward.  "The Devil existed since before the coming of the railroad men.  My people have told stories of it for years."

Bram did not let his interest register on his face, but this certainly made a question mark about the whole sabotaging-the-railroad theory.  "For how long?"

"At least since I was a child."

He frowned.  What sort of a legend was that?  Mary was clearly in her early twenties.  That meant the tales of the Devil, as she called it, only went back a decade or so.  What sort of creature did not spring into being to attack the railroad, as the saboteur theory would necessitate...but neither did its legend stretch back into antiquity?

Mary continued: "My people were afraid of it.  If, at night, the earth shook and it was heard roaring in the darkness, the staunchest of braves would throw himself to the ground and cover himself with dirt to hide until it passed.  Occasionally, men were found dead and mangled, almost as though trampled by a herd of buffalo.  But my people are not so afraid now.  Now that it attacks the white's iron road, we wonder if it has not taken pity on us, and seeks to keep the prairie pure and untainted for its first people."

Bram just stared at her, mesmerized by her tale and, indeed, by her beauty.  He was not sure what to say, and so a silence welled up to blanket the night.  Only the crackle of the fire could be heard.  Everything else was silent.  Still.  Too still.  Bram's eyes widened.  "What happened to the crickets?  Why are they silent?"

Suddenly the earth shuddered.  They all looked at each other.  The priest clutched his Bible tightly to his breast.  The earth shook, almost knocking them from their feet.  Somewhere, something indescribable roared in the darkness.

"The Devil comes," whispered Mary.

Next episode: The Devil's Face

Previous episode: What Lies in the Field

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