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 Five -  The Devil's Face

 THE FOUR OF THEM STOOD IN THE MIDDLE of the open prairie, shrouded and surrounded by the impenetrable darkness of deepest night.  Even the stars shielded themselves behind clouds as though hiding from what was about to transpire.  Bram Donlevy, government agent sent west to investigate tales of sabotage and murder attributed to a monster of unbelievable power and speed; Miles O'Leary, Fenian raider offered a full pardon if he aided the investigation; Father Forcier, a Jesuit priest; Mary Manyrivers, a local Indian maiden.  They had all come together, with various motives and intentions, but all desirous to learn just what the creature was.  They were about to get their wish.

Now, faced with this coming revelation, any one of them might wish that they were somewhere else. 

The earth shook beneath their feet, as though an earthquake, or a herd of buffalo were bearing down upon them.  Something roared and hissed in the utter blackness beyond the feeble glow of the campfire.

Bram pulled his pistol from under his coat and unshouldered the Sharps rifle that was across his back.  He staggered as the ground shivered again, barely keeping his feet.  He hesitated, then tossed the rifle to Miles O'Leary.  He did not trust O'Leary -- the man was a scoundrel and a criminal, which is why he had not given him a weapon when they first began their nocturnal vigil hours earlier.  But now? Two armed men were better than one.  He looked about.  Father Forcier, almost invisible in his black cassock, clutched his Bible tightly to his chest, while Mary Manyrivers could only clutch herself, eyes wide with fright.

Bram's intention had been to confront the creature, to have an end to it this very night.  But his plan did not include civilians.  He hesitated but a moment.

"Run!" he shouted above the growing roar.  He thrust his pistol into his belt and grabbed the priest and Mary each by an arm.  He would just have to face the thing some other night; right now, these two were his priority.  "Back toward camp!" But, of course, the main camp of railway workers was a good mile away.  Nor had he and Miles come with horses, because he did not want the beasts to get spooked if and when the Devil showed itself. 

A mile, on foot, in the darkness, with the Devil on their heels.  Ruefully, he realized he might get his confrontation after all.

"God in Heaven!"

He whirled at Miles' exclamation.  The Fenian was lagging behind them and staring at something in the darkness.  A great, black shape lumbered indistinctly over the field, with great piercing eyes that glowed like torches, stabbing spears of light into the black belly of night.  Miles threw the rifle butt to his shoulder and fired at the thing.  Whether his shot hit it or not, Bram could not say in the darkness.  Regardless, it had no effect on the thing.

Whatever the thing was, Bram noted, it was not a man, nor a beast -- at least no beast yet recorded.  Sgt. Falstaff, the local North-West Mounted Policeman, had dismissed the wild tales as hysteria, content the destruction was caused by a band of men.  Bram almost laughed remembering that -- though he checked himself for fear hysteria claimed him.  It was as big as a house, yet moved with a ferocious speed.  Earth crunched and ground beneath it, and the roaring it made was positively Hellish.

They would not be able to outrun it.  He knew that.  Pulling violently on his two charges, Bram dragged them to the left, taking them away from the direction of camp, further from possible safety, but also out of the creature's direct line of movement.

He ran, then glanced over his shoulder.  His face went white.  The creature was lumbering about, clearly turning toward them, to resume the pursuit.  It was clumsy, that much at least was a hope.  It could not turn as well as a small, fragile human being.  But could they dodge it forever?

"Its...its voice," gasped Mary, trying to catch her breath as they raced through the cool night.

Bram nodded, as much to himself as her.  He had initially thought he had never heard anything like it, but now he was aware there was something familiar about it.  Had he heard it before?  No, that was ridiculous.  But he had heard something not unlike it.  The roar, the rythmic pulsing sound underscored by hisses and screeches.  It was like a multitude of beasts all wrapped up in one.

Suddenly their shadows speared out before them as they were caught in the glare from the Devil's glowing eyes.

Glowing eyes? he thought.  Pulsing rhythm?  Hisses?  Screeches?  An image began to form in his mind, but one as equally bizarre, as equally unbelievable, as any fancy he had previously entertained.

Again he yanked Mary and Father Forcier to the side -- this time leaping right.  As they tumbled to the ground, Bram bounced up on his feet and said, breathlessly, "Make it back to camp, anyway you can."

The priest stared at him, wide eyed.  "But...what about you?"

Grimly, Bram said, "I'm going to dance with the Devil."  So saying, he turned and raced back toward the massive creature.

"You're insane!" screamed Mary.

He could not argue with that, but he had begun forming a conclusion that, if it did not mitigate his insanity, at least cast it in a new light.  The massive demon was roaring by, no doubt preparing to turn again upon its quarry.  Bram ran at its flank.  And in the darkness could vaguely make out the sheen skin of the beast -- the great, cold, hard, metallic skin of the beast.

The beast was a machine.  The roar the sound of its engines, the hisses the exhalation of it pistons.  That's why the sound had seemed familiar -- it was not unlike a train.  It was a machine, and that fact chilled Bram even more than if it had been a beast.  He had not heard so much as a rumour of such a thing in government circles.  Who could build such a thing?  And why unleash it upon the railroad?  Perhaps Americans, eager to sabotage the fledgling nation of Canada.  But did even they have the skill, the technology to build such a war machine?

Then he remembered Mary's words to him earlier.  She claimed that the Devil had been known to her people for years before the coming of the railroad.  Who would build such a monumentous contraption, and then spend years just driving it through the dark of a prairie night, seeming with no great agenda until the coming of the railroad?  Who?  Why?  These words echoed in his brain even as he set himself to an insane course.

He would mount this metal devil and find out.

He raced at its side even as it began to slow, as pistons and gears screamed, attempting to turn it about.  His eyes raked its side, looking for some way in or on.  If it was made by man, it must have been designed to be entered by man.  He made out hatchways on the side, and he leaped at one, catching it.  Clutching to the side of the thing, he clawed at the hatch, but it was clearly sealed from the inside and would not yield to his fleshly muscles.  He lost his grip and fell, hitting the ground and rolling away, barely inches from being dragged beneath the thing's massive belly.  He remembered the reports of men found dead and mangled, all their bones broken.  Clearly some men had fallen beneath the creature and been crushed as readily as a flower might be crushed beneath a boot sole.

Not to be defeated, Bram regained his feet and ran at it again.  He realized that every time he did, every time he approached its massive, unfeeling side, he took his life in his hands.  He had barely escaped disappearing under its massive girth once.  What of a second time?

But he had no choice.

This time he perceivd a ladder near the rear of the thing.  He launched himself and caught one of the rungs, his feet swinging out under him, almost getting caught beneath the thing.  Then he began pulling himself up, hand over hand, muscles straining, until a foot caught a rung and he was able to climb more easily.  He made it to the top of the thing.  But once that was accomplished, he had no idea what to do next.  He rode the beast, but he was no closer to stopping it.

Then he looked down...and cursed.  Mary Manyrivers must have seen him and was trying to emulate his actions, running likewise for the ladder.  He admired her courage, but damned her impetuousness.  He tried to wave her off, but she did not see him, or ignored him if she did.  She caught one of the rungs, but the force of the Devil's speed took her by surprise and she lost one hand hold.  "No!" Bram shouted.  Mary dangled from one hand, unable to climb up, yet unable to drop off without running the risk of being pulled beneath.

Bram scrambled over the side, clambering down the ladder until he was just above her.  He held out one hand.  "Swing yourself around and grab my hand!" he yelled above the beast's incessant roar.  She stared up at him, eyes wide with fear, but attempted to do as he bid.  Holding tightly with her one arm, she swung herself back and forth until, finally, her free arm connected with his.  Fingers as powerful as steel cables closed about her wrist and he hauled her up beside him.  Once she had a secure foothold, Bram climbed back up onto the beast, and helped Mary up after him.  She collapsed into his arms and, for just a moment, he held her.

Then he held her away from him.  "That was a damned foolish thing to try."

"My people have known of the Devil for years.  I have as much right to learn its secret as you."  She lifted her chin haughtily, her vulnerability of a moment before now gone.  Then she looked around.  "What...what is it?"

"A machine of some sort."

She turned on him, anger in her eyes.  "So it is the white man again who has-"

"Steady on," he interrupted.  "I've never seen or heard of anything like this before.  It boggles the mind.  I don't know who built it, or why."

"Can you stop it?"

"I don't know."

"Can we at least get off it?"

He shook his head.  "Not without probably getting ourselves killed."

"Then..." Mary looked around as the prairie rolled by.  "Then we are trapped."

Next episode: Trapped

Previous episode: The Devil Strikes!

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