I knew the woman was bad news the second she entered the stagecoach. Though, more accurately, I should say I sensed she was bad, the knowing would come later. The horses certainly sensed it and did their best to flee her and the perceived evil that enshrouded her. The driver and his shotgun were able to hold them long enough for her to give them a look which calmed their demeanor faster than a shot of angel dust from old doc Metzger.
After shrugging their shoulders at the horses’ sudden change of behavior, the shotgun jumped down to help the woman into the coach. He pulled out a stool and set it down for her to step on and removed his Stetson as a gentleman should when in the presence of a lady. She bowed her head slightly and held out her hand for assistance. In true chivalrous manner, he took it and then pulled it away quickly and rubbed it with his other hand as if it suddenly went cold…or dead.
Those two events, nearly simultaneous, tipped me off that there was something about this woman to be very wary of. Still what was I to do? This was my coach first and I paid my dollar to be driven to San Francisco to help Mr. Strauss sell his new waist overalls with rivets. He will need all the help he can get as Mr. Lee from Kansas City had a big head start!
The woman entered the coach and sat on the diagonal from me, adjacent to the door, which suited me fine as her very presence ran my blood cold as…the shotgun’s hand maybe? She stared straight ahead and was very impersonal really, did not even say hello or acknowledge me in any way. She was dressed in black from head to toe and a veil covered her face as if she had recently suffered a death. I could not make out any features on her face the veil was so black but from what I could see she was not exactly a beauty queen or even as fancy as a saloon’s harlot.
I introduced myself but she did not reply. Instead, she turned to look out the window as the team finished securing her bag to the roof. I saw her move a finger so crooked with rheumatism that I was surprised it moved at all. With that, I thought I heard the shotgun make a gagging noise then a splat. The drivers’ sudden exclamation gave credibility to my hearing. The stage wobbled as he stood up and moved to that side of the coach to see what had happened to his partner. The woman moved that crooked finger again. This time it was the drivers turn to gag and, as I turned to look out my window, I saw blood raining down as if from God in heaven! That was followed by the drivers body landing face up, and I could see he had been ripped cleanly in half at the waist! His intestines provided a cushion for his impact! His chest also exposed, his heart beat its last as life fluids spilled onto the dirt of the station turning it a magenta-brown conglomeration I’ll never be able to unsee no matter how long I live! As best I could figure, the end of the line for my passage might be the end of the line for me!
Sweat beaded on my brow and drenched my bowler, the nervousness of what I had gotten myself into had become too much to handle. I saw her lift her gnarled finger again and a sound like a score of banshee’s screaming in pain arose from the horse team. The thunder of their of their hooves faded into the dusk bringing me some relief that they had not suffered the same feat as the drive team.
“Man should not enslave wild beasts. It is bad enough they enslave themselves.”
She had spoken! Actually, croaked might be a more accurate description. I didn’t even know how to reply. I was still in shock at the events of the last few minutes and did not want to incur a similar fate.
“The drivers were dead weight. We do not need them either. That is why I gave them the rest of their life off.”
A cold bead of sweat made its way down my cheek. Was I also dead weight? I only occupied the coach along with my luggage-all my worldly possessions. Only time, however short, would tell I surmised.
“You will be fine. You paid your fee and are due a journey to your destination. I have no problem with you.”
That calmed me considerably and brought an almost total drain of the stress I felt…until she continued. “I have no qualms with you. Others however…”
My blood ran as cold as the North Pole at the winter solstice! My bladder fought to retain its contents including the shot of rotgut I ingested. “Um…others?”
She turned to look out her window keeping me in petrified suspense longer than necessary.
“Others.” Simply stated. “That is why we are riding at night. To confuse them. Maybe keep them at bay.”
I looked out my window at the bright sunlight. I pulled out my pocket watch and checked the time. “Night? It’s three in the afternoon, madam.” I informed her.
But that crooked finger…she stretched it again and clouds as dark as hell itself furiously invaded the sky and blocked out old Sol, turning day into night. As she retracted her rheumatic digit, the stage leapt into the air and hurriedly accelerated to a speed not even a team of 12 horses could attain! My head banged against the back wall knocking my bowler to the floor from whiplash so severe.
“My apologies good sir.”
Onward we sailed through the impromptu darkness until I heard a howling that I believed were coyotes looking for prey. Oh how I prayed to God above that’s what it was and furthermore I prayed I wasn’t the prey they desired.
“Relax. Go to sleep. It will make the trip quicker for you.” The woman rasped. I decided to take her suggestion, closed my eyes and leaned my head against the stage wall. Once my brain stopped worrying and I was able to drift off to sleep, a loud bang shook me awake again and I reached for a hand hold as the coach rose up on my side.
“Go back to sleep, I will take care of this.”
The sound of coyotes, wolves or werewolves for that matter filled the faux-night air as a pack had started an attack against us. I saw one rush at my side head-first attempting to knock the stagecoach over to no avail. I also saw its eyes burning red as it came at us and the collision with the coach only cause it to lose a step-not even be stunned by the impact! The lost step was all that was needed for the woman to raise her finger of death and the beast ripped in two right down its spine, blood gushed from the carcass, not red, but yellow-green! The yelp it gave when sliced in half was ear piercing to say the least!
Another one rushed the coach, managed to climb on and reach inside with a very muscular yet hairy arm. Claws reaching out about six to eight inches swiped at the woman, whose finger sliced the paw off cleanly and another waggle sliced the rest of whatever it was off the side of our ride. The rest of the pack must have sensed they were no match for the old woman and her finger and dispersed. The arm, still oozing its viscous, gangrenous fluid, rolled around the floor to my feet and bumped my shoes. The woman reached down, picked it up with two fingers like it was a piece of diseased refuse from the street, looked at it and threw it out the window.
“Sorry about that good sir.”
“Madam, I demand to know what is going on! What have you gotten me into?” I roared, outraged at the treatment I have been suffering since she set her evil hide in the carriage we shared.
“I suppose I do owe you an explanation since you have been so patient. I am the only survivor of the Salem Witch Trials and trying to escape my past. The Others are spirits that want me to stay on the East Coast and help them create a portal between their world and ours. I made a deal with them to provide assistance on the human side in exchange for immortality. Now, however, let us say I have had a change of heart and want no further part in their conquest of humanity.”
I’m pretty sure I turned pale at what she just said and nearly fainted at the thought that I was caught in the middle of the eternal struggle between good and evil.
“You have nothing to worry about, the Others will spare you for me.”
That was hardly reassuring but better than the opposite. I turned to look out my window and ponder how to reply when another banshee-esqe scream pierced the silence. That was followed by a sighting of what I believe was the largest bat ever. It flew right at us at an incredible speed, red eyes like the wolves glowing brightly. It swooped up at the last second and grabbed onto the top of the stage. As I felt it lift up, the woman wriggled her finger again, a shriek was heard and bat body parts reigned down along with more mucus green blood, some of which splashed onto my woolen trousers.
“My apologies about that. I hope a laundry in San Francisco will be able to clean those. But you should also know that the Others have found me.”
As my life flashed before my eyes, I hoped that I would survive the trip and be able to locate a laundry in San Francisco.
Another bat-like object attacked and got its head into the coach near the woman! Its fangs protruded from its open mouth saliva drenching the floorboards. The woman lifted both hands and splayed all her fingers toward it like trying to poke out eight eyes simultaneously. The creatures eyes burst and sprayed fluid all over the conveyance and barely missed adding more pollution to my trousers. She then turned a hand sideways and raised it straight up toward the sky and the creatures head fell off along with its body from the side of my ride. It crumpled to the ground in a heap turning over once or twice.
“Damn it woman!” I raged! “I despise you bringing me into your fight with these other world beasts and demand you drop me off at the nearest town!”
“I apologize good sir but time is of the essence and you will just need to be patient a little longer. I assure you no harm will come to you even if I am taken.”
Her apology hardly assuaged my feelings to say nothing of the damage to my best suit.
Another savage attack struck us and caused the coach to tilt toward my side knocking me back into the wall and toppling my bowler to the floor. I reached down and snatched it when two unholy creatures entered simultaneously-one through the door, one through my window.
I saw a set of legs that made no sense at all to my mind. Clawed but muscular, hairy and venous. I slowly raised my eyes to the head and was shocked to see inside the wings, attached were normal-looking arms and hands as if part human. This led to a lesser surprise that the head resembled Satan himself. Pointed chin and ears, hair around the mouth and chin like a goatee. Even more reminiscent of a goat was the horns that protruded straight out of the scalp and bent toward the back.
The one in front of me scanned me up and down with his red as hellfire eyes and must have determined I was no threat, possibly because I had turned paler than a ghost at the sight of him and turned away from me in a way that seemed like my being there was contemptuous to him.
His partner was the same in horrifying looks and turned his attention to the old woman.
“Your feeble attempt to escape has been quashed and you are to return to the East with us.” It said in a growling, demonic fashion to the old woman.
“You no longer have power over me! I decry your presence and demand you leave the coach and return to your master!”
“Never! We have our orders from the master and will not leave until they are fulfilled.”
The one in front of me joined in the dialogue, “You are powerless against us old woman. Return to the East to complete the work on the portal. These pathetic humans,” It looked and pointed at me with one of his clawed hands, “shall then be slaughtered by our forces.” I shivered in fear at the size of this beast and the potential death I and all humanity faced.
“Only if I return and finish the work and I am no longer interested in helping your kind kill off my kind. I refuse to comply with your order and if you try to take me I will slit my throat before you have a chance to get close to me.” The defiant woman replied.
The monsters seemed taken aback and exchanged glances unsure of what to do or say. This was apparently what the woman had waited for as she turned her head to me and said, “Duck, good sir.” Unsure of what was to come, I instinctively covered my head with my arm and curled into a ball as soon as I saw her lift both hands into the air. I felt the air turn electric and bright flashes of light reflected around the coach while screams of agony gurgled out of the demons that had invaded our space. I could not resist the temptation and opened my arm just enough to see the thing in front of me being jolted with lightning from 100 clouds. Its hair started to smolder and stink, the body quivered, the face scrunched up in agony as the power ran through it and burned out whatever organs kept it alive. Eventually, its eyes also exploded with fluid flying everywhere, its wings melted and fell off leaving a stench of burnt rotten meat so bad vultures would turn away in disgust. The one closer to the door attempted to flee by leaping out the door but the increase in air lit the thing on fire! It lifted off the ground but then pirouetted right back into Terra Firma face first where it smashed and exploded like a dropped pumpkin.
The change in air pressure from the open door sucked the one in front of me out the window where it similarly caught fire and roasted in a heap. I pulled my arm away from my face and scanned the interior of the stagecoach and eventually locked eyes with the woman.
“I believe I made my point with them and doubt they will bother us again.” She croaked.
I had no idea how to respond after that display as well as all the previous ones and I sat in shocked silence the rest of the trip which was only a short time later.
The woman removed all the clouds and darkness and the sun shone again as we pulled into the station in San Francisco. I immediately got up and hurried out of that cursed coach leaving the woman behind and slamming the door in anger! The porters had surrounded the stage and eyed it with dropped jaws at the fact that no horses pulled us and the strange coloring on the outside of it from all the blood.
I met with my contact who looked me up and down with wonder at how my trousers could have gotten so soiled and why I was so pale after what should have been a normal trip.
“Sir, you look like you have been through hell and back. Did you have a bad trip?” he inquired innocently.
“BAD? IT WAS HORRIBLE! All because of that damn witch!” I yelled and pointed back to the coach. My contact walked over, opened the door and looked inside, “But sir there is no one here. Come see for yourself.” I walked over and discovered he was right and the woman was gone. I gritted my teeth as I tried to get control over my self and be thankful the ride was over and she had disappeared.
The contact looked at me and said, “Next time sir, might I suggest you take the train?”