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The Ghastly Smile of the Dead


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Mature Content: Yes. Not nice.

With: Jacob Lutz, Captain Barlow, Ke-Ni-Tay, MacIntosh
Location: Somewhere between Kalispell and Helena
When: Month  29th August, 1876
Time of Day: 3.20pm

 

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Peloponnese was a good girl and always did what was asked of her.  The piebald mare was never 'marish', even when she was in season, always obedient, and she had gotten him out of trouble too many times to count by her amazing equine bravery for, by his own admission, she was far more courageous than her rider. But this was the second time she had shied today. 

 

"Where you going?! No!" The splodgy black and white four-year old had pulled short on the trail, backed up, nearly done a pirouette like a performing gee gee in a circus, or those fancy white dancing horses he'd read about in Vienna, and was now happily trotting off at a 90 degree angle across the prairie with her rider turning in the saddle trying to discern what on earth had spooked his normally steady mount. 

 

"Hey, you don't fool me!" Jacob yelped, and turned her back onto the trail using spur, rein, and slapped croup. He was suddenly worried, though: Peloponnese wasn't just braver than him, he had come to realise, she was also a good deal wiser, and she wouldn't have baulked for nothing. Human will overcame horse-sense, and he pushed her forward, looking ahead: he could see nothing untoward, but he unfastened his rifle holster and drew out the Henry anyway. Peloponnese knew what that meant and he had to find a spare hand from somewhere to rub her withers and shush her whinnying. "I know, I know" he gently cooed as they moved forward, at a walking pace now.

 

Give the animal her due, she had detected the scent a good couple of miles and a long walk away and it was a good long time before he saw it: some sort of low flat wagon with an awful lot of crows and turkey vultures perched on top. Every now and again one or two would jump down to the ground, and there would be a flurry of feather and a couple of the birds would fly up and then settle back down to try and spot a vacant spot at the feast. Jacob felt a little dizzy all of a sudden and was aware of the blood hissing in his ears. "Steady, now, steady" he called softly to Peloponnese, but it was himself he was trying to calm not her.

 

He looked around. Nothing. No sound. Nowhere for anyone to hide. No. There was always somewhere for Indians to hide. He would have to trust to his and his horse's senses. He dismounted and led his horse forward, rifle held in his other hand. The crows scattered, but the turkey vultures were made of sturdier stuff and had to be actually shoed away from... from what? It took him a good few seconds to work out exactly what he was looking at. 

 

They had been men, once. Long, white and skinny looking these corpses were: their faces and hands and arms sunburned though and bodies and faces already starting to swell in the heat. There were black patches of beard and body hair which intertwined with dark black-red areas of wounds: some almost random looking stab and gunshot holes others more deliberate, all of them attracting great shiny flies with their stench. Both men, soldiers by the look of the discarded pieces of clothing strewn about, had been carefully mutilated. He could only hope that this had been done after death. The breeze wafted a sickly sweet stench his way and it was then that he was violently sick.

 

He didn't want to look again, he wanted to run. He wanted to get on his horse and ride and forget he had ever come across the scene. But he couldn't: he looked again, deliberately noting what he saw in his mind. Each man carried a long vertical slash to his thigh -bone deep, the femurs peeping white in the afternoon sun. The genitals were missing, which made him wince on the dead men's behalf, an ugly blood-black patch remained: mute testimony to their emasculation in the afterlife. And the throats were sliced ear to ear, the starkly scalped heads lolling back producing enormous ghastly and grotesque smiles of death. The missing eyes of the men... he didn't know if that was a deliberate act or merely the handywork of the turkey vultures, but what he saw in the mouths of the dead men, and which made him vomit once more, was definitely the work of savage human hands.

 

He staggered to his horse's side and held on to her, steadying himself, breathing. He took a swig of water from his canteen, and eventually felt strong enough to clamber back into the saddle.  He took one last look at the scene. It was almost familiar to him now. The carrion crows and vultures looked at him impatiently: he knew he would have to describe all of this to someone at the fort. The worst part... he couldn't go there straight away.

 

Because of what had happened this morning, because of the person who had made Peloponnese shy as they had set out on this misbegotten trip, he was going to have to go on further down the trail first... just to be sure.

 

 

[To Be Continued]

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  • 2 weeks later...

Any other day he would have turned back there and then, ridden pell-mell for Kalispell or, perhaps, the Fort and think himself damn lucky not to be lying stretched out of the ground, too, stripped and cut to ribbons: no longer a man, just a suppurating, stinking feast for the flies and the turkey vultures.

 

But he couldn't could he? Damn Arabella! Damn her to Hell!

 

Remounted, he pushed on, wondering to himself how far he would push it. He went a good long way along the trail, waiting any minute for a feathered head to raise itself above the long grass or a shot to sing out and corkscrew through his head before he even heard it coming. But it was eerily quiet. Bees buzzed, birds called in the air or sang from the far off trees. Apart from that, just the sound of his own breathing, and Peloponnese,  and the creak of leather and wood of his horse furniture.

 

Then he heard it. Peloponnese heard it too. A horse's whinny. It was a struggling noise, though, not normal. Jacob was scared, more scared than he had ever been in his life. Even asking Clara Redmond for a dance all those months ago wasn't this terrifying. But he had to go and see. There was a curve in the road and Jacob pulled out his rifle and tying up his horse, snuck through the undergrowth like he was stalking game. But when he appeared out the other side, his heart thumping like a hammer, the only living thing was a dying horse: one he didn't dare shoot to put out of its misery. There, too, was a shot up stagecoach and a number of dead people.

 

Mr Ross looked like he had gone quickly at least, wounds in his back and one that had carried off most of his jaw. He hadn't been mutilated or stripped, unlike the next pair, down on the ground was a disembowelled boy with an arrow sticking out of his chest, almost like a caricature of an Indian attack victim, and a once-attractive woman with her throat cut. Probably the same bunch as had attacked the soldiers, but this scene was different, more confused. Someone had put up a fight maybe; the mutilations were hurried, the attackers hadn't stuck around. It was more recent, too, although the flies were already making their presence felt. 

 

Jacob frowned and looked about. There would have been another driver or shotgun. Mr Ross was dead. Miss Chappel maybe? No sign of her anywhere, and, of course, the reason he had followed the trail this far out... Miss Mundee. No. They had either made a run for it and were dead among the forest and prairie grass, or they had been captured, to face a fate worse than death. He looked about for some sign of which way the war party might have gone, but he knew that only an Indian would be able to work that out. He headed back to Peloponnese with a horrible sinking feeling in his stomach, pity for the dead who were victims of this attack, pity more for those who were still, possibly, alive.

 

[TBC]

 

 

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Jacob had to ride nearly all the way back to Kalispell to deliver the news, hooking right and following the lake around until he got to Fort Somer. He was fortunate in one respect: any other gangly youth approaching might have been turned away by the bored looking guards at the open gate, but with his Western Union satchel hanging at his side and his long rifle jutting up in its holster, he was by now a familiar sight, bringing telegraph messages to the lonely posting from the nearby 'big city' of Kalispell. Today the lad seemed in an awful hurry though, and his horse was specked with foamy lather. 

 

As he rode in he shouted "Take me to the duty officer, Indian trouble!" dismounted and shoved the reins into someone's hands: this imprecation was only a formality, he was jogging off to the Colonel's office unescorted. He knew the way from his previous visits, and there was no time to waste on ceremony. 

 

He burst in to the office: Captain Barlow was there: a grumpy veteran officer, somewhat surly at the best of times, but a man who knew what he was about. That final factor was worth more than friendliness and pleasant manners in the world right now.

 

"Captain Barlow, Sir!" Jacob panted "Indian trouble on the road to Helena: two of your fellers dead by a wagon and the stagecoach hit a little further on. Three dead, I think at least two white women captivated." 

 

@Wayfarer @Flip

 

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Benjamin was looking over supply forms, the Army like most big organizations loved paperwork, he did not. But his boredom was about to be brought to a startling end. The door burst open and there was that...he didn't remember the young man's name but he worked to the telegraph.

 

"Captain Barlow, Sir!" Jacob panted "Indian trouble on the road to Helena: two of your fellers dead by a wagon and the stagecoach hit a little further on. Three dead, I think at least two white women captivated." 

 

The veteran officer stood up from behind the desk cluttered with folders and papers, letting go of the sheet he had been perusing.

 

"Alright...slow down now.  I'm gonna ask some questions, just calm down and answer them as best you can, son," he stated as calm as he could be, needed to set an example.

 

"First off, you saw all of this or you were told about it?"  Too often people passed on rumors and those often turned out to be exaggerated or even false.

 

"Oh, do you need a drink to wet your whistle?"  Nervous folks could have dry mouths, his own got that way just before a battle.

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"Alright...slow down now.  I'm gonna ask some questions, just calm down and answer them as best you can, son," he stated as calm as he could be, needed to set an example.

 

Jacob had naturally expected the officer in charge to grab his gun and his horse and summon the soldiers and ride out of there within seconds, he really wasn't prepared for a whole bunch of dumb questions. The man could ask them on the way. "No, we need to go now! We..." he sighed and his shoulders drooped, he knew it would be Barlow's way or no way. "All right. But hurry please."

 

"First off, you saw all of this or you were told about it?"  Too often people passed on rumors and those often turned out to be exaggerated or even false.

 

"I've seen it with my own eyes! I never gonna stop seeing it!" he said, suddenly feeling quite sick. Before, when he had been there, it had seemed like he was looking at something in a dream. Now, talking about it to another person, it all seemed suddenly more real. Luckily for his manly pride, he hadn't got anything left in his stomach to sick up.

 

"Oh, do you need a drink to wet your whistle?"  Nervous folks could have dry mouths, his own got that way just before a battle.

 

"No!... Sir. Did you hear me, they got two white women and I dunno, I don't know who else was on the stage. Dan Ross is dead, and a lady and a boy, I... I recognised them but I don't know their names. They were all... cut up... yeah, can I have a drink, Sir?" he said, a drink, a slug of something. Just to stop himself talking about it if nothing else. 

 

@Wayfarer @Flip

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"No, we need to go now! We..." he sighed and his shoulders drooped,  "All right. But hurry please."

 

Barlow was not about to be rushed into some wild goose chase by an overexcited boy. He certainly wasn't calling him a liar but he needed more information first. Regardless it took a while to organize even a small column to head on out.

 

First thing was - so the kid was an eyewitness or passing on someone's else tale?

 

"I've seen it with my own eyes! I never gonna stop seeing it!" Jacob replied.

 

The young man certainly sounded genuine and you could almost see the horror still in the boy's eyes. Benjamin believed him. So the rest of what he would say the veteran officer would take quite seriously now that that was established. He offered the boy something to drink.

 

"No!... Sir. Did you hear me, they got two white women and I dunno, I don't know who else was on the stage. Dan Ross is dead, and a lady and a boy, I... I recognised them but I don't know their names. They were all... cut up... yeah, can I have a drink, Sir?"

 

"I'm listening to your every word, son...." but now the young man changed his mind. Fair enough, he'd just witnessed some awful stuff, anyone was entitled to be shook up.

 

Benjamin then reached into a desk drawer and brought out first a small glass then a liquor bottle. Opening it he poured as he now responded to the kid.

 

"Here ya go. I won't be drinking with you as it is against regulations to drink on duty," he first pointed out then shoved the glass toward Jacob.  That rule was often violated though on the frontier, in fact there was a lot of alcoholism in the army from rankers to the officer corps. Even now scuttlebutt had it that Major Reno had been drunk during the tragic fight at Little Big Horn. Benjamin didn't personally know the man but he knew a few of the officers in the 7th, two of them who died with Custer that black day.

 

"Just gulp it down, it'll put hair on your chest," Benjamin wondered just how old this young man actually was? He looked about sixteen but he had a wedding ring on his finger.

Hell, he was certain the fort had a few troopers younger than eighteen, the so called official age for allowable recruiting but official and real were two different things.

 

While Jacob drank it down, Benjamin shouted out toward the door, "CORPORAL!"

 

His so called adjutant for the day, responded with commendable speed, coming thru the door with a   "Yes sir?"

 

"Yes, I want you to go tell Sgt. Braumann to assemble A Troop for a ride out in an hour. Tell him we will need pack mules as I do not know how long we will be out there. You got that, corporal?"

 

"Of course, sir, right away," the man saluted and hurried on out, but remembering to close the door again.

 

"Alright now, one thing I don't get so far. You are sayin' the Indians got two white women? So how do you know that? Did you see them take the women? Or are you guessing they grabbed these white women?"

 

Captives were going to be a huge complication but also they couldn't do anything anymore for the unfortunate dead but they just might be able to pull off a rescue. Unlikely but they had to try.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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MacIntosh and Ke-Ni-Tay sat outside the the small cabin they called home. It was going to be another warm one, that was for sure. But it was July, and what they had been told about Montana weather this was normal. Warm rather than hot was always best, though Ke-Ni-Tay might argue that, the Mimbreño was used to temperatures in the triple digits in West Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, so to him, it was almost cold at temps the high seventies to the high eighties, mostly the high eighties.

 

There was a sudden flurry of activity. A man rode in and then rushed into Barlow's office which signaled something bad had happened. Something that would call out any where from a patrol to a troop, with scouts, that was almost a given. Yet the two men sat watching and waiting. Everything they might take was leaned against the wall next to the door. It would be good to get out, no matter the reason.

@Wayfarer@Javia?

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Jacob gulped the stuff down. Jesus! Put hairs on his chest? More likely to burn 'em off! Still he was grateful for it. It helped. "Thank you, sir." he said, genuinely. He was suddenly embarrassed by the empty glass: did he put it back down on the officer's desk, keep holding it, offer to wash it up?!

 

Stupid, that you could feel socially embarrassed when the stark dead were lying out there somewhere, and two women were facing the most terrible ordeal imaginable. He thought of Clara - how she had nearly been killed by the redskins; imagining if it were her who had been snatched. He suddenly longed to hold her. 

 

The Captain snapped him out of it. 


"Alright now, one thing I don't get so far. You are sayin' the Indians got two white women? So how do you know that? Did you see them take the women? Or are you guessing they grabbed these white women?"

 

Jacob knew that if he wasn't careful, this was going to sound stupid and potentially even make the officer call off the patrol. On the other hand, he was no use at lying (Clara was a lucky girl in that respect!).

 

"Well, I figured miss Chappel would have been driving, she usually takes the stage out to Helena of a Tuesday. I knew Miss Mundee was on board because a friend told me, she was worried about it, just a hunch, I guess, a funny feeling about it." he shrugged. He was careful not use the word 'Premonition' or the name 'Arabella Mudd'. "That's why I carried on, after I found the soldiers. Silly really, I just... well, I guess it's just as well I did." he said, hoping the Captain didn't think he was crazy.

 

@Wayfarer @Flip

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"Well, I figured Miss Chappel would have been driving, she usually takes the stage out to Helena of a Tuesday. I knew Miss Mundee was on board because a friend told me, she was worried about it, just a hunch, I guess, a funny feeling about it." he shrugged. 

 

"Alright but you never saw any captive women? Although, yes the driver part makes sense. I know the stage company has a woman driver," Barlow remarked, deep in thought even as he listened.

 

 "That's why I carried on, after I found the soldiers. Silly really, I just... well, I guess it's just as well I did."

 

"No, it wasn't silly, son. More like diligent. And yes, it was good that you did," the officer suddenly got to his feet, he had a few things he would need before he led a detachment on out, including informing the colonel. One couldn't simply wander off base willy nilly.

 

"Alright, I believe you. We are going to ride on out there and do what we can to find these Indians and if possible rescue whatever captives they might still have with them. I can't promise anything though," he announced firmly.

 

"Oh and I will ask you not to spread news of this around town, not just yet. I don't want people panicking...especially after this Custer business. All reports we've received is the Indians who did that have gone north and dispersed with more troops pursuing them. I'm guessing this is a different tribe or at least war party - probably they heard about Little Big Horn and want to jump in on the glory." 

 

Regardless, after he rode on out he fully expected the colonel would begin taking active defensive measures to keep Kalispell safe. Possibly even evacuate local ranches and farms though he doubted it would come to that. People still had their lives to lead.

 

 

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ooc:  OK, moving on here then....

 

The troopers were saddling their mounts, the veteran sergeant checking the mens' rifles that they were duty ready, and a few 'lucky' troopers assigned to the mules were doing last minute adjustments on the creatures' loads. It wouldn't be long now before the detachment would be riding out.

 

As for Benjamin, he was buckling on his regulation army holster and Colt SA Army revolver, as he emerged out of the Headquarters Building. The colonel had approved of him leading out the search party, the boy seemed to be a reliable source. He also allowed Barlow's request to have Lt. Greene accompany the mission. Just in case they had to split the detachment for any of what could be myriad reasons, Benjamin wanted a second officer who could take charge of one of the detachments. Besides, he needed the experience, not that silly weather balloon nonsense some bigwig back in Washington had come up with.

 

Now last but certainly not least, he approached the fort's two scouts who had been quietly watching the expedition prepare. He knew they didn't need any more time to get ready than to saddle their horses, they traveled light. Upon getting with conversation range, Barlow nodded acknowledgement to the pair.

 

"Gentlemen, as you probably already guessed, we got a problem and we are gonna have need of your services. Long story short, a telegraph rider has provided us a first hand account of two Indian attacks on the road from town to Helena," Barlow was not wasting time on niceties like the weather or whatever.

 

"Appears the stagecoach was hit and there were some dead plus a very strong possibility two women were taken off by the attackers. Then too there was one of our army supply wagons waylaid with two dead soldiers. "

 

"I intend on heading out there to investigate these reports and if at all possible, run down the hostiles and engage. If there are captives, try to rescue them but I know the odds of a good outcome on that might be .........."  he ended his little briefing right there, MacIntosh and Ki-Ne-Tay would know what he meant by that last part.

@Flip @Javia

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