December 28, 1875
With Errie and Doc heading back into Denver, they took some time to recover their strength and do a little research on this DuChamp fella before heading back out to try and get some revenge. Doc toye-d with the idea of arming himself with six six-guns, but after it looked awfully heavy and not at all stylish, he decided a few more long guns suited him better. Errie turned in his story to the local Epitaph office and earned a nice bonus for his photos. They each rented rooms for a few days to ease their sore muscles and give the graze on Errie’s noggin’ some time to knit.
With their next few days looking lonely, Doc turned to a card table and met an interesting gentleman named Rutherford Ellington Dillinger. Dillinger was a traveling dandy from England and was looking for some adventure. Doc offered to travel with him for a while if he was interested. Dillinger resolutely accepted and then retired for the evening. With that settled, Doc headed to the bar for a stiff drink to help ease the loss of his money to Dillinger in their card game.
As Doc lifted the shot, he suddenly smelled something foul. It was as if death was near. He turned and went white as a sheet as Kissin’ Kate sat next to him. Kate calmed the Doc down and had them go up to his room so they could speak privately. Kate told him that she was very glad he wasn’t a professional grave digger and was more than a little upset that he’d buried her alive after claiming to be such a good doctor and all. Doc took a few to let it all settle while she went to fetch Errie.
Errie was lounging in his room at Grandma Turner’s boarding house when Kate knocked on the door. Errie called out “Who’s there?” “A friend” Kate replied. Errie shuffled to the door saying he only had one friend and she wasn’t a woman. As soon as he opened the door, he lost his sense of humor for a moment as he stood incredulous at Kate’s return. Kate filled him in on where the Doc was and they met back up with him in his room.
Once they got back together, they arranged to set out at first light to track down DuChamp and the witch he traveled with, the nefarious Lady Carstairs. Dillinger attempted to persuade them to come with him near the breakfast chuck wagon, but was dissuaded by his Sikh bodyguard Singh. While Singh was convincing the long winded Dillinger, the posse scooted out of town. Errie attempted to talk Singh out of it, but before he knew it, the man had whispered a few strong words and Errie found himself riding the trail with no memory of the last few hours.
As they approached Derry’s Ford at dusk on the third day, they saw the burned out husk of the old town in the distance. Making camp up the river, they were almost asleep on their bedrolls when Errie jumped up saying he swore he’d heard something in the woods crunching through the snow. The posse roused and looked around for a bit, but found nothing.
After a while, Doc went to go lie down again, but then he saw something, no someone coming up from the river. He jumped up and grabbed his shotgun and the rest followed. Doc, Errie and Kate approached the shapes of what seemed to be shivering men coming up out of the river. Errie challenged them at ten paces, but they only stood shivering in the cold. One of them mumbled something. Silhouetted by the moon behind them, they appeared as only shapes in the dark.
Suddenly from behind, Errie’s mule shrieked! They whirled to see a dark shape ripping into the tough flesh beneath the nag’s neck. As the posse turned back to the shapes that had come from the river, they charged! They could see full well as they came closer the men were bloated and decayed zombies! One ripped into Errie with savage ferocity as he stood paralyzed with fear. Doc tried to fend his off with his scattergun, but suffered a wicked wound in exchange for a moment’s hesitation. Kate drew her Peacemaker and started blastin’ but the fiends wouldn’t yield.
Cursing she ran to the fire and grabbed a burning log to shed some light on the foul creatures. The mule lay in a pool of blood, being devoured by the slick black shape that couldn’t be a man. As she ran back towards Doc and Errie, she saw Doc starting to retreat and Errie lying sprawled on the ground. She blasted the creature assaulting Errie as one of the other’s jumped on her back and ripped into her neck with crushing jaws. As the now lifeless creature rolled off of Errie, Kate turned her attention to the monkey on her back.
Doc retreated for his six guns in his saddle but was overrun by one of the defiled corpses. Kate moved towards the thing and blasted it square in the temple. After a split second of relief, she turned. Doc and Errie were down but the creature that had feasted on the mule had grown to huge size! Nearly twice as tall as a man, it’s contorted pot belly full of meat and blood and bone had grown distended and vile. It charged! Kate back pedaled away while shootin’ straight for his noggin’. Two direct hits later it kept coming!
Suddenly it was upon her; grabbing her waist with it’s huge bony fingers. It crushed with all of it’s strength, cracking her ribs and hips. She decked it across the face with the butt of her Colt and slid free as it reeled. She rolled away and snatched up one of Doc’s pistols and turned it on the inhuman monster. As she fired again and again, striking it over and over square in the face, it lurched and fell mere feet away from her.
Doc and Errie started to come around and were hurting badly from their wounds. Doc tended them as best he could while the bodies of the now again dead creatures were piled and burned. They moved camp for the night and retreated away from the town.
When morning came it was bittersweet. The sunlight drove away the darkness, but revealed the ruin that was once the quiet hamlet of Derry’s Ford. Fire had taken the entire town it seemed. Most buildings lay in a smoldering ruin and only a few had survived even partially intact. After finding only corpses among most of the buildings, they had a stroke of luck. They found the bank vault completely unscathed. Only a few careful applications of dynamite later and the money inside was freed! Union bills poured out, mostly unscathed from the blast, and the posse got a little hard earned cash for their peril.
As they searched the town for clues, they found a melted locket amidst several skeletons in the ruins of the church. When it was pried open, interestingly enough it contained a folded picture of the witch: Cynthia Carstairs, leader of the Church of the Holy Flame. They entered into the the mayor’s house and found the most grim display of all. Strung up from his own chandelier, the mayor hung by his wrists, flayed and burned. As Errie moved to cut him down, he twitched and groaned in agony. The posse moved quickly and the Doc tended his wounds as he screamed in pain. Soon he’d drifted off to sleep, doped up with the Doc’s medicine.
After trying to find a suitable spot to hold up for the rest of the day, it occurred to them that they hadn’t checked the compound to the south. Carefully taking the mayor with them, they found the compound deserted but the doors curiously locked. After deftly picking the lock to the church, Doc moved the mayor into the store room of the chapel.
Upon searching the church, they found several crates full of an odd assortment of items. That’s when Errie spotted the riders coming down the road. The posse moved quickly and pulled their horses inside and got ready for whoever was coming. As they got into position they heard the voices of several men coming up the steps. The doors flew open and Errie challenged them to halt, pistol in hand. The desperados cleared leather instantly, but the ensuing gunfight found three of the four of the hombres laid out on the church steps without firing a shot. The fourth took a grievous wound to the leg and hoofed it to greener pastures. DuChamp’s familiar visage squeezed off a deadly shot at Doc, catching him in the noggin’ before running for his own horse.
The chase was on! The posse rode after DuChamp as he rode hard for Derry’s Ford. As the posse caught up, DuChamp suddenly dismounted and pulled down his horse for cover in the middle of the path. Doc did the same as Errie rode to catch up and Kate fired from her horse. DuChamp took another shot at Doc and nearly split his noggin’ again! A second close graze for sure, Doc returned a shot of his own, but barely missed DuChamp. Errie suddenly shouted for them to charge and rode headlong at DuChamp!
As Errie bore down on the grizzled gunslinger, his horse turned, launching the inexperienced rider headlong onto the ground; or what would be the ground if DuChamp and his horse weren’t there. Errie landed on the horse and DuChamp grimly turned his Buntline on the cub reporter. He fired with deadly accuracy and Errie went down. Kate rode in at once to draw DuChamp’s attention away and succeeded momentarily. DuChamp saw the situation for what it was, he was trapped between Kate and Doc. DuChamp sprang and jumped onto Errie’s horse.
Doc and Kate moved to pursue, but Kate decided to end it while DuChamp was still in her sights. From over 45 paces, she deftly put a bullet in the back of his head with her Peacemaker. DuChamp fell, never to rise again. Doc and Kate rounded up the horses and brought Errie and DuChamp back to the compound.
As Kate and Doc looked over the banditos and checked their pockets, a strange figure came out of the wilderness. A grizzled mountain man named Monty approached Doc and after a few tense moments a common peace was made. Monty had come to trade furs in the town in mid season and was planning to head back into the wilderness, but finding the town a ruin had investigated the gunfire coming from the compound to the south.
Where will Doc and Kate turn? Will Monty join them? Will Lady Carstairs be found? What was DuChamp doing back at the compound?