Rated: 18+ · Campfire Creative · Chapter · Horror/Scary · #2049484
Zombie survival in the frozen north
The year is 1898 and conditions inside Dawson City are starting to deteriorate. While the North-West Mounted Police preserve law and order inside city limits and maintain control over the boarders to Alaska: lack of personal hygiene, disease, and supply issues lead to a harsh existence inside city limits. Out in the wilderness; the narrow passes, winding trails and fathomless mines are no better. Stories of men disappearing are commonplace inside the saloons of Dawson and speculation runs rampant: could it be the savage Tlingit, wild animals, or even raiders looking for gold?
Money continues to flow through Dawson city however and prospectors find vices like prostitutes, gambling, and booze far more appealing than tales of 'doom and gloom' from the wilderness...tales that would languish until it was too late.
The characters that we create will be thrust into the horrific situation of not only dealing with an outbreak of undead nightmares but also trying to work through the personal difficulties, political positions, social norms (or lack thereof in the North) of late 19th century North America.
Will our characters survive, will they thrive or will they simply die...their final resting place an unmarked grave in the desolate north?
Wikipedia entry for the Klondike Gold Rush: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klondike_Gold_Rush
Page that details the North-West Mounted Police: https://www.militaryheritage.com/nwmp.htm
A list of supplies for stampeders: https://www.arcticwebsite.com/goldrushsupplies1898-2.html
History of the Tlingit, the closest native presence to Dawson: https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Tlingit
General Overview of 1898 Dawson city: https://explorenorth.com/yukon/dawson-history.html
Inflation Calculator: https://www.davemanuel.com/inflation-calculator.php?
Name: Arthur Crowe Undead Detective
Profession: Sergeant in the North-West Mounted Police
History: The son of a NWMP Constable and a Coroner, Arthur was destined for a career in law enforcement since birth. When Arthur was 16, Crowe sr. was killed on duty during the Northwest Rebellion. The loss of his father sparked a deep loathing of native peoples within Arthur but also an intense desire to honour his father’s memory. Arthur joined up in the NWMP the day he came of age and poured himself into the organization for the next decade, making Sergeant by the age of 26. The following year he was assigned to Dawson in anticipation of the upcoming gold rush; a veteran of Dawson and the NWMP, Crowe manages to keep his feelings towards the native peoples relatively well hidden and prides himself on his professionalism and devotion to duty.
Appearance: At 5’10” with black hair and green eyes, Arthur cuts an imposing figure in the signature red serge of the North-West Mounted Police. Hardly ever seen out of uniform and never seen with facial hair of any kind, his appearance has changed little from when he first arrived in Dawson two years ago. As most Mounties did at the time, Arthur tends to wear a non-regulation Stetson hat, as it is easier to ride horse with than the regulation white helmet. As the season moves closer towards winter, this too will be replaced by a thick fur overcoat and cap. His kit consists of the standard issue Adams revolver (chambered in .450), the Winchester model 1876 carbine (chambered in .45-.75) and an 1853 Calvary sabre (mostly for ceremonial purposes but can still be used in necessary). In his capacity as Sergeant in Dawson, he typically forgoes the carbine and sabre and carries his sidearm and a wooden truncheon.
Primary Personality Traits: As an officer of the law, Arthur feels it is his job to police everybody as fairly as he can and with as much impartiality as he can…this attitude has led to few friendships among the local prospectors who see him as rigid and overbearing. This is not to say that Arthur has made no friends in Dawson, in fact he has a good rapport with many for being a fair and honest officer, willing to do whatever it takes to keep the peace; this includes negotiation and sometimes more...direct methods. Arthur prides himself on his professionalism but he can’t help but be cynical at the things he has seen in Dawson since the beginning of the rush in 1896. This cynicism is not helped by the incessant creep of depression, the cause of which is the thought of spending any more significant time in the Yukon; two years of endless days, endless nights, horrid weather and disputes among the locals have burned him out.
Other: Arthur grew up in Montreal, a primarily Anglophone city in Francophone Quebec; as a result Arthur can speak and write passable French in addition to his natural English.
Name: Alice Marceau Kat
History: Daughter of a French fur trader and a Tlingit woman, Alice has the Yukon in her blood. When her father died when she was 12, her mother sent her to Seattle, to live with her Father’s brother and his wife, who were a doctor and apothecary respectively. They saw to it that she adapted into the culture easily, and received the best education available to her. Despite it being less than socially acceptable to teach a young lady to practice medicine, her aunt and uncle trained her in both their fields, determined that she be able to care for herself. At 18 she married another Frenchman and fur trader, Edward Marceau, who soon decided that there was more money in Gold than in Fur. Hearing that Dawson had a need for a doctor and apothecary, regardless of their gender, Alice agreed, eager to return to the country she loves the most in the world.
Appearance: Though Alice’s features strongly favor her Father’s French heritage, she has the coal black hair and dark brown eyes of her mother. Her skin is somewhat fair, her cheekbones high and lips full. She has a lovely and innocent beauty about her, with a fire in her eyes and smile often on her lips. She is small and feminine in build, though strong enough to do her job effectively.
Primary personality traits: Alice is kind, hopeful and unfaltering warm, even to the types most difficult to love. She is smart, resourceful and difficult to rile, with a big heart and a quick wit. The only time you see Alice’s real fire, unaltered by her sweetness, is when those she loves are at risk, or when someone is getting picked on. She is brave, charmingly stubborn when she needs to be, and never fails to see the good in others. She is not one for violence and though she can use a gun well enough against the animals, she isn't one to want to turn a weapon against another human. Lucky for her she is well liked, as is her husband, and when paired with her tendency to win over the hearts of the more violent and unsavory in town, she generally gets away with be a civilized woman in an uncivilized place.
Other: She speaks Tlingit, French and English fluently, and has a deep connection to her mother’s culture, having only pride and longing for the life she was forced to leave when she was moved to Seattle. Due to the tension of the times, however, she is forced to keep her heritage out of public knowledge, simply because it could put her and Edward at risk.
Name: Josie Everett--called either Josie, Joze, or Eve (as a joke over her 'fallen status' and only used when she's working) Professor Q is for Quaddy
Profession: Proprietor of the Fall From Grace Hotel and Saloon (and gambling spot and brothel and generally disreputable place that everyone who's any fun loves)
History: Originally from Saskatchewan, Josie was born Josie Barnett to moderately working class parents, who could not provide for her anything but the most rudimentary of educations. She can read and write a little, but has a wonderful hand for stitching and is a wonderful seamstress. She married Jackson Everett when she was eighteen years old; he was a butcher, and it was considered quite a good match, really. Things were even going well when gold was found in the Klondike, but Jackson decided to set out anyway; not to find gold, mind, but to take advantage of the population's needs. Once there, however, the call of riches beckoned too strongly and Jackson was unable to resist; he sold their shop to pay for equipment and stake a claim. Josie told him to stop, but he would not listen. As so many did, Jackson lost everything. Like so many, he killed himself, leaving his poor wife with nothing. But Josie was not about to go home. Her time in Dawson City had proved incredibly liberating, and she did not want to return to her parents and a job in a factory. Unfortunately, without any resources to her name, she was left with few options, so she took the one that was going to make her the most money the most quickly: she became a scarlet lady. It was hard work and came with a reputation, but Josie (called Eve as her working name) was very popular and made her money quickly. She abstained from spending it (it's easy enough getting men to spend money on you if you've a pretty face and know how to use it), and managed to save enough within a year to buy out the Dawson City Hotel. She changed its name and traded on her popularity as a working girl to make the new place popular as well. It is not savory, but it is clean and she has her own rules that she insist be followed, the most important being treat her girls properly.
Appearance: Josie is a beautiful woman, but not in the delicate manner so popular back home in 'civilized' society. Some throwback genes have given her a slightly exotic look with fiery red hair and bright green cat eyes. Her features are powerful and symmetrical rather than dainty and small; instead of a round face and delicate mouth, she has strong bone structure and a wide mouth with pouty lips. She is tall for a woman at eight inches over five feet and quite buxom; because she has never had children (Jackson proved to be sterile), she has never lost her figure. She does have pale skin, as is the fashion, but there's a slightly golden undertone that means she'll never be alabaster. Josie's hair is long and wavy; she keeps it up in either the latest style (or whatever Dawson's approximation of style is, given the lack of news) or bound up against her head, depending upon what she is doing. Similarly, if she is entertaining, she wears the latest styles for women; as skirts continue to get smaller and bustles disappear, she is able to use her seamstress skills to modify her dresses as necessary instead of spending money on new ones. If she is dealing in business, or playing cards with the men, she dresses in menswear, complete with guns and suspenders.
Primary personality traits: Josie is an intensely practical woman. She always has been. Whatever is necessary, she is willing to do, even if it means doing something most would consider unsavory (like prostitution or owning an unsavory business), though she would never stoop so low as to steal or hurt someone to further herself. She is strong-willed and sticks to her guns; if she decides she wants something, she goes out and gets it. It took her only a year to procure the Fall From Grace and less than a year to turn it into the successful business that it is. She is not very well educated in the book sense, but is good at a great many things, seamstress skills being foremost among them (though she is also a fair cook and has learned a number of other skills living in Dawson City, like shooting, hunting, accounting, repair, mechanics, etc). Josie is good with people, as well; she has a warm heart that has not been hardened by her exploits, and takes care of her own. She has a good sense of humor and a rough sort of charm, which is perfect for Dawson City, and a common sense that has always stood her in good stead. Most of all, Josie is a survivor.
Other: Josie has decided that enough is enough, and she needs to learn how to read and write fluently. Unfortunately, there aren't many people willing to teach her who actually have the skills to do so. So, for now, she's teaching herself. It is slow going. Also, her hotel's food is considered some of the best in Dawson; it amuses her to see how many of the more respectable citizens are willing to set aside their distaste for a good stew.
|I was taught as a child that there was a line between reality and dreams, that the demons in one could not affect me in the other…I no longer know just how much faith I place in that lesson. This one makes the sixth nightmare in a fortnight and it was no different from the others; each time it is either drowning, suffocation, premature burial or some other frightful situation that I cannot escape. |
I awake with my head buried in my pillow and a sob on my lips. I wish I had the answer as to why these terrors continue to plague me but their reason remains as elusive as proper sleep in this godforsaken place…
Arthur’s pen scratched words across the smooth pages of the journal; his only light by which to write was the sickly yellow glow of his lantern, the kerosene fuel it consumed was nearly spent. Arthur set down the pen and closed up the journal; both items went into the top drawer of his tiny desk, which was subsequently shut and locked.
A series of clicks and pops fired off in the confines of Arthur’s small room as he stretched, the uneven wood of his seat bit into his back and backside. He stood with a sigh and pulled open the curtain to his room, the steel rings scraped across the bar with a snick.
A potbellied furnace sat in the center of the barracks; the flames licked at the air through the iron grate, as though they would leap out and attack were it not for the metal barrier. A figure sat at one of the long tables near the back, he and Arthur were the only two men awake in the building.
“Another nightmare Sergeant?” Corporal Stowe’s poor imitation of a whisper carried, a few men stirred in their bunks.
“Yeah,” Arthur whispered as he motioned for Stowe to keep quiet. “Now what the hell are you doing up this early in the morning?”
Stowe looked out the small window to his left and grinned at the inky blackness. “You’re telling me it’s not night outside sergeant?” he gave Arthur his best look of mock surprise.
“Smart-arse,” Arthur smiled as he pulled out his pocket watch; his thumb swept over the engraved B.C. The ritual had remained unchanged since the first time he held the watch in his hand close to a decade ago. “No, as a matter of fact it’s half past four now. We’ll have to wake the day shift boys at quarter to.”
“Right you are sergeant,” Stowe replied with a sigh, it carried the same wariness that Arthur felt. “Shall I put on a pot of tea then?”
“You’d better,” Arthur replied as he headed back to his quarters to get dressed. “I think today’s going to be a long one.”
Sergeant Arthur Crowe stepped through the barracks doorway and planted his foot firmly in the muddy track that pretended to be the main street of Dawson City, the polished boot landed with a splat and kicked up a fine spattering of mud that clung to the black leather.
“Goddamn weather,” Arthur muttered as he trudged down the street. “If Dawson’s supposed to be the Paris of the North then these here streets are piss poor imitations of cobblestone roads.”
For the past year or so Arthur had taken these early strolls through Dawson on a daily basis; he liked to get a look at the city before too many people crowded its streets, spoiled the peace and quiet of morning.
Breath billowed through his nose and mouth as he walked through Dawson: Mader’s General, the Bonanza saloon and the Mill all fell behind him on his trek through the city. Arthur knew he had reached the end of his journey when he stood in front of the Fall From Grace hotel, it was the building furthest from police headquarters but still within city limits.
He had to hand it to the owner; she had really turned the place around. Back about a year ago the old Dawson city hotel had gone under, its owners had made one bad decision too many when it came to money and they paid the price. Day after day Arthur had walked by the empty building; its once vibrant atmosphere had vanished and that of a crypt had taken its place…a testament to just how unforgiving Dawson could be.
Then an offer had been made on it; Arthur hadn’t been privy to the details but he’d heard it was large, and completely in cash. His next walk by had given him quite the surprise; the buxom whore Eve, whose name he found out later was Josie Everett, had been at its front door eagerly beckoning people inside; comfortable in her new role as sole proprietor of the Fall From Grace hotel, saloon and brothel.
The last part wasn’t official of course, current Canadian law expressly forbade brothels or prostitution of any kind, however the Superintendent had very specific standing orders: Major crimes first, all other crime last. Arthur knew that their resources were spread thin up here in the Klondike and that Superintendent Steele had taken the only sensible approach to it, but he longed to break up the brothels and grind the gambling dens into dust.
Arthur would lose little sleep if either outcome occurred; unlike the other members of the force he had little time for the services provided by whores and even less for the distraction provided by cards, he did nothing to hide his distaste towards either vice. That said, Ms. Everett possessed a tenacity and business acumen that the other whores in Dawson seemed to lack, he could respect her on that metric alone.
“Ah Sergeant Crowe,” A familiar voice called from behind him. “Comment ça va?”
Aside from the fact that few people actively used French in Dawson, Crowe would have recognized the voice just by the months of conversation he’d had with it. “Ça va bien monsieur Marceau,” Arthur turned to face the French prospector. “Et toi?”
“Ça va bien!” Edward Marceau laughed as he clapped Arthur on the shoulder. “You see my friend? It is not as hard to speak the mother tongue as you feared, you are already doing better than you hoped!”
“I had a good teacher,” the Mountie smiled. “But I sense that you did not come to me all the way here in Dawson just to test my skills in the ‘mother tongue.’”
Edward lived by his claim in the gold fields; the shelter provided by his unfinished cabin a good distance from the limits of Dawson. His wife Alice lived in their small room above the doctor’s office in town but Edward had told him that it was a temporary arrangement until he could finish construction of the cabin.
He came into Dawson every day to see her, that’s how he had started talking to Arthur in the first place but that was much later in the day when Dawson bustled with activity; for Edward to be in Dawson at this time of morning meant that something serious was afoot.
“You are right my friend,” Edward’s face fell as he spoke. “There is nothing short of underhanded thievery going on out in the fields, men rob other men for the minerals in their pockets…sometimes violence is even used.”
Arthur focused his attention on the diminutive Frenchman. “Violence you say,” he flipped open his notepad and poised his pen. “Have you witnessed any of this violence, seen any of the perpetrators?”
“Non,” Marceau’s usage of French indicated his distress. “I only hear the sounds in the night outside my cabin, thrashing and sometimes muffled screams. In the morning we awaken to find another prospector gone, his tent and valuables up for grabs.”
Arthur’s pen paused mid-stroke. “Wait; men have gone missing?”
“Qui!” Edward almost shouted in relief as the magnitude of his concern became apparent.
“And their possessions have been left behind?” Arthur wrote MISSING on his pad, he also wrote NATIVES with a question mark.
“Yes,” the prospector replied in a much less excited tone. “Though it is not long before the other prospectors descend like carrion birds on them.”
Arthur crossed out NATIVES and wrote WILDLIFE with a question mark, no savage worth his salt would pass up the opportunity to steal the possessions of his victim.
“There is one other thing sergeant,” Edward whispered ominously. “Whenever these men’s huts are searched blood is found…lot’s of it. Things are thrown around as if there was a great excitement.”
Arthur circled WILDLIFE; everything Marceau was saying fit the theory. As he circled a thought popped into Arthur Crowe’s mind…this had taken more time than his usual walk.
He reached deep into his pocket and swept his thumb over the engraving before he pulled out the watch and popped its lid; the larger hand hovered over the roman number eleven while the smaller hand hovered over the number four.
“Dammit!” Arthur muttered under his breath as he jammed the watch back in his pocket. “Thank you for bringing this to my attention Edward, I promise I’ll look into it, but I have to get back to headquarters now before I’m late!”
Edward’s protestations fell behind him as he broke into a jog through the muddy streets of Dawson.
Arthur skidded to a stop just outside Fort Herchmer; headquarters for the mounted police detachment in Dawson. Only slightly winded from his jog, he took a second to compose himself before he pushed open the door and walked inside.
“Ah Sergeant Crowe, prompt if not punctual.” The Inspector’s voice greeted him as he stepped inside. Arthur’s eyes had little difficulty adjusting to the dimly lit room; the lanterns around its perimeter were only a bit brighter than the darkness outside, the Inspector stood with his hands clasped at the front while rows of officers faced him…clearly Arthur hadn’t missed his morning briefing.
“My apologies Inspector Reynolds,” Arthur did his best to sound trite as he took the nearest empty seat. “I was out collecting information from one of the prospectors, I assure you I will not be late in the future.”
The truth was that Arthur thought the Inspector was a poor replacement for the Superintendent, even if it was just temporary. Reynolds had all the makings of a career bureaucrat; a desk officer who had never witnessed violence and it showed in his priorities.
Superintendent Steele did not focus overmuch on the menial jobs like firewood detail, uniform deportment, and parade drills, rather he trusted the men to do these things themselves and he trusted his noncommissioned officers like Crowe and Stowe to make sure that they were done properly; or in the case of parade drills not bothered with at all.
Inspector Reynolds harped on these mundane jobs constantly, as if they were the sole reason the North-West Mounted Police had a detachment here and not keeping the peace. He routinely bypassed his NCO’s and attempted to manage every action the men took to his excessively high standards; morale was starting to suffer, Arthur could see it in the face of every man who wore the uniform.
“Ah,” Reynolds replied as he fiddled with one of his polished buttons. “I trust you’ll share this information with me once the briefing is over?”
Arthur gave a brief nod; he refused to say any more to the Inspector than he had to.
His lust for metaphorical blood satisfied, the red suited shark returned to his briefing. Arthur slouched in his seat and stifled a groan; Superintendent Steele couldn’t get back from Fort MacLeod fast enough.
“Remind me…why are we out here again?” Stowe asked from atop his horse.
“Mysterious disappearances, bloodstains, theft of valuables.” Crowe replied from atop his own mount, the two rode side by side on the trail to the gold fields.
“Ah,” Stowe lapsed into silence; it didn’t take a detective to figure out that Crowe was angry.
After the briefing Reynolds had directed Arthur into his office where he politely chastised him for being late and made him promise it wouldn’t happen again…like some kind of first year constable.
When the sergeant had finally been able to tell the inspector his news Reynolds merely nodded, and then sent him deep into the forest the supervise firewood duty…no doubt as punishment for being late to his sacred briefing.
That had been hours ago; now after half a day of chopping wood and hauling it back to headquarters Crowe finally had permission to go investigate the gold fields, he took Corporal Stowe with him as backup.
“That man,” Arthur began as they drew within sight of the gold fields. “He’s a poor man’s excuse for an officer of the law, he cannot lead men, he worries about the smallest things-“
A ragged yell interrupted Arthur’s tirade and pierced the dark afternoon sky. Both men spared a glance at the other before they jumped off their mounts and ran towards the gold fields.
The mud slapped at their boots as the two officers ran towards the yell, as they drew closer the sounds of a fight echoed through the gloom. A crowed ringed the perimeter of the fight but they quickly parted as the Mounties pushed and shoved their way through.
There were five them in the pit, their actions illuminated only by the dim light provided by torches that marked claims. The sergeant turned to Stowe only to see that the other Mountie held his carbine, Arthur hadn’t even noticed he’d grabbed it.
Another scream came from the pit and refocused both of their attention; Arthur’s head snapped towards it while Stowe levered a round. “All of you cut it out now!” Crowe shouted as he picked his way down the slope, Stowe right behind him.
Arthur began to see more, as he got further down the slope; one man was on top of the other, the other two were trying to pull him off. Suddenly the man turned away from his motionless victim and savagely bit the man on his left, blood spurted from the wound and his wail of pain echoed through the pit.
“I said that’s enough!” Arthur growled as he ran towards the attacker, his feet firm on the ground. He kicked the attacker in the head but still he held, a second time and he held, it wasn’t until the third attempt that he managed to kick the attacker off and see who his victim was; Edward.
“Good God man!” Arthur exclaimed as he pressed down on the blood soaked wound. “What the hell happened here?”
“On top of…Munsen, had to…” His head lolled on his savaged shoulder as the prospector slipped into unconsciousness. After Arthur found a pulse he looked up at the other man who had tried to help Munsen, he nursed a bloody forearm for his troubles. Munsen himself didn’t look good, the area around his throat was soaked in blood and scraps of flesh hung in tatters around it…his eyes stared sightlessly into space.
“Stowe,” Arthur said as he looked up at the corporal. “We’ve got to get these men back to Dawson now!”
“Yes sergeant,” his usually carefree voice was tight with tension. “We’ll get these two on the horses and- arrragh!”
The man that Arthur had kicked off Edward moments ago was back; this time he sank his teeth deep into the meat of Stowe’s calf. The officer dropped his carbine and tried to face the man, desperate to get his teeth out of his leg.
Arthur grasped the wooden truncheon that hung on his belt and drew it, his vision narrowed until only the attacker was visible. He gripped the truncheon in both hands and brought in down on the bastard’s head…hard.
An audible crack rang through the pit, the man slumped onto Stowe and lay still…his days of attacking anyone were over. “You okay Stowe?” Arthur asked as he pulled the corpse off of his partner.
“Y-yeah man, I’m fine.” His face was white with fright and his hands shook as he clamped them over his calf. “That son of a bitch got me good.”
“Come on,” Arthur said as he hauled the fallen officer to his feet. “Let’s get you on your horse, we’ll get the injured men to Dawson on my horse and another team will have to collect the bodies and bring them back to the doc for autopsy.”
“Yeah,” Stowe said as he limped towards his horse. “A shot of free booze from the doc for the pain, a good night’s sleep and I’ll be right as rain.”
Outwardly Arthur smiled but his guts churned on the inside, he had never seen anything like this before and it scared him; no, it terrified him. He took a final look at the motionless corpses as he secured the last injured man to his horse.
As he led both horses back towards Dawson, he had a feeling things were about to get very bad in the Klondike…for everybody.
|The tiny room above the apothecary shop glowed in the warm golden light of the stove, the early morning bustle of the Dawson City Street below melted away as Alice’s thoughts drifted. She was already prepared for the day, her black hair pinned, her dress finely fitted around soft curves, made even finer with the continued use of a corset. Her nimble fingers had given up wrapping herbs into bundles, and instead drummed away at her jaw, leaving traces of purple lavender against smooth white skin. |
“Bonjour mon amour.” Edward said, having slipped through the door unnoticed. The sudden voice, though deep and familiar, was enough to nearly send Alice from her skin. He laughed as she scrambled to catch the tea cup she had tipped.
“You didn’t hear my boots on the stairs?” He asked, shaking his coat off his shoulders and hanging it on the peg by the door.
“I suppose I was daydreaming.” She answered, the smile in his blue eyes deterring her rebuke, as it frequently did. It was always difficult for her to be angry with him; he was too kind, too good to be guilty of any purposeful harm, even if trouble did seem to follow him.
“You daydream, my beautiful Alice? I do not believe it.” He smirked playfully, pulling her from her seat and wrapping her in his arms. He was not a large man, but the continuous and back breaking labor had broadened him; his embrace enough to envelope her petite frame.
“Make all the jokes you like.” Alice smiled back, glancing up to him with all the poise she could muster. Noticing the purple tint to her fingers she balled them into fists, frowning her brow at the marks she had left on his light blue shirt. Edward chuckled.
“The cabin is almost complete.” He said with a smile on his lips.
“Really? Will it be finished before the snow falls?” She asked, lifting into her tiptoes in childlike delight.
“I suspect it will be done within a fortnight.” He grinned again, this time the slightest hint of concern laying just behind his eyes. Though he clearly tried to lock it away, they had been married too long for it to remain unnoticed. She furrowed her delicate brow.
“Are you not eager to finish it?” She asked, stepping back to get a full picture of his posture, and thus a true reading of his thoughts. “Is that why you visit so early? You wish to tell me something?”
He shook his head, running a calloused hand over her hair before burying a kiss in her charcoal locks. “No, not at all. I am concerned because the claim is dangerous. I am torn because as anxiously as I await falling asleep next to you, I also dread bringing you to a place where men are frequently…,” He glanced to the floor before continuing, “Where it is not safe.”
He had alluded to the danger that lingered on the claims before, but had not gone into detail, perhaps to spare her worrying. She wondered what new terror had spurred on his increased concern. All the same she was eager to be housed with her husband. If it was dangerous, she would rather be beside him.
He protectively squeezed her closer, once again enveloping her in the smell of tobacco and rich black earth. “What have you been daydreaming about?” He asked, rubbing the streaks of lavender from her cheek, his hands still icy from the bite of the approaching winter.
“My mother. My brothers.” She admitted, her head rested against his shoulder. She did not know for sure if her mother still lived, but her brothers were young when she left, and would be nearly grown now. Being so close, feeling the same wind and smelling the same trees, made the desire to see her family grow stronger and stronger with each passing day.
Edward’s expression grew soft, “Should we try and find her?” He asked.
“When? When the ground freezes it will be too dangerous to go wandering, and when it thaws again you will have mining to do.” Alice reminded, brushing away from his forehead a curl of ash blonde hair. He was as perfect as the day she married him, though five years and hard work had added new lines to his expressive eyes, and flecks of gray to his ruddy temples.
“We will find a way.” He assured, kissing the tip of her nose, “I promise, my love. We will find a way.”
The cool morning faded into a cool afternoon, the apothecary shop, which doubled as her small clinic, had been uncharacteristically slow; though the real rush always came after the sun set, when people moved to settle scores and drink, away from prying eyes.
“Doctor!” She heard a yell from the street, the splashing of horses and the gasps of passers enough to spur her heart to race. She dropped her task and ran for the door, throwing it open to reveal the sergeant pulling Edward off the back of his horse. Her husband was not moving, the collar of his coat wet with blood.
“Get him inside.” She answered, running to clear the exam table. With a sweep of her arm herbs littered the floor, the rough wooden counter high enough to allow her to see all she needed to see. Arthur lay him out on the exam table, careful to keep his head from slamming against the surface.
“What happened?” Alice asked, locating the wound at Edward’s shoulder and pressing a clean cloth into it.
“A man attacked him. Bit into him with his teeth.”
She shook her head in disbelief. She had never seen a bite like this from a man; furious, tearing, almost rabid. “You saw it? It was not an animal?” She asked again.
“I did. It was a man, I swear it.” The sergeant answered, feeling for a pulse against Edward’s throat.
She motioned behind her back, “There is a jar marked, ‘antiseptic’, please bring it here.”
The Sergeant obeyed quickly. Alice doused the wound and pressed another rag against it. Leaning close she listened for his breath, then for his heart beat. No breath was drawn, the heart beat lingered, but weakly. She set her mouth to his, forcing air into his lungs before pressing against chest. The Sergeant stepped back, out of the way but close enough to assist. His face was stern, his brow knit.
“S'il te plait mon amour.” She whispered between breaths. She set her head against his chest again, covering her ear and cheek with warm crimson blood. The heart beat was gone.
Still listening, praying for a heartbeat, the truth set it. Edward was gone.
Alice went numb. Her dark eyes filling with tears, she breathed in one last time the smell of him; mingled with the warm scent of his tobacco, the same rich dark earth, and now the lingering metallic scent of blood. She rose and met the Sergeant’s gaze, shaking her head slowly as tears poured down her cheeks.
He lay a gloved hand against his head, ruffling black hair and turning away. He was Edward’s friend, she remembered. A man her husband spoke highly of, a man who had tried to save his life. She didn’t have a bit of sympathy left to share, her grief selfish and eating up every bit of her. She cleaned the blood from her cheek with a sleeve, choking back the sobs that threatened to rise up and ruin her.
With a trembling hand she brushed away from Edward’s blue eyes those same ash blonde locks, now streaked with dark blood. She would not watch those eyes grow old. She would not smell his scent on her pillow, or see the faces of the children they could have raised together. Edward was gone, and her whole body ached, crushed under the weight of a grief so suffocating she could not bear it.
The Sergeant gestured for the men who had come with him to move on. There were others who practiced medicine in Dawson, she heard him whisper, and though they were not so qualified, the wounds were not substantial. The others would do.
But Alice couldn’t let them limp back into the cold, not the men whom had sacrificed so much for Edward. She could not be so heartless, so ungrateful.
“Please, I will help.” She said, unable to prevent her voice from wavering, even as she fought for strength.
She rinsed Edward’s blood from her hands, and taking the same antiseptic, a bottle of whisky, and fresh bandages from the shelf she approached the Mountie first. “Mr. Stowe.” She said with a bow of her head, a numbness now settling over feature and tone, “Please, show me the wound.”
He turned and lifted his pant leg, revealing a wound jagged and darkening. A bite like Edward’s, though Mr. Stowe had the meat taken out of a calf, and not out of an artery. She handed him the whiskey and went to work.
“Return in the morning, or if the pain grows worse.” She said when she had tended to them. They bowed, their mumbled thanks and condolences lingering as they left. The Sergeant remained a moment longer, as if he searched for the right words.
“Edward liked you, very much.” Alice said plainly, releasing the sergeant of his self-imposed requirement to speak, “He would be grateful, for what you did. I am grateful for what you did.”
Sergeant Crowe turned his green eyes to the floor, before forcing them to meet hers, “I am sorry it was not more, Mrs. Marceau.” He bowed low, his strong frame rigid as he bent at the waist. He turned on his heal and slipped into the cold darkness, closing the door behind him.
She stayed a moment, staring at that same wooden door, afraid to turn, to face the truth that lay at her back. Perhaps it was all a nightmare and she would wake, her beloved beside her breathing deeply as he slept.
Alice turned, pinching the inside of her wrist as she lay her eyes on his lifeless form; mangled and motionless on a crude wooden table. She pinched again, harder and harder, until she was sure she would bruise, begging, pleading for her eyes to open. But they did not. This was no dream, there was no comforting morning light to meet her. Just Edward, soaked in his own blood, setting atop a wooden table, on a floor strewn with herbs.
She approached, taking his hand, now cold in a way that that told her it would never again feel warm. Wrapping her thin fingers around his she wept. “I’m sorry, my love.” She whispered between sobs, kissing his temple, his cheek, his lips. “God, I am so sorry.”
|Breakfast at the Fall From Grace Hotel wasn’t served until 9:30. By all accounting, this was rather late; after all, the other boarding houses—the respectable ones, no one needed to add—had already cleared their board by that time and were well on their way to preparing the evening’s supper. But for the denizens of Dawson City’s admittedly close-knit demimonde, it was a God sent. For didn’t the gamblers and the painted ladies need to eat, too? Every morning, just as every business opened and the streets began to teem, the mouthwatering scents of steaming piles of eggs, bacon, and Johnny cakes—all washed down with hot coffee strong enough to peel wallpaper, or a cold class of homemade apple cider (the recipe of which was a closely guarded secret)—wafted through the air, a beguiling temptation just like everything else Josie Everett represented. At the Fall From Grace, even this most wholesome of meals paraded its wares before the people of Dawson, tantalizing them with Earthly delights.|
It wasn’t just the night crowd that partook of Josie’s cooking every morning, either; several of the prospectors made their way over from their claims for the hearty fare on offer. Those whom the sun rose to see already hard at work or whose efforts continued long past the coming of night, gas lamps burning all the while. Josie turned no one away. Everyone needed to eat, whether respectable businessman or disreputable card shark, and the other establishments were all-too-willing to let someone starve for the choices they’d made. Josie knew what life could do to a person. She knew what it meant to make hard choices when survival was on the line. And so she served everyone; even, on occasion, someone without the coin to pay.
Lest one believe it was only a sense of charity or inclusiveness that led Josie to plate breakfast at such an unaccountable hour, it would do to remind them that gas kept the lights on well past sunset, and Josie was often up until the wee hours of the morning keeping her establishment on the right side of chaotic. Hers was no staid boarding house where tea might be served and curfew was strictly enforced; there was too much whiskey, too many cards, and too few pretty women to keep the men entirely well-behaved, but Josie Everett did not run a charnel house. Her hotel might not be considered reputable, but it was a sight better than some of the saloons and dance halls that all-too-often caught fire and threatened the entire town. She charged fair prices—certainly not the inflated nonsense some of the other places tried and got away with far too often—but that was enough to keep the worst of the riffraff out.
If she served a free meal on occasion to a man who’d gambled everything and lost, well, that was her prerogative.
It had taken a lot of hard work to get her hotel up and running. The old owners, a couple up from Seattle who’d taken exception to Canadian law, had left the place to ruin when they’d gone home; so far as they were concerned, it wasn’t worth the upkeep. Though it had done Josie the good deed of lowering the price, she’d had to put a great deal of spit shine on the old girl to make it worth opening again. And she had no problem with Canadian law; it was the only one she’d ever known. There were enough stories of the Wild West available without Dawson turning into Deadwood or Tombstone. Now that it was up and running, however, she knew the decision had been a good one. After Jackson’s unfortunate demise, Josie had been afraid she’d be forced to move back to Saskatchewan and a factory; instead, she was the proprietor of a very successful business, if she did say so herself.
“Another wonderful breakfast, Joze. I’m fit to burst, I am.” Ezekiel Harcott was one of the town’s butchers, and the one most likely to dine with her. She overlooked his unfortunate tendency to pass off bad meat so long as the goods she received from him were the very best. He’d learned the hard way what happened to men who tried to cheat her, and their relationship had been fine ever since. “Where’d a girl like you learn to cook like this?”
“From my mama, sugar. Where all girls learn to cook.” Josie pulled her full lips into an inviting smile. Prostitution had been a means to an end, but she’d learned to enjoy the power being a desirable woman gave her. It was disconcertedly easy to twist the average man around her finger. A pout or a flutter of the eyelashes seemed the key to getting just about anything she wanted.
And for those on whom her charms did not work, there were always the old-fashioned ways of stubbornness and straight talk. If the sex didn’t get them, the shock of a hard bargain coming from a woman always did the trick. It amused Josie to no end that men assumed women had no backbone in them, or were too frail to be cunning, and then continually fell victim to a woman’s schemes. Here in Dawson were a lot of women who had figured it all out; fortunately, those were exactly the kind of people who didn’t mind being a little unrespectable.
“Well now, I was sure you’d sprung fully born into the world, Miss Josie. I cannot imagine you as a child t’all.” Ezekiel licked his lips and pushed back from the table. “There ain’t an innocent bone in yer body, if I might say so.”
Josie laughed, the sound carrying through the dining room. Several heads turned her way, drawn to her throaty mirth. It had been her calling card as a prostitute, the deep rolling laughter that seemed almost sinful, and why she’d been called the Temptress Eve. “Well, I can’t be sure about that, Ezekiel, but if there was, it fortunately wore off.”
“I sure agree with that, miss. A fine day to you and to your girls.” Ezekiel tipped the brim of his bowler as he left the dining room and headed toward the street. He’d be off to open his shop; it was almost the time of day when the servants showed up to procure the meat for luncheon and supper. The rich of Dawson City dined well; almost impossible so, given the conditions most poor folk were forced to endure out here in the wilderness. Most people had to trek through mud deep enough to splash one’s knees, and yet there were people out there eating caviar for breakfast. It was to these folks that the merchants of Dawson catered; the other folk mostly got fleeced.
Josie swept out of the dining room and into the reception hall, her skirts floating around her ankles. It was a small miracle, she thought as she twisted around tables and guests, that bustles had gone the way of the buffalo; it made movement so much easier. Now if only there was something to be done about corsets, she wouldn’t be forced to purchase men’s suits and shell out a small fortune tailoring them to fit her curves. She’d worked too damn hard to be spendthrift, and the specter of absolute impoverishment lingered at the edge of her perception. Josie knew what abjection was like; she had no intention of returning there ever again.
Josie turned and tugged her lips into a small smile. On most women it would have looked demure, but on Josie it was downright alluring; all it succeeded in doing was reminding everyone how full her lips were, and how finely shaped. It was not that she was a woman naturally given to flirtation or seduction—every movement was not calculated to demand attention—but rather that her features were naturally seductive. She had learned to use them to her own advantage, of course, but even when she was not intending to flirt, Josie found that her features conspired against her. The smile she gave now was certainly not calculated to arouse; it had been one of her girls who greeted her, and Josie never prevaricated with her girls. “Angelina, good morning. What can I do for you, child?”
Angelina was not the woman’s real name. Very few of Josie’s permanent house guests used the one their parents gave them; she certainly hadn’t when circumstances had forced her into prostitution for a time. But it was a name that fit the girl who fluttered toward Josie now, all blonde ringlets and sky-blue eyes set wide on her face. She had rosebud features and a delicate smile that colored her cheeks most becomingly when she dared unleash it. There was hardly a man in Dawson—perhaps in the whole of Canada, truth be told—who would not desire her. And Angelina used it.
“I’ve got this month’s board, Mama.”
Josie jerked her head toward the counter. “Very well. Let’s get you all settled up then, shall we? You’re early; a good month for you, then?”
Angelina nodded. “I’m makin’ money fast enough that I should be able to set myself up on my own real soon, Mama. Take my own rooms and go to school; make myself real respectable-like.”
“Wonderful, darling! You’ll want to go back East for that. Get yourself an education an’ a job, and you’ll have all you need in this world. Learn to ride and you can even find yourself a husband if that’s what you want.” Josie accepted Angelina’s coin and carefully counted out the girl’s change. She did not take a percentage from her girls’ earnings; rather, she charged them a little more for room and board than the average guests. If someone like Angelina had a particularly good month and was careful with her earnings, she could save up quite a hefty sum. It was how Josie had done it herself, so they all knew it could be done. And there were no bad months at Josie’s; all her girls did well. She made sure of it.
“Why would I want to learn to ride, Mama?” Angelina’s eyes went wide with confusion.
Josie chuckled. “To explain why you don’t bleed on your wedding night, dear. It’s the easiest excuse in the book for when your husband looks at you quizzically. Men ain’t the smartest creatures, dear; they can’t understand there ain’t many ways for a girl to make it on her own. They like your spirit all right, but they don’t much like the idea of what they think of as sharin’. The same thing that makes a man a man, makes a woman a whore.”
Angelina nodded. She was a smart girl. It was all well and good to hope for a man who loved you enough to marry you anyway, but a girl had to know better, and had to keep her secrets. It wasn’t really like lying, Josie told her girls; it was deciding that it wasn’t really his business to know. Most men had had a woman or two before marriage and they weren’t expected to share that fact; why shouldn’t a woman be able to do the same? “Thanks, Mama.”
“It is nothing, dear one. Go on now, there’s still plenty of food left in the dining hall and you need to eat up. What have you got planned for today?”
“Me and some of the girls are gonna go to the music hall and watch the rehearsals. They let us girls in for a penny since we can’t come at night.” Angelina smiled, and Josie heard a man choke from behind her. Another one lost to the Angel’s charms, and Eve’s Fall From Grace. “I think you should go of a night, Mama. We could take care of things here, and I think you’d enjoy it. Maybe Bill’d like to go with you.”
Josie smirked, one carefully arched eyebrow raising. “Oh, you think so, do you?” William Baines, called Bill, was a prospector who’d made good by being one of the first surveyors in Dawson. He’d been a member of the Canadian Militia and fought during the North-West Rebellion, including the Battle of Loon Lake; when his contract ended, he decided to stay in the North West. Instead of joining the police force, Bill chose to play woodsman for a while before hearing of gold in the Klondike. According to the girls, he was just the handsomest thing, but he was never interested in any of them. They had naturally come to the conclusion that he wanted to ‘taste the fruit of Eve’ and now spent what seemed like half their time playing matchmaker.
To be fair, Bill was handsome, and Josie couldn’t help but appreciate his charms, but stepping out with a gentleman was hardly on her list of things to do. She was busy enough as it was; what did she need with distractions, even if they did come in the form of a brilliant smile and flashing brown eyes? And, truthfully, it was almost more enjoyable to see her girls flutter around trying to put them together than it would be actually spending an evening in the man’s company. It was so familial, Josie couldn’t help but enjoy the attention.
“Yes! Of course I…oh. Oh, dear. Mama…Alice is here. And she looks dreadfully upset.” Angelina looked past Josie, blue eyes darkening with worry.
Josie spun. Alice Marceau was a doctor, or one of them, at the very least. There were two hospitals in Dawson constantly overflowing with dying men, and hardly enough doctors to go around. Alice was one of the few who didn’t charge an arm and a leg and was a gifted practitioner. It was to her that Josie went, as well as the girls. Nothing like a woman’s touch to soothe the anxieties of women’s troubles.
But Angelina was correct; Alice looked devastated. Her hair sagged where it was normally pristine, and red rimmed the woman’s glorious brown eyes. Even her clothing seemed disheveled, though of course it was not; it was simply less perfect than Josie had come to expect. She was trembling as she stood in the doorway, and indeed her legs gave out from beneath her within moments of crossing the threshold. “Alice!” Josie crossed the room and knelt beside her friend. “Someone help me get her to my office. There’s a couch in there large enough for her to lie upon.”
“No…do not fuss over me,” Alice whispered. “I shall be well in a moment.”
“You shall allow me to see you safely deposited in my office, dear, and out of my doorway where you are liable to be stepped on. Angelina, fetch me some cider and a biscuit with jam. She needs to get something steadying onto her bones. Come now, Alice. Let’s get you some place more comfortable than this.” Josie stood as one of her boarders pulled Alice into his arms. “Follow me.”
Josie’s office was rather more masculine than many might expect. There was no lace or floral wallpaper anywhere in sight; in fact, she had rather liked the woods and leathers she’d inherited from the old owners. She’d had to restore it, of course, but aside from the addition of some pillows and some nice curtains, she had left most of it alone. The girls brought live flowers in from their walks, and on occasion one of her customers would make her a gift of something or another, but it just added to the ambiance. There were rather more books than there’d used to be—Josie was determined to shed her ignorance by any means available to her—but all-in-all, the old owners would be able to recognize much of what they had built in this room. The same could not be said for the rest of the hotel, of course, but Josie figured it was OK to let one room stand.
“On the couch, if you please. Thank you for your help, dear. Please enjoy a drink on me.” Josie handed the man a small token; a sign to her bartender that she had, indeed, promised a free drink. It stopped people from using her name erroneously, which was a problem in many of the other establishments but Josie was determined to eradicate at hers. The man took it with a nod and exited, closing the door behind him.
Josie turned to Alice, who was sitting up, and knelt so she was able to look her friend in the eye. Alice was one of the few who didn’t give a twig that Josie was once a prostitute, and for that she would forever have Josie’s loyalty. “Oh, my poor dear. Your husband was such a good man. Do you need anything from me? Anything at all and I will see it done.”
Alice blinked. “How…how could you know my dear Edward has left me?”
Josie sat beside her on the couch. “Loss is the same in everyone’s eye, my dear. And his is the only loss that would hit you this hard. What has happened, Alice? What has taken your husband from you?”
|Edward Marceau has died, perished, and departed from this mortal plane. I spoke with him but this morning and now he is gone; his life, like daylight here in Dawson, was fleeting. I would like nothing more than not to write these words but no matter how fervently I might hope, my wishes cannot change what has already happened. The details of Edward’s death have already been compiled by myself into a separate report and I will not repeat them here; both for the sake of brevity, and the desire to forget the ghastly details I witnessed hours ago…no matter how impossible that might be.|
Arthur dropped his pen on the rough surface of the table and looked across the barracks; behind the curtain to his quarters lay Stowe, Crowe had guided the wounded corporal to his quarters an hour ago. The drawn curtain had deterred most questions from the lower ranks while Arthur’s stern bark had sent the persistent among them back to their bunks.
Arthur rubbed a hand through his shorn hair and settled the pen on the page; like ink, words began to flow.
While I grieve for Edward and his widow Alice, there are other matters that must come first in my thoughts. Stowe was injured in the same altercation that caused Edward’s death and while the bite did not seem serious, there is a very real chance that it could get infected. If such a thing were to happen he could be out for several weeks; an outcome that I can ill afford. An investigation must be attempted in such a serious case as murder and I can hardly run one while also making burial arrangements for the dead, and trying to hold the constabulary together myself while the Inspector barricades himself in the office and sends endless wireless transmissions to Fort Macleod.
I do not think he expected a murder when he took the posting; it seems his days of sloth have come to an end. Tomorrow I think I shall ask assistance from him, an Inspector ought to be capable of inspecting a crime scene I would hope.
Poor Mrs. – Ms. Marceau, she will be surrounded by bodies tomorrow including that of her husband’s. I imagine that I’ll have to pay her a visit and comfort her as best I can; she needs to be in a state where she can perform and complete an autopsy, the records will prove invaluable in establishing the facts of what happened out on the fields.
Just another task to add to the list; the metaphor of Atlas has never seemed so apt.
Arthur set his pen down; this time for good, the journal’s cover closed silently over the pages underneath it. He stood and crept through the rows of snoring officers until he reached his quarters, drawing the curtain back slowly to avoid noise.
Stowe tossed and turned under the sheets, his sleep a fitful and disturbed one. Arthur placed his journal on the desk and touched the back of his hand to the corporal’s forehead; it was unnaturally warm and clammy to the touch.
“Great,” Crowe muttered softly as he stepped back into the barracks. “Just great.”
Fever usually meant infection and unless treated, infection usually meant death. Crowe looked at the cot he had written beside with longing, it would be another long day tomorrow and he’d need all the sleep he could get.
With a weary huff he pulled his boots on and shrugged into his crimson serge; gunbelt cinched around his waist and hat in hand, he pushed open the door and into the night.
The night was cold, not bone-chillingly so but enough to make Arthur wish he’d worn more than his serge. It had been a short trip from the barracks to Dr. Marceau’s office, but nevertheless Arthur’s expectations had still been dashed when he found the building without light and seemingly devoid of life.
The Mountie considered knocking but decided against it, Stowe’s condition would hold and Ms. Marceau deserved a full night’s rest after what she had gone though. Better to see her in the daylight and before she conducted the autopsies, that way she would be in a sufficient mental state to examine Stowe’s symptoms.
Arthur turned back towards the barracks and came face to face with a figure, the slight frame indicated a woman and the knocked arrow aimed at his face indicated she had important business with him.
“Are they dead?” The accented English betrayed her as the savage she was, Arthur’s jaw clenched with hatred.
“Are they dead?” She demanded a second time, her voice more frantic this time. “The men at the mine, are they dead?”
“Was that attack your doing?” Arthur growled; his hand ached to grab his sidearm and shoot her down on the spot. “Was the biter your man?”
“Our man?” the savage nearly dropped her bow in shock. “These demons take orders from no one, their only purpose is to kill!”
“Your fairy tales mean nothing to me savage,” Arthur’s hand crept closer to his sidearm. “Either kill me or leave me in peace!”
“You must kill any who bear the mark,” she warned as she backed away, her arrow never left Arthur’s face. “You will know only sorrow if you do not!”
She was gone as suddenly as she had appeared; Arthur knew that to chase her into the woods in darkness was folly, he would never find her and might forfeit his life in the attempt.
His feet carried him back towards headquarters, this time at a much faster clip. No matter how annoying he might be, Reynolds was still Arthur’s superior and he needed to be briefed on this encounter with the savage.
“Is it true sergeant,” Constable Merks’ voice struggled to contain its curiosity. “Did you really almost get killed by one of them Indians?”
“Constable,” Arthur formed his features into the most frightening glare he could muster and turned in his seat. “Does it look like I would ever be in a position to let one of those savages get the drop on me?”
Merks drew back as though a poisonous snake sat in front of him and shook his head, muttering something about how no savage could ever get the drop on the sergeant.
Crowe faced that front of the room again and pinched the bridge of his nose; his head pounded and his joints ached from lack of sleep, it was something that no amount of tea had seemed to dispel.
The door at the front swung open and Inspector Reynolds came through the opening, he looked as tired as Crowe felt. The room stood as one and came to attention; Reynolds returned them to their seats with a wave of his hand.
“At ease gentlemen,” he took a stance in between the rows of seats. “As many of you are no doubt aware, there was an incident yesterday that involved Sergeant Crowe, Corporal Stowe, three prospectors and an as of yet unidentified suspect. Corporal Stowe and one of the prospectors were wounded in the altercation while the other two prospectors were killed along with the suspect.”
Reynolds paused for a moment and surveyed the men gathered in front of him. “I’m sure many of you are also aware of the Indian that Sergeant Crowe encountered last night; his description of her was one of hostility. This hostility has me deeply concerned, especially because constables Hogue and Larch did not show up for roll this morning.”
The room burst into nervous chatter at this revelation, each officer asking his fellows what would happen if the Indians continued their aggression. Arthur had a different emotion that coursed through him; hate.
Another emotion joined it; the emotion of excitement, the same feeling an African lion would get when it saw a gazelle. Sergeant Crowe knew that if the inspector was connecting these two stories together in such a fashion it was for one reason.
“Quiet!” Reynolds shouted the word two and three times before the officers settled down again. “The officers’ horses were hitched to the post and there was no sign of the bodies they had been detailed to bring back from the earlier attack…this means they were attacked and abducted inside Dawson! Clearly this Indian threat cannot be ignored, that is why I’m sending Sergeant Crowe along with: constable Horner, constable Jackson, constable Fitzpatrick and constable Liam; their mission is to hunt down these savages and to bring our boys home!”
The room burst into cheers, but this time Reynolds made no move to quell them. He locked eyes with Crowe and nodded; they both knew the emotion coursing through the men right now, bloodlust.
Crowe felt it coursing through him too, like the heat from a blast furnace it warmed his skin an set a predatory grin on his face…after years of waiting he’d finally get a chance to repay those savage bastards a hundred fold for what they did to his father.
Maybe the Inspector was deserving of some small respect after all…
Arthur huffed in annoyance as he pushed his boot into the horse’s right side; the animal voiced its displeasure with a snort of its own and moved to the left, as if to distance itself from the offending boot.
Arthur and his heavily armed team had set off early in the morning; intent on finding their men and making the savages pay for what they did. What little sunlight the Klondike received this time of year had come and gone and still they searched, only giving up when the darkness of night became indomitable, navigation became nearly impossible and minor obstacles threatened to topple their horses.
The sergeant’s gloved hand tightened around the wooden stock of his repeater with a squeak; no results meant that the Inspector would view this expedition as a failure and might not send another, Arthur might never get a chance to put the cowardly bastards to the torch.
The horses hooves clupped on the hardpacked earth; it cared not for the dark thoughts of its master, it only wanted to be back in the place where it got its food and water.
Arthur shook his head and smiled, sometime he wished his life were that simple. The smile was short lived and it dropped into a scowl as soon as he saw the lights of Dawson, he wasn’t looking forward to the tongue-lashing Reynolds was sure to give.
Four sharp cracks rang out in the night sky; it took Arthur no time at all to realize that they were gunshots, screams followed right on their heels.
Arthur kicked his horse, and yelled. The startled animal lurched into a gallop and the pounding of hooves behind the sergeant told him that his constables had done the same; it was a good thing too, for they had little time to waste.
Both gunshots and screams had one thing in common; they both came from Dawson.
|Alice woke in a room that was not her own; to walls she did not recognize. The voices that rose up from the floor below were brash and unfamiliar, irritating the headache that throbbed behind her eyes and dug into her temples. She pressed the heavy quilt against her ears, praying silently for the world to take a breath, to leave her at peace for just a moment. |
“What will you do now?” She could almost hear Edward whisper, his tone, though surely produced in her throbbing head, still sounded encouraging. She wondered if she would ever forget that comforting sound. If the years would eventually claim all memory of that deep and melodic voice.
“I suspect I’ll die.” She answered to the empty room, her tone empty as she tossed the blankets aside, her petite frame stretched over the well stuffed bed.
“You will do no such thing.” Josie answered from the doorway, a plate of eggs gripped lightly in lithe fingers. She sat it on the nightstand and crawled onto bed beside her friend, happy to play the role of company without pressing Alice to speak. She was a saint for her intuition, Josie Everett, and never had Alice so appreciated it.
Josie slipped a flask out of her pocket and presented it. Though neither woman was inclined to partake so early in the day, the occasion called for it. And these particular friends were never the sort to object to something so needed simply because it wasn’t particularly acceptable.
Alice lifted it to her lips, almost enjoying the burn of the whiskey in her throat. She muffled a cough and hid the beginnings of a grimace, unused to such a punishing choice. She passed it back to her friend, who took the second shot for her, tossing her head back in a graceful nod before securing the lid once again.
“Will the ache ever go away?” Alice asked, her tone rather matter of fact as she lean her head against her friends shoulder.
Josie sat in silence a moment, setting her head against Alice’s. “I will tell you the honest truth, Alice, I don’t think the ache ever really goes away. That’s why old men still carry crumpled pictures in their pockets and why I still dream about my Jackson. But life always hurts, Alice, you cannot let that burden you. All you can do is decide what sort of a fight you’ll put up.”
Alice smiled slightly. If there was ever a woman to listen to on the subject, it was Josie, and though the idea of strength still felt foreign, she was right. Alice would hate herself if she allowed self pity and grief to overtake her. She could spend the nights in tears, the days she would spend in boots.
Seeming to read her friend’s mind Josie continued, “But don’t be afraid to take some time, Alice. You know you are welcome here, as long as you feel you need it.”
“I will never forget your kindness, Josie Everett.” Alice smiled, almost uncomfortable with her previously favored expression. “But for today, I think its best I get to work. I have arrangements to make for Edward, and autopsies to perform for the Sergeant. If it does not take me too long I think I will venture out to the claim as well. I won’t let them tear apart the home he built for us.” She could hear a strengthening resolve already altering her voice.
“Perhaps wait until tomorrow, and I’ll go with you to the claim.” Josie began, “I’ve heard stories that it’s growing more and more dangerous, and I’m not thrilled with the idea of sending you out there unarmed and alone. Which reminds me.” Josie rose, moving to the wrapped packages she had left on the table. She lifted one wooden box and returned with it. “The others are the winter gear we discussed. I finished them last week, and thought it was just cold enough to necessitate them today. But this, this is from Edward.”
Alice studied the simple pine box that sat on Josie’s lap. It was littered with a fine layer of dust, suggesting it had spent some time tucked away on a shelf.
“He gave it to me just a few weeks after you came to Dawson City." Josie smiled, "He saw how we got on and told me he wanted to give it to someone he could trust, someone who would help look out for you if anything ever happened. So here I am keeping my promise, despite how much you won’t like it.”
She set the box on Alice’s lap, crossing her arms over an ample chest as if to show her resolve. Alice opened it slowly, finding a pile of letters, a rather thick bundle of cash, and a pistol in a fine leather holster.
Alice bit her lip, unsure at her husband’s choice. She was quite proficient with a bow or even a rifle, but pistols weren’t made for taking game, they were made for killing men, and that was an endeavor that never sat well with Alice.
But a woman alone no longer had the privilege to simply rely on the goodness of others. She trusted Edward, and she trusted Josie, and despite the uneasiness that rose in her stomach, she would obey their wishes. “Will you teach me to use it?” She asked, studying the swirling detailed engraved into the steel and onto the grip.
Josie lifted the pistol from the holster, and in a few subtle motions had outlined its use. “It’s a fine gun, the Colt peacemaker. And this one is particularly well taken care of. It's is a bit less accurate than the rifles you’re used to, but I’d bet you could hit what you aim for. When we’re able, we’ll go out and practice.”
“Thank you, Josie.” Alice smiled, feeling slightly more comfortable with the idea. She might not be able to kill someone if she wanted to, but she could at least avoid accidentally killing someone out of sheer ignorance.
“My pleasure, dear Alice.” Josie said with a smile, standing and slinking toward the door in that way that was uniquely Josie. “Don’t forget to eat. I have a bit to attend to, but if you need anything at all, you ask.”
Alice nodded and Josie disappeared through the door, closing it behind her with a quiet click.
Alice stood before the floor length mirror, for the first time clothed in the gear Josie had made for her. Her skirts, bustles and corsets had been replaced; leaving her to scrutinize a figure that was now silhouetted by a rather fitted pair of high-waisted, dark leather trousers and soft white blouse. Alice fastened the gun belt around her hips, complete with it’s now loaded Colt, and hid it beneath a long wool jacket the color of sage. The tall leather boots, sealed with mink oil and lined with fur, were perhaps the most heavenly part, heals and pointed toes replaced with soft supple leather and flat soles.
Her shapely eyebrow arched as she studied the woman in the mirror, not fully convinced it was herself looking back. It felt strangely freeing and comfortably distant; as if some tiny glimmer of hope existed that this new doppelganger might be, in some way, more capable. She wrapped her black hair into a single braid that fell over her shoulder, and started toward the dining hall, a long leather coat, wool gloves, and Edward’s wide brimmed Stetson tucked beneath one arm.
“Well don’t you look like the gem of the Wild West.” One of Josie’s girls said as she passed Alice, her thin pink lips separating into a wide smile.
“It does suit you, if I do say so myself.” Josie agreed from a place at the bar, turning from her conversation with a rather engaged gentleman to intercept her friend on the stairs. Her arm wrapped around Alice’s and she leaned in close, her voice lowering below the roar of the dining hall, “Be careful today. I hear a native threatened Sergeant Crowe this morning. Tensions are high.”
Alice turned, her eyes widening. “Where is he now, the Sergeant? If they are coming into town.”
“I know. It is concerning. Rumor is the Mounties believe they may be involved with the attack on the claims, and with two Mounties missing they have gone to settle it, Sergeant Crowe with them. There is a great deal of anger, so tread carefully my friend.”
Alice squeezed her friend’s hands, thankful for the warning and suddenly glad she had confided her family history to Josie. “I'll be safe." Alice assured.
Alice spent the morning making final arrangements for Edward, her ears constantly perked for any news of what had happened with the Tlingit, and whether or not the Sergeant had returned. It made her sick to consider a war between them; the Tlingit were fierce and pains ran deep. It was not a war either side would truly win.
Though it wore heavily on her already burdened mind, it was not what kept her thoughts occupied. It was already growing darker, and the autopsies had yet to be done. The task itself was generally tolerable; she did not shy away from the work when it had been any other body, and Lord knows Dawson City had provided more than one occasion to examine the dead. But this was not a body, this was her husband. The idea of cutting into his flesh alone, of laying hands on him not out of affection but in cold examination, made her almost sick. After too many hours, too many passes by the clinic without so much as glancing up, her hesitance finally gave way to determination. When the Sergeant returned, and she prayed he would, they would be done. If she could at all help solve the mystery, and lord willing prove it was not scheme plotted by the Tlingit, then it was worth the pain.
She slipped the tiny brass key into the shops lock, pausing as a subtle pounding inside caught her attention. She lifted the Stetson off her head and pressed her ear to the door. She could hear a rustling, things tipping, and a low, inhuman growl.
If a scavenger had somehow managed to get inside; to crawl through a loose board in the floor, drawn to the smell of death and decay, the damage it could do would be devastating. If it were to ruin the evidence, to damage her Edward, she would never forgive herself.
Damning her weakness and ill luck, she turned to the street, searching for assistance. A young Mountie named Cook made his rounds, his face weary from a long day. “Constable.” She spoke calmly, catching his attention.
“Mrs. Marceau. I did not recognize you, forgive me. I am so sorry to hear about Edward. He was a fine man, I real fine man.”
“Thank you, Constable.” She smiled, genuinely grateful for the remark, but moving past it quickly. “Might I ask your help?”
“Anything.” He answered, taking his hat from his head and gripping it in long pale fingers.
“I believe a scavenger has gotten into the shop, and the bodies of those men from the claims, my husband included, are still inside. It may be a brutal scene, and I hate to ask it of you, but I need your help. I can not deal with a wolf on my own.”
The young constable frowned his brow, but seemed quick to play the role of rescuer. “Of course, Doctor.”
He moved up the stairs with light youthful steps, his posture confident. He pressed his ear to the door, his head slowly nodding as he listened. “I hear the movement. It sounds like a wolf.” He whispered, confirming her guess. “Get out of there, now!” He yelled suddenly through the door, inspiring more than a few looks in his direction. He motioned for Alice to move toward the buildings side. “Stand back, but watch under the floor. If we frighten it off it’s best to see which way it runs.”
Alice nodded, stepping off the porch and lowering her head to peer under the shop. The streets were bright, and the building on the opposite street lit the space well despite the encroaching blackness.
The constable turned the key and drew his pistol. With one palm he pressed against the door. It gave an inch and slammed shut. “This is Constable Cook, get out of there now!” He ordered through the door, suggesting their theory of a wolf had been fearfully incorrect.
The door suddenly pulled inward, and out of it flew the distorted figure of a man. The attacker was ragged and hunched, his outstretched arms stained red red to the elbow. Before the constable could raise his weapon the man was upon him, teeth and bloodied fingers tearing at the young man’s throat.
Alice stumbled back a step, searching for anything she could use to assist; any loose board, any sharp stone that could be used to defend him. She then remembered the pistol at her hip.
She lifted from it's holster, and lining the front sight with the attacker, pulled back the hammer and fired. The round struck him in the side and did nothing.
He rose, an ungodly gurgling of blood and anger erupting from his chest as he set blackening eyes upon her. She fired again and once more the bullet passed through his chest, his stumbling steps moving off the porch and into the muddy street. She took another step back and the man was on the ground, crumpled beneath a prospector who had tackled him from behind. Two more joined him, struggling to keep the man down, when the others appeared in the doorway.
Two monsters in the red jackets of the Mounties appeared first, the first with a face torn well beyond recognition, the other’s chest a gaping wound that split to reveal haggard meat still clinging to broken ribs. Neither of these triggered in her the horror of the last; on his feet, white as a ghost, save for his bloodied mouth, stood Edward.
Alice felt her knees nearly buckle as he turned to her. It was his face, his clothing, his masculine build, but it was not him. His blue eyes were vacant and violent at once, his figure hunched and his face gnarled. He had been dead, he had to be dead.
Alice did not notice the bloodied Mounties as they fanned out, tearing limb and life from the crowd that gathered. Her eyes were still trained on what was once Edward, the front sight of her pistol trembling as she kept it set on him. “Stop, Edward.” She pleaded, hoping her eyes betrayed her, that she could still somehow stop him with only a word.
Gunshots rang out as the others were fought off, and still her ghost pursued, his clumsy footsteps quickening as he drew closer. “God, Please! Stop!” She screamed, terrified and furious at once. The shot was so loud it nearly deafened her, the bullet passing so close to her cheek she could feel the rush of air. In a spray of crimson Edward’s head tossed back, his lifeless form crumpling beneath him.
She spun, seeing Josie turn her pistol to the next rabid Mountie and finish him in the same way she had finished the monster that had once been Edward.
“Help!” A gasp from beside her called out. She holstered her pistol and found a man writhing, the attacker dead beneath him, along with the two others. “God, what’s happened?” He begged an answer as she knelt over him, “He bit? How could he have bit me?” He asked. She pressed her hands to the wound at his shoulder, the warm blood soaking through her gloves with each slowing heartbeat.
“You’ll be fine. It'll all be fine.” She lied, her eyes gentle as she watched the life slowly slip from his. She glanced over her shoulder for any coming threat. The four attackers were dead, and with them several others. The city screamed around her, crying out in horror as they fought to understand what had happened, to explain away their wounds even as they tended them.
“Josie!” Alice called, standing, unable to spot her in the chaos.
“She is there.” Came the familiar voice of Arthur Crowe, he and his Mounties filing into the ranks of the panicked and the injured. She glanced up to him, and saw a hint of recognition move across his eyes.
“Doctor?” He began, pausing to give his orders. His eyes never left the dead Mounties even as he turned to her. “Can you please tell me what’s happened?”
Alice paused, stripping off her blood soaked gloves and shaking her head.
“They attacked. The Mounties, the prospector, Edward. They were locked in the shop, and when Cook opened the door, they attacked. Rabid like the man at the claims. I have never seen anything like it.”
The sergeant cast his eyes downward, studying Edward, studying the prospector. Alice watched a shadow pass over his features and he said nothing.
|There were a few minutes, during the worst of the confusion, in which Josie was completely ignored. This suited her fine, as it took some careful rearranging to replace her gun in its hidden compartment against her upper thigh. She had sewn a false pocket into her skirts, but the endeavor was not an easy one even at the best of times, and made worse by the need to keep from burning herself. Hopefully, no one would notice that her sleeves were now rolled down instead of at their usual place at her elbow; no one other than Alice, at any rate, whom Josie knew would not mention it. Shooting a gun did always leave such a dreadful mess along the arm, and it was nearly impossible to get the residue out of cloth; Jackson had taught her to keep a gun ready and her sleeves always rolled up out here, damn the Mounties. If a man attacked you for your gold, or even for your boots, it was best to shoot first and keep living, he said; let the Mounties arrest you, at least you’d be alive. Some of the only sensible words to come out of that man’s mouth in all his brief time as a miner; could anyone wonder that it was one of the few things Josie took to heart?|
Everyone seemed to have gone completely mad. Josie supposed she couldn’t really fault them. After all, the dead had risen and seemed to have developed a rather voracious appetite for living flesh. The worst of the crowds were long gone from Dawson, but enough remained that even a few of the shambling beasts had been enough to set the city’s denizens—usually the ‘crusties’ at this time of the day, as Josie called the rich folks that remained, with no need to go out and mine and plenty of money to make fleecing the poor—to rampaging. The screaming died down within moments, the society dames fainting under the pressure of such shock, but the shouts of the men and Mounties yet persisted and the crowds grew ever bigger.
For a brief moment, Josie considered abandoning the masses and returning to her establishment, but enough people had seen her during the scuffle that leaving now would only be seen as incriminating. Though, of course, what could she have done to bring the dead back to life? Then again, she had used a gun to stop the attack by putting them back down, which was enough for the lousy sticklers among the North-West to pin the blame on her that so obviously needed to be pinned in this moment of chaos. Someone needed to be arrested for this and, as the offenders were dead (again), the only criminal in the vicinity was the person who’d saved everyone’s hides. Still, she couldn’t leave Alice; she had sworn to take care of the woman, and what was a lousy arrest against making sure she was all right?
“Well, what kind of hootenanny do we have here, Joze?”
Josie flicked a glance to her right and tugged her lips into a smile that was undoubtedly meant to tantalize. “Well, Bill, it seems the dead have been rising in Dawson City.”
Bill Baines was a hard sort of man to categorize. He was tall and broad, with corded muscle earned over years of hard work, but there was a fineness to his features that could, on occasion, seem almost dainty when compared to the rough-cut boors so common in the Klondike. When he went out of an evening—and that was almost every evening—he dressed impeccably, but without the dandy’s flamboyance, his dark hair combed back and face unfashionably clean-shaven. He seemed to take pleasure in sharp dress, but his temperament was entirely unsuited to being a slave to fashion; what he did, he did to please himself and no one else. Well, perhaps Josie, if her girls were to be believed, but no one else.
The commotion must have caught him just as he was getting ready for the day—he was always one of the latecomers to Josie’s board—because he had appeared to the world wearing only a shirt and suspenders, with nary a waistcoat to be seen. The top few buttons on his shirt were undone, revealing a shock of dark hair to match that on his forearms, and he was wearing brogues rather than his usual boots. Not that Josie minded; he was a devilishly handsome man, and she was of the opinion that people wore far too much clothing to be healthy. “Well, Joze…I knew your cooking was good, but enough to wake the dead? You’ve really outdone yourself this time.”
“I wish it were as simple as that,” Josie replied, green eyes searching out and finding Alice in the crowd. She’d wanted to go to her friend as soon as her gun was hidden—Alice had called out to her in the aftermath, and there had been too much panic in her voice for Josie’s liking—but the Mounties had arrived, and Josie steered clear of them. There were a few she’d experienced too much of and others looked at her as if she were no more than a speck of filth to be wiped away. Especially the one who was at Alice’s side now. He was one of the sticklers. If there weren’t so much other crime to worry about, she was sure Sergeant Crowe would have her behind bars. Or publicly castigated. “That’s Alice Marceau’s husband.”
Bill followed Josie’s pointed finger and ran a hand through his, as yet unbrushed, hair. “But I thought he died in an attack out in the forest, along with a couple of Mounties and another prospector…”
“He did. They were all bitten. So was another Mountie, though he yet lives, so far as I know. Bitten by a human, Bill.” Josie crossed her arms, unused to the feeling of fabric against her skin. “Here, do you have a handkerchief on you?”
“Sure I do. Whaddya need it for?” Bill’s eyes were almost golden in the morning sunlight. “Don’t tell me…the gunshots I heard were you?”
Josie nodded. “Some of them. The ones between the eyes.”
“I was wonderin’ why you had your sleeves down. Here I was thinking it was such a shame not to see those wrists of yours, and I’m standin’ next to a monster killer.” Bill pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to Josie, who snatched it from him with a mock glare. He laughed as she rolled her sleeves back up and set to scrubbing her arms, spitting into the fabric to help get the residue off of her skin. As she finished, he grew serious again. “They’re going to blame the Tlingit for this.”
Josie snorted and gestured toward the Mountie speaking to Alice. “With Sergeant Savage over there in charge, I’m surprised they haven’t rounded up every Native around here and accused them of witchcraft.”
Bill hocked and spat into the dirt. “Nah. With him in charge, I’m downright shocked they haven’t started raids against the villages. Though, judging by the way they’re dressed and the mud on their mounts, I’d say this event interrupted something of that sort.”
Josie frowned. Bill had lived among the Tlingit for a time; he knew the forests as well as it was possible for someone not born in them to know. If he said the Mounties had marched against the Natives, they had. “But this hadn’t even happened yet…”
“Something happened. And when something strange happens, two people get the blame: Natives and Negroes.”
“Hmm…” Josie bit her bottom lip and handed Bill his handkerchief.
“Speaking of…you sure you didn’t put no voodoo spell on that food of yours? Or maybe a curse?” Bill grinned and nudged Josie with his elbow. He always hid his discomfort behind humor, and everyone was uncomfortable. As much as Josie didn’t think the nearby tribes were behind this, what other explanation could there be but the supernatural? The dead rising, violent and mindless, seeking to attack the living and rend their flesh…it could not be natural.
“You be careful, Bill Baines, or I’ll toss some voodoo your way. My grandma taught me everything her mama taught her. I’m not sure how much Haiti I’ve got in my blood, but I’m sure it’s enough to teach you a lesson.” Josie’s grandmother was a mulatto, the daughter of a runaway American slave and the master who’d raped her. She had never married, but shocked many when she moved in with a white man and became his formal mistress; to hear Granny Rosaline tell it, they had been very much in love. Josie’s mother was light-skinned enough that, with the careful application of beauty, she was able to marry a white man who, while not rich, was certainly not destitute.
After Jackson’s death, when Josie turned to the red light district to make something of herself, it had quickly become apparent that seemingly white women who could boast of being an octaroon—that is, someone with one Negro great-grandparent—earned almost double that of her plainer sisters. She had never advertised as such, but when people (correctly) assumed that her exotic features were the product of black blood, she certainly didn’t deny it. Only later, after she had opened the Fall From Grace, had she told a customer—Bill Baines, to be exact—that the rumor was, in fact, true. He had teased her about voodoo ever since.
“Is that a promise, Josie Everett?” Bill raised an eyebrow, and his smile became almost predatory. “Because if so, I look forward to it.”
Josie’s answering smile was wicked. “I always keep my promises, Bill. Of course, most of what I was taught involved pins and sticking them into things.”
“I’m game if you are, Joze.” Bill continued to watch the crowd. “But…do you think this has the feel about it? I’ve heard tell of voodoo that can bring the dead back…”
“Zombies.” Josie shook her head. “These men came back from the dead, but they are not under the control of any priest. Granny didn’t tell me much about this, but what she said tells me these are not the product of any Negro. There’s no one here to offer up a fifth of rum to the gatekeeper and perform the proper ceremony. Unless you’re suggesting Alice is somehow a witch doctor.”
Bill tossed an incredulous look at Josie. “That girl? You’ll forgive me, Joze, because I know you’ve taken a shine to her, but she’s too soft to be a witch. And too pretty.”
“You watch yourself…that girl is a Doctor, and the source of the other shots you heard. The ones that weren’t mine. As for too pretty, have you gotten over me already, Bill?” Josie looked up at Bill from under her lashes, angling her body so her chest stood high and buxom. “I think you might break my heart.”
“Don’t you try none of your arts on me, woman. I know all your tricks.” Bill crossed his arms and his look of fake annoyance became very real. “Sergeant Crowe.”
Josie spun. The Mountie had, indeed, approached. He was handsome enough, and would have been very attractive if he didn’t always look as though someone had shoved his truncheon up his rear end. He greeted Bill with a nod of his head, almost hiding the distaste curdling his face. “Mr. Baines.” He turned to Josie. “Miss Everett. I am given to understand you were here this morning.”
“Yes. I was.”
“Then perhaps you can confirm for me what happened.”
Josie’s answering smile was saccharine, but about as genuine as Billy the Kid. “Well, those…recently dead folk, they rushed out of Dr. Marceau’s office and attacked her and the Constanble. Well…actually, rushed might not be the appropriate word. Ambled, but with some speed, is probably more accurate. They attacked that poor policeman, then they were put down in order to stop their rampage. I don’t know what would have happened if someone hadn’t shot them. How many more would have died.”
“I see.” Sergeant Crowe scribbled in a notepad for a moment. “Can you say who fired the shots?”
Josie shook her head. “I’m not sure. I confess, the sight of four dead men come back to life rather shocked me to my core, Sergeant. They just…they just attacked. The Constable was dead in an instant, his throat ripped out. I was just here…and my body froze. I’m sorry, Sergeant…I wish I could be more helpful.”
“I see. So the witnesses who claim it was you who shot the…attackers, are wrong?”
Josie’s hand flew to her throat. “Me? Goodness no! I don’t carry a gun with me when I’m out and about. I will confess, Sergeant, I keep a shotgun on my premises, but that is for use against those who mean me and mine ill.”
“So you don’t keep one hidden? Perhaps in your corset, or strapped to your calf?”
“Now see here! You will refrain from asking such indelicate questions of a lady, Sergeant, or I shall report you to your superior immediately!” Bill looked as if he were enjoying himself too much, his face going red with faux outrage. “She has said she does not keep a gun about her person. What would you have her do, lift her skirts and undo her corset while you and your men watch?”
Sergeant Crowe looked as if he wanted to reply, so Josie forestalled him. She didn’t actually want the man in trouble. “Believe me, Sergeant, if I had lifted my skirts to holster a gun, people would have noticed. I’ve got very fine legs, you know.” Josie lifted her arms, letting her shirt pull taut against her corset. “And, as you can see, there is no way I could hide a gun here.”
“Very well, but you had plenty of time to hide it elsewhere.”
“I can attest that I have been right here this entire time. And, for the past several minutes, in the company of Mr. Bill Baines. There were only a few minutes between the attack and his arrival, and I certainly did not push my way through this crowd and then back in. You noted my presence yourself when you arrived, Sergeant. Perhaps you saw something you liked?”
Sergeant Crowe grimaced, but did not reply. He prided himself too much on his professionalism. “Very well. You are free to go. But I may need you to come down to the station and answer some more questions, so please keep yourself at my disposal.”
Josie placed one hand on her hip and cocked it outward slightly. “Gladly, Sergeant.”
“One more thing. How long as Alice Marceau been in possession of illegal firearms?”
Josie’s face flattened, her eyes burning as she leveled her gaze at the Sergeant. He was just barely taller than her, something he probably wasn’t used to. “Just since her husband was killed. She wore them for protection. I guess she figured, if someone could kill her husband right under the eye of the North-West Mounted Police, someone might want to kill her, too. Good thing, I guess, since it turned out to be true. Now, if you’ll allow me, Bill and I were just about to see if Alice needs anything.”
The Sergeant’s voice was tight with annoyance as he replied. “Then you’ll need to come down to the station, where we’ve taken her. She admitted to her role in the incident and has been arrested for illegal firearms. No doubt she’ll be released soon, but, then, she is a real lady. Good day, Miss Everett. Mr. Baines.” Without so much as a nod, Crowe turned on his heel and walked away.
Next to Josie, Bill clutched his hands into fists. “That sonofa—“
“No worries, Bill.” Josie placed her hand on Bill’s shoulder. “The Sergeant seeks to wound me, but has missed the mark by a mile. I have never pretended to be a lady. But he is right about one thing; I need to go down to the station. I promised Alice I would look after her. If we might stop by your rooms on the way, I would like to get rid of some incriminating evidence. Perhaps you would like to hide it for me and give it a good cleaning?”
“Of course, Joze. I’ll have it back to you as soon as possible.” Bill jerked his head toward the front of Alice’s office, where the bodies of the latest victims were being put onto a wagon. “I’ve a feeling you’re going to need it again. And soon.”
|"What's going on?"|
"Where are you taking her?"
"She hasn't done nothin' to no one, you let her go you son of a-"
"Enough!" Arthur roared into the din of voices as he turned away from Dr. Marceau, his escort of her to the station interrupted. "Constables; clear the streets now! I want two man sentry teams at the main entrances to Dawson, and foot patrols around the perimeter. Dawson is under curfew, effective immediately!"
"Curfew!" A voice rose from the crowd.
"How are we supposed to do business?" A second asked.
"On who's authority?" Another demanded.
"On my authority," Crowe growled. "Anyone on the streets after dark who responds to commands will be arrested and detained, those who do not respond will be shot!"
A hush fell over the crowd at once; where before there were shouts of anger and indignation, now only stunned mumbling could be heard.
"Go back to your homes," Arthur barked. "Stay there until told otherwise!"
"One dollar and twenty-five cents," Josiah Harrigan's voice preceded his presence but Arthur recognized him the moment he stepped into view. "That's how much these brave men get paid to maintain law and order in this town...per day!"
Harrigan was a banker brought up to Dawson by the bank of British North America, the office where he worked was only two blocks over from police headquarters. At 5'4" with grey hair, a trimmed beard and a bland face, Harrigan was not distinguished in any meaningful way...except when it came to complaints levied against him by the miners: unfair lending practices, illegally high interest rates and more; Harrigan was anything but loved by the denizens of Dawson.
"In fact, this here cigar costs more than a day's pay for these exemplary gentlemen," Harrigan twirled the cigar through his fingers before he shoved the paper tube of tobacco in the pocket of his vest. "They throw their lives in danger to preserve all of ours for less than the cost of this tube of tobacco...So what do you say we do what the sergeant says, go home and let them do their job? Take it from someone who knows his way around the value of a dollar, these men aren't paid enough to put up with this kind of nonsense."
Crowe watched with admiration as the crowd dissolved in front of the small banker and filed back to their homes, their shoulders slumped. The Mounties who had moments before seemed like the thin line between order and anarchy now seemed rather unnecessary; Arthur dismissed them to their duties with a wave of his hand.
"I appreciate what you did just now," Arthur spoke as the banker took a step towards him, cigar still in hand. "I owe you a debt."
Harrigan laughed. "No, you don't," a tight smile struck his face as he stopped in front of Crowe. "Because I didn't do that for you, I did that for me."
Arthur's face deepened into a frown of confusion. "Forgive me Mr. Harrigan but I don't understand; you just broke up the crowd that was threatening me, why would you do that if not for me?"
"Please sergeant, call me Josiah. As for why I broke up that crowd; let's just say that the longer you yelled at them, the less they would have listened to you and I can't have that."
"They were being unruly," Arthur started.
"What they were being was scared," now Harrigan's tone did harden. "Just as they've got every right to be; they seem to have figured out what you don't want to, that something serious and completely unexplainable is going on here and it's going to get a hell of a lot worse before it gets better."
Arthur was too stunned to reply, nobody had spoken to him in such a manner since training in Regina.
"I may not have made a lot of friends with the miners and other riff raff of this town," the hardness had disappeared from Harrigan's voice when he spoke again. "But I certainly have the ear of the wealthy and powerful, the people who own this town and everyone in it...the same people that you were threatening to have shot not five minutes ago."
"It doesn't matter who they are," Arthur tried to cover up his shock with bluster, he had noticed a lot of fancy suits and dresses in the crowd now that he thought about it. "I treated them no differently than I would treat anyone else that's being unruly."
"That's just it though," Harrigan put his free hand on Arthur's shoulder. "You can't treat them the same as everyone else, you need to treat them better if you want to make allies out of them."
"Allies," Arthur turned to check on Alice before he continued, Constable Merks waited with her just outside of earshot. Good man, Arthur thought as he turned back to Harrigan, maybe the kid had a good head on his shoulders after all. "Why would I want or need allies?"
"You still don't get it," Harrigan shook his head. "This isn't something that's going to go away, it's only going to get worse. Food, water, weapons, manpower; all of these will be scarce before too long and the people who can provide them to you and your men are the same people I am trying to make you allies with!"
"Alright that's enough," Arthur took a step back from the banker. "Even if I believed what you're saying, I can't make those kinds of decisions. Inspector Reynolds is in command here, he's the one you should be discussing this with, not me."
“Oh I know who’s in command,” Harrigan pulled the cigar out again. “I also know who’s in charge here, that’s why I came to you. I want you to take this as an offering of good will and think about what I’ve said,” Harrigan held out the expensive cigar. “My offer’s still on the table.”
Arthur took the cigar and studied it, the writing on it looked to be Cuban or Brazilian but he couldn’t tell, being far from an avid smoker himself. When he looked up again Harrigan was gone, his shoeprints in the muddy street were the only sign he’d been talking to Arthur.
The Mountie held his gaze on the empty street for a moment before he slipped the cigar into his tunic and turned towards Alice. “Let’s get you back to the station Dr. Marceau, we’ll be able to talk uninterrupted there.”
The wooden chair groaned in agony as Arthur leaned back in it, his hands went to his face in an effort to scrub away the fatigue that dominated his senses. “Dr. Marceau, you don’t seem to understand the seriousness of the charges that could be laid against you: possession of illegal firearms, negligent use of a firearm causing death and even murder.”
“I understand perfectly the charges against me sergeant,” her voice sounded remarkably steady for someone who could face the rest of her life in prison depending on what Arthur decided. “I also understand that I was defending myself from inhuman monsters who defied death. I do not have an excuse for my illegal possession of a firearm other than that I feared for my safety after the death of my husband and the frightening stories from the claims, but my actions today where those of defense of life and of limb!”
Arthur’s eyes narrowed at her outburst, more vicious men than her had cracked by this point…a pushover she certainly was not. She’s clearly made of far sterner stuff than I gave her credit for. You were a lucky man to have her Edward, though I don’t envy the arguments you must have gotten into with her.
“I’ve heard the stories from the claims doctor and they’re just that, stories. As for your actions today, I have an extremely difficult time believing that not only did two of my constables attempt to attack you, but that they savagely killed a comrade.” He cupped his chin. “Still…the evidence is compelling, multiple eyewitnesses say that you had every right to fear for your safety and the wounds on Constable Cook are consistent with the flesh we found between Constable Houge’s teeth.”
Arthur sucked air through his own teeth meaningfully; as if he was wrestling with a tough decision, though he had already figured out what he should do until he could get further instruction from the Inspector.
“Here’s what I’ll do-“ the groan of a wooden door opening cut him off.
Crowe turned to see Constable Merks walk through the door; the young officer had taken the role of his unofficial aide, giving him reports from the officers outside and giving them his orders. Behind the red suited Mountie Arthur could see the forms of Josie Everett and Bill Baines, no doubt waiting to take the doctor back to her brothel.
Arthur wished it was the wench sitting across the table from him now rather than the good doctor, he’d have her in chains and he would be far less lenient.
“What is it Constable, I thought I made it clear to you that if they got uppity in there-“
“It’s not them sergeant,” Merks leaned in close and whispered. “Inspector Reynolds and Corporal Stowe are both still unaccounted for, they haven’t been seen since this morning.”
Arthur nodded and turned his gaze to the notes in front of him; the wheels in his mind already were turning. He’d last seen Stowe in the barracks, his skin had been clammy and the bite in his calf – the bite!
“Did anyone see him entering the barracks?” Arthur demanded of Merks, his sense of decorum gone. “Reynolds!” he snapped at the Constable’s look of confusion.
“Uhh yes sergeant,” Merks replied slowly. “Constable Hicks told me that was the last place he’d seen him.”
Arthur stood from his chair so fast that it tipped over. “You’re free to go Dr. Marceau, just know that your weapon will not be returned to you and I may call you in again later for further questioning,” he spoke breathlessly as he headed for the doorway. “See to her Merks!”
Crowe ignored the startled exclamations of Everett and Baines as he barreled through the waiting room and slammed through the door. His boots landed in the muck with a splat, followed by more as he ran towards the barracks.
It’s just a coincidence that the man at the claims and these men both used bites as their means of attack right? It’s not like the two could ever be connected…but if they are…
If they were connected, then Arthur Crowe had a big problem on his hands. The sergeant reached the door and flung it open without hesitation, his boots crossed the threshold without thinking.
The only light in the barracks came from the sickly glow of the moon, the lack of a warm orange glow from lanterns made it seem like a crypt. A floorboard cried out as he stepped forward and a rustle from the corner made him draw his sidearm.
“Stowe, Inspector Reynolds…is that you?”
A low moan answered his whisper; it was followed by a gurgle. Arthur’s throat tightened with fear, both sounded unnatural, like distorted versions of a man’s cries for help.
The floorboards groaned and squealed with unsteady steps, and a hunched figure rose in the same corner as the noises. Arthur couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, couldn’t breath, it was his nightmares made manifest; the figure cloaked in shadows was Satan, come to drag him kicking and screaming to hell.
His arms pricked with gooseflesh and blood roared through his ears, his heart seemed ready to burst from his chest. It was the second figure that rose to unsteady feet that snapped him out of his paralysis and he took a staggered step backwards.
“Halt,” the fear in his voice was palpable. “Stop right now; stay where you are!”
The figure paid his commands no heed, and instead took another step towards him. The distance between them was only a handful of meters, a few more steps and he would be on top of Arthur. The figure took another step and Arthur fired, the revolver’s blast was deafening in the close quarters.
The muzzle flash lit the scene for only an instant; it was a tableau straight from hell. Jerome Stowe’s ashen face seemed to leer at Arthur, his blood speckled lips stretched to reveal a mouth full of flesh and gore, and his milky white eyes seemed to radiate hatred and hunger.
Behind him was Inspector Reynolds; the officer’s throat had been ripped open, tatters of flesh swung to and fro as he continued his shamble towards Crowe. The milky white orbs that were once his eyes radiated the same malevolence as Stowe’s, hatred and hunger.
Arthur’s shot hit his friend in the center of his chest; the crunch of Stowe’s sternum was audible over the roar of exploding gunpowder. The former Mountie staggered but did not go down, instead he continued to advance with what should have been a fatal wound.
Arthur’s breath caught in his throat He didn’t die, how didn’t he die? his mind blathered if terror, how could you kill something if it was immune to bullets?
Arthur fired again; his shot struck home on the left side of Stowe’s chest and collapsed his left lung. Even as Arthur heard the hiss of the dead lung and Stowe’s moans became more labored he did not go down…there was barely a gap between them now.
Arthur aimed his sight posts at Stowe’s head and squeezed the trigger one more time; the bullet slammed into his forehead and exited out the back in a cone of viscera and brain, Stowe’s corpse collapsed to the hewn boards like a dropped stone.
Arthur lined up Reynolds’ face in the sight posts and squeezed again, just like Stowe the Inspector dropped to the floor without fuss.
Arthur backed himself up to the nearest wall and slid down it, his legs felt like jelly. There was shouting outside and the tromp of boots told him that help was coming, seconds later he was proven right as the door burst open and two Mounties surged through.
“Mother Mary and Joseph!” the first one blurted out as the glow of his lantern illuminated the corpses.
“Are you okay sergeant?” The second one had his hand on Crowe’s shoulder but the sergeant barely felt it.
“I-I’m fine,” Arthur stammered as he pawed at his red serge. “Give me a goddamn match!”
His fingers closed around the cigar even as he barked the order and he quickly shoved it in his mouth. The Mountie held out a tiny wooden stick with a red tip, Arthur looked at him with annoyance. “Light the goddamn thing would you!”
The Mountie scraped the match along his boot and held it to the tip of Arthur’s cigar, it was only in the light of the flame that Arthur recognized him as Constable Merks.
“Constable,” his voice came out hoarse as the energy drained from his body. “I need you to find Josiah Harrigan and relay a message from me.”
“What would you like me to tell him sergeant,” Merks reached for his notebook.
“Tell him…tell him I’m ready to listen.”
|The stairs that led to the brothel creaked underfoot, their protests lost in the chatter that passed whimsically between her friend and the gentleman that escorted them. Alice had not caught a word. Her mind was with the Sergeant, with Stowe. Her curiosity was second only to her dread; which gnawed at her chest like a dog gnaws on bone. |
The echo of a gunshot rang off the buildings, quickly halting the pleasant conversation of her companions. “Better get inside, Ladies.” Bill urged, ushering Josie in and reaching out to Alice.
Another shot followed, and then a third, and a forth.
“Go inside. I will return shortly.” Alice answered, stepping out of Bill’s reach and beginning down the stairs.
“Alice!” Josie moved after her, quickly closing the distance between them and taking her gently by the arm.
“I will not be detained, Josie.” Alice answered, her urgency and determination etched into her soft features. Josie released her and folded her arms. She knew well Alice's inclination to stick to her guns once her mind was made up, and yet giving into her friend's foolish idea of bolting into the darkness seemed to weight heavily on her. She released a quick breath. “If you are not returned in an hour we are coming after you.” Josie conceded. Alice nodded.
She could hear her friend’s mumbled curses as she continued, passing between buildings as quickly as she could without losing her footing. The maze opened to a view of the barracks, its door ajar as Mounties moved in and out; faces somber and fearful.
She traversed the distance mounted the steps, slipping past the group without protest; their collective attention turned elsewhere.
The smell was already assulting, the lingering blend of decay and gunpowder accented strangely with the scent of a fine cigar. The room was still dark, a solitary lamp lit and placed on the desk beside the weary frame of the Sergeant.
Alice approached and knelt beside him, her back turned to the dead, who were already covered with linens torn from the bunks. She searched the spatters of blood that dotted his person, searching for any sign that it might be his own. “Are you hurt?” She asked, unable to fully meet his eyes. In them was the blank distance of shock, the whites now reddening, the lids rimmed with the beginning of tears she was sure he wouldn’t allow to fall.
“No. I wasn’t bitten. I told you to go home, Doctor.” He answered, taking another drag from the cigar, the fine silver wisps of smoke escaping through his thinly parted and minutely trembling lips. Her nature wanted to tend to him as she would a friend, to wipe the blood from his hands and squeeze them, but she resisted. He was in no place to be nurtured, especially by her, a near stranger and the cause of more irritation than comfort.
“I will if you wish it.” She answered, the comfort she could offer coming in the guise of a distant sort of professionalism. “But I think I am of better use here.”
He waved his hand dismissively, and taking it as all the permission she needed, Alice turned to the bodies. Drawing in a deep breath meant to calm, she lifted the first sheet. The sight of Stowe, bloodied and lifeless, confirmed her fears. She covered what was left of his head and moved toward the original bite, unwrapping the bandage she had placed the day before. The wound was sickly and rotten in appearance, the stench enough to inspire her to turn her head away in search of sweeter air. She would not prod at it, though the depth of the decomposition was worthy of greater investigation, certainly more than a day would do on its own, she had not the sufficient tools nor the time to study it in any helpful way. It would act only as the end point to a scale she hoped she would not need to learn any more of.
Replacing the wrapping, she glanced to the Sergeant, who, unlike the others in the room who grimaced and turned away, watched with the steady scrutiny of a man who does not believe his own senses. He was as she had never seen him, out of himself. No longer wrapped in the perfect military precision of a man who has absolute control, he was a man dying before her eyes without the slightest concern about it. It was as if he knew, absolutely without question knew, that this would not be the last of his friends he would need to kill before the nightmare was over.
She ignored the grief that image awoke in her, and turned to study the second body. Inspector Reynolds, or so she assumed. She had seen him only a few times, and between the corruption of the bullet wound and the blood from the bite at his throat, there was little left of the man. No other bites marred his body, no mark left to fester and rot as Stowe’s did. It was a difference she made note of.
“Do we have your permission to move them, Sergeant?” She asked.
“Where would you like them, Doctor?” He asked coolly.
“We should place them in the storeroom with the other bodies. I have seen what I need to see.”
The Mounties hesitantly obeyed, and in a moment the Doctor and the Sergeant were left alone, the same solitary lantern left to illuminate the small, now gruesome room.
“Go home doctor. Merks will escort you when he returns.” The sergeant replied, his green eyes trained on the pools of blood that dripped between floorboards. She knelt beside him again, taking his hand pressing her fingers to the warm flesh on his wrist. His pulse drummed rhythmically and did not race, a feature that in truth concerned her.
“In order to end the attack, it is necessary to destroy the brain?” She asked, the calloused and clinical nature of the question unavoidable. She felt his pulse spike again, and darkly comforted, let her hands drop to her side.
“Yes, it seems that is what is required.” He answered, the exhaustion in his voice unmistakable.
She settled onto the floor beside the door, any formality discarded for the time. “Will you allow me to help?” She asked.
He released a breath she didn’t realize he had been holding, his shoulders relaxing, if only marginally. “I suspect you would not leave, even if I didn’t want your help.” He answered, an ironic smirk playing across suddenly handsome features. It was a strange thing to notice, but there is was. That spark of humanity Edward always swore was there when someone dared speak ill of the Sergeant in his presence. ‘Evidence of the good heart and fine humor’ he had said. No doubt it was the thing that had cemented their friendship; Edward always was one to attach to all the best in those around him.
She allowed a slight smile of her own, feeling the first tugs of a bond that can only be made when such trauma is shared. The sort of bond she felt with Josie. The sort of bond that would, quite unintentionally, place this man’s wellbeing among her top priorities. “Perhaps you are right, but I ask your permission all the same.”
The sergeant nodded slowly, rubbing his hand through his black hair, “I will not refuse your help, Alice. I will not see any more men die like this if I can help it.”
Constable Merks appeared at the doorway, Josiah Harrigan at his side. Alice stood and straitened her coat, her professional demeanor quickly returning. “Doctor.” The latter man began, tipping his cap toward Alice. She had no great love for him, he was a schemer and a scoundrel, but no worse than the majority. His being there, however, peaked her curiosity more than she would let on. “Mr. Harrigan.” She replied.
The Sergeant stood, rising again to his full height; his demeanor almost what it always was; stern, professional, controlled. “If you would excuse us, Doctor. We will call on you should anything arise.” The Sergeant said.
Alice nodded, her curiosity shoved aside in place of a desire to continue an amicable relationship with the slightly less predictable Sergeant. “Constable Merks, please return the Doctor’s weapon to her, and return her to Miss Everett.”
“Yes, Sir.” Merks replied.
|“There are more dead.”|
Alice’s words rang with ominous pronouncement over the room. Bill looked up from his seat at Josie’s desk, pen frozen above the page on which he scribbled. Josie, from her place beside the window, paused only momentarily in her dictation before clicking her tongue and continuing.
“Medical supplies. As many as you can get.” She ran her eyes over the doctor, checking for wounds. “The Sergeant?”
“Alive,” Alice replied, moving to the couch and sitting as if she only remarked upon the weather. “And unwounded.”
Bill scratched his chin, unconscious of the uneven lines of ink he left in his wake. “But others were wounded?”
“Not so far as I can see. Sergeant Crowe killed all the…” Alice’s eyes flickered over to Josie and she waved her hands, searching for the right word.
“Revenants?” Bill supplied. He shrugged as Josie raised an eyebrow. “I hardly think zombie is the appropriate term here. There aren’t many coloreds in Dawson, but those that are don’t need to be shouldering the blame for this. It’ll just waste time.”
Josie sighed and moved from her place at the window, boots clicking against the wood with a reassuring efficiency. “From the islands,” she explained to Alice. “A voodoo practice to bring the dead back to life. Best not mentioned before… anyone outside this room. How many more dead?”
“A few. Stowe was among them.”
Josie’s lips pursed. “That will just make Savage angry. He’ll be liable to look for someone to blame. And we all know who that’ll be.” She looked at Bill. “You might want to go out there and talk to them.”
Bill stood, eyebrows knitting over his brown eyes. “I wouldn’t thinka leavin’ you now, Joze.”
Josie dismissed the concern with a wave of her hand. “Don’t get sentimental on me now, Bill. I’m perfectly capable of handlin’ myself against these…revenants? I don’t know if I like that name. But it’ll work for now, I suppose.” Hands on hips, Josie shook her head. “No. I’ll handle things here. You go to the Tlingit.”
A thought occurred to Josie, and she twisted to look at Alice. The doctor watched her and Bill with some amusement. Many women would have succumbed to the shock of the last few hours, but not Alice. She was mistress of that doctor’s other mind; the ability to shut the horrors behind a wall of clinical objectivity. It would be useful in the coming weeks. Unless Josie was very much mistaken, things would get worse before they got better.
And the shambling dead—whatever they chose to call them—might be the least of it.
“I don’t suppose Savage thought to say anything about the…uh…criminality of guns in the streets?” Josie asked. “Or are those of us who defend ourselves still liable to end up behind bars?”
Alice shook her head. “Nothing like that. I think he was just trying to deal with the aftermath. He lost friends today, Josie. Give him time.”
Josie snorted. “We all lost friends today. We’re probably going to lose more. If Crowe decides to double down on civilisms, it’s going to get us killed, too.”
Alice pondered. “I am sure he’ll say something to that affect soon. The only way to kill them…again…is to destroy the brain.”
“Add axes and cudgels to the list of weapons, Bill,” Josie shot over her shoulder. “And we’ll need to start melting down metal for bullets. We might even have to start collecting piss for the saltpeter.”
“Surely you don’t believe this will go that far, Josie!” Alice’s eyes were wide. “You’re behaving as though this is the apocalypse.”
“Best to be over-prepared,” Bill supplied. “It’s almost winter. Getting supplies in is going to become impossible. If we have to add people rising from the dead to that problem, the fight for resources is going to be even more brutal.”
Alice frowned. “Someone needs to warn the prospectors.”
“Bill can do that on his way to the Tlingit camp.”
Alice shook her head, eyes flashing. Josie understood that look. Alice had a fire in her, and cold steel besides. In many, these would fight for supremacy; in Alice, they strengthened one another, forging a will it was best not to tempt. “No. I will go. There was a wounded man out there.”
“Even more reason for you not to go!” Bill stepped from behind the desk and came to stand next to Josie, as if expecting her support. Josie hid her smile; if he wanted to play chivalry, let him learn Alice’s rules the hard way. “If a man was injured, he will have risen. There will be more of them out there! I’ll go. I’m a better shot than you.”
Alice stood. “I am a doctor, sir, and it is my responsibility to see to the well-being of the people! Word will not have reached those poor men. They will not know to avoid the bite of one who was their comrade.”
“I can tell them. If they have been bitten, there is nothing you can do. As far as we’ve seen, a bite means a transformation.”
“But we do not know it must be fatal! There is an incubation time! If we can learn more about this…disease, we can fight it. Save lives! You would shoot a man for a bite on the hand!” Alice’s voice was quiet. She did not feel the need to raise it. A smart man would hear the ice in it and retreat.
Fortunately, Bill was a smart man. It was what Josie liked about him.
“If you must go, I am going with you. The prospectors will be returning to the city for winter soon, anyway. We will warn everyone to return to Dawson early, and to bring their supplies here. If we pool our resources, we’ll do better.” Bill’s eyes flickered to Josie. “You can come with me to the camp, too. We have to warn them about Sergeant Crowe, if nothing else. I’m sure they already know about the revenants.”
“I still hate that name,” Josie muttered. “You’ll go in the morning. Both of you. It is too late in the day to think of leaving Dawson, and I won’t hear of you going sooner.”
Alice nodded. She, too, knew when to bend to another’s will. Especially when it meant sense. “I will return to my shop and collect what I need.”
“Bring everything you can carry, Alice. Hardship can infect people; turn ‘em ugly. And ugliness always hurts them that don’t have more than them that do.” Bill leaned against Josie’s desk, arms crossed against his chest. Josie took a moment to admire the way his shirt stretched against him, but said nothing. He knew well enough he was handsome; compliments would only swell his ego and make him useless. “You’ve your gun? Crowe didn’t keep it?”
Alice shook her head. “He returned it to me. I’m sure he means to allow us our weapons…for protection.”
Josie said nothing, but she wasn’t so sure. Alice saw the good in people, and she could sometimes assume others saw the good in everyone, too. But Crowe had a darkness in him—a hatred burning in his heart—and he disguised it behind a studious devotion to order. In his hands, the law became a weapon instead of a shield, and Josie was sure he would use the chaos to reshape the world in his image. And she didn’t like Josiah Harrigan insinuating himself, either.
If Crowe would shape the world in his image, men like Harrigan would find a way to profit from it. For them, pain was little more than gold waiting to be claimed.
“You’ll sleep here tonight, Alice,” Josie said eventually, breaking a silence that threatened to edge into discomfort. “Please.”
“I had no intention of doing anything else.”
“You, too, Bill.”
That the man did not take the opportunity for an inappropriate remark was a testament to the seriousness of the situation.
Josie nodded. “Well, then. We have the rest of today to procure supplies. If we move quickly, we can do this before panic sets in. Alice, you’re in charge of medical. Bill, you’re in charge of everything to do with weaponry and defense. I will handle food and home. The girls are at your service, both of you. And don’t worry about your transport tomorrow morning; I’ll handle that, too.”