Copyright (c) 2016 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
By R. Peterson
Alison Weatherbee careened to a stop in the gravel just across the railroad tracks on Townsend Avenue in Cloverdale. The Dynaflow Observation Car she brandished was weighted with disproportionate chrome and built like a Sherman tank. “Don’t drive like some old lady,” the witch had warned when she awakened her apprentice from a deep sleep, “or our new actress friend will find herself trapped in a horror movie!” Flashing red and yellow illumination danced on the weathered brick of the Jagger Hotel before Alison cut the eight-cylinder engine. Melania’s 1949 Buick Roadmaster was one of only two of the classic cars in existence flying down twenty-first century highways with VentiPort lights wired to the distributor causing them to emulate World War II British “Spitfires”.
The hotel lights were suddenly extinguished just as Alison exited the Buick. Shadows loomed across the grand but dusty lobby of the once profligate hotel when she opened the main entrance door. Illumination from a distant streetlamp showed two dark figures, one with the largeness of a monstrous animal, as they lurched past the front desk and the terrified night clerk hiding behind a novel, followed moments later by a woman’s scream as a door at the end of a hallway burst inward.
Alison lifted one of the three Ombré Tarot cards Melania had given her over her head and waved Persephone like a torch as she swept across the room. Brilliant blue and yellow laser-light streamed from the High Priestess’ image, so bright that it penetrated beyond the shattered door to spotlight the beast; the ungodly creature let loose an excruciating shriek.
Lemont Hicks turned to confront Alison as the monstrosity behind him twisted in agony. “Damn you outsiders for meddling in our affairs!”
Melania’s young protégé saw the pistol in Hick’s hand a split second before the weapon roared sending wood and plaster splintering to both sides and just above her head. Alison dropped to the floor and rolled as the gun continued to fire losing her grip on the magic card. Its light was instantly extinguished and the hotel’s interior was once again plunged into tomb-like darkness.
One long second later, after Alison had counted her own heart beat at least a dozen times, a crash ripped through the interior of the hotel. Bricks and mortar crumbled; leaving a large hole in the wall. Alison looked up to see the scarecrow-like monster illuminated by a gaping moon escaping across the railway. Century old dust and debris clouded the air and sent Alison into a fit of coughing.
Searching fingers of illumination from Jean Janette Robison’s iPhone moved stealthily along one wall before the lights came on. The lobby was empty except for the mouse-faced night clerk cowering in the corner. Lemont Hicks had also vanished into the night. “What the hell was that?” J.J. gasped.
“A Hodmedod,” Alison replied.
J.J. didn’t stick around for her free complimentary coffee in the morning. The night clerk was staring at a hole in the south wall, large enough to drive a car through, as she and Alison carried the movie actresses’s three travel bags out to the Roadmaster. “You’d be safe enough staying at Melania’s, but there is work to be done that cannot wait,” Alison told her as she fingered the golden medallion that dangled from a chain around her neck. “It looks like a long night. How about coffee?”
The Spare-a-Dime café on the northeast corner of Main Street and Townsend Avenue was crowded with truck-drivers, farmers and lumber-mill workers loading up on caffeine before they hit the bars. There wasn’t enough waitresses to go around. Alison and J.J. grabbed a just-vacated booth so they could watch traffic on the street. “Say you’re that actress ain’t ya?” Lance Stroker, the café’s buck toothed dishwasher, blurted as he overfilled their coffee cups and then wiped his hands on a dirty apron. J.J. didn’t have time to respond before he snapped his wet fingers. “Felissa Rose! I’ve seen about a dozen of your horror movies.”
J.J. grinned. “Yea that’s me. I come in here to spend the forty-five bucks I made for Sleep-away Camp.”
Alison laughed as Lance went in a frantic search for an autograph pad. “Sorry, some of the biggest dorks in the world live in Cloverdale.”
“It must be my face,” J.J. said. “Lingering residue from having the hell scared out of ya.”
“Melania has suspected for some time that Lemont Hicks was once again involved in making more Hodmedod,” Alison said. “His attack on you tonight proves it.”
“You think he’s creating these things at the Hicks’ farm?”
“Melania and I have searched that forty-acre weed-patch from top to bottom,” Alison said. “Wherever they are creating more of these savage monsters, it isn’t there.”
Lance Stroker had just returned with a page torn from an old menu and a black tipped marker. “Sign it like we’s having us a romance,” he demanded.
He looked at both women as if they all shared a secret. “I heard you mention monsters. You gals likes them scary movies too, don’t ya?” He gave Alison a playful nudge. “I know where there’s a real-life honest to God monster, maybe more than one,” he said. “At that old mine on River Road.”
“You talking about the Elisabeth Walker’s old goldmine?”
“Yeah, just past that dead bitch’s place,” Stroker said as he handed J.J. the pen. “Me and Wes Coleman was out stealing … err borrowing gas from farm trucks when Lemont Hicks comes by and dumps a half dozen live chickens down an old rock well. Then the crazy loon covers everything with a torn-off barn door. After he left … we un-hid and went to investigate.”
Lance Stroker’s eyes bulged from his head as he continued. “There was deep growling coming from that hole when we pulled off the boards. Like maybe a grizzly bear … maybe more than one.” Stroker’s hands were shaking as he handed J.J. the old menu. “We was fixing to put the door back and run, when all of a sudden blood and feathers flew up outa that hole like someone had dropped a bomb down there. There was this God-awful sound of things chewing and eating, near to make your skin crawl up your back. Wes Coleman let loose and pissed his drawers like he was a baby.”
“Did you tell Sheriff Walker what you saw?” Alison asked him.
“Hell no!” Stroker told her. “The Sheriff don’t like it when me and Wes goes out borrowing. I made Wes walk back into town by his self. I don’t want no damn wet seat in my truck!” He gave J.J. a wink. “I’ve got me a reputation with the ladies!”
J.J. scribbled Nous aurions pu une vie, si ce n’était pas pour votre dysfonction érectile across the bottom of the page …. Signing it: Je t’aimerai toujours - Felissa.
“What the heck is this?” Stroker said looking at the strange words.
“It’s French,” J.J. told him. “The language of love!”
Lance wagged his tongue obscenely as he danced back toward the kitchen holding the autographed menu, a definite swagger visible in his walk.
Alison noticed J.J. biting her tongue to keep from laughing. “You know he’ll take that to the French teacher at the High School. What was it you wrote?” she asked.
“We might have had a life … if it wasn’t for your erectile dysfunction,” J.J. giggled.
J.J. called the Comanche County Sheriff’s office, while Alison guided the powerful Buick down a winding and treacherous Canyon Road. John Walker was testifying at an investigative hearing in Butte about a rash of stolen chickens, apparently one farmer near Missoula had lost more than a thousand in one night, and the sheriff wasn’t expected back until after midnight. Wherever he was, there was no cell-phone service. J.J. left a message to have him meet them at the Blue Bonnet Mine when he returned.
The radio in the Roadmaster had superb sound. KCRR 109 FM just outside the city limits was playing the Jerry Lee Lewis classic Rockin’ My Life Away. The colored lights flashing in the Roadmaster’s VentiPorts synchronized perfectly.
A cloud of dust, just before a blind corner, caused Alison to instinctively jerk the steering wheel to the right. A long black hearse traveling carelessly in the left-hand lane almost collided with them head on. “Egbert Callahan the third, isn’t satisfied having the dead come to On a Cloud Garden Mortuary in their own time like his father and grandfather,” Alison yelled like a fish-wife as she careened the old car up a steep embankment and back onto the gravel road. “In this twenty-first century, Cloverdale’s crazy doctor of grief goes British joy-riding at night trying to drum up more sticky business!
The disk-jockey going by the name Rocky Dawn played a Jumpin' Gene Simmons song just as they turned onto River Road, two verses later, the Roadmaster pulled up at the old Walker farmstead. Flashing fire effects from the Buick’s famous port holes lit-up dark windows in the upstairs of the sinister looking house like some monstrous entity awakened by rock and roll as the radio blasted … He said to me, "Now you better run And don't be here when the morning comes"
“You think that old house is really haunted?” J.J. asked.
“I hope so,” Alison said. “Elisabeth Walker’s home has too much history to just have the place go vacant.”
The Blue Bonnet Mine was as much a legend as Elisabeth Walker. Both J.J. and Alison knew the story well. It was on this spot in 1878 that Sheriff Thomas Lang taught the young woman how to use a Colt 45. Her first shot went wide and broke away part of a rock cliff exposing a vein of almost pure gold. Thomas Lang would joke for years after that Elisabeth didn’t give a damn about her new found wealth, over twenty million by the turn of the century; she just wanted to learn how to shoot.
Alison parked the Roadmaster next to a supply shed. Tracks from excavation equipment showed the ground had been recently scraped and leveled. Discarded railway rails and ties lay in a pile under a cottonwood tree. Nothing remained of the old well Lance Stroker described. “Obviously someone doesn’t want us poking around here,” J.J. said.
Alison kicked loose dirt with her foot. The soil showed dark brown under a layer of fresh dust. “This all happened no later than yesterday and last night. If someone is creating killer scarecrows, I’m betting they’re still here right under our feet.”
J.J. pointed toward where the mine entrance had been covered. “That looks like the only way in.”
Both women walked to the covered hole in the cliff and examined the boards, they were undisturbed, coated with dust and looked like they’d been there for many years. “This looks almost too good … like a movie set,” J.J. muttered as she looked at the barricade from several angles. She persuaded Alison to open the Buick’s trunk and returned with two tire irons. Together the two women pried away one of the planks. “Someone needs to apply for a job at Industrial Light and Magic,” J.J. gasped as the board came loose, “this is nice work!” The reverse side of the 1 x 8 looked new obviously its other side had been artificially weathered.
“Someone went to a lot of work to keep us out,” Alison said. “But it’ll take us a week to get this thing open … unless.”
“Unless what?” J.J. was prying on a second board … and was already tired.
“Melania said the nineteenth century engineers working her mine used to keep explosives cool in a safety chamber under the floor of this supply shed to prevent "sweating" the nitroglycerin in the dynamite!” Alison had walked to the shed and was prying on a rusted padlock with the other tire iron.
“Are you sure any explosives left under there will still work?”
Alison laughed. “Dynamite doesn’t go bad even a century later unless it gets wet … it just gets extremely dangerous … don’t worry we’ll be careful!”
The padlock broke away and then a minute later sparks outlined the door-frame as Alison used the tire-iron to pry open the rusted hinges.
The resulting explosion came from deep underground but still caused both women to bounce high in the air as if they were on a trampoline.
J.J was the first to sit up and wipe the dust from her eyes. Alison’s hair was blown outward in all directions and her face was tanned with dirt. Soil and gravel fell from the sky like rain.
“When exactly do we start being careful?” J.J. was wiping grit from her mouth.
“It’s gonna have to be now!” Alison pointed to a huge smoldering hole in the ground where the supply-shed used to be. The sun, now almost directly overhead, showed an exposed mine shaft and a set of narrow gage railroad tracks leading down into the darkness.
Alison and J.J. followed the railroad tracks in the tunnel downward for two-hundred yards, using the light from J.J’s iPhone, before they found the empty mining car. The cast-iron and steel cart, formerly pulled by a mule, was now fitted with an electric motor, lights and brakes. “Are you sure you know how to operate this?” J.J. asked as they climbed inside.
“Didn’t I promise to be careful?” Alison said as she released what she thought might be the hand brake. The car began to slowly climb upward. The electric power switch had to be on for the cart to be moving and Alison fumbled around looking for the switch to turn on the lights. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this!” J.J. clutched the sides of the shuddering car, her shoulder length hair hanging almost straight out as they ascended what had to be at least a 30% grade.
“I could use a little light over here,” Alison suggested.
J.J. activated her iPhone light and swept the beam over the cart’s control panel just as they neared the peak of the very steep grade. “Shut off that light!” Alison was frantic.
“Why?” J.J. asked just as the cart reached the top and leveled out for an instant.
“Because I don’t want to see what happens … nexxxxxxxxt!”
The tracks under them made a loud cracking noise just before they hurtled downward, picking up speed as their screams rose in pitch and volume. They flew around one switchback curve and then another in the opposite direction as the cart swayed dangerously on its cast-iron wheels. The women’s hair flew behind them like streamers caught on the wings of a power diving airplane. They blasted through garden-hose sized streams of water tricking from an invisible ceiling, and infuriated several colonies of sleeping bats, hell bent on flying through their dripping-wet hair to safety. A bang that could have been a gunshot echoed from far above followed by an eerie howling.
After an endless series of twists, turns, and a jarring bump that made the wheels fly momentarily off the tracks, they found themselves finally slowing down as they glided into a huge open area slightly illuminated by what looked like old-fashioned red darkroom-lights embedded in the cavern walls.
As the cart rolled to a stop, the women clutched at each other and stared in horror as a hoard of beasts rose from a deep pit. The nightmare creatures moved toward them, muttering garbled one-syllable arguments that were horrifying, mutated and unintelligible. A smell like rotted poultry was nauseously overpowering. Small white feathers and rotting cotton rag fragments floated in the air like an underground blizzard. J.J.’s hands shook so badly, she dropped the iPhone when she tried to activate the flashlight app.
The swish of an electric door opening in one wall caused both women to turn as the mob moaned and flinched away from the new brilliant light. Lemont Hicks stood in the open doorway of an elevator flanked by several men carrying rifles. He himself was unarmed. “I warned you to stay the hell away,” he said. “I should let the Hodmedod tear you apart, but they are too hard to force back into their nest once they’ve tasted blood.”
With the new illumination Alison and J.J. could see what looked like hundreds of the beasts groaning as they returned to a pit filled knee-deep with bloody chickens … some still flapping. Barrels labeled POPULUS OIL were stacked against one wall next to a mountain-sized stack of small bags filled with what had to be grave dirt. One end of the chamber contained laboratory equipment and half-constructed scarecrows. Another wall contained twelve metal doors.
“Do it then!” Alison taunted holding the High Priestess Tarot card once again over her head. “Melania told me your new scarecrow army has an unrelenting fear of light.”
“If it was my army, this whole county would be torn apart by now,” Hicks grinned like a madman. “What you see here is just a first bad run of thirteen; the latest batch will do my master’s bidding day or night,” Lemont paused and shook his head, “although they ain’t much to look at!”
J.J. was enraged. “You killed my parents! You fixed their brakes so that they would fail at Magician’s Canyon!”
“Your nosy father was on his way to expose this whole operation,” Hicks sneered. “We were just getting started; we couldn’t have anyone making waves.”
“But you killed a man in a bar fight and served a prison sentence? You couldn’t have been that valuable to your boss.”
“Oh but I was and still am,” Hicks laughed. “The man I killed with a knife was a biological scientist who helped develop the first formula. He had second thoughts after the first batch turned out to be uncontrollable monsters. He needed to be silenced quickly, and I was promised to be made a General in the new army once my time was served.”
“Who promised you? Who is the brains behind this madness?” Alison muttered an incantation and once again beams of colored light sent the dark creatures crowding the pit into a frenzy.
“The whole world will know his name in another month … but I’m afraid you never will!” Hicks walked to a switching console inside the lab area and a moment later one of the twelve doors opened. A dozen hooded figures marched into the cavern. Hicks approached them and pulled off one of the hoods. Alison screamed and the Tarot card slipped from her fingers, but J.J. was too stunned to make a sound. “I believe you’ve already met a member of batch number eight,” Hicks was looking at J.J. “Not nearly as crude as the earlier experiments. Each one is a genius in his or her former occupation and also immune to that old witch’s magic. I believe your almost human acquaintance was a virtuoso of gardening before he escaped.”
The un-hooded creature’s face was a nightmare sequel of the horribly deformed man who had landscaped J.J.’s garden. Bulging flesh and elongated spikes of skin surrounded a half-dozen malformed eyes.
“Sheriff Walker knows about this and he’ll be here soon with half of Montana’s police force,” Alison threatened.
“Oh but he’s already here!” Hicks laughed. “Throw them into the pit,” Hicks ordered. “Let’s have a little entertainment before we get back to work.”
Six of the hideous creatures removed their hoods and marched toward the two women. J.J. and Alison both screamed silently when they noticed the Comanche County Sheriff’s badge pinned to the shirt the lead monster was wearing.
To be continued …