by Robert L. Sellers Jr
Table of Contents|
“Dead Calm” appeared
in issue 160.
Welcome to the Weird Wild West where the men are tough and the women can be, too. It’s a place with horsepower measured by hands or hooves, and the number of cylinders in a long gun or pistol makes the difference between life and death on the open frontier of the western United States.
The streets here are dusty, the lead hot, the women fast and the cards faster. Disagreements finish face to face with pistols drawn at noon while the undertaker waits with his pine. Quick justice is dispensed under tall trees and at the end of a short rope — if you’re lucky.
There are people here who are not as they seem, and others who watch them. Supernatural and mortal alike unite to reach what peace they can find between them. Hunters can become prey, and prey can become the hunter. This is their story.
part 1 of 2
Spring 1875: Goblin’s Toe, Wyoming
While some homes appear haunted and unsettling to those who live in them, others are simply cursed.
Roots of such strangeness can often be traced back to events that occurred within the dwellings themselves or to the very site that they’ve been built upon, while the act of simply using tainted materials in the construction can often bring evil to settle like a soft mist.
More often than not though, the actual source of such evil will remain nothing but a muddled and terrifying mystery to those who suffer through its presence.
Situated on a hill overlooking the mining town of Goblin’s Toe, Wyoming the Charlemonte mansion was neither haunted nor cursed — proving from the very moment of conception to be a simple yet efficient predator of all who came near it while intelligent enough to take great care when selecting its next victim.
Demetrius Donnetelli, the crusty Italian immigrant who’d parlayed simple investments into expansive fortune, had commissioned the great architect Rupert Van der Velde to build him a home reminiscent of the mansions he’d seen in his wife’s native New England, right down to the widow’s walk along the top allowing a spectacular view of both the mine and the town below.
Van der Velde’s design proposed a wide wrap-around porch with narrow windows for the mansion itself, keeping the home warm in the bitter winter while cool under the gentle caress of summer heat. A circular drive along the front entrance would leave room for visitors invited to relax in the expansive confines of the elegant and spacious drawing room within the mansion — quite aware as he’d become that people of the frontier would have little use for a ballroom nor understand its intent.
The master bedroom and those for guests would inhabit the second floor, offering the best soft comforts that money could buy.
Oil works of the masters were carefully selected to hang across the oaken panels of the walls to entertain and amaze those who’d visit, along with chandeliers and sconces of magnificent design, providing soft flickering light of candles or kerosene wicks well into the night when called for.
A man of his work, Van der Velde pitched a large tent for his stay directly where the mansion would eventually stand; allowing himself to get the feel of the property in more ways than he would ever have imagined.
His figure captured the attention of those in town as he was often seen pacing and measuring while keeping track of how the view from where he stood would appear from whatever room he’d just been working on. Sleeves rolled past his elbows, the thin, bespectacled architect rarely ventured down from his project.
Within days of completing the plans and delivering them to Donnetelli, Van der Velde began to suffer from unknown ailments that left him weak and full of high fever after weeks spent upon the property mapping out the mansion.
He would die before construction would even begin.
While preparing the site, two workers would lose their lives when carts were overturned by spooked horses, spilled beneath the contents of their wagons as they rolled down the hillside only to crash and splinter apart at the bottom.
The framing process would claim yet another who fell from the top of the widows walk only to impale himself upon debris left from an accident that had maimed its victims earlier in the day.
By the time furniture arrived, a half a dozen deaths had occurred within the building itself and the surrounding property.
Rumors spoken over whisky, gin and cards of the taverns or pillows of the brothels began to spread that death waited for anyone caught trespassing by the mysterious evil upon the hill.
They began to refer to mansion as the widow maker after the women dressed in black mourning their dead husbands, brothers or sons that had worked and died there.
The long, winding drive did not help quell the concerns of the locals any, as the most casual visitor often commented upon the mansion’s haunted appearance as they’d approached.
Even the usually reserved and tightly-lipped undertakers appeared unsettled each time they’d made their way up the tangled drive to collect their next customer. Perhaps having spent as much time with the dead as they had gave them a certain sensitivity or insight into that which caused men to die unexpectedly and often without warning. No one seemed to notice that undertakers did not stay long upon the property once they’d collected their dead.
An iron fence topped with spikes ordered erected by Donnetelli himself soon encircled the property to keep the curious out and away from his mansion and family. Many hoped that the fence would simply keep the evil jinx confined within the borders — laced with strong iron as it was.
On nights when strange flickering light flashed from the narrow windows, many commented upon the possible reflection of distant lightning that couldn’t be seen from below — perhaps bringing notice of a pending storm that was passing through the mountains above the mine.
Like the common spider within an iron web, the completed mansion patiently waited for the next fly to entangle itself; and it wouldn’t have long to wait.
Mere weeks to the day that he’d finally taken possession of the mansion, Demetrius Donnetelli was the next to fall dead. Tons of rock conveniently burying him within his own mine, sparking rumors of his partner Luscious Scaggs’s involvement. The rumors were quickly snuffed out by the roughnecks Scaggs hired to protect the security of the mine and its sole remaining owner.
Packed up and moved out by Scaggs’s men not long after the dust settled from the rock covering her husband, the widow Donnetelli, still dressed in the black of mourning, climbed into a stagecoach and returned east to her family without a single look back at the mansion upon the hill.
Such was the predatory nature of the Charlemonte mansion.
Many began to wonder if it was a female spirit of some sort claiming vengeance upon the men who crossed its path. However, with the death of Donnetelli, the house seemed content and would not claim another victim for several years.
When the evil within the mansion again woke and started in on the women as well as the men who lived in it, all bets were off as to the true nature of the evil contained within the iron web.
* * *
Lurrain Scaggs suffered a headache that had grown like a weed within the carefully tended garden of her brain. Seated on the hall bench with her head resting in her hands, she tried to assert control over the throbbing pain that refused to go away.
Married as she’d been to her husband Luscious for the better part of ten years, she’d learned that showing weakness around him would more often bring scorn rather than understanding.
Statuesque with a wild mane of golden blond hair that cascaded off her shoulders and down her slender back, she’d caught his attention while passing on one of his many trips to Chicago.
He’d begun pursuit of her that very day and they’d married within weeks — moving cross-country to join him in his adventures upon the frontier. His claims of her beauty had been unending to all when they’d finally arrived and settled in.
Now he hardly appeared to notice.
Still measured as the woman who’d given herself to him in matrimony, she’d seen his wandering ways take him from her while they’d suffered through what little of their relationship remained; such was their life as it had come to be within the cursed mansion on the hill.
Not that she’d had much choice in matters such as they were.
Luscious’s partner, Demetrius Donnetelli had died suddenly, buried in the mine that he’d owned with her husband. The turn of events had left the new widow just enough time to remove herself before Luscious had moved his wife and their belongings into the mansion that they would now call home.
She’d often wondered if it had been an accident at all or the work of Luscious’s hired hands. The dark eyes of the widow Donnetelli having spoken volumes of dark accusation the last she’d seen her, before the woman in black had left with the stage.
Sighing with regret, she stood and collected herself, tucking a soft strand of blond hair that had come loose from behind her ear. Once Luscious had given up trying to hide his mistresses, she’d gone to great lengths to keep herself above any petty attempts to compete by dressing or primping herself like the whores he’d brought into their home.
However, Luscious’s abuse of the poor girl they’d hired as a maid was the last straw. Este’s pained confessions of his wicked ways with her over the past weeks had instilled a newfound depth of anger for her husband that she’d began to foster and relish.
Somehow, the more she thought of what Este had suffered at his hands, the more her headache seemed to ease.
She sat up straight on the bench arching her shoulders back and turning her head one way and then the other to help relieve the tension that had built across her shoulders and neck.
Her nostrils flared as the faint whiff of something putrid and foul caught her attention — seemingly from the direction of the room where Luscious’s mistresses often plied him with their pleasures.
Having discovered his growing dark interests and methods of taking pleasure from his women, she’d come to call it his game room and avoided it whenever possible. Este had told her enough of what he’d done to her in that room, along with the scars she’d shown her that would quench any thirst of morbid curiosity.
Moving down the hall to stand at the door, she realized that not only was there an odor; but also the sound of a woman softly sobbing in the room behind the wooden door.
* * *
Wrists shackled above her head to chains from the ceiling; the naked woman’s head hung forward and slack, forcing her to kneel as if gazing upon her image in the large mirror on the wall facing her.
Long narrow welts across her back indicated that Luscious had introduced her to the pleasure tools that he’d left lying haphazardly around the bent knees of the woman; dried blood appearing thinly where he’d cut her repeatedly with thin blades.
“Please, no more. Let me go. I beg you.” The words were hoarse, and filled with pained exhaustion. Lurrain could not recall this woman, or when she’d arrived; but clearly, from the way she’d fouled the floor, she’d been here longer than Luscious had probably led her to believe she would be.
The stains would be hell to get out, even though the rug he’d kept her on would keep most of it from marring her otherwise smooth wooden floors.
With resignation mixed with growing disgust, Lurrain moved to the chest of drawers on the far side of the room; picking up the half-full washbasin pitcher. With great care taken not to spread any of the mess herself, she walked around to face the woman whose long brown hair fell to the floor in a tangled curtain only to mix with the putrid mess at her feet.
“Lift up your face.” She commanded evenly, anger instilled in each word.
When the woman didn’t do as she’d asked right away, Lurrain stepped forward, grasping a fistful of hair to force her head back and face up toward her.
Luscious must have forgotten to remove his ring when he’d struck her last; gouges from the cat’s eye echoed across her cheeks that had bled down and over her rounded breasts.
Shaking her head in disgust, Lurrain dumped the remaining pitcher water over the woman’s face before returning it to the dresser to retrieve the key.
The quiet sobbing began again as she walked over and released first one and then the other of the woman’s wrists; watching as her bruised body crumpled to the floor; curling knees to breasts.
“Get out of my house, and take your things. You’re lucky I don’t make you clean that up.” Lurrain spoke evenly without compassion, disgusted by the mess and the woman who’d made it here rather than the brothel he’d undoubtedly taken her from.
When she didn’t respond, Lurrain sighed; knowing the whore would need prodding. The double barrel that her husband kept in his study served many purposes, and when she dumped extra shells into her dress pocket before loading it, she realized how appropriate it would be when used to help convince another of his mistresses to get the hell out of her home.
When Lurrain returned, the woman had managed to crawl over to retrieve a thin robe from a nearby chair, painfully trying to put it on with her ravaged back hunched as it was and facing the door.
If she knew one thing about her husband, it was how he’d come to enjoy causing pain before taking his pleasure.
She’d grown to feel nothing for the various women whose screams had filtered down to drive her from her own home — until Luscious left to conduct other business, often with a bounce in his step and a smile of satisfaction pasted upon his face.
This was not the first one she’d found left behind and forgotten. By now, the best method to remove such reminders of her husband’s wandering lust had proven to be with simple twelve-gauge force.
Copyright © 2005 by Robert L. Sellers Jr