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Max_Writer

Ravenloft: Masque of the Red Death: Falls Run Part 3

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* * *

Dr. Heintz went over to the house with the sign “Dr. Howard Korek” out front. He hoped to get some laudanum from the man that he could administer to Blair to try to calm him down.

The front door opened into a foyer with a parlor to one side and an examination room to the other. A young woman was behind a small desk in the foyer. Steps went up next to a hallway.

“Good afternoon,” she said as the door opened. “Oh, you’re one of those passengers from the train. Can I help you?”

“Yes ma’am,” he replied. “My name is Dr. Heintz. I was one of the passengers on the train that wrecked, as you’ve said. I’m afraid that my kit was damaged.”

“Oh dear.”

“I lost some of my medicines. We have a couple of passengers that ... needless to say, they’re a little overwrought. I was looking to see if, perhaps, Dr. Korek had anything.”

“Well, let me ask. Dr. Heintz, did you say?”

“Yes, Dr. Jacob Heintz.”

She went into the parlor. Dr. Heintz peeked into the examination room from where he stood in the foyer. It looked neat and tidy with glass cabinets on the sides. He didn’t look at the glass carefully but guessed the man’s equipment and medicine were behind them.

She returned a minute later with a young man with dark hair.

“Howard Korek, sir,” he said as he shook Dr. Heintz’s hand. “Merry Christmas.”

He had a thick West Virginia accent.

“Jacob Heintz,” Dr. Heintz replied.

Dr. Korek invited him into the parlor and they sat down and talked about medicine for some time. Dr. Heintz learned that the Koreks had moved to Falls Run some years ago as the town needed a doctor. Both he and his wife had found that the place was quite quaint and the populace friendly. He was also interested in some of the medical journals that Dr. Heintz had read.

In the end, he gave Dr. Heintz a small bottle of laudanum as well as a bottle of iodine.

“Anything to help people in need,” he said. “Especially at this time of year.”

The doctor also apologized that the train’s passengers were stuck in Falls Run over the holidays, saying he felt awful about it. Dr. Heintz noted that it was a very fine town and any other time, other than a time of such a tragic experience, it would be quite nice.

“Yes, strange – two years in a row,” Dr. Korek said. “Train wrecks.”

“Yes,” Dr. Heintz said.

“Strange. Strange.”

“I’ve heard that there was another one last year.”

“Uh-huh. About this same time.”

“And I also heard someone went missing afterwards.”

“That’s what I heard too. Actually, I read it in Johnsson’s paper. Oh, what was his name?”

“Some reporter fellow, I believe.”

“That’s what I heard. He came by and he was asking me questions, too.”

“What was he asking questions about?”

“Just about different people in town. It was like he was looking for rumors about people.”

“Well, he is a reporter and isn’t that what they do?”

“I suppose so. Doris Cutler, she was hanging around with him too. I think she was just looking for trouble. She’s kind of a troublemaker from what I heard.”

“Doris Cutler?”

“Doris Cutler.”

“One of the local girls?”

“That’s Bill and Jenny’s daughter. Their oldest. She’s 19. Just rebelling against everything that she can.”

“Well, we were all there once.”

“That’s true. That’s true.”

They chatted a little about the Cutlers and Dr. Korek noted that Bill was a cobbler and his wife was a midwife. She helped deliver pretty much every baby born in the village.

“A lot of the locals trust her more than they trust me to deliver a baby,” he said. “I want the mother to be as comfortable as she can, so if they prefer a midwife, I advise them to have a midwife.”

They chatted a little more and he seemed like a nice fellow. Dr. Heintz guessed that the man was glad to have some conversation with another educated person.

In the end, he thanked the man and took his leave.

* * *

Blair went to the bathroom and retrieved the mirror. He lay it on the floor next to him and glanced at it every once in a while. Occasionally, it seemed like his things would move when he was not looking at them, or sometimes he caught the movement out of the corner of his eye. He occasionally muttered to the mirror.

“Quit movin’ stuff around!” he’d say, irritated. “If you’re trying to tell us something, you just come out and tell us! Gettin’ tired of this! Don’t want to play games!”

At one point, he looked down and was shocked to see a tall figure in the mirror, standing over him. The little girl had come over and was standing right by the mirror. He looked up at her.

“You are making quite a scene,” she said quietly. “This is not proper way to act.” She lowered her voice even more. “I’m not the only one who notices these things.”

“Go read your book!” Blair hissed at her.

“I will,” she replied. “I’m only trying to help you. If you’re going to sit in the corner–”

“I don’t like being talked down to!” he hissed back and stood up, towering over her.

She seemed unperturbed.

“If you’re going to act in such a manner, people are going to talk,” she whispered.

“What are they going to say?” he asked.

“They’re going to say ‘That man is crazy.’”

“That’s fine. I don’t care what those people think.”

“You should.”

“Why?”

“You just should. It’s proper.”

“Why is that? I don’t live amongst proper folks like you and your ma and your pa and your crazy little brother.”

“I can tell. My brother’s not crazy, he’s stupid. There’s a difference. And he’s snot-nosed and sometimes he smells very bad.”

Dr. Heintz had walked up behind the girl and laid a hand on her shoulder.

“My dear, why don’t you just return back to your bunk?” he said politely.

“I will,” she replied.

“Thank you very much.”

“Your friend might stop talking to mirrors.”

“Yes.”

As she turned and walked back to the blanket she sat on, Dr. Heintz set his hat down, picked up the mirror, and tucked it under his arm.

“Robert,” he said. “You do need to calm down. I know it’s hard to say, and it’s kind of hard to imagine, but we can’t disturb the other passengers. They’ve gone through a lot as well. Let’s not set them off. I do have another possible direction we could go. I don’t know if it will seem too forward or too suspicious, but several times we’ve heard mention that there is a young lady that accompanied this reporter.”

“Cutler girl,” Blair said.

“Yes. Doris Cutler. Maybe we could try to find out something from her or her family. They live right out here beside the church.”

“Sure. I’m not getting any answers from our impolite poltergeist.”

Dr. Heintz sat the mirror down on the floor, the reflecting side down. Blair glanced over at the little girl and saw her look at Dr. Heintz, roll her eyes, sigh, and went back to her reading.

“Wait a minute,” Blair said. “Here me out. That reporter fella, a year ago.

“Yes?” Dr. Heintz said.

“He was walking about asking a lot of questions.”

“Yes.”

“Now he’s trapped in a mirror, or trapped in a window, or trapped in your glasses, or your watch.”

Dr. Heintz frowned and carefully took off his glasses, examining them uncomfortably.

“He’s angry and he’s sad,” Blair went on. “He moves stuff around but he won’t talk or tell you why. We go poking around this town asking a bunch of questions, how do we know that next year, next train wreck that happens at Christmas time, some people aren’t going to come, aren’t going to see us in a mirror?”

“I simply just don’t believe that’s going to happen,” Dr. Heintz said.

The little girl sighed loudly.

“But you bring up a very good point,” he went on. “I guess we can’t just walk around town blatantly asking questions.”

“I’m not even sure if I want to know,” Blair said.

“I’m not sure I want to know either. I would like to get to Cincinnati.”

The little girl sighed again but continued with her reading.

“I’ll be honest with you, doc, I’m downright scared,” Blair said.

“My dear, do you have something else to contribute?” Dr. Heintz asked the girl.

She carefully put her bookmark into the book and closed it. She looked around carefully.

“Well, if this ghost of yours is talking to you two, or trying to show himself to you, he probably wants something from you, don’t you think?” she asked quietly.

“That’s why I had the mirror out!” Blair hissed at her. “That’s why I was asking questions but he wouldn’t talk to me!”

“Robert,” Dr. Heintz said quietly. “Robert. Robert.”

The little girl slowly turned to the man.

“Well, if your ghost wrecked the train and he doesn’t get his answers this year, what makes you think he won’t wreck the train next year in order to try to get someone else to help him?” she said calmly.

The two men looked at each other.

“How do you know so much about ghosts?” Dr. Heintz asked the girl.

“She reads books!” Blair hissed. “She reads lots of books about ghosts!”

She looked down her nose at the man and then nodded her head.

“I just read lots of books about everything,” she said.

“Well, my dear, how would you propose that we find out what this ghost wants from us?” Dr. Heintz asked her.

“I don’t know. Ghosts are all different.”

“They don’t talk in your books?” Blair asked.

“Some do,” she said. “Some come rattling chains. Some have flames on their heads.”

“Any of them rearrange footwear?”

“No. You must have a very silly ghost. Maybe he can’t talk.”

“She’s even talking down to the ghost.”

“I don’t talk down to anyone.”

“So, you think he can’t talk,” Dr. Heintz said.

“He’s obviously not a very nice person either if he stabbed the telegrapher and tried to shoot that silly man who asked all of those silly questions,” she went on.

“I was getting ready to shoot that silly man,” Blair muttered.

“Maybe there was another ghost,” Dr. Heintz said. “This person that we think is the ghost, if we’re right, was a reporter and he asked questions, that’s what he did. He wrote articles and sent telegraphs and so maybe there is some other ghost that is trying to stop this ghost.”

“That’s the smartest thing you’ve said all day!” Blair said. “Yeah. Why would a reporter smash up the telegraph machine? He wouldn’t do that.”

“Have you seen this other ghost in the mirror?” the little girl asked.

“Maybe he can’t show himself in the mirror. Maybe he’s one of those chain rattling ghosts. Maybe we just haven’t heard him yet.”

“Hmm.”

“No,” Dr. Heintz said to her. “No, we haven’t.”

“Then why would you think there’s another ghost?” she said. “It sounds like you’re speculating wildly.”

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Blair said. “It doesn’t make any sense for a dead reporter to go smashing up a telegraph machine.”

“You’re right, it is merely speculation,” Dr. Heintz said to the girl. “But ...”

“What just happened?” Blair asked, looking back and forth between the doctor and the little girl.

“But, as a doctor and as a man of science, you must occasionally propose hypotheses.”

“But they should have some basis in fact,” she said.

“No, you search to prove them. That’s the objective of the hypotheses.”

“But you speculate wildly, unlike ...” she nodded towards Blair. “... who says what he sees and what he hears. That’s the way to go about solving a mystery.”

She looked down at her book and turned the page.

“Oh Jo,” she said to the book.

“What just happened?” Blair said. “Did she just compliment me?”

“Sometimes in investigating, you have to make speculative leaps,” Dr. Heintz said to the girl.

“Hmph,” she replied. “Guessing wildly is what you mean.”

Blair grinned.

“Now you’re arguing with this little girl,” he said.

He got up and headed for the door. Then, thinking better of it, walked back, took her book, closed it, and threw it down on the floor again. Then he walked out of the building.

Dr. Heintz had also stood up.

“He is the rudest person I have ever seen in my life,” the little girl said. “He is worse than Daniel.”

She picked the book back up, opened the first page, and went back to her reading.

“He does have a certain ... swagger about him, doesn’t he?” Dr. Heintz said.

“If you’re wondering why a ghost is haunting you, you should try to find that out and stop it,” the girl said, not looking up from her book.

“That’s what we’re trying to do, my dear.”

“Hmph.”

“Then how would you go about finding that out?”

“Well, if it’s a ghost, he must have died here. So, you must find out who his killers were.”

“That’s very smart. Thank you.”

“I am very smart.”

Blair came back into the church and picked up the mirror.

“Forgot my mirror,” he said as he headed for the door.

“Miss,” Dr. Heintz said to the little girl.

“Doctor,” she replied.

He followed Blair out the doors of the church.

“Robert!” Dr. Heintz said as he tried to catch the other man. “Robert! Robert!”

Blair was walking back towards the telegraph office. He would hold up the mirror every few steps and move around, turning the mirror. Then he saw the figure within it again.

“Doc, c’mere!” he muttered

Blair had turned the mirror around and had his back to the telegraph office. The man was standing on the road that led out of the south side of the town, looking directly at Blair in the mirror.

“What?” Dr. Heintz said.

“C’mere!” Blair repeated. He didn’t take his eyes off the figure.

Dr. Heintz caught up to the man.

“Look over my shoulder!” Blair said.

The figure turned and walked out of sight, past the telegraph office. Blair looked around, a little confused by the mirror’s reflection of the area, but then realized where the specter had gone. Blair headed around the side of the telegraph office through the deep snow. When he got behind the building, Dr. Heintz close behind, he lifted up the mirror again.

“Don’t you think we should return that mirror to–” Dr. Heintz started to say.

“When we’re done with it!” Blair replied. “When we’re done with it. We need it.”

Dr. Heintz fumbled in his pocket for the laudanum.

Blair had moved the mirror around until he saw the figure again. This time he was standing in front of the bar and grill called The Sleeping Wolf. As Blair watched, the figure turned and went into the building.

“He went into the bar,” Blair muttered.

“What?”

“He went into the bar! That Sleeping Wolf. Are you seriously doubting me now?”

Dr. Heintz thought he had caught a glimpse of someone going into the bar in the mirror, but he wasn’t sure if it was the figure he’d seen in his watch or not. Blair headed over to the building, Dr. Heintz close behind. They entered.

Dim, flickering kerosene lamps barely held back the shadows in the spacious room. A couple men huddled at the bar, trying to stay warm by keeping close together and drinking far too much. Three tables were spread haphazardly around the floor, and a couple more men sat there, preferring cold isolation to warm socializing. A billiards table was set up near the right-hand wall, just below a window that did little to keep out the bitter wind. There was no fireplace or wood stove. It was cold. A door that probably led to a stairwell stood in the far wall and there were kitchen noises from downstairs as if others were in the basement. There was the smell of food in the place.

The short man behind the bar gave them a nod and they recognized a couple of passengers from the train. Blair held up the mirror and saw that his own reflection was replaced by the reflection of Gravits. When he looked up at Dr. Heintz, he saw that the dead man’s reflection was also in the doctor’s glasses.

“He’s all over the place in here!” Blair whispered.

As they looked around, they each realized that Gravits’ reflection was in every reflective surface in the place. They could clearly see him glaring out of a spoon that had been left on the nearest table, his features distorted by the curve of the metal. A few photographs on the walls had frames with glass on them: Edward Gravits was staring out of every one. Even the bottles behind the bar across the room looked like something was moving in their reflections. On one of the nearby tables, the gentleman drinking had laid his open pocket watch. They could make out Gravits’ features in the glass there as well.

“Oh God,” Dr. Heintz muttered.

Blair tucked the mirror under his arm. The other men in the bar were looking at them.

“I think we could use a drink!” Dr. Heintz said loudly.

He walked to a table, Blair trailing behind him. They sat down on two of the dirty chairs. Blair laid down the mirror on the table.

“Fellas, I’m only open ‘til lunchtime,” the bartender told them, loudly enough that all of the patrons would hear. “I’ll be back this afternoon but it’s Christmas Day.”

Dr. Heintz looked at his watch. It was 11:30.

Blair continued to look at the mirror. Gravits was always in a different place. Sometimes he was the reflection Blair saw instead of himself. Other times he was standing behind the man, looking at him over his shoulder. But he was always staring at Blair.

The bartender approached the men. He wore a very heavy coat and his gray hair had an unfashionable bowl cut which was rough around the edges. His dark eyes moved constantly. They recognized the man, who had been in the church, probably during lunchtime the day before. Neither of them remembered him being at the church the night before. They’d seen very little of him.

“Can I help you fellas?” he said. “We’re not doing any food ‘til after lunch today.”

“Not sure we’re going to be here after lunch today,” Blair muttered.

“I’m going to open her back up at two, as usual,” the man said. “I opened up this morning ‘cause a couple passengers last night said they could do with a Christmas morning drink.”

He looked over at the men sitting alone at the tables.

“You fellows look cold,” Blair said to them.

“Yep,” one of them said.

“That’s what this is for,” the other man said, holding up his drink.

“You know, alcohol only makes you feel like you’re getting warmer,” Blair said. “Actually, it thins your blood out. Makes you colder, quicker. Read that somewhere.”

“All right,” one of the other men muttered.

“Thank you,” another said.

“What you fellas want?” the bartender said. “We got some whiskey, some rye, and there’s some gin.”

“Whiskey please,” Blair said.

“You sir?” the man asked Dr. Heintz.

“That’s all that you have?” the doctor said.

“Yeah,” the man replied. “Well, we got some special stuff. You want some of that?”

“Whiskey’s fine.”

“They make it around here. You like enamel on your teeth, don’t you. You might not want to have that.”

The bartender returned with a couple small glasses of brown liquid.

“What’s your name, sir?” Dr. Heintz said.

“Cordingham,” the man said. “I own this place. Ron Cordingham.”

A huge, black cat leapt gracefully up onto the bar and sat there, staring at them.

“Holy-” Blair said. “Is that your cat?”

“Yep,” Cordingham replied. “That’s him.”

“Biggest cat I ever seen.”

“That’s Zody. Yeah, he’s big all right. He’s big.”

Cordingham wandered back over to the bar and cleaned glasses. He looked like he was getting ready to close up.

Dr. Heintz picked up his drink and saw the reflection of Edward Gravits in the liquid. Blair noticed him there as well.

“Sorry,” the latter said.

He drank down the drink. Dr. Heintz put his own drink down and Blair took it and drank it as well. The liquid burned on the way down. It was not as bad as he thought it would be.

“All right, what’s the plan?” Blair asked quietly.

“There was a plan?” Dr. Heintz replied.

“Yeah, I had a plan. To get here. Now I ... I don’t have a plan. We need a plan.”

“Indeed, we do. A plan would be nice.”

“Maybe we could ... get back in here after he closes up. Look around.”

Dr. Heintz looked around. There were four customers in the place who were dressed nicely and he guessed they were all passengers from the train. Two were sitting at the bar while two others sat at the two other tables in the room.

Cordingham wandered back over with a tray. He took the glasses.

“‘Nother?” he asked.

“Why not?” Dr. Heintz said. “So, Mr. Cordingham, are you from Falls Run originally? Born and raised?”

“Yes sir. Born and raised here my whole life. Started this place up to make some money. ‘Cause I need money.”

“I’m actually surprised from what I’ve heard of the Baptist faith; they’re not too keen on bars.”

“Nope.”

“Or dancing or-”

“God bless America.”

“You have a stove?” Blair suddenly asked.

“In the kitchen,” Cordingham said. “Downstairs.”

“Why’s it so cold in here?”

Cordingham shrugged.

“I mean, it’s freezing in here!” Blair said.

“I can’t make a profit if I’m having to burn coal, can I?” Cordingham said.

“I can’t imagine you get a whole lot of business. This place is freezing.”

“Alcohol’ll keep you warm.”

“So if you’ve lived here all your life, obviously you were here for the last train wreck,” Dr. Heintz said.

“Yep,” the man replied. “Yep, had some fellas come in have some drinks here. Great for business.”

“Great for business?”

“Well, there were people actually here. More people.”

“So, I understand that someone went missing actually, even after the passengers were supposed to have left.”

“Well, that’s what I heard.”

“At least that’s what I heard from ... oh what’s his name? The telegraph man.”

“Johnsson.”

“Yes.”

“He wrote something in the paper about it, about some fellow who didn’t show up.”

“He was going on and on about it.”

“Probably wandered off. Maybe decided he didn’t want to go back to Cincinnati. Or maybe he got off on another stop. Or maybe ... maybe ...”

“Maybe,” Blair said.

“Maybe,” Cordingham replied. “Maybe he didn’t want to get married.”

“Well, I suppose that is possible,” Dr. Heintz said.

“So he slipped away,” Cordingham went on. “Let me get your drinks.”

He returned a moment later with two more filled glasses. Blair pushed one towards Dr. Heintz and then drank his own. Cordingham went back to the bar. When Dr. Heintz looked down into the whiskey he could see Gravits’ ghostly reflection on both the surface of the liquid and the outside of the glass. It was somewhat unnerving.

“It’ll do you good, doc,” Blair said. “Knock it back. Trust me.”

Dr. Heintz closed his eyes and didn’t look as he downed the liquid. He coughed.

“Kind of hangs, doesn’t it?” Blair said.

“That’s ... an accurate description,” Dr. Heintz gasped.

“What we gonna do?”

“I have no idea. This person brought us here for some reason.”

“Why me? Why us?”

“I have no idea. As far as I know of, I’ve never had any interaction with spirits. Save for this kind.”

He gestured at the empty glass. He noticed that the reflection of Edward Gravits was still there.

“And so I have no idea why,” he said.

“Well I’ll tell you one thing, when you die, you become stupid because you can’t talk anybody anymore!” Blair muttered at the mirror.

The two passengers at the bar got up and left the place. The man at the table with the open watch ordered another drink.

“If I get killed and come back as a ghost, I’m going to find this guy and punch him right in his mouth!” Blair whispered to Dr. Heintz.

“Let’s plan on that not happening,” Dr. Heintz replied calmly. “I’d like to think that, unfortunately I have to assume that this person was not a believer or he would not be stuck in this limbo. He would’ve moved on if he could.”

“I think that that sounds like a right fine prospect, doc.”

“Indeed.”

“He ain’t moved on, he’s hauntin’ every window in this town, but only we can see him.”

“Not every window. He seems to be in this place, especially.”

“I wanna leave this town really bad. I wanna never see no ghosts again.”

“Neither do I.”

“But we’re stuck here.”

Dr. Heintz’s glass tipped over.

“That’s the best he can do,” Blair muttered. “Move your shoes. Move a drink.”

“It’s not the best he can do if the little girl was right,” Dr. Heintz said.

“I don’t think that was him. I don’t think that was him. Sorry. You were right. That wasn’t him on the train.”

Blair’s glass tipped over.

“Maybe that’s the way that he says that we’re wrong,” Dr. Heintz said.

Blair stood his glass back up. It started to slide slowly towards the man. Both men stared at it.

“All right!” Dr. Heintz said, standing up quickly. He looked at the bartender. “Thank you, Mr. ...”

“Cordingham,” the short bartender said.

“Cordingham!” Dr. Heintz repeated. “Robert!”

The glass had stopped moving when Dr. Heintz had stood. Blair sat, staring at it.

“Thank you,” Dr. Heintz said to the bartender.

“Yeah,” the man replied.

“Good drink.”

“Well thank you.”

The man called for last call. The man with the pocket watch picked it up and left. Blair picked up the mirror and he and Dr. Heintz also left the place. In the sun, he wondered if it had not been colder inside the building than it was outside in the snow.

The two men walked back to the telegraph office.

“Why’d you interrupt him when he was trying to talk?” Blair asked him.

“He wasn’t trying to talk,” Dr. Heintz said.

“He was trying to tell us something and you interrupted him. You jumped up and ran out.”

“Forgive me if I’m a bit unnerved by a sliding glass.”

“Of course, it’s very unnerving. I didn’t like it any more than you did, but we were making progress.”

“I’m not so certain that we were making progress. Come on.”

He looked at his pocket watch and saw that Gravits was not there. It was 11:45.

“We have 15 minutes,” he said.

“To do what?” Blair asked. “What’s the plan?”

“If we can suffer this cold, we can wait, perhaps in the back side of the telegraph office. We’re going to watch this bar when he closes up and find a way inside.”

“Cold out here.”

“Would you like to go inside the telegraph office?”

“I got a better idea. Follow me.”

He headed back towards the church.

“Now, if you insult that little girl again, I’m going to recommend that we move our berths,” Dr. Heintz said.

“No, I’m not going back up there to insult the little girl,” Blair muttered.

They entered the church, passing an old man from the train having a snowball fight with several of the local children outside. Dr. Heintz recognized the man as one he’d talked to since they’d come to Falls Run, a veteran of the Civil War. Blair put the mirror down in the corner where their things were. He wrapped his blanket around himself and then put his backpack over that. He picked up his Henry rifle.

“Does anyone need anything from the train?” he asked loudly.

A couple of people asked him to look for items and bring them back if he noticed them.

“I’m going to go check on my brother,” Blair said.

He looked at the little girl.

“Memorize that first page yet?” he quipped.

She looked up at him as he walked by.

“If you see ...” she started to say.

He stopped.

“If you see a plaid valise with a pink bow, I would appreciate if you could bring it back,” she said.

“Sure,” he said, not turning around. “C’mon doc.”

She closed the book and dropped it on the floor.

“You forgot to do that,” she said.

“Thank you for doing it for me,” he replied.

“You’re welcome.”

“Get a blanket, doc,” Blair said. “You’ll need it.”

Dr. Heintz got his own blanket. The two men, still cold, each had a cup of coffee before they headed out.

When they arrived at the telegraph office, they saw Cordingham closing the front door of the Sleeping Wolf. A woman and three children were with them, all of them bundled up. They walked up the street to the next house up the street and went in. Blair and Dr. Heintz crossed to the street and headed past the Sleeping Wolf.

They continued south to the road and then turned around and headed back, almost due south of the building, where it shielded them from the Cordingham house. They noticed that there was what looked like a cellar door on the south side of the bar. The snow around it had been trampled and it opened without resistance, though with a loud creak, when Blair pulled on it. He stopped immediately at the noise and then moved it very, very slowly to keep it from creaking.

Dark steps led down to a door below.

“We didn’t bring a light!” Dr. Heintz hissed.

“I got matches,” Blair said.

They crept down the steps, which creaked loudly under their feet. Dr. Heintz found a locked door at the bottom while Blair slowly closed the cellar door above. He came down the steps and put his shoulder to it. The wood of the frame splintered and the door fell open.

“Robert!” Dr. Heintz hissed.

The door opened up into a kitchen. In the light of Blair’s matches, they saw there were several unlit kerosene lanterns on the wall. Dr. Heintz lit one and trimmed the wick. A large iron stove stood to one side and steps led up to the right. A door stood in a niche on the wall to the left and a plain, blue blanket hung on the wall across the room. A sink with a water pump stood in one corner. It was very warm in the kitchen.

Blair went to the blanket and pulled it aside. A door stood behind it. He found it unlocked. He pushed it open.

A horrific form came into view. It must have been human once, but its dry skin was stretched tight over its bones, and a claw-like hand was extended towards Blair as its empty eye sockets seemed to leer in his direction. Both men were shocked by the visage. Looking more closely, however, they could see that the menacing figure was not actually moving, nor was it alive – it appeared to have been a stuffed, embalmed corpse. The man’s face must have been young in life, his features handsome – though it was hard to be sure when gazing at the gruesome mockery. His cheekbones were high and pronounced, his eyes deep-set, and his hair was long and unkempt. His naked body bore the horrible marks of burns and cuts, bloodless, but certainly painful and gory when they were inflicted.

It was the remains of Edward Gravits.

They moved into the room. Two heavy black iron candelabras flanked the embalmed corpse, and two more stood on the near side of the room, on either side of the door they entered. Beside a couch against one wall, a stuffed wolf stood eyeing them. Another couch rested on the opposite corner of the room, facing a massive iron safe. On top of the safe was a stack of cards, like playing cards but decorated with gruesome and occult imagery. Next to the pile were several scattered hands of cards, as if a group of people had been playing and had just laid them down. A rug adorned with a strange, twisted pattern covered the floor in the center of the room.

“Go fetch the sheriff,” Blair whispered.

“Constable,” Dr. Heintz said.

“Whichever.”

“Yes.”

“Go! Leave the lantern.”

“But ...”

Dr. Heintz put down the lantern. As he headed across the kitchen, he saw the large black sitting in the corner by the cellar door. It hissed at him and he stopped.

“What is that?” Blair whispered from inside the horrible room.

“It’s that cursed cat!” Dr. Heintz said.

He moved towards the cat, trying to get past it without approaching it. It howled at the man. Blair came out of the horrible abattoir and crossed the room, intent on kicking the creature. The cat slipped through the cellar door. Dr. Heintz looked at the dark steps beyond the door.

Blair lit another kerosene lamp and put it on the floor in the other room. Then he went to the cellar door and shined his own lantern within. There was no sign of the cat and he lowered himself slightly to see if it was under the steps. There were no risers behind the steps but he could see nothing in the darkness there.

“Go fetch the constable!” he hissed.

Dr. Heintz headed carefully up the stairs. He was halfway up when something raked across one of his boots. Blair saw the cat’s paw reach out and tear at the boot from under the steps. Dr. Heintz kicked the steps as he went up, then flung open the outer cellar door and fled the place, letting it slam shut behind him.

Blair realized he was standing next to a door in the niche. He’d noticed it before, but had focused on the blue blanket. In the aftermath of the horror they’d found in the other room, he’d completely forgotten there was another door in the room.

The cat howled from its hiding place under the cellar steps.

* * *

Dr. Heintz left the cellar and ran through the thick snow into the street. He headed north, planning on going to the telegraph office as he didn’t know where the constable lived. However, running down the road towards him was Cordingham. He had a shotgun in his hand.

“Mr. Cordingham!” Dr. Heintz said. “My companion and I were heading down towards the train and were wondering when’re you opening the bar again.”

“Why, it’s open right now,” Cordingham said, the shotgun not pointing exactly at the doctor. “Why don’t you come with me? We’ll have a drink. On the house.”

“Uh ... why don’t you just come with me?” Dr. Heintz said. “I need to speak to–”

“Why don’t you come with me?” Cordingham smiled, his voice low and somewhat menacing.

It was not a nice smile.

He glanced over his shoulder. The street was deserted.

“C’mon, let’s go,” he said.

“I ... I would like that,” Dr. Heintz said unconvincingly. “Very much. That would be quite nice.”

“That’s good,” Cordingham said. “That’s real good.”

He escorted the doctor to the front door of the establishment, watching him carefully as he unlocked the door.

“Go on,” he said, gesturing with the shotgun.

“Oh, I’m going!” Dr. Heintz said loudly.

They could both hear the cat howling in the basement below as Cordingham closed and locked the door behind them. Dr. Heintz saw that every reflection in the place, once again, had the image of Edward Gravits.

* * *

Blair frowned when he heard the front door of the bar open. He heard Dr. Heintz called out and then heard the front door close. He quickly slipped the backpack off his back and loaded his pistol as the cat howled loudly.

“I’ll take care of you soon!” Blair hissed at the horrible creature.

He grabbed his rifle.

* * *

“You just sit on down,” Cordingham said quietly, aiming the shotgun at the man and cocking both hammers.

“Oh, I will!” Dr. Heintz said loudly.

“I’ll get our drinks.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Cordingham, I’m a little uncomfortable with that shotgun.”

“I’m sorry,” Cordingham replied insincerely. “Maybe you could tell your friend to come up here and we could all get comfortable together.”

* * *

While Blair listened to the muted conversation above, the cat crept out and hissed at him.

“C’mere,” he whispered. “C’mere kitty. Here kitty, kitty, kitty.”

The cat hissed at him once again. Then it howled again. It sounded like it was trying to warn its master of his presence in the basement. He leveled his rifle at it and it ducked under the sink and out of sight.

* * *

“Don’t act like you don’t know–” Cordingham said.

“My friend is down at the train,” Dr. Heintz said.

“–he’s down in the cellar,” Cordingham went on. “Down in the cellar with Zody.” Then he whispered loudly: “He doesn’t want to be down there with him, though.”

“I ... I don’t know ... what you’re talking about, Mr. Cordingham.”

* * *

Blair, listening for creaking and trying to figure out where Cordingham was standing, had moved quietly into the horrible room with the stuffed corpse of Edward Gravits. The cat had gone completely quiet.

* * *

“Why don’t you tell him to come on up here?” Cordingham said. “Go on. Go on.”

“I ... I don’t know what you’re talking about, sir,” Dr. Heintz said.

“Go on. Call to him. Come on.”

“There’s no one else here!”

“Your snoopy friend’s here. You could’ve just walked away. Been the smart thing to do.”

* * *

Blair put his Winchester to his shoulder and aimed at the ceiling where he thought Cordingham was standing.

* * *

The cat howled in the basement somewhere below and Cordingham looked down. The nasty grin disappeared from his face as he looked down, the whites of his eyes showing. He screamed as the floor suddenly exploded, bullets flying up through the floorboards under his feet, cutting through the thin timber and sending splinters showering into the room.

Dr. Heintz turned and ran, leaping over the bar and landing behind it in a crouch. A moment later, he heard furniture crash in the room somewhere. Otherwise, it was quiet. He slid to the back corner of the room behind the bar, then took out the train spotter’s pistol and quickly shoved the six bullets into it.

* * *

In the basement, Blair looked up at the ceiling and took a couple of steps. He listened carefully for the cat but heard nothing. He glanced at the doorway and saw the evil creature crouched behind the kerosene lantern on the floor. It glared at the man, who considered shooting it anyway. Then he put his rifle in his left hand and walked towards the cat, drawing his pistol. The animal suddenly reared and knocked the kerosene lantern over. There was a tinkle of glass and he found himself in pitch blackness.

Blair continued out of the room into the kitchen beyond. A lone lantern glowed there. He pulled the door to the horrible room closed behind him. He moved towards the interior steps and pressed on the first one, which creaked loudly. Without actually going up the steps, he put his foot on the second and third steps just to make them creak as if someone was going up the steps.

Then he crossed the kitchen to the door near the basement door. It proved to be unlocked. He pushed it open with only a slight creak. Six rows of shelves lined the walls, all of them heavy with dry food and liquor bottles. A huge ice chest occupied most of the floor space in the place.

The cat yowled again.

* * *

Dr. Heintz heard someone chanting quietly in the room. It had to be Cordingham, somewhere in the direction of the front door. It was a low muttering in a language that he didn’t, for the most part, understand, though there seemed to be some Latin mixed in with the other phrases.

“You’re a devil-worshipper, Cordingham!” Dr. Heintz called out.

Then he quickly crawled to the other end of the bar where it opened into the room. Without exposing himself, he reached up over the bar and pulled the trigger. The revolver only clicked the first time and he realized he had loaded an empty shell along with the five other bullets. He worked the hammer and fired twice more, blindly, into the room. Wood splintered in the room, but the chanting continued.

He recognized some of the Latin. Cordingham was talking about “Sleep of the Gods” and “slumber” or something to that effect. The man suddenly stopped chanting.

* * *

Blair heard gunfire and thought he heard someone talking. Then he pounded up the cellar stairs as loudly as he could, and flung the outer cellar door open. He turned and leapt back down the steps, trying to miss the lowest step. His foot hit it before he landed on the cellar floor. He headed over to the interior steps and crept up the edges of those stairs. They still creaked and it seemed very loud to the man.

* * *

Dr. Heintz heard the outer cellar door crash open and hoped that Blair had gone to bring the constable. He thought that Cordingham had been saying a prayer to the devil or had been trying to scare him. He looked at the nearby liquor bottles and saw the ghostly figure within.

“Gravits, if you really wanted to help, you could help now!” he whispered as much to himself anyone. “Go and haunt him!”

* * *

Blair found that the door at the top of the steps was not locked. He pushed it open a crack and peered into the room. In the dim light of the bar he could see that one of the tables had been turned on its side, offering some cover from the direction of the bar. He saw no sign of Cordingham.

He poked the rifle through the crack and fired two shots in quick succession into the table. The cat gave a terrible howl that ended in an awful rattle below. He dropped prone, still aiming the rifle at the table.

“Give up Cordingham!” Dr. Heintz shouted before crawling to the corner again.

Blair fired twice more into the table. Then he burst up out of the doorway and fired four more times into the table as he ran to the bar and crouched behind it.

“Did you see him?” a voice whispered from the corner of the bar.

Blair gasped, the gun going off in his hand before he swung it towards the doctor. He hadn’t realized the man was also crouched behind the bar.

“Sorry!” Dr. Heintz whispered.

“You scared me!” Blair hissed.

He saw the pistol on the doctor’s hand.

“Is that thing loaded?” he whispered.

“Yes,” Dr. Heintz replied.

“He’s behind the table.”

“What table?”

There was a pounding on the front door. Blair peeked over the top of the bar, laying the rifle there and aiming into the room. He saw Cordingham lying prone behind the table.

“Open up in the name of the law!” a voice came from outside. It sounded like David Wells. “Put down your weapons and come out!”

Dr. Heintz put the pistol down on the top of the bar while Blair went to the body and kicked it. There was a lot of blood. The man had been shot in the head. Dr. Heintz walked towards the front door of the bar, avoiding the body. Blair went to the door but found it locked. A quick search of the body produced the key. Blair opened the door slowly and showed Constable Wells, right outside with a pistol in his hand, his rifle.

“Put it down,” the man told him.

“Yes sir,” Blair said, putting down the rifle.

“Everyone come out,” Wells said.

The two men came out.

“You just having some fun in there?” Wells asked.

“No sir,” Blair said. “We have some things to show you.”

They showed him the body of Cordingham and then took him down to the basement, where they showed him the room with the body of Edward Gravits. The man was horrified but recognized the corpse. In the middle of the room, the black cat lay dead on the floor.

“Cordingham did this?” Wells asked. “Cordingham killed him? My God, what did he do to him?”

He looked around the room.

“I still have to arrest you fellas,” he said.

“It’s not just that,” Dr. Heintz said. “Look at the black candles and the cards.”

“He was into some unwholesome things,” Blair said. “There’s more than one. You need to get the whole family.”

“We’ll talk to ‘em,” Wells said.

He took them back upstairs and collected Blair’s rifle.

* * *

Blair and Dr. Heintz were arrested, jailed in Grafton, and eventually tried. They were acquitted of all charges as the killing had been in self-defense. The members of the Cordingham family were questioned but none of them had ever entered the terrible hidden room in the basement of the Sleeping Wolf. According to their testimony, many of them didn’t know about the room, while his wife had been forbidden to enter the room. Cordingham was announced as the murderer of Edward Gravits.

The story was sensationalized in the regional press, reaching newspapers as far as Baltimore and Cincinnati. Blair and Dr. Heintz received a certain level of fame for their actions. The town of Falls Run sent them a goodwill offering of $300 in thanks for their work. There was some speculation in the papers that the other murder in Falls Run might also have been the work of Cordingham.

Dr. Heintz wondered who else was involved. He remembered there had been seven hands laid out on the safe.

* * *

Dr. Heintz read in the newspapers right after Christmas of 1891 that there had been another train wreck on the same spot on the Baltimore & Ohio Railway. The ghost of Edward Gravits had evidently not been laid to rest.

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