Ravenloft: Masque of the Red Death: Falls Run Part 2
by, 08-16-2012 at 05:14 PM (586 Views)
Dr. Heintz opened up his violin case and checked his violin carefully as people started eating. He began to tune the violin carefully.
“Fiddle-player, huh?” a large, simple-looking man in overalls said loudly. “You gonna play somethin’ for us, Fiddle-player?”
“Maybe later,” Dr. Heintz said. “I need to get it tuned, sir.”
“What you gonna play us?” the man asked.
“Nothing right now. I’m getting it tuned.”
“Do you know ‘shoo fly?’ I like ‘shoo fly.’”
“No, I’m afraid I don’t.”
“Not at all?”
“But can you play it?”
“Well, once I get this tuned, if you can whistle a bit of it, I can try.”
“Flies in the buttermilk, shoo fly shoo,” the young man started to sing badly. “Flies in the buttermilk, shoo fly shoo. Flies in the buttermilk, shoo fly shoo. Here’s the part I like. Skip to my Lou, my darling.”
He looked at Dr. Heintz expectantly.
“You sing very well,” the doctor said.
“I can sing,” the man said. “I sometimes sing. I sing in church every week.”
“Good for you.”
“I’m Zachary. Zachary Butler.”
“I’m Dr. Heintz.”
“Doctor Heintz,” Zachary said as if trying it on for size. “And you’re a fiddler.”
“That’s good. That’s good.”
Then he turned and left the doctor, who guessed he might be mentally deficient.
Blair overheard the ladies talked to some of the woman passengers while they got the food ready. One woman noted that Paul Booth, Thelma’s husband, ran off last month with a singer at the church’s Thanksgiving fair, leaving her with five young children to take care of by herself, with no steady income. The woman said that the oldest son, Don, was only nine. She noted that the folks in town helped take care of her, but her people were in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio.
Dr. Heintz heard someone mention that they heard Dr. Korek was an atheist.
After he was done helping the women, Blair sat down in the corner and took out the harmonica that he’d kept in his pack. He played a little bit on it until a large and simple-looking man in overalls came over with an expectant look on his face.
“Oh,” the man said. “You play a mouth organ?”
“A harmonica,” Blair said. “I’ve been known to play a tune or two.”
“Keep playing! Can you play ‘shoo fly shoo’?”
Blair played a little on the harmonica though he was not familiar with the song. As soon as he played, the young man sang off key, not seeming to care that the notes coming from the harmonica were not the ones he was singing.
“Flies in the buttermilk, shoo fly shoo!”
“Uh, sorry, no. I don’t know that one,” Blair said.
“Flies in the buttermilk, shoo fly shoo!” the young man continued to sing, nodding encouragingly at Blair. Blair blew another note on the harmonica. “Yes! Flies in the buttermilk, shoo fly shoo. Skip to my Lou, my darling! That was it!”
He seemed ecstatic that there was a harmonica playing in the church.
Rueben Turner approached Dr. Heintz and chatted with him about his “fiddle.” The local man noted that he was a fiddle player too and that sometimes he played at the Sleeping Wolf and sometimes played at other village socials. Zachary Butler returned and told the doctor that the man in the corner, whom he recognized as Blair when the young man pointed at him, played the mouth organ and knew “Shoo Fly Shoo.” He was quite insistent that the other man could teach him how to play the song.
“I’ll ask him about that then,” Dr. Heintz said. “Thank you Zachary.”
Once the young man left, Rueben turned to him.
“Be careful of Zachary,” the local man said. “I’ve heard rumors that he’s a psychopath who would tear small children limb from limb if given half a chance. I’m just telling you what I heard.”
“Is he the cobbler’s son?” Dr. Heintz asked.
“No, he lives by himself. He’s crazy. He lives on the north side of town.”
“And you let him still live here? If that were the case, I’m sure that can’t be.”
“That’s just what I heard. That’s just what I heard. The cobbler is Bill Cutler. He and his wife Jenny, they have seven children. Their oldest is Doris, she’s 19.”
“Right. That’s Zachary Butler, not Cutler. Bill Cutler, he lives right here across the street.”
“Right, exactly. I think your telegraph man told us that.”
“Told us that he lives across the street.”
“Oh, all right.”
Dr. Heintz put the violin away as he talked to Reuben. The small crowd of people who had gathered while he tuned the instrument went elsewhere. He returned to the corner where Blair was sitting.
The little girl was sitting not far from them, still reading Little Women.
Night came early that time of year and the wolves could be heard howling again by 5:30 p.m. The clouds occasionally parted to reveal the almost-full moon, though the snow continued to fall. Dinner was set up and served to the passengers as some townsfolk returned to the place.
After they ate, Dr. Heintz got his courage up and took his violin out once again. He played a lovely version of “Silent Night.” A few people joined in and sang. One woman began quietly to cry. Everyone else had fallen silent, the conversations in the room ending as they watched the doctor play.
Blair went to the bathroom to use the fancy indoor plumbing once again. He washed his hands in the sink and, as he looked up into the mirror over it, he noticed that the reflection in the mirror was not his own. It was the visage of a tall and thin young man, clean-cut and handsome, with sunken eyes and protruding cheekbones, his face contorted with grief. Blair felt himself filled with horror and then rage; he wanted to destroy the horror that he saw.
* * *
Dr. Heintz had just finished playing the song. Silence filled the hall. Then the little girl in the family near where he sat carefully put down her book and clapped politely. Dr. Heintz blushed and put the violin into his case as others started to clap as well. Then there was a sound of shattering glass from the back of the church. A moment later, Blair came out of the water closet, his hand bloody. He looked angry. Dr. Heintz quickly closed the case and moved to Blair.
“Robert! Robert!” he said. “Are you all right?”
“No,” Blair replied.
“What happened? Was it Zachary?”
“Who? No. It was the mirror. The mirror in the bathroom.”
A few of the passengers and ladies of the town were peeking into the bathroom.
“Did it break?” Dr. Heintz asked.
“Yeah it broke. I broke it.”
“Why did you break the mirror in the WC?”
“Because it wasn’t me.”
“It wasn’t me.”
“Well, you just said that you broke it. Did someone else break it?”
“No, in the mirror.”
“Sit down. Sit down.”
“I don’t wanna sit down. You – you sit down.”
“I don’t need to sit down. You seem very distraught, Robert.”
“I am distraught.”
Blood was dripping off the man’s injured hand and onto the floor of the church. His fist was clenched.
“Robert, you’re bleeding,” Dr. Heintz said patiently. “We need to take care of that.”
Blair looked at him a moment.
“Come on,” Dr. Heintz said.
“Things ain’t right here,” Blair said.
“Come with me to my bag.”
“Why don’t you bring you bag here? Your bag’s portable, ain’t it?”
“So are you. You have two legs, man! Let’s go.”
“I ain’t goin’ anywhere!”
Dr. Heintz went to get his bag. Blair sat down, his back against the wall. He looked over and saw that the little girl who was reading was holding her book and just staring at him.
“What’re you looking at?” he said.
She rolled her eyes at the man and went back to her book.
“Don’t you cut yer eyes at me, missy!” Blair said to the little girl.
“Hmph,” she said. “Some people don’t know how to act in civilized company.”
She carefully turned the page to her book and went back to reading.
Dr. Heintz returned and tended to the man’s hand. He pulled out some glass shards and found that the wounds were not deep, just bloody. Blair started to wince as the doctor tended to him. His hand hadn’t hurt before but it was starting to hurt now. He flexed the fingers when Dr. Heintz told him to. The doctor didn’t think anything was broken so he bound up the wounds.
“I’ve had plenty worse, doc,” Blair said.
A few passengers asked what had happened, wondering if the mirror had somehow fallen or just broken.
“Here, let’s go see about getting this rinsed off in the bathroom,” Dr. Heintz said.
Blair looked at him like he was crazy.
“No,” he finally said.
“We don’t want this to get infected,” Dr. Heintz said.
“I ain’t goin’ in there.”
Dr. Heintz stared at the man, speechless. A couple of the local ladies had found a broom and were sweeping up the glass shards on the floor.
“All right,” Dr. Heintz said. “But if the fingers gangrene, you could lose the hands.”
“I’ve had plenty worse,” Blair said. “It’s just a couple cuts.”
Dr. Heintz got some warm water to clean the wounds and then wrapped the hand in bandages.
“Now, what was it that caused you to do this again?” he asked.
“I told you, it wasn’t me in the mirror,” Blair said quietly.
“I was washing my hands and I looked up into the mirror, and it wasn’t me.”
“So, you saw someone standing behind you?”
“There wasn’t anyone behind me. The reflection in the mirror that should have been me, was not me. Some skinny fellow.”
“Are you sure you ...”
“Pretty tired, maybe you just mis-saw? We’ve been under a lot of stress.”
“Have you seen me scream or holler once since last night?”
“Robert, there’s nothing unmanly about it. That’s not what I meant.”
“I’m not saying there’s manliness in not screamin’ or hollerin’. But I ain’t one to get out of sorts too easy.”
He thought a moment.
“Scared me, is all,” he said.
“All right,” Dr. Heintz said. “All right.”
He stood up and went into the bathroom. The mirror had been removed and he searched the wall where it had hung to see if there was any kind of doorway or opening in the plaster wall. It was solid and without openings. The window lay across from the door while the sink was to the right and the toilet to the left.
When he returned to Blair, he noticed that someone had moved his violin. He had laid it in the case and closed the lid, but the lid was now open and the violin was standing upright. He laid it into the case, putting the bow away as well, and then closed the latched the case.
Blair thought he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. He noticed that his coat was askew. It was not where he remembered laying on the floor. He almost thought he had seen it move. He looked away and then quickly looked back at it, but it didn’t move. He sighed.
Dr. Heintz returned to the spot he’d placed his things and put down the violin case. He opened up his pocket watch to look at the time; it was 5:45 p.m. Then he noticed that, though no one was standing near him, he distinctly saw that the reflection in the glass was not of him. It was of tall and thin young man, clean-cut and handsome, with sunken eyes and protruding cheekbones, his face contorted with grief.
“What the deuce?” he said sharply, dropping the watch, which fell to the end of the chain and hung there.
As he pulled the watch up, he looked up and noticed that the little girl who was reading the book was staring at him. He looked at the watch again but did not see any strange reflection. He looked at the little girl once more and she watched him for a moment before she turned a page of Little Women and went back to her reading. He looked at the watch one last time and then tucked it into his vest pocket again.
“You handled that better than I did,” Blair said.
“Handled what?” Dr. Heintz asked.
“Whatever it is you just saw.”
“I just caught a reflection, I think, from someone else in the room.”
Blair looked around. There was no one else nearby.
“How do you know?” Dr. Heintz said.
“I just told you how I know,” Blair said. “I just told you what happened. What happened to me in the bathroom.”
“I think you’re right. Something is strange about this place.”
“Nothing’s been right since we left Baltimore.”
“We’ll have quite a Christmas story to tell every year from now on.”
“I ain’t tellin’ anybody this story, ever, for the rest of my life. They’ll lock me up in one of them sanitariums.”
“I didn’t say anyone would believe it.”
Townsfolk soon started to wander into the church. By 7:30 p.m., people had gotten out hymnals and were singing Christmas hymns and Christmas carols. The place was filled and it looked like everyone in town was there. A few faces they had seen that day were missing: Reuben Turner was not in the place. There also seemed to be a few passengers missing as well.
Dr. Heintz joined in with the singing. Zachary Butler was there. He sang very loudly and seemed to know all of the hymns by heart. Though he was not a good singer, he was enthusiastic.
Make joyful noise, Dr. Heintz thought. Aloud he said “Hymns to keep the spirits away, Robert, right?”
“I hope so,” Blair replied.
“A ... gaunt fellow. Attractive but gaunt.”
“I wouldn’t exactly call them big, but he had a sunken expression.”
“I ain’t for staying here any longer than I have to. I wish they’d hurry up with that train. That’d be a Christmas miracle.”
“Well then, we’ll have to pray for less snow.”
Blair just looked at the man. He looked around. There were no other mirrors in the area, but now that he was looking for it, there were many, many more reflective surfaces.
“Son of a *****,” he muttered to himself.
The windows, especially with it being dark outside, were nearly natural mirrors due to the light within. He found himself avoiding looking at anything with a reflective surface. He also noticed that things seemed to be moving around him. When he’d look, whatever object he had thought moved was not moving, but it was slightly out of place. He shook out his coat, went through the pockets looking for varmints. Then he folded up the coat and sat on it.
“You okay?” Dr. Heintz asked him.
“I think I might be going slightly crazy,” he said.
“I think I might be going mad.”
Dr. Heintz noticed that the violin case was open again.
“Someone keeps tampering with my violin,” he whispered to Blair.
He latched the case once again.
“Someone keeps moving my coat,” Blair said.
“There are lots of people in here and it’s not as if it’s the most secure building,” Dr. Heintz said. “It could be drafty in here, or someone could have bumped this, or some of the townsfolk could want to see my violin.”
“And that was your reflection in your watch?”
“I don’t know what–! I don’t know what it was, Robert. But I’m not going to try to claim that it’s some sort of vision or madness. It’s more madness than some kind of spirit.”
“What about the blue sparks?”
Dr. Heintz looked at him.
“If I hadn’t grabbed that gun, what do you think would have happened?” Blair asked.
“Probably the same thing that happened to the first man,” Dr. Heintz said. “One of us would be dead.”
“Just so,” Blair said. “Well, if that’s the worst thing that happens over the next day or two, that my coat moves a little bit, that’s fine. Once I get to a warmer spot, I’ll burn it. Get a new coat. But ...”
“But this isn’t ... it can’t ...”
“Come on. Say it!”
Dr. Heintz thought it saw movement by the other man’s hip and noticed that the leather strap that held the pistol in the holster was no longer hooked. It was merely hanging over the weapon.
“Robert,” Dr. Heintz said. “Your pistol.”
Blair looked down, cursed lightly, and hooked the leather back over his pistol. He pulled on the pistol to make sure it wouldn’t slip loose. It didn’t. It was secure.
“But this is a church ...” Dr. Heintz started to say. Then he noticed that the leather loop that Blair had to struggle to get into place was once again free. “Your pistol’s unhooked again.”
Blair unloaded the pistol and hooked it in once again, putting his hand on it. He put the bullets in his pocket.
“Even if it were spirits, this is a holy place, a church,” Dr. Heintz said. “There couldn’t be ghosts or anything else in here. Could there?”
“Are you asking me?” Blair replied. “I don’t know. I don’t anything about ghosts.”
“I don’t either. I’m a doctor.”
“I don’t know a whole lot about holy places, to be downright honest with ya.”
“I don’t either. I am a doctor.”
“Something ain’t right.”
Dr. Heintz looked around. No one else in the place seemed to be unnerved or upset. He looked around the room carefully, but people seemed to just be trying to get into the Christmas spirit. He kept noticing that things were moved around him. One of his shoes was askew and he thought sure he had put them side by side. Blair also continued to notice things were moved, but only moved when he wasn’t looking at them.
No one was near them. Even the little girl with the book had joined her family in singing Christmas carols and hymns.
“Hey, doc,” Blair said.
“Yes,” Dr. Heintz said.
“If you were going crazy, would you know it? I mean, can you tell if you’re going crazy, or do you just, all of a sudden, you’re crazy? And do you know it if you’re crazy or do people just look at you and say ‘He’s crazy’ even though you think you’re not?”
“I’m not that kind of doctor. So, I don’t know.”
“Well, this must be what it feels like to start going crazy.”
“I’m starting to feel a little unhinged myself. Perhaps we’re just overwrought, Robert.”
“Unhinged and overwrought.”
“We’ve been a bit ... we’ve been a bit through traumatic experiences, indeed.”
“Murders, ghosts, train wrecks. Yep, I would count those as some of the most traumatic experiences one could possibly go through.”
“They’re at least in the top 10.”
“I don’t know that I’m ranking them. If these shoes would just stay where they’re supposed to stay!”
“Yep. Next thing you know, you’re going to be punching your shoes.”
Blair got all of his things and took his backpack and made sure they were behind his back and out of his sight.
Things broke up about 9 p.m. The townsfolk headed out in small groups, many wishing each other or the passengers a Merry Christmas. The little girl returned to her family’s spot with her mother, father, and brother, and took up Little Women again. Blair glared at her and, as she opened up the book, she glanced in his direction. She stared at him for a moment, frowning.
“Hmph,” she said and went back to reading her book.
Her little brother fell into the blankets and went to sleep while her parents talked quietly to each other. The rest of the room was filled with a quiet murmur as people readied themselves to sleep. Most of the lights had been extinguished in the church and only a couple of lanterns burned in the bathrooms.
Blair covered himself up with his blanket. Dr. Heintz completely covered his head with his own blanket.
* * *
The men were abruptly woken by light pouring into the church. It was Thursday, December 25: Christmas Day. The same women who had been in the church the first night came in around 9 a.m. to prepare a massive egg breakfast for the passengers. There was also plenty of toasted bread and coffee.
Both Blair and Dr. Heintz still noticed things moving and Blair abruptly got up and left the church. He stomped out of the place and headed down to the telegraph office, intent on finding somewhere that strange things didn’t happen. When he opened the door, he found the place a mess. Clyde Johnsson was sitting at the table that held the remains of the telegraph. It looked like someone had smashed the instrument with a hammer.
“Howdy,” he said as Blair entered.
“What happened?” Blair asked.
“Somebody came in last night, smashed it up. It can be fixed but I’m going to need parts from Grafton.”
“Yeah, but it’ll have to be after this weather’s passed.”
“I’ll be right back.”
Blair went back to the church. He found Dr. Heintz, still finishing up his breakfast and wishing the other passengers a Merry Christmas.
“Doc!” Blair called to the man.
He noticed the little girl look up from her book and he glared at her.
“Where’s that box?” he asked the man, lowering his voice. “With all of the broken stuff?”
“Oh, I assume that’s still at the train,” Dr. Heintz said.
“Oh you’re kidding me. I thought we brought that back.”
“I know. I’m sorry. Is it important? I mean, it was ruined.”
“Come with me. Get your coat.”
The doctor got the borrowed boots on and wrapped himself up in his coat and hat.
“I like your hat, doc,” Blair quipped.
“Yes, it is a little rumpled,” Dr. Heintz said. “Kind of like me now, I think.”
They left the church and returned to the telegraph office. Johnsson was still working on the damaged telegraph.
“Hello,” he said.
“What happened?” Dr. Heintz asked.
“I don’t know. Somebody came in last night. Must’ve just busted it up. Door was locked. Don’t know how he got in.”
“You said the door was locked?”
“When I came this morning, yeah. Locked it up. Don’t want anybody stealing my printing press.”
Blair and Dr. Heintz exchanged glances. The door opened again and Constable David Wells entered.
“Johnsson, somebody just came by and told me that somebody smashed up your telegraph,” he said.
“Yeah, I sent that Fisher boy down there to tell you,” Johnsson said. “That was 20 minutes ago. Somebody came in, broke in, must’ve, and busted up the telegraph.”
Wells looked it over.
“Can you fix it?” he asked.
“No, I have to get some parts in Grafton,” Johnsson said.
He told them what needed to be done but Wells interrupted him with a shake of his hand.
“Damn, this is as bad as last year,” he said.
“Bad as last year?” Blair said.
“Constable?” Dr. Heintz said.
“Yeah, as bad as last year,” Wells said. “Somebody went missing from the train that crashed here last year.”
“Somebody ... wait,” Blair said. “Strange enough, train crashed, same place, same time. But somebody went missing last year?”
“Yeah. Some reporter.”
“Were the telegraph machines smashed up last year?”
“No, the telegraph was fine last year. Some reporter was here, walking around town. Doris Cutler – he was talking with her. Then he vanished. They didn’t find out until they got to Cincinnati that he wasn’t on the train they took them up to Cincinnati on. I don’t know. Johnsson wrote about it in his ... newspaper.”
“Yep, something happens around here, I write about it,” he said. “Freedom of the press! You can’ put down–”
“I know Johnsson,” Wells said. “We had this discussion before.”
“Let’s take a walk to the train, doc,” Blair said.
“I’m just trying to tell you, you don’t have to write down everything that happens in this town.”
“Just a moment,” Dr. Heintz said.
“You got to write down everything!” Johnsson said. “That’s freedom of the press!”
“Alright,” Wells said.
“Constable?” Dr. Heintz said.
“Yes sir?” the man replied.
“May I have a word with you outside?” Dr. Heintz said.
“Sure,” Wells replied. “All right Johnsson, once you get it fixed ...get it fixed.”
The three men went outside.
“I’m Dr. Jacob Heintz,” Dr. Heintz said.
Wells shook his hand and gave the man his name.
“Constable Wells, are you aware of any peculiar happenings in your town?” Dr. Heintz said. “You ever had anything strange happen at the church? Odd sounds? Odd sightings?”
“No,” Wells said. “No. There was some people murdered last year.”
“Murdered? In the church?”
Constable Wells looked around and then lowered his voice.
“No, they weren’t murdered in the church,” he said. “There was some people killed last year. In order not to have a panic–”
“Before or after the train?” Blair asked.
“It was back in April of last year,” Wells said. “Well before the train came through. In order not to have a panic, I said it was a murder. It wasn’t. Some kind of animal. Ripped ‘em apart. Don’t say anything. I don’t want people to start panicking.”
“We heard wolves,” Blair said.
“Wolves can’t get open doors and get in people’s houses, can they?” Wells said.
“Are you certain it was an animal and not some person?” Dr. Heintz said.
“Yeah,” Wells said quietly. “You didn’t see these folks. They were ripped to pieces.”
“I hope you’ll forgive me but some of the townsfolk have muttered some rumors about one of your other town’s members: Zachary Butler?”
“Zachary Butler? He’s simple-minded, that’s all. People don’t like simple-minded folks around here. He’s in church every Sunday.”
“Well, they said he’s potentially dangerous.”
“No, Zachary Butler’s not dangerous. He couldn’t of done what happened to these people.”
“Where did this reporter go missing?”
“We don’t know. He was name was Gravits, I think. He was always asking questions. Mostly harmless ones, but ...”
“And this was after the train wreck?”
“Yeah. He was on the train when it wrecked. He was one of the people that came up to town, we brought ‘em in. He was always walking around town or in the woods. It’s like he couldn’t sit still for more’n an hour. A lot of people found that pretty amusing – most folks just sit around and stare if they have nothing better to do.”
“Walking around in the woods?” Blair asked.
“He was walking around, talking to people, asking questions,” Wells said.
“What kind of questions?”
“I don’t know. It was mostly harmless questions, stuff about ‘who goes where’ and ‘is there anybody that you see who acts suspicious.’ Everybody knows everybody around here. Nobody is suspicious of anybody. Doris Cutler, she’s the Cutler’s girl, she tried to tag along with him, apparently. So I asked her about it ‘cause when the train got to Cincinnati, he wasn’t on board. Nobody knew he wasn’t on board; it wasn’t like people took a headcount. The train came to pick up folks last year, everybody got on. Apparently he wasn’t on there. She told me, Doris told me that he was frustrated and angry because he was supposed to see his fiancé for Christmas. They didn’t get back by then. He also told her that he thought something fishy was going on around here, but he wouldn’t say anything more than that.”
He looked around.
“About them other people, the McCullens, who was murdered,” Wells went on. “That had nothing to do about this, but you asked me about strange things in the area and that’s the only thing that’s happened. Although, it wasn’t really a crime. The bodies were just mauled and mangled. It was like some huge, wild animal had gotten into their house. But the doors were locked. None of the windows were broken.”
“Was it just the two of them?” Dr. Heintz asked. “Did they have any children?”
“Oh yeah, they had children.”
“Were they all killed as well?”
“Everybody in that house was killed. There was Teddy McCullen; he was on the church board of trustees. There was Mary and they had five children.”
“This reporter: do you remember what he looked like?”
“I don’t know. Handsome, skinny fella.”
The description of the man, as far as Wells could remember, was very close, if not identical to the man they’d seen.
“We never found any trace of him,” Wells said finally. “I figure he decided he wasn’t going to wait for the train. He either started walking, and if he walked away in something like this, he’s never coming back. Or, I don’t know what.”
“You haven’t had any more animal attacks since that one?” Dr. Heintz asked.
“No, especially not inside locked doors. And if you can figure out what did that, I’d appreciate it. But don’t tell anyone in town. I don’t want to start any more stories about animals walking through walls. I can’t explain it, but as long as people just think it was a murder ...”
“Did Dr. Korek inspect the bodies?”
“No. Nobody inspected the bodies but me. Nobody knows. I told Johnsson that they were murdered, their throats were slit. And I told him it was probably somebody passing through. Some vagrant or villain. I know and the police up in Grafton know. I don’t want these people to know because then you’re going to have people panicking.”
“Well, I see your point, Constable.”
“I’d appreciate your discretion in this matter.”
“If you want to read about it, you can read ...” Wells said. Then he pointed at the telegraph office. “He keeps all his old, what he calls newspapers.”
“Thank you Constable,” Dr. Heintz said.
“You’re welcome,” Wells replied.
He headed off through the snow.
It was very cold and they’d been talking for a few minutes. Dr. Heintz was shaking.
“I think I am ...” Dr. Heintz said. “I don’t know. I’d like to go back to the church, but as the same time I’m not so sure. I’m cold. I hope that’s all it is. You said you wanted to go down to the train?”
“Maybe not right now,” Blair said. He was very cold too. “I thought maybe if we got that box of smashed up telegraph parts he could use those pieces to fix his.”
“That’s not a bad idea but that box was pretty badly smashed.”
“Why would someone want to smash up the telegraph unless they don’t want anybody outside this town to know what’s going on? How’d they get in?”
“It’s about keeping secrets.”
“Who’s a-keepin’ ‘em?”
“The constable for one. I mean, it would be easy – no offense – but it would be very easy to have a key to this place. Maybe someone could, is what I’m saying, get in, smash it, leave, and lock it back up.”
“Might be a question for Clyde, huh? Ask him if anybody else has a key? It’s warmer in there, anyway.”
“Sure. It’s worth asking.”
They went back inside the telegraph office and found Johnsson still fiddling with the broken telegraph.
“Sir, did you say there was more than one key?” Blair asked.
“Huh?” Johnsson replied. “No. Well, the company man’s got a key. But he lives in Grafton. Unless he walked all the way up here.”
“He’s the only one? Other than yourself?”
“Yes sir. Jack Huggins. He’s the only one. He’s got a key. I’ve got a key.”
“You think someone could have picked the lock?” Dr. Heintz said.
“Well, they must’ve,” Johnsson said. “Unless it was a ghost.”
Dr. Heintz laughed too loudly at that suggestion.
“A ghost!” the man said, still laughing.
“T’ain’t funny,” Blair muttered.
He thought Dr. Heintz laughter sounded very insincere. He’d also noticed that sometimes the broken telegraph pieces seemed to move when he was not looking at them.
“That’s the only way it could’ve been,” Johnsson said. “Unless, like you said, someone picked the lock. All the windows were latched. There’s three feet of snow out there.”
“Footprints?” Blair asked.
“Funny thing, I did not see any tracks in it,” Johnsson said.
“There you go.”
“So it must have happened early in the evening. Right after I left, must’ve happened. Maybe it was one of the kids.”
“What time did you leave?”
“Around five, five-thirty. When it got dark.”
“You remember that reporter much?” Dr. Heintz said. “From last year?”
“Last year?” Johnsson said.
“Yep,” Blair said.
“Yeah, that Gravits fellow?” Johnsson said. “Yeah, I wrote some stories about him. Right about this time last year. Yeah. I got all of the back issues if you want to look at them!”
He seemed quite excited about it.
“Sure,” Blair said. “Did you say he was asking a lot of questions?”
“Yeah, he was talking to everybody,” Johnsson said as he led them into the back room. “Wanting to know – nosing around. Here, c’mon.”
“What was he asking about?” Blair said.
He didn’t look at the mirror on the door to the back room.
Johnsson was looking through one of several wooden crates that were filled with paper. There was also a good-sized moveable-type press that he obviously used to make up his newspaper. A printer’s apron hung from one wall. Johnsson started to look through the crates and after a short time, produced two of the single-sheet newspapers.
The first one, which he told them was about the train crash, was dated Friday, December 27, 1889. It read:
B.&O. Crash Brings Christmas Guests to Falls Run
No one in our peaceful village is unaware of the railroad derailment which brought nearly two hundred travelers to stay in Falls run over the Christmas holiday. On Monday night, the westbound train from Baltimore struck a broken rail and plowed into a snowbank one mile south of town. Miraculously, no one aboard the train was seriously injured, even though several cars turned on their sides in the crash.
Church-goers rallied to prepare a meal for the passengers on the night of the crash. The town shared a holiday supper at the church on Christmas Eve. Hopes are that tonight or, at the latest, tomorrow, these good folks will be sped on their way to their homes and families.
The second was dated Friday, January 3, 1880, and read:
Missing Rail Passenger Stumps Constable Wells
All of us here in town are certain to remember Edward Gravits, a journalist among the nearly two hundred B.&O. train passengers who spent Christmas in Falls Run last week. Mr. Gravits brought himself to the attention of many in the village with his persistent questions. His apparent inability to ride out the snowstorm which held the passengers here for four days was regarded with amusement by many locals, irritation by others. Edward Gravits has been missing since the train arrived from Grafton to pick up the stranded passengers. It is believed that Mr. Gravits did not board the train.
Mr. Gravits’ fiancée, Miss Jane Carpenter of Cincinnati, wired the B.&O. offices in Baltimore last Saturday morning, when the replacement train arrived in Cincinnati without Gravits aboard. The railroad was unable to account for Mr. Gravits’ absence from the train
and wired Constable David Wells here in Falls Run to inquire. Constable Wells promised an investigation, and he has been busily asking questions in the week since ― to no avail. Constable Wells has turned up no clues as to the location of Mr. Gravits.
Naturally, anyone with information to offer that might help clear up this mystery is urged to contact Constable Wells with great haste.
“What do you think?” Johnsson asked. “Is it pretty well written?”
Blair hushed him and went back to reading, his mouth moving as he did so.
“That seems very unfortunate,” Dr. Heintz finally said.
“Yep, yep,” Johnsson said.
“Do you remember the man much? Do you remember what he looked like?”
The description that Johnsson gave was very similar to the strange, ghostly image that both men had seen.
“Thank you,” Dr. Heintz said, holding out the newspaper.
“Oh, you can keep it,” Johnsson said. “I have extra copies. You can keep yours too, sir.”
“Thank you,” Blair said weakly.
“Well, Clyde, good luck with the telegraph,” Dr. Heintz said.
“Once I get the parts I can fix it,” Johnsson said.
“I hate not to have any communication until the snow is out.”
“Well, it’s happened before. Lines down. Not like anybody’s getting murdered or nothin’.”
Dr. Heintz laughed loudly again.
“Of course,” he said through the forced laughed. “Murdered! This fellow! This fellow!”
Blair left the office and Dr. Heintz followed close behind, his laughter stopping abruptly. Dr. Heintz looked at the mirror and was pleasantly surprised to see only his own reflection there. However, on their way out of the outer office, they noticed what appeared to be a man, or the reflection of the man, in one of the panes of glass in the front of the building for just a moment. The person then slipped away. Dr. Heintz ran out the door to find that no one was there and the snow under the window was undisturbed.
Blair stopped about 10 feet from the front door of the building and went back to the window where he’d also seen the figure.
“C’mon!” he muttered to the glass. “C’mon!”
“Robert, we need to go,” Dr. Heintz said.
“Where are you?”
Blair looked at the other man and spotted the gaunt, grief-stricken face of Edward Gravits in the man’s eyeglasses! He gaped at the man’s glasses and then the figure within them disappeared.
“Don’t go!” he said. “Where were you–”
“Robert, I’m right here,” Dr. Heintz said.
“Not you. Not you.”
Blair turned to look at the window again and then opened the door of the telegraph office and strode inside.
“Clyde!” he said.
“Yeah?” Johnsson said.
“Borrowing your mirror.”
Blair crossed the room, grabbed the mirror by the frame, and lifted it off its hook.
“I’ll bring it back to you,” Blair said, leaving.
“All right,” he heard Johnsson call before he left. “Don’t break it, please.”
“Can’t guarantee that,” Dr. Heintz muttered.
Blair tucked the mirror under his arm and then headed down the street, humming.
“Robert, are you ... you don’t seem well,” Dr. Heintz said, trying to keep up with the other man.
“Nope,” Blair replied, matter-of-factly. “Think I’m going crazy.”
“Would you like for me to hold on to your revolver?”
“Nope. Not loaded anyway. Wouldn’t do you any good.”
“What exactly are you planning on doing?”
“Going to try to talk to the dead feller.”
Blair led them back to the church and then went to the bathroom where he’d broken the mirror but found the door closed and latched. He knocked on it and then heard the toilet within flush. He heard the sound of running water for a moment and then the door opened.
“Hmph!” the little girl said as he left the room.
“Stupid kid,” he muttered as he entered the bathroom.
He set the mirror up on the sink, leaning up against the wall. Then he stared into it.
“Robert ... what are you doing?” Dr. Heintz asked from the doorway of the bathroom.
“Close the door,” Blair said.
“There’s not a lot of room – two of us can’t fit in here.”
“Okay, wait outside.”
Dr. Heintz looked at him for a moment and then very slowly closed the door. As the door closed, Blair looked back to the mirror and was shocked to see a man had been behind it, apparently, the entire time. It looked like Edward Gravits and the man glared at him, frowning. He felt a shiver run right down his spine.
“You’re that reporter fella, ain’t you?” Blair said, looking at the reflection.
The image in the mirror just stared at him.
“Can you nod or shake your head?”
The image didn’t move or speak.
“It’s not pleasant conversation. This is ... can you ...”
There was a light knocking at the door.
“Robert?” Dr. Heintz said.
“Really?” Blair called. “Talkin’ to the dead guy!”
He had not looked away from the image in the reflection.
“Are you dead?” he asked the figure there. “Are you the one moving stuff around?”
The image didn’t move.
“Do I have mud on my face? What’re you lookin’ at?”
The figure still did not speak.
“You’re not helping me. Look, I’m willing to help you with whatever it is that’s going on here. There’s obviously some ... something going on. And I’ll ... I’ll help you, if something’s been done against you when you were alive ... that was not right.”
There was another knock on the door and Dr. Heintz opened it very slowly.
“Wait! Now I can’t see him!” Blair said, pushing the door closed again.
The figure in the mirror was gone.
“Wait, Robert,” Dr. Heintz said from behind the closed door.
He pushed it back open.
“Robert, come out of the bathroom, please,” he said.
“He’s gone,” Blair said. “He was standing right there behind me.”
Dr. Heintz looked around the room.
“Oh, okay, you’re going to play ‘Mr. Doubty Doctor’ but ‘I didn’t see him in my watch yesterday,’” Blair said. “And ‘I haven’t seen my shoes moving around.’”
“Maybe seeing him in my watch last night is very different than saying that I’m trying to have a conversation with something in the mirror!” Dr. Heintz hissed. “You know what the sounds like, Robert?”
“I know exactly what that sounds like.”
Blair saw that the little girl was standing right behind Dr. Heintz.
“Get out of here!” he said to her. “Go read your book!”
She stood, unmoving.
“You’re talking to a ghost, aren’t you, mister?” she said, matter-of-factly to him.
“No!” Dr. Heintz said. “We’re not talking to a ghost.”
“No such thing as ghosts,” Blair said.
“Hmph,” the little girl sniffed. “I heard you talking to that ghost that stabbed that man. I saw that knife. It moved by itself. And I saw the gun do the same thing. There’s a ghost around here and you’re talking to him. Hmph.”
“Ghosts don’t stab ...” Blair started to say to the little girl, who had turned and walked away. Then he looked at Dr. Heintz. “You think that he stabbed that man?”
“That was on the train,” Dr. Heintz said.
“Don’t know much about ghosts but are they limited that way?”
“I don’t know!”
“Well, you seemed to be kind of sure of yourself a second ago when you said ‘Aw, he couldn’t get on the train. Ghosts can’t get on trains.’ He could’ve gotten on back at the last stop for all way know. Ghosts walk around like you and me.”
“No, I don’t know that. I’m just saying that to make myself feel better.”
“Why don’t you sit down.”
“I think I need to sit down.”
“Get a cup of coffee.”
“Can I sit down and you get me a cup of coffee?”
Blair went over to his spot and sat down, his back against the wall. He was not far from where the little girl had gone back to her book. Dr. Heintz brought him a cup of coffee as the little girl fussed at her brother, Daniel, calling him by name. The four-year-old wandered away.
“You wait here,” Dr. Heintz said to him. “I’ll be back. In just a bit.”
He left the church. As soon as he was gone, Blair put down the coffee and went over to the little girl. She looked up from her book.
“Look I don’t like you very much, little girl, and I know that you don’t like me, either,” he muttered to her. “You don’t think very much of me and I don’t think very much of you either, to be honest with you. But you saw something that night; now you tell me what it was that you saw. Have you seen that ghost since the train?”
“You’re a very rude man,” the little girl said.
“That’s why I don’t like you.”
“That’s fine that you don’t like me.”
“Because you’re very rude.”
“I don’t like you either.”
“You’re like Daniel and he’s a snot-nosed, little brat.”
“I’m nothing like Daniel. He’s a little boy and I’m a grown man.”
“Hmm. Look the same to me.”
“You’re little brother doesn’t have a beard, does he?”
“He will someday.”
“Look at this, a full beard.”
“He tells me every day he’s going to grow a big beard like that big man on the train with the gun.”
“Did you see the ghost or not?”
“I saw the knife fly in the air with all that blue stuff around it.”
“I saw the same thing.”
“That’s a ghost. That’s what ghosts do. That’s what I’ve read.”
“Did you see the ghost?”
“Haven’t you ever read A Christmas Carol?”
“No. I have not.”
“Haven’t you ever read Washington Irving or Ambrose Bierce?”
“No. I have not.”
“That’s what they do. They come back and have their revenge upon people.”
“Did you see the ghost or not.”
“I saw blue sparks.”
“Since the train!”
“No. I haven’t seen anything since the train. But both of you have been acting very peculiar.”
“Have you seen anything in the mirror or the window, a reflection?”
“No. But I saw a knife kill a man with nothing holding it and I saw a gun floating in the air that your fellow saved Mr. Leery from.”
“You’re awfully smug and condescending for a girl who saw a knife kill a fella.”
“Some of us know how to compose ourselves in situations such as these.”
Blair jerked the book out of her hand, closed it, and put it on the floor.
“Find you place!” he said.
“You are very rude!” she replied.
He went back to his corner.
“You are very, very rude!” she said again.
She picked up the book and opened it to the front and started reading it from there.
* * *