“Alistair Pennington?” came a voice from behind me.
I turned to see two gentlemen in black toppers and long black coats, “Yes?” I answered questioningly.
“Will you come with us? Your Queen wishes a word with you.” The larger of the two gentlemen said.
“My Queen?! We are in Washington D.C. Queen Victoria is on the other side of the Atlantic. What sort of poppycock is this?” I huffed.
“I am sorry sir, but you will accompany us to the Queen.” He pointed to a very black and ornate carriage.
For a moment, I had a feeling I should run. I would later regret my decision not to, “Very well.”
We walked over to the carriage and he opened the door and pushed me in. It was dark but for one tiny lamp shining on the side of her face. It was indeed Queen Victoria, “Your Majesty.” I whimpered.
“Alistair, may I call you Alistair?” she questioned.
“Yes… yes ma’am. I would be honored.” I was a bit taken aback.
“Alistair, I need your help. You are a ghost hunter, or rather an animal ghost hunter, are you not?” She began.
“Well, I guess that’s one way of putting it. Actually I am…” I began.
“Excellent, President Mason has asked me for some help and its right up your alley. They seem to be having an uprising of what might be called werewolves in this country and he thought maybe we would have someone who knew a bit about the subject. I learned that you were here in Washington and decided to give the issue to you.”
“Werewolves? Your Majesty, that is hardly a field I am familiar with. A werewolf would not be a spirit but rather a…” she interrupted me again.
“Perfect, I knew you would be excited about the opportunity. Now, you will be contacted shortly by an agent of their government and our handyman, b’Nunchy O’Toole, will travel with you and assist you in any way he can. Good day, Alistair.” She rolled out.
“But Your Majesty, I…” was all I got out before my lightly framed body was plucked from the carriage and it drove off down the street.
I stood on the bricks thinking, “What am I suppose to do now and what the hell is a b’Nunchy O’Toole?”
A moment later there was a very large hand on my shoulder, “Yer be Master Pennington Oi be guessin’.”
I turned around to see a mountain of a man. He was better than six foot-six and his shoulders were as big as an ox. He had flaming red curls atop his head and a bright red handlebar under his nose, “I would guess that you are a b’Nunchy O’Toole.”
“That Oi be and tha’ be me. It be a pleasure to be makin’ yer acquaintance, sir.” He stuck out his huge paw.
I reached to shake his hand. My hand disappeared inside his. The man was massively powerful but very gentle at the same time, “Very pleased, my friend.” I took back my hand, “So do you know anything about our adventure?”
“They didn’t be telling me anythin’ other than Oi was to be yer handyman and that we was going on a long trip. Oi saw ‘em be thowin’ ya out the carriage and figured Oi had found the right parson.” He said.
“Yes, she was a tad vague with me as well.” I smiled, “Well I believe we should be expecting an agent from the President who will fill us in on the details.” I began.
I heard someone clear their throat behind me, “I’m Melbourne Distell. Here are your papers, your train leaves in ten minutes. You must hurry to Union Station now. When you arrive in Salida, someone from the Fort will meet you. Hurry, you must leave now.” He said.
“Now?! I haven’t any of my things, not even my clothes!” I began.
“All of your need will be taken care of. Now go!” he huffed.
I looked up at b’Nunchy O’Toole. He smiled down at me, “We can take me wagon.” He said. I nodded and we were off.
They were taking up the steps when we ran into the station. I pulled out the tickets from the leather satchel and held them out to the conductor.
He took them and punched them and said, “Welcome aboard, my you’re headed an awful long way across the country. If you need anything let me know.”
I looked up at my companion then back at the conductor, “How far is a long way?”
“Why sir, you are headed for the heart of the Rocky Mountains.” He smiled and motioned us onboard.
b’Nunchy and I made our way to a pair of very comfortable seats and I couldn’t help but wonder what the bloody hell I was doing. I was on my way across a foreign country, thousands of miles from home with a huge Irishman whom I just met, on an adventure given to me by the Queen of England herself. I didn’t even know what I was to do when I got there nor where “Salida” was.
b’Nunchy looked at me then tapped the messenger bag, “You might be wantin’ to be lookin’ at what’s in there. Oi be thinkin’ we might learn a bit more about our quandary.”
Again I nodded. I opened the satchel and pulled out a stack of papers big enough to choke a horse. The hand written letter on top read:
Thank you for accepting this undertaking. When you reach your destination, you will be assisted by a field agent from Fort Benton. All of your supplies will be provided. I do apologize for your rushed departure. Here is what we need help with.
In mid 1887, we began work on a train tunnel, Benton Tunnel, which is literally going under the Rocky Mountains. We are about a year into the tunnel and something has happened.
The workers came in one morning to see a small side tunnel dug off one side. It only went about ten feet but it looked as if it had been dug from the inside, as if something dug itself out. That very evening a man was attacked by, for lack of a better word, a werewolf.
The man did not die but rather physically changed into something half man and half wolf. He broke free from the rest of the workers and fled into the tunnel.
The other workers were terrified at what they witnessed but a search party went in to find him. They were attacked. Three were killed and partially eaten. Two more shared his fate and became part of the horror.
They army was sent in but it appears only sunlight kills these things; bullets have no effect. The army wants to dynamite the tunnel but we have too much time and work into it to just destroy it.
This is where you come in. We need you to assess the situation and see if these can be destroyed and we can return to the tunnel or if there is any other way of repairing the situation.
I have every confidence in you and will be glad to compensate you very graciously upon your return.
With the utmost respect,
President Franklin Mason
I looked at b’Nunchy O’Toole, “What the bloody hell have we gotten into?”
He smiled, “Oi be thinkin’ we be in fer lashings of trouble.”
I laughed, “I believe you’re right, my friend, oh, so right.”
I began reading the papers in the satchel. There were personal accounts of what they saw, official military reports and telegrams from the railroad begging the army not to blow up the tunnel, but what stood out was something someone had written down that an Indian had told them.
The note read:
After the first attack, I was told by an Indian that the workers had released the “Skinwalker”. I did not understand so I asked him to continue. He told me of an old medicine man who basically made a deal with the devil and became a wolf during the night and a man during the day. He had been buried under that mountain long before this land was discovered. I wasn’t sure if this information was of any use to you or not.
John West, proprietor of West Trade goods
When we finally arrived it the tiny western town of Salida, Colorado, we were not greeted by an agent as we were told but rather a telegram. I read the content:
There are two horses waiting at the livery stables. Ride to Poncho Springs and check into the Johnson Hotel. I will contact you there.
“Well, b’Nunchy, it appears we are on our own, yet again.” I said halfheartedly, “Come along, Poncho Springs awaits.”
We walked over to the livery stables and got our horses. I had only ridden a horse one other time and I wasn’t what one would call proficient at it. I put my foot in the stirrup and swung my leg over. I looked forward in utter amazement. This horse had no head! Then it occurred to me, the head was behind me. I was on backwards. I felt like quite the abecedarian.
“What’s a tenderfoot like you doin’ here?” asked the ranch hand near-by.
“I’ve been asking myself the very same question for days now. I am afraid I do not have an answer for your ponderings.” I said dismissively. I turned around on the horse and we road of into town to find our way to Poncho Springs.
We rode across the Arkansas River and into town. My eyes found a sign that said, “West Trade Goods”, I rode to the front of the store and we went inside.
As we entered, a voice yelled out, “Can I help y’all with something?”
“Yes, we are trying to get to Poncho Springs and the Johnson Hotel there in.” The man looked at me as if there were caterpillars crawling out of my ears, “Have I said something wrong, my good man?” I asked.
“No, no, not at all, I am sorry. It’s just that most people are avoiding that area since the attacks.” The gentleman stammered.
“The Skinwalkers?” I mentioned.
The man looked relieved, “You’re from the government, aren’t you?”
“Yes, the President has asked us to look into the ab-natural occurrences and see if we can fix the situation.” I said.
The man looked at me blankly again. b’Nunchy stepped up and said, “We be here to put an end to the wee beasties.”
The man nodded and began to speak but was interrupted by a voice behind us. We turned to see a short native of the area. He looked like a cigar store Indian, (as rather small one,) and had one feather sticking out of his head, “There only one Skinwalker. Others are his slaves. They not small they are the size of men.” He explained.
I looked into his dark eyes, “I don’t believe we have been properly introduced.” I said.
“White man has no word for my name.” he said.
“What does it mean, then?” I continued.
“My name mean ‘the small, furry rabbit leaps the remains of fallen tree’.” He explained.
“Remains of a fallen tree? You mean a stump?” I asked.
The red-skinned gentleman nodded.
I looked at b’Nunchy. He had a grin on his face a mile wide. I looked at the gentleman, “Then your name is Bunny Stump-jump?”
I thought b’Nunchy was going to split his face open with laughter.
The man behind the counter said with a grin, “We all just call him Bunny.”
I turned back to Bunny, “Can you serve as our guide?”
His eyes grew wide, “I cannot. I am Ute, the Skinwalker is Navajo. You need a Navajo to be guide.”
“I beg your pardon! The Skinwalker is part of a tribe?” I questioned.
“You need someone who knows land and Skinwalker to help you. Me know who to take you to.” He said and then turned to leave, “Come.”
We walked out behind him, “Wait, Bunny, we are to meet someone in Poncho Springs and the Johnson Hotel first.”
He turned and looked at me, “Then me take you there. Tomorrow we will find Sitsi’ Shash … daughter of the great bear.”
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