The Sacrifices of the Windy Pits

In the 1950’s, spelunkers in North Yorkshire, England, took it upon themselves to investigate a set of narrow crevasses cut into the landscape, known as the Windy Pits. They uncovered the remains of some 22 individuals, which according to carbon dating, met their fates there some time during, or just prior to the first century. The manner of their deaths and disposal is most odd, and has the anthropologists postulating all manner of unsubstantiated religious rites. I would like to put forward another hypothesis, if I may. You may choose to believe it…or not.

Image by Tumblr user @jukraft

North Yorkshire is a land rich in clay soil, limestone, and peat, and therefore great agricultural potential. As such, has been in continuous habitation since the Mesolithic, when German ancestors wandered across what was then a land bridge running between the isles and the Western European mainland. It had healthy and thriving Celtic tribes during the Iron Age, and into the first century, when Rome eventually took over, in order to halt a civil war between a Queen and her estranged husband…but that’s another story. At the time our tale begins, the moors of North Yorkshire were a kind of no-man’s land twixt two tribes locked in a sort of rivalry. While there is no evidence to suggest that there was ever anything but skirmishes and fort-building between the two tribes, their lack of peace figures largely into my ideas.

Little is known of the small Parisi tribe, which hugged the eastern coast and surrounded a harbor, but there’s ample evidence to suggest that the tribe may have had links to the mainland, and may have moved into the area more recently than their nearest neighbors, the Brigantes. One of the largest and most powerful tribes in the north–their name being the word for “bright” or “of high station”–Brigantes settlements were organized, fortifications and villages had walls and deep traditions. When the Romans arrived, the Brigantes held their own against the incursion, halting it in its tracks for almost 50 years. Indeed they even allied with Rome for a time. For the Brigantes, having access to the harbor controlled by the Parisi might have been of benefit, but during the Roman push, it could also have been that the Brigantes were not interested in losing their eastern buffer against invasion from that side. For these reasons, it appears as if the peat bogs and cracked rocks of the moors became a kind of neutral ground, a difficult to traverse region of good faith between Parisi and Brigantes. The habitations that would have existed nearest to the Windy Pits were still quite far away, such that transporting people to and from it would have taken effort.

You may be asking yourself, gentle reader, how it is that 22 dead bodies ended up there, and you’d be right to wonder that. But come, let’s talk about these bodies and their grave.


The Windy Pits are narrow, awkward spaces plunging into the earth, the deepest of which–Slip Gill–is some 75 feet. They contain ledges and shelves, sheer drops and tunnel-like extensions. Air, trapped within and warmed by the earth blows out like breath. When the spelunkers sank into them 80 years ago, it was to find surfaces littered with tangles of bones–the remains of corpses dropped into the narrow openings, one atop the other. As said before, these bodies date from a narrow window of time (carbon dating is not more accurate, but the implication is that they could have died around the same time, or spanned about 100 years), and are not of any specific type. Men, women, and children are among their number, with various ultimate causes of death, though all appear to have suffered fatal injuries at the hands of another. Signs of stabbing, axe cuts, and peri-mortem mutilations or hobbling–indications the victims were disabled by forced breaks to the legs caused by heavy blunt force trauma–pale in comparison to what was found in more recent examination of the skulls. Telltale scraping marks around the craniums and along long bones indicate that many of the corpses were either scalped or defleshed in some way.

Anthropologists and archaologists have given their thoughts–that it was some sort of religious ritual akin to the bodies discovered in the peat bogs. They suggest that the skinning or defleshing of the victims was done because many groups apparently believed that a soul was not fully sent to the other side until the body was completely decomposed and the bones cleaned. They’ve implied that these rituals were considered somehow necessary to sustain reality or harvests or whatever, and that the whole event was some sort of spectacle–even going so far as to suggest that the victims were chosen beforehand and willing, or…that they were drugged. The lack of defensive wounds on the bodies seems to indicate that they were not fighting back, and had to somehow have been incapacitated. But if they were incapacitated, why then were they hobbled? Unlike Bog Bodies, no clothing, ropes, or weapons were found. A few small fragments pottery and tools were uncovered, but they were not enough to constitute a burial site. In fact, all sources agree that this is a highly unconventional and rare form of “deposition” or body disposal. Both the Brigantes and Parisi appear to have been in that area for many centuries. If this was such an ingrained tradition in their culture, why do the bodies only date from that narrow window of time and not hundreds of years in parallel to the period of habitation? How do historians know these traditions existed if no written records do? The Parisi tribe has merely the scantest of mentions by Ptolomy, and almost no interest from Roman historians, save Tacitus, and are so unknown as to have barely any mention in any text I can find. No one even knows where they came from or how they got their name. The Brigantes had much more contact with Romans and not a single such ritual was discussed by the Roman chroniclers. Thusly, I can see no reason why these assumptions are made, beyond trying to account for the evidence, missing some rather critical data, i.e. a resident cryptid.

For those of you who have read my published diaries, this situation might seem rather familiar to you. Warring tribes faced with the threat of betrayal and alliance with invaders…threats of civil war…the Roman traditions of “borrowing” the children of their enemies and educating and indoctrinating them into imperial ways, only to hand them back, creating spies and future saboteurs in the ranks. I put forth that, as was done with me in Teutoburg, the locals turned to someone who might have been able to help. Their ancestors came from the same regions of Germanic tribes, and perhaps they knew how to appeal to my species, befriend them, and tried to do this by feeding my cousin the bodies of their sacrifices. The Windy Pits are perhaps innavigable to Iron Age humans, but such a narrow chimney is easy to traverse for me and mine.

Perhaps that cousin of mine had been there for some time. Indeed, it’s possible that the moors were actually its territory, and that this was known by the locals. It’s even possible to imagine that this is the reason the land was such a buffer between these two tribes, and indeed the stalemate was bolstered by this impediment. These things are as reasonable as any other such idea I can see being put forth. Indeed, there are tales dating back as far as I can find of caves and fissures and mines in the area being inhabited by fairies, trolls, and so forth. Farther west is Janet’s Foss–a cave beneath a lovely waterfall in which a fairy named Janet or Jannet dwells. In the same region is “Jeanie” another “vengeful fairy” who gets rid of those who disturb her in her forest home. There is even a story of a giant’s treasure, a hoarde hidden beneath rocks. Those of you who’ve talked with me at all, know that I have some interest in the discovery of hoardes–or caches of wealth–containing coins and bits of gold and jewelry, and shiny baubs, all from disparate time periods, buried in the ground and left.

To me, with my knowledge of what I am, this seems most likely to be the lasting folklore impact of a cousin, who, if they no longer be there, have created a mythos so strong it still echoes today. A myth no one saw, in the murders of 22 people still unsolved.

Purgatory on Wheels

In honor of the 150th Anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, on which I worked, I would like to tell the story of how the famous celebration of the driving of the Gold Spike, almost didn’t happen. Historians bicker back and forth about why it almost didn’t happen—some say the weather, some disorganization, or rivalry between sides—but I was there. So to put the record straight, I will tell you a tale nearly erased from the archive of humanity’s furious ordering of nature. I will tell you about a con, a heist that left none the wiser, but nearly derailed the first Overland Express.

It begins on May 6th, 1869…


I love the sound of the clang, or perhaps better said, I used to. Its chief romantic attribute to my ear, is that in one sweeping arc, the whole of the world around me lights up in sudden harmonic brilliance, as every surface chimes. I can “see” for miles on the flat plains and mesas where danger is plenty, but in the canyons and cuts, it’s blessedly numbing. After five years, however, I realize I’ve become deaf to the men beside me. I barely even smell them now, which is a feat, since when I take the time to think about it, I recall that the most washed among them hasn’t even swam in the river for nearly three months. My thoughts have been hammered flat and twisted into this shape, and I find I no longer think about much of anything, anymore. I enter a trance, and the work does itself while I watch.

Our foreman gives a shout. We line up. Out go the rails, onto the ties, down go the rails, in go the spikes, down come the hammers, three strikes each. And on and on, in this monotonous dance that I can now do in my sleep, and have done, several times. Work so long and backbreaking, in conditions so treacherous, that it literally squeezes every last ounce of life out of a man. For me, it’s the stamina required that puts me to the grindstone. I can hurl a man across a room, but ask me to do it all day long, and you’d better let me eat him.

Is there any wonder the Union Pacific has a difficult time keeping mules? I have to eat something when I’m at end-of-tracks and the boys are being civil.

Today, we push hard, perhaps more ferociously than ever before. Yesterday they said the Chinese put down six more miles of track and it was only a week ago that they laid the record-breaking ten in a day. We’ve done nearly that. Perhaps. I reckon so, though there was no reporter there to say it. But there is no way in hell that Union Pacific will lose. Human pride is at risk, and if there is anyone on this earth who knows what that will mean, it is I.

We’ve done at least three today, I’m sure. At least three miles. We will have the station rights easily by Sunday.

There’s a sudden bark of command. Heads turn and all work grinds to a halt. Like the machine that our crew has become, the hammers choke up in mid-swing. Gazes clear of fog and sharpen for the next instruction. A small cloud of ochre Utah soil settles in the air, smelling of salt.

“Conroy, off!”

I fall out of my daydream and back off the ties. I am dusted head to toe, and my ears still hum. A man in a straw hat waves me to follow him. I give Foreman Hardly a questioning look, but he replaces me with a grunt, and I am instantly forgotten.

“General Jack wants a talk.”

Of course he does. I’m never pulled from a work crew unless a Casement brother wants to talk with me. It’s been that way for damn near twenty years, ever since Jack was my foreman on the CCO, and I demonstrated my strength, accuracy, and focus. I surmise it will be that way for precisely the next two days. On the 8th, when that last rail tie is in, that last shiny spike driven, and two coasts entangled in all the pageantry of a self-congratulatory species, I will finally be free of the Casement Crew.

I should feel pleased with the notion of moving on, of finally finding a territory after so many years of moving twixt them, waiting for my cousins to pop out of the ground like centipedes. I am not. The work may be downright dangerous and grueling, but I have always thrived in great constructions. I like to build, because I can remember what it was like before, and though I don’t show precisely what I am, I demonstrate who I am when I have tools in hand and a goal to obtain.

The man takes in my silence and seems surprised. “You kill someone?”

I smile obligingly. It is a bit odd. I had thought him in Echo or over at the hurried excavation of Carmichael’s cut, but those distances are easy to manage with a train engine in one’s pocket.

I’m briskly offloaded near several wagons. A pile of dirt shields us from the wind which is unusually cold for the season. Jack looks like a Cossack in his hat and stiff stance. There is not the slightest trace of humor in his face and his round blue eyes are squinting as they do when he is watching a slow crew recovering from their drinking first thing in the morning.

As soon as he marks me, he shoves a piece of paper to my chest. I glance over the telegram, at once annoyed. “An incident”? A ransom demand isn’t an incident, it’s a crime. The telegram is out of Echo City from General Grenville Dodge, the Chief Engineer himself, so it must indeed be quite serious. When I turn a questioning glare onto Jack, he shakes his head.

“Durant has gotten himself into a bad box.”

I pull a face. When, in the last five years, has that man not been a thorn in anyone’s side? Now he gets himself kidnapped? I’m not supposed to know what I do, but whenever Thomas Durant inspects “his great efforts”, I spend my leisure sitting atop the Palace Cars as they play host to massive quarrels.

“We don’t know how many men Davis has, but they somehow took him from the train. Now they want money they say they’re owed. This close to the ceremony, with track still to be lain? If word got to the newspapers…”

All in a single sigh, my plans for the next few days disintegrate. So much for seeing this grand affair through. So much for my claim to part of history. Before he says it, I know what he is going to ask.

“Boston wants someone to ensure the transaction goes according to Hoyle. Demands go out by telegram. Which…well, you know you always know when there’s a flash. I told Dodge to call the troops, You just have to sit there and report back—an advance scout. Pete…you’re the best man I can put on this.”

It’s a perfect arrangement for him. If Doc Durant has been kidnapped by a mob audacious and brazen enough to hijack a train on its way to one of the most important events in the history of the country, I’m precisely the person to send, but it’s not as if I’ve been obvious about that fact. He knows I steered clear of the war, unlike him, even though he’s seen me scrap in the tent a time or two. All he ought to know of me is that I have a knack for sensing trouble, I can handle myself, I never tire, and I am fearless. But as I stand there looking at him, I realize my most important trait, is that I can’t give interviews.

I cock my head with a wry look.

“Keep an eye on things.” He strokes his great beard. “And you know…if you run afoul of the cantankerous fool who gave the orders, throw a fist at his ivory. I know you can do that.”

My visage is stoic and still. The longer I stare, the more he withers. He is my employer and he’s accustomed to demanding action from me, but this is above and beyond and he knows it. When it was natives scalping our graders, I went willingly. When they derailed our cars and snipped the telegraph lines only I could hear, I was first on the engine, But this is a mob of disgruntled workers wanting pay that is righteously owed them. And if there are more than fifty, I might not return. Even if there are only five, Piedmont is a hundred miles away! The road is clogged with trains coming west for the festivities, not rolling backward, and the only horse I ride is an iron one, something Casement damn well knows.

“In the Lord’s name, I’m merely asking you to be a witness! We have no one out there. All the crews are at the Cut, or here.” He holds his hands out to me as if to lift up my weighty thoughts. “I will give you five dollars for it. You can roll back on the next exchange to Bitter Creek.”

I would have made five dollars already by the time I can get there and back, and by then I will have missed the ceremony in less than two days time. I narrow my eyes.

“Seven dollars, then. And usual pay.”

I run the tip of my tongue over my teeth, kept secret behind habitually pursed lips. A fourth of a month’s pay in a few days, to sit on my haunches in the dirt and watch a man I despise get his spokes kicked in by Mormons? I look up to the the ridge, swarming with workmen. Behind it, the sun is setting in brilliant shades. The wind is picking up and I can feel the whisper of moisture as I contemplate.

The ceremony is once in a lifetime, and for what it will mean, it is once in my existence. I have waited centuries to see such progress, I have pushed myself to breaking for this artery, I have seen good men die and bad men prosper just to what? Miss this?

It’s unthinkable.

“Pete, there are other people in the car. Duff. You like him?”

Not especially. The only people I like out of the whole lot of flannel-mouthed cockroaches are this man and his brother. Then again, I don’t have to like management. I merely have to finish the job.

“Pete. How long have I known you?”

I take a deep breath and consider that in this case, while it has been a long while, it is not the amount of time, so much as the thoroughness of acquaintance that matters. I have known him since before he met the wife he has abandoned for the blistering heat and snow drifts. I have known him since before the birth of his sons. I have turned a blind eye when he aired his paunch after a night in his cups. I have lain awake at night and listened to his private confidences with his brother, reminiscing on their childhood, his time in the war, his disgust for the very man he wants me to go look after. I know him far better than he will ever know me.

I cross my arms.

“Ten dollars, you smock-faced screw. Don’t push me anymore or I’ll take seven over to Hamish and get him to do it.”

Eyes latched to the heavens, I manage something of a pained shrug. I am going to regret this. I am. But the little crow tracks around his eyes have returned and he is shoving me along to the supply tent. I have known him for two decades. If a glorious machine means more than the trust of a man, then civility and society are going to hell on rails.


The weather turns ugly before I am even ready to board the engine. Clouds roll and the moon shimmers in a malevolent way whenever it makes an appearance. The smell of metal and petrichor laced with that pungent odor that has been following us since the Red Desert clings to the atmosphere. I have seen some truly spectacular storms since we pushed into Wyoming, and this has all the hallmarks of a good one. Without fail, the rain drops out of the sky in a torrent as soon as we push loose.

The town of Ogden has already changed more than the Mormons might like. When we first arrived here, it was a gathering of ranches with a street of a few low buildings for supplies. We descended on it like a Biblical plague foretold by their profit, and the poor country folk are still going through the pain and suffering of acclimating to his investments. Even in the monsoon, I can see a few more log buildings, a station house going up, footings for rail yard hotels—it’ll be a bustling dust hole by the end of the year, overflowing with travelers who might like the notion of having a few wives, but aren’t so keen on giving up their tongue oil.

I won’t spend much time worrying over the fate of the place. I want out of Utah as fast as the railroad will get me gone.

As soon as we crossed the border into the territory, the Mormons surrounded us and demanded a share. Ties are always a problem—can’t lay track if we’ve got no wood to put them on, and out on the desert flats, there aren’t sticks for miles. Reed, chief of operations and supplies, would have shipped them from Chicago, Missouri—hell, he would rather have asked Satan himself than deal with Brigham Young, but Durant struck his bargain. Ties were always a problem, and so even though the arrangement was probably a bad one, no one said no. Soon, there we were, having to listen to sermonizing while we just wanted to drink our juice and gamble away our dollar.

My eyes have been shined to trickery since my earliest days. I know a liar and a cheat when I meet them, and there’s not a single way anyone can talk about Joseph Smith and his supposed revelation without me squinting at them until I can’t see straight—which turns out to be the best way to look at them. Brigham Young may wander up and down the line like he owns it, but I shan’t be kowtowing to him any time soon. None of the old hand road workers will, and it bothers the dickens out of the posse that follows him around like he’s the pope.

My weatherall is an instant seal skin as I lean out of the engine. A poor telegrapher is huddled beside the track, arm raised as if to hand off a flag, though he drips. A crack of lightning flashes on his somber face. The driver draws back and the engine crawls to a halt.

“Fucken ‘ell,” he mutters.

The drowned rat hops aboard and shakes out his hat. “Can’t roll back. Just got word. Devil’s Gate’s awash.”

In annoyance, but not an ounce of disbelief, I rock back on my heels and drop the coal shovel. That bridge looks like it was built by a giant, particularly shoddy spider. Not the same drunken arachnid who crafted the dizzying Dale Creek trestle, but perhaps her idiot cousin. And if anything is going to further muck up my plans, it would be that rickety stretch of scaffold. This means I’ve no easy way to Piedmont and I’m only at the fifty mile mark. Then again, it also means that the festivities will be missing half the participants. With a break in the line that severe, there will be no way it can go as planned. They’ll have to postpone, surely.

The engineer makes a series of disgruntled faces. “They want me to wait or go to end?”

“Back. No point in making a run. General Jack says the trestle crew will take it once the rain stops.”

He looks at me. I shake my head.

“Well mate, looks like you’re unlucky.”

“Where you headed?” The telegrapher stares out over the crackling wasteland. “Look at all this. Looks like it will wash the track off the world. You can’t go anywhere in this.”

With a deep breath, I grab my portmantle. Kidnappers don’t care about weather, as I hear it, but at least the company can now tell the papers that it was the bridge that made things difficult. These men might see the storm as a curse, but if they knew what was going on, they’d be relieved.

The telegrapher watches me with growing surprise. “You’re going out in it? Really? You know it turns to a mud suck, eh?”

The engineer rolls his head on his shoulders. “Stubborn.”

I shrug as I hop down.

Instantly a wall of water collides with me as if I’ve jumped into a waterfall. It’s cold as ice, but I’m not much bothered by that. Within only a few minutes of walking along the tracks, I have washed down my mind. This is the first bath I’ve had in months and by god or devil, I will enjoy it. This is a monstrous night, so it’s the monster who prevails, not the man.

I move at a trot and as soon as I’m out of sight of the town, I strip my worn boots and shove them into my bag. The hat joins them. I choke down an ancient chunk of dried human flesh and break for the hills ahead.

Using the rail as a path is easy enough, but the ties are uneven, barely planed log halves that jut from the dirt at angles that make tripping a hazard. Wind shoves me sideways any time I try to move with any grace. In a flat space that drops away from the track like a shallow bowl, the level grade has formed a dam and pools of water lap at either side, milky with clay. As the thunder slams the heavens again and again, my way is lit with vivid white arcs. Serviceberry bushes and scrub lay flat. The rain hangs in the air like curtains of glass beads that flicker in each strike of white.

Then, as suddenly as it all began, it sweeps aside as if God decided to take a peek at all the nonsense. Just as I reach Wilhelmina Pass and cross the Thousand Mile Tree, all falls silent. I stop briefly, leaning against the lone, scrabbly pine. I can already hear the sounds of humans echoing off the smooth surfaces of Devil’s Slide. In the gorge, the spindle remains of the bridge are a sight. I knew it was in a sorry state from melting snow tracking down to the riverbed, but the rain had only made things worse. One entire segment of rigging has been broken apart and lies scattered in the newly formed rapids. On the other side of the gap sits an idle engine, lanterns ablaze. A few UP workers have exited the train and are standing about, looking on the scene with mingled impatience and dismay. They don’t know the half of it.

They can return to their car and relax out of the damp, I have to find some way to cross this river and keep moving. I know this land well. While we were putting track down, I wandered up and down this canyon. I can see Weber River has swollen its banks and swallowed the valley to my right. There is going to be no easier way than the Gate.

It’s a damn good thing I’m indestructible.

Looping the strap of my pack double over my torso, I take a few cautious steps out onto the trusses. I can instantly feel the creak and sway of the structure in the high wind, but it’s by no means the most dangerous thing on which I’ve balanced. If I move swiftly, I can dash over this and take the leap easily like a cat going somewhere to happen. The real trouble is, I will have witnesses.

An engine barely surviving an attack, a terrific storm, a bridge with a dark name, a lone figure? It has all the makings of a horrifying ghost story, and frankly, the crew could likely use the excitement. It isn’t as if they’ll ever recognize me. And if they do, they’ll never say a thing, assuming they can hold in their piss. One thing I’ve learned in the last fifty years is, if one has to be a ghost tale, one should do it right. In that way, the true devil avoids recognition by distracting man with details.

As I reach the midpoint, a spectacular bolt lights up every last crevasse of Weber Canyon as bright as day. The engineer, standing just at the other side of bridge, espies me. In the black that settles heavily over us, his frantic waves of warning would be invisible to most men, but I watch them with something like amusement. He turns, racing to the engine to fetch a lamp he can use to signal me that the bridge is out. In those brief moments, I kick ties into a run. One stringer reaches straight into the air of the divide. I bound right out onto it and spring off. Wood, soaked as a sponge, shrieks with grinding fibers as the force of my jump presses downward. I have but an instant to second-guess this action, but my arc is good. I come down directly into the open angle of common braces, nested as if sitting in the Devil’s own crooked elbow. With only a few slips along the damaged planks, I claw my way back up to the end floor beam and nearly collide with the engineer as he skids to the precipice.

He lets out a yelp of astonishment as I stand up to full height. For a breath only, we are locked in a stare. His mouth hangs open and he shudders. This is a good joke—materializing suddenly before him when a few seconds before, I was on the other side of a dangerous chasm—but I haven’t the time to play at fairy tales.

“You the engine that was stopped out of Piedmont?”

In the glare of the lamp, my teeth must be striking. Suddenly, he thinks better of blocking my way. Skittering aside, he trips on the slippery ties. I catch his arm and haul him back upright. Instantly, he pulls free and stands with his limbs drawn in.


“It was only the one car, correct?”

He nods, looking downright waxy in the yellow light.

I unravel the strap of my pack. “Bunk for the night. There’ll be no crossing for a few days.”

His gaze slides down the length of me like my watershed, settling on my bare and hideous feet.

“What the—”

“Devil?” I cannot help but grin. “You ever read Ezekiel, my friend?”

For the first, he registers disbelief over outright mortal fear. “You one of those Mormons?”

I snort. “Not hardly. Just making an argument.”

He flinches as I move swiftly, but follows beside me toward the train. “What argument?”

“How can anyone read about the seraphim and get an impression of fluffy wings and beauteous faces? Angels are downright ghastly, if you ask me.”

He contemplates my somewhat remarkable appearance in silence, trotting behind me as I walk the full length of the train. The sky growls impatiently, and I know that it’s about to open up once more.

“Durant’s car?”

He points to the last coupling in front of the caboose.

“Just before the parlor?” I wonder aloud.

“No cargo. He insisted.”

I look back at him in astonishment. “What did the ox say?”

The man shrugs, but his face is still a mask of uncertainty. He has yet to ask who I am or how I know about any of this. “It’s Doc. What’s any conductor gonna say?”


He shakes his head.

It’s rare to see a palace car capped off by the caboose and even stranger for Durant to request the back of the train.

“How’d it happen?”

“There was a pile of wood on the track. Hundreds of men. Shot right at me. Then they swarmed, and in less than a few winks, a man jumped on board and told me to get.”

“What did they do with his car?”

“Put it in the hole and then reattached the caboose.”

My frown is contagious. “That fast?”

“Knew what they were doing, I suppose. We dropped word at Evanston.”

“Where were you when they stopped you?”


This is madness. The kidnappers knew when to expect Durant’s train, when even I had no idea Durant was anywhere nearby. Within a quick horse ride from Fort Bridger, but not a soul detects an armed mob of hundreds? This doesn’t have the ring of a labor dispute. This is something else entirely.

I don’t have time for mysteries.

In a flare of temper, I let out a grunt and turn back to the tracks. I am thirty feet past the caboose before the engineer realizes I am leaving, and that he should stop following me.

“Where you going?”

I halt and look back on him menacingly. “To witness man’s supreme lunacy.”

His chin twitches side to side with utter confusion as he swings the lantern around. “So you’re a reporter?”

I suck in a hiss.

“A lawman?” He shouts at my back as I turn to go. When I do not reply, he clucks his tongue and stutters. “Well…hell man…an angel then.”

With that serendipitous timing that so graciously accompanies much of my life, the sky tears apart at just that instant, and a curtain of precipitation divides us.


I walk through the night in the downpour, but even with a few shortcuts to turn curves into straightaways, I have only covered about half the distance by the time dawn breaks. I stop and make short work of my next meal. May the seventh is going to be miserable, I can tell.

I well and truly hope one of these bastards tries to shoot me. I could use a good row. I’ve learned the limits of my ability to keep hold of my mind, and every day I press my face to them and try to see beyond. This turns almost every moment I am not on the line, into a kind of mathematical obsession. Will I break now? How much longer? And then there is the constant hunger, a deep and painful ache at the back of my mind. I lose it on the work line, but regain it upon stepping off. Out in this desolate terrain, there’s no business to keep me from thinking about it. I am never really lonely, I daresay, but when I am driven to keep my own company without regard for others, terrible things tend to happen.

I walk all through the day, at a much slower pace now that I know the whole celebration is likely to be a ridiculously halfhearted affair, if it happens at all. I catch myself chuckling when I contemplate what would happen if no one waited for Durant to show up.

Showers come and go—nothing so terrible as that first downpour, but enough to drive anyone who might have been out in the countryside, indoors. The air is clean of dirt for once and blooms with green. The alkali of Wyoming is as silken as corn flour and sticks to everything. It burns human skin and stains me a coppery gold. When I worked this ground only months ago, I looked like a statuette almost daily, and for the first time, developed a cough. Any rain then, was a blessing for the body, but a curse for the rail. A thick quagmire forms around the base of every structure and the sucking pressure changes make quick work of railroad ties. Flash floods are a threat. Repair crews will have to backtrack for weeks afterward, shoring up the line and making it fit for all the travel it’s bound to get.

About mid-day, I am passed by another train. It carries several of the sort of work crew cars we use to haul and house our men. These must be Eicholtz’s boys coming up from Bitter Creek to have a go at the bridge. Every man, through every window, seems like they are half asleep or damn near dead, but good on them. At least they’re not walking into an ambush to look after a bastard.

I wish them luck with a shake of my head.

At Evanston, I send a telegram to Casement down at end-of-tracks and inform him that I’m about to hit my destination. To my surprise, word slings back almost immediately that Casement is not at Promontory Ridge, but Devil’s Slide, seeing to the bridge. If so, then he will know I’ve made it by now.

Trouble is, what to do?

If I’m honest with myself, I cannot decide. I am fundamentally a lazy creature and the walking, while continuous, has been rather relaxing compared to the usual daily grind of working the line. This is something of a holiday. I have half a mind to do as little as possibly. I’m only a witness, after all.

I run off the track and out into the countryside on the south side of Byrne’s ranch. A low ridge gives me a fine vantage point on the water tower and mercantile.

Durant’s Pullman car isn’t difficult to locate. Almost exactly where the engineer said it would be, it sits on a side track. Looking at the situation from a distance, it seems rather strange to me. If I were to turn bandit and unlawfully board a train with the intent to cause harm, I’d do it directly between cities, and nowhere near a fort. But when I think about the tracks and how they’re arranged, this strange situation makes a kind of sense. This is the only side track for miles. They not only had to know when to expect Doc’s train, they had to find the opportune location to use, and they found it just before Piedmont, where our old supply cars used to sit as the main track squeaked with work crews.

Around the track, back toward the coal kilns and tiny outcropping of wooden buildings, some newer, smaller tents have appeared—a makeshift camp like a tinier Hell on Wheels. Purgatory on Wheels, perhaps. Durant might think so, if they’re being unkind. The telegraph shed appears to have the most men around it, which makes a fair bit of sense if they’re going to flash their demands to Boston or General Dodge.

There again is another queer fact. How did they know to telegraph Echo City? So far as I know, none of the men I work with—as cootie-ridden and filthy as they are—have any idea as to where the chief engineer is at any one time. So how did Davis’ men know to look for him in Echo?

I get close enough to listen to all of it and secure my pack behind some rocks. Lying in the sylvan afternoon sun as it stretches like a dull blanket, I stare up at the gray, my face damp with drizzle and stuck with mud. The ground is moist, and in arid regions, that means it is suddenly alive with activity. I have to push my mind into that earth, feel for the things within it, make peace with them first—or in this case, remind them I exist and that we have known each other for a stretch.

When I have it in my mind’s eye and can imagine the lay of it, I can shut it out completely, and work toward finding Durant among the human chaos.

At first, I grasp for the most obvious sounds of shouting, or machinery, or clinking glass, and then divide it. An indistinct sound is suddenly teased forward, and I can make sense of it. Conversations with many participants are easily located, but to mince them into words is sometimes tedious. The longer I listen, the better I can do with any group. It’s especially easy to do, if I already know what a man sounds like. Unfortunately, I know Doc’s voice all too well.

He’s a gregarious man, given to soliloquy, to carrying a day with charisma, to boffin, to general exaggeration of the slick sort. I’m very much perturbed by him, but it’s a woolly sensation without specific cause, creating a slight vibration in the back of my shoulders and oozing down into my heels like swamp slime. When he greets workers, it’s as a fabulous show, and when he orders them around, it’s like as if counting his money has afflicted him with a forgetfulness that the war is over and that certain inalienable rights have been confirmed for all men. Because I am as invasive as Old Scratch, I also know things I shouldn’t about how everyone else feels regarding him, which does nothing to improve my sentiments. I know he is a thief, a liar, and while he may drum up funding for the road, I have serious questions regarding how honestly he goes about that.

Waiting for him to sing out amidst the chorus of masculine voices is no enjoyable experience. The rain keeps on until every inch of me is splattered with sticky mud. The wind picks up again. A few animals noises near to me, momentarily divide my focus, but for the most part, I lie as if I’ve been painting my nose for the last three days, breathing slowly if at all, frowning a bit, my scalp itching with the movement of my wriggling hairs.

I’ve never been spotted doing this, but surmise that if I were to be happened upon by humans, they’d think me a corpse, so still do I go and so generally corpse-like is my skin sack. Time ceases to matter. I know that it has passed only by the feeling of the ground, the resonance of the earth and all its teaming masses, inching through it, crawling over it, burrowing within it. When at last Durant speaks, it’s to mumble something to himself. Instantly I am with him, though I realize as I follow, that I’d rather not be.

In fact, I again wish I’d never agreed to do any of this at all.

I open my eyes. The sky is patchy gray, but glowing incandescently with saturated sunlight. The stars came and went wrapped up in cottony clouds. I have passed the entire night in stillness, but have not a single ounce of rest for it.

A distinctive tickle across my face and neck alerts me that I’ve struck a one-sided accord with a tribe of harvester ants, moving over me on their path to higher ground. I should have expected this. It seems to me that bugs enjoy my company when I am calm, though they think better of it when I awaken. They’ve turned my pack and its contents into a way station and seem focused on a tiny cloth sack of nuts. Upon my first movements, the hive reacts in a series of stunned stings. I detach from Durant for a few minutes, to shake the intruders out of my clothes and punish them for the transgression. I’ve gotten good at dealing with them, such that it only takes a few well placed thoughts to convince them to leave me alone. Something about my general aspect puts them off their plans to turn me into a cozy home. This doesn’t detract from the aggravation of the interaction, however.

I send a few flying with a good puff through my nose. A buzzing and sting in my ears alerts me that there are tiny inhabitants looking for a way out by trying to dig inward. I’m chow for the few moments before I can cup enough water from the ground to drown them completely. Sopping wet though I am, I find myself praying for a downpour just to rinse out all my crevasses of crawling contamination.

Ten dollars.

I get ten dollars for this. When I return to Promontory, I am going to eat Jack Casement, and before I do, I am going to lecture him on the fact that I’ve known him to the very end of his miserable, pestilent life. And after I do, I’m going to track down his brother Dan and eat him. And those are the people I like. Once finished with them, I’m going to find the inventor of the railroad and I am going to dig up his corpse and gnaw on it.

I leave the pack of insects where it is. There’s nothing in it I care about very much. I gave up possessions when I left New York. Everything I need is either on my person or in a bank vault in Ohio.

At the camp of merry men, they mill about in their early morning habits, but notice the curious lack of guards patrolling against incursion by either white soldiers or Ute natives. If I wanted to, I could probably get quite close before anyone noticed. Perhaps even pick off a straggler from the herd and improve my disposition.

Durant, however, is remarkably chipper. He readies himself with a cup of tea and chats with a bewildered and exhausted Duff as if nothing is amiss. When his captors come to drag him back to the telegraph office, he makes a show of being offended, but as soon as he’s out of the Pullman, strikes up an amiable conversation. I can understand wanting one’s kidnappers to be accommodating, but this is odd.

For one, Davis seems far too relaxed, as yet another fully loaded passenger train rolls through and is waved on. In an empty coal car, soldiers are crowded, all smiles and shouts. The miscreant makes not the slightest sound of caring, even though the train’s occupants are likely to find out as soon as they hit the clot at Devil’s Slide, that there’s a difficulty tangled up behind it too. Without a note of worry to his voice, Davis dictates several telegrams for various higher-ups in the UP and before long, has gotten into a game of Euchre with Durant, something Mormons aren’t normally supposed to do, by my reckoning.

My scowl becomes a permanent fixture on my face.

I’ll be damned if that bastard isn’t laughing in captivity. This is not the nervous, somewhat uncertain chuckle of a desperate inmate. This is a full, hearty, joyful laugh. A dark notion begins to form in my mind. I give it plenty of comfortable space and let it settle there as I ponder. Finally, as the dusk begins to creep upon us, I hear what I’ve been waiting for.

The telegraph lines sing with life and then stop. One of the operators in the shack dictates a message indicating that the UP cannot furnish the full amount of two-hundred-fifty-thousand, but is willing to send eighty now, and the rest after the celebration has finally commenced on May the tenth.

To my increasing chagrin, Durant chuckles. “So they did put it off, then? Well, look here, gentlemen! It seems I am able to have your excellent company and still make the festivities!”

“You’ll pardon me for saying it, but that is not the agreed upon amount,” someone replies.

“It’s a third.”

“A third ain’t all.”

Durant makes a noise of dismissal. I can just see his smug grin as he summons his usual boisterous tone. “Come now. I know Ames. Send another. Tell them you’ve got a man from the Deseret here to write a story and that if he doesn’t pay you at least half, you’ll tell the papers how you’ve been wronged at once. It’ll be in San Francisco before they can telegraph about the spike. After the road begins running passengers, the rest of your money is sure to follow. We never thought we we’d get it all.”

This snaps me out of my usual trance. Perched on the rock with my arms crossed, I can feel every inch of skin as it is caressed by the gentle rain and glare at the town with an increasing sense of disgust.

I have no idea what sort of larceny I am witnessing, but sure as shit, this ain’t no hostage situation. This is some sort of set-up, and I’d bet my left arm that Durant is governing it.

What a god damed bastard!

Fifty miles through mud and muck, running low on supplies that are now the claim of a horde of buzzing creepers, made the agent of men’s folly rather than a great builder of industrial wonders! Omaha to Promontory, through deserts and barren plains, fighting natives and the elements, sitting atop a railcar with the tingling paranoia of the prospect of encounter a member of my own kind! Saloon brawls, the stink of humanity, the constant wear of being forced to listen to them bicker. One thousand miles of work…for nothing. All to sit here and conscience this scoundrel continue to cheat others with the newest technology.

I’d sooner kill everyone and leave a ghost town in my wake. I’ve done it before! I could easily do it again with a little stealth. Take the first tent silently, sneak to another. It’s a warren down there, which means none of them can keep each other in sight. I’d get in some damn fine eating.

Of course, those less-civilized activities of mine become fodder for further warring with the Indians. Settlers are always on the alert, and these men are especially trigger happy. Brigham Young has hordes of worshippers scouring the countryside to cleanse the desert of natives. If I leave a pile of bodies, there will be an instant and unjust reply.

I cannot bear to see any more of that. I came to this land expecting to help build a place that let everyone follow their own stars, but for a century, it’s been nothing but an exercise in doubling down on petty differences, social inequity, and abject villainy. I am raw with a sense of futility. I need to get away from this type of life, or I will most certainly fall back into old patterns.

That should not happen. Progress, always!

No, there is nothing ethical to be done. No Angel’s flight, no Devil’s dance. I have to sit here in the sludge and witness.

But…I could sneak into the camp and see if there’s anything good to steal. A new pack or hat, perhaps? Stealing from a thief is noble, as the saddle bums and boomers tell me. Then again, they aren’t known for an honest day’s work and I can’t figure as they’d know anything about stealing from a thief who is themself in the act of stealing from a thief. Morality is like blood—it may be thick when it’s in the family, but once a rascal cuts you, it thins out a bit.

Why not? Union Pacific pays me to lay track, not be a saint. And even if they did pay me for my angels, they’re compensating Durant twenty-fold to be an indecent malefactor while they feed me lumps of stale bread and rancid Irish stew.

Indeed. Sounds like capitalism to me.


Early afternoon on the ninth, the negotiations seem to have come to a close. After what sounds to my ear like a tentative offer of half now and half immediately after the commencement of railroad services, management suddenly finds the full amount. This, of course, pleases the Mormon marauders immensely and they accept the offer at once.

I don’t know much about the practices of how the Union Pacific obtains funding. There were times all work had to stop, even when we seemed to have supplies, rumor had it because certain people needed paying. I’ve overheard several arguments between higher-ups visiting the end-of-tracks over how to shore up costs, but that experience isn’t enough to inform me. I can only presume that some wealthy parties have decided to put up the money in exchange for bonds or some sort of security. Once the ceremony is had, without certain important parties missing or any kind of scandal, the road can begin churning out the funds to replace the investment, if indeed that is the arrangement.

I don’t much care. I pick up bits and pieces of the conversation as I creep between tents and cabins, eating anything that’s sitting out and liberating all the valuables I can find in this wretched stop-over. I’ve picked up a few trinkets, a new bag, some money stored in a tin, some gold and silver in a sack beneath a stone. I’ve only encountered a few humans of the large group, and they don’t seem to be overly concerned with me.

For a pack of robbers, they’re either exceptionally naive, or they don’t expect any trouble and are overconfident. Difficult to divide the two, really.

A bull of a wood-fueled engine is allowed to come fetch the Pullman. I make my way out of town and southwest toward the tracks, watching as Durant is escorted to his comfortable car. He tugs on his lapels and smiles, takes hold of the rail to climb aboard, and then gives his kidnapper a conspiratorial bow.

“Well, gentlemen, we’re off.”

I hear no answer.

“Tell Mr. Young that I’d be happy to correspond and I’m glad we could come to a satisfactory conclusion.”

I’ve had enough of this farce. The celebration awaits. If I’m to make it back to Promontory, my only choice is to hitch onto the engine. I don’t recognize the driver and Davis’ men seem to have swarmed around the locomotive like the ants. I’m going to have to run ahead, but not so far that it has time to build up speed. Not a terribly difficult calculation and one I’ve made countless times with the work trains.

Running my fastest, as they line up and connect the Pullman, I get about a mile and a half up the rails before the driver lets her go. In the sound of the pistons and wheels, I lose any human words that might be spoken, and instead turn my attention to not ending up cut in half. As the train approaches, the natural urge is to run alongside and try to catch hold, but I have a different method. I wait for it to get almost upon me, then switch directions completely, racing directly for the cowcatcher. Just before our paths intersect, I give a bit of a perpendicular jump, and usually make a fairly ungraceful, but effective landing. This time, I end up on my backside in the tender, which is rather an uncomfortable experience. I sit up and pop a few bones back into place with a grunt. The fireman stares up at me open-mouthed, tiny hatchet in hand, and really I cannot blame him. I have dropped out of the sky with a hard fall, am the same color as the dirt, and am still not wearing my boots.

“What the hell?” He mouths as I wriggle off the heap and onto my feet beside him. The hatchet comes up, but he isn’t a fighting man, and when I put my hands in the air and give a tight-lipped smile, he demurs.

The driver glances back briefly, catches sight of me, and damn near stops the train dead, but I already have my paperwork out of my pocket—a signed note from the boss, vouching for my friendliness. I wave it a bit, until the fireman snatches it from me and passes it off with a crab walk. Both men are tense from the stress of a potentially violent encounter with kidnappers, and are visibly relieved to find I have Casement’s seal of approval.

I’m waved into a tiny space at the mouth of the tender and lean against the cab wall. The engineer is pushing it, obviously wanting to get the hell out of danger and to Promontory as fast as possible. I’ve been out of communication for a bit, and it seems to me that it would be impossible to get Devil’s Gate reopened in so short a time.

We begin to slow, coming into Echo City. While I put on my boots and stand around generally useless, train cars are hurriedly shuffled. Boxes that have been stacked up and waiting for transport across the divide are moved back into position. The Durant Special is coupled back together with several additions and honored guests.

From my lookout atop the tender, I catch sight of a party of men in black suits and overcoats as they climb aboard Durant’s palace car. One of them wears a papakha hat of black fur.

I cannot help but grin in surprise. If Jack Casement is on this side of the Gate, then the bridge has been mended somehow, a feat I cannot imagine of anyone but Eicholtz’s team. Three days to repair that thing seems miraculous and I wonder if it’s a temporary fix. It would have to be, because most of that time was probably spent sourcing the materials to even attempt to fix the damn thing.

I wonder if Jack wanted my report before or after we reach the summit, but decide that regardless of what would make him comfortable, I plan to be completely unavailable for any sort of labor once the festivities begin. I plan to present my resignation, as it were. Besides, Durant shouldn’t go to that great historical occasion like peacock in all his egotistical finery. He deserves to regret, and if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s making men rue the day.

Slipping off the tender, I give the newly ensconced conductor my note and board a passenger car. It’s not the fancy sort, and I am so covered in muck and debris that it’s obvious I am not on board for a scenic tour. No point in hiding it then, I reckon. While they laugh and carry on in a generally festive manner, despite their delay in Echo, I meander through the cars. Some are furnished with food and drink, and when I take up a space beside a spread, people are so put off by my appearance, that they move out of my way with apprehension.

Coming up to Weber Canyon, the whole train gutters to a halt. Grinning like a fool, I know why we’ve halted and poke my head out to see what came of the bridge. The crew has hopped off and is standing at the brink of the divide, conferring with what I presume to be Eisholtz’ engineers. It isn’t long before the Conductor moves down the train with some news that, to me, is the absolute cream atop this obnoxious situation and proof that if there is a god in this New Zion, he enjoys watching me struggle—the bridge may be whole again, but there is no way this engine can safely cross. It’s simply too heavy. A strange and frankly foolish plan has therefore been concocted, and is being communicated with steely calm: the train is once again going to be dismantled, and each car positioned before the engine, then nudged across the gap to hopefully coast to safety. Once this is done, another engine will backtrack from Ogden to fetch the train and take it on to Promontory.

Hearing this, I let out an inelegant snort and immediately offboard. I may have built this thing, but there’s no way in hell I’m going to do that, when I have absolutely no real blockades to my safe advancement. Passengers cast dubious looks my way out the windows, when they see me shaking my head in mirth, but not a one of them follows my example. I’m not surprised. This age of Industry has built an unfounded trust in most men of the technology they wield, when any fool knows that whether or not one knows how to use a sword, the end is still sharp and ought to be treated with caution.

Seems like today, I might also get to witness a spectacular derailment.

As one of the few Union Pacific linemen in the vicinity—and one with a very dark and wicked sense of humor—I take it upon myself to trot over to the ox and get my marching orders. If men need to be helped to the hereafter, I might as well oblige them.

After the locomotive has backed the train to the branching in the tracks, it is decoupled and pulls onto the sidetrack. I step into place alongside the first passenger car, and with the old heave-to, we send the it coasting along the rails into place. The engine backs out onto the main track and nudges the cowcatcher against the rear of the car.

The driver is pale as driven snow and it doesn’t help that Eicholtz and his men are crossing themselves while they look on helplessly. This maneuver will take a deft hand, as the train must pick up enough momentum to send the car sailing across, but still stop before hitting the bridge. It’s going to have to burn hot and pray to whatever saints protect brakemen.

The engine chugs back into life with a whistle and starts off the line like a runner. There’s a loud clank as it collides with the car and carries on after it. A few seconds later, they throw the brakes and creep to a halt, while the box carries on, drifting perilously out onto the newly hoisted truss like its about to ride a tightrope in full wind. I expect it to shimmy out, cause the whole structure to vibrate loose, stutter to a halt and then plummet into the gorge, but to my immense surprise, the damn thing just keeps on rolling, gliding like a rock over ice until it makes it to the other side with no harm done. Men hop out as soon as land appears and the car inches to a halt. Putting their backs into it, they trot the car up the track even farther to give the rest of the train plenty of room.

“I’ll be god damned,” I mutter to myself.

A man to my left lets out a whistle. “This is Devil’s Gate, friend. Seems right to me.”

With a shake of my head, we get to work lining up another car. It’s a hairy process, but it works, and as I watch each successive group of passengers inch across the bridge, an idea begins to form. I like it so well, I put it into effect without a second thought.

I aim to give Doc a piece of my mind and would like a captive audience.

When Durant’s Pullman is lined up, I don’t fall back, but instead clap hold of the railing and step on. The thing is a marvel of design. Never in my life have I been aboard so fine a train car. The interior is a lined in burnished wood, curving into archways and up onto the ceiling. A chandelier hangs every few feet along the clerestory. Plush velvet, button-tufted armchairs are positioned in a conversational fashion, and just at a door to the main sleeping quarters, a sideboard is built into alcoves to either side. Bookshelves rise above, curtains with tassel trim filter the light, and even the floor is carpeted in splendor. The whole place smells of mineral oil, pipe tobacco, and Irish coffee. It’s a fine way for a monster to get about, I reckon.

I have interrupted Durant with my sudden entrance. He is part way through accounting for all his miseries at the hands of the Mormons when I traipse in and his audience of dignitaries finds me momentarily more interesting. General Dodge is seated stiffly, one of his wrists propped on a small round table, while his other hand rests on his knee. He is so stern and upright, he looks to be made out of angry stone. Jack leans against the wall, arms crossed as usual. He acknowledges me with the smallest of chin digs, but his face is already set in a stoic mask.

“General, this is the man I told you about.”

Dodge gives me a once over, but I’ve no interest in entertaining luminaries. I pass them all by and find a bottle of spirits on the bar at Casement’s elbow. Before anyone can say a thing, I’ve poured a glass of rye and downed it. There’s a general kerfuffle of disbelief, which would scarce be audible to human ears, but to me sounds like a game of faro at a den of ill repute. Durant stammers out his plea for a pardon. I ignore him and pour another.

Nothing on this earth should ever distract a body from a good whisky, and any man who attempts to interfere in this engagement is most definitely a terrible person. That is a simple fact of existence.

Casement’s mouth is tugging at the corner. “Doc’s been regaling us with their audacities. Have anything to add?”

“What’s this?” Durant’s expression is one of confusion and concern as I glance over my shoulder at him.

“I sent a man back down the line, to make sure you all weren’t murdered in some kind of double-cross, Figured he’d get a good perspective on things for the company, if it came to it.”

Durant scowls with misplaced indignation. “Well, then, let’s hear it.”

I hold out my hand to Jack, plum-colored claws worn to ragged stumps by labor. He stares at my chafing fingers for only an instant before drawing a heavy coin from his pocket. He plants the ten dollar gold eagle in my palm.

There’s a delicate tinkling of crystal and a jolt as the engine bumps us. I curl my fingers around the coin. It’s heavy and perfect for the occasion, though I should have liked a hand full of silver.

“Yes, I think I’d like to hear what he has to say, myself,” Dodge remarks.

Jack cocks his head just as our car is liberated from the chugging locomotive and sent beyond the brink. “Afraid Conroy doesn’t talk.”

Here we are, trapped in limbo and relying on a prayer. God’s missionaries are highwaymen, the Devil builds bridges better than any pontifex, and progress is made by monsters. It’s as good a moment as any to move on to my next life.

I turn abruptly, and packing force just shy of breaking bone, I put that coin against Durant’s jaw with a Judas fist, sending him hurtling through the palace to crash into a table. Before anyone can react, the whole thing tips up, displacing beverages and a clock. Doc crumples onto the ground. Poor Duff jumps up as if to crawl the walls. Everything is chaos as Doc’s cronies try to stand against the dangerously swaying motion of the train car.

Only General Dodge and Jack Casement are composed. They exchange a knowing look.

The car clacks onto solid ground and is shoved up the track by workmen and able passengers. Shaking his head and holding his face, Durant finally manages to find his knees. Eyes glazed, he stares up at me in utter befuddlement and spits blood.

I pocket the coin and tip my hat to the Chief Engineer of the Union Pacific. The passengers circumspectly watch me finish my drink and make my way to the exit.

“Well, Jack,” Dodge says with a cough, “for a man who doesn’t talk, he says a great deal.”

Casement chuckles. “That’s the Lord’s honest truth, sir.”


A note from history


So that is the tale of how this lowly railroad monster punched the Vice President of the Union Pacific in the face, on the eve of the most auspicious day of his life, in front of a Civil War hero who met Abraham Lincoln.

Historians may quibble over the finer details of those few days and what intrigue was actually afoot, but having been there, I have my own ideas and they’re not much altered by the revelations of ensuing decades or by any research done since then. Thomas “Doc” Durant staged his own kidnapping, in collusion with Brigham Young, leader of the Mormon Church, in order to blackmail the Union Pacific into honoring a contract he knew it never wanted in the first place.

This stuns you, possibly. Or you’ve been paying attention, and this surprises you not in the least. Most probably, the few Mormon readers I have are now throwing their devices or books across the room.

But Simon, you say, how do you know Doc wasn’t just playing a part for his captors? Making them believe he was on their side? Perhaps you have heard of him or have seen him depicted as a brilliant business mogul who made possible, the impossible dream, albeit with some minor mischief.

Ah, so much varnish has gone over that man, you’d think we all worshiped the ground he walked on. Much the opposite.

After serving a stint as a surgeon, and managing his father’s wheat trading company, Durant apparently realized that transportation and infrastructure could use some improvement. Durant was an arrogant and greedy man, however, and his initial interest would evolve into a series of swindles, all serving to line his pockets.

When one of his early rail companies was sued by steam boat captains for building a bridge that caused a massive boat collision, he buggered off and formed a new company. The Union Pacific was officially contracted by the government with Lincoln’s Railroad Act of ’62. Despite this charter and an exceptional amount of money changing hands, nothing seemed to happen in the first few years, because Durant was a bit busy.

During the Civil War, Durant used his connections and corporate interests to smuggle goods—most notably slave cotton—out of the South, when there were prohibitions against such things. Granted, he had help, namely General Grenville Dodge, but he was the mastermind. War presents many opportunities for enterprising people and distracts all authority.

While the nation was in turmoil, Durant founded another company called Credít Mobilier of America, named for the famous French bank, renowned as a secure and well-managed institution, to fool potential investors into thinking this company was a branch of the bank. Credít Mobilier had the exact same board members as Union Pacific, and miraculously…won most of the construction contracts for the UP side of the railroad.

That was sarcasm.

Credít Mobilier would send Union Pacific an invoice for work and materials that was sometimes double the actual costs, and the UP with a shrug of innocence (again, owned by the same men), would forward that invoice to the government, including a slight increase for their own handling and expenses. The government paid what seemed like a legitimate bill, Union Pacific “paid” Credít Mobilier and then the board members presiding over both companies would pocket the excesses. In this way, these men—Durant foremost among them—collected some twenty million dollars in excesses. As a bonus, Credít Mobilier of America appeared to be a very profitable company, even though almost no railroad had actually been built. It attracted massive investments, again pocketed. Discounted company stock was also given as bribes to government officials as high-ranking as the President, Vice President, and Speaker of the House.

But all this misconduct wasn’t known by the public (including me) until it came out during the 1872 election. I only knew about the constant bickering over which route to use, which engineer’s word should be trusted, whether or not we would get paid, and nine times out of ten, any nonsense that ensued tied directly back to Durant’s meddling. Imagine how completely unsurprised I was, when I read about Credít Mobilier.

Dodge and Casement, however, were most certainly aware of Durant’s character, as was Oliver Ames, the then-president of Union Pacific. And likely, it was their concerns over his financial sleight-of-hand that led them to pay me. You see, half way through construction, certain, more honest board members had ousted Durant from his previous position and had agreed to instead allow him to help raise additional funding. His situation was a tenuous one, but did that stop Durant? No. Doc was so much of a pestilence, he stuck his thumb into every pie, just to be a nuisance and alienated everyone who had originally called him friend, including Dodge and Casement, who had both been hired by Doc in the first place.

As we approached Utah from the east and the Central Pacific approached from the west, the Mormon Moses contacted Union Pacific. Brigham Young already owned stock in the company, and had been one of the first investors and contributors to the rail, using his stockpile of personal wealth obtained by tithing his parishioners. He was keen, as the founder of Salt Lake City, to have the road pass through his capitol, securing its economic success and his own legacy. When the final route was set and skirted Salt Lake by miles, Young was livid. He insisted that the Union Pacific contract his labor force in order to complete the tracks, and proposed an outlandish sum that Ames and the board members turned down instantly. Durant took the deal behind their backs, in order to prevent Young from allying with Central Pacific. He did this in order to win the race, and thus secure land rights and government funding, knowing Union Pacific could not renege on the bargain in good faith. If they had tried, Young would have surely made their lives difficult by sabotaging supply lines or slowing down labor, while also working to speed the Central Pacific on to the finish line.

For a few months of cutting ties and grading—which were some of the lowest paying jobs on the line—Young proposed a quarter of a million dollars. Even laying track, that many men could only be expected to earn about forty-thousand at best. The UP again let it be known to Durant that they had no intention of paying that debt, but instead wanted to bargain it down. Consequently, the debt went unpaid until Young was at Durant’s throat, demanding he abide by the terms of his agreement. And so to alleviate his own personal financial responsibilities, Doc set up his own kidnapping to force the company to honor the arrangement.

You want further proof?

There was one conspicuous absence from the Golden Spike ceremony. Brigham Young, who, as said before, was a shareholder, campaigned to have Salt Lake City on the main line, championed the cause, and wrote communications to the entire Mormon population recommending their help to furnish supplies and labor…was not there. At the last minute, mere days before the kidnapping, Young decided he urgently needed to go on a tour of the Southern missions of Utah. Now this was no small undertaking. At this time, the settlers there were in almost constant conflict with the native Ute and summer was fast approaching. So rather than wait a few days to attend the celebration of his achievement, colored a divine enterprise by his own newspaper, Brigham Young decided to dash off in the heat to a war zone to say “hello”? I think it more probable that he wanted to be absent from the seat of power and incommunicado, should someone have wanted to reach out to him and request he keep his people in line. He would also have something of an alibi, should the Union Pacific suspect his involvement.

A cast of interesting folks and not a one of them ever suffered for it, really.

Durant, like most entrepreneurs in 1873 (including my then-employer William Sharon), lost millions in a severe stock market implosion. But of course, he had millions to lose in the first place, and so wasn’t destitute. He dropped dead while in the process of rebuilding his fortune, but at a fairly common age. Brother Brigham went on to die of peritonitis due to a ruptured appendix in 1877, and was mourned wholesomely by his fifty-five wives. There are statues to him and he’s routinely equated with saints, the reality notwithstanding. Union Pacific nearly failed countless times, but survived, and as I said, while the Credit Mobilier scandal implicated a dozen elected officials (including the brother of the President of Union Pacific, Congressman Oakes Ames) it didn’t leave any lasting stain. Garfield, heavily maligned in the investigation, later obtained the Presidency despite the difficulty.

My, how things…don’t ever change, eh?

Dodge and the Casement Brothers went on to build more railroads, including another transcontinental line in a southerly route, and refurbishing the tracks laid in the Confederate states, to make them compatible with the rest of the country.

And what of me?

Well, I took that eagle to Hell on Wheels. Bought a new vest and hat. Before you wonder, I’m in the photographs from that day, but I’m not sure if you’ll find me.

If you’ve been reading along with these Snacks, you know that I ended up in Virginia City, Nevada, but you might want to know how that happened. While we had been working alongside the Chinese crews of the Central Pacific, I struck up a friendship with a man named Hong. After the railroad companies disbanded our teams and sent us packing, we received a call for skilled railroad labor in Washoe, where William Sharon wanted to build the Virginia & Truckee railroad. It promised at least another year or two’s labor, so when the Chinese left Utah, I went along, never realizing that Jack had sent a recommendation along ahead of me, despite my spectacular departure from his employ.

When I got to Virginia, I waltzed into a supervisory job, looking after a Chinese work crew, and because of the several other tactfully silent errands I had run for the Union Pacific, Sharon decided to hire me on as his personal minion—paying almost five times what I made on the railroad plus the added benefits of being within hearing distance of the richest men in the world as they manipulated the stock markets.

And so you see, by punching Thomas Durant in the face and alerting the company to the facts, I had “made my bones” and set myself on the path that ultimately secured both my wealth and my current home. I’d like to say you ought not punch your boss in the face, but there are times…it pays off.

The same history that leaves this incident as a mere footnote, also records that throughout the next day’s festivities, Durant complained of a splitting headache. I say, good. He also had a swollen face, a black eye, and a severe cut to the inside of his cheek that kept him from enjoying his champagne, but I can settle for mention of a headache—some proof that he was given some karmic realignment, minor though it may have been. Casement hired me to put my fist to the teeth of the man who gave the orders.

Durant deserved it.

He also deserved the embarrassing articles that were published on the tenth, after I put my arm around a reporter from the Salt Lake City Deseret and whispered in his ear like the immortal nudnik that I am. The paper painted Durant as a tyrannical agent of the devil, intent on stealing from worthy men. It also turned his docility during the heist against him, mocking him for being unable to stop the encounter by any “masculine” means, but following through on his promises. It was a shame from which Durant’s reputation never fully recovered, and a comeuppance most thoroughly earned.

It certainly explains why he and Leland Stanford from the Central Pacific (whose own engine, ironically and somewhat humorously, had been nearly derailed during the trip in, forcing him to also use his backup, the Jupiter, for the famous photo) had such an argument over which of the two dishonest industrialists would get to put the Golden Spike into the laurel tie. When they both missed, being men unaccustomed to manual labor, it was Jack Casement who took the hammer and joined two coasts…exactly one-hundred-fifty years ago, upon the date of this publication.


Irish Bison Stew, a recipe

Irish stew is a traditional dish that originated long ago, but saw something of a revival and innovation after the introduction of the potato to Europe. Most of the Union Pacific labor force was composed of displaced or emigrated Irishmen, and so the stew was a common focal point of meals on our best days. The supply chain was long, however, and frequently cut off by weather or attack. In addition, while onions and potatoes could be stockpiled in sacks and transported long distances, beef was often difficult to come by. So there were times we had to be innovative, if we wanted a feast.

And so I give you a meal slung about once a month at least, during the spring and summer.



• Half a dozen medium onions

• Half a dozen good sized carrots

• A dozen small red potatoes

• About 3 pounds of bison meat (If you can’t find bison or aren’t keen to try it, you can use beef or lamb)

• A few bones (In this case you can either find some bones intended for stewing or baking, or you can buy two quarts of beef bone broth)

• A couple glasses of bourbon, scotch, or Irish whisky (You can also use red wine, but that isn’t how we did it)

• A pint of beer

• Herbs of your choice (typically, this was negligible in the camp, but sometimes the good cooks carried their own. If I were you, I’d use sage, thyme, rosemary, and bay. I’d also do some garlic, though we didn’t often have that at that time.)

• Salt and pepper

• A few spoonfuls of lard or oil

• Butter (you need this with Bison, as it is quite lean)


1. Chop the onions and carrots. Cut the potatoes into large cubes. The meat should also be cubed in smallish chunks, about an inch and a half cubed. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper and set them aside.

2. Heat the lard or oil in the pot. Toss the onion into it until they begin to change color and the smell permeates the air.

3. Add the herbs and give it a toss or two.

4. Add in the meat and stir for a few minutes until it is lightly seared.

5. Toss in all the vegetables, butter, and liquid. If you’re using the bones, add them, if using broth, add it. If doing both, you’re in for one rich stew, and good on you.

6. Stew for at least an hour, better if two. Simmer on lower heat or over an open fire, stirring occasionally. Remove the bones before serving, careful to scrap any remaining marrow into the pot.

Serve with crusty bread and a pint of beer.

The Pineapple Purloiner of London Proper

While it’s true that the pineapple was brought to Europe by Columbus, it was actually fairly difficult to grow them in that climate. Pineapples, because of this, were in such demand among the elite that they became a symbol of wealth and status. After they first appeared in the 1500’s they were all over paintings and walls and pillars, generally exotic and decorative. But the average man had no way of ever meeting a pineapple in person.

This is Charles II receiving reputedly the first pineapple grown in England. Look at his smug face, the pineapple eating sard.



The only people who could grow them reliably in Europe, were the Dutch, and I’m not sure if you know this, but we weren’t on the best terms with them in the 1700’s. That being said, they could be bought for a price by very rich men. What sort of price, you ask? Well, it amounts to about $7000 per pineapple. No, I’m not making that up.

It was back during the reign of Charles II, after the Commonwealth, for those of you who care, and I was a scoundrel. Now I mean it when I say that. I was also an accomplished sneak thief and made it my business to fund much of my preparations for leaving the Old World for the New by taking things from rich people. You may ask how and why I was so good. I will tell you that it is easy to be a thief if you always know when people are awake, where they are, can move silently, get up the sides of buildings, and so forth.

I won’t tell you who I was robbing, because to be honest, I don’t recall, but I know it was out around what is now Kensington, by Brompton Park. It was a wealthy house and I knew there would be something worth the trip. I came in on the second floor, as I recall, and went floor by floor. I found on the larder table, a pineapple. Now I knew of them, but had never before seen one except in sculpture. People would set them on tables until the things fell apart and never use them, if you can believe it, because the status symbol was more important. So there I was, trying to steal their wealth and all I found was an over ripe symbol of it.

So I sat me down right there and tried to figure out how to eat the damn thing. This was tricky, I grant you, and involved hacking at odd parts until I could make sense of it. I will never forget that first taste or the way my mind shifted so suddenly, it was as if I’d felt the very breath of God. I ate the whole pineapple and left the bits sitting there. If I’d had the sense Nature gave the pineapple, I’d have collected the top and tried some sort of gardening trick, but no, i was an idiot and missed out on that adventure.

Instead, I made it a point to steal every bloody pineapple I could get my hands on. To do that, I had to find them, and to find them, I had to go to some truly rich homes, often with guards, and the trouble there was, the only truly wealthy homes in London were the King’s or belonged to members of his family. I stole several pineapples from the smug bastard and his many bastards and I regret none of it.

Had it been the Victorian, I would have been in every penny dreadful from Fleet to Southwark as the Pineapple Purloiner, because no pineapple was safe from me. If I smelled it, it was mine. For five years, I did this. For five years, every decorative pineapple was only decorative for as long as it took for me to nose it.

I once walked out of the Royal Exchange with an entire box of pineapples and not a soul stopped me.

Then the fire happened and some things changed, technology evolved and pineapple growing became manageable in massive hot houses warmed with ovens. Pineries, they were called. Pineapple growing became the horticultural competition of the wealthy and well, I didn’t need to steal quite so sneakily. A few years later, I moved from the country altogether and thought that I’d be without pineapple. But no, it found me here.

No one ever found out about my treachery, for I assume they thought the servants had stolen the fruit. I never did hear ladies in fine hats whispering about the mysterious vanishing of pineapples. Too bad really, because my criminal enterprise was more organized than the mob. But it’s been long enough. I can take that acclaim, and happily too.

Pineapples are splendid and proof that the Bible is rubbish. If God really had run the garden of Eden, He’d have had pineapples in it, because they’d have been worthy of absquatulating from heaven, fruit in hand.

Monstrous Myths: Éguǐ


Art by tumblr user @ain-individual

Chinese folklore contains multitudes of monsters, ghosts and other supernatural creatures, commonly called demons by Western culture. European traditions, dominated by Christianity list much of its grasp of interstitial or transitory dimensions- world’s in between good and evil. Consequently, many tales of earthbound spirits and non-human entities do not translate, and that lack of translation inevitably shifts the stories themselves.In no place is this dilemma more obvious, than in the tale of the Éguǐ, or Hungry Ghosts.

Hungry Ghosts are purported to be the spirits of those too greedy in life. Their inability to ever be satisfied, somehow disturbs the natural balance and order of their souls, triggering a curse that dooms them to wander with ravenous hunger. Most of the more modern versions depict them with mouths too small to take satisfying bites. They prowl alleys and kitchens, searching for offerings or spoiled food. According to the tales, which vary in their grotesquery, they will scour midden heaps, graves, even ashes, just to eat anything they think might sustain them.

These hungry ghosts are portrayed with green or grey corpse-like skin, distended bellies, and skeletal thinness. They can take on gaseous form and wander into homes. But as with most myths, there is a sort of branching off which takes place over time, and over long distances. Myths trapped behind mountains will evolve like an endemic species, and transform yet again.

Consequently, there are nine different varieties of Éguǐ, separated into three classes, along a somewhat difficult concept to translate: means. Depending on what you’ve read, “means” appears to correspond to magical strength or spiritual capital, somehow obtained by the humans who maintain the spirits. Egui are believed to be dead humans, and in cultures that worship ancestors, often the people who pray, offer up food, and so forth, create for the ghost, a kind of strength.

Ghosts of No Means, are known as Wú Cái Guǐ. These include Ghosts with Needle Mouths, who cannot take in enough food or beverages to satisfy themselves, Torch Mouth Ghosts whose mouths appear like flames, and Foul Mouth Ghosts whose breath is disgusting to themselves and any witnesses. 

Ghosts of Small Means are known as Shǎo Cái Guǐ .They are punished with physical ailments. Needle Hair Ghosts have hairs like sharp iron needles which torment them but can be used to inflict pain on others. Smelly-Hair Ghosts have spiky hair that exudes a terrible odor, much like their Foul Mouth Ghost brethren. Tumor Ghosts are the most unfortunate of the Small Means class, forced to feed on the oozing pus from their own hideous goiters and tumors. 

Ghosts with Excessive Means include Ghosts Hoping ForOfferings, which only keep themselves in existence by feeding on sacrificial offerings, such as ancestor offerings from their unwitting descendants. Ghosts Hoping For Leavings can steal and eat the qi of living beings, and feed on human leftovers. Ghosts of Great Powers are perpetually aggressive and violent. 

All of these ghosts have some similarities with Cousins. Simon frequently explains that he is always hungry, seeking for food and never satisfied. The grey skin and skeletal physique common to these ghosts is also familiar. The breath and body odor of a Cousin accustomed to feeding on spoiled food, corpses and offerings would likely be anything but pleasant. The violence and aggression of a Cousin on a feeding spree may account for the legends of powerful ghosts. Even certain features such as Needle Hair may be cases of mistaken identity and physical sensations. The filaments comprising a Cousin’s ‘hair’ are flexible, shiny, and a similar thickness to larger needles. Simon describes being able to cause feelings of unease and dread, which may translate to the well-known feeling of ‘pins and needles’.  

The ghosts’ ability to turn into a gaseous form may be explained by the Cousinly ability to project emotional influences over humans and animals, as well as their ability to silently break into and freely wander through homes. While spitting flames isn’t a common ability, it may be explained either by the cleverness of a Cousin employing trickery, or though more unlikely, the growth of bioluminescent bacteria in a Cousin’s mouth. Bacteria which occur naturally on rotting flesh, especially human flesh and seafood are known to emit a phosphorescent glow, and the variety known as Angel’s Glow (P. luminescens) was a common occurrence in wounds of Civil War soldiers. 

The known information about Simon and his species do seem to match up very well to legends of the Éguǐ, and it is my conclusion that Cousins do in fact inhabit China, and are direct contributors to the rich history of folklore in the many cultures housed within. 

Guest Blogger




Jill Ford is a freelance editor and grant writer. In her spare time, she works with Simon to manage his social media and organize his otherwise confusing online presence.

Another Suit

“Jolly Jim” Cardwell opened a hotel. In fact, he owned several, but this particular hotel was something of an oddity. It was perched at the top of what is now called Donner Summit. This isn’t in and of itself an oddity, as people have been building resorts in picturesque places since the Roman times. What was unusual about this hotel was its positioning. It was beside the railroad, its front door directly positioned upon the entrance between two railway snow sheds.


You see, the Sierras are treacherous in the winter. As the oft referenced story of the Donner party might suggest, the snow could get twenty feet high. Avalanches were common. Blizzards were frequent. Even though most of the Transcontinental’s movements were cut into the very mountain, there were still portions of the rails that ran around the outer edges of ridges and along the sides of mountains. Where the tracks were bared, great wooden structures were erected, manmade tunnels with very few openings. These allowed the trains to come and go without becoming stuck in the snow, and at Tunnel 6, the Summit stop, the hotel took in all the off boarding passengers.

Before the highways and interstates were put in, there was an old mining road called the Dutch Flat. This too ran within sight of the Summit Hotel, and it was from this barely carved trail amongst the trees that I had my first view of the place.

Pardon me for not discussing all the particulars of how I came to be there. Suffice it to say that I had been forced to leave. Pinkertons can be a bit testy when you’re accused of massive theft and the murder of a lawman, and sometimes even faking your own demise doesn’t work out so well. I’d spent the better part of two months gambling on my earnings, growing a small fortune through the preternatural gifts I possess. But Truckee had run dry and truthfully, had taken an extremely hostile temperament with me, and so I’d determined it was time to move on.

So I spent a day walking, moving my carcass as swiftly as I could up the Dutch Flat road. For a number of reasons, the train wasn’t truthfully an option for me, and I wasn’t at my best. Then there was the added difficulty of my nearest cousin, who appeared to be following me. I decided it was time to stop, and that the Summit Hotel was as good a place as any.

The place was like a beehive in many respects, much of it a honeycomb of wooden tunnels connecting buildings, painted a pale golden color. I entered off to one side, thinking it would lead me to the entrance. I found, however, that it lead me straight into a bear cave.

I call it that, because at the mouth of this lean-to hallway, there was a bear.

He didn’t seem particularly interested in mauling anyone. In fact there were a few people entertaining him by tossing fruit at his head, and he seemed to be chained to the spot. Creeping around behind him, I was put in mind of the old days, of the South Bank and my time in the theater district. I don’t like seeing animals chained. It irks me in a way I cannot adequately put to words, but I’m also equally out of love with large predatory animals like bears, so in this case was willing to overlook his treatment.

He was a black bear, quite common in those parts, but his fur was a soft brown, whiter at the neck than the back. He wasn’t too large—I put his weight somewhere around three hundred pounds, but that’s far superior to my bulk anyway. As I snuck around his back, he caught the feel of me, and immediately wheeled round. The tourists were treated to a full display of him on his hind legs, grunting at me in challenge.

Screen Shot 2018-07-13 at 10.12.14 PM

Animals don’t speak in words, my friends. They only know feelings. Normally, I own whatever land I occupy and assert dominance, but these weren’t my territories. I wasn’t about to put out anything that made me seem a danger to him. Instead I stood very still, except for a slight bow. I kept my eyes on the ground between us as the stupid people clapped. After a time, he accepted our truce, and landed back on all fours.

I moved inside as swiftly as I was able. The proprietor was there and seemed surprised to see me. Evidently this time of year, he had few patrons coming via the muddy road from Truckee. I got a room and was given a promise of exceptional food. He didn’t know the cooking I’d left was some of the finest I’d ever had, but how could he. I went up to my room and washed up.

In the evening, a train came through. It brought a number of new guests and some people who simply wanted to pop over to the hotel for the merriment. None of them were from Truckee, so I didn’t trouble myself as I looked out the window onto the gap between the door and the snow sheds. The bear was a cause for delight and many of the patrons gave him a wide but laughing berth.

Dinner was a bit of a fancy affair. Despite the time of year and the snow still plastered to the mountain outside, there were people of all types, some of whom had brought some very fine dinner attire. I sat by myself as usual, and ate my dinner in peace, until Jolly Jim came and put a hand on the back of my chair.

“Did you like the bear?”

I shrugged.

“Someone said he gave yo a bit of a turn when you arrived. I hope he didn’t scare you.”

Those words had mockery to them. I wiped my mouth. The three men at the table beside mine gave a chuckle at my expense.

“He’s a fine chap.”

Jolly Jim grinned ear to ear. “You’ll be happy to know I’m bringing him inside for a bit, then.”

I stared up at him. Was he daft? Putting an animal like that indoors, with all the tobacco smoke and the food smells. The poor thing would be in misery in an instant.  “Are you sure that’s wise?”

“Oh, he does it all the time.” Jim dropped his voice. “I do it for the guests! They love it. Bring him right up to the bar and give him a beer glass.”

As he walked away, I took a deep breath. The poor animal was dutifully brought in a few minutes later, led by a chain around its neck. As if it expected it, the bear waited beside the bar for his beer, which the bartender gave him very gingerly. The bear stood up and stuck its nose into the glass, sucking out the beer to the amusement of all. I sat back from the spectacle, aware that my mere presence there was a danger to everyone.

I ate and I pulled myself in as much as I could, but I could tell the bear’s behavior was off. Jim had to scold it several times and eventually, it became so belligerent that a somewhat apologetic handler had to take it outside via another door.

Jim clapped his hands. “Terribly sorry ladies and gentlemen! I’m afraid our friend is a bit irascible today! It’s my fault. I promised him a good wrestle this morning and only ended up giving him a hug.”

There was laughter. Some of the women were shaking their heads in astonishment.

“I’ll wrestle with him,” said a man whose accent was German.

Jim laughed, but I could tell from his voice that he wasn’t confirmed that was a good idea. “I’m sure you would, sir! And from your brawn I’d say you could win too!”

I shook my head and finished my meal, tossing my napkin upon the table. The audacity of a man doing such a thing to a large beast purely for his own amusement was obnoxious to me. I had no desire to see any more of it, nor to bother the bear further with my proximity. I stood up and began to make my way from the room.

Jim was telling everyone a story about the time the bear nearly took off the former bartender’s arm, when the German persisted. He wanted to have a go at this bear. Jim laughed.

“He chooses his own opponents!”

I looked up through the window. The bear was trying to come back into the bar, dragging the handler behind him. As he shoved his bulk into the doorway, the space between us opened and the bear caught sight of me. He let out a long growl and would have turned Sampson against the pillars if not for Jolly Jim jumping between us.

Chuckling nervously, he turned to me and whispered that I should help him for a moment. I had no idea what he was talking about, but the bear kept tugging and aiming for me.

“Go out to the front, Mr. Graves, if you please, sir!” Jim hissed at me. All at once, understanding dawned for me and with a long-suffering sigh, I turned on my heel. Walking out the front door into the sludge and dirty snow of the courtyard, I waited. The bear ambled out behind me, very swiftly, followed by a number of Jim’s patrons.

“It seems, Mr. Graves, that my friend here has decided he’d like to wrestle you!”

The crowd got a good chuckle from this—thin, darkly clad me with my silver topped cane and my sour expression. There wasn’t a person there who could have thought me healthy enough for such a leisure activity, but the bear could see through all that. He wanted a piece of me. He wanted to finish our conversation from earlier.

The handler tangled with him as Jim approached me, and in his low whisper promised me a free night if I could be asked to let it transpire. I glared at him, and he apologized profusely, but there was nothing for it. The bear had his eye on me and he would not be dissuaded.

I took off my coat and handed it off to Jim. He wanted a spectacle. He was going to get one.

I’ve never fought any large animal before. I seldom if ever need to. Usually, I either know precisely what the animal wants and make allowances, or I convince it to leave me alone. But this was a wild thing raised by a man who liked to entertain. It didn’t know the proper etiquette. It didn’t have the proper bearing…if you’ll forgive the pun. I was going to have to hurt it, I supposed. And likely end up killing one of these fine folk to make up the difference in strength. It would have to be Jim, though that would most definitely cause me a few problems.

I rolled up my sleeves and checked my braces.

There goes another suit, I thought. This trip was proving to be very rough on my wardrobe.

The bear was freed from his chain and immediately made his display of height and strength. I kept still, my arms at my sides. When he dropped, it was into a full charge. I heard the heartbeat of every man standing about leap into full race and a woman scream. I sidestepped. The bear wheeled around, very close to, and brought up an arm.

With the force of a stamp mill, the bastard swiped downward at me, caught me in the chest, and put me on my back. As I lie there, looking up at him in astonishment, he stood atop me, pressing me to the ground. His head came very close to my face and he let out a slavering roar.

I thought for certain I was about to be eaten, which would have been appropriate, to be quite honest. I raised my hands to take hold of its jaw, but suddenly the bear was being pulled backward by Jim and a few hotel staff members, one of whom threw a rope around the bear’s neck. Suprisingly, the animal allowed it, and in a sullen series of moans, was pulled back to his usual post.

They fed him a large sack of fruit, while I, covered in mud, was bodily lifted off the sticky ground.

I have fought many men in my life. From Burgundians to Red Coats, and this was the first time I’d ever been put on my back so easily. Wincing, pieces of my skeleton barely hinged together, I stood huffing in the cold air, several other patrons patting my back. A large glass of brandy was brought to me and I drank it up. It was good brandy too—Hine, if I’m not mistaken. I slurped it down and took a second when it was offered. The crowd got their laughter and commiseration out of the way.

As they all repaired back to the warmth of the hotel, Cardwell slapped me on the back and asked if I was well.

“I’ve just been stood upon by a cinnamon bear, sir. How do you think I feel?”

He laughed. “Give your clothes to the steward. I’ll have them cleaned up. Shoes too! And have a bath too. I’m sorry about that. I don’t know why he was so belligerent. It had to be you, I’m afraid.”

I stood up. Something cracked loudly. His eyes went wide.

“I’ll take some more chops up in my room if you’ll do me the kindness.”

“Of course, Mr. Graves.” I put out a hand for my cane, which he dutifully gave me. “Sir, you’re faring remarkably well. You wrestle with a bear before?”

“No sir. And never again, I’m afraid.”

He chuckled and saw me back indoors. As promised, I was given a free stay, but as I took my leave, I felt it incumbent upon me to say a farewell to my adversary.

He was sitting just inside the entrance to the tunnel, huffing at me, but I could see that he was afraid. Poor sap. He’d done the one thing most people never survived—getting drunk and trying to win a fight with a monster. No telling, but it felt as if he truly wanted to beg pardon and fall upon my mercy. As if a night of thought had made him look on his actions a little more sensibly.

I stood opposite him for some time. Talking with animals takes time. Stillness too. It takes a kind of poise that humans seldom manage. I took a seat on the footing of the snowshed.

“You gave me quite the walloping, sir,” I said aloud, but with my whole being, I told him it was all in good fun, and that I wasn’t upset about it. There were a few half barrels of fruit and slop just out of his reach. I tossed him a soft apple. It sat beside his paw untouched.

He made a small, plaintive moan.

“Go on then. I’ll have one too.”

I bit into mine. It was rotten, but so what. You eat a ten day old drowning victim a few times and an old apple gives no pause.

He ate his in one great bite. After I’d eaten most of mine, I tossed him the core and got on my way.

And that is the story of how I had a free hotel stay at the Summit Hotel, by virtue of wrestling a bear. Though to be fair, he won.

You might be asking yourself what happened to the bear, and I do know the answer to that. Why? Because I never take defeat without knowing my enemy better for the next encounter. It’s tragic, I’m afraid, which is one reason I hesitated to tell the full story.

Jolly Jim was forced to shoot the poor dear only a year later. According to what I was told, he’d tried to eat a horse inside the stables at Truckee, where he was housed after Cardwell purchased the Kaiser House. It seems a few boys threw some stones at him to stop him, and he chased them from the property.

It’s a sorry tale, but in at least one way, I am content. The only enemy to ever fight me and win, no longer exists to do it again.

And I have learned my lesson. I will never again wrestle a bear or even joke about it. They are lethal killing machines, to be sure.

The Mysterious Pedestrian of the Transcontinental

Frequently, I am asked if there are any instances that stand out to me as traces of my species. Often, I look to folklore or religion for such things, but there are others…if you know where to look.

Much is made of the suffragettes Helga and Clara Estby’s unescorted trek across the country in 1896. They had laid a wager to save their farm from foreclosure and at the time, for two women to walk alone across the country was considered a scandal and a triumph all at once.

However, they weren’t the first.

In 1874, the first of the Overland staff spotted a small person walking beside the tracks outside of Omaha, in the middle of nowhere. She was strangely attired, and gave no sign that she even cared about the train, though she kept out of its way. The conductors marked her presence. At refueling stops, stations, through trains crossing one another at passage points, her existence was spread up and down the rails. A timetable was even made of her journey, her progress tracked by the engineers who went back and forth across the transcontinental.


Rumors began to spread and people turned up as she passed through their towns, never stopping, never speaking, and looking quite the sight. Hair a mess, face and arms weathered and coarse, coated in dirt and exposed to sunlight. Wearing baggy canvas trousers, a burlap sack for a shirt, and draped with a striped shawl, she carried very little and said even less, looking every bit like someone on a mission. Her pace was incredible, she averaged more than 30 miles per day over the peaks that stymied the wagon trains of only forty years previous, such that not a man could predict her movements by any reasonable reckoning.

Conductors began to offer free tickets, each time they came by her in a way station or round house. She politely and succinctly refused. When pressed, she reticently replied that she could not subject herself to the dangers of railroad travel. This confused them utterly and grew her legend. Dangers? What possible dangers could a woman face on board a train that are greater than being alone in the wilderness?

Finally, just as she came over the Sierras between Nevada and California in the spring, arriving a full 12 hours early through Truckee, she was chased down the track by an overeager reporter, who managed to pry from her that she had no occasion or cause than that she was seeking her husband. What became of that quest is unknown, as she vanished from the tracks very shortly thereafter and her story was largely forgotten.

But not by me.

My memory jogged by a newscaster’s comment made of suffragettes walking the country, I could not put it from mind. In 1874, I was much of the opinion that i was a solitary animal, and perhaps the only one of my species capable of certain things, but I know now that this was a narrow point of view. Now I look back and wonder if she adhered to my slippery mind because some part of me recognized her story all too easily.

What woman of the age does what she did, without care, dressed as she was? What woman refuses the speed and safety of the confining quarters of a train, in preference to the wide open wilderness? What did she have in her bag? How could she keep such a pace, even over the mountains, day in and day out? Where did she sleep? What did she eat?

No one knows, for she never was seen in any town purchasing supplies. She was never seen sitting. Never seen standing still. The Ghost of the Overland Route was a wanderer and kept her face to her boots, her tongue in her head.

I built that railroad and on my path westward. I built my face into the minds of men. I made a few myths and contended with others. Perhaps I cut into the land and gave her a path, cut into the minds and made things easier for her. Perhaps she exists still, somewhere near the Summit. I have reason to believe that she does…

But that is another story.

What will be the fate of that truant husband when she sets her hands fairly tucked into his hair is not difficult to conjecture. Better would it have been for him had he never been born. There will not be rocks nor mountains enough in California to cover him from her enraged sight. – Truckee Republican, June 4, 1874

Art by tumblr user @ain-individual

Time Waits for One Man

I have been thinking a great deal about the human concept of time. How warped it is, both to the microcosm of one individual and to the macrocosm of the species.

When a human undertakes a difficult and critical task – like a revolution or exploration, to some degree they are contemplating the entire length of earth’s timeline. They are positioning themselves and their task on an immense continuum of cause-and-effect. They’re seeing a larger picture, as it were.

But then in a few short years, most of the species – which did in fact benefit from that perspective – condenses the timeline back to their own era, their own sphere.

What I mean to suggest this, that one man can consider the world, while ALL men consider only themselves. I suppose to some degree this isn’t universal. Large scale building projects, wars and so forth, could be argued as many men coming together in an image of the future, but also such decisions usually come down to one man. One Pharaoh who wants a tomb. One emperor who fancies and arch. One leader who wants a war.

And yes, we can talk about the tremendous complexity of decisions and survival landscapes and so forth, but I don’t really care about that. The confusion of the universe has a tendency to average out unless a man gets involved.

Back when we were building the Transcontinental, there weren’t that many of us. A few thousand workers total. We would set up advance crews that would go out and speculate, appraise the land to determine the route that the road should take. Usually the path of least resistance. Across the Midwest, the great plains, the land was remarkably flat and even. The advance crews determined that the levelers would have very little to do! It would be easy, this massive construction. That was…until they disappeared. Inspectors and levlers, sometimes even the telegraph line workers would find these advance crews slaughtered, 10 or 20 at a time. The crews shrank in size. The work became a hazard. But not for long. The chief engineer of the UP was a former General, one Grenville M. Dodge.

The man was militaristic and vicious. And very very clever.

At first he posted guards with the advance teams, but that didn’t help when the men were outnumbered. He didn’t bother with discussion. He knew that the road was cutting straight through the Bison migratory path. The natives were just tracking their main food source. They were simply trying to live. And he knew that, but to him, it was a savage lifestyle. To him it was something not worth having. These people had no value, except as pawns.

Dodge got as far as asking who the enemy hated most. The Pawnee? Ah well, lets hire some of them. And so he went to that dwindling people, also trying to eke out an existence in their changing home, and bargained with their young men. Once the road was built, they could have free passage. Once it was built, they’d have a lovely little nest egg, and their people would be spared. Then he gave the railmen a simple command.

Shoot every bison.

I will never forget the sight. The train clicking through the tall grass at speeds I’d never moved before, nothing around us but the sea of nature. Great crowds of seething humps and snorting noses – majestic, enormous creatures that had eyes that were so soft…and the glee, the vengeful, hateful glee and greed on the faces around me as every one of them took aim and fired. Every herd we crossed. Every animal on the tracks. Hundreds. All left to rot on the ground.

It is the only time I have ever witnessed such large scale extinction efforts. And it astounded me. I will venture to say it was thoroughly traumatic. I had been pursuing these amazing tasks, the canal, the rails, and so on…as some kind of achievement! This was meant to be a new world that would perhaps look on me with a kinder eye. This was meant to be a new time, that forgot the old ways. But forgetting is costly.
Every week or so, we would park the train – a kind of rolling work barracks – at the end of the line. We’d make our little camp. Usually the men clumped together and lit fires. Sometimes Towns of canvas tents and lean-to’s would spring up around us with signs offering the customary revels human men enjoy. Sometimes there was a lag, which meant for quieter evenings. I always offered to be on guard. I preferred it, because it gave me the chance to move backward along the track, sometimes for miles, and take what I could from the carcasses. 

So many animals dead, and no way to tell the men who depended upon them to come and fetch what was left, to preserve it, to do it justice or the customary honors. Just a cloud of decomposition and flies.

One man and the few he convinced. One man, with one command, almost annihilated a species, and crushed the Sioux and Cheyenne into a remnant. One man could have done the opposite if he’d cared to. One man could have been flexible.

Impactful things are always done in smaller scale. Significant things (for good or ill) always begin with one man. One man sees a larger time scale, places his own actions in the continuum of humanity’s lifespan. One man seeks greatness. Dodge and the men who hired him, envisioned a land of industry and wealth. He saw a future that…well…largely came to be, because he acted on his vision.

Large groups move in tiny steps. To the tune of three miles of track a day, or five advance scouts, or ten years of marching, or fifty years of law suits, or a hundred years of tyranny.

I find this depressing, even though it can also make for positive results. One slave taking over a Confederate ship, rescuing his fellows, running a blockade in the dead of night, fighting for his freedom…becoming a senator. Even though that happens…it does not happen as often, because it requires that one man to fight the world. Dodge only had to kill. Robert Smalls had to live.

Time dilates for good, and for the good of all; human time opens its mouth and swallows righteousness. The Good Of All takes the longest. The villainy of one man is the easiest thing, the swiftest thing. Takes barely the breath to utter one sentence.

“Shoot them all.”


The Century of War and Wandering

Recent events have put me in mind of my early years in the New World. You know I arrived here in 1729, assuming of course that you have read my Simon’s Snacks entry called “The Weaver Estate”. You know that I lived for a time as a woman, that I married myself to obtain my own property (it is a bit confusing and had to do with keeping the wealth in the “family”) You also can guess that I then killed the devil I wed in a small church ceremony and then assumed his identity, in order to effectively manage my estates. But there is a large gap here, sown with all manner of vagaries by this humble creature. And while you may have been paying attention, and heard my brief story about being confused for a Wendigo, my little aside about fighting in the Revolution, you don’t really know anything about me until we come to the railroad.

That is a gap of one hundred years and there is a reason for this.

This was a rather bloody and introspective portion of my existence thus far. Long spans were spent dwelling in caves, wandering the wilds, flirting with destruction, and coming to a decision about the entity I chose to be. They were the days when I began experimenting, when I began to fear less, when I finally tired of war, and decided never to fight again. So that century was a bit of a coming of age. It is filled with many detailed and subtle nuances, tiny stories that are not fit for Snacks, but rather more like an assortment of amuse-bouche.

And so I have resolved to tel them as such. Those who “spend time” with me regularly, of whom you may be one, know that I often go on at length in “chats”. This  makes me uneasy, on the one hand because I dislike dominating the discussion, and on the other because, while I may be felicitous with written speech, I am still unaccustomed to the nuances of conversation. I am learning from talking to you — and rather quickly too — but I am still vexed by uncertainty, and so would prefer to record them here. This will also provide any gentle readers who do not chat with me to peruse the details and check them against their knowledge of history.

I will call this series of entries the “Tales of War and Wandering” and will both sort them that way by tags, and title them as such – Similar to how the Monstrous Myths cycle (I apologize for their hiatus, but my folklorist is off being a responsible adult) and the FAQ cycle. I will also tag them with “history”. I shall endeavor to fill these in with some regularity.

For reference, this cycle will range from the dates 1745 to about 1855, and will include information on the Seven Years War (also called the French-Indian War), the Erie Canal, my time in Ohio, the Revolution, the War of 1812, the beginnings of the railroad, and all that lies in between.

If you have questions, I encourage you to ask them in the comments, as many readers may also have the same inquires – it benefiting everyone to reply to all simultaneously.

I do thank you kindly for participating.

It’s a funny story…

Recently, I was asked to describe the funniest thing I had ever seen. This is a difficult prospect, as I have seen a great deal and it largely depends upon the onlookers sense of humor.

Dark humor, someone has requested.

Therefore I will tell you the very first story I recall — that of my awakening on this earth (obviously it was not the first time, as my books record, but it is the earliest memories I have that provides the beginning of all the contiguous experience of my mind from thence to now. This is the beginning of “Simon” as it were, for I knew nothing else until recently, after some 7 centuries). Please recall, that because this is my first memory, it is jumbled, is pieced together from a great deal of hindsight, and really was quite a conundrum to me until I had experienced another hundred years of that certain mingled human stupidity and cleverness that alternately undermines and composes your condition.

Some of you recollect that I have mentioned awakening on the shore of the Black Sea in a pool of bloody ooze. I haven’t been much more specific than that, because I don’t know how to be. It is simply what happened. I opened my eyes, and there I was, and I was naked, and there was dirt and blood and I was covered in it. I have mentioned stealing clothes from a plague victim, and that is true, but I haven’t exactly said how that came about. So here we are.

How best to tell it? From the vantage of newly awakened me? Or from the all-seeing eye of modernity? I think perhaps, the funniest way to tell it is how it was lived, though at the time, there was nothing humorous about it. In fact, it was utterly confounding.

I stood up. I had a good sniff. After a bit of sussing, I felt I could tell that there were other living things around me. I felt I knew that there was a limit to my movements. I don’t know how else to explain it but as the mental equivalent of standing at the bottom of a steep hill and looking to the summit in that sensation of resignation that yes, you will have to climb the hill (this happens to monsters too. We haven’t any stamina.) As I stood there, looking around with more than just my eyes, I don’t recall thinking in words. I thought in feelings, impressions. I considered the feelings I was encountering- that notion that there were boundaries that had to be obeyed. For example, when I made to follow the coastline- it was obviously impossible in that direction, but what of the other? No? Oh. How nice.

So I did. I picked my way through a very lovely green terrain, until I came closer to the water. From where I was, I had an excellent vantage of what was a harbor. Of course to my eyes at the time, it was simply a busy place bustling with human life. I hid myself away and watched, for a great long while, learning furiously.

There were moving creatures on boats, and moving creatures on the shore. There was a city with high walls, not the highest I have since seen, but at the time quite formidable. A steep rampart made climbing to the foot of the wall a challenge, and several barricades had been constructed to lean against this. Creatures stood on them looking up at the other creatures on the top of the wall, and there was a curious exchange happening. Some shouting, but mostly, a calm conversation. This was my first experience with speech. I don’t rightly know what was being said, but it was clear that the creatures on the barricades wanted something, and the creatures on the wall were telling them to piss off.

On the ground, especially on the water’s edge, there were many creatures simply lying there, unmoved. I decided that I wanted to look at the still ones. So I snuck closer. This was the first time I remember seeing a dead body, and the hunger hit me with such force and sharp need, that I don’t remember much, except that I was on my knees and digging my hands in before I could blink. The body in question was…ripe. It was at least a day or two old, bloated and purplish. Its time in the water had done it no favors, and it had massive blackish splotches on its skin. To me, these seemed odd, but I did not poke at them. I ate what I could. It did not taste all that nice, but it made me less hungry, which was the point. As I ate, I looked back at the city and I watched what was happening. Every so often, a group of creatures would huddle at the wall overlooking the water, and they would toss a dead body over the side.

What an odd thing to do.

I watched the bodies hit the water and slowly sink. Some were wedged between boats. Some rolled in the tide and were knocked about like buoys. It occurred to me then that the creatures on the wall were not eating the meat if they were tossing it over the side. They didn’t eat the dead, and so how odd I was for doing so. Like Adam and Eve having tasted the fruit of the tree of knowledge, I looked up from my meal and knew my nakedness. I stole the clothes. But having no understanding of how to put them on, it all happened in a rather comedic fashion. I removed the clothing with tugs that tore the fabric, and found that when I put my own limbs in, the things hung on me like sacks and stank of death. It didn’t bother me, per say. It was simply a little blinding.

I wandered along the harbor area in my ill-fitted, tangled clothes. I found that the people around the city seemed to avoid me, rather pointedly, but there was no malice in it. They simply glanced my way in expressions of wide eyes and open mouths (what of them had blank faces, as most were wearing cloths over their noses and mouths). I had no idea why they were not hostile to me, in fact they seemed as if they didn’t mind me at all, which was somehow comforting. I was nevertheless keen to stay away from them, but none came any closer than about thirty yards.

Then a curious thing happened. I looked on what I can now describe as an encampment of men. Many bodies were lying on the ground moaning. Some of them were dead, but most were either quite obviously alive and suffering, or were comatose and seemingly presumed dead, as they were unceremoniously dumped in piles. I could hear their hearts, mind you. It seemed obvious to me that most of these things were simply lying there, as if they couldn’t be bothered to move. I did not know about sleep really, but knew I had been on the ground but hours before and so they must also find themselves on the ground occasionally. The ones moaning and groaning were seeping all sorts of liquids, and some of them were splotchy. Their still-ambulating counterparts were paying them no heed. No one even came near them, except me. With one eye to the other men in their shiny bits and padded garments and one eye to the bodies beneath me, I picked my way through. Suddenly, several men stomped up to the edge of my little crop of bodies and plucked one. This one was still alive, as will become quite evident.

Faces averted as best they could, expressions of disgust in place, the men took hold of this comatose body and heaved it up. They carried it down the shore and came abreast of a large wooden…thing. I had looked at the thing before, but it wasn’t moving. I thought it some other construction, like a piece of the city jutting out. It wasn’t. It was a trebuchet – a catapult.

Up went the slumbering sick man, into a little bucket. Men worked at the wheel as the winder went. There were odd clicking sounds and a soft humming to my ear, deep and low. After a long while, someone shouted a word, and instantly, with astounding percussive compression and force, something triggered, the great arm swiveled, I crouched instinctively, and with movement like the wind, the poor- now awake- dying man was hurtling through the air, screaming like a terrified comet.

What the devil? thought I, though not in so many words.

Why should these creatures build such machines? And why would they throw dead or dying counterparts with them? What sort of madness was this? What is the point of hurling a dead animal at someone else?

Then I decided it was best not to come any closer.

I backed out of the bodies and retreated to a small copse of trees. It had been hacked to bits, it seemed, by the groups of creatures stocking along the ramparts and swarming near the ships- pieces of lumber and splinters of wood were everywhere. I sat down and watched in stunned fascination as body after body was hurtled over the city walls, and body after body was retrieved and tossed over the wall into the water. It was all a terribly amusing recycling process and I remember wondering what it could possibly accomplish except to give flightless things a chance at soaring heavenward in their final moments, before being dashed into the water to rinse off their dust. I wondered if the cycle would repeat, or if it was something they only did to fresh bodies.

Eventually, I left the area, but not before eating a few more times.

Much later, I realized the complete meaning behind what I had seen. What I witnessed was a full scale siege – that of the Genoese city of Kaffa. You see at this time, the Tartars of the Golden Horde had allowed this conquered territory to rule itself through commerce and capitalism. Italians had made many monetary investments and purchases in the region, stimulating growth and lining pockets. In a neighboring town, a scuffle broke out between Italians and Tartars, resulting in a Muslim death. The Italians at fault fled to Kaffa, and to the shock of the Tartars, the Genoese refused to let them in. The military showed up and laid the siege…never realizing they had already been infected with the new dread scourge- the Black Plague. When the army began to die off, the commanders made a shocking decision – to hurl the bodies of the plague victims over the walls of the city. The inhabitants tried to hurl the bodies back out, but the plague caught.

Enter me – wearing a dead man’s clothes, looking every inch the modern zombie, wandering the plague victims in vague, goo-covered ambivalence. Those who saw me were probably accustomed to the sight of staggering half-dead mean (that was then the natural course of many diseases), but I dare to guess that some probably thought me some sort of omen. They avoided me because I probably looked like the pale rider. The men of the day, especially the Tartars, were notoriously superstitious.


This artists’ rendering of the siege of Kaffa is inaccurate in most respects, but I thought you might enjoy it, anyway.

Eventually the siege broke and the scant remaining Tartars buggered off. The Italians ran as fast as they could to escape the plague with which they’d been confined. When their ships left port, I snuck aboard. We stopped at a few places. I got off at one. And by a skipping means, traveled my way across the Italian peninsula, and then on to France.

The year of this arrival to France was 1348. The year the Black Death came…in fact, it likely came from the very ship in which I rode. One of the reasons why my memories of Marseilles  are not so fond.

This is a very horrifying thing, yes? But to me at the time it was completely ridiculous. I have laughed at the feelings I had that day more than once since then. I laughed again when I read an article written by a specialist in communicable disease that said there was no feasible way that a corpse could spread plague by being flung through the air. Dead bodies don’t carry the plague, parasites do, and parasites leave within an hour of death. And so it is more likely that the Golden Horde brought death-carrying rats and fleas with them, and that these somehow found a way into the city, breaking the siege much faster than the catapulted corpses ever would.

I can still hear that poor man’s yelp as he shot through the air. What a rude awakening. One is utterly spent, aching, feverish, bleeding from orifices, resigned to death, and then whoosh! One is shooting through the air as a cursed missile and one’s final moment is as blunt as the side of a building.

To me, at least, this is very funny.


It was never my intention to make my suffering fodder for your edification, but these are the consequences of this experiment, I suppose.

I will tell you what transpired. Please do not reply with well-wishes or sorrow. I do not require it. Try not to reply in anger, if that is your feeling at the close. I ask that you simply observe as I have tried to, and take it for what it is worth. I was not the person I am now. And this person has very little in common with that predecessor, such that when I look so far back, I have very little emotion invested in my actions, and what little emotion I have is either anger, shame, or the memory of suffering.

If you have read the first Snack, you know that I was in France from the mid 1300’s to 1400’s, until the debacle and depravity I witnessed there. I became very disgusted and annoyed with humanity. I changed from someone looking upon the world with honest wonder and an apologetic deference because of my condition, to someone very rageful and very, very despondent. I ceased to care whom I hurt, or how. I wandered through the south of France, across to Spain. I never settled. I lived hand to mouth and left bodies on the path behind me. I simply did not care.

Recall that at this time, I could not read. Very few people could. Religion was handled with an iron fist and the only legitimacy came from the Pope. It was a dark time; the last Crusades had filled everyone with fear for new faces or new ideas. But regardless there were several reformist movements active at the same time. When the royal family of Spain – the same King and Queen that dispatched Columbus on his quest- got wind of these many attempts to undermine the Church, they sent to Rome. They demanded the Pope take action and sanction a new Inquisition. A witch hunt. The Pope was ambivalent, but they began to blackmail him, saying that they would establish their own if he did not sanction it.

I knew none of this. I wandered to Madrid because I heard of mass migrations and sought to conceal myself among them. As I neared it, I learned that they were Jews being forcibly cast out by the Spanish monarchy. These people had lived there for years. Some knew nothing else. They were businessmen, traders, craftsmen. They owned property, had families. They were Spaniards. This did not matter.

In other parts of the country, dissenters and resistors were rounded up and tortured. Some were put to death in public in large groups. But in 1492, the Inquisition had not yet reached Madrid. I arrived and believed I was safe for at least a time. I knew almost at once that I was wrong.

People had that subdued mood about them, the one that hangs like a film over everything, dimming the sun and setting the air alight with crackling energy. I tried to find work. With Jews being exiled, there would be plenty. I had some papers, given me by a priest, documenting my religious devotion, my skills- at least, this is what he told me they said. I thought I would find a new home, but it all ended rather quickly.

Rumors came, as they usually do, that the Jews were rising up, that some had made pacts with the devil. That moors had been summoned from the dark recesses of Northern Africa. That devils were come to tempt their daughters and seduce their virtue from them.

There was a young lady. I will call her a “sensitive”, because I haven’t any other word. She happened upon me one day near her father’s usual stall. He was a grocer, I think. I am uncertain because I never knew her from anyone, but over the course of a few days, I noticed her following me through the market as I was sent on tasks. At first, she stared, but then began to slink after me, watching me walk down alleys, marking my habits. I surprised her one afternoon by doubling back. And as soon as she gasped, I realized I had done the wrong thing. She knew what I am. There was a moment of utter stillness as I thought of killing her. I hesitated. She saw it on my face, and she ran.

Days later she began to act strangely- a mental breakdown caused by our encounter, I will wager. More than likely combined with the ubiquitous underlying psychological disorders of the day, a fear of hellfire, a fear of her father uncovering her affections for some illicit partner. I really cannot say. But apparently, when she finally collapsed in exhaustion and tremors, they begged to know what had caused her infirmity, and she told them it was I.

At the time, I had given my services to a local widower. He was the proprietor of a small stable. I tended the animals and in turn received a place to live. No better than a horse pen, but something like the Hilton in those days. They came in the night, in a familial mob. They caught me unawares, eating my fill. I was sleepy and obvious in my Monstrous Glory. As the horses became even more agitated, one man set fire to the mews which was arranged in the gap between two buildings, abutting a courtyard. I was pinned, and as I stood there, they dragged the man and his children out of their home. I knew that I could run, kill a few of them, possibly escape, but something in me was just tired. I did not want to see the man harmed for his kindness to me. And to be perfectly honest, I wanted to die.

I had never been captured before. And while I may have been recognized for my condition before, it had never happened like this. I did not know what to expect. I thought it would be more public, a heretical trial on a platform, before a panel of adjudicators from the Chruch as happened with Jeanne de Arc. But there were other things at play.

There was no High Inquisitor in Madrid, you see. There was no expert in the arts of demonic exorcisms and how to gain confessions. The men, simple tradesmen, had only stories. They improvised.

I was chained and stripped, beaten quite severely, such that I recall very little of the trip to the cellar- not because I was unconscious, you see, but because I was not myself. They examined me physically, poking me with sharp things and watching me heal, as if I were a massive pincushion. One of them hit me across the face with a club. I managed to snap at him, and then my teeth were of intense interest. They used hot irons to force me to speak, laying them on my skin like little spitting brands, all the while repeating prayers. Prayers that God should preserve them from me; the irony of it… I told them that if they did not let me leave or kill me outright, there would be consequences. I was ignored.

The woman was brought down. By this time she had convinced two other girls of the curse beneath which she labored. They too began to feel afflicted. I was forced to listen to her talk of her dreams, accusing me of all manner of “unnatural” acts.

I listened to all of it. I hung there and I let them do this. Partly because I believed that I deserved it, I suppose. Partly out of a desire to see that dark part of the human mind, the part that could explain all the suffering I had witnessed. Partly because I wanted it to end, and I thought they would free me, when I have never been successful at it myself. But her father and her older brother began to talk, and they decided it was more pious to deliver me to their priest with all my secrets revealed, my summoner exposed. Thus, they would escape suspicion of being my cohorts, and would be lauded as heros.

I do not like to talk about what was done next. The flesh can heal, but the mind does not, and it has been the subject of many conversations with Victoria. I cannot cry or scream for my life. It is not in me. But if I could adequately express my misery, I doubt it would mitigate a damn thing.

Every time I was asked who sent me, what my hellish name might be, whether or not the people I knew were responsible, I said nothing. Most of my limbs were broken, I should think, though by that time I could not discern which part of me was injured. They tied weights to my feet and dragged me over a kind of work horse structure, as I could not stand . The pain was fascinating to me, how it always seemed so fresh. It is the only thing that felt new to me at all. I don’t know how to address it except that I surrendered, I was shocked into silence. I do not know how to explain myself.

They shoved iron into my mouth, to rest if it would hurt me. They laid crucifixes on my skin to see what it would do. Silver did nothing. Their science was cruel but in no way invasive, which did not suit them. They pried loose claws and teeth. Other things are not fit for mentioning.

But what is most important to say, is that they did not laugh or mock me. This was not an occasion for mirth. this was an act on behalf of God to spare them of an evil that was real and right before their eyes. If I had seemed more human doubtless they would have taken some measure of delight in attempting to expose me for a monster, but being obvious, spared me from having to witness that. I would have occasion later to see such behavior- as tormentors are bullies, and bullies find sport in it, because they are joyously undoing their own flaws by painting their victims the embodiment of them.

I do not know how long I held my own, hoping that at every moment they would tire of the sport and cut off my head. I know that it had to be at least into the next evening, perhaps longer. I became less and less coherent.

I have a vague sense that one of them was trying to enlist my aid. It was a man, I think. I could have imagined all of it, but I think I remember him whispering to me. He wanted to know if I could be pulled from the service of my master.

When I woke…it was utter carnage. I had slipped my bonds. How? I know not. They were still locked. The woman was a bloodless doll with her stomach in her lap. She stared into open space, directly at me as I came awake. My accuser still.

Several of the bodies were torn limb from limb. Her father and two brothers, I think. Another young lady in the hall, a man at the top of the stairs. All of them killed quickly and all in very bloody fashion. The walls were spattered. The floors were pools of deep russet.

What I say now, I say through honesty only. I am not proud of it. Please do not tell me that I was within my rights, if you mean to, because that is not true. And I’ll thank you to remember that at the time, I believed myself better than my species and better still than man. I was a creature whose cleverness was unparalleled. I was someone who was neither subject to fancy nor to dullness. In many ways, my still-forming rules of the hunt were founded upon the principle notion that I would never be like you, most especially in how I kill. I was forced to bend to your society, work within your shadows, but in those days the shadows were so long that I had hardly any trouble.

No children, not ever. Because that was something even you could not claim, a level of control you could not reach. I claimed that and then I lost it.

There were two little ones. Both crumpled in a heap in a small courtyard off the kitchens. I think I crushed them with my bare hands, but I could not bring myself to touch them while awake. The liver mortis  had already set in, leaving little lavender tide lines around their limbs.

I sat on the dirt and stared at my handiwork. I waited for the men I knew would come. I waited to be taken to the priest, or dragged to the Inquisition. I waited for hours. But the silence stretched and I realized no one was coming.

I left them there. I stole all that I could and I left them. I do not know what was thought of the horror that was uncovered the next day. Perhaps they imagined it was a thief, a roaming band of angry, displaced exiles or an angry witch. I really cannot tell you. We didn’t have newspapers (or anything like them) for another twenty years or so, and I couldn’t read anyway. I can tell you that within the year, the Church came to Madrid, and carried on. Thus began the heights of the Spanish Inquisition.

I crawled into myself and refused to come out. I do not know how long. A few years, perhaps. I walked back to France, because it was what I knew, though the journey took me ages. I eventually struck east, intent to go to China, and see the Silk Road like a Venetian. I cut through to the Amboise. As I traveled, I became even more angry than I ever had been before. I did not just fail to comprehend humanity. I hated it. And then I met him. And he made me certain that I would never again trust any human, whether I knew their suffering or not. It was not until Strasbourg that I began to see the frailty in the human mind- truly grasp that you cannot conceive of a universe that does not pattern itself after you, swirl around you, focus upon you. The world’s difficulties were sent to torment you, because why else would they happen? Even being ignored, having an average and uneventful existence was somehow planned by a deity that could apparently care less while demanding submission and devotion. To me this was the very definition of an abusive relationship, and even stranger, one you invented and inflicted upon yourself. What a tremendous pressure and burden to put upon a mind. I think I understood after the Dancing Plague that humans torture themselves far more.

A profound sadness took me. And I despaired. It was offset only by contact with Hans, who was very kind and never pressed me. He taught me what he knew and never expected me to do anything but learn.

That is the story. Or the important parts of it. I will spare you all the emotional torment in between.

Monsters are not natural. They don’t simply exist. We make them. We are them, become them, when we exist in conflict with one another instead of awareness of each other’s flaws and difficulties. The men who tortured me had every reason, for to them I was a dire threat. My explanations would not have mattered in that frenzy. Humanity was simply  not aware enough to converse with me upon the notion that other species exist. The concept would have been heretical.

But at the time, I could not foresee a moment when it would be possible to have that conversation, the one I am currently having with you, gentle reader.

In my experience, most men do what is best for them alone, and feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment and mirth at this notion. That is their most basic drive of survival, and I cannot fault them for it, any more than I can a dog for biting. The barest civility keeps them in check. All it takes is one circumstance that gives them permission, and they revert back to that selfish animal. This is why manners are so important, and composure is the best armor.

I know that this week has angered you, filled you with fear for your own survival, but I caution you- do not lash out at the monsters you see. They are frightening because they seem to be strong and outnumber you, but they have stories, reasons they think what they do. You do not need to pity them and they will make their own consequences, but if you mean to disarm them, you cannot yourself become a monster. You will not like the results.

I know this story is a depressing one. Much of my life is. This is one reason I always caution you to stay away. I cannot make it any more enjoyable for you. I cannot change what has been, nor do I owe you that. I can only offer it as something from which I have learned a great deal, and hope that you may do that same.

Thank you.