From: Mr. Zebulon Pike
To: Mrs. Hannilore West, Kingsport, Mass.
I will first apologize for the lateness of this correspondence. Having left the silver rail of civilization, I have also left the somewhat more regular channels of communication. I will endeavor to continue in my regular writings and will send them as the opportunity becomes available.
I had late this afternoon arrived at the prairie town of Eastwood Ridge, an interesting moniker in that it is not particularly east of anywhere, there are no woods nor is it located in proximity to a ridge. It was also strange that at the still early hour, there was absolutely no activity. Like those puritanical communities that "roll up the streets at night," all the shops and houses were shuttered, barred and locked. That is, except for a pair of horses tied up at the town's drinking establishment. By a remarkable coincidence, the horses belonged to two gentlemen that I had met at the station some weeks ago.
The first was one Mr. Don Bongiovi, apparently a former cavalry officer (though for which army I could not determine) who was continuously strumming upon a well-worn guitar. Even when conversing, he would play upon his instrument to accentuate certain points, much like an orchestra would accompany and operatic performance, though singularly more pedestrian.
The other occupant of the tavern was another former soldier, one Mr. Ezekiel Tobin. My first encounter with Mr. Tobin was his asking me, entirely without provocation, as to whether I had ever met or heard of a certain man. Given his demeanor and the armory he carried I had the distinct impression that Mr. Tobin had some deadly unfinished business with this mystery man. It also seemed that Mr. Tobin had received the worst of it so far as he drank heavily and had raspy cough.
The taverns proprietor made an appearance and we learned what had the town closed up so tight. There had been a series of horrible assaults and murders in recent weeks. Homes would be broken into and the occupants would be dragged out of town to be hung en-masse from the so-called hang'n tree a mile outside of town. Several posses had been formed to seek out these marauders but many of them had not returned. Out of fear, the proprietor said.
The coincidences piled one upon the other when Mr. Alexander Pace, who I mentioned in my last letter, also arrived in town. Quite spontaneously we all took action to investigate this situation. Mr. Tobin and I took the horses to the livery, Mr. Tobin having to be exceptionally persuasive to get the stable attend to unbar the door and take in the horses. Mr. Pace took up a position on the roof of the tavern while I and the others were at the one end of town in the house that had been most recently assaulted.
After midnight, there was a gunshot from the tavern and while both Mr. Tobin and Mr. Bonjiovi had earlier exhibited selfish tendencies, they both showed good character in immediately moving out into the street to lend assistance.
Up the street, the unfortunate tavern keeps was being dragged away by a shadowy assemblage of assailants. And while Mr. Pace and Mr. Tobin each dispatched several of the brigands with rifle shots, others set upon the tavern keeper and continued towards the edge of town, still intent on hanging this man even though several of their own had been killed.
Now, dear sister, I must stress upon you at this point not to pass on what I am about to replay to you to any others, most especially not your husband. His opinion of myself is already at an ebb tide and I would not want to fuel his disdain.
As the others continued their pursuit of the attackers, I paused to investigate the bodies as, even at a distance in the dark of night, they seemed unusual. They were corpses. Not for having been just shot but the cold, deep lifelessness of having been deceased for day or even weeks. Their spines had been broken and the heads swung loose on only the muscle and tissue of their necks. It came upon me the dread realization that these people were the victims of the previous week's lynchings and after having been dressed in their best clothes and respectfully laid to rest by their neighbors, they had risen from their graved to reap some unknown revenge.
When I caught up with the others, they were locked in battle. The hanging tree was not a mile outside of town, it was right at it's edge, and by some dark arcanum was ambulatory, having literally pulled itself from the ground to advance upon our group with malevolent waving of limbs and ropes, like tentacles, reaching out. Mr. Bongiovi had cut one such rope from around the tavern keeper's neck and was fighting off additional ropes while Mr. Tobin repeatedly fired rifle rounds into the apparently unaffected trunk. Mr Pace was nowhere to be seen, having gone back to the stables to recover the horses to accelerate our pursuit. He can easily be forgiven for missing out on the fight, not realizing that the tree had come to us.
I am quite pleased with my steadfast comportment under the deadly assault from otherworldly horrors. Lesser men might have fled or be struck dumbfounded but I set upon the task with purpose and fortitude. I drew forth one of the sticks of dynamite that I had purchased on a whim in Chicago. I had placed two stick in the pocket of my jacket earlier in what I had thought at the time as being somewhat overly paranoid. The first stick hurled at the tree with a short fuse exploded with little more effect than to make the monster "angry" and advance upon me with surprising swiftness, that is, for a tree. The second stick landed in the boughs and hurt it more significantly but it set upon me with enchanted ropes and threatened to throttle me were I not to escape in short order.
That monstrosity of a pistol you had insisted I take with me was drawn from a pocket and fired at close range, severing the rope that had attached itself to my leg. Meanwhile, Mr. Tobin had set on the ingenious idea of taking one of his whiskey bottles and, with his handkerchief inserted in the bottle and set alight, he threw the improvised incendiary at the tree. This slower burning weapon was much more effective than the explosive effect of the dynamite I had thrown and in short order the tree was fully ablaze. (I must make myself something similar for future use.) The walking dead who had been under the tree's evil influence collapsed, signaling the end of its power.
So, the rumors are true. Strange things are moving out on the frontier and I was right to travel here to investigate. And while little would please me more than to reveal this revelation to your husband and his cadre of doubters, there is not yet enough proof. I will show them, though. I will show them all.
This chance meeting of four travelers in the wilds and our subsequent adventure, did I not know better, might have me believe that divine providence had taken a hand. And even though it is the most suspicious of coincidences, I have nonetheless taken the opportunity to throw in with them. Their "type" seems the sort to invite adventures of the preternatural sort and since research of such things was, again, my initial goal, I will continue to travel with them.
Do not fear if my letters do not come with as much swiftness as they had previously. The vast distances of the frontier make such correspondences unlikely. But I will continue to write regularly and post the letters as a group when such opportunities present themselves. Give my warmest regards to your sister-in-law and my continued disdain to your husband.
Your most loving brother,
Saturday, November 17, 2007
From: Mr. Zebulon Pike