Crossfire

Catching Up

The Journal of Father Eric Brooks

October 15, 1875

It’s been quite a while since I wrote here. I feel I’ve been running from one crisis to the next, without time to breathe. Well, I suppose I have time now.

As I look back, it was the carnival riot which sparked my last entry. Hard to believe it has been a mere three weeks… it feels more like ten months!

During the confusion of that terrible night, several local children disappeared – apparently taken from their very homes. Locals claimed the people of the carnival snatched them for some dark sacrificial purpose. If they only know both how wrong and how right they were! In the aftermath, quite a few of the carnies came to St Mary’s seeking sanctuary. We set up a shelter in the church’s basement to keep them safe from pryng eyes while we sorted everything out.

The very next day, Miss Veila was taken into custody on some trumped-up charge of aiding in the chaos. She was put on trial – and convicted! – right alongside the few carnival folk who were unable to avoid capture. They were sentenced to hang within the week, which left the rest of us to find some kind of proof she wasn’t involved. This was quite difficult, as we were indeed at the riot, and we did side with the people of the carnival. Our only recourse was to locate the missing children.

We learned that Pastor Daniel Hook of the First Baptist church had acquired some refugees of his own.

Pastor Hook is an interesting fellow. At first glance he seems little more than a rough-and-tumble cowpoke, but his faith in God – even with his strange heathen fixation on dunking people in water – is unassailable. I saw him kneel down with Mr Thompson to pray, and Thompson’s injuries (incurred when he dispensed of Danika’s lion) seemingly disappeared. I’ve heard tell of true Miracle workers, but never thought I’d see one myself.

We were ultimately able to put the two groups into contact, with Mistress Pentzikas acting as a go-between. Unfortunately, she and Pastor Hook failed to return to First Baptist one evening.

Through some less-than-admirable means, we gained entry to Hook’s study, and after searching through his papers found mention of a ranch he had been keeping an eye on. Lacking any better leads, we headed out to see if they knew what had happened to Hook and Mistress Pentzikas. Along the way, we stumbled across an Indian war party that was clearly gearing up to attack Denver. Thompson, Valmier and I were able to use their impending threat to lure the bulk of the guards away from the ranch. At this point, the others in the group – among them Danika and her new friend Nitza – snuck onto the property. They found a very battered Pastor Hook in the barn, and spirited him back to Denver for medical aid. He regained consciousness only long enough to whisper the name of a nearby town. This turned out to be the place his kidnappers had taken Mistress Pentzikas.

We rode out with all speed, taking along Mr Kincaid (the newspaperman) as the best we could do for a local guide. Unfortunately, we were far too late. Mistress Pentzikas, as well as the five missing children, had been horribly murdered – sacrificed in the burned-out remains of a church, no less! There was no direct evidence of who was involved, but the sudden disappearance of Pastor Larson at this time is too convenient to be coincidence. However, as I say, I have no evidence, just a gut feeling and the word of a precognitive child. After reluctantly spending the evening in this ghost town, we gathered up the remains of all these poor souls and headed back to Denver. As time was running short for Miss Veila and the carnies, I rode on ahead with Danika and Nitza to ask the judge for a stay of execution pending the new evidence.

We were ultimately successful in getting Miss Veila and the other wrongly-convicted people freed, though in the course of the trial it was determined that Danika and Nitza – both orphans – should be taken into care by the city. The Wandoff Orphanage came to collect the two of them until a formal hearing could be held “sometime in the future” to determine where they truly belonged. Nitza – who has some kind of supernatural gift – told us she and Danika would be dead by the third sunrise. This gave us very little time to get them out of the orphanage.

We were put in touch with a local gunman by the name of Rudy. Through him, and Pistol Pete, we formulated a plan to “buy” the girls back from the orphanage. Mrs Wandoff was known in certain circles to sell the girls of her orphanage for entertainment. Lacking the kind of money we needed to purchase the children, we entered into an agreement with Pete – I won’t recount the full details of the agreement here, but suffice to say we ended up with more than enough hard cash to retrieve the girls.

As it turned out however, we needn’t have bothered actually getting the money. There was some kind of attack – Danika and Nitza swear it was “demons from hell” – and in the end, the orphanage caught fire and burned to the ground. We were able to rescue most of the children, who have since been taken into care at St Mary’s.

We have used some of the remaining money we were going to use for Danika and Nitza to secure passage for the carnival folks as far as Dodge. They will be leaving on a new type of “land ship” just as soon as preparations are complete.

The Pinkerton detective agency sent a pair of men to “interview” the orphans. In reality, I believe Mr Black and Mr White were sent to stop the children from spreading wild tales of demons. They also talked briefly with those of us who enacted the actual rescue – Thompson, Rudy, Miss Veila and myself. Again, they put quite a bit of emphasis on these being the fevered imaginings of scared and confused children. Likely the whole event would have quieted down from there, but it was not meant to be. Naturally, the only ones who weren’t completely “on board” with the story was Danika.

After insisting that they did indeed see demons at the orphanage, Mrs Johansen made an appointment for Danika to see a psychologist – some sort of new “brain doctor” a few hours’ ride away. I went as escort for Danika and Nitza, with Rudy along as our guide and bodyguard. After passing through the town of Analine, and making arrangements to return once our business with Doctor Mulrooney to hold a Mass, we arrived at the asylum. Danika – who is apparently terrified of doctors – asked Nitza to see if there was anything to be afraid of there. Nitza used her gift very briefly, then started shouting that “he is in danger! we have to help!” Danika immediately wheeled her pony around and headed back the way we came. Rudy and I gave chase, heading back through the town and onto the prairie. If Danika’s horse hadn’t gotten winded, I truly believe we would have had to chase her clear back to Denver.

We caught up with them, and learned that Nitza had seen Mr Thompson in danger. When we left St Mary’s, he and Miss Veila were preparing to head out to the nearby Explorer’s Society to follow up on a possible job for her. I explained that, even if we headed straight back to the city, we would then have to ride quite a distance in the other direction to even find Mr Thompson and Miss Veila. By which point any danger they may have been in would probably have resolved itself. Though she was insistent, I was able to convince Danika that this was a test Mr Thompson had to face without her. Her test was in facing her fear of doctors and going to see Mulrooney.

We eventually arrived, and spent quite some time talking with the doctor. (I had suggested to Danika and Nitza that maybe telling him they were confused by the fire at the orphanage would get us out of there quickest). By the time we were finished, it was late in the day. We decided to stay in Mulrooney’s guest rooms at the asylum, so that he could observe Danika overnight. He hoped to uncover the source of her nightmares, so he said.

The evening passed quietly, which was strange in itself. But the next day Nitza refused to have anything to do with Danika, saying she was “wrong” somehow. That looking at Danika was like looking at a broken mirror. As we returned to Analine to prepare for the evening services, I convinced Nitza to try and “see” Danika, to find out what was broken about her. She agreed to give it a try that evening, but only if I was there to hold her hand. After turning in for the night, I went to the girls and we prepared to see what was wrong. The last thing I remember was taking each of their hands, then waking up later soaking wet. What follows is what I was able to gather from Rudy.

We apparently woke the entire town with our screaming. Rudy came in to find us still holding hands, with our heads thrown back and a terrible caterwauling coming from each of us. Unable to physically force us apart, he ended up knocking me on the back of the head to stop the screams. When daylight came, and we still hadn’t woken up, the townsfolk called on the local midwife to see what she could do. Any attempt to put us into sunlight resulted in our skin burning as if placed directly into the fire. I have the marks on my arm still to attest to this. The midwife determined we were possessed by something, and performed what she called a “quick and dirty exorcism” on each of us.

I was the first to be woken, as they thought I would be able to help with the rest. Sadly, I was not as helpful as I could have been. Badly shaken by the whole experience, I lost my composure entirely when I saw what was inside of Nitza. After stumbling away, retching up what little food was in my stomach by that point, the midwife reprimanded me and brought me back to help with Danika. Eventually we were all three awoken, and I led a very standoffish group of townspeople in the Holy Mass. After that point, we decided to return to Denver as quickly as possible.

We were set upon by highwaymen on the road back, and they were quickly dispatched of by Rudy and Danika. It’s strange how casually I accept that the girl is such an expert with guns. But she has saved us all too many times to discount it completely.

Upon finally returning to St Mary’s, we discovered that Miss Veila’s job did not work out, though I have not gotten the full details from her yet. It also turns out that the Pinkertons who came to the church recognized Mr Thompson as a wanted man back East. They tried to arrest him on the road, but he was able to escape. He has apparently gotten himself work at the railyards under an assumed name – I bumped into him when I went to check on preparations to get the carnival folk out of town. The land ship is ready to leave when they are, I just wish I could have found a way to let Mr Thompson know that as well.

The carnies were overjoyed to learn they could leave – they have been increasingly nervous about the arrival of another carnival in the next few days, something that goes far beyond a competitive rivalry.

Upon returning to the church, Mrs Johansen informed me that Danika and Nitza had left for most of the day. Danika was still gone, but Nitza had returned on her one some time before. In the middle of a lesson, she apparently started saying the most vile things to other children. Mrs Johansen reprimanded her with a switch, and sent her to sit in the corner until I returned. I gathered up Miss Veila and we went to talk to Nitza. Once we calmed her down, we found she had no memory of saying those things to the others. She was horribly upset, and couldn’t understand why she was being punished. I left her with Miss Veila, as I had to prepare for the evening service. Father Swindburn was under the weather again.

The Mass started off normally enough. There was only a vague outline of the sermon – something about not tolerating unbelievers – but I was able to improvise. That’s when it all went wrong. I lost myself completely in the sermon, and suddenly came back to myself facing a rather upset congregation. Some seemed to be annoyed, and more than a few were openly angry, but they were all shocked by what I had said. As I attempted to move along with the hymn (A Mighty Fortress is Our God), Father St Beuve hurriedly donned his vestments and took over for me.

I still have no idea what it was I actually said up there. I’m sitting here waiting for the service to end, so that I can hopefully find out what happened. From the crowd’s reaction, it was something more than simply losing my place in the Scriptures. I have to say… right now, that land ship back East is looking mighty inviting.

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rma1979

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