If you haven’t read Part One of Seven in a Storm, check that out here.
Before you you get to the story, quick heads up that the Summer/Fall Giveaway has drawn to a close. Also, as I’m getting married next month, so this will be my last post until the second half of November. Stuff is about to get really real around here, so wish me luck. I can’t wait! For now, check out some of my older blog posts, or find all the short stories and poems I’ve posted on the Quick Reads page.
Now, enjoy the conclusion to Seven in a Storm:
Seven in a Storm
Friendly Content Warning: This short story contains some violence and language. The more you know!
Mitch Hallaway was a simple, Christian man. He read his Bible and said his prayers every day, and he thanked God for the forward motion of the country he tried to love. His grandfather and grandmother had been slaves, and his father and mother had been slaves. However, Mitch was a free man, or so he was told, and he was the first in his known family history to be so. But while he wasn’t called a slave under the new laws, he still served the white man.
Specifically, he had been the chauffeur for a man named Robert almost his entire adult life. Robert had owned a club in Chicago, a club with merits that Mitch didn’t entirely agree with. But a job was a job, and he couldn’t turn away when the money was good and the work secure. As for Robert himself, Mitch owed him a great deal—owed his life, in fact. Robert had saved Mitch from a group of thugs one night outside the club, a group who intended to lynch Mitch Hallaway. When Robert arrived, Mitch was nearly dead. And to this day, the chauffeur had a pain in one of his ribs from that night’s injuries.
That’s why Mitch, just waking up in the hours before the sunrise, was staying in a isolated Texas hostel, sitting up and rubbing his still tired eyes. Mitch Hallaway owed a favor, and he hated owing anyone anything. When Robert confided in Mitch that he didn’t feel like he was who the world knew him as, that he needed to get away and be the person he wanted to be, Mitch agreed to drive Robert as far as he needed after very little internal deliberation. Mitch didn’t agree with his employer’s way of life, but he wouldn’t turn his back on Robert now—or, rather, on the Lady Roberta Fielding.
Mitch rose from the bed and put on his crusty, yellow suit as he did every morning. It was, after all, the only suit he owned. Then he reached into his small suitcase and retrieved his Bible and the newspaper he took from the last town he and Lady Fielding had passed through before reaching the hostel.
He set the Bible down and began unfolding the newspaper. He always read the bad news first, and the Good News to bring his spirits back up afterward. But the news he found in the paper was worse than usual: On the very front page were two crudely drawn images of the very same Texas Ranger John Dickson and his mistress, Miss Kendra Dubrey, that were only down the hall from Mitch. Underneath their pictures was a single, bold word. Wanted. Miss Dubrey was, according to the report, being kept at a local asylum, suffering from delusions of supernatural beings and claiming to be on the hunt for a wolf-man. And the Texas Ranger had claimed her for the police, without the knowledge of the law enforcement, and swept her away, vanishing in the wind.
Mitch lowered the paper with trembling hands and looked to the window. The storm still ravaged the skies and flooded the fields. He and Lady Fielding were stuck there, he realized, with two wanted criminals.
Below Mitch Hallaway’s room, in the hostel’s kitchen, his situation was growing worse than he could have anticipated, wanted criminals or no. For it was in the kitchen that Mr. McIntosh and Mr. Ivan had just discovered the stale, lifeless body of Guenther, the bruising of his strangulation still dark purple upon his neck. The two men stood over their dead servant, who’d been with them even in the old world, and Mr. Ivan, for one, was sweating with nervous unsettlement. “Who would have done this?” Mr. Ivan asked hushedly, as anyone might be listening. “Or how, more likely, is the better question. Right in our own domain.”
Mr. McIntosh, stoic and unmoving as he was, only adjusted his hat and shook his head. “However unfortunate, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “It can’t matter. They all must die.”
“Are you a fool?” spat Mr. Ivan, his narrow face growing sunken and grey. Mr. McIntosh only looked at him, and so Mr. Ivan continued. “That’s how we got stuck in this wretched place,” he said. “That’s just the same. We were greedy. I will not end up somewhere worse. Not now. Not when we’re so close.”
Mr. McIntosh stepped toe-to-toe with his colleague and placed the bottom of his cane gently upon Mr. Ivan’s shoe. “If you have an alternate plan, then pray tell, my friend,” said Mr. McIntosh with rage held at the back of his throat.
Mr. Ivan, taking a deep breath, said, “The storm asked only for four. That’s all I’ve said. If five are given, we’ll lose our chance to finally return home, at best. And at worst…” He didn’t finish his sentence, but only gave a flicker of the eyes that Mr. McIntosh understood.
The men looked at the rain pouring like acid outside the small kitchen window. “The storm asks for what the storm wants,” admitted Mr. McIntosh. “And nothing more.” He looked again at Guenther’s corpse, the corners of his mouth turning down. “Help me get rid of this. The storm isn’t ready for the guests, so if they ask where Guenther has gone—”
“To town,” interrupted Mr. Ivan. “To fetch some milk.” The two of them nodded at each other. That much, at least, they had rehearsed. “It’s a shame, though,” added Mr. Ivan thoughtfully, and with a grunt as they hoisted the body from the floor. “Poor Guenther isn’t even a good meal for our kind in this state.” Mr. McIntosh agreed that, indeed, that was a shame.
Texas Ranger John Dickson was the first of the guests to go downstairs, but he found the foreroom empty and the fire dying. “Anyone ‘round?” he called out. No answer came. He subtly adjusted the hand cannon he had at his waist, hidden beneath his long coat. The six silver bullets provided by Miss Dubrey were loaded in the gun’s chamber, itching to kill. And moreso, Ranger Dickson was itching to pull the trigger. He went to the window where he’d stood the night before and looked out at the blinding rainfall. It had only gotten worse. But not storm nor Heaven nor Hell would keep him from carrying out his mission.
The hostel’s front door swung open and in came Mr. McIntosh and Mr. Ivan, their suits soaked from collar to shoe and their mouths quietly discussing some urgent matter. Mr. Ivan straightened his back when he saw the Texas Ranger watching them. “Oh. Good morning, sir,” said Mr. Ivan. “How do you fare after a night’s rest beneath the storm?”
Mr. McIntosh cut in before the ranger could respond, saying, “Will you be leaving today? I wouldn’t recommend traveling as it is, of course. Lives have been lost to this weather in the past.” Something in Mr. McIntosh’s voice was, Ranger Dickson thought, quite unsettling.
“We’ll be stayin’, I think,” said the ranger. “If you’ll oblige us.”
“Of course they will,” said Miss Dubrey, who appeared at the bottom of the stairs a moment later wearing a black dress short enough to make Mr. Ivan blush. “Who could say no to us?” She was smiling wide and friendly, but strapped to her thigh, just above the hem of her dress, was a silver-edged dagger sharpened to kill. She pulled her shawl tighter on her shoulders and winked.
“So, what’s for breakfast?” Ranger Dickson asked casually, leaning against the sofa. “Haven’t seen that Guenther ‘round yet.”
The two hosts looked at each other, giving away more than they intended. “He went to town,” said Mr. Ivan.
“To get some milk,” added Mr. McIntosh.
The ranger raised a bushy eyebrow and smirked. “He went to town? In the storm?”
“He doesn’t mind the storm,” said Mr. McIntosh, smirking back. “He was built for it, you see. It could swallow him whole, and he wouldn’t flinch a muscle.”
Breakfast was terrible, for many reasons. For Mitch Hallaway, it was a meal eaten while sat on a chair of needles, or rather, while sitting across from a corrupted lawman. Was it love that caused him to turn his back on his badge, Mitch wondered, or was it that he believed in Miss Dubrey’s tales of wolf-men. “How long is the storm expected to go on, do you know?” asked Mitch between bites of the flavorless bread and jam Mr. Ivan had prepared. Mitch wanted to be gone as soon as he could be.
“When it has served its purpose, I suppose,” answered Mr. Ivan. He sat at the end of the table, not eating, and not meeting the eyes of his guests. Mr. McIntosh sat across from him, distracted by the trembling hands and downturned face of Lady Fielding. The woman had come down the stairs last, and without so much as a whisper. She looked a bit worse for wear, Mr. McIntosh thought, and he had a hunch about her that made him feel quite…
“Bitter,” said Mr. McIntosh aloud. “How very bitter, indeed.”
“What is?” asked Mitch.
“Somebody at this table murdered our dear Guenther,” said Mr. McIntosh. “And I’m quite bitter over it.” At his colleague’s words, Mr. Ivan almost choked on the air. His eyes, blue and wild, met Mr. McIntosh’s with such disapproval that the thunderous clap outside might have come from his own mouth if he hadn’t held his tongue. Mitch’s chest hollowed out. His hand slowly reached for his Bible, which he’d brought with him to breakfast, if only to make him feel safer. He knew exactly who had done it, but his lips remained shut. If he told his hosts about the Texas Ranger and Miss Dubrey, who’s to say he wouldn’t be been next to die?
Mitch was all too sure of his assumptions to see the paleness that overtook Lady Fielding’s face. She could still feel the cool metal of her necklace in her fists as she pulled the jewelry tight around Guenther’s neck. When he’d collapsed to the floor, she didn’t know what else to do but to get the body out of her room. She’d blown her candles out to hide her being awake and stayed up late into the night, weeping and waiting for the right time. And then, drying her tears, she cracked the door open and peered into the hall. Not a shadow stirred, and so she swung the door wide, slid her arms under Guenther’s, and dragged him from the room.
At the stairs she flipped him around, grabbed him by the claves so that his boots wouldn’t thump against the steps, and gently tugged him down to the first floor of the hostel. The room was pitch black and coated in smoke still slowly flowing from the extinguished fireplace. Lady Fielding’s hands were shaking, her heart pounding without rhythm. She pulled her victim’s body across the floor, through the swinging door to the kitchen, and into the middle of the room. But as she righted herself to leave, she’d heard two whispering voices pass through the foreroom, just on the other side of the door she had brought Guenther through. They were the voices of Mr. McIntosh and Mr. Ivan, and their words had sent a shiver down her spine. It was a shiver that, the next morning while she was sitting at the table, having just heard Mr. McIntosh pose his accusation of murder, still remained tingling in her back.
“I’m very, very bitter,” repeated Mr. McIntosh. “We invite you all in, and we feed you. We give you rest from travel and shelter from storm. And one of you—“ He paused, scanned the faces at the table. “And one of you murders our man. In cold blood.”
“I knew you bastards were lyin’ ‘bout the milk,” said Ranger Dickson. His fist slammed hard against the table.
“Mr. McIntosh,” Mr. Ivan hissed. “I don’t think that now is the time.”
“I’ll spare them their fate no longer, Mr. Ivan!” Mr. McIntosh stood, and nearly in the same second Ranger Dickson had sprung from his chair. The next moment was one that could have been missed with a single dry-eyed blink; the ranger’s coat had flared out, his hand had swept by his waist, and his gun had been aimed and fired with a blinding flash and deafening bang. Mitch dove away, tackling Lady Fielding to the ground, and Miss Dubrey unsheathed her dagger and put it to Mr. Ivan’s throat in a single, smooth motion. But the ranger’s silver bullet only popped into Mr. McIntosh’s chest with a hollow thud. The man in the red cap stumbled back one step and looked down at the bullet hole with something like a smile on his pale lips. Not a drop of blood stained his white shirt. “Silver? We’re not werewolves you imbecile.”
“No,” said Mr. Ivan, hot with anger. He grabbed Miss Dubrey’s wrist and twisted her arm and the dagger away from him. Her eyes darkened, sweat pooling on her forehead. “We’re much worse.” Ranger Dickson didn’t have time to show his own dismay before Mr. McIntosh had lunged across the table like a cat and sunk his teeth into the ranger’s neck, sending the both of them soaring through the wall and into the kitchen. The storm bellowed, and the thunder roared again. Mr. Ivan shoved Miss Dubrey away, but she brought her dagger back swiftly and cut his arm through his shirt. He snarled and gripped her throat, pinning her against the wall. “So it was you who killed Guenther then,” he snarled. “Poor Guenther was only human. You killed him without reason, without purpose.”
“I didn’t touch him,” said Miss Dubrey horsley, fighting for air. “We didn’t kill him, you devil.”
In the commotion that had broken out, Mitch Hallaway grabbed his Bible from the table and Lady Fielding’s arm and pulled her up and out of the dining room. He was aiming to flee the building and reach his vehicle outside, but before they could get out of the hostel the door to the kitchen swung open to reveal Mr. McIntosh. He stood hunched over, with his hat gone and hair down in a furious mane, and he was, as a gentleman might clean his mouth after dinner, wiping fresh blood from his face. “Ah,” he said courteously. “Checking out, are you?”
“Just hold on now,” said Mitch, his voice even, almost calm. He was holding his hand up to Rupert McIntosh as if he alone could hold the creature at bay. Mr. Ivan walked into the living room without a drop of blood on him. He was a neater man than his colleague.
“That’s enough, Mr. McIntosh,” said Mr. Ivan in a low voice. “The storm isn’t ready!”
“Hold your tongue, Andrei,” said Mr. McIntosh with a growl. “I’ll wait no longer. The storm will accept them. And I’m hungry.”
“Why us?” asked Mitch, tears forming in his eyes. He let the prayer he’d been silently weaving disintegrate from his lips. “What’s all this about? Why do you speak of the storm as some sort of—I don’t know—as a living being?”
“They worship it, Mr. Hallaway,” said Lady Fielding in his ear. “I heard them talking last night, right down here. They speak of the storm as a god.”
“Why were you out of your room?” asked Mr. Ivan, but the answer came clear to him before he’d fully formed the question. “Ah. So it was indeed not the ranger or the other woman who killed our man?”
“It seems our guests are people of secrets, Mr. Ivan,” said Mr. McIntosh, idly sweeping his hair from his forehead with a single finger. Mitch, his mind burdened with understanding, looked cautiously over his shoulder at his employer.
“I’m so sorry,” said Lady Fielding in a whisper. “Guenther found out, Mitch. I didn’t have a choice.”
Mitch swallowed hard, glancing between Lady Fielding and the hostel’s hosts, and he said, “There’s always a choice. Always.”
“Indeed,” added Mr. McIntosh. “There is.” Without another hesitant moment, the bloody-faced man pounced on on Mitch and Lady Fielding, but Mitch brought his Bible up like a hammer and smacked it across Mr. McIntosh’s face, sending him sideways into the fireplace. The flames erupted in fire around him, and he called out painfully for Mr. Ivan. Mr. Ivan was busy, however, blocking Lady Fielding’s run for the door. She turned on her heel, instead running for the kitchen, wherein she found the mangled corpse of Texas Ranger John Dickson. She swerved and tripped over something, falling hard to the ground and looking back to see the ranger’s handcannon at her feet.
In the front room, Mitch had gotten out the door and into the storm. He was running as hard and fast as he could, but with every step his feet sunk deeper into the wet earth. Mr. Ivan chased him out, fangs bore and eyes dark. The clouds filled the sky with black shadows, turning the day into night and releasing a flood like that which carried Noah’s Ark over valley and mountain. But Mitch had no ark. He had nothing but his own two feet, until they gave way beneath him. He fell eight feet down, hollering all the way, and landed in a grave, squarely on top of Guenther’s soaked corpse. Mitch winced, putting a hand over his rib cage. Mr. Ivan came close behind and stood at the grave’s edge, laughing at the chauffeur’s poor luck.
“You stay away from him,” Lady Fielding shouted from behind Mr. Ivan. He turned to find her aiming Ranger Dickson’s gun at him, her hair soaked to her head and her dress clinging to the rectangular body beneath it. Her shoes lie somewhere behind, buried in mud.
Mr. Ivan watched her carefully, cocking his head to one side. “Haven’t we been through this already?”
Lady Fielding ignored his question and held her aim. “You needed four, I heard you say? Four sacrifices?” Mr. Ivan didn’t answer, but Mr. McIntosh did.
“That’s right,” he growled, approaching from the hostel. She only glanced over her shoulder, seeing his scorched form, unsure what was his suit and what was his flesh. Lightning streaked across the sky and casted his face in a harsh light.
“And you already have three,” said Lady Fielding evenly. “The woman and the ranger, and your man, Guenther. You only need one more. I killed Guenther, so take me. Let Mr. Hallaway live.”
“Why would we do that,” said Mr. McIntosh with a laugh. “When I’m still hungry?” Lady Fielding heard him moving closer. Her finger danced with the trigger. Mr. Ivan shrugged as if to say he saw his colleague’s point.
“You killed a Texas Ranger,” she pressed. “They’ll come looking for him. You’ll go to prison for this.”
“We’ve been through worse,” said Mr. Ivan. “We’re not exactly from here. We’re not exactly mortal, my dear.”
“Then being imprisoned for an eternity would be much worse,” she said hastily, hearing Mr. McIntosh draw even closer. She turned on a whim to see his gaping mouth charging towards her, and she pulled the trigger. Mr. McIntosh’s head burst into red mist and his body hit the ground at her feet, though she didn’t see it. She had already spun back to Mr. Ivan, who now looked far less sure than he had seconds earlier. “You’re not exactly immortal either. There’s your fourth, no?”
Mr. Ivan looked at Mr. McIntosh’s body, unsure what he felt, but he thought it was something like freedom. He held his hands up as though chains had just been cut from his wrists. Finally, he nodded to answer Lady Fielding’s question. “But now what can I do? The storm won’t accept only one of us, and you’ve killed my last chance to get home… All I can do is run.”
“Let me help you, and you let Mr. Hallaway go. If we run, they’ll find us. We have to kill the search.” Lady Fielding held her gun on Mr. Ivan for a long moment before he nodded once more.
“Can someone get me out of here?” Mitch cried out from the grave.
The storm attacked the fields of Texas for three days in total before the rain dried up. When the last tendril of the last storm cloud passed over the horizon Texas Ranger Philip Lastmorn hit the road on the hunt for John Dickson and Kendra Dubrey, fugitives of the law. His search was arduous, but nonetheless, the trail led him to a small hostel in the middle of nowhere, only a few miles from the border of Mexico. Ranger Lastmorn approached the hostel’s front door with one hand on his holstered rifle and one clenched into a fist that he used to knock none-too-softly on the door.
It opened shortly after to reveal a man that, other than his balding, would be nearly impossible to pick out from a crowd. “Hello,” said the man. “Looking for room and board?”
“No, sir,” said Ranger Lastmorn. “I’m looking for two fugitives, if I’m bein’ honest. A Texas Ranger like myself and a woman who, well, isn’t all there—in her mind.”
“I don’t think I’ve seen anyone like that,” answered the man. “We didn’t have any but one guest all while the storm was raging. And he was a driver, is all. He was heading north I believe. A Christian man.”
“Ah. I’m not religious myself.” Ranger Lastmorn turned and looked out on the field. “May I come in?”
The man nodded and said, “Of course, Ranger. You’re welcome to look around or stay. My colleague, Mr. Ivan, could whip up some food for us. Though he’s not much of a cook. Rather bland, really. But you know, we do what we can.”
“That won’t be necessary,” said the ranger. He looked around the front room. Everything seemed normal, though the building was a bit musty for his tastes, and the frightened-looking bear throw rug gave him the willies. “What was your name?” he asked.
“Oh,” the man laughed. “I’m Robert. Robert Fielding.”
“Robert? All right. Well, that’ll be all, Mr. Fielding. If you see anything, let me know, would’ja?”
“Of course, Ranger,” said Robert, smiling so wide that Ranger Lastmorn almost thought he saw fangs in the man’s mouth. “I suppose everyone has their secrets, but, really, nothing out of the ordinary happens in these parts.”
“No, indeed,” said the ranger, tipping his hat. And then he was gone. The trail of his fugitives went cold after that day, and though he tried, he was never again able to locate the hostel. And neither, as a matter of fact, was Mr. Ivan, nor Robert, nor the Lady Fielding ever seen after that day. Mitch Hallaway, for his part, did travel as far north as he could and almost reached Canada. He promised himself that he would never return to Texas. That promise was, of course, on account of the poor weather.
And Happy Early Halloween!
Have a great October. I’ll talk to you again when I’ve got a ring on my finger!
Weekly Writing Prompt:
The night was darker than usual, he thought, as the cat returned to his front porch…