Lots of men would tell you that when they first started getting involved in something weird, they had a bad feeling. Something gnawing at the pit of their stomach telling them to stay away. A feeling they ignored. I think those men are liars. When I first picked up the bounty to haul in the Largo brothers, I never once suspected this would be the job that would open my eyes to the existence of things I never dreamed were true. There was no gnawing in the pit of my stomach, no prickling of the hairs on the back of my neck, nothing of the kind. But that was the case that first got me the reputation as the man to hire when a case came up that had undertones of the supernatural. And I went into it thinking it was no different than any of the other horse thieves and murderers I had spent my time tracking down since the end of the war.
The Largo Brothers, you see, had read too many dime novels of the exploits of the James gang and had developed a taste for robbing trains. And while the never achieved the notoriety of the James brothers (partially thanks to my ending their careers, I like to think) the railroads wanted them caught. Or killed, they didn’t much care which. The money was good, so I didn’t think a thing about it when I agreed to begin looking for them.
I will spare you, gentle reader, the boring details of the early part of the investigation. Suffice it to say, it was a lot of fruitless conversations with known associates and family members of the Largos. Most of these conversations went nowhere anyway. Eventually, though, I received a tip from an old “friend” of theirs who was angry at them over some petty slight, the details of which I no longer remember. He said that he had heard that they were holed up somewhere around a town called Greenfield, in Mason Valley.
And so, on a crisp late September day, I rode into Greenfield, got a meal and some liquor at The Switch, as they called the local saloon and began my search.
For a brief, shining, moment, it looked like this was going to be one of the easiest bounties I ever collected because I was quickly informed by the locals that the Largos had already made themselves persona non grata in town. Harrassing the women, getting rowdy in the bars, there was some suspicion they had even stolen a few cattle from one of the local ranches. The townsfolk were eager to point me toward a cabin outside of town where they thought the Largos were staying. They were eager for me to haul them off to jail or the graveyard and for the money I was being paid, I was happy to oblige. I should have known it wouldn’t have been so ea
I got to the cabin where they were supposedly holed up around noon the next morning. It was a beautiful day. A bit on the chilly side, as I remember it, but nothing a good coat couldn’t help. I rode to within a mile or so of the place, then continued on foot, keeping myself behind hillocks and bushes as much as possible to minimize the chance that the Largos would see me. This was difficult as it was mostly up a hill and through a wash with little except sagebrush between me and them. I had my Peacemaker at the ready, just in case.
The first sign that something was wrong was that I saw no smoke coming from their chimney. It wasn’t a terribly cold day, but cold enough that most men would have built a fire even if they had to use sagebrush for fuel. And no one challenged me as I got close. By the time I was within 20 yards or so of the cabin, there was nothing to hid behind, anyone looking out a window would have been able to see me, and fugitive bank robbers tend to be the paranoid sort, so it was odd that no one either came out to see who I was or took a shot at me.
All in all, it led me to believe no one was home and that this was likely to be a waste of my time. Not as easy as I hoped. Still. It seemed like a good idea to check the place out, just in case they had just gotten drunk and were passed out inside, or at the very least I could possibly hope to find some clue where the bastards had gone.
I kicked in the door with my gun drawn. I can hardly describe the scene I saw inside despite the fact that some 45 years later, I can remember it as if it were yesterday. Blood was seemingly pained on every surface. On the walls, on the floor, on the ceiling and on the stove. It was if someone was trying to paint the place red and blood was the only red substance they had available. The odor of it, you can’t really know it unless you have smelled it for yourself, but it had a faintly tangy metallic smell. It was still sticky too, my boots stuck to the floor as I walked. This told me it wasn’t more than a day or so old.
But no sign of the Largos or anyone else. No corpses, no sign of where the blood had come from. Just a lot of blood in an otherwise normal cabin.
I looked around the place anyway. I had seen a lot of men die in a lot of gruesome ways during the war. I had seen men die from gunshots, stabbings, cannon fire, trampled by horses and a surprising number just shit themselves to death from disease. But Ihad never before seen anything like what I saw here. Just blood and nothing else. No…bits…for lack of a better word. No severed limbs or chunks of flesh. Nothing but blood. It also looked like the Largos (or whoever was in this cabin, if it wasn’t them) had pushed all the furniture to the walls to clear out the center of the room. There was a table nearby. I could see a roughly square outline in the blood, like something had been sitting there when the blood explosion (for lack of a better term) occurred and was subsequently removed leaving a clean spot. It was roughly the size and shape of a family bible. So maybe that’s what it was, a book of some sort. Odd, because the Largos were nether religious nor literate men from what I heard. But, there it was.
That meant two things, though. Someone was here after whatever happened here happened, and that someone had possession of a blood-stained book that they felt was important enough to grab even after something had painted the cabin blood red with actual blood. Whether that was one or both Largo brothers or some third person, I didn’t know at the time. But either it was one or both of them, or it was someone who could lead me to the Largos, and thus the key to my payday.
I then examined the floor more carefully. I saw my own prints and a second pair, less obvious probably because they had been made when the blood was more liquid, but they were there. And they led out the door. But only one set of prints, so if it was one of the Largos it is likely the dead person was the other. Or something had killed them both and it was a mysterious third person who escaped. There was no way to be sure, but it seemed likely that at least one Largo was dead, maybe both.
Then it dawned on me what I wasn’t seeing. If someone had died some horrible death in that cabin and the body wasn’t there, then someone would have had to remove the body. But then where were the drag marks. James Largo, the older Largo, was a large strong man and his brother, Bill was small skinny and vicious. If James had died, it seemed his brother would have to drag him out, but there which would have left quite the blood trail. But I saw no evidence of that. If Bill died, then James probably could have taken him over his shoulder, but that still would have left some evidence of him being dragged around in the blood while James hoisted his brother onto his shoulder. No sign of that either. If it were a third party who left, then he would have had the same problem with both brothers as each would have with the other. SO that seemed unlikely too. I was at a loss to explain what the hell had happened there.
I examined the area around the cabin for a bit and found nothing. No more blood, no bodies, not a damned thing. Then I headed back to town, feeling that this was all a bust. No Largos, Likely they were already dead but had been somehow disposed of in a way that I couldn’t explain. I was at a dead end and while this was all very weird, I wasn’t being paid to figure out what had happened in that cabin, just to bring back the Largos and it seemed the latter was never going to happen. My plan at the time was to report what I found to the local sheriff, let him deal with it as he saw fit, and head back to Virginia City the next day, to find more profitable ventures.
Fate has a way of foiling one’s plans. I got back to where I had left my horse and found it gone. Only a huge splotch of blood all over the sagebrush and the small pine tree where I had tied him up. Otherwise, not so much as a single hair was left of the poor beast.
I pulled my revolver again and looked around. Not so much as a jackrabbit seemed to share the desert with me. But whatever had happened in that cabin had now happened to my horse, and I was damned well determined it would not happen to me. Being as cautious and watchful as I could, I began to head back to Greenfield.
I walked for hours. I knew it would be dark before I reached town on foot, and I didn’t want to walk in the dark any more than I had to, so I pushed on at a pretty good clip keeping my rests to a bare minimum. I could rest once I was safely ensconced in a boarding house in town.
I was at least three fourths of the way into town when I heard the noise. Two noises, one was a kind of hissing shriek, and the other was a man’s voice chanting something in some other language, Latin I thought at the time, though I know now that it wasn’t, instead it was some far more ancient tongue.
I could have kept going and gotten back to Greenfield without incident. In the days and years down the road I think I SHOULD have kept going. If I had, my life might have turned out very differently. But I didn’t. The hissing shriek sounded so unnatural, so unlike anything I had heard before that I knew it had to have had something to do with the incident in the cabin. It was a feeling in my bones that I could not shake. And the human voice, it was beginning to falter. I ran toward them sounds and saw some creature from the depths of nightmares, it was an orb of tentacles and teeth and eyes and little else. It seemed to be trying to get at a man who was standing back up to a rock outcropping, who was holding a book and reading from it. Whatever he was saying was keeping the…thing…at bay. But it was clear to me that the man was weakening, and soon those mouths would be feasting upon him.
I was even less versed in the occult then than I am now, so I had no idea what to do. I did the only thing I could think to do. I shot it. Right in one of its dinner plate sized eyes. This seemed to only serve to aggravate it. It also served to make it think I would be far easier prey than the man in the derby, so it turned from him and made for me. I did what any sensible man would do in such a situation, I ran.
It was faster than me, though. Far faster. I was quite athletic, in my youth, and I would have put my prowess up against any man in a foot race. But this was no man. It was an indescribable thing. A thing not of this world, I would come to find out. And it was gaining on me. I ran down a ravine and found myself blocked by a deadfall, no doubt left from a recent flash flood. It was coming, all teeth and eyes. I fired my gun until I was out of bullets. Each one hit, I am sure of it, but none seemed to so much as dissuade the creature. I thought I was doomed.
Until the derby hatted man appeared behind it. He spoke straight into my mind somehow, I can’t explain it any other way and said “Neither of us can defeat this thing alone, together we may stand a chance. Speak as I do. Do not fight what happens next. Else we are both doomed”
The man in the derby began to chant again, in his strange language. “Chuthra. Demazvador. Chuthra. Valaris. CHUTHRA”
I resisted at first. I had no idea what was going on. I will admit that I thought I had gone quite insane. Maybe I was dreaming the whole thing. But as the other man chanted, the thing stopped and squirmed, but then continued back toward me. So I joined in “CHUTHRA! Dem. Dem..Demvazador…” it stopped. I listened, I felt. He was feeding the words to me in the same way he had spoken to me. I continued the chant. I felt myself weaken but as I spoke I could see the thing weakening too. The man in the derby and I chanted more forcefully, I could feel…something….my life force, my soul, I do not know what to this day, but I was growing weaker and weaker, I knew I was dying. But so was the thing. Eventually, just as I was about to collapse, the creature let out a final hissing scream and faded away into nothingness.
I felt my knees buckled and I puked. Then the Derby hatted man came over to me and put a hand on my shoulder and said “You did well for someone who hasn’t studied the art. Give it a few minutes. It will pass.”
I kneeled there, exhausted and said “Who are you? What happened”
“Some would know me as Ivan Sterenko. But I think you deserve my real name, Eibon. The name may mean nothing to you, but that is because I am far older than you, or any man you know”
I saw the book in his hand. It was about the size of a family bible but didn’t look to be one, it was covered in blood. I pointed to it “I gotta know, was that what this was all about?”
Eibon smiled at me, he had an utterly ordinary face for an ageless wizard “Yes. A couple of thieves stole it from a train when I was having it brought to me. They accidentally called up something they could not put down. Chuthra the Devourer. I sense that you were looking for them too”
“Yep, “ I said, “Only if they got themselves devoured it was all for naught. Can’t go back to Judge Eldridge and say “Largos got eaten by some kind of devourer. Can I get paid anyway?”
Eibon produced a small jingling pouch of gold coins, “I hope this will make up for your losss”. I looked inside and, though the coins were of a strange design I had never seen, they were gold and would no doubt prove worth more than the bounty
“I have a feeling our paths will cross again some day, bounty hunter” he said as he walked off into the night.
They did, but that’s a whole other story.