The Myriad Calamities of Luke LaChance
Those Wandering Bones
A man walked towards the town of Cemetery Gulch. Dressed in a weathered black suit, the man looked like the earth itself had risen up and almost swallowed him. His face was covered with stubble, having not been shaved since he was on the trail. He had a battered old rucksack on his back, partially hidden by dirt and grime. He carried himself with the demeanor of a crushed man, accepting the whims of fate as he trudged wearily into town. He sought to walk were people weren't, filling the gaps of people in the streets. The other folks passing by seem to oblige, whether out of some desire to avoid strangers or sensing something wrong about the man.
The once proud gambler Luke LaChance had gambled against fate every time, and lost more often than not. Now forced to swallow his pride and work as a courier, he walked towards the saloon. His trip had been plagued with hardships, not the least of which was his horse dying the day earlier. Faded letters arched above the entrance door, reading "Final Rest Saloon." Weary from his long trek, he staggered inside towards the bar. In front of him, a group of drunks placed bets and an ornate, pearl handed revolver on a table. Luke felt a familiar sinister feeling come over him, and tried to avoid the table on his movement towards the bar.
"Excuse me," he said timidly, working his way towards refreshment. Eventually, he reached someone who did not move. However, a large patron looked down at him, and refused to budge. The massive tower of muscle looked down at him, causing Luke to stumble back into a patron in a chair. A gunshot rang out, and Luke found himself on the floor, covered in blood. He breathed heavily, and looked up towards the source of the ichor. One of the men from the poker table had blasted his brains out, undoubtedly losing a trivial bet at a drunken game of roulette.
His hands still held the revolver, and there was little remaining of his head. The patrons at the bar backed away in revulsion and horror. Luke stood up and heard a slight chuckling under the gasps and screams of panic. He turned towards the bar, saw a tall man sitting on a stool, cool as ice in demeanor. The hawk nosed man was clad in a blizzard white suit and had a graying beard and hair to match. A slight smirk appeared on his face as he glanced at the mess on the table, before he returned to his statue-like countenance.
"M-mister Thaddeus Graves?" Luke stumbled. "I've got a package for you."
"Yes, good job, my dear boy," his stoic manner suddenly changed to a grandfatherly warmth. "Let us talk somewhere…less distasteful than here, shall we?"
"I'd prefer that, sir," Luke tried tipping his hat and trying to avoid looking at the table.
Thaddeus Graves' hand vanished, and his other clasped Luke's hand. "I know you've got debts aplenty, my dear boy."
He tugged on LaChance's hand, pulling him out of the saloon. "The wheel of fortune has already spun for some," the old man smirked, slipping something into the gambler's suit. "And I know it always seems to spin a certain way for you. A might unfavorably, if I do say so myself."
Once out of the saloon, Graves continued tugging on the deliveryman, dragging him behind a nearby building. Luke saw that Graves had slipped the money owed into his coat, as well as a familiar pearl handled revolver. There was also a Tarot card, the Wheel of Fortune, turned upside down.
"Sir, why'd you give me this?" Luke looked nervously at the weapon and card, realizing what it had done to its prior user. "I reckon I already have enough troubles to be adding to 'em."
"Stick around this town long enough, Mister LaChance, and you'll have worse troubles than debt," the white suited man grinned and pointed towards the street. "Tell me, my dear boy, do you see that couple there?"
Luke saw an elderly man, hobbling along on a cane, helped along by a young woman barely above the legal age of marriage. She helped the old man into an ornate stage coach, and climbed in herself. The coach sped away, and Luke turned to see Graves grinning.
"That young woman is surely using that old man, as much as he is using her," the smug man grinned. "Or how about that beggar, there? That unfortunate man lost both arms when a shell exploded near him in the War Between the States."
Luke turned to see a ragged, disheveled man by the side of the road, sitting in a ditch near the edge of town, an upside down hat in front of him full of spare change as his only means of supporting himself. He was tanned from days in the sun, and his face was weathered and scarred from years of living without a roof.
"Tragic, is it not?" Thaddeus gestured behind him, down the hill towards the rolling expanse of graves that gave the town its name. "See that grave yard here? Half of the original settlers now rest there, even with their damn animals, due to an outbreak of typhoid fever. They were joined by those dead from Indian raids and other hardships in the years that followed."
"Mister Graves, why are you showing me these?" Luke backed away. "I was merely to transfer a package to your possession!"
"I'm giving you a life lesson, boy, free of charge," Graves barked. "Know what separates those who passed on from our world now? Or why some are born with a silver spoon in their mouth and why some live without seeing as much as a cent?"
"Fortune, or lack therefore of," Luke answered. "Look, Mr. Graves, how about I just give you what's due to you, and then allow me to take my leave?"
"If you do insist, boy," Graves sneered. "Mark my woods. This town is bad for your fortune and your continued well-being. The more rapid your pace of departure, the better."
Luke reached into his pack and pulled out a small leather bag containing the package. Graves greedily reached for the package, and emptied the contents of the bag. He unfurled a matted gray pelt, somewhere between lupine and humanoid in its features.
"Ah, just as my man said it was," he admired the hide. "With this, the power of the skinwalkers is mine."
"Pardon my asking, but ain't skinwalkers one of those Indian myths?" Luke asked. "Some kind of witch?"
"Somewhat," Graves muttered. "I believe this concludes our business, boy."
Graves took the pelt, and hurried back across the street. Luke sorted through his bag, ensuring everything was still inside, and placed his payment within. With any luck, he reasoned, he would be heading out of town on the next train to come through. For now, he was going to the general store to stock up on supplies. Perhaps he could inquire as to the location of the sheriff's office, as to find someone to turn the accursed pistol he had just been handed over to.
"Fancy meeting you here, Luke," someone said from an unseen angle.
No sooner did LaChance walk into the alley than a knife impaled itself in the wall behind him, at approximately head level. He turned his head to see a face he hoped he would never have to. There was a flame haired woman with an eye patch, rawhide shirt, jeans, and a bandoleer with enough knives to make a butcher jealous. Luke recognized the woman as she drew another blade. Her fair skin had been hardened, just as the features on her face. Her one good eye turned at Luke. It took him a second to remember this was the woman he had accidentally taken out an eye from, back during an ill-fated attempt at a working as a knife-thrower at a circus.
"I beg your pardon, Miss Fortune," he turned to the irate woman. "I understand you're probably still irate about my accident, but is this really a suitable place for a duel?"
"It ain't about that," the woman shook her head and palmed a knife from her bandoleer. "I saw you talking with that good for nothing snake in the grass. What are you up to, Luke? I know it ain't nothing good."
"Miss Fortune, I'm just delivering packages to the folks who ought to receive 'em," LaChance replied. "Is that fellow Graves up to something no good?"
"You could say that," Mary replied. "But it ain't just he's more crooked than a rattlesnake bent sideways. Ever heard of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn?"
"I have, Miss Fortune," Luke nodded his head. "From what I understand, they're a mostly a circle of bored English blue-bloods trying to cast spells."
"Well, Luke, Graves worked with 'em for a while, and killed 'em after he got ahold of some spell book of theirs," Fortune explained. "He's been goin' around the country, killin' occultists and lootin' their relics."
"Look, I'm just a courier now, trying to get the goods to folks who need them. Now I'll be leaving now. I didn't know anything about Graves' prior dealings-" Luke could not finish the sentence when he heard shouting. He and Mary turned to see a group of people running from something near the edge of town.
"Something ain't right here," Mary pulled out a knife in each hand.
Gunshots echoed like cannons in the street, and smoke rose up as Luke saw what the source of commotion was. People moved like a tidal wave to get away from it. Bleach white bone creatures charged up the main road, snapping up at the air. Looking closer, Luke saw the forms were mostly lupine in comparison. Their mouths snapped opened and shut, mimicking memories of hunger from when they had flesh to sustain. Now, they charged towards fleeing townsfolk.
"Run!" Luke shouted and darted away from Mary. He was not about to take his chances with a horde of skeletal attack dogs. He ran until his lungs began to burn, and turned around to see one of the animated abominations leaping through the air at him. Suddenly, a powerful hand yanked him to the side, and the creature came down on the next closest person. Luke saw a blade fly through the creature's head, and the skeletal monster crumble into dust. The fallen man tried to hobble away, but the numbers of horrible creatures was too great.
Luke turned to see Mary holding another knife in her hand, standing on top of the nearby general store. "Luke, what the devil did you get us all into?"
"Had I known, Miss, I'd have run as fast as I'm running now!" he shouted back.
Looking ahead, Luke's heart and hopes dropped faster than a passenger train from a broken bridge. At the other side of the town's main street was a waiting wall of human skeletons, headed by none other than Graves himself. The skeletons stood in a wall formation two ranks deep, armed with various improvised weapons ranging from sticks to broken bones to rusted guns that looked like they had been taken to the grave with them. A few even held their own arms as clubs. The undead had assorted rags and rotting flesh on them in various stages of decay. They smelled like they had crawled out of the grave straight from hell, and certainly looked the part. Standing behind the two ranks of undead was a sneering Graves, now dressed in the wolf pelt. Standing on an empty ox-cart, he looked like less of a man and more of a feral beast at bay. A sinister glow, an infernal twilight, came from his eyes as he spoke.
"Well now, son," Thaddeus looked down, producing a double barreled derringer from his belt. His voice sounded deeper, as if something was speaking through him. "Looks like you didn't take my advice and leave this here town."
Behind him, the all-devouring horde of skeletal beasts halted in its tracks. The herd of undead creatures snapped greedily at the group of townsfolk, trapped on two sides by the walking dead. "I reckon I didn't have much time to get out," he gazed back up. "Why are you doing this, Mister Graves? What do you get from it?"
"What do I get from it, son?" the sinister occultist chuckled. "A whole bunch new corpses for my army here."
Gunshots rung out as other townsfolk opened fire at the demonic man. Gunsmoke rose and empty shells fell to the ground. When the smoke cleared, Thaddeus stood unharmed and released a deep belly laugh. "See this chalk circle I stand on, fools? No bullet can harm me as long as I stand here! Now, son, you're gonna die! Critters, get 'em!"
Graves aimed at Luke, and pulled the trigger. Luke closed his eyes and hoped the end would come quickly. It would certainly remove some of his debts. An unlucky man next to the gambler fell dead, the side of his head weeping crimson. Graves muttered to himself and fired the second barrel. Luke gulped as he heard a hammer drop, and the gun unleash its lethal load. He heard a body hit the ground. He heard shouting around him. Cautiously, he opened his eyes.
Graves lay dead upon his rock, from a throwing knife between the eyes. Around him, the skeletal hordes had crumbled into dust. The crowd around him was not screaming. It had hoisting Mary Fortune into the air, cheering as they took her into the saloon.
Not knowing whether to laugh or stare in shock, LaChance took a third option. Finding a horse with a full saddle-bag, he pilfered a few essential items, and slipped some bills in to compensate. He walked out of Cemetery Gulch. Looking behind him, he saw the sand in the graveyard was upturned, as if someone had taken a shovel to it. Shuddering to himself, he continued on, futilely hopeful he would not bring misfortune to anyone else.