The sun had reached its zenith as Sheriff Deputy Charles Hodgeson emptied his stomach out for the second time in less than an hour. Crouching near a bush, he dry-heaved several more times before he attempted to stand. Still a bit wobbly, he instead chose to sit down. He took off his hat and wiped his brow. He looked around for his canteen and spied it still tied to the pommel of his saddle, on his horse. The horse was tied up several yards away from where he was sitting. Charles groaned and started to crawl over to his horse, cursing his luck all the way.
Sheriff Danni looked at him with pity. She too had gotten sick, looking at the remains of the horses and the obvious mess that was once one (or possibly two) human beings. Though she wasn't quite sure if it was the gruesome sight or the pregnancy that gave her the extreme nausea. Most likely, it was a combination of both.
Danni looked at the items in her hands, an old Navy Colt revolver and the priests collar. She sighed and closed her eyes, clutching both to her chest. How she hoped that it wasn't true. Wished that it wasn't true. Her heart ached, but her head reminded her that she was a still the Sheriff and she had a job to do.
She looked up and saw that Charles had reached his horse and was taking a swig of water from his canteen. He still looked pale and unsteady.
"You doing ok Charlie?"
"Yes ma'am. I'll be ok. Just need a moment to compose myself."
"Take as much time as you need."
Danni walked over to where Charles stood near his horse.
"What do you think did this, Sheriff?" he asked as he looked back as the piles of bloody meat that was starting to attract files and other creepy crawling things.
"I don't know Charlie. I don't know."
"A bear or a bobcat maybe?" he suggested.
"Against two horses and two armed humans?" she countered.
'Caught them during the night while sleeping?"
"Charlie, there isn't a camp. No tents, no fire pit, and the horses weren't staked or tethered. It looks like they were ambushed. A bear or bobcat wouldn't have approached two armed humans unless it was ravenously hungry, and even then…" she let her voice trail off.
"A pack of starving wolves?"
"That would make more sense, but you'd think they would have dragged off some of the remains."
"There are some parts missing. Not a lot, just some. You reckon they just killed for sport then?"
"I've never seen or heard of a wolf killing for sport. Doesn't seem natural. This is something more sinister, Charlie. Something filled with hate and malice."
"Yer talking about mankind then. Cultists maybe?"
"That's what I'm thinking. Look there," she said pointing towards the remains, "those two hands, where I recovered the pistol and the collar. They have no marks, scratches or anything. It's as if they were left untouched for a reason. If this was a critter attack, there would be bite marks. The hands would have been torn or ripped from the body. Instead, they look as if they were cut off with a knife."
"Who...who…did they belong to?" asked Charlie as he pulled his handkerchief from his back pocket and wiped is brow again. He paled visibly when looking at the hands.
"The Ranger. Those hands belong to a woman. Why she had Howard's" she stopped and took a breath, "Jake's…collar and gun is a mystery."
The both stood for a time, lost in thought, before Charles spoke.
"You think we should bury the bodies?"
"I'm not up for it, and you are looking a bit green under the gills. I suggest we mount up and head back to town. Find a couple of Samantha's ranch hands and come back and take care of things. We'll have to find a few that we can trust to keep quiet about this. I don't want Phyllis snooping around and getting everyone's knickers in a knot."
"Okey doke, Sheriff. I have a couple of ideas on who to pick out. We'll come back out later this evening and get them bodies underground soon enough."
"Sounds like a plan. Let's get going."
Sheriff Danni went over to her saddlebags and pulled out a small burlap sack. She placed the pistol, collar and the Texas Ranger's badge within it and put the burlap sack into one of her saddlebags. She mounted up and took one last look at the remains. She closed her eyes and told herself that she couldn't cry now. She'd have to wait until later, when she was alone.
Together, the two lawfolk rode out of the canyon and returned to Pueblo.
An hour later, a swirly blue oval suddenly appeared near the remains. It started out about the size of a pencil tip and slowly increased in size until it was wide enough for two horses to pass through with room to spare. A few seconds later, two riders emerged from the blue portal, quickly followed by a third. The three mounted men looked around at the remains before turning back to the portal, watching it slowly shrink until it disappeared completely.
The three men dismounted and walked around looking at the remains as well as the surrounding canyon. The tallest of the bunch, wearing a black pinstripe suit, with a small bowtie and a bowler cap reached into his jacket and pulled out a pad and a pencil. He looked around and began scrawling on his notepad.
"What do you make of this Dan?" he asked in a crisp, clipped voice.
The second man, much shorter than the rest, and carrying a pistol on his right hip, pulled off his hat and ran his hands through his short blond curly hair.
"Nothing good, if you ask me."
"I did ask you."
"Well then, nothing good Phillip. Those," he said pointing to two of the larger piles of now rotting meat, "were horses. Something killed and skinned them."
The third man rubbed his stubbled chin with his left hand, while placing his right on the butt of his pistol, which hung low along his hip. His dark hair and dark eyes took in the sight around him. When he spoke, it wasn't loud, and wasn't very audible. The other two men had to strain to hear what he had to say.
"Looks like some monster did this. An abomination of some sort."
Dan shivered slightly as a cloud suddenly blocked out the light of the sun.
"It didn't eat the meat and left it all to rot," stated Dan.
"I've got a bad feeling about this. What would you suggest that we do, Jake?" asked Phillip.
Jake reached for his horse and remounted.
"Let's head into town. We need to find VanKook first. If we have time, we'll look into this further," he motioned towards the remains," We don't know how much time we have. We need to find VanKook, or at least, his notes. That is our first priority."
"We don't know what we'll find in town. We don't know how the town will receive us. Are you sure that is wise?" said the second man nervously.
"I agree with Dan. Do you suppose we should observe it first? The last time we entered, it was nothing like we expected. This Dan is mortal, not Harrowed like our last Dan. This one won't recover from being gunned down so easily," Phillip said, accenting his final remark with a wink.
"I'll ride into town and you two can watch from the bushes like a couple of ninnies. 'Find VanKook first', that was what Father Mac told us when we left."
Dan placed his boot in the stirrup and began to mount his horse.
"I still find it hard to grasp that in your world, Father Mac was your ally. He tried to kill me in mine," sighed Dan, once he was seated in the saddle.
"Not to worry, I'm sure in this world, he's going to be your best friend and a great potential ally for us all," proclaimed Phillip while replacing his pad and pencil within the vest of his pinstripe suit.
"What makes you so sure?" questioned Dan.
"Inherent goodness. Father MacPherson is a great man. He can't be evil in every world that we visit. And he wasn't really all that evil in your world, he had just chosen a different side in the scheme of things. He was doing what he thought was right. Odds are in our favor to say the least. Why I think that based on our past experiences, we have a 75% chance that this…"
"Never tell me the odds," growled Jake.
"Oh…ah…well. Shall we head into town then?" suggested Phillip as he mounted his horse.
Jake just stared at Phillip and shook his head.
"I don't know why I agreed to let you tag along."
"Because of my charming personality and my obvious skill in deducing clues, and my great sense of justice?"
"Obvious skill in finding clues?" questioned Dan.
"Yes, something along those lines. I believe so, yes."
Jake glared at Phillip for a long moment.
"Mount up. Let's get moving. Daylight is a wastin'."
Jake turned his horse towards town and spurred him along. He was in a hurry, and wasn't about to use any more of their precious time in a wasted conversation with his annoying companion, Phillip Morris.