August 5, 1877:
Some half-crazed courier just woke me up with his incessant knocking upon the door to my hotel room. He delivered a telegram and swiftly departed without compensation—and before I could shout my displeasure at having been awoken before dawn.
But when I read the telegram, I understood why. I'll keep it attached to the bottom of this entry…I also think I'll be visiting the barkeep…
I went back to Ivor's grave with the shovel I borrowed from the innkeeper. I found it rather odd, that transaction. He asked no questions as to why a well-dressed fellow would be in need of a shovel at the witching hour…almost as though it were a common affair. However, I had very little time to wonder about that.
The cemetery was quiet, but not the quiet one would expect from the resting dead. The silence weighed heavily on my soul, and the air was so dense I found it difficult to breathe. I would have blamed it on the Arkansas heat if not for two things: it was three in the morning, and this…feeling was not present before I crossed into the graveyard. I put it all behind me as I walked to Ivor's resting place.
A voice in the dark caught me by surprise. "Took you long enough, didn't it?" it asked as the Drifter stepped out into the moonlight, "I was beginnin' to wonder if I'd chosen the right man for the job."
I had been so startled that I hadn't realized I was poised to attack. I was holding the shovel over my head like a savage ready to strike down the White Man. The Drifter didn't even flinch as he stood there with his hands deep in his pockets and a wheat stalk hangin' off his lip like a forgotten cigarette. It was almost like he didn't notice.
I carefully lowered the shovel. "Job?" I echoed, clearing my throat shakily, "You lured me out here with a false promise to restore my brother just to offer me a job?"
"I hardly needed to lure you out here for that," the Drifter answered, taking care to keep the brim of his hat down over his face, "and I never make promises I don't intend to keep. Start diggin.'"
He leaned against the old oak tree and nodded towards Ivor's grave. I figured he wasn't gonna be helping me. Maybe I should have just gone back to the inn and forgotten about this fool's venture, but something in my soul drove me to see it to the end. So I dug, half expecting one of Ivor's pranks and half believing in the queer drifter's promise. After about ten, maybe fifteen minutes—time felt as strange as my situation—I hit something solid. I tapped the pine box with the spade, and to my astonishment and horror, something tapped back!
"Impossible…" I whispered, frozen in place.
"Not really," the Drifter startled me once more, suddenly standing opposite of me in the hole, "but I'd suggest you get him outta there and fed before somethin'…unfortunate happens."
I had no desire for him to explain that. Using a bit of rope and the great oak, I hauled Ivor's casket out of the grave and pried it open with the shovel. The lid shattered into thousands of little splinters as though blown up with dynamite. Ivor sat up screaming—no, roaring—and clawing viciously at his chest. I tried to step away to give him some space…or maybe I was trying to run away, I can't rightly recall. Either way, the Drifter pushed me back.
"He's fightin' the Manitou for control," he explained as he handed me a slab of raw cow meat, "you'll have to guide him back with your voice…and feed him this; it'll clear his head."
"You are out of your ever-lovin' mind!" I shouted, "Manitou? Raw meat? What the hell did you do to him?"
"I fulfilled a promise, but it'll all be wasted effort if ya don't do what I tell ya!"
The sudden Malice in his voice was palpable as he shoved me towards Ivor once more.
Ivor's screaming had ceased, replaced with slow deep growls that sounded more like a string of death rattles than anything else. His head swayed from side to side; he was taking in his surroundings. Cataracts clouded his eyes making him look like death itself—which I suppose makes since considering he'd been dead two days now. I approached him cautiously, holding the meat slab out to him. The growling stopped instantly, and his gaze shot towards me. I froze in my tracks fearing that my brother was about to attack me…however, all he did was sniff the air. The meat! He smelled the meat! He didn't even notice me, I think. I inched closer, Ivor snarled a little, I stopped, he sniffed, and we started over. This cycle continued until I was close enough to Ivor that he could take the steak from me. He tore into that cow without hesitation, and after a few bites, the color returned to his eyes. Halfway through his feast, Ivor stopped and looked around himself in what I can only describe as bewilderment.
He looked up at me like he just broke Mother's best dishes. "Ebon?" he questioned, his teeth still deep in the raw cow, "What the hell am I doin' in a monkey suite in a coffin eatin' bloodied steak?"
I probably would have laughed at the sight had I not been so amazed. I looked up at the drifter with a determined glare.
"I rekon," I said as I rose to my feet, "It's high time you tell me just who the hell you are and what the hell you want."
The drifter smiled an unearthly smile, and I'll never forget that sinister laugh.
"I want the same thing you want; justice for your brother and others who have suffered similarly at the hands of Stone."
"Yes, Stone. As payment for the restoration of your kin, you are to track that varmint down, kill him, and return his weapon to me."
"And just how am I supposed to do that?"
"You're a smart man, Mr. Ie. You'll figure it out. Some free advice though look into hirin some extra hands. Stone isn't gonna just lay down like a saloon girl."
The drifter began to leave, but I still had questions that needed answering.
"Wait!" I called out, "Who are you? Why come to me?"
"Because you were next on the list. You weren't my first choice, but you are the most recently available option. As for me…well, let's save that for another time, shall we?"
Before I could protest, the wind picked up, violent as a twister. When it was gone, so too was the drifter.
I stood staring off toward the horizon, straining my eyes for any sight of him. Then, my attention was taken by the sound of wet chewing. I turned to see that Ivor had buried his face in the bloodied steak once more. His mouth was so full his cheeks were bulging, yet he didn't seem as bothered by it as he had been earlier.
"That guy was a little queer, wasn't he, Ebon?" Ivor asked, finally looking up at me to see my odd look. "What?" he said as pieces of 'food' dribbled out the corner of his mouth, "I'm hungry…"
This was going to take some getting used to…