Title: Amazing, Arizona (Prologue/??)
Spoilers: Certain characters are based on characters belonging to Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Disney, and various other companies. To name them would mean spoiling the surprise of who you'll encounter. If you don't recognize someone, it's either because you're not a member of the fandom, or it's an original character.
Summary: Driving a hijacked gold train southeast through the Arizona Territory in 1879, the Charnel House Gang's next stop on the line to Tombstone is the town of Amazing, a not-quite-normal place where people just want to be left alone. The Gang's plan to pillage the town and kill the inhabitants hits a snag, however, in the person wearing the tin star - Sheriff Raven Darkholme.
"Wish we were back in San Francisco," the engineer muttered.
"Don't we all," one of the men sharing the engine said. "But we ain't, and we ain't gonna be back for some time. So just watch the train, okay?" He adjusted the rifle on his shoulder and looked out across the desert.
The engineer grumbled but focused his eyes ahead. "They say Texas is miles and miles of miles and miles, but they've never been to Arizona."
"Only thing out here in Injuns," the other guard said. He leaned his rifle against the cab of the train engine and drew his revolver, checking the sights. "Navajo, Hopi - course, you can't forget the Apache."
"I was trying to, thanks," the engineer complained. "It ain't no fun imagining Geronimo ambushing my train every twenty miles."
"Try imagining the whores in Tombstone then. I do," the first guard said. "It'll take a day for them to load the silver onto the train."
"If we're bringing silver back East, then why the hell is it called a gold train?" the engineer asked.
"We're carrying gold too, jackass," the first guard replied, taking a moment to spit out his window. "They're still mining gold in California, don't forget. Been thirty years since they found gold there, and they're mining it. Suppose they'll be mining silver in Arizona thirty years from now too."
The other guard laughed. "Sure, and isn't that where I want to be in 1909 - guarding the money trains? Hell, I'd rather be spending it than watching over it."
"Well, you won't be spending none of this gold," his colleague pointed out. "Not with anuther eighteen men on the cars behind us."
"Really think we need twenty men?" the engineer asked nervously.
"You're the one worryin' about Geeronimo."
The engineer quickly determined he liked having twenty guards on the train.
"Yep, just Injuns," the second guard said, returning to the original theme. "Used to be buffalo, I s'pose, but they're all gone."
"Hey," the engineer spoke up, "y'all ever see one of them mutant buffalo?"
"Them's a damn fairy tale," the first guard sneered.
"I seen one," the engineer said defensively. "Out there, on a trip West from Denver. Damn thing was near three times the size of a regular buffalo. Coulda fed a tribe on that beast for a month!"
The first guard spat again, but it wasn't tobacco this time. "Beast is right. Fucking muties is all beasts. I'd sooner trust a Crow than a mutant."
"Amen," the other guard agreed.
"Uh, hey, guys?" The engineer squinted into the dark. "Looks like there might be something blocking the track."
"Hell," one of the guards grunted. "Can you see it?"
The engineer started applying the brakes. "It's big, whatever it is." The light shining from the train engine began to show the obstruction in more detail. "Hairy. Must be a buffalo." He blew the train whistle, but the creature didn't move. "Holy mother of God," he then breathed. "You see the SIZE o' that thing? I think it's one of them mutie strains of buffalo!"
"Damn," the other guard swore. "That thing can't be so big. Maybe if it was in Africa, maybe." Exasperated, he leaned out and signaled back to the next car, alerting them to the holdup.
The train crawled to a stop several yards from the buffalo carcass, a shaggy thing that reeked of death. The two guards leapt down, each keeping both hands on their Winchesters.
"Might even be the last mutie buffalo in the U.S.," one of them mused.
"Might be a few bucks in it for us," the other noted. "The men who killed the last mutie buffalo in the world."
"It'd help if we actually killed it."
The second man hoisted his rifle. "Who says we didn't?" Then he pumped three shots into its head.
Not much happened. The head didn't even move. And then the fur seemed to ripple a little, like being blown in the breeze. Except on this Arizona desert night, there was no wind.
Then the two men lost sight of the headlamp behind them as the buffalo's shaggy skin flew through the air. It landed on them and knocked them flat, suffocating them with its stench.
"Mutie buffalo? Aw, everyone knows that's just a big fish story!"
Standing on the track, he was no buffalo. He didn't look like an ordinary man either. He was certainly some kind of man, but one that stood almost eight feet tall and appeared to weigh several hundred pounds. He seemed to be squinting, his eyes almost obscured by his red, puffy cheeks and porcine face. Clutched in both hands was a long length of iron chain. Tremors shook the earth as he somehow was able to run forward. One foot landed on the buffalo skin under which the two guards were still trapped, and one of them could be heard to scream horribly as the massive weight evidently crushed part of his body.
"Ambush!" the engineer screamed.
A flash of dull, brick red caught his eye. Turning, he saw a small round head hanging upside down in one of the cab windows. "No shit, human," the thing said, showing needlepoint teeth in its mouth as it spoke.
The misshapen creature leapt inside, its back hunched over, odd lumps clearly visible through the skin. Long hairs ran down his arms below the elbow, ending in sharp claws. It jumped on the engineer's shoulders and sank its teeth into the man's throat, making a savage motion with his head that severed an artery and splashed the cabin with human blood.
"Yee-haw!" the monster screamed, delighted. It licked its teeth. "I got me a choo-choo!"
Then a shot rang out, clanging off the metal of the engine. The creature looked out balefully and spotted the man standing on the next car, aiming for another shot.
He was unable to, however. A chain shot up from below and snaked its way around his ankle. The man was pulled below, and his scream became one of pain, rather than one of surprise, within a moment.
"Thanks, Whale," the little fiend called out.
"Don't mention it, Palmetto," Whale replied as his massive bulk disappeared down the length of the train.
Palmetto's eyes rolled around in their sockets before fixing on where Whale had been standing. "Wait up!" he screeched as he clambered out of the cab and skittered along the roof of the next car faster than a normal man might walk.
"Shit, it's the Charnel House Gang!" The cry rose up from farther down the train, but the guards could see for themselves. The Charnel House Gang had a million in gold on their heads apiece, after a run-in with the U.S. Cavalry led to a lot of dead horsemen. There weren't many of them - just the five.
But they weren't natural, not one of them.
Three guards backed away hurriedly, firing their Winchesters as Palmetto, all three feet of him, came towards them. Several shots struck the creature, the last one hitting him between the eyes and splashing grey matter all over. It collapsed and lay still.
"Holy shit," one of them whispered, transfixed by the sight, while still revolted by the twisted little thing. "We done killed the Palmetto!"
That was the last thing he said.
A slight pulse from the corpse, almost like seeing a human heart beat, was the only warning they had as the corpse broke open, and a hideous green thing leapt out, grabbing one man around the neck with a hand and burying its claws in his chest. He screamed and fell from the top of the car, the monster casually jumping away in time and turning its attention to one of the others.
"Did you hear that?" one of the guards asked from within the car where the gold was being kept. "It sounded like a body."
"Which your soul's about to take leave of if you don't stay sharp!" his boss shouted, keeping his gun trained on the reinforced door at one end. "They're gonna - "
The door was flattened from the outside like it was tissue paper, and the men fell back. "Fire!" the leader screamed.
Shots rang out from five different repeating rifles, but nothing was there. The doorway was empty. All they could hear was a dry, rattling sound.
"Oh fuck me," one of the men whimpered. "It's the rattler . . ."
The giant snake slithered through the door so quickly, it was in the room before they could react. Which was unfortunate for the leader, as the diamondbacked rattlesnake swept its heavy body out and struck the man in the belly, throwing him against the wall of the train car and breaking his spine. It rattled its tail in the man's face and bore its fangs at the other men.
"Sssstep away from the ssssafe," it hissed.
An unfortunate man fired a shot that merely bounced off the snake's scales, and he was nearly decapitated by fangs that tore his throat out and dripped poison that burned the floor.
The other men threw down their guns and moved back.
The serpent's laugh was a dry, hissing sound. "Good," it said. "You can die together."
It opened its mouth once more, and exhaled green, poisonous clouds that surrounded the men and quickly had them on their knees, vomiting blood.
As for the men in the caboose, they didn't bother to fire their guns. They ran, helplessly, up the track and away from the train, leaving the sound of men being slaughtered behind. Their cowardice was not rewarded, however, as they were cut off by yet another gang member. This one went about its business silently, using claws and two sets of teeth to rip the men to shreds. Then he licked the blood from his white wolfish fur and calmly loped toward the train.
The last guard to die never tried to defend himself. He was found in the caboose, rocking himself back and forth. "He smells like piss," Wolf said, disgusted.
"Smells like food to me. Let me at him, Forktongue," Whale replied.
"You can eat your fill once we bring the bodies on board and get moving," Forktongue said coldly. The snake was coiled up inside the caboose, the man huddled within its body, while the others looked on from outside. Being more than just an oversized snake, Rattler now had the head of a human to go with his snake's body, so they could understand him better. "We've got to get this train running. Nobody knows what we've done tonight yet, but they'll know by tomorrow. You just git to that locomotive, Striker."
"Right," the last member of the gang said. He wore a heavy, dusty coat that knocked against his ankles. He was also the only one with guns at his belt. They'd taken the gold train without firing a shot. "We'll be in Tombstone in no time," Striker added.
"No, we ain't, because we ain't going nonstop to Tombstone," Forktongue reminded him. "Unless you want to bypass all the easy pickings along this rail line."
"What? Fuck the easy pickings! What's in a half-dozen small towns that we cain't get in Tombstone?" Striker complained loudly.
"It ain't about that," Forktongue said. "It's about us making sure nobody in Arizona Territory EVER forgets the Charnel House Gang. I want EVERYONE pissing themselves when they hear the name. Never mind that Whale needs more food than what we got, even with the bodies of those stupid humans. Besides, what're YOU in a rush for? You think we can't take what we want from Tombstone whether we get there in one day or four?"
"Whores and whiskey, probably," Wolf leered.
"Yeah, well, I don't know if these whistle stops got whores, but they got whiskey," Forktongue retorted. "And they got plenty of women that'll wet your whistles too. So how about we get with the plan?!"
Striker sulked. "Sure, boss," he muttered.
"What about him?" Whale asked, jerking a contemptuous thumb at the sole surviving guard.
"Think he's talkin'," Wolf said.
Forktongue leaned his head close and discerned that the man was indeed talking. "It's just a dream, it's just a dream," he was repeating over and over again.
"Sure, enjoy the rest of your sleep," Forktongue said before he closed his coils tighter and slowly strangled the man to death. "Now we ride in class, boys!"
To be continued . . .