It had not been Doc's intention to spend his last moments crouching behind a hitching post and gaping like a damn fool at the walking dead; but of curiosity and self-preservation, the former instinct had always held sway over his actions. He had realized his mistake soon upon leaving the shelter of his surgery as the chill air had struck hard at his enfeebled lungs, spurring a storm of coughing that bent him double. So much for moving quietly. So much for moving quickly. He wondered if the corpses could smell the blood gurgling in his lungs - true, the sensory organs were swift to decay upon dissolution; but so too the powers of locomotion were supposed to cease at death, and yet these hulks walked, albeit with the lurching gait of paralytics or inebriates. He huddled in an alley betwixt two lean-tos, gathering his own small store of strength as the fit passed; then trotted onward, cautiously.
Sounds of a rowdedow up ahead warned him to stop and peer around the next corner. The dead were walking there in the thoroughfare - some decayed to the bone, some fresh enough to deceive a less-experienced eye, at least in the gloaming; the livid skin and cloudy eye showed their true state, where the lamplight from the Gem's windows touched. Had they come a distance? Doc recognized few of them, and none he had dissected post-mortem. Perhaps removal of the brain had spared his former patients this blasphemous resurrection. He prayed to his characteristically silent god that the Reverend Smith was not among the shambling hordes.
Then his lungs betrayed him again.
With a matched precision at odds with their ramshackle anatomies, the lifeless heads all snapped around to face him - some breaking their neck tendons to do so. Bile tainted the back of his throat as they rushed him.
Cochran woke as from a nightmare - but with the familiar death-smell all around him; and so cold and stiff he thought himself for a moment to be as dead as those... things - until it came to him that the throbbing in his skull was surely a sign of continued life. Nonetheless, he checked his pulse to make sure, before struggling to his feet and eyeing his surroundings.
His captors must have dragged him to a shed in another part of Deadwood - but so shifting and uncertain were the outlines of the camp, with tents and buildings springing up nightly, he was unable to guess his present location. The thin sunbeams that slid in between the ill-fitted timbers suggested he had been unconscious about eight or ten hours; he tried peering out through one of the larger cracks (his prison had no windows as such); the light hurt his eyes and no familiar landmark rewarded their gaze.
The walls and door, though poorly constructed, were well beyond the strength of a middle-aged man with a bad set of lungs; and there was nothing in the structure that could cut or pry: it seemed to be a pantry rather than a tool-shed. He hoped he was not being stored as victuals. With nothing to do for the present but wait, he rummaged for something that could be eaten raw, and was making a breakfast of sorts off a couple of carrots, when he heard shuffling outside. He guessed it was one of the dead, for a long, dread time passed during which he could hear it pawing at the latch. In mad hope of taking it by surprise, he stepped to one side of the doorway.
At last the door swung, and Doc's heart sank - though the daylight half-blinded him, it was evident the creatures were grouped en masse about the shed. There would be no breaking through that crowd.
The corpse who had lifted the latch - it might have been a gold-miner in life, from the clothing, stood grunting before him. He thought he heard a tone of command, then of plea, in the awful sounds, but not a word could he make out.
"Stop it. Stop it!" He covered his ears against the death rattle. "What the hell do you want from me?" The milky eyes rested on him for a moment, then the hulk turned to its companions. It caught one by the arm and shoved it towards the doctor. This corpse was that of a younger man, but clad in work clothes as the first had been. It thrust a severed, half-skeletonized hand at him, then raising its arm, showed him its empty sleeve.
Cochran looked around at the rotting, broken crowd and a tide of horror, not unmixed with pity, came over his sick heart as he understood what it was that they wanted. Something black was being passed from dead limb to dead limb towards him - his bag - and when it was dropped at his feet he sighed wearily and opened it. A gurgling cheer that nearly sent him mad went up. One of the dead laboriously kicked a chair towards him.
The Doc's shaking hands could scarcely hold the needle, his swimming eyes hardly see the blue cotton thread, but at last he motioned to the first of his new patients and began to sew.