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Grave voices, p.1

Grave Voices, page 1


Grave Voices

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Grave Voices


  Title Page

  Part One: Monsters

  Part Two: Missing Bodies

  Part Three: Séance

  Part Four: Haunted Dollhouse

  Part Five: Bad Dolls and Clockwork Monsters

  Part Six: Tunnel to Hell

  Excerpt from Iron and Blood

  More from the Authors

  About the Authors

  Grave Voices

  A Storm and Fury Adventure

  by Gail Z. Martin & Larry N. Martin

  ISBN: 978-1-939704-42-9

  © 2015 Gail Z. Martin & Larry N. Martin. All rights reserved. This story may not be retransmitted, posted or reused in any way without the written permission of the author. Cover photo © Jeff Thrower / Shutterstock

  New Pittsburgh, 1898

  Part One: Monsters

  “The streets of New Pittsburgh aren’t safe for decent people anymore!” The speaker shouted as he strode back and forth the steps to the courthouse. He had built up a sweat that made his shirt cling to his muscled body. A crowd gathered, muttering their agreement as he spoke. The hand-lettered sign leaning against the bottom step proclaimed ‘Edmund Luss, Monster Hunter’. Nearby, a reporter was busy scribbling notes on a tablet as a photographer’s flash powder made the crowd blink when he took a photo.

  “It’s not bad enough that the pickpockets and petty thieves lurk down the alleys, preying on hard-working men and women!” the man added, and the crowd nodded. “Not bad enough that feral dogs snatch meat from butchers’ carts and fresh fish from the fishmonger. But now, there’s a new horror—the police are too afraid to admit it’s lurking out there—and ladies and gentlemen, you know I’m telling the truth because you’ve heard it from your friends and neighbors. There are monsters, monsters I say, roaming the dark alleys of New Pittsburgh and I am here to drive them back to the fires of Hell where they belong!”

  A cry went up from the crowd, cheering and whistling. The speaker stood triumphantly with his hands on his hips, letting the crowd go wild.

  “Can you do it? Can you send the monsters away for good?” a man in the front of the crowd shouted.

  “How do we know you’ve actually fought real monsters?” a skeptic asked.

  The speaker nodded as if he had anticipated the questions. “To the first question—yes! I can do it. I can rid New Pittsburgh of the monster scourge. And to the second question—very wise, very prudent of you, sir, to be so careful—again I say yes! I have fought real, actual monsters. Fought them with my bare hands and with weapons too terrible to mention, in fights I cannot describe with ladies present! But I can show you—the monsters gave me these!” And with that, he stepped closer to the crowd and held out both arms to show long, jagged scars that might have been made by the claws of a beast.

  “That’s how close I got to the monsters! That’s how I know that I can defeat those terrifying beasts! And ladies and gentlemen, I came away with the best of the deal by far! Because while I will bear the scars of those monsters until my dying day, I dealt out unwavering justice to those infernal, abominable creatures. Behold!” And with a flourish, he held up a black, shaggy pelt matted in places by what might have been blood.

  The crowd gasped. Two women in the back swooned, and might have fallen had their companions not eased them to a seat on the stone courthouse steps, where they fanned themselves until someone went to fetch them water.

  “Don’t let the evidence alarm you!” the speaker cried, working the crowd to a frenzied pitch. “I am willing to take the on risks of hunting these beasts, these monsters, in order to guarantee the safety of the good people of New Pittsburgh!”

  The crowd went wild once again, cheering, screaming, and stomping their approval. “When can you start?” a man yelled.

  The monster hunter shrugged. “That all depends on the vote by your City Council,” he said. “I have given them my modest proposal, modest indeed considering the great risk of bodily harm involved. They are considering that proposal as we speak, weighing the safety of the people of New Pittsburgh against the paltry sum I request to exterminate, once and for all, the monstrous vermin that prowl the streets of this fine town. They may be waiting to hear from the people of the city. So if you want me to drive out the monsters, if you want to sleep secure in your beds at night and rest assured that your children and your wives can go about their business without harm, if you want peace and safety for the city of New Pittsburgh, then I ask you, I beg of you, let your voices be heard!”

  The resulting racket was impressive. Men and women shouted their assent, and some waved fists in the air for good measure. Ear-splitting whistles echoed down Grant Street along with thunderous applause. The monster hunter stood silently, hands clasped in front of him, just the hint of a satisfied smile touching his lips.

  He did not seem to notice the three people watching his rally from across the street. Mitch Storm, Jacob Drangosavich, and Della Kennedy stood where they could hear what the monster hunter was shouting to the crowd, and observe both him and his audience.

  “That’s him,” Mitch said. “Edmund Luss, aka Edward Lustig. Con man, snake oil salesman, huckster extraordinaire.”

  “Do we nab him?” Jacob raised an eyebrow.

  Mitch shook his head. “He hasn’t done anything illegal—yet. Although I’d bet anything that ‘monster’ pelt is just a dyed goat skin, or maybe monkey fur.”

  “Interesting timing for his little rally,” Della said. “Nice way to let the Council know he’s got supporters—and make it uncomfortable for them to turn him down, no matter what fee he’s charging.”

  Mitch nodded. “Lucky for them, we’re here.” He turned to go. “We’ve seen enough. Time to plan a little ‘monster hunt’ of our own.”

  A few blocks down Grant Street, a street preacher stood on an overturned fruit crate. “The end of the world is nigh!” he proclaimed with fevered passion. “Monsters roam among us. Surely that is a sign of the end of the world!” The preacher had gathered almost as large a crowd as the monster hunter, and more people continued to join the group as the man’s voice rose. He was dressed better than the monster hunter, with a vest over slacks and a starched white shirt, and he waved a worn Bible in one hand as he shouted to the crowd.

  “Monsters! Demons! Abominations! Right here in New Pittsburgh, come to kill our children and taint our souls!” He had worked up a sweat, and mopped his brow with a handkerchief. “But we can fight that evil! Yes, we can. Do you believe that we can fight the evil?”

  The solemn crowd nodded, and a few ‘amens’ sounded from the gathering. Mitch, Della, and Jacob drifted closer, and Mitch’s eyes narrowed. Jacob bet his partner was thinking the same thing: that the two speakers were very likely working together. That suspicion grew stronger when he saw the table of patent medicine bottles and protective medallions next to the street preacher’s make-shift stage. The name painted on to the suitcase displaying the items for sale read ‘Reverend Joe Sherril’.

  “The Lord can save your soul, and I can save your life,” the preacher continued. “The Lord has sent us a warrior, sent us Edmund Luss, a fearless man who can hunt down the abominations and drive them from our city. But he has also given me a vision, a vision that may save your lives.” He turned toward the bottles and medallions on the table.

  “The Good Lord helps them who help themselves,” Sherril continued. “Now we’re not all called to fight monsters. But you can protect yourself, your loved ones, even your horses and pets with these fine items.” He lifted one of the bottles, and the liquid inside was the color of pond scum.

  “I received a message in a dream to protect the good people of New Pittsburgh with these potions and medals,” Sherril continued, eyes alig
ht. “These medals have been blessed by every type of church in this city. They are inscribed with a prayer in Latin that drives away monsters. If you wear one of these, no monster will come within five feet of you,” he promised.

  “What do the potions do?” someone called from the crowd.

  “I’m glad you asked!” Sherril said. “These fine potions and elixirs let you protect your house, your chicken coop, your garden, and carriage shed from the unholy monsters terrorizing our city.”

  He clutched one hand over his heart. “I’m not here to make money from misfortune. No, indeed. That’s why the price is so very low. I am here in the interest of public safety, doing the work of the Lord,” he added with a brief glance skyward. “But I have to tell you, these are the last bottles and medals available.”

  At that, the crowd surged forward. “I want one!” a voice cried

  “Give me two of each!” someone else yelled.

  “Hey, one to a customer!” another person protested. The onlookers surged forward, throwing coins and bills at Sherril as they nearly trampled each other to get the bottles and medals.

  “Pretty slick,” Della observed, as they watched from a distance. “Think he and the monster hunter are in it together?”

  Mitch nodded. “Certain. ‘Reverend Sherril’ is a fake. That’s Shifty Joe Shurlman. He’s as much of a con man as Lustig. But if we bust him, Lustig will know we’re on to them. Let’s go.”

  The building that housed the New Pittsburgh office of the Department of Supernatural Investigation was intentionally shabby. A pawn shop—operated as cover for the Department—took the street-level Liberty Avenue storefront, while DSI occupied the upper floors. Blinds covered the windows, hiding DSI’s facilities. A few minutes later, the three agents were in the briefing room. Mitch and Jacob had laid their jackets aside, and Della was seated primly in a chair that allowed room for the bustle of her skirt.

  “We’ve had four reports in as many weeks of people seeing ‘monsters’.” Mitch slapped his pointer against the map of the city that hung on one wall of the briefing room. “And during every sighting and chase, a break-in or robbery.”

  “You think Lustig and Shurlman, aka Sherrill, are behind it?” Della asked, sipping a cup of tea.

  “It fits with what they’ve done in other cities,” Jacob replied, leaning back and stretching his legs. Jacob was tall, with a long face, blond hair and hound dog eyes. His Eastern European heritage was clear in his features. That made it easy for him to move unnoticed among New Pittsburgh’s newly-immigrated population, especially since Jacob spoke a number of languages.

  His Department partners were a study in contrast. Mitch stood a few inches shorter, but he was compact and muscular, with dark hair and a five o’clock shadow that showed up at three. He looked like the epitome of what every dime novel writer pictured as an army sharpshooter or secret agent. Della had dark hair and piercing blue eyes. She was the daughter of a general and the only girl in a family of nine boys, making her ideally suited to help Jacob rein in Mitch’s more outlandish schemes. Della was also one of the best airship pilots in the entire Department.

  “What’s Lustig using for monsters?” Della wondered, tapping the toe of her high-button boots as she thought.

  “In Des Moines, we’re pretty sure he had a trained bear that he shaved. It looked very, very strange,” Mitch replied. “In Chicago, our sources think he put a costume on a trick riding horse. In each city, he stages several frightening sightings of ‘monsters,’ shows up and presents the Town Fathers with a contract to rid the town of its problem, pockets a big fat check, and moves on to the next bunch of suckers.”

  “He’s a con man, pure and simple,” Jacob agreed. “He was an animal trainer with the circus before they threw him out for petty theft. Shurlman, the fake Reverend Sherrill, was a doctor before he lost his license for selling fake patent medicines. Looks like they’ve upped their game.”

  Della set her teacup aside and went to study the map. “Do you have a drawing compass?” she asked. Mitch dug in a drawer and handed one to her. She jabbed the point into the wall, then drew a series of concentric circles that cut through all four of the sighting-dots.

  “Clever,” she said, standing back to view the map. “Lustig’s engineered sightings in every part of the city—including Shadyside, so the upper crust can’t just dismiss the beasts as being someone else’s problem. But all of the ‘monsters’ have appeared within a five miles or so of the warehouses out on Liberty Avenue,” she said, tracing the circles she had drawn in pencil again with her finger. “Not a bad place to hide, especially if he’s using trained animals.”

  Jacob nodded. “Big buildings, lots of empty space, people coming and going at odd hours so no one pays attention. It’s worth checking into.”

  Mitch stared at the map, thinking. “It wouldn’t be difficult for him to load a trained bear into a wagon, and minus the ‘costume’, a horse is just another horse. No one would notice.”

  Della turned to Mitch. “Lustig is going to stage another monster sighting, either to pressure the Council into hiring him, or to prove he’s doing his job. Do you have a hunch about where he’ll turn up next?”

  Mitch grinned. “Oh, yeah. And when he does, we’re going to hunt the monster hunter.”

  Later that night, Mitch and Jacob waited in the shadows of the Liberty Avenue warehouses. Thanks to genius inventor Adam Farber, both men wore headsets that connected to an aetheric wave transmitter, allowing them to receive signals from Della in the airship overhead.

  “Everything set?” Mitch said into his mouthpiece.

  “Set,” Della confirmed. Jacob glanced skyward. Della’s ship, the Bienville, ghosted through the night sky above them. The airship’s large inflated envelope was black, and its lights were muted. Anyone who wasn’t looking for it might take the lights for the twinkle of stars.

  “See anything?” Jacob asked. Tonight, Della and her crew were their eyes in the sky, and the Bienville flew lower than usual so the airship lookouts could spot Lustig when he made his move.

  “I’ve got something,” Della warned. “There’s a wagon parked two blocks from Smallman Street, and it doesn’t look like a regular delivery vehicle.”

  “We’re on it,” Mitch said, and with a nod to Jacob, he gunned his steambike, and the two agents headed toward the area locals called the ‘Strip District’.’

  Mitch and Jacob both wore goggles that Farber had created just for the Department, outfitted with more of his experimental technology to help them see better at night. The steambikes were Farber’s creations, too, though the inventor preferred to call them ‘velocipedes’.

  The Strip District earned its name from being a strip of land along the Allegheny River. The area came alive between midnight and dawn, since its produce markets, fishmongers, butchers, and bakers supplied the city’s restaurants, merchants, cooks, and housekeepers who came looking for fresh food. What’s the good of defeating a monster if no one sees you do it? Jacob mused. Lustig would need a fresh scare to get the Council on his side, but so many of the city’s residents were afraid that evening programs had been cancelled. The Strip was certain to have an audience.

  A glance skyward reassured Jacob that the Bienville was still their eye in the sky. Tonight, Mitch had a rifle slung over one shoulder and his revolver in a holster on his belt. Jacob carried a shotgun with special ammunition, his Peacemaker, and a few ‘surprises’ Farber had created for them. Both steambikes incorporated weapons as well, including a small Gatling gun and some Ketchum grenades. Mitch and Jacob were ready for whatever Lustig the monster hunter had planned.

  Mitch gave the signal, and they throttled down, coasting toward the intersection, waiting in the shadow of St. Stanislaus Kostka church. Jacob strained to see with his night-vision goggles. Smallman Street bustled with activity. Longshoremen unloaded crates of produce. Fishermen brought in their catch, and haggled over the price with the store owners who would display those fish on ice in a few ho
urs for eager buyers. The air smelled of freshly-baked bread, fresh fish, and coal smoke.

  “Uh oh,” Jacob muttered. A commotion was brewing down near the foot of Smallman Street Jacob heard men shouting and the clatter of carts and wagons scrambling to clear the road.

  “Got a visual on the monster,” Della said over the headset. “Large figure moving toward Smallman two blocks down from you. Looked like it came out of the wagon. Someone’s waiting with the horse for a quick get-away.”

  “I see it,” Mitch growled.

  A terrifying howl sounded in the night. In the distance, a creature emerged from a side street, standing in the shadows between streetlights. At first it walked on all fours like an ape, then stood on its hind feet, revealing a large hump in the middle of its back. It was too big to be a man, and it looked like it was covered by the same dark, shaggy pelt Lustig had waved at his frightened audience. The thing lurched forward, toward the nightshift workers who had begun to stop to look in the direction of the commotion.

  The stevedores and fishermen saw it too. No doubt they were supposed to, given how much noise it was making. That made Jacob more certain the whole thing was a fraud. Mitch and Jacob had fought their share of real monsters, human and otherwise. Predators that mean business don’t announce themselves caterwauling at the top of their lungs. The first—and last—thing you hear is the snick of their teeth, Jacob thought.

  Startled shouts and frightened yells went up from the men on the loading docks. They pointed and swore, but none of them made a move toward the beast. Jacob saw several men reach for knives, brass knuckles, and pistols. Night work was dangerous, even when there weren’t monsters running amok. The men stole furtive glances at one another, as if they were each waiting for someone else to go first.

  A new figure appeared from the shadows of a side street. Lustig made his entrance with the crack of a bullwhip, moving into the glow of the streetlight so that everyone got a good look at him. He snaked the whip toward the monster again, and the creature bellowed, an unnatural, distorted sound.

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