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By Rob Vaux A tale of Deadlands Weird West

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Rutger stopped at the cemetery gates and looked up at the moon. Standing here at the edge of Elephant Hill, with the lights from Gomorra twinkling behind him, this seemed quite the fool's errand. Sweetrock hadn't said much about the job. They wanted to talk to a member of the Whateley family, they said. Just a friendly chat to size them up. Right. Everyone knew the Whateleys were muscling in on Sweetrock's mining holdings. With the bank robbery and Black Jack and lord knows what else, it was more than they could handle. So they went to a freelancer - a man like Rutger, who knew the value of an honest dollar - and asked them to bring them a hostage. It wasn't kidnapping of course; that would be illegal. It was just a nice friendly chat... that would last until the Whateleys saw things Sweetrock's way.

So here he was, at the Elephant Hill cemetery in the middle of the night, looking for a crazy girl to take back with him. They said Dolores Whateley was mad; that she came dancing up here every night, singing to the tombstones and shouting out nonsensical nursery rhymes. But at the same time, she was one of only two Whateleys who left the grounds of their ramshackle mansion. And she would probably come without a fuss. He didn't think Nicodemus (Her brother? Husband? The specifics of Whateley interrelations were so unclear.) would be so accommodating. For the great sprawl of the Elephant Hill, it didn't take long to find her. Her sing-song voice carried far on the winds, and he followed it like a bloodhound to the center of the necropolis. She stood in the moonlight, her black hair flying in cascades down her back. Her white dress was torn and soiled, and matched the pale luminescence of her skin. there was a fistful of flowers in her hands. Nightshade, it looked like. He thought that didn't grow around here.

"Moon, sweet moon! I thank thee for thy sunny beams!" She cried, tossing fistfuls of petals to the wind. She spun like a little girl in the moonlight, and stamped the grass down with her bare feet. The approaching gunman didn't seem to register with her at all.

Rutger watched her prance about for several minutes. "Some folks want to have a word with you missy."

"Word! Words fly up, their thoughts remain below; words without thoughts never to heaven go..."

The gunslinger looked at her incredulously. He unbuttoned his waistcoat to reveal the revolver on his belt.

"Put it any way you want, little lady. Mr. Findley's got some concerns about your clan, and I think it best that you come discuss the matter with him."

She stopped suddenly and looked at him. Her face scrunched up with concentration, as if she were trying to remember something.

"Discuss? Discuss, discuss, you're full of pus. You'll break your head with all that fuss!" she stepped nimbly from tombstone to tombstone, pacing back and forth across their tops.

"Uh... yeah." He felt silly. This girl couldn't tell you her own name. "Listen, maybe you better just come with me."

"You?" she asked curiously. "I don't know you! Don't know you at all!"

Rutger smiled in what he hoped was a disarming way. "Well, you can get to know me on the way back to town. Don't you want to go back to town?"

Dolores giggled and hid her face behind her torn sleeve "But you haven't met my playmate yet!"

He stopped, his hands fingering his gun. "Playmate?"

"We have ever so much fun. He doesn't know many words, but maybe you can teach him some."

He turned around slowly to face her. She grinned at him and circled her arms above her head like a mischievous ballerina.

"His name's Tommy. Do say hello."

The ground below him exploded heavenward. A pair of skeletal hands shot towards him, grabbing his leather chaps and pulling him to his knees. The worm-ridden skull pulled up out of the ground and hissed silently at him.

"Sonuva -" He tried to scramble to his feet, but the corpse held him tight. His knees sunk into the grave's black earth as he twisted and thrashed in an effort to break free. Dolores capered around him madly.

"Tom, Tom, the piper's son. Stole a pig and away he run. Ask him if the pig's down there mister."

Rutger snarled and drew his pistol, aiming straight at the thing's face. The gunshot echoed across the cemetery... then another... then another. Rutger watched as the corpse's face shattered into a million pieces in front of him. He grinned evilly before realizing that nothing had changed. The harrowed body continued to claw at him, no worse for wear after losing its head. Rutger realized to his horror that the ground beneath him was giving way, and that his legs were now sinking rapidly into the earth. He looked up at Dolores, who giggled again.

"Help! Help me please, I'm sinking!"

"That's how you play the game, silly. You scream and he pulls you down. Then when you're below with him, you can tell him what you meant to say."

His gunbelt slipped beneath the ground, then his belly. He couldn't see the creature's face anymore, but its grip was as strong as ever. He began to frantically beat at its arms with its pistol butt. The rotted graveclothes gave way, revealing more maggots and the soil packed tightly between the things bones. Yet still it pulled, dragging his into its horrified embrace. He was now sunk up to his torso.

"Golden lads and girls all must, as chimney-sweepers, come to dust!"

The thing grabbed his shooting arm and pulled it beneath the ground. For the first time, panic gripped him, and he began to shake with fear. Skeletal fingers closed around his throat and reduced him to a wet gasping. The last thing he saw before the hoary hands dragged him under was Dolores, cavorting madly on a nearby sarcophagus. and singing up to the heavens.

"The other months have thirty-one," she danced. "Rain and sky and jolly sun. And the moon grows fat in every one!"

His screams became choked with dirt as his face slipped below the blackened earth. The grave shuddered several times, then fell silent. The original occupant did not reappear, nor did its unwilling guest.

Dolores leapt from the sarcophagus to land daintily on the space Rutger had once occupied. Her arms flew up again and she danced a little pirouette in the moonlight. Just for him.